Archive for January 2013

Acheton: Mazes (and mazes and mazes)   7 comments

The first maze you're likely to encounter. Click to enlarge.

The first maze you’re likely to encounter. Click to enlarge.

When the player is tempted to write a Java program to discover a Hamiltonian path through a maze, the maze is perhaps a bit too difficult.
Matthew T. Russotto

There’s a lot of mazes. Acheton might hold the world record.

I’m going to spoil them thoroughly below.

I haven’t hit all of them in my current playthrough, but from memory there’s:

a.) The lodestone maze depicted in the map above. The “unique” trick here is the treasures are randomly arranged at the start of a game so a walkthrough needs to give a route that passes through every room (hence Matthew’s desire for a Hamiltonian path).

b.) An ice maze consisting only of two exit choices (SE and SW) but lots of deadly thin ice. The trick here is to take a (magical) item that will point in the correct direction to get to the single hidden treasure.

c.) A wizard’s maze with a start that involves going in circles trying every exit out of a room and returning to the start. After trying every door, the player enters the maze. The maze is generated at the moment it is entered. The way to get out is to use the same order of the exits tried before entering. It’s quite possible to get all the way through the maze without realizing this until the end. This marks (excluding the “room reassignment” used in Mystery Mansion as a memory cheat) the first adventure game with dynamic room generation.

d.) A maze with deadly snakes which I can only describe as a turn-based version of Pac-Man (although before Pac-Man was invented). Very tricky timing is involved.

e.) A fairly mundane hedge maze that you can burn down if you like. You might get tired of mazes and want to go ahead and destroy one.

f.) A section in the desert that might marginally be termed a “maze”. It’s based on a transport-based-on-limited-resource puzzles, rather like this one from Martin Gardner:

A group of airplanes is based on a small island. The tank of each plane holds just enough fuel to take it halfway around the world. Any desired amount of fuel can be transferred from the tank of one plane to the tank of another while the planes are in flight. The only source of fuel is on the island, and for the purposes of the problem it is assumed that there is no time lost in refueling either in the air or on the ground.

What is the smallest number of planes that will ensure the flight of one plane around the world in a great circle, assuming that the planes have the same constant ground speed and rate of fuel consumption and that all planes return safely to their island base?

(The Martin Gardner puzzle is incidentally top-flight and I’d recommend everyone giving it a go.)

In any case, the interactive fiction version requires wrangling water in the desert in appropriate places to avoid death.

g.) Was there another one? I don’t remember. I suppose I’ll find out.

In any case, the only maze I’d call “straight” would be the lodestone maze. It honestly isn’t that traumatic to map compared with that evil one from Adventure and the only reason I see the Hamiltonian path being necessary is that in order to optimize the number of turns (given the low life on the lamp compared with how many steps are needed) there is a good chance a game restart is needed somewhere. Still, once someone gets to the “cave” portion of the game they can just save, wander through using the map noting where all the treasures are, then restore and go only for the important rooms.

Posted January 30, 2013 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Acheton: Darkness and death   4 comments


> e
You find yourself surrounded by gently swaying silver birches which appear to change position when you’re not looking. Plenty of openings are visible between them, but these close up in some mysterious way whenever you approach them. The trees give off a heavy scent which becomes almost overpowering at times.
> dig
You start to dig a small hole with your hands. As you do so a strange high pitched musical laughter can be heard all around. The branches of the nearby trees shake, although there is no wind blowing. I think you must be tickling the tree roots!

Just like Adventure and Zork, Acheton features caverns in darkness; you need a lamp to see. Unlike the former, darkness is not immediately deadly.

You’re in the sandstone room.
> e
It is pitch dark.
> e
It is pitch dark.
> w
It is pitch dark.
> e
It is pitch dark.
> w
It is pitch dark.
> e
It is pitch dark.
> w
You fell into a pit and broke every bone in your body.

In other words, there is a random chance of death, rather than guaranteed immediate death via grue or falling in a pit.

One thing I remember from playing Acheton the first time around is that I ran out of lamp time but I was very close to the end of the game. So for about the 20 steps it took to walk to the endgame portion I was having to walk through darkness, saving every few steps and reloading if I died. Given I was efficient in that playthrough, the lamp has a VERY tight timer. I’ll try to be as careful as possible.

Speaking of death, there are plenty of instant deaths in Acheton. Modern gamers would call them “unfair” but many were clearly intended as “funny”. For instance, there’s keys and grate identical to the start of Adventure, except for one slight detail:

You are in the hallway of a disused farmhouse. Once there were doorways leading off into several other rooms, but these were all securely boarded up long ago. Outside is a road leading off to the west.
There is a small aerosol can of white paint here.
There is an empty bottle on the ground.
There is a bunch of keys here.
There is a brass lamp on the ground nearby.
It is off.
> get keys
> get lamp
> s
You are on the road near the farmhouse.
> s
You are at the bottom of a slight hollow, from which a path leads north.
There is a 3×3 steel grate set in the ground nearby.
The grate is locked.
> unlock grate
You are standing in the depression.
There is a 3×3 steel grate set in the ground nearby.
The grate is open.
> d
You fall into a well. The water is icy cold, and you rapidly die of hypothermia.

I’m afraid you haven’t got far enough to qualify for reincarnation yet.

A second tempting entrance (a tunnel into a deserted mine) also leads to instant death. Once finally locating the real entrance, followed by the first treasure (noted with a (!)), well–

> n
It is pitch dark.
> light lamp
The lamp is now on and burning brightly.
You are in a small room with a narrow counter running most of the way across it. At the end of the counter is a sign reading “CLOAKROOM” and there is a row of broken hooks on the wall.
The only exit is to the south. There is a mink coat (with bulging pockets) lying below the hooks!
> get coat
As you take the coat, a couple of ferrets leap out of its pockets and savage you. You die shortly later from loss of blood.

–that likely could have gone better.

Death really is the mildest thing the game can do, though. The problems are the points where the player can make the game unwinnable without realizing it (that is, Cruel on the Zarfian scale). I’ll talk about one of those parts next time.

Posted January 29, 2013 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Acheton (1978)   1 comment

The portions-of-the-map-closing parts of Stuga are getting to be a pain (there’s a part that doesn’t seem to have any way in now — I’m not sure if it’s a bug, or if there’s some strange timed thing, but it looks like I’ll have to restart) so I’m diving into Acheton.


Perhaps the first adventure game written outside the U.S. was “Acheton” (c. 1979), by Jon Thackray and David Seal, with contributions by Jonathan Partington, working in the mathematics department of Cambridge University, England. “Acheton” is an enormous cave game, whose name is a confection of “Acheron” (the river that dead used to cross in order to get to Hades) and “Achates” (minor character in Virgil’s “Aeneid”), based around exploration and collecting treasures.

[ FAQ]

I’m using the Z-code port (courtesy Graham Nelson, Adam Atkinson and David Kinder), which is about as authentic as I could hope for (and reports a start date of 1978, not 1979):

Our aim has been to restore and not to modernise or “improve” the work: the original parser has been recreated and all textual responses are authentic. Our only additions have been the following commands: “inform”, producing this text; “restore”, which allows saved games to be restored (the Phoenix originals instead asked about this at the start of each session of play); and “script”, which allows the transcript of play to be written to a file.

The only catch here is this was a mainframe game where the original 1978 version is lost, so this is the last part from 1981. This is semi-frustrating for the true gaming archaeologist, but really, I’m just here to play. In this case, play again — I finished Acheton a few years ago (for fun, not part of any project) and still have my maps. I have a deep and possibly unnatural fondness for hand-drawn maps, so I’ll see about popping some scans up as my game progresses. Since this is a replay, it won’t be quite the same as my prior games; pretty much everything I solved myself I still remember, although there were a couple sections I relied heavily on walkthroughs and hence my memory as to actual puzzle solutions is foggy.

Late in the game there’s one of the coolest yet also impossibly unfair puzzles I’ve ever experienced. So there’s that to look forward to. Onward!

Posted January 27, 2013 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Stuga: Map tension   1 comment


I’m nearing the end and a new feature has hit (I don’t know exactly when it happens, but I’m guessing when your score reaches a certain point) where map exits start closing off. Two examples:

You are in a room with an upward escalator and a door forward.


Just as you’re approaching the escalator, it stops and a man runs in and closes it.
You are in a room with an upward escalator and a door forward.
The escalator has been closed by Cottage’s highways department.


You are in the Studio.


The lock of the door has jammed so you won’t get out that way!
Your keys don’t fit the keyhole.
You are in the Studio.

Mind you, there’s still a way to get where is necessary, but it starts to be more circuitous as the game goes on. The portions of the map that involve (more or less) random travel start to get more appealing.

This led to a welcome kind of tension, lending a modicum of atmosphere and the feeling of other presences, rather like when entering the trapdoor from Zork it gets closed and barred from the other side. It’s not exactly a horror tension (the game is too silly for that) but more of a strategic tension.; I felt like I needed to do some actual planning.

Posted January 17, 2013 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Stuga: Resurrection   2 comments


There is a particular art to reviving a half-finished adventure game. Quite often I find I have to restart because I have a.) lost my maps or b.) lost the thread of the plot.

b.) is no worry: there’s no plot. As for a.), I posted my most recent map on the last post on this blog (back in 2011) so I don’t have to reconstruct everything. I still have the same sluggish feeling about this game though, so I need a battle plan.

I went to the hint file and pulled out the list of all the treasures as well as all the things that get points. Fingers crossed: a checklist might help me psychologically get through this thing.

Posted January 11, 2013 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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