Acheton: Harshness to extremes   3 comments

achetoninside

…this is a rotten hard and often unfair game. You can die easily. You can lose or destroy a necessary tool just as easily. This should not be seen as a fault, as such, in one of the earliest adventures ever written, by mathematicians for mathematicians; but Acheton is not only larger than nearly all other games, it also does take harshness to extremes at times.
— Richard Bos

I want to discuss two puzzles that are both brilliant and unfair.

Before I start, I should give the reminder that just like Adventure, the goal in Acheton is to collect all the treasures in the world. In this case, they then go in a vault.

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> xyzzy
I’m afraid that magic word hasn’t got enough power to work in this universe.

The “famous magic word” of Acheton is ZOOGE.

> sw
You are in a low damp chamber. Mist appears from nowhere, rolls and billows around the room and eventually disappears equally mysteriously. A rough note on the wall says “ZOOGE”. There are two exits at opposite ends of the room.

Unfortunately, attempting to using it generally results in “Nothing happens.” There hence must be more conditions. In Adventure the condition was simply to be in the right place but it wasn’t tough to figure out. In Acheton it takes a more lateral jump: there are rooms spread throughout the game with stars.

You are in a small chamber whose walls show chisel marks and other signs of only recently having been cut out of the solid rock. The only exit is to the southeast. Somebody has painted a large purple star on the floor!

The reason this jump isn’t too absurd is there are quite a few rooms with the stars. It’s safe to assume they’re part of an underlying magic mechanism.

> zooge
There is a mighty rush of wind, blowing you off your feet. You pick yourself up and find that you have grazed your knee and that everything you were holding has been scattered round the room.

I thought maybe this was it — perhaps a puzzle surfaces where an item can only be dropped via this mechanism — but given the number of stars, probably not.

Fortunately, there’s another room with a suggestive hint.

You are in a 12-foot high rock chamber. There is a massive walk-in safe on the east wall. The west wall bears an inscription, and there is a bright yellow star apparently painted in the middle of the ceiling. A spiral staircase leads downwards.
The safe is open.
> read inscription
The inscription reads “Black magic should be practiced in obscurity.”

Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do with this. Hints were perused. It turns out the effect only happens with the lamp off. Unfortunately, still:

> zooge
Nothing happens.

I went back to one of the other star rooms and turned off my lamp again.

> zooge
There is a loud >>SNAP<< !

Ok, now we are getting somewhere. Except … nothing happened.

It turns out that if you have treasures on the floor in a star room that’s not next to the safe AND you have the lamp off ZOOGE will teleport the treasures next to the safe.

It’s kind of plausible someone could put all these parts together, especially if they were working as a group and sharing notes (allegedly, in 1978 the “black magic should be practiced in obscurity” hint didn’t even exist). I certainly don’t begrudge experimentation puzzles entirely, because they have a unique quality which only works in an adventure game, but there’s no better word for this puzzle as other than unfair.

Which is a pity, because there’s a followup puzzle which is brilliant.

> d
You are in a small dusty chamber. There is a hole in the ceiling and an obvious exit to the northwest.
> nw
You are in a long clean gallery. The walls are covered with frescos and the floor is a beautiful, intricately constructed mosaic of coloured stone tiles.
There is a large portrait by Rembrandt propped up nearby!
> get portrait
OK.
> se
The painting you’re carrying won’t fit through here.
> inventory
You are holding:
A Rembrandt portrait.
An aerosol can of paint.
A brass lamp.

Feel free to predict what happens next.

> drop portrait
OK.
> paint star
You paint a star on the ground nearby. The paint dries slowly and evenly.
> turn off lamp
The lamp is now off.
> zooge
There is a loud >>SNAP<< !

A year ago when I first blogged about Acheton I mentioned “one of the coolest yet also impossibly unfair puzzles I’ve ever experienced”. Here it is.

You are in a small deep chamber under the pyramid. The walls are decorated with ancient Egyptian drawings and hieroglyphics, and the floor is uneven and rocky. A dim light enters through the only exit, which is a staircase to the west.
There is a large cactus growing out of a cylindrical earthenware vessel fixed to the ground. The vessel bears an inscription: “BLEI AMEDI”.
> eat cactus
You break off a piece of cactus and eat it, finding to your surprise that it is delicious and even the spines melt in your mouth. After a moment, a feeling of dizziness overtakes you as the walls seem to recede into the distance and the entire room appears to expand around you.

Even what you’re carrying seems to get larger.

Eventually you realise that it is you who are shrinking, apparently without limit and not the room that is expanding, and this helps you to overcome your dizziness, though not your apprehension.

In the end, you are crushed by an object that you are carrying.

You appear to have died. Do you want to be reincarnated?

(The vessel inscription is I AM EDIBLE.)

The obvious solution here: not to carry anything.

This works, allows a good amount of progress, and is the irritating part. It turns out there are some objects that you CAN carry with you. There are two things small enough to turn into useful objects.

> inventory
You are holding:
A piece of thread.
A glass marble.
> look
As you look at the marble, it glows briefly. You get the impression that some vision is shown in it, but cannot see any detail.
> eat cactus
You break off a piece of cactus and eat it, finding to your surprise that it is delicious and even the spines melt in your mouth. After a moment, a feeling of dizziness overtakes you as the walls seem to recede into the distance and the entire room appears to expand around you.

Even what you’re carrying seems to get larger.

Eventually you realise that it is you who are shrinking, apparently without limit and not the room that is expanding, and this helps you to overcome your dizziness, though not your apprehension.

Your fears are groundless, as the shrinking stops suddenly.
You are holding:
A glass palantir.
Some rope.
You are in the middle of what appears to be a huge cavern with a boulder-strewn rocky floor. The walls are covered with pictures of giants and massive geometric shapes. There is an opening in the western wall through which light enters, but this is far above your reach, even if you were to get over there. A small opening can be seen under one of the rocks.
> look
As you look into the palantir, you see a brief vision which quickly fades. The ruling council of Acheton appears to be enjoying a grand banquet in their enormous council chamber. At present the banqueters are enjoying a fruit course.

This is the sort of moment I play adventure games for. I am still amazed just re-reading it.

Yet … while the thread/rope is necessary early on enough to stop the player, the marble isn’t. It is possible to get nearly to the very end of the game before needing the palantir. There’s brilliance enough for this era, it’s just still clouded by uncertainty about what makes good game design. (All the creators had access to before they made Acheton was Adventure and Zork.)

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Posted December 31, 2014 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “Acheton: Harshness to extremes

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  1. Good to see you blogging about Acheton again, Jason, although it looks more and more like Acheton *won’t* be the first Cambridge/Acornsoft/Topologika game I try. The puzzles seem fiendishly hard — great fun to read about your attempts at solving them, but possibly hell to actually play! (Btw, “BLEI AMEDI” almost seems to be one of those dingbat/rebus things that decodes to ‘”I AM” in “EDIBLE”‘ i.e. “I am inedible” — although given that eating the cactus isn’t actually fatal, this may not have been what the creators of Acheton were getting at… See? I’d be rubbish at this game.)

  2. You might want to check if ZOOGE also works in rooms _adjacent_ to rooms with stars in them. I seem to recall that it does and that you can save some time (and lamp time) this way.

  3. Ant: I’d suggest Sangraal or Crobe for a first Phoenix experience.

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