Philosopher’s Quest (1979)   6 comments

Last we saw of the folks at Cambridge was Acheton, an extremely long and somewhat unfair attempt to one-up Adventure.

Philosopher’s Quest (originally Brand X) was written as if the authors (Peter Killworth and Jonathan Mestel) had played Adventure, Zork, and Acheton, and felt like what the world needed was a “master quest” version.

This is yet another “grab the treasures” type plot, although I am unclear at the moment where the treasures go. There’s a “purple star” which was last seen in Acheton. In that game it teleported treasures to the vault. I’m not sure if it’s the same effect here because I haven’t found a treasure yet.

You are at the south end of the long passage. There is a tunnel to the south through which light is faintly visible. Someone has scratched the word ‘BLACH’ on the wall!
> s
You are on a sandy beach to the east of an enormous cliff which bars the way to the north everywhere except a small cave entrance at its base. Rocks to the south and east block these routes effectively. There is a ledge vertically above you on the cliff, but far too high to reach. A track exits west, parallel to the cliff. There is a purple star drawn on the face of the cliff.
> say blach
A wizened old dwarf appears in a flash of light. Before you can react, he disappears as rapidly as he came.
> say blach
There is a vast explosion! On picking yourself up, however, you find that nothing seems to have happened to you.
> say blach
There is a loud < < S N A P ! ! > >
> w

I actually played this game about 7 years ago, but I hit difficulty so quickly I relied almost entirely on a walkthrough. The upshot of that is the only puzzle I remember the solution to is chronicled below as Unfair Twist #1. Of the rest I only remember that a.) the game is relatively small but b.) also ridiculously hard.

Unfair Twist #1:

Welcome to Brand X (Version 0.00)!
You don’t need instructions, so you won’t get any.
Problems, comments and suggestions to PDK1 or AJM8.
You are standing in a small shop which normally has various goods
displayed for sale. There are areas of the shop
obviously intended for the display of treasure.
There is an exit south, above which hangs
a large sign, which reads:

philsign

There is an aqualung with a full tank of oxygen here. It
turns on automatically upon contact with water.
There is a fluffy lace-edged cushion here.
There is a bunch of keys here.
A piece of sausage is curled up here.
There is a small teabag on the floor here.

The conceit of being allowed only a set number of items from a pile is sort of interesting, since you don’t actually need to grab the objects right away but can return for them as needed. There’s a locked door that needs keys I found early but I worry the keys are a red herring there’s some alternate way through the locked door.

In any case, here’s the unfair twist:

> get keys
OK.
> throw keys
You throw the keys neatly through the exit.
A thunderous voice from nowhere intones:

“VERY CLEVER! BUT YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH THAT AGAIN!”

Yes, you can take three items out. This would be clever if it represented an actual loophole in the sign above, but the specific phrasing is “only two implements may be removed” which seems to disallow the trick above. If the phrasing had been “you can only carry out two items” or “you can only walk out with two of the items” or something of that sort I can see this being a genuine loophole puzzle, but as given it strikes me as reading the author’s mind.

Unfair Twist #2:

From the very first room (which you might notice has no light source item):

> s
It is pitch dark.
>

At first I assumed you were supposed to wander in the dark a bit until finding a light source. If you go straight south you do get outside (although there is a chance of falling down a pit and dying), but still: no light source. I did solve this on my own, but it was through such a meta method the puzzle easily still falls in the unfair category.

You are standing in the kitchen of the bungalow, which is usually lit by some rather dubious-looking electric wiring high up. The windows are all boarded up. There is a door to the larder to the east, and another room to the north. The house entrance is to the south.
There is a dubious-looking power source here.
There is an empty cup here.
The door is closed.
There is an empty electric kettle here.
> turn on power
You’re not holding the lamp!

I’m pretty sure the parser took only the first two words, so I was just misunderstood. (I still have no idea how to interact with the power source.) This led me to realize there was a lamp somewhere. I took a wild guess and went back to the very first dark room.

It is pitch dark.
> get lamp
OK.

I remember now why I hit the walkthrough so early. I’ll try to give this game more of a chance this time.

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Posted February 4, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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6 responses to “Philosopher’s Quest (1979)

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  1. D’you think the treasures go in the initial shop?

    • Maybe? They do in the Acornsoft version Jimmy mentions in the other comment (the room description mentions it explicitly) but in the mainframe and Topologika versions (which are bigger) it might not.

      I’ll try it out when I find a treasure!

  2. Note that the game called Philosopher’s Quest was completely rewritten by Killworth in 1982 for the BBC Micro, and was roughly halved in size in the process. So there’s much more going on here than just a simple renaming. If you’re playing the 1979 Phoenix game, it would be more accurate to just say you’re playing Brand X. If you’re playing the 1982 BBC game, you’ve rather deviated from your chronology. ;)

    • The Acornsoft version was shortened, but the Topologika version (depicted in the cover above) restored the mainframe material.

  3. About that darkness thing, it seems to be a feature of Phoenix games that “get all” works in dark rooms.

    It’s still guess-the-author’s-mind, and not a very interesting puzzle anyway, but FWIW. You don’t have to guess that there’s a lamp; but you do have to guess that you can “get all”.

    On retrospect, it’s somewhat sensible – your scour in the darkness for anything you can find. It’s more sensible than disallowing everything as though there were grues in the darkness. But it’s so against convention – we’ve come to think of darkness as the equivalent of a locked door, and when you really think about it that’s preposterous – that you’re hard pressed to come up with it.

  4. Pingback: Philosopher’s Quest: Three openings | Renga in Blue

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