Archive for May 2017

Adventure (430 points): Finished!   Leave a comment

Perhaps you were frustrated by long hours mapping the maze of twisty passageways, all different, especially once finding out the “vending machine” at the end only serves as a way to remove a treasure and reduce the possible high score. Perhaps you always wanted to do this:

Dead End

There is a massive and somewhat battered vending machine here. The instructions on it read: “Drop coins here to receive fresh batteries.”

ATTACK MACHINE

As you strike the vending machine, it pivots backward along with a section of wall, revealing a dark passage leading south.

S

You are in a long, rough-hewn, north/south corridor.

Only ATTACK works. You can’t “PUSH” or “MOVE” or anything like that.

Past the vending machine is a small secret area:

You are in a large chamber with passages to the west and north.

A formidable ogre bars the northern exit.

While attacking the ogre in normal circumstances is futile, if you have a dwarf following you around it can come to your advantage:

ATTACK OGRE

The ogre, who despite his bulk is quite agile, easily dodges your attack. He seems almost amused by your puny effort.

One sharp nasty knife is thrown at you!

The ogre, distracted by your rush, is struck by the knife. With a blood-curdling yell he turns and bounds after the dwarf, who flees in panic. You are left alone in the room.

In any case, I managed to secure the 20 necessary treasures, place them in the well house, and then waited around the cave until the endgame started. If you’ve never played any version of Adventure to the end, here’s what that looks like:

The sepulchral voice intones, “The cave is now closed.” As the echoes fade, there is a blinding flash of light (and a small puff of orange smoke). . . . As your eyes refocus, you look around and find…

You are at the northeast end of an immense room, even larger than the Giant Room. It appears to be a repository for the “Adventure” program. Massive torches far overhead bathe the room with smoky yellow light. Scattered about you can be seen a pile of bottles (all of them empty), a nursery of young beanstalks murmuring quietly, a bed of oysters, a bundle of black rods with rusty stars on their ends, and a collection of brass lanterns. Off to one side a great many dwarves are sleeping on the floor, snoring loudly. A notice nearby reads: “Do not disturb the dwarves!” An immense mirror is hanging against one wall, and stretches to the other end of the room, where various other sundry objects can be glimpsed dimly in the distance.

This leaves an absurd puzzle I’ve already written about to finish things off:

BLAST

There is a loud explosion, and a twenty-foot hole appears in the far wall, burying the dwarves in the rubble. You march through the hole and find yourself in the main office, where a cheering band of friendly elves carry the conquering adventurer off into the sunset.

You scored 410 out of a possible 430, using 504 turns.

Your score puts you in Master Adventurer Class B.

To achieve the next higher rating, you need 1 more point.

I lost some points due to

Saving my game three times. Each save was a 5 point loss.

and

Passing the 350-turn mark (which causes a deduction) and the 500-turn mark (which causes another deduction). The latter was particularly frustrating; after getting all treasures the standard procedure is to wait in the cave for it to “close”, which easily took at least 50 turns.

I’m not entirely convinced a 350-turn win is possible, especially with the closing wait time built in? I did use “routing” trying to make each foray in the cave as efficient as possible, but I was still a bit off. The trickiest part to time was the vending machine foray as mentioned earlier, because you have to dive into the maze with a dwarf in tow.

Also, the dwarves just seemed more generally aggressive in this game compared to the last. I did make a couple honest no-save attempts but each time I was skewered; death is very random.

Frank thoughts: none of the new additions are improvements. While it is indeed interesting to use the bird for more than one thing, and indeed satisfying to have the vending machine mean something, and even somewhat enjoyable to optimize for points, the 430-point version of Adventure is not as balanced as the 350-point version. While the same difficulty of puzzles might be welcome in, say, Philosopher’s Quest, the entire texture of that game radiated evil, while 350-point Adventure is friendly and bright. Spice was added to a dish that didn’t need it; what Don Woods really needed to do (and still, perhaps, might do?) is write an entirely new game.

There’s been one “enhanced” port of 430-point Adventure, written for Android.

Posted May 31, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 430: Failure to Visualize   2 comments

From Level 9’s MSX port of Adventure. Via Mobygames.

I’m getting to the “understand all the parts, trying to get a full run together” phase of Don Woods’s 430-point version of Adventure. My next post will likely be the wrap-up.

However, I wanted to focus on a part that had me stuck, because the exact same issue (from a game design sense) came up in Mystery Fun House.

The forest thins out here to reveal a steep cliff. There is no way down, but a small ledge can be seen to the west across the chasm.

A small urn is embedded in the rock.

GET URN

The urn is far too firmly embedded for your puny strength to budge it.

Before I go on, please visualize the situation. What kind of urn is it? How is it positioned, exactly? How deep is it embedded? Then:

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My own visualization was something like this:

an old-fashioned ceremonial ash-storing urn, stuck in the side of a rock, relatively deeply, so it is required to get it out before doing anything with it.

Sort of like this. Via Karthik M. CC BY 3.0.

However, it is apparently:

a.) Positioned upright, with the base the part inside the rock.

b.) Not a funerary urn that just holds ashes, but the kind you put oil in that burns.

c.) Placed in the rock only partway, so it’s possible to fully interact with the urn.

This is what’s supposed to happen:

FILL URN

Your bottle is now empty and the urn is full of oil.

LIGHT URN

The urn is now lit.

RUB URN

As you rub the urn, there is a flash of light and a genie appears. His aspect is stern as he advises: “One who wouldst traffic in precious stones must first learn to recognize the signals thereof.” He wrests the urn from the stone, leaving a small cavity. Turning to face you again, he fixes you with a steely eye and intones: “Caution!” Genie and urn vanish in a cloud of amber smoke. The smoke condenses to form a rare amber gemstone, resting in the cavity in the rock.

Failure of visualization may in text adventures be the most difficult of all situations to get unstuck from. The player might just be missing a possible exit (Adventure II had a bit that qualified due to text ambiguity, but this can happen on an entirely fair text that’s just misread) or the player might see the scene in a way different from the author, making it so certain actions are possible in the game which are impossible in the player’s mental model.

I’m not sure what to do with this knowledge yet, but it certainly qualifies as a Pattern of some sort.

Posted May 29, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure (430 points): Unfinished Business   Leave a comment

So after playing this game a little, I am undecided whether to think of it as

1.) A “master quest” version of Adventure, meant to challenge veterans on replay.

or

2.) Woods picking up loose threads from the 350-point version and trying to tie them.

I suppose it can be both, or at least,  in working out the extra challenges it helps to look at them through the lens of unfinished business.

. . .

Other than the forest maze I mentioned in my last post, the next most obvious change between this game and the previous version happened when I tried to save:

SUSPEND

I can suspend your Adventure for you so that you can resume later, but it will cost you 5 points.

Is this acceptable?

Yow. Fortunately the endgame is triggered by getting all the treasures, and getting a max score is just extra gravy. Especially because of this:

500 turns? That’s another few points you’ve lost.

which means a perfect score requies both winning without saves and under the 500 turn mark. (EDIT: There’s another point deduction even earlier, at 350 moves.)

. . .

I combed through the entire map twice and could not find any new rooms underground. This is not a straightforward expansion. Nearly everything new is hidden, with the common theme of “what would you have liked to try in original Adventure but couldn’t?”

For example, the bird. I am guessing most people used it for the puzzle it was intended (chasing away the snake) and them let it be,  leaving it underground for presumably the rest of its feathery life. Did anyone think to try this?

GO NORTH

You are wandering aimlessly through the forest.

FREE BIRD

OK

which in 430-point Adventure rewards the player with this:

LISTEN

It almost seems as though the bird is trying to tell you something.

OK, not much a reward yet. However, if you have drank the blood of the dragon not far from the Hall of the Mountain King…

The blood-specked body of a huge green dead dragon lies to one side.

DRINK BLOOD

Your head buzzes strangely for a moment.

…you can hear the bird:

The bird is singing to you in gratitude for your having returned it to its home. In return, it informs you of a magic word which it thinks you may find useful somewhere near the Hall of Mists. The magic word changes frequently, but for now the bird believes it to be “A’MIQ”. You thank the bird for this information, and it flies off into the forest.

A new magic word (which changes each game)! I already know where it goes, but that’s only because I was utterly unable to find this on my own and had to check spoilers. Read on if you’d like to know, too:

You are at the edge of a large underground reservoir. An opaque cloud of white mist fills the room and rises rapidly upward. The lake is fed by a stream, which tumbles out of a hole in the wall about 10 feet overhead and splashes noisily into the water somewhere within the mist. There is a passage going back toward the south.

A’MIQ

The waters have parted to form a narrow path across the reservoir.

GO NORTH

You are walking across the bottom of the reservoir. Walls of water rear up on either side. The roar of the water cascading past is nearly deafening, and the mist is so thick you can barely see.

The reservoir seems particularly attractive to modders of Adventure. Adventure 440 added to it and I recall David Long’s version (which I haven’t written about yet) adds a little. There’s also this home computer port which allows for some rafting.

I suppose the reservoir feels like something special and incomplete far more than the other dead ends (most people reach it after defeating the dragon). Unfinished business has everyone draw in the empty margins.

POSTSCRIPT NOTE: It bothered me a great deal afterwards: how could one know to drink the blood of the dragon in order to communicate with the bird? Apparently it’s a mythology reference:

In a Norse legend from the Völsunga saga, the dragonslayer, Sigurd, kills Fafnir – a dwarf who has been turned into a dragon as a result of guarding the cursed ring that had once belonged to the dwarf, Andvari. After slaying the dragon, Sigurd drinks some of the dragon’s blood and thereby gains the ability to understand the speech of birds.
From Wikipedia, Dragonslayers

Posted May 27, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure (430 points) by Don Woods (1978)   Leave a comment

The famous axe-throwing dwarf, from AMC’s version of 350-point Adventure ported by Rick Adams. Even though the main window is a faithful port, there’s a nice tutorial alongside as well as bonus images that resemble modern Achievements.

We’ve seen so far modifications of the 350-point Crowther and Woods Adventure (both minor and major) as well as a made-from-scratch reimagining.

But what if one of the original authors wasn’t done yet?

/* ADVENTURE (REV 2: 20 TREASURES) */

/* HISTORY: ORIGINAL IDEA & 5-TREASURE VERSION (ADVENTURES) BY WILLIE CROWTHER
* 15-TREASURE VERSION (ADVENTURE) BY DON WOODS, APRIL-JUNE 1977
* 20-TREASURE VERSION (REV 2) BY DON WOODS, AUGUST 1978
* ERRATA FIXED: 78/12/25

This is directly from the source code of the 430-point version of Adventure made by Don Woods. Even though the game has a date of 1995 on the Interactive Fiction Archive, this seems to be simply the year Woods ported the code from FORTRAN to C. Consequently, as Jesse Silverman points out in a comment, this really should be considered a 1978 game.

I am extremely curious if this is a case of the creation running wild too early; that is, Don Woods was still in the process of writing and never intended the 350 point version to be the canonical one. Certainly we’ve seen many cases so far where mainframe games were tinkered with for years after their creation, and the “official” (and typically only) version used for play is the last one.

The most immediately obvious change is outdoors. Referring back to Jesse’s comment:

He expanded the forest to 20 locations that you can’t map reasonably even with Trizbort, and there’s only two locations that seem to be of any worth. I found both of those in 5 minutes of stumbling around, so there was no real reward for the few hours I spent mapping it afterwards.

To be specific, there’s this place:

You are wandering aimlessly through the forest.

Your keen eye spots a severed leporine appendage lying on the ground.

and here:

The forest thins out here to reveal a steep cliff. There is no way down, but a small ledge can be seen to the west across the chasm.

A small urn is embedded in the rock.

>get urn

The urn is far too firmly embedded for your puny strength to budge it.

I’m going to trust the comment and not bother with making a map. Doing so makes me wonder if that was in fact the intent. With some mazes of the era the intent seemed to be conveying “getting lost” without demanding exhaustive mapping on the player’s part. Don Woods mentions in an interview that when making the All Alike maze he made a “diagram … to check whether any simple repetitive actions would get you out”. This way you can’t get out by just typing NORTH over and over, but that still doesn’t bar a little bit of navigation by luck.

Posted May 27, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Fun House: Finished!   10 comments

The cover of the Japanese version, via Giant Bomb.

I was very close to the end.

Let’s get the yucky part out of the way first: I was stuck with my last post on what was essentially a guess-the-verb issue, although I think an error in visualization might be more accurate. I mentioned being able to partially open a grate that was still stuck by one bolt. I visualized the grate as being set inside a hole such that any kind of movement would have to be up (PULL GRATE) or down (PUSH GRATE) neither which worked; HIT GRATE also wasn’t very helpful.

Apparently, there was some room to the side: SLIDE GRATE was what worked. Argh!

In any case, entering the hole led to a new area:

At this point, I knew immediately what to do: I have been toting around an explosive device the entire game, and now was its time to shine.

Oops! In my last post I wrote “main problem is it attracts guards, is it possible to muffle the sound?” which was slightly prescient. The solution here was exceedingly simple: close the door leading to the outside before setting off the explosion.

Through the blasted gate is one of my favorite puzzles of any adventure game:

I’m not going to even spoil it here, but instead give two hints. 1.) It uses something that you might normally not think of as a valid puzzle-solving item; recontextualizing assumptions is necessary and 2.) my previous posts about Mystery Fun House contain enough information to figure the puzzle out. Feel free to leave your guesses in the comments.

After the clay pigeon room came the secret lab…

…followed by victory!

Mystery Fun House has pretty solid design compared to other Scott Adams games, although I don’t think it quite reaches the heights of Voodoo Castle or innovation of The Count. Really, the main demerit is my >SLIDE GRATE issue; I was genuinely stuck for a long time and wasted a great deal of effort trying to make progress. It’s strange, in that I’m guessing a lot of players visualized the situation correctly and tried SLIDE GRATE right away, making this an issue that doesn’t even register. Adventure games in a way have a higher hurdle to jump than other genres. Minor glitches in strategy game AI or shooter sprite design can be passed over, but if progress is stuck in an adventure the experience plummets, even (perhaps especially) if it turns out the problem is minor.

I also have mixed feelings about the two locked doors I mentioned in my last post that turned out to be red herrings. One of the doors (the one behind the mirror) you presumably see the other side of in the secret lab, so there’s a nice bit of continuity. On the other hand, I did waste quite a bit of time trying to hack or explode my way through. I’ll consider this aspect a tie. (Disclaimer: I genuinely enjoyed the red herrings in Planetfall and felt like they added enormously to the world-as-world feeling where not every aspect has to be conveniently oriented towards solving a puzzle. However, I know some people dislike red herrings of any sort.)

This really seems to be the first adventure game comedy. It even nails participatory comedy, which is especially difficult in adventure format. Anyone can add a silly item description to a game, which is like telling a joke. Having the player attempt to buy a ticket with a “five dollar bill” that turns out to be a grocery bill makes the player part of the joke.

Oh, and that final puzzle’s solution is also somewhat comedic, but in a sensible way. I guess that’s hint #3.

(Additional bonus reading: Emily Short discusses participatory comedy in the Ryan Veeder game The Statue Got Me High.)

Posted May 24, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Fun House: Stuck   1 comment

Image via Giant Bomb. “Before exploring the Mystery Fun House, you must figure out how to get inside. Once inside, you’ll see all the typical Fun House sights, concealing a valuable prize.”


This isn’t the first post I’ve given this title, nor the first where I’m going to do some pre-planning before my next game session. Let me catch up some events, though:

One of the puzzles I hadn’t solved yet since my last play session involved a merry-go-round; attempting to get on resulted in this:

WHAT SHALL I DO? go merry
HUH? Why do you want me to MARRY?
Calliope is so LOUD I can’t hear clearly!

Apparently, the calliope is too loud for the computer parser to hear.

Turning off a valve in an unrelated part of the fun house turned down the music. I was then able to climb the merry-go-round to the top, where I found a wrench and a flashlight.

The wrench let me take one (and only one) of the two bolts off the grating outside. Here I am now very stuck.

. . .

I really am fascinating by the moment of stuckness in adventures; it seems to be both the primary source of joy in puzzle games (once a difficult puzzle is cracked) but also the most common reason people give up on them or avoid the genre in general. Theoretical question: If we wanted to design a game with moderate or high difficulty, is there a good way to mitigate the pain of being stuck for all users?

Whatever the answer is, Scott Adams games tend not to have it. By necessity of stuffing into the memory of a TRS-80, the responsiveness is fairly low to commands that aren’t part of the correct solution. Consequently, there’s very little help or encouragement when things are wrong.

Also, the stuckness is quite often not from missing the appropriate way to put together puzzle pieces, but misunderstanding the nature of the environment. A fairly good example is the part in Strange Odyssey where I wasn’t aware I could >ENTER JUNGLE because the jungle was given in the room description rather than as an object, unlike every other enterable location in the game.

With this game, I was stuck a while at the top of the previously mentioned merry-go-round; there was a hint about a piece of hemp falling on my head, but that didn’t quite equate to what I needed to do: LOOK CEILING, upon which I would find a rope. I might be wrong, but this might be the first time in a Scott Adams game you can refer to the ceiling at all as an object! One would normally expect the game to not recognize its existence. (Yet I solved the puzzle; to be fair, it was a pretty strong hint.)

. . .

Still, I want to continue with a principle I established in playing Philosopher’s Quest, that even when nothing is resolved, eliminating possibilities is still progress. The adventure-game system (or in my real life job, the math problem) isn’t necessarily going to give you any feedback that lets you feel some movement and accomplishment. In such cases I try to create the feedback myself.

For example, as I mentioned in my last post, there are some spectacles that let you see a secret door in a mirror. After I found the secret door I never used the spectacles again, but one possible solving attempt is to take the spectacles to every accessible room, just in case they find something else. I did a half-hearted attempt at this while I was in the midst of playing, but I got tired quickly. Knowing and documenting what’s been checked with the spectacles makes the experience at least a little satisfying.

Known puzzles that need solving

Other bolt on grating in parking lot

Locked door at pit

Locked door above merry-go-round

Things to try

Use the spectacles on everything to find more secret doors

Try to blow things up with the gum from the shoe – main problem is it attracts guards, is it possible to muffle the sound? Would be useful if it worked on the grating, but the gum doesn’t stick, is there a way around this?

Try to track down where the mermaid goes if you open the drain – is this just a gag or is it useful?

Is the skeleton useful?

There’s a red knob that makes a hallway get occasional strong blasts of air rather than light blasts of air – try dropping items there and see if anything useful happens?

Posted May 24, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Fun House: A Series of Comedic Events   2 comments

I mentioned in my last post I got halfway through the game without being aware I was some sort of super spy trying to retrieve a blueprint.

Part of the reason why is the events that follow have very little in common with a spy story. It’s really more of a comedy.

You start out needing a ticket to get in the fun house. It costs a dollar. In the parking lot, you find a “five dollar bill” but, upon attempting to use it to buy a ticket, this happens:

There’s a dollar coin stuck in a grate you need to get to buy the ticket instead.

This is followed by a mirror

a maze (thankfully brief)

and a room with a skeleton and three knobs. (Pulling them takes you to three different destinations.)

There’s a “rolling barrel room” that won’t let you leave unless you CRAWL out

a non-working fortune teller

and a tank with a mermaid.

Also, you can send the mermaid down the drain.

The closest there is to a spy-genre event is a pair of spectacles

that can be used to find a secret room back at the mirror. It feels more like Inspector Gadget than James Bond to me, though.

I’m really curious what the thought process with the design here was; did they first want to design a spy game, then picked the setting, then realized the setting was more of a comedy so made it that way? Or did Scott Adams (supposedly with assistance from Alexis Adams on this one) decide they wanted to try a comedy and realized it might not make sense to the average player without a frame story? Was there a genuine desire to make a spy/comedy hybrid? Or was it all just thrown together at random and this is what things ended up at?

Posted May 21, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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