Quondam: Finished!   41 comments

The endgames to computer RPGs inherently have what I call the “item creep” problem: the player has amassed so many skills and items that it becomes hard to balance things and keep the game challenging. Adventure game endgames also sometimes have trouble keeping up difficulty, but in the opposite direction: as items get used up, there are less and less of them that are possible solutions to a puzzle.

While some of Quondam’s puzzles start to succumb to the “try every inventory item” method near the end, there are still a couple of truly evil ones.

Puzzle #1: The Striped Pole

I left off last time in a forest glade:

>NW
You are standing in a forest glade, full of trees except for a road south. There is a small cave nearby, boarded up, with a sign saying ‘Emergency only’.
There is a red and white striped pole standing vertically here.

>U
You are perched on a pole (and look VERY silly)!

Before how I explain how this one is solved, I need to mention another item, a “strange lamp”:

>ON
What do you want to switch on?
>LAMP
The lamp gives one large flash.
You’re blinded fatally.

I tend to make an object list as I play to help solve puzzles, but I had left one off. I had a blind spot (ahem) based on a false assumption. I assumed that this portion of the game was just a gag:

>SAVE
A legal gentleman appears, saying ‘We do not like your use of ‘save’. There are few places we cannot reach, so please avoid trouble.’ He vanishes in a cloud of smoke.

>SAVE
The legal gentleman returns with two persons who are definitely NOT gentlemen, who beat you up. You knock the dark glasses off one but you are near death when they leave.
A pair of dark glasses lies here.
You are in agony.

Even though this normally kills you, you actually need to go through with this scene because you need the dark glasses to avoid getting blinded by the flash.

It turns out the glade is the only place you can suffer the beating and survive:

>GET GLASSES
OK
Just as you are dying, a man in a white coat runs out of the cave, pulls you inside and cures you.
You are in a dingy shop belonging to the local apothecary, barber and mortician, judging from the certificates plastered on the wall. There are racks which once held sunglasses, empty herb bottles, and coloured postcards over the cracks in the wall.
A wheezing apothecary wants payment.
A small white capsule lies here.

One extra bizarre aspect: in trying to solve this I was googling red-and-white striped poles in the UK because I assumed there was some extra meaning to them, like with the British Rail sandwich. However, due to all the modern elements, I was looking for 1980s-ish interpretations. I never thought “doctor” which would be appropriate for a medieval version of the same symbol. This wasn’t exactly a “continuity error”, but this felt to me like the bird from my last post being near and far at the same time — being rescued from a beating by the Mafia from a medieval doctor requires a bit of chronological confusion.

Puzzle #2: The Cards

The most truly frustrating item in the game might be some “decorative cards”. >PLAY CARDS in a random location will cause them to just disappear when they hit the floor. Later you find a green felt table, and playing the cards causes this to happen:

>PLAY CARDS
A sorceror appears, snatches the cards off the table, says ‘..even cheats at solitaire..’ and vanishes.

I definitely needed hints here; I might be bold enough to say 99% of the players needed hints here.

>SHUFFLE CARDS
OK

>SHUFFLE CARDS
OK

>PLAY CARDS
You deal four cards and see that they are the 3 of spades, the 5 of hearts, the 4 of diamonds and the 2 of clubs before they all disappear!

This puzzle might be remotely fair if it was a “new” deck of cards, since new decks of cards tend to be unshuffled. There was other no reason at all to assume the above actions were necessary (you do need to shuffle twice; shuffling once will cause the same sorceror scene to happen).

Puzzle #3: The Horse

This puzzle exemplifies more than anywhere how the game abuses the notion of being your “eyes and ears”.

After getting below the Kitchen from last time (not too hard, once I had the repaired sword) …

You are in the kitchen of Beelzebub’s restaurant, full of imps preparing revolting food. The smell of sulfur and roast flesh catch at your throat.
A roast ox is turning on a spit.
A goblin is coming, the light gleaming off its many eyes and claws!
A ring is set in the floor.

… I came across a scene with a demon, followed by another with a troll. Solving for the troll left me in this position:

You are in a room covered in carvings. There is a large hole in the roof far above you and an exit south.
A stone troll stands here.

I was completely stuck here, and it turned out I needed to use this item:

There is a small silver figurine of a horse here, with a square hole in one side!

I assumed later I would encounter something “squarish” that would fit. But no: it was an item I already had for most of the game, a small key:

>WIND HORSE
You place the key in the horse’s side and wind. The horse grows and you drop it, as it turns into a living winged stallion!
The horse stares at the troll, fascinated.

Allow me to chronicle the unfair:

1. The small key is described as just that. There is no implication it is a “winding key” or has a square end. I think the game must have thought a “hint” was the fact “unlock” isn’t even a word in the game.

2. Speaking of verbs, “insert key” or the like doesn’t work. The only way to operate the horse figurine is with the verb WIND.

3. The horse-winding works anywhere, but usually results in “The horse seems unafraid and flies off.” There’s no particular reason to think that a stone troll would cause the horse to be more afraid than anything else. (This one isn’t as bad as points #1 and #2, since at this point the number of items that haven’t been used yet is pretty low.)

Puzzle #4: The Snake

This one was right at the end.

You seem to have ended up on Death Row. An iron maiden stands to one side, and gas hisses through vents. The roof seems to be getting lower!
There is a large electric chair here.
A mighty serpent lunges for you, its jaws agape!

>THROW FLUTE
The serpent eats the flute with no difficulty.
A mighty serpent lunges for you, its jaws agape!

This is after hitting the “I’ve used every item, haven’t I?” limit. The solution turned out to be very clever, enough so that I’m not going to spoil it here (if you’ve been following my posts, you should be able to solve it in the comments).

Ending Thoughts

>ON
What do you want to switch on?
>CHAIR
Your body (which was getting pretty battered, let’s face it) dies but your spirit is passed into a fine new body. You appear in an office full of mountain photos. A gnome demands the number of your bank account.

(This comes from the card puzzle I mentioned earlier.)

>5442
The gnome gives you your interest and returns your treasure.
You have scored 250 out of 250.
I’ve run out of problems. That means you’ve won (curse).. I mean well done!
That’s the end!
Would you like another game?

Let me record some hyperbole for posterity, then make some clarifications:

Quondam is the most difficult adventure game ever made.

I can think of certain adventures that rely enough on moon logic that random usage of objects is the only way through. This is harder than that! There are no near misses. If you don’t think to “WIND HORSE” or “SHUFFLE CARDS” you’re not going to get anywhere. This is in addition to the leaps required to utilize the save game feature as a puzzle solving method, or work out the “bank” puns, or handle the fact the game actively aims to describe items in a deceptive way.

Having said that, I’m sure there are some truly broken and terrible games that are harder to get through, but there’s a difference between broken and hard.

Should you try to play this? Well, I didn’t spoil all the puzzles, so you’re still up for an uphill climb if you’re up for it. I suppose it’s worth it for a glimpse into early 80s sadism that’s heavy enough I can make a claim like the one above with a straight face.

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Posted September 23, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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41 responses to “Quondam: Finished!

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  1. What about PLAY FLUTE/CHARM SNAKE? Is there a way of asking the maiden to help?

    • An iron maiden is not a person (check Google for a picture).

      The snake doesn’t care if you play the flute.

    • By the time a player reaches this point, their potentially available list of non-treasure items consists of: the rock (which glows in the dark), the flask (now empty), the rucksack, the bottle (either empty or holding water), the dark glasses, the slab, the flute, a corkscrew, and the lamp (now out of power).

    • Upon arriving at Death Row, the player has two turns before the snake eats them.

      • Get gas/throw flask?

      • Nope. You were closer with the slab. You don’t have one single object alone that’s quite big enough to stuff up the snake.

      • Fill the rucksack and throw it?

      • Yes!

      • Here, just for the satisfaction:

        >THROW SACK
        The serpent eats the sack with great difficulty.
        It chokes on the bulky sack.

      • Go me, I guess. I felt better about the Mystery Fun House puzzle, but that’s probably just because I got that without hints. The “without difficulty” message is a fair hint here–it got me to think “go big.” I guess here playing along in the comments really was cheating myself; it seems like the genius of the puzzle comes from making you flip from thinking of the rucksack as a holdall that helps you manage your inventory (or hinders, as with the hole) to something that can actually be used to aggregate things in a useful way. But as a filthy modern IF player I don’t think about inventory management that much unless the game makes me.
        Do you get a special message about the flute? Charming a snake with a flute is a common enough trope that I’d hope the game would anticipate trying it. Honestly I do think that capturing the gas to make a sort of grenade was a pretty clever idea but I can see why that wasn’t the solution.
        I am kind of in awe at your ability to actually play these games.

      • It certainly draws on the same common theme as the Mystery Fun House Puzzle of “repurposing” and “breaking earlier preconceptions about how something works” as a method of making a puzzle.

        No message at all with the flute. This game isn’t much for helpful hints if something is wrong. To be fair, I think it was stuffing the disk capacity to the limit, so there wasn’t room for much else.

      • In a regular playthrough, you’ll actually have just used the flute to get to Death Row (I won’t spoil how). So there’d be a bit less focus, I think, on the flute being the potential answer because it’s just served its “purpose” immediately beforehand. (Of course, to get here you’ll already have needed to use certain items twice to solve two different puzzles, so that would still be part of the possibility space – just maybe not as prominent an idea.)

        And from a certain point of view, by the time you get to Death Row the rucksack is the only item you really haven’t “used” to solve a puzzle. I say “from a certain point of view” because you could have emptied it to get the sandwich way back at the beginning… but that’s less “using this item to solve a puzzle” and more “the item itself is a puzzle to be solved.”

      • Also, I think the “gas” referenced isn’t petrol, but rather toxic smoke (making Death Row a “gas chamber” along with its other methods of execution). Then again… beware of puns.

  2. Very well done indeed. I’ve also completed the game… with a generous helping from the official hints. And I tend to concur with your assessment.

    Here’s a few additional tidbits I’ve learned:

    – In addition to SHUFFLE CARDS, you can also CUT CARDS for the same effect. But you still need to do an action like this at least two times total – either shuffle twice, or cut twice, or shuffle and cut – in order for your game of solitaire to not be deemed “cheating.” (And yup, I needed the hints here too.)

    – When you give your account number to the gnome at the very end, if you have *any* non-treasure items in your account, you will die by being buried in a heap of accumulated copies of such item(s). Why? Because they accrued interest (interest that you don’t want!).

    – Where some games require a “winning run” centered around time management (based on a limited light source or similar finite resource), Quondam’s winning run is based on inventory management. There are several points in the game where the only way to move enough of your inventory “forward” is through *very* specific use of the banking system while being sure to carry other certain items on your person.

    I’m glad I played along and was able to experience this for all of its sadistic glory.

  3. Congratulations! You’ve played the game, now buy the T-shirt!:

    https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/1910366-quondam?store_id=110437

    (I’m not being paid to say this.)

  4. But it seem you had a lot of fun. Also you seem to have solved most puzzles by yourself!

    Reading this has been a little fascinating, and reminds me of the good old days wandering the land full of nonsense fantasy tropes, like Collosal Cave of level 9.

    I mean, there’s still value in the genre. I wonder if a modern approach to this could be fun for xxi century, as new have our as remake that polish those unfairness bits. Thanks!

  5. Is the “save” think unique to SAVE or does it happen with any unknown verb?

    • Unique to SAVE. Giving an unknown verb just gets an “Eh?” response.
      And SAVE *does* work in a number of rooms… including all of the game that is “after” the clearing/doctor section.

  6. Completely irrelevant question to this post, sorry — but since this is presently the most recent post on the site, I hope it’ll get eyeballs.

    Does anyone know what version of Adventure is used by Level 9’s product, branded as “Colossal Adventure”? That’s the one I played as a teenager, on a neighbour’s Commodore 64, and I wonder where it fits in the Adventure family tree. It doesn’t seem to get mentioned much online, and I fear it may be a unique variation.

  7. Pingback: Odyssey #1, Damsel in Distress (1980) | Renga in Blue

  8. Pingback: Lazy Reading for 2017/10/01 – DragonFly BSD Digest

  9. Pingback: Lazy Reading for 2017/10/01 – FreshBSD.com

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