Archive for December 2018

Goblins: Everything is Magic   3 comments

With everything (mostly) mapped, it was time to tackle the puzzles. I got two from meta-thinking.

The first one involved an animation:

Now, this comes from early in the game – in fact, it was the first thing that happened to me – and I had just happened to have read the in-game instructions, which mention DUCK as a command. DUCK, in fact, works to avoid dying, and you can pick up the boomerang afterward.

This is entirely a visual puzzle. I found it mystifying at first just reacting to something displayed on screen as opposed to parsing text and thinking about it.

I later decided it would be a good idea to hunt for verbs, so I went through a big test list and came up with some the game seemed to accept:

CUT, DUCK, PUSH, OPEN, UNLOCK, CLIMB, READ, WEAR, DRINK, EAT, JUMP, THROW, GIVE, KNOCK, PLAY, RUB, WAVE, HIT, BREAK, KILL, SQUEEZE

If a verb isn’t recognized at all the game says “I CAN’T DO THAT”. If it is recognized it will either attempt the action (for a verb like DUCK) or say “TRY TWO WORDS – MAYBE”.

This list isn’t necessarily comprehensive, but it gave me a starting point. In particular, looking at the fact KNOCK worked, and remember there was a place later with a locked door, I tried KNOCK and it worked, netting me a treasure inside. (This was yet another meta-solve; not really the sort of thing that makes sense if we imagine the “real character” in the world trying to figure the problem out, just me leveraging the system of the game.)

Also, this was another purely visual room, with no text description or feedback that the action solved a puzzle other than the graphics changed.

Unfortunately, further progress required the “try everything on everything” strategy. Essentially, you have to assume everything is magic, and the magic will do nothing unless you are in the right place. For example, there’s a piece of cheese that says “VERY TASTY” if you eat it – fair enough, maybe there’s a mouse later or someone you can bribe? Apparently, though, the magic works if you’re next to a tiny hole …

… at which point eating the cheese shrinks you down and you can enter. Really, this wouldn’t be bad except for it not making any sense the cheese only working to shrink the player when near the hole. Alas, this game falls to the too-common error of letting magic do anything with no particular logic to it, so the player is just forced to experiment wildly.

Take, for example this puzzle:

Would you think to DROP LIME?

I guess there’s … some sort of vague pun involved, because there is lime in some cement, but that’s a totally different kind of lime than the one you eat, and you can otherwise treat the limes like normal limes. If you THROW LIME in an adjacent room, you can get by the quicksand without dying, and find a caterpillar. The way things are going I expect the caterpillar to shoot out laser beams and open a portal to an alternate dimension as long as it’s dropped in a random spot in the forest.

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Posted December 19, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Goblins: Terrible Maps   4 comments

Goblins start you off able to access a *very* large chunk of the map – I’m going to guess, by the capacity of Apple II games, most of it — and most of is terrible. Take a look at the outdoor section above. Starting at “By Lake”, N, SW, S, NW gets you back to where you started. While outdoors. Argh!

The troubles are triple-multiplied by the minimal descriptions also saying nothing about room exits. The only way to tell what the room exits are is to thoroughly test N, S, W, E, NE, SE, SW, NW, U, and D. In every single room in the game. Yes, I had to do this with all of them. It made mapping incredibly slow.

Of course there is a maze. Hoo boy, is there a maze.

This really doesn’t look so bad, does it? However.

a.) Any exit that’s not displayed on the map actually does a loop. I had to keep track of which loops I tested as I went along.

b.) Sometimes (randomly) instead of a loop, you find a “smelly tunnel” and go to a random location in the maze instead. It took me a while to catch on to this and some parts of my map were originally wrong.

c.) The goblins are still out and about and occasionally killing you. I ran out of items to drop in rooms for mapping purposes and tried to go out and get more, but I couldn’t because they kept stabbing me. I ended up resorting to moving the knife around (see “knife 1”, “knife 2”, “knife 3”) and hoping that it wouldn’t get things totally confused.

d.) Unless I’m missing something, the maze is essentially useless – notice it just goes in a loop, with no treasures indicated. There’s a room to the left of the starting room (“Light From Above”) that you can use to poke your head above ground and get killed by the silly-looking ogre you saw from my last post, but that doesn’t require navigating the maze at all.

It’s possible a lot of this was “busy work” trying to justify the game being commercial (it sold for $27.50; in 2017 dollars that would be $75.26).

There is one saving grace, and that is the “safe place” the game wants you to store treasures in has a magic word associated with it — two, in fact. HXME (found on a tree) takes all objects the player is carrying and teleports them to a treehouse, while QIM (found in a mine) will teleport the player (but not what they’re carrying). So you can choose to teleport just treasures to the treehouse, or you can just teleport yourself, or you can teleport both. This has been genuinely handy in a few circumstances, and I don’t recall it in any other game I’ve played.

There’s a little animation of the ghost moving around when you enter (the ghost is that blob-thing in the upper-left of the picture). It doesn’t seem to be either friendly or hostile, it just floats there. I don’t know if I’m supposed to banish it or come up with a way to ally with it or whatnot yet.

I’m at the point now I have a list of objects and obstacles, but they’re all far apart from each other. I’m going to tilt this game over from “easy” to at least “annoying” but it’s starting to lean to the “hard”; I need to keep going to be sure.

Posted December 14, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Goblins (1979, 1981)   1 comment

We just went through a game Roberta Williams explicitly cited as an influence. But what if there was an influence that was intentionally left out?

Goblins was originally a text-only adventure game for Apple II by Hal Antonson and Linda Stix:

We sent the program to Programma International in California for publishing. It was “released” in 1979. This version was strictly text. There were no graphics. I have forgotten how many copies for which we were paid. I think it was 13 or 30! An interesting note. Roberta and Ken Williams had just moved to Coarsegold and had started Sierra Systems. They had a copy from Programma. Ken was the assembler guy and Roberta became the Queen of fantasy games. There are a dozen similarities in their first game, “The Wizard and the Princess,” to Goblins.

In 1981, a version with graphics was published by Highlands Computer Services. This is the version that survives today.

I’m not sure what to think of the above story – The Wizard and the Princess (from 1980) isn’t the Williams’ first game, and the business names they went through were On-Line Systems and Sierra On-Line respectively. I can chalk the discrepancies up the usual fuzziness of memory, but it means the rest of the story may include some of the same fuzziness. Really, the easiest way to confirm the link is to play the two games. Since Goblins theoretically came first chronologically, I’m playing it first.

However, the 1981 game clearly isn’t identical to the 1979 one. If Sierra borrowed from Goblins, then Goblins must have borrowed back from Sierra, because this game includes some rooms that are described purely by the visuals, which wouldn’t work in a text-only game.

These rooms are scattered throughout regular named text rooms, although the rooms are quite minimally described. (There’s enough of them I can understand why – the game undoubtedly pushed a disk capacity limit.)

Every item has an associated picture which gets drawn on top of the room graphic (those two strange ovals are the limes).

In any case, the premise is that you are tromping through “goblin country”. From the instructions:

GOBLIN COUNTRY IS A LAND OF MAGIC, TREASURE AND ADVENTURE. TO WIN, YOU MUST FIND ALL THE TREASURE AND TAKE IT TO A SAFE PLACE.

Also,

YOU INCREASE YOUR SCORE BY PUTTING YOUR TREASURE IN A SAFE PLACE (YOU MAY HAVE TROUBLE KEEPING THE PLACE SAFE!)

Every once in a while you get attacked by a goblin, with a random chance at killing the player. As far as I can tell so far there is no way to evade or avoid this, which means sometimes the player just dies because a random number generator decreed it to be so.

I’ll report back when I have more of the map filled in; I still can’t tell yet if this is going to be an easy game or a toughie.

Posted December 13, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Journey: The Deathtrap Legacy   5 comments

Quick recap: Journey was a game by Steve Baker from 1979. Roberta Williams mentioned as an influence before embarking on writing Mystery House; it seemed to be entirely gone from the internet, but with the help of Howard Feldman it’s now on both The Internet Archive and if-archive.

The manual for the game.

Note the use above of “DESCRIBE” instead of “EXAMINE”; it looks like Steve Baker’s only previous experience was 350-point Adventure, which didn’t have an examine command. (I find these early variations on common norms fascinating, like peering into alternate universes. Mystery Mansion had LIST instead of INVENTORY. Empire of the Over-Mind not only eschewed compass directions but required you to >HOLD an object before you could do anything with it. Warp tried adding conditional commands to the parser.)

WELCOME TO JOURNEY

YOU ARE STANDING BEFORE A SMALL, BRICK WISHING WELL. THE WELL HAS AN OAK WINCH WITH 25 FEET OF ROPE.

In any case, a few steps away there’s a house:

YOU ARE AT THE END OF A GARDEN PATH. THERE IS AN OLD, VICTORIAN HOUSE TO YOUR IMMEDIATE EAST. A SMALL CREVICE MARKS THE ENTRANCE TO A GRANITE ROCK WHICH LIES TO THE WEST. IF YOU ENTER THE CREVICE YOU WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO CLIMB BACK OUT!

Inside the house:

YOU’RE IN THE NORTHERN HALL OF HOUSE

MANY PORTRAITS OF ADVENTURERS HUNG HERE LINE ALL WALLS. OAK DOORS MARK THE ENTRANCE TO A SOUTHERN HALL.

THERE’S ARE SOME MATCHES HERE!

The goal, as the instructions indicate, is to find all the treasures and store them in the *SAFE* EST place possible (there’s a safe in the house). Every once in a while (assuming you’re playing the Applesoft version) you get attacked

THERE’S A VERY LARGE THREATENING RODENT IN THE ROOM WITH YOU!!!!!!!

HE LEAPS FOR YOUR THROAT! AND BITES YOU!

The rat is are essentially like the dwarves from Adventure; they will appear randomly throughout the adventure and you have to use a KNIFE found in the mansion to fend them off.

>THROW KNIFE
THE RODENT SHRIEKS AND VANISHES IN A *POOF* OF SMOKE!!!

RODENT:0 PLAYER:1

Earlier the game mentions “a small crevice” which is described much like one of the cave entrances of Adventure. However, things take a turn rather quickly:

IT SEEMS TO BE A PRETTY TIGHT FIT!…
YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A GRANITE ROCK. THERE IS A HOLE IN THE FLOOR OF THE ROCK. AN EEERIE, RED GLOW DIMLY LIGHTS THE WAY SOUTH.

>S
BY JOVE! THIS PLACE LOOKS LIKE DOWNTOWN HOLLYWOOD. RED LIGHTS SEEM TO PAINT A DRIVERS NIGHTMARE. “ROCKY” IS PLAYING NORTH OF THE INTERSECTION AT YOUR PRESENT LOCATION. THE 12TH DISTRICT, POLICE STATION LIES SOUTH.

At this point, my brain had to entirely shift what time and place the game was happening at. The map might assist (click to enlarge):

The west side is the “city” area and includes an underground sewer. The right side is the mansion, and there’s a very small “cave” area connecting the two up top (“Below Granite Rock”, “Dimly Lit Cave”).

This was, in the end, a fairly short game, but I wanted to mention three more things:

1.) I rather liked the feel of this scene, a horror movie in miniature:

YOU ARE IN THE STREET. THERE IS A NARROW SEWER GRATE IN THE EASTERN CURB

SOMEONE IS STARING UP AT YOU FROM INSIDE THE GRATE!

>DESCRIBE SOMEONE
I THINK IT’S YOU!
>>> SHAZAM <<<

YOU ARE LOOKING THROUGH A NARROW, GRATE ONTO A DARK STREET. THE STREET IS DESERTED. THE SEWER CONTINUES DOWN.

2.) The treasures are scattered at random and will change if you reset and restart the game. I didn’t work out the entire system, but I should note this was pretty unusual for the time and the only comparable game I can think of from that era is Lords of Karma.

3.) There are a few ways to die, and two in particular are noteworthy.

YOU’RE IN THE ATTIC. THE A-SHAPED, OPEN BEAMED ROOF IS LACED WITH COBWEBS. A THREE-LEGGED CHAIR IS UNDER THE MAIN BEAM.

THERE’S A ROPE TIED TO A BEAM HERE!

>UNTIE ROPE
THE ROPE IS TOO HIGH TO REACH!

>DESCRIBE ROPE
THE ROPE WOULD UNTIE VERY EASILY IF YOU COULD STAND ON SOMETHING TO REACH IT.

>STAND ON CHAIR
YOU ARE NOW STANDING ON THE CHAIR!

>UNTIE ROPE
WHILE TRYING TO REACH FOR THE ROPE, YOU LOST YOUR FOOTING, AND WERE HANGED!

Now, it’s not like we haven’t seen our fair share of death in prior adventure games, but for the most part death has been either a sudden consequence for failing a puzzle or a straight-up arbitrary event. In this case, there’s a long wind-up, like setting up a joke, and the player is essentially complicit in their own demise. (Compare to participatory comedy in Mystery Fun House.)

Here’s another instance:

YOU ARE IN A SMALL, NARROW ALLEY BEHIND THE POLICE STATION. THERE IS A LARGE IRON MANHOLE COVER INLAID INTO THE GROUND. THE ALLEY HEADS NORTH AND SEEMS TO OPEN UP. A SMALL GARAGE IS TO THE WEST. THERE IS A PECULIAR ODOR TO THE AIR AROUND HERE.

>OPEN COVER
OK!

THE MANHOLE COVER IS OPEN!

So far, so good. This place happens to be next to the police station, so if you later get arrested, and try to get out:

YOU ARE IN A SMALL, DINGY JAIL CELL. THERE’S AN OPEN WINDOW JUST OUT OF EASY REACH ABOVE YOU.

>JUMP WINDOW
YOU BARELY REACH THE LEDGE OF THE WINDOW, AND SCURRY OUTSIDE INTO…….

AN OPEN MANHOLE!!!!! SOMEONE HAS CARELESSLY LEFT THAT DARN COVER OFF AGAIN! PANCAKES ANYONE?

Death as both obstacle and amusement is essentially one of the trademarks of the Sierra adventure style; one could argue it was exactly here where it started.

With the manhole death I could see the little EGA figure falling.

Posted December 7, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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