Archive for February 2019

Reality Ends: The City Falls   2 comments

I thought for a while I definitely would have to bail on this one, but I had a lightning soaked victory in the end.

A somewhat relevant public domain picture for spoiler space.

I had two sticking points:

(a.) something close to guess-the-verb, although it was more like guess-the-chain-of-events
and
(b.) me reading a word incorrectly.

Let’s start with the more inglorious (b.)

Early on I found a “deep ravine” in a room with “mail”. The game suggested you need to jump over the ravine to get to the mail, but doing so led to falling and death. Fortunately, I quickly realized a horse elsewhere in the map was useful here, and after I did RIDE HORSE I was able to jump the ravine and retrieve the mail. And then … nothing. I tried >READ MAIL. I tried >OPEN MAIL. I tried >DEILVER MAIL. I tried all sorts of strange things, but the purpose of the mail eluded me most of the game.

Later in the game, I was trying to work out how to fight a “fanatic leader”. I had a sword but trying to do battle led to “NICE SWORDSMANSHIP, BUT YOU CAUGHT A CHEST WOUND” and death.

Much later in the game … well, perhaps you’ve already put these parts together, but it dawned on me that “mail” was NOT the kind of mail you open and read and find coupons in. No, this was mail as in armor that you wear. After WEAR MAIL:

To be fair, this is a good reason why it helps to be able to examine your objects! But I was still just a little sheepish.

So, for (a.):

Trying to get the plants just led to sinking in quicksand.

I had some rope that I had tried to use in many ways, including attaching to other things and the like, until I finally hit upon THROW ROPE:

THE GRAPPLE END HAS ATTACHED TO A LARGE SHRUB.

The next appropriate command is PULL ROPE

YOU ARE NO LONGER SINKING AND THE PLANTS ARE IN REACH

whereupon then you can finally GET PLANTS.

After getting the plants, I went back to a tavern where I previously came across a fatal brew.

This time I did EAT PLANTS beforehand

TASTES BITTER, BUT AT LEAST IT DID NOT KILL ME.

and I was able to safely drink the brew.

YOU GET HEARTBURN BUT DO NOT DIE. THE KEEPER IS IN FEAR FOR HIS MISERABLE LIFE.

I ignored the suggestion for revenge and just took the empty stein. All that process was to be able to go to a place that had acid rain and FILL STEIN. Then I could take the acid to a locked box and POUR ACID breaking it open, revealing some silver.

Back in the acid rain place I also got some diamonds, and was able to go to Israel to trade them for guns. No, really:

Remember, the conceit here is you are not traveling through “rooms”, but “parallel universes”, including, apparently, an Israeli gun market circa 1980.

My next task was going to the “City of Margon” which had an “Amulet of Sangi” and fight Margon to be able to get the Amulet. It turns out if you hire marksman and give them guns you can try to put up a fight … and he kills you because “GUNPOWDER DOESN’T WORK IN THIS UNIVERSE”.

???!?

The solution turns out to be: after you buy the guns in Israel, you can USE POLISH to have them make gunpowder out of some jeweler’s polish you find in a different universe. It turns out Margon will *still* kill you unless the bullets are also silver, so you can USE SILVER (the silver from the locked box) and the gun shop will helpfully turn those into silver bullets for you.

Finally, being prepared with an army of marksmen using silver bullets, you can go back to the city and KILL MARGON:

Let’s skip ahead a bit: once you get the Amulet of Sangi, you just need the fanatics (that I mentioned earlier), a staff (which happens to be sitting on the ground next to the endgame room) and a magic word CIMAL (which you can get by stealing a book of lore from a minotaur). Then it’s just a matter of going to the CITADEL OF BALDIR which threatens the DISSOLUTION OF REALITY and letting fury reign:

So, that was a curious introduction to the library of Med Systems, to say the least. They’re going to appear twice more in 1980 with first-person 3D perspective adventure games Labyrinth and Deathmaze 5000.

Yes, 3D first-person perspective in 1980. If you’re dying with anticipation, the Adventure Gamer covered Deathmaze 5000 in their “missed classic” series so you can see some glorious screenshots.

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Posted February 28, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Reality Ends: Text Landscape Generator   Leave a comment

I’m still prodding without much luck at the main game, so I’d rather make a bit more progress before I report on that. However, I worked out how the room descriptions were generated, and I thought it was worth recording for posterity.

The game is entirely on a grid 12 rows high and 18 columns across. You start in the lower left corner and the endgame (the Citadel of Baldir) is 1 room down from the upper right corner. Starting from the beginning and going east, the room descriptions look like this:

YOU ARE IN A FOREST. IT IS MOUNTAINOUS AND VERY COLD. THE AIR IS CRYSTAL CLEAR. PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS.

YOU ARE IN A FOREST. IT IS MOUNTAINOUS AND WARM. THE FOG IS VERY THICK. PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS.

YOU ARE IN A FOREST. IT IS HILLY HERE AND VERY COLD. THE AIR IS CRYSTAL CLEAR. PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS.

YOU ARE IN A FOREST. IT IS HILLY HERE AND WARM. THE FOG IS VERY THICK. PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS.

There are some repeating patterns here: the description is really five parts, filled in Mad Libs-style:

YOU ARE {A}. IT IS {B} HERE AND {C}. THE {D}. {E}.

They aren’t filled in at random; it’s based mathematically on where you are in the grid, in a way easy for the computer to calculate.

Position {A}

The grid has a “forest zone”, “grasslands zone”, and “dead place zone” each taking up a third of the map.

Left: YOU ARE IN A FOREST. Middle: YOU ARE ON GRASSLANDS. Right: YOU ARE IN A DEAD PLACE.

This makes a fair amount of sense, giving the impression as one approaches the Citadel of Baldir (the place of dooooooom and all that) the landscape gets steadily worse.

Position {B}

This time the grid is divided into strips two columns wide each, and there is a repeat every six columns.

The blue areas: IT IS MOUNTAINOUS. The pink areas:
IT IS HILLY HERE. The yellow areas: THE LAND IS FLAT.

Perhaps this is meant to suggest some sort of rippling earthquake that originated at the far east of each biome.

Position {C}

The “AND ” that comes after the “level of hilliness” part of the description is a repeat every two columns.

Dark blue: AND VERY COLD. Light yellow: AND WARM. Dark red: AND QUITE HOT.

Even though this one was a regular pattern, during gameplay it was the one I felt most was switching at random due to the asymmetry in placement.

Position {D}

The descriptions of biome, hilliness, and temperature are followed here by air thickness. The pattern repeats every two columns.

Light blue: THE AIR IS CRYSTAL CLEAR. Grey: THE RAIN IS FALLING STEADILY. Black: THE FOG IS VERY THICK. Green: THE WIND IS BLOWING.

Position {E}

This position reflects whether the sun can be seen or not, and is a simple alternating pattern by rows.

Grey: PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS. Orange: THE SUN CAN BE SEEN FAINTLY.

Thoughts

The setup here feels related to procedural generation, the algorithmic generation of content. I suppose, technically, it is? — but usually, procedural generation is done in a way that simulates naturalness and hides pattern, and here the intent is to create pattern, and at least some of the patterns are done to provide a logic to the story (progressing from Forest to Dead Place, flickering between visible sun and darkness). You could say this is standard procedural generation, but without the usual addition of a random element to twist things out of place.

Theoretically, really quite something for 1980! In practice … well, the landscape description is unimportant to gameplay, so I fairly quickly started to ignore all the description text. Still, I would call it a worthwhile experiment.

For Further Reading

James Ryan recently posted his dissertation Curating Simulated Storyworlds dealing with the generative world problem in regards to narrative. It’s nearly 800 pages long, but if you’re short on time, jump to Chapter 13 (the Conclusion) which gives a good idea of what both game designers and theoreticians are dealing with.

Posted February 27, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Reality Ends (1980)   4 comments

For the first time, I don’t have a name of an author. Reality Ends is an even-more-obscure-than-usual title from Med Systems Software, most famous for Asylum from 1981. This particular game isn’t listed on Mobygames, Wikipedia, or The Interactive Fiction Database. It’s only indexed on the Casa Solution Archive because the crew over there is even more obsessive than I am.

Given how many of these companies started as one or two person operations, the author could be Frank Corr, Jr. of Deathmaze 5000 from the same year, but since I haven’t played that game yet, I’ll shelve my suspicions for now.

My first encounter with Reality Ends was the clip above, via the Med Systems Spring 1981 Catalog. The “over 200 parallel universes” bit definitely had me puzzled until I opened the game itself.

The room description fills the top of the screen, your inventory is in the lower left, and the lower right has a map. The actual grid is 12 by 18, so there are 216 “parallel universes”, one for each “room” in the game.

Back when I was writing about Haunt I referenced adventure games that play roughly on a grid. There was an underwater section on a giant cube that I got out graph paper for. This time I went a step farther and went full spreadsheet.

Making a spreadsheet to play a game crosses a threshold of some sort, but I’m not sure what from or what to.

You’ll notice a lot of blank space; this is a compact way for the game to claim more than 200 locations when only some of them are implemented. Fortunately, navigation is less irritating than you’d think because there are no NORTH / SOUTH / EAST / WEST commands, you navigate by just pressing arrow keys.

Besides the map, I haven’t made much progress other than a few early pick-offs. I got food and did >FEED DOG to get a loyal companion, I went to >HIRE MARKSMEN and managed to >USE GOLD to get them to follow me around, and I used an umbrella to fend off some acid rain and pick up some diamonds. Technically speaking, the game doesn’t seem like it has to be a long one (excluding rooms with just objects out in the open, there are only twelve of significance) but we’ll see what kind of new frustrations this can conjure up.

Like this one. Ow!

Posted February 26, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Gargoyle Castle: Finished!   2 comments

I managed to get the last four treasures and victory; three were all related to the same issue.

Here’s a public domain picture of a gargoyle at Windsor Castle for some spoiler space.

First, the gargoyle: last time I had found a green and purple gargoyle that let me pick it up and carry it around as long as I had heavy armor. I found that if I was holding the rope and did TIE GARGOYLE the gargoyle became “much more friendly” and now counted as a treasure (!?). (I guess a “ROPE BOUND GARGOYLE” that would otherwise want to kill you makes a good rich person decoration?)

After that I continued being stuck for a while, until Voltgloss mentioned in the comments:

Question: you mentioned in your post before this one that you were able to dig everywhere outside – I think you said everywhere that was “reasonable.” Can you dig anywhere inside? Or otherwise UNreasonable?

Well, it was worth a try! So I did the lawnmower thing and tried >DIG in every location, to hit paydirt (so to speak) in a tomb:

I suppose it sort of make sense that the tomb might have some bits of floor that are diggable, although it’d have been nice to put in the description. In any case, I added some TRIANGULAR GOLD COINS to my haul and kept looking. I found another dig-spot in a more logical place:

Ok, that’s fair. Not only did I find a “DISCARDED, BLACKENED CROWN” that was easy to polish into a “GLISTENING SILVER CROWN”, the act of digging created compost. I was then able to use the compost to plant the tulip bulb from my last post. Fortunately, it was some kind of fast-grow formula, because I only needed to leave once and come back to find:

I stored all the treasures away, and put the remaining junk in the trash pit.

I was hoping for some last lingering clever object interaction, but I suppose I already had everything sussed out; winning was just a matter of digging to the two secret locations.

This game is sort of a proto-proto-proto-version of Emily Short’s Metamorphoses from 20 years later. There’s a little bit of exploring and opening up of the map, but almost nothing in the way of characters; the focus is really on objects and their transformations into other objects.

There’s even a little bit of unnecessary detail packed in just for object fidelity. The “hot coals” can be moved around as long as the player is holding an “urn” and the urn is open. There are two items (a trowel and an antique shovel) that both work equally well for digging. There’s a lighter and a flashlight that can be used as a light source; there’s also a “Tiffany lamp” treasure that is an appropriate light source as well once a light bulb is put in. While the death in water while wearing heavy armor was comedic and possibly bad game design, it at least reinforced that the heavy property of the armor was unique. And even though the “dig anywhere” theme led to some secret places it really felt like an extension of object actions rather than a set of location puzzles.

While I can point out lots of objective flaws, I still enjoyed Gargoyle Castle; it knew what it wanted to be and stuck to its themes. Kit Domenico’s only other game has been called “one of the finer examples of Basic adventuring from the early 80s” with the note that “Kit Domenico is surely one of the greats of the early 8-bit Basic game phenomenon” so I’m looking forward to it … but I’ll need to get to 1981 first. (For the curious, I’ve got somewhere around 45 games to go.)

Posted February 25, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Gargoyle Castle: Stuck   7 comments

I haven’t written a “stuck” post in a while. This is because a lot of my latest points-of-stuckness were accompanied by reasons to think the game was playing unfair, so I resorted to hints / walkthroughs / poking at source code / etc.

Even though Gargoyle Castle hardly has an expansive or intelligent parser, and even though I’m still missing 4 of the needed 10 treasures, I’m not quite giving up yet. Part of this is because I was able to leverage the trash-on-the-floor-deducts points trick (I mentioned it in my last post about this game) to my advantage.

Specifically, if I dump every item I can find into one room (with a few in my inventory), I have a deduction of 9 points, and there are 9 items in the room. So it appears I have found every object in the game, and all that remains is to transform them into treasures somehow.

This isn’t absolutely the case — maybe a treasure object gets “created” somewhere — but that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the game. Also, the ability to reference “non-objects” in room descriptions is very limited; in the “throne room” there is a plaque that’s readable

>READ PLAQUE
GLOWING LETTERS SAY DROP TREASURES HERE AND SAY SCORE.

but otherwise, I haven’t found any instance like this in the game.

Here is the complete object list:

an unrolled scroll
a lighter
a faintly lettered cloth
a bottle full of polish
a coiled rope
a mound of trash
a garden trowel
some greenish ice
some glowing coals
an antique shovel
a tulip bulb
a lit flashlight
an open funerary urn
some very, very heavy armour

You can turn the “greenish ice” into “thawed water” using the coals. I’m not quite unthawing it yet because the hot coals can be carted around with the funerary urn, suggesting that maybe it’s important to the thaw the water somewhere specific. (After the water thaws, the coals become cold and can be carried around without any help.)

I can try to PLANT BULB but anywhere I’ve attempted it gives me the message “I DON’T HAVE EVERYTHING I NEED.” This is while holding the trowel, shovel, and thawed ice.

Also, here are the treasures I’ve found, in case any come into play:

a huge ruby
a complete Gutenberg bible
a shimmering ring
a crystal bird locked in a cage
a Tiffany lamp
a platinum smoking pipe

Here are the verbs that seem to work, although this may not be a complete list. (Note that ATTACK and HIT and similar words are unrecognized.)

GET, DROP, PUT, BURN, OPEN, CLIMB, READ, EAT, REMOVE, LIGHT, RUB, SCREW, COVER, TIE, PLANT, DIG, POLISH, MELT, UNROLL

Finally, I should note I seem to be able to visit the VICIOUS GREEN AND PURPLE GARGOYLE that killed me last session, as long as I’m wearing the heavy armour. I am able to pick it up and walk around with it. I haven’t been able to get any reaction out of it yet.

You’re welcome to post theories or even spoilers, but mark which is which, and use rot13 to encode spoilers; I’m going to try struggling a bit longer.

Posted February 22, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Treasure Hunt: The True Map   4 comments

I first wrote about Treasure Hunt 4 years ago. For this post, you don’t have to know much about it (although you’re welcome to read or re-read the original posts) other than it was a game from 1978 with a freeform map that only gave room numbers (as opposed to compass points or some other indicator of direction). It was very hard to figure out if there was some kind of regular arrangement, but I suspected there was. It was, after all, based on Wumpus, itself based on a dodecahedron shape (just squashed on a plane):

squash

Not knowing the shape beforehand, beating Treasure Hunt required making a full map, which looked random as I drew it but had some tantalizing features, like “rings” of rooms linking to each other.

The full map I made -- click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I made a few attempts to turn the map into something regular, and even inquired with the author himself (Lance Micklus) who couldn’t help.

Enter the commenter Peter, who just posted this yesterday. As he describes it, it’s a “very regular design, consisting of a number of interlocking circles on two levels.”

Wow!

If you’re the type interested in resolving mysteries, there are a few more recent ones:

1. How do you open the safe in Haunt? The author thought it had something to do with the wine area, but he didn’t exactly remember.

2. What’s the answer to the third riddle in the Ringen section of VikingMUD?

3. Is there a way to get to the island in Marooned or is the game too buggy to make it there?

Posted February 21, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Gargoyle Castle (1980)   8 comments

I am constantly surprised by what keeps coming up in these games. From a distance, the adventures of this era blur together, and might as well be one mass of guess-the-verb puzzles and questionable spelling. Up close, especially after playing enough of them, it starts to be easier to pick up on unique ideas and clever finesses. Every one of the creators was human and wanted to make something that included their own vision, even if there was a lot of copying going on.

I was hoping for a quick knockdown from 1980 with an obscure TRS-80 game by an author (Kit Domenico) who only has two games to his credit (this one and Ice World War from 1981). I figured Gargoyle Castle would be simple and wouldn’t have much to say about it. This was reinforced by the game being another treasure hunt (find the 10 treasures and win, attain glory, etc.)

The very start also seemed straightforward:

TAKE BIRD is a fail — the bird flies away. Ok, that’s at least predictable. I then tried to go WEST and got trolled hard, and then things started to get very unusual.

After recovering from ignominious death via the very first room exit, I noticed the “points for sloppiness”. What’s that about?

It turns out not only do you get positive points for storing treasures in a designated area, as usual (10 points each) you get deducted points for non-treasures that just happen to be lying around. After some experimentation, any “non-treasure” item causes a 1 point deduction while lying on the ground, unless it’s in the “Pit of Garbage” room.

In other words, to get a full score you need to properly discard of trash. The only game I can think of off the top of my head with a comparable idea is Sub Rosa, 35 years later in 2015.

The general effect has been for me to keep caring about every object in the game, even after it’s been used to solve a puzzle. Nice bit of continuity, that.

I marked the “opening area” in purple.

Structurally, Gargoyle Castle starts with a small area that opens up fairly soon after to the entire map. The opening segment gave enough structure I didn’t feel weirdly aimless like in Ghost Town.

The puzzles seem to be more along the lines of “converting ordinary items into treasures” than “beat obstacles and scoop up the shiny things in the rooms that follow”. For example, you find an “OLD BOOK” and an “EMPTY BOOKCOVER”. If you then “COVER BOOK” the book is now a GUTENBERG BIBLE and officially becomes a treasure. (I’m pretty sure none of the real Gutenberg Bibles have covers so this was slightly silly, but the puzzle still gives a good idea of the sort of conversion going on.)

I switched from a TRS-80 emulator to a TRS-80 MC-10 one once I realized I needed to save my game (the emulator linked here, I find it more stable for saving games to tape than any of the black-and-white emulators).

This structure is leading me not to necessarily wonder “what puzzle would this thing solve” but “which two things could be combined?” or “which thing could be converted after some act into a treasure?” For example, there’s a “mound of trash” in one room — is there some nugget of treasure hidden within, and if so, how do I find it? Even though an “antique shovel” isn’t considered a treasure is there a way to make it one (it is, after all, an antique). Does a tulip bulb combine with anything?

One other curious aspect: you can dig a hole anywhere outside. Not only that, but in each case, it makes a new room that you can go down in. There are not that many outdoor spaces, so this wasn’t a giant leap, but this is literally the first text adventure I’ve played where you can dig essentially anywhere that would be reasonable.

Of course, one of the holes led to another ignominious death.

I’ve found 6 out of the 10 treasures, and I’ve been having fun so far, so hopefully the fun holds out for the last 4? The “exploration of object interactions” emphasized over “exploration of space” really does make the game feel like something different.

Posted February 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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