Before Adventure, Part 5: Wumpus 2 and 3   2 comments

Wumpus 2 took the same mechanics as the first game and added some new cave layouts (including a “make your own” option). I tried each a few times to feel out if there were any gameplay differences. (I used this C64 version which seems to be accurate and bug-free.)

Cave 1 (Mobius Strip): Very easy: this is just essentially two rows

20-18-16-14-12-10-8-6-4-2
19-17-15-13-11- 9-7-5-3-1

although the 2 goes to 19, and the 1 goes to 20 — that’s the “half-twist” of the Mobius Strip.

It’s possible to get entirely blocked off, but it isn’t terribly common (imagine pits at 3 and 6, with bats at 13 and 12) and for the most part the easier-to-visualize geography also made it much faster to play.

I also noticed you don’t really need to know where the Wumpus is to get off a good shot, you just need to be next to it. For example, from actual gameplay:

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 18 TUNNELS LEAD TO 16, 17, AND 20

I had just come from room 20, so I knew the Wumpus had to be in either 16 or 17. Based on the map, I could just shoot both of them.

SHOOT OR MOVE? S

NUMBER OF ROOMS? 3

ROOM #? 16
ROOM #? 15
ROOM #? 17

Just passing through a room is enough to shoot a Wumpus, so if it is in Room 16 you will be as successful as if it is room 17. With Cave 1 in particular this would work even if you didn’t know about any of the adjacent rooms beforehand, since you can pass your shot through 5 rooms:

That is, if you’re standing at 18 next to the Wumpus, a shot through 16, 15, 17, 19, and 20 will be guaranteed to hit the Wumpus.

Cave 2 (String of Beads): This one’s not a good map to play on, as one of my first attempts will illustrate:

The red indicates pits. The only thing to do here was to fire an arrow along the strip and hope I got lucky. This is a little different than the Minesweeper you-have-to-guess scenario where you start next to a pit — in that case it’s a gamble rather than a guaranteed death. Here, the map itself made for an impossible scenario overall, and one where it took some mapping beforehand to realize that fact. It felt like trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle only to realize part-way through the given numbers were placed wrong.

Cave 3 (Toroidal Hex Net): This one was very satisfying to play on, and had the same level of complexity and interconnectedness that the original dodecahedron map does. I also made a very satisfying 5-room-shot:

I had smelled the Wumpus from room 13, so knew it had to be in either 9 or 17. Moving around the other way, I got stopped at 3 by sensing bats nearby. The bats had to be in either 7 or 8. However, rather than trying another direction or gambling on the bats, I shot an arrow in the path

7 - 2 - 17 - 13 - 9

guaranteeing that I would hit the Wumpus no matter which room it was in.

Cave 4 (Dendrite): Easily the worst map of the set; it’s very common to be blocked off by just a single pit. Do not play.

Cave 5 (One Way Only): This one definitely gets some tangled looking maps if you go freestyle.

I eventually did the brute force method of copying the exact room numbers and exits from the source code. This let me look at a situation like

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
BATS NEARBY!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 4 TUNNELS LEAD TO 3 7 8

so given the knowledge that

3 goes to 2, 6, 7
4 goes to 3, 7, 8
5 goes to 8, 9, 12
6 goes to 5, 9, 10
7 goes to 6, 10, 11
8 goes to 7, 11, 12

it was possible to make a route that hits all three adjacent rooms with one arrow. (Specifically here, 3-7-6-5-8 works.)

The best strategy seems to be to increase the room number slowly and backtrack when possible. That way you are more likely to have rooms you’ve already been in or at least “scanned” as exits from the new room, so if there’s a pit or bat hazard it’s possible to avoid it by leaving for the “known safe room”. For example, suppose you’re at 6 with no hazards nearby in the adjacent rooms (5, 9, 10). Then you step back to room 5; with adjacent rooms (8, 9, 12) and a pit nearby. Since you didn’t sense a pit when the adjacent rooms were (5, 9, 10), that means 9 is safe and leads to escape.

This led to satisfying loops where “known territory” was revisited in avoiding hazards and gave a small sense of atmosphere.

From best to worst I’d rank the new caves as roughly

Cave 3-Cave 5-Cave 1-Cave 2-Cave 4

with the original Cave 0 tied for first. Really, the main issue with the problem caves was the generation of impossible scenarios; technically speaking there are only two absolute barriers (the pits) so a “good” map just needs to avoid “single chokepoint” situations.

Now that I’m an “expert” I suppose it’s time to up the ante:

From the article accompanying the Wumpus 2 code in Creative Computing.

Wumpus 3 returns to only having a dodecahedron layout. It was not written by Gregory himself but a “Howard” as mentioned in the article clipped above. Also, as implied, the code wasn’t published. Because of this, people have known about it but it has long been considered a “lost game”.

Fortunately, I found it in a special “Games” booklet that PCC put out in 1974.

As of right now you can play Wumpus 3, entirely in your browser.

(I’m still using DOS QBASIC, but after some tech hiccups I managed to compile the code. This has the fortunate side effect of making it easy to put a playable version online. I’ll give a similar treatment to Caves1 soon.)

The gimmicks here are:

1. “Tumareos” that eat your arrows.

2. All of the hazards (wumpus, pits, bats, tumareos) are capable of moving about the caves at random.

A sample of play:

I FEEL A DRAFT!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 13 TUNNELS LEAD TO 16 17 20

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
I FEEL A DRAFT
MY ARROWS ARE QUIVERING
YOU ARE IN ROOM 6
TUNNELS LEAD TO 5 7 15

In this case, I started with *all* the adjacent rooms containing a hazard. I decided the safest bet was to try to shoot an arrow into two of the rooms. The Wumpus moves to a random adjacent room if you miss a shot (meaning you have a 1/3 chance of dying if you’re next to it) but I already had the pit giving me a 1/3 chance of death on the first move, so I figured I’d rather take the 2/3 shot at victory first.

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? S
NO. OF ROOMS(1-5)? 4
ROOM #? 15
ROOM #? 16
ROOM #? 17
ROOM #? 7
MISSED

Alas, I missed. But the fact I didn’t get eaten means the Wumpus was in Room #5.

WHAT A FLAP YOU’RE IN . . . IT’S BAT MIGRATION TIME!!

This message means the bats moved. Note that there is no check to if they move to the player’s position, so it’s possible to just be minding your business and have bats swoop in and teleport you somewhere.

I FEEL A DRAFT
MY ARROWS ARE QUIVERING
YOU ARE IN ROOM 6
TUNNELS LEAD TO 5 7 15

Now, the fact I’m not dead means that the Wumpus moved to either 1 and 4, which are the adjacent rooms from 5. Since they are both part of the “central pentagon” I could shoot at both of them.

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 5

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 5
TUNNELS LEAD TO 1 4 6

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? s
NO. OF ROOMS(1-5)? 4
ROOM #? 1
ROOM #? 2
ROOM #? 3
ROOM #? 4
AHA! YOU GOT THE WUMPUS!

I gave Wumpus 3 a good number of tries, and I’m sad to say I agree with Gregory on this one: the game is a little too chaotic. The arrow-eaters are just a nuisance (I never had an arrow supply shortage even with them in the game) but the randomly moving obstacles mean you have more opportunities to get trapped in an unwinnable position or even just die arbitrarily when you have a hazard get moved to the room you’re standing in.

There’s a major difference between a set-up gamble that the player has to roll the dice on, and the game essentially telling you now is the time to die and you can’t do anything about it. (Even in the “bad caves” of Wumpus 2 where the player is essentially trapped, you can do some last-ditch arrows and hope you hit the Wumpus.) I can understand why there was no rush to get the game in print.

One more theoretical tangent before I let Wumpus go:

. . . even more importantly, Wumpus is a prototype version of the system of geography that is still with IF today: a set of discrete, self-contained rooms linked together by connectors the player can use to pass from one to another. Compass directions are not yet here, but the rest of the scheme is. Wumpus is all about mapping. The early IF games that would follow were continuing its tradition in being full of those twisty little passages that so frustrate modern players who try to go back to them today.
— Jimmy Maher, writing on Hunt the Wumpus

So Wumpus no longer has the distinction of being the first to put the player inside the Caves. Does it matter?

I guess it depends on what you mean by matter? As I’ve mentioned before, history is not a competition. Looking through every human achievement like there are Points attached can distort the true thread of influence. And besides, considering the Maher quote, the “prototype” idea is still perfectly accurate.

But more nebulously, it still feels like Hunt the Wumpus was the “first” of … something. I’ve played everything available before 1973 (it isn’t as long or as hard as you’d think, I wasn’t kidding when I said this era had “almost no computer games at all”) and there really is a spark of compact design in Wumpus that is unique. Rather than being a simulation of an experience seen elsewhere (a basketball game, the 19th century Oregon Trail, an episode of Star Trek) the possibility of computer games as a doorway into new worlds opened up in a way *orthogonal* to pre-existing media.

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Posted April 5, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with ,

2 responses to “Before Adventure, Part 5: Wumpus 2 and 3

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  1. I don’t know why, but I find the part about using a Möbius strip for the cave fascinating.

    • That particular map might work better if the number of rooms the crooked arrow could fly through was reduced; the fact the Wumpus can be killed without *any* surrounding information (just being dropped next to it by bats, for instance) really hurts the tension.

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