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Strange Odyssey: Strange Ending   4 comments

The title screen of the Electron version, via Mobygames.

The title screen of the Electron version, via Mobygames.

I’m carrying: * ANCIENT FLASK SAURIAN BRANDY *, * RIGILIAN ICE DIAMOND *, * STRANGE ALIEN BELT *, * RARE ALIEN PAINTING *, * ALIEN SCULPTURE *
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop brandy
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop diamond
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop belt
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop painting
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop sculpture
WHAT SHALL I DO? score
I’ve stored 5 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 100. Well done.
This adventure is over. Do you want to try this adventure again?

I need to backtrack slightly on what I said in my last post; the treasures are not optional. In fact, my major sticking point which required a glance at hints involved one of the treasures.

But first, let me pick up where I left off last time. I had gotten to the point where I had gotten to the damaged Power Crystal of my ship but hadn’t worked out how to fix it.

This turned out to be a very nice puzzle with some lateral thinking involved. The crystal is described as a “thin rod” but I originally assumed this meant that I had to reshape the crystal in that format.

Then it occurred to me, well, what if I just replaced it? Is there already something that works like a Power Crystal? Indeed there was.

From the FM-7 version of the game, in Japanese. Via Mobygames.

The Hexagonal Room, from the FM-7 version of the game, in Japanese. Via Mobygames.

I realized the “rod” from the Hexagonal Room I had been using to teleport around, is, in fact, a thin rod, and maybe I could use it. After all, once I left the planet, I didn’t need to teleport around any more. After BREAK ROD:

Odd it only required very little force for it to break off in my hand with a CRYSTALLINE snap!

Oho. It fit into the right spot of the ship perfectly. I gathered the treasures I had found so far (ANCIENT FLASK SAURIAN BRANDY, STRANGE ALIEN BELT, RARE ALIEN PAINTING, and ALIEN SCULPTURE) and left. I landed at a “mother ship” which told me to drop treasures and type “score”, just like Adventureland. I dutifully did so, but got the dreaded message:

I’ve stored 4 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 80.

In other words, I was missing one treasure!

At this point I was extremely stumped. There was a “methane snow storm” location I hadn’t been able to get anything out of, but I assumed it was a red herring (there is also a “black emptiness” location which really is a red herring, so that wasn’t too outrageous an assumption). However, I threw every item and verb I could at it with no success.

I finally succumbed to the peek of a walkthrough, and realized I had fallen to most dreaded of text adventure blocks: missing a room exit entirely.

mapextra

The “plain with jungle” location, which I previous assumed was there just so you could DIG, let you type “GO JUNGLE” to a new location.

To be fair, this is violation of the implicit rules previously set up; all other exits in the game that describe locations are mentioned in the “object list” (see the curtain in the image below) and anything in the main description of the room was (up to this point) non-interactive.

jungpic

So in some sense my need to resort to hints was caused purely by a UI issue, but still, I’ve haven’t had a perfect run at Scott Adams game since Pirate Adventure. Sigh. Maybe next time?

Fortunately, the puzzle solving sequence after went smoothly:

– I came across a “Rigalian Dia-Ice Hound” which needed to be stunned by my phaser. (The phaser previously had only been used to vaporize a boulder, so I’m glad it got some more use. The phaser can be set TO STUN or TO DESTROY.)
– I took the Hound over to the “methane snow storm” area. Ice Hound and all that.
– The hound eventually woke up and ran off into the storm. I searched about and a room that previously led to nowhere now had a “mound.”
– Using an ice pick, I was able to dig into the mound. Inside awaited the hound, and a RIGILIAN ICE DIAMOND. I had to stun the hound again, nab the diamond, set the phaser to DESTROY, and the vaporize the entire mound.
– The hound runs off after this sequence and I was able to escape with the treasure.

Really this was an excellent set piece, and I’m glad I went through it for the last treasure. Still, I’m somewhat disappointed that the winning state of the plot did regress to collecting all the treasure, but in a way I suppose it may have been a conservative compromise; perhaps players were getting uncomfortable with the treasure-less uncertainty of Secret Mission, Voodoo Castle and The Count.

I know I tend to be somewhat allergic to ranking things on this blog, but I figured it would be fun to pause for a moment to rank the Scott Adams games I’ve played so far, from worst to best. I’m including the Alexis Adams game as well.

6. Secret Mission by Scott Adams: I loved the use of implicit plot, but the puzzles felt like I was just lurching between improbable sequences rather than figuring anything out.

5. Adventureland by Scott Adams: His first effort, and it shows; some kind of wonky puzzle design, but still a fun setting and certainly an amazing technical achievement for the time.

4. Pirate Adventure by Scott Adams: I liked the parrot, and the pirate who seemed to care more about alcohol than treasure.

3. Strange Odyssey by Scott Adams: This game had some genuinely excellent puzzles and setting, although the plot was strictly mundane.

2. The Count by Scott Adams: Strong connection between gameplay and plot still eludes most authors; The Count nails it about as squarely as possible. There’s too much learn-by-dying for it to rank #1 but it’s otherwise this game is the benchmark to beat. (If I was teaching a class on text adventures, this is probably one of the games I’d use.)

1. Voodoo Castle by Alexis Adams: The ritual that makes up the plot is a little bit arbitrary but there aren’t any puzzles I can complain about, there was a genuine feel of unraveling a mystery, and I still found this as fun as a modern game.

Note that even Secret Mission would rank higher than at least half the games I’ve played so far from this era. I can understand why in this brief sliver of time Adventure International was the company to beat.

Posted February 22, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Strange Odyssey (1979)   Leave a comment

strange_odyssey_australian

If we want to compare this era in electronic games to very early film, most of the adventure game authors are still in the “point a camera and hope something interesting happens” phase, while Scott Adams is experimenting with the actual vocabulary of design.

Strange Odyssey is his first science fiction game, with the popular tack of “you’ve crashed on an alien planet, now try to escape.” There are in fact treasures to collect, but they seem to be optional, so they’re more of a nod to past works than an attempt to backpedal on his plot innovations.

The major experiment here is a “disconnected map” where you teleport between distant places.

I’m in a strange hexagonal room
Obvious exits: NONE
Visible items: Strange flickering curtain of light, Small piece of plastic flush in the wall, Rod jutting straight out of the wall, Strange looking goggles

The hexagonal room above is the central hub. The rod and plastic act as controls the destination of the curtain. Entering the curtain might lead to a methane snow storm, or jungle, or an alien art museum, or a Jovian mining colony with high gravity.

(Spoiler warning: puzzle spoiled below.)

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This section really gives the strong feel of gameplay merged with plot with trying to work out the controls to an “alien machine.” The rod can be PULLed and PUSHed at which point the plastic glows:

WHAT SHALL I DO? pull rod
Odd it only required very little force to slide out
WHAT SHALL I DO? push rod
Odd it only required very little force to slide in
The plastic GLOWED briefly 8 times.
WHAT SHALL I DO? touch plastic
OK I feel strangely disoriented for a moment!

The number of times the plastic glows corresponds to the destination of the curtain, although you have to touch the “small piece of plastic” to finalize it. Each time you pull/push the rod the plastic glow count goes up by 1. If you need to go back to a destination with an earlier number you need to “reset” the mechanism by touching the plastic when the rod is pulled.

It took me a good hour to get a hang of what was going on, but after I worked out the mechanism it made perfect logical sense. This is in opposition to mechanisms in some other adventure games (*cough* Myst clones *cough*) which often seem to be obtuse for no reason at all.

There’s no “light source” in this game but the space suit has a set amount of oxygen. It’s a tight enough window that I started writing a walkthrough. I’m not sure 100% how necessary this is (I’ve already found a machine that can refill the space suit, and it might be usable multiple times) but the suit timer is combined with a very tight inventory limit which makes me lose a lot of time just juggling items.

Other than the mechanism I mentioned most of the puzzles have been very straightforward, so I may wrap this one up quickly. I need to be careful about any promises, though, because sometimes the last lingering puzzles in a Scott Adams game are the hardest.

My main obstacle for escape is a damaged Power Crystal, which the game reports was originally in the form of a “thin rod”. I suppose I need to brainstorm ways to create one. I’m suspecting perhaps bringing the pieces the heavy gravity planet can mash them together? I also have an ice pick I’ve haven’t got to use, but other than that it seems like I’ve seen everything. The map below is likely close to complete.

Posted February 21, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Imaginary games jam update   3 comments

jam

What, what?

This thing from last year. Authors wrote a set of reviews for “five games that do not (and possibly, cannot) exist in our universe,” then received randomly chosen reviews from others, and produced “a sequel, a prequel, a fan fiction, a critical response game, a sidequel, a remake, a demake, a parody, or an artifact of some genre category never before seen by humans.”

It turned out well! All the games can be found here.

Weren’t these supposed to go onto a more permanent archive?

Indeed. All the games are currently sitting at the incoming directory at http://www.ifarchive.org/ and I am sure they will be sorted soon.

As soon as they are settled I was going to add entries for all the games at The Interactive Fiction Database. If you are an author and want to add the entry yourself, please let me know!

What happened to the bit after with the response pieces?

I did receive some very good ones (thank you!) but it turned out the coverage was pretty spotty. Some works had no responses at all, some had in-universe reviews, some had “serious reviews”, and when I laid it all out it felt very weird and imbalanced. I toyed with filling in the gaps myself but it just didn’t work. So I’m going to be putting the responses up still if people are still interested, but they’re not going in the book.

Oh yes, you also promised a book.

Indeed I did. The intent was to put the reviews followed by game excerpts followed by the responses. After a lot of editing it turned out to not work very well.

What I settled on was a compilation of all the original reviews of imaginary games people sent.

You can find this compilation, right now, here. It currently runs at 59 pages although I still have some fixing up to do. It’s extremely good!

Note I also still need to do some formatting standardization, and to that end, I have two questions:

a.) Should I put each imaginary game description on a new page?

b.) Should I put the author credits right before the ones they wrote, or should I just put them as an appendix at the end? I’m inclined for the latter just because it reads smoother, but I can understand why people might want their credit front and center, hence I wanted to solicit comments.

For publishing I was going to go with Lulu unless someone has a better suggestion; I was going to price it to be just the printing costs.

Anything else we should be worried about?

Well, the annual XYZZY Awards are coming up, and it is often the case things from earlier in the year have slipped the mind when nomination time comes around. So consider this a friendly reminder there was some innovative work here! It’s important to get the entries up at The Interactive Fiction Database soon because that’s what determines they’re eligible.

Posted February 20, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending   Leave a comment

By K.G. Orphanides. Played to completion, and found two different endings.


interface

Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending is a parser game in Quest; it includes a map, just like Night House did, although the play area is much smaller than in that game.

Your medbay AI systems are more than just your trusted personal physician.
Providing full care for mind, body and sprit, a fully functional medbay system is able to assess your mental and physical health and ensure that brain and body retain optimal integration.

In the very latest ships of the line, genetic material tailored to individual crew members is kept in storage in case of serious injury or lethal mishaps.

Please trust medbay examination tables and connected systems to fully care for you, even in degraded AI states. You are a key component of the ship, and redundant systems are in place for your protection and maintenance.

I didn’t have a great first impression; you awake with partial amnesia aboard a spaceship that has lengthy manuals to read. Things quickly turned around for me went I entered “the Archives” and found drawers marked “THE PAST”, “FORGIVENESS”, “DUTY”, and “THE FUTURE”. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I can say it’s quickly revealed what the mission of the ship is and the fact you may not want the mission to be completed.

This ended up being short and fascinating and exactly the sort of game I’d recommend to people who are new to parser; the Quest system where you can click on objects to get a list of actions has its usual user-friendliness, and while you have to use some non-standard actions, they’re hinted at clearly.

My only general criticism is while there is enough backstory to make the important plot-decision, a lot of information is dumped in the end-game text which would have been useful to know beforehand. In a way, though, that’s the point; with a fragmented sense of understanding, the main character needs to put trust in a friend and make do with what they have.

Posted October 14, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD!   Leave a comment

By Xalavier Nelson Jr. Played on desktop, not completed.


SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD! is a fairly linear game in Twine; nearly dynamic fiction but not quite. I am unsure as to length. I was undone by the lack of a bookmark / save game feature when I had to leave the computer, and the Three Issues which I get into shortly made me not desire a replay.

I *really* wanted to like this one, and in fact for the first five minutes or so I did. I mean look at this blurb:

SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD! is a game about puns, rampant drug use, learning to enjoy life despite uncertainty, and elderly women in attack helicopters.

(Disclosure: I don’t read most blurbs in an effort to avoid spoilers, but this one just jumped out at me.)

The opening was indeed glorious, with a bear falling through the sky into a Facility by a volcano. Shortly thereafter you switch from the Bear to some people in the facility, and this happens:

BAILEY: Whoa, wait, what’s going o–

CARLA: THERE IS A BEAR, BAILEY.

BAILEY: Wh–

CARLA: OUTSIDE OF THIS ROOM, AN ACTUAL BEAR, WEARING A MASK OF HUMAN SKIN, IS ROAMING THE HALLS.

Unfortunately, that’s where the game peaked. Three issues:

Issue One, which we’ll theme appropriately as Ursa Minor, was the there was the occasional dramatic pause where you have to wait for things to continue for no good reason.

Issue Two, which we’ll theme Ursa Major, was that the text and plot got much less interesting from the point I just quoted above. Essentially it follows the people and the bear in alternating sequences. The bear is somewhat interesting (and even has a flashback where the title line is delivered) but the people are not. Their text scans like the weak first draft of a 90s sitcom. If the characters were less flat, perhaps the endless bear puns would have been charming / clever, but here I was just waiting for the laugh track.

Issue Three, also known as the Ursa Please Make It Stop, is that the game often. delivered. text. in. short. bursts. where you. would. have to. click. and. click. and. click. and. click. to. read. further. SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD! seems like it went for a “cinematic” experience with the linking, but there’s only so much that can be done with words.

Posted October 13, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: The Skull Embroidery   Leave a comment

By Jeron Paraiso. Played on desktop, not completed.


 

skullem

The Skull Embroidery is a self-described “dungeon crawl” that includes an interface that reminds me of old BBS door games.

=========[Action Menu | Ap: 3]==========
(w)ait -> End your turn (0ap)
(i)nspect -> Inspect something (1ap)
(t)ravel -> Travel somewhere (2ap)
(g)rab -> Pick something up (1ap)
(c)onsume -> Eat or drink something (1ap)
(st)atus -> Check your current state (0ap)
(j)ournal -> Write down your progress (0ap)
(q)uit -> Quit the game (0ap)
=========================================
[action menu | ap: 3]>

This is a full, non-abashed combat RPG, with statistics for Strength, Dexterity, and Perception. There’s also hit points, poison/disease status, and a hunger system.

To interact, you type the initial letter (or two letters) of the command you want and hit enter. There was something similar in last year’s I Think the Waves Are Watching Me but somehow it comes off as even more awkward here. For example, rather than picking a direction, travel involves first picking “t” and then choosing a direction off a numbered list. I often would accidentally go the wrong direction and have to loop back again.

All actions have “action points” such that a “round” is over once one’s action points are depleted. This makes sense (somewhat) when dealing with enemies, except enemies did not seem to actually react between turns; occasionally they would attack at the beginning or middle. I cannot see any reason at all for the action point system when combat is not in play. Because travelling takes two action points, for each step I took I had to first “travel” and then “wait” to burn the extra useless action point.

In combat you first pick (a) to attack, then choose who is going to get attacked (even if there’s only one enemy, which there usually is) and then choose what type of attack to me (usually always the same attack). Defending takes another commands. Quite often it would take 20 or more key-presses (all repetitive) to take down a simple beetle. To make matters worse there just aren’t any interesting options. You can “inspect” for weak points to get more powerful hits, and consume healing items, but for the most part it’s just an awkward cycle of attack-defend-attack-defend.

The Old Man: “Now, explain yourself quickly. Where were you headed before your mount fainted and succumbed to treachery?”

Taking a moment to think, you realize you can’t remember anything about where you were going, or who you are.

You: “I can’t seem to remember anything at all.”

There is something a plot, summarized above. You awake in a forest with amnesia, and your objective is to escape. Early on youn meet an old man who conveniently has a cottage nearby you can rest in. He also will take things you’ve looted from enemies (insect meat and the like) and craft it into items for you.

Strength, Dexterity, and Perception all can gain experience points in combat. If they gain enough points, resting at the old’s man house gains them a level.

I got through the first task (finding a scroll with directions) and using it made my way through a forest maze, but I was soundly defeated by some sort of guardian with a poisoned sword. I’m fairly certain getting through would require some experience point grinding, but I was far past the two-hour mark at this point. I have been forgiving of RPG entries in past IFComps (see The Lost Dimension from 2007 or Onaar from 2015) but in its present state I just can’t recommend this one at all. I like the ambitions of its systems, but it needs, at the very least, a saner interface; fast-paced combat and movement might make it tolerable.

Posted October 13, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2016: The Mouse   Leave a comment

By Norbez. Played twice to completion on desktop.


The Mouse is a work in Twine about the main character, Evelyn, and their abusive roommate, Carrie.

mouse

The main character is one of the best-painted of the competition. This turned out to be essential to the structure: there’s a long intro before the first choice, at a central moment in the abuse between Carrie and Evelyn. Carrie offers Evelyn (never before a drinker) some alcohol.

You can choose “no”, but you’ll need to three times. By this point the main character was built up enough the mere act of choosing felt harrowing. There was a felt significance to it. This wasn’t just reading a story out of order, this was participating in a moment of bravery or cowardice.

A sequence follows in a similar vein, where you have a sequence of essentially “yes” or “no” choices which involving choosing what the result of the abuse should be. This was, again, extraordinarily effective, and even with a narrow window of outcomes made for an effective moral choice. By that I mean — I’ve played plenty of games with “choices” that generate violence which is clearly imaginary and just a mass of pixels — here, when I picked a less fortunate result for the protagonist, I was actively wincing.

I highly recommend The Mouse, although take the “player discretion is advised” notice from the blurb seriously; this one can get in your head.

Posted October 12, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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