The fourth game of the Scott Adams series is possibly the first adventure credited to a female author. Oddly, this credit does not appear on the game cover…
…but rather on the initial screen of the game.
These days Scott and Alexis Adams are listed as co-designers. The historian Jimmy Maher mentions that Scott Adams downplayed Alexis’s contribution to the game in later years, but Alexis herself stated she wrote Voodoo Castle on her own, so I’m going to stick with the game’s own credit as solely Alexis Adams.
Anyhow! Secret Mission (aka Mission Impossible) broke out of the “find the treasures” mold significantly to give a directed mission that had nothing to do with treasures. Voodoo Castle steps back from the innovation only slightly; the goal here is to wake Count Cristo via some unclear magic ritual. This hence doesn’t feel like a looting expedition with clearly labeled *treasures* but more like solving a mystery box, working out what puzzles to twiddle in sequence to slowly unlock the edges.
This is what one of my “maps in progress” looks like.
I actually have taken cracks (twice!) at this game in the past, but for some reason never could get any puzzles except for a trivial early one where you WAVE RING to open a door (the game pretty much gives this one away).
This time, however, I started making progress. I’d love to know what changed; maybe playing this after a bunch of other late-70s games put me in the right mindset, maybe I’m better at adventure puzzles in general, maybe I was more persistent because I knew I wanted to write about it, or maybe I just got lucky.
In any case, some spoilers follow.
EXPLODING TEST TUBES: There’s a room with a ju-ju bag, chemicals, and test tubes. Fairly shortly after entering one of the test tubes explodes, and presuming you have no protection you receive a slightly unfair death / game over. I returned to this room on my second run but somehow the explosions weren’t killing me. I only realized after some experimentation I was being protected by a shield I was carrying since there is no message at all about how I’m managing to survive. This persists even when picking up the exploding tubes and carrying them around; somehow the shield is good enough to protect from a test tube exploding in one’s inventory.
TINY DOOR: In sort of an Alice the Wonderland scenario, the chemicals from the exploding test tube room can be mixed and then drunk to get smaller. Not a lot smaller, just four foot tall.
This effect lasts the rest of the game, which is an odd visual image.
JAIL CELL: Getting through the tiny door leads to a graveyard with a saw. Taking the saw back to the dungeon, there’s a jail cell that if you enter the door locks behind you. However, SAW DOOR pops open the lock. I am unsure why this would work but not using other similar items (bloody knife, broken sword, hammer) and I am unclear even how to visualize what’s going on here, but I somehow solved this one pretty quickly anyway.
MEDIUM MAEGEN: There’s a pamphlet advertising a medium that can be reached via “SUMMON MEDIUM MAEGEN.” There’s a “medium room” with a crystal ball, but the medium is scared off and disappears. However, if you invoke >SUMMON MEDIUM she comes back and gives some information, the first time the game conveys any concrete way how to complete the main quest.
PLAQUE: This was for me the coolest puzzle so far: there’s a plaque with print too tiny to read. If you’re carrying some broken glass you can avoid the tiny print problem by using the glass as a magnifying glass (unlike the shield I thought this might work and intentionally brought the glass over to use it this way) but the letters are also luminescent and too hard to read in light. Hence you have to take the plaque to the only dark room in the game, inside a chimney; finally you can read the plaque which reveals the combination for a safe.
Hum, I’m sounding pretty negative, and in the cold rationality of logic the puzzles are only so-so. Somehow I’m having fun anyway. I think the compactness of the game (and complete lack of mazes, at least so far!) makes a nice counterpoint to the sprawling maps I’ve dealt with lately.
I compared Voodoo Castle earlier to a mystery box, and the analogy seems to be holding up. I’m finding snippets of a ritual for waking Count Cristo, a little at a time. I’m still missing part but I think I might need to just use some guesswork or induction to finish the game. The feeling of peeling back layers of enigma is much stronger as implicit plot than greedily snatching up treasures.
Sometimes, writing these things is simply of matter of me playing terrible old things so you don’t have to, extracting design lessons and maybe some interesting quotes. I can gleefully spoil every plot element and puzzle without the feeling like I’m ruining it for everyone.
Then there’s games like Voodoo Castle, which are enjoyable enough that I actually want to recommend them. If you feel like you’d have any interest, you might want to just stop reading and go play. To make it easy, here is a link to play online.
First I had an odd sequence where I found a chimney sweep stuck high in the chimney. There was some anticipation built up for this with moaning sounds which suggest a zombie attack or the like, but it just turned out to be the unlucky guy we rescue in the screenshot below. He gives a paper explaining how the command ZAP turns stone things to life.
One ju-ju man statue and a ZAP later, I awoke a ju-ju man in the same room as a ju-ju bag (which I previously could not access because it was “stuck to the floor”) and for some reason this lets us make off with the bag and grab the things within. I think the ju-ju man would be upset, but maybe he’s just thankful we revived him? It’s like the pirate from Pirate Adventure who just wanted to get drunk and didn’t care about what we stole.
Based on the hint from the medium last time I took the ju-ju bag to a crack that was too tiny to enter (this is different from the tiny door) and did >WAVE BAG, leading me to a secret room.
The room contains a torn page from the recently found book. Putting the pages together:
With knife in hand you take a stand. Circle coffin and…
…wave the stick and hold the lamp and don’t forget to yell “CHANT”! Oh yes, to help it succeed, a doll you’ll need…
I don’t know if I’m close to the end and I just need to guess the rest of the ritual, or if I still have some things to collect including the final instructions. The only things I haven’t worked with are a.) a shovel, which hasn’t gotten a useful response to DIG anywhere I’ve tried, b.) a kettle of soup and c.) a witch’s brew that turns my character into a broom if I try it. Hopefully this will roll to the finish by the next post?
I was indeed quite close to the end.
I needed to move a soup kettle (which was described as having a hole underneath, but I somehow originally assumed the soup was in the hole; text-minimalism strikes again) and get a rabbit foot, and soon I had everything I needed, using the ritual described in my last post.
What’s with lots of the As being in caps? This happens through the whole game and this sort of text glitch happens in other Adams games too.
I had fun out of proportion to the puzzle quality, which was decent but not spectacular. I think this was due to the implicit plot, which I realize I’ve never defined very well, so now is as good a time as any.
EXPLICIT PLOT: The main plot events as described in the text; if you read a transcript which does a straight-to-the-end walkthrough you are just experiencing explicit plot.
IMPLICIT PLOT: The story the emerges from the actual actions done in the game (successful or not). If you wandering around every room in the game trying to DIG with the shovel but not getting any response, that’s part of the implicit plot (imagine your character frustratedly hitting each spot of ground) but not the explicit plot (since it advances nothing).
While we are at it, I’d also include:
LITERAL PLOT: The plot that includes meta-commands like saving and restoring. Occasionally this can be reflected in the main game — in Quondam (1980) the game kills you if you try to save too early, and a very recent game I will leave unnamed to avoid spoilers (it’s one word, nine letters) uses the literal plot quite extensively and remembers what you did in prior save games.
In any case, the process of playing Voodoo Castle involved criss-crossing over locations multiple times, in some cases (the chimney, the lower area with the medium) revealing new things at each pass. The implicit plot of the adventure was a good fit, and the game felt like genuine investigating as opposed to just finding the right key for the right lock.
In other news, Emily Short linked my initial post about Warp to her blog, which I’ll take as a hint I need to get back to writing about it. I did finally find a use for those crazy IF-THEN statements in the parser. I’ll try to explain next time I post.