Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Acheton: Victory!

When last I left you, I had found 49 treasures and was preparing to gather them and see how close I might be to wrapping Acheton up.  I had some minor fears about how difficult it might be to get all of the treasures before my lamp ran out, but I didn't think it would be that hard.  Boy, was I wrong about that.

The timer in Acheton is tight, and there is absolutely zero time for messing around.  Yes, there's a way to recharge the lamp, but as far as I can tell you can only use it once - to get there you need to pass by a "toll hole" that requires you to drop a treasure inside.  You can get by once safely without sacrificing a treasure, but on the second try you'll be crushed to death.  So while the Timeless Cavern might be able to recharge the lamp multiple times, I don't know for sure because I could never get back there.

There's also the problem of juggling your inventory.  You can carry a maximum of eight items, and there are sections that provide you with far more treasures than you can carry at one time.  So there are places that need to be visited more than once, and that adds to the difficulty.

So I charted a rough outline of what order to do things, but try as I might I just couldn't collect all of the treasures before my lamp expired.  Even turning my lamp off at every opportunity (in rooms with another light source) didn't help.  Besides, one of the areas with too many treasures to carry was the one beyond the "toll hole".  Either there was some way to pass it multiple times that I was missing, or some other way to get my items back to the main area.

It turned out to be the latter, and the answer was something that I had needed to look up in a walkthrough earlier in the game.  There are stars painted on various walls throughout the caves, and if you turn off the lamp and say the magic word ZOOGE, anything that's on the floor will be transported to the room just outside the treasure vault.  There are (I think) four of these in the game: one past the toll hole, one in the wizard's house, one in the desert canyon, and one near the central slab room.  Once I figured this out, I was eventually able to gather all 49 treasures and head for the vault.

Before I get into that, though, there were a couple of other things I discovered about the game.  The first is that the treasures in the mine maze aren't always in the same location.  There are seven in all, and every time I played they were scattered around the maze in different places.  It's a small thing, but I don't think there's been this kind of randomisation in an earlier text adventure.

The second thing I discovered is that I'd mixed things up a bit when writing about the pirates on the island in a previous post.  I had said that you need to hide at the top of a palm tree, wait for the pirates to land and visit a cave before they leave the island, then dig in the cave to find some doubloons.  Somehow I got that wrong.  You actually need to dig before the pirates arrive, which is kind of an ass-backwards puzzle to my mind.  I'm not completely opposed to puzzles that require you to fail before you can figure out the solution, but they aren't the best way to do things.

Okay, so back to the vault.  It's somewhat irritating that the treasures are transported to the room outside the vault, and not into the vault directly.  When you're trying to beat a timer, having to go back and forth carrying things from one room to the next is really not welcome.  Even aside from that, it's just an annoyance.  I eventually made it with my lamp still functional, and got the following exciting count-down.  (I guess it's actually a count-up.)

That bit about the safe being cluttered up is what happens when you leave a non-treasure in the vault.

It was success, of a sort.  I hadn't found all of the treasures, but what I had found was enough to grant me access to the endgame.  Of course, the first time I tried this I didn't have the item that I needed to re-open the vault door.  With the way back blocked by a stone slab, there was nothing to do but restore and try to figure out what I was missing.  I didn't take too long to hit on the solution: the magic rod was one of the only items in the game that I hadn't yet found a use for.

So, a wave of the wand re-opened the vault, and I was able to proceed to the final stages.  Before doing that, though, I wanted to find all of the treasures.  And with no other clues to go on, I cracked open the old walk-through and looked up the locations for all of them.  There's a total of 55 treasures in the game, so I had only missed six.  I'll list them and how to find them below.

The Silk: Remember the ultra-deadly snake maze I mentioned in my last post?  The one that took me hundreds of attempts to safely navigate?  I was afraid of this, but there was a treasure in one of the more inaccessible parts of the maze that had previously been covered by a huge boa constrictor.  The way to get it was simply to explore the maze without being killed by snakes, but that's a lot harder than it sounds.  With a walk-through, not hard at all, but it would have taken me hours  of painstaking trial-and-error without it.

The Diamond: There's a room not far from the Timeless Cavern that has some writing on the wall.  For whatever reason, I don't think I ever read that writing, but it says OFF MOAN WAIT EXAKCIP.  Saying these words causes an uncut diamond to appear in the abandoned mine aaaaall the way back on surface near the beginning of the game.  I guess you might figure out where to look from EXAKCIP (pickaxe backwards), but it seems unlikely, and there are no other clues pointing towards it, or even an acknowledgment that saying the words has any effect.
  An uncut diamond isn't quite good enough to get you the full points, though.  To turn it into a beautiful cut diamond, you need to CUT DIAMOND using a pair of scissors.

The Rhodium Sculpture: You might think that cutting the diamond would be enough, but nope.  If you CUT DIAMOND a second time, the scissors get hot and melt.  When they have cooled, the scissors are transformed into a rhodium sculpture.  It's another obscure puzzle with no hints towards its solution, but I probably would have figured it out just based on the principle of "what would happen if I tried this again".

Perhaps a mention that the scissors are made of rhodium might have been a good clue.

The Silver Sovereigns: Also near the game's beginning, there was a locked grate that was something of a callback to Colossal Cave Adventure.  If you try to enter, you slip and die in freezing water.  I had written this off as a joke, but there's actually a treasure here.  First you need to wave the magic rod, which causes the water to boil away.  Then you can safely go down and claim some silver sovereigns before emerging back in the forest through a different tunnel (which of course can't be found from the outside).

The Agate Ring: In the frozen tunnels there's a dead end with a floor of thick ice that I had noted earlier and then completely forgotten about.  You can melt the ice with some salt (which is apparently real science?) and in the room beneath there's an agate ring.

The Ankh: This one is apropos to my current gaming circumstances, because I'm trying to complete Ultima VII: The Black Gate (and enjoying the heck out of it).  But that's not really relevant to this post.  Remember the "toll hole"?  There's a chunk of quartz that I had thought was a treasure, but I hadn't noticed that it didn't have the telltale exclamation point that would mark it as such.  If you drop the quartz into the hole, an ankh flies back out at you.
You can't get past safely after this, so the Timeless Cavern is still inaccessible.

So I now had all of the treasures, and I was feeling less negative about how difficult some of them were to obtain.  You don't need all of the treasures to progress to the endgame: a minimum of 45 is enough.  It's a tough game to beat, but at least it's a little bit lenient when it comes to this final hurdle.

And now, the end-game.  After placing the treasures in the vault, and re-opening it with the magic rod, you'll find that it now leads to a different place: a corridor that steadily becomes steeper.  There's a sign that warns you to drop all of your items, and if you don't you'll be incinerated.  Obviously none of the items are required for the end-game - not even the lamp, as the whole place is lit - so it's perfectly fine to drop everything and continue down the slope.

This leads to a series of three rooms.  One room contains a small obsidian disc, another contains a medium-sized flint disc, and the last contains two discs of larger size stacked on top of each other.  Yes, it's a "Tower of Hanoi" puzzle, where the goal is to shuffle the stones around in such a way that you pile them up with the largest at the bottom progressing to the smallest at the top.  You can't put a larger disc on top of a smaller disc without blowing the whole place up.  It's very easy, and I had a mixture of relief and disappointment upon encountering it.  Disappointment, because I expected the ending of this terribly difficult game to be a bit more challenging, and relief, because I just wanted the thing to be over with.  Anyway, moving the largest stone reveals a hole underneath, and dropping through it takes you to the very final area of the game.

A gladiatorial pit, surrounded by a cheering crowd!  Now this I really enjoyed.  You're presented with eleven weapons: a mace, an axe, a canister of gas, a spear, a broadsword, a silver cane, a dagger, a stake, a mace, a barrel of gunpowder, and a crucifix.  One by one you have to defeat ten different enemies: a minotaur, an orc, a scorpion, a vampire, a wolf, a knight on horseback, a cyclops, a serpent, a spectre, and a dragon.  There's no scope for trying anything clever here, you just have to pick whichever weapon you think will work best, and you only get one shot with each weapon.  The order that these enemies appear is random, with the only constant being that the dragon always appears last.

I love that the crowd is composed of former adventurers.

The goal is obviously to find the best weapon for each foe and progress through them until you defeat the dragon, but there are some enemies that can be killed by multiple weapons, and some that are only vulnerable to a single weapon.  For example, if you're thinking mythologically you might use the stake to kill the cyclops.  If the vampire appears after that, you'll then be forced to kill him with the crucifix.  This will leave you helpless against the spectre, however, who is only vulnerable to that weapon.  The first time I got to the dragon I had already used the gunpowder to kill the minotaur, so I lost at the final hurdle.  It's a process of trial and error, but you're pretty much guaranteed to win eventually, which I did after maybe twenty tries.

After long hours of gruelling puzzle-solving, the gladiator arena does seem to come out of nowhere, and present a challenge that feels a little disconnected from the rest of the game.  Personally, I found it to be a refreshing change, and the various combat results were written amusingly enough that I spent an hour with a checklist trying to get them all.

Once the dragon is defeated you're cheered out of the arena, given a laurel wreath, named as a Supreme Grandmaster of Acheton and elected to the Ruling Council.  It's all a little perfunctory, but abrupt endings are pretty much all you're going to get until maybe the mid-1980s.

I think the relevant authorities would not look kindly on my use of a walk-through.

But wait, what's this?  I only finished with a score of 1499?  At this point I had a minor panic, thinking that I might have missed something right near the beginning of the game.  But luck was with me: that Last, Lousy Point (in the tradition of Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork) was to be found in the arena.  You can defeat the knight with the axe, the mace or the gunpowder, but using any of these won't get you the full points (and besides that you need the mace for the minotaur and the gunpowder for the dragon).  The trick is, when presented with a choice of weapons, to type NONE.  Which is funny, and a little bit clever, but also quite cheap and unfair.  It's hard to get worked up over it though when it's just a little something to get the maximum score.

With that, I'm very nearly done with Acheton.  On the whole I found it rather enjoyable, with the caveat that I was able to look up the answers whenever I got stuck.  Without that luxury, I'd still be stymied by it, and may never have completed it before giving up.  Even so, it's undoubtedly one of the best adventure games around for the time.  It's not up to the lofty standards set by Zork, and probably a bit too lengthy for its own good, but it's a worthwhile experience, and I feel as though I'm a far better adventure gamer than I was before I started it.

Before I sign off, here is the updated List of Shame, being all the things I needed to consult a walkthrough for over the course of the game:

  1. Climbing the Ningy before tipping it over.
  2. Drinking the gin to fall safely down the cliff.
  3. Using the mushroom password at the Gate of Isis.
  4. Turning the thread into a rope to get down from the canyon.
  5. Finding the invisible clock.
  6. Using the clock in the maze of mirrors.
  7. Using the amulet to make items visible or invisible.
  8. Using ZOOGE to transport items in rooms with stars.
  9. Painting a star to transport the portrait out of the gallery.
  10. Navigating my way out of the wizard's dungeon.
  11. Finding the silk in the snake maze.
  12. Finding the diamond in the abandoned mine.
  13. Cutting the diamond.
  14. Cutting the diamond again to create the rhodium sculpture.
  15. Using the wand to safely access the area beyond the grate and find the sovereigns.
  16. Using the salt to melt the ice floor and find the agate ring.
  17. Dropping the crystals in the "toll hole" to get the ankh.
  18. Beating the knight with my bare hands.

It's not pretty, but this game is hard y'all.  I feel no shame.

And now, for the Final Rating.

Story and Setting: Yet again it's a treasure hunt, featuring a character with no discernible goal beyond the player's desire to win the game.  On that score, it's about on par with Colossal Cave Adventure.  The caves of Acheton occasionally gesture towards some of the humourous elements of Zork, but while there are some interesting areas none of them quite reach the iconic status of things like the Flood Control Dam.  It also lacks the cohesiveness of Zork, with very few of the game's areas feeling connected in any way.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

NPCs and Monsters:  There aren't really any characters, but there are monsters galore: snakes, a mummy, an idol that comes to life when you pluck out its eye, and the various creatures inside the arena.  None of them are all that interesting, being more obstacles than anything else, but I'm going to mark this category up for the many amusing results to be had in the arena.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a well-written adventure game with a fair amount of wit, but in the end it's still a text adventure, and not exceptional enough for a high score in this category.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser is a basic two-word affair, with which I had minimal difficulty.  I think the only place that I found myself getting stuck for the right verb was when trying to light a fire on the island.  Otherwise, it did the job adequately.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: This is where I need to point out that this category isn't really about how hard a game is: on that scale, Acheton would rate very high.  What this category really rates is how well-balanced a game is, and a high rating would be for something that maintains a high level of challenge without ever becoming frustrating.  A game that is too hard, or too easy, would rank low.  I was prepared to rank Acheton fairly low here, but I'm reconsidering.  Most of the puzzles play fair, and there's also the fact that you can beat it without finding all of the treasures.  That said, I played it with a walkthrough at hand, so I didn't get the full experience of just how ball-tearingly difficult it could be.  Mostly, I think I'm marking it down for just being too big.  There's probably four really good adventures crammed into this thing, but as it is it's too unwieldy.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: It's one of the very first adventure games to be written outside of America, and still one of the earliest ever made, so both of those have to count for something.  There are some other smaller things as well, like the randomly generated mazes.  I might even consider the sheer vindictiveness of some of the puzzles to be an innovation of a sort.  But overall, it's very beholden to Zork, and never really steps out of its shadow.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Fun: Acheton was equal parts amusing novelty and mind-numbing frustration.  There's so much to like in it, and so many clever puzzles and fun situations.  But there are also moments where it just feels too hard, and provides little guidance as to what to do next.  And again, there's the size of it.  Had it been half as big, it would get a more impressive score here.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Perhaps against my better judgment, I'm awarding Acheton the coveted bonus point, as I could definitely see myself coming back to it some day.  Actually, the commercial version is a little different in that the arena weapons are scattered throughout the caves, so I'll probably challenge myself with that on the blog should the time ever come.  The above scores total 21, for a Final Rating of 42.  That's fairly impressive at this stage: as far as adventure games go, that puts it level with Adventureland, with only Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork above it.

Next: It's King Tut's Tomb Adventure, by my boy Greg Hassett!  Whatever his adventures may lack in quality, they make up for it in brevity, and that's really what I need right now.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Acheton: I Get By With A Little Help From My FAQs

Since my last post, I've made all sorts of progress with Acheton.  Some of that progress is legitimate, and some of it...  Well, let's just say that I consulted some walkthroughs.  I'm only human, and even my patience has its limits.  (I'm probably more patient with CRPGs than adventure games, as my posts on Moria and The Game of Dungeons will attest.)  As has become standard, break all of this progress down by area/puzzle.

The Desert:  I've previously expressed some concern about the sheer size of this game.  I was afraid that, despite it already being enormous, there might be a very large amount of it left to explore.  As it turned out, I was needlessly worried.  Yes, it's very large for a text adventure, but the desert was the last major area that I hadn't yet been to, and in the end I found the whole thing reasonably manageable.

As for the desert, I couldn't figure out how to survive it without getting lost and dying of thirst.  After several hours of heading south from the beach with various combinations of items in my possession, I cracked and consulted a walkthrough.  What I discovered was that you don't enter the desert from that direction at all.  Instead, you need to go through the tunnel behind the Ningy, and follow the passage until you reach the top of a cliff.  Jumping down from the cliff results in you breaking your neck, and the parser doesn't understand any attempts I made to climb down.  The solution is to drink some gin before you jump.  This relaxes your body, and allows you to survive the fall.  I can't say that this solution makes much sense to me.  One of the garden gnome's clues points towards it, by saying that a drink can be relaxing, but it was far too obscure for me.  I might have figured it out through trial and error, but I seriously doubt it.

Once again, alcohol solves all the problems.

One passage near the bottom of the cliff leads back to the Ningy Room, and another leads into a series of desert canyons.  At the beginning of these canyons is a spring, and navigating your way through is a matter of conserving water before you die of thirst.  There's a cave with a barrel, which you need to fill with water to allow you to explore more of the canyons.  There's also a pool with contaminated water that will kill you, and a cave on a cliff ledge where you'll find a flask of perfume (one of the game's treasures).  At the end-point of the canyons is a desert oasis, where you'll find another treasure (a persian rug) and an entrance into a large pyramid.

The Pyramid:  At first it seems like there's not much in the pyramid: just a single room with a cactus in a pot.  In reality, there's loads of stuff inside, and some of the most dangerous sequences in the entire game.

The pot that the cactus is in has the following words written around the outside: BLEI AMEDI.  The more observant among you might realise that is says "I AM EDIBLE", but I just blundered through by trying random things.  One of those things was EAT CACTUS, and I was rewarded by shrinking down and being crushed by my inventory.  On a second attempt, I dropped all of my gear before shrinking, and when I was small enough saw that there was a crack I could enter.

At this point I remembered the glowing marble, which had previously been too small for me to see the visions swirling inside.  After quickly restoring an old game and returning to the cactus, I ate it with the marble in my possession.  When I shrank down it retained its regular size, and was revealed as a glowing palantir.  (That Tolkien influence was inescapable in gaming for the 70s and most of the 80s.)  All of the visions that the palantir showed me were of the Ruling Council of Acheton eating various types of food.  They weren't helpful now, but later on I put some things together and worked it out.

For the moment, I descended into the crack.  There was a small room, a passage heading east, and another hole in the floor.  I was warned that I wouldn't be able to come back this way if I went down, so I explored the east passage.  What I found was a long tunnel, with various letters written on the south wall.  What I also found was a balrog, which killed me with its fiery whip.  (It's amusing that this is a teeny-tiny balrog, like maybe an inch high.  Or maybe it's normal-sized, and everyone in Lord of the Rings is an inch high?  It's possible.)

This sequence was super-tricky, and required a lot of trial and error.  You need to pay attention to the palantir: sometimes it glows dimly, sometimes brightly, and sometimes very brightly.  When it glows very brightly the balrog is near, so you have to head back west.  When it glows brightly you should wait.  You can go east, but about half the time the balrog will be waiting for you, and heading back west makes the palantir stop glowing for reasons I'm not sure about.  When the palantir glows dimly, you can go east.  Eventually you'll enter a room with a deep pit, and the balrog at the bottom.  There's also a scarab you can claim.  Getting out is tricky, though, because the palantir will extinguish and you'll be left in the dark.  You need the letters on the south wall, which spell out the word LORNIWYQ.  Saying the word teleports you to safety.

Except, it doesn't.  It actually teleports you into the pit with the balrog, who kills you instantly.  The actual word for teleporting to safety in QYWINROL.  As always in Acheton, remember: save often.  That way it doesn't feel so bad when the game slaughters you without mercy.

He's angry because he's so tiny and adorable.

With the balrog tunnel done, it's time head down the passage-of-no-return.  There you'll find the Gate of Isis, a dead end with coral beads (more treasure), and another dead end with a gigantic mushroom.  The mushroom comes into play later, but for the moment I'll describe the deadly hell-hole that lies beyond the Gate of Isis.

It's not so bad at first.  It leads into a temple, where there's a mummy wandering around.  If you stumble into the mummy he'll kill you, but it's not too hard to avoid him because he moves in a very predictable pattern.  There's a north-east passage out of the temple that circles around to where it started, but it also leads to an ancient torque (another treasure).  The mummy circles around this passage constantly, so you need to follow him in and waste no steps, otherwise he'll catch up to you and throttle you to death.

There's also a south passage out of the temple, and this is where the game just gets plain nasty.  The passage leads into a series of rooms, each one containing a different variety of sleeping serpent: a viper, a cobra, a boa constrictor, etc.  There are three treasure in these rooms (a tourmaline bracelet, a carbuncle, a bronze candlestick), but you can only take two of them, because there's a bloody great viper coiled around the candlestick.  You need to wake up the snakes, and this can be done by sacrificing some treasures on the nearby Altar of Ra.  This is a pretty obscure verb to be using in a text adventure, but what else is there to do with an altar?  And after shrinking your inventory is fairly non-existent, so it's not too hard to figure out which items work as a sacrifice.  My main worry was whether I'd get the sacrificed treasures back, but as it turns out, I had more immediate concerns.

Sacrificing a treasure on the altar causes all of the snakes to wake up.  It also causes the walls to start changing colour in a rainbow sequence (ROYGBIV), which is just as well because there's no way I'd have figured out how to escape otherwise.  You need to get back to the temple with the candlestick, but if any of the snakes catch you you'll be killed.  Their movements are in sequence with the wall colours, though, so a bit of trial and error is required to figure out the correct path.  Okay, a lot of trial and error.  A LOT of trial and error.  I was at this for a couple of hours.  I made maps, and charts.  The temptation to look up the solution was strong, but I was determined to get through it on my own.  I did it eventually, with the candlestick in my possession, but it was tough.  In terms of the number of times it killed me, this sequence is probably the single most deadly area of a text adventure that I've ever encountered.  (I'm not just talking about the blog here, either.  I mean every adventure game I've played, ever.)

Why did it have to be snakes?

With that done, all that's left in the pyramid is to find a way to escape.  Remember the mushroom I mentioned earlier?  If you eat a piece of it you'll receive a vision that shows you some letters of the alphabet.  That wasn't so hard to figure out, as the edible cactus already had me in the right frame of mind for chomping down on a fungus.  What took me a little longer to figure out was that the vision changes depending on which direction you approach the cactus from (it's in a large cavern).  There are three different visions, and you need to put them together to form a password.  I've done it a few times now, and got a different password each time.  I'm not sure how random it is, but you can't just learn the word in a previous game and use it again without visiting the mushroom.

So I had the password, but typing it in did nothing.  This was the second point where I caved, and looked up the answer: I needed to say the word while standing in front of the Gate of Isis.  Doing that teleported me all the way back to one of the desert canyons, but I was way up high on a ledge with no way to get back to the ground.  Climbing down resulted in my death, as did jumping.  I didn't have any items except for some treasures: the rest of my inventory was back in the pyramid, having been discarded before I ate the cactus.  I tried some magic words, I tried praying, I tried typing obscenities (hey, it worked in Aldebaran III).  I took a look over all of the inventory items in the game for something that might help me get down, that also wouldn't crush me when I shrunk.  I should have seen the answer then, but it completely slipped by me.

So I looked up the answer again.  I find that the closer I am to finishing a game, or finishing a large section of a game, the more likely I am to consult a walkthrough.  Maybe it's frustration, or simply the desire to get to the end and finish the game, but my patience is notably lessened.  The same goes for mapping as well; if you ever look through my maps for something like Bard's Tale, you'll see a marked dip in thoroughness in the final levels as compared to the opening ones.

The answer was that I needed to bring a piece of thread with me, and keep it on my person while shrinking.  Just like the marble/palantir, it keeps its original size and becomes a rope, and when you're teleported out of the pyramid it stays rope-sized.  With that, it's easy enough to climb back to the ground and head back to the spring at the beginning of the canyons (and from there get back to the Ningy Room).  The only loose end is the treasures that were sacrificed on the Altar of Ra, which can now be found at the foot of a sphinx not far from the spring.  Done, and I only needed to cheat three times to do it.  It won't be the last time, unfortunately.

The Ice Floe:  Back in the ice caverns, there's an ice floe that melts about five turns after you first encounter it,  If you step into the centre, you'll smell a number of scents, going clockwise: an onion field, a citrus grove, a barn, the sea, ozone, an orchard, a vineyard and a coffee plantation.  Eight options (one of which led back to the ice passages), but no matter how many times I saved and restored, I never found anything on the ice floe.  As soon as I saw the visions in the palantir, though, I knew it was the solution.  Each time I looked at the palantir I saw a vision of the Ruling Council of Acheton enjoying a banquet, with seven different courses: fish, sorbet, ox, soup, coffee, fruit, and a champagne toast.  All that's required is to take the palantir onto the ice floe, move in the direction that corresponds to the vision that it shows, and you'll find a necklace.

'Ralph Witt' might be a reference to Witt's End from Colossal Cave Adventure.

The Maze of Mirrors: Okay, so this is a puzzle which I completely gave up on solving myself.  In the wizard's house there's a maze of mirrors, and every time I entered it I became hopelessly lost.  Occasionally I would find an osmium hunting horn, but whenever I tried to take it, it was revealed as an optical illusion.

Consulting a walkthrough revealed a number of things that I would never in a million years have figured out.  The first is that there's an invisible clock in an area not far from the maze.  I had heard it chime occasionally as I passed through, but never stopped to investigate. You can take it, but it's not of much use while invisible.

There is a way to make it visible, though, by waving the amulet found in the mines.  I had previously been told a clue that hinted at the amulet having some sort of power, but it wasn't even close to enough for me to figure this out on my own.  Not only does the amulet make the clock visible, but it can make any object you wave it over invisible, and also return it to visibility.  Both of these abilities will become important later on.

So how does this relate to the mirror maze?  Well, you need to take the clock inside in order to find the correct path.  Every time you move the clock displays a time, and you need to move in the compass direction that corresponds to the small hand of the clock.  After a few moves you'll find the osmium horn (not an illusion this time) floating in mid-air.  Getting back out of the maze is done using the same method, by moving in the compass direction opposite the hour hand of the clock.

These puzzles are brutally difficult, and I would also say that they are somewhat unfair.  Perhaps it's just that I'm not as smart as a brain-trust of Cambridge mathematicians, but I really would have appreciated some more clues.  Apparently the commercial release by Topologika in 1987 had a hint file, and if I had any sense I would have played that version.  But no, here I am sticking to my chronological guns, and unable to legitimately beat this game.

I've got the horn!  Er, so to speak.

The Philosopher's Stone: This was a quick one, and miracle of miracles I worked it all out on my lonesome.  In the caves there's a room with a grey stone, and a book with details on how to transform lead into gold.  Every time I tried to read the book it crumbled to dust, but that's okay because it's apparently not important to the solution.  In the mines there's a big lump of lead, which needs to be brought to the room with the book and the stone.  (Maybe it can be done elsewhere, I'm not sure.)  Drop the nugget, pick up the stone, say TRANSMUTE and voila, instant gold nugget.  I do love a short, simple puzzle.

Another puzzle that requires a bit of outside knowledge to solve.

The Rembrandt Portrait: There's an art gallery with a painting in it, but the thing is too large to carry out.  I'd thought I needed to shrink it, but the solution is much more complex than that, and involves the magic word ZOOGE that I had seen scrawled on a wall elsewhere.  It also involves the stars that are painted on the walls in various locations around the caves.  If you use the word in an area where there's a star, any item on the ground will be transported next to the vault (where you need to take all of your treasures to win the game).  For some reason it only works in the dark, which is odd, but at least there's a hint about it written in the vault.  This is how you get the portrait out of the gallery, but there's no star there: you need to paint one yourself using a can of spray-paint.  Needless to say, I didn't work any of this out on my own.

ZOOGE!  It's quite fun to say.

The Wizard's Dungeon: Early in my time with this game I had stumbled into a room in the wizard's house with a bubbling cauldron, and been transported into a dungeon cell.  I never found my way out, and quietly put this on the back-burner.  I was pretty sure that I'd be leaving it until last.

With no other obvious puzzles left for me to solve, it was time to finally go back there.  Once again, I had absolutely no idea what to do.  My only clues were a word the wizard says when he transports you in (NERKU) and a word that an elf pops up and says after a while (UKREN).  Otherwise I was stumped, and once again I resorted to looking up the answer.  Not only am I more likely to do so towards the end of a game, but once I break the seal it's far more tempting to just keep looking.  After all, I've already cheated once, haven't I?

The wizard's dungeon is a maze of sorts, but it's one that you create yourself.  You begin in a cell, and after a number of attempted moves you'll find yourself at a junction of passages.  To escape, you need to recreate the exact sequence of moves that you made while in the cell.  It's another very clever puzzle that I wish had some sort of hint towards the solution in the game.

The maze leads to a library, where you'll find an ancient papyrus scroll.  It can't be read, but it is a treasure so it needs to be collected.  Moving any direction from the library brings you to a hole, and descending is the only way out.

This leads to another maze, a labyrinth of small passages, each with a hole in the ceiling.  It can't be mapped by dropping items, because there's a thick layer of smoke covering the floor, but through a process of moving about and exploring all of the holes I found some coins and a stamp.  I also found a dusty ante-room that led to some stairs flanked by a pair of stone lions.

You might expect that these lions would come to life when you try to descend the stairs, and you'd be right.  If you pass between the lions while carrying any treasure, they batter you to death with their stone paws.  At first I tried to pass them with my lamp turned off, but that's no good.  The trick is one I've mentioned earlier, and it involves the amulet.  You need to make your treasures invisible before you can get past the lions.  This was a really satisfying puzzle to figure out, but that satisfaction was somewhat ruined by the fact that I never would have known about the amulet in the first place without looking it up.

An unsurprising death.

Beyond the lions is the wizard's back door, which is locked.  The obvious solution was to use my keys, but they didn't fit, and I wasn't able to break the door down.  After a while of trying random stuff, I started using some of the magic words I'd found, and eventually hit on the solution: NERKU UKREN (which can be typed as one command, or separately).  Alas, my triumph was short-lived: as soon as I uttered the words the invisible treasures that I was carrying exploded and incinerated me.  You need to make your items invisible to get past the lions, then make them visible again to get past the door.  With that done, you'll be teleported to an area not far from the Slab Chamber.

The List of Shame:  Before I finish this post, here's a list of all the puzzles that I couldn't work out on my own:

  1. Climbing the Ningy before tipping it over.
  2. Drinking the gin to fall safely down the cliff.
  3. Using the mushroom password at the Gate of Isis.
  4. Turning the thread into a rope to get down from the canyon.
  5. Finding the invisible clock.
  6. Using the clock in the maze of mirrors.
  7. Using the amulet to make items visible or invisible.
  8. Using ZOOGE to transport items in rooms with stars.
  9. Painting a star to transport the portrait out of the gallery.
  10. Navigating my way out of the wizard's dungeon.

I'm pretty sure this list will be bigger before I'm done.

Heading for the End-Game?  At this point, there are no other obvious puzzles for me to tackle.  I'm sure there are more that I'm not seeing.  I've located 49 treasures, which doesn't seem a round enough number to be correct.  For the moment, though, I won't be looking for any more treasures.  Now it's time to try to put all of my efforts together into a single run, to see if I can collect all of those treasures before my lamp runs out.  I had wondered if the Timeless Cavern could be used to recharge it more than once, but it's a moot point, because as far as I can tell there's no way to get back there without being killed.  So I need to plan out an efficient path through the game, and hopefully it'll be enough to get me to the end.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Acheton: Steady Progress

One difference I've noticed between CRPGs and adventure games, in general, is that it's easier in the former to gauge how far you'll progress within a certain timeframe.  For the most part, CRPGs are pretty straightforward, and progress is often a simple matter of making your character stronger.  With adventure games, progress is made in terms of puzzles solved, and areas unlocked and explored.  It only takes getting stuck on one puzzle to bring everything to a crashing halt, and whole weeks can be spent banging your head against the game with nothing to show for it.

I was worried that this would be my experience with Acheton, but I'm happy to report that I've solved a number of puzzles, and made significant and steady progress.  As usual I'll break it down by puzzle as I describe my various breakthroughs.

The Wine: One of the treasures in the game is a case of wine that can be found in the wizard's cellar.  The problem is that when you try to remove it, the case screams out loud and attracts a pack of dogs that tears you apart.  The solution is to also have a pillow in your inventory, to muffle the screams.  I discovered this one by accident, but I'll take my solutions where I can get them.

My pillow put a stop to the wining.

The Gnome and the Lamp: In the wizard's garden there's a gnome who runs away if you try to catch him.  I had initially thought that you needed to burn the hedge maze down to catch him, but in the course of testing it to write this blog I discovered that you just need to make three attempts.  After the third attempt he offers to give you a clue at the cost of 10 points, but that's pretty irrelevant when you can save and restore at will.  He gives more than one clue (which I also just discovered while testing things out for the blog), and I took great pains to get as many of them as possible by abusing the save/restore functions.  These are the clues he gave me:

  • "The Ruling Council of Acheton wants you to know that you have to get quite close to the giant before you can deal with him, and that it is possible to do this safely."  I've already solved this problem, as detailed below, and I can't see how this clue is helpful.
  • "The last adventurer who passed this way told me from his death-bed that there is more than one use for the magic wand."  I've found what is probably a magic wand, in the tunnels behind the Ningy, but I haven't discovered even one use for it yet.
  • "Mr Witt's mother-in-law, who was the last wife of Pharaoh Yelka-Oekim III, has asked me to tell you that there is a great source of heat below Acheton.  It is possible for you to make use of this, though you cannot get anywhere near it." No idea about this one yet.
  • "The general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Cave Workers, who was drunk at the time, mandated me to tell you that the prime reason for drinking is to help you relax."  I have a pot of London Dry gin, but there are no situations where being relaxed seems helpful just now.
  • "The Wizard, when he first brought me into existence, bade me say that the material of your lamp was forged timeless eons ago."  This is the one clue I figured out, and I'll get to it in more detail below.
  • "The old man, who passed this way as a boy after digging the mine informed me that the amulet is a powerful charm."  I've found an amulet in the mine, and there's a deaf old man elsewhere in the caves.  I took the amulet to him and tried a number of verbs (GIVE, THROW, SHOW, DROP, WEAR, RUB, WAVE), but he didn't react to any of them.

There might be more clues than these, but I probably tried it around fifty times, so I doubt it.  As I said above, though, I figured out the clue about the lamp being timeless.  In an earlier post I mentioned that there was a Timeless Cavern, and that lingering in it for too long caused the lamp to burn out.  The trick is to leave just one move before the lamp burns out, when it is "burning very brightly".  As far as I can tell, that brings it back to a full charge.  I haven't tested whether this can be done multiple times, but I doubt it.  Adventure game designers are rarely so kind.

The Giant: There's an area with a giant wandering around, who will step on you if you end up in the same location as him.  You can slip past him to an alcove, where you'll find two treasures: a beryl, and a porcelain plate.  (The plate has a pile of salt on it, which I'm sure will be useful at some point.)  The problem is that the way the giant moves around stops you from being able to get back out again.  I needed to find something to either help him notice me (an unlikely solution) or to kill him or knock him over (far more likely).  As usual when I'm stuck, a look at all of the inventory items I'd found proved helpful.  In this case I hit upon the marble, which despite being small seemed like a possible way of tripping him up.  Sure enough, if you throw the marble at the giant he goes crashing to the floor and you can escape.  The marble even comes through unscathed, which is good because there's a vision swirling in it that I need to decipher at some point.

The convenient survival of an essential quest item.

Swimming: The ocean and the desert were the two major obstacles I'd been concerned with in my last post, and I've made zero progress in navigating the latter.  The ocean, however, I'm pretty sure that I'm done with.  I got through the swimming portion of it through trial and error.  If you swim too far north you'll die in a whirlpool, and if you go too far south you'll die on the cliffs.  Swimming north-west three times from the beach will guide you between Scylla and Charybdis, the whirlpool/sea monster combo from Greek mythology, and into some new caves.  You can only take one item while swimming, and it needs to be the lamp so that you can illuminate these caves.

Navigating between Scylla and Charybdis.

There are two items to be found in the new area: a tiara (one of the treasures) and a dead fish.  Eventually you'll arrive at a familiar bridge.  In an earlier post I mentioned that there is a bridge where Scylla pops up and eats you when you try to cross.  This is the same bridge, but this time you're approaching it from the opposite direction.  It's a simple matter to distract Scylla with the fish and cross the bridge back to the main area of the game..

The Dinghy:  That's not all that needs to be done on the ocean: there's also a dinghy.  You can sail it once you have the triangular cloth, but everywhere I tried to go with it resulted in me being dashed to my death on a coral atoll. Eventually I decided to see what would happen if I just waited a few turns, and let the current take me.  It still swept me to my death, but I found that jumping off just beforehand resulted in me being washed up on an island.

On the island I found some driftwood, a single palm tree, and four caves.  One of these caves contained some emeralds, but I couldn't find anything else.  A ship flying a white flag, and seemingly crewed by ghosts, sailed past without noticing me.  I thought perhaps I needed to set the driftwood on fire to get its attention, but I couldn't figure out how.  Later on a ship with a black flag landed, and a crew of pirates disembarked and killed me.

This one took a LOT of trial and error.  First, you need to climb the palm tree when the pirate ship arrives, otherwise they will find you no matter where you are.  While you're hiding, the pirates go into one of the caves before leaving.  If you enter the same cave and dig, you'll find a chest full of doubloons.

Hiding from the pirates, matey.

With that done, you need to get the attention of the white boat.  I was right about the driftwood, but you can't make a fire with it initially because it's scattered all over the beach.  I tried all sorts of things to make it into a pile, but all you need to do is pick it up then drop it.  It makes sense, I guess, but I only figured it out by accident.  Once that's done you can light a fire with a match when the white ship appears, and the ghost crew will pick you up and deposit you in the harbour cave near the slab room, back in familiar territory.

The Ice Maze: This is yet another puzzle I solved by accident.  It's a maze of icy caverns, each with three exits.  Exploring will eventually put you in an area where the ice cracks under your feet and dumps you into deadly freezing water.  When I went to explore it recently, though, I had the thermometer in my possession, which constantly gives you the temperature of the room you're in.  The ice caverns alternate between -10 and -4.  As long as you're in a cavern with -10 temperature, it's safe to proceed south-east or south-west.  If you're in a cavern with a -4 temperature, you can only safely head back north; going SE or SW will kill you.  Deep in the caverns I found a sceptre and some mink gloves.

Navigating the ice passages.

The Combination Room: With a sceptre in my possession, I was reminded that the game also had an orb and a crown.  I can't for the life of me remember where the myth comes from, but I know that the three go together, so I took them all to the King's Combination Room to see if anything would happen.  When I arrived, the king's butler appeared and presented me with a treasure chest.  I go back and forth with puzzles like this.  A lot of adventure games require outside knowledge for their puzzle solutions, particularly on the topic of mythology.  That's fine for me, because I have a pretty good base knowledge on that topic.  Sometimes, though, I feel like an adventure game should be complete in itself.

Excellent butling, good sir.

The Roc's Nest: The ice maze didn't just provide me with the solution to the king's combination room, but it also provided me with the mink gloves.  With those I was able to take the mithril habergeon, which had previously been too freezing for me to touch safely.  I'd been waiting to get my hands on the mithril armour for a while, because I suspected that it would protect me from the Roc in the wizard's garden.  The Roc guards the western path of the garden, and when it carries you away its claws puncture your lungs.  The armour protects against that, and instead of killing you the Roc carries you to its nest.

Surviving the Roc's claws.

In the nest there's a moonstone, and four unhatched eggs.  Nearby in a dead end is another treasure, an adamant diadem.  Of course, if you hang around long enough the eggs will hatch and a Roc fledgling will descend on you and tear you to shreds.  Elsewhere in the area is a locked cage with four winged serpents inside.  This was a simple one: you unlock the cage, release the serpents, and find a safe place to wait while the serpents and the rocs kill each other.  Once that's done you can enter the cage, where you'll find a tunnel leading back to the wizard's garden.

So that's where I am, quite a bit further through the game than I was as of my last post.  I made no progress at all as of last night, though.  I've got no idea what to do about the desert, or the ice floe with its various scents, or the wizard's dungeon, or the hall of mirrors.  I have the clues the gnome provides now, but none of those are helping much at the moment.  I'll give it a few more days, but if I go much longer without figuring anything out I'll probably get some hints from a walkthrough.  I've done pretty well to get this far with only looking at one hint, and I won't be ashamed to look a bit more should I get really stuck.  It's a challenging game, but not so devilishly hard as I'd been led to believe (at least so far).  Maybe I'm just getting better at these things.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Acheton: Like Chipping Away at a Mountain

Given that it's been three months since my last post, you might think that I'd have made a lot of progress.  After all, that's like 100 days - plenty of time to finish most games that aren't Moria or The Game of Dungeons v8 (or Fate: Gates of Dawn, for those of you who were reading the CRPGAddict last year).  Well, I have accomplished a lot.  I started reading Pluto by Naoki Urasawa.  I watched every single match in the G-1 Climax tournament.  I completed Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Starwing, Super Castlevania IV, Illusion of Time, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  I read 539 comic books (all Marvels).  What I didn't do was play Acheton.  So while I did loads of other things that were not very taxing on my brain, I studiously avoided playing this dauntingly large game that would require diligence and concentration.  For various reasons, I just wasn't up to it.

I had determined to get back to blogging once the G-1 Climax was over, and thus I also had to return to Acheton.  I wasn't exactly looking forward to it.  The scope, size and difficulty of the game were a real deterrent.  There was also the fact that I had hit a wall with it back in May, not long after my first post.  The prospect of getting back to a game that I felt I had barely scratched the surface of, and that I was already stuck in, wasn't very enticing.

So I've been back at it for a week, and I've had mixed results.  Yes, I've solved a few puzzles, discovered some new areas, and claimed some treasures.  But the new areas I've found have just presented more puzzles I can't solve, and hinted at expansive areas that possibly make the game far larger than I ever expected.  As the title of this post says, it feels like I'm chipping away at a mountain.  I'll keep at it, but don't be surprised if I eventually cave, and start consulting walkthroughs.

It's not all bad news, though.  In the time since I started playing again I've managed to solve three puzzles, and I present their solutions below.

The Ningy: One of the rooms in Acheton has a giant rubber object called a Ningy propped up against the east wall.  If you type GET NINGY, it falls over and a new passage is revealed behind it, where you'll find a Rod (very similar in description to the magic rod from Colossal Cave Adventure, which was used to create a bridge over a chasm), a Rembrant portrait in an art gallery, and a cliff overlooking the ocean.  The portrait is a treasure, but it's too large to take out of the gallery, so that's another puzzle to add to the list.

There's more to the Ningy than is first apparent, though.  Check out what happens when you topple the thing.

There's a clue here, hinting that you've screwed up: the mocking voice that says "I suppose you think you're clever, don't you!"  This immediately put me on guard; messages like this rarely appear in adventure games for no reason.  I didn't figure this one out on my own, though.  When I first got back into the game I played it for a couple of hours before taking some time to read the first few posts on the game over at Renga in Blue.  What I discovered there was that there's another tunnel higher in the wall, and the only way to get to it is to CLIMB NINGY.  If you topple the Ningy first, there's no way to beat the game, and I'm pretty sure that mocking voice is the only clue you get.  It's better than nothing, and it did raise my suspicions, but I probably never would have figured it out on my own.  (So technically I've already consulted help, even though it wasn't from an actual walkthrough.  Nothing else I read at Renga in Blue gave me any hints, though, so I'm in the dark from this point on.)

The higher passage led to an area with a beach, and also a room full of gargoyles and a pot of "London Dry".  The gargoyles are regular statues and have yet to come to life, which surprised me.  As for the "London Dry", taking a DRINK revealed that it was gin.  Drinking it results in you falling unconscious briefly, but if you drink to much you'll die of "cirrhosis of the liver".

As for the beach, this is where the game starts to get scarily expansive.  To the north of the beach is the ocean, and to the south is the desert.  Venturing south results in you becoming lost, and eventually dying of thirst unless random chance leads you back to the beach.  I suspect I'll need to find some way of navigating.  Going too far along the beach leads you into deadly quicksand.  You can swim in the ocean to the north, but I haven't yet found a way to do so without drowning.  The key to crossing the ocean is probably the boat that's on the beach.  You can rig up a sail with a piece of triangular cloth from elsewhere in the caves, but sailing it resulted in me being caught in rough seas and smashed to my death on a coral reef.  There was a message about my boat not having a rudder, so perhaps that's relevant.

Open areas like this make me nervous in adventure games.  With tunnels, things are confined.  You know that there's a limit to the game space, at least theoretically.  Of course there's a limit to outside areas as well, but in my head it doesn't feel that way.  I'm having nightmares of the desert being nothing but hundreds of empty areas, with one necessary item in the middle.  The ocean could be the same.  I'm definitely putting these two on the back-burner for now, because they make me nervous.

Escaping Hades: When you die in Acheton, the game asks if you want to be reincarnated.  If you answer YES, you are brought back to life in the Slab Room, stripped of all your equipment except for the lamp.  It's possible that you lose points as well, but I haven't looked into it.  You might expect that an answer of NO would result in the game ending, but instead you are transported to Hades.  There you'll find a number of famous dead personages engaging in fitting punishments, and also a crystal skull on the ground.

The first time I entered Hades, I discovered that you can leave by typing REINCARNATE.  The game mocks you, but otherwise acts as though you had previously types YES, returning you to the Slab Room with the lamp.  What you can't do is keep the skull: as the game puts it, "The only way skull you're taking with you is your own worthless one."  Obviously, there's another answer.

The clue comes in the Slab Room, where there's a message carved onto a rock: "Abandon hope all ye who enter here - ANON".  The solution is a pretty simple one for those who've played Colossal Cave Adventure and understand how its magic words function: you type ANON while in Hades and you'll be returned to the site of your death with the skull in your possession.  Obviously this isn't always beneficial, as some locations will just kill you again.  The trick is to find a location that you can survive returning to.

The desert: not a great place to come back to life

The Wizard's Greenhouse: Inside the Wizard's Greenhouse there's a giant plant that eats you when you enter.  Around the back of said greenhouse is an exposed root, which is pretty obviously your means for killing this plant.  I tried cutting it and I tried burning it, but those didn't work.  Somewhat counter-intuitively, the answer was to water it.  Apparently such exotic plants are sensitive.  There's a little bit of parser trouble here, because typing WATER ROOT doesn't work; you need to type WATER ROOTS for it to register.  Anyway, with the man-eating plant dead you can enter the greenhouse and claim another treasure: a bundle of rare herbs and spices.

So that's the extent of my success with Acheton so far.  It doesn't feel like much, and I'm not entirely certain what to tackle next.  The Roc that carries me away?  The garden gnome that I can't catch?  The mithril habergeon that freezes me when I touch it?  The Ice Passages?  The Hall of Mirrors? There are so many puzzles, and no obvious solutions.  Figuring them out on my own promises to be super-satisfying, but at the moment it's a frustrating experience.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Brief Hiatus

Yes, I know it's been a while since I've posted here, but rest assured that the blog is not dead.  I still want to post, but the last couple of months have seen me dealing with some difficult personal issues and the emotional stress that comes with them.  I haven't had the mental energy or focus to do any sort of writing, or much of anything else to be honest.  The good news is that these issues are over, and and I'm in a good place right now.  I want to start blogging again soon.

The bad news (at least for readers waiting for the next post) is that the G1 Climax tournament is going on right now.  For those not in the know, it's a Japanese pro-wrestling tournament that is basically a solid month of hard bastards leathering the shit out of each other.  If WWE is the Nickelback of pro-wrestling, the G1 is like the Beatles, or a Mozart symphony.  Basically, it's great, but it also takes up a lot of my time, so I won't be getting back into writing until after it's done. So expect me back somewhere in mid-to-late August.

This is the part where I might ask for some monetary support, but let's be real here: what I write on the blog ain't worth charging money for.  But if you are looking for some more of my writing, I have a novel that's been available on Amazon for a few years. Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity is a fast-paced, B-movie sci-fi action adventure, and I have it on good authority that it's excellent (my Mum would never lie to me). So if you'd like to provide me with some lovely feel-good endorphins, please head over to Amazon and buy my book for the lovely price of 99 American.cents - it's totally worth it, and you can find it RIGHT HERE.

So, until my next post, I thank you for your patience (and ask you to forgive me for the blatant advertising).  I'll be back before you know it.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Game 20: Acheton (1978)

The beginning of Acheton.

I had a good run with a couple of one-post games, but it looks like my streak has been broken by Acheton.  This game is big, it's vindictive, and it's difficult.  It's not going to hold me up for as long as Moria or The Game of Dungeons, but I think I'll be stuck on it for a couple of months at least.

Created by a trio of mathematicians from Cambridge University (Jon Thackray, David Seal and Jonathan Partington), Acheton may very well be the first adventure game written outside of the US. (The other candidate is The Cottage, which I'll be playing soon, but I'm not sure which of the two came first.)  It's yet another cave-based game with the goal of retrieving a number of treasures, and its debt to Colossal Cave Adventure is obvious.  It was programmed on Cambridge's Phoenix mainframe, and the creators have made full use of the space available to them, because this game is bloody huge.  It seems that the mainframe era will be haunting me for a little while yet.

I'm playing a Z-code port which was made to be as close as possible to the original game; the only difference that's been made is that you can restore your game whenever you want instead of at the start of your session. Unfortunately the game as it was in 1978 has been lost, so I'm playing the final version from 1981.  It's not ideal, but it's the best I can do.  It was later ported to some home computers, but I'll stick with the z-code version, as it's the most likely to be accurate to the original.

The goal of the game is to collect all of the treasures, and thus score a full 1,500 points.  That's a daunting total, but you begin with 50, and there's no way of knowing how many points each treasure is worth.

When the game begins, your character is standing in a forest near a farmhouse, carrying nothing.  Exploring the farmhouse reveals the following items: a can of white spray-paint, an empty bottle, a bunch of keys, and a brass lamp.  So far, so familiar.  I'm at the point now where I feel a twinge of dread at discovering a lamp at the beginning of an adventure game.  Trying to beat a game before the lamp runs out is more stress than I need.

South of the farmhouse, in a slight depression, is familiar scene: a 3x3 steel grate set in the ground.  As in Colossal Cave Adventure the grate is locked.  I used the keys and went down, not suspecting any foul play.  That's when the familiarity ended...

Getting punk'd by Acheton.

Thus Acheton sets out its stall early: it's been deliberately made in order to troll people familiar with Colossal Cave Adventure.  There are no other moments as deliberate as this one, but there's no shortage of ways to die in the opening stages.  To the west of the farmhouse is a deserted mine, and exploring that results in you slipping down the shaft and asphyxiating on the stale air.  If you enter one of the miners' huts nearby, it collapses on top of you.  The game's not afraid to kill you without warning, and in that it reminds me of Sierra's adventure games.  I like it; finding amusing ways to die was one of my favourite things to do in Sierra adventures, and Acheton provides that same sense of macabre fun.

As far as I can tell, the only other thing to do on the surface is to find the way down into the caves. Most of the areas surrounding the farmhouse, the mine and the grate are bits of wilderness that shuffle you around randomly when you exit them as a way to make the outdoors seem larger. To the east of the farmhouse, though, past an open field, is a glade surrounded by silver birch trees.  You can't leave the glade by regular means once you've entered.  Instead you need to climb one of the trees, at which point you're given the choice of which tree to climb: north, south, east or west.  There's nothing at the top of the trees, but climbing back down will place you outside of the glade.  Climbing the south tree and climbing back down puts you in a different glade with a hole in the centre.  Drop into the hole and you're in the caves of Acheton, and into the game proper.

My usual process with these games is to explore everything before I start solving puzzles, but that's difficult with Acheton because the game is bloody ginormous.  I've been at it for about three weeks, and I still haven't finished with the exploration phase.  I think I'm nearly done, but it's hard to say because there are mazes and areas blocked by obstacles, and there's no way to know how large the areas beyond them are.  I'm not sure where to begin describing the things I've found, because there's just so much.  I think I'll split this up into sub-sections and go from there.

There are so many different rooms in this game, many of them with intriguing descriptions, that it would be almost impossible to describe them all.  I'll try to cover the most interesting ones here, though.

  • The central hub of the caves is the Slab Room, which has exits in every direction.  Pretty much every area of the game branches off from here.
  • Towards the northern area of the map there's a large safe.  When I closed the safe door, the game got very irritated that I hadn't left any treasures inside and killed me, so I assume that this is the place where I need to gather every treasure I find to get a full score.
  • South of the Slab Room is a cluster of chambers with a torture/graveyard theme: there's a torture chamber (with manacles that come to life and hold you in place, that can only be opened with the keys), an executioner's room with a guillotine, an undertaker's room, and even a tomb for anonymous deceased adventurers.  I wonder if I should try to dig there?
  • West of the Slab Room there's a wizard's house with an adjoining garden area.  One area of the house has a cauldron with smoke pouring out of it, and wandering into the smoke lands you in the wizard's dungeons.  The game does mention that you'll need to learn some magic words, and I'm pretty sure that this is an area where they'll be used extensively.
  • East of the Slab Room are three rooms that once belonged to a king: a counting-house, an ante-toom, and a "combination room" (which only contains tapestries, so I'm not sure what the "combination" is in reference to).  There are no other mentions about this king elsewhere in the game.
  • South-east of the Slab Room is a room known as the "Toll Hole".  There's a hole there, and if you try to pass by without dropping a treasure in you'll be threatened by a hollow voice, and menaced by a falling boulder.  The first time you can get through unscathed, but on the second attempt you'll be killed.

I should have dropped something in the Toll Hole.

Mazes are invariably the most irritating part of any early adventure game, and Acheton has seven of the bastard things (that I've found).  I've solved three of them, and I'm dreading tackling the rest.  I'll describe them below:

  • When you die, you're asked whether you want to be reincarnated.  Answering yes returns you to life, with only the lamp in your possession. If you answer no, you are taken to Hades where you can wander about a featureless landscape.  It's full of historical figures being punished, some of which are quite amusing, but I haven't been able to find a way out yet.
  • There's a giant pillar in a cave with two holes in the base. Entering either hole leads you to a small maze described as a "junction of several passages inside the pillar".  This only has seven areas, and I was able to map it easily by dropping items.  It was more of a nuisance than a genuine challenge.
  • At the bottom of a marble slide is a mine, in which every area is described as "lower levels of the mine".  Again, I was able to map this by dropping items, but the difficulty here was that it had more areas than I had items in my inventory.  I had to leave the mine and come back three times before I could map it fully.  This mine has no less than four treasures in it, and a few other items as well, so exploring it is quite rewarding.
  • There's a series of ice passages, each one with a tunnel to the north, the southeast and the southwest.  I haven't had a proper crack at solving this one yet, but each time I've explored it I've slipped on some ice and broken my neck.  I'm not why, but I suspect one of four possibilities: 1) It happens at random; 2) It happens after a set number of moves; 3) I need an item to avoid it; or 4) It happens in some specific exits.
  • There's a hedge maze near the Wizard's House, which I've fully explored.  Inside this maze I found a satin turban (one of the treasures) and a length of garden hose.  Later on I tried burning the maze with some matches, which destroyed the whole thing and revealed an irridium fleece.  I'll need to remember to do it after retrieving the turban though, because I'm pretty sure it's destroyed in the blaze.
  • Also in the Wizard's area is a hall of mirrors. Something tells me that this one will be trickier than the rest, unless I can find a way to break the mirrors somehow.
  • Finally, there are the Wizard's Dungeons, which you'll be incarcerated in if you wander into the wrong areas of his house. There's a lot of weirdness going on here, with an elf who runs in shouting various magic words.  I suspect that the magic words change the layout of the dungeons, but whenever I tried to use them the wizard got mad at me.  I'll probably leave this one until last, because it seems to be the trickiest by far.

Trapped in the Wizard's Dungeon.

Below are some of the obstacles that I haven't yet been able to get past:

  • When I enter the wizard's greenhouse, a giant plant eats me.  Around the back of the greenhouse there's an exposed root, and I figure that I need to sever it or burn it or something.  I've found a spade which might help in digging it up, and a plate of salt that could maybe be used to salt the earth.  I haven't given it much thought yet.
  • I've found a cave with what appears to be a subterranean lake, but when I approach the water a fish jumps out and bites me.  Looking at the items I've found so far, I'm thinking that maybe the mithril habergeon might be useful here.
  • I've found something called a "Ningy", which appears to be a giant piece of rubber that blocks an entire wall of the chamber it's in.  I've got no how to get past it, or even if it's an obstacle at all.
  • The wizard has a rock garden, but when I try to enter I am carried away to my doom by a Roc.  Yes, Acheton creators, you're very funny.  I hope you're proud.
  • The central hub room of the caverns has a slab in the middle, with the words "Abandon hope all ye who enter here - ANON" written on it.  I assume that I'll need to move the slab at some point, possibly to enter Hades.
  • There's a stone bridge, but when I try to cross it I'm eaten by Scylla from Greek mythology.  The death message mentioned my boots making too much noise on the bridge, so I need to muffle them somehow.  Unless I just need to take them off, but I doubt the solution is that simple.
  • In a frozen area there's an ice floe that melts just a few turns after you first encounter it.  I get the feeling that I need to take the right actions here immediately, or the game becomes unwinnable.  Needless to say, if you're on the ice floe when it melts, it's game over.

Being eaten by Scylla.

So far I've located 22 treasures: a beryl, a porcelain plate, a mink coat, a crown, a sapphire, an amethyst pendant, an ebony statuette, a jewel-encrusted orb, an aquamarine, a cask of fine vintage wine, a mithril habergeon, a satin turban, a palladium salver, an iridium fleece, some ivory chess pieces, a turquoise amulet, some opals, a pair of jade earrings, a platinum brooch, some pearls, and a Stradivarius violin.

Of those treasures, there are a number that I'm not yet able to claim.  The beryl and the porcelain plate are in an area where there's a giant wandering about, and I can't get by him without being stepped on.  The aquamarine is found in the eye of a stone idol, which eventually finds and kills you if you take it.  The wine cask sounds the alarm in the wizard's house if you take it, causing you to be mauled by dogs.  The mithril habergeon is covered in ice, and freezes you to death if you try to take it.  Still, that's 17 treasures that I could retrieve and place in the safe right now, which feels like good progress to me.  Of course I have no idea how many treasures there are; I could be nowhere near the full total required.

  • I've found a book on alchemy, but it crumbles when I try to read it.  I've found some other stones as well as a lump of lead, and I suspect that I'll have to transmogrify at least one of them.
  • There's a large area where an imprisoned giant is stomping about, and if you get caught in the same area as him he'll step on you.  Not because he's evil, but simply because he doesn't see you.  On the far side of his prison is an alcove where I found a beryl, and a porcelain plate with a pile of salt on it.  The beryl is one of the treasures, but it's impossible to get back out of the alcove without being stepped on.
  • There's a deaf old clothmaker in a room with a triangular cloth and some thread.  Perhaps I need to get him to make a boat for me?
  • There are different-coloured stars painted on the walls and ceiling in many areas scattered throughout the cave.  I suspect that there's magic involved here, but aside from that suspicion I have no idea what they're for.  If you say the magic word ZOOGE (found elsewhere in the dungeon) when in the presence of one of these stars, it summons a gust of wind that blows your inventory about the room.
  • I've found a glass marble, which occasionally tries to show me visions, but apparently the marble is too small for me to see them clearly.  Do I need to shrink myself, or enlarge the ball? Or do I simply need to magnify it?
  • There's a "lodestone room", which is highly magnetic. Whenever I exit the room, it puts me in one of eight random locations.  Normally I'd just chalk this up as a navigational hazard, but I remember the spinning room from Zork, and that stopping it was vital in claiming all the treasures.  I'm not ruling out that this room has a solution as well.
  • There's a primitive shrine with a stone idol that has an aquamarine gemstone for an eye.  I was able to pry the eye loose, but a few moves later the idol appeared and killed me.
  • There's a room called the Timeless Cavern, and it seems that entering it speeds up time significantly, as doing so always burned out my lamp.  Consequently I've been avoiding this room, but I'm convinced it will be necessary later.
  • I've found a sleeping dwarf, but haven't put any effort into trying to wake him up yet.
  • There's a cask of fine vintage wine in the wizard's cellar, but when I tried to take it out an alarm sounded and I was savaged by a pack of dogs.
  • There's a garden gnome in the wizard's garden, but every time I try to take it it runs away from me.

The wizard's guard dogs put an end to my wine thievery.

  • In  a cloak-room near the entrance to the caves there's a mink coat, but if you try to put it on you'll be attacked and killed by the ferrets hiding in its pockets.  Elsewhere in the caves there's a tiny casket that contains a whisper of moths.  I made the connection that moths like to eat coats pretty quickly, and sure enough if you open the casket in the cloakroom before picking up the mink coat, the moths will swarm down and devour the ferrets.  It's not the most plausible solution, but there's a certain game logic to it.  Disturbing the moths after that is a bad idea, though, because they'll eat the mink coat and you need that for later.
  • There's a cluster of rooms where the temperature is too cold to survive, but you can explore it if you're wearing the mink coat.
  • There's a fissure that I had originally believed was too wide to jump across.  It turns out that all you have to do is drop all of your gear, which allows you to make the jump.  On the other side I found a Stradivarius violin.
  • One room has a glass sheet covering the eastern exit, which can't be broken by force.  Etched into the glass are the words "Find the right key, though no lock there be."  The solution to this one was obvious: I needed to hit the right musical note.  At first I tried singing, with no luck, but as soon as I found the violin I knew that it was the "key" that I needed.  Sure enough, playing the violin shattered the glass sheet.
  • Beyond the glass was a dead end, where I found a tank full of acid.  At the bottom of the tank was a platinum salver that I was unable to take without being burned.  I found the solution to this puzzle in the pockets of the mink coat.  The coat is always described as having bulging pockets, and when I emptied the pockets I found a thermometer and some brass tongs.  With the tongs I was able to claim the salver and add another treasure to my tally.
  • Digging in the Tomb Room uncovered some pearls and an angry skeleton.  The skeleton wouldn't let me leave with the pearls, but I was able to immobilise him with the manacles I'd found earlier.

Chaining up an angry skeleton.

That pretty much covers it for the moment, although I suspect that there's a lot more to this game than I've discovered so far.  Despite my lack of progress, I'm enjoying it quite a bit: it's not quite as much fun as Zork, but if it continues in the same vein it might be comparable.  One thing that I appreciate about it is the complete lack of random elements.  Colossal Cave Adventure and it's remakes were full of knife-throwing dwarf.  Zork had the thief, and the battle with the troll which were both pretty much down to chance.  So far, Acheton doesn't have any random occurrences that can kill you.  It has plenty of ways to die, but they're all because of actions taken by the player, and can be avoided the second time through.  It's a more modern adventure design philosophy, and one that I prefer.