Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Game of Dungeons v8: Two Down...

I took me ten months to complete Whisenwood Dungeon.  A lesser (or perhaps I should say wiser) person would have quit a long time ago.  The second dungeon, thankfully, took me just one month, and it's all thanks to the Potion of Astral Form.

Seriously, from now on I am going to read the documentation thoroughly before I start a game.  The Game of Dungeons has been running in the background for almost a year of this blog, and there's no doubt that it's seriously impeded my progress.  Now the end is in sight, and it's all because the Potion of Astral Form allows me to map in near-total safety.  If I'd been paying attention, I'd have realised that a lot sooner.

The second dungeon of the game (although you can tackle them in any order, and switch between all three whenever you want) is the Tomb of Doom.  The goal at the bottom is the Grail, which is guarded by a Vampire.  The documentation is vague regarding the Vampire's abilities, and whether he's stronger than the game's regular vampires.  As you'll see later, I never really found out.  The cursory nature of combat in this game makes it hard to know exactly how strong your enemies are.  Either you kill them, or they kill you.  There are no drawn out fights, which is a blessing and a curse.  (In a game of this length and difficulty, I would say it's more of a blessing.)

The maps are more complex in the Tomb of Doom than they were in Whisenwood.  The trick they most often rely on is repetition: lots of interlocking areas that appear exactly the same.  This is especially effective in The Game of Dungeons, because moving from one level to another always puts you in a random location.  Getting lost is easy, and even with a map getting your bearings can be difficult.  Here's an example of what I'm talking about, level 21 of the Tomb:

As you can see, it's repetitive as hell, and super-frustrating to map.  Without the Potion of Astral Form it would have taken me hours.  In addition to the repetition, pretty much all of the doors are one-way; you can pass through in the direction of the arrow, but you can't go back through from the other side.

Below is a map of level 19 of the Tomb, which may be the single most difficult RPG maze I have ever had the misfortune to encounter:

Seriously, just look at that thing.  How do you even make sense of it?  It's nothing but walls that exist on one side but not on the other, and I found it almost impossible to keep my bearings while exploring.  Without the Potion of Astral Form I'd have had no chance.  I very nearly gave up on mapping it, until my stubborn streak kicked in and I refused to be defeated.  I ended up mapping it systematically, starting in the bottom left corner and mapping row by row.  I'm not convinced that it's perfect, but it's as good as it's going to get.

Finding the Grail proved to be a bit more difficult than the Fountain at the bottom of Whisenwood, mostly due to the nature of Tomb level 30.  The tricky thing about this level is that it's loaded with transporters that send you back to level 29.  It's hard to move more than a few steps without stumbling into one.  I got it mapped eventually, but I know I haven't marked down every transporter on the level.  I got enough that I can navigate the map, but even on my last game I walked through one that I had missed.

With the mapping done, it was time to make a run for the Grail.  I was being extremely cautious; just as I had been using the Potion of Astral Form to help me map, I wasn't going to explore Level 30 without a Potion of Revival.  This meant grinding for treasure occasionally between forays, but it's worth it.  Even with the Potion of Revival dying is a setback: you lose all of your equipment, as well as a point of Endurance (which can result in a significant drop in hit points).  That said, it's better than losing your character altogether.  (Also, I've just realised something: it's possible that if I have to use a Potion of Revival from now on, I might lose the Grail.  I'll have to keep an eye on that.)

For my first ten forays into the dungeon, I wasn't able to find the Grail.  I'm not sure if it moves around like the Fountain, or if it's location is fixed.  With perma-death in effect, I'm not about to go back in to find out.  My character actually died on one my tenth foray: teleporting back to the surface backfired on me a few times, and I ran out of spell power on level 13.  I tried in vain to navigate my way out the old fashioned way, but without magic I was losing hit points with every battle, and I had to walk through slimes rather than kill them.  I didn't make it, but my Revival Potion saved me.  I lost all of my gear, one point of Endurance and about 100 hit points, but my caution had saved my character.

I'd like to say that the final, successful foray I made was the stuff of legend, but it was something of an anticlimax.  I stumbled across the Grail and the Vampire in the upper left of the map, and without thinking I cast the cleric spell Holy Word.  The Vampire died instantly, I claimed the Grail, and then I teleported back to the surface.  It's hard to get a good story out of it, you know?

So that's another dungeon down, but I feel more relieved than excited by it.  It will be a massive weight off my shoulders to put this game behind me.  I just mapped level 17 of the Caverns, so I'm well on the way.  As long as I can avoid stupid mistakes, I'm on the home stretch.  Thank fuck.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Colossal Cave Adventure II: Victory!

In my last post for this game, I was lamenting about how difficult it is to put a successful run together.  The version I was playing had no save game feature, and with the number of random elements involved it was really hard to collect all the treasures without dying.  I managed it eventually, but I had to switch to a different version of the game to do it.

As I mentioned in my last post, the biggest obstacle to winning the game was the time limit imposed by the lamp.  After a certain number of moves it runs out of power, and once that happens it's game over.  This was a tight race in the original Colossal Cave Adventure, and with five more treasures to collect in the remake it becomes even tighter.  My plan was to write a walkthrough, so that I at least knew that on a perfect run I'd be able to do it within the rrequired number of moves.  In the end I didn't write a step-by-step walkthrough: there are too many random elements that can change where you need to go.  Instead I wrote a rough guideline, that looked something like the following:

Step 1: Get the platinum pyramid using the PLUGH and PLOVER passwords
Step 2: Get the lamp and the keys, unlock the grate, return the keys to the house
Step 3: Collect the nugget, diamonds, rug, coins, jewelry and silver bars (all unguarded)
Step 4: Step outside and have a drink
Step 5: Collect the tusk, chalice, crown, and orb.
Step 6: Step outside and have a drink
Step 7: Collect the golden eggs, trident, pearl, and ruby
Step 8: Step outside and have a drink
Step 9: Collect the golden eggs, golden chain, spices
Step 10: Have a drink
Step 11: Collect the vase, the emerald and the pirate's chest

That's a very basic run-down of my plan.  The various treasures are grouped by location: those in Step 3 are all near the entrance, those in Step 5 are all near the chapel, and so on.  I also had to make a plan that made getting the golden eggs efficient.  The eggs are needed to solve two separate puzzles (the troll and the giant), and each time you give them away you need to use a magic word to return them to their starting location.  All up you have to retrieve them from the same location three times, which can eat up a lot of moves if you don't do things in the best order.  I found that tackling the giant before the troll worked best.

You'll also notice that I do a lot of drinking, and that's because you can die of thirst if you're not careful.  The thirst timer is connected to the amount of stuff you're carrying: the more gear you lug around, the quicker you get thirsty.  Initially I was carrying a bottle full of water with me at all times, but I found that this was too limiting for my inventory.  Instead I started drinking from the stream on the surface every time I returned to drop some treasures off.  This was fine as long as I remembered, and it allowed me to carry more items, which in turn allowed me to get the treasures in fewer moves.

Knowing when to turn the lamp off was also key o winning.  I would always turn it off before teleporting back to the surface, because you only need it to see when you're below ground.  I would also turn it off whenever I had to enter multiple commands without moving out of a location.  For instance, if I ever had to pick up more than one item I would turn off the lamp first.  You risk falling and breaking your neck if you move from one location to another with the lamp turned off, but any other actions are safe.  (Except for killing the dragon, which I found out the hard way.  For some reason, the game treats it as though you've moved, and sometimes you'll fall and die.  After that happened to me I started leaving my light on for that bit.)  Every little bit helps to make your lamp last longer; it can be fiddly, but it's vital to success.

Even with my plan, I ran into all sorts of difficulties.  The dwarves would kill me (a lot).  I'd take too many moves to escape from Witt's End after dropping the magazine (doing this adds 1 point to your score, but escaping is by random chance, and can eat up a lot of moves).  Sometimes the pirate wouldn't appear.  Sometimes he would appear at the wrong time, and mess up the sequence to an irreparable degree.  Every now and then I forgot to drink, and died of thirst.  I even forgot to turn my light back on a few times, and died in the dark by accident.  Most frustratingly of all, the endgame would sometimes activate before I could get all of the treasures back to the surface; I could get a victory this way, but not with full points.  There are any number of ways to mess up in this game, which makes a successful, flawless run from start to finish very difficult to achieve.  I got frustrated with it, and switched to a version with a save game feature.  Life's too short.

(The version I switched to can be played on-line at, along with a lot of other classic adventure games.  It has a nifty map of the caves as well, which is cool if a bit spoilery.  Luckily for me I had already solved all of the puzzles.)

I collected all the treasures, but my lamp ran out of power before the endgame could start..

The endgame for Colossal Cave Adventure II is exactly the same as that in the original game.  After you've found all the treasures, a voice tells you that the cave is closing soon, and that you should leave by the main exit.  At this point the magic words that teleport you to the surface stop working, and the grate exit is locked.  There's no way out, and you have to pass the time until you are taken to the endgame  The trick is to pass that time without running out of lamp power, and dying in the dark; I did it by going to the room where the emerald is found, as it's one of the few rooms that has its own light source.

When the endgame activates you're taken to a storeroom containing many of the items and monsters from the game, including lots of sleeping dwarves.  If the dwarves wake up you'll be killed.  The solution here is that the room contains some black rods that are actually sticks of dynamite; you use the dynamite to blow up the dwarves, and escape.  I complained about this puzzle in the original game, because there's no foreshadowing or clues about it at all.  Pure guesswork is the only way to solve it.  Luckett and Pike had a chance to solve that problem here, but they left it as is, unfortunately.

Sweet victory

You'll notice above that I only got 436 out of 440 points.  That's a big part of what delayed this post; I would have had it up last week, but I spent far too long trying to find the last four points.  I have no idea how to get them.  I visited every location in the game, I took every item, I tried everything I could think of.  I even scoured the source code looking for the solution.  I couldn't find it, and I also couldn't find a walkthrough with a comprehensive point list.  So I had to give up on 436, which I'm not all that happy about.  If anyone knows the solution, I'd really appreciate it.

Scouring the source code usually turns up some fun things in text adventures, and this game was no exception.  I discovered a rather baffling sequence of events that happens if you drink from the reservoir using the chalice.

As far as I can tell this serves no purpose at all.  The chalice gets destroyed in the process, so even if you drink then refuse to help the princess it's a bad idea.  As pointless as it is though, it's more interesting than anything else the game has to offer.  There are all sorts of hints and implications towards an epic story here, but there's nothing else in the game that lives up to it.  I wonder if Pike and Luckett intended on expanding the game, but never got around to it?  Like I said, it's baffling, but oh so intriguing.


Story & Setting: The setting is exactly that of Colossal Cave Adventure, with a bunch of new locations bolted on.  The story is also the same, only with more treasures to collect (and an intriguing sequence that's pointless but far more interesting than the main quest).  There's more here, but it's more of the same, and not interesting enough to rate any higher.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: As in most text adventures of the era, the creatures you meet are more obstacles than actual characters.  The dwarves' can move items around now, which I guess gives them a bit more complexity, and there's the addition of a giant, an owl and a spider.  None of it's very inspiring though.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: As usual, this being a text adventure gives it a distinct disadvantage in this category.  The writing is decently evocative, but it's not really on the level of a ZorkRating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: This has all of the good and bad points of the original.  The parser is solid, but combat is clunky, and I feel like there are too many random elements.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: I'm tempted to give this a score of 1, but I don't want to be negatively influenced by the hard time I had because I wasn't able to save my game.  That said, it still has the dynamite puzzle, which I hate, and random deaths are abundant.  There are also two new mazes added (albeit small ones).  I have to mark it low, for being difficult in ways that aren't fun.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation: Given that this is an expansion to an existing game, it has to rank low here.  Still, the thirst timer might be the first of its kind in adventure games, and the way that the dwarves move items around could be a first as well (depending on this game's release relative to Zork).  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: I derived little more than mild enjoyment from this one, but that's from the perspective of having already played the original.  I would have enjoyed it much more coming to it fresh, but I can only rate it on the experience that I had.  Colossal Cave Adventure II adds some new things, but more often than not they're frustrating rather than enjoyable.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Sorry game, no bonus point for you: I won't be playing you again.  The above scores total 12, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 24.

Final Rating: 24 out of 100.

That's the lowest score for an adventure game on the list so far (and the lowest score for any game).  For comparison, the original Colossal Cave Adventure scored 44, which is significantly higher.  A score of 24 seems rather low; it really isn't the worst game I've played.  I think it suffered because it's so similar to the original.  My rating was mostly based on what's been added to the game, and that material is largely uninspiring.

Next: I'm still working on finishing The Game of Dungeons v8, and I've also started A3, a sci-fi text adventure created using the Wander system.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Game of Dungeons v8: A Third of the Way to Victory

I've done it.  I've finally done it.  After ten months of constant grinding, mapping, and frequent character deaths, I've completed one of the dungeons in this game.

It seems ridiculous, when I think about it.  Ten months?  Really?  But you know what, I have other things to do besides play games.  And this game is especially frustrating and difficult.  It's long, its hard, and every death sends you right back to square one.  A smarter person than me would have moved on from it long ago.

My last character died while mapping level 29 (of 30), at the hands of a slime.  I had gotten to the point where the monsters were no longer any threat, but the slimes remained deadly.  Because of this I'd decided not to map out the very lowest levels, and instead concentrate on finding the fountain.  After another look at the game's instructions, I changed my mind.

Here's the thing about The Game of Dungeons, and PLATO RPGs in general: their documentation is thorough.  Just about anything you want to know about the game will be in there.  So I was giving it a re-read, and I noticed something about the Potion of Astral Form: it makes you immune to slimes.  Sure, you can't collect gold while using it, but you can walk through walls, teleport up and down between levels without using spell slots, and avoid slimes completely.  It's the perfect item for mapping and exploring.

You can find potions while you explore, but the better option is just to buy one from the shop on level 1 of the dungeon.  An Astral Form potion costs 48,000 gold, but you can stash gold on level 1 and use it to buy thing from the shop.  I made a stash of about 200,000gp and set about exploring.

It took me two trips to map out level 29 and level 30.  Two trips!  Before that, without the potion, it would probably have taken me twenty or thirty.  I can't believe I never figured this out sooner.  It's going to make mapping the Tomb of Doom and the Caverns a lot easier.

I was a little puzzled after mapping level 30, though, because I never discovered the Magic Fountain.  I figured that it was probably because I was in Astral Form, but later on I discovered that the Fountain isn't always in the same place.  It could just be that I never hit the right location while mapping.

With mapping done, it was time to hit level 30 for real.  This time I wasn't taking any chances, and I bought a Revival Potion from the shop: if I died, it would resurrect me and take me back to the surface.  I'd lose all of my magic items, but that's a lot better than losing my character altogether.

I had stroke of good luck, because I entered level 30 only a few steps away from the fountain.  Drinking from it restores all of your health, grants you as much gold as you can carry without being encumbered, and sometimes bumps one of your stats up.  The documentation says that you might encounter the Grim Reaper, but I took two trips to the Fountain and never met him.  At this stage of the game, I'm not about to risk it.

So now I have two dungeons to complete, but I'm attacking them in a wiser fashion.  With smarter tactics, I expect I'll have this game finished pretty soon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Colossal Cave Adventure II: So Very Close

Is there anything worse in gaming than knowing you can do something, but not being able to do it?  That's where I am with Colossal Cave Adventure II: I've found all twenty of the treasures, and I'm pretty sure that I've worked out all of the puzzles, but I can't put it all together in a single run.  I'm so close to finishing the game, and yet I can't quite get there.

Oddly for an adventure game, the problem I'm finding myself in has nothing to do with any of the puzzles.  Instead, the problem is a logistical one: my lamp runs out of power before I can find everything.  I could recharge it with a battery from the vending machine, but that requires sacrificing the gold coins, and you can't beat the game without all twenty treasures.  I've had a few attempts, but so far I haven't been able to put together an optimal run.  I know how to do everything I need to win, I just don't know how to do it efficiently enough.  It's bloody frustrating.

I could continue to make attempts until I eventually luck into a successful run, but the smarter option is for me to sit down and write up a walk-through.  If I plan out my run and write it out in advance, I'll know that I can definitely do it within the required number of moves.  I'm pretty sure that the lamp lasts for 390 moves, so I have an upper limit.  The real trick is going to be avoiding the game's random elements: being murdered by dwarves, having my stuff stolen by the pirate, or drowning in the sewer maze are all factors that could throw off a successful run.  I'll need to leave myself some leeway to account for them.

That's for another time, though.  For now, I'll run through all of the treasures, and how I acquired them.  First, here's a quick run-down of the treasures found in the original Colossal Cave Adventure:

  • Gold Nugget (found near the entrance; can only be removed by using the PLUGH password to teleport)
  • Diamonds (unguarded)
  • Gold Coins (unguarded)
  • Jewelry (unguarded)
  • Bars of Silver (unguarded)
  • Ming Vase (unguarded, but you need to drop it on a pillow or it will break)
  • Persian Rug (under a dragon, which you have to kill with your bare hands)
  • Golden Eggs (found at the top of a beanstalk, and can be used to pay a Troll who is guarding a bridge; saying FEE FIE FOE FOO returns them to their original location)
  • Trident (at the top of the beanstalk, behind a door that need to be oiled before it will open)
  • Pearl (inside a clam that can only be opened with the Trident)
  • Emerald (in the Plover Room; can only be retrieved by passing through a narrow passage while carrying nothing except the Emerald)
  • Platinum Pyramid (in a dark room just off the Plover Room; can only be retrieved by using the PLOVER password to teleport in)
  • Rare Spices (found on the far side of the Troll bridge)
  • Golden Chain (found around the neck of a bear, which must be placated with food, then used to defeat the Troll)
  • Pirate's Chest (found deep in the maze with passages "all alike")

Colossal Cave Adventure II adds five new treasures to the game.  I'll run through them one by one.

Ivory Tusk: The tusk is found in an area just off a series of tunnels that are described as "unsafe".  (I think that's just flavour text, as the tunnels never posed any actual danger to me.)  To reach the tusk I needed to pass through a narrow tunnel, through which I could only take my lamp.  Of course, I wasn't able to go back that way carrying the tusk, so I needed another way out.

In the room is a steep tunnel that's submerged by churning, filthy water.  I mentioned it in my last post; when I had tried to enter I drowned in sewage.  Upon further investigation I discovered that the water ebbs and flows with the tide, and when the tide was low I was able to enter a maze-like sewer system.  Obviously, this was the way out.

It wasn't easy though, because this place is a deathtrap.  The maze isn't large, but it took me a long time to map simply because it's so dangerous.  The tide that I mentioned earlier is one of the deadly factors; when it rises the entire maze is flooded, which kills you instantly.  The other thing to watch out for is a horde of rats, which will swarm up out of the water and gnaw you to death.  I don't mind dying in adventure games (indeed, there are some games where it's my favourite part) but I don't think it should ever happen randomly.  I could be missing some way of avoiding death here, but if not I think it's bad game design.  (On further inspection, it seems that both of these factors aren't random, but are instead on a timer.  That's not as bad, but it's still unwelcome.)

Death by sewer rat

Despite many inglorious sewage-ridden deaths, I found the exit and escaped to the Bedquilt area.  What a relief.

Crystal Orb: This orb is found in a room near the basement of the chapel.  There entrance has a warning sign that says "Wizards Only", but signs are no deterrent to a real adventurer.  When you go in a slab covers the only exit, and there is seemingly no way to open it.  Taking the orb is no problem, but there's no way to get it out.  I bashed my head against this puzzle for a while, until I decided on a whim to drop the orb.  As soon as I did so, a grey-robed wizard appeared and teleported me to another location, along with the orb.  I was convinced that this was too easy, and that I had somehow missed something, but as far as I can tell this is the actual solution.  It barely counts as a puzzle at all.

I wish more games had wizards that could solve all the puzzles for me

Chalice: There's a strange man who pops out of the shadows occasionally to give cryptic hints.  One of those hints is about the chalice, which he say has strange powers.  I'm not sure what those powers are (perhaps they play into the endgame), but at least he gives a hint about the existence of this hidden treasure.

Not that it's very well hidden.  When you enter the chapel there's a rope hanging from a ceiling beam.  Climb the rope, and the chalice is sitting on a beam at the top.  It couldn't get much easier than that, really.

Crown: Also near the chapel is an area called the Thieves' Den.  It features a hook with a loot bag and a black mask, both out of reach.  It also features a crown, which can be taken without trouble.  I thought the chalice was easy to get, but this was even simpler.

My attempt to get a screen-grab is jeopardised by a hostile dwarf

Ruby: This treasure was the most difficult to obtain, and I only really did so by accident.  There are two puzzles that need to be solved to find the ruby.  The first involves the giant.  I mentioned him in the last post: he hangs around in the Living Quarters, and if you go in there he snatches you up and puts you in his dungeon before eventually eating you.  I never figured out how to escape from his dungeon, but as it turns out you don't have to.

Th trick is to have the golden eggs on you when you enter the Living Room.  If you do, the giant grabs them and starts eating them.  It's not really logical that eggs made of gold would be edible, but logic is rarely your friend in early adventure games.  I was lucky enough to be carrying the eggs on one of the occasions I decided to tackle the giant, otherwise I'd still be trying to figure out a solution.

Eating eggs while reclining on a couch? It's a disaster waiting to happen.

The second part of the puzzle involves the web maze that I mentioned last time.  (There are four distinct mazes in this game!  Bloody sadists.)  You can enter this maze from the giant's Living Room.  The only thing of interest in there is a giant spider.  It doesn't pose a danger to you, but you can't kill it either.   I tried setting fire to its webs, I tried throwing the axe at it, and I tried using the trident, but none of it worked.  The solution?  I needed an owl.

In the areas surrounding the chapel there's an owl who flaps away when you approach it.  You can summon him by saying HOOT, but he won't stick around unless your lamp is turned off.  I had thought he would be useful in defeating the giant, but I was wrong.  The owl is used to kill the spider, which I only figured out by going through all of my items and notes and trying everything.  I thought he could only be summoned near the chapel, but nope, he's more than willing to fly into the web maze.

It turns out that there are some legal documents in the spider's web, which I was not expecting.  Said documents belong to the giant, and when you go back through his area while carrying them he rewards you with a ruby.  Job done!  After that it's a simple FEE FIE FOE FUM to get the golden eggs back, and move on to the endgame.

That questioning "hoot?" at the end sounds suspiciously like an owl being poisoned by a spider from the inside.

Or I would be moving on to the endgame, if I could retrieve all the treasures in a single shot.  I should have the game done by next week, if I can draft an effective plan of action.  And if the dwarves don't get me.  And if I don't die of thirst, or get eaten by rats, or have my treasure stolen by the pirate at a bad time, or drown in sewage.  Adventuring: it's a rough old time.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Colossal Cave Adventure II: A Maze of Twisty Little Passages All-Different

This is what I see in my nightmares.

Most of my gaming efforts have been channeled into The Game of Dungeons v8 over the last week, so I don't have a lot to write about Colossal Cave Adventure II.  I only did one thing in that game since my last post: I explored one of the mazes.

So far in my explorations I've found three mazes: one with passages that are "all alike", one with passages that are "all-different", and another that is a cavern filled with swirling fog.  That last one wasn't in the original game, and I have no idea how to map it, so I've steered clear of it so far.  The one I decided to explore was the "all-different"maze.  It's the easiest to map, if perhaps the most irritating.

Take a look at the image above.  You'll see that each location in the maze has a unique descriptor, based on four words in different combinations: twisty, twisting, little and maze.  You just have to pay close attention to the arrangement of these words.  The main trick here is not to mix up "twisty" with "twisting".  I didn't have much trouble with it this time around, but when I played the original version of the game it was a while before I figured out that those two words were different.  This time I was on the lookout for it, so I had little trouble making my map.  It was annoying and time-consuming, but not difficult.

Just like the maze in the original Colossal Cave Adventure, this maze contains a vending machine at a dead end.  You can use a gold coin to buy a battery from the machine, and the battery can be used to recharge your lamp.  This sounds useful, as the lamp will run out eventually, but I wouldn't recommend it.  The coin is a treasure, and you'll need it to win the game.  It's only really of value when you're mapping and exploring, not trying to win.

I wasn't expecting this maze to be any different to that in the original game, but this one had a nasty surprise.  There's a tunnel deep in the maze that leads to a "tangled web of intersecting passages".  Yes, that's my reward for exploring the maze: another bloody maze!  And not just another maze, but a maze with a giant spider.  It's hitting all of my nightmare fuel at once.

That's all for now.  By next week I should have explored the other mazes, and will hopefully be close to completing the game.  It depends on whether I'm close to beating The Game of Dungeons.  Believe it or not I feel pretty confident about beating that game soon as well: I have new ideas.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Colossal Cave Adventure II (1978)

Colossal Cave Adventure never had an official sequel.  Although it was eventually released commercially, and became iconic in its own right, for whatever reason no-one ever decided to create one.  There's also the matter of the game having multiple creators and versions.  Who would the official sequel come from?  William Crowther, the game's originator?  Don Woods, the man who expanded it into its most widely known form?  The latter would probably have had the best chance of creating a sequel that would be accepted as such, but he never tried, and neither did anyone else.

What the game did have was multiple expansions.  As Colossal Cave Adventure spread across university campuses all over the USA, many people took the game and rewrote it, adding new areas to explore and puzzles to solve.  There are at least fourteen versions of the game, usually distinguished by the number needed to get a complete score.  I suspect there are many more, and that more than a few have been lost.

I'm not planning to play every expansion of the game, mostly due to the difficulty of identifying and tracking them all down.  They're an important part of the history of adventure gaming though, so at the very least I wanted to play Adventure II, the earliest known rewrite.

A familiar beginning.

Adventure II was developed by Peter Luckett and Jack Pike, who were working together at Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough, in the UK.  They started the game in 1978 (the original code is dated December of that year) and apparently worked on it up through 1981.  The game was missing up until 2001, and it was only through the intrepid work of a number of folks (Jack Pike included) that it can be played today.  You can check out the full story here.

I spent a few hours earlier today going through the game, mapping it out and reminding myself of the geography.  It's very much based on the framework of the original.  As far as I can tell, everything from the Don Woods version is structurally intact, and all of the puzzles have the same solutions.  Luckett and Pike have made additions rather than alterations.  You may want to check out my posts on the original Colossal Cave Adventure, but I'll do a quick refresher below.

The goal of Colossal Cave Adventure is to explore the Colossal Caves in search of fifteen treasures, and return them to a nearby building.  I finished the game (albeit with a little help from a walkthrough), and along the way I had to contend with the following puzzles and obstacles:

  • Hordes of knife-throwing dwarves 
  • A lamp that would eventually run out of power
  • A snake that I drove away by releasing a bird
  • A bridge over a chasm that only appeared when I waved a black rod
  • A dragon that I had to kill with my bare hands
  • Three magic words that I had to master: XYZZY, PLUGH and PLOVER
  • A troll that I needed to knock off a bridge by throwing a bear
  • A pirate who constantly pops up to steal your stuff
  • A maze of twisty little passages, all alike
  • A maze of twisty little passages, all different

The original Colossal Cave had the following treasures: a piece of jewelry, some bars of silver, a gold nugget, gold coins, a ming vase, a golden egg, diamonds, an emerald, a gold chain, rare spices, a trident, a pearl, a persian rug, a platinum pyramid, and a pirate's chest.

Adventure II includes all of the above, basically unchanged from the original.  The same treasures are there, with the same obstacles and the same solutions.  There are new areas and new puzzles, though, as well as a couple of differences in the way the game behaves.  I'll run through them below.

  • You can now die of thirst.  Eventually you'll get a message saying that you can't last much longer without something to drink  There are plenty of water sources around, so it's not to difficult to stay hydrated, but it means that you need to keep the water bottle on your person at all times.  Thankfully the bottle is found very early in the game.

Dying of thirst.  As in the original game, you can be reincarnated several times, although it lowers your score.
  • The version of the game I'm using doesn't recognise the RESTORE command.  I can SAVE a game, but I haven't figured out how to actually load it.  So I've had to do a lot of restarting from the beginning, which is getting a bit irritating.
  • The dwarves now move objects around the map.  Occasionally you'll see a dwarf with something stuffed inside its coat, and when you kill it an item from another location will appear.  This mirrors the behaviour of the Thief from Zork; I wonder which game implemented it first?

This Dwarf has stolen the Persian Rug.  Also note the fellow who pops up to provide a clue.

  • There's a fellow who pops up occasionally to provide clues (pictured above).  So far he's given me clues about the magic bridge, and mentioned something about a chalice.
  • There are spiral stairs leading down from a chamber just off the Hall of the Mountain King.  At the bottom is a chamber, and a cellar that is blocked by a rusted portcullis.  A crystal orb can be seen on the cellar floor, but not reached.  The portcullis can't be opened, but it doesn't matter because this area can be accessed from somewhere else.
  • "Somewhere else" is a basement, with an entrance that has a message stating that only Wizards may pass.  When I entered the cellar to claim the orb, a stone slab dropped to block the exit, and I couldn't figure a way out.  Eventually a grey-robed wizard appeared and teleported me out (along with the orb).  That was the good news.  The bad news?  He teleported me into one of the mazes, and I died of thirst before I could escape.
  • There's a chapel area to the south of the Antechamber near Witt's End.  In several areas near the chapel there's an owl who flies away with a HOOT when approached.  The owl can be summoned by typing HOOT, but it will only approach if the lamp is turned off.  I haven't figured out what the owl's deal is yet.
  • Also near the chapel is a crypt where the air is cold, and a stable with a large beast behind a partition of some sort.
  • North of the anteroom is a series of unsafe tunnels.  There was a shaft I could slide down, but going all the way to the bottom resulted in me drowning in a pool of slime.  One of the chambers here contains an ivory tusk, which is one of the treasures.
  • In the chapel's attic I found a Thieves' Den.  Lying unguarded was a crown, which was yet another treasure.  Some of them are not hard to find at all.
  • If you wander into the Living Quarters, a giant grabs you and drops you in his dungeon, where you will eventually be eaten.  I haven't figured out how to escape from him yet.

About to be eaten by the Giant.

  • Near the reservoir is a large cavern full of swirling mists.  The mists are difficult to navigate, especially as my usual tactic of dropping items doesn't work: any item dropped can't be seen.  It's a bit of a nightmare, and I'm kind of hoping that I don't need to do anything here.

The only other places that I haven't explored are the two mazes; both of these mazes are large, and as I recall a real bitch to map.  I'm not looking forward to tackling them again.

So I know where three treasures are, and they're not too difficult to retrieve.  I've read that this version has twenty treasures, so I'm not too far away from finding them all.  I don't think that will be too difficult. The real question is whether Luckett and Pike have altered the endgame.  I doubt that will have, as they've remained super-faithful to the original game.  Hopefully by next week I'll find out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Game of Dungeons v8: Dirk and Flint Pellet Are Bastards

Deciding when to stop doing something can be tricky.  When it comes to something you've sunk a lot of time into, it can be even trickier.  We've all been there, I'm sure.  It's easy to drop something early on; if you decide that The Walking Dead sucks three episodes in, you can dust your hands and walk away without a problem.  But if you decide it sucks five seasons in...  That's a decision that's more difficult to make.  How do you justify the time spent on those earlier seasons if you're not even going to make it to the end?

This is something I'm guilty of a lot.  If I start a book, I finish the book.  I don't walk out of movies.  Basically, if I start a piece of media, I'm going to finish it.  It's a compulsion.

That's where I am with The Game of Dungeons v8.  I've been playing this game since August last year, and I've probably sunk hundreds of hours into it.  I'm not really enjoying it any more.  I should give up, and move on to something else.  And yet... it's so much time!  If I don't finish it, what was the point?  You could say that it's a waste of my life to keep playing, but to me it feels like a waste of my life if I stop playing. 

As you may have guessed from the above paragraphs, my character died.  Again.  Joe Average had reached the lofty heights of level 160, and had almost 1,000 hit points.  I was in the process of mapping level 29 of Whisenwood Dungeon, and eagerly anticipating the prospect of finishing one of the dungeons off.  With extreme caution, surely it was only a matter of time before I completed the game.

That's what I thought anyway, and I had a reasonable cause to believe it.  Monsters weren't much of a threat.  I was able to escape from the deep levels of the dungeon without much trouble now that I had complete maps.  I was ignoring chests and books, so traps weren't going to kill me.  There's one factor in this game that always remains a threat, though, and can't really be planned for: the slimes.

You may recall that slimes killed my last character.  They killed Joe Average as well, despite his having nearly 1,000 hit points.  Once you hit the deep levels, there are slimes that do 400-500 points of damage per hit, so they never stop being deadly.  And while you can avoid them by moving carefully, there's always the chance that you'll find one on the other side of a door, and those can't be avoided.

That's what happened to me: I stepped through a door into a puddle of Living Mercury, which ate my sword.  Normally this would be my cue to rapidly magic my way back to the surface, but I only had a few squares to explore to fill out a section of the map.  So I went through another door, right into some Orange Glop, which dropped me from 700 to 200 hit points.  Orange Glop can only be killed with a sword, so I frantically started tapping arrow keys to escape.  I managed to get out without taking further damage, but my zealous tapping sent my character racing down the passage, right into a Roving Sludge.  So died Joe Average: in the end, he lived up to his name.

(This death is depressingly similar to the one that killed my last high-level character.  I need to take a hardline stance, and leave the dungeon straight away when I lose my sword.)

Needless to say, I've started again, and I'm back to grinding for XP during the wrestling.  I have a new plan.  Slimes are bastards, but they don't get really deadly to high-level characters until you hit level 25 (or thereabouts).  So I'm going to ignore those levels completely.  I'll map the three dungeons to level 25, and after that I'm going straight to level 30 to look for the goal.  There's also a magic rod you can find that prevents you from stepping in slimes.  I've rarely found one, but I might just purchase one from the shop for when I get deeper into the dungeon.  I need to get smart about buying the correct items.

So, my war continues.  Go to hell, Dirk and Flint Pellett!  You'll never break me!