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.