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.

3 comments:

  1. What is the easiest way to play the Hassett adventures, anyway? I'd like to play along, but they don't seem to be available on all that many systems and I've been struggling to get emulators for them to work.

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  2. I've been playing them on a TRS-80 emulator, which I'll probably have to re-learn before I can play King Tut's Tomb. I think you're out of luck unless you can get an emulator to work, but send me a message if you need a hand

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    Replies
    1. I did get one to "work" a while back, but it was buggy and kept crashing my game, so I was hoping for something a bit more stable. Don't remember what it was called.

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