Sunday, May 27, 2018

Game 25: MUD1 (1978)

After that little detour into Richard Garriot's DND1, it's time to get back to my regular schedule with the similarly-named MUD1MUD1 (which stands for Multi-User Dungeon) was created by a student named Roy Trubshaw in 1978 at the University of Essex, on a DEC PDP-10 mainframe (with development later handed over to another student, Richard Bartle, in 1980).  Trubshaw had been a fan of Zork, and indeed MUD1 was named after that game when its original title was Dungeon.  And much like Zork, it's a hugely influential part of gaming history.

While it's not the first multi-player game (I've already covered a few in the course of the blog, including Orthanc, Moria and Oubliette ), it is the first to be completely text-based, in the same style as Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork.  It inspired a whole genre of similar games, called MUDs after their progenitor.  I don't think I'll be playing those, as single-player games are really my bread-and-butter.  I was curious about the first one, though, as it's of extremely high significance.  Perhaps I can be swayed on some of the others.

The original game was shut down in 1987, so obviously I'm not playing that one.  The version that I'm playing is the one hosted at, which was ported to modern platforms in 2000 by a fellow named Viktor Toth.  I don't know how accurate it is to the original, but that's a problem with all of these mainframe-based games.  They underwent constant development, and the originals are most likely lost to the ages.  It's sad, but we make do with what we have.  It's great that the game is available in any form, really.

MUD1 starts with a rather familiar premise: you must explore a fantastical land (called The Land, which might be a nod to Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, though it's generic enough to be a coincidence), and collect treasures.  These treasures must be dropped into a swamp to score points, which doesn't make a lot of sense, but I can roll with it.  Nearly every text adventure I've played for the blog has this "plot", so it's something comforting for me to cling to in this terrifying multi-player world.

After some preamble where you have to give yourself a name and a gender, the game opens in an Elizabethan Tearoom, quite cozily described, with exits in all directions.  I've watched my son play a load of Fortnite recently, and I guess that this room is analogous to the "lobby" in that and other more modern games. (Yes, I'm an old man who doesn't do on-line gaming, isn't that obvious yet?)

The "lobby" of MUD1.  Another player named Scrofula entered and left while I was getting a screenshot.

I headed north, emerging in a dense forest, and proceeded with my usual method of mapping out the locations and interesting items and landmarks.  The first thing I was struck by is the descriptive quality of the writing.  After the terse adventure games on home computers of this vintage, and the garbled English of The Cottage, this was a massive relief.  The game has a real sense of place and logical design, and just feels more "real" than almost any other game I've played so far.  It's also very good about describing what you can see in the distance. Only Zork evoked something similar, so I can see why a lot of people spent their time here.

It's also a lot more dynamic than its contemporaries.  Creatures roam about the land: a viper, a rabbit, dryads, and others.  It rains occasionally.  I don't know if these elements are puzzles or just background detail, but they add to the sense of a virtual world.  I've been attacked and killed by the dryad, and poisoned by the snake when I tried to pick it up, so it's likely that they're obstacles I need to overcome or avoid.

I spent about two hours exploring and mapping, and I get the sense that there's still a lot that I haven't seen.  Here are some of the more interesting landmarks:
  • A rusted railway track, with hints that it leads to an old mine.  I found a golden bolt in a section of track, which is probably a treasure.
  • A maze-like pine forest, with a whole load of interesting areas.  For reasons I'll get into, this wasn't as difficult to map as the mazes in some other adventures have been.
  • A bandstand deep in the pine forest, with a conductor's baton and a parasol.
  • An empty birdbath in the pine forest.
  • The entrance to a badger's den.  I tried to enter, but something clawed my face and forced me to retreat.  There's a lucky rabbit's foot on the ground nearby.
  • An apple tree  in the pine forest, complete with golden apple.
  • A jetty, with an empty lobster pot.  There's no boat there, but the game does suggest that I'll need one if I'm to go on the water.
  • A mausoleum overgrown with moss.
  • An onyx statuette of a lion, featuring a message telling me that I should drop it in the "forest of death".
  • A shrine in the pine forest.  The description suggested that I ought to meditate there, which I'll definitely do once my initial explorations are done with.
  • A sundial in the pine forest.
  • A goat tied up in a pasture.
  • A blind, deaf, and dumb beggar.
  • An ebony staff found on a stony beach.
  • A misty graveyard, which I got lost in.  Wandering around it I saw a lot of random gravestones, with messages that give hints as to various puzzles and dangers in the game.  I'll need to take more notice of them when I go back there.
It's plenty to go on already, but I suspect that the game has a lot more to offer than that.  It's standard adventure game fare, but the quality of the writing lifts it above the norm.  I'm intrigued by a lot of this stuff in a way that I haven't been by most of the adventure games I've played for the blog.

Mechanically the game is very solid as well.  I'm yet to have any parser issues (though I'm in mapping mode at the moment, so I haven't tried a lot).  It has one innovative command that I've found really useful: if you enter X, it gives a list of the area's exits as well as their destinations.  It's somewhat mitigated by the game using the same title for a lot of areas (I've encountered 11 different versions of "Dense Forest" so far), but it's still a large boon to mapping, and was really helpful for me in the pine forest.  I hope it's something that catches on as adventure games develop.

The only mechanical thing I'm a little annoyed with is combat.  You can initiate it with any other creature, and it cycles through various attack and their results until one side is dead, or you interrupt it with a command.  It's not that bad, and the ability to run away is a real help, but the problem is that other creatures can attack you as well.  Twice now I've been set upon and killed by a dryad while trying to map the woods.  I prefer adventure games without random elements, if possible.

The only other thing to talk about is the presence of other people in the game.  Early on I encountered someone called "Salacious the Witch", who wandered around and gave me a bunch of hints.  At first I thought she was part of the game, so I ignored her, but I'm pretty sure now that she was another player.  Later on, when I was lost in the graveyard, someone named "Scorpio" started trying to engage with me.  He said "hi", and I ignored him.  He teleported to my location somehow, and I continued to ignore him.  He tried to give me hints about why I was lost.  He handed me a rattle.  At that point, I quit the game.

To be honest, I found it a bit unnerving.  I don't like on-line games, and stuff like this is why.  He was just trying to be friendly, but I wasn't interested.  I just wanted to play on my own, you know?  In games, as in life, I just want to be left the fuck alone.  So sorry Scorpio, I was probably very rude.  I don't say hello to people when I walk past them at work, either.  I understand that for a lot of people this was probably the main attraction of the game, but I just want to solve puzzles and explore in solitude.  I get more than enough human interaction in real life.

Aside from the unwelcome intrusions of Real Humans, I've enjoyed MUD1 a lot so far.  It's a well-crafted environment that's fun to explore.  I'm not sure if it holds up as a game, but I'll find out once I start tackling some puzzles.  You know, as long as too-helpful people stay out of my way.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

DND1: Played

Normally, my final post for a game would be titled with some variation of Victory, possibly modified with punctuation to indicate how emphatic said victory was.  DND1 has no victory state though, and to be honest I've rather more abandoned playing it than finished it.  The last month has been a hectic, life-changing one to say the least, and my limited gaming time has been given over to games rather more accessible and enjoyable than this one.  (Sorry, Mr. Garriott.)

I had said in the last post that I was going to explore the equipment options and spells that I had yet to get to.  I tried, but none of them seemed to work.  I had thought that the cross might damage undead, or that I might be able to attack with oil flasks, but for whatever reason those options didn't work.  I may have been doing it wrong, or it could just be that those functions weren't implemented yet.  Likewise, I had no success in getting spells to work.  Of the cleric spells, I only had success with those for detecting traps and secret doors.  For magic-users, I had no success at all.  Again, I'm not sure where the fault lies there.

So, in the interests of moving on from what should really have been a one post game, I'm going to wrap things up and give DND1 a Final Rating.  Before I get into it, it should be noted that this game was never intended for public consumption.  It wasn't a commercial release, and it wasn't played by students on a mainframe.  Perhaps it isn't fair to rank it against such games, but in the interests of being comprehensive I'm still going to do so.

Story and Setting: The game has neither, which is pretty much a given when you take its origins into account.  The dungeon is a generic collection of rooms and corridors, and the only story is the protagonists purposeless quest for gold and power.  Calling it basic would be an overstatement.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There are no characters, but a decent selection of D&D monsters: orcs, skeletons, trolls, balrogs, etc.  The monsters have very little to differentiate them, however, so I can't rate it highly.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: The problem here is that, this being a browser-based recreation of DND1 rather than the game itself, we have no way of knowing what the original actually looked like.  One of the versions I played featured ASCII art with a top-down display, and the other featured a graphical interface that emulated a teletype machine.  The second one was probably more accurate to the original, and what little I played of it was a bit of a nightmare, as the map wasn't permanently shown.  Either way, the game has little visual appeal.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

What the game might have looked like on a teletype.

Mechanics: There's a lot to like here, and a lot that seemed like it should have worked but didn't.  It has the basics of D&D all there: classes, ability scores, monsters, spells, and a good selection of gear.  It begins a decent little dungeon-crawler, with some neat touches like the ability to lead monsters into traps.  After a while, though, the monsters start dying instantly for no reason, and my inability to get the spells to work hurt it as well.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Challenge: It's often hard to rate a game in this category when it doesn't have a goal as such.  For DND1 I suppose that goal is to become strong enough to survive in the dungeon, and that's not at all difficult.  The game is quite easy, and made easier by whatever it is that starts mysteriously killing monsters.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: This is where this game is going to shine.  In terms of innovation, it's interesting in that it stands apart from the two main lineages of 70s CRPGs (the top-down line started by pedit5 and DND, and the first-person line of Moria and Oubliette).  It bears the most resemblance to the pedit5/DND lineage, but it's quite obvious that it was originated by someone who hadn't played them, and was just trying to recreate Dungeons & Dragons.  Pretty much everything it does has been done elsewhere in 1970s RPGs (except using traps against monsters), but it does them all in its own way.  As for influence, being the first game by Richard Garriott nets it a high score automatically.  Though virtually nobody else ever saw it at the time, it was the beginning of a line that eventually spawned Akalabeth and Ultima, and that's a huge deal.  Rating: 7 out of 7.

Fun: I had a small amount of fun with this game; it's a good one to play when you have a quick ten minutes to kill, as a dungeon delve rarely lasts all that long.  In the end, though, there's not a lot to it, and I ran out of things to discover about it fairly quickly.  It's more of a historical curiosity than an enjoyable game to play.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

DND1 doesn't get the bonus point, as I don't think I'll ever play it again.  The above scores total 16, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 32.  That places it equal 7th on the CRPG list, with Dungeon Campaign and Space.  The only game lower is The Game of Dungeons v8.0, which is a better game but one I grew to hate a great deal over the year that I played it.

Next: I suppose I'll restart MUD1, and actually post about it this time, unless some other lost classic from the 70s pops out of the woodwork.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Game 24: DND1 (1977)

I know, I said that the next game I played would be MUD1, but instead I'm taking a little side-trip into 1977 to play a CRPG called DND1.  I'll be back to my regularly scheduled games soon enough, but for reasons you'll soon understand I couldn't resist checking this one out.

The title screen, such as it is.

In the annals of video game history there are many missing pieces, particularly from the days before the internet was a thing, and even more particularly from the days before commercially released games were a thing.  One of those missing pieces was DND1, the earliest work of Richard Garriott.  I gather most of you will be familiar with Garriott's Ultima series.  It's one of the primary CRPG series of the 1980s, and every bit as revolutionary as its reputation states.  Before Ultima, his first published game was Akalabeth in 1979, but before Akalabeth he wrote 27 different versions of a game he called DND.  Akalabeth was actually the 28th in that series, and for the longest time it seemed as though versions 1 through 27 were lost to the ages.

Well, that's what everyone thought, until Garriott unearthed his original code for DND1 back in 2014, and released it to the community for his current project, Shroud of the Avatar.  This was done as part of a competition, in which he asked the community to create versions of the code that would be easily playable today.  The community came through, Garriott awarded the winners with various prizes, and now the rest of us can play the game as well.  You can apparently play DND1 on a recreated teletype as part of Shroud of the Avatar, but of more use to most people is the browser version that can be found here:

Garriott was about 16 years old when he created DND1.  He'd already been coding for a while on the teletype he had access to at high school.  The teletype he used, as I understand it, was a sort of typewriter terminal that could communicate with a mainframe computer via an acoustic modem.  Garriott had been teaching himself how to write BASIC code on it as part of his school curriculum, and his father made a deal with him: if he could make a working RPG on the teletype, he would help him buy an Apple II home computer.  Obviously, Garriott succeeded.

When the game opens, it asks if you want instructions.  The instruction file isn't included as part of the code, so you need to enter "NO" or you'll be booted from the game with a somewhat rude message.  It then asks if you want to start a new game, or continue a game in progress. Again, this early save feature wasn't implemented in this version.  After that the game gives you a choice of dungeons, numbered 1 through 6.  Here's the most unfortunate part of this recreated game: the original source code references separate dungeon files, so the ones in the recreation aren't Garriott's originals.  It's a shame; I was hoping there might be some little nods to later Ultima lore within the level design.  (It's not entirely impossible.  Garriott was an early player of Dungeons & Dragons, having started in 1974, and his original games were supposedly set in Sosaria.)

After choosing a dungeon, the following is displayed: "Continues Reset (1)=Yes (2)=No".  I never figured out what this means.  I might have to poke around in the code and see if anything presents itself.  You then need to type a name, but for reasons I can't fathom the game only allows the name SHAVS.  Type in any other name, and the game ends, with the same rude message as before.

The game then generates your stats, with the same basic array as Dungeons & Dragons: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Wisdom, Intelligence.  I assume that Strength allows you to fight better, Dexterity gives you a bonus with missiles (and maybe defense), and Constitution gives you more hit points.  It's not clear what Intelligence and Wisdom are for, although perhaps they might influence spell-casting.  As for Charisma, in a game that features no interaction with other characters I have no idea.  Starting hit points tend to range from 10 to 20, in my experience.

You can choose to be a Fighter, a Cleric or a Wizard, the three character classes from the original D&D rules.  Fighters can use all weapons and armour, but cast no spells.  Wizards can only wield daggers, and wear leather armour, but they get the most spells.  Clerics are kind of halfway between, being limited in weapon choice to the mace, and having less spells than the Wizard.

You begin the game with 1,000 gold to spend.  The equipment list has a number of weapons (sword, mace, dagger, spear), some armour (leather, chain, plate (misspelt as "TLTE instead of PLTE"), and some miscellaneous gear like rope, spikes, flasks of oil, and a silver cross.  As you'll see, loading up on spikes is vital to surviving for any length of time.  You can also buy Mjolnir, if you feel like blowing almost your entire savings on one thing.

Buying equipment.

 The game then begins, with the surrounding dungeon displayed by ASCII characters.  The player is represented by the number 9, while monsters are number 5.  Walls are marked with an asterisk, while doors use the number 4.  It took me a little while to figure out what was what through trial and error, but soon enough I was tooling around the dungeon killing monsters and collecting treasure.

The game has 11 commands, each activated by entering the relevant number.  For instance, to move you need to enter 1, and then the direction: (L)eft, (R)ight, (U)p or (D)own.  Doors are pushed open with their own command, though you can bash straight through them with regular movement as well.  Moving into walls and doors isn't recommended though, because occasionally it results in a lost hit point.  Having to press two keys for every movement can be a little annoying, but it's a thing you get used to pretty quickly.

I'm the '9'.  You can see a monster just above me ('5') and a number of doors ('4s').  The Os are treasure chests.

The Search command looks for traps and secret doors in the areas surrounding the character, but it's not always successful.  The Look command displays the dungeon surroundings, in a similar way to the window that's under the input bar in the version I played.  I suspect that on the original teletype machine this was the only way of knowing your surroundings.  For an idea of what it might have been like, there's a possibly more authentic version here:  I didn't discover it until just an hour or so ago, so I'll need to have a go to see how different it feels.

The later options are for spells, which you need to buy during the game.  Each spell you buy can be cast once before it disappears, but you can buy multiples of each.  They cost from 75gp for Push (which opens doors, I assume), up to 1,000gp for Cure Light #2 (a healing spell, I guess).  I'm a little vague on the spells, because I haven't used them much.  The main one I've been casting is Detect Secret Doors, which gives you the coordinates of any secret door in your immediate vicinity (i.e. within range of the Look command).  I haven't even been able to get any of the Wizard spells to work; every time I cast one nothing happens.  I'll have to investigate further.

The final option on the list is to Buy Hit Points, which you can do at a cost of 200gp for each point.  This is the only part of DND1 that has an obvious link to Ultima, where you gain hit points by paying tribute to Lord British (at least in the first few games).  In D&D you gain experience points for finding treasure, and those experience points allow you to grow more powerful.  Here, Garriott just cuts out the middleman.  It's similar to how The Game of Dungeons did it, but I gather that Garriott hadn't played any other CRPGs before creating this one.

Treasure can be found in chests, which might be trapped with poison.  The poison only knocks off a few hit points, so it's no big deal.  Monsters also drop gold when you kill them.  In addition to standard treasure, you can find "strange vapours", which will increase one of your stats by 1 point.  The treasure chests are always in the same place on the maps, but the vapours are placed at random.

Combat with monsters is pretty simple.  You just press 5 when you're standing next to one to attack, with the monster attacking when you're done.  Or better yet, you can equip a bow, and shoot from a distance.  It even allows you to shoot through walls, and hit any monster that's visible on the screen.  You can do the same thing with Mjolnir, which usually results in an instant kill.  Obviously, there were still some bugs to be sorted out.  I've encountered a decent variety of monsters: men, goblins, trolls, skeletons, balrogs, gnomes, kobolds and mummies.  I haven't noticed any significant differences between them, though I'd say that trolls take the most damage to kill.  One thing I've noticed is that there's never more than one monster at a time on the map.  There's a message when a monster spawns, and if you don't find it in time it will slink off into the shadows, to be replaced by another shortly thereafter.

There are also traps, in the form of pits.  Before you figure things out, these are by far the deadliest part of the game.  If you land on one (and they're not indicated on the map) you might take a small amount of damage, but that's not a problem.  If you don't have any spikes though, it's an instant death, as you have no way to climb back out.  And even then, climbing out is only automatic if you have a rope as well.  Basically, I load up with about twenty spikes before every adventure, because without them you're toast.

The pits aren't all bad though.  You can kill monsters by luring them into traps, which has to be a first, and a legitimate surprise to me the first time it happened.  Little touches like that are the things I love in early CRPGs.

Luring a goblin into a pit trap.

Aside from the pits, though, the game isn't super deadly.  There's only ever one monster on the map, so you can't be overwhelmed by numbers.  Admittedly I rarely last long as a Wizard, but when playing a Fighter I hardly ever die.  Eventually, though, the game gets to a point where you can't lose.  I'm not sure if it's a bug, but after a while the monsters just start dying instantly, and when they do you get their treasure.  My gold was increasing by a few hundred with every move, which allowed me to keep increasing my hit points at a pretty quick rate.  Not that I needed to, there was nothing to attack me.

So far, I'd say that DND1 is more of a historical curiosity than an enjoyable game.  There's no point to it beyond the accruement of gold, and it's always a negative for me when a game doesn't have any sort of goal.  I'm going to play it a few more times to test out the spells, and some of the items on the equipment list, but I should be back pretty shortly to wrap this one up.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Library: Anti-Climax!

Upon further investigation of Library, it appears that the game was never finished.  I've explored it as extensively as possible and scoured the source code, and I don't believe that there's a way to beat it.  Maybe I'm wrong, but at this point I'm going to write about the rest of the game, give it a quick rating, and move on.

When I last posted, I had been stuck at a number of obstacles.  The entrance to the "Pusey Pit" (another ruined library) was blocked by rubble, and as I suspected it's impassable.  Likewise, the Dexter Gate is a boundary at the edge of the game rather than an obstacle to get past.  The lift, the back door, the men's room and the chamber with the angry gnome all granted access to new areas once I figured them out (or gave up and checked the code, in the gnome's case).

First, the lift.  It require some keys to activate, which I had, but I'd been unable to find the right verb to use them.  It turned out to be UNLOCK LIFT, which is a reasonable verb to use for keys, though perhaps less so in this context.  Trying to go up in the lift just gets you an "under construction" message, but going down takes you to what is probably the most fun area in the game.  It features two sections of the library: the Mystery section and the Science Fiction Section.

The Mystery Section is specifically dedicated to Raymond Chandler.  There are a number of items found here: a gravedigger's shovel, a still-smoking gun, a crushed pocketwatch, and a "Zygopetalum Crinitum".  I assume that these are specific references, but I've ready very, very few mystery novels, and none by Chandler.  The gun and the watch aren't useful - firing the gun simply results in a "click" - but the shovel comes in handy later.  The 'Zygopetalum Crinitum" is a type of orchid, which I only discovered by using Google.  You can't pick it up by using its name in the game either; you need to use GET FLOWER or GET ORCHID, which is irritating.  This would have stumped me forever before the internet existed.

The Science Fiction section has three wings.  One of those is the Star Trek Room, which is an exact replica of the bridge of the Enterprise.  There are some plastic Spock ears on the floor, and nothing else of use.  To the north is the Moorcock Section, dedicated to the works of Michael Moorcock and entered through what can only be described as a sphincter.  I have to think that this betrays Nat Howard's opinion of Moorcock.  I happen to be a Moorcock fan, but if anyone wanted to describe him as disappearing up his own arsehole on occasion I wouldn't dispute them.  Anyway, in this room you find a black runesword, otherwise known as Stormbringer, the evil blade of Moorcock's Elric saga.  You know, just lying around.  There's some good writing when you pick it up (possibly cribbed directly, but I'm not sure), and the sword reacts in a few places in the game.  You know what?  I can't fault anyone in 1978 for throwing Stormbringer into a game just because.  It's what I would have done.  The only way back out of the room is to tickle the sphincter with a feather, which just doesn't bear analysis.  I don't want to think about it.  Mercifully, the command for this is TICKLE WALL.

The Chronicles of Count Ass.

The southern wing of the Sci-Fi Section is the Andre Norton Room, inhabited by many large cats.  One of them will wake up if you try to cross the room, but you can scare it away with Stormbringer and continue on.  If you don't have Stormbringer you can PET CAT and it will go back to sleep, allowing you to go back the way you came.  Otherwise, you're cat food.  I've never read Norton's work, despite a love of classic fantasy and sci-fi.  I'm only just now discovering that she's a woman, writing under a man's name to make her work more marketable.  It's a gap in my reading that I really ought to rectify.

Beyond the Andre Norton Room is the Dune Room, covered in sand - and cat poo - and exceptionally hot.  Obviously, it's a reference to the David Lynch movie, starring Sting.  And the novel by Frank Herbert, I guess.  If you stay in here for too long you die from the heat, but you can dig in the sand and uncover another door.

The next room is the Computer-Game Room, where a corpse sits in front of a computer screen displaying the following message: "How? With your bare hands?"  It looks like the poor fellow has died trying to solve Colossal Cave Adventure, specifically the dragon puzzle.  What a moron!  All he had to do was type YES.

Continuing loops back around to the elevator, but for some reason you can't activate it again once you're on the bottom floor.  There's only one way back up: you need to return to the Computer Game Room and type YES, which activates a transporter that takes you back to the library entrance.  It's an odd solution, requiring knowledge of an obtuse puzzle from a different game entirely.  It might seem unfair from a modern perspective, but I wonder.  It was probably expected that anyone playing a mainframe text adventure in 1978 would be familiar with Colossal Cave Adventure, and I would think that the solution to the dragon puzzle would be one of its more widely circulated secrets.  It's hard to know for someone who wasn't there, but my gut says that it was pervasive enough to make this puzzle a reasonable one.

The Norton Room, the Dune Room, and the Computer Game Room.

Now, the back door to the library.  It's covered in vines, which reach out to grab you when you try to enter.  I had thought that the runesword would let me cut my way through, but no luck there.  Instead, you need to crawl under them, which is a bit iffy.  There's no indication that the ivy doesn't cover the entire door.

Through the back door is a pit room, with a large pit and a sign telling you to "Throw Literary Critics Here".  I never found a critic to throw in, unfortunately.  Beyond that is a stairwell.  You can't go up, because that area is under construction, but there are two rooms below.  One is a small chamber lined with spikes, that serves no obvious purpose.  The other is a Krazy Komix Kollection, which features a copy of Captain America Comics #1, the famed first appearance of that character that features him punching Hitler on the snoot well before the USA ever entered the war.  I find it odd that the author chose that comic over the first appearances of Superman or Batman, but then again he might just be a Cap fanboy.

Would it even hold its value in a post-apocalyptic society?

This comic is one of the treasures that you need to take to the chapel, but there's a problem.  First, you get strangled going back past the ivy if you don't have the runesword.  Second, as I mentioned in my last post, there's no path leading away from the back door except through the ivy.  There's no way to get back to the chapel once you've walked up to the back door.  Presumably there would have been one in the full game, so I edited one in just so I could test what happens when you get all of the treasures.

The third new path I found was in the men's room, behind the vending machine.  Previously, I'd had trouble with my quarter getting stuck when I insert it into the machine.  You can fix this by either pressing the A button on the machine before inserting the coin, or typing HIT MACHINE after it gets stuck.  It's weird that I didn't think to try the very first thing I'd do in this situation in real life.

The vending machine has three buttons, and you can only use one in a single game.  One button just gives you a useless plastic comb.  Another gives you a guide, which mentions there being a secret door behind the vending machine.  The other opens the secret door.  Beyond is a room known as the Plagiarism Archives, and beyond that is the Spaceport Bar from Aldebaran-III.  It's an interesting bit of commentary, in that the game is utterly ripping off a scene from a game the author co-designed, and that said game was pretty heavily based on the Jaime Retief stories of Keith Laumer.  It's a nice bit of self-deprecation, and I chuckled.  It serves no other purpose, though.

Finally, we have the gnome.  Once you enter his chamber he won't let you out again, and he'll eventually kill you with his knife.  You can beat him with your own knife, eventually, but it takes a number of turns repeatedly typing KILL GNOME until you get him.  You can also kill him instantly with the runesword, but it's probably better to use the knife, because he throws a shoe at you during the knife battle which you can keep.  It's all a moot point, though, because the gnome battle is bugged as hell.  He doesn't disappear when you kill him, and I wasn't able to figure out how to make it work.  There's only one room beyond his chamber anyway.  It has a hole, and if you drop his shoe inside a door opens and shows an "Under Construction" sign.  So fighting the gnome is at this point meaningless.

With the entire game explored, it was time for me to take all of the treasures to the chapel.  The source code showed that there were three: the comic, the orchid and the Gutenberg Bible.  Getting the bible out of the library involved a bit of minor puzzle solving.  If you're carrying it, bars will block the entrance.  You can get past this by putting the bible in the sack.  In my last post I hadn't figured out how to get things back out of the sack, but the trick is to ENTER SACK.  You can get inside and pick up anything that's in there, then climb back out again.  A bit silly, but not the least logical puzzle I've encountered.

Not that there was much point in solving it.  I took all of the treasures to the chapel, and dropped them.  Nothing.  My score actually went down when I dropped them.  Checking the source code, I couldn't find any kind of victory message, so I feel justified in declaring this game over and done with.  Time for a Final Rating.


Story & Setting: This one started promisingly, being set in the post-apocalyptic ruins of a university library. It does get some mileage out of the setting, with a few decent library-based and literary chuckles, but it still comes off as a little disjointed.  The story's a treasure hunt, and you know I'm getting sick of those.  There might have been more to the completed game, but that's not what I'm judging.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Character & Monsters: There's the horribly bugged gnome, and that's the extent of it.  This might be the poorest entry in this category to date.  Luckily for this game I don't hand out zeros.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: One thing this game has going for it is that the writing's quite good: clear, evocative and concise.  That's the extent of it, though, and the writing isn't good enough to bump it up out of the bottom rung.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: What we have here is a game with a serviceable parser, albeit one that had me hunting for the right verb on more than one occasion.  Unfortunately, it has a gnome fight that's horribly bugged, and a treasure that can't be taken to the final location.  It also dumps you out of the game when you die, which gives me the irrits.   I can't quite give it a bottom score, because a good portion of the game is actually playable.  It was close, though.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Challenge: The puzzles that are solvable probably verge on the side of being a little too easy, which would probably result in a score of 3.  I'm knocking it down a lot for being unfinished, though.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: It follows in the footsteps of the Wander games that came before it, and adds very little to what those games innovated.  It is one of the earliest games to be based on a real-life location, though I suppose Colossal Cave Adventure beat it there.  As far as influence goes, this game had none.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: I enjoyed the early stages of this game, when I was just roaming around and looking in the various rooms.  Some of them are quite amusing, and I especially enjoyed the Sci-Fi Section.  It fell apart quite badly when I started trying to solve puzzles though, with a lot of frustration coming from the game's unfinished nature.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

I'm putting this game in my dust and never looking back, so it doesn't get the bonus point.  The above scores total 10, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 20 out of 100.  That puts it dead last on the list, 4 points below King Tut's Tomb, which had no puzzles but was at least finished.  It's probably not fair to rate an unfinished game against commercial products, but I'm doing it anyway.  If I play it, it gets a rating, regardless of any notions of what's fair.

Coming up next I'm going to have a poke around in MUD1, the first ever Multi-User Dungeon.  Following that, which will probably be a single-post game, it's on to Treasure Hunt, a sort-of text version of Hunt the Wumpus.  I'm closing in on the end of 1978, which has been far too long in coming.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Game 23: Library [designed using Wander] (1978)

Wander, as my regular readers may remember, is a programming language designed for creating text adventures that predates even Colossal Cave Adventure.  I've played two adventures created using this language so far: Castle and Aldebaran III.  Both were interesting, and somewhat unusual for their vintage, but ultimately flawed.  I had to rewrite some code just so I could finish them, which is about as flawed as it gets outside of the game not running at all.

Library is the third and final Wander game I'll be playing.  The other two were created by Peter Langston, the creator of Wander and future person of significance at Lucasarts.  Library was made by Nat Howard, who I have in my notes as a co-author of Aldebaran III.  I can't find anything else about him though.  The map for the game is supposedly based on the Widener Library at Harvard, so one can assume that he was a student or a teacher there.

The opening screen of Library.

The game begins with you standing at the steps to a library, in a post-apocalyptic world.  It's 1978, so of course the goal is to gather up all of the treasures in the library and deposit them in the correct location.  In this case, the game tells you outright that this location is the chapel, which is just to the south of the starting area.  I appreciate the lack of ambiguity here, even though we're dealing with yet another treasure hunt.  It's good to have a concrete goal.

You begin the game empty-handed, with a leather sack at your feet.  I'm not sure if it has any other uses, but you can put items inside, presumably to get around the game's inventory limit.  I haven't hit that limit yet, though, so I can't be certain.

There's not a lot to see in the area outside of the library.  There's a chapel to the south, which gives an odd bit of backstory that mentions WWXII, and Bo Diddley, which I'm certain that I'm not supposed to take seriously.  To the east is another library, the "Pusey Pit", the entrance to which is blocked by rubble.  There's an alley running between the two libraries, which leads to a gate and a back door.  The gate, called the Dexter Gate, is so far impassable.  The back door into the main library is covered with ivy, which is quite animated and will block your entrance.  There might be a glitch here, because I haven't been able to return the way I came from the back door.  So far, this game has been pretty good about matching the exit directions between locations.  If you leave an area to the south, it's a good bet you can return to it by going north, unless you're in a maze.  So I was surprised that I couldn't do so at the back door.  I was completely stuck there, with no means to destroy the ivy and no means to go back, so I had to restart.

Any Bo Diddley fans know if this means anything?

The areas inside the library have so far been quite easy to navigate.  There is, of course, an obligatory maze - the Folklore & Mythology Stacks - which uses the standard trick of repeating the same room description and making no mention of exit directions.  I was able to map it using the time-honoured method of marking locations with dropped items.  This was made a little more difficult due to a lack of sufficient items to cover all the areas, but I got it done eventually.  Mapping the rest of the library was a breeze.

The initial area is a Lobby, with a desk to the west.  The desk was manned by a robotic guard (the first indication that the previous civilisation was more advanced than the present day), and I also found some keys and a knife.  An inscription on the knife read "Acme Knife, made by Acme Knife & Throttle Co, Framingham".  There's no significance to that yet, but you never know.

Some other areas of interest are:

  • A lift with buttons marked 'up' and 'down', and a keyhole.  I guess that the keys I found will activate it, but INSERT KEYS didn't work.  I also tried TURN KEYS, USE KEYS and a bunch of other commands.  Nothing so far.
  • A movie theatre.  At first the screen is dark, but you can activate the projector by flicking a switch in the nearby projection room.  It runs a film on venereal disease, which nets you a mildly humourous gag.

This reminds me that Stan Lee spent part of his military career writing anti-VD pamphlets.

  • A supposed "bookie operation" which used to run out of the library.  It features a basket, which was used to catch coins used in the movie booths above.
  • A men's bathroom, with a vending machine and three buttons.  I tried inserting a quarter that I found, but the coin got stuck.  It's supposed to take $0.25, so I'm not sure what the problem is.  Maybe it's a random chance thing?  Old-school text adventures are known to do that.
  • The rare books room, which can only be accessed through the stacks maze.  It contains a 1st edition Gutenberg Bible, which I have to assume is one of the treasures.
  • There's a section of erotic books, which is also only accessible via the stacks maze.  In it can be found a diamond-studded vibrator, which has to rate as one of the more interesting treasures I've encountered in an adventure game.  You can't just GET it, though, because someone might be watching.  Instead you need to put it in your sack.  The problem is, I have no idea how to get something out of the sack once it's gone in there.  I need to do a bit more wrestling with the parser on that score.

Wouldn't those diamond studs be uncomfortable?

  • Near the sex books there's a movie booth, which has a coin slot.  I probably should try putting the quarter in, but the only time I've been here I'd already lost it in the vending machine.
  • There's a card catalogue room, but I haven't found a use for it yet.
  • At the top of a spiral staircase I found a room guarded by an angry gnome.  Once you're in there he won't let you leave.  I've tried to kill him, bare-handed and with the knife, and both resulted in the game shutting down.  Presumably he killed me, but I don't know for sure because it doesn't give me time to read the message.  There's little that shits me off more in a game than being dumped out of it unceremoniously.

I haven't found a lot of items yet.  There's the aforementioned sack, keys, and knife.  The vibrator, of course, and the bible.  I also found a shiny quarter in the stacks maze, and a plastic vomit bag in the movie theatre.  It's a shockingly small inventory for a text adventure.

So far I've explored all of the areas open to me, about 34.  There are a number of obvious places that I should be able to explore beyond, the lift, the gnome room and the back door being the most likely.  The Dexter Gate may also be passable, and the Pusey Pit entrance at a stretch.  Those two strike me as boundaries at the edge of the game rather than obstacles, but I could be wrong.

Right now I'm enjoying Library.  It's laid out very simply, the descriptive writing is good, and there are no random events or time-limit puzzles (like a light source) to contend with.  I have had a small amount of parser trouble, of the "pick the right verb" variety, but we'll see how bad that is once I get properly stuck into the game's puzzles.  So far - getting dumped out of the game aside - it's been a pleasant game to just roam around in and explore.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Cottage: Victory

As of my last post, I had obtained seven of the treasures required to complete the game: the diamond, the cucumber, the coins, the shoe, the trilogy, the laurel wreath and the contract.  That left me with six to obtain: the silver ingot  (not "silver stick" as Google had translated for me), the halberd, the skull, the alarm clock, the painting, and the pearl necklace.  Some of those I obtained fairly, and others not so much, as you'll see below.

The Silver Ingot: You may recall from earlier posts that there's a safe I haven't been able to open.  The only clue I had was a sign in a nearby room: "CORKSCREW HELPS WITH THE SA..."  I had figured that the last word there referred to the safe, and I was right.  So I kept playing, looking out for a corkscrew, but I never found one.  It's not an item, though, it's a password.  You just need to type CORKSCREW in front of the safe and opens, revealing a silver ingot.

The Jewelled Halberd:  I already knew that the halberd was in the possession of a guard, but nothing I did was enough to get him to relinquish it.  The solution to this was fairly circuitous.  First, I needed to cut open a glass window using a diamond, and take the crowbar hidden behind it.  Then, I needed to use the crowbar to open the chest in Tharvald's Room.  (I'm not sure why this took me so long to figure out, it's pretty obvious.)  Inside the chest was a bike pump, which I used to inflate the ball I had found in the Entrance Hall.  There's another window elsewhere, too high to reach, but I was able to break it by kicking the ball.  Behind that window I found some vodka, and with the vodka I was able to get the guard drunk and take his halberd.
  Pretty involved for just one item, isn't it?  The only part of this I didn't figure out by myself was kicking the ball into the high window.  I had to use the game's HELP command, which sometimes gives you a clue at the cost of some points from your score.  Using it in the room with the window gave me the solution outright.  I don't quite consider this one cheating, because the HELP clues were programmed into the original game.  (By the way, whatever you do, don't use the KICK command unless you're kicking the ball.  You'll injure your ankle, and suffer a delay of a few second between every move.  It's infuriating, and I'm not sure it goes away.)

Claiming the halberd.

The Alarm Clock: Not far from the guard is an ornate gate that is locked.  I had found the keys earlier, but apparently only the guard is strong enough to turn them in the lock.  Giving him the keys wasn't a problem, as he accepts anything you try to give him with a wry smile.  The problem is that he's in the room adjacent to the gate, so he can't interact with it.  I had to figure out how to get him to move.
  The first thing you need to do is get him drunk, which I'd already done.  I tried MOVE GUARD, PUSH GUARD and DRAG GUARD, and all sorts of other things.  The solution ended up being TAKE GUARD, which took me so damned long to figure out.  I should have remembered this after the bear in Colossal Cave Adventure.  So you give the keys to the guard, TAKE him, walk to the gate, and unlock it.  Job done.  Just remember that you need the guard in your possession, and he needs the keys in his possession.  If you drop him before you try to unlock the gate it won't work.
  The room beyond the gate is an interesting one, and the closest that the game gets to actually providing a story.  When you enter, the as-yet-unmentioned Cottage Council are having a meeting, where the chairman Thorvald wants to discuss the deterioration in quality of recent "cottage researchers".  Another member, Kimmo, sees you enter and proposes that they finish the meeting in the Treasury, and the lot of them leave.  It's not much to go on, but at least it provides some foreshadowing for the end of the game, such as it is.
  Oh yeah, the alarm clock.  It's in this room.  Another treasure down!

Lads, the quality of the Cottage Council ain't so hot either.

The Skull: This is where I seriously needed help.  First of all, there's no indication that you would even need a skull.  I only knew because I'd looked it up in the source code.  I'm all for obscure puzzles, but give me something to go on.  Anyway, there's one obvious skull in the game, and that's the one belonging to the guard.  You can't kill him, even when he's drunk: the only weapon in the game is the halberd, and when you throw it at him he will catch it.  You need to put him to sleep, which involves giving him a second drink before he sobers up.  He's already drained the vodka bottle dry, though.  You can find more in a room with a chess motif, which I had previously been unable to enter due to a faun stepping on my toes.  If you go there with the empty vodka bottle, Fozzie Bear shows up and gives you a refill.  I'm not sure that Fozzie is the Muppet I'd choose to be handing out alcohol, but whatever.  (Rowlf, maybe?  He looks like he enjoys a good drink.)  Right after opening the gate, you need to grab the guard and take him all the way to get the refill, then get him drunk again.  After that he falls asleep, and you can murder the poor bloke.  That's not the end of it, though, because you then need to bury him in the cemetery.  Then you need to wait for about 50 moves while his body decomposes, and then you can take his skull.
  So yeah, this one I needed help with all the way through.  I couldn't use the HELP clues though, because none of them mentioned anything about the skull.  And as I said in my last post, I couldn't find a walkthrough for this game on the internet.  What I should have found is the HINT file included with the game, because it's mentioned at the very beginning.  It's not a part of the original game; I think it was added in 2007 when the game was first ported.  It provides hints on various objects, characters and areas in the game, in a sort of tiered system that starts with vague clues and gets more specific as you go deeper.  If you've ever used the Ultimate Hint System it's similar to that.  I used those hints to get me through this whole process, which is so obtuse that I never would have solved it otherwise.

The Pearl Necklace: This was easily the most frustrating puzzle in the game.  Even with the solution in front of me, it took forever to get right.  The old man is found in a dark room, and he's clutching a bottle of water and a pearl necklace that he refuses to let go of.  You can give him the laurel wreath, and he'll give you the bottle.  But then he disappears, muttering about being disturbed, and you have to find the bastard.  He could be anywhere in the game, so good luck.  Then, when you find him, he wanders off again.  And so on, until you get the puzzle exactly right.  I made liberal use of saved games here, let me tell you, and I was also pretty free with the HINT file.  This is another one where the solution would have been beyond me.
  The bottle he gives you is empty, but it's marked as a water bottle, so I went and filled it up at the waterfall.  When you find the old man again, you need to give him some water.  Then, while he's drinking, you need to blind him with the lamp, causing him to drop the necklace.  Say what?  First of all, there's zero indication that you need to blind this guy, unless you count the fact that he begins in a dark room.  He doesn't show an aversion to light otherwise.  And you can't blind him while he has the bottle, because he'll use it to deflect the light.  Secondly, you need to use the command GIVE WATER.  If you use GIVE BOTTLE, he just takes the bottle away from you, and you're back to square one.  All of this while he's wandering off to a new random location every time you try something.  It was annoying to me playing on a modern laptop, and it must have been far worse for anyone trying to do this on a mainframe terminal.
  Oh yeah, you need to get the laurel wreath back from him as well, but that's easy.  It was found in a room with a sign saying ALEA JACTA EST, and typing that in returns the wreath to its starting location.

Getting the pearl necklace.

The Shoe and the Painting: The faun shoe and the painting are both listed as items you get points for from the Automated Machine, but they're both red herrings.  You need the shoe to get the coins, which are worth more points.  You can't take the painting at all.

With all of the treasures in hand, I was able to take them to the Automated Machine and insert them one by one in exchange for points.  When I was done I had 330 points.  I was expecting a victory message at that point, but I got nothing.  It turns out that there are other things that grant points aside from the treasures: entering the cottage, debating the Muppets, kicking the ball through the window, getting into the animal room past the curtain, getting a phone directory, cutting the window with a diamond, finding where the pirate hides his treasure, opening the ornate gate, and burying the guard in the cemetery.  I'd done all of these except finding the phone directory, which I'd already done in a previous game.  So I went and grabbed it again and got the following victory message.

Even the cucumber is a better prize than this.

Accepted into the cottage council.  Yippee.  Would it not have been better to just bugger off with the treasure?

There are only a few things in the game that remain a mystery now that I've finished it.  I never found a use for the phone, despite how complicated it is to set up.  It must have used a lot of code for not much of a result.  I never reached the hole under the jetty, and I'm not sure it's anything more than a bit of description.  The "animal room" is simply a place you go to get points.  I never figured out the half-rotten tomato, or the kitchen.  I suspect they're all irrelevant, and I'm not about to translate some Swedish source code just to find out.

So that's The Cottage, and good riddance to it.  It's not the worst adventure game I've played, but it is one of the most frustrating.  I suspect that foreign language games will continue to baffle me in many areas, and I need to keep it in mind that I'm playing a translation.  It's possible that some of the transitions and events that I found confusing made perfect sense in the original game.  That said, I can only rate the game in front of me, but I'll try to be as fair as possible.


Story & Setting: There's potential to be had in a game set in a mysterious cottage in a Swedish province, but The Cottage doesn't provide much of interest on that front.  It has some interesting areas, but no cohesion at all.  Pirates?  Fauns?  The Muppets?!  As for the story, it's yet another treasure hunt, with some stuff about a Cottage Council tacked on.  There's nothing there.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: A bunch of character show up throughout the game: Thorvald, Osvald, Kimmo, the telephone repairman, the lift repairman, the fauns, the guard, the old man.  Hardly any of them do anything though, and only a couple of them can be interacted with.  They're obstacles and events rather than characters.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: A primitive text adventure is always going to score low in this category, and it's not helped by a fairly ugly translation.  The writing was apparently quite informal to begin with, and I wonder if any jokes got lost in the move to English?  Regardless, it's all quite terse and occasionally confusing, with little in the way of atmosphere.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: It's a simple, unsophisticated parser that does a decent enough job.  I'm going to dock it a point for using compass direction outside, and FORWARD, BACK, LEFT and RIGHT inside.  It wasn't as confusing as I thought it would be, but it still annoyed me.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: I would rate this game as slightly too hard to be enjoyable.  Getting the skull and the pearl necklace were particularly frustrating, and chasing around after the old man was a nightmare.  I used save games to help with that, but I'm not even sure they would have been available to those playing it on a mainframe.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Innovation: At face value, it's yet another treasure hunt in a whimsical fantasy setting.  It's only 1978 and I'm already sick of those.  It does at least try something new with the two different sets of movement commands, though, and I'm tempted to give it points just for not featuring a lightsource-based time limit, or a large labyrinth.  I should also consider that it's the first ever Swedish adventure game, and quite influential in that country.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Fun: I didn't outright hate the game, but I didn't find much to enjoy either.  The Muppet sequence was probably the most enjoyable, functioning almost like a mini-game where you make a series of multiple choices to get to the end.  It had some memorably absurd situations, but that one sequence isn't enough to drag up the score.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

I'll never be playing this game again, so there's no bonus point.  The above scores total 16, which doubled equals 32.  That puts it 14th on the main list, and 8th on the adventure game list.  It's sitting just above Voyage to Atlantis and Colossal Cave Adventure II, and just below Pirate Adventure. 

With The Cottage over and done with, I'm moving on to Library, the third and final adventure for the Wander system.  Let's see if those games can go three for three in requiring me to fix the code so that I can win.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Cottage: Laying It Out

My progress in The Cottage has been slow and painstaking.  A part of that is because it's not exactly setting my world on fire.  There are many, many things I could be doing that I'd enjoy more than playing this game.  Mostly, though, it's that the puzzles are somewhat obtuse, and there are a number of things going on in the game that I can't quite explain.

After a lengthy session last night where I didn't feel like I was making much progress, I pulled up the source code and had a bit of a look.  Unfortunately for me, the code I found was in Swedish, so I wasn't able to glean a great deal from it.  I found what I was looking for, though: a list of the treasures I need to complete the game.  It's somewhat of a cheat, but I wanted to know roughly how far I had progressed, and what items are important.  There are thirteen treasures in all: a diamond, a silver stick, a smelly cucumber, a jewelled halberd, a skull, an alarm clock, some gold coins, a "trilogy", a contract, a pearl necklace, a laurel wreath, and a faun shoe.  I know where ten of these are already, which is quite heartening.  I'll detail their whereabouts below.

  • The diamond is out in the open in Thorvald's Room, which is not that hard to get to.  Carrying it around presents a problem, though: certain doors and exits from the house become barred when you are carrying it around.  It's still possible to get back outside with the diamond, via some more circuitous routes, or by getting lucky in those rooms that send you to random locations.
  • The smelly cucumber is also in Thorvald's Room, in a hatch in the roof.  You need a ladder to reach it, but that can be found in a cupboard in Osvald's Room, right next door.
  • The jewelled halberd is in the possession of a guard, who is situated in an area beyond the lift's engine room.  I'm yet to find any meaningful way to interact with the guard.
  • The gold coins can be won from a gambling machine that's found in a cave in the wilderness.
  • The shoe is found in a cave south of the gambling machine, where it falls from the foot of a faun who runs by.  The shoe is needed as a stake to operate the gambling machine.  If you lose at the gambling machine, it's easy enough to come back and get another shoe.  But once you win the coins, the shoes stop spawning.  I need to see if I can get the points for the shoe, then get another shoe for the machine.
  • The "trilogy" is actually a copy of Lord of the Rings, and it's found in a maze of twisty passages.

Speaking of things I'd enjoy more than this game...

  • The pearl necklace is in the possession of an old man, who won't surrender it for anything.  He did show some interest in the laurel wreath when I had it in my possession, but giving it to him didn't help.
  • The laurel wreath is found in the Studio, sitting out in the open under a sign that reads "Alea Jacta Est" ("The die is cast").
  • The picture is found in the same maze of passages where I found the trilogy, but it doesn't seem to have an actual location.  Rather, it appears as I move from one location to another.  I'm really not sure how to interact with it at all, because it never appears as an object in a room where I'm standing.
  • The contract is a strange one to get a hold of.  Remember when I mentioned that there's a lengthy, surreal section where you have to participate in a performance of The Muppet Show?  No, it wasn't a fever dream.  You have to navigate your way through the choices, Choose Your Own Adventure style, and if you make the right ones Kermit the Frog will reward you with a contract.  It's frankly bizarre, but also quite a bit of fun.  It might be my favourite thing in the game.  I understand that it was left out of the commercial release for legal reasons, which is a shame.

Maybe the weirdest thing I've encountered in the blog so far.

So as it stands, I can easily get the diamond, the cucumber, the coins, the shoe, the trilogy, the laurel wreath, and the contract.  I need to work out how to get the halberd away from the guard, how to get the necklace away from the old man, how to interact with the picture, and how to get the coins without losing the shoe.  That's a refreshingly short to-do list, and it's somewhat refreshed my enthusiasm for the game.

That said, those are far from the only puzzles I need to solve on my way to winning.  The game has presented me with loads of other mysteries, some of which I've solved and some that remain elusive.  You may have noticed that I love running things down in point form when I'm writing about text adventures, and I'm going to do that again here.  It helps me to get my thoughts together, and figure out exactly what I need to do.

  • In my last post, I noted that there was an area in the forest where it appeared that someone had been recently digging.  Using a spade that I found in the cemetery I dug a hole, only to find that it was empty.  A little later I tried again, and found that it contained some treasures that had been stolen from me by a robber (this game's equivalent of the thief from Zork, or the pirate from Colossal Cave Adventure).  Everything that the robber steals will end up here, which could actually end up helpful in getting things to the surface, as this area's not hard at all to get to.
  • There's a rowing-boat near the beginning area of the game, which can be used to row to every shore of the lake.  Weirdly, at the centre of the lake there's a telephone socket.  When I tried to plug a phone into it, a telephone repairman came along, uninstalled the socket, and gave me a phone directory containing some useful numbers.
  • I'm not sure what the deal is with the phone sockets, though.  Sometimes when I try to use one, the repairman comes along and takes the socket away.  At other times I've been able to plug it in and call some numbers successfully, but none of them have accomplished anything.  You can call a phone repairman and a glazier (both of whom are out), the guard (who just tells you stop distracting him from his guard duty), and a few other rooms that had already been disconnected before I found a socket I could use.  I've also found an extension cable, which will no doubt play into the ultimate solution for this puzzle.
  • There are a number of paths that lead to an area under the jetty where the game begins.  There's a hole down there, but if you remain in that area you'll drown.  I think the solution lies with a deflated ball that I found, but I need a pump of some sort so that I can use it to float.
  • I'd mentioned in my last post that I had found a crowbar behind a window, but breaking the window caught the attention of Osvald, who came along and took the crowbar himself.  The solution to this one was to use the diamond to cut the window.  I haven't found a use for the crowbar yet.
  • In a pitch-dark room, there's a hidden lamp.  The game gives you no indication that it's there, but if you type GET you'll pick it up.  The game then informs you that you can only keep the lamp if you stay put.  Sure enough, if you type STAY PUT you'll eventually - after 30 seconds of actual waiting - be transported to another location.  It doesn't make much logical sense.

Also shown here is me being booted from the room with the animals.

  • There are three rooms that I can't get into: a kitchen where an angry faun tries to kill me, a chess-themed room where a faun steps on my toes, and a room full of animals that is UNDER CONSTRUCTION.  The last one seems like it might be a red herring, but then again it's past a puzzle that involves cutting through a curtain with some scissors.  I'd think a puzzle like that would lead to a useful area, but you never know with a game designed by pre-teens.
  • I still don't know what's with all of the areas where you're just randomly holding a rotten tomato.  It's baffling.
  • There are some ornate gates just past the guard with the halberd, but the keys I found don't open them.
  • There's a safe that I can't open.  Elsewhere there's a sign that says "CORKSCREW HELPS WITH THE SA..", which may or may not be relevant here.
  • The lift is a useful way to get around, but sometimes it crashes and kills me when I try to use it.  I'm not sure what sets this off.  I'm thinking it might be something to do with the number of items in my inventory, or perhaps that the presence of the diamond causes it in the same way that it blocks off the house's exits.  More investigation is required.
  • The Automatic Machine where you deposit treasure can be accessed from outside as well as inside the cottage.  This is good to know, because I got blown up the second time I tried to go there from inside.  The outside access lets you come and go as often as you like.

So that's a pretty comprehensive rundown of where I am in The Cottage.  I said that laying it out like this helps me figure out what I need to do, and I'm really going to need that help here.  The source code I found is in Swedish, and I can't find any walkthroughs.  I'm on my own.  The game itself provides a HELP feature, though, and I've used it a few times.  It helped me with cutting the glass window, and finding the lamp in the dark.  Normally this would feel like cheating to me, but I'm fine with it when it's a function that's built into the game.  And it doesn't give hints for every puzzle, so for most of the game I'll be on my own.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Cottage: Nine Floors, Zero Clues

After mostly exploring the wilderness in my last post, I've moved onto the interior of the titular cottage.  This gave me a taste of this game's idiosyncratic method of navigation: it uses compass directions when you're outside, and the commands LEFT, RIGHT, FORWARD and BACK to move around inside.

To be honest, this wasn't as irritating as I had thought it would be.  The big sticking point I had was whether the directions would be fixed or relative to your own position.  What I mean is, if I enter an area will FORWARD and BACK always take me to the same place, or will it change depending on which entrance I came through?  Thankfully, the directions are fixed.  It doesn't make much sense, and it doesn't really justify not using compass directions, but it does make mapping easier than it would have been otherwise.  Relative directions could work in a game where the geography is well-defined, but The Cottage is definitely not that game.

I had a moment of panic early on when I stumbled into a lift, and saw that the cottage has 9 levels.  This gave me some horrible flashbacks to the sprawling size of Acheton, but I don't think that this game is all that big.  The geography twists and turns a lot, though, and it's almost impossible to know what floor you're supposed to be on.  There are loads of paths between levels aside from the lift, and a combination of terse language and general weirdness can make it rather difficult to navigate.  I feel like I've mapped most of the cottage interior (about 50 areas), although there is definite room for expansion.  I've found the lift entrances for levels 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9, so there are obviously floors I haven't been to yet.

Some places and points of interest within the cottage are as follows:

  • One room had a curtain, which I was "too weak to move".  Setting aside all discussions of my actual strength, I was able to get through by solving a few puzzles.  In one room I found some keys, which I used to open a case in another room, which gave me a sledgehammer which I used to break a glass box in yet another room to get some scissors.  With those scissors I cut through the curtain, and behind it I found a room full of animals.
  • I wasn't able to enjoy that Animal Room for long though, because I was transported to a random location.  There's a lot of that in this game.  One minute you're happily exploring, the next you're just somewhere else, and it can get very annoying.  This is part of the "general weirdness" I was talking about above, and it's not always apparent why it's happening.
  • When you die, the game gives you the option of being resurrected.  If you choose YES, you find yourself at the bottom of a grave with a priest looking down at you, all depicted in ASCII art.

  • In one room I found a phone that was ringing.  Upon answering it, I was asked for my name, and then congratulated for finding a phone.  There are phone sockets throughout the house, so I'll have to try plugging it in at various points.

  • There's an old man in a dark room, who refuses to let go of his pearl necklace and water bottle.  I tried to kill him, but he noticed the vicious gleam in my eye and ran away.  Elsewhere I found a smelly cucumber, and I'm going to try giving it him, because I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing an old man would want.
  • The lift has an engine room.  At first it was empty, but later on I followed a lift repairman inside and saw an open hatch in the ground.  This led to a "vestibule", where a guard with a bejewelled halberd was stationed.  I subsequently got lost and couldn't find my way back here, so I'm not sure what the guard does, if anything.
  • In one room is a dark window, which I broke to find a crowbar inside.  Unfortunately, the noise attracted a fellow named Thorvald, who took the crowbar as payment for the window.  I've met Thorvald in a number of places, and it seems that he might be a sort of antagonist for the whole game.  I've been in his bedroom, as well as that of a fellow named Osvald, who I met in the kitchen.
  • One room has an "automatic machine", which asks you to deposit items in exchange for points.  I suspect that this is where you place the game's various treasures.  It asks specifically for a "picture", so it might be that I need to deposit the treasures in a specific order.  The second time I went there I was killed by a bomb, so it seems you only get one crack at it.
  • There's Staff Kitchen, in which I encountered Osvald as well as a very angry faun who tried to kill me with a knife.  Afterwards the floor collapsed, dumping me elsewhere.  It's another one of those "transported to a random location" bits I mentioned above.

And no,  have no idea what "quarking a fraktyl" means.

  • Speaking of fauns, there's a room I can't enter because one of them keeps stepping on my feet.  Maybe I need better shoes?
  • I found a room that was labelled Big Turning Labyrinth, and promptly got the heck out of there.  I hate old-school adventure game labyrinths, so I'm leaving this until last.
  • In a similar vein, there's a bit where a boiler explodes and opens a hole into a large cavern.  It had the makings of another maze/labyrinth, so I've ignored that as well.  I hate mazes, you guys.
  • This may have been a fever dream, but at some point I stumbled into a lengthy performance of the Muppet Show.  I can't remember where it was, and I didn't get a screen-cap.  It was very late at night, so I can't be sure that it actually happened.  It was very weird.

So far I'm not really feeling this game.  It has a lot of stuff going on, but none of it really seems to fit together, and the wacky geography is frustrating.  I'll keep up with mapping, and hopefully will have explored the whole game before my next post, but let's just say that it's not doing a great job at pulling me away from Breath of the Wild.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Game 22: Stuga aka The Cottage (1978)

A while ago, it was Ultima VII that kept me from blogging.  More recently, it's been The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is an incredible game, and probably the best in the series since at least 1998.  It's very hard to dig into text adventures from the 1970s when I have the vastness of Hyrule to explore (and boy, is it vast), but here I am with my first non-English game: Stuga, otherwise known as The Cottage.

The cover of the 1986 commercial release version

The Cottage (as I'll refer to it from now on) was created in Sweden by two brothers (Viggo and Kimmo Eriksson) and their friend (Olle Johansson).  They were, respectively, 10, 12 and 14 years old, which puts them in a similar category to Greg Hassett, whose games have been haunting this blog for a while now.  All of their parents were on staff at the Stockholm Computer Central for Research and Higher Education, which gave them access to the Oden mainframe, and also exposed them to the Woods/Crowther version of Colossal Cave Adventure.  In summer of 1977 they started crafting The Cottage, and the first playable version of it was released in 1978.  It was made commercially available - retitled as Stugan - in 1986, but I gather that that version had some changes from the original.  Much later, around 2009, the game was translated to English, and that's the version I'll be playing (using Winfrotz).

No hints yet on who or what VIOL might be.

The Cottage begins with the hero standing on a jetty, with people water-skiing in the lake behind and a house in the distance ahead.  The goal seems to be to get a high score by collecting valuables (i.e. the same goal as pretty much every other adventure game of 1975-1978).  Your score starts at 50, and can be increased to a maximum of 307.  I haven't done much experimentation with the parser yet, but it all seems to be pretty basic stuff.  The main thing it does that I haven't seen elsewhere is change up the way you move depending on whether you're inside the mansion or in the wilderness.  When you're outside, the game uses the standard compass directions (N, S, NE, SW, etc.), but when you're inside it switches to directional commands (Forward, Left, Right, Back).  I haven't done much exploration inside yet, so I can't say exactly how irritating this is, but I'm going to hazard a guess and say "very".

Given the potential irritation of this change, I've stuck to the wilderness and pretty much explored that completely.  Most of it is forest areas surrounding a lake, with a fence around the perimeter to create a boundary.  So far the rooms and there exits all line up and make sense really well, and the game has been quite simple to map.  I fully expect that this will be right out the window once I get inside the cottage.

The game has already presented some basic obstacles and mysteries.  There's a rowing boat that I haven't tried yet, and a locked gate for which I've yet to find the key.  In one place there's a hole in the perimeter fence you can crawl through, which leads to an area where someone has been digging.  I haven't probed any of these mysteries too hard yet, as I'm in exploration mode.  I like to map as much as possible before I start getting stuck into solving things.

I've solved one puzzle so far, though it barely qualifies as such.  In a cave with numerous entrances (including one behind a waterfall) there's a gambling machine, with a sign reading "PULL THE LEVER IF YOU HAVE A FAUN SHOE TO STAKE".  In a room directly to the south a faun runs through, leaving its shoe behind.  Sure enough, if you pull the machine's lever with the shoe in your possession, you're rewarded with some gold coins.  It's hardly Acheton-level stuff, but it's a start.

Fear my genius.

There are a number of ways to get inside the titular cottage.  I've gone in through the front door, climbed down a well, and crawled through holes in the side of the house.  There's a bathing hut in which the floor collapses when you enter, leaving you in "Thorvald's Room".  I do like a game that rewards exploration, but I have to say that the transition from wilderness to interior can sometimes be a little jarring.  I'm chalking it up to language/culture differences for the moment, and I'll try not to let it bother me too much.

There's one other thing in the game that makes little sense to me, but may possibly be better understood by Swedish players.  In a couple of areas, instead of a room description I've gotten a message saying "You have a half-rotten tomato in your hand but it vanishes".  Following that, I've found myself somewhere inside the cottage, usually in a boiler room.  It's weird and nonsensical, but in a way that jars me out of the game.  If there's anyone who knows what this might be a reference to, I'd love to hear it.

As you may have guessed, Googling "rotten tomato" is of no help.

So far, The Cottage seems to be another in a long line of whimsical fantasy adventure games (it seems to be the thing to do in 1978).  It's very sparse in its descriptions, which is a double-edged sword.  It makes the game less immersive, but it also makes it easier to figure out what's important in each room.  By the time I get to my next post I'll have explored inside the cottage, and I'm hoping that the inconsistent movement inputs don't ruin the experience for me.  Regardless, I expect there'll be enough oddities in the game to keep me amused.  You know, provided I don't just play another 100 hours of Breath of the Wild instead...