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.

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.