Friday, April 24, 2020

Back-Tracking: Colossal Cave Adventure II & Mystery Mansion

Today I'm looking at two text adventures that I played through but didn't comprehensively beat.  (Not that I really beat either of them, because I relied on a walk-through for both.)  This back-tracking project is probably getting a little self-indulgent at this point. Do I really need to be blogging about my attempts to go back through a game trying to get all the points?  Is that something that people want to read about?  Probably not, but it's my blog.  And if I'm stupid enough to spend my time going back to a game just to get a winning screenshot that I'm more satisfied with, then you can damn well bet that I'm going to post about it.  If it's any consolation, this post should be a short one.


I originally played Colossal Cave Adventure II back in 2016.  I recall it as something of a harrowing experience (well, video game harrowing, which is a completely different thing than real life harrowing).  It took me quite a bit of planning to put together a winning run, and even once my plan was in place the game's random elements would thwart my efforts.  I eventually got through it, but for reasons that I'm still unsure about I only ended up with 436 points out of the full 440.  At the time, I was relaxed enough to let that go and move on to the next game.  I don't know what happened to that sweet, innocent young man, because ever since I started getting more serious about the blog those 4 points have been gnawing at me.  I had to go back and at least try to get them.

Going back to this game in such close proximity to playing Don Woods' 430 point version was interesting.  Both games took completely different approaches to expanding on the original.  Woods' approach was to fill things in at the edges, keeping the map exactly the same but adding some small new areas that were difficult to find, and an extra challenge in the form of a time limit.  Jack Pike and Peter Luckett took a different tack, adding on loads of new areas and just making the game much bigger overall.  New mazes, new puzzles, lots of new treasures.  Both of them are difficult in different ways.

I was expecting this revisit to Colossal Cave Adventure II to seriously vex me, but thankfully my old notes were very thorough.  I hadn't quite mapped things out step by step (as I tried to do with Adventure 430), but I did have a guide telling me what order to get the treasures in, and reminding me to take regular drinks (because this game added an irritating thirst mechanic).  I was able to follow my instructions, and the random elements were kind to me, so it only took me a couple of tries to get the four points that had eluded me.


I'm going to ignore that bit about achieving the next higher rating, and call this game done forever.


I only played this game last year, so it was still fairly fresh in my memory.  I did finish it, but I was well down on the 999 points required for a total win.  This game doesn't just require the gathering of treasure, but to get the full amount of points you need to visit pretty much every location, defeat a vampire and a werewolf, solve a murder mystery, and type score whenever you hear a funny noise. Beating this one is a pretty involved process.

I probably didn't give this game enough credit the first time around for its replayability.  With most adventure games, once you've solved all of the puzzles and beaten a game there's not really much point in going back to it (until years down the track, maybe, when you've forgotten everything).  Mystery Mansion includes a bunch of random elements that make replaying the game, and especially playing for points, a challenge.  They're not the bad kind of random, either, like Colossal Cave Adventure's murderous dwarves, but more of a shuffling of elements.  Most notably, the murder to be solved has a different culprit, location, and murder weapon in every game.  (Although, now that I think of it this game does have a bad random element in the form of the Mole Maze, and its ever-shifting pathways. Thankfully you can save just before it and keep trying until you get it right.)

I discovered a few new things that made it easier to solve the murder and collect all of the necessary elements:

  • The warrior who roams around outside carries a parrot.  If you're carrying the parrot, he'll tell you the location of any object in the game.
  • Similarly, the glass orb in the games room can be used to locate any person, which is handy for finding the murderer and the werewolf.
  • There's also the scroll in the library, which crumbles to dust when you try to open it.  The gardener once told me that it could be opened with a magic word, but I never did figure out what to do here.  Reading a walkthrough informed me that I needed to use the passwords from the garden, which are written on the bottom of two bridges.  There are two passwords, but you actually need to say four words: in addition to saying the words forwards you also need to flip them.  This doesn't just mean saying them in reverse, you also need to turn them upside down: a password like HOMIW becomes MIWOH, as you flip the Ms and Ws.  It's pretty tricky to get right, but when you do the scroll opens and tells you everything you need to know about solving the murder.

I mentioned the werewolf above, and I never did find and kill it in my initial play-through.  I only ever met it once, when I fell through a hole to the basement and got killed by it in the dark.  This time I discovered that one of the characters who roams the house will turn into a werewolf after the sun sets, and if you encounter the werewolf it rips you to shreds.  There's a gun that you can find, and a silver bullet, so the solution to killing the wolf is fairly obvious.  The gun has six regular bullets loaded, though, so you need to find something to shoot to empty it before you can use the silver bullet. I found that unloading a bunch of bullets into the elf was pretty satisfying.

Beating this game involved plotting out a path where I visited every location in the game, solved the mystery, killed the vampire, killed the werewolf, called a taxi, and amassed as much treasure as possible at the end of the game.  All the while, I had to pay attention and remember to type SCORE whenever I heard a wolf howl or a woman scream, or I'd lose 2 points each time I forgot.  Thankfully the DOS port has some PC speaker sound effects that made remembering quite a bit easier. I had those turned off when I first played, because they're very annoying, but they're also useful.

Putting all of this together took me a long, long time.  I think I played this game for about 12 hours straight trying to get this right, and I kept falling short of my goal.  I would score around 950 to 960 points, and I just couldn't figure out what I was missing.  As it turned out, there was one location I hadn't gone to: the bottom of a well in the garden.  The garden has three wells, and two of them are impossible to get out of once you climb down.  Going to the bottom of the other one is worth 20 points though, which was a big help in getting me to my goal.

I also figured out that if I left some treasures at the main gate, I could pick them up right at the end, while I'm waiting for the taxi, to score some extra points.  Normally you have to keep the lantern and the compass in your possession, but at the end you don't need to move around anymore, so there's no need.  The only worry with this is that an NPC like the hunter, the woodsman or the warrior will pick them up, but I solved that by murdering all three.

With all of that put together, I was finally able to make a perfect run at this game and score the maximum points.

Goodbye Mystery Mansion. Goodbye forever.

I got the above screen at something like 8 am, after pulling an all-nighter.  That win was a massive relief, let me tell you.

NEXT: I've been playing Rogue, and haven't had any success so far (surprise, surprise).  I figure I'll be at that one for a while.  As far as games I want to return to, there are still a few.  I just got done with the original TRS-80 version of Temple of Apshai, which I'll have a post on shortly.  I want to revisit Richard Garriot's DND1 and play it a bit more in the version that more accurately represents its teletype origins.  There was one monster icon on the start screen of Swords & Sorcery that I never encountered, so I'd like to keep plugging away at that to see if I can get to it.  I'd like to keep playing MUD1 and earn enough points to become a wizard. There's even a perverse part of me that wants to tackle the nigh-impossible task of mapping the entirety of Oubliette, which is definitely balanced for multiplayer and not something I could realistically achieve.  All of those, should keep me busy for a while, I'd say.  I'll try not to make it to the detriment of progressing on my regular chronology.


  1. Sorry, but I'm curious what specifically you did or found this time around in Adventure II allowing 100% completion that thwarted you during your previous playthrough? Or is it that you knew how to achieve it all along but couldn't be bothered to attempt it enough times for the game's random elements to allow achieving it?

    It's not beyond the imagination you might gather a posse of video game historians to form your Oubliette crew and play in tandem with you.

    1. Yeah, I don't know what happened on the play-through where I only got 436 points. I found all the treasures, got to the end, and as far as I know I did everything right. I should have just replayed it back then, but I really must have wanted to move on.

  2. Amazing run on Mystery Mansion. Is that 29 minutes of real time accurate? If so, that's some seriously nice work to optimize a perfect run like that. Only half joking, but you should propose running it for GDQ.

    1. No, that was 29 minutes minus repeated attempts and reloads of certain areas (particularly the mole maze). It definitely took me longer than that.

    2. There was a pretty good Myst run at the last GDQ; it was the Masterpiece one where you could switch between free-roaming and node-movement which allowed some crazy out-of-bounds clips. (Myst 2 and 3 were run at the same time but weren't as interesting.)

      The only text-game I know of people have tried to speedrun is Zork 1 (which has enough RNG I guess is sort of more interesting than typing a walkthrough fast; Mystery Mansion would be interesting too).

  3. ADD: Riven has an interesting Any% variation but it's not really a marathon safe one where you guess a combination code; the runner who does it uses a mathematical string called a superpermutation to be able to guess a bunch of combos quickly (because you just need the right digits somewhere in sequence, you don't have to "reset" every time).

    I've personally held world record at all three modes of Atari 2600 Adventure on two different occasions (once in the early 2000s on Twin Galaxies, once more recently on, although all my records have now been broken).

  4. “Is that something that people want to read about?”

    Yes, absolutely! I appreciate your backtracking posts as they scratch my own OCD itch!