Sunday, July 12, 2020

Haunt: Hollow Victory

Well, I'm done with Haunt.  I didn't beat it on my own.  I didn't even come close to beating it on my own.  I've played through games with difficult puzzles before, but wow.  As you're going to see below, this one takes it to a whole different level.

Before I get into the things I needed help with, I'll deal with the one thing that I did figure out on my own: getting down from the balcony.  In previous games, I'd found a balcony at the back of the mansion, which can be reached by climbing some ivy.  Unfortunately, the ivy isn't all that sturdy, and climbing back down safely isn't possible.  The balcony leads to a bedroom and a bathroom, where some treasures (a piece of jade and a gem) can be found.  There's a boarded up door that I assumed would eventually connect me to the rest of the house, but that ended up being irrelevant.  The item I'd been missing here was the bed itself, the mattress to be specific.  On a whim I tried taking it, and was surprised that it worked.  I was able to drag the mattress to the balcony, throw it to the ground, and use it to jump safely down.

This also allowed me to solve the puzzle of the dry garden bed.  Using the empty turpentine bottle, I was able to gather some water from the bathroom, and pour it on the garden.  An orchid grew there, but that was as far as I got on my own.  Figuring out what the orchid was for required a lot of "outside the box" knowledge, knowledge that was well beyond my areas of expertise.  Actually, it's adjacent to one of my areas of expertise, but I'll get into that later.

And now for the things I needed help with.  I'll tackle them in order of reverse difficulty, at least as I see it, and finish up with the two puzzles that allow you to escape from the mansion.

Following the Wire

I've mentioned before that when you enter the house there's an Alice Cooper record playing in a room upstairs.  You can silence it by going to that room and pulling a wire.  I thought that was all there was to it, but there's quite a bit more.

Before I get there, I should mention the cube of LSD that can be found in the fridge.  If you eat it, you get a vision of a moose that says the words "Fa lowe, why her?"  It's nonsense written down, but when you say it out loud it sounds like an instruction to... yep, FOLLOW WIRE.

The wire that you pull to silence Alice first leads to a secret room, where you find some marijuana.  At that point you might think the puzzle is done, but if you keep following the wire it leads down to the ground floor and into another secret alcove where you find the stereo that was playing the music.

The stereo, the marijuana and the LSD are all treasures, but you need to be careful about the latter two; if they're stashed with your other treasures at the end of the game, you get carted away to prison for possession of drugs.  To get full points, you need to take both of these to the lawn outside, then eat the LSD and smoke the marijuana.  Just remember to smoke the marijuana away from your other items, or you'll get the munchies and consume a bunch of them.

The Chest at the Bottom of the Ocean

There's a treasure chest at the bottom of the ocean, guarded by an octopus.  Wrestling will defeat the octopus, but it turns out that the chest is too heavy to get back to the surface.  You need to tie a rope to it, swim back up to the bathysphere, and pull the chest inside using the rope.  It's simple and logical, but I sure never thought if it.

Defeating Dracula

Dracula is sleeping in a casket in a dark room on the upper floor.  If you open the casket he gets out and approaches you, but he's easy enough to escape from because he won't leave the room.  A book in the library gives you some hints about killing vampires, but it doesn't say anything that isn't just common vampire-killing knowledge.

The first part of this puzzle is one of those things that I'd have no hesitation in trying in a tabletop RPG, but would never expect to work in a text adventure.  When Dracula approaches, you need to CROSS CANDLESTICKS.  This forms a cross, which causes Dracula to turn into a bat and fly up to the upstairs lab, the highest room in the building.

In the lab, you need to find some way to break the roof and let the sunlight in.  The answer is to... KICK FOOTBALL? Look, don't ask me where the football came from.  At some point during this adventure, an NFL football appears in your inventory, seemingly out of nowhere.  Kicking it busts a hole in the roof, and the sunlight kills Dracula and allows you to claim his diamond ring.

The Safe

This one's a doozy.  There's a safe in a hallway on the mansion's ground floor, and it requires three digits to open.  If you put the wrong combination in, you get the following message: "The safe must be a new version."  This is a clue to the combination, which just happens to be the date of the version of the game you're playing; this can be discovered by using the NEWS command to check out the latest developments in the game.  Inside the safe is some money.  Kudos to redhighlander, who wrote this invaluable walkthrough, for solving this puzzle, because I have no idea how you would ever get there.  I admire the ingenuity of it, but I'm also annoyed at just how far beyond my capabilities it is.  At least this one is solvable just using information from the game...

The Giant Eel

In the underground sea there's a dark tunnel.  It leads to a couple of different areas, one of which has a giant eel guarding some pearls.  This eel is decidedly hostile, and strangles you to death one move after you enter the room.  You need help to defeat it, but finding that help isn't so easy.

The first step involves digging up a conch on the beach, and blowing on it.  This summons a sea serpent, whose name is Cecil.  The game doesn't tell you this; you have to figure it out from a cryptic note that's in an underwater cave: the relevant part reads "Take care of _ec_l and he will take care of you".  Typing PET CECIL endears the sea serpent to you, and he calls you Beanie and tells you that "if you ever need help, you know what to say".  No Cecil, no I do not know what to say.

Other readers will be aware of the significance of the names Beanie and Cecil, but this is a pop culture reference that's completely lost on me.  Apparently they were cartoon characters from the 1960s, but if that cartoon ever aired in Australia it was certainly out of rotation by the time I was watching TV.

(Now that I think of it, I wasn't completely unaware of Beany and Cecil.  One of my areas of expertise is X-Men comics, and there's a very minor villain called Warstar, who is actually a small robot named B'Nee riding on the shoulders of a big robot named C'cil.  At one point I'd read about these character's being named after Beany and Cecil, but it took researching this post to dredge that knowledge back up.)

Anyway, to get the sea serpent to help you against the giant eel, you need to type HELP CECIL HELP, which I gather is a catchphrase from the show.  That's the only command that works, and when you use it Cecil shows up and saves your life.

Avoiding Insanity

I'm not even sure where to begin with this.

I guess explaining the insanity would be a good start.  If you play this game long enough, the stress of exploring the house gets to you, driving you insane and causing you to commit suicide.  It's framed as a family disease, and a note from your father mentions that there's a crop that could cure it.  I should show a screenshot of that whole note, because it's important.

He addresses you as "Bas", and mentions a red-headed wife; these details are relevant to the solution, but you're not going to get the answer unless your familiar with the long-running comic strip, Brenda Starr, Reporter.  Unfortunately for me, while I am extremely familiar with comic books, comic strips are a bit of a blind spot for me.  Brenda Starr ran for about 70 years, and her love interest was a man named Basil St. John.  Wikipedia mentions that St. John had a black orchid serum, and he did marry the red-headed Brenda during the strip, so the details all match up to the protagonist of Haunt.

To cure the insanity you need to eat the orchid, but for most players that's not going to work.  Only Basil St. John can eat the orchid and win the game, but playing as him is not a given.  The only way to do that is to give Basil St. John as your name when prompted at the start of the game.  It's insanely devious to put a puzzle like that in a place that a player would never expect a puzzle, it's just a shame that the reference is so obscure.  Well, it's obscure to me, anyway; the strip was made into a movie starring Brooke Shields and Timothy Dalton, so it must have been pretty well known in its day.

Escaping the Mansion

Solving the puzzles above is all well and good, but it's of no use if you can't leave the house.  The front door is locked, and there are no windows to escape through, so a more creative means of escape is required.  It comes via the elevator.  The elevator has five buttons: B, P, H, HALT and OPEN DOOR.  B, P and H all lead to a different floor of the house (although the P button just opens to a wall that says it's under construction).  The trick is to press the HALT button, but it's hard to figure out when, as there are no opportunities to enter commands while the elevator is moving.

Doing this requires a five word command: PRESS P THEN PRESS HALT.  Apparently Haunt has a five-word parser, which was news to me when I read this in a walkthrough; the vast majority of the game can be solved with two word commands.  This one requires the full five, though, and entering the command causes the lift to stop between floors.  Then you can climb out and climb on top of the lift, where you'll find an alien device with two buttons on it: WAY OUT and NORMAL.  Pressing NORMAL causes the lift to break, but if you press WAY OUT and then get in the lift and use it, it transports you to the lawn outside the house.  You'll need to do this a couple of times, mostly because you need the empty bottle to collect the bathwater for the garden as well as the water from the fountain of youth.

Escaping the Mansion Grounds

The final puzzle is to get outside of the wall surrounding the mansion grounds, and compared to the previous ones it's pretty simple.  You might recall that there's a grave in the northeast corner, which you can dig up to find a bone.  This is a bone from the Missing Link, and one of the game's treasures.  If you keep digging there's a pipe and a lever, and flipping the lever causes the pipe to burst. Wait around long enough and a maintenance guy arrives to fix it.  You need to hide in his truck, and eventually he'll drive back out through the gate, which takes you to the endgame.

At the end of the game, you are met by James Watt (President Reagan's Secretary of the Interior at the time, and something of an anti-environmentalist).  He offers to buy the land for $10 million, promising that the government won't sell it, but might lease out some mineral rights.  Selling the land ends up being a bad idea...

The other option you're given is to donate the land, and keep it preserved in its current state.  Doing this results in a much more favourable ending, though perhaps not so great for James Watt.

I managed to finish with the full 440 points.  The walkthrough that I linked to earlier ends with 435, as it neglects to take the LSD cube out to the lawn.  Just remember to eat it after getting those 5 points, or you'll end up in prison.

The full list of treasures is below.  You get 15 points for finding each one, and a further 5 points for each one you drop on the lawn.

  • Antique Chair
  • Money
  • Stereo
  • Painting
  • Marijuana
  • Diamond Corkscrew
  • LSD Cube
  • Unicorn Horn
  • Silver Candlesticks
  • Water from the Fountain of Youth
  • Gem
  • Jade
  • Coins
  • Treasure Chest
  • Conch
  • Pearls
  • Diamonds
  • Gold
  • Diamond Ring
  • Football
  • Bone

So I'm finally done with Haunt, which never would have happened if I hadn't looked up the answers.  The game is an odd mix of perfectly logical puzzles, puzzles that are very clever, and puzzles that are very clever but require knowledge of incredibly specific pop culture.  I enjoyed a lot of the writing and the humour, and I was certainly impressed by the ideas behind the puzzles once I looked up the answers, but I'm not sure I liked it much as a game after my first few sessions.  Lets's run it through the RADNESS Index and see how it fares.


Story & Setting: In terms of background, and the way that background feeds into the puzzles, I feel like this one is ahead of its time.  Most games of this era use the story setup as a simple framing device that has very little bearing on the game-play, but in Haunt the background is important, as asre the other details introduced via notes scattered through the mansion.  It didn't quite come together as a narrative in the way that I hoped for, but it's streaks ahead of its contemporaries.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There aren't a lot of characters to interact with, and those are generally there just for a single interaction, but at least there is some humour to be had from them.  The monsters are a weird mix of haunted house staples (a Dracula, a Frankenstein, a ghost) and hostile sea creatures.  It's not bad in this area, but adventure games aren't going to score high here until some proper opportunities for conversation and interaction come up.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a text adventure, but it's a well-written one.  There's a definite style to the prose, and some of the gags made me smile.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Puzzles: This is a tough one.  The game has a bunch of standard adventure game puzzles that are quite well executed.  It also has some puzzles that are extremely clever, and some that require knowledge from outside of the game.  I frown on the latter somewhat, although I'm not completely opposed to it.  I do think the references should generally err on the side of common knowledge, and Haunt's references are far from that.  I think I'll be generous here, and give it the points for being clever.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: The game ran very smoothly, and I had little in the way of parser trouble.  That said, I did get through a lot of the game using a walkthrough, so I had the answers and required commands in front of me.  I'll have to split the difference here. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: This might be vying with Acheton as the hardest adventure game I've played.  It probably doesn't beat that one, because Acheton is not just hard but also absurdly long.  But like Acheton, there are puzzles that I would never have figured out no matter how long I thought about them.  Partly because I'm not smart enough, but also because I just didn't know the pop cultural references.  It's obviously not impossible, as other players have figured it out, but it's well beyond the difficulty level that I'd consider enjoyable. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: Most of the enjoyment I got from this game came from the writing.  The actual gameplay and puzzle solving came achingly slowly, and I never found myself looking forward to playing.  I enjoyed going through the walkthrough much more than playing the game itself. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 19, which doubled gives Haunt a RADNESS Index of 38.  That's very respectable indeed: it's up near the top of the adventure game rankings with Acheton, Battlestar, and Colossal Cave Adventure.  That seems about right; it's quite a solid adventure game if you play it straight without worrying about scoring full points.

NEXT: It's back to the safe, straightforward arms of Scott Adams, as I take on The Count.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Haunt: Uncomfortably Dumb

Once again, my progress in Haunt has been painstakingly slow.  I mentioned early on that I've become trepidatious about mainframe text adventures, and I thought it was because they were longer than the games on home computers.  That could still be part of it, but they're also harder.  The prime audience for these things would have been college students with an interest in computers, and back in 1979 that meant you were smart.  I, on the other hand, am dumb, at least in comparison.  (On the subject of my own intelligence, I like to say that I'm either the dumbest smart guy in the room, or the smartest dumb guy.)  Games like Acheton, Zork and Haunt make me feel very stupid, and I DO NOT LIKE IT.  Perhaps that's why I prefer CRPGs - most of the time if you're bad at a game you can still brute force your way to victory.  With difficult text adventures, if you're not smart enough then you're just outta luck.  Go play Space Invaders, dummy!

That said, I did manage to make some progress.  Not a lot, but enough that the last fortnight wasn't a total loss.

The first thing I figured out was how to get to the unicorn head mounted on the dining room wall, which was too high for me to reach.  As I suspected, I was able to climb on the stool from the bar.  The head was too firmly attached to the wall to take, but the horn came away easily enough.  Taking it gave me some points, which means it's one of the treasures I need to find.  Whether it has any further use, I have no idea.

I also fully explored the underwater sea.  The sea measures 6 rooms by 6 rooms, and when I first explored it I didn't find anything.  I soon figured out that going up took me to the surface, where I killed a sea monster and found a beach with a fountain of youth.  What took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out is that I could also go down: the 6 x 6 ocean was also 6 rooms deep.  I didn't even figure this out, really.  I actually went into the water with something heavy in my inventory, and got dragged to the bottom.

On the bottom I found an octopus guarding a treasure chest.  My first instinct was to kill it with my speargun, but I'd already used that to kill the sea monster on the surface.  I tried FIGHT OCTOPUS, just on the off chance. It didn't work, but the message it returned said that I'd be "just the sort to wrestle an octopus".  I took the hint, and tried WRESTLE OCTOPUS, which worked.  The dragon puzzle in Colossal Cave Adventure had primed me for this one.  Unfortunately, the chest was too heavy for me to take up the the surface, so I need to come back to this one.

In the cliff to the east I found a tunnel, which led to two areas of note.  One featured a giant eel, which knocked the speargun out of my hand before squeezing me to death.  I had the chance to enter one command before dying, but my choice of PLEASE LET GO was not the right one.

Glad this is a text adventure, because I've had nightmares about
video game eels in the past.

The other area was a cave, where I found some diamonds and a dead body with a note.

Impressive that John Laird predicted 1998 Aussie drama Seachange sixteen
years early.

I have no idea what relevance Diver Dan may have, not to mention B___ie and _ec_l.  The first one could be Bennie, or Bertie, or Bessie, but none of those is helpful.

North of the sea is a beach, and the fountain of youth.  I did some digging in the sand, and found a conch.  I also gathered up some of the water in an empty bottle.  Earlier I had found a dry garden bed, and my intention was to pour this water over it.  The problem is, I still haven't figured out how to get back outside of the house, so I'm a bit stymied.

The only other thing I did was eat the LSD cube from the fridge.  Previously this had made me act erratically and at seeming random, but this time it gave me a vision where a moose said "Fa Lowe, why her?"  Once again, I'm stumped.  It seems like every little bit of progress I make just gives me something even more baffling.

Haunt hasn't exactly done wonders for my productivity on the blog, and when you pair it with Rogue (which I guess is the exception to my "brute force" strategy that I mentioned above) it feels like I've accomplished very little of late.  With that in mind, I'm going to try to make next weekend's post my final one for Haunt.  I've no doubt that I'll be hitting some walkthroughs, so expect me to be extra guilty and ashamed of myself next time around.