Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Colossal Cave Adventure: Walking Through

There comes a time in the life of every gamer when he must hang his head in shame.  That time has come for me.  It's not that I'm doing badly with Colossal Cave Adventure.  On the contrary, I believe that I'm very nearly done with it.  No, the problem is that I have broken a sacred tenet of the blog, and resorted to a walkthrough for help.  I'm not sure if I ever said so in a post, but one of the rules I set for myself when starting the blog was that I wouldn't cheat to beat a game.  I've gone back on that rule, and so I hang my head in shame, and hope that my readers can forgive me.

It could be worse, though.  I only used a walkthrough to spoil one puzzle, and I had another one spoiled for me by accident.  I've figured out the rest of the game for myself, and I intend to complete it in the same fashion, unless I become hopelessly, desperately stuck.  After all, I don't want to be bogged down in one game forever.  This time I capitulated too easily though, and I don't intend to do so again.

With that confession out of the way it's time to talk about the game, and I suppose I'll begin with the two puzzles that I had help with solving.  If you recall from my last post, I had encountered a dragon that was sitting on a Persian rug.  The rug is one of the treasures I need to recover, but nothing I tried could move the dragon.  I poured water on it, I poured oil on it, I threw an axe, I threw a trident, I threw a canary.  None of it worked, and I doubt that I would have ever come across the solution on my own.  This is the puzzle I mentioned above, that I spoiled by accident when I saw the solution on the Wikipedia page.  I was reading it for research purposes, and thought I would be pretty safe from spoilers, but that was not the case.  Here's the solution below:

Yes, that's it.  It's clever, and it's certainly funny, but I don't think it plays fair.  The message that displays when you type KILL DRAGON - "With what? Your bare hands?" - is exactly the same message that appears if you try to kill a dwarf, or a troll, or any other creature in the game.  In those instances, if you try to answer the question posed the game will act as if it doesn't understand.  How does the player know that this situation will be any different?  Perhaps I'd be happier about it if the wording had been slightly different, as a way of flagging to the player that this could be the solution.  As it is I'd never have tried this option with the dragon, because it didn't work anywhere else, or even acknowledge that it could work.

The other puzzle I had trouble with, and the one for which I had to consult a walkthrough, involved the room with the emerald shaped like a plover's egg.  I mentioned in my last post that the entry to this room was narrow, and that I had to drop all of my gear to squeeze through.  This included my lamp.  The Plover Room (as it's called) is lit, but there's a dark passage leading away that I was unable to explore.  I figured that there must be some other way into the room, but after exploring every area in the game I was unable to find it.  The solution, as I discovered when I capitulated and looked it up, is one that could only be arrived at by dumb luck and sheer frustration.  It turns out that PLOVER is another magic work, like PLUGH and XYZZY.   Typing it while in the Plover Room will teleport the player to a cavern closer to the surface, and vice versa.  Armed with this knowledge I was able to teleport in with my lamp and explore the dark passage, which led to a room containing a platinum pyramid, the last of the treasures I needed to locate.  Of all the puzzles in the game so far, this is the only one I have genuinely bad feelings about.  At least the KILL DRAGON puzzle is amusing in the way that it trolls the player.  With the PLOVER puzzle there are no clues at all, and it doesn't feel clever or funny.  It just feels cheap.

And now, on to the puzzles that I figured out on my own.  One of those was the troll guarding the bridge, who demanded a treasure for every time I wanted to cross.  Getting across the first time was no problem, as I could give him a golden egg, then use the magic words FEE FIE FOE FOO to return the egg to its original location.  It was crossing the second time that was giving me grief.  I tried giving the troll a gold coin, thinking that I would perhaps only give him a single coin, and therefore not lose the treasure.  No such luck there.  In the area past the troll was a volcano, some rare spices, and a bear locked up with a gold chain.  The spices were a treasure, and giving them to the troll had no apparent effect.  The same went for the gold chain, and the volcano - despite having a pretty cool description - seemed to serve no purpose.  I was at a loss until I figured out that I could TAKE the bear, and it would follow me.  This was obviously the solution, and although it took me a few goes to figure out the correct command I was able to defeat the troll.

THROW BEAR.  Seriously.

The last treasure that I had some difficulty locating belonged to the pirate, who occasionally jumps out and steals all of your treasures, as shown below.

The pirate hides your treasures in the maze, as he says.  This game has two mazes, one with twisty passages all different, and one with twisty passages all the same.  The pirate hides his treasures in the latter.  Mapping that maze was time-consuming, and involved dropping items in each location so that I would always know where I was.  Unfortunately I never had quite enough items to cover every location, but I was able with difficulty to map the whole place out, and I found my stolen treasure in a dead end very deep in the maze.  I also found the pirate's treasure chest, which is another of the items that are needed to complete the game.  I would have liked the chance to put an axe between the pirate's eyes, but I suppose I'll have to settle for stealing his stuff instead.

With the treasures all located and safely deposited in the building on the surface, I started getting a cryptic message.  I can't remember the exact wording, but a voice kept announcing that the cave was now closed, and that I should leave via the main office.  I tried to get out using the magic words, but those no longer worked, and I was starting to panic because my lamp was running out of power.  Eventually, the following occurred, and I was transported to a new area.

This new area seems to be a repository of all the objects used in the game.  It's all a bit meta, and I'm surprised to see such blatant breaking of the fourth wall in a game as old as this one.  I explored around a bit, grabbing various items in case I would need them again.  I should have paid more heed to that warning about not waking the dwarves, though.  In the next area I went to there were loads of snakes, and loads of birdcages.  I released one of the birds, just to see what would happen, and sure enough it chased a snake away as I expected.  Unfortunately, it also woke the dwarves, and they all got up and riddled me with knives.

ADDENDUM: Though I had thought I was nearly finished with the game, I've run into a problem.  I can recover all of the treasures with little difficulty, but for whatever reason I'm not being sent to the final part.  I don't know what I did to trigger the endgame, and none of my wanderings after recovering the treasures have helped.  All of my games are ending with me fruitlessly roaming the caves until my lamp runs out, and I'm not sure what to do.  I guess I'll just keep plugging away at it, and hope I stumble into the solution, because I'm determined not to look up the answer.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Colossal Cave Adventure: The Joys of Cave Exploration

I can't express how refreshing Colossal Cave Adventure has been after months of primitive RPGs, and especially Moria.  I love RPGs, but sometimes they can devolve into repetition, following patterns in order to increase the numbers that drive your success.  I don't mind this style of gameplay, as long as I'm able to continuouly explore new areas and find interesting things.  Colossal Cave Adventure is nothing but exploration and finding cool things, and I'm really digging it.

At this point I think I've mapped most of the game.  It's always hard to be certain of this in text adventures, though.  There are often directions you can go that aren't mentioned in the area descriptions, and I'm paranoid that I've overlooked some.  I try to test all of the directions in every location, but they can be easy to miss.  On top of that, the directions of the exits don't always match up between locations; just because you got somewhere by going north, doesn't mean that going south will take you back to where you came from.  So yeah, I have more trouble mapping text adventures than I do RPGs.  I doubt that's going to change.

Mapping problems aside, though, I've been finding lots of cool areas, locating some of the treasures I need to complete the game, and running into some puzzles that I haven't solved yet.  Here are a few of the more interesting things that have happened.

  • There are a number of treasures that are lying around unguarded, not far from the entrance.  Near the Hall of the Mountain King I found some jewellery, some gold coins, and some silver bars.  A little farther away from that I found some diamonds.  These items are all easy to get, and easy to return to the building so that I can claim points for finding them.  I don't think I'll need these to solve any puzzles, except for the coins.  I might need those to buy batteries, but I'll discuss that later.
  • North of the Hall of the Mountain King is a room with a rock inscribed with Y2.  Sometimes when I enter this room, a hollow voice says "PLUGH".  I tried typing the word myself, and it works the same as XYZZY: it teleports me from Y2 to the outside building, and vice versa.  It's really useful, far moreso than XYZZY has been.  I don't know why this word didn't become the iconic one.
  • In my last post I mentioned a gold nugget that was too heavy to get up the stairs.  The solution to this problem was simple, as I was able to carry it to Y2 and use PLUGH to take the nugget to the surface.
  • Deeper in the caves, in the "Oriental Room", I found a vase.  This was one of the treasures (you can tell which items are treasures, because they're marked with an exclamation point), but every time I tried to drop it, it smashed on the floor.  The solution was to take a pillow from a room nearby and drop that before dropping the vase.  I like the puzzles in this game so far; they make sense, and lack the obtuseness that adventure games often suffer from.
  • At the bottom of a pit there's a small beanstalk that cries out for water.  The game gives you a bottle of water at the beginning, so this is an easy puzzle to solve, although you do have to water the beanstalk twice before it's large enough to climb.  At the top of the beanstalk is a Giant's Room.  There's no giant to be seen (thankfully), but there is a nest full of golden eggs.  There is also a sign that says FEE FIE FOE FOO, and after a bit of experimentation I discovered that typing all four words (one at a time) returns the egg to the nest in this room.  I think I know which puzzle this will help me solve.
  • Near the Giant Room is a huge door with rusted hinges; I needed to fill my empty water bottle with oil so that I could get this door open and find the trident inside.  The trident is a treasure, but it's also needed to open a giant clam elsewhere in the caves.  The clam has a pearl in it, which rolls several areas away when the clam is opened.  You wouldn't believe how long it took me to find that pearl, when all I had to do was go Down twice.
  • Quite deep in the caves there is a tight tunnel that I can only squeeze through by dropping all of my stuff.  There's an emerald in there, and I'm able to retrieve that with no trouble.  There's also a dark tunnel, and I'm afraid to explore it without my lamp.  I suppose that I need an alternate light source, or perhaps an alternate path into the room, but I'm yet to find either.
  • There's an area in the maze that is called Witt's End.  I stumbled into it during my first few hours playing the game, and I was completely unable to escape.  Every direction I took just led me back to Witt's End, and none of my items were able to help me.  I've avoided it ever since, but I get the feeling I'll have to return there eventually.
  • Near Y2 is an area with a window overlooking a chasm.  Across the chasm I can see a figure waving at me from another window.  I haven't been able to figure out what purpose he serves yet.  I've been able to get to the opposite window, but when I looked out the figure was on the other side, near Y2.  I've got no idea how I'm going to corner this bugger.
  • I've also found a dragon sitting on a persian rug.  The rug is a treasure, but of course I need to remove the dragon before I can take it, and so far none of my items have worked.  Thankfully the dragon doesn't try to kill me, but I'm also unable to kill it.  I have no clue about this one.
  • There's bridge guarded by a troll, who demands a treasure every time you try to cross.  I've worked out how to get across the first time, by giving him the golden egg and then using FEE FIE FOE FOO to make the egg return to its nest.  I haven't been able to work out how to get back across without losing another treasure, though.
  • There are two treasures to be found across the bridge: some exotic spices, and a golden chain.  The spices are unguarded, but the chain is around the neck of an angry bear.  I was able to calm the bear by giving it food, but the chain was locked.  Suprisingly, the keys found at the very beginning of the game are able to unlock it.  I had thought they wouldn't be useful aside from unlocking the grate, but they work here as well.  Still, even though I know where these two treasures are, I'll need to solve the troll situation before I can claim them.
  • The lamp is invaluable, as without it you will be exploring in the dark, which inevitable leads you to fall into a pit and break every bone in your body.  Of course, the lamp eventually runs out of batteries, and once that happens it's effectively game over.  There's a battery vending machine in one of the mazes, and I guess that I'll need to use a coin to buy a replacement.  I've tested it, and the coins disappear when I do this, so I'd like to avoid it.  I'm pretty sure that I can complete the game before my lamp runs out, once I know all the puzzle solutions.
  • The game provides you with food and water at the beginning, but at no point do you need to eat or drink.  I was half expecting to deal with this, but it turns out they are just puzzle items.
  • I spent a good deal of time visiting areas and waving the rusty rod around, just to see what it might do.  I was pleased to discover that it creates a crystal bridge across one of the chasms, but in reality it's a pointless shortcut that saves very little time.
  • The knife-throwing dwarves that I mentioned in the last post can kill you, but you get the option to be reincarnated.  I tried it out, and it sent me back to the beginning and subtracted some points from my score, as well as emptying my inventory.  I'm trying to get the full score of 350, so I won't be bothering with this again.
  • There's a pirate who occasionally appears, steals my treasure, then boasts about how he's going to hide it in a chest in one of the mazes.  I haven't fully explored the mazes yet, so I have no idea where the chest is hidden.

I feel like I'm about halfway through the game. I've successfully returned ten of the treasures to the building, and I've found two more.  I also know where the rug is, even if I don't know how to get it.  My score is around 180, which reinforces the feeling that I'm about halfway done.  My next move will probably be to explore the mazes, which remain the areas of the game that I've steered clear of thus far.  One of them is a maze of "twisty passages all different", and the other is a maze of "twisty passages all alike".  I don't look forward to exploring either, though I have developed some tactics in this regard from playing Zork.  I'm enjoying the hell out of this game, and can't wait to finish this post and get back to playing it, so forgive me if I end things here.  I got caves to explore.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Game 5: Colossal Cave Adventure (1977)

Though I'm net yet out of the PLATO RPG wilderness, it's time to move ahead to something entirely different.  I haven't finished with Moria, and probably won't for a long time, but a blog needs to be fed.  And so I come to Adventure, also known as Colossal Cave Adventure, the first ever text adventure game.

The original version of Adventure was developed by programmer Will Crowther.  Crowther was also a caving enthusiast, and much of the game was modelled after his experiences exploring the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky.  Crowther's game is not the version that most people played, though.  In 1976, a student at Stanford University named Don Woods discovered Adventure, and set about expanding it.  He did so with Crowther's blessing, and greatly added to the fantasy elements of the game.

The influence of Adventure cannot be understated.  It directly influenced Ken and Roberta Williams to found Sierra On-Line, and was the progenitor of an entire genre of games.  Not only that, but it was later released commercially for systems such as MS-DOS and Commodore 64, and has been rewritten and expanded even further by a multitude of programmers over the years.

The question that faces me at this point is: which version should I play?  Crowther's original is out there, and I've messed around with it and mapped it, but it's incomplete.  There's no real goal as such, and no point-scoring system, and many of the areas are unfinished.  It's a fascinating historical curiosity, but not a complete game.  The commercially released versions, as well as the expanded versions made after Don Woods' involvement, would be playable, but they fall well out of the time-frame that I'm currently exploring.  I may revisit them at a later date, but for the moment I'm sticking with the 1970s.

I'll be playing the Don Woods version, also known as Adventure 350 due to the number of points scored in the game for solving all of the puzzles.  It's the earliest version, it's the most well-known, and to be perfectly honest it's the one I'm most interested in.  Finding a copy of this isn't difficult, but finding one that runs on Windows 7 is a bit harder.  I'm running it using Dosbox, and that seems to work fine, though I'm not certain whether the version of Adventure that I got has any added features that were not in the original.

When the game first loads, it asks if you want to read the instructions.  Typing 'YES' brings up the screen above, which tells you that the goal of the game is to enter Colossal Cave and look for treasure.  The rest of the instructions confirm what I already expected: this is going to be a traditional text adventure, with loads of typing and a command parser and all the frustration that entails.  I'm actually a little bit surprised that the game accepts abbreviations like N, in lieu of typing GO NORTH.  I'd expected that was something that would be introduced later in the genre, but here it is right at the beginning.  It's a pleasant surprise.

Typing 'INFO' as instructed brings up another screen that gives more information about scoring in the game.  You get points for finding the various treasures, and more points for bringing them back to the building at the start of the game.  Points are also awarded for finding certain areas, and it also mentions a "master's section", which I don't like the sound of.

The adventure begins, as you can see above, with you standing in a forest next to a building, with a gleaming tower in the distance.  Obviously the house is the first thing I should explore, and after a bit of trial and error I found that I could enter by going west (by typing W), and also by typing IN, and even HOUSE.  In fact, typing HOUSE anywhere on the surface brings you back here, which has been quite handy in the instances that I've become disoriented.

Inside the house I found a set of keys, some food, a bottle of water, and a lamp.  The influence of this game on Zork is very strong.  No doubt this is the building that I have to return all of the treasures to, and I'll be coming back here quite a lot during my quest.

Next I went to the tower, but there wasn't a lot that I could do there.  The door was firmly closed, and I couldn't unlock it with the keys (unless I haven't used the right command, which is always a caveat when playing these kinds of games).  A curious sign on the tower read "NO ENTRY DANGER PARTICLES AT WORK".  This made no sense to me, so I made a note of it and left to explore further.

Aside from the house and the tower, there's not much to see on the surface.  The forest feels larger than it really is, because it often randomises your destination when you leave, and it can feel like you are lost at times.  The only thing to do is to follow the stream down through a valley to a locked grate.  The keys unlock the grate, and it's a simple matter then to go down into Colossal Cave.

At first the cave is quite linear.  It begins in a small chamber.  Away from this chamber the caves are dark, and I needed to light my lamp to explore further.  West from there is a tunnel, where I found an empty wicker cage.  West of that is a room full of debris.  On the floor I found a three foot black rod, topped with a rusty star, but of more interest was a note on the wall.

XYZZY!  I've seen this work referenced before, and I knew it was from Adventure, but I never really knew the context of it before.  I did a bit of experimentation, and worked out that if I type XYZZY while in this room I am teleported to the building on the surface.  Likewise, if I type it while in the building, I'm teleported back to this room.  It doesn't work anywhere else, alas.  I suppose it's handy, but it doesn't really save much time.  I expect it will be used to solve a puzzle later on.

Heading west led through a canyon and into a cave where a bird was singing.  I tried to get the bird, but no matter what I tried (GET BIRD, USE CAGE, WAVE ROD) it always flew away from me.  I tried dropping the cage and leaving the room, and I tried putting food in the cage (you can't).  In the end I resorted to typing HELP, as the game had instructed earlier.  That brings up a screen that mostly tells you ways to navigate the game, and also that you can look at what you are carrying by typing INVENTORY (or I).  Of most interest to me, though, is a note that there is a black rod in the caves that scares the bird.  I was a little miffed that the solution to the first puzzle was given away like that, but then again I did go to that screen seeking hints.  I dropped the rod, and was easily able to get the bird in the cage.  I'd "solved" the first puzzle, but that was all the help the game was going to give me.  The rest I'd have to do on my own.

Further west was a pit, with stairs leading down to a room full of mist.  To the west was an impassable fissure.  I went south and found a room containing a huge nugget of gold.  A note on the wall read "You won't get it up the stairs", and sure enough, after I picked up the nugget I found that I was unable to climb back up.  I left the nugget behind (as it was heavy, and I'd had to discard some items to pick it up), and decided to explore for an alternate route to the surface.

At this point a dwarf appeared, threw an axe at my head, and ran away.  I'm not sure if I could have died here.  Normally I would think not in this kind of game, but it's always hard to say when you're exploring the earliest days of a genre, before the conventions were set.  Regardless, I was able to retrieve the axe, and felt a little bit safer for it.

Heading north I came to the Hall of the Mountain King, which sounded suitably epic.  The first hint of danger was introduced, as a huge green snake was blocking my way onwards.  I didn't have much trouble with this, to be honest.  The first thing I tried was to release the bird from its cage, and sure enough it chased the snake away.  I'm not sure if I've encountered a similar puzzle in a later game, or if there's a mythological story that it's drawing from, but the answer popped into my head right away.  I'm good at this!

At that point a hostile dwarf wandered into the room, and hurled a knife at me.  It missed, but I started to panic.  Nothing I seemed to type was working.  I tried KILL DWARF and HIT DWARF, but the game seemed incredulous that I would try to do so with my bare hands.  I tried KILL DWARF WITH AXE before remembering that the parser only accepts two word commands.  Eventually I settled on THROW AXE, and that worked.  My axe hit home, and the dwarf vanished in a "puff of smoke" (or as I prefer to imagine it, a "gout of blood").  (You may notice that the "puff of smoke" isn't shown in the screen-grab below.  Confession time: most of these images were created after the fact, with me trying to recreate the original occurrence.  I couldn't get the puff of smoke this time.)

After this I did a bit more exploring, and hit the mother lode.  South of the Hall of the Mountain King, I found some jewellery.  To the west, I found some gold coins.  To the north, I found some bars of silver.  No doubt these were some of the treasures I was looking for, and if I added that gold nugget from earlier I had already discovered four of them.  I tried to load up, only to discover that I couldn't carry anything else.  It looked like an inventory limit was something I would have to contend with, and it wasn't just restricted to the heavy gold nugget as I'd hoped.

At this point I got a bit lost while wandering around, and couldn't find my way back to familiar territory.  Then, horror of horrors, I encountered this nightmare.

I mentioned this game's influence on Zork earlier, but I hadn't realised exactly how strong it was.  I had stumbled into a maze of twisty passages, all different.  You'll notice that each one has a different description, and I could probably use this to map them.  Not right now, though.  Right now I'm too dismayed, and I'm having horrible Zork flashbacks, and I need to have a little lie down.  It's time to quit and start again.

Despite this setback, though, I'm having a lot of fun with Adventure.  It's surprisingly sophisticated, and the emphasis on exploration and puzzle-solving is a welcome relief from Moria and the other RPGs I've been playing.  I'm pretty excited to load it up and try again.