Sunday, August 27, 2017

Acheton: Like Chipping Away at a Mountain

Given that it's been three months since my last post, you might think that I'd have made a lot of progress.  After all, that's like 100 days - plenty of time to finish most games that aren't Moria or The Game of Dungeons v8 (or Fate: Gates of Dawn, for those of you who were reading the CRPGAddict last year).  Well, I have accomplished a lot.  I started reading Pluto by Naoki Urasawa.  I watched every single match in the G-1 Climax tournament.  I completed Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Starwing, Super Castlevania IV, Illusion of Time, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  I read 539 comic books (all Marvels).  What I didn't do was play Acheton.  So while I did loads of other things that were not very taxing on my brain, I studiously avoided playing this dauntingly large game that would require diligence and concentration.  For various reasons, I just wasn't up to it.

I had determined to get back to blogging once the G-1 Climax was over, and thus I also had to return to Acheton.  I wasn't exactly looking forward to it.  The scope, size and difficulty of the game were a real deterrent.  There was also the fact that I had hit a wall with it back in May, not long after my first post.  The prospect of getting back to a game that I felt I had barely scratched the surface of, and that I was already stuck in, wasn't very enticing.

So I've been back at it for a week, and I've had mixed results.  Yes, I've solved a few puzzles, discovered some new areas, and claimed some treasures.  But the new areas I've found have just presented more puzzles I can't solve, and hinted at expansive areas that possibly make the game far larger than I ever expected.  As the title of this post says, it feels like I'm chipping away at a mountain.  I'll keep at it, but don't be surprised if I eventually cave, and start consulting walkthroughs.

It's not all bad news, though.  In the time since I started playing again I've managed to solve three puzzles, and I present their solutions below.

The Ningy: One of the rooms in Acheton has a giant rubber object called a Ningy propped up against the east wall.  If you type GET NINGY, it falls over and a new passage is revealed behind it, where you'll find a Rod (very similar in description to the magic rod from Colossal Cave Adventure, which was used to create a bridge over a chasm), a Rembrant portrait in an art gallery, and a cliff overlooking the ocean.  The portrait is a treasure, but it's too large to take out of the gallery, so that's another puzzle to add to the list.

There's more to the Ningy than is first apparent, though.  Check out what happens when you topple the thing.

There's a clue here, hinting that you've screwed up: the mocking voice that says "I suppose you think you're clever, don't you!"  This immediately put me on guard; messages like this rarely appear in adventure games for no reason.  I didn't figure this one out on my own, though.  When I first got back into the game I played it for a couple of hours before taking some time to read the first few posts on the game over at Renga in Blue.  What I discovered there was that there's another tunnel higher in the wall, and the only way to get to it is to CLIMB NINGY.  If you topple the Ningy first, there's no way to beat the game, and I'm pretty sure that mocking voice is the only clue you get.  It's better than nothing, and it did raise my suspicions, but I probably never would have figured it out on my own.  (So technically I've already consulted help, even though it wasn't from an actual walkthrough.  Nothing else I read at Renga in Blue gave me any hints, though, so I'm in the dark from this point on.)

The higher passage led to an area with a beach, and also a room full of gargoyles and a pot of "London Dry".  The gargoyles are regular statues and have yet to come to life, which surprised me.  As for the "London Dry", taking a DRINK revealed that it was gin.  Drinking it results in you falling unconscious briefly, but if you drink to much you'll die of "cirrhosis of the liver".

As for the beach, this is where the game starts to get scarily expansive.  To the north of the beach is the ocean, and to the south is the desert.  Venturing south results in you becoming lost, and eventually dying of thirst unless random chance leads you back to the beach.  I suspect I'll need to find some way of navigating.  Going too far along the beach leads you into deadly quicksand.  You can swim in the ocean to the north, but I haven't yet found a way to do so without drowning.  The key to crossing the ocean is probably the boat that's on the beach.  You can rig up a sail with a piece of triangular cloth from elsewhere in the caves, but sailing it resulted in me being caught in rough seas and smashed to my death on a coral reef.  There was a message about my boat not having a rudder, so perhaps that's relevant.

Open areas like this make me nervous in adventure games.  With tunnels, things are confined.  You know that there's a limit to the game space, at least theoretically.  Of course there's a limit to outside areas as well, but in my head it doesn't feel that way.  I'm having nightmares of the desert being nothing but hundreds of empty areas, with one necessary item in the middle.  The ocean could be the same.  I'm definitely putting these two on the back-burner for now, because they make me nervous.

Escaping Hades: When you die in Acheton, the game asks if you want to be reincarnated.  If you answer YES, you are brought back to life in the Slab Room, stripped of all your equipment except for the lamp.  It's possible that you lose points as well, but I haven't looked into it.  You might expect that an answer of NO would result in the game ending, but instead you are transported to Hades.  There you'll find a number of famous dead personages engaging in fitting punishments, and also a crystal skull on the ground.

The first time I entered Hades, I discovered that you can leave by typing REINCARNATE.  The game mocks you, but otherwise acts as though you had previously types YES, returning you to the Slab Room with the lamp.  What you can't do is keep the skull: as the game puts it, "The only way skull you're taking with you is your own worthless one."  Obviously, there's another answer.

The clue comes in the Slab Room, where there's a message carved onto a rock: "Abandon hope all ye who enter here - ANON".  The solution is a pretty simple one for those who've played Colossal Cave Adventure and understand how its magic words function: you type ANON while in Hades and you'll be returned to the site of your death with the skull in your possession.  Obviously this isn't always beneficial, as some locations will just kill you again.  The trick is to find a location that you can survive returning to.

The desert: not a great place to come back to life

The Wizard's Greenhouse: Inside the Wizard's Greenhouse there's a giant plant that eats you when you enter.  Around the back of said greenhouse is an exposed root, which is pretty obviously your means for killing this plant.  I tried cutting it and I tried burning it, but those didn't work.  Somewhat counter-intuitively, the answer was to water it.  Apparently such exotic plants are sensitive.  There's a little bit of parser trouble here, because typing WATER ROOT doesn't work; you need to type WATER ROOTS for it to register.  Anyway, with the man-eating plant dead you can enter the greenhouse and claim another treasure: a bundle of rare herbs and spices.

So that's the extent of my success with Acheton so far.  It doesn't feel like much, and I'm not entirely certain what to tackle next.  The Roc that carries me away?  The garden gnome that I can't catch?  The mithril habergeon that freezes me when I touch it?  The Ice Passages?  The Hall of Mirrors? There are so many puzzles, and no obvious solutions.  Figuring them out on my own promises to be super-satisfying, but at the moment it's a frustrating experience.