Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Cottage: Nine Floors, Zero Clues

After mostly exploring the wilderness in my last post, I've moved onto the interior of the titular cottage.  This gave me a taste of this game's idiosyncratic method of navigation: it uses compass directions when you're outside, and the commands LEFT, RIGHT, FORWARD and BACK to move around inside.

To be honest, this wasn't as irritating as I had thought it would be.  The big sticking point I had was whether the directions would be fixed or relative to your own position.  What I mean is, if I enter an area will FORWARD and BACK always take me to the same place, or will it change depending on which entrance I came through?  Thankfully, the directions are fixed.  It doesn't make much sense, and it doesn't really justify not using compass directions, but it does make mapping easier than it would have been otherwise.  Relative directions could work in a game where the geography is well-defined, but The Cottage is definitely not that game.

I had a moment of panic early on when I stumbled into a lift, and saw that the cottage has 9 levels.  This gave me some horrible flashbacks to the sprawling size of Acheton, but I don't think that this game is all that big.  The geography twists and turns a lot, though, and it's almost impossible to know what floor you're supposed to be on.  There are loads of paths between levels aside from the lift, and a combination of terse language and general weirdness can make it rather difficult to navigate.  I feel like I've mapped most of the cottage interior (about 50 areas), although there is definite room for expansion.  I've found the lift entrances for levels 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9, so there are obviously floors I haven't been to yet.

Some places and points of interest within the cottage are as follows:

  • One room had a curtain, which I was "too weak to move".  Setting aside all discussions of my actual strength, I was able to get through by solving a few puzzles.  In one room I found some keys, which I used to open a case in another room, which gave me a sledgehammer which I used to break a glass box in yet another room to get some scissors.  With those scissors I cut through the curtain, and behind it I found a room full of animals.
  • I wasn't able to enjoy that Animal Room for long though, because I was transported to a random location.  There's a lot of that in this game.  One minute you're happily exploring, the next you're just somewhere else, and it can get very annoying.  This is part of the "general weirdness" I was talking about above, and it's not always apparent why it's happening.
  • When you die, the game gives you the option of being resurrected.  If you choose YES, you find yourself at the bottom of a grave with a priest looking down at you, all depicted in ASCII art.

  • In one room I found a phone that was ringing.  Upon answering it, I was asked for my name, and then congratulated for finding a phone.  There are phone sockets throughout the house, so I'll have to try plugging it in at various points.

  • There's an old man in a dark room, who refuses to let go of his pearl necklace and water bottle.  I tried to kill him, but he noticed the vicious gleam in my eye and ran away.  Elsewhere I found a smelly cucumber, and I'm going to try giving it him, because I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing an old man would want.
  • The lift has an engine room.  At first it was empty, but later on I followed a lift repairman inside and saw an open hatch in the ground.  This led to a "vestibule", where a guard with a bejewelled halberd was stationed.  I subsequently got lost and couldn't find my way back here, so I'm not sure what the guard does, if anything.
  • In one room is a dark window, which I broke to find a crowbar inside.  Unfortunately, the noise attracted a fellow named Thorvald, who took the crowbar as payment for the window.  I've met Thorvald in a number of places, and it seems that he might be a sort of antagonist for the whole game.  I've been in his bedroom, as well as that of a fellow named Osvald, who I met in the kitchen.
  • One room has an "automatic machine", which asks you to deposit items in exchange for points.  I suspect that this is where you place the game's various treasures.  It asks specifically for a "picture", so it might be that I need to deposit the treasures in a specific order.  The second time I went there I was killed by a bomb, so it seems you only get one crack at it.
  • There's Staff Kitchen, in which I encountered Osvald as well as a very angry faun who tried to kill me with a knife.  Afterwards the floor collapsed, dumping me elsewhere.  It's another one of those "transported to a random location" bits I mentioned above.

And no,  have no idea what "quarking a praktyl" means.

  • Speaking of fauns, there's a room I can't enter because one of them keeps stepping on my feet.  Maybe I need better shoes?
  • I found a room that was labelled Big Turning Labyrinth, and promptly got the heck out of there.  I hate old-school adventure game labyrinths, so I'm leaving this until last.
  • In a similar vein, there's a bit where a boiler explodes and opens a hole into a large cavern.  It had the makings of another maze/labyrinth, so I've ignored that as well.  I hate mazes, you guys.
  • This may have been a fever dream, but at some point I stumbled into a lengthy performance of the Muppet Show.  I can't remember where it was, and I didn't get a screen-cap.  It was very late at night, so I can't be sure that it actually happened.  It was very weird.

So far I'm not really feeling this game.  It has a lot of stuff going on, but none of it really seems to fit together, and the wacky geography is frustrating.  I'll keep up with mapping, and hopefully will have explored the whole game before my next post, but let's just say that it's not doing a great job at pulling me away from Breath of the Wild.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Game 22: Stuga (aka The Cottage) (1978)

A while ago, it was Ultima VII that kept me from blogging.  More recently, it's been The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is an incredible game, and probably the best in the series since at least 1998.  It's very hard to dig into text adventures from the 1970s when I have the vastness of Hyrule to explore (and boy, is it vast), but here I am with my first non-English game: Stuga, otherwise known as The Cottage.

The cover of the 1986 commercial release version

The Cottage (as I'll refer to it from now on) was created in Sweden by two brothers (Viggo and Kimmo Eriksson) and their friend (Olle Johansson).  They were, respectively, 10, 12 and 14 years old, which puts them in a similar category to Greg Hassett, whose games have been haunting this blog for a while now.  All of their parents were on staff at the Stockholm Computer Central for Research and Higher Education, which gave them access to the Oden mainframe, and also exposed them to the Woods/Crowther version of Colossal Cave Adventure.  In summer of 1977 they started crafting The Cottage, and the first playable version of it was released in 1978.  It was made commercially available - retitled as Stugan - in 1986, but I gather that that version had some changes from the original.  Much later, around 2009, the game was translated to English, and that's the version I'll be playing (using Winfrotz).

No hints yet on who or what VIOL might be.

The Cottage begins with the hero standing on a jetty, with people water-skiing in the lake behind and a house in the distance ahead.  The goal seems to be to get a high score by collecting valuables (i.e. the same goal as pretty much every other adventure game of 1975-1978).  Your score starts at 50, and can be increased to a maximum of 307.  I haven't done much experimentation with the parser yet, but it all seems to be pretty basic stuff.  The main thing it does that I haven't seen elsewhere is change up the way you move depending on whether you're inside the mansion or in the wilderness.  When you're outside, the game uses the standard compass directions (N, S, NE, SW, etc.), but when you're inside it switches to directional commands (Forward, Left, Right, Back).  I haven't done much exploration inside yet, so I can't say exactly how irritating this is, but I'm going to hazard a guess and say "very".

Given the potential irritation of this change, I've stuck to the wilderness and pretty much explored that completely.  Most of it is forest areas surrounding a lake, with a fence around the perimeter to create a boundary.  So far the rooms and there exits all line up and make sense really well, and the game has been quite simple to map.  I fully expect that this will be right out the window once I get inside the cottage.

The game has already presented some basic obstacles and mysteries.  There's a rowing boat that I haven't tried yet, and a locked gate for which I've yet to find the key.  In one place there's a hole in the perimeter fence you can crawl through, which leads to an area where someone has been digging.  I haven't probed any of these mysteries too hard yet, as I'm in exploration mode.  I like to map as much as possible before I start getting stuck into solving things.

I've solved one puzzle so far, though it barely qualifies as such.  In a cave with numerous entrances (including one behind a waterfall) there's a gambling machine, with a sign reading "PULL THE LEVER IF YOU HAVE A FAUN SHOE TO STAKE".  In a room directly to the south a faun runs through, leaving its shoe behind.  Sure enough, if you pull the machine's lever with the shoe in your possession, you're rewarded with some gold coins.  It's hardly Acheton-level stuff, but it's a start.

Fear my genius.

There are a number of ways to get inside the titular cottage.  I've gone in through the front door, climbed down a well, and crawled through holes in the side of the house.  There's a bathing hut in which the floor collapses when you enter, leaving you in "Thorvald's Room".  I do like a game that rewards exploration, but I have to say that the transition from wilderness to interior can sometimes be a little jarring.  I'm chalking it up to language/culture differences for the moment, and I'll try not to let it bother me too much.

There's one other thing in the game that makes little sense to me, but may possibly be better understood by Swedish players.  In a couple of areas, instead of a room description I've gotten a message saying "You have a half-rotten tomato in your hand but it vanishes".  Following that, I've found myself somewhere inside the cottage, usually in a boiler room.  It's weird and nonsensical, but in a way that jars me out of the game.  If there's anyone who knows what this might be a reference to, I'd love to hear it.

As you may have guessed, Googling "rotten tomato" is of no help.

So far, The Cottage seems to be another in a long line of whimsical fantasy adventure games (it seems to be the thing to do in 1978).  It's very sparse in its descriptions, which is a double-edged sword.  It makes the game less immersive, but it also makes it easier to figure out what's important in each room.  By the time I get to my next post I'll have explored inside the cottage, and I'm hoping that the inconsistent movement inputs don't ruin the experience for me.  Regardless, I expect there'll be enough oddities in the game to keep me amused.  You know, provided I don't just play another 100 hours of Breath of the Wild instead...