Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Rogue: Email Addresses Make Me Nervous Now

Hey, guess what? You're not going to believe this, but I haven't beaten Rogue yet.

Okay, so that's pretty much to be expected.  To be honest, I haven't even gotten close.  My best efforts saw me getting down to level 19; in one of those I took one step right into an Umber Hulk and died almost instantly, and in the other I teleported away from an Umber Hulk only to be killed by a Xorn.  None of my tactics really seem to be helping, as I'm not reaching the deeper levels with any sort of consistency.  I'm just as likely to get cornered by Centaurs on level 8 as I am to descend further than level 15, and I really hoped I'd be doing better by this point.

So what I'm going to do with this post is lay out all the things that I've discovered about the game and try to use that to com up with a battle plan.  I'll start with the monsters, especially as they might be significantly different to the ones in the commercial version of Rogue that most of you will have played.  There's not an Emu to be seen here.

  • A is for Giant Ant.  As far as I can tell, they start appearing on dungeon level 3, and stop appearing after level 12.  Giant Ants are among my most hated enemies in the game, as they have a sting that drains a point from your Strength.  It actually doesn't hamper your combat effectiveness on the low and mid-levels, but having a high Strength is almost a necessity when stronger enemies start appearing.  There's a potion that restores your Strength, and I try to keep one to drink as soon as I hit level 13.  There's no point drinking one before that, because you're almost guaranteed to get drained again at some point.
  • B is for Bat.  The weakest enemy in the game, I've encountered them between levels 1 and 8.  They don't attack you directly, but instead just move at random and take the occasional swipe at you.  They're not dangerous unless you're already in some dire straits, but they can be difficult to hit.
  • C is for Centaur.  Centaurs start appearing around level 8, and I've encountered them as low as level 17.  For me, Centaurs have been the first real hurdle in the game.  After you gain some XP most of the monsters you fight will be trivial, until the Centaurs show up.  They hit harder than anything encountered previously, and I've had a lot of ill-equipped characters go down to them.
  • D is for Dragon, I seem to recall.  I haven't encountered one yet.
  • E is for Floating Eye.  These monsters appear between levels 2 and 11, and are completely non-aggressive.  They just sit there motionless, until you attack them.  You don't want to let one near you though, because they have a paralysing attack which can leave you helpless for other monsters.  The best tactic is either to ignore them or kill them with missile weapons.
  • F is for Violet Fungus.  I haven't recorded the levels that I've encountered these on.  Like Floating Eyes they're stationary, but if you move next to one you won't be able to move away.  They don't seem to do a lot of damage, but they do take a lot of hits to kill.  Like the Eyes, they're best killed from a distance.
  • G is for Gnome.  I've encountered these between level 6 and 15, and they're among the easiest enemies in the game.  By the time you meet them they're a trivial nuisance, and you can slaughter them with impunity.
  • H is for Hobgoblin.  The terrors of level 1.  Before you gain extra hit points, Hobgoblins are the enemies you most want to avoid.  They lose their deadliness once you've gained a level or two, but they're definitely the leading cause of death for low-level characters.
  • I is for Invisible Stalker.  Again, I haven't recorded where I've met these, but they don't start showing up until around level 15.  Not that they show up at all, because you can't see them without the right magic ring.  They hit pretty hard too.
  • J is for Jackal.  A fairly easy enemy from the first few dungeon levels.
  • K is for Kobold: Maybe the weakest enemy in the game aside from Bats.  They're the only other monster that's only worth 1 experience point.
  • L is for Leprechaun: These monsters aren't hostile, and if you attack them all they do in retaliation is steal your gold and disappear.  I suppose that's a problem if you're playing for points, but if you're going for the Amulet of Yendor it's no big deal.  I always attack them for the potential experience points.
  • M is for ???  I have no idea yet.
  • N is for Nymph.  Like the Leprechauns they're not hostile, but when you attack them they steal one of your magic items.  They're worth killing though, because they drop items when defeated.  You want to do it with missile weapons though.
  • O is for Orc.  Another fairly weak enemy that appears in the mid-levels.  They've never posed much danger to me.
  • P is for ??? Another one I haven't met yet.
  • Q is for Quasit.  They show up starting around level 10.  They don't do a lot of damage, but they're hard to hit, so they can still pose a danger with repeated blows.
  • R is for Rust Monster. Another hated enemy.  They show up around level 9, and I haven't gotten far enough to figure out when they stop appearing.  Every hit they land on you worsens your armour by 1 point of Armour Class.  This even works on leather armour, which I thought wasn't the case; perhaps it's something that got fixed in a later version.  The only thing to do is take off your armour when you see one, and hope you still have something decent to wear when you hit the lower levels.  Or to just suck it up with an AC of 9 while you keep a good suit of armour in reserve.
  • S is for Snake.  Another of the weaker low-level enemies.  Not venomous, thankfully.
  • T is for Troll.  They start appearing on level 14, and when they do you know things are about to get serious.  They hit hard, and they take quite a few hits to kill. I suspect they regenerate hit points, but there's no way to know for sure.
  • U is for Umber Hulk.  Of the enemies on the deepest levels, these are the ones I remember hating the most.  When they hit you, they cause confusion, which makes you act at random.  Once that happens it's game over, as even the strongest characters will go down to three or four hits from an Umber Hulk.  Best avoided at all costs.
  • V is for Vampire, I think.  I haven't encountered one yet.
  • W is for Wraith.  They aren't too bad, except that sometimes their blows drain your experience points, which lowers your hit points and makes you weaker in general.  You get some, but not all, of these points back when you kill the one that drained you.  Wraiths are best dealt with from a distance.
  • X is for Xorn.  Alongside Umber Hulks, the high-level enemy that usually cooks my goose.  I'm not sure what abilities they have beyond hitting hard and being tough to kill, but that's more than enough.
  • Y is for Yeti.  A mid-level enemy that's reasonably tough, but nothing to get too worried about unless you're already beat up.
  • Z is for Zombie.  Mid-level undead that are usually not much of a problem.

About to be killed by a Xorn.

I'll list out the magic items I've found as well, beginning with the potions.  Whenever I find a potion, I tend to drink it right away so that type will be identified from then on.  There are some detrimental ones, but only one of them is a real inconvenience.

  • Confusion: Makes you confused when you drink it, but doesn't last all that long.
  • Healing.
  • Extra-Healing: I think there are two levels of healing potion but I'm not certain.
  • Haste: Makes you faster but wears off after about a half-dozen moves.
  • Gain Strength: Adds a point to your Strength.  These are best saved for when your Strength is at maximum, or they don't count towards your total when you use the next potion.
  • Restore Strength: Brings your Strength back to whatever it's highest total has been.  Usually that's 16, but the Gain Strength potion can make it higher.
  • Monster Detection: Gives you a screenshot of where all the monsters on the dungeon level are.
  • Blindness: Makes you blind, which is pretty bad.  You can't see your surroundings, and you have no idea what monsters are attacking you.  It lasts for a while too, although it's survivable if you drink one on the early to mid levels.
  • Paralysis: Makes you immobile for a short time, which is normally not a big deal.  I've tried throwing them at monsters, but it doesn't seem to affect them.
  • Magic Detection: Shows you where the magic items on the level are.
  • Poison: Knocks a point off your Strength.
  • Gain Level: You gain an entire experience level, which can be great depending on how much XP you have.  Invariably I drink one when I'm only ten points away from my next level gain, which is pretty annoying.
  • There's one potion that tastes like the juice of whatever fruit you specify in the options menu. I have no idea if there's another effect.
  • The final potion gives you a "strange feeling", but otherwise I have no idea what it does.

Drinking a Potion of Gain Strength

These are the rings I've found.  Rings have some great effects, but a lot of them cause you to get hungry faster when you wear them, so it's a trade-off.  I tend not to put them on until I've identified them.

  • Aggravate Monster: I think this one just makes every monster you meet hostile, but most of them are that way anyway.  I don't know if it makes them stronger at all.
  • Preserve Strength: Makes it so nothing can drain your Strength score.
  • Searching: Makes it easier for you to find traps and secret doors.
  • Blinking: This is a cursed ring that teleports you to a random location on the same level every now and then.  It can be annoying, but it can also be a life-saver.  I'd like to try a run at the deeper dungeon levels while wearing one.
  • See Invisible: Lets you see Invisible Stalkers.
  • Slow Digestion: Makes it so you need a lot less food.  You can actually grind for XP once you find one of these.
  • Increase Damage: I suppose this gives you a bonus to damage dealt, although it could make the monsters do more damage, I have no idea.
  • Dexterity: Increases your Dexterity, although there are cursed versions that do the opposite. Your Dexterity score isn't visible, and I have no idea what it affects.  Trap evasion, maybe?
  • Protection: I'm not sure if this increases your Armour Class or reduces monster damage, but either way it makes you harder to kill.
  • Strength: Grants a Strength bonus. I don't know if it can take you over a score of 18.

Scrolls are next.  I tend not to read scrolls until I have an item that's worth identifying, because I don't want to risk wasting a Scroll of Identify.

  • Identify: Tells you what a magic item is.  Maybe one of the most important items in the game.
  • Light: A one-use item that lights up a dark room.  Not all that helpful.
  • Enchant Weapon: Grants a +1 bonus to your weapon's damage or ability to land a hit.
  • Teleport: Takes you to a random spot on the same dungeon level, which can be a very handy method of escape.
  • Remove Curse: Lets you remove any cursed items that you're wearing.
  • Confusion: Makes your hands glow red. The next blow that you strike will confuse that enemy.  I'd love, just once, to land one of these on an Umber Hulk.
  • Mapping: Reveals the entire map of the level you're on.
  • Enchant Armor: Gives  a +1 AC bonus to the armour you're wearing.
  • Detect Gold: Shows you where the gold on the level is.
  • Sleep: Puts you to sleep for a short time.
  • Summon Monster: A random monster appears next to you, although I think it limits it to monsters that can actually show up on that level.  At least I think so, because I haven't summoned a Dragon by accident.
  • Blank: I read a scroll that was completely blank once, not sure what that's about.
  • There are scrolls that, when I read them, make me hear a maniacal laughter in the distance.
  • Another type of scroll makes a humming noise.
  • There's a scroll that makes me feel a pull downwards.  I haven't figured out any of the last three.

Casting an Enchant Weapon scroll

Finally, the staves and wands.  I'll give them a test zap when I find one, on the off chance that I can identify it.  If not, I'll try to test it on a weak enemy.  It wastes charges, but it saves on Identify Scrolls.

  • Haste Monster: Makes a monster move faster.  Not good.
  • Light: Lights up the room you're in.  One of these with a lot of charges is really handy on the lower levels, so that you can see the monsters coming.
  • Striking: Deals damage to a monster at close range.
  • Lightning: Damages monsters at range, and rebounds off walls.  I'm reluctant to use these, because I've been caught in an infinite loop of lightning rebounds that made the game hang.
  • Slow Monster: Good for running away, because normally the monsters move at the same rate as you do.
  • Magic Missile: A ranged attack that doesn't do a lot of damage.
  • Polymorph: Transforms a monster into another kind of monster.  Can be great, but can also get you into all sorts of trouble.
  • There's also an attack staff that causes tingling when I use it.  I'm not sure what this is.

So that's the extent of what I've discovered about the game.  Looking over it, I think I've come up with a list of things that I need to survive on the lower levels.  Good armour is almost a necessity, as is a good weapon: a two-handed sword kills enemies much faster than any other kind of weapon.  A Gain Strength potion is needed, to restore any losses incurred by Giant Ants, or a Ring of Preserve Strength.  Healing potions are also handy, but it can be hard to build up a big store of them.  A Ring of Slow Digestion is an absolute must, as it gives you the luxury to linger on the mid-levels and build up your XP.  I suppose I could also hang about if I happen to have a run where I have over ten meals, which happened to me once. Finally, I think I need a bunch of items to help avoid the toughest monsters: scrolls of teleport, wands of light, and wands of polymorph are all handy for that.  Plus, of course, a few scrolls of Identify so I know what I'm carrying.

Potions of healing, a +3 mace, several options for fleeing and a
Ring of See Invisible; this is a pretty good load-out

The smart thing would be for me to keep playing the early dungeon levels, and starting over if my character hasn't put together a few of the items above.  It would probably save me some time, for sure.  I'm not going to do that just yet, because I'm still having fun just playing the game.  Eventually, though, I think I'll have to do it in the interests of making some progress on the blog.  I know I spent a year on Moria and The Game of Dungeons, but I don't want a repeat of those experiences.

And now, finally, I present to you my litany of failures, with a roll call of the adventurers who have perished in the Dungeons of Doom.

  • Kejakena got killed on level 13 by a Troll.
  • Nobody VI was killed on level 3 by a Giant Ant, which is a pretty unusual way to go.
  • Jack Manley made it all the way to level 18 before meeting a Xorn and getting pummeled to death.  As with all Jack Manley appearances on this blog, this is strictly non-canon as far as my novels are concerned.
  • Nobody VII was paralysed by a Floating Eye, which caused the game to hang.
  • Sparhawk was softened up by a procession of Centaurs and Quasits, and finally succumbed to a Zombie on level 7.
  • Robilar had a two-handed sword and two Rings of Increase Damage, but that didn't stop a Troll on level 14 from eating him.
  • Nobody VIII and Nobody IX both got killed by Hobgoblins on level 1 of the dungeon.  The curse of the Nobody family strikes again.
  • Mordenkainen got cornered between two Centaurs on level 8.
  • Nobody X became a credit to his ancestors by making it all the way down to level 19 before being confused and killed by an Umber Hulk.  His many descendants will come to avenge him.
  • Tenser got cornered between two Centaurs on level 12, a common fate for characters with names taken from the original Greyhawk campaign it seems.
  • Kael got cornered between two Centaurs.  It was a good day for the Centaurs, that's for sure.
  • Nobody XI failed to avenge his father by getting killed by a Hobgoblin on level 1.
  • Nobb died on level 14 because I held down the space bar to search for a secret door at the end of a tunnel.  I found one, but the Centaur behind it got a load of free hits and killed me.
  • Nobody XII was killed by a Zombie on level 8.
  • Nobody XIII was killed by a Centaur on level 8.
  • Bain got to level 19 with the inventory you see above, and a Strength of 18.  I was pretty hopeful, but it went wrong when I got confused by an Umber Hulk. I teleported away to escape, but while I was waiting out the confusion I was cornered by a Xorn.  You can still use items when confused, so I tried to last with healing potions until I could fight back, but it wasn't enough.

That's been 30 characters so far, with little signs of improvement.  Six of those deaths were on level 1, and six were on level 8: that ramp-up in difficulty that comes with the Centaurs has taken its toll.  After that, levels 14 and 16 have killed three adventurers each, levels 12 and 19 have claimed two, and a whole bunch of levels have claimed one.

It was worth a shot.

I'll definitely keep plugging away at Rogue, but I don't intend to make that the sole focus of the blog.  There's good news on the Futurewar front, as the creator answered my message and has fixed the bug that was stopping me from descending.  I don't want to play two long-running CRPGs with perma-death at the same time though, so I'm putting that on hold until I beat Rogue.  That makes my next game Space II, the sequel to sci-fi RPG/trading sim Space.  That should be a short one, and I'll probably have a post on it up by Sunday.  I've also got a post lined up for the TRS-80 version of Temple of Apshai, so never fear: the content will keep on flowing.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Priority CRPG 2: Rogue: Exploring the Dungeons of Doom (1980)

In the history of gaming, there are plenty of games that are important milestones.  Games that changed the direction of the medium, or set a benchmark for their genre going forward.  There are only a handful of games, however, that are so significant and set such a precedent that an entire genre will be named after them.  They're not necessarily the most famous games out there, but they are the ones that defined their play-style so much that their genre can't be separated from them afterwards. I've played a couple of those for the blog already: Adventure and MUD1 gave their names to the adventure game genre and MUDs, respectively.  Now I come to the third such milestone: Rogue.

I have an ambivalent history with roguelikes.  The first one that I remember playing for any significant length of time was Diablo, which is only tangentially related to the genre.  I bounced off it hard in the late 90s, when everyone was raving about it.  Why would I want to play a game with random dungeons when I could play something crafted by a human?  The random dungeons were just one aspect of a game that was - at the time - everything I didn't want CRPGs to become.

I played Rogue a time or two in the years after that, when I was making an effort to go back to a bunch of classics I'd missed.  I bounced off of Rogue in much the same way that I did with Diablo: random dungeons and a lack of story didn't appeal to me, and I really didn't get the permadeath thing.  I also kind of hated its dumb monsters.  Kestrels and ostriches?  No thanks.  (I was playing the  commercial DOS port, which excised a lot of the Dungeons & Dragons flavour of the original for legal purposes, even though a bazillion games had already nicked it without any repercussions.)

The commercial version of Rogue for DOS.  I'd mock the presence of
an emu, but those things are no joke.

It wasn't until around the  early 2010s that I was able to come to grips with it, mostly due to getting a smartphone.  I was looking for games to play on it, and I stumbled across an Android port of Rogue.  That's when the game clicked for me, as it's great for mobile devices.  Got ten minutes to waste standing in line?  That's the perfect time to knock out a few levels of Rogue.  Playing it on the go put me in a different head-space, where I wasn't looking for a substantial gaming experience, or settling in to explore a virtual world for hours on end.  I was looking for a challenge that I could kill time with in bite-sized chunks, and with Rogue I'd found it.  Sure, the touchscreen interface sucked, but for a turn-based game that didn't matter so much.

I never finished it on Android, and eventually I switched phones and couldn't find it for download any more.  The best I ever did was to make it to level 22, where I was probably killed by an Umber Hulk or something.  What can I say, it's a hard game.  I've played a few genuine roguelikes here and there since, but the only one I ever knuckled down with and beat was Pixel Dungeon.

Since then I started the blog, and have beaten a number of games that I'd consider proto-roguelikes: The Dungeon, The Game of Dungeons (versions 5.4 and 8), Orthanc and Beneath Apple Manor all share elements that define the genre: random dungeon layouts, a quest to retrieve an item from deep within the dungeon, and permadeath.  None of those put all three elements together, although Beneath Apple Manor comes the closest.

It's odd that, of the three genres I mentioned at the start of the post, roguelikes seem to be thriving more now than at any other point in their history.  Adventure games peaked in the 80s and 90s, and haven't really returned to the prominence they had.  MUDs were big amongst a niche crowd in the 80s and 90s, but I suppose their turf got taken over by MMOs.  Roguelikes, on the other hand, seem to have only gotten big in the last decade.  I wonder if my experience is indicative of the trend, and if perhaps the rise of mobile gaming has anything to do with that?  Hard to say, but I'd love for someone with a stronger grasp of the genre's history to chime in with their opinion.

I'm not really here to write about the genre as a whole however, but the game that started it.  The history of Rogue began in the late 1970s, with two students at the University of California in Santa Cruz: Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman.  Toy had had some opportunities to play the mainframe-based Star Trek game in his youth, and became fascinated with computer games.  While at college he discovered Colossal Cave Adventure, which impressed him enough that he started writing his own.  Wichman had spent some time playing Dungeons & Dragons, and enrolled in UCSC to learn game design and become a board game developer.  The two became close friends, and started writing adventure games to challenge each other, but soon they realised that the genre provided little in the way of replayability.

Around 1980, with UNIX starting to take over as the primary operating system at UCSC, Toy and Wichman discovered a program called curses, written by Ken Arnold.  Curses allowed for the positioning of characters at any point on a terminal, and using that crude graphics could be developed.  That was the final inspiration that Toy and Wichman needed, and together they came up with a D&D-based game that would satisfy their desire for replayability.

I'm not sure when exactly Rogue was first playable; 1980 is the usual date given so I'll go with that.  By 1982, Michael Toy was so wrapped up in the game's development that he was kicked out of UCSC for poor grades.  He took the code with him and continued working on it; Wichman tried to keep up, but found it unworkable, and turned development fully over to Toy.  Toy eventually got in touch with Ken Arnold, intending to get some insight into how curses worked, and the two of them improved the interface, display, and procedural generation of the game.

Around 1984, Rogue was turned into a commercial product distributed by Epyx, but I won't be dealing with that version of the game just yet.  For now I'm playing a DOS port of version 3.6, which is based on the UNIX code as it existed in 1981.  No doubt it's inauthentic in some way, but as far as I'm aware it's the closest approximation out there to the game in its original form.

The backstory of Rogue has you playing as a student of the local fighter's guild.  As a kind of final entry exam, the guildmasters have tasked you with entering the Dungeons of Doom and coming back alive with the Amulet of Yendor.  (I've always assumed that this was supposed to be "Rodney" backwards, and intended to represent one of the creators in much the same manner that Werdna and Trebor represented the creators of Wizardry; today I've discovered that nobody who created Rogue had that name, so my theory is shot down.)  Outfitted with elf-made armour and an enchanted sword, you journey to the ancient ruins that mark the entrance to the Dungeons of Doom, and your quest begins.  (There's a bit of a disconnect between the backstory and the game here, as you actually start with an enchanted mace and a bow.)

The amulet is said to be somewhere below level 20.  In all the games of Rogue that I've ever played, I've never seen it.  As I said above, the lowest level I've ever reached is level 22, and I probably only hit level 20 a handful of other times.  A Rogue expert I ain't, but I intend to become one.  My intention is to beat this game legitimately, without save-scumming.  It's going to take a while, but thankfully I have a small leg-up in that I don't have to learn things from scratch.  I know some of the tactics already.  And you know, I beat The Game of Dungeons v8.  I beat Moria.  I can beat Rogue too.

Beginning a game of Rogue.  This time I'll win for sure.

So the goal of the game is to ascend through at least 20 dungeon levels, find the Amulet of Yendor, and get back to the surface.  Those levels are procedurally generated, and drawn using ASCII characters, but they're not completely random.  Each one has around nine rooms, laid out in a 3x3 grid, with passages connecting them.  Sometimes rooms are hidden, and can only be uncovered by searching for secret doors, but the 3x3 layout makes it pretty easy to figure out where those doors might be.

The player (represented by an @ symbol, to let you know "where you're at") is moved around using the number pad, so you can move in eight directions.  I think the original UNIX version used a cluster of letters for movement, but thankfully whoever converted it to DOS made this concession to user-friendliness.  The rest of the commands are executed via keyboard: t for throw, q to quaff a potion, r to read a scroll, that sort of thing.  The most confusing thing is that some commands use the same key in upper and lower case.  For example, lower case t is for throw, but upper case T is for taking off your armour.  Lower case w is to wield a weapon, and upper case W is to wear armour.  When I first started playing I needed a text file with all of the commands listed open at all times, but now that I've got a dozen games or so under my belt it's become second nature, and I hardly need to refer to it at all.

The player has very little in the way of stats: there's a Strength score, starting at 16, which I gather determines how much damage you do in combat.  Hit points work like they always do, and you always begin with 12 (which in D&D terms would be the equivalent of a 1st level fighter with maximum hit points and a decent Constitution score).  Armour Class determines how hard you are to hit, with a lower score being better as it was in old-school D&D.  You earn experience points by killing monsters, and gain levels that increase your hit points.  It's all very standard CRPG stuff.  You can customise your game slightly, by using the options command: this lets you rename your character and set their favourite fruit.  The latter merely changes the name of some items you can find, and has no real bearing on mechanics.  It's set on "slime-mold" as a default, but I usually change it to mushroom,which is a little more palatable but also something that could conceivably grow in a dungeon.  (If I change it to "amulet of yendor" can I get an easy win?)

The monsters are represented with upper case ASCII characters, and are very much drawn from the D&D Monster Manual.  On the first few levels you fight Snakes, Bats, Kobolds and Hobgoblins, but they get stronger as you descend: Zombies, Centaurs, Trolls, Invisible Stalkers, and even the incredibly D&D-specific Xorn.  I recall that on the deepest levels there were Umber Hulks, Vampires and Dragons, but I haven't managed to make it that far yet.

Traps are also a danger, although a minor one.  There are arrows that shoot from the wall, and poison darts that can reduce your Strength.  The most troublesome are those that dump you on the next lower dungeon level, as sometimes that can mean you have to fight some monsters that you're not quite ready for.  On my first game I had an irritating placement of a teleport trap, which was situated right in front of the door to the room where the stairs down were located.  There was nothing I could do except keep running into it until it put me where I needed to go.  It was just a quirk of the random generation, and not a fatal one, but it sure was annoying.

I need to get into the room in the upper left, but
that teleport trap won't let me.

There's plenty of gold to be found, but it's a little pointless: you can't buy anything, and it's really just there as a kind of scoring system.  Also scattered around the dungeon are weapons, armour, potions, scrolls, rings, and magic staves/wands.  The weapons and armour are sometimes magical, granting a bonus to combat or defense, but they can also be cursed.  Cursed items can't be removed until you find a scroll of remove curse, but there's often no way of knowing how good an item is until you start using it (unless you find a scroll of identify).  Putting on an item without identifying it first is always a gamble.

The potions, scrolls, rings and staves/wands are uniquely identified, but those identifiers change for every game.  For example, potions are differentiated by colour.  In one game a potion of healing might be red, but in the next game it might be silver. Rings and staves/wands are differentiated by the material they are made out of, and the scrolls use gibberish words.  Some items are identified once you use them; if you use a scroll of identify, the next such scroll you find will be clearly marked.  Some items don't identify, though, so it can be a good idea to take notes unless you have a good memory.  Just don't expect those notes to be helpful on your next game.

Food is also a factor.  You begin with one meal, but there is food to be found throughout the dungeon if you're lucky.  If you don't eat, you'll eventually grow hungry, and then weak.  Once you're weak, eventually you'll start falling unconscious every few moves.  I don't know if you can genuinely starve to death, but once you start passing out the monsters will probably make short work of you.  Hunger is the main reason that you can't linger on the easier levels and grind for experience: you need to keep descending, as that's the only way to find food.

At this point, I should probably address permadeath.  Rogue has it, and is infamous for it.  You can save your game, but the file will be deleted as soon as you reload, so you can't just save your game and keep trying from the same point over and over again.  I used to think that was unfair bullshit, but now I recognise it as a completely valid element for this kind of game.  A complete game doesn't take all that long, and the progress you make isn't by getting further through the game but by learning its systems.  I like the phrase that Toy and Wichman used to describe it: "consequence permanence".

So far I've played thirteen games, with varying levels of success, and some genuinely heart-breaking moments.  I'll quickly run through my experiences below:

  • Nobody (the default character name) was my first character, and made it all the way to dungeon level 16.  I was pretty heartened by this, and started to entertain the delusion that I could beat Rogue on my first shot.  Alas, I got cornered between a Rust Monster and an Invisible Stalker, the latter of which made short work of me.
  • Nobody II got down to level 8, but had a pretty low hit point total.  He got killed in his first fight with a Centaur.
  • Gideon made it down to level 16, but got killed by an Invisible Stalker.  I find that for a lot of characters who make it past the initial stages, Invisible Stalkers are among the most common stumbling blocks.
  • Mideon died on level 8.  My run of bad luck started when I accidentally threw my mace at a kobold.  Throwing items at foes when they are far away is a standard tactic to avoid melee, but if you throw a weapon and hit with it, that weapon disappears.  I lost my mace this way, and had to fight with my bare hands. It didn't matter all that much, until I tried to fight a floating Eye, which paralysed me.  A Centaur rolled up while I was paralysed and killed me.
  • Jonn Greywood made it to level 11, but lost his mace along the way by throwing it at a floating Eye.  Then he put on cursed plate armor, which got further reduced in effectiveness by a Rust Monster (which have the ability to worsen your AC by 1 with every hit if you're wearing metallic armour).  I couldn't remove the cursed armour, and ended up fighting a Centaur with no weapon and an AC of 9.  It didn't end well.
  • Saskar got into a fight with a Wraith on dungeon level 16.  Wraiths drain your experience points, and I dropped from level 9 to level 7.  I escaped by using a teleport scroll, only to land right next to a Troll which killed me with one blow.
  • Nobody III put on a cursed ring that occasionally made him teleport to a random location in the dungeon, which was pretty distracting.  I threw my mace away, and eventually got killed by a Hobgoblin (which is pretty uncommon for a character that deep in the dungeon; I must have been softened up by something else first).
  • Myrio Immyrio Velaasa was my most promising character.  She had a strength of 18, a two-handed sword, and numerous healing potions.  The two-handed sword is really the key item to doing well at Rogue, it makes killing monsters much more efficient.  Unfortunately, it all went wrong when I found a staff of lightning bolts.  The lightning bolts that it casts bounce around the walls until they hit something.  I tried to hit a Wraith with one, but the bolt ended up bouncing around the room in an endless loop that I couldn't break out of.  I sat there holding the spacebar through a whole episode of The Goodies, but it was still stuck in that loop by the end.  I had to abandon Myrio, who I think actually had a good shot at descending past level 20.
  • Nobody IV got killed by a Bat on level 1.  This is the most embarrassing way to die in Rogue, because Bats don't even target you, they just sort of move about at random and occasionally attack if you're next to them.  Nobody IV, I disavow you.
  • Sir Gareth did really well, making it all the way down to level 17 before getting cornered by a Xorn with no way out.  You don't want to engage a Xorn in straight up combat unless you're incredibly hard, but I had no other choice.
  • Krago got killed by a Snake on level 1.  It's not quite as bad as being killed by a Bat, but it's not far off.
  • Artis got killed on level 1 by a Hobgoblin.  Hobgoblins are the biggest danger to starting characters, until they gain some extra hit points.
  • Nobody V had a really bad run of luck with some giant Ants, which can drain your Strength with their stings.  I got my Strength drained all the way down to 3, and it would have gone lower if that was possible.  (Strength ranges between 3 and 18, another of this game's many D&Disms.) I got cornered between an Ant and an Orc, and couldn't do enough damage to beat  either of them.

Myrio got stuck in a loop, and I forgot to screenshot one of the Nobodies,
but this is an otherwise comprehensive graveyard.

So that's my tale of woe and ignominy.  But I'm building up my knowledge of the game, how the various monsters behave, and how to counter them.  I've learned to take off my armour when I see a Rust Monster, or to try to find some magic leather armour.  I've learned to keep a potion of restore strength in reserve, to use around level 10 when the giant Ants stop appearing.  I've learned not to read scrolls until I have an item worth identifying, like a ring or a two-handed sword.  Even with that knowledge, a lot of Rogue is down to luck: if you don't find the right items, or enough food, you're not going to survive.  For the moment I'm having fun in the attempt, and struggling to avoid playing "just one more game" before bed.

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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Game 44: Colossal Cave Adventure (430 point version) (1978)

When I played Colossal Cave Adventure II, the 440 point expansion of the original Colossal Cave Adventure, I wrote a whole paragraph about how the game had a lot of expansions and variants but nothing that could be classed as a sequel.  In my supreme ignorance, I even went so far as to say that the game's original authors - Will Crowther and Don Woods - never made a follow-up.  Well, today's game is the 430 point version of Colossal Cave Adventure, written by none other than Don Woods.  It's not exactly what you'd call a sequel, but more of an expansion to challenge expert players.  Woods wrote it in FORTRAN in 1978, and later ported the code to C in 1995.  Certain places list it as a 1995 game, but I'm covering it as a 1978 game.  I'll be playing the DOS port.

I'm not sure how widespread it was at the time; certainly it didn't circulate in the same numbers as the ubiquitous 350 point version.  From what little I can gather, it seems as though it was pretty much unknown until the release of the C port.  Whether Woods considered it the true final version of the game or an "expert mode" variant is unknown, but regardless of his intent the matter was out of his hands.  His first revision went on to become the template for the entire genre, and the 430 point version languished in obscurity, where it remains as a historical curiosity and nothing more.

I doubt there's anyone out there who needs a refresher, but here goes: Colossal Cave Adventure was written circa 1975 by Will Crowther as a text-based representation of a section of the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky. In 1977, Don Woods took the game and added to it, expanding the already-present fantasy elements.  The goal of the game was to explore the caves, solve its puzzles, and find all 15 of the treasures hidden within.  The 430 point version has the same premise, but has 20 treasures to find.  If you want even more of a refresher, (and you might, because I'll be referring to the original game quite a bit) my posts on Colossal Cave Adventure can be found here.

(From this point forward, I'm going to refer to the game as Adventure 430.  I've generally gone with Colossal Cave Adventure as the title for these games as a way of distinguishing them from the many other games with a similar name. Adventure is the original game's proper title though, and it's customary to use the points total as an identifier.)

You lose points for reading the instructions, just FYI.

The game begins in the same way as its predecessor, with the player standing at the end of a road in a forest next to a brick building.  The building is a well house, and inside can be found some food, keys, a bottle of water and a lamp.  It was strangely comforting to return to this familiar setting, and I had to resist the urge to head straight down into the caves and start playing through the parts of the game that I remembered.  I had to remind myself that I wasn't here to experience the familiar, but to find the parts that were new.

I had an inkling that the forest would be one of those places that Woods expanded, and I was right about that.  In the original version, the overworld was really small.  There was just the well house, a hill, and a gully leading down to a grate that gave entrance to the caves.  The forest was a mere two areas, although it was made to feel bigger by having a lot of the exits loop back on themselves.  In Adventure 430 the forest is huge.  It has over 20 locations, and I had some trouble finding enough inventory items to accurately map it.  I probably didn't need to do that; there are only two locations of note, and I found those easily enough just by stumbling through at random.  But you never know in these games when you've found everything, so I had to make a map.

The first of those two locations was a clearing in the forest, where I found a "severed leporine appendage".  A quick bit of googling revealed that a leporine is a hare, so what I'd found here was basically a rabbit's foot.  I didn't put that together until much later though.

The second location had an urn embedded into a rock.  I wasn't strong enough to pull the urn out, so I left it for now, thinking that I'd come back after I found some tools or somehow became stronger.  As I later discovered I was on completely the wrong track with this, but I'll get to that.  It's one of the bigger grievances I have with the game.

It's called an urn. Remember this.

With the overworld done it was time to head into the caves, where I set about testing the boundaries of the original map.  I was expecting to find new areas to explore, much as I had in Adventure 440.  What I didn't expect was to find nothing.  I scoured the old map, went through every location, and didn't find a single new path or area.  I was baffled, to be honest.  How was I supposed to find the new content in the game if there was no new content?  Aside from the new forest areas this game appeared to be identical to the original.

It turns out that there are new area to explore in Adventure 430, but they're extremely well hidden.  I tried my best to poke around and find what I could, but I had to resort to a walkthrough for pretty much all of this.  I've been trying to avoid that as much as possible, but here I just couldn't make any progress.  After a couple of play sessions where I accomplished nothing at all, I felt pretty justified in spoiling the whole game for myself.  On my own it would have taken me forever to solve these puzzles, and there's one that I would never, ever have figured out.

First, I'll list the differences in the game that I noticed on my own.

  • The game penalises you for saving.  Every time you save your game it takes points off of your score, so a perfect run needs to be accomplished in one go, without any saves.
  • It also penalises you for taking too long.  You lose points after 350 moves, and again after 500 moves.  I had a look in the code, and there are penalties further down the line, but I never played for long enough to reach them.  The lamp would run out of juice and end most games before that anyway.
  • Instead of typing THROW BEAR to get the bear to chase off the troll, you type RELEASE BEAR.  It's a more intuitive command for sure, but it was a change that threw me off for a bit.  I thought that maybe Woods had changed the solution completely.
  • The bird now gets agitated in its cage when you wave the rod (and perhaps at other times, I'm not sure).
  • The dragon leaves behind a bloody corpse when you kill it.

Those last two items are important clues, but I can only recognise that in retrospect.  While I was playing I glossed over them as small touches to add some extra detail.  I should have learned by now that nothing should be glossed over in these games.

I'll run through the five new treasures below.


This one is found very close to the cave entrance, just to the west of where you first find the bird.  In that room there's a crack that's too small for you to squeeze through.  It's in the original game, but it's not important and I'd long ago forgotten about it.  If you release the bird and wave the black rod to frighten it, it will fly into the crack and emerge with a necklace.  I might have solved this one if I'd been paying attention, but I have to say I found it hard to approach this version of the game in a diligent manner.  I was so fixated on looking for new paths and branches that weren't there that I neglected to pay close attention to the room descriptions.

In rod we trust.


The original Adventure had a maze with a vending machine at the centre. If you used the gold coins you could buy a new battery for the lamp, but I rarely did so because you can't win the game afterwards.  That was that maze's only purpose, so going in was completely unnecessary.  In Adventure 430, if you ATTACK or HIT the machine it will open, revealing a secret passage.  Those are the only verbs that I know works for sure; PUSH and MOVE definitely don't.  The secret passage leads to the lair of an ogre, who is guarding a room that contains a ruby.  The ogre can't be killed, and will dodge if you throw the axe at him.  I tried feeding him, but he wasn't hungry.  The solution, believe it or not, is to enter his lair with a hostile dwarf on your tail.  When you ATTACK the ogre, the dwarf throws a knife at you but hits him instead.  Then the ogre chases the dwarf away, and you can nick the ruby.

I'm impressed that this action recognised that I was being chased by
multiple dwarves.


The process for getting this is a pretty long and involved one.  The first step is to release the bird in the forest, which was somewhat hinted at by the bird's agitation when it's in the cage.  If you try to LISTEN, it seems like the bird is trying to tell you something, but you are unable to understand.  The solution to this is to drink the blood of the dead dragon, which is pretty wild.  I might have figured this out if I was more familiar with the story of Sigurd, but I'm going to be real here: all my knowledge of Norse mythology comes from Marvel Comics.  I can tell you a shitload about Volstagg the Voluminous, but I ain't got nothing on Sigurd.  It's pretty esoteric knowledge to expect someone to have.  (I actually did try EAT DRAGON at one point, so my brain was in the right ballpark for a second.  It was just one of many desperation moves when I was stuck, though, and I didn't pursue it.)

Having imbibed the dragon's blood, you can then LISTEN to the bird, who will give you a special password, to be used in an area not far from the Hall of Mists.  Unlike the other passwords in the game (XYZZY, PLUGH, and PLOVER), this one changes every time you play.  Unfortunately for those trying to beat this game in as few moves as possible, that means you can't skip the initial steps of this and go right to using the password.

One of the magic words I got was F'CUW, which sums up my reaction to
certain parts of this game.

When spoken at the reservoir (which is like five whole rooms away from the Hall of Mists, so I call BS on you, bird), this password causes the waters to part.  From there you walk through to the base of a cliff, with the corpses of adventurers piled at the bottom.  Sure enough, if you try to climb up your foot will slip on a rock and you'll tumble to your doom.  This is the one thing in the game that I worked out on my own: you need the rabbit's foot in your possession for the extra boost of luck that will get you to the top safely.  There you can claim the statuette and then climb back down.

(Look, I say I figured it out, but what I actually did was take a guess that the one new inventory item that I'd found might help me.  The luck bonus didn't occur to me until I saw it explained in a walkthrough.)

Some of those adventurers were me, and "several" is an understatement.


This puzzle made me so mad.

Remember that urn embedded in the rock, that I was too weak to move?  It turns out that you don't need to get it out at all.  What you actually need to do is fill it with oil, and light it.  Then you rub it, and a genie pops out and pulls the urn out of the rock, to reveal the amber gemstone beneath.

I have a huge problem with this, because I have never in my life heard an oil lamp referred to as an urn.  At first I thought that maybe the failing was mine, but I just checked a bunch of on-line dictionaries, and all of them define an urn as a container for ashes, or for dispensing tea and coffee.  Not one of them defined an urn as a lamp, so I feel justified in being annoyed at this one.  Text adventures live and die based on the accuracy of their descriptions, and this is a pretty big failure.

(Like the dragon, I was in the ballpark with this one for a bit.  Thinking I might be able to loosen the urn from the rock, I tried to OIL URN.  It didn't work, obviously, but I was so close.)



Next to the area with the urn is a chasm, with a ledge that can be seen on the far side.  It's too far to jump across, though.  What you need to do is fly over on the Persian rug, but before you can do that the rug has to be activated.

The genie gave a clue about this in his warning before revealing the amber gemstone.  He even mentioned the words "traffic" and "light".  What you need to do is remove the amber gemstone from its cavity and replace it with the green emerald.  After this you can fly the carpet over the chasm, take the sapphire, and fly back.  You can't pick up the carpet afterwards until you fill the cavity with the red ruby.  Of all the new puzzles in Adventure 430, I feel like this one is the most clever.

Getting the final treasure.

I may have spoiled the entire game by looking up the solutions to all of the puzzles, but that didn't mean there was no challenge left: I still had to try to get the full 430 points.  To do this I'd need to play through in under 350 moves, without saving.  To call this tricky would be a huge understatement.

There are a number of factors that make doing this nigh-impossible.  The first of those is the dwarves, who roam about the caves and try to murder you with knives whenever they see you.  All it takes is one unlucky shot and your game can be over in an instant.  Then there's the pirate, who will show up eventually to nick whatever treasure you're carrying and take it back to his lair in the maze.  Depending on where you are when it happens, and the number of treasures he takes from you, getting them back can add a lot of moves to your total.  Finally - and this one is the worst - there's the closing stretch of the game, where you have to wait around in the caves until you're whisked off to the end.  This can take around fifty moves just on its own.

I was going to need a meticulous plan to beat this one, so I sat down and worked out every single one of my actions in advance, trying to shave off moves wherever possible.  I used all the short-cuts I could think of, and tried to make the best use of the PLUGH, PLOVER and XYZZY passwords.  I went for the treasures that are deepest in the cave first, because the pirate doesn't appear until later in the game, and I tried to work it so that he'd rob me when I was getting the treasures closer to his lair.  I spent hours on this, trying to come up with the perfect run.

The best I could come up with was a win in 339 moves.  The problem is, that doesn't take into account the time spent waiting around at the end.  It also assumes a perfect run, where the pirate shows up exactly when you want him to, and a dwarf is there to follow you into the ogre's lair at exactly the right moment.  Those things never happen. I mean, I suppose if I tried enough times I might eventually get a game that goes exactly according to plan. That would be great, but the waiting at the end would still put me over 350 moves.

I'll die mad about this.

In practice, the best I could do was a win in 456 turns, with a total of 428 points.  Unless there's a way to speed up the endgame, or a whole load of shortcuts that I'm not aware of, I can only conclude that a win with full points is impossible.  I've read that not even Don Woods could finish it in under 350 moves, which is simultaneously heartening and maddening.  I mean, if the guy who created it couldn't do it I shouldn't feel so bad, but I also think that maybe he should have made the time limit more achievable.  Those two points are going to nag at me forever.

Judging Adventure 430 is going to be difficult, because at its core its still a pretty good game.  The additions don't do much to add to the experience, though, as they just make the game far more frustrating to complete.  If I was going to return to Colossal Cave Adventure, I definitely wouldn't pick this version over the 350 point version.  Hell, I don't even think I'd pick it over the 440 point version, which had its own frustrating elements.  At least I could finish that one.


Story & Setting: The treasure hunt story isn't going to score highly here, but it would be churlish of me to criticise it on that score; the game it's based on did originate the trope, after all.  The caves are taken straight from the original, and are similarly well-realised. Rating: 2 out of 7. 

Characters & Monsters: I gave the 350 point version a one in this category, which is too low in retrospect.  The pirate makes for an extra challenge, and the dwarves (although annoying) make the game that bit more dangerous.  This version adds the ogre, and gives more for the bird to do.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: This is a text-adventure, but it's a well-written one. The new content keeps up the same level of prose. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Puzzles: The bulk of the game's puzzles are identical to the original game, which I scored as a 3.  The urn puzzle is worth a docked point, but the traffic light puzzle is rather clever, and I like the use of the dwarves to get rid of the ogre.  I'll call it even. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: It's a decent parser that usually recognises what you're trying to do, but I dinged it a point originally for the randomness of the dwarves.  I'll stand by that. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: Beating the game would rate as too hard, and beating the game with full points seems to be impossible.  I toyed with the idea of handing out my first zero, but in the end I relented.  I'll save that for games that just can't be beaten at all, not ones where you can win but can't get a perfect score. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Fun: I really did not enjoy the process of playing this game.  A part of that is my own inability to solve the puzzles, but most of it stemmed from the futility of trying to get a perfect score.  I can't give it a minimum rating, though, because the heart of it remains a game that I still enjoy a decent amount.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The scores above total 15, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 30.  It comes in equal 23rd, and 13th out of 32 adventure games.  For comparison, the 350 point version scored 8 points higher, and Colossal Cave Adventure II beat it by a single point.  If the full 430 points had been achievable, it would have scored somewhere in the middle of those.  It still has the core of a good game, but it adds a bunch of flawed content on top of that.

NEXT: My next game was going to be Goblins, a graphic adventure for the Apple II, but it presents me with a chronological dilemma.  The original release was all-text, but because it sold about 30 copies it's not out there for download.  The graphic adventure was released in 1981.  I feel a little weird about playing that version in my 1979 chronology.  I shouldn't, because I've played mainframe games in their earliest year of development, and I've been playing ports of games from later years.  I'm still going to kick it down the line to 1981 though, mostly so that I can fast-track the next game on my list.  That game?  Rogue, the second of my priority CRPGs.  I've played this game before, but I've never beaten it.  I'm looking forward to taking on the challenge again.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Back-Tracking: The Scott Adams Graphic Adventures - Adventureland, Pirate Adventure, and Mission Impossible

A while ago, when I was playing Dog Star Adventure, I had the bright idea to explore the different ports for the games that I played.  I still think it's a good idea, and one that helps my blog stand out a little by exploring some versions of games that don't get brought to light all that much. I'm also kind of fascinated by the minor differences that old games have between platforms, so it helps keep my interest up on the blogging side of things.  In the era that I'm currently in it's perfectly viable, as the games - particularly adventure games - are short, and can be blasted through in a matter of minutes once you know all of the solutions.  Later on it's going to be untenable, because the games will just get too big, but I plan to keep it up for as long as I can.

While I was playing through ports of Scott and Alexis Adams' Voodoo Castle, I stumbled across one for the Commodore 64 that had graphics.  Through that I discovered that all of the Scott Adams adventures were re-released with a graphical upgrade, which was something of a revelation for me.  I grew up with a Commodore 64, and amassed a sizable collection of ill-gotten games over the years, but I never encountered these.  I wasn't planning to go back and play through ports of the games I'd already covered, but for ones as significantly different as these I thought I'd make an exception.


The original cover was much more representative
of the game, but this one has it's good points.

This version of the game was released in 1982 for the Apple II, but because I found these games through playing a Commodore 64 port of Voodoo Castle, I decided to play the C64 version.  I just had a quick check, and my usual sources didn't have this for the Apple II anyway, so my options were limited.

For those who need a quick reminder, Adventureland was Scott Adams' first game, and his attempt to get a game similar to Colossal Cave Adventure onto a personal computer.  It's a treasure hunt with a loose fantasy theme: there are dragons but there are also references to Paul Bunyan, so the mythology is a hodge-podge. I liked it at the time, and I think I'd still rate it as the best of his games I've played so far.  My initial post on the game is here.

The opening screen of Adventureland.

I have to admit, I had a lot of trouble with this game at the beginning.  As I explored the opening wilderness, it appeared to me that the graphics had completely replaced the room descriptions.  Nothing was described, and none of the items you could take or interact with were even mentioned.  I was all set to come into this review with a scathing take-down, until I accidentally bumped the Enter key.  If you hit Enter without typing a command, it toggles between the graphics and the room descriptions.  You can actually play this game completely without the graphics, if you prefer, but you certainly can't do it the other way around.

Based on my hazy memories of Adventureland - which I jogged by making a Trizbort map of my old notes - the game hasn't been changed.  If there are any changes, they're almost certainly very minor ones.  I was able to play through this with little trouble (once I got past my initial issues), and even the random elements like the bees dying in the jar didn't give me any hassles.

This is meant to be a hollow tree stump.

For the RADNESS Index, I'd rate this a point higher in Aesthetics.  The graphics aren't spectacular, and there are definite points where they really don't give a good representation of what's meant to be in the room.  They're not all that interactive, either.  But despite all those issues, it's still an aesthetic step up from the all-text version.  As for Mechanics, I'm torn on it.  I found the constant toggling between graphics and room descriptions a chore, but you can actually play the game in its original form if you ignore the graphics.  I'll rate it about the same as I rated the original.  If I take away the game's bonus point for historical significance, that leaves it with a RADNESS Index of 38, just one point higher that the original version.  That seems about right.  It's exactly the same game, with just a dash of extra visual flair.


I don't remember this from the original.

As with Adventureland, the graphical version if Pirate Adventure was released in 1982 for the Apple II.  Again, I'm playing the C64 version.  Adventure International were really trying to ramp up the sex appeal of their games with these covers.  I'm not against it, but it does make me wonder what their sales were looking like around this time.  It seems like a bit of a desperation move.

In this game, you have to explore an island to find some pirate treasure.  It's a lot thematically tighter than Adventureland, but I remember not quite enjoying it as much.  My original posts on it start here.

The opening screen of Pirate Adventure.

Pirate Adventure endears itself to me immediately by ditching the toggling between room descriptions and graphics.  The graphics window stays there at all times, the text is underneath, and it's much less annoying to play.  Unfortunately, that means that you can't choose to play it all text, in its original split-window format, but it's a fair trade-off.

Like Adventureland, this version has barely been changed in terms of its structure and puzzles.  It's major changes come from the addition of graphics, which are a fair bit more interactive than those of Adventureland were.  As the screenshot above shows, the items you can pick up are visually depicted.  When you take them they disappear, and they'll appear in any room where you drop them.  It's similar to Roberta Williams' Mystery House in that respect.

This game has very little in the way of random elements, so it was a simple matter to consult my old notes and get through it.

They had the chance, and they still never fixed "dubleons".

It's a little boring to show two screen-shots of the same place, so here's one from the island.

During lockdown, this is as close as I'm allowed to go to a beach.

The graphics for this are a little better than those in Adventureland in terms of accurately representing your surroundings, but they're still only worth one extra point in Aesthetics.  I'm tempted to ding this for not using the Adams split-window layout, but it earns a point back by allowing any inventory item to be depicted on-screen in any area.  It comes in with a RADNESS Index of 32, two points higher than the original game.


Who knew the enemy spy in this game was
a sexy lady? Dragging the corpse around to
solve a puzzle suddenly feels a lot more sordid.

Again, this was a 1982 release on the Apple II, but I'm playing the C64 version.  My original post on the game can be found here.

Adams' foray into the spy genre wasn't one of his finer efforts, but it had certain merits in terms of environmental storytelling.  The graphical adventure version, like the others, is fundamentally the same game with a visual overlay.

Starting Secret Mission.  It was still called Mission Impossible on the Apple II
version, though.

This one returns to the system used by Adventureland, where you could toggle the graphics on and off.  It also doesn't show your inventory items like Pirate Adventure.  It does have a cool death screen though.

Back when we were worried about clouds of radiation, not clouds of bacteria.

This game was still pretty fresh in my memory, and the puzzles are pretty simple, so I was able to get through it quickly without the need to resort to a walkthrough.

Defusing a bomb in the comfiest of settings.

As with the others, this one gets an extra point in Aesthetics, and it remains the same in every other respect. It get a RADNESS Index of 28, two points higher than the original.

NEXT: I'll be getting stuck into the 430 point version of Colossal Cave Adventure. As for my next back-tracking project, I have a quick post lined up for Colossal Cave Adventure II and Mystery Mansion, and I've been playing the original TRS-80 version of Temple of Apshai.