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Planet Interactive Fiction

Saturday, 03. December 2022

Interactive Fiction, 'Wake Reality

 Interactive Fiction of Finnegans Wake is in Preview!https://Book.Movie

 Interactive Fiction of Finnegans Wake is in Preview!

https://Book.Movie


Friday, 02. December 2022

Renga in Blue

Ferret: central heating for kids

Before digging into the new breakthroughs, I’d like to point out a reference from an earlier section of the game mentioned by Roger Durrant I missed the first time around. This is in regards to the nuclear reactor section, where we casually strolled through and picked up a rod to use to unlock the next […]

Before digging into the new breakthroughs, I’d like to point out a reference from an earlier section of the game mentioned by Roger Durrant I missed the first time around. This is in regards to the nuclear reactor section, where we casually strolled through and picked up a rod to use to unlock the next area. If you hang out too long you get one of the game’s many colorful deaths:

A terrible feeling of nausea radiates through your body.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
Oh dear, all the skin has shed from your body, closely followed by your limbs. Anybody fancy Windscale flakes for breakfast?

This is a really specific reference.

When people think of nuclear accidents in the US, usually what gets imagined is Three Mile Island. In the UK, the big incident was the Windscale fire, which happened in 1957.

A fire broke out in a nuclear reactor in northwest England and released radioactivity for several days. The report at the time, the Penney Report, was heavily redacted by the government and not released until 1988.

The obscure reference comes from 1982. There was a famous cereal ad (as much as cereal ads can be famous, in the US the equivalent would be “Mikey likes it” ads for Life cereal) for Ready Brek cereal, which you can watch in its entirety here. It notably has all the children who experience the warmth of Ready Brek to be surround with a strange glow: “Ready Brek: Central Heating for Kids”.

This isn’t even remotely a properly historically vetted source, but I want to quote a reply to the video anyway by “LF1971”:

I auditioned to be in this advert when I went to dancing school. I didn’t get a part in it and was really disappointed at the time. A year later I went to high school and one of the boys in my class turned out to be one of the boys in the advert. He was teased throughout his five years in high school by boys in our class singing the song when they saw him. When I saw how they teased him I was so glad that I didn’t get a part in the advert. Kids can be cruel sometimes.

The fame of the ad led to a parody for the comedy show Not the Nine O’clock News, which you can watch here.

This is the sort of fake ad that shows up on SNL, although Not the Nine O’Clock News ran for a much shorter time span, from 1979 to 1982.

I haven’t studied the UK reaction to the nuclear age as thoroughly as the US one, but I get the impression that there was a greater attempt to shuffle things under the rug, whereas the US almost went wild with hysteria in the other direction. It makes it more viable to approach the possibility of nuclear wipeout with dark humor, as the cereal parody ad or Ferret (“Anybody fancy Windscale flakes for breakfast?”) does.

Last time I left off on Phase 12, where I had found a tablet.

The tablet appears to have been engraved at some time in the past but the ravages of time have caused much distress to the surface of the stone. However, a little of the inscription is still legible.
On one side: 6, 26, 10, 11.
On the reverse side: M, V, X, Z.

This turned out to be essential for solving something in an earlier phase. While the movement of the train is only forward (I even checked with the authors to confirm this) so physical objects can only go forward, information can move backward. (Refer back to my discussion of the lack of a “single plausible continuous narrative” — while this lack was a minor blip back then, it absolutely balloons here into a feature.)

However, I wasn’t quite hit with enlightenment right away, and spent my time dutifully mapping phase 12. There was really only one more section, an absolutely giant rectangle of rooms 4 wide, with a locked door right below:

Each room had a colorful descriptor, much like near the lake in the previous phase. The far west room is always the same…

Theodore’s Spike
In a derelict warehouse. Partitioned area. Lit through semi-transparent skylights. On one wall a set of disco lights, rainbow button and rotary switch.
No way west.

…and the other three rooms on that column all were similar, except only having a switch.

Turning the switch rotates through colors of the rainbow.

-> turn switch;turn switch;turn switch;turn switch
The room is suffused by a glow of Red
The room is suffused by a glow of Orange
The room is suffused by a glow of Yellow
The room is suffused by a glow of Green
-> turn switch;turn switch;turn switch
The room is suffused by a glow of Blue
The room is suffused by a glow of Indigo
The room is suffused by a glow of Violet

Pushing the rainbow button causes a display of four lights:

The lights are showing: Unlit Unlit Unlit Unlit

Sometimes the lights are “black” or “white”. All this refers back to a phenomenon which was more of a 1970s thing, but I get to show another strange (real!) ad:

Mastermind is a game where you put pegs of various colors in an attempt to guess an opponent’s code; they put black pegs for correct-color-correct-position and white pegs for correct-color-wrong-position. (There are earlier precedent games, like Bulls and Cows, but Mastermind made the general category famous.) I realized after noodling with the setup enough times I was dealing with a Mastermind game.

Not a terribly hard one because you can save/restore your game, and the puzzle doesn’t change — I have the answer here if you’re working through Ferret and don’t want to bother. The end result is unlocking the locked door which has a book with some curious ASCII art.

I was then mostly done with phase 12, although there’s a deadly “voluptuous cyborg” wandering around that can kill you (and according to the authors, can be dealt with; I don’t know if that means we can optionally remove the random element, or if it is necessary to kill the cyborg to get access to some item).

The cyborg has been staring at you long enough to aim without risk of failure. You are consummately torched by a stream of high-energy particles that separate your electrons, protons and neutrons. Anyone for unmixed grill?

I then moved on yet again to phase 13, which consists mostly of a giant dark map. It uses the trick the game has done before where going in the wrong direction from a “regular” path teleports the player. After much distress I finally came up with an algorithm involving:

a.) dropping an item

b.) saving my game

c.) testing leaving the room, coming back, and using TAKE ALL, in all cardinal directions plus up and down, restoring the game after each test

d.) looking at the scrollback and figuring out in which cases was I able to leave and come back to the exact same place as before

For example, here I’ve tried an item in the dark, but trying to go back and forth leads to a different room, so I must have been teleported randomly instead.

You are in the dark.
-> ne
You are in the dark.
-> sw
You are in the dark.
-> get all
There is nothing here that you can take!

I’m taking a little leap assuming there are no “turns” where going E one way actually connects to S on another room, but I spent enough time I believe the above is the overall pattern. Still a monster to map and I’m not done yet.

Extremely slow to make; each room added represents maybe 4-5 minutes of careful checking to make sure everything is right.

The random-jumping thing ended up landing me with two new items, a life jacket and a “puce transparency”. I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to inspect the latter because I was busy racing through steps (a) through (d) from earlier. I need to find out where the objects actually are anyway since I’m “playing ahead”, but the transparency in particular might hold some useful info for a prior phase so I’ve still got finding it as a top priority.

Eventually I started to get very tired of mapping, and checked back in comments to see if anyone had made progress elsewhere. Damian Murphy had made a short comment pointing out that the phase 10 “number area map” was completely symmetrical.

This rung a bell of a possibility that occurred to me briefly but I hadn’t pursued much: could the grid be not a cryptogram but a crypto-crossword? That is, it has various letters that form a proper crossword, just they are encoded. Crosswords tend to have, as a general rule, absolute symmetry on their grids.

Additionally, I had not yet tried this clue on the phase 10 grid:

On one side: 6, 26, 10, 11.
On the reverse side: M, V, X, Z.

Using those starting letters, I had a ??M??V in the first row, which did not lend itself to many possibilities, although the name ASIMOV worked. V?X down could be VEX. This gave me enough letters to start cracking.

What made this tricky was that it wasn’t just “common words” but author names; I got near to a complete fill and had to go to bed, and woke up to find K had ran with the ball most of the rest of the way, making a very nifty Google Sheet to allow easy substitution. It also showed the substitutions in phase 9, which I’ll get to in a second.

A couple swaps and substitutions later and I realized if I put in a F for 7 I would get a very nice pattern indeed on the Phase 9 grid. It uses the same code as the Phase 10 one! It seems the point of the phase 10 code was to give decipherments that can be used on Phase 9.

These are spelled-out reading from top to down, left to right (some of them backwards, and some of the code numbers “spaces” which don’t get used). There happened to be, in phase 10, a room I didn’t describe enough in detail last time:

Staffroom
This room appears to have be used by the station staff during their rest periods. There are some basic facilities including a worktop with an opening for a sink and a broken tap. Under the opening for the sink is a cupboard. Above the worktop the ceiling is angled at 45 degrees as if the room is built under a sloping roof. There is a wooden door to the west. Set in one wall is a sheet of opaque plexiglass under which is a wide slot. To one side of the plexiglass is a vandalised keypad.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a translucent fruit bowl here
-> examine keypad
The keypad has been partially destroyed leaving only 5 nipples in the shape of a cross:

 
                O
            O   O   O
                O

The deciphered code is TWO / XIS / EIGHT / OWT / FOUR / EVIF TWO and if you look at a regular keypad and only the “cross”, the available numbers, are 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8. Voila!

-> press 2
Click.
-> press 6
Click.
-> press 8
Click.
-> press 2
Click.
-> press 4
Click.
-> press 5
Click.
-> press 2
Click.
There is a whirring of machinery followed by a clunk.

The previously empty slot now has a tan block…

The wide slot contains:
a tan block
-> get block
Taken.

…and that seems like a good spot to stop for now! Others have made some progress since but we’re still stuck on many things. For my part I’m going to trudge back to the dark maze and finally get the monstrosity finished before fiddling around with effects of setting the theater on fire.

Thursday, 01. December 2022

Choice of Games LLC

Scandal Notes—Glamor, gossip, and love in 1920s London!

We’re proud to announce that Scandal Notes, the latest in our “Heart’s Choice” line of multiple-choice interactive romance novels, is now available for iOS and Android in the “Heart’s Choice” app. You can also download it on Steam, or enjoy it on our website. It’s 25% off until Dec 8th! Find glamor, glitz, gossip, and love! You and your friends are the talk of th

We’re proud to announce that Scandal Notes, the latest in our “Heart’s Choice” line of multiple-choice interactive romance novels, is now available for iOS and Android in the “Heart’s Choice” app. You can also download it on Steam, or enjoy it on our website.

It’s 25% off until Dec 8th!

Find glamor, glitz, gossip, and love! You and your friends are the talk of the town—but will a malicious journalist turn the tables?

Scandal Notes is a 108,000-word interactive romance novel by Evelyn Pryce, where your choices control the story. It’s entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

In the heart of London, flappers flap and the 20s roar! For an ambitious novelist like you, there’s inspiration everywhere. The nights are filled with fabulous parties where champagne flows freely and jazz plays in dance halls and smoky clubs. You and your friends—a group of Bright Young Things known as the King’s Road Crew—are at the center of it all, the talk of the town and the top of every society page.

Of course, love is on the horizon. Will you fall for Sybil Warwick, the fashionable and fun-loving star of the silent screen? Or Errol Sharp, the literary critic whose wit matches his name? Or Baron Sidney Norcross, the aristocratic host of the most fabulous parties in town?

But now, the author of the infamous gossip column “Scandal Notes” is starting to comment on secrets that your friends would rather not see the light of day—and secrets that only someone close to you would know. Can you unmask the traitor? Are all of your friends really what they seem?

• Play as a woman novelist in 1920s London
• Keep your friends together through thick and thin.
• Play matchmaker for a lovelorn jazz singer.
• Become a critical literary sensation or an underground pulp hit.
• Find love with a witty book critic, a glamorous actress, or a suave aristocrat.
• Obey the rules of society or throw caution to the wind
• Search out the villain whose nasty gossip columns threaten your friends

Dance the Charleston until dawn, write a novel for the ages, find true love – and above all, keep your name out of “Scandal Notes”!

We hope you enjoy playing Scandal Notes. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.

Tuesday, 29. November 2022

Zarf Updates

A couple more recent puzzle games

We're coming up on IGF judging season. Okay, actually we're a week into IGF judging season. I haven't jumped in yet due to various other tasks that piled up my Thanksgiving holiday. (You might have seen yesterday's post.)Anyway, this means I'll be accumulating a lot of game review posts which I'll drop in a batch in a couple of months. But before I start that, let's clear out the ones I've already
We're coming up on IGF judging season. Okay, actually we're a week into IGF judging season. I haven't jumped in yet due to various other tasks that piled up my Thanksgiving holiday. (You might have seen yesterday's post.)
Anyway, this means I'll be accumulating a lot of game review posts which I'll drop in a batch in a couple of months. But before I start that, let's clear out the ones I've already written!
  • The Entropy Centre
  • The Case of the Golden Idol

The Entropy Centre

A Portal-like that wears its influences on its sleeve.
Jumping in, you may feel like the only narrative decision in any puzzle game is "What personality should the AI voice have this time?" This is unfair, though. Entropy Centre's story is of 2022, not 2007. The world is on fire and nobody is doing anything about it. That's got kick. And Astra the AI isn't just a GlaDOS riff; she's worth a few smiles.
The puzzles are solid, anyhow. Gimmick: your magic gun rewinds time. Generally that means moving a crate back 30 seconds on its timeline. Other puzzle elements are very familiar (jump plates, laser cubes, light-bridges) but getting them to freeze or move backwards is a whole new take.
Wisely, the "30 seconds" are counted SuperHot-style. Time only advances for a crate when it's moving. So you can stop and think as long as you like. And you will! I'd say the puzzles aren't quite as hard, focused, or mind-bending as in Portal. It's mostly a matter of "plan each crate's path, plan your path, then execute." But the combinations are tricky and almost every puzzle has a new idea in it.
The crate puzzles are broken up by environmental puzzles (rewinding collapsing catwalks or falling elevators) and a few action scenes involving angry droids. The action scenes are a bit annoying. They're the only part of the game with actual time pressure, and I died a few times too many, too repetitively. If the droids had used non-fatal stunners I think it would have worked just as well.
(Another tiny tweak that would have improved the game immensely: a touch of cheat-gravity so that you don't miss the jump plate. Portal did quite a bit of that.)
Fun, good story idea, recommended.

The Case of the Golden Idol

I guess Obra-Dinn-like is now a category! I snuck Strange Horticulture in there, but Golden Idol is more of a direct match to Obra Dinn:
  • You are inspecting a scene for physical evidence;
  • The scene is frozen in time -- no NPC interaction;
  • You're filling in answers to "what happened to who and how";
  • Wild guessing won't help, but if you're close, you can home in on the truth by informed guessing. But you feel bad about it. But you do it anyway.
You're investigating a linked series of events in the 1700s involving a rich family, a secret society, murder and scheming and politics, and a golden idol. The idol comes from Lemuria and is reputed to have occult powers. The powers become evident pretty quickly. You'll see.
My usual line is that I suck at detective games but do well at Obra-Dinners -- I'm good at inspecting physical evidence, whereas people are difficult and confusing. That holds up in Golden Idol. Take notes; you'll do fine. The logic-puzzle aspect is also strong -- the "everyone has a first name and a last name and a profession" sort of puzzle. You won't need a full-on grid, but you'll do a lot of matching up and eliminating possibilities to see what's left.
In fact the later chapters do work their way up to detective mode. At one point the "physical evidence" is a constable's notebook, and then you're scrutinizing testimonies for contradictions just like any gumshoe plod. I made it through, though. Either I'm getting better or the game has a scrupulous sense of how to lay out clues. I say the latter.
The story is kind of clunky. I felt like the golden idol itself was a let-down. Figuring out its powers is supposed to be a key puzzle, but it doesn't get used as much as you might expect. When it does -- well, the game necessarily drags it down to the level of mundane physicality. Because it has to leave physical evidence, right? The idol plays into some nice (and justified) surprises at the end, but overall the plot comes off as a series of squalid squabbles rather than a story per se.
Nonetheless, a bunch of solid puzzles along the way.

Key & Compass Blog

New walkthroughs for November 2022

On Monday, November 28, 2022, I published new walkthroughs for the games and stories listed below! Some of these were paid for by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. Please consider supporting me to make even more new walkthroughs for works of interactive fiction at Patreon and Ko-fi. Nowheresville (2022) by Morpheus Kitami and Cody Gaisser […]

On Monday, November 28, 2022, I published new walkthroughs for the games and stories listed below! Some of these were paid for by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. Please consider supporting me to make even more new walkthroughs for works of interactive fiction at Patreon and Ko-fi.


Nowheresville (2022) by Morpheus Kitami and Cody Gaisser

In this game, you’re in a strange town you don’t recognize. It’s too clean. Unused. Everyone’s a job stereotype. And there’s no way to leave. The diner’s waitress calls it Nowheresville, or Hell. She says everyone’s been here a very long time, and asks if you’ll try to break out again. For mature adults only.

This work was an entry in Le Grand Guignol (English) division of Ectocomp 2022 where it took 14th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Mrs. Pepper’s Nasty Secret (2008) by Jim Aikin and Eric Eve

You play as a kid on your way home from school on a Monday afternoon. Last Friday, ugly crabby Mrs. Pepper took your skateboard away from you when you had a freak spill in front of her driveway. She wouldn’t give your skateboard back then, but maybe you can get it back now?

This game won first place in both the IFBeginnersComp and in the Interactive Short Fiction Contest.

IFDB | My walkthrough and maps


Jungle Adventure (2022) by Paul Barter

In this old-school-style adventure game that uses lots of ASCII art, you play as someone lost in the jungle after an unexplained plane crash. Your main goals are to survive and escape, but feel free to get some treasure too, if you can.

This game was written in Python and was an entry in IF Comp 2022 where it took 67th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and maps


City of Dead Leaves (2016) by Felix Pleşoianu

In this short story, you play as the outsider, the one who left. You have returned here, hoping to find your lost love and reconcile with him.

This story was written in ALAN 3 and is licensed under Artistic License 2.0.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


The Enigma of the Old Manor House (2022) by Daniel M. Stelzer

Dared by your friends, you’ve broken into the house where old Doctor Black mysteriously died decades ago. Based on the ghost stories you’ve heard, you think there’s now a poltergeist in there, and if you’re right, that’s a ghost you can find… and trap.

This game was an entry in La Petite Mort (English) division of Ectocomp 2022.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


The Hidden King’s Tomb (2022) by Joshua Fratis

In this small adventure, you’re exploring the Hidden King’s Tomb, searching for treasure. Unfortunately, your adventuring partner pushed you into the sinkhole “entrance”, so you’re also searching for a way to escape.

This game was an entry in IF Comp 2022 where it took 60th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Interface (2009) by Ben Vegiard

You play as a young boy whose mind is trapped in a pyramid-shaped robot body. Your uncle Floyd, an electronics genius, invited you to his home to be the first person to try out his latest invention. But something went wrong. Uncle Floyd orders his scrawny assistant, Gilby, to take you home and fix everything. But Gilby is planning to quit and just leave you in his house like this! How can you escape your predicament?

This game was entered in IF Comp 2009 where it took 8th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


I pressed on, being chased by a stapler with my name on it. (2013) by Charlie Marcou

In this extremely short and on-the-rails story based on quotes from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, you play as an office worker named Rick. Papers are flying everywhere, and a stapler is chasing you.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


The Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom (2008) by Anssi Räisänen

In this fantasy romance, you are a new arrival at the very secretive Ngah Angah School of Forbidden Wisdom. Now prove you have the right to be there by completing three extreme tests. The penalty for failure is death.

This game was written in ALAN 3 and was an entry in IF Comp 2008 where it took 18th place.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Rock, Paper, Scissors (2022) by William Moore (as “Masterful Interactions”)

In this one-room joke game, you are a player in the largest Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament ever. Note that this minimalist work offers almost no player agency: you can either attack your opponent over and over again, or quit.

IFDB | My walkthrough and map


Renga in Blue

Ferret: You Have Failed to Register With the Department for an Excessive Period

I can’t say I really made “progress”, but I did map out Phases 10 through 12, which is dense enough to make an update. (Prior posts here. My most recent post is particularly necessary for understanding this one.) Phase 9 (incomplete): the struggle is real So the “incomplete” portion deserves some discussion: it is impossible, […]

I can’t say I really made “progress”, but I did map out Phases 10 through 12, which is dense enough to make an update. (Prior posts here. My most recent post is particularly necessary for understanding this one.)

Friedman, W. F. 1934. General solution of the ADFGVX cipher system. Technical paper of the Signal Intelligence Section, War Plans and Training Division.

Phase 9 (incomplete): the struggle is real

So the “incomplete” portion deserves some discussion: it is impossible, with this particular setup, to know when the current phase is complete. This makes a major break with the rest of the game; previously it wasn’t always clear which direction you were going, but at least if you broke through in the right way you got definite Progress by the phase number increasing.

With this phase … who knows when I’ll be done? (Other than the authors, of course.) There’s the automaton I still haven’t been able to do anything useful, and it certainly seems elaborate/significant enough to be important, but other than having it either a.) follow me around or b.) take the portable power generator and wander a little on its own I haven’t seen any other actions. At least, it doesn’t hop on the train, so that does limit it to phase 9, making it more likely to be used within phase 9 itself rather than later.

There’s also the mystery of the weird numbers on the floors, which might be genuinely nothing…

…but there’s an overarching theme of cryptography, and these particular numbers go from 1 to 26, so seem to match with the letters A through Z. Naïve crypto-solving hasn’t cracked anything (an auto-solver got me “a cargo these debris of a platos fide” as one out of many implausible choices), and I can’t think of a more clever tactic that will work.

SASGZ
TLWCQ
CXCIG
DQTPS
JMSLT
QPDXC

It _could_ be read as something other than left-to-right, but there’s an enormous number of possibilities to try. Going top-to-bottom starting from the left there’s equally weird choices like “sert blindly ash restorm and closer”.

I should mention, for the sake of completeness, other than just the Call 911 sign I mentioned last time, a placard:

Jenny Taylor Promotions
In association with the Rigid Digit Troupe
are delighted to announce a new collection
Juicy Lucy and the Suppurating Slits
with Hardlong Pipe and the Plumbers will play
The Come and Get It Adlib Concert
for one night only
Do not miss this once in a lifetime show
31st October 1985
An aural orgasm – The Voice of the Streets
Promoting Agents: Throbbing Vain Acts

Which is interesting both for the innuendo (this has been surprisingly innuendo-free for a mainframe/microcomputer game) and also the date, which suggests when the plaza was abandoned. If the bombs dropped 50 years ago, and the current year is 2083, what happened here to have a concert advertised from 1985?

I also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to escape from the sewer since last time.

Straightforwardly, there’s a blocked passage to the south, a blocked passage to the north, and all my attempts at poking and prodding to find secret exits (like the fridge from Phase 8) have been for naught.

-> d
Whaooah! You appear to have stood on some very slippery slime causing your rear end to impinge upon a significant downward slope that deposits you most ungracefully in a very unpleasant place.
Sewer
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The disgusting passage is blocked to the south. Overhead is a very dark opening in the tunnel roof.

I do want to mention the “diving suit” I found in the sewers (but have not got a use out of yet, I’ll get to a bit in a later phase where it could show up) is next to a “mouldering paper” pasted to the wall which is puzzling in itself.

I need to explain this before I expire. My life’s research has led me here. Sadly, I think my mind has been failing over the most recent years, things not having the clarity they used to possess. For what it is worth, and I hope it is worth something, otherwise my life has been for nought, my findings are as follows. Please pass on to Prof. Anderson of the Anthropology Department of Springfield University if you can.

“Every story of lore had three protagonists, they say. Let’s call them A, B and C. These lovely three were not related but they were from the same family, which means they are related, if you see what I mean. The first degree of freedom is the order of significance, which, in this case only, is reverse alphabetic order with a small, but significant, amount of moistness. Now, each of A, B and C can represent an individual digit, number, equation or some combination of some or all of the parts. Suffice to say the permutations are nearly endless, but in this case, think of some bears with a propensity to sugary conserves. The second degree of freedom is magnitude, for which an analogy with the late 20th century telephone will suffice coupled with the standard innuendo. The third degree of freedom is position within the arithmetic equation (or it is not how big it is, but what you do with it, to use televisual allegory). In this case we need to look to X and Y. If X is larger than Y then B is below the line, whereas if you are playing bridge it would be definitely above the line, if not straddling it. If Y is larger or equal in magnitude to Y then all are above the line with a straightforward multiplier effect. Not forgetting, of course, the geographical offset.”

I think this is trying to clue in specific values of A, B, and C, that gets used somehow. The “Now, each of A, B and C can represent an individual digit, number, equation or some combination of some or all of the parts. Suffice to say the permutations are nearly endless, but in this case, think of some bears with a propensity to sugary conserves.” is particularly suggestive.

Sewer Alcove
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The alcove appears to continue to the west.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a putrid rucksack here
There is a slimy fleece here
There is a sandwich pail here
There is a cake tin here
There is a rusty key here
There is an oblong of parchment here

The other items found in the sewer are shown above. The cryptic parchment that I can at least give a little more info on:

As Tablesaw noted in a Mastadon post, the first letters of the phrases are ADFGVX, and there’s a code called ADFGVX developed in WW1. The 6 by 6 table is an integral part of the code, and the only other thing needed is a key word; FRET might suffice, but even if it is not that and we don’t have it, it should be possible to brute force crack a cipher encoded with this parchment.

The problem? Any encodings naturally use the letters A, D, F, G, V, and X only. I haven’t seen anything like that. So this is likely information for later or I’m missing something. I’ve resorted to random actions like taking a javelin (found in the middle of the numbered areas) and throwing it at one of the blocked passages.

Sewer
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The disgusting passage is blocked to the north.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> throw javelin at passage
Thrown.

What’s really awkward it is faintly possible (only because this is Ferret) that going down to the sewers is purely a way of getting information, and there is no way out. However, as I already hinted at, there’s a tempting place for the diving suit later, so I’m 98% still certain there’s a way to escape.

Phase 10: An even bigger number grid

I eventually decided I had enough with 9, figuring useful info could be found later. It is of course possible the various codes and riddles can’t be solved without later information. Eagerly I stepped forward:

Ticket Office
You are in what was probably a ticket office, though it is now hard to tell as the room appears to have suffered from a number of nearby explosions. There is a wooden door displaying a carved inscription to the east.
Exits: NSE- ——– —
-> s
Open Area
You are in a vast open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is the number 22.
Exits: NSE- ——– —

Only to find more numbers! This time nine by nine. (I tried my best to fiddle with zoom and fonts to make the numbers visible. Yes, I could just make it small and make you click to enlarge, but based on my blog stats almost nobody does that.)

The marked spots are “Open Area” spaces with no number at all. This suggests … spaces, maybe? Is there a historical cryptogram that matches this setup? If you assume “open area” means “space” and “double open area” means period, the code is

vaqfcz t uxfi xbx nbceuxjgqsq. uvfcnmauxx qyxcapqnnu. urqstxuocbxnbx xnex k hvoocn.

which also stumps the auto-solver I was using. The other grid is English-like enough in distribution I’m willing to believe it just needs reading in the right direction, but this one just doesn’t work:

ksurij w mary ada editmanzulu. mkriegsmaa uvaisqueem. moulwambidaeda aeta c pkbbie.
yuivoq b save aga ngocsazmiri. syvonkusaa iwaoufinns. shirbastoganga anca d lytton.
uracol i escp sys nyodeskjava. eucongress absorzanne. emavisetoysnys snds w hutton.
unoped c sapy aja rjetsaxbowo. superinsaa ogaenzorrs. showcaslejarja arta m fuller.

The only items hidden around are a rubber charging mat and a damaged communicator, with an interesting result if you put them together.

The communicator emits three short beeps followed by: “Area Scan commenced. Scan Completed. One humanoid detected in vicinity. Continuing. Automatic Personnel Identification Procedure initiated. APIP completed. Continuing. Agent identified, Darkins, B. O. Message Retrieval Service activated. Standby…. Latched. Continuing. This is your automated message service. You have one new message as follows: Darkins, you have failed to register with The Department for an excessive period. According to standard protocol you must text the first 8 characters of your Security Pass Number to 80085 immediately, whereupon you will be notified regarding your court hearing. Failure to comply will result in immediate termination. This message has been deleted automatically”.

This is fascinating from a story sense and I’m still trying to chew on it. As far as has been revealed so far, our main character was put in stasis for medical reasons “embalmed due to unknown viral infection”. Is that not entirely true? Was there something else to it; are we a secret agent of sorts where something went wrong? Have there been other clues in prior Phases to the nature of The Department?

Various people have noodled with this to no avail. If you go back to the telephone way back in phase 7 and try to dial 80085 it gives a “constant beeping noise” (what it gives if you dial an invalid number). I think the communicator is meant to be a separate communications device from all others.

Over to the west side of Phase 10 there was a theater.

Green Room
A large area apparantly designed for people to gather or possible wait. On the north wall is a copper pipe rising from the floor. The pipe has been severed about half way up the wall and is emitted a soft whistling sound. Above the pipe is the dirty shadow of a water heater that has apparantly been removed. There is an unmistakeable smell of methane. There is a steel door to the east and a staircase leading down. Near the staircase is a brass switch.

Turning the switch has explosive results.

There is a not inconsiderable explosion as the ancient workings of the brass switch generate a miniscule arc of electricity which, combined with the methane gas, causes a conflaguration that knocks you bodily down the stairs.
Rehearsal Room
You are in a large circular area with a low roof. There is a stairway leading up from the room. In the middle of the space is a podium mounted upon which are four pads. The pads are designed in the shapes square, triangular, oval and round.
Exits: -S– ——– U-
-> s
Dressing Room
You are in a large room with a low roof. Around the walls are broken mirrors and smashed lights. Under the lights is a long bench, in front of which is a bench seat.
Exits: N-E- ——– —
There is a sealed pvc vessel here
There is a zinc key here

You end up getting locked downstairs from a small fire caused by the switch. I haven’t gotten past this.

I was stuck long enough I decided to ride the train again.

Phase 11: The Lake

The pattern is broken up a little bit here. You’ve got locations with colorful titles (I gave “Chasm of a Thousand Cuts” last time; I also like the location called “Fist of Gloating”). None of the titles really indicate anything for the rooms they are at in particular.

The “Asylum from Emnity” is a little different. It has explosives.

Asylum from Enmity
A dank crepuscular room made from reinforced concrete as if to survive a blast overhead. There is some form of opening in the ceiling apparantly to permit the ingress of light and ventilation. Against one wall is a safe surmounted by a resin slab.
Exits: —W ——– —
The resin slab contains:
a mobile phone
some Semtex explosive
-> examine slab
The solid resin slab is rectangular and semi-transparent. It appears to contain a number of structures, principally a lump of Semtex explosive, embedded into which is a mobile phone comparable to many a Hollywood big time stylie bomb.
-> get slab
Do you know what happens to old explosives?
They become unstable to the point where any kind of disturbance can cause them to blow – literally. Your fussings appear to have provoked that senario. The bluebottles are swarming.

I assume the explosive can be set off early by dialing the right number. But what, and how? (Is it seriously using the phone all the way back in phase 7? I don’t think so, given the way the game is coded — personal state and objects carried have moved between phases, but nothing like a long term state change. Ferret can’t be underestimated, though.) Maybe this is where the cryptic A, B, C message comes into play? Why would that be referring to this explosive, though? Why would someone set this up in the first place?

On the north side there’s a lake:

Lakeside
The path reverts to rock as it runs back to the southeast. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path leading you into a beautiful lake.
Exits: —- –NWSE– —
There is an oak hogshead here
-> push off hogshead
It’s a bit of struggle given the weight of the hogshead, the roughness of the terrain and the unwieldy size of the barrel but eventually success is achieved. The hogshead is bobbing gently in the lake water.
-> nw
Lake
You are paddling in a beautiful lake. In the middle of the lake is an island.
To the southeast is a sandy path.

There’s two other approaches (one by a pier, one by a bell) but I otherwise haven’t gotten anything to happen. Can’t cause the barrel to move by any actions I’ve tried, but it might just be guess the verb/phrase. Diving suit would be nice to have, though!

There was even less to noodle with here, so it was an easy choice to jump to phase 12, which goes back to having an atrociously large multi-room setup where the names might be clues. But I think I’ve reported in enough for now, except I want to mention this clip from a cave in phase 12:

Retreat to Dessiccation
The cave is dark and foreboding, very gloomy and grey, most suffocating in its cloying damp atmosphere.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a stone tablet here
-> read tablet
The tablet appears to have been engraved at some time in the past but the ravages of time have caused much distress to the surface of the stone. However, a little of the inscription is still legible.
On one side: 6, 26, 10, 11.
On the reverse side: M, V, X, Z.

Is this a clue for _previous_ phases? I haven’t tried it yet, but maybe this works to decipher four letters on phase 9, and that’s enough to decipher the rest, and then you’re supposed to make a spiral or something like that?


Zarf Updates

NarraScope 2023: June 9-11, Pittburgh

A quick note that we've gotten things rolling for NarraScope 2023! The conference will be in Pittsburgh (my old college town), hosted by the University of Pittsburgh. (Not my old college, but right next door.)We're really excited to have another in-person event. But we know the past couple of virtual NarraScopes have attracted plenty of online attendees who won't be able to make it to Pittsburgh. S
A quick note that we've gotten things rolling for NarraScope 2023! The conference will be in Pittsburgh (my old college town), hosted by the University of Pittsburgh. (Not my old college, but right next door.)
We're really excited to have another in-person event. But we know the past couple of virtual NarraScopes have attracted plenty of online attendees who won't be able to make it to Pittsburgh. So we're aiming to run the (perhaps-mythical) hybrid conference. All events will be streamed, and we'll do our best to keep conversations flowing in the NarraScope Discord.
You can read the full announcement here. We've also posted the call for proposals for program items.

Monday, 28. November 2022

Gold Machine

Project Update 11/28/21

Where in the world is Gold Machine? On Heady Distractions I apologize for leaving everyone in suspense the past few weeks. Yes, the A Mind Forever Voyaging posts will continue! I have been distracted with another project that has occupied nearly all of my time: I, Drew Cook, have been writing my own Infocom-style text […] The post Project Update 11/28/21 appeared first on Gold Machine.

Where in the world is Gold Machine?

On Heady Distractions

I apologize for leaving everyone in suspense the past few weeks. Yes, the A Mind Forever Voyaging posts will continue! I have been distracted with another project that has occupied nearly all of my time: I, Drew Cook, have been writing my own Infocom-style text adventure! For those of you who don’t follow the contemporary interactive fiction scene, you may or may not know that there is a programming language called Inform 7 that was built from the ground up to reproduce the feature set of Infocom’s own Zork Implementation Language. That was over twenty years ago, and in the time since it has become far more capable and feature-rich than that original 1980s technology.

I’ve been working on Repeat the Ending for over a year, learning Inform 7 all the while. I’m not a programmer, so this has been a rough ride at times, but that makes the progress feel quite satisfying. The reason for the unprecedented weeks of intensity is that the game reached “feature complete” status a month or so ago. All that means is that, as the name implies, every mechanic, location, thing, and so forth is in the game and more or less working. It can be played, at long last, from beginning to end. While I have done some preliminary playtesting, my game is now ready for beta testing. I’ve spent the past month or so chasing down bugs, polishing prose, cutting and adding when things just don’t feel right.

This is all in preparation for testing that begins December 1st. I’ll be sending it off in just 72 hours or so!

What kind of game is it, and will it be to your liking? I think it will interest some and irritate others. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from various IF sources: Infidel, A Mind Forever Voyaging, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is dark, grim, even, but perhaps it is an earned darkness. Wait for some reviews and see what you think.

This should be the last time that I get pulled away from my Infocom work for a while, but there will likely be another big push before the Spring Thing Festival, where my game will hopefully debut. Thanks, then and now, for your patience.

Looking Back

I was so busy with my A Mind Forever Voyaging Work that I forgot to mention that the one-year anniversary of Gold Machine was October 1st. Some facts:

  • 82 Posts
  • 181,765 words
  • Most-read series: A Mind Forever Voyaging (so far)
  • Least-read series: Deadline (we had a very small readership in those days.
  • Most controversial post: I received many messages about “What is a Zork? What Has It Got? Last Thoughts on Sorcerer.” Most respondents thought that I overemphasized its place in the six-game Zork saga, while failing to acknowledge its humor and puzzles.
  • My personal favorites:

I’m happy with almost all of them. I can only think of a few disappointments or missed opportunities? Do you have a favorite? Let me know!

REfresher: Valuable Resources

How do I play these great games? With Microsoft (possibly) acquiring Activision, the current abandonware status of Infocom games may change in the future. Probably not, but it’s possible! That being so, it’s a good time to grab whatever materials you may wish to have for preservation, criticism, or even educational purposes. To play Infocom games locally, you will need three things: a story file, documentation, and an interpreter. The interpreter is an application that plays story files, just as a word processor opens document files. The documentation is often needed for copy protection. Besides, it’s fun to look at.

Interpreters. There are a few available. All will play Infocom games (though the ones with graphics are a special case. Feel free to message me about those). For both ease of use and simple configuration options, I think I will recommend Lectrote. Parchment is also very easy to use, but less configurable. Many people like Gargoyle. I use Frotz to play graphical games like Journey and Zork Zero. Links:

If you are hesitant to download executables (totally understandable), Parchment is your best bet. It seems to work fine on my iPhone, too. You can additionally play many modern Interactive Fiction games (like my work in progress) on Lectote, Parchment, and Gargoyle. There’s an incredible amount of excellent community-created content out there!

Story files and documentation. Note that the first post for every game covered so far has included links to documentation and story files. Take the links in this Zork I writeup, for instance. These links are live now and have been live for a long time, but again, the future is always uncertain. If you wish to preserve an archive of these materials, now is a good time to begin working towards that goal. Feel free to reach out with questions!

Getting in Touch

I’m sure many of you have noted the strange and undesirable state of Twitter. I have decided to relocate my daily microblogging activities to Mastodon. It is currently a time of transition, but I will completely stop using it soon. I have looked at it once in the past seven days. Right now, I can be found here. If an Interactive Fiction instance opens up—there’s been some talk about that—I’ll move and update links as needed. I am still working to build my community there, so let’s follow each-other! You can also find me at the Interactive Fiction Community Forum, which I always check once a day. There’s always the contact form too, which forwards messages to my Gold Machine email account (golmac @ golmac . org). I enjoy hearing from readers and IF fans of all sorts, provided you don’t want to argue about the ending of Infidel, because I’ve done enough of that already.

The final three posts of nine re: A Mind Forever Voyaging will resume next week. Promise! I just need to get this beta test off the ground first. Thanks for coming along with me on this adventure. We’re halfway through the canon now, more or less.

See you soon.

The post Project Update 11/28/21 appeared first on Gold Machine.

Saturday, 26. November 2022

Wade's Important Astrolab

Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter planning notes available

During my 2022 Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter, I said on the intfiction.org forum that once the campaign was over, I would share my planning notes. I've now done that (they comprise a a ten-page PDF of about 4700 words) in a post on the forum along with some explanatory notes.

During my 2022 Andromeda Acolytes Kickstarter, I said on the intfiction.org forum that once the campaign was over, I would share my planning notes. I've now done that (they comprise a a ten-page PDF of about 4700 words) in a post on the forum along with some explanatory notes.

Thursday, 24. November 2022

Renga in Blue

Seek (1982)

In the category of “latent genres you never even realize existed”, I bring you: Nightmare Park. Nightmare Park, by Bob Chappell, first appeared as a type-in in the August 1980 issue of Personal Computer World. You are an ASCII character on path trying to escape a park. As you step along the path, you encounter […]

In the category of “latent genres you never even realize existed”, I bring you: Nightmare Park.

Nightmare Park, by Bob Chappell, first appeared as a type-in in the August 1980 issue of Personal Computer World. You are an ASCII character on path trying to escape a park.

As you step along the path, you encounter mini-games that can kill you. Some of them are games of skill.

In this game you dodge left and right.

Some of them are just a random chance to kill.

In this game you are supposed to just stand still and hope the death rays don’t hit you.

The whole package is compact and weirdly compelling.

The Youtube video I have linked above by 9Pix9 has quite a number of comments of people who remember the game well:

This is the first computer game I ever played.

One of the first games I ever played on the school Commodore PET.

My school had two Commodore PETS and every lunch kids would gather round to play this game.

I remember this game. It was one of the first programs that I ever hacked. I added a section called “Themadoll’s ghost” to it at Derby College. I think it’s what convinced me to change my career from Mech Eng. to Computers

A quote from Adam Dawes made a C64 port (which I used for my own screenshots, as I was unable to procure the PET version):

It undoubtedly played a part in shaping my life and career, and it’ll always hold very special memories for me.

As further evidence of the game’s influence, there were enough variations that there’s a whole category at the Complete BBC Micro Games Archive of various clones.

It became a genre in itself, and I honestly can’t think of anything quite comparable. This is a game where you might just die by bad luck, yet the slot machine forms a part of the experience. The closest modern analogue I can come up with is something like the Mario Party games, but those are multiplayer.

I bring all this up because one of the versions of Nightmare Park, made for Acorn Atom, was by Steven Mark Probyn.

And that is all the biographical information we have on him, other than that the next year he wrote Seek for the BBC Micro and had it published through Micro Power.

From an ad for Killer Gorilla. Seek is in small print to the left, selling for £5.95. It wasn’t advertised too hard and no pictures of the tape case currently exist.

If that publisher sounds familiar, it is likely either you a 1980s-era Acorn diehard or you read my write-up not long ago of their game Adventure, not to be confused with any other Adventure, especially with the princess who keeps running away when you’re trying to rescue her and where the game punishes you for typing STEAL COIN rather than GET COIN even though at the world-level both describe exactly the same action.

“Search the surrounding countryside for hidden treasures and items of value,” we’ve been there before. The only unusual thing up to here is that every item in the game counts as a treasure, so you want to put absolutely everything (including a rope and a lamp) in the starting room to win the game.

At the very start I thought I might finally get an absolutely-plain game, one with almost nothing interesting to observe other than than feeling a bit sloppy (see: no space after the period) but once I got going things felt very, very, odd. Yes, “smell of adventure”, yes, castle with a river, yes, nearby cave.

I thought it a little odd the goblin doesn’t get mentioned in the room description above, but it wasn’t until a bit later I really caught onto what was going on.

You see:

a.) the obstacles are in all cases between rooms; you only get blocked or have death happening trying to travel in a direction

b.) while some other verbs are recognized, your best bet with every single item in the game is to USE it; for example, early on you can find a CUDGEL which works against that goblin, and an axe that works against the dwarves

c.) (which is truly the weird thing) except for item placement in rooms or inventory, the game is entirely stateless; if you kill a goblin at an exit, it will still be there, if you kill dwarves with an axe and walk in that direction (“You trample over bodies”) when you return you have to do it all over again, multiple dwarven massacres one right after the other

This applies also to more ordinary actions, like unlocking doors with keys — doors never stay unlocked, and if you bridge a river with a plank, it will always be removed after crossing.

Parts a-c.) had bizarre narrative effects, mainly serving to make the entire thing seem like a meta-exercise, like I was playing a board game with cards rather than participating in a story.

There was quite a bit of instant death, the most creative being a treasure you see in the distance where you fall and die if you go for it (there is no treasure). However, some of the instant death directions are actually puzzles to solve, and it is hard to tell when something is solvable and when it isn’t; you just need to cart your current pile of objects over and start testing with USE.

For example, trying to go east here kills you via wolf; for a while I assumed (before I caught the general structure of the game) that this meant the exit was permanently closed off. Once I started applying USE in places, I was able to apply a spear:

This is strange as narrative; the elves are always in the room, consistently warning you about wolves you can’t see, and somehow, when picking USE on the right item, you are able to attack a wolf that you still can’t see and chase off other wolves. This obstacles-in-the-connections paradigm essentially dropped any sense of world modeling, but the game was able to wrap a story in anyway. While you can’t just dive in the river by the castle (death) you can work your way around an alternate way and find some guards by a drawbridge. Trying to USE a weapon just states “NOTHING HAPPENS.” Since they are gambling, USE MONEY works:

I admit this took me a while to find; even though I had realized by this point that “every item counts for points, nothing is destroyed”, once I found “money” I immediately and instinctively wanted to hoard it back in the starting area, rather than use it for a puzzle. I was afraid I’d lose it (like throwing a treasure to the troll in Crowther/Woods Adventure) but the money doesn’t go anywhere; if you want to pitch a narrative on, you can just assume there’s so much money it doesn’t matter if you spend some of it on the guards.

(Or you win at gambling. The game doesn’t describe much. Very odd for the BBC Micro, and I suspect maybe it is a port from Atom somehow? But no Atom version exists. There was an Electron port by someone entirely different years later who rudely scrubbed the original author of Steven Mark Probyn and put their own name, D. W. Gore.)

Inside the Castle, it is possible to get chomped by zombies (use a torch), killed by a basilisk (use a mirror) or fall into a pit (use a pole, to pole vault I guess?)

Past the basilisk you can find a sword, which you immediately need because right after that is the King’s Chamber where the King is ready to fight. Of course everything is static and determined by moving in a direction, so the way the logic actually goes is: if you try to go south, you get stabbed and die; if you USE SWORD first, you kill the king and then can go south immediately afterward. You can sit and stare at the king for as long as you want, or even USE SWORD repeatedly because it doesn’t keep track if the king is really alive or dead, just if you can go south.

The last, trickiest part involved a tomb. The way to get in was to USE a CHARTER that was right at the start of the game. I don’t know what action using a charter even constitutes here; waving it in the air to prove I have the right to go in?

The tomb, however, is one way, and when I took the screenshot here I turned out to be trapped. I needed to be carrying a ring (another “looks like a treasure” item) which magically allows escape when used while inside the tomb.

Once I got the hang of the system it was essentially fun; I don’t think this would hold up for more games that well, though, especially with the weird circumstances like the king. Having an adventure in a nearly static world loses quite a bit of the point of adventuring, but I did find myself thinking it slightly unusual ways (“was this deathtrap really a deathtrap? am I allowed to use the cudgel twice? am I allowed to use poison even though I can only hear rats but can’t see them?”)

Also, while that intro regarding Nightmare Park was originally meant to just be an aside, it does seem a little relevant here. Nightmare Park, other than the player’s location, is essentially stateless: you move along a board hoping that the next mini-game won’t kill you. The death comes not in standing in place but moving to the next step. Seek feels like it was written along a similar line, and I do get a sense that one influenced the other.

Pole + pit also took a while to find, and it’s strange that you only get warned about the pit after using the pole, since using the pole would presumably need knowledge that the pit was there.

Wednesday, 23. November 2022

Choice of Games LLC

Teahouse of the Gods—Harness the energy of qi to save the world!

We’re proud to announce that Teahouse of the Gods, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, Android, and on iOS in the “Choice of Games” app. It’s 29% off until Nov 30th! Harness the energy of life itself to empower your body, control your environment, even delve deep into the mysteries of the

We’re proud to announce that Teahouse of the Gods, the latest in our popular “Choice of Games” line of multiple-choice interactive-fiction games, is now available for Steam, Android, and on iOS in the “Choice of Games” app.

It’s 29% off until Nov 30th!

Harness the energy of life itself to empower your body, control your environment, even delve deep into the mysteries of the mind! Will you use your newfound powers to maintain the balance of the universe, or will corruption stain your soul?

Teahouse of the Gods is a 250,000-word interactive novel by Naca Rat. It’s entirely text-based, without graphics or sound effects, and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

After one night at “The Teahouse” on Mount Qingcheng in Sichuan, China, you wake with the ability to perceive and manipulate spiritual energy, known as qi. Now, you can see gods and monsters that ordinary people can’t, and you can unlock extraordinary powers.

On the path of the body, you can run faster, jump higher, and punch harder. On the path of the mind, you can create glamours and illusions that change people’s perceptions of reality. And on the path of the environment, you can reach out to the world around you, from blades of grass, to the smallest teacup, to Mount Qingcheng itself.

Under the guidance of gods and animal spirits, you can perceive a sickness slowly poisoning the mountain and its inhabitants. When an ancient enemy returns to the mountain with vengeance in mind, will you be ready to join the fight? The mysteries of Mount Qingcheng are beckoning you.

• Play as male, female, or nonbinary; gay, straight, bi, asexual, or poly.
• Explore a mountain village in China that’s as timeless as myth, yet as modern as a trending hashtag on TikTok.
• Discover the secrets of your past life. Do they still have the power to shape your destiny?
• Rekindle an ancient romance, explore the possibilities with a long-lost friend, or charm a local mogul/memelord.
• Specialize in the body, mind, or environment path as you learn to control spiritual energy, or develop your skills in all three.
• Befriend a Romanian expat, a musical prodigy, a panda spirit, and a busy mother.
• Help a local resort owner plan a summer festival. (You’re here to learn the hospitality industry, remember?)
• Eat. Eat vegetarian, kosher, halal, or try everything: gourmet delicacies, spicy local fare, street food, and dishes from around the world …and beyond.

Thousands of years later, you’re home at last.

We hope you enjoy playing Teahouse of the Gods. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.


:: CASA ::

CASA Update - 361 new game entries, 207 new solutions, 231 new maps, 1 new manual, 11 new hints, 23 new fixed games

♦As we're approaching the end of 2022, the early days of text adventures seem a distant past. Still, past and present manage to meet up on various occasions.Among the more notable ones, the 1982 Zork'ish mega-game Ferret has been made available to modern users in a finishable state. This is the kind of computer archaeology that I just love. The list of missing games from the era of the mainframes

Image

As we're approaching the end of 2022, the early days of text adventures seem a distant past. Still, past and present manage to meet up on various occasions.
Among the more notable ones, the 1982 Zork'ish mega-game Ferret has been made available to modern users in a finishable state. This is the kind of computer archaeology that I just love. The list of missing games from the era of the mainframes and the likes is extensive, so resurrections of this sort is most welcome.

The next example isn't exactly breaking news, but Ken and Roberta Williams (yes, the Sierra founders) have come out of retirement with 12 people coding away on a VR version of Colossal Adventure. I don't think a great many of us had seen that one coming. It'll be interesting to see if it can grab the attention of a modern audience. More on the official website.

Contributors: Garry, Simon, Exemptus, skyhook58, Denk, boldir, Endurion, sequornico, Ambat Sasi Nair, ChickenMan, iamaran, fuzzel, Dorothy, blauroke, The Glass Fractal, equinox, Alastair, Strident, OVL, Canalboy, nimusi, jdyer, ClockWyzass, dave, DannieGeeko, redhighlander, jgerrie, Oloturia, PJ-1978, Duffadash, leenew, FredB74, FARLANDER, r_f


Renga in Blue

Ferret: Chasm of a Thousand Cuts

I’m honestly still flabbergasted. (Backlog of posts on Ferret here.) The game certainly tries to give a strong sense of Things Are Different once entering Phase 9; in addition to the odd message from last time Arise Ignorants, for you have been summoned by the Master of Knowledge. Your labours will no longer be in […]

I’m honestly still flabbergasted. (Backlog of posts on Ferret here.)

Computerworld Mar 13, 1978.

The game certainly tries to give a strong sense of Things Are Different once entering Phase 9; in addition to the odd message from last time

Arise Ignorants, for you have been summoned by the Master of Knowledge. Your labours will no longer be in vain, for you will have a common goal. The secrets of past technologies will now be unlocked and will allow you to utilise the mysterious powers discovered by your forefathers prior to the big heat.

there is a new “mode” unlocked.

Entering Phase 9 (Navigation) activates Master Mode. Certain existing and new verbs will start to work once in Master Mode.

I haven’t talked about modes before, so let me backtrack a bit. When hitting the 300 point threshold the game enters “Expert” mode, which removes some randomization and makes it so the timecard puzzle (the one where you had to set your real computer clock timer) no longer needs solving. The general intent is to allow easier walkthrough creation and experimentation (one player, K, isn’t even bothering with save games, and is using a transcript that the game plays through instead).

The interesting (and fairly unique) thing about Expert mode is that it applies to new games. That is, once reaching Expert mode, you can restart to have the new behavior happen. So progress on the game holistically affects even restarts of the entire world-universe.

Master mode is more mysterious:

You are currently in Master Mode, which entitles you to certain privileges.

At this level you are expected to be able to find or postulate what the new privileges might be, given your experience with the game. For example, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”.

I’m still not quite sure what the new verbs are, but any restarts now put the game in Master mode, so I do wonder if there are some different scenes possible with new meta-skills (?).

This wasn’t the flabbergasting part; what I mentioned with the modes was already spelled out in the documentation so I knew it was coming. Let me save it a bit longer and tell you about my exploration of Phase 9:

You disembark from the train to find a “Richmond Station” sign and some graffiti.

Yo, ya kno’ that Graham geezer and his massive number. Well, like, X is the spot an’ it’s the last free digits, dig it?

Graham’s Number is a colossally humungous number famous for being “the largest number ever used in a proof”. I don’t if that’s still true, but even quantities like “the number of atoms in the universe” are minute comparisons, and it isn’t coherent to talk about something like “how many zeros it has” — you have to think in terms of something called “up-arrow notation” which isn’t worth a sidetrack into. The last digits are

03222348723967018485186439059104575627262464195387

Is this “the last free digits”, though? Is that supposed to be “three digits”?

You may have noticed numbers on the map; that’s because connected to the train station is a five by six grid where each location has a number.

Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is
the number 1.
-> e
Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is the number 19.
-> e
Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is the number 7. Attached to the north wall is a tall wardrobe.

I’m currently a long way from deciphering what the numbers mean, but given the 5-by-6 layout they might connect to a parchment found later which I’ll just give the clip of now (6-by-6, alas, but still suggestive):

I’m happy to take speculation from anyone on this one, even people not playing the game.

Moving back to the large area, it isn’t just numbers; for example, the wardrobe I showed off contains an automaton.

Nearby is a “portable generator” with a knob, and if you turn the knob while at the automaton you can get it to follow you around. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to give it any other commands. You can drop the generator and watch the automaton scoop it up and wander on its own, but that doesn’t seem to be useful either.

Poster on a random position of the grid.

There’s also a “large statue” which seems to be immobile, and a garden off in the southeast corner that has a locked gate.

Small Kitchen Garden
You are in a walled area that was probably used to grow fruit and vegetables in past times but all evidence of gardening has long disappeared. To the west is a building. There is a gate set in the south wall.
-> open gate
It’s locked.

Incidentally, I did try to get the automaton to break the gate open for me, but to no avail. There’s a key elsewhere I’ll show in a second, but I haven’t been able to bring the key to the gate. Let’s go there now:

This is the east part of the phase 9 map, with a pyramid you can enter to find a sewer.

Pyramid
You are standing in front of an enormous pyramid. Despite its incredible size it is completely featurlesss apart from a strange flap arrangement set into the side of the pyramid in front of you.
-> push flap
The rather strangely designed flap appears to pivot about a linear horizontal axis near the top of the flap. This behaviour causes you to lean forward and discover, like many, many before you, the force known as gravity. You tumble heels over head into the void. The brunt of the subsequent significant impact is taken by your head so no serious damage results from your incautious act.
Bowl of Gyration
The floor here is formed into the shape of a bowl which is suffused by a dim light from the pyramid-shaped roof. There are strange patterns on the floor giving the optical illusion of ever-circulating paths. In the middle of the floor is a dark tunnel leading downwards.
-> d
Whaooah! You appear to have stood on some very slippery slime causing your rear end to impinge upon a significant downward slope that deposits you most ungracefully in a very unpleasant place.
Sewer
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The disgusting passage is blocked to the south. Overhead is a very dark opening in the tunnel roof.

Unfortunately, this is a one-way trip and I haven’t found an exit. Also, the sewer is timed: after enough turns, you die from the smell. There’s a diving suit nearby that is no help (you’d the wearing the suit would protect you, but no — also, no verbs I’ve tested work on it). Even more curious is a “putrid rucksack”;

-> open rucksack
Opening the putrid rucksack reveals:
a slimy fleece
a sandwich pail
a cake tin
a rusty key
an oblong of parchment

The parchment you’ve already seen with the 5 by 6 grid. The cake tin has a cake that you can break open to find a ticker tape:

-> break cake
The sponge crumbles to dust revealing a strip of ticker tape.
-> read tape
CMRD SMLNSK + PRCD STNDRD DRPFF PNT + NJY CHCLT BR + DSRPT CPTLST PGDG PWR SPPLY + NRCH TH LDRS T FR TH PPL + STOP

You can see Damian Murphy’s translation here, and no, I don’t know if there’s anything useful here, but it is quite possible some of what we’re meant to gather here is information for later.

This would seem to be a dead end, except: you can get back on the train and keep going! Here we get to the mind-blowing part. We haven’t just unlocked Phase 9, we have unlocked Phases 9 through 16 inclusive, and we can access all of them right away.

Phase 10 (Foundation) has a “translucent fruit bowl”…

Staffroom
This room appears to have be used by the station staff during their rest periods. There are some basic facilities including a worktop with an opening for a sink and a broken tap. Under the opening for the sink is a cupboard. Above the worktop the ceiling is angled at 45 degrees as if the room is built under a sloping roof. There is a wooden door to the west. Set in one wall is a sheet of opaque plexiglass under which is a wide slot. To one side of the plexiglass is a vandalised keypad.
There is a translucent fruit bowl here

…and a series of “open areas” just like Phase 9, also with numbers on the floors. Are the puzzles connected?

Way back at the Cathedral we needed to use a piece of information from The Future to affect the past. Is this the case here? Do we have to visit all the different phases to solve earlier ones, even though the train doesn’t turn around, and gather information that will help?

Phase 11 (Compression) contains a weird progression of locations with colorful names.

-> w
Chasm of Dreams
The path runs through a ravine from east to west. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path.
-> w
Gorge of Pyrocleese
The path runs through a ravine from east to west. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path with another similar path running off to the northwest.
-> nw
Chasm of a Thousand Cuts
The path runs through a ravine from southeast to northwest. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path.
-> nw
Silo of Screams
The path runs through a ravine from southeast to northwest. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path. To the northwest the path changes to sand.

Phase 12 (Delinearisation) has you greeted by a cyborg.

Ticket Office
You are in what was probably a ticket office, though it is now hard to tell as the room appears to have completely looted.
There is a voluptuous cyborg here
The cyborg has noticed your existence, but considers it quite trivial.

Phase 13 (Concatenation) involves ominous and dark craters.

Phase 14 (Fascination) has a floor you can bust through…

Entrance Hall
A large spacious area without seats and benches probably provided for the convenience of the passengers using the railway.
The flooring seems a little strange and has a hollow feel to it.
-> jump
Boingey, boingey, boinge! This is jolly wizzer fun. Uh oh, the floor appears to be suffering from your bouncing affections. Lordy, you seem to have hit the resonant frequency of a section the floor timbers which becomes dislodged and clatters to the floor of the room below. As you were jumping on the floorboards at the time you are rudely deposited in the room below with a resounding thump on your little botty.
Basement
You are in a small dimly-lit area with a steep ramp providing a route upwards.

…and cryptic voices giving numerical riddles.

The ethereal voice is somewhat indistinct and appears to be repeating: “The average hydrogen atom, number of neutrons it has?”
-> s
Old Nick
A pleasant airy space with a high ceiling. Hanging from the centre of the ceiling is a microphone. The flooring seems a little strange and has a hollow feel to it. You can just discern what appears to be a soft voice whispering around the room.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> listen
The ethereal voice is somewhat indistinct and appears to be repeating: “Normally represented, the square root of what, the letter i by?”

Phase 15 (Imagination) has a dark subway.

Phase 16 (Liberation) is immediately blocked by a ticket office.

Ticket Office
You are in what was probably a ticket office, though it is now hard to tell as the room appears to have suffered from a number of nearby explosions. The north end of the room appears to consist of an automatic barrier, to the right of which is a turnstile and a slot. Unfortunately all of the guidance instructions appear to have been obliterated at some time in the past.

And Phase 17 … well, that’s the end of the line. You can’t reach Phase 17 on the train. There was a bug (now fixed?) that allowed this to happen, with tempting glimpse of the future. For now, there’s quite a few angles to prod at while solving puzzles, but as Phase 16 illustrates, we may still need objects from earlier phases in later ones, and eventually the sequence will be consecutive. But even if information from the future isn’t strictly necessary, knowing if particular items will get used can help work out what needs to happen in previous phases.

Is the rest of the game one big quantum state, where the garden of forking paths is both branching and linear at the same time?

Monday, 21. November 2022

The XYZZY Awards

XYZZY Awards 2021: first round

The first round of the XYZZY Awards, celebrating the best interactive fiction of 2021, is now open. The XYZZYs are open-voting, and use your IF Comp login; if you need to register an account with the Comp, or you’ve forgotten your account details, go here. You can log in here (you’ll get kicked back to the front page, […]

The first round of the XYZZY Awards, celebrating the best interactive fiction of 2021, is now open.

The XYZZYs are open-voting, and use your IF Comp login; if you need to register an account with the Comp, or you’ve forgotten your account details, go here. You can log in here (you’ll get kicked back to the front page, but do not adjust your set: you are in fact logged in) and then vote here

In the first round, anyone can nominate up to two eligible games in each category. (You are asked not to vote for your own work, or to organise voters to support a particular game or slate.)

First-round voting will remain open through December 3.


Choice of Games LLC

Author Interview: Naca Rat, Teahouse of the Gods

Harness the energy of life itself to empower your body, control your environment, even delve deep into the mysteries of the mind! Will you use your newfound powers to maintain the balance of the universe, or will corruption stain your soul? Teahouse of the Gods is a 250,000-word interactive novel by Naca Rat. I sat down with the author to talk about their upcoming game and its unique features. Teah

Harness the energy of life itself to empower your body, control your environment, even delve deep into the mysteries of the mind! Will you use your newfound powers to maintain the balance of the universe, or will corruption stain your soul? Teahouse of the Gods is a 250,000-word interactive novel by Naca Rat. I sat down with the author to talk about their upcoming game and its unique features.

Teahouse of the Gods releases on Wednesday, November 23rd. You can play the first four chapters for free, today.

What drew you to interactive fiction?

People have spent millennia telling stories. As a storyteller, I must ask myself—is nothing new under the sun? What can I do that hasn’t been done?

Technology presents opportunities to tell stories that no one has been able to tell before. I intend to tell it well, so I write interactive fiction to better understand the new possibilities of our times.

Tell us a little about your background in games and this game.

I make games to try and tell stories. My previous games—and other storytelling efforts—have been interested in feminism, generational trauma, and mortality. And pandas.

This project was an exercise in world-building. I imagine a reader exploring different choices as if walking different trails in a forest. Each path reveals a little more of the story’s world. Alongside the wonder of discovering a new world, I hope each new path modifies readers’ perspective on the truth, right and wrong, and how the world works—both in this story, and all around us.

There’s so much to like about this game, but one thing that really sets it apart is your inclusion of Mandarin for players who are familiar or fluent in Mandarin. How did that come about?

As a writer, multilingualism resolves the frustration of “oh, there is an elegant Mandarin expression for this, but my current project is in English 🙁

More importantly, beyond convenience and novelty, multilingualism is a part of representation. Language (or Google Translate) opens possibilities for how we interact with the world. As a multilingual reader, there is another world inside my mind with which a single-language story does not engage. I wanted to read a story that speaks to my full experience of the world, so I wrote it.

What was your favorite part of the story to write?

Xingtu’s dialogue is revealing despite their evasiveness. The way they use Mandarin hints at their geographical origin, gender identity, and communities of online discourse, for example. The revealing-opaque duality is fun to write.

Xingtu’s also fun. It’s exhilarating to make problems go away (or make problems for others) by throwing money. That’s what makes Xingtu powerful—that they not only have disproportionate influence over the world, but can also make such power feel appealing.

What are you working on next?

I’m finishing a traditional novel about two kids from Kentucky who fall into another world. If my and my team’s availability permits, I’d also like to wrap development on our clicker/farm-sim/interactive-fiction-game, Sugarcane Empire.


Renga in Blue

Ferret: Ozone and Burning

Phase 8 complete, with the power of Science. (Prior posts on Ferret here.) The first thing I was stuck on turned out to be based on a general adventuring error; I made this list of items… a photographic flashgun a piece of fur a beautiful ruby rod (which also flashes if you flash the flashgun) […]

Phase 8 complete, with the power of Science. (Prior posts on Ferret here.)

Early core memory, using donut-shaped magnets on a grid. [Source, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.]

The first thing I was stuck on turned out to be based on a general adventuring error; I made this list of items…

a photographic flashgun
a piece of fur
a beautiful ruby rod (which also flashes if you flash the flashgun)
a picnic box
a block of ice (which doesn’t melt if in the box, somehow)
a security casket with a plastic card locked inside
a perspex rod
a dirty reticule (with “a piece of linen” inside)

…but left something out, namely, a fridge that the block of ice was in.

Ice Cream Parlour
You are in a rundown ice cream parlour. The majority of the contents of the parlour have been removed, leaving a solitary refridgerator standing in the middle of the room. There is a doorway to the west.
Exits: —W ——– —

So, I spent some serious time trying to use items on each other, but didn’t bother to try mucking about with the fridge itself, which is embedded in the room description itself and is “large” so I assumed I couldn’t manipulate it other than opening it. However, it easily succumbs to a use of the TEST command (which if you remember, drops a megaton of verbs on the object it applies to all at once) which ferrets out the fact that PUSHing is useful.

-> push fridge
The fabric of the refrigerator squeals in complaint as it grinds slowly to one side on some unseen and ancient castors. After a short distance the castors give in to the decaying effects of time and disintegrate under the weight of the refrigerator. You appear to have revealed a narrow stairway leading down into a dark and rancid-smelling room.

This leads down to some “catacombs” which are mostly uninteresting other than containing an iron ring…

The iron ring is of small dimensions and not in the slightest bit dissimilar to the sort of iron ring found in the memory of early twentieth century computers.

…and having an exit which leads to the western area of the map. This means that, despite travel between the western portion and eastern portion of the map being one-way it becomes possible to go in a loop through the catacombs.

Bringing all the items to the gizmos on the west side yielded immediate results. There was a dome with a static electricity warning; I knew rubbing the perplex rod on the fur made static electricity; I put the two together.

-> rub rod with fur
There is a crackle of static electricity as you rub the fur up and down the Perspex rod (Freud would also be interested in your behaviour).
-> touch dome with rod
As the Perspex rod nears the glass surface of the dome a fat spark of static electricity is discharged. Suddenly the interior of the dome is filled with many-coloured streamers of electronic discharge (I think you’ve started something here – where will it lead?).

This activated the strange letter tiles that looked like a sliding puzzle, and in fact are. These tiles are at the Nursery…

w y h
t k a e
f u o r
p n i s

…which match a four by four block of rooms nearby.

Matrix
You are in a rather strange room that appears to have rather thick walls. There is an opening in each of the ordinal walls, however the east exit is blocked by a wall that appears to run around the outside of the room. There is a large lever set in the middle of the floor.

To get it to work, your inventory needs to be empty (otherwise you can’t “ride” the tile on the air cushion as it tries to move positions).

-> pull lever
There is a whirring of fans followed by a slight lurch as the floor appears to lift slightly. The room wobbles briefly on its blanket of air, then subsides to its original position. The lever springs back to its original position.

When working properly:

There is a whirring of fans followed by a slight lurch as the floor appears to lift slightly. Incredibly the room starts to move on a blanket of air. After some not inconsiderable movement the whirring noise subsides followed by the floor of the room. The lever springs back to its original position.

This is, to those unfamiliar, a Fifteen Puzzle from the 19th century where the goal is to shift a set of mixed-up tiles from “1” to “15” into order. Some configurations are unsolvable.

The puzzle-maker Sam Loyd (who helped popularize the puzzle but didn’t invent it) famously made a contest where he swapped the positions of 14 and 15 and gave a cash prize for solving the puzzle. The money was safe: this was an unsolvable situation.

For this puzzle, the tiles need to slide into the positions WHY TAKE FOUR PINS. I initially thought this would do the trick where a letter gets repeated and they have to swap positions (otherwise the puzzle is unsolvable), but this particular puzzle mercifully has no repeat letters, so it was just a matter of solving the puzzle the standard way.

Starting at the first row, third column:

pull lever;w;w;pull lever;w;s;pull lever
s;e;pull lever;e;n;pull lever;n;w;pull lever
w;s;pull lever;s;s;pull lever;s;e;pull lever
e;s;pull lever;s;e;pull lever;e;n;pull lever
n;n;pull lever;n;w;pull lever;w;w;pull lever
w;s;pull lever;s;e;pull lever;e;n;pull lever
n;n;pull lever;n;e;pull lever;e;s;pull lever
s;s;pull lever;s;s;pull lever;s;w;pull lever
w;w;pull lever;w;n;pull lever;n;n;pull lever
n;n;pull lever;n;e;pull lever;e;e;pull lever

This yields:

You hear a distant bang, followed by a rumbling noise.

Heading back to the nursery, there is a new exit, but it is quickly blocked off by a locked door:

Security Corridor
You are in a narrow corridor with a door to the north.
Exits: —W ——– —

I also took a peek in at the tiles (that are placed behind a window so you can’t touch them) to see if anything changed, and the tiles had been replaced by a compass. There’s something useful you can do with the compass, but I’ll get back to this. For now, I needed to go back to that strange brass platform with the confusing description:

Scullery
You are in a very small room. Fixed to the east wall is a cupboard. Directly opposite the cupboard is a cavity in the wall.
Exits: NS– ——– —
The cupboard contains:
a brass platform
-> examine platform
The small brass platform is square and fixed to the base of the cupboard with its rear edge parallel to the back of the cupboard. The platform has a shallow hemispherical groove running from its back to its front, parallel to the side of the platform.

(That should be half a cylinder, not half a sphere.)

The idea here is to drop the ruby rod into the groove; using the photography flash will shoot off a laser.

-> push button
The flashgun emits a blinding flash of light.
The ruby rod, residing in a partial waveguide, emits an intense flash of focused light. There is a mixed aroma of ozone and burning.

Then, you can stick an item in the “cavity in the wall” directly across from the laser. For most items it will fry them outright. In fact, it fries every single thing you can possibly put inside, except for the block of ice.

The ice melts slightly, the liberated water evaporating off into the atmosphere.

Some long contemplation and some time fiddling later, I realized you could put more than one item in the cavity, so having the steam going can help protect a second item. What the second item can be is the “security casket” with a card inside.

The flashgun emits a blinding flash of light.
The ruby rod, residing in a partial waveguide, emits an intense flash of focused light. There is a mixed aroma of ozone and burning.
The laser beam slices into the top of the casket liberating a small cloud of acrid smoke mingled with steam given off by the hissing ice. The smoke and steam disperse into the atmosphere.
The ice melts slightly, the liberated water evaporating off into the atmosphere.

If the symbols involve some cryptic message, I haven’t figured it out yet. Perhaps it will be important in a later phase.

The card then can be taken over back to the town side where there is a bank.

Bank
You are in a what appears to have been a bank. Set against the east wall is an automatic teller machine, which consists of a screen with a slot located alongside one edge of the screen. There is a doorway to the west.
Exits: —W ——– —

Putting the card into the slot gets an “Autoteller” message including the message “security access granted” and immediately upon asking “Please enter your Personal ID Number” the whole system gets fried. There is no way to enter an ID number. Instead, the security access is what’s useful here. This means the door back at the Nursery (that solving the tile puzzle gave access to) is now unlocked.

Oriental Room
You are in a small room shaped like an oriental temple. There is but one exit to the south.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There is a pinchbeck case here

The pinchbeck case (which cannot even be picked up) seems to be entirely a red herring. You need to go back to the compass at the Nursery. Let me also repeat the description of the iron ring:

The iron ring is of small dimensions and not in the slightest bit dissimilar to the sort of iron ring found in the memory of early twentieth century computers.

This required a bit of research: this is referring to the magnetic memory system of MIT Whirlwind and other computers of that time period (see a picture at the top of this post). The important part, of course, is that the iron ring is magnetic. The syntax here is non-obvious, and I only worked it out quickly because it showed up previously in the game:

-> wave ring over glass
The needle swings to and fro.

This turns out to change the secure area just slightly — there’s a corridor that used to turn east that now turns west. Taking the passage now leads to:

Siamese Room
You are in a small room shaped like a Siam temple. There is but one exit to the south.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There is a slender black cylinder here
-> get cylinder
Taken.
-> examine cylinder
The slender black cylinder fits nicely into the palm of the hand. At one end of the cylinder is a rubber pad, the other end of the cylinder appears to be transparent.

Now, this is a useful item, and in fact is the only thing needed now to get to the end of the phase. However, the syntax is quite cryptic, and it took Voltgloss (who somehow has a knack for these things) to work out the sequence, done at “Waterloo Station” in the town which has a locked door:

Pavement
You are standing on a length of pavement which runs parallel to a building on the east and a street on the west. There is an armoured door in the wall of the building. Above the doorway is a sign. The pavement is walled-off to the north.
Exits: -S-W ——SW —
-> n
You cannot be serious.
-> e
You cannot be serious.
-> point cylinder at door
Done.
-> press pad
There is a muted click from within the body of the door.
-> open door
Opened.
-> e
Station
You are in a small room which appears to be a station as there is a railway platform visible through an opening in the wall to the south. Any hint of automatic ticketing equipment has been removed to leave only dirty and stained walls. There is an armoured door to the west.
Exits: -S-W ——– —

There is a relatively easy-to-operate-train to the south (release handbrake; turn knob) which takes the player to a sanctuary.

Sanctuary
This room is rather poorly lit but you can discern a large bench running along the north wall. The bench appears to have once had some sort of function except that all of the instrumentation has long been destroyed to leave only four pinholes in the centre of the panel. The pinholes are annotated from left to right as Left, LM, RM and Right.

Remember those orange, white, black, and brown pins, the ones I concluded might never get used again, and where there was a message (build up from two parts starting in phase 2) which I thought was useless? I was wrong.

Even though the game has held a short-story structure which even resets the player’s inventory at intervals, the pins have always been small enough to be carried. They get used here.

-> put white in right
Done.
-> put black in left
Done.
-> put orange in rm
Done.
-> put brown in lm
Done.
There is a dull clink from behind the bench followed by a short pause. A holographic message appears before you. It reads:

Greetings, Master of Knowledge

You have activated the Central Knowledge Broadcast Facility.
The final message from this device will be issued by Neural Transmitter.

The hologram disappears and the neural transmitter activates. You “hear” the
following message:

Arise Ignorants, for you have been summoned by the Master of Knowledge. Your labours will no longer be in vain, for you will have a common goal. The secrets of past technologies will now be unlocked and will allow you to utilise the mysterious powers discovered by your forefathers prior to the big heat. In addition, you may now have the key to all knowledge, the answer to all of life, which is :

43

(The Hitch Hikers’ Guide was nearly right).
Your quest will be to find the question.

That’s enough journey for now; things get wild in Phase 9. And supposedly after is the endgame, but it looks like it gets all the way to Phase 17 (!?) meaning the “endgame” of this might be very, very, long. We’ll discuss it more in depth next time.

Sunday, 20. November 2022

Renga in Blue

The Results for IFComp 2022

IFComp, the interactive fiction competition, has been running since 1995. The 2022 running has just ended, and you can check out the results here. (Unfortunately, at the very moment I’m writing this, all the links as well as “cover art” pictures have broken, but that should hopefully be fixed soon. I will link directly the […]

IFComp, the interactive fiction competition, has been running since 1995. The 2022 running has just ended, and you can check out the results here.

(Unfortunately, at the very moment I’m writing this, all the links as well as “cover art” pictures have broken, but that should hopefully be fixed soon. I will link directly the games I’m talking about.)

Congratulations to the winner, Brendan Patrick Hennessy with The Grown-Up Detective Agency! (Playable link here.) The author also did fabulously in 2015 with his release of Birdland.

Unfortunately, I can’t give much analysis of the game because I haven’t played it yet. As has been typical for several years running, while I randomly sample some games I never quite manage to pick whatever happens to be first. But my favorite game of IFComp that I did have time to play made it in second, The Absence of Miriam Lane by Abigail Corfman:

You play an investigator helping a husband who remember he has a wife, but does not remember his wife; not missing in a memory sense, but in a supernatural sense.

Sometimes people give pieces of themselves away.

Sometimes they give too much and who they are wears thin.

They become an absence. A hole in the world.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say the exploration mechanic works in a terrific way for the plot here; you start by searching for the absences, which are simultaneously poignant and hair-raising.

There’s plenty of other things worth your time, but since I’ve been playing an extremely long old-school text adventure, I should point out in 8th place we have an extremely long old-school text adventure.

This is a sequel to Jim Aikin’s game Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina from 1999, so has a similar feel to Ferret of a long-dusty project being returned to.

Your daughter’s prom dress has been ruined, and the Stufftown Mall has a replacement; however, the entire town is in celebration of the win of the lacrosse team, so the mall itself is mostly abandoned, and high shenanigans and many, many, puzzles are needed to be solved in order to make it to the fashion boutique and victory (!?).

IFComp is meant for two-hour games; while you can enter a game longer, it needs to be judged on the first two hours of play. This definitely needs more than two hours of play; I’ve only scratched the surface.

Just to summarize, here are links to play the three games online, plus a fourth one I’m tossing in just for fun (another parser game called According to Cain which got 6th; “Using an alchemy system, observation, and your wits, you must discover the untold truth about Cain and Abel.”).

Play The Grown-Up Detective Agency online

Play The Absence of Miriam Lane online

Play The Only Possible Prom Dress online

Play According to Cain online

Friday, 18. November 2022

Interactive Fiction – The Digital Antiquarian

Doing Windows, Part 10: Chicago

(As the name would indicate, this article marks a belated continuation of my series about the life and times of Microsoft Windows. But, because any ambitious dive into history such as this site has become is doomed to be a tapestry of stories rather than a single linear one, this article and the next couple […]

(As the name would indicate, this article marks a belated continuation of my series about the life and times of Microsoft Windows. But, because any ambitious dive into history such as this site has become is doomed to be a tapestry of stories rather than a single linear one, this article and the next couple of them will also pull on some of the other threads I’ve left dangling — most obviously, my series on the origins of the Internet and the World Wide Web, on the commercial online networks of the early personal-computing era, and on the shareware model for selling software online and the changes it wrought in the culture of gaming in particular. You might find some or all of the aforementioned worthwhile to read before what follows. Or just dive in and see how you go; it’s all good.)

For the vast majority of us in the PC software business, it’s important to realize that systems such as Windows 95 will be important and that systems such as Windows NT won’t be. Evolutionary changes are much easier for the market to accept. For a revolutionary upset to be accepted, it must be an order of magnitude better than what it seeks to replace. Not 25 percent or 33 percent better, but at least ten times better. Otherwise, change had better be gradual, like Windows 95. Products such as NT speak to too small a niche to be interesting. And even the NT sales that do occur don’t lead anywhere: right now I’m running on a network with an NT server, but no software is ever likely to be bought for that server. It sits in a closet that no one touches for weeks at a time. This is not the sort of platform on which to base your fortune.

If you’re choosing platforms for which to develop software, remember that what ultimately matters is not technical excellence but market penetration. The two rarely go hand-in-hand. This is not simply a matter of bowing to the foolish whims of the market, however: market penetration leads to standardization, and standards have tangible benefits that are more important than the coolest technical feature. Yes, Windows 95 still uses MS-DOS; no, it’s not a pure Win32 system; no, it’s not particularly integrated; no, it hasn’t been rewritten from the ground up; and yes, it is lacking some nice features found in Windows NT or OS/2. But none of these compromises will hurt Windows 95’s chances for success, and some will actually help make Windows 95 a success. Windows 95 will be the standard desktop-computing platform for the next five years, and that by itself is worth far more than the coolest technology.

— Andrew Schulman, 1994

In July of 1992, Microsoft hosted the first Windows NT Professional Developers Conference in San Francisco. The nearly 5000 hand-picked attendees were each given a coveted pre-release “developer’s version” of Windows NT (“New Technology”), the company’s next-generation operating system. “The major operating systems of today, DOS and Windows, were designed eight to twelve years ago, so they lie way behind our current hardware capabilities,” said one starry-eyed Microsoft partner. “We’ve now got bigger disks, displays, and memory, and faster CPUs than ever before. As a true 32-bit operating system, Windows NT exploits the power of the 32-bit chip.” Unlike Microsoft’s current 3.1 version of Windows and its predecessors, which were balanced precariously on the narrow foundation of MS-DOS like an elephant atop a lamp pole, Windows NT owed nothing to the past, and performed all the better for it.

But what follows is not the story of Windows NT.

It is rather the story of another operating system that was publicly mentioned for the very first time in passing at that same conference, an operating system whose user base over the course of the 1990s would eclipse that of Windows NT by a margin of about 50 to 1. Microsoft was calling it “Chicago” in 1992. The name derived from “Cairo,” a code name for a projected future version of Windows NT. “We wanted something between Seattle” — Microsoft’s home metropolitan area, which presumably stood for the current status quo — “and Cairo in terms of functionality,” said a Microsoft executive later. “The less ambitious picked names closer to Seattle — like Spokane for a minor upgrade, all the way to London for something closer to Cairo.” Chicago seemed like a suitable compromise — a daunting distance to travel, but not too daunting. The world would come to know the erstwhile Chicago three years later as Windows 95. It would become the most ballyhooed new operating system in the entire history of computing, even as it remained a far more compromised, less technically impressive piece of software architecture than Windows NT.

Why did Microsoft split their efforts along these two divergent paths? One answer lay in the wildly divergent hardware that was used to run their operating systems. Windows NT was aimed at the latest and the greatest, while Chicago was aimed at the everyday computers that everyday people tended to have in their offices and homes. But another reason was just as important. Microsoft had gotten to where they were by the beginning of the 1990s — to the position of the undisputed dominant force in personal computing — not by always or even usually having the best or most innovative products, but rather by being always the safe choice. “No one ever got fired for buying IBM,” ran an old maxim among corporate purchasing managers; in this new era, the same might be said about Microsoft. Part of being safe was placing a heavy emphasis on backward compatibility, thus ensuring that the existing software an individual or organization had gotten to know and love would continue to run on their shiny new Microsoft operating system. In the context of the early 1990s, this meant, for better or for worse, continuing to build at least one incarnation of Windows on top of MS-DOS, so that it could continue to run even a program written for the original IBM PC from 1981. Windows NT broke that compatibility in the name of power and performance — but, if getting that 1985-vintage version of WordPerfect up and running was more important to you than such distractions, Microsoft still had you covered.

Which isn’t to say, of course, that Microsoft wouldn’t have preferred for you to give up your hoary old favorites and enter fully into the brave new Windows world of mice and widgets. They had struggled for most of the 1980s to make Windows into a place where people wanted to live and work, and had finally broken through at the dawn of the new decade, with the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990 and 3.1 in 1992. The old stars of MS-DOS productivity software — names like the aforementioned WordPerfect, as well as Lotus, Borland, and others — were scrambling to adapt their products to a Windows-driven marketplace, even as Microsoft, whose ambitions for domination knew few bounds, was driving aggressively into the gaps with their own Microsoft Office lineup, which was tightly integrated with the operating system in ways that their competitors found difficult to duplicate. (This was due not least to Microsoft’s ability to take advantage of so-called “undocumented APIs,” hidden features and shortcuts provided by Windows which the company neglected to tell its competitors about — an underhanded trick that was an open secret in the software industry.) By  the summer of 1993, when Windows NT officially debuted with very little fanfare in the consumer press, Windows 3.x had sold 30 million copies in three years, and was continuing to sell at the healthy clip of 1.5 million copies per month. Windows had become the face of computing as the majority of people knew it, the MS-DOS command line a dusty relic of a less pleasant past.

With, that is, one glaring exception that is of special interest to us: Windows 3 had never caught on for hardcore gaming, and never would. Games were played on Windows 3, mind you. In fact, they were played extensively. Microsoft Solitaire, which was included with every copy of Windows, is almost certainly the single most-played computer game in history, having served as a distraction for hundreds of millions of bored office workers and students all over the world from 1990 until the present day. Some other games, generally of the sort that weren’t hugely demanding in hardware terms and that boasted a fair measure of casual appeal, did almost equally well. Myst, for example, sold an astonishing 5 million or more copies for Windows 3, while Microsoft’s own “Entertainment Packs,” consisting mostly of more simple time fillers much like Solitaire, also did very well for themselves.

But then there were the hardcore gamers, the folks who considered gaming an active hobby rather than a passive distraction, who waited eagerly for each new issue of Computer Gaming World to arrive in their mailbox and spent hundreds or thousands of dollars every year keeping the “rigs” in their bedrooms up to date, in much the same way that a previous generation of mostly young men had tinkered endlessly with the hot rods in their garages. The people who made games for this group told Microsoft, accurately enough, that Windows as it was currently constituted just wouldn’t do for their purposes. It was too inflexible in its assumptions about the user interface and much else, and above all just too slow. They loved the idea of a runtime environment that would let them forget about the idiosyncrasies of 1000 different graphics and sound cards, thanks to the magic of integrated device drivers. But it had to be flexible, and it had to be fast — and Windows 3 was neither of those things. Microsoft admitted in one of their own handbooks that “game graphics under Windows make slug racing look exciting.”

One big issue that game developers had with Windows 3 for a long time was that it was a 16-bit operating system in a world where even the most ordinary off-the-shelf computer hardware had long since gone 32 bit. The largest number that can be represented in 16 bits is 65,535, or 64 kilobytes. A 16-bit program can therefore only allocate memory in discrete segments of no more than 64 K. This became more and more of a problem as games grew more complex in terms of logic and especially graphics and sound. MS-DOS was also 16-bit, but, being far simpler, it was much easier to hack. The tools known as “32-bit DOS extenders” did just that, giving game developers a way of using 32-bit processors to their maximum potential more or less transparently, with a theoretical upper limit of fully 4 GB per memory segment. (This was, needless to say, much, much more memory than anyone actually had in their computers in the early 1990s.) Ironically, Windows 3 itself depended on a 32-bit DOS extender to be able to run on top of MS-DOS, but it didn’t extend all of its benefits to the applications it hosted. That did finally change, however, in July of 1993, when Microsoft released an add-on called “Win32S” that did make it possible to run 32-bit applications in Windows 3 (including many applications written for Windows NT).

That was one problem more or less solved. But another one was the painfully slow Windows graphics libraries that served as the intermediary between applications software and the bare metal of the machine. These were impossible to bypass by design; one of the major points of Windows was to provide a buffer between applications and the hardware, to enable features such as multitasking, virtual memory, and a consistent look and feel from program to program. But game developers saw only how slow the end result was. The only way they could consider coding for Windows was if Microsoft could provide libraries that were as fast — or at least 90 percent as fast — as banging the bare metal in MS-DOS.

In the meantime, game developers would continue to write for vanilla MS-DOS and to sweat the details of all those different graphics and sound cards for themselves, and the hardcore gamers would have to continue to spend hours tweaking memory settings and IRQ addresses in order to get each new game they bought up and running just exactly perfectly. Admittedly, some gamers did consider this almost half the fun, a talent for it as much a badge of honor as a high score in Warcraft; boys do love their technological toys, after all. Still, it was obvious to any sensible observer that the games industry as a whole would be better served by a universal alternative to the current bespoke status quo. Hardcore gamers made up a relatively small proportion of the people using computers, but they were a profitable niche, what with their voracious buying habits, and they were also trail blazers and influencers in their fashion. It would seem that Microsoft had a vested interest in keeping them happy.

Windows NT might sound like the logical place for such early adopters to migrate, but this was not Microsoft’s view. “Serious” users of computers in corporate and institutional environments — the kind at which Windows NT was primarily targeted — had a long tradition of looking down on computers that happened to be good at playing games, and this attitude had by no means disappeared entirely by the early 1990s. In short, Microsoft had no wish to muddy the waters surrounding their most powerful operating system with a bunch of scruffy gamers. Games of all stripes were to be left to the consumer-grade operating systems, meaning the current Windows 3 and the forthcoming Chicago. And even there, they seemed to be a dismayingly low priority for Microsoft in the eyes of the people who made them and played them.

This doesn’t mean that there was no progress whatsoever. By very early in 1994, a young Microsoft programmer named Chris Hecker, working virtually alone, had put together a promising system called WinG, which let Windows games and other software render graphics surprisingly quickly to a screen buffer, with a minimum of interference from the heretofore over-officious operating system.

Hecker knew exactly what game to target as a proof of concept for WinG: DOOM, id Software’s first-person shooter, which had recently risen up from the shareware underground to complete the remaking of a broad swath of gamer culture in the image of id’s fast-paced, ultra-violent aesthetic. If DOOM could be made to run well under WinG, that would lend the system an instant street cred that no other demonstration could possibly have equaled. So, Hecker called up John Carmack, the man behind the DOOM engine. A skeptical Carmack said he didn’t have time to learn the vagaries of WinG and do the port, even assuming it was possible, whereupon Hecker said that he would do it himself if Carmack would just give him the DOOM source — under the terms of a strict confidentiality agreement, of course. Carmack agreed, and Hecker did the job in a single frenzied weekend. (It doubtless helped that Carmack’s DOOM code, which has long since been released to the entire world, is famously clean and readable, and thus eminently portable.)

Hecker brought WinDOOM, as he called it, to the Computer Game Developers Conference in April of 1994, the place where the leading lights of the industry gathered to talk shop among themselves. When he showed them DOOM running at full speed on Windows, just four months after it had become a sensation on MS-DOS, they were blown away. “WinG could usher in a whole new era for computer-based entertainment,” wrote Computer Gaming World breathlessly in their report from the conference. “As a result of this effort, we should expect to see universal installation routines, hardware independence, and an end to the memory-configuration haze that places a minimum technical-expertise barrier over our hobby and keeps out the novice user.”

Microsoft officially released WinG as a Windows 3 add-on in September of 1994, but it never quite lived up to its glowing advance billing. Hecker was a lone-wolf coder, and by some reports at least a decidedly difficult one to work with. Microsoft insiders from the time characterize WinG more as a “hack” than a polished piece of software engineering. Hecker “was able to take a piece of shit called Windows and make games work on it,” says Rick Segal, a Microsoft executive who was then in charge of “multimedia evangelism.” “He strapped a jet engine on a Beechcraft and got the thing in the air.” But when developers started trying to work with it in the real world, “the wings came off first, followed by the rest of the plane.” That’s perhaps overstating the case: WinG combined with Win32S was used to bring a few dozen games to Windows more or less satisfactorily between 1994 and 1997, from strategy games like Colonization to adventure games like Titanic: Adventure Out of Time. WinG was not so much a defective tool as a sharply limited one. While it gave developers a way of getting graphics onto the screen reasonably quickly, it gave them no help with the other pressing problems of sound, joysticks and other controllers, and networking in a game context.

Many of Microsoft’s initiatives during this period were organized by and around their team of “evangelists,” charismatic bright sparks who were given a great deal of freedom and a substantial discretionary budget in the cause of advancing the company’s interests and “fucking the competition,” as it was put by the evangelist for WinG, an unforgettable character named Alex St. John. St. John was a 350-pound grizzly bear of a man who had spent much of his childhood in the wilds of Alaska, and still sported a lumberjack’s beard and a backwoods sartorial sense; in the words of one horrified Microsoft marketing manager, he “looked like a bomb going off.” Shambling onto the stage, the living antithesis of the buttoned-down Microsoft rep that everybody expected, he told his audiences of gamers and game developers that he knew just what they thought of Windows. Then he showed them a clip of a Windows logo being blown away by a shotgun. “The gamers loved it,” says Rick Segal. “They thought they had someone who had their interests at heart.”

St. John soon decided that his constituency deserved something much, much better than WinG. His motivations were at least partly personal. He had come to loathe Chris Hecker, who was intense in a quieter, more penetrating way that didn’t mix well with St. John’s wild-man persona; St. John was therefore looking for a way to freeze Hecker out. But he was also sincere in his belief that WinG just didn’t go far enough toward making Windows a viable platform for hardcore gaming. With Chicago on the horizon, now was the perfect time to change that. He thundered at his bosses that games were a $5 billion market already, and they were just getting started. Windows’s current ineptitude at running them threatened Microsoft’s share in not only that market but the many other consumer-computing spaces that surrounded it. At some point, game developers would say farewell to antiquated MS-DOS. If Microsoft didn’t provide them with a viable alternative, somebody else would.

He rallied two programmers by the names of Craig Eisler and Eric Engstrom to his cause. In attitude and affect, the trio seemed a better fit for the unruly halls of id Software than those of Microsoft. They ran around terrorizing their colleagues with plastic battle axes, and gave their initiative the rather tasteless name of The Manhattan Project — a name their managers found especially inappropriate in light of Japan’s importance in gaming. But they remained unapologetic: “The Manhattan Project changed the world, for good or bad,” shrugged Eisler. “And we really like nuclear explosions.”

As I just noted, St. John’s title of evangelist afforded him a considerable degree of latitude and an equally considerable financial war chest. Taking advantage of the lack of any definitive rejection of their schemes more so than any affirmation of them among the higher-ups, the trio wrote the first lines of code for their new, fresh-from-the-ground-up tools for Windows gaming on December 24, 1994. (The date was characteristic of these driven young men, who barely noticed a family holiday such as Christmas.) St. John was determined to have something to show the industry at the next Computers Game Developers Conference in less than four months.

Alex St. John, Craig Eisler, and Eric Engstrom prepare to run amok.

WinG was also still alive at this point, under the stewardship of the hated Chris Hecker — but not for long. Disney had released a CD-ROM tie-in to The Lion King, the year’s biggest movie, just in time for that Christmas of 1994. It proved a debacle; hundreds of thousands of children unwrapped the box on Christmas morning, pushed the shiny disc eagerly into the family computer… and found out that it just wouldn’t work, no matter how long Mom and Dad fiddled with it. The Internet lit up with desperate parents of sobbing children, and news of the crisis soon reached USA Today and Billboard, who declared Disney’s “Animated Storybook” to be 1994’s Grinch: the game that had ruined Christmas.

Although the software used WinG, that was neither the only nor the worst source of its problems. (That honor goes to its support for 16-bit sound cards only, as stipulated in tiny print on the box, at a time when many or most people still had 8-bit sound cards and the large majority of computers owners had no idea whether they had the one or the other.) Nevertheless, the disaster was laid at the feet of WinG inside the games industry, creating an overwhelming consensus that a far more comprehensive solution was needed if games were ever to move en masse from MS-DOS to Windows. Alex St. John shed no tears: “I was happy to be proven right about WinG’s inadequacy.” The WinG name was hopelessly tainted now, he argued. Chris Hecker was moved to another project, an event which marked the end of active development on WinG. When it came to Windows gaming in the long term, it was now the Manhattan Project or bust.

By the spring of 1995, St. John had managed to assemble a team of about a dozen programmers, mostly contractors with something to prove rather than full-time Microsoft employees. They settled on the label of “Direct” for their suite of libraries, a reference to the way that they would let game programmers get right down to making cool things happen quickly, without having to mess around with all of the usual Windows cruft. DirectDraw would do what WinG had done only better, letting programmers draw on the screen where, how, and when they would; DirectSound would give the same level of flexible control over the sound hardware; DirectInput would provide support for joysticks and the like; and DirectPlay would be in some ways the most forward-looking piece of all, providing a complete set of tools for online multiplayer gaming. The collection as a whole would come to be known as DirectX. St. John, a man not prone to understatement, told Computer Gaming World that “the PC game market has been suppressed for two major reasons: difficulty with installation and configuration, and lack of significant new hardware innovation for games, because developers have had to code so intimately to the metal that it has become a nightmare to introduce new hardware and get it widely adopted. We’re going to bring all the benefits of device independence to games, and none of the penalties that have discouraged them from using APIs.”

It’s understandable if many developers greeted such broad claims with suspicion. But plenty of them became believers in April of 1995, when Alex St. John crashed into the Computer Game Developers Conference like a force of nature. Founded back in 1988 by Chris Crawford, one of gaming’s most prominent philosophers, the CGDC had heretofore been a fairly staid affair, a domain of gray lecture halls and earnest intellectual debates over the pressing issues of the day. “My job was to see DirectX launched successfully,” says St. John. “I concluded that if we set up a session or a suite at the conference itself, no one would come. Microsoft would have to do something so spectacular that it couldn’t be ignored.” So, he rented out the entirety of the nearby Great America amusement park and invited everyone to come out on the day after the conference ended for rides and fun — and, oh, yes, also a presentation of this new thing called DirectX. When he took the stage, the well-lubricated crowd started mocking him with a chant of “DOS! DOS! DOS!” But the chanting ceased when St. John pulled up a Windows port of a console hit called Bubsy, running at 83 frames per second. It became clear then and there that the days of MS-DOS as the primary hardcore-gaming platform were as numbered as those of the old, hype-immune, comfortably collegial CGDC — both thanks to Alex St. John.

St. John and company had never intended to make a version of DirectX for Windows 3; it was earmarked for Chicago, or rather Windows 95, the now-finalized name for Microsoft’s latest consumer operating system. And indeed, most of us old-timer gamers still remember the switch to Windows 95 as the time when we began to give up our MS-DOS installations and have our fun as well as get our work done under Windows. But for all that DirectX couldn’t exist outside of Windows 95, it wasn’t quite of Windows 95. It wasn’t included with the initial version of the operating system that finally shipped, a year behind schedule, in August of 1995; the first official release of DirectX didn’t appear until a month later. “DirectX was built to be parasitic,” says St. John. “It was carried around in games, not the operating system.” What he means is that he arranged to make it possible for game publishers to distribute the libraries free of charge on their installation CDs. When a game was installed, it checked to see whether DirectX was already on the computer, and if so whether the version there was as new as or newer than the one on the CD; if the answer to either of these questions was no, the latest version of DirectX was installed alongside the game it enabled. In an era when Internet connectivity was still spotty and online operating-system updates still a new frontier, this approach doubtless saved game makers many, many thousands of tech-support calls.

Now, though, we should have a look at some of the new features that were an integral part of Windows 95 from the start. Previous versions of Windows were more properly described as operating environments than full-fledged operating systems; one first installed MS-DOS, then installed Windows on top of that, starting it up via the MS-DOS command line. Windows 95, on the other hand, presented itself to the world as a self-contained entity; one could install it to an entirely blank hard drive, and could boot into it without ever seeing a command line. Yet the change really wasn’t as dramatic as it appeared. Unlike Windows NT, Windows 95 still owed much to the past, and was still underpinned by MS-DOS; the elephant balanced on a light pole had become a blue whale perched nimbly up there on one fin. Microsoft had merely become much more thorough in their efforts to hide this fact.

And we really shouldn’t scoff at said efforts. Whatever its underpinnings, Windows 95 did a very credible job of seeming like a seamless experience. Certainly it was by far the most approachable version of Windows ever. It had a new interface that was a vast improvement over the old one, and it offered countless other little quality-of-life enhancements to boot. In fact, it stands out today as nothing less than the most dramatic single evolutionary leap in the entire history of Windows, setting in place a new usage paradigm that has been shifted only incrementally in all the years since. A youngster of today who has been raised on Windows 10 or 11 would doubtless find Windows 95 a bit crude and clunky in appearance, but would be able to get along more or less fine in it without any coaching. This is much less true in relation to Windows 3 and its predecessors. Tellingly, whenever Microsoft has tried to change the Windows 95 interface paradigm too markedly in the decades since, users have complained so loudly that they’ve been forced to reverse course.

Windows 95 may still have been built on MS-DOS, but 32-bit applications were now the standard, the ability to run 16-bit software relegated to a legacy feature in the name of Microsoft’s all-important backward compatibility. (Microsoft went to truly heroic lengths in the service of the latter, to the extent of special-casing a raft of popular programs: “If you’re running this specific program, do this.” An awful kludge, but needs must…) Another key technical feature, from which tens of millions of people would benefit without ever realizing they were doing so, was “Plug and Play,” which made installing new hardware a mere matter of plugging it in, turning on the computer, and letting the operating system do the rest; no more fiddling about with an alphabet soup of IRQ, DMA, and port settings, trying to hit upon the magic combination that actually worked. Equally importantly, Windows 95 introduced preemptive multitasking in place of the old cooperative model, meaning the operating system would no longer have to depend upon the willingness of individual programs to yield time to others, but could and would hold them to its own standards. At a stroke, all kinds of scenarios — like, say, rendering 3D graphics in the background while doing other work (or play) in the foreground — became much more practical.

A Quick Tour of Windows 95


One of the simplest but most effective ways that Microsoft concealed the still-extant MS-DOS underpinnings of Windows 95 and made it seem like its own, self-contained thing was giving it a graphical boot screen.

It seems almost silly to exhaustively explicate Windows 95’s interface, given that it’s largely the one we still see in Windows today. Nevertheless, I started a tradition in the earlier articles in this series that I might as well continue. So, note that the old “Program Manager” master window has been replaced by a Mac-like full-screen desktop, with a “Start” Menu of all installed applications at the bottom left, a task bar at the bottom center for switching among running applications, and quick-access icons and the clock at the bottom right. Window-manipulation controls too have taken on the form we still know today, with minimize, maximize, and close buttons all clustered at the top right of each window.

Plug And Play was one of the most welcome additions to Windows 95. Instead of manually fiddling with esoteric settings, you just plugged in your hardware and let Windows do it all for you.

Microsoft bent over backward to make Windows 95 friendly and approachable for the novice. What experienced users found annoying and condescending, new users genuinely appreciated. That said, the hand-holding would only get more belabored in the future, trying the patience of even many non-technical users. (Does anyone remember Clippy?)

In keeping with its role in the zeitgeist, the Windows 95 CD-ROM included a grab bag of random pop-culture non sequiturs, such as a trailer for the movie Rob Roy and a Weezer music video.

While Windows 95 made a big point of connectivity and did include a built-in TCP/IP stack for getting onto the Internet, it initially sported no Web browser. But that would soon change, with consequences that would reverberate from Redmond, Washington, to Washington, D.C., from Silicon Valley to Brussels.

The most obvious drawback to Windows’s hybrid architecture was its notorious instability; the “Blue Screen of Death” became an all too familiar sight for users. System crashes tended to stem from those places where the new rubbed up against the old — from the point of contact, if you will, between the blue whale’s flipper and the light pole.



Windows 95 stretched the very definition of what should constitute an operating system; it was the first version of Windows on which you could do useful things without installing a single additional application, thanks to built-in tools like WordPad (a word processor more full-featured than many of the commercially available ones of half a decade earlier) and Paint (as the name would imply, a paint program, and a surprisingly good one at that). Some third-party software publishers, suddenly faced with the prospect of their business models going up in smoke, complained voraciously to the press and to the government about this bundling. Nonetheless, the lines between operating systems and applications had been blurred forever.

Indeed, this was in its way the most revolutionary of all aspects of Windows 95, an operating system that otherwise still had one foot rooted firmly in the past. That didn’t much matter to most people because it was a new piece of software engineering second, a flashy new consumer product first. Well before the launch, a respected tech journalist named Andrew Schulman told how “the very name Windows 95 suggests this product will play a leading role” in “the movement from a technology-based into a consumer-product-based industry.”

If a Windows program queries the GetVersion function in Windows 95, it will get back 4.0 as the answer; a DOS program will get back the answer 7.0. But in its marketing, Microsoft has decided to trade in the nerdy major.minor version-numbering scheme (version x.0 had always given the company trouble anyway) for a new product-naming scheme based on that used by automobile manufacturers and vineyards. Windows 95 isn’t foremost a technology or an operating system; it’s a product. It is targeted not at developers or end users but at consumers.

In that spirit, Microsoft hired Brian Eno, a famed composer and producer of artsy rock and ambient music, to provide the now-iconic Windows 95 startup theme. Eno:

The thing from the agency said, “We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,” this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said, “And it must be 3.25 seconds long.”

I thought this was funny, and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It’s like making a tiny little jewel.

In fact, I made 84 pieces. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. Then when I’d finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time…

Ironically, Eno created this, his most-heard single composition, on an Apple Macintosh. “I’ve never used a PC in my life,” he said in 2009. “I don’t like them.”


On a more populist musical note, Microsoft elected to make the Rolling Stones tune “Start Me Up” the centerpiece of their unprecedented Windows 95 advertising blitz. By one report, they paid as much as $12 million to license the song, so enamored were they by its synergy with the new Windows 95 “Start” menu, apparently failing to notice in their excitement that the song is actually a feverish plea for sex. “[Mick] Jagger was half kidding” when he named that price, claimed the anonymous source. “But Microsoft was in a big hurry, so they took the deal, unlike anything else in the software industry, where they negotiate to death.” Of course, Microsoft was careful not to include in their commercials the main chorus of “You make a grown man cry.” (Much less the fade-out chorus of “You make a dead man come.”)


Microsoft spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars in all on the Windows 95 launch, making it by a veritable order of magnitude the most lavish to that point in the history of the computer industry. One newspaper said the campaign was “how the Ten Commandments would have been launched, if only God had had Bill Gates’s money.” The goal was to make Windows, as journalist James Wallace put, “the most talked-about consumer product since New Coke” — albeit one that would hopefully enjoy a better final fate. Both goals were achieved. If you had told an ordinary American on the street even five years earlier that a new computer operating system, of all things, would shortly capture the pop-culture zeitgeist so thoroughly, she would doubtless have looked at you like you had three heads. But now it was 1995, and here it was. The Cold War was over, the War on Terror not yet begun, the economy booming, and the wonders of digital technology at the top of just about everyone’s mind; the launch of a new operating system really did seem like just about the most important thing going on in the world at the time.

The big day was to be August 24, 1995. Bill Gates made 29 separate television appearances in the week leading up it. A 500-foot banner was unfurled from the top floor of a Toronto skyscraper, while hundreds of spotlights served to temporarily repaint the Empire State Building in the livery of Windows 95. Even the beloved Doonesbury comic strip was co-opted, turning into a thinly veiled Windows 95 advertisement for a week. Retail stores all over the continent stayed open late on the evening of August 23, so that they could sell the first copies of Windows 95 to eager customers on the stroke of midnight. (“Won’t it be available tomorrow?” asked one baffled journalist to the people standing in line.) There were reports that some impressionable souls got so caught up in the hype that they turned up and bought a copy even though they didn’t own a computer on which to run it.

But the excitement’s locus was Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, campus, which had been turned into a carnival grounds for the occasion, with fifteen tents full of games and displays and even a Ferris wheel to complete the picture. From here the proceedings were telecast live to millions of viewers all over the world. Gates took the stage at 11:00 AM with a surprise sparring partner: comedian Jay Leno, host of The Tonight Show, the country’s most popular late-night talk show. He worked the crowd with his broad everyman humor; this presentation was most definitely not aimed at the nerdy set. His jokes are as fine a time capsule of the mid-1990s as you’ll find. “To give you an idea of how powerful Windows 95 is, it is able to keep track of all O.J.’s alibis at once,” said Leno. Gates wasn’t really so much smarter than the rest of us; Leno had visited his house and found his VCR’s clock still blinking 12:00. As for Windows 95, it was like a good date: “smart, user-friendly, and under $100.” The show ended with Microsoft’s entire senior management team displaying their dubious dance moves up there onstage to the strains of “Start Me Up.” “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” gushed Gates afterward.

Bill Gates and Jay Leno onstage.

Windows 95 sold 1 million copies in its first four days, 30 million copies in its first seven months, 65 million copies in its first sixteen months. (For the record, this last figure was 15 million more copies than the best-selling album of all time, thus cementing the operating system’s place in pop-culture as well as technology history.) By the beginning of 1998, when talk turned to its successor Windows 98, it boasted an active user base three and a half times larger than that of Windows 3.

And by that same point in time, the combination of Windows 95 and DirectX had remade the face of gaming. A watershed moment arrived already just one year after the debut of Windows 95, when Microsoft used DirectX to make the first-ever Windows version of their hugely popular Flight Simulator, for almost a decade and a half now the company’s one really successful hardcore gamer’s game. From that moment on, DirectX was an important, even integral part of Microsoft’s corporate strategy. As such, it was slowly taken out of the hands of Alex St. John, Craig Eisler, and Eric Engstrom, whose bro-dude antics, such as hiring a Playboy Playmate to choose from willing male “slaves” at one industry party and allowing the sadomasochistic shock-metal band GWAR to attend another with an eight-foot tall anthropomorphic vagina and penis in tow, had constantly threatened to erupt into scandal if they should ever escape the ghetto of the gaming press and make it into the mainstream. Whatever else one can say about these three alpha-nerds, they changed gaming forever — and changed it for the better, as all but the most hidebound MS-DOS Luddites must agree. By the time Windows 98 hit the scene, vanilla MS-DOS was quite simply dead as a gaming platform; all new computer games for a Microsoft platform were Windows games, coming complete with quick and easy one-click installers that made gaming safe even for those who didn’t know a hard drive from a RAM chip. The DirectX revolution, in other words, had suffered the inevitable fate of all successful revolutions: that of becoming the status quo.

St. John’s inability to play well with others got him fired in 1997, while Eisler and Engstrom grew up and mellowed out a bit and moved into Web technologies at Microsoft. (The Web-oriented software stack they worked on, which never panned out to the extent they had hoped, was known as Chrome; it seems that everything old truly is new again at some point.)

Speaking of the Internet: what did Windows 95 mean for it, and vice versa? I must confess that I’ve been deliberately avoiding that question until now, because it has such a complicated answer. For if there was one tech story that could compete with the Windows 95 launch in 1995, it was surely that of the burgeoning World Wide Web. Just two weeks before Bill Gates enjoyed the coolest day of his life, Netscape Communications held its initial public offering, ending its first day as a publicly traded company worth a cool $2.2 billion in the eyes of stock buyers. Some people were saying even in the midst of all the hype coming out Redmond that Microsoft and Windows 95 were computing’s past, a new era of simple commodity appliances connecting to operating-system-agnostic networks its future. Microsoft’s efforts to challenge this wisdom and compete on this new frontier were just beginning to take shape at the time, but they would soon become the company’s overriding obsession, with well-nigh earthshaking stakes for everyone involved with computers or the Web.

(Sources: the books Renegades of the Empire: How Three Software Warriors Started a Revolution Behind the Walls of Fortress Microsoft by Michael Drummond, Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture from Geek to Chic by Brad King and John Borland, Overdrive: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace by James Wallace, The Silicon Boys by David A. Kaplan, Show-stopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft by G. Pascal Zachary, Masters of DOOM: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner, Unauthorized Windows 95: A Developer’s Guide to the Foundations of Windows “Chicago” by Andrew Schulman, Undocumented Windows: A Programmer’s Guide to Reserved Microsoft Windows API Functions by Andrew Schulman, David Maxey, and Matt Pietrek, and Windows Internals: The Implementation of the Windows Operating Environment by Matt Pietrek; Computer Gaming World of August 1994, June 1995, and September 1995; Game Developer of August/September 1995; InfoWorld of March 15 1993; Mac Addict of April 2000; Windows Magazine of April 1996; PC Magazine of November 8 2005. Online sources include an Ars Technica piece on Microsoft’s efforts to keep Windows compatible with earlier software, a Usenet thread about the Lion King CD-ROM debacle which dates from Christmas Day 1994, a Music Network article about Brian Eno’s Windows 95 theme, an SFGate interview with Eno, and Chris Hecker’s overview of WinG for Game Developer. I owe a special thanks to Ken Polsson for his personal-computing chronology, which has been invaluable for keeping track of what happened when and pointing me to sources during the writing of this and other articles. Finally, I owe a lot to Nathan Lineback for the histories, insights, comparisons, and images found at his wonderful online “GUI Gallery.”)

Thursday, 17. November 2022

Choice of Games LLC

Belle-de-Nuit: Point-du-Jour—Win duels and hearts in the city of love!

Belle-de-Nuit: Point-du-Jour, the latest in our “Heart’s Choice” line of multiple-choice interactive romance novels, is now available for iOS and Android in the “Heart’s Choice” app. You can also download it on Steam, or enjoy it on our website. Return to the Belle-de-Nuit in this sequel to the 2021 swashbuckling hit! New content now available as an in-app purchase! Both Belle-de-Nuit and Point-du-

Belle-de-Nuit: Point-du-Jour, the latest in our “Heart’s Choice” line of multiple-choice interactive romance novels, is now available for iOS and Android in the “Heart’s Choice” app. You can also download it on Steam, or enjoy it on our website.

Return to the Belle-de-Nuit in this sequel to the 2021 swashbuckling hit! New content now available as an in-app purchase!

Both Belle-de-Nuit and Point-du-Jour are both 25% off until November 24th!

Belle-de-Nuit: Point-du-Jour is a 125,000-word interactive romance novel by Rebecca Zahabi, author of “Never Date Werewolves,” and “Belle de Nuit.” It’s entirely text-based, without graphics or sound effects, and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

In Point-du-Jour, new challenges and new loves are at hand, and both new and old friends need your help. Amaryllis’s kindly old friend Armand has died and left her his estate, but his nephew Mauplaisant, is challenging the will. A duelist himself, he is ready to see you dead or worse, defeated. He may prove a stout foe to both you and Amaryllis. Keeping things even more complicated, your brother comes to town and promptly falls for your frenemy Sebastian’s sister! And what will your brother think of the glittering Parisian nightlife? What will happen to Armand’s estate? And can you best Mauplaisant before he ruins your next date?

And what of the lovely Yasmina? A new employee at the Belle, well…you may have caught her eye as well. Will you help her adjust to her new life in Paris, or will the bustle and hustle prove too much for her?

Either way, you’re still the top duelist at the Belle-de-Nuit!

We hope you enjoy playing Belle-de-Nuit: Point-du-Jour. We encourage you to tell your friends about it, and recommend the game on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our ranking on the App Store. The more times you download in the first week, the better our games will rank.


Renga in Blue

Ferret: A Burial at Sea, But Not for Valour

(Prior posts on Ferret here.) The ending verges nearer: phase 8 of 9 (with an endgame attached). This post continues directly from my last one. Last time I was stuck on a number of issues but, as is typical for Ferret, the key was to ignore most of them. I did have guess correctly that […]

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

The ending verges nearer: phase 8 of 9 (with an endgame attached). This post continues directly from my last one.

A moderately aggressive Data General Eclipse ad, from Computerworld. Sep 24, 1979.

Last time I was stuck on a number of issues but, as is typical for Ferret, the key was to ignore most of them. I did have guess correctly that defeating the drongoid was the future; that is, while it pushes back hard against direct violence, the fact it “toys” with items that you hand over means that you can give it something booby-trapped to get by.

-> give indigo pin to drongoid
The drongoid extends one of its many limbs and grabs the object with amazing speed. After toying with the item for a short time, it discards it with disgust.
-> hit drongoid with rod
You must understand that the drongoid is a highly developed killing machine, with an armoury of deadly tactics at its disposal. The strategy employed to remove a minor irritation (i.e. you) is both swift and deadly. A punch with the force of a flying sledgehammer is delivered to your solar-plexus, both winding you and causing acute muscle failure in your heart.
You are in urgent need of an organ donor.

In order to accomplish this, I needed to visit one more location.

I had previously used a subway to explore two new stops, and picked up a number of items, but the way it was configured was:

STOP (the weird POINT rooms with the bronze bullet)
no stop
STOP (the main office building)
STOP (the long corridor with the anti-gravity and the letter)

That is, there was one position (“no stop”) where the doors wouldn’t open. This represents an extra location. There’s a “long plank” from the main office building that you can drop in the train which then wedges the main doors open. I admit to thinking along these lines but using a “long carbon rod” instead and trying all different varieties of WEDGE as a verb; since none of my attempts were understood, I figured I was barking up the wrong tree and veered off. Based on Voltgloss’s hint I tried the plank instead, and still had to struggle a bit:

-> put plank in doors
You can’t put anything in them.
-> wedge plank
I don’t know the word ‘wedge’
-> insert plank in doors
You can’t put anything in them.
-> drop plank
Dropped.

Even though you just see “dropped” as a message, the plank is now wedged, and if you step outside:

There is a plank wedged between the partially open train doors.

The mystery stop contains a gun to go with the bullet:

Dark Tunnel
You are in a very poorly lit tunnel which runs in an east-west direction. At the easterly end of the tunnel is a subway train with its doors held open by a plank.
Exits: –EW ——– —
-> e
End of Dark Tunnel
You are at the end of a very poorly lit tunnel.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a crude hand-gun here

You might think you just need to load the bullet in and go shoot the drongoid, but walking around with the gun loaded is deadly:

The gun has portrayed its origins and displayed its maker’s poor workmanship by temperamentally exploding in your hands. The bullet has entered your left foot and completely annihilated your brain (what there was of it).
You’ve just made Clint Eastwood’s day.

Of course, that means waiting until you get back to the drongoid, and then handing over the gun is deadly, but to the mutant rather than yourself.

The drongoid extends one of its many limbs and grabs the object with amazing speed. After toying with the item for a short time, it discards it with disgust.
Unfortunately, at least for the drongoid, the gun explodes as it hits the floor and ejects the bullet at a rather high velocity. After a single ricochet the bullet effects an entry, via an eye, into the drongoid’s body (if the term is applicable in this instance). Any road up, the drongoid appears to be quite dead.

This lets you get by up to the balcony, where as predicted, there is a helicopter Ferricopter waiting.

Helipad
You are standing on top of a building which has a stairway leading downwards. The roof is surrounded by high walls. Standing on the middle of the roof is a helicopter. Looping over the east wall is a ladder.
Exits: –E- ——– UD
-> in
In the Helicopter
You are seated in the helicopter which appears to be of a rather simple design, possibly intended for training use only. The only obvious controls consist of a control stick, atop which, is a yellow button. The upper section of the control stick is grooved to facilitate a good purchase of the stick. Mounted in front of you are some indicators and a slot.
The speed indicator displays 0
The height indicator displays 100
The helicopter is pointing east.
The helicopter is standing on the helipad.

The slot takes the “license” hidden in the long tunnel from last time, and pushing the button causes the helicopter to take off. That’s the easy part.

The helicopter motor grumbles into life, and once the rotors have reached operational speed, the helicopter rises to hover ten feet above the helipad.

However, things become much trickier from there; this might be the worst case of guess-the-verb in the game. It was only manageable because the authors posted a verb list which included two of the commands in question getting “error” style messages.

-> twist stick clockwise
The helicopter motor rises in pitch.
-> push stick forward
The helicopter nose drops and height is lost. Constant speed is maintained.
-> twist stick counterclockwise
The helicopter motor lowers in pitch.

These exact phrasings are required; you have to specify a direction for push stick. Twisting the stick clockwise cranks up the speed, and twisting it counterclockwise brings the speed back down. As long as the helicopter is moving you can “push stick right” or “push stick left” which will rotate the direction of the helicopter by 45 degrees (for example, from E to NE).

I realized the game essentially sets you in the middle of a giant ocean and you need to find the right spot, akin to the desert with the pyramid. (I’m not sure how this accounts for the previous phases being connected all the way back to the desert by land, but I’m willing to take the simplification.)

Before starting the hunt, I needed to make sure I understood the helicopter, and came up with a circular route that let me land back where I started:

This works: when you crank from speed 1 to speed 2, the helicopter goes from moving 1-space-per-turn to moving 2-spaces-per-turn. Everything otherwise behaves as if you are on a giant coordinate grid. Here’s the commands for this particular joyride:

push button; twist stick clockwise; twist stick clockwise
push stick left; twist stick counterclockwise; push stick left;
push stick left; push stick left; push stick forward
push stick left;look;look;push stick left
look;twist stick counterclockwise;push button

You do need to cut out speed right before hovering over the pad, rather than while you are right above it, otherwise your helicopter goes too far and the landing is ignominious.

The helicopter motor reduces speed until it eventually cuts out. Meanwhile you descend gently to achieve a graceful touch-down on the water. As you’ve probably guessed, the helicopter is not a boat and is consequently not the most seaworthy of vehicles. As the helicopter sinks to the bottom of the sea you chastise yourself for your rank stupidity.
You’ve awarded yourself a burial at sea, but not for valour.

(The game still describes you as “over land” in the helicopter if you are only one position off, but you land in the ocean anyway.)

The helicopter also eventually runs out of fuel. Before fully exploring in earnest, I also experimented with the various helicopter speeds to see how far it would go. If you just leave the speed at the lowest (moving 1 space a turn) you can move a maximum of 59 spaces; cranking to 2, you can move at 76. A summary of speeds 1 to 6 is below:

1: 59 distance
2: 76 distance
3: 81 distance
4: 88 distance
5: 80 distance
6: 78 distance

This means the max speed that is definitely useful is 4, although I used 2 to go exploring, as you can see things from 2 spaces away and I didn’t want to risk missing something.

The speed indicator displays 1
The height indicator displays 110
The helicopter is pointing north.
The helicopter is flying over dry land.
Off in the distance you can see a building with a flat roof.

Instead of tediously trying all the possibilities like I did with the Desert, I wrote a program in C. This feels almost encouraged by the game, which has quite a few tools for recording and playing back turns and allows quick turnaround on testing even very long sequences. I did fortunately have one clue to work with:

While the map mentioned is missing and probably doesn’t exist in the game, the “north” and “east” being the source of errors suggests that we are traveling some distance to the north and some to the east. So I set my program to fly due east for a while, then turn northeast, then keep flying until the plane crashed. Repeat with the “for a while” being varying in length.

I finally discovered by brute force that I just needed to go northeast a little (3 squares) and going due east would arrive at a new helipad. I have the full sequence in comments here in case anyone needs it, but here let me just give the result:

Helipad
You are standing on the roof of a high building which is surrounded by high walls. Standing on the middle of the roof is a helicopter. There is a hole in the roof.

Going down leads to phase 8 (Conversion).

Yeee-har! You fall a short distance and land with a splash on what appears to be a water bed. After being tossed up and down for a while you roll onto the floor and erect yourself.
Bachelor Pad
You are in a square room which has a hole in the ceiling. Beneath the hole is a bed with a mattress apparently filled with fluid. There is a stairway leading down to the west.

Phase 8 has been fun to explore and poke around in, but it’s the sort of thing that’s difficult to narrate because I haven’t accomplished anything yet.

I’ve divided it into three sections, I’ll take each one in order.

The southwest corner is a little irregular to start; the Landing/Gallery/Bachelor Pad area is closed off.

Gallery
This is a narrow room which is open to the east. Running along the eastern edge of the room at about waist height is a railing. Your position commands a view of another room below, but there is no obvious way to get down to it.
Exits: N— ——– —

If you head north (slightly into the “northwest” zone I have marked pink, which I’ll talk about in a second) you’ll reach the Nursery, where there is a “rectangular box” which moves the floor around.

As you walk underneath the rectangular box it glows red and emits a cute little beep sound. The noise of masonry moving over a floor follows the beep. The noise appeared to come from the northwest.
Nursery
This is a small room with a sheet of armoured glass set in one wall.
Exits: -S– ——– —

This movement has caused the entire southwest portion to open up, but closed off the northwest portion. Repeating the movement causes the areas to switch back again. Assuming we’re not talking about a red herring, it may be necessary to have something trigger from a distance when a particular map portion is sealed off.

This area is otherwise just looking like a normal house, except for a strange brass platform in the scullery…

Scullery
You are in a very small room. Fixed to the east wall is a cupboard. Directly opposite the cupboard is a cavity in the wall.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> look in cavity
It’s empty.
-> open cupboard
Opened.
-> look in cupboard
Peering inside you can see:
a brass platform
-> look at platform
The small brass platform is square and fixed to the base of the cupboard with its rear edge parallel to the back of the cupboard. The platform has a shallow hemispherical groove running from its back to its front, parallel to the side of the platform.

…and a Production Room warning about Potential Shock Hazard.

Production Room
You are in a completely circular room which apparantly has an exit to the east. Rising out of the centre of the floor is the top hemisphere of an enormous glass dome which leaves only the barest amount of free floor space.
There is a sign on one of the walls.
Exits: –E- ——– —
-> read sign
The sign reads:

WARNING !

Potential Shock Hazard

Proceed with extreme caution when
unit operating. Static shock risk

I have not gotten anything to happen out of either. Also of note is a Lobby with a toy robot and toy truck.

Lobby
This is a small square room. There is a steel door opposite the exit to the
west.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a toy truck here
There is a toy robot here

You can POINT TRUCK IN DIRECTION and push a green button on top to cause it to automatically drive in one direction, stopping when it can no longer travel.

The robot, on the other hand, while having an orange button, does absolutely nothing. (As this is Ferret, that might be genuinely true and not an indication we need to find the right place for the robot. But yes, we might need to find the right place for the robot.)

Trying to leave the lobby (OPEN STEEL DOOR; E) causes the door to shut fast and locks the player into the eastern portion of the map (which I have marked in green). We’ll get to that shortly, but first:

Let me return to the Nursery: if you repeat entering, you open up a passage to the west and get the full map shown above. Also, there’s a plate glass you can look through, and see a curious pattern:

-> look through glass
Through the sheet of armoured glass you can see what appears to be a very
old-fashioned child’s toy.
-> look at toy
The toy appears to be comprised of a number of lettered tiles.
-> look at tiles

        w y h
        t k a e
        f u o r
        p n i s

The pattern of the tiles seems to mimic the “matrix” on the map. Each matrix room has a lever, except for the northeast corner (which doesn’t have a tile in the grid above).

Matrix
You are in a rather strange room that appears to have rather thick walls.
There is an opening in each of the ordinal walls, however the east exit is
blocked by a wall that appears to run around the outside of the room. There is
a large lever set in the middle of the floor.
Exits: NS-W ——– —
-> n
Matrix
You are in a strange room that does not appear to have rather thick walls.
There are no openings in each of the ordinal walls, however there are at least
two exits not blocked by anything that runs around the outside of the room.
There is no large lever set in the middle of the floor.
Exits: -S-W ——– —

Pulling a lever does absolutely nothing. It seems (unless they are very cheeky red herrings, and yes, Ferret would go that far) they are missing power. My guess would be the whole “Production Room” setup with the danger sign is relevant, and some items in the east part of the map would help, but because the steel door closes things off, neither I (nor anyone else playing in the comments) have yet to figure out how to get back to the SW/NW map portions after entering the eastern portion. Let’s look at that area last:

This is generally simpler than the rest, as this is just a city street with a number of shops (although it should be pointed out the southwest has a fence which if made past would put the player back in the SW “house” part of the game).

Rather than naming each shop, let me give the items that you can find in them:

a photographic flashgun
a piece of fur
a beautiful ruby rod (which also flashes if you flash the flashgun)
a picnic box
a block of ice (which doesn’t melt if in the box, somehow)
a security casket with a plastic card locked inside
a perspex rod
a dirty reticule (with “a piece of linen” inside)

The rod and fur can also interact…

There is a crackle of static electricity as you rub the fur up and down the Perspex rod (Freud would also be interested in your behaviour).

…but I otherwise haven’t gotten anything useful to happen, although I suspect some kind of Science is ahead. The only other places of note are a slot at the bank (I assume you would use the plastic card on it) and a locked shop just marked “Waterloo Station”. I would guess the Station lets us board an above-ground train and make our way to Phase 9.

Sorry, that’s quite an info-dump! Hoping to get something useful to happen with all the Stuff lying around next time. I do have one more one-shot post coming but when we approach closer to the end-game I’m going to stick with Ferret until the end. I’m just hoping the endgame isn’t as long and grueling as Warp.

Tuesday, 15. November 2022

Renga in Blue

Mighty Mormar (1980)

One side effect of the All the Adventures project has been to get me to prowl through old computer publications, like one of Australia’s first devoted to computers, Micro-80 (Issue 1: December 1979). One of the common elements in these publications — other than including source code to be typed up on your handy machine […]

One side effect of the All the Adventures project has been to get me to prowl through old computer publications, like one of Australia’s first devoted to computers, Micro-80 (Issue 1: December 1979).

One of the common elements in these publications — other than including source code to be typed up on your handy machine of choice — is that early issues especially rely on public domain material, or variations thereof. The December 1979 issue of Micro-80 included Snake and Super Mastermind; January 1980 has Hangman and Game of Life; February 1980 has Hangman (again, but designed for a different computer model) and Biorhythm. Most games could be found in some form in the David Ahl 101 Computer Games collection or be famous from some other avenue, like the Game of Life. This wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of creativity as much as needing to crank a new issue out each month, and especially with a small publication the public domain well was an easy place to scrabble.

Or… in the case of today’s selection, maybe scrabble from something not public domain at all, but just hope the original author wouldn’t make a hassle. Mighty Mormar by Charlie Bartlett is a barely-disguised version of Dog Star Adventure (1979) by Lance Micklus, also known as the first full-parser adventure to make it into magazine print.

What makes Mighty Mormar notable is that, as I already mentioned, Micro-80 is Australian, and we don’t have any confirmed Australian text adventures from earlier, so for the moment, this holds the record for First Australian Adventure Game.

My post on Dog Star is here, although out of all my early writeups it is the one I’m most sheepish about; it is extremely short and yet on an important game. In some sense I didn’t have some of the later context to go into depth, but I also hadn’t settled on a “style” for my blog posts yet. I’ll try to rectify my sins with this post, as this is really almost exactly the same game as Dog Star. If it weren’t for the skeletal post I made first time through, I’d probably just make an addendum and be done with it. This game gives me a second chance. I’m making a new map and not checking any notes. I do remember one major puzzle but I’ll point it out when I get there.

Now, there is one important difference from what I played the Early Blog Days and what I’m doing now. Mighty Mormar is based on the original type-in; I played a later port. This original has a moment (in a supply depot) where you have to guess what items are there and try to look for them. This was a feature of Escape from Colditz but nothing else I’ve played. I don’t actually quite remember what was in the depot, so I got to experience the moment for real, more or less.

Micro-80, November 1980.

It’s worth spending time on the game’s text intro from the magazine, the only real original part.

Oh! my Mighty Mormar, you were on your way to our home planet of Hartley with Princess Aleaya on board when the evil General Vagg’s Battle Cruiser caught us with a tractor beam and brought us aboard. He then disarmed you, put out your eyes, took the princess and left you for dead in your starship, which he has drained of fuel and left sitting on the flight deck of his battle cruiser. But, my Mighty Mormar he did not see me, your little Robot, stowed away in the corner as he did not count on the courage of you my master, who even though unarmed and blinded will use me as your eyes to rescue the Princess. Being a small robot I only understand a few words so you may need to ask your questions in a different way if I do not understand. We will be rewarded with points for anything we steal along the way and together we will prevent the evil General Vaag from destroying our home planet of Hartley and once again prove that evil does not PAAY.

Yes, you read that correctly: even though this is nearly the same game as Dog Star Adventure, in this iteration our protagonist is blind. Additionally, we are giving commands to a robot, as an in-universe explanation of the lack of understanding of the parser. There’s shades of Galactic Hitchhiker and a few other games from this era that try hard to explain the moments of parser-fumbling; this is the only one I know of that blinds the protagonist so “I am your eyes and hands” from Adventure and the Scott Adams games becomes quite literal.

Time to save Princess Leia Leya Aleaya!

This is indeed a dull title screen, although it is interesting how many authors felt obliged to make one like this. The idea there needed to be a title with a cinematic pause was embedded early.

You start in your spaceship and you have a pretty open map to work with. There is very little that is “gated” other than a vault (with some crystals which count as treasure), a tractor beam you need to de-activate, and the Princess, who is locked in a jail. This is reflective of the gameplay itself, which is really quite open. You definitely need to

a.) get some fuel

b.) get some “turbo” to go with the fuel

c.) get a communicator which you can use to open the starship doors

d.) get the Princess

but any treasures besides essentially count as point bonuses.

However, you first point of order is to get a blaster. Guards randomly appear and will kill you if you don’t have anything to defend yourself; additionally there is a scientist you need to shoot and an extra guard that is always found near the tractor beam. It is not obvious you need a blaster; you can find a “laser gun” out in a “lab” maze…

…and if you try to then use that to shoot anyone, the game says, “BUT I’M NOT CARRYING A BLASTER.” This is a clue regarding the supply depot.

The blaster incidentally only has 4 shots, and two of them need to be use on the fixed places (the scientist and extra guard) so it really only helps to fend off two random guards. If you run out of ammo, the next guard is the end of the game:

One of the other things you can get in the supply depot is “ammunition”, but it gets loaded in your gun right away (at least in this version) so if you have a full blaster, you don’t get any benefit at all. I found after some experimentation the best bet is to head back to the depot when you have only one shot remaining (instead of waiting for zero) because it is too risk to go without protection.

The whole wrangling-with-deadly-guards setup is one of those curious elements from old-school games which I think adds a necessary bit of spice — other than one nasty-to-find supply room item I haven’t got to yet, and one truly bizarre puzzle with a robot, everything is straightforward — and without the wandering guards the supposedly dangerous ship feels truly abandoned. Thinking in terms of a modern game, I can’t think of a good replacement that doesn’t overhaul the game as a whole.

With blaster in hand, you want to hit a scientist’s lab…

…and a “strategy planning room”.

The strategy room is useful for both the keys (which go to the room of the Princess) and the helpfully marked button that turns off the tractor beam.

To get to the Princess with the aforementioned keys, you travel through a minor maze and need to scoop up a hamburger on the way.

Lance Micklus talks about the hamburger in an interview — he characterizes it as a timer, because if you wait too long the burger gets cold and it doesn’t work with the puzzle that immediately follows the maze.

I would have thought he’d talk about what possessed him to create such an odd puzzle in the first place; I’m pretty sure Star Wars did not have any robot-eating-food gags. (At least it is notable: this was the puzzle I remembered from my last playthrough.) These Very Early Era games were, despite the occasional strong theming, not hell-bent on verisimilitude (this was also the time with Journey to the Center of the Earth’s Coke machine).

The robot is guarding the Princess, incidentally, who can be scooped up and taken to the ship. Grabbing all the various items seen is essentially good enough for escaping; the communicator at the strategy room has a voice that says “SESAME” when you pick it up, and what that is meant to indicate is that you say SESAME to it while at the landing deck to cause the doors to open for an escape.

There are two other optional bits. Both were easy to get on my original playthrough and hard to get on this version, for different reasons.

One is a clued at in a “computer room” with a TRS-80 and a screen that says CSAVE TAPE. While I’ve read my five-year-old-post before typing this, I was playing fresh so entirely forgot that I had found the tape in the supply depot. In the version I played (a later commercial port) all items in the supply depot are visible so the location of the tape isn’t much of a puzzle. Here, you’re supposed to just take the leap and GET TAPE while you’re in the room! This lets you make a copy of battle plans:

Technically speaking, this puzzle is “fair” if you’ve understood the mechanics in the first place already (which you need to do early with the blaster anyway). The general mechanics behind the room where you GET uncertain objects is still not a good puzzle for the verb-hunting (if you’re GETting something in a room where the object is not described, multiple actions are being implied — since you have to FIND the object first, except that verb is not understood) but I will say it changes the too-easy balance of the game slightly. At my last writing I put “The puzzles are either too hard (hamburger, original supply room) or too easy (most everything else)” which is still quite true, but I was only able to assess that by eyeballing; the balance feels slightly better with the original puzzle.

The other optional bit is the vault, which is supposed to be easy, but Mighty Mormar throws in a twist:

The twist being: the author broke the source code. In addition to changing names the author Charlie Bartlett also did line renumbering. The original BASIC source code goes into the 5000s, but here everything is changed to be a maximum of 3 digits (to save memory, I guess, cutting out the typical “number jumps” between lines that happens in original BASIC).

206 IFVB13ORNO30THEN104
207 PRINTNI$
208 GOSUB211
209 X=31:GOSUB224:IFY-1THEN104
210 IFVB17ORNO31THEN5575:ELSE182
211 INPUT”WHAT SHOULD I DO”;CM$
212 VB$(0)=””:NO$(0)=””:VB=0:NO=0:IFLEN(CM$)=0RETURN

Line 210 has the “THEN5575” in there — that’s the old version of the line number. Bartlett forgot to renumber it (or the auto-renumber-program he was using did). Hence the crash. 5575 is the “death” portion of the game where you get captured, although it wasn’t clear to me until I spent a fair amount of time studying source code and comparing. There’s also supposed to be a prompt with an identification terminal

On the screen it says: >> SHOW I.D. <<

and there’s something in broken in the source code that removes that as well. So for the Mighty Mormar version (and this version only) you are supposed to realize, unprompted, to SHOW I.D, letting you into the vault with the crystals.

With everything in place (optional or otherwise) you can escape to glory, and one last bug, as a treat.

I did double check — the typing of the source code accurately represents what is in the print of the magazine.

So, despite it (Dog Star original) still not being a fantastic game, I’m glad I got to revisit this milestone. I do appreciate, despite the quite close distance to Crowther/Woods adventure, a fair number of attempts to be different: changing the genre, making treasures optional, adding some main objectives (where all the objectives are subsumed under “escape” so it isn’t clear immediately, for instance, that getting the doors open is a goal), and having a general hub structure which is quite open.

Computer and Video Games Magazine, June 1982; a reprint of the original Dog Star, with the original author credited correctly.

Mighty Mormar on the other hand … while it was common for the time to remove names of authors and claim some sort of public domain status, and studying printed games as a base for new ones was a quite typical practice, it could have at least used a “based on Dog Star Adventure” or some other language. I’m happy to put an asterisk here and hand back the title of First Australian Adventure to the current champions, Secret of Flagstone Manor (with a parser) and Adventure in Murkle (without a parser).

Monday, 14. November 2022

Zarf Updates

Leviathan launches today on Steam and Itch

It's out! The latest interactive comic by Jason Shiga, author of Meanwhile.Buy Leviathan on SteamBuy Leviathan on Itch.IO♦The first choice in LeviathanA seaside village – and a monstrous threat. Explore as you choose, by day or by night. Can you unravel the secrets of history and defeat the Leviathan?Leviathan is a comic, but not an ordinary comic. Follow the paths from panel to panel. Where the pa
It's out! The latest interactive comic by Jason Shiga, author of Meanwhile.
The first choice in Leviathan
A seaside village – and a monstrous threat. Explore as you choose, by day or by night. Can you unravel the secrets of history and defeat the Leviathan?
Leviathan is a comic, but not an ordinary comic. Follow the paths from panel to panel. Where the path divides, you decide where to go next! A thrilling tale of sorcery, deception, and discovery.
Navigating the Cobalt Isles
I have tested Leviathan on the Steam Deck and it works fine. However, I've seen Steam try to install the wrong version of the app on Steam Deck. If it doesn't launch, select Properties, Compatibility, Force the Use... and then select "Steam Linux Runtime". That should get the native Linux version for you.
You can of course also buy Leviathan in its actual-printed-book hardback edition.
The cover of the hardback edition
That's all the news for today. I hope it's enough!
Watch this space for information about the iPhone/iPad version of Leviathan. (It'll happen, but I don't have a release date for you yet.) And of course keep your eyes open for the next in the Adventuregame Comics series!

Gold Machine

The Future is Terse: The Constrained Rhetoric of A Mind Forever Voyaging

The concise language of A Mind Forever Voyaging‘s narrative has more than one effect. A Word on Brevity and the Z-Machine A previous post discussed the possibilities of the new “Interactive Fiction Plus” specification, which was first introduced with Steve Meretzky’s A Mind Forever Voyaging. The two most-mentioned features of this new Infocom technology involved […] Th

The concise language of A Mind Forever Voyaging‘s narrative has more than one effect.

A Word on Brevity and the Z-Machine

A previous post discussed the possibilities of the new “Interactive Fiction Plus” specification, which was first introduced with Steve Meretzky’s A Mind Forever Voyaging. The two most-mentioned features of this new Infocom technology involved the removal of constraints. In the first case, a hard limit of 256 in-game “objects” was removed. “Objects” should not be confused with interactable “things” in the world of the game, as it also applies to a number of built-in concepts or abstractions, as well as geographical locations. Looking all the way back to Zork, it has 110 internally defined rooms and sixty takeable objects. That leaves eighty-six possible objects for everything from compass directions to fiddly bits (baskets, chains, buttons, the trophy case, etc.).

That hard limitation was separate from another, more frequently discussed constraint: the Z-machine’s maximum story size of 128K. That ceiling was often more theoretical than practical, since some home microcomputers couldn’t manage a 128K game (The TI/99 comes to mind, as do Atari models). Since maximal portability was a key element of Infocom’s success (it really does seem that, were a toaster capable, it would have had its own Zork port), early games were constrained below and beyond that 128K ceiling. Working with constraints, then, was a constant—if only occasionally recognized—pressure in those early days of Infocom.

Often, such limitations led to positive outcomes. A strength of Enchanter, for instance, is its tight, logical map, and Meretzky’s own Planetfall seems likewise to be perfectly sized. The settled-upon sweet spot for those early, post-Zork III games seems to be 109K (though a few had swelled to 111K by the time of the “Masterpiece” reissues for x86 and Macintosh systems). It’s important to note that the easiest way—that is, the only way to do so without impacting the games mechanically—to trim file size was to economize printed text: room descriptions, responses to action, and the like.

A strength of Enchanter, for instance, is its tight, logical map, and Meretzky’s own Planetfall seems likewise to be perfectly sized.

Only one of the consequences of this editorial approach/necessity was its influence on what might be characterized as Infocom’s “house voice.” The narrative tone of Infocom games was often dry and sardonic, frequently responding to player input with sarcastic one-liners:

>take me
How romantic!

>eat me
Auto-cannibalism is not the answer.

>eat mailbox
I don't think that the small mailbox would agree with you.

The parser’s tendency to quip rather than elaborate served to keep file sizes manageable even as games grew more complex. Additionally, it’s interesting to consider notable deviations. Zork III, for instance, which was Infocom’s most elaborative and descriptive text of its early, pre-gray box years, likewise had the fewest opcodes of any game in the Infocom canon (5,952). That is, there seems to be an inverse relationship between utility and descriptiveness. The more that those early Infocom games did, the less they would say.

Interestingly, in the case of A Mind Forever Voyaging, the new 256K ceiling remained just that—a ceiling. The new IF Plus technology doubled the permissible file size, and Steve Meretzky used all of it. Just as he had once scoured Planetfall for opportunities to excise individual words, so, too would he search the text of AMFV. A Mind Forever Voyaging is, quite literally, a game bursting at the seams.

The Iterative Map of A Mind Forever Voyaging

The largest single need for textual description in A Mind Forever Voyaging is, of course, the simulated map of Rockvil, South Dakota over a span of forty years. There are potentially varied room descriptions and ambient events for each room location in this portion of the game’s world. Considering that there is an additional day and night cycle with exclusive events and ambient text, AMFV contains a massive amount of space—geographical and temporal—to explore. All told, there are roughly 158 locations—this does not include the “paradise” of 2091 or the “present day” of 2031—that the player may visit in different decades and times of day.

The new IF Plus technology doubled the permissible file size, and Steve Meretzky used all of it.

Technically speaking, A Mind Forever Voyaging consists of 178 internal rooms, but the reality is that the in-game presentation of each Rockvil location is a product of fixed and conditional text. In terms of the player’s gameplay objectives—seek out indicators of societal health—a geographically identical location might afford very different opportunities for goal completion. In this sense, it is inadequate to say that the 158 unique locations in Rockvil are, in fact, the same places with new descriptive text. At the same time, it may be too generous to say that A Mind Forever Voyaging has a map of 632 rooms.

Perhaps we should say that the world of Rockvil is as indeterminate as the future itself. With geography, time of day, and decade all in play as settings for narrative action, it may be fair to say that temporality in A Mind Forever Voyaging creates even more uncertainty than that what was by 1985 that old, gray mare of indeterminacy, Marc Blank’s Deadline. Under a Deadline model of time, the number of locations in AMFV are for all practical purposes infinite, since each room might or might not be different (an official might appear at city hall for instance) from moment to moment. Interestingly—like Deadline—but less frustratingly—unlike Deadline—the player is not always discouraged or overwhelmed by the prospect of missing this or that significant event.

This is because world events in Deadline are both singular and consequential. George only opens the safe once. Mrs. Robner only receives one phone call. Baxter and Dunbar only visit the shed one time. Should the Supervisor (as I am fond of calling the protagonist of Deadline) fail to witness these events, the opportunity costs are insurmountable. The protagonist cannot learn the lessons taught by these happenings and may find the game unwinnable as a result. Important events in A Mind Forever Voyaging, on the other hand, are often ephemeral. A pregnant woman might pass by, crying in the street. Some teenagers might beat up an old person. Such events may or may not be singular, but it is not necessary for the player to “record” them in order to “win” the game. They are, rather, background noise that inform the player’s understanding of the world of the game. While they can be recorded—some lucky timing would be required—they can be interpreted as having a different purpose. If recording is the gamification of Perry’s act of political witness, then with these ephemeral events Meretzky seems to point out that not everything—certainly not in this game world—is a game.

Important events in A Mind Forever Voyaging, on the other hand, are often ephemeral.

The operation and presentation of these events, is, as already suggested, is accomplished through brief, concise language consisting of one sentence or less. Consider the following passages, each programmatically appended to an already brief room description, seemingly at random:

2051:

A skycopter, with a loudspeaker disguised as a radar dish hanging below it, drifts slowly by overhead, announcing some sort of prayer meeting.

A swirling wind catches a yellowed newspaper page, and blows it upward, out of sight.

A panhandler is working his way towards you but misses you in the crowds.

2061:

A BSF patrol is moving down the block, searching people indiscriminately. Fortunately, they pass by without stopping you.

A sharp crack, like a distant pistol shot, echoes among the buildings.

A distant splintering explosion could only be the sound of another skycar crash.

A pregnant woman walks past you, sobbing quietly. You turn, but she is gone, swallowed up by the crowds.

A distant siren pierces the steady background noise of the city streets.

At a nearby cage, a group of children are taunting, one might even say torturing, a small animal, using rocks and pointy sticks.

2061:

CRACK! Something hits you from behind. As you crumple to the ground, you catch a glimpse of someone wielding a metal bar. Unknown minutes later, your head clears, and you stagger slowly to your feet. Everything you were carrying is gone.

Across the street, a beggar attempts to approach a wealthy couple, and is beaten into unconsciousness by bodyguards.

A thin teenager passes you, kicking a dented tin can.

A woman dressed in gauzy red fabrics, quite obviously a prostitute, enters a building with a man garbed in Church robes.

A scream comes from a nearby building, but before you can even determine the direction, it has stopped.

2071:

You hear the sound of distant barking to the east.

By appending ephemeral events to familiar locations, Meretzky is able to create a sense of dynamism and variety with minimal textual additions. When compounded with temporally fixed, set piece events (such as Jill’s arrest or the police raid), a vast yet programmatically efficient world—one that spans not only geographical but temporal space—is credibly realized.

A Mind FOrever Voyaging and the Poetics of Concision

The effects of concise and direct language are not limited to programmatic efficiency, of course. Indeed, the mechanics of political witness as implemented in A Mind Forever Voyaging are readily characterized as journalistic. That is, Perry Simm wanders the simulation in search of noteworthy events. In this case, “noteworthy” generally means source material for a critique of Richard Ryder’s Plan for Renewed National Purpose. He is a witness, then, but not just any witness. His own account is not enough. Perhaps he is not trusted. More likely, AMFV was a game in search of a mechanic. Rather intrusively, Perry’s acts of witness are disrupted with messages about recording buffers. Perhaps at the time this was merely a necessary evil: players expected a certain amount of “gaminess” in their video games, just as many do today. In fact, we may as well recall, the most common player complaint about A Mind Forever Voyaging was that it was too much “text” and not enough “game” (i.e., it needed more puzzles).

However, the narrative and metatext of A Mind Forever Voyaging insistently remind us that both he and Jill are artists. Perry is a novelist.

This is a digression: the point is that the precise and succinct language of AMFV can be read as either journalistic or poetic, as they are both rhetorical modes that tend to favor brevity and concision. Reading Perry’s language—let us assume, despite the second person narrator, that it is his language—as journalistic is reasonable. He captures, presumably via video, events as they occur, and ultimately uploads video content to a national news network. However, the narrative and metatext of A Mind Forever Voyaging insistently reminds us that both he and Jill are artists. Perry is a novelist. In the game’s final simulation of 2091, he is described as “Perry Simm, author and poet, recipient of the 2089 Mexicana Prize.”

What should readers make of Perry’s and Jill’s identities as artists? Is there a sort of witnessing function that only an artist can perform? Perhaps, in addition to considering the functionally journalistic gameplay of A Mind Forever Voyaging, a reader ought to consider the declining fortunes of Perry Simm and his family. Perhaps artists function as indicators of societal health in Meretzky’s simulation, not only as witnesses but as things to be witnessed.

A Brief Postscript Regarding Fabulism in A Mind Forever Voyaging

There’s more to say, of course. There always is. The direct language of AMFV is likewise the language of the fabulist and spinner of fairy tales. Perhaps it would be productive to read A Mind Forever Voyaging as a kind of inverted Pinocchio story. After all, Perry Simm is—to the best of science’s ability—the computer who became a real, live boy, then a computer again, then, in the end, a boy unto death. Despite the horrors of an imagined 2081, AMFV may inhabit the structure of a children’s story, a tale of a courageous child who was willing to tell the truth at any cost: sacrificing his youth, his safety, even his sense of self to save an only intermittently deserving world.

The idea of A Mind Forever Voyaging as inhabiting—perhaps haunting, even—the structure of a fable will persist throughout the final three posts about AMFV, even if some side trips are required along the way.

The post The Future is Terse: The Constrained Rhetoric of A Mind Forever Voyaging appeared first on Gold Machine.

Friday, 11. November 2022

Renga in Blue

Ferret: Having Misled You So

(Prior Ferret posts here.) In the offices of the building I left off at last time there is a “shining silver disc”. This is an audio disc, which you can place in a “drawer” in one of the offices: -> push red The shallow drawer slides out from the wall. -> put disc in drawer […]

(Prior Ferret posts here.)

In the offices of the building I left off at last time there is a “shining silver disc”. This is an audio disc, which you can place in a “drawer” in one of the offices:

-> push red
The shallow drawer slides out from the wall.
-> put disc in drawer
Done.
-> push green
The shallow drawer slides back into the wall.
There a brief squeaky noise from within the wall, followed by the emission of a
metallic sounding voice of outstanding quality and clarity.
-> listen
You can hear a metallic voice constantly repeating:
Greetings from Ferrivan Incorporated. We are delighted to be able to introduce you, the discerning Business user, to the world of advanced aeronautical transportation. In a world of ever shortening communication links and travel times, Ferrivan Incorporated are proud to announce the Ferricopter, the latest addition to our line of vehicles for the Business person.
Based on the traditional, and now obsolete, helicopter of the twentieth century, the Ferricopter is a highly automated, safety-conscious, vehicle for the modern Business user and up-market commuter. The Ferricopter has used the latest computer-aided techniques to overcome the requirement for any advanced flying licenses, in order that you may experience the joy and incredible convenience of self-drive airborne conveyance.
We most strongly recommend that you, or your company, invest in this extremely cost-effective method of transportation. Fly-drive a Ferricopter today and experience for yourself the true Business economy of the latest developments in high-tech conveyance.
The Ferricopter – your passport to true Business economy in today’s cost-conscious transport arena.
This message has been brought to you by Ferrivan Incorporated, the Business transport managers friend.

At least it wasn’t repeating for 50 years?

CIO Magazine, July 1989.

My major breakthrough had been unlocking a computer, with a long list of commands.

Select, Activate, Direction, Open, Close, Display, Status, Help, Autostatus, Autodisplay

This is, curiously, much simpler than many of the button-based mechanisms from the game; there’s no mystery in working out what red and green do and how orange is a special button that works to activate something entirely different than the red and green buttons.

-> type status
Typed.
The screen displays:
Unit Status:
Unit 3 Brake Fault.
Unit selected = 1.
Unit Direction: Reverse.
-> type display
Typed.
The screen displays:
Local Circuit:

       O__
          \
           \
       O____\___+______O

The Os represent subway cars, 1 is in the upper left, 2 the lower left, and 3 the lower right. You can switch between them by typing Select, then cause them to move by typing Activate. Direction can switch from forward to reverse, Open/Close can mess with their doors. There are a number of wrong sequences where you can get the cars into an amusing jam, but the right move is to start with Unit 3 which (due to the brake fault, I suppose) jumps the track, which is what we want.

       O__
          \
           \
       O___*\___+______

Then Unit 1 can be moved forward and will arrive at the Subway Station below the building (marked + on the map above), where it can be boarded. (Make sure you Open the doors as well!)

Subway Station
You are standing on a long subway platform. There is a subway train standing on the railway tracks to the west of the room.
The train doors are open.

The subway has a keyhole (where a silver key you find elsewhere works, you need to TURN it after inserting the key) as well as red, orange, and green buttons and a lever. Yes, we are back to mystical button presses, and I’m not actually totally sure what’s going on with the sequence, I just kept hitting buttons until something useful happened. The upshot is there are two accessible subway stations from here

-> pull lever
The train moves off and starts to gather speed before the brakes are applied automatically by the train’s control circuitry. The train grinds to a halt and the lever springs back to its original position.
-> push green
Click.
There is a brief rumbling noise from somewhere behind you, followed by the sound of a short emission of compressed air.
-> s
In a Train
You are aboard a gutted subway train. All of the normal fittings and fixtures appear to have been removed.
The train doors are open.

The first is short and mysterious. There’s a series of five rooms with letters on the floor spelling POINT, then two “triangle” rooms which cap either end. I’d almost suspect it was another riddle. The only useful (?) thing I’ve found is a bronze bullet (and no gun).

The other station is long and mysterious. It is one long corridor I have broken up in the map below into four chunks.

The four marked rooms have a broken exit, where going “north” jumps to the slanted room on the other side of the corridor.

Starting with the stuff I’m stuck on first, there’s a glass wall…

Subway Corridor
You are in a long corridor.
Exits: –EW ——– —
The north wall of the room is made from armoured glass.
-> look through glass
You can vaguely discern a room through the thick armoured glass.

…and a locked door (and while I have unused gold key, the key doesn’t work).

Subway Corridor
You are in a long corridor with a door in the north wall.
Exits: –EW ——– —
-> unlock door with gold key
“Shan’t” returned Algy, teasingly.

Possibly representing a puzzle and possibly representing Ferret just being its usual confusing self, there’s a whole series of seven rooms with “tilted” rooms on either side.

Slanting Room
You are in a rectangular room. The floor slants from west to east.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> n
Slanting Room
You are in a rectangular room. The floor slants from east to west.
Exits: -S– ——– —

(This is the “geography bug” from the map — going north from the first slanting room should go to the corridor, but it instead jumps a step.)

At the very end of the corridor is an “orbital environment” with a “pretty envelope” containing a letter.

I have yet to find the map being referenced, but I have to stop to say I love the moment of humanity here. For the most part, any textual expression we’ve seen in the game has been written in corporate language, not by humans for humans; this is the first evidence in the game of such a thing existing.

I’ve wrangled one actual puzzle in the corridor. Close to the subway station there’s a “waiting room”.

Waiting Room
You are in a small room. Set in the wall near the exit is a circular pressure
pad. There is something stuck to the ceiling.
Exits: -S– ——– —

Doing PRESS PAD (not PUSH!) causes anti-gravity to activate and for you to fly to the ceiling, where there is aviator passcard.

Floating back down is a problem (especially for those struggling with the parser) but there’s a “long rod” from back in the office building; PRESS PAD WITH ROD does the trick of making a landing.

-> press pad with rod
You are suddenly overcome by a most weird sensation. You momentarily feel totally disoriented.
Waiting Room

You can hop between subway stations, so there might be some jockeying between the three places (office building, POINT corridor, long corridor). Just to be complete on what I’m stuck with, there’s also the drongoid at the office building I mentioned last time.

-> look at drongoid
The drongoid is truly a most awesome creature. It has the build of a brick shithouse, is coloured a disgusting shade of putrid green, has two heads and eight beady little eyes. Most probably the product of some horrible radioactive mutation the creature oozes slime and smegma over its molten skin. Of its many limbs some appear to have been derived from traditional arms and legs, but their uses are apparently interchangeable as it occasionally shifts its weight from one combination of appendages to another. As the saying goes, ‘I would steer well clear of that one’.
-> kick drongoid
You must understand that the drongoid is a highly developed killing machine, with an armoury of deadly tactics at its disposal. The strategy employed to remove a minor irritation (i.e. you) is both swift and deadly. A punch with the force of a flying sledgehammer is delivered to your solar-plexus, both winding you and causing acute muscle failure in your heart.
You are in urgent need of an organ donor.

You can give the drongoid items that it “toys with for a short time” before discarding, so it is possible you could hand something that it would be distracted by (or is weaponized to blow up) but no luck so far. I’d put 50%+ odds on the drongoid being a red herring (like so much of Ferret) except that all the Ferricopter material suggests our next destination is on the roof.

(Next post will be another one-shot, but I’ll keep doing Ferret updates in the comments here if there’s anything to update.)