Saturday, November 6, 2010

Beyond Zork: Zorkish Puzzles, Beyond-Zorkish Combat


In Zork, you could fight a couple of monsters with your Elvish sword of great antiquity, but the outcome was based on pure luck. You kept swinging and they kept swinging, and either you'd die and reload or the monster would die and you could continue on.

Beyond Zork changes all of that by introducing first, a lot more monsters, and second, a skill-based combat system in which your strength helps determine the damage, your dexterity helps determine your chance to hit, and your endurance determines how many blows you can take. There's still quite a bit of luck involved, though.

I have to confess that its CRPG creds are nonetheless doubtful. There are only a few monsters that you kill in this manner. Most of the rest you have to banish in the traditional adventure game fashion: by solving a puzzle. Take the slug that occupies another room in the same abandoned lighthouse as the spider. You can beat at it with the club and ultimately kill it that way, I suppose, but its demise is so much quicker (and more satisfying) if you toss some salt on it.

What kind of a game doesn't recognize "boo-ya"?

Puzzles, often inventory-based puzzles, are the hallmark of adventure games, both text and graphical, and boy does Beyond Zork have some hard ones. Some depend on reading the manual (thanks to Jason Dyer for emphasizing this in a comment yesterday), some on common sense, some on careful deduction, and some on bat$*#% logic that only a career Zork player would possess.

For instance, in the same lighthouse, hiding under a bed, is a "dust bunny." No, not the kind your mother-in-law is always finding, but the man-eating kind (the kind you wish your mother-in-law would actually find). Here's the manual's take on dust bunnies, with an amusing image:

So they respond to static electricity. For a while I thought this meant that I had to find a Wand of Lightning or a ZAP spell or something. Nope. You know what it is? You take a bearskin rug from a pub, carry it to the room where the dust bunny is lurking, drop it, step on it, shuffle your feet to build up a charge of static electricity, and touch the dust bunny.


Now, if you're not much of an adventure game player, you're sitting there asking, "How in the world would you ever know to do that?" And the answer is simple: you explore the map until you realize that there's no Wand of Lightning to be found. So you visit every location, talking to yourself like a madman, "Dust bunnies... dust bunnies are afraid of electricity... and lemon-scented spray... electricity... static... lemons... where can I get lemons?.... where can I get electricity?... can I get electricity from an oak tree?... no, what about this painting... SAILOR, TELL ME ABOUT STATIC... that didn't work... static... electricity... lemons... here's a shop... BUY LEMONS... that was stupid... hey, here's a bar... I wonder if they sell lemonade... no lemonade... here's a bear-skin rug... rug... static... AHA!"

The problem is, this goes on for about 20 puzzles in the game, and I'm dangerously close to admitting defeat on almost half of them. Right now, my big conundrums are figuring out how to make a pterodactyl sit still long enough to remove an arrow from its wing and how to defeat an organ-grinder monkey. An organ-grinder monkey? Oh, yes, I'm quite serious:

CRPG or not, no other game features monsters this original.

While we're on unique monsters, here's the game's description of another creative offering: the cruel puppet.


And here's a shot from my encounter with the puppet in the game:

Beyond Zork: the only game that lets you fight an emotionally abusive puppet.

To give you a sense of both combat and puzzles, I'm going to paste below the transcript from my adventures in the basement of the bar, where I was sent to recover a bottle of wine in exchange for a giant onion. I have no idea what to do with the onion. I'm guessing it's not related to the pterodactyl, but you never know.

The basement is one of several locations in Beyond Zork in which a random map generates every time you enter, so you can never be sure of finding the exact same items and monsters in the exact same locations. The script was automatically generated by the game, although I've redacted some of the parts where I died and reloaded or tried to do embarrassingly stupid things.

*****

>W
Kitchen
Coils of greasy steam rise from a cauldron bubbling over a roaring hearth. The ceiling is hung with crusty pots and strips of old meat.
A closed door in the corner bears the legend, "Keepeth Out."
A skinny old cook is bustling around the kitchen.
There's a giant onion here.

>OPEN DOOR
You open the cellar door.
The cook gives the giant onion an affectionate kick. "Nice, eh? Won second place at the Borphee County Fair."

>DOWN
"Wait a second."
The cook's scowl changes to a malicious grin. "Listen, boy," he says. "You look like somebody who knows a great vegetable when he sees one. You want this here onion? Okay. There's an old bottle of wine lyin' around downstairs somewhere. Bring it up to me in one piece, and the giant onion's yours." He glances at the cellar door and shudders. "Simple."

>SAVE
You mumble the Spell of Saving.
Enter file name (".sav" will be added).
Default is "1.sav": 2
Overwrite existing file? (y/n) >y

[SAVE completed.]

>DOWN
You clump down the stairway.

Wine Cellar
You're standing at the bottom of a short, rickety stairway, ankle-deep in refuse. Light streams down through an open door overhead.
A crinkly scroll lies trampled in the dust.

>TAKE SCROLL
Taken.

>READ SCROLL
The meaning of the crinkly scroll is obscure. It seems to have something to do with refreshment. The word Yabba is inscribed across the top.
A rat-ant scurries in from the southwest passage!

>KILL RAT-ANT WITH ZINK
Zink noticeably wounds the rat-ant.
The rat-ant's teeth barely miss your ankle.

>KILL RAT-ANT WITH ZINK
You swing at the rat-ant with Zink, nearly hitting it.
The rat-ant misses you again, but just barely.

>KILL RAT-ANT WITH ZINK
Zink seriously wounds the rat-ant.
The rat-ant closes in with its sharp teeth!
Snap! A spark leaps between you and the rat-ant, leaving it nearly stunned. (I have no idea what this was about. I guess I still had a charge from the rug.)
[Your endurance just went down.]

>KILL RAT-ANT WITH ZINK
You deal the rat-ant a decisive blow with Zink!
Mortally wounded, the rat-ant retreats into the darkness.
[Your experience just went up. You have achieved the rank of Level 2 Male Peasant.]

>WAIT
Time passes.
[Your endurance is back to normal.]

>UP
Bang! An unseen hand slams the cellar door in your face.

Darkness
It's completely dark.
You hear the snap of a substantial lock.

>TAKE LANTERN FROM PACK. LIGHT IT.
You take the rusty lantern out of the pack.

Click. The rusty lantern emits a feeble glow.

Wine Cellar
You're standing at the bottom of a short, rickety stairway, ankle-deep in refuse. The door overhead is closed.

>SOUTHWEST
Musty Corridor
The lighted lantern's glow reveals a gray patch of moss on the wall.

>EXAMINE MOSS
The moss is sickly gray, glistening with moisture.

>SQUEEZE MOSS
The moss seems soft and pliant.
I knew to do this because of the manual, which talks about the "Moss of Mareilon" that, when squeezed, "releases an invisible clout of spores which improves the dexterity of laboratory rat-ants."

>SQUEEZE MOSS
The moss seems soft and pliant.
You idly scratch an itchy finger.

>SQUEEZE MOSS
The moss seems soft and pliant.

>SQUEEZE MOSS
The moss seems soft and pliant.
You give your fingers a satisfying scratch.

>SQUEEZE MOSS
The moss seems soft and pliant.

>SQUEEZE MOSS
The moss seems soft and pliant.
Those itchy fingers are becoming quite a nuisance.

>SQUEEZE MOSS
The moss seems soft and pliant.
Damn that itch! You hold your bothersome hand up to the lighted lantern... and gasp with shock!
Your fingers, once fat and stubby, are now long and slender as a pianist's.
You flex the new digits one at a time; they respond with unfamiliar agility.
Fact is, your whole body feels tighter and more coordinated than ever.
[Your dexterity just went up.]
The lantern's glow is fading rapidly.

>STATUS
[Displaying status.]
Adamantyr/Level 2 Male Peasant
EN:30 ST:11 DX:18 IQ:10 CM:10 LK:10 AC:01

>SOUTHWEST
Reeking Room
Smashed bottles litter the floor, and the air reeks of sour wine.
A rod lies in a shadowy corner.

>TAKE ROD
Taken.

>EXAMINE ROD
You see nothing interesting about the rod.

>PUT ROD IN PACK
You put the rod in the pack.

>SOUTH
Throne Room
A shallow nest of sea shells, coral and other bits of ocean debris lies in the corner.
The discipline crab is waiting for you.
The discipline crab's antennae snap to alert as you enter. He rises from the nest of seashells and charges across the floor, claws snapping with anticipation!

>KILL CRAB WITH ZINK
Zink gravely wounds the discipline crab.
The discipline crab closes in with its pincers!
[Your endurance just went down.]

>KILL CRAB WITH ZINK
Zink slightly wounds the discipline crab.
The discipline crab gives you a nasty pinch!
[Your endurance just went down.]

>KILL CRAB WITH ZINK
You deal the discipline crab a decisive blow with Zink!
Something falls to your feet with a plink, and the discipline crab retreats into the darkness.
[Your experience just went up.]

>TAKE CROWN
You take the tiny crown.

>INVENTORY
You take stock of your possessions.

You're carrying Zink the shillelagh (wielded), a tiny crown, a lighted lantern and a crinkly scroll.
You're also carrying a pack. Inside the pack you see a rod, a ring, a gilt-edged scroll, a rusty dagger, a bubble gum card and a stick.
You're wearing nothing special.
You have 1 zorkmid.

>TAKE DAGGER AND WIELD IT
You take the rusty dagger out of the pack.
The lantern's light flickers and goes out.

Darkness
It's completely dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

>NORTH
You feel your way onward, straight into the jaws of a deadly presence lurking in the darkness.

Death
You are dead.

Do you want to undo your last command, restore a previously saved game, restart
from the beginning, or quit?

[Type UNDO, RESTORE, RESTART or QUIT.] >RESTORE
Enter file name (".sav" will be added).
Default is "3.sav":

[RESTORE completed.]

At this point, I re-did everything, realizing that the rusty lantern didn't have enough light to get me all of the way through the cellar. I figured the "crinkly scroll" with the "renew" spell might work on the lantern. It did, but then I realized I had a "rusty dagger" it might work on, too. So I re-loaded and made sure I was holding both the dagger and the lantern before invoking the spell.

>READ CRINKLY SCROLL
The meaning of the crinkly scroll is obscure. It seems to have something to do with refreshment. The word Yabba is inscribed across the top.

>YABBA
A refreshing pink aura envelops you and all your possessions as you study the crinkly scroll. Then the aura fades, and the crinkly scroll disappears.
The lighted lantern begins to glow.

>EXAMINE DAGGER
It's a very basic dagger with a razor-sharp blade.

>EXAMINE LANTERN
The lighted lantern looks good as new. Its glow is bright and strong.

>NAME DAGGER "CALIBRATOR"
You invoke the Spell of Naming, and the dagger basks in the glow of a new-forged synonym. Henceforth, you may refer to it as "Calibrator."

>NORTHEAST
Bottom of Stack
Empty wine crates are stacked to the ceiling in a stairlike spiral.

>NORTH
Musty Corridor
The lighted lantern's glow reveals a gray patch of moss on the wall.

>NORTHEAST
Wine Cellar
You're standing at the bottom of a short, rickety stairway, ankle-deep in refuse. The door overhead is closed.

>EAST
Shadowy Stacks
Precarious stacks of barrels loom in the shadows on every side.
A skeleton lies at your feet. An amulet dangles from its neck.

>TAKE AMULET
You reach down to touch the amulet...
Snap! Ten bony fingers clamp around your throat!
[Your endurance just went down.]

>KILL SKELETON WITH CALIBRATOR
With a sigh of exhaustion, the heap of bones releases its strangle hold and crumbles into a useless heap of bones.
[Your experience just went up.]

>TAKE AMULET
You take the amulet off the heap of bones.

>WEST
Wine Cellar
You're standing at the bottom of a short, rickety stairway, ankle-deep in refuse. The door overhead is closed.

>SOUTHWEST
Musty Corridor
The lighted lantern's glow reveals a gray patch of moss on the wall.

>SOUTH
Bottom of Stack
Empty wine crates are stacked to the ceiling in a stairlike spiral.

>UP
You teeter for a moment on the lowest crates, then slowly edge your way upward.

Top of Stack
You struggle to keep your balance as the stack sways back and forth in then darkness.
There's a wine bottle here.

>TAKE BOTTLE
Taken.

>EXAMINE BOTTLE
The words "Chateau Blanc 877, bottled by Frobozz Magic Wine Company, Ltd" appear on the wine bottle's label, above a picture of a white house with a small mailbox. A pale red liquid swishes around inside. You can see right through it.

>PUT BOTTLE IN PACK
You put the wine bottle in the pack.

>DOWN
You carefully descend the stack.

Bottom of Stack
Empty wine crates are stacked to the ceiling in a stairlike spiral.

>NORTH
Musty Corridor
The lighted lantern's glow reveals a gray patch of moss on the wall.

>NORTHEAST
Wine Cellar
You're standing at the bottom of a short, rickety stairway, ankle-deep in refuse. The door overhead is closed.
[Your endurance is back to normal.]

>UP
The cellar door is closed.

>EXAMINE CELLAR DOOR
It looks as if the cellar door is closed.

>OPEN CELLAR DOOR
The cellar door seems to be locked.

>KNOCK ON CELLAR DOOR
You hear a muffled "Har!"

>COOK, OPEN DOOR!
He doesn't seem to hear you.

>COOK, I SWEAR TO GOD I'LL KILL YOU!
He doesn't seem to hear you.

>BEAT AT DOOR
[The word "beat" isn't in the vocabulary that you can use.]

>SMASH DOOR
Wham! Your fist deals the cellar door a mighty blow, with little effect except for the noise.

>TAKE ZINK FROM PACK. WIELD IT.
You take Zink out of the pack.

[setting aside Calibrator first]
You wield Zink.

>HIT DOOR WITH ZINK
Wham! Your Zink deals the cellar door a mighty blow, with little effect except for the noise.

>HIT DOOR WITH ZINK
Wham! Your Zink deals the cellar door a mighty blow, with little effect except for the noise.

>SCREAM
You begin to get a sore throat.

>PUT ZINK IN PACK. TAKE CALIBRATOR FROM PACK,. WIELD IT.
You put Zink in the pack.

You're already holding Calibrator.

You wield Calibrator.

>PICK LOCK
You can't see any lock here.

>CUT DOOR
[with Calibrator]
Wham! Your Calibrator deals the cellar door a mighty blow, with little effect except for the noise.

>COOK, OPEN THE GODDAMNED DOOR!
He doesn't seem to hear you.

>TELL COOK ABOUT WINE
He doesn't seem to hear you.

>INVENTORY
You take stock of your possessions.

You're carrying Calibrator the dagger (wielded), an amulet and a lighted lantern.
You're also carrying a pack. Inside the pack you see Zink the shillelagh, a wine bottle, a tiny crown, a rod, a ring, a gilt-edged scroll, a bubble gum card and a stick.
You're wearing nothing unusual.
You have 1 zorkmid.

>EXAMINE AMULET
The amulet is inscribed with green runes, confusingly intertwined with red swirls and flourishes and three shiny stars.

>WEAR AMULET
You put on the amulet.

>HIT DOOR
[with Calibrator]
Wham! Your Calibrator deals the cellar door a mighty blow, with little effect except for the noise.

>RUB AMULET
Fiddling with the amulet would accomplish nothing.

At this time, I wandered around the basement again, looking for anything I missed. I did find a gold doubloon I had previously overlooked, but that was it. How was I going to get out of the basement? I returned to where the door was.

>TAKE WINE FROM PACK
You take the wine bottle out of the pack.

>EXAMINE WINE
The words "Chateau Blanc 877, bottled by Frobozz Magic Wine Company, Ltd" appear on the wine bottle's label, above a picture of a white house with a small mailbox. A pale red liquid swishes around inside. You can see right through it.

>OPEN WINE
The wine bottle is tightly corked.

>DRINK WINE
The wine bottle is tightly corked.

>REMOVE CORK
[The word "cork" isn't in the vocabulary that you can use.]

>SMASH WINE
Crash! The wine bottle shatters into useless fragments, and wine splashes all over the place.

Dammit, that can't have been right.

>RESTORE
Enter file name (".sav" will be added).
Default is "3.sav":

[RESTORE completed.]

I re-did the things I had done up to the point I smashed the wine.

>EXAMINE BOTTLE
The words "Chateau Blanc 877, bottled by Frobozz Magic Wine Company, Ltd" appear on the wine bottle's label, above a picture of a white house with a small mailbox. A pale red liquid swishes around inside. You can see right through it.

Note: the picture of the white house with a small mailbox is a reference to the original Zork.

>EXAMINE AMULET
The amulet is inscribed with green runes, confusingly intertwined with red swirls and flourishes and three shiny stars.

>READ AMULET
The green runes are hard to see. They're confusingly intertwined with the red swirls and flourishes on the amulet.

I figured it out. If I read the red/green amulet through the red wine bottle, the reds should cancel each other out, leaving only the green runes.

>EXAMINE AMULET WITH BOTTLE
When viewed through the wine bottle, the word "Smee" stands out clearly against the swirls and flourishes of the amulet.

>OH, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE. REALLY?
[The word "oh" isn't in the vocabulary that you can use.]

>SMEE
One of the stars on the amulet begins to glow.
A pulse of energy surges through your muscles!
[Your strength just went up.]

>SMASH DOOR!
Wham! Your fist deals the cellar door a mighty blow, shattering it and much of the kitchen wall into splinters.

Wine Cellar
You're standing at the bottom of a short, rickety stairway, ankle-deep in refuse. Light streams down through a gaping hole overhead.
"Yow," murmurs an admiring voice upstairs.

>UP
You ascend the steps.

Kitchen
Coils of greasy steam rise from a cauldron bubbling over a roaring hearth. The ceiling is hung with crusty pots and strips of old meat.
A gaping hole in the corner reveals a stair leading downward.
A skinny old cook is bustling around the kitchen.
There's a giant onion here.
"The bottle!" gasps the cook when he sees it in your hands. "You got it!"
The amulet's glowing star fades and disappears.
The tension in your muscles subsides.
[Your strength is back to normal.]

>SAVE
You mumble the Spell of Saving.
Enter file name (".sav" will be added).
Default is "3.sav": 1
Overwrite existing file? (y/n) >y

[SAVE completed.]

>KILL COOK WITH CALIBRATOR
The cook obviously means you no harm; even your meager compassion is enough to stay your hand.

>YELL AT COOK
[You must address characters directly.]

>COOK, WHY DID YOU LOCK THE DOOR?
[To ask about something, use the command: ASK CHARACTER ABOUT THING.]

>ASK COOK ABOUT DOOR
"Used t'be a wine cellar. Can't go down no more; too dangerous."

>ASK COOK ABOUT LOCK
The cook appears puzzled. "Don't know what you're talkin' 'bout."

>ASK COOK ABOUT BOTTLE
"This here onion's yours if you hand it over."

>SAVE
You mumble the Spell of Saving.
Enter file name (".sav" will be added).
Default is "1.sav": 1
Overwrite existing file? (y/n) >y

[SAVE completed.]

>SMASH BOTTLE
Crash! The wine bottle shatters into useless fragments, and wine splashes all over the place.

>ASK COOK ABOUT BOTTLE
"This here onion's yours if you get it for me."

>RESTORE
Enter file name (".sav" will be added).
Default is "1.sav": 1

[RESTORE completed.]

***

Beyond Zork actually has a fairly small game world, but the complexity of the puzzles makes it seem much larger and longer. Each puzzle you solve gives you a bit of a thrill. I look forward to seeing if I can complete this without any help--although if you've played it, feel free to give me a hint--just a hint, mind you--on the pterodactyl.

10 comments:

  1. You aren't ready for the pterodactyl yet.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like how you are just supposed to accept the fact that the cook is kind of a dick and not really do anything about it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've always wanted to be wielded! ;-)
    Although, it wasn't the first time that I hit a door...

    ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was actually surprised to see this game listed as an CRPG...

    It has been ages since I last played through it, but even with the stats and the monsters I always felt it was still an adventure game. One the that I liked, too.

    Have fun with the onion.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Its a IF game with stats thats not an RPG. I love this game, beat it twice but its IF, not CRPG, which I find very strange that its in the list.

    Heck, you had to beat the troll in Zork 1, but it aint an CRPG either...

    thats just how I feel :P

    ReplyDelete
  6. One thing about the puzzle-solving in this game: sufficiently high stats will often let you skip puzzles. For example, if you had created a character with enough Strength to start with, you wouldn't have needed that amulet to break the door.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Zink, I've made it my mission to get revenge on the cook. I tried getting him to open a cursed chest, I've tried attacking him with all manner of weapons and wands... the best I could do was give him an electric shock from the bearskin rug (more on that tomorrow).

    Stu, I agree with you. At best, it's an interactive fiction game with "quasi-RPG elements." It is a questionable inclusion on MobyGames's list. I like it, though, so I'm not quibbling too much about it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Good point about that, muckenhoupt. Just tonight, I solved a puzzle (it'll be in my entry tomorrow) involving the freeing of a unicorn from a locked stable. I found that there were a few ways to do it. I could levitate him out, break open the door (with sufficient strength), or give him a chest that teleports whoever opens it to a land of unicorns. I suppose the SAYONARA wand would have also worked.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great write up. I think there's something about the second person perspective that lends itself to comedy.

    ReplyDelete
  10. 'Moss of Mareilon'... I never got into the whole Zork thing but I know that moss from Ancient Domains of Mystery. There's probably a whole bunch of references in ADOM that I never picked up on.

    Thinking of it, I can't wait till you get to 1994 and hit X-Com, ADOM, and Arena. I'm seeing a lot of references to 1988 as a great year, but for me 1994 was a terrific year to be a gamer. Not just RPG's, but Master of Orion, Master of Magic, Panzer General, Front office Football. Good times.

    ReplyDelete

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