Friday, November 30, 2012

Hero's Quest: Drive the Curser from the Land!

Even though I "won" in my last posting, I want to analyze what I did wrong to leave Baba Yaga threatening the valley and to wind up with such a low score. As I noted at the end of my last posting, I replayed the entire game with a new thief character; the only major difference was that I took a few points in "parry" during character creation so I could try out the weapon master battle. The posting below chronicles the experiences of "Chester 2," culminating in the winning image atop.

The Fox

Chester 2 ran into an encounter that his predecessor did not: A fox in a trap along a forest path. This is one of several encounters that is sometimes present, sometimes not, and I don't know if it's dependent on the time of day or what, but the result is that you have to check each screen several times.

Freeing the fox gave me some information that I didn't need, but it did add 10 points to my score.

The Note in the Tavern

It was only through reading Trickster's first entry that I found this clue: there's a note on the floor by one of the stools in the tavern. Sometimes. Just like the fox, you have to visit the screen several times, and even then, you really have to be looking for it.

To find this, you have to notice a couple of extra white pixels on the floor.

The note itself is inconsequential; just some correspondence between two guys whose names are abbreviated "B." But it leads to the next encounter.

The Clandestine Conversation

The two "Bs" are Bruno and Brutus, apparently brethren in the brigands. I ran into Bruno a few times, lurking around the town gates and offering to sell information for money. His information was questionable (he told me to try the Dragon's Breath at the tavern, which kills you) and usually achievable somewhere else in the game, so I never had much use for him.

You encounter them if, after getting the note above, you visit the archery range south of town by approaching from one of the sides. (The screen is odd in that it's divided into three sections separated by hedges, and you have to leave the screen and return from different directions to visit different parts; now I know why.) They have a conversation about the brigand leader (their references to her as female is another clue that it's Elsa), note that there's a secret door to the base by the "bouncer" (the Antwerp), give the password to the door ("Hiden Goseke") and note that Brutus has the key. After the conversation, Bruno leaves.

You have to wait for Bruno to clear the area, since if he sees you, he'll hurl a poison dagger into you and you die. After that, you can attack Brutus which I did by throwing daggers at him. He returned with throws of his own, but he died first.

Brutus needs to make better use of that practice board.

Technically, getting the key from Brutus wasn't necessary since I could just pick the door lock, but hey, one less bandit in the world.

The Secret Door

If you want to avoid the frontal assault on the base that Chester 1 pulled off, it turns out there's a secret door behind the bouncing Antwerp. You just have to "LOOK AT ROCK," which I didn't before. The Antwerp is easy to circumnavigate and best left undisturbed; if you try to fight him, he bounces into the air and comes back down to crush you.

Anyway, the lock can be picked or unlocked with the key, and after that you have to have a high enough strength to heave it open (but trying to open it exercises your strength, so you just have to try multiple times).

I found the secret door before I found Bruno and Brutus, so when I first entered I found myself face-to-face with a troll--and a much more difficult troll than the typical forest troll. If you give the password, he'll leave, but it took me a while to figure out that you have to say the password while you're still outside the door; there isn't enough time once you enter the cave.

The passage takes you to the front gate of the bandit's fortress, thus bypassing the ambush in the valley. There's a side-passage that goes to the troll's room, but then you end up having to fight him whether you know the password or not, and I never got good enough to defeat him.

The Minotaur and the Gate*

I can't believe there isn't a way for the thief to sneak past Toro the Minotaur, but nothing I did would work. I'd always end up rustling the tree, and combat would begin immediately. Without a way to sneak by him, even the thief needs to grind in combat because there's no way to escape the fight, and no way that a starting thief can beat him.

I suspect the issue was that my sneak score wasn't high enough. I had a lot of trouble developing this score. I'd sneak all over the place for an entire day and not see an increase. Then, suddenly, it would go up three points from just a few seconds on a single screen.

A walkthrough says it's possible to climb the gate, and I guess I just didn't practice the skill enough. My slapstick "smashing" option works, even if it's a bit silly.

*This would be a good name for a British pub.

Elsa's Desk

Finding the fox, the note, the conversation, and the secret door are all necessary for a maximum point score, but I didn't need to do any of them to have a chance to defeat Baba Yaga. I just needed to do the one thing that I didn't do: actually take the magic mirror from Elsa's desk after she disappears with Yorick.

The previous Chester was so dumb, he just opened the desk, looked at the mirror, and left.

When you search the desk, the game notes that "a quick but thorough search of the desk discloses two healing potions and a mirror." I figured that my character picked up the items at this point. Generally, in other parts of the game, when the thief SEARCHES something, he automatically receives what he finds. But no, you still have to type TAKE MIRROR here. If you leave the room without it, you go right to the endgame and Baba Yaga remains undefeated.

Does that mean I replayed the entire game when all I needed to do was reload from the fortress and type a single command? Yes, it does. To be fair, I'm not blaming the game (entirely). I should have checked my inventory before leaving the room.

Incidentally, this mimics what I would totally do in real life. I'll be in my house, getting ready to go out, and I'll say, "Oh, I need to take the mail with me." For the next two minutes, while tying my shoes and such, I'll be repeating to myself, "TAKE THE MAIL. TAKE THE MAIL." Pretty soon, I'll have made a little song out of it: "TAKE THE MAIL. TAKE THE MAIL. OH, TAKE THAT BLASTED MAIL. TAKE IT TO THE MAILBOX THIS MOOOOOOORNING. TAKE THE...Oh, wow! It's already December! I need to get a new reflector pole for the mailbox so the plow doesn't hit it. I wonder if I have time to stop at Home Depot on the way...." and I leave the house without taking the mail.

Baba Yaga Redux

Just the way Irene greets me when I come home.

With the mirror, defeating Baba Yaga is easy. You just return to her hut, get it to sit down, enter, and HOLD THE MIRROR so that when she appears and casts her turn-to-frog spell at you, you bounce it off the mirror and turn her into a frog instead.

Oh, she doesn't stay that way. She uses some magic to save herself, but she gets so freaked out that she has the house sprout wings and fly out of the valley forever.

And with this, the prophecy is fulfilled, and we have a consummate hero of Spielburg, with...496 points. Bollocks. I wonder what I missed. At least now, though, I can sail off to Shapeir on the magic carpet with a clear conscience.

And to a new game!

As you can see, there are multiple ways to end Hero's Quest without achieving all 500 points. The prophecy says the "hero from the east" will:

Free the man from in the beast
Bring the child from out the band
Drive the curser from the land

But you only really need to do the second bit, since the quests to drive away Baba Yaga and free Barnard are unrelated to Elsa and the brigands. Even within these three major areas, there are lots of opportunities to end the game at various point levels, since you don't technically need to talk to every NPC (from whom you get one or two points), play and win your class's mini-game, deliver reagents to the healer, and so on. I rather like that there are multiple potential endings. We don't see that in many CRPGs of the era, and it makes Hero's Quest very replayable even irrespective of trying different classes.

I attempted a "speed play" to get from the beginning to the saving-Elsa-only end in less than 30 minutes, but the minotaur kept tripping me up. I couldn't sneak past him no matter what I tried, so the only way I know to solve this area is to defeat him in combat, which requires grinding for a couple hours. Also, the game glitches now and then, which makes a continuous play-through (with no reloading) functionally impossible.

At least their crashes have humorous messages.

So it's on to the GIMLET! I'm really curious how it will work on a hybrid game like this. Before I even begin it, I'll say that if it ends up with a score commensurate with my enjoyment of the game, it'll fall somewhere around Ultima IV and the two Might & Magic games. Let's see.


  1. Of course! Hiden Goseke!

    Also, did you try to calm the atmosphere when around the Minotaur? My memory's not too great but I do think you can have an entirely too calm Minotaur.

    Congrats on winning (again) and I am very happy you enjoyed this game.

    1. I played as a thief and never really got into spellcasting. I'm sure that's the mage solution to getting past him.

    2. I always used magic with my thief. The thing about the most successful thieves, at least in movies and such, is that they're really talented individuals who know lots of skills that aren't absolutely thievery-related, but can help. In this series, magic is a skill that is _very_ handy for thieves. Creaky floorboards? Just use a spell to get what you want, without having to sneak over there to pick it up manually.

      Besides, I just can't knowingly lock myself out of some of the coolest puzzles in the series (like WIT and the magic user's endgame in QfG 2).

    3. Even in D&D, thieves are the only non-mage class that can cast spells from scrolls. A pure thief has no magical ability, but they can read a scroll with sheer cleverness.

  2. I do that thing with the mail too. For me, it's part of having unmedicated ADD, along with some absent-mindedness. The other day, I went to the store for milk and a few other things, milk being most important. Guess what item I forgot, after repeatedly reminding myself to not forget?

    I think that the problem is when you repeat to yourself to remember something, your mind begins to tune it out as meaningless words--Nyalinth

  3. I've never managed to sneak my way past the Minotaur either, at least in the EGA version (in the VGA remake, on the other hand, I managed to do it with just an above-average stealth skill)

  4. Maybe you have to time your sneaking to brush past the bush while the minotaur is on the far side of the screen. I remember from the VGA version that he is described as being near-sighted.

    I never played the EGA version though, I should remedy that once I get my IBM Model 25 running again.

    1. No, I tried that, but the moment I move, wherever he is on the screen, he turns and we go right into combat. I'm sure it's just a matter of not getting my skill high enough.

    2. He can hear you sneaking if your score isn't high enough but even if you brush the bush, you can still go back and hide behind it before he sees you as I recall.

  5. the last few points are probably from where you didnt defeat the antwerp. when he bounces leave the area and go to the next screen, immediately hold your dagger straight up, the antwerp lands on it, killing himself. at least thats how i remember killing him.

    1. Right.
      It spits into several baby Antwerps...and the sudden Antwerp population boom is referenced a few times in the sequels.

    2. Ha! That's awesome. I had no idea the antwerp was killable. It took me a while to figure out how to "hold your dagger straight up" (it's USE DAGGER), but when I did, little antwerps everywhere!

      It didn't give me any points, though, so that wasn't the cause of the 496.

    3. I just tried it. That was hilarious! Thanks!

  6. Once upon a time, I had a scoring list for each character type. Unfortunately, we didn't keep all our design docs from the first game. Even if I still had the file on a computer, it was in my custom word processor format on the Atari ST. (The unpublished STyliST Word Publisher was my last project before I started at Sierra. Lori and I used it for all our work on Hero's Quest.)

    Most events such as the fox, the notes in the bar, and so on, are triggered by player actions. Some, such as the graveyard, are time-of-day related. We intended for players to try multiple characters and likely spot different events on the 2nd or 3rd play-through.

    The reason I looked for the scoring table is that I did something with the later games, but can't recall if I did it in Hero's Quest - The total possible points in at least some of the games add to more than 500, but the score is capped at 500. So you can get a perfect score without having to do every trivial scoring action.

    I'm fairly sure your problem with sneaking past Toro was a failed skill check (Sneak skill too low), although positioning is also important. At that stage of the game, we wanted higher consequences than at the beginning, since building skill is a big part of the game play.

    1. I did find a score sheet in a walkthrough. It suggests that 500 is indeed the maximum for each class, although each class gets it through slightly different means. Looking through the thief score, I'm still not entirely sure why I didn't have those 4 points, but I suspect that since it was my second character, I wasn't doing everything as carefully, and I might have missed something like asking Heinrich about the bandit leader or visiting 'Henry.

      Anyway, it's definitely a very replayable game. It's actually a little more fun the second time, I think, because already knowing the story you can watch for little clues and jokes.

  7. I ready these updates of yours and I keep wishing I was born a bit earlier, and maybe owned a computer a bit earlier. My first PC was a Pentium 200, and I got it in the LATE nineties. Owning one was rare around these parts, so most people weren't familiar with games and, since Internet was rare to, I couldn't get informed about games I might like.

    Because of all that, I never got to enjoy this stuff as I could have. All I knew about were the games popular around the average audience here, which meant mostly action games.

    These days, I'm a bit torn between returning to these classics, or trying out the newer stuff I'm also interested in.

    Right now, it's Witcher and the PS1 Final Fantasy games, but the Might and Magic, as well as some other first person RPGs from the era are waiting for me on GoG. It's just so HARD to decide what to go for next.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say you are the main reason I'm torn like this. Your writing and your enjoyment have created a fake sense of nostalgia for me. I say "fake", because I haven't played most of the games you write about. It's ridiculous, really, but it's happening!

    Thanks! Also, I hate you! Thanks!

    1. I read*

      I was so excited I made a typo on the second word...

    2. Nikola, be nostalgic for the games themselves if you want, but not the platforms. You have no idea what a delight it is to play these games with an emulator on a modern O.S. Back in the 1980s, we had to deal with disk-swapping, drive crashes, painfully long saving and loading times, disk corruptions, and the simple inability to find many of these games.

      Sorry to give you existential pangs, though. What I'd suggest is that you decide what elements you really like in a CRPG, then look at my rating sheet and see what I've rated high, and give a few of them a try.

    3. Oh, I get that part. Looking back from this point, it would be horrible to return. I'm betting you didn't mind as much back then, though. After all, it was pretty much the best there was.

      I skipped the "switching disks" part, but I did have the old "hard drive to small" issue. Then again, I also had the rare "maximum monitor resolution is to small so you can't even play 800x600 games issue". I don't think anyone other than me had that one. It's a long story.

    4. Chet,

      You seem to have left off the joys of the incesent autoexec.bat and config.sys tweaking. I remember spending a long time trying to get that extra 16k of lower memory by fiddling with QuarterDeck Memory Manager to get the newest Ultima to play (how many people upgraded their machines to play the newest Ultima when it came out?). Of course who can forget upgrading your RAM (WOO, I have 4 MB of RAM now!), and then banging your head in frustration, when DOS would only recognize part of it (I have more than 2 MB of extended memory damn it!!!!)

      Is it a pain to have to be on the Interweb to even play Diablo 3? Yes it is. Is it as furstrating as going to the Mall, buying a game, fiddling for hours trying to get it to work, and then potentially having to return it because it wouldn't work with your system? HECK NO.

      Remember going to Babbages or EB, and they would take you opened game back with the excuse of "it won't work with my system". Lastly, sometimes you'd actually get the game to work, and then a game killer bug would stop you in your tracks. It's not like when you fired up those old games that they would check online for an update.

      Anyway, a lot of the old days was *NODAMNEDFUN*. Might make for an interesting article: "Taking off the rose colored glasses."


    5. Nights of desperately running memmaker, hoping for an extra one or two kilobytes of free conventional memory...I remember SSI's Stronghold, a personal favorite, required 585k of conventional memory, an absurd amount at the time.

      LOADHIGH and pray.

    6. That said, the wonders of modern technology mean that playing those games of yesteryear mostly involves slapping it in an emulator and going, whereas Diablo III will be completely unplayable if Blizzard ever turns off their servers without a substantial rebuild of the game.

    7. I actualy did the autoexec and config things often enough. I was new at it, so I didn't really know what I was doing most of the time though. As I said, for the era I got it in, my computer was extremely week, so I did play the older dos games. Civ comes to mind as a great example. I just didn't know about the great RPGs because they weren't part of the local culture.

      My most memorable CRPG experience of the time was playing the old Exile series by Spiderweb (now Avernum). I also remember I couldn't run nethergate properly due to my monitor resolution (it needed 800x600 and I couldn't do that on mine. What I could do, though, was to put it on 1024x768, where the screen would get all garbled, but parts of it were still visible. Then I would run the game and turn it back down to 640x480 while the game was running. I couldn't see parts of the screen, but it was playable.

      All of them were shareware, so I never got past the shareware demon, though, even with excessive use of the Orb of Thralni in Exile 3: Ruined World.

      Come to think of it, I did have some classic RPG experience. I owned a copy of the Might and Magic Xeen games (World of Xeen + Dark Side of Xeen). I also had Hexplore, but that one I didn't like much.

    8. Funny story. I don't remember what game I was playing back then, but it was probably an RPG. I either didn't have a hard drive, or the game would only save on a floppy. In any case, I had been playing for hours without saving, and there was a raging storm outside. I figured I'd better save my game and shut off the computer. It took a good minute for the floppy drive to do it's thing back then. Before it was done clicking and whirring, BOOM! To paraphrase the band, Live, "Lightning crashes, and a computer shuts off. All her work had been dashed to the floor." When the power came back on, the computer was fine, but the floppy was unreadable. Thus, not only was my progress that day not saved, but all the other saves on that disk were toast. If I hadn't saved at all, I would've only lost my gameplay from that day. I was livid. I avoided playing that game for quite awhile, I remember, because I didn't want to do it all over again.

  8. No narrative any more. Thanks, I can read the blog.

    It's pretty weird how I could physically not read someone writing "I put my sword to good use, and soon the brigands were down".

    Somehow I think my brain could not compute that this was a game played, and at the same time, a story about a character.

    Reading the comments from the previous entry, I really wonder, how so many people seemed to enjoy the narrative format.

    1. I think narrative goes along with adventure games. How about this as a solution: No more Adventure Games :D


    2. Bah. BAH I SAY. There, I've said it. I love theses posts.

    3. I liked narrative format. had no problem following along.

    4. I too loved the narrative bits. It was like reading a short story from Dragonlance, or the like.

    5. I too enjoy the narrative style. Bah, I say! Bah and humbug!

  9. There we go! Finally caught up. I must say, this has been the most interesting game in a while, and while the first person perspective is a nice change, I'm not sure I'd want it all the time. The extra details though? I love it, and defy people to disagree with me. [It is remarkably hard to type of a keyboard if I dissolve your fingers in HNO3 ^^ (joke due to me being sick of people bashing the new style)].

    Anyway, great play through, and it seems like the Meeps could be set to music.

  10. "I attempted a "speed play" to get from the beginning to the saving-Elsa-only end in less than 30 minutes"

    A 'tool-assisted speedrun' to win Hero's Quest by now is so fast, it's, to paraphrase a movie title, 'Won in 40 seconds'.

    Even to get a full score the current fastest TAS only takes about ten and a half minutes.

    Of course this is not 'normal play', but absolutely optimized and, as the name indicates, uses certain tools to achieve this.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.