Monday, November 28, 2022

BloodNet: Metaphysical Streets of the Physical Town

It's not hard to imagine there's no heaven.
Ransom Stark is a vampire, slowly losing his humanity to his bloodlust. He wants to cure his condition and get revenge on the vampire lord who gave it to him: Abraham Van Helsing. As a bonus, Van Helsing is on the board of Stark's former employer, the totalitarian TransTech, which seeks to control both regular space and cyberspace. Somewhere along the line, Stark hopes to rescue his friend, Deidre Tackett, who created the neural implant that saved Stark's life. She appears to have been kidnapped by Van Helsing. Stark keeps meeting other people who hate TransTech and/or who want to kill vampires, but he's having a tough time actually accomplishing anything for them.
As this session begins, I take stock of my open quests and leads. This is the type of game where you want to do this frequently:
  • I'm still a vampire. I have no specific leads to cure that.
  • Van Helsing is still alive. I haven't tried returning to his penthouse. Maybe I could just bring the fight to him?
Spoiler: This is a bad idea.
  • Deidre is still missing. Her followers, the Lost Kids, are somewhere in cyberspace, protecting a hacking program called Incubus from discovery by TransTech. "Someone must find them in cyberspace before Van Helsing does," Deidre's journal said.
  • I previously visited the Flux Riders, and the leader wouldn't talk to me because I had a cyborg named Nimrod in the party. Now that Nimrod is gone, I should try again.
  • Vampires are killing people in Central Park. A nun named Mother Mary may be able to help me stop them. She wants me to meet her at St. Patrick's.
  • Cyril Thorpe can help me overcome obstacles if I place a material object belonging to "whoever is at the root of the difficulty" by his body.
  • The Kafka Conspiracy, a gang on West 23rd, wants to meet with me.
  • Rymma Fizz, one of my companions, wants us to swing by Electric Anarchy and pick up her husband, Garrick. Electric Anarchy may have some information about vampires.
  • I've got several pieces of Charlie Flyer's mind, found in cyberspace, but no quest to go with them.
  • Sabaccatus St. Aubens, leader of the Autonomy Dogs, wants me to kill the leader of the Hard Metals. I'm not sure I want to do that, as St. Aubens is a racist jerk. I could at least visit the Hard Metals, though.
  • I have the consciousness of a hacker named Elvis in my decking unit. He's looking for a cyborg body. I do have some cyborg parts.
  • A hacker named Paula DiMigglio asked for help freeing her friend Banks Verbatim, from a TransTech "data cage." I'll need a data cage key from TransTech's headquarters. See the next item.
  • Kimba West, "mayor" of the Central Park shanty town, wants some fiber-optic cable from TransTech's headquarters. I need a security badge before I can finish my burglary there.
  • A girl in Central Park wants Psilo Blossom. I don't know where to get it.
  • I need a toolkit so I can start building things.
  • A bunch of modern-day knights inhabit the Cloisters in north Manhattan. I'm able to visit some of them if I put on some makeup first. One of them, Sir Helveticus, wants me to find his younger brother.
Yikes. In addition to all of this: I'm carrying way too much stuff. I decide to tackle that one first. I start clicking on triangles across the city until I find something promising: "Vince's Munition Emporium" on East 96th Street. It's exactly what I needed. For the first time, I'm in something that looks like a proper CRPG buying/selling screen. Not only do I get rid of a bunch of stuff, I'm able to buy an extra vial of Instapigment, and a jury rig toolkit. 
With the toolkit, I'm able to consolidate even more space by assembling a flame thrower. (You know you're a CRPG veteran when the thing you're most excited about upon acquiring a flame thrower is that it's now taking up only one inventory slot instead of four.) It needs jellied gas to run, but I have some of that. I'll probably save it for special occasions.
Just like Santa Claus.
That leaves me with 16 quests. Approaching the list organically, I still think raiding TransTech's headquarters takes priority. But where am I going to get a TransTech security badge? I guess I could start with people who hate them. That means checking out the Kafka Conspiracy and/or Electric Anarchy. I go with the Conspiracy first and head to their place in Chelsea.
Like everyone else, the Conspiracy members are hanging out on a street corner. I speak to the leader, Coover Tristan, who is fond of quoting famous poets and writers, including Walt Whitman, e. e. cummings, Roland Barthes, and my third-favorite poet, Wallace Stevens. (To answer the obvious question: Pablo Neruda and T. S. Eliot.) Tristan explains that the group is targeting TransTech's infrastructure. He won't tell me any of the group's secrets or offer any help unless I bring them a multichannel transmitter from a group of pirates on 96th Street called the Icon Robbers. Moreover, he wants me to steal it stealthily, with no violence. Instead of solving a quest, I got yet another one. 
Call the roller of big cigars.
Another Conspiracy member, Chrysalis, tells me a "tale that is told in cybercircles of late." It's clearly about Tackett's Lost Kids. Apparently, four of them entered cyberspace permanently, but a fifth stayed behind to destroy their bodies. "He waits for you, Stark," she says, without offering any information about how to find him. A cyborg member named Words Blanque offers nothing helpful, but I note with amusement his unique dialogue, which has him defining random terms in the middle of his sentences.
I head up to Electric Anarchy in the Bronx. There are a bunch of them. Phracktle K. Oss offers to pay me $10,000 to assassinate the security director of TransTech at their headquarters. He probably has a badge, but I need to get into the building first, so that's no help. Phree Thaught wants a Dragon Soul Box; she promises "a phreaky way to get rid of TransTech pigs"--specifically, a powerful sleeping gas. Auntie Matter offers to trade a powerful weapon called a Wrath Ray for . . . a TransTech security badge. But of course she has no idea where to get one. Garrick Fizz, Rymma's husband, joins my group.
Having accomplished nothing but adding more quests to my list, I settle on a new strategy: systematic exploration. I'm already at the top of Manhattan. TransTech's headquarters is at the bottom of the map. I start working my way down. In order, I try:
  • Van Helsing's Penthouse on West 125th Street. Some vampire named Anastasia congratulates my boldness on walking "right into the lion's den." She attacks with what I'm guessing is one other vampire (since I can't kill him) and three non-vampires. My party makes short work of them, but every time one of the vampires gets down to 0 hit points, they rebound with half their health. I reload and try equipping stakes first, but I hardly ever hit with them. Bottom line: I need more tools and experience fighting vampires--maybe one of the knights' soul blades--before I can prevail here.
  • The Cybersurgery Group on East 125th Street. A freaky lab. A guy named Steve Austin (ho, ho) offers "cut rates" on cybergenetic limb attachments. I have options to get the Ude Utsukushi 66 arm, an ocular implant, and an aural implant attached. I decline for now, as his "reasonable rates" are in the tens of thousands of dollars, and I've been spending like a sailor.
I'll come back when I have $6 million.
  • Doom Pilots on East 125th Street. Another gang. Like the others, they don't like TransTech. Scream Wipe, who has a history with Stark, gives us the password TTheat to access TransTech's security records. Ghost Walker tells me that a woman named Madame Mescal on 96th & Broadway deals in Vasopressin and Psilo Blossom, both of which make cyberspace navigation easier. Sis Konfigg will give me the cyberspace address of the Bank of New York for a Level 4 cloaking chip. HoloGraham and Stive just have some friendly words and banter.
I notice a couple of things at this point. Time doesn't seem to pass on screens unless you deliberately rest. If you do rest, Stark's bloodlust goes up 1 point per hour. It goes up as you move between areas, so the game must be calculating transit times. To avoid increasing bloodlust too fast, you probably don't want to go to too many unnecessary places.
  • Madame Mescal on West 96th. Another dealer operating out of the trunk of a car, and what do you know? She has a TransTech security badge, just sitting there for purchase. I purchase that, plus a backup canister of jellied gas and another tube of Instapigment, but she doesn't have the promised Psiolo Blossom. 
I figured I'd have to solve a quest to get hold of this.
I abandon my systematic exploration at this point and head for TransTech's headquarters. But once again, the Entry Drone says: "Check for clearance badge is negative. Admission to headquarters denied." What the hell? It takes me a while to figure out what's going on. A character needs to equip the badge to get by security, but the badge only fits in a slot for which Stark already has a cybernetic arm, and I can't remove it. I have to have Rymma equip the badge.
TransTech HQ has a creepy statue.
This time, the Entry Drone lets us through and offers a summary of the Star Chamber's executive report. (The Star Chamber is TransTech's governing body.) I avoid the employees and head to the elevator, which gives me options for Security and the Nanotech Lab. I'm here for three reasons: fiber-optic cable, kill the security chief, and find a cage key. It feels like "Security" is the answer to two out of three of those things. 
Chief Daryl Paine is in the office by himself. He orders me out, and when I don't leave, he attacks. I try to bite him, but my fellow party members gun him down before I have the chance. We loot a Security Cloak and several weapons. 
It's not exactly a fair fight.
A search of the room reveals Wrath Ray Plans, a Dragon Soul Box, Deidre Tackett's Essence, a list of Tackett's associates, and a "Cyber Crackdown List" that includes people I've already met or know of, including me, Tackett, Hakim Maghsoudi, Garrick Fizz, Lenora Maor, Sis Konfigg, Zeus, Elvis, and Charley Flyer. The one exception is a Lazlo Greene.
But no cage key or fiber-optic cable. I take the elevator to the Nanotech Lab. There are two employees working, but they both assume I'm from company management. I search the lab and find a Nanoblast, 4 Nanoblast Micromissiles, a Buzzsaw (automatic weapon), Blood-Producing Nanotech, a Wireless Effector, and a Service Nanomachine. There are way too many arcane items in this game. Even with the manual open beside me, I can't keep track of half of the junk this game throws at you.
Unfortunately, still no cage key or fiber-optic cable. There is, however, a little triangle indicating another exit from the room. It's in front of a door with a control panel. When I walk over to it, a message says "the door is locked." I can't find any way through the door. I previously noted that one of the items you can jury rig is "Electronic Lockpicks," which I suspect I need here. I'm worried that having murdered the security director, I won't be able to return to the headquarters once I leave, so I reluctantly reload from before I visited, having accomplished nothing.
Every adventurer's bane.
Electronic Lockpicks require a Lock Database, a Lockpick Casing, and a Diagnostic Unit. I got the Lock Database in a previous session in Central Park. I have no idea where to get the other parts, but I assume I'll find them eventually.
  • Icon Robber's Studio on West 96th Street. I'm supposed to get a multichannel transmitter without hurting anyone. There are four Icon Robbers in the place, and I can't search it with them present. There's no stealth mechanic in the game that I'm aware of, nor any stealth object, although who knows with all this junk I'm lugging around? I try talking. Members named Cody and Rigginbotham just tell me to leave. Squid wants my permission to use my likeness in videos. Ludes Moshe mistakes us for actors. I don't have any options that help. Maybe Phree Thought's sleeping gas would help here? I need to get the Dragon Soul Box out of TransTech first. For now, I leave.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art on East 86th Street. As we enter, a guard indicates that the museum is closed to the public. Rich folks are allowed to have soirees in the evenings. A guy named Montgomery Taylor says he used to be a member of the Hellfire Club, but he's gotten uncomfortable with how "scary" and "perverse" things have gotten lately. He offers me his invitation to a club party at the Plaza and suggests I look up his associate, Emily Esaki. An obnoxious couple named Dauphine Dmitri and Damean Tocque have just had a baby, and they want to implant her with the Babel Code. Dauphine offers me $25,000 for it. I don't know if I'm done with it or not, but I take the chance and sell it. I later note that Will at the Adventurers' Guild hated the couple so much he decided to feed on them to reduce his bloodlust. 
That was a nice top-up.
  • Strawberry Fields on West 79th Street. This turns out to be the home of the Black Aggots gang. They've enclosed the Imagine mosaic and turned it into a fighting ring. After Stark exchanges some threats and insults with the leader, Shock Maraud, he tells me that the gang has been contracted by Abraham Van Helsing to kill someone; they're just waiting to find out the name of the target. They'll forget the contract if I can bring them what Van Helsing has promised: a drug database located at a cyberspace address called ANTIBODY. Since they're probably going to be contracted to kill me, it's probably best if I got ahead of this. 
  • Flux Riders on West 79th Street. Hondo will talk to me now; he just doesn't say anything I understand.
Just when I was thinking I could come to enjoy cyberpunk.
  • Hard Metals on West 66th Street. A gang that fetishizes cybernetic body parts. Members are named Markus Piston, Clank Sprocket, Tempered Steel, and Liquid Nails. Sprocket wants a cybernetic leg; I missed what he said he'd trade for it. Tempered Steel will join the party for $10,000. Nails takes $2,000 to tell me about a guy named Strongarm Tacktick who sells technology on West 66th Street. I don't know which of them is the leader, but I'm not going to kill any of them for the Autonomy Dogs.
Strongarm Tacktick is on the same block as the Hard Metals, so I visit him next, and here I find what I need. He sells implants, Doppelgangers, cyborg body parts, other crafting items, and the two items I need for the Electronic Lockpicks. He also has Kevlar Helmets. They're expensive, but I buy one for Stark. He doesn't sell quite enough cyborg parts to finish an entire body for Elvis, so I don't buy any of them for now.
I jury rig the Electronic Lockpicks and head back to TransTech. I try to repeat what I did before, only this time two security guards are waiting in the Security room. I'm not sure what changed. After I kill them, the chief appears, apparently unaware that I've just killed his associates. Rather than wait for him to attack us again, I have Stark preemptively bite him, since my bloodlust is back up to 68%.
Are these (electronic lock) picks or electronic (lockpicks)?
In the Nanotechnology Lab, I pick the lock on the security door--or, more accurately, using the PAL system, Slash does. I find a Praxis 3000 decking unit, a Level 4 cloak, fiber-optic cable, and an Azrael Soul Box (second only to the Dragon). I still can't find a damned cage key. More guards attack as we leave the room. I'm annoyed because my inventory is so full I can't pick up all of the stuff they drop.
Because of our visit to the Metropolitan Museum, I guess, we have a third elevator option: Emily Esaki. Her office is empty, but a search reveals a lapel pin with a "fierce sword insignia." Oddly, I already had one of these from somewhere, but I don't remember where I got it.
I'm not sure Stark has what you would call "lapels."
We get the hell out of there and return to Tackett's Lab to plan our next move. I figure I'm going to at least use the Dragon Soul Box before I give it away.
This game is getting complicated. It's starting to feel like I'm making choices that I can't walk back. I suppose if I have to start over, I have to start over, but we'll see how long I can keep it going until then. 
Time so far: 11 hours

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Game 475: Curse of Vengeance (1992)

The game is more creative than you'd expect given that the author was named Scott McNab and he named his company "Mac-Nab."
Curse of Vengeance
United States
Mac-Nab Software (developer); published as shareware
Released 1992 for Macintosh
Date Started: 23 November 2022 
Date Ended: 24 November 2022
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 18
Ranking at Time of Posting: 135/483 (28%)
I've always liked text adventures--not as much as RPGs, of course, or else this would be a different blog--but I'm also not very good at them. I like the process I use to play them, which is to systematically map everything and annotate puzzles and dead ends as I find them, then make a second pass, trying to solve the puzzles. This system usually carries me through about three-quarters of the game, but it only works so long as it's clear there's a puzzle to solve. One by one, locked doors and rusty grates give way to the keys and oil I've found in other places, but eventually there comes a time in which there's still something to do and yet I've run out of obvious puzzles. This is where some adventure games expect you to make what seems to me a superhuman leap--to recognize that you must fiddle with some random rock, or search a blank wall, or climb a specific tree that looks like every other tree.
Curse of Vengeance is such a game, or at least it seems to me such a game. It was written by Scott McNab of Davenport, Iowa (home of Bix Beiderbecke, which I'm throwing in for absolutely no reason, but at least I'm doing it in parentheses) using an interactive fiction kit called TADS: the Text Adventure Development System. The kit, written by (then) CalTech student Michael Roberts, was first made available in 1990. (For more on TADS, read Jimmy Maher's 2017 article.) The kit is still being used, with version 3.1.3. released in 2013. It supports some limited RPG mechanics, although most games created with the kit seem not to have used them. Curse is the only TADS game that is also an RPG listed in the Macintosh Repository database, where I found it. MobyGames lists one more: Magocracy (2004) for Amiga, Atari ST, and DOS. I know that some kits will eventually pose a challenge regarding when to say "enough," but TADS doesn't seem to be one of them.
The backstory text.
Curse casts the player as an unnamed mercenary who's heading to the village of Drakkar to meet a resident named Fallon Shires. Shires has sent the PC a note asking for his help. The character starts the game with no possessions, as he's recently been robbed by other mercenaries, although he somehow has 500 gold pieces.
Gameplay begins in a forest square near the village of Drakkar. The scant documentation that comes with the game only gives you a few tips on commands, but it's easy to figure out. TADS may be its own thing, but it's part of the Infocom hegemony: You can toggle descriptions with BRIEF and VERBOSE; the "I" key brings up inventory; "G" repeats the last command; "Z" causes you to sleep. You WEAR and HOLD armor and weapons, LIGHT lamps, TAKE or GET objects on the ground, and so forth. There's even a grue. I never had any issues figuring out the right commands. The parser supports entering multiple commands at once with commas in between.
My map of the game has 173 screens; the author says in the accompanying text file that there should be about 200. Going from screen to screen is generally a straightforward process of typing one of the eight cardinal directions. Only a handful of times do you go UP or DOWN, and the author only rarely messes with directionality by having you, say, exit one area from the east but arrive at the next from the south.
My Trizbort map of the game world. You should be able to zoom in to see details.
Area descriptions are brief and contain few unnecessary details. About 80% of the areas have only a few words of description, like "East-West Path" or "North, South Passage." Usually, when there's something to do in an area, it's immediately obvious; SEARCH, OPEN, and READ handle the vast majority of your interactions.
There are a lot of sections in the game like this.
The game's RPG credentials center around random monsters such as giants, kobolds, and ogres, which you can encounter anywhere except the town of Drakkar. The system is extremely basic. All you can do in combat is attack or try to flee. The character has an attack rating and armor class based on currently-equipped items, and you and the enemy simply whittle down each others' hit points round after round. Critical hits are possible. 
Defeating an enemy and leveling up.
Successfully slaying an enemy gets you gold and experience points. Amassing experience points causes you to level up at regular intervals, increasing your maximum hit points. As you earn more gold, you can afford better weapons and armor in Drakkar, although the best items are found rather than purchased. Hit points regenerate slowly, but you can heal more quickly by drinking water from the fountain in Drakkar (you need a flask to FILL it) or by finding a hut west of the city, where the residents sell healing potions for 200 gold pieces.
Tip: the expensive stuff is a waste of money.
The game consists of four major sections: the city of Drakkar, the southern caves, the southeastern path to a wizard's hut, and the northwestern castle. Most of what's in between is filler--long strings of nondescript paths and passages to give the sense of size. It is mostly open from the beginning, although you can't enter the caves or castle until you have been "marked" by the southern wizard. The sequence of plot events goes something like this:
1. Visit Drakkar and stock up. There's an armory called Dirten's Weapon Emporium; I can only hope it's named after the Pool of Radiance NPC. It also has a general store, where you find most of your standard adventuring gear (rope, lamp, oil, flask), a watering hole, and a tavern.
2. Meet Fallon Shires in the tavern. He tells you that an evil sorcerer named Kryptic (who "lives in the caves to the north") has kidnapped his daughter. He gives the player a coin, which he says is cursed. It will not allow the player to leave the area until his daughter is rescued. He recommends that the player go to the southern wizard (not the evil one) for aid. Promising great reward if the quest is successful, he scampers off.
Fallon Shires sounds like a gated community outside San Francisco.
A desk drawer in the tavern's office has a note written by a warrior named Throckmorton, "the only mortal to ever fight and almost win a battle with the Evil Sorcerer." It says that the player will have to "master all three of the magical items" to win.

3. Visit the southern wizard. To get to his hut, you have to tie a rope to a tree to swing across a ravine. The wizard tells you that you'll need three jewels to defeat the Evil One--one shaped like a star, one shaped like an eye, and one shaped like a triangle. He casts a spell that "marks" you with the face of the cursed coin and gives you the star-shaped gem. He also tells you there are powerful items in the Great Palace in Darkkar and that a "keeper," who lives in town, has the key.
Jeton is a new vocabulary word for me. I'm going to use it instead of "challenge coin" from now on.
4. Loot the Great Palace. Technically, you could have done this earlier, but until you meet the southern wizard, you'd have to make some leaps of logic. The Great Palace is behind a locked door in Drakkar. The only person who lives in town who could possibly have the key is a villager living south of the watering hole. He attacks when you enter his hut, and if you kill him, you're led to believe you just killed an innocent villager for no reason. Knowing that you need his key makes it only a little better. Once he's dead, you have to PUT OUT the fire in his fireplace with a flask of water, then SEARCH it to find a clump of ash, then WASH the clump of ash with more water to reveal a bronze key.
I was proud at how quickly I figured this out.
The bronze key opens the door to the palace. In the main hall, you find a painting signed by someone named "Hawking." It depicts the palace and calls it "Basilica." Upstairs, you find a silver key, which unlocks the door to the armory, where you find a suit of armor--the best armor in the game.
5. Explore the southern caves. You can't even enter the caves unless you've been marked by the wizard. You need a lamp to get around. There are two major things to do here. The first is to kill a magician who's set up a laboratory in the caves. He has a Shield of Ogre Strength (between it and the armor, you can't get a lower AC) and a book that gives you the information needed to safely cross a set of pillars in another section of the caves.
Crossing the pillars puts you in front of a statue. He asks you the name of a great ancient warrior; if you searched the tavern, you know that the answer is THROCKMORTON. The statue drops the eye-shaped jewel in your hand, and you're back in town.
Throckmorton is also a city in Texas, west of Fort Worth.
6. Explore the northwestern castle. As with the caves, you need to be marked to even enter. In a bedroom in the castle, you find a Sword of Burning Dragons, a ridiculously powerful weapon. Until you find it, the best weapon in the game is the long sword, which has a weapon rating of 6. The Sword of Burning Dragons has a weapon rating of 100. Once you have it, enemies basically die in one hit.

A trap door leads to the attic, where you find a beholder. He asks the name of the palace (BASILICA) and then gives you the triangular jewel. Again, a flash, and you're back in town.
A palace and a basilica aren't quite the same thing.
This is where I'm stuck. I have all three jewels, but I can't find the supposed "caves" in which the Evil One lives. An obvious place would be near a beach northwest of Drakkar. There are nine interconnected squares here making up the beach, but I can't figure out anything to do here. Unused items include a flask with an explosive liquid, a pouch with red powder, and a bunch of sand. The most obvious thing would be to throw the explosive bottle at the cliffs north of the beach, perhaps causing the cave to open. But the game doesn't recognize the word CLIFF and just throwing the bottle generically doesn't do anything.
A close-up of Drakkar.
Let's cover somer oddities and bugs of the game:
  • There's a fatigue system, but it's weird. You don't get tired until about 600 turns into the game. Assuming that the game doesn't take much longer, whatever I have to do, you could probably win in fewer turns. The game warns you repeatedly that you need to sleep. If you ignore it, you eventually pass out and wake up with all your inventory gone. You can only sleep on beds, but there are only a few places with beds in the game. If you find one and sleep, the game says you wake up refreshed, but it doesn't seem to actually reset the fatigue meter. You keep getting messages that you're exhausted and eventually pass out. You end up having to drop all your inventory, pass out, then pick it up again to avoid this problem.
Sleeping for hours and hours only to still be exhausted is the type of thing I play games to escape from, not experience.
  • There's also a hunger system, but I didn't get hungry until turn 1,200. There's only one food item in the game, so I guess 2,400 turns is the limit.
  • The game's parser gets confused when it comes to items with multiple words. The general store sells both Stone Oil and Lamp Oil, but if you try to BUY either of them, it tells you that it doesn't know what you're talking about. If you just BUY OIL, you end up buying the Lamp Oil. I can't figure out any set of commands that lets you buy the Stone Oil. Maybe that's crucial to winning. Similarly, trying to refer to any of the jewels is difficult, as the screenshot below shows.
And this is how Chester became an atheist.
  • In the room where you find the Sword of Burning Dragons, you can TAKE it, but the game doesn't register it as gone from the room. After taking it, if you don't leave the room immediately, it disappears from your inventory.
  • To wield a weapon, you have to HOLD it. To unwield it, you have to UNHOLD it. But if you DROP it without UNHOLDing it first, the game registers it as gone but not unwielded. From then on, you can't wield any more weapons because you didn't unwield the previous one, but you also can't unwield the previous one because you dropped it. (This remains true even if you pick it up again.) Clearly, the "something is wielded" flag is distinct from the specific item that is wielded. But you retain the weapon rating of the previously-wielded weapon even if you drop it.
My inventory at one point in the game.
  • The game has a scoring system. For most of the game, no matter how far you progress, the score remains stuck at 0 ("itsy-bitsy ant doo-doo"). Then at some point around Steps 3 or 4, it suddenly goes up to 10,100 ("scrawny") but never budges from there for the rest of the game.
  • In general, TADS supports a lot of commands that the game doesn't use. In particular, Curse has no way to interact with NPCs. The game gives you generic responses to things like YELL, SAY, DIG, TURN, PUSH, and so forth, which might make some players assume those commands have some utility in this specific game.
If there's nothing useful to PUSH or DIG, then the game should just tell you, not string you along.
I'm tempted to record this one as "not winnable" under the assumption that some bug is preventing me from finding the endgame, but I suppose that's a bit dishonest. Plus, it would interfere with the glorious streak of "Nos" in the "won?" column that I've amassed this month. I have reached out to the author, who promised a map of the world and a hint booklet for the $10 shareware fee, so hopefully he still has that, and I can append an addendum to this entry after turning it into a win.
For a GIMLET, I'm giving it an 19 [Edit: see below for a modification]. It has a couple of serviceable puzzles, though I would have liked to see more, and of greater complexity. It's about the right length for its mechanics. It doesn't do well in most standard RPG categories, including combat, character creation and development, and NPCs (all 1s). I'm still awaiting a truly great RPG/text adventure hybrid, but an occasional shareware effort helps keep the torch alive.
Addendum from 6 December 2022
Thanks to the help of an anonymous commenter, I was able to log a technical win on this one, but it required so much outside help that I don't feel great about it. The last act of the game embodied the worst tendencies of the worst text adventures, requiring unintuitive leaps of logic as well as guessing the particular verb chosen by the author.
I was right that the beach was important. The pouch of red dust that you find somewhere in the adventure turns out to be--how did I not see this?--a magic inflatable raft. You just have to add water. Not just any water, of course--you have to be standing on one of the seven beach squares for it to work. If you try to FILL POUCH in any of the other places with water, the message you get is not something like "this is not the right place to do that," but rather: "Putting that into the pouch might ruin the powder."
FILL POUCH in the right square of waterfront causes it to start to expand. To avoid death, you have to THROW POUCH at the water. The game tells you that you "missed" the water, but the pouch does continue expanding into an inflatable raft. 
Kudos to my character for waiting for "what seems to be days." I would have given up well before then.
For a short while after this, I had no problems. You ENTER RAFT. It takes you across the lake to another section of the wilderness. A long, linear path leads you o the front door of a castle. There are three receptacles for the gems on the front door, and you have to put each gem in its appropriate receptacle, although somehow they remain in your inventory. The game asks for a registration code, which my anonymous commenter helpfully extracted from the game file via hex editor.
The castle has a loop of rooms--kitchen, den, slaves' quarters, and so on--with nothing important in them. A message in the slaves' quarters that you feel a "bit of a draft" is your hint that there's a secret door somewhere. I got that. I even figured that it was in the floor, because if you try to go (D)own, the game says, "you can't go that way yet!" The only thing about the room the game notes is the beds, so I tried to PUSH, PULL, MOVE, LIFT, DESTROY, BURN, and do a bunch of other things to the beds. I did not think to LOOK UNDER them, which is the correct answer.
Looking under the bed reveals a grate, which opens to a couple linear levels of sewer, including one downward tunnel that is too slippery to get back up. There are a couple of servants' quarters where servants attack, but combat was trivial to me by this point in the game. 
The pile of bodies is never explained.
The only thing to find in the sewers is a single square where the game notes a painting of a hand on the wall with a dot on the raised index finger. Again, I tried PUSH, PULL, PRESS, and just about everything else but the correct answer: TOUCH.
A secret door opens to the final encounter with the evil wizard. He blasts you with a spell that's instant death unless you have the magic sword, armor, and shield from other parts of the game. When this fails, you enter standard combat, and although he starts with thousands of hit points, the overpowered sword still manages to kill him in about six rounds.
I'm not sure where all of his "faithfull" go post-combat.
The endgame text has you rescuing Fallon Shires's daughter from a cage, at which point Shires somehow magically teleports the two of you to his house, where he gives you a bag of gold and tells you to hit the road. 
Why will I see him again? Is his daughter going to be kidnapped again? Is he Liam Neeson?
I'm subtracting 1 point from the GIMLET for being so ungenerous with synonyms in the last act. Also: what was the Curse of Vengeance?

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Die Odysee: A Journey of a Thousand Miles

A classic Greek mystery: the ruins of a palace, and blood on the throne.
Once again, the community has come together. Author Martin Auer supplied a scanned PDF of the full game manual; Busca and LanHawk supplied OCR'd versions of it so I could copy it into a translator. LanHawk also extracted the game's text into a file that I could cut and paste from rather than having to manually transcribe it from the game screens. In the meantime, any number of commenters--Vauban, Buck, El despertando, Busca, LanHawk--translated bits of the available material. Some combination of people alerted me to a missed character creation process on the first disk. It's so heartwarming when people offer assistance like this. Otherwise, I might have been forced to abandon this game whose own author feels is so "well, bad" that he's sorry "for the kid that maybe got this as his only birthday present."
It took me a while to get back to it, because to play it properly I have to have half a dozen windows open on three monitors, including the game, LanHawk's text dump, the manual, my notepad, and Google Translate. Now that my computer won't be moving for the long holiday weekend, I can hopefully make some progress.
The Strauss-accompanied introduction that I quoted last time leads to a main menu with options for the game's backstory, manual, acknowledgements, and character creator. The backstory has another long text exposition setting up the game. "The latest inconclusive battle was only three days old when the winding paths of fate led Odysseus to a tavern, accompanied by a few loyal comrades," it begins. The tavern keeper tells them of a dungeon beneath his establishment. He has never entered it, but rumors say that it contains a lost city and an oracle. "Now Odysseus and his comrades pricked up their ears. An oracle? Could this be the end of this terrible episode? All the oracles of Greece had refused to help them for more than eight years now!" The innkeeper says that he has a key in a box in his room. He's saying something about a curse and a king's daughter when the companions, ignoring him, head into the dungeon. "None of the heroes had any idea what whirlwind of events they would find themselves in from now on."
The "manual" option doesn't lead you to a "how-to-play-the-game" kind of manual, but rather a 2,000-word introduction to Greek history. "Homer is considered the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey," it begins. "He probably wrote them down around 750 BC." I won't bother to summarize most of the rest, as we have Wikipedia these days, but it takes an odd turn in that it mostly focuses on Greek history post-Homer, including the Greco-Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War--all interesting stuff that would be explored wonderfully in Assassin's Creed: Odyssey (2018), but not the game that we have before us, unless Odysseus and his friends are going to travel through time or something.
It's just too bad that the modern world seems to have forgotten the Spartans and the events at Thermopylae.
The Atticans appear several times in the narrative. I'm reminded of our recent discussion of "Bad Attic Latin" in The Return of Werdna. It amuses me how almost every game has some thread that links it to previous games, whether intentional or not.
If you didn't know the author was a teenager, you would figure it out immediately from the "Acknowledgements" (this is not the literal translation of Grüße, but I think it fits the spirit). Here, one word at a time, Auer thanks about 500 people and entities. In addition to (I presume) family and friends, we get thanks to Claudia Schiffer, MTV, Pink Floyd, Monty Python, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Amazon Women on the Moon, The Longest Day, Sid Meier, Dune, Animal Farm, Larry Bird, Billy Joel, and--here's one I wouldn't have seen coming--Vera Lynn. Did "We'll Meet Again" achieve some kind of 1990s popularity in Germany that I've never heard about?
Finally, we get into character creation. Odysseus is, of course, a fixed member of the party. But you can replace Amphion, Ino, and Pheres with characters of your own creation and name. The number of races and classes is mind-boggling. For races, you get human, Titan, Cyclopes, Centaur, Cercopes (impish monkey-men of the forest), Laestrygonian (man-eating giants), Erinyes (Fury), Harpy, Siren, Amazon, Nymph, däumling ("thumbling"), shepherd (?), sea eagle, butterfly, and nightingale. To the extent that any of these creatures exist in Greek mythology, I don't think Odysseus is supposed to meet them until after the Trojan War.
Women can be whatever they want to be!
Class options are warrior, half-god, alchemist, seer, philosopher, mathematician, poet, cook, doctor, Olympian, herald, archer, mermaid, seaman, artist, Muse, singer, hunter, dancer, thief, merchant, tailor, and blacksmith. There are numerous sex/race/class restrictions, some of which make sense (e.g., no male Sirens, Muses, or Erinyes) and some that don't (e.g., no female alchemists, no Amazon philosophers, no Erinye doctors). The manual has no help on any of this, including the strengths and weaknesses of the various races and classes.
Selecting my god.
In addition to the primary class (beruf), you also pick from the same list for the character's "hobby." You then pick from the character's "faith": elements, colors, symbols, and gods. That choice leads to a particular sub-menu choice for "circle"; for instance, those with an elemental faith choose from water, fire, metal, diamond, wood, and blood. Finally, you have to answer the character's perspective on two yes/no questions from among several possibilities. These include:
  • Is the fate of man predetermined?
  • Is war a means of resolving conflict?
  • Can a mortal reach the world of the dead?
  • Can the forces of nature be harnessed? 
  • Is health the greatest source of happiness in life?
When you're all done, you get a character with various values for health, magic, morality, strength, intelligence, endurance, dexterity, charisma, skill, reaction, and what I assume is "cold sensitivity" (kälteempf,). Each character also gets certain skills, like spellcasting, group formation, calming the pulse, tracking, stealing, and playing the lyre.
A final character sheet.
It was a bit too much for me. I let randomness guide the way. I ended up with:
  • Tisiphone, a female Erinye mermaid/seer color-based faith (white circle) who believes in fate and war.
  • Tommaso, a male thumbling thief/half-god with a god-based faith (worshiping Pan) who believes mortals can reach the world of the dead but not harness the forces of nature.
  • Ligeia, a female Siren mathematician/dancer with a symbol-based religion (wave circle) who believes one cannot enter the world of the dead and that health is not the greatest source of happiness.
I can't tell if that's Grace Kelly or Cybil Shepherd, but either way, it's an appropriate image for a "siren."
Odysseus himself is a male half-god/warrior with an elemental faith (water circle)

After creation, you can change the character's photo, but there's only one option for each race, so the default makes the most sense. 
The graphic for the däumling is a riot. I guess it's going to be tough to equip him.
As recounted last time, the game begins in the tavern, really in the middle of the backstory, as the party has not yet descended to the dungeon, and if you talk to the tavern keeper, he tells you about the dungeon and the Oracle as if for the first time. The first step is thus to get the key from his box. I first talk to him a bit and repeat the dialogue from my first attempt. I now know that asking a character of himself (via his own name) will open up some options. In addition to what I got last time, I get:
Antoklos: "That is my name. I've been the landlord here for about 12 years. But if you ask me, I'd rather be in another city. The war ruins the whole business. Earlier . . . yes, earlier. Many years ago, this place was famous: Tymen, the market town; Tymen, the trading center. There came traders and merchants from east and west. There was a lot going on here in Tymen in the past, a hundred years ago or so. But I'm getting excited. Those rosy days are long gone, and the war drives away even the last customers."
"Das ist mein Name. Achten Sie darauf, es nicht durch übermäßigen Gebrauch zu erodieren."
War: "Troy is also quite rundown, but you will never conquer this city. I'll bet you wine and amphora! They only have to hole up in their town. The siege has been going on for so long now, and what did it bring? And in confidence: until you free Helena, she will look like my wife." [I didn't really understand that last bit.]
Wife: "My wife?  I traded six cows for her. They were six really good cows. Now I have sixteen cows. Not bad either for someone who has worked his way up from the bottom. But milk prices aren't what they used to be either. Now you have to count every liter to stay afloat. In the past, yes, you could buy a whole acre of land with one cow. Now it's just enough for a few strides. What else should I tell you about my wife?"
Troy: "Well, this city is a fortress, and an indomitable one at that. Of course the Trojans cannot win the war, but they can always avoid defeat. You've already bitten your teeth on the walls. They're just too tall and too thick. And your mission is only over when you take the city and free this woman. What was her name? Helena . . . yes. Priam makes a fuss about this woman if you ask me. There is only one way to finally end this war. You must find the oracle."
Priam: "He is by no means popular here in town. He reigns in Troy as if he were the great ruler. I think he's quite cocky, you know what I mean? But nothing seems to grow against him and his city. Maybe if you are lucky you can make it."
Tymen: "This area was once famous for its trade and wealth. There was prosperity and order. That was many years ago. Then came the curse of the gods that sowed destruction. Now this region has been ruled by Troy for several generations. A poor village that can just support an inn. But if you want to know something about the past of this place, you should read about it yourself in the collection of tales in my room." 
I'm prepared to do just that, but the collection of tales in his room is gone! Actually, as I look around the tavern, a lot of the stuff I picked up last time is gone, including shirts, hats, and food. I guess creating a new character doesn't reset the game. To do that, I suppose I'll have to extract the disk files from the archive again.
There's a lot missing, but the key I need is there.
But there is a metal key on his desk, which I had somehow missed last time. It opens a door south of the main tavern room. I grab a rose from a small alcove along the way, having read a spoiler from Mr. Auer. The door leads to a long corridor, which opens into a large room with two thrones and a gold chest. This must be the remains of the palace that Antoklos talked about.
The chest won't open, so I continue to the room south of it, a large storeroom full of equipment such as shields, gold, a dagger, and a pile of metal. The gold key opens the chest in the previous room, and gold pieces come spilling out. I collect about 500.
I don't know where I'm going to spend this gold, but I'm getting rich.
At this point, both Odysseus and Tommaso are exhausted. I check the manual for instructions on how to sleep, and it says to click on the clock. While this does cause time to pass, it doesn't seem to do anything for the characters. Doing so while standing on a bed doesn't help. Fortunately, being exhausted doesn't seem to stop me from moving, talking, or doing anything that I need to do for the rest of this session.
In another room off the throne room, I encounter my second NPC, sitting on a sofa. She introduces herself as Daphne. Like Antoklos, she has a ton of dialogue--almost 1,500 words of it. Copying it from LanHawk's text dump, I unfortunately can't help but notice some of the keyword prompts. One of them is schleier ("veil"), which Daphne never speaks. It thus appears that you have to try keywords based on the character's appearance as well as the dialogue. Another of her prompts is götter ("gods"), but I can't figure out how to type the umlaut on the Amiga keyboard. ALT-o gives me an Ø, but no other combination of ALT, SHIFT, and CTRL does anything special.
You don't find scenes like this in the usual high-fantasy game.
Daphne tells me that she has been here for decades because of a curse. She is the daughter of a king, Jason, who also had two sons, Pheres and Leiodes. Her brother Pheres was "insatiable," wanting literally everything. Jason tried to appease him by giving him half his lands and half the treasury, but it wasn't enough. Pheres killed Jason, then waged war on his brother when Leoides inherited the throne. After a siege, Leoides was forced to flee the castle through a secret passage. Pheres conquered it and imprisoned Daphne. At some point, at least according to Daphne, the gods cursed the family, and as part of the curse, Daphne has to exist forever in this room. The Oracle, which has lived in the castle for centuries, is also sealed away as part of the curse. Daphne quickly falls in love with Odysseus, who seems smitten with her as well.
Remember Penelope, Odysseus.
In her dialogue, Daphne makes reference several times to particularly loving flowers and not having seen one in decades. I have Odysseus give her the rose, which completely seals her affections. Then, in a series of text screens, she leads the party to a secret door and says that's the way to the Oracle. She begs Odysseus to come back to her, and he promises he will. I get a brief view of the party in a rough-hewn corridor, and then the game dumps me to the Amiga workbench. Mr. Auer also mentioned having a crash around this point.
Thus, my homework is:
  • Re-extract the game disks and start over, so I can properly fill up my inventory.
  • Go through the manual and figure out how exhaustion and resting work.
  • Figure out how to get past this point that the game is crashing.
I'll keep working at it and let you know what I come up with. 
A cut scene as Daphne escorts us to the basement.
"You'd better," I hear you say. "My life is not complete unless I know the CRPG Addict is working his way through reams of expository narrative written in German." Well, good news: SOTE is on the horizon, and I can use some help with the very long, scrolling backstory that begins the game. If you speak German fluently and wouldn't mind taking a look at this video to give me a summary (the part I'm having trouble with starts at 02:25), I would appreciate it. You'll probably need to watch it at half speed.
As for Die Odyssee, if I were that kid who got this as his only game for his birthday, I wouldn't be disappointed . . . yet. Overwhelmed and confused, maybe, but not disappointed. It's certainly one of the more original experiences of 1993.
Addendum from 3 January 2023:
I put some more time into Die Odyssee in November. I did manage to get past the crash I experienced above and even managed to trigger a combat. Combat seems to resolve on a tactical grid, with squares representing the different characters and enemies.
The party is attacked by sodium, flerovium, and belarium.
The problem is that when combat starts, my characters are already nearly dead because of the problems described above. Busca did some research in the manual to help me out, but it came at the wrong time. A combination of dense translation, impenatrable mechanics (particularly the spell system), and the fact that the game crashes to the workbench with every errant mouse click has killed my enthusiasm for it despite some interesting elements. It's not a game to have on my active board while I'm trying to get some momentum back on my blog. I'm giving it a best-guess GIMLET of 37, which is pretty good. It has an interesting backstory, an unusual character creation system with a huge variety of options, verbose NPCs and encounters, and an intriguing tactical combat system. I'll hold open the possibility of returning to it over the summer break when I have more time.
Time so far: 6 hours