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: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
     
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?

68 comments:

  1. I only ever heard or read 'Jeton' (in German or French) used in the sense of 'casino token' so far, but a quick search tells me it has both a separate historical background and different meanings in different countries. So, same as you, again something new learned through (you blogging about) a CRPG.

    Sounds like it is a TADS buggy, though.

    I'll show myself out... .

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  2. There is a REALLY excellent text-adventure/RPG/strategy game hybrid called Nocked! out on Steam and iOS, it‘s a reimagination of the Robin Hood myth with additional fantasy elements, and it‘s fantastic! So many different paths and options, I have still to beat that game but I can only highly recommend it, it is so addictive and well written! I have never played a textbased game with so much depth, choice and consequence, and freedom before. And it‘s great to play as a mobile game too.

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    1. It's funny how muddled the terminology has become - parser-based text adventures and CYOAs/VNs are two entirely different species, yet these days both go as text adventures.

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    2. Of course you are correct, pardon my imprecision … Nocked! is more of a CyoA , it has no parser … but it‘s still very impressive!

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    3. The confusion is understandable because nowadays the term "interactive fiction" -- which used to be the somewhat-fancier name for text adventures, based on Infocom using it as a marketing strategy -- does apply equally to parser-based games and choice-based games (these days "text adventure" is primarily used to refer to parser-based games that are more or less consciously trying to call back to the 70s/80s puzzle-first gameplay, in contrast to the post-90s trend of prioritizing narrative in parser games, sometimes to the extent of omitting puzzles entirely). In fact in this year's Interactive Fiction Competition, the top four games were all choice-based!

      Visual Novels, by way of contrast, are typically at the margin of the definition of IF; every year folks will enter a few in the various competitions and festivals the community runs, and with a few exceptions they don't do especially well. Partially this is because the mechanics and assumptions behind VNs are fairly different, since they came up as an independent kind of game (whereas parser-based and choice-based IF have a much more intertwined geneaology), partially because there's already a distinct, and much larger and thriving, VN scene so it sorta doesn't make sense to mush them together.

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    4. >since they came up as an independent kind of game (whereas parser-based and choice-based IF have a much more intertwined geneaology)

      VNs actually do have a shared geneology with old parser-based adventures, it's just that it's so far back that almost everyone has completely abandoned it. If you look on VNDB there is a producer entry for Sierra Entertainment, which includes the Japanese-only parser-with-illustrations version of Softporn Adventure, aka Leisure Suit Larry.

      https://vndb.org/p9788

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    5. Eh, technically, but the whole text adventure->Japanese-style adventure->VN lineage only happened in Japan, over here there were plenty of attempts at something like a VN, they just failed miserably. Until people started bringing over some of those porn VNs, at which point they eventually had some kind of exotic simplicity attached to them.

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  3. "Examine gem" gives "which gem do you mean?", and if you treat that as a question and answer "star-like" (or perhaps "star") it should make you examine the star-like gem.

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    1. You would think, but that doesn't work either.

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    2. The classic approach to this is to drop one of the items in a different location, then try again (so like type BUY OIL in the shop, go outside and drop the oil there, then go inside and BUY OIL again). More modern versions of TADS do this much more easily, thankfully!

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    3. The shop interprets plain "Oil" as the lamp oil, so if I drop it and return and buy it, I just get more lamp oil.

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    4. Ugh, that's annoying -- guess there's infinite oil. Are you allowed to drop the gems once you get them, or is that a no-go too?

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  4. Considering this game is made in a well-known engine format, it should be possible for someone to decompile it and see what you're doing wrong.
    Based on my own impressions of the IF scene, anything that adds randomness is considered bad, and as such, that tends to be RPG elements. Not sure if this applies to all such games, but Leadlight, a very nice RPG/text adventure, had very divisive opinions on it back in the day.

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    1. Eh, I think there's a variety of opinions -- randomness in straight puzzle games is definitely frowned on, but there's definitely a portion of the community that likes RPG hybrids. It's just that there aren't too many good ones -- Leadlight, from my understanding, certainly is, but it was also consciously designed as an Eamon throwback/homage which by 2010 might have felt a little too old-school for some (it's got a pretty solid rating on IFDB for all that). By contrast, Black Knife Dungeon, a game from last year, is a hybrid with a bunch of randomization, but it takes inspiration from more forgiving, modern roguelite design, and possibly as a result was widely praised.

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    2. This game seems more like a single-player MUD than an actual text adventure.

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    3. I dunno. Despite being in Eamon, Leadlight struck me as a game that unless you got an exceptional run of bad luck it wasn't going to screw you over if you played your cards right. The way you're describing the other game makes it sound like a highly randomized slot machine, except sometimes it lets you win.

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    4. > The way you're describing the other game makes it sound like a highly randomized slot machine, except sometimes it lets you win.

      Black Knife Dungeon, you mean? Definitely not -- the randomization determines what monsters and treasures you encounter, but the fights are largely puzzles and you can run from any of them with no penalty if the damage isn't going to be worth the reward. And death just slightly reduces the amount of loot you can bring back from a run, in a light push-your-luck mechanic. What it takes from roguelite design is that there's a gameplay loop where instead of a single playthrough where you win or you die, here you do multiple runs through the dungeon in order to get gold so you can buy upgrades, as well as complete quests which open up new areas of the dungeon as well as unlock new upgrades. It's a lot of fun, definitely worth the hour or two it takes to play:

      https://ifdb.org/viewgame?id=yznfsdxo09n9bias

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    5. Don't get me wrong, that sounds like its a nice game, but it just sounds like an adventure game, not really much of a RPG.

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  5. I remember having a lot of fun playing and documenting Magocracy at the time and I look forward to your someday having to get around what I have inadvertently once more thrown in your path.

    I expect that the gold standard of text adventure CRPGs is probably the MUD strain that wound up spawning the entire MMORPG industry. (Usually it's a rather minimalist line, but they had a lot of time to improve what they felt they could improve, and leave well enough alone what they felt they couldn't.)

    (And, of course, the sage on top of the mountain: https://kerkerkruip.org/about/ )

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  6. I wonder if the warrior's name - besides being a city in Texas - is a reference to the "Throckmorton sign" alias "John Thomas sign" - which appears to be a medical in-joke involving male genitalia... .

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  7. > village of Drakkar

    I'm looking forward to the spinoff where you play a hard-boiled detective who investigates shadowy crimes and interrogates underworld figures while fighting his own demons.

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  8. I actually used TADS back in my early Macintosh days to create text adventures. It is an extremely robust programming language that resembles C and is geared specifically for creating interactive fiction and text games. The newer versions have support for graphics and in-browser play, and there's all sorts of interesting, underused text game features, like being able to drive a vehicle or interact significantly with NPCs.

    As you can see with Curse of Vengeance, it can be used to make RPGs, although I wouldn't call this particularly a good example. But, like Mechanical Anarchy, CoV was an early favorite of mine. I scoured BBSs and online repositories for stuff like this, regardless of quality.

    There are tons of interesting games made with TADS (any of the classic adventure text games can be made with the system) and there are a lot more on the Interactive Fiction Database (ifdb.org). One of my old favorites is "Deep Space Drifter," which has you running out of fuel in a spacecraft and reaching a seemingly abandoned space station that is slowly self-destructing.

    For some reason, TADS was dwarfed in popularity by the much more popular Inform programming language, which, admittedly, is easier to use and is a work of art itself, as its syntax is structured as actual English sentences. A common Inform statement might be something like "Define a room with the property 'raining' and place a fixed table in the room with an umbrella on an umbrella rack."

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    1. Yeah, I was going to post to say that TADS is a full object-oriented programming language, not a "kit" in the sense of hard-to-customize program allowing you to combine relatively standardized pieces. It does come with a standard library defining the world model -- and users and write and use their own alternate ones if they like -- but all of that is just as easy to change as anything else. I'm not aware of anything in the TADS standard library that would support RPG features, though (short of hunger and sleep timers) so those are all going to be created specifically by the game authors.

      As you say, TADS is much less popular than Inform, though this was true even before Inform 7 adopted the natural-language approach -- I suspect the explanation is that Inform was born from reverse-engineering Infocom's z-machine format, which gave it a ton of cachet in the early scene given the high regard those games were held in. TADS is alive and well, though -- in this year's IF Comp, two of the three parser games in the top ten were written in TADS! Actually, they're both quite good so let me drop in some links:

      According to Can, a more narrative-driven game about an alchemist trying to untangle the secret of the Mark of Cain:

      https://ifdb.org/viewgame?id=6qp3g7te26h3rb5u

      The Only Possible Prom Dress, a long puzzle-fest about raiding a locked-up mall in search of a dress for your daughter -- but finding it involves a wizard, pterodactyl, anagram puzzles, several different mazes (with tricks to bypass them)...

      https://ifdb.org/viewgame?id=u4u57v2ggfcqvll7

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    2. Thanks for the additional info! I'm glad to see parser games still get a fair shake in today's age. Even stuff I would consider next gen interactive fiction is getting old and out of touch (Twine, for example, one of my favorites). I guess I'm just getting old myself!

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    3. I am just noticing, and laughing at, my "According to Can" typo -- should be "Cain", natch! And yeah, the IF scene, parser as well as choice-based, is actually relatively robust these days (Twine is definitely still going strong too); I mean it's still a very niche field but there've been record-large fields of entries to IF Comp the past couple years, lots of new authors trying cool new stuff... to go back to your first post, the lowered barriers to entry of Inform 7 and Twine are definitely part of that -- I wrote my first IF games a couple years ago in Inform 7, after not getting off the ground with a couple Inform 6 projects back in the day.

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    4. Well that's really nice to know! I was actually teaching myself Inform a few months back and felt like I was tinkering with a long dead corpse of a language for a minute back there (kind of like how I sometimes play with my mini vMac emulator and boot up HyperCard for old times sake) but that makes me happy that Inform and parser games are still a thing. To me, I'm more of a fan of the organization and C-ness of TADS, so I might jump back in and try to catch up on TADS 3.

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    5. Speaking of interactive fiction again in general, what recently got me back into IF was a simply incredible piece that I discovered, I believe it was written in Inform, called The Fire Tower.

      It's not even really a game, just pure interactive fiction, a hiking simulator of sorts that describes an actual hiking trail that the author is familiar with. It just blew me away, for something so inconsequential. It felt like, for moments here and there, the sheer interactivity of it, my imagination just went wild. It really proved again to me the power of interactive fiction in a way that a conventional game wouldn't. And it reminded me that the best IF games are purely works of art, and sorely underrated as works of art in culture.

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    6. If we're doing text-adventure recommendations, a real classic is Christminster, by Gareth Rees. The writing is lovely, and the puzzles are excellent.

      You are playing Christabel, a young woman searching for her brother Malcolm in Biblioll College. But the doorkeeper won't let you in.....

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    7. tetrapod, thank you for mentioning The Only Possible prom dress! I haven't been following interactive fiction developments lately, but years ago I heard it was in the works, and am thrilled to know it's been released! The author's previous game has a special place in my heart, and I've wanted a sequel ever since!

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    8. @Teegan -- oh, Inform is definitely still a going concern too! It actually just went open source this year, so there've been a flurry of new updates; there's going to be a new conversation system soon, and it looks like Emily Short is working on a new game to show it off, which is exciting (I definitely get preferring TADS due to its similarity to C, though -- there's supposed to be a new version of the main TADS 3 library, Adv3lite, before the end of the year too).

      And from your reference to coming across Fire Tower recently, I'm guessing you followed the Fifty Years of Text Adventures project that highlighted it last year, but in case not, it's an awesome examination of some well-known games and hidden gems over the last half-century:

      https://if50.substack.com/

      (I very much agree with you too about the imaginative power of IF, beyond the traditional puzzle-game approach -- my first game was a comedy puzzlefest, but my second one was a puzzleless memoir about my relationship with my twin sister, and it's very cool that the tools worked well for both, and that the community was really supportive of both!)

      @Malor oh, I love Christminster too! I recently came across it on a list of "neo-classical" IF -- haven't worked my way through all of the other recommendations, but I suspect there are some other gems here too:

      https://www.filfre.net/2021/09/the-neo-classical-interactive-fiction-of-1995/

      @ Walter M -- happy to have flagged it to you! It's definitely a lot of fun, and while from what I hear it's fairer and a bit easier than the previous instalment, I very much felt a sense of accomplishment at beating it :)

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  9. Almost forgot to mention: unfortunately I can't remember the solution to the game, but have you tried purchasing lamp oil or stone oil using quotes, as in --buy "lamp oil"-- or --buy "stone oil"--, I think that's how the parser is designed to allow the interaction of objects with multiple word identifiers.

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    1. Huh, are you sure? I just checked this out Deep Space Drifter and the parser doesn't seem to like quotation marks.

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    2. Oh definitely not sure! I wish I remembered well. I think I might have been confusing that with a MUD I used to play.

      I think it might have just been something like "buy oil" and then the parser would be like "what kind of oil?" And then you would type "lamp." Anyway, my memory is probably good as dog poop when it comes to TADS. It's just been too long.

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    3. No, quotes don't help.

      BUY STONE OIL = "I don't know the word 'Stone.'"

      BUY OIL = "You already own the fine lamp fuel."

      BUY OTHER OIL = "I don't know the word 'other.'"

      BUY "STONE OIL" = "I don't know how to buy that."

      It's not like the stone oil is an obvious solution to a puzzle anyway. Right now, it's not the thing holding me back.

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  10. I have never played a TADS game. What I noticed on the Screen shot is that the games displays the choices in upper case and the input names were in lower case. Could case-sensitivity be the reason?

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    1. Good guess, but it doesn't seem to be an issue anywhere else, and it doesn't solve the gem or oil issues I mentioned.

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    2. Yeah TADS is case-insensitive by default; you might be able to hack in case-sensitivity but it'd be a bunch of work and deeply odd to do that without flagging it in the documentation.

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  11. I've heard that the game "Legerdemain" also combines text adventures and roguelikes, though I can't trust single-author games for solubility as far as I can throw them - and given that the author charges for a cluebook and held the source code ransom behind a non-charity fundraiser (No really. The campaign was called Legerdemain Source Code Ransom.), I get the feeling that there would be quite the perceived incentive by the author to limit its ease of solubility. I admire the 11th Dimension Entertainment shareware games (Excelsior 1 and 2, Skyland's Star) for at least having actual demos and still being for actual sale instead of pulling whatever Legerdemain is trying to. At least with games with demos, you know they've gotta be trying to make the small demo fun (and soluble!) so you'll want to pay for the rest instead of trying to "give away" a game and just ramping up the opaqueness until you feel compelled to end up paying for the clues lest your save file be forever unfinished.

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    1. Legerdemain was a much different kind of roguelike/text adventure hybrid than this. The primary way of interaction was with typical roguelike commands: square by square movement, casting spells, etc. The only free-text entry was in interacting with the many NPCs, when you could type in keywords, but even that was Ultima-style where all the available keywords had been highlighted in previous dialogue. I'm not entirely sure that it isn't more of an Ultima-like than a roguelike; the maps aren't procedurally generated and (Chet will be pleased to know) there isn't permadeath as you can save at inns (if you die, the innkeeper will wake you from a nightmare), though I think the monsters are randomly generated.

      Caves of Qud reminded me a lot of it, though I think Caves of Qud doesn't have free-text entry dialogue.

      Anyway Legerdemain seemed not to play too nasty with the puzzles. When I played I was able to work through a lot of the early game logically, I think. Eventually there was a dungeon I should've been able to get into but couldn't, but I think that may have been because my Java install had gotten very creaky by then. My attempts to run the more recent install he put up on itch.io weren't successful either. There were a couple of mysteries I didn't get close to the solution to, but on the forums it seemed like some people were winning!

      (I've never got far in Caves of Qud either.)

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    2. Pablo Maria Martinez MerinoNovember 28, 2022 at 3:44 PM

      If you're interested in the mix between parser-based interactive fiction and roguelike, the closest I've ever seen is Victor Gijsberg's Kerkerkruip. I think he does some very interesting things with the medium, both roguelikes and text adventures. https://ifdb.org/viewgame?id=f7zdhxmiraht53d1

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  12. >I've always liked text adventures--not as much as RPGs, of course, or else this would be a different blog

    Yes, _you_ could be the one buried in the never-ending gauntlet that is Ferret right now.

    re: the actions like DIG not being used but still being recognized -- that more or less started in earnest with the "engines" like TADS because there was a "default verb library" you'd plug the game into. It's one of those sort of things people have gone back and forth on; I know there are sometimes where it has felt very awkward to for the game to act totally confused on a very simple action (like ATTACK) and while you'd think "I don't know the verb ATTACK" might be more elegant it feels more like something is broken.

    Best would be something like (with ASK) "you don't need to make conversation in this game" -- it gives enough custom detail you know the game is working with you (and isn't just badly programmed) but also steers you away from thinking in dead end terms.

    There have been some modern games that have stripped down verbs quite minimally. Sometimes it works well? Occasionally it gets frustrating to have a generic-action like USE do something totally unexpected.

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  13. Chet, maybe you can try 'first' or 'second' when it's asking you which. Like 'buy first oil' 'buy second oil' or 'get first diamond' 'get second diamond'?

    I seem to recall some luck using that kind of verbiage in other text based games.

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    1. it's been a while since I programmed in TADS but I don't think that would work.

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    2. Hmm, maybe 'get other diamond' then?

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    3. Yeah, a stone wall followed by frantic flailing about for verbs and synonyms. That's about what I remember from text adventures.

      And to think, I used to think that I was the dumb one for failing to figure them out. Nope, there was nothing wrong with me the whole time. If I could have only known that back then. :(

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    4. They've generally gotten a *lot* better in the modern era -- there are always under-implemented games, but almost everything with any name recognition from the late nineties onwards is pretty playable as norms about offering synonyms, a VERBS command with important grammar, and that sort of thing has become the norm. But I definitely have this same feeling when playing a lot of games from before that time; I know there are some gems but it's a lot of work to get to them (so I mostly just read Jason Dyer's blog, who posts here sometimes and is doing a similar comprehensive adventure game playthrough: https://bluerenga.blog/)

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  14. If the gems are magic and you have to "master" them to defeat the evil wizard, is there some way you can use the gems to make the pathway to the evil wizard available? What do the three gems actually do?

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    1. I'm not sure. I can't find any verb combination that lets me interact with the gems.

      Delete
  15. I played the game up to the wizard thanks to your helpful map, and there’s just a lot of oddness with what names the game will accept. It is very inconsistent with whether it will take item names with spaces in them or not. For example, in the weapon shop, you can only buy the leather armor with “buy leather”. “buy leather armor” simply doesn’t work. However, “buy plate”, “buy plate armor” and even “buy plate-mail” all work for the plate armor. Each item does seem to have a single word that can be used with it. The star-like gem can be examined with “look at star” for example.

    For the stone oil, running the strings command on the disk image luckily includes a partial list of what commands and item names the game uses. I think the stone oil is actually “honing oil” (or just “honing”) as that appears in sequence with other items in the general store. Maybe there’s a whetstone somewhere and you simply can’t buy that oil until its acquired. I also couldn’t find anything that seemed related to sharpening so perhaps that actually got removed but the sign didn’t get updated. It’s not a perfect list since the “plate armor” above isn’t in it despite working.

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  16. "I know that some kits will eventually pose a challenge knowing when to say enough" *glances over at the thousands of RPG Maker games*

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  17. Just a hunch, but have you tried digging around the beach?

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    1. Yes. It asks what you want to dig in. SAND works. It then asks what you want to dig with. Anything you specify, it says, "I don't know how to dig in the sand."

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    2. Hmm. Dig with explosive potion? /shrug. The way the beach is laid out makes me suspect there's something there. Dunno if a cave or chest or whatnot.

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    3. Not saying it's definitely a red herring, but that sounds like it's just the default TADS action response.

      Delete
  18. Sir, I am currently on your 12/29/2012 post about Curse of the Azure Bonds, and just wanted to tell you that I am exceptionally appreciative of your blog and have read all the entries (minus the ones you yourself recommended skipping) to the Curse of the Azure Bonds.

    You even made me break out my GOG account to play Ultima IV (utterly and maddeningly fantastic) and ended up, no thanks to you, owning all the Ultimas and Might and Magics. Thank you for rekindling my love of this fantastic genre, and wish you well. I'll get to this current blog at some point of that I am sure, but felt I wanted to share my appreciation.

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  19. Dumb thought but have you tried leaving out spaces and characters, as is “stoneoil” or even “stone_oil”? I don’t know enough about the TADS parser to guess.

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  20. Chet, in order to make progress, you need to go to the lake and FILL POUCH; what happens as a result is completely absurd, but you can explore a new area. A little later the game will ask for a registration code, which is "ianabber" (obviously not mentioned within the game, but can be found by looking at the game file with a hex editor). You should be able to figure out the rest.

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    1. Thank you! That got me a bit further. I made my way into the castle. There's a room with a "bit of a draft" where I'm clearly supposed to find a secret way down, but no luck so far.

      Can you give me a bit of a tutorial? If I open the game's .bin file with a hex editor, I can see the commands the engine allows and the objects in the game, but none of the in-game text and not the "ianabber" password. What am I doing wrong?

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    2. In the room with the draft, LOOK UNDER BED.

      it's a feature of the TADS engine that every word of player input that the game can recognize is in plain text, while (almost) every other piece of text is encoded (so that players can't easily cheat). So if you open the file in a hex editor and read through the whole thing, you'll find verbs and object names, but also things like "basilica" and "throckmorton" that are answers to questions the game asks (it was just a guess that "ianabber" was the registration code, because it was the only likely candidate, but it happened to work).

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    3. Ugh. This has become just a game of "guess the verb the creator wanted." LOOK UNDER works where SEARCH, EXAMINE, MOVE, PUSH, and just about every other synonym fails.

      LOOK UNDER reveals a grate, grate takes me down a couple of sewer levels. The only way forward seems to be in a small room with a painting of a hand on the wall. The hand has a finger pointed up "as if to say 'we're number one!'" There's clearly some kind of secret door in the wall, but nothing I can do with HAND or FINGER works. The game calls your attention to a dot on the finger's hand but doesn't recognize DOT, so you can't push it or anything. If you see the answer to this one, please let me know.

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    4. I haven't looked at the code, but in reference to the "dot" on the hand, have you tried types of blemish? Mole, freckle, wart...

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    5. Try “digit”?
      - monster

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    6. TOUCH FINGER and then W. It will kill you immediately, unless your inventory has the lines "a Old rusted sword (being held)", "a Old armor (being worn)" and "a Shield of Ogre Strength (being worn)"; the last two probably aren't much of an issue, but the sword can be a problem because of the weapon handling bug you describe above.

      If your inventory does show all three items correctly, you will enter a fight with the Evil Sorcerer. He will die in about eight turns (he can occasionally do you some damage, but almost certainly not enough to kill you first) and then you get a paragraph of text about reuniting Fallon Shires with his daughter and that's it.

      Delete
  21. Thanks to our anonymous friend above, I was able to turn this into a "win," if only technically. See the addendum above.

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    1. You have a typo in your addendum!

      "6 December 2012"

      For a second I thought this was a very old blog entry recently reposted somehow!

      Delete
    2. Thanks. I can't believe 2012 was 10 years ago.

      Delete
  22. > I'm not sure where all of his "faithfull" go post-combat.

    Probably to record that song with Metallica.

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