Friday, April 27, 2012

Of Import: L-Dis (1991)

One of the things I remember most fondly about the post-crash era of videogaming was the emergence of publishers with distinct visual personalities.  On the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, everything tended to look about the same -- there wasn't enough graphical flexibility to allow for much distinction, and while some designers were better than others at getting the most out of the hardware, everyone was wearing the same straitjacket.  When the 8-bit NES came along, suddenly there were enough pixels and colors available to suggest cuteness and grittiness, sharpness and subtlety; Super Mario Bros. looked distinctly different from Metal Gear and Mega Man.

I was reminded of this in the negative sense this week, as I fired up Masaya's L-Dis, a 1991 CD-ROM shoot-'em-up for the Japanese PC Engine.  I've only played a few of Masaya's games, and my general impression of the company's work has been less than stellar; it's not so much that their games were bad, as that they were undistinguished.  I have no sense of Masaya's "personality", so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Nippon Computer Systems' games division came up with a pretty strong game this time around.

The story is slightly more interesting than the standard ship-plus-stone-chinned-pilot-versus-universe conceit.  The game's prologue introduces us to two young students, a boy and a girl, whose after-school chalk-drawing session is interrupted by evil forces from another dimension:

Whatever this entity is, it manages to kidnap the girl, and transform the kids' drawings into an array of villains.  We pick one of three weapons options, and we're off to battle!

The game looks really good, with bright cartoon graphics and smooth animation, though there is a little bit of sprite-priority sloppiness causing flying enemies to move "between" ground-based foes and the background layer.  The CD-Audio soundtrack cooks along nicely if unmemorably, and we get to face a good variety of small enemies and several bosses per level.  The difficulty is also pitched well -- while I never quite managed to beat the first level during a quick sample of the game, I got consistently better and at least managed to make it TO the third boss with lives left.

The design is intentionally loose and silly -- all of the powerups are announced in a high-pitched child's voice, and nothing is taken seriously; weapons include ladies' footwear flung haphazardly at the enemy.  The early part of the first level features a colorful sunset and a giant flying sharkish submarine:

Eventually we reach the apparent end of the level, and face a clam monster who initially faces the wrong way and is frightened of all the gunfire aimed at his backside:

After beating the clambot, we are transported into a strange dimension, with a bit of background parallax, to face this bug-eyed robot villain:

L-Dis isn't a spectacular game or a forgotten classic, but it's completely competent and pleasant to play, and its colorful visuals make for a nice change of pace from the usual 2-D side-scrolling shooters that were so common on the PC Engine.  I will probably spend more time with this little cute-'em-up when I sit down to play just for fun.

This one's worth picking up -- you might be able to find it for sale here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The LoadDown -- 04/26/2012

April showers bring... erm, fun-filled hours... of downloadable gaming!

WiiWare -- Quiet here.  Going once?

Wii Virtual Console -- Bobbing back up this week with Capcom's Mega Drive game Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, in case you need another SFII variant for your collection.

DSiWare --  One title that makes for a full circle of sorts... Chuck E. Cheese's Arcade Room, which is not so much an arcade as a virtual ticket-redemption game center.  Available games include racing, skee-ball, target shooting, basketball, and Smash-a-Munch.  Chuck E. Cheesy!

3DS eShop -- One new game, Block Factory -- something like an unlicensed Tetris Construction Kit.  I'm surprised casual game publishers haven't ensured this DIY generic puzzle creator never saw the light of day.

XBox Live Arcade -- Two new titles arrive:  Bloodforge is a forgotten 80's hair band an M-rated combat action game, heavy on the gore and horned helmet fetishism.  Deep Black: Episode 1 is a third-person shooter focused on underwater movement and combat, a potentially fresh idea with multiplayer to boot.  (Personally, I'd hold off on either of these for a bit -- Episode 1 of The Walking Dead is expected to arrive on Friday, see below.)

PS3 on PSN -- Two new titles this week.  PopCap Games' Bejeweled 3 is yet more color-matching mayhem fun entertainment matching of colors.  And Telltale Games' The Walking Dead series debuts with Episode 1: A New Day -- see below for more details.

Notable on PC and Mac -- Telltale Games' newest episodic series, The Walking Dead, premiered this week.  Based on the universe of Robert Kirkman comic books, it's available on Steam and -- after a few days of technical glitches -- Telltale Games' own website.  Critical reception has been positive, and from my brief experience with it so far I think it's going to be one of Telltale's most successful efforts, both creatively and financially.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Alien Research Centre (1990)

I ran across the prolific output of UK adventure publisher Zenobi Software quite a while ago, but haven't played or written about any of their games until now.  Zenobi published a ton of independently-developed text adventures for the Spectrum and the Atari ST in the 1980s and 90s, and the Balrog himself created a website reminiscing about those times.  Picking a title at random, I came up with the 1990 illustrated adventure, Alien Research Centre, by Ian Smith, Shaun G. McClure, and Tom Smith.

The 48K Spectrum had a distinct advantage over many of its competitors, with enough memory onboard to support tape-based adventures with graphics, and these illustrations are nicely handled with very little evidence of the "color clash" occasioned by the Speccy's graphics system.

It's a fairly standard escape-the-alien-spaceship plot, though in this case we are out to recover an Earthly craft (the off-planet Alien Research Centre) where something has, presumably, gone horribly wrong.  It's distinguished by a solid, relatively bug-free design and detailed graphics, with some obscure but ultimately logical puzzles and many ways to die.  It's easily as good as many of the commercial adventure games of the Spectrum's heyday.

As always, I encourage interested gamers to visit the Alien Research Centre before proceeding here, as I will be documenting the game in detail.  In other words, there are necessarily going to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******

We start out in the Docking Bay.  To the south is Doctor Goebbler's office, with a desk and a hole in the ceiling.  EXAMINE DESK yields a doctor's ID card.  Above the office is a vent with dust and rubble covering an exit.  We have a decimator cannon in hand, but it's ineffective against the rubble, so its name seems to be a bit of an exaggeration.

The Biolab to the north of the docking bay contains a titanium scalpel, and to the east is a corridor occupied by a Giant Maggot.  Trying to GET MAGGOT is fatal, but we can saunter past the deadly maggot to visit the crew quarters, where we find evidence of violence and death.  We also pick up a matter disrupter (UK spelling) and some pliers.

Is the disrupter any good against the rubble in the vent?  We can't DISRUPT RUBBLEEXAMINE DISRUPTER reveals that ON THE FRONT THERE IS A SMALL SWITCH MARKED 'ACTIVATE'.  But ACTIVATE DISRUPTER only yields I DON'T KNOW HOW TO ACTIVATE DISRUPTER.  Maybe we should PUSH SWITCH?  No, that blows us up directly; the matter disrupter seems to be more of a bomb than a gun.

Can we use it on the Giant Maggot?  No -- if we stay in the area for more than one turn, trying to prepare the bomb, THE BEHEMOTH FLOORS ME AND SUCKS AWAY MY LIFE'S BLOOD.  And while the decimator cannon is modified to only target life forms, this juvenile monster is too fast - IT DODGES IT.

We can, however, drop the matter disrupter in the vent, push the switch, and immediately exit to the office below -- the explosion clears the rubble away but leaves the vent otherwise undamaged somehow.  Now we can travel through the vents -- there's a small door and an air grill halfway along the passage, and some bits of paper along with a Freeze Beast at the southern end.  The Freeze Beast is also shockingly good at dodging the decimator cannon, which we've lugged halfway across the galaxy and is now starting to seem like a gag gift.

We can OPEN DOOR in the vent to access a small storage room, where we find a void-suit and a soldering iron, both of which will probably come in handy.  This is a very classic adventure design -- we are clearly required to assemble some tools to solve the puzzles ahead.

The Freeze Beast is not as aggressive as the Giant Maggot -- we can read the bits of paper without being attacked, seeing that one of them contains scrawled numbers (2749 in my playthrough.)  We can't take the time to CUT BEAST with the scalpel though, it still attacks.

The attractive graphics don't include takeable objects, and often depict things that aren't accessible -- for example, the storage room shows a door, but the parser doesn't recognize it -- but at least we don't have to guess at the names of any objects seen but not mentioned at the text.  Can we open the air grill in the vent?  OPEN GRILL, PUSH GRILL, KICK GRILL, and TAKE GRILL don't seem to do anything.

I seem to be a bit stuck, so I consulted Dorothy's walkthrough at CASA to discover that while we can't CUT MAGGOT, we can STAB MAGGOT with the scalpel.  The parser tells us that IT VOMITS BLOOD AND SHRIVELS UP. I CAN NOW GO EAST.

This slightly-necessary violence allows us to reach the Chemilab, where there is some flux, good for soldering; and a broken Vac-Tube transport, conveniently disabled by a single, easily visible broken wire.  It's a good thing we have a soldering iron and flux!  We SOLDER WIRE, and now we hear a whoosh of air; but we can't USE TUBE or GO TUBE or RIDE TUBE or ENTER TUBE.  But if we try to leave the room to the west, we discover that it has already transported us, and will shuttle us between two floors any time we enter the Vac-Tube room.

We can find a smashed Droid and a wall-mounted cable in the engine room.  Examination of the Droid establishes that it WAS PROBABLY PULLED APART BY A GARGANADON!  It doesn't sound like we want to run into one of those.  The southern part of the engine room smells of ammonia, and a pool blocks a western exit, apparent evidence of a serious janitorial mishap.  If we try to enter the pool, or the western exit, or even just hang around too long, the pool draws us under and we are again dead.  So the pool seems to be sentient, but we can't SHOOT or STAB it; not that we would expect to be able to.

Some of the graphics are reused; to the south of the pool we find a fire axe in the Maintenance Room, which looks exactly like the small storage room.  We can't CHOP BEAST with the axe, but we can SMASH GRILL.

Going down through the smashed grill takes us to a dusky uninhabited alien containment room that seems to have suffered some acid damage.  There's also an airlock, with a hand rail, an outer hatch, and a lurking Vapour Wraith.  If we do the wrong things, the Wraith attacks us with electricity.  If we open the hatch, we are sucked out into the void.  But if we wear the void-suit and HOLD RAIL and then OPEN HATCH, the wraith is sucked out of harm's way (our harm's way, that is) and now a southern passage is open.

The second alien containment cell contains a corpse we may wish we hadn't EXAMINEd (THIS MAN HAS BEEN RIPPED ALMOST TO PIECES AND IS ALMOST UNRECOGNISABLE), and a jar of acid.  We can POUR ACID in the pool, but the chemical combination explodes and takes us with it.  We see this rather downbeat death screen a lot in this game:

The acid proves to be more useful on the Freeze Beast (though the bits of paper are also destroyed, so we'd better have noted the code before using it), allowing us to go down to a Hydroponics Garden... where the Garganadon lurks.  It is also very good at dodging a blast the decimator cannon, and I am beginning to wonder if we are going to get to decimate anything at all.

It's walkthrough time again, to obtain a few key details.  We can CUT CABLE in the engine room to obtain... A USEFUL ROPE.  How did that happen, exactly?  It's explicitly useful, anyway, so we'd best take it along.  And we can KICK FLOOR in the acid-damaged alien containment room to access a lower passage.  (After this point, any time we enter the alien containment cell we fall through the floor -- that was quite a kick!  Winners don't do acid.)

This claustrophobic lower passage runs east-west, and here I notice a dead womanEXAMINE WOMAN reveals that BITE MARKS OF A HUGE RADIUS ARE THE CAUSE OF DEATH, which neither surprising nor reassuring.

The Medi-Centre has complicated equipment that did nothing to save the lost crew, in case we were not already feeling wary and depressed about Her Majesty's half-arsed space programme.  We find an access panel and a blue chemical here.  I am finally running up against the game's nine-item inventory limit, so I drop the soldering iron and flux, assuming I only needed them to repair the Vac-Tube wiring in the great adventure game tradition.  We can open the access panel and make our way (a mysteriously one-way traversal) back into the air vents above the doctor's office.

Another corridor west of the medi-centre contains a mutant Land Shark.  (Candygram?)  We can't POUR CHEMICAL or SHOOT SHARK to any productive effect, so we chalk up another failure for the decimator cannon, which apparently fires too slowly to intercept anything but a sedated elephant.  What else can we use the chemical on?  I don't know what it was, but pouring it on the sentient pool informs us that THE POOL HAS VAPOURISED (though the ammonia smell lingers.)  Now we can go west to the Engineering Supplies room; I was expecting a slide rule, maybe some graph paper, but all we find here is a net.

This seems like it would be useful for capturing a water shark, but is it effective against the Land Shark?  Yes, we THROW NET, THE SHARK IS IMMOBILISED and we can travel south.  Here we find the Communications Room, but the equipment has been sabotaged.  There is an SOS Transmitter here, with a start button.  Pushing the button doesn't do anything, but if we examine the transmitter, we spot and remove an IC (an integrated circuit, I assume.)  It's not clear if we can repair the chip or use it somewhere else, but examination indicates IT'S THE VITAL COMPONENT TO MOST TRANSMIT-RECEIVE DEVICES.  Hmmmm.

The IC won't go into the smashed Droid.  We can, however, return to the Hydroponic Garden and SHOOT the GARGANADON; the first try fails, but we just have to be persistent and something is finally decimated as advertised.  Now we can travel east to a huge Agri-Dome.  There's a ledge here, which is probably where we need to use the odd cable-born rope... and yes, THROW ROPE does the trick.

Climbing the rope (U) takes us to the Bridge.  A Security Droid loitering around in lieu of providing actual security says, "State Access Code."  I hope that random bit of paper we found earlier is the real deal!  We can goof around with unsuccessful responses -- STATE 1111, SAY 1111, 1111 -- until we get serious and SAY 2479.  The droid leaves and now we can access the actual Bridge controls.

The Bridge's touch-pad can be examined -- basic ship systems are reportedly operational, but I NOTICE THAT SOME OF THE IC SOCKETS ARE EMPTY.  We only have one IC -- and we can INSERT IC, but some of the sockets are still reportedly empty, and still only basic ship systems are up.  But we have no need for fancy flight lessons -- we just TOUCH PAD, and we are off to victory!  If only there were a victory illustration instead of this variation of the death screen:

I enjoyed playing Alien Research Centre -- it has a nice sense of atmosphere and a design that's open enough to allow some experimentation and head-scratching, though it's still fairly linear and without a walkthrough handy I would likely have gotten terminally stuck at a couple of points.  I will definitely be looking at more of the Zenobi library as time goes on.

Friday, April 20, 2012

East vs. West: LOOM (1993, PC Engine)

It's LOOM week at Gaming After 40, apparently, as after tackling the U.S. version it seemed like a good time to sample the Japanese PC Engine edition.  Published by Victor Musical Industries in Japan, this Super CD-ROM was a port of Lucasfilm Games' PC point-and-click adventure:

You can read my earlier post to get full details about the game itself; I'm going to focus on some more subtle differences here.  This adaptation is an interesting hybrid of the versions published in America.  It appears to use the game data from the original U.S. release, with the text translated to Japanese.  And it features no voice acting at all, but has more CD-quality music than the American CD-ROM edition.

It's interesting to note that character closeups and other material omitted from the US "talkie" are present here, with brief interruptions of the music as necessary for loading.  These images seem to be based on 256-color VGA updates of the 16-color EGA original, which were reportedly created for but not used in the PC CD-ROM version.  Similar images were also seen in the Japanese FM-Towns version, so this PC Engine port may have been based most directly on that edition.

It must have been tricky to adapt the PC-oriented SCUMM engine to sprite-based hardware; this version of the engine probably could not have been updated to handle sprite scaling, so porting of later games like The Secret of Monkey Island would not have been possible.  Fortunately, LOOM's design uses an old trick, employing multiple sprite sizes for hero Bobbin Threadbare, with changes carefully concealed behind the scenery.

I didn't play through the entire game, but the story appears to be identical.  It looks like the width difference between platforms (320 pixels on the PC compared to a standard 256 on the PC Engine) is accounted for by keeping the original graphic data as-is, and just leaving extra pixels off the left side of the screen. It's easy to see this with the Magic Engine emulator -- the text is off-center, and sometimes sprites that would be offscreen are not displayed until they scroll into the active area:

The engine gets bogged down when there's too much going on -- I presume it's translating spriteand background data to pixel-level rendering, no mean feat on the PC Engine.  But LOOM is completely playable on the PC Engine, and this version was re-ported to American shores for the Turbo Duo, late in the system's life.

I'd really recommend the North American "talkie" over this version, but it's an interesting historical artifact for adventure gamers.  You might be able to track it down here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The LoadDown -- 04/19/2012

Taxes are done (at least here in the U.S.) and it's time to see what's new on the near-instant-gratification gaming front... fairly quiet this week...

WiiWare -- Nothing here this week... starting to feel a mite lonely in this part of the Nintendo universe.

DSiWare -- One new game, I Must Run!, a high-speed platformer, more adult than the usual fare, with T-rated language and violence as the orange-jumpsuited hero runs to save his wife.

3DS eShop --  Previously only available with preorders of the new Kid Icarus: Uprising, this 3-D enhanced version of the 8-bit NES classic Kid Icarus is now available to everyone with $5.99 to spare.   There's also a free demo version of the action/puzzler Pyramids.

XBox Live Arcade -- Two new titles arrived this week.  Fez is a cute 2-D/3-D platformer, in development since 2007 and subject of the documentary Indie Game: The MovieTrials Evolution is a much-anticipated followup to the popular physics-based Trials stunt bike game.

PS3 on PSN -- I could have sworn this was released a few weeks back, but it appears that Sega's coin-op port of the light-gun (PS Move) shooter The House of the Dead 4 actually showed up this week.  So go kill some zombies!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Adventure of the Week: LOOM (1992, CD-ROM Version)

Somehow, I have managed to make it through more than two years of weekly adventuring without tackling any of the classic point-and-click efforts from Lucasfilm Games.  So it's high time we remedy that, with a look at Brian Moriarty's LOOM, originally released in 1990 and upgraded to this CD "talkie" version in 1992.


LOOM doesn't get a lot of love these days, primarily because it is rather brief, and not as wildly funny as most of the publisher's other titles.  Its unusual interface also takes some getting used to -- it has no inventory system, only a musical staff that the hero can use to cast magical drafts (spells), and basic point-and-click examine actions for items.  But I think LOOM is an unrecognized milestone in the development of the adventure game, for a couple of reasons.

One, LOOM is a clear bridge between the Infocom era and the point-and-click adventure; its use of spells, substantial support for applying the wrong spells, and generally wizardly narrative call the Enchanter series to mind.  Brian "Professor" Moriarty's career spanned the technological gamut, from Atari BASIC (Crash Dive!) to Infocom's Z-machine (Wishbringer) and Lucasarts' SCUMM engine, so the game's pedigree is solid.  And LOOM's design feels like a wholehearted but carefully considered embrace of the graphical, mouse-driven age -- the minimal interface makes sense, as an attempt to tell a compelling interactive story without text or other complex forms of input.

Second, this CD-ROM edition of LOOM is a fine early example of adventure gaming finding its voice.  Raw CD Redbook audio was used originally, as on-the-fly mixing of CD and Soundblaster streams was still a bit iffy, and much of the original dialogue had to be edited down in order to squeeze the voiceover content onto the disc. Internet heresy though it may be, in my opinion the reworked dialogue is significantly improved over the original script -- it has more character and more consistency, and some generic lines are replaced with much wittier stuff.  It's also much more British in flavor, and eminently more actable, suiting the voice casting.  (Unfortunately, there are also a couple of new typos in the new onscreen text!)  Unlike the competition at Sierra On-Line, Lucasarts already had access to proper sound studios and acting talent as the new technology dawned, and this was the first CD-ROM "talkie" adventure game I played that actually sounded like a professional effort. 

The game offers Standard, Practice, and Expert difficulty levels -- I'll be playing on Standard here.  The difficulty setting affects how the game's musical distaff is presented -- Expert mode doesn't label or echo the notes, so we have to learn and replay the drafts based on pitch alone.  The original release had another extra in the Expert mode, which I'll detail below, but that was omitted from the CD version along with some other details.  The current Steam release unfortunately lacks the original "radio drama" intro disc, and the Windows engine by default has an annoying graphics smoothing algorithm turned on which muddies the improved VGA graphics a bit.  The CD version also lacks the constant background music of the original, although the music excerpts that remain sound very nice.  It's good to have the onscreen text turned on, also, as some of the dialogue clips cut off too soon or are poorly aligned, leaving bits of starts and endings in the wrong place.

As always, I encourage interested adventurers to visit the world of LOOM before proceeding here.  It's not a long or difficult game, and it is still commercially available for a reasonable price on Steam.  I should warn you that the drafts are somewhat randomized, so don't take my word for any of the sequences mentioned below.  Beyond this point, young Weaver, there lie...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

(Apologies for this screenshot, I hadn't yet turned off the graphical filtering.)

As the story begins, a glowing messenger nymph arrives to wake a young, napping Weaver, our hero Bobbin Threadbare, and tell him that he is needed in the village; the voice actress does a Billie Burke/Glenda impersonation here that isn't wholly successful.  Bobbin doesn't have much to do after she departs, except climb down the mountain to the village.  If he inspects the lone leaf hanging on the tree under which he has been sleeping, it falls.  "The last leaf of autumn!", he notes.  This is portentous.

Bobbin visits the Weaver village, his home, which is now deserted; one tent can be entered, where we find the Book of Patterns (with which Bobbin is already familiar), some green fabric, and a dye-pot.  Clicking on the pot, we hear a four-note tune which presumably is a dye spell of some sort.  But at this point we have no way to cast spells, as Bobbin is under-staffed.  (Sorry.  You knew that pun was coming somewhere along the way here.)

Tapestries inside the improbably large temple hidden behind the entrance of one tent tell the story of the Great Guilds -- this bit feels very Infocom-ish, as three tapestries in sequence are encountered, and elegant prose describes the Creation of the World, the Passing of Two Shadows, the Decline of the Great Guilds and the foretold coming of a Third Shadow.

As we reach the heart of the temple, Bobbin witnesses the council of Elders punishing an older female Weaver named Hetchel, who has a lifelong connection to our hero at what now seems to be great cost to her own well-being.  She is transformed into a swan's egg, unexpectedly, when the penalty draft is played, and the other Weavers in authority are transformed into swans.  This is all very strange indeed, and the voice acting here is excellent.

The temple is invaded by another swan, and they all fly off, leaving Bobbin alone in the temple.  He picks up the lead Weaver's discarded distaff, and now he can play drafts, though he only has access to the first three notes, c, d and e.  The swan's egg is trying to open, with e-c-e-d echoing on the musical staff when we click on it.  Playing this opening draft hatches the egg, freeing Hetchel -- now in bird form -- who tells Bobbin that strange things have been happening ever since he was born.  She calls him the "Loom Child," telling him that he must escape this island and find his destiny, before she dives into a rift in reality, following the swans to dimensions unknown.

The sequence C-f-g-c plays on the loom if we click it, but most of the notes are too high for Bobbin to play at the moment.  Exploring the village, we learn that the seagulls on the pier sing e-c-e-d also, so this is apparently a bird theme of some kind.  Or an "opening" theme, actually -- we can cast it on a clam, beachside, and one of the gulls gets a treat.  This is no doubt a useful draft for avian scavengers, and it provides a hint about how this universe works.

Now we can hear more specifically that the dye-pot draft is d-d-c-d; we can use this draft to dye things green, though Bobbin hates that grass green color.  Tipping a flask over in the dye tent plays g-f-f-e.  The manual lists all of the spells, with empty staffs for note-taking, which indirectly hints at what sorts of drafts we should be looking for, though some are red herrings.  The randomization of the drafts falls into two categories -- some spells are reversible, allowing Bobbin to do or undo something, while others are palindromes that operate in one direction only.

Some hollow trees west of the village contain three owls, yielding the partial draft c-d-d... but guessing at a fourth note isn't helpful -- Bobbin tells us either that the sequence we've tried isn't a draft, or that he doesn't think he spun that one right if we do come up with the right sequence on our own.  We have to free a rabbit from some brambles in a nearby graveyard where a fourth owl sits -- it takes the rabbit as prey and returns to its tree, allowing us to listen and complete the draft.  It is in fact c-d-d-c, at least in my playthrough, but we have to see the whole sequence revealed before we can cast the draft; guesswork doesn't count.

Another tent in the village has some gold in it.  It's dark and hard to see inside -- but, ah, we can cast the owl's spell on the darkness to see with the creature's night vision assisting us.  A spinning wheel here is used to turn straw into gold -- d-e-d-c -- and discovering this also enables the "f" note on the staff.

What now?  We can't seem to do anything with the Loom in the temple, its magic is beyond Bobbin's ken as a novice Weaver.  Bobbin's mother, Lady Cygna Threadbare, is buried in the graveyard, and her headstone contains a poem with some clues.  Bobbin notes the last bit in particular -- "The day the sky is opened / And the Tree is split asunder."  We can focus on the sky from the graveyard, but trying to open it yields only, "Maybe I should stand a bit closer."  Returning to the mountaintop, and opening the sky, we see lightning strike the tree and send it tumbling into the lake below; it floats and comes to rest by the dock.  Is this transportation?  Yes, Bobbin can set out on the floating tree for parts unknown, with some of the swans trailing behind him.

Along the way, he encounters an ocean-borne tornado, a waterspout.  The open draft doesn't do anything, but clicking on the waterspout yields c-f-c-c.  Reversing this twisting draft to c-c-f-c untwists it., and reaching shore earns Bobbin access to the "g" on the staff.

From the beach we can enter a forest or approach the glowing green city of Crystalgard.  In the city, we observe an official of some kind conversing with an older man.  Approaching, Bobbin can eavesdrop -- these are the Bishop, and Master Crucible.  Apparently a sphere with the ability to see 4-6 hours into the future has been produced, but the Bishop demands an 8-hour capacity.  After these characters depart, Bobbin can enter a tall crystal; ringing the bell inside transports us to a tower where two men are sharpening a scythe of some sort.  It's a restricted area, so we are summarily sent back (though not killed, as this is a Lucasarts game!)

We can enter another part of the crystal structure, where one Master Goodmold welcomes us and asks if it's true that peering beneath a Weaver's hood brings instant, agonizing death.  Bobbin doesn't know, but this is a useful hint.  Goodmold allows us to look around, "but if you break it, you buy it!"  A finely sculpted chalice is worth investigating -- we can reverse the spill spell we learned from the flask back home to fill it with wine, though we don't need to do so.  We can also explore this area, using one of those then-fascinating "force the player to navigate the 3-D space!  Isn't this cool?" paths through the background's several doors and transport towers.

In the forest outside the city, Bobbin meets a group of four shepherds who are sure he is here to steal their sheep.  They have heard of a wizard foretold and ask Bobbin to show off some magic; they also have some invisibility magic of their own.  None of our drafts seem to work, but when they become invisible, we hear g-c-g-c.  Let's try that... no good, they are not impressed.  This scene has much-improved dialogue compared to the original's generic dismissals -- the shepherds are heartily-voiced and jauntily insulting, sending poor Bobbin away with, "Don't trip on your robe, little Wizard!"

Maybe we can use the invisibility spell in the crystal city now.  We can see something going on up in the tower, probably the people working on the scythe.  We seem to have no opportunity to go invisible ourselves, though; at least there's no obvious way to target Bobbin.  The crystal room is a cemetery, where we can note husband and wife, Luscent and Softshard Bottleblow, buried side by side.

If we empty the chalice and examine it, Bobbin remarks on its beauty and we get a brief history lesson from Master Goodmold.  This artifact is the famous Chromax Conundrum -- for unknown reasons, carved out of diamond instead of glass by Luscent Bottleblow -- and it is the only surviving example of his work after a dragon attacked the city years ago.  We learn that the first Scrying Sphere was lost in the attack -- so perhaps we should see if we can find it.

While we have been exploring, a solution comes to mind -- we can cast the invisibility spell on the people working in the tower, which effectively makes Bobbin invisible, it just works differently than I had assumed.  He can eavesdrop on the workers to learn that Master Crucible is selling a scrying sphere to the Bishop for a considerable sum, though nobody knows why the Clerics would want such a thing.

Invisible Bobbin can also walk right past the workers and take a different crystal tower to access the Scrying Sphere.  And now, in one of those illogical time-travel puzzles, we learn that e-f-f-e apparently transforms Bobbin (in what appears to be an illusory fashion) into some beast that scares the Shepherds away.  So now we have a new draft -- I guess the learning is legit, it's just a paradox that doesn't quite make sense.  We can also see a vision of fire in a cave, and of a swan's eye, hearing C-f-g-c as the associated draft.  Examining the deadly giant scythe on the way back out of the tower, we learn a-a-a-g -- apparently a sharpening draft.

Using the illusory spell, the shepherds now see Bobbin as the dragon of times past and flee.  A new draft, d-e-f-a, sends the remaining shepherd's sheep over the fence, and the inverse brings them back again.  We can dye the sheep green, and the shepherd complains about it -- how can he watch sheep he can hardly see? -- but there doesn't seem to be a reason to do this.

At the far end of the shepherd's fields, we find a small cottage.  Here, Fleece, female leader of the Shepherds, tells Bobbin that there are problems with the dragon.  The creature spots the white sheep easily and makes off with them, which is making it very hard to fill Bishop Mandible's order for 10,000 sheep.  Hmmmm.  Is he raising an army?  Of sheep?

There's a sickly lamb in the cottage, and we can try to dye it green to demonstrate the idea that obviously springs to mind, but no, that doesn't work.  Fleece's healing spell -- c-a-a-c -- is not helping the poor animal, but we should make note of the spell for later.  We can turn all the sheep in the field green -- and immediately, the Dragon arrives and picks up Bobbin as the easiest target.  She is disappointed in her catch, comically so, and rather vain and house-proud to boot; this dialogue is substantially rewritten for CD, and the performance is very entertaining. 

The dragon informs us that some wizard came in a while back and made off with much of her treasure, and destroyed her glass collection, except for a glass ball that survived.  Can we reverse d-e-d-c to turn her gold into straw?  Yes.  She demands we turn it back -- NOW -- but we gain the "a" note on the distaff for our trouble.  We also learn that she's not fond of breathing fire -- she can do it, but generally won't.

So we have learned a bit, and we aren't being eaten, but we are still stuck in the Dragon's cave.  The healing spell doesn't help us, but we can use the e-f-f-e spell to manifest as fire -- apparently we look like whatever our target fears or at least dislikes the most.  The dragon flees, and afterwards... hmmm.  The straw is actually all burned, so Bobbin's fire mode was more than an illusion, it seems.  Now we can navigate out of the dragon's cave through an unblocked passage -- the fire fulfilled the earlier vision from the scrying sphere -- and cast the owl spell so we can maneuver through the dark cavern, with a simple "spotlight" showing only the immediate area around Bobbin.  We can wander around quite a bit, but the only "success" I had here was finally walking Bobbin off a ledge, causing him to take a one-way fall to another part of the cavern.

There's a pool here; what draft should we use on it?  Clicking on it yields a new draft -- f-a-a-f -- which shows Bobbin's reflection in the water.  Trying the spill spell indicates that we must be trying to flood the cave; the inverse, however, dries it up, and we find the dragon's Scrying Sphere.  It shows us an erupting volcano, reprises the earlier vision of Mother Cygna, and shows us Bishop Mandible acting generally suspicious.

Now how do we get out of here?  I tried a number of spells on the pool in both dry and filled states, to no avail, before figuring out that we have to travel back into the maze proper by going up behind the area where we emerged after falling.  Now we can make our way out of the cavern to a twisty outdoor staircase, untwisting it to continue. 

We find ourselves in a cemetery, lit with an eery orange glow.  A boy lies fast asleep on the ground; we can cast the healing spell to wake him, long enough to learn that he is one Rusty Nailbender of the blacksmiths' guild, before he falls asleep again.  There really is some beautiful artwork in this game, considering the era and the newness of 256-color VGA graphics:

Bobbin can approach the impressive smithy; he is told by a strapping, shirtless man in the tower that the gate only opens for Blacksmiths, but the open spell gets Bobbin in, at least until he is immediately escorted back out.

Casting the fear spell on Rusty doesn't do anything; we can try the "send home" sheep tune, but Rusty just complains about being bothered and goes back to sleep.  We can try to cast the open draft on one of the graves -- the ground shakes, and Bobbin concludes that perhaps he should not try that.

What have we learned recently?  The reflect spell doesn't do anything interesting on the grave, despite its shiny bronze surface. But we can cast it on the boy, and it switches our images.  Now Bobbin looks like Rusty and can enter the smithy.  Unfortunately, just like the real Rusty, Bobbin has gathered no firewood, so he is thrown into a dungeon while the distaff is taken from him as a scrawny bit of fuel.  The blacksmiths are busy making swords for the Clerics, which seems a very unclerical thing for them to be needing.

Stuck in the cell without the distaff, Bobbin-as-Rusty is tempted to sleep on the straw.  It's the only thing we can do, actually, and sets off a fairly complicated cutscene.  The dragon spots the sleeping "Bobbin" and devours his flesh (offscreen), leaving a bloody skeleton behind and an angry Ghost of Rusty.  The distaff cast into the fire magically refuses to burn, drawing the attention of Hetchel (still in bird form), who arrives avis ex machina to return it to Bobbin, who has returned to his normal appearance now that the mirror image is disrupted.

Exiting the cell with the open draft, Bobbin can explore the smithy a bit, or would do so if he didn't realize he's inappropriately dressed.  We can go downstairs to eavesdrop on Bishop Mandible some more; like most power-mad world-domination schemers, he's not being very circumspect about his plans.  The ten thousandth sword is almost finished!  We'd better cast an unsharpen draft -- g-a-a-a -- but it's too noisy to cast any drafts in the active forge.  Listening to the Bishop's conversation produces a brief respite from the blacksmith's pounding during which we can do a little weaving.  The draft a-a-a-g doesn't do anything, so let's try sharpening it instead.  This doesn't quite work as I expected -- it acts the same way a twist spell would have, ruining the blade and getting the quietly lurking Bobbin noticed by Bishop Mandible, and not in a good way.

Bobbin is thrown into a hanging cage, where Mandible's assistant Cob (seen later in a Secret of Monkey Island cameo, where his name is spelled "Cobb" and he promotes LOOM) is eager to torture the young Weaver.  Bobbin and Loom's provinciality are somewhat underestimated by the arrogant Bishop, and there's some good dialogue and acting in this scene.  Bobbin is forced to demonstrate his power by opening the cage -- it comes to mind that perhaps it would be more interesting to open the cage of a small dragon also housed here, but it's not accessible at the moment.

Mandible takes Bobbin's staff, and informs us that he plans to open the vast graveyard below, raising an army of ten thousand undead soldiers and launching the Age of the Clerics.  He has preparations to attend to and dismisses Bobbin, under Cob's watchful eye, as he is to touch nothing.  We can try to gaze into the Bishop's Scrying Sphere -- not touching it, mind -- but Cob won't stand for it and demands a foolish trade.  He wants to do some looking of his own, testing the old warning that to look under a Weaver's hood brings death, and it does, as it turns out.  It's a quick, disintegratey death, though Cob's screams are heard only as annoying noise by the Bishop out on the balcony.  (The original version showed us Bobbin's bare face, briefly, when playing on Expert difficulty, but that feature was cut for this edition; I admit to being curious, but storywise I like the idea of the Weavers staying hooded and mysterious.)

Now Bobbin can observe the sphere, where he sees an image of mother Cygna again, a roast bird of some sort, and a single black feather floating to the ground.  We return to the balcony, but do not have time to stop the Bishop -- he opens the very fabric of the world, releasing an evil being who resembles Disney's Maleficent.

The new CD script makes it clear that Chaos does not consider herself to have been summoned; she has been released, and thirsts for power.  She tears the Bishop's body apart in a surprisingly graphic bit of animation, and then stalks off in search of evil to do on this plane.  The distaff is left behind for Bobbin to reclaim, but the other cage in the dungeon is now open.  The hungry dragon steals up behind Bobbin on the balcony, causing him to fall into the rift in reality.

Through various wormholes, Bobbin can revisit earlier locations to marshall his resources for the presumably apocalyptic battle ahead.  Visiting the blacksmiths' graveyard, we encounter the late Rusty, who is a bit ticked off at being dragged back to the real world while waiting to finish his transition to the next.  He is saddened that the Forge has been destroyed, of course, but we can heal his corpse to restore Rusty to the land of the living, which improves his disposition.  He goes off to investigate the fate of his fellow 'smiths.  We'd like to follow, but Bobbin can't wander far while visiting these earlier locations, just to keep the narrative tight.

Revisiting Crystalgard, we find Master Goodmold dying on the ground.  The crystalmakers could not bring themselves to use the Scythe, fearing its terrible power would make them the equal of the enemy; Chaos stole it and is now armed for the world's destruction.  His corpse vanishes before we can heal him.

We can also reach a new location, the Shore of Wonder, outside the Pattern of the world, where Mother Cygna and the other swans are floating.  Bobbin is the first to see it with mortal eyes, but he doesn't have the full range of notes on the distaff yet.  Bobbin learns that the swan is in fact his mother (this has been thoroughly telegraphed earlier), who did not die but was banished in swan form by the Elders when Bobbin was born of the loom, unforeseen.  We also learn that Chaos seeks control of the Loom, while Hetchel is trying to stop her.  Cygna advises her son to close the holes rent in the Pattern before confronting Chaos.

We stop by the Shepherds' field again, to find most of them dead, and Fleece trying to put them out of their misery.  She enlists Bobbin's help, but while we can't invert it, the healing spell actually works, and they are revived.  The new CD script has Fleece and company fearing Chaos' impending "harvest," which is a much better and more Irish-accent-friendly line than the original, in which they feared that, erm, "the Dead Ones [will] return to reap us again!"

With the last hole sealed, note "b" is added to the staff, and Bobbin can cross the Shore of Wonder to return to the island of Loom, and to the Temple where the Loom itself resides. 

Which draft should we use on the Loom?  The open and heal spells do nothing, nor does untwist.  Clicking on the Loom yields Cygna's draft, but we still don't have access to the high C needed to weave it.  Chaos appears and demands that we teach her to use the Loom, as her trusted advisor, despite Bobbin's protestations and outright refusals.  Chaos has drafts of her own, and Hetchel is silenced when she tries to give Bobbin the unmaking draft necessary to rend the Loom and defeat Chaos.  (Chaos was male in the original game, but her voice and gender are clearly female this time around.)

Maybe we can unsharpen Chaos' scythe now?  All of our magic appears useless on her.  We can't heal or reflect Hetchel to free up her speech.  Clicking on the loom yields b-a-g-f; reversing it does nothing interesting.  Casting it on Hetchel frees up her speech, but she soon gets fried by Chaos, and served on a plate, to boot. 

Now the Loom gives us b-f-b-f... but what to cast it on?  Hetchel, the Loom, and the Dead One seem impervious to it.  But we can reverse it on Hetchel; the Loom is just echoing the most recent spell cast, which I had forgotten.  She returns to bird form, but now gets killed properly by Chaos, rather graphically torn apart in a small but bloody explosion; Chaos also seizes Hetchel's last feather (as seen earlier in the Scrying Sphere) as a memento.

The Loom now recalls b-c-c-b.  We can use it to rend the loom in similar fashion.  Now Chaos is unhappy, trapped on one side of reality, but so are the rest of Bobbin's friends, subject to her now-limited but still thoroughly evil reign.  High "C" is added to the staff, and Bobbin knows he must return and face Chaos.

However, we are now floating outside the Pattern, with the last note available.  Our earlier visions and recent events indicate that C-f-g-c ought to be useful now.  Bobbin casts it on himself... and...

Bobbin turns into a swan and flies off with the others, leaving Chaos in charge of the remaining world on the other side of the rift.  Presumably our hero may be back to fight another day, but it's not a very satisfying ending, given that no sequel emerged.  (Apparently two were planned, FORGE and FOLD, featuring further adventures of Rusty and Fleece and presumably a final confrontation with Chaos, but these games didn't happen.)

The original LOOM had closing scenes of Rusty and Fleece watching the swans fly away, but these were cut from the CD version.  One suspects this is because it was now clear that the sequels were not going to see production, but these moments might also have been trimmed so that the CD music could play through the ending credits, without pausing to load new data from the disc -- quite a slow proposition at the time.

Hey, George "The Fatman" Sanger of The 7th Guest fame worked on the music!

I played LOOM when it was released back in 1992, and enjoyed revisiting it for this post.  It may not be a masterpiece of adventure gaming -- it is on the easy side, as at worst we just have to try casting every draft we can think of on every object we encounter -- but it's a solid piece of interactive storytelling, with solid graphics and great voice acting, and I have always enjoyed it on that level.  It also captures a moment in time, as the text adventure gave way to the full-blown multimedia era, and many of Lucasarts' innovations inform gaming to this day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Police Connection (1993)

The PC Engine console was very successful in Japan, and consequently hosted a huge library of games in its home territory.  Some of the titles were unusual hybrids of video and board game, like Nihon Telenet's 1993 Super CD-ROM release, Police Connection:

Police Connection is really a 4-player board game on a video screen -- there are no action sequences, and the only difference from the real-world equivalent is the availability of CPU opponents.  This, unfortunately, is a big part of why this game doesn't work tremendously well -- if we don't have 4 human players available, we still have to fill out the roster with artificial intelligence characters.  There are 4 cute detectives to choose from:

The game features a CD-Audio, Western-influenced jazz score, and the detailed graphics are a hybrid of cute and serious.  Technically, the game doesn't access the CD drive much once play is underway -- it appears that the expanded Super CD-ROM system RAM is used to hold all of the relevant data, so the CD drive is free for music playback.  Most of the Telenet games had strong soundtracks, and this one is no exception.

Just in case we think we're in for an evening of family entertainment, the first case (of three available) makes it clear that we're not going to be looking for lost kittens -- a murder has been committed:

The game's problems become apparent as soon as it gets underway.  The interface is standard board-game fare -- each player, in a fixed order, gets to roll the die and move the number of spaces allowed.  If we enter a building or crime scene to investigate, the act of entering, exiting, and conducting any questioning there consumes two turns in total.  There are some special menu options available, like a Taxi that allows bonus moves per turn, and an Arrest item for use when the case is close to its conclusion.  

The biggest issue with Police Connection is that the design is ultimately linear -- while we can wander freely around the city to explore the available sites, we have to do so in the correct order, because if we don't have information gathered in one location we can't ask the right question in another.  There is no interactivity or choice involved in the questioning -- we simply walk in, automatically ask something appropriate, and then exit on the next turn.  At the beginning of the game, we waste several forced turns walking in to see the police chief, getting some basic instructions, and exiting the station.  Then we can visit buildings and locations at will, including the crime scene itself, depicted with a cute bloody chalk outline icon:

Understanding that a real investigation has to follow leads and develop ideas, the linear approach wouldn't be such a huge problem if not for the second issue: all of the computer-controlled characters follow exactly the same programming.  Their actions are not randomized, they have no distinct personalities or strategic predilections, and they all know a priori the optimal order for investigating the case, which they follow in a strictly scripted fashion.

The only variation in the CPU players' positions at any given time comes from random die rolls, and over the course of a game it tends to average out.  This is about as exciting as the competition gets -- while I have opted to move my character to the right after exiting the police station, everyone else is marching along a predetermined path to the left.

As a result, the game offers no interesting challenge unless there are 4 human players, because all we really have to do is follow the AI characters closely and hope that a lucky final die roll allows us to win the game at the last minute.  We can see everything the other players are doing -- including menu selections -- and the game slows to a repetitive crawl very quickly (especially for non-Japanese speakers like myself) as the same information gets provided four times.  Just because another character has discovered something doesn't mean our own character knows it, so there's not even any Clue-style advantage to borrowing information discovered by other players and sprinting ahead to the next relevant site.

If there were more of an actual investigative aspect to the cases, or some minigames where skill might be applied, or even a more efficient way to conduct the investigation than the path employed by the doggedly unimaginative AI, Police Connection could have been a different experience.  As it stands, it has the trappings of a traditional board game, but none of the charm or unpredictability.  I completely understand why this title never made it to the West -- beyond the amount of translation work that would have been required, and the rather graphic crime scenes, it's just not a great game.  (NEC actually did encounter some controversy over the nature of crimes depicted in the American title, J.B. Harold Murder Club, which was similar in theme if not in style.) 

Police Connection is one for the historical record, not necessarily suitable for actual play.

This is one I can under no circumstances recommend, but if you insist, you might find a copy for sale here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The LoadDown -- 04/12/2012

As tax deadlines approach, there are all kinds of distractions available...

WiiWare -- Nothing new here this week; it seems this platform is slowing down as the Wii U prepares to launch later this year.

DSiWare -- One new title this week -- Anne's Doll Studio: Tokyo Collection, a casual craft/activity which allows users to create dolls, design outfits, and export the resulting images to the SD card.

3DS eShop --  This week's new game Ketzal's Corridors is an interesting puzzle-action idea that takes some advantage of the system's 3D capabilities, as players try to rotate Tetris-like pieces to fit into approaching holes in the wall.

XBox Live Arcade -- Three new titles arrive this week, plus one I missed last week.  Capcom's World Gone Sour is an advergame platformer, based on the Sour Patch Kids candy brand.  The Splatters is an action/puzzle game with great comic potential, as gooey acrobatic creatures strive to create spectacular and messy effects.  Skullgirls is a stylish indie 2-D fighting game with T-rated cartoon partial nudity and violence.  And late last week, Anomaly: Warzone Earth arrived, a sort of reverse tower-defense game where the player's military units must invade well-defended territory to find out what's going on.

PS3 on PSN -- Very similar to recent XBLA lineups, with three new games including World Gone Sour, Skullgirls and Farsight Studios' The Pinball Arcade compilation of classic pinball coin-ops arriving in the past week.  Good to see more games hitting both platforms around the same time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Enchanter (1983)

This week, we're playing through Infocom's classic Enchanter (1983), a ZORK spin-off of sorts written by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling.  Running across this one in the pages of an old Infocom catalog made me yearn to explore its magic-strewn fantasy world again; it's been long enough since I played it the first time that I don't seem to recall many of the solutions.  We'll be playing Version 29 here, using the WinFrotz Z-machine interpreter for Windows.

Enchanter is a more story-driven experience than the ZORK treasure hunts, though it's set in the same universe and there are definite similarities in literary style and puzzle design.  The stage is set in dramatic fashion -- the warlock Krill threatens the land, and the Circle of Enchanters heeds ancient advice under the leadership of wise Belboz.  They will send a novice Enchanter, the player, into Krill's stronghold on a reconnaissance mission, to avoid revealing the full power of the Circle too soon. 

As always, I encourage interested adventurers to tackle Enchanter firsthand before proceeding below.  The game's prose is extremely well-written; while I will spoil the plot here, and quote from the text a fair amount, the game is worth experiencing directly just for the quality of its descriptive text.  Infocom set a high bar for interactive fiction, and while the arrival of graphics made the text adventure commercially unviable and the form has continued to mature on an amateur enthusiast basis, the company's best products still hold up well.  Beyond this point, you may not be eaten by a grue, but you are likely to encounter...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

As the game begins, we find ourselves at a fork in the road.  The map in this area seems intentionally designed to confuse, but I think it's just an attempt to represent an outdoor, unplanned environment, with lots of angled navigation.  We can meet an old crone in the otherwise deserted village, who begrudgingly gives us a scroll containing the rezrov spell, which can open things.  (Her hovel is described as "a place of great disorder.")  We can acquire some basic provisions in decrepit buildings outside the town -- a loaf of bread in a disused oven, a jug, and -- as almost always -- a lantern.

A sign along the western road reads simply, "Why."  As we go further west, we find more signs; the next in the series reads, "are."  If we succumb to curiosity and continue, we eventually discover the entire phrase:  "Why are you going west when the castle is east?  Burma Shave."  After that comic coda, the signs become too worn to be read, and we really ought to head back east.  The "road" is not just a repeating room, or at least it uses a counter of some kind; we have go all the way back east after sating our curiosity, at which point we are likely to be too thirsty to survive for long.  So it's best to make our way to the ruins of the Old Lingolf House in the northeast and drink from the brook.

We have to sleep on occasion, and our sleep is almost always disturbed by dreams providing visions and hints of the future.  The first involves wandering through the dark, and seeing murky faces, except for one bright one -- when we touch it, we wake.  Hmmmm.

From the top of Lonely Mountain at the center of the initial map, we can see Krill's castle looming ominously in the distance.  It has three turrets, two smaller ones flanking a third cold, black tower that spews black mist over the surroundings.

The magic system follows the classic pencil-and-paper RPG format.  We will need to transfer any new spells into our trusty spell book to make them reusable, and must memorize any spell before we can use it; there are other spells which are too complex to be transferred and can thus only be used once, reading from the original source.  The crone's rezrov spell must be copied with GNUSTO REZROV; checking our spell book gives us specific descriptions of each spell in our arsenal, and this one officially will "open even locked or enchanted objects."  We also have blorb, which protects a small object; nitfol, to converse with animals; and frotz, which causes something to give off light (and serves as the namesake for the modern Frotz interpreter, which, appropriately, has kept the Infocom flame alive on many new platforms.)  We might as well take the opportunity to FROTZ LANTERN, since it's broken but can magically be imbued with light, and then re-LEARN FROTZ in case we need it again.

With our provisions gathered, it is time to venture into the evil castle -- REZROV GATE does the job.  (Although there's a slight bug here -- if we try to OPEN GATE after magically opening it, we are still told that The gate is secure; it cannot be unlocked.)  We feel our mind being probed, then dismissed, it seems, as we enter the gate.

A closet south of the courtyard holds a large, jewelled box, wrapped in tight coils of thin rope.  If we were the hero of ZORK, we could probably cut this Gordian knot, but as a novice Enchanter REZROV seems like the right choice.... except that The magic in the rope is strong enough to prevent the rezrov spell from working.  Hmmmm.  These spells may not be as all-purpose as they appear.

The northwestern tower contains a Jewel Room.  Most of the beautiful chests and cabinets are empty now, but there's an ornamented egg here.  It appears to be a puzzle box, festooned with a handle, a knob, a slide, a crank and a button.  Fortunately, we needn't solve anything too complicate; REZROV EGG works.  But the scroll inside is shredded, damaged beyond readability.  So maybe we don't want to open it, even magically.  We'll just take it along instead, after a restore, and hope we find some means of reading it without opening the egg.  (Veterans may note that this is reminiscent of the egg puzzle in ZORK I.)

A Hall of Mirrors on the north side of the castle looks out onto an underground labyrinth.  A bedraggled adventurer appears, carrying a dim lantern and an elvish sword, glowing dimly.  He appears to be the ZORK I hero.

A Guarded Door at the northeast tower sports a five-headed, razor-tongued beast, flame-spewing gargoyles and groping tentacles, as well as a sign reading, "Don't Bother."  It flashes briefly "Fat Chance" if we try to REZROV it.

The library contains the ashes of hundreds of empty scroll tubes and books, but there is one old and dusty book left intact.  We can read the table of contents, or part of it -- what remains of the book contains The Legend of the Unseen Terror and The Legend of the Great Implementers.  We also hear some low, guttural voices coming nearer from the south, so we'd best be careful here.  We can leave in the opposite direction, and they don't pursue us, at least for the moment.

The southwest tower contains a bedroom; if we sleep on the soft bed, we have a vision of a beautiful, noble damsel holding a scroll in one hand; she gets into bed and turns out the light, and we note that she no longer has the scroll.  Then we wake up.  So is the scroll hidden in the bed somewhere?  LOOK UNDER THE BED yields nothing, but SHAKE THE BED causes one of the bedposts to rattle as though something is inside it.  REZROV BEDPOST reveals the scroll, which contains the vaxum spell -- "make a hostile creature your friend."  That may come in handy, so we should GNUSTO VAXUM to keep it.

There's a Gallery along the southern wall of the castle, displaying portraits of famous Zorkians like Lord Dimwit Flathead and the Wizard of Frobozz, tying this game firmly into the same universe.

In the southeast tower, we hear loud crashing and screeching from above.  This leads to the Engine Room, where a machine of no apparent purpose makes a ton of noise.  We can see a room to the southeast that may contain a scroll, but getting there is a challenge.  We can make a dash for the Control Room, but the machinery speeds up after we get there.  The scroll is old and brittle and contains the complex kulcad spell, which can be used to "dispel a magic spell."  But our feeble GNUSTO powers fail to copy the spell into our book; at least the failed attempt allows the scroll to remain intact.  Trying to get back out of the control room results in death by machinery plus spears, so we'll have to solve some puzzles here if we hope to add this spell to our inventory.

There's a dungeon below ground, where we can find another scroll containing the exex spell, which makes things move with greater speed.  It's found in a passage behind a square block chipped away by former inmates of the dungeon, apparently trying to tunnel out.  The tunnel is unfinished, but we can pick up a worn silver spoon somebody discarded as a poor tool for the task.

Below the dungeon is the Translucent Room maze, a peculiar room, whose cream-colored walls are thin and translucent.  Mapwise it seems to be the same room, but the exits change in a consistent fashion; it's not a tricky or deceptive maze, we just have to map it carefully.  But there doesn't seem to be any point to it -- it doesn't appear to lead anywhere new.

We can exit the castle to the south to find a rocky beach along a grey and lifeless sea.  An enormous turtle is here, his enameled shell shining with all the colors of the rainbow.  We can NITFOL TURTLE to converse with the creature.  He asks, "How do you like my shell?  A wizard did that to me about 75 years ago,"  and wonders aloud if we are going to something about that annoying warlock.  He responds to TURTLE, FOLLOW ME.  He'll even go up the stairs into the towers, though he complains, "Pretty steep stairs for a turtle, friend. But if you say so..."  We will probably find some purpose for him eventually.  We can also FILL JUG on the beach, but now it is full of undrinkable seawater, so let's not do that.

Entering the Temple at the center of the castle courtyard is dangerous; a horde of hunched and hairy creatures plan to sacrifice us, and they throw us into a Cell in the north tower, with none of our possessions.  We only survive for a few more turns.  This also happens if we enter the junction near the temple; we can't navigate out of it without getting captured.  Casting the EXEX spell on ourselves doesn't seem to help in terms of escaping their clutches... though maybe that would help with the Engine Room?  No -- the additional speed helps, but the spear trap still fires off, and the flying blades are too fast to dodge even with magical assistance.  So we may need a shield of some kind too.  BLORB ME doesn't help, though it's a rather entertaining way to go as we are fatally squished into what feels like a black hole.

Death is not permanent in Enchanter; the Circle of Enchanters are frustrated and disappointed, but the player is revived and returned to the area near the castle with some basic supplies put within easy reach; it's not a foolproof mechanism, though, and undoes no permanent mistakes we've made, so it's still best to SAVE early and often.

The castle's kitchen has been recently used, with a warm, empty oven and bloody knives, but I never found anything to do there.

Having the turtle in our company does not help us with the hairy creatures, and the turtle himself complains about having to follow us around so long.  I wasn't really sure what to do with him; EXEX TURTLE doesn't noticeably speed him up, and this particular Infocom effort does not allow us to ASK TURTLE ABOUT anything... oh, wait!  We can see that now he is moving with terrific speed, it's just that he doesn't notice the difference.  This seems useful, but we can't RIDE or CLIMB TURTLE -- The turtle doesn't allow you to get on his back.  We can direct the turtle to go places, but we're still the target for sacrifice if the creatures are alerted.  Interesting but not yet productive.

On the north side of the castle is a rusted gate; we can REZROV it to access a grey, lifeless forest.  Here we find a scroll containing the krebf spell: repair willful damage.  A swamp to the east is filled with the sound of frogs.  We can NITFOL FROG -- our random target doesn't have much to say, just "Breep! Hiya! Seen any juicy flies? Breep!"  But the chorus of other frogs tells us, "Look under the lily pad. Breep!"  Following suit, we find a scroll with the cleesh spell: change a creature into a small amphibian.  Hmmmmm.  The frogs discuss the Interlogic prose adventures (as Infocom's creations were known early on) and what they would do if they were princes again.  CLEESH FROG makes no visible change, and we can't UNCLEESH FROG or anything.

Now that we are considerably more armed with spells, can we do anything with the Guarded Door?  We can't turn the monsters into small amphibians, and the other spells don't seem to work either.  Can we get the scroll out of the egg?  Breaking it also shreds the scroll.  Maybe we can open it and then KREBF the scroll, assuming the egg's design counts as inflicting "willful damage."  Aha!  The restored scroll contains the ZIFMIA spell -- magically summon a being.  But we have to be able to see the creature in question.

We have ten spells now.  Reading the dusty book found in the library in more detail, we learn how ancient enchanters lured the Unseen Terror to the location of a magical scroll, then sealed it in the living rock; and that the Great Implementers created worlds filled with puzzles for others of their kind.  Both are considered fanciful stories, though only one is strictly for entertainment value here.

We can ZIFMIA ADVENTURER in the Hall of Mirrors and bring him into our world.  He wanders around the map, and we can follow and observe as he plays the part of the beleagured adventure gamer to hilarious effect; occasionally, The adventurer stares at his possessions as if expecting a revelation or pulls out his map, a convoluted collection of lines, arrows, and boxes.   We can CLEESH him, but he doesn't seem to leave his sword behind, and he's not at all interested in the Guarded Door.

In the control room, we can KULCAD CONTROLS to use the kulcad scroll once, even though we can't GNUSTO it into our spell book.  This cause most of the controls to vanish, but there's a glowing button left over?  No, BUTTON is just what the parser interprets CONTROLS to be.  The button is apparently real, anyway.  Maybe this is a clue (along with the adventurer's behavior) that the Guarded Door is an illusion? Apparently not -- the fire and tentacles are real enough; we can open the door, and 19 demons emerge, knock us senseless, and return.  Belboz shows up whenever we use KULCAD, to admonish us that we are attracting attention with this powerful spell; this may be a hint that we should use it with great care, a lesson I failed to comprehend and heed.

It seems like we need to get the kulcad scroll out of the Engine Room area, and see if we can use it on the Guarded Door.  CLEESH ME is a bad idea, as we get distracted by more newtly concerns and lose control of our participation in the story, bringing it to a close.  We can EXEX HAMMER in the Machine Room, and its thudding blows seem to become more frequent, but we can't speed it up enough to burn out the machinery or shut down the spear trap. 

So... I've never been above seeking a hint in times of distress.  The classic Infocom Invisiclues approach works well, as it doesn't give away too much too soon.  We can't do anything with the controls, as I suspected, but another clue suggests that someone or something else in the game could survive the spears.  Sounds like our friend the turtle, we just need to find out how to communicate with him from a distance.  Or... perhaps, tell him to go to the control room before we have gone there ourselves.  Except he's too slow to survive the dangerous machinery -- sorry, Mr. Turtle!  Trying again with EXEX in effect helps, if we can work around the parser's expectations -- TURTLE, GO SOUTHEAST doesn't work but TURTLE, GO SE does.  We also need to cast EXEX on ourselves, as the turtle's crossing has sped up the machinery -- but some time needs to pass between casts, so we have to plan ahead a bit. 

Sleeping and starting fresh, we can EXEX ourselves and run to the Control Room to join our turtle friend.  Now the turtle is still getting smashed by the hammer on the way back, though he does disarm the spear trap.  Can we time it so he doesn't?  Apparently not, as the crash that kills him does not coincide with the routine Crash! of the hammer every other turn.  And even after the turtle's unwitting (and probably unwilling) sacrifice, there's another spear trap ready to cause us trouble on our own way back.

Looking for another hint, I learned that we have to take advantage of the parser's features, and give the turtle the whole series of instructions, never going to the control room ourselves or trying to shout directions across the noisy room.  So TURTLE, GO SE. TAKE THE SCROLL. GO NW. works -- and this time he's fast enough to avoid the giant hammer and survive!  This is the kind of puzzle Infocom was really good at -- complex, with lots of ideas that might work but do not, and enough support from the design so that lots of them almost work, while the real solution makes the best sense. We would be remiss if we did not take a turn to say TURTLE, THANK YOU -- he replies, "Glad to be of help.  I think I'll get back to the beach, now."  And his role in our adventure is done.

Now can we... ?  Yes, KULCAD MONSTER reveals the Guarded Door as a simple wooden door, its magical guardian having been dispelled.  Now we can reach the map room, where we find a purple scroll, a worn pencil inscribed with runes, and an old parchment map.  The ASCII-rendered map appears to match the Translucent Room area we've mapped out, but it is inscribed with letters and indicates the presence of a room P that can't be reached by any existing passage.


The other rooms are also lettered, which is probably another clue about how we might use the map.  The purple scroll contains the filfre spell -- to create gratuitous fireworks -- but it's complicated enough that we can't GNUSTO FILFRE.  I'm hitting the inventory limit in my playthrough at this point, so I drop the opened egg and the dusty book. 

Hmmm... the pencil is from the Frobozz Magic Pencil Company.  Can we use it to amend the map?  Yes, but it releases the fabled Unseen Terror!  Our score drops to -10, and the game is over with a rank of Menace to Society.  So that's not a good idea.  Experimentation reveals that we have enough of the worn pencil left to draw two connections, and erase two connections.  So maybe we can rouse the beast and move it out of its lair, without actually releasing it into the world at large.  But it doesn't seem to move unless it thinks it can escape, and we can't really tell where it is without making some educated guesses.  The Terror's room contains a scroll emanating power, but we can't allow the Terror to escape.  Maybe we need to cut off the main entrance and use the triangle area to avoid it ourselves.  ERASE B AND R; CONNECT P TO F -- now we can approach the Terror without letting it out of the maze. 

The powerful scroll, we discover, contains the guncho spell, used to banish the victim to another plane of existence.  Powerful magic indeed, but it's also complex so again we can't transfer it to the spell book.  GUNCHO TERROR wipes it out.  But did we really gain anything by doing so?  All we've done is find the Terror and destroy it, losing the scroll in the process.  So we might need to be smarter about this, and save the scroll for Krill.  Can we get in and out of the maze without releasing the Terror?  We are trapped once we are in the creature's presence, so we need to avoid it completely unless we're going into the room with the scroll, where we can at least defend ourselves.

So... can we predict the Terror's movements?  Does it make a beeline for the exit?  If so, it would probably traverse through P, M, R, and B.  We want to go M, then to P, get the scroll, go to F and get the Terror trapped again.  Maybe if we start at R and then take the sidestep route through H... no, it's moving too fast and soon catches up with us.  Does it seek us out?  The Invisiclues indicate that it only moves one room per turn, so we have options here.  Maybe we can trap it in the F-V-J-K section of the translucent maze by disconnecting M and V.  So we'll try this -- connect P to F; wait a turn, then disconnect M and V, then disconnect F and P.  Now we can CONNECT M TO P and grab the scroll...

That seemed to work, whew!  Confirmation comes a few turns later, when You hear a horrible anguished scream through the walls of the cavern as the Terror realizes that it is trapped and its scroll of power stolen!

Now we seem to be well prepared to take on Krill, but we still have the temple full of hairy humanoids to deal with.  And the Gordian box, which I had almost forgotten about.  Since we've freed the adventurer, maybe we can get him to cut the cords.  He's not interested, and he's suspicious if we try to give the box to him, nor will he let us take his glowing elven sword.  Hmmmm.  We have nothing else suitably cutting in inventory.  The temple ceremony employs a ritual dagger, but we don't have time to do anything there before we are sacrificed. 

It's time to experiment a bit with our bulging spell book.  We can VAXUM a group of four hairy figures if we approach the Junction via the Library, and they back off, chatting cheerfully.  We may see the adventurer tearing past, having fought them in another room, but this doesn't seem to clear a path for us.  We also cannot VAXUM the HOST of figures seen outside our sacrificial cell; only small groups are susceptible, and after doing so we are still accosted by a large group in the Junction area and sacrificed as usual.

Invisiclues time again... we need the ozmoo spell to survive the sacrifice.  A clue to finding it is found in a dream... the bright face, perhaps?  If only there were some friendly individuals around...

There are some rat tracks in the ashes of the library, leading to a scroll in a rat hole containing the gondar spell -- quench an open flame.  We can VAXUM ADVENTURER to befriend him, but he still won't cut the box open for us.  Ack!

Further clue hunting suggests that we didn't need to use the KULCAD spell on the illusion door -- we should have befriended the adventurer and had him open it!  Oh, well.  I'm running low on bread and have had to fill the water jug twice at 721 moves, so it's probably best to start over and economize turns, now that I've figured a few things out.

Starting over, I'm able to round up the spells fairly quickly this time.  This time we'll VAXUM ADVENTURER and get him to follow us; he has his treasure-seeking eye on the ornamental egg in our possession, it appears.  ADVENTURER, OPEN THE DOOR results in an entertaining scene as we see him being attacked by illusory knives, flames, and rats, but he is immune to the illusion that does physical damage to our magic-sensitive selves.  Now he's collecting items we need from the map room.  He gives up the purple scroll willingly, but if we fall asleep, we may find that some other treasures have been liberated from our person.

Inventory slots may become tight later in the game, and I realized that we can save an inventory slot by FROTZing the jug or any other item we have to carry anyway, and dropping the lantern.  211 moves and I have the map in hand, ready to deal with the Terror again.  Then I had to sleep -- the adventurer stole the map and pencil and silver spoon, but not the scrolls or basic supplies so that was okay.  Except -- I later realized -- he also took the spell book, so that's no good.  It's probably better if we BLORB it before napping -- but in my case I was now too tired to learn it!  Time once again to restore and be more efficient so we can protect our spell book from the adventurer's random theft and redistribution.

Now I think we've solved most of the puzzles, so it's time to see if we can get into the Temple.  We have no time to react, still, if we get captured and sacrificed.  We have three powerful scrolls that can't be transferred, and a spell book full of potentially useful spells, but we lose our possessions, so any escape we can engineer will have to be based on something we can memorize.  I tried several ideas but remained stuck, so it was Invisiclues time again; this time I learned that the dream with the glowing face refers to the Gallery!  Dropping the frotzed jug and entering the gallery after nightfall reveals a single lighted portrait, behind which we find a black candle and a black scroll.  The scroll contains the ozmoo spell -- survive unnatural death -- and we can GNUSTO this one, then LEARN OZMOO and OZMOO ME (the effect involving a classical huge puff of orange smoke) after we're thrown in the cell but before we are taken to the altar.

None of the creatures appear to notice that we have survived, as we awake with the dagger in our chests.  And if we encounter this scenario on a second go-round, without our belongings, we die as usual.  Can we try dispatching the creatures with a massive CLEESH?  No, it only affects some of them, not all.  Can we GONDAR their torches?  No.  But they seem to be ignoring me, so maybe I just need to leave my belongings behind somewhere so they aren't confiscated before we attempt to go through the Junction and the temple sacrifice.  Except I still need a light source to find my stash afterward, so I should also LEARN FROTZ and cast it on the dagger.

With the dagger, we can cut the rope on the jewelled box in the closet.  This reveals a vellum scroll containing the melbor spell - protect magic users from harm by evil beings.  That's pretty general, but should be handy.

Now that the Temple's denizens are satisfied with their sacrifice, even though it got up and walked away, we can access the Landing east of the Junction, leading to a winding staircase.  Apparently this is an infinite staircase -- we can climb upward or downward indefinitely -- but we can KULCAD it to reveal it as an illusion, before we pull a Wile E. Coyote and plummet into an apparently bottomless pit, just behind our heavier possessions.  We find ourselves holding a new scroll, containing the izyuk spell -- it allows us to fly like a bird, but only for a few turns and we can't plummet fast enough to catch up with our lost belongings.  The tower remains infinite, even without the staircase, and while we don't land hard, we learn that After many years, only tattered remnants of you remain, still falling.

We can't seem to get around this, but we still have our lightweight scrolls after flying out of the tower while IZYUK ME is briefly in effect.  For safety's sake, we should eat and drink before we enter the tower, as we will lose the jug and the bread, and as the spell book is also lost we may have to memorize some spells; we just don't know what they would be yet, and we can only remember so many before the ones learned earlier start to become jumbled. 

Floating eastward out of the Winding Stair tower, we find ourselves in Krill's secret chamber.  We learn that he was the main figure sacrificing us in the temple, to our nonexistent surprise.  Krill snaps his fingers, and a giant dragon appears!  So it seems we probably should have learned GONDAR.  Restoring and replaying verifies that yes, that works -- the dragon's flame is doused and the creature vanishes.  Then Krill summons another creature, dark and shapeless but armed with a battle axe.  Does the MELBOR spell protect us from this evil being?  Nope.  But CLEESH does the job nicely, as the axe falls and cuts the newly-minted newt neatly in half.

Now Krill is out of tricks and starts a guttural chant.  It's time to pull out the big gun -- GUNCHO KRILL, and victory is ours!


We join the Circle of Enchanters at Belboz's side, and the closing text promotes the continuing Enchanter series, probably revised in this 1986 edition after the trilogy was well established. 

Few companies published interactive fiction with Infocom's sophistication and dedication to the form; while other parsers often claimed to do more, they often relied on tricks and heuristics that created an easily-pierced illusion of improved comprehension.  Infocom's parser was not perfect, nor was its storytelling, but its works are still among the best adventure games in existence.  The next game in this series is Sorcerer, which we will doubtless tackle in due course.