Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Dark Mage (1997)

This week, we're looking at Dark Mage, an adventure game running on perhaps the least likely platform imaginable: the Atari 2600.  This text adventure was coded by Greg Troutman in 1997, as a homebrew project long after the 2600's heyday, and made available for distribution via the Internet as a Public Domain title (a good source for downloading it is Atari Age). 

In a brief text intro, the player is cast as a court jester, recently ousted by King Roland after a bout of excess drinking, which also led to the loss of the Black Rose of the Realm to the Dark Mage, Neonore.  Presumably, we will be attempting to earn our way back into the good graces of the Court.

Without a keyboard to work with, player interaction is limited to a few choices -- in the standard mode, the joystick is used to access the four cardinal directions for navigation, with LOOK occupying the center position and the 2600 controller's single button used to commit the selection.  LOOK also switches control modes to make verbs available by moving the joystick left and right -- TAKE, GIVE, USE, TALK, and INVENTORY

The game's most impressive feature, given the 2600's limited graphics hardware, is its ability to render text onscreen without relying on flicker or interlacing tricks -- the uppercase-only text here is much clearer than the 2600's only contemporary text-based example, the Sears-exclusive Stellar Track adapted from the old mainframe Star Trek games.  I'm playing the 8 KB version of Dark Mage here, which allows some room for descriptive text, though the map is necessarily small and the puzzles simple; an even tighter 4K version also exists.

Interested readers are of course encouraged to try Dark Mage out -- the ROM image runs fine on the MESS Atari 2600 emulator, and a limited run of production cartridges was made available at one time, which you may be able to track down if you prefer to use real hardware.  For the historical record, I'm going to document my entire playthrough here -- so there are certain to be...


We begin on a hilltop, where we can LOOK to see a GREAT VOID TO THE WEST and trails leading elsewhere.  Trying to go west indicates that this is the edge of the world, and YOU ARE NOT UP TO TAKING A LEAP OF FAITH, JUST YET.  We have a HAMMER in inventory.

To the east is an old house in the woods; LOOK performs a search and discovers a loaf of bread.  To the south is a grassy knoll, where a snake seems to be shadowing our progress and blocking our way east; WHAT DOES IT WANT?, the game suggests.

South of the hilltop is a PEACEFUL VALLEY, where AN OLD HERMIT SITS NEAR A SHACK; north is a clearing, where A BROOK BABBLES BY, and LOOK espies a TINY FISH FLOPPING ABOUT IN A SHALLOW PART OF THE BROOK.  North of the brook is a wide river, and the game suggests we might need fins to cross it.  On the banks of the great river to the east is a bridge further east; it is blocked by the traditional troll, who asks, "WHERE IS YOUR MONEY?"
So we've explored the accessible map, and so far we have three puzzles to deal with.  The snake doesn't want the hammer or the bread.  The hermit just sighs if we try to TALK to him, the troll growls and the snake hisses.

We can't seem to USE any of our inventory objects anywhere yet, either, at least not in the obvious ways.  Hmmm.  Except -- if we USE the fish in the location with the snake, it turns out to be something like Douglas Adams' Babel fish -- we can understand the snake's hissing now, and it says: "RETURN THE ROSE... THERE IS A SECRET PASSAGE TO THE EAST." 

Now we can access A NARROW PATH SKIRTING A RIVER that leads to SOME ROLLING HILLS.  (The 2600's tiny 128 bytes of working memory appears to be responsible for another constraint here -- LOOKing on the grassy knoll will continue to tell us that the snake blocks our path, even though we can travel freely past it now.)

A LITTLE DOG FOLLOWS YOU here; a large hole blocks progress to the north, and the narrow canyon to the south is blocked by AN AXE WIELDING OGRE who advises us to "TURN BACK!" if we talk to him.  We can GIVE BREAD to the dog, and now YOU'VE MADE A FRIEND; we can TAKE him along on our journey.

The hermit's sighing gives the impression that he's lonely -- perhaps this occupation was not his best choice -- and we can GIVE him the dog to earn a gold coin in exchange.

Now we can pay the toll at the troll bridge (or vice-versa) and cross the bridge to discover a POOR VILLAGE that seems deserted.  A small shed on the southern edge of the village contains a CAN OF BLACK PAINT.

So now we have some paint, and a hammer, and the tiny fish.  Hmmm.  The ogre still blocks the way south, and doesn't seem tempted by or vulnerable to any of the objects we have.  There's no save game facility here, but we're not too far along so it's reasonable to restart.

Exploring alternate possibilities, we learn that we can USE the little dog to scare the ogre into letting us pass before we give him to the hermit.  Except it seems he still won't let us pass?  Ah, we have to TALK to the ogre before we can actually get past him, to reach a barren wasteland (so why does it need a guard?)

The wasteland is a bit of a maze, though some exits are blocked, and differently so in each room, so it isn't too hard to figure out (very good, considering there is no DROP verb supported to help with mapping!)  The wasteland maze leads to a FIELD OF WHITE FLOWERS, where an artist silently paints.  TALKing to the artist reveals that his/her works are not for sale.

A VAST PLAIN further west is a dead end, except we can see TWO JACKELOPES [sic] ARGUING; they tell us to "BUTT OUT!" if we try to talk to them.

Giving the black paint to the artist has an unexpected result -- THE ARTIST PICKS A WHITE ROSE AND PAINTS IT BLACK FOR YOU.  So we have a Black Rose... of sorts.

I'm stuck at this point -- there seems to be nobody who wants or cares about the Black Rose, now that we have it or a reasonable facsimile thereof.  But thanks to the walkthrough at the always-useful CASA Solution Archive I learn that we have to restart and USE the COIN to settle the arguing jackalopes' dispute, before we pay the troll.  TALKing to the animals now reveals a northern trail out of the plains.

The exit path leads through a marshland and a sandy beach, where THE CASTLE IS IN YOUR SIGHT TO THE NORTH!  The castle guard won't let us in, of course, per standard banishment procedure, but if we GIVE him the fake Black Rose, THE GUARD ACCEPTS THE THE [sic] PAINTED ROSE, AND RAISES THE GATE! 

One more step north, and thanks to the Royal lack of familiarity with the genuine article, victory is ours!


Though we are advised that this is not really the end of the journey:

That's it as far as this installment of the game is concerned, even though we never used the hammer or ran into the titular Dark Mage, Neonore.  As far as I can determine, a Dark Mage Part Two has not been forthcoming, even though this final display appears to provide a password for the next section.

There is also a 4K version of Dark Mage, which is considerably shorter -- it starts in the field of white flowers, with an unused chisel in inventory instead of the unused hammer, and a substantially different and smaller map layout.  The snake/fish, dog/hermit and artist/rose puzzles are the same, but the ogre and the jackalopes are nowhere to be seen, so each item has only one use, which makes the 4K edition a lot easier to play through.  There's no end code given for a Part Two, and the text is also cut down a bit, so it appears that the original 4K version was followed by an expanded 8K edition, but that's as far as the experiment went.  (The 2600 could only address 4 KB of ROM, so a bank-switching technique has to be used to accommodate larger cartridges, swapping two 4K blocks of data back and forth -- this approach still has limitations, so this is probably as much of a text adventure as the system can accommodate.)

I enjoyed playing Dark Mage -- I was expecting a text adventure on the Atari 2600 to be a bit of a singing dog, but it's actually not a bad game given the constraints of the platform.  The joystick interface takes some getting used to, but it works, in large part because the death-free design never penalizes the player for accidentally picking inapplicable verbs or movements with the joystick.  And I appreciate that it's an original game -- so many homebrew projects focus on porting an existing design to different hardware that it's nice to play through a story that only exists in this form.  While text adventures might never have worked commercially on the 2600, Mr. Troutman's project demonstrates that it can be done.  Good stuff!

Monday, June 24, 2013

What I'm Playing 06/24/2013

One reason I haven't been blogging as much as I did in years past is that I've been reserving more time to play games just for fun -- taking the time to document my experiences and capture screenshots has the unfortunate side effect of making my gaming time seem more like work.

So I'm going to try an experiment -- I'll just write up a few notes from time to time on what I've been playing, informally from memory, and see if I can come up with anything interesting to say in the process.  So here goes...

My wife and I have been playing Borderlands 2, working our way through the main campaign together; I'll reserve any detailed comments until after we're done, but I will note that this installment clearly benefits from a larger budget than the original Borderlands.  Even the minor, optional quests have more steps and more surprises along the way, and the quirky character-based humor is even more abundant and over the top.  We're thoroughly enjoying it; if we were the type of people who put out a family Christmas letter, we would have to mention that "we slagged hundreds thousands of bandits with the most powerful guns we could find" and alarm our extended families.

On my own, I finally finished playing SEGA's Viking: Battle for Asgard late this past Friday night.   There are some spoilers in the following, so I'm going to put it below the fold.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Haunted House (1979)

Ah, Haunted House.  This was actually the first text adventure game I ever played, and as far as I recall the only one that would work on my bare-bones, entry-level 4K TRS-80 Model I with Level I BASIC.  It was programmed by Device Oriented Games and published by Tandy Corporation/Radio Shack in 1979.  I wrote about Haunted House in passing several years ago, before I started my regular adventure game series, so I'm going to cover it properly now.

Because memory was so incredibly tight, Haunted House features minimal descriptive text and a very limited parser dictionary, and even then it had to be loaded in two phases, with the second half of the game running largely independently of the first.  I'm running a later "fused" version of the original cassette version created by TRS-80 hobbyist "Lord Apollyon" in 1999, using the TRS32 emulator with 16K of memory.  This early microcomputer game design has no windowed display, just simple scrolling text like the mainframe teletype interfaces that spawned the earliest adventure games.

Interested readers are always encouraged to play these games for themselves before reading my comments below -- but be warned that, while Haunted House is necessarily short, it can be aggravatingly obtuse.  The simple engine provides no list of available exits or any feedback as to whether we've actually gone somewhere or just stayed where we are, which makes mapping a bit of a challenge.  So, dear reader, you have my usual urging to play the game, but also my full encouragement to save yourself some frustration and jump straight into the...

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

The game starts without much in the way of orientation -- the title announces itself as "HAUNTED HOUSE!!" (the tight memory budget allowing for two exclamation points, it seems) and we are then informed that we're standing outside the house, with a closed front door and a crumpled piece of paper on the ground.  The parser is limited to just a few verbs -- TAKE PAPER fails, but GET PAPER works.  READ PAPER yields, "MAGIC WORD - PLUGH" -- an homage to the earlier Colossal Cave mainframe text adventure created by Crowther and Woods.

Because memory is tight, room exits are not described, but it's not too hard to discover that movement in any direction at this point only brings us back to the same location in front of the house.  We have nothing in inventory other than the crumpled paper, so SAY PLUGH is the only available option, and so doing, we now materialize inside the house, at the foyer.

We can go south to the empty den, then east to the kitchen, where we find a bucket of water on the floor.  We can't EXAMINE anything in this limited game, but we can GET BUCKET.  We can POUR WATER anywhere we like, but the bucket magically refills after wetting the ground.

South of the kitchen is the breakfast room, where AN ANIMATED SUIT OF ARMOUR THROWS YOU OUT! and we're back in the kitchen.  North is the dining room, from whence we can travel west to the living room, where we see that A KNIFE IS LEVITATING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GROUND, with a mysterious scroll lying on the ground.

Avoiding the knife for the moment and returning to the foyer, we find we can travel west to the east end of the hall, and further west to the west end of the hall, where A LOCKED DOOR BARS THE WAY SOUTH.

North of the west end is the Blue Bedroom, where this sparsely-detailed game mentions that THERE'S A PANEL ON THE EAST WALL.  This appears to complement the panel on the west wall of the Green Bedroom, north of the east end of the hall.  We PUSH PANEL and we find ourselves in a secret passage, with a rope nearby.

Now what?  We can try to DROP ROPE in the Living Room, but SUDDENLY THE KNIFE WHOOSHES DOWN AND SLITS YOUR THROAT!  YOU ARE DEAD.  So while this game may be introductory in size, it's by no means player-friendly.  (This bit of graphic violence raised no public objections at the time, the obscure world of microcomputer games being far removed from the mainstream in 1979.)  When we die, the game just freezes and has to be reloaded from scratch (or, more conveniently, from a save state using a modern emulator.)

Trying again, I take a chance (based on faded memories of playing this game more than three decades earlier) and find that, yes, we can just GET KNIFE before it attacks.  Now we can READ SCROLL to learn that "THERE IS ESCAPE FROM THE SECOND FLOOR!"  So we'll need to find a way upstairs.

Returning to the breakfast room to see if we can deal with the suit of armour, we are pleased to discover that A SUIT OF ARMOUR HERE FLEES WHEN IT SPOTS YOUR KNIFE.  Now we can reach the SERVANTS [sic] QUARTERS, where THERE IS A CABINET ON ONE WALL.  But OPEN CABINET notes that it's empty, and we can't move it or enter it or even close it.

I seem to be stuck now... trying PLUGH again yields only SORRY, ONLY ONE PLUGH PER CUSTOMER.  And now an old, confusing bit of Haunted House lore resurfaces in my memory -- this is a deceptive part of the map, because the Servants Quarters actually occupies two rooms, one north and one south, and there's no way to distinguish the two onscreen.  OPEN CABINET in the south end opens an empty cabinet, but at the north end, it's a different cabinet that contains a key.  (This isn't impossible to discover, as thorough mapping demonstrates that we can't go W from the north end of the room back to the breakfast room -- but I got seriously stuck here as a novice adventure gamer and had to call Tandy to get a hint way back when!)

Now we can go back to the west end of the hall and OPEN DOOR using the key, gaining access to the Master Bedroom, where A WALL OF RAGING FIRE BLOCKS THE WAY EASTPOUR WATER does nothing, nor does THROW WATER or DOUSE FIRE or EXTINGUISH FIRE as none of these verbs are recognized.  What we have to do is attempt to go E through the wall of fire, and respond to the cagey "ARE YOU JUST GOING TO WALK RIGHT THROUGH THAT RAGING FIRE?" prompt with a simple YES.

Now we're in the Library, where a hole in the ceiling allows us to DROP ROPE -- INSTANTLY THE ROPE UNWINDS AND LEVITATES TO THE HOLE IN THE CEILING!  We CLIMB ROPE, and we're in Part 2 of the game, having conveniently dropped everything to get up the rope so that the game doesn't have to carry over any state variables from Part 1.

We're now in a dimly lit room with a magic sword, which we can readily GET.  South is another dimly lit room, with a ghost.  KILL GHOST actually works, as YOUR MAGIC SWORD ENABLES YOU TO KILL THE GHOST!  -- though the aftermath is a bit hard to visualize, as we note that THE BODY OF A DEAD GHOST IS ON THE FLOOR.  We can do the same in the rooms west and east of the starting point on this floor.  Going further west from the western one, we find another ghost -- and this time, THE GHOST IS IMMUNE TO YOUR ATTACK!

The immune ghost doesn't seem to bear us any ill will, but at the same time will not let us pass.  READ SWORD indicates AN INSCRIPTION READS, "GHOST KILLER" -- apparently a slightly hyperbolic claim.  And even if the immune ghost is not actually a ghost, we discover to no great surprise that YOU CAN'T KILL A GHOST WITH YOUR BARE HANDSPLUGH and even XYZZY are of no help.

I didn't remember this part of the game at all, and while there isn't actually very much to do on the second floor compared to the first, solving this puzzle is a bit of a meta-game in the face of the game's wall of silence concerning movement.  I had to do some experimenting to notice that in the rooms where we can kill the ghost, the ghost WILL NOT LET YOU PASS in any other direction -- but in the room with the immune ghost, we can travel in any direction, we just can't KILL GHOST.  And apparently some of the ghosts beyond this room are illusory, as trying to KILL GHOST yields THERE'S NOT ONE HERE once we're past all the real ghosts, even though the room description still indicates the presence of one.

So... we need to kill the ghost immediately to the west of the entry point to the upstairs, then drop the sword, and then do some exploration and optimistic mapping, with a bit of luck perhaps, given that there aren't any objects we can carry and drop to distinguish the identically-described rooms.  We finally discover that we can go north, then west, then south from the immune ghost's location to arrive at yet another dimly lit room, with no ghost and a rusty sign on the ground.

The sign reads, "THERE ARE THREE EXITS FROM THIS ROOM. ONLY ONE IS TRUE. YOU MUST KNOW, BUT NOT BE BURDENED BY, THIS CLUE!"   This is a none-too-subtle hint that if we try to leave with the sign in hand, YOU FALL THROUGH A TRAP DOOR TO YOUR DEATH!  Dropping the sign instead and going in any direction out of this room leads to victory!

I once called Haunted House the worst adventure game ever, and having played through it again for the first time in a long while, I have to say that I still think it's a pretty poor design.  The challenges are linear and rely largely on trial and error, and the engine's limitations are too often used to hide valuable information from the player -- for example, not being able to "see" that there are actually two cabinets at opposite ends of a large room is an artificial constraint that doesn't feel like an honest puzzle. 

Still, cramming a complete adventure game of any kind into 4096 bytes (okay, 8192 with the dual-load design) of Z-80 code was a technical achievement in its day.  And my re-visit to Radio Shack's Haunted House was quite entertaining for me personally, if only as a bit of nostalgia.  Call it Proust's take on Sisyphus, if you will, and I hope to be back with something more recommendable next time around.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Emergent Storytelling -- Viking: Battle for Asgard

Because video games are an experiential art form, it's really hard to share stories about any specific game with people who haven't played it.  And, e-sports excepted, they're not even much fun to watch -- the peaks of any game experience are what we remember as players, but we do spend a lot of time muddling about trying to figure out where to go and what to do, or re-playing from a checkpoint when things go badly.

What games can do, though, is provide for spontaneous bits of emergent story-telling that can be appreciated without benefit of shared experience.  I've recently been playing SEGA's Viking: Battle for Asgard, a sort of open-world fantasy adventure set in the world of Norse mythology, with routine fighting/collecting missions punctuated by moments of stealth and impressive large-scale battles.  It's not a great game by any means, or even a particularly good one -- but I picked it up cheap on Steam after it finally came to the PC, years after it's 2008 console release, and I've been working my way through it.  Anyway, here's what happened during one of my recent play sessions...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Tanker Train (1981/2013)

My schedule has cleared up a bit and I feel like I'm back on track, which makes it a good time to tackle Roger M. Wilcox's thirteenth adventure game, Tanker Train.   This one was written for the TRS-80 in 1981, and recently converted to Windows PCs by the author, allowing us to rediscover a quality adventure series that wasn't formally distributed at the time. 

This time around, the player is an FBI agent on vacation, traveling on a bullet-style train traveling at over 400 miles per hour, when we hear a nearby scream followed by quickly scampering footsteps.  (The cutest criminal ever!)  It's a SCORE-less, time-based (actually turn count-based) adventure, a format I enjoy on occasion.

As Mr. Wilcox has made his games freely available, you've really no excuse for not trying this one out yourself before proceeding into my comments below.  But I know life can be busy, and if you just want to read up on this one without having to actually solve it, I won't object.  Just remember that I'm going to document my entire playthrough here, and there are certain to be...

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

We begin in a passenger seat near a closed window, carrying a single shot pistol and an FBI badge.  We can OPEN WINDOW and GO WINDOW, as the designers of this incredibly fast train have prioritized speed over safety, only to learn that You lost your grip and fell! You're dead! in two moves.  More productively, we can GET UP from our comfy seat to find ourselves standing in the passenger car, where we see a dead body and a closed door.

EXAMINE BODY reveals that There is a knife sticking in his back.   Hmmmm... could this have been a murder?!?  We can't open the locked door with anything handy, and SHOOT DOOR just wastes our single bullet.  We can't disrupt the chain of evidence by taking the knife from the body and using it to pick the lock.  Trying to go through the window with nothing in inventory helps our grip not one bit.

HELP tells us only that "I can't help you!  This is supposed to be hard adventure!"  Which it is.  Fortunately, the author has provided his source code for us to peruse when the going gets desperate, and this suggests that a FRISK verb exists (I had tried to SEARCH and EXAMINE and MOVE and GET the body, to no avail.)  FRISK BODY yields a credit card, a note, and a leaflet.  We can't READ CARD (There is nothing on it to read, an odd but perhaps highly secure design for a financial instrument), but the leaflet promotes Mr. Wilcox's The Vial of Doom in the grand Scott Adams tradition, and the note contains an FBI agent's log mentioning a time bomb hidden on the train's tanker car before he was somehow interrupted in mid-sentence by the saboteur, while still having time to secret the note somewhere on his person.

We can OPEN DOOR -- With what? -- CARD to note that it's a Sliding door! and gain access to the train's engine room -- this seems an unusual location for a passenger compartment -- where we see a coal burning fireplace.  (That's an incredibly efficient coal-driven engine if this train is going 400 mph with nary a stoker in sight! Unless it's just for show?)

We can't EXAMINE FIREPLACE to any useful extent, but on a ledge outside the engine room we find a fire extinguisher, and now we can't USE EXTINGUISHER but we can EXTINGUISH FIRE.  And thus we learn that the train is actually electric, so the quaint old engine room's quaint old fireplace is indeed just for show.  Now we have a pile of ashes in the Extinguished fireplace (where else would one keep one's extinguished fire?) and we can DIG ASHES to find a bit of flat and deformed metal.  I hope this wasn't a key earlier in the game's timeline!

We can't GET ASHES, but we can RUB ASHES -- "Ok. You got your hands dirty." -- to enable a better grip on the train, allowing us to hang onto the outside surfaces and climb to the top of the train car.  Apparently this is a very short train, as we can only go south from here to the top of another train car, where a closed air vent blocks progress until we OPEN VENT -- With what? -- METAL (CUT VENT doesn't work, so this must be more like a key or lever in principle.)

We can now drop down into a passenger car -- apparently the one we were riding in at the start of the game can only be boarded via the window, yet more evidence of shoddy design by these speed-obsessed train designers -- and see a security guard.  We can SHOOT GUARD -- except it's "one of your own men! You lose your FBI membership!" and the adventure is over.

The guard won't let us pass when he's alive, demanding that we "Show identification please."  He's apparently ready for a break, as after we SHOW BADGE, He says, "Pass," then leaves.  Then, In the distance you hear a thud, followed by frantic scurrying.  The deadly small animal is at it again!  I  knew that Secret Squirrel was a double agent!

Traveling south (fortunately it seems this moving train is traveling along a straight line) to another passenger car, near the tanker car door, we again see a Security guard.  Acting on a hunch that it's probably not the FBI guard we just met, we can SHOOT GUARD -- "BANG! Got him!" seems positive in response, and the game continues with a Dead guard impostor now lying on the ground. 

We can FRISK GUARD, having learned from experience, and find a security key, though it's not clear whether this belonged to the original guard or the impostor.  At any rate we can use the security key to open the sliding door into the tanker car, which is large enough to occupy two locations on the map.

At the north end is a ladder; at the south end is the Time bomb we've been expecting to find.  We can also go to the caboose, where there's a corroded ladder leading to an upstairs laboratory, though the ladder isn't useful -- trying to CLIMB LADDER establishes only that The corrosion couldn't hold your weight, though I guess there could be other reasons for that.  I am also learning (in my playthrough) that we're now at the "Final countdown! 20 seconds remain."  So I am likely going to have to start over and make up for wasted moves next time through, especially because my panicky SAVE consumes a turn and now I have only 19 seconds left.

Soldiering on, we find that we can't bring the ladder from the tanker car to the caboose to substitute for the corroded ladder, as it can't be moved, but we can climb it in the tanker to discover a large valve on top of the tanker car.  Examination indicates that It's open slightly; we can't OPEN VALVE in a single turn, but we can TURN VALVE to subsequently find that It's closed completely.  We can only toggle between these two states; I'm going to gamble that we want it closed, only because otherwise there's no reason to do any of this.

Returning to the caboose, we see that trying to climb the corroded ladder produced a rod -- though 0 seconds remain on my first try, and ****** B L A M ! ******"; The adventure has ended.

Trying again, being more efficient, I get to the caboose again, with what should be plenty of time to spare.  Trying to GO LAB after the ladder gives way indicates that it's Too high up.  But the ladder extends from it.   Taking the hint and attempting to GO LADDER says You don't see it here, but ignoring that misdirection and trying to JUMP LADDER succeeds, in part because The rod helped! -- though it's not exactly clear why.  Perhaps it's radioactive?  Corroded by steroids?  Rod Stewart?  Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plus typos?

Anyway, now we are in a miniature laboratory, which may explain the scurrying sounds made by the saboteur -- he or she is apparently a tiny little villain.  There are 3 test tubes and an empty beaker here; the tubes contain water, a slippery substance, and a volatile acid -- time for a little chemistry experiment it seems.  But I can't GET 1 or GET TUBE or POUR TUBE 1, or MIX CHEMICALS.  I had to peek at the source code again to learn that we have to use the MAKE verb, which brings up a dialogue allowing us to combine tubes 1, 2, and/or 3 with handy Windows checkboxes.

Combining test tubes 2 and 3 gives us a beaker full of unstable solution, which, as it turns out when I tried to POUR SOLUTION on the bomb, is nitroglycerin.  But while I thought we were dead, it actually  caused the bomb to fly apart, sending flaming bits of it off in all directions! -- fortunately on a much slower, smaller and gentler scale than that description might otherwise imply.  Victory is ours!

(Because I lucked out here, I went back to a save and retried this puzzle to discover that some combinations don't work at all, allowing us to try again; the only real alternative option is plain water from test tube 1, which short-circuits the bomb, causing it to explode.  So nitroglycerin is safer than water in this case!)

I enjoyed my ride on Roger M. Wilcox's Tanker Train; sometimes a quick, simple adventure is absolutely perfect for a lazy afternoon.  I intend to be back on a regular schedule now, though at this writing I have no idea what I'll be playing next.  Stay tuned!

Monday, June 10, 2013

New at Gamasutra:

The good folks at Gamasutra have a new feature article up by yours truly, concerning the psychology of doorways in a gaming context:

What Lies Beyond: Doorways In Gaming


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Still Alive

Just busy! 

It's been a long time since I've taken a hiatus from blogging -- the lead-in to the Memorial Day weekend got away from me with family in town, and since then work and other projects have been keeping me busier than I might prefer.

Oh, yeah, and after putting it off for a long while, my wife and I finally started playing Borderlands 2.  I have to admit it's a pleasure to play a game that I'm not planning to write about any time soon, so taking notes isn't required.  And it's probably healthy to be reminded that I'm married to someone who can take a virtual bandit's head off with her virtual sniper rifle at virtually forty paces, should the need ever arise.

Next week, there will be some new content.