Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Adventure of the Week: The Adventurer's Museum (1989)

Sometimes when I'm doing research on something else, I run across an interesting old game I didn't know existed.  I was trying to track down an apparently unreleased RPG called Legacy of the Necromancer a few months ago, and in the process I ran across Lee Chapel's 1989 shareware text adventure trilogy by the same name.  So this week, we're going to tackle the first game in the series -- The Adventurer's Museum, a.k.a. Legacy of the Necromancer: Part I.  Mr. Chapel has apparently released the series as freeware in recent years; it can be downloaded for the IBM PC here and elsewhere.

The parser is clearly influenced by the Infocom Z-machine, though it appears to be independently designed and coded, and the game's world is almost-but-not-quite the ZORK universe.  All three chapters of the trilogy were released, and this is an interesting homage to the classic Infocom trilogy.  As always, and especially for ZORK fans, I encourage interested readers to try The Adventurer's Museum out before proceeding into the details below; it's not an easy game, so you may want to refer to the CASA Solution Archive on occasion.  And now, to borrow the game's alternate terminology, much of what lies ahead will shortly be...

***** SPOILED BY A GWORL! *****

My observations about this game are not going to be structured very cleanly -- the map is quite open, with most of the puzzles lying at one dead end or another, and there's not much of a plot.  So the following is generally chronological, but not entirely.

I don't know if it's just the way I approach these things -- trying to avoid the most obvious path -- but I discovered almost immediately that we can simply ignore the Adventurer's Museum standing right in front of us at the start of the game.  We can choose to travel west down the road to the Hawksheart Mountains, or east to Grimwood Forest and Dwarrowdelf, ending the game in a couple of moves, with 0 points.  But it is worth exploring the environs to the south, to collect a gold ring, though we won't get much farther without a light source.

The parser is not, as far as I can tell, the actual Infocom Z-machine, but it follows that venerable model in many ways.  It supports the BRIEF and VERBOSE commands, for example.  And if we try to carry more than six items, we tend to fumble and drop a couple of them.  There is, however, no DIAGNOSE verb, and no ASK or TALK commands either, so character interaction is necessarily limited.

It soon becomes clear that The Adventurer's Museum may be a little too directly inspired by Infocom -- as we enter the cave, we are informed that It's pitch dark here. If you're not careful you may fill in a pit or be eaten by a gworl.  In many ways, this game is a bit of interactive ZORK fan-fiction, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Dying invokes Tamarya, the Goddess of Death, who sends us away to Vhea, realm of the dead; if we haven't yet met the museum's curator, the game is over.

To my surprise, there's no puzzle-solving required to get into the museum, we can just OPEN DOOR.  The museum's curator directs us to follow him -- we can FOLLOW CURATOR to do so or just go W.  Here we find a trophy case that once held a collection of famous treasures, a nod to ZORK, but, we are informed, they have all been stolen and secreted in the nearby cave by a mischievous imp.  The curator solicits our help, and gives us a brass lantern and a loaf of bread to aid us on the journey; he will also resurrect us should we die at some point, though we lose points in the process, and it takes so much effort to find and recover our belongings that it's usually more efficient just to RESTORE.

In the museum's east wing, a sign on the staircase reads Closed for renovations, and the curator prevents us from going upstairs, for the moment at least.  We can't open his office door to the north, or sneak in while the curator goes in and out.  So I guess we're off to explore the cave and recover the 20 treasures, now that we have a lantern.

The map tries to give us a sense of vast outdoor space, but our movements are actually constrained pretty tightly.  The dead end where the river spills out cannot be entered, as You would drown before you ever got through the opening.

The parser isn't always as smart as it wants to be, either.  Beside the pond, we can't take the phosphorescent moss illuminating the room.  We can see some fish in the pond, according to the room description, but GET FISH yields only You see no fish here.  But if we ENTER POND, we frighten away the fish and thoroughly soak our belongings, disabling the lantern but not damaging the bread (or ruining the matchbook, later on.)  There's a bug here -- damaging the lantern doesn't actually removing our source of visible light, but even though we can see our way around just fine with the broken lamp, we can still get eaten by a passing gworl.  So it's best to leave the lamp on shore before we swim down and north through an underwater tunnel to find a... hmmmm... crystal trident.  Not all of the treasures will have direct ZORKian antecedents, but we're never far from a reference to the Great Underground Empire.

To the north is another pond, leading to a garden area where we can pick some flowers.  We can acquire an orb with swirling clouds of white light inside, similar to orbs in the ZORK games.  The temple of Tamarya the Goddess of Death is here, along with some jewelry that should be in a museum.  But we can't take it immediately, as You must please the goddess first; putting the picked (therefore dying) flowers on the altar allows us to obtain the jewelry.

The cave system is tricky to map, with lots of overlapping regions, so the usual grid-based approach doesn't work well.  But it's a layered design, and rooms do ultimately logically connect to each other.  The puzzles seem fairly simple in the early going, but become more difficult later on.  Many are guardian puzzles -- for example, a snake at the bottom of an oak tree in the garden won't let us climb the tree. 

An ivory dagger in the cemetery has the initials L.H. on it, but I never figured out what that was meant to indicate. 

The South end of the bridge that spans the cave near the entrance is a toll bridge; there's no toll due on the way south, but we can't get back without paying the toll taker, a troll.  We also can't control what we offer -- the PAY TROLL command makes an assumption that we may not always agree with, e.g. (with the orb).  We can try to KILL TROLL WITH DAGGER, but The troll's skin is like rock and he easily fends [sic] your blows.   We can give the bread to the troll, he happily eats it but it doesn't cover the toll.

The matchbox at the foot of a flight of stairs may come in handy later.  In the Statue Room, a statue of a naked man carrying a bow and arrow points to the south exit; while it doesn't seem to be a trap when going SOUTH, it is a fatal hazard on returning NORTH; we can TURN STATUE to face either the eastern or southern exit, but we can't point it harmlessly at the blank wall to the west, so remembering what state we left it in is important.  We can navigate around it, in either case, so there's really no need to mess with it; we can just treat the dangerous path as a one-way passage. 

The Smithy contains an anvil, a firepit, and an old leather saddle.  There are some bars of silver buried in the ashes of the firepit; EXAMINE ASH yields half a dozen of them, from the mines in the Iron Mountains.

Some hay is in the stable to the east of the Smithy, which is handy for feeding the winged horse in the open area to the southwest.  With the hay and saddle in hand, the horse takes us to another area, where we can pick up a wooden bucket near a ruined well.  We can also ride the horse at ground level into some areas, but not all, so we will eventually need to dismount.

This game's Machine Room has orange, red and blue buttons, and a candle found in a small cave is actually a stick of TNT upon closer examination.  We can push the buttons in the Machine Room, they glow but any other impact is unclear.

RPG-style, we have some resource constraints to worry about.  We start getting thirsty at 99 moves, and hungry at around 200 moves.  We also have limited air underwater, and the lantern does run out or power eventually.

The Endless Stairway off of the Paint Room seems to be truly infinite, but it obviously tracks the number of moves we've made -- to return to the top, we have to go back UP as many times as we've gone DOWN.  We can only actually reach the Foot of Endless Stair location via another route.

The mischievous Imp may appear and steal a treasure (or any other item that we have taken from its original location and dropped elsewhere), putting it back where it was originally found or randomly leaving it in a nearby room.  This can be prevented, however.

The Witch's Cave has an old crone stirring a pot of a bubbling brew.  There's no TALK or ASK verb here, though, so we can't really interact with her; YELL is available but not interesting.

The Dead End off of the Dragon's Lair contains a crate and an invoice, directed to the Witch's Cave, for One live basilisk, 20 gp, plus King's Tax, 2 gp.  The Dragon guards a painting.

The Mirror Room is a little more elaborate than the one in ZORK I.  Light bounces around mirrors in an apparatus then vanishes into a hole in the floor, apparently fueling something down there with "a dimly flickering red glow."  There's a silver key here, which unlocks the door to the north of the Large Cavern.  But opening the door causes the boulder above to fall, squashing us flat. Hmmmm.  We can visit the boulder in the Overview room up above, and try to blow it up with the "candle," but after doing so we can't get back that way, as the passage is blocked by rubble.  As it turns out, we can do this almost anywhere, closing off nearby pathways.  And doing so in the Overview doesn't actually blow up the boulder; it's still completely intact and lethal as seen from below, so that's not the right thing to do.

If we bring the crate to the witch, she opens it and puts the basilisk into her stew.  Hmmm.  If we try to OPEN CRATE ourselves, it proves fatal, due to the basilisk, but we can see that it's wearing a gold coronet before we die.  We can't go south from the Witch's Cave yet, as there's a magic barrier in the way.

We can WASH FLUTE WITH WATER to remove the bat guano from the platinum flute found in a well-used bat habitat. 

We can try to KILL SNAKE WITH DAGGER; it can be done, but it's not easy.  I tried unsuccessfully to determine whether our chances improve with more experience; we can't kill it with the TNT candle either.  But in the Middle of the Garden it does NOT block the path as it does elsewhere.  All it does is prevent us from climbing the tree.

We can CLIMB VINES from the Edge of Cliff to reach the South Garden, and vice-versa, avoiding the toll bridge altogether if we are careful about not soaking the lantern.

If we drop the lit candle into the Mirror Room's hole in the floor, a muffled explosion sounds and the mirrors shatter.  We can't open the crate with the TNT.

We can't KILL DRAGON WITH DAGGER either.  Its only use seems to be in dispatching the snake, but it's not all that useful there either.

Some of the puzzles are obtuse, and some possible scenarios aren't specifically handled.  The crystal trident apparently shimmers with all the colors of the rainbow, making me think it might be useful in mirror room, but it apparently is not.

We can't ASK CURATOR ABOUT anything, but can SHOW [treasure] TO CURATOR to learn some history about each item.  This produced no useful clues on the items I tried, with the exception of the gold ring, which Makes its wearer invisible to demons.  This means we can wear it to avoid the imp's, er, impishness.  And also means the game doesn't have to get too complicated in handling invisibility scenarios, since it only affects demons.  The curator provides no useful hints about the silver key.

In the Large Cavern, where the boulder tends to fall on us if we try to open the door, closer examination reveals that there's a thin wire connecting the door knob to the boulder!  But cutting the wire with the dagger still causes it to fall and squash us.  I had to consult the walkthrough to learn that this event is randomized -- with luck (also known as SAVE and RESTORE)  it rolls down, lands inches away and does NOT bounce onto the player.

Beyond the door is a small cave with an ermine robe on the floor.  It's a treasure.  So is the jeweled sword now found at the Overview where the boulder used to be.

Having breached the walkthrough, I used it to learn that we can EXAMINE FLOWERS and SMELL LOTUS in the Flower Garden, which puts us to sleep briefly.  Hmmmm.  This suggests (correctly) that we can use it to put the bridge troll to sleep as well, and take the axe from his nearby Troll Hut.  Shown this item, the curator tells us that King Thorin's "ghost will reward anyone who returns it to its rightful owner."

I tried using the jeweled sword to kill the giant snake; success is still random, but it seems to be more straightforward than with the dagger.  We can now climb the tree and find an emerald in a bird's nest.  (We can also play the platinum flute to put the snake to sleep, according to the walkthrough.)

We can HIT THE DRAGON WITH THE SWORD, which doesn't injure or kill him but does annoy him; he follows us, eventually losing interest away from the Dragon's Lair if we've navigated well enough to keep out of his way.  We have to avoid running into him again with the painting in hand, and we can't take the painting out via the water route, as it will get damaged, so to escape with this treasure we need to put the troll to sleep so we can cross his bridge.

Consulting the walkthrough again, as I was running out of puzzles ideas, I found that I had completely missed a passage to the north out of the Dead End near the Dragon's Lair.  There's a cyclops' skull here, with a ruby in its eye socket, projecting a red beam blocking further passage.  I tried to block the beam with various items, to no avail.

The walkthrough did help me figure out what to do in the Mirror Room.  If we OPEN CRATE there (since my attempts to COVER EYES or CLOSE EYES were unsuccessful), the basilisk jumps out, kills itself with its own reflection, and shatters the mirrors in the process.  How these creatures ever manage to reproduce remains a mystery, but this action now leaves the gold coronet behind, and apparently turns the cyclops skull into dust?  Ah, interrupting the beam does that; this might be the same result I got (but could not assess) from dropping the TNT down the hole, but we need the explosives for another purpose, so this works out better.

Beyond the cyclops' skull is a dwarven area, with a Treasury (containing a diamond) and a tomb.  EXAMINE PICTURE in the Tomb depicts the deeds of King Thorin, and his death at the hands of a troll, with his axe being stolen (this seems an odd element to depict in a heroic painting, but...)  King Thorin's body is in a coffin here; OPEN COFFIN summons his ghost, and PUT AXE IN COFFIN gives us the King's permission to take the huge diamond from the Treasury.

I had 11 treasures at this point, and 156 points scored with a couple of practically useful treasures not put in the case.  I was still missing quite a few treasures, it seems.  So with a renewed sense of purpose, and the walkthrough in hand, I set out to find the remaining 9 items.

GET WATER doesn't work, but FILL BUCKET WITH WATER does.  We can THROW WATER AT WITCH to melt her, leaving her hat and broomstick behind.  But her invisible barrier persists.  Hmmmm.  The walkthrough indicates that we have quite a bit more to do here -- we must WAVE BROOMSTICK to clear the barrier, then explore the Storage Room (and pay attention to its only obvious exit clue) and open the coffin, grab the silver bell, and navigate to obtain a sapphire bracelet.  A flask in the witch's Spellroom contains a strength potion, though I never found a reason to use it.  The Purple Room has a sign reading The postman always rings twice, and ringing the bell twice opens a secret passage, which has nothing to do with the postman and is not much of a puzzle, really.

A note in the Pentacle Room reads, "EDOC B ROB."  Entering the pentacle is not wise, it transports us to the Demon Realm where we are enslaved and the game is over.  Saying the magic word written conveniently on the ceiling (ZOPHIA) summons a demon, who finding us invisible to demons, leaves behind a tapestry, but would presumably do something more dire if we were not wearing the gold ring.

At this point, I had 16 treasures stored in the case.  Just a few more to find.

I definitely needed the walkthrough to learn that we can drop the TNT candle down a hole in the Frog Room to blast a pathway to another area to the south, the Cul-de-Sac, containing a sack, naturally, with some gems in it. 

The note in the Pentacle Room turns out to be a cryptic clue about the machine room -- it reads BOR B CODE in reverse.  We need to PUSH BLUE, PUSH ORANGE, PUSH RED to reveal another secret room containing a chest.  The chest unlocks with the same silver key used earlier.

Now we have collected all 20 treasures -- and there's no need for a final SCORE, because as soon as we put the last one in the case the curator appears and hands us a map to Legacy of The Necromancer: Part II, The Palace of the Necromancer:

The Adventurer's Museum is not a bad game at all -- it's a quality effort, very Infocom-like with a solid parser and good prose.  There's not much of a plot, just arbitrary puzzles and treasure hunting, but the same could be said of its obvious inspiration, the ZORK trilogy.  It's fairly difficult, too; without the walkthrough, I would have been stuck at several critical junctures. 

Two more chapters await, but it will be a while before I get to the rest of the trilogy.

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