Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Waxworks (1983)

I've been slowly working my way through Brian Howarth's Mysterious Adventures, created in the U.K. using the venerable Scott Adams engine, and this week we're looking at the series' final game, Mysterious Adventure #11: Waxworks, co-authored with Cliff Ogden and published in 1983. 

It's a classically simple adventure game plot -- the player wakes up trapped in a wax museum, and must try to escape the building while solving puzzles of a humorous and ostensibly creepy nature.  I played the modern Inform port of the original game to solve it, then took a second run through the Spectrum version to capture some more visually interesting screenshots.  The problem with the illustrated versions is that new items are frequently announced with I can see something!, and we have to switch from graphics mode to the textual room description to see exactly what something is.

As always, I encourage interested readers to sample Waxworks before continuing below; if you've played the vintage Scott Adams games, the Howarth games are technically similar, but designed with a different sensibility.  It's an interesting contrast, and worth experiencing if you want to see how the same technology plays in different hands.  I will be detailing the game's puzzles and style in the following discussion, so be well advised that there are...

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

The game opens in a Leisure Lounge, where the player has been locked in after dozing off unexpectedly while visiting the titular Waxworks.  We see an old-fashioned slot machine, a public telephone, a wooden beam (which we can conveniently carry) and a few seats.  USE TELEPHONE reveals that, unfortunately, It's been Vandalized! so it's not likely to be of any use, but EXAMINE PHONE turns up a coin.  The Slot Machine reportedly gives Prizes, and INSERT COIN (not PLAY MACHINE) yields a Flashlight, though INVENTORY subsequently calls it a Small Torch, in the British vernacular, which confused my American eyes for a moment.  (Actually, this varies from version to version -- the Spectrum ZX version calls it a Flashlight.)  We also get the coin back.  EXAMINE SEATS turns up a key, so our initial explorations are well-rewarded with traditional adventure accoutrements.

We are also carrying a piece of paper and a box of matches as the story begins; the paper is simply an advertisement for the Mysterious Adventures series and its then-current publisher: "It says 'See your Local Dealer For All the MYSTERIOUS ADVENTURES or Contact DIGITAL FANTASIA'"  This was another Scott Adams tradition adopted by Howarth and many other early adventure game authors, and I always feel like I've found a tiny treasure when I run across these mini-promotions -- after all, why would you not try to sell directly to your self-selected target audience?

The Waxworks is, of course, an operating wax museum closed for the night, so there's a Grand Hall with a couple of exhibits, where we learn that solving the puzzles here is going to require a little independent research, certainly a more time-consuming process in the pre-Google era.  The Ascend Everest display features wax figures of Edmund Hillary and Tensing, and a voice demands that we Say the year it happenedSAY 1953 yields Correct!, while SAY 1946 yields I don't know what a "1946" is, so the quiz's parsing mechanism leaves something to be desired.  The nearby Undersea World display features Jacques Cousteau in scuba gear, and presents an algebra problem completely unrelated to the theme -- When I was 31 my son was 8 I am now double his age 'Say' how old I am.  SAY 46 is Correct!  Getting both answers right doesn't appear to immediately change anything, but these events do produce related results elsewhere in the game.

The Hall of Mirrors is, as one might expect and dread, a maze that must be mapped out the old-fashioned way, by dropping items so we can figure out where we actually are, as most of the six rooms look exactly the same.  If we're successful, we find a dead-end room containing an Aqualung, which we should probably take with us on general principle.  There are also two exits from the maze -- one emerges near an Airlock, the other goes into a Dark Passage with a Narrow crack in wall.  And we can't go back to the Leisure Lounge once we've entered the maze, so we need to escape via one of these two routes.

GET AQUALUNG and GO AIRLOCK yields That was STUPID! I've drowned, as we find ourselves in a large aquarium tank with Jaws IV lurking in the water; maybe drowning isn't the worst way to go after all.  We need to WEAR AQUALUNG, which allows us to paddle in circles while the shark draws nearer, and actively SWIM to emerge by another airlock.

From here we can get to the Maintenance Workshop, the Store Room and the Modeller's Studio, where we find a pile of junk and can SEARCH JUNK (twice) to come up with an old lamp and a crowbar, both of which tick standard adventure game boxes.  But we can't seem to LIGHT LAMP, and we can only carry six items, so the torch may have to do.  There's a loose trapdoor in the Store Room's roof, but I wasn't able to find a way to open it; as it turns out, that's not what we're supposed to do with it.

The narrow crack presents the usual obstacle -- I can't squeeze through... yet -- but if we drop everything we can reach an Enchanted Woodland, oddly decorated with wax figures of the Pied Piper and... Guy Fawkes?  Not exactly a favorite children's storybook figure, but there he is:

(On my second playthrough, you can see that I arrived here by a different route.)  A sign here reads No Waiting, and WAIT plunges us into darkness, so I initially concluded that we should just respect the signage.  Actually, the wait takes us to another room where we can use the torch, but exploring elsewhere in the area, we find a tree house that contains a cupboard with an (inedible wax) Apple and a gold key in its lock, and going U from here takes us back to the Grand Hall -- one way, without any of the items we collected earlier due to the narrow crack.

There's a washroom north of the Leisure Hall, and a Jacket we find via EXAMINE TOILET (it's hanging behind the door, mind you.)  The Jacket contains a pistol and three silver bullets, so apparently we will be encountering a werewolf at some point, or else the jacket's owner suffers from a very unusual bathroom phobia.  We can LOAD GUN to put the bullets in the gun and thus conserve an inventory slot.  There's also a locked grid in the bathroom, and the gold key does nothing interesting with it.  We need the small key from the Leisure Lounge to open the grid, and the torch to light our way once we go down there.

The Old Sewer is another maze.  One room has some sewer rats, another a Humane Rat Trap.  So this solution seems fairly obvious -- EXAMINE TRAP yields a convenient piece of cheese, though baiting the trap is a bit of a parser challenge.  FEED RATS simply allows them to eat the cheese.  We can't SET TRAP or BAIT TRAP or INSERT CHEESE or USE TRAP or GET RATS.  I finally referenced jgunness' classic solution at his CASA Solution Archive site to learn that we don't actually need to trap the rats, we just want the cheese for the moment.  So we can navigate back to the Wash Room to exit the maze, though we can't go out the same way we came in.

I was starting to run out of ideas, and the walkthrough informed me that we do need to rub the Old Lamp in the Store Room -- I had tried to do so earlier, given established adventure game traditions, but was told I can't do that yet.  It emerged that we just have to GET LAMP first, which I should have realized, and this action magically whisks us to Aladdin's Cave, naturally.  From here we can go D to reach the Enchanted Woodland with our inventory intact, bypassing the narrow crack.

What next?  Well, I was on the wrong track -- we don't need to pry open the trapdoor with the crowbar, we need to FIX TRAPDOOR using the wooden beam.  We can't carry the beam through the airlock -- Beam is too long! -- but the lamp remembers where we came from, so we can take the beam to Aladdin's Cave, go back to the Store Room, and travel back and forth to reclaim the beam.  Now we can secure the trapdoor and go to the Enchanted Forest and WAIT again, this time turning on the flashlight so we can discover we've arrived at a Rustic Well.

Walkthroughs can be confusing, because they don't always tell us why we're doing what we're doing.  So I backtracked to see if securing the trapdoor had anything to do with reaching the Well -- it doesn't, but I discovered in the process that if we haven't solved the riddles of the Grand Hall exhibits, the Aqualung does not appear in the Hall of Mirrors.  And, similarly, if we didn't solve the Everest riddle, the Climber's Rope does not appear near the Well, and GO WELL yields It's too Risky!

Once we TIE ROPE, we can go down to find a Morgue containing a Decomposing Zombie, who bars the way to an open door and moves menacingly closer, but very slowly.  A Dark Tunnel leads to an encounter with Spanish Inquisition leader Torquemada, who puts us beneath a swinging pendulum as rats scrabble about.  Unfortunately, the limited text is still much more evocative than this schematic below-the-pendulum illustration:

The Pendulum will kill us in a mere three moves, so we need to DROP CHEESE to get the rats to chew through the ropes tying us down and free us in the nick of time.  The pendulum embeds itself in the Altar to which we were tied, and EXAMINE ALTAR reveals a Talisman.  We can go up to a Pit (where there's a Pendulum...) and reach the Execution Chamber.  Now we can see why fixing the trapdoor was important -- there's a door beyond the trapdoor which we could not otherwise reach.

Beyond the Execution Chamber is an incongruously placed Jewellry [sic] Exhibition, where we must EXAMINE JEWELLRY to find a Golden Casket, apparently not large enough to notice without closer examination.  It can be opened with the Gold Key found in the treehouse earlier, to reveal some Tanna Leaves.  So we will probably be dealing with a mummy at some point.

But first, we run into a more modern version of the walking dead, that is, a zombie, which can be killed with the pistol and the silver bullets in an odd amalgamation of monster legends.  We must FIRE PISTOL or SHOOT ZOMBIE (depending on the version, it seems), and may need to do so a few times to turn it into a Pile of rotting flesh.  (Oddly, if the zombie succeeds in biting us, we end up in a graveyard, and not shambling about in like fashion.)

Beyond the zombie lies a passage blocked with masonry.  I needed to reference the walkthrough to find out that the Guy Fawkes figure in the enchanted woodland can be MOVEd to find a small barrel, presumably an explosive device given Mr. Fawkes' historical significance.  It has a fuse, but LIGHT FUSE doesn't work until we first LIGHT MATCH.  And we have to be carrying the barrel at the moment, once it's on the ground we can't light the fuse.  I burned a few matches getting this combination right -- finally, after we light the fuse, drop the barrel and run to the west... B O O M There's an Explosion!  This wax museum's prop department seems more dedicated to realism than would normally be expected.

Now we can pick our way through the dust and debris and GO PASSAGE to reach... an Egyptian Temple?  Oh, right, we're in a wax museum, so it's an ersatz Egyptian display.  But the sarcophagus here, once opened with the crowbar, reveals a Sinister looking mummy!  It's not mobile, at least until we GIVE TANNA, at which point it revives and Says 'Unbeliever!' and then Strangles me!  Dang these religious fanatics -- although, to be fair, I should acknowledge that in this case it's me knocking on its door, or rather breaking it open with a crowbar, and it was probably more deeply asleep than the normal victims of door-to-door evangelists.  Anyway, we have to first WEAR TALISMAN (though close examination reveals no clues about its purpose) to receive a golden mask instead of swift death.

Now we can WEAR MASK to learn that... very abruptly, the game is over! 

We are told only that I've been asleep.  It was all a Dream!  But what an ADVENTURE it was!  Thank Goodness I've Survived!  -- which may be a euphemism for The Designer is Out of Ideas and/or the Database is Out of Space.  But it's an ending, albeit a rather unsatisfying one.

There are a few more Brian Howarth adventures remaining -- while the Mysterious Adventures series ended with this eleventh game, Howarth wrote several more games under standalone titles, and we'll likely tackle them in due course.


  1. I was wondering when you would get around to reviewing the final Brain Howarth game. For the most part the game seemed weaker than the Scott Adams games that inspired them. The puzzles were not as logical and they often seemed to be the guess the author's mind type.

    If you are looking for a good Brian Horawith game try Gremlins. I think it is one of his last games. Not perfect but better than most of the Mysterious Adventure collection.

    By the way this is a great website.

  2. Thank you for the kind words. I would agree that the Howarth games overall are weaker than the Adams games -- the frequent reliance on WAIT to progress the plot always seems like the opposite of interactivity. But it's interesting to see a different sensibility at work using the same basic technology, and they're still fun to play. I would say "Time Machine" is probably my favorite of the Mysterious Adventures, and yes, Supergran, Gremlins and Robin Hood are still pending.

  3. Right again, I played Arrow of Death Part 1 when it first came out around 1981. We were stuck on it for months until I think we got the hint sheet from Molimerx and found we had to WAIT in the forest. Only bonus was that the TRS-80 version had a cool graphical effect when you waited to simulate the mist settling and you moving to the ferry man location. That said, I still loved all the Mysterious Adventures I played on the TRS-80 (up to Circus in my case). Its also funny to see now how some of these adventure games were maybe influenced by the films of the time (Raaka Tu .. Indiana Jones, Escape from Pulsar 7 .. Alien).