Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Derelict 2147 (1982/2012)

This week, we reach a series milestone of sorts, as we play the twentieth game in the almost-lost Roger M. Wilcox series, Derelict 2147!  Written in 1982 for the TRS-80, and converted by the author to Windows PCs in 2012, it's been retrospectively described as its creator as a "ho-hum treasure hunt," so we'll see if we agree.   (It shares a year and part of its title, but this adventure is no relation to the Aardvark Software Derelict we've previously played through.)

Given that much of the fun of adventure gaming is in making discoveries and experiencing the story, I always encourage interested readers to tackle these games before reading my detailed playthrough notes.  Mr. Wilcox has generously made all of his games available at his website, so by all means feel free to come back later if you so desire.  Beyond this point I will be describing my own experience in detail, and there are certain to be...

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

We begin in a future city near a weapon shop and a manhole cover, in the year 2147, as the brief introduction notes that there is a report that a large, derelict spacecraft has been sighted just outside the orbit of Mars.

It's beyond our power to OPEN the manhole COVER; the weapon shop contains an assortment of Guns and knives -- we can't GET GUN, as You don't have a permit, but we can GET KNIFE.  We have nothing in inventory, so it's not clear how we're paying for this, but now we have a Swiss army knife.  (If we drop the knife elsewhere, I noted in passing, we can GET KNIFE again here to teleport it magically back into our inventory.)

Going east, we find ourselves on a long runway where an armed guard stands watch over a Small planetship.  We can't YELL or SHOUT to distract the guard, as was possible in a couple of other Wilcox adventures.  We can try to GO SHIP, but as expected, The guard won't let you.  The parser is surprisingly complicit, as an attempt to KILL GUARD returns "How do you propose to do that?! The guard's too good to be taken in by a knife!"

That's all the geography we can explore for now -- so how do we get aboard that ship?  We can't OPEN MANHOLE or GO MANHOLE without getting it open.  HELP suggests that I know the verb "MOVE" -- so we have to be a little more specific about how we are getting it open, by executing a MOVE COVER (MOVE MANHOLE being correctly noted as physically impossible.)

Down the manhole, we find a Long dead body which has a gun permit about its, um, ex-person.  Now we can GET GUN in the weapon shop and SHOOT GUARD with a "Zzap!" to eliminate him from the equation.  Ethics are apparently not a consideration for the player character in this game.

Aboard the ship, we find some Controls and a sign reading, "Drop *treasures* here, then score."  So this will be the SCORE room, confirming that this indeed a treasure hunt.  The controls consist of a red button, a joystick, and a fuel gauge indicating that we have barely enough fuel to escape Earth's gravity.  A one-way trip, then?  Well, we don't have any prospects here beyond a possible murder conviction in the near future, so we might as well PUSH RED to take off and maneuver into the derelict ship's docking bay.  Now we have no fuel at all, so it's a good thing the SCORE location traveled with us (and, no, we can't GET SIGN to relocate it!)

The pressure gauge in the ship's bay indicates that we'll be dealing with "5 atmospheres," so while it seems we might want to prepare for that it doesn't seem that we need to.  This appears to be a hub location of sorts, so we'll explore the area a bit.

D from the bay is a strange airlock with an equally Strange forcefield; above the bay, we find the top of a wide tunnel with a hole in the ceiling that is too high, even for jumping

To the west is a small storage room containing a * Platinum cube * and some copper coil.  The cube has a wire attached, a subtle warning that, were we to simply GET CUBE, we'd experience what I did: a pit opened up below you, and you were impaled on the spikes within it.  You are dead.  So we should probably try to sever that wire first -- and yes, we can CUT WIRE to liberate the cube.  It accounts for 16 percent of the maximum 100 percent SCORE back on the ship, so it seems we are looking for 6 treasures in total if they are equally weighted.

North of the docking bay is the passenger quarters, where we see Rows of cryonics chambers -- noting upon examination that  Almost every chamber contains an alien.  There's also a Small control console, which has a lever on it... with a crystal attached!  PULLing the LEVER proves fatal, as the aliens all revive and dispatch the player as an invading parasite.  And the same thing happens if we try to GET CRYSTAL, pulling the lever in the process.

East is a hallway with a few further branches -- to the north is a small antechamber with a single cryonics chamber.  Pulling the lever here releases a friendlier 2 meter-tall tripedal alien, who telepathically says: "You're not a mutant!"  The alien follows us around, but its presence is of no use in convincing the mob of aliens in the other room of our non-mutated intentions.

A large storage room east of the hallway contains sliding doors, metal shelves, and a wall panel. If we EXAMINE SHELVES a few times, we discover a Small device and a 5-pound key.  We can't seem to EXAMINE DEVICE -- the parser keeps saying that You don't see it here, which appears to be a bug.  The wall panel contains a small identification lock for the doors.  We can't OPEN DOORS -- With what? -- KEY or DEVICE, so we'll need to look around some more.

Can the 2-meter tall alien help us get into the tunnel above the docking bay?  Nope, our best efforts to CLIMB ALIEN and GO HOLE continue to fail.  If we try to GO into the force FIELD below, we learn to no great surprise that "Your body couldn't take the transition to zero pressure! You were ripped apart!"  Though we do catch a glimpse of an alien wearing a steel belt on the other side of the field as the game ends, so if we can find some suitable gear maybe we can survive out there.

We can't KILL ALIEN -- "This being is your friend."  If we EXAMINE CONSOLE in the larger cryonics room, he helps us out by removing the * Crystal parasite * from the lever, then sealing himself in an available chamber.  We have two treasures now, and a score of 33 percent.

What else can we do?  Trying to CONNECT COIL in the cube room, where there is now a loose wire, indicates that something is missing.  We still can't READ or EXAMINE the small DEVICE, whether it's in inventory or on the floor; I'm pretty sure this is a parser dictionary bug, and I had to peek at the code to learn that we're supposed to be able to learn that it has a green button on it.  PUSH GREEN works, and You feel the artificial gravity temporarily neutralized.   The effect seems to last only for the turn at hand -- but we can PUSH GREEN in the tunnel room to make it up to the hole in the ceiling, where we can acquire an * Octagonal Crystal * and an electric iron rod.  (We have a seven-item inventory limit, so we need to start dropping some unneeded items; I elected to drop the gun permit and the gun.)

We're now at three treasures, and 50 percent of the loot.  The rod has a blue button on it -- pressing it apparently unleashes a substantial electrical charge.  We can PUSH BLUE and then PULL WIRE in the cube room to safely open and navigate down into the spiked pit without getting killed -- one of the spikes here is visibly cracked, and if we BREAK SPIKE the resulting fragment of * Printed-circuit spike * is a fourth treasure.  (I'm not sure that we need to PUSH BLUE here -- it just seemed sensible to try that in the hopes it might short out the trap.)

We haven't done anything with the copper coil or the 5-pound key yet.  Ah!  We can CONNECT COIL to the rod to make an electromagnet; now when we PUSH BLUE, A charge flows through the copper wire.  We still can't connect it to the loose wire in the cube room or the wall panel in the large storage room, but -- aha! -- if we do this in the airlock, it drags the alien with the steel belt in through the force field.  It's not clear whether the creature is alive or dead, but it puts no objection as we  EXAMINE ALIEN to yield an * Advanced communicator * and an I.D. amulet.

Now we can OPEN DOORS with the amulet (it's an identification lock, remember) in the large storage room, opening an exit to the north (GO DOORS doesn't work) that leads through a hallway to a cylindrical room with a closed cabinet.  We can OPEN CABINET (presumably with the 5-pound key we haven't otherwise used) to obtain a * Vial of Californium *.

So now we have six treasures, 100 percent, and victory is ours (assuming we can find a way back to Earth at some point...)

This one was indeed a straightforward treasure hunt, but I still enjoyed the sci-fi atmosphere.  We have only one Roger M. Wilcox adventure left to go, officially, though there's another Wilcox family effort that has recently been unearthed and finished.  More on that soon!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo (1995)

This week, we're tackling Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo, published in 1995 as the third entry in the popular  Humongous Entertainment series of children's point-and-click adventure games designed by Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion), starring a cute little car named Putt-Putt.

The series was seeing some success and bigger budgets as a result, it seems -- this time around, graphic resolution is higher with more colors onscreen (I think) and the voice acting and music sound a lot more polished.  The mouse cursor now goes white when hovering over interactive hotspots, appearing as an outline otherwise, and some of the dialogue is actually lip-synched in this game -- mostly for short exclamations like "Heyyy!", where the usual cycle of mouth shapes seen in the earlier titles is obviously not a good fit.  And there's little apparent reuse of animation sprites -- a lot of sequences are scene-specific, with an appealing looseness to the cartoon movement.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to help ensure that Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo independently before proceeding into my detailed playthrough notes; the game runs on almost any platform using the modern ScummVM interpreter, and it's not too hard to find at thrift stores these days, although a recent iOS port has been taken out of circulation for reasons beyond my ken.  The game isn't anything like difficult, but it's a decent bit of light adventuring entertainment thanks to its cheerful personality and sense of humor.  Without further ado, be warned that there will most certainly be...

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

The story opens in typical children's story fashion -- a new zoo is opening in Cartown, and Mr. Baldini the grocer asks Putt-Putt (and his faithful dog, Pep, who plays almost no role in the action) to deliver some Zoo Chow animal food to the new zookeeper, Outback Al.  As in the earlier Putt-Putt games, a lot of the stuff onscreen can be clicked on just for fun -- ears of corn pop, bubble gum machines turn into fish bowls, ants pop out of fuzzy dice and have animated, unintelligible conversations, and that's just a quick sampling.  A lot of production value goes into these fun, non-essential clickables, reportedly based on Ron Gilbert's observations that pre-readers enjoyed just clicking on things in the Monkey Island games, regardless of story comprehension or progress.

To the "east" (our right, though the compass directions hold fairly true) there's a billboard promoting the Cartown Zoo's Grand Opening.  Clicking on the billboard after this initial observation by Putt-Putt cycles through quite a few comical billboards -- a diet soda endorsed by "Skinny Bear" (formerly Humongous' Fatty Bear?) and a clue as to the game's renowned composer with this billboard:

We pass through a generic road/trees scene with some fun but optional clickable gags, arriving next at the entrance to the Zoo.  The puzzles in these games are never very complex -- all we have to do is click on the intercom, and Outback Al raises the gate for entry after Putt-Putt explains his delivery mission.

We might be tempted to think that the Cartown Zoo isn't going to last very long if it's buying its Zoo Chow retail, but that's not the half of its management crisis.  Outback Al is talking about how he has to get to work "fixing up the place," even though it's having its Grand Opening, and six of the baby animals have gone missing.  As usual, Putt-Putt is surrounded by incapable adults and will have to save the day more or less on his own.

There are six animals to track down -- a lion cub, a giraffe, a seal, an elephant, a hippopotamus and a snake.   As we rescue each animal, their outlines will get colored in on the handy and highly scientific reference document Outback Al provides:

The Zoo Food Cart is operated by -- actually, is -- one Chuck Wagon, a big red truck with a brightly-colored display of snacks on offer.  He charges nothing for his cotton candy, cheese squigglies, and hot cocoa -- Putt-Putt just eats the cotton candy, but we can file the other items in inventory.  Playing as an adult, it's a bit disconcerting when Chuck picks up a cup and expels hot cocoa into it from a spigot mounted on his side.

The way to Jungle Land is blocked by a bridge outage -- again, one can't help thinking that Jurassic Park was a paragon of consumer-friendly planning compared to this place -- but we can visit the Grassland, where a log blocks the road; fortunately, Putt-Putt can just pick it up to clear the way.  An observation point overlooks the huge Grassland area, a simulated slice of the Serengheti right here in Cartown.  Masai the baby giraffe isn't with her mother, and Kenya the lion cub's parents are unhappily missing her also, though they have no clue as to their offspring's whereabouts.  We can pick up some genuinely educational information about the animals in the zoo by clicking on the loudspeakers in various locations, a nice touch.

East of the lions' home, we come across Baby Jambo, the missing young elephant and victim of perpetuated stereotypes -- he's frozen in fear, his path home blocked by a mouse.  Allowing the mouse to gorge on cheese squigglies sends him into his burrow, and Baby Jambo happily thunders home as Putt-Putt dives out of the way.

We still have five animals left to save, as Putt-Putt informs us, so let's keep exploring.  There's a Paint Shack next door, where we can customize Putt-Putt's color scheme if we like, but I prefer his conventional purple.  We can also steal a shovel -- actually, "borrow," though while Putt-Putt means well we never seem to return these items after putting them in inventory.  Heading back west from this dead end, we can scare away the animals from the local watering hole by clicking on them, and also indulge in a completely optional game of Animal Tag in easy, medium or hard difficulty mode.  This diversion is basically whack-a-mole, played with the mouse, with some false targets and other variations, but we don't gain anything for playing as far as the plot goes.

Past Jambo and his happy mother, we find one Sammy the seal stuck behind a closed dam, unable to swim home.  Nothing we have on hand seems useful here, though I did discover that we can actually exhaust our hot cocoa supply if we sip it a few times -- fortunately, we can return to Chuck Wagon to get some more.  The log is not helpful for crossing the Jungle Land bridge.

So let's visit Arctic Land, where we can find and "borrow" some rope, after which Pep almost sneezes, and Putt-Putt more-than-almost sneezes and causes an avalanche.  We can use the shovel to dig through, though, so we're not stuck.  Farther in, we find poor cold-blooded young Little Skeeter the boa constrictor, complaining that he's "as stiff as an icicle" -- fortunately, hot cocoa provides prosthetic endothermy, and he can slither home.  Two down!

We find Zanzibar the baby hippo stuck on an iceberg in the penguin enclave.  He pretends he's not really stuck, but it's clear he needs help.  Sammy the seal's parents live nearby, but are of no help even after Putt-Putt tells them where she is.  Returning to the park entrance area, we can visit Patty the Gift Shop-mobile and pick up a free camera -- she also has one of my favorite lines in this adventure, telling Putt-Putt that she wanted to sell t-shirts, but "couldn't find any big enough to fit even a sports car."  The camera can be used for fun, to capture images from the game, but we can only "photograph" certain things and it's non-essential to finishing the game.

So what next?  Aha!  I hadn't noticed a hanging vine in Jungle Land that Putt-Putt can use to swing across the gap in the bridge.  A band of monkeys camping out in a tree here provides entertainment in the form of rhyming beat poetry.  Masai the giraffe is trapped on the other side of a drawbridge blocked by a giant rock, and Putt-Putt can't move it from the side he's on, so we'll have to find another way around.  Past Little Skeeter's home, we find a river with a partially constructed raft floating in it -- finishing it off with the log lets Putt-Putt float downstream to where Masai is stuck. 

Along the way, we meet Zanzibar the hippo's gruff father -- Putt-Putt fills him in on Zanzibar's plight in Arctic Land, but once again adults are useless.  And Kenya the lion cub is stuck on a rock outcropping in the middle of a turbulent waterfall -- she's afraid to jump down into the water.

We can't throw the rope up to her, but Putt-Putt thinks he might be able to lower it from the top of the waterfall.  On the way there, we can stop off and help Masai push the boulder over so the drawbridge can be lowered, though we'll have to go back to the other side to lower it.  At least we've found all the animals now.  We can indeed rescue Kenya from the Scenic View above the waterfall, then free Masai as well by using a crank to lower the drawbridge.  Four down!  (We can take an optional ride down the rapids in Jungle Land, also, with some really fun animation.)

So we still have Zanzibar stuck on the ice and Sammy stuck behind the dam.  Putt-Putt can get the penguins to help him move the icebergs to build a bridge -- it's a shape-fitting puzzle, and now Zanzibar can go home.

How about Sammy?  The dam is still closed.  I had missed a little mouse-driven hockey contest available in Arctic Land, where Putt-Putt must try to block shots and score goals against an opposing polar bear.  It's actually quite a bit of fun, playing like a Pong variant with decent AI on the opposing team.  We can win by scoring five goals before the bear does, but we don't gain anything for winning beyond satisfaction.

Right, back to Sammy and the dam... darn... dam, that's right.  There seems to be a drive wheel connected to the dam at the side of the road, but how can we engage Putt-Putt's wheels?  Ah, there's a toolbox hidden in a tree near the monkeys in Jungle Land.  It contains a set of keyed cogs -- we have to pick the one whose shape matches the cross-shaped dam gear, and then Putt-Putt can ratchet the gates open.

With Sammy free to swim home, the rest of the game is on auto-pilot -- Putt-Putt reports in to Outback Al, who awards him a special Junior Zoo Keeper medal, and the zoo is open for business!

The end credits confirm that the uniformly catchy tunes are by none other than George Alistair "The Fat Man" Sanger, whose Team Fat plays and sings to bring a great fun flair to the closing number, "Topiary Creatures."  I always loved the Fat Man's score for The 7th Guest, and it's nice to hear his work in this unexpected venue.

I enjoyed Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo quite a bit, for what it is -- it takes a big leap forward in production values compared to the early Putt-Putt games, and the puzzles are simple but varied, with enough hidden detail to require a little more looking around than I expected.  I'll continue to work my way through this series -- animated adventure games are usually slower-paced than a good text adventure that travels at the speed of typing, but these Junior Adventures are brief enough that they work well on my usual weekly deadline.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Followers Adventure (1982/2002)

This week, we're tackling Followers Adventure, Roger M. Wilcox's nineteenth adventure game, written for the TRS-80 back in 1982 and ported to Windows in 2002, with a recent 2013 update to enable restore-after-death capability.  Most of Wilcox's ports were done in 2012 and 2013; this older port looks different from his other adventures visually, though the interface is very much the same (with the unfortunate addition of a tendency to lose focus in the prompt box when alt-TABbing away from and back to the app, something that I ran into a lot while taking notes for this post!)

Mr. Wilcox's website tells us that the story is set in Palestine around 2000 years ago... hmmmm.  We are apparently playing as Yeshua himself, or Monty Python's Brian, at least.  And the parser knows the verb RAISE, should our Nazarene get Lazarene along the way.  The player's goal is to convince *everyone* that we are the savior of all mankind before conquering the world in a crusade.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to play through (or at least sample) Followers Adventure before reading my detailed playthrough notes.  The joy of adventure games lies largely in discovering the surprises for oneself, and Roger M. Wilcox has made all of his resurrected works freely available at his website.  Beyond this point, as always, there are certain to be...

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

We find ourselves on a long east-west dirt road, near a Beggar, with nothing in inventory.  An attempt to HEAL BEGGAR yields the game's first unintentional joke, as It's beyond your power to do that.  So we may have to come up with some sort of alms.

To the east is a hill with a horse trail; we can't GO TRAIL -- Sorry, that's for horses.  North of this point is a small forest with a Sword sticking from boulder.  Our less-than-omnipotent would-be savior fails again as we try to GET SWORD: Harrumph! It's no use, you can't do it.  East of the hilltop is a vast meeting & battle ground, where we see ten brigades of Roman legion and a Chariot.  Trying to GET CHARIOT only leads to being Caught! You're crucified by the Romans!  And the adventure is now over.

Starting over and exploring to the west, we find a manger containing Ave Maria herself and a Nickel.  She's in no mood to be a follower, wishing her son had become something respectable like a doctor or a lawyer; Leo Rosten might not approve of her Yiddish, but she gives us our allowance, allowing us to GET NICKEL.  This is a rare occurrence in a Wilcox game of a character who speaks to us, triggered by entrance to the room:

The beggar's allegiance is now easily bought -- we just GIVE NICKEL, and he says, "I will be your follower."  One down!  Untold millions to go!  He doesn't actually follow us around, fortunately.  And it seems there are only 20 people we have to convert, as with the Beggar taken care of, SCORE tells us that You have 5 percent of the population as your followers.

This doesn't seem to gain us anything immediate, though.  We still can't get the sword out of the stone.  HELP yields only, "Like the movie says, "Use the force..."  So RAISE might refer to levitation in general?  FORCE is not a verb the parser recognizes.  But we can USE FORCE in various places... and if we use it on the battlefield, then the soldiers are all looking the other way and we can GET CHARIOT without getting crucified.  We can't USE CHARIOT at all, but trying to RIDE CHARIOT yields Save it for later, so we shall.

So how do we solve a problem like Ave Maria?  USE FORCE and she's convinced.  Man, Old Ben Kenobi could have done so much more with this skill!  What else?  Ah, we have to DROP CHARIOT on the top of the hill by the horse trail, then we can RIDE CHARIOT -- "Yaah, boy! (Crack!)" -- and travel to a small town at the other end of the horse trail.  (There must be a horse already harnessed to the chariot, though it's not otherwise visible or mentioned.)

To the east, a Blind man lives in a peasant's home; we can HEAL MAN, and he leaves, showing remarkable restraint at regaining his sight, as all he says is, "I will be your follower."  To the west we find a rocky basin with a wall of monoliths blocking further passage, and it's more than USE FORCE can deal with.

At the southern end of town, we see a Starving crowd; we can't just FEED CROWD, and we have no loaves or fishes at the moment.  Fortunately, they don't block our way; we can explore a deserted graveyard to the east, where we see a large (and anachronistic) cement block that's also force-resistant.  West is a royal palace where the King of the Jews reigns, providing confirmation that Pontius Pilate didn't really know the local politics very well; he's also force-resistant, as one might expect from royalty.

Going south, we mix mythologies as we find Young Arthur in a testing ring for knights.  We can USE FORCE to make him a follower, but we can't just GET him afterward.  Fortunately, he does follow us around.  There's a supply shed nearby, containing an Almost empty basket (though we can't seem to EXAMINE or OPEN it to find out what's keeping it from being empty), some Strange glider wings, and a Rooster bar.

Well, let's see if we can do the expected -- yes, Young Arthur follows us back to the sword in the stone, and "Shing!" -- Excalibur is liberated.  But the sword isn't flaming, and we can't seem to use it against the Roman legion per prophesied Messianic expectations.  We also can't use it to cut through the monoliths in the rocky basin.

The "almost empty basket" appears to contain at least some amount of bread, as we can GIVE BREAD and the basket gets dropped.  Ah -- we can RAISE BASKET, and ** P O W ! ! ! ** -- we now have a Basket of bread.  We GIVE BREAD to the starving crowd, and They gobble it up, leave, and all say: "I will be your follower."  Though we're still only at 30 percent, gaining 10, so these people were either a rather small crowd or somehow not as significant as other people in the country.

What else?  We can try to FLY at the basin, yielding only Believe me, you don't need to fly now.  This seems to hold true everywhere else on the map.  Is the Rooster bar a sly way of suggesting it's a "crowbar"?  We can't PRY anything, but in the graveyard we can PULL BLOCK -- With what? -- ROOSTER BAR to move it out of the way, revealing a hole.  Now we can go D and find an inner sanctum with a dirt wall, and DIG WALL to make our way east into a cement antechamber.  There's a small slot in the wall, but we don't have anything obvious to do with it -- INSERT EXCALIBUR doesn't do anything, and it's force-proof.

I'm getting stuck, so it's time to peek at the code, which Mr. Wilcox always graciously provides for just such emergencies.  Aha!  I didn't try to BREAK NICKEL, which splits it into two halves.  Starting over, I confirm that the Beggar will accept half a nickel -- he's even easier to buy than I previously imagined -- and now we can use the other half in the slot underground.  A Glowing green sphere materializes.

What can we do with it?  The King doesn't seem interested in it; dropping it doesn't seem to affect the Roman legion on the battlefield.  If we DROP EXCALIBUR in the palace, however, we gain 20 percent, as the King of the Jews says, "My lord! My people and I will be your follower."  If we GET it again, he says the same thing and we aren't penalized score-wise, so we don't actually have to leave it here.  We're now at 50 percent, halfway to undisputed saviorhood!

Ah, here's something I hadn't tried.  We can CLIMB MONOLITH in the rocky basin -- no need to move it -- to find ourselves at the top of the wall of monoliths, with a cliff visible on the other side of a wide crevice (crevasse?)  We can't RAISE SPHERE or USE SPHERE or RAISE BRIDGE to make a bridge, but we can simply FLY (with the wings from the supply shed) to the other side.

We find ourselves at the foot of an odd-looking spacecraft; it wouldn't be a Roger M. Wilcox game without some sci-fi elements, after all.  We can GO inside to find a Metal tablet, a Large circular receptor, and a Voice receiver.  The circular receptor seems noteworthy -- and yes, when we INSERT SPHERE, the space ship lifts off.  We can READ TABLET, but it's in an alien language; we can't TRANSLATE it.  Here's how it is presented to us:
7(2/  2/  <[*  <%  7(*  ;
<1 nbsp="">/  2[  *-2/7*['* ,
'<;>+*7*  127(  %+52[&  #:2+272*/  #[@  #  ;2//2+*  #77#'!2[&
/5/7*;  7(#7  (#/  />+2772[&  '#>#:2+272*/ .  #++  7(*  1<$!
2/  '<;>97*$  #[@  0<2 .="" i="" nbsp="">

Is it a character-substitution cipher?  I always like these, and it's been a while since I've seen one in an adventure game so I'll share the gory details this time.  There are only a few symbols -- lots of 2s and 7s, and special characters.  7, 2, and * seem to be pretty common -- 18 7s, 20 2s, and 13 *'s with a quick approximate count.  E, T, and A are the most common letters in English.  7 = E doesn't look like it's getting us anywhere, but 7 = T does.  If T(* = THE, then * might be E and ( H, which seems promising too.  TH2/ might be THIS, suggesting that 2 = I and / = S, making the first two words THIS IS, which looks REALLY promising.

THIS IS <[E  <%  THE  ;<1e nbsp="" shi="">S  I[  E-ISTE['E ,
'<;>+ETE  1ITH  %+52[&  #:I+ITIES  #[@  #  ;ISSI+E  #TT#'!I[&
S5STE;  TH#T  H#S  S>+ITTI[&  '#>#:I+ITIES .  #++  THE  1<$!
IS  '<;>9TE$  #[@  0

Um... it's a good thing that S, H and T are already accounted for!  We can surmise that > = P, to fill in SHIPS; 1 = W, to fill in WITH; and, what the heck, ' = C, < = O, ; = M and + = L to complete COMPLETE.  Now we're cracking, guessing that [ = N, % = F, $ = R, 9 = U, - = X, & = G, 5 = Y, # = A, @ = D, ! = K, 0 = V...

Of course, we can't just SAY FIRE now that we've figured it out -- it's good that we've cracked the code pretty thoroughly, because now we have to re-encode our intended commands.  (Funny how these alien languages always turn out to be scrambled English!)  That is, we have to SAY />+27 to split the missile before firing it, and then SAY %2$* to fire it. If we mess up, we can fire repeatedly, although without splitting we can only ever destroy one of the ten Roman legions; ideally,  A sizzling missile streaks from the bottom of the ship.  It splits into ten fragments in mid-flight, and destroys the entire Roman legion! 

With the infidels destroyed en masse, we're at 100 percent, and victory is rather suddenly ours!

I don't think this is quite how the Christian Bible tells it, but I enjoyed the Followers Adventure and it was a fine way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon this past weekend.  We've only got a few games left before we'll have finished our trip through the Roger M. Wilcox archives -- I'll be sad to see the series end, but there's still no shortage of adventure games I haven't played.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Ankh 2: Heart of Osiris (2006)

A note:  I am saddened by the recent upheaval and violence in present-day Egypt, particularly the theft and destruction of irreplaceable historical artifacts in the Mallawi Museum.  While this blog rarely touches on current events, I can't help but recognize that I'm exploring a cartoon Egypt for the sake of entertainment, while the real one suffers.  Modern civilization owes much to the Egyptians; while the Ankh games don't pretend to be historical in nature, they do rely greatly on Western ideas of the land and its people, however stereotyped and inaccurate they may be.  I look forward to the day when there is less of a gap between the Egypt of our imaginations and the Egypt of reality.   

I had some extra time available during the Labor Day weekend here in the States, so I was able to tackle a more substantial adventure this week.  I wanted something I could enjoy from the comfort of the living room couch, and as it had been languishing in my Steam library for a while, I decided to fire up Ankh 2: Heart of Osiris, published in 2006 by Deck13 Interactive.  (The actual title screen doesn't call itself Ankh 2, but I'll use that name for convenience here.)

I'm jumping into the middle of a series in this case, but while there are a number of references to the first game it isn't too hard to follow.  I don't feel too bad about starting here, as to make matters even more confusing, Ankh 2 is actually the third game in the series, preceded by the 2-D Ankh: The Tales of Mystery (released in 1998 for the obscure Acorn Archimedes computer) and its much-better-known 2005 PC remake Ankh, which introduced the 3-D graphics engine used for this game.

Ankh 2 is set in ancient Egypt, where our twenty-something hero Assil must protect the Ankh from the machinations of a pretender to the Pharaoh's throne, and save all of Egypt from the wrath of the god Osiris, while trying to reconcile with his erstwhile girlfriend Thara.  It's one of many games influenced by The Secret of Monkey Island, as Assil encounters a variety of comical characters, there are no intentional dead-ends (though there are a few notable design bugs) and the tone is generally lighthearted, although the sense of humor is a little more adult than Ron Gilbert's Lucasarts classic.  The point-and-click interface is straightforward -- generally we left-click to examine objects and right-click to interact with them; there's no verb coin, we just get a fixed choice for any object we can manipulate, though we can try to use just about any inventory object on any selectable item onscreen (some objects are just useable directly, with no target required or supported.)  There are loading bars displayed onscreen whenever we enter a new location, but the data retrieved is generally cached in memory for the rest of the play session after the initial load, and this doesn't take long on modern PCs anyway.

Ankh 2 was developed in Germany and some of the dialogue jokes suffer in translation; the English voice acting is generally competent and entertaining, but there are some inconsistencies in how Ankh is pronounced (even by the same character), a few lines are inaudible or were never recorded, and the actors don't always seem to have been given enough context information, leading to some awkward emphases in the readings.  The 3-D graphics engine is dated by today's standards, with low-resolution textures and low-polygon models, but it's perfectly serviceable and there are some nice environmental effects on display; the only issue I experienced is that many scenes use fixed cameras and cut from one viewpoint to another a little awkwardly.  The player starts out as Assil, but also spends some time in other character's shoes before all is said and done.

Based on a number of in-game references, I get the impression a lot of assets were reused from Ankh 1, but this sequel is a much more substantial game, with five chapters in its storyline.  It took me a good 16 hours to play through, including note-taking and screen captures, using a few hints along the way -- thanks are due to my wife for doing the walkthrough-hunting and never giving me too much information at once.

As always, I encourage interested adventurers to tackle Ankh 2: Heart of Osiris before reading about my own playthrough experience.  It's still in commercial circulation at reasonable pricing, available on Steam and elsewhere for digital download.  If you're a stickler about series continuity, you'll want to play Ankh first as well, though while this is clearly a sequel there are no big mysteries or missing plot points to worry about.  Beyond this point, there are certain to be...

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

Chapter 1: Chasing the Scoundrels

The game opens with some evocative Egyptian music leading into what seems to be the story's climax -- evildoers have stolen the Ankh from Assil, and he arrives at the last second to reclaim it in heroic fashion.  Then we flash back to an earlier time, as Assil wakes up in an alleyway.  His relationship with Thara, his love interest from the earlier game, apparently only lasted three weeks, after she found a mushy love note the Pharaoh's daughter had sent him and (Assil says) misinterpreted it.  To make matters worse, the Ankh has been stolen, probably by somebody up to no good.

There are a number of items to check out here -- empty vases and boxes, a sack that's "probably just full of mealworms," and a note hanging from a clothesline reading, "Help! Favorite sock missing."  Assil has nothing beyond the Princess' love note in inventory.

We can leave the alleyway to access the entrance to Pharaoh's palace, where the nightwatch prevents Assil from entering despite his past acquaintance with the Pharaoh.  Via a dialogue tree, we can try to talk our way in, unsuccessfully, and learn that the Pharaoh doesn't come out at night.  The watchman doesn't seem terribly loyal to his employer, it seems, as he offers Assil his resume, should Assil ever have a kingdom of his own, or even half of one.  But there's no getting into the palace this way.

Assil can also visit the bazaar, where we'll be spending most of this chapter.  An elderly merchant named Take Tut Cashun (I think this is an oblique, semi-lost-in-translation joke name suggesting he takes everybody's money) knows Assil from the first game and informs us that it's absolutely critical to get the Ankh back, in case that wasn't clear yet.  His sign promises risk-free sports betting.

In the courtyard nearby, a fire-breather named Volcano practices his act, while the Arabian ambassador (Thara's father) might be "packing a weapon," according to our hero.  A lower level features a wine dealer who tells us he saw some shady characters (possible Ankh thieves) and sent them to a bar down the road.  He sells cocktails, and Assil can obtain one (no money is apparently needed.)  While the Ambassador seems intimidating, we can readily engage him in conversation and even harass him a little bit.  He wants to see Thara married to a prince with at least half a kingdom, and he clearly enjoys the good things in life.  Volcano has also seen some criminal types passing through.

Down the road we see some hungry cats in front of Olga's abandoned burger joint, and we can visit Dinar's abandoned shop -- these are characters, we assume, from the earlier Ankh game(s).  A hanging hook is notable near Olga's, attached to a weak beam that might bring down a small box that's too high to reach if we can find something heavy to hang on the hook.

There are some foul-smelling crates we can't open or otherwise interact with, and a blocked gate to the Nile river; we can see some waste water in the gutters rushing toward the Nile, but I never found a reason to interact with any of this or a way to reach the river itself.  The upper city brings us near Assil's home, where his father has dumped many of his old toys out in the trash.  Dad is snoring inside and can't be visited or summoned; Assil can disturb the trash can, though, and it bounces down the road a bit, where we can claim a Russian Nofretete figurine that opens like a nesting doll.

A hefty bouncer named Bulbul guards the entrance to the "Wild Mummy" bar -- Assil's shaggy beard is apparently a dress code issue.  We can acquire some camel muck (i.e. dung) near a camel parked outside the bar, and visit a shop down the way that appears to be connected to the bar.  Assil refuses to steal anything in the shop, but ringing the bell summons the owner, Fatima, who mentions that she misses some tattoos he (unwillingly) sported in the first game.  We can't actually buy anything here, but we can borrow a caged parrot.

A tailor up the street doesn't see well at all through his thick spectacles -- he thinks Assil is female, and he has seen a pair of "ladies" who might be our thieves in the area.  He has actually left the tailoring business and is now running a salon -- he offers two shaving options, hot wax or blade.  Hot wax seems safest, but we'll have to BOOW; we can also snag a single sock from a shelf of cut fabric.  Nearby, an abandoned fruit stand has moldy lemons -- the proprietor is apparently in the Pharaoh's prison -- and we can loop back up to the wine dealer via a nearby staircase.

Any other interesting details before we get down to puzzle-solving?  A lamp hanging by the bar uses glowworms to provide its illumination.  Take Tut Cashen sells sports predictions to would-be successful bettors -- normally he charges 30 pieces of silver, but he gives Assil one for free.  We can't borrow the Ambassador's hookah, at least not while he is using it.  Nobody seems to want any of Assil's items, so these puzzles will be a little more involved.

Ah!  If we hang the parrot's cage on the hook at Olga's, the hungry cats jump on, the additional weight breaks the beam, and we can open the small box.  The parrot is reportedly "unharmed," which seems only to mean that he is still alive in his wrecked cage.  The box contains an official seal and a piece of wax.  We can put the wax in the opened Russian figurine, then get Volcano to melt it for us with his fire-breathing act.  With the hot wax, we can get the tailor to shave off Assil's beard, and now we can get past the bouncer into the Wild Mummy.

Fatima also runs the bar, owned by her sick uncle.  She won't take the parrot back at the shop in back, but if we offer it inside the bar she accepts it but is angry at Assil for traumatizing the poor creature and refuses to speak to him.  Fortunately, the bar is full of patrons who could be happier, as indicated by emoticons floating over their heads a la Theme Park, so we may be able to help out and earn our way back into her good graces.

We can obtain an unwanted glass of gooey date juice from the bar.  A broke patron, a slave dealer down on his luck, is arguing with Fatima over his current lack of funds; she refuses to serve him, but she won't let us give him the cocktail we got from the wine dealer earlier if she's watching.  We can distract her by going outside and ringing the store bell, but even if we run back in while she's away, it seems we're not allowed to serve the slave dealer.

A failing comedian is feeling down, and craves an audience, though he tells a number of awful jokes if Assil prompts him in dialogue.  Badawi, an old buddy of Assil's is in town, visiting Cairo and telling tales of how great things are in Luxor where he lives now; he mentions a casino there with big shows, and hands us a flyer.  There's also a group of caravan travelers in the bar's back room -- their leader, Red-Sea-Aquarium, currently snoring drunk, and the more dignified but indecisive Ras El-Bar, Far El-Matu and Ras El-Tin. 

Assil can claim to be a talent scout for the Luxor casino, but the comedian won't accept the flyer as an official offer of employment without an official stamp.  Dipping the seal from the small box in the date juice and stamping the flyer produces a reasonable facsimile, and now the comedian is happy.  One down -- but his body language is still mopey.  Badawi complains that the bar is stuffy -- we can't give him the cocktail either, even after distracting Fatima again.  The guys in the back room crave some sort of big-city entertainment, which we can't do anything about just yet.  But we can make the slave owner happy by giving him the betting form, inspiring dreams of regaining his former wealth.

Assil can also grab a small broom and a set of pincers from the fireplace tools in a corner of the bar.  We may notice that the comedian is again unhappy -- he complains about a wobbly leg on the table he's sitting at, so our work here may not quite be done.

Going back outside, we can put -- believe it or not -- the camel dung in the Ambassador's hookah, motivating him to go out for new tobacco and allowing Assil to liberate it from the table.  Going back to the Wild Mummy, Assil delivers a hearty, "Here, toke on this hookah!" and the back room bar patrons are considerably happier.  Assil gets some coins as a tip; it seems like we can use this money to operate the bar's jukebox, but the needle is broken.  The ex-tailor has no (sewing) needles for sale, though in passing we note that we can use the fireplace pincers to tear open the paper lantern, exposing the buzzing glowworms (fireflies, it seems.)  We can also note a little state-change bug in passing -- after the beam was broken at Olga's, the skull that was mounted above it is seen lying in the street, but the mouse pointer's hotspot for the skull is still based on its original location.

Assil can snag the beer coaster from the back room, where it has been keeping the flies out of the beer, and fix the comedian's wobbly table leg, though this makes him happy at the expense of three other patrons.  What else can we do?  I still have the sock -- I had tried to use it with the note on the clothesline, to no avail, but clicking on the clothesline itself works much better.  Visiting the Pharaoh's nightwatch establishes that he is afraid of "slime-eagles", which might suggest we want to borrow the comedian's mask, although this never really comes into play.  It seems to be cover for a set change while Assil is at the palace -- returning to the clothesline, we see a new note of thanks: "The sun now rises for me again!"  It's not clear what we've gained by doing this good deed, though.

Returning to the bar yet again, we see that the back room contingent is unhappy again, as flies are falling into their beer.  We can retrieve and return the coaster to its original place, restoring their equilibrium at the comic's expense.  Badawi is still complaining about the bar's stuffiness -- we can't reach the window near the bar to open it from the inside, but going outside and stealthily shattering it with the fireplace tongs works, making him happy with the influx of fresh air.

Now, though, the slave driver is unhappy again -- we still can't give him the cocktail.  There is a glass shard available from the broken window, which is sharp enough to use as a jukebox needle, and the music makes him happy again.  But Badawi doesn't care for this local backwoods music, and wants a stiff drink.  Distracting Fatima again, we can finally get rid of that cocktail, giving it to our old buddy, and he's cheerful once more.

So everyone is in a good mood but the comedian -- let's check in with Fatima for a voice vote to see if everyone else in the bar likes Assil enough for her to give him another chance.  As it turns out, the caravan guys in the back room outweigh the comedian by dint of numbers, so that's the right place for the coveted beer coaster, and Fatima is cool with Assil again.  She tells him about a well-hidden graveyard, with an entrance hard to spot in the dark, and gives him a glass bearing fingerprints belonging to the possible thieves.

We can't do much with the fingerprints, but we can use the empty glass to capture some glowworms, creating a makeshift lamp that allows Assil to discover the graveyard entrance, right in the alleyway where he woke up earlier.  We enter the graveyard to resume the action from the game's opening sequence.  Assil seizes the Ankh, and victory is ours!

Actually, it's not -- this is a gag ending, to the surprise of Assil who says, "Ankh 1 was just as short!"  He gets knocked into an open grave by the bad guys, and a cutscene informs us that the god Osiris needs his heart back, stolen long ago by his rival god, Seth.  And now we're on to...

Chapter 2: Intruders

Leaving Assil to his fate for now, we focus on Thara and her band of bumbling revolutionaries, Shalom, Schmuel and Ephraim.  They're out to steal the trophy due to be given the winning team in the big soccer game coming up.  A mysterious evil guy shows up -- he has an interest in the outcome of said game, it seems, and tells Thara and her team about a secret entrance into the Pharaoh's palace.

Pharaoh's daughter is standing on the balcony after our heroes drop in, presenting a physical and emotional obstacle for Thara, who still believes Assil has something going on with the princess.  We need to seek an alternate path, it seems -- the guys are generally useless, but after Thara picks up a loose tendril of vine from the rooftop vegetation, they are able to hold it steady so she can climb down the wall to a lower ledge.

Here, Thara can pick some unripe fruit from a tree; she also hears the princess pining for Assil.  At the far end of the ledge is a pile of bat guano, a sleeping bat, and a guard (Thara's observations about him are slightly buggy, with different spoken and displayed text to the same general effect.)  Trying to pick up the bat sends it flying up to a perch on the balcony near a tall window.  Returning to the upper level, with the three revolutionary stooges holding the vine again, Thara can also find a wilted plant in a pot and separate the dry plant from the pot.  (Thara can try to give the pot to the princess from a distance -- even though we should be trying to avoid her notice, she just says, "What should I do with it?" and doesn't call the guards or anything.)  Returning below again, Thara can light the dry plant with a wall-mounted torch and burn the bat guano, sending the princess inside to avoid the odor.

Now we hear Shalom, Schmuel and Ephraim talking -- about couscous, of all things -- and of course, they can't hear Thara trying to get back up.  She has to throw the fruit at them to get their attention.  With the princess out of the way, Schmuel gives Thara a banana peel -- it's the "only weapon we've got."  In the newly-accessible balcony area, Thara can pick up a bottle of "Master Ra" brand cleaner, and steal a bottle of champagne from the princess' ample supply.

Firing the champagne bottle's cap at the top of the tall window opens a trapdoor there, allowing the bat to fly into the palace.  The princess screams, and the guards play rock-paper-scissors, with the less bright, heavier guard running into her chambers to eject the bat.  The puzzle resets -- we can't take any action while this is playing out, so it's not a useful distraction.  We can also use the champagne to vandalize a "statue of a forged scene" depicting a virile Pharaoh carrying a beautiful woman -- it knocks her head off, though this doesn't seem to play into any further plot developments.

I found a slightly game-breaking bug here -- if we position Thara in the right spot on the balcony, we can click on an entrance visible on the lower level that's supposed to be well-guarded.  If we double-click to speed things up, the screen fades out and she's made it past the guards to the kitchen area without having to solve the related puzzle.  Even if we don't double-click, she will claim she can't get past the guards even as she is walking right past them and into the doorway.  The intended solution involves throwing Thara's voice down a drainpipe -- she pretends to be the conscience of the guard who always wins the rock-paper-scissors game; it turns out that his coworker only knows "rock", and she can talk him into letting his buddy win for a change.  Triggering the bat again sends the smarter, more virile guard into the princess' chambers, where she detains him for a good long while (nudge nudge).  Now we can travel freely between the balcony and the kitchen area, in the intended fashion, though if we skip this puzzle there aren't really any consequences downstream.

An intriguing kitchen door is locked -- various curtains to adjoining rooms can be opened, though only one is occupied, with the sleeping Olga, now the Pharaoh's chef.  She has some keys in her hand, but Thara can't just take them without risking waking her.  We can freely acquire some stone tablets, listing Olga's "Ten Cooking Commandments."

Past the kitchen area is the Pharaoh's throne room -- everyone is in bed except a guard keeping watch over the throne.  Thara claims to be a kitchen hand -- the guard doesn't quite believe her, and demands some tasty couscous as evidence of her employment.  We can pick up a Pharaoh-chewed fishbone, and a decorative metal ring, near the throne, and investigate three levers off to the side, which control trap doors in the throne room's floor, though it would be too noisy to try them out now.

Thara can swap the metal ring for Olga's key ring, Indiana Jones-style, and get into the kitchen.  The other three revolutionaries arrive shortly, though again they are fairly useless, standing around reminiscing about childhood mealtime memories.  Some dishes stacked by the sink are notably dirty, though the Master Ra cleaner can't be used on the dishes or the water.  Thara can pick up a clean plate, and collect a bunch of ingredients in the food preparation area.  I started out on culinary instinct, but one wrong step (red peppers are good, yellow peppers not so) and the recipe is spoiled, forcing us to use the nearby lever to empty the cooking pot and start over.

I spent quite a bit of time using trial and error to try to make couscous before realizing that the Ten Cooking Commandments are clues to ten steps required to do the job right; satisfied requirements turn green on the tablets, making the recipe a little bit easier to handle.  It's not too hard to figure out that we need to slice the cucumber before adding it; add onions; use sawdust as a dry base (not all of these make real-world sense); add some Master Ra cleaner to cleanse the food; pour in some cod liver oil for health.  I thought we needed to add oil for anti-dryness, but a pot full of water is what's actually called for.  And then there's this matter of "fine taste" -- which the reportedly finely-ground salt doesn't seem to satisfy, nor do the available leeks, basil or thyme.

Wandering around looking for a solution, I noted that there's a pipe running from the sink to an elevator in the corner, which isn't currently working or accessible, and a hook for hanging something on.  Returning to the throne room, we learn that the guard can help get the elevator working -- after he gets his couscous.  I discovered that if we plate the couscous without addressing the fine taste step, it comes out as a "somewhat bland" couscous -- but the guard doesn't like it, so we do need to solve that issue.

I needed a hint here, discovering that the lever attached to a support beam in the kitchen produces a slightly misleading response -- attempting to use it indicates that the "hinges won't give," so I had been trying to apply cooking oil to the elevator door.  We're actually supposed to apply it to the lever, which allows us to rotate a crane to bring a sack of raspberries within reach.  The raspberries are currently being carried away one by one by a stream of ants traversing the crane's ropes -- we can take the raspberries, but they're not the right sort of fine taste to add either.

(I found another bug while looking for other possibilities -- after Thara's cohorts have relocated to the kitchen, if she tries to climb up and down on the balcony using the tendril, their disembodied voices still announce that they will hold the tendril.  And after this happens, they become invisible in the kitchen, apparently banished to some sort of limbo for the time being.)

I needed another hint here -- I had missed visiting an upper level in the kitchen, where a white "polar cat" guards a deli refrigerator (chilled by blocks of ice delivered from Finland.)   We have to rotate the crane, grab the raspberries, rotate it again, hang the berries on the second hook, rotate it once more, and use the fishbone on the sack of berries (not the hook).  The ants carry the fishbone away, attracting the cat's attention, causing the poor animal to slip, make momentary contact with the hot stove and flee the room.  Now Thara can investigate the fridge to find otters' noses, larks' tongues, and... erm... wolf-tit chips.  We have to clean off the plate in the sink, add the larks' tongues to the pot, and refill the plate with a tasty couscous dish.  

The guard likes the new recipe, and kicks the elevator door to open it.  There's no power for the elevator to run, until Thara switches the flow of water so it goes to the elevator's hydraulic motor instead of into the washing-up sink.  Taking the elevator down to the storeroom, we find the trophy in a sealed wooden crate -- it has been delivered by the Arabian ambassador, though Thara doesn't comment on her father's involvement.   There aren't many objects here to investigate, so we'll need to look elsewhere for a tool to open the crate.

There's another minor bug here -- the guard has moved to a different part of the throne room, but still demands tasty evidence even though he plays no further role in this chapter.  We can't seem to use the hook in the elevator for anything, and it doesn't travel with the elevator.  But Olga's room is productive -- she hates cats, and now there's a spit-roaster lying on her carpet which Thara can use to open the crate.  She unwraps the trophy, yielding four large pieces of cloth as well.

We're not quite done with this chapter -- the sleepwalking Pharaoh invades the kitchen, hungry and muttering about couscous.  He isn't dangerous, but Thara can't get past him to escape the palace.  Using the banana peel on him knocks him down, but makes guard-attracting noise (due to the earlier bug, the other revolutionaries were invisible here in my playthrough while discussing the guards' imminent arrival, but they reappeared as they fled the kitchen.)  Running to the throne room, Thara finds the guards holding her friends at spear-point -- we can use the trapdoors to clear them out of the way.  (The guards seem completely unaware that these trapdoors exist, even when we have used the wrong lever and opened one right next to them, so they aren't hard to get rid of.)

The rebels still need to escape the palace -- using the four cloths as parachutes, everyone escapes.

But it seems Thara and company have been pawns for the evil dude seen earlier, who now declares himself Pharaoh!  And we're on to...

Chapter 3: Into the Palace (Once Again)

This is the game's shortest chapter, primarily because the geography is constrained and there's not a lot of character interaction.  Playing as Assil again, our goal is to get him out of the graveyard and into the Pharaoh's palace.

Assil awakes at the entrance to a tomb, near a slightly twitchy mummy whose feet are one of the few selectable objects onscreen.  There's a parrot feather in the mailbox... yep, the mummy is ticklish, and informs us that a Battle of the Gods is imminent (though we won't see it here, it's actually the subject of Ankh 3) before admitting us to the tomb.

Inside, we find a number of interlocking puzzles.  A German Black Forest woodpecker clock chimes when used, with a pecking woodpecker in place of the usual cuckoo.  There are some post-it notes on the wall which Assil can remove, mentioning a meeting, a warning of danger, and new goods recently arrived.  We soon deduce that this is a smuggler's storeroom -- a lidded box contains coconuts, a padded crate yields a small statue of the god Seth.  Assil can also pick up a broken bottle and some playing cards... and what is Fatima's parrot doing here, hanging from the ceiling?  We also find a "camel immobilizer" behind a crate -- it's like a tire boot for illegally parked camels.

The puzzles here are fairly easy, and most of these objects come into play -- even when a solution doesn't make sense, just trying everything with everything else is productive.  We put the crate on a short table and cut the rope to drop the parrot cage; even with the crate in place to cushion its fall (Assil won't cut the rope until we do this), it bounces to the floor in even worse condition than last time we saw it.  We can open the cage with the playing cards (?) but aren't allowed to pick up poor Poly the parrot -- Assil says he "can't reach it" though that doesn't appear to be the issue visually.  We have to use the woodpecker clock to crack a coconut in halves, and administer coconut milk to the parrot, before we're allowed to pick up the poor bird.  

The Seth statue and the parrot appear to have similar profiles, but I didn't find anything interesting to do with that observation -- though the game does note that the two dislike each other if we try to combine them.  We can attach the "new goods have arrived" note to the parrot -- it's the only note we can use this way -- and eventually figure out that we have to put the parrot in the mailbox to get the message out.  Shortly a rope ladder drops down, and we can climb out of the tomb.

The ferryman (another character from the previous game) is here -- he's a typical video game Jamaican, and a smuggler, who is here mainly to inform Assil that Fatima is in fact one of the smugglers.  Returning to the palace, the nightwatch has some new dialogue -- he won't tell Assil what weakness he is prone to, so that seems to be a puzzle.

Conversation with Take Tut Cashen establishes that Osiris just needs his heart, now that he has the Ankh, and the old con man suggests that the Pharaoh may be able to help.  Volcano gives similar advice.  Returning to the Wild Mummy, we see that the comedian has gone off to Luxor.  The camel outside appears to belong to the caravan travelers in the back room -- Assil can immobilize their camel and extort a fine.  Confronting Fatima gets her to admit her role in the smuggling operation -- she needs the cash, as her business is not doing well and neither is her uncle.

Giving the cash to the guard as a "donation" gets Assil into the palace, only to run into the possessed Osiris/Dinar instead of the real Pharaoh, who summarily banishes Assil to the desert to die.  And now we shift focus to the real Pharaoh, in similar straits, as we begin...

Chapter 4:  Lies and Intrigues

The Pharaoh finds himself "rescued" and branded by the slave owner after being abandoned by Dinar's thugs (who were, fortunately, too lazy to kill him), and now he is enslaved at his own quarry.  Assil's father happens to be the foreman, having been sent here by the Pharaoh in his previous position as punishment for designing some ugly architecture; he still displays the model proudly in his open-air office.

Playing as the Pharaoh, our goal is to escape the quarry, of course.  We can pick up a branch, disarming a rat trap, and acquire posters of the Pharaoh's face (a job posting) and a wanted criminal from the quarry wall.  The tool shed is locked; we can acquire a can of figs from an open supply crate.  An assembly line of sorts rolls stone blocks down the mountain, toward the nile where (we presume) major pyramid construction is underway.  There's also a broken winch (per translation, it's really just a roller seating) on the line, though I didn't spot this until quite a while later despite the sparks it's throwing off.

There's a thuggish slave named Cringer blocking the wooden walkway up the quarry face -- he mentions "The Boss," a criminal who actually runs the quarry, and someone we will probably want to talk to.  To meet him, we have to convince Cringer that we're a big-time criminal.  He'll trade his soggy bread and honey for a can of figs, and then we can use the honey as glue to attach the Pharaoh's face to the wanted poster, gaining access to the rest of the quarry (as Cringer frustratedly tries to open the can, in one of the funniest idle animations in this game.)

We can lower some loose rope from the upper quarry level to the plateau below, though we won't do anything with it until later.  Meeting the big boss, Al-Caponep, we learn that the hates the Pharaoh and will let us join his troop (gang, really) if we can play a prank on the foreman that succeeds in making him cry.

An even higher level, the "airy heights" section, contains a roped statue of the new pharaoh, being carved by a slave named Roger who is working with a hammer and chisel.  It's poorly secured by a safety rope with a knot the Pharaoh lacks the experience to untie.  We can talk him into imbalancing the statue further by taking a little stone off the left side, if we're patient enough to listen to his long story about how he got here after inventing a vacuum capable of sucking up all the camel muck in the bazaar -- along with a palace guard, whoops.

There are some showers on the mid-level, where the Pharaoh can acquire a few towels, some soap (there's a brief, uncharitable all-male-prison gag in the animation here as he cautiously picks it up) and a comb.  With some wax paper left over from Cringer's sandwich, we can make a kazoo.  Playing it near the worker's scaffolding causes them to dance, almost tipping the wobbly structure over and forcing the foreman to run up to the mining face to get them to stop.  Then he takes a deep drink of water from the nearby well.

The foreman blocks access to the well as he recovers, but if we try to go into his office, he runs past and resumes his normal position.  If we toss the bar of soap into the well, an angry god complains and shakes the mountainside, opening up a vein of firestone.  Making the prisoners dance again ultimately slows the foreman down a bit as he recovers from his big drink of soapy water, and we can knock over his Jenga-like architectural model (made of children's blocks), causing him to cry uncontrollably.  We also note a locked picture in his office.

Al-Caponep is pleased at this prank, but now needs to get rid of his old right-hand man, Cringer, so we can take his place.  Can we get Roger to drop the statue on him?  No, but we can cut the rope with a sharp bit of firestone to drop it on the tool shed, obtaining some pliers with a rusty hinge and a shovel.  Roger is sulky now, and mentions that a tasty dish might cheer him up -- he doesn't care what it is as long as it's fresh.  South of (well, visually below) his area, down a little ravine I didn't spot until I was hunting for new places to go, is a bird's nest, where we can obtain a large egg using the branch.

Opening the picture in the foreman's office with the pliers, we obtain the deed to Cringer's servitude -- with a bonus joke, as Cringer is his "artistic name" -- and give it to the slave owner, who takes him away.  But Al-Caponep is still not satisfied -- he wants two cloths, a hammer, and a chisel.  Since Roger has the tools, we probably need to help him out.  A little experimentation establishes that we can use the shovel as a frying pan, but just putting the egg on it in the hot desert sun isn't sufficient -- even though it's described in text as a "fried egg" now, it's not actually cooked, which I finally realized is why Roger is not interested in it.  (If this game has one consistent design shortcoming, it's that characters almost never comment in any interesting or clue-worthy way when we're getting close to a solution or where some relationship ought to be noteworthy.  We usually get generic responses until we hit on exactly the right thing.)

There's a wedge stuck in the plateau wall, and another lying on the ground by the tool shed which I missed seeing before.  We can stop the movement of the assembly line by wedging the broken winch, and access a passageway to the desert outside.

From this vantage point, we can see a "cut line" complete with scissors marked on the quarry face near the wedges, though we can't interact with it from this location or see it when we're closer to it -- it just suggests that we need to use that wedge in the wall somehow.  There's also a talking bush here, looking for Moses; we can pick up a stone table (I think this is a typo, it's clearly shaped as a tablet) in gift wrap, and engage the bush in a rather unusual conversation by adventure game standards.  The bush itself claims to be the God of the Israelites, and there's room in the dialogue tree for a few snappy monotheism jokes.

Getting back to puzzle-solving, we can try holding the shovel over the talking bush, but as it isn't burning we can't use it to cook the egg.  If Pharaoh talks to it some more and mentions plans to uproot all the bushes to build a park, it proves to be an angry (if rather impotent) God and bursts into flames.  We can then fry the egg, while the burning bush threatens Pharaoh with plagues.  Giving the fried egg to Roger yields the hammer and chisel.

Giving Al-Caponep what he asked for finally satisfies him, and he reveals his poorly thought-out escape plan -- we're all supposed to use the towels as blindfolds so as to become invisible, and use the hammer and chisel to hack our way through the mountain to freedom.  The Pharaoh has to tell him this is a terrible plan, but before we can work out a new one some palace guards and Dinar the impostor arrive to order everyone to search for the temple of Seth and a sacred relic, probably Osiris' heart.  This might give us an opportunity to escape via said temple.

First, we have to find the temple itself -- Pharaoh suggests breaking off the rock face, and Al-Caponep suggests we need to tie the rope to something capable of pulling it.  We can't tie or untie the rope to any object in inventory, but we can suggest using the blocks of stone rolling down the assembly line.  Stopping the line, tying the rope to a block, and starting it up again does the trick.

Al-Caponep realizes he is happier on the inside, so we're on our own -- all we can do is enter the temple.  Inside we find "an oil torch that isn't lit" and a patch of deep darkness beyond.  This was a bit frustrating, mainly because when I tried to pick up a second fragment of firestone from a stack outside the temple, the Pharaoh just said, "I've already got one" -- yet we can't go back outside, and have to hunt around with the mouse to find a second firestone inside the temple, which he will pick up.  We can light the torch with the pair of firestones, at any rate, and explore the deeper recesses of the temple.

A historical text near some cryptic machinery mentions that Seth will rise again when the planets align; we can pick up a harpoon randomly lying about, and sharpen it on a turning stone.  Attaching it to the staff of a nearby priest statue jams the rotating planet model (for such this machine appears to be), forcing the planets into alignment and opening the next door.

Here, we find that Seth has indeed awakened, and eagerly awaits gifts.  He has Osiris' heart in small urn as a trophy from their last battle.  Osiris' accent is a bit odd -- it sounds like a Swedish person imitating a hearty American accent, though who's to say what a god is supposed to sound like?

We can pull a root out of the temple floor to open up a small hole leading to a burrow where a weasel hides out.  Picking up the sacred urn at Seth's feet causes him to try to destroy us with his army of scorpions -- though hundreds of years have passed, and only one survives, with a missing leg, so it isn't much of a threat.  We can take the heart (still beating) out of the urn and capture the scorpion in it, if we can find a lid.  There's a pile of garbage down a nearby tunnel -- it blocks progress, but we can obtain a Call-A-Couscous box lid and trap the semi-dangerous scorpion.

It seems we have to pit the weasel against the scorpion, but they are at opposite ends of a lengthy burrow system visible underground.  We have to lure the weasel east (right) somehow; Seth's water feature drains into the burrow, so can we flood it somehow?  No, but if we block a leaky spot using a burial cloth from Seth's altar, we can stop the water flow so the weasel can relocate.

We can still converse with Al-Caponep via the well (it drops straight into Seth's temple) -- we can't use the buckets that periodically lower into his pool directly, but A.C. sends down some peanuts.  We can use these to lure the weasel to a larger chamber where we can drop the scorpion in; vibrations from the resulting fight knocks the trash blockage into a deep pit, and the Pharaoh is free at last.

Of course, he emerges near Thara's rebel camp, and is horrified to find Pharaoh targets and bunches of bananas for chucking at his feet and his sedan carriers -- but after fleeing more deeply into the currently quiet camp, he is exhausted and falls asleep.  Soon, Thara, Shalom, Schmuel and Ephraim arrive -- with Assil in tow, whom we assume they have found and rescued from the desert.  Everyone, including the Pharaoh, agrees to work together to stop Dinar and Osiris, and player control shifts back to Assil, though the chapter isn't quite over.

Assil still has his Seth statue with the hooked nose, and Pharaoh gives him the Heart of Osiris.  Thara gives Assil the trophy liberated in Chapter 2, which we will need to pack the heart safely for transport (to Take Tut Cashen, "the master," though that doesn't actually happen.)  Assil can unwrap the stone tablet (Pharaoh is really not good with knots) to reveal it as the heretofore-unknown Eleventh Commandment, reading, "And thou shalt not take all of this stuff too seriously."

We just have to pack the heart -- we can't use the pillow in Assil's inventory directly, but we can cut it open with the Seth statue and use the cloth (not the stuffing as I had expected) to pack it up.  We're ready to travel and intercept Osiris' plans for...

Chapter 5: The Big Game

The struggle for power is manifesting in the outcome of a soccer match between Dinar's Cairo Pharaohs and the people's Nile Crocodiles.  Dinar and the Arabian Ambassador fight over the trophy -- Dinar simply wants to confiscate it now, as he knows it contains Osiris' heart, but the Ambassador stands his ground and insists on awarding it to the victorious team himself.  We learn that a secret passage exists under the soccer field, and that Dinar has "delayed" the Crocodiles' star player, Moses.

Assil and Thara are teaming up for this last leg of the story, and we can switch between them; I always like this kind of co-operative mechanic, though there are some glitches in the design that make the partnership less organic than it ought to be.  We start out as Assil, in the sewers, where we find a map in a bottle that identifies all the major landmarks of this section, though it's not a lot of help in actual navigation.  We can also take the rope we used to climb down here, though this means we'll need to find another way back up.  With the rope attached to the Seth statue as makeshift grappling hook, we can pull down a large grating and start exploring.

Before going further with Assil, I switched over to Thara -- she's stuck watching the game with her father per diplomatic protocol, and can't leave the area until half-time.  She can talk to the princess, who is so dense that she doesn't even realize her father has been replaced by a possessed zombie impostor.  There isn't much Thara can do right now.

Assil finds himself near a mudfall that drains the Cairo swamp; rubber duck swim floats and toy boats float by, though we can't do anything with them.  A strange sign in an adjacent chamber parodies airline crash instructions, with instructions should the arena be forced to land on water.

A room with three (actually four) doors leads to a short bridge blocked by a large duct cover, a room with large counterweights, and a prison cell area that will be most fruitful for the moment.  That was not meant to be a pun, actually, but a fruit stand dealer, Gemotep, is locked in a cell here due to the Pharaoh's banana ban -- we have seen his abandoned shop downtown in Chapter 1.  He claims to be an escape artist, but needs a little help, perhaps a tool, so he can open the large padlock on his cell.  We can see some giant human-powered gearwheels rotating nearby, and obtain some shackles from an open cell whose skeleton occupant won't be in need of restraint at this point.

The weight room has a lever -- it's chained in place, but we can jiggle it, drawing some attention to a large goal door on the soccer field as it moves slightly.  This also reveals that the guard playing goalie is the princess' newly acquired boyfriend.  Thara can converse with her to learn that she covets Assil because she imagines he has quite a bit of "vitality" from his experience in the Underworld (in Ankh 1).

Assil can access the cellar storeroom from Chapter 2 at the other end of the weight room, though he can't use the elevator as it's not currently powered.  Thara can goad the princess into insisting that the goal door be opened all the way -- Dinar has handicapped the Crocodiles by making the Pharaohs' goal smaller, and Thara convinces her this is not very impressive.  A guard releases the lever to open the gate, but the slave responsible for powering it is exhausted and can't get it to budge.  While the guard looks for a whip to use as motivation, we can intercede.

This is a decent cooperative puzzle, although as there's no clear method of communication between Thara and Assil the player is apparently serving as a psychic conduit.  Thara can pour a cup of mocha coffee down a drain, which leads to an area Assil can access.  When he sees the stain, he can put the bottle there, and we can have her pour another cup to fill it.  Giving the coffee to the gearwheel slave restores his energy, and the gate is opened all the way.   

Unfortunately, we need the spring now visible on the lowered counterweight -- and when Assil removes it, the weight crashes down, lowering the goal door all the way (except for a few rectangular openings broken out by the impact) so the Crocodiles' victory seems even further out of reach.  At least we can give the spring to Gemotep -- he picks the padlock and escapes, though as we didn't give him the map and just provided vague directions, he shortly gets caught.  Not great for him, but it gets both him and the guard out of the way.

We can enter Gemotep's cell now, and attach the shackle to a hook in the ceiling; we can see through some partially-broken holes in the wall that Assil's old cell (from earlier adventures) is on the other side, but it's too small to squeeze through.  The polar cat returns, asleep in the storeroom, and Assil can put him in a sack; there are some awkward jokes about the cat being in the bag, but the humor is slightly lost in translation.

It's half-time now, and Thara can wander more freely.  In the palace, she can enter the kitchen, where Olga puts her to work as a kitchen hand.  We have to wash a few dishes (obtaining a dish rag in the process) before we're free to power the elevator.  Switching to Assil, we can bring the bagged cat up and send Olga fleeing from the kitchen -- the elevator door is closed, so we have to put it on the crane hook and let Thara use the lever to move the cat into effective range.

It's odd that Thara and Assil can't interact or converse with each other -- the co-op design is a little weak here, as they're still acting independently even when they're in the same room.  There are some other shortcuts taken here -- certain actions are just "blocked" without explanation or further comment.  Assil won't approach Dinar in the VIP box; Thara has a VIP ticket in hand, but can't give it to Assil (which makes sense as it has her name on it.)  Thara won't wiggle through the hole in the wall to Assil's cell either.

I needed a hint here -- it turns out that Assil needs to attach the Eleventh Commandment to the shackle in Gemotep's cell and swing it into the wall as a wrecking ball.  Now he can go through his old escape route and into the canal.  A giant crocodile apparently resided here in Ankh 1, and still has nightmares of Assil's impromptu dentistry, further evidenced by a giant pair of dentures lying in its den.  Assil can just walk over the toothless crocodile in the next room, but can't enter an interesting tower at the top of a flight of stairs as he has no ticket, so this must be a job for Thara.

Assil can open the duct cover on the bridge seen earlier, from the other side -- but he has to stand on a switch to keep it open, so he can't do much else for a while.  Rolling the duct cover to the side cuts off the mudfall below, so Thara can enter a secret passage.  This leads to a locker room, where Moses is present but weirdly frightened -- he thinks he's a gecko, not a soccer player, so there must be some black magic or hypnosis at work.  There are some other objects here, but Thara won't take any of them -- if we examine the shower, she says, "You should tame your imagination."

She can enter the tower from a different direction, leaving the locker room.  There's a bug here -- the guard's zone repeatedly activates and demands she produce a ticket, even after she has done so; we have to tread carefully to avoid triggering this.  In the tower, Thara can talk to the Crocodiles' coach, and learn that the Pharaoh has ordered him to keep Moses off the field -- her attempts to inspire his independence are unsuccessful at this point.  He does mention that Moses will shoot any ball at the first square that he sees, which is why he's such a valuable member of the team.

I was a bit stuck again, and needed another hint to realize that Thara can go up the stairs near the tower (I was getting hung up in the guard zone earlier and thought I couldn't actually get there -- a lot seems to depend on which way she enters the area).  We can go up to the grandstand, rather sparsely occupied aside from a steel drum and a few fans.  Thara's co-revolutionaries are here, waiting for the game to resume, and the ex-tailor, who can't really make out what is going on.  Thara convinces him to take off his glasses, and he discovers he sees much better without them, giving them to her.

A large gentleman named Bakshish runs a "freshness centre" concession stand, offering Pharaoh-sanctioned fruit for sale.  Thara can put the tailor's glasses on a small statue nearby -- though there's no clear reason we want to do this, once they're in place we can't remove them.  A cutscene reveals that the Ambassador wants some fruit, and Bakshish appears to deliver some -- yet he's still at his post when we come back to Thara, so we must be doing things slightly out of the expected order.  We can return to the VIP box and offer some of the cut fruit now present to the Ambassador, but buggily enough he doesn't want it, though he continues to complain about not having any.

Time to do some exploration again.  Thara won't go past the crocodile -- presumably because she doesn't know it's toothless -- and she can't even walk through the open duct cover to Assil's current location.  So it seems Thara will have to do the legwork for a while longer.  When we return to the grandstand, we find Bakshish is now gone, so apparently this is just a bug -- he doesn't disappear if we are present when the cutscene plays, but when we go there afterwards he is away.  Thara can now pick up a melon.

Giving the melon to Moses -- it's round enough to pass as a ball -- causes him to kick it out the door, and snap out of his gecko reverie as he realizes he's a soccer player.  Thara can now talk the coach into defying orders and sending his star player in.  But bad guys block the entry ramp, and some "help from above" is in order.

There's a giant advertising melon atop Bakshis' stand, "poorly attached" as Thara observes.  There's also a strong light beam coming down from the sky and banking off the steel drum into the throne room.  Thara can take the empty, shiny silver fruit bowl from the VIP box and attach it to a plate holder on the back of Pharaoh's throne.  This reflects the light, and while I didn't see the details as the spectacles were already in place, presumably focuses the beam on the giant melon's supports and loosens it so that it knocks the bad guys out of the way.  Moses takes the field, kicks in a goal, and wins the game in short order.

The story's not quite over yet, though -- Dinar refuses to give up the trophy, and makes off with it.  Everyone follows him closely and we learn that he intends to blackmail Osiris, bending the god to his own will.  Thara is close enough to rob Dinar of the Ankh that maintains his undead state, but she's distracted by the presence of the princess.  Assil has to make it clear that he is not involved with Pharaoh's daughter; she is upset, but Thara is now free to grab the Ankh and dissolve the evil Dinar into nothingness.

Now we have a decision to make -- do we give Osiris his heart?  He pledges to let Assil keep the Ankh until the day he dies, which seems like a decent arrangement.  With his heart restored, the once-evil Osiris actually softens and smiles -- a neat little twist that allows for happy endings all around, though Volcano and Take Tut Cashen still think Assil is a bit of a schmuck.  The ending song "This Is Cairo" wraps everything up on an upbeat note as the credits roll.

I really enjoyed Ankh 2: Heart of Osiris -- it's a bit awkward in places, but the characters are fun, many of the jokes work just fine in English, and the convoluted story provides plenty of entertainment.  I won't be tackling Ankh 3 for a while yet, as this one required a serious time commitment, but I'm glad I finally got around to playing this chapter.