Journal
I'm 32 now - it felt like a bit of a non-event after the last week. I got a card from my wife's family that started "It's been an incredible year..." which led me to wonder whether they'd been living through the same year I had. The earliest shock I remember in 2016 was Alan Rickman's death and before I could even get close to grasping that there would be no more films with him as the British villain in them, tons of other people died and Britain and America started themselves on the path to collapse.

But some good things did happen this year, and I want to remember those.

kjorteo and I finished The Poison Skies - it's the first album I've ever fully recorded and physically released, an incredible milestone. We can now both say that we have music on iTunes, an entry on Metal Archives... and that we were picked up by someone who does reviews of independent metal for an Australian magazine who thought it was all right. It had been in progress for such a long time and was interrupted by other things multiple times, but I'm so proud of both our efforts.

I put on a show at Furpocalypse with a month's time to cobble it together - it was obviously "Would I Lie To You" under a different name, but organizing six people into a panel game and have it actually work was a wonderful feeling. I had no experience promoting anything like this, was just relying on luck and the crowd-drawing power of some of my panellists, and I was amazed at the turnout, with people queueing out the door to get in and a panel room filled. The reaction was amazing and now Anthro New England are very excited for Furry Little Liars to be put on there as well.

Whitney got pregnant, after a long time trying, and we're going to have our beautiful mutant mouse-rabbit very soon - just over a month to go. I went through a lot of time thinking I wasn't ready, but now it somehow feels... right, to move on to the next stage of life. I hope for our child to be one small addition to the number of decent people in the world.

And as a result, we moved into a new house, out of the tyranny of the condo association! We have so much space now it's incredible, and we've been putting the freedom to good use, converting a dingy room in the basement and a weird room on the top floor into my space and a space for our new arrival. I could have asked for it to have been in a better country, but... we have a haven.

And the team I manage at work brought out a cheesecake to celebrate my birthday yesterday! That helped me a lot, to remember that no matter what awfulness is happening in the world, I'm among good people.

2016-11-15 23:33:00
After a month-long ordeal, we've finished the nursery in our house and it's ready for the baby to move in!

One of the strange things about this house when we moved into it was that it had a third bedroom on the upper floor that wasn't shown in any of the photos that the estate agent provided. And when we looked at it, it was easy to see why - the room was entirely clad in wood and had two beds built into the floor, taking away all the space and making it look not so much a friendly bedroom as a room that a mortician might use to prepare bodies. But it had potential, and so with no experience in redecorating, we set about transforming it.


This was what the room looked like at the start, with some tape around the ceiling and windows in anticipation of the painting that was to come. Some of these photos might accidentally give the impression that the wood had charm to it, but in reality it just made the room perpetually dreary. But that wasn't the worst problem with it...


With the help of my father- and brother-in-law, we demolished the fixed box-bed-slabs and threw their bits in the back garden. You wouldn't believe just how much wood there was in these things - far more than you would think necessary to support someone's weight, and we've still to arrange taking it away or cutting it up to use as firewood. That was the first struggle, and it revealed another difficulty - whoever had installed these had removed entire sections of the wall and floor to accommodate them. They're not even just taken off cleanly - they've been sawn through, exposing the bare floor and insulation behind them. I can't imagine how the person responsible never thought, during the lengthy procedure of putting these in, that it would be easier to just buy a couple of beds.


At the end of the first day of their visit, after a trip to Home Depot that lasted several hours and a lot of work on top of that, we got to here - drywall has been mounted on the giant gaps left by the beds and it's been spackled in. My father-in-law also bought a load of tools to assist with the suddenly-elongated job of redecorating the room, and said to consider them a birthday present!


The process of filling in the gaps in the floor was a much more tedious slog, cutting planks of flooring to fit, nailing them down and progressing slowly row by row. It took all day, but the end results were two filled-in floor sections and this apocalyptic mess.


After clearing that up, it was finally time to prepare the room for painting - a couple of days later than we had thought, and with the family back in California by now, we were on our own without extra help for this. I taped off the borders and put down a plastic sheet to cover the newly patched floor, but didn't realize that the air vent on the ground in the corner would cause it to inflate like a bouncy castle.


After cutting a hole for the vent to breathe and spending a day rolling primer on to the walls, I was successful in making the room look significantly worse. It looks patchy and awful but all it needs to do is get paint to stick to it - and if you try to ignore how shabby it looks, ou can already see that the room looks a lot brighter as a result.


This is more like it! It took three coats of the yellow paint and a large effort from both of us to get it to be really convincing, but the room was beginning to come together now.


With the painting over, we could take up the plastic at last, and installed some new lights to replace the weird boat-wheel themed ones that used to be in the room. (Yes, only one works. I'm still looking into that.) Whitney had the idea of putting some fabric on to the lower wall to act as a skirting-board - I don't know where that came from, but the result looks great and provides a softer surface for a toddler's head to crash into. She put together the pieces and we tacked them up with a staple-gun.


Then it was my turn again, adding a painted wooden trim around the top of the fabric. With a length of general-purpose rail from Home Depot and the tools left with me by the floor-cutting stage, I was able to feel my way into fashioning some pretty convincing ninety-degree joins.


With that task finished, the scraps from it cleared up and a rug-pad put down, the room was finally ready to receive its furniture...


...which arrived today! This is a collection of new furniture, things that Whitney's family handed down to us and some great finds from people in the surrounding area who were trying to get rid of their old stuff. It's beginning to feel very real now - this room will be occupied in something like seven weeks' time!

2016-11-12 18:28:00


Team Hatoful finished our playthrough of Undertale (quite some time ago, actually - it just took me this long to finally edit together the final part) and it's now up as a playlist on Youtube. At 45 videos totalling fifteen and a half hours of the game, it's our longest playthrough ever (narrowly beating Holidaystar which was about 15h 10min but did it across 48 videos).

Thanks, Toby Fox, for your characters and amazing world!

2016-09-24 23:05:00
I had two dreams last night and they were both very stressful! I'm hoping that after a week with little sleep, it was just all the tension dissipating out of my system at once.

The first was about being at a hotel at a convention, except Whitney and her parents were there as well and I had to divide my time between the two groups. I kept losing where my room was - after going out of the main hotel part and into the convention centre rooms, I came back and I could never find where I was going among the identical corridors, as if the rooms were shifting around every time I left. Eventually I would find the reception desk and they would point me back in the right direction, but I kept forgetting things and having to go back... I was meant to deliver an album to someone in the Pictionary room and make it back in time for dinner at 7 with the family, but I think I ended up on a mountainside somewhere and then everything turned into Final Fantasy 6 after the end of the world and I don't even know any more.

The second - which might have led in from the first due to finding this in the game room or something - was a game that was something to do with Sonic and Zero Escape together, if you can believe it. In the context of the dream, this was the infamous ending puzzle to Sonic 06, even though nothing like this (or anything competently programmed at all) exists in the real game. After rushing through a space station with a countdown going, the last task was to decipher and input something called the Struggle Combo to prevent the space station exploding. The clue for it was this massive ring of symbols and colours that went through all the machinery in a big circular control room, and you could slide it around like a big horizontal wheel. Depending on the mode you had the game in, it had squares of colour that corresponded to the buttons on the Xbox controller, symbols that were meant to resemble the button letters but really didn't at all, and other things that I never worked out. After failing and restarting, you were given a time of five minutes to fly down from the vent you entered from and go back to the control room to start the process again.

The Struggle Combo was randomly generated for each player, and so there wasn't a solution available online, but people had written massive FAQs dedicated to how to work it out, including the types of symbols that could appear and how they related to each other. I never even came close.

2016-09-05 00:25:00
We're in Bermuda! We're spending a week here as our last holiday as a couple before the baby arrives, and it's something that we don't do for ourselves nearly often enough.

The environment is like a hybrid between Britain and America after a severe global shift in weather - our taxi in from the airport took us the length of the entire country (about 15 miles) through what in America would be a tiny back road but in Scotland would be one of the main arteries. Everything happens much more slowly here - the drivers let each other out of side roads aggressively and hoot at each other if they don't accept their generosity in time. Our taxi driver tutted about crazy speeding moped riders when one passed us at about 25mph.

The "hotel" is really a group of little semi-detached houses, and they're all violently pink - I've grown very thankful for my colourblindness sunglasses because I can see them so vibrantly with them on, but when I take them off everything just looks beige. It's incredible how much they make a difference. And the weather is humid and frankly uncomfortable even as I'm writing this at 9:30 in the morning, but our suite has an absolutely massive air conditioning unit on the ceiling that keeps us alive.

2016-09-04 08:30:00
I keep on saying that I'm going to keep this thing updated again and then usually instantly forget - but there's still no better place for a long-lasting archive. Therefore, I really should announce that The Poison Skies is finished and released after so long in production!


It's a 20-track album based on kjorteo's novel The Afflicted - it's the first album I've produced with vocals and digital instruments instead of through Modplug Tracker, and it features songs written variously by both of us. You can listen for free on Bandcamp or download a digital version - for the first time, physical copies are also available, and I'm immensely pleased with them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPZcpGdVShk

2016-07-30 16:08:00
I have a huge announcement today - but it's not the one I've been building up to over the last few weeks...

My wife Whitney is pregnant for the first time! Yes, soon we're expecting a little mutant mouse-rabbit of our own :) Our due date - seriously - is Christmas Day, condemning this child to a lifetime of rubbish combined Christmas-and-birthday gifts.

It still feels new to me every time I think about it, and I have no idea how things are going to be after December... but maybe I'll manage to mess this child up a little less than my parents did with me.

2016-06-13 08:56:00




head.dance release party with ravenworks! This is a game for the Altspace VR environment that's like DDR for your head, nodding along to songs. Despite having no VR gear it was amazing to watch as explorers in this virtual world entered the room and wandered around chatting while people took turns playing this big virtual head-DDR machine and enjoyed the music. Some of it was mine! And based on kjorteo's story!)





I happened to be in the middle of it when the creator himself (right, barber pole) came in to show Mr. JoeJoe (left, ethereal motorcyclist) around the room, and then it apparently got mentioned in an Altspace VR talk of some kind and people kept flooding in...

Seeing this appreciation for a game first-hand in such a physical way is something I've never experienced before... it felt like looking at a popular booth at an independent game festival which had brought along a huge complicated rig, except the "hardware" is entirely in software. I think hopping into here briefly has seriously boosted my appreciation of the possibilities of VR.

2016-06-09 23:02:00
I just remembered about something very weird that happened to me a long time ago. When I first came to live in America in 2006, I had two suitcases of possessions, and a desktop computer was not among them - my personal computer was an increasingly eccentric bulky laptop that was built in 1998. After moving into our flat and ordering furniture, household things and computer parts, I chose to spend the time with my limited computer power writing a ZZT game. This became Castle of ZZT, and with the time I was forced to spend on it combined with the way that I actually drew a plan out before starting, it was by far my best effort in this department (though this might not be saying much).




The weird part was after I submitted it to Z2, the premier site for both ZZT and impenetrable lunacy at the time. Games went into an approval queue that was publically visible before being added to the site, to make sure they weren't spam, and I checked to see if it had been accepted once in a while. But on one check, I saw my uploaded ZIP had been replaced with one that had a different file size - and there was also a new ZIP that was called "castle_of_zzt_use_this_one_instead.zip" or something along those lines.

Both ZIPs contained an altered version of the game, which I saved because I was so baffled by it. This is what you get after starting it up:




Curiously, the "OF" has been removed from the title screen. The same has been done to the scroll that you pick up in the first room - the game's title is changed to just "CASTLE ZZT".




Messing around with the first part of the game, I don't notice any other obvious differences, though I haven't looked very closely because it's quite long. But slightly later on, things get strange. The castle has a large central staircase (which I could have made less awkward to navigate, looking back), which allows you to take several routes at the start of the game from the first and second floors, and you'll get a key to access the stairs up from the second floor at some point.






In the actual game, these stairs lead to an aerial view of two towers, which contains a puzzle that you have to plan ahead for.




But in the altered version, a third floor has been added instead. It's decorated in red, convincingly in the same style (using the same kind of "splat a KevEdit gradient background on it" aesthetic that I used throughout the rest of the game).






The boards are all named "Third Floor" with cardinal direction markers afterward so that the mysterious editor could keep track of where the rooms lay. The floor is laid out as a largely empty maze of twisting passages that are consistent but not logically laid out - you can loop around by going north or south. But if you keep heading roughly northwest, you can progress.








The next few boards are called "Free Will", but they continue the red and grey corridor theme with no apparent differences from the Third Floor boards. You have to pick either the east or south passage here - going south will dump you back near the entrance, going east will take you to another long corridor - which has some strange cracks at the end...






The corridor ends at this strange board, which is called "Free Will EEE". It contains a red circle/boulder that says "Y2" when you touch it (Colossal Cave again!), a guard programmed to let you through the blue "gate" of sliders for nine gems, and what appears to be "Snoop Doggw" written in yellow walls beyond that. Underneath is a nest of tigers, a small river and some ammo. The border of the room breaks down at the bottom left, but if it's meant to be saying something I can't tell what it is (enqn?)






Going south from here brings you to this place, a surprisingly detailed outdoor scene with shadowy round trees that displays the text above when you enter it. (The "fake wall" message is part of ZZT itself.) The tone of the dialogue is strange - was it copied from another game file? And going south from here...




...you reach the end of the game, which is my own "THE END" message from the end of Castle of ZZT, shifted up on the board a bit with the red/grey type of background from above added. And then it ends - no further clues are offered. This is the only way to finish the game, as the boards that would have let you escape the intended route south from the main entrance have been deleted or overwritten.

After discovering the switch of files I asked the site's admin, who I think at the time was Quantum P., and he helped put the real version up - but I saved this oddity to preserve it. The readme accompanying the ZZT world file was left intact, and my name was still on the game with no other credit added. With the game largely unaltered at the start, was the idea to make people think that they were playing my game and then for it to appear that I'd gone mad halfway through? That's my only guess - they had clearly put a fair amount of effort into whatever it was they were doing, but I never worked out who this was or why they did it.

2016-05-12 20:46:00
KING'S QUEST 3: PART 8 (LAST)

Right, King's Quest III - you've been playing around with me for far too long but this time I'm going to finish you once and for all.




Right, so if you remember, we had arrived in our true home of Daventry, but it turned out to be just as deadly as the rest of the game. This location is a ruined version of one of the rooms from the first King's Quest - the door into the cave with the stairs to the clouds - which would have been a nice callback for players in the 1980s.

Having explored the possibilities of death by falling in the cave, let's go to the left instead this time.






As futile as bothering to look up the correct word for "futility" in the dictionary. Again, this is a ruined room from the first game - they have taken some artistic licence with where these rooms are in relation to each other, but having vague memories of wandering around Daventry many years ago, this definitely gives off a feeling of... sadness.




And this room to the north gives off a feeling of irritation, due to the infuriating whistling noise that plays repeatedly while you're in it. It's coming from that gnome, so let's talk to him in the hope that he'll stop.










Fair warning, the game gets a bit wordy from here on. The castle is locked and we need to rescue Princess Rosella - got it. Apparently there's a time limit on how long we can take to rescue the princess once we land in Daventry, thus sort of bringing the timer into play again... I don't know what that limit is, but if it even exists, it's too long for anyone to realistically care about.








Yes, that's a locked castle all right. I suppose our only option is to go back and do what the gnome said.








And three entire screens of tightrope-walking later, we get to the top - our diagonal controls get another workout here and it's really pretty simple to stick to the path without dying. In the VGA remake of the first King's Quest, they changed these screens into much more twisted pathways, having looked at the path up the mountain and thinking that it was a shining example of adventure gameplay.




And here we are in the land of the clouds - which is feeling "strangely hot" for a place up above the cloud cover and directly exposed to the sun. It's probably nothing.












Oh, okay. So, our objective here has already been explained to us - we need to beat that giant three-headed dragon taking up most of the screen, rescue Rosella who's standing over there to the left, and that's pretty much it. But to even get on to this screen we're going to need some pretty serious sun-tan lotion.




Incidentally, here's a reminder of how much junk we still have left over from our previous adventures. Personally I think it would have been reasonable for them to just not have restored the non-essential items when you reclaimed your loot from the treasure chest on the pirate ship - it's not as if any of the last three updates have really required anything in the way of puzzle-solving skills. Incidentally, I wonder if the magic map still works?




Hmm. I see.

I reloaded and tried the map out on a different screen in Daventry, and it actually behaves as it does in Llewdor! Locations get filled out as you visit them, and you can teleport around. It isn't useful at this stage, but it's interesting that they bothered to code the ability in.




So - we don't have 9999-factor sun cream like I mentioned before, but we've got something that will just about take its place.








When you use the ointment that we prepared earlier, Gwydion becomes stripey (having rubbed it all over his clothes as well?) Let's take a closer look at that dragon.




kjorteo would probably love it. Still, our circumstances unfortunately dictate that this lizard has to die, and as long as you still have the manual, the method to achieve this is very simple.






There really aren't any puzzles in the game at all once you get on to the pirate ship - everything relies on what you did in Llewdor. Specifically, if you gathered all the ingredients and made all the spells (and survived the totally unnecessary mountain obstacle course) you'll get past this section - otherwise, well, you're stuck with no way to continue unless you reload a much earlier save. In other words, it's classic Sierra.














The screen's colours turn to grey and lightning flashes across the sky - it's a slightly more interesting moment than that makes it sound, as the game hasn't changed the appearance of a location while you're in it ever before. And then the invisibility wears off - I'm not sure if this is timed or if it always happens immediately after the storm. The second is what any reasonable person would think, but as has been made clear over the last seven parts, we're not dealing with reasonable people here.






Hooray, dragon killed, princess saved.






It is, of course, still possible to die - the message is the same whether you're actually invisible or not. I only include this because if you fall off here, Rosella continues her walking animation with her head bobbing up and down and it looks like she's laughing at you.






Have you heard of "protesting too much"? I wouldn't have thought this suspicious at all without prompting, but the inclusion of "brotherly. I said BROTHERLY" in the description just makes it sound weirder than it would otherwise.




Rosella now follows us throughout the rest of the game. I didn't look at what happens when you try using the map to teleport - if you want to see that, do it yourself. She has difficulty navigating the stairs here and is wandering off on her own (as I would too, if I'd seen the kill rate of stairs around this place) but she's always right behind us when we enter a new screen.








Thanks for your help, gnome. Walking north here is the last action we have to take in the game - everything plays out automatically from here on, so I'll let you enjoy the ending sequence we've earned (or more accurately, I earned).










































Yes! It's the end!




Oh, go away.




"Enjoyed" might be a bit of a strong term, but I definitely tolerated it. Thanks.




Evidently "three-dimensional" had a bit of a broad definition in those days.






And that's King's Quest III! It's a game that starts off with a unique idea but then sort of forgets about it and stops being interesting halfway through. Absolutely everything once you get on to the pirate ship is just playing along with the game - you don't even need the shovel, you have to wait until you're near land, get your inventory, walk a tremendously long way across some mountains and use three spells along the way (if you made them during the actual "game" part of the game). It feels like the concept of dealing with Manannan O'Hanra-Hanrahan was thought up as the entire game first, and that they later realized that they had to bolt on an entire second section to get you to Daventry - a long stretch in which nothing really happens. I'd have liked to see much more made of that - indeed, when going into this playthrough I thought the entire game was based around it.

Still. That's the end! Thank you for watching along. Perhaps I'll do King's Quest IV next (but I doubt it).

2016-04-23 20:59:00


This is a preview of something I have been aching to show off for a very long time!

"The Poison Skies" is a joint project by me and kjorteo, with artwork by Sparkyopteryx. It's a concept album inspired by the characters and story of Kjorteo's novel "The Afflicted" (and you can read the first chapter of the online edition behind that link). "Stand Our Ground" is the fifteenth(!) track, and is about Jonathan Coral, a character from the story who is determined to keep standing up to the wickedness and madness of the world despite his exile in the wilderness.

Over the couple of years since I released any new songs I've been trying to learn more about music production, graduating from my previous Amiga-style sound (and I have to thank ravenworks for giving me so much advice on vocal mixing). After experimenting with my own vocals on The Day the Night Slept, this is my first fully voiced album - and I hope you enjoy the sound as much as I do!

You can hear the high-quality version of this track on Bandcamp, along with a selection of previews from the rest of the album! I have just a few more tracks left to record - hopefully the full version will be available soon.

2016-04-22 23:19:00
KING'S QUEST 3: PART 7

When we left Gwydion, in stark contrast to his situation at the end of most of the other updates in this adventure, we had landed in Daventry and things were full of promise. At least, they had been until I walked on to a screen that resembled a special marathon edition of the awful pointless mountain path obstacle course that was the front path to our house. Shall we just hope that it doesn't go on too long?






It's already not looking good. It's impossible to see this due to the perspective, but if you fall off the edge of the path going towards the screen, then you don't plummet down a chasm - you fall to the path below and in front of it. This is just as bad because you then have to repeat a section.




The path looks like it goes behind a big rock here and that you'll have to cope with walking along a precarious line with your vision obscured, but instead Gwydion stops dead and there's no way around.




The solution is to retrace your steps and walk into the face of the rock, making Gwydion climb up it. The visual cue of having the rock a bit squiggly isn't all that great, but it's different from the surrounding rocks and as it doesn't involve typing anything to start climbing, it's not all that hard to do this by accident.




So here we are on the top layer. As we nudge ourselves tentatively around the top of the mountain...




Sigh. We're rewarded with this screen. Okay, let's continue - remembering to save every half-screen at least so that we don't have to do all this again.




Oh dear god make it stop. Well, it looks like we're pretty near the top now - once again, tiptoeing ever closed to the corner where the path goes around the mountain gives us...




A long drop followed by death. Yes, even though the same visual cue was used before to indicate that a path curves around the mountain, this time the path just stops dead (which coincidentally is what you've just done, too). So where do we go now? We've been doing nothing except walking a tightrope for the last five screens - there was no other way to go.

What you have to do is... no, not just walk in and out of the screen until somebody with a hang-glider appears. We walk back a bit again and use our newly-discovered climbing ability again by walking into the waterfall, which takes us to...




...a snow-capped mountain. This is already taking the record for the update that's been most varied in scenery. Hold on, who lives among the snow in King's Quest games?




OH, NO! And here I am without any custard pies. As a result...








OH MY GOD I DON'T WANT TO KNOW

The yeti has a chance of appearing on each of the three screens at the top of the mountain, and he's too fast to avoid - in fact he's also too fast to reasonably type in a command to do anything between his appearance and his grabbing Gwydion in a yeti-hug.

So we're going to have to get past him by turning into something less meaty beforehand.










As the fly (the eagle works too), you can buzz or swoop above the path and make it all the way to the right hand side of the mountain without the yeti bothering you - there's a screen between the two last ones I showed above, and it might have the best artwork in the game but you'll never know. You can either just avoid the yeti, or bump into him as your choice of flying creature, in which case...




The solitary hairy creature seems unjustifiably impressed by the presence of a small fly and goes home to post about it on Reddit. I think the text assumes that you transformed into a fly or eagle in front of him, but it's an order of magnitude easier to do it before heading on to any of these screens.

Out of curiosity, I tried going down the mountain and back up as a fly - it's much faster and skips all the precarious tightrope walking, and doesn't seem to have a time limit, making it a much better choice. This property would have been great for rewarding players who wanted to use their head to avoid the trip up to the wizard's house in Llewdor...






...if Sierra hadn't limited you to just three uses in the entire game. So there goes that nice idea.






Nevertheless, let's carry on. If you attempt to go off the bottom of the screen when transformed, you turn back into a human with the same message as if you dispelled the enchantment yourself (this is what I did above, instead of typing in the command). So the game forces you to be in your normal Gwydion-shaped form for this next screen, because it needs you to...




...FALL OFF THE MOUNTAIN AND DIE! This message appears immediately on entering this screen if you've taken the right-hand path - there's no way to anticipate that this route will be dangerous, it's just a complete guess on the part of the player. It's the beginning of what will be an absolutely hateful screen anyway.






Piss off, Sierra!




Okay. We've reloaded, we've taken the left path, we're on the safe side of the screen and we have a congratulatory message. Now we have to...




AAAGH




Okay, we're on the path. You do a lot of switching from climbing to walking on this screen and Gwydion does not pause when you switch between the two - as you can see, this means you have exactly four pixels to stop him before he happily blunders off the mountain. (Incidentally, I don't think I've explained this before - the AGI controls are fairly unusual, as you have to hit a key just once to start moving in a direction, rather than holding it down. You stop by pressing the key for the direction you're going again - hence, you need to actively press something to stop falling off, rather than just choosing not to move too far.) To avoid this, you could move further to the left, but if you stray off the narrow invisible safe section while climbing, Gwydion displays his usual ladder-climbing abilities and instantly falls to his death anyway.

So... there's a cave there. Just walking straight into it doesn't work.






I CAN'T




All right. Breathe. Even though it isn't obvious from the angle at which the cave is drawn, you have to go a but further to the left than you're comfortable with, go under the overhang and walk into the cave heading rightwards.




While in the caves, you move automatically and will continue in the direction you're going - so you've got to make sure you hit the Right key again before you step off.






Climbing climbing climbing. Narrow ledge again...




And we're there.




The cave takes us around to the other opening to the left. We climb the wall again. (Incidentally I've removed about fifty screenshots of me falling off.)




We've reached a ledge again...




...and we're finally off this screen! What's next?




WHAT




STOP IT




If this text box is anything to go by, typing LOOK on these screens gives you pretty detailed summaries of the locations. But I'm not going back to check them all now.




NO, WHAT NOW




OH THANK CHRIST

Okay. Entering this screen gives the "Whoops, you slipped!" message no matter what you do, but your fall doesn't kill you. The preposterously long tightrope walk is over and we're now in Daventry! Let's take a look in that cave to the right.








AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

2016-04-17 13:57:00
KING'S QUEST 3: PART 6

Our sixth update, leading into what you might broadly call the second part of the game, opens with a hornpipe being bleeped to us over the three-channel Tandy sound chip (from which I will spare you) and a cutscene without you involved (which I don't think has happened before in a King's Quest game, although I could be wrong). Well, it's the ship scrolling from left to right, but it's something.














Yes, we're spending the voyage down here in the cargo hold of a ship where they forgot to build the entire starboard side. Our inventory is looking pretty grim as well:





The pirates apparently intended to trap us here, but have thoughtfully provided a ladder.

Let's be on our way.








Oh, okay.














Sierra. I promise you - that's what it does. In a game where jumping hasn't even been an option before (it gives you the "How can you do that?" response if you try), Gwydion suddenly gains the ability here and it's the weediest jump ever.

Walking a screen right, however, gives us a potential solution.








That's twice in a few seconds that the game has broken rules that we thought it had established - the box doesn't go into your inventory, instead Gwydion carries it around with him until you tell him to put it down (presumably this had to be done to make it clear that you were going to have to do so).





This new little feature quickly proves to be the most irritating puzzle ever, as it's completely unclear where to put the crate once you've got it - I couldn't tell whether the ladder was meant to be more above one crate or the other. Once you've put the box down, you can type JUMP, which will make Gwydion do his rubbish jump straight up and stay on the little crate. If you type JUMP again, he will perform another straight-up jump, then probably twitch off the crate and end up back on the floor.

After much more of a faff than I care to reproduce here, I found this was the correct place for the crate.





And when you JUMP twice from here, Gwydion will suddenly gain the ability to jump diagonally and use it to its full potential to make it the three inches that we need to traverse.














From there, it's just a matter of jumping to the ladder (no animation this time, Gwydion just teleports on to it) and we're on our way.








Now then - on the middle deck, we can see into the captain's r- what? We've missed something? Sigh. Back down again.





So it turns out, as usual, there's a random chance of a pair of mice inhabiting this room where the crate was (and still is, in this screenshot, as I fell off the ladder when attempting to climb back down and died). As we still have the dough made of feathers, fur, snakeskin and wings in our ears, far from being able to hear very little like you would expect, we can hang around and hear their conversation.











Well, that didn't seem very important...























Are you kidding me?! I don't think so, because it's kept this up the entire game. This time, you not only have to keep going back and forth until the random thing you can't possibly know about until it happens happens, but you then have to consider it important enough to wander off and trigger again to get the information you need. And do you know the best part? We're still not finished!














After another back-and-forth to get the mice to appear again, they finally disclose the information that we need. But before I rant any further, I should let you know an important detail - this is a secret. You need to find this information to get the treasure chest later, but the treasure chest itself is only worth points and it isn't used for anything. It is... interesting to see the level of obtuseness with which Sierra hid their secrets, given their standard for things that they plausibly expected the player to discover.





All right. As I was saying, we have the captain's room - we can now see that he randomly appears and disappears from his desk because of course he does. As well as that, we've got access to one of those large twiddly things that ships have, which must presumably have some sort of purpose but I'm doomed if I'm meant to remember the noun to represent it.





See, even the game doesn't know. We'll sabotage that later if we have to. For now, let's sneak into the currently unoccupied room...











Here's our stuff!





Oh, but here's the captain, too. He doesn't like us snoopin' in his quarters.





See, the narration told us. It's weird that he puts it like that, as if he's okay with the prisoner having the run of the rest of the ship. Come to think of it, there wouldn't exactly be harm in that - it's not as if there's anywhere to go.





And there goes our stuff. So how do we get our inventory back without alerting the captain?





Yes, you guessed it - you just reload (or continue, as you have one free chance at getting caught) and do it again, hoping the captain doesn't randomly come out of the room to the left this time.





Oh... piss off, Sierra.





Anyway, we've got our inventory back - there's one obvious way off this ship, so let's pull out the map...








...and teleport ourselves to safety!





Well, I think it's safe to say that didn't work. Even if you select a square that clearly has land in it, when you teleport at this stage of the game you'll fall into the sea and won't get yourself anywhere nearer land by paddling around in any direction, eventually dying when your energy runs out. Let's avoid that by pulling out the magic (and presumably rather soggy) map again, and...








Oh - I'm honestly rather surprised that that worked. All right, so we can now explore the boat - pirates will randomly be on each screen of the deck, and if the sudden surprise chords accompany you on moving into a new room, you have to double back quickly to avoid being caught. The second screen here is above the captain's quarters that we saw before.





What's up here?





Nothing good. (This wasn't a reaction to "get off ladder", which doesn't work - it happens when you climb too near the top of the screen.)





So, we restore again - can I add, by the way, that I cannot work out how to get off the ladders effectively at all? Pressing Up or Down anywhere on the ladder will move you up and down as you expect, moving left and right will shift you in those directions (and as the ladder is slightly diagonal, you have to adjust infuriatingly every couple of feet). Eventually moving away from the ladder will make you fall off it and play Gwydion's dazed animation even if you fell a quarter of an inch. Which I suppose is still an improvement on playing his "dead" animation.





The cook consistently appears in the structure to the left (can you tell that I have no idea what bits of boats are called, by the way?), so let's stay out of there.





And below the other half of the deck (the screen that I teleported back to when I used the map), there's an upturned boat, a comically large number of bunks compared to the three or so people that seem to actually crew this ship, and a non-obvious splat that the game explains is a shovel if you look at the boat. So let's take that - but now what? We've travelled around the entire boat, picked up our stuff, got one new inventory item, but otherwise haven't discovered anything else that we might be able to do.





Yes. This is what the walkthrough advises us to do now - go down and wait in the hold for a while. There really is nothing else to do on the ship despite the large number of surprisingly detailed screens allocated to it (there's one more I didn't show you, the aft of the ship which you can get to by walking left from the captain's quarters or by being caught twice:)





So, we put that window to the background for a while, do something else, and eventually...





...land is sighted! The wooden pirate ship has made it all the way to Daventry in ten minutes flat with its main sails folded, relying on its outboard motor and jet propulsion system.

The timer is back in play again here, as you have six minutes to get off the ship before it sails again (the black market for plundered gold apparently being very efficient in those days). If you don't make it, then there's no way to complete the game!

The walkthrough says that this is where you're meant to use the sleeping powder to make things easier, but I don't really know why because escaping the ship is an absolute doddle:














You just walk up to the deck again, tumble off the side, and move right:











And... escaped. (You have to stay away from that shark, but it isn't all that hard to avoid as you move horizontally at the same speed as it does.) You can even teleport out of the hold, into the sea, and this time you can move right a bit and get to the same screen.

However, in the interest of showing you the "proper" way, let's go back and use the sleeping powder.








You get an "OK" in response to this, but otherwise no evidence that you've done anything.














For some reason I had a lot of difficulty with the incantation here - I tried a couple of different approaches to punctuation and including the "say" verb, but eventually I just reloaded, poured the powder and said it again and it worked.





From here, the escape is identical, except with the addition of sleeping pirates:








From the recipe, I had the impression that this spell would cause people to drop instantly and sleep - not feel a bit tired and decide to take a nap, giving them enough time to go back to bed before actually doing anything. Nevertheless, we eventually get back to the island, and we don't even get any more points for using the powder, so that was pointless.





This is the place that the mice were talking about - and the palm tree is fairly obvious. Count out five paces to the right, and then it's time to use that shovel...








And there it is! For going through all that palaver, we get... seven points. Fantastic. Thanks, Roberta Williams.

All right. So that's the pirate ship chapter done, but seeing as our entire role in this update has been to open a chest, pick up a shovel and then wait ten minutes, I'm feeling confident in continuing. Let's venture on to the north.





Actually, you know what - see you next time.

2016-04-14 19:57:00
KING'S QUEST 3: PART 5

I seem to have a habit of signing off these updates with our hero Gwydion either dead or very close to it. But I think we were on to something last time, so let's reanimate his component atoms once again and see if we can keep going.




First, let's take a look at this cookie.




Oh, no wonder he noticed something was wrong - that's pathetic. I thought the great Sorcery of Old would be able to produce something that actually looked like it was meant to be a cookie, not something a three year old battered into shape with Play-Doh and whatever they found lying around on the living room carpet. Some sort of disguise is going to be necessary.








I'm not absolutely sure I would have thought of anything approaching this myself. Gwydion is able to crumble the cat-cookie finely enough so that it's disguised as just lumps in a bowl of lumps, and the porridge still looks as good as porridge ever does (completely awful).




And this new item is not starred, indicating that Manannan will not notice it! I'm kind of uncomfortable with its new name, though - we're not poisoning Manannan, we're just... forcibly turning him into a cat by deceiving him into eating something really dangerous he doesn't know about. All right, I don't have the moral high ground here - but who cares, he's a dick.










Manannan hungrily gets through the entire bowl, not caring that we remain frozen in place eyeing him suspiciously the whole time. And so...






The wizard disappears in a puff of smoke, replaced by a cat that looks very similar to the existing one, which scampers non-stop about the kitchen. With that, we get the King's Quest fanfare parped to us over the PC speaker - Mannanan has been defeated!

And, er, to be honest I thought this was the ultimate goal of the game, even though I've collected only half of the available points. In fact, it's possible to cattify him within the first half-hour if you're quick - all you need to do is make the fly spell, overhear the bandits, get the purse, get the porridge, get the fish oil from the shop and make the cookie - so the innovation of basing events on this oppressive schedule in the adventure isn't as fully utilized as it first appears. Of course, working out how to do all that under pressure of time isn't as easy as it sounds, especially seeing as about half of those things depend on random chance (consulting the walkthrough, two of the "dynamic" events like this that I didn't notice are that the bandits might not be in the pub, and that the bear's house, against all logic and reason, might not contain any porridge).

Getting back to the game, as I mentioned, it appears to still be going - so let's find something else to do. Of course, no true hero would stoop to petty revenge, but fortunately I am not a true hero, so under the circumstances...






You absolute goody-two-shoes. Anyway, I don't think Manannan's life will actually have changed much as a cat - all he did anyway was stare at you uncomfortably, wander off on his own for extended periods, expect you to feed him and spend the rest of the time sleeping.

With no further time restrictions, we have the freedom to go back down the mountain and pick anything up at all, so let's get the items the walkthrough says I missed.










Oh dear god I hate this so much. LOOK FLOWERS gives you a nice description of the flowerbed but doesn't indicate that you need to do anything further with it... unless you're standing in the flowerbed at the time, in which case the same command suddenly gives a different response that hints that there's something you can pick up here after all. Let's put it in perspective, it's not as bad as a lot of the random events that we've encountered, but this is not saying much.






Thanks. I'll just balance that on top of all the other junk and carry it completely upright throughout the rest of the game.




While on my way to the next destination, the eagle I saw before flew past on this screen and this time it dropped a feather! You can see it just to the left and slightly behind the tree. I checked the walkthrough and yes, this is yet another event that has a random chance of happening, this time on one of two screens in the game. People must have just had a surplus of patience in 1986 to wander around a game staring at trees until something eventually happened. But then, Youtube hadn't been invented - they had to find something to do.




In addition to that, let's get some water...






...and some mud. To be honest, when we started I had hoped magic ingredients would be slightly more exotic than this.




And so, with an absolutely preposterous amount of stuff now in our pockets, it's time to go back to Manannan's house (or, as we should now think of it, our house). We have everything that we need to create all but one of the spells in the game.




Mind that cat, it's still deadly. If you look at it, the game's reaction hasn't changed - this is the same cat that was in the house before we added another one. You can't find Catannan again once you leave the dining room.

This section really is just ages of me copying bits out of the manual, so I'll just show you the interesting parts - the spells and what happens if you make a mistake (or innocently make a slight typographical error while standing over a spoonful of mud and some leaves). In another point I'll give to Sierra, not all of these are required for completing the game - some of them just add flavour, or other solutions exist to the puzzles they're needed for. The King's Quest games have actually always been good at providing alternative solutions to puzzles ever since KQ1, which makes it even more impressive just how awkward and impossible they managed to make it anyway.

First of all, we're going to make the spell for "Understanding the Language of Creatures". This uses the bits of animals that we've picked up throughout the game - the chicken feather, dog fur, snakeskin and fish bone powder - and adds a tiny bit of dew, which by the power of magic, turns it not into a repulsive clump of wet biological matter like you'd expect but some sort of dough. We have to use this dough by... stuffing it into our ears? Are you sure? I'm sure doctors warn against that sort of thing. Nevertheless, the game doesn't complain when you do it.

If you put in a command wrongly, though, you get this:




Gwydion can't understand the language of creatures like this, but he can probably understand the language of humans from the other side of the island. Once they're invented, he could also stand next to a television set and pick up Sky Sports.

The next spell is "Causing a Deep Sleep", which is a heated mixture of those really irritating acorns and nightshade juice. You also need a pouch to carry the resultant powder in (the one we bought from the store). If it goes wrong:




Pretty much as you'd expect.

"Brewing a Storm" is the third spell, and it's muddy water and toadstool powder. I hear some three-year-old make this by accident in the garden once and took out the entire east side of the island in a hurricane.




Failure here results in the storm being more localized, a personal cloud raining on Gwydion's head. (All of these are Game Overs, by the way, you don't get any second chances.)

And finally, we want "Becoming Invisible" - which is simply mixing cactus juice and toad spittle with lard and putting it in a jar. Sounds not unlike the cuisine of the American South. If you muck this one up, the result is...




...complete success. In fact, better than success, because the finished spell comes with a disclaimer that it will only work in places with fire and mist. This one has worked with us standing at a table without even trying. It still gives you a Game Over, though.

Strangely, all these spells list "one magic wand" as an ingredient, in a moment slightly reminiscent of this recipe from The Two Ronnies. Fortunately, while the wand is involved, it isn't consumed in the way the manual implies.

So, what's next, with our newly expanded inventory of magic goods? Well, that's slightly unclear. There hasn't been anything in the game where I felt I needed to understand the language of animals, but now, after wandering around the game for a while, you'll start to hear conversations between birds and so on.




Why not just put "PLOT POINT" in huge letters around the sides of the window?






I left this screen and came back to find a pair of squirrels on the rocks in place of the birds...but they didn't say anything.




...but they didn't say anything.




Mother Bear seems unimpressed, too - though I think we could understand her even without the spell.




Here's a screen that I haven't done much on so far. Given that this is a Sierra game, can you guess what happens when you approach the huge threatening-looking web?






In case it's not clear in the second screenshot, she ate me whole. I thought that spiders generally stayed on their webs and felt the approach of prey rather than watching them from afar, but when you're that big and threatening, maybe you just don't care much any more.




The obvious solution is to turn into an eagle - that species of bird well known for their spider diet.




Controlling the eagle is a bit awkward - you continually move forward in swoops, and you have to turn around repeatedly to work your way up the screen until...




...you get the spider. The rest of this happens automatically...










And with that, the web has... suddenly disintegrated from lack of maintenance or something, and we're free to enter the cave. Be warned - prepare to be blindsided by some plot.




















Oh, okay. Bye.




So... we now know that Gwydion is really the prince of Daventry, although the Oracle left him to infer that shocking truth for himself rather than say it outright. He concentrated far more on what's happening in the kingdom without offering us any hint as to where it is or how we might get there. In addition, he gave us an amber stone, which is useful for... nothing, really. It's the last ingredient we need to get the sixth spell in the game, but it's not a very good one, as we'll see.

Nevertheless, now we have our next objective, even though I think that I can imagine several ways in which this whole thing could have been conveyed to us slightly more elegantly than through a mysterious man who's hanging around in a cave in the middle of nowhere with a big crystal ball. (I tried to steal it but it said that mortal beings could not hope to touch it).

For the sake of completion, let's go back to our house and - oh, the chickens are talking.






I'm sorry, Manannan did some awful things in his life but I just can't see that as evil - that's the normal human-chicken relationship! In fact, these ones seem to be very well cared-for, considering the alternatives. If you want to avoid that, get a better job, Gertrude!




Okay, we're back in the lab. The last spell is for "Teleportation at Random", and to make it, we have to rub the stone in salty mistletoe. Then kiss it. If anything goes wrong during this apparently innocent procedure:




The result is a spasming puff of smoke that stays in one place, and it's honestly a bit underwhelming.

Oh that damn cat's back. In a touch that I'm impressed by, the death for it is different when you can understand its language:






Cats are evil bastards.




Leaving the screen and coming back should of course be our first thought by now because it's worked for 90% of the game so far, but we have an alternative now - let's try out that stone.




It took me to the study! Very nice.




And now I'm in the tower. The stone only takes you to places in the same general area that you're already in - the house, around Llewdor, and so on - so you can't use it and hope that you'll be teleported back home without having to go through the awful mountain screen. Fortunately, we're at the point in the game where we're getting ready to leave and we really don't need to go here ever again - let's say goodbye to the house, the chickens, stick a middle finger up at the cat, and go down to Llewdor again.

Incidentally, I took a moment to look up if the name "Llewdor" came from anything, and "llew" is the Welsh word for "lion". It also isn't pronounced how you think - the double L is a separate sound in Welsh and is helpfully listed in Wiktionary's Welsh pronunciation guide as having no English equivalent. Nobody can seem to agree how to approximate it, but the "thl" in the word "athlete" is brought up sometimes as not being a million miles away. So this place is called something like Thlewdor. Just one more reason to get out of here as soon as possible.




Fortunately, a ship has arrived since the last time we were on this screen. Even though there hasn't been anything but ocean here and no reason to visit the screen since the start of the adventure, you're expected to discover the change quickly, because if you don't within half an hour of talking to the Oracle, it will disappear along with your chances of completing the game.




Hello sailor!




He doesn't seem too friendly, but I don't think he's a real sailor anyway - a jolly-boat is a little rowing boat-style thing that's used to transport people to and from the much bigger main ship, and unless there's a three thousand capacity North Daventry Cruise liner just off-screen, this ship looks like the most substantial thing around.




To get passage on to the ship, we're going to have to talk to its crew, who have materialized in the tavern. A tavern with one table and three barrels of beer, in a town with nothing else in it except a store with a half-mummified dog where the most interesting thing is the lard - it's no wonder they want to leave within the half-hour.




You can order a drink for yourself and Gwydion twitches about at random for a bit making him difficult to control, but it's pointless to try and show a screenshot of it. Instead, let's talk to the pirates.






Oh! Sorry. Completely unassuming "sailors". Obviously. Well, we've got some gold.






It doesn't matter how much gold you have at this point, as long as you've got at least one piece - the captain will take it all. Note also that behind the dialogue window, the crew have rushed back to the ship at the speed of light as soon as you showed it to them. All we need to do now is follow them back to the ship.










Oh dearie me, etc. Well, what did you expect?!

2016-04-08 19:46:00
KING'S QUEST 3: PART 4

When we left Gwydion last time, he was in a bit of a dire situation, lost in the desert with time swiftly running out.




Even though I'd wandered into this zone and then back out again fairly easily when I tested it before getting these screenshots, I wasn't having much luck getting back this time. I went to the corner of the screen and scrolled around in a panic for a while before...




...oh, I forgot about the map.




That was much simpler than I thought. Here we are, out of danger once more - or at least, out of the immediate one. We've still got to get everything tidied away before Manananan wakes up, and very limited time to do it!




Not pictured: Several instances of dying on this rubbish screen because of that stupid boulder.






Back at the house, we tidy everything away - we didn't disturb the wand or the lab this time - and verify that Manannan is still asleep in his frilly bedroom. It isn't long before...






He pops in to tell you he's awake, then back out again, giving him the chance to reduce you to ashes if anything is still out of place. Fortunately we were more careful this time.




You have to wait around for a while being unable to do anything of much use, so this is a good opportunity to show you the debug screen. If you press Alt+D, you get a couple of messages about the version of AGI we're running on, and then a display of the room number in the lower right along with a couple of unimportant things like a letter H appearing when Gwydion is in the middle of an animation and out of control of the player. However, you can now see the interesting bit by typing WIZ STATUS...




This shows some information about Manannan, some of which makes more sense to the programmers (like the specific ID of his status) but which gives players some important information as well, showing what he's doing, how long it's going to be before he changes status, and if you need to do anything before that happens (if you have a chore, it will say something like "You have 2:55 without him to feed the chickens"). The timer isn't completely accurate here, as there's a random grace period after it runs out before he makes his appearance, but I don't think it ever errs the other way and shows more time than you think you have.

I was a bit surprised when I saw my last chore was dusting his office because I didn't think I'd done that at any time during this playthrough, but it's possible that I did that in one of my many restarts to get screenshots and this is the save that happened to survive.




A bit after two minutes and forty-four seconds later, Manannan teleports in. To my surprise he announces he's leaving, even though I thought the next step was to give us another chore - nevertheless, I'm not complaining. We should have until the game timer hits 1 hour and 30 minutes until we have to be back.




So, once again we use the map to get back into Llewdor, this time into one of the few screens we haven't seen yet - this little cottage south of the mountain. Let's see if anyone's home.






Oh... that can't be good.




In another surprising "not dead" moment, this giant bear wearing a hat and dungarees kicks us off the doorstep, Gwydion's head spins a bit but otherwise he suffers no ill-effects whatsoever. Clearly we're going to have to use some cunning to distract him in order to get into the house.




No, of course we aren't - as usual we just wander out of the screen and back in again until this happens. There are a few different states for the bears, but they're not based on any sort of time like the wizard is - when you enter, they can either be home, out, returning, leaving, or Mother Bear can be out tending to the flowers (and will similarly biff you off the screen if you tread near her). If they're leaving the house when you get near, you're safe to stroll in and do what you like.






And what else would three bears have in their house?






Look, you know how the rest of this is going to go - I'll save you the time.




Upstairs looks pretty much as you would expect as well. There's one more thing we have to get here before we set ourselves up to quite rightly be thrown out for entering someone's house without permission.








The thimble, oddly, is starred as a forbidden item in your inventory. It's used in the creation of at least one spell, but seriously, doesn't a thimble have more obvious innocent uses as well? I hear Gwydion had to take over at short notice after Manannan caught the last wizard-slave red-handed darning a sock.




Anyway. We don't have to do this next part and it offers us no points, but things just seem to be going that way.


















After Gwydilocks makes a forced exit carried upside-down out of the house, we now have everything that we need for the moment. There's an interesting-looking spell in the Sorcery of Old called "Transforming Another into a Cat" that we now have all the ingredients for, so let's head back early, open up the lab again and get things prepared before our favourite git-wizard gets back.






Just like the last time Mananann was away, we open up the lab again and head down. While checking the manual for this coming spell, I realized I actually got the dispelling-incantation (decantation?) wrong for reversing the fly transformation - it was meant to be "Fly begone, myself return". Perhaps there is a certain amount of forgiveness built in, a word that until recently I thought was foreign to Sierra.




Let's make a start. Following the procedure from the manual...




Good.




Okay.






Oh, bugger.






You know what image it's time for now. kjorteo, help me out here...




Thanks very much.

Let's try that again...






That didn't work either and ended the game as well.






These were also failures.






Finally, this worked - but it gave me a message that made me think that I hadn't done it right (there's no mention of measuring anything out with the deal of precision that we've been led to believe this takes, just dumping the whole thing into the mixing bowl!) and so I was unsure about whether I should continue. In some way, then, it's kind of welcome that the spell screen kicks you out at the slightest mistake, but in others, the parser is unbelievably restrictive, even considering that it's meant to be the copy protection. It seems that I was meant to PUT instead of POUR here - using the exact wording that's in the manual - and just didn't notice for ages.

That wouldn't be so bad, but the worst part of this screen is that if you use a verb that the game doesn't understand like that (therefore causing Gwydion to do nothing at all) it will fail you instantly and the spell will suddenly go disastrously wrong even if all you've got at that stage is a bit of lard in a bowl. If the tiniest mistakes in cooking caused such dire consequences I wouldn't be alive to write this playthrough-turned-extended-complaint.

In other words, I'm forced to eat the words that I wrote before about any sort of forgiveness.






This recipe doesn't sound very appetizing. Still, there's not long to go now...










And now all we have to do is wave the wand and we're finished!




I FORGOT THE WAND






One reload later, we do all of the above again, recite the incantation from the manual, wave the wand that we've remembered about this time, and our reward is this cookie. Magic is harder than it looks.




Let's test it out!






It worked! Oh, I didn't think that through. Time to reload again.




Manannan will be home in ten minutes, so we'll take the opportunity to tidy up while we can. This time absolutely everything's definitely back in the right place, and we just have to wait around until he arrives.




So, Master of Orion - that was a good game, wasn't it. Sort of like Civilization in space, but also somehow completely different.




I never understood the kind of people who played as humans in these kinds of games, given the opportunity to be a race of cats or eagle-people or even just awesome robot things. To be fair, each race has a special advantage unique to them and the humans are the expert diplomats, but still, I can't help but judge people as being just boring if they pick them. However, I speak as someone with a giant rabbit suit in the closet so my view might not be universal. I'll choose the Sakkra, a race of anthropomorphic chamaeleons.




You're given four screens of this on opening the game, which is absolutely overpowering - but the game is much more straightforward than it appears here. You colonize planets, you increase their population and build up the industry to produce more things faster, and spread throughout the galaxy.




This is home sweet home Sssla, which defaults to spending points on industry and ecology (on the right) - I've added some science so that we can get that going.




One turn later, the royal scientist turns up, not wearing any clothes for some reason (the racial advantage for the Sakkra is quick population growth - maybe that's why, it saves time.) Technologies are futher subdivided into six groups - computers, weapons, propulsion and I can't remember the rest. You can balance the amount of effort you're spending on each group in a separate screen, but for now, this one allows you to select a specific technology to work towards within each group.




We started off with a couple of scouts and a colony ship, so let's get exploring the universe - our nearest planet isn't great but it's habitable. There are a lot of different planet types in the game - some of the less ideal ones like Desert and Ocean support life with a reduced maximum population, but some are entirely dead and need colony ships with special equipment to populate them. On top of that, planets have properties as well - this one has technological artifacts, giving a very nice boost to technology points produced here. I'll have it!




I love the little spaceman that walks on to the screen every time you start a colony, planting a flag in the ground and claiming this land for our people.




Your ships always have limited range, which can be restrictive at the start of the game - you can only venture three parsecs from your closest colony. The scout ships have a bonus here, though, because they have reserve fuel tanks, adding three more parsecs to their range.




Unfortunately the other planets around us are looking pretty dismal. This one's barren, meaning I can't colonize it without researching how, and it has the Hostile property so the population growth is halved due to them all having to wear giant all-over prophylactic rubber spacesuits all the time.




However, making the best of a bad situation, the technology to colonize barren planets isn't far off. Unfortunately researching this doesn't automatically let you colonize them - you have to specifically design a ship with the right component to do it.




So let's go into ship design. You can only have six types active at a time, which is very restrictive - in my experience none of the starting ones are any good once you're past the beginning stages, so let's scrap everything but the scout and start them over.




The ship design screen also has a billion things on it, with all kinds of areas available for upgrade. Your weapons are in the middle, with up to four bays, and you have special components near the bottom there. If you need to increase your reach early in the game, you can redesign the colony ship with the reserve fuel tanks that feature on the scouts - but at this early stage it's very expensive to do so.

There's something interesting about the tech level in this game - as you spend more points on the different areas, in addition to achieving the obvious chosen advances, the 'size' value for existing technology slowly decreases to represent improvements in miniaturization. Therefore, later in the game, you'll be able to stuff much more into the same-size ship than you could with all the vaccuum tubes and harpsichords that had to go into the old ones. For now, having reserve fuel tanks and any sort of colony space will only fit on a Huge-sized ship.

It also pays to add some kind of defenses, and - oh, Manannan's back.






If he appears on this screen when he returns to eat, you have to leave and come back again before he's actually sitting at the table. I don't say that as a complaint, just an observation.






Here's a nice tasty snack!




Doo de doo de doo, nothing suspicious happening here.








Oh... as soon as you enter the room carrying the cookie, Manannan notices that you've been up to mischief, stands on the bench and vaporizes you. Indeed, it's marked as a forbidden item in the inventory. So next time, we're going have to have to come up with some sort of cunning plan to get him to eat this without noticing.

Or we could just walk in and out of the room until he doesn't see it. I don't know.





2016-04-03 14:48:00
KING'S QUEST 3: PART 3




When we left our hero last time, he was a pile of dust on the floor of the kitchen, leaving not much room for further exploration. So I've rewound time a bit - let's do this the right way this time.




Wand, cupboard, at the same angle as we found it. (Not really on that last part, mercifully.) I'm surprised but glad that the Sorcery of Old does not describe a "Who's had their hands on this wand since I last touched it" spell.




Okay, the study is all tidied up - in case I didn't make it clear last time, the trapdoor has to be down AND the book has to be moved back to cover the lever, leaving no evidence of you having discovered the lab at all. (Keeping the ingredients is fine. Perhaps Manananan has too many bottles to count, or just doesn't like saffron all that much.)




And with that done, we stuff the rest of our inventory under the bed - and wait for Nmamamam's return.




Here he is!






Without much ceremony, he demands a meal and poofs himself down to the kitchen, starting the next step in the wizard routine cycle. There are four things that are considered meals in the game, and you have to serve him one of them each time he gets to this point (on the half-hour-ish mark). A side effect of this is that if you get to four and a half hours on the game timer without the means to defeat him, it will be impossible to satisfy his appetite and he'll unavoidably kill you. So let's not spend four and a half hours on this game.




For now, we can just hand over one of our food items.






Oh, cripes, no we can't. I never thought of that - when I put my inventory under the bed, the food went there as well. Stay right there, let me go and blow the cobwebs off it.






There it is! Having no idea how much time I was being given to make a meal but assuming it was about three minutes like the chores, treacling my way up and down the awkward stairs was really very tense.








"Serve food" and "give fruit" didn't work, so eventually I hit on this, which is the correct sentence. After doing that, you're frozen in place for a while as Mnannanan munches, then he eventually leaves.




After this you have to stay around the house for a while and not do anything suspicious, as the wizard will appear to check on you regularly, saying nothing before teleporting out again. Once, I got this message as well, although I'm not sure what caused it and nothing else special happened.




Eventually, Manananan announces that he's going to sleep. This is another chance for you to get up to mischief.




Like all wizards, he sleeps fully clothed in his robes on top of the blankets. I had a go at testing the limits of the game and my stupidity...






I don't suppose he'd find the old "shaving foam in the hand then tickle face" trick funny?

Still - with Manamanamanman asleep, we can safely leave the house for a while again. Let's get that recently recompleted magic map out from under the bed and put it to use...






This is something that didn't occur to me when I talked about the use of the map - you can use it to instantly teleport out of the house and into Llewdor, hastening your progress and (arguably more importantly) avoiding the treacherous, tedious journey down the mountain. I'm so delighted that I'll never have to see that screen ever again.




Forgot about the rest of my inventory.

My celebration was a bit premature, anyway - you can't teleport back to the house, clicking on its square only gets you as far as the bottom of the mountain so you have to walk the rest of the way yourself. While I'm talking about the map, why in the world did they choose F6 and F8 as the triggers for that screen? They're far from the most reachable or most reasonable keys to use.




Okay - we've been back to the house and have teleported down again, we're fully tooled up with a hundred thousand items crammed into Gwydion's pockets, and we're ready to go. There's one place where we've already seen a load of items that looked interesting.




With our coin purse that we stole from the bandits (which they in turn stole from other people so that makes it all right) we can buy up some interesting groceries!




"I got it from the GameFAQs boards when Undertale was declared the best game ever. Incidentally I'm going to have to turn you in, since as we all know, playing all other games is now illegal."




You have to specifically COUNT COINS to see how much gold you have left, although the message for LOOK PURSE hints at this. You start off with eight of them, and buying all the items available in the shop leaves you with four.






It turns out you actually need to interact with the dog as well, though in a less violent manner than I attempted to earlier. We grab a tuft of fur from the worn out dog without it just collapsing into a sad heap of fluff, and it's time to move on.

Let's wander round the world for a bit hoovering up some items that we'll possibly need later, and assess how discoverable they would be without the walkthrough.










Great, some mistletoe. Now we can oblige Manannan to kiss us - or perhaps it's used for a spell. As Sierra situations go, this is a pretty fair one - it's not totally clear what the green splodge on that tree is meant to be, but typing LOOK says it outright no matter where you are in the room, and there's no trickery to picking it up.




I don't like the look of this place much, and I don't think there's anything useful here - it's best to move on quickly.




Actually I'm going to have to postpone the item-hoovering journey for now, because with a sudden musical cue that scares the absolute bleeding life out of me, the bandits from earlier suddenly appear on the screen again. As they move much faster than you, you don't really have much of a hope unless you're near the screen border - and I'm not.








Yes, a check of my inventory reveals that they have indeed taken everything - even the wad of damp dog fur and my Rt Hon Tub of Lard MP. Perhaps there's a major black market for both these things in Llewdor.

Fortunately, because this is King's Quest 3 and not King's Quest 1, we don't have to restore, restart or quit now - we can just repeat our earlier route to the treehouse and get our items back, for the cost of just a little time.








I've left out screens of the four or five times that I had to yo-yo up and down the ladder, looking into the treehouse each time to see if the bandit was asleep or not.




Here's another reminder of the sheer amount of stuff I'm carrying with me now - half the lab, most of the shop and a few odds and ends from around the countryside for good measure.




I also have eight gold coins again, because I pinched the purse from the table next to the sleeping bandit while I was in there. Now that I look at it, the game awarded me four points for this despite having done it earlier - I wonder if there's a limit to how many times you can do that, or if it's a bug.




The scenery in Llwedor is really rather nice, especially for being rendered at such a low resolution in sixteen colours. Screens aren't always the same when you enter them - sometimes there will be birds on the trees, or squirrels on the rock here, or an eagle flying overhead. Or as I seem to have captured, flying beak-first into a tree and getting wedged there with a noise like a ruler being twanged off a table.




In case it wasn't clear, I've had no idea what I was doing for about the last five minutes. Consulting the walkthrough again, though, leads us back here, where we are nonchalantly pointed towards the acorns in a phrasing that makes them not seem to matter, while simultaneously screaming that they're very important.

To save me some typing, please look back and forth between these next two screens for a while.






I'm trying my best throughout this playthrough to point out interesting parts of the game instead of just talking about how much I dislike Sierra's early approach to game design, but I absolutely hate how random everything in this game is. In an adventure game, you have to use your wits to work through the puzzles, and it's fair to expect that you'll be given the information needed to solve them, however obtusely. However, in this case, after a random number of tries...




All that happens here is that you might be able to pick up three acorns, or (far more likely) you'll get a message that you don't find any dried ones and there's no indication that the game's state is going to change at any time to provide any. It's just obstructive - there's no way that you would think to keep trying, especially as you have to leave and re-enter the screen each time. The only way that this would have been all right is if you could also dry them out yourself by bringing along Manannan's magic cordless hairdryer.

Sigh. Moving on.




Let's have a change of scenery and wander into the desert that borders the lleft side of Llewdor.








Well, that didn't take long. I don't think I can do much else now.




Like several things from the early King's Quest games - the goat and the bridge, the completely awful Rumpelstiltskin "puzzle", and so on - we can get the solution to this one from fairytales and myths (myth-information).






Instead of walking into the screen, we turn around and stop just after entering it so that we're not turned to stone when the Medusa arrives (unlike other roaming characters, she'll always appear on the left of the screen after a couple of seconds of being in here). If you remember, we picked up a hand mirror several updates ago, and now is the perfect time to use it!






oh god




This didn't work either.






After a couple of tries I hit on this wording, which the game finally accepted but it still wasn't going to go out of its way to reward me for it. You have to let the fast-moving Medusa get uncomfortably close before...




Finally. And I didn't even get a good screenshot, because she was behind the cactus in the foreground when I froze her. Never mind - with another puzzle solved, let's get going.




If you look at the ground, the game tells you that an indeterminate smear on the ground is a dried snakeskin. When you pick it up and look at it, the description tells you that it's delicate and could easily crumble. I'm just going to hope that that doesn't mean it's going to suddenly disappear from my inventory after a set time or if I bump into anything.








This screen is to the north of where we were. Attempting to look at the prominent ex-cattle in the centre of the screen by using "bones" or "skeleton" just brings up the description of the fish bone solution in your inventory, so I tried looking at the ground, but Gwydion was much more interested in the small unremarkable-looking cactus off to the side.




I'll grab it anyway.




To the left of the first column of desert screens, the rooms start to become randomly generated. There's a cactus identical to the one we saw on the last screen here, but this one isn't important. It's time to go back.




Oh... unfortunately the exits and entrances for these screens seem to point to random places as well. After wandering a screen to the left, walking back to the right isn't necessarily going to take you out of the desert. I think I might be lost.




And I think that this might be the last person who got lost here.




What do you think I'm trying to do?!

Things aren't looking good for Gwydion here - you can spend limited time in the desert, and the clock is getting dangerously close to the hour mark when Manannan is going to wake up too. But I'm going to leave this on a cliffhanger - will he get out of the desert alive or will he be mildly inconvenienced into having to reload a previous save? Keep watching to find out...

2016-04-02 21:03:00
KING'S QUEST 3: PART 2




Llet's take another trip to Llewdor, lland of magic and mystery. Llast time we started to hatch a plan to free us from slavery to Mnnananan, taking advantage of his back being turned and discovering the key to some powerful magic that could help us defeat him. We've still got some time before the prickwizard returns from his conference on smashing puppies with hammers or whatever, so let's head south and get off this mountain!




Oh, cobblers. Sierra loved these kinds of screens - winding cliff paths that had to be walked along with the utmost care. (The same was true of the basement stairs, but the path in that case was much wider and simpler to follow.) If you make a wrong move...






You fall down the mountain and are never seen again.

If you'll allow me to digress for a moment, I feel that Sierra's attitude to death in adventure games is an awfully pointless thing - the challenge of an adventure is in logical (or semi-logical, or outright demented) thought, working out the things you need to use on other things to progress in the game. So if you introduce death, all you're doing to the player is testing their memory, making them plod from wherever they last saved through the same things they've already done just to get back to the place where they were - there's no challenge there, it's not like an action game where your achievements are in getting from one safe point across a dangerous stretch to another safe point.




Space Quest (and later King's Quest games) improved on this a bit by making the deaths more interesting - they still make you restore or restart and sometimes come out of absolutely nowhere, but they're funnier in general and you feel like you're the willing butt of a joke - the game takes on a game show host tone similar to Jeremy Beadle after covering you from head to toe in a bolognese explosion, where you know you're at the mercy of a prankster and the joke's on you but you both laugh about it afterwards. (Oddly, at the same time, some of the Space Quest 3 deaths are shockingly bloody - it's a strange juxtaposition.)




And to give Sierra further credit, which is a shocking move for me, their later adventures starting with King's Quest 7 gave you the power to reverse death and go back to just before you made the bad decision. Here, you're asked if you want to try again from the same place, and Torin's Passage adding an "Oops" button in addition to the agonizing "restore/restart/quit" choice. This feels far more sensible - you can keep the funny or creative deaths but avoid punishing the player by making them have to guard constantly against them.

But we're in 1986 with King's Quest 3, so what we have to do is traverse the mountainside very carefully and save at each step of the way. It's not nearly enough to make the game an action-adventure or anything - it's just pointless busywork.




Oh, good, another one.




But with that over with, we have llanded in Llewdor! Llet me zip around for a moment and I'll get back to you soon.




That's more llike it.

Similar to most of the King's Quest environments, Llewdor is a cylindrical world about fifty metres thick with unusually impressive gravity, where you can walk around from north to south in the space of four screens. It's bordered on the west by a randomly-generated desert that stretches off infinitely, and on the east by the sea. The magic map fills in as you enter each screen, and you can use it to teleport from one screen to the other. It's a nice thought, although I feel it would have been a bit more useful in the earlier King's Quest games where the world was much bigger - it's comfortable to just walk between these screens.




Let's start off by going east a bit to a town! Well, I say "town" - it's a couple of buildings at the end of a pier, and the architects had forgotten that they were building houses and not boats and put portholes in them. Nevertheless, let's see if there's anything interesting in the store first.




It looks like we have loads of shelves of items (though it isn't clear if any are useful for adventuring), barrels, a furnace, a pretty ratty-looking dog and a decidedly jaundiced shopkeeper. (King's Quest 3 is the first of the games to use a remotely flesh-coloured tone for its main character - the previous two gave King Graham bright yellow skin like in The Simpsons.)




I take it back - it looks like I'm being blatantly told which ones are useful! You know Gwydion has been living a sheltered life when lard is considered interesting.




But then I remembered a small setback. All right - we'll come back here later.








Just testing the game's morality, don't mind me.




I didn't make a great transition here, but we're in the other building now, which is a tavern. When you enter, the unsavoury gentlemen on the left call to the woman at the bar. You can try to talk to them, but...




They won't give up any information if they can see us, so it's now time to break out the spell that we prepared earlier. The manual - sorry, the tome of the Sorcery of Old - gives us instructions on how to activate it, and I'm not aware of a way to mess it up really badly.






I've gone! Well, I've turned into a fly - I'm on this screen somewhere but I can't see where. When you're a fly you appear as a black dot a couple of pixels wide, which buzzes around in a rough figure of eight - you can move as normal, if a bit slower, and fly over any barriers that were in your way as a human.

Incidentally, I was suddenly inspired to find out why King's Quest uses the strange Commodore 64-style horizontally doubled resolution - it's due to the game's roots on the ill-fated PCjr, where memory concerns were so tight that stretching the screen from a resolution of 160x200 was the only viable way to fit the whole thing on to the disk. To save further space, the graphics are stored as vectors instead of bitmaps - the same approach as was taken for Mystery House, the first graphical adventure ever.

And the wizard pride flag that was hung throughout Mnnnnnnnn's house is on the east wall here, too! I think the entire population of this town is a shopkeeper, a tavern wench, a couple of shady inhabitants and one very unimaginative modern artist.

Where were we? Oh yes - buzzing.




That sounds promising! Be more careful with your secrets - even the flies have ears. Or do they? They probably don't. Let's buzz off.




I'm just below the tavern's doorhandle on this screen. We're going to fly a couple of screens to the west.




This is the tree they were talking about - there's a hole in the bottom there that could easily be interpreted as just part of the graphics. Amusingly, when you try to type in an action that you could reasonably do as a human, you just get "Bzzzzzz" in response.




With no commands at your disposal, you just have to touch the hole at the base of the tree to fly inside. And inside, you find this:






You can't actually do anything here - it isn't very obvious, but what matters is that you now have knowledge of the existence of that rope. Let's turn back into a human, once again reciting instructions found in the manual.






"heading for what you hope is a safe place to land" sounds awfully dodgy, but I don't think I'm in any danger here - the fly flies over to one of a couple of what appear to be predetermined points on the ground and with a puff of smoke, you're your old self again, with a temporarily enhanced craving for sugary drinks.










Looking in the hole still doesn't do a whole lot for us, but reaching inside lets us tug on the rope and reveals a rope ladder. Up we go!




The tree, which has expanded in size considerably since we were looking up at it from the ground, hides a ramshackle treehouse! So let's take a look inside, and...




Er, actually, Gwydion forgot to stop climbing the ladder - I had assumed he would stop once he reached the top, but he kept on climbing, eventually ran out of rungs and then fell with a splat back on to the ground. It's time to reload and try that again.




We made it off the ladder and on to the platform, and...






...we find ourselves in the centre of a Gwydion-shaped crater once again. This is going to take some more creativity to work out.




Actually, it isn't. The walkthrough tells me that this is just another situation where if things don't go your way, you come back later and hope they do so next time. In this particular case, you can use "look in house" or a similar command to examine the inside - if there's a bandit in there, then you just have to leave and re-enter the screen by climbing down the ladder and back up (which as we've established is a more dangerous feat than you might think). If it tells you that the bandit is asleep, though, then you're safe to go in.






I'll have that - thanks! There's also a bin at the back of the treehouse that you can't really see with the text window there. The bandits can randomly appear around Llewdor when you're walking through a screen, and steal an item from you if they touch you - if something gets stolen, then this is where you have to go to get it back. They work in a similar way to the dwarves in King's Quest 1, except they just took a random item from you and it disappeared from the game forever. This is a rare case of Sierra learning a bit of fairness in game design. Not nearly fast enough, but learning nonetheless.




And as soon as I mentioned the roaming bandits - they leap out from behind the trees as soon as I've alighted on the ground.




But I got away from them by walking down a screen. They're not very determined.

Looking at the top bar, time seems to be getting on a bit - we'd better start thinking about hiding our activities. So regrettably, it's time to go back to the house!




Climbing back up the mountain highlights something I didn't notice before - you can't even see Gwydion when he's behind this rock! And you have to stick close because the path is to thin - you can only glimpse the top of his head peeking out from behind it a split-second before you go too far over and fall down the chasm. As a result I had to set the speed to slow here so that I had time to react, inching my way forward to align myself with the path going north. It's bollocks.




Okay, we're finally home - quick, let's cover up our naughty activities the same way you did after smuggling those girl's magazines into your room as a teenager. (Again, though I can't remember how I hit on this particular noun, it's nice that you can specify "inventory" here instead of having to go through every last thing.)






And indeed, our inventory is now empty. Manabanana never ventures into here so everything is safe - even though there's a pretty clear line of sight into the room and the view of the legs at the base of the bed hovering a few inches off the floor on top of the vast mound of items that Gwydion has crammed under it.






With the wizard due back any minute now, we zoom around the study, closing the trapdoor, putting everything back into place and straightening everything up like the last minutes of an episode of Changing Rooms.




Leaving us just enough time to scamper into the kitchen and look innocent.




Forty seconds after the half-hour mark, Mnmnmnnrn appears in a puff of smoke, and... oh. I forgot about that, after specifically pointing it out in the first part - the wand was part of the collection of inventory that I stuffed under the bed, and the wizard has noticed its absence from his cabinet.






ZAP!, and he reduces you to a pile of salt or ash or something, thus ending the game. Presumably he's just going to have to feed his own damn chickens from now on, or until he kidnaps some other child. In the meantime, just like in Red Dwarf, your only use to him now is if it snows and he needs something to grit the path with.

We'll leave it here for now - next time we'll do this properly, deal with what we need to do and explore the outside world again.

2016-03-28 21:53:00
KING'S QUEST 3: PART 1

kjorteo has been doing a great playthrough of the Dagger of Amon Ra recently (and also up to three years ago), walking through the game and finding out where it succeeds and (far more often) fails as a mystery and an adventure game. I'd eventually like to do something along the same lines for the game that came before it, The Colonel's Bequest - I once started a video of it, but it consisted of about an hour and a half of wandering around accomplishing nothing at all and then falling into a pond.

Therefore, I'm going to rewind a little further, and as I've been playing a couple of the earliest King's Quest games out of curiosity, I wanted to bring you the experience of King's Quest 3, and my thoughts on its game mechanics, unique touches and unfortunate Sierra-ness. You can bet I'm using a walkthrough, because these games are irritating at best otherwise.

The reason I want to show off King's Quest 3 in particular is that it's a very unusual adventure game even today, bravely displaying a dramatic difference from the mould set by the first two games. No, you can still screw yourself over by eating vital inventory that you'll need later, missing a pixel-high item with no hinting that it's your last chance to get it or die by tripping over a cat and falling down the stairs - what do you think you're playing, a game written by a reasonable person? But the new mechanic is obvious from the moment you start the game:




Up on the status bar there, along with the score that hangs over your head in most Sierra games, is a timer. You need to pay attention to this so that you can prepare to meet certain deadlines in the game - you need to have specific items in certain places at certain times, or you'll die in a Sierra move that will surprise absolutely nobody - but considering their usual degree of helpfulness, I'm surprised they just didn't expect you to work out the schedule for yourself and then keep a million bits of paper to keep track of time across saves.

Here's the reason you need to keep track of time:




Manannan. In King's Quest 3, your character is at the opposite end of the social spectrum from the previous two games - you play not as a knight or king of the realm, but as Gwydion, a slave boy in an evil wizard's house. Evil Mananaan and his evil pointy hat will appear with an evil music cue on his evil Walkman to interrupt your adventuring throughout the game, and our overarching objective is to defeat him - but you have to make preparations for this surreptitiously and not let him catch you in the act. Fortunately this wizard's schedule is inhumanly regular, so as long as you keep it in mind, you'll have time to hide the evidence of your actions.

The beginning of the cycle, which happens just a few seconds after starting the game, is this:




Manannan gives you one of a set of randomly chosen chores. None of these are complicated at all, but you have to get them done within three minutes, and there are certain parts of the house that you can be punished for entering unless it's specifically required for you to be there. In another absolute godsend, you can now alter your walking pace after having spent 99% of the previous games plodding at a snail's pace throughout the large game worlds looking for something to do - the available options are stupidly slow (the default), nonsensically slow, stupidly fast, and just about right (the setting described as "fast"). These speed changes don't affect the timer, it just seems to be the speed of animations and Gwydion's walking pace - so I'm going to be playing on the fast mode for most of the time.

Even without taking advantage of our increased speed, this particular task is easy enough - all we have to do is go outside (down from our current screen) and feed the chickens.




The wizard's house is on top of a cliff that overlooks the lland of Llwedor, an attempt at a Welsh setting this time around by the Williams partners-in-crime. You can't go beyond here just yet - if you leave this screen and try to go down the mountain, Manannan (whose name I think I'm just going to spell by hammering the A and N keys at random from now on for the sake of expediency) will appear and zap you back to the interior of the house.

Mnananan will check up on you occasionally by appearing for a moment in the room during this time, and if you delay beyond three minutes in completing a chore, he'll do something unpleasant to you.








Yes, he's turned Gwydion into a snail and reset his walking pace back to compete with King Graham's record for the slowest speed ever recorded by man. This punishment is also randomly chosen, and they all last for one boring minute or so, after which you pop back to normal. An unusual act of mercy for Sierra, not making the game silently unwinnable or killing you instantly, but having to sit through these punishments takes away precious time that you could be using for other things in the game.

There are two tiers of annoying Maananan - there are small transgressions like this that result in punishments, and large ones for which he'll zap you with magic and turn you to dust. But to avoid them both, we basically don't want to touch, fiddle with, disturb or interfere with anything in the house unless we've been told to.




Until this happens! At about the five-minute mark, Mnanananan will announce he's leaving. From this point until he returns twenty-five minutes later, you're free from supervision - so let's get going and run around the house madly with a cereal box on our head like Kevin in Home Alone.




First of all, here's the top of the tower, up the stairs from the previous screen. There's a large telescope here, not for looking at the skies but for spying on Llwedor's inhabitants - also of note is the dead fly on the floor. When you pick this up, Gwydion acts disgusted and opts only to keep the wings, as if that's any better.




Here's the wizard's bedroom on the middle floor. He doesn't normally like you snooping around, possibly embarrassed by his flamboyant Barbie Dream House magenta bed. In a nice touch, the mirror in this room works when you walk past it.




I think this is an unusual example of Sierra's picky and unhelpful attitude towards the player - if you try to OPEN DRAWER when you're right up against it, you get this message. You have to be standing not too close, but not too far away, to be able to open it.




You can also open the wardrobe (without being mocked for your lack of spatial awareness) and find a piece of parchment inside. Rather cruelly, you won't find this if you "search wardrobe" - it will tell you there are some clothes, shoes, and nothing else interesting. It's only when you LOOK BEHIND CLOTHES that you suddenly find this item.




As you can see, it isn't much use yet, but we'll come back to this later.




You can get a key by searching the top of the wardrobe, too, but you don't need to put in any effort to climb up to reach it despite Gwydion clearly being half the height necessary to have a hope of finding anything up there.

Overall, our haul from this room is the key, the parchment, a hand mirror from the vanity table, a bottle of rose petal essence from the drawer, and the knowledge that Maaanaan has terrible taste in modern art from the giant striped painting hanging on the wall.




Our own accommodations are at the other end of the floor and a bit more motel-level than the grand bedroom, with some drawers, half a mirror and a bed that's basically a plank with some sheets on it. We can't do anything here yet, but it will become an important location later.




As I make my way downstairs, I just want to take a moment to complain about the controls - there are a lot of screens around where you have to walk diagonally, and you have the ability to do this with the Home, Page Up/Down and End keys, but the angle that you walk at doesn't quite match up to the angle of the stairs - so to traverse them, you'll be spasming madly at the arrow keys while Gwydion continually crashes into the sides after making an inch of progress. At least you can't fall off anywhere... yet.




Here's the dining room, to the right of the downstairs room. We can get a cup from the table, but that's about it for now.




In comparison, we can absolutely ransack the kitchen. There's a loaf of bread, some fruit and mutton on the table (which in a nice touch you can scoop up all in one go by typing GET FOOD), and we can also pick up a spoon, knife and bowl from near the fireplace.




After looting the house, our inventory is getting to be a busy place. The starred items are special - in another uncharacteristically helpful move from Sierra, they denote the items that are dangerous to have in your inventory when the wizard is around. Honestly, this is most of them, with the exception of food and utensils. So let's move on quickly.




The last room in the house is MMAanananana's study. This is another room that you'll be punished for entering unless you have good reason to be there - which means it's got to have some really good stuff.




And here's a great example! The wand is our ticket out of here, but is also an incredibly dangerous item - most of the starred objects just have to be hidden by the time Mananaan gets back, but the wand absolutely has to be back in this cabinet with the door locked or you're going to be a very dead servant.

With that in mind, let's fiddle with some more things. Is that a copy of Bob's Big Book of Cliches that I see on the bookshelf over there?










Yes, it was. Let's take a look down here...






I think it's safe to say that we've found the wizard's secret lab! (Although we already knew we must have had one somewhere. There are limits as to how much evil you can conjure up just in your study with a pen and paper, unless you write for Breitbart of course.)




The shelves at the back hold all manner of hideous and foul ingredients, including the ghastly SAFFRON! Just between the Awful Apple Juice and the Horrifying Curry Powder.

In a spectacular return to form from the generous moment in the kitchen, there's no catch-all command to grab everything at once here - you have to memorize all the names from the list in that window and type them in individually. If you attempt to shorten them (such as using "GET NIGHTSHADE"), the game will sometimes - but not always - fail to recognize the item and say "You don't need it", which can be misleading.




There's one other very big interesting item in this room - let's take a look at this!




Or maybe let's not. If there's one thing that I'll give to Sierra games, they're usually pretty good at taking synonyms into account - for example, the wardrobe upstairs can be referred to as a CUPBOARD, CLOSET, WARDROBE and probably some other things as well, so I'm surprised that this term didn't make it in. LOOK BOOK gives us the following description.








At this point I became hugely confused, because the walkthrough I was using instructed me to open the book to page IV and to cast the spell on it. I had no idea how I was meant to know to use Roman numerals, other than by process of elimination after you realize you can't enter numbers on the command line (they're interpreted as directions as if you were using the numeric keypad). And I didn't know how I was supposed to work out I was meant to use page 4, either - but I took a look anyway:














So it looks like I've turned myself into a humanoid fly by accident. It turns out that everything to do with the spellbook is part of the game's copy protection, a more creative (but also more annoying) spin on the "Look up word 4 of paragraph 2 of page 7.png" approach that many games used at the time to make sure you had a physical copy of the manual. Like all instances of what we now know as DRM, this just made it impossible to play the game unless you had the manual on hand at all times and didn't lose it - fortunately, in this day and age, we have PDFs and ReplacementDocs, and you can follow what's going on by getting the King's Quest 3 manual from here: http://www.replacementdocs.com/download.php?view.595

Now that I have the spell in front of me, it looks like I do indeed have the ingredients required to turn into a fly - it's not exactly an ambitious start, but we all have to begin somewhere. Spells really do have to be entered very precisely with no room for mistakes. so they thoughtfully provided most of them in appalling handwriting that you have to squint to read. Nevertheless, let's see if we can work some magic.






Hold on, "a pinch" isn't very precise. What if you've got really big or small hands? And do you have to adjust depending on how much essence you're using? I don't think you've really thought this through.






After doing that first step, you're given this unusual prompt and you have to painstakingly copy the verse out of the book like some kind of typing tutor. At least it's more interesting than the reams of "a dad had a sad lad" that I had to plod through on the BBC Micro at school.










Wave the magic wand for the moment of truth, and we're going to... live!




We now have an inventory that I think is larger than the most items you could ever get in any previous King's Quest, most of it incredibly incriminating. And thanks to our newly found spellcasting skills, among our wheelbarrow of stuff is the Magic Rose Essence, our first magic item. I would show you what it does, but the walkthrough tells me that Sierra gave us only three chances to use the spell and we need them all. Wankers!

I'm going to wrap up this part when we make our way out of the house, but before we do that, we have a bit of cruelty to animals to perform first. (Don't worry, it's justified.) Let's go back upstairs...






OH, OH!! You might have noticed the cat skulking around in some of the screenshots before - he moves around the house at random, and if he appears on these stairs, he will cause you to fall and die if you get anywhere near him. The only way to get around this is to leave the screen the way you came, come back and hope he isn't there the next time. I will call him Wolf Heimlich.

Wolf Heimlich has another vital item that we're going to need later, and this is a good time to do it - it will also show off one of the more hateful moments of the game so far. You see, you can attempt to pick up the cat, which will usually result in this:






You get a few scratches for your trouble, and the cat runs off to another part of the room. There's no indication that you're on the right track, or that the same action will eventually work - faced with this in the absence of a walkthrough, I would have assumed that I need to build some sort of elaborate cat trap, perhaps with a tuna sandwich, a stick and a laundry basket. The real solution, though, is to just keep trying in the face of no progress. I've recreated the experience as best I can through screenshots alone:


























Got it! That was terrible. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to this, it doesn't matter if you approach the cat from behind, the front, to the side, and it doesn't work better in particular parts of the room than others... there just seems to be an extremely small random chance that you'll be able to pick the cat up, and if the numbers aren't on your side, you get a message that might as well tell you to go away and try something else. Thanks, Sierra!

Nevertheless.








I didn't take screenshots of the first two windows at first, but I found to my delight that you can pick the cat up a second time as well (Gwydion has accumulated more scar tissue on his arms than actual arm at this point). With a nasty laugh, you pull a bit of Wolf Heimlich's fur out and he runs off in a ball of fury and hate.

By way of experiment, I found you could also "kick cat", with the same "SCREEEEECH (heh, heh, heh)" response.

There's one more thing I want to bring up before I forget - this is the first King's Quest game where saving and loading was bound to the function keys (F5 and F7) respectively, but not also to commands that you could type in. So when I habitually type SAVE:






You get a message which I frankly find a bit condescending.

Anyway. It's time to leave the house - let's take one more souvenir with us before we go down the mountain.










Chickens, being less intelligent and a lot less evil than cats, are much more happy to be picked up and to have their feathers plucked from them. Although I'm surprised there weren't any feathers just lying around - these hens keep a very neat coop.

And that's all for this time! We're leaving Gwydion with his temporary freedom and a bathtubload of incriminating evidence - in the next update, hopefully we'll have time to explore the wider game and not get killed.

2016-03-27 18:31:00

I miss journalling and I'm going to try some writing again - we'll see how it goes.

All the way back in 1997 or so, we got a modem installed in my dad's Pentium and had a computer capable of accessing the Internet for the first time. I used this primarily to play Quake, fascinated that I could play against thousands of people from all around the world (none of whom were particularly pleasant or literate). It was incredible at the time, but in the wake of my recent re-obsession with Doom, I've been playing through it again (through the Darkplaces source port) to see how it holds up today.

There are a lot of things that I didn't appreciate at the time - it was known as a true-3D successor to Doom, after its predecessor had used genius-tier workarounds to construct a 3D environment without having to actually render it that way - so the sudden move to full polygonal monsters, weapons and a greater freedom in level design felt like a revelation. In Doom, you could never have any level space above or below any other (so no bridges, platforms within a larger room, or even simple things like a shelf against a wall), though it was smoothly designed enough that you would be hard pressed to notice unless you were really looking. Quake lifted this restriction, and you can feel that the level designers are very enthusiastic about their newfound abilities, with platforms circling rooms, multi-tiered constructions and extensive use of the new underwater environments. One example I saw cited at the time in some magazine or other was in the secrets - they're no longer about running along walls hammering the space bar. In fact, the complete removal of the Use button means that there's more emphasis on shootable targets than before, and you have to look for buttons and switches on ceilings, floors, little ledges that you can sneak around, and so on.

There's something I miss compared to Doom, though, and that's demonstrated in Quake's choice of colour scheme. Well... brown. Going through the episodes again, it's a little less drab than I remember it being, but it still seems like a nudge in the wrong direction and an ill omen of the coffee-filtered look of modern first person shooters. However, I could be just saying that coming from Doom, which was madly colourful and anything was thrown in as a texture up to and including a photo of a motherboard and somebody's skinned knee.

Something that I'm surprised I didn't notice before is that the approach to enemies is really different from Doom. They're made of a mix of earthbound and floating ones like before, but what's different is the relationship between the hordes' numbers and strength. Doom was about being handed a weapon, a roomful of enemies and being invited to go berserk - if you have a rocket launcher and some explosive barrels, things blow up very quickly. In stark contrast to that, Quake's encounters are usually in smaller spaces with five or six monsters in an attack group at maximum - and some of the more agile ones like the Fiend are threatening enough on their own. The monsters are much stronger than Doom's - the few low-level monsters are found only on the first couple of levels of each episode, and the Ogre (probably the most common enemy, and the next step up from the Grunts) pretty much shrugs off a direct hit with a rocket. In fact, explosives are a lot less dangerous than they were in Doom all round, where a rocket to the face meant understandably instant death - the Ogre's primary projectile weapon is the grenade, which shows off the 3D capabilities by bouncing around after it's thrown, but if it explodes nearby it's the equivalent of being slightly singed by a firework.

The distribution of enemy types throughout the levels is weird as well - Doom didn't have a ton of these, there were a few enemies in the shareware episode and a couple more that popped up in the registered version (and even more in the expansion-pack-with-a-number-on-the-end Doom 2). But the introduction of the hideously powerful monsters was treated as a real event, with entire levels devoted to them in the form of Tower of Babel for the Cyberdemon and Dis for the Spider Mastermind. In Quake, you've seen nearly all the monsters by the time you've finished the third level. And the biggest monster, the eyeless yeti Shambler who appears without much fanfare on level three, just doesn't have the charisma that the big enemies of Doom had - he stomps about a bit and has a completely silent laser beam attack, but that's about it.

This seems to have turned into an essay on why I think Doom is better than Quake, which I really didn't intend it to be as I'm sure I played more of the latter when I was younger. It's definitely not a bad game, and it shows id's trademark care for what they were doing - but there's something really captivating about Doom that I don't think has ever really been equalled.

2016-02-26 21:13:00

Okay - here’s what I've been working on (while I should have been doing other things) for the last fortnight! It's called Vulkan, and is going to be a Doom mod about a UAC geothermal power station that's accidentally drilled into hell.

http://www.teamouse.net/games/gzdoomvulkan.zip

To run it, unzip and use either of the .bat files included to set it up automatically - you will probably need to do some extra ZDoom configuration to your liking. This prototype contains one level.

It's designed with the firepower of Brutal Doom in mind but is still fun without it - and if you'd rather wander round and invite zombies to tea rather than shoot at them, I’ve included an alternative launcher that removes the monsters and just lets you explore and pick up coins.

That ZIP includes all requirements to run it including GZDoom and IWAD, which is generally regarded as in bad taste - therefore I’ll remove it soon and just keep the PK3 file up for use with an installed ZDoom:

http://www.teamouse.net/games/vulkan-proto.pk3

I’ve been amazed at how far Doom editing has evolved since I last touched it twenty years ago - you get a full 3D editor instead of having to do spatial geometry in your head to work out what a room will look like, and it's had the same kind of enthusiast following as ZZT (and invites the same kind of madness through ZDoom’s scripting system). There’s something very satisfying about its engine that I can’t quite identify - that cusp of accessibility versus power.

2016-01-08 22:06:00