by Roe R. Adams III
Roe R. Adams III is a game designer, book author and East Coast editor of Softalk. He is the holder of twenty-seven national gaming titles.
The dungeon walls drip quietly as you creep down the slippery corridors. Time seems to drift, but you think you've been foraying about two hours. Probably about time to pack it up for the evening and head back out. No, wait. Maybe just one more room. Let's see, the right-hand turn ahead is unexplored.
Turning right, you head for the doorway dimly visible at the far end of the corridor. The doorway shimmers with a magical green glow. This is the entrance to the fabled tomb of the ancient wizard Rakanonakon! Just as you're about to see if that weird amulet helps open the, door, a group of wandering Orcs happen upon you. The fighting is fierce, but slowly you're pushed back down the corridor. Then a mighty roar rends the air, and over the heads of the surviving Orcs you see the head of a dragon.
Oh, no! It's not an ordinary dragon, but one of the legendary Dragon Zombie guardians! Nothing to do but flee quickly and hope. Left at the corridor, straight, left, right, right, left, left, straight, left and climb the ladder. Ladder? Where's the ladder? Oh, no! You turned wrong somewhere! But where? If only you'd plotted out the dungeon paths instead of naively trying to remember them. Well, at least the pounding feet of the monster have stopped. Might as well retrace your path. Here goes, right, straight, right ... whoosh, a fireball coming head on! END of GAME ...
Sound familiar? If you've ever played a computer adventure game, you're probably no stranger to the scene above. Most people try to play by the seat of their pants. They just plunge into a situation and hope they can figure out how to extricate themselves from the inevitable jam.
For most would-be adventurers, these games represent the height of frustration. What do the game designers expect from the player? Now, writing in national magazines and speaking at fairs and conferences cross-country, a few of the top adventurers are helping beginners learn to be successful. They have begun to formulate the rudiments of computer game methodology, starting with the classification of adventure games into text, hi-res graphic and fantasy role playing.
Text adventures, the earliest and most famous of the computer adventure games, contain programs that have only text descriptions, not pictures. The original Adventure, Mad Venture and Inferno are prime examples of this genre. Today's experts of the text adventure are unquestionably the gang at Infocom in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who have produced a long string of chart-busting hits including the Zork Trilogy, Deadline, Suspended and Starcross.
Time Zone, the first micro epic, takes some players a year
to solve. Gaming champion Roe R. Adams III has solved
this graphics adventure in only seven days.
Hi-res graphic adventures in recent years have captured the imagination of most game players. The high-resolution color pictures, with their lines of text below, bring you right into the scenario as though you're watching a movie story board-yet it's a movie over which you have some control. The top graphic adventures have been Wizard and the Princess, Ulysses and the Golden Fleece, Sherwood Forest, Mask of the Sun and Escape from Rungistan. This genre also contains the industry's first micro-epic, Time Zone, in twelve disks. Graphic adventures have become so popular that they've driven all the text adventure companies except Infocom out of the marketplace.
The last echelon of computer adventure games belongs to the fantasy role playing genre, similar in style to the mass-marketed Dungeons and Dragons board and book games. Here you can really feel like you're living the character the computer portrays. The Wizardry scenarios and the three Ultima games represent the best of this type. (In 1983, when Softalk polled its readers for their favorite computer program of all time, the 250,000 responses yielded a startling statistic: Wizardry was the number one choice by a two-to-one margin over VisiCalc, the program that really launched the personal computer revolution.)
Mapping the Universe
The most fundamental approach to solving any type of computer adventure game involves drawing an accurate map of the gaming universe. In the majority of cases, the Balloon Map is the most effective. For every room, or location, draw a circular balloon. Now try to move North, East, South, West, Up and Down (some games also use the diagonals). If you can go in a particular direction, draw a straight line and place another balloon for that location. Do not explore that room or do anything there, no matter how tempting.
Return immediately to the first room and test another direction. Continue until all choices have been tried. Where there is no passage, mark an X on that edge of the balloon. In this manner you will not overlook a direction, which is the most common mistake a player makes. Move through as much of the game as possible, just mapping. Often this approach will yield valuable information, such as where to avoid traps. Remember, no matter how difficult a computer adventure gets, or how insurmountable the puzzle seems, there is always an answer.
Occasionally game designers like to make large labyrinths and baffling one-way passages. A typical one-way passage allows the adventurer to move East, but when he tries to return West either the path is no longer there or the player is deposited in a new location. This leads to a very messy Balloon Map. Much better suited to this more difficult style of game is the Matrix Map. Lay out a large grid. Put the possible game directions down the left side of the grid, and number the rooms across the top. Start mapping as usual, but now place the room number you arrive at from that direction in one of the boxes. For example, going South from room 4 places you in room 9, so put a nine in the box where South and 4 intersect.
No matter how tricky or convoluted the map becomes, you will always have a clear picture of how to get from one part to another. Accurate mapping cannot be overstressed if one is to become an above-average adventure game player. Top players map at least 50 percent of their game-playing time.
Seeing What's There
The next hurdle is to develop closer awareness of the little things in the game. Game designers love to put in small verbal or visual clues to solving a puzzle, but most people are in such a rush to solve the game that they completely overlook them. Study each picture minutely. Try to pick up or examine everything, no matter how absurd. Study the exact phraseology of the text. Sometimes clever bon mots are hidden there, along with actual clues.
A famous example of seeing what you're looking at is found in the A.D. 2062 scenario of Time Zone. Under the doormat of a house in Los Angeles is a key. It does not fit the door of the house. In front of the house is a futuristic car sitting sideways in the picture. The key will not unlock the car door, either, and no matter what he tries the player cannot get that car door open. So intent is he on opening the obvious lock that he usually loses sight of the fact that the car has a trunk (which, of course, the key fits perfectly).
If you aspire to expert status, you must develop insight into how a particular game designer thinks, as well as the ability to follow the designer's logic paths. You must also develop a feel for the ebb and flow of a game. If a computer game is well written, the high points of tension will be properly paced, as they are in a good mystery novel. A useful yardstick for gauging one's progress in computer game solving is the time it takes to finish a game. On a typical adventure game, novice players will need many weeks or months to figure out a solution. Intermediate-level adventurers measure their solution time in number of days. The élite core of expert players, however, compare the hours. An average adventure game takes four hours for one of these players to solve; the world record for the vast Time Zone micro-epic is just seven days.
These are some of the basic elements of computer gaming methodology that have emerged so far. Within the next few years much more formal research will be done to explore this new area (scholars at Harvard and Brown universities are already at work on the phenomenon). Because of computer adventure games, new ways of thinking and entire new vistas of logic are unfolding. What will people with these new perspectives be able to accomplish? Look around in five years and see if you can spot the changes. They will be there!
Ironically, one of the principal pursuits of the modern computer age is the re-creation of fearsome medieval fire-breathing dragons.
It all began with Adventure, the first computer adventure game, written in 1976 by Crowthers and Wood. Deep in the Colossal Cave, the intrepid adventurer encountered a huge dragon curled up on a priceless Persian rug. How to get the rug out from under him? The answer: kill the dragon with your bare hands! The absurdity of this response tickled funny bones everywhere.
Since that first adventure, game designers have endeavored to come up with ever more recherche attributes for their monsters. In Serpent's Star from Ultrasoft, for example, an animated Tibetan Jade Dragon named D'hig-han rises from an emerald pool to challenge each adventurer with obscure Tibetan Buddhist riddles. If the adventurer provides the proper answer, "Nirvana," the dragon will surrender a huge sapphire.
Rarely in adventure games can a dragon be overcome by force. Instead guile, subterfuge or special magic must be used. The dragons in Exodus: Ultima III, by Origins Systems, breathe fireballs across the landscape and can be defeated only by magical weapons. To pass the dragon in Sirius' Blade of Blackpool, the player must get the dragon drunk on beer! The all-powerful dragon L'Kbreth in Sir-tech's Wizardry scenario, Legacy of Llylgamyn, guards the entrance to the sixth level; only when the adventurer produces a special amulet, gained after a series of quests and proving that its bearer serves neither good nor evil, will he be allowed passage.
The most famous computer adventure dragon sequence occurs in Zork II by Infocom. A fierce dragon holds a princess hostage and blocks the passageway to the northern part of the dungeon. To the southwest a large glacier ice floe fills a cavern and blocks all travel to the western portions of the Underground Empire. Armed with no more than a lamp and an elven sword, you see both situations as unsolvable. Then you notice that only when the dragon is hit three times will he let loose a frying blast; the first two hits only annoy him. If you hit him twice and run south, he'll follow after you. Continued use of this technique enables you to lead the dragon into the ice cavern, where he sees his reflection in the ice and thinks it's another dragon. Well, considering how territorial dragons are, it should come as no surprise that he roars out a challenge. Then, when the image roars back, he lets loose his fieriest blast-melting down the ice, opening up the western passageway and causing a tidal wave of hot water that washes his body away.
And you? Why, you were smart enough to climb up on a high shelf before the fireworks started. Now there's a princess to be rescued and rewards earned!
|WIZARDS IN GRAY
A long recognized ailment of middle and upper managers in American business is hardening of the creative arteries, a condition whose major symptom is the reduction of possible paths perceived in the process of problem solving. Over fifty million cases have been reported to date, with epidemic proportions rumored in the federal civil service and military.
Now, thanks to computer adventure games, relief is at hand. Computer adventures immediately begin to reverse the calcification process by opening up new channels of mental activity and reviving thought processes long believed extinct. Each adventure has its own goal for task completion. The player assumes the role of intrepid adventurer on a mythic quest involving hidden treasure, dragon slaying or rescuing someone from a remote locale. The player must develop organizational skills, mapping techniques and a flair for innovative approaches to problem solving. Who says adventures are just for kids? Or that adventures are just games?
After all, the adventurer's progress depends on figuring out the correct solution to each in a series of interconnected puzzles. Some puzzles are easy: how to open a giant bronze door that is rusted shut (answer-find some oil for the hinges). Other puzzles are complex: how to get across a river of piranhas (answer-find an ax, chop down some trees, tie logs together with vine, and voilá! a raft).
While the answer to the rusted door is fairly obvious, getting the needed oil to the door requires recall, perseverance and the ability to see the bigger picture. In the classic Adventure game the player needs an empty bottle, the location of the pool of oil, and the means of climbing in and out of a deep pit. Finally he must find a way to reach a high ledge where the passage to the bronze door begins. The entire process of oiling the hinges might thus require thirty or forty previous steps to succeed.
Some of the puzzles offer the player a hierarchy of possible solutions to a thorny problem. In Zork I the player is confronted late in the game with the choice of single-handedly fighting off a giant Cyclops (a fifty-fifty chance of getting killed) or feeding the Cyclops a brown-bag lunch of sausages (puts him to sleep). Both these solutions overcome the Cyclops but leave the adventurer stranded in his cave. The really inventive adventurer might try something different. Remembering his classic Greek literature, he could shout the name Ulysses. As it turns out, this particular giant is the son of the Cyclops chronicled in Homer's Odyssey, and upon hearing the name of his father's bane he runs screaming from the room. In his flight he smashes a secret door, opening an exit through which the player may escape.
Five or six hours a week of adventure play should be sufficient to bring remedial relief to chronic sufferers of managerial calcification. A side benefit is that character role playing allows the patient to work out his emotional and social problems through his gaming persona. One note of caution, though: certain managers become intellectually dependent upon computer adventure games. These patients are no longer satisfied with their boring, mundane lives in the giant corporate structure. They now crave the continual excitement of that other environment, and full persona transferral has been observed in rare cases. Instead of an upper manager peering into the computer gaming universe, it may well be that a wizard is looking out through the eyes of a man in a gray flannel suit.
Have you searched the eyes of your fellow executives recently?
R. R. A.III
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