Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Cottage: Laying It Out

My progress in The Cottage has been slow and painstaking.  A part of that is because it's not exactly setting my world on fire.  There are many, many things I could be doing that I'd enjoy more than playing this game.  Mostly, though, it's that the puzzles are somewhat obtuse, and there are a number of things going on in the game that I can't quite explain.

After a lengthy session last night where I didn't feel like I was making much progress, I pulled up the source code and had a bit of a look.  Unfortunately for me, the code I found was in Swedish, so I wasn't able to glean a great deal from it.  I found what I was looking for, though: a list of the treasures I need to complete the game.  It's somewhat of a cheat, but I wanted to know roughly how far I had progressed, and what items are important.  There are thirteen treasures in all: a diamond, a silver stick, a smelly cucumber, a jewelled halberd, a skull, an alarm clock, some gold coins, a "trilogy", a contract, a pearl necklace, a laurel wreath, and a faun shoe.  I know where ten of these are already, which is quite heartening.  I'll detail their whereabouts below.

  • The diamond is out in the open in Thorvald's Room, which is not that hard to get to.  Carrying it around presents a problem, though: certain doors and exits from the house become barred when you are carrying it around.  It's still possible to get back outside with the diamond, via some more circuitous routes, or by getting lucky in those rooms that send you to random locations.
  • The smelly cucumber is also in Thorvald's Room, in a hatch in the roof.  You need a ladder to reach it, but that can be found in a cupboard in Osvald's Room, right next door.
  • The jewelled halberd is in the possession of a guard, who is situated in an area beyond the lift's engine room.  I'm yet to find any meaningful way to interact with the guard.
  • The gold coins can be won from a gambling machine that's found in a cave in the wilderness.
  • The shoe is found in a cave south of the gambling machine, where it falls from the foot of a faun who runs by.  The shoe is needed as a stake to operate the gambling machine.  If you lose at the gambling machine, it's easy enough to come back and get another shoe.  But once you win the coins, the shoes stop spawning.  I need to see if I can get the points for the shoe, then get another shoe for the machine.
  • The "trilogy" is actually a copy of Lord of the Rings, and it's found in a maze of twisty passages.

Speaking of things I'd enjoy more than this game...

  • The pearl necklace is in the possession of an old man, who won't surrender it for anything.  He did show some interest in the laurel wreath when I had it in my possession, but giving it to him didn't help.
  • The laurel wreath is found in the Studio, sitting out in the open under a sign that reads "Alea Jacta Est" ("The die is cast").
  • The picture is found in the same maze of passages where I found the trilogy, but it doesn't seem to have an actual location.  Rather, it appears as I move from one location to another.  I'm really not sure how to interact with it at all, because it never appears as an object in a room where I'm standing.
  • The contract is a strange one to get a hold of.  Remember when I mentioned that there's a lengthy, surreal section where you have to participate in a performance of The Muppet Show?  No, it wasn't a fever dream.  You have to navigate your way through the choices, Choose Your Own Adventure style, and if you make the right ones Kermit the Frog will reward you with a contract.  It's frankly bizarre, but also quite a bit of fun.  It might be my favourite thing in the game.  I understand that it was left out of the commercial release for legal reasons, which is a shame.

Maybe the weirdest thing I've encountered in the blog so far.

So as it stands, I can easily get the diamond, the cucumber, the coins, the shoe, the trilogy, the laurel wreath, and the contract.  I need to work out how to get the halberd away from the guard, how to get the necklace away from the old man, how to interact with the picture, and how to get the coins without losing the shoe.  That's a refreshingly short to-do list, and it's somewhat refreshed my enthusiasm for the game.

That said, those are far from the only puzzles I need to solve on my way to winning.  The game has presented me with loads of other mysteries, some of which I've solved and some that remain elusive.  You may have noticed that I love running things down in point form when I'm writing about text adventures, and I'm going to do that again here.  It helps me to get my thoughts together, and figure out exactly what I need to do.

  • In my last post, I noted that there was an area in the forest where it appeared that someone had been recently digging.  Using a spade that I found in the cemetery I dug a hole, only to find that it was empty.  A little later I tried again, and found that it contained some treasures that had been stolen from me by a robber (this game's equivalent of the thief from Zork, or the pirate from Colossal Cave Adventure).  Everything that the robber steals will end up here, which could actually end up helpful in getting things to the surface, as this area's not hard at all to get to.
  • There's a rowing-boat near the beginning area of the game, which can be used to row to every shore of the lake.  Weirdly, at the centre of the lake there's a telephone socket.  When I tried to plug a phone into it, a telephone repairman came along, uninstalled the socket, and gave me a phone directory containing some useful numbers.
  • I'm not sure what the deal is with the phone sockets, though.  Sometimes when I try to use one, the repairman comes along and takes the socket away.  At other times I've been able to plug it in and call some numbers successfully, but none of them have accomplished anything.  You can call a phone repairman and a glazier (both of whom are out), the guard (who just tells you stop distracting him from his guard duty), and a few other rooms that had already been disconnected before I found a socket I could use.  I've also found an extension cable, which will no doubt play into the ultimate solution for this puzzle.
  • There are a number of paths that lead to an area under the jetty where the game begins.  There's a hole down there, but if you remain in that area you'll drown.  I think the solution lies with a deflated ball that I found, but I need a pump of some sort so that I can use it to float.
  • I'd mentioned in my last post that I had found a crowbar behind a window, but breaking the window caught the attention of Osvald, who came along and took the crowbar himself.  The solution to this one was to use the diamond to cut the window.  I haven't found a use for the crowbar yet.
  • In a pitch-dark room, there's a hidden lamp.  The game gives you no indication that it's there, but if you type GET you'll pick it up.  The game then informs you that you can only keep the lamp if you stay put.  Sure enough, if you type STAY PUT you'll eventually - after 30 seconds of actual waiting - be transported to another location.  It doesn't make much logical sense.

Also shown here is me being booted from the room with the animals.

  • There are three rooms that I can't get into: a kitchen where an angry faun tries to kill me, a chess-themed room where a faun steps on my toes, and a room full of animals that is UNDER CONSTRUCTION.  The last one seems like it might be a red herring, but then again it's past a puzzle that involves cutting through a curtain with some scissors.  I'd think a puzzle like that would lead to a useful area, but you never know with a game designed by pre-teens.
  • I still don't know what's with all of the areas where you're just randomly holding a rotten tomato.  It's baffling.
  • There are some ornate gates just past the guard with the halberd, but the keys I found don't open them.
  • There's a safe that I can't open.  Elsewhere there's a sign that says "CORKSCREW HELPS WITH THE SA..", which may or may not be relevant here.
  • The lift is a useful way to get around, but sometimes it crashes and kills me when I try to use it.  I'm not sure what sets this off.  I'm thinking it might be something to do with the number of items in my inventory, or perhaps that the presence of the diamond causes it in the same way that it blocks off the house's exits.  More investigation is required.
  • The Automatic Machine where you deposit treasure can be accessed from outside as well as inside the cottage.  This is good to know, because I got blown up the second time I tried to go there from inside.  The outside access lets you come and go as often as you like.

So that's a pretty comprehensive rundown of where I am in The Cottage.  I said that laying it out like this helps me figure out what I need to do, and I'm really going to need that help here.  The source code I found is in Swedish, and I can't find any walkthroughs.  I'm on my own.  The game itself provides a HELP feature, though, and I've used it a few times.  It helped me with cutting the glass window, and finding the lamp in the dark.  Normally this would feel like cheating to me, but I'm fine with it when it's a function that's built into the game.  And it doesn't give hints for every puzzle, so for most of the game I'll be on my own.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Cottage: Nine Floors, Zero Clues

After mostly exploring the wilderness in my last post, I've moved onto the interior of the titular cottage.  This gave me a taste of this game's idiosyncratic method of navigation: it uses compass directions when you're outside, and the commands LEFT, RIGHT, FORWARD and BACK to move around inside.

To be honest, this wasn't as irritating as I had thought it would be.  The big sticking point I had was whether the directions would be fixed or relative to your own position.  What I mean is, if I enter an area will FORWARD and BACK always take me to the same place, or will it change depending on which entrance I came through?  Thankfully, the directions are fixed.  It doesn't make much sense, and it doesn't really justify not using compass directions, but it does make mapping easier than it would have been otherwise.  Relative directions could work in a game where the geography is well-defined, but The Cottage is definitely not that game.

I had a moment of panic early on when I stumbled into a lift, and saw that the cottage has 9 levels.  This gave me some horrible flashbacks to the sprawling size of Acheton, but I don't think that this game is all that big.  The geography twists and turns a lot, though, and it's almost impossible to know what floor you're supposed to be on.  There are loads of paths between levels aside from the lift, and a combination of terse language and general weirdness can make it rather difficult to navigate.  I feel like I've mapped most of the cottage interior (about 50 areas), although there is definite room for expansion.  I've found the lift entrances for levels 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9, so there are obviously floors I haven't been to yet.

Some places and points of interest within the cottage are as follows:

  • One room had a curtain, which I was "too weak to move".  Setting aside all discussions of my actual strength, I was able to get through by solving a few puzzles.  In one room I found some keys, which I used to open a case in another room, which gave me a sledgehammer which I used to break a glass box in yet another room to get some scissors.  With those scissors I cut through the curtain, and behind it I found a room full of animals.
  • I wasn't able to enjoy that Animal Room for long though, because I was transported to a random location.  There's a lot of that in this game.  One minute you're happily exploring, the next you're just somewhere else, and it can get very annoying.  This is part of the "general weirdness" I was talking about above, and it's not always apparent why it's happening.
  • When you die, the game gives you the option of being resurrected.  If you choose YES, you find yourself at the bottom of a grave with a priest looking down at you, all depicted in ASCII art.

  • In one room I found a phone that was ringing.  Upon answering it, I was asked for my name, and then congratulated for finding a phone.  There are phone sockets throughout the house, so I'll have to try plugging it in at various points.

  • There's an old man in a dark room, who refuses to let go of his pearl necklace and water bottle.  I tried to kill him, but he noticed the vicious gleam in my eye and ran away.  Elsewhere I found a smelly cucumber, and I'm going to try giving it him, because I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing an old man would want.
  • The lift has an engine room.  At first it was empty, but later on I followed a lift repairman inside and saw an open hatch in the ground.  This led to a "vestibule", where a guard with a bejewelled halberd was stationed.  I subsequently got lost and couldn't find my way back here, so I'm not sure what the guard does, if anything.
  • In one room is a dark window, which I broke to find a crowbar inside.  Unfortunately, the noise attracted a fellow named Thorvald, who took the crowbar as payment for the window.  I've met Thorvald in a number of places, and it seems that he might be a sort of antagonist for the whole game.  I've been in his bedroom, as well as that of a fellow named Osvald, who I met in the kitchen.
  • One room has an "automatic machine", which asks you to deposit items in exchange for points.  I suspect that this is where you place the game's various treasures.  It asks specifically for a "picture", so it might be that I need to deposit the treasures in a specific order.  The second time I went there I was killed by a bomb, so it seems you only get one crack at it.
  • There's Staff Kitchen, in which I encountered Osvald as well as a very angry faun who tried to kill me with a knife.  Afterwards the floor collapsed, dumping me elsewhere.  It's another one of those "transported to a random location" bits I mentioned above.

And no,  have no idea what "quarking a fraktyl" means.

  • Speaking of fauns, there's a room I can't enter because one of them keeps stepping on my feet.  Maybe I need better shoes?
  • I found a room that was labelled Big Turning Labyrinth, and promptly got the heck out of there.  I hate old-school adventure game labyrinths, so I'm leaving this until last.
  • In a similar vein, there's a bit where a boiler explodes and opens a hole into a large cavern.  It had the makings of another maze/labyrinth, so I've ignored that as well.  I hate mazes, you guys.
  • This may have been a fever dream, but at some point I stumbled into a lengthy performance of the Muppet Show.  I can't remember where it was, and I didn't get a screen-cap.  It was very late at night, so I can't be sure that it actually happened.  It was very weird.

So far I'm not really feeling this game.  It has a lot of stuff going on, but none of it really seems to fit together, and the wacky geography is frustrating.  I'll keep up with mapping, and hopefully will have explored the whole game before my next post, but let's just say that it's not doing a great job at pulling me away from Breath of the Wild.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Game 22: Stuga aka The Cottage (1978)

A while ago, it was Ultima VII that kept me from blogging.  More recently, it's been The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is an incredible game, and probably the best in the series since at least 1998.  It's very hard to dig into text adventures from the 1970s when I have the vastness of Hyrule to explore (and boy, is it vast), but here I am with my first non-English game: Stuga, otherwise known as The Cottage.

The cover of the 1986 commercial release version

The Cottage (as I'll refer to it from now on) was created in Sweden by two brothers (Viggo and Kimmo Eriksson) and their friend (Olle Johansson).  They were, respectively, 10, 12 and 14 years old, which puts them in a similar category to Greg Hassett, whose games have been haunting this blog for a while now.  All of their parents were on staff at the Stockholm Computer Central for Research and Higher Education, which gave them access to the Oden mainframe, and also exposed them to the Woods/Crowther version of Colossal Cave Adventure.  In summer of 1977 they started crafting The Cottage, and the first playable version of it was released in 1978.  It was made commercially available - retitled as Stugan - in 1986, but I gather that that version had some changes from the original.  Much later, around 2009, the game was translated to English, and that's the version I'll be playing (using Winfrotz).

No hints yet on who or what VIOL might be.

The Cottage begins with the hero standing on a jetty, with people water-skiing in the lake behind and a house in the distance ahead.  The goal seems to be to get a high score by collecting valuables (i.e. the same goal as pretty much every other adventure game of 1975-1978).  Your score starts at 50, and can be increased to a maximum of 307.  I haven't done much experimentation with the parser yet, but it all seems to be pretty basic stuff.  The main thing it does that I haven't seen elsewhere is change up the way you move depending on whether you're inside the mansion or in the wilderness.  When you're outside, the game uses the standard compass directions (N, S, NE, SW, etc.), but when you're inside it switches to directional commands (Forward, Left, Right, Back).  I haven't done much exploration inside yet, so I can't say exactly how irritating this is, but I'm going to hazard a guess and say "very".

Given the potential irritation of this change, I've stuck to the wilderness and pretty much explored that completely.  Most of it is forest areas surrounding a lake, with a fence around the perimeter to create a boundary.  So far the rooms and there exits all line up and make sense really well, and the game has been quite simple to map.  I fully expect that this will be right out the window once I get inside the cottage.

The game has already presented some basic obstacles and mysteries.  There's a rowing boat that I haven't tried yet, and a locked gate for which I've yet to find the key.  In one place there's a hole in the perimeter fence you can crawl through, which leads to an area where someone has been digging.  I haven't probed any of these mysteries too hard yet, as I'm in exploration mode.  I like to map as much as possible before I start getting stuck into solving things.

I've solved one puzzle so far, though it barely qualifies as such.  In a cave with numerous entrances (including one behind a waterfall) there's a gambling machine, with a sign reading "PULL THE LEVER IF YOU HAVE A FAUN SHOE TO STAKE".  In a room directly to the south a faun runs through, leaving its shoe behind.  Sure enough, if you pull the machine's lever with the shoe in your possession, you're rewarded with some gold coins.  It's hardly Acheton-level stuff, but it's a start.

Fear my genius.

There are a number of ways to get inside the titular cottage.  I've gone in through the front door, climbed down a well, and crawled through holes in the side of the house.  There's a bathing hut in which the floor collapses when you enter, leaving you in "Thorvald's Room".  I do like a game that rewards exploration, but I have to say that the transition from wilderness to interior can sometimes be a little jarring.  I'm chalking it up to language/culture differences for the moment, and I'll try not to let it bother me too much.

There's one other thing in the game that makes little sense to me, but may possibly be better understood by Swedish players.  In a couple of areas, instead of a room description I've gotten a message saying "You have a half-rotten tomato in your hand but it vanishes".  Following that, I've found myself somewhere inside the cottage, usually in a boiler room.  It's weird and nonsensical, but in a way that jars me out of the game.  If there's anyone who knows what this might be a reference to, I'd love to hear it.

As you may have guessed, Googling "rotten tomato" is of no help.

So far, The Cottage seems to be another in a long line of whimsical fantasy adventure games (it seems to be the thing to do in 1978).  It's very sparse in its descriptions, which is a double-edged sword.  It makes the game less immersive, but it also makes it easier to figure out what's important in each room.  By the time I get to my next post I'll have explored inside the cottage, and I'm hoping that the inconsistent movement inputs don't ruin the experience for me.  Regardless, I expect there'll be enough oddities in the game to keep me amused.  You know, provided I don't just play another 100 hours of Breath of the Wild instead...