Sunday, 6 July 2014

Game 44: Altered Destiny - Won!

P.J. Barrett Journal Entry 7: "I did it! I defeated Helmar in his castle and in doing so reunited him with his brother JonQuah! This seems to have brought balance back to Daltere, and the Jewel of Light has been put back in its place within the Order. I'm being sent back to Trudy now, but I have no idea how I'm going to explain any of this to her. She's gonna think I've gone mad!"


Come on P.J.! The readers reckon there's only a little bit to go!

I cannot describe just how happy I am that this ordeal is finally over. I’m still shocked at just how frustrating Altered Destiny turned out to be, especially as my initial thoughts were quite positive. I’m very keen to move onto something more enjoyable, and Quest for Glory II should fit the bill perfectly. For that to happen I need to take you through my final gameplay session with Altered Destiny and then give it the shitty rating it deserves. Let’s do this...


Please let the mirror achieve something here. Please!

A couple of people had commented just how close I was to finishing the game at the end of my last session, and thankfully that turned out to be true. I’d just collected the mirror from Kayla, and was trying to figure out how it might be useful. My first thought was that it might allow me to get past the howler at Howler Lake, but a quick bit of experimentation convinced me otherwise (in other words, I died). It was time to take stock of what was outstanding, and what items might be useful at this late stage in the game. I knew that I could get a silencer from JonQuah in the underground, but I hadn’t a clue how I could jump through the Pool of Darkness to exit the area. While I was thinking about this puzzle, the purpose of the silencer became very clear! The reason I'd not been able to survive being at Howler Lake was because the “plaintive, haunting cries of Howlers” had been beckoning me into their deadly arms. If I had a way of silencing them, surely I would be able to pass through the area unharmed. If this were true, then my short term goal must be to solve the Pool of Darkness puzzle.


If I can't hear them, they can't beckon me. Right!?

I made my way back through the underground caves, crossing the bridge over the clamchops and then passing through the floating floor room. Once I had the silencer from JonQuah, I saved my game and spent no less than twenty minutes trying to find a way to pass through the pool without dying. Nothing I tried worked! I was so close to asking for assistance, but decided to look through my screenshots one last time. While reading Master Towhee’s dialogue in his library of scrolls, I had an idea! Eureka! Towhee mentioned a few times how bad his eyesight was, and I now had a lens in my inventory! Feeling confident, I tried giving it to him: “That was a kind gesture, and to repay you, I will send Otto for another scroll, even though I should not.” (7 points) Towhee gave me a scroll that had a picture of a plant on it. (5 points) “This is a beautiful scroll of the defoil herb. You figure you’d be able to recognise it if you ever ran across some. The text mentions the herb’s capacity to turn plants in animals.” Aha! The plant I’d seen in the Yula Graveyard must be a defoil plant, and having it should help me pass through the Pool of Darkness since I would no longer be a plant and require light to survive!


Creatures that turn animals into plants. Herbs that turn plants into animals. This is one crazy planet!

I paid another visit to the graveyard, dying a few more times while trying to navigate P.J. through the tight pathways. When I reached the plant, I typed “get defoil”, and it worked! (15 points) I stated when I first ran into the plant just how pissed off I’d be if I needed to know what type of plant it was to be able to pick it up. That prediction turned out to be precisely the situation, and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! When I looked at the plant I was told that it would reverse the effect of the Hoppa by defoliation, which confirmed its use. It was time to go back to the underground caves one last time! As soon as JonQuah gave me the silencer, I typed “eat defoil”, hoping that was the key to success. “It wasn’t quite a candy bar, but it’ll do. The stiffness you were experiencing disappears.” I crossed my fingers and jumped through the Pool of Darkness...


Apparently on Daltere you can only pick plants if you know what their names are.


Real graceful P.J.!

To my relief, P.J. survived passing through the Pool of Darkness, and after returning to the crossroads, I typed “look at silencer” to see what it was. “This device cancels some dangerous sounds when turned on. The silencer is currently off.” I found I could turn it on by typing “turn silencer on”, although I had no idea how that was actually achieved. Assuming that getting through Howler Lake would take me to the castle where Helmar would be found, I spent some time figuring out which items I might need there. I’d not yet used the bowl of slime, the Kleeg, the mirror, the silencer, the leaf, or the jewelled arrow, so all of those seemed to be must haves. That only left one more slot, and after considering whether the axe or the golden tube were more likely, I chose the axe. I journeyed southeast to Howler Lake, and was damn excited when I didn’t die on arrival. Finally this game was nearly over!!!


How exactly does one turn this thing on and off?!


I'm...ALIVE!!!

I typed “look” at Howler Lake to get a screen description, and found that the artefact I’d been able to see in the distance was actually the castle! “These are the crumbling remains of a once-great civilization, a causeway which once travelled to the island. Far off in the distance, over the lake of fog, you can see the castle rising from a lush island.” I’d never considered what I might do if I could get past the howlers, and suddenly realised I had no obvious way of reaching the island in the distance. If I walked into the water, then a howler would kill me instantly, so I must need to use one of my items. I have to admit that I was stuck here for quite a while until I finally paid attention to a small glimmering light that kept appearing on the island. When I looked at the light I was told that “It’s coming from the island. It’s some kind of signal.". This gave me an idea, and I quickly typed “use mirror” to reflect it. A boat set off from the island and soon arrived in front of me! I’m not really sure how said boat could actually float since it seemed to be nothing more than a skeleton, but after a brief trip across the expanse I hopped off onto a platform.


Some of the puzzles in Altered Destiny are actually quite decent. It's the parser that screws things up!



I'm not sure I'd be stepping into that thing!


I'm here Helmar! Nothing's gonna stop me now! You hear me?!

Right, I’d finally reached the island! Surely the end was nigh! Before I could even take a step towards the castle, three plants emerged from the sand on the beach and apparently emitted a horrifying sound. “Ouch! Their deafening din did you in. What a way to go.” Let me get this straight! I just got past the howlers because I turned on a device that makes everything silent, and a couple of minutes later, with the device still switched on, I've been killed by a loud noise!!! That made no sense at all, so I checked to make sure the silencer hadn’t switched off during the trip. It hadn’t, so clearly I was going to have to find an alternate way of avoiding death this time. I poured the slime on myself again, but that didn’t help. I tried blocking my ears, but the parser didn’t understand me. I tried using every item I had, but nothing was achieved. I couldn’t believe I’d come this far and was going to have to request assistance at the last hurdle! I did it, and a few hours later received an answer from Aperama.


That's right, nothing's gonna stop me...except for these noisy ass plants!

Aperama’s first hint was “For the island, you need to have a Kleeg, and some slime.” Well, I had both of those, but couldn’t see how either would help me with my current circumstances. I received points whenever I tried pouring the slime on me, so clearly that was part of a solution at some point. It hadn’t helped me here though, which meant it was logical that the Kleeg must be the answer! What did I know about the comatose creature? Well, it was full of gas for one thing. Was I supposed to gas the plants somehow? That seemed unlikely, but I tried squeezing the Kleeg anyway: “You squeeze the Kleeg for all you’re worth.” (15 points) Suddenly P.J. appeared to be wearing a kilt, and the sound emitting from the Kleeg was a combination of a foghorn and bagpipes. I might have been amused by this if I wasn’t so shocked by how stupid the solution was. “Squeezing the Kleeg produced a 10 megaton belch. Relieved of its terrible swelling, it flees.” I still don’t understand why exactly, but the Kleeg’s belch caused the plants to descend back into the sand, allowing me to walk onto the beach and then off to the east.


Why exactly should I have expected this to achieve anything useful?


I still have no idea why there were ever humans on Daltere, and I'm not sure I'm ever going to know.

I wandered through a few screens containing the remnants of what was clearly once a beautiful garden island. There were broken crystal statues everywhere, but I didn’t seem to be able to interact with them. Eventually I reached a broken bridge that once led to the castle steps. There were two tiny points of gold light shining beneath the broken edge, but walking over to investigate them resulted in a creature reaching out and grabbing me, pulling me underground to my death once again. To the west of this bridge was a pathway leading north, but there were three spiky, and very dangerous, pink plants blocking my way through. The only thing I could think of to do was to cover myself in slime again, and this time it did the trick! The plant shot the nasty spikes at me, but they slid off my slimy body. The pathway led to the castle steps, and I ascended them and placed the red jewel in the slot on the entrance. (3 points) I knew this would be required since it was mentioned in the first scroll that Master Towhee gave me a few sessions back. The door slid open, and I entered, anticipating a confrontation with Helmar.


Bastards!


I've been waiting a long time to have a real reason to do this!


Ouch! That really hurt!

Within the castle I found myself standing in a crystal like structure, and the room description told me that a “thin rope is connected to a small platform and travels high into the distance, out of sight”. The logical thing to do was to climb the rope, but my attempt to do so was met with “You won’t get anywhere climbing that”. I tried pulling the rope instead, and found that it worked as a pulley, raising me up into the air on a platform. I passed through a few screens before a room description suggested I “could probably jump into a doorway from the platform”. As I reached the doorway I typed “jump off platform”, but the damn parser responded with “I don’t know how to do that”. The solution was to type simply “jump” at the right time, and once I did so P.J. launched off the platform and into a hallway of glassy pillars. (5 points) “You’re in an incredibly complicated structure, with passageways branching off in all directions. Finding your way through this is hopeless.” Hmmmm, this seemed like the perfect time to use a map.


Another striking image from a game that never lacked potential.


Reminds me of that amazing scene in The Matrix. If only I got to go all whoop-ass on someone here!

I looked at the leaf that the Indella bird had danced on during Vindah’s divination. I’d always assumed that it would act as a map at some point, with the middle section seeming to have three arrows pointing east and then one north. I saved my game and then tried going three screens east. To my surprise, this led to a section with no pathway leading north, so I thought perhaps my reading of the leaf had been incorrect. I tried walking north anyway and found that I could walk straight through the wall!!! Good luck figuring that out without getting the leaf! Suddenly I was looking over P.J.’s shoulder, with a man meditating in mid air at the end of a corridor the way JonQuah always seemed to be. Strangely, the floor and sections of the walls were transparent, and I could see the landscape of Daltere all around. I quickly realised it was Helmar before me, and I was soon faced with an important choice.


That bird was really onto something!


P.J. summons his Kitty Pryde


Um...can't we settle this the old fashioned way?

Helmar made an offer to me: “So... you have arrived. I have watched you approach. You seem earnest and dedicated, a man of honor, so I offer you your choice of weapons.” I could now select one of my items to use as a weapon against Helmar, which included the mirror, the silencer, the leaf, the battle axe, the jewelled arrow, and the bowl. I had a feeling I would find out which one I needed by dying, so I chose the most obvious weapon amongst them, the axe. As soon as my choice was made, Helmar fired some sort of beam at me, frying me immediately! This of course made the solution pretty obvious, so I restored and chose the mirror instead. Helmar’s beam reflected back on him, causing him to go unconscious. “Well done, P.J.! That mirror reflected his blast and has rendered Helmar unconscious!” I’d completed Altered Destiny, and the game's resolution unfolded before me! I’ve included the outro scenes below so you can read it for yourself. It seems a bit odd that Helmar would suddenly go back to being good once reunited with his brother, but I couldn’t care less to be honest. I don’t even care where the missing 22 points were. Waddya say we move onto something a bit more fun for everyone!


Time to taste some of your own medicine buddy!


And what, everything is just forgiven!?


Yeah, real safe! What's to stop Helmar from becoming a super villain again?


It is a pretty cool spot to put it!


You mean no-one will know how awesome I am?


1029 moves, with about 947 of them being rejected by the parser.

Session Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 9 hours 30 minutes

16 comments:

  1. Congrats on getting this one done. Sounded painful. All up from here though.

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    1. The only thing I can think of that you didn't try is defeating aRRaRRar. Seems to be entirely optional, as you can just jump into the pool of Light.

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    2. That probably accounts for most of the missed points, then there's some points you can get by looking at some things.

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  2. Incidentally, a quibble in reference to any parser-based game... There are generally at least three or four levels in responding to a typed command:
    1. Is the command well-formed? Can the parser grammatically parse it.
    2. Are all of the words in the command present in the game's vocabulary?
    3. Has the game author provided handling for the parsed phrase?
    4. If handled, is the response more interesting than, "You can't do that right now."? That type of phrase is usually a default "fall-through" when the game author has not provided specific handling for a particular entry.
    Generally, only step 1 is where I would consider a command being "rejected by the parser". All of the other steps are game-specific. Sierra's parser evolved around 1990 to "understand" some very sophisticated grammar. This made coding a little easier, as "get the leather jacket" and "pick up the old coat" could be designated to generate the same command.
    We made other shortcuts in various games. The Message Editor that the late Mark Wilden created for Quest for Glory II presented a tabular, spreadsheet-like interface for creating dialogue and game text. It automated the lookup process so that the programmer did not have to specifically code every "look" or "ask about" choice (as we had to do in Hero's Quest).
    There was a real art to constructing parser matches ("Said" statements in SCI) that would match as many legitimate phrases as practical, but that would not trigger on irrelevant or poorly-phrased commands. Then, of course, the game writer had to come up with reasonable responses to as many parsed phrases as possible.
    No matter how much handling is built into a game, it will only cover a small fraction of possible commands. The key is to handle most reasonable phrases and a few silly ones a bored player might type.
    Anyway, it is just a quibble, but the fact that a game fails to understand many commands is more likely to mean that the programmer/writer didn't cover enough likely phrases than that the parser couldn't turn those phrases into tokens.

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    1. Here is a tiny fraction of the code from a single room (the Magic Shop) of Quest for Glory II:
      ((Said 'bargain>')
      (cond
      ((or (Said '/detect,(spell,scroll,magic<detect),(spell,scroll<magic<detect)')
      (Said '//detect,(spell,scroll,magic<detect),(spell,scroll<magic<detect)'))
      (= item2Buy DETSCROLL)
      )

      It goes on for a couple more pages for items which you can buy or try to bargain for. And of course there are hundreds of lines for everything else you can do in the shop. There is no code for talking to the shopkeeper or for looking at objects, because the Message Editor handled all of those simple cases.

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    2. The true punishment of this game is the needed specificity. 'Get plant'? What plant are you talking about? 'Pink plant'? I don't see a pink plant. 'Look at plant' What plant? 'Look at entire screen' There are some plants here. Random alien name for a plant that is pink after you told me to look at ten things and finally found it. 'Get random alien name'

      ... #^*%#'*£/#@

      This game, with a point and click interface, might have been okay. Certain puzzles were still dire (dreaming and grabbing things from your dream, squeezing some random alien thing to scare some random other alien thing with absolutely no reason to think said alien doubles up as a musical instrument) but with a fresh coat of paint, the prettiness and fresh ideas might have actually had this be even a good game!

      Now. To an actually good game (which may well knock MI off of its crown - we shall see! I'm fearing the fact that it has a parser might lean against it, in spite of the fact that I can scarcely remember any points where my teenaged self struggled with it.)

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    3. @Corey - It's no wonder that the quality of adventure games went up by leaps & bounds after adopting the point 'n click interface. However, parser still has a certain charm in them. Especially when writers take the extra time to provide as many possibilities for each response as possible.

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    4. Having had a few hours of work to think about it (I'm a postie, so I've got plenty of thinking time), the key issue with this parser was actually just hit upon there. The parser works the same in every single room (if you type certain things like 'look alien' and only one thing will come down as 'alien', being Tentro, so if you're to do so in any room other than his (fraggery? I choose to call it a fraggery) you receive the response 'Tentro isn't here.' or something along those lines. What was a potentially game breaking issue in Les Manley (resurrection card is 'thing' if memory serves) is just an incredible annoyance in this one.

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    5. Still, this game's parser is teh siht. Fresh new ideas coated with stupid old parser engine. They could have made this game into an RPG and it would have gotten rave reviews for it years before Albion came up with a similar idea.

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    6. I love text parsers when they're done well and respond to your imagination. I also find the "ask x about y" method of dialogue much more immersive and rewarding than dialogue trees, as you have to pay attention to the story and think what to talk about. On the other hand, parsers are absolutely terrible when there's not enough effort put in them (like in this game).

      Leisure Suit Larry 7 has a really good combination of the Point&Click and parser interfaces - there's a list of default generic commands to use, but the player can additionally write their own verbs.

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    7. You can't not love a game that allows you to milk the beaver.

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    8. Corry: What language were you lot using? That doesn't look like anything I've seen before, except the very limited LISP I've seen using emacs.

      That code looks hellish to write. I would have thought it would be more like a object-oriented thing, where you define each object and a number of aliases, and give the object various actions it can do as a property of that object. What you have looks much more of a case-by-case thing with each alias written every time.

      Or am I way off-base?

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  3. Yuck! Why is everything fuzzy pink in the ending? What of that stupid barbarian who stole PJ's goddamn TV in the first place?

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  4. I am slowly catching back up after a goodly absence and normally wouldn't leave a comment on an old posting. Here I feel compelled to agree that the whole need the scroll to learn what the mystery plant is to interact with it is complete BS. The game routinely tells you the names, habits, lifecycles, jobs, etc., of all sorts of aliens, animals, and plants all around you everywhere else. Things that PJ has no way of knowing since he is seeing these things for the time and are therefor entirely learned via the seemingly omniscient look command. Which, while rather lame,would be fine if it were entirely consistent throughout the whole of the game. There being one, and only one, plant that PJ must specifically learn about via some other third party rather than the omniscient look command that works for everything else is just plain bad game design.

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  5. What about the popcorn? Were you supposed to save that till the end of the game?

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