Thursday, 3 May 2012

Game 17: Gold Rush! - Burnt by Wagon Hire

Jerrod Wilson Journal Entry 2: “After a harrowing and life threatening journey, I’ve made it all the way across the country to Sutter’s Fort in California. After the ferry took me a fair way inland to Independence, I joined the Long Island Joint Mining and Stock Company and the lot of us began our journey by wagon across country. We were faced with just about every type of weather and landscape imaginable on the way, and were close to starvation and dehydration on several occasions. Somehow we seemed to avoid the hostile Indians while running into tribes that actually gave us aid. I thought the captain had made a serious mistake when we took the Truckee Route through the desert rather than the Lassen Cut-off, but we somehow made it to Sutter’s Fort as planned. Since arriving, I’ve spent my time looking for my brother, and trying to piece together what his letter might have meant. Everything has led me to room 21 of the Green Pastures Hotel, but my mission has stalled at a locked door. I’m getting close though...I can feel it!”

At the end of my last post I was about to depart Brooklyn in a stage coach on the back of a ferry

I can now categorically say that Gold Rush is unlike any other adventure game I’ve played. It took me around an hour to travel successfully from Brooklyn to Sacramento. During that time, I spent quite a bit of time staring at the screen, reading meticulous historic information about the path, very occasionally taking control of Jerrod again to surpass an obstacle, and randomly dying for no apparent reason. My feelings throughout this whole process switched from admiring how unique the experience was to feeling disaffected while the game took total control away from me. I can’t help having the feeling that the MacNeill brothers simply wanted to make use of the admittedly impressive amount of knowledge they have of the challenges faced by gold hunters travelling to California, despite the fact there was no real way to get it into their game in a satisfyingly interactive way.

I assume the Sea Farer would have taken me all the way around America rather than straight through the middle of it

I’m certainly not going to give you a blow by blow commentary of the journey, but I’ll try to give you an idea of what took place. At the end of my last post, I’d hopped on a stage coach, which then boarded a ferry to leave Brooklyn. The next few minutes displayed a map of America, with a little red line marking the path taken inland through various rivers and lakes. Apparently I changed boats several times before arriving at Independence, where it was planned for me to join the Long Island Joint Mining and Stock Company. Control was temporarily handed back to me at this point, and the next part of the game involved completing assignments for the captain of the company (such as choosing some animals to lead the wagon and deciding when the plains were suitably dry to commence travelling). These tasks are very easily achieved, particularly as there are only four screens that can be accessed, and the whole section feels like it was included to fill in the story rather than offering any real challenge to the player.

One of the few times you actually get to do anything between Brooklyn and Sacramento

One thing I should note is that one of the miners gave me a bible and when reading it (it only displays a few famous sections), I couldn’t help but notice the words GREEN PASTURES in capitals in Psalm 23. I noted this down as likely to be important at some point and we set off. It’s here that Gold Rush pretty much becomes an educational piece of software with only short opportunities for player interaction, at least for a while. I was informed very descriptively of the various landmarks that we passed, the effects of the weather on the team and animals, and the numerous forts that we came across on the way. Most surprisingly, at one point I received a message telling me I fell off a raft and was swept away to my death. It then told me there was nothing I could have done about it. It was just an accident! Really!? So the game is just randomly killing me and making me restore even when I have no control and have made no decisions? It might be realistic of life in this era, but I couldn't help feeling a bit pissed about it.

Hahaha...Game Over...just because!

There were two places during the whole wagon journey where control was returned to me. The first one is where the wagon comes to a stop at the top of a long slope leading to water. I was informed that the animals were extremely thirsty, but nothing more. I soon found out that I had approximately ten to twenty seconds to put chains through the wheels and detach the oxen or else they would drag the wagon at high speed towards the water, causing it to flip and kill everyone on board. This did take me a while to figure out and I suffered numerous game over messages before I did. The second point of user interaction occurred when I was close to starving. The game dumped me next to the wagon and once again gave me a short time limit to find food and water before either the wagon gets away or I died. This was a pretty pointless scene, as both the food and the water are found in the only place they could be, an abandoned wagon on the side of the path. I really got the feeling the developers realised they would be losing the player by now and at least gave them something to do.

Well...I had chains...and some

After these parts were completed, it was just a matter of waiting for the history lecture to be over and I arrived at Sutter’s Fort. It was here that I got another update on my progress, telling me that I’d achieved 87 points out of a possible 95, excluding the points for reading the bible. Given I was 13 points off the maximum after Brooklyn and I was only 8 points off at California, I can only assume that reading the bible gave me at least 5 points. I have to say that things have become very unclear since I reached the fort. I spent a while completing my obligatory mapping of the screens, although the screens don’t join up in the way you might expect. If you keep on moving to the left of screen, you simply make your way in a circle around the inner part of the fort, rather than moving continuously west. It was a little off-putting at first, but it clicked eventually.

Something tells me the fort is based on exact measurements

There really wasn’t a heck of a lot I could do in the fort, but there was a trader who offered gold pans, shovels and lanterns, and there was also a mule-keeper who didn’t seem willing to sell any of his mules. The trader told me he would accept any form of gold, so I offered him the gold coin I found in Brooklyn. He accepted it, allowing me to take only one of the items on offer. I had absolutely no idea as to which of the items was the correct one to choose, or even if there was a correct one, so I selected the shovel at random. I’m going to assume that the game can be completed, no matter which item you take with you, as I’ve still seen no suggestion as to which one I need. If that’s not the case, then this could be one of the worst dead end cases I’ve seen. Just outside the fort was a cemetery and it’s here that things got interesting.

Jerrod arrives at Sutter's Fort with grey hair and a beard 

Just as in the cemetery in Brooklyn, I wandered around reading the inscriptions on each of the tombstones until I found one that said Wilson Marshall, my father. This reminded me of Jake’s letter, which mentioned that he’d come to bury pa, and I figured this all had to have some meaning. What was particularly odd was that I’d already seen my father’s tombstone in the Brooklyn cemetery (he died in 1839 not 1848), so this message was clearly planted by Jake as a message. Remembering the holes in Jake’s letter, I used it on the tombstone and was then able to move it around. It locked into place at one point and the letters R21OOM appeared. This didn’t mean anything to me, but I noted it down and went on my merry way. It’s also worth noting that the tombstone mentioned Psalm 23 for anyone that hadn’t discovered the GREEN PASTURES message in the bible.

Yes, why would you continue looking when the message is so very clear? R21OOM!

So, at this point I had a few clues to mull over, but no real direction to take. Neither R21OOM or GREEN PASTURES meant anything to me, and the only hint of Jake’s whereabouts from the letter was “I live in the area drained by the American River”. Leaving the fort resulted in a top down perspective for a short period until I left the screen. After that I wandered aimlessly through stacks of screens, occasionally digging a hole with my shovel and finding nothing. Each screen tells you how far South and East you have travelled from the fort, but I found nothing of interest on any of the twenty or so that I wandered into. Eventually I decided to stick to the edge of the American River and walk along to see if I could find the “area drained” that Jake wrote about. Surprise, surprise! After crossing about fifteen or so screens to the east I came across a hotel called Green Pastures!


I immediately assumed Jake must be in there and I had a “eureka” moment (that word has never been more fitting than it is in Gold Rush!) when I realised R21OOM must mean room 21 (yes, it's obvious in hindsight). Looking back at the tombstone screenshot, I could now see that the message was Room 21: Reserved For You Always! I entered the hotel, tried and failed to book a room, then rushed to room 21 excitedly. The door was locked. Knocking achieved nothing either! Realising that things might not be as straight forward as I was hoping, I decided to call it a night and approach Green Pastures with a fresh mind tomorrow. I’m not requesting any assistance just yet as I haven’t really given it a good shot (there's every chance I only need to ask for the keys), but if anyone wants to leave some explanations regarding the trader and the general fort surroundings (in ROT13 of course), I’ll check them out if I get really stuck.

Everything leads here! It would be more exciting if I could actually get in the room though.

Session Time: 2 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours 00 minutes


  1. Hotel room hint: Vs lbh yrsg lbhe ubgry ebbz naq xarj fbzrbar znl or pbzvat gb zrrg lbh (naq lbh qvqa'g unir n pryycubar), jung jbhyq lbh qb?

    A bigger hint: V jbhyq unir yrsg lbh n zrffntr.

  2. Interesting game for sure! From what I had previously heard, I read a lot more about the game's faults (mainly dying from dysenteria or from having your shoe laces untied) than I read about its interests. This seems to be definitely one of the most obscure and intriguing games from Sierra golden age.

  3. Damn, Lars Erik beat me to it, but, based on my problem solving skills and no knowledge of the game: Gnyx gb gur qrfx pyrex? Vg vf erfreirq sbe lbh, fb ur be fur fubhyq tvir lbh gur xrl.

    Sorry, how far did you have to walk down the river? I mean, it is cool and all that they told you to go downriver, but man, that seems like a long way.

  4. My favorite path was always sailing around the horn. The cross land wagon journey was, in my opinion, the weakest, for all the things you've mentioned.

  5. About the trader and the surroundings: Unir lbh frra byq pbjobl zbivrf, jurer gurl hfr gur tbyq cna va n evire gb frcnengr gur tbyq ahttrgf sebz gur ebpxf? Gur fgber zvtug unir bar bs gubfr.

    Gur zber gvzr lbh gnxr va trggvat gb gur jrfg, gur zber bgure tbyq qvttref gurer jvyy or naq gur uneqre vg vf gb npghnyyl svaq tbyq. Nyfb, gur punaprf bs svaqvat tbyq ner uvture, gur snegure lbh ner sebz gur sbeg. Lbh'yy arrq gb svaq fbzr tbyq gb ohl nyy gur erdhverq cebivfvbaf.

    Naq qba'g gel gb frnepu tbyq sebz bgure crbcyr'f greevgbevrf, be gurl'yy or cerggl cvffrq.

    About the room: Qvq lbh guvax gung gur ahzoref zvtug or gur bgure jnl nebhaq?

  6. I say smash open the lock with the shovel! heh. Just kidding! Hope that is not the answer. LOL. I have not played this one so I am just throwing it out. R21OOM was somehow obvious to me... maybe I am dyslexic in a weird way..

  7. Thanks for all the hints above. I'm about to get back into the game and will hopefully not need to read any of them. Let's go find some gold!

    1. Hmmm...this game gets pretty difficult! Just completed a three hour session and it was tough going.

      I'll post all about it tomorrow.

    2. Looking forward to it. :)

  8. I owe some points here...

    Lars, I'm giving you 5 points instead of 10 this time because while your hint was helpful, it actually made me think the wrong way when approaching the puzzle. Your hint suggested that Jake would have left a message for me when in fact there was just a message for room 11. Considering how much trouble I had with the parser, this small difference had a big effect.

    I didn't need Ilmari's hints as it turned out, but I'm still giving him 10 points as it's all good stuff. Particularly the number reversal suggestion which I wish I'd read earlier.