Sunday, 6 May 2012

Game 17: Gold Rush! - Only as Good as My Mules

Jerrod Wilson Journal Entry 3: “While the physical difficulties of travelling between Brooklyn and Sacramento are now in the past, my time since arrival has contained challenges of a different sort. Trying to piece together what my brother’s cryptic messages mean has led me through many, many miles of wilderness, and I often feel like I’ve missed something important that would make my task of finding him much simpler. Miraculously, I’ve been assisted by my amazing luck in panning for gold. I’ve managed to pull close to $2500 worth of gold out of the American River, which has allowed me to stock up on supplies for whatever challenges are coming my way in the coming days. I finally found where Jake has been staying in the Green Pastures Hotel (it was room 12, not room 21), but getting in there was difficult to say the least. Once in, instead of finding him, I found a few items that he’d left me and another note. This note gave no hints as to his current whereabouts, but it did give me a path to follow which has eventually led me to a house some 30 miles away from Sutter’s Fort. I’m about to enter, but given all that has happened, I somehow doubt that my adventure is over.”

Hotel Green Pastures: Where my last session ended.

Hmmmm...last night’s three hour Gold Rush session did result in a lot of progress, but I don’t feel particularly good about it. It was a real struggle to be honest and a lot of what I achieved occurred through trial and error rather than any sort of satisfying logical thinking. The majority of the time I was very uncertain about what the game required me to do, but thankfully following my instincts eventually got me where I needed to go. I do think that part of the blame has to lie with me rather than entirely with the game (I’ll explain why I say that shortly), but there’s no doubt that the game loses focus and drive once you leave Brooklyn. My last post ended with me standing in front of room 21, wondering why the door wouldn’t open when all the hints I had led me to that particular place.

Room 21: Not how you do it!

I spent quite a while standing in front of that door! I read and re-read Jake’s letter, went over the various hints I’d collected since, but could think of nothing else that might get me inside. I figured the answer would probably have something to do with the man at the front desk, so I tried asking him all manner of questions. Unfortunately, the game’s parser is extremely limited in what it understands, so pretty much everything I tried to ask him resulted in “what do you mean” or “I don’t understand the word ‘about’”. Looking at the message box behind him gave me the idea that perhaps Jake had left a message for me, but I couldn’t think of any way to ask about it that the game understood. “Ask about message”...”message for me”...”message from jake”...”do i have a message”...”message”...”room 21 message”....I tried everything I could think of with no success.

I've met some pretty unhelpful concierges in my time, but this guy...

At this point I didn’t know what else to try, but since I’d arrived at Green Pastures Hotel entirely by luck, and didn’t feel I’d done a very good job of exploring the surroundings of Sutter’s Fort, I decided to go back there. Perhaps I missed something that would aid me in the hotel!? I restored back to Sutter’s Fort and this time decided to buy a gold pan rather than a shovel. During my travels I’d seen many men panning for gold in the river, but no-one digging with a shovel. I figured that might be the way to get more gold, and therefore be able to afford all the items in the trader’s shop rather than just the one. With that in mind, I left the fort, stopping at the cemetery to read the hidden message on the tomb, and went straight for the river. My first attempts at panning were a failure, but I kept walking down stream, trying at different points. Eventually I found another guy panning, so I thought maybe he knew something I didn’t. I panned close to where he was and it turns out people looking for gold don’t look too kindly upon others working in their territory!

A bit harsh for panning within a few metres of a dude don't you think?

After restoring, I continued panning for gold for miles on end until I finally had some success! From that point onwards, I was struck gold a few times on every screen, all the way to back to the Green Pastures Hotel. Every time I found some I gained another point, and by this stage I must have gained about 15 to 20 points in this fashion. Despite wondering how many more points I’d be able to collect this way, I decided to try my luck in the Green Pastures Hotel again. This time my attention was drawn to a room that had no number at all! Where the number should have been was just a few holes as though it had been removed, and this room was right between number 11 and number 13. Eureka! It wasn’t room 21 that I was supposed to be entering, it was room 12! I’d not thought to reverse the numbers and had been so focussed on room 21 that I’d failed to see what was (or wasn’t) right in front of me.

Room 12: Still not how you do it!

My excitement dissipated when I tried to enter room 12 however, as it appeared to be nothing more than a supply closet, and the door was blocked by supplies which I apparently didn’t need. So while I was now quite sure that I was on the right track, I still couldn’t see how to proceed. I decided it was time to read one of the hints you fine readers had left for me. Lars-Erik had left me two hints, with one apparently being more obvious than the other. The first one said “If you left your hotel room and knew someone may be coming to meet you (and you didn't have a cellphone), what would you do?” Well...I’d leave a message at reception. but I’d already tried that! I read his bigger hint, which turned out to be “I would have left you a message”. OK, so it was obvious I was trying to do the correct thing all along but just hadn’t used language that the game understood. I went back to the reception area, determined to get whatever message Jake had left for me.

Yeah, gives me something to do while I wait for some direction around here

I spent another couple of minutes asking for the message in numerous different ways before I finally hit on one that the game understood. “Get message”! This pissed me off to be honest. It’s hard enough to figure out what to do when the game doesn’t give you any real hints, but when you have actually figured it out and are punished by limited parser options, it’s just not fair play. It’s not like I was just picking a message up from the box that I knew was there. I was asking the man at the counter if there happened to be any messages for me. Surely one of the twenty other ways I asked for the message could have been enough! Anyway, to make matters worse, there was no message for me from my brother at all. When I typed “get message”, the guy told me that only hotel occupants could check for messages, but would I mind delivering one to room 11 for him?! I don’t think I need to tell you that this is terrible adventure game writing. What was I supposed to deduct here? "Hmmm...everything points to room 12, but that turned out to be nothing more than a supply closet. Oh, I know what to do! I’ll see if there’s a message I can deliver to whoever occupies room 11!"

OK. Make sure you leave the door open so I can explore your room for no particular reason

Delivering the message to room 11 resulted in the recipient leaving the room unoccupied so I could explore it. My immediate thought was that I was supposed to get into room 12 from room 11, so I investigated the wall, the fireplace and then the window. There was a ledge outside the window, so I unlatched it, climbed through, and shimmied my way along to the next window. I could see nothing else to do but to smash the window to room 12, but since I lost two points for doing so, I assume there’s a cleaner way. It seems that room 12 is actually cut off from the rest of the hotel, but that Jake has been living out of there for some time. In the room were a few items that were clearly intentionally left by Jake for me.  More specifically: a piece of string, a magnet and a note. The note simply said something along the lines of thanks for coming and that if I’m looking for gold, I should find him. No shit!

5 points to the first person that can tell me how I was supposed to open the window (it's probably obvious)

Thankfully I spent a bit more time investigating the room, as right before I was about to climb back through the window, a bird flew in and landed in a birdcage in the corner. On inspection it appeared there was a capsule attached to its leg, containing yet another note. “For a clue to my exact location, insert proof of identification here.” Alright, now I was getting somewhere! I placed the photo I took from the family album back in Brooklyn in the capsule and watched the bird fly away. I waited many minutes, but eventually it returned with, you guessed it, another note in the capsule. “As stubborn as our friend may be, just leave it to him and he’ll lead you to me!” Aaaaaggghhhh!!!!! I gave you proof of my identity like you asked, why do you have to keep being so damn cryptic!? After reminding myself that solving cryptic puzzles is what adventure games is all about, I decided to stop getting frustrated with the game and to enjoy the challenge. My first thought was that the “friend” the note speaks of must be the bird, but following it was impossible as it simply disappeared as soon as it left the window.

If I'd left ten seconds earlier than I did, I would never have seen the bird fly in the window

The phrase “stubborn as a mule” popped into my head and I remembered that there were mules in the stable back at Sutter’s Fort. Given that I’d not yet returned to the trader there with all the gold I’d found, the fort seemed to be a good place to go next. Before I did that though, I spent about twenty minutes (seriously) wandering up the American River panning for gold. I racked up another thirty points and collected about $2500 in gold while doing so, but it was an extremely repetitive process. Eventually I just couldn’t find any more gold, so I figured I’d reached the limit of the amount of gold (and points) that the game was going to give me. I ended up over forty miles east of Sutter’s Fort, so for the first time since starting Gold Rush, I set the game to the fastest speed limit, and sped back like The Flash. I didn’t realise that I was in for a big surprise on arrival!

Jerrod really appreciated finally getting some "alone time"

On entering the fort, I had every intention of heading straight for the trader to buy the shovel and the lantern that I’d not been able to afford previously. You might remember that in my last post I described how movement within the fort walls goes in a circle, so if you go keep going west, you end up in the same place you started. Well, I guess I was wrong! Since the trader was one of the last places I found in the fort on my first visit, I decided to go east this time around, hoping that would get me to my destination quicker as it was at the end of the circular route. I was shocked to find myself in screens I’d simply not seen before!!! Now I’m pretty meticulous in exploring locations as thoroughly as I can, so I feel pretty stupid that I’d missed some pretty important stuff here, but I also think the game is at least partly to blame.

One real positive is that stairs are handled much better in Gold Rush than in any previous Sierra game

It’s obvious that the MacNeill brothers were trying to push the envelope in lots of ways, and one of the things they attempted was to play around with the navigational directions. In all previous Sierra games, the direction your facing doesn’t switch when you move between screens, at least not when you’re in the outside world where orientation is important. In Gold Rush, you enter the fort by moving what would traditionally be considered north, but then you appear on the next screen as if you’re going south. Go left two screens and then go down one and you all of a sudden enter a screen from the left. It probably makes sense when you have an overall perspective of the overhead layout of the fort, but it caused me to become quickly disorientated and subsequently to miss a few locations that were vital to my progress in Gold Rush. Basically what it means is that if you go to the left three screens in a row and then go back to the right for three screens, you don’t necessarily end up where you started.

How differently I might have played the game had I found the blacksmith and the mule salesman earlier!

The end result of this little stuff up is that I now had access to a blacksmith and a mule salesman. Before I did anything with them, I went to the trader and purchased both the shovel and the lantern. On my return I got into a strange conversation with the blacksmith where he eventually gave me a message from my brother. The message was that in these parts Jake is known as James. I couldn’t see how that was helpful in any way, but the blacksmith did give me a branding iron that “James” had left for me. It seemed pretty obvious that the iron would be used on an animal, so I paid a visit to the salesman next and bought myself a mule. Heading back to the blacksmith, I heated up the iron and branded the mule with my brother’s symbol. Still having no idea why any of this would be useful, I decided to follow Jake’s hint and see if I could somehow get the mule to lead me to him.

Out of all the information he might have left for me, that's what he decided to tell me!

I repositioned the two of us outside the fort and tried typing a few different commands. “Leave mule” didn’t work. “Ride mule” didn’t work either. Eventually I had some form of success with “follow mule”, despite the fact that he wasn’t actually going anywhere (another parser issue), but the game responded with “try that somewhere nearby”. I took the mule to a few different screens and tried “follow mule” repeatedly, until a got a response telling me that “this ol, mule has a hard time leadin’ the fleas on its back! It won't take ya anywhere!” What the?! By now I was getting pretty frustrated with Gold Rush. I wasn’t really making logical decisions anymore; I was simply trying things until there was nothing else to try. Did I buy the wrong the mule? Was I supposed to select a particular one when talking to the mule salesman? I restored to the salesman and tried taking different approaches. Nothing worked.

Thanks for the tip! Shame it didn't work!

In the end I decided to go to the one place in the fort where I hadn’t actually done anything yet. It seemed odd that there would be a mule stable for no reason at all, so I took my mule there to see what might happen. I couldn’t for the life of me think of what I might achieve there, but that’s the way I’d solved quite a few puzzles of late. This post has gone on way too long already so I’ll cut to the chase. I had to leave the mule in the stable, then come back and look at all the other mules until I found one that had the same symbol branded on it (I’m assuming it was left there by my brother) and take that one instead. The stableman is fooled because you leave with a mule with the same symbol as when you arrived, so he lets you go. Why would anyone actually think to do this? Seriously, does this Jake guy actually want me to find him? I’m starting to have my doubts!

Any of his numerous messages might have directed me straight to this mule

I took this new mule out in the wilderness and typed “follow mule”. I then spent the next five minutes following the mule through 34 screens (seriously, 34!) which represents 34 miles of wilderness until I arrived at what I assume is Jake’s location. I decided to end the session there as I knew I already had a heck of a lot to write about. I apologise for the length of this post (the first person to leave a comment saying “I made it” gets 5 points)! At this point, as I’m sure you can tell, I’m getting increasingly disappointed with Gold Rush. What started out as an interesting and technology pushing game has spiralled into a mess of ideas with puzzles that rely almost entirely on luck and guess work. I can see that the game wouldn’t have been quite so challenging if I’d done certain things in a certain order, but I don’t feel the player should be punished for taking any path available to them, as I have. Here's hoping the last part of the game tightens things up a bit!

Betting Odds: Jake's in the house $2.80 - Jake's left yet another note for me in the house $1.40

Session Time: 3 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 8 hours 00 minutes


  1. I made it :D

    (longtime lurker... I really enjoy reading along. Maybe more to say later *grin*)

    1. Argh, I made it, but too late ;)

    2. 5 points to Matthew! Hopefully that won't be the last time we hear from you. :)

  2. Room 11 -> 12: Lrf, gurer'f nabgure jnl va, abg guebhtu gur jvaqbj. Jurer'f uvqqra qbbef orgjrra ebbzf nyjnlf va pbzvpf naq zbivrf?

    Oh and a bit of good news (not really very spoilerish): Sebz urer ba gurer'f bayl sbejneq, nf lbh unir nyy gur vgrzf lbh arrq nf sne nf V pbhyq gryy sebz lbhe grkg.

    And I didn't remember the parser to be that annoying and specific, but from your experience it seems really harsh.

    1. Hmmm...I haven't read a lot of comics, but I've sure seen a lot of movies! Hidden doors are always behind bookshelves from what I can remember, but looking at the screenshots now, it simply must be the fireplace! There's a canon figurine on both sides and a semicircle suggesting a rotational panel. Nice! I assume I need to pull the canon (so to speak) so I'll restore and give it a shot.

      I'm afraid Gold Rush is extremely harsh when it comes to parser limitations. I think the creators put so much effort into making the world detailed that they were forced to bum out on allowing the player to ask about anything. Still, you think they would have been a bit more lenient when it came to the important things.

      I'm going back in! I hope to finish it tonight but you never know with adventure games...

    2. And that's yet another 5 points for Lars-Erik! You're tearing up the leaderboard!

    3. Btw, if you take a look one more time to the tombstone, you can notice that there is a picture of the cannon on top of it. I don't know if that is supposed to be a hint, but it seems more than just a coincidence. It just fails in making the puzzle any more logical..

      And good luck to the endgame, you're almost there! I was stuck for a couple of years (in the time before internet and walkthroughs) just a few screens away from completion, thinking all the time that I had missed something important earlier. (Jura npghnyyl V whfg snvyrq gb abgvpr n ghaary yrnqvat gb gur svany ebbz sebz bar bs gur ynqqref va gur zvar..).

    4. Yeah, bookshelves and fireplaces. :)

      Have to accumulate points while I can. There's loads of adventures I haven't played yet, and the Number Nine tickets are really expensive.

    5. You're absolutely right Fenrus! I'd totally missed the canon hint on the tombstone! Not much of a hint mind you, but still, good catch! 5 points for you too.

  3. You know, the next game on your list is the first Sierra game I ever finished... I have incredibly fond memories of King's Quest IV, and will play it alongside you. I had bought King's Quest III at a yard sale, but being so young (9? 10?) I didn't have the patience or understanding to gather what I needed to beat Manannan. Interestingly, much later in life I met a woman who had married a man named "Manannan" ... go figure.

    My dad taught computer science for many, many years, and was/is intrigued by the programming of computer games. He had a student who had King's Quest IV, and lent it to us. Meanwhile, my sister discovered it simultaneously at a friend's house and when it showed up at my dad's house she was beyond delighted.

    From time to time I would even just load up the very first screen to get a sudden rush of nostalgia...

    But that brings me back to Gold Rush! I had a friend, from earliest childhood, whose father saw these early adventure games as exercises in intelligence and problem-solving, and more or less tricked his sons into playing them ("They're games!!") in order to develop them into supermen of some kind, hahaha. In case you're wondering, none of them ended up being adventure game gods or anything.

    But the ONLY Sierra game that household never had was Gold Rush!, and so it was the only early Sierra game I was never exposed to. For that reason alone, it always tantalized me.

    There is a second facet to my tale. At school, on our early Apple II computers, we were required to play, as a class, The Oregon Trail - much like children all over the country. Clever arrangement, that company had. So an entire generation of us had a built-in appreciation for the Old West and the struggles of traveling out there to make your fortune. So Gold Rush! was doubly fascinating to me.

    Therefore I'm disappointed to see how the game actually plays out. It seems less like my beloved King's Quest IV and more like ... I don't know.

    So... let's wrap this up and get to KQ4!!!

    1. Never fear! I'll be playing King's Quest IV in the next few days. :)

  4. I realize now that I haven't finished a lot of these early Sierra games. I mainly focused on Larry and Space Quest games, but I think I've never been able to finish any KQ games. It's great to read about them now and it sure brings back a lot of memories. I hope you'll be stuck on a game I finally know (maybe LSL2?) because I want to go back up in the assist leaderboard ;)

    1. It sounds likely that I'll need some help with LSL2. Readers keep warning me that it's one of the more challenging ones. It will be your time to shine!

  5. (Not a hint, just an observation with a spoiler): Vebavp gung arvgure bs lbhe orggvat bcgvbaf vf npghnyyl evtug!

    1. Yeah, as soon as I got in there I thought "all bets are off!"

  6. And the point about brother's name being James is probably just producers' way of showing off their knowledge of American history. James Wilson Marshall was the guy who first found gold in California (in the Sutter's Fort, which is also a location in the game) and thus began the whole gold rush. Considering that the father of Jake and Jerrod is called Wilson Marshall, Jake is in all likelihood meant to be this guy behind the gold rush.

    1. Thanks for this interesting observation. Never actually realized this connection before!

      To be exact, the first gold was actually found by the "Sutter's Mill", which is located in the game just before the the Green Pastures hotel. This location is actually the town of Coloma, which nowadays has a nice little museum about the gold rush (and a 1:1 replica of the mill).. I cannot remember anymore, but I think the name "Coloma" was also referenced in the game.

    2. I wonder how much more enjoyable to game would be for someone up on this particular time in history. I have to admit that I know nothing about it so I don't know what to take as merely historial information and what to take as useful information to complete the game.

      Yes, Coloma was mentioned in the game. I think when you look at certain things, it describes them as being east or west of Coloma.

  7. 10 points for the first person that can repeat "my last words". It's reward for someone that hangs around to read the comments between posts. :)

    1. Or someone who subscribes via email to every posts comment section...

    2. Missed it because of a phone call. I wish they would stop pestering me with work at work.

    3. Sorry Canageek, you've really given away the fact that you don't play adventure games here. Rule Number 46: You shouldn't always take things literally! ;)

      Andy_Panthro gets the points!

    4. That's what 20 years of playing adventure games does for you, I guess!

    5. Or it could be my haste to post, or the fact I am in science and used it literal thinking. However, it is probably karma for posting before my first day at my new job instead of getting ready.