Monday, 20 August 2012

Game 23: Zak McKracken - Back in Zak

Zak McKracken Journal Entry 4: “I found the second part of the crystal I need to be able to travel to Mars, but unfortunately I am struggling to find a way of attaining it. The piece is contained within a part of a statue I came across while exploring a temple in Mexico City, and while I’m quite sure the yellow markings on the side of it hold the key to its release, I have not yet been able to solve the puzzle. I’m beginning to think that I might find a hint elsewhere, so I’ve also spent some time in England looking at Stonehenge. Still nothing, so plan to visit Peru and Egypt next. My cashcard balance is under threat, so I hope I find what I’m after soon!”

You two just stand there for a while. There're some beds behind you if you get sleepy.

My last Zak McKracken session was pretty much played entirely on Mars, with me controlling student girls Melissa and Leslie. I had a pretty successful time up there too, but had run into two puzzles that I didn’t know how to solve. Firstly, there was the pyramid door that had a keyhole of sorts, for which I had nothing to open it with, and secondly, there was the door containing three sound-emitting buttons, which I also could find no obvious way to open. I made a decision at the end of that session to spend some more time on Earth with Zak and Annie, in the hope that I might find something that would assist me in finding solutions to what I faced on the red planet.

I see the two of you got closer in my absence. Good for you!

It had been a while since I’d been back on Earth, so the first thing I did was try to figure out whether there was anything outstanding to check out before I hopped on the bus and travelled around the world. The only thing I could come up with was the application to The King Fan Club that I’d previously sent in the mail. I paid a visit to my apartment, but there was no new mail waiting for me, so I went inside. There were no new messages on my answering machine either, so it was time to go globetrotting. However, as I came out of my apartment, I found that there was now some new mail! Opening it, I found I now had a membership card for The King Fan Club, although I had no idea what good that would do me.

Somehow I don't think I want to be this King's teddy bear

Off to the airport I went, and since I’d already visited Seattle, I decided my next destination would be Miami. When I arrived, I was confronted by a beggar requesting debit. When I gave him my cashcard he thanked me (I have no idea how he processed the transaction), but his exact words were “tanks, but my life shtill ain’ got no meanin’”. Straight away I figured that what I needed to give him was the book I’d bought from the Hare Krishna dude in Seattle airport. That was the right thing to do, and the bum rewarded me for changing his life by giving me the bottle of whiskey he’d been reliant on up until now.

If only people weren't this easily convinced

Rather surprisingly, that was the only thing I was able to do in Miami airport, as apparently Miami is closed for repairs. Oh well...that was one destination I could cross off the list, at least for now. I used the ticket reservation machine once again, and the next destination on the list was the Bermuda Triangle. Well this should be interesting I thought, but after buying my ticket I was informed that the plane wasn’t in the airport right now. I’m not entirely sure whether that was just a setup for a joke (after all, planes are said to have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle under mysterious circumstances), or whether I will at some point be able to visit the Bermuda Triangle later in the game. I’ll try again later.

The Bermuda Triangle: The perfect place for an extended holiday.

Thankfully, using the machine again refunded the $99 I’d spent on the ticket, and I straight away purchased one for the next destination on the list...Mexico City! As soon as I departed Mexico City Airport, I found myself standing in a jungle. There was more than one path available for me to take and it very quickly became apparent that I was going to have to work my way through a maze. Those of you that have been reading this blog for a while will know that I really don’t like mazes in adventure games, unless they include some sort of logical solution. To get through the maze in Mexico City, I was forced to take random pathways until I eventually found myself standing in front of a temple. It seemed to be nothing more than a delaying exercise and for all I knew, there were other locations accessible through the maze that I just hadn’t come across. In a game relying on specific objects being found, that’s not a nice feeling.

What this game really needs is a pointless maze!

I decided to assume that the temple was the sole reason I’d come to Mexico City, and chose one of the numerous doorways to enter. Inside...was another maze! Each screen I entered was entirely devoid of light, so I was forced to pixel hunt for torches that I could use my lighter on. At least I knew if I’d been to a screen before, as the torches would either be lit or not. Being an RPG gamer at heart, I immediately opened excel and started mapping my way. It wasn’t difficult to do, because the walls were tile based, meaning I could make each cell represent one tile. This idea fell entirely flat though, as it didn’t take long for my map to overlap on itself, meaning the structure I was in made no physical sense whatsoever. I had no choice but to randomly choose doorways, attempting to find dark rooms to know that was a new path.

That first maze wasn't annoying enough. Let's have another one!

Eventually I came across a room with a statue in the middle of it. Once again I had no idea whether this was the only room that I needed to find in the temple, but I had to assume that the game developers were not bitchy enough to hide more than one location of interest in an apparently randomly generated maze. Just next to the hand of the statue, was the second half of the yellow crystal I needed, but this time there was no infrared sensor to be found. There was however some strange yellow markings, similar to the ones I’d found in the Seattle cave. However, the game wasn’t going to do the dot connecting for me when I used my yellow crayon on the markings. A close-up of the markings appeared on the screen, and I was going to have to join the dots myself.

My reward for getting through two mazes was...a puzzle that I don't yet know the solution to. Joy!

When looking at the dots, I could kind of see what direction the lines must have gone before time wore them away. I figured I just needed to put lines wherever there was a suggestion of a previous line, and that this would result in the picture forming and the crystal being released. Unfortunately, that great plan didn’t work out at all, and my numerous attempts at drawing symbols achieved nothing at all. I tried to think of what the symbol might be, but I just couldn’t make anything happen. Just as with the puzzles on Mars, I ended up having to admit defeat, and hoped that I would find a hint to the markings somewhere else in the game.

Oh come on! The Aztecs loved phallic symbols!

Since I’d not actually picked anything up in Mexico City, didn’t feel like finding my way back through the maze, and also didn’t want to have wasted the money on the airfare, I restored my game back to Miami Airport and used the ticket machine. The next city on list was London, so I purchased my ticket and set off once again. Leaving the airport, I found myself standing just outside Stonehenge, with a guarded fence blocking my path to the site. A sign informed me that the fence was electrified, but I thought I’d try and open it anyway. After I yowled in pain from the zap, the guard suddenly announced how COLD it was tonight. Perhaps I had something in my inventory that would help warm him up? Of course I did...the whiskey!

Ello govna! Fancy a drink?

Certain of my success, I gave the whiskey to the guard and waited for him to open the gate. Instead, he replied with “sorry, mate, you’re not my type!” That left me with only one option. I needed to use Annie to give the guard the whiskey! There was one problem though that I hadn’t thought of until this moment. Annie didn’t have a cashcard! She wasn’t allowed to use mine, so I was going to have to buy her a ticket and then give it to her. How would she then pay for a ticket to leave London? Suddenly the complexity of travelling anywhere as Annie became obvious, and I started to wonder if I’d failed to discover a second cashcard in her apartment. I let that thought go though as I came up with a plan that would allow me to get both Zak and Annie to London simultaneously.

Goodbyes are much harder when you have to pay for the ticket too!

My plan involved getting both characters onto the bus from San Francisco, then I would buy two London tickets at the airport, give one to Annie, and then travel one at a time to London. It worked, but it certainly seemed like an expensive and time consuming way to get around. Oh well, I could at least see what London had to offer now. I took control of Annie and gave the whiskey to the guard. He accepted it, and subsequently drank himself into a stupor. I was then able to enter his little post and turn off the electricity, but unfortunately that didn’t open the gates. They were still locked, so I was going to have to figure out another way through.

If you can't keep up with a college girl, you deserve the hangover

Taking control of Zak, I tried using the rope on the gate in the hope that I’d be able to climb over. When that didn’t work, I went to work on the fence with my wire cutters, and was stoked when a large hole formed. I took both Annie and Zak into the centre of Stonehenge, where there was an altar stone. I personally went to Stonehenge a couple of months back, and I certainly didn’t see this altar stone in the centre, but let’s not let reality ruin anything. I had a strong feeling that the crystals were going to play a role here, and that feeling was amplified when I was able to place the yellow crystal on the altar. I had no idea why I was doing any of this, but I then attempted to place the blue crystal on the altar too. It was then that something rather odd occurred!

Are you sure you don't want to lie down here on the grass with me for a while Annie? are amazing!

As soon as I used the crystal, Zak announced that he felt dizzy, before stumbling around and eventually collapsing. Shortly afterwards he got back up, but then suddenly I was viewing the aliens back in the telephone company in a panic. Apparently using the blue crystal had alerted them that someone had it in their possession and was currently testing it. One of the aliens then put on the human disguise (i.e. nose glasses and hat) and then somehow teleported himself to my location. Before I could even think of running away or using an item in retaliation, the alien grabbed me, teleported both of us back to the machine room, and put me in the cell I’d seen earlier in the game. To make matters worse, he then took the blue crystal from me and stashed it in the cupboard before leaving.

Aaarrrgghhh!!!!! I'm trapped by a highly advanced alien race! Whatever shall I do!!!!????

I briefly watched as the machine gradually made Zak stupider, removing one verb at a time from the menu system while in control of him. I would have to use Annie to rescue Zak, and I knew exactly how to do it too! I restored back to just arriving at Stonehenge and went through the same process again, although this time I gave Annie the nose glasses and hat and put her on a plane back to San Francisco in preparation for the rescue. Once Zak was teleported to the cell, I quickly put on the glasses and hat and successfully infiltrated the telephone company. I was just about to execute my brilliant plan when it became apparent that I was completely wasting my time. The aliens ignored Annie’s presence in the machine room altogether and released Zak before I could rescue him, thinking that the stupid machine had made him too stupid to continue to be a threat.

What? You're letting me go to continue my efforts at stopping your evil plan?

Zak then recovered his verbs one by one as he recovered his senses outside the building (making the aliens actions completely pointless), while I used Annie to recover the crystal from the cupboard. At the end of this whole sequence of events, I was no better off than I was prior. I’d gained no items and no real knowledge, apart from the aliens’ method of disguise which I’d already deduced. So why did it occur in the first place? Would it happen again if I used the crystal on the altar again? The answer turned out to be yes, but not only that, it turned out that the whole thing had nothing to do with Stonehenge at all. If I use the blue crystal anywhere on anything, the aliens come to teleport me back to the machine room and I have to break in and get the crystal back. So, after much confusion, I finally had to assume that the purpose of Stonehenge is to join the two yellow crystal pieces back together, and nothing to do with the blue crystal at all.

Slash had decided that pink was the new black!

So, I’ve crossed off Seattle and Miami, and have done as much as I can for now in Mexico City and London, as well as on Mars. I’m at least temporarily unable to visit the Bermuda Triangle, which leaves only Lima and Cairo yet to be explored. There may be other destinations too, only accessible from other airports, so I’ll need to check that in future. Before I made any decisions about where to go next, I restored to Annie’s apartment in the hope of finding a cashcard she could use. It took me all of thirty seconds to try picking up the blotter on the desk (I thought I was going to have to use it, not pick it up) to find a cashcard hidden beneath. Well that’s certainly going to make things easier! I’ll end this post here, but I plan to continue my exploration immediately, eager to figure out what on Earth (or Mars) it is I’m supposed to be doing.

Well, you could have told me where you hid your cashcard Annie! Or was it all part of your money-sucking plan?

Session Time: 2 hour 00 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've recently written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. Wow, this long before any comments? I think this might be a record.

    On topic, I was hoping that you'd discover the prison and it's brain sucking qualities at some point. I managed to hit it right at the beginning of the game.

  2. This game is bending some minds alright... just READING about it makes me dizzy. I feel my verbs vanishing...

  3. I'm not saying that for the sake of my (very high) bet on this game final note, but there is (sort of) a logical solution to Mexico maze... :)

  4. After the rather straightforward beginning of Zak, the game world expands and all you see at first are disjointed bits and pieces. Don't panic, when you've done enough exploration you'll get to see how all the dots connect!

  5. Agree with Ilmari, there is actually a lot more logic behind all this mess than is apparent at first sight. I'm almost done with my own play through but I have to admit that I am ferociously jealous of your intuition (which turns out to be a fairly useful tool for this game).

  6. Ah yes, the mazes. Gurer ner ybgf bs znmrf, fb V'z fher lbh'yy trg nf naablrq ng gurz nf V qvq. Gunaxshyyl lbh pna trg guebhtu nyzbfg nyy bs gurz ol enaqbzyl cvpxvat cnguf.

  7. I have a confession to make.

    I read before playing that this game had some mazes so I looked up maps and hints as soon as I entered a maze, basically skipping those puzzles. Thank you this website

    And for those wondering if mazes were just put in to make games take longer, here's a quote from David Fox, designer of Zak McKracken

    Question: Is there anything you would do different if you were making Zak again?

    Answer: "Hah! NO LABYRINTHS!! That was the one thing I wish we hadn't have done so much of. But considering how much space we had on the floppy disk (wasn't Zak two sides of a C64 disk - about a total of 320KB?), that was the most space-efficient way to prolong gameplay. At least we didn't keep killing you off!" - David Fox

    And a comment from David Fox on the jungle maze. Spoiler so Trickster doesn't read the solution. 'Gurfr jrera'g znmrf ng nyy. Gurer'f ab fgehpgher gb gur whatyrf. V'z whfg pbhagvat gur ahzore bs arj qbbef lbh tb guebhtu!'

  8. Could you try a topological map? That is, a map where you only look at the relation between things (Door A connects to room B) and not their arrangement in space? A flow chart is a good example of this type of map. It doesn't matter where the circles (Rooms) are, as long as the lines connecting them are correct.

  9. If you don't like mazes, you might not like Leisure Suit Larry 3. :)

    1. Ohg gur fbyhgvba gb gung vf tvira va gur znahny.

    2. Creuncf lbh'er evtug -- sbe fbzr ernfba V'z guvaxvat gung gur 2aq unys unq n ybg bs znmrf, ohg znlor gung'f whfg orpnhfr vg tbg ohearq zl zvaq jung unccrarq qhevat fnvq znmr nurz yby

    3. V erzrzore bayl bar whatyr znmr, juvpu lbh unir gb pebff nf Cnggv. Gur znahny unq n fbat ("Arire, arire, rire rng arpgnevarf jnfurq..." naq fb ba), jurer gur jbeqf ortva jvgu yrggref vzcylvat qverpgvbaf jurer lbh unir gb tb (abegu, abegu, rnfg naq fb ba).

    4. Did you just spoil Larry 3 Ilmari!? ;)

    5. Small part of it, yes. Don't say you ROT-13d it? ;)

  10. I don't mind mazes and mapping in general but the main problem with Zak is that all the rooms look like each other and you can't drop items, so there is no way you can tell them apart.

    Okay, actually, I figured out a way just this morning: use another character. For example, when Zak is in a maze, have Melissa join him, post her in a room and start your mapping, and this way you can clearly identify at least one room. Once you have done that, move her to another room, repeat.

    This isn't much fun to me so like TBD suggested, I ended up using the map of the web site he posted and I didn't feel I was cheating. I was also surprised when I realized that the mazes are not random and they can actually be mapped...

    1. Did I just do a really bad job of mapping then? I swear my rooms started to overlap each other. Is that just because I was using Excel, and assuming that each wall tile was the same length was not correct? I'm eager to see a map now, but I'll wait until I complete the game.

      I think you hit the nail on the head though TBD. These mazes are just not very enjoyable! I don't always have a big issue with mazes. It's just the ones that have no discernible features so you feel like you're going round in circles (Zork's maze was insane), and have no way of knowing just how many important locations are discoverable, that I have a problem with.

      The underground maze in Manhunter was nowhere near as bad for two main reasons. One: it was easily mappable and the dimensions made physical sense. Two: there was actually a clue elsewhere in the game that helped players get through it.

    2. The Canageek suggestion works, with the topological map.

      There is a trick as to how to make the difference between one room and another. You can use the lighter and the cushion to light/extinguish the torches in order to always know where you are. There are 4 rooms of each type (6 doors / 4 doors / 3 doors) and one of the rooms has statues on the front of the screen. You can easily identify this one. For the three others, you can have one with the left torch on, one with the right torch on and one with both. The game keeps the torch disposition in memory. With one (very annoying) exception, though. In my version of the game, it didn't keep the torch disposition for the biggest rooms, for some reason, so to identify these ones, I had to go through the door on the right (3 of them lead outside, while 1 leads to another room).

      Once you've fiddled a bit with your lighter/cushion and your pen and paper (A goes to A, B goes to B...), you can map the whole place quite easily...

    3. Brilliant! I couldn't be stuffed doing any of it...but brilliant! ;)

    4. Trickster: the maze web site linked by TBD shows an example of such a map at the bottom of the page, and while it's a bit contrived, it does make sense and it is consistent, but it is unlike any map I have ever drawn and I'm not sure I would have been able to make it look this nice (my map would look like a graph with edges all over the place).

      Obviously, you probably don't want to go to this web site until after you have completed the game: even though the page only talks about mazes, it might contain a couple of things you might consider as spoilers.

    5. A bit tedious for sure, but I liked the idea of leaving signs of your way in a Mayan pyramid... and the fact the pyramid itself seems to get more and more narrow while you're making progress in it.

  11. Another excellent article on one of my favourite website :

    Of course, you don't want to read the articles about the games you've never played to avoid spoilers, but I just loooove their writing...

    1. Great article. I skipped the Longest Journey and Silent Hill spoilers. That Runescape one seems even more insane than the most insane adventure game puzzles.

      And while a tad disappointed that one of my favourite game series keeps getting into the stupid puzzle lists, I can't deny that the Mosely disguise puzzle deserves everything it gets.

    2. Great article indeed and well written!

      TBD wrote (regarding the most difficult adventure games list) in a comment few days ago: "Seems more like a "10 adventure games with a puzzle that pissed me off" list to me."

      Then some days later, we get an article regarding most absurd puzzles. Coincidence?