Saturday, 18 August 2012

Game 23: Zak McKracken - Red Knobs and Broomsticks

Zak McKracken Journal Entry 3: “Wow! Not only did I retrieve an ancient blue crystal from the cave in Seattle, I’ve since used it to meet the girl of my dreams (literally), Annie! She’s really amazing and told me she also knew about me from her own dreams! If that’s not strange enough, her friends Melissa and Leslie are currently on Mars, having converted their van into a spaceship by following instructions communicated to them by aliens. I saw something about this on the news recently, but I had no idea I was going to get wrapped up in it somehow. Annie and I are going to try to find the second half of the yellow crystal (she already had the first), with which we apparently will be able to travel to Mars too! We might all just be insane, but something tells me I'm about to set out on the biggest adventure of my life!”

Come sit by the fire my friends and make yourself comfortable. I have a story to tell that you simly must hear.

At the end of last post, I’d just figured out how to get the lighter on the plane, which in turn allowed me to light the fire in the cave in Seattle. With that done, I crossed to the strange markings that I hadn’t been able to view earlier. Looking at them revealed that they looked “like an unfinished drawing made of yellow dots”, so the solution to this particular puzzle was really pretty straight forward. I used the yellow crayon I had in my possession to join the dots, forming an Egyptian ankh. This caused the wall to open up into a doorway, which I eagerly moved through, intrigued as to what might lie beyond.

Apparently I had a magical Egyptian crayon beneath my kitchen sink all along

Lo and behold, the next chamber contained a blue crystal upon a pedestal, held in place by some sort of contraption. I immediately assumed that the crystal must be the artefact I needed to put in the door slot back in San Francisco, and set about trying to retrieve it. My first thought was that the platform to the right might act as some sort of switch. I’d played enough Tomb Raider games to start thinking about how I might use gravity as part of the solution, but it turned out that I couldn’t do anything with the platform at all. As soon as I noticed the infrared sensor beneath the pedestal, I thought I’d try using my TV remote control on it. I never actually expected it to work, but it did! It’s a bit ridiculous really, but I was pretty happy to have the crystal in my possession.

Ancient artifacts protected by infrared security systems in Seattle

I could find nothing else to do in Seattle, so I flew back to San Francisco to put the artefact in the slot. As soon as I did, Annie opened the door and asked me where I got it. Instead of explaining, I told her she had been in my dream, to which she responded by telling me I’d been in hers! I followed her into her apartment, and she began telling me about the strange dream in which her and her two friends had had dreams sent to them by “the Ancient Ones”. The aliens told her about me, and they also described how to build a device, for which the blue crystal was a part. Annie then gave me half of the yellow crystal, and told me that if I could find the other half, I’d gain the ability to join her friends on Mars.

Um...a Seattle...while hunting for a two-headed squirrel

Of course to get to Mars, I was going to need a spacesuit. She gave me no idea how I was going to make said spacesuit, but I figured that would become obvious down the track. I had the feeling that the wetsuit and the fishbowl might be part of it, but who knows. Finally, Annie told me that “from now on, we will all share knowledge through our dreams”. Hmmm...does that mean we can communicate, but only if I go to sleep? Do they have to be asleep too? As soon as she finished speaking, I noticed I now had a Switch verb in the menu, which would allow me to switch between Zak, Annie, Melissa and Leslie, with the last two being the co-ed girls on Mars. I couldn’t really contain myself, so I switched to Melissa to see Mars for the first time.

Yeah, sure! Why not!

Suddenly I witnessed a small cut-scene of the Mars landscape before I took control of Melissa on the surface. Leslie and I were standing next to our converted van, bored of waiting for instructions from the aliens. The first thing I did was hop into the van to see what was on the inside. I found a digital audio tape in the radio, which contained some “darkeen tones” by Razor, one of the characters from Maniac Mansion. I picked up the tape, and then opened the glovebox, which contained a fuse and two cashcards. I collected those items too. I noticed I could play the tape in the boom box on the dashboard, and I also had the ability to record, but couldn’t think of any reason I might do that. Before I left the van, I refilled my oxygen tank with the valve below the glovebox. Reading my helmet then told me I had one hour of oxygen in my suit. Alright, it was time to explore Mars!

I knew Kombi vans were sturdy, but who knew they could survive passing through Earth and Mars' atmospheres?!

Just to the left of the van I found a building. The sign on the wall told me it was called The Friendly Hostel. The door was open, so I walked in. Inside were lots of controls and monitors, but thankfully there were only a couple of things I could interact with. There was a metal plate that appeared to be screwed shut, a button next to the door leading outside and another leading further into the hostel, as well as a light above each door. I quickly figured out that the buttons must open and close the doors, but that there was currently no power. It seemed obvious that I needed to remove the plate from the wall and fix the power problem, but I didn’t have any way of doing that. I left the hostel the way I came in.

HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the door!

Further to the left of the van I came across a monolith that appeared to be a vending machine of sorts. If I paid $100, I could buy a token to use the tram. I bought one, but attempting to hop on the tram failed as it also appeared to be without power. I went back to the hostel and tried unscrewing the metal plate with the token. It worked, and I soon found that the plate covered a fuse box. I just so happened to have a fuse, so I removed the old one (which crumbled at my touch) and put the one from the van in its place. I’d seen enough sci-fi movies to know that I should close the door to outside before opening the inner one. I topped up Leslie’s oxygen and brought her inside before I did that though.

You gotta love universal currency!

Through the inner door was a sleeping area, with bunk beds and a locker. I opened the locker and found a can of gas. I tried picking it up, but was told that it was “for a different game”. I’d already read about this little joke previously but had forgotten, so had a good laugh. The gas is for the chainsaw that I picked up in Maniac Mansion, but could never use because it had no fuel. I tried opening the second locker, but was told it wouldn’t open. Did I need a key? I moved onto the bunks and noticed there was something yellow underneath the blanket. I tried picking it up, but apparently I was too scared to do it. I tried again, and this time I reluctantly removed the cover, revealing A DEAD ALIEN!!!!!

Overreaction much?! Imagine if it had of been alive!

At least, that’s what Melissa thought it was. Any attempt to pick up the broom-like item (that had eyes) resulted in me being told that there was no way in hell that was going to happen. While Melissa was running around the room in fright, I noticed something about the locker I hadn’t before. There was some tape on one side of it. Using the “What is” action, I discovered that it was vinyl tape, which I removed and added to my inventory. I then came across a ladder to the right of the bunks which strangely (given it was about one and a half times bigger than me), I was also able to add to my inventory. Suddenly it dawned on me that perhaps the vinyl tape was the reason I couldn’t open the locker, and I was right. Inside was a flashlight, making this trip to the hostel a rather productive one.

More item hoarding joy!

All that was left to do was to see if I could do something with the broom with eyes. I took control of Leslie and brought her into the room to see whether she would have the guts to pick it up. Clearly braver than Melissa, Leslie picked it up without any fuss, revealing the first character specific puzzle in Zak McKracken. I already knew what the broom was going to be for, as I’d noticed the sand covered structure just outside the hostel. However, before I tested that theory, I had another one I wanted to try. I closed the door, and took off both girls’ helmets to get a look at them. Leslie has rather striking pink hair, which was unexpected, and it was nice to put a face to the girls before continuing the adventure.

Pink...before she went blonde.

I put both Melissa and Leslie’s helmets back on, and then took control of Leslie to go out (collecting the fuse on the way) and use the broom on the sand. Below the sand was a solar panel, which I immediately realised would give the tram power. Excited to find out where it went, I bought a token for Leslie, and moved both girls onto the tram. We were taken left of screen along the tracks to the base of a pyramid, where I regained control. Getting out of the tram I found another token vending machine, but this time it was badly damaged. The slot for payment had been entirely blown away, leaving me with no way to purchase any more tokens and therefore no way to get back to the van. Was I dead ended? Oh well, I decided to continue on and see what the pyramid held.

I suppose Saladin also took limestone from the Mars pyramids to build his palace?

Approaching the pyramid, I found a doorway covered with sand. I once again used the broom with eyes to clear the sand away, but this time the broom actually started moving by itself and...talking! It was an alien all along! After whinging about how badly it had been treated, the broom left to find somewhere it could get some proper rest, leaving me to try to find a way to open the door. There was a large key hole, but I had nothing that could act as a key, nor did I have anything I could try to open the door with. There was also the fairly significant problem that I only had a few minutes air left! Since I had no remaining tokens to take the tram back to replenish my air supply, I spent those remaining few minutes trying everything I could think of on both the pyramid door and the damaged monolith. Nothing worked, so I figured whatever I needed must need to be taken with me on the tram.

Proof that aliens have invaded Earth and are simply disguised as common household broomsticks

I restored back to just before I hopped on the tram, and tried to think what else I might be able to do on Mars. I realised I hadn’t yet seen if there was anything to the right of the van. On my way to finding out, I stopped in at the van to see if I could figure out what I was supposed to do with the boom box. I tried putting the audio tape in it and recording, but it wouldn’t work. I then tried applying the vinyl tape to the audio tape and was told that I could now record on it. Winner! While I was stoked I could now record something, I could think of nothing that I might want to record. The radio only played white noise and there’d been no other noises of note since I arrived on Mars. I did however realise that I could pick up the boom box, so I took it with me to explore the right hand side of the van.

Pimp my Kombi

Walking in that direction, I came across another puzzle. There were three buttons on a wall, each situated on curved lines. Pressing the lowest button made a sound, but I wasn’t able to reach the other buttons. I used my ladder and was then able to reach them, with the result being they made slightly different toned sounds. There didn’t appear to be anything else of interest and I couldn’t travel any further past that screen. Hmmmmm…was I supposed to be pressing the buttons in a particular order? Was I supposed to record something using the boom box? I tried recording while pressing one of the buttons and found I could actually record the sound, but only one at a time. I thought I would try getting Leslie to press one button, then Melissa to press the next, before finally playing back the third from the boom box, but that process took just as long as pressing them all with one character.

Hmmm...are the buttons supposed to represent the planets in orbit around the sun?

I started to wonder whether this puzzle can only be solved with three people. Maybe if Zak was also on Mars, we’d be able to press all three buttons simultaneously, but then I couldn’t see any way that I would command more than one character to act at once. Maybe there’s a hint back on Earth as to what I need to do both at the pyramid and at the door with the buttons on it. After all, there are still numerous countries to visit. I switched back to Zak and Annie in her apartment, ready to visit some more locations and hopefully reveal some previously unknown information. Unfortunately, I totally forgot that Leslie and Melissa had limited oxygen, so I’d basically left them on Mars to die. I restored to Mars and moved the girls back into the hostel where they could breathe while I figured out what their next move should be. They’re still there now…waiting…

Humurously, Leslies hair changes colour every time I put her helmet on and then take it off again. Neat!

Session Time: 1 hour 00 minutes
Total Time: 3 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. This plot is much more complicated than I first thought it would be. It's like Maniac Mansion squared! You seem to be making great progress though. I'm kind of amazed how quickly you're rocking this game out.

    1. I initially thought it would be complicated with four controllable characters, ohg gurer'f abg zhpu gb qb jvgu gur bguref. Gurl rkvfg gb znxr n srj chmmyrf zber pbzcyvpngrq, ohg gung'f nobhg vg. Lbh fcrag gur znwbevgl bs lbhe gvzr jvgu Mnx.

    2. It is quite complicated. Writing the posts has actually helped make things clearer as I go over everything again. I'm not sure my progress is all that fast though. There are stacks of other countries to visit and I have no idea where I should go and when. I figure trial and error are going to play a big role.

    3. I cheated and used a walkthrough for the airline bits, otherwise you'd have to save scum a lot to figure out optimal routes (so you don't run out of money).

    4. Andy: Qvqa'g lbh abgvpr gung lbh pna jva gur ybggrel nf znal gvzrf nf lbh yvxr?

    5. Ilmari: Jryy lrf, gung'f bar jnl nebhaq vg, ohg vg'f na rnfl guvat gb zvff.

    6. V arire sbhaq ubj gb jva gur ybggrel, ohg V qvq fnir naq erfgber n njshy ybg.

    7. Ilmari and Andy: Va gur SZ Gbjaf irefvba ng yrnfg gur fubcxrrcre qbrf trg jvfr gb ubj yhpxl lbh frrz gb or jvgu jvaavat gur ybggb naq jvyy ershfr gb fryy lbh nal zber gvpxrgf nsgre.. V oryvrir vg'f guerr jvaf.

    8. Alfred: Gur jvaavat ahzoref pna or sbhaq ng gur fcnprfuvc lbh ner gryrcbegrq gb juvyr sylvat va Orezhqn.

      Jarikith: Gung'f vagrerfgvat! Fgvyy, guerr gvzrf gur ybggrel jva fubhyq fgvyy or rabhtu sbe srj gevcf nebhaq gur jbeyq.

    9. Ilmari : V qba'g erzrzore nal fcnprfuvc. Va Orezhqn V whzcrq bhg bs gur cynar hfvat gur cnenpuhgr, gura V gbbx pbageby bs gur qbycuva naq gryrcbegrq onpx hfvat gur lryybj pelfgny, ohg ab fcnprfuvc va fvtug...

    10. Alfred: Lbh fbyirq gur chmmyr gbb rneyl :) Vs lbh qba'g whzc bhg bs gur cnenpuhgr naq whfg jnvg naq yvfgra gb gur cvybg, lbh trg noqhpgrq ol na nyvra fcnprfuvc.

    11. Early on I kept a save game in the airport and went to all countries to see what I could do there before restoring back to the airport.

      That way I only took a 'real' trip there when I felt I could solve something useful in that place and saved quite a bit of cash.

      I found the possiblility of running out of money detracted from the fun of exploration as I got really paranoid about buying plane tickets.

    12. I've taken a very similar approach TBD. I certainly didn't set out to do that, but after restoring to the airport a couple of times, it just sort of happened by default.

  2. I actually never tried to read the helmets! I just went refilling oxygen every now and then and always put the girls safe in a breathable place every time I went back to Earth...

    I think the "vynil tape on the tape" to make it recordable is a puzzle which will be completely unsolvable by someone born in the 90s... no one will ever be able to make the link between the two if they never had a real tape in their hands!

    1. Yes, you're probably right. I grew up with cassette tapes, but would only ever have thought vinyl had anything to do with records. Still, I made the connection quickly.

    2. Even as someone born in the 80s that was tough. It's been a long time since I had a tape player, and even then I don't remember having to put tape on my tapes to record to them.

      Gunaxshyyl, gur chmmyr gung lbh arrq gb hfr gur gncr sbe vf fvzcyr naq ybtvpny, fb vg jnf rnfl gb svther bhg. 90f xvqf zvtug fgvyy fgehttyr, ohg lbh qba'g unir zhpu vairagbel ng gung cbvag, fb hfvat rirelguvat ba rirelguvat ryfr jvyy lvryq gur fbyhgvba.

    3. Probably because you never broke off the little tab that makes a tape record proof. That's what putting tape on the tape is about, recovering the spot where that little tab goes. The same mechanism exists on VCR tapes as well, the breakaway tab that makes it unable to be recorded on with the work around of using tape to cover it up to get around it.

    4. Isn't the tape to cover a no-record notch, like in floppy disks? Or something? I don't remeber needing this either, but it seems the most likely explanation.

      Luckily, I was born in the 80s, if just.

    5. Canageek: Wasn't it the other way around with floppies? That you covered a notch with tape to make it non-writeable? (At least with the bigger 5 1/4 -version; the smaller 3 1/2 had the slider for that).

    6. Yes, I was wondering if they did it the other way in cassettes.

    7. Ilmari: You're right, and you've just awoken memories of my childhood.

      I suddenly seem to remember buying single-sided floppies and then getting a pair of scissors to cut a small rectangle on the other side, magically transforming them into double-sided floppies!

      But now I'm starting to doubt my memory as that sounds ridiculous.

    8. Nope, I've been told that happened:

    9. Good to know I'm not losing my mind.

      And I'm now somewhat disappointed I gave away all my C-64 stuff decades ago. Looks like it was fun going through all that computer nostalgia.

  3. 10 Hardest adventure games? This doesn't seem right!

  4. I disagree in some places with this list. Gold Rush! ... ?? Space Quest IV I beat without a hint book when I was 12 or so.

    However, I can get behind King's Quest III, which stymied me repeatedly as a young adult due to the "rush down this mountain as fast you can to gather ingredients!!! Oh yes, be but very careful, a millisecond off in any direction and it's instant death. And if you type a single word wrong during spellcasting it's instant death. And if the damned cat witnesses something, it's instant death.

    Sadly, I've never played ANY of the Gabriel Knight games - which I'm planning to play along with this blog.

    1. KQ3 isn't that hard really, just really awkward. The path down the mountain is something you only have to do once (if you have the magic map) and the recipes are all in the manual. The game is also quite short, and allows you to save anywhere, so it's rare to make a mistake that requires you to go back too far. I'd also agree that SQ4 isn't too hard.

      Discworld is kinda difficult, because although you can visit lots of locations, I seem to recall that there is a specific order in which you complete the puzzles. My memories are hazy though, so we'll have to see when we reach it!

    2. I also disagree with the list! Let's see my take on it:

      Laura Bow 2: Easy to complete, but difficult to win (trying to avoid spoilers..)
      Sam 'n Max: Average, at least as far as I remember.
      SQ4: Easy
      Discworld: Got stuck quite often, and never managed to complete it.. So I have to agree it's difficult
      ICEMAN: I know many consider a couple of arcade sequences difficult, but at least I did not have any major difficulties with them. For most parts in it, just RTFM :)
      Gold Rush: Short, with a couple of tough spots, as already covered by Trickster.
      Willy Beamish: I don't remember it being too difficult.
      Manuhnter NY: A couple of tough spots, but not impossible (as covered already). In my opinion Manhunter SF was much more difficult.
      Maniac Mansion: I think MM is quite difficult, but the puzzles are fair and logical. I would say Zak is more difficult, at least somewhat..
      KQ1: Really easy to complete, but of course solving the gnome riddle is next to impossible.
      KQ3: One unfair puzzle (finding the key to basement), but otherwise quite easy, I would rate KQ4 more difficult due to the couple of puzzles that also have been covered..
      GK3: Yep, that is difficult. Mainly because of a specific overarching puzzle (which is considered to be the best adventure game puzzle of all times by many). Unfortunately it also had the worst puzzle of all times..

      I am sure there are lots of games that are much more difficult than most of these. Maybe we should make our own list.

    3. I agree with the consensus. Not even close to the ten hardest.

      Seems more like a "10 adventure games with a puzzle that pissed me off" list to me.

      I have to agree with Discworld though. Even when I walkthroughed after being stuck for years I spent a lot of time going "What??? How the hell was I supposed to work that out?"

    4. Well, if you count Captain Blood as an adventure game, that has to be up there. Mortville Manor was also stupidly difficult, but that had a lot to do with the translation problems.

      Out of all the games they mentioned, I'd say King's Quest III and Manhunter were up there for difficulty.

    5. If text adventures were allowed, the list would be filled with them (they did your life difficult in the 80s). Infocom's Spellbreaker would be close to the top.

    6. Oh...and I forgot to mention that Uninvited is about 20 times harder than King's Quest, which is number 3 on the list. Shadowgate is not far behind.

      My brain has already started to repress the memories of those games.

  5. This section was where I hit a dead end. Fortunately I guessed I might have been dead ended and, after confirming, restored the game.

    Jura V svefg sbhaq gur tveyf bhgfvqr gur ina ba Znef V ragrerq gur ina naq gevrq hfvat rirelguvat va gurer. V cerffrq fbzrguvat naq jnf gbyq "V pna'g yrnir jvgubhg Yrfyvr" fb V chg Yrfyvr va, pybfrq gur qbbe naq gbbx bss, rkcrpgvat gb qevir fbzrjurer ryfr ba Znef.

    Vafgrnq, V gbbx bss vagb fcnpr, urnqrq sbe Rnegu jvgu ab jnl gb trg onpx gb Znef. Abgr: Gur tnzr ARIRE erdhverf gur tveyf gb gnxr bss. Lbh PNA qb fb nsgre lbh ab ybatre arrq gurz, ohg gurer ner ab pbafrdhraprf rvgure jnl.

    Grpuavpnyyl, va zl tnzr gur tveyf ner fgvyy ba Znef orpnhfr gurl'er fghpx jvgubhg gbxraf jvgu ab jnl gb trg onpx gb gurve ina.

  6. >Imagine if it had of been alive!

    Of it of really of annoys of me of when of people of write of grammatically of incorrectly of.

    Not even "had've been" would make sense. It should be just "had been" or "would've been".