Friday 13 February 2015

Missed Classic 5: Wizard and the Princess - Over the River and through the Woods

By Joe Pranevich

Happy Wanderer Travelogue #2: Have you ever had one of those days where you set out to rescue a princess and then you find out that she is hidden in a castle far, far away? I had one of those days today and boy, do my feet hurt! Along the way, I learned a few spells, fed a lion, crossed the ocean in a leaking rowboat, and stole a treasure from a pirate. I can see the mountains in front of me. The princess is close, I can feel it.

Episode 2: In Which Our Hero Traverses More Desert

Deja vu. Didn’t I just solve a puzzle about a snake in the desert?

Last week, the happy wanderer and I solved the mystery of the desert maze and defeated an inconveniently placed rattlesnake. I’m still not sure why I couldn’t just walk around it, but hey: it’s an adventure game. My trusty rock in hand, I set off north to see what new challenges Roberta Williams would throw at us. Unfortunately, those challenges primarily consisted of more desert and more snakes.

The first of these snakes is guarding a hole in the side of a small hill. I can walk past him easily enough, but if I try to find out what is in the hole, he bites me and I die. My trusty rock doesn’t do the trick, so I’m going to need to find another approach. For now, I think I’ll see what else is in the desert and come back later.

This section of desert is at least more interesting than the last, with most screens having something to see or pick up. Very quickly, I find a locket on the ground (inscribed with “LUCY” on the inside), a stick, and a strange note. The note looks like it is written in code, but I do not have a way to decipher it yet. I also find a cracker hidden inside a cactus, which is strange.

Because two snakes were not enough, I also meet up with a third: the King of Snakes. This very important snake seems to have had a rock dropped on him and I am faced with a decision: should I kill him? or let him go? Naturally, I let him go and he rewards me with a magic word: “HISS”. I try it out and am transformed into a snake, but change back after a brief time. It’s pretty cool, but haven’t we had enough snake-based puzzles?

In the far north of the desert, I see the promised land:

The artist wanted to draw “some woods”, but managed to only draw one tree?

Unfortunately, I will need to cross a wide and water-filled canyon before I can escape the desert, but at least I can see that escape is possible. I have a feeling that somehow the solution will involve a snake. Now that I have enough items, I take a break from exploring the northern part of the desert to go back and make sure that I had fully explored the maze from the beginning of the game. I do not find anything new, but there was no way around it. I do not trust Roberta not to have hidden something I’ll need for the end of the game there.

With nothing else to do, I revisit the snake guarding the hole. Assuming that the snake would not attack another snake, I use my “HISS” spell to transform then try to squeeze into the hole myself. Apparently this particular snake is anti-social because he bites and kills me anyway. I check my inventory and try a few objects and one of them does the trick: I can fight off the snake using the stick I found lying in the desert. Once it is driven off, I reach into the hole and pull out another encoded note!

The two notes are written in a sort of code, but are clearly related to each other:

The top one might read “CULUN”, but the bottom one just has me scratching my head.

Because I’m playing this game on an emulator in the future, I print out the two notes and play around with them. I try using a mirror on the center line, or flipping them horizontally. The solution is obvious in retrospect, but I was thrown off because the note with the text on the BOTTOM is actually the TOP of the message. And when you paste them together, what do you get:

Hocus Pocus Alimagocus!

It is obvious that “HOCUS” is my next magic word. I try it out and see what animal it turns me into, but it is not that kind of magic word. I wander the desert from screen to screen, typing “HOCUS” like an idiot before I go to the obvious place, the ravine. When I use the word there, it creates a bridge! With luck, I can leave this desert (and its abundance of snake-based puzzles) behind for good.

Before I cross into the green beyond, one side note: I am starting to suspect that there are other magic words scattered throughout the game. On a whim, I try “LUCY”, the name from the locket, and that is a magic spell, too! When I use it, all of my stuff disappears and I have to reload the game. It must come in handy somewhere, but I can’t imagine how.

Episode 3: In Which Our Hero Is Mugged By A Gnome

Wasn’t that house brown a minute ago?

On the other side of the ravine, I immediately check the house for valuables, but only find an apple. Before I can get anywhere else, something terrible happens: I am mugged by a gnome. I replay the scene a few times, trying to find a way to escape or kill him, but in the end I give up and assume it is supposed to happen. I probably had it coming to me anyway.

Hey, is your name David? Just checking.

I start exploring the forest, but I hit immediately on a new obstacle: a snake. Just kidding! It’s actually a lion and he’s guarding a path down to a beach. In the distance, I can see a sailboat and crystal blue water, but before I start hitting the lion with rocks or sticks, I need to find my stuff and see what else is around.

This side of the ravine is a pleasant forest. There’s a brook where I can refill my water jug, a parrot in a tree, a different tree that I can climb all the way up to get a good view of the ocean, and a hill with a strange crack in it. More importantly, I also find a tree that contains a staircase down to a locked door. Could this be where the gnome has hidden my equipment? I’m not sure, but I cannot find any way to unlock the door so I will need to keep exploring.

Just a thought: we have a house in the woods, a short distance away from a tall tree that you can climb. Is this a coincidence or a reference to Mystery House?

Two trees, alike in dignity?

I climb to the top of the tree, but cannot find anything to do with it so I concentrate my puzzle-solving on the hill with the crack in it. Back in the desert, I tried to sneak into a hole by turning into a snake and slithering in, only to be bitten and die. I try the same approach again and this time it works! I crawl through a dark tunnel for several screens before emerging into a room with a door and all of my stuff. This is obviously the gnome’s lair, but he does not seem to be at home. Not wanting to stick around for too long, I pick up my things and exit out the front door, emerging at the tree that I discovered earlier. Now what?

I delegate the captioning of this image to Kenny.

I check my inventory and notice that I have the cracker that I found in the cactus back. And who might like a cracker? A parrot, of course! I head back to the parrot and exchange the cracker with him for a vial of liquid. I save my game and try it out: I can fly! The effect wears off almost immediately, but I set about seeing if there is anywhere that I can use my new prize. I try it first at the top of the tree, thinking that I can leap out and cross the ocean like Daedalus. Unfortunately, that does not work.

Lambert, the sheepish lion! Or did they not have the ability to use yellow in this game?

A little more experimentation shows the answer: I can use it to fly over the lion guarding the beach. Once there, I find some rope and a rowboat. The sailboat I saw from the last screen is nowhere to be found, but perhaps I will find it later. The rowboat has a giant hole in the bottom, so I try a whole bunch of my items until I find one that works: the blanket. Somehow balling up the blanket and sticking it in the hole makes the boat seaworthy. I am fairly certain that this would not work in real life, but the next time I am in a leaking rowboat with an old blanket, I will give it a shot.

Episode 4: In Which Our Hero Searches For Buried Treasure

“X” marks the spot!

Setting out to sea in my rowboat was not as climactic as I expected. While I had hoped for a bit of The Wind Waker-style island-hopping, I realized soon enough that the ocean continued on forever in every direction except landing on this one specific island, a bit to the east. The first feature I notice on the island is a large “X” on the beach, obviously a pirate treasure. But generally doesn’t “X” mark the spot on a map where treasure is buried? If you were a pirate and actually put an “X” where your treasure was, I think it would get stolen pretty quickly. I would be stealing it already, but I do not have anything to dig with.

Exploring the island is easy, but there is a bit of a interface-stupid here. In a couple places, it seems that if you type a direction and there is nothing that way, you walk off the edge of the island and drown without warning.

Treehouse of brown, now sit down!

I explore a bit further and find a treehouse in the jungle, but no way up. The rope that I found seems to be the right approach, but there’s no heft to it and so I can’t get it high enough. I keep exploring and the answer comes immediately: there is an anchor on the beach in the next screen. I tie the rope to the anchor and throw it up to the treehouse. This lets me climb up and explore, where I find a shovel. I backtrack to the beach and start to dig.

Putting my “Happy Wanderer” muscles to good use, I unearth a treasure chest. Before I can open it, a pirate jumps out from behind a tree and steals it. That makes twice this game that something of mine has been stolen, but at least there are no snakes. Thanks to the poor graphics of this game, you never actually see the pirate except in your imagination. His whole appearance is only described in text.

The last time I met a pirate that hid things in a cave, the cave was a bit bigger than this.

I continue exploring the island, quickly finding a cave containing a treasure chest. This whole section of the game seems a bit under-designed. Maybe I am just lucky, but I keep finding the puzzle objects I need immediately after learning that I need them. There is no challenge here. I suppose I could have stumbled into the cave before I got the treasure, but at least the way I am playing it through it all connects pretty simply.

Inside the chest is a harp. I can play it, but there is no obvious magic. I continue exploring the island, playing the harp in random places, but do not find anything else of interest. I also do not find any way off the island, or even a good clue where I might go. I know from the manual that the direction of the evil wizard’s fortress is north, but that does not help all that much. Not wanting to give up, I cross back to the original landmass and play the harp everywhere there as well. No dice.

I am not ashamed to tell you that this is when I spent a LOT of time trying to chase after that sailboat. Remember the sailboat? The one you can see from the beach and the top of the tree? The one that is definitely not a rowboat with a leaky bottom? My thinking was that something from the north island would let me snag the boat so that I could continue sailing north.

Curse you, sailboat!

In all of this exploring, I decided that maybe I could use the vial to get to the sailboat. I restored to before I sailed over the lion and looked for a different approach. I did not have to go too far through my inventory before I discovered that this lion enjoys bread. I gave him some bread and he let me pass, but this time I still had the vial. I used it on the beach, but I was still unable to find a command that would let me get to the sailboat.

Running out of ideas, I started trying the vial in various places on the jungle island. I found the trick pretty quickly and I am fairly ashamed that it took me a while to work it out: I went to the northernmost screen I had found so far, the beach with the anchor, and used the vial there. I then typed “north” and I flew over the water to another beach!

Is this the right solution? I do not know. The vial was used once already to solve a puzzle that I could have solved another way. Was this the right solution? Or a cheat that will trap me later? I am not sure, but I am sure that my time is up for this week.

Thus far I am enjoying the game, but it is far from perfect. This week’s session was not as annoyingly difficult as the desert maze was, but there were spots when it just came too easy. Finding the object you need in the screen after you realize you need it is fun once, but it happened several times on this leg of the journey. Let’s hope next week is better!

Next time: the thrilling conclusion!

Session time: 4 hrs
Total time: 5 hrs


  1. Are those trees in fair Verona by any chance?

    1. Yeah. But climbing them caused my civil blood to make my civil hands unclean.

  2. >I discovered that this lion enjoys bread

    Hmm, I guess I was wrong about lions being carnivores.

    BTW you seem to have made a beach->beast typo.

    1. Lions like bread! You can fix a hole in a boat with a blanket!

      Okay, those are annoying but that *that* bad. There is a famous quote from the end of the Adventure Game era: "Who killed Adventure Games? I think it should be pretty clear at this point that Adventure Games committed suicide."

      I like to think that this slow suicide may have started in 1980. :)

      (Seriously, there are some good puzzles here and I'll talk about them in my wrap-up, but some of the logic boggles the mind.)

  3. Even if they don't have yellow, they clearly have orange, which I'd think would be a more appropriate colour for a lion than grey.

    1. But if you can't color it, why have a lion at all? Use a brown bear, a tiger, or a white bunny rabbit. This just feels like they were not making the "game" and the "art" at the same time because they do not reflect each others' strengths and weaknesses.

    2. Maybe it's a rare albino lion that got a bit dirty?

    3. Also note that the game didn't look exactly like this on a real Apple II. Pixels were supposed to "bleed" into their neighbors, which meant you didn't see the dithering, you saw it as solid colors. I think there are emulator settings that reproduce it better that what we see here, though they also make the text a bit blurry and harder to read.

      This doesn't mean the lion wasn't grey, only that it probably looked a bit better. :)

    4. I do not have such a filter on my Apple ][ emulator, though I also read the same (and I think I commented on it in the previous post). If you know an emulator that works on a Mac, I can do some comparison shots in the final post.

    5. I tried the various settings for that on DOSBOX and none of them really looked like what it did on my old CRT, or any of the CRTs we had until recently around the lab. That said, it could be a thing with 80s CRTs vs late-90s CRTs.

  4. To be fair about that Note Puzzle, the note in the bottom is supposed to be the one on top. If you print out the actual pictures of that 2 pieces, you will see that the only way for you to join them up is to have the blank parts of the notes facing outwards.

    1. Also, I refuse to quote captions from something that obviously obscene! It undermines my creativity!

    2. I don't understand. What could be obscene about such a wonderful natural feature? This tight crevice is the backdoor access to the Gnome's private chambers. I think you should get your head out of the gutter.