Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Missed Classic: Dungeon - Joe Versus the Volcano

Written by Joe Pranevich

So close and yet so far away.

Two weeks ago, I gave up. After finding my twenty-fifth treasure hidden in the middle of a sliding block puzzle, I could go no further. I was blocked by a mass of ice, a volcano that I could see but not touch, and by evil spirits that haunted the graves of former programmers. I still had a suicide knife, a bomb, and half a dozen other items with no known use, but I was out of ideas and had to turn to the blog for help. Fortunately, you all came through for me and I’ve been able to make progress.

Just before I jump in however, I want to discuss an aspect that I forgot to bring up last time: ASCII illustration. We had seen a couple of very simple ASCII graphics earlier in the game, plus the engravings on the giant well, but the game transitioned to simple ASCII graphics for room descriptions during the Royal Puzzle Museum section. Once inside the puzzle, room descriptions were replaced by a simple ASCII representation of our surroundings: a 3x3 grid of the local area with “S” and “M” for sandstone and marble walls. It’s all very simple, but it was a great touch and made a difficult section quite a bit easier. Sorry I forgot about it last time!

Simple ASCII maps replace text in the puzzle.

Thanks to tips provided by Voltgloss and Griffin, I had new ideas to consider. Voltgloss provided his pointers in “Invisaclues” style so I went with his first. I wanted to have to work for the answer and this way I could start with just a nudge in the right direction. It took me three clues to advance:
  1. The puzzle that's bottlenecking you is how to get past the glacier. 
  2. You were able to melt it before, by holding a lit match to it; but the rush of water killed you.
  3. Your guess is correct that you need to melt it (and survive). 
Nothing here is too much of a surprise, but knowing that it was the glacier that I needed to tackle next was a big help. My other thought was that I would have a way to enter the volcano from the ledge and melt the glacier from the “inside”. In both cases, I worried that there was an item I needed from the crypt so this narrowed my search space considerably.

Even with those clues, it wasn’t easy. I first attempted to use the “evaporation” cake from the Wonderland area. Throwing it at the glacier didn’t work, nor did having it on the ground or in my hands when the water swept past. I tried melting the ice with the match, the candles, and the torch and always had the same effect. It took some experimentation, but I discovered that throwing the torch was the trick: doing so causes it to explode on contact, destroying the ice but also leaving us trapped in grue-infested darkness. I do it again with the lamp and the way is now clear! I find the now “burned-out” torch one room away, but nothing I try re-ignites it. I fear the rest of the game will be played with the lantern.
Melt from glaciers can cause sea levels to rise. Don’t carelessly throw magic torches!

Is this the right solution? Can I still win if I destroy a treasure? I have no idea. For now, I will explore the new area and see what I find. Just to the west I discover a ruby and twisting passage to the bottom of the volcano. At the base, presumably surrounded by lava, is a basket containing a “receptacle”, a cloth bag, and some braided wire. It’s a hot air balloon! I can board it like the other vehicles but there’s no obvious clue what to do. My guess is that I need to burn something in the receptacle so I run batch to fetch the leaves. Unfortunately, they do not fit but I think I’m on the right track. I pretend to be a pyro and check everything I own to see what burns. (I did this once before, but I have a few new things now.) The game appears inconsistent: the leaves, guidebook, newspaper, leaflet, bird’s nest, and instruction label from the boat all burn nicely, but timber and printer paper seem to be remarkably resilient. I take a collection of paper products and return to the balloon to try them out. The guidebook burns nicely and a turn later we are off. Hello, aviator!

As we wait, the balloon ascends in 100-foot increments up the dome of the volcano. At 200 feet, I find a ledge to land on with a zorkmid coin and a door to the south. Unfortunately, I spend too much time looking around because the balloon floats away without me and I’m stuck! I restore and discover a hook on the ledge. I can tie the basket’s braided wire to the hook to keep the balloon from floating away without me. I explore south to find the library. Why would you keep a library in a volcano? I have no idea. It contains four books, none of which I can read. But before I can get any farther, I hit a real obstacle: my lantern is out of juice. I redo the whole sequence and save as many turns as I can, but time and time again I get stuck at the library. I must have used too much power earlier in the game. I confirm with Voltgloss that there is no way to charge it in this game so I am stuck.

Knowing what I know now, this house is too small. 

Everything Old Is New Again

I considered quitting. My score already says that I am a “Winner” and I’ve solved almost every puzzle. I bet my rating would be fair. But… I do not want to start my marathon with a partial win. Voltgloss also offered to provide me with a “script” that I could cut-and-paste in to get back to where I was before. I appreciated the offer! Since I’m going to do it, I am going to do it right. I built a game plan and solved for a win with as little lantern use as possible:
  • First, grab the leaves, nest, and egg before heading into the house. No harm grabbing it since we’re not wasting light yet.
  • Grab only the rope from the attic; we can save two turns by not collecting the other stuff yet.
  • With the sword, lamp, and rope, defeat the Troll and make a beeline for the Torch Room. For one more turn, I turn off the lamp as soon as I descend the rope. I return to the surface through the Twisty Passages, grabbing the coins and the keys on the way to the grate.
  • On the next dive, I fetch the rope then face the Cyclops twice over: first using the food and water to put him to sleep then with “Odysseus”. While I am nearby, I also hand-deliver the egg to the Thief for later.
  • From here, we just have to iterate over all the remaining puzzles. I do the Artist’s Studio and Bank of Zork next, then grab the grail and pray at the altar to return to the surface. I feel like I should use every exit once in case points are there are involved.
  • Just to deal with the annoyance of the Round Room, I do Wonderland next and score the crystal sphere, tin of spices, and violin.
  • The Loud Room and Dam #3 are next, winning the platinum bar, trunk, and trident. I believe a commenter clued me in, but I also grab the gold coffin from the Egyptian Room now as well.
  • I do the rafting section next for the emerald, statue, and pot of gold. This time I do not have to use the gunk since I know how to cross the rainbow.
  • The next part requires the lantern again: the Coal Mine. That gives me the bracelet, diamond, and jade figurine. I forgot that you have to traverse that maze twice to ferry the coal around, but it’s not so difficult with a map.
  • Finally, I open up Hades to visit the ghosts of the Implementers. There’s no treasure there yet, but I might need the Coke bottles or printer paper.
  • With my score as high as possible, I easily defeat the Thief to win the chalice and clockwork canary then proceed to get the gold card in the sliding puzzle. Once I return to the surface, I get the glass bauble from the woods as well.
A bit more than three hours later, I am right back to where I started! I have the same treasures and the same score but with considerably more battery life. Back to the balloon!

So majestic!

Let’s Go Ballooning

In the library, I find our differently colored books: blue, green, white, and purple. I cannot read any of them. Are they just for burning? I cannot imagine any MIT-educated Implementer would want to burn books! I get them all to the balloon and set it free.

A short time later, I find the viewing ledge that I could see earlier but it is too narrow to land on. I keep going and finally find a second ledge near the rim. Once again, I can access one room just to the south but this one is empty except for a rusty oblong box with a hole in it. I key off of “rusty” and fetch the rusty knife but that isn’t the trick. I put the zorkmid in the hole, but that doesn’t do the trick either. How about the exploding brick? I fetch it-- keep in mind that I have to restore back and do this whole section again each time-- and I am able to place it in the hole and light it. We get a satisfying boom and I return to find a crown and a card. The crown seems like a treasure to pocket, but the card is ominous: “Detonation of explosives in this room is strictly prohibited.” Apparently, we are standing over weak rock strata. Uh oh!

I try to ride the balloon to safety but taking it to the rim results in death. I cannot hang around too long as the ledge collapses and sends me to my death that way. The safe room is already gone. How do I flee a crumbling volcano? I try everything I can think of-- I even “open” all of the books and discover a stamp! I came very close to missing that treasure! It doesn’t keep me alive but at least I know what the books are for.

A philatelist’s dream

If I don’t unhook the balloon, the ledge collapses and drags the balloon down to my death. If I unhook it, I float to the rim and die. With perfect timing, I can loosen the balloon and the ledge falls away underneath us. It’s a great “suspended in midair” moment, but we still float to the rim and die. What am I missing? As usual: the obvious. If I close the receptacle while something is burning inside, the balloon descends. I “wait” a few turns and find myself safe and sound back at the bottom.

I take everything to the trophy case and get the answer that I’ve been waiting for:

Your score is 585 [total of 585 points], in 1483 moves.
This gives you the rank of Cheater.

Ha! I am amused that the game thinks I cheated, but I’m not offended.

But… what now? Wasn’t something supposed to happen, to clue me in for the location of the endgame? I search both above and below ground in search of something new, an area that opened up or an item I didn’t see before. I know there is an “endgame” that I need to find but would a real player be this patient?

I find my answer at the crypt, but not immediately. While I am looking for a way to get the crypt door open, a “wraith-like” figure appears and congratulates me on my accomplishments. He tells me that I am fit even to join the Implementers! He fades away and I can finally open the crypt door. What’s inside? Let’s find out next week!

Treasures Found: 29 (Golden Egg, Painting, Portrait, Zorkmid Bills, Pearl Necklace, Coins, Platinum Bar, Grail, Trunk with Jewels, Sapphire Bracelet, Jade Figurine, Crystal Trident, Ivory Torch (Burned Out), Stack of Zorkmids, Emerald, Diamond, Statue, Gold Coffin, Chalice, Fancy Violin, Crystal Sphere, Tin of Spices, Clockwork Canary, Glass Bauble, Pot of Gold, Gold Card, Ruby, Zorkmid Coin, Crown, Stamp)

Time played: 5 hr 35 min
Total time: 32 hr 35 min


  1. Excellently done!

    FYI, the newspaper also works as balloon fuel (at least in the 646 version).

    1. I suspect it works here as well but I did not need to use it. The guidebook was all that I needed. I was surprised that the leaves didn't fit and the timber didn't burn, but beyond that it wasn't too tricky once I realized that I was dealing with a hot air balloon.

    2. It's not really that strange that timber wouldn't burn. If it's fresh, it's probably still full of dampness and is not very easily burned. You have to let the wood dry to make it easily combustible.

    3. I doubt the timber is fresh - it's from the coal mine! It may be too *big* to fit in the balloon's receptacle, but I'm with Joe that it's an odd omission from the combustible category given how many other items are implemented as burnable. Makes me curious as to whether it's combustible in Work proper (I've never tried to burn it there). I'll check.

    4. Work = Zork. Thanks autocorrect.

    5. What, your phone doesn't have "Zork" in its dictionary yet? 8)

    6. It's because this game is called Dungeon, I guess. Soon as we get into Zork proper I'm sure the issue will autocorrect itself - so to speak.

    7. Zork so very soon! I have an original 3.5in disk version of "Lost Treasures of Infocom" all installed and ready.

      Or does anyone know if there was an "earlier" version of Zork I that I should play instead? (I believe there were two versions of Zork I produced, but I do not believe there is any significant difference between them except for online hints which I would not use.)

    8. Did the "Lost Treasures" -version come with the history of GUE? In any case, you might want to check the scans of it from the link below, because the original was really beautiful, with nice coloured pictures.

    9. It comes with a whole box of feelies, but I will check to make sure these in specific get in there.

      The ORIGINAL release of Zork I did not have any of the extras either. They were added after Infocom started distributing their own games with the release of Zork II.

    10. Actually first feelies were included in Deadline, so the first versions of Zork II and III didn't either have any extras. The Zorks didn't get extras before the 'grey box' versions.

    11. Good catch! I haven't researched past Zork I yet. I've been busy...

  2. You mention saving two turns by only taking the rope in the attic. Does the version you're playing not support "get all?" If so, that's one more parser innovation made with the formal publishing of Zork.

    1. It does, but I was pretty sure that it still counted it as four turns. I could be mistaken. Or maybe I just over-optimized like an idiot. :)

      I have now played both the MDL/Zork and "Dungeon" versions with their parsers and the MDL version is far superior in almost every way. It matches objects better when there is ambiguity, it supports some insane parsing ("drop all except the lamp and sword" works, for example), and it supports "again" and a few other things that the Fortran version doesn't. More on that soon...

  3. Soooo you didn't need rope to tie baloon to hook? I thought that wire was for C4. I had to restart the game to prevent thief from stealing in from dome rail and was waiting when you also realise this. But nothing happend :) I guest I was using wrong walkthorugh (616 pts version). Congratulations for solving all of this on your own!

    1. There are two wires, the one you find in the house that becomes the fuze and one that is connected to the balloon that you have to attach to the hook. You don't use the rope for this puzzle.

    2. Thanx for clearing that out. It would save me some restarts :)