Wednesday 23 November 2016

Missed Classic: Dungeon - Won!

Written by Joe Pranevich

There are no pumpkins in this game.

Happy (Early) Thanksgiving! This week, I am thankful that both of the games I am playing are coming to a well-deserved end. We’ll talk about Dungeon today and I’ll close out the rest of Star Trek later in the week. As I ended last time, I had finally scored the maximum of 585 points and was visited by a wraith who opened the way to the Implementer’s Crypt. I have heard a lot about the famous Zork “endgame”, but I know nothing about it. I come to this point beautifully unspoiled. It is exciting! My score has now reset to 5 of 100 endgame points. I have a long way to go...

Inside the crypt, I find nothing: no corpses, grave goods, or anything else. The walls say “feel free” on them, but no amount of feeling seems to help. I’m so at a loss to what to do next, I even kill myself with the suicide knife. That thankfully is too dark of a place for this game to go. Should I fill the crypt with grave goods as an offering to the “gods”? I fetch the grail and coffin but they do not do anything obvious. I can close the crypt door, but nothing happens. What am I missing?
Just like this but emptier?

It’s a bad omen for the rest of the endgame, but I have to take another hint. Thankfully Voltgloss suspected I’d get stuck here because he included some endgame pointers as well:
  • How can you join them in that rest? No, suicide is not the answer... 
  • ...even if the answer feels like it *would* functionally be suicide. 
Oh! I close the door and turn off the lamp. Hanging out in darkness in this game is normally suicide, but there are no messages now about grues. I suppose that even they can’t come in here uninvited. One turn later, I am whisked away to the top of a long stairwell. The cloaked guy that I saw before appears and informs me that I am ready for the “ultimate challenge” of Zork. He tells me of a magical incantation that I can use later but I do not quite understand what he is talking about. With his prompting, I type “INCANT FROG” to see what it does, but it still doesn’t make much sense:

>INCANT, frog
A hollow voice replies: "FROG MDPDYR".

Since he told me to “choose wisely”, I restore my game. I’ll come back and do it again once I understand what it is doing. Saving and restoring is disabled so I have to start the endgame over from scratch. That ought to increase the difficulty! One more detail: all my stuff is gone. I arrived with only the sword and a lamp, everything else is left behind. At least I won’t worry about missing items.

I descend the stairs to emerge at one end of a long hallway. There’s a button to press, but it does not seem to do anything yet. I follow the hall north to a room with a red laser beam across the path. Tripping it doesn’t set off any alarms and I do not find much at all I can do with it. Further down there is where it gets interesting: the hallway ends at the mirror. Just in front of it is a compass rose painted on the floor with a groove running from north to south. Touching the mirror or the compass does not appear to do much. I can shatter the mirror with the sword but am rewarded only with a broken mirror. I restore to fix it and resolve to find whatever it is I am missing. It must involve the button, the beam, or the mirror.

The strange thing I notice about the button is that I get two messages when I press it: one that says I press it in and one that says it pops out. There must be a way to hold it in place? I don’t have tape or glue, so no immediately apparent way to do it. The beam is similarly challenging. I can’t “cut” the beam with the sword or “reflect” it somewhere. I stumble on the solution by accident: if you drop the sword in the room, it lands in a way that blocks the beam. It would have been nice to clue me in that blocking the beam was the right approach! That doesn’t change anything in the mirror room but when I push the button, it stays pushed. Even better, a hidden panel opens in the mirror wall. We have a path forward!

I hoped the solution would have been duct tape. 

The Strangest Contraption

Inside the mirror is, by its own admission, “rather complicated”. I’ve resisted blogging room descriptions directly, but this one is special enough I just can’t resist:

You are inside a rectangular box of wood whose structure is rather complicated. Four sides and the roof are filled in, and the floor is open.

As you face the side opposite the entrance, two short sides of carved and polished wood are to your left and right. The left panel is mahogany, the right pine. The wall you face is red on its left half and black on its right. On the entrance side, the wall is white opposite the red part of the wall it faces, and yellow opposite the black section. The painted walls are at least twice the length of the unpainted ones. The ceiling is painted blue.

In the floor is a stone channel about six inches wide and a foot deep. The channel is oriented in a north-south direction. In the exact center of the room the channel widens into a circular depression perhaps two feet wide. Incised in the stone around this area is a compass rose.

Running from one short wall to the other at about waist height is a wooden bar, carefully carved and drilled. This bar is pierced in two places. The first hole is in the center of the bar (and thus in the center of the room). The second is at the left end of the room (as you face opposite the entrance). Through each hole runs a wooden pole.

The pole at the left end of the bar is short, extending about a foot above the bar, and ends in a hand grip. The pole has been dropped into a hole carved in the stone floor.

The long pole at the center of the bar extends from the ceiling through the bar to the circular area in the stone channel. The bottom end of this pole has a T-bar a bit less than two feet long attached to it. On the T-bar is carved an arrow. The arrow and T-bar are pointing west.

Did you get all that? I’m not sure that I do, so I tried to draw it. This is the worst illustration ever, but it gets the point across:

Not my best work...

The floor has grooves and compass rose like we saw outside plus a complex set of poles: a short one, a long one, and a T-bar pointing west. The floor is “open” so the grooves and compass belong to the hall and not the box. While I looked around, the door I entered through closed behind me. I experiment with everything to discover that I can lift the short bar a bit, but not the other two. I also learn that I can “push” each of the wall panels for a different result: the colored panels rotate the room relative to the compass rose on the floor while the wooden panels rock the room slightly. That seems suspicious so I rotate the structure to each of the eight possible positions and try pushing the panels again. When the compass arrow points north or south, the pine panel reveals a door when I press it. I am initially confused because that door is not the same as the mirrored door that I came through. Looking at my diagram above, the mirrored door is on the white/yellow wall while the pine door emerges through that panel.

The rotation is difficult to describe so I made another diagram:

Still not Picasso.

When I turn the structure, the “room” that I am in rotates within the long hallway. When it is east/west, like it was at the start, it blocks the hall completely with a mirrored side. When I shift it north/south, it forms two new narrow rooms on the west and east. There is no way to exit when it is turned in a half-direction. I rotate the structure so that I can get by and explore the rest of the hall, but I am stopped almost immediately. The “Guardians of Zork”, giant statues that watch over the hall from either side, stand guard just a few steps farther north. When I approach, they club me to death. I continue experimenting and find that the mahogany button will move the whole structure north or south when the arrow is pointing that direction. The obvious solution seems to be to use the structure to sneak by the statues, but it is not to be. As we pass, the statues still see us an attack. I’m killed in a mass of splinters and death.

From here, I admit that I start to cheat slightly. Since I cannot save my game in the usual way, I keep an open document of commands recorded on it. When I die, I cut and paste them all into the terminal to get back to where I was. It’s simple, but effective. It also keeps me from going crazy as the Guardian statues kill me over and over again.

The good news about this section is that it’s a finite puzzle. We don’t have a ton of rooms or objects to manipulate and it’s just a matter of understanding what’s in front of us. I work out that the short pole affects the room’s rotation: with it up, the structure can turn, but down it is locked in place. However, that pole doesn’t prevent us from moving forward or backward. This contraption is difficult to visualize, but could it be locked into the groove on the floor? But when the pole is down while we are moving, we can pass the Guardians without being killed. I guess that the train vibrates less when it’s down so the statues only see their reflections as we pass by and do not attack. I’m just theorizing in retrospect because I was shocked when that worked. I made it!

I sucked at the sports questions...

Trivial Pursuit - Zork Edition

At the end of the hall, I find an unassuming wooden door. It’s locked but I knock anyway. The “Master of the Dungeon” appears and… he asks me Zork trivia. Who saw that coming?
  • Question One: What object is of use in determining the function of the iced cakes?
This is a tough one because I solved the Wonderland cakes through trial and error, but I later worked out that I could use the flask as a magnifying glass. I give that as my answer and he’s happy. One down!
  • Question Two: What object in the dungeon is haunted?
This one is easier, but I still make a mistake. It could have been the crypt or the skeleton, but the suicide knife is what I thought of first. I screw up and say the “nasty knife” first and get it wrong, but the Master lets me try again. The haunted knife is the “rusty” one. Two down!
  • Question Three: Beside the Temple, to which room is it possible to go from the Altar?
I also discovered the answer to the final question while I was exploring. If you pray at the altar, you are taken to the forest. I answer that and he is pleased! The door opens and I emerge into the next area.

The road to Hell is paved with Zork trivia.

The Final Puzzle

The area beyond the door isn’t very large: just a short hallway that wraps around a prison cell. The long hallway ends at a parapet overlooking a fiery pit. There’s a dial there with eight numbers and a button. As I explore, the Dungeon Master watches me carefully and follows me from room to room. When I enter the cell, he waits outside, but otherwise he watches me like a hawk. Very interesting!

I start experimenting. If I open the cell door, pushing the button will cause it to close. I iterate over each of the eight numbers on the dial, setting and pushing the button for each one to see what changed. For the most part nothing happens, but when the dial is set to four, the cell changes. Instead of being empty with a door on the north wall, it’s now empty with doors on both the north and south walls. I change the numbers again and re-explore the whole area to see if any doors appear anywhere else, but only that one door when the dial is set to four. As a test, I drop the lantern in the cell and change the number. When I return, the lantern is gone. When I set the number back, it reappears. My theory: the dial is bringing different cells here from a deeper part of the prison. I might be able to use that to travel to another location-- sneaking out the special door in Cell #4-- but there is no way for me to push the button from the cell or delay the action so that I can run in.

It takes some time and experimentation, but I eventually discover that we can ask the Dungeon Master to do things, just like we the robot earlier in the game. He refuses occasionally, but I can give him items, ask him to pick up and drop things, etc. Unfortunately, I cannot give him compound commands. I really want him to wait twice and then push the button to give me time to get to the cell, but there is no way to do it. I later discover that when you are in the cell, the Master can still hear you through the window. This means that I can give him commands from one room away, but that is still not where he needs to be.

Finally, I figure it out: it was a vocabulary problem. If I tell him to “stay” rather than “wait here” or similar, he remains in the room that I leave him. I ask him to stay at the parapet while I walk to Cell #4. I test and he can still hear me out the cell window and responds to commands! I ask him to change the dial and push the button and the room is magically transported. There is fire out the window. Is this the prison? I open the bronze door behind me and walk out... to a victory! I emerge into some sort of treasury. The Dungeon Master appears and congratulates me on the win. He even appoints me as the new DM! After 36 hours of Zork-fun, I finally won!

Next week, we can put the first-- and likely longest-- game in our Zork marathon to bed with the final rating.

Time played: 3 hr 50 min
Total time: 36 hr 25 min


  1. Congratulations Joe! I suspect Spellbreaker will be the next difficult step in your Marathon.

  2. Ouch, that endgame sounds rough. My eyes glazed over just reading the summary. Don't think I would have had the fortitude to try to solve it, if I could even make it that far in the game.

    1. It actually wasn't too bad. In fact, the endgame was one of my favorite parts of the game just because the puzzles were so nicely contained. You had to stretch to understand what was going on, but I never worried there was an item I was missing or that I was dead-ended. That made it quite refreshing!

      And this game had a real sense of accomplishment when you won. It felt deserved in a way that not a lot of other games have made me feel. The game as a whole may have been far too long, but it came together fairly well at the end.

  3. Excellently done!

    Fun fact: The trivia questions posed by the Dungeon Master are randomly chosen. Here are the ones you didn't see:

    "The taking of which object offends the ghosts?"
    "From which room can one enter the robber's hideaway without passing through the Cyclops room?"
    "What can be done to the mirror that is useful?"
    "In which room is the phrase 'Hello sailor' useful?"
    "What is the absolute minimum specified value of the Zorkmid treasures, in zorkmids?"

    1. Hmm. I guess I got lucky with questions I could answer.

      1 - The skeleton? The heads? I have no idea.
      2 - I had no idea there was another way to the Thief's room
      3 - Touch it
      4 - None of them?
      5 - Hmm. 3 for the stamp?

      Yeah, I lucked out.

    2. 1. Yes, the skeleton in the maze, which if taken causes a ghost to banish your possessions to Hades.

      2. ...I'll leave this one unanswered for now, until after Zork I is completed.

      3. Yes

      4. Yes

      5. Apparently the answer is 30,003, though I haven't added things up to check. Presumably this counts the zorkmid bills, the coin, and maybe the crown? Along with the stamp.

      Fortunately the dungeon master will ask up to *5* questions, and you only need to answer 3 right, so even if you got the questions you didn't know, you'd still have had enough correct answers to proceed.

    3. Incidentally, this will probably be the second-longest game in your marathon. Longest will, I predict, be Zork Zero.

  4. So what is “INCANT FROG” used for?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. After typing INCANT "whatever", the game procedurally generates and spits back to you a "passphrase" (derived from whatever term you used to INCANT). Then, if you or anyone else types INCANT "the passphrase" at any time in the game (including right after starting it), they will be warped to Top of Stair (where the endgame begins) with sword and lamp in tow. This is important because the game will not let you SAVE or RESTORE while in the endgame.