Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Missed Classic: Infidel - Walk Like an Egyptian

Written by Joe Pranevich

It’s our special Zork Marathon Anniversary Week! We’re giving the regular reviewers the week off so that we can quickly sprint to the end of Infocom’s 1983. I had a dim hope that I might be able to start Sorcerer too, but that will likely be a bit much. With luck, we’ll get Infidel defeated before doing a special 1983 wrap-up and then a bonus post. It should be fun and I’ll just hope there are no unexpected distractions that blow-up the schedule.

Last week, I started Infidel and crossed the first major hurdle by discovering the location of a long lost pyramid. This was after my character pissed off his work crew so much that they left him for dead in the desert heat, but let’s put that in the past. Immediately after entering the pyramid, I fell to my death down a set of particularly steep stairs. We’re just getting started and I am looking forward to seeing how the game progresses. Since I died last time going north, I start this week by igniting my torch and heading east.

A maze? Or something else?

The east staircase from the “Chamber of Ra” leads me wrapped around to the eastern edge of a cube-shaped room. I explore around and find several similar rooms. I initially suspect it is a maze, but I’m not sure since there are only eight rooms and all the exits appear to be straightforward. On the west side, we have another stairwell back up to the top of the pyramid so that accounts for two of the four exits already. Exploring the whole place, I find some hieroglyphics in the center room that I cannot read; it ends with “to <something> to the Queen” which isn’t helpful. Since the ASCII art is multi-line, I don’t have an easy way to cut and paste them here for your perusal.

The center room on the southern edge has something more helpful: a three-by-three array of bricks labeled with increasing numbers of dots like “<.>”, “<:>”, “<:.>”, etc. Those look to be symbols for numbers! I can take out the bricks and put them back in again, even re-order them, but there are no clues given as I play around. I assume I’ll have to arrange the numbers in a certain way to do something, but I’ll have to explore further before I can work it out. I also noticed that there is no way into the southeast corner of the “cube” and I suspect the panel has something to do with that.

How do you represent these in ASCII?

Back at the Chamber of Ra, there’s only one more way to go: south. That makes the game feel more linear than I was expecting, but that’s not necessarily a problem. Those stairs descend onto a landing, more hieroglyphics, and then open out into a large “Barge Chamber”. The only text I can make out is “queen”, “to”, and “and” so if these are supposed to be clues then I need to figure out a trick soon.

The barge area is several “rooms” across with an Egyptian boat fully encased in the middle. There’s an exit to the north which I ignore for now. I have no idea if this was actual Egyptian practice, but being buried with boats is not completely uncommon in prehistory with Sutton Hoo, a Norse burial, being one of the most famous in the UK. (It was also in the news during 1983; could Mike Berlyn have been inspired by the viking ship to add one here? Who knows!) A quick check of Wikipedia shows that Egyptians also buried people with boats so it might be a common prehistoric practice.

Something like this?

I cross a gangplank to board the barge and find that it’s mast has a symbol on it (“/!\”). The barge has two anterooms, one each to the east and west. In the west, I find a scroll that I cannot read while the east has a ladder down into the still-intact hold of the ship. While down below, I discover that the mast isn’t quite what it appears to be: it can be dislodged, although I have to remove a small shim first. Why would I remove the mast? I have absolutely no idea. When I try to remove the mast, the game helpfully tells me that I need to drop everything first. I do so and die immediately: dropping the torch onto a wooden boat is a bad idea. On my next restore, I realize that I can prop up my torch in a knothole in the wall. Once I do so, I can remove the mast and even carry it around! So much for the game embracing inventory realism. I have no idea why I would carry a mast around, but I am sure it will come in handy before too long.

Of course, our temple is underground.

North of the barge is a long sloping passage that-- we are told-- leads out of the pyramid into another buried structure. I’m not sure how we can know this since one twisty passage looks pretty much like any other, but that’s fine. The new structure appears to be a temple. Just inside is the body of a dead adventurer-- although I have no idea how he got in without the cube. I half expected a Zork reference, but to my relief he is carrying around neither a Elvish sword nor a brass lantern. When I search his body, I do find a ring on his finger which I happily take. I am just about to put it on when I examine it to discover tiny needles on the inside of the band: it’s a poisoned ring! I pocket it for later. (I admit it: I did save my game and put it on just to see what happened. Yes, it does kill you after a few turns.)

Other than the adventurer’s body and the ring, the whole complete appears to contain only two chalices: a gold one in a western room and a silver one in an eastern one. I try swapping them, putting water in them, and various other things but nothing happens. At this point, I am stuck as I have explored everywhere that I can find. If I’m going to make any further progress on the game, I’m going to have to solve some puzzles.

Not quite the Rosetta Stone...

If this were a Zork game, I’d have a half-dozen rooms marked on my map as places that might need further investigation. In this game, not so much. I have the mysterious cube maze, the deadly northern stairway, and the chalices in the temple and that is pretty much it. Instead, I’m going to have to spend some time dealing with the game’s most unusual puzzle: the hieroglyphics.

I’ve been taking screenshots as I explore and at this point I have several rooms worth of inscriptions plus the scroll from the barge that I cannot read. We know from the simple dictionary that the ASCII-art hieroglyphics are a simple word substitution and, judging from the numbers, at least some of the symbols can be worked out from context. To that end, I set to solve it the way any modern computer professional would: with a spreadsheet. I take each of the messages that I have found so far and put each individual “hieroglyph” in a separate cell. I tie that back to a “vlookup()” on another sheet where I put my guesses. The whole thing takes only a few minutes to set up and a bit longer to transcribe all of the glyphs so far.

Once I have it together, it solves very little. Other than the numbers, which I already guessed at, there are no other terms that I can infer just by having more context. Even so, this may have been enough: I notice for the first time that-- mixed in with text I cannot read-- there are three numbers on the barge scroll! I take that back to the cube room and pull out the cubes with the matching numbers (“one”, “three”, and “five”). That works! When those three bricks are removed, the secret passage opens up leading to the ninth room. My excitement quickly turns to frustration as the newly opened passage is a dead end at a strange plaster (not rock) wall. I transcribe a few more hieroglyphs that are there but this has, at least for now, been a waste of time.

Hail to the sun God! He is the fun god! Ra! Ra! Ra!

Frustrated again, the only potential puzzle that I know of is the northern exit from the Chamber of Ra. The instant death there might just be a cheap trick, but when I look closely at the passage, I am able to see the drop-off. Actually, this just strikes me as stupid now because I can see the ledge and yet my character just happily walks off it when I try to get by. It took me most of an hour of this stupidity to remember that I had a rope in my backpack-- a sad aspect of having this “realistic” inventory system. Once I remembered that, I was inspired to try a few things and I discovered that I could tie the rope to the altar, throw the rope down the hole, and climb (explicitly) down the rope. That gets me through! I am frustrated that anything less resulted in our death, but at least I know now. Is this an indirect reference to the rope puzzle in Dungeon? I am not sure. It could be that all rope puzzles look a bit alike.

Climbing down the rope takes me to a strange puzzle area with a statue in the middle of four hallways, annoyingly northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest. There is also a “golden cluster” at the base of the statue which I take. At the end of each of the four hallways is a door, halfway open. As I walk towards each, the door closes while the one behind me in the opposite hall opens all the way. It’s a weight puzzle! I try dropping some items at either end, but that doesn’t do the trick. I try pushing the statue and that just causes it to fall and break. Oops! But that is a blessing in disguise as I can now push the statue (and separately carry its severed head) to one end of the hall to enter the door at the opposite end. Repeat that process four times and I can explore each of the four halls. Those all lead to individual rooms dedicated to four Egyptian gods, plus more gem clusters which I take:
  • Northwest - Nephthys - Diamond 
  • Northeast - Selkis - Ruby
  • Southwest - Isis - Emerald
  • Southeast - Neith - Opal
I do not know why these gods would be associated with specific gems but there is also a simple hieroglyph in each room ranging from “@” to “@@@@”. I assume that these are related either to the names of the gods, maybe their position in the Egyptian pantheon?

As I take my loot back up to the Chamber of Ra, I’m at a dead end again. 240 points out of 400 is pretty good, but I am missing something to let me advance further. The plaster wall seems to be my best bet, but where is the puzzle that opens it?

Mapping this game is very tricky.

Some scattered notes:
  • I neglected to mention it, but I am no longer prompted to eat and drink inside the pyramid. That was a feature from outside but for no explained reason, I no longer need to do either. That’s good because returning to the surface to get river water every few turns would get bothersome.
  • In contrast, keeping the torch lit is becoming a problem. It only stays lit for a while before it sputters out. If that happens and I’m away from the top, I die. The trick is to return to the entrance when it starts to get low, extinguish the torch, put more oil on it, and light it with a match. I have 15 matches left so there is an inherent time limit to the game, even without food and water problems. 
  • To prevent running out of matches, I also replayed the whole pyramid sequence faster to get back up to where I am now. One nice touch is that you can’t do the cube room puzzle until you get the scroll; it’s still the same combination, but it doesn’t work until you know it “in game”.
  • The gold chalice is surprisingly heavy while the silver one is light. The latter also has a line on the inside of the cup. Why? I have no idea.
Now, back to beating my head (literally) against a plaster wall.

Inventory: knapsack, ancient map, inspection sticker, matchbook, cigarette pack, canteen (with water), rope, broken lock, shovel, pickaxe, navigation box, torch (lit), mast, jade ring, gold cluster, diamond cluster, jade cluster, emerald cluster (Not all items carried at once and some in knapsack.)

Time played: 3 hr 25 min
Total time: 4 hr 15min


  1. Hmm, I would think you could definitely do something with that wall with your current inventory. Just a matter of getting all SWAT team on it, I'd wager.

    1. If I stay stuck, I'll axe you about that again in a few days... ;)

  2. Here's a quality-of-life tip (not a spoiler): you don't need to always go back to the Chamber of Ra to relight the torch. When the torch starts growing dim, but before it goes out, you can safely replenish it with POUR OIL ON TORCH.

    1. What!? You can carry the oil around?

    2. Mind. Blown.

      I have no idea why I didn't think you could carry it.