Thursday, 2 November 2017

Missed Classic: Sorcerer - Bootstrap Paradox

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back! Last time around, we descended into the Great Underground Empire to locate our lost guildmaster, Belboz. Or, at least, that’s what I think I am doing because the game seems to have largely forgotten its plot, instead opening up into a Zork-style dungeon crawl. It’s been a lot of fun, although some of the sense of urgency has evaporated. Because we used a teleport scroll, we know Belboz is around here somewhere, but exactly where is a mystery. Thus far, we have explored an amusement park, dried up a river to discover a “bat cave”, and defeated a bunch of mimics through the copious application of bat poop. I also have a “yonk” scroll which will supercharge one spell, but I have been saving it carefully so as to avoid a walking-dead situation. As I ended last time, we had just discovered a large glass maze and I fell to my death by walking into a section with no floor.

I had expected to beat the game this week-- four posts is quite enough for a Missed Classic-- but for reasons that will become apparent, I wanted to let the puzzles breathe a bit. I haven’t had this much fun for a while. I have to hurry and finish documenting this game, but rushing through Sorcerer feels wrong somehow. There is also no new “Road to Seastalker” bonus post this week; I am thoroughly enjoying Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster, but I need more time to finish it.
It’s hip to be cube.

The Glass Maze

Since I fell to my death last time, I resolved to explore the maze again with more care. Rather than walking off the edge, I cast “izyuk” to fly and this allowed me to survive what would have been a deadly fall. This actually opens up some options because I can either cross the room to the east or descend into another room below. When I descend, I also discover that sometimes I can fly up through the ceiling of the rooms. Since everything is clear glass, it’s impossible to know what directions have glass panels and which ones just have open air. I have to keep bumping into the walls (and ceiling) to know what is there. To make matters more difficult, “izyuk” only lasts around two turns so I have to keep memorizing and casting it over and over again. Taking each room one slow step at a time, trying every direction, I am able to build a map of the environment. The path below where I died leads to a dead end, as does the next room which has a hidden way to fly up. Step by step I make it through until I hit an obstacle that I cannot pass: a path up in the northeast corner of the maze extends up two “rooms”. My “izyuk” spell is enough to get me to the top, but not from there to any point of safety. I inevitably fall to my death. Is there where I am supposed to use the “yonk” spell to supercharge my flying ability?

Before I try that, I remember that I already have a second flying spell: “fweep”, the one that turns me into a bat. In my bat-form, I cannot carry anything so I have to leave a pile of items behind, but I can go for a longer distance. Even better, the bat’s built-in sonar detects which panels are glass and which are empty air without my having to feel my way through one direction at a time. If I had realized that, I could have saved a lot of time! With that spell, I am able to easily finish mapping (revealing the whole location as a three-by-three cube) and find an exit into a hollow in the cliff face.

Is that a muppet?

The hollow itself turns out to be nearly empty except for a brick structure with a square hole in the top-- obviously a chimney-- and a parchment scroll. The scroll contains the “swanzo” scroll which will “exorcise an inhabiting presence” which I immediately take as something I can use in the haunted house. I go to copy the copy but realize that I didn’t actually bring my spell book with me. I can’t fly it here nor will I be able to get the scroll out since I’ll have to become a bat again. What to do? Well, drop it down the hole! I had found a hut with a chimney not far from the glass maze, so I assume that is where the chimney leads.

But this is where I realize this is a trap: when I pick up the scroll to drop it, I hear an evil laugh and the glass maze shifts around. Even worse, a dorn beast emerges from the cliff and begins to run after me. I would like to tell you that I quickly transformed back into a bat and ran away, but I didn’t memorize another “fweep” spell so mostly what I did is run back into the maze and fall to my death. I had to restore, memorize yet another “fweep” spell, and play through the whole mess again. Once I did that, I can become a bat and race back into the maze. The walls did change locations and so I have to map it on the go. Fortunately, the solution to my “dorn” problem comes very quickly: just at the end of the first hallway, the floor drops two stories. I have no problem flying down, but dorns apparently cannot fly so my assailant doesn’t live through the landing. From there, it’s a simple matter to map my way out of the maze (restoring when I run out of fweep-spell) and eventually arriving back at the start. The “swanzo” scroll ends up being in the hut, exactly as I suspected, but it does nothing useful in the haunted house. Oh well. I copy it to my spell book anyway.

Does anyone have a canary I can borrow?

The Coal Mine

I am stuck again. I re-explore the whole environment and poke at odd corners here and there. I find a floor waxer that I missed before, but nothing to do with it. Eventually, I come to the realization that the only thing I know about is the dragon sculpture that I skipped. When I tried to animate the statue last time, it didn’t work before my spell was not powerful enough. I have been saving the “yonk” scroll for when I didn’t have any other option… and now seems like it’s time. In Enchanter, there was a similar one-time scroll that looked like it was needed in many places, but would make the game unwinnable if you used it in the wrong place. Is “yonk” the same way? It doesn’t matter. I cast it to strengthen my “malyon” spell, then cast that on the dragon. It works! The dragon wakes up and moves enough to reveal a long-hidden passage. Did I just make the game unwinnable? I have no idea, but at least I’ll press forward for now.

Behind the dragon is a sooty room which leads into a coal mine. As soon as I enter, the passage behind me collapses and I am trapped. Worse, the air is filled with coal gas and seems to be slowly poisoning me. Is this the coal mine from Zork I? I do not know, but at least that one didn’t have collapsing doors and killer air. (Actually, it did have killer air: there was a room which would kill you if you brought a torch. Fortunately, I just have my glow-in-the-dark calendar which doesn’t have an open flame.) I quickly explore and realize that I only have two rooms: a “Coal Bin Room” and a “Dial Room”. The bin room is covered in a layer of coal and has two chutes in the northern and southern ends of the room. The northern one leads down from someplace above, while the southern one leads down to who knows where. The dial room contains a combination-locked door and a note that the foreman has the combination. That is not immediately helpful. Before I get much farther, I die of too much coal gas and have to restore.

This floor needs a good waxing. 

Fortunately, I have a potion for this occasion: “vilstu”, the one that I picked up from the mail order offer way back at the guildhall. I drink it and immediately someone pops out of the coal chute! He looks like me, only much dirtier and disheveled. He’s also having difficulty breathing. A moment later, he gasps out that the combination is “46” then looks expectantly. I don’t know what he wants, but a moment later he motions that he wants my spell book. What the heck? I hand him my book and he dives into the chute heading further down. Using that combination, I have no problem opening the locked door. Just on the other side of the door is a climbable shaft with a rope at the bottom. I grab the rope and climb up only to discover that, like in Zork, the mine is a maze. I have to quickly map it while running out of air. It takes a few tries (during which times I notice that I get different combinations), but I find that it’s only five rooms, two of which are unique: the shaft room and the top of the chute. I also find a piece of timber in the mine.

Now, astute readers will know that this is the third time we’ve seen these specific objects and a chute. The first time was in mainframe Zork where the several items were used to solve one of the palantir puzzles: we tied the rope to the timber, dropped it at the top of the shaft, and we climb down the rope to find a hidden room in the middle of the slide. This puzzle was not included in Zork I even though the shaft and all of the items were kept; I assume it was just too difficult for a beginner game. Zork III seemed like it was planning to go there, again having all of the items and a shaft to use them on, but this was a red herring. Perhaps Marc Blank and Dave Lebling considered adding the puzzle there and decided against it. But, here we are: at the shaft puzzle again. While it seems to be the same, the puzzle appears to be more difficult this time around. For one thing, you have to be explicit: “put timber across chute” and “drop rope down chute” rather than have those actions be implicit in the original. I also have to drop all of my stuff to keep from slipping on the rope-- including my light source.

They’re actually identical cousins. 

Climbing down, I find the hidden room just as expected but it’s not the one from Zork. This time, I find a lamp with an open and empty compartment, plus a smelly scroll. The scroll is for the “golmac” spell to “travel temporally”. That explains my twin! I grab the spell and head down but I quickly break the laws of time and the scroll disappears. I restore back and try again, this time casting the spell in the lantern room. Nothing seems to change at first, but then I notice that the lantern contains a “vardik” spell to “shield a mind from an evil spirit”. I grab it and continue down the chute, this time discovering my younger self waiting at the bottom. I ask him for my spellbook then jump down the chute, only to die in a time paradox. What did I forget? The combination! I try it again and give him the combo and this time I am able to finish the scene.

I emerge from the bottom shaft free of the coal mine: I am on the Lagoon Shore. It’s good that it is light out because my calendar is now long gone, left with almost all my remaining items in the mine. All I have is my spell book and the new scroll. I’m probably going to have to restore back, but then I realize that I have a bigger problem: I am getting thirsty. The anti-hunger and anti-thirst potion I drank in the beginning of the game is finally wearing off. If I don’t find the end soon, I’m going to have to replay it all again to get here faster.

Before I end for today, I just want to comment on how amazingly cool these two puzzles are. The glass maze is one of the most interesting mazes we’ve seen in an Infocom game: it’s not particularly hard, but the realization that we had to solve it as a bat just made my day. The dorn chase is also nice and adds some nice tension, just like a similar scene at the end of Planetfall. The coal mine puzzle is a fantastic homage to mainframe Zork, but integrated into an absolutely amazing “bootstrap paradox” puzzle and a time limit before we run out of air. They don’t seem particularly well integrated into the game, but I’m certain these are my two favorite puzzles of the series so far.

Next week, I’ll finally win this thing and write a rating. But for now, I’d better get back to work on Sherlock Holmes.

Time played: 2 hr 35 min
Total time: 7 hr 40 min

Inventory: spell book, smelly scroll
Spell book: gnusto, vezza, pulver, izyuk, yomin, rezrov, frotz, gaspar, meef, fweep, malyon, swanzo


  1. I completely agree with you on how great the puzzles are. Especially the time travel thing blew my mind away when I first played Sorcerer.

  2. In case you missed it, we got a mention on the Digital Antiquarian! He linked to our interview with David Marsh from last year in an article about the Consulting Detective series. I'm still very proud of that interview and I hope we can do more like that in the future.

  3. I neglected to mention in this post that when you drop things in the room with the chutes, they get buried immediately. That makes keeping your stuff through this segment quite challenging.

  4. FYI, you don't actually have to fly back through the glass maze -- you can use one of your spells (rot13: tnfcne ) and only have to go through the maze once.