Sunday 11 November 2018

Missed Classic: Wishbringer - Now With More Evil

Written by Joe Pranevich

Bring out the goatees!

You can say this about Infocom games: they sure have a diverse set of goals. Whether it is to discover a treasure, solve a mystery, escape a planet, defeat a wizard, or explore a ruin, we have done it all. And in Wishbringer we have one more epic quest: rescue a cat. It’s a fantastic start to the game, even if the cat has been captured by someone known only as “The Evil One” who lives in a place known as “The Tower”. If more games revolved around rescuing cats, I’d be pretty happy.

As we ended last week, I had just made it on time (barely!) to the “magick shoppe” in North Festeron and delivered what turned out to be a ransom note to the shopkeeper. No sooner had I done so however than the world went through a strange change. Under the cover of fog, the Post Office where I started my adventure has been transformed into an intimidating looking tower. Could it be The Tower? I have no idea, but with no other options it’s time to go down off the mountain and see what the heck is going on.

I know her!

I know it’s not always your first thought, but as the fog rolled into my position, my attention was only on one thing: my delightful can of mixed nuts that the shopkeeper had given me! I opened it and out popped one of those spring-loaded snakes, the kind that you get in a joke shop, except this one is a real live rattlesnake. Did she try to kill me? Since that is unlikely to be the end of the story, I look in the can and realize that it has a false bottom. The game helpfully tells me that I might be able to access it by squeezing. I squeeze and the false bottom comes open and a stone pops out! ...and immediately gets lost in the fog. That’s not ideal but I guess I need to deal with the fog first.

Thankfully, on my first pass up the mountain I made a very good map and I didn’t have any challenges picking through the “fog” rooms and back down to the bottom of the mountain. Once I arrive at the bottom, the fog clears but so does my path back up the mountain. I’m stuck, but at least I can see. There’s a vulture circling: that’s new, but the tree branch that I saw before that was too heavy to pick up is still there. The big difference comes immediately after: The bridge no longer leads to Festeron, instead the sign says “Witchville”. Worse than that, it’s now a toll bridge with a troll demanding one gold coin to cross. What happened? Was I teleported somewhere else? Was the town cursed ala Once Upon a Time, a show that wouldn’t debut until 26 years after the game? I have no idea, but before I can explore further I need to get past the troll.

A troll from the Zork books.

The toll is one gold coin and fortunately I brought one with me: the gold coin from the fountain. Unfortunately, he doesn’t accept it. Looking it over and seeing a Festeron head on the coin instead of a Witchville one, he pronounces it a fake and hands it back. I discovered the solution to this puzzle completely by accident. With nothing else to do, I turn back to look at the can of nuts now that the fog has cleared. Opening the can and setting off the snake has the unexpected side-effect that the troll gets scared and runs off. I squeeze the false bottom and snag the Wishbringer stone which glows softly in my hand. It’s a good double-stroke of luck! I cross the bridge and head towards “Witchville” proper.

As I enter Witchville, I pass a sign that says that I am out past curfew. I guess that I am going to need to be careful. Just then, I hear the sounds of boots off to the west. I have no choice but to head east. On my Festeron map, this just led to an east-west “Rocky Path”, but now there is a shimmering path into the forest to the south. Am I going to have to map this whole place over again? I sure hope not. Let’s just say, that I am shocked by what I find in the forest.

This looks familiar somehow.

I feel disoriented and then discover myself… at the start of Zork I. Nevermind that I am on the wrong continent, this makes absolutely no sense. Except, it’s not really Zork I because it all goes weird very quickly. I open the mailbox and take a leaflet-- an ad for some obscure computer game-- but magic is swirling around and the mailbox comes alive! It bounces around me like a happy puppy; it’s all very weird. Unfortunately, I cannot explore any further as my feet won’t move either towards or away from the house. All I can do is take my leaflet and return north to the rocky trail. As I leave, I get the distinct feeling that I’m going to be back there again someday. Is that a hint that my character is the eventual Adventurer from Zork? If so, the dates don’t quite work out. Based on the clues in the library books, my best bet for the current date is 957 which is eight years after the Zork games started. This reference might be more meta-fictional than intended to be literally the same character in both games.

Strangely, the little hopping mailbox follows me out of the woods. I head east again to find the miniature lighthouse and pelican again, but it’s all for nothing as a squadron of boots (yes, literal boots) capture me and take me to Sergeant MacGuffin at the police station and lock me into a cell. Inside the cell is a blanket which I pick up (for three points!). Even luckier for me, my confiscated items are left in the hallway and still within reach. That seems like some great police work! I’m still stuck in the cell so I poke around some more, quickly discovering a hole in the floor hidden underneath the cell’s single bed.

Beneath the cell is a small warren of tunnels with what appears to be three exits and one special room. If I was hoping for a branch of the Great Underground Empire, I am disappointed, but at least there’s a path out to the graveyard guarded by some eldritch vapors, a secret passageway to a tree stump in Lookout Point in the northeast of the island, and back into the sheriff’s office. There’s also a single special room, a grue’s nest complete with a sleeping baby grue! The next has all the comforts of home including a refrigerator containing a bottle of milk and an earthworm. Unfortunately, picking them up takes too long and a mommy grue comes along to eat me. That’s less than ideal, but the milk is probably the special “grue’s milk” that I need for one of my spells so I’d better find a way to pick it up.

We’ve just proven this description (from Sorcerer) wrong.

So, how we do avoid waking up the baby grue or summoning its mother? I try to just enter without a light source, but I get eaten by a grue. (Duh!) The solution turns out to be quite cute and I figure it out quickly: I cover the grue with the blanket, tucking him in. That helps the baby to sleep better while I’m raiding his refrigerator. (In a cute reversal, the refrigerator’s light turns OFF when you open the door instead of on.) That gives me a bottle and an earthworm, but I’m still not sure what my next move should be. I emerge from the tunnels at the Lookout Point. How much of the town will I be able explore while avoiding the boot-troops?

I resort to making quick trips into town, restoring when I get captured by the boots. Escaping the jail cell a second time is not an option as they have filled in the hole that I escaped through the first time:
  • By the lake just to the south, a platypus has fallen into the leaf trap that I saw even in the “light” world segment. Unfortunately, I can find no way to rescue it as I cannot climb in. 
  • I can enter the graveyard by the northern gate (it popped open while I was trying to help the platypus) and am able to explore a little bit before the eldritch vapors capture me. They take away all of my items and drop me off at the wharf; I restore. 
  • Miss Voss, the now-former librarian, is acting as a ticket-seller outside the seedy theater in town. Inside is the gravedigger, repurposed as an usher and ticket-taker. There’s a box of free 3D glasses on the floor, but it is empty. I don’t have a ticket to give him so there’s no way deeper into the theater. 
  • The fountain in the middle of the town is still there, although the statue has changed to that of a witch. Inside the fountain is now a bronze token (instead of the gold coin I found earlier) and a piranha. The fish refuses to let me near the token. 
  • Following the wharf to the east, I find a big mailbox outside the casino. Unfortunately, my little mailbox (who has been following me anytime I am outside) gets into a fight with the big one and they both die. It’s very sad and I restore. Next time around, I leave the room more quickly and find a working game in the casino that takes a bronze token. I suspect I’ll have to find a way to get that soon enough. 
  • Since the tide is now in, there is no longer a way north to the “Tidal Pool” where I found the conch shell before. I hope I don’t need it because that wasn’t one of the items that I took up with me to the magick shoppe at the beginning of the game. If I have to restore back at this point, I will be disappointed. 
  • I can take the candle out of the church now, but since I already found the Wishbringer (which glows in the dark), it doesn’t add much. 
Too cute not to rescue!

With that, I need to start solving some of the puzzles. Getting a ticket to the movie is easy: I just have to give my gold coin to Miss Voss and she hands me one. Unfortunately, she also notices that it has the wrong picture on it so she calls the police on me. I quickly duck inside the theater but there are still no 3D glasses to be had. I give my ticket to the gravedigger-porter and he lets me in, but the screen is too blurry for me to see anything. Leaving the theater I am warned that if I leave now I won’t be able to get back in without a new ticket so I end up restoring instead.

Failing that, I work on the platypus instead. I head up to the northern part of the game and grab the tree branch that I saw earlier-- I have to do some inventory shuffling because it is too heavy, but I am able to take it all the way to the shore of the lake. When I put the branch into the pit, the platypus is able to climb up and out of the pit. It draws an “X” in the sand and leaves. I dig where the “X” marks the spot to discover a silver whistle that hums gently of magic. Should I blow it now and see what it does? Yes!

Blowing the whistle transports me across the lake onto the “Misty Island”. What follows is extremely strange. I don’t even think I can narrate it properly, but the short answer is that the island is the Kingdom of Platypuses and I had just rescued their princess. I bow politely to the king and he grants me a special magic word that will let me into the Dark One’s tower… or rather he would, but he dare not speak it himself. Instead, he gives me a hat which will allow me to gain the wisdom that I need from a sea creature. I hope that I didn’t get myself in a walking-dead scenario because I didn’t rescue the seahorse in the beginning… And just like that, I’m transported back to the edge of the lake with a new hat and a new quest.

More talking animals!?

I head to the wharf first and other than observing all of the sharks in the water, there’s nothing new there. I try to put the hat on my head, but that does not do the trick because it is too small for me. Instead, I head north (the long way around because the tide is still in) and find my friend the pelican at his miniature lighthouse. When I give him the hat, the lighthouse roars to life and writes the word “FRATTO” in the sky. Certainly no witches noticed that, right? I’d hate for them to know that I was on their heels. Even with the word, I’m stuck and cannot get to the tower. A hellhound guards Miss Voss’s house now, in what I expect is a slight upgrade from the poodle, and there is no way around.

I explore further to try to solve some puzzles. Although I feel quite guilty about it, I find that I can feed the earthworm to the piranha which gives me just enough time to snag the bronze token from the fountain. I also discover that I can get past the big mailbox in the wharf without it killing my little mailbox if I feed it the leaflet that I found in the forest. Apparently, all it wanted was a snack! With that, I can safely access the machine in the casino, but it’s not quite what I expected it to be. It’s not a game, per-se. It’s a teleporter! When I put in the coin, it powers up a map with a little star. It’s hovering over E-3 on a map, which appears to be the same as my postal map from the beginning of the game. Moving a little joystick, I can reposition the star to C-5, where the old post office used to be. I press the big red button (a few times because it prompts me to save before going there) and I make it! I am outside the Evil One’s tower!

Once there, I entone my special word “FRATTO” and the drawbridge opens. Inside, is the Platypus Princess. She has been captured again! No sooner does she tell me that it’s all a trap than the drawbridge closes and Mr. Crisp has us. A moment later we are down in his torture chamber. The princess is tied to a torture device of some kind with a lever that he threatens to pull, while I’m just shackled up. Mr. Crisp, now in cackling torturer mode, shows me the key to my chains and drops it into his pocket. I try restoring, but there doesn’t appear to be a way not to get captured so I just let the scenario play through. Thinking quickly, I remember that I still have a note from Miss Voss to him from prior to the curse. I hand it over and he reads it, completely changing his demeanor and seeming to forget that he’s an evil torturer. He drops his note and lab coat, replacing them with combed hair and a stylish purple blazer, and scampers up a ladder and out the hatch mumbling all the way about how much Miss Voss hates it when he is late for their dates. In his haste, he left the princess and I alone.

Even in my chains, I am easily able to reach the dropped lab coat and get the key from the pocket. Once my chains are unlocked, I pull the lever (being careful not to trigger the torture mechanism!) and release the platypus princess who once again runs off to be with her family. Now that the note has been delivered, I appear to have less compunction about reading it and it tells me that I can get past Miss Voss’s doggy just by saying “Alexis, heel”. Do you think that works as well on hellhounds as it does on poodles? Unfortunately, traveling up the tower only ends with me being trapped in a “fuzzy” room, the same sort of fuzzy that we saw in the movie theater. I have to restore to get out unless there is something I missed since just going back “down” doesn’t work.

Very fuzzy!

Ignoring the route further into the tower, I concentrate on getting the drawbridge open. Searching the paintings on the landing, I discover a hidden crank and use it to open the gate. But where should I go next? Leaving the castle causes the gate to close, but I have no problem getting past the hellhound (with “Alexis, heel”) and back into the town proper. Even better, once I have charmed the hound, she lets me into the Librarian’s house! Inside is a lot of dust-- it seems that she hasn’t been home recently-- but there’s a nice Violet+Corky written in a heart in the dust and that’s very cute. Searching further, I spy the key to the library.

With that key, I bee-line to the library but someone slams and locks the door on me as soon as I am inside. I’m trapped! In the first room of the library is a pile of books and a locked desk, but I do not have the correct key. Just to the south is the museum part of the library, most of which has been ransacked. All that remains is the statue of a cat inside a locked display case. The cat has an indentation on its forehead-- a missing white spot? Could this be Chaos, the cat that I am searching for, trapped as a statue? The case has a large burglar alarm warning on it, but like the circulation desk I do not have the key. I try breaking the case, but that just gets me arrested and tortured and the game is over. That’s less than ideal.

I restore back to prior to entering the library just to try things:
  • I try taking the candle into the library. Why? Because I hadn’t found a use for it yet. Strangely, it always blows out as soon as I enter the museum room. That must mean something, but I have no idea what. 
  • I try some wishes. Wishing for darkness (after drinking the grue’s milk) doesn’t do anything useful that I can find. 
  • Wishing for luck (using the horseshoe) doesn’t make the alarm not go off. 
Eight years before Power Rangers; I guess witches with telescopes are already a trope.

My final stroke of luck is just that: with nothing else to do, I end up back in the theatre and discover a pair of 3D glasses under one of the seats. When I put them on, the movie becomes all too real with a witch looking at me through a telescope. The scene changes to Miss Voss just outside the theater who gives the witch a signal. She flips a switch and the power goes off in the theater. I get up to leave.

Unfortunately, I am still stuck because I cannot get back into the tower. I’m going to either need to restore and replay a bunch of the game or I’m going to have to find a second way in. I’m pleased with this game so far, but it is also a bit heavy on the walking-dead situations. I’m still afraid I have lost because I never rescued the seahorse in the beginning. Should I restore back that far?

Time played: 2 hr 40 min
Total time: 4 hr 20 min
Inventory: 3D glasses, steel key, violet note, rusty key, white lab coat, horseshoe, bottle, squashed can, small stone (the Wishbringer)
Score: 92 points (so close!)

A personal note: While I was working on this post, I managed to badly pinch a nerve in my back and ended up in the hospital for a few days. I am recovering and hope to have full use of my back in a few days, but in the interim this post has had less editing than usual so please excuse the typos.


  1. Fun post so far, sorry to hear of your health problems. To help take your mind off your troubles, if you need a break from the game, you might enjoy reading its "novelization".

    1. I'm a bit... obsessive with doing things in this marathon in order. Right now, the Wishbringer book is slotted in immediately after the Zork Quest Infocomics... but that is still twenty games away so we'll see what happens.

      The Activision years have a bit of a higher output than the solo years because of market and management pressure. This means that even as we're near the end of the story of solo Infocom, we're not even halfway through all of the games in the canon... let alone all the side-projects like Quarterstaff, the Infocomics, Tombs and Treasures, etc.

      You can see the whole plan of the marathon here:

      (But just because it is listed doesn't mean it gets its own post. It just makes sure I know the relative chronology.)

    2. No worries, the Infocom novels are real curios, but what they bring to a wider understanding of the games is pretty limited, kind of like if the authors were shown the promotional blurbs on the back of the box and told "there, write a book about that."

  2. "Man finds shimmering path into forest, what he discovers will shock you!". Luckily we didn't have to click through a bunch of unrelated images with horrible descriptions to find out.

    Good luck with the pinched nerve, I was going to say don't bend over backwards to try and rush anything but I'm afraid that would be in poor taste.

  3. In a cute reversal, the refrigerator’s light turns OFF when you open the door instead of on.

    So the milk can stay spoiled! I always liked that bit.

    Do you want a small hint about how to avoid the Boot Patrol? Or are they not bothering you much?

    Escaping the jail cell a second time is not an option

    Npghnyyl, lbh pna rfpncr gjb zber gvzrf, qrcraqvat.

  4. Pro-tip:
    If you put your Wishbringer stone on your nightstand with a lamp in close proximity to it to charge with with "extra" glow-in-the-dark re-radiation... it will melt and deform.

  5. If more games revolved around rescuing cats, I’d be pretty happy.

    Roberta Williams was of two minds about this. In KQ3, we didn't encounter any cats we really liked (although we would get punished early on if we mistreated one). In KQ5, we did have to rescue at cat, although it was just one small puzzle.

    In Grim Fandango, cats weren't really well-treated either, although they were fed giant cans of food...

    Now that I think of it, adventure game developers really dislike cats. (Except our resident guest Corey Cole who had a civilization of cat people living peacefully in their world...)

    1. Don't forget this cat-related death scene:

    2. Yeah, you also want to be kind to the cat in the Hero-U introductory level.

  6. It was very heavy on the walking-dead stuff. After a lot of trial-and-error, I restarted and completely cleared Festeron (efficiently!) before delivering the mail -- there were a lot of puzzles you needed to finish -- and then I cleared Witchville before heading for the endgame.