Thursday, 21 March 2019

Missed Classic: Spellbreaker - The Incredible Shrinking Man

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back! Last week, I was able to puzzle my way past a splash-down with a hungry fish, bring a statue to life just long enough to steal something from its mouth, shrink a snake, and insult The Phantom Menace. As I have mentioned before, the game seems very random with sequences of puzzle vignettes that are connected through teleportation rather than a contiguous world. In all of this, I was able to snag my fourth cube and I am approximately 1/4th of the way through the game. I will have to pick up the pace or you will be reading about Spellbreaker forever, but it is a hard game to rush. Besides, if this is the final “original” Zork game, I want to savor the experience… or at least to give it the best possible shake.

I know I was a bit down on this game when I started, although it may have had as much to do with my own mental place while playing as anything else. I’ve taken a pause and a reset and am approaching the game with refreshed eyes. I’ve replayed the entire game up to this point and can better see the connective tissue. We’ll see how it plays out as I approach the finish.

Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place...

The Bazaar
You know, before I begin I need to give credit where due. We haven’t had a ton of comments on this set of posts, but Lisa has implied that my pattern of naming the cubes after letters in the Greek alphabet is stupid. And, she’s right! Not only is it inconvenient, an original player was unlikely to do that because they would have been visiting the locations before realizing they needed to write on the cubes. And then Torbj√∂rn said that you can change the names on the cubes… so I did. I am now using reasonable names such as “earth” and “air” and using quote characters to refer to them because the game isn’t quite smart enough to know when I am talking about a cube and when I’m not. This actually helps quite a lot to keep things organized and I am indebted to them for pushing me on this one.

In any event, I start today’s session by “blorple-ing” the cube that I extracted from the idol. I called it “delta” before, but now I’ll call it “air” because it takes me to an air-themed room. I am literally walking on a cloud with exits to the north, south, west, and down. That’s plenty to explore so I start to explore at random… I pick west! That direction lands me in a vaguely middle-eastern bazaar, just outside a carpet shop. Despite an entire city to explore, we really can only go inside. A salesperson inside tries to sell me two rugs: a blue one with a design of cubes on it and a red one that is worn and ugly. Which one am I supposed to buy? Is the trick that I need to come back later when I know the answer? Or is this a puzzle I should be expected to solve immediately? For obvious reasons, the carpet with the cube-decorations seems like the right approach given the cube-hunting aspect of the game. Maybe there will be a spell later that extracts the cubes from the fabric? On the other hand, it could be a fake-out and the carpet we are less inclined to pick may be the best one, a “diamond in the rough” to steal a quote from some old Disney movie. Either way, they are 800 zorkmids each and far beyond my price range. He doesn’t accept the 500 zorkmid coin I have as an offer, but he will take the opal. Even though I tried to buy the blue one, he handed me the red one instead. While I thought at first like it might be a bug, it seems the shifty salesman was trying to pull one over on me. That makes me suspect that the blue one with the cubes is likely to be the correct one.

You know what? I don’t need to guess at all. I just do the whole mess twice and buy each carpet. The red one appears to be broken, while the blue one allows me to fly when I sit on it! This opens up a “whole new world”, so to speak, since I can seemingly explore a vast space but I don’t actually see much. I start above a wilderness to the east of a mountain range. Landing is right out since we are killed immediately. I can fly to the mountains in the west, and even beyond them to another wilderness. I can fly up into the clouds where I cannot tell what direction I am traveling in. By some random moves, I happen to stumble on the roc’s nest again but even this doesn’t help me because the mother roc is home and I still cannot take the cube. I may have to be more thorough in my exploration later, but this is a good start.

I am still concerned that paying with the opal is a mistake. I replay that sequence with the salesman over again and try to offer him lots of things, usually resulting in him being quite offended. One more strange aside: you can “blorple” the carpet (because it has pictures of cubes on it?), leading to a “Nondescript” room with one exit back to the bazaar. Will this matter later? I have no idea.

Walking on a glacier can be dangerous...

Mr. Freeze

I blorple my way back to the Air Room and head north. This teleports me onto a frozen glacier in the Flathead mountains. Conveniently, there is a white “tinsot” scroll on the ground which allows you to freeze things. Exploring the glacier is impossible as there are cracks hidden under the snow and traveling in any direction kills you. We can’t even fly on the carpet here for some reason. Actually, there is something up with the carpet that I don’t understand yet. After restoring, I can’t even fly it out of the bazaar for some reason. I’m going to not buy the carpet immediately and explore further into the game. I can always pick it up again once I have a strategy that requires it.

The south exit from the Air Room drops me back in “mid-air”, the same as the down exit in the Earth room. Is that significant somehow? Just as before, the roc picks me up and takes me to its nest. The game is clearly showing that the roc is important given that I have three separate paths to its nest (two falling-from-a-great-height exits plus the carpet from the bazaar), but I still do not see a solution.

Now that I have a “freeze” spell, I need to find something to freeze. The water in the ruins room doesn’t freeze, but the water in the oubliette does! I have to cast the spell twice, but I can completely ice over the outflow pipe and fill the room up with water. I soak my spell book again, but I restore back and just stash it in the zipper. This means I have to memorize any spells that I might need ahead of time, but I work it out in short order. If I freeze over the pipes, the room gradually fills with water over several turns and I am able to swim to near the ceiling, but not close enough to reach the trapdoor. I can’t reach it by jumping like a dolphin or anything fully like that, but casting the freeze spell a third time creates an ice floe that we can climb on. With a bit of careful timing, we can climb on it when the water is at its height and escape from the cell. I am rewarded by another cube on the ground and a couple of directions to explore.

But life in a dungeon can be dangerous too.

Off to the east is a dungeon cell with the door blown off its hinge, apparently by some powerful magic. Should I infer that it was the previous home of the magician that I have been chasing this whole time? I head inside to find an oak cabinet (which I can unlock using “rezrov”) and a moldy spellbook, damaged beyond all repair by the damp conditions. Fortunately, I have a spell for just this occasion: “caskly”, to cause perfection. I try that on the book and it recovers it… a little bit. I can now read a single spell: “snavig”, to change form. Is it possible to “gnusto” a spell from one book to another? Yes! It works just like a scroll and the spellbook disappears. I try playing with that spell, but I do not see how it can be used immediately. It allows me to change into another form, but I need to have an example nearby. If I “snavig me” it doesn’t do anything. I’ll be on the lookout for places where I can use this.

A stairwell out of the dungeon leads to a guard tower high in the mountains. In the distance, I see a small dot in the air. As I watch, it comes closer and closer, eventually revealing itself to be my friend the roc. This is beyond hinting now. There doesn’t seem to be a way to “snavig” the roc to become one, nor does “espnis” (sleep) help much from this angle. I’ll have to keep looking for solutions later.

I blorple the cube we found in the dungeon and I find myself… dead? No! I’m just teleported to the “Boneyard” room, the same place where we go when we die. There’s an exit to the west that I cannot go through yet, while north takes me to Belwit Square. In the square, I momentarily manage to surprise our dark-cloaked figure that I have been chasing all this time. Exactly why he would have gone back to the scene of the crime is unknown. Is he a street rat? I don’t buy that. I would try to look closer, but he’s gone before I can do any investigation. This is the first reminder in a long while that our “chase” is still on.

Since I am back at the beginning, I try “snavig” to turn into a frog, but the game doesn’t let me and instead provides a very odd response: I “cannot change into Gzornenplatz”. I didn’t want to change into HIM, just a creature that could understand him. Oh well. It was a good thought.

I’m running out of options, but I remembered that I was going to check out the two water pipes (in the ruins and the oubliette) to see if they are connected. It’s tough to tell. I shrink myself with “liskon” and climb into the pipe in the ruins, but that kills be immediately as I am dragged downstream. I restore and try the same in the oubliette and that let’s be swim downstream. As I progress quickly down the pipe, I pass a hidden cube and grab it (how?) before being able to climb back out in the ruins. I have a new cube! Just as importantly, the pieces of this world are falling into place. The ruins, the roc, the guard tower in the mountains, and the bazaar are all in the same region of the world. I would not be surprised if the ogre cave and ocean are not that far from here, either.

Octagon Maze

Triggering the newest cube takes me to a strangely changing room, where doors and decorations are constantly changing. Exits are marked clearly, but shift from a bead curtain to a wooden door to anything else you can imagine. North from there takes me to a dead end with a compass rose on the ground. I pick it up, but with no exits I need to teleport out. The other working exit leads me to a room where there is a compass rose carved on the north wall. I press my newly-found compass rose into the carving and a northern passage opens. I grab the compass again and head that way, the wall closing in right behind me.

For lack of a better term, let me call what I wandered into the “octagon maze”. In the interests of time, I will summarize a bit so that you do not have to read page after page of trial and error. We find ourselves in an octagon-shaped room with a rune in each of the eight possible directions. Some of the runes are made of lead (east, northeast, southeast, and southwest) while the rest are silver. Somewhat trickily, the description always gives you the list of lead ones when you actually need the silver ones. It takes some trial and error to work it out, but the walls that have the silver rune are the only ones that we can pass through: by placing the compass rose on wall, it will open up door to a new room. Just as before, once we go through we have no way back. These are all one-way trips.

When you enter the maze, you can travel in any direction
except north. Of course, this is with the benefit of hindsight.

After moving west, there are no more west exits in the maze. 

Moving northeast further reduces the available exits… Keep in
mind you don’t know at the start where you are aiming towards.

Once I worked out the mechanics, I tried to work out the point. By trying out every combination of exits, I discover that I am in a 3x3 grid of rooms. The trick that makes the maze a maze is that you can only use each direction once: now that we’ve gone north once, there will be no more north exits anywhere in the maze. Instead, all of the north exits will be marked by lead. Not only do I need to figure out where to go, I also need a strategy for getting there. The trickiest room to reach is the one in the top-center since we have to go northwest->west->northeast or west->northeast->northwest. Once I make it there, I discover an alabaster plug in the west wall with a gold rune! That's clearly the way to go.

And this is where I completely went off the rails. For hours, I couldn’t figure out a way to get past the plug. I tried to map out routes that would touch every room once before making it there (impossible), I tried routes that would deaden every direction so that when I got there I would only have west to go (doable but useless). I mapped out every possible route through the maze. It spent an incredible amount of time on it for absolutely nothing because the solution was to cast “rezrov”. I’m going to slink away in embarrassment, but the next room contains another cube so that our adventure can continue.
I’m going to stop here this week, one more cube in hand and with a score that has just crossed the halfway point. How many more posts until I’m done? I have no idea. Next week, I’ll play around with the magic carpet and see what I can find with a bit better mapping. Maybe a new exciting point of view? I’m hoping for a dazzling place I never knew. See you then.

Time played: 5 hr 50 min
Total time: 11 hr 50 min

Inventory: 7x white cubes (“earth”, “soft”, “water”, “air”, “bone”, “change” and one I haven’t labeled yet ), gold coin, zipper, smoked fish, magic burin, knife, spell book, pruning shears, gold box, bottle, opal, compass rose
(I also know how to get the blue or red magic carpets.)

Spell Book Contains: caskly, throck, blorpie, yomin, rezrov, frotz, gnusto, malyon, jindak, lesoch, espnis, liskon, tinsot, snavig
Score: 305 of 600 (51%)


  1. I just labelled the cubes 1,2,3,4, etc. but your (in reality, I guess Lisa's) way makes better sense.

    1. Your method was essentially mine except I was being overly clever by using the Greek alphabet.

  2. Lisa has implied that my pattern of naming the cubes after letters in the Greek alphabet is stupid.

    That's pretty harsh; more like probably frustrating the further you get, as you collect more cubes. You'd probably remember alpha was Earth if you wanted to go there, but hmm, which was that Banana* cube? was it zeta or iota?

    (* Not a real cube)

    One more strange aside: you can “blorple” the carpet (because it has pictures of cubes on it?), leading to a “Nondescript” room with one exit back to the bazaar.

    Have you read the description of the blorple spell in your spellbook?

    I try “snavig” to turn into a frog, but the game doesn’t let me and instead provides a very odd response: I “cannot change into Gzornenplatz”.

    I don't think this is actually that odd. From the game's internal perspective it looks like he's the same object, despite his current appearance (i.e. changed description) - they didn't code a separate object for frog-Gzornenplatz, in other words. Perhaps an oversight, but I think this game was already pushing limits in terms of KB size in memory, wasn't it?

    1. Well, it was intended more as "funny" than "harsh". I certainly did not think you were being harsh in your criticisms and I give you the credit for nudging me to be less stubborn. And frankly, I could not keep up with all of the cube names at this point. There are quite a few more of them that I expected.

      I have read the description of the spell. It's "explore an object's mystic connections", right? I might be missing something...

      The final but was probably an oversight. I was convinced that I could talk to the frogs if I was a frog, but that didn't go as I hoped.

    2. It's "explore an object's mystic connections", right?

      Right. So it looks like the carpet's connections aren't as exciting as those of the cubes. Unir lbh gevrq oybecyvat nalguvat ryfr gung vfa'g n phor?

      This bit may be a spoiler, at least re: conceptualizing what is going on:

      Unir lbh abgvprq gung ng gur vavgvny qrfgvangvba sebz n oybecyr lbh qba'g unir gung phor nalzber, naq jura lbh tb guebhtu na rkvg vg ernccrnef va lbhe vairagbel? Jura lbh oybecyr n phor, va n frafr lbh'er vafvqr vg. Gur "zlfgvp pbaarpgvbaf" ner gur inevbhf rkvgf sebz gur phor, v.r., pbaarpgvbaf gb bgure ybpngvbaf.

  3. Anyone have any advice on the rocks-on-grid puzzle? I worked out that the solution involves the northwest corner and that I should be able to maneuver the brown rock such that I can get close by taking the diagonal. But I can find no way of actually doing it because he always takes a different path, even when I save-scum. So I feel both that I "solved" this puzzle but also that I have no idea how to "solve" it...

    1. It's not exactly that. Notice that the other rock has to make a move, even if it would put it in worse position. You use the diagonal to, in chess terms, gain a tempo. In other words, before moving through diagonal the other rock is always one step ahead of you. After moving through diagonal, the rhytm changes and you can now force the other to a position where it must move next to you. It's difficult to give exact instructions how to do it, but if you have some familiarity with board games like chess, it shouldn't be too difficult.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. The other rock moves after you move and will always stay diagonally across from you if he can. So if he is directly SE of you, and you move E, then he will move W such that he is now SW of you. If you go to the diagonal section and make the diagonal move and then chase him into the corner, then you can catch him.

      So, for instance if you chase him to the SE corner and you are one spot N and 2 spots W of that, then you go E (such that he is now directly SE of you before he moves), and he can only go N or W. So if he goes N, you go E and catch him. Or if he goes W, then you go S and catch him. Either way he is trapped.

    4. There are some good ideas here. I had worked out that part, and yet I cannot quite seem to get close enough to him AND in the upper-left corner. I'll much with this some more, but I have put hours into this already.

    5. Ha! I did it. I just ended up going through when we were at the diagonal and then just followed him until he made a mistake. That was enough.

  4. Anyone want to give me advice on the volcano? :)

    I should do a Request for Assistance, but I hope I can finish this game soon...

    1. It was almost inevitable you'd be stuck here :)

      1. Unir lbh rknzvarq gur cebcregvrf bs gur tbyq obk?
      2. Rfcrpvnyyl vafregvat phorf va vg? (Avpr cvpgherf, OGJ).
      3. Naq gura gnxvat n phor bhg bs gur obk naq oybeoyvat vg?
      4. Naq gura gelvat gb hfr gur pybfrq cnffntrf? Rfcrpvnyyl vs lbh'ir yrsg gur obk fbzrjurer ryfr?
      5. Pbhyq guvf uryc lbh va lbhe cerqvpnzrag?
      6. Cvpx n phor - nal phor - chg vg va obk naq gnxr vg bhg, guebj gur obk gb gur pebccvat, oybeoyr phor, gura hfr gur sbeovqqra cnffntr.

    2. Holy hell. That is unfair. I would not have thought of that in a million years.

    3. I think it's fair, if tough, to expect a player to discover that chggvat n phor va gur obk bcraf gur "zntvp" rkvg, since clearly you're meant to be using the box to identify the cubes (notice the design changes). I have no idea how one is meant to discover the fact that tbvat guebhtu gung rkvg gura gryrcbegf lbh gb gur ybpngvba bs gur obk.

      (not spoilers for you, Joe, since you're past this, but just in case anyone else out there playing along hasn't yet)

    4. Vg jbhyq unir orra unys-snve vs V unq xabja gung lbh pbhyq hfr gur obk gb vqragvsl gur phorf. V arire abgvprq naq V qba'g xabj jul va erthyne cynl lbh rire jbhyq unir nggrzcgrq gb chg bar va. (Ol gur gvzr lbh trg gur obk, lbh nyernql unir gur mvccre.)

      Zl orfg vqrn vf gung lbh fubhyq unir frra gur funcrf punatr jura lbh gbbx bhg gur jngre phor ng gur ortvaavat bs gur tnzr, uvagvat gung vg jnf erfcbafvir.

      V jbhyq ABG unir tbggra gur gryrcbegngvba. V unq orra abgvat gur rkgen rkvgf va rnpu phor orpnhfr V rkcrpgrq n chmmyr ng gur raq jurer lbh arrqrq gb "pbaarpg" gur phorf gbtrgure va fbzr jnl, naq gurl jbhyq vagreybpx guebhtu gubfr rkgen rkvgf. Boivbhfyl, V jnf irel jebat.

    5. My plan right now is to try to find a good place to quit for the week. I HOPE that since I am 74% of the way through right now I can finish up the game in two more posts. Already, it is one of the longer missed classics.

    6. I actually got this one without the hints. It's fairer than some of the other puzzles. The key is to really play with everything you get.

  5. very unfair puzzle in an otherwise great game IMHO