Friday 14 June 2019

Missed Classic: Reality Ends – WON! and Final Rating

by Will Moczarski

Prologue: Second Session

My second session of Reality Ends was remarkably uneventful. I tried some new things with all of my items but putting in an hour got me nowhere. Another obstacle was the savegame feature. My TRS-80 emulator sometimes did not recognize my file names (or rather tape names) but didn’t tell me about it until I tried to restore my saved states. I decided to rough it in order to get the original feeling but that was really time-consuming as every wrong move (and there are many of them) led me back to the beginning. In the end, I didn’t even need my notes to get the food, feed the dog, get the umbrella, get the diamonds after using the umbrella, get the horse, jump across the ravine, get the mail, get the rope, throw the rope, climb the rope, get the plants, pay for the polish with the plants, buy guns and finally pay for them with the diamonds. In the end, I only achieved a couple new things: I was able to pick up the gold and recruit the marksmen in the town of Rayor. When I tried to attack the town of Margon now, I was still crushed. The VOCAB command soon became my best friend. I spent a lot of time dabbling with the “place” command (especially “place marksmen” which seemed like a martial thing to do) before figuring out that it’s just a synonym for “drop”. Dropping the marksmen caused them to disappear into thin air, however, although I was able to recruit them indefinitely as long as I had the gold. Using items, even for payment, doesn’t make you drop them or lose them which seems a bit counterintuitive – it makes things a lot easier, though. Oh, and I rolled the log, revealing a metal box. Its top is welded shut, though, so that just turned into another puzzle.

Without a clue what to do next I checked out my trusty 1981 Med Systems catalog once again. The description of Reality Ends came with three sort-of clues and one major disappointment: Apparently, it was marketed as a game for beginners. Also, the “clues” were not clues per se but rather bits and pieces hinting at the plot. They only confirmed my suspicions that I had to attack the city of Margon to free the Amulet of Sangi and recruit the fanatic hordes “to aid my quest”.

I hate “easy” games. They are likely to make me feel stupid.

After consulting the catalog, I made a list of unsolved puzzles and unused items. I wanted to recruit the fanatics, get the book of lore from the minotaur, drink or take the stein in the tavern, successfully attack the city of Margon and open the mysterious metal box – apart from the likely endgame of destroying the citadel at Baldir. So far, I had found no use for the bone, the cloak, the guns, the polish, and the staff. Some assumptions I made at this point later turned out to be completely wrong: For example, I thought I’d have to read the book of lore to the fanatics to win them over. Also, I thought that I’d surely have to slay the dragon somehow.


The Winner Takes It All?: Third Session

My subsequent third session is more successful, although in the beginning I am still stuck in the tavern. Every attempt to drink the brew results in another death. At this point, I decide to fix the savegame feature – and it works smoothly from now on. I create a ‘status quo’ savegame and this really does the trick for me as I am able to experiment more. And the dog actually turns out to be the key item.

In most adventure games there are “but I’ve already tried that” moments – we all know them and loathe them. My Reality Ends moment is when I pick up the sword once more after just having fed the dog for the umpteenth time. The reply startles me. “AS YOU APPROACH, THE DOG HOLDS OFF THE DRAGON!” The sword is mine. I could swear that this was not my first attempt at this but apparently I’m wrong. Also, it’s a nice play on Adventure’s (1978) famous Bird vs. Snake fight.

Once more, I recruit the marksmen and attack Margon – the sword must be good for something, right? I also wear the mail for good measure but still no luck on the battlefield. Moreover, I am told that gunpowder does not burn “in this world”. Hmm, but what does? This must be a clue and I don’t seem to have picked up on it last time I tried this.

I head to Mandar next, the town of fanatics. When I type “kill leader” while having the sword and the mail equipped, I am more successful: “YOU JOIN IN BATTLE! HE IS EASILY DEFEATED! THE FANATICS WILL NOW FOLLOW YOU TO THE DEATH!” Have I just killed Khal Drogo? The plot thickens. If you don’t wear the mail, and I would eventually forget to equip it on a subsequent playthrough, you die from a chestwound although the game commends you for your swordmanship – a Pyrrhic victory for morale.

When I restore another savegame, something strange happens. I get stuck in an alternate gameworld in which required items are lying around unguarded but the game appears to be unsolvable in this state because the world has no infrastructure and you cannot even see your own location on the minimap. I discover that this only happens when I forget to rewind the tape with the savegame but it’s a rather curious bug.

Now that I have the fanatics and the marksmen in my inventory (talk about limits), I attack Margon once again – but once again I fail miserably. This is when I decide to brute force it. I’ve noticed that “use polish” always triggers the same response: “YOU CAN’T DO THAT … YET”. At first I had thought that “yet” would be an indication of this not being the right time to use the polish but as time and place have been shuffled around in this strange new dissolving reality, what if it’s not the right place? The answer is elegant while my approach is boorish – because the gameworld is made up of alternate universes, time and place are indeed connected and “yet” thus hints at the right place/time combination instead of just the right time. My strategy is, and I’m ashamed to confess that, to “use polish” on each and every screen with an item or a city on it. In Tel-Aviv this gets me “jeweller’s polish instead of gunpowder”. Arrgh!!

I was never really bothered by the generous 400-move time limit but Ilmari wanted to see the “bad ending” – getting there felt like grinding and I’ll let him be the judge on whether it was worth it.

At this point I don’t know what I missed but I’ll figure it out soon enough. However, the polish is not enough to change my fortunes of war. As I’m still out of fresh ideas, I try to use some of the other items on every probable screen in case I’ve overlooked something else. And again I’m “sure” that I’ve tried wearing the cloak everywhere but when I try it again on the screen with the minotaur, I’m able to get his book of lore: “FUNNY...THE MINOTAUR DOES NOT SEEM TO SEE YOU!” Yes, game, very funny. This is it – I am devastated. I even restart the whole game to grab the cloak first thing and try it again to prove that I’m not crazy...but it turns out I must be. It had been my idea all along that the cloak would make me invisible, but somehow I must have messed this up on previous attempts.

Anyway, it’s nice to have the book of lore, although there is only one word that stands out when I read it: “CIMAL.” This must be a magic word in the tradition of Adventure which was, incredibly, only two years old by the time Reality Ends was released. I can’t use it yet, though. Or rather: here. Why do I know that there are magic words in this game? My everlasting VOCAB(FF) friend tells me so: “Oh dear! Magic words refused to print!”

Final Playthrough

As I still don’t have any success with either the stein or the city, I start a whole new playthrough. And this will be the one. Why? Because I finally abandon the notion that all items are single-use although so far it sure seemed like they were. At first I fumble around with the items I haven’t needed other than using them as payment – gold, diamonds, plants, food. Eating the plants results in a strange message: “TASTES BITTER, BUT AT LEAST IT DID NOT KILL ME.” Hmm, but what DID kill me? Right, the stein! Off to the tavern I go. Initially I’m disappointed once again because my first idea is that I will be able to poison the brew somehow by adding the plants to it and offering the stein to either the keeper or the thugs. However, some more fumbling (notice the pattern?) gets me through: I can first eat the plants, then survive drinking the brew: “YOU GET HEARTBURN BUT DO NOT DIE. THE KEEPER IS IN FEAR FOR HIS MISERABLE LIFE.” Can I kill him now? No, the thugs still rip me to pieces. But I can finally keep the bloody stein. It’s about time, too.

The new playthrough also makes it necessary that I purchase the guns once more. This time I notice that there’s a secondary parser prompt asking me if I have “any special instructions?” That does strike me as odd, and I take it to be the reason why “use polish” worked on this particular screen. Maybe there's another special instruction that could be useful?

I’ll have to thank Ron Gilbert for this next part. Ron Gilbert, you say? But he won’t be in the adventure game business for another seven years! That is true, but as an avid player of The Secret of Monkey Island, I've got the idea that the stein must be used as a vessel for the acid rain (aka grog) almost right away. Now that the plants have confirmed my suspicion that items (or environments) are potentially relevant multiple times, the whole game opens up in a different way to me. When I attempt to fill the stein with acid rain, it unceremoniously kills me. I have to recover the umbrella once more – which is not as easy as it sounds because I’ve already dumped it somewhere – but then it works. The next part is in keeping with my Monkey Island train of thought: There are no prison locks in this game so it must be the box I have to pour the grog, er, acid on. On the road to my success, I still have to suffer through some parser-wrestling, though: “Pour stein” does not work and “Use stein” tells me that I can’t do that...yet. Time to check out the old beloved VOCAB section again. I’ll be damned if it doesn’t say POUR right there. Maybe my Monkey Island association has led me astray? No, it’s the damn parser, although the solution is kind of forgivable. The sequence at the tavern has taught me that I cannot drink the stein itself but rather have to address its contents: drink brew. This seems rather logical. In the same vein, “pour acid” does the trick: “THE ACID DISSOLVES THE WELDS. THERE IS SILVER INSIDE!” Nice, more treasure.

Reality begins?

Sooo...silver. Is there someone I haven’t paid yet? Only one riddle left and after that I’m probably headed for the boss already. But how can I overthrow the city? I just don't know. At some point, I try “using” the silver in the tavern, hoping to recruit one of those thugs after all. You can not do that... yet. Wait, where did I read that before? Right, when I tried to use the polish everywhere but...Tel-Aviv! There are MORE instructions? That's nasty!

I'd discovered multiple uses for objects but having to perform an action several times without being prompted to do so ALWAYS gets me off track in adventure games. Always! I hate it when they do that. Tel-Aviv is happy to help: “You got it. Silver bullets only.” Fortunately, Margon is conveniently close, and...the final riddle is solved. And “the best Israeli weapons” (seriously, game?!) provide me with the amulet. Finally.

Okay, now I can do what I’ve been wanting to do from the very beginning: follow the ONLY hint the in-game hint section has to offer. When you enter “HINT”, it merely tells you to “enter” the road that leads you to Baldir. Thanks for nothing, game.

The endgame is totally anti-climactic. There are only two items I haven’t found a use for: the staff and the bone. As I know a magic word now (and nothing else lets me interact with Baldir’s citadel at all), I just use it right away. “Say Cimal” does the trick, and the rest is history. Another city falls, just like that. Call me Daenerys Targaryen, will you? Although it's a bit embarrassing that I needed a dog to fend off that dragon…

You gotta deal with reality / Almighty reality / Sing it, James Brown

By the way, Jason Dyer recently played through Reality Ends on his amazing Renga in Blue blog. You should definitely check out his playthrough of the game, like I know I will when I’m done here, as his posts are always very enlightening and I enjoy them a lot. It’s a brilliant blog altogether, so if you’re interested in adventure games and/or interactive fiction, you should definitely check it out!

Session time: 1 hour + 2 hours
Total time: 3 hours 40 minutes

Final Rating

Although I did not enjoy Reality Ends as much as I enjoyed Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth, I reckon that the PISSED rating will be more lenient here. The two previous games got really low ratings that didn’t reflect my actual enjoyment. They were much more challenging, but in a good way, whereas Reality Ends turned out to be a lot shorter and ultimately less interesting.

Puzzles and Solvability – 4.

I really liked that the game used its story metaphor for one of the puzzles (“you cannot do that...yet”). Many of the other puzzles were much more conventional, but apart from the unforgivable sin of making me repeat the same action several times (special instructions for the gun dealers of Tel-Aviv) they were not particularly frustrating which is saying much considering the game was released in 1980.

Interface and Inventory – 4.

The two-word parser is rather simple but I didn’t struggle with it too much. One exception was the “pour acid” incident but actually that was a game mechanic I could have learned from an earlier example. I liked the VOCAB function a lot since it made things much easier and avoided “guess the word” games right from the start. Also, the hint at the magic words helped me enormously to understand the endgame (which was a bit on the easy side altogether). The inventory limit is generous and you get by without hoarding all the items in one place – which can’t be said about many Infocom games. For a 1980 game, all of this is remarkable – as I am rating the game as a “missed classic” and not as an entry on the regular list, it’s only a 4, though.

Story and Setting – 2.

The story is interesting but not really relevant for the game. It’s like a foreshadowing of Infocom’s Sorcerer without the jokes and that game does not exactly boast one of Infocom’s stronger plots. What I really liked about the story is that it’s not a treasure hunt. In 1980, most adventure games were simply “collect all XXX and take them to the chest located at YYY”. The plot of Reality Ends is basically the ‘Daenerys at Essos’ section of Game of Thrones, and apparently some people enjoyed that.

Sound and Graphics – 0.

One point for the mini-map? No? You’re right, I already spent that on the “Interface” section.

Environment and Atmosphere – 1.

The game is not particularly well-written which will also affect the last category but also makes it hard to fall in love with its environment. Most room (or rather: parallel universe) descriptions are very similar to one another which helps with the whole metaphorical premise of the game but still doesn’t exactly endear the player to it.

Dialog and Acting – 1.

Med Systems authors, I still don’t like being called a “dolt”. Apart from that, the game doesn’t overly rely on its prose but puts the emphasis on its puzzles which gives it a very modern feel for a 1980 adventure. On the other hand, as a work of interactive fiction it kind of falls short in this category.

That’s 4+4+2+0+1+1/.6 = 20.

The adjusted SPIED rating for IF games (no sound & graphics) would be: 24.

This feels about right compared to Deathmaze 5000 (18 points) and Labyrinth (20 points). Although they got really low ratings, I enjoyed them a lot but the PISSED rating is not exactly made for games like them. Reality Ends is more like one of the shorter games reviewed on the blog so it might be comparable to Merry Christmas from Melbourne House (12 points) or A Spell of Christmas Ice (15 EGGNOG points).

That said, TBD got the win with his guess of 22 points. Congrats, mate!


  1. The whole shtick of parellel universes reminds me of the Chronicles of Amber (by Roger Zelazny), and the link between "jeweller’s polish instead of gunpowder" seems to reinforce that. Its first series was released between 1970 and 1978, so that fits. It's a great series so no shame in being inspired by that!

    The series also has its own text adventure that may be interesting for this blog -

    1. We've barely dipped our toes into Telarium games thus far, with our only pass at one being "The Scoop" early in the second life of this blog. (It was Missed Classic #4) I have an interest in that entire series due to my love of licensed games, but I likely won't get to them any time soon (although someone else might).

    2. That sounds very likely! Thank you for the heads up, I'd never have known about it otherwise.

    3. @Joe: The Telarium games are indeed worthy of a marathon of its own. Oh well, maybe someday...

  2. As soon as I saw the 'gunpowder doesn't burn here' message it was obviously an Amber reference, further confirmed when the polish became jewelers polish.

    1. Thank you for that - I wouldn't have known about this as I've never read Zelazny (yet).

  3. Freebie alert! Toonstruck for free on Hurry up though, seems like it will be gone soon.


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