Sunday 19 April 2020

Eric the Unready – The Acceptably Decent Underground Empire

Written by TBD

Eric the Unready Fondor Bindlecrank Journal Entry #2: I'm well on the way to rescuing the princess. My magic banana worked, I think. It took me to the location of one of the items that Bud the Wizard told me I'd need to complete my quest. I had to pretend to be someone I wasn't, but with my cunning disguise, some people randomly giving me needed items and a little ingenuity, I now have the pitchfork I need. One down – four to go.

Greetings all. Hope you're doing well. This week I took a break from randomly reorganising all the rooms of my apartment and played a bit of Eric the Unready. Let's see what happened...

Day 3: Enchanted Forest – The Air Down There

After my magic banana had me dropped off at my next mission, I find myself in a cemetery.

The occupant of the sepulchre must have paid for an extremely long-term newspaper delivery before he died.

As has become standard in this game – I start my day by reading the paper. And as usual, the paper consists of an article about Eric's previous mission, another article or two about current events (all full of jokes, of course) and seven to ten classifieds which are mostly funny references to film, literature and the occasional historical figure, covering all bases from Homer and Shakespeare to Batman and Winnie the Pooh.

Call me Frank.

Looking at my inventory, I notice that I have my Tort-Ease back, even though I had used it all by trying to loosen the banana in the previous mission. In the comments of the previous post, Vetinari mentioned that the magic backpack I have puts items back in my inventory as a way of avoiding dead-ends. It's certainly not the most elegant of ways to do so – but there are weaknesses with all approaches. From my point of view, any way of avoiding dead-ends is better than just keeping the dead-ends in the game in the first place. The standard 'you don't want to use the Tort-Ease on that' is only a little better than letting me use it but magically giving it back to me. The magic gold piece from my last mission that just kept replacing itself whenever I spent it was a better dead-end avoidance solution as there's an in-game explanation. Anyway, enough about my magically reappearing Tort-Ease - back to the game.

Last time I didn't have time to investigate the new items in my inventory before being dragged to the cemetery so I do that now. I read my coupon and find out that it's “Good for 5 free acting lessons with the bard” and that my root beer float is still in my inventory and surprisingly not melted to nothingness by now.

The first thing I try is pushing or pulling at the sepulchre lid, and I'm unsuccessful. Because I'm convinced that it will be used to loosen something at some point, I also try my Tort-Ease, reloading my saved game after it doesn't work on the lid. Giving up, I move on.

Further into the forest, I find a tree with a face. I can't get past him as he trips me with his roots whenever I try to pass, but I can talk to him.

This is the second game in a row we've played that's referenced Halley's Comet!

I happen to be stopped by the most sarcastic tree in the forest.

Seeing as this is only the second screen in this section and I can't think of anything to do, I just randomly offer all my items to the tree one at a time.

I didn't get the joke until I was looking at my screenshots for the purpose of writing this, but I finally worked it out – it's ROOT BEER so it gets the tree roots drunk!

Past the newly-rooted tree, I find what I'm looking for, sort of.

I'm sure I would have tried moving the branches based on the description alone, but this picture makes it rather obvious what my next move should be.

So the tree is growing upside down. That's an enchanted forest for you. As I descend below the carefully hidden trap door, my screen changes to an all-text view – at first I thought I'd accidentally pressed one of the function keys, until I started reading.

This part of the game references Zork a lot.

The text-only view is one of the options for playing the game. If you're playing in that view, you won't get the joke here.

After reading the mail from the mailbox, I'm put back into normal picture view, and find out that the mail is a standard sweepstakes prize letter from the Dwarves' Clearing House.

Joe Pranevich spent a lot more time adventuring in this house than I did.

I can't go back the way I came from because of a scary spiked turnstile – a sign next to it states “Do not back up. Severe hero damage!” Ignoring the turnstile for now, I go west and end up in a huge underground cavern. The cavern consists of two shops and the top of the upside-down tree – way too high for me to reach.

Just because it's obviously too high to reach, doesn't mean I shouldn't try anyway

With two store options, I go to the rock store first and find a guy with a loud plaid shirt and moving hands.

This guy reminds me of someone else from another adventure game.

The adventure game references are coming thick and fast in this game. I like a good pop culture reference, so I'm happy.

The shop contains two rocks that are different from the others (i.e. actionable). There is a starter rock worth twenty zonkmids and the much expensiver headrest special.

I'm guessing the NSGUE is the Not So Great Underground Empire

Not having any money, I leave Fran's store. As I go, he gives me a free miner's starter kit (pickaxe) which I'm sure will become useful.

I go to the publisher's clearing house next, where I get many options to make jokes about the proprieter's appearance.

In Eric the Unready, I don't think the fourth wall existed in the first place.

I give Ed McDwarf my mail, which he will happily exchange for a prize, as long as I can prove I'm Mister Fondor Bindlecrank.

Obi-Wan Kenobi wouldn't have a problem with this puzzle

I think the game's humour and extensive parser is rubbing off on me. I've enjoyed doing multiple things in one line that I knew wouldn't serve a practical purpose. On this occasion, it was GIVE MAIL TO DWARF THEN DANCE. It wasn't useful, but it was damn fun!

I go back to the white house, figuring that my pickaxe could help me through the door, but first have another go at getting past the turnstile.

I loved this. The game actually did completely stop for ten seconds before continuing with the “There. Now don't do it again.” line.

After I finished laughing, I shipribbed the wooden boards with my pickaxe, then went inside. The inside of the white house shows me a beard in a trophy case, and a rug. I move the rug to reveal a trap door, which I open.

Once again, the game gives me an easy, nonsensical solution to a puzzle. Funny, but not a shining example of adventure game puzzle solving skills.

I open the trophy case with my new key, then get my beard, a little disappointed I couldn't make my own beard out of an itchy cat, some sticky tape and a black marker.

Upstairs is a pile of human bones with a dwarven driver's license in them (why?)

The ID is for Fondor Bindlecrank, but he's too small and bearded for Eric to match. I've got the fake beard sorted, but I'm hoping to either get smaller somehow or edit the ID to make it closer to human size. But in case it works anyway, I try using the ID without altering my height.

But last night you assured me size doesn't matter...

With no clear plan, I go back to all possible locations (there are only five potential locations in this section at the moment) and find that Fran has new dialogue options, but nothing actually helpful to my quest.

This is the second time you've talked about this cousin you don't want to talk about.

One of the options in the dialogue is about the balloons. Fran tells me that a dwarf had already tried to get the pitchfork with the balloons, but as balloons and pitchforks don't mix well all he got was a lovely headstone.

I go back and try once more to do something with the spiked turnstile.

This was by far the funniest part of the game so far for me. I loved how the game also greyed out the north section of the map icon.

I keep trying things with the game continuing to reiterate that the things I'm trying to do won't help.

Even when it was being this clear, I still thought the balloons might be useful. I just think I have trust issues with game narrators.

Despite the fact I feel this game is very easy in general, I was really stuck here. I tried lots of things and it took me an embarrassing amount of time before I noticed one of the verbs on the left menu... KNEEL!

Now, if this was a pure text adventure without suggestion verbs I'd probably still be stuck here.

Anyway, I went back outside the Publisher's Clearing House, knelt, wore my beard and went in with my ID to redeem my all-expenses paid day at the magic Dwarven Theme Park, which is immediately and magically constructed in the cavern outside.

A big ferrous wheel stands in the middle of the cavern, and there are some new areas available. I first try southwest and find another text adventure reference, a maze of twisty passages, all alike.

Once again, I'm blatantly given an item I need, like the key in the white house trapdoor.

Any other time I go to the maze I just get lost and end up back in the cavern, with nobody else randomly giving me stuff. Looks like that direction was a one-time thing.

Back in the cavern, I pull the lever, sit in the ferrous wheel, and press the button to turn it on.

The test specifically points out the lever and it's included it in the graphics on the otherwise empty ground. Hmmm.

Anyway, despite many attempts at trying things on the pitchfork, I can't do anything with it yet, so I check out the other direction I haven't been yet.

We all probably recognise the game of Memory. Should be simple enough.

I lose a lot at the memory game. The dwarf is quite good, but fortunately not perfect. I was a little concerned he might have the memory of a computer at first, but he screws up enough that I eventually won after about 15 minutes. I could have easily cheated myself by taking screenshots every move but I tried doing it fairly seeing as the dwarf wasn't using his computing powers to beat me and I enjoy a little puzzling.

Now that I've won a slingshot and a random stranger has given me 20 zonkmids, I go back to buy a starter rock from the rock emporium. There's a free bungee cord with every purchase for... well, just because, really.

I go back to the ferrous wheel and try various ways to shoot either the pitchfork or the lever with my new slingshot and rock.

History lesson: The game keeps calling it a 'ferrous wheel' and I assumed I must have been wrong thinking it was spelled 'ferris wheel' all my life. Ferrous made sense, as they were probably originally made from iron, but a quick trip to Wikipedia tells me that the wheel is named after its designer, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. Calling the wheel 'ferrous' is likely a joke from the game's writers, but if it is, it's gone right over my head.

Note: SHOOT LEVER WITH SLINGSHOT while the wheel is at its lower position gives me a WITH WHAT? YOUR FINGER? Response. This annoys me a little.

Now that I'm closer to the pitchfork and I've stopped the wheel from moving, I stand, then take the pitchfork. And of course, now I'm stuck at the top of the wheel without a spare rock. Thankful for my free bonus bungee cord, I tie the cord to the tree and jump.

Seems the Pitchfork of Damocles has had the dwarves feeling like they're living under the Sword of Damocles. Ah, I get it now - I feel so stupid.

Now that I'm the hero of the dwarves (or dwarfs, if you pluralise like Snow White) I take my reward of a two foot high rock and go back to the white house's upstairs, where the attic was two feet too high for me to get to.

Eric isn't scared – he knows gnus are herbivores, but a more important issue is why the game lets me read the Bunge-o-matic fine print while I'm in the pitch dark?

I can't see, but I notice a stone slab above me. I started to get cold sweats at the thought of typing this, but I typed... gulp... push slab. (to see why I have post traumatic stress related to pushing slabs, feel free to read here.)

I like that Eric understands that a deadly blaze and destruction signifies a completed quest.

Something else I only noticed because I was looking at old screenshots in order to write, was that I had already been told about the mystic types who ran away dropping torches as I climbed out of the sarcophagus way back when I read the morning paper.

I found this extremely subtle and clever - particularly the reference to the fans who 'carry a torch' for the singer before I found people who freaked out and 'drop their torches' as I climbed out of the sepulchre. And I would have missed it completely if I had just been playing the game for fun!

As has also become standard at the end of each day/quest, we get our next cutscene with the Queen and Sir Pectoral. They discuss their plans for the future. The Queen plans to transform the kingdom into her warped idea of progress.

Maybe old King Fudd is actually the villain of this place, keeping his people in the dark ages and avoiding technological progress.

After the Queen's little vision of the future, I'm starting to get a Monty Python and the Holy Grail vibe about the land this story takes place in. I won't say any more to avoid spoiling a 45 year old movie.

Okay. the Queen is clearly still the villain. But her ideas of progress aren't evil - any future that includes a McDonald's can't be all bad.

I'll be back next week after another week of finding weird things in the back of cupboards I haven't opened in years.

Strangely, I barely spent any time in the actual Enchanted Forest in this quest. Most of my adventuring was done under the forest. And I also noticed that the magic banana that was supposed to take me to each of my quest locations is no longer with me. It seems that rather than deliberately taking myself to each location, coincidence will randomly bring me where I need to be next after I burn down my previous quest location. In fact, maybe I was wrong about the Queen - maybe Eric is the bad guy - burning down the entire kingdom one location at a time. Keep tuned to find out what Eric the Unready unintentionally burns down next.

Session time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 55 minutes
Score: 195 out of 1000 (in 532 turns)
Inventory: backpack, bungee cord, coupon, book, Tort-Ease, Pitchfork of Damocles

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. I agree that the turnstile joke was hilarious! My favourite of the game, by far.

    I'm starting to get a Monty Python and the Holy Grail vibe about the land this story takes place in.

    You'll love the next part, then...

    1. I've played (and enjoyed) the next part, but the Holy Grail vibe I was getting was more that I suspect this game might be taking place in the modern day with all the characters being lunatics living in a fantasy world.

  2. I completely missed the Root Beer AND the Damocles jokes, so you can feel a bit better there. On the other hand I was able to guess the "kneel" part without checking the verbs.

    One other thing they did to help you was make the beard itch. I was stuck for the rock until I removed it in the amusement park, you don't get the money if you're still wearing it.

    And if this was a democracy (or an autonomous collective) the "bad" queen would have gotten my vote too, she might not be the prettiest face but her urban planning policies have me won over. Lovely GIF by the way!

    1. Glad I'm not the only one missing jokes on the first pass. And I definitely would have spent the rest of the game kneeling with a fake beard if the game didn't point out that I was itchy and make me stand when my legs got tired.

    2. Eric removes the beard automatically after some time as he cannot stand the itch.

      I liked the kneeling puzzle (although I solved it easily); it's the kind of puzzle that shows the strengths of parsers. No stumbling onto the solution by trying everything on everything, just one creative action! Also, I usually have the screen in F3 mode (verb and item lists hidden in favour of more space for narration text) so I didn't even see "kneel" listed.


  3. It is subtle, but in the animated screenshot, there looks to be the distinctive orange roof of a vintage Howard Johnson's restaurant. These were (mostly) long gone by the time that this game was released in 1993, but clearly someone has fond memories.

    1. At the time the game was released was just about when the chain started it's downhill slide -- but there were still about 100 or so left at that time.

      I grew up just a couple of hours from the last surviving one, still open now. Never been there, however.

    2. And the Howard Johnson reference doesn't stop there, as we find out in the next chapter. :)

  4. Calling the wheel 'ferrous' is likely a joke from the game's writers, but if it is, it's gone right over my head.

    I can't tell if you're going for the obvious joke or not, since you're in a place for dwarves, quite a lot would go over your head ;)

    But yes, I think it's an obvious joke, as dwarves would be mining for metals, such as iron.

    1. I wasn't going for an obvious joke, but I'm glad you did because it made me laugh.

  5. Kinda belated, but I just began playing this today and finished the NSGUE section. It's been fine so far - even if the fourth wall jokes and references became too much for me in this section, it's been fun enough. My favourite gag is the classified by C. Robin! Also, I love the twist that the designated villain has a plan that (to me it seems) is actually for the benefit of the land.