Monday, 20 July 2020

Missed Classic: Moonmist - Unfinished Business

Written by Joe Pranevich



Moonmist is an almost-unique experiment in the Infocom canon, a “replayable” game that featured four different mysteries to solve in one convenient package. As we have seen, the end result didn’t quite live up to the promise and it is presently the lowest-rated game so far in this marathon. We could compare Moonmist’s approach with Cutthroats, for example-- the former placed more puzzles in the same space, while the latter provided separate areas to explore in its variants-- but neither approach was completely satisfying.

Although we played through the four cases, I have since discovered that Moonmist aspired to much more. In 2019, the source code for most of the Infocom adventures was leaked online. That has been a treasure trove of information for the last few entries in this series, especially Trinity where I was able to look at original design documents and trace the development of the game from concept to execution. In Moonmist’s case, these sources reveal that not only were two additional cases nearly completed (“violet” and “orange” variants), but also that the game was to feature gendered variations in all six scavenger hunts. Moonmist was intended to be twelve games in one, not just four!

I’d like to wrap up Moonmist (and 1986) by looking at the game that might have been, if Lawrence and Galley just had a bit more time-- or a bit more RAM. I’ll look at the two new cases first before taking a look at the changes planned for the four that we already played. Who else was a murderer?


The Case of the Crooked Art Dealer (Orange)

Before I begin, I should clarify that these final cases are fragmentary. While enough of the code is in place (or commented out) to get a decent view, we are missing dialogs, the epilogue, and potentially other details that would have been added before release. This is an incomplete snapshot of what could have been, not a playable module. It should at least give us an idea of what they were building.

The introduction to the “orange” case appears to have played out the same as the others. The first major clue would come, as usual, from the butler. He would have provided three critical pieces of information:
If I may express an opinion, our ghost must need reading glasses. The hall was ablaze with lights, yet it was bending down, groping blindly for something on the marble floor. And, I might add, it must also be left-handed. You see, Ms. Doe, while bending over, the figure was using its left hand to grope with. I tried it myself, as did other servants, and we agree that such behavior indicates left-handedness.
To be frank, Ms. Doe, I was quite taken aback when I saw the ghost. I'm afraid I just stood there for a moment, gaping at it stupidly. Then when it found whatever it was looking for, it stood up, flashed me a startled glance, and fled into the darkness of the Drawing Room.
This would be the third case with a contact lens as a critical clue, but now we have an additional note that the ghost was left-handed. This may have inspired us to work out the handedness of each of the guests, but I have no idea how to do that. There is no code anywhere in the final game that suggested handedness for any of the guests. Also notice that this time the ghost found what he was looking for!

The maid’s note after dinner would provide the next big clue. Thankfully, it isn’t a repeat: “I like a pretty picture meself, but at least I know what's mine and what's not.”

From there, we could eventually determine that Mr. Hyde, the antiques dealer, was masquerading as the ghost. We would have discovered the contact lens case and a “museum report” in his room. The report would reveal that a painting that had been sent to the London Museum for sale was a forgery. Hyde had swapped the real painting for a fake at some point in the past, while he was “cleaning” it. He sold the original on the black market. Presumably, Lionel figured this out and Hyde killed him before he could go to the police. Hyde then “haunted” the castle to snag additional art for illicit resale. Exactly why he would have gone after Tamara is unclear and may have had something to do with her cataloging Lord Lionel’s papers. I cannot be positive that I have all of the details correct without the epilogue text, but it seems a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence.



While this was going on, we should also have been searching for Lionel’s hidden artefact. Our target would be “the gold headdress of a Pharaoh's daughter, in the shape of a coiled cobra”. The first two clues would be distributed at dinner as usual, but unlike in the published cases they are gendered. That is, there would have been a different solution to the scavenger hunt whether you played as a man (or unknown) or as a woman.

1st Clue Female:
“A coiled cobra weaving its head in time to a snake charmer's flute music.”
1st Clue Male:
“A woman with yellow headband standing in front of the Sphinx.”
2nd Clue Female:
"If Cleopatra ruled the Nile, who ruled the waves -- and what did they have in common?"
2nd Clue Male:
"Know ye that a woman may proudly flaunt her crowning glory, but the wise man keeps his under his hat.”
Unfortunately, that is all we have. There are no records of where these clues would have inspired you to look or of third or fourth clues. All we have is the solution: the headdress would have been found either in the armor in the New Great Hall (if male) or on a statue of Britannia in the Old Great Hall (if female). The latter statue is one of a handful of items that were removed from the final game before completion. 


Like this but with a Pharaoh's headdress.

The Case of the Redirected Affection (Violet)

The final case feels even more fragmentary than the previous, although the plot beats are clear enough. The opening plays like before with the butler revealing the first real clue. You will be shocked to learn that it is another “red gem lost in the carpet” clues; I am disappointed that there were ultimately only two variants of this initial mystery planned, but at least Mr. Hyde was able to recover his lens successfully.

The maid’s clue after dinner was unique: “I lay a wager meself now and again, but at least I use me own money.” We clearly have someone with a gambling debt, but who?

Searching and interviewing, we would have learned that Ian regularly wears an earring, but he’s not wearing one tonight:
Suddenly [someone] exclaims, "Why, Ian! Isn't this that jewel you wear in one ear? I seem to recall you had it on at dinner just last night!"
Fordyce looks startled and a trifle embarrassed. "By jove, perhaps you're right!"
He fingers his left ear lobe and appears surprised to discover that the jewel is no longer there.
"Must have dropped off just a few minutes ago. I put it on when I dressed for dinner. Thanks very much for finding it"
I’m surprised to see Ian, a socialite and member of an elite ceremonial military unit, sporting an earring. Was that common in the 1980s? Doing some Googling, I discover the “earring code” of the era. Straight men apparently wore earrings in their left ear, while gay men wore them in the right. I have no idea if the authors were thinking about this, but I suppose it means that Ian is straight. Note that he claims that he didn’t notice that he lost it; that doesn’t work with the butler’s clue if he was explicitly searching for it. He’d also have to be dumb enough to wear an easily recognizable earring while dressed as a ghost! Despite the plot hole, Ian is the ghost and we have to determine why.

If we searched his room, we would discover a note to him from Lord Jack. That would reveal that Ian had racked up gambling debts. Jack offered to pay them off, but only if Ian would “take Deirdre off [his] hands”. This could be read either as asking Ian to woo Deirdre again or asking him to kill her. Fortunately, the narrator (!!) interjects here and says that “it clearly shows how Ian wanted to break up Tamara's romance." Yes, the text says “Tamara” and not “Deirdre”. Is this a typo? The clue doesn’t fit the crime and I don’t see an easy way to have it make sense. If the narrator meant Deirdre, then it confirms that Jack merely wanted Ian to woo her rather than kill her. If the narrator meant Tamara, that provides some justification for why Ian is dressing up as a ghost to scare her, but it doesn’t connect at all with finding the gambling debt clue. Ultimately, I’m not satisfied that either makes complete sense.

Being as generous as possible, the best I can guess is that Jack had Ian wrapped around his little finger (thanks to his gambling debts) and used him to help the lady-chasing socialite to rotate through women. When Jack was done wooing each girl in turn, he would have Ian arrange for them to break up in one way or the other. That way, Jack’s reputation would remain stellar and he could go after the next pretty girl. I almost want to bring the earring into the picture and suggest that maybe Ian was secretly fond of Jack; perhaps that is why he was so easily manipulated by him? As the case has no epilogue, we cannot know for sure. I’m eager to hear your theories in the comments below.

The scavenger hunt for this case is also less complete than in the previous. Like before, it is gendered, but the second clue merely has a note in the code that they had not yet decided on the “female” clue. Here are the clues that we have:

1st Clue - Female:
“A pigeon in flight, shot by an arrow and dripping blood.”
1st Clue - Male:
"A wintry park scene, with a thinly clad mother holding her baby and shivering violently. A voice balloon from her mouth says, ‘BR-R-R-R!’ A reddish pigeon is perched on a frozen fountain nearby."
2nd Clue - Male:
"’Too much card-playing again!’ It's a cartoon of a red-eyed woozy rhino, clad in rumpled evening clothes and holding both front hoofs painfully to its head, obviously ‘coming to’ after a night's hard drinking with glasses and bottles nearby."
I have no idea how these riddles would have played out, but the solution at least is in the code. The target would have been a “pigeon’s blood ruby” and it would have been hidden either in the stained glass window in the chapel (for the female version) or as the eye of the taxidermied rhino in the game room (in the male version).


This scavenger hunt looks more fun.

More Scavenger Hunts!

As we saw with the unfinished cases, the original plan for Moonmist involved twice as many versions of the scavenger hunt, with each clue and solution depending on whether you were playing as male or female. These ideas were not fully excised in the release product-- the “red” variant (in error?) still has gendered versions of the first clue-- but even in that case the final location of the artifact remained the same.

There is not enough information to really know what was intended. For example, we have alternate-gender riddles for the first and second clues in all cases, but none remain for the third and fourth. Does that mean that earlier versions included two clues instead of four or simply that the remaining riddles were not written yet? Two more “clue-like” objects were also commented out and in a separate source file: a drawing that we would have found in Lionel’s desk and a piece of art in the gallery. The drawing is roughly the same as the first clue in each case, while the art suggested where Lionel may have pilfered the artifact from. For example, the art in the “red” variant would have been a battle scene from the Boer War. It seems likely that there were different visions for these scavenger hunts at different times.

To try to sort this out, I will focus first on the “red” variant. That version has the most surviving extra detail and may have been a good example of what the others would have eventually been like. In each case below, I will notate the clue included in the final game with an asterisk (*).


A painting, not in the final game, depicts the Battle of Blood River (1838).

Red Scavenger Hunt

As in the finished product, the first clue is always hidden under the punchbowl in the dining room:

1st Clue - Female:
“The King of Spades, holding a sceptre.” (*)
1st Clue - Male:
“The King of Clubs in one corner, with a picture of an African chief holding a war club; in the other corner is a King of Diamonds with a picture of a crowned vulture clutching a diamond.”
Both clues hint at the war club as the artifact to search for. The extra “King of Diamonds” line in the male clue was double commented; it may have been removed prior to the rest of the clue being removed. In any event, the male “King of Clubs” hint is much more on-the-nose than what we saw in the final product.

Lionel arranged to give the second clue to Vivien and it again differs whether you are male or female. Despite the code being written to allow a different party guest to start off with the second clue, all other variations will have Jack with it. Only in the “red” version does Lionel give the starting clue to a different guest.

2nd Clue - Female:
“It’s curtains for anyone who gets in the way of this!”
2nd Clue - Male:
“Forbidden fruit tempted the very first lass.
'Twas once in a garden but now in a glass.” (*)
An alternate male clue is commented out:
"Look here, friend!" on an inscribed photo of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with his famous umbrella, returning from his meeting with Hitler at Munich. The last stroke of the pen points to the umbrella."
The double second clue is curious because it suggests that you could have gone to the umbrella stand immediately. This supports the assumption that an earlier version would have had only two clues each. The real second clue in the game pointed you first to the stained glass window and then to the garden in the center of the hedge maze. The final clue was the name “CAIN” (to keep the biblical allusions) and from there we might guess that we were searching for a “cane”.

In the female solution, the clues would have led us to a curtain rod in Jack’s room. As with the cane, we would need to remove Jack’s draperies to reveal the diamond-studded war club as the treasure it was. It might be tempting to see the “cane” (male) vs “curtain rod” (female) difference as a sign that the authors intended (in a sexist way, perhaps) to slant the clues towards male or female expectations. Fortunately, none of the other gender changes are quite that potentially offensive.


Perhaps not the Mandalay you were expecting.

Blue Scavenger Hunt

Even in the released game, the blue variant is perhaps the least complete. It is the only one of the cases to have only three clues instead of four. The artifact this time is a fossilized skull. In the released game (and the male path), it was hidden in the bell on the roof. In the incomplete female path, it would have been in a coffin in the basement.

1st Clue - Female:
“A man, who looks rather Chinese, peeking around a curtain.”
1st Clue - Male:
“A skeleton in a Chinese mandarin costume.” (*)
Strangely, I do not know how the Chinese man peeking around a curtain ties in with the skull that we search for. I suppose since he is peeking out behind a curtain, we see only his head? I’m mystified.

2nd Clue - Female:
"The Road to Mandalay is now underwater, and the only way to communicate is by submarine cable."
2nd Clue - Male:
"Three fellows argued about life:
1. 'Using this motto, no chap can go wrong:
Leave the wench and the grape, but go with a ____!'
2. 'On the seas of my life sails a ship that is laden
Not with bottles or tunes, but with innocent ______s!'
3. 'Women and singing are both very fine,
But for me there is nothing to equal good ____!” (*)
While the “red” version seemed to imply that there would be only two clues each in these gendered versions, this version notes in the code that the solution to the second female clue would have been in the basement among the wine racks. Since that is not where the skull would have been found, that may be where the third clue would have been. The male clues, as in the finished game, led to the piano in the sitting room and then to the roof. The riddle that would have led us to the crypt is left unrecorded.


I look at this picture and think, “Poison!”

Green Scavenger Hunt

Unlike the blue and red paths, very little remains in the code from planned versions of the green variant. Only the first clue still has a gendered variant and there is no suggestion where the moonmist, this version’s artifact, would have been discovered if not in the inkwell on the desk.

1st Clue - Female:
“Castle with a cloud of mist hiding the moon.”
1st Clue - Male:
“An amazon hunter aiming the blowgun at the treetops.” (*)
Interestingly, the first clue for the female-path is clearly intended to be the box art. It is almost a shame that it was removed, although the male-path clue is clearer that we are looking for a poison. Confusingly, the ghost wields a blowgun with a poisoned dart in most of the variants; you would be forgiven if you thought those were somehow related.

 
Pearl Bailey was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988. 

Yellow Scavenger Hunt

The “yellow” version featured gendered versions of both clues. The goal for this hunt would be the pearl necklace. In the final game, we discovered it on a corpse chained up underneath the old tower. Just like last time however, there is no note in the code where the necklace would have been hidden in the female path. One small but interesting wrinkle is that the final game used the female version of the first clue but the male version of the second.

1st Clue - Female:
"A Polynesian diver, holding a knife and plunging through black water.” (*)
1st Clue - Male:
“A photo of singer Pearl Bailey.”
I struggled to work out how the first clue could imply a pearl necklace, but perhaps the Polynesian diver is swimming down to pry open some shellfish. I regret that I had not known of Pearl Bailey before playing this game. She was a legendary singer and actress in her time.

2nd Clue - Female:
“A woman knows the secret, but to get inside her mind is difficult and often dangerous."
2nd Clue - Male:
"... Yet the ear distinctly tells,...
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the ____s…” (*)
I struggle to understand what Lawrence and Galley are aiming for with that second clue. My guess is that the necklace would have been hidden in a head somehow, perhaps a bust somewhere in the castle. I really have no idea.


It was a dark and stormy night...

Conclusions

I hope you enjoyed our look at Moonmist and the cut variations. It was a pain to search through the code, but I was glad to do it for a good cause. It seems almost a shame that these extras were cut out; they seem nearly complete enough that some enterprising coder could probably add them back in and get the game working within a week. The real problem at the time would have been RAM as Moonmist is very near the size limit for an original-style adventure and perhaps would not have sold as well under their more restrictive “Plus” engine, previously used for AMFV and Trinity. As I stated earlier however, it was not simply a matter of adding back in the commented code, but rather writing and stitching in the epilogue and other text.

Do you like these looks at the old source code? Should I do more of them? I am not eager to completely derail the main series, but I do not mind going back and looking at some games that I played earlier in this series. I would have nothing to say about Zork, for example, since the game code is tidy with nary a removed room. Cutthroats, on the other hand, might deserve a deeper look. A quick peek at the source reveals that the original plan was for seven shipwrecks! Perhaps it too would have benefited from an author with either more time or a less expansive vision. In any case, I have not looked at many of the other games to see what, if anything, I could learn.

Tune in next week or so for the introduction to Hollywood Hijinx!


We made it to the end of 1986! Are you new here and want to catch up on the Infocom marathon? Or are you a seasoned explorer that wants to revisit old highs and lows? I have now written eighty-six posts and 240,000 words about Infocom games, or around the length of three novels. You can be forgiven if you want to just jump around using the index!
  1. Dungeon - (Intro) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
  2. Zork I - (1)
  3. Zork II - (1) (2)
  4. Deadline - (Ilmari) (Joe)
  5. Zork III - (1) (2)
  6. Starcross - (1) (2) (3)
  7. Suspended - (1)
  8. The Witness - (Ilmari) (Joe)
  9. Planetfall - (1) (2) (3)
  10. Enchanter - (1) (2) (3) (4)
  11. Infidel - (1) (2) (3)
  12. 1983 Books
  13. Sorcerer - (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
  14. Seastalker - (1) (2)
  15. Tutorial Game - (1)
  16. Cutthroats - (1) (2) (3)
  17. Hitchhiker’s Guide - (B) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
  18. Suspect (Ilmari) (Joe)
  19. 1984 Books and Updated Manuals
  20. Cornerstone - (1)
  21. Wishbringer - (B) (1) (2) (3)
  22. A Mind Forever Voyaging - (1) (2) (3) (4)
  23. Fooblitzky - (1) (Video) (Interview)
  24. Spellbreaker - (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
  25. Ballyhoo - (1) (2) (3)
  26. Infocom Sale
  27. Trinity - (B) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
  28. Leather Goddesses of Phobos - (TBD 1, 2, 3) (Joe B, 1, 2)
  29. Moonmist - (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

21 comments:

  1. I would love to see more "what might have been" posts in this vein. I'm a sucker for diving into the code of old adventure games.

    Polynesian pearl-divers are historically famed for their prodigious feats of breath-holding while diving to the ocean bottom to seek pearls, hence the clue.

    The pearl necklace being hidden inside a bust seems like a nod to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Six Napoleons".

    The deleted statue of Britannia reminds me of the story that in early versions of Bureaucracy the villain was apparently Britain's Queen Mother. Curious pattern there.

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    1. I enjoyed digging in and it's fairly easy once I worked out how Z-code comments worked and became a bit familiar with reading the language. This was trickier than with Trinity because there I was just reading the pitch documents rather than spelunking through the code.

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    2. Have you played the beta version of TRINITY that's included along with the pitch documents? It's got different puzzles in several places, and a somewhat different layout for some areas such as Kensington Gardens.

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    3. I never found that. I only had the text. Where can I snag that?

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    4. Andrew Plotkin's "Obsessively Complete Infocom Catalog", perhaps? It's at https://eblong.com/infocom/ but I haven't looked at those early Trinity versions.

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    5. The beta version of TRINITY I played is the file called "trbeta.z4" in the source code archive:
      https://github.com/historicalsource/trinity/blob/master/COMPILED/trbeta.z4

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  2. "Strangely, I do not know how the Chinese man peeking around a curtain ties in with the skull that we search for. I suppose since he is peeking out behind a curtain, we see only his head?"

    Is it possible that the "missing link" Peking Man was discovered on the basis of reconstructed skull fragments?

    Please do continue with the source code postmortems, this is fascinating content unavailable anywhere else.

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    1. You may have it! I don't think the game states that explicitly, but several skulls and other bones from "Peking Man" disappeared en route to the Museum of Natural History in the 1940s. Many attempts had been made to find them, leading to a 1970s bounty placed on their successful return. Perhaps these were the "Chinese" bones that Lord Lionel had snagged?

      It's a great theory. I wonder if the game states so explicitly and I just missed it somehow.

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  3. Extremely interesting look at "what could have been", and I say go for it with the look at the source code for the previous adventures! I am eager to know more about the potential lost parts of those!

    Oh, and sorry to break it to you like this, but "Hollywood Hijinx" is awful.

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    1. I am sorry to hear that, especially as you and I have had similar taste in games. I'm approaching it with an open mind and optimistic at least that it is likely to be better than Moonmist.

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  4. I will add my voice to the chorus of those who appreciate the look at the source code and other unfinished bits.

    It is very much like reading the early draft of a novel or looking at an artist's sketches for a painting -- it shows the creative process at work; how the final product has evolved.

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  5. I'm interested in the unfinished things still lurking in code.

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    1. More unfinished things? Or in general?

      Well, here's some stuff that I found in Moonmist that I didn't find space to cover in this review:

      - There is (or was) code in there to hide behind things ala "Deadline". But since none of the guests walk around or do anything interesting, there is no reason to bother.
      - Almost all of the doors were real objects and could be opened and closed and remember its own state, but it seems that whole mess was simplified tremendously before release, potentially to keep the object count down.
      - My favorite unused object is a flag stand in the Old Great Hall which contained "the Union Jack, the flag of the Duchy of Cornwall,
      the regimental colors of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
      blazoned with the regiment's battle honors, and an embroidered
      yellow household flag". It seems to have served no plot purpose.
      - The file in the source code that has a ton of junk that was excised from earlier versions is called "lumber.ozil", named for the junk-containing lumber room in the tower.

      How's that? :)

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    2. All good examples! I was just answering your question, "Do you like these looks at the old source code? Should I do more of them?" with, basically, a yes.

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    3. I haven't been specifically looking for or cataloguing unused code, but some things I remember noticing so far that I haven't seen mentioned here yet:

      - There is some code in Zork II for asking the demon to open the Wizard's trophy case. I don't think you can actually ask him to do that in the game.
      - There was supposed to be a difficulty setting in The Witness.
      - In Cutthroats it looks like instead of falling asleep for the whole trip to the wreck, you were supposed to be on watch for part of the night and help guide the boat past obstacles. (Kind of like the submarine ride in Seastalker, perhaps?)
      - In Seastalker there appears to have been a more elaborate scene for capturing the traitor on the Aquadome. I was also surprised by some of the stuff you could do to try and identify the traitor that's still in there but never seemed important when I played it.
      - Buraucracy has a couple of different versions of some files. In one of them your flight is hijacked, though apparently that was just supposed to be a dream?
      - An early version of Stationfall had a carbon dioxide bottle. I think this was later replaced by the thermos bottle.

      There's also a lot of design notes for Steve Meretzky's game at the "Infocom Cabinet" at https://archive.org/details/infocomcabinet but I haven't taken the time to more than browse through some of it.

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  6. I wouldn't mind if people here just looked at the source code in general. But I know that would require more technical knowledge than the average reviewer has.

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    1. The trick is that I am unaware of any source code dumps outside of Infocom. If any of the Sierra games have source available, I haven't seen them. I suspect that graphical games will be a lot more difficult, but an enterprising person could find alternate text or graphical assets that might be fun to poke through.

      If anyone knows where I can find the source to SQ5, I'll figure it out in time for my playing that game. :)

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    2. I know the Magnetic Scrolls source code was recovered some time ago, and Strand Games is in the process of remastering (and selling) them. But I'm not sure how much of that is in their "brahman" GitLab respository at https://gitlab.com/strandgames/brahman and which parts are new. They wrote about how they did it in https://strandgames.com/blog/magnetic-scrolls-games-source-code-recovered

      Jason Scott posted the Lesuire Suit Larry 1 source code to his historicalsource GitHub at https://github.com/historicalsource/leisuresuitlarry around the same time as he posted the Infocom source code though I guess that doesn't include the sound and graphics. That's the only Sierra game I'm aware of.

      And of course there are things like https://github.com/PDP-10/MUD1 but that one may be just out of scope here.

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  7. Intro post for Hollywood Hijinx is nearly done and should be posted in ~2 more days, though any main line game that has a post ready will take the slot first.

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  9. Several of the male/female variants are in the released game (though the solutions are always the same) -- Pearl Bailey versus the polynesian diver, the King of Diamonds, and the castle with the cloud of mist. So is Bolitho's remark about left-handedness, though again there seems to be no clue about the handedness of anyone.

    Also, Britannia rules the waves, so there really were only two clues for the headdress.

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