Thursday, 10 August 2017

Missed Classic: Enchanter - Won! and Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

Last time out, I inched closer to discovering the Warlock’s inner sanctum and figuring out how to defeat him. In the process, I survived being sacrificed, watched a turtle be a ninja a full year before that would become a thing, and completely screwed up the Zork timeline by teleporting my character from the first games into an adventure that he wasn’t expecting. It’s been a great ride, if a bit frustrating at times. I’m not sure how I should think of a Warlock who leaves so many useful scrolls hidden all around his castle for a novice adventurer to come and defeat him with…

The first thing that I did in this session is to experiment with “melbor”, the protection from evil spell that I picked up at the end of last week. It doesn’t help one iota getting through the guarded door, but it does seem to prevent the cultists from finding me. With that, I have been finally able to access the eastern exit from the Junction… yay! This leads me to a landing and then a winding stairwell going infinitely up and down in both directions. I try to see if it repeats by dropping an object and seeing if I see it again later, but it really does seem to go on forever. With nothing up and nothing down and no spells that seem right for this occasion, I’ll have to come back later.
Our adventuring friend (image from the Zork I hints)

Ruining Zork

First up for this session, I need to work on the adventurer and the guarded door. Since the last post, I’m fairly convinced that these are one and the same puzzle: my dream (from two posts ago) showed a cartoonish man opening a plain door. When I dispelled all of the magic on the guarded door, it looked just as plain. It could be a coincidence, but I doubt they would throw in such a great hint and not have it be the correct solution. Each time I’ve cast that spell before, I did it while I could see the adventurer in the mirror; this time, I go to the guarded door and try the summoning spell from there except that doesn’t work. It says that I can summon a powerful magic-user without seeing him, but everyday people can only be called if you can see them. That’s good to know! Just to see what happens, I save my game and summon Belboz (the leader of the Circle of Enchanters) but he just scolds me and leaves immediately. I can also summon the Warlock, Krill, but when I do that he just kills me immediately. How can I get the adventurer to the door? I spent a while following him last post and he never came to this room on his own.

The solution requires me to play off his (and, I suppose, my) inherent greed: I show him the silver spoon and he starts to follow me around. (Of course, I have to use “vaxum” to get him to like me first.) I lure him to the guarded door and he doesn’t seem to notice any of the insanity there. I ask him to open the door and he looks at me like I’ve grown a second head; he just walks over and opens it (ignoring boiling lead poured on his head, attacking tentacles, and other magics which do not seem to be real for him). When he’s done, the illusions disappear and I can see the plain door clearly. I follow the adventurer up the stairs to reclaim the pencil, map, and “filfre” scroll. Since I didn’t use “kulcad” to get in here, unlike the last time, I have it to use someplace else. As I leave, the adventurer wanders off to explore the castle on his own. Did I just break the Zork timeline? Do I need to un-summon him somehow? Am I still thinking too hard about this?

Krill, from “The Forces of Krill”. Review coming soon...

Falling Free

What’s left? I don’t want to use “kulcad” too quickly because I only get one shot. I nearly dead-ended myself on that door! After another round of experimentation, I manage to finally get the scroll out of the hole in the library. You are going to laugh at me, but the command was just “reach in”. Every other command that I tried, every attempt to put a light in there, and every moment that I searched for a rat to talk to was wasted. We haven’t had a parser problem like this in a while, but I am glad I managed to get my point across eventually. Just like every other nook and cranny around the castle, there’s a scroll in there-- in this case containing the “gondor” spell to put out an open flame. That doesn’t seem useful for any of the puzzles that I am working on, unfortunately. I know the comparison is unfair, but I am most reminded of the “*gems” from the Adventure International games; if this game put me in the middle of a desert and I had to dig in the sand, I’d probably find a spell scroll.

An hour or so of wandering later, I cannot find anything else to do or any way to climb the tower to the Warlock. I decide that I need to use my “kulcad” spell there after all, for no other reason than it may give me an idea of the real solution. I head to the stairs, cast the spell, and find myself falling down a bottomless pit. The game depicts us as scrambling for a bannister that is disappearing, in the process dropping just about everything else in our inventory. As I fall (and fall and fall and fall), I can see my dropped stuff just a few meters ahead, but that doesn’t seem to do me any good. Conveniently falling next to me is a scroll for an “izyuk” spell to allow me to fly. That seems stupidly coincidental, but I grab it and cast it and manage to stop my fall. From here, I can go either east or west.

I head east to discover Krill’s secret chamber. He is busy casting some infernal magic but he pauses for a moment to summon a dragon at me. I die but I restore back and memorize the “gondar” spell first. Armed with that and replaying the flying sequence, I defeat the dragon easily. Krill next sends a guy wielding an axe at me next. I don’t have any obvious spells for that so I try the “filfre” spell just to see what it does. It… shows the game’s credits in a shower of gratuitous fireworks. Very nice, but I still die. I restore back and this time also memorize the spell to turn him into a newt. With that, dragon and axe-guy are both defeated, the latter comically slicing himself in half with his own axe when he transforms. What’s next? Instead of conjuring another minion, Krill takes care of the problem (me!) himself by banishing me to another dimension to be stranded for all time. There is exactly one turn while he’s casting that I can counterattack, but I don’t have any spells that do the trick. I’m going to give up on this for now.

Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself

I take stock of my unsolved puzzles and I’m pretty sure the only thing left is to figure out the Terror in the maze. (That assumes that the stairway is the right place to use the “kulcad” spell, of course.) I spent a considerable amount of time on this and I won’t bore you with every twist and turn. The big issues are that if you let the Terror out, he destroys the world. If you are in the same room as the Terror, you are stuck and can’t move. We only have a handful of lines we can draw or erase before the pencil runs out so what we have to do whatever we are doing with a very small number of moves.

I’m not going to claim too much intelligence because I’m not sure exactly sure why what I did worked but I was experimenting with trying to lure the Terror out of his room and to time it so that I’d get him out, prevent him from leaving the dungeon completely, and still have a path to his starting room to get the scroll out. To that end, here’s what I did:
  • I dropped the “filfre” scroll in the deadend at “F” and placed myself in “M”. Both “F” and “M” are only a single line-segment from the Terror’s room, “P”.
  • I add a line from “P” to “F”, letting the Terror go. We can sense that Krill has sensed his emergence and Belboz appears and warns me that I must not let them join forces.
  • I wait one turn and feel my mind probed by a force. 
  • I erase from “M” to “V”. My mind is probed again.
  • I erase from “P” to “F” and the eraser has run out. No mind probes this time and this should have disconnected the Terror’s original room from the network
  • I draw from “M” to “P” giving me a direct passage to the Terror’s room. Unlike so many times before, he moved so I’m not trapped in place. 
  • I head there and grab “guncho” and leave the maze. Victory is mine!
If it was that easy, you’d think the wizards that trapped the Terror in the first place would have not needed to waste such a powerful spell on him. “Guncho” banishes someone to another plane of existence and, now that I think about it, probably the same spell that Krill used on me. Using it on him would be poetic revenge, no?

I play through the ending sequence again: removing the stairs, flying to the Warlock’s secret lair, and defeating his two henchmen. This time during that one turn that I have while he’s casting a spell at me, I “guncho” him to and send him to wherever it is that spell takes you. I am summoned by a beam of light directly back to the Circle of Enchanters. They are thrilled that their ploy of sending someone completely unqualified for the job worked and officially make me an Enchanter. I win the game and never even pause to consider the poor adventurer that I’ve left stranded in a Warlock’s castle, very far from where he was supposed to be.

To be continued!

Time played: 2 hr 25 min
Total time: 10 hr 25 min
Total Zork Marathon Time: 87 hr 55 min

Is This a Zork Game?

I did not expect to be asking this question with Enchanter which is “obviously” a Zork game, but this has been nagging at me for days and I can’t seem to let it go. It doesn’t seem quite important enough for me to try to get in touch with Dave Lebling or Marc Blank about (although I hope we can eventually interview them for this blog once we get through their respective game careers), but it still nags at me.

My theory is that Enchanter was intended to be a “parallel universe” from Zork and not have all of the GUE backstory but it was adjusted at the last minute, possibly because of the work that Steve Meretzky was doing with the Zork books. (These books were intended at least in part as advertising for the Zork games and the first book-- which I will be reviewing soon-- directly links Enchanter with Zork-universe locations.)

Evidence in favor:
  • The original Enchanter manual with the folio edition is absolutely beautiful, easily the most beautiful manual we have seen so far from Infocom. And yet, it doesn't make a single reference to Zork or the GUE. The history it alludes to doesn't seem like GUE-history. When the grey box releases came out a year or two later, the whole thing was axed in favor of a completely rewritten one which explicitly ties the two together.
  • There are no grues. Not one. There are even grues in Planetfall and Starcross, but not in Enchanter, so their absence seems more meaningful than it should.
  • We pull the adventurer through a “mirror to another world” rather than a mirror to another place.
  • The narrator says that a “Frobozz Magic Pencil” must be some sort of joke implying that our character is unaware of the assortment of Frobozz products that were available.

I’m anguished and bewildered, too. 

Evidence against:
  • The Zork books, as mentioned, have them in the same universe. Their “canon” status is debatable but that suggests some kind of intent. 
  • There are references to the Wizard of Frobozz and Dimwit Flathead in the Portrait Gallery.
Having written this, I was able to confirm a few of these guesses thanks to some assistance from Jason Scott, the director of Get Lamp, the text adventure documentary. If you haven’t bought a copy yet, buy one. I haven’t seen it, but only because I’m trying to keep from being overly spoiled on the games I am playing. He confirmed for me that the original Enchanter design notes were both very clear that this was “Zork IV” but also that it was its own thing, disconnected from the mythology of the previous series. The early design notes suggested that the only connection to the original series would be the sacrifice scene from Zork III; as we know now, more connections were added on in the final product. I will pay extra attention to Sorcerer to see how it approaches this problem.

Final Rating

Well, I’ve reached the end of what I can say about this game. Enchanter has been fun but it’s time to codify the rating and move on.

Puzzles and Solvability - I am conflicted. On one hand, the use of spells rather than inventory items to solve puzzles is fairly unique; this game feels completely unlike any other in the Infocom canon so far. On the other hand, there are a few missteps. We can largely forgive the game’s habit of leaving critical scrolls just lying around all over the place, but as a result the puzzles do not feel as organic to the experience as Planetfall or as deliberately-contrived as Zork or Starcross. The final on-rails sequence with the magician’s duel was great except for the fact that you had to die each time to learn what spells you had to memorize to advance. I still haven’t figured out exactly how I defeated the parchment maze. That said, calling over our character from Zork was great fun and a welcome commentary on the protagonist of that game. Luring him from room to room with a silver spoon will be a highlight that stays with me for some time. My score: 5.

Interface and Inventory - There’s not too much to say here that I haven’t said before: Infocom still has a best of breed parser. More than usual, inventory management was annoying as we now had to manage spell slots and forgetfulness, plus the constant need to eat and drink. Not enough to drive this category down but they could have done better. I haven’t decided whether the “reach in” challenge of the Library is my issue or the game’s. My score: 4.

Story and Setting - It’s amazing to see (and experience!) the improvements Infocom is making to storytelling. We still have a fairly generic protagonist, but there is more backstory and an actual antagonist. We’re not quite to the point where this game is much more than a shell around interesting puzzles. The setting was generic Dungeons and Dragons-style high-fantasy and not even as vibrant (and mischievous) as the Great Underground Empire of previous games. My score: 4.

The final configuration of the parchment maze. 

Sound and Graphics - While we had some ASCII art in the parchment maze, there wasn’t enough here to warrant rounding up. We’ve had ASCII-assisted mazes before (in Dungeon/Zork III) and while this is handled better, it’s just one detail in an otherwise text game. My score: 0.

Environment and Atmosphere - As the days grew shorter and the cultists grew more aggressive, there was a palpable sense of tension and dread. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that this was handled as well as in Planetfall and most of the time the game seemed more whimsical than scary. The human sacrifice was a jarring addition and I wonder if they threw that in because of being boxed in by Zork III rather than it actually fitting into the game they were trying to create. My score: 4.

Dialog and Acting - As usual in an Infocom game, the text was outstanding and one of the best parts. Two of the NPCs, the “ninja” turtle and the treasure-hunting adventurer, were particularly well realized. The well-guarded tower is one of the greatest single room descriptions so far. There’s a lot to like here but it’s also not as consistently awesome as I might hope. My score: 5.

Final Tally

Let’s add up the points and see what we get: (5+4+4+0+4+5)/.6 = 37 points!

That places this game exactly equal to Starcross but less than Zork III and Planetfall. Thinking about it, that feels about right. This is a great game, very consistent across all the categories, but it is not as evocative as Zork III or as innovative as Planetfall. Like Starcross, it adds a great creative twist to an established formula. The score seems quite fitting.

Your average guess was 42 so clearly a bit higher than I expected. With an on-the-money guess, GregT wins our CAPs for this game! Congratulations! We will do a CAP distribution with the next mainline game.

Up next for me will be a side-trip to Infidel, Infocom’s last release of 1983 and Mike Berlyn’s second game with them. Before we get to that, Voltgloss will be stepping up to the plate to review 1981’s Oo-topos (and its re-release), Mr. Berlyn’s first ever game. The Zork Marathon will continue with a post on the three choose-your-own-adventure-style Infocom books released in 1983 before continuing to Sorcerer.


  1. Good post, just some thoughts, if the game is great, the score doesn't reflect it. And probably this has been discussed in the past, but I'm kind of new here. This game being from 1983, is it fair to have a 0 in graphics ? I mean, obviously, it has none ! but maybe .. being so old, that category should be completely excluded for games before 1985 (or some other year).

    Just trying to create interesting debate, I never heard of this game before, but the articles were quite enjoyable

    1. Welcome aboard! The scores are a silly thing and hold games up to what I call the "Monkey Island" standard. These old text-adventures are great games in their own right, but I agree that our scores don't always capture that because they don't have sound and graphics. The blog started as graphical adventures only and we started allowing text adventures about two years ago.

      Even with that, sometimes I think we judge text adventures too harshly (and I'm as guilty of that as anyone). How do you compare luring the adventurer around with a spoon to, say, a King's Quest's puzzle? Text adventure puzzles tend to require more thought but there are some good ones here. It's tough to weigh them against the point-and-click style that would come later.

      Don't sweat the scores to much if you enjoy the games! :)

  2. In the "Is this a Zork game" section, is your opinion that it's NOT a Zork game? Or do you think it is?

    More importantly, does the fact that I don't want to think about the evidence myself and want you to make my mind up for me make me immensely lazy?

    1. Well, BOTH.

      It was clearly "Zork IV" from a very early point, the successor to that series. It had the same developers and carried on the fantasy traditions that they had started.

      But, it was NOT initially envisioned as taking place in the Zork universe, in the world of the Great Underground Empire and all that. It was a sequel and would have hooks to the original game, but it would also be the start some something new.

      That was thrown out at some point late in development and the game does take place in the same world as the Great Underground Empire. So in that sense, it was made Zork IV in more ways than initially envisioned.

  3. I was hoping in this game that you'd have to summon the adventurer and sacrifice him for some reason, as heralded by Zork III.

  4. Oh wow, my first CAPs! I'm honoured! :-)