The Official YS Beginners Guide To Adventures
Inspired by a letter from me published in YS64 (blush), Mike Gerrard produced this masterpiece...
YS Scan
Mike Gerrard
Are you new to the delirious delights of adventure game-playing? Then hark - because old Uncle Michael's got some help in hand. In an act of unforeseen generosity and wisdom I've chosen to devote a hefty bit of this month's column to how to play an adventure, how to know which commands to type in, etc etc - basically, all those little bits and pieces that'll help you get past the first post. Righty-o, off we go...
Something you must never be afraid of when you first start playing adventures is having a peek at hints, tips or even full solutions. You must try and solve the game yourself, but it's tricky when you first begin, and checking out a solution can help by showing you what to do. You remember the answers to past problems, especially if you're ashamed at having had to look it up when the answer turns out to be obvious, and that should make it easier when a similar problem crops up in the future.
    Another reason for checking solutions when you first start is that sometimes it's not you that's at fault - older games, and even some new ones, are often poorly written. Suppose at one point in the game you have an envelope with a secret code written on it, but before you move on you want to get rid of the code so as not to give it away to someone else. And, luckily for you, you've just found a rubber! Now the programmer decides that the answer is for the player to type in ERASE CODE. The programmer should also sit down and think what else a player might type in at that point which is equally valid. You could type RUB OUT CODE or perhaps REMOVE CODE WITH RUBBER, but if the programmer doesn't put those options in the program they won't work. This is a simple example as it's highly likely you'll come up with the right answer yourself, but it doesn't always work like that, believe me!
    Some programmers used to deliberately make the inputs difficult, to make the adventure harder to solve, till eventually people realised it was all very frustrating and pointless. One notorious example was a game where you had to come up with the command DISBELIEVE ILLUSION. Even the most experienced of players had to ask for help or get hold of a solution to figure that one out.
    Building up your own file of solutions and hint sheets is a good idea, even for games you don't own. You can be sure that if you see a solution printed one month, and then a few months later you find the game itself for sale at a jumble sale or you receive it as a present, then you will not be able to find that solution ever again!
    A good source of help and hints is the magazine Adventure Probe. It also offers a solutions service where you can buy any of hundreds of solutions for just a few pence, and it helps players out in other ways too. I strongly recommend you think about taking out a subscription to a specialist magazine like this if you're going to be serious about your adventure playing. Send a stamped addressed envelope for details to Adventure Probe, [address snipped - NickH].
    We also print solutions in YS from time to time, although I try to avoid brand-new games as it can be annoying for someone who's just bought a game to accidentally see a solution to it when they turn over the page. But I do print solutions to the more popular games once they've been around for a while. I tend to judge which solutions are needed by the numbers of letters I get asking questions on a particular game.
    Over the years we've printed a lot of solutions and sets of hints on games, but it's obvious that some of you have missed some of them as I've recently had a couple of letters from people asking me to print solutions to games that I have in fact printed in the last 6 months! How dare you not buy every issue of YS! But in case you're a newcomer to the mag, as well as to adventures, I thought it would be useful to print a list of the solutions that have been printed over the past couple of years or so, to enable you to send for back copies if you need them. Are you ready? Well here goes ....
Solutions Printed
Book Of The Dead
Jan Behind Closed Doors 3
Agatha's Folly Part 2
Nov Agatha's Folly Part I, Labours Of Hercules, Retarded Creatures And Caverns, Golden Mask, Devil's Hand
Oct Demon From The Darkside
Sept Temple Of Vran, Final Mission
August Mindfighter
July Harvesting Moon, Lords Of Midnight tips
June Mountains Of Ket May Warlord, Forest At World's End, Bulbo And The Lizard King
Shadows Of Mordor
June Rigel' s Revenge
February Questprobe 3, Double Agent
One thing new adventure players should never forget is that you're meant to be getting fun out of it! Of course the main aim is solving the adventure, and getting the satisfaction that this gives you, but there can also be lots of incidental fun to have along the way. Just as there can be red herrings, which writers put into their games to make you think they have a purpose when in fact they don't do anything, so also are there inputs which you can type in that don't have any bearing on the playing of the game at all.
    Very often you can either type CREDITS or the programmer's name and you'll get a response from the program. I remember reviewing a Tartan Software game one time and was getting nowhere with one of the problems so I typed in the author's name, TOM, just to see what happened. The result was that I broke into the code for the game and was able to see a listing of the program on the screen. TOM was a 'cheat' command that allowed the author to get at his own program and alter it while playing the game. On this occasion, in hurrying to send out a review copy, he'd forgotten to remove the command from the game and I could see what I wasn't meant to see. Not that it did me much good... a program listing is about as comprehensible to me as Egyptian hieroglyphics.
    Something else to try is any one of the better known 4-letter words, though of course I only do it in the interests of reviewing a program thoroughly. It became quite a game with programmers to come up with a new response to this type of input. It was easy enough to enter a reply like 'Wash your mouth out', but an adventure-writer I knew came up with a good wheeze, which was to make the machine look like it had reset because of your disgraceful bad language. On the other hand, some programmers do make the machine reset if you type in a rude word, so do it at your peril! You might end up having to reload the entire program.
    Zenobi Software's games are renowned for the number of inputs that get a response and which are totally irrelevant to the game itself. They're just there to amuse the player... or the programmer. The fun is in finding them. When Zenobi were going to publish my own adventure, One of Our Wombats Is Missing (this month's compulsory free plug), programmer John Wilson said there was a bit of memory free and asked if I'd like to put in some incidental inputs. This month, Nicholas Sweeney of Middlesbrough has written to me with a list of them. I pointed out that I did know them, as I was the one who put them in there, though John Wilson may have added a few himself for good measure. As an example of the kind of thing I mean, try typing the following if you get bored or stuck in Wombats... YS, JOHN, TZER, KEZ, HELP, ZERO, ZENOBI, SANDRA, PETE, MANDY, MIKE, TOM, PAT, EKIM, LINDA.
    That's not a complete list. I want to leave a few surprises for you to find yourself.
One of the commonest questions I get asked by new adventure players is what are the 'usual' commands that an adventure accepts? And how on earth are you meant to know what they are if you've never played an adventure before in your life? Several people have specifically mentioned Zenobi Software, who might be a wonderful software house in every other way, but stand guilty of the crime of putting something about 'understands all the usual commands' in their instructions, and never listing what these commands are. So when I decided to do a beginner's special what else could I do but get on to the Zenobi head honcho, John 'Balrog' Wilson, and ask him to explain exclusively for the benefit of YS readers just what the 'usual' adventure commands are. I expected an ordinary explanation from him. I should have known better. So for the next few paragraphs, I place my column in the hands of the Balrog.
"This game understands all the 'normal' commands...."
With the downward jab of a podgy finger Balrog punched home the last dot of punctuation and sat back to admire his work. "Mmm, see you've gone and done it again,' mumbled the cat from its perch on top of a pile of blank cassettes. "Just what the heck is a 'normal' command?" it asked, scratching its ear with its paw and causing 2 large fleas to dart for safety. "What is 'normal' to you can be something totally 'strange' to somebody like me. For example it is quite 'normal' for me to wash my bum with my tongue but it would be considered very strange if you tried it!" smirked the cat, flicking its tail mischievously. "Not only strange but bleedin' impossible if you ask me!" croaked a voice from beneath a nearby stack of discarded order forms and one small cockroach came within inches of losing its life as Balrog brought his left hand crashing down on the top of the pile. "Keep your comments to yourself!" snapped Balrog and turned back to look at the cat.
    "Okay," he said, "look at it like this. An adventure game is very much like life itself and as such should be treated in the same way. Approach the game with a logical mind and do what you would do in everyday life." There was a rustle from beneath the pile of order forms and the cockroach squeaked, "In his case there is no way you could do that... not unless you gave it a triple-X rating!" He pointed his third leg in the direction of the cat. "I've seen what he gets up to with that tabby from No.10 and there is no way you could include 'that' in a family adventure." The cat grinned to itself and nodded in agreement. "Maybe not that particular thing," replied Balrog, "but you can still use the cat as an example." Balrog pushed back his chair and switched off the typewriter, before turning to the cat...
    "What is the first thing you do when you go out on one of your 'jaunts?" he asked. "Apart from washing his bum with his tongue" sniggered the cockroach. "Well," said the cat, glaring at the cockroach and vowing to sort out the little pest when the time was right, "First of all I EXAMINE the door to see whether you have locked it or not and then, if you have, I OPEN the drawer in the kitchen cabinet and SEARCH through its contents to find the key. When I find it, I TAKE the key and UNLOCK the back door with it, before I OPEN the door and go OUT."
    A large grin spread across Balrog's face and he said "Right, that is what I mean. All those actions are commonplace in any adventure worth its salt. Always EXAMINE anything you come across to see what can be done with it and if it appears that you need some other object in order to carry out some action then look around until you find it... or find something that will do the same job for you." The cat thoughtfully cleaned its whiskers for a moment or 2 and then slowly purred, "I get it... do what comes naturally!" There was another rustle from the direction of the order forms and the cockroach scampered towards the safety of the open door, crying "I wonder who is going to be the first fool to type in LICK BUM and get a response then.
    The cat glared at the retreating cockroach, then shrugged its shoulders and continued, "So when I go up the path and turn EAST at the apple-tree, before I CLIMB OVER the small wooden fence in order to get into next door's petunia patch, then I am just doing what I would in any normal adventure, am I?" Balrog nodded his head and mumbled, "Yep, just that. Then when you stop and LISTEN to see if you can hear the approach of next door's dog or SNIFF the air to see if that tabby from No. 10 is around, all you are doing is what you could do in any self-respecting game."
    As Balrog returned to working on his next epic, the cat stretched lazily, then sauntered off to try out its new-found knowledge. Just then Balrog remembered something and with a glance over his shoulder, yelled "... and don't forget, always take stock of what you are carrying and what you are wearing!' The cat waved a paw in acknowledgment and continued on its way, secure in the knowledge that it would be able to put such words as SEARCH, EXAMINE, LIFT, OPEN, UNLOCK, CLIMB, CRAWL, OVER, ENTER, OUT and WORN to a very good use, though perhaps the likes of INSERT, UNROLL, THINK, PRISE and FOLD would only prove useful in the more 'demanding' of games.
    Meanwhile, in a dark corner, a small cockroach typed in most of the common swear-words and marvelled at the workings of the type of mind that could produce such responses...

Published in the June 1991 issue of Your Sinclair

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