Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thinking Outside The #$@%!! Box

I'm a computer gamer. I've been playing computer games since my college days, circa 1983 or so. One of the first games that I ever finished was an old adventure game called "Demon's Forge". For those few readers who might be unfamiliar with computer gaming, a computer adventure game is a sort of interactive story in which the player is the main character. The computer describes a scenario, the player types what his or her character does next and the computer tells the player how the story unfolds based on the player's actions. For example:

COMPUTER: You're in a room full of gold and diamonds. There's a fierce dragon guarding the treasure.

PLAYER: Kill the dragon with my sword.

COMPUTER: The dragon's scales are impervious to your sword. All you did was make him mad. He opens his mouth and exhales a stream of fire that might have impressed you if not for the agony that it caused. The dragon has roasted you to a crisp.

Typically, games such as this are full of puzzles and obstacles. A large part of the game is spent trying to figure out how to get into rooms, unlock doors, get at treasure in hard-to-reach places, remove fair maidens' chastity belts and such.

"Demon's Forge" had a tricky puzzle near its end. There were three spheres which you needed in order to finish the game. To get to the spheres, you had to cross an evil looking bridge which began to crumble as you crossed it. As it turned out, the bridge was barely strong enough to support your weight, plus one of the spheres. If you picked up one sphere and carried it back across the bridge, the bridge collapsed behind you. If you picked up any more than one of the spheres, the bridge collapsed underneath you, and you plummeted to your death. But you needed to get all three spheres across the bridge. What to do?

Any ideas?




BLOG READER: "Pick up the spheres and run across the bridge really fast, before it can collapse underneath you."

No good. The moment you set foot on that bridge carrying more than one sphere, it collapses. You can't outrun it.

BLOG READER: "Pick up the spheres and jump across the bridge".

It's too far. You're not able to leap long bridges in a single bound, Superman.

BLOG READER: "Throw the spheres across the bridge and then walk over to where they are."
Nice try! Unfortunately, the chasm which the bridge spans is too wide and the spheres are too heavy. When you try to shot put one across, it falls short of the other side and disappears into the chasm.

BLOG READER: "Roll the spheres across the bridge and then walk over to where they are."

Another nice try, but here the game got a little stupid. It simply didn't know what the word "Roll" meant. That used to happen a lot back in those days.

Give up? Well, the solution intended by the creators of "Demon's Forge" was to cross the bridge whilst juggling all three spheres. That way, you're never holding more than the weight of one at any given time. The bridge still crumbles behind you, but you make it across with the three spheres, and it's on with the game.

Notice the word "intended" in the previous paragraph. I'm proud to tell you that I found another solution and, to this day, I'm pretty sure that it's a solution that the game designers themselves never thought of. What makes it even sweeter is that it takes advantage of a design element that was supposed to be a penalty.

You see, this particular game had logic that searched for foul language in your typed commands. If it found any, the game punished you by transporting you to a room full of mirrors. The mirrors disoriented you so much that you were unable to find your way out of the room, and the game was effectively over. The game didn't really end, mind you, but you could thrash around all you liked and nothing got you out of that room. Eventually, you simply gave up and started over, or reloaded a saved game.

The mirror room wasn't just a punishment, though. It was also a puzzle to be solved. While playing the game, you eventually found your way into the mirror room even if you didn't type any curse words. The difference was that, before you got to the mirror room, there was an axe that you could find and carry with you. If you happened to be carrying that axe once inside the mirror room, you could break the mirrors with the axe and then find your way out of the room, because you were no longer disoriented.

Now here's the important thing: The mirror room was on the other side of the bridge from the spheres. Also, you got to the mirror room before you got to the spheres. When I reached the bridge, I crossed it, picked up all three spheres, and then typed "F--- off!" cackling evilly. (For those of you who can't figure out what the first word should say, just check the screen shot above). Sure enough, I was immediately transported back to the mirror room and the spheres were transported with me. Since I had already solved the mirror room earlier, the mirrors were already broken and I was able to get out and, since the mirror room was on the other side of the bridge, I had effectively crossed the bridge successfully. As an interesting footnote, when I returned to the place where the bridge was, it had collapsed, even though I hadn't crossed it a second time. Incidentally, I wasn't aware of the intended solution when I came up with my own. I only learned of the juggling solution later on.

My favorite computer gaming moments have been those in which the game that I was playing surprised me, usually by doing something unexpected or by being "smarter" than I gave the program credit for being. In this particular case, I like to think that I surprised the game or, rather, its designers.

Are you a computer gamer? Do you have any favorite or memorable gaming moments? If so, I cordially invite you to share them with me and whoever else reads this blog by posting a comment.

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