Classic Computer Magazine Archive ST-Log ISSUE 19 / MAY 1988 / PAGE 74


Wanna hint?


How to keep your hair while adventuring

by Andy Eddy

Andy Eddy works as a cable TV technician in Connecticut, but has been interested in computers since high school. While his family's Atari 800 is four years old, he's been avidly playing arcade games since Space Invaders and is a former record holder on Battlezone.

Adventure games are one of the most popular sources of entertainment on personal computers today. Whether they're strictly text versions or graphically assisted—some even going so far as to resemble arcade games in their mode of play—they offer a challenge to the imagination and intuition that other computer entertainment doesn't provide.

Of course, with any adventure comes the possibility of getting stuck, finding your character painted into a corner of seemingly no escape. We all go through it—maybe you keep getting killed or are hung up in a maze, but try and try as you might, it looks like you're forever trapped. It's got to be the most frustrating (though, for some, it's the most satisfying) aspect for the player.

Fortunately, there are ways around this. Telecommunications networks and user groups have become strong assistants in the search for adventure clues. Unfortunately, user groups meet infrequently, and—overall, with so many games coming out—you may find yourself one of the first to play that particular title, or the first with that specific hold-up.

To the rescue, when all else fails, come the manufacturers of the contests themselves. In the form of tip sheets or hint books, they've discovered a marketing tool that reduces the possibility of the player's dropping the game from sheer discouragement (conceivably lessening future sales to that person), in some cases providing added revenue through the sale of these hints.

If you catch a code

There are two popular methods used for hint publishing: coded clues and invisible ink. The first takes questions the player will likely ask and provides answers in cryptographic form. It's up to the player to decide which questions he needs answers to, and, using a key (A=T, B=I, etc.) as a deciphering tool, he can unscramble the desired clue. This method is helpful, but is often time consuming. If you get jammed often (as I do), you'll use reams of paper deciphering tips.

Activision (a company not well known for their adventures, although they've had success with some, such as Hacker, Borrowed Time and Tass Times In Tonetown) and Polarware (formerly known as Penguin Software), use this process in conveying assistance. These manufacturers provide lists to those who request them, and a Polarware spokesperson told me that the sheets are very popular. They request that you send an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) with your request, and Activision asks for $1.00 to defray costs.

You may choose to do what I did with these hint sheets, and save a wealth of time. I wrote short ST BASIC programs to take the code key and automatically convert the cipher.

See the accompanying listing for a sample program I used to descramble some of Activision's sheets, which employ an inverting of the alphabet (A=Z, B=Y, etc.) as a cipher. It takes all alphabetic characters entered and converts them to the proper letter, while letting others (like punctuation) pass through unchanged.

Another recent addition to the adventure-developing clan, Firebird Software, goes so far as to provide hints from within their game The Pawn. Ditto for the recently released sequel, The Guild of Thieves. If you need assistance in these games, you can type in the coded text (placed under pertinent question headings for better reference) found in the manuals. In response, you'll get a helpful comment from the game.

Similarly, Datasoft, in their detective mystery adventure game, 221 B Baker St., has coded clues come up on-screen when requested. These hints can be decoded using one of twenty code groups found in the game's manual. Each of these groups is a different deciphering scheme, limiting the ability of the opposing team of detectives (the game is best played head-to-head against another team) to discover what the clues are, as they're acquired on the run during game-play.

Just call them "magic markers"

The other clue method—and, without a doubt, the best—is the invisible ink hint sheet. Though it's costly, Infocom and Sierra On-Line utilize this method. As above, you have a list of frequently asked questions or troubling game situations. When you find the question that pertains to your predicament, you'll discover a number of blank boxes underneath. Within each box is a progressively more helpful hint, that's revealed when you "paint" across the box with a special marker provided with the book. If you're really stuck, you may have to expose all the boxes to find out how to rescue your character. But it's up to the player to decide how many clues to uncover.

In keeping with the fun of adventuring, the boxes will many times contain jokes or snide comments, usually chastising the player for using clues. In some instances, I've found the questions refer to things that don't even appear in the game, which can momentarily lead the unwitting victim astray. When you reveal the clues beneath these "red herrings," you are given seemingly helpful answers. But usually, in the last box, they tell you that the hints were meaningless and that you shouldn't unveil clues unless you have a real need.

As mentioned before, these books are more expensive to produce and, in turn, are more costly to receive: Infocom and Sierra On-Line both charge $7.95 per book. Cindy Weiss, Infocom's Manager of Public Relations, informed me that they'll soon start to combine hints for two different games into one book, which will be priced at $9.95. In other situations, "new games will have some ‘on-line’ hints available," in the same manner as Firebird and Datasoft games.

A few hints of my own

Hint books are nice, but they should be employed only as a last resort. Much of the fun is in discovering how to prevail over the myriad puzzles contained within the adventure. Most ostensibly insurmountable situations can be resolved by using the more basic rules of adventuring.

First and foremost, you should read the documentation that comes with the game thoroughly. Often, you'll find tidbits of information that may assist you in some scenarios, but you may also discover idiosyncrasies or commands that are unique to a particular developer's products: how to get your character's status, or the method used to speak to other characters you meet, for example. There are no set standards for writing adventures, so games will vary widely from one company to the next.

Also, pick up every object you find and look at it carefully, to get clues that will benefit your quest. It's not often that the programmers place objects with no purpose in a scenario. You may, though, need certain items before you're able to get others (like getting a key to unlock a door of a room containing necessary treasures). Of course, some adventures limit how many items you can carry, so you may have to backtrack and retrieve them later in the game, when you need to put them to use.

Perhaps the most important advice is to save your position to disk frequently—particularly if you're about to chance a difficult or unsure movement. That way, if you get stuck in a less-than-desirable predicament—like being dragged away by a slimy creature or lost in space without oxygen, for example—or even if you just want to quit for the day, you can return to your previous position, rather than beginning anew.

Finally, you should map every location. The reason is twofold: not only will you avoid retracing your steps—a big waste, as most games are scored by how few moves your character makes—but you also can get somewhere quickly.

Well, that's it. I hope all this has helped, as a lot of enjoyment can be realized from a patient and knowledgeable playing style. Happy Trails!

Listing 1. ST BASIC listing.

1 REM This ST BASIC program accepts typed-in UPPER CASE
2 REM text from certain Activision hint sheets and turns
3 REM then into usable clues... Plain and simple.
4 REM By Andy Eddy for ST-Log Magazine 1987
5 DIM A$(255), X$ (255)
20 Y = LEN(A$)
30 FOR X = l TO Y
40 X$ = MID$(A$,X,1)
50 C = ASC(X$)
60 IF C>90 OR C<65 THEN 80
70 C = (90-C)+65
100 GOTO 10
999 END