A computer adventure game is really a puzzle, or a set of puzzles, that can be solved only by using your wits. But before you can begin solving, you'll need to learn the physical layout of the game's world, where you are in relation to other locales, and how to move around without getting lost.
Whether it uses graphics and text or text only, a game contains dozens or even hundreds of separate locations (each of which is called a room, whether it's an actual room, a clearing in the jungle, a path, or a planet), and in most games you must visit many of the same places several times. If you rely on memory to find your way around, you won't find your way around. What you need is a map.
The more difficult games often contain twisting labyrinths or one-way passages-if you move EAST and try to return WEST, for example, you may find that you're in a completely unexpected room or that the WEST exit simply doesn't exist. For this kind of game, a different sort of map is needed. First try to find out how many rooms the game contains and number them. Draw a simple grid, writing the room numbers across the top and all possible directions along one side. If you start in room 1 and move NORTH, which brings you to room 4, write the number 4 in the box where room 1 and NORTH meet on your grid. Continue until you've exhausted all directions from room 1, then again for each room in the labyrinth. When you're finished, your grid will enable you to get quickly from any room in the labyrinth to any other.
In graphic adventures, study each picture carefully for clues. Pick up everything that isn't nailed down, and if it is nailed down, try to remove the nails. Look under rugs and behind houses; break doors, climb trees, dig holes. You may be told, "You can't do that now," which means you may be able to do it after you've done something else or when you're carrying something you don't have now. Study the exact phraseology of the text. In Coveted Mirror (Penguin Software), for instance, the bake requests an ingredient for "chocolate moose," which you may think is a misspelling for "mousse." But much later in the game, in the castle's game room, a close look at the wall reveals a moose head made of chocolate-something you might not have noticed or though significant were it not for the earlier verbal clue.
It's also easy to overlook the obvious. In Escape from Rungistan (Sirius), you find yourself in a forest during a snowstorm, and after freezing to death a few times and repeatedly restarting the game, you'll learn to move EAST quickly to a cabin containing a pair of skis. But you won't know how to use the skis unless it occurred to you earlier, after killing a bear in a cave, to examine the scratches on the cave walls. They are, in fact, skiing instructions. Another example is in the 2062 A.D. scenario of Time Zone (Sierra On-Line). Under the doormat of a house in Los Angeles is a key that will neither fit the door of the house nor the door of the futuristic car parked nearby. You might suppose that it fits some other door in some other scene, maybe even in a different era. But if you notice that the car has a trunk and try the key again, the trunk will open to reveal a load of dynamite.
Sometimes you have to try the same thing two or more times before it finally works. In Zork I you must take an axe away from a troll. If you try "Kill troll with sword," he is momentarily stunned but recovers to threaten you again. When you enter "Kill troll with sword" a second time, he accomodatingly dies and leaves you his axe.
Trying everything is the only way to be sure of not overlooking something, but you'll occasionally run across a red herring-an object or room that seems to require some action but is there only to distract you. Gruds in Space (Sirius), for instance, contains a number of houses, including a barracks, whose residents invariably tell you, "Go away, human." After you've tried every conceivable way of getting into those houses, you realize that they're just window-dressing. (At such times you may want to vent your frustration by insulting the computer. Don't be surprised if you get insulted back. For some interesting dialogues we've had with our computer, see "It Does Not Compute," at right).
One example is Proving Ground of the Mad Overlord, the first of the Wizardry scenarios (Sir-Tech). For vanquishing a difficult group of monsters you are awarded a treasure called the Deadly Ring. Since you receive it as a reward, you're likely to think that wearing it confers special powers or that you'll need it in some future encounter. But if you've played other games designed by Wizardry's Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead, you'll know how devious they are. The Deadly Ring is one of their greatest traps. Very gradually, as the game progresses, whoever wears it grows weaker and weaker, not understanding why, and finally dies, poisoned by the ring. Even if the adventurer gets wise to the ring's curse, his knowledge is of no use, for the ring cannot be removed in the dungeon. Many novice players have lost their best characters to this insidious trap. But experienced players, attuned to the designer's thinking, will approach such "treasures" with caution and proceed accordingly.
There is no feeling of satisfaction quite like that of completing an adventure game successfully. Indeed, it's the only kind of computer game you can actually win-action games almost always beat you in the end, however high your score. In an adventure game you only way of knowing how good you are is the time it takes you to complete it. A novice may take several weeks to finish even a relatively simple game, but atop expert can complete the average game in a matter of hours.
Remember, no matter how difficult a problem may seem, there's always an answer. Paste this sign just above your monitor: TRY EVERYTHING!
--Roe R. Adams III has solved the 6-disk, 12-sided Time Zone in a record seven days. This article was adapted from "Digital Deli" edited by Steve Ditlea (Workman Publishing).
Sidebar: It Does Not Compute
Thanks to Chris Mikesell for transcribing and donating this article.