Playing Enchanter (1983)

After the genuinely climactic conclusion to Zork 3, the Infocom people wisely decided to shelve plans for a Zork 4 which could only have undermined that ending. Instead, they began a new trilogy of adventure games — or interactive fiction, as they were now being called — set in the same universe as the Zork games, but taking a different approach. The first of these was Enchanter (1983), to be followed by Sorcerer (1984) and Spellbreaker (1985).

I’ve played this once before, many years ago, and now I am trying again. Happily, I remember almost literally nothing about the game, so I am getting to solve the problems as though from fresh.

The most obvious difference between the Zorks and the Enchanter trilogy is the addition of magic to the game. You are a novice enchanter with a spell-book. You can use the spells in your book as often as you want, so long as you first prepare them — and there is a limit on how many you can hold in your mind at once. As the game progresses, you discover spell scrolls: you can either cast the spells directly from the scroll, which only works once, or transcribe them into your book for multiple use. The most powerful spells can’t be transcribed.

Aside from this change, the mechanics of the game are identical to those of the Zorks: a purely text-based wander through a fantasy environment with locations to explore, objects to find, and (most importantly) puzzles to solve. But the addition of spells really does bring another dimension. It means there are always a wider range of possible solutions to problems. The spells are mostly very general-purpose, so could work in a variety of situations:

> read book

My Spell Book

The exex spell (make things move with greater speed).
The zifmia spell (magically summon a being).
The gondar spell (quench an open flame).
The cleesh spell (change a creature into a small amphibian).
The krebf spell (repair willful damage).
The rezrov spell (open even locked or enchanted objects).
The gnusto spell (write a magic spell into a spell book).
The blorb spell (safely protect a small object as though in a strong box).
The nitfol spell (converse with the beasts in their own tongue).
The frotz spell (cause something to give off light).

I was pleasantly surprised yesterday at how far I got without recourse to cheat-sheets, invisiclues, maps or what not. I don’t know that Enchanter was explicitly marketed as an easier game than the Zorks, but so far it feels like one. All the puzzles I’ve solved feel like the solutions make sense, and I have none of that frustrating feeling of trying to guess how to phrase my desired action. (One exception: reach into hole was not intuitive to me, and I arrived at it only because I remember running into something similar in The Lurking Horror.)

Some of the puzzles are profoundly satisfying: one that springs to mind is getting the scroll from the control room beyond the machine room that has all the clanking hammers (no spoilers here, though!). Better still, getting the scroll from the translucent maze without destroying the world is possibly my favourite puzzle in any adventure game, combining mapping, a leap of insight, and a logic puzzle.

That said, I am now somewhat stuck, and I thought that for my own benefit it would be useful to make a list of the problems I am trying to solve and the resources I have. So — problems:

  • How to get into the temple without being captured
  • How to leave the junction (e.g. for the stairs) without being captured
  • How to escape when I am captured
  • How to open the jewelled box wrapped in magical rope
  • The significance of the implementor legend in the dusty book (since the imprisoned-spirit legend was significant)
  • What the adventurer can do for me (after having been made friendly and been given the jewelled egg)

Things I have available and have not yet used include:

  • The gondar and blorb spells (above)
  • The one-shot filfre spell scroll (“create gratuitous fireworks”), which I suspect may be a red herring.
  • The one-shot guncho spell scroll (“banish the victim to another plane of existence”), which I assume will be how I defeat the Big Bad at the end of the game.
  • A silver spoon (probably just scenery)
  • A square block of stone (also probably scenery)

And then of course there are all the spells and objects that I have already used, which I may well find further uses for — but most of the objects are unpromising aside from their obvious use in sustenance: a loaf of bread, a jug of water, a lamp.

One of the nice things about Enchanter is that it anticipates ideas you might have that are not the correct solutions. For example, I thought that the jewelled box tied up in a magic rope might be amenable to the Gordian solution of simply cutting the rope, so I summoned the adventurer (zifmia), made him friendly (vaxum), and then asked him to cut the rope for me:

> adventurer, cut rope with sword
“Ooo! Nice idea!” He slashes at the rope with his sword, but to no avail. The rope is impervious to the magic of this weapon! He looks crestfallen.

Frustrating, but so much better than a generic “What”? or “The adventurer doesn’t seem to understand you”.

I’ll let you all know how I get on. Please, no spoilers in the comments (at least not without rot13)

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14 responses to “Playing Enchanter (1983)

  1. oooooh, he’s into IF now .. a place dear to my heart :)

    Have you looked into any of the IFcomp entries, or followed along the larger IF community (that is still around and active!).. or just kept to say Infocom, or even the non-Infocom-but-still-classic-era stuff like Magnetic Scrolls, Level 7, etc? The IFcomp entries are unique in that they’re trying to win a prize (so are often very good), and the rules specify them to be short (playable in a shorter time window, so as to bejudgable in complete) .. so they are often plentiful (a couple dozen submitted each year), high quality, and short. Some great experiments like single-room adventures, and some really good stories that apply well in the short duration (lost in a cave, experimenting with making you genuinely cramped and uncomfortable…)

    Infocom of course have MANY classics

    Magnetic Scrolls are VERY good as well (The Pawn, Guild of Thieves, etc), and feature some still-frame artwork (not full of clues, just nice to look at)

    Writing your own IF using Inform/etc for zmachine (Infocom style) or TADS or other systems is also pretty rewarding.

  2. Hi, Jeff. I have been into IF since at least 1981 :-) See this page that documents 24 adventure games that I wrote, wholly or in part, or a construction kit that I built as part of my learning-Ruby process.

    As for playing: I have avoided the IFcomp not because I don’t think they’ll be good, but because I fear getting sucked in and losing hours, days or weeks of my life. But I will probably dip in at some point.

    Have you written any games that I could play?

    BTW., historically I never played the Magnetic Scrolls games when I was growing up — I think maybe they never published them for machines that I had? — so I don’t have the nostalgia to draw me in. Also, for me, graphics are just wrong, however well they’re done. It’s all about the words.

  3. I was more into the emulation scene, and so worked on decompiling the zmachine files and writing interpreters.. I’m an engine guy, not a content guy, per se .. so I wrote and ported interps for Palm OS, PSP, linux, etc and so on, so you might’ve seen some of my stuff, but only in passing.

    The Mag Scrolls stuff are really good .. the art is an aside and I often played without pulling it down at all (it was optional, a ‘scroll’ you could pull down from screen top to see the snapshots.. hence the company name.) But their interpreter was top notch (longer more complex sentance structure than Infocom interpreter) and large interesting worlds. From a technical standpoint its also interesting.. while the zmachine is a interesting yet simple VM of its own, the MS machine is essentially a mini 68000 based machine, so easy to port to Atari ST and Amiga say.. but they managed to port the bloody thing to 8bits like the C64 somehow. Someday I need to disasm their C64 interp and see how they fit the 68k VM into it.. but working through disasm of a VM running its own virtual code, is not really the most fun :)

    MS I think are worth checking out, but in the same category as — ‘life destroying’ :)

  4. Jeff, might I know the interpreters you worked on? I mostly use Frotz.

    Thanks for the Magnetic Scrolls info. To be honest, I always felt them as a bit of a gap in my repertoire, and now knowing that I can just not see the images, I feel like I might take one on when I’ve finished Enchanter. Which one would you recommend?

  5. Theres a decent variety in them (look at Myth, pretty odd), but I was always font of The Pawn and Guild of Thieves (but thats probably nostalgia talking.) Good interpreter and amusing puzzles. Worth a 20 min try, and if they don’t get you right away, feel free to head back to zmachine land .. there are just so many great Infocom games (or the other-zmachine games), it boggles the mind.

    Though the Thief really drove me crazy, and I think it can actually ruin your game (make it unwinnable.) So, Infocom had its worts for sure..

  6. I believe reach into hole was the one and only thing in Enchanter where I got stuck and had to cheat by looking for a hint. I did the whole rest of the game without cheating.

  7. The enchanter series was great, and that was when they still came with *stuff* in the boxes.

    Remember when cheating meant you had to go to the store and BUY a cheat book? Madness! Sadly I don’t remember anything about the solution… hmm. Maybe I should play it again too! What are you using for an emulator?

  8. rjmason, nice work! I very nearly made it through without hints this time, but — annoyingly — the things I was stuck on all followed from the one thing I’d unexpectedly read a spoiler about a couple of days before. Once I gave in and followed that spoiler (it relates to the art gallery), everything else followed, and I finished the game last night.

  9. Bevan, I’m using Frotz to run z-code; there may be better options these days, but this works fine for me.

    The Z-code files themselves are pretty freely available on the Web.

  10. The variations of Frotz are all very good, for every platform imaginable. There are a few composite packages that include TADS + Frotz + etc, but they tend not to add much (except complexity), so if you want to deep dive an Infocom game, sticking to WinFrotz or whatever, will do you very well indeed.

  11. Mike .. side question for you, dredging up an older blog entry of yours in a way. As a kid, we had some of those model electric trains, with the powered track. A dusty old box just got handed me from my parents, unearthed from the eddies of time … so now I’ve got a few engines and a dozen assorted cars, and a few yards of track. I’ll have to take inventory, and figure out what sort of power reqqs there are so I can source some switches and transformers… but some good options.

    As you’ve done it recently .. my oldest is 10 and my youngest are 6 .. I’m thinking they could help with placing some trees and stuff, but not actually able to help much with construction per se. What would be an ‘easy’ (not huge commitment) sort of track to make?

    ie: I’m thinking you buy a 3×6 foot sort of slice of .5 inch plywood, lay it across a table in the basement, and then source some green matt or the like as grassland, and hit up a hobby store to get some trees and small buildings, or something. Not a high cost, and something that could be assembled in a weekend. (Time is ever tight, but a small project with the kids would be very worth it..)

  12. Pingback: Finishing Enchanter | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  13. Pingback: Playing Sorcerer (1984) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  14. Pingback: Playing Spellbreaker (1985) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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