Retro Challenge 2017/10 – Returning to Zork

After what felt like a lot of aimless bumbling around and poor progress on the first streamed game of Zork, I decided to take a peek at a walkthrough solution before playing this.

The last live stream finished off with me getting frustrated with not being able to undo a bolt at the Dam, despite having a wrench.  A peek at the walkthrough mentioned pushing a yellow button in the control room first.  Really?  Like, how was I supposed to know that?  Ok, I’ll admit that I hadn’t spotted any of the buttons in the control room (there was a lot of text bombarding me as I arrived in there), but if I had, I would have probably pushed all the buttons.  I don’t know if you must push only the yellow one, or if pushing them all would render the bolt still unturnable, but if this is the level of puzzle I’m supposed to solve, then it’s unlikely that I’m going to make too much progress after this part.

So, instead, I decided to print off the first couple of pages of the walkthrough, and planned to just follow along with it.

The live stream started at 7pm on Thursday evening, and the set up was the same as the previous one.  The only difference was that I’ve now upgraded from the free version of Wirecast to a licence one with no interruptions.  There was 5 viewers on YouTube and 4 on the text stream, although towards the end I spotted a tweet from a viewer that was unable to connect to the text stream (Sorry!), but I never found out if it was a problem at my end or his.

The first thing I wanted to do was test out the instructions on pushing the yellow button before undoing the bolt.  Sure enough, this worked!  However, there were a few other things that I’d missed out between the start and the dam.  I could have possibly caught up with those in a different order, but decided to quit this game and start afresh.

Progress went well, and within an hour I had completed around 50% of the game.  Some of the walkthrough was invaluable.  I can imagine I’d have ended up stuck in the maze for ever, and probably unable to map it too, but when the walkthrough tells you to just go northwest, south, west, up, west, southwest, and northeast, it is much more enjoyable.  Even following along on the map this was hard to work out.

I feel like I’ve successfully completed the Retro Challenge I set myself, and I’m happy that things went pretty well.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a text adventurer, and I don’t think this experience has changed that.  Zork was actually better than I thought it would be, and at some point I’ll play through the 2nd half of the walkthrough.  The best part for me, however, was the technical side of things, and hooking up an ESP8266 as a wifi link for the RC2014.  There seems to be a few different bits of ESP8266 software that will add value to the RC2014, so I’ll be developing a proper ESP8266 Module soon.

A big thanks to those that have followed along with this blog, via Twitter, and, of course, via YouTube and the text stream.

Transcript of this adventure here;

If you need to watch the YouTube stream, it can be found here https://youtu.be/K-Kv5saIHyE

Retro Challenge 2017/10 Zork First Stream

At 7pm UK time on Sunday (yesterday), I did the first Zork live stream.  This post is going to look back at how this went, from a technical point of view, from my point of view as a new YouTube streamer, and from the point of view of a non-adventure gamer playing Zork for the first time.

There was two aspects to the hardware.  The RC2014 running Zork was almost completely stand-alone.  It had it’s own keyboard and monitor, and the only connection to the outside world was via the ESP8266 module.  The ESP connected to the internet over Wifi, and streamed everything that was sent to the monitor via web sockets.  The Tx line from the ESP also went to a laptop so that I could monitor how many connections were open.

The laptop was also running Wirecast, and streaming it’s webcam and microphone to a live (live-ish.  About a 10 second delay) YouTube feed.  I could then talk, mumble, gesture, or use the chat feature, as well as read the chat messages as they came in.

Overall, this worked reasonably well – however there were a few things that could have been better.  About 20 minutes in, there were a couple of people complaining that they couldn’t connect to the text stream from the ESP.  The 3 people still connected were ok and getting updates, but nobody else could connect.  After a reboot everyone could connect and I was streaming to an audience of 5.  There was a report of odd characters being sent, although I think this was only when I used the delete key, which couldn’t be displayed properly in the live feed.  Also, there was still the issue with some lines being truncated.  If anybody viewing has kept a transcript, it will be interesting to compare with my transcript to see if they are both truncating at the same point (indicating a dropout between the web socket server and the ESP), or if they are different (indicating a dropout between the web socket server and the viewer)

I felt a bit awkward on YouTube.  It was kind of odd, and I couldn’t quite decide if I should just be playing Zork on my own and ignoring everyone looking over my shoulder – or if I should be ‘performing’ for the audience and involving them more.  As someone that isn’t that comfortable in front of the camera, and not good at text adventure games, I am beginning to question my life choices that lead to me narrating my fumbling through a troll filled underworld live on YouTube :-/

Although I had loaded up Zork a few times in the past, I had never gone further than randomly typing in directions, or going in to the house.  So I really was treading new ground here.  One of the things that surprised me for a 40 year old game is just how large the place is, and how much is going on.  I didn’t realise that there would be other characters that moved around, stole things from you and dropped things in different rooms.

The first game didn’t last too long, after picking a fight with the thief left me injured and a troll finished me off.  So I restarted the game, and decided to take a different approach in attacking the thief – but was surprised to find he wasn’t where he was in the previous game.

I did find myself questioning my motives here though.  Basically, I broke in to somebodys house, took all of their possessions, and tried to kill the first person I met.  I should be asking myself who the bad guy is in this game!

I had downloaded a map from the internet to make things a little bit easier for me.  It saved me from trying to go in directions that didn’t exist, and meant that I didn’t have to map things out for myself as I went along.  However it didn’t mean that I could just get to where I thought I wanted to go.  For example, once I went downstairs from the house, I couldn’t get back up again.  Well, one way up was up an unclimbable slope, one was up through the trap door that was locked behind me (probably by the house owner after I stole his lunch), and the stairs to the kitchen could only be climbed if I dropped most of what I was carrying.

Eventually I ended up at the Dam, and there was a control panel with a bolt and a green bubble on it.  In the Maintenance Room I found a wrench.  Also a tube of magical gunk.  So, surely these things were all related, and something good would happen if I could remove the bolt.  But no matter what combination of words I used, it just wouldn’t do anything.

I’d been playing for an hour by this time, so decided to call it a day for now.  I’ll resume again soon, although I can’t promise that I won’t have looked up how to remove the bolt before I try again :)

A transcript of my adventure can is below

The YouTube stream can be found here https://youtu.be/Gdjq2Rb9y64 But, really, it’s probably not going to be one of those thing I expect anybody to sit through!

 

Retro Challenge 2017/10 – Live Zork Streaming Soon

Firstly, apologies that not much has happened recently.  I’ve been under the weather for the last few days, so only made minimal progress.  However, feeling a bit better, so Tonight I will try streaming Zork!

I am planning to go live at 7PM UK time tonight for around an hour (If you’re not in the UK, see this countdown timer).  If you missed it, I’m sorry – but I hope to have a transcript up soon, and will probably do it again shortly.

There will be a tweet beforehand with links to connect to, so if you don’t follow @ZXSpectROM on Twitter, click here to view

Essentially, there will be two aspects to the streaming.

  • Primarily, there will be a RC2014, running CP/M, with Zork on it.  This machine will have the ESP8266 Wifi bridge, and everything that is sent to the screen will also be sent to http://tzapu.github.io/WebSocketSerialMonitor/ via web sockets.  This machine will also be using one of the old parallel 80’s keyboards I investigated in the last Retro Challenge (It’s important to point this out so you’ll cut me some slack with all the inevitable typos that I know I’ll make with this keyboard layout).  This will be the live stream of Zork, which is essentially the goal of this Retro Challenge.
  • A live stream on YouTube will also take place.  Well, live-ish.  Apparently there’s a 10 second delay, so that might be a bit odd.  However, the main reason for this is to provide a feedback loop for those watching along at home via the YouTube Chat function.  I’ll have a laptop set up next to the RC2014 so I can see any comments as they come in.  So, if I forgot to pick up an object in a room, or you think I should go north instead of east, you can let me know.  It will be streaming video from a webcam too, but don’t expect that to be too exciting.  (Seriously, you’ll be watching a 40 year old ASCII based text adventure game being played by somebody that isn’t good at text adventure games, and the webcam footage will be LESS exciting!)

 

So, that’s the important stuff that you need to know to follow along tonight.

In other news, as I was happy enough with how the prototype PCB seems to be working, I’ve laid out a real board now.  The PCBs are currently being manufactured in China, although it isn’t looking likely that I’ll get them back before the end of this particular Retro Challenge.  But if I do, then expect an update here!  Here’s a sneaky peek at what they should look like though;