4 – The Catacombs

So you sit at your desk and try to fix your bug.

It is generally not fun in an Interactive Fiction game to have to repeat the same action to further the story, but let’s face it, until I can write a game that will let people actually fix a bug by actual C++ code, this is the best I had.

But each time, different things happened.

A couple of attempts leads to a sound happening. It’s not something you can act on. In fact, when that sound happens (not a real sound, I opted not to use sound files) you can even >LISTEN and it will simply say

You look around.
Darkness there, and nothing more.

But a couple more tries and a shrieking sound fills the office, and after that, attempts to fix the bug are pointless, as you are far too distracted by that sound to focus.

And as Mysophonia is a real thing I have (I get very irritated by certain sounds, to the point of panic and flight response) I am using that in this game. Once the shrieking begins, you have little option but to find it.

It is in the same room Crystal Castles is in, and appears to becoming from behind a built-in shelf.

However, when you first enter this room, the shelf is a built-in. Strongly built-in, and solid. There is nothing on it. You can put things on it (there is not a lot of inventory, but you can put it on the Sturdy Shelf.)

When the shrieking sound begins however, I swap the Sturdy Shelf with a White Shelf, which is, ostensibly the same shelf, but in fact is not. First, there is only a bottle of Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Scotch Whisky on it.

Also, anything you put on the shelf earlier is now gone. (Don’t worry, it comes back later.)

So of course you want the Scotch. If you try to drink it, you must get it first, and when you do, the shelf shakes, which is a huge clue that it is no longer fixed in place, and can be wiggled, and of course, moved.

Move it and a doorway is revealed. A doorway to a Dark Hall. That room is an old Janitor’s closet, which in turn leads to a dark tunnel of stone. Certainly not something that should be anywhere near a new office building. It is populated with Janitor things: A dirty broom, an old mop and a yellow bucket.

From here the room goes downward a long way and leads to a Red Tunnel, so named because a red glow permeates the room, and gets more intense further along. This is in fact a pointless room except it gave me an opportunity to do some sly Poe references. There is a bricked-up alcove there, and a crate. The crate is old and the stenciling faded, but says “something like Armontadillo”, which is a dual reference to “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. The walled-up alcove where Montressor bricks in Fortunado, luring him down into the family tombs with promise of a cask of Amontillado, a rare and desired wine.

The tunnel continues on downward to a Red Chamber. I mean an ancient stone chamber with big flagstone floors (shipped from Wales, which is a reference to the source of Stonehenge’s stones) and a five-sided arched groined vault ceiling. Here is where the real story happens, even if the “puzzles” aren’t really puzzles. But it is a story sequence that you trigger.

Here, you see a room, flagstones, a star painted on the floor in white paint, with yellow paint connecting the five points. Of course this is a pentagram, and while I never describe it as such, it’s clearly a pentagram. In fact, if you use the word “pentagram” in your commands, it will understand it, but the game itself never calls it that.

So what’s the only use for a pentagram? Well of course you trap a demon in it. That’s the only use for a pentagram.

And fitting to that purpose, inside this “star” (as it is described in the story) is an old coat, or towel, or some cloth thing. It is also described as a black leathery mass. I use many words to describe this while skirting the actual nature of it.

You can try to move it or touch it, but you get sick whenever your feet try to step over these painted lines. An effect of the spell that has trapped the demon. A righteous person would feel sickened approaching a demon, so you get sick any time you get close to crossing over into its prison, so you can’t affect the cloth in any way. Almost.

Except you can poke it or touch it with something. And there are only a handful of objects in this game that you can carry, and therefore touch it with. The umbrella (useless except as set dressing, since you came in from a stormy October night and is too short to reach), a broken mop (too short), and a couple of other smaller things. And a broom. The solution is the broom you passed (or picked up) in the Dark Hall.

Luckily you can go back and get it once you realize you have to touch the cloth coat with something longer than the umbrella. I make sure not to seal up the room until you have the broom with you, and a good way to do that is to ensure you must use the umbrella before being sealed into the chamber. The broom is the key to finishing the story.

Old with age, its bristles have hardened and are quite sharp now (useful later), and most importantly, the broom is long enough to poke the cloth in the center of the pentagram without stepping on the lines. Notably, the broken mop and the umbrella are too short to reach, and are not sharp enough to break the painted lines.

Once you do poke the cloth with the broom, you wake the demon. Then he hovers there, still trapped inside his prison, and in fact even tries to break out a couple of times, to no result.

Once this story sequence begins, you can free the demon by severing the paint lines, breaking the solid pentagram. If you do this, you cut short the story sequence, but it still leads to a satisfying ending.

If you do not, however, the demon begins to spell out the full story (which is why I hope players let the story play out.)

Apparently your boss trapped this demon before your most recent game shipped, three years ago. Your company’s history is one of writing several games that were well-respected and well-reviewed but were not huge financial successes. However, three years ago, when the latest new game launched, it was a blockbuster hit. Obviously a result of the deal with this demon.

However, your boss broke the deal, He was supposed to free the demon after he launched the game to huge success, but never did. (An implication is that he hopes to make further use of this prisoner.)

Now the demon has been imprisoned for three years and has been growing angrier and angrier, and is now seeking freedom and revenge.

So you find out he has actually lured you here tonight, and while he doesn’t say it (I deleted that part… it didn’t feel right) he was what caused you to inadvertently make those dragon bugs that you’re here to fix. Getting you here alone late at night, he could lure you down to his prison, in hopes you will free him.

So he makes a deal with you instead. (A possible implication is that if you do free him, you will become successful, and your boss… may not enjoy the rest of his short life.)

So you can sweep the lines with the broom and scrape just enough paint away to crack the bounds of the pentagram, thus freeing the demon.

He then does some creepy invasion of your personal space, kisses you, and feeds your brain with the solution to the bug, where to hide the Peep successfully, and as a side-effect, play Crystal Castles to win every time.

Is This Fair?

Good question. Is this fair? I emphasize again that this Interactive Fiction Game is really an Interactive Fiction Story, a term more often used these days than Interactive Fiction Game.

It really doesn’t have any puzzles as such. You just have to write code, search for a Peep, free a demon, and hide the Peep and you win. You can go home and drink your favorite whisky.

But is it fair?

What if you don’t want to free the demon?


I mean the game just stalemates until you either >QUIT or give in and free the demon.

But then again, if I were to put in two options: Free the Demon, or Die trapped in the now-sealed off Red Chamber, I’m sure I’d get plenty of complaints from players that I didn’t give them a better out. And perma-death is no longer de rigueur in Interactive Fiction.

So I give the player no choice. Which is probably fair in fact, given a demon would also not really give you a choice.

After all, he still has some power, even while imprisoned. He had enough to lure you here, and he has enough to brick up the entrance trapping you. And the only way out is to free the demon. He’s not going to take no for an answer, and neither do I.

Once the demon is freed, he grants you your bargain, and you feel sick, the world closes in on you and you black out… waking up in your chair, with an idea in your head. You lift your head off your laptop.

(Were you asleep? Was this all a dream?)

One more attempt at fixing the bug, and you find the problem, and fix it in short order.

Game over?

Nope. You forgot the other reason you came.

You have to Put Peep.

Which you can now do since you’ve fixed the bug.

And then you can go home and drink your favorite whisky.

But not before being reminded you may just have made a deal with a demon… or did you?