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Missed Classic: Spellbreaker - Avalanche!

Written by Joe Pranevich



Wow! It’s been a while. How have you been? Family good? Any of you have children who grew up, went to college, started a family, and then had children of their own still waiting for a Spellbreaker update? I am sorry about that, but life has been a bit extra challenging these last few weeks and writing needed to take a back seat. The other issue is that this game isn’t really “singing” to me. It’s good and all, but I’m not really getting drawn to the story or the puzzles in the usual way for Infocom. I’ll discuss that more in a bit and in upcoming posts, but the end result is that not having enough time, plus having to force myself to play and write when I did have the time, made for a longer than usual time between posts. I’ll try to do better with the remainder of the series now that real life has settled a bit. I apologize for my tardiness.

Where we left off last time, I had just survived (somehow) an attack where all of the elders of all of the magical guilds in the world were all turned into frogs. Why was I not affected? That remains a core mystery. I chased after the assailant, but he teleported away in a cloud of orange smoke, leaving me only with a white cube left in the middle of the street and a new spell in my spellbook. When I cast that new spell on the cube, I was transported away into a dark room. That’s all we’ve done so far, so let’s see what happens next!

It’s dark, but there don’t appear to be any grues...

Whenever I am, it is dark. I cast the “frotz” spell on the bread from the buffet and use it as a light source. Not everyone has the style to make a flashlight made of bread work, but I think I can just about manage it. It’s a baguette of power! Once I can see, I find that I am in a room of “Packed Earth” with exits in four directions and a hole down. My first thought is that I am far underground someplace, back in the Great Underground Empire, but not all is as it seems. The passage north seems to be blocked by a magical force, while the other exists behave more like teleporters than exits in a cave. Every time we leave, the cube reappears in our hands and we are somewhere different:
  • East leads to a “Hall of Stone” with passages to the north and south. North of there is a snake eating its own head blocking the way. An ouroboros! South is an underground ruin and a swiftly moving channel of water. I also find a magic zipper.
  • South leads to a cave with a sneezing ogre. He won’t let me by to explore deeper. Heading east from there leads to…
  • West leads to the middle of a cliff face with a short path above and a longer one down, taking me back to the ogre’s cave. The cliff has a scroll (“throck”: make plants grow) on the side and a curtain of precariously perched rocks above. At the top of the mountain is a hut that I can see but not reach. Any exploration at the top triggers an avalanche that will kill me if I don’t get out of the way. 
As I explore, I save/restore to return to “Packed Earth” but I probably need not have bothered. The “blorple” spell seems to be able to work any number of times and I can return. While at first I suspect that maybe time travel is involved and the regions reset when you leave them, that doesn’t appear to be the case because taking the scroll or the zipper means that we have those objects until fetch-quest-do-us-part. During my explorations, I managed to get myself buried in the rockslide once and die. That takes me to a new room called the “Boneyard” where a mysterious voice offers to give me one more chance. I restore again anyway, just in case there is a walking dead situation, but knowing there is a place we go if we kill ourselves is both comforting and probably used to solve some puzzle later. (The inspiration for Kings Quest VI? Or do I just have Sierra on the brain.)


 
An illustration of an ogre from “Legends of Zork” (2009)

One mildly confusing aspect of the “blorple” teleportation is that two of the exits are so close to each other, literally two screens apart. Does that mean I’ll find a path to the Hall of Stone later as well? Is that entrance what the ogre is guarding? Turning my attention to that ogre, I find that he doesn’t bother you very quickly. If you invade his space, you have plenty of time to explore before he kills you. That leads me to triggering an avalanche and hiding out in his cave until it passes, but that doesn’t win me anything and all the rocks are back in position when I return. It must be a magical mountain.

Speaking of magic, I turn my attention back to the zipper that I picked up in the underground ruins. When I open it, it behaves almost exactly like a bag of holding. I reach in and feel around; in two attempts I am able to grab ahold of a hidden scroll: “girgol”, to stop time. It’s too long to put into my spellbook so I’ll have to consider it a one-and-done solution to a puzzle rather than a spell to add to my repertoire. Hiding in the zipper-- which surprisingly doesn’t kill me-- doesn’t seem to win me that much other than a hidden “room”. I try climbing in to survive the avalanche and that doesn’t help at all. I die.


“And I am a snake head eating the head on the opposite side…”

I “blorple” my way back to the cliff face and try to stop time there, but it doesn’t work the way I want. Instead of the rocks forming a natural staircase up the mountain or being climbable before you trigger the avalanche, all I end up with is a near-vertical curtain of rocks and no climbing equipment. Using the stop-time spell on the ogre helps a bit, but doesn’t really solve the puzzle. With it, I can get past and see that the passage he is blocking just leads to his bedroom, containing a gold box and a dusty scroll. Unfortunately, the stop-time spell is really strong and I can’t interact with anything because only I can move, nothing else. When time resumes, I am killed immediately. I think for a while that the trick is to hide so that the ogre doesn’t see you, but with time stopped I can’t really do much to accomplish that and I eventually give up. I even try going into the zipper, but that only buys me a bit of time since I die as soon as I come out. There’s a way to get that box opened, but this isn’t it.

At this point, I am stuck.

I try casting “yomin” everywhere to do a mind probe. That gives me a few clues such as the snake being imprisoned due to its pride and the ogre having hayfever. The “throck” spell to grow plants could be useful in his case, but I don’t find any plants to try my theory out on.

I experiment further with the zipper. I can climb in it! I can even shut it while I’m in, but it doesn’t help in ways that I expect. I cannot hide inside to avoid the rockslide, for example, and while it does fool the ogre for a bit, he still kills me as soon as I come out.


Is this the Ur Example of the roc’s nest puzzle in adventure games?

The next break comes back in the Packed Earth room: I can go down the hole after all. Although I have to force the issue, the game lets me climb down the hole if I am insistent. Moments later, I am high above the Earth, falling into a mountainous and forested region below. Maybe if I squint, I might be able to see a cave with a sneezing ogre in it. Fortunately, I neither splat into the ground, nor get turned into a bowl of petunias as I am picked up by a roc flying nearby. The giant bird takes off towards the Flathead mountains to the west. Have we seen those in any of the other Zork games? It is so difficult to keep track. I get a few turns to consider my situation while the roc is carrying me, but nothing I do seems very helpful. Eventually, it-- or rather she-- deposits me in her nest.

Now, where have we seen this scene before? We had a roc’s nest scene in Kings Quest V, as well as a parody of that one in Space Quest IV. I feel like it’s been in other games as well. Is this the first example? Regardless, the roc ignores me once I am in her nest-- I suspect that she’s waiting for her chick to hatch so I can be their first meal. The nest contains some flotsam and jetsam, stuff that the mother bird picked up, including both another one of the white cubes and a flimsy scroll. The scroll turns out to be the “caskly” spell which makes something perfect, although some quick attempts don’t seem to suggest that I can use it on anything here. Unfortunately, the white cube is under the egg and the mama bird doesn’t let me anywhere near it. Attempting to help mother nature take her course with the “rezrov” (open) spell doesn’t do the trick either. Eventually, I “blorple” my way back to safety. I quickly check and verify that I can drop down the hole and end up picked up by the roc again, so I know I can get back if I need to. At least I got a scroll out of the deal!


I’d totally try “caskly” on this guy. It would have saved like 30 episodes.

Still stuck, I “caskly” everything in the game to see if the perfect version is what I need. Unfortunately, nothing seems to do the trick. There is a different response when I use it in the ruins, but still no dice. Maybe we’ll try that again later.

Once again, I am stuck. I even nearly end my first post with a “Request for Assistance” which would be embarrassing considering how long I made everyone wait for it. But the trick was that I was mis-timing the avalanche. If you stop time at the right moment, you can climb up the boulders to the path above. At the very top is the hut, as well as a gold coin that I happily pocket. It’s 500 zorkmids! I would be more excited about that if the game had an actual economy. Heading east, I enter the hermit’s cottage where I discover a featureless white cube in the wall. There are three of them! To try to get a hint, I use “yomin” on the hermit to discover that his brains have been a bit addled through years of being alone. He thinks I am going to rob him, which might be true considering that I’d really like to get my hands on that cube. I ask him about the cube and he tells me that it appeared in a cloud of orange smoke some time ago. That sounds like our assailant, but if he dropped off the cube ages ago then he’s either time traveling or was planning whatever he is up to well in advance. He also tells me that he has struggled to build the hut for years and that white cube was just what he needed to finish. The solution seems obvious: I use “caskly” on the hut and it is rearranged and rebuilt perfectly. The cube, no longer necessary to hold up the walls, is on the floor where I can take it.

Now that I have snatched my first “new” cube, I blorple it and find myself in a “Soft” room with exits to the east and south. This seems like a good stopping point for now, although I do not know how many cubes I will come across. rive,


Just like this, but a bit more of a climb.

My remaining mysteries:
  • How do I get past the ogre to get the scroll and gold box?
  • How do I get past the snake?
  • What is up with the water channel in the ruins? 
  • How do I get into the final “blocked” direction in the Packed Earth room?
As far as the core mystery of the game is concerned, the trail seems to have gone cold. The attacker that I had been chasing at the beginning of the section is now long gone, with no clues as to who he is or where he escaped to. I now know that there are several white cubes, but what connection they have to each other or the assailant is unknown. I hope that the game picks up this thread because what started as an exciting chase quickly became a slow progression through some timing and teleportation puzzles. Of course, being a Zork game, I have to theorize that there are time-travel shenanigans and I might find out that I’m actually the attacker. That would either be a nice callback to the coal mine puzzle from Zork III, or a ripoff, depending on your point of view. I will have many more thoughts on how Zork III successfully closed out the original series and whether Spellbreaker is a worthy successor in a few weeks. See you soon!

Time played: 3 hr 20 min
Total time: 3 hr 50 min

Inventory: 2x white cubes, gold coin, zipper, rye bread, smoked fish, magic burin, knife, spell book
Spell Book Contains: caskly, throck, blorpie, yomin, rezrov, frotz, gnusto, malyon, jindak, lesoch

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