Anchorhead is too hard for me

(Dan Fabulich) #21

Questions to clarify my InvisiClues:

  1. Am I right in understanding that these are the bare minimum requirements for solving the mural?
  • You have to find the mural. (You can find it just by examining the racks and pushing them as early as Day 2, but you can also spy on Michael, and then he’ll reveal the mural and push the racks for you.)
  • You have to read the charts in the Observatory. Only then can you TOUCH the star signs on the mural.
  • You have to determine the combination. This at least requires reading the names of all of the Verlacs in the scrapbook, and then looking up the Verlacs in the Courthouse (that’s the only way to get their birthdates), and it requires the Monmouth page, which you can read on Day 2 by stealing the wallet, or you can find it in the house by spying on Michael. Ideally, it also requires the Croseus chapter from the Frazer (“Overview”) book that Michael checked out, but you can brute force Croseus’ sign if you know all of the rest.

All of that could be done on Day 2 by stealing Michael’s faculty card, but honest spouses can do it on Day 3 by finding Michael’s wallet.

  1. Am I right in remembering that you can smash the puzzle box with the train in 1998 Anchorhead? But that no longer works in 2018 Anchorhead? Similarly, the meat hook didn’t open the box in 1998 Anchorhead, but works in 2018?

  2. Are the office drawer and the shackles the only two pickable locks in this game?

  3. Am I right in remembering that in 1998 Anchorhead, you had to see the the hobo (Dr. Rebis) die in order to get the amulet back, and that means you had to hide in the side alley?

  4. Is it now possible to spy on Michael all day?

Regarding the finicky parser at the Wharf:

Applying the oar to the boat required “PUT THE OAR IN THE OARLOCK” and not not simply “IN THE DINGHY”. “ROW” is synonymous for “GO”, so “ROW DINGHY” doesn’t work. (“You can’t see any such thing.”) If you “ROW” in the tied dinghy at the Wharf, you exit the dinghy. If you “ROW” when Out at Sea (without an object), it doesn’t work unless you’ve put the oar in the oarlock, even if you have both oars.

It’s also easy to accidentally exit the boat by typing “WEST.” If the dinghy is untied when you do that, you lose the dinghy.

Changes I’ll make:

  • I’ll provide a separate map of the Behind the Walls maze. Trizbort doesn’t work well for mapping mazes, it seems.
  • I’ll fix the instructions on smashing the puzzle box, suggesting smashing it with the hook rather than a train.
  • I’ll eliminate the hint mentioning searching the bones, and instead say that you’ll need to open the office drawer before trying te enter the mill. (That will ensure that the player has visited the Church, and therefore visited the well.)

Here are my thoughts on each puzzle I mentioned above.

  1. Throughout, the puzzle “how do I end the day” seems to have no logical answer. It should at the very least link back to each dream at the start of the day, but it doesn’t.

The first night’s dream is about discovering the secret passage and spying on Michael, but you can’t do that until the third day. The second day ends when you solve the hobo/Rebis puzzle, for no clear reason.

The second night’s dream is about discovering the well, which is fine, but then you have to play the flute in the Burial Mound to regain access to the real-estate office via the sewer tunnels; your only lead is the dream line, “Michael’s in the cellar, doing something bad.” Only once you get back to the office do you have a “mission” again, to break into the paper mill.

A) Breaking into the real-estate office. Other than adventure-game logic, there’s nothing in this game that says, “yes, you should break into the real estate office.” Michael recommends waiting. The game never says, “that’s it, you’ve waited log enough.” And there are plenty of other buildings to discover that you can’t break into yet, especially including the Church, the Mill, the Asylum, the Sewers, and the Courthouse.

It is intriguing that Michael will propose breaking in if you ask him for help. IMO the “PERSON, COMMAND” syntax is now so rare in modern games as to be undiscoverable without an ABOUT page recommending using it, but “ASK MICHAEL ABOUT HELP” (or “FOR HELP”) also works. The problem is that this requires guessing that Michael will respond to that topic, when the text never explicitly mentions the word “help.” I think there’s no good reason for players to guess that “help” is a valid topic here. This “guess the topic” puzzle is at least as hard (and at least as unfair) as the puzzle we’re trying to solve in the first place.

B) Proving that Dr. Rebis lied about William. It’s easier to find William’s coffin now (you can just stumble across it), and that’s probably for the best. The problem is, the hobo (Dr. Rebis) is the centerpiece of Day 2; you must solve his puzzle to end the day, and you specifically have to prove to him that you know that William wasn’t buried in the crypt.

But this task is totally non-motivated. Why does my character want to do this? What evidence does the player have that Rebis is essential to end the day? After I find the skull, why am I showing the skull to Rebis? He’s not even mentioned in the first night’s dream. What puzzle am I solving?

In my InvisiClues, I phrased the question, “What should I ask the man in the Vacant Lot about?” This question is totally unnatural; nobody would bother to ask this question if it weren’t right there in the InvisiClues.

Perhaps the thought is, “you should solve him just because he’s there,” but there are a bunch of NPCs on Day 2 that you can’t gainfully interact with yet, including the locals in the pub, the orderly, and the mom in the Shanty Town. Why am I interacting with this guy in particular?

I think the right fix would be to have the key appear in his personal description. At least then the question could be, “How do I get the key from the man in the Vacant Lot?”

C) Spying on Michael. You can’t see Michael open the mural until the third day. Randomizing the spy holes makes this worse, not better. I have to just guess that persistent surveillance will pay off, even if I get unlucky and see a repeat message in the holes (which happens).

IMO, spying on Michael opening the mural should conclude Day 2. That’s what the first night’s dream is about: opening the secret passage and watching Michael.

D) Putting the black disk in the telescope. The “thin, rectangular slot” is for some reason meant to hold a non-rectangular black disk that is only “like a lens.”

E) Finding the hidden entrance to the paper mill. IMO this puzzle is bizarrely harder now in 2018 than it was in 1998. In 1998 the thickets are described like this:

It requires persistent examination to bother examining the thicket, but once you see it, it’s a pretty clear invitation to search.

Here’s the thicket description in 2018:

That doesn’t sound inviting. It forces me to make a huge leap of logic to try searching the thickets.

F) Returning the bear to get a mill key. The houses no longer have visible street numbers, so even if you manage to figure out that the newspaper could lead you to the right house, it requires a huge leap to guess that you should type “knock on #48” here to access the house.

G) Picking locks. The needle itself requires searching the asylum in a stressful “time is of the essence” section, quite possibly under attack from the madman. But once you get it, for some reason you can use it to open the shackles, but not any of the other locks we care about? The asylum gate? The new church padlock? The lighthouse door?


@dfabulich - I wanted to post my sincere appreciation for the work you’ve done here - and to everyone commenting on this thread, in particular to both BadWolf and jbdyer with whom I largely agree. This discussion is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

I’ve been slogging my way through the original Anchorhead for the past two years (off and on, when I can). And I adore the open exploration and even the frustration of wondering “what do I do now?” The uncertainty makes the experience that much more immersive and discovering solutions that much more rewarding. But there are times when I’m so completely stuck that a hint is exactly what I’m looking for - not a walk through which breaks the experience and makes me feel like I’ve given up. (And I should note, I’ve skipped reading the last two posts to avoid getting too many spoilers.)

I’ve dabbled in writing my own IF, and the thoughts laid out here will be extraordinarily helpful in keeping the game play balanced and accessible. So … thanks!