Unsolved Games

When I’m looking for new games to review, one of my preferred places to check is IFDB’s random list of games with no ratings. Most of these games are a decade or so old, and it’s interesting to shine some light on them. There’s been a couple of times I’ve found entries with reviews but no ratings, which told me everything I’d need to know about the game.

However, my question is, do we have a list of games nobody has knowingly beaten? No reviews discussing endgame content, no full walkthroughs, not even a play listed on IFDB. There’s been a couple of larger games that took group sessions to figure out, but those are usually IF legends. I think it could be a lot of fun to find some obscure one-offs and come together as a group to beat them for the first time in recorded history.


IFDB doesn’t have anything to indicate whether a game has been solved and there is no way of knowing this, as the vast majority of players would play a game, solve it (or not) and move on to the next game. Very few players go to the trouble of writing up hints, walkthrough or solution. Fewer still would link to this on IFDB.

If IFDB has a walkthrough or solution, then we know it has been solved. But how do we know it hasn’t been solved?

There are many game solution sites around, so you would have to search all of those. As I’m a contributor to the Classic Adventures Solution Archive (CASA), that’s the first place I would look. If you do an advanced search, there is a check box at the bottom to find “Only games without a solution”. I just tried this and it found 5,539 games without a solution. As the database has over 10,000 games, that means only 50% of games have solutions, even though it is probably the biggest solution archive on the internet.

The next place I would look is David Welborn’s excellent site at plover.net, then ClubFloyd. Most of the other solution archives cover retro games or games for specific platforms.

Solutions can be found in the most obscure places. For example, I was recently searching for hints and tips on Andrew Plotkin’s Praser 5 for someone else and found a walkthrough on Stack Exchange, of all places.


I’d bet there are some games with absolutely obscure LLPs.

I’ve not played myself, but allegedly Infocom’s INFIDEL is impossible to complete with a full score and the PC alive at the end.


Just reading back on this, but I don’t think you can end the game while you are still alive…? The only way to end is to die, since that’s the final full-score ending - you get the treasure but are buried alive with it. That’s why it’s impossible - there is no such thing. So :grin:, but at the same time​:skull:.


There’s a sidechannel to this question as to how many games have shipped in actually unwinnable states. Anyway, an excellent project and I’m interested to see if any discoveries are made.


It’s not IF but if memory serves: Daggerfall, the second Elder Scrolls game was unwinnable without patching.


I apologize I mis-remembered and got this wrong. I haven’t played myself but I swear I read a walkthrough or a story about “cruel victories” that said you could either get all the points and die, or forego the treasure and live with less than full score. I may be conflating this game with a similar treasure hunt. My bad!

I know the game was divisive, so maybe this would have been a better moral choice at the end…though this guy is abandoned in the desert and likely doomed either way…

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Apparently the original Crowther ADVENTURE is exceedingly difficult to win with full points as one point is granted for dropping a magazine and leaving it behind in a specific room because there was originally no motivation or a very subtle clue.

This time I did look it up and have a source!

In the version of Adventure I played on the PR1ME mainframe computer in the mid-to-late 1970s, the “Spelunker Today” magazine was NOT addressed to Witt’s End. If you tried to read the magazine, it only said “I’m afraid it’s written in dwarvish.”

I’m guessing later (earlier?) developers decided this was too obscure, and decided to deliberately address the magazine to Witt’s End as a clue to how to get the final (lousy) point.

Then again, if you really think about it, Witt’s End was supposed to be an unfinished part of the cave tunnel system — in a cave inhabited by dwarves. Did the Witt Construction Company hire dwarves to do the tunneling work for them? Dwarves are well-known to be good at mining, as we know from both Tolkien and Snow White. Perhaps being written in dwarvish was a really really obscure clue.

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Only in the sense that you could leave the computer on indefinitely and the character would “never die.” There is no actual Concluding Game Statement involving life.


It’s not quite the same thing as an unsolved game, but I’ve long been intrigued by the way Kim Schuette presented the solution for Mummy’s Curse in The Book Of Adventure Games, using an exploit/bug to win the game after dying. The AppleAdventures video walkthrough uses what would appear to be the intended path to victory, a magic phrase.

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Is that right? I remember that the dungeon generation could sometimes put critical characters inside walls or otherwise make them inaccessible – and of course it was very easy to make the game unwinnable by getting time-limited quests well before you were high enough level to complete them, or things like that – but I don’t remember that it was completely unwinnable pre-patch.

(Of course, despite playing a fair bit of the game, neither I nor anyone else I know ever came close to winning it. Lots of fun to be had messing around in the cities and settlements, but man those dungeons were awful).

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Very nice! It looks like CASA is definitely the way to go here for finding ‘unsolved games’.


I know The Blood Lust Warrior, while not commercial, is unwinnable due to bugs. The final command you have to use to win is set to apply to an object, but no objects are coded to respond to it. Reading the source code clued me in to a lot of this game’s jank.

While looking at that game’s page again, I found the Games That No-one Has Ever Knowingly Finished IFDB poll. I don’t know when this poll was created, but it seems like half the games on it have since been solved! One of them is the aforementioned Praser 5. Castle Ralf is also listed, but Canalboy’s review reports that he has recently completed it and even posted a solution! ANDROMEDA 1983 also has a full CASA solution.

The remaining unsolved games on the poll seem to be The Castle of Hornadette, Ferret, and Kurusu City, the latter of which is even an 2004 IFComp submission. I’d be curious to see if these ever get figured out.


Jason Dyer (and readers) beat Ferret last year.

I actually played Kurusu City! From my review, apparently the issue is that robots repeatedly drag you to a buggy math class that you can’t escape; seems like it might be possible to avoid the robots to never get into that situation, though?


In terms of unsolved games per se I think the majority of them would be as a result of bugs. It is not just more contemporary non-commercial efforts that are unwinnable because of programming errors; a surprising number of ostensibly professional efforts from the eighties suffer from the same malady. If the source code is tractable then some kind or just inquisitive soul will roll out Ciderpress or another tool to diagnose and patch the game. Examples include some of Brian Cotton’s Supersoft games. Sometimes through apathy or impenetrable source code the games remain stubbornly inviolate. I think it is comparatively rare for games to be unsolved because of their puzzle difficulty being ratcheted up to eleven.


Even if there were, that would make it a game with two endings, not an “unsolved game”.


I’m pretty certain, but my memory isn’t what it once was. I bought the special CompUSA disc (from an actual CompUSA!) with extra content and I did finish the game. My memory is that one of the main quests was broken until it was patched. It was enough for me to send an angry e-mail to Bethesda regarding their product testing. I also commented on them intending to make magic items unrepairable while still degrading on use, meaning they were all consumable.


Yes I finished Castle Ralf after a long hiatus. It is very tough but largely fair. It contains the largest puzzle I have ever encountered.


I would love to see PLATO Adventure solved.


Has anyone gotten to an ending in Lost Coastlines?
Something equivalent to *YOU HAVE WON*?

I revisit it now and then, happily adventuring for a while. I love the impression of endless exploration, but I never get the sense that I’m working toward a final conclusion. Which there may not be, if the point of the game is indeed endless exploration. I don’t know.

Lost Coastlines - Details (ifdb.org)