The TL;DR is I've been obsessed with this cryptic game since the 80s. Recently, I finally worked out what was going on and finished it. If you're interested in how it plagued my murky psychology, great! Read this whole thing. But if you just want a game map and strategy-style guide, skip to those parts below.
Background: Why Did I Do This?
Good question. I first played Nightworld - or Night World to render it properly - on the Electron in the mid 80s, when I was about 7 or 8. It always left me wondering what it was about. Its enigmatic nature, the cryptic, occult iconography, and the feeling that there must be something more to it, just out of reach. It seemed like a real life ARG (which I suppose just makes it an RG, but still) - where the point was not so much to finish the game, but to understand its purpose.
Anyway, you might expect what interested me at that age to fade over the years. But it never quite did. Sure, I would go years at a time without thinking about it, but I could never fully forget it. This was to the point where that imagery - the Eye of Providence, and the precession of the Sun and the Moon, those Prisms - would appear in my dreams. Really!
If that all sounds a bit dramatic for what was a middling-quality game (actually I now think it's far better than that, as we'll see later) on a low-end computer from nearly four decades ago - one, moreover, with garbage, buggy, inconsistent physics - then I totally understand. But that's just the effect it had on my impressionable mind.
Besides, if anyone's going to get me on this, I reckon I stand my best chance of finding them here! Perhaps this post will provide therapy to others in a similar position! I know there must be some out there who can sympathise, as I found this (modern) review of the game from the Electron User Group suggesting I'm not entirely unique in this:
To the writer of the above, if he reads this, there's no need to wait quite that long!Despite all these questions, I return to Nightworld regularly. There isn't a single game that even comes close to its absurdity... I first played it when I was nine, and I have no further answers twenty years later! If it is still bewildering me in 2028 then a longevity span of forty years ain't bad for one of the very first Electron games ever released!
Anyway, given all the above I knew that one day I would need to return to this game, to really devote the time to explore and truly to understand it - to demystify it, if I may be so bold. While I did have an abortive attempt at this a mere 20 years ago (as can be evidenced on this very forum), the time has finally come, and, long story short, I've now done so; I've finished this game, 35-odd years later - and I've forced it to betray all its secrets. Well, all apart from one, as we'll see.
The Pessimistic Hypothesis
Before I could get there, though, I had to rid myself of a doubt that had nagged me for some time. What if there is no more to the game? What if it looked so mysterious, and yielded no answers, simply because there were none? Could the game simply have been rushed out in an incomplete or broken state?
After all, the furthest I could get with this game - either when I was young or during one of my occasional revisits - was collection of the (first) three Prisms. Nor did collecting them seem to actually do anything - except, in typical Night World style, kill you inexplicably. Of course, I could always see what looked like a way to proceed - namely, the lower chamber of Room A - but I could never get there. Nor did any of my research online reveal any evidence that anyone else had got there. None of the screenshots showed a room I didn't already know very well. Footage on YouTube showed those same rooms again, with commenters reminiscing about how they couldn't get any further either.
So it was tempting to accept this Pessimistic Hypothesis, try (again) to forget the game and move on. Ultimately though two factors coalesced to convince me to persevere.
First, I took a memory dump of the computer while the game was loaded, and idly browsed through it in a Hex Editor, looking for anything that might hint towards an answer. Contra my expectations, I found something. Fairly early in the output was a text string, which, while very short and ambiguous, looked like it could well be a reference to a sequel to Night World. If the author got as far as planning a new game, perhaps he finished the first one.
The second factor was my reinterpretation of the wording from the original Game Plan, and a couple of contemporaneous reviews. They all made explicit reference to "Secret Passages". Now, this being an 8-bit game, a good deal of charitable imagination is required on the part of the player, if he's to bring the author's vision to life in any way. After all, the Game Plan also talks of "flying harpies" - but it actually contains small clumps of pixels that more resemble angry, flying pilchards than anything else. So a "Secret Passage" could really be anything - perhaps the upper path through Room E, for instance. There was nothing firm to suggest this was an undiscovered (by me, anyway) game mechanic.
Anyway, despite these things being in no way conclusive, I decided to continue with a new, Optimistic Hypothesis: the game really did have an end - and the key to it was Secret Passages.
With the Optimistic Hypothesis in mind, I returned to my then-incomplete Game Map, featuring just Room A to Room H - and started looking for anywhere that might conceal a Secret Passage. The old Quake player in me thought they must be telegraphed in some way, by a misaligned texture or a flickering light. There was nothing like that I could see.
So I fell back to a simpler approach. Just pick a rarely-visited spot and assume it contains a "non-solid" wall that you can pass through into a new room. I'd never spent any time at the end of the corridor in Room D, just collected the Prism and left. So I headed there. With practically zero expectation of anything happening I just... walked into the wall.
And bang. There was a flash and I found myself in the lower chamber of Room A. Secret Passages were real!
This particular passage I ended up calling Passage Σ. There turn out to be (at least) three in Night World. And they're the key to completion. But you only need Σ.
In fact, "Secret Passages" is a bit of a misnomer, for two reasons: first, they don't connect spaces in a linear fashion (Room D has no physical connection to Room A) and, second, they are one-way (once in Room A, for example, you can't pass back through the wall to Room D). Perhaps "Portals" would be a better term. Anyway, that didn't matter. I finally had the sub-Room A half of the game to explore.
So with the Optimistic Hypothesis confirmed, let me run through how to do that, by describing several paths to the exit of Night World, each with its own degree of completeness.
The game tracks progress with its own Completed % value. This simply measures how many of the objects - Prisms, Health Regeneration and (I presume) Golden Fleece - you have collected, with a final 1% for passing into the Inner World. But I think a more reflective measure of progress though the game is the following set of Milestones.
- Discovery of Passage Σ.
- Collection of all four Prisms.
- Discovery of how to leave the Night World.
- Discovery of Room N (via Passage Ω).
- Collection of the Golden Fleece.
Basic Completion Path
- Completion: 80%.
- Milestone 3.
Plus, once Passage Σ is found, there's no strict order to how the rest of the game can be completed - although to my mind, the most logical progression is something like this:
- Collect Prisms 2 and 3
- Collect Prism 1
- Pass through Passage Σ.
- Collect Prism 4.
- Exit Night World.
The Effects of the Four Prisms
It's worth mentioning explicitly that collecting all four Prisms has some notable effects on the Night World.
First, some of its monsters are replaced with those of an entirely different breed. None of the materials attached to the game or the review mention them. Their physical forms are so abstract, though, I have christened them Veils of Ambiguity. These new beings replace their predecessors in Room C, Room J (where one now guards the passage to the Inner world) and Room N.
The second change, is that Room M is permanently sealed off (more on this in the discussion of Passage Ψ). And, thirdly, the pit at the base of Room J is uncovered, allowing passage from the Night World into the Inner World.
Anyway with that passage open, passing through it meant I had finally finished this game, however incompletely.
Good. But even so, there was more to discover.
The Other Secret Passages
Beyond the completion-essential Passage Σ, there are two more secret passages in the Night World (although I suspect there's also a fourth: see Full Completion Path below).
The purpose of this passage is to confront the player, once Prism 4 has been collected, with The Passage Ψ Dilemma.
Collecting Prism 4 in Room M is a lot easier during Moontime, as the Gargoyle. But this means that on exiting Room M, a Sun cycle will be imminent. Also, once he leaves that room with the Prism, the wall allowing return into Room M is blocked off permanently, meaning the player cannot simply move back and forth between Room M and Room L waiting for the return of Moontime. He is trapped in Room L with a harpy.
The horns of this dilemma then, are these:
- Remain in Room L for a full Sun cycle, in the form of Lee Lance. This requires plenty of skilful navigation to lose as little health as possible during this time - a good three or four encounters with the harpy - and, when you've finally mutated back to the Gargoyle, a well-timed jump combination, off the back of the harpy, to return to Room K. Note: This horn can be mitigated slightly. Since leaving Room M for the last time leaves you clipped inside a newly-descended wall, you can simply hide in that wall, meaning contact with the harpy during each of its passes is greatly reduced.
- Leave Room M instead by quickly escaping straight into Passage Ψ. This involves a very long journey back via Passage Σ to Room I - i.e. navigating six rooms instead of just two. The loss of health will likely be equivalent to its shorter alternative. But the risk factor is a fair bit lower, which might seem inviting at this late stage in the game.
This passage is the only way (that I have discovered) of moving between the physical extension of the Night World and secret room, Room N.
Room N is unique for a number of reasons.
- It contains both the only non-Prism collectibles in the game - namely Health Regeneration and the Golden Fleece (both as teased in the original Game Plan).
- It is the only room all of whose entrances/exits are secret passages or portals of some kind. You can only enter through Passage Ω, and falling into the pit at the base warps you to the ceiling of Room L. This further means that there is no way to know its physical location with respect to the rest of the Night World. In fact, there's no reason to think it has physical extension within the Night World at all.
- It is the room teased on the game's title screen, implying it is of major significance.
- Just look at that damn cobra-like face, taunting you from the masonry!
- Completion: 90%.
- Milestone 4.
The method is essentially the same as for the Basic Completion above. The only difference being that when you are about to depart to the Inner World through the pit in Room J, instead wait for Moontime and enter Passage Ω to Room N. Being the Gargoyle will let you jump high enough to collect the Health Regeneration (and your health will be very low by now). Then you can exit via the pit back into Room L and have to face the Passage Ψ Dilemma a second time. This time it will not be as critical though, as you will have plenty to health whichever course you take.
It's very tempting to try to pass through Passage Ω before you have collected Prism 4. After all, Passage Ω forces you into Room L anyway. So why not take a short cut and only have to deal with the Passage Ψ Dilemma once?
Do not do this.
Just as the Pyramids of ancient Egypt contained traps* to doom intruders, so does the Night World. I mentioned above that collecting Prism 4 causes a wall to descend, making a return to Room M impossible. Well that's not the only thing that seals off Room M; collecting the Health Regeneration does too. That means that if you collect it before Prism 4, you are trapped in the Night World indefinitely and can never leave.
Anyway, if you avoid the trap and twice survive the Passage Ψ Dilemma, you pass into the Inner World and win the following:
Full Completion Path (Theorised)
- Completion: 100%.
- Milestone 5.
I have tried to jump the pit at the base of the room time and time again - under Moonlight or Sunlight, with the Eye of Providence in the room or the Veil of Ambiguity. I have tried to ride both said beings across the gap, with and without Health Regeneration.
I'm now 98% certain the gap cannot be crossed by a well-timed jump under some precise combination of game parameters. I have to conclude that there is a remaining Secret Passage that I have yet to find.
An Alternative Interpretation: the Golden Fleece as McGuffin
Perhaps it's simply not possible to reach the Golden Fleece. Was it merely a metaphor for something else entirely? Was it a mirage, designed to tempt the greedy, Siren-like, to their inevitable deaths? I did some more research into what a Golden Fleece might represent. But partway into an article about the use of animal furs for alluvial precious metal recovery in ancient Hellenic societies I decided I wouldn't pursue this hypothesis much further. On balance I don't think it's true; after all I fell into this thinking once before with the Pessimistic Hypothesis and was proved wrong. But at the same time I don't think it's impossible.
I'm very glad I can finally put this thing to rest. It's a pity I didn't find a way to achieve the Full Completion Path, but I'm more than happy for this game to keep one last secret! It feels appropriate somehow. Or has anyone here found a way?
Hope someone found this post entertaining!
* Don't ackshully me.