Demystifying Nightworld

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Ed
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Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Ed » Sun Dec 22, 2019 8:18 pm

What is This?

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!

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.

Hex Clue.png
Sequel Mentioned in Hex (Spoiler Removed)

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.

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.

Milestones

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.
I use both the Completed % and the Milestone metrics alongside the completion paths below.

Game Map

Image

Basic Completion Path
  • Completion: 80%.
  • Milestone 3.
With just Passage Σ unlocked, the game can, technically, be finished, but in a very incomplete way. This basic completion is also fairly linear: it does not require any further major puzzle solving. You just need to slog through rooms, timing jumps, avoiding enemies, collecting another Prism and making it back to the exit. You do need to work out where the exit is after collection of that last Prism, but some basic trial and error (or a look at my map) will get you there.

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.
As an aside, apart from the drop from Room A into Room I, I've found no benefit to doing anything under Sunlight. Instead I would typically wait until metamorphosis into the Gargoyle.

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.

Basic Completion.png
Basic Completion 80%

Game End.png
Closure! After all these years!

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).

Passage Ψ

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.
Passage Ω

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

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!
Advanced Completion Path
  • Completion: 90%.
  • Milestone 4.
Now we have knowledge of passage Ω and Room N, we are positioned for a more-complete path through the game. This means collection of all four Prisms and the Health Regeneration.

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.

The Trap

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:

Advanced Completion.png
Advanced Completion 90%

Full Completion Path (Theorised)
  • Completion: 100%.
  • Milestone 5.
Room N contains the Golden Fleece, the key to full completion. And I simply cannot reach it.

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.

Nothing works.

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.

Done

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.
Last edited by Ed on Mon Dec 23, 2019 11:17 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by 0xC0DE » Sun Dec 22, 2019 8:42 pm

This game has always intrigued me as well! Bookmarked for further reading. Thank you for writing about it =D>
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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Lardo Boffin » Sun Dec 22, 2019 9:19 pm

Very interesting read thanks!

I had never heard of this one - it sounds both fascinating and irritating in equal measure.

I hope you find completion and closure. I suspect you probably won’t until you get 100%. It sure sounds like you are supposed to get the golden fleece. The major power of the fleece is its healing abilities so maybe getting the health regeneration is the same thing?
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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by daveejhitchins » Sun Dec 22, 2019 11:08 pm

:shock: =D> =D> =D> =D>

Brilliant . . . And thanks for the interesting read.

Dace H :D

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by danielj » Sun Dec 22, 2019 11:37 pm

I'd completely forgotten about this game until you posted this! Wow, blast from the past!
:)

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Diminished » Mon Dec 23, 2019 12:41 am

Never played this, but I enjoyed the writeup nevertheless.

This may be a form of blasphemy, but could you cheat your way over the gap, and then at least get to see what the fleece actually does?

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Venger » Mon Dec 23, 2019 9:54 am

I had this about 30 years ago but never really got into it as it was so strange. I also didn't like the jerky mechanics and the fact that you could get stuck in walls, etc. It all just seemed a very "unfinished" product.

I commend you for having had the patience to stick with it and to finally make some sort of sense of the game =D> .

There is another game that used to bug the hell out of me. It was called Kastle and was on a compilation tape. There were hardly any instructions and I remember being able to get to a part where there was a puzzle with skulls involved but with no clue as to what to do with them. Has anyone ever gotten past that bit?

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by lurkio » Mon Dec 23, 2019 12:53 pm

Ed wrote:
Sun Dec 22, 2019 8:18 pm
What is This?
Interesting! I don't think I'd played Night World before. What an unusual and unique game!

Btw, the Beeb version is of course available at bbcmicro.co.uk:
:idea:

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by CMcDougall » Mon Dec 23, 2019 5:46 pm

remember buying this BITD , from the local Sunday market for , wait for it.... £1.99 :D

yes, a weird one at that!

sure it went to disc no problem either 8)
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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Dave Footitt » Mon Dec 30, 2019 12:09 pm

Great work there, I too was confused by this game! Just had a go at it but immediately got stuck in a wall :D

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by lurkio » Mon Dec 30, 2019 12:46 pm

Dave Footitt wrote:
Mon Dec 30, 2019 12:09 pm
Great work there, I too was confused by this game! Just had a go at it but immediately got stuck in a wall
I bet a fair few people — me included — were put off by the rather sluggish controls and frustrating gameplay, which is a shame because Ed’s writeup makes the game seem very intriguing.

:?

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Pernod » Mon Dec 30, 2019 1:43 pm

lurkio wrote:
Mon Dec 30, 2019 12:46 pm
I bet a fair few people — me included — were put off by the rather sluggish controls and frustrating gameplay, which is a shame because Ed’s writeup makes the game seem very intriguing.

:?
Me too, I just assumed it was seriously bugged and didn't pursue it.
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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by scarybeasts » Tue Dec 31, 2019 3:07 am

Thanks for posting this Ed -- I really enjoyed the read!

Would reverse engineering the code reveal any potential additional secret passages?


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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Kazzie » Thu Jan 02, 2020 3:41 pm

Ed wrote:
Sun Dec 22, 2019 8:18 pm
The old Quake player in me thought they must be telegraphed in some way, by a misaligned texture or a flickering light.
That's something I can immediately relate to.
Ed wrote:
Sun Dec 22, 2019 8:18 pm
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.
Following the Quake theme, how about slipgate? :)
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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Ed » Sat Jan 04, 2020 4:05 pm

0xC0DE wrote:
Sun Dec 22, 2019 8:42 pm
This game has always intrigued me as well! Bookmarked for further reading. Thank you for writing about it =D>
Never mind Night World! I've just seen your demos and they are insane.

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Ed » Sat Jan 04, 2020 4:07 pm

Diminished wrote:
Mon Dec 23, 2019 12:41 am
This may be a form of blasphemy, but could you cheat your way over the gap, and then at least get to see what the fleece actually does?
I'm totally not above it at this point given I feel I've discharged my core obligation to the game. Fancy helping? :)

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Ed » Sat Jan 04, 2020 4:10 pm

Kazzie wrote:
Thu Jan 02, 2020 3:41 pm
Following the Quake theme, how about slipgate? :)
I think you could rename Night World in general to The Slipgate Unnecessarily Complex.

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by scarybeasts » Tue Jan 07, 2020 11:46 pm

Ed wrote:
Sat Jan 04, 2020 4:07 pm
Diminished wrote:
Mon Dec 23, 2019 12:41 am
This may be a form of blasphemy, but could you cheat your way over the gap, and then at least get to see what the fleece actually does?
I'm totally not above it at this point given I feel I've discharged my core obligation to the game. Fancy helping? :)
I'd be happy to try and help if no-one else has done so yet. Do you perhaps have an emulator saved state file at the point in question?


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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by ghosty » Sun Jan 12, 2020 10:12 pm

Hi Ed,

This was also one of my favourite games as a kid (Also had it on the Electron) owing to it's mysteriousness, although I never managed to get beyond 79% complete. I made a few posts about it on a thread from 2015 - viewtopic.php?t=9442

Anyway, thanks for the post - Bookmarked for future reference, but won't read yet as I want to give it another crack on my own (When I get around to it one day!)

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by Ed » Sat Jan 18, 2020 9:17 am

scarybeasts wrote:
Tue Jan 07, 2020 11:46 pm
I'd be happy to try and help if no-one else has done so yet. Do you perhaps have an emulator saved state file at the point in question?
Thanks Chris! I'm offline ATM but will post something when I'm back connected properly.

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Re: Demystifying Nightworld

Post by AJW » Wed Jul 22, 2020 3:22 pm

I loved the colours in this game and remember playing it in the day, being left with the common feeling back then of never being able to find out more about the game or how to. Having read this great post i now think no game should be that difficult particularly in the pre- internet days.

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