Kingdom O’ Magic: Cheating

Having beaten one quest, I’ve been switching freely between the other two. With just two scenarios, it’s relatively easy to eliminate the useless. This is basically one of those one-puzzle-per-item adventures, so once you’ve found a quest-specific use for something, you know it’s useless in the other quest.

Nonetheless, I’m spending most of my time stuck now. I’ve made a couple of significant conceptual breakthroughs: one when I realized that one of the spells could be used in solving a puzzle, another when I figured out how to combine inventory items (something that was never needed in the first quest). Each such breakthrough was followed by a flurry of progress, then I went back to being stuck. Maybe there really is something to the game’s difficulty rankings for the quests after all.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure that the wandering monsters are supposed to keep things interesting at times like this. If you can’t solve puzzles, you can always go kill stuff, right? You don’t get experience points or anything, but everything you kill stays dead, and sometimes they have useful items. Frequently, solving a major puzzle rewards you with a more powerful weapon or spell in addition to whatever else you were solving the puzzle for. The thing is, though, I’ve been stuck so much that I’ve already killed everything there is to kill. Finding a new weapon does nothing but heighten the sense of ennui.

The thing is, I used walkthroughs way too much in the last couple of games I played. I blame the games more than I blame myself, but all the same, I don’t want to start that up again if I can avoid it. But this is an old enough game that it’s inspired me to cheat pre-Internet style, by examining the game resources. I was delighted to discover that all the animations and cutscenes are simply on the CD-ROM in smacker format, and can be played using VLC. There’s even a “SECRET” folder full of dev-team in-jokes. Suddenly I feel like I’m playing Hypnospace Outlaw again.

But the real major discovery was HELP.BIN.

This is a file full of hints for the game. The hints themselves are plain ASCII, but there’s no newlines. Possibly they’re terminated by null characters or something. There’s a second file, HELP.IDX, that presumably helps some program access individual hints. And I have good reason to believe that the program that’s supposed to be doing this is the game itself. There’s a reference to these files in the executable, and the content of the hints themselves is clearly context-specific: each hint relates to a single room, and is phrased in a way that assumes that you’re in that room as you read it. In other words, it’s like the stuff you used to get by typing “HELP” in a Scott-Adams-era text adventure. But I have no idea how to access it within the game. The manual doesn’t say, and no single keypress does it.

I could unstick myself (and, indeed, have already unstuck myself somewhat) by just reading bits of the hint file and figuring out what rooms it’s relevant to. But I don’t want to spoil things by reading hints for rooms I haven’t reached yet! So it looks like I’ve got a technical challenge ahead of me: Figure out how to access these hints in their proper context. Possibly by tracing through the executable. This is the old-school hackery nonsense you read this blog for.

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