Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Game 242: Infidel

Read the manual here:
Get Frotz (if native Windows execution is your wish) here: 

Infocom newcomer Michael Berlyn was the head designer of Infocom's first and last games of 1983. We already covered his first, Suspended, and his pre-Infocom sci-fi themed adventures leading up to it. His second, Infidel, must have been a bit outside of his comfort zone, a game taking after 1930's adventure novels in the manner of  Raiders of the Lost Ark, set mostly inside a mysterious, trap-infested pyramid in Saharan Egypt.

I've played this one once before, but I don't remember much about it except the ending.

Sharing credit with Berlyn is Harvard Egyptologist Patricia Fogleman, who wasn't hired as an official Infocom employee, nor did she ever contribute to any other computer game. Presumably, Berlyn wanted to avoid having a theme park-like setting, and therefore recruited a subject matter authority to give it an air of credibility befitting Infocom's standards for writing and worldbuilding.

To my annoyance, this authenticity is squandered before the game even begins. Among the feelies is a "hieroglyphic cube" rubbing in which ASCII characters serve as logograms read left to right and form understandable English prose through simple cipher substitution. I guess Unicode support would be a little much to expect, but still, I'd rather the game just tell me "these hieroglyphs spell the queen and all queen treasures" than resort to such a kludge.

As with other Infocom games of the time, the manual takes form of an in-universe document - a men's adventure magazine in which a Captain Spaulding recounts the horror of being buried alive in an ancient tomb and provides survival tips, and other gameplay instructions are similarly conveyed through sly vignettes.

The most important items in the folio are a journal and letter addressed to a Rose Ellingsworth. The journal is an account of an American adventurer - presumably the protagonist - seeking an undiscovered pyramid in the deserts of Egypt on behalf of said Ellingsworth, and no doubt more interested in the immense wealth than the archaeological discovery and knowledge. Having sold everything to fund the excavation, things aren't going so well, and it's partly due to your own hubris and impudence with the hired hands. You've bailed on your partner, deceived your client, broken a "navigation box" in your haste, and worked the locals to the bone under empty promises of bonus pay. Finally, they've abandoned you altogether after you demanded work on a holy day, although tells me that Eid al-Adha, the holiest Eid, doesn't fall on August 12th until 2084 (nor Eid al-Fitr until 2306!), so maybe they are just pulling a fast one as the journal says you suspected? Either way, you're not exactly a sympathetic character.

The letter to Ms. Ellingsworth, written that very day, assures her everything is going more or less smoothly, before devolving into delirious ramblings. How this letter got delivered to the post office is unexplained - perhaps the kindly native who drugged our drink was kind enough to seal it himself and bring it back to the hotel in Cairo for us.


Starting up the game, we begin in a tent, alone, abandoned, empty-handed, and a bit dazed. A locked trunk sits in the room. As I explored the initial area - a strongly orthogonal desert where most of the "rooms" can be exited in eight directions, a plane circled overhead and eventually dropped a crate onto my location, containing a navigator box.

This area has endless desert in all directions, and you'll die if you try to travel too far in it, but there are two more tents in the immediate encampment vicinity, a crocodile-infested river bank to the west, and a fire pit in the middle where a matchbook and pack of cigarettes can be taken. The supply tent has been picked bare except for a shovel and pick axe, and in the worker's tent is a rucksack containing a rope and canteen, and a chastising note from Abdul.

Fi aman Allah!
Hereafter you shall pursue your fool dream of the hidden pyramid and its riches alone. May the jackals feed well on your bones. We have left you what you need to get back, though we hope you do not. We put several things you treasure above life itself inside your trunk, locked with your precious padlock, but we could not bear to part with the key. Especially after what you said of our rites. We hope the drug we placed in your drink did you harm. If not, we are at least satisfied you slept especially soundly while we cleaned out the camp.



I consolidated my inventory into the knapsack, filled my canteen and belly with water from the river, and returned to my tent where I broke the lock with the pickaxe and inside found an inspection sticker bearing game credits, some beef, and a map wrapped around the hieroglyph cube. This old map from Ellingsworth's 1920 expedition indicated something at 11'3" by 12'43" (how did he chart that so precisely anyway?), so I found my way there quite easily with the navigator box and started digging until I hit pyramid. The cube fit into a slot there and made it just sort of reveal itself and the entrance to the Chamber of Ra.

Nibbling on the beef to stay my hunger, I explored and Trizborted. In the entrance chamber are an altar, a torch and jar of oil, and four staircases downward, each in one of the cardinal directions.

I lit the torch with the oil and my matches. One annoying interface aspect here is that you have to drop the knapsack to put anything into it or take anything out of it.

The north staircase is a dropoff and kills you if you try to descend it. East and west lead to a grid of eight cube-shaped rooms arranged in a 3x3 grid, minus the southeast corner cell. In the southern chamber is a panel with hieroglyphs above depicting what can only be the numbers 1 through 9 arranged in a 3x3 grid, and inside, nine removable bricks arranged in the same pattern and order. There's undoubtedly a ninth room in this area unlocked by solving a puzzle involving this grid, but the solution hadn't yet presented itself. The nine bricks can be individually removed and replaced, but not re-arranged.

Here, Frotz has some trouble displaying things correctly, as it defaults to a non-monospace font. In 1983, personal computer fonts were always monospace, so Infocom's ZIL doesn't bother setting a flag to indicate that this is necessary. But in a modern interpreter, this poses a problem unless you override the font setting.

Segoe UI
The central chamber here has a mural of a queen's embalming and burial, and more hieroglyphs are on the floor.

...>  -. >... #  !  ! !

/  ...>  /  #  !@!


My Rosetta Stone surrogate doesn't quite cover all those symbols, but the bottom row looks like it spells "toward through toward the queen," and the top one might be referencing a doorway?

Back in the starting chamber, the south staircase leads to a bending hallway to a funerary barge with more hieroglyphs on the wall. The second row is the most decipherable, stating "queen through sits the * = and <... ;". The rest is completely cryptic.

On the barge, a papyrus scroll in the fore cabin references the numerals 1, 3, and 5 that were seen in the cube chambers, but almost all of the other symbols are unknown. In the hold below deck, there's nothing but a dark knothole, a wooden shim, and the base of the ship's mast. I found that after putting the torch in the hole and everything else on the floor (dropping the torch here is lethal but gives you an awesome funeral), I could lift the mast up through the deck, and then take it above deck.

Past the barge is a steep passageway to a massive temple, with murals depicting the queen's journey to the afterlife. Inside, a skeletal ex-adventurer wears a jeweled ring, with a tiny needle concealed on the band's inside. Needless to say, wearing the ring will kill you too. Hieroglyphs inscribed on the walls contain yet more unknown symbols, most of them never seen before, like "-!-" and "!*". Just about the only thing I can make it is something about "the queen." Side chambers have this same message on the walls, and lead to alcoves with gold and silver chalices. At this point I could no longer carry everything, even with my knapsack, so I started using the Chamber of Ra as a drop-off point.

I returned to the cube chambers and tried removing the first, third, and fifth bricks, and sure enough, this opened a passage to a new chamber, a passage that made me cringe as I read its description of "a deep entrance into the depths of an Incan tomb."

Through the entrance and down some stairs, I was stopped by a plaster wall painted with more hieroglyphs, stating "*-> # !!! :: ...> .-". Translating what I knew, it said "*-> the !!! and through .-". Not very informative, even if I assume that !!!, somewhat resembling queen means king. The wall yielded to my pickaxe easily, though, and through a narrow passageway, I found the entrance to the queen's chamber, sealed by more plaster, painted with these hieroglyphs:

<-*  #  /!\  -  #  (=  =)

::  *->  #  !!!


Something the something sits the something something and something the something. The symmetry of some of these symbols is interesting but the meaning escaped me.

Trying to break this door collapses the chamber floor, killing you. By wedging the wooden beam from the barge between the walls, carefully inserted into two small niches near the floor, I could stand on it and survive.

This led to a three-room antechamber, with more murals depicting gods and ceremonies.

On the north end, a sealed stone door once again kills you if you try to force it open. Hieroglyphs on it say:

             -     !=!
<-*  #  /!\  .  #  ! !

::  *->  #  !!!


It's very similar to the last one. Maybe /!\ signifies a deadly trap?

The south end also has a deadly door. Opening it makes two stones crush you. Examining it finds more hieroglyphs.

<-*  #  /!\  (.)  #  ! !

::  (  #  ! !


I feel like I should be catching on, but this was still gibberish to me.

I returned to the Chamber of Ra, where I secured my rope to the altar and used it to descend the dropoff to the north.

Down here was a circular room with spoke-like passages in four directions, and in the center, a heavy statue of the queen and a golden cluster. Entering a passage causes a stone door at the end to gradually slide down from the ceiling until it completely closes, blocking your way out. By rolling the statue down one passage and leaving it there, I could revert to the opposite passage, now counterbalanced by the statue weighting down its counterpart, and enter the door without trouble.

Gotta nitpick this. If the passages themselves are being weighed down like teeter-totters, then shouldn't the doors be rising from the ground, not lowering from the ceiling?

Anyway, the passages lead to ornate shrines for the mortuary goddesses. I found nothing useful in any of them, but each did contain a jeweled cluster, and more untranslatable hieroglyphs.



))  /  #   \  ::

<-*  (@@@@)  =!=  /  *



))  /  #  /  ::

<-*  (@@)  =!=  /  *




))  /  #  .   ::

<-*  (@@@)  =!=  /  *



))  /  #   .  ::

<-*  (@)  =!=  /  *


These are all nearly identical. I surmised the first "word" must be the name of the goddess, and the fourth on each second row must be an inter-cardinal direction, the slash representing the origin and the dot the direction. Nephthys' inscription, therefore, was partly translated as:

)) to the NE and
<-* Nephthys =!=  to  * 


At this point I was out of places to go and out of ideas on what to do next, so I took a break here.

My Trizbort map so far:


  1. If you have a later release of Infidel, it should switch to a mono-spaced font for the hieroglyphs. I guess this became a concern once Infocom started releasing their games for the Macintosh. Particularly for this game, as well as Enchanter and Zork III, where puzzles depend on it.

    1. Good to know. Infocom Fact Sheet says that this version was made exclusively for Mac.

      Weirdly, the copy on Macintosh Garden shows it as version 830916 (maybe a pirate copy?), and has trouble with the hieroglyphs in every font except Courier and Monaco. And the Amiga version shows the same version, but doesn't support variable-width fonts anyway. The Obsessively Complete Infocom Catalog does have a downloadable z3 file, playable in Frotz, with multi-font support.


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