Wednesday, June 28, 2023

In Search of the Most Amazing Thing: Won!

The solution to In Search of the Most Amazing Thing is actually rather straightforward for such a massive, open-ended seeming game.

  1. Auction off Smoke's junk until you can afford all the instruments and software and have some money left over.
  2. Buy all of the instruments and software.
  3. Fly to a hut and buy a clue there. You'll probably need to up-trade your green chips somewhere else before you can afford it.
  4. Fly to the region the clue points you to and buy a second clue there.
  5. Return to Metallica to buy the thing clue #2 says you need.
  6. Fly to the region indicated in clue #2 to buy a third one. Once again you'll probably need to up-trade your chips before you can afford it.
  7. Fly to the region clue #3 points you to and get The Most Amazing Thing.
  8. Fly back to Metallica without autopilot or directions.


What makes it challenging is the long, long balloon flights needed to get anywhere and the rather obtuse difficulty in operating it. Control is limited, instruments are imprecise and cumbersome, and you're constantly forced to land to sleep, refuel, and eat via one pretty annoying tree-shaking minigame.

At the end of the last post, I was on step 7, giving me the longest trip yet.


I caught a decent enough wind in that direction, blowing 33MPH, which I estimate works out to about 45 miles per minute with this game's time compression. Still, I had to travel about 1,500 miles, and you simply don't go that far on one fuel tank, one night's sleep, or one meal.


Bunchmarks are soft patches of tar which appear on the map while driving, and served no obvious purpose so far. You could drive into them, get out, sink into them, and jetpack out, but this never got me anywhere, so I ignored them until now. 

Now, I needed to get a crab to spawn and lure it into the bunchmark where I might find The Most Amazing Thing. Of course now getting one to spawn and not kill itself on the sector border proved annoyingly hard.

And other times they spawn exactly on the edge of a screen as you enter it. Arghh!

Eventually, I got one close enough to the bunchmark, where it seemed to attack me.

But instead of being knocked out, I found myself floating above the tar.

I sank in.


Deeper. And deeper. Until three screens in,

Ha, I knew it! The Most Amazing Thing was never in a swamp, it was in you all along!

And then I got this:

Oh. My. God. Crab attacks - fatal? And navigate home without autopilot or the home navigation instrument? Are you serious?

Well, first I needed more food and fuel, and thankfully I was already on a sector border, which is where, apart from flying, you're safest from crab attacks. And northward I found supplies of both.

As for making it back home, first I'd have to fly to sector R-15. No big problem - it works same as as any other long-haul flight I'd made before, and I'd done much longer. Only this time I had the added stress of deadly crab attacks while landing to refuel and forage.

But once in sector R-15, what then? Each sector is 80 screens wide and 80 screens tall. Metallica could be in any of them, and I had no instrument capable of pointing to it. Radar showed nothing, the computer showed nothing. Searching all 6,400 squares by land wouldn't be practical even if it wasn't full of deadly crabs!

But I had one hope - a screenshot that I took near the start of the game!


My blogging proved to be my salvation here - the above shot shows Metallica's distance and direction from the nearest hut. And as I landed in sector R-15, the same instrument now showed me to be 139 miles and about 260 degrees from the nearest hut - presumably the same hut. I could triangulate Metallica's rough direction.

One more liftoff to get a bit closer to home... and soon I realized this wouldn't work. I crossed the border into R-16 well before hitting the place where I thought home would be.

New strategy. I looked up the hut locations in Torbion to the south.


Seemed to me that the nearest hut to Metallica had to be the one in Sector R13, which would place Metallica near the southmost edge of R15. So I flew south until I hit R14 and then landed immediately.

That's more like it!

I decided my instruments had gotten me as close as I could expect them to, and had to risk land travel the rest of the way. By my estimation, Metallica was 28 screens east, 19 screens north.

Sector borders are, thankfully, fairly safe places to travel. Drive horizontally across the border, and if you alert a crab, you just move to the other side of the border, and it will crash into it and die. Every ten screens, you'll find a sub-sector border "crossroads" where you can change directions and start driving vertically.

I took the border screens as close as I could, eventually going north at a crossroads 25 screens east of the landing spot.

After reaching 25 screens east, 19 screens north of my landing, I checked hut bearing again.

So close! But to get any closer, I had to leave the safety of the border lines.

I drove east. Each time I went a screen's length, I checked the control panel for the minutest change in the needle, and went one screen south when the distance had increased. I had one heart-stoppingly close call with a crab, but managed to retreat west to the border and not lose track of my bearings.

And then, I found the hatch to Metallica. Five screens to the east of the longitudinal border, putting it almost exactly in the middle of the sub sector. You heartless jerks.

Yeeeeahh. This sort of corny feel-good rah-rah would have felt patronizing even to 11-year-old me, not that at that age I had the patience to get that far.

Alternate ending - this happens if a crab catches you after finding TMAT.

GAB rating: Below average. In Search of the Most Amazing Thing is an interesting, imaginative, ambitious little adventure, but its many gameplay systems never really come together in a satisfying or cohesive way, and getting anywhere in its paradoxically massive world involves hours of frustrating tedium.

A lot of the elements feel unfinished too. The Musix system is a far more fully-featured drawing program than it needs to be for the gameplay role it fills - nothing more than a trading token whose value depends on the number of lines you used. Several B-Liner instruments, like the altimeter, storm indicator, radar, and mysterious TRAC4 program, served little to no useful gameplay function. Smoke's clues come either randomly or in an arbitrary order, and almost none were useful to me by the time I heard them. It's better than Snooper Troops, still, which similarly lacked satisfying gameplay cohesion; at least here I generally felt like I was solving problems and making progress toward the game's end state with each thing I did.

The educational aspect is also pretty unstructured. There are odd lessons here and there to be learned - on bartering, currency exchange rates, coded messages, and of course navigation, but there's no curriculum here, and no common theme tying the lessons together. Again, like Snooper Troops.

In the end, I'm not sorry I played ISOTMAT, but I'm happy to never look at it again.

Monday, June 26, 2023

ISOTMAT: The sound of Musix


Landing six miles from the nearest hut, I arrived by land, though I had to dispatch of a mire crab on the way, which continues to be a frantic exercise that feels exasperatingly random.

Before approaching the hut, I figured I ought to consult the computer. Launching CULTS, I entered TORBION, the name of the region I had landed in.

DICTO gave me some words in the Torbion traders' antennae semaphore language.

I entered the hut.

With the dictionary, I knew to answer "friend," and the trader signed "O.K." I explained I sought The Most Amazing Thing and requested a clue, not seeing much else to do here.

Well, damn. I don't have quite enough, even if I were to trade all of my other chips at their exchange rate.

I could have gone back to Metallica to sell more junk, but instead, I checked the continental exchange rates on all 25 mire cultures. Sloping, some 500 miles east, would trade green-for-red at a 1:4 ratio, quadrupling my riches. And so I went there, a journey that required me to rest and refill food and fuel along the way.

For the last stretch, I didn't bother trying to math my way into a precise wind, and instead just relied on alternating burner/vent to keep in the generally correct direction and constantly switched between DIR and Hut1 to check drift. This landed me within 2 miles of a hut, where I could change 11 green chips into 44 red.

Then I set a course for Treliss, where I could trade red back for green at 4:1.

I'm rich!

They still only demand 26 green chips back for a clue, but then asked for Musix once I put them down.

CULTS shows they enjoy "long, complex" Musix, so I went back to the ship and made something.

Musix is a simple line-drawing program that plays a monophonic song as it draws, each note determined by the next point's Y position.

Thankfully, this primitive chicken scratch satisfied them. Unfortunately, I had to repeat the whole barter process and they wanted more, and when I tried to replay the Musix I had absolutely nothing, pissing them off and making them demand more Musix before they'd even talk to me again. So I had to go back and repeat the procedure two more times before I could buy the clue.

I call this composition "Malicious Compliance."


 Okaaaay. Back to Torbion it is. At least I have money this time.


That's about 760 miles to travel, at about 200 degrees. I refueled at take off, catching a good wind at 740 feet.

I should note, that this is not realtime, but it still takes about 15 minutes to travel about 600 miles of the distance, during which time I must keep an eye on the DIR instrument and often adjust altitude to compensate for drift and wind changes. The SLEEPY! warning, which I'll note even makes it annoying to land, forced a landing just at the Sloping/Torbion border, hence the note about going 600 miles.

The second leg landed me four miles due west of a Torbion hut, where I made another staircase-shaped Musix to trade. As before, a clue cost 26 green chips and a song.

"Zeners" are one of the many useless things sold at Metallica - the manual describes it as a radio-controlled back scratcher. So I engaged autopilot to return - learned the hard way that you shouldn't sleep with autopilot on as you'll wind up way off course - and returned and bought one with my deep pockets.


The trip to Solvaque - I'll skip the usual notes on navigation, eating, fueling, sleeping, crab dodging, etc.


The Solvaques like simple Musix, so I composed a real simple one.

The traders accepted my Zener, but demanded 65 red chips for the next clue - once again, just slightly more than my entire chip value at the local exchange rate. So I traveled back to Sloping for its favorable green-to-red exchange rate, and back again to buy the clue.

20G for 80R at Sloping.

Thankfully, I didn't need to buy another Zener.

They demanded Musix, my "simple" one was accepted, and I received the next clue:

That's a long trip!

Saturday, June 24, 2023

ISOTMAT: The balloon is a harsh mistress

Flight is your main method of travel in the Darksome Mire. Driving is too slow and too dangerous for long distances, and by my estimation, the Mire is about four million square miles if each screen represents one.

In theory, balloon flight is simple enough - ascend until you hit a good wind in the direction you want to go, stop ascending, and begin descent once you're close to the destination. In practice, this is made difficult for a few reasons.

  • There's no way to view multiple instruments at once. You can view the direction you're headed with DIR, or you can view the direction you want to go with Hut1, but you can't view both at the same time.
  • Ascending and descending are subject to inertia. When you switch off the burner, you don't stop ascending for a little while - same with venting and descending. You're likely to overshoot your desired altitude, requiring adjustment.
  • Instrument updates are slow, especially radar and hut 1. But the balloon doesn't stop moving just because these are taking forever.
  • Tools for reckoning your location are limited. The WHERE switch shows your sector, but this is only precise to 6,400 square miles/screens. Radar only shows points of interest in your current vicinity, and Hut 1 only shows the direction to the nearest hut wherever it may be. All of these instruments lag rather badly.
  • The balloon naturally drifts while reaching your intended altitude, and the more time you spend making adjustments to get a steady altitude and direction, the longer and further it drifts. Same with descent.
  • No visual flight; this craft is IFR-only, baby.


To aid flight, I did some test launches. Starting from the ground, I'd light the burner, shut it off at an altitude, and see where I stabilize at, and the resulting wind direction and speed. I tested this at each interval of 1000 feet.

Shutoff altitude Stable altitude Direction Speed
1000 2950 202.5 2
2000 4200 326.25 11
3000 5100 45 18
4000 5800 90 20
5000 6500 123.75 24
6000 7100 202.5 30
7000 7750 202.5 32
8000 8400 225 35
9000 9200 315 41

All this testing drained much fuel; twice I had to search for more rocks, and once I had to abort a test and land early in order to rest. Thankfully, I did not encounter any crabs.

For the last test, I attempted to estimate landing drift by triangulating my bearing to the nearest hut, and estimated it to be about 9.5 miles from the moment I vent the balloon at 9200 feet to the moment I hit the ground.

Two readings and a bit of trig does it.

All this testing had blown me pretty far from Metallica too; the WHERE instrument read Q-12, putting me in another region and about 200 miles from home base.

I refueled and rechowed, during which I accidentally discovered a way to deal with crabs - evade until you encounter a visible longitudinal line, cross it, and then it dies attempting to cross itself. Then I put my chart to the test.

The nearest hut was about 75 degrees, so consulting the chart, I took the balloon upward and shut the burner off at 3,500 feet. It stabilized at 5,500. I checked the wind.

Not quite what I was hoping for, but it's in the right direction. I checked Hut 1.

Ah, shit. Rising drift threw me off! And apparently Terry was getting tired, because the word SLEEPY! starting flashing on the screen during the ascent and wouldn't stop, throwing off the keyboard input and making it a pain in the ass to do anything but drop down and go to bed.

Awakening, I found myself 96 miles from the hut at the same orientation as before - truly the way that drift works is bizarre, and perhaps I'm foolish to even try to defeat it in a methodical way. Nevertheless, I continued using my chart and launched again, shutting the burner off at 4,500 feet, which took me to 6,200.

Seems the relationship between altitude and wind direction is not a constant one! On the other hand, the relation between altitude and wind speed seemingly is - [Alt-2500]/160 usually gets me within 1 MPH of the wind speed.

From here I used DIR, not High, for guidance as I adjusted the burner to point the ship in the right direction, and once reasonably on-track, used Hut1 to gauge distance, and dropped once it showed a distance of 10 miles.

Eh, good enough for now.

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