#3. King's Quest's Gnome
King's Quest is among the oldest of the old school adventure games, created back when men were men, every piece of software came on 147 separate floppy disks and there were no newfangled FAQ sites to hold your hand.
Back in those simpler days, concepts like "fairness" and "logic" were about as important to game designers as "graphics" and "having your parents respect your career choices." King's Quest had way more than its share of baffling puzzles, to be sure, but none were more frustrating than the gnome's riddle. It went like this: You come across a random assortment of colored pixels that are supposed to be either a gnome or a deformed Carnivale dancer ...
Or Sean Connery out bar-hopping with the Smurfs.
And you, the player, must guess his name to continue. Easy, right? Rumplestiltskin!
Shit, now what? Start guessing? Dude kind of looks like a Fred, maybe? Got kind of an Earl flavor to him? Ah, but if you happen to have found a cryptic note in a totally different area a while back, you probably won't recall its contents, which were: "Sometimes it is wise to think backwards."
Backwards? Oh, OK, so his name is Nikstlitselpmur. Frickin' cakewalk up in this bitc- no? That wasn't it, either?
"How about a sort of gargling, gagging noise that's often heard when I strangle gnomes with my dick?"
That's because when the game says "think backwards," it wants you to invert the alphabet itself -- A becomes Z, B becomes Y, and so on. That makes the gnome's name Ifnkovhgroghprm, which is just going to be hell on the voice actors once they reboot this sucker.
To add to the pressure, you only get three guesses. Not all hope is lost if you fail, but you are forced to take a different path to the next area -- a path that includes an enemy who can permanently steal items from you, which might make the game unwinnable, thus forcing you to restart entirely. Oh, and technically the fairy tale character's name is RumpELstiltskin. So even if the fable comes to mind, and the phrase "think backwards" instantly causes the language center of your brain to fold inside out, you'll still only get the answer if you're the exact same kind of dyslexic as the programmer.
"Know what? I think I'll just spend the rest of the game looking at this amazing scenery."
#2. Gabriel Knight's Elaborate Disguise
Gabriel Knight is a suave, badass monster hunter. His third adventure, Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, finds him up against a coven of vampires. At one point in the game, he needs to rent a motorbike, but the really sweet one he wants is reserved. So what do you do? Settle for a moped, and risk looking like a dork in front of Baron Von Bloodmouth? Not bloody likely! Bribe the rental agent? Nah, that would cost money. Maybe you just steal the damn thing, citing undead-related emergency protocols? Nope -- you have to impersonate the man it's reserved for, a sad-looking shlub named Mosely.
That's you on the left, the guy you're impersonating on the right.
Well, OK. That's straightforward enough: You're supposed to pretend to be the guy who gets this thing. We can see what you're thinking here, game. It's not like you're asking us to wrap a rubber ducky around a backward-speaking gnome and make him hopscotch across a numbered board to make the Fibonacci Sequence. Good job so far.
So you start by stealing his jacket from his hotel room (so you can steal things? Why not just take the bike, then? Can you not bear the disapproval of the fatherly bike shop owner?). You also have to grab a hat from the local church's lost and found, to cover up your luxurious locks. Next you have to get Mosely's passport, which he keeps in his back pocket at all times. But hey, no problem -- just leave a piece of candy sitting in the hallway, buzz Mosely from the hotel's front desk, and then when he walks by, he'll be so distracted with mysterious hall-candy that you can pickpocket him.
Because we all know that hall-candy is the most delicious candy, for it is taboo.
Now, tongue his prostate until the passport falls out of his pocket.
Finally, you need a fake mustache to complete the look. And that's where logic and reason fall to shambling pieces: What you have to do is wander around outside until you find a door with a hole in it, attach a piece of tape to the hole, scare a nearby cat into running through it by spraying the animal with a stolen spritzer bottle, collect the now cat-hair-covered tape and use a packet of syrup to glue the fur to your face. Jesus, that's like going from point A to point B via the goblin road that lives only in the thoughts of CIA pod-transplants. There's absolutely nothing approaching sanity in that mode of thinking whatsoever.
But wait a second. Here's what Mosely looks like again:
Remember, this was back when systems weren't powerful enough to render chins.
There's something missing ...
Observant readers may notice that that man does not have a fucking mustache. Gabriel claims he needs one to disguise the "obvious disparity" between their faces. So a mysterious instant cat-hair-and-syrup mustache is ... less disparate?
So now Gabriel looks nothing like the picture in Mosley's passport, but you can fix it! You just have to draw a mustache on the passport photo with a marker. The cat-stache and coloring book passport somehow fool the motorbike rental guy, who has an impeccable enough memory for faces to identify the legitimate renter on sight, but apparently suffers from a bizarrely specific type of mustache-induced hysterical blindness.
Shockingly, the series did not get a fourth game.
#1. RuneScape's Deaf Prisoner
RuneScape is the world's most popular free MMORPG, which -- now that developers are practically paying people to play the blasted things like the government incentivizes Alaskans to settle the Yukon -- is a pretty impressive accomplishment. One of the game's adventures has you tracking down an infamous pirate. But the only man with information on him is in jail. Now you need to get yourself arrested so you two can have a chat.
So it's off to do heroin in public with children.
Easy enough: We find peeing on a cop is the most efficient means to jail inhabitation, but you can just dress up like a pirate or whatever floats your criminal boat. Ah, but once you get in there, you find out that the man you need to speak to is deaf. Herein lies the puzzle! He's in the cell right next to you, and all that separates the two of you is a barred window. You need to get his attention: If only you could get your hands on some ink and paper ... hey, wait a minute, here's some in your inventory!
Now it's just a simple matter of grabbing a tin cup from your cell and banging it on the door until a guard comes by to douse you in fish stew. Oh, did you think you were going to write a note? Ha, that's adorable.
"Now you sit your ass down and just smell like fish for a while!"
Next, you break off a pipe from the window, then pour ink all over the paper and head outside to the prison yard, where you smash the ink bottle on a rock and use the makeshift blade to cut a hole in your accordion. Wait, where did you get an accordion? From randomly searching through the rubble in the yard, of course! So there you go: Simply shove your pipe and paper through the accordion hole and voila!
You have a vacuum pump!
Wait, you do? Paper and ink shoved inside an accordion creates a vacuum? Shit, well, OK: Man, we really did not pay attention in science class. So, by merely following the eccentric, rambling, Family Circus-style mental path of a madman, you are now in possession of a vacuum. The next step is obvious: Take your fishy prison clothes and drape them over a rock. This attracts a seagull, which you catch. With the vacuum.
You then go back into your cell and shoot the seagull at the prisoner. This gets his attention, because even deaf people find it hard to ignore a terrified bird projectile right in the kisser. You are now able to have a conversation, most of which is probably going to revolve around why your mother is such whore and, follow-up question: Why you just shot him in the face with a goddamn living seagull.
So the video game gives the player a prompt: Get this guy's attention without using your voice. And the correct solution is not to throw a note, or to start waving frantically and wait for him to turn around and notice you. No, the most logical path of action is supposedly to vacuum-launch a marine scavenger into a stranger's face, and all because some programmer probably had one really weird deaf friend when he was a kid and extrapolated out some faulty assumptions.
For more causes of broken controllers, check out The 10 Most Irritatingly Impossible Old-School Video Games and The 10 Most Terrifying Video Game Enemies of All Time.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Reasons Gremlins Are the Deadliest Movie Monster Ever.
And stop by LinkSTORM where we hold a constant vigil for all the A buttons that have been lost over the years.
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