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The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Tue Dec 18, 2018 6:28 am UTC
by Janx
I wrote an email to Douglas Hofstadter (yes THE Douglas Hofstadter) explaining what I'd done in making 'The Caves.' No one could have been more surprised than I was when he wrote back to me inside of 10 minutes. I'm not including his response since that could be misconstrued as an endorsement, and he made it clear that at 74, he just didn't have time to play or look into it deeply. But he clearly understood what I was up to right away and gave me his best wishes for finding folks to share it with. Just hearing that from the man himself pretty much made this entire project worth it.

It is very hard to describe what 'The Caves' is about for the intended intelligent target audience. The best description of what I've done in making 'The Caves' was that email I sent. Here it is with a couple of small redactions, since leaving those parts in would spoil a bit of the story and make part of the puzzle a little too easy.

Dr. Hofstadter:

This is going to take a bit of explaining. I promise you an interesting story worthy of your time to read this email; potentially worth significantly more.

There was a fellow named Jim Schwaiger who wrote a computer game named "Oubliette", originally for a PLATO mini-computer at the University of Illinois in 1977. He eventually adapted it and sold it as a stand-alone game for the Commodore 64 in 1983. That was about when I encountered it, and played it thoroughly when I was a teenager.

I had always enjoyed the experience of playing that game and remembered it well. In 1998 I started a project to rewrite the game for myself in C, just for the fun of it. I had to shelve the idea since life got a little hectic around then.

I started re-visiting the idea in 2012, but first I began poking around the internet. It seemed that in the intervening years, a weird kind of time portal was forming in that, as we went further forward in time, we were better able to access with higher fidelity things further back in time. Specifically, a very good Commodore 64 emulator had been written called "Vice" that was able to play the old Oubliette game. Such a thing definitely did not exist in 1998. So I found myself in 2012, back in a dungeon (virtually) that I hadn't visited since 1985. Strangely, after 27 years I remembered just about everything, so much so that I could navigate without reference to a map and cast spells in an arcane language without reference to a manual.

But the truly interesting aspect of the experience was that the levels of play of the experience of Oubliette; the mechanics of typing commands on the keyboard, the tactical considerations for battle, the feel of dungeon exploration, and the experiential mindset of being "in" the game were reproduced with perfect fidelity on a completely different substrate. That is, a modern PC computer running a Windows OS as opposed to a Commodore 64.

I was reminded most startlingly of your book "Metamagical Themas", which coincidentally I had read in 1998. Reading your book was one of the most profound philosophical experiences in my life in that, afterwards I knew what I was; a very strange loop of multi-level symbols banging around in the 'careenium' as you put it. I don't mean to imply that you achieved some kind of weird guru status, no not at all. No, the idea just made perfect sense. Intelligence is such a wonderful emergent property. Here was the explanation I was looking for that described that emergence as a natural phenomenon, accessible to scientific and mathematical scrutiny without recourse to the supernatural.

Shortly thereafter, I read "Godel, Escher, Bach". Again, I gained wonderful insight. I pondered about whether Godel's Incompleteness Theorems could be applied to the universe as a whole, in that maybe there are truths about our universe that we can't prove (know) from within. I also pondered whether my strange loopy consciousness could be reduced to code, or indeed a single Godel number.

So all that brought me to thinking, that if Oubliette could be reproduced with perfect fidelity on a different substrate, preserving all the salient aspects of the experience; couldn't I, as a potentially codable entity, similarly be capable of reproduction on a different substrate? That is, maybe our consciousnesses can be thought of as Godel code for which the universe itself is the interpreter. Could something true yet unprovable outside the universe, a different substrate, 'run' the code? Could we 'live' again after death?

Who knows? But it was an intriguing idea.

So I decided to go ahead with my resurrection of Oubliette except now I was working in 2012 with C++ and Windows API, and now the point wasn't to simply recreate the game, the point was to tell the story of the combined philosophical revelation.

So I did. It took a while, but 6 years later it is done. The game/story is called "The Caves of Janxrathra" and you can find it here. The story is hidden inside the 'dungeon' of the game in snippets like chapters of a book so you really have to work to put it all together; but that's part of the experience. Another part of the experience is that I level-mixed like you did with Achilles and the Tortoise. I truly love that technique for exposition, so inside the game is actually 3 levels working at the same time, converging at the climax of the game. REDACTED ********************************************** REDACTED

Additionally, to finish you must solve two relatively difficult puzzles. REDACTED ********************************************** REDACTED

No, I'm not selling the game. It is available for free in full-functional form with an included manual that tells you everything you need to know; so no upsell. Yes, I will take donations. No I don't expect much. This is far too esoteric and strange and frankly intelligent to have any kind of mass appeal. Just getting the word out is pretty much impossible with thousands of indie games produced every year. Money is not the objective; describing the philosophical concept in an entertaining engaging way is.

And by the way, in order to assuage any possible copyright heartache, I did get a hold of Jim Schwaiger after a lot of work and explained what I had done in an email a lot like this one. We ended up talking on the phone extensively and became friends. He enthusiastically supports my game/story and, by the way, is a huge fan of yours as well. Smart guy.

So why send you this email? Because I wanted you to know sir, what your tremendous work in part inspired. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the work you have done.

As for my game/story, you can play it or not, spread the word or not, it doesn't matter. I'm just a little guy doing his little part to help the universe understand itself.

This is my message in a bottle. I'm curious to see if anything comes back.

Brian Rene Morrissette

So, on the surface, 'The Caves' is a D&D type game straight out of 1985 with a very simple 3D engine but some fluid and engaging game-play. But that part is just the book-binding; the real story is inside. I can't just publish the story on its own because part of the message comes from the medium itself. In other words, you have to play through the game to get the full meaning of what I'm trying to convey.

It is in my signature block, but here is the link again.

This is my humble message in a bottle. I think this forum is a great sea in which to throw it. I'm very curious to see what comes back.


P.S. If you are going to play, I strongly recommend you read the manual first. Like most projects, the most difficult part is getting started.

Re: The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Thu Dec 20, 2018 3:57 pm UTC
by Janx
Okay, maybe that first post was a bit much at once. I'm just excited that it's really done and that it came out with such fidelity to what I had originally conceptualized.


Old school D&D game patterned after the game Oubliette. Philosophical multi-level multi-threaded story line. Two VERY hard puzzles to solve to finish the game. Completely 100% free.


Re: The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2018 4:09 am UTC
by Janx
I probably should have put in a screen shot or two. A picture is worth a thousand words. Here's what things look like outside of the Caves with an amusingly named party.

Caves Title.jpg
Outside the Caves

Here's what things look like way down deep with a badass party against some killer monsters.


Re: The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2018 4:26 am UTC
by commodorejohn
Intriguing description, and I'd love to give it a try, but when launched under WINE it complains that it can't open the equipment or monster files. Looking at the filenames, which exhibit a smattering of different approaches to capitalization, I suspect it's probably tripping up on case-sensitivity issues. What are the directory and file names as specified in the source code?

Re: The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2018 7:23 pm UTC
by Janx
Make sure that you keep all the downloaded files in one directory (doesn't matter where, can even be on a flash drive) and run the Caves.exe file from that directory. Then make sure you save your games to the default "Saves" subdirectory. This should solve your problem. There are no case sensitivity issues.

Thanks for your interest.


Re: The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2018 7:36 pm UTC
by Janx
Also, the game won't run from inside a downloaded zipped directory. All files must be uncompressed for the game to function properly.


Re: The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2018 11:00 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
So how it stands now is that the ZIP file has been extracted as-is to a directory on my storage partition, from which I've been trying to run the executable. (I tried moving it to a location in the WINE main path, but this didn't change anything.) I've tried launching it directly from the file manager and manually invoking it from the command line in the correct directory; this didn't change anything. No matter how I launch it, it complains about being unable to find the equipment or monster file, brings up the main window (with no logo graphic showing,) and seems to run normally enough until I quit the program. The only output other than the aforementioned message boxes is the following on the console:

Code: Select all

err:ole:marshal_object couldn't get IPSFactory buffer for interface {00000131-0000-0000-c000-000000000046}
err:ole:marshal_object couldn't get IPSFactory buffer for interface {6d5140c1-7436-11ce-8034-00aa006009fa}
err:ole:StdMarshalImpl_MarshalInterface Failed to create ifstub, hres=0x80004002
err:ole:CoMarshalInterface Failed to marshal the interface {6d5140c1-7436-11ce-8034-00aa006009fa}, 80004002
err:ole:get_local_server_stream Failed: 80004002

Re: The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2018 11:29 pm UTC
by Janx
Well Commodore, I don't know what to tell you. Many folks have downloaded the game on PC's and Mac's and aren't having this problem. Perhaps try deleting everything and re-downloading. I know that if you have two versions of the game sitting on your computer it can cause the problem you're talking about.

Good luck,

Re: The Caves of Janxrathra

Posted: Tue Feb 26, 2019 1:07 am UTC
by Janx
Update: So far one individual has explored and mapped out the entire dungeon but has not yet solved the final puzzle; so first to the end is still up for grabs. Good luck!