Missed Classic: Trinity – Won! (And Final Rating)

From The Adventure Gamer

Written by Joe Pranevich

We finally made it to the end of Trinity, but the ending was a lot longer than I expected. The trip through New Mexico is the longest sequence in the game and it’s a lot of fun, even if I bit off more than I could chew for one week. As such, this post is more-than-double-length but even that seems insufficient: this game rewards exploration and introspection in a way that few games have. A few years ago, I stumbled on the term “first-person thinker (in contrast with “third-person shooter”) to describe adventure games. That label doesn’t fit many games as well as it fits Trinity; I have spent many sleepless nights recently thinking about this game and what it means. That is high praise!

I am getting ahead of myself. Where we left off last time, I explored six of the seven mushroom realms spread across our sundial “wabe”. This included an amazing magnet-assisted trip through space in a soap bubble, as well as a less-than-spectacular bout of trial and error where I killed a lizard in a number of incorrect ways. Last week ended with my discovery that the two gems (the ruby from the beginning of the game and an emerald from the end) could be used to create a pair of magical speed boots. With those, I am finally able to explore the Trinity site in the desert, the last of the seven realms at the dawn of the nuclear age. Something has caused the “primitive” first atom bomb to vaporize New Mexico. I need to find out what it is.

The base of the tower at Trinity, with the “gadget” (bomb) being loaded into place. 

Woosh! It’s just text, but there is something visceral about careening around the desert at superhuman speed. Previous times that I had come here, the game would end in just a few turns as simply walking from place to place took more time than we had left. I did not write much about my failed attempts to explore, but it feels good that we’re able to do it for real now. Super boots make all the difference!

Traveling with the boots is fun, but there are some drawbacks that I discover quickly. The desert acts a bit like a maze. As long as you follow the roads, you can explore pretty well. Once we step off the roads however, the monotony of the desert means that we can speed right past a road that we were looking for without seeing it. This means that going northeast into the desert and then west doesn’t actually have you always notice a north road in the middle. Mapping becomes a pain, but fortunately it’s not that hard to work out a path and keep to it. The other thing to bring up immediately is that this exploration involved a lot of reloading. Even with speed boots, there isn’t enough time to explore well and I had to reload frequently just to take stock of the place. Everything is more difficult than my narration will suggest, but in the interests of brevity we’ll just take that as a given and move on.

The included map is helpful, but not so helpful that I didn’t have to draw my own. 

The Lay of the Land

Looking at the map of the Trinity site, we immediately identify a few areas to explore. Obviously, the McDonald Ranch will be key given that we even have a breakout map, but there are many other potentially important areas in the vicinity. Near the tower is a spot just to the west labeled “Jumbo” and an impact crater to the southeast. Going further afield, we have a northwest road leading to “Able”, a southwest road leading to “Pittsburgh”, and a south road leading to “Baker”. I’m curious as to why we have “Pittsburgh” instead of “Charlie”, but as a native son of the Steel City, I will not complain much! To the southeast, not on a road, is the ranch. A final arrow to “Scorro” is off from a secondary road to the west, running parallel to the one leading to Able. I plan to explore the labeled locations first, before scouring the desert for more hidden gems.

Since it is nearby, I head to “Jumbo” first. That contains a suspended barrel that looks like a cold capsule:

Why would anyone hang a giant barrel in the middle of nowhere like this? There doesn’t seem to be any openings, windows, or markings of any kind; as far as you can tell, the thing is utterly useless.

This is obviously our character’s voice; Moriarty would have known that this useless thing was an abandoned plutonium reclamation system that would allow the fuel to be recovered in the event that the bomb was a dud. I have no idea how it would have worked and I cannot see anything that I can do with it.

The bomb crater to the southeast is similarly boring, at least for now. That was created when with traditional explosives during a “rehearsal” of the nuclear blast. There’s nothing in the crater, but perhaps I can hide in it or something down the road.

A real map of the Trinity site. Moriarty may have based his map on one like this.

Able and Baker

I explore south first to discover “Baker”, an open shelter with a number of guards. When I arrive, I immediately (and automatically) hide behind a shed so that the guards do not see me. A general steps out of the shelter and asks one of the jeep drivers to take him back to Base Camp, far to the south. The guard/driver is relieved to not be anywhere near the coming fireball and takes him immediately. Another guard, half asleep on his feet, arrives to take his place. Can I sneak past the guard by helping him sleep? Even with my super speed, I cannot get into the shelter or do much of anything here. Any attempt to leave my hiding place gets me captured and killed. Is this area included because it was there in real life or because there’s a puzzle to solve. I do not see any way to get to Base Camp, so I restore back to the tower.

I discover an abandoned jeep on the northern road to “Able” . Someone left in such a hurry that they dropped their wallet on the floor. I peek in to find a black-and-white snapshot of a smiling kid. I would have expected an ID card or something that I could use, but the wallet is otherwise empty. I check out the jeep’s radio, but it is bolted to the floor. I must be on the right track because I gain three points just for noticing that it was set to channel 39. Do walkie-talkies from the 1950s work on the same wavelengths as jeep radios from the 1940s? Apparently, yes! When I tune my walkie-talkie to that channel and extend the antenna, I get even more points and can hear the chatter of the various bases talking to each other as they get ready for the countdown. Most of it is Greek to me, but maybe something there is useful.

Even in the 1940s, Pittsburgh wasn’t all steel mills and pollution. The Cathedral of Learning towered over the University of Pittsburgh, although it was used as a military barracks during the war.


Southwest of the tower is “Pittsburgh”, a military blockhouse and the source of the searchlights that scour the landscape looking for spies and saboteurs. I might be a bit of both. I have been killed more than once by trying to climb back up the tower while the searchlights were on; this may be where I deal with that problem. Although I am told that there are no doors or windows on “this side”, there does not seem to be any way to circle around the building to get in. Instead, the only thing that we can interact with here is a giant sleeping German Shepherd. If he’s supposed to be a guard dog, he’s not doing a tremendously good job.

As I explore, the road runner arrives. Up to this point, he has been following me around the desert at high speed, but every now and then he disappears for a bit and then catches up later. As soon as the bird arrives, it gives me a mischievous look and then jumps on the dog’s head! It feels very “cartoonish”. The roadrunner nibbles on the fleas behind his ears until he wakes up and flips out. The dog then sees me and tries to attack, but its chain prevents him from ripping me limb from limb. The sound alerts the guards who capture me and I die in the usual way. I feel like this might be a reference to a Looney Tunes cartoon, but if it is I do not get it.

The final place on the map is Scorro, but it too is too far for me to get to. The map not only fails to mention that it is 30 miles away, it also has San Antonio in front of it. Up to this point, the maximum distance that I have been running is around 6 miles, the distance from the tower to each of the sites according to the “real” map that I found. Just for giggles, I calculate that I cover that distance in 2 minutes and 15 seconds of game time for an approximate speed of 150 miles per hour! Math is fun!

That fence is surprisingly unpassable in the game.

A Swim in the Reservoir

Finding the ranch house is easy: although there is no road to it on the Trinity site map, there is a southeast road at the impact crater. I’m not sure if the house is occupied so I explore the outside first. A reservoir and an old windmill are to the east. I climb up the windmill to discover that someone left a pair of binoculars at the top. I do not get a lot of time to think about who might have left them there, because the tower collapses when I attempt to pick them up. Instead of dying, we are plunged into the cold water of the reservoir. All of my stuff sinks to the bottom and that’s that. I restore.

Next time around, I drop all of my stuff first. Even though I am lighter, the tower still collapses but at least I didn’t lose anything. I swim down to find the lost binoculars, but it is too dark to see. Oh, damn. I left the lantern back in the “wabe” before I started New Mexico so I have to restore all the way back and play this all again. (I have to leave my axe behind this time.) I repeat the process and retrieve the binoculars from the reservoir bottom. Hooray!

I feel good about this for about five seconds because when I get back to my stuff, I discover that the roadrunner ate my bag of crumbs. I’ve played enough adventure games at this point to suspect that I will need them, but it turns out to be impossible to get the binoculars without losing something. If the bag is left on the ground, the roadrunner eats them. If I take the bag with me, the crumbs dissolve in the water. If I lock the roadrunner up in the birdcage, the lemming runs away. As nice as getting the binoculars is, I restore. I’llI return later.

Someone once loved this house.

Hall of the Mountain King

I explore the house, starting from the screen door at the northwest corner. Inside the spare room is the “map that is included in your Trinity package”, which is great but I had not realized that I was not supposed to look at it until now. Oops?

Exploring the house feels like a horror film. The place is abandoned and empty, but signs of a former human life remain. As we walk from room to ruined room, we expect a jump scare at any moment. The bathroom contains only a filthy sink with no tap, let alone running water. The attached bedroom is empty except for a less dirty rectangle on the floor where the mattress had once been. There’s a dining room and a kitchen with a discarded knife in a cabinet. Just outside is an “ice house” which I suppose is what passed for a refrigerator in the rural 1900s. Unless I have to keep an ice cream from melting, I don’t immediately see anything I can do there.

The final room in the house is the “Assembly Room” with that long awaited jump scare. I’ll let Moriarty set the scene for you:

Assembly Room
Whomever used this room was paranoid about dirt. The floor is swept spotless, and the edges of both windows are carefully sealed with tape. A closed front door leads east, and there’s an open closet door in the north wall. Other exits lead south and west.
A workbench covered with loose sheets of brown paper runs along the north wall. You see bits of wire and other debris scattered across the paper.
You turn to face an urgent noise behind you. Your heart skips a beat. Two tiny eyes, bright with hunger, black with menace, are glaring at you from only a few feet away.
You hear the noise again. It’s like a pebble in an empty can.
The rattlesnake rears its wedge-shaped head. It looks as if it’s about to strike!
The roadrunner trots into the room and freezes. Tension mounts as snake and bird study one another, their eyes bright with familiar hatred.
Suddenly, the roadrunner explodes into action! It dances around the snake, fluttering off the walls as it tries to grab the hissing reptile in its beak. But the room isn’t big enough to support this style of attack; and after a few very close calls, the roadrunner abandons the fray and retreats with a squall of frustration.
The lemming sees the rattlesnake and begins to tremble.  

Yeah, Mr. Lemming. I don’t like snakes either.

Maybe I am thinking too deep about this, but the “bird vs. snake” moment here feels like an homage to the “Hall of the Mountain King” puzzle in the original Colossal Cave. At the end of the introductory area of that game, you hit the first real “magical realism” puzzle where you have to get by a poisonous snake. If you read the help, you know that the bird (which you discovered a handful of rooms prior) didn’t like the snake. Dropping it causes an epic combat where the bird is victorious and the snake is driven away. This feels like Moriarty took that idea, wrote it better, and then still had the bird lose. It’s a nice touch. I’ll need to find another way.

I attack the snake with the knife but fail utterly. It bites me and slithers away. I have only a few minutes to live, which actually may be fine considering that New Mexico will be nuked in a few minutes anyway. Unfortunately, I collapse a turn or two later as the poison floods my system and lay in agony until nuclear armageddon strikes. I restore and try again, but I am not sure which approach I should take:

  • Am I supposed to let the snake bite me and then heal or prevent the poison from killing me in some way?
  • Or, am I supposed to find a different way to drive off or kill it?

The first seems unlikely, but not impossible. I recall that I left a bandage near the beginning of this section so restore back to grab it and play forward. Unfortunately, we cannot make a tourniquet or similar to keep us alive any longer. Let’s focus on killing it.

Maybe the knife wasn’t the correct approach? I restore back and play it all again to bring the axe with me, but I have no better luck with it or the spade. I try going around the house first and opening the eastern door to give the snake an easy escape route, but that doesn’t work either. I get exactly one turn after seeing the snake to do something before he bites me; I need to make it count.

Dasvidania, old friend.

My next approach is to try to get the lemming to do something, but all he does is cower in the cage if the snake is present. If I let him out anywhere else in the house, he will flee out any open door. If I am careful and close every door, he still escapes because he can nose open the screen door in the back. And yet, I am positive that I am on to something precisely because Moriarty has gone to great lengths to script all the different ways that the lemming can flee. It’s clever. The break comes when I realize that not only can I use my one turn to flee the rattlesnake by running out of the room, but that I can also use it to quickly hide in the closet and shut the door. Doing so traps me in pitch black, but it buys me time. I use my lantern and see nothing of interest. As soon as I open the door again, the snake strikes.

The solution is slightly evil, but I hit on it quickly. If I release the lemming in the closet, it runs around trapped. If I then open the door, the snake sees him first and strikes, killing my little friend then slithering off to enjoy his meal. As usual, Moriarty makes you feel the death– I’m not going to forget his description of the little body twitching as the poison takes effect– but it’s done and I can explore the final room in the house. Hidden among the debris and papers on the table is a single screwdriver. As it was one of the ones used to assemble the bomb, it almost certainly is the one that I will need to open it up again. Score! Unfortunately, there is no way back up the tower to experiment as the searchlights now cover it completely and any attempt to climb up is met with an immediate reaction from the guards. I’ll have to solve that puzzle before long.

Since I no longer have the lemming in the cage, I can grab the roadrunner and put it inside. That lets me re-do the reservoir segment as well without the bird eating all of my crumbs. I therefore end this sequence with a screwdriver and a pair of binoculars. At this stage, inventory weight is a huge problem as I can only carry exactly what I need and no more. I’m also down to seven minutes left and that isn’t enough time. I can barely even get to the dog again, let alone solve whatever puzzles are left. I end up playing it all over again and optimizing my moves every step of the way. With a few tries, I am able to get back to where I am by 5:16 AM (14 minutes left) and I hope that will be enough.

Not the kind of dog that I want to cross.

Stupid Roadrunner Tricks

I return to “Pittsburgh” and take another pass at the moving the search lights. I still do not find any way into the building and while that is a terrible thing for realism, it does focus my problem-solving just on the sleeping canine. I cannot kill it. I discover that if I let the roadrunner taunt the dog as before, but he away before the guards come out, it causes a panic and the search lights are moved momentarily away from the tower. That’s progress! Unfortunately, the timing just doesn’t work. If I start running immediately back to the tower the moment the roadrunner starts to do his thing, I only get halfway up before the crisis is managed and the lights return, catching me in the act. I’m on the right track, but I don’t have the solution yet.

At this point, I am at a loss. I don’t believe there is anything left to do at the ranch house or the jeep. I will need to distract the dog or otherwise affect the searchlights at “Pittsburgh”. I am uncertain what, if anything, there is to do at “Baker”. I already missed the General leaving and may have to restore to follow him somehow or something, but there could be something else.

I give in and take another hint to learn that I completely misjudged a puzzle. At “Baker”, I was supposed to notice that we can look inside the compound using the binoculars. Doing that shows us not only some of the men that we overhear on the walkie-talkie, but also a box “similar to the one you saw under the tower” with a silver key. Unfortunately, I cannot find any way to grab the key and I end up taking another hint: we have to ask the roadrunner to get it for us. I would not have considered the bird to be nearly intelligent enough for that. The bit earlier in the game with the dolphin and coconut at least seemed plausible as we see dolphins obeying simple commands at SeaWorld and similar parks, but a roadrunner? Not really. In any event, doing that gets us lots of points. Yay? I feel like I completely dropped the ball on this one.

I race back to the tower and can open the box at the base to reveal a circuit breaker. I flip it and the base goes nuts. They immediately suspect sabotage and scrub the launch, but it doesn’t take them long to catch me and the game still ends in a nuclear explosion, just a slightly later one. If I flip the breaker off and then on again, I am rewarded by another point and a brief dialog on the walkie-talkie. What was the point? I have no idea since I didn’t gain anything obvious by the exchange.

Classical music swells…

The Final Puzzles

Everything is lining up now, but I realize that I need more time to get back to the tower. I conduct an experiment: I drop the bag of crumbs next to the sleeping dog. If I do so and wait for the roadrunner to show up, he pauses to eat them before torturing the dog! While I am enroute to the tower, he apparently finishes and begins his taunts because we hear the distant sound of barking and see the spotlight move. I can climb up successfully! We made it back to the bomb and it’s only 5:23 AM. I have seven minutes to spare to do… something. I’ll pause to note that this sequence may pay homage to the 1953 Merrie Melodies short, Zipping Along, or one of the later ones. This is the first time that Wile E. Coyote nearly entrapped his nemesis using a conveniently placed container of free birdseed. Unfortunately, Moriarty does not list Chuck Jones in his extensive bibliography…

Once I get back inside, I open the panel with the screwdriver and peek inside. It’s dark and I didn’t bring my lantern. I end up restoring back and playing again, this time keeping the lantern in my inventory after the ranch house but discarding the unneeded birdcage. I have the guide on the piece of paper so I cut the detonator wire and that’s the wrong one. I die. I restore and cut other wires and still die. I die and die and die. What am I missing?

I take yet another hint to learn that I needed to wait until the final countdown to cut the wire, so as to not give the team enough time to react and call off the launch. I have no idea how I was supposed to infer that. This becomes trickier because the lantern has a limited remaining charge, but I’m used to optimizing at this point. I finally cut the correct wire with the kitchen knife (on my second attempt) and…

You slide the blade of the steak knife under the striped wire and pull back on it as hard as you can. The thick insulation cracks under the strain, stretches, frays and splits…
Snap! A shower of sparks erupts from the enclosure. You lose your balance and fall backwards to the floor.
“X-unit just went out again,” shouts a voice.
“Which line is it, Baker?”
“Kid’s board says it’s the informer. The others look okay. We’re lettin’ it go, Able. The sequencer’s running.”
The walkie-talkie hisses quietly.
You turn, but see no one.
“Zero minus fifteen seconds,” crackles the walkie-talkie.
“You should be proud of yourself.” Where is that voice coming from? “This gadget would’ve blown New Mexico right off the map if you hadn’t stopped it. Imagine the embarrassment.”
A burst of static. “Minus ten seconds.”
The space around you articulates. It’s not as scary the second time.
“Of course, there’s the problem of causality,” continues the voice. “If Harry doesn’t get his A-bomb, the future that created you cannot occur. And you can’t sabotage the test if you’re never born, can you?”
The walkie-talkie is fading away. “Five seconds. Four.”
The voice chuckles amiably. “Not to worry, though. Nature doesn’t know the word ‘paradox.’ Gotta bleed off that quantum steam somehow. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a good-sized bang every time they shoot off one of these gizmos. Just enough fireworks to keep the historians happy.”

The scene shifts back to Kensington Gardens and it is the beginning of the game again. I explore and it goes almost exactly like before. I buy the crumbs and help the old woman with the umbrella. The game ends with a cute scene: this time, we’ve made friends with the roadrunner and we are off to find a soccer ball to do it all over again. The end.

I’m frustrated by how many questions were left unanswered, but that may have been the point. Who was that voice in our ear that made “gnomon” puns the whole game? Am I supposed to recognize his “folksy” speech patterns? I have no idea. And if the game is a time loop, how and when do I die so that the next me can find my body in the crypt? So many questions, but it’s time for the final rating.

Time played: 6 hr 05 min
Total time: 16 hr 15 min
Score: 100 of 100

So much text until the actual ending.

Final Rating

Since writing the above, I have given a few days for my “victory” to settle in, but I have been unable to stop thinking about this game. Judging by the comments, several of you at least have had the same experience. I am sure that there are hundreds of details that I missed and I almost want to play it over again immediately, but at the same time I don’t really want to put myself through that again. I cannot quite articulate how I feel about this game, except to say that it both hurts and feels good at the same time. Take that as you will.

Puzzles and Solvability – This game is nearly a masterclass in puzzle design, with the showpiece puzzles among the best that Infocom has ever done. Puzzle difficulty increases gradually as you exit Kensington Gardens, explore to the various time zones, and finally fight through the timing and “did you bring the right tools?” puzzles of the Trinity site. In the end, I found the final round of puzzles too difficult for me. I absolutely did not understand the “what wire to cut” puzzle while playing the game. Only after reading the hints did I learn that I needed to use the information from when we pulled the breaker to know which wire I was supposed to cut. Even with the crushing difficulty at the end– I lost track of how many times I had to reload and play everything all over again to bring a different item with me– this is still one of the greatest set of puzzles I have experienced in a game. My score: 7

My final map of the Trinity site. I never did map all of the desert.

Interface and Inventory – I’ve commented so many times on the standard Infocom interface that to do so again would be redundant, but of course it is best in class for the era. This the second “Interactive Fiction Plus” title and supports some basic use of color (both for background and text color) as well as the nice jump-quotes that appear at the top of the screen. Those alone do not add up to an extra point so I will go with the Infocom-standard score. My score: 4.

Story and Setting – I’m torn on this one because while the setting is fantastic and the connections between the worlds make a certain internal sense, the story did not stick the landing. Introducing the time loop is fun, but the more you think about it the less sense it makes. How would your actions affect future nuclear bombs? If you are in a time loop forever, how does your dead body end up in the crypt? Still, you cannot but admire the amazing worlds that Moriarty has built. My score: 6.

Sound and Graphics – As you probably expect, we have a zero here. The additional color (which was also present in A Mind Forever Voyaging) doesn’t add enough for a point. My score: 0.
Environment and Atmosphere – This is a game that it is hard to stop thinking about. I’m still making new connections in my head days after playing it the last time. The wabe is amazingly designed and each of the other environments are fun and unique. This game also gave me nightmares and that has to count for something. It takes great writing to affect me so much! My score: 8.

Dialog and Acting – Moriarty’s text is amazing and the game showcases a couple of great characters. The roadrunner comes alive and the little scratch you give him behind the ears as we (and he) re-enter the time loop brings a smile to my face. The narration over the Trinity segment, which I read dozens of times, still never got old– in part because it was based on real-life transcripts. I also loved the dolphin, the bubble boy, and so many other little touches. I have no idea who the mystery voice was, but he was well-written with nice colloquial touches that made him seem familiar somehow. The jump quotes were also insightful and well-selected. My score: 7.
Let’s add those all up: (7+4+6+0+8+7)/.6 = 53. 

That is an amazing score for an Infocom game, beating out The Witness as our top scoring Infocom game! (It has been said that I am a lower scorer than Ilmari; if so, that makes this victory all the more impressive.) This places it in good company with graphics games of the period such as Space Quest I and Kings Quest III. In fact, it is our highest scoring “Missed Classic” so far. If you remove the penalty because the game doesn’t have graphics, it would have scored 64 and just missed our top ten. It is absolutely my “favorite” game of the Infocom marathon, even though I hope not to play it again for a long time.

The average guess was 44 so I suspect that most of you felt that I wouldn’t like this as much as I did. With a perfect landing, Adam Thornton got the bullseye with his guess of 53 points! Congratulations! CAPs will be distributed with the next mainline game.

Up next for me is still one final Trinity post wrapping up this series as I play Leather Goddesses of Phobos. TBD already covered it for the site so I am playing it only for my own experience, although I may write a bonus post and put it up someplace. As a bit of an homage to Leather Goddesses, I will do a very quick “Missed Classic” in a few weeks about a much less well-written “mature” game before picking up again with Moonmist. I’d really like to knock that out before I play Space Quest V, but we’ll see whether the scheduling gods smile down at me. Adios!

Original URL: https://advgamer.blogspot.com/2020/03/missed-classic-trinity-won-and-final.html