Writing and decryption

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Finding an object with something written on it is quite a commen event in IF games. Usually the interpretation is straightforward, but sometimes a piece of writing must be deciphered before it can be understood.


Sources of writing

  • A diary. Check if any pages have been torn out.
  • A note / scrap of paper. A torn edge may indicate that there is more to the message.
  • A scroll or book. The margin may also contain hand written notes.
  • Scrawled on a wall.
  • Etched into an object such as a sword or a desk.

Kinds of writing

  • Plain text. Depending on the game, even an innocent looking piece of writing can still hide a secret message; if the words seem like nonsense or are completely out of context, perhaps there is a hidden code to be discovered.
  • Encrypted text. A jumble of letters with no apparent meaning.
  • Another language. The words are pronounceable and seem to form a pattern, but not one that is familiar.
  • Symbols. An unusual set of characters is used, which in turn may represent any of the above.
  • Partial. The writing may be smudged, torn, erased or otherwise missing pieces of the text, which adds to the problem of translation.
  • Invisible. A blank piece of paper may contain a message in invisible ink, or still hold the impressions from writing done on another piece of paper on top of it. Hopefully the game will include enough clues for the player to realise this and the way to reveal the hidden text.

Decryption

  • A simple form of encryption is the Caesar Cipher, where each letter of the alphabet is shifted by a certain amount (eg. shifting by three letters: A becomes D, B becomes E ...)
  • The first or last letter of each word could spell out a message, or the first letter of each sentence.
  • Numbers can represent letters (eg. 1 for A, 2 for B ...)
  • There are only so many one-, two- and three-letter words. If a particular symbol appears on its own a few times in the text, it is likely to be the letter A or I.
  • Often you won't have to decrypt the code by brute force at all - it's likely that there's a puzzle which will decrypt it for you, such as looking at the writing in a mirror.
  • If the code looks impossible to break, perhaps there is a cryptographic key to be found somewhere. Keys can be:
    • A "Rosetta Stone" - an encoded message along with its unencoded meaning.
    • Partial - for example, three transparent grids that must be overlayed.
    • A key for a similar code, but not the same one. This may reveal the principle to be used to decipher the code.
    • There may be no key at all - the writing can only be translated with a computer or magical object.

Translation

  • The article Parlez vous Nalian? (archived) contains information about the language puzzle in The Edifice (Lucian P. Smith)