Hunt the Wumpus on the AskHistorians Podcast   Leave a comment

I was a guest on a podcast! You can hear me talk for an hour about Caves and Hunt the Wumpus from my Before Adventure series.

Link to podcast here


Unfortunately my attempt to give plugs at the end got mangled, so let me quickly mention:

Aaron Reed published his article on Wumpus a week before recording, and it had some new research I got to use, as part of his excellent 50 Years of Text Games series.

I also referred some to Alex Smith’s book They Create Worlds.

And while dated, I can still recommend Steven Levy’s Hackers as a good glimpse of the era.

Posted April 15, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tanker Train (1981)   7 comments


Tanker Train — another in the long series of Roger M. Wilcox — is a good contrast to Castlequest, since instead of a sprawling 100 rooms, it only has 14. It’s a very tight, cinematic, and linear experience where you’re tasked with stopping a saboteur and defusing a time bomb.

You start sitting in a cabin seat (holding an FBI badge and a pistol, so we’re only marginally off-duty, I guess), and we hear a scream as mentioned above and stand up to find a dead body.

Like all the Roger M. Wilcox games, this was originally on TRS-80. I had trouble getting that version working so early on I switched with his modern port.

This is admittedly one of the most puzzling parts of the game — we wouldn’t notice someone else in the room coming in? Wouldn’t the murderer at least notice us and be concerned?

And unfortunately, things don’t quite hit fast-paced from here, because I was terribly stuck for about 10 minutes. You can go back to the original seat you start at an open a window, but try to go through and your hands slip and you go flying out at presumably 400 miles per hour.

I made a verb list testing my standard words


and while this turned out to be useful later, I was still lacking the right word to get started: FRISK. (Just random inspiration I tried it, but I remember now it was used in a prior Wilcox game, so I have now added it to my standard verbs-to-test list so I don’t get stalled the same way again.)

The body had a credit card, a leaflet advertising a different Wilcox game even though they were still all private games (“GET ‘THE VIAL OF DOOM’ ADVENTURE FOR YOUR TRS-80!”) and a helpful note.

The card works to open the door, revealing a coal fireplace and a fire extinguisher which can be applied to it.


I suppose 400 miles per hour on coal-burning would be tricky. The burning leaves a pile of ashes, and DIG ASHES reveals a bent piece of metal, and here I was stuck again for a while longer until I just rammed through the entire list of verbs and found RUB ASHES was useful as well — it meant that I was taking the main characters hands and covering them with ash. (I guess that’s correct syntax, but not usually the way the word RUB is used, so it didn’t occur to me. An odd bit of gameplay where slight variants of action based on the same verb can cause confusion — RUB is usually used to activate magic rings and the like in adventure games of this period.)

Moving on, the ashes were enough to give me a solid grip climbing out the window, and I was able to walk on the train to another car and use the piece of metal to break into it. (OK, it really can’t be going full speed, I guess then.)

Then I was able to drop into a car with a security guard and show my FBI badge.


Moving on, there’s another security guard, but trying to show the badge this time doesn’t go so well.

Yep, that’s the saboteur. You’re supposed to shoot him instead. Then just behind him you can find a ladder leading to an open valve (TURN VALVE closes it) and the time bomb. My first thought was to pick it up and take it somewhere to throw safely.

Fortunately, past the bomb there just happens to be a secret lab where you can mix some nitroglycerin. Taking the nitroglycerin back to the bomb and pouring it (as long as you’ve closed the tanker)…

…and victory!

Really, that’s it. That’s the whole game. I said it was short. It still felt satisfying to finish without hints, even if the swiftness of the plot seemed to demand a slightly more expansive parser. It’s the eternal dilemma with action-based text adventures like Heroine’s Mantle — you want to fight a ninja, or whatnot, but spending five minutes to communicate just how you want to disarm the blowdart mangles the atmosphere. Fortunately, with this game the big stopping point was right at the start.

Posted April 14, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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A Master at Castlequest   13 comments

(If you’ve arrived here from elsewhere, you should read the series in order, as this post discusses gathering the last treasures of the game.)

I’m ready to check out of this one. There’s some sort of endgame section, like Crowther/Woods Adventure, and just like various Adventure variants, I have only partial confidence that it even is triggerable. A scan of the source code indicates I have otherwise found all the treasures. So, let’s do my final delve–

I was, rather satisfyingly, correct about the long sequence with the boat — since you open a hole past the moat, you can take the boat that way all the way to a spot where you can cross over to a small island.

You are at the base of a magnificent underground waterfall. A cool mist rising off the surface of the water almost obscures a small island. A tunnel goes west and stone steps lead up.


You are on a small island near a large waterfall. The sound of crashing surf can be clearly heard, although you cannot quite make out the form of the waterfall through the thick mist. A message traced out in the sand reads “GILLIGAN WAS HERE”. There are pieces of a wreck (the S.S. MINNOW?) scattered about.

There is a very large ruby here!

Rather less glamorously, my rope issue was resolved by finding an exit I had missed on my map. I used what I’ve termed the walkthrough method where I wrote a partial walkthrough just to be careful re-tracing my initial steps (and to feel like doing so wasn’t a waste of time, important psychological bit, that). My first thirteen steps (the game understands T for take):


In the process, in the underground section with a hunchback I found I simply had missed testing a particular exit. I also found, as a side effect, the hunchback is not doomed to die early: he simply acts as defense against the werewolf if it does a sudden attack no matter when it happens. I’ve noticed the rare occasion where the werewolf would cause instant death upon appearance, so this seems to be there simply to guard against that.

With the rope, I managed to go back to the room at the start of the game and retrieve a gold statue outside the starting window. Again, nothing too glamorous there, and even more unglamorously, I figured out my problem with the glacier: I needed to type IN as a direction and I could retrieve a crystal swan.

I still was fairly short on points and knew I was missing a section. Importantly, my use of the rope did *not* apply a grappling hook I had — I simply tied it to a bed. So I tied the to the grappling hook instead and went jaunting around looking for a place to use it.

I came across a cliff past the maze, and a final section:

You are at the edge of a sheer vertical drop overlooking an immense N/S cavern. Narrow paths head away to the east and west.

A rope is hooked to the top of the precipice.

There’s two places probably for atmosphere…

This is the disco room. Multicolored lasers pulsate wildly to the beat of badly mixed music. A stairway down is barely visible through the glare. A large passage exits south, and a smaller one leads west.


You have entered the land of the living dead, a large, desolate room. Although it is apparently uninhabited, you can hear the awful sounds of thousands of lost souls weeping and moaning. In the east corner are stacked the remains of dozens of previous adventurers who were less fortunate than yourself. To the north is a foreboding passage. A path goes west.

… but the remainder of the map was there to serve up a cyclops, and a wizard. I was short on items, and tried my cuban cigar on the cyclops.

You are in a tall tunnel leading east and west. A small trail goes SE. An immense wooden door heads south.

There is a fairly large cyclops staring at you.


The cyclops turns to you and says:
“Hey buddy!. Got a light??”


The light is burning dimly.


The torch is burning noisily.


The cyclops chokes from the rancid tobacco, and crashes through the door in search of water.

There is a cyclops-shaped hole in the door.

This really strikes me as Zork-reference territory — I don’t think if it was ever cleared up with the authors if either one had seen Zork, but both the Land of the Dead and the cyclops in close proximity seem like direct references. As you’ll see in a moment, the Zork references get even more direct:

The broken door leads to a cyclops lair with a sword. Taking the sword further on, it starts to glow:

You are in a tremendous cavern divided by a white line through its center. The north side of the cavern is green and fresh, a startling change from the callous terrain of the cave. A sign at the border proclaims this to be the edge of the wizard’s realm. A rocky and forlorn trail leads east, and a plush green path wanders north.

Your sword is glowing dimly.


You are in an immense forest of tall trees. Melodic chanting can be heard in the distance. The trees seem to be guiding you along a N/S path.

Your sword is glowing very brightly.

Just a bit farther in:

This is the wizard’s throne room. Scattered about the room are various magical items. A long message in ancient runes is carved into the southern wall. It translates roughly as “Beware the power of the Wizard, for he is master of this place”. Two green paths go south and east, and a marble walk leads west.

A powerful wizard blocks your way with his staff.

The wizard just vaporizes you if you try to attack him. This is where my previous work in generating a verb list for the game paid off. I looked at any I might not have used, and the only one that came up was WAVE. So instead of swinging for the jugular, I tried WAVE SWORD:

The walls of the cavern tremble as you unleash the terrible power contained in the sword.

The wizard, sensing a stronger power than his own, flees in a blinding flash and a cloud of smoke.

Glorious! Past the wizard I found a cache of money, which represented the last missing treasure.

This is the safe deposit vault, an immense room with polished steel walls. A closed circuit T.V. camera hums quietly above you as it pans back and forth across the room. To the east is an open elevator. Engraved on the far wall is the message:

There is an ornate skeleton key here!

There is a bottle of vintage champagne here!

There is an ivory-handled sword here!

A gold statue is glistening in the light!

There is a silver cross nearby!

There is a very large ruby here!

Perched on the ground is a valuable jade figure!

A sapphire sparkles on the ground nearby!

There is lots of money here!

A delicate crystal swan lies off to one side!

Now, the reason I’m suspicious the ending might be broken is that the score acts oddly here; I checked at one point and had 275 points. I did a slight bit of object rearranging, and then afterwards, had 271 points even though the same treasures were in the vault. Some hidden timed element, perhaps? Either way, I got no messages indicating something signficant had happened, nor secret areas open up. I did find a real “ending text” scanning the source code but I’d rather only give it if I ever manage a true ending.

The game claims upon exit that I am a MASTER of Castlequest, which is honestly good enough for me.

ADD: Arthur figured out in the comments there’s a hidden time limit, and if you don’t get the treasures fast enough you don’t get the endgame. He made his own posts playing through the game here and here, if you want to see what the end is like. I also recommend his outstanding code comparison between Adventure and Castlequest (for example, Castlequest forces verb-noun order, while in Adventure word order doesn’t matter so you can GET LAMP or LAMP GET equally well).

Castlequest managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of 1979/1980 games; except for the maze with the bizarre changing names, the puzzles are essentially straightforward, and it was a longer game simply due to content as opposed to trying to get the player stuck on the same puzzle for hours. Most of the issues (ahem missing exits) I admit were essentially mine.

The framing around a nemesis to fight gave a slight bit more motivation than “just go find treasure”, and the castle structure also made the underground part seem less random (even when it started resorting to putting a jungle a few steps away from a glacier, and a disco room adjacent to the screams of the dead). It would be nice, still, to have a slightly more modernized port; there’s a save game feature, for instance, but it quits the game, and RESTORE only works at the very start of the game. The game also only understands ALL CAPS commands which turned out to be a source of 50% of the errors for me (especially when I kept switching back and forth to a map!) But in the end I am very, very, grateful both the authors (Michael Holtzman and Mark Kershenblatt) and Arthur O’Dwyer who helped rescue this game from oblivion.

As I stated on my first post about this game, The Pits (another lost 1980 game, this time on an online system called The Source) is also buried somewhere in the US Copyright Office. Anyone want to make a go at nabbing the treasure?

Posted April 12, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castlequest: Underground   2 comments

I’ve reached a point I’m fairly sure is near the end, so I’m in my finish-or-bust phase.

After killing the vampire from last time, I went into an underground section.

I should mention, first, that while underground the werewolf attacks drop off, and you get attacked by gnomes instead.

There is an ugly little gnome in the room with you!

The gnomes are functionally identical to the dwarves in Adventure, including throwing the hatchet to kill them — shooting with the gun doesn’t work.


You killed a dirty little gnome.

There is a blood stained hatchet here.

You are in a perfectly square room carved out of solid rock. Stone steps lead up. An arched passage exits south. Above the arch is carved the message:



You are in a long sloping N/S passage. The darkness seems to thicken around you as you walk.


You are in a narrow room which extends out of sight to the east. Sloping paths exit north and south. It is getting warmer here.


This is the fire room. The stone walls are gutted from centuries of evil fires. It is very hot here. A low trail leads west and a smaller one leads NE. A sloping trail goes north.

A wall of fire bars the way to the NE.

If you have a bottle of water you can EXTINGUISH FIRE to get through. This lets you find an empty room with the word “POOF” — it’s a magic word that teleports you back to the second floor, although unlike Adventure it doesn’t work until you’ve found it — and a vault.

This is the safe deposit vault, an immense room with polished steel walls. A closed circuit T.V. camera hums quietly above you as it pans back and forth across the room. To the east is an open elevator. Engraved on the far wall is the message:


I’ve found a bit more in the way of treasure but not a lot: a jade figurine, a champagne bottle, and a sapphire. I still suspect whatever treasure hunt remains is not that extensive.

This is the honeymoon suite. The entire room is finished in red. In the center of the room lies a heart shaped bed. To one side is a heart shaped bath. A large mirror is mounted on the ceiling above the bed. The only exit is back the way you came.

There is a bottle of vintage champagne here!

The sapphire was past a maze. Veterans of Adventure might notice the room descriptions vary:

You’re in a short and winding maze of passages.


You’re in a maze of long and winding passages.


You’re in a long and winding maze of passages.

That is, by all appearances, this is another clone of the maze of rooms, all different. But! The room descriptions change.

Yes, trying to utilize the facts room descriptions change will get you hopelessly lost. I’m not sure if the logic is extensive or minor, but using the standard “drop objects to form a trail” method works instead just fine. I’ve never seen a room description fake-out quite like this before.

Past the maze, in addition to there being a sapphire, is a glacier marked with an “X”. I can melt the glacier with a helpful torch to form a hole, but I don’t have any other command I can use on the hole (I’ve tried entering it, looking in it, and so forth). If I try melting it again the glacier melts all the way and kills me.

For the same place I can go up and meet up at that room past the moat — where I needed to use a rowboat before.

You are on the far side of the moat. You can see a full view of the castle here in all its deadly splendor. A small town can be glimpsed far off in the distance. An old sign nailed to a tree reads:

There is a large opening in the ground.

However, the boat is on the wrong side to then go over the moat. I’m not sure what to do here, but I found the re-use of geography — on what seemed previously like a dead-end — to be fascinating. I think it’s possible what I need to do is open this area, walk all the way back around (maybe using the POOF teleport if I want to), then take the boat back across the moat so I can take it down? Remember, if I try to take the boat in the castle through the other way it doesn’t fit, but assuming I can get it to fit going down, there’s a candidate place for using it.

You are at the base of a magnificent underground waterfall. A cool mist rising off the surface of the water almost obscures a small island. A tunnel goes west and stone steps lead up.

You can’t swim, but maybe you can cross to the island with the boat.

The other bit of oddity is even though I have a grappling hook and a place to use it (the window at the very start of the game, you can melt the bars with the acid and clearly it is meant to then let you climb a rope) I still have yet to find a rope! I might be just missing an obvious exit with the rope in the open, or it might be a late-game item.

Either way, by next time I’m going to hang this one up for now or cruise to victory.

Posted April 9, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castlequest: Dracula’s Brother   Leave a comment

I made it past a significant chunk; the game isn’t necessarily hard (which is a relief, considering other mainframe games we’ve seen) and my delay between posts has more to do with work/life distraction than the game itself.

(Also, I needed to finish AI: The Somnium Files. Long game, that. Three-quarters visual novel, rather unique adventure sections.)

Very close to after I hit “send” on my last post I realized at the boarded door that I couldn’t chop with a hatchet, I could still THROW HATCHET.

The door opens to a brick wall. —DEAD END—

A note on the wall reads “L 8 R 31 L 59”.

So, progress, but not much! I then made my usual gaffe of missing room exits, and on a room I even clipped an excerpt from last time. Since it’s been a week, here’s the room in question:

You are in the foyer. An umbrella near the door is dripping on the thick pile carpet. A black cape is draped neatly over the banister of a grand staircase leading up. A magnificentl archway leads north. Corridors lead south and southeast, a small hallway heads west, and a narrow stairway goes down.

The butler is sound asleep.

You can go down and you can go up. Novel, that. (To be fair, the ordering of exits is a little odd — they’re mentioned in the order up, north, south, southeast, west, down. Usually up and down get clumped together.)

This shows the second and third floor, although some puzzle solving is required to wander around the attic as “A huge vampire bat hangs from the doorframe and blocks your way.”.

The parts I could reach fairly easily yielded a quill pen and a skeleton key. The quill pen and paper from last time applied to the butler, which I need to explain —

I was stumped for a little while not for puzzle reasons, but for narrative reasons. I assumed the butler was an obstacle, insofar I was sneaking into a vampire’s castle, quite naturally the butler would stop me, and there would be some later puzzle that involved making sure the butler wouldn’t wake up.

I was wrong about this. The butler is helpful, something I was clued in on while experimenting with the gun:

You killed a deaf-mute butler (Not very sporting of you).

Oops! The right action here is WAKE BUTLER who then motions for some paper. Dropping the quill pen I just mentioned and the paper from last time, he writes on the note and shows it:

“Look behind the mirror.”

The skeleton key from the second floor will eventually take care of that locked door from last time. I say “eventually” because if you try to go back to the starting room with the key (which is near where the locked door is), you get dumped in a trap door:

You have fallen through a trap door and find…

You are in a dark stone E/W passage.

This isn’t a bad thing, as it leads to another new section, and another “what appears to be foe is in fact friend” area.

You are at the proverbial fork in the road. Paths lead east, northwest, and southwest.


This is the torture chamber. A matched set of thumb-screws hangs on the far wall. A large rack occupies the center of the room. A skeleton hangs from its thumbs above you, swaying gently. An arch leads NE.

A nasty hunchback eyes you from a corner of the room.


The hunchback gobbles down the food and smiles at you.




You’re at the fork.

A smiling hunchback is following you.

Unfortunately, the hunchback didn’t survive long.

You are in a low, dark chamber. A single mirror is set into the far wall. The exit goes south.

A smiling hunchback is following you.

There is a fearsome werewolf in the room with you!

The hunchback drives away the werewolf and dies in the struggle.

The werewolf is most definitely foe, and acts much like the dwarves in Crowther/Woods adventure do, showing up at random. The odd thing here is I have a gun and a silver bullet which work fine for taking the werewolf down (the body is dragged away by a “old gypsy woman”) and while the werewolf does keep re-appearing, the gun keeps still working. So I’m not sure if the sacrifice of the hunchback is really necessary here, and if I possibly did something wrong.

In the process of running around I came across a vial of acid (I haven’t used it yet) and some blood, which I used immediately after because I know where it went. Heading back to the attic with the vampire bat:


The bat gulps down the blood and flitters away.


You are in an old attic filled with old-fashioned clothes, a pile of newspapers and some antiques. An entrance to a cedar closet is to the east and there is a door to a crawlspace to the west.

The door to the west has a combination lock, which I already knew the combination of from the dead-end-hatchet room.






The lock is now open.


You are crawling along a low passage that leads east and west.

This eventually took me to an encounter with the long-awaited vampire:

You are in a huge anteroom to an even larger, mysterious chamber. A chilling wind seems to blow at you from all sides, and a deathlike, vapid black mist surrounds your feet. Hundreds of sinister looking bats cling to the ceiling and eye you with a spine-tingling anticipatory pleasure. Two dark, foreboding passages exit to the east and west, and a steep sloping corridor descends NW.


You are in the chamber of the master of the castle, Count Vladimir! Pictures depicting scenes of tranquil Transylvanian countrysides line the walls. A huge portrait of Vladimir’s brother, Count Dracula, hangs upon the near wall. In the center of the room is a large, ominous, mahogany coffin.

The coffin is closed.

I just wanted to experiment so I opened the coffin with no preparation … and instead of dying, found a sleeping vampire! I guess it would help if I had the wooden stake just lying around one of the rooms in the open, huh? I went to grab it, came back, and found the vampire awake. Fortunately, I was also toting around a silver cross, and my SHOW CROSS prophecy came true:

The Count sits up and prepares for breakfast-namely you!


The Count is frightened by the cross and cowers in the coffin.


The vampire clutches at the stake and dies, leaving only a pile of dust.

A note materializes on the wall which reads:

EMERGENCY EXIT–The mirror maze will lead you to the locked door. The exit lies within.

I’m not sure if that means if the cross is optional presuming you are wise enough to have the wooden stake the first time around? Does this puzzle have optional parts, maybe?

The mirror maze the note mentioned was one I had guessed was a “trick maze”.

This is the mirror maze. A myriad of mirrors reflect your image in a dazzling array of light. The reflections make it impossible to discren a direction.

Random wandering before just led me to some nearby rooms, nothing helpful. Random wandering *after* seeing the note led to that locked door that I was never able to get back to (due to the trap door).

You are in a dim corridor lit by gaslight. Doors exit to the east and west. A stairway leads down.






A cool wind blows up a stone stairway which descends down into a large stone room. A note written in blood reads “VERY CLEVER OF YOU TO MAKE IT THIS FAR”. The door leads east, back to the hall.

I’ve poked around a bit farther and it feels like the game changes to be more “standard adventure”. I’ve still only found two treasures (the silver cross, and a jade figurine past the locked door) so I don’t know how much game is left.

Assuming there are no more twists, the structure has been

1. start having already broken into the castle … or maybe we got kidnapped or something?

2. gather materials and get past obstacles to confront the vampire

3. kill the vampire

4. make it to the “escape” which holds an entirely new exploration section with treasures

It means killing the Big Foozle may only be the midway point, which is decidedly a bit odd in general, although Dracula Avontuur did something similar where finding a treasure came after the vampire-killing.

What’s also odd is that it is 100% certain both games are entirely independent of each other. Something about the “kill a vampire” notion unlocked an experience more structured than the typical games of this time. Perhaps it is that the horror genre leads more naturally to classic-adventure-gameplay than the fantasy genre does. (See also The Count and Secret of Flagstone Manor, although the latter has a ghost rather than a vampire.) If monsters are killed in horror, they require particular artifacts or rituals — essentially, some sort of puzzle solving is required by convention. Whereas in fantasy one is expected, D&D style, to be able to just swing a sword — see how killing the troll in Zork isn’t even a “puzzle” really. Hence the puzzles of adventure games fit more naturally into the horror mold (consequently doing a better job integrating gameplay and story) and fantasy games have to work a little harder.

Posted April 2, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castlequest (1979-1980)   5 comments

In ye olden times, known as the 1980s through the 1990s, there were a number of online services that someone could direct one’s modem towards (if you were splurging in the mid-80s, at an awesomely powerful 1200 bits per second) including GEnie (General Electric Network for Information Exchange).

From a 1991 ad.

GEnie was particularly famous for multiplayer text-based games like GemStone III, but also had single player ones including (according to this letter sent to Jason Scott):

Black Dragon… descend through the dungeon and slay the black dragon
Castle Quest… dungeon adventure
Original Adventure… classic text adventure game
Adventure 550… advanced version of adventure
Dor Sageth… dungeon adventure

Black Dragon, Castle Quest and Dor Sageth have been lost ever since GEnie closed in 1999.

Of course, I’m making this post, and that’s because as of 2021 Castlequest has been found, due to the efforts of Arthur O’Dwyer and the two authors: Mike Holtzman and Mark Kershenblatt. You can read Arthur’s full narrative here as to what happened, but the short version is that back in 1981 Mike had the foresight to send the entire FORTRAN source code of the game to the US Copyright Office. After a lengthy back-and-forth, Mark Kershenblatt managed to get the document in its entirety, which Arthur then typed in by hand. (This is the first I know of a game being rescued by simply getting source code from the USCO. Incidentally, another lost game, The Pits, has a USCO entry.)

The actual writing of the game took place on a mainframe, and Mark estimated the work happened “between September 1979 and May 1980” although the source code is dated February 1980. Using my first-available-to-someone-outside-of-the-authors convention I might be able to shelve this with 1979, but I’m going to stick with 1980 (as also given on the IFDB entry for this game).

Enough noodling about, let’s try the game! (The IFDB link I gave has a link to a version compiled for Windows if you want to try it yourself, or if you’re on a different platform you can follow Arthur O’Dwyer’s instructions here.) For ease of reading I have boldfaced my commands and changed the spacing (the original screen width seems to be 60, but I merged the text into paragraphs).

Welcome to CASTLEQUEST!! Would you like instructions?

You are in a remote castle somewhere in Eastern Europe. I will be your eyes and hands. Direct me with words such as “LOOK”, “TAKE”, or “DROP”. To move, enter compass points (N,NE,E,SE,S,SW,W,NW), UP, or DOWN. To get a list of what you are carrying, say “INVENTORY”. To save the current game so it can be finished later say “SAVE”. Say “RESTORE” as your first command to finish a game that had been saved.

The object of the game is to find the master of the castle and kill him, while accumulating as many treasures as possible. You get maximum points for depositing the treasures in the vault. Notice that the descriptions of treasures have an exclamation point. Be wary, as many dangers await you in in the castle.

Would you like more detailed instructions?

To supress the long room descriptions, type “BRIEF”. To return to the long room descriptions, use the command “LONG”. “SCORE” will give you your present score in the game. “HELP” will give you a hint about an object in the room, but it will cost you some points. To end your explorations, say “QUIT”. Good luck. (you’ll need it).

Would you like more detailed instructions?

To aid you in your travels, you may ask for a hint by saying “HINT object”, where “object” is the item that you need help with (e.g. “HELP CROSS”). Saying “HELP ROOM” will give you some help concerning the room you’re in.

You are in a large, tarnished brass bed in an old, musty bedroom. cobwebs hang from the ceiling. A few rays of light filter through the shutters. There is a nightstand nearby with a single wooden drawer. The door west creaks in the breeze. A macabre portrait hangs to the left of an empty fireplace.

The shutters are closed.

There is a silver bullet here.

Before I make some observations, I should mention Arthur O’Dwyer has a “bug bounty” for any typos ($5 each), but he’s trying to preserve any spelling mistakes as in the original. So “supress” is indeed spelled that way in the original PDF, and “cobwebs” starts a sentence but is lowercase. I’m not going to hunt for any more typos past this point myself (I’m trying to play the game without spoilers) but it’s faintly possible one of you reading this might spot a money-making bug just by reading my play transcript.

So, observations: the instructions clearly have some cribbing from the text of Crowther/Woods Adventure although apparently the authors didn’t refer at all to Adventure’s original source code. We see the technique that happened in Hezarin of having one foot in a treasure hunt and one foot in a kill-the-nemesis plot, and of course, it’s probably Dracula again.

Also, it’s clear we have a mainframe game, as the environmental painting in text includes details most home computer games of 1980 excise for space (the door creaking in the breeze, rays of light filtering through shutters).


Do WHAT with the BULLET ??



Surely those in 1980 would know GET would be the iconic word here, as in GET LAMP, right? Whenever I hit a game that only recognizes TAKE rather than GET it takes me about halfway through the game before I finally stop getting error messages.


The shutter is open, but there are bars over the window.

Something on the ground outside is glistening brightly.

Incidentally, how did we get here? We’re starting inside the spooky castle. Is there some plot we missed where the details are important (like The Count) or should we just roll with it?

Going back to the room description, it mentions a “drawer”:


There is a silver cross in the drawer!

My first treasure! Also, my first indication this is the sort of game where you can refer to “scenery objects”, that is, objects given inside the paragraph description — by contrast, every item you could use in Crowther/Woods Adventure was separated out. This can be both good and bad; it adds a little richness to the world where it feels like the player is directly interacting with the environment, but it also means being thorough requires combing through every “object” that gets mentioned, including ones that don’t really exist in code, just in the prose of the room description. Consider the “macabre portrait” that also gets mentioned:


Do WHAT with the PORTRAIT ??


Do WHAT with the PORTRAIT ??


TAKE what???


Do WHAT with the PORTRAIT ??

The “TAKE what???” is a good signal — it means that object doesn’t exist at all to be referred to, even as hidden scenery. That doesn’t mean the portrait is completely a red herring; it may just be it slides via secret button or the like but the parser just never lets you refer to it directly.

I realized from here it would be wise to get a verb list early, so I went through my standard set, applying it to the cross:


That would be a neat trick.


Do WHAT with the CROSS ??


You can’t be serious.

The “Do WHAT with the” message seems to indicate “no verb found”.

Noteworthy: no moving, pushing, turning, etc. Not going to fiddle with secret things much, I suppose. STAB mentions you don’t have a sword, and CROSS and SHOW are both verbs I might have had trouble coming up with on the spot. (I bet we SHOW CROSS at some point. Just a feeling.)

Moving on, here’s the map as far as I can access it:

You are in the parlor, an old fashioned sitting room. A display case of dueling pistols hangs over the mantle. Stairs lead up to a dimly lit corridor. Open double doors lead west. Two wide hallways lead north and south.

There is some “HORROR HOTEL” writing paper here.

There is an old gun here.

The gun can be loaded with the silver bullet. I’ve run across a werewolf but it hasn’t stayed around long enough for me to take a shot.

A nasty werewolf lunges at you, takes a swipe at your neck, misses and runs away.

A sampling of some other locations:

You are in the foyer. An umbrella near the door is dripping on the thick pile carpet. A black cape is draped neatly over the banister of a grand staircase leading up. A magnificentl archway leads north. Corridors lead south and southeast, a small hallway heads west, and a narrow stairway goes down.

The butler is sound asleep.

(You can’t refer to the umbrella or the cape.)

You are in the workshop. A myriad of tools clutter the workbench and surrounding tables. A thick layer of sawdust covers the floor. Footprints in the sawdust indicate that you are not alone.

There is a heavy steel grappling hook here.

You are at the side of a dirt road that runs north and south. Fresh tracks in the road seem to indicate that a horse-drawn carriage has passed here recently. A narrow path leads east.


You are at the bank of a wide moat which surrounds the castle. A small town can be seen far in the distance. The road goes south.

Off to the side is an old rowboat.




You are on the far side of the moat. You can see a full view of the castle here in all its deadly splendor. A small town can be glimpsed far off in the distance. An old sign nailed to a tree reads:

(I’m not sure what else to do here; the rowboat is too big to take into the castle.)

You are now in the kitchen. Twelve Swanson’s frozen entrees rest on the counter, below a microwave oven. “THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO COOKING” lies on a small table. A swinging door exits south. Other doors lead east and north.

Somebody left some tasty food here.

So far my full inventory is: Silver bullet, Bloody hatchet, Wooden stake, Writing paper, Rowboat, Grappling Hook, Empty bottle, Silver cross, Old gun, Tasty food. Other than the odd bit with the moat above, I’ve run across a locked door and a boarded door (the hatchet doesn’t work to chop it) and the window at the start can be broken but there are bars that I can’t (yet) remove. I’d say the obstacles are fairly ordinary so far? There does seem to be a time limit, although I haven’t tested yet if sunset is game over, the endgame with a vampire, or something else:

You’d better hurry. The sun is setting.

I only have 25 points so far, out of ????. I’m not worried yet; I only have just got the feel of the surroundings, and there’s the built-in “HINT object” or “HELP room” feature I have yet to try if I get stuck.

Posted March 25, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Escape from Traam: Finished!   4 comments

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

While playing chronologically can have its charms in seeing author development (Greg Hassett comes to mind) it also runs the risk of leaving a bad impression of a particular author. Escape from Traam has a TRS-80 copyright date of 1980 so has a fair chance of being Jyym Pearson’s first game, even though Adventure International published it after Crowley Manor. I am still frankly happy I got to this one second because … well, let’s just watch it in progress.

Last time I was flailing with nowhere to go. I had found a dark cave where I could CLIMB up to a cabin, but no other leads. I was making a conjunction of two wrong assumptions, such that the combination got me stuck.

1.) I assumed the cave, being dark, couldn’t be mapped by dropping objects — this is true for a lot of other text adventures.

2.) I assumed, after enough testing and finding CLIMB always went to the cabin, that was the only outcome.

The dark cave is composed of two rooms, where nearly all exits go loop back to the starting room where CLIMB goes to the cabin. I realized this by testing assumption #1 on a whim, and once I realized there was a second room, I found out that the second room has a different message for CLIMB: YOU’LL FALL.

Some fiddling with the parser later: LOOK has you bump into an object, then TOUCH OBJECT reveals the unknown object is some STEPS. So you can explicitly go CLIMB STEPS. (Notice how the climb in the other case does *not* use a noun. The game is very inconsistent about if a noun or an indirect object is needed and much of my flailing later came from this problem.)

The steps led to an inscription which read THE ALCHEMIST in the same crypto-language as the other messages. I could then go down a hallway and climb up back to the starting ship, which “rolled over” — I guess it covered the exit I went out of? I was then able to find a SILVER KEY there.

The silver key worked on the locked trunk in the cabin, where I found a dictionary and an alphabet which explicitly gave part of the crypto-language. Since I already had figured it out I didn’t need it. (This seems to be a common theme through cryptogames in games we’ve seen so far — both Pyramid and The Domes of Kilgari featured cryptograms I solved before coming across a clue to said cryptogram.)

So in a way, I felt like I had just traveled in circles with no progress. I kept poking around until I tried to DIG GROUND WITH FROND in the inscription room above, revealing an altar and a silver cup. “The alchemist”, aha! I went back to the silver stream and filled the cup, then tried pour it on the altar and the game just has you stumbling clumsily and the water pouring out to no effect. Huh.

After a few loops of frustration, I tried walking out with the filled cup to find a cave-in where I normally went back up to the crashed ship.

Oho. Pearson definitely has a very set scene sequence for this game, so even though there’s no particularly logical reason for the collapse to happen when it does, it’s there to reveal the next piece of the game. The floor (as seen in the graphic above) has a lead brick, so you can pour the cup to get a gold ball.

Fortunately, the cave-in didn’t block the only exit — you can go back through the cave and the cabin still — so I took the gold ball back to the alien who wanted gold, and dropped it.

Climbing the tree takes a one-way trip to a monkey-like creature, who you can pump for information with TALK MONKEY multiple times.


How does he know all this? How does he know we have amnesia? How do we not know we have amnesia until we are told about it?

You can keep typing TALK MONKEY but then just get the message, multiple times:


But you still have to keep going, and no, I didn’t realize this on your own. If you keep pestering poor STAMMD enough times he says


which is absolutely essential information, and in fact the only essential information in the entire info-dump. I think the author ran across the opposing desires of wanting a movie-like scene where a friend reveals more to the mystery, but simultaneously tried to fulfill the desire to stuff in another puzzle.

Moving on, there’s a statue with a plaque that translates DICK NIXON, and I’m not going to even try to think about what the author was going for there. What I do want to point out is the above is the result of PUSH STATUE, but trying to PUSH STATUE again does nothing; you have to instead MOVE STATUE. But how is that different…..!??

(Beneath the statue is an insect, which is useful later.)

After that nonsense you come across a forest with a raiding part of Traam. You can LISTEN to get some information about needing to PUSH a PIN on a door, but trying to boldly stride forward farther gets you killed. You can instead CLIMB to get up and across.

As far as I can tell the pendant is a useless item that gets you killed — a traam spots you later with it and asks who you stole it off of.

This is followed by a bit where you go in a storm drain, and run across some deadly poison gas.

I was entirely baffled here, thinking I had pretty much combed every part of the game up to here. This was definitely the inflection point where I went from mostly staying away from hints to hitting the hints hard and often. (Interesting for me how often it isn’t a “natural” progression, but sheer annoyance building up until all faith in the game is lost at once.)

All the way back where I had found the stone cup, I needed to DIG a second time, and I would have found a helmet which protects against the gas. Really?

Look: I’ve certainly played enough games that required digging multiple times maybe that was my fault a little, but there is just so little satisfaction in finding a hidden item that is too far back to be reached in a linear progression. Exploration puzzles are compatible with exploration gameplay; for example, I did find some pleasure in The Golden Voyage where a location yielded more to a second dig. Here the chance of recognizing one’s mistake is incredibly low; the logical thought process has to go from “what to I do against the gas?” has to proceed to “I must have missed an item” and then “I must have missed a SPACE HELMET while digging.” In all seriousness, I could see someone combing over the prior bits of the story and finding their missing object that way, but again, this clashes badly with the linear cinema that this game wants to go for.

Helmet in hand on a fresh game, I was able to get up to the three doors shown above. The LISTEN hint with PUSH PIN applies and I was able to go through. If I hadn’t found the LISTEN clue — and it seems awful easy to miss it — they would get the same terrible loop as the helmet, except this time the resolution to the problem wouldn’t even be an item!

Oh, and then I ran across a human slave in a uniform that warned me the Traam were going to get me so I shot him.

Keep in mind when trying to shoot anyone else the game just says you’re too nice to, or trying to shoot an object claims the gun is jammed. I had no idea the gun was even working, let alone that the right action here was indiscriminate slaughter.

Anyway, now you can take his uniform and wear it. This lets you get by a Traam nearby and find another slave, who asks a weird trivia quiz of sorts.

The correct action is to say KASTAMAN, although I really don’t know how being from Earth is equivalent to knowing to interrogate a talking monkey long after he stopped wanting to say anything.

Using KASTMAN leads to the man unlocking a door, which eventually (after some puzzles I’m going to skip talking about because I’m annoyed enough as it is) leads to a library with a locked book. You need to BREAK LOCK to see some critical information.


After getting that info, there’s not much more to do other than find the exact right room to enter so you get captured rather than killed by the Traam. I don’t know why they capture rather than kill in one specific circumstance.

Since the aliens helpfully leave you with your stuff, the insect (the one retrieved from retrieved from under the statue of Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States) is now useful:

This lets you find a crack in a particular block that can be pulled out. Then you can crawl and climb down to a dark area where there’s a SHARP OBJECT. LOOK SHARP OBJECT reveals the object to be a spike…

…and I sure hoped you remembered to take the NYLON ROPE with you, because I didn’t! (There is an inventory limit, so you just have to vaguely guess what still needs to be toted along with you after you use it.)

Almost there! Tying the rope to the spike leads you down to a ship; escape involves repeating those directions from earlier (UNHOOK AUTO PRESSURE, LIFT DECOUPLING RING, AND PUSH THRUST BAR)…

…and then activating a beacon once in orbit.

A little compare and contrast — the other Jymm Pearson game we’ve seen, The Curse of Crowley Manor, was much more effective. Why?

It still had, for the most part, a linear setup, with small pieces of geography revealed for each new part of the plot, but

a.) the puzzles weren’t heavily dependent on having to restart because of a missed item; only one item (a vial at the very start) was easy to miss

b.) the parser wasn’t as egregious; I don’t recall guess-the-phrase showing up anywhere

c.) it handled the narrative in much more deft way, with bodies slowly revealed at the start, and info-dumps that more or less made sense — I’m still not sure why the monkey creature knew so much, how the “amnesia” was even relevant, and why they were so reticent to convey a critical piece of information, and why that piece of information proved the main character was from Earth

d.) it doesn’t require shooting a random person

Fortunately, things with Jyym Pearson get more interesting from here; his other 6 games we haven’t got to yet are allegedly much better. His next game — otherVenture #4 — involves your wife being kidnapped for ransom on the same day as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

We’re going to swerve away from all that for a bit, because yet another lost game from history has been found recently (in a most unusual way) so I’m going to be playing that next time.

Posted March 24, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Escape from Traam: One Puzzle   3 comments

Let’s get meta for a moment and talk about this blog project as a whole.

While I had inspiration from The CPRG Addict and his chronological gameplay, I also have greatly admired The Stack which has a rule about blogging 24 hours after any gameplay has happened. This occasionally has led to entire blog posts about technical issues in playing, or writeups on very small game elements, and I’ve always found them to be glorious.

With adventure games, especially in the early era, it’s quite easy to be stuck running in place for a while. I could of course extract myself with hints — look, there’s even an official Adventure International hint sheet — but I do want to recreate the original experience, which occasionally means being stuck for a while on just five rooms. Sometimes it allows for philosophical asides, or introspection on the actual nature of game-play and being stuck. At least, I consider each “post” to be part of an entire series rather than stand-alone, so if you go to my All the Adventures page, I link to tags rather than individual blog posts. (Even when a game is a one-shot, I use the tag in case something else comes up.)

Past the cryptogram from last time (the alien wants gold, which I haven’t found yet) I found a hill and a cave…

…a silver stream which “steams” (if you try to drink, it “vaporizes your body”)…

…and a forest, where I found a frond, but couldn’t climb any trees.

The cave is just, well, dark. I thought perhaps I could shoot my frond with my hand laser and set it on fire, but I found it was “jammed”. It turns out, even thought you can’t go UP, CLIMB still works.

This leads to a “small deserted cabin” with a locked trunk.

And that’s it. I guess climbing counts as one puzzle. Not much for a week, is it? Part of the issue is I’m not sure if what comes next is

a.) a “hidden puzzle”, that is, some action elsewhere I was supposed to take — even back in one of the locations I’ve already been

b.) a direct puzzle, like getting light to the cave (which may just be impossible) or unlocking the trunk (…but I get the intuition this game really is looking for a key)

c.) something even sillier, like a location I can GO to that I missed; I thought I tried everywhere, but I’ve thought such things before

I am curious how many people from that era really were willing to be stumped that long; even if you only had access to, say, two games — not all that odd — there comes a point where gameplay is just too much grinding with too little progress.

I’ll give it another spin, just to shake things out, but I’m guessing by next time I’ll have referred to that tempting hint page.

Posted March 19, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Escape from Traam (1981)   11 comments

Your small space cruiser is in trouble — and even though you survived the initial crash on a bizarre distant world, you may soon wish that you hadn’t! The alien environment of Traam is replete with incredible wonders and sights which no human eyes have ever beheld. You must escape this dangerous world, but be forewarned that if your decisions are not tempered with intelligence and caution, you may not see home again!

We’ve visited Jyym Pearson once already with The Curse of Crowley Manor (aka otherVenture #2), a heavily narrative-driven game without the slightest hint of treasure hunt. Since we’ve rammed through a few treasure hunts lately, I figured his “next” work (otherVenture #3) would be a good antidote.

From the Internet Archive.

I put “next” in quotes because the TRS-80 game gives a copyright of 1980, indicating this was probably written before otherVenture #2, and copyright Adventure International and now I have a headache, since this was clearly published *after* Crowley, which gave a date of 1981. This might normally indicate Pearson wrote the game on his own previous before it got published, but why does it list the Adventure International name to the title, then? I’m just going to jam this in 1981 at the moment and nurse my headache.

The game is a headache, too, at least at the start.

I played the Apple II version which includes graphics by Norm Sailer, just like Crowley. This is partly to be consistent, partly because it’s been a while since we’ve had a game with graphics, and mostly because Will Moczarski and Dale Dobson found that the TRS-80 version has a game-breaking bug. I don’t think either tested all 8 versions of the game file available, but I’m fine skipping that particular piece of suffering.

You start on a crash-landing ship, where you just need to wait a bit for a crash to happen. It is faintly possible there’s something hidden in the vehicle, but I don’t know how to summon it up.

You can LOOK to find things, either with or without an object in front, but no luck here; an alarm eventually sounds, but I haven’t found a lurking glove compartment or anything.

After the crash, I was able to LOOK to get some NYLON ROPE and I could PUSH SHIP to find a HAND LASER.

I’m got stuck a lengthily time on the very next room. There’s a cliff with a bush and presumably you can use the nylon rope to climb somehow, but no syntax I have tested out has been successful.

I went into Extreme Mode, coming up with a verb list via testing off my general list


and then did some lawnmowing. One thing I found is that the game is pretty sensitive in how you mention objects; you can’t just GET ROPE when you find the nylon rope, you have to GET NYLON ROPE. All these are rejected by the parser: climb bush, climb cliff, climb nylon rope, attach nylon rope, jump, lasso bush, tie nylon rope, wrap nylon rope, make lasso, throw nylon rope, make knot.

Finally I hit upon TIE NYLON ROPE TO BUSH. Guess-the-phrase, and especially realize-the-game-uses-indirect-objects, is the best.

Immediately after is an alien warrior reading a map, that I was able to TALK to.

An alien that talks in cryptograms? Sure, I guess.

I’m going to stop here for the moment — the guess-the-phrase trouble took about an hour and a half to get through, and if I go without a break I’m going to get grouchy about it. Feel free to solve the cryptogram if you like!

Posted March 14, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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PLATO Adventure: The Incomplete Guide   3 comments

I managed to eke out a few more locations on my map from exits I had missed, but I’m going to call this one finally cooked. As a guide for future intrepid explorers who want to get farther, I’ll try to lay out in detail everything I’ve found and all my maps.

Before that…


It’s not even close. It’s clear PLATO Adventure is trying to emulate Zork’s “full sentence” mode — more words equals more power! — but I’ve seen enough oddities to say it’s only half-baked.

For example, one of the new locations I ran across was an altar with a book. If you READ BOOK the game gives a confused response; the only thing that works is READ ANCIENT BOOK.

What I’m guessing is happening — other than the game not really understanding the difference between an adjective and a noun — is that rooms with fixed items have the code specific to the location they are at. This means a command like JUMP can plunge the player in a pit where appropriate, but otherwise, the game is confused and act likes it doesn’t understand the command at all. We’ve seen this kind of half-measure with the Wander games which can lead to odd abuses, but essentially, it makes the interface feel much more inconsistent. There will always be misunderstood verbs, but having the game misunderstand a verb if the context is wrong makes the user experience as transparent as mud.

For phrases, that means it’s not really understanding there’s a “ANCIENT BOOK” or “BOOK” object in the vicinity of the Altar, but rather, it’s a hard-coded scenario where “READ ANCIENT BOOK” is grabbed as a whole phrase while in the appropriate room.


There are spots, in Zork, where connections are tangled and confused, but the really odd bits are outside (where there’s a “full circle” around the house) and in a maze. The rest makes enough sense I can visualize regions in my head.

PLATO Adventure seems on the surface to draw on identical rooms, but the configuration somehow seems much more random.

Here’s an example; this is the region that gets opened after solving the Dam #3 puzzle. The “Above Dome” part presumably goes down further but I don’t have a rope. On the right side, the various “long” and “vast” halls are vaguely described and connect more like a spreadsheet than a map. (Jumping back to parser issues again, the game doesn’t seem to understand DIG once you have the shovel. I am guessing there is some room hardcoded to understand DIG after all, but it’s frustrating testing out a command where that isn’t known for sure.)

Despite the nitpicks above, the game isn’t terrible to play … it’s just I can’t make any progress. So, here is my summary; it repeats many points I made in earlier posts, but this is meant to collect everything into a single section:

You start outside, and can go down either a trap door or a mountain passage to get into the underground. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the two, other than you can leave the trap door open if you take the mountain passage. That still doesn’t help with escape, though, because the trap door is too high to reach if you’re under it. I still have no clue how to return upstairs after going downstairs.

What I’m calling the “central area” has a troll (easily dispatchable by KILL TROLL WITH SWORD) a riddle door (solvable either through WELL, SHADOW, or LETTER E), an echo room (just type ECHO to get out), a maze (which seems to be unmappable, just stumble until you find keys, then stumble out) and the Dam #3 clone. If you go in the maintenance room at the central area and hit all the buttons in reverse order (red, brown, yellow, blue) then you’re able to turn a bolt on the outside with a wrench, opening a secret passage to the area with the shovel I mentioned earlier.

I’m stuck on a large rusty steel door that needs oil — you can find a pool of oil, and then “cover an item” with oil, but there isn’t any way I can see to transfer the oil over to the door. There’s also a pit with a plant that needs water, but I have found no water-holding container.

Connected to some of the central rooms is the “round room” randomizer from Zork. This shuffles you to a few other areas, like the temple…

…which has an Ice Room that threatens to freeze you if you hang around, and a rainbow that I can’t get a reaction from.

Another random exit takes you to mines…

…where you can find a diamond and a rusty rod. The game does understand WAVE ROD in all places but nothing has happened anywhere I’ve tried it, even in obvious places like chasms which might spawn bridges or the rainbow which might solidify.

This is most of the items I’ve found. The diamond and rusty rod are missing.

I’m still guessing there’s some interesting material hiding in the places I’ve missed, and I like the askew-Zork-world in a sense, but raw persistence is only going to get me so far. I especially welcome it if anyone can access the source code; there is apparently a way to see it instead of playing the game on the cyber1 server but you need (I think) the author’s numerical code (?).

Posted March 9, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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