Mines (1979)   2 comments

James L Dean’s Mines, originally a BASIC game, feels a bit in the Wumpus / Treasure Hunt tradition: randomization and simplified controls. However, not only are item locations randomized, but the entire map and puzzle locations are as well.

“Mines” lets you explore mines. The mine you explore is determined by a mine number specified at the beginning of a game.

The object of a game is to visit all of the rooms and return all of the treasures to the entrance without making too many moves.

In a mine, the passages are straight. So, for example, if you go North to leave a room, you can go South to reenter it. The rooms are not evenly spaced. However, the distance between adjacent rooms is always a multiple of the minimum distance between adjacent rooms.

The author has recently made some ports (a *lot* of ports, the list below is incomplete), so Mines is easy to try.

a.) Online Javascript version
b.) Online HTML 5 version
c.) Downloadable Compiled Windows version
d.) Downloadable Java version
e.) Android version on Google Play store

To start play you enter a randomization seed, so you can stick with a particular map or have a set of player all using the same map.


As visible in the screen above, the possible commands are the cardinal directions, Carry, Drop, and Way Out.

Carry grabs all the items in a room, Drop sets down any treasure (really only useful for making a deposit at the starting room since there’s no inventory limit).

Way Out only works if you’re carrying a treasure. It gives you directions to the exit:

The pirate takes one of your treasures. As he leaves, he shouts the letters “WWNUWW”.

There are 100 rooms. Room descriptions seem to be assigned totally at random. Sometimes exits will have an obstacle like a bear or a gorgon, but those will be less random because the game contains objects that will help pass by the obstacles, and the game assures the correct tools will not be blocked off the map. For example, I found a mirror in the very first room of the game’s screenshot above because there was a gorgon as the very first obstacle, and it would have otherwise been impossible to move anywhere else.

The puzzle solutions happen automatically when carrying the correct item. This unfortunately leads to a sad feeling of Mines being less of an adventure than Treasure Hunt was. While Treasure Hunt had a very inflexible system where objects couldn’t be dropped unless the player stopped by the exit (and then they couldn’t be picked up again), this forced the player to think through puzzle solutions and actively try to bring particular objects to a problem (it took me a while to figure out the proper method of killing the dragon, for instance). Mines pretty much plays on automatic: the puzzles might as well be locks and keys because there’s no combinations going on, and since the solutions are applied automatically gameplay becomes an abstraction. There additionally aren’t any dynamic characters like the Wumpus (which could wake up and move around the map) so the entire process is very mechanical. If for some reason you haven’t scooped up the appropriate item for a puzzle yet, the game simply says “You carry nothing to overcome the -whatever it happens to be-” with no consequence.

The room descriptions are fun in themselves, but when a nuclear test site is placed next to a hobbit’s room and a hall of dinosaur bones and the first circle of hell (where “the living are not allowed” although there are no ill effects) I don’t get the sort of logical pleasure a sensible generation system like The Annals of the Parrigues has; it’s instead emphasized any text is just a placeholder.

You’re in the lair of a giant trapdoor spider.
The passage up is guarded by a vampire.
There is a silver bullet here.
There is an elfin sword here.
There is a wooden stake here.
There is a pepper spray dispenser here.

Eventually the inventory list gets large enough it’s not worth even thinking about what objects might solve what obstacles (apparently duct tape stops a crocodile, but I didn’t even remember I was holding the duct tape until the game told me).

I feel bad about ragging on this game given the author clearly has enough affection for his work it’s playable even on CASIO CFX-9860g calculator, but Mines seems most useful as a model of the problems with a.) excessive random generation and b.) automatic puzzle solving.

Still, keeping in mind this was 1979, I think there’s some wild innovation here. This is definitely the first (and for a while only) use of random generation ensuring puzzle-solving items are placed appropriately, and none of the prior games in the Wumpus family included room descriptions. I also appreciated the author was generous enough with his creation to make it easy to play (for once, I didn’t have to use a special telnet client or tangle with the workings of a strange emulator). Because of that, anybody interested in procedural methods applied to adventures should try it at least once.

Posted January 15, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “Mines (1979)

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  1. Thanks for the review. — Jimmy Dean

    • Thanks for stopping by! Mines really is quite interesting for a 1979 game and it does some something even very few modern games do — puzzles with interlinked objects where it guarantees puzzle solutions are available.

      I have actually contemplating speedrunning this (beating as fast as possible) so I may write about this one again some day.

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