Archive for April 2017

Adventure 500: RNG   11 comments

RNG, aka “random number generation.” Picture by Jeremiah Andrick, CC BY 2.0.

There’s quite a bit that happened since I last posted, but I wanted to focus on one part in particular. This is an actual transcript of play:

> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
The dragon singes your hair WITH his breath.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
The dragon singes your hair WITH his breath.
> get axe
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.

One might be forgiven for not realizing there is a one-third chance of this happening:

> throw axe
You’ve killed the dragon.
It contracts into wrinkles and disappears.

The author seemed to think if they include a random number generator which triggers one-third of the time, then players will maybe have one or two misses before they have a hit. Unfortunately, that’s not how random number generation works, and it’s quite possible by dumb luck to have a situation where it would be nearly impossible for the player to surmise they were doing the correct action. (The probability for the 7 misses in a row shown in the transcript is two-thirds to the seventh power, or approximately 5.85%.)

This issue happens in a different way in A Fine Day for Reaping (2007) and Nevermore (2000). Both cases include texts that appear in random order, the idea being equivalent to leafing through a book and happening upon important information. If one expects random chance to act intuitively, most of the needed text should be found in short order, but in actual practice, some players will just keep missing a certain text by luck (it happened to me with both games).

This is on top of the uncertain feeling any randomness is occurring at all. With an adventure game, the general expectation is for an action to work if it is the right one, and a clear signal is needed if something random is awry. With our recent Spelunker play (and the Eamon games I blogged about) it was very obvious we had a D&D combat type system with random outcomes, broadcasting the information to the player that with a “miss” all one needed to do was try again.

I think the thief combat in Zork is somewhat between the extremes. There’s enough variety in the thief’s messages that I personally realized random chance might lead me to defeat him, but I would like to ask, in general: was there anyone who got stuck by the thief because they assumed there was a puzzle-method of winning, rather than just lucking out in raw combat?

Posted April 30, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 500: Mazes of Cruelty   7 comments

The world had not only failed to learn the right lessons, it seemed to have internalized the wrong ones.

— From “Inside Every Utopia Is a Dystopia” by John Crowley

The quote above, which is about the more serious issue of social design, also captures for me the history of art.

Something fabulous and novel is made, other artists duplicate the ideas, and then there are copies of those copies. Generally, artists aren’t copying everything, just what they think made the original fabulous and novel in the first place. This isn’t necessarily a bad approach to art, but sadly, sometimes it’s the wrong things that get copied.

Do adventure games need a maze? Nearly everyone from the era seemed to think so. They just needed to do them “better” than Crowther and Woods Adventure somehow.

Adventure 500 takes the maze concept and runs it off a cliff. I’ve never quite seen anything like this.

First, the twisty maze of passages, which is the first maze encountered in the game (the other one can’t be reached without an item in this maze):

This certainly doesn’t look too bad, but there are two tricks, one common, one nasty.

The common trick is that when entering the maze from the outside, you start in what I call a “all-or-nothing” structure. All exits are possible, but any exit except for the correct one will lead you to the space marked “start from NE forest entry”. I’ve seen this sort of structure lots of times, presumably because it makes it very hard to just guess your way through the maze and luck into the correct 4-move sequence (WEST, EAST, SOUTH, UP).

The nasty trick occurs in original Adventure (Crowther, even before Woods) in that when outdoors there is a link that will randomly take you to a different forest area than you usually go to. However, the extra area is totally optional and the intent seemed to be to add an aura of mystery.

Adventure 500 puts this same trick in the maze:

Going down in a particular place will *usually* loop you to the same place, except for something like a 20% chance where it takes you to the room with the planks of wood instead. The planks of wood are absolutely necessary for beating the game. I found this by sheer luck (I had already mapped the loop, but went down by accident).

On top of the evil above, there’s this:

You are about to enter an area of Colossal Cavern for which you must carefully prepare. Do not proceed unless you are ready.
> e
You’re in a crazy maze of weird passages.

First I was unsure as to the gimmick; I dropped a bunch of items to start mapping by dropping them in the rooms, as normal. I ran out of items, blundered my way to the exit, and grabbed some more items.

So far, so normal. But then, the new set of items ran out, and there were yet more rooms.

And more rooms.

And more rooms.

This is only part of the map. I started running out of space on the paper and scrawling everywhere. I’m not done — there are more rooms I haven’t mapped. I’m guessing the total is around 35 rooms or so.

Surely the author wouldn’t be so cruel as to pull the same-passage-goes-two-ways trick? Yes, he would. Not only that, it appears the random chance of a particular passage going to an “alternate exit” is rolled upon entering a room, which means saving one’s game and testing out an exit repeatedly will not help.

Posted April 25, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 500: Tilted   Leave a comment

I think most of my readers are familiar with the Crowther and Woods version of Adventure, but just in case, here’s a link to my playthrough.

Being familiar with the original is necessary to be rattled by responses like this one:

> xyzzy
I don’t know the word xyzzy
Please rephrase that.

Yes, XYYZY has been left out entirely.

Other curious aspects:

1.) The underground map is strongly oriented along the diagonals, with lots of travel northeast/northwest/southeast/southwest.

2.) Instead of dwarves, you are attacked by orcs:

An ugly and mean orc has found you.
The orc throws a knife at you.

It misses you!
> throw axe
You’ve killed an orc.
He disappears in a cloud of greasy black smoke.

3.) The dragon is here, but the “bare hands” gag from Adventure is not present. I’m not sure what to do here yet.

This room is filled with the foul odor of a dragon. The floor is littered with the remains of ‘Johnny come lately’ Adventurers. The dragon blocks your way!

> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.

4.) The bird has the desired effect on the snake, but you have to THROW BIRD to indicate you are directing it at the snake.

5.) There’s a boat and an underground lake (I think more than one expansion of Adventure added waterways, and there’s the river in Dungeon, so that feels like a perfectly natural expansion at least).

6.) In addition to the lantern requiring matches to be lit, it also fairly quickly runs out of oil.

The lantern is running low on fuel.
You may be able to fill it WITH some oil.

There’s a pool of oil in the twisty maze; I don’t know how many uses I get before it runs out (hopefully it won’t)?

I also want to warn everyone ahead of time it’s possible the game is not winnable in its current state. First, the port (which is based on an scan of a paper printout of the source) has some text bobbles here and there. It’s faintly possible there are code errors on the side, although I haven’t run into any. Second, there is this part of the game:

> d
This is the bottom of a chimney beneath the bedrock room. There
is a doorway to the south made out of massive iron.
The iron door is rusted shut.
> oil door
Please rephrase that.
> pour bottle
The oil frees the door and it swings open.
> s
Colossal Cavern is under construction in this area. Please return
to this location at a later date for interesting Adventures.
Th43e iron door is open.

which suggests to me that there was a definite intent for expansion, but it could also mean the treasures necessary to reach the desired 500 points hadn’t all been added yet.

Posted April 22, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Spelunker: Finale and Final Comments   3 comments


We fled by the ghost, who wasn’t blocking our passage, and found an ogre guarding some gold.


As you enter this room, the first thing that you notice is a pile of golden treasures nestled into a nook on the far side. Before you take another step, a foul-smelling ogre jumps out from a hole in the side wall and rushes forward to protect his gold.

With two strikes of our mighty ax, we were able to defeat the ogre.



We were rewarded by a generous supply of gold! (How we were able to carry such a heavy weight, a common superpower of all adventurers, remains a mystery.) Passing by the ghost again (who wanders from room to room) we came across the last treasure of the cave guarded by bats:


Bat room: The ceiling is all but invisible for the tens of thousands of bats sleeping there. In one corner of this room lies an old, rusted chest. As you open the chest, the bats begin to stir. Inside the chest is a king’s ransom in jewels: diamonds, rubies, and emeralds.

The bats were indeed guarding, because our attempt to just take the treasure and run failed:


We attempted to swing our lantern to scare off the the bats, but at the moment of our swing the ghost wandered in and took the hit instead!


None of our weapons were effective on the bats afterwards. Pondering for a bit, we found a burning fire and brought it over:


With the bats gone, we had a clear route take all 4 of our treasures to the exit in triumph!

Where we traded our treasure for cold, hard, cash; accounting for inflation that’s about $161,000 in 2017 money. I feel like we may have been ripped off. Probably we took it to a pawn shop or something.

Or possibly we went the altruistic route and gave most of it to a museum and only sold off a few items to fund our expenses.

Still, we survived without wasting too many clone bodies, huzzah!

Side note: we had one monster we hadn’t slain. It doesn’t guard a treasure, so it’s optional. It has a “CURSE” in the room which strongly reduces attack value, supposedly neutralized by the apple. However, even with using the apple I still was only able to do 1 hit point of damage with using the fire, and the bones are quite good at killing us back, so I had to leave it be.

Assorted final comments:

1.) As pointed out by the players, the second half of the game was rather like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Given the built in feature that the game is supposed to be played with a dungeon mast — er, guide, that isn’t too surprising. You might want to read the article with the type-in, though — it really feels like one of those campaign books, complete with tables of enemies and weapons.

Link to the magazine with the article

2.) Being a guide let me smooth over a lot of issues that have might made the game otherwise unplayable. In some cases the players threw out 5 or 6 verbs in an attempt to do something, and I was able to just pick the right one. In other cases they weren’t using the right verb at all, but I went ahead and did it for them, because that’s a silly way to get stuck.

Also, even on successful commands the game doesn’t give a lot of feedback (there’s a very tight line / memory limit to the game, so I imagine the author just didn’t have room). As a guide I was able to work around that a little, except for cases where I couldn’t understand what was going on, even with access to the code.

The general feeling was a Mechanical Turk-type scenario where a computer’s very limited intelligence was “enhanced” by my being behind the controls.

3.) I still have no idea what rubbing the lamp does. It’s an understood command, and the lamp (if maybe not the verb) seems to be accounted for in the code, but I don’t quite understand this line.

2335 IF NOUN=28 AND M(50)>0 THEN 1070

4.) I never pointed it out, but the GUI with the 4 separate windows really is quite audacious and innovative for the time. I don’t think we’ll get another dynamic compass rose that displays available directions until 1980.

The author Thomas R. Mimlitch does show up later in the history of interactive fiction:

Educators who use Apple Writer II for word processing can create branching texts similar to Story Tree’s by taking advantage of WPL, Apple Writer’s built-in Word Processing Language. WPL lets users automate editing routine by writing short programs that take over the word processing. It was designed for repetitious tasks like printing envelopes or adding addresses to form letters, but it can be put to more imaginative uses. Thomas R. Mimlitch describes an ingenious WPL program which enables youngsters to write branching stories using all the editing features of Apple Writer. Once the story is typed in, the program runs in page by page, displaying each page on the screen and waiting for the reader to answer yes or no questions which determine the next page. In addition to a complete annotated listing, Mimlitch includes a sample story written by a ten-year-old. He tells about a group of neighborhood twelve-year-olds who became so engaged in their seventy-page narrative that they spent five months on the project.

[From The Electronic Text: Learning to Write, Read, and Reason with Computers by William V. Costanzo.]

Posted April 22, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 500 (1979)   1 comment

The 2008 comedy movie Be Kind Rewind introduced the idea of “sweding”, recreating scenes of a movie from memory.

Yes, this is relevant to the game at hand. Let me back up a moment.

One of the legendary “lost copies” of Adventure is by George Richmond from 1979 (“with assistance from Mike Preston”). It was written in CDC Pascal and while people reported playing it in the late 70s / early 80s, until recently it was considered to be entirely lost.

That is it *was* considered lost, until roughly a year ago a mysterious “Tom A.” sent a source code package to Arthur O’Dwyer. However, it’s sat since then, and I can reliably say nobody except for possibly “Tom A.” has ever played it since 1982. (Download for a package including a Windows executable is here.)

Still, maybe nothing to get excited over. With another lost version of Adventure, you might think (as I first did before booting this up) that all we have here is yet another port, with extra rooms tossed for flavor.

That doesn’t describe this at all.

It’s more like — the author played Adventure, liked it, had some notes — then decided to write his own game from scratch, riffing off his notes but filling in the gaps with his own imagination. It’s like he made a full length sweding of Adventure.

The picture above is a (mostly complete) map of the outdoors. You have to go *southwest* to the entrance of the cave, not south. There are two routes deep in the forest that lead directly to the maze of twisty passages (and not the same maze as the original game!) There’s a lake to the west that requires a boat to get across.

You’re in front of a Wellhouse. A stream flows to the southwest.
> in
You’re in a Wellhouse. The center of the room is occupied by a well.
I see objects here.
A bottle full of water.
Tasty food for nourishing Adventurer and beast.
A ring of unmarked keys.
A kerosene lantern. It is hard to tell how much fuel is left in it.

As far as I can tell so far, the game uses almost none of the original room descriptions. Early on you find a box of matches (which is required to light the lantern) and a claw hammer. Instead of XYZZY as a magic word, you get this:

You’re at a dead end. A plaque on the walls is inscribed with the saying: “If you were in a hurry you would ‘     ‘ along”. Unfortunately, the word you need is obscured.

Posted April 19, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Innovation 13   5 comments

I promised, at one point, that I would come up with a way to play some non-chronological games in my All the Adventures quest. Perhaps a graphic adventure or two?

Just playing a game at random doesn’t quite nurture my completionist impulse, so I have pared down from a much larger list to obtain this set of 13. I call it the “Innovation 13” in that it is themed around adventure games doing something different or noteworthy, although some are still rooted in tradition.

No promises I’ll get through these quickly — I still consider the chronological list my priority. But at least I have something to draw on for a little variety, yes?

The Innovation 13

1.) Breakers (Rod Smith & William Mataga, Synapse Software, 1985)

From the company better known for Mindwheel. Your job is to convince an alien race you are their Messiah. The interface and gameplay are in real time.

2.) The Cretan Chronicles (John Butterfield, David Honigmann & Philip Parker, 1985/1986)

Bit of a cheat here – this is a gamebook series. It’s set in ancient Greece with some unique mechanics.

3.) Metropolis (Arcadia, 1987)

From Mobygames: Metropolis is the city of the future, founded in 5067. You are a security agent for the software company IC&D and your adventure is about to begin. Solve ten different crimes and voyage the city through a series of “Zoomtubes”. Just don’t give out your M.U.M. code to ANYONE! The game is largely conversation-driven, with a 20,000 word spoken vocabulary and advanced artificial intelligence.

4.) The Colonel’s Bequest (Roberta Williams, Sierra, 1989)

A mystery game that is considered in some quarters Roberta Williams’s finest work.

5.) Guardians of Infinity: To Save Kennedy (Paragon Software, 1989)

In this time-travel text adventure game you direct multiple agents in real time with a multi-window interface. It is as crazy as it sounds.

6.) Scapeghost (Pete Austin, Level 9, 1989)

Level 9! A juggernaut amongst UK text adventure fans, an obscurity for North American fans. In any case, you play a murdered police officer who comes back as a ghost to solve his own murder.

7.) Star Trek 25th Anniversary (Elizabeth Danforth/Jayesh J. Patel/Bruce Schlickbernd/Michael A. Stackpole/Scott Bennie, Interplay, 1992)

One of a respectable line of Star Trek adventure games, this (and the sequel) has an enormous amount of branching and variety in possible approaches to each mission.

8.) T-Zero (Dennis Cunningham, 1992)

A monumental game involving the mysterious Count Zero. The prose and atmosphere are remarkable.

9.) Curses (Graham Nelson, 1993-1995)

Graham Nelson’s early masterpiece. Your search for a lost map of Paris leads to a web of family secrets. I did beat this back in the day (with extensive hints) but I figure if anything is worth a second look, it’s this game.

10.) Cosmoserve (Judith Pintar, 1997)

A programming-related game with a fake-DOS interface; also supposedly one of the best games ever written using AGT.

11.) The Longest Journey (Didrik Tollefsen & Ragnar Tørnquist, Funcom, 1999)

The fans of this are superfans, and I figured I should put at least one “core game” on this list, even if it ends up being more traditional than the rest.

12.) The Shivah (Dave Gilbert, Wadjet Eye Games, 2006)

You play a rabbi in charge of a failing synagogue. “A rabbinical adventure of mourning and mystery.”

13.) Kentucky Route Zero (Tamas Kemenczy & Jake Elliott, Cardboard Computer, 2013-present)

I have heard almost legendary things about this one; I’ve been waiting for the last episode to come out before I start it.

Posted April 17, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Spelunker Play-By-Post (IV): Slaying the Mighty Clam   26 comments


We found a rope and used it to climb a deep pit leading to a misty lake underground.

Using the nearby raft, we found a clam with a pearl in the middle of the lake.


You are in the middle of Misty Lake. A strange glow emanates from the bottom of the lake. You turn off your light and notice an enormous, bright pearl nestling inside a gigantic clam. The clam is at the bottom of the lake, in only ten feet of water.

Exploring our surroundings, we also found a room full of ice.


Mysteriously, ice forms very quickly in this chamber, encapsulating anything left there for too long. There is so much ice that you can’t even get into the room; however, you see an exit on the other side of the chamber.

We disposed of with the ice in a radical fashion via bomb-hurling…


… and then returned to the clam, for some clam-to-knife combat action.


The clam put up a fight, but we slew it in two hits, averting the danger!

(Seriously, there was danger – in my test runs of this game I only won 1 out of 8 times. The amount of damage from the knife wounds was very high this time.)

In any case, after a bit of shuffling, we have grabbed the lamp (treasure #1 out of 4!) and pearl (treasure #2 out of 4!). While nobody said so, I’m going to guess we’re interested in what’s beyond the ice room.

A magnificently decorated chamber with crystaline designs and intricate rock formations. A narrow, fast moving river flows through the hub room.

Oh no, a ghost! What do you want to do next? (Just write a comment! Anyone can join in!)

Verb list:

Current map (circles indicate places we’ve been, the arrow indicates where we are):

Posted April 15, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Two Heads of the Coin (1979)   4 comments

I was frankly excited about getting to this game — another in the Interactive Fiction series of Robert Lafore — because the other work from the series I played (Local Call for Death) is legitimately excellent to the extent I’d put it in my Favorite Adventures List Of All Time, not even restricting to just the 1970s.

Alas, Two Heads of the Coin was somewhat a letdown. Somewhat.

It casts you as a Sherlock Holmes look-a-like, and is pretty explicit that “you” are in the game. You are accompanied by Dr. Watson — er, Dr. Grimsby.

In classic Sherlock fashion, a late visitor comes looking for help, and you (faux-Sherlock) have a conversation trying to pry open the truth. Just like Lafore’s other works, you are supposed to hold a conversation while using proper grammar and so forth although in reality the game is checking for key words.

Unlike a real Sherlock Holmes story, there is no investigating; there’s just the conversation. The visitor, Mr Conway, wants you to investigate the disappearance of his wife.

Unfortunately, a bit of flailing is more or less inevitable here; the conversation starts off fairly solid, but as soon as obvious “key words” run out it becomes very hard to pull out facts. You can ask Dr. Grimsby for help; he does a jab at your investigative skills and then comes up with a question that hasn’t been asked yet.

Local Call for Death didn’t have as much an issue, because it had three phases: 1.) an opening plot sequence where you could do minor role-playing and also see relevant clues 2.) a sequence where you search through a room for evidence and 3.) a conversation where you cause the guilty party to crack; it’s possible during the conversation to swap back to searching the room for more evidence. Since the conversation was focused mainly on objects seen and events experienced I didn’t experience a lot of confusion as to what to say next.

Referring back to Two Heads of the Coin, while the mystery itself was decent, the structure of only having a conversation (rather than getting to go and do a physical investigation) just didn’t hold that tight an experience. (Star Trek: The Next Generation fans might remember the episode where Data talks with the suspect a little and then reveals the entire plot — that’s a little how this felt.)

As a last nitpick, this game’s conceit that “you” are in the game actually made for weakened presentation. When Grimsby gets increasingly insulting, it would be fine if it was some other character (ex: “whoops, I guess Holmes had a little too much opium”) but since he is insulting you for essentially not being able to read the game creator’s mind … the experience is just a little grating. It’s equivalent to “command fail” responses in a traditional parser being mocking rather than understanding.

Having said all that, I did manage to work out the mystery without being prompted, and I felt the ending was satisfying. So if you tried Local Call for Death and are still hankering for conversation-based gameplay, it’s certainly still worth a go.

Lafore manages to fit in some social commentary, here; Mr Conway’s cluelessness fits into the plot.

Posted April 6, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Spelunker Play-By-Post (III): Blowing Ourselves Up, Again   15 comments


After finding a bomb, our interpid explorer comes across a deep pit.


Our hero, with an apparent death wish, decides to blow up the bomb here, sealing off the cave and eventually dying of thirst.


Meanwhile …

With much trepidation, our hero enters the dreaded MAZE.


You lose your sense of direction because twisting passages are coming and going at all points of the compass.

Following Standard Adventurer Protocol, the adventurer drops a tent in the room in order to keep track of directions. Proceeding NORTH just goes in a loop, but proceeding EAST leads to something new!


What appears to be a petrified river bed slopes gently upward leading toward the west. It has a low, four-foot ceiling.

At this point, our adventurer decides to blow the bomb up again. Rocks rain from overhead and the cave shakes. However, the frozen river remains frozen.


What would you like to do next?

(Places we have been marked in green.)

Posted April 5, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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