Archive for July 2017

Pyramid 2000 (1979)   1 comment

Robert Arnstein returns, who we know and love as the author of Haunted House.

In my survey of modifications to Adventure, I didn’t mention reskinning which adds a new coat of paint, so to speak, to an old game. For example, replacing all the dragons in Skyrim with Thomas the Tank Engine, or replacing fantasy trappings with an Egyptian theme.

Instead of entrances being blocked by debris, they are blocked by sand. Instead of a pirate stealing treasure, it’s a mummy.

The atmosphere isn’t bad; many rooms that were nondescript piles of rocks now have titles like “Chamber of Osiris” and “Room of Bes”. The snake is chased off by you throwing a bird god statue which comes to life.

There are no magic words. The place that was “Y2” now has a panel that you can “read” and it will move you to the entrance. READ PANEL will move you back again.

The tight entrance leading to an emerald the size of a plover’s egg is in, but the portion that had the “dark room” is out (hence, no marginally unfair magic word puzzle).

The bean stalk that needs to be watered is in, but there’s nothing past it other than treasure.

It was an challenge in 1979 to port Adventure to home machines (pulled off by Gordon Letwin and released commercially as Microsoft Adventure, but the programming was allegedly very complex). Pyramid 2000 takes a different route of simplifying things down, which would seen cheap and reductive with the original game; the reskin allows it to omit and remix freely without feeling awkwardly cut.

Keep in mind for many this was their first exposure to Adventure. It attained enough love from TRS-80 owners at the time that there is an extensive fan page and also a virtual reality remaster on Steam.

Yes, you read that right. It runs on the Vive and Oculus Rift. It’s still in early access. This is a screen shot. (UPDATE NOTE: the game is “finished” and out of early access.)

In any case, this isn’t a difficult game, so I’d only recommend trying it if you’re curious what it feels like to have a fantasy game be modified with an Egyptian motif.

Posted July 31, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 550: Finished!   8 comments

If you’re at all curious about any of the Adventure variants from the 1970s, play this one. Other than David Long’s (which I haven’t played yet) I can definitively call it the fairest of the lot; for the most part I reasoned through the puzzles, tried actions that seemed logical, and found success. Even with two new mazes (and one not-really-a-maze) I got the buzz of feeling like I was Adventuring and not just jumping through abstract hoops.

However, if you do play, you should spoil the ending puzzle. It is absolute rubbish in a way I’ve never seen before in an adventure game and I am unlikely to see again. This is not an exaggeration.

(Note that below I will be spoiling more than just the ending.)

Via Everygamegoing. Even though the year is wrong, I like the comment about how the aim of an adventure is to “discover the rules.”

A lot of what I had left to wrangle was logistical. Let me detail an example, because this sort of thing happens rarely in modern games.

Just like 350 point Adventure, there is a limit to how long the lamp lasts; there’s also an inventory limit of 7 items. Each time I reached the well house and could turn the lamp off, it felt I had reached “home base” and could plan my next foray. As this game is larger than 350 point Adventure, I had to make lists, like this one which involved going up a large beanstalk on multiple occasions:

1st foray

leave axe at reservoir
bring keys, food, rod for 3rd foray, but drop off at nest

2nd foray


3rd foray


The lists included items I knew I would need or predicted I would need for a particular section of the map. This particular plan turned out not be a perfect setup, because bringing the “eggs” on the 3rd expedition turned out unfortunate:

As you reach the middle of the bridge, the troll appears from out of the tunnel behind you, wearing a large backpack. “So, Mister Magician,” he shouts, “you like to use magic to steal back my hardearned toll? Let’s see how you like a little of MY magic!!” With that, he aims a tube running from the backpack directly at the bear and pulls a trigger. A spout of magical fire roars out and singes the bear’s fur; the bear bellows in pain and dashes onto the bridge to escape. The bridge shudders, groans, and collapses under the weight, and you and the bear plunge down into the chasm.

This also influences puzzle-solving. I ran across one puzzle where I quickly suspected I needed a certain item but didn’t get an opportunity to test my theory until several hours later. Also, a puzzle that was I had to solve early in the sequence involved eating a mushroom to get strength, allowing me to pull a sword out of a stone. The strength is temporary, but it lasted long enough it potentially was needed for a second puzzle. So in my puzzle solving I had to account for not only what items I currently had and which ones were in storage, but which ones were from the past.

Before I start ranting about the end game, let me set up a prior puzzle:

You are in a small room whose walls are covered with an elaborate pattern of arabesque figures and designs.

There is a small, tightly-sealed earthenware flask on the ground here. It has the words, “London Dry” written on the side.

I think the resemblance with a similar object in Acheton is just a coincidence, especially because the container doesn’t have gin:

The flask’s wax seal crumbles at your touch. A large cloud of black smoke pours out, solidifying into the form of a twelve-foot Djinn. “AT LAST!” he says in an earth-shaking voice, “I KNEW THAT SOMEDAY SOMEONE WOULD RELEASE ME! I WOULD REWARD YOU FOR THIS, MORTAL, BUT IT HAS BEEN THREE THOUSAND YEARS SINCE I HAD A SOLID MEAL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO STAND HERE CHATTERING WHEN I COULD BE OUT EATING A SIX-INCH SIRLOIN STEAK. FAREWELL.” With that, he somewhat rudely explodes back into smoke and drifts quickly out of sight.

So rude. In a different section, you find a room with a pentagram, which allows for a much more helpful answer:


You have set the flask down in the center of the pentagram.

The wax seal breaks away easily. A cloud of dark smoke pours up from the mouth of the flask and condenses into the form of a twelve-foot Djinn standing in the pentagram. He pushes experimentally at the magical wall of the pentagram (which holds), and nods politely to you. “MY THANKS, OH MORTAL,” he says in an incredibly deep bass voice. “IT HAS BEEN THREE THOUSAND YEARS SINCE SOLOMON SEALED ME INTO THAT BOTTLE, AND I AM GRATEFUL THAT YOU HAVE RELEASED ME. IF YOU WILL OPEN THIS PENTAGRAM AND LET ME GO FREE, I WILL GIVE YOU SOME ADVICE THAT YOU MAY ONE DAY WISH TO POSSESS.”


That second portion is a hint for the endgame. It’s not even a bad hint for what to do; the absurd bit we’ll get to in a moment.

After getting all the necessary treasures, the endgame starts like every other variant: an announcement the cave is going to close, and then:

The sepulchral voice intones, “The cave is now closed.” As the echoes fade, there is a blinding flash of light (and a small puff of orange smoke). . . . As your eyes refocus, you look around and find…

But then things vary:

You are in a small cylindrical room with very smooth walls and a flat floor and ceiling. There are no exits visible anywhere.

So, when given this much minimalism, the general approach is to try everything, including magic words:

> xyzzy

Nothing happens.
> plugh

Nothing happens.

The magic words are the key, and the Djinn’s hint really is enough to suss out the necessary trick. You need to recite all the magic words in the game, in backwards alphabetical order.

Still not at the howler yet: in normal circumstances it’d be possible to run across the solution organically; when stating the correct word last in alphabetical order, the game says “Ok.” rather than “Nothing happens.”

However, you need to recite all the magic words in the game, and not just all the magic words that have appeared in the game. From my last post, I mentioned getting a magic word with a sceptre, and as an aside I mentioned the word was not fixed. The word is in fact drawn from a set of five possible words, and you only get one, but you need all five in the endgame.

So you need to save and restore the sceptre scene at least five times (probably more due to random chance) to try to extract every possible magic word, because all of them will appear in the endgame. (I gather from Arthur O’Dwyer’s notes — the person who ported the game version I played — that the original version set the word at the start of the game so you would need to play the game through to that point at least five times.)

To add even more pain, the first word needed — ZORTON — is one off the random five list. So, unless you got that word in your play-through, you aren’t going to see the “Ok.” message at all. At least if XYZZY (the next reverse alphabetically) had started the set there would be a hint of the correct action path.

This is so staggering I deep-searched the source code just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. The best I can figure is: at the time mainframe games tended to be group activities. You can imagine an entire math department tackling the game at off hours. The group has all reached the endgame, and word of mouth has spread that the number theorist in room 602 got a different message than everyone. People confer notes and realize the effect of ZORTON. Compiling together the efforts of 10 people, they manage to realize a full magic word list and finally lead the way to triumph.

I admit a bit of fascination with puzzle games designed to be solved with groups, either intentionally (as in the case of The Black Watchmen) or unintentionally (as happened with the adventure Blue Ice, which was intended to be part of a contest that never happened and required a whole forum to solve it). With Adventure 550, though, it’s just a broken puzzle. This is a pity, because after saying the last magic word there’s a section with an existential vibe I found satisfying. You are sent back to the start of the game, but the wellhouse is now empty. The world feels lonely. There’s only one last task:

At your feet all the water of the stream splashes into a 2-foot slit in the rock. Downstream the streambed is bare rock.

You plunge into the stream and are carried down into total blackness.

You find yourself sitting on the edge of a pool of water in a vast chamber lit by dozens of flaring torches.

The floor is covered with thick layers of precious Persian rugs!

Rare coins, bars of silver, and lumps of gold and platinum are strewn carelessly about!

There are diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals, pearls, and fabulous sculptures and ornaments carved out of jade and imperishable crystal resting on display shelves, along with rare Ming vases and ancient Indian turquoise beads!

A flotilla of ruby-encrusted toy boats is floating in the pool of water beside you!

A network of golden chains supports a fantastic Iridium crown!

There is a display case on the wall filled with a fantastic selection of magical swords, which are singing “Hail to the Chief” in perfect pitch and rhythm!

There are a dozen friendly little dwarves in the room, displaying their talents by deftly juggling hundreds of golden eggs!

A large troll, a gigantic ogre, and a bearded pirate are tossing knives, axes, and clubs back and forth in a friendly demonstration of martial skill!

A horde of cheerful little gooseberry goblins are performing talented acrobatics to an appreciative audience composed of a dragon, a large green snake, a cute little bird (which is sitting, unmolested, on the snake’s head), a peaceful basilisk, and a large Arabian Djinn.

Everyone turns and sees you, and lets out a heart-warming cheer of welcome!

You have scored a total of 550 points, out of a possible maximum of 550 points. During this game of Adventure, you have taken a total of 476 turns.

All of Adventuredom gives tribute to you, Adventurer Grandmaster!

Posted July 31, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 550: The (Dis)pleasures of Magic   1 comment

Partial map in progress.

So the most significant thing I’ve done since last time is make my way across the “breath-taking view”. In the original it was just a fancy description, but in Adventure 550 it holds a secret:

You are on the edge of a breath-taking view. Far below you is an active volcano, from which great gouts of molten lava come surging out, cascading back down into the depths. The glowing rock fills the farthest reaches of the cavern with a blood-red glare, giving everything an eerie, macabre appearance. The air is filled with flickering sparks of ash and a heavy smell of brimstone. The walls are hot to the touch, and the thundering of the volcano drowns out all other sounds. Embedded in the jagged roof far overhead are myriad twisted formations composed of pure white alabaster, which scatter the murky light into sinister apparitions upon the walls. To one side is a deep gorge, filled with a bizarre chaos of tortured rock which seems to have been crafted by the devil himself. An immense river of fire crashes out from the depths of the volcano, burns its way through the gorge, and plummets into a bottomless pit far off to your left. Across the gorge, the entrance to a valley is dimly visible. To the right, an immense geyser of blistering steam erupts continuously from a barren island in the center of a sulfurous lake, which bubbles ominously. The far right wall is aflame with an incandescence of its own, which lends an additional infernal splendor to the already hellish scene. A dark, foreboding passage exits to the south.
> wave rod

The earth begins to shudder violently, and smoke flows up from the gorge beneath your feet. With a violent >GLOP!<, the volcano belches out an immense blast of molten lava which flies into the air above the gorge and suddenly solidifies into a fragile-looking arch of wheat-colored stone that bridges the gorge.

I confess I had to spoil this part. In particular, the wall-of-text literally hid an important clue I missed (Across the gorge, the entrance to a valley is dimly visible.)

The rod in the original you could wave to form a bridge, but it was to a location that was accessible a different way. Most walkthroughs just skip it. This is the first case I’ve seen where Adventure 550 does repurposing, resusing an old item for a new purpose. There’s no way to know for certain if the rod will work without experimentation, but at least in this case it makes sense — the rod makes bridges, you’re in an area where a bridge would come in handy, the rod works to solve the puzzle.

Magic in adventure games can be a danger zone for puzzle design. It’s too easy to force the player to stand in random spot X and wave necklace Y to solve a puzzle; without strong hints it’s a matter of trying everything everywhere.

This game does give hints, even if they’re a bit jarring. Do you remember “Stand where the statue gazes, and make use of the proper tool” from last time? Also, the Donaldson reference with “Witt Company Tool Room — Melenkurion division”?

You are standing at the north end of the Valley of the Stone Faces. Above you, an incredible bas-relief statue of an immense minotaur has been carved out of the rock. At least sixty feet high, it sits gazing down at you with a faint but definite expression of amusement. Between its feet and the floor is a rock wall about ten feet high which extends across the entire north end of the valley.


Rock silently crumbles off of the wall in front of you, revealing dark passages leading northwest, north, and northeast.

Oof. This was sort of pleasing and displeasing at the same time. I honestly wouldn’t have zeroed in on “Melenkurion” as a magic word without the pop culture reference, but in retrospect the “tool” can’t refer to anything else.

On the top of the map you might notice some “catacombs”. That’s another maze with one of those all-or-nothing structures I wrote about in Adventure 500, where going the wrong direction takes you backwards, and there is only one right direction. Mapping it was tedious, and hidden inside I found this:

You are at the eastern end of the Audience Hall. There is a large dais rising out of the floor here; resting upon the dais is a strange-looking throne made out of interlocking bars and rods of metal.

Resting on the throne (“sitting” isn’t really the right word) is an incredible skeleton. It is fairly humanoid from the waist up (except for its incredible size and four extra arms); below that, it resembles the body of a giant python, and is wrapped in and around the bars and rods of the throne. Clutched in one bony hand is a long sceptre, ornately encrusted with sapphires!!


You pluck the sceptre from the skeleton’s bony hand. As you do, the skeleton raises its head and whispers “Remember — BLERBI!” in a foreboding tone; it then sags to the ground and crumbles into dust which drifts away into the still air of the cave.

(The magic word is not fixed — I went through the scene again later and got a different one.)

I might have thought the skeleton would put up more of a fight, and indeed it does if you try to take the sceptre back across the bridge:

As you reach the center of the bridge, a ghostly figure appears in front of you. He (?) stands at least eight feet tall, and has the lower body of an enormous snake, six arms, and an angry expression on his face. “You’ll not have my sceptre that easily!” he cries, and makes a complex magical gesture with his lower right arm. There is a brilliant flash of light and a vicious >crack<, and the bridge cracks and plummets into the gorge.

This was admittedly an excellent death. I have trouble describing why it made me laugh with delight rather than groan in pain, but it may have had to do with me realizing the likely solution.

You see, the magic word works to open a giant walk-in safe. (There is no indication why — this was a moment of random-necklace-waving, so to speak.)



The (somewhat rusty) safe is now open.

Here’s the thing: there’s also an exact identical safe past the bridge, below the Hall of the Mountain King. I could see exactly where this puzzle was going, so the dramatic scene of the skeleton was simultaneously accompanied by the gears clicking in my head.

Posted July 27, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 550: Messages   4 comments

From Michael Whelan’s cover for the Stephen R. Donaldson book The Runes of the Earth. It will become relevant shortly.

So I managed to get past the ogre from last time.


The sword halts in mid-air, twirls like a dervish, and chants several bars of “Dies Irae” in a rough tenor voice. It then begins to spin like a rip-saw blade and flies directly at the ogre, who attempts to catch it without success; it strikes him full on the chest. There is a brilliant flash of light, a deafening roar and a cloud of oily grey smoke; when the smoke clears (and your eyes begin working properly again) you see that the ogre has vanished. The sword is lying on the ground, sparking and flaming. Before your eyes it softens and melts, writhes as if in pain, and shrinks rapidly until all that is left is a small silvery ring which cools rapidly.

The ring left behind is magic, and it helps with the dwarves:

There is a threatening little dwarf in the room with you!

You attack a little dwarf, but he dodges out of the way.
One nasty sharp knife is thrown at you!
A glowing disk of black fire jumps out of your magic ring and swallows the hurtling knife before it can harm you!

Past the ogre was a small set of rooms, including one leading to an “ice maze”.

David Platt’s own drawing of the ice cave map, via Rick Adams.

After great labor, I reached the “exit” but nothing happened. A magic word was required, and it’s encoded in the maze itself. (I won’t divulge more here, but feel free to speculate in the comments.)

Speaking of secret messages, two of the “dead ends” rooms from the original Adventure still are dead ends, but have new messages attached.

Dead end passage. Scratched on a rock is the message, “Stand where the statue gazes, and make use of the proper tool.”

I assume the above suggests a solution to a puzzle.

The canyon runs into a mass of boulders — dead end. Scratched on one of the boulders are the words, “Jerry Cornelius was here.”

Trivia: Jerry Cornelius was the main character of a series of books by Michael Moorcock. He has been described as an “adventurer” and an “assassin”, but … well, my best segue would be Wikipedia’s description of the first two books in the Cornelius Quartet:

The Final Programme
Jerry battles his brother Frank who has kidnapped his beloved sister Catherine. Frank dies, but Catherine is also killed. Jerry is sucked into the plans of Miss Brunner to create the perfect being by merging the bodies of Jerry and herself together. When this is done, a radiantly charismatic hermaphroditic being emerges from the machinery. All who see the new creature fall quaking to their knees. The creature itself announces that this is “a very tasty world”.
A Cure for Cancer
Jerry is solo again, existing as negative character with black skin and white hair. He moves through a landscape of destroyed English cities and occupying American armies, a metaphor for contemporary Vietnam. He runs a clandestine “transmogrification” service for people who want to cast off their old selves, flesh and all. We meet the gluttonous Bishop Beesley, and his daughter Mitzi. Eventually Jerry drives the Americans to madness, causing them to burn everything, including themselves.

So that’s a thing. While I’m fairly certain this is just an easter egg, it made me suspicious of the possibility of other pop culture references. Behold:

You are in a small, low-ceilinged room with the words “Witt Company Tool Room — Melenkurion division” carved into one of the walls. A wide corridor runs south from here.

Some Google-fu led me to discover “Melenkurion” is one of the Seven Words of Power in the still-ongoing fantasy universe of Stephen R. Donaldson (hence, the image on the top of the post). Since it’s a “word of power”, I tried it out:


Nothing happens.

Just to be clear, normally the game says “Huh??” if it doesn’t understand a word. I don’t know if that means the word is useful, but the game is pretty low on the vocabulary so I expect it works somewhere.

Posted July 25, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Long-Lost Earliest Version of Crowther/Woods Adventure, Hiding in Plain Sight   8 comments

Starting in 1975, Will Crowther wrote a game that began thusly:




The original, abandoned in early 1976, was thought to be lost forever until it was unearthed in 2007 by Dennis Jerz. It included three puzzles, axe-throwing dwarves, and an early version of the twisty maze of passages, all alike. Aside from the recently-discovered Castle (which never had an impact at the time) it was the earliest text adventure.

Now, the way the story traditionally continues is this: Woods comes across the source code in 1977, and codes the game to completion, with a maximum score of 350 points attained by finding all the treasures and winning the endgame. This version spreads the world — including to Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels and Dave Lebling, the creators of Zork — and a new genre is born.

This story is close, but not quite right. The first Crowther/Woods version didn’t go up to 350 points.

I only know about it from this recollection:

I’m relying solely on memory which tends to be fallible (see above: the dwarf ‘vanishes’, not ‘disappears’) but my best recollection is that ADVENT.EXE first appeared on the PDP-10s at ADP (the old First Data in Waltham, Mass.) in 1977. It was an incomplete version which only had about 250 points worth of treasure. I seem to recall that there was nothing past the troll bridge but an ‘under construction’ sign or some such. I believe our copy came from WPI, but word at the time was it was developed at Stanford. Two or three months later we got the full 350 point game.
— John Everett

I admit, I didn’t think much of this account, and neither did anyone else, apparently; even this exhaustive family tree of versions of Adventure doesn’t mention it. Given the lack of material I figured it was the last I would hear about it.

Now, I was just embarking on my playthrough of the 550-point version of Adventure as part of my All the Adventures project when I found this map while looking for images to use with my blog posts:

It was drawn by Dave Lebling (of Zork) himself, so I figured it would make a nice starting image. I noticed, idly studying, that the usual exit southwest of the Hall of the Mountain King leading to the dragon was absent; I assumed that was a mistake. I tagged it as being a rendition of 350-point Adventure, and that was that.

Later, I decided to browse over the entire map (find the high-res version at the Adventure Gamers link) and I spotted something in the southwest corner:

The chasm section of the map is missing and the portion of the map is marked with an under construction sign.

That consequently means this is a map of the first release of Crowther/Woods Adventure.

Not only that, this is the version Lebling played before embarking on writing Zork.

There’s not a lot of differences; other than the disconnect with the Hall of the Mountain King (which I still grant might be a mistake; the map shows the entrance works the other direction), the maze of passages all different is absent. If you also slice away the two treasures past the chasm (the golden chain and the spices) and cut the endgame (it’s a decent assumption it wasn’t done yet; it also doesn’t show on the map), I get 244 points, close to Mr. Everett’s recollection of approximately 250 points.

In the end, this might be trivia and will not do much to change adventure game history. Still, it’s a lovely surprise.

Again note, the full high-resolution version can be found at the Adventure Gamers article.

Posted July 25, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 550 (1979)   3 comments

Part of a map of Adventure from David Lebling (of Infocom) via Adventure Gamers. I find it interesting even with compass directions that the topology on a complex map can come out different with different players. For instance, his Witt’s End is near the middle of his map, while mine is on the far southeast edge.

Here’s all the versions of Adventure I’ve written about so far:

The history of the mainframe text adventure started with mods. The most famous variant of Adventure (the 350 point one) was itself born from Woods finding Crowther’s source code and augmenting it. Even with projects like Mystery Mansion where only one author developed a game, players got to try earlier versions; later versions were essentially mods of territory players were already familiar with.

Other than Mystery House Taken Over this approach to adventure creation has died out. I wouldn’t call it sad, exactly — how many versions of Adventure do we really need? — but it’s interesting to think about, especially because it’s not an area theorists have pored over. So far, I’ve seen

  • Straightforward geographic additions, where an extra exit appears somewhere and rooms get tacked on to the original structure.
  • Rearrangement, taking existing room exits and rejiggering their connections (Adventure 500’s approach of orienting everything NE/SE/SW/NW fell along these lines, and Adventure 550 does some tweaking I’ll discuss in a later post).
  • Repurposing, where an already-existing object is used to solve additional puzzles (Adventure 430 had some of this, and there was an extremely clever reuse of eggs in Adventure 440).
  • System changes, like making the dwarves in Adventure 440 tidy or adding a harsh time limit in order to get the maximum number of points possible in Adventure 430.
  • Secret additions, where something is added to an already existing location without changing the room description. The most straightforward example would be the vending machine in Adventure 430 hiding some extra rooms.
  • Reimagining, where a portion of the game is not borrowed but remade in a new way. The entirety of Adventure 500 fits this description.

In any case! Adventure 550 by David Platt adds 11 treasures and 110 rooms to the original game, and is allegedly pretty hard. I’ve already done some mapping forays, and the new material I’ve seen so far is evenly spread out.

Blue indicates new rooms, red indicates rooms which seem to not be present in this version.

Presently, I’m stopped by an ogre…

You’re standing in a very large room (which however is smaller than the Giant room) which has smooth, glassy-looking walls. A passage enters from the south and exits to the north.

There is a large, nasty-looking ogre blocking your path!

You’re standing in a very large room (which however is smaller than the Giant room) which has smooth, glassy-looking walls. A passage enters from the south and exits to the north.

There is a large, nasty-looking ogre blocking your path!
With your bare hands??
You attack the ogre — a brave but foolish action. He quickly grabs you and with a heave of his mighty arms rips your body limb from limb.


You are in an arched coral passage which enters from the west, splits, and continues on to the east over a smooth and damp-looking patch of sand. The fork in the passage once led to the south, but it is now completely blocked by debris.

Hmmmm.. This sand is rather soft, and you’re sinking in a little… In fact you’re sinking in a lot! Oh, no — it’s QUICKSAND!! HELP!! HELP!! HELP!!!

Oh dear, you seem to have gotten yourself killed. I might be able to help you out, but I've never really done this before. Do you want me to try to reincarnate you?

and a mysterious safe.

You are in a room with a high, vaulted ceiling. A tunnel leads upwards and to the north.

A massive walk-in safe takes up one entire wall. It is tightly closed, and has no handle, lock, nor keyhole.

I’m having fun so far. Curiously, I’m getting a parallel universe feeling. For example, in many versions of Adventure (including this one), there’s additions made to the reservoir, so my mental map contains all the variations simultaneously. It’s like I’m living in a Schrödinger box.

Posted July 24, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Aldebaran III: Finished!   3 comments

Wayne Barlowe’s rendition of our hero.

Last time I was supposed to find a “xyller”, “yangst” and “zwerf” as well as deliver 15 credits to “The Rep” who runs the government.

The next obstacle was a bridge, where only one item could be carried across at a time; at the other end of the bridge was a graveyard which doubled as a maze. All three of the quest items were hidden there, where I had to dig the objects out by shovel.

Also, the graveyard included a completely optional scene with a vampire, which feels like it was ported in from an entirely different game.

You’re inside an ancient crypt of oddly familiar design. It is dark and gloomy here with cobwebs hanging from every wall. Although there are no religious articles visible there is a large black coffin sitting on the ground. There are doorways to the east and west.
The lid seems to give a little …
and then springs off as a small bat escapes from the coffin.
You hear footsteps approach from behind you …

In any case, once attaining the necessary items, it’s required to cross the bridge again. However, you can’t leave the xyller alone with the yangst, or the yangst alone with the zwerf; otherwise bad things will happen:

As you watch, amazed, the yangst turns a muddy, opaque brown and starts to spin, rolling toward the zwerf which, in turn, melts into a green, viscous fluid and starts seeping into the ground!

The yangst is now spinning madly and rolls over traces of the zwerf which seem to boil away on contact!

After the last trace of the zwerf has been vaporized the spinning yangst slows to a stop and resumes its alabaster translucency.

After safely crossing the bridge, I found the subway tokens I had to leave behind stolen. (I had to induce this — they were in the room description, but picking them up resulted in an empty inventory.) They *seemed* to be necessary to get out of the area.

You’re on a street of gleaming white plasmeld. There is not a spot of dirt anywhere. A lovely building of slightly alien design is visible to the west and a bridge is visible to the east. There is a gate set in the wall with a small slot next to it.
You notice a fleck of dust fall from the sky only to be deposited in a hidden chute by mechanical hands.

The “mechanical hands” are a clue.

An alarm sounds and mechanical hands roughly grab you while they swiftly clean up the mess and then drop you back on the subwalk platform.

No, “dirt” isn’t otherwise an object. This is one of those Adventure-did-it-better things; items or even characters in Aldebaran III might be usable without them being separated as items in the game. While commands can be tagged to specific objects, a lot of them are coded directly into the rooms.

Another quick example; when going WEST from one room, this occurs without warning:

You’re in jail, the warden has taken your keys away, (natch), so you can’t get out…

You can BRIBE your way out of the situation, even though it’s not obvious from the description above that the warden or anyone else is hanging around to give money to:

Fortunately you’re a slick talker and get away with a very small bribe, (and your keys).

Here’s the actual source code:

#99 In Jail
You’re in jail, the warden has taken your keys away, (natch), so you can’t
get out…
help m=Nope
bribe v<6.1 m="You don't have any credits to bribe anyone with…"
bribe 21 v-6.1 t+keys m="\
Fortunately you're a slick talker and get away with a very small bribe,
(and your keys)."

Back to the main gameplay: after escaping the “clean” area into the subway, it’s only a few steps away to the Rep, and the conclusion to the game:

You are in the presence of the Rep.
“My Xyller!”, he exclaims.
“My Yangst!”, he crows.
“My Zwerf!”, he coos.
“You Terries aren’t so bad after all”, admits the Rep as he flicks a switch that cuts the power to all the androids that were leading the uprising, “Why don’t you stay for dinner?”. Which, of course, you do.”

I’m not sure why this cover is so gritty compared with the rest.

I think we sometimes take for granted how good the 350-point Crowther and Woods Adventure really is. As a starting point for the text adventure genre it established a vocabulary of verb-noun interaction that led later imitators to have some grounding. Nearly every action involves a reasonable use of an object that the player can see, and the interaction with characters like the dwarfs is limited in a way that suited the parser.

It may have started a penchant for light source timers, treasure hunts, mazes, and general fantasy randomness, but at least it was (and still is) quite playable as a game.

Aldebaran III is hard to play because it demands actions from the players out of a possibility space that is too large. The ambitions for character interaction got overextended. With *very* specific commands you can get some interesting conversation, like

“Want, want, want! You Terries never talk about anything else!”

(Terry = Terran = Earthling)

but in general characters come across as brick walls.

It feels skeletal. Many rooms in the source code don’t get used.

#328 Police Headquarters

#329 Stellar and Park Place

#330 Stellar and Alabaster

#331 Stellar and Zero

#332 Stellar and Laser

#333 Stellar Street

#334 Crystal City Information

The overall impression is one of failed ambition. While I appreciated the humor and ideas of Aldebaran III, but I can also understand why it fell into obscurity.

BONUS READING: Nathan P. Mahney played and wrote about this game back in April, and he discusses some things I passed over (like some ruffians who I never met, and a bit with the board game Go).

Posted July 19, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Aldebaran III: Player as Conscience   2 comments

I once discussed with the game Warp the idea of looking for the future in the past; that often “a work’s innovation is lost because the work itself is obscure or the implementation of a promising concept was badly done.”

The same can be said for works that were ahead of their time, but not so far ahead their ideas haven’t been replicated. Aldebaran III hints at a relationship between player and character that arguably doesn’t appear again until Infocom’s version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1984) or possibly even Plundered Hearts (1987).

Unfortunately, in 1977-1978 the ideas were there but not the technology.

Last time I mentioned some notes which end with “(the notes continue, but your interest wanes)”.

You can keep reading:

Page 2
The ruling species on Aldebaran III is a large, six “legged”, (actually “pseudopoded”), mammal with a roughly Humanoid torso and a perfectly spherical “brain-case” containing, in most cases, a brain the size of a filbert. (In a few, exceptional cases the brain is believed to be quite large. This increased “brain-power” has no effect on intelligence but is believed to provide the ability to alter body appearance at will.)

This continues (using more READ NOTES commands) all the way until past Page 6:

At this point the notes trail off into meaningless scribbles and, thinking back, you vaguely remember an interesting interlude with some rather illicit drugs and two stewardesses on the trip here … Ahhh … Anyway, going back to the beginning of the notes …

Let me be clear: this is a large infodump and not good game design. Still, this reflects the idea that the player is not just “role-playing” but is actually the “inner voice” of the character, forcing him to read through the notes that he wrote when clearly … distracted.

Somehow in the stories he is highly competent anyway.

This sort of plot demands quite a few characters, but the coding is so skeletal it’s hard to get anything at all to happen. For example, early on you encounter a bar:

You are in the dimly-lit Spaceport Bar on Aldebaran III, which appears to be nearly deserted except for you and the burly bartender whose eyestalks keep twitching suspiciously in your direction. A large sign hangs over the door to the south.
It cost 5 credits and tastes like kerosene but you slurp it down!
With an amazingly graceful movement for someone his size, the bartender leaps over the bar and blocks your exit while pointing at the sign!
The sign says “Jsu Snarret POTE kirs meawed jokero quakonk!”
(obviously some local dialect).

It turns out you can do this:

The bartender solemnly folds your offering into his apron and leaves
something sitting on the bar.
Spaceport Bar
There is an electronic all-dialect dictionary here.

Upon which you can now use the >TRANSLATE verb:
Checking your dictionary you discover that the sign says:
“Due to new liquour law all Terrans MUST show papers before leaving!”

Showing papers results in a silly in-joke:

The bartender checks your papers and grunts in amazement.
You are in the dimly-lit Spaceport Bar on Aldebaran III, which appears to be nearly deserted except for you and the burly bartender who has brought you a drink, (on the house), after learning that you are a user of UNIX software.

but also means, separate from the bribe, you can also do this:

The barkeep feigns ignorance, but leaves something lying on the bar.
Spaceport Bar
There is a map here.

The map gives an important “secret word” where if you don’t have it you’ll get stuck on a conversation later. I’ll jump to that conversation in a moment, but first, note the improbability of coming up with BRIBE, TRANSLATE, and ASK FOR HELP completely unprompted. Not only that, but the bribery in order to get the dictionary has to happen *before* getting the map. Otherwise the game just gives the message “You can’t do that now.”

It’s like the author had a transcript in mind and coded it, but there wasn’t enough flexibility for all the parts to show up in actual play. This is not even referring to guess-the-verb, exactly; it’s more like the rules of adventure-play not being codified when it comes to character interaction to know some of the 100 possible reasonable actions that might be useful.

Later, you encounter a church:

As you pass through the door it silently swings closed. You’re in a magnificent seven-sided room with rows of pews in concentric heptagons facing the center. A door to the south is tightly closed. A small, gnarled native is standing in the center of the room and looking expectant.
You can’t do that now.
“Why should I help you? I don’t even know who you are”, the native states.
House of Worship
“Papers can always be forged” he counters.
House of Worship

I have *no* idea how one is supposed to summon the next command without looking at the source code (as I had to do). Maybe it’s a reference to the stories? It’s the only way to make progress:

The man’s face turns purple with effort as he answers,
“My name iss Igna…
my name iss Ig…
Arrrrgh! I cannot lie here, my name iss … R. Nixon Shilth!, To defend yoursself, soft one!”
So saying, the man crouches as if to leap at you…
As you battle with the man he starts to fade in and out and finally undergoes an amazing metamorphosis into a beautiful woman!

“Ignarp’s the handle”, she says, “Thanks for distracting Shilth while I regained control. I’m afraid I foolishly let him slip a Groaci drug into my prune juice which left me bound by a metamorph- dominance spell which I couldn’t break without a little distraction. I’d be glad to return the favor …”
You’re in a magnificent seven-sided room with rows of pews in concentric heptagons facing the center. A door to the south is tightly closed.
A beautiful woman is standing in the center of the room looking expectant.
I’d like to help you, whoever you are, but I’m not sure I should…

If you didn’t get the map earlier, you won’t know the the secret password. Even if you *did* get the map, it’s not all that obvious it applies here:

So you’re Retief from the CDT? Perhaps you’d like to hear the story behind the Aldebarran anger at Terrans?
Another day passes…
Mr. Shilth, whom you’ve already met, is interested in acquiring the grounds on which the Terran Embassy stands to subdivide into condominiums for vacationing Groaci Peace Enforcers. Because the land can’t be bought while the Embassy still occupies it, Shilth is hoping to have the Terran Embassy forcibly removed. Disguised as a native trader, he sold a set of “Native Art Objects” to your Ambassador Pouncetrifle. Unfortunately, the objects were stolen from the Rep’s Meeting Hall, the one truly sacred spot on Aldebarran III, which the thieves desecrated with obscene slogans. Ambassador Pouncetrifle learned of all this when he proudly displaying them at an Embassy reception. Naturally the Ambassador was imprisoned. After much verbal footwork the Ambassador convinced the Rep that the whole matter might have been a misunderstanding. The Rep graciously agreed that matters could be set to rights by the return of the objects and the payment of a token fine of 1,000 galactic credits. Shall I go on?
The Ambassador paid most of the fine with the 985 credits he was carrying with him, (having expected to make further art purchases), and was released from confinement to gather the remaining 15 credits and the missing objects. Returning to the Embassy via Park Place the Ambassador made the mistake of trying out his Aldebarran-English phrase book on a native he believed to be participating in a quaint street fair. He has not been heard from since, but the deadline for returning the objects is only 29 days away and Shilth’s agents are reported to have stolen the objects again!
If you can find the missing objects and present them to the Rep with the final 15 credit payment he may be able to help avert the uprising.

The three objects are:
a pale Xyller
an alabaster Yangst
and a green Zwerf
They are rumored to be hidden in an isolated area near Pont St. Michel.

That’s about all I know about it.

I have found all three, and the process is a little absurd, and the Xyller will eat the Yangst if you leave them together alone. (I swear I’m not making this up.) I’ll get more into that in my next post (where I’ll hopefully have won the game as well).

Posted July 17, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Aldebaran III (1977)   4 comments

This is another game by Peter Langston using the Wander system. (For those who haven’t read about it yet, Wander is a system for writing text adventures originally from 1974, before Crowther and Woods Adventure.)

The first Wander game I played, Castle (original version 1974, current version 1978-ish) felt a bit conventional; without the oddness of the parser it’s not obvious it’s a “side branch” in the history of adventures. This is not the case for Aldebaran III.

Aldebaran III is based on the stories of Keith Laumer, and specifically his intergalactic diplomat Jame Retief. Hence, it’s the first adventure game where you are playing a well-defined character, rather than “yourself”.

You’re this guy, or at least Richard Martin’s imagining from the cover of Retief!

Keith Laumer was a diplomat himself (stationed in Burma) and consequently this is a bit like Ian Fleming and John le Carré going from working in intelligence agencies to authoring spy novels. His stories about Retief are satirical and contain jokes that are (apparently) funnier to those who have been in the real-life diplomatic corps.

Just Imagine …

You are traveling as First Under-secretary to the Ambassador for the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, (CDT). Your direct superior, Mr. Magnan, has managed to duck out of the action and leave you as sole assistant to his superior, Ambassador Pouncetrifle. (The Ambassador is a classic bungler and would, if left on his own, mess things up badly.)

You have been sent to Aldebaran III where you are to avert an uprising against Terran nationals expected at the end of April.

The “Just Imagine…” is a strong cue that we are, in fact, roleplaying, a fact emphasized further by checking the papers we are holding:

Page 1
Aldebaran III is an eighty-four percent earth normal planet which revolves around a brilliant red star, (Aldebaran, or Alpha Tauri). A III has an atmosphere consisting of 52% nitrogen, 26% helium, 20% oxygen and 2% other gases, (by volume). The period of revolution of A III is 18.628 Earth Standard hours which is expressed in local time as 24 hours. The axis of A III tilts less than a degree with respect to the ecliptic, (47.6′), providing virtually no variation in season and length of daylight, (sunrise is at 6:00 Aldebaran Standard Time, sunset at 7:00 p.m. A.S.T.).
… (the notes continue, but your interest wanes)

Note the last part “your interest wanes” — the character you are playing is bored, which is a good way even in modern games to avert having to write a lot of text for something that should be book-length.

The satirical approach to procedures from the original stories appears in the game, at least in this early encounter:

You are in a low-roofed customs building with long tables stretching between a door at the east and a door at the west. A large sign reads

|    --> SHOW PAPERS HERE <--     |
|     --> PAY DUTY HERE <--       |

in a dozen languages. A serious-looking customs official is eyeing you.

“Your papers, pleese”, lisps the official

“Hmm, a Terry” mumbles the official
“Have you anything to declare?” snaps the customs official

“If you really have nothing to declare you may leave.”
“I don’t believe you’ve declared that credit card”, admonishes the official.
“Yes”, says the official sliding it down the counter and muttering to himself, “credit card — five credits”.

The parser is still as broken as Castle’s (I keep typing GET but the verb is unrecognized, it insists you use TAKE) but the main character still makes the experience feel weirdly modern.

I don’t know how long / difficult this is, I suppose we’ll find out next time!

Posted July 13, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Pyramid of Doom: Finished!   Leave a comment

I’ve stored 13 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 100. Well done.

So for the 13th treasure, I checked in a few of Voltgloss’s hints he provided on my last post. I had a hunch I was stuck on something not worth banging my head over.

I was not wrong.

Ok, what is it with early adventure games and goofy giant oysters? There was the one in Crowther and Woods Adventure that could be pried open with a trident (and only a trident), the one in Adventure 500 you just had to drop near water, and the one that waged mortal combat in Spelunker.

With this game, early on you find some “dried camel jerky”. There are some nearby starving rats who will gratefully eat it, and subsequently not attack you. I assumed that was that.

However, oysters like dried camel jerky … too?

Oyster makes a slobbering noise
Visible items: Small Nomad, Pistol, Archway, Giant Oyster, * BLACK PEARL *

I can’t adequately express my state of mind about this puzzle so let me throw around some question marks: ? ???? ?? ?? ? ? ?? ? ? ???? ????

I mean (?), I guess a super-huge oyster (????) might eat something other than plankton (??), so this sort of (??????) makes sense (??).

No, no it doesn’t. But at least it was the last puzzle!

Progress update: I am shifting Warp, which I previously dated as 1979, up to 1980. I was always a bit tentative about it (I discuss the issue in my first post) because while the coding technically started in 1979 nobody outside the authors touched it until 1980. I also shelve HAUNT by John Laird (which has a copyright date span starting at 1979, but wasn’t really in a recognizable form until 1980) in that camp.

This leaves me with either 5 or 6 games to go to be entirely done with the 1970s:


a3 by Peter Langston


Library by Nat Howard
Tut by Peter Langston (this a binary arithmetic tutorial in the Wander system and may not be worth a post)


Enchanted Island by Greg Hassett
Adventure 550 by David Platt
Adventure 501 by David Long

I might loop back and snag a few “supplemental games” which aren’t exactly adventures (like a full post on Hunt the Wumpus, and an obscure related game from the same year called Caves) but probably not until I’ve already started 1980.

Posted July 12, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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