Dante’s Inferno (1980)   Leave a comment

Dante’s Inferno was a type-in by Gerard Bernor printed in the January 1980 issue of Softside which tasks you with stealing your contract with the devil from Hell itself. (It states a 1979 copyright date in the source code, so 1979 also works as a date, but I’ve found no evidence of a commercial release prior to the magazine appearance so I’m listing this game as 1980.) The print copy called it a “CompuNovel”, a term used very sporadically elsewhere (ex: page 5 of this February 1980 issue of Softside in an ad for Lost Dutchman’s Gold) and one that died out by 1981.

Rather like Quest from 1978, it has no parser, just navigation: specifically the keys F, B, L, R, U, D for Forward, Backward, Left, Right, Up and Down. This is *not* a relative position game, though (that is, “left” and “right” don’t change based on which way you’re facing) – these directions can be treated like the regular north/south/east/west on a map, which is good, because the game is essentially a large maze.

The game uses pauses for dramatic effect, starting with the screen below:

Keypresses don’t work for a few seconds; you have to actually wait for the first location to appear.

I did find this more enjoyable than Quest, insofar as that the genre of a journey through Hell made the idea of a torturous labyrinth with slightly random layout thematically appropriate. There were a lot of “dead ends” (an easy way for the author to add map locations without having to add extra room descriptions) and there was the usual “going one direction and then going back the opposite way may not take you where you started” business, but all this worked well with the atmosphere.

After about 30 minutes of wandering, I found the “records” and was able to pick up a box of contracts. (Not just mine, the whole box! Guess a whole swath of people are gonna escape the devil.)

But then, a twist!

Rather by accident, Dale Dobson over at Gaming After 40 had an even better experience than intended. At the moment this happened, the TRS-80 speaker let out a “horrendous, screechy white noise” that caused him to jump out of his seat. Unfortunately, this was just a bug. Otherwise it would mark the first use of a sound cue in an adventure game.

A bit more navigation is required to find a different records room, where the contracts have been moved to. (It’s a little unclear why the incubi leave the main character alone otherwise; maybe in the end they appreciate a bit of mischief.) Unfortunately, trying to then go back the way you came has the route blocked off (either by a narrow hall where you can’t carry the contracts, or Satan himself).

Click on the image for the full map.

There’s a little more drama after that point: the route you then need to take is down an “evil smelling pit” (in the upper left corner of the map above). However, the “cave of lost souls” room which was on the way seemed to have all its exits reconfigured, so I needed to find an alternate route.

My move count was high, but I was trying to do very careful mapping.

This game hit over its weight class. The narrative frame made what normally would be the drudgery of mapping into a paranoid journey. I guess the lesson is: if your gameplay is going to be minimal, pick a theme that matches.

This glorious picture is from the magazine. I appreciate the “S” on his necklace.

Posted January 30, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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