Archive for April 2019

Death Dreadnaught: Finished!   1 comment

Last time, I left off on being unable to get by a creature.

One more ad for the game, this one from Rainbow magazine March 1984, mainly because I’m about to spoil what is more or less the only puzzle.

The solution was of the I-guess-that’s-sort-of-logical? kind which really only came up because THROW was on the verb list but hadn’t become useful yet:

It turns out that was essentially the only problem left. Just past the creature was a console reading “fuel shuttle” with a lever and a knob. Don’t pull the lever! (One final deathtrap, for fun.)

Having opened shuttle bay doors, and fueled up the shuttle, winning was a matter of gathering the oxygen tanks, batteries, and food I had already found, and flying to victory.

(Oh, and that’s a torso of a body that’s screaming WASH ME somehow and you can >WASH BODY and get the reply THANKS, but nothing of importance happens. I kept the decapitated arm I found, too.)

I suppose I said most of what I wanted to say in my last post; although I am hesitant to suggest a game like this needs more death, I think the main issue (other than the massive spelling errors and bad parser) was the static feel to the creature. The creature could kill you when you entered a door, but that was just a red herring. The creature could kill you if you shot it. However, it doesn’t pursue the player or otherwise move about, so the sort of tension you can get from Zork or even one of the wackier Greg Hassett games just isn’t there. The endgame felt goofy rather than intense.

I suspect I know who the authors are. “Biff Mutt and Spud Mutt” were also known as The Dog Brothers, and based in Texas.

Also from Texas, there happened to be a company called Device Oriented Games, ran by two brothers:

If you’re not getting it yet, look at the acronym.

That’s right, Haunted House fans: I’m pretty sure we’re dealing with another Arnstein joint. In the Gaming After 40 post about Death Dreadnaught one of the comments mentions “this game is sometimes credited to Robert Arnstein”; given the three strong instances of location, company acronym, and the fact the company was run by two brothers, I’m inclined to agree with the credit.

We’ll still see Mr. Arnstein again in 1981 with Raäka-Tū and in 1982 with Xenos and Bedlam.

Posted April 30, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Demon World / Hijacked   Leave a comment

The first episode, Demon World, starts with the Enterprise in a mock-battle against another Federation ship (essentially a warm-up exercise to demonstrate ship combat, which I wrote about in my last post). After the combat is over the Enterprise is summoned to a colony where “demons” are appearing and scaring the colonists.

The colonists are part of a religious sect known as The Acolytes of the Stars. (They seem to be, more or less, Christians; while Christianity isn’t that prominent in Star Trek, there are a fair number of references.)

I met with the prelate (shown above) who explained the colonists had found a door at local “Idyll Mountain” and shortly after demons began appearing, and one of their colonists went missing. Heading north, I ran into some Klingons who just started shooting; after downing them with phaser fire, it turned out they were some manner of robot.

Further in, there were some rocks blocking a door. As long as I shot the rocks with phaser fire in the right order, I was able to free a trapped colonist.

There was a *wrong* order to shooting the rocks that caused one of them to tumble and crush my red-shirted companion. It seems like “is the redshirt alive?” is a pretty good metric to if you’re playing well or not.

After some extra shenanigans, I was able to get inside the door and wake an alien (a “Naurian”) from stasis. Apparently, the demons and Klingons had been part of a security mechanism to chase people away; they used people’s owns fears to create foes (which is why the Acolytes saw demons, whereas Kirk and friends saw Klingons).

You can choose to be kind of a jerk to the alien.

The aliens had seen a meteor impact coming, and to preserve their race and designed a machine to put them in stasis until the next solar eclipse. However, the meteor impact also destroyed the moon, so the machine never had an eclipse to wake them up.

After some friendly conversation, the Naurians agreed to look into an application to join the Federation.

. . .

The second episode, Hijacked, starts with the Enterprise heading to the Beta Myamid system to investigate the disappearance of a federation ship: the U.S.S. Masada.

Shortly after arriving, I was confronted by an Elasi pirate ship which started shooting without any prelude. After defeating it in ship combat (the mini-game) the Elasi ship ran away, and the Enterprise was able to find the Masada in orbit around a nearby planet. Getting within hailing frequencies, I found that the pirates and taken over the ship:

The dialogue is an interesting moment here: you can choose to be more or less threatening, and I never did quite work out what the optimal things to say were (or if there even was an optimum). It was quite clear when talking with a friendly alien what the “jerk” options were, but here: was it better to cut to the chase and make an absolute ultimatum right away? Should I have played along and pretended to talk terms?

While the Elasi had shields raised so the transporter wouldn’t work, I was able to use a “command code” to stealthily drop the Masada’s shields long enough to get over an away team (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and … a different redshirt).

I shortly thereafter found the crew in a nearby brig (where I had to stun two Elasi pirates with phaser fire)…

…and at this point the game ground to a giant halt for me. If you try to free the crew, there’s an explosive on the inside that blows them up. I did the thing many point-and-click adventurers are familiar with where I clicked on literally every object I could find and testing every item in my inventory (I found a random morass of stuff in the hallway — more on that in a moment).

I finally gave up and consulted a hint guide (the “official” one for the game in fact) and found out that the wires attached to the brig device can be clicked on as a separate object from the rest of the device.

Grr! To clarify, this wasn’t a pixel hunt: this was just a complete failure of interface. I assumed that actions done to the bomb device would consider the bomb device as a whole, and that the wires wouldn’t be a separate object. In a text game, this wouldn’t be an issue. Even in most graphical games, this wouldn’t be an issue, at least the ones where you have a clear indicator of what your cursor is hovering over (consider in LucasArts games how you could always see the name of what you were hovering over). Here, the only way to know there was something to click on was to do the action straight on the object.

Things kept falling apart, gameplay-wise. After freeing the crew, one of them told me about a special spot I could use a welder on to break into the bridge. (“Two feet to the left of the door and one foot off the ground.”) I made five attempts with no luck, and turned back to the clue book.

Secret pixel! I mean, I think there may have been *two* pixels of leeway. Grargh.

Now, that’s enough to finish the episode: I broke into the bridge and started shooting at Elasi pirates, but I couldn’t keep from losing my redshirt in the ensuing firefight (the pirates were shooting on KILL of course). After a lot of back and forth and another round of try-every-object-in-my-inventory-on-everything I consulted the clue book yet again to find out that a transporter beam that Spock had claimed was unfixable was, in fact, fixable. By Spock. He’ll repair it if you give him some very random items; items that are so random I’m guessing most people who solved the puzzle did it by luck.

Fixing the transporter is followed by an interesting moment: what do you do with it? You can just beam in and start shooting (which isn’t much different from entering by the door). Your security guard suggests beaming in the bomb that got disarmed earlier and catching the pirates as they ran from the bridge (which McCoy calls “inhuman” and someone else points out could damage the bridge). Or … could you do something different?

Well, yes: if you teleport in and “talk” to the captain (just the captain, it doesn’t work on any of the other pirates) you can talk him into surrendering before the shooting starts. Once I found this out, I went back and found the same result was possible when entering via door (so why go through the whole teleporter sequence then?)

(I did test the bomb; the pirates don’t notice it and all die, and not only does the bridge get destroyed but the entire ship as well. Oops. I appreciated having it as an option, even though the characters point out how bad an idea it is.)

So, grump grump. The first episode went smoothly, the second one was essentially plotted well but was let down by major interface issues. Other than the wires being a separate item from the bomb, and the pixel hunt, for the longest time I didn’t even know you could combine personal inventory objects together (trying to do so gets a confused enough response I thought my command wasn’t registering).

One out of two, so the game hasn’t lost my interest, yet. The next episode (Love’s Labor Jeopardized) seems to promise a meeting with Romulans and a certain Carol Marcus of Kirk’s acquaintance.

Posted April 29, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Death Dreadnaught (1980)   6 comments

I want to keep my 1980 track going, but let’s stick with space theming —

Via 80-U.S. Journal, September/October 1980.

Death Dreadnaught is the fourth game published by The Programmer’s Guild (after Lost Dutchman’s Gold, Spider Mountain Adventure, and Temple of the Sun) and was written anonymously by two brothers in Texas who went by Biff Mutt and Spud Mutt. Bob Liddil (who ran The Programmer’s Guild) said in an interview that their royalty checks were endorsed the same way.

Also from the interview: “80 Microcomputing magazine would not accept The Programmer’s Guild ad for the game as originally submitted, until Bob amended it to label the game with an MPAA-inspired R rating.” I’m not so sure on this point, or at least, that it really was a problem; the ad above was printed roughly at the same time, so The Programmer’s Guild must have decided to lean in on the marketing. (This is despite the fact the MPAA ratings are trademarked so technically can’t be used in this way, but given we just had a commercial unlicensed Star Trek game with none of the names changed, it’s keeping in line with the era.)

The EXTREME depictions of VIOLENCE are pretty much straight gross-out horror.

It’s the sort of thing I associate with a.) teenagers trying to be edgy and b.) early Peter Jackson movies.

Despite the overheated predilection for gore and questionable spelling choices, I feel like there’s something original (for 1980) going on here. You start alone in an alien ship where the only objective is to escape, and as long as you don’t push any buttons or turn any knobs on the way…

This is from the first screen of the game. There’s a lot of knobs and buttons you don’t want to push.

…it’s smooth walking over to the shuttlecraft bay, where there’s a button helpfully marked FLY. If you try to push it, you die because the shuttle bay doors are still closed.

Oops. I found a lever to open the shuttle bay doors (which required solving a small puzzle), tried launching again:

Yes, the game really likes to kill you. The gimmick is you need to find all the supplies to survive the shuttle trip, but doesn’t detail exactly what those supplies are. So far I’ve found batteries, food, and oxygen, but the shuttlecraft currently still runs out of gas when I try to launch it.

My map so far.

The thing is: despite the small puzzle I mentioned, and two spots where the way is blocked by creatures (see death screens earlier in the post), the map is essentially open. This is a game mostly about wandering and taking in the blood-soaked atmosphere. Which is relatively original! The closest comparable games I’ve played for All the Adventures I can think of are Ringen and Battlestar.

Despite feeling light on puzzles, I’m stuck. I haven’t found gas anywhere, so I suspect I need to get by the monster. I do have a weapon, but shooting the monster just results in it killing you straight up. There aren’t any other items I have other than the needed survival ones, and the parser is not cooperative with creative approaches other than the ability to SHOOT basically anything in the game.

Posted April 25, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Ship Combat   3 comments

I made it through the first two episodes. The game is nice enough to tell you your score upon finishing an episode, and both were in the 90s, so I’m valiantly trudging through episode 3 now.

I’ll lay out more about each individual episode in detail on my next post, but I wanted to get ship combat out of the way first.

Every episode so far has had one scene where the Enterprise battles another ship in real time; you aim and fire phasers / photon torpedoes with the mouse, and use a radar display to detect where the enemy is when it is off the main screen.

It’s been decent as far as adventure action mini-games go, but to give the short explanation: it plays a lot like Wing Commander, and I always tended more to the X-Wing end of the space combat game spectrum.

Wing Commander was an early 90s game that used bitmapped sprites for ship display. For the technology at the time, this looked rather good.

X-Wing, on the other hand, used just polygons.

There are some gameplay ramifications between the approaches. Wing Commander tended to have a “neutral” dogfighting area, where in every direction there was the same type of space, so a lot of combat involved jockeying to get the superior position on an enemy ship. There were “capital ships” and “escort missions” and so forth, but because of the sprite-based technology, the locations of various ships didn’t provide a “topology” to space as much as “more things to shoot at”.

X-Wing’s polygons allowed things like capital ships being literal architecture in space, where you might need to fly around in a specific way to hit the shield generators on a destroyer. It also enabled flying through gates of an obstacle course or past turrets on the Death Star. The general effect was to give a stronger “geography” to each map. (Some of this wasn’t technology at all, but game design approach — Wing Commander could still have pulled off a lot of the same types of missions as X-Wing.)

I enjoy X-Wing more because just a small change in the geography of space can have a large impact on each level, whereas the dogfights in Wing Commander often feel (to me) the same.

So far, each Star Trek dogfight has been the same setup: two ships facing off where you try to get your ship pointed at the other one before it points at you. The actual combat in the Star Trek TV show has always been omnidirectional, so already the game’s setup feels a bit off; the fact space all around is essentially the same means there isn’t much variety as a game like X-Wing.

I shouldn’t rag on this too much, certainly when most adventure game action sequences fall between “annoying” and “abysmal”; the ship combat in Star Trek: 25th Anniversary feels legitimately game-y, at least.

Posted April 23, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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All the Infocom Source Code is Available, and Other Recent News   1 comment

This morning, a few minutes past midnight, Jason Scott of the Internet Archive dropped a Github full of the original source code to most of the original Infocom text adventure games. (As of 4 hours ago, all of the Infocom text adventure games except for Quarterstaff, which was a Mac-only game not having anything to do with the Infocom Z-machine.)

Included are the unpublished games Restaurant at the End of the Universe (the sequel to Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy), The Abyss (based, it looks like, on the movie), and Checkpoint (a predecessor to Border Zone).

Github link to all the source code

It’s all written in ZIL, which is sort of a mutant form of LISP. More information on ZIL can be found here.

Screenshot from The Abyss running in Frotz.

Related to the above news, Ahab over at The Data Driven Gamer has posted an analysis comparing the variation in text across different versions of Zork I across the years.

analyze

After four years of labor the folks at inkle have released Heaven’s Vault.

It could be described as a history-em-up game where you wander the universe translating an ancient language. It’s currently out on PC and PS4 and will have Mac and iOS releases later this year.

Vasilis came out yesterday and is based on events in Ukraine from 2014.

Finally, Enrique over at Datalexic published an analysis of all the Twine games released to the IFComp and Spring Thing competitions, with automatic clustering by structural features. (Via @emshort).

Posted April 16, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (1992)   2 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve pulled a game from my Innovation 13 list — in fact, I’ve only done it once so far with The Colonel’s Bequest — so I reckon I’m due for another.

The Digital Antiquarian just happened to write about this game, so if you’d like another perspective, there you go. I’m going in totally blind, so I’m avoiding reading that article until I finish.

What I have played is the sequel, Star Trek: Judgment Rites. I’ve always wanted to play the first game since I enjoyed the second, which had a particular innovation I don’t recall being done much elsewhere.

To explain the innovation I’m thinking of, I’m going to make a big digression, back to 75 years ago.

June 14, 1944: an explosion southeast of London marks a new phase in the terror bombings of World War II. Before, bombs had to be dropped by a plane with a human flying it, but now Germany could send the V1 flying bomb, aka “the world’s first guided missile”.

There was a catch: the Nazis had no idea where their flying bombs were landing. They were aimed at the London city center, but most fell a few miles south.

They attempted to gather eyewitness accounts to adjust their aim, but fortunately, the British intelligence game was on point, and the British had the capability to feed false information as to where the V1s were landing.

With this came opportunity, and a dilemma.

Since the Nazis had no idea where the bombs landed, the British could make something up … that sent their aim even farther off. If they were told the bombs were falling too far to the north then the bombs would start falling even farther away from the city center, and away from a major part of the population.

However, south London also had people in it, and by adjusting the Nazi aim from one target to another, it was potentially putting people at risk who wouldn’t have been before.

In other words, it’s close to a real-life equivalent of the famous Trolley Problem.

Original problem by Phillipa Foot, drawing by Jesse Prinz.

It also might be considered a rich and complex game dilemma: one without a good choice or an evil choice, without a clear right answer; instead, potential ambiguity and agony and drama.

However, there’s an aspect that most games seem to miss–

Someone had to think up the plan to redirect the missiles in the first place.

In other words, there wasn’t a prepackaged set of two multiple choice options; doing the “right thing” included needing to know there was an option there to even choose from.

The two Star Trek games by Interplay are divided episodically, where each episode is self-contained enough to avoid combinatorial explosion. You are given a score based on amount-you-followed-Federation-ideals when playing; ex: don’t randomly shoot aliens if you can help it. Sometimes there will be a dilemma where you *can* shoot past aliens to solve a particular puzzle. Maybe there’s another way? But if there is, you have to come up with a plan and enact it, there isn’t a morality button you can just press to do the right thing. Perhaps sometimes there *isn’t* another way.

For example, early in 25th Anniversary there’s a scene where some Klingons appear. After some delay, they start shooting. You can shoot them back to get by. Was there a “peaceful” way? You find out after the scene the “Klingons” aren’t really Klingons at all, but … robots? Does that knowledge mean the earlier action of “just shoot” was correct? I don’t even know yet if this even has an alternate solution, and it’s the first thing that happened to me in the game upon arriving on a planet.

I’ll start giving the play-by-play detail next time on the first episode, “Demon World”.

Oh, to finish the WWII story. The plan did go ahead, although the result was ambiguous. Quoting from the first chapter of Would You Kill the Fat Man?:

The success of the operation is contested by historians. The British intelligence agency, MI5, destroyed the false reports dispatched by Garbo and ZigZag, recognizing that, were they ever to come to light, the residents of south London might not take kindly to being used in this way. However, the Nazis never improved their aim. And a scientific adviser with a stiff upper lip, who promoted the operation even though his parents and his old school were in south London (“I knew that neither my parents nor the school would have had it otherwise”), estimated it may have saved as many as 10,000 lives.

Posted April 15, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Trek Adventure: Finished!   2 comments

If the parser was just a little bit better and the game was a tiny bit less cheap with “pockets” I might consider this a 1980 classic. It has, at least, a nice set piece for a finale.

From the Star Trek Annual 1980 comic book collection.

First, to get the hardcore stuff out of the way: I stubbornly wanted to continue using the OSI version, but I ran across two broken lines of code while playing. I’m guessing the file got corrupted, because they were character swaps, but if you’re actually planning on playing the OSI version, you need to replace these lines before starting.

570 IFS>7THENIF(L(S-7)=0)THENL(S-7)=L:C=C1:GOTO9
860 IFL=23ORL=1THENP(23,3)=-10:P(10,4)=-23:Z=0:GOTO9

The code above is also a pain to type because the OSI keyboard does not match a modern one. I highly recommend just using the C64 version (link to play online).

To recap from last time: I was left in an abandoned Enterprise, trying to get to the engine to replace a broken valve. I hadn’t made much progress but suspected I was stuck on a small thing.

Indeed I was. In the gym there is a locker with UNIFORMS and SHOES. I picked up both and valiantly tried to wear them and LOOK at them to no use.

If you LOOK AT UNIFORMS while they are still in the room you will get something different happen:

Do you see it? Yes, the room location now has POCKETS.

Wrrr.

OPEN POCKETS yielded an ID BADGE, which let me get at two areas: the parts storage — which had the replacement valve I needed for the engine — and the armory — which contained a phaser and a kligat. [1]

What’s a kligat, you ask? Allow a redshirt to demonstrate:

Via Imgur.

Space ninja stars, fun! Also not helpful for my predicament. On the other hand, the phaser let me blast all the closed doors. This included the ones I thought were permanently jammed — they just led to adjoining rooms, although it was still a nice touch. So I now had full access to the second floor of the map without having to clamber around a ventilation system:

It was time to try to fix the engine. This required going into the shuttlecraft bay and using a spacesuit, since the bay was exposed to the vacuum of space.

So far, so good: PUT SPACESUIT to put it on. [2]

Then I opened the door, entered the bay, tried to GO OUT whereupon I floated away and tumbled into space. Whoops.

I also found out that the oxygen in the spacesuit runs out very quickly. So any actions had to be fast. It took me about 4 runs to figure things out, and each time I was very tense. (There are no saved games or save states so I had to repeat my steps to get to that point every time.) Here was where I had the strongest feeling of being in an actual Trek episode.

The Original Series never had any magnetic boots, but some of the later series and movies did, like this scene from Star Trek: First Contact where Worf does combat in zero-gravity.

After a bit of fussing I realized the LOCKER in the bay had some magnetic boots and another (fresh) spacesuit. Actually going through the process of putting on the low-oxygen spacesuit, retrieving the locker materials, going back to the turbolift, resealing the door, and removing the spacesuit right before dying felt very dramatic. [3]

The new spacesuit fortunately seemed to have infinite oxygen, so I was able to get all the relevant materials together, including wearing the magnetic boots and new spacesuit, and step outside for a repair …

… only to try to open the hatch leading to the broken valve and be told “THEY’RE PHILLIPS SCREWS!”

Argh! (Double Argh, because you can turn a Philips screw with a flathead — just not the other way around.)

At this point I resorted to a walkthrough, which told me that Bob Retelle really likes pockets. If you LOOK SPACESUIT it becomes a “spacesuit with pockets” and then you can LOOK POCKET to find a PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER.

That was the last difficulty — it was just a matter of REPLACE VALVE [4], heading back in the Enterprise, resealing the shuttlecraft, and going to the auxilary control.

One last observation: while this game had many red herrings (in addition to the screwdriver fake-out there was a flashlight, wrench, and hammer that never got used) they really were necessary for the atmosphere. The Cabin, for instance, only has one necessary item (the pillow, which keeps the valve from cracking when you set it down) …

You ARE–
In a CABIN

You Can See-
Saurian BRANDY
PILLOW
MIRROR
VIEWPORT
VENTILATOR
Computer TERMINAL

… but it would feel out-of-place and sterile without the brandy and mirror there, especially since the minimalist style means no room descriptions.

>LOOK MIRROR

You Can See-
rerutnaevdA ydraH A
YDNARB nairuaS
WOLLIP
TROPWEIV
ROTALITNEV
LANIMRET retupmoC

Next up, another Star Trek game, one that you may have encountered recently on another blog.

Also, there is a Part 6 of the Before Adventure series coming, but it’s going to take a little longer to arrange than the other 5. I promise it will be worth the wait.

[1] The “PR” verb I was wondering about last time was short for PRESENT — you can PRESENT BADGE as a method of getting by the security places, but it maps as a synonym for DROP.

[2] I got used to the weirdness of using PUT rather than WEAR — I assume the game means PUT ON, and you can even type PUT ON SPACESUIT and the game will be fine — but every single time I used SUIT first instead of SPACESUIT. It’s interesting how games can easily “train” you to do certain odd things easily while other behaviors are almost perversely ingrained.

[3] It would help if it didn’t get undercut by REMOVE SPACESUIT by default referring to the one being carried, not the one being worn, which is how I racked up another death.

[4] I guess “RE” wasn’t “READ” after all. REPLACE at least was hinted as a word in an early message, but you had to have remembered the exact wording for it to count as a hint.

Posted April 10, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Trek Adventure (1980)   7 comments

There were many Star Trek games before even 1980 (mostly simulations based on the 1971 mainframe game), but Trek Adventure by Bob Retelle is the first Star Trek text adventure.

From the June 1980 Aardvark newsletter.

This game also marks this blog’s first occurrence of the Ohio Scientific computer (or OSI). There does happen to be a lovely emulator for OSI computers which even has Trek Adventure as one of the games in the original package, so I gave it a try.

To clarify: you don’t play any of the main characters of Star Trek. You play a random crew member who has been left behind; perhaps you might even say YOU ARE THE REDSHIRT.

YOUR COMMAND? PLAY TAPE
———————–
Ship severely damaged by freak Ion Storm-
Engines damaged-
Transporter out-
Abandoning ship in
Shuttlecraft-

I’ve been back and forth on whether this scenario is reasonable. The Enterprise has at minimum around 100 crew, and seems to have at least about 12 shuttlecraft, so it looks like there’d be room for everyone to evacuate at once. As far as the crew member being left behind, I suppose they were assumed dead.

The premise lets you wander around the ship without any of the pesky “characters” or “conversation” making things complicated for a coder trying to stuff a game into 8K of BASIC.

Many games of this era — like the Scott Adams ones — only recognized the first three letters of each word as a compactification method. With this game, only the first two letters of each command are recognized, which gets to the point of genuine confusion. Does the verb PU push or pull something? Does FI fix or fill? Is PR pry or … something else? Usually the game’s responses would be enough to infer what was going on, but the responses are often either “Can’t do it!”, a blank line, or “Does not compute!”

Most of the gameplay occurs on the “middle floor” of the Enterprise as shown above. The game tries hard to make things feel bigger than they are; there are quite a number of “jammed” doors but my suspicion is most don’t open. There’s a “ventilation” system you can climb into, but that consists of a single room where NORTH, SOUTH, EAST and WEST and loop back to the same room. Sometimes (at random, when “looping”) a DOWN exit appears and you can go down into any of the main rooms of the ship. (And again, I said “at random”: if you’re aiming for, say, Storage, you have to keep trying over and over until you land there.)

In Auxilary Control I found a message

Extremely FRAGILE
Magnatomic VALVE
On the Starboard ENGINES
is CRACKED! Starting
Engines will result in an Anti-Matter IMPLOSION

which strongly suggests the final goal of the game is to fix the ship.

There is a “parts storage” right next to engineering that has a replacement VALVE, but unfortunately, it is too big to get into the ventilation system so you have to get through the door the “regular” way. However, the door asks for an ID card which I don’t yet have.

There’s a third floor with just a shuttlecraft bay, but the game says I can’t get in there without a spacesuit because the room is depressurized. There’s a spacesuit in STORAGE next to the TRANSPORTER ROOM, but the only way to get into storage is via the ventilation system, and the spacesuit is too bulky to bring back through the ventilation system.

I’ve essentially made no progress otherwise, even though I suspect I’m missing something very small. The almost-no-responsiveness parser doesn’t help matters. I did work out PU was “PUT” (you can PUT SPACESUIT to put it on) but I’m still fuzzy on FI and PR. I also found (via brute force search) that BL corresponds with a verb, I’m guessing BLAST? … but I don’t really know. There’s also SH (for SHOOT I suppose) but I haven’t found a phaser yet — there’s an “Armory” in security that presumably has one, but it requires an ID card (just like the parts storage does).

Everything above makes the game sound like a bit of a mess — and it truly is — but I’m having more fun than you’d expect. I think this is because the subject matter manages to match vaguely enough to the real thing that it does “feel” like the Enterprise. I’m able to blast some Star Trek The Motion Picture music and get tingly retro-futuristic vibes. I imagine this is why people write fan fiction; it’s easy to paint a few broad strokes, rely on people’s rich memory of past stories, and get to the action.

Hopefully, a break will lead me to finish this by next time, although it looks like source code diving will be required.

Posted April 8, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Before Adventure, Part 5: Wumpus 2 and 3   4 comments

Wumpus 2 took the same mechanics as the first game and added some new cave layouts (including a “make your own” option). I tried each a few times to feel out if there were any gameplay differences. (I used this C64 version which seems to be accurate and bug-free.)

Cave 1 (Mobius Strip): Very easy: this is just essentially two rows

20-18-16-14-12-10-8-6-4-2
19-17-15-13-11- 9-7-5-3-1

although the 2 goes to 19, and the 1 goes to 20 — that’s the “half-twist” of the Mobius Strip.

It’s possible to get entirely blocked off, but it isn’t terribly common (imagine pits at 3 and 6, with bats at 13 and 12) and for the most part the easier-to-visualize geography also made it much faster to play.

I also noticed you don’t really need to know where the Wumpus is to get off a good shot, you just need to be next to it. For example, from actual gameplay:

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 18 TUNNELS LEAD TO 16, 17, AND 20

I had just come from room 20, so I knew the Wumpus had to be in either 16 or 17. Based on the map, I could just shoot both of them.

SHOOT OR MOVE? S

NUMBER OF ROOMS? 3

ROOM #? 16
ROOM #? 15
ROOM #? 17

Just passing through a room is enough to shoot a Wumpus, so if it is in Room 16 you will be as successful as if it is room 17. With Cave 1 in particular this would work even if you didn’t know about any of the adjacent rooms beforehand, since you can pass your shot through 5 rooms:

That is, if you’re standing at 18 next to the Wumpus, a shot through 16, 15, 17, 19, and 20 will be guaranteed to hit the Wumpus.

Cave 2 (String of Beads): This one’s not a good map to play on, as one of my first attempts will illustrate:

The red indicates pits. The only thing to do here was to fire an arrow along the strip and hope I got lucky. This is a little different than the Minesweeper you-have-to-guess scenario where you start next to a pit — in that case it’s a gamble rather than a guaranteed death. Here, the map itself made for an impossible scenario overall, and one where it took some mapping beforehand to realize that fact. It felt like trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle only to realize part-way through the given numbers were placed wrong.

Cave 3 (Toroidal Hex Net): This one was very satisfying to play on, and had the same level of complexity and interconnectedness that the original dodecahedron map does. I also made a very satisfying 5-room-shot:

I had smelled the Wumpus from room 13, so knew it had to be in either 9 or 17. Moving around the other way, I got stopped at 3 by sensing bats nearby. The bats had to be in either 7 or 8. However, rather than trying another direction or gambling on the bats, I shot an arrow in the path

7 - 2 - 17 - 13 - 9

guaranteeing that I would hit the Wumpus no matter which room it was in.

Cave 4 (Dendrite): Easily the worst map of the set; it’s very common to be blocked off by just a single pit. Do not play.

Cave 5 (One Way Only): This one definitely gets some tangled looking maps if you go freestyle.

I eventually did the brute force method of copying the exact room numbers and exits from the source code. This let me look at a situation like

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
BATS NEARBY!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 4 TUNNELS LEAD TO 3 7 8

so given the knowledge that

3 goes to 2, 6, 7
4 goes to 3, 7, 8
5 goes to 8, 9, 12
6 goes to 5, 9, 10
7 goes to 6, 10, 11
8 goes to 7, 11, 12

it was possible to make a route that hits all three adjacent rooms with one arrow. (Specifically here, 3-7-6-5-8 works.)

The best strategy seems to be to increase the room number slowly and backtrack when possible. That way you are more likely to have rooms you’ve already been in or at least “scanned” as exits from the new room, so if there’s a pit or bat hazard it’s possible to avoid it by leaving for the “known safe room”. For example, suppose you’re at 6 with no hazards nearby in the adjacent rooms (5, 9, 10). Then you step back to room 5; with adjacent rooms (8, 9, 12) and a pit nearby. Since you didn’t sense a pit when the adjacent rooms were (5, 9, 10), that means 9 is safe and leads to escape.

This led to satisfying loops where “known territory” was revisited in avoiding hazards and gave a small sense of atmosphere.

From best to worst I’d rank the new caves as roughly

Cave 3-Cave 5-Cave 1-Cave 2-Cave 4

with the original Cave 0 tied for first. Really, the main issue with the problem caves was the generation of impossible scenarios; technically speaking there are only two absolute barriers (the pits) so a “good” map just needs to avoid “single chokepoint” situations.

Now that I’m an “expert” I suppose it’s time to up the ante:

From the article accompanying the Wumpus 2 code in Creative Computing.

Wumpus 3 returns to only having a dodecahedron layout. It was not written by Gregory himself but a “Howard” as mentioned in the article clipped above. Also, as implied, the code wasn’t published. Because of this, people have known about it but it has long been considered a “lost game”.

Fortunately, I found it in a special “Games” booklet that PCC put out in 1974.

As of right now you can play Wumpus 3, entirely in your browser.

(I’m still using DOS QBASIC, but after some tech hiccups I managed to compile the code. This has the fortunate side effect of making it easy to put a playable version online. I’ll give a similar treatment to Caves1 soon.)

The gimmicks here are:

1. “Tumareos” that eat your arrows.

2. All of the hazards (wumpus, pits, bats, tumareos) are capable of moving about the caves at random.

A sample of play:

I FEEL A DRAFT!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 13 TUNNELS LEAD TO 16 17 20

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
I FEEL A DRAFT
MY ARROWS ARE QUIVERING
YOU ARE IN ROOM 6
TUNNELS LEAD TO 5 7 15

In this case, I started with *all* the adjacent rooms containing a hazard. I decided the safest bet was to try to shoot an arrow into two of the rooms. The Wumpus moves to a random adjacent room if you miss a shot (meaning you have a 1/3 chance of dying if you’re next to it) but I already had the pit giving me a 1/3 chance of death on the first move, so I figured I’d rather take the 2/3 shot at victory first.

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? S
NO. OF ROOMS(1-5)? 4
ROOM #? 15
ROOM #? 16
ROOM #? 17
ROOM #? 7
MISSED

Alas, I missed. But the fact I didn’t get eaten means the Wumpus was in Room #5.

WHAT A FLAP YOU’RE IN . . . IT’S BAT MIGRATION TIME!!

This message means the bats moved. Note that there is no check to if they move to the player’s position, so it’s possible to just be minding your business and have bats swoop in and teleport you somewhere.

I FEEL A DRAFT
MY ARROWS ARE QUIVERING
YOU ARE IN ROOM 6
TUNNELS LEAD TO 5 7 15

Now, the fact I’m not dead means that the Wumpus moved to either 1 and 4, which are the adjacent rooms from 5. Since they are both part of the “central pentagon” I could shoot at both of them.

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 5

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 5
TUNNELS LEAD TO 1 4 6

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? s
NO. OF ROOMS(1-5)? 4
ROOM #? 1
ROOM #? 2
ROOM #? 3
ROOM #? 4
AHA! YOU GOT THE WUMPUS!

I gave Wumpus 3 a good number of tries, and I’m sad to say I agree with Gregory on this one: the game is a little too chaotic. The arrow-eaters are just a nuisance (I never had an arrow supply shortage even with them in the game) but the randomly moving obstacles mean you have more opportunities to get trapped in an unwinnable position or even just die arbitrarily when you have a hazard get moved to the room you’re standing in.

There’s a major difference between a set-up gamble that the player has to roll the dice on, and the game essentially telling you now is the time to die and you can’t do anything about it. (Even in the “bad caves” of Wumpus 2 where the player is essentially trapped, you can do some last-ditch arrows and hope you hit the Wumpus.) I can understand why there was no rush to get the game in print.

One more theoretical tangent before I let Wumpus go:

. . . even more importantly, Wumpus is a prototype version of the system of geography that is still with IF today: a set of discrete, self-contained rooms linked together by connectors the player can use to pass from one to another. Compass directions are not yet here, but the rest of the scheme is. Wumpus is all about mapping. The early IF games that would follow were continuing its tradition in being full of those twisty little passages that so frustrate modern players who try to go back to them today.
— Jimmy Maher, writing on Hunt the Wumpus

So Wumpus no longer has the distinction of being the first to put the player inside the Caves. Does it matter?

I guess it depends on what you mean by matter? As I’ve mentioned before, history is not a competition. Looking through every human achievement like there are Points attached can distort the true thread of influence. And besides, considering the Maher quote, the “prototype” idea is still perfectly accurate.

But more nebulously, it still feels like Hunt the Wumpus was the “first” of … something. I’ve played everything available before 1973 (it isn’t as long or as hard as you’d think, I wasn’t kidding when I said this era had “almost no computer games at all”) and there really is a spark of compact design in Wumpus that is unique. Rather than being a simulation of an experience seen elsewhere (a basketball game, the 19th century Oregon Trail, an episode of Star Trek) the possibility of computer games as a doorway into new worlds opened up in a way *orthogonal* to pre-existing media.

Posted April 5, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Before Adventure, Part 4: Hunt the Wumpus (1973)   9 comments

From PCC Nov. 1973.

I. The Frozen Man

Soon before he died, the author of Hunt the Wumpus adopted the name Gregory H. Coresun. His name before that was Hara Ra, one he took after becoming a shaman.

I perhaps should put “died” in quotes because his head is now cryogenically frozen at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale.

He had some stories. For our story, we return to 1973, where he was Gregory Yob. To offer some continuity to his possible immortal self 1000 years from now when he reads this, I’ll call him Gregory.

II. The Game Itself

WELCOME TO ‘HUNT THE WUMPUS’

THE WUMPUS LIVES IN A CAVE OF 20 ROOMS.
EACH ROOM HAS 3 TUNNELS LEADING TO OTHER ROOMS.

Thus starts Gregory’s parvum opus. The 20 rooms are arranged in a “squashed dodecahedron” shape.

You have 6 arrows, and your goal is to hit the Wumpus with an arrow. In addition to the Wumpus itself being hazardous (it eats you if it is in the same room as you) there are bats which can randomly drop you in a new room and bottomless pits that can drop you to death.

If you are in a room adjacent to bats, you will get the message “BATS NEARBY!” Next to a bottomless pit, the game will say “I FEEL A DRAFT”. Next to the Wumpus, “I SMELL A WUMPUS.”

I FEEL A DRAFT
BATS NEARBY!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 1
TUNNELS LEAD TO 2 5 8

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 2
YYYIIIIEEEE . . . FELL IN PIT
HA HA HA – YOU LOSE!

As the game above illustrates, it’s sometimes possible to just get bad luck on a game setup and have to guess, just like in Minesweeper.

III. Strategy

Minesweeper is a good comparison; this is, in a way, a game of Minesweeper at the ground level. If you play carefully (and don’t get unlucky) it’s possible to chart via deduction where hazards are without stepping into them, and shooting the Wumpus without missing.

In practice, I tried more gambles than I needed to, just because it made the game flow better and was more fun. A sample game:

YOU ARE IN ROOM 4
TUNNELS LEAD TO 3 5 14

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 14

I FEEL A DRAFT
YOU ARE IN ROOM 14
TUNNELS LEAD TO 4 13 15

I could actually be careful here, but since it was just the start of the game, I decided for a 50-50 gamble and went to room 15. Fortunately, the pit was in room 13 instead.

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 15

BATS NEARBY!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 15
TUNNELS LEAD TO 6 14 16

I know bats are in either rooms 6 or 16, but not which. Instead of taking another gamble, I went back to the start (room 4) to try a different direction.

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 14

I FEEL A DRAFT
YOU ARE IN ROOM 14
TUNNELS LEAD TO 4 13 15

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 4

YOU ARE IN ROOM 4
TUNNELS LEAD TO 3 5 14

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 5

BATS NEARBY!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 5
TUNNELS LEAD TO 1 4 6

Because I knew bats were in either room 6 or 16, and I sensed bats again while being adjacent to room 6, I decided to guess that 6 had the bats and 1 was safe. It could be that both rooms 16 and 1 had bats, so this was still a gamble, but a small one.

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 1

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 1
TUNNELS LEAD TO 2 5 8

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 5

BATS NEARBY!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 5
TUNNELS LEAD TO 1 4 6

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 4

YOU ARE IN ROOM 4
TUNNELS LEAD TO 3 5 14

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 3

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
YOU ARE IN ROOM 3
TUNNELS LEAD TO 2 4 12

There is only one Wumpus, so this last sequence was definitive: I smelled a Wumpus in either rooms 2 or 8, and in either rooms 12 or 2. This meant the Wumpus had to be in room 2.

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? S
NO. OF ROOMS(1-5)? 1
ROOM #? 2
AHA! YOU GOT THE WUMPUS!
HEE HEE HEE – THE WUMPUS’LL GETCHA NEXT TIME!!

Part of the reason I was gambling when I didn’t have to is that bad luck isn’t just confined to the starting room; because the pits and bats serve as “blockers” of sorts on the map, it’s possible to land in a scenario later in the game where guessing is needed.

On the map above I had gotten to room 12 where I had both the “smell” and the “draft”. Every other route to those rooms was blocked, so I had to take a gamble. Fortunately, the arrows of the game can pass through multiple rooms, so I had a little bit of safety: I could take a step back to room 13, then try shooting an arrow all the way into 3 or 11 (passing through 12). If the arrow missed, the Wumpus would wake up, but at least I’d have another chance at killing him.

YOU ARE IN ROOM 13
TUNNELS LEAD TO 12 14 20

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 12

I SMELL A WUMPUS!
I FEEL A DRAFT
YOU ARE IN ROOM 12
TUNNELS LEAD TO 3 11 13

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? M
WHERE TO? 13

YOU ARE IN ROOM 13
TUNNELS LEAD TO 12 14 20

SHOOT OR MOVE (S-M)? S
NO. OF ROOMS(1-5)? 2
ROOM #? 12
ROOM #? 3
AHA! YOU GOT THE WUMPUS!
HEE HEE HEE – THE WUMPUS’LL GETCHA NEXT TIME!!
SAME SET-UP (Y-N)? N
HUNT THE WUMPUS

IV. A Chain of Creativity

Last time, writing about Caves, I showed a list with a progression from Caves1 to Wumpus. The next issue of PCC was even more explicit:

PCC Sep. 1973.

According to Gregory himself, writing two years later in Creative Computing, the chains ran a little differently:

Two years ago I happened by People’s Computer Company (PCC) and saw some of their computer games — such as Hurkle, Snark, and Mugwump. My reaction was: “EECH!!” Each of these games was based set on a 10 x 10 grid in Cartesian coordinates and three of them was too much for me. I started to think along the line of: “There has to be a hide and seek computer game without that (exp. deleted) grid!!”” In fact, why not a topological computer game — Imagine a set of points connected in some way and the player moves about the set via the interconnections.

To summarize:

A. We started with an educational game (Hide and Seek) created in a classroom, using a Cartesian grid and the thin narrative of a hide-and-seek game.

B. The game directly caused the creation of a trio (Mugwump, Hurkle, Snark) involving the same grid, but only looking for a single point, and changing the narrative to “hunting” some sort of creature.

C. Alongside this came a game (Caves) based on the computer science construct of trees; it may have had some sideways educational motivation, but by putting the perspective “inside the data structure” the game turned into one of exploration that started to resemble the modern adventure game.

Hunt the Wumpus combines (B.) and (C.) and adds a fair number of innovations besides — arrows to take down the Wumpus, hazards, and the possibility the Wumpus wakes up.

Every current history of Wumpus only mentions the influence of the grid games, since Gregory didn’t write anything about Caves. I am not certain why the Creative Computing article left it out, but due to the survival of Gregory’s article surviving and the early PCC newspapers not being reprinted, Caves left the public consciousness almost entirely. (As far as I’ve been able to find, I’m the first to write about it since the 1970s.)

The same Creative Computing article includes a transcript with maps that look a lot like the “tree branching” of Caves.

Theory #1: Gregory was trying to write a condensed story, and he felt his particular insight and contribution had more to do with transferring the hide-and-seek setup to topologically constructed caves rather than the caves as a concept in theemselves.

Theory #2: Gregory was trying to take credit that was undeserved, that he was the inventor of “probably the first game to take place on a map consisting of rooms connected by passages.” (Quote by Magnus Olsson from a port of Wumpus.)

I’m fairly torn. Given he was only writing 2 years after the fact, it’d be hard to know just how historically important the game was, or what people would focus on (reading the article, it’s almost like he considers the dodecahedron the most interesting thing). It would also have been impossible to know just how thoroughly Caves would be wiped from the record. On the other hand, the text really gives the impression Gregory came up with the topologically-connected cave idea on his own. Substantiating this, Gregory wrote this in 2005, again leaving out any mention of Caves:

71 was a long time ago. Teletypes were the main interactive terminal, lucky people had “glass teletypes” which could hold 80 columns by 40 lines of text. games? nothing much – blackjack. or PCC’s litle edugames like mugwump and hurkle which were very simpleminded.

About the time I wrote Wumpus, a version of StarTrek came along, it wasn’t bad. Versions of aventure for CP/M personal computers came along 5 years later. You know, like using a pencil in pre calculator days, duh.

Star Trek came out in 1971; given that Mugwump and Hurkle weren’t even written until 1973 — and based on a game from 1972 — the chronology here is a bit off, which isn’t unusual regarding interviews with people about old mainframe games. Still, the “trying to tweak one’s historical legacy” warning flag is waving a bit.

If we take things all the way after his death (“death”?) his partner Andrea van de Loo wrote

He was the creator of the very first computer game, Hunt the Wumpus.

which sounds like the sort of exaggeration that came from Gregory himself. (Again, to be fair, most discussions of the early-70s computing era have a large number of inaccuracies — I’ve seen Hunt the Wumpus attributed to every year from 1971 to 1975 inclusive — so it’s possible she picked up this idea from somewhere else.)

Despite all that, I’m going to stick with Theory #1 for the moment; there just wasn’t enough motivation in 1975 to be revisionist about the connection with Caves, and with the other cases of this sort I can think of, there’s enough historical time gap it’s clear some fame was at stake (see, for example, Daniel Lawrence claiming he wrote DND “first” with no prior influence).

Even if there was a bit of historical omission involved, there is no denying Hunt the Wumpus became the most influential game out of PCC. It showed up not only in derivative versions (like Treasure Hunt) but in adventure games like Zork (referencing the superbats in the 1980 edition), Adventure 501 (where the Wumpus is an actual enemy you must run away from), and Hunter, In Darkness (an Andrew Plotkin game from 1999 which could be considered a remake).

The Wumpus is also now the mascot of Discord, the “modern voice & text chat app” designed for gamers.

Wumpus had two direct sequels (the first by Gregory himself, the second probably by Howie Franklin) which I’ll get to next time, and then I’ve got one more surprise to go before the Before Adventure series concludes.

Posted April 3, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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