Archive for May 2019

Kadath (1979)   10 comments



For those playing the home edition of our game Guess That Genre, yes, it’s our first — and what appears to be the very first — Lovecraftian horror game. The Commodore 64 port helpfully points out in the title screen this was originally written by Gary Musgrave in Altair Basic. (Altair, as in: the very first “home computer”, more ancient than even the Apple 1. It seems appropriate for the game style.)

The C64 version also mentions the Altair version was written July 15th, 1979, and in 1981 it was ported to the Commodore PET by Robert Hennings before getting again converted for the C64.

So, naturally … I played the Exidy Sorcerer version instead. (Exidy Sorcerer as in: the computer introduced in 1978 and promptly abandoned by the manufacturer, with only a few die hard fans.)

Why? Well, the C64 version clearly had some scrunching for a 40 column version, whereas the Sorcerer (and the Altair) had more screen real estate to work with, so the Sorcerer port seems to be closer to the original Altair text.

A comparison: C64 on top, Sorcerer on bottom. Notice how the Dark Star’s name is lost in the C64 version. Also, some exclamation points. Those exclamation points surely are important to author intent.

Enough with the obscure computer parade: what is this like? In typical Lovecraftian fashion, you learn of a horror that must be stopped. In the words of the game, you must:





This game does not use a parser, but rather menus where you choose numbered options. However, unlike the simulation games of the era that used menus (Oregon Trail, Taipan, etc.) this sticks to an adventure game format with a map that allows backtracking and items and puzzles to solve.

Make the links clickable with a mouse, and you’ve got a Twine game.

The map design is so unusual I’m fairly sure it has never been used in any game before or since this one.


You need to keep careful track of the clockwise numbering: if you enter, say, exit 1, and then go back, what was previously exit 2 is now exit 1, and what was previously exit 3 is now exit 2, etc. Laterally, this means the game mainly uses a pentagonal map system which makes me squee with delight a little. I love it when old games go for something completely off-center.

To illustrate further: when you start, the Cliff Overlook is at exit “1”, counting clockwise. If I went from Pentagon #2 to Pentagon #1 and wanted to go back to the Cliff Overlook, I would need to use exit “4” instead (since relatively speaking, it’s now the fourth room clockwise).

I don’t have a sense yet whether this will be a long game or a short game. The lengthy texts (for a home computer game) suggest this will necessarily be short, but the vagaries of a parser do take a lot of disk space, so it’s possible there’s a fair amount of game stuffed in here.

Posted May 30, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Savage Island Part 1: Finished!   2 comments

Via Every Game Going. Not the greatest cover; the game only has one stone head (and one that’s supposed to look like the protaganist).

What do we mean when we say a game is difficult?

I was warned, multiple times before starting, how ludicrously hard this one was.

My heretofore-adequate Adventuring skills have been knocked down the stairs, dragged out the window and hung out for the vultures to pick at by the near-insurmountable challenges of Adventure #10: Savage Island (Part 1).
Gaming After 40

I don’t think it’s quite up there with Philosopher’s Quest or Quondam. (If you want to be quantitative about it, I only needed two minor hints related to the parser to win this one, whereas for the other two games I needed … quite a few more hints.)

The thing that really makes this one tricky to handle is the looping and timing. You have to go through the same part of the map multiple times, with subtle differences in terms of items held. You have to anticipate ahead and time things out in a way that makes solving puzzles genuinely a matter of handling both time and space as opposed to just getting applying the right item in the right place.

Certainly, at the time this game was written, it was asking the player to do things far outside the norm. For me, the difficulty was mitigated by the fact I’ve beaten Hadean Lands (2014) before; I’m trying to think of other instances where a type of adventure game puzzle was intensely hard at the time due to its sheer novelty but later extensions of the idea made the initial instance more manageable. (Maybe within a series, like playing Myst after beating Riven is easier, even if you’ve never beaten Myst before?)

Continuing directly from last time, I was trying to work out how to move a stalactite with a “hinge”. THROW wasn’t a verb, although THROW COCONUT was one of the first things that occurred to me. Having discarded that possibility, I resorted to testing every verb-noun combination. Fortunately, I had found earlier (completely by accident) USE was a recognized verb:

This is about as frustrating as guess-the-verb gets: a.) I had figured out a logical solution, but discarded it because the logical method of conveying it (using a common adventure game verb!) was unrecognized so I b.) did the lawnmower thing with every verb and noun concluding with c.) finding I was right all along by accident.

Smooth sailing from here, thankfully: the action above led me into some metal halls with alien devices, including a force field where I was able to get my plastic block glowing.

This glowing technically forces one more loop: take the raft back to the dark maze, then finally get to see what’s in there — it turns out the YUCK message I was having before was from digging bat guano, where I found a wire. The wire could be brought back to fix the alien machine. (In practice, what I actually did was reload an earlier save once I realized what was in the dark maze and grabbed the wire without using a light at all. Unintended solution ahoy!)

The alien halls also had a display case with a miniature T-rex dinosaur and a full-sized caveman. You can bring both of them to life. (Yes, you can get them to fight, although this seems to be purely for flavor.)

The caveman, in particular, is what you need to get to the end of the game, although it was a touch unexpected:

Best password ever!

In the end, I enjoyed this a great deal more than the prior Scott Adams game Ghost Town, which was sunk by numerous bad design decisions (including ones, to be fair, that wouldn’t have been obviously bad design decisions until the game was made). This game definitely has its major frustrations in the use of RNG; a walkthrough would have to mention at multiple points “save here, and if you die in the next few moves, reload”.

In the case of the storm, rather more than a few moves. I’ve been trying to isolate why this didn’t annoy me more; I guess partially it’s personal preference (knowing what to do and having to redo it is less annoying than not knowing what to do and staring at a blank screen) but also the idea of the “possibility space” in the plot. With Pyramid of Doom there was an entrance that could kill you; even when the danger was defused, the tension of an alternate universe where that death exists remained. Here, the RNG was present to such a degree that the feeling of being able to be killed by nature at any moment was present even in those parts of the game where it was safe. Once I had a sequence down (through careful planning), being able to tread the razor’s edge to victory made me feel like a wizard.

Before leaving, I want to riff off a comment Jimmy Maher made regarding Adams in 1980:

From 1980 on, Adams is more interesting as a businessman and an enabler for others than as a software artist in his own right.

To be fair, from that year he only played Ghost Town (which he appropriately lambasted) when he made his conclusion. It’s perfectly fine to suppose Savage Island Part 1 took a few decisions too far (with parser difficulties to boot) but the structure is definitely original to an extent I can’t think of matching examples. Additionally, as Ruber Eaglenest points out, the game goes all-in on a man-vs-nature theme, and this is not a route many adventure games have taken. Strategy, roguelike, or survival, sure; as individual obstacles in adventure games, of course; but as an overarching theme adventures with a looming menace like the hurricane from this game are rare.

Posted May 26, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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New domain name + ad-free   Leave a comment

So I recently found out WordPress has amped up the ads on its free plan from sort of obnoxious to incredibly obnoxious.

I went ahead and spent my own money to make this blog ad-free, so you can now safely stop by without an ad-blocker.

(I’ve never gotten money from ads, it all went to WordPress. I don’t have a Patreon or anything of that sort, nor do I ever plan on getting one — just give me a plug amongst your friends and I’ll be happy. If you really want to spend money, there are creators who need more help than I do.)

While I was at it, I made a new domain at

although feel free to stick with as that link will continue working indefinitely.

(Also, I beat Savage Island Part 1! Post incoming will likely be on Monday.)

Posted May 25, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Savage Island Part 1: What Was, Must Be   16 comments

My first revelation since last time was I could HOLD BREATH while in the lake, and SWIM DOWN to explore the bottom.

I found a knife and a small plastic block, although I couldn’t get them out of the lake; I kept drowning in the attempt.

I suspected the log would come in handy and had already tested it out; I was foiled by expecting to need an action like CLIMB LOG or such to indicate I was “riding the top of the log” so to speak. No, you just hold the log in your inventory, and you can swim through the lake holding whatever else you want, including a knife, fish bones, an empty bottle, and a partridge in a pear tree.

(To put things less glibly: the game only considered weight and buoyancy, whereas I was thinking of logistics and having enough arms. I had even tried holding the knife with my teeth like in pirate movies.)

Once I realized this, most of my problems were settled, except for a very evil part–

The log doesn’t appear until after the hurricane starts. So the sequence goes

1.) Store the rum in the cave (possibly being randomly mauled by the bear while doing so).

2.) Drop the bottle off and swim across the lake holding nothing; go over to the beach and wait for the hurricane to hit.

3.) Once the hurricane hits, grab a log. Go back to the cave and get the empty bottle.

4.) Use the log to ferry the empty bottle across the lake, then jump back to the beach and fill the empty bottle with seawater.

5.) Loop yet again back to the bear cave, use the hot floor to get salt from the salt water, give the salt to the bear, and finally wait out the storm in the cave (now that you’ll be safe from both wild animals and the storm).

The very evil part is that in addition to the bear possibly randomly killing you, and the hurricane randomly killing you in almost *any* room once it starts, the save game option is disabled while the hurricane is going on. I had to run through the whole sequence multiple times, hoping for good RNG; in my second to last try the bear mauled me right as I was about to give him some salt.

Grah. I’m being traditionalist here so I can report to you, my faithful readers, what the experience is like, but for anyone playing along, please feel free to use emulator save states as needed.

Anyhow! Once past this hurdle I was able to rescue the knife and plastic block (via another log pass) with the interesting dilemma that the log doesn’t fit in the west crevice to go over to the beach. If you carry the log while trying to climb up the volcano (which normally just sends you right back down) you drop the log while attempting this and it helpfully falls back onto the beach side of things.

I combined that log with another one the hurricane generated and some vines I cut from the jungle to MAKE RAFT. Launching it from the beach’s tidepool, I did PADDLE EAST and PADDLE WEST for a while until I came across an “atoll”. Remembering the cannon fire, I did WAIT and a pirate ship appeared.

…oh yeah, the rum. I forgot to bring that! Fortunately, I hadn’t “broken” my sequence too much and was able to shuffle the empty bottle back to the cave, fill it with the rum I had stored, use the log again to ferry the bottle back to the beach, make the raft again, find the atoll again, wait for the pirate ship again, and then GIVE RUM. The pirate accepted the gift and left; his bandanna fell off, revealing antennae (it’s an alien pirate), and he left behind a note as well.

I also found amongst my raft travels a cave with drawings and a hinged stalactite, although I haven’t been able to do anything with the latter yet (I suspect it may just be parser wrangling, though).

Whew, that’s a lot of progress! Again, feel free to speculate if you’re just playing along, and restrain yourself from hints if you’ve beaten this before.

Posted May 24, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Twisty Little Passages on Kickstarter   Leave a comment

No, not the Nick Montfort book. This is a “dungeon crawl puzzle book adventure”.

Each pair of facing pages is a puzzle, where you

Fight monsters, acquire keys to open doors, get life-boosting elixirs, powerful equipment and enchanted items, and defeat the boss at the end of each level. Use your wits to find the right path through each area and survive. Solve each puzzle to move forward with the story.

If you’re familiar with DROD RPG, this is basically the book form of that. Here’s a sample:

You keep track of attack, defense, health, and equipment for solving each puzzle. The pages of the book will be laminated so you can solve using a dry-erase marker.

The first four puzzles of the book are up, so you can test things out for yourself.

Link to Twisty Little Passages Kickstarter

The Kickstarter runs until June 13, 2019. It’s already funded, but there are bonus puzzles to unlock and so forth, and I figured y’all seem the types to be interested, so here you go.

One of the harder puzzles that just got posted; click on the Kickstarter and look for the PDF files to get more detail.

Posted May 24, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Savage Island Part 1: Intricate Choreography   21 comments

I’ve been thinking of this game in terms of Andrew Plotkin’s A Change in the Weather. That’s a game with a slate of actions that must be done in time for a weather event, and various dependencies require a sort of choreography where things get in the right places at the right times.

I made a decent chunk of progress since last time, then realized in a way I hadn’t, because there was an action I missed. My sequencing is now thrown for a loop, and I don’t know how to fix it.

First, and most silly, is the fact that after DIG SAND / WITH HANDS, I could LOOK SAND, which yields seeing a hole, followed by LOOK HOLE which yields finding a bottle. I’d like to emphasize how little sense this makes in a mimetic context; if you make a hole when digging, you’d know by the act of digging, right? This isn’t like pushing a button and not seeing a result because things moved off screen, this is the direct result of physical action your player takes. I suspect Mr. Adams never even thought it was a puzzle.

The bottle contained rum, but I could empty it and fill it with saltwater. Then I took it to a room next to the bear cave and poured it out:

I’m on the edge of a hot rocky cliff outside the volcano
Visible items:
Puddle. Crevice.

Since the cliff is hot, the puddle of water evaporates to leave salt behind. The poor bear, who all this time had been “sickly” and trying to lick me when sweaty, was short of salt.

One happy bear later, I was able to go down in the dark maze, whereupon I used WAIT and found the hurricane passing (??). A little confusion, here: I guess this is meant to be a “dynamic schedule” that reacts to what puzzles you’ve solved, and since I found a good place to camp away from the hurricane, the hurricane came and went without a fuss. It’s not like I waited more turns than usual; the hurricane just passed by faster.

Darkness still approaches, but as I mentioned last time, I found an area west of the lake where I could SLEEP without interference from wild animals. Huzzah, survival to day 2! I also made it to the beach where I heard cannon offshore, but can’t find a ship. >GO SHIP does get an amusing response:

not till

Except: in the events above I made a fatal error. Pause before going on; do you see it?

Public domain island picture, for spoiler space.

Before filling the bottle with seawater I had to waste the rum inside. On a hunch during a replay, I tried EMPTY BOTTLE at the stone basin in the cave (which I still hadn’t used yet):

Uh oh. The fact this works (and not with anything else) indicates that the rum needs to be used somewhere, and this is the method of preserving it. Normally this would be fine: I could just go and fill the bottle with seawater and be on my way. However, the volcano area’s lake is fresh water so doesn’t have any salt, and I can’t swim through the lake holding the bottle without drowning. Somehow I need to send the bottle back to the opening area so I can fill it with seawater and get my progress back on track. As is, I just sent myself back to Day 1, and I suspect not for the last time.

Posted May 22, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Savage Island Part 1: Exhausting Options   6 comments

I’ve been pulling out all the stops in terms of listing available verbs and puzzles, trying to be as systematic as possible. There’s a little pleasure in at least documenting things out, although it would be more enjoyable if I could solve … at least something?

Speculation is welcome from people who haven’t played before; if you have beaten this game or seen a walkthrough, please hold off on any hints for now.


52 moves: “My bones ache” message starts appearing; I’m guessing this is just physically sensing the hurricane is coming.

67 moves: “Hurricane Alexis hits island”

At this point the palm log on the beach can land (“CRASH!”), although which exact turn it happens seems to be random; sometimes it happens on move 67, but I’ve seen it happen as late as 120 or so.

It also becomes unsafe to move outside after this time, and (at random) the hurricane can kill you.

217 moves: “Getting dark”

247 moves: “Sunset”

After sunset, the room description is simply “Its too dark to see!” It’s still possible to move around (as long as you don’t go in any invalid exit directions, which causes you to trip and fall).

?? moves: “I hear cannon offshore”

I haven’t tracked how many moves this is at exactly, but it isn’t too long after sunset.

No other timed events seem to occur. It’s possible more get triggered by being able to SLEEP after sunset, but I haven’t found anywhere safe to sleep. I either get a.) blown away by the hurricane b.) eaten by wild animals or c.) both, which makes you double-dead as the excerpt below demonstrates.

Not safe
I’m attacked by wild animal
Not safe
to move in hurricane
storm lifts me out to sea

I did find one place where I could SLEEP successfully without being attacked by wild animals

West of the lake on a secluded ledge on the volcano wall

but unfortunately, this place is not safe from the hurricane so I can’t use it to wait out the storm.

It’s certainly possible the intent is to win the game within 247 moves (that’s a lot of moves for a Scott Adams game) but the hurricane hitting at 67 moves makes moving around deadly very early, so I’m not sure.


The available verbs I’ve found are


although both DRINK and EAT have glib responses

I’m a bottle baby

and KILL is highly suggestive of “don’t bother”.

If you like to kill monsters play “MACES & MAGIC”!

Nouns that work include KNIFE, BUTTON, LEVER, and KNOB, although I haven’t found any of those four in any location.

Nouns NOT included: LIGHT, LAMP, TORCH, COAL, LAVA, CANDLE, FIRE. It’s still possible there’s an aforementioned BUTTON or some such to turn on lights, but I suspect the darkness is either just simply left as darkness, or there’s some “natural geography” resolution. (I’ve thought about: the cave’s opening is to the east, and there’s a basin, so if we get water in the basin maybe on sunup the sun will reflect off the basin and shine light into the dark maze. Maybe? I’d have to survive sleeping first, though.)


Puzzle #1: Opening the coconuts
Objects/locations involved: The Coconuts start at Top of a Tree on the east beach
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: High
Description: The response to OPEN COCONUT or BREAK COCONUT is “How?” which requires a WITH (noun) response; WITH HANDS doesn’t work.

There might be an item that will work, although I’ve wondered if they could just break themselves open in the right circumstances, i.e. being blown off a tall cliff and landing where they get smashed.

Once open, I suspect they could be used as a container for water (since FILL is a verb). That would be a portable way to wash off sweat, plus something that could be used to fill the stone basin.

Puzzle #2: Handling the bear
Objects/locations involved: The bear starts in a cave, but can go outside next to the lake or deeper inside into the dark maze.
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: High
Description: The bear moves about more or less at random but will track the player if nearby. It licks and eats the player if they are sweating. Sweating can happen from either physical exertion (initially climbing the volcano) or from just being around the bear (being nervous).

The bear is described as “sickly”, and since the game is pretty spare with descriptions, that seems it should be a significant hint.

There’s some fish bones in the cave that seem like they should distract the bear, but I haven’t been able to get any reaction.

In an earlier Scott Adams game we were able to knock a bear off a cliff, so I do wonder if geography can somehow be used to our advantage; haven’t seen the bear get carried away by the wind or anything like that, though.

Puzzle #3: Digging in darkness
Objects/locations involved: The dark maze under the bear cave
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: High
Description: Last time I wrote about the dark maze, and how one of the rooms let you DIG with a response of YUCK! the first time (and only the first time). It’s faintly possible the intent is to play literal guess-the-noun to figure out what was dug up, although a way of bringing light into the cave would of course alleviate the problem.

Puzzle #4: West in the darkness
Objects/locations involved: The dark maze under the bear cave
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: Low
Description: In the same room that digging is possible, the west exit is blocked off. This may simply be the portion we can GO CREVICE to escape, but it’s faintly possible there is some obstacle in the darkness, like a crack that must be jumped over? JUMP is a strange verb in the game; you can JUMP any noun you want to, and it will just say OK. The only time I’ve seen JUMP work is a spot where you can get from the volcano area back to the opening beach.

Puzzle #5: Surviving the night
Objects/locations involved: Everywhere
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: Medium
Description: After 67 moves, hurricane-force winds start; after 247 moves, sunset hits and sleep is required to bring back the day. I haven’t found anywhere safe to sleep. It may be that there is no safe place to sleep, so the game must be beaten before sunset, or a light source (?? can’t imagine what now) needs to be found.

Puzzle #6: Sand
Objects/locations involved: The starting beach
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: Low
Description: For completeness, I should mention the opening beach has SAND. You can DIG SAND followed by WITH HANDS and get an OK message; however, nothing changes in the room. Perhaps there is a more efficient way to dig, or you need to dig at the right time?

Posted May 21, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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