Archive for June 2019

Bilingual Adventure (1979)   13 comments

Vous etes dans la maison. C’est une maison de captage d’une grande source.

Il y a plusieurs clefs la

Une lampe de cuivre brilliant est ici

De la nourriture est ici

Il y a la une petite bouteille

This game seems to be the very first text adventure playable on home computer in a language other than English. It’s a translation of the Crowther/Woods version of Adventure, released by Creative Computing for the CP/M operating system.

Via an old eBay auction.

You pick a starting language (English or French) and then can swap between the languages at any time by typing “english” or “francais” appropriately. (The design seemed to allow for new languages, but those two are the only ones that were made.)

It’s another formerly “lost” game, but I managed to unearth a copy (via a dead link that the Internet Archive, fortunately, had saved). I’ve now uploaded it so you can play online.

It was written in the obscure computer language SAM76, the brainchild of Claude Ancelme Roichel Kagan. It claimed to be “designed by people for people“. SAM76 removes all English text from coding and uses only cryptic symbols and abbreviations. (Why this would make the language more user-friendly is an exercise left to the reader. I guess this makes the language potentially more international? … but it never took off, anyway.) The side effect is that while it was originally released on CP/M, the version at the link above is essentially the same, with a DOS instead of CP/M interpreter.

The credits go to:
– Jim Manning (did the majority of the implementation)
– Ancelme Roichel (author of SAM76, added some features and wrote the French)
– Harley Licht (proof testing, verifying)
– François Brault and Thierry Gauthier (checked the French)

This was written in New Jersey, not France, but Ancelme was originally from France and François and Thierry were visiting from France. So: written and checked by native speakers. I’ll bring that up again in a moment.

This is not an exact port by any means. Eagle-eyed readers may have already spotted “XYZZY” got changed to “SAM”. There’s text changes aplenty in general:

Original: A huge green fierce snake bars the way!

New: A huge vicious looking green snake is eyeing you malevolently.

The way dwarves worked in the Original Adventure was that the first one you met threw an axe, while the remainder threw knives, but the axe was the only thing you could take. In Bilingual Adventure:

There is a sharp knife lying on the ground here

The dragon has been removed entirely. There’s a silver sword embedded in a stone. (Borrowed from Adventure 550 maybe? It’s smack dab in the middle of the swiss cheese room, though.) Dropping the magazine in Witts End does not yield you an extra point, and the magazine in fact counts as a treasure (5 points).

There are enough differences I’m going to have to play this through (and even remap things) so I’ll save details for next time. Before closing out I wanted to point out a study done in 1983 on using computers to study languages where “teachers and supervisors of foreign language programs from 29 high schools in six states provide reviews of foreign language microcomputer courseware.”

French included some standard tutorial software, but also both this game and the French version of Mystery House. (…there’s a French version of Mystery House!?) The reviewers did not think well of the quality of the French:

The French version is clearly a translation of the English. The translation is frequently awkward and occasionally incorrect.

Clearly, just being a native speaker is no guard against spelling and grammar errors.

Like most text adventure software at this period, the parser only accepts the first couple letters of each word (so TOOTHPASTE and TOOTHBRUSH would be considered the same thing.) One of the educational catches of this is not catching word endings in languages where it matters!

The grammar is rudimentary (every input is imperative verb with direct object, and incorrect forms are accepted).

Since the game doesn’t even read to the end of the word, it can’t tell if word endings are correct, and as the 1983 study points out, accepts “prend nourr” for “prends la nourriture”. (Native French speakers: is leaving off “la” that horrifying? I don’t have a good sense.)

In spite of problems with language usage, vocabulary level, lack of instructions, etc., La Grande Aventure would be a strong activity for some students and, if it were accompanied by a variety of sound teaching devices (such as discussion, in French, of the goal after a session, speaking French during the game, requiring that the students draw and label the map that develops while playing, acting out scenes or situations from the game, having students’ compose their own branches of La Grande Aventure or their own games), could evolve into a very beneficial learning tool.

I like the idea of a class “acting out scenes and situations” in Adventure. Too bad the bit where you punch out a dragon is taken out.

Posted June 28, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Before Adventure, Addendums   1 comment

First off, Jason Scott over at The Internet Archive managed to fix what was ailing my upload, so you can now try out The Public Caves as it was exhibited at Narrascope 2019:

Special thanks to everywhere there who contributed, even if you only added one line or room.

Second, let’s talk about Caves 4 and Wumpus 4. Yes, really.


Caves 4 may have never existed “(PROGRAM NOT AVAILABLE YET)”; it looks like Dave Kaufman was still trying to make his original design more game-like. I’ve been trying to armchair-design a fix for the original Caves based on the prompt, but I’m really not sure where to go with it.

The existence of Wumpus 4 is only known through a hand-scrawled note on the source code of original Wumpus as printed in the same PCC Games issue:


This one’s fun to theorize about. It loops back all the way to the thing that started it all, the educational game Hide and Seek. Could it be a version of Wumpus where the location clues are slightly more enigmatic, so you have to “triangulate” like the original grid?

Last, and this is for the sake of completeness, is it possible Wumpus came *before* Caves? It certainly doesn’t read like that from the newspaper issues (May and September 1973):

There is one wrench in the equation, and that’s in the September issue on the same page:

We know Mugwump came first, because it was based on Hide and Seek which was written outside the People’s Computer Company. So these particular arrows are sequencing in terms of complexity rather than order being written.

This could get really in the Thicket of Historical People Not Clearly Dating Things for Posterity. It isn’t like Gregory didn’t know how things were being published (and wrote an article himself about his computer language Pilot in the April 1973 issue of PCC). He also mentions Dave Kaufman specifically in his famous narrative about how Wumpus was created.

If you like, send me a picture of your version of a Wumpus. Perhaps friendly Dave, our editor, will publish the best one in Creative Computing.

Keep in mind Dave Kaufman himself was the editor for this very article explaining the history of Wumpus. He didn’t seem particularly upset to leave Caves out.

Still, Caves has some very complicated code. and it’s much easier to imagine Wumpus being made while looking at Caves rather than the other way around. The “tree” basis of the Caves series has mostly dropped off by The People’s Caves, suggesting the order went something like a.) use a computer science structure to make the idea of physical caves (Caves 1) b.) use the idea of nodes-as-caves on a dodecahedron structure (Wumpus) and c.) realize it’s much simpler to drop the tree (Public Caves).

This may have all just been a manifestation of the hacker culture of the early 1970s; just trying to get things made when there was barely anything to work with, both borrowing and creating with equal measure. Maybe there was an aspect of parallel creation between Wumpus and Caves but Gregory and Dave decided to go with the simplest story. If some future historian wants to get finicky about a timeline, they’re welcome to try, but it looks like for the people involved it didn’t really matter.

Posted June 25, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Crystal Cave: Three Scenes to Victory (and Two Interludes)   7 comments

My theory as to Crystal Cave’s authorship got shot down (although in the process I discovered yet another undocumented Adventure variant). I have a secondary theory but it’s going to be harder to test; for now, this game will remain by Anonymous.

The usual “I’m going to spoil the finale” warning applies.

Another public domain picture for spoiler space. This one’s from Australia.

Scene the First

The source code refers to the Fell King as “Arthur”, which is kind of epic. (When William of Malmesbury brought up the possibility of Arthur’s return from the dead, I don’t think this is what he meant.)

> sw
You are being followed by a dragon, who whines “I’m hungry.”
You’re in crypt.
There is a black, finely wrought iron crown here.
There is a massive iron tomb here. On top is a wrought figure of the King…a fell figure of grim visage, wearing a mithril helm, and holding a mace.

> get crown
The tomb crumbles into dust. The graven figure on top rises. He is stalking you, swinging the mace!

Ah, yes, the dragon. Keep in mind he complains every single turn.

> ne
A dragon follows you, whining “I want my treasure back.”
The Fell King is striding after you!
The mace strikes the dragon, killing the poor thing.
You’re in corridor.
The body of a small white dragon lies nearby.
The end of a rope dangles from above.

Alas. This doesn’t have to happen if you do the following action right upon activating the Fell King:

> wave scepter
The Fell King disintegrates into a pile of dust, which rapidly blows away
His helm falls with a crash, and rolls to one side.
You are in a narrow, northeast trending corridor.
Near you is a small helmet made of mithril.
The body of a small white dragon lies nearby.
The end of a rope dangles from above.

I confess I did not figure this out on my own and had to source dive again. It’s vaguely interesting that I had to do so because I’ve been waving scepters to cause magic to happen for a while now. There’s no clue at all to the scepter’s behavior, but again: not unusual. I suppose what is rare is a combat use of “arbitrary magic”; the unwritten rule has been to use waving random devices as utility effects, but never as a direct method of stopping an aggressor.

There’s even sensible reason for this rule: imagine you are fighting an enemy that will kill you in one turn. You want to perform an action to stop the aggressor. Given you have only one turn, testing magic items one by one (and getting clubbed by a mace over and over) can get a bit aggravating. Whereas, if you’re simply wandering the landscape and wanting to try out some ideas, a set of “nothing happens” messages before you hit paydirt isn’t nearly as irritating.


Immediately after the Orca-Cola scene, the author(s) left open the floodgates of Wacky Stuff. This (entirely optional) bit starts off painful for multiple reasons but I think the last line redeems it.

> get toad
As you touch the toad, it starts to swell and shange shape. It’s — it’s — it’s turning into a dwarf princes! She — she — she’s — she’s — UGLY!
— VERY UGLY!!!!!!
She’s 3’6″ tall, and 180 lbs., with black, oily, snarly hair, and three large warts on her nose, which separates two beady red eyes that don’t track. She immediately starts to say, in a high-pitched nasal whine, “Trying to pick me up, eh sweetie? Where do you think you get off? I’m a decent broad, and won’t have any of this. Whatcha doing around here? You one of those weird explorers who rip off decent folks, taking their treasures out of the cave? I hope you haven’t found the vault yet . . .”

A cloud of white smoke and a wizard appear. He is garbed in green and violet robes, and says “I really must apologize about this. She has no business in this game; she escaped from another game in the next town. There really is no vault in this cave…she’s referring to the next cave. Sorry again.” With that, he takes her hand, and they start to vanish. As they fade out of sight, you note that she has taken his hat, and is beating him severely about the ears with it.

I want to play a game as the dwarf princess defending her vault from selfish adventurers.

Scene the Second

When the dwarves of Moria dug too greedily and too deep, they awakened a Balrog that slew great King Durin VI and became henceforth known as Durin’s Bane.

> w
The bridge is broken here! Above you, the other side of the break looms out of the darkness . . . Or is it something else?

> jump
You just manage to catch the far edge of the bridge and swing up onto it. You are at the west side of the broken bridge, which quickly leads down to the west side of the fissure, and thence to the west side of the colossal chamber. There seems to be a faint, ominous gleam at the bottom of the fissure. Below you, on the side of the fissure, you can see a small ledge. You can get down to it, but you cannot see a way to get back up.
There is turquoise sand here.

> get sand

> d
You are stuck on a ledge on the west side of the fissure. You cannot go up. A strand of Grendl’s web, leading downward, is attached here.

> d
You are on a high, lonely ledge on the side of the fissure. Grendl’s strand passes here and continues.

> d
There is a loathsome balrog here.
You are on a lonely high ledge on the side of the fissure. Grendl’s strand passes here and continues.
The Philosopher’s Stone is here.

> throw sand
The sand spreads out into a fine, stinging cloud. Stricken, and taken off guard, the balrog stumbles back. . .back. . . and falls over the edge. . .down. . .down. . .down. . .and vanishes into the gloom.

Sand. The mightiest weapon of all. Clearly, that’s what the dwarves were lacking when they were driven from Moria. After:

> jump
You drop through an impenetrable gloom. Oppressive fear gathers, clawing at you. You are sinking into the depths of Hell, with no salvation in sight. The clammy, black air whistling past is the only sound filling your fear-crazed mind. You are tumbling endlessly, spinning over and over. Suddenly, you feel your descent slowing! With a rush, you finally come to a landing and find…
You are at the top of the Wizard’s Tower. Finely carved stone steps spiral downward. This chamber has a door on the east side, with the words
chiseled above.

Is it possible for something to be picturesque and memorable and bad writing all at the same time? The paragraph is dripping with modifiers in a way I haven’t seen since my 1980s Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and if this text appeared in a book I’d probably just close it and walk away, but in the context of this game (and having just taken out a Balrog with some sand yeah eat it Gandalf) my brain just went “neat!”

Another, More Annoying Interlude

After snagging the Philosopher’s Stone and a few other items I thought I had all the treasures, so I did the customary thing in Adventure-clones: find a place where I could leave my lantern off and type WAIT a lot. (And since four characters started to get annoying, I switched to typing I and took inventory a lot.) There normally is a “the cave is closing” type message, but after 100 or so turns I got nothing.

Another source dive, this time into the objects. And … of course I missed one. The very first one listed in cvobj.c, in fact.

{“several diamonds”, “There are diamonds here.\n”, 116},

I suspected, from the room number, that the diamonds were in the Timemaze, but I had mapped that area thoroughly. Resolving my dilemma took stepping through the maze map source code line by line until I realized what I was missing.

I’m not even sure how I would have done this! My guess is I thought I was in the room marked “D” when I tested the “past” exit but I was actually in “A”. One mapping mistake. Grrr.

Scene the Third, Whereupon the Cave Is Closing This Time for Real

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 white smoke). . . . You immediately feel the menacing presence of hundreds of pairs of unseen eyes upon you. As your eyes re-focus, you look around and find. . .
You are at the north side of an immense, high-walled arena. The center of the arena is occupied by a colossal jade idol. In the north wall, behind you, is a door.

Ah, the endgame. Where most large treasure hunts so far have fallen down. (Most atrociously in Adventure 550, which was otherwise a good game.)

> se
You are at the east side of an immense, high-walled arena. The center of the arena is occupied by a colossal jade idol, facing you. In the east wall, behind you, is a door.

> e
You are in the repository, where all of the implements and paraphernalia
of the cave expedition are stored! The only exit is to the west.
There is a little axe here.
There is a long sword here.
There is a broad sword here.
There is a spear here.
There is a short sword here.
There is a bow here.
There is a dagger here.
There is a quarterstaff here.
There is a halberd here.
There is armor here.
There is a “heater” shield here.
There is a round shield here.
There is a tall shield here.
There is a cuirass here.
Your reflection peers back at you from a mirror on the wall.

Wrr, is this going to take the Acheton approach and have you fight a bunch of enemies, needing to choose the right weapon each time?

> w
As you step out the door, your image also steps from the mirror, and follows you! Armed and armored exactly as you, *YOU* are your exact match, except that your good nature is reflected as *YOUR* evil nature. *YOU* will kill you, unless you destroy *YOURSELF* first. *YOU* are circling yourself warily, looking for an opening to attack.

Nope, just the one enemy. The resolution is fairly simple, so feel free to hit pause on your podcast device … er …. I mean stop reading for a moment and try to figure out how to win before I share the conclusion.

Bermuda Crystal Cave again, because it’s pretty and now I want to go there. Via Andrew Malone, CC BY 2.0.

> break mirror
The mirror shatters explosively, destroying *YOU*! You are thrown backward, throught the dorr, into the arena, where your screaming fans flock down around you, pick you up, and carry you off to a month-long revel honoring the glorious cave conqueror. . .

You scored 487 out of a possible 515, using 493 turns. You have reached “Junior Master” status.

I am not sure what’s with the score, and while the game was fun (despite the Timemaze) I don’t feel the dying need to work out where the missing points are.

For those waiting to get to try The Public Caves, it’s up at (just search for “Public Caves”) but I haven’t been able to get the “play online” feature to work. I’ll let y’all know as soon as I’ve resolved the issue.

As far as what I’m playing next, I have no idea. I still have Star Trek to get through (and I promise I’ll get something up about it next week) but there’s still a wide range of targets to hit in 1980, including our first non-English game that I need to play in its original language (since it has never been translated). It’s a language I know (well, knew) nothing about. Yes, folks, I am learning a language just for your entertainment.

Posted June 22, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Crystal Cave: The Real Thing   9 comments

This one’s going to start “normal”, pass through “slightly strange”, and get “Haunt-level weird” at the end. (If you never got to read about Haunt, you should, since no other game before or since has included references to both Cecil the Sea Serpent and Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior.)

Public domain picture of the Crystal Caves of Bermuda for spoiler space.

Last time I was stuck trying to find the pirate’s grotto, and it turned out to be my old nemesis, Missing a Room Exit.

You are in a secret passage running southeast. A second passage enters from the southwest.

From here I only had marked exits going southeast and southwest, but there’s also an exit to the northwest.

> nw
You are at the south end of a grotto. The floor is sand, sloping off to a beach, and a lake to the west. Faint light is visible to the north. There is evidence of a former passage to the west, but it has collapsed, and there is no way to go in that direction now. At one time in the far distant past, the grotto was obviously used by pirates, and there is the tattered remains of a “Jolly Roger” hanging from the ceiling.

Yes, now that I read it carefully, the text implies you can continue to the northwest, but I missed it anyway.

> n
You are at the north end of a grotto with a sand floor and a lake.
Light filters up from the lake, and you can faintly see an opening to the outside world under water, but it is inaccessible.
There is a ruby medallion here.
There is a heavy lead hammer here.
There is a large sparkling nugget of gold here.
The pirate’s treasure chest is here.
A skeleton is here, clutching a cutlass.

So, fairly easy resolution. I also realized I was interpreting the ruby medallion wrong, and it wasn’t glowing near enemies, but just near secret passages; this netted me an ermine cape and some rare spices.

Slightly more complex was the Siege Perilous throne from last time. One time I tested it I got this message

With a powerful roar, the throne hurls you straight up — you narrowly miss hitting the roof of the cave! Your fall jars every bone in your body, but you find that you are all right.

and I different time I received this message

With a roar, the throne flips you into the air to land on the ground in front of it.

but I was stumped as to what was going on, and had to poke at the source code before I realized there’s a cumulative effect going on; there are multiple “royal” type items and if you have them all something should occur. I also learned it’s a King Arthur reference.

Galahad is the knight for whom the Siege Perilous at Arthur’s table is destined. In the Lancelot, a knight named Brumand, trying to perform an act that Lancelot never dared to do, sits in it and is burned to a crisp. Malory says that Merlin made the Siege Perilous for the greatest Grail knight. When Galahad arrives at Camelot, his name appears on the seat destined for him.
— From The Camelot Project

The items needed to be sufficiently royal are

the crown (mentioned in my last post)
the ermine cape
a platinum orb (from the Time Maze)
a scepter (from the Time Maze, guarded by a dragon)

Getting the platinum orb was technically easy, but when holding it while exiting the maze, I was pounced by a spider.

A giant hairy spider, named “Grendl”, drops from the ceiling, barely missing you. It starts to chase you around the room, trying to get you!
A giant hairy spider is following you, trying to get you!

Again I was rather stuck here, but it turned out to be a simple solution. There’s a sword you just need to be holding.

Grendl pounces – – –
but luckily falls upon your sword, and dies!!

In context, it’s understandable I missed this: I was still reckoning with both the pirate and maximum inventory capacity at the time. In a more recent game I would be able to tuck the entire universe in my back pocket, so I’d already have the sword in my possession without any extra puzzle-solving effort.

The dragon was a little more obtuse, and seems to be intended as an inversion of feeding the food to the bear:

> throw spices
The spices fly through the air, forming a fine cloud. The dragon rears back triumphantly, ready to blast you, when the spices make him sneeze explosively, and his fire is extinguished. A very crestfallen and woe-begone dragon looks up at you and says “Mind if I tag along, Boss?”

Once the dragon goes tame, it follows you around and complains about everything:

The small dragon wails “Can I have some treasure, too?”

A dragon follows you, whimpering “Can I have a match, boss?”

You are being followed by a dragon, who whines “I’m hungry.”

Yes, I think we could all use a little more treasure. With the cape, orb, and scepter in hand, I just needed to grab the crown from the Fell King (who I still haven’t figured out how to defeat) and run. While sprinting away from the Fell King, I managed to sit on the throne with all four special items and get to a new area:

> ne
The Fell King is striding after you!
You’re at the center of the Hall of the Mountain King.
There is a large, bejeweled throne here.

> sit
As you sit, you notice the inscription–“Siege Perilous — Nobles only.” The throne silently tips over, revealing a hidden passage beneath it. This is all that you have time to observe, as you are immediately transported, whirling giddily, throught a region of ominous vague shapes, somber shadows, and sullenly-glowing lights! Finally landing with a crash, you shake your head to clear it, look around, and discover . . . You are at the east side of a garden. A murmuring stream enters from the southeast, and exits through a passage to the east.

(Before going on, notice this is a pretty classy piece of structuring: there’s the “realistic” outside with the ranger, followed by the first inner section, but rather than opening the entire inner game at once, there’s a secondary puzzle that leads to a second inner section. A careful structure can go a long way in making a generic treasure hunt feel dynamic.)

The new area has a relatively standard unicorn and djinni (I haven’t figured out what the deal with either one is yet) but also:

> w
You are in an immense chamber, exiting to the east and west. It is lit by flickering, smoky torches, each of which gives off a vile, greasy, black smoke. Indistinctly visible through the smoke, the walls are seen to be lined with galleries.
There is a unicorn wearing a jeweled collar nearby.
A gigantic idol blocking the far end of the chamber is facing you.
A gigantic orc priest stands before the idol, and says:
“You would be well off to make an offering to out idol!”
The galleries are lined with orcs, silently watching you.

I tried offering various treasures.

The orcs chant “That is not the real thing”, and throw offal.

After they rejected every piece of treasure I was carrying, I contemplated if “that is not the real thing” was intended as a hint.

… wait, they wouldn’t? Would they? I had a bottle of cola from the barn at the start of the game.

> drop bottle
The orcs scream “AAIIEEE – – – ‘ORCA-COLA’. IT IS THE REAL THING!!!”
A convulsive groan fills the chamber, as the idol shatters explosively.
Flying shards strike and kill all of the orcs, and narrowly miss you!
All the orcs vanish in greasy black clouds of smoke.
There is a small, exquisite jade idol here.
The giant, angry orc is coming after you!

If you’re baffled right now, perhaps this US commercial from the early 1980s will help. Yes, the premise of the Coke Is It! game has been found in the wild. You’re welcome.

(For those unfamiliar, Coke Is It! was an April Fools’ Day game where authors took old IF games and added delicious Coke. You drop to your knees and cradle Floyd’s head in your lap. Floyd looks up at his friend with half-open eyes. “Floyd did it … got Coke. Floyd a good friend, huh?” Quietly, you croon Floyd’s favorite song: “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke”.)

Posted June 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Crystal Cave: Siege Perilous   3 comments

One of the less-common Patterns I’ve noticed with games is to take an action which is somewhat abstracted (slaying generic monsters, say) and add personalities and/or ramifications (slaying monsters that turn out to have names and families, you monster). This sort of exercise could be performed on the standard treasure hunt, where the game chastises you for stealing stuff and points out how bad a person you are for playing a game. (This can occasionally be effective but is also wearying in the “you were helping the bad guy the whole time!” plot twist sort of way.)

The opening conceit of Crystal Caves runs along similar lines: having a cave realistically made where touching things will break them and a ranger constantly chastizing you for your plundering adventure sensibilities.

Except here there’s an “inner game” and the change happens, the ranger is never seen from again. (Except, maybe he’ll come back in the endgame?)

You are at the upper end of the misty lake.
You are afloat in a small boat.
There is a large rimstone dam here. Behind it, a pool of water spills steadily over the dam. The ceiling dips into the pool.

This is the location where I hinted at last time that it helps to know something about real caves. I admit my Zork training initially made me think of a human-built dam, but “rimstone dam” refers to a natural cave formation.

Because we aren’t talking about a giant concrete structure, the next action makes more sense. I don’t think any rimstone dams are holding back giant bodies of water as implied, but since this is the barrier between reality and fantasy, it works out:

The dam crashes open with a mighty roar. A gigantic wall of water leaps across the lake and down the stream passage, destroying everything in its path.

You have to be careful to stow away your boat so it isn’t swept away, but otherwise, this will reveal the inner game as well as jam the front gate so you can’t go through anymore.

You are in a large hall with a pool of water. To the south, a waterfall thunders into the pool, and flows out through a passage to the east. To the west, a hole in the wall looms beyond a small beach.
You are afloat in a small boat.

The classic Adventure dwarves start attacking you here (and behave exactly as in original Adventure) and the pirate is also active (and will take any treasures he steals to his “grotto”, although I have no idea where that is). The geography is otherwise entirely different.

The Hall of the Mountain King has expanded to nine rooms. In the center is a throne which launches you in the air.

> W
You are in the center of the Hall of the Mountain King, a large octagonal room. There are passages on all sides!
There is a large, bejeweled throne here.

As you sit, you notice the inscription–“Siege Perilous — Nobles only.” With a fearful roar, the throne hurls you straight up — plastering you on the roof of the cave!

To the northwest is a “bugbear” (although close in behavior to a bear; I think the name is from Dungeons and Dragons but bugbears in that game are humanoids). It is chained to the wall just like the classic one from Crowther/Woods Adventure, but if you feed it, it becomes a “well-fed” bugbear and still happy to attack you.

There’s a “King’s Dungeon” complex off to the southwest leading to a crypt. The crypt has a “Fell King” with an iron crown who will start chasing you if you try to take the iron crown. (You can run all the way back to the throne, where sitting while holding the crown isn’t fatal any more … but it doesn’t seem to help in stopping the Fell King anyway.)

The Crypt also has a “ruby medallion” which I haven’t fulled worked out, but seems to let out a glow every time an enemy is nearby, essentially behaving like the elvish sword from Zork. However, it does count as a treasure, and the Pirate has very grabby fingers, so I haven’t been able to play with it much.

There’s a Wizard’s Tower which you can enter as long as you’re holding a nearby scroll, whereupon you will find a Timemaze.

“p” and “f” here stand for “past” and “future”.

I originally hoped for some crazy “change things in the maze in the past to modify the future” type action, and I supppose it’s *possible* that’s embedded somewhere, but mainly the Timemaze is just a regular maze with two additional exits (past and future). One of the treasures (a scepter) is guarded by a dragon, where the KILL DRAGON trick from the original game doesn’t work. It looks like you can just take the scepter and run if you have some way of resisting fire.

To summarize, my open problems are:

1.) passing the bugbear

2.) defeating / evading the Fell King

3.) finding the Pirate Grotto

4.) stealing the scepter from the dragon

Item #3 is, in essence, the top priority for me because I can’t get much done with treasures being lifted all the time, but “find the hidden place that could be anywhere” type puzzles are intrinsically difficult to just work on.

Posted June 18, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Before Adventure, Part 6: The Public Caves (1973)   5 comments



The last we saw of the Caves series by Dave Kaufman was perhaps a little underwhelming. The game generated a set of “caves” in tree format and challenged you to escape, but it was arranged in a manner that didn’t provide any challenge.

However, Mr. Kaufman wasn’t quite done yet, and according to the date on the source code, returned to the Caves in August 1973.

PCC Nov. 1973. “The ‘Public Caves’ are ever-expanding and forever changing. Each visit, the graffiti is different; new tunnels have been dug and new caverns added. New names have appeared and there is always someplace new to explore!”

One of the issues (perhaps, the only issue) with both Caves and Wumpus passing into adventure-game territory was the sameness of the rooms. The Public Caves does away with that. Each new room is built by a visitor who names it, each room has “graffiti” that the visitors can add to.

PCC Nov. 1973. While a touch confusing to read, this is showing an actual gameplay transcript.

The system is very clunky (although to be fair, the first of its kind). You must type WRITE, MOVE, BUILD, DIG, or OUT in full to do a command. WRITE lets you add to the text of a room. MOVE gives a list of adjacent rooms; if only one room is adjacent, you are moved there automatically. BUILD lets you make a brand-new room that is linked to your current room, and DIG lets you make a new tunnel into an existing room (which requires you type the exact name of the existing room you’re thinking of).

You can only BUILD once and DIG once per visit. This does not seem to be due to the technical limitations of the system, but as a sort of social engineering: encouraging people to contribute as a mass group, rather than having one person dominate and write a lot of content at once.

During the weekend that this post is going up, a version of The Public Caves will be live at the conference Narrascope. (I typed the 1973 source code and compiled it with QBASIC, so it runs under DOSBox.) The plan is to take what is collaboratively built and make it accessible to everyone. I will modify this post after the conference is over and include a link to play online. (ADD: Here is the link to play online.)

(Incidentally, the Narrascope setup is using a batch-file loop, so it’s not hard to quit and return to make more rooms, but I’m guessing that was true of the original game as well.)

Now, is this an adventure game? This post is part of “Before Adventure” so I guess I’m still waffling, but mainly on a technicality: it’s a system for creating a world but doesn’t come with one. (Of course, it’s possible to render the screenshots above as the start of a world, so if you consider the November PCC article part of the source code then that objection is taken care of.) The other question is if adventure games need puzzles. A fair number of definitions require them, like:

Adventure games focus on puzzle solving within a narrative framework, generally with few or no action elements.


a video game in which the player assumes the role of a protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving.

although the mention of “puzzle solving” is more to distinguish the mechanics from, say, that of an action or strategy game. If you want to get technical, you could say there is an “narrative/exploration genre” but there needs to be some puzzle element added on to be a full “adventure game”. To which I say: fair enough. Game genre definitions can be useful for identifying what techniques work in which settings (see: Quarterstaff having a bad time when RPG and adventure elements clash) and isolating exploration games may even be useful in finding things adventure games can’t do that exploration games can (like having the audience itself make all the content).

But whatever this game’s designation, it gets tantalizingly close to a new era, and it seems like that’s worth celebrating. To paraphrase Stanley Kubrick, the universe may be dark and devoid of meaning, but that just means we get to create our own light and meaning to bring to it.

Posted June 14, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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For Those Attending Narrascope   3 comments

Narrascope is starting tomorrow in Boston (June 14th, 2019) and goes through the weekend.

NarraScope is a new games conference that will support interactive narrative, adventure games, and interactive fiction by bringing together writers, developers, and players.

I am on the wrong side of the country to go, but if you happen to be attending, I have arranged something special (thanks to Andrew Plotkin for help setting it up!)

Specifically: there is an expo room that is showing demos over the weekend.

Amongst the live demos there will be a historical exhibit with a game that has not seen the light of day since the 1970s. One could plausibly make the claim it is the first adventure game ever made. It predates both Wander and Adventure.

I’ll also be finishing my Before Adventure series soon after so y’all who can’t make it will get a chance to try the game out.

Posted June 13, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Crystal Cave (1977?)   9 comments

I should’ve known better.

I wanted something strictly traditional to trudge through, so I poked through my game list and came across Crystal Cave, a game from an unknown year and an unknown author but one that was made by modifying the original Crowther/Woods source code to Adventure. We have access to it because Kevin O’Gorman ported it to C in the late 80s from UNIVAC FORTRAN, of all things.

Boy howdy, did it break “traditional” in half.

(Year and author unknown-ish — I found someone asking about it in March 1984. 1980 is a decent educated guess. I also have a strong suspicion who the author is and may even be able to verify 100%, but I’ll get into that in a later post.)

If UNIVAC is ringing a bell, you may have heard about it as being the world’s first commercially sold computer. Here’s a spot from an educational video (1950-1952ish) explaining how the keystrokes on the keyboard are turned into electrical impulses.

By 1980 (or so) our code in question was running on a UNIVAC 1100, which had at least moved past vacuum tubes. It was still bulky.

Image from the public domain.

We’ve certainly seen many variants of Adventure now:

This isn’t like any of those. This is a brand-new game which just used the original source code as the base for writing a text adventure. There are very few elements unchanged (most notably, the dwarves seem to be identical to original Adventure).

The port I was playing gave me warning: while the game has some similar elements to Adventure it very intentionally deviates from them in their use, almost like a running joke. Acheton (1978) played with this idea a bit …

You are standing in the depression.
There is a 3×3 steel grate set in the ground nearby.
The grate is open.
> d
You fall into a well. The water is icy cold, and you rapidly die of hypothermia.

… but Crystal Cave grabs the idea, runs with it, vaults over the wall with it, lights it on fire, does an arts-and-crafts project with the remains, then lights it on fire again just for good measure.

You are standing before a barn at the northern end of a road. To the east is a pasture. To the west and north are woods. There are well-worn paths in several directions.
A Boy Scout compass is lying nearby.
You’re in the barn. It has been converted to quarters for spelunkers.
There are electric lights, and a number of mattresses strewn about.
There are some keys on the ground here.
There is a shiny brass lamp nearby.
Your wallet is here, containing 1 dollar in change.
There is a shower here.
There is a cola machine in one corner. The instructions read:

Here’s the start. Nothing too unusual so far, except the standard-issue bottle you get at the start of the game comes out of a cola machine.

Where things get odd is upon arriving to the caves:

You are at a stream exiting from a cliff. A sign says:

> n
You are at the mouth of the cave.
Ranger Rick cautions you not to take or break anything in the cave.
The gate is locked, and guarded by a Ranger. A sign says:

> pay ranger
You are inside the entrance. A stream exits here. A path runs beside the stream.
The gate opens easily from the inside. A sign says:
There is an ancient indian pot here.

Let’s back up to be clear: the opening is designed like a realistic visit to an actual National Park. (Except the reference to Ranger Rick suggests you’re talking to a raccoon, but that never gets spelled out.) The opening section is filled with realistic cave features. Like here …

You are in a long flat room, sloping along a trench in the floor. There is a hole in the ceiling, but you can’t reach it.
There are gypsum flowers here.

… or here:

You are at the intersection of three passages. One rises slightly, one drops rapidly.
There are helictites on the walls.

If you try to touch any of the features, they break and Ranger Rick shows up to chastise you.

The ceiling is covered with soda-straw stalactites.

> get stalactite
There is a Ranger behind you! He says:
“I told you not to take or break anything! Don’t do it again!”
You’re at clock shop.
The ground is covered with pieces of broken soda-straws.

Hence, as what I’m sure is a shock to adventurers everywhere, there are many “items” at the start that you must actively avoid taking and are there purely as realistic cave scenery.

This section is fairly extensive (it took me several hours) and the author clearly did some research; it takes a bit of a puzzle-solving leap (where it helps to know something about caves!) to break into the “inside section” where there are actual treasures you can get and dwarves and a dragon and so on; I’ll save that for next time.

My map of the “realistic” portion of the caves. The east side includes a lake with a boat. You can attempt to sneak into the far west side using a rope but Ranger Rick kicks you out.

ADD: Based on the conversation with Bob in the comments and some other research, I am moving the date to 1977. There is still a question mark attached, but that makes the game very early, before even the first wave of modified versions of Adventure like Adventure II came out. The game includes enough elements that are from the Woods version of Adventure (which we know wasn’t started until March 1977) that I’m not putting it any earlier than that; Bob graduated high school (where he saw the game) in 1977 so that does set a hard limit on there being some sort of version. The only way 1976 would be possible is if a portion of the game was based on the Crowther-only version of Adventure, but even then the majority of the game would have needed to be post-Woods.

Posted June 12, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mount St. Helens (1980)   7 comments

Via Google Maps and US gov’t satellite data.

On March 20, 1980, northeast of Portland, over the state line to Washington state, a series of earthquakes began at Mount St. Helens.

This was followed on March 27 by a pair of explosions, forming a crater at the north face; the volcano, previously dormant for over 100 years, began to spew ash.

Minor earthquakes and intermittent eruptions followed in the weeks after. The crater, in the meantime, expanded.

By April 30, the governor of Washington had signed an executive order creating “red” and “blue” zones of danger.

The Spokesman-Review, May 1, 1980.

While nearly all people were evacuated from the red zone, hundreds of scientists, campers, hikers, and curiosity seekers stayed in the blue zone five miles away. It wasn’t far enough.

Public domain photo from USGS.

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens exploded. The geologists Keith and Dorothy Stoffel were in an airplane above when the event happened.

From our viewpoint, the initial cloud appeared to mushroom laterally to the north and plunge down. Within seconds, the cloud had mushroomed enough to obscure our view … The pilot opened full throttle and dove quickly to gain speed. He estimates that we were going 200 knots. The cloud behind us mushroomed to unbelievable dimensions and appeared to be catching up with us. Since the clouds were billowing primarily in a northerly direction, we turned south, heading straight toward Mount Hood.

Robert Payne, Mike Hubbard, and Keith Moore were fishing, sixteen miles northwest.

Hubbard: We could see half a mile of ridgeline. The cloud suddenly loomed over the ridge as a wall. It didn’t continue up but flowed down through the forest toward us. The front was a thousand feet high—boiling, gray, turbulent, coming very fast.

I dropped my pole and ran down the bank. I looked back and already it was almost on us, a hundred yards back. Bob ran just behind me, and I glimpsed Keith forty yards back running from the river into taller timber. Just ahead of me was a huge maple tree, four feet in diameter. I dove in behind it, Bob dove in, and it turned black.

Payne: It enveloped us, pitch black and indescribably hot. Thunder like heavy artillery close by lasted ten seconds—trees coming down, I think. Then came heavy rumbling and thunder from the mountain, and lightning in the cloud. A fierce wind knocked me back onto Mike. It lasted half a minute. It was like Navy boot camp when we jumped into water with fire on it, but this much hotter and longer.

Venus Dergan and Roald Reitan were camping 30 miles away.

As they scrambled to the car, a lahar from the eruption was speeding down the river towards them—hot mud from the volcano that had been cooled by the river until it was the temperature of bath water. Upriver from their campsite, they could see a train trestle holding back a mass of mud and debris. Their car wouldn’t start and they watched as the mudflow hit the train trestle, unleashing the debris that quickly engulfed their car. They climbed to the roof, the mudflow picking up the car and sweeping it upriver. Dergan and Reitan were thrown into the river, which had quadrupled in size, as their car drifted away like a boat.

All the people mentioned above survived, but not everyone did; in the end, 57 people died.

A month later, Victor Albino decided to write a game based on the events (originally, it appears, for the Commodore PET). In March 1981 it landed in the magazine SoftSide for the TRS-80.

Victor writes:

“Volcano” is an TRS-80 educational adventure game requiring at least 16K memory.

As one of the snow-capped jewels of Washington’s Cascade Range, Mount St. Helens ruled with majestic silence for 123 years. Then on Sunday, May 18, 1980 at 8:32 a.m., it erupted in a mammoth fury which paralyzed much of the Pacific Northwest.

Despite these elements and the odds, almost 200 people were saved from the mountain by brave crews in rescue helicopters. This program, based on actual eyewitness accounts, recreates the experiences related by these survivors.

If you had been one of those present near the mountain that Sunday morning, would you have managed to survive?

The TRS-80 version of the game is fairly serious about the educational angle, even giving a volcano diagram and a glossary of terms.

I’ve merged two screenshots here, with the four lines of text and the image that followed it.

The game is also the first “pure” choice-based game written for a computer that I know of; that is, it could be rendered strictly as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.

There is no “world state” or “inventory” because every wrong move you take will kill you. Under Sam Kabo Ashwell’s taxonomy, it’s a deadly gauntlet.

Here is the result of choice #1:

Choice #2:

Choice #3 (the correct one):

This is three screenshots merged into one.

I’m guessing you get the idea — by the end you get rescued by helicopter (depending on which version you’re playing, with a little animation to go with it).

If you’d like to partake of this unique piece of computing history, this link will play the TRS-80 version online, or you can download the 1980 Commodore PET version here.

Posted June 11, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kadath: So Black as to Be the Colour of Space Itself   2 comments

This game ended up around 2 hours long; if you’re interested in trying it, the Commodore 64 version is fine (link to play online). As far as *if* you should play it — if the idea of playing the first gamebook-form computer game appeals to you, or playing the first Lovecraft game in any form, then yes, try it out.

Cover via ISFDB; after this point are complete spoilers.

I. On the pentagonal map trick

Last time, I mentioned each main room of the game has five exits, and when you enter a room you specify where you go by a number (1, 2, 3, or 4) where the numbers represent the exits clockwise.

It worked for this game, but it wouldn’t work generally.

The map above is partial, but more or less represents my own game mid-play. I had mapped out the “Domed Narrow Band” room, “Two Bands” room, and “Domed” room. I just added the “Damaged” room and tried another exit, which brought me back to the “Domed” room.

But: where in the Domed room did I just arrive? There’s already a known connection (to the “Domed Narrow Band”) but I had no idea where the new passage is relative to the known one; that meant I couldn’t merge my new passage with what was there. In other words, the “known passage” could have been any number from 1 to 4. Figuring this out involved a lot of error and redraws of my map.

The author clearly knew his map was confusing and amplified the effect. You might go through a passage to a room and find there is a door to the left and a door to the right going back (that weren’t mentioned before) to find only one of them goes back to the original room … or even find *both* of them go back to the original room, but one of them is to a different exit (so the numbers 1 to 4 now correspond to entirely different places).


In fact, I’m fairly sure my current map is far off from the real one, so I’m not going to reproduce the whole thing here. It turns out the winning sequence is short so I just needed a sequence that worked, rather than thoroughly understanding how everything connected.

II. So far

The game gives “progress reports” at regular intervals, and one more report when you die.

This was, in essence, akin to a “Story So Far” type update where a game gives you a running narrative of what’s happened so far if you restore a saved game file. (I most recently saw this in Heaven’s Vault, but it’s very rare in general.)

The reminder of days remaining serves to keep the tension up, and the mention of what items are found serves as fairly strong hints.


III. Instant death

There are no shortage of places to die. Some of them require you to actively take the final plunge.

Where could so many bones have possibly come from? Maybe I should get closer and check it out?

Some of them are a little more arbitrary.


I went the wrong direction.

IV. How inventory is handled

You’ll occasionally find an item; the game will either prompt if you want to take it with you, or in some cases if there’s more than one item, which one you want to take.


The “which item to take” complication keeps the puzzles from being too simplistic … but only barely. My first time through I had taken the sphere. Later I found an “AMORPHOUS BLOB” where my only option was to run away, and the game frets over my lack of a weapon. So … return to swap the sphere for the dagger, come back, and then I could use the dagger on the blob.

V. On winning

The start of the game states you need to

find and return the Eye of Kadath

invoke the Elder powers

destroy the Gate

The “story so far” bits helpfully fill in when you’re ready, so it’s just a matter of going to the right location and … typing?


This felt weirdly like a trivia quiz, but I suppose the effect was better than having everything done automatically. Having to type the chant was a nice touch, except my first time through I messed it up because my emulator’s apostrophe button was a different-than-usual key, causing the universe to be destroyed. (Little did we realize humanity’s fall would be due to keyboard mapping.)


This game was just the right length to get across the Lovecraftian sense of dread and confusion without overstaying its visit.

VI. On the gamebook connection

My main question by the end was (and still is) “where did Gary Musgrave get the idea for this?”

While there are many gamebooks that came before, Kadath doesn’t resemble any of them that closely (and I hope the numerous re-inventions I mentioned in my short history attest to the fact it’d be possible to be writing in 1979 while still unaware of all of them). Primarily, the choice books before that point had each numbered section as a plot-point but not as a physical location in space, and the idea of returning to prior locations in loops would be doubly weird. If anything, he may have been familiar with the Tunnels and Trolls games, but even those emphasized forward progress and were more into RPG elements than puzzles.

In other words, this may have represented yet another re-invention of the gamebook form. Cave of Time (the first Choose-your-own-Adventure) wasn’t out until July of 1979, the same month this game was released. Could this have been made immediately after the author saw Cave of Time (assuming, of course, he saw it in the first place)? While possible, it seems too heavily morphed from the CYOA concept to be a rush job.

We have seen some menu-based adventure games: Treasure Hunt (1978), Quest (1978) and Mines (1979) all qualify. Even if Mr. Musgrave hadn’t played them, it wouldn’t be too complex a leap from menu-based adventure as a concept to a game with more active plot choices, attempted atmosphere writing, and choices involving an inventory.

There’s also some element of text simulation-narrative games, yet another genre I haven’t written much about. Compare the march of time to that of, say, Camel (link to play online).

You have travelled 0 miles altogether.
What is your command? 2
Your camel likes this pace.
You have travelled 9 miles altogether.
What is your command? 3
Your camel is burning across the desert sands.
———-W A R N I N G———- Get a drink
You have travelled 23 miles altogether.

Alternately, note how in early versions of Oregon Trail you have to type BANG correctly while hunting. Compare this to the ending of Kadath where you have to type the chant. (I never verified if the typing was timed, but the game did indicate you needed to hurry.)

Whatever the original source of creativity, I appreciated this game was rescued from the depths by being ported off the Altair. If you’re wondering when the first “straight CYOA game” for computer happened (that is, one designed specifically for computer that only goes from node to node, with no inventory or the like), we’ll need to return to 1980 and a famous disaster that killed over 50 people.

Posted June 10, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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