Archive for August 2019

Lugi: A Great Future, Just Beginning   4 comments

I got the highest rank possible, so I think it’s safe to call this done.

Clearly, the best room in the game.

How to Win

In the end, I had to treat this like a strategy game, and that included just resetting altogether if the opening configuration was unfavorable.

1.) Pick a “long” time limit even though a shorter limit gives a point bonus; the extra time to pick up gleeps ends up making up for the loss.

2.) Keep track of the sledgehammer when you find it. When you encounter the guard with his back turned, KILL GUARD WITH SLEDGEHAMMER. He’ll drop a bottle (keep but don’t drink it (it’s Lugi pheromone and you’ll die via “lust-crazed Lugimen”).

3.) When you meet the sick Lugiman, be sure to >SPIT.

4.) Your pockets hold a maximum of 15 gleeps. When you find the bag, make sure you transfer all your gleeps to the bag as you go. You should be able to rack up over 100 if you wander the map long enough.

5.) Feel free to grab the acetone and apply it to the keys if you find both; on my “winning run” I ended up not going through this sequence. If you do get the keys and find the car, you can OPEN TRUNK at get some nitroglycerin inside. The nitro can be thrown at some carnivorous plants (assuming that room exists) for bonus points. If you START CAR after removing the nitro you will escape the embassy; this is an alternative to the balcony.

6.) Try to visit every room; this may require a lot of repetition, but since gleeps appear at random as you keep cycling through rooms, you’ll be gaining points as you go. The extra bonus for visiting all 35 rooms is 80.

7.) You don’t have to visit the emperor to get that 80-point bonus. I still don’t know what to do in that room (his dog is very interested in your empty acetone can if you have one, but that doesn’t stop the guards from shooting).

8.) Don’t touch the half-eaten sandwich (that seems like it might be the actual source of the plague and not the unhealthy Lugiman? I never was quite able to work out the pattern.) If you have a small creature latches itself to your leg and you have the gum, THROW GUM will catch its attention: “The scaly thing on your leg leaps for the gum, begins chewing it frantically, and, in a state of ecstacy, passes out on the floor.” You can’t escape via balcony if it is attached (as far as I can tell, for the car escape it doesn’t matter).

****************** YOUR SCORE ******************
For escaping: 100 points
Killing the guard: 40 points
Dealing with
unhealthy Lugiman: 40 points
Difficulty of game: 0 points
Objects picked up: 50 points
Bringing out gleeps
and alien objects: 176 points
Rooms explored: 105 points
Finding every room: 80 points

Your accomplishments are called “astounding!” The president himself decorates you. You have a great future, just beginning, in the CIA.

The Sense of Humor

There are very few comedy-style games in this era. Probably this game’s closet comparison is Haunt, but while that game has a goofy premise it doesn’t really try to make outright jokes. So if nothing else, I appreciated the surreal splashes in Lugi like a room where lizards are filling out paperwork or the deadpan Adventure reference:

You’re in the Hall of the Mountain King. Anyway, that’s what it looks like.

Really, what does a Hall of the Mountain King look like?

Like many mainframe games we’ve played not based on Adventure (this includes Castle, Mystery Mansion, Library, Alderbaran III, Battleship, and Haunt) there are a few raunchy bits, like this poem in the Men’s Room:

You attempt to translate from the Lugonian:
There was once an explorer [lit. conqueror] named [ “PF”isQ” ]
Whose [shoulders? hips? knees?] were exceedingly brisk
So swift was his action
That [? “Ra!oyguo”, prob. scientific term] contraction
Diminished his [? Ancient High Tongue: cattleprod] to a disk.

The “Ancient High Tongue” is what pushes this joke over the top for me. Unfortunately, I’d say the other raunchy jokes swing and miss (including the fact you can urinate or defacate anywhere, and FART makes a blinding cloud of gas in most rooms).

I do want to re-emphasize: adult and/or gross-out elements are part of nearly every mainframe game from this era that’s not based on Adventure. (The only exceptions are the British games like Acheton which copied the Adventure format, and the non-English games Stuga and Ringen.) I am assuming this had to do with them being created by college students of a particular age but also not them having any commercial aspirations.

Could An Adventure-Roguelike Be Satisfying?

By “Adventure-Roguelike” I’m not meaning a RPG/roguelike that happens to be in text adventure form (like Kerkerkruip or any MUD that lends itself to single-player); I’m meaning a scenario where puzzles form the primary gameplay, yet the environment is still highly generative.

I’ve already delineated the main issue in a previous post: when the environment is randomized, it’s very hard to solve puzzles in an exploratory, systematic way. I see a few fixes that are already present in Lugi in some form; they just need to be amplified a little:

Fix #1: Make very few (or no) events have immediate-game-ending be the consequence of failure. It could drain some resource if a situation is handled unsuccessfully (like health or time); this will allow and encourage more experimentation. Lugi does already have a few parts where you just “lose time” as opposed to losing the game, but for the most part, failure means death.

Fix #2: Amplify the ability to have multiple soltuions. Again, Lugi does a little bit of this (note the two entirely different methods of escape) but in a case where stakes are higher, I think it’s more important to accept any reasonable puzzle solution as working either completely or partially. (Perhaps a “less optimal” puzzle solve could burn a little of a resource, but less than if the puzzle was failed altogether. Lugi has this happen with the guard with his back turned; if you don’t have a sledgehammer but do have the nitroglycerin, you can kill the guard with the nitro, except the guard will be able to signal an alarm reducing your overall time.)

and relatedly, Fix #3: Have emergency items that can substitute for puzzle-solving. This sort of technique shows up the Brian Moriarty games Wishbringer and Beyond Zork; for example, in Wishbringer, while every puzzle is solvable without using it, applying one of the wishes from the Wishbringer stone will work for any puzzle. Beyond Zork had a (limited charge) wand of death that could be used to defeat an enemy in lieu of a puzzle-solving method.

What I’m not certain about fixing is the static nature of the puzzles themselves. Lugi does a valiant try at making each map give the player slightly different resources to work with, but in the end I was still repeating the same actions and as opposed to solving through things in different ways. It may be the real fix is to simply embrace strategy and RPG elements. Lugi is such a singular game, and it’s hard to know if the premise could work without more examples.

Lugi ran on Stanford’s Low Overhead Timesharing System; this is one of the custom memory controllers Stanford used (since LOTS needed more users than a standard DEC mainframe could handle).

Posted August 21, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Lugi: Rooms   8 comments

The Lugimen from this game come from Arcturus IV. While the star is real (fourth brightest in the sky) the planet is so far speculative. It still has made an appearance both in Marvel comics with the Caretakers of Arcturus starting in 1974, and an earlier “classroom project” volume from MIT which made a mock-case study of an alien race.

Arcturus IV Case Study (1953). From the Internet Archive.

It’s possible the authors of Lugi intended to reference the Marvel comic here (the Caretakers have “warps that transport them from Arcturus IV to the Savage Land on Earth“) or it could be that another appearance of the fourth planet of Arcturus is a meaningless coincidence.

The instructions state there are always exactly 35 rooms. I can now say with confidence the game draws them from a “pool” so on a given run you will not see all possible rooms. Here’s a selection; for the most part, the exits from a particular room are also generated at random.

You’re in an air vent looking down over the Lugonian mess hall, where thousands of the fiends are eating a disgusting lunch.

You’d better get out QUICK, or they’ll spot you!

This is a “real time” room — when the game says you need to get out quick, you genuinely need to type fast enough. If you do not, there’s a warning sound and you lose some of your “overall time” pool which determines when the Lugimen find you and eat you.

You’re in a dingy white cubicle, with a cabinet at the far end.

The cabinet here is openable, and you will always find Lysol, Flysol, and Raid. (The Flysol makes flies.)

You are in a large bare chamber holding a huge NASA astronaut centrifuge. It isn’t plugged in. There are about a hundred gleeps inside the cage.

This is a trap; if you try to get the gleeps (which are Lugi-currency but still seem to count only for points) a small child Lugiman plugs in the centrifuge and you go splat.

You’re in a grisly chamber with whips, chains, tongs, an iron maiden with a skeleton in it, and a large drainpipe in the middle of the floor. There is a CIA badge on the table, next to a large hibachi.

This one’s another trap.

You pull at it, and discover that a thin thread is attached to it…

It’s a booby trap for sentimental CIA agents! Ports spring open in the walls, deadly muzzles protrude, and Lugonian heat rays burn you to a crisp.

The vast majority of rooms don’t add “interesting” features, they’re just descriptive, like

You’re in a wax-museum replica of a WWI army recruitment office.


You are in a little brick house in the middle of the woods.


You’re sitting in a pile of fluffy cloth. A small voice says, “I strongly recommend the fiction of Alfred Bester.”


You are looking down over a vast– no, an endless sea of shifting gray nothingness, a nothingness so absolute that you cannot bear to look at it, for you feel that you will go mad. In the great distance, shrouded by mist and haze, are many huge forms, like gigantic statues, with shapes that, even at this distance, appear hideous and malformed. A sign on the wall reads “Chew Zqrgley’s gum!”

(There is a piece of gum elsewhere that turns into tar if you chew it — I haven’t found a use for it.)

The only rooms that are guaranteed to appear are the car room, the console room that can zap you over to Arcturus IV with the emperor, and the escape room. I’ve mentioned them before, but let me quote in full:


You’re in a grimy new-car showroom with a huge glass window, luridly painted on the outside, looking out onto a busy street. You see that you are nearly two miles from the Embassy.
There is one dust-coated car here, a model made eight years ago.


You’re in a humming, buzzing control room, with many switches and buttons.
There is a dazzling flash of light, and a sudden wrenching discontinuity as the floor seems to heave madly. You recover in moments…

You are inside a small cylindrical metal cage, one of many along one wall of a huge room. The only features inside are a small metal shelf and a red button. The room is crowded with hundreds of Lugimen, most of them dressed in gaudy uniforms and heavily armed. The heavy gravity and noisome atmosphere tell you that you are no longer on Earth, but on Arcturus IV, the home planet of the Lugimen. At the opposite end of the room, surrounded by servile Lugimen and brutal-looking guards, a monstrous bloated horror sits in a heavy gilded chair. You realize that the monstrosity is none other than the Grugza Emperor Ra-Lugi himself, the absolute ruler of the planet, in his own throne room! Suddenly, the Emperor’s small, feral eyes meet yours, and he gives a bestial scream of rage! His guards leap forward, drawing their weapons! Things look bad… There’s a huge doglike ugly alien beast lying at the Emperor’s feet.

There is a small statuette on the shelf. Perhaps it is religious in nature.


You are on a sunny balcony over a busy street.

On the balcony, as long as you have a rope, typing OUT lets you escape. (Typing JUMP does too, just … not while alive.)

I mentioned last time the dilemma: spreading a lethal disease in the process. The trick to avoiding the disease seems to be handling this guy:

There’s a small, unhealthy-looking Lugiman here, a real runt, holding a cudgel! He screams at you in Lugonian: something about “filthy Earth vermin” and “stinking Earth germs …us allergic people can’t take it any more!” He raises his cudgel, holding his nose, and prepares to bash your skull in…

I decided to test all my theories which didn’t involve an object; fortunately, if a verb is *not* understood, the game does not advance a turn (so you don’t get killed), meaning I was able to go through multiple commands here without dying before finding SPIT:

You spit at the crazed Lugonian runt with the cudgel. It hits him in the face. He stops dead and emits a harsh, tearing scream! He runs out of the room, shrieking in mortal agony. The echoing cries are soon intermingled with harsh, racking coughs. He’ll be no more trouble.

I’m unclear why just running away gives you the disease but having him run away doesn’t. After this, I was able to wrangle a somewhat “good” ending:

You climb down the rope to freedom!

(Hit return for your score:)

****************** YOUR SCORE ******************
For escaping: 100 points
Dealing with
unhealthy Lugiman: 40 points
Difficulty of game: 0 points
Objects picked up: 35 points
Bringing out gleeps
and alien objects: 32 points
Rooms explored: 72 points

Your superior tells you that you did a half-way decent job.

So from here, it’s just a matter of how many points am I going for? I would like to try to figure out a.) is it possible to do something with the exploding car? b.) is it possible to do something with the emperor? I haven’t been able to test many theories in either, but I can say whatever happens I’ll finish up next time.

Posted August 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Lugi: The Perils of Randomness   2 comments

At the start of the game it asks if you want a “short”, “medium”, or “long” time limit. For the vast majority of adventure games this would affect the number of turns. Lugi, instead, keeps track of real time.

That is, while events can’t happen in the middle of you typing a command, time is nontheless moving, and if you leave the game running and come back, on your next turn you will undoubtedly get:


“Aaaaaaaaahhhhh, we found us some dinner!” (chomp, slobber, crunch…)

Additionally, there is no saved game feature.

The statements above would no doubt send many (all?) traditional adventure game players running for the hills, but I decided to try rolling with it; this is meant to be sort of a text-adventure-action-hybrid and just because a genre hasn’t been tried much doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad.

Still, the elements above plus the randomness plus the game having traditional puzzles makes this very hard to play. There are some definite “sequences” programmed in. For example:

You’re in a grimy new-car showroom with a huge glass window, luridly painted on the outside, looking out onto a busy street. You see that you are nearly two miles from the Embassy.
There is one dust-coated car here, a model made eight years ago.

The car is always in this room, and attempting to use it states you need to start the car first. Elsewhere (not in a fixed place) there are keys stuck to the floor. A different room (again not in a fixed place) has a can of acetone. If you open and pour the acetone, you can get the keys free, although the first time I did so I died because the fumes from the acetone overwhelmed me. I didn’t always find both the acetone and thy keys in a given play session, so it took some repeats before I found the same situation again and was able to redo the steps, this time immediately leaving the room after freeing the keys rather than trying to take the keys. This works (a creature licks up the spilled acetone) so I was able to return to the room and get the now-free keys. Then, I had to find the car (again, not a guarantee); when I finally managed to do so and attempt START CAR, this happened:

GrrrRRRrrrRRRrrr–VARROOM! The car lurches sharply forward…

KA-BLLAAAMMMMM!!! Something in the trunk explodes like a bomb, killing you.

I assume I need to OPEN TRUNK or the like, and then possibly solve some other puzzle to disarm the bomb. To get hear to test any theories out I once again need to have a play session where I find the acetone, keys, and car, and of course there’s no guarantee I won’t die again trying to solve a puzzle (I can’t imagine disarming a bomb to be super-safe). It may even be after seeing what happens with the trunk I realize there’s a fourth object I need to solve the puzzle, but I haven’t found that fourth object in that particular playthrough, and have to restart before I can test the puzzle again.

In a classic roguelike game like Nethack (with the same randomness and lack-of-saves as Lugi), usually death is the result of a combination of bad decisions and/or luck; even something infamous like getting turned to stone by a cockatrice makes it fairly transparent what the wrong action was (like: oops, you tried to pick up the corpse but you weren’t wearing gloves). With puzzle-solving in adventure games this isn’t the case, and having all the randomness can make it exceedingly difficult to test theories or have any kind of continuity to the solving experience. Another example:

There’s a small, unhealthy-looking Lugiman here, a real runt, holding a cudgel! He screams at you in Lugonian: something about “filthy Earth vermin” and “stinking Earth germs …us allergic people can’t take it any more!” He raises his cudgel, holding his nose, and prepares to bash your skull in…

There text strongly suggest there’s some way to trigger the Lugiman’s germophobia to do away with him, but you only get one shot before he kills you. In a “normal” game (saved games, fixed geography, fixed item locations) this wouldn’t be a problem, but an idea like “let’s try throwing the half-eaten sandwich I found” might have a 20-minute delay between conception and being able to test it. It’s also possible to run away from this enemy, so there might be no solution at all (although you can get unlucky and have an item you do need start in the same room as this enemy).

I have managed to escape, once, but doing so killed everyone.

You are on a sunny balcony over a busy street.

The instructions state typing OUT here will escape. If you have a rope (another randomly found object) you can do this, but:

Unfortunately, you carried the Lugonian Plague out to the city and wiped out eighty percent of the population!

On a different playthrough (one where I never found the balcony room) I managed to get a can of Raid which caused itching on my arm, and a “fungus” to be visible in my inventory. My guess is I need to be rid of the fungus in order to escape “properly”.

Also (only on some playthroughs) I’ve had

A small scaly thing lunges out and attaches itself to your leg!

who might end up being useful somewhere, but it’s possible the thing must also be removed before escape.

Posted August 17, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Lugi (1980-1981)   2 comments

One of the best aspects of doing a deep dive into early adventure game history is seeing the breaks from current norms. Modern adventure games tend not to have

(a.) randomized maps


(b.) a structure where there is not necessarily an “ultimate ending” and the “goal” is somewhat up to the player.

Aspect (a.) is just rare in general; we saw it in Mines, and we will see it again in 1984 with Chimaera. I can’t think of other adventure games offhand that have complete map randomization. RPGs had the “roguelike” strand of games which made randomization acceptable, but the Adventure genre never picked up a sub-genre which preserved the idea.

(b.) has been lurking in the shadows with most of the 1970s; original Adventure, while having an “endgame”, really goes out of its way to make a full 350-point run hard to get, and we’ve even had games like Mystery Mansion (1978) where deciding on a “goal” is difficult and the player can choose to escape the mansion while far short of the maximum 999 points. This sort of idea pops up again once in a while — see Ryan Veeder’s Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder from 2013 or Hanon Ondricek’s Transparent from 2014 — but again, it never latched onto any kind of Adventure sub-genre so mostly died as a concept.

Lugi was written at Stanford using their Low Overhead Timesharing System (LOTS) on a DECsystem-2060 by Jay Wilson and Paul Kienitz. The latter mentions Lugi on his webpage and has a partial Java port, but I’m playing the original Pascal version compiled by Peter De Wachter for Windows. (He reports GNU Pascal compiles it “almost out of the box”, if you are on a different platform.)

Text banner from the game’s source code.

You are a CIA agent charged with exploring the Lugonian embassy. Odd things have occured there, including the possibility that the Lugimen (who are from Arcturus IV and resemble trolls) have eaten several people, including (we believe) some of the agents we’ve sent into the building. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go in, explore as much of the building as you can, and escape alive, bringing any alien-looking objects you find out with you. The only known opening is a balcony high above the street.

The last agent to get out swears that the Lugimen use teleportation like we use telephones. He was constantly vanishing in one place and appearing in another, as were many of the objects he found. Also, the Lugimen rearrange the floor plan of the building unbelieveably often, though the number of rooms in the building remains constant at 35.

The last line indicates the main gimmick: the map is connected entirely at random. I don’t know yet if the set of 35 rooms is always drawn from the same 35 or if it is drawn from a larger set (so a room may appear in one game but not another).

Here is the start of one game:

You’re in a sunny alcove under a bright skylight.
Open exits: N S

There’s a half-eaten sandwich here.
There is a gleep in this place.

Here is the start of another:

You’re in a round, bare room with a flat black metal floor. A brilliant
point of light, brighter than the sun, dazzles your eyes from high above,
illuminating the empty area.
Open exits: S W J C

There is a gleep in this place.

(The “gleep” seems to be some kind of money — I think it may just be points? “J” and “C” stand for “jump” and “climb”.)

The map is so random that a particular exit in a particular room may lead to a different destination on a second trip. There are also objects scattered (again, at random) like a “stick of gum”, “can of acetone”, and a “flask”. It seems like I’m going to have to track this more like a strategy game than an adventure, where I’m looking for a particular set of items and rooms rather than navigating with a set route.

There’s a small, unhealthy-looking Lugiman here, a real runt, holding a cudgel! He screams at you in Lugonian: something about “filthy Earth vermin” and “stinking Earth germs …us allergic people can’t take it any more!” He raises his cudgel, holding his nose, and prepares to bash your skull in…

I’m still trying to feel out if there’s anything resembling an “ultimate objective”; the intro states to just explore as much as possible and bring alien-looking objects. However, there is one scene that suggests to me there might be a way to “defeat” the Lugimen. There is a control room I’ve found several times, and pushing a button always brings the player to a “cylindrical metal cage” on “Arcturus IV, the home planet of the Lugimen” with “none other than Grugza Emperor Ra-Lugi himself, the absolute ruler of the planet”. In all three times I visted there was a “doglike ugly alien beast” and a “small statuette” that was perhaps “religious in nature”. No other room has had this kind of item consistency. Is this just a trap, or is there some way to defeat and/or make peace with the emperor?

Posted August 15, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Escape From Mars (1980)   9 comments

I played Death Ship recently and experienced one of the worst parsers I’ve ever seen, so it may seem strange I’m coming so soon back to the same source (Rodger Olsen, Aardvark Software) but I wanted to see if there was any improvement since last time, and while I easily remember plot and puzzle details from games I played many years ago, exact parser responses fade fast (so I had to get back to this sooner rather than later).

From a 1984 Aardvark software catalog.

At least >LOOK lets you look at the room now. Alas, I still have to reckon with a parser that only understands the first two letters of each word and actions that do something but have no response (I’ve trained myself to *always* LOOK after every action that doesn’t get an outright “HUH??” but it still leads to a disconcerting play experience.)

From the game’s manual. The same paper gives an exact date and time of April 20th, 1980 at 4:30 AM.

I didn’t have as much frustration as I did with Death Ship, but my smoother experience came more from knowing about the Aardvark system’s quirks rather than actual improvement. For example, here are the game’s verbs:

REad, BReak, OPen, LIght, HIt, UNload, LOok, PLay, INventory, PUsh, SMash, TAke, GEt, TIe.

I found “UN” while testing a list of common verbs including UNlock, I didn’t figure out what it actually meant until later. Specifically, I found out the main charcter has pockets (pockets!) and you can OPEN POCKET and LOOK POCKET to find a lighter and a harmonica; for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to get the items out (just GET HARMONICA or EMPTY POCKET didn’t work). I eventually resorted to testing each of my two-letter verbs, already having assumed UN meant UNLOCK, but after typing UN I found the pocket items had been moved to my inventory. When things are this meta the parser itself can be a puzzle.

Escape From Mars, as the title implies, strands you on Mars with a crashed spaceship.

You need to replace an “injector” as well as make some fuel. To make fuel, you need


This style of the minimalist game relies a bit on outside imagery — i.e. you know what a dragon ought to look like, so THERE IS A DRAGON HERE conveys something without further details — but I admit I was a little fuzzy as to what conception of Mars this was.

Most of the map, excluding connections off the “Deserted Room”; I’ll talk about that in a moment.

Immediately upon setting foot outside the spaceship I stepped on a “barren plain” to find a “sandsled”, a “statue of flute player” and “airrocks”. What are airrocks? Is the flute player supposed to look human-ish or like a crazy tentacle monster? At least I guessed correctly the sandsled was a large vehicle rather than a small toy. (If you GO SANDSLED you find a jeweled club which is useful for breaking things.)

Directly north and south of the plain are moats with water — moats to what? Are there buildings? How does one transition directly from a barren plain to a pool of water?

A short distance away is “Xptl’s Shop of Mating Scents”. What does this shop look like? Do I want to know? How do you pronounce “Xptl” anyway?

I wouldn’t say the rooms are mashed together randomly, just it came off as if there was a background setting in mind only known to the author. To make an analogy, imagine coming across a scene with a minimally-described dragon without knowing what a dragon is.

This had real gameplay implications: there is a rustling sound you occasionally hear, and with a little effort you can get a martian to come into the room.








Again, I had no idea what to visualize, because there are enormous variations on what “Martian” can mean. I ended up settling on Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes.

The actual NASA Mars Spirit Rover mission patch.

This was partly to make me feel better about what came next: the appropriate action is to GET MARTIAN (and then specify you want to use a NET). Actually arriving at the idea that getting the Martian in a “net” was even feasible required visualizing the scene at least somewhat like the author; at first I imagined something the alien as being little less, ah, portable.

Once “netified” you can then take the Martian’s helmet which is useful for … carrying water. Yep.

This ended up being a “hub” game design where the goal was simply to gather the ingredients. After collecting the WATER, POT, TUBING, and GRAIN, the right action was LIGHT FIRE, and no, I did not come up with that on my own; the action requires referring to a noun which does not yet exist, which is a high-risk endeavor even for games with a decent parser.

There’s one more major bit of interest: from the “Deserted Room” on the east side of the map above, there are two hidden exits: you can either TAKE RUG revealing a trapdoor, or BREAK MIRROR revealing a passage up with a rope. You can then either use the rope on an empty well to climb down or use the trapdoor (you need sneakers for the latter to avoid sliding and falling). Either action leads you to the same place, an area where you can get a replacement injector and the tubing for making fuel. While we’ve seen a fair number of alternate routes in games (prominently Zork) those instances had sprawling maps; this is a tight (8K) sized one where the author nevertheless put enough thought into the geography to have the same area reachable in two ways.

Posted August 14, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Scientist (1980)   2 comments


From Softside Selections #44, 1983.

Mad Scientist was a type-in by Thomas Hamlin III printed in the November 1980 issue of Softside (dated April 26, giving an idea how much lag between writing and publication there could be). It was later reprinted in 1983 and just to share what kind of pain these sort of things were, here is the source code from the 1983 edition:

By 1983, Softside printed their adventures with an encryption algorithm so that people couldn’t spoil the events of a game for themselves by typing it in. While this might be faintly positive, it meant typing pages of gibberish.


This game falls in my theoretical puzzle-sparse-exploration-heavy genre (see: Death Dreadnaught, Haunted Mansion) where the vast majority of the game is exploration. The only “puzzles” here really are finding secret doors by applying MOVE to things.


I feel like the plot must be eliding something: why do we know there is a beautiful daughter to be rescued? Does she know we’re coming to rescue her? How creepy is the whole situation given the “beautiful” moniker? I choose to believe the genre is “PG-rated 1980s teen horror-comedy” and the totally bogus dad pulled our best friend from school and we knew she was in danger, and the PG rating keeps it from getting too creepy. (This also fits the tone of the game, so I’m not reaching too much.)

Anyhow, as the all-caps intro implies, there’s “obvious directions” given on the screen, in compass rose fashion. Here’s the 1980 TRS-80 version:

Here’s the later Apple II port:

I ended up playing the Apple II version because it runs faster (the TRS-80 version even includes intentional delays on top of being sluggish) although I did test out the TRS-80 enough to note this nifty skeleton graphic that the Apple version lacks:


By having the compass rose built into the interface, the author was free to have room descriptions that don’t bother to describe exits. This can result in elegant prose, as in this room description from Beyond Zork:

Home of the most famous of all Enchanters’ Guilds, Accardi is usually crowded with autograph seekers and hopeful young apprentices. But the crooked streets are oddly quiet today.

The effect with Mad Scientist … is a little less elegant, and sometimes the author describes events rather than places, so the map is a confusing mishmash.

Even given the weird inconsentency of room descriptions that don’t describe the room, I find something refreshing in the minimalism here that I don’t get from the standard Scott Adams minimalism. (That is, this is a sentence someone would voluntarily write, as opposed to being forced to have due to a lack of space.)

You embark on your journey through a gate which slams behind you; an electric fence activates. (This is already a little confusing, since the security system seems intended to keep people out, but it let you in; again, I’ll assume some part of the story is elided, with wacky horror-comedy shenanigans.)

After a little farther in, you run into a door, more or less literally, because the door isn’t mentioned in the room description. The game just says you’re at the entrance, and the compass rose has no exit to the south, so you have to try to go south anyway and get the response THE DOOR IS SHUT.

After opening the door and going in, the door closes shut and locks behind you. This is a relatively elegant way to set-up that the escape (after finding the daughter) is in two layers: first, get back to the area with the driveway and front lawn; second, get past the electrified fence.

After that, the map opens up quite a bit:

Really, most of the game is mapping and the occasional MOVE to an object in view to open some sort of secret. The command list is extremely limited; other than directions, I found just OPEN, TAKE, SHOOT, MOVE, TURN, and CLIMB. These days the limited-command parser is well regarded (see: Midnight. Swordfight. or The Wand) but the problem here is the game pretends to have a parser and objects, but really doesn’t. Mad Scientist should have just announced its limited verb set straightforwardly (like how Eamon lists its verb set if you use an unrecognized verb).

Rooms like this one and the supply room tempt the player into trying to use and/or take stuff, but it’s all scenery.

Early on, I found a ghost; I had one turn to react, but it was apparently the wrong reaction, because the ghost killed me. On a replay I found a LASER GUN and that took care of any ghosts (and skeletons) that randomly popped up as I explored. The game instructions hint there’s some method of handling the monsters that doesn’t involve shooting them, and the laser gun does have a limited number of shots, but I never reached that limit so I never had to reckon with whatever other response the game was looking for.

Next to the room with the laser gun I ran across the mad scientist himself.

He trapped me in a room with a table and surrounded by green burning flames, although didn’t bother to stick around in person. MOVE TABLE revealed a secret passage going down and I was able to escape. (If you go back to the same place you got captured you get captured again, and brought to the same place again; the scientist must be one of those loopy absent-minded ones.)

Nearby where the escape happens, there is a “moon room”, and a helpful sign indicating the daughter is nearby.

If you head north you find the daughter’s bedroom and can >TAKE DAUGHTER with you and try for an escape. Note that this is only open after you’ve done the escape from the lair; I had actually found the moon room early and was futilely poking around looking for secret levers and the like.

Getting out then involved

a.) finding the secret room with a switch that deactivated the electric fence


b.) finding a secret passage under a rug that led me next to the gate (remember the front door locked itself so I needed an alternate route to get back to the fence)

Then, victory!

Oops, wrong screenshot. (This happens if you try to QUIT early.) You’ll have to play the game yourself if you want to see the last screen.

Before closing out, I want to point out the blog Gaming After 40 played this back in 2015. It states that when this was written, the “best practices” for writing adventure games had not yet been established. This is expanded upon with a comment by Roger M. Wilcox, who mentions a “How to Write Adventures” article of Greg Hassett:

… split the input into verb and noun, look up both on a game-wide table of all known verbs and nouns and turn both into a number, then have separate code for handling each verb which you branch to via a large ON-GOTO statement. Rooms and objects were likewise numbered; room descriptions were held in the array P$(), object names were held in the array OB$(), and the room number that each object was in was held in the array OB().

Compare with a line from the 1980 source code of Mad Scientist:


“GET” and the noun it goes with are not treated separately! No wonder there’s almost no objects in this game. Most actions are bespoke. Consider also the code for “SHOOT” that goes with the laser:


The game checks if the leftmost 5 letters of the player’s input is SHOOT and if the length of the string is long enough for the player to have typed some kind of noun. However, the game never bothers to check what the noun actually is. It’s easy to take for granted the idea parser commands in a text adventure will be checked against some kind of world model, but in this era, it was possible to fake it.

Posted August 8, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

The 1980 Games That Remain   5 comments

I don’t have that far to go in 1980 (relatively speaking), so I thought I’d give an update on my game list. My original list was compiled from The Interactive Fiction Database, CASA Solution Archive, and Mobygames. I tossed some games off the list for various reasons so I’ll talk about those too.


Just check the All the Adventures list.


Two Programmer’s Guild games:
Dragon-Quest Adventure by Charles Forsythe
TimeQuest by William Demas

The two that remain from Joel Mick’s trilogy:
Treasure Island, Journey Through Time by James Taranto and Joel Mick

Four “private games” that Roger M. Wilcox published many years after 1980, I’ll likely lump them all in one post:
Space Traveller, India Palace, Poseidon Adventure and Vial of Doom by Roger M. Wilcox

The very last of the Greg Hassett games:
Curse of the Sasquatch, Devil’s Palace by Greg Hassett

The last Gary Bedrosian game, written in 1980 but only published in 1982:
G.F.S. Sorceress by Gary Bedrosian

Some random Commodore PET and TRS-80 games:
Will o’ the Wisp by Mark Capella
House of Thirty Gables by Instant Software
Mad Scientist by Thomas M. Hamlin III
Kidnapped by Peter Kirsch

Two very interesting and unusual Apple II games:
Oldorf’s Revenge by Highland Computer Services
The Prisoner by David Mullich

The publisher of Deathship and Trek Adventure had 4 more games from 1980:
Escape From Mars, Nuclear Submarine Adventure, Pyramid, Vampire Castle

Two by the coiner of the phrase “interactive fiction” which use a “conversational” parser:
Six Micro Stories by Robert LaFore
His Majesty’s Ship “Impetuous” by Robert LaFore

A fascinating mainframe game with a lot of randomization, but old Pascal source code is a bear to compile:
Lugi by Jay Wilson and Paul Kienitz

The follow-up to Deathmaze 5000:
Labyrinth by Frank Corr, Jr.

A game I will still get back to, likely at the very end of 1980:
Warp by Rob Lucke and Bill Frolik

I tried this a little and think it may get booted for being not-an-adventure, it feels more like a strategy game, but I haven’t played enough to be official:
Survival by Dr. Charles Kingston

There’s also one game (possibly two games) in a non-English language, but I’ll wait on listing them until I start writing about them.

I can’t know for certain until I start playing them, but I believe the only “long” games I have left are Lugi, Oldorf’s Revenge, G.F.S. Sorceress, Labyrinth, and Warp.


Medieval Adventure by Hugh Lambert
Published by CLOAD in 1981, I see 1980 in multiple places but I don’t know the source. I’m willing to go by year of writing rather than publishing but I can’t find that date in any source code.

Haunted House by Darren Deloach and Tim Koonce
Released “late 1982 or early 1983”.

The Demon’s Eye by John Dueck
A type-in published in 1991 (!).

Pharaoh’s Curse by Tim Koonce
From 1981 (probably).


FisK by John Sobotik and Richard Beigel
Definitely an adventure game (for mainframe), but I still don’t have a copy, and one of the authors requested (for understandable reasons which I won’t go into here) to leave it alone for now.

Manticore: An MS 8k BASIC Adventure by Anonymous and Jon Bradbury, also given as Explore by Jim Butterfield
I played this one and even made a complete map, but it turns out to be entirely an RPG.

Dungeon of Htam by Howard W. Sams & Co
This is an edutainment game where you solve math problems.

Dungeons and Dragons by Peter Trefonas
An RPG which the The CRPG Addict played here.

Eamon games like The Cave of the Mind, The Zyphur Riverventure, etc.
There’s quite a few of these but I’ve tried enough to say they’re essentially RPGs. I might be willing to loop back at some future point since these haven’t got the attention they deserve.

Time Traveller by Krell Software
Interesting, but more of an educational strategy game than an adventure.

Posted August 6, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction