Archive for August 2019

Dracula Avontuur: The Feeling of Being a Beginner   13 comments

I’ve been playing parser games for so long it’s often tough to for me to put myself in the head of a beginner who types things like >PICK UP THE RAPIER PLEASE and gets the response “You don’t see any such thing” even when the item is clearly in the room. (I just tested this on a real game — Kerkerkruip — and that’s what happened.)

Playing in a foreign language is a great way to recreate this feeling. I got the opening hints

SLUIT RAAM (“close window”)
KLIM GAT (“climb hole”)
LEES BRIEF (“read note”)
KIJK (“look”)
GA ZUID (“go south”)

and worked out a few more things like NEEM (“take”), but I’ve generally had enormous difficulty communicating anything at all.

For example, I found a traditional maze, the kind that needs dropping items to map:

For the life of me I could not drop an item. I tried every single word in a dictionary I could find, and then out of frustration

sneetje brood : laten vallen.
(Slice of bread: dropped.)

I still have no idea other than DROP in English how to drop stuff. You might think that LATEN VALLEN BROOD could do it but that really needs to be used as a two-word phrase (I think?), and this is a parser than only takes two words at maximum, including both the verb and noun. Relatedly, the order always has to be verb-subject, even though Dutch often prefers subject-verb; the phrase really should be BROOD LATEN VALLEN.

Here’s what I found at the end of the maze (I give both the Dutch room description and my best shot at a translation):

Je bent nu in een donker woud. Hoog in een zware eikenboom is een kleine hut gebouwd. De takken van de boom hangen laag genoeg om erin te kunnen klimmen. Er zijn vele voetstappen in de grond te zien.

You’re in a dark forest. There is a small cabin built high in an oak tree. The branches of the tree are low enough to climb. There are many footprints around on the ground.

Fortunately, I had the earlier hint to KLIM for climb and was able to KLIM BOOM (climb tree) to get in:

Je bent nu in een kleine hut bovenin een boom. Een van de planken, waaruit de vloer is opgebouwd, is afgebroken, zodat je daardoor naar beneden kunt. Je hebt van hier uit een prachtig uitzicht over het uitgestrekte bos. In de verte kan je het dorpje met de herberg zien. Een smal pad vanuit het dorp slingert het bos in. Ver links van het dorp kan je het kasteel van Lord Dracula zien. Door een vreemd schijnsel ziet het kasteel er spookachtig uit. Een smal pad loopt de heuvel op naar de ingang van het kasteel. Verder is de wand rondom het kasteel zo steil, dat het pad in feite de enige ingang vormt.
Er is een houten wig hier.
Er is een zwaar kapmes hier.

You’re in a little cabin in a tree. One of the floorboards is broken so you can get down. You have a beautiful view of the vast forest. In the distance, you can see the village with the inn. A narrow path from the village leads in the woods. Far to the left of the village you can see the castle of Lord Dracula. The castle has a strange light and looks spooky. A narrow path runs up the hill to the entrance to the castle. The wall around the castle is so steep that the path is the only way in.
There’s a wooden wedge here.
There’s a big machete here.

I could not get out of this room! Again, dictionary attempts failed me. I knew N (Noorden) W (Westen) O (Oosten) and Z (Zuiden) worked for directions, and I eventually found by luck that L is the one-letter abbreviation to “go down”. It is short for … I have no idea. I did also find that H means up, and I’m guessing that’s just shortening “omhoog” to the H since O is already taken.

I did get a little farther and explored Dracula’s Castle (with bedrooms helpfully marked SLAAPKAMER 1 and SLAAPKAMER 2) but I haven’t solved any puzzles yet; hopefully next time?

Posted August 30, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Dracula Avontuur (1980)   11 comments

Velen hebben reeds getracht de schat van Lord Dracula te vinden, weinigen zijn teruggekomen. Jij wilt het dus ook proberen…

To recap our past shenanigans with non-English text adventures, we’ve so far played

In all three cases, I played in English. Dracula Avontuur is (probably) the first original non-English game made for home computers, and (probably) the first text adventure in Dutch for any system.* It has never been translated, so I have to play it in the original Dutch.

Dracula was written by Ronald van Woensel in 1980 for the Commodore PET using only 8K of memory (tiny, see ADV.CAVES for comparison), but the text was later expanded in 1982 and ported to CP/M; what I’ve got access to is the expanded version from the author’s website.

From the 1982 commercial version.

The objective (as given by a note in your house) is that Lord Dracula has a great treasure, and you want to try to go get it. I’m glad it’s that and not “open parliamentary proceedings with interpretive dance” or “solve progressively harder sets of anagrams” because I’d have no idea how to solve that kind of puzzle in Dutch.

I’ve had to puzzle out what to type rather like I was playing The Gostak (which is a 2001 IFComp entry where the language itself of the game is a puzzle, and you have to infer what everything means). Thankfully, the game had mercy on me early and gave some possible sample commands…

Ik geloof, dat je niet helemaal begrijpt wat de bedoeling is.
Je moet steeds opdrachten geven van 2 woorden, je kan bijoorbeeld nu intypen:
SLUIT RAAM ,om het raam te sluiten
GA ZUID ,om naar die slaapkamer te gaan
KLIM GAT ,om te proberen dat gat boven je te bereiken
INVENTARIS ,om te zien wat je bij je hebt
LEES BRIEF ,om dat briefje wat op de grond ligt et lezen.
KIJK ,om nog eens te zien waar je bent en wat je kan doen.

…and for fun, for any non-Dutch speakers out there, what do you think they say?

Is “duivelaarsmunt” a normal Dutch word?

I’ve only made a smidge of progress, so I’ll get more into my gameplay process in my next post. So far I’ll describe it as “fun but exhausting”.

(*) There is another candidate, also in Dutch, but it could have been written anytime from 1980 to 1981, so I’m going to wait until I’ve done more research before playing it.

Posted August 29, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Oldorf’s Revenge: Followed by Snotgurgle’s Reprisal and Lynxor’s Vengeance   5 comments

I did finally work out the objective before finishing the game:

Step 1.) visit the residences of Oldorf, Snotgurgle, and Lynxor.

Step 2.) take all their stuff.

You never meet any of these … people? … wizards? … robots? … although you do reckon with a few security systems. Full spoilers ahead.

Upon arriving at Oldorf’s Castle, I found a wide-open area with no enemies or obstacles, just things to look at and secret passages to open.

Puzzles remained relatively simple. There was a room with “SHAZAM” on the floor, and while it didn’t do anything in the room it was in, saying SHAZAM in an adjacent room with suspicious footprints led to a skeleton key.

In a closet, going “UP” stated I wasn’t strong enough, but switching to the Strongman let me enter a secret room and find 5 gold coins.

Eventually, after looting everything I could find, I found my way down some stairs to “Snotgurgle’s Small Palace”.

You see a valuable cross upon entering the room, but need to realize that since your party isn’t automatically taking it, the cross must be out of reach. Using MOVE TABLE and MOVE CHAIR as the Strongman resolves the situation.

In addition to a talking pillar (where my Cleric’s ability to SPEAK came in handy) I found the surreal “Plains of Oxyxidies”.

Heading north, I had to do battle with a “Opthaplebian Eye-Sentry”:

I had to use the Wizard’s catch-all CAST ability here. It always felt uncomfortable to use since it can substitute for “real” puzzle solutions, but the manual does state there are scenarios where only the Wizard can succeed, and I’m pretty sure this was one of them.

After defeating the Eye-Sentry I found some magic mushrooms and took one. The game helpfully says “BAG LIMIT = 3: POSSESSION LIMIT = 1”.

If you come back here twice you can grab the other two mushrooms. However, if you’re holding more than one mushroom, later someone confiscates all of them, because you exceeded the possession limit. I guess this was meant to be a drug joke.

After the strange trip to Snotgurgle’s, I found my way to “Lynxor’s Caverns”. It was the only place of the three that felt properly protected. I had to use my gladiator to KILL a buzzard upon entering, and to take down some snakes later.

I had missed the “Sceptor” from Snotgurgle’s on my first playthrough.

There was only one place I got “properly” stuck, and that was a door requiring a tiny key. Scenarios where there is a puzzle to solve but it’s not certain where the puzzle might be can be very trying, although in this case I needed to just go to a “Merlinian Room” a few steps away and have my Magician cast MAGIC.

Having grabbed all that I could find, I went to “Sunshine” (the Wizard needed to CAST to pop open the last door) and made my exit:

For fans following the discussion in my last post, the Elf does get used one more time, but it’s in a way consistent with just sending the Elf solo to grab some gold in a small hole.

Without the character switching, this game would have been fairly bland; even though you could theoretically switch any time to test (say) if the Magician’s MAGIC skill does anything in a particular spot, the odd character restriction led me to only try it in appropriate places, and the game was set up in an easy enough way that it was never too difficult to work out what those places were.

I did also appreciate the solve-everything spell the Wizard had, especially since it didn’t *quite* solve everything (for example, at one point you encounter Lynxor’s “pets” which look like Egyptian cats, and while the Wizard can take down one of the pets, the Magician has to take out the other). I never did get close to running out of Strength; the game was relatively generous with it.

Weirdly, one thing I did miss was picking up items. While it seems like a convenience to dispense with needing to get stuff (and in general, why would your party leave behind treasure?) fighting my way to a ruby and then being denied the actual act of TAKE RUBY made the game feel slightly less like an adventure; less like I was “in a world”, so to speak.

Oldorf’s Revenge clearly had some grounding in RPG lore, and this game represents another “alternate universe” route that adventure game history skipped over. CRPG players are used to the many-characters-in-one aesthetic, but here it was a rarely-seen oddity. The good news is the same schtick shows up in the second game from Highlands Computer Services: The Tarturian. To get there, we’ll need to make it to 1981, and we are getting closer! I’ve got a challenge I’ve been putting off, but now is the time.

Je bent nu in je eigen huis. Er is een slaapkamer op het zuiden en een kleine hal oostelijk. Er is een deur die naar het westen leidt. De deur staat op een kier en een gure wind blaast zand en stof naar binnen. Door een raam kan je een bos zien.

Posted August 28, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Oldorf’s Revenge: Fifty Gold Coins   7 comments

After the initial puzzle I mentioned last time, there’s a fairly wide-open area bottlenecked by a toll bridge where you are asked to pay 50 gold coins.

The CAST action of wizards might be the “solve everything” spell, except the need for cold, hard, cash.

This is a way to force the player to explore the entire opening area, because there are exactly 50 (no more, no less) gold coins spread out amongst the map. In some cases they are in wide open places (in which case the game will say YOU HAVE FOUND 5 GOLD COINS with no fuss) and in some cases things are a little more secret.

Also note that, in general, there is no need to TAKE things; if the “party” finds something interesting they’ll grab it automatically. I do have to put “party” in quotes because of a very weird puzzle type in particular. In two places on the map there was an entrance “too small” for most characters to get in. If you switch to the Elf you can make it through:

However, the entire party follows along with the Elf. While you could suppose the crack scene above is just the Elf working solo, there’s another room which undercuts that idea:

You can’t reach this vault without the Elf. Then, if you try to say KIN, the game claims the character can only speak in their own language. The solution is to switch to the Cleric who can TRANSLATE and find out the word actually means GOLD, and if the Cleric then says GOLD, 5 gold coins appear and are added to the communal stash.

But how did the Cleric get in the vault? I can only assume that when switching characters, you really are “working solo” so to speak and you’re pulling them out from some magical reserve. Yet, this contradicts the idea of a shared inventory; later you get a magical sword, and while it makes sense to be held by the “party” it doesn’t make as much sense that the Elf is toting it around.

I think it’s possible the authors had two conceptual models going on at the same time but didn’t bother to resolve the tension. I’m going to assume it’s a traveling party still and the Elf somehow has the power to “pull in” the rest of the party. However, I’ve been stopped before in puzzle-solving by having the wrong visual image, so I have to keep in mind there really may be only one character in the world at a time.

This scene is the result of the Gladiator wielding a sword using KILL twice, once for each hand. It possibly is meant to evoke the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

For the most part, all the gold was easy to gather, but I was stuck for a long time at 45.

I had made a wrong assumption in thinking all the important clues would be textual, but there is one room where you need to refer to an item that is only in the picture (like Mystery House).

There’s gold in here! You need the Strongman to get it.

The fortunate thing is that the character skills in this game don’t seem to require nouns, so just LIFT works and you don’t have to play guess-the-noun.

After gathering all the gold, I made it past the toll bridge over to Oldorf’s underground castle.

This has been fun enough so far; I’m just hoping I don’t have to super-optimize my character swaps in order to finish the game (remember, you can only swap to each character 5 times at most).

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet: what is the objective of the game? Even this far in, I have no idea. It’s not mentioned in the manual, nor the opening screen. Who is Oldorf? Am I supposed to be killing him or her? Just stealing stuff and running away? The advertising says you are “looking for treasure” but given the initial treasure search was simply to get by the opening toll bridge this isn’t following a classic treasure hunt style at all.

Posted August 27, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Oldorf’s Revenge (1980)   2 comments

From the November 1980 issue of Micro magazine.

We’ve seen the name Highlands Computer Services (the duo of Butch Greathouse and Garry Rheinhardt) before; they published the graphical version of Goblins in 1981.

Oldorf’s Revenge was their first game (and unlike Goblins, they wrote this one themselves). It was originally called “Wizard” (and there’s a disk image floating around named that) but they changed the name to avoid clashing with On-Line Systems over Wizard and the Princess. Like Goblins, it’s for Apple II and has full graphics (“over 100 Hi-Res pictures”). Unlike pretty much any other adventure game I’ve seen, you play not a single protagonist but a full party of seven adventurers, each with their own special commands:

Via the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities. I’m not clear yet what the difference between a magician and a wizard is.

The gimmick is that you can change which character is active at any time with the command “C” (although you get a limit of five changes per character) and various obstacles can only be resolved via a particular party member; most obviously by their skills, but the manual does say “Sometimes the right person saying a clue word is all that is needed” so I assume it’s not always a simple correspondence between specialty and puzzle. The manual also says the WIZARD is the most powerful character and may “try and cast a spell at any time, but if the situation did not warrant it, he may not be allowed to or it may cost you considerable strength.”

Regarding strength, you start with a pool of 100 shared amongst all the characters, and while I haven’t thwacked it down to 0 yet, I assume that means YOUR QUEST IS OVER.

The “5” to the next of each character indicates how many times left you can switch to that charcter. I’m ok with a shared strength pool, but I don’t see any plausible in-universe explanation for the restriction to how often each character is used; I think the authors might have feared a “lawnmower” approach to puzzle solving but it still strikes me as clunky.

The first puzzle is a good illustration of the party system:

The door is locked, but you can either

a.) UNLOCK DOOR with the Thief, which uses 2 strength points
b.) CAST with the Wizard, which uses 12 strength points

BREAK with the Strongman seems plausible but it doesn’t work.

I think the downside of all this flexibility is that there might not be much object interaction outside of the skills, but I’ve only played for a short while so I don’t know yet. Onward!

Posted August 26, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Will ‘O the Wisp (1980)   12 comments

Will ‘O the Wisp appears to be Mark Capella’s only adventure game. It was released as a type-in for Nibble magazine, August 1980.

There’s also a Commodore PET version from the same year. The Commodore version mentions what the room exits are in each location while the Apple one does not. Given some of the room descriptions imply the player should be hunting for exits, I assume the Commodore version was written second, but given the added feature was put in by the author himself I’m happy to roll along with the easier version (you can also play the PET version online).

The opening defines the main character as male, which is actually unusual for 1980 — Aldeberan III did it, but you were playing a particular character from fiction. Here, you are a “country boy” engaged to be married to “Brunhilde”. You could “stay home and watch TV but then you’d never get lost in the forest and find high adventure and learn to become a man and what the meaning of life is.”

There is no “quest” at all given; you’re just hanging at your shack, and you have the option to go into the forest. Sometimes you’ll see a will o’ the wisp.

You have multiple opportunities to go back to the shack and I suppose quit the game outright, although the game itself goes meta in the instructions and notes “I’m sure you’ll go along with the obvious and get yourself lost.” A good number of the room descriptions describe the mental state of the player avatar as opposed to giving any actual scenery.

Eventually, the map settles into an “all directions possible, only one is correct, the wrong ones send you backwards” pattern.

The twist is that a will ‘o the wisp always shows you the correct way; that is, this is meant to be maze-as-narrative as opposed to maze-as-obstacle-to-map. This continues until:



Fantasy adventure games have always had a tinge of the anti-heroic.

In a typical CRPG, you might have a warrior who is especially good at lopping off heads, a wizard who can toss fireballs, a thief who can break through locks, and so on. The character(s) will usually have the right equipment to use their skills and if they are lacking anything, a few sessions battling low-level enemies and a trip to the local town will usually fill the gaps.

In an adventure, the protagonist typically has absolutely no resources other than what is lying around, is not particularly good at any action, and often needs to defeat enemies via improvisation, setting monsters against each other, or running away.

At their most competent, the stereotypical adventurer is a crafty trickster character; at their least, they are a bumbler who gets by on luck, passing through dangerous situations by having just the right items to squeak by.

I’m guessing you can predict already which end of the spectrum the protagonist of Will ‘O the Wisp falls on.





I really like that the game didn’t just start here; the player had to navigate a map the size of some entire other games before reaching this point.

Upon entering the caves, there’s three large open areas.

In the center is the “cave complex” map, which includes a classical maze and is all-round a pain to map. There’s one lovely death gag that results from you listening to the narrator:

In the southeast corner is a “castle” map, with the


Inside the castle, you can find both a magic carpet and a crystal ball. If you take either one before meeting Ralph inside, the result is ignominious for our “hero”:


In other words, this is an adventure game like Crystal Cave with a section where it’s crucial that you don’t pick up stuff. (Not like there’s much to take in the game overall — other than the aforementioned items there’s a bottle, an empty beer can, some bat guano, and a banana peel.)

Assuming you don’t steal Ralph’s treasure before meeting him, he offers to help.



(There’s a very Wizard of Oz feel to this request, which will be relevant in a second.)

If you agree to the request you get teleported back to the central cave section. You have to trudge through the maze to reach “EVIL WITCHES LAND”:



A bit more trudging and then you finally find a blacksmith with Prudence. The witch doesn’t do any particular action there and I was in fact at first confused — I thought somehow she wasn’t there in person. I finally realized I had to deal with Prudence, that is, solve a puzzle. This is the first and only puzzle in the entire game. You gather the water you see earlier in a bottle, then:



She leaves behind a BROOM which you can cart all the way across the map back to Ralph, who is pleased an agrees to send you back.






This was nearly a pure navigation game, like Dante’s Inferno, but I appreciate that there managed to be a sense of narrative even given this restriction. It had the will ‘o the wisp opening, the threatening maze, the straightforward castle (where the only real obstacle is to remember to not steal treasure) the slightly trickier witch area, and then the one and only puzzle; the map was extensive enough this still took several hours to complete.

The slightly-better-defined main character and snarky “narrator voice” also are pretty unusual for 1980. Like Mad Scientist, the author dumped almost all parser interaction, leaving the space for extensive room descriptions that read as if they’re telling a story on their own.

Posted August 24, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Lugi: A Great Future, Just Beginning   7 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 them not 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 solutions. 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 here 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)   4 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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