Archive for August 2019

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

WATER, POT, TUBING, FIRE, GRAIN

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.

TELL ME WHAT TO DO? PLAY HARMONICA

RUSTING IS GETTING LOUDER

TELL ME WHAT TO DO? PLAY HARMONICA

RUSTING IS GETTING LOUDER

TELL ME WHAT TO DO? PLAY HARMONICA

RUSTING IS GETTING LOUDER

A MARTIAN JUST WALKED 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 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

Tagged with

Mad Scientist (1980)   2 comments

IT IS YOUR MISSION TO RESCUE THE MAD SCIENTIST’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER FROM HIS HAUNTED MANSION. THERE ARE MANY HIDDEN PASSAGEWAYS (OF COURSE!) WHICH MAY BE FOUND ALL OVER THE HOUSE. ALSO HIDDEN SOMEWHERE IN THE HOUSE IS A WEAPON, WHICH MAY PROVE USEFUL IF YOU RUN INTO ONE OF THE RESIDENT MONSTERS, THOUGH THEY MAY BE SUCCESSFULLY DEALT WITH IN OTHER WAYS. ‘SCORE’ TELLS YOU THE MOVES YOU’VE GONE– THE REMAINING COMMANDS YOU MUST DISCOVER FOR YOURSELF!

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.

THE DAUGHTER CAN’T BE REACHED TIL A CERTAIN ROOM’S BEEN ENTERED; KEEP THIS IN MIND DURING YOUR EXPLORATIONS. YOU ARE GIVEN THE OBVIOUS DIRECTIONS YOU CAN GO IN THE LOWER CORNERS OF THE SCREEN. SHUT DOORS AND SECRET PASSAGEWAYS ARE NOT SHOWN, SO USE YOUR INTUITION IF YOU THINK EITHER MIGHT BE NEARBY.

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.

HAVE A NICE TRIP, BEWARE OF THE GHOSTS, WATCH OUT FOR THE MAD SCIENTIST, AND, ABOVE ALL, DO RESCUE THE BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER!

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:

skel

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

and

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:

330 IFWH$=”GET LASER”ANDLF=0THENPRINT@594,”YOU’VE ALREADY GOT IT, STUPID!”;:TIME=15:GOTO610

“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:

335 IFSH>0ANDLEN(WH$)>5ANDLEFT$(WH$,5)=”SHOOT”ANDLF=0THENPRINT@603,”ZZZZZZATTT!”

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.

HAVE ALREADY PLAYED

Just check the All the Adventures list.

STILL TO BE PLAYED

(ADD: As of 24 October 2019 I have crossed out games played since I wrote this document.)

Two Programmer’s Guild games:
Dragon-Quest Adventure by Charles Forsythe
TimeQuest by William Demas (NOTE: Not played yet but now moved to 1981.)

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.

MOVED TO ANOTHER YEAR

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).

REMOVED FROM THE LIST

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

Mission: Asteroid (1980)   5 comments

After finishing Mystery House (Hi-Res Adventure #1) and Wizard and the Princess (Hi-Res Adventure #2) Ken and Roberta Williams decided to write a “beginner’s” game, Mission: Asteroid (Hi-Res Adventure #0).

It is easy, sure, but absolutely not what I would ever give a beginner, especially given the unintentional surprise ending.

At the start of Mission: Asteroid, your watch goes off and (after PUSH SWITCH) lets you know you must report for a mission:

Inside the building is a secretary who stops you and asks for a password. None of these work:

>SAY STARSTRUCK
>STARSTRUCK
>TALK SECRETARY
>ASK SECRETARY
>SAY PASSWORD
>GIVE PASSWORD
>GIVE STARSTRUCK

(With the last, for instance, the game responds “I don’t know how to give something”.)

I finally hit upon TELL STARSTRUCK. I can understand slightly messy syntax in two-word parsers when there’s no other way to write something, but there are perfectly grammatical alternatives here!

Upon entring the complex, there’s a general you are told to >SALUTE:

The general also says the information is “TOP SECRET”. There is a room of reporters next door and an amusing way to lose the game.

This happens if you >TALK REPORTERS. I think it may be the first “you can hang yourself by your own rope” style death in a Roberta Williams game.

Assuming you want to actually keep playing, the next stop is a computer, which gives you a set of directions for flying from Earth to the asteroid.

right for 10 minutes
up for 5 minutes
left for 15 minutes
down for 5 minutes
left for 5 minutes
up for 10 minutes

Just past the computer are some explosives; you’re never told they’re officially part of the mission, but you need them to succeed.

Next stop: the rocket, where a doctor does a checkup. He tells you that you are out of shape and smell bad and can’t go on the mission yet. You need to go to the nearby gym and EXERCISE and then TAKE SHOWER for the doctor to let you by.

Once past the doctor, you can enter the rocket. It has a throttle to launch and land, and four colored buttons: white for “left”, black for “right” , orange for “up” and blue for “down”.

I admit some confusion to enacting the “right for 10 minutes, up for 5 minutes, …” flight plan. I first tried just pushing black once, then waiting 9 turns (there was no “wait” command so I just moved randomly) then pushing white and waiting 14 turns, etc. This was wrong for two reasons. 1.) you’re supposed to keep hitting the relevant button the entire time and 2.) more interestingly, I didn’t notice until later that time was moving in 5-minute increments. So you have to start by hitting the black button two times (10 minutes) then the orange button one time (5 minutes) then the white buton three times (15 minutes) and so on. I don’t think I’ve ever had difficulty on a puzzle due to not understanding the flow of time in relation to commands.

After a successful flight, you find and land on the asteroid. You’re using a spacesuit with a very tight limit to the amount of oxygen, so it’s very easy to die here by getting lost. (It’s technically a maze, although I didn’t bother to map it; I just worked out the right steps to take and reloaded.)

I found a cave with a pit. I then had to SET TIMER (the game lets you choose how many minutes it will take) then DROP EXPLOSIVES followed by IN PIT.

Then, retracing my steps and flying the ship back to Earth… I blew myself up with the explosives. Whoops! I somehow had mistyped IN PIT I guess so my character was still holding the explosives.

Retry: set timer, drop explosives, return to ship. Flying back involves the same directions as getting to the asteroid but backwards (down for 10, right for 5, up for 5, etc.) I landed on the Earth and then …

…actually, let’s wait on the ending. I’m going to make a digression for a moment.

Even though it has roughly the same plot outline, I’d recommend the last game I played (World’s Edge) to beginners, while this one I would not.

I’m not even referring to the parser-level issues; just, as a game, this wasn’t very fun. In both cases there was a lot of “being told exactly what to do” and at a surface level, the plot interaction is fine in both cases. However, Mission: Asteroid makes a passing attempt at taking itself seriously, while World’s Edge is silly out the gate. Having to EXERCISE and TAKE SHOWER right before the mission just highlighted the ludicrousness of the scenario, whereas World’s Edge “jump in a silo and go, and the rocket disappears when you get off” setup pushes far enough there’s not even a veneer of verisimilitude, so that when we summon sporks with horns and find a hint given by a spork baby the effect is more comedic than cringeworthy.

Additionally, Mission: Asteroid adds timers. There’s a timer for the asteroid hitting the Earth, and a timer for the amount of oxygen in the spacesuit; it’s fairly certain a first-time player will need to reload their game on occasion, but having to do so because time ran out adds something more like annoyance than difficulty.

World’s Edge had no timers whatsoever, and while you could die via using the jetpak in the wrong place, or dropping the explosive plastic, those deaths came off as both necessary and amusing; the limited oxygen given in the spacesuit of Mission: Asteroid just seems intended to annoy.

So, assuming you plant the explosives correctly, have left the asteroid, and didn’t set the timer so far out the asteroid strikes before the explosives go off, you eventually get a victory message:

However, the game doesn’t exit you out, so you can keep going. (This isn’t that uncommon for this era — great, you found all the treasures! … eh, end whenever you feel like it.)

Whoever did the programming on this — Ken, or Roberta, or both — forgot to stop the timer that’s set to destroy the planet. So a short time after the victory message, this happens:

Yes, this really is what happens, this wasn’t due to a hack or anything; back in 2007 Carl Muckenhoupt ran into the same issue and managed to get both saving the Earth and destroying it on the same screenshot.

Posted August 4, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

World’s Edge: Finished!   Leave a comment

In my last post, I mentioned how much better the parser is in this game than the average two-word parser, so of course, I ran into a parser issue … sort of.

It’s the fault of the three-letter limit. Most games from this era (in order to save space) only stored the first three letters of any verb or noun, so there is no way to distinguish between a LADDER and a LADLE or a TANK and a TANGERINE.

I mentioned finding a jetpak. It came with instructions.

TO START THE JETPAK, SAY “START”.

I was thinking of the game-logic we’ve seen elsewhere where START is a verb. Indeed, I later tested it and found you can >START JETPAK (although I maybe should have thought a little harder about the fact you can’t do this while holding the device).

I also had found a knife and noticed >STAB worked as a verb.

I hope you see the problem now, because it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize it. Not only does “STA” map to “STAB”, but the game says “I HAVE NO KNIFE!!!” if you try to use the verb while not holding the knife. I must have not tested out the jetpak until after I had the knife.

>START JETPAK
DOESN’T WORK.

This led me to think I needed fuel for the jetpak first. In actuality it starts with some fuel.

I guess “stabbing that isn’t possible” would be the best response, but this was mostly my fault. The right command was “SAY START” (which is the exact wording on the paper!) If you do this outside the cave with the amoeba (the room description mentions a cliff visible above):

>SAY START
I AM ON THE EDGE OF A CLIFF. I WOULDN’T WANT TO JUMP…
I CAN GO EAST

At least I called the amoeba puzzle correctly. There’s a hole above the space amoeba room, and if you drop the exploding plastic and go in the hole afterward, you find the amoeba has been replaced by a pool of water.

The rest of the game is straightforward (it took me about 10 minutes to beat) and I was weirdly reminded of my recent experience with Lost Ship Adventure where getting past a “stuck” part led to a rush through the rest of the game. However, I wasn’t disappointed in the same way, and it’s a comparable enough situation it’s interesting to pinpoint the difference. Let me briefly run through the remainder of the events of World’s Edge first:

Once you get the glowstone from the amoeba, you can use it to find a “space-troll” in an adjacent room.

Getting by the troll has an element of the dragon fake-out in Adventure; rather than doing any puzzle solving, just start a fight:

>KICK TROLL
WOW! I BEAT UP THE TROLL! NOW *THERE’S* SOMETHING I’M GONNA TELL MY GRANDCHILDREN…

Also nearby is a room with “spork tracks”. There’s a “spork horn” elsewhere, and if you use it here, a spork appears.

You can stab the spork with your knife, which is just as silly as it sounds.

ITS LAST WORDS ARE: “PLEASE… PLEASE DON’T CRACK MY EGG…”
IT KICKS THE BUCKET AND VANISHES.

As intrepid sociopath adventurers, the next action is CRACK EGG:

A BABY SPORK COMES OUT, SAYS “GO BACK TO THE CAVE ENTRANCE” AND RUNS OFF.

Following the baby spork’s advice, you find a note at the cave entrance.

DROP THE POWDER HERE, GO BACK TO THE HOLOFAME, AND YOU’LL FIND A CREDIT DISC.

The disc gives you the hint as to what to use as jetpak fuel.

The water from the former space amoeba works; this lets you use it one more time and get to a city.

I’m not narrating the rest blow-by-blow, but here’s the general sequence:

  • Bribe a guard with one of the holofame cards
  • Find a “Starhawk Fighter” at “Honest Quoron’s Used Spacecraft’ and give it fuel by filling up a flower point
  • Fill a pistol with an energy capsule and blast open a safe with APC-80 crystals
  • Steal the Starhawk Fighter and fly to victory

Even though these actions aren’t hard to suss out, they were fundamentally more fun than Lost Ship Adventure. Example: In that game, there was a chest that was locked. You had a key. You unlocked the chest with the key. Great! Problem solved. (Yawn.) Here, you had a laser pistol and a safe. You blast the safe with the pistol, and the safe vaporizes. As an action, the first is pedestrian, the second is colorful and a bit amusing. The quality of puzzles was not so much about the difficulty but about the actual action being taken as a piece of narrative.

It’s tempting, when evaluating adventures both old and modern, to separate the crossword from the narrative (so to speak). Evaluating if an easy puzzle is any fun or not makes a good case that sometimes, they have to be considered both at the same time.

I mean, we used water from a space amoeba we blew up as jetpak fuel. Even though the game is quite explicit about what to do (we’re informed by none other than James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise), the act of doing it isn’t just a rote exercise.

If you consider the Really Well Renowned Puzzles from adventure game history, you get things like the time travel puzzle from Sorcerer or That One (You Know the One) from Spider and Web where the entire span of both deciding what to do an enacting the action are interesting at a narrative level. Compare to, say, finding a paper with the digits that lead to a safe combination; with enough atmosphere and context this can hold narrative heft, but too many adventure games consider the mere existence of a puzzle to be enough.

Next time, we’re staying with the “fly a rocket ship elsewhere to save the Earth” theme and visiting Sierra (aka On-Line Systems) in their last 1980 game. I’ve beaten the two Sierra games we’ve seen so far without any hints; will the trend continue?

Posted August 3, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

World’s Edge (1980)   2 comments

After the last game’s frustrating trip with one of the worst parsers ever, I thought it prudent to return to an author that seems to have his act together on two-word parser control: Greg Hassett.

It really is a relief to have a variety of messages that are explicit about when the game doesn’t know what to do, ex:

>STAB GRASS

I DON’T SEE THAT AROUND ME

>EAT KNIFE

YECH! WOULDN’T DARE!

>KICK

I NEED A DIRECT OBJECT AS WELL.

>KICK STONE

HAR HAR HAR. FIGHTING SOMETHING THAT ISN’T ALIVE. LOOK, I’VE HAD A HARD DAY…

>WAVE SWORD

WHAT IS “SWORD”?

These types of messages are essential to a good flow. When the parser breaks down, text games need to explain what happened as transparently as possible.

You start the game outside with some hooting owls, and find a barn with a letter from NASA:

Yes, the big future world threat is … smog.

Also, to solve our eco-crisis, we are stealing (?) something (2.2 kg of APC-80) sacred to the natives of another planet. This reads as if a pair of authors, one politically left-leaning and one right-leaning, decided to get together to write a book but they just mixed their paragraphs in alternating order without editing.

Near the barn is a silo; once you break in, the silo turns out to be a rocket ship, and you can pull the lever to find yourself on an alien planet.

Upon arrival, you find a very minor swamp maze, the kind common to Greg Hassett which lacks the east-one-way-goes-south-the-other type connection, and just includes a few loops:

As an aside, one of these days I want to come up with a numerical metric that specifies how difficult an adventure-game maze is. Ratio of normal-connections to crazy-connections, maybe.

I haven’t got much farther than that. There’s a “holofame” where I can try out a “credit disc” …

… and a “space amoeba” guarding a “glowstone”.

I heard secondhand the amoeba was the hardest puzzle. I’m not sure if I should be solving a different puzzle first.

I have: a sickle (which I already used to cut some grass), a needle (used to pick a lock), a jetpack (not used yet, but I don’t have fuel), a pointy knife, and a piece of plastic (that blows me up when I try to drop it). I suspect if I can get to the other side of the vent (mentioned in the “tall chamber” room description) I could drop the explosives down there and destroy the amoeba safely, but that would likely require using the jetpak.

As is usual, feel free to speculate in the comments, and if you know the game already, use ROT13.

Posted August 2, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Deathship: and the Parser of Doom   5 comments

Voltgloss (a regular to this blog) was very determined to see this one through (and gave me enough hints to finish as well), although getting to the end required plowing through four (four!) entirely different parser issues.

Last time, I was stuck in the ship’s hold, unable to reach the engine room which contained a ticking time bomb.

I AM IN THE HOLD
I SEE *HEAVY HINGED LOCKED DOOR
*A FAINT TICKING NOISE
*SIGN-ENGINE ROOM AFT
*OPEN DOOR

I had a “crate” I had already used as a step-stool to reach a high mast, but I had been unable to open the crate. I had an axe and had tried various permutations of
>HIT CRATE:

WITH WHAT?
?WITH AXE
NOTHING HAPPENED

The “WITH” has been pretty standard phrasing in two-word parsers up to this point when we’ve needed to provide a follow-up command; it turns out I needed to use just “AXE”. The interesting part, and parser issue #1, was that I had tested that exact thing, but on a second playthrough where I apparently wasn’t holding the axe. Rather than “YOU AREN’T HOLDING THE AXE” the game has “NOTHING HAPPENS” for every single response that doesn’t work. The entry box is entirely free so you could technically try to hit things with a >GOLF CLUB or >20TH CENTURY POSTMODERNISM and get the same response.

Upon opening the crate I found screwdrivers. Since the locked door is described as “hinged” I figured I needed to unscrew it, but I ran into parser issue #2: there is a flashlight that turns on with LIGHT and turns off with UNLIGHT. Because the parser only accepts the first two letters, UNSCREW couldn’t be added as a new verb. Voltgloss found the right technique was GET DOOR, which is one of those marginally-plausible phrasings that’s still unlikely anyone playing naturally would find.

Having tore the door down, I finally reached the bomb.

I AM IN ENGINE ROOM
I SEE *BOMB WIRED TO A POST

The ending puzzle is surprising elaborate and would be even a little fun were it not for parser issues #3 and #4. Parser issue #3, in particular, was that I realized a bucket full of water might be a good method of bomb defusing. There was a swimming pool with water on the top deck, but upon filing the bucket “IT’S LEAKING!!!” started appearing. There was still time to take the bucket down to the engine room and DROP WATER (hopefully on the bomb) but this was followed by another IT’S LEAKING message which suggested to me that I was going down entirely the wrong path.

Except … I wasn’t, and the game didn’t bother to make a special message along the lines of SORRY THE BUCKET IS OUT OF WATER. (Again, I needed Voltgloss’s hints to even realize this.)

In the meantime I had found a CUTTER by removing the nails holding down a radio. (Commenter Lisa logically asks what kind of radio would be held down by nails, to which I say: I have no idea. I also don’t know why the radio would be hiding a cutter.) I went to CUT BOMB and found a “wire” appeared in the description, but otherwise no change. Parser issue #4: the bomb is still “wired to a post” yet the bomb is no longer that well wired, because you can pick it up and carry it with you.

The bomb is too bulky to come all the way up the stairs to the water (you’re carrying too much, the game says) but by moving the bomb, I was able to bring it close enough that I could get another bucket of water and reach the bomb fast enough that there was still water left. After DROP WATER another turn passed, and then:

The end puzzle was a neat idea — you couldn’t bring one thing all the way from A to B, or one thing all the way from B to A, but you could meet the two things in the middle halfway. That’s far more sophisticated design than I expected, and it gives me hope that the next Aardvark game (Mars, finished between this one and Trek Adventure) keeps the interesting puzzle ideas and structure but has an improved parser.

ADD: In the comments, scaryreasoner mentions this game was later sold in a “learn how to make an adventure” pamphlet form. I think Mr. Olsen may have been slightly sheepish about selling it as a standalone game.

dshipad

Posted August 1, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with