Archive for September 2019

Warp: Everything So Far   15 comments

So, IFComp 2019 is about to hit, and I do intend to play and even possibly write about some of the games, but I also wanted to keep my momentum going on 1980. What better contrast to a bunch of small games than a very, very, very large one?

From >READ POSTER in an early room in Warp.

I will try to keep my Warp posts to a more-or-less weekly pace, and put my IFComp posts in between.

You may want to read my old entries, but the summary is: Warp was an attempt one-up Zork developed all the way from 1980 to 1985, and made gigantic in the process. The sole objective is to gather all the treasures and get all the points (1216 of them). Even though I have my old map, just looking at it scares me.

Even given the amount of work I put in, I barely made any progress. This is one of those wide-open puzzle games where there are far too many things to work on at once and I’m not sure where to start.

I often have this sort of “game paralysis” with strategy games — I’m on move 3 and there’s lots of choices already, and I’m worried that the wrong direction will screw my game up at move 40 (because sometimes, it has) so I end up just losing interest. If I can overcome this kind of start and get immersed, the game can get going. I’ve never come up with a good coping mechanism for strategy games (I’ve only got through the start of every Six Ages game I’ve played and it’s been on my phone since release day).

With adventure games, sometimes it helps for me to list everything out. Both for my benefit (given my last “real” Warp post was over 3 years ago) and so y’all fine people see what’s going on, I broke the giant map into five regions.

THE WARP BUILDING AND NEARBY ENVIRONS

Central Plaza.
You are standing in what appears to be the central plaza of a small seacoast resort. There is a large fountain in the center of this square, and the plaza extends quite a distance to both the north and south. You can see the ocean in the distance to the west, and to the east there is a large building on which there is a sign that reads “WARP BUILDING”.

The game starts right outside the “WARP BUILDING”. Nearby the building is a place with a video game (I have no coins for it) and a police station. The police officer wanders the area and will arrest you if you are carrying a weapon.

It is unclear what the building is used for. After getting by a security guard (with a nametag out in the PARK area) there’s an abandoned kitchen and dining room, an two elevators with three buttons each (one which is “out of order” and kills you if you use it), and a “mad doctor”.

Operating Room.
This is a very clean, sterile-looking room with white walls and chromed stainless-steel fixtures. There is a large operating table in the center of the room, and various pieces of machinery surrounding it. There are exits to the north and west.

I can see the following:
Bag
Mad Doctor
Suddenly the doctor produces a huge syringe, and quickly flings it at you.
You feel a painful sting as it sticks in your leg!

The mad doctor runs rather like a Zork battle with random messages; I haven’t experimented with fighting back yet.

Other items: Round peg, Digital watch, Digital scale, Banana.

The banana is considered a weapon, and the policeman will arrest you if you have it.

THE PARK

You’re standing in the northeast corner of Warp Park. The grass in green, the sky is blue, and you can go almost any direction. There is one particularly large tree growing nearby.

There’s a silver flute here which counts as a treasure (and makes a high pitched “dog whistle” sound), a nametag (used in the Warp building), a sign which warns you not to dig on the grass, a crank and well, a random fig tree and pine tree, and a “bathing ugly”.

There’s also a koala bear high in a redwood which also counts as a treasure, although it eats through your inventory if you’re carrying it around. Also, if you try to put it in the display case for treasures (see the next area), it wanders off, so I’m guessing I need some sort of sedative-laced food.

THE MUSEUM

Just east of the park is the museum, which has a wandering curator and a display case for storing the treasures of Warp.

Curator’s Office
This is a large office with a musty smell. The walls are lined with rows and rows of books. Numerous stacks of paper and partially restored objects are piled about the room. A large desk with a leather-backed chair stands in one corner of the room. The only exit is through the door to the east.

I can see the following:
Display Case

The display case has a lamp (which the curator doesn’t mind if you take). The curator does mind if you abscond with anything else; there’s a Mayan Room with an odd disk (with a cryptogram I’ve written about before), a gemstone room with “Leeverite”, a Sarcophagus Room with a casket, a dinosaur room with a Warpasaur.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

To the west of the park, if you dive through the ocean and swim, you can find an island and a lighthouse.

You’re standing in a gently sloping meadow, surrounded on three sides by steep rising cliffs. To the east, there is a small sheltered cove, its waters placidly lapping near your feet. A rickety boat dock extends somewhat out into the water. You can go most any direction.

There’s a cave entrance but it is dark inside and I haven’t been able to get the lamp from the display case over because the ocean washes away any items I try to carry.

Other items: hardhat, rusty shovel, ruby lense. (Spelled that way in the game.)

THE DESERT AND THE MALL

To the east of the Warpian building is an area with a mall, an alley, and a desert.

You’re at the northeast corner of the Cobblestone Square, where before you looms a magnificent statue of Miles A. Weigh, one of the most famous of the Warpian explorers. The cobblestones stop, but the square appears to continue to the north.

The alley has a mugger who is Warp’s equivalent of the thief from Zork, and is keen on stealing all your treasures.

The mall has a bank and a subway station, which I haven’t quite worked out how to use even though I have a “transit pass”. I assume I can reach another new large section once I get in.

Heading east from here there is a “desert” with a sign warning of falling rocks, and if you keep going east you die via a rock randomly falling out of the sky on your head.

Immediately after making this list, I went over to the “hardhat” (which required swimming over the ocean in the far southwest of the map), wore it, was able to get through the ocean without dropping it (since I was wearing it) and used it to scoot through the desert safely and make it to a region beyond, which looks like it might also be big. This game just keeps going and going.

I have marked the location of the hardhat and the place where it solved a puzzle, just to give an idea of what kind of back-and-forth is required in this game.

Posted September 30, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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City Adventure   8 comments

You can generally rank the obscurity of my games for All the Adventures by how many of my three main sources they appear in (CASA Solution Archive, Interactive Fiction Database, and Mobygames).

As of this writing, City Adventure appears in zero.

Joining the ranks of teenage entrepreneurs Greg Hassett, Joel Mick, and Charles Forsythe is the team behind Software Innovations; according to the article above, it was founded in 1980 via “$100 investment donations from parents and the selling of shares in the company for $25.” The employees listed in the article above are

Evan Grossman, aged 16: stock, advertising, company catalog
Roy Niederhoffer, aged 14: orders and mailing labels
Steve Sanders, aged 16: treasurer
Tim Binder, aged 16: mailing lists and printed company material

The physical tape (marked copyright 1980) only mentions it is by Software Innovations, and the article states “All the executives pitch in to produce the company’s marketable software” so I’ll credit it to the company label.

One thing you may notice is missing from the advertisement above is the overall goal of the game. This isn’t the first ambiguous objective I’ve hit during this era, but it previously hasn’t been a hindrance in my gameplay; eventually, I’d find some treasures lying about or otherwise run across some kind of directions. Here, I genuinely reached a point where it seemed like I was “done” but I wasn’t done. More on that (and the odd reference to “Interludes”) later; you start, as in common in Your House Games, in a bed:

Any direction leaves the bed, which does make sense, yet this is the first adventure game bed I’ve seen with such a setup.

While they later became a plague of the text adventure enthusiast community, in 1980 Your House Games weren’t even a genre yet. Out of the all the adventure games up to 1980 (including the ones I haven’t written about yet) the other only ones that seems to start with “you in your house” are Pirate Adventure, Lost Dutchman’s Gold, Dracula Avontuur, and Will ‘O the Wisp.

There are no fantasy elements at all in the opening to City Adventure; the obstacles are along the lines of finding your glasses (you feed your Doberman and then get them to FETCH), getting exact change for a bus (you have a five-dollar bill and the driver needs $1.10), turning off an alarm system, and unlocking the front door.

I’m unclear why there would be a code needed to unlock the door from the inside. Maybe we’re still playing The Prisoner.

While in this section the game drops hints about various locations at city intersections.

The reason why becomes very clear after you finish wrangling the bus change; you get dropped off in the city.

Going north reduces the street number, south increases it. Going east reduces the avenue number, going west increases it. This system isn’t purely mechanical either, as “Lexington” is squeezed amongst the low-numbered avenues. To find the locations of the game, you have to get to the right intersection; for example, 44th and 5th has a bank. (This is similar to Thomas M. Disch’s Amnesia, but six years early.)

For a not-many-K TRS-80 BASIC game, this does effectively deliver the illusion of a big environment without the coders having to add many more rooms. The problem is the MUGGER as seen in the screenshot above. The mugger is quite aggressive and has (according to the source code) a 1 out of 7 chance of stealing something at any particular turn. While you can find the stolen items later, there’s a bug where the act of an item being stolen reduces your inventory capacity. After not too long I had the hilarious scenario of carrying no items at all yet also not having room to pick anything up.

If you bring the Doberman with you to the city, the mugger stays away, but there’s a 1-in-50 chance of the Doberman running away, and once that happens, the mugger visits start in. I eventually resorted to the tried-and-true method of “edit the BASIC source code”.

159 IFO(15,0)=-1THENF2=F2+1:IFF2>25ANDRND(50)=1THENF2=0:O(15,0)=-2:PRINT”DOG BARKS AND JUMPS DOWN”:O(143,0)=R:GOSUB6

Rather than stopping the mugger code, I just changed the dog code above so RND(50)=1 became RND(1)=9, meaning the dog will never run away.

As a note from the house indicates, “Suzy” is waiting at 45 & 6 NY. I’m not sure how to express GO ON A DATE, and the game didn’t seem to either; all I could do was TAKE SUZY and cart her around (so the adventurer is toting around both a dog and a girlfriend).

I found a SCRAP of metal and a place nearby I could wash it; it became a SHINING MAGIC RING.

IF YOU BY CHANCE SHOULD SAY MY NAME, I’LL TAKE YOU BACK FROM WHENCE YOU CAME!

A “magic shop” at a different intersection had the clue to this:

Typing “SAY ONE” teleported me back to the bed. (I guess riding the bus back was too hard.) However, I haven’t been able to end the game here. It’s possible to KISS SUZY while at the bed, but the game says “THIS IS FUN! BUT YOU HAVEN’T COMPLETED YOUR ADVENTURE!” Studying the source code, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere the “date” can go to (maybe being in town was the date). There is a computer store (the player avatar’s workplace) where the TRS-80 program INTERLUDES resides, which was famous in 1980 as an adult computer program (the manual comes with suggested activities). The player’s home does have a TRS-80, so I imagine the goal is to then run the program, but I never worked out a syntax how. Checking the source code, the end message is then

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’VE COMPLETED YOUR ADVENTURE!
(BUT I CERTAINLY HAVEN’T COMPLETED MINE!)
MOVE OVER A BIT THERE, SUZY!

I’m 95% sure I just need to puzzle out the parser issue to attain the endgame message, but I’m fine bailing out early on this one.

Posted September 27, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Prisoner: Be Seeing You   Leave a comment

I escaped, although I left a lot of cryptic things behind. That seems to be the intent, really; The Prisoner feels meant to be an experience as much as a game.

Spoilers follow.

Once I got my score up from last time, I went back to the Theater and tried to make contact with the people whispering; I suspected perhaps my “notoriety” or whatnot was up and they would recognize me.

I CAN VOUCH FOR HIM
I’VE BEEN WATCHING HIM
SEEMS SUSPICIOUS TO ME
LET US TAKE A VOTE

THE MOTION IS CARRIED
WE ARE THE BROTHERHOOD

WE ARE DEDICATED TO OVERTHROW
OF THE ISLAND
ARE YOU WILLING TO JOIN US?

Why YES, I would.

GOOD. ARE YOU WILLING TO GIVE YOUR LIFE, COMMIT MURDER
COMMIT ACTS OF SABOTAGE WHICH MIGHT
CAUSE THE DEATHS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE
CHEAT, FORGE, BLACKMAIL
DISTRIBUTE HABIT FORMING DRUGS
FOR THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM?

Also YES, and also a not-unexpected 1984 reference (see also the game cover above). “You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party? If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face—are you prepared to do that?”

They then wanted to give me an assignment which I believe involved the Carnival; fortunately, I was able to pass and get a different assignment instead, to change the headline at the newspaper to DEUS EX MACHINA.

If you get paper and the General Store, and then answer PRINTING when the newspaper proprietor asks if you want anything else, he “takes you to the back” …

… whereupon there is another mysterious machine. After some experimenting, it looks like the numbers you can enter are just ASCII codes, so start with 68 for D, then type 69 for E, 85 for U, etc.

After finishing I was sent back to the “maze” location at the start and had to trudge my way through again. I went back to the theater and they congratulated me.

CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR SUCCESS
YOUR REWARD IS THIS CLUE FOR ESCAPE
THE ISLAND IS A MACHINE

Uh, thanks?

One of the things I’ve been trying is saying various catchphrases to the Caretaker and the Priest. (I never got anything useful out of the Priest.) THE ISLAND IS A MACHINE didn’t seem to do anything useful either, as the Caretaker (picking up on “ISLAND” I’m guessing) responded NO MAN IS AN ISLAND.

Well, maybe it’d help to be more specific?

THE ISLAND IS A COMPUTER

I found out after the fact (via Andrew Plotkin) that the instructions are the method of “cutting and pasting” on an Apple II, so you’re really just typing the [=] symbol if you follow the instructions.

This is followed by an animation which looks like a computer getting unplugged.

Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Nice try, game. I typed some nonsense.

This is not quite the end of the game but let me make a few asides before I get to that.

What Happened to The Prisoner 2?

I did mention in my first post I would try the “sequel”, but I rather quickly concluded it was much different than the original.

The opening maze has a first-person aspect, and there was a key in one part. Trying to visit the Caretaker, I was told YOU NEED A KEYHOLE.

In the Rec Center, the pit now has moving platforms.

The overarching idea and the 20 buildings of the Island are the same, but given the changes to the puzzles, I can’t really consider it the same game — I’m kicking it up to 1982 where it belongs.

Further Reading

If all this makes you want to try the game/experience, I would say go for it now; if you’d rather watch from a safe distance, then I highly recommend Jimmy Maher’s writeup from 8 years ago (!) which includes comments by both David Mullich and one of the founders of Edu-Ware. There’s an entire scene I missed involving “escaping” but having the whole thing be a ruse. I’m guessing it comes about from finishing the business with the loan and the slot machine but I never was able to get a cross.

I also don’t have anything to add to his analysis, or those of others who have tackled the same game. It’s not often gameplay and theme blend so perfectly. The downside of playing a game in a paranoid and confusing environment is that you are playing a game in a paranoid and confusing environment. Instructions are intentionally obtuse; controls are intentionally finicky. This is more a game for Art rather than Enjoyment but that’s ok, especially considering how little of this sort of thing was about in 1980.

You might incidentally wonder (as Andrew Owen does in the Maher thread) if this was the first game with meta-tricks. Dr. Livingston (1980) has a pretty good death fake-out; Acheton (1978) requires you die once at a prompt where most people would restore their saved game. There’s a very old game (1968) which has what might be a bug, or what might be considered meta — I’ll have to report back on it in some future post.

The Thing I Was Most Disappointed In Missing

I heard about this trick secondhand a long time ago, but I had to check the source code after finishing to find it.

In the “Free Association” test at the Hospital, if you type a word like FREEDOM or the like, you get this message:

Notice there is no THIS IS NOT A DECEPTION message here. On an Apple II the usual thing is to LIST 417 to figure out what went wrong, but in this case, it very much is a deception.

Yes, 417 was the resignation code.

The End?

So the endgame screenshot I produced above (“HAVE YOU NOT ALWAYS BEEN IN CONTROL”) is more or less the same one as Jimmy Maher’s. You end at what appears to be the “Apple prompt” where you can type directory commands and so forth. However, if you try to go ahead and type something, the game intercepts your input and instead types:

Posted September 24, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Prisoner: -53 Points   2 comments

The game keeps a running score, but given its predilection for flashing messages like YOUR SCORE IS 4 OUT OF 8 I wasn’t really sure what to believe, until I noticed something on the Carnival (that place that was crashing my game) — the “SCORE” in the corner seems to be accurate. If I do something that is Island-friendly, so to speak, the score consistently goes down.

Fortunately, typing EXIT leaves this place safely without crashes.

I found this testing out the hospital; each visit costs 20 points.

Additionally, at the slot machine where you enter a “piece of yourself” to spin, each spin costs 1 point.

After a number of other tests, I found that if you “discover” the clone room in building #19 (just push “L” for left, then type “NO” about knowing about cash) you earn 40 points. This action can be repeated over and over and over for 40 points every time. Fairly soon I was looking at 767 points.

These sort of wild swings suggest to me that perhaps score is entirely meaningless and just another red herring meant to keep you trapped on the Island. At least I managed to “discover” something, though?

Where I’m really stuck is still finding a cross. I get trapped whenever I enter the church. If someone knows the way out and can ROT13 me a line, I’d appreciate it. (No hints if I’m barking up the wrong tree entirely, though — that’s part of the experience, I gather.)

Posted September 23, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Prisoner: This Is Not a Deception   5 comments

One of the buildings you can find in The Prisoner is a “General Store” where you can buy a map.

The Island is on a wraparound grid, with buildings numbered

1 -2 -3 -4 -5
6 -7 -8 -9 -10
11-12-13-14-15
16-17-18-19-20

but where you only see 2×2 chunks at a time so you might be standing next to 15, 20, 11, and 16. Also, sometimes, a building is missing for no apparent reason.

It’s not as if building #13 is gone permanently — later in the same game it was building #12 that was missing. I have no idea if this is a bug or not. The nature of this game is such that bugs might be intentional.

I have organized the buildings by Slightly Off, Quite Curious, Downright Bizarre, and The Carnival.

Slightly Off (2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 20)

The Caretaker (#2) was the building from last time (or least, I think so, based on process of elimination). I haven’t been able to get anything useful from the conversation, but I suspect there might be some key phrase or word that will later trigger a hint.

#6 is where the game starts (The Castle with that invisible maze), and you can go back there if you like; I’m not sure if there’s any use. I did somehow reveal the resignation code (417) once while in the maze and I’m not sure how, but I got this message:

It’s possible to just die elsewhere, but you get a different screen — so I really did divest the resignation code somehow.

#7 is the Island Mutual Savings and Loan. If you want a loan — and it looks like you do, for reasons I’ll get into, you need a gold watch, a black tie, a diploma, a cross, and a percolator.

#10 is the general store and includes a percolator (one of the needed items I mentioned).

#11 is a NEWS STAND. You’re asked which newspaper you want, but get told the only one available is THE ISLANDER. It seems to have vague hints, like “THE ISLANDER LIBRARY NEEDS CONTRIBUTIONS OF BOOKS”.

#13 puts in you in a “class” run by a machine.

The machine plays a game of Simon with you. It gives short sequences of numbers that you need to memorize and type back. Fairly deep into the game (I’d say several minutes) one of the sequences included 4, 1, 7 right in the middle. I was able to avoid the trap. I suspect the diploma is available here (I didn’t quite finish the minigame — I was still mapping and just wanted to look around).

#15 is a church.

It involves a dialogue (like the Caretaker) where the priest/pastor/whoever starts with “DON’T WORRY. ALL IS KEPT IN CONFIDENCE IN THESE CHAMBERS” and responds to any text I’ve tried with vague platitudes like “A SMOOTH SEA NEVER MADE A SKILLFUL SAILOR” and “HE THAT IS DISCONTENTED IN ONE PLACE IS SELDOM HAPPY IN ANOTHER”.

For the sake of experiment, I tried 417, and the game ended. So much for all being kept in confidence. I’m sure the cross I need is here.

#16 has a clothing store, where you can get (among other things) a black tie, a clown suit, and a clone suit. I haven’t tried the clone suit yet, but the clown suit lets you get into building #5 (The Carnival, which I’ll discuss last).

#20 is a casino.

Using “A PIECE OF YOURSELF TO PLAY” doesn’t seem to extract anything other than displaying a random three-digit number. I have the feeling if you play too many times the three-digit number will be 417.

Upon leaving the casino, I had someone mention escape was through slot #1, and they could sell a silver dollar for 5000 credits (hence the need for a loan). The mystery person then said THE BROTHERHOOD LIVES when I left.

Quite Curious (1, 3, 9, 12, 18, 19)

The Hospital (#1) gives you a “test”. It shows five random characters and you press a button and the characters change. You are then told you are adjusting nicely.

The Town Hall (#3) gives you control of the island.

You can tweak the numbers up or down. I tried turning GATES down as far as I could go and I was told security was fixing the gates. I never was able to get “DEATHS” to go up. Eventually, I gave up and was given a gold watch for doing a good job.

#9 is the Theater.

After watching … something happen for long enough, a conversation started:

WE ALL KNOW WHAT THE ISLAND IS
ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS PULL THE …
SHH, WHO’S THAT!
WE’VE BEEN DISCOVERED!
WHO ARE YOU

I answered “2”.

WE DON’T KNOW A ‘2’
GET RID OF HIM

The Library is #12. If you bring two books (you can get them at the general store) you can play some sort of “preference game” where you choose between two options (two types of toothpaste, say) and after enough time, you get a rating.

Then you can “play a game” which rolls a random number. I don’t know if the random number needs to be low or high or what, but I “won” once and got a hint

DON’T UNDERSTAND THE GAME
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

#18 is the Recreation Hall, where there’s a pit you can fall in (it’s game over if you do).

On the map shown above you just walk on the letters and get through, but then you get another pit:

I’m not sure how to get through. If you disobey instructions and “walk on the sides” an invisible wall blocks you.

#19 is the Gemini Diner. You can buy nondescript food, but if you step “left” while there you find a “cloning machine”.

The proprietor says you can clone yourself for 10000 Credits.

Downright Bizarre (4, 8, 14, 17)

Building #4, I have no idea.

Sometimes by pressing buttons I got the number to change. I don’t know.

If you enter building #8 you find yourself in “court” prosecuted for “rebellion”.

The “plead his case” bit involves a very fast string of BASIC code. The Prosecutor and Defense both do one, and then you play a game of hangman. I got up to _ A P T U R E and then was booted from the building being told THE VERDICT IS NOT GUILTY. I have not been back.

#14, The Cat and Mouse: you can order gin for 5 credits. I tried walking in but got stuck with being asked repeatedly if I wanted gin, and strange sparkling rectangles kept growing in different parts of the room.

I had to quit. This may or may not have been a bug.

Building #17 involves a change in perspective. You suddenly are no longer the prisoner, but someone electrocuting the prisoner, trying to ferret out the secret resignation code.

The Carnival (5)

You can’t enter the carnival without a costume. Getting the clown suit from the costume store and entering, I found this screen:

I can’t even begin to tell you what’s going on. I was able to type WT to “add weight” but after doing it a few times, I got this message:

Then I was told my current score was 4 out of 8, and asked (by a message that blinked almost too fast to see) if I wanted a hint for 10 points. Then the game exited with BE SEEING YOU.

Posted September 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Recent News in Narrative Games (Adventures, Visual Novel, Interactive Fiction)   1 comment

A great deal of news has hit recently so I thought a summary was in order.

Little Misfortune is out today. It’s by Killmonday Games, the same company that made Fran Bow (link to buy the game). One of the authors, Natalia Martinsson, was the keynote speaker at NarraScope 2019 (video of the keynote here).

Led by her new friend, Mr. Voice, Misfortune ventures into the woods, where mysteries are unraveled and a little bad luck unfolds.

Yesterday saw the release of AI: The Somnium Files, by Kotaro Uchikoshi, the same director as the Zero Escape games. (link)

In a near-future Tokyo, detective Kaname Date is on the case of a mysterious serial killer. Date must investigate crime scenes as well as dreams on the hunt for clues.

Last week, Ryan Veeder released Ryan Veeder’s Authentic Fly Fishing, a parser-based text adventure. It has a world that changes over time so if you play over multiple days you’ll see events like weather changes. (link to play here)

I call Ryan Veeder’s Authentic Fly Fishing a “game,” but it’s not the kind of game that has conditions of failure or success. And it’s not really a proper story, with a beginning, middle, and end. I like to think of Ryan Veeder’s Authentic Fly Fishing as a place you can visit once in a while, to get away from whatever other stuff you have going on. I hope you’ll play for a while today, and maybe come back tomorrow, and then go on visiting as often as you care to, until you don’t care to any longer.

Also last week, Kate Willaert published an article about The Sumerian Game from 1964, the “lost predecessor” of Hamurabi. The project was initiated by Bruse Moncreiff, written by Mabel Addis, and programmed by William McKay. Unlike the stripped-down Hamurabi (which was written later based on a description of the original), it has a strong narrative “voice” …

I lean heavily upon your wisdom, Luduga, but I am also here to help you. Tell me, if your population is increasing, would you expect the quantity of grain fed to your people to 1-increase 2-decrease?
1
Of course it should increase. Forgive me if my questions seem simple. It is my duty to urge you to see the relationship among the items in your Steward’s reports.

… and had a slideshow with voiceover meant to be played before starting!

The article also includes a link to a final report giving a full description of the game (full enough someone might be able to recreate the original, sans some of the colorful text and slideshow). As a bonus, if you keep reading, there are more games from the same series; after The Sumerian Game came The Sierra Leone Game (authored by Walter Goodman):

… he felt that the economic problems of newly-independent African countries were important for pupils to understand. Sierra Leone in 1964 seemed like a representative African state where political factors were less critical in determining economic developments than in other African lands. We were also fortunate to have Frank Karefa-Smart from the Sierra Leone U.N. staff avaiable for consultation.

Over the Alps is an 80 Days-style game for iOS that is coming soon to Apple Arcade with writing by Jon Ingold (Heaven’s Vault, Make it Good) and Katharine Neil (Astrologaster). It is set in 1930s Switzerland. (link)

Uncover a hidden family history and play your role in a classic story of espionage, double-crosses and adventure.
Avoid leaving footprints, and drop diversions in your wake to stay one step ahead of the Swiss Police who are hot on your tail.

This is “old news” (it came out in May), but out of the adventures I’ve played this year so far, my favorite has been Detective Di: The Silk Rose Murders. (link)

A thrilling point-and-click adventure game where you play as Di Renjie, ancient China’s most famous and gifted investigator, as he tracks a serial killer in the heart of the Tang Dynasty’s capital city.

I’m including the video of this one because the music is great.

Finally, the Interactive Fiction Competition 2019 is fast approaching; the games come out October 1st. This is the 25th running of the competition. There’s still time to donate money or prizes.

Posted September 18, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

The Prisoner (1980)   4 comments

I’m not typically big on landmark numbers, but excluding Before Adventure and my non-chronological entries, this is my Game #100.

Consequently, I decided to try a game that I’ve been looking forward to playing ever since All the Adventures kicked off in 2011.

In the 1967 TV show The Prisoner, the unnamed main character (played by Patrick McGoohan) has resigned a mysterious organization, and he is kidnapped and taken to “The Village”. He is given the designation Number Six and referred to that way by others in the Village — a fully working, albeit creepy and conspiratorial seaside town. Throughout the TV show, various people (all of designation Number Two, and a different person in almost every episode) try to wrangle free the secret of why he resigned.

David Mullich had been programming freelance for Edu-Ware when he mentioned his intent to create a game based on the TV show mentioned above:

However, I didn’t intend to make a direct adaptation of the TV series; I just wanted to make a game that explored some of the same themes. But Edu-Ware thought that they needed to at least loosely tie the game to the TV series to sell it. So, I wrote a game about the player being imprisoned on a place called The Island (instead of The Village), which is run by an authority figure called The Caretaker (instead of Number 2). As with the TV series, the game’s goal was to find a way to escape without revealing why you had resigned from your former job.

By 1980 Edu-Ware had already seen legal trouble; the year before, without permission or licensing, they made the games Space and Space II which were essentially computer versions of the Traveler role-playing game by Game Designer’s Workshop. They stopped production and settled out of court. It’s interesting they decided to risk the same unlicensed angle on The Prisoner, but as far as I’m aware they got away with it this time without even the thought of a lawsuit.

I’m a large fan of the TV show, and I’ve had to resist the temptation to do a Jimmy Maher-style Parts 1 to 3 giving the history of the show before making it to the game. (I will say you can watch the whole thing for free on the Internet Archive, if you want.)

Rather appropriately, the game is very, very, strange, and has as its central idea something exceedingly rare for computer games. In most games, there is some action you want to accomplish. In The Prisoner, there is an action you don’t want to accomplish.

Right at the start, you receive a three-digit code. If you at any point divest the three-digit code you lose the game.

The game tries very, very, hard to get you to divest the code. More on that in a later post.

After getting the code, you are given a list of cities to fly to, but in the middle of typing, the screen stops and you (represented by a # mark) find yourself in THE CASTLE, #1 ISLAND SQUARE.

This is a maze where the walls are initially invisible, but you can bump into them to reveal them. U, D, L, and R move the character up, down, left and right respectively.

Once reaching the right of the maze, you are asked WHO ARE YOU (with one choice, predictably, being the forbidden 3-digit code) and then told THE CARETAKER WANTS TO SEE YOU AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE, #.

The top-down view is maintained, but the keys U, D, L and R don’t work anymore. It took me a while to puzzle the keys are N, S, E, and W once outside. There are no instructions for this, and it seems to be quite intentional.

The “C” shapes are buildings, and they are given numbers as you walk by. You start in building #6. Heading directly north (you can scroll to another four buildings) I found the buildings #1, #2, #16, and #17.

Nothing is labeled; you have to go in a building to find out what it is. I tried building #2.

Below this message you can type free-form messages in a prompt. I tried out some nonsense, and the game encouraged me to GO ON and that what I said was SPOKEN LIKE A TRUE ISLANDER.

I have no idea what building #2 is. I love it.

Now, I’m not sure if I’ll keep loving the game going farther on… ? I will say I had to crank up the speed rather a lot, because on original Apple II speeds this game runs ludicrously slow. As in, I’m fairly sure that getting to the first room would have taken 10 minutes of waiting. (I’ll go back and time it later.) So this isn’t the true original experience, and I’m ok with that.

There is, incidentally, an “improved” version of The Prisoner called The Prisoner II released in 1982. I have heard it is “essentially the same game” and I will test it a bit alongside the 1980 version. My guess is this will be a game about information so it will be helpful to have a second source.

Posted September 17, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Six Micro Stories (1980)   5 comments

It’s been a while since we’ve visited Robert Lafore (Local Call for Death, Two Heads of the Coin) so just as a reminder, he:

a.) coined the term “interactive fiction” (trademarked it, even, when publishing with Adventure International? although that apparently didn’t stick)

b.) wrote “conversational parser” games which looked for keywords, like Eliza; Two Heads of the Coin was a “pure conversation” game while Local Call for Death included a scene with a world model

From a Radio Shack catalog, via Ira Goldklang’s.

This was sold as #1 in the Interactive Fiction series, but given Six Micro Stories was advertised as an “introduction to the world of Interactive Fiction” it’s possible this was as situation like Mission: Asteroid where game #0 was written after games #1 and #2 (or in Lafore’s case, game #1 being written after games #2 and #3). It’s also possible this is a collation of earlier experiments by the author, or maybe he had some of the scenarios already written and added three more. Unless some other evidence surfaces I don’t think it’s worth the energy to speculate; just note the internal copyright here is 1980 and the copyright on the other two games is 1979, although they didn’t start getting sold overall until 1980.

The structure for the six parts is to

give some prompt that the player responds to
with a back-and-forth with from one to four or five sentences
and then the micro-game ends.

There’s a “starter program” where you pick a gender and name (I went with MALE and being named “BOBA FETT”) and then it goes through the six stories in a prescribed order stating

WE HOPE YOU ARE READY TO BECOME A FICTIONAL CHARACTER!!

The Fatal Admission casts the player as an American spy in the Third Reich, who is posing as Colonel Braun, a “decorated Luftwaffe air ace”.

In history, there is no Admiral Kurtz. There is a Colonel Kurtz from the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, suggesting Robert Lafore plucked the name from the movie.

After saying YES or NO, the story continues:

TELL ME–I UNDERSTAND YOU ARE WITH THE 57TH FLIGHT WING IN DUSSELDORF. DO YOU HAPPEN TO KNOW THERE A CAPTAIN EIDERDOWN? HE IS AN OLD SCHOOL COMRADE.

(AGAIN HE FIXES YOU WITH HIS ICY GAZE. WHY IS HE ASKING YOU THIS? IS IT SOME SORT OF TRAP? YOU WISH YOU HAD VOLUNTEERED FOR SOMETHING SAFER, LIKE SUBMARINES.)

It seemed glaringly obvious that the story was going for the “ha-HA, there is no Captain Eiderdown, you are a spy!” kind of twist, so my first time through I just tried to say NO, I DON’T.

ADMIRAL KURTZ: NOT SURPRISING, SINCE THERE IS NO SUCH PERSON. BUT THERE IS ALSO NO 57TH FLIGHT WING, IN DUSSELDORF OR ANYWHERE ELSE. YET YOU, COLONEL, LET ME SUGGEST THAT THERE WAS!!

Er, I did? The result of my NO was being dragged off and executed.

The game wants you to more specifically deny the premise of the question.

I admit the turn of story here seemed so implausible I thought of saying NO, but I ran with YES and indeed became a courier for many top-secret documents that were able to be fed directly to the Americans, and Mr. Fett was able to retire to in glory after the war ended.

Upon further contemplation, the story really doesn’t make sense — the main character here would definitely know what flight wing they were with as part of their cover story, so not only is their unawareness of what trap is being set absurd, but Admiral Kurtz’s use of trickery related to the flight wing as the one and only method of determining if he’s talking to a spy just went over the top.

The story did have the virtue of understanding essentially everything that it needed to, parser-wise. I suspect there’s a way to deny the 57th Flight Wing exists and have the computer not understand, but I wasn’t able to find it.

Following grim war with infatuation, we have Encounter in the Park. If you are using a female character, the game informs you that this particular story only works with male perspective, so you are temporarily named HENRY. (“PERHAPS YOU CAN PRACTICE YOUR ROLE-REVERSAL ABILITIES.”) The game also neglects to mention that Henry/whoever is of hetero orientation:

YOU ARE STROLLING THROUGH GOLDEN GATE PARK IN SAN FRANCISCO ONE SUNNY AFTERNOON WHEN A LADY ON ROLLER-SKATES GLIDES PAST YOU ON THE SIDEWALK. HER EYES HAVE A PERCEPTIVE LOOK TO THEM, WITH PERHAPS A TOUCH OF ARROGANCE.

SHE IS WEARING SHORTS AND HAS LONG BROWN LEGS AND HONEY-COLORED HAIR DOWN TO HER WAIST. SHE IS IN EVERY WAY YOUR IDEAL. YOU GAZE AFTER HER IN DUMBFOUNDED ADMIRATION.

This does not describe my ideal, and no doubt it isn’t the ideal of many readers, but the premise is to roleplay.

AT THE CORNER JUST AHEAD OF YOU SHE HITS A SLIPPERY SPOT AND FALLS — GRACEFULLY ENOUGH, BUT SHE DROPS THE BOOKS SHE HAS BEEN CARRYING. IT IS THE OPPORTUNITY YOU HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR, PERHAPS THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME. YOU SPRING FORWARD AND RETRIEVE HER BOOKS AS SHE PICKS HERSELF UP. YOU NOTICE THAT ONE OF THE BOOKS IS “COUPLES” BY JOHN UPDIKE.

(Unlike Admiral Kurtz, this is an actual Updike book.)

BOBA: DO YOU LIKE THE UPDIKE BOOK?

THE LADY: I LIKE HIS WORK A LOT.
BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I LIKE BETTER? “PHANTOM MARRIAGE,” BY GASTON DUPERIE. HAVE YOU READ IT?

This is a trick, just like the last story. If you say YES: “YOU DID? I MADE UP THE WHOLE THING. YOU CERTAINLY ARE A GULLIBLE TYPE, AREN’T YOU. WELL, I’VE GOT TO GO — I’M TEACHING A CLASS IN NUCLEAR PHYSICS. BYE!”

Saying NO continues the conversation:

BOBA: NO

THE LADY: TOO BAD. DO YOU LIKE SPY STORIES, THEN?

If you say “YES” to liking spy stories, she runs off in a huff and your main character goes off and joins a Zen Buddhist monastery, which seems like an overreaction. Also, this is probably referring to John Le Carre novels, which were excellent in the 1970s, so this lady clearly doesn’t deserve Henry/Boba/Whoever.

BOBA: NO

THE LADY: WELL, THAT’S SOMETHING, I GUESS.

If you don’t offend the lady past this point, she invites you to ice cream, and eventually, you end up on the beach with her on Bali in “COSMIC BLISS”. OK then.

I admit to never having all that stellar a playthrough, although the source code is an interesting read. This micro-game (and most of the others, really) seem highly sensitive to individual experience; it’s possible to type full sentences and having a pleasing conversation and finale, and it’s possible to have something weird and stunted that nevertheless leads to “cosmic bliss”.

I think the main issue isn’t strictly the Eliza system of finding keywords and pretending they reflect the entire sentence, but that the conversations in Six Micro Stories are all high-stakes and short. With the investigation sequence of Local Call for Death, if you make a deduction the game doesn’t understand, it doesn’t feel like you’ve broken an entire story; you can try again, and if you’re having trouble with phrasing, Lord Colin will often suggest something to help out. Here, the main character can be murdered via parser failure.

Perhaps, as a general principle: if communication failure in a story is possible, the story must be of the kind that gives a little slack.

I’m not going to spoil the exact details of the remaining stories, but just to summarize:

The Big Deal casts the player in negotiations to sell their company, but their company is secretly near-bankrupt. A lot of the conversation involves numbers (which the parser can grok just fine) and there’s even a “secret ending”, so I found it the most successful of the stories.

The Empty World involves a doomed 747 plane. You might not even get a chance to type a sentence on this one; if you type enough characters you get “interrupted” and the plane crashes.

In The Unexpected Question, the player’s Ph.D depends on them successfully communicating what art is.

NOW, WE HAVE DECIDED THAT YOU ARE NO DOUBT ADEQUATE IN COMPUTER SCIENCE, SO WE ARE NOT EVEN GOING TO QUESTION YOU IN THAT FIELD. HOWEVER, WE DO REQUIRE THAT OUR GRADUATES BE WELL-ROUNDED. WE ARE THEREFORE GOING TO POSE TO YOU A SIMPLE QUESTION FROM THE LIBERAL ARTS. YOUR ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION ALONE WILL DETERMINE YOUR SUCCESS OR FAILURE IN THIS EXAM. PLEASE RESTRICT YOUR ANSWER TO TWO LINES.

DR ZEROUGH: HERE IS THE QUESTION: WHAT IS ART?
ANSWER CAREFULLY, MR FETT.

Out of all the games, I found this one to be filled with the most non-sequiturs in terms of what I typed versus what the game actually thought I typed. After a few honest tries (and failures), I managed to pass the exam with more-or-less gibberish.

Finally, The Guilty Look has the player surreptitiously returning a piece of stolen silver and being caught in the act. I was never able to get a bad ending on this story.

The easiest way to play these is online (via this link; if you click on the “speaker” icon at the bottom you can turn off the disk sounds), but note that you’re started in the middle of the sequence (at The Empty World). As this is the sort of game where playthroughs can vary wildly, I’d really like to hear some stories. Did Encounter in the Park come across naturalistically? Did anyone have an actual sensible discussion of art? Is there a way to communicate, well, just about anything in The Guilty Look?

Posted September 16, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kidnapped: The Parallel Universes Problem   2 comments

I got past my dilemma from last time and finished the game; I had run into something I (now) call The Parallel Universes Problem.

Suppose you are a happy adventurer going from point X to point Z and manage to do so without any obstacles. However, you later restore a previous game (because you got eaten by a bear, say).

After restoring, you try going from point X to point Z, but get stopped in the middle at point Y this time. Something different happened! What changed? Perhaps you had picked up an item in universe #1 but didn’t realize it; perhaps there was some secret timing element that you lucked out on the first time. Either way, you ran across the frustrating situation of being in an alternate universe without being aware something had changed.

With Kidnapped, I was stalled trying to get by the kidnapper, who was in a vault counting money. I needed a dollar to get a string from a vending machine.

I had tried:

A. shooting a gun at the kidnapper; the gun turns out to be full of blanks and doesn’t work.

B. stealing the money; the kidnapper spotted and killed me.

However, I didn’t realize with action B that I wasn’t holding the gun at the time. If you are, then you automatically threaten the kidnapper with the gun (but don’t shoot it!) the same time you GET DOLLAR.

I’ll come back to the implicit action embedded in GET DOLLAR, but the important point is I didn’t realize the scenario of universe A was different from universe B. In contrast to my abstract X-to-Z scenario, at no point was the puzzle solved; I had done the correct action for solving the puzzle but only if the conditions that I thought held (that I was living in universe A, holding the gun) were true.

I’ve been stuck on games with this sort of issue multiple times without having a name for the problem, but I figured now is good a time as any to bestow some nomenclature.

The above wouldn’t have been a problem had the game let me WAVE GUN or POINT GUN or THREATEN KIDNAPPER or some such, but this is a typical BASIC 16K parser here; I eventually gave up and tried GET DOLLAR for the alternate result, even though I was sure I had tried it already.

The game also does implicit actions with keys and doors; UNLOCK is not understood. You just have to go straight to typing OPEN DOOR if you have the right key, and the game assumes it gets applied in the process of opening.

Having the implicit actions done for me tricked into a false sense of complacency when later jumping between floors while holding MARY POPPIN’S UMBRELLA:

UMBRELLA WASN’T OPEN!
YOU NOW LOOK LIKE A PANCAKE!

I assumed OPEN UMBRELLA wasn’t needed since keys and guns are both used automatically. Oops. Back to level 9 for me.

(I incidentally never got save states working, but on the “upside” it means I experienced the game as originally intended. It did lead to a slightly longer game and some tension where I was worried I would wreck my game on floor 2 and have to repeat everything. Fortunately, the difficulty overall stayed low.)

Things only got wackier from there. You have to put out a fire with sprinklers but subsequently, your clothes get wet and you have to discard them. You then use KNITTING NEEDLES and a BALL OF YARN and end up with a FINE SUIT, which suggests to me the main character really IS Mary Poppins.

The reason you can’t just keep going naked is you need go in an office with a key and — I am quoting directly here — SEXY, YOUNG GIRL OFFICE WORKERS.

YOU FORGOT YOU WERE NAKED
YOU BLUSH AND RUN OUT

This is also the sort of game where you don’t know how to swim, but there’s a nearby BOOK you can READ on how to swim and immediately after you’re backstroking like an expert.

Near the end, you find out the fate of the kidnapper.

For the very last obstacle, the front door is locked, but no key is in sight. However, a piano is nearby, and if you make the leap and TAKE KEY while in the room…

WE ALL KNOW PIANOS HAVE KEYS

…you can make it to victory. I admit to being very surprised here, since we’ve only seen wordplay shenanigans in one other game, Quondam, which is one the hardest games I’ve played, while Kidnapped (even without a save game feature) is one of the easiest.

Posted September 13, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kidnapped (1980)   13 comments

The kidnapper is elsewhere, busy counting the ransom money. Your only job is to escape from the building, floor by floor. You must beware of the kidnapper, and stay alive. Many traps have been set, so be careful!

According to a note in the source code, Peter Kirsch wrote Kidnapped in June of 1980. It was published as a type-in for Softside magazine in December of 1980. (Dr. Livingston and Mad Scientist, which we’ve looked at previously, were both from the same magazine.)

Unlike a lot of authors of type-in programs we’ve gone through lately, Peter Kirsch wrote more than one adventure game. The CASA Solution Archive credits him working on 23 of them because of his later involvement with “SoftSide Adventure of the Month” which went through over 20 games before Softside finally folded in August 1984. I’m not sure how many he ported versus wrote personally, but that’s still a tie for most adventure games I’ve seen associated with one person (the legendary C64 author Dorothy Millard also has 23 to her name). Despite being one of the most prolific adventure game authors ever, I’ve never encountered any interviews with Mr. Kirsch nor any mentions in history books.

Kidnapped came before the Adventure of the Month series started and is probably his first game.

Softside, December 1980.

The premise is: you find that you’ve been kidnapped and are on the top of a 9-floor building where you need to make your escape. You work your way down from 9 to 1, and every floor is separate, so Kidnapped could be considered a set of 9 distinct mini-adventures.

The mini-adventure concept ends up being a good gimmick! Structurally, the tiny areas give a (slightly) modern feel to the proceedings, in that you can essentially ignore map-making if you like, nor do you have to keep track of a large system of interlocking parts, nor do you have to wander through a maze (at least of what I’ve seen so far).

The first floor (floor 9) is shown above. There’s a key on a ledge outside that your fingers can’t quite reach, but there’s a nearby broom that lets you GET KEY. With that key, you can open a cabinet and find a flashlight and electrical tape. There’s also an elevator where the button doesn’t work, but if you drop a chair nearby, you can clamber up to a “crawlspace” with two live electrical wires. You need to wait until midnight (there’s a helpful clock in a different room) for a scheduled power outage, and then you can TAPE WIRE. (If you attempt this too early you get electrocuted.) After taping the wire you can finally use the elevator which takes you down one floor, and in the process you discard your items before entering floor 8.

In the department of nitpicks, note that:

a.) the item discarding doesn’t necessarily make sense here, but for ludic purposes I just rolled with it. Besides, at least two of the later exits are through windows, which definitely could be a situation where an inventory is impossible to have.

b.) somehow the power needs to turn on again after fixing the elevator, but the timing is unusual here. Time advances with each turn until midnight, but “freezes” just past midnight so you can fix the elevator. Then the flow of time resumes again after the elevator is fixed. This may sound terribly odd, but it isn’t too far off modern games with “plot timers” that don’t trigger until the player character has reached a certain location.

The next few floors are straightforward puzzles along the lines of: here is a broken step, you have a piece of wood and superglue, what do you do?

However, I have gotten stuck on Floor 6. The map has a gun, a balloon, a helium tank, and a vending machine which requires $1 to get a piece of string. There’s also a ledge you can walk on and reach a “vault” where you find the kidnapper counting money.

If you try to shoot the gun you find out it is only blanks and the kidnapper kills you. If you try to take a dollar and run the kidnapper spots you and kills you. There’s also a locked door but no sign of a key on this level.

What really doesn’t help is that there is no save game feature. I’m playing on the original TRS-80 version, and I suspected with one of the other ports (like the Atari) I could at least use save states, but the only Atari copy I’ve found gets me strange errors upon booting. Every failed attempt that kills me off sends me through all the steps to get from levels 9 to 6 before trying again, which doesn’t lend itself to lawnmower-testing of verbs or really any kind of typical adventure game experimentation.

Posted September 12, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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