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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4 responses to “The Prisoner (1980)

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  1. I was wondering whether you’d play this one since it’s a bit genre-bending, to say the least. Ultimately, it probably mostly resembles an adventure game, and since it’s one I cherish, I’m glad you chose to include it. Have fun with it!

  2. Do you suppose it might be a viable strategy to simply forget the number, don’t write it down or anything? Or will it eventually be required at the actual end (and maybe the game will try to fool you as to when exactly that is)?

    • It is not a viable strategy. (I’ll explain more in my next post, but note that hitting the sequence “4” “1” “7” at *any* point, even in the middle of a numerical string, will lose the game.)

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