Devil’s Palace (1980)   2 comments

Here is the last of Greg Hassett’s adventures.

To recap, between the ages of 12 and 14 he wrote

1. Journey to the Center of the Earth
2. House of Seven Gables
3. King Tut’s Tomb
4. Sorcerer’s Castle Adventure
5. Journey to Atlantis
6. Enchanted Island
7. Mystery Mansion
8. World’s Edge
9. Curse of the Sasquatch
10. Devil’s Palace

He wasn’t quite done with TRS-80 software yet — his Asteroids clone Fasteroids came out in 1981 — but for the most part he bowed out of games before he even left high school.

What’s interesting about his rapid-fire set of works produced without a lot of self-consciousness (or spell-checking) is that there’s a strong sense of where Mr. Hassett’s design sensibility evolved (or didn’t).

On the unchanging side of things, starting from adventure #1 he included mazes which mostly consisted of rooms looping to themselves, a style he kept all the way to game #10.

Adventure #1 (Journey to the Center of the Earth) on the left, Adventure #6 (Enchanted Island) on the right.

Not everything stayed consistent; for example, adventures #2 and #4 both had enemies appear randomly through the geography (akin to the dwarf and pirate of Adventure) but by #5 he had dropped the idea and only had enemies in static locations.

By #7, Mystery Mansion, he introduced a “one-way plot” path where puzzles need to be solved in a sequence which shifts things from scene to scene.

Game #9 had the same idea but with a “loop” at the end which would go back to the beginning. Devil’s Palace continues with the idea and runs it maybe a little too far, for possibly a specific technical reason: this is the game where Greg Hassett finally introduces a save game feature. I think it’s quite possible the breeziness and only-rare deaths of his earlier games was simply to lack of saving, but once he had it in, he felt he could increase the difficulty.

Unfortunately, he didn’t increase the difficulty in a fun way; I wish I could say this is a good send-off for his work, but games #7-#9 were stronger than this one.

For one thing, Mystery Mansion, World’s Edge, and Curse of the Sasquatch all had genuine plots; goofy ones, perhaps, but ones with enough substance to be enjoyable. You may notice in the ad above it discusses using “your wits to enter the palace and conquer the evil which stalks the dismal corridors”. However, for most of the game I did not understand what the evil was or what we were trying to defeat.

You start with no context at all. There’s a forest with a “Cereberus” and a tree with a bird next holding a whistle. Blowing the whistle leads to death; a vulture picks you up, takes you to the nearby Devil’s Palace, and drops you in lava.

Eventually I found that the whistle could be blown next to the drawbridge to cause the bridge to go down. There seemed to be no reason behind this other than magic and I learned rather quickly that whenever obtaining a magic item or word, the appropriate action is to try it in every single room with the hope that it works. (This makes the game harder, yes, but forcing an effect to be hit by random chance does not make a good puzzle.)

You can then try to go across the drawbridge, but you are stopped because of an evil presence.

The sequence that follows is:

1.) You can go back into the tree and blow the whistle. The vulture that previously killed you before takes in you inside the castle. There’s at least a little logic here — I guess you can think of it as the VultureBus got stopped early when the drawbridge was up.

2.) This lands you in a room with no exits where you then need to blow the whistle again.

3.) By doing #2 you get in a room with a torch and a knocker. Knocking on the door leads to…

4.) …another room where you are trapped, but there are carvings where you can insert a fossil. This causes a cat statue to appear. You can then >RUB STATUE to get taken to yet another room.

5.) Again you are trapped, this time on a PRECARIOUS LEDGE OVERLOOKING A POOL OF LAVA. Earlier you can find a stone with the word “ETNAD” on it, and it works here; the ledge spins and you end up in “THE (D)ANTE-CHAMBER” where the map finally opens up again.

I’m not going to go into detail into every puzzle, but here’s one that comes right after:

You need the ruby, but if you try to take it, the crystalline figure stops you. If you BLOW WHISTLE you get the death result seen above; that part is fair enough. I needed a walkthrough to find out you can TAKE FIGURE (!!) and then just move it to another location and drop it, and if you then BLOW WHISTLE the figure will “vanish”.

The ruby lets you fire a laser into a network of caves, and after a bit more puzzle-solving, THE DEVIL’S SECRET MEDITATION ROOM. Really.

It’s really eeeeevil meditating, ok?

There’s a few good puzzles here but they’re interspersed with magic-nonsense. This finally leads to a tower with a sceptre that’s too evil too pick up.

Take a moment: how would you defeat the evil?

Would you think of … dropping the egg? Yes, dropping the egg.

>DROP EGG
EGG DROPS, BREAKS, VANISHES. FEELS GOOD IN HERE NOW!

I guess that was defeating the evil. Then you get can GET SCEPTRE, and SAY ETNAD to teleport out (no particular reason why the word would work here, it just does). To get out of the palace you find can a grate with the whispering sound “OPEN WITH SCEPTRE”.

Diagnosing the problem, overall, is simply: Greg Hassett never got much past two kinds of puzzles

a.) using magic words or items in arbitrary places

b.) using ITEM with OBSTACLE to get past it.

With only these two building blocks to work with, it was possible to make a relatively satisfying easy game like Mystery Mansion, but when he aspired to something harder, he had to resort to items with vague “magic” powers like the egg where it wasn’t remotely clear what they’d do. While there’s always room for a little solving-by-experiment in adventure games, the use of magic at least needs to make sense after the fact.

The games published by Scott Adams, by contrast, had “daemons” from the start, little timers and inter-relations between objects that allowed for complications. The stronger puzzles involved understanding this network of relations and seeing in terms of what cause might lead to what effect. (Offhand, both the final puzzle of Mystery Fun House and the heart puzzle in Pyramid of Doom required making far-reaching realizations.)

I’m curious where Greg Hassett would have gone from here. Devil’s Palace struck me as an experiment in uncharted territory, and the author never got the chance to master the art of making more complicated puzzles.

Posted November 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “Devil’s Palace (1980)

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  1. “Machetti”? Lack of spell-checking is right.

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