The Secret of Flagstone Manor (1981)   6 comments

Brian J. Betts is most famous for a series of C64 games with distinctive character graphics published by his one-man outfit Mountain Valley Software (based in Victoria, Australia), but he started in 1981 with a bog-standard TRS-80 game.

Given the weirdness of what I’ve played lately, I could use some bog-standard. This does have the possible distinction of being the first commercial text adventure from Australia, with the caveat there is at least one other candidate from 1981 we will get to (similar to how Planet of Death might be the first commercial text adventure from the UK).

The parser is in a Scott Adams style, up to the point I suspect the author was referring to the original source code.

The death screen, for instance, is identical.

Upon entering the manor, you find a suit of armor with an axe. This is what happens when you TAKE AXE.

I really haven’t emphasized enough the “family tree” that’s been happening with codebases around this time. Creating both a world model and a real parser with that understands verbs and nouns as independent entities is a non-trivial problem; some authors just didn’t bother with a parser (see: Quest, Dante’s Inferno).

Once various adventures had their BASIC code printed in magazines — or authors just read through BASIC source code straight off commercially sold copies — it was now easy to avoid starting from scratch. So while Betts clearly was borrowing from Adams, this was not only standard practice at the time but somewhat advisable for a beginner getting started.

The big difference here while the code likely borrows from Adventureland or Pirate Adventure (the two readily available in BASIC) the primary design inspiration seems to be The Count.

Now, I’m not just meaning this game is in the Spooky House family, but there’s a day-night cycle. It’s isn’t too long in when darkness starts falling. I originally thought this was a tight time limit (if darkness falls, the axe fellow mentioned earlier chops you up), but the intent is for you to find the bed and SLEEP which causes time to move on to the next day. (If nothing else, it’s good for atmosphere; if you forget to lock the door behind you when going to bed, someone strangles you in the night!)

There’s also no treasures so far. I don’t have whatever instructions the game came with so I don’t know what the goal really is, but since I’ve found lots of items but no *TREASURES* I suspect the objective is to defeat a spooky enemy of some sort.

The gameplay mostly consists of finding secrets.

  • There’s a library, with a lamp you can TURN causing the bookcase to move, revealing a “Hidden Cellar” with a skeleton and some garlic. The library also has a book on Ghost Stories with the note “the third is 7”.
  • There’s a lounge with fireplace and firewood and lighting the fire (with matches from another room) reveals a “Hidden Room” with cobwebs and a ladder.
  • There’s a dining room with a “small panel” where PRESS PANEL reveals some keys. The keys let you in two locked doors (including the previously mentioned bedroom).
  • There’s a “portrait of old Arthur Flagstone” where “The eyes are watching me.” Finding a KNIFE in a nearby clock and using CUT PAINTING causes a scream, revealing a piece of paper which says “the first is 3”.
  • There’s a study with a DESK that has an ASHTRAY and a LARGE PANEL. I suspect the LARGE PANEL can open just like the smaller one did because there’s a custom “How?” message when I try to OPEN PANEL, but this is one place I’m stuck.

Notice the “It’s getting dark.” messages. That means I need to head up to the bedroom soon if I want to live.

The only other lingering puzzle I have is a CAN I can’t open. I get the intuition this is supposed to be an “easy game” yet I’m stuck just as much as I would be on a hard game. It doesn’t help there’s likely a secret passage I haven’t unlocked yet but I have no idea where it is (that is, I’m missing a so-called “secret puzzle” which I’ve written about before).

The game is online here if someone wants to take a look. If anyone is inclined to drop hints, please use ROT13 encipherment. Despite the game coming off as a clone of other Spooky Houses, the day-night atmosphere alone is enough to hook me in a little longer before I start resorting to hints.

Posted February 14, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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6 responses to “The Secret of Flagstone Manor (1981)

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  1. The online version wasn’t initially working for me, but following the instructions from CASA, if you click on the “return to the options for emulating this program” you get to the listing for the game. Edit out the POKE16396,23: part of line 1 and click the ’emulate edited program’ button, and it seems to work.

    Reference: http://solutionarchive.com/game/id%2C3703/Secret+of+Flagstone+Manor%2C+The.html

    • The same happened to me, and I also went back to “return to the options for emulating this program”, and just chose “emulate edited program on disk”, which did the trick.

  2. I’d come across some of the later (C64) Mountain Valley Software games before, mainly due to their charming early homegrown inlays and also through Scott Julian’s tribute site at https://www.alphaworks.com.au/mvs/index.htm It’s interesting to see how much in common the later games have to this early outing.

  3. I played this one through. I was stuck similarly for a while (I did figure out how to open the can, but its contents didn’t seem immediately helpful) so I poked at the source code. ROT13 hints on what I think is your main bottleneck are below.

    1. Lbh arrq gb erprvir na va-tnzr uvag.
    2. Gur uvag vf cebivqrq betnavpnyyl (nethnoyl), engure guna ivn sbhegu-jnyy-oernxvat (v.r., vg’f abg sebz hfvat gur “URYC” pbzznaq).
    3. Va erny yvsr, jung pbzzba npgvba vf fbzrgvzrf fhttrfgrq gb snpvyvgngr fbyivat n qvssvphyg ceboyrz?
    4. Jung ner fbzr pbzzba jnlf grkg nqiragherf hfr gb betnavpnyyl (nethnoyl) cebivqr cebcurgvp be pelcgvp uvagf?
    5. Cnegvphyneyl ivn na npgvba lbh’q rkcrpg gb unir qvssrerag erfhygf ba qvssrerag nggrzcgf?
    6. Ubj qb lbh trg pyhrf va Vasbpbz’f Rapunagre?
    7. Lbh arrq gb fyrrc ba gur ceboyrz.
    8. Ba lbhe frpbaq fhpprffshy fyrrc, lbh jvyy erprvir na vzcbegnag qernz/pyhr.

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