The Secret of Flagstone Manor: Finished!   5 comments

The game had two clever moments left before the ending.

Both moments felt simultaneously like advances in storytelling and steps back in game design. The game design issue has an easy fix, but it’s something that hadn’t been invented yet when this game was written.

I haven’t been able to find any physical copies of Flagstone, but here’s their logo as printed on The Gambler (a poker game they later published). From sairuk on Twitter.

Last time I predicted I was stuck on what was intended as “easy” puzzles; this was mostly correct. I mostly wasn’t applying MOVE to enough things.

Either here…

>MOVE COBWEBS
O.K.
There’s writing on the wall behind the cobwebs.
It says: “The second is 8”.

…or moving a bed, finding a can opener…

>MOVE BED
O.K.
I see something.

…or moving a chest, finding a rope.

The other thing I missed was I only slept in bed once; I generally was dying before reaching the third day, or resetting and consolidating my previous actions. Eventually, I did finally get round to a second sleep, where I had a dream informing me to leave the wine bottle in the study overnight.

Doing so led to an empty bottle as shown above, but no other apparent effect. Finally, I realized that PRESS PANEL (which previously didn’t work) now had an effect; a secret panel opened to a new area.

I think the intent is that the ghost of Arthur Flagstone (who you’ll meet in a moment) came up to drink the wine, somehow unlocking the panel in the process. I’m not that entirely makes sense plot-wise because the ghost is also the one who kills you if you sleep without locking your door (and you hear chains clanking the first night, so you know he’s out there). If I stretch hard enough I could imagine the ghost accidentally triggering something while they’re indulging their post-death affection for alcohol.

>FEED MOUSE
O.K.
The mouse grabs the cheese
and disappears into a small hole.
I hear a click.
The wall moves aside.

Here’s the aforementioned ghost. The combination lock puts together information found throughout the Manor:

  • “The first is 3” from a paper hidden in a painting
  • “The second is 8” from cobwebs
  • “The third is 7” from a book

You need to have eaten some garlic before approaching the door. Otherwise, the ghost kills you for trying to enter (there’s a hint in a diary that Flagstone hates garlic breath).

Past the ghost is the only treasure of the game.

If you try to take the gold bars out, the ghost goes into overdrive.

The ghost, outraged at seeing me with his gold,
overcomes his dislike of garlic… and THROTTLES me!

This moment is what I meant about an advance in storytelling being accompanied by a step back in gameplay.

The idea of the ghost being so protective of his wealth even after death was oddly human; that it was accompanied by a previous puzzle solution being ignored made it more powerful.

In a gameplay sense, this was a cheap shot; the game gives the impression the player is protected, when suddenly they aren’t — but I don’t think this event would be as effective any other way. A more modern “rewind to the previous mistake” (either automatic or with an UNDO command) would dance around the problem neatly, but that particular innovation wasn’t invented yet (except for maybe in Hezarin).

Speaking of cheap shots, here’s what happens if you try to PULL RING:

A large stone crashes from the roof… and CLOBBERS me!

Ow. But! … this is again a clever moment of plot, because the right solution is to tie a rope, step outside the room (requiring leaving the gold bars, temporarily) and pull the rope. This breaks the roof which turns out the be the flagstone from the very first room of the game.

This is what the flagstone looks like at the very start. I thought at the time perhaps it was meant as just an atmospheric red herring.

This sort of return-in-importance is especially rare for the TRS-80 games of the time; I can’t think of another example offhand.

The Secret of Flagstone Manor was a strong start for a prolific adventure-writer. I’m looking forward to trying more of the Brian J. Betts library, but we have to wait until 1982 before we reach any.

In the meantime, let’s investigate another candidate for First Australian Commercial Text Adventure Game, one I thought was going to be mundane but ended up shocking me.

Posted February 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “The Secret of Flagstone Manor: Finished!

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  1. We do have another Brian J. Betts game from 1981 listed in our database at CASA, Forbidden Valley for TRS-80. However, I can’t see a source for that entry (or locate the actual game) so I’ll see if I can find out where the information originated and feed back if we discover more. I know that there has been some contact with Brian himself, in the past, so it’s possible he mentioned the game in correspondence with the site’s owner.

    One of our users has been diving deep into the Flagstone code, by the way, and it’s his opinion that the game is unrelated to Scott Adams’ code. Jim says the system of using a series of string arrays for items held and for items in each room seems pretty unique, and unlike most other BASIC adventures of the time.

    • Yeah, after I finished I looked at the source more extensively — I’ll need to update the post at some point (or maybe just make a new one)

      Drop me a line if there’s any news on Forbidden Valley.

      In the same vein as Forbidden Valley, there’s a “1980” Aussie game (Primal Adventure). The date seems to have originated from when Ira Goldklang entered it, but it isn’t in the source and I don’t know where he got the year from. I’m holding off on that game until I can get more information.

      • Yes, Bob Sunners was certainly active in 1980, with his BASIC programs appearing in publications such as Micro-80, but it would be nice to find a primary source that provides firm confirmation of the 1980 date that has been welded onto the game’s filename.

    • A bit slow, but I edited my previous post and swapped in a new paragraph.

      I would guess he saw the machine code versions but *not* the BASIC version of the games.

  2. Pingback: The Secret of Flagstone Manor (1981) | Renga in Blue

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