Archive for March 2020

Frankenstein Adventure: Ghosts   2 comments

While I polished off the TRS-80 game of this game already, I was poking at John Olsen’s later port (that he titled Frankenstein’s Legacy) and discovered a feature in the z-code version (made by William Stott) I don’t recall ever seeing in any other adventure game.

First, just to note, all the ports generally do is re-format the game’s text to seem more like a more modern text adventure, as opposed to TRS-80 minimalism.

Dirt path
You are on a dirt path. There is an old, rundown mansion to the north, a swamp in the distance to the east, and to the west is an overgrown cemetery.

Compare with:

Honestly, I think I like the original more? The effect is akin to trying to scale up an old 8-bit game into modern graphics but leaving behind jagged edges.

See also this review from SPAG:

FRANKENSTEIN’S LEGACY’s lack of graphic description is at times comic also. If you order the game to cut open a dead body, you are told “OK.” That’s it, just “OK.”

This event is fine in the TRS-80 version — the appearance of the mutilated corpse in the object list is startling, and the main text is essentially an acknowledgment rather than any kind of atmosphere building. Without the two-window setup, all that’s left is the “OK”.

Now, the new feature.

For fun (and to see how it works), I’ve also implemented a ‘bones file’ (as outlined in ex137 of DM4) to generate the ghosts of the previous 10 player characters killed in the game. This is set ‘off’ by default. To switch on the ghosts, type GHOSTS ON (or HAUNT) near the start of the game.

DM4 is the Designer’s Manual 4 for Inform, the language used to make the port. I reckon someone else must have borrowed this idea since it’s direct from the manual, but I don’t recall ever seeing it re-used — anyone?

When you die in the game, you leave behind a ghost where you died.


Edge of a swamp
You are on the edge of a swamp. There are the distant ruins of an old mill further to the east.

You can see a faint ghost, a sign in the grass and a crowbar here.

The ghost stares at you mournfully. Someone must have died near here once, long ago.

If you die multiple times (quite reasonable to happen on the quicksand and the wolf while you’re solving them) there are multiple ghosts, one for each death. I’ve seen this in puzzle games, RPGs, and even in a multiplayer shooter, but never in adventure games.

Posted March 31, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Asylum (1981)   8 comments

In 1980, Med Systems released the graphical 3D adventure games Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth. Both were relatively light with graphics — showing walls, boxes, and the occasional extra like a keyhole. William F. Denman, Jr. and Frank Corr, Jr. released Asylum in February of 1981, which ramped up the graphics with openable and closable doors, inmates and guards, beds, and … well, likely other things, but I haven’t gotten very far yet.

The parser now accepts full sentences. This is very much an object lesson in just accepting more words does not mean the parser is better. Guess-the-verb (which Deathmaze definitely had) has been replaced with guess-the-phrase. (I’ll give examples of what I mean in a moment.)

You start, without preamble, imprisoned in the titular Asylum, with the goal to escape in 8 hours. The time is “real-time” except one minute in game time is 40 seconds in real time. I have yet to assess if this is really a problem or just an extra piece of tension; there’s plenty of ways early to lose without worrying about a time limit on top of things.

You start with just a coat; inside your room is a box with a hand grenade. “EXAMINE GRENADE” indicates the grenade has a pin. In order to escape the starting room, you need to PULL PIN FROM GRENADE and then UNLOCK DOOR WITH PIN. (If you GET PIN FROM GRENADE you are told it can’t be done, GET PIN just indicates it isn’t here. A good parser would understand both the four-word and two-word versions; there’s no reason to be picky here about where the pin is coming from.)

Incidentally: Don’t forget to put the pin back in the grenade!

Leaving the cell gets you into a hall with locked doors, none of which succumb to the pin. I ended up getting caught by a guard and being chided that I didn’t TIPTOE. I restarted and tried TIPTOE — the verb gets recognized, but doesn’t seem to do anything. It’s possible the first time you are caught is forced.

I got tossed into a different cell, wearing a straightjacket, which for some reason was on fire. One ROLL later both stops the fire and discards the ruined jacket. The room this time had a newspaper, and I was able to EXAMINE KEYHOLE to find there was a key in the lock. The next part required these exact steps:


The last one was particularly frustrating, stumping me for a good 15 minutes. The game doesn’t think the newspaper is in scope otherwise, and code seems to have bespoke-hacked in the ability to retrieve the newspaper with that last phrase, and only that last phrase (not GET NEWSPAPER FROM UNDER DOOR, even).

Leaving the room again, I found an identical-looking hallway (it might be the same one?) but with a silver key that let me get into two new halls; however, trying to walk down either led to an instant game over as guards caught me in their “offices”.

This one’s going to take work, for certain. I’m still optimistic this will get fun once I get into the swing of things.

Two last notes for now:

1.) Will Moczarski has blogged through this one already at The Adventure Gamer, if you’d like to see what the whole game is like early.

2.) Med Systems followed up Asylum with Asylum II, and then, very confusingly, Asylum, which is just Asylum II with the sequel number dropped (but ported to more systems like the Commodore 64). This means some places (like the Interactive Fiction Database) you will see mention of a game called Asylum which is actually the sequel. As of this writing, Wikipedia’s text mostly refers to the correct game, except the picture is of the cover of the other game.

Also, Frank Corr is left out of the dev credits. Denman is the sole credit on Asylum II, so I’m guessing that’s the reason for the error.

Posted March 29, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Frankenstein Adventure: Below the Surface Forever   6 comments

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.

— From Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

In the original Frankenstein, Victor abandons his “monster” as soon as he creates it; the monster doesn’t really get into murder until he finds out the circumstances of his creation, and plans revenge.

More modern takes have varied, but we’re jumping ahead a bit in the plot–

Before I made any progress on the real story, I was fussing about with all my objects, and discovered BURN worked as a verb on things other than just matches and candles. Dutifully testing out every item in my inventory, I found a secret message:

I also knew the painting of Victor I found last time was “screwed to the wall” so I just needed to get a screwdriver over to the painting to check it out, but I was blocked (as I left off last time) by a wolf.

The wolf had previously emerged when I had unearthed a coffin and a corpse.

After trying to fight off the wolf with little success, I went back to the CORPSE and applied my SCALPEL. This got me a mutilated CORPSE, which had a HEART and LIVER.

Grisly! I took the LIVER over to the wolf and it gobbled it down and ran away. Then I went back to the painting and unscrewed it, and applied the previously mentioned combination. This got me a DIARY and a MAP.

…I guess maybe I’ll find a liver somewhere else? Or did I make a mistake?

Plowing ahead, I took the map over to the bog where I previously was falling into quicksand and did FOLLOW MAP. This led me to an old mill with a crypt beneath.

The URN incidentally has ashes but you can POUR URN to also find gold ELECTRODES (as mentioned in the diary). The crypt had a passage leading back to the graveyard, but the wolf was back, and this time there was no liver to feed him. I did, however, have a fancy cane.

Now comes the most interesting dilemma of the game. I was able to return the HEART over to the monster back in the lab, but I had no liver because the wolf ate it. Except now the wolf is dead and in the form of a man… so maybe…

…is that the same liver? (I think at a code level it is, but at a plot level it’s the man’s original liver we cut out.)

With liver in hand, some working with needle and thread, and attaching the gold electrodes from the urn, I was able to come close to bringing life. I just needed to pull the lever. I fully expected a “you win” message, but:

Ah, of course. This is the kind of monster that comes out swinging right away. It chases you around which strongly suggested the solution was geographical. Restoring my game, grabbing the map I used last time to get by the quicksand, I tried pulling the lever again, and escaped to safety.

In the end, no progress was made: while we finished Victor Frankenstein’s wish, we then undid the monster we created just as quickly.

La Créature De Frankenstein by the KLAT group in Geneva. Picture by Guilhem Vellut.

Many games from this era use the tropes of horror, but far fewer have really been horror. That is, various “monsters” have often been interchangeable with fantasy — a mummy might as well be an orc, a ghost might as well be a goblin. Fully-fledged horror shows people in desperate in tragic circumstances doing desperate and tragic things, and I think Frankenstein Adventure qualifies with the, ah, creative use of corpses. I really did have a moment I was stunned when I realized how I could get a second liver. The gameplay finesse of having seen one that gets “used up” — bringing up the specter of softlocks, yet not being one — made the moment more effective.

Audible has recently put up some of their material for free (as in actually free, not a free trial). This includes an absolutely stellar reading of Frankenstein by the actor Dan Stevens (from Downton Abbey); it runs for 8 1/2 hours and if you’re looking for distraction I highly recommend it.

If you’re keen on playing Frankenstein Adventure itself, there’s a version you can play online. The display of the online version is slightly glitchy but it still works.

Posted March 26, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Frankenstein Adventure (1980-1981)   11 comments

Frankenstein Adventure is yet another TRS-80 game in BASIC, and was released in the October 1981 edition of CLOAD. (This was the same “magazine on tape” that had CIA Adventure.)

The reason I have the date listed as 1980 to 1981 is that, rather unusually for a simple BASIC game from this era, there is an extensive interview with the author, John R. Olsen Jr. from Oregon (not to be confused with John R. Olson from Kansas who was working at the same time).

I decided that I was going to write an adventure game. But I had no idea of how to go about it. There were no adventure authoring languages like Visionary at that time. My only choice was to write in the BASIC language. And that meant that I had to write everything: the parser, the input routines, the output routines, as well as the movement and other logic. But I had a pretty good knowledge of BASIC and so undaunted I began writing my first adventure during my Christmas vacation of 1980. The plot of my inaugural adventure was taken from the old horror movies. Its working title was ‘Frankenstein Adventure’. The plot had you (the player) discovering you were the long lost relative of Dr. Frankenstein. As his only heir, you had inherited his mansion. When you arrived, you found a letter from him telling you that he wanted you to complete his creature and bring it to life.

As the quote above implies, you’re not tasked with looting treasures or defeating evil. You are here to create life.

So far I’ve mostly explored. The map is fairly small; there’s a cemetery, a bog, and the house; other than the typical kitchen and dining room the house has a master bedroom with a “four poster BED” and “a PAINTING” of Victor Frankenstein.

There’s also a library, which (perhaps inevitably) had a secret passageway, leading to a laboratory.

My most immediate obstacle to fulfilling Dr. Frankenstein’s dying wish is the padlock on the power level, but I’m guessing that’s not the only hitch; I suspect the monster itself will need some work, but I don’t know with what yet. What I’m getting stalled on is some quicksand…

…and a wolf, who blocks my way back in the house after I dig up a coffin with a corpse.

I have access to a CANDLE, MATCHES, a SCALPEL, a CROWBAR, an old LEMON, some silk THREAD, a SHOVEL, and a SCREWDRIVER. It’s possible I’m still missing an ordinary secret in the house so I won’t call this comprehensive.

With a simple treasure-hunt TRS-80 game I likely would have dived into hints or source code already, but the premise is compelling enough I’m giving the game a little more effort before I throw in the towel. I like how the protagonist’s quest is not framed as good or evil, but just fulfilling a mission as Frankenstein’s last living relative.

Posted March 25, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Race for Midnight (1981)   2 comments


Thus begins the instructions for Steven Sacks’s second adventure, Race for Midnight, where you go to the former residence of the wizard Evro in order to find a cure for lycanthropy; the werewolf-ism kicks in again (permanently?) at midnight.

Corny, yes, but just this small amount of effort was enough to get the game’s atmosphere going at another level; as you progress, there’s the occasional message that


which lends a little urgency; you have 500 moves to win. (Fortunately, in gameplay terms this turns out to be plenty.)

Every room is fully illustrated this time; like one of the early On-Line Systems games, you can switch between image and text by pressing ENTER.

A sample. Yes, that’s a “kobold”. The instructions explain “DUE TO SOME OF THE EXPERIMENTS THAT EVRO DID, MANY OF THE MONSTERS NO LONGER HAVE BODIES.”

Just like Sacks’s previous work Chambers of Xenobia, the game is mostly based around fighting enemies. I show an example in the animation below. (The long delay after YOU ARE DEAD is due to a sound cue the GIF file does not capture.)

The two important additions over Xenobia are:

1.) There’s a 20-sided die that the player “rolls” for the protagonist and separately for the enemy; hitting the space bar or some other key stops the number each time. It’s fast enough that it isn’t really possible to time it, so the same level of randomness is there as if the game picked the numbers, yet the additional shred of player agency was enough to make me feel like I was genuinely participating. (Rolling for the monster is also interesting in a theoretical sense, since if you roll high enough the enemy hits you; usually in a tabletop RPG the game-master does the rolling, so this is acting more like a gamebook, akin to a Fighting Fantasy book.)

2.) While one hit is enough to kill any enemy, the hero can take up to three hits before dying, so failing a roll is not grounds for reloading the game each and every time as it was in Xenobia.

The map is divided into two floors, as shown above; the Magician’s Library contains the most important object of the game, explaining what ingredients you need to win.

This is two screenshots pasted together.

The puzzles are even less significant than in Xenobia; there’s one locked door with a nearby skeleton key, one door that requires KNOCKing to get through, and one door that requires a LODESTONE (found behind the door you need to KNOCK on, so it has to come after solving that puzzle).

Really, the main function of the puzzles is to gate the dragon; since most everything is in the open, it’s likely most players (including myself) will get the lodestone near the end. The dragon feels like a climax fight, even though it works mechanically like the others (unlike Xenobia, there’s no special dragon disintegrator, you just use your sword like all the other monsters).

The image also is re-used from Xenobia.

The other mechanic of note is that some of the ingredients are based on the monsters themselves, like the rat’s tail and toad eyes. There’s no difficulty in finding them (other than being alert to what ingredients you need) but since this recurs a couple times, it avoids the problem I mentioned from Xenobia of having an idea only appear once and not feel like a mechanic; here, the repetition builds harvesting monsters as a plot theme.

Once all the ingredients are found, winning is a matter of making it to the “FIELD” on the southeast corner of the map, then, following the instructions from the book: DRINK POTION, READ SCROLL, SAY ALDORAGAMBA, LOOK MIRROR.

At some fundamental level, this is identical to just collecting treasures, but the inclusion of a ritual to follow at the end makes for a far more satisfying plot ending.

Race for Midnight manages to slot into the puzzle-sparse-exploration-heavy genre I’ve theorized about (see: Ringen, Death Dreadnaught, Haunted Mansion) by filling the gap of “what do we do other than just wander?” with quasi-RPG combat. If nothing else, it’s useful as another example of someone trying to make that idea work. If you’re interested in trying it, Race for Midnight can be played online via the Internet Archive.

Evro’s throne room, complete with vanity letter.

Posted March 24, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Chambers of Xenobia (1981)   6 comments

Avant-Garde Creations, aka Avant-Garde Publishing, was established in 1979 by Mary Carol Smith and mostly published non-adventure games, but in 1981 they joined the fray with two titles by Steven Sacks.

From an Avant-Garde Creations ad, via Tumblr.

We’re back to strictly traditional gather-the-treasures (12, in this game). If nothing else, the game does innovate in the department of overly long animated title screens.

There’s also occasional graphics. It’s a frankly unusual setup; there’s a “base picture” (which appears right after the animation above)…

…and when a monster appears, the game shows the same screen with the blank space filled by the appropriate monster.


For the most part, the screen is the same quasi-Scott Adams style layout as seen in Adventure in Time.

The first room of the game; down is a small room with a shiny sword and a message that says LEAVE TREASURES HERE.

I mentioned monsters earlier; there are various monsters scattered throughout the map, CRPG-style, and there’s no real puzzles involved in dealing with them; it’s just KILL MONSTER and then the game tries to be dramatic about how things happen. Another animation to illustrate (the long pause after I CHARGE AT THE STIRGE is authentic):

You either win against a monster or die; the combat is more an object lesson to remind players to save their game rather than a useful mechanic.

The puzzles are also thin. There’s a paper that says COWABUNGA which is a magic word; SAY COWABUNGA is used elsewhere (and arbitrarily) to open a vault.

There’s a formation that’s part of a room description hiding a key.

There’s a clock that lets you set the time (I’ll let you guess from the hint what to set it to).

Most of the monsters leave dead bodies behind after you slay them, but one (and only one) of them is has a treasure.

One of the monsters, a dragon, will incinerate you if you try to attack with a sword; the game says it is invulnerable to normal weapons. Good that there’s a vial helpfully marked “DRAGON DISINTEGRATOR”.

Other than the combat (which I believe is entirely random; there’s not even an element of gaining experience by slaying the monsters in the right order) the author didn’t think in terms of building systems; each puzzle is an individual idea (try killing a monster with something other than your sword, try searching the environment) but since each idea is used only once, there’s no potential for building puzzle complexity.


I get the impression the author started from the direction of wanting to feel like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, filling a set of rooms with monsters with the notion that each would be a colorful “cinematic” encounter, but randomization of text — and dramatic delays — were not enough to carry gameplay interest.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that Steven Sacks’s next game (Race for Midnight) carries the same minimal combat idea, but with two changes that make it more compelling (while still being essentially random). The extended discussion will wait for next time!


Posted March 23, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure in Time: The Diabolical Machine   16 comments

I have saved the world.

Before proceeding to victory, let me nerd out briefly on the Miocene. The earliest horses emerged during this era, including the Eohippus, which was the size of a cat. (Image from 1920, public domain by Heinrich Harder.)

I had some hungry dinosaurs to deal with. Voltgloss correctly theorized that the seeds from Stonehenge would be useful, although it took me some experimenting before I realized I could go back to the greenhouse at headquarters to plant them.


The plants didn’t help with the dinosaurs, but I had a sleeping potion that seemed like it’d match, but after some flailing (and some crowdsourcing from you, the audience) I tried PUSH STUD on the robot while at the dinosaurs.

The exact phrasing of the hint made me realize that DRUG PLANTS was the right verb to use.


Going back to the dinosaurs with DRUGGED PLANTS at hand:

CLIMB doesn’t work here, but GO DINOSAUR does:

I was out of cards to try to jump to other places, and I was nearly out of objects that I’d used on puzzles: I only had the violin, bow, and a hammer.

HIT VIAL with the hammer got me nowhere, but PLAY VIOLIN did the trick. The sound caused the vial to bust open revealing a microfilm.

Typing L99AV into the computer (the one that only so far accepted NOSTRADAMUS and HUNTER) gave me


The time machine has two dials marked T1 and T2. T2 so far only gave destinations of the cards while T1 was locked at 1984; after this computer input the T1 readout changed to 2396. Using the computer one last time:

If this was a Cambridge mainframe game, we’d be up for a big fortress infiltration, but Nostradamus is just right there at the cliff on the north side of headquarters, ready to conquer the world. Here’s what happens if you just hang out and let it happen:

The last remaining useful object, the hammer, is all you need to win.

This is also the last adventure game we’ll see “written” by Paul Berker, although he did “programming” on a game we’ll see in 1982 (Queen of Phobos).

This strikes me as a beginner-with-promise sort of game. Berker’s room descriptions remained strong throughout, and the various actions needed to proceed were colorful and interesting, but in addition to the weak parser, the plot as a whole made little sense. The author tried to invoke heist-tropes (the master criminal leaving his “calling card” at every theft) but the events only made sense on a micro-level. If Nostradamus was going through time stealing parts, why was he leaving the exact cards behind needed to follow him? If he was somehow leaving this trail intentionally, why did he not expect us coming at the end? (He didn’t even give a long and rambling speech about how we fell right into his trap.) How was Nostradamus himself traveling through time? Why did he inject us with the syringe in the first place — was he stealing a portable time machine or some such? The design of the headquarters doesn’t make it seem like there was more than just the single time machine.

Paul Berker has uploaded the source code for his adventure games to the Internet.

While I still need to finish my writeup on my new discovery, I’m generally not sure where I’m going from here; if anyone knows a 1981 game that they want to nominate, I’ll consider dragging it up the queue.

Posted March 20, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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