Miser (1981)   9 comments

CURSOR was a “publication on tape” that ran from 1978 to 1981, distributing a small selection of programs every month with a one-page newsletter. It’s rather like CLOAD for the TRS-80 which we saw back with CIA Adventure, the difference being CURSOR was for the Commodore PET.

This is two screenshots side-by-side. The opening music is animated (shown on the left) and plays through the PET’s sound box.


Miser appeared in the August 1981 issue. Credit in the printed material is given to Mary Jean Winter, although the opening screen of the game itself credits M.J. Lansing. (It’s likely she took the last name Winter on getting married.)

The text is all in short snippets, even shorter than the typical Scott Adams game (based on the source code, it seems to be intended to be playable on a monitor only 40 characters wide, although I used an 80-character width to play).

As you might be able to guess from the opening screen, this is Yet Another Moderately Spooky House. There are many adventures of this type

Mystery Mansion (Wolpert, 1978)
House of the Seven Gables (Hassett, 1978)
Haunted House (Arnstein, 1979)
Journey (Baker, 1979)
Mystery House (Williams, 1980)
Mystery Mansion (Hassett, 1980)
Haunted Mansion (O’Hare, 1980)
Mad Scientist (Hamlin, 1980)
Haunt (Laird, 1980)
The Secret of Flagstone Manor (Betts, 1981)

and this doesn’t even include the Spooky Castles (like The Count, Vampire Castle, and Dracula Avontuur).

While Crowther/Woods Adventure clearly set a fantasy treasure-hunt prototype for others to follow, there isn’t an obvious predecessor for Spooky Houses. It’s as if all the writers spontaneously arrived at the same idea. (The biggest seller on the list above was Mystery House, but that’s rather different than the other games; the emphasis is on mystery and not hanging out with ghosts.)

Upon entering the house, the door closes and locks behind the player, and they need to find an alternate method of exit.

What follows is a mostly straightforward treasure hunt. The author was clearly aiming at “easy” difficulty.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially given the limited parser (and when the parser was asked to stretch a bit, it clearly had trouble).

Trickiest was receiving the magic word “victory” with no clear place to use it, although I went with my most likely guess and got it right first try.

I liked this scene involving a ghostly organ

and the fairly colorful escape involving a parachute

(Aside: from what I gather it is impossible to use a parachute from the second floor of a house; according to The Internet which is always correct about everything the limit is 30 meters.)

For fun, let’s compare Miser with Flagstone Manor (the adventure from Australia I played recently), two games where it is almost guaranteed the authors never heard of each other.

1. Both have the door closing and locking with the alternate exit (Miser from above, Flagstone from below).

2. Both have “living armor”. Flagstone’s is deadly, Miser’s is just an obstacle.

3. Both have hidden exits, although Flagstone has quite a few more than Miser.

4. Flagstone has a safe with a three-number combination, Miser has a vault with a three-number combination.

There are still quite a few differences (Flagstone has the day/night system and only has one treasure to collect so doesn’t really count as a “treasure hunt”) but it’s fascinating to see a sort of “cultural convergence” of the Spooky House genre. I’m not sure what it is that made them seem like the ideal adventure spot (or even now seem like an ideal adventure spot) but multiple authors independently made what is clearly the same type of game.

One last note, in the department of “accidental innovation”: even though there’s lots of items and treasure hunting there is absolutely no inventory limit for this game. This is something I’ve kept a watch out for, assuming some author would just forget to code it in, but even the most broken games have had an inventory limit.

The lack of inventory limit may even be intentional because the game doesn’t let you drop treasures! I don’t believe Nellan is Thirsty had a limit either, but it also had a very small number of items.

Whether by being on purpose or by accident, unlimited inventory is one of those conveniences that eventually became standard for adventure games. 1981 is so early that even the most humble and straightforward of adventures can innovate.

Posted March 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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9 responses to “Miser (1981)

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  1. Re: Moderately spooky houses, the idea must just be somehow natural for narrative play. My best friend in 4th grade extemporized a continuing game scenario for me that spanned every recess all year, and eventually took me through caves, cloud cities, and starships. As quickly as the initial setting was abandoned, though, it gave the entire game its understated title: “Haunted House.”

  2. Having grown up watching Scooby-Doo, haunted mansions seem a very natural setting for an adventure game… hidden passages behind bookcases, moving suits of armour, spooky eye cut outs in paintings…

  3. About Cragne Manor–where I guess the Spooky House is an innovation, because the house in Anchorhead IIRC wasn’t nearly as large and I don’t think most of the game took place there (not that I ever got past day three!)–I think one of the reasons for the Spooky House was gating. There’s a lot of things you can (have to) do before you get to the Manor, but the Manor opens up a lot of other things, and also there are some natural gating areas inside the manor. A locked door is a more natural way to cut down the space available to a player than a literal broken bridge.

    This probably doesn’t apply to old games where the whole game is the spooky house, though.

  4. Pingback: Alien Egg (1981) | Renga in Blue

  5. Wow, some great info in here, including stuff I didn’t know and an amazing map. This was one of the stand-out memories from my childhood, being the first text adventure I played, at least for more than a few minutes. And as unlikely as it may seem, I re-implemented it in a modern language in 2013, and you can play it today with a web browser: https://rumpelein.com/miser.php

  6. The game made a later (1983/1984) appearance as a type-in in the first “Commodore 64 Fun and Games” book; which probably explains why there are so many ports/implementations (with various names) on the Commodore machines.

    The game got a 1984 sequel, by Andy Stadler, in the second book in that series where the action moves to the miser’s island.

    • By the way, I may be wrong but perhaps Mary Jean Winter is the same Mary Jean Winter, noted professor of Mathematics etc, that authored many computer education books in the 1980s (such as the Computer Playground book for multiple computers) and also wrote games, on the Vic 20, for Comm*Data [ who have to go down as one of the most difficult companies to do research on using a search engine… :-/ ]

  7. Pingback: Planet of the Robots (1981) | Renga in Blue

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