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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16 responses to “Adventure in Time: The Diabolical Machine

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  1. Nicely done!

    And you know what they say: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like an archfiend perched precariously on the edge of a cliff.

  2. So Nostradamus drugged you and hijacked your time machine, bringing violins to ancient Rome and dinosaurs to the Miocene, and building the ultimate weapon… but he still didn’t even think of using time travel to make sure his prophecies were clear and accurate…?

    P. Ingerson (solar penguin)
    • Assuming it’s the same guy and not some code word because he thought it sounded cool, I’m going to assume he messed up his own prophecies when he was noodling with time. There might be some Heisenberg uncertainty going on too.

  3. Perhaps take a look at Frankenstein Adventure, the first game by the prolific John R. Olsen (whose games span multiple platforms, self-made and commercial adventure writing systems). He discusses the background of the game in this old Syntax fanzine interview:

    Like many of his other games, it’s one that he returned to many times over the years, reworking it and remaking it in various adventure writing systems.

    • After suggesting a John R. Olsen game, I’ve just been trying to tidy up the entries on CASA… not an easy feat for him when he’s reprogrammed, renamed and re-released his games so often… A lot of work still to do.

      It did allow me to identify what appears to be his *actual* first game; albeit obviously a test/demonstration game where he was developing his BASIC system, and probably not intended for public release. It’s called Island Adventure (not to be confused with his later releases with similar names). The listing says it was written by John Olson in Fall 1981 “just for the fun of it”.

      • Ah! Maybe gnore that… because… looking at the listing it’s actually credited to John OlsOn… not John Olsen… Surely John would’ve spelt his own name correctly? It might seem odd that a John Olson and a John Olsen were both experimenting with writing adventure games on the TRS-80 at the end of 1981… but it’s not outside the realms of possibility…. More research needed, I think… There is an address, of HOXIE, KS 67740 in the listing too… I will see if that matches up with anything we know about John R. Olsen.

      • The address for John R. Olsen was Newberg, Oregon (in the early 1990s) which is a long way from Kansas.

      • John Olson, was an author… known for the 1982 Mansion Adventure… so perhaps it was by him.

      • I like how you have “stuck on island” as a genre.

        I’ll try these. (Going to hit another Apple II duology first, but probably by next Friday.)

      • I never get around to tagging the genres personally, but other admins are more into that sort of thing. :) I’m pretty sure now that Island Adventure is by the John Olson who also produced the 1982 games Mansion Adventure and Gymnasium Adventure, rather than by the more prolific John R. Olsen who went on to make the very well known ‘I was a cannibal for the FBI’.

      • Once again… it shows how information like that can be just copy and pasted around all the archive sites… particularly when someone appends it to the filename of the disk/tape image. Your blog posts are often sending me off down a rabbit hole these days and highlighting errors such as these.

    • Amusingly, looking at the listing for Gymnasium Adventure, we’ve found out that John Olson’s middle initial was also R… So we seem to have a John R. Olson and a John R. Olsen… No wonder CLOAD magazine even mixed up the spelling when printing details of one of the games.

  4. So the Miocene had a cat-sized horse, and also a horse-sized cat? I suppose that which would you rather fight, 100 cat-sized horses or 1 horse-sized cat, is not a very interesting question.

    More on point, the function of the robot is only to open a secret door at the beginning and to provide a syntax hint, or does it do other hinting? That seems like sketchy design; like the robot is basically doing “miscellaneous.”

  5. Perhaps given the current state of the world “Asylum” by Med Systems for the TRS-80 may be an apposite choice; the 32k version is more detailed than its 16k parent.

    • I’m going to make Asylum my next difficult/substantial game (so it’ll probably land next week).

      I’ve been trying to intersperse the one-shots and type-ins and oddities in between each long game, but sometimes it is hard to know from appearances how long a game will take; Asylum is almost guaranteed to be long, though.

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