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.

I SEE:A MEAN-LOOKING TROGLODYTE

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.

At the end, I found and stored A HUGE DIAMOND, A BUNCH OF EMERALDS, PURSE OF RUBIES, A BAR OF GOLD, A GOLD NECKLACE, A HUGE EMERALD, A PLATINUM RING, A SAPPHIRE, GOLD DOUBLOONS, A PILE OF PLATINUM, AN ONYX STATUE, and an ANTIQUE BRASS CARVING and became an ADVENTURE GRANDMMASTER, although I didn’t really feel like one.

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!

I SEE:A HUGE DRAGON

Posted March 23, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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6 responses to “The Chambers of Xenobia (1981)

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  1. Credit to the game for getting its/it’s correct! From the puzzles you screenshot, it might almost be a deliberate attempt to showcase that.

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

    4:20?

    • Snrk. You made me look up when the thing started (1971) although I don’t recall ever hearing of it until the 90s, so maybe it took a while to get famous?

    • I also looked it up. I was worried it was going to turn out that 4:20 was the real answer instead of the joke.

      • Haunt would totally be up for doing a puzzle like that.

        There is a game with at least some drug references coming up for 1981 (it was not published at the time and only unearthed recently).

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