Asylum (1981)   10 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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10 responses to “Asylum (1981)

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  1. Oh hm. I didn’t know that Asylum 2 had also been released under the title Asylum. I wonder which one I played?

    • The C64 and Atari versions were just “Asylum” but the second game. Which platform did you play it on?

      • There’s the problem. I played it on either a TRS-80 or an IBM PC; those were the two machines I had growing up. But I don’t remember which. And according to Wikipedia, the PC version was Asylum 2.

  2. I suppose having the strait jacket on fire was the only way the author could think of to enable you to remove it from your person within the realms of realism. SLIDE KEYHOLE would not have occurred to me I think.

    Judging by the game so far I predict many struggles with the parser and incongruous objects popping up.

    • SLIDE KEYHOLE the noun was harder than the verb — the game doesn’t actually describe anything at first, you just have the picture.

      I got SLIDE since I just used it with the newspaper; I probably would have brute-forced it with my verb list if I hadn’t.

  3. Good luck, Jason – you will probably need it. This one is pretty tough and I had to resort to the hint book (thankfully it’s on close to the end. I am currently playing (and blogging) through the sequel which I remember from way back when but in some regards it seems to be even tougher. At least it doesn’t have a timer, as believe me, you will hate this game for its timer at least at one point.

    Thank you for mentioning my playthrough, by the way!

  4. Btw, re: your “slide keyhole” comment: There are two versions of the game, and one of them accepts a lot more words/verbs than the other. It seems you are playing the other one and I’d really recommend playing the one with more possible verbs. I think they customized the game for TRS-80s with different RAM setups or something like that.

    • I was trying the other version; that was where I first got utterly stuck on pulling out the newspaper.

      Was having some tech issues so I switched to 16K for a bit. Will compare a little on my next post.

  5. Don’t forget to “Look Up”… =]

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