Archive for March 2020

Savage Island Part 2: Finished!   5 comments

Savage Island Part 2 managed to have essentially no extraneous puzzles — each element is tied in with the plot. In this, it resembles Adams’s own game The Count from two years earlier (and not much else).

So why isn’t this game spoken of as well as The Count? Other than extreme difficulty, including one of the toughest starts of any game I know, there’s one puzzle that requires an action so absurd I combed through the source code trying to find a clue that I missed. I don’t think there was one.

There’s still some fascinating ideas here and a twist at the end I was not expecting.

Back cover of the Apple II version, via Mobygames.

I left off last time in a small control area. There were two consoles, one indicating it was used for landing, and the other with some gym equipment and an “atom”. I only realized I could LOOK ATOM after I used the console, but I might as well give a preview:

>READ DIALS

picture of T-shaped handle
picture of an atom

>LOOK ATOM

OK
it has 8 electrons

So this is the console that fixes the “vacuum” problem. The button does nothing, and the lever “won’t budge”.

The gym, however, included a treadmill that I could go on and I was quite suspicious. I still couldn’t make any kind of connection into I noticed the BANDANNA I was still carrying around was described as having “metallic threads”. One PULL THREAD later and I had a “glowing metal thread”.

>TIE THREAD
OK
To what?
>TO TREADMILL
OK
>TIE THREAD
OK
To what?
>TO LEVER
OK

One hop on the treadmill later, and a RUN, and then… the game took me back in the control room like nothing happened. I had to peek at the hints here to notice that first typing HOLD RAILING while in the treadmill would make the whole setup work. (I had found this command previously, just I forgot about it.)

Having finished that, I assumed maybe something elsewhere in the ship changed and gallantly did GO FIELD:

Hurricane winds suck me into outer space!
I freeze to death!

Whoops! This is where I realized the function of the console; still progress, though!

But here, we hit the ludicrous puzzle. I’m not going to call it “ludicrously hard” because I think it falls outside the easy-hard spectrum. I just don’t know how anyone, anywhere found out how to do this.

The thread that I used to pull the lever, you see, is useful in another way.

>TIE THREAD

OK
To what?

>TO THREAD

This makes a “Meter loop of glowing thread”, where LOOK LOOP says “I see blackness in center!”

This is a portable hole.

Conceptually, wow, this is great! But could there have been some sort of clue that this worked?

Testing the hole in various places mostly yields the empty room shown above, except when testing it in the main control room.

There are fortunately not that many rooms to test in order to find this. The console has a button that returns the ship to normal.

The same room also has an “alien device”; it has red and blue slide switches. Blue just gives a high pitched electronic whine, but red leads to

OK
alien voice says `FREEHJLLGFREEUYE`

Alert reader Lisa already theorized a recorder being helpful at the first console (the one originally in vacuum that requires a voice password). While the vacuum now isn’t a problem, remember the main character is still in Neanderthal form (and realistically or not, has diminished speaking capacity)! So the recording is useful anyways.

(You might wonder why I haven’t gone back and brain transferred back to Original Me yet — more on that later.)

The dials read “Timemachine set for 100,000 years in past and nearest planetary body” so I immediately realized what I needed to do — the console was operating the empty room the game starts out in and sending things back in time. The cube (just sitting right there) explodes after a small amount of time. I originally thought I had to defuse the cube, or put it in the right gizmo for power generation, but since I had a dinosaur problem…

…I nuked the dinosaurs. I’m sorry. It was me.

You can confirm the planet is now dinosaur free by checking the main control room and looking at the screen — no more closeups of dinosaurs. So now all that’s left to do is… hmm, what? The captain’s message mentioned ROBOPIRATE.

Some brute force portable hole searching later, I was able to drop into a metal storage hold the nuke was in:

The cases have “row after row of Neanderthal”. Here is where the blue switch from the alien device works…

…which is only one step away from victory.

The “code” at the end is because the game is presumably pushing its character limit already. The game came with the ending text but with the lines mixed up; the code tells you what line to read in what order. Reconstructed, here is the full final message:

After resealing the wayward seed controller back in its case, the robopirate continues to execute its main programming.

Strangely, none of the master race are around, but the seed specimens are fine in the storage hold.

A strange looking creature is found wandering in the ship. Looking somewhat like the seed specimens, the robopirate decides to treat it as such and temporarily stores it away in the hold.

Continuing with its programming, the robopirate lands the ship on the blue-green planet it is currently orbiting. It then proceeds to hide the ship and rearrange the interior slightly. The engine and control compartment is separated and launched off into deep space. The seed specimens are then released from the display cases in the storage hold. The colony prospers and the strange specimen originally found wandering the ship becomes their chief.

Strangely enough, the chief’s offspring look more like him than they do his assorted wives!

Checking the planet the robopirate finds one lone wandering dinosaur. Being the last of its species, the robopirate stores it away in a now vacant display case.

All looks well and the robot closes the now hidden ship and powers itself off.

100,000 years pass and a timer reactivates the robot, which then goes to implement its final programming in the timeswap plan. The plan: make sure a current inhabitant is tricked into going back in time to eradicate the giant reptiles (for the robot is completely unable to harm or kill any living being.) Later, with a slight robotic chuckle, the robot realizes the strange twist of fate which awaits the specimen he chooses.

For it is obvious now that the Neanderthal sleeping in the display case these 100,000 years has the brains and personality of the chosen victim.
Yet it is the victim’s own genes which help launch the race of Man (after first ridding the world of the dinosaur!) Slayer of the dinosaur and father of all mankind, the world’s greatest hero now rests in the body of a prehistoric caveman. Who knows what great adventures await him in the future?

You may have noticed I didn’t talk about going back to switch brains. The console where PSYCHOTRANSFIGURATION happened does indicate pulling the lever will work for switching back, but there is no way in the game to pull the lever.

That means Original Protagonist is now in a Neanderthal body, and Original Me is now a Neanderthal, and at the end of Part 1 it was Neanderthal Original Me that sent (other) Original Me over to the ship by pushing the button.

That’s quite an ending — not necessarily pessimistic or bad for the main character, who has essentially saved the universe, but still life-changing in a way uncommon for the time — or, to be honest, even now.

Writing puzzles that are tough but fair is an extraordinarily challenging task in any system. Based on his own ad copy, Scott Adams clearly considered his adventures to be part of a set, and since the “easy” games were already taken care of with his earlier work, he was obliged to shoot for hard. (I don’t know about the difficulty of game #12, Golden Voyage, but that game is similar to Pyramid of Doom where another author did most of the writing and Adams just did some editing and polish.)

A question Mike Taylor raises is: just how much was he stymied by technical issues and the capabilities of the system? Nearly every puzzle is at least moderately difficult; for 1981 the conceptual idea of hopping between bodies and having one’s abilities change in the process was enough as is, and I think the only reason I had a smooth time over it was the benefit of years of videogame history where this sort of shtick recurs in many ways.

TIE THREAD TO THREAD doesn’t strike me as difficulty with verbs. Did the authors overlook putting a hint in the text? (Or maybe even: did *I* overlook a hint in the text?) Perhaps they did not have room for more text? Consider the ending text was all given in the manual for lack of space in the game itself. Once the portable hole is made the puzzle becomes semi-fair, especially since at the first use the player is restricted to a tiny area.

HYPERVENTILATE (which can also be BREATHE DEEPLY, but hunt-the-adverb is not much better than hunt-the-verb) is a fascinating case; I’m not sure how you’d indicate it even given the most blatant hintage and parser flexibility, yet the general idea — that you are “backing up” before exhaling, rather than doing a “standing jump”, is technically sound. If I was in charge of revising, I would probably take my editing pen and allow HOLD BREATH there — it’s a carry-over from the first game so not unreasonable, and it’s too easy for a player to be unclear what the real differences is between HOLD BREATH and BREATH DEEPLY.

Even when tools are capable of supporting a piece of complex world modeling, that’s not the same as making it easy and natural to do. It’s quite plausible to say Scott Adams was scratching at the very limits of his system here. And certainly, the forced tightness of the text itself cannot be forgotten; for 1981 home computers the very words themselves were at a premium.

Alas, I can’t say here we have a forgotten masterpiece (although Kim Schuette writing in 1984 calls it a “jewel”) but it’s certainly of strong historical interest and proof that in 1981 Scott Adams wasn’t quite done yet thinking about advancing the craft of adventure games.

Posted March 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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A New Port of Night of the Vampire Bunnies   7 comments

I wrote quite a few text adventures in my youth, including one when I was about 7 or so which went something like: you were on the surface of Mars, which was also a maze. You found three colored buttons. If you pressed the wrong button, you blew up. If you pressed the right button, you went inside the planet to safety and won the game.

Let us just say I had the opportunity to save some of my old GW-BASIC source code, and declined.

The exception would be Night of the Vampire Bunnies, which I wrote when I was 10/11 (I believe I had my birthday somewhere mid-progress). There was a discussion of juvenilia on the rec.games.int-fiction forum and I decided to upload the thing, whereupon people have since treated it far more seriously than I would expect.

This includes a port for z-code which just appeared out of the blue one day — Patrick Kellum emailed me after the fact mentioning he had written it, and it includes a compass as well as a hint system.

We can add a second port to the pile, by the prolific Jim Gerrie. It’s for the TRS-80 MC-10 and allows more of a full retro effect.

The real damage done to Jason’s program, beyond condensing his descriptions, was that he had a fairly complex parser which I removed. It is clear that he did not simply use a standard existing two-word parser example program like “Tower of Mystery” from Compute’t Guide to Text Adventures (1984). He created his own unique system for parsing command input. He had a complex system for removing extra article words like THE and ON and TO. He had ways of breaking the sentences input not just into VERB NOUN, but also W1$ and W2$. He had the ambition to have his players type in more complete English sentences and then to try to parse the input into coherent instructions that could be handled by the program.

By the time I had written it, I was mainly playing Infocom games, so clearly a two-word parser would not do. However, there wasn’t anything in the game that seriously demanded the full parser, so the demake plays just fine.

While I’m mentioning Jim Gerrie, I’d like to point to two of his other ports: his version of Dave Kaufman’s Star Trader which is a seminal early 1970s game that is mostly forgotten today, and his port of Shoplifting Boy, the first stealth game, originally by Hiroshi Suzuki in 1979.

Posted March 12, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Savage Island Part 2: ROBOPIRATE   5 comments

Okay, things got good.

They got good enough that I’m going to give fair warning about plot spoilers — if you’re genuinely wanting to play this (once you’re past the breath control stuff it gets better) you might want to veer away now. (You’ll need to have played the first game or at least read my own playthrough from last year. There’s an online BBC Micro version that runs well.)

Also, before I dig in, I realize I neglected in my first post to mention that Scott Adams has a co-author credit on this one: Russ Wetmore. A year later Mr. Wetmore went on to write the Frogger clone Preppie! for Atari computers. He’s still active to this day in software, just not in games.

I had previously been stuck in a small area with a PSYCHOTRANSFIGURATION device and a Neanderthal. The device is in a “red metal room” and it is next to another empty “red metal room”. I had been thinking (given the game’s description of the Neanderthal as a “non-transfigured controller”) that I needed to lure the Neanderthal over to the empty room and then start the device. The Neanderthal sometimes follows and sometimes lags behind (so the idea was technically sound) but unfortunately, I could never get them to step into the right room.

I eventually resorted to a hint (early, I know, but HYPERVENTILATE was enough to make me wonder if the rest of the game would be equally hard) and found out that the flower that smelled like a sedative could be smashed.

>SMASH FLOWER

sedated!
I feel
ASPHYXIATED
I am dead.

(I would normally use BREAK but that’s the BREATHE verb — the game understands the first four letters of each word as opposed to three as in previous Scott Adams games, but that’s still enough to cause overlapping. CRUSH works too.)

Fortunately, I had just undergone breath control boot camp and knew what to do next: HOLD BREATH (which you can do before releasing the Neanderthal) and then SMASH or CRUSH the flower while he’s in the room.

He’s then sedated, although trying to TAKE NEAN leads to “How? too large”.

I figured this out almost immediately after so I suppose it’s better at emphasizing the “weight” of the action over just GET, but I could still see someone getting unnecessarily stuck here by visualizing the PULL and GET actions as equivalent.

I deposited the Neanderthal in the empty room as I was theorizing, went to push the button, and got a different reaction than before.

OK
metallic voice whispers in my mind:
“Vocalize password Please”

I confess I had to reach for another hint. I’m slightly embarrassed by this one; I knew from the previous game I was already carrying over the bandanna, so I had the notion of carrying physical objects from Part 1, but it didn’t occur to me I might also need to carry information from Part 1. Here’s the relevant screenshot from that game:

The password here (FREE) was used in the previous game, but it also is used here. While I’m pulling out old screenshots, let me yank out one more which I’ll be referring back to.

Back to Part 2. Applying the password:

The “Rayshield” mentioned is the bandanna carried from Part 1; I was wearing it so I solved the puzzle by default, and found out what it was doing when I looked up the password puzzle.

It took me a few beats to realize PSYCHOTRANSFIGURATION was referring to brain transfer. You are now the Neanderthal.

And with one stroke, Adams/Wetmore pulled off what is likely the first change in player character for an adventure game. There’s still lots of 1981 to go, of course, but still, this was a jaw-dropping moment for me.

The Neanderthal can read the alien script on the dials. I assume the aliens genetically engineered the knowledge in.

>READ DIAL
strange
I can
read it!
“Pull lever to reverse Transfiguration Process”

The Neanderthal also has more lung capacity than the original character, and so can last in vacuum longer and make it all the way to the blinking-red-light force field.

There’s two “me”s going on now — the Me as the now-unconscious start character, and the “me” being referred to here.

The OPEN EYES needed when waking up as the Neanderthal trained me in knowing I could CLOSE EYES as well.

>CLOSE EYES
OK
Vacuum!
>GO FIELD
>OPEN EYES
OK

I am in a metal room. Visible items:

Force field. Control console. Treadmill. Large medicine ball. Freestanding punching bag.

I haven’t played much with the devices here yet. You can GO TREADMILL which leads to a “room” that I can’t get out of (I’m guessing parser trouble). PUNCH BAG busts the punching bag and leaves scraps of cloth; I’m going to try bringing it back to my original body and see what happens with it when I switch minds back and punch it there.

The rooms nearby (see map above) include a main control room…

…and a cabin with a “small plastic wafer” which was sufficient for me to realize the plot.

Let me summarize:

Aliens came to Earth to seed humanoids. In order to seed them, they needed to remove the dinosaurs first. A mutiny happened and the mission was never completed. Without the Neanderthal seed being placed on Earth, humanoids will never develop. Our hero was thrown back in time to the alien ship. If the alien ship is destroyed, there is a time paradox as a human destroys the method that humans exist in the first place.

(You can destroy the ship early on by picking up a “plastic block” which turns into a “GLOWING plastic block” and then: “EXPLOSION! Time paradox shatters reality”.)

This means our quest is to kill the dinosaurs, seed the first humanoids, and save reality.

I’m hoping I get to use the command >DROP METEOR later.

Also note the picture with “me” in on the cave wall from Part 1, or even the “Large stone head” from the very first room of Part 1:

Our hero has already been memorialized for deeds that they have yet to do!

Posted March 11, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Savage Island Part 2: PSYCHOTRANSFIGURATION   6 comments

I’ve chipped away some small chunks, leaving behind a mountain of dead protagonists.

To recap from last time: I started in a metal room; then went through a force field, into a vacuum, and died.

“…Part 2, where you either become the world’s greatest hero or go to a quick, horrible death.” Via Giant Bomb.

From Savage Island Part 1, I remembered HOLD BREATH worked. It “works” here too but rather than your lungs becoming a gooey mess you are ASPHYXIATED.

After some toying around I discovered EXHALE OUT was responsive.

Try: “BREATHE OUT”

(The game clearly understood what I meant: why not just parse it? The same issue came up with Cavern of Riches. I can understand trying to train the player in a system to make things easier, like Adventure letting the player know they can just type W rather than GO WEST after they’ve done it enough times, but this case was just an alternate phrasing.)

I found if I did HOLD BREATH, then stepped into Vacuum and did BREATHE OUT I could survive a little longer. Four turns, to be exact. Long enough to fiddle with the console to no avail (there’s a lever that won’t budge, dials with “alien script” and a button that asks for a voice command) but also to make it to another force field only to die.

If I could only survive just a little longer, I could make it through the second force field (and presumably to non-vacuum safety).

A lot of fiddling later and I remembered something I saw 30 years ago (!!) from Kim Schuette’s Book of Adventure Games. I was flipping through the back looking at hints for a different game but saw HYPERVENTILATE on one of the pages. I clearly thought it was absurd at the time and it stuck with me, because I remembered it here. (I’m not exaggerating on the number of years!)

Possibly the text adventure record for “most impressive verb required to beat the game”.

Then when I went in the force field and tried to BREATHE OUT, I was able to survive for an extra two turns in vacuum, long enough to get through that force field I was dying at previously.

The hydroponics hide a FLOWER where typing SMELL FLOWER says “I feel briefly sedated!”

The display case has a Neanderthal (like Part 1). If you push the button a voice tells you

WARNING – Non-transfigured controller of seed specimens has been released

and the Neanderthal follows you around, says Argh, and eventually hits and kills you if you hang out long enough.

North a bit there’s another console (again with buttons, dials, and a lever). The lever won’t budge on this console either, but the button has an impressive message:

That’s pretty much it for progress.

In addition to the hydroponics area, I was able to go to a lifeboat exposed to space, and jump to, er, freedom.

“Stop, stop! He’s already dead!”

There’s one more force field with a “red blinking light” but I don’t have enough air supply to get through (if it even will let me through without dying in some new horrible way).

Posted March 10, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Savage Island Part 2 (1981)   11 comments

I did promise I would be posting about a new discovery, but it’s one of those where the writeup is very complicated (and requires some backstory that goes back to the 1960s) so I’m going to keep that on my back shelf and put forth my next 1981 game: the finale of a Scott Adams duology self-advertised as being very, very, hard.

A sign in the second room even touts this fact:

Compared to what you’re to go through, Part I was a piece of cake! Good Luck & Adieu

You can read my writeup for Part 1 (or I, or One) if you like, although the brief summary is: you start on an island about to be hit by a hurricane. You survive the hurricane and investigate a small nearby island to find a strange technological area, where finally a caveman comes and pushes a button causing you to get a password and the game to end.

That admittedly sounds bizarre written out, but I did think Part 1 managed a good atmosphere and sense of tension, with complex puzzle interlocking that required keeping track of both time and space.

The password I got was 123, and it does indeed work as advertised.

metallic voice whispers in my mind: ‘Vocalize password please’

>SAY 123

Flash of light I’m naked! except 1 item

Past this room is a room with buttons, dials, levers, and as the game insists, “Vacuum!”.

I am in a metal room.
Visible items:

Force field. Control console. Large plastic block. Radiant glowing neon sign.

You only have one turn before you die (“lungs explode in red bubbling ruin”). I don’t know yet what to do. So … good start!

Ok, I’m being glib, but there’s a spot of evil that happened before I even started. There are two passwords you can get from Savage Island Part 1. When I finished that game I happened to have a bandana which was still in my inventory, and I consequently receieved password 123; using it means I started Part 2 with the same item.

If you don’t have the bandana, you get a different password: 474. (I found this out by reading Gaming After 40’s playthrough; his final shot is of 474.) In the post I just linked to, a comment by none other than Scott Adams himself implies not having the bandana means you have already lost.

So: it’s possible to softlock Savage Island Part 2 before you’ve even started playing the game. I am in awe.

Posted March 9, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alien Egg (1981)   6 comments

You’re a biologist and the only non-engineer among the spaceship’s crew. To make yourself useful, you volunteered for the cryogenic deep freeze experiment. You’ve been on ice for fifty years, the time it has taken the crew to fly to the newly discovered planet Xepa, where they are to capture an alien egg and return it to Hoboken for analysis. Your time is up. The freezer lid opens automatically. You leap out, eager to take center stage away from all those engineers. But wait … something’s wrong. A deadly silence replaces the normal hustle and bustle of the crew’s activity. The entire crew has mysteriously disappeared. Surrounded by clickings and whirlings of instruments about which you know nothing, you try not to panic. You kick yourself for passing up that flight instrumentation course in Waco, Texas so you could attend the est retreat in Tahiti. Nevertheless, you conclude your only recourse is to try to complete the mission yourself, Thus, you must figure out how to suit up, exit the spacecraft, capture a specimen and return it to the ship’s lab for analysis. You can worry about how to get back home later!

— From the manual for Alien Egg

APX (Atari Program Exchange) was a program Atari had designed to sell user-written software: “all APX software is written by and for people just like you.”

1981 was still a year where “user-written” doesn’t entirely make sense as a separate concept from just software, since quite a few of the things being published “normally” were random folks sending software to publishers; that is, exactly the same thing that APX describes. I’m hoping they paid fine and it wasn’t just a way to eke out extra product for less money (I have no evidence either way).

Alien Egg is one of two adventure games by Robert Zdybel (the other is Castle, also from 1981) and the first game we’ve seen for this project only available on an Atari computer. He did go on to a long career after (including making Warbirds for the Atari Lynx, arguably one of the best games for the system) and is still currently at Electronic Arts.

I’m not sure whether Castle or Alien Egg came first; they both show up in the Summer 1981 Atari Program Exchange catalog (along with four text adventures by other authors) so I just picked one at random.

As the opening text I quoted earlier implies, you are on a spaceship where everyone has mysteriously disappeared, and your job, rather oddly, is to ignore all that, and go on with the mission: to find and retrieve an alien egg.

I’m going to start from the positive end first: this game had a nice sense of attitude. We’re still in the era where a lot of games feel drained of humor (due to having to pack so much in so little) but the author here felt free to make the narrator into a character of sorts.

This is crossed with a sense of unresolved mystery.

This is where the rest of the crew slept before their mysterious and untimely disappearance.
There are several bunks against one of the bulkheads. All of the are neatly made and empty.

>U

CAPTAIN’S BUNK
This is where the Captain used to bunk before HIS mysterious and untimely disappearance.

Unfortunately, that’s about as far as my positive comments go. The parser was sheer suffering, and not necessarily for missing verbs. The verbs are even printed right in the manual.

Notice a complete lack of synonyms, like “TAKE” but no “GET”. At least the author was up-front about it.

No, the problem is the nouns.

The right thing to type here is — and I wish I was joking — TAKE SPACESUIT. It only gets referred to that if you leave and come back (the room switches to displaying in “brief” style).

The messages are almost as unhelpful as possible. Going in a direction that isn’t open yet just gets “SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY” without further detail what that something might be.

This game does have a context-sensitive HINT command (good) which sometimes has funny easter eggs (also good)

but the HINT command also sometimes acts like an EXAMINE command, and the intent by the author almost seems like it’s intended people use it as much as possible.

OK, let’s backtrack and go over the plot. You start off in the Astro-Navigation Room with a mysterious HATCH that won’t open but access to most of a ship, and find a TRIBBLE, CAP, SPACESUIT, and LAMP.

There’s also a PAMPHLET which indicates aliens are afraid of tribbles, and a SIGN indicating “ACCESS TO SECURE AREAS CONTROLLED BY VOICE COMMAND”.

One of the secure areas is reasonable to find using a command on a nearby sticker, and yields a locked chest. Further exploration yields horribly being stuck, unless one happens to do HINT in the Crew’s Bunks.

The Captain’s Cap belongs in his cabin.

Dropping the CAP in the cabin opens a secret compartment that yields a RECORDER.

WARNER is good enough to enter a computer room.

With the glove you can then MOVE ROD in the Reactor Control Room to shut off the nuclear reactor. This lets you finally OPEN HATCH and get to the bottom part of the ship, and outside. In the bottom of the ship you can find a KEY that unlocks the chest from earlier, yielding a BLASTER.

Then you can get on the surface of the planet, apply your newfound blaster to get past a rock and into a cave, and softlock yourself because you went down a bottomless pit.

Oops! Playing everything over again (or reloading a save state because modern conveniences, yay) and going a different direction, you find an alien and the titular egg.

Taking the egg back to the Biology Room and dropping it leads to victory.

Of course, as the manual says, “You can worry about how to get back home later!” So, later is … now? Hello? Where did everyone go? Is there instructions for flying this thing?

I do appreciate the game, feels, hm, written. (Compare with Miser, which is almost unarguably a better game, but had to be so crisp in its prose it lacked character.) Narration with attitude still wasn’t common for 1981, so that was enough to carry me through. I just wasn’t a fan of suffering to communicate.

READ BOOK only works in the Billards Room (it’s a book on Zero-G Billiards, but you can’t read it elsewhere, because … ???).

(Bonus: just like Miser, this game doesn’t have an inventory limit either! Two in a row! When previously there were almost none! Weird how that happens.)

Posted March 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Miser (1981)   8 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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