Asylum: Finished!   10 comments

Rather like the word “illogical”, the word “difficult” when used to describe adventure games can do too much heavy lifting. Sure, saying a game is “easy” or “hard” can be useful for determining the best mood for maximum playability, but does a game test lateral thinking? Aptitude at coordinating many events across time? Skill at visualizing geographic relationships? The ability to spot minor word clues?

Or, as the case with Asylum, a willingness to be patient and keep track of everything? (Or, more bluntly: a tolerance for tedium?)

Asylum does have some puzzles that are difficult for general reasons, but it was clear the game wants you to grind through lists. Find a new key? Painstakingly try it on every single door in the game, since the game doesn’t label what goes where. Facing a reticent NPC? Try giving every item in your inventory, then when you’ve tried everything you are carrying, go to your special cache of items and get another set and try giving all of those. There really are circumstances where the lack of clueing is meant as a feature rather than a bug.

So, reversing time a bit, I found a BRASS KEY, a UNIFORM, and some CIGARETTES off a guard. The brass key is useful on … nothing. Absolutely nothing. I tested it on every door twice assuming I missed something, but nope, it’s a key that’s a complete red herring.

While the key was a dud, the cigarettes were useful. One of the inmates was asking for cigarettes; once I typed GIVE CIGARETTE TO INMATE I got them to follow me in the halls.

As the inmate followed — and as far as the TRS-80 graphics go, they really did follow — they picked locks on some of the doors. Not all the doors were useful to visit.

I received a round peg from one inmate, and a fake nose from another. The inmate following me also picked the lock on one of the “side” doors of the pentagon, leading to a new large maze.

When you go in, you are “rubbed with vanishing cream”, and shortly after hit what seems to be an invisible wall. It’s a mirror, which you can see by wearing the fake nose. However, in addition to being a reflection, this is also showing a square hole (!?), and you need to INSERT ROUND PEG IN SQUARE HOLE to get by. The word “illogical” might be used too often in describing puzzles but it certainly applies here. I think the intent is a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland effect where the hole doesn’t exist until you see its reflection, except … the fake nose isn’t a square. I just don’t know.

By large, I mean essentially twice the size of one of the mazes from Deathmaze. The word “tedium” again comes to mind. I got very, very, tired mapping things out.

Just part of the map; there are teleports and “revolving” walls.

The maze had a BAT (the kind you swing), a HAT, a BALL, some FLIES, and a NOTE (which you saw in my last post). To be clear on the note: it says to LOOK UP, and a piano falls on you if you do, but the note itself is not trapped and typing LOOK UP anywhere in this game will summon the piano.

In one small section of the maze, a carpenter builds a wall behind you as you step through a particular spot (essentially a one-way-door) and you start being chased by an axe murderer.

I think this is the best puzzle of the game, and you technically know enough to solve it, so a brief pause for a picture from the manual:


(alas, not GIVE, Asylum’s parser is still dodgy)

After self-defense via piano, you can take the murderer’s ax and cut your way through the wall the carpenter made. The ax murderer area also has a STEEL KEY you can use to get back to the main asylum pentagon area.

Fortunately, unlike the brass key, the steel key does work in places; after the usual “try everywhere” stratagem I found a fisherman who wanted the FLIES and gave BOOTS, a room full of water that I needed to be wearing the boots to survive, and then a named character…

…who I was able to give the boots to and get a BURRO and LANTERN in exchange.

The BURRO went to a guru who traded me some NAILS, and then I used the steel key again one more time to find a second large maze (20 by 20 again).

The “invisible wall” shtick starts the map again, although this time you get through by using the bat and ball.

I became exhausted. The density of puzzles on the map is just too low; about half is composed of squiggles for no reason other than to fill space. I found some MARBLES, some GOLD, and some annoying puzzles; one of them was a strong candidate for the most tedious puzzle of any adventure I’ve ever played.

The hall above has 20 doors, 10 on each side. Your goal (not spelled out, you just have to be bored enough to try it) is to enter each and every door. Most of them lead to an empty loop and teleport you back to the hall (in a way it’s easy to lose orientation). When you get to door #20 you get “rewarded” with some matches.

I also had some difficulty with a gorilla, especially because the game does not consider DROP MARBLES to be the same as THROW MARBLES (he slips and you can pummel him with the bat), but where I really entered the “start using hints and rely on them for dear life” phase was a long hall where upon reaching the halfway point, I got ran over by a roadster.

The trick here was to light Exodor’s lantern with the matches from the doors-of-tedium. I guess the hallway is too dark for the driver to see you? Except the game doesn’t describe the hall as dark, and there are a few “dark areas” where you can’t see walls (the guru room was one) so really, the interface is implying the hall is well lit.

Once you can get halfway through the hall in safety, you can drop some nails, leave, the roaster comes (even though it previously only came when you were in the hall) and wait for the roadster to wipe out. The screen fades to white (the explosion knocks you out, I reckon) and you wake up after time has passed and it is 5:00 AM. So much for being efficient with previous game actions: you now have 30 in-game minutes (20 minutes real-time) until the guards nab you and you lose the game.

After the “accidental” crash, the hall is filled with car parts, including red herrings like a WINDSHIELD WIPER and TIRE. There’s a VOLTAGE CONVERTER and CRANK that turn out to be useful but it’s very hard to know they’re useful early and you can’t carry everything at once; it’s pretty much guaranteed you’re going to have to restore to a saved game once you know what’s needed.

Past the gorilla (defeated earlier via marbles and baseball bat) was a copper which allow return to the main asylum. The key works on yet more doors in the pentagon, including one with an inmate offering a wire hanger.

I found I could TRADE CIGARETTES FOR HANGAR (and yes, I think it needs to be the verb TRADE, just GIVE CIGARETTE won’t do).

When you examine the hanger after you get it you find out you are literally in the darkest timeline. One quick restore later and the problem is rectified by asking for a PASS KEY as opposed to the hanger, but — again I was both severely annoyed and impressed by the game’s chutzpah. You need to make a wrong choice first to find out what the right choice is; there’s not even a slight pretense of the hero’s continuum being the one where they got lucky.

The pass key unlocks a final set of doors, including a room with a desk and a note (that I could never figure out the parser syntax on) and an adjacent room with a computer. The pass key also unlocked the room of an inmate I’ve been hearing “giggling” since the start of the game.

The inmate wants the gold from the second big maze (the description of the gold is “fool’s gold” and the inmate is supposed to be a fool) Then you can … and no, I did not figure this on my own … SIT ON BED, and it will set off an alarm.

To get by the alarm, you have to take the BAT (still handy!), go back to the computer room, and SMASH COMPUTER WITH BAT. (Not HIT COMPUTER WITH BAT, and my hate for Asylum’s parser burns with the heat of a thousand suns.) After disabling the alarm, the secret passage takes you to a final area.

The area has a professor who you can give the VOLTAGE CONVERTER (from the roadster) to…

At least in the 16K version, there’s no hint the converter is the right item. The professor fixing his time machine rewinds the in-game time by a little; remember, after the roadster scene you normally only have 20 minutes left to beat the game.

…and a catapult which is the final challenge, and one I was not up to, because oh god the parser.


I appreciated the variety of characters and events (amidst a sea of way-too-large mazes), but by the end my tolerance for frustration had bottomed out. I get the sense the authors got caught into the trap of wanting to make everything Bigger and More Complicated (including the map, the puzzles, and the parser) but a lot of the charm of the earlier games was lost in the process. Labyrinth and Deathmaze 5000 might have had some “meaningless squiggle” sections but for the most part every niche was accounted for and interesting.

On the positive end, the hub structure was essentially satisfying (although it would have been much better had there been some notion what each key did) and the small bit of character movement with the lockpicker was innovative. The Corr/Denman duo clearly did not lack for creativity, but unfortunately, this was to be Frank Corr’s last game; Asylum II (1982) is credited to Denman only (Corr is still listed in the manual as making the “graphics” but I think that’s due to re-use of Asylum I assets).

I was never able to read the note next to the computer room.
Did I say a thousand suns? Maybe up that to a million.

Posted April 8, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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10 responses to “Asylum: Finished!

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  1. …maybe READ MESSAGE might work?

  2. You did it! I remember very well the feeling of relief. The catapult “puzzle” was the one that stumped me after hours upon hours of trying meaningless stuff over and over again. The beginning of part two is much better but then it loses track and turns into part one in many ways. At least it doesn’t have a timer.

    I have no idea what happened to Frank Corr either but William Denman, of course, went on to make the definitive version of one of the best games ever which is something to write home about. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to want to be interviewed and I can’t say I haven’t tried everything.

    • I’m impressed you figured out the bed at the end. (Only way to “logic” through it I can think of is the fact nothing useful comes from distracting the fool by that point, and while there are red herrings, there aren’t red herring puzzles blocking nothing).

      I did see a thing about a missing crank with EXAMINE CATAPULT — I may have had to be sitting on the catapult first, though. (It would be amazing if the description was in the 16K version but they forgot it in the 32K!)

      • The authors give a clue about the bed in the note on the desk, but the fussy parser got in your way.

      • Any notion how to read it?

      • READ NOTE ON DESK, but it was long ago that I wrestled with Asylum, so I could be misremembering. BTW, regarding the lantern, the game goes out of its way to note that it glows RED when lit, which I suppose is a clue for why the roadster doesn’t run you down, but perhaps the 16K version omits that detail.

  3. I’m getting big old school RPG (like Wizardry/Bard’s Tale) flashbacks from your hand-drawn graph paper map of passages that go nowhere.

    It looks like there was a lot of interesting stuff in this one, but it just wasn’t user-friendly at all. Despite all of the absurdity of gorilla, pianos, and roadsters, etc. it seems like this could’ve made for a fun game if there was more detail (descriptive or graphical) and better characterization for all of the denizens of the asylum.

  4. It was actually a mixture of luck and thorough notes, I guess. I tried to sit on the bed fairly early in the game because I couldn’t believe that all of these empty rooms were really for nothing. I also discovered that any items you shove under the bed(s) will disappear forever so I knew that you were able to interact with the beds in some way. If you try to do it in your own cell the game tells you something like “not now” or “forget it”. Now there’s one thing you really learn in all these hours of playing “Asylum” and that’s to write down every bit of feedback that feels different from “no” (or “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Dave” etc). I rediscovered my note when I ran out of things to do and chose to reread all of them. I tried to sit on every damn bed in the asylum (a surefire sign that I belong there, right? why do I even want to escape anymore?) and the only feedback that stood out was in the fool’s room: “The fool doesn’t let you”. Getting rid of the fool was fairly easy (after examining the gold) and the first time the alarm sounded after I sat on the bed so I had another clue about what to do next.

    So, yeah, logic is probably much too noble a word for what I did. Stubborn persistence, rather. In the end I just wanted to be done with in. Nathan Mahney once described on his blog that he was more likely to look at a hint book when he felt closer to the end of the game. I instantly thought of “Asylum” when I read that.

  5. Went back and looked it up: The exact feedback for sitting on the wrong bed is “forget it for now.” In the fool’s room it’s “the fool prevents this.”

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