Archive for April 2020

Asylum: LOOK UP   17 comments

Presented without comment.

Posted April 6, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Asylum: Oddly Angled   4 comments

I’m trying to get through a big chunk of game before I write my next major update, but I’ve got a small “feature” to report on that is mind-boggling on its own.

I mapped the original Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth on a spreadsheet, as they followed the same pattern as many RPGs of a regular grid; possibly with some teleports or other sneakiness, but a grid nonetheless.

That doesn’t hold for this game. The above picture is entirely wrong. The real map (at least for the starting area) is something like:

So you have five “inward” doors and two “outward” doors in every hall, but even though it appears you are turning 90 degrees to go around halls, you’re turning 72 degrees instead. The real map is a pentagon.

This is one of those times I am intensely irritated by a feature but simultaneously in awe of the chutzpah. The game is essentially lying to the player.

This would have been faster to spot but trying to drop items in a hall causes a janitor to appear and scoop them up. I admit for a long time I assumed I was simply being prey to some teleporter shenanigans (probably I still am — I’m guessing “behind the scenes” in the code there’s still a grid somehow — but it still all comes out functionally to a pentagon).

The only reason this is marginally fair is due to the low-res nature of the graphics; it would essentially be impossible on a modern system (although in a “node” system like Myst you might get close). I am still curious, though, if anyone has been in a pentagonal building before, and if it was possible to “feel” like the turns were at right angles even if they weren’t.

Posted April 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Asylum: Ripped to Shreds   10 comments

I don’t normally talk about my troubles in emulation; usually, it is as mild as “of the two emulators X and Y I could use for this, X doesn’t work but Y does”.

With Asylum, I’ve had issues that bleed over to the gameplay, so it’s worth a little detail this time.

Asylum’s initial release had both a 16K and a 32K version, and using both cassette and disk. (This refers to the memory capacity of the TRS-80 it loads on — 32K means double the text and code capacity over 16K.) This, combined with … magic, I guess, led to many variant files that currently exist.

ASYLUM1A.CMD
ASYLUM1B.CMD
ASYLUM1C.CMD
ASYLUM1D.CMD
ASYLUM1E.CMD
ASYLUM1F.CMD
ASYLUM1G.CMD
ASYLUM16.CMD
ASYLUM32.CMD

My two most reliable TRS-80 emulators (Matthew Reed’s and George Phillips’s) died on almost all of them. I had blank screens, bizarre errors, and unrecognized keyboard inputs. The only exception was ASYLUM1G.CMD — based on the 32K version — which had a different “loader” at the front but also skipped asking if I wanted to restore a save game. It meant I could save but not restore a save file.

I had one other option: a cassette file of the 16K version. I was able to save and load with this version.

This led me to the scenario where I could either

a.) Play the 16K version, with saving and loading working properly.

b.) Play the 32K version, with no game saves, but with more text.

I’m currently going with the former, since the manual claims the gameplay puzzles are the same, just the text is terser. This might seem to be the more difficult game, but the 16K version has advantages. CHARGE from Deathmaze 5000 is retained in the 32K version…

…but is cut from the 16K. So I know CHARGE is a useless red herring and I shouldn’t waste time running into walls looking for secrets.

Of course, sometimes more text is clearer. Last time I mentioned a grenade where you needed to PULL PIN FROM GRENADE. Here is the grenade’s description in the 32K version…

…and the 16K version.

Notice the PULL verb is immediately suggested by the 32K version but not the 16K version. I may just swap back to the 32K version on occasion once I have a clearer idea of my route through the game. As things currently are going, I’m dying too often to go without save files.

I’m only made a smidge of progress, so my content update is going to be short. Last time I escaped a second cell with a silver key; I found two more doors that unlocked with the key, including one with the coat and grenade from the start of the game. I was then walled by trying to get past a guard.

I had tried TIPTOE as the game had previously mentioned the verb, but ATTACK GUARD led to me being torn apart. I finally checked hints and found out that PUNCH is considered an entirely different verb! (KILL and ATTACK are mapped together, HIT and PUNCH are considered a different set.)

A brief, general principle I’ve alluded to: if two verbs are understood differently, yet might plausibly seem to a user to be the same action, the text needs to be absolutely clear about what’s going on. It may just be the two verbs should be merged; even if there is technically a difference (punching a guard doesn’t necessarily mean you aim to kill) it isn’t worth the user-end suffering. In this specific case, I imagined ATTACK as using the player character’s fists; I’m not even sure how the game interprets it otherwise since the player doesn’t have a weapon.

I’ve only had a little time to explore past the guard. I found some more locked doors (and had to laboriously try my key on each and every one), some with inmates inside. You can hear giggling from one, see an ugly face from another (both of these are behind still-locked doors).

Two rooms I could unlock and also had inmates inside. One inmate was asking for a cigarette, and when I didn’t have one, called for guards (losing me the game). The other I immediately died via shotgun.

The last thing I did was SEARCH GUARD, yielding a BRASS KEY, a UNIFORM, and CIGARETTES, so next time I should hopefully be off and running with a bigger chunk of the game.

Posted April 1, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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