It Takes a Thief (1981)   4 comments

We’re back to delightfully obscure territory here, with another game not mentioned on any of my usual sources. I found it amidst a giant stack of TRS-80 disks from Gary Hammond with contents given by index card (thankfully transferred to an Excel spreadsheet).

It Takes a Thief originally looked too short to be an adventure game — less than 8K of space, when most adventures hit at least 12K — but since there were other adventure games on the list, I checked it anyway and hit gold.

The game was even good enough to give a year and author name on the first line of code: Copyright 1981 Randy Dobkin.

There’s no intro text, but the premise is clear enough: you’re trying to break into a house and take their stuff, armed with a flashlight and pistol.

Games where the protagonist is depicted straightforwardly as a criminal are rare for this era (although Burglar’s Adventure is another one we’ll see from 1981). However, the premise works as a logical way to stay within the Treasure Hunt tradition since many of the other Treasure Hunt games (raiding a pyramid, say) also involve thief protagonists, just they don’t get acknowledged as such.

If you hang out in this location longer than one turn the neighbor calls the police.

To get inside the house you first need to break in the front door; you find keys under the doormat, but trying to then just use them leads to disaster.

R R R I N G !
The alarm went off!
I’ve been caught.
The police are taking me away.

You can climb onto the roof of the house and find an alarm. The alarm is not described as a normal object you can take, which led me to some serious verb-hunting.

I turned out to be correct with DISARM but I wasn’t holding the keys from the doormat; the “I can’t right now” is just indicating that you don’t have the item you need.

Once inside the house, there’s the fairly standard kitchen, living room, utility room, and so forth, but unlike the standard Your House game, there are people sleeping in the bedrooms.

If you try to open the box you’re given away:

S Q E A K !
The thing needed oil!
I’ve been caught.
The police are taking me away.

There’s WD-40 elsewhere which resolves the issue. The box has a DIAMOND RING, PEARL NECKLACE, and RUBY BRACELET which seems like enough of a haul already? Indeed you can just head back to your getaway car now if you want:

I got away in my getaway car.
You got 480 out of a possible 720 points.
You have earned the rank of Filcher.

To get more you need to dig a little deeper; there’s a SAFE behind a PAINTING that requires a combination, and a file cabinet containing a paper with said combination.

That’s still not quite all the loot.

This one’s fairly elaborate and I admit I needed source code diving. The key is to use an AEROSOL CAN. The problem is if you SPRAY AEROSOL CAN you knock yourself out, but if you can protect yourself from its effect you can knock Rover out.

You have to have a COFFEE CAN and a HALLOWEEN MASK from two of the rooms in the house; and the CHARCOAL from outside where the NOSY NEIGHBOR was.

However, the only way to get by the nosy neighbor is … cold-blooded murder. As mentioned earlier, you start the game with a PISTOL, and for some random reason the house has a SILENCER, letting you achieve a DEAD NEIGHBOR.

With the COFFEE CAN, MASK, AND CHARCOAL all in your inventory at the same time, they become a GAS MASK.

What should I do? SPRAY AEROSOL CAN
Rover passes out.

This lets you steal the television and video recorder. You know, I’m going to say the owner can keep those.

Ok, the fact I could make the choice to pass on the bit where thievery goes into murder was pretty interesting. And I was fairly shocked by how well the game worked, considering the 8K constraints. (The only other time we’ve seen something comparable in size are the Aardvark games like Deathship which had terrible parsers, and ADV.CAVES, which came off as truncated and incomplete; this was decidedly a full game with a reasonable parser.) I’ve dropped the source code here and you can try it out online by dropping the source into an online emulator.

Posted July 10, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “It Takes a Thief (1981)

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  1. What happens if you use the silencer on the dog instead? (Is this a moral choice about killing a human to be able to avoid killing a dog?)

  2. Is there some special way to run this game? I’m using TRS80GP, as recommended by you, I got as far as the title screen, and then it says “Missing operand in 10110”. I don’t know anything about Basic, but I do know that some systems have you set up the computer in some way for each and every game. Not sure if that’s the case here.

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