Archive for August 2020

The Curse of Crowley Manor, in story form   4 comments

To D—- Who I Shall Always Remember in Fondness

I had swore never to return to America, yet tomorrow I leave by boat. I write this and trust you will not believe me what occurred, but I must tell someone to rest my disquiet mind.

Perhaps you will keep this. Perhaps my words will be burned on arrival. Do what you want.

Cover from the 1983 NEC PC-6000 Series version, via Diego Rispoli. The NEC computers were mostly sold in Japan, although there was a 1981 US version called the NEC TREK. Also, you should be seeing this as a picture caption; if whatever reader you’re using removes this, you may want to go to the original post, as all gameplay commentary will be in the picture captions.

As you well know, I managed to obtain a position at Scotland Yard. I’ve now been here for 10 years, and have a plaque reading Inspector Black on my desk.

I received a phone call on April 2, 1913. Officer Strade informed me there was a murder at the Crowley Estate. I had known it by reputation but never set foot inside.

I boarded a hansom cab who struck off a brisk pace for Crowley. I noticed beside him a vial and by some strange intuition took it.

In gameplay, I had passed this moment and been stuck for a long time. I needed a hint. I had already done LOOK DRIVER — the Apple II version requires that in order to get the exact phrasing CLIMB IN for boarding the cab — but doing LOOK DRIVER a second time is necessary after boarding to see the vial. Just LOOK while riding doesn’t work.

I found Police Inspector Harbour — good chap — at the front waiting for me. He let me know Inspector Strade was inside and the body Strade had called me about was in the kitchen. I went inside and quickly found the kitchen, but the Inspector was nowhere. The kitchen had blood but no corpse.

This reminds me of in Secret Mission being told about a briefcase and map that don’t exist, and you have to infer they were stolen.

One door was boarded up. In further searching, I found a kitchen with an untouched plate, a pantry, and past the pantry, the opposite side of that boarded door. There was a suspicious-looking wall but I was still on the hunt for Strade.


I searched other rooms and found a man, Davonn, lurking in a corner. He warned me, ambiguously, that ‘IT’ was loose.

Stepping in past him, I found a diary and crystal ball. I have the words memorized. People do not often write about generations being infested.


I went back to Devonn and found … a corpse! … but not the corpse I was looking for. The poor man had been killed while I was in the next room.

This is a direct example of the type of adventure plot where things don’t happen until the player is ready for them to happen; that is, a “drama timer” rather than one based on the number of turns passed.

He died without a noise, without a scream. What was going on? Who was ‘it’? Where was the Inspector?

Further alarmed, I tried to leave by the front door only to find it jammed behind me. The only other room I could find was a room with a piano and a victrola; the victrola crank seemed to be stuck, and I found a gold key.

The gold key reminded me there was a cabinet in the entrance hall I recall being locked — by this point I was considering any action at all to be well within police mandate — so I toted the key over, and within…

I love how straightforwardly dramatic this managed to be while still falling in the framework of standard adventure gameplay.

…within, I found the Inspector, his body lurching forward into the light. I imagined thumping in the walls, everything dizzy, ceilings closing in, floors swirling upward. I was in a battle not to solve a mystery, but to save my life.

Returning to the kitchen for more clues, I found a brown splotchy creature. With some unknown intuition, I picked it up and carted it to the kitchen, dropping it off to see what would happen.

I figured out how to do this on my own because if you go in the pantry with the growth, it jumps at the food and gets too large and it’s game over. I did not know how to convey knowledge about a death-route in the “story” description other than using intuition. Our hero remembered branches of life not taken, I suppose. 1981 games didn’t care too much about if a “continuous narrative” was truly possible; learning by death was often a feature, not a bug.

It was alive! It went for the plate, and grew to the size of a dog, and fled, knocking over a cabinet in the process. I found a letter opener and an axe.

The letter opener I was able to use to pry open a chest and get at a crucifix and a note — containing just the digits 5271. My thoughts went back to the vial. Was this holy water? Was the cab driver somehow prescient of what would happen? Gazing back at the crystal ball I still had from the desk, I wondered if fortune-telling was real.

My eyes glazed back to the axe in my other hand, and remembered the thin wall. There were only dead ends otherwise. Now was the time.

Indeed!… within was contained a secret laboratory, where I found an old tome mentioning GAFALA ALONE MAY HELP. Further past, a door with a combination lock, in which I entered 5271. Inside—

A monster — different than this one — appears at the combination door and kills you if you don’t have the holy water vial. The game tries hard to indicate you don’t have enough to win, but it’s hard to tell if the demon’s taunting is “in universe” acting in typical demon fashion or meta-referencing your lack of an inventory item.

–inside, is when true terror started to seep into my bones. I felt myself being pushed to the wall; something invisible was here. Out of frantic desperation, I threw the holy water, and found an apparition before me that shrunk away when I waved my crucifix. I ran away. I ran away as far as I could, which was not far, as I was in a dead-end. My intuition returned: I spoke aloud GAFALA.

Not as absurd as the other intuitions; you (and the main character) are out of options and inventory items.

A white wizard appeared before me, informing me that the evil I looked for was his brother, and I would need to prepare to kill him.

A battle against a demon! My dreams have always been pleasant, so I never once thought I was in some shard of unreality, but here was the most unreal moment of all.

I found, searching, a gold shield, and a place with a hole, close to the size of the crystal ball. I put the crystal ball within the hole and saw a vision of a sword and a fountain.

There were numerous points where I struggled with the parser, but this was the worst. You need to DROP CRYSTAL BALL and then LOOK, but DROP doesn’t give any indication the ball went in the hole, so I kept trying PUT CRYSTAL BALL and PLACE CRYSTAL BALL and the like. Also, I needed the walkthrough to realize you can LOOK after the vision is done (and the crystal ball is gone) to have the sword mystically appear.

I paused and looked around some more, and a magic sword appeared before me!

Backtracking to where I first met the wizard and going a different direction, I ran across an ill-tempered giant rat and made use of my revolver. I registered no emotion, nor fear at this — it was nearly the most normal moment of the night, despite the creature’s size.

If you try to enter this room without the sword and shield first, you are torn apart and informed your death is too awful to describe. This is true even though neither object seems to have any effect here since the revolver does the work. This seems to be intended to keep the player from getting too far afield the main plot; I suppose I could see the demon showing up early if you don’t have proper defense.

Further on, I found the fountain in my vision! I dipped the sword in, trying my hardest to believe in prophecy.

I think only CLEANSE SWORD works. The game really did feel fast-paced despite grinding to a halt a few times from the parser.

I also was met by a vision of Gafala, who told me I would only have one moment to strike.

Sword, shield. Into the darkness I went, and before long, I encountered the demon.

The eyes! The eyes were horrible. I could do nothing but defend myself for a time, as the demon rattled off taunts

Upon contact with the sword, there was a sizzle. There was a weakness! There was hope!

This is where having the sword cleansed is important. The scene otherwise involves WAITing, although it honestly was nicely cinematic, especially given the forewarning there was only one moment to strike.

I waited a little longer, then struck, struck hard as my passion could take me, and the demon fell.

I made things seem smoother than they actually played — there were more parser issues than the ones I pointed out, and the way LOOK worked was often painful — but this was still a promising start to the Jyym Pearson library.

I do not even remember how I left the house. But I still had the sword and the shield, and was awash with blood. I spoke to no one. The Yard thinks I am gone with the rest. I have no desire to stay in this country. I must be as far away as I can make it. I intend to strike for California as soon as I can; farther if I must.

It is probably for the best if you do not believe me.

but still—

Always Yours,

Posted August 31, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Curse of Crowley Manor (1981)   5 comments

This is our fourth game for 1981 with the word “Manor” in it (see: The Secret of Flagstone Manor, Stoneville Manor, The Cranston Manor Adventure) but all of those had some element of treasure-hunting plot; Crowley is instead set up as a mystery. From the packaging:

The scene is London, in 1913. Scotland Yard is buzzing with the news — there’s been a murder at the Crowley Estate! What starts out as a simple homicide investigation turns into a trip into the depths of the occult as you try to solve The Curse of Crowley Manor.

This is our first appearance of the author Jyym Pearson, who was quite active from 1981 to 1983, producing eight adventure games. Besides Crowley, and roughly in chronological order, he wrote Escape From Traam (1981), Earthquake – San Francisco 1906 (1981), Saigon: The Final Days (1981), The Institute (1981), Lucifer’s Realm (1982), Paradise Threat (1982), and The Farvar Legacy (1983). (Three of the games were co-authored with Robyn Pearson.)

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games. The “Other-Venture” label was a way to distinguish these games from the Scott Adams ones, also published by Adventure International. Other-Venture #1 is just a port of Adventure.

Will Moczarski already tackled this game over at The Adventure Gamer, but he played the TRS-80 version, so I’m going with the Apple II edition instead (which adds Norm Sailer to the credits).

You start in a room with a desk that has a calendar and nameplate. The nameplate reads “Inspector Black … Scotland Yard” and the calendar reads April 2, 1913, but you are otherwise given no details on the main character. This makes a nice reminder there are gradations between a generic anybody and defining the main character entirely. Going by history, the main character would technically have to be male (the first female police officer in England with arrest powers was appointed in 1915) although given the story has extra-historical “supernatural elements”, I say roll with it however you want.

As soon as you try to leave (or wait enough turns) the phone rings, and duty calls. Murder most foul.

Also, fussy parser most foul. I was stuck for a while until I tried TALK DRIVER (and got the message above) and did the exact command of CLIMB IN. Then I had to type GO CROWLEY followed by WAIT for a few turns.

This is a very nice cinematic moment where you WAIT several times and Trafalgar Square and Big Ben before reaching your destination. I have no idea if that’s realistic for London geography.

I met Police Inspector Harbour on arrival who informed me of a body in the kitchen.

Except … there isn’t one? Just blood.

Blood that you can inspect closely, if you like.

I’ll return next time with more details of my investigation. One last comment, though — this is not quite like Sierra’s Hi-Res games where all the text is on the bottom, objects appear on the screen, and flipping between all-text and text-on-the-bottom is optional. This is more like (but not completely like) a regular text adventure with added illustrations. For each location, you need to flip back and forth between a Scott-Adams-ish style screen and the picture to get a full idea of what’s going on.

In one case (meeting Inspector Harbour) there was no indication in the text there was a person; I had to LOOK MAN before I got any information. In the screenshot above, notice there’s no mention of the nailed-shut door (although oddly, the door is mentioned in text on the image page if you LOOK). So the images still serve a story function; I need to remember to be thorough and try to interact with both things only in text and things only in the image.

I think the TRS-80 version of this game would likely to be easier to play, but the meta-question of “what do the illustrations in an game really do?” is still a fuzzy one at this point in adventure history so I’m willing to suffer for the sake of experiment.

Posted August 27, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Cranston Manor Adventure: Finished!   4 comments

The puzzles that remained ranged from “not really a puzzle” to “one shot command that almost nobody would find”, so let’s dig in.

Not really a puzzle

Last time I wrote about a pink bull that charged and the game’s … narrator? … froze it in a time stasis field, letting you get by; on a second return it would charge you and kill you. RonReg theorized about waving a red cloth or saying “OLE”, but unfortunately, I simply missed you could go DOWN in one of the rooms and never have to return to the bull. The manual does give an entirely unnecessary hint as to an alternate solution where you just turn off the lantern.

Just for the satisfaction, I went back and tried it out:

Almost not a puzzle

I also mentioned a door requesting an ID. There’s a subway station where you can insert a coin to get a subway card, which apparently doubles as an ID.

Going back to the door and typing INSERT CARD led me to a vault with an impressive enough description I was unable to get it in one screenshot. I’ll type it out instead:

OK. There is a short pause, then a whirring sound. The heavy door slides open.

I’m in a large concrete vault. To the north is a huge steel door. In the center of the vault on a chrome pedestal is a PLATINUM SPHERE which pulsates with an inner light. A sign reads * DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE *. Overhead a large wicked looking laser points directly at the platinum sphere. To one side of the vault is a small computer. Standing in front of the computer is the transluscent figure of an old man. The figure is apparently a hologram. The control panel of the computer looks very old, in fact, I can see small cracks in the housing. Through a thick glass wall on the south side of the room I can see small tin soldiers moving around. They walk into the room, stick the butt end of their rifles into a socket on the wall and freeze. After a short while, they leave. A thick armored cable runs from the chrome pedestal through the glass wall into the other room. There is a large PLATINUM SPHERE here.

Despite this impressiveness, you can just nab the PLATINUM SPHERE and go. The game doesn’t let you interact with the computer and cable and so forth (including logical acts like HIT COMPUTER, which gets interpreted as trying to attack the tin soldier) so I assumed that was that and the scene was for flavor, but I found out post-game (from the hints in the manual, again) that you could throw water and sabotage the whole setup.

The hint indicates that just being able to grab the sphere safely is a bug. Perhaps the graphical version of the game (which I’ve got slated on my roster after a gap of five games or so, don’t want to burn myself out) will patch this up.

Aside from the bug, this would be a moderating satisfying puzzle if it was possible to fuss with the computer in some other way. As is, the only thing that gets a reaction is the right command, and the one that works uses a noun which is not linked to the computer. As an analogy, imagine Diablo where the way to attack enemies is to click on your weapon, *not* on the enemies you are fighting. This sort of indirect setup happens in adventure games all the time and is often pleasing, but it’s atypical — and weirdly alienating — not to allow some interaction with the target of the destruction before it happens.

Still the best moment of the game in a plot sense, even if it never happened during “my” story.

Something that counts as a legit puzzle

I mentioned the suits of armors everywhere that prevented you from taking treasure in the same room as they were. I had found a mouse (captured via cheese + a cage) but originally assumed the mouse was intended for some tiny hole somewhere, but no: it’s meant for the other standard use of mice in adventure games, scaring:

So the many suits of armor never really paid off in an ominous plot sense, but it’s very easy to run into the effect shown above by accident via just experimentation. So I still support how they are placed. I still feel like there should have been a hint that armor + mouse = profit; maybe there was and I missed it.

Also a legit puzzle and I feel sheepish that I had trouble

I got distracted thinking the a fountain (with too much water) and the cistern (with no water) were connected, as in, part of the same pipe system and I needed to cause water to transfer from one to the other (that is sort of what happens with the cistern, but in was water-toted-by-hand way).

There’s a raft in a children’s bedroom of the manor, and you’re just supposed to use it to go in.

There’s a cat statue with rubies for eyes; the rubies are a treasure.

I think I also had a visualization problem here; I don’t think of a typical fountain as even having the room for a raft, but it does make sense.

The aforementioned cistern

Now we get to screamingly unfair. There’s a pot you can fill with water (although only outside the fountain with the specific command GET WATER, FILL POT doesn’t work, getting the water while rafting doesn’t work).

I got the idea to put some water in the cistern, but after numerous failures, including a hard game crash, I decided that wasn’t the way to go.

How wrong I was.

To save you the trouble of trying to read this, the money shot command is PRIME PUMP.

Could someone in the comments make up a word for “verb that has only shown up in one text adventure game, ever”? I’m sure PRIME is a prime candidate.

Even worse

The final sticking point was the gold nugget I got past the bull. While the bull itself wasn’t a problem, the gold nugget just past it was.

As hinted, you can’t just cart it outside; if you try, the game teleports you back to the nugget room.

There is a sudden incredible wrench and everything goes black

What to do? Well, the underground has multiple exits (including a door where a “… triangle” works as a key, but you don’t need it going from underground to aboveground; I suspect this is a bug) but it also has a lift.

The lift is interesting, geographically; there’s torches in the master bedroom and servant bedrooms of the house and you can pull them to sneak into the aboveground lift area.

Despite the explicit text mention, the manual does not mention how to use the lift. Is there an “in-game” manual? (Possibly an item I’m missing?) Maybe it was intended to be put in the real manual but the author forgot? Maybe the game really meant the hints part of the manual with the backward text you’ve been seeing? Otherwise, you judge if this is fair to work out:

What action is even happening here? I assume from the “voice command” clue it is meant to be verbal but what doesn’t SAY LIFT work then? While, oddly, PRIME PUMP didn’t leave me grumpy (I’m always sort of impressed when the unusual verbs come out) but this awkward puzzle made me feel grim (although was fortunately the last one I needed to solve).


The Cranston Manor Adventure is primarily a piece of exploratory geography. In that, it did decently; I liked the feeling of discovering yet another secret niche to poke through. I did also like that the house was a character of sorts, and I could start to theorize about what sort of person would have an observatory and a hunting room and a secret spy tower in the library and a weird magical lift.

I don’t think the multiple entrances to the underground were as effective as, say, Zork; in that game there’s good reason to worry about optimizing for lamp life and avoiding the thief, so I was constantly worrying about which method of entry to use next; with Cranston, the tin soldiers are so overpowered it’s better to ignore their induced deaths like pesky mosquitos (or stop them entirely if you can solve the computer puzzle), and the lantern and sleep cycle recharge so that it’s not worth it to be overly concerned about their respective timers.

In one aspect, the game was a victim of my peronal bad timing: midway through gameplay I started getting tired of treasure hunts. Not in a holistic sense, but just a deep abiding need to recharge. This was my fourth in a row. 1981 was an era where authors were going in other directions, with genuine plots starting to appear. Let’s go and pick one of those games for my next entry, shall we?

Two screenshots of the ending placed side-by-side. It appears that Mariner’s Cove never came out.

Posted August 26, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Cranston Manor Adventure: I HAVE PUT THE BULL IN A TEMPORARY TIME STASIS FIELD   6 comments

Ad from Atarimania.

I’m verging close to the end — a lot of the game falls open once the map is mostly done, although the last pesky puzzles may take a bit of work. I’ll list those out, but first, I need to highlight two annoyances:


You need to sleep regularly or you die.

For a long time, I hadn’t found a bed, so my initial mapping efforts involved sending lots of death-clones. I later discovered, by accident, that SLEEP pretty much works anywhere in the house; while you can’t do it outside, you can do it randomly in the middle of a hall safely; I haven’t checked everywhere, but it looks like every room with one of those black armors works. (We’ll get back to the black armors again in a moment.)

There really doesn’t seem to be a gameplay point other than when going underground it’s wise to rest first, lest you get stuck falling asleep randomly in the middle of the (confusing) map.


I talked about those last time; they serve as the “dwarves” of the game, and randomly up to try to shoot you. Their accuracy isn’t that high, unless you try to attack them. Then they come in an endless stream.

Despite initial appearances, original Adventure kept track of specific dwarf locations and had limits to their travel (but also a large enough area you didn’t see them constantly). With Cranston Manor it is possible they do the same thing but functionally there are so many of them the best route seems to be ignore them and then reload every once in a while when they actually hit.

This normally wouldn’t be a problem but the game isn’t great about specifying where exits are, so I find myself losing lives just checking there isn’t some exit to the west I missed.

With that away, let’s talk about


Lots of fairly standard rooms for the imaginings of giant manors; halls, an observatory, a “hunting room”, bedrooms mostly upstairs (which, recall, I only found late), an organ room, servant area, a kitchen, and a chapel.

Puzzle #1: There’s a fountain outside with water I’d like to drain, and a cistern inside with a bottle inside that I’d like to fill with water. There’s even a pump switch in the cistern, but if I try to use it I find it “needs some help starting”.
I have a screwdriver I assume somehow works, but I haven’t found anything to screw or unscrew.

Notice the reference to “solar cells” in the lantern. The lantern can run out but can apparently be recharged when outside.

Puzzle #2: if there’s a treasure sitting in a room with one of the suits of armor, they won’t let you pick it up. Two treasures (SILVER CANDLESTICKS and RARE TEA) start out in such rooms, and any treasures from elsewhere that you drop in a room with armor become part of the same issue.

That’s pretty much it for aboveground. The map tries to go for “hidden puzzles” — there was a fireplace where I could GO FIREPLACE but it wasn’t immediately obvious, and a torch which revealed a secret lift…

but for the most part, the other obstacles weren’t “puzzles” as much as navigational oddities. One exception (which I already saw) was a rope you could climb, and twenty-dollar bills on a shelf out of reach. If you just tried to jump you would fall, but SWING ROPE puts them in reach.

This is one of those “slightly specific physical action” puzzles that can sometimes be awkward (see Hezarin with the surfing scene, and climbing at the end, or Savage Island’s breath control). Still, I solved this fairly quickly and found it satisfying; I’m not sure what the dividing line is between action being too unusual and just right.

That leaves the


where there is (Puzzle #3) a door which requests an ID — I assume I just have to find it so I’m not doing any active solving — and Puzzle #4, the weirdest of all.

If you try to return back through the room a second time the bull gores you.

Past the bull is a gold nugget, but there doesn’t seem to be a way back except through the bull. This still may just be a situation where I need to solve another geographic oddity and getting by the bull is a one-shot deal.

My (no doubt incomplete and broken) current map of the underground.

Posted August 24, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Cranston Manor Adventure: On BRIEF   12 comments

Version 9 of Emily Short’s game Counterfeit Monkey was released last week, and it (and many other modern parser games) includes a legacy feature I think very few people use.

> brief
Counterfeit Monkey is now in its “brief” printing mode, which gives long descriptions of places never before visited and short descriptions otherwise.

For example, one of the first locations, Sigil Street, is first described this way:

The buildings here are two and three stories, with shops at ground level and elderly apartments above. The shops are closed for the holiday: a typographer’s office, tourist boutiques of colorful skirts and ethnic bodices (rarely if ever worn by natives) and t-shirts covered with font designs.

The reflective window of a closed shop reflects our synthesized self.

A narrow alley runs between buildings to the south, while the street continues east.

On a revisit with BRIEF mode on:

A narrow alley runs between buildings to the south, while the street continues east.

In old Infocom games, BRIEF mode would just give the room name and any objects. From Sorceror:

Rooms lie to the east and west from this north-south corridor. A heavy wooden door, currently closed, leads north.
Tacked to the doorframe of your room is a note, hurriedly scribbled on parchment.

On a revisit:

Tacked to the doorframe of your room is a note, hurriedly scribbled on parchment.

From the manual for Sorcerer. SUPERBRIEF makes it so the game never shows long room descriptions, which I assume is only for if you’ve beaten a game and are trying to mess around. It’s very disconcerting to use, like reading a book with alternating pages left blank.

Most modern games use VERBOSE mode (also from Infocom games) which simply displays the full room description each time. I know I always used it as my first command when I played through the Infocom library; I found it too easy to get confused and miss details. Inform now compiles games with VERBOSE as default. Although it is possible, still, to make them start in BRIEF mode, I’m wagering the last game to do so was a long time ago.

The idea of long-initial-description, shorter-revisit-description dates all the way back to original Adventure (Crowther, before even Woods).


No doubt, the fact the game could require being played off a printer was part of the desire to save space; there’s also a bit of narrative finesse in recognizing that a particular scene doesn’t need to be repeated. Every four times a room description is repeated the game gives the long version.

All that long preface is to say The Cranston Manor Adventure uses the Original-Adventure-style brief description behavior, and it’s messing me up in a novel way.

The problem is with making a map — yep, I’m still map-making, it’s a lot of rooms — it isn’t obvious what I should call a particular room.

Paneling is falling off the walls in this room. Immediately to the north is a large hole in the floor. There are doors to the east and west and a large hole in the wall to the south. Standing in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

Later I returned to the room

I’m in the room with the hole in the wall. Standings in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

and my original room title didn’t seem to work anymore. (I’m not even referring to the fact the hole in the floor is no longer mentioned — I called it “falling panels”.) Since The Cranston Manor Adventure has both
a.) a mismatch between long and short descriptions
b.) a lot of cases where you re-visit a place from another direction
I had a number of circumstances where I was remapping the same location without realizing I had been there! I started making the habit of leaving a room and coming back to get the “short name” designation before putting it on, but this messed with my mental clue-looking where I would occasionally miss some detail in the long description this way. Another example:

This is a tiny room with stairs winding down on one side. There are windows on all sides. The one to the north has a large hole in it. There is a long, heavy GOLD SPYGLASS lying here.

I’m standing in the lookout. There is a long, heavy GOLD SPYGLASS lying here.

It’s possible after the fact to see the first description and say, yes, that’s a lookout, but that’s not necessarily the word I would pick to initially write on my map.

Admittedly, this is in the scheme of things a trivial complaint, but it struck me as a prime example of interface choices having unintended effects, so I’d thought I’d share.

Just to ring out on a positive note, two things:

1.) You know that large black suit of armor in the earlier room description? They show up in nearly every room in the manor I’ve been to so far.

I’m standing in a long room with tall stained glass windows on the west wall. Hard looking wood pews line each side. There are exits to the north and east. Standing in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

They don’t do anything, at least not yet. It didn’t even hit me at first, but as I came across Black Armor #32, the atmospheric effect was quite strong. I don’t know if there’s going to be a payoff, but it comes off as cinematic, like something ominous building in the background of a scene.

2.) I did find an underground part with a cave, and a lovely way to die.

I look forward to tangling with these guys later.

Posted August 22, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Cranston Manor Adventure (1981)   3 comments

After Roberta and Ken Williams cranked out three titles in 1980 for their new company On-Line Systems (Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess, and Mission: Asteroid), the company embarked on Roberta’s design for the massive Time Zone. While originally targeted at Christmas 1981, it wouldn’t come out until 1982.

In the meantime, On-Line Systems licensed a game originally published by Artworx and written by Larry Ledden, re-publishing it with graphics and calling it Hi-Res Adventure #3. According to Larry:

Sierra On-Line purchased the rights from me to make the illustrated version. I had written the game as a data driven engine so it was quite straightforward to port it to another system. I got royalties from them for a couple years for sales of their version… I was a newbie at software contracts and didn’t know enough to require a credit.

The Hi-Res version is apparently somewhat different, so I’m playing the original first. It came out for CP/M, North Star, and Atari, but only the Atari version currently exists. (We’ve seen the CP/M system with Bilingual Adventure. We’ve never encountered North Star and by my reckoning, we’ll only see it again once; while the North Star Horizon was one of the first computers to include disk drives, it was another flash-in-the-pan computer system that has fallen into obscurity.)

Also, a brief plug for Ahab at Data Driven Gamer who helped me through emulation issues. He played through both versions of Cranston in quick succession; I’m going to take a breather with some other games before the second one.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

It’s another plunder-the-treasures jaunt, and yes, it seems like I’ve been getting a lot of those lately. Recalculating the number of Treasure Hunts for 1981, and including this game, we’ve seen about 43% of that nature. That’s actually nearly identical to 1980, although I should caution this could change.

Here’s the graph I made after finishing 1980. I’ll wait until I’m further in 1981 before I make an adjusted version of this.

Despite the nondescript opening (shown below), there’s an interesting theoretical bit that pops up.

Not the “deserted mansion where you will find rich treasure” part, which we’ve seen by my scientific estimate eight thousand times; I’m meaning:

Since adventurers of your caliber are very hard to replace, we will send a droid in your place.

One of the central oddities in early adventure game history is that “who are you giving directions to?” is not so straightforward. It is common in modern games to have either a predetermined character or a “designated avatar” that is customizable, but with the computer itself not really considered an intermediary.

With text adventures, there’s enough stubborn-mule effect in trying to deliver commands that often the idea that the computer itself is part of the narrative, and misunderstandings have an element of in-universe to them. Original Adventure started the ball rolling with “I AM YOUR EYES AND HANDS” in the instructions. Scott Adams took the same tack with assuming you were controlling a “puppet” of sorts.

In the game Birth of the Phoenix if you try to examine the Phoenix you are told it “won’t sit still long enough for me to examine it for you” and I wrote, perhaps in one of my odder moods:

…the player’s commands are asking the computer to implement them, but it’s also simultaneously still “you” in the world where things are happening, yet you are not seeing the phoenix with “your” eyes, since the computer has to relay the information. Analogy: imagine the player’s avatar in the world is a blind puppet being led by an invisible computer fairy, and the fairy can help move the player’s limbs and convey what they ought to be seeing.

Sometimes the player avatar and computer narrator were separate; Lost Dutchman’s Gold assumed the computer was controlling “the ghost of Backpack Sam” and customized its responses accordingly.

Despite this disconnect, the person referred to is nearly always “You”. Even Robert Lafore, while writing about Captain Walton in third person establishes at the start of his game His Majesty’s Ship ‘Impetuous’ that you are Captain Walton.

(Exception: Assignment 45: A Harry Flynn Adventure which refers to “he” instead of “you”.)

Going back to Cranston, the game quite explicitly situations the player as a droid in the instructions, and even references it later.

Due to habit, I still more or less ignore all the fussy details above and assume I’m typing sentences that begin with “I want to…” and am doing the action “myself” as an actor in a play. This is because of early heavy Infocom exposure, whose manuals directly make statements like

ZORK usually acts as if your sentence begins “I want to…” although you shouldn’t actually type those words.

where I suppose the lesson is, if you’ve got an explicit world model like “it really is a droid body the player is controlling”, the details will get brushed over by players unless they become explicit.

Pink indicates places where any direction but the correct one goes in a loop. The purple rooms are the only two ones with useful items (unless I’m missing something hidden).

Back to the game! I haven’t got far yet because I have spent an enormous amount of time mapping the outside. It’s intended to build up the idea of entering a town…

…but in actual gameplay practice, I found it tedious. There’s nothing to really see other than grabbing two objects (the lamp previously mentioned, and a crowbar from a junkyard). There were lots of bits of maze-without-being-a-maze which led to a lengthy mapping process. Sometimes, when a clear structure useful to the plot is forming, map-making can be satisfying; in this case, a lot of effort went to knowing to take a beeline to find two objects before entering the manor.

I’ve checked a bit inside but haven’t run into any serious puzzles yet, so I’ll report back next time.

Posted August 18, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Tower of Fear (1981)   4 comments

We’ve seen Charles Forsythe in the games Lost Ship Adventure and Dragon Quest Adventure. Tower of Fear is his third and last adventure game.

The cover art and the plot as given on the back of the packaging (from the Museum of Computer Adventure Games) are both kind of metal, and they suggest — nay, demand — the plot be read out loud. So I have done so. Enjoy my dramatic rendition of the introduction to a TRS-80 adventure game written by a high school student.

(There should be an embedded recording with a “play” button above. If you’re not seeing it, try clicking here to listen.)

Deep in the Graylock outback, in the mists of pre-time, dwelt THE WIZARDS, a race not native to this simple place, a race of powerful necromancers, whose awesome prowess at magic caused rampant terror in every heart that dared contemplate them.

As the years marched by, they each individually succumbed to the ravages of death. Some, who were the most powerful among their peers, forstalled the shadow-journey by barring themselves from the sunlight and the eyes of time, in huge towers, islands of life in the barren desert. By surrounding themselves with magic, they, for a time, held off death. But the reaper claims all, so he claimed each of The Wizards in his turn.

The last of these would-be immortals, BLACKHEART FIRETHROWER, so named through proficiency with flameballs, built a fortress so awesome as to earn a reputation of Widowmaker to the Kings Many tried to conquer it, to dispell the dred CYCLOPS, to penetrate its inky interior and remove its secrets and treasure. None returned. Kings and paupers all perished in its traps and corridors.

So the Wizard’s Tower, last of the surviving fortresses, and catacomb to the omnipresent undead spirit of BLACKHEART FLAMETHROWER, became known as THE TOWER OF FEAR.



(Typos are reproduced correctly, including the name of the Wizard being both FIRETHROWER and FLAMETHROWER.)

Like Dragon Quest Adventure, there’s also an elaborate animated title screen.

I ended up doing most of my playing on the TRS-80 Color Computer version, which, other than a different title screen (I bopped it into the end of this post) appears functionally identical.

Despite the opening promising a showdown with BLACKHEART (FIRE/FLAME)THROWER no such character appears in the game. This is another pure treasure hunt.

This is if you READ MEMO. The same memo in the TRS-80 original advertises other Programmer’s Guild text adventures.

At the start, you have access to just a dagger and a lamp. There’s also an ARCHWAY where if you go in it you’ll fall in spikes…

…and if you climb the ivy you’ll get trapped in a tower room.

Just south of the opening room is a pit with a cyclops. I tried tangling with it using the dagger a few times.


I assumed — incorrectly, as it turned out — I needed to save the cyclops for later. After being stuck for long enough, I tried, out of odd frustration:


You can cart the cyclops around and drop him off wherever you like. You can then resume typing KILL CYCLOPS, except now he doesn’t fight back! This is how I beat the first puzzle of the game.

This netted me a JEWELED SCABBARD and a SWORD. I was able to use the SWORD to cut a hole in the ivy and go into the tower a different way.

I appreciated the alternate use of the ivy; you can still climb the ivy even with the hole. Notice the (WITH SWORD) message, which is a great feature; sometimes my puzzlement at adventure games involves my not understanding what was being used for a particular action, like KILL GUARD and PUNCH GUARD being considered different commands in Asylum. In this case, if you are holding only the dagger and try to cut the ivy, the game responds “(WITH DAGGER) YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” An admittedly more helpful message would be “it isn’t quite large enough” but the presence of the “with dagger” message was still enough for me to try the sword immediately after I got it.

The inside started with a corridor containing a SILVER BAR and a chain to pull.


My intuition told me this opened the door above (the one where you otherwise get trapped) and I discovered later I was right.

There’s also a BOOK (which the cover says “INSERT ME INTO…”) a NOTE with the hint EMASES+MIRROR and a room full of colored boxes (where only the RED one held something useful, a CLOCKWORK MOUSE, the rest had poisoned arrows).

This is the moment where I suspected the author was trying to match Dungeons & Dragons; something about the “mass of doors or chests to try opening” feels very late-70s-early-80s campaign to me. Having the chain affect a trap in an entirely different part of the tower (and a lever you’ll hear about in a few moments) also strikes me as a D&D standard. I theorize that both of these elements give the “feel” of puzzles without requiring the campaign to grind to a halt; multiple doors/boxes can be tackled with the party splitting up, and a puzzle that requires realizing something changed in another location can be resolved in a way natural to the tabletop (“let’s go back to location X” with the potential for random monster encounters being much less annoying than stopping to solve a sliding puzzle the Dungeon Master hands out).

I also found a maze but my attempts at mapping it led me to a re-match with the cyclops.


So I ignored the maze for the moment and went upstairs (where I found the door was, indeed, open). I then found a bookcase (where INSERT BOOK opened a secret passage), a LADDER, a RUBY, and a GOLD KEY.

There was also a laboratory with a vat of acid which I could do nothing with at the moment.

I’m not sure how the inspiration struck here, but I went back to the boxes with the CLOCKWORK MOUSE and tried WIND MOUSE. The mouse ran to the east and I was able to follow it through the maze, leading to a magic fountain and an EMERALD. The fountain healed all my wounds (which were obtainable either via cyclops or poisoned dart, but oddly, the fountain is useless, since nothing after this point can cause injury, just immediate death).

I still had the EMASES+MIRROR hint I hadn’t used yet, but also the archway at the start of the game that led to spikes. With no link other than running out of things to do, I went back to the archway:


This disabled the spike trap and led me to a “HIGH WALL” where I needed the LADDER from the tower. This took me to a JEWELED STATUE and a LEVER. I needed the key to move the lever, and pulling it led to another grinding noise. Having run out of everything to do other than figure out the acid vat, I went back up there to find the acid had spilled all over the room.

Putting my D&D “marginally unfair trap” thinking cap on, I restored my game and tried PUSH LEVER instead of PULL. Success! The vat was drained of acid entirely and I found a DIAMOND inside.

This game maybe didn’t sound impressive written out, but: while the traps would be considered tacky by modern game design standards, I felt enough on my toes that the atmosphere of the game held out; this was true even given the disappointing lack of a Wizard, who I assume fell into one of his own traps before I got there. Additionally: short and mostly solid coding where I didn’t have to fight with the parser. While clearly a light attempt, Tower of Fear was still a satisfying send-off to the works of Charles Forsythe.

The TRS-80 Color Computer title screen. I like the original one better.

Posted August 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Venture: Finished!   10 comments

Bear with me: I’m starting with a tangent even more off-track than usual. Also, this post will make no sense unless you’ve read my previous ones on Mad Venture.

We’ll get back to this shortly, I promise.

Underneath almost any game is a second game, one that perhaps only bears partial resemblance to the original. To illustrate my point, consider Elmo’s ABCs (1998) for the Game Boy Color.

The game involves six learning activities, all requiring the player to pick the right letter from some balls that Elmo is juggling:

The letters rotate slowly. In the example above, when the “p” is in front of Elmo, the player must push a button to deposit the “p” in the box to the lower-left.

By all surface measures, this is simply testing the letter-recognition ability of small children, and the animation is simply a mechanic to make the game slightly less mundane as a trivia quiz. But for those who follow speedruns, it may not be a surprise that, yes, people speedrun Elmo’s ABCs. The Any% category has 9 scores on the leaderboard, with the world record at 2 minutes and 32 seconds.

This is not a joke: people have put serious work into optimizing the game, including manipulating the random number generation in order to get favorable ball placement (so you don’t have to wait so long for them to go slowly around the circle).

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

This is glorious. I may have done some nerdy things in gaming, but I can’t say I’ve made a spreadsheet analyzing the frames in a children’s game from the 1990s.

By diving into the number-of-frames level, speedrunners of Elmo’s ABCs essentially discovered a new game hidden within the game, one generated essentially by accident via the system of random number generation used by the programmers. There’s a 15 minute Youtube documentary with exhaustive detail.

In the text adventure universe, while Zork I does has a time-based leaderboard (world record 3 minutes 25 seconds), the “optimization game” under the main game is normally about raw number of turns. This has been implicit from the very begining, with Adventure having a lamp with limited turns and many games following. Adventure 430 (Woods’s own extension of Adventure 350) had point bonuses for finishing under particular move counts (including one bonus I am unsure if it is even possible to get).

The box art for Mad Venture mentions “185 moves, 400 points” explicitly. It is possible to get 400 points without beating the turn limit; the optimizing for a “best ending” only needs to come later. Even more explicitly than any text adventure that came before, optimizing feels like an entire hidden “second game” with different conditions than the main game.

400 out of 400

Before even thinking of optimizing, I needed to get all the points and treasures first. Unfortunately, the puzzles that remained from last time were mostly disappointing.

In the GET FORK area, I had missed an room; in the room Gotfork most of the exits go in a loop back to the same room (“YOU HAVE CRAWLED AROUND IN CIRCLES AND WOUND UP BACK WHERE YOU STARTED.”), except sometimes, entirely at random, you’ll land in a carnival. (The “entirely random” part will become important when I reach the “185 moves” part of the game.)

This puzzle is sort of fair. I didn’t quite have the thinking of the authors (Dale and Christine Johnson) down. Rather than presenting an obstacle to overcome, this room was inviting the creation of a set-piece to match the room description.


The doll is doubly useful, because if you lose the doll, you can get another one. If you remember the beggar from last time who needed a treasure: to get full points, you have to give the doll, so you can get a second doll and don’t lose any treasures in the end.

Nearby, at the room marked “Cheese” on the map, is a less-fair puzzle.




The giant snake can be fended off via fork.


Note there’s a turtle shell in the adjacent room; if you leave it be before forking the snake, the snake will curl up in the shell and die, leaving the fork. If you’ve taken or moved the shell, the snake just disappears. The only reason to suspect there might be something wrong with the snake disappearing is that the fork counts as a treasure. I suspect most people who solved it “legit” (I looked it up) did so by accident rather than by thinking about it, even though “finding an enclosed place to curl up in” is reasonable for snakes.

The “you figure it out” part mentioned in EXITS was also a hassle. The right way to escape is:


The text says THE ONLY EXIT IS THE WAY YOU CAME IN, which has to be interpreted as the verb BACK. This sort of follows the same pattern as the ON and OFF puzzle, but at least that one technically made sense in “the real world”; typing BACK is purely a parser-based solution and there’s no clear action attached. (That is, why does BACK differ from just going in a particular direction?)

I had noticed at the odd “L I B R A R Y” room that I could read the book for a new message…

…but I was stumped from there. If you go down (to a room that’s dark, because the lamp can’t fit inside) and type PLUMM it teleports you to the movie lobby (where the treasures go) and back. This teleportation allows you to bring in the lamp after all and find a revolver which counts as a treasure.

Or you can type just PLUM since the game only recognizes the first four letters of each word.

The CHESSER CAT I mentioned being stumped by was resolved by simply typing PET CAT, which led me to a maze

This was an absolute pain in the neck and I gave up mapping and deferred to the expertise of Kim Schuette.

One final obstacle involved a TUESDAY RUBY. If you try to teleport with it the normal way (KATIE) you get sent back to the room it started in. In the maze above, there’s an exit that drops you back in the DEPOSIT CHUTE room so you can hike back to the movie lobby and drop off the ruby sans teleportation.

That was pretty much it — I did say the remaining puzzles were disappointing. I guess BACK counted as a sort of wordplay puzzle but all the ideas were used only once so no sort of system was built up (as would later happen in Nord and Bert, Ad Verbum, Counterfeit Monkey, and other games).

Where things really started to go off-kilter is when I went for 185 out of 185. Just to be clear, the guide I was using does not help with the optimization part, and I did need to write my own walkthrough.

185 out of 185

The first part of my journey in trying to get Mad Venture’s best ending was traditional: thinking about what actions needed to come before others, and clumping runs where I picked up treasures into groups. The inventory limit is technically 6, but the lamp must be carried essentially at all times, so some juggling happened with the five remaining slots.

For example, the doll at “1” needs to be obtained before reaching the beggar at “2”. That means any route will necessarily pass by the adder-with-diamond (at “a”) so I grabbed the diamond as one of my five slots. The doll went to the beggar (so didn’t take up one slot) and I was able to fit the treasures at “b”, “c”, “d”, and “e” in my inventory before making a trip back to the lobby to drop the treasures off.

After some rearranging and squeezing what I assumed was every possible step possible, I still didn’t quite the list down to 185 moves; I was at 195, 10 too many.

I struggled for a while figuring out where to find them, until I reconsidered my opening. Here were the starting steps of my original walkthrough:


This solves the opening puzzle with the sandwich and the edible key the “normal” way. However, I realized that solving the sandwich puzzle does not actually give any points. Of equal importance: the word KATIE works without solving any puzzles! In many games, there would be some prohibition to make sure the puzzle was solved the “right” way so you’d have to go through the shrink-and-eat-key-to-get-big process (even potentially randomizing the magic word needed, like Adventure 430 does) but it appears not only does the game let you sidestep solving the puzzle, it requires sidestepping the puzzle in order to get a best ending!


This felt like I was breaking into a second game with a different structure: now the sandwich was no longer the essential item for solving the first puzzle, but a red herring.

One last piece of evil: I did say the entrance to the carnival is randomized, and you need to enter it twice. I’m not certain as to the chance of success but I believe it’s somewhere around 20%. So to get through without saving requires getting a 20% luck chance, twice.

My walkthrough has 183 moves; 185 are allowed. The extra two moves can be used to save a game! So the game intends for you to save and reload until you get the right random chance at those positions. I found this utterly, profoundly off-kilter to my views of how games are supposed to work. This sort of thing happens in speedruns, or “cheating” at adventures, but in optimizing Mad Venture, the hidden game became the primary one.

Posted August 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Pirate Island: Finished!   4 comments

Back on my Pirate Island post where I was stuck at 12 out of 16, Tom Shave (one of the sons of the author) showed up and gave some hints.

Now this is going back a while so I don’t have all the answers (my Dad wrote this game when I was about 8 years old and my brother and I used to play test it. I think we got 29p for any bugs we found!). The wood shavings I’m pretty sure are to make some sort of tinder box. A light to help you down the well perhaps. The cheese is to give to a Ben Gunn type of castaway in exchange for treasure or a map. I can’t remember where he is though (perhaps down the well). There is indeed a map and it gives you a location to dig. You won’t find it by randomly digging though.

I admit I’m quoting the whole thing just because I love the “29p for any bug” story.

While this did not tell me exactly where to go, it strengthened my suspicion I was missing a room exit (a mistake that long-time readers of mine should be familiar with). After poring over each room in turn, I finally hit the Sandy Beach, and right there in the room description, it mentioned both a west and a south exit.

I may have been fouled up by the physical position I used on my map of the connection to the boat. When there’s more than one way of drawing a map, it’s possible to get a slightly different mental image than the author; I was imagining the boat more or less being to the “south” and only drew it to the side for compactness sake.

This led me to a cave that required using my tinderbox for light. Inside I found a man with a paper; I handed over some cheese and he became friendly.

Picking up the paper revealed it was my long-sought-after map:


Going back to my list of things I hadn’t used: the spade (which clearly is about to show up), the bottle (which I could fill with water, although I didn’t know what yet), some wood shavings (it turns out these can refill the tinderbox if it burns out) and a parrot. Ah, the parrot!

It had been hanging on my shoulder. I had not been able to interact with it at all, but the message from the game hinted at a verb; I tried ASK PARROT and it said “PIECES OF EIGHT.” (This led me on a long useless side attempt to get the parrot to steal the pieces of eight back I had already spent for the last treasure; we’ll get to that.)

I took the parrot over to a suspicious-looking tree and typed ASK PARROT.

Hurray! I dug the X with my spade, revealed a treasure chest …


… and found … that I had gotten thirsty from the digging, and the chest was too heavy to pick up without a drink of water. On that particular run I hadn’t got the water yet.


Unfortunately, leaving the X mark means you can’t find it again, so I had to reset and make sure I got the water first before digging. Amusingly, on my “winning run” the pirate stole the chest before I could pick it up; I don’t know if that “short circuits” the puzzle so you don’t have to drink water. (It does work on the puzzle with the gorilla that you need to give bananas so you can take a silver bar; one time I ended up with both the bananas and the silver bar because the pirate stole the silver for me. Accidental emergent puzzle solve ahoy!)

This let me get 14 out 16 points, but the last 2 remained elusive. Sneakily, the two pieces of eight used to buy the antidote from the natives can count as a treasure, so I spent a long time trying to either steal the antidote or steal back the pieces of eight with no luck.

redhighlander, who has helped on a previous treasure-laden island, managed to sleuth out the missing 2 points. You may remember I cut open a crocodile to get a clock, but the crocodile wasn’t done being useful yet.

I’ve been trying to reverse engineer how I could have figured this out myself. I’m not sure, other than perhaps the relatively elaborate descriptions of cutting the crocodile were intended as a clue.

Incidentally, the “I am your puppet” idea where you are “remote controlling” a character shows up in full force here, with the line “THIS ISN’T THE SORT OF THING I ENJOY.” It’s like the player character is only reluctantly carrying out your orders. Except, the player character is also the computer, somehow. I find the clash disconcerting. (Also, when we return to Michael Berlyn, we’ll see he plays with this player character vs. computer relationship in the game Cyborg.)

I’m winding down on Mad Venture (it really isn’t a “large” game) so hopefully, by my next post, you’ll see victory there as well.

Posted August 6, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Venture: Off and On I Shall Pay You a Visit   5 comments

Well, I peeked at a map, and this game likely won’t take a few weeks; I have most of the map already. That doesn’t mean the remaining puzzles won’t be hard.

This is most of the right side of the map; I’ll talk about the missing part shortly.

In particular, while I’ve been alert to wordplay (in addition to just regular physical object solutions), I was paying more attention to nouns than to verbs. This was a mistake. Let me reproduce from last time what the beggar said when I handed over a treasure.

The text of what the beggar is saying is an enormous clue: OFF AND ON I SHALL PAY A VISIT TO SEE IF I CAN HELP YOU. This isn’t referring to the beggar visiting the player just based on the passage of time; this is referring literally to the commands OFF and ON, which are shorthand for LAMP OFF and LAMP ON.

What the beggar is trying to communicate is that you can try to get their help by turning your lamp off and on again.

One of the places I was stuck was at a palace guard who needed me to hand over a gold coin.

Turning OFF the lamp here led to a strange THUD.

When I turned it ON again, I found an unconscious guard. Neat!

The actual palace itself didn’t have any puzzles, but was slightly confusing to map (hence my not bothering to add the rooms to the map at the top of this post). It did have a GOLD COIN (well, we could have used that earlier) and a CANDY HEART in a clearing with a loudspeaker.


The lobby of the Queen’s Palace went meta, and I assume is referencing Micro Lab’s next game (Alice in Thunderland).

Posted August 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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