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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3 responses to “The Cranston Manor Adventure (1981)

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  1. Cont- inues? Part- ially? It looks like the text wasn’t properly reformatted when it was moved from the TRS-80 to the Atari.

    • The game was never on TRS-80. The Atari has less width than either CP/M or North Star so it must have originally been on one of those systems.

      The wrapping happens at 60 characters or so. I think that might be a North Star mode but I’m don’t know enough about that computer to say for sure.

  2. One of the things I love about the retro-gaming blog scene is when the same game turns up on more than one blog. Between Jimmy Maher at The Digital Antiquarian, Chester Bolingbroke at The CRPG Addict, Ahab at The Data-Driven Gamer, Nathan P. Mahney at CRPG Adventures and you here at Renga in Blue, there’s quite a bit of overlap now — and it’s always fascinating to see how your perspectives on any given game resemble and differ from each other.

    Thank you, all of you!

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