Archive for September 2020

Timequest: 12 Out of 12 Treasures   2 comments

Thanks to comments from Matt and Voltgloss I trudged my way to victory.

My key sticking point was missing one of the game’s invisible norms.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

Navigation in Scott Adams-inspired games is often not just by compass directions, but by “GO LOCATION”.

I’M STANDING ON A DIRT ROAD. VISIBLE ITEMS:

MARBLE BUILDING. STREAM.

SOME OBVIOUS EXITS ARE: WEST

For the room above, while you can just type WEST, GO BUILDING and GO STREAM are also possible. The game uses this relatively extensively, and it seemed like the norm was that whenever a location was enterable, it would always be mentioned as a separate object (as opposed to implied by the location line).

This was a false assumption.

I AM STANDING OUTSIDE OF A MOUNTAIN. VISIBLE ITEMS:

STRANGE MACHINE.

SOME OBVIOUS EXITS ARE: SOUTH EAST.

By the description above it looks like east and south are the only exits (if you try to GO MACHINE the game gives the explicit syntax GET ON). However, you can GO MOUNTAIN.

I suspect the author didn’t even think this was really a “puzzle”; one of the items you find up the mountain is a book. The book hints that TURN ON and TURN OFF are syntax for the flashlight and that spinning the brass ring (the one in inventory from the start of the game) could make something interesting happen. If you haven’t found the book, you’re almost guaranteed to run across the flashlight and try to use it. Why would you put a parser hint for the flashlight in the book if you didn’t expect it to be read first?

Invisible norms still haunt pretty much every videogame genre, but to stick with adventure games, consider the norm where the main player has items in their inventory that go unmentioned until INVENTORY is typed. I think most modern authors would not consider that aspect a puzzle, yet it is something players could clearly get stuck on.

I found the remainder of the game fairly satisfying, so if you’re interested, now is the time to veer away before I spoil the rest of the game.

The mountain also had a jade buddha treasure and a glove.

This was enough the make the rest of the game go smoothly. The glove I immediately knew was used to pick up the diseased raccoon, which I fed to the lion blocking the cave. This led me to a waterfall (hiding some coins) and a slab.

The SPIN RING worked at a the slab to teleport. Then I was frozen instantly, but already had a coat for that problem.

I ran across the only live human in the game. For time travel in 1235, most games would visit some European area. (I’m not sure how aware people in 1981 were of the word “eskimo” being offensive.)

The spear (from the screen above) was sufficient to kill the angry mole I was stuck on last time. Additionally, the ring/slab combination also worked in the future to get me to a computer room.

This led to a few more treasures, and victory.

So: was this really a time travel game?

Genuinely, I wonder what the author was thinking: as I’ve already mentioned, the compartmentalization of time zones made for a good structural organization, but in the end I was dealing more with teleportation than time travel. The far-future computer device uses a reel of tape; one of the treasures is some TECHNICAL MANUALS and the only other gizmo is one that turns sand into a copper bar (Which is sort of impressive but not something I’d time travel for).

The cover (from my last post) suggests some sort of wild trip to the far future, with an odd creature in the center, and this game had none of that. Maybe this was somehow a well-planned enough time travel trip that the protagonist knew not to meddle with areas containing people (paradoxes, etc.) I did enjoy myself, but it was curious to play in a genre that lacked nearly all the elements of said genre.

Posted September 24, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Timequest (1981)   11 comments

Timequest is also known as Time Quest, via the printed disk label and the opening title screen, and the title is given on a followup screen as Timequest Adventure. I’m honestly beyond being surprised when this sort of thing happens, although no game can match the pure naming chaos that was Dragon Quest Adventure. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Timequest shares a publisher in common: The Programmer’s Guild.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

The author of Timequest, William Demas, is better-known for doing the majority of work on Scott Adams Adventure #12 (it was a scenario like Pyramid of Doom where Adams just did some editing) and two “talking games” (Forbidden Planet and Forbidden City) for the TRS-80 published by Fantastic Software.

Timequest, on the other hand, has fallen down a memory hole of sorts; CASA is light on information, Mobygames has wrong information, and its existence doesn’t get mentioned at all in this interview with the author. There are no hints or a walkthrough anywhere, and nobody I can find has played it on video.

This is nearly identical to Journey Through Time in the premise: go through time, nab treasures, 12 in this case. However, the time periods don’t really have any theming; it’s more like you’re using a general teleportation device rather than visiting Nero or printing yourself a brand-new Gutenburg Bible.

Rather unusually, the game does not start with “home base” in the “present” of 1981.

Yes, 1886. I suppose a time traveler’s home base can be any-time and any-where. You can PUSH LEVER to go to 2930 or PULL LEVER to go to 1235. There are no other time periods (at least as far as I’ve gotten).

The “where” is somewhat important, though — there is some sense that you are fixed in location as you travel in time. The machine starts in a basement, but you can drag it outside (PULL MACHINE). If you travel forward in time while outside, you end up outside a mountain.

If you travel forward in time while inside, you end up inside the (fortunately hollow) mountain.

Traveling to the past while the machine is outside is fatal; your machine falls into a swamp. If the machine is in the basement, you get taken next to the swamp instead.

So (as of yet?) there are two 2930 locations, one 1886 location and one 1235 location.

My map so far, but certainly not complete, given I’ve only seen 3 treasures out of 12.

Even though the game doesn’t fully use the “fun” aspects of time travel (historical events and/or setting up paradoxes) the map still gets naturally broken up in sectors, which gives it a crisp and modern feel.

Besides figuring out the time machine itself, the puzzles so far have been straightforward; I found a key in a sandbox and used it to unlock a room that is supposed to hold treasures. The same room had a snorkel which I used to get a fish and gold trident from a river; I also found a flashlight lying around which led me to get a gold chain and shovel. The shovel then let me dig to an underground area in 2930.

I’m stuck on

1.) the underground area, which has a reel of tape, some silver coins, and an angry mole; while I can get in, the angry mole kills me if I try to get out.

2.) 1235 has a cave guarded by a lion.

3.) 1235 also has a swamp which you sink in and die if you try to go in (this may just be a trap)

4.) 2930 has a dead raccoon that is diseased and you die if you try to pick it up (the game implies you need gloves).

So far, I have yet to use a BRASS RING (that you start the game with), a FISH, a FROG, a FUR COAT, and some SAND. The two treasures I’ve gotten which may or may not be of use are a GOLD TRIDENT and a GOLD CHAIN. It is of course possible that the KEY, SNORKEL, and SHOVEL somehow get reused, but otherwise, that’s all I have to work with. (The snorkel doesn’t work on the swamp; you can’t kill either the mole or the lion with the trident.)

The game has me interested enough I haven’t resorted to hacking at the game file itself yet. If you want to try it out, this link will let you play online (it’ll delay, then give an error, then you need to type TYME2 and hit ENTER).

Frog is another William Demas game. This is the first I’ve ever seen an in-game ad for something sold by an entirely different publisher.

Posted September 22, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Nijmegen Adventure: Finshed!   4 comments

This was a small game; the Dutch of course slowed me down, but the text was generally simple and repetitive, and I only had to look things up on words like “traangasgranaat” (tear gas grenade).

(Just to keep the eyes on the prize in what follows: the goal is to get at a treasure. The treasure turns out to be hiding in the Church of St. Steven in Nijmegen.)

Where I really had trouble was getting in the same frame of thinking as the protagonist: make progress by any means necessary, including violent property damage. The tear gas should have been my first clue, and I later found a weapons shop selling a “thermischelans geweer raket” (“thermal bazooka”, I think?) but as Nijmegen is described as a “real city” my first tendency was to play in those terms. This stymies most early progress; while it is possible to get most of the starting map without solving any puzzles…

Reminder note: there are no compass directions, you move by typing GA (“go”) followed by the name of an adjacent location; for example, GA GROTE MARKT, “go great market”.

…one early thing you need to make much progress is to smash the parking meter in the first location and grab the money (>FORCEER PARKEERMETER — I don’t think “FORCE” is a verb I’ve ever seen in an English game, would it be easier to find playing in Dutch?) The money from within lets you visit the nearby Fotozaak (photography shop) to get some binoculars and the Shoenwinkel (shoe shop) to get some boots (that must have been a lot of change).

The other open place is a “tower” (you need a “latch” from nearby before you can go in) which has a basement with the hint “look in the distance”.

Climbing the tower lets you get up to a room you can use your binoculars and see the message “DRINK MEER BIER” which is a key phrase. Use it back in the basement to find a secret room and get yourself some dynamite.

You can use the dynamite to explode a building at a quay and get some gin, which seems a fair tradeoff for the property damage; the gin can be used to bribe your way into a new location with a crowbar. You can then use the crowbar to move a rock to get some keys, which let you break into the church (making sure you throw your tear gas grenade first).

Inside the church there is a “duck shaped” opening; you can use boots to reach high enough and use a duck from the park which opens a safe, finally yielding the treasure.

You’re rich, you managed to get the gold, are you very smart or very bad? (I’m not sure on the last two sentences, but it’s something like “now, go waste your money”.)

This was really odd and random to play; unlike Dracula which had layers of narrative, this was intended as a random path of adventurer destruction, where destroying an entire building to get some gin is a perfectly acceptable exchange. At least the game was self-aware about it.

Some quotes from here indicate that Wim Couwenberg himself made the original C64 port, and it is identical to the PET version, so there’s no need to go on a grand crusade to find the original (…unlike Dracula Avontuur, where I’m still curious). He doesn’t know who D.N.T is.

He also mentions his brother Jan made the story, so I’ll toss him in my credits. (I really am curious what the writing process for the story was like, since it comes off as a string of random puzzles.)

I apologize I couldn’t do any deep exploration of language learning this time around; most of the parts were all-or-nothing scenarios, where either I easily sussed out what was going on and what the right action is, or I had no idea and even when I did have an idea I didn’t know how to communicate it (for example, blowing up the dynamite is given by the walkthrough as BLAAS OP, “blow up”).

One last item of importance: while perhaps this game isn’t a candidate, the Hans Courbois predecessors (which I still have yet to find, but I’m working on it) might be vying for the title of “first graphical adventure where information is conveyed in the graphics” along with Mystery House; you have to, of course, have a loose definition of “graphics” which allows character graphics, but it’s still a noteworthy convergence, and one I don’t believe any texts in English on adventure game history have previously noted.

Posted September 20, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Nijmegen Avontuur (1981?)   2 comments

I’ve lost track of all time and space lately, so I had to remind myself by checking: it was one year ago that I tackled and wrote about Dracula Avontuur, a very early text adventure in Dutch, without knowing any Dutch.

Nijmegen Avontuur is also very early; originally for the Commodore PET, but later ported for the Commodore 64, and that’s the copy that still exists. I’ve seen both 1980 and 1981 dates, and it potentially could be earlier than Dracula. There’s so little information it’s not worth it to fret over which came first.

It was written by Wim Couwenberg and apparently based on a text-adventure layout used by Hans Courbois. That means, yes, there are definitely earlier games, although I haven’t been able to find them as of yet.

Landscape with a View of the Valkhof, Nijmegen. Painted by Aelbert Cuyp around 1655-1660. The palace shown was originally built by Charlemagne.

Nijmegen Avontuur translates to Nijmegen Adventure, Nijmegen being a 2000-year old city in the Netherlands, close to the border with Germany.

De bedoeling is een SCHAT te vinden die ergens in Nijmegen verogen ligt.

The goal is to find a TREASURE somewhere in Nijmegen.

The opening screen gives some terse instructions and the quest above, and then some character-based graphics.

I’m guessing D.N.T. refers to the maker of the C64 port.

It most likely looked something like that in the original, given the reference to the “layout” of Hans Courbois being used.

Translations: JE HEBT = YOU HAVE

ER LIGT = THERE LIES

WAT MOET IK DOEN? = WHAT SHOULD I DO?

The room description seems to eschew compass directions and lets you go to places instead.

PLEIN ’44. JE KAN NAAR DE BLOEMERSTR.
DE GROTE MARKT HET PARK
EN NAAR DE MOLENSTRAAT
ER STAAT EEN PARKEERMETER.

PLEIN ’44. YOU CAN GO TO THE BLOEMERSTRAAT, THE GREAT MARKET, THE PARK, AND TO THE MOLENSTRAAT.
THERE IS A PARKING METER.

“Plein ’44” is the center of Nijmegen, the “city square”. The “Bloemerstraat” and “Molenstraat” are place names, and here we hit my first question for my Dutch-speaking friends — are they recognizable ones?

Given the text seems to be more minimal than Dracula, it may end up I have more trouble with culture/place than language on this one.

Locations marked on a Google map. There are two parks nearby so I don’t know which one the game means.

Posted September 18, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Cranston Manor (1981)   2 comments

No, this game doesn’t have anything to do with Infocom. It does have to do with the virtues of text vs. graphics. I particularly like the quote from Softalk in the ad above about prose “far more graphic than any depiction yet achieved by an adventure with graphics.”

(You should read my posts about the original version of Cranston Manor before reading this post.)

The Cranston Manor Adventure by Larry Ledden was published by Artworx; On-Line Systems (the future Sierra) licensed it to keep the Hi-Res Adventures series going, the one started with Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess, and Mission: Asteroid.

On-Line changed the credits to be Harold DeWitz and Ken Williams (according to Mr. Ledden, he was a newbie and didn’t think to get a credits condition on his contract) but I’m leaving Larry’s name on.

Via Mobygames.

The objective is still “find the treasures”, sixteen of them. Text from the packaging, including the typo:

It seems that old man Cranston was not exactly your run-of-the-mill type millionare. Exactly how he made his fortune is unknown (it appears he wasn’t a man known for either scruples or morals). Before his untimely death, he had amassed an uncalculated fortune in jewels, gold and various other rare and expensive items. Cranston was aware of the fact he was dying. He had lived a life of excessive luxury, pleasure and sin, and knew that soon he would end up “paying the piper”! Being a greedy and covetous old man, he figured that if he couldn’t take it with him, no one would take it when he was gone. He hid his treasure throughout the mansion and property encompassing it.

The game shifts the action to “Coarsegold” (where On-Line Systems was located), abandoned due to Cranton’s plotting somehow. I haven’t quite worked out how this happened in either this version or the original. You may remember the hologram of Cranston directing his army of tin soldiers; were those terrorizing the town somehow? In this version, the treasures are explicitly stolen from Coarsegold, and finding and returning the treasures to Coarsegold somehow will return the town to livability. I get the impression there’s still missing backstory, but the even stronger impression nobody thought too seriously about the logic behind it.

The “droid” idea from the original is dropped (it was, admittedly, a little weird). The game simplifies the map; here is, for example, the opening town:

The original “outdoor section” took me about one hour to map; the new one took roughly five minutes. All the mazes have been removed, nearly all paths have been straightened. (There’s an odd bit where going west “jumps” the player over a room; it being just a bug is quite plausible. Remember, the last On-Line game we looked at left the asteroid-hits-the-Earth timer running even after winning the game so the Earth can be simultaneously saved and destroyed.)

Both an inventory limit and the need to rest at intervals have been dropped. There isn’t even, as far as I could find, a limit to the lantern light.

This all sounds great, and I suppose is; but the end result really felt more flavorless than the main game. Example:

You may remember from my original posts that the revelation of the armor in all the rooms being spooky and atmospheric. Here the armor is more obvious (and it’s much clearer it’s the same armor following you around everywhere) but it comes off as nearly goofy. The armor also stops you from getting items other than treasures, which is I suppose would be fine, except there are two exceptions (cheese and a cage) which it does let you take in order to capture a mouse, and use as the same way as before (dropping the mouse scares away the armor). I could see someone getting stumped here because they assumed they couldn’t get the items.

The library, which has a secret passage that opens with the word EMASES in both versions, now has the word placed in a book in the library, where it is the only book there. Now, the original wasn’t stealthy either, but the word was in the observatory; having it be right on the shelf that gets opened seemed a bit too on-the-nose, turning an easy puzzle into a near-trivial one.

Relatedly, the previous game’s “organ room” had the organ not actually do anything, and you could just enter the fireplace; this version has PLAY ORGAN open the fireplace. (While simpler, I’ll admit this was more satisfying to do than just realizing I could walk in the fireplace.)

The tin soldiers show up underground again, but this time there’s no way at all to kill them. The game includes the dagger, but the dagger doesn’t do anything, so all you can do is run away.

The computer room is still there, and this time the puzzle that requires busting the computer by throwing some water on it works (more on this in a second). However, there’s no scene of the tin soldiers charging themselves up; this room doesn’t connect with anything in the game other than the sphere being another treasure.

The pink bull is still in, except this time the time stasis field doesn’t hit right away. You have to turn off your lantern, and THEN a time stasis field hits (without even a meta-narrator, just some wizard does it…?) and then you have to walk by in the darkness. I imagine the idea was to enforce having the lantern on/off puzzle be solved, but it turned what was sort-of-fair-but-nonsense (you can just avoid second visits to the bull room in the original game) into complete nonsesnse (it’s not clear how the player character would even know about the stasis field while in total darkness).

The absolute worst change involves an item. In the original, you get a “cauldron” that you fill with water; it is used for both destroying a computer (as already mentioned) and priming a pump. I could not find the cauldron in the On-Line Systems version. I was very stumped and had to check a walkthrough. In the new version, the cauldron is now a “pot” and it is not mentioned in the room description.

I am somewhat supportive of the items-in-picture-not-in-text system pioneered starting with Mystery House — I didn’t run into guess-the-noun or be-unaware-an-object-even-exists with Wizard and the Princess so it’s possible to be clear, even with a janky art style — but I had no notion at all of a pot in the picture. It’s that partially-visible black thing on the stove, I guess. Also, when the armor is on the screen it entirely covers the pot.

I mentioned being stumped by the raft on the fountain due to a failure in visualization. Unfortunately, I can’t tell for certain how I’d react with this game, but I think I’d make it through; the raft is depicted as very tiny, so at least visually it does fit inside the fountain.

To summarize the changes:

1.) no inventory limit
2.) no lamp timer
3.) simplified map
4.) water container hard to find
5.) suits of armor more obvious
6.) tin soldiers can no longer be killed, removal of visible connection with computer room
7.) computer room puzzle now works as originally planned
8.) pink bull puzzle now enforces turning off the lantern
9.) EMASES is right where it gets used
10.) the organ is used to open a secret passage

There are a few more points, and summed up I think they mostly average out to neutral (except possibly the pink bull puzzle pushing slightly to negative). Yet, as I already implied, I liked the original text-only version better. Why?

While I have nothing against graphics, even bizarre looking ones, the text — despite it being erratic at times, and often just functional — somehow painted the world more vividly. Let me pick a direct example.

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.

Again, the text is almost completely pure function here, but my imagination paints the chapel much more strongly than the Apple II image does.

I wouldn’t welcome a text version of Wizard and the Princess; that game seems designed for its slightly odd characters and locations; I’m perfectly fine with Cranston Manor being reverted to all-text. I don’t know if it’s the sense of loss of setting that makes the difference (the “hard looking wood pews” being gone) or just the loss of part of my imagination, the “brain as graphics engine” as mentioned in the Infocom ad. When Ahab at Data Driven Gamer played both games and had the same reaction: “And as with Sierra’s previous graphical adventures, the graphics are really not very good, and came at the expense of verbosity, and while the writing in The Cranston Manor Adventure wasn’t exactly mind-blowing, it still wasn’t a good trade to lose it.”

One last oddity — and it would take some experiments in hacking the game to be sure — is I’m not sure if all the “positive” improvements even helped. Both the sleeping and lamp time were frustrating to cope with, but they added a rhythm to the game and added tension to explorations underground. Even though I skipped killing the tin soldiers in the original game, the existence of the possibility of doing so added an edge; I was making a strategic choice, one I sometimes questioned.

I also can’t really defend the convoluted map of the original that strongly, but still, I spent time in the opening abandoned town, whereas in the graphical version it was essentially a footnote. Spending time made the sense of abandonment more tangible. There clearly would be a better way to handle the same situation (with a shorter opening and more vivid text, perhaps some character dialogue) but it’s interesting that just dropping the flawed gameplay element ended up hurting the game when it wasn’t replaced by some element that conveyed the same effect.

It’s easy to whale on early adventure games (why is there another maze, why do I have to worry about lamp life, etc.) but sometimes, those flawed and now-outdated elements were still used with purpose.

Posted September 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Quest / Fantasy Quest (1981, 1983)   Leave a comment

I normally associate the Sharp MZ series of computers with Japan (and while we’ll get to Japanese adventure games, we have to make it to 1982 first); however, it also sold decently in Europe. Quest was originally published in 1981 by Kuma Software for the Sharp MZ-80A and republished in 1983 by the same company; it was additionally republished the same year by IJK for the Oric-1 (Tangerine’s successor to the Microtan 65) as Fantasy Quest. I’m having trouble running the Sharp version, but I’ll link a video of the game running on a real machine just so you can see it.

There was a third version for Tatung Einstein, but I went with the Oric-1 edition.

Via Retrogames. I incidentally am going by the title on the main loading screen rather than just “Fantasy”, if for no other reason to distinguish this game from Level 9’s first game Fantasy (1981). Couldn’t think up an easier-to-Google title, early game programmers?

The back of the tape case states our mission is to “find and take the four sectors of the eye of Morpheus to the eternal fires of hell.” This will allow us to cross a “crevasse” and find the “long lost treasures of BORGAN.”

Well, it’s not quite a Treasure Hunt, even though the plot says it is literally a treasure hunt. I’m curious why the author (John Wolstencroft) felt obligated to toss the treasure in there, even though destroying some presumably evil artifact seems motivation enough.

The author also wrote Castle Quest. Clearly, he had a penchant for generic titles.

Almost right away, because I had to take notes, set up a map, and so forth, I ran into a feature that I’ve never seen in a text adventure before from any era: the text equivalent of idle animation.

If you haven’t seen it yet, let the image above sit for a moment.

Perhaps a few extra moments. The computer starts to beg. There’s a lot of messages; I cut the file off early just to keep the size reasonable.

You can also peruse, as you’re idling, the spot in the upper left corner: that’s a compass map view, as seen all the way back in Spelunker (1979) although formatted as an above-down view of the environment.

A brief pause.

Texts have rhythms to them, sometimes particular and specific ones. Words best read fast, words best read slow. Scenes painted literal, scenes painted as metaphors.

A thief drives to the museum in his black van. The night
watchman says Sorry, closed, you have to come back tomorrow.
The thief sticks the point of his knife in the guard’s ear.
I haven’t got all evening, he says, I need some art.
Art is for pleasure, the guard says, not possession, you can’t
something, and then the duct tape is going across his mouth.

— From Girl Writing a Letter, William Carpenter, 1993

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.

— From On the Pulse of Morning, Maya Angelou, 1993

The first excerpt works like an action film, thrusting forward with a similar force. The second is more contemplative, more demanding of reflection. While it’d be possible to swap the reading approaches and get satisfaction, there’s still some sense of optimal approach.

The same extrapolation applies to gameplay. By surface appearances, adventure games of the early era — rooms, objects, a parser — are blended to the point it may appear all games are simply extensions of each other. But for each one of these games I have re-adjust, and sometimes I simply start wrong — reading room descriptions too closely, or not closely enough. Bypassing verbs that search things, or using them at every opportunity.

With Fantasy Quest, I diligently started a map with “Large Cavern” mapped out and continued for each room like a traditional Infocom game. This is not the best approach here. Many of the rooms are described as just tunnels, or just turns, or just intersections, and are quite intentionally described in a generic way. The focus here is on dens.

Spots in orange have passages going up.

I have marked with color each “den” in yellow, which represents some foe or friend. For example, there’s an orc den you can pass through safely once, but the game explicitly says not to enter again; if you do, you get eaten.

A troll demands money; some nearby coins help to satisfy.

A devil can be driven off with a cross.

The interesting part — and this is where it really did take me a while to catch on — is that the layout forms a logic maze of sorts. Here’s an early example:

A “super-structure” map. This is generally the better way to think about the game, and hits at what I meant by the poetry analogy earlier; I originally wasn’t properly “zooming out” but rather getting annoyed at all the “plain” rooms in between the important parts.

The Opening Area lets you visit a devil early, but you can’t get by because you don’t have a cross yet. There’s also a chest that has the first sector of the eye of Morpheus (remember, the objective is to find all four) but you can’t open it without a key from the second area. So the only way from the opening to the second area is to pass through the orcs, but that’s a one-way trip. But in addition to finding a key in the second area, you can find a cross, so you *can* then get through the demon lair and back, which lets you access the chest in the opening area.

There’s yet another route back to the opening area past a spider, but it only works once, and you use up the cross later (it’s silver, and there’s a creature that wants silver) so this needs to be saved for when you no longer have the cross later in the game.

Another example:

A monster wants a feather. A feather happens to be nearby. However, to take the shortest route back requires passing through a “lizard bird” who normally ignores you; if you’re holding a feather, he attacks and kills you. So to get the feather back to the right place you have to take an alternate route: which passes by a.) a dark area with a pit (that you need to LIGHT a TORCH for) b.) some elves, who require an ORB to get by and c.) a dragon lair, will the dragon will only appear if you visit the place twice — so this is a one-way trip, so you need to make sure you haven’t tried to enter from the other side prior to taking the feather trip.

There’s an entirely different route from the feather to the elf/dragon portion of the route which passes by some gargoyles, but just like the orcs and dragon, you can only pass through once, as the gargoyles will kill you if you enter a second time.

The sequence above is where the setup on the game clicked for me; I had solved the “puzzle” getting the elf orb to the elves but was led to rooms I had already been to, and the dragon lair from the north rather than the south side, but was confused what that accomplished until I realized I need to focus on available paths more than individual rooms.

But not too much focus — while the automap is helpful, there are parts of the game you can GO UP or GO DOWN, and that’s only described in the room text itself.

I really wanted to finish this by reporting victory, but I’ve only managed to get 3 out of the 4 sectors of the Eye. The last map section I managed to arrive at has a wizard satisfied by a gift of a wand, but past the wizard I can only go back to part of the map I’ve been to. I have a plank of wood I haven’t used and there’s two parts nearby where you get dropped a level via traps (one by a burst of water, and one by a trapdoor) but all my attempts at verb use have been stymied. (This is an ultra-minimalist verb set; a lot of the cases you’re just giving gifts to monsters, or applying items automatically like the cross and the devil.)

(If anyone wants to try the game, Fantasy Quest is here. I played it with the Oricutron emulator here. To load the tape you need to type CLOAD”” as a single command.)

Posted September 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castle (1981)   4 comments

It’s been a while since we’ve visited the APX (Atari® Program Exchange) so it’s time to give it another try, with a work by Robert Zdybel who also wrote Alien Egg; I don’t know if Castle or that game came first.

While the gameplay in Alien Egg wasn’t impressive, it had a fun sense of attitude.

This is where the rest of the crew slept before their mysterious and untimely disappearance.
There are several bunks against one of the bulkheads. All of the are neatly made and empty.

>U

CAPTAIN’S BUNK
This is where the Captain used to bunk before HIS mysterious and untimely disappearance.

This one doesn’t quite have the sense of attitude, but it does feel written; there’s at least gesturing towards environment-as-storytelling. For Alien Egg, I also wrote the parser was “suffering” and looking back after finishing, I can’t say anything has changed, but I got a little more used to the particular quirks. (I’ll mark these spots when they come up as Parser Oddities #1 through #5.)

You got a wizard mad for mysterious reasons and you’re now trapped in a magical castle. So this one is Escape rather than Treasure Hunt. The map is sensibly laid out in levels, and feels more modern than a lot of what I’ve seen for 1981; I suspect the author was aiming for easy difficulty which accidentally led to this.

I mentioned environment-as-storytelling; rather than the castle we’ve been teleported to being generic, it gives the impression of having suffered some catastrophe, with snippets of life interrupted.

There’s no “payout” — in a modern game you’d expect some sort of climax where the player discovers What Really Happened, but the mystery remains a mystery even at the end.

Look, a Zork reference! Unless I’m forgetting something, this is the first commercial game we’ve seen where one has appeared.

I suppose if there was a longer windup, this would bother me, but the game is relatively short and clearly focused on just escape. The rough sequence of puzzles is

1.) Find a lamp and a sword clearly codged from Zork, and go down into a gaol.

Parser Oddity #1: The command GET doesn’t work, so GET LAMP is impossible. You have to TAKE LAMP instead.

Parser Oddity #2: The lamp is hard to turn on: LIGHT, ACTIVATE, and SWITCH don’t work. The right command is from the instructions: TURNON, all one word.

Once the room is lit, you see a skeleton there you can destroy.

Parser Oddity #3: ATTACK SKELETON and KILL SKELETON don’t work; you have to SWING SWORD, which shatters the skeleton into pieces.

2.) Find some runes and try to read them; the game, short on details, says YOU HAVEN’T DONE SOMETHING ELSE YET. There aren’t many other objects to play with, but there is a cupcake from elsewhere in the castle.

Parser Oddity #4:The CUPCAKE can only be referred to it as a CAKE. I automatically left the room and went back in once I realized I was having noun trouble to see the “short name” and plowed on through rather than lingering. This is a little like seasoned adventure players ignoring clearly gauche design decisions that non-acolytes baffle over; consider, for example, a player with many saved games and a reflexive ability to rewind time vs. a player who keeps only one save file.

Eat the cupcake by typing (sigh) EAT CAKE and you get an “Elvish feeling” which is sufficient to read the runic script.

SPEAK AND THEN ENTER.

This is a cute variation on the usual puzzle: the right command is SAY AND.

This opens a “potion room” by a vault with a door that is too heavy to open. A helpful potion sits nearby. Drinking the potion gives you strength and you can OPEN VAULT. The vault is empty except for a note mentioning a secret under a mattress.

3.) The king’s chambers have a mattress, where looking underneath reveals an amulet. Typing INSERT AMULET (indicated by the note, and it has to be exactly that) opens a room the chamber of the king’s mistress and a hungry-looking bird. Feeding the bird (with birdseed from elsewhere) gets a magic word. The magic word then opens up another room to a wizard’s tower, with a spellbook.

(It’s incidentally possible to solve #3 early without the note, albeit with more verb trouble on using the amulet, making getting into the vault anticlimactic.)

4.) Trying to type READ BOOK in most places just indicates it is being read in the wrong place. I found my way back to the vault, which had a suspicious looking portrait, and READ BOOK led to…

…my getting very stuck.

Parser Oddity #5: Just like Alien Egg, this game features the occasional vague message when something doesn’t work, like SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY, but in most cases with Castle, it isn’t hard to puzzle out what’s going on. Except: on this puzzle in particular, I’m still not even sure how the player character would know they are in the right room. It’s like the computer-narrator is composed of two entities, one for straight narrative, one for meta-narrative error messages given in ALL CAPS. The meta-messages aren’t even intended to be read as “in-game-universe”, I guess, except the messages reflect acts that usually are narrated in-universe, like noting a particular exit is closed? I might be overthinking this one.

This is the only point I needed to reach for hints. The book requires the lamp be turned off (TURNOFF LAMP). Then the book reveals the word XANADU in fiery letters.

The key then opens the front door to the castle and leads to escape.

The game doesn’t “end” here; you just have to assume the victory and quit the game on your own.

You might think the parser oddities would hurt the game more; writing them out, they look pretty bad (and the CUPCAKE isn’t the only object with noun trouble). It really helped that the target was easy rather than hard difficulty; rather than being stuck and mired in place and getting pushed repeatedly with the same puzzle and constantly wondering if the parser was the trouble, I was able to skate through.

Posted September 8, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The 6 Keys of Tangrin (1981)   2 comments

You are on holiday in Cornwall and are staying in your aunt’s old house near the sea.

The house lies in an area known as ‘Smuggler’s Den’ and the townfolk will tell stories of clever smugglers hiding their wares in the maze of caves around the coastline.

It is said that one madman who lived in the house in the last century had stored his treasure somewhere and locked it using keys which were themselves locked in boxes!

However, many attempts have been made to recover the treasure and so there may be keys left by previous frustrated explorers– or so it is said: it is probably mostly gossip!

From Tansoft Gazette Issue #3. The picture shows the “full” version of the Microtan 65 with a regular keyboard.

The 6 Keys of Tangrin is the “Adventure 2” mentioned in the Microtanic ad I wrote about last time. It is this blog’s first appearance by Geoff M. Phillips, who we will get to revisit once we start reaching ORIC-1 games in 1983.

Tansoft Gazette Issue #2.

The EACH GAME HAS A DIFFERENT LAYOUT gives the tip-off that this is another entry in the rare roguelike-adventure genre which I’ve defined as “puzzles form the primary gameplay, yet the environment is still highly generative”. Reviewing the previous encounters:

Mines — randomly generated traditional text adventure map, randomly placed puzzles which block parts of the map, puzzle solutions are fixed, objects are placed to be guaranteed to be accessible to solve obstacles, only goal is escape

Lugi — randomly generated map with loose topography, puzzle solutions are fixed although an object for a particular puzzle is not guaranteed to be accessible, multiple routes to ending, multiple goals besides escape kept track of via a scoring system

Kaves of Karkhan — randomly generated 3D map, puzzle solutions are fixed and based on which characters are in the party such that there may be multiple solutions or no solution at all to a puzzle, no objects (except chests with magic vials that allow skipping puzzles), only goal is bier at the end

I’ll also give half-credit to Atom Adventure, which had some randomly-placed items in such a way that the overarching optimization puzzle varied (and was in some random number seeds, impossible to solve); however, it did not have a random environment. (In some of these games, arguably, the item space is the environment, more than the room descriptions, but that doesn’t apply to Atom Adventure.)

You decide to do some exploring on your own. You go down to the sea front and walk to the cliff under the house.

The tide is out. but it will return within a few hours. You are able to hold 3 things in your hands and pockets should the need arise that is.

The 6 Keys of Tangrin is much more chaotic than even Mines. I played using Jim Gerrie’s TRS-80 MC-10 port rather than trying to wrangle the text into a Microtan 65 emulator, partly to avoid the pain in the neck doing that involves, and partly because Mr. Gerrie already did some bug-fixing.

It qualifies as full roguelike since the map and all item placements are totally random. There are 6 types of keys, that go with various boxes. Which key goes with which box is also random. Sometimes the boxes will contain keys. Sometimes these keys will be new and helpful; sometimes they will be duplicated elsewhere. You have an inventory limit of 3 (even though you’re just toting around keys) so you need to use SWAP on occasion to pick up new keys.

YOU ARE UNDER A CLIFF. NEAR AN OLD HOUSE. A CAVE FACES YOU.
NEXT TO A ROCK IS A PILE OF OLD 78’S.
YOU CAN NOW GO: NORTH.

?N

YOU HAVE 186 MINUTES BEFORE THE TIDE RETURNS
YOU ARE IN A SMALL CAVE WITH FLOURESCENT GREEN WALLS.
AGAINST A WALL IS A SILVER KEY.
YOU CAN NOW GO: NORTH, EAST, SOUTH, DOWN.

?PICKUP KEY

OK, I’VE PICKED UP THE SILVER KEY

?EAST

YOU HAVE 172 MINUTES BEFORE THE TIDE RETURNS.
AHEAD LIES A SMALL OFFICE WITH PAPERS STREWN EVERYWHERE.
AGAINST A WALL IS A TIN OPENER.
YOU CAN NOW GO: NORTH, UP, WEST, DOWN.

?DOWN

YOU HAVE 164 MINUTES BEFORE THE TIDE RETURNS.
YOU ENTER A BROAD LEVEL CHAMBER, WITH A GLOSSY, METALLIC FLOOR.
ON THE GROUND IS A TOURIST’S GUIDE TO THE AMERICAN WEST.
YOU CAN NOW GO: UP, SOUTH, WEST.

Regarding the tide that goes in and out — it’s ok for the tide to return, as it eventually resets, but it means there is a chunk of time where you won’t be able to leave. The main “timer” to the proceedings is health. You start at 100% and slowly degrade. It helps to grab the “tin opener” as seen above because then you can open any tins that show up on the map, which restore your health.

YOU ARE EXTREMELY EXHAUSTED.
YOU HAVE BECOME A VICTIM OF THE CAVES OF TANGRIN.

I was initially somewhat impressed; the rooms cohere together a little better than Lugi or Mines, and the random debris of other treasure hunters felt sufficiently like an adventure to convince me I was in an environment rather than a random number generator.

Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t quite follow through; everything is just *too* random. You can have a golden key that you unlock a cabinet to find another golden key. There are lots of objects, like a WWI helmet and the a “PILE OF OLD 78’S” that do nothing. One exception is a French dictionary, which apparently helps you communicate with the ghost of Tangrin who can randomly appear. This lets you warp to the “end” of the game, but this still doesn’t help you get the “winning” treasure (more on that in a second), so it isn’t terribly useful.

While the inventory limit of 3 is intended to force interesting choices, since key-box links are random there’s not much opportunity for rational decisions. You have a pointed key, a silver key, and a nickel key; you see a golden key; do you swap? If you haven’t used any of the keys you’re holding, there’s no real reason (unless you happen to know of a duplicate of one of the keys you’re holding more centrally located on the map).

There’s no “chain” of boxes either. The ultimate goal is a treasure in a treasure chest, but it’s not as if there’s a chain where box 1 lets you unlock box 2 which lets you unlock box 3 and so forth until the culmination at the treasure chest. You might just get randomly lucky. I personally never did, but I did see the treasure chest; the circumstances were kind of hilarious.

Yes, that’s the complete accessible map from one of my playthroughs. There was the treasure chest, no links to anywhere, and no other items. At least this playthrough was honest; I put in a lot more work on other tries (having to make a map from scratch each time) only to find the game impossible to win.

The map above is more typical. You are guaranteed to have no exit mismatches; going north from one place will always connect to south from the place it arrives it, unless it’s a one-way passage (and those are fairly rare). The map is complete; I was able to stave off hunger fairly well, especially because items would sometimes randomly transform into food tins. A former WWI helmet, for example, just went poof.) However, there was no treasure chest or way to reach one, so the game was a dud.

I get conceptually what the author was aiming at, and it’s interesting; the roguelike-adventure idea is tough to pull off, and keys are mechanical enough they theoretically shouldn’t be hard to code. However, there was almost no way to make rational decisions about anything, It was like playing a slot machine, but with much more work involved.

Another playthrough, although not a complete map this time. The diagonals are “up” and “down”, and no, they don’t have any rational geographic sense to them. Having “levels” might help add some geographic suspense; it could even be set so the treasure chest is always on, say, floor 3, giving at least a vague impression if the player is getting closer to the goal. As a comparison, imagine if Rogue allowed the game-winning Amulet of Yendor to show up literally at any moment in the game, even just past the opening stairs.

We’ve got more roguelike-adventures coming up in the future (most famously, Madness and the Minotaur) so we’ll revisit these concepts; Lugi still is the game that’s come the closest to pulling it off.

(Oh, and in the version I played, there are 7 keys, not 6. I think this was to fix a data table bug. Just be warned for the TRS-80 MC-10 version that the game and title do not match.)

Posted September 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Sceptre of Hamloth (1981)   2 comments

We’ve seen some rare computers here before — mostly notably a fair number of titles for the Ohio Scientific line of computers, thanks to Aardvark — but we have yet to encounter the Tangerine Microtan 65, a system originating from the UK in October of 1979. For any fans of the system who might be scouring the Internet for information, I am sad to say this will be a short visit; there are only seven adventure games (sort of eight) that I know of, and four are currently lost to the winds of digital time. (The system was followed by the much more famous Oric-1, and Casa Solution Archive has over 100 adventures linked to it, so the company will be sticking around, at least.)

While it was possible to buy an “assembled” Microtan 65, the most common form seems to be the “kit” form with just a board and the hex pad shown here (instead of a keyboard). Image from Tansoft Gazette 7.

Just to lay them out, four of the adventure games are mentioned in the Tansoft Gazette #5:

We know from different sources that The Sceptre of Hamloth is #1, The 6 Keys of Tangrin is #2, The Tanland Adventures is #3, and ???? is #4. Adventure #2 is available since the source code was in Tansoft Gazette, issue 1; I’ll be playing that game next (it has an interesting experimental game mechanic). #3 and #4 might be on a dusty tape somewhere, they might be in oblivion. Since #4 is in BASIC the source code may be printed somewhere, and there may even be a known port for another system.

The Tangerine User Group newsletter mentions two more; here’s a clip from issue #17 (these didn’t start showing up in the newsletter until issue #16 in 1982):

House of Death is in Issue #37 and is by A. J. Shepherd, aka The Doppel-Ganger; I don’t know about Hoardes of Chaos. There’s also an ad for Viking Raider in a different issue, but since it’s both for Microtan 65 and Oric-1, I’ll be playing the latter version when I finally get to it in 1983.

TUG News Issue 36.

The sort-of-adventure is a port of the Royal Puzzle from Zork III with BASIC source in an issue of Microtan World; there’s no adventure framework at all so it essentially is a pure puzzle game.

The Sceptre of Hamloth, credited to an I. Dickinson, joins the only-8K-of-space club (actually 7K here) including ADV.CAVES, It Takes a Thief, and the early Aardvark games. Just like most of those, it’s pretty short on the verbs; it’s a collect-the-treasure-plot where the majority of the game is moving around, picking up stuff, and trying to finish before lamp light runs out.

The map is relatively substantial, but since making the map is almost the entire game, there is, sadly, the usual tendency to obfuscate exits (*); having, say, east from one room link to north in another. On the positive end: There is technically a “maze” but it’s only two rooms.

There is one puzzle — a vampire that approaches and kills the player if you don’t run away.

This is combined with the obfuscated exits; you go EAST to enter the vampire’s chamber, but SOUTH to get back out; trying to go WEST kills you.

Wrong way! He caught you! Everything is fading into darkness…

There’s a “dusty vase” elsewhere; if you BREAK it you can get a crucifix, which lets you get by. (More on this in a moment, though.)

Three other wrinkles. First, the addition of a SEARCH command. I admit I only discovered late that the verb worked. There’s a trapdoor not mentioned in the room description that SEARCH reveals.

You are in a tiny chamber with marble walls. A narrow corridor leads north and a twisting passage leads east.

SEARCH
You have found a trapdoor in the ceiling

This led to some silver coins, but I had found them already by being thorough and testing exits even if they weren’t in the room description.

Second, the titular Sceptre of Hamloth itself. (Presumably, there’s some manner of instructions giving a backstory, but those are also lost to the digital winds.) It’s easy to clear out the ruins and miss the sceptre, as I did the first time around. I suspected I was lacking something and poked around, using my experience with Dragon-Quest Adventure where I missed a similar exit:

(It didn’t help that GO STREAM and CROSS STREAM don’t work.)

I still didn’t have a BIG WINNER IS YOU message after I collected all the items at the starting location. Now, we get to that third wrinkle.

You see, you don’t have to break the vase.

EMPTY VASE

OK
Something fell to the floor

This gets the crucifix as easily as breaking the vase does, and the vase counts as a treasure. I admit I was sidetracked by the vase being “dusty” and trying to clean it (CLEAN isn’t recognized as a verb), but I also could swear I attempted to empty the vase by conventional means before breaking it.

(*) OK, so you’ve got a game almost entirely composed of navigation, and don’t even have a plot really: how do you make it interesting? Other than some pretty environments, the only thing that can be pulled off in this era is a bit of navigation trouble. (**) So I find the slightly askew directions a little more forgivable here than elsewhere. I’d still call it a case of trying to mimic mainframe Adventure on a platform not intended for it; something has to go, whether it be descriptions (making things Scott-Adams-minimalist) and/or rooms (aiming for a tighter experience). A common trope in speaking of art is that technical restrictions give birth to creativity, but The Sceptre of Hamloth is what happens when an author is more stubborn and doesn’t adapt to the bounds of the medium.

Apologies for the mess: I went old-school.

(**) Except… well, you’ll see. Stay tuned for Microtan 65 Adventure #2.

Posted September 1, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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