Wizard’s Gold (1981)   3 comments

I want to get back to the other Rob Krebs game from 1981 with the groovy graphics, but for a chaser let’s toss in another all-text game. This happens to have the same theme as Calixto Island, where our quest is not to find a bunch of treasures, but just one of them.

Find a hidden bar of gold a text adventure game

The APX, or Atari Program eXchange, was intended as a way for users to publish through Atari. Since the last APX games we’ve examined (Alien Egg and Castle, both by Robert Zdybel) I’ve learned more about the APX program itself and its interaction with the aforementioned users, but that discussion should wait for a different game, because Wizard’s Gold has no author name attached and might be by in-house staff at Atari (I’ll get into why later).

All the APX games so far seem to share a common codebase, which involves a slightly odd parser where, for example, L works to LOOK at a room but not the word LOOK itself, and GET works but not TAKE. Also, obstacles are only vaguely described with failure to go past one described as SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY and — most relevant to my start of gameplay — exits to rooms are only sometimes mentioned.

So, whacking against every wall it is:

I think the text width is supposed to be two characters smaller, but I’m not sure how to change the setting.

The opening house gives the impression the geography might be slightly coherent, with a rooftop garden containing a book where reading it says THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE, another quirk of the APX parser.

I typed GET first instead of TAKE almost every single time; sorry game, this is one habit you’re not going to train me out of. Look, GET is one character less: think of the efficiency!

A lamp is in a nearby “observatory”…

The wizard was keen on astronomy it seems, for this room is filled with many televisions and no windows.

…and the game gave its first hint this was not “fantasy” genre, exactly, but “wild gonzo surreal” (see also: Stuga). Eventually this sort of thing got overdone, but from the range of 1971-1981 I can’t pull many examples of sheer randomness. (Mines and Lugi maybe as well, but both of those involve genuine in-game randomizers.)

So I found it sort of refreshing, if not exactly satisfying on a deep art level. More examples:

BLANK ROOM
This room intentionally left blank.

ART GALLERY
This room is filled with many obviously valuable works of art.
Actually, all the works of art are forgeries and are valueless.

There is a large rusty key here.

EGG ROOM

You are in a room filled with rotten eggs.
From somewhere among the eggs you hear a voice saying “GLEEK”.

?SAY GLEEK
A very large egg appears. It splits open, and a weird guy jumps out and says “NANOO-NANOO”.

That last one is a Mork and Mindy reference, and serves no purpose in the game.

The complete map, where as you get deeper in it feels more and more like the author was just slapping on whatever they felt like.

After going underneath the Wizard’s house, you find a magic mushroom (which gives strength, not hallucinations), a magic broom, and a magic broom repair room (which never gets used, since the broom is in good condition). There’s also a library where you can read the book from the garden and get the magic word STELLA. Using STELLA yields a magic wand, which lets you go to the art gallery I quoted earlier and get the rusty key.

Another magic word yields itself up in a psychedelic room on a blacklight poster; you need to turn off the lamp to see it.

The magic word is COLLEEN. Anyone with a guess what it is a reference to?

Some more wandering will get you down to a computer room…

The wizard had many computers in his possession. Most of them look old by today’s standards.
There is even an ATARI 800, one of the first major home computers.

…immediately adjacent to a shooting range.

CROSSBOW FIRING RANGE
This was the sight of the firing range for the wizard and his crossbows.
There used to be a sign here that said “No Crossing on Foot”.

Wait, how do you know there “used” to be a sign here? Is the narrator adding details?

RIDE BROOM will let you go south to an aquarium.

This room has many aquariums in it. Some are broken, and some are not.

A fish tank full of piranha lies on the floor. The piranha look hungry.

As long as you’ve given yourself strength with the mushroom , you can MOVE TANK to reveal a trapdoor. The rusty key from the art gallery unlocks the trapdoor beneath to get to a treasure room.

The gold bar then can be toted back to the starting room for victory.

Why is this probably an internal Atari game? Well, other than not having an author name (which is pretty odd for the APX catalog, nearly everyone was credited) the name Stella refers to the original codename for the Atari 2600. While the Stella trivia is well-known now (an Atari 2600 emulator is even named Stella) it doesn’t seem to have been circulated to the public in 1981. Dale Dobson suspects Dennis Koble, who wrote two other 1981 APX games we haven’t gotten to yet, Chinese Puzzle and Sultan’s Palace.

Also, to be honest, this feels like a “let’s test out the system” type game more than a serious effort, where it got tossed in the catalog just because it was there. It wasn’t a terrible experience, though, and it’s nice to have another data point on the still-at-the-time-latent “surreal” genre which now has over 300 games listed at the Interactive Fiction Database.

Posted December 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “Wizard’s Gold (1981)

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  1. “BLANK ROOM
    This room intentionally left blank.”

    IBM was notorious for including similar perplexing messages in their manuals.

    • Out of curiosity I googled around a bit and found this on the Wikipedia talk page:

      I was an IBM systems programmer in 1973. I distinctly remember “TPHBILB” (or some variation thereof). Most important is the reason. As software was changed the technical manuals had to be updated. The manuals were all loose leaf binders so only the changed pages were sent by IBM. These were manually inserted. If part of a document increased in size then you would receive a new ‘old’ page plus an extra page that may have only a few lines. The opposite side was TPHBILB’ed. Suppose it was a long section of the document, that might mean that (say) 10 pages may have to be shuffled-up. In these cases IBM sometimes added a page BEFORE the change plus the changed page. I do remember one manual (but not which one) where a change at the end of section x was followed by a change in section x+1. This left two contiguous blank pages. Some IBMer with a sense of humour had one page set with “The page opposite has been left intentionally blank”.

      • It may be a joke about IBM, but it’s pretty standard practice for an integrating resource (to use library jargon) like such a manual. I also see similar statements on blank backs of pages in various official documents.

        One of my ex-boyfriends’ dads was some kind of computer engineer and liked to pun around by saying instead “rive gauche”, which means “left bank” (as in river bank) in French.

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