PLATO Adventure (1979)   14 comments

We’ve gone through many variants of Adventure now, including the recently-unearthed Adventure 448, and one open historial question is: why were all the variants made of Adventure, and not of other games at the time, like Mystery Mansion, Zork, and Acheton?

I can at least theorize. In the case of Mystery Mansion, while it was written in portable FORTRAN, it had messy “spaghetti code” with lots of special exceptions rather than a unified and easy-to-modify setup like Crowther’s original. Zork’s MDL language was not exactly mainstream (although the Bob Supnik Fortran port surely could have been modified?) and Acheton was written for a very custom-to-Cambridge system and reached past its small original circle only when it had its commercial release.

Here to shake things up is the PLATO System, which has been written about voluminously elsewhere, because it housed the world’s earliest computer RPG games. It had graphics and networking long before anyone else did. It spawned both Wizardry and Shanghai.

It also had an adventure game remix of Zork.

Credits, as shown, are to Phil Seastrand, Dave Schoeller, and Mark Ciskey. It was typed in by hand from source about 10 years ago, and assuming the records above are correct, nobody has beaten it since.

The game is technically just called “Adventure” but I have to keep my sanity somehow, so I tossed in the PLATO.

PLATO definitely had nothing like MDL, so this is code written from scratch which has some of the rooms of Crowther/Woods Adventure mashed up with some of the rooms of Zork to form its own thing. It certainly starts feeling like it should be an Adventure clone.

Stepping inside the building cross-jumps to an entirely different universe.

Based on what I’ve seen so far we’re at about 5% Adventure, 85% Zork, and 10% the authors doing their own thing.

There has to be some difference geographically because all directions are NSEWUD — that is, none of the “diagonal directions” are in. Here’s a comparison of the outside maps, PLATO map on top, Zork map on the bottom.

Many of the PLATO Adventure locations are still original, even if they re-insert some of the Zork items, like the wrench and candle in the shed below.

I haven’t explored underground that extensively yet. The Round Room for spinning is in; Flood Control Dam #3 is in.

A riddle room is in but has an entirely different riddle than the original. (Not a terribly hard one, I’ll leave the answer for readers to work out in the comments.)

So far I’m wondering if the reason nobody has finished the game yet has to do with logistics more than difficulty. One of the NOTES attached to the game suggests extending the lantern life because it is relatively short on the number of turns. I also ran across a softlock fairly early

which suggests there might be more. I’m just going to cross my fingers that the lack of winners has more to do with lack of attention than extreme difficulty. (It tweaks the Zork puzzles where I already know how to solve them … how hard could it be? Don’t answer that.)

Two other items of note:

a.) Just like Zork, the parser is NOT two-word. If you want to push the blue button, you have to type PUSH BLUE BUTTON and not just PUSH BLUE. It can honestly be stickier than Zork about the indirect objects; I remember being able to just ATTACK TROLL in Zork but for PLATO Adventure’s equivalent you have to specify a weapon, even if you are only carrying one: ATTACK TROLL WITH KNIFE or ATTACK TROLL WITH SWORD. (Either works!)

b.) The help screens list every room and every item. I haven’t checked much in detail because I consider those slight spoilers, but on offhand glance it does really look like a jumbled Zork. Interesting from a theoretical angle is the opening text.

“The main objective of this game is to make points to gain levels” sounds quite alien to the instructions of every other adventure game I’ve played. It strikes me like the sort of thing you’d write to a group that is *only* familiar with CRPGs in an attempt to describe the adventure genre in a way they’d know. (PLATO, being a graphical terminal, could not run Crowther/Woods Adventure, so undoubtedly many players in 1979 were not familiar!)

Special thanks to commenter Louis N, who clued me in that the PLATO system had an adventure game. I knew the CRPGs well and I had checked through all the files at one point and found no adventures, but it looks like the list I checked was made before PLATO Adventure was typed in. Better late than never. If anyone else familiar with PLATO has potential adventure games to suggest, let me know (I know of one other that might count but I’ll need to test it more thoroughly first).

Posted March 4, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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14 responses to “PLATO Adventure (1979)

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  1. The riddle answer is probably either ‘Sun’ or ‘Moon’. How many guesses are you allowed?

  2. Is it even any kind of natural phenomenon like that, or are we trying to guess an in joke sort of answer?

  3. I blinked at the statement that the lamp is gas. I was about to say “isn’t it supposed to be electric?” but while Zork’s is indeed battery-powered, a quick Google tells me Adventure’s may or may not be (some versions synonym HEADLAMP which is surely electric; others want you to refill the lamp with oil). According to this article a carbide (acetylene gas) lamp is normal caving equipment, or at least was in the 1975 Cave Research Foundation Personnel Manual, so maybe that’s the sort of gas meant.

  4. The reference to carbide lets me tell a very old joke:

    Did you hear about the cat who ate some carbide? She had acetylene kittens.

    (I once told this joke to someone – with a bit of explanation – and not long afterwards she asked me, “What was the end of that joke? I tried to tell it to someone, and all I could think of was thin pussies.”)

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