Archive for May 2021

Creature Venture: The Battle with a Very Skittish Land Squid   10 comments

IN ORDER TO PRESERVE THE INTEGRITY OF THE TITLE ‘MASTER VENTURER’ HIGHLANDS COMPUTERS WILL NOT GIVE ANY HELP REGARDING THIS SECTION. THE ONE CLUE WE WILL GIVE IS THAT IT TAKES A MAGIC WORD TO CROSS THE CHASM TO THE WEST. GOOD LUCK

As with my finale posts in general, if you’ve arrived here from elsewhere, you should read my prior posts on Creature Venture first, even though this part is generally self-contained.

From the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

I assume it’s due to memory conditions, but the previous Highland games have all been split into “parts” with separate source code files where any “shared code” needs to be copied over. So for the “cutscene death” of The Tarturian the game just sends the information about what items have been acquired in the game and plays the ending appropriately.

Here, the authors have a “traditional” parser but didn’t bother to transfer over the same commands between parts. This is why in Part 1 trying to PUNCH a random item just said NO whereas using it in Part 2, PUNCH gave a hint. This difference extends to verb vocabulary, meaning that words understood in one part aren’t necessarily understood in another, and vice versa.

I fortunately sussed this out before approaching the master quest of Creature Venture, so I caught that, for example, KISS now worked as a verb. However, I still needed quite a few more hints, with a mixture of absurd actions I feel no remorse at spoiling and reasonable puzzles I was just too tired to get after wrestling with the absurd puzzles. What I will do here is narrate the rest of the game straight, without solving difficulties listed, then go back and explain how far I got on each puzzle.

After the warning on the top of this post, about needing a magic word, you are dropped in a new place with a dagger, flashlight, and batteries. The batteries have a limited life, and your inventory limit is changed: you can only carry a maximum of five items.

This means the best way to start is to leave the starting ring behind while you clear some puzzles. To the west there is the promised chasm, and with no hints in particular, you’re supposed to SAY SHAZAM. This makes a bridge leading to a room with some cake (it’ll make you briefly large if you eat it, you’ll need to save it) and a strange tree that you can nevertheless CHOP and get some rubber, even though CHOP never worked in the game prior to this.

Down below there’s a pick in a wall; pull it out and some water start flowing, which you can plug by typing PUT RUBBER.

Heading back to the starting area (ignoring a cup and a tack that are both there, which are complete red herrings) there’s a locked door next to a pool of oil. You can try to BREAK DOOR but it says you need more delicacy, so the thing to do is THROW DAGGER which somehow bounces off a rock creating sparks which then light the oil which sets the door on fire.

Headed north you get trapped by a cage, but fortunately you can EAT CAKE to temporarily get large and bust it open.

Further north there is a complete dead end. The trick is to DIG while holding the pick, which lets you tunnel through the wall. This leads further to a rug and a pencil, although the best thing to do after scarfing them both is to head back to the entrance (assuming you ditched the pick, you you have enough inventory room to grab the ring, too).

To the north there is a “mimic” chest which turns into a medusa.

The right answer here is to KISS SERPENT, and not, as one might fully and logically expect, KISS MEDUSA. This is sufficent to get the mimic/medusa to move revealing stairs going down, where you can find another dead end, where quite naturally, the obvious thing to do is use the pencil to DRAW a DOOR.

Past the door is a key; you can then head back and find a chasm that you can FLY the rug over, a large snake where RUB RING charms it…

…and a locked door where the key can be applied. Then: the final obstacle.

Which you can defeat via…. you know what, let’s save that. Maybe you (as in reader you, not you visualized theoretically playing the game) can come up with it before I spoil the puzzle in a few paragraphs.

So I was doomed from the very beginning — I did suss out from the hint in the instructions (that I planted at the top of this post) that I was going to need to guess at a magic word as oppose to extract one from the game in any way (noteworthy: it understands SAY XYZZY, even though nothing happens) but I just couldn’t summon up SHAZAM as a possibility and had to look it up.

The tree, rubber, and cake section I worked out on my own. Then I hit the dagger being thrown making sparks, and pretty much lost all willpower. My first impulse on the initial dead end was to use the PICK which was correct, but I couldn’t find the right syntax of DIG (I tried HIT WALL and the like). I did know to FLY with the rug, and my first impulse with the pencil was to DRAW stuff (including drawing on the snake, as shown) but I was far past patience and sanity to work out DRAW DOOR. I did KISS MEDUSA quite early and needed hints for KISS SERPENT. And finally, RUB RING on the serpent was totally reasonable (even if totally random magic) but I was too weary to work through my items by that point.

In an abstract way, there is something weird and refreshing when all the rules of fairness get broken, but it doesn’t feel as much fun from the inside. The master game portion really harkens back to the ludicrous endgames of works like Adventure and Warp, where I get the feeling it might start to be fun as a group — if 5 people are playing with notes, maybe one of them randomly will try throwing the dagger. I doubt there’s any sane ratiocination process to arrive at throwing the dagger, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t solve it (I hit upon YELL BOO myself last time, remember).

Oh, and the octopus? You’re supposed to TICKLE it. Anyone work that out?

With this kind of puzzle, yes, I suppose there is a theoretical path to what happened, but it gives me an avant-garde feeling, like words and causality have been deconstructed.

Endgame aside, I did enjoy this the most of the Highlands library so far; the goofy humor settled into a rhythm, the janky art was at least consistently so, and the puzzles before the endgame were tricky but not impossible. (According to the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities, this was the best selling of their games, briefly reaching the top 10.) We only have one more game to go to finish with Highlands (Mummy’s Curse) and at least I can say they’ve all been interesting to talk about.

Posted May 31, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Creature Venture: The Battle with Satan   5 comments

OH OH IT’S LUCIFER HIMSELF

By some miracle, I still have avoided hints. I even technically “won” but there’s a master section I’ll explain at the end.

My first breakthrough was in regard to magic words. I had worked out SAY SESAME in an empty shed by the starting location opened a secret passage with a dagger, but I was stumped on BEEZ, from a diary in a bookcase.

SAY BEEZ did cause the bookcase to vibrate but nothing to happen. I knew (from my RES shenanigans, and an explicit message in the instructions) that the game supposedly only understood the first few letters of a word … but that turns out to be untrue in this case. On a whim (due to the paper being torn) I tried SAY BEEZLEBUB and was told by the game

YOUR SPELLING IS AS BAD AS MINE DAVE

Wait, what? Did the magical invoking diary misspell the word? A brief poke at the Internet yielded Beelzebub, and SAY BEELZEBUB caused the bookcase to move to the side and reveal a secret passage. This was bizarre-meta in both the defying the first characters of text rule on top of the computer … gamemaster? … acknowledging their own bad spelling, and how it somehow is reflected in the diary as well.

Past the passage was a maze.

Not much to say this time — only north/south/east/west directions but I also ran out of items for mapping, so I had to do the thing where I test an exit on a blank room to see if that behavior matches any of the blank rooms currently on my map. I didn’t even get to short-circuit my mapping, as I found the destination last.

This led to the long-awaited shovel.

You can KILL the creature as long as you have the dagger. This helpfully makes the dagger disappear.

The shovel I would normally then take back to the marked spot from the painting I’ve already mentioned, but it turned out to be too big to take back through the crack in the wall. The only thing I could do is hand it to the elf to through it to the room with the oozlybub.

I was horribly stuck and tried all the different improbable things I’m used to trying from adventure games, and by a miracle I came across

>YELL BOO

which caused the monster to disappear. I’m sure in other circumstances I would look it up and say “how could anyone solve that?” By dumb luck, apparently.

Shovel in hand, I could then finally find my long-awaited magic lamp.

If you rub more than 3 times, the lamp vaporizes you. This will be important later.

Now, I was still stuck, so I went back carefully over any game instructions I might have missed, and noticed that the text very specifically says PUNCHOUT BOOGEYMAN as one of its sample phrases. If you try to PUNCHOUT in the second half of the game (but not the first, it’s different BASIC source code so the responses to verbs are slightly different) the game says

RULE 3.2.1 STATES THAT YOU MAY ONLY PUNCHOUT BOOGEYMEN AND THE NEIGHBORS DOG

(If you try it in part 1, the game just says NO.) Even more meta, this command is also mentioned on the cover of the game (I quoted it on my first post, if you go back and check)! So I was able to PUNCH BOOGEY guarding the cage and pick it up.

I could then grab a BAT nearby, and try releasing it in every room, finding it not very useful yet.

I also discovered that rubbing the lamp near the mimic _was_ safe … the first time. It needed a magic wand.

I had previously tested this when I didn’t even know RES was restoring a saved game. The player had apparently found the wand already, but it wasn’t obvious from the inventory display that there was a wand there, because is big enough it overlaps the wand picture. Another pitfall of the pictorial inventory.

With the magic wand I could open the cave-in at the fireflies. The fireflies turn out to be an unlimited light source, meaning you can drop the flashlight and batteries. (Also: technically optional, I’m fairly sure.)

I had finally chipped away all the puzzles I could find and was stuck on hidden puzzles again. The only remarkable-looking place I hadn’t fiddled yet with was a stump.

Trying to break the stump led to a custom message about needing a more delicate approach. I ended up ramming through my verb list and finding RUB worked as a teleporter (since the bark has been “rubbed off” due to people using the magic, aha).

The snake is easily defeatable via bat, so I was then able to go north, and run into our pal Lucifer, as shown at the screenshot at the start of this post. Fortunately, he doesn’t attack right away, he just blocks your passage.

After some thought, and realizing I didn’t have many items left to try anyway, I tried RUB LAMP (the genie wasn’t able to help). Going with an alternate approach of dropping everything, I typed DROP LAMP.

I wish I could say I was clever and thought of this — leveraging the don’t-rub-more-than-3-times rule to vaporize Satan, and I guess if anyone can do it, a genie can — but this was another accidental solve. Still, I’ll take it as a win.

(It also looks like it does this even if you haven’t used up the wishes, so I think the mechanic backstory may be more along the lines that demons aren’t allowed to use genies.)

And I really do mean a win — the game lets you quit out at this point if you want, but if you want to go for even bigger treasure, you can do the bonus master quest. It’s essentially a contained short story — you get reunited with the dagger, flashlight, and batteries, and have a short number of turns to win. I’m still not through that section so you’ll see my flawless(-ish) victory, or rampant use of hints, for my finale next time.

Sneak preview.

Posted May 29, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Creature Venture: Accidental Magic   3 comments

I did manage progress without hints, but in an entirely unprecedented way.

As far as “normal” play goes I still wasn’t having much luck but I realized I hadn’t given Creature Venture my “try every possible verb” treatment yet.

There wasn’t much in the way of surprise (although I’m still not sure what TRADE is referring to yet) but where things got very curious indeed was the verb RESET. When I tested it, I was warped to a new room.

(You may see already where this is going. It took a while for it to dawn on me.)

This was an entirely different area. Rather helpfully, I ended up finding a passage that led me back through a “behind the mirror” room…

… to a room I recognized, with a fireplace. I never could work out what the rectangular thing above the fireplace was, so I figured it out by accident.

EXAMINE MIRROR notes there’s no reflection, so you can just ENTER MIRROR to reach the area I was in. This was a rather unorthodox way to work out what the item was, but having items be so cryptic you can’t refer to them seems more like a bug than a feature, to be honest, so I happily went along with it, even though I was still unsure why RESET was working.

I also noticed, after a couple mapping forays, that the RESET word changed my inventory to include a magic lamp marked with THREE TIMES. I baffled over if any clues I’d seen would indicate this would happen, but still did some tests where I would RUB LAMP in various locations to see if anything useful would come of it.

And then finally, it struck me: the game is only interpreting the first three letters of the input. The game is reading RESET as RESTORE. I was restoring a saved game that was previously on the disk I was using!

In all fairness, it was still using DAVE as the name (I switched from JASON based on suggestions from my comment crew) and because I’m not playing with authentic disk speeds there was no obvious delay. But that certainly counts as my first puzzle-solve via antique pre-existing save.

So, what’s past the mirror?

I’ve managed to eke out a few more puzzles. There’s a rebus puzzle on a pillar right when you come in…

…which gives a word which allows opening a door nearby. Behind the door is a bottle of water. You can use the water to grow a tiny tree into a big one.

Climbing the tiny tree gets up to a “Kybor”, and your guess is as good as mine as to what that is. I tested my ill-gotten lamp and the genie made short work, leading to a “Boogieman” guarding a “cage” I still can’t pick up. (There’s a bat elsewhere where if you try to pick it up the game asks where you cage is, so I assume that’s the next step after solving the puzzle.)

To be clear, the save game that’s on the disk has a flashlight that’s almost out of charge, so I’ll need to figure out where the lamp comes from for real. While I was testing the genie out, though, I tried it on the Mimic.

Things don’t turn out too well for the genie.

On the northeast corner of the map there’s some fireflies which you can pick up with the empty bottle (the one that had water). I assume the fireflies might substitute for the flashlight running out, but the problem is the cave-in has me trapped. I don’t have a way of digging myself out and after enough turns you run out of air and die.

So to summarize, I’m stuck on:

a.) the same oozlybub as last time

b.) finding the magic lamp, for real

c.) getting back out of the cave-in

d.) getting by the Boogieman to get the cage

Posted May 28, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Creature Venture: Hidden Puzzles   2 comments

YOUR UNCLE LEARNED THE WAYS OF BLACK MAGIC AND OFTEN WOULD BECKON FORTH THE CREATURES OF HADES ONLY TO END UP RELINQUISHING HIS SOUL TO THIER DASTARDLY DEMANDS AND EVENTUALLY HIS LIFE.

IT IS RUMORED THAT YOUR UNCLE TRIED TO FIGHT BACK WITH THE HELP OF A MAGIC LAMP HE HAD BUT THAT IT WAS TOO LATE. ON THE NIGHT YOUR UNCLE DIED LUCIFER SENT FORTH A DEVIL RAIDER AND STOLE MOST OF THE TREASURE OF STASHBUCK MANSION.

I figured after the sprawling explore-a-thon that was The Tarturian I’d have a lot of map waiting for me, and I assume I still do, but I hit the edge so far early. I assume what I’m missing are hidden puzzles. That is, situations where there were no obvious obstacles. I can make a list of puzzles, but it’s pretty short:

1.) handle the oozlybub above. The elf I mentioned last time will throw things to be in the room, so maybe it can be something explode-y.

… and that’s it. I did also find a nifty hint which indicated a spot to dig …

I didn’t find this before because I previously thought the visual which turned out to be a PAINTING was a window. I do appreciate this is a purely visual clue that even needs to be solved visually, by mapping the outside picture to the right location.

… but as the game complains I don’t have a shovel, and there’s nothing I can proactively do to get one, I’m just going to assume I’ll run across one along the way. There’s nothing to “solve” really.

I did manage to find a flashlight laying on some stairs by LOOK STAIRS, and I’m still holding onto the words BEEZ and SESAME which don’t do me anything.

Beelzebub I assume. I’m hoping we get to meet Satan.

I assume I’m missing typing a LOOK at some item that will then yield me further information if I do the right verb, but I’ve tried to MOVE various objects to no avail (IT’S TOO HEAVY).

I’ve now twice combed over the map to make sure I haven’t missed any exits (although that’s not quite a guarantee there isn’t something I’ve botched up) but really, this game is lacking in things for me to try out.

The kitchen from last time where I can’t do anything with any of the items. LOOK ICEBOX (as suggested by Lisa in the comments) just says I SEE NOTHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY.

With a modern point-and-click I can at least lawnmow everywhere as busywork while I accidentally find the next thing to do, but here I’m not even sure what that busywork would be.

I’ll still be succumbing to hints soon, as I know y’all prefer to read about making progress to not making progress. But I do think these moments of stuckness are important to document, as they can be an unfortunate part of the adventure experience, one that can be excised by a smooth narrative that makes a game’s plot seem smoother than it is.

Posted May 24, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Creature Venture (1981)   13 comments

You have just inherited your UNCLE STASHBUCK’S MANSION but first you must rid it of the horrible creatures that have taken it over and find your uncle’s buried treasure.

Directing the computer with two word command such as ‘Go North’, ‘Get Key’, ‘Look Room’ ‘Punchout Boogeyman’,etc. You will need to explore deep into the mansion to finally find the Stashbuck Fortune.

— From the cover for Creature Venture

Art via the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

Butch Greathouse and Garry Rheinhardt so far have produced two oddities (Oldorf’s Revenge and The Tarturian) which involved the player controlling entire groups rather than single characters. They came off as interesting in a game-theory sense but slightly awkward to play.

Creature Venture is their third game, where they chuck most of the experimental ideas for a traditional adventure, except for substituting … well, I wouldn’t call it a new idea, exactly, but pushing a concept a bit farther than anyone else had.

The title screen is the only one in color, so I switched to black and white TV mode for the rest of the game. This means y’all miss out on the weird color bleed that happens rendering Apple II screens although you can see it on the screen above, with the purple vertical line to the left of the title and the green vertical line to the right (technical details at Jimmy Maher’s blog).

We can say the development of graphics in adventure games went through multiple phases, not really chronologically but overlapping all at once:

a.) scattered art (Zork, Stuga): a few occasional items have graphical renderings

b.) fully illustrated text adventure (Atlantean Odyssey): every location is illustrated, although the text is complete enough that the illustrations aren’t technically needed

c.) graphic adventure (Mystery House): gameplay is dependent on the graphics, and some items are only described by the graphics; however, if an item is picked up, it is described in inventory using text

and this phase I don’t have a good name for (graphic adventure, part II?), but really, nearly all pretense of giving names to rooms OR objects has been dropped.

Here’s the opening screen, which *does* include the “I’m in a field” boilerplate, but it ends up being rare.

On-Line Systems had plenty of rooms only described by pictures rather than words, but once an object is in inventory, it gets a name. Here, the objects are seen as images in the world and stay that way.

For example, peeking inside the mailbox (not described as such, you just have to recognize and LOOK MAILBOX) led to an item I originally thought was originally an ENVELOPE, but that word wasn’t recognized. It turns out to be a POSTCARD. Once picking up the postcard, it still is only shown as its graphic, and if you read the postcard, you’re shown it says SESAME without any text given outside the graphics window.

Once in inventory, here’s what it looks like. There’s batteries to the right, which *are* mentioned by name in the room description. The game no doubt thought they’d be a little too cryptic to puzzle out.

This is another raid-the-house hunt, but with odd creatures that I have yet to be able to deal with. If the blurb on the cover holds up I have to eliminate them all.

Like this elf. Maybe if I hand it a heavy enough item it’ll try to throw it and hurt their back?

The other curious thing about the graphics handling is the “zoom level”. We’ve seen this back in Mystery House — burning a hole in a carpet and zooming close to see a key — but here it feels a little more systematic. There is, for example, a kitchen:

You can LOOK STOVE

or LOOK TABLE

or LOOK SINK

or LOOK CABINETS.

This is far more extensive “zoom graphics” than any prior game I can think of, although having it be so extensive makes it more of a surprise when it doesn’t work (you can’t LOOK FRIDGE or even refer to it, for instance).

There’s one extra problem intrinsic to this sort of game of not knowing what to call rooms; I’m ballpark guessing, but if this map gets too large I could see myself not remembering what moniker I’ve given a particular place.

I described this room as “FIREPLACE” even though it appears you can’t refer to it. I think the letters FIRE are catching some other item in the parser you get later. Incidentally, the room exit is to the east, so you can’t depend that much on door positioning; I’ve just been testing every exit of every room, but fortunately diagonals are out, so I only need to test north/south/east/west/up/down.

I’m still getting my initial map written out, so not much more yet to report; hopefully I solve some puzzles next time and maybe put the kibosh on some on some monsters.

Posted May 20, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Wizard’s Revenge (1981)   3 comments

First catalog, we went around and found every last utility or piece of software that we could put out there, unashamedly.

Paul Cubbage, director of the Atari Product Exchange from April 1981 to January 1984

This post won’t make sense without reading the one on Max’s Adventure; Atari was interested in the game and so it was later packaged and sold as Wizard’s Revenge under the APX label.

All the other APX text adventures (including the ones we haven’t looked at yet) first appeared in the summer 1981 catalog, this one made its first appearance in winter 1981.

As mentioned in the article by Max Manowski last time, he was contacted by Atari — while still scrounging for material, rather than just waiting for things to be sent in — in order to publish his game originally dropped at a Byte store in Seattle. He described the first game as “incomplete” so added a few things (which I’ll get to) but also removed the special font for the screens (which, as he explains in this interview, was using third-party software, so it would have been dodgy trying to sell it).

The default Atari font. Notice the “50% alive” stat — Max’s Adventure didn’t give you any warning if you were about to die in combat, but this game does.

The royalty cut was 10%; Max made about $500, so we’re not talking a huge seller (Chris Crawford’s Eastern Front, on the other hand, sold $1.8 million worth, again with royalties of only 10%). I haven’t seen much comment on if its fair or not; the director of APX, Paul Cubbage, did say people complained:

…and I’d say ‘Go to a flea market and sell [your software] off the back of your station wagon. The royalty is the royalty. I know it’s not much.’

(Compare with modern cuts on digital platforms: Steam gives 70% and Epic gives 88%. Of course, there’s no packaging involved, but the APX packaging was super-minimalist; an identical manual cover for each game with a hole where the title goes.)

If you’ve been following my backlog through 1981, this rainbow image should look familiar.

It should be said, though, that the concept as a whole was almost nixed by Atari entirely; prior to Cubbage there was Dale Yocum, who created the idea in the first place. As Chris Crawford notes:

…[he] was trying to explain to the management that there are a lot people out there that like to write programs and if we can publish these programs for them, it’s a win-win. He put together a business plan for it and said ‘Look, we only need a little bit of money and this thing can be self-sufficient and it might make some money.’ They grudgingly agreed to let him do it because the Atari platform desperately needed a larger software base, a void not being filled by the other publishers of the day.

Then Yocum was pushed by management out of his brainchild (I think that means Cubbage was then in charge?), so he quit a year later. The point here is that having random indie users send things for publications was slightly bizarre to Atari, even though other companies like Adventure International and On-Line Systems were doing much the same; in Atari’s case, they would take not just games, but software for tasks like renumbering the lines of BASIC programs and tracking a newspaper route. Since Cubbage himself admitted “I know it’s not much” the 10% was likely akin to pulling teeth from management’s mouth.

We still have a game to worry about, don’t we? The map is _roughly_ the same but there are definite changes; the bird by the water is out, and the water just becomes an (impassible?) obstacle. There might be some other solution, though, because the object count has been amped up. You can find some things just out in the open; just like the original, sometimes you have to search, but there’s definitely some variety that wasn’t in the last game. I’ve found a flute, a rag, and a bouncing ball, for instance.

However, the monsters are much tougher to battle and I haven’t had a success with just using PUNCH MONSTER, so if I run across one, my best bet has been to reset.

I did eventually find a sword and (now knowing about USE SWORD) was able to put it to use, killing monsters with a minimum of damage received.

I also found at one “fixed search” encounter, where searching at the place just north of the starting location unleashes a ticking time bomb which reduces your health. The advantage of keeping track of health is the game doesn’t have to always punish with an instant death, just regular damage.

However, I’m still rather stuck due to bugs. One run I managed to get a key, get to the room that would previously teleport to the eastern side of the map … and then crash. Using a different copy of the game, I hit multiple lock-ups while trying to do ordinary actions like SEARCH. I’m not sure if all the copies are corrupt somehow, but given I’ve already written about the game once, I’m fine leaving it here.

Here’s an example of the game locking up. I assume SEARCH was intended to spawn an encounter or item, and one or the other caused the problem.

Posted May 17, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Max’s Adventure (1981)   5 comments

The March 1981 issue of the Oregon Atari Computer Enthusiasts newsletter includes a review by Brian Dunn, age 11, of a game he calls Adventure by a mysterious “Max of Cle Ulum”. (In reality, the game has no name given, so I’m going with CASA’s title of Max’s Adventure.) As Dunn then explains:

According to folklore, this talented individual wrote this disc-based program, and gave it to a computer store in Seattle, saying only they were to give it to anyone they like.

In the next issue, the author himself, Max Manowski, writes in.

Source. The bit on the right is interesting, we’ll get to that.

We haven’t seen this kind of moment captured before; there’s certainly been random freeware, but not the exact circumstances the game was given away. In this case, Max writes “I have been made an offer to sell this program” and indeed, it later gets published by Atari through their Atari Program Exchange as Wizard’s Revenge. We’ll be getting to that one separately (and give a little history of the APX program I’ve learned in the process) but for now let’s just focus on this offering meant to be given by a store in Seattle to “anyone they like”.

The plot, as straightforwardly explained above, is that you made a wizard angry and now you have to escape.

The game seems ordinary from outward appearances, but as Max Manowski explains in an interview, he had read an article about a node-based system for writing adventures and based his on the idea. (He probably means GROW.) In other words, nearly every action is pegged to a particular location. This has obvious weaknesses; the game doesn’t understand many commands, and when it does, it’s a bit of a surprise. There’s also inconsistent handling. For example, GO SOUTH in many of the rooms with no exit south just triggers a “I don’t understand the command message”, although in some places (presumably where the author didn’t get worn out yet) there’s custom messages:

The confusion even extends to getting items:

The action that works here is LIGHT TORCH. This lets you see a variant version of the room with a passage to the north that’s too narrow to go through.

I figured, perhaps, this was a game of pure wandering, but got stuck by a passage blocked by water (with a chirping bird hanging out nearby) and a locked door.

The map up to where I originally got stuck.

I found out after some investigation that I was supposed to SEARCH in various rooms. It didn’t really matter which rooms; you’d have a random shot at getting various objects, and sometimes a wandering monster. Often you get a blank response, which is why I didn’t originally understand what was going on.

This isn’t even unlucky; the chance at finding something is something like 1 in 10.

Having discovered PUNCH works in fights against random monsters, I managed to get to a SWORD, but I was never able to use it.

I discovered later — from reading Max’s own hints — that USE SWORD works. SWING and STAB and various other words do nothing.

I eventually found both a worm and a wandering monster at the same time. Fortunately, I survived punching the monster, and took the worm over to feed the bird, who carried me over the water.

“After a while the passage turns to the left” is kind of impressive — it’s signaling that while you start walking east, the passage turns to the north, so that to go back you need to go south. (You can see this on the map I pasted earlier.) I can’t think of any games pre-1980 that did this. I think it’s part of the “every command is custom” aspect that led the author to doing this.

It turns out either a worm or a key works; the game tries hard to provide alternate routes to going places. Past the water/locked door is a shiny room where LOOK causes the room to shift and the player to get teleported to another area. I just kind of wandered until reaching the exit and finishing the game; there’s no further puzzles past this point, but there’s a lot of instant deaths.

A death sequence from earlier in the game.

I guess if you’re not going to have much in the way of puzzles, and do want a little “challenge”, instant death traps are the way to go.

Part of Garry Francis’s map, including the exit. From the CASA Solution Archive. Green has a higher chance of finding treasure with SEARCH, red has a higher chance of finding a monster, but there isn’t any way of working that out in game.

There wouldn’t be much more to say about the game …

Here’s the ending screen for the satisfaction of it, though.

… except the fairly unique feature that you can rewrite the game from within the game.

This is part of the node-based thing — remember in GROW how I came across a loose node that needed a room description? There’s nothing that sloppy here, but the commands for adding rooms were left in the software. From the ACE article:

The adventure by Max has a built in Editor with it’s own pseudo-language that allows the user to create or modify the adventure. To access the editor, the user types a “\” followed by a command such as: NEW, LIST, PRINT, CHANGE, or EXTEND. With these five commands, the user can write his own!

WHERE TO? \NEW?

NEW FILE NAME? TEST
NODE DESCRIPTION? YOU ARE IN A CAVE

WORDS OR PHRASES? OUT LEAVE RUN

ACTIONS? GVALLEY: (G=GOTO)

WORDS OR PHRASES? LOOK SEARCH

ACTIONS? W200 (W=WAIT) RLAMP (R=REQUIRE) YOU FOUND A KEY

I’ll return to write about Wizard’s Revenge (the APX version of the game) next time.

Posted May 16, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The GROW System and ZOSC (1979-1980)   3 comments

To counter the sterile and passive nature of many CAI [Computer Assisted Instruction] presentations, GROW incorporates several basic motivational techniques and allows for creative flexibility. This includes having the student participate in an active role, having ‘knowledge’ be mutable and controversial, and having evaluations be carried out by other individuals rather than by machines. With GROW, the computer need not play the role of teacher but can instead be viewed only as a tool for learning and for reference.

Silicon Gulch Gazette, Volume 5 Number 1, 1981

The GROW system isn’t in any of the typical game catalogs, and its intended use isn’t even just adventures —

— specifically, for an educational computer network known as CHAOS II (“a multi-user, multi-tasking 8080-based system developed at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California”), it was made as a node-based system for creating lessons. Here’s a sample from the Creative Computing article above:

WELCOME TO GROW
LEARN ADD
DO YOU WANT A DIFFICULT LESSON?
NO
SUPPOSE WE ADD 13 AND -12
WHAT DO WE GET?
+1
RIGHT. SUPPOSE WE ADD -13 AND 12. WHAT DO WE GET?
+1
NO
-1
RIGHT

If one were making the lesson above, you might start with the initial node of

DO YOU WANT A DIFFICULT LESSON?

and typing EXTEND and adding the keywords YES and NO. At the moment the only node that exists is the “difficult lesson” one.

The user can then type NO and find themselves at an empty node. From the article:

…if the node has never before been entered, then the user must instead provide an initial description for the node, which GROW records permanently…

In other words, the user fills the node with whatever the intended response is for NO, which in this case is

SUPPOSE WE ADD 13 AND -12

and then the user can add various numbers as keywords, like 1, -1, and 15. (I’m unclear from the documentation I have if there’s a “default” that the software goes to if someone tries a command that isn’t part of the system — saying I DON’T UNDERSTAND would be terribly awkward if the user types an actual number.)

Through this method of filling in nodes, the user can develop a lesson while being “inside” the topology of the lesson. The most similar game we’ve seen to this so far is The Public Caves, where people can add their own named rooms to an already existing geography and then add graffiti to the rooms.

While this makes for somewhat limited parser capabilities, it’s possible to imagine creating an adventure in much the same way; make a starting room description, then come up with possible actions, and if an action is tried that hasn’t been anticipated yet, have the user develop a response for what happens.

This is exactly what the GROW system tries to do. There’s BASIC source code in the article for an “Extensible Adventure” system.

There’s also ports, as noted in the blurb above, for Apple II and North Star Horizon computers. I’ve never found the North Star software anywhere on the internet, but there is an Apple II disk up on the Internet Archive. It has a demo for the general system, and includes an adventure game called ZOSC.

To be clear in what follows, the parser is entirely keyword based. That means movements and actions are focused on looking for particular words and phrases. Typing HELP gave me

NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST, BACKWARDS, READ, TAKE, EXIT, UP, DOWN

and hinted that there are objects that can be taken and used, but I was unable to take an inventory.

Unfortunately, the idea of a grid breaks down quite quickly. You can go NORTH and end up near a Sears but then to get near the Sears you type SEARS.

I worked out, after some pain, that LEAVE sometimes backtracks from an area, but otherwise navigation seemed to be location-based, and not in a clear way where I knew where I was going. (And LEAVE doesn’t always work — entering the garden center area of Sears, for instance, I found the magic command was GO BACK.)

At the Sears above I was able to get by using the command PET LION.

THE LION HAS MOVED OUT OF YOUR WAY. IN FRONT OF YOU IS AN ELEVATOR, WITH BUTTONS TO GO UP AND DOWN.

Going up I was able to by a banana squisher.

YOU ARE GREETED BY A SALESPERSON. HE ASKS IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BUYING A BRIGHT PURPLE BANANA SQUISHER.
:BUY SQUISHER
YOU NOW HAVE A BRIGHT PURPLE BANANA SQUISHER. WHERE ARE THE BANANAS?

After, I immediately got stuck again. This time getting out involved just typing DOWN.

Going down I found some tunnels where compass directions magically started working again, and seemed to be a maze.

I’m honestly unclear if there’s any sort of goal — I wandered around a bit more and at least some of the descriptions are fun.

This might make a good “normal” game but it really needs

a.) much clearer and more consistent navigation

b.) the ability to re-display the current location, since once the screen is filled with HUH?s and I DON’T UNDERSTANDs I start to lose track of what’s going on

c.) some sort of inventory command, maybe, although I’m not sure how important inventory is really

I also found the nodes to be essentially stateless, which is why I think (c.) might be unnecessary. For example, after getting past the stuffed lion, if you go back to the same location the lion jumps down again and you have to pet it again. That’s not terrible illogical in that spot in particular, but it does indicate the relative weakness of the GROW system in general as an adventure game maker.

I did eventually run into an undescribed node:

TO YOUR RIGHT IS A LARGE BRICK BUILDING. TO YOUR LEFT IS A MAILBOX AND A WINDOWLESS CONCRETE BUILDING.
:GO LEFT
DESCRIBE CONCRETE

and the game prompted me to write a room description. I assume I could then (if I understood the commands a little better) create a link to prior rooms so I could leave, but as it was the game was in a softlock.

So I’m fine saying this was just intended as a demo and leave it at that. I do find the concept of essentially writing a game from the inside intriguing, so I wanted to cover GROW, but also,

a.) there’s a 1981 game coming up next that will pick up the node-based idea and make a real game.

and

b.) while only taking a minor part, GROW happens to form a link in a chain that will lead to one of the big milestones in adventure game history, but you’ll have to wait until 1982 to hear about that one.

Posted May 6, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Crime Adventure (1981)   4 comments

We’ve seen games by young teenagers; this is not one of those games, because when Neil Bradley wrote Crime Adventure for the TRS-80, he wasn’t quite a teenager yet. He was only 12.

Softside, October 1981.

The map is based on the Neil Bradley’s neighborhood in Portland and was published as the Softside Adventure of the Month for October, with no name attached.

There was additionally a shareware version of this game from 1987, this time with a credit but only to a Steven C. Neighorn, asking for $5 donations. Quoting from the blog I just linked:

Curious as to why his name didn’t seem to be attached, I got in touch with Mr. Bradley to get the story. The short version is that Mr. Neighorn (then age 15) and Mr. Bradley (age 12) entered into a partnership to market Bradley’s game to Softside magazine. I don’t intend to publicly air other peoples’ 30-year-old dirty laundry, but I will say that this partnership quickly turned sour. This version of the game was put out in 1987 and Bradley did not become aware of it until a year or two after its release. Crime Adventure was ported to several systems, and as far as I know, Neil Bradley’s name does not appear in any published version of the game.)

(I’ve seen it claimed on a couple sites that the 1981 game was also credited to Neighorn and not Bradley somewhere, but I haven’t been able to verify this — it’s not in the magazine or the source code.)

Original comic as posted to Tumblr by Anthony Clark.

The game starts with what I’d call a delayed-plot intro — you are described as being in an arcade…

…and only a turn later does the action happen.

You head over to the phone booth in question, and find a license plate which reads KID-NAP. Why did the license plate fall off the car? Why does it have such an on-the-nose name? Unfortunately, this has one of those plots that randomly bops around so much it’s not safe to ask too many questions.

The map has a great deal of empty space in a way that reminds me of other urban games I’ve played from this ear. There’s something about logically needing parking lots and streets and sidewalks and corners that adds a lot of fluff, even if it makes the game map match the real map better (of Portland, apparently).

When crossing the E/W street, if you try to go east or west you die because you get run over by traffic.

There are essentially four areas; the starting one with the arcade as shown above, and a shoe store selling golf shoes. Slightly to the west of this are three more stores:

The computer store has an Atari computer, which says it has a program running on it when you EXAMINE COMPUTER. I had an extremely difficult time with the parser here, as USE COMPUTER or TYPE COMPUTER or RUN PROGRAM or BOOT COMPUTER or innumerable other combinations didn’t work, until reaching READ COMPUTER. (It gives you a recipe for stew.)

To the southwest there’s an entirely optional house I’ll talk about in a moment…

…and the the southeast is the house of the Fenwicks, the kidnapped person being Mrs. Fenwick.

Inside the house there’s what I imagine is intended as a “clue” indicating what Mrs. Fenwick was up to at the phone booth…

…and a remarkably ineffectual Mr. Fenwick.

Fun with parser implementation! Also, you can’t talk with him he won’t let you take the putter if you try to get it. Because of the hunger. (Yes, the putter is an essential item to rescuing Mrs. Fenwick.)

While at the Fenwicks you can also steal $30 out of a dresser (ca-ching!) and visit an oddly placed golf hole in the back yard.

It doesn’t come with a golf ball, but there’s one just lying around next to the shoe store.

You can then take the money over to the shoe store to buy golf shoes, leaving you with a penny. You can then take the penny over to the house to the southwest and, be warned, slur ahoy:

There’s apparently some “reclaiming” of the word akin to “queer”, according to the journal Romani Studies.

As I said, the house is optional and in the end the hint is more or less meaningless; the presence of a golf ball, golf shoes, a putter, and a mysterious green means in all likelihood that’s where the plot is meant to go. I think this was an attempt to make another “clue” to have to game feel like it was a mystery.

But the putter! Mr. Fenwick is still hungry. Fortunately, the computer randomly had a convenient stew recipe, we know from the diary that’s what Mrs. Fenwick was about to cook, and apparently, the Mr. is paralyzed without his stew.

You can MAKE STEW as long as you’ve seen the recipe.

With putter in hand, shoes on feet, and golf ball on ground, we still can’t quite putt the ball yet; we need permission to play or something? What you can do is dig in the Fenwick backyard to get a coin, take the coin back to the start, play one of the arcade games (doesn’t matter which)…

…and the game card lets you now PUTT BALL and find a secret passage underground, because reasons.

There’s a fairly fancy lock that can be picked a hairpin that you can yoink from one of the stores; then you can find Mrs. Fenwick who is a “round room” but says she will follow and there is one more thing you need to do.

For some reason, you can take a couple steps away from where you free Mrs. Fenwick to end up back at the arcade; this *sort of* makes sense in whoever the kidnapper was (who we never meet, confront, or report to the police, since that’s not a command the parser understands) managed to magically spirit Mrs. Fenwick away to the golf course and — OK, logic just isn’t work on this game, let’s just look at the last screen, which you get once you walk Mrs. Fenwick back to reunite her with Mr.

To recap, that was a mystery where

a.) someone got kidnapped and we decided to take it upon ourselves to investigate

b.) our investigation mostly consisted of stealing stuff, getting told by a fortune teller that Mrs. Fenwick was underground

c.) gathering supplies to go golfing, for some reason, which requires feeding the totally useless Mr. Fenwick

d.) finding out that golfing leads to the secret of where Mrs. Fenwick is held, who we then walk all the way back to the Fenwick house

Why is a sinister golf course in the Fenwick back yard in the first place?

I think the ambition was to write a mystery game with clues where the clues help leading to the missing person, but the realism factor was so far lacking (items scattered everywhere to be grabbed) the game ended up being a random-puzzle-assortment collection instead. Without at least a little dialogue, especially with Mr. Fenwick, the world was a bit lifeless. Still: remember this the author’s first attempt at age 12, where he ended up being ripped off by someone three years older than him.

After finishing I read the playthrough at Gaming After 40. Dobson notes in the source code something I didn’t know: if you take too long to re-unite the couple, the game says “Mr. Fenwick has given up on his wife and left town.” Ouch. Mrs. Fenwick, I don’t want to presume too much, but you might want to re-consider your options.

Posted May 5, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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