Crime Adventure (1981)   5 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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5 responses to “Crime Adventure (1981)

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  1. All right. Map based on the author’s neighborhood. Guess that means I should invoke some of my geomancy…
    Best guess is that it’s right around here: https://goo.gl/maps/PEcPrPeHe5YFhM5u6 Right off a major east-west artery, there’s a chinese restaurant of some vintage next to a hair salon, and the unoccupied commercial building next to it could easily have been a computer store at some point. As it happens, there’s a psychic a few blocks south. No mini-golf in the immediate area, but several close enough to be candidates if we assume significant abstraction. Plus, the cross-street is named Fenwick.

    There’s a jaw-dropping number of still-extant arcades in Portland (jaw-dropping compared to the approximately zero near, say, me). So https://goo.gl/maps/UDzx8saxdcBCZqM29 is another good candidate, with a video arcade, shoe shop, and metaphysical supply store all within a block, but the exact arrangement is a looser fit for the game’s map.

  2. For a 12-year-old’s effort it’s not bad. At least in the screenshots you showed, everything is spelled correctly, including toughies like “ceiling”, and the prose feels pretty natural, if not gripping. The map looks logical, especially compared to some of the really weird stuff we’ve seen here. It’s even a reasonable (if brief) stew recipe. I certainly couldn’t have done the same at age 12.

  3. We have five adventures listed under Agency Automation and Steven C. Neighorn on CASA. Although the Agency Automation DOS versions are dated 1987, there are earlier versions of each adventure (available online), sold as $5 donation “adventureware” credited to both Steven under a different company name, U.S. Digital Corp, from 1985. The address, for that one, is in Milwaukie rather than Portland.

    Nuclear Submarine Adventure, from 1982, will be coming on your radar soon… pun intended.

    I wonder if Neil Bradley had a hand in any of the other four adventures?

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