Earthquake San Francisco 1906 (1981)   3 comments

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

On April 18, 1906, the San Andreas fault ruptured, estimated magnitude (by most current research) from 7.7 to 7.9. It lasted less than a minute but was devastating: buildings collapsed, fires raged through the city, and the water mains broke meaning the firefighters couldn’t use them. Artillery troops tried to control the blaze by dynamiting particular buildings (it didn’t work). Full-on looting caused the mayor to declare looters would be shot on sight. Estimated deaths were originally at 700, although that likely understates the true number by at least a factor of 3.

“Souvenir Hunters” from a photo in the National Archives.

75 years later, Jymm Pearson wrote a game on TRS-80, later ported to Apple II, the second of his games set in a historical time period. (Previously: Curse of Crowley Manor.) You awaken on the day of April 18 in a hotel room, with a wad of cash and a threatening letter: your wife is being held for ransom.

Given this is 1906, I suppose that means our character is male. We haven’t seen a lot of defined-role games so this doesn’t bother me, although since there isn’t much character painting past this point, I think most modern players would want to choose both genders.

Just to be clear, this is the regular Jyym Pearson parser we’ve seen before, where there’s an entirely separate room description found by hitting ENTER, so items aren’t shown in the graphical window (unlike Wizard and the Princess or Creature Venture). Additionally, there’s extensive use of LOOK, and you need to both LOOK alone and LOOK at every item carefully to avoid missing anything.

Gameplay-wise, the opening is rough; there’s a wad of cash (only referable to by the full phrase WAD OF BILLS, not WAD or BILLS) and a locked door we can’t open (the key never turns up). You can LOOK to find an envelope on the dresser, but can’t get the envelope, but must instead LOOK ENVELOPE to see a letter inside, which if you try to read says you need to pick it up, so you can finally GET LETTER and READ LETTER to get the screenshot above.

South there’s a bedroom where you can MOVE BED to find a crowbar (…?), and a few turns after is when the earthquake hits. (Yes, that means it is set not real-time but drama-time — the earthquake doesn’t hit until you find the crowbar, as opposed to being after X turns. This is much more polite than many games of the period. It’s possible to miss the letter or cash before the earthquake happens, but it is fairly unlikely.)

You can use the crowbar to lift a beam off your feet and find yourself in the collapsed building.

Outside is an apple seller…

Just to show off the how the text side looks, although this scene also lets the player know about the soldiers shooting looters.

…a piece of debris hiding a gold watch (which you can find via CLIMB and DIG)…

…and an opera house that collapses upon approach.

This scene appears to be here purely for drama (which is kind of impressive for 1981). There were two distinct quakes but they happened within the same minute, but I’m still willing to allow this scene as hedging to historical record.

I was stuck here briefly until I realized I could CLIMB at the original looted hotel.

Bribery via gold watch works here.

Climbing farther is a locked gate and firefighters at work.

Trying to head south from here to a dead end. I had a building collapse on me.

I was expecting a YOU DIED screen, but no, this is all intended: you’re supposed to SCREAM and have a soldier find and dig you out.

You can grab some lumber from the fallen building.

I admit I’m impressed so far! This came off as a series of dramatic events with a main character struggling to survive (and an interesting plot hook, to boot) as opposed to a jammed-together mix of puzzles, even with the slightly confused parser. I’m not sure if it will hold up to the end, as I am now stuck from here. I assume the locked gate is my next objective, but nothing I’ve tried has been successful at barreling through.

My (obviously incomplete) map so far.

Posted June 13, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “Earthquake San Francisco 1906 (1981)

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  1. What, you don’t keep a crowbar under your bed?

  2. Although “Earthquake 1906” was a bit tedious at times, I ended up liking it if only for being so different from many others. The story is kind of ridiculous and feels tacked on but the setting is quite evocative. You could say that the immersive part of the story, e.g. what you experience as a player, works pretty well.

    Also, I like how you have been coming up with more fleshed out introductions recently. Sorry that I don’t comment more often but I usually don’t have much time to keep up with your blog (still catching up somewhere in 1980). I’ve made it a habit to drop a line if I’ve previously played through one of the games for our blog or by myself as I’m sure you’ve noticed.

    • My longest intro remains Escape from Colditz where I made two posts worth before even getting to the main game.

      Really depends on what I’m playing? On Creature Venture I had already ferreted out most of the history out there for Highlands so I just dove right in, whereas for the two Max Manowski posts (despite being minor games) there was a whole podcast interview to refer to and it was my one chance to really dump the APX stuff in relation to authors I’d been accumulating (I suspect all the other games were in-house, so author relations not as relevant).

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