Earthquake San Francisco 1906: Finished!   13 comments

From Mobygames.

Mostly parser struggles up to the end, although there was one bit where the coding just had bizarre issues. As usual, you should read my previous entries about this game before getting to this one.

I made some small progress on my own via my first “off the keyboard” solve in a while — I was standing in line at a store waiting when I decided to run through game scenarios in my head, and it intuitively occured to me if the game wasn’t letting me use the ladder to get across the crack (even though that’s reasonable based on the depicted size) maybe I could pole vault over. Back on the computer, I tried VAULT and got a response WITH WHAT?, which meant I was on the right track. I needed a pole, but I was out of options for finding one, and meandered uselessly across the map for long enough I set a timer (15 minutes) and resolved to check hints if I couldn’t make progress in that time. (I’d already done this twice earlier in the game, and both times I had a breakthrough.) With no luck anywhere, I finally found out I was supposed to sit on a cushion.

Hmm, OK. Except SIT and SIT ON CUSHION and any other plausible variant fails to be recognized. I finally hit upon


and had to stop playing for a while, because I was infuriated. Usually I can laugh goofball parser antics off, but somehow this one made me feel much less worse than normal, especially since the end result was causing an “EVIL LOOKING MANDARIN” to bring a plate of food. Eating the food leaves a FORTUNE


The only gate I could think of was the iron gate that I struggled earlier to unlock, so I poked and prodded and searched and got absolutely nothing, and because my patience was ruined by the earlier puzzle, checked to find I had to PULL IRON GATE which somehow yields an IRON ROD.

VAULT works with the iron rod, leading to a pagoda with a locked glass door. Given I’d used most of what I was carrying (except the paddle and diamond) I tried out the diamond:

Then I got stuck again (the graphic suggests I’m supposed to reach through the hole and unlock from the other side) until I realized the game is obsessive about the verb CLIMB, which works to go directly to another locked door. Some frustrating wandering later (and using the philosophy that almost every room has something, and the garden next to the restaurant hadn’t been used yet) I came across a helpful person who gave me a brass key for no apparent reason.

The word here shows up in older dictionaries without much fuss (see Fowler’s 1926) as an analogue to “Irishman”, “Englishman”, etc., but still had some slur use early, and by 1945 H.L. Mencken points out it is definitely considered a slur in the Chinese community (see Hughes, An Encyclopedia of Swearing). It’s possible someone circa 1981 might overlook the problem but remember “EVIL LOOKING MANDARIN” just happened too.

Passing through yet another locked door, I finally found myself on a street with a dead body.

This scene will come up again later.

Heading east my progress was blocked off yet again, so I dutifully toted my inventory over — including Fruity the small dog, meaning the wet pants are canon — and Fruity was helpful one more time.

You have to leave for a while and come back to find a hole dug. Fruity takes off, I choose to assume to safety.

The hole dug by Fruity led me to a hotel room and yet more frustration.

Despite the game never having any prior, the safe is a red herring. I wasted so many verb attempts trying to get something to happen.

Trying to go any of the directions led to HUH? I just shrugged and looked up the next step: PRY BOARDS. They’re in the picture but I don’t know how to make “BOARDS” show up in the text description, which makes it the first and only time in the entire game where this happens.

This led me to a soldier who wanted me to drop my stuff so he could steal it.

Good atmosphere, but too bad the game keeps alternating good moments and frustrating ones.

This would have been fine had the soldier only appeared once, but he camps if you bring along any items whatsoever. It turns out — again I just looked up hints — you can OPEN DOOR in one of the locations just past the soldier, which will lead you back to the hotel room. Then, subsequent OPEN DOOR commands will let you skip the soldier area. I assume the intent was a door that was locked on the other side that you then unlocked, but if you try to refer to that door from in the hotel room before reaching it from the other side, the game just goes “HUH?” like it doesn’t exist.

Finally I reached a dock for escape from San Francisco, only to get stopped again.

The key here is the dead woman I left behind earlier — you can dump your wet pants and UNDRESS her to get her dress, which is apparently sufficient to disguise as a woman. If that makes you feel uneasy, just wait for the next scene:

After a few turns, a hole appears…

…and the boat sinks and everyone dies, except you manage to swim to a piece of floating wood.

Some use of the paddle later and you make it to Oakland, and can hop on a wagon.

A quick reminder because it sure was easy to forget when playing: our goal was to reach the Portman Hotel in Oakland to pay some kidnappers and get your wife back. You need to pay attention when the wagon is passing by the aforementioned hotel and CLIMB DOWN, because if you stay on any longer the wagon tumbles down a hill and everyone dies.

I was disappointed at the end — I was expecting to have a double-cross, and maybe a shoot-out using my handgun, but no — you just PAY the dodgy-looking gentleman (assuming you remembered to bring your cash from the start of the game all the way to the end) and you get a win screen.

The immediate words that come to mind here are “wasted potential”. There’s a fair number of intense scenes: you get buried under a building and the screen turns black, you have to shoot a soldier who thinks you’re a looter (or is just shooting without caring), you have to deal with a soldier who is himself a looter, and the boat to safety turns out to be a deathtrap. However, the overlay of parser frustration ruined many of the parts, and the tone was just off — it’s simply difficult to convey the gravity of mass death in the format of sharply truncated text and slightly askew Apple II graphics.

Will Moczarski (who wrote about the game here and here) expressed that “the story of Earthquake clashes with its setting” which I believe is referring to the actual acts done by the player compared to the seriousness of the disaster. Additionally, having the criminal genre mixed with the disaster genre is a time-honored tradition, but that’s not quite what’s happening here, and in the end, the plot hook and conclusion seem incongruent with the rest of what’s going on.

We’ve still got some Jymm Pearson to go — he had a busy 1981! — as his next venture is Saigon: The Final Days (set in the Vietnam War) and his first game where his wife Robyn Pearson is listed as co-creator. For the curious, I’m now at the three-quarters mark in my sequence with about 25 games left to go before wrapping up 1981 entirely.

Posted June 18, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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13 responses to “Earthquake San Francisco 1906: Finished!

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  1. Wow. I can’t wait to see the grace and elegance with which he depicts the Vietnamese people.

  2. I finally hit upon
    and had to stop playing for a while, because I was infuriated.

    SIT should totally have worked. >:(

    PULL IRON GATE which somehow yields an IRON ROD.

    I guess you’re pulling one of the bars loose?

    The word here shows up in older dictionaries without much fuss (see Fowler’s 1926) as an analogue to “Irishman”, “Englishman”, etc., but still had some slur use early, and by 1945 H.L. Mencken points out it is definitely considered a slur in the Chinese community

    My dad, b. 1940, is still occasionally heard to say “Chinaman”. Oo er.

    I kinda like the cartoon dust cloud of “Fruity” digging.

    This led me to a soldier who wanted me to drop my stuff so I could steal it.

    Do you mean so he could steal it?

    • I could see the word being used innocently, but the combo with the evil mandarin … eech. Feels like reading one of the early Tintin comics.

      Makes sense on pull.

      I’m a fan of the Fruity cloud too. Glad he had one more use (I admit the _first_ thing I tried was the dog because I was hoping, not because of any logic)

      Do you mean so he could steal it?

      Yes, thanks!

      • I found the picture was even worse than the word – iirc, “Saigon” was not much more sensitive, either.

        And yes, I meant that the game succeeds at creating some intense moments but the plot is quite laughable and includes some very uncomfortable moments (“undress dead woman” took the cake for me).

      • You mentioned something about the overarching plot involving paying a debt in your writeup — is that in one of the manuals somewhere? It was my impression it was a straight normal kidnapping.

      • Looking back, I must have misinterpreted the wad of bills. I admit that it doesn’t make much sense but that is probably what happened there.

  3. I enjoyed watching you play this one, as I like Jyym and Robyn’s Lucifer’s Realm, and something about their style and graphics. Obviously here you had a story about a dangerous real-life situation handled in the adventure-gamer-kleptomaniac manner. But I suspect that when you get to Lucifer’s Realm, you’ll find their style a better fit for the subject matter, which is being in hell… chaos, death and danger and a kind of involuntary amorality. The kind of game where you can punch a real life cult leader-mass murderer in the face to steal his glasses. These games can be so unemphatic, different people can easily read them in entirely different ways, but I find Lucifer’s Realm blackly funny, as well as kind of disturbing.

    • A disaster setting is the sort of thing where you have people improvise objects to get by locks in unconventional ways, steal stuff with only thought to the utility of the items, etc. so it honestly should have worked, but there was still something a bit off.

      It’s not even quite the amorality. The soldier you shoot was trying to kill you with no chance of surrender, but having the end result be nails … somehow the gravity was missed. (Why does this differ from shooting Mook #246 in an FPS game? I guess because it’s only the one, so it’s more personal.)

      • I think that “The Institute” is a near-masterpiece. I’ve played a bit of “Lucifer’s Realm” years ago and it felt a bit disjointed but “The Institute” was a very rewarding experience.

      • The Institute is slated to be one of the last ones I play for 1981 (although not the very last), but I’m looking forward to it!

  4. I am WORRIED about the Saigon game.

  5. Pingback: The Institute (1981) | Renga in Blue

  6. Pingback: ‘Shaken but Not Stirred!’ / Super Spy (1982) | Renga in Blue

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