(Click here to read my entire Institute series in order.)

One of the manual covers, from The Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I have finished. The remaining three dreams turned out to be short, so the structure remaining was more like bouncing between environments as opposed to solving mini-adventures.

I’ve written before about how in this period when authors wanted to make a game difficult, and they didn’t have much in the way of conditional states (like environmental factors that change, or certain timing that needs to happen) they tended to resort to either lots of instant death, hard to find verbs, or hiding things. Given dying is almost a benefit, the game has to resort to the latter two, especially hiding things.

One extra side effect of puzzles being mostly reliant on hidden items is that past a certain juncture, puzzle solutions can come in a flood, where when finding one item it becomes totally obvious where it goes, and the problem is getting the item in the first place. Then, using that item to solve the puzzle in question yields another item, which again has an obvious place it goes, etc., especially given a map that has been combed over many times.

You start at the “Giant Statue Area”. The next dream is an impressionistic version of the Titanic, followed by a temple, followed by a dream with a saber-toothed tiger, going back to the giant statue. To finish the game I had to travel the loop quite a few times. The cover above tries to depict all four.

Fairly quickly after I left off last time, I found an UMBRELLA (I hadn’t done a “LOOK” at the natives just past the large green man). This let me at least get started on the next dream, which starts ambiguously in some smoke, but if you an open an umbrella you float upward out of a smokestack…

…and land on the deck of a ship.

The life preserver reads “TITANIC”. There’s not much to do other than go inside where there’s some furnishings and a picture; the picture is held in by screws. On the outside you can go to the stern of the ship and watch some icebergs incoming which eventually sink the ship. Using the life preserver you can, oddly enough, peek underwater after going overboard, and find a crowbar on the ocean floor. This doesn’t make sense for a deep ocean, but this honestly works fine as dream logic; one of the things I’d expect is expansion and reduction of space. The ship is known as very large but in gameplay is quite small; the ocean is quite deep but in gameplay terms is quite shallow.

There’s nothing else to do after obtaining the crowbar but eventually drown, but fortunately that makes for an exit from the dream. The dream that follows, outside a temple, I was able to get started by noticing a plant poking through the door, and applying the WATER to it.

Inside I found a blood-stained altar and a door with a lizard. I picked up quickly and realized I could try SACRIFICE as a verb, but the game asked me of what, and I was at a loss. I decided the item I needed was probably elsewhere.

You have to die to get out of this dream, which you can do by trying to open the door (a trap slices you) or trying to CLIMB when outside (you fall and die). Either way, you can visit a pre-historic area:

Again, very small: it only turns out to have 3 rooms. If you approach the chest you see at the start the tiger eats you. There’s also an area with rocks and a stream to the south where the water is poisoned and you can drink it to boot yourself out of the dream.

In actual gameplay terms, from here I died, and moved on exploring each dream carefully starting from the Giant Statue one, but to save time in narration, I should mention that if you go south and check the rocks carefully you can find a lizard. You can likely guess where it goes:

This is followed by a men-with-reptile-head room…

… and climbing up some stairs and dying due to toxic gas. The solution to the gas turns out to be straightforward but due to the rotating nature of the dreams I decided to move on and come back.

I poked through the loop a few times trying to search for things I had missed. A “shrub” had popped up at the color-changing water in the Statue area, which I was able to dig up with the shovel. I tried planting the shrub in various places with no luck, and decided to peek at hints again, although I wasn’t fully determined to read them; the questions themselves can be hints of sorts. However, even though the clues were encrypted by rotating the alphabet, I immediately was able to decipher the answer to the key problem anyway.

Specifically, on #8 above, figuring out what to do inside the statue was one of the dilemmas I hadn’t resolved last time.

I thought perhaps I needed special spectacles or the like and moved on, even though I had missed doing an action I already used elsewhere: JMMI SN, which I realized had to mean LOOK UP.

The ladder you spot by doing so lets you get up to a locked room which takes a keycode. (It is incidentally fortunate I happened to be holding the SHRUB — this is where it is useful, as otherwise there is a lack of oxygen.) Fortunately, I had a keycode lying around from last time (with the billboard) that I hadn’t used yet. I led me into another octagonal room with a metal plate on the ground I was able to remove with the crowbar (from the ocean in the Titanic dream). Below that was a bolt, and I knew I probably needed a tool I hadn’t found yet.

Still, that wasn’t quite enough to set off a chain reaction, but passing through the lizard-sacrifice dream again, I tried on a whim HOLD BREATH (the shrub didn’t do anything, but maybe…?)

The hole was frustratingly non-responsive to commands, but enough plodding led me to insert the mirror in it and get light to bounce inside. A rumbling started, and I tried to WAIT to see what would happen but then the whole sequence just aborted! I figured the parser wasn’t worth tangling with here and went straight for a walkthrough which revealed I needed to LISTEN, which is really the same thing as WAIT, but… well, let’s just move on with the result: some meat and a comic book. The meat I figured could go for the hungry tiger who kept tearing me apart in the pre-historic area:

(This is where everything speeds up.)

I was able to throw the meat and the tiger ran off after it, letting me open the chest. The chest had a screwdriver (dream logic, fine) which I immediately toted over to the Titanic (after going through the death cycle again twice) and used to get the painting off the wall.

This yielded up a small key, which I then took immediately over to the locked toolbox I remembered being stuck on and got a wrench.

The wrench I then took back to the bolt in the statue, which after I turned it caused the statue to fall over; you get “thrown free” and land on top of a gold key.

I wasn’t sure where else to go, but I decided “gold key” felt fairly final (and the counselor suggested the father — who the statue is of — being the “key to your insanity”) so I went back to the original Institute area and wandered a little, finding the Counselor was out.

There was a locked door now, which the gold key worked on, and victory.

Creators of art in a new medium don’t have much to go on; they can peer sideways at other works and peer forward at blackness and try to spill light in the right directions, but to make art that really says something in a deep and enduring sense requires some luck.

The Institute did start off promising; the hints of hidden background, the drug-induced mechanism for dreams, the dystopian atmosphere, the Counselor who was there to “help” but you also had to keep attacking, and later get to shoot themselves while in dream form.

The very premise gave lots of leeway for adventure-game oddness while opening a gap for profundities and revelations. Neither was reached. I wouldn’t say this is just from the ending — which essentially gave up the steam of narrative, surprisingly so given the prior Pearson games — but random puzzle after random puzzle just didn’t add to anything. I was expecting maybe the live father to show up and have a conversation, so we could find out what all the references were about, and maybe some of the items would have secondary meetings, but no, sometimes a scalpel is just a scalpel and a statue is just a statue.

As the screenshot hints, yes, there’s more Pearson to come. Lucifer’s Realm involves going into Hell to stop Adolf Hitler from raising an army to organize a coup over Lucifer. Some stores apparently refused to carry it? So that’s promising, but we’ll have to wait until 1982 to see it — which is getting very close, about 7 games to go before I wrap up 1981.

Posted October 17, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “The Institute: AND WE MUST PROTECT YOU FROM YOURSELF

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  1. I agree that the game loses its initial cohesiveness at some point between the 2nd and the 3rd dream. However, it was all enough to keep me hooked. The concept is novel and works quite well. I don’t agree that it was too disjointed – a statue of the protagonist’s father turning up in his own dream is Freudian enough to have its own chien andalou charm, at least to me. All things considered I stand by my assessment that it could have been brilliant and is still quite unique even forty years later. It is bogged down by a number of ridiculous puzzles and the lack of balance between the dreams.

    All things considered, I had a lot more fun with Jyym Pearson’s games than with most of Scott Adams’s (or the first four or five Sierra adventures for that matter), flawed and dated as they may be.

    I have played a bit of Lucifer’s Realm some years ago. It’s quite frustrating, as all of the puzzles are very much bottlenecks. I don’t know if it’s like that all the way through as I didn’t solve it (yet, it’s still going to be part of my Med Systems marathon) but the beginning was not very promising.

    • We’re not that far apart on our assessment. I’m hesitant to put it on my General Adventure Player list for the year because of the quirks and the fact people are likely to get stuck on forgetting to LOOK UP somewhere, but at least it’ll make my Historical Interest list.

      I was wondering when you were going to hit Lucifer’s Realm! If it is sometime in early 2022 let me know, maybe we can play in synch.

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