The Adventure System / Miner’s Adventure (1981)   8 comments

While Scott Adams wrote his first two games in BASIC (Adventureland and Pirate Adventure) he quickly switched to machine language and in both cases used a “database” file that could be plugged into the same framework every time to run a different adventure.

There was theoretically nothing stopping a person from using the database and requiring the Scott Adams executable file be provided separately to create an entirely new game. Alvin Files and William Demas both independently wrote their own games published by Scott Adams himself, although unofficial games were also quite possible; Kim Watt did this with the unfinished and broken game Marooned. In 1980 Allan Moluf then wrote an early version of The Adventure System he called ADVLIST “for his own use” in BASIC as an editor to make games; this was picked up by Bruce Hansen who rewrote the slower parts (“some ADVLIST commands could take close to three minutes to complete”) in assembly language and redubbed ADVEDIT.

The catch in “providing the executable file separately” is that Scott Adams started protecting the disks to prevent copying. Despite this, Kim Watt (back to him, again) wrote ADVCOPY as a way of getting the executable file anyway, and Bruce Hansen later wrote his own Scott Adams Executor Program to get around any copyright issues.

The new ADVEDIT was eventually launched as a commercial product starting late in 1981.

Manual cover, from the Museum of Computer Adventure Games. Despite the title seeming to be “ADVENTURE the system” here it is given as “The Adventure System” in the manual text proper. The Alternate Source was incidentally a TRS-80 programmer’s journal; this seems to be their only game-related product although they had an offer to publish games made with The Adventure System written into the manual.

The system allowed publishing commercial games using the system. (Jimmy Maher claims there was a $200 fee for that on top of the $40 price of the game, but I can’t find the extra fee listed in either version of the manual I have.) This feels slightly cheeky, given a good initial setup was cadged wholesale from Scott Adams without permission. The only games I know of that took the developer up that offer are the Mega Venture series by Jim Veneskey, published by Big Orc Software in 1984. (At least according to various sites, I haven’t seen a magazine ad or a picture of a box.)

The package came with one “tutorial game” and two “full games”: Mini-Venture, Miner’s Adventure and Burglar’s Adventure. I’ll cover the first two now and save the last for my next post.

The tutorial game (or Mini-Venture, or Mugger’s Adventure) is pretty easy to dispose of.

You get out of your car, light a match to see (this a “timed event” so you see the lit room long enough to know where the exit is, then the room goes back to dark), go in your apartment, go up an elevator, unlock you door, and go inside.

Also, to test out the *TREASURES* system, you need to drop your wallet at the end.

It’s solely there to demonstrate how writing an adventure works and the entire sample adventure is printed in the manual.

The most elaborate portion is in the “ACTIONS” section.

The manual both lists the code and explains the meaning of each line after.

AUTO represents triggers that happen every turn. A fair amount of text games from this era lack much in the way of persistent effects, or “daemons”, but they’ve always been a large part of the Scott Adams games (for good or evil). For example, in the original Adventureland there are bees that when caught in a bottle have a percent chance of dying every turn while contained — not good design admittedly. In the follow-up Pirate Adventure there is a surf that goes in and out, and a location that changes based on the tide — this is much better design which not only open puzzle possibilities but makes the environment feel dynamic. Without any dynamic elements it is easy for text adventures to feel like a series of set-pieces waiting for the right phrase or item to continue.

For example, in the start of the source above, if the player is outside their car for 4 moves they are mugged and die, an outcome that happens 100% of the time when such conditions are met (AUTO 100) The “-IN 2” means “in any room other than room 2 (that’s outside).

The lines 5 through 7 are designed to handle if room 2 is lit or not. Light normally happens in any room other than 2 (the -IN 2 again). The command LIGH MATC (“light match”) from line 7 will trigger being able to see in that room temporarily (it will actually show the room description, then pause in real time, then revert to darkness).

Bruce Hansen seemed to have a technical handle on the system so I was looking forward to the sample games being well-coded, but at least for Miner’s Adventure that is sadly not the case.

The premise of Miner’s Adventure is to go into a mine, get treasures, and return them to the main office.

Yet another treasure hunt, but they’ve worked out fine before. This one has trouble right away. If you LOOK DESK you can see a DRAWER which you then can OPEN with the message “Strange, the drawer was hard to open.” This cues the player to LOOK DRAWER and find an envelope taped underneath. Good so far (and I like the use of tactile sense as a hint). However, I then spent the next 15 minutes searching for a way to get at the envelope (GET ENVELOPE: “I don’t see it here”. GET TAPE: “I don’t know what TAPE is.”) I finally just checked a walkthrough and found I needed to UNTANGLE ENVELOPE, which is the worst guess-the-verb I’ve seen in a long time.

The envelope has a key and a paper stating “Cross over into another world”. The key let me unlock a nearby shed with a fuse, empty dynamite box, and shovel. Outside the shed I was stopped at the Mine Entrance by a guard (and no verbs worked on the guard) and the only other thing I had access to was a “Mining Office”.

The way the room is set, the only available item (other than the SIGN which you can just look at) is the DESK. This time I had about 30 minutes of frustration, since I wasn’t sure if I was really supposed to do something here now (or maybe have treasures checked later or something along those lines). Again I finally resorted to a walkthrough, which told me I needed to GET JOB.

OK, you’re hired

This is the most infuriating sort of parser abuse and I pretty much lost all faith in the game past this point.

Inside the mine, there’s some coal lying out in the open, and “freshly dug earth” you can use the shovel on.

The next awful bit is shown above. Even though the game seems to be coded for ROCK being the noun (as you can LOOK ROCK) GET ROCK gets “I don’t see it here.” No, you need to TIE TWINE / TO KEY. It isn’t clear at all the “keystone” can even be referred to as a separate object, and it can of course be confused with the actual key item from earlier.

After pulling there’s an OBSIDIAN BOWL which is a treasure, and a “stone” with a “sharp edge”. The pile of rocks is still there but GET ROCKS says “I don’t see it here”. The next action is to use the rocks which you can’t see and can see simultaneously and also can’t refer to in any other way in order to MAKE BRIDGE.

As a general rule, the author doesn’t seem to care that an item that is getting used can be referred to in any other sense; only a lateral command (where it isn’t explicit what is happening, and I had to just guess afterwards) works as a method of reference. When this sort of thing happens too often the game ceases to have a “world model” with objects that can be each thought of as entities that can be manipulated and instead asks the player to find the Special Words to make progress.

Next comes a “tropical valley”.

The water from the pond can be taken back to the lava area to pour it and get some “sulpher” (this can mix with coal to make gunpowder, you have to summon up the command MIX GUNPOWDER from the void). You can also dive in the pond (pulling away a piece of metal which turns out to be a speargun) to find some crystals.

The speargun can be used to kill and the sharp stone can skin an alligator for its hide (it’s a treasure). (It’s also good for confusing the parser where you type GUN and it doesn’t know if you mean gunpowder or the speargun, argh.)

You can then swing a vine to a cave, load a cannon with a gunpowder/fuse/bamboo combo (there is no prompting that the word CANNON is even in the vocabulary of the game, but that’s what you have to make)…

…use the cannon to kill a SLEEPING MASTODON (not even being threatening), follow it to take its ivory…

…escape out a stream and using a pole with the word VAULT, because let’s just keep piling it on for hard-to-find verbs, and finally tote the treasures, including the ivory from killing a rare animal, to victory.

This did not feel like victory.

I’m hoping Burglar’s Adventure is a touch better? The author here was good at designing colorful events, not so good at making sure all the pieces were lined up so the players could find the right knobs to push to make those events happen. (I have trouble believing anyone came up with making a “cannon” unprompted — where you had to type that exact noun — without reading the source code.)

Posted October 28, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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8 responses to “The Adventure System / Miner’s Adventure (1981)

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  1. Could it be “untape envelope,” with only the first four letters of the verb checked, so that “untangle” also works?

  2. I remember struggling with similar “guess the verb/noun/phrase” problems as a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s playing other games on my TRS-80. No world wide web then, so often no way of getting the solution. Some of these issues could have been resolved by the author with playtesting—get a friend to try it and recode puzzles that required such guessing. These issues did seem to lessen over time. I wonder how much was learning by doing, and how much was increased playtesting or availability of more memory to code in alternative solutions.

  3. Did you mean to say “ROCK being the noun” (rather than “the verb”)..?

  4. Didn’t we see skinning something for the last lousy point somewhere else?

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