Archive for November 2021

Adventure in Ancient Jerusalem (1980/1981)   Leave a comment

CLOAD, July 1981.

As specified from the source code

10 ‘ WARREN MELNICK — ADVENTURE IN ANCIENT JERUSALEM

VERSION 3.1 04/25/80

COPYRIGHT (C) CLOAD 1981

this is another written-in-1980-published-in-1981 work put out in CLOAD, but unlike Medieval Adventure which we looked at last, there isn’t any interesting design experimentation for redeeming value. This game is just bad. Other bad games we’ve had (like Haunted House and Alien Adventure) at least had some MST3K-ish humor and charm to them; this one just comes off as hateful, and I’m not even meaning just the murderous Arab stereotype tossed in there.

In this ancient mideastern adventure you will be able to GET, LOOK AT, and EXAMINE the objects that you find. You will command me in one or two word english sentences. You will find yourself in a street in Jerusalem, the ancient biblical city. You must explore the city while out-maneuvering Arabs that will kill you if you invade their quarter of the city, avoid burning your eyes out in the Dead Sea, etc. But, as a reward, you will find nine treasures hidden within Jerusalem and the other places that you will visit. You will score 10 points for each treasure that you store, plus 10 points for getting through the Golden Gate of the original temple.

Jim Gerrie did a port which removes the two killer Arab references in the game, if for some reason you want to play this. There’s a bit of historical context here, in that Jerusalem in 1980 was a hot source of strife and Israel “annexed” East Jerusalem during that summer (this game was written a few months before that, and what the “annexing” meant legally goes into details I don’t fully understand and this game doesn’t deserve).

You start dumped into a maze.

Not that unusual for an game written April 1980, but what is unusual, and even would make the more cruelly designed games of this time period hesitate, is that that just by stepping in the wrong direction you can softlock the game. Namely: the “author mental script” is apparently to find the glasses from the Top of Western Wall, then head south, but going south from the Underpass will prevent you from getting the (absolutely necessary) glasses.

Also, there was a weird bug where a gate with a “ruby button” which is supposed to appear later actually appeared in the maze. I even had it marked as a landmark on my map, but when it mysteriously disappeared my mapping took an extra 15 minutes because I was baffled at the inconsistency.

Past the weirdly designed maze is

a.) a Golden Gate where it is supposed to be, although there’s a ruby button and trying to press it just prompts the game to ask “How?” I don’t know, how buttons are normally pressed?

b.) a dead end for no purpose other than killing the player

There’s some circa ’79-’80 events which might motivate someone to write this, but I still just find this moment worthy of a double facepalm.

c.) a synagogue where you can use the glasses to see into a hidden chamber, then go down one way to reach the Dead Sea, where you can walk along and find some treasures, and then die

and assuming you want to make a full map, die again multiple times, in a game with no save feature.

I’ve encountered plenty of instant-death before, but somehow making a whole region this way (where you nonetheless need to test everything to be sure) just feels over the limit.

I had to look up Gaming After 40’s take, who himself had to check the source code. If you type HELP anywhere the game says

Pray for your life!!

and if you follow the prompt with PRAY, there’s the prompt

AMEN to Jerusalem!

which indicates, possibly, a keyword can be used (in the first room of the Dead Sea area) where you can SAY AMEN to get warped back. Except any SAY will work, so you can SAY FORGETTHISGAMEIMOUT which works equally as well.

One of the treasures from the Dead Sea area is a ruby ring, which enables the protagonist to PUSH BUTTON back at the Golden Gate, then get into Paradise, mopping up four treasures including SILVA HALVA:

40250 DATA”North Paradise”,0,7,0,0,0,0
40260 DATA”West Paradise”,0,0,7,0,0,0
40270 DATA”South Paradise”,7,0,0,0,0,0
40280 DATA”East Paradise”,0,0,0,7,0,0

There’s no way out of paradise other than SAY WHATEVERTHINGYOUWANT.

Also, one of the objects is a GOLDEN CALF, which seems weird given the context it appears in the Bible.

Then everything can be gathered back… where? There’s no clear indicator at all where the treasures go, so it’s a step-by-step test of DROP STAFF / SCORE / GET STAFF in each location until finding that the Western Wall permits the score to rise when treasures are dropped.

I found out after-the-fact that READ WALL specifically at that place (the wall itself isn’t ever mentioned as a referable noun, and of course walls are theoretically everywhere)

I see some writing there!! It says:
Leave *TREASURES* here

Finding it this way is honestly more tedious than doing the score test.

Grr. At least we’re now very close to 1981 being done — it’s just Softporn Adventure and Cyborg to go.

Posted November 21, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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IFComp 2021 results   Leave a comment

Congrats to B.J. Best for obtaining first place with And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One.

The game is hard to describe in a genre sense other than “meta”; you’re playing something called “Infinite Adventures” with a friend named Riley that generates mini-adventures, but then you can step outside the mini-adventure to the “real world”, and then go to other games in that same computer system, and then–

Look, just try it. It’s good.

The full list is here. One caveat is that there the IFComp site — rather than linking to a download — links to the IFDB entry, but right now not all the IFDB entries have playing links. You can download everything as a complete set, though.

(Incidentally, B.J. Best also got 6th place with an Aventuron game, a system I do recommend highly. Everything by default feels like a warm fuzzy C64 game, or maybe Atari ST.)

Posted November 20, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Medieval Adventure (1980/1981)   12 comments

First, an apology: I had somehow, in my scan of 1980 games last year, looked at this game and decided there was no 1980 copyright date in the BASIC source code so kicked it up a year. Then, I went back recently to play it, and found the 1980 copyright after all. Oops. No matter: this was written in 1980 and published in the April 1981 issue of CLOAD (previously seen with: Frankenstein Adventure, Troll’s Treasure, Elephant Graveyard), so it’s a perfectly fine moment to play it.

Whether I’m able to play as intended is another story.

Heralding the 2-player Medieval Adventure! You and another adventurer race around a palace looking for all the goodies, then bring them back to your home base. The one that gets ALL of the treasures to his/her base wins. But finding them is not easy, and keeping them safe from your opponent is even harder! A thief in the night…

The gimmick (courtesy the authors Hugh Lampert and Mike Greenholz) is that, while a treasure hunt, two players are using the same TRS-80, and in between “turns” they switch off. Doing movement between rooms counts as a turn. It’s perhaps clearest if I give screenshots:

It seems to be essentially impossible logistically to have information be “hidden” between the players. For one thing, there isn’t a “prompt” to switch players, and you can’t assume that just having the screen “clear” is a prompt (for example, picking up an item will clear it from the room description but it will stay the same player’s turn). Nor can you even assume that movement is the only way for a turn to end (for example, there are opportunities to fall unconscious; the game then switches and announces the last player’s command).

While one player is unconscious there’s also screens like this one, where the “switch” all happens within one screen. Having one player be unconscious is the easier way to play single-player, as I’ll discuss later.

So I’m assuming both players are watching each other player and swapping accordingly, but then how can it be a competition? The only way I can see stealthily scarfing treasures from an opponent’s base is by the opponent not knowing of the intruder. There’s additional what seems like should be hidden information — like a revealed magic word — which could technically help the player who didn’t find the word if they are closer to where it gets used.

Zyll (a 1984 game) handled this by having all info displayed on screen halves, so a crude “divider” of sorts could be devised, but even with weird contortions here I’m just not sure an elegant solution. Also, wrestling up a friend to play a dodgy TRS-80 text adventure is not as easy as you’d think, so I just tackled this one solo, controlling both players.

The players start on opposite sides of the map, in a “red alcove” and “blue alcove”, in what is essentially a symmetrical layout, kind of like a board game. The alcoves are where the treasures go. Heading south, west, and south from the red alcove leads to a terrace; so does heading north, east, and north from the blue alcove.

While the rooms are symmetrical, the puzzles and objects are not. There is some sense of trying to make sure elements from both the red and blue sides are required for certain things. For example, there’s a “metal mold” and some “clay” that can combine to MAKE KEY. I’ve marked them on the map below; in this case they are positioned symmetrically.

Here’s another, more elaborate sequence marked in order:

There’s a magic word BOO that gets found on the north side of the map (marked 1 below) that can be used to defeat a sorcerer on the south side (marked 2, he runs away). The sorcerer’s room has some “magic cream” that can be used on a symmetrical room on the north side (3) with a witch to defeat the witch. The witch has a “magic book” with the word ALAKAZAM which can be used on an entirely random room near the center to get a treasure (at 4). I checked the source code to find where ALAKAZAM gets used but a fully “honest” playthrough would have required laboriously checking each room.

At random intervals, a “dragon” will appear. If the current player has a weapon (like a sword) they can KILL DRAGON, otherwise they will get knocked unconscious. Once the mechanic here is realized the dragon is mostly just an annoyance.

The two players can meet each other and fight.

This is where various types of weapons and armor come into play. If someone has a shield, as shown above, they defend against a sword. If someone has armor, they defend against against a blunderbuss shot.

521 IF R=1 AND N(2)=-2 THEN PRINT”The sword bounces off his shield!”:GOTO 40
522 IF R=3 AND N(4)=-2 PRINT”The ball bounces off his armor!”:GOTO 40

If I’m understanding things correctly, there are two weapons (an axe and a dagger) that are not defendable against. Both are a little trickier to reach than the sword or the blunderbuss; one requires falling down a trapdoor (and going unconscious for a set of moves while the opponent is allowed to run around) and one requires having made a key (with the mold and clay mentioned earlier).

Axe and dagger locations marked, in their symmetrical positions.

It’s interesting insofar as it isn’t RPG combat — there’s a bit of puzzle-light offense/defense going on but the usual multiplayer competitive schtick of pitting stats against each other isn’t here.

In actual practice, of course, I was really going for a “cooperative” win, or something like a “helpmate” in chess puzzles (where both sides cooperate to get checkmate, even though they are on “opposing” sides). I really only saw one moment where the split-character aspect was interesting; there was a handle that pulling it made a sound and indicated something changed elsewhere, but not exactly where.

This “somewhere else” turned out to be diagonally across on the map, at a crocodile moat with a drawbridge; the drawbridge was lowered by the handle, and it was much faster nothing this because I had one character pull and the other character see the drawbridge.

The whole pit/drawbridge setup was useful for another reason, shown above: it was a quick and reliable way to go unconscious. After I had done enough experimentation I put JASON permanently on ice (only typing GO PIT when he woke up) and having his doppelganger NOSAJ collect all the objects to win the game. Most of the puzzles are relatively straightforward…

…and after a fair amount of annoyance I finally managed to collect everything for NOSAJ.

I can say I sincerely doubt this game was ever finished in a “proper” way, that is, in a competitive setting, not even for the weird setup, but because there is no ending to the game unless one person gets all the treasures. It would seem more logical for when all treasures are distributed the final scores are compared, but no, this is the only way the game stops:

6040 IF SC(1)=210 PRINTNA$(1);”, you have 210 points! You win!”:PRINT”Sorry “;NA$(2);”.”:STOP
6045 IF SC(2)=210 PRINTNA$(2);”, you have 210 points! You win!”:PRINT”Sorry “;NA$(1);”.”:STOP

It’s still fascinating as a look at a genre, the competitive multiplayer adventure game, which, much like the adventure-roguelike, never took off. CASA lists seven other multi-player games out of its entire database; there’s likely the odd BBS door game not listed, and some MUDs might have reduced enough RPG elements to qualify, but we’re still talking about something rare. Even in more modern settings (like the Seltani system) the default for multi-player adventures is cooperative.

Perhaps that’s simply because the idea is broken, but it’s still interesting to see someone try.

Posted November 15, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Escape from Trash Island (1981)   3 comments

Oddly, this is one of the fastest games I’ve beaten in a while; the last time I remember an experience this brisk for All the Adventures was … Roger M. Wilcox Adventure #1. I can’t say he’s gone full circle, because the puzzles are more sturdy (despite some curious science) and there will be three more games to come in 1982, but maybe a lasso shape of some sort.

As I indicated in my last post, this is the third of a trilogy, so possibly the author didn’t feel obliged to go for long. We’ve gathered our trash/treasure and for some reason got captured, even though our trash collection could have been anywhere on the island and there were no “savages” to be seen.

The complete map.

It is also unclear why directly below the “Cell” you start in there is a “possessions room” which has the skeleton key and shovel that you were toting around last time. How nice of the captors to let you keep exactly the items needed to escape. In the same room you can DIG to find some oil that you can use to oil the “locked bamboo bars” which are then openable with the skeleton key.

There’s a small smattering of rooms including a “stone pick” which lets you get past a cave-in, and when everything is collected there’s also a spear, battery, a “churn with heating elements”, steel wool, flash powder, a piece of string, and red treated paper.

I wasn’t sure what was going on with the latter three but I had suspicion there was enough items I should try the WRAP verb mentioned at the start of the game. Lo and behold, a makeshift stick of TNT emerged (sure, why not), which I was then able to place at a dead end. Then rubbing the steel wool on the battery caused a spark, which blew the TNT up, which either makes a helpful hole in the ceiling or an unhelpful hole in your body depending if you are holding it when the explosion goes off.

Then there’s really not much more too it — there’s a face-off with a “savage” where THROW SPEAR takes care of the problem (ugh)…

…and when you find your old speedboat the motor is still out of gasoline. You can dig some oil up with a shovel and use it in the churn (?) to somehow get gasoline…

…which works on the motor. Voila:

Given how small and straightforward this one was, allow me a philosophical aside.

If you’ve been keeping track, I really am nearly done with 1981 — Softporn Adventure, two CLOAD games for TRS-80, and Michael Berlyn’s Cyborg. Likely, barring high difficulty in Cyborg, I’ll be wrapped up before the end of the year. So I’ve been poking ahead at 1982, and boy howdy, the list of games is starting to get big.

Now, I already realized ahead of time this was coming, but as I do preliminary research roughly a month or two ahead, I’m “experiencing” the list for the first time. I realize there is to some extent All the Adventures will never be “finished” but I am still determined to play all the games. But how much should I write about all the games? While there are plenty of “meaty” games — more than any previous year so far, including 3 games from Infocom — there’s still honestly a good amount of “gather 10 treasures, yay you won” sorts. I’m thinking for particular games I should revert to a shorter format. (Of course every time I start thinking that, I hit an oddity like Atom Adventure which appears as standard as possible yet does something radically different with its gameplay.) On the other other hand, part of why I started the project is I felt like one-paragraph reviews that I was seeing for historical games were deeply unsatisfying for knowing what’s really going on.

I’m still vacillating on this, and in all honestly I’m probably just going to revert to writing about everything. But such thoughts have been passing through my head. I would like to hear, assuming a condensed format for some of the minor works, what you find most useful/fulfilling to read.

Posted November 13, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Trash Island (1981)   1 comment

Roger M. Wilcox bequeaths us one more set of games to (finally!) round out his 1981 selection. They were originally a trilogy. The original titles are

In Search of Trash Island
Hidden City of Trash Island
Escape From Trash Island

although the first two he later combined into a single game, Trash Island. A password from that game is needed to go onto the last one (which I’ll play next). And in case you’ve lost track (and I know I have) these are games #16, #17, and #18 of his complete collection of twenty-one adventures which started in 1980 with Misadventure and were never “published” until recently, except for uploading adventure #7 (Vial of Doom) to the Internet sometime in the 1980s.

The opening gives me a Where the Wild Things are feel, although rather than a sailboat, we’re going to escape our room and put together a speedboat.

After escaping is a fairly small area where the goals are to a.) gather items to form a speedboat b.) gather items to form an engine for the boat and c.) make a shovel (which won’t be used until arriving at Trash Island).

One of the items is glue, and I’ll let you guess what the result of PRESS BUTTON is. Ew.

Weird concept here: you find a sign about dropping *TRASH* but in this particular area there are no items marked with asterisks, that is, no treasure. It took me a while to puzzle out what was going on, but fortunately (as you’ll see shortly) when I finally had my vessel ready I grabbed every item I could in case it was a one-way trip, including the sign. Given that Escape from Trash Island is the last title I had the (correct) guess that it would be a one-way trip.

I did my usual technique of rattling down a bunch of verbs that I’ve seen before, and it turned out to be super useful in this game. I didn’t know what to do with the skeleton until I hit upon SHAKE; sort of a meta-solve, since I wasn’t shaking as an intentional action, but as an attempt to try everything. (The skeleton key is incidentally useful for opening a “fiberglas” factory which has some of the materials for the speedboat. With those materials plus the glue…

…you can MAKE the boat. MAKE is another case where I was just running down a verb list and found it useful, since the game takes MAKE on its own (and explains you don’t have enough material yet, assuming you’ve done the verb early). This meant I knew one of my goals fairly quickly. FIX I was productive with in the same way (I could FIX a broken engine) as was CONNECT, where I attached the stick and the scoop (from one of my earlier screenshots) to make a shovel. I wasn’t even thinking about those two objects going together at the time, but I’d rather the game err on understanding more than I really typed in as opposed to being too stringent and not understanding when I’ve clearly typed the right command.

With the engine (which you can fill with gas) and the motor you can be on your way, although it took poking source code to realize the correct verb for getting the motor running. (I even tried REV MOTOR but somehow didn’t come across START.)

This enters “part 2” of the game, and was previously a separate game altogether. There’s just a short area with a beach and the shovel is useful to find some random objects like a “lodestone” and a “bottle of moonshine”. The moonshine can be used to burn away some scrub, although I had parser difficulty in that BOTTLE is treated separate from MOONSHINE.

Past this point the main gimmick of part #2 is revealed, and it is oddly similar to the one from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, except all the treasures are marked with asterisks, Scott Adams style, and they’re all items like a TRASH CAN or SEWAGE. The best moment was having a regular bottle with vitamins that, once used, becomes trash; that is, by removing the “intended use” of the item, it becomes a treasure!

Most of the items are fairly straightforward to find; there’s no convoluted constructions needed, just mapping out a (minor) maze with an in-joke within.

The only difficult part is that it doesn’t appear at first that there’s any good location to do the usual “drop the treasures” gain points thing. However, if you remember, I grabbed a sign earlier that said to drop the trash here; dropping the sign created the treasure room where the sign was placed. Then all the trash in the same place is worth points.

Notice the Hustler tossed in there. No wonder Mother disapproved.

This was all relatively smooth and pleasant so far. It feels like Wilcox maybe got the attempts at trying to be difficult out of his system. (Except for the bit with the sign, which was apparently only added after parts 1 and 2 were combined.) There’s still not much in the Wilcox programming oeuvre resembling complex systems that can really make hard puzzles pleasing — it’s gathering and combining objects — but when the gathering is straightforward and kind of silly it makes for a decent hour’s play.

We’ll see if the finale holds up, though!

Posted November 12, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Five Artefacts   1 comment

The most cunning thing about Supersoft’s version of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy might not even appear that much from someone approaching from afar, but as someone who has now trudged through far too many treasure hunts (collect X items, place in position Y) once I caught on to what trick the game was pulling my thought was “oho, that’s even thematic”.

You see, my thought last time that you’d collect items in the “Five Artefacts Inn” was correct. My thought that the cheque from Zaphod Beeblebrox was going to be one of the items was wrong — in fact, the game isn’t asking you to collect treasures in a traditional sense, but “artefacts”. What five items would you consider the most valuable to you? Would they necessarily be the most expensive? In the Hitchhiker’s universe, you probably can even guess what one of the items is.

Speaking of the Hitchhiker’s universe…

Concept sketches of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, via a 1998 canceled Hitchhiker’s adventure game.

…fan-fiction can be something of a writing “cheat”, by invoking deep characters without doing much work; just a minimalist-style mention of an established character can unlock images and associations that weren’t really “earned” by the author. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in context, and it means a scene like something like the Bugblatter Beast (as shown above) might merit an extra mark or two in mental vividness, as would a mention of a babel fish, or Marvin the paranoid robot.

The game just doesn’t have enough disk space to ramble on about the weird gimmick of Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses or the terribleness of Vogon poetry and resorts to shorthand (although it does have a piece of graffiti regarding an “Ode to a Lump of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Morning”). It isn’t good or even recommended, but at least it’s understandable.

So one of of pieces I was stuck on — the Vogon captain that was stopping me — I simply had neglected to look at the gun, which stated it was OFF and then — well, in the bizarre manner of the two-word parser, the command to switch it on was ON GUN.

Nearby I found a book of Vogon poetry, and a “navigation room” unlocked by the keys I found last time. (Incidentally, I only realized this much later after checking a walkthrough, but the keys came from the bowl of petunias. If you pick the bowl up and drop it again the keys show up, and I had used the bowl to map a room of the maze in the Heart of Gold, so by appearances the keys just randomly materialized in the maze.)

The navigation room includes the “lump of green putty” graffiti, and on a whim I tried to READ POETRY while I was in there.

This causes the ship to move from Earth to Kakrafoon (and if you read the poetry again, back again). The Vogons incidentally start appearing on Kakrafoon and you have to keep the gun handy to shoot them. You need to shoot them the moment they appear — and there can be multiple ones in a row — otherwise they kill you. To add additional distress, the gun has a time limit; if you leave it on long enough it melts away (and you don’t have time to switch between OFF and ON while the Vogons are appearing).

Moving on, I explored Kakrafoon a little…

This bit was much easier than the equivalent puzzle in the Infocom game.

…but was quickly stuck with a Great Green Arkleseizure that is described in a room but you can’t even refer to. With my small verb supply and item supply exhausted, I flew back to Earth and tried poking at the Heart of Gold again.

I did, alas, need to look at hints. I had stuck myself again by the Parallel Universes Problem. There’s a lever that says “don’t pull” so I had tried to PUSH it, and I had also tried dropping the improbability drive from Hong Kong in the same room, and I assumed I had done both at the same time, but apparently not. (I think I had dropped the drive and done PULL, which kills you no matter what — and no, you can’t rescue from being ejected into space, that whole sequence giving you some extra turns to survive was just a red herring.)

Doing things properly causes the Heart of Gold to fly to Betelgeuse, which fortunately does not have any Vogons on it, just a few obtuse locations and puzzles.

The most immediate obstacle is an “Algolian Suntiger” at the “Maximeglon Museum of Diseased Imaginings”, which is defeated via a very special method which actually rises to the level of “good puzzle” presuming you are somewhat familiar with the original Hitchhiker’s series.

There’s at least fair hint that the poetry is execrable from just trying to read the poetry book on its own without knowing the source material, but not “cause all sentient beings to run away” bad.

This is followed by some rapid-fire references, like the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, with a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Remember that cheque from Zaphod Beeblebrox? Here’s where you use it. That’s one expensive drink.

There’s also some shenanigans with a coin that yield some chocolate and cheese-flavored tea. The chocolate is useful in a truly bizarre way.

If you don’t drop the chocolate first the babel fish runs away if you try to get it and the game is softlocked. I had to check the walkthrough for this, and it qualifies as the most random puzzle of the game. Look, the Infocom version of the Babel Fish puzzle is in a way technically harder — certain it involves many more steps, but this one is so baffling and unprovoked I still don’t get it.

You can also get a hint from Deep Thought which happens to be hanging out.

Taking a break from figuring out the Great Question. Maybe if you come at the right time you can get the chocolate explained.

Other than that, I found a towel (horray!), a rubber duck underneath the towel (…ok?), some peril-sensitive sunglasses (which make everything dark so you can see items or room exits and is useless) Marvin the Paranoid Android (who you can try to take, but will run off muttering that he has a “Brain the size of a planet but life’s still depressing”, softlocking the game).

Flying back to Earth, I took a stop by the white mouse that hadn’t been cooperative before and dropped them some cheese-flavored tea. I was then able to pick the mouse up. Then hitching a ride on Vogon Poetry Air again I went back to the Arkelseizure:

If you don’t have the babel fish to hear this, the game is now softlocked.

Past this is an elephant (easily scarable via mouse) yet another tiny maze (not worth even bothering with) and most usefully, a "robot stabilizer" and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", which informs us DON'T PANIC but otherwise doesn't have useful info.

I admit I was here fairly stumped, other than I realized that while holding the robot stabilizer Marvin was carryable without walking off. I hadn't really figured out the treasures yet, and some experimentation had already indicated some obvious items (like the cheque) didn't boost the score. I just started trying things and found that, the "artefacts" needed are…

…(drum roll please, and maybe you want to predict before I list them)…

…(let me know if you guess all five)…

…the babel fish, the Hitchhiker's Guide, Marvin, the rubber duck (?) and the towel (!). Froody.

With all five safely stowed, you are congratulated with:

Well done! We’ve finished

Well. At least I was not stuck on this game for “13 – 14 years” as noted by Andrew Williams, who wrote a walkthrough.

I will have to say I did “feel” a little bit like I was in some strange variant of the Hitchhiker’s universe. Maybe the off-market one, or a game Ford Prefect himself made in-universe on a lark. What I wouldn’t call it is a cynical cash-in; for its time it was certainly fits in the quality at the time, and even Infocom wasn’t quite Infocom yet.

(Galactic Hitchhiker was still better, though.)

Posted November 9, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981)   7 comments

Not the 1984 Infocom one written by Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky, but the Supersoft one by Bob Chappell.

We haven’t had much yet at this blog on legal tangles; the history of adventures is not chock-full of them like, say, Atari. I’ve skipped over EduWare’s Space I and Space II games despite them being listed at the Interactive Fiction Database as they are really RPGs (the CRPG Addict covered them here) and they were even based so much on a pencil-and-paper RPG (Traveler) that Game Designers’ Workshop dropped a cease-and-desist. I also didn’t mention how with The Prisoner (by the same company!) the producers got permission from ITC Entertainment to open a Prisoner-themed restaurant (??) hoping that would be sufficient cover. Other similar violations were generally done with a computer-games-aren’t-that-big-let’s-hope-they-don’t-notice stance. (This is how Atari was in contrast — it started making “real money” early, and roughly the same time all this was happening they sold millions of copies of Space Invaders for the Atari 2600, as opposed to thousands or hundreds.)

The original version (the tape picture from earlier) was for Commodore’s earliest computer, the PET. This screenshot is for the later C64 version.

It’s certainly tempting to look at the opening screenshot “with kind permission of Douglas Adams and Pan Books” and be skeptical, but at least the Pan Books part was true: Bob Chappell wrote a letter asking if he could make a game based on Hitchhiker’s and they sent back a letter saying yes. After finishing his game he sold it to Supersoft for “500 pounds worth of equipment and assorted programs”. Keep in mind this is extremely early in the UK commercial adventure game market; Hitch Hiker’s was first advertised Summer of 1981 around when most of the other releases I’ve highlighted (like Planet of Death) landed (one earlier game, Catacombs — first advertised March 1981 — was also by Supersoft, although it isn’t available for download). So we’re talking about a request for a license at the very tip of an industry, it is understandable they were a little informal with it.

As Supersoft in 1983 tried to come out with versions of the game for Commodore 64, Vic-20, and Dragon, Douglas Adams’s agent Ed Victor came knocking; a settlement was made out of court, and Pan Books footed the legal consultation bill, so it wasn’t like there was simple amateur confusion going on, just it was easier to avoid a legal fight altogether and settle. It is possible Supersoft had a leg to stand on but Douglas Adams himself wasn’t involved in the original deal, implying shaky ground; it is also possible based on the wording of the letter the rights only applied to Chappell’s original PET version of the game but the physical letter hasn’t surfaced to confirm or deny this.

Unsold copies of “Hitch Hiker’s” was destroyed as part of the settlement and the game was put back onto the market later as Cosmic Capers. (Incidentally, the weird anomaly of Galactic Hitchhiker which I covered last time went entirely untouched by the legal stick, but it stayed on the fringe system of the UK101. No doubt had an attempt been made to republish it would have raised the legal sirens.)

Additionally, the somewhat … unimpressive … text and interaction of the game is still fitting in with most of the product in the UK at the time. You can see what feels to modern eyes like a modern-shovelware-grab-bag, but for the time was a normal commercial game written in BASIC.

Based on a December 1981 review from Computer & Video Games magazine it wasn’t ill-regarded (“a well thought-out attempt to reproduce the imaginative radio/T.V. series”); this is, simply put, yet another typical-for-the-market minimalist treasure hunt with a light dusting of Hitchhiker’s.

Having said all that, I can’t defend the end result. I’m not having a good time so far.

My no-doubt incomplete map of the starting area.

You start in a Quiet English Village near a Five Artefacts Inn (where I presume the “treasures” go) and find, minimalistically and randomly, a white mouse — no doubt one of the hyperintelligent ones involved in the compute that answered the Ultimate Question — a rusty car engine (marked as being an Improbability Drive that is made in Hong Kong), a bowl of petunias, the Encyclopedia Galactica, a Vogon Battle Cruiser (shown above) and The Heart of Gold (also inexplicably parked nearby).

There’s a Kil-O-Zap energy gun I found that I attempted to use on the Vogon captain here. No luck getting by yet. The “set” is the Galactic Encyclopedia, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to read any entries other than the one about aquatic bipeds.

The Heart of Gold does not resemble that from the books/radio show/play/etc. and is mostly just a maze.

The maze has an energy gun (which I already mentioned but haven’t used yet), an Arcturian MegaDonkey steak, some keys that appeared randomly, and a cheque signed by Zaphod Beeblebrox that I assumes is one of the Treasures. There’s also a very tempting lever:

PULL LEVER only is bad at randomized times. (I tried to see if some item I could hold affected it, but no — you just wait for the dice roll to go your way.) When it does trigger, you get zapped into outer space, rather like the scene in Galactic Hitchhiker where you need to wave a scarf, except here there is no scarf.

Maybe that direction is a dead end? You do get a number of turns floating in space before death which strongly suggests there’s some way of flagging down a passing ship, but I don’t even have my towel with me, and WAVE isn’t a recognized verb besides. Other than the typical “go”, “get”, and “drop” there’s just

READ, OPEN, CLOSE, KILL, SHOOT, PUSH, PULL, SAY, PANIC

which isn’t much to work with. At some level having less options to test is nice, but the situation is too heavily constrained as is on the window it shows the player; the least it could do is allow the player a few extra actions for breathing room.

Given only the Vogon captain to work on otherwise there isn’t much for me to whack at, but I’m going to keep trudging at this a bit longer before giving up. I’m not sure why I’m putting so much solving energy into such a dodgy game, but I guess I found the story of its creation a little more motivating than normal. (I’ll still take hints in ROT13 format if anyone wants to give them.)

Posted November 5, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Galactic Hitchhiker (1980)   10 comments

The Ohio Scientific computer has been one of our more oddball and forgotten platforms, but due to the efforts of Aardvark there nevertheless was a set of original text adventures for the platform (including the first Star Trek adventure game).

The CompuKit UK101 was a clone of Ohio Scientific’s Superboard II (one of their earlier computers) from across the pond.

Post from c3ptik in the Stardot forums, and you should check there if you want a higher-res version.

The machine is notable for both being released early enough in the UK (1979) and having enough memory (8K, just like Ohio Scientific) that it ends up being the platform of the current winner in our long-running Search for Earliest Britventure.

(Technically, there’s a port of Adventure for the PET that came even earlier from Games Workshop, 16K of memory required, but from the descriptions it seems to be a direct port of Crowther/Woods.)

Our honor (ignoring the parenthetical above) goes to Mr. A. Knight of Cleveland, UK, for his UK101 game Galactic Hitchhiker. Gareth Pitchford has collected a set of ads for the game and found the earliest was at October 1980.

A later ad, from Practical Electronics, September 1981.

As you might suspect from the title, it is loosely (loosely!) based on Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Unlike Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from a year later (which we’ll be playing next), it was not the target of a lawsuit, but again note the “loosely” — mainly it just copies the attitude, although there is a certain catchphrase that will feature very prominently.

Notice how it attempts an in-world explanation why the parser is going to be limited. You’re “helping” Maurice Marina with commands, Spike is sort of an “intermediary” between you and the avatar but mainly just makes the occasional comment on what is going on.

As Spike explains, Maurice Marina is stuck on a planet that is being evacuated, and your job is to get him home.

Weirdly enough, our avatar has a conversation with our computer guide.

It is squeezed into a tiny amount of space (the same as It Takes a Thief) and allows only a tiny verb-set:

CUT, OPEN, WAVE, FEED, PUSH, PULL, SHOOT, GO

(Even INVENTORY doesn’t work; you get a rucksack in your first move, and then OPEN RUCKSACK to find what you are carrying.) There’s also a fair number of spots you can die and no save-game feature, a good chunk is really just a “walking simulator”, exits are most not described so you can only map by testing every direction (GO NORTH, GO SOUTH, GO EAST, GO WEST, GO UP, GO DOWN) and if you successfully do a command, while it fails to give an error command, it isn’t clear what happened until you check the room (and LOOK alone doesn’t work, the only way I was able to re-examine a room was to leave and come back).

Still, this game is far better than it ought to be. I’d very tentatively recommend it (instructions are in this post although before you play you first need to do a “Cold start”, type “8192” when it ask memory size, and 46 when it asks terminal width, then double click RESET to restart the system — then you can pick up the instructions from there) although a port to something easier to work with would bump it up to … well, still only tentatively recommended. It has problems. But there are parts (likely partly spawned by often not worrying about describing exits) where the writing approaches something Good.

So for anyone brave enough to try it, veer away now, but for the rest of you, I’ve played it so you don’t have to:

Our hapless hero awakens without a ticket, although there is a rucksack nearby. All subsequent items are held in the rucksack.

This was me mapping things out; again, the room exits are generally left out, so there’s no way to know GO NORTH won’t work without testing it.

There’s not much to see on the starting planet, and it takes only few steps to go outside.

I’M IN A RAGING BLIZZARD OUTSIDE THE SPACE TERMINUS BUILDINGS. THE WIND IS HOWLING ROUND THE FIRE ESCAPE
AND THERE ARE FOOTPRINTS LEADING OFF TOWARD THE LAUNCH-PAD.

Most of the action involves wandering around and mapping. There’s even a maze, but it’s a “normal-connected” maze where going one direction and going back the opposite direction will return you to where you came from.

Eventually you’ll run into a “PASSENGER LIFT AT THE LAUNCH-PAD” where you find the escape vehicle has already left, and there’s a key left behind. The key lets you go in a small space-craft in another section which shortly after crash-lands on a new planet, Grecian 2000.

There’s a bit of ordinary-countryside wandering (a field blocked off by barbed wire, a chopping-axe, a ravine by a forest, a mountain, a lake with a “pit-prop” that’s a complete red herring) and managed to end my game for the first time in a glorious manner. I found “A LITTLE SHACK” with “A STILL” and “JUG”:

NOW WHAT SHOULD I DO? GET JUG

Spike here: He’s getting drunk!

Restart! This would go faster except the keyboard responsiveness of an antique 1 Mhz computer isn’t great, go figure. Anyway: get rucksack, find key, escape planet, crash on Grecian 2000, and keep wandering in circles for a while with no help, other than a message that states that Spike — our extra-narrative computer escort who yet somehow is mentioned in the world itself — already gave the password. (I figured out quickly what this meant, but let me save it for when it actually gets used in the plot.)

I had to poke at hints and realize that the forest being nonchalantly next to the ravine implies that CHOP TREE is possible, despite the noun “TREE” not being explicitly in the text.

Past the vaguely described people is a GERBICOP that, grimly enough, you need to CHOP GERBICOP to get by … in order to get a scarf.

Pretty sure we have a random Dr. Who reference too.

In a different parts of the city you can find meat, a wire-cutter, and a loading bay with a “WIRE-MESH FENCE” accompanied by a “HUMMING NOISE”. Trying to apply the wire-cutter to the fence is fatal:

Spike here: He’s been electrocuted!

The wire-cutter is instead useful back in the countryside, where I mentioned a field blocked by barbed wire. CUTting the wire there is the correct route, letting you arrive at a “SPACETRAN” you can board, but it’s another doomed vehicle.

The button ejects you into space, where the only recourse is to WAVE TATTY OLD SCARF (you have to type all that out), which is apparently enough to attract attention:

I’M IN A LABORATORY. I DON’T BELIEVE THIS! I’VE BEEN RESCUED BY A GUY IN A WHITE COAT. HE SAYS WE’RE ON GOMERIAL AND TO
WATCH OUT FOR GHOULIBRUTES…

Gomerial, the third planet, mostly consists of a plaza blocked by a “SPACE RANGER” (I knew enough to stay back and not find out what kind of death I’d suffer) and a desert. The desert again is a very simple not-really-a-maze, with a “ghoulibrute” at the end who fortunately is persuaded to not eat you by an offering of meat off of Grecian 2000.

Next to the ghoulibrute is a shed which has a BLASTER. I took a guess and toted the blaster back to the SPACE RANGER:

NOW WHAT SHOULD I DO? SHOOT RANGER

OKAY, NOW WHAT?

Not even described! But there’s a DEAD SPACE RANGER here now. This opens a route to a the offices of TEMPORAL TRAVEL CORP and a PLUSH OFFICE where you’re asked for a password. This is where the earlier message about Spike is useful: at the beginning of the game, he gave the advice DON’T PANIC.

Pulling the lever takes you back in time to just before the start of the game, where there’s a ticket laying around that you can just take. Yes, this is a time-travel game: our hero dropped his ticket and couldn’t get it because someone else picked it up, but that someone else was just the hero from the future. The rucksack the person stealing the ticket had is the same one we’ve carted throughout the whole game.

The same planet map from the start of the game applies, except this time the escape ship hasn’t left yet, and you can win.

Really, with some extra polish (and presumably, a more powerful system) this game could’ve gone near to something modern. Allow me jump back to a particular moment, right after being rescued from space via waving the scarf.

I’M IN A LABORATORY FULL OF MYSTIFYING GADGETRY. NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE.

Spike here: You got LUCKY, man.

This is written from the avatar’s perspective in a concise way that nonetheless avoids the weirdly distorted minimalism of Scott Adams and related games; they’re sentences a person would actually write normally. The subjective confusion of the protagonist is really the thrust of the narrative, and Spike’s interjection, while cliché, still drips an injection of character. In other words, the game has description that matches the ludic action/plot and interplay between two personalities, not counting that of the player themselves. Not what I expected at all from a system with 8K of memory and 1Mhz of speed.

Posted November 4, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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