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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12 responses to “Medieval Adventure (1980/1981)

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  1. Indeed a strange approach. I’ve always assumed that multiplayer adventures would be played in some kind of network, each player in its own terminal.

  2. I am the author of “The Causes of Chaos”, the first of the seven multi-player games listed at CASA. I can tell you that the reason I made the game multi-player was because I was so excited by a series or article in Micro Adventurer magazine that Richard Bartle wrote about the original Essex MUD, and I desperately wanted to experience something similar on my C64. Needless to say, the attempt was doomed. As Jason says, “the idea is broken”. Turn-taking just doesn’t work as a way of playing computer games.

  3. Yeah, I don’t think that MUDs, MUSHes, etc. have been targeted for inclusion on CASA. I played those sorts of games a lot at university and a chunk of those did have quite heavy “text adventure” elements, depending on the tastes of the game wizards. The competitive element of those games was a lot of fun, but it really helped if you could type quickly… there was no turn taking there!

    I do remember “turn taking” in adventure games as a youngster; mostly in an educational setting with single-player games where we had to swap who entered the commands each time. It tended not to be the most pleasurable way of playing (but I don’t particularly enjoy watching other people play anyway).

    Re. the CASA list, the “multi-player games” tag is a relatively new addition as an attempt to split those games away from the larger “multiple player characters” tag, which quite a few of them had been miscategorised under. The tagging is not complete or comprehensive, so there are likely to be other examples.

    In response to one of the other commenters… At least one of the games on our list, Graham Nelson’s Escape from Solaris, *can* be played on two linked BBC micros. We’ll have to wait until Jason gets to 1984 for that one, though. And, yes, it is *the* Graham Nelson.

    • Instantly illustrating that the list of games isn’t complete, I’ve just noticed that we didn’t have Zyll, the game you also mentioned in the post, tagged as a “multiple-player game” so I’ve added that.

  4. *sighs at the attempt at archaic English*

    Did you name your opponent NOSAJ before or after you discovered the symmetricality of the map?

  5. Glad to see you’re keeping at it! This is such an exciting project.

    I have a few friends who would leap at the chance to try something like this. I feel that with careful design, a multiplayer game could work. Maybe a Spy Vs. Spy scenario, where you have to trip your opponent up by finding items and devising traps? Eh, that’s likely too open-ended.

    • There are certainly possibilities to do something interesting in specific genres, I think. Whether anyone would every play the games is another matter.

      I could imagine that a “Home Alone” game might work quite well. One player could have a certain amount of turns to go around the house and set up traps, block entrances etc. Then the second player tries to get in for a certain number of turns. Control would bounce back between the players, perhaps even with a gradually reducing number of turns each time, until either the burglar manages to reach a certain room in the house or a counter expires for the police’s arrival.

      One of the later games on the CASA list, Deadly Silence, is actually basically a “slasher film” multi-player text adventure. One player has thirty turns to start and then the killer has their go to try and find and kill them.

      • That Home Alone game idea is interesting – it sounds oddly like a multiplayer (and somewhat more workable) version of Ron Gilbert’s “The TimeFly” game design idea from the late 1980s:

      • My head hurts even thinking about that Ron Gilbert game idea. I think Ron would be the only person clever enough to play it!

        For some reason it reminds me a little of the Doctor Who, season 9, episode “Hell Bent” which would make a very interesting rogue-lite text adventure… constantly repeating a cycle of events in order to try and reveal the mystery and get further in your escape attempt each time…

        …but that’s drifting even further off topic. :)

      • The Doctor Who parallel occurred to me as well!

        Gilbert also posted some pages from one of his old design notebooks which might be related to the TimeFly idea. If they are, they suggest the game concept was perhaps developing in a different direction, involving time travel back and forth between various periods:

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