Archive for December 2021

Zodiac (1982)   12 comments

I gave the historical background for this one already in my last post on Death Satellite. Keep in mind that game was first advertised in Your Computer in June, and this game was first advertised in September. While several months is not absurd for writing a 1982-era adventure game, the fast turnaround does mean this one might be more a cash-grab than the last.

Your goal is to “solve the problem of the Astrological Adventure” which is terribly vague, but I have a guess it just means you have to make it to whatever room is designated as The End. (CASA Adventure Archive claims something about six treasures, but I think that’s about an entirely different game also called Zodiac.)

The start, as shown above, made me think it was an Arctic Adventure lost-in-the-wild type situation, but in addition to ice-related antics the theme falls into having a sequence of rooms (with ones in between) named after the Zodiac. This leads nearly to abstraction-as-environment, with places like


which I suppose you get to visualize any way you like. In a way, this is simply embracing the purity of the crossword in the crossword-vs-narrative battle. Adventure game entirely as challenge.

And wurf, it is unfortunate it has challenge, because there is no walkthrough, hint sheet, etc. I made a decent stab, as you’ll see, but I eventually got stuck. One thing that helped a bit to start was being able to find a chink in the parser. When the game says


it means the words being used aren’t in the game’s vocabulary (both verb and noun). If either verb or noun is recognized, the game says


unless the action goes through. This fouled up my usual verb-testing strategy at first, where I’d go through each potential verb, like PUSH, PULL, etc. and apply them to a random object in the game. Here, if you type PULL TORCH, the game gives a YOU CAN’T even though PULL isn’t even a recognized word. The right way to test verbs is to simply type them with no object at all.

As shown, software-artifact-as-puzzlebox as opposed to any kind of narrative.

This yielded me a list of:


Things were smooth up to what is the first puzzle (*), at Taurus. I had gathered an ICE PICK, a RED FISH, a KNIFE, a TORCH, and an URN (which I left behind because of a four-item inventory limit and the fact the urn smashes if you drop it).

At least I had company; a 1983 review published in Home Computing Weekly #24 writes:

One of the most difficult is how to get past the bull in the House of Taurus – a problem which I wrestled with for a long time, along with a friend who has the same program.

I should have looked at the text here more carefully, this had a hint! I was heavily stuck here and thought, perhaps, I’d have to just throw in the towel already and make a post, but I decided to pop the program open in a text editor to see if I could glean anything (machine code, not BASIC, so not 100% readable unfortunately).

There wasn’t much plaintext (I guess they did some encryption for contest purposes) but I found more verbs:


I’m slightly sheepish I didn’t have GIVE on my list on verbs to check, but come to think of it, that’s not been a common word for the two-word parser (lots of DROP standing in for GIVE).

Seeing WRESTLE made me remember when I had to wrestle an octopus in Haunt. (The reviewer wrestled with the problem a long time, ha.)

Unfortunately there wasn’t too much more to go past that. I found a magic ring stuck in ice where MELT ICE worked, as per the newly-found verbs, and I met the Gemini twins I tagged earlier and gave them a fish; they traded me a key.

More a matter of “try all the verbs” than “thinking”.

There was a slightly classical maze hiding an axe…

The start room is a “trap” of sorts that gathers two of the one-way exits from the maze room right before the axe, trying to deny hitting the solution randomly. This is quite typical; what’s unusual is making the exit room also a “trap” (on the bottom, three of the exits leave the maze) so it is easier to accidentally bypass the axe and leave. The priority for many of these mazes was to avoid solves just by meandering in random directions. Even Don Woods with Adventure made a test diagram to make sure “simple repetitive actions” would not allow getting through his maze too early.

…but other than that all I had left to fiddle with was a sleeping dragon.

I may end up having to call the game quits here, unfortunately; I’ll still give it a few more swings given I’m already past the “break open the actual code to look for clues” point.

I will say I can RUB the magic ring I found in the ice (the game tells me NOTHING HAPPENS in all circumstances) and any verb/object combo I’ve thrown at the dragon has been met with I CAN’T. I also haven’t been able to get anywhere with DIG in any room. Surely there’s a break somewhere?

(*) Almost the first puzzle. Entering the House of Aries requires going up the glacier, and I didn’t know until about my 5th iteration that the ice pick was required; otherwise I was holding it so it got used automatically without the game telling me. Solving a puzzle by default, essentially. This has the interesting side effect that since the maze has an exit that loops you to the start of the game, if you’ve dropped the ice pick in the interim (say, using it to map a room in the maze) your game gets softlocked since you can’t go back up the glacier to return to the maze.

Posted December 30, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Death Satellite (1982)   3 comments

To kick off 1982, I decided to go with literal-random-number-generator and came up with a game near the rear of the alphabetical list, Zodiac. However, I realized it was the second in a pair, so I decided to try the prior game first.

The notion of adventure-as-contest we’ve seen before with games like Alkemstone (1981) and Goblins (1981) but the concept really held on to the UK market, likely due to the popularity of Kit Williams book (and accompanying real-life-treasure-hunt) Masquerade.

It won’t be terribly long until we get to the most famous of the computer-based contests, Pimania, which involved a real-life “Golden Sundial” and is arguably not even really an adventure game, but for now let’s consider one that definitely is, A & F Software’s Death Satellite.

A & F is best remembered now as the publishers of Chuckie Egg, one of the many UK platformers; quoting Kieren Hawken, “Perhaps only Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy are higher regarded.” Data Driven Gamer played it recently (he wasn’t a fan), and you can try the game online here.

I’m afraid I don’t know much about Chuckie Egg 2. The directors of A&F Software decided to do a follow-up to Chuckie Egg; however, they wanted it done to a very keen deadline, so I kept well clear of the whole thing. To my mind, if you want to create something, you first have to have an idea, then work out how long it’s going to take you to bring that idea to fruition. But they were businessmen, so they decided, “We are going to release CE2 in x weeks. Now let’s think of a game.” Bonkers! They went bust soon after it was released. I don’t even think I’ve ever played it.

That’s the author of Chuckie Egg, Nigel Alderton, in this interview. I’m not sure if the characterization is fair, but there’s not a lot of description out there otherwise of A&F’s inner workings. They were founded by Douglas Anderson and Michael Fitzgerald (as mentioned here) and in a different interview Nigel talks about how they had a shop selling computers and games with “two or three programmers” in the back.

The Chuckie Egg 2 quote did give me the pre-impression that Death Satellite was going to be a mere cash-in on the 1982 run of text adventures (this is when the British market really started to get revving) but despite some very sloppy technical aspects there was clearly some thought put into this. (Zodiac was cranked only only a few months later so the description of being a business cash-in may end up being more accurate; we’ll see.) To be fair, this seems to be in a “hardscrabble” phase for the company, evidenced by the only cover I’ve found for the tape:

From Every Game Going. Notice “Death Satellite” written in pencil in the corner, presumably by a user; otherwise the only indication of the contents are the weirdly-printed “Adventure I” along the side.

Acorn User in April 1982 incidentally claimed of the contest-adventures (both Death Satellite and Zodiac) that there were “hundreds” of submissions but only a “few” correct entries, which perhaps suggests how difficult these games are but also, historically, how many people finished this one in the early 80s. What I am unclear on is what, exactly, was sent in for the contest; I’ve got the text from the inside cover of the tape which only gives instructions (including the useful fact LOOK doesn’t work but DESCRIBE does instead), so maybe there was an extra insert? Gold, a contest-adventure from last year, asked for the maximum number of points possible, so I’m not sure what the equivalent would be here. The instructions also state that you can send a self-addressed envelope for help, which is also confusing given the contest, but I suppose the idea is the winner would need to be fast enough they wouldn’t have time to do back-and-forth lag waiting for a hint.

In this adventure game your “Time Capsule” has run out of fuel and made an emergency landing on a Satellite. To complete the adventure you must find fuel and escape.

I don’t think the game has any direct references to Dr. Who, but appearing on a space station in a time capsule rather than a spaceship (and where there is no time travel within the story) suggest cultural osmosis. There at least is a plant creature. Maybe the author was remembering the green bubble wrap from The Ark in Space.

There isn’t any resemblance otherwise, especially in the use of KILL as a verb multiple times.

As implied by the screenshot above, this is Yet Another Game Without Room Exits Listed. I really should make a comprehensive list. The times Crowther/Woods Adventure indulged in such behavior it was in fairly “general travel” rooms without restrictions to directions:

You are in a valley in the forest beside a stream tumbling along a rocky bed.

Mad Scientist from 1980 was good enough to include a compass rose with directions and had room descriptions like:

A black cat walks sedately across your path.

I certainly see the appeal in not having to fit “you can go north and south” or some variation into every piece of prose, and I still mark some of the room descriptions in Beyond Zork (which had an automap so didn’t often bother with mentioning exits) as the best of all time:

The horizon is lost in the glare of morning upon the Great Sea. You shield your eyes to sweep the shore below, where a village lies nestled beside a quiet cove.

A stunted oak tree shades the inland road.

However, when there’s no guide at all, the actual gameplay implication is to force the player to test every. single. exit. in every. single room. We’re not talking something simple and intuitive, either:

On the positive side (unlike Goblins, the worst offender of this type of gameplay) there’s no NE/NW/SE/SW to worry about, just compass directions. Once I finally had things worked out, the structure comes off as kind of interesting. There’s a central area including the Time Capsule, a Radioactive Waste area which will eventually kill the player (there’s radiation pills that can help, but there’s a better way to just sidestep the issue), a dark area with a spacesuit, an engineering area with two methods of entrance (one descending by rope, one by a one-way door that can be rigged to be two-way) and a “main control” area with a teleporter and an airlock.

This scene is entirely unnecessary for beating the game.

A lot of the battle in solving this game was just against the parser. For example, the starting torch (this is a Britgame so that’s “flashlight”) doesn’t allow USE TORCH, PUSH TORCH, ACTIVATE TORCH, LIGHT TORCH, or nearly anything else you might think of. It is only my past experience with wonky parsers which led me to try


which, well, grumble grumble. Also, this follows the same nebulous standard other games derived from the 1980 Ken Reed code with I CAN’T for anything that doesn’t work with no other feedback. (I’m not clear if the code is genuinely from that article — it wouldn’t surprise me, but it would need to be adapted for the Acorn Atom — or if it’s just following a standardization of method.)

Back to the game: having a lit torch allows getting a space suit which is sufficient protection against radiation. All that’s in the radiation area is a mutant rat and an empty can, so the entire narrative purpose of braving high radiation (there’s even an optional Geiger counter where you can hear the clicks) is to get a can you can fill stuff in. Would it kill these adventure game protagonists to bring at least one rope and one container on their travels? Maybe their own light source?

Oh, and the mutant rat stops you from taking the can. I had to look up how to get by. There’s an ambiguous “silver canister” elsewhere that says YOU CAN’T if you try to do anything useful, and if you try to THROW CANISTER it does the same, but if you try to KILL RAT while holding the canister the protagonist throws the canister.

This puzzle was far harder than it needed to be. Indirect object use (that is, where neither verb nor noun of the command directly target the essential item used) can work in some contexts, but because the parser is so nebulous otherwise it just served to send me off entirely the wrong track.

The can lets you scoop up some mysterious green liquid back in the dark area and kill the green bubble wrap plant creature. This opens up an “airlock” with a roll of tape.

I was mystified by the tape and had to look it up again — remember I mentioned there’s a one-way door that can be turned into a two-way door? Here it is:


The tape is sufficient to confuse the “eye” of the beam and have it keep the door open permanently. Now that I’m visualizing what’s going (just detecting if a beam gets interrupted) it’s a good puzzle! Just it could use a little more description in context.

The whole reason for the one-way door being fixed is to get into an area with a robot (that you can smash with a heavy weight, indirect action again) and scrounge some oil from a valve. Getting the oil requires that empty can the rat was guarding.

You could try going through this without fixing the door, but the oil will spill trying to climb up the other exit (the rope). Clever! This allows access to the area (and the robot puzzle) early, and reminded me of Burglar’s Adventure letting you break into a section without turning an alarm off first just to see what was coming up ahead.

A simplified meta-map. The dark area also has a door that uses a key to enter or it can be entered from above, but if you use the down/up entrance you can’t go back up while holding any items. The key for the locked door is out in the open so it’s not quite as strong a design finesse as the one-way door.

The oil lets you clear rust off a door, and some keys hidden in a desk let you get into a computer lab; putting in a disc next to the keys:

The code then serves to pop into a teleporter elsewhere over to a “fuel depot”. The fuel you can take back to the time capsule and win the game.

Decent setting, even given the minimalist descriptions, and interesting interconnectness. Pretty dodgy parser. It reminded me of the Aardvark games, in that way, which had clever enough structure to be called “inspired”; it didn’t quite have as bad a parser, but saying YOU CAN’T for absolutely every not-accepted action — even ones like THROW CANISTER which the player is clearly allowed to do — was a serious drag.

If the descriptions and parser problems were cleared up a bit this would be quite a playable game but also not terribly hard, which somewhat removes the point of having a contest that only a few out of several hundreds manage to do correctly.

This makes me somewhat afraid for the follow-up, Zodiac, the game the random number generator told me to play, which I will be attempting next. If nothing else, it helps that I now know the company’s style with indirect objects (that is, I should feel free to try KILL ENEMY while holding objects I think may be useful, rather than trying to apply the object directly).

(I do also still have some unfinished business in 1981 and prior years, and I will be getting to those — just I wanted to get 1982 going. It feels psychologically liberating.)

Posted December 28, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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All The Adventures Up to 1981 in Review   12 comments

Here are the plot types of all the adventure games I’ve been able to play up to 1981 (which would be “nearly all” of them except for a couple stragglers):

Made with RAWGraphs. This is all 218 entries from my mainline All the Adventures list categorized “straight”. I didn’t remove or change anything (like Alkemstone which is only adventure-game-adjacent).

Note that some of the categorizations are approximate and impressionistic; for instance, I called Cyborg which I just played an Investigation since that came off as the main plot thread, even though it is also technically a Rescue as well. However, it isn’t vague hand-waving either, as I did genuinely play and write about all the games listed.

The main intent is to show the evolution of the Treasure Hunt category, games following in the footsteps of Crowther/Woods Adventure where X treasures must be located and placed in a central location. It can certainly feel like Oh No Yet Another One whilst playing through, and the graph gives a little perspective: there are lots more Treasure Hunts in absolute number terms, but as percent of all adventure games, the number is decreasing.

Also — and I didn’t notice this until I made the chart — the Escape-style plot has been slowly increasing to now be about equal in proportion to that of Treasure Hunts. They tend to be very simple (Deathmaze 5000 just says “Your only goal is to leave Deathmaze. Alive.”) so I’m not surprised, and the only thing I would have perhaps expected to be bigger is the Nemesis category, since “find Foozle X and defeat them” also has a certain simplicity to it, although it perhaps is a bit genre-restricting.

I contemplating splitting the categories since the five I chose don’t represent every plot, but they do still grab a good sense of what was going on in adventure games in this time and further splits would just make the data hazier.

My last update I updated my list of “curious firsts”:

– First use of relative direction: Mystery Mansion
– First use of landmark navigation with no compass: Empire of the Over-Mind
– First defined player character: Aldebaran III
– First use of choice-based interaction in a parser game: Stuga
– First dynamic compass interface: Spelunker
– First dynamic puzzle generation: Mines
– First free-text conversation in an adventure context: Local Call for Death
– First adventure game comedy: Mystery Fun House
– First adventure to use graphics in every room: Atlantean Odyssey by Teri Li
– First Tolkein adventure conversion: Ringen by Hansen, Pål-Kristian Engstad, and Per Arne Engstad
– First Lovecraft game of any type: Kadath by Gary Musgrave
– First graphic adventure with some action solely in the graphics: Mystery House by Roberta Williams
– First adventure written specifically for children: Nellan is Thirsty by Furman H. Smith
– First “stateless” CYOA game written for computer: Mount St. Helens by Victor Albino
– First 3D graphic adventure: Deathmaze 5000 by Frank Corr, Jr.

One of them from last time is now uncertain due to a newly found 1980 game!

– First adventure game that involves traveling back through time:

Odyssey #3, Journey Through Time by Joel Mick and James Taranto


Galactic Hitchhiker by A. Knight

Technically, every game has some kind of first (as long you are descriptive and specific enough in what the game is first of) so I could make the list much longer with 1981 games, but I only have two I think are worth noting:

– First adventure game with outside third-person character movement: Castles of Darkness by Michael Cashen
– First adventure game with conversation menus and an action mini-game: Cyborg by Michael Berlyn

That’s not to say there wasn’t innovation, but games are starting to build off other games enough it is hard to be clear-cut as to the “first” moniker. For example, Hezarin had a fair number of “set pieces” where action and puzzle solving went over multiple turns in a way that seemed unlike other games, but even technically Crowther/Woods Adventure could be said to have such things (if you’re running away from dwarves, say). The apex of the Treasure Hunt concept (by 1981, at least) is arguably Zork II with the demon and its wish but that’s an innovation of progression more than being “first” (saying “first freeform wish being made to a character in the world” is starting to get far too specific). Sometimes the solid development of an idea is much more interesting and important than its initial iteration (just compare, say, Street Fighter 1 to Street Fighter 2).

At least I get an excuse to show one more piece from the Zork User Group map. Via Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

I also made some lists when I stopped at the 1980/1981 boundary, and it is with some regret that I am not adding to #1:

1. Games everyone should play

Crowther and Woods Adventure, 350 points (1977)
Zork I by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Dave Lebling and Bruce Daniels (1980)

I’ll be honest here, there’s lots of funny quirks you have to cope with for games of this era. On the other hand, I’ll fully endorse so more games for list #2:

2. For adventure enthusiasts

Crowther and Woods Adventure, 350 points (1977)
Voodoo Castle by Alexis Adams (1979)
Local Call For Death by Robert Lafore (1979)
Kadath by Gary Musgrave (1979)
Empire of the Over-Mind by Gary Bedrosian (1979)
Zork I by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Dave Lebling and Bruce Daniels (1980)
Wizard and the Princess by Ken and Roberta Williams (1980)
Gargoyle Castle by Kit Domenico (1980)
Deathmaze 5000 by Frank Corr, Jr. (1980)
Will ‘O the Wisp by Mark Capella (1980)

Adding, in no particular order:

Zork II by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling

The continuation: the wizard is not as good as the thief from Zork I, but his undoing is extremely satisfying.

Cyborg by Michael Berlyn

My main problems were technical, and mostly resolved if you play the PC or Macintosh version. A fascinating merge of theme and medium.

Palace in Thunderland by Dale Johnson and Ken Rose

I honestly thought I’d see more tightly-wound, clever, murderously hard puzzle-fests in miniature by now, but at least there’s this one.

Frankenstein Adventure by John R. Olsen Jr.

This manages to make its puzzles, plot, and action fit together seamlessly, and there’s one scene I still find unnerving.

The Black Sanctum by Ron Krebs, Stephen O’Dea, and Bob Withers

This felt like like a dynamic world with encroaching snow and sinister monks, where the plot moved ahead of its own accord.

3. Things I personally enjoyed quite a bit that didn’t make the above list

Trek Adventure by Bob Retelle (1980)
Crystal Cave by Anonymous and Kevin O’Gorman (1980)
Dracula Avontuur by Ronald van Woensel (1980)
House of Thirty Gables by Bill Miller (1980)
Odyssey #3, Journey Through Time by Joel Mick and James Taranto (1980)

The two new additions here are mainly because of difficulty. And yes, I really did end up enjoying them both, even if they were self-flagellation to play:

Hezarin by Steve Tinney, Alex Shipp and Jon Thackray
Madness and the Minotaur by Tom Rosenbaum

4. Some bonus games for historians

Also known as games I had trouble fully enjoying, but I recognize still did fascinating things.

The Count by Scott Adams (1979)
The Prisoner by David Mullich (1980)

To which I add:

The Institute by Jyym Pearson, Robyn Pearson, Norm Sailer, and Rick Incrocci
Galactic Hitchhiker by A. Knight

As I always disclaim with these kind of lists, I always feel bad the moment I make them, as there are still worthy contenders left out, and I still feel a fondness for the bad games and the evil games and the games with erratic spelling (even that game from a high school sophomore, and if the author ever shows up in person, I’m sorry).

So, what’s ahead for 1982? Well, a whole bucketful of games. CASA Solution Archive lists 233 games, and I already know of some missing. (I also know of some I wouldn’t count as adventures, or I’ve already played under a different year, but the overall balance has always been to increase slightly.) I am tentatively planning a change of format for some of the less notable games where I combine entries; if I don’t have as much to say about Treasure Hunt #452 I will try to condense things down. I’m still not sure how well this will go, but we’ll see?

You have some things to look forward to, though:

– The finale of the Zork trilogy
– Andrew Plotkin’s first game (!)
– Three new Acornsoft games
– The first adventure games in Japanese (at least 4 of them)
– The start of Level 9 (which we should have seen in 1981 but their game Fantasy is still lost, sadness)
– Giant mice that smash Chicago
– An adaptation of a game seen within a BBC game show

and lots more besides!

Posted December 20, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Cyborg: The Human Race Will Continue   1 comment

A winner is me. Or perhaps, us. Or the whole human race, now living in harmony with hyperintelligent lizards. As usual, this won’t make much sense without having read my prior posts on Cyborg first.

A portion of the cover of the Macintosh version of the game. From Mobygames.

I was definitely close. I was still underusing the “SMASH” verb.

The cleaner robot that I had destroyed wasn’t just an obstacle — it held something very, very, useful:

The set included some “tools” and a “permanent power cell” which meant the “CYBORG LEVEL” that had been constantly depleting was no longer a concern. The “tools” went back to the locker I had been unable to open and get some SOLDER.

I toted everything I had gathered up to the broken dial (for the record, the important items are a CPU, wires, solder, a power crystal, the tools, and the repair manual) and after some major fiddling (the tools and manual should be held, the other items should not be held) I managed to FIX DIAL.

After this you can TURN DIAL to wake all the sleepers. Unfortunately, you can’t go visit them, because, as the game informs you, there is risk of contamination. With the ship repaired, it felt like all I had to do was go back to the main bridge and hit the switch, and, hmm: nothing happened. No feedback as to what went wrong, either.

I baffled about this for a bit. I did know I missed one thing — back in the crashed alien ship there was someone who was wanting to talk but I had some parser struggles until I realized this was a REPTILE this time rather than a LIZARD. I was able to ASK 1 through 4 again to make conversation and find I was talking to the captain of the crashed vessel:

(I incidentally found the bread back near where the locker was, but I was never able to give it over — a reptile kept stealing it and running off I tried to drop it for the captain. It ended up not being necessary, though.)

In addition to the reassuring friendship the captain explained that any dangerous alien animals needed to be done away with before the landing procedure would work. It mentioned a “snake” which I had run into at the very start of the game — I just had happened to skip killing it in my current run because it didn’t seem useful to do so. So that was easy to mop up, but the captain also mentioned a “smada”. I thought the smada was the robot somehow but no: it’s a different creature. I had to look up where to find it: back at a “grill” (where the barbeque joke was made) you can SMASH it.

With the two enemies smashed, I was able to throw the final switch in the center of the bridge.

In terms of technical handling, the game is pretty sloppy; it seems like what Michael Berlyn needed was to join forces with a company with a better parser and play-testers and a faster system that could handle his ambitious ideas; unlike most times where I have lamented this about a particular author, he got to follow through with this by joining up with Infocom soon after.

But focused on just the ideas: he had a plot that unveiled slowly based on conversation with characters (in menus!) with some insights being optional, but everything needing to fit together in the end to complete the game. (That is, you needed to resolve all the ship issues before landing, and it wasn’t clear what those issues were without grasping the plot.)

The parser-frame is integrated with the game concept itself as it uses “we” perspective in a sincere way. Even past a game design sense, in a science-fictional sense the conceit is intriguing, and gives a perspective on what hell it might be to be cyborg-merged with imperfect technology.

The design had a strong semblance of structure (much stronger than Oo-topos, at least) where the geography itself was used as part of the plot and it was quite easily to “mentally package” the various locations and zip around the ship trying to resolve the obstacles near the end.

The overall meta-structure. Even though the start is “wide open” there’s some “gating” through sections before reaching the “starship” sections where the plot is revealed.

In short, I’m fairly happy this was the game to end my 1981 sequence so I could go out on a positive note.

“End” in quote marks because I’m always discovering new games or just finding out their dates are wrong, and I even know of a few already that are going to probably land there; I’m using my discretion of keeping my fixed list from a few months ago so I don’t go batty worrying about missing work. Up next comes my 1981 summary, and then a few pieces of unfinished business before moving gloriously on to 1982.

Posted December 19, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Cyborg: A Beautiful Planet, Definitely Not Earth   1 comment

After a couple stumbling blocks mainly having to do with the game not adequately conveying what was going on (and one admittedly good puzzle) I managed to break into a wide-open area and get quite a lot done. Fairly sure I’m close to the finale.

From an eBay auction.

Last time I left off I had acquired sneakers (with strings made into shoelaces), some matches, an “ultrafiche” with words too tiny to read, and a black plastic cube. I also had found a stepladder which was currently underneath a ramp but since I needed it to get up to the ramp I wasn’t able to pick it back up again.

I wasn’t sure what to tackle yet. I had a number of narrow slots I still couldn’t make work, and two points where I was scanned and rejected from entering. Just on a whim, I tried one of them, not expecting to make it through.

This was a new area. Still confused, I stepped back, took off the sneakers, and tried again — the sneakers were what let me enter! Very strange (although there’s something decently clever I was missing at the time).

The gymnasium I had entered was small, and in addition to the cabinet I was unable to interact with there was a trapdoor I found on the ceiling.

Given both KICK and HIT also did not work (“OW! THAT HURT!”), so you would normally assume brute force doesn’t work here, right? I found out (straight from a walkthrough) that SMASH is parsed as an entirely different verb. (I already ranted about a similar situation in Asylum so I’ll just link to there.) This led up to a room where a female lizard was hiding (of the same kind that started the game) but was “quaking with fear”. Some failed attempts and frustration led me to just check the walkthrough again while I had it open and find out that you can PET LIZARD.

I … what? I admit they are described as “tiny lizards” so I guess it makes some sense, but given they are sentient and talking, I would not have thought to treat them like cats. Going through this gives the same conversation choices as before:

The only other advice is to “stay away from Smada” who turns out to be a berserk cleaning robot.

I think this whole exchange is optional and is just for more plot color. After a bit more thrashing in frustration I found out back at the cabinet of steam that I could climb it. (I visualized it as something smaller — it says MASSIVE cabinet so I guess that’s my fault, been even exceedingly large cabinets I’ve come across in real life don’t seem to be the sorts of things you can climb.)

This led me to a mini-droid and some lenses. The lenses allowed seeing in the dark (no more concern about matches for a light source, although they get used for fire later) and the mini-droid becomes our protaganist’s buddy, nestling itself on a “shoulder harness” and making comments as you go through rooms. I’m reminded quite a bit of Floyd from Planetfall.

I was still left with some places I couldn’t get into. The mysterious black cube I had been carrying along I had tried to OPEN at one point and I should have known (since it didn’t give a generic failure message) I should think about it more carefully; the game said it didn’t have any obvious way of opening it. The trick is to CUT CUBE (with the laser) and then an id card falls out. The somewhat canny thing here is that I’m fairly sure we had been using it all along to get into the gymnasium, but since we’re just scanned, it didn’t matter we didn’t know it was in the cube! What the ID card does now allow is operating the various “narrow slots” I had been having to skip.

One in particular linked the top of the ramp to the area where I got the stepladder, so I was able to retrieve the stepladder. (Even if I didn’t know the stepladder was going to be needed again, the “structural solving” of having the mechanism to return made it essentially guaranteed the ladder was going to be necessary.)

I also then was able to get into the “detox” area mentioned in my previous screenshot, which break opens the game to a somewhat vast section.

A “zoomed out” view of the new areas.

You end up in a shaft that you can climb down to multiple levels. One level just has a dead end (not quite sure if it is meaningful or just a read herring). The second level links to a medical area, an airlock, and a bridge; the third level goes to some dorms, an engineering bay with “sleepers”, and a crashed alien ship in rubble. I gave away a little bit of the secrets just from that description, so let me just jump straight to the


which is near the bridge. I put the ultrafiche I had been toting around and the ID card in, and got what was more or less a complete explanation as to what happened.

So our semi-amnesiac protagonist has been — using their cyborg skills — captaining a space vessel. They were orbiting a planet when their vessel ran into an alien ship (the one with the lizards). Our objective (??) is to fix and land the ship.

I did say the bridge was nearby, so let’s visit there next, using the ladder toted from all the way across the map.


There’s lots of dials and viewscreens.

I assume the cleaning robot and hole in the ship need to be resolved before winning (I’ve done both, I’ll get to them in a moment). There’s also a dial that says something about waking the sleepers that is broken and is currently my nemesis (I’ll get that last).

To resolve the hole in the ship requires going to


I fortunately discovered this section after the bridge, otherwise I would be mightily confused. I’m still a bit confused.

Nearby the airlock.

After having our droid friend get a space suit for us, we can go to the airlock and push a button to go outside and play an action sequence. It isn’t the first one ever in an adventure game (that’d be Battlestar) but I believe it is the first in a game intended for home computers.

I get the feeling it isn’t meant to be hyper-action-y as much as “decipher what’s going on”, like The Prisoner. You’re given commands as shown in the screenshot. What took me a while to realize is that your display (when not on this overall map screen) is the entire screen filled with some color, either black (if you’re looking at space) white (if you’re looking at hull or purple (if you’re looking at what turns out to be the damaged spot).

This means what is actually moving in the game is the numbers on the bottom, since for the most part the screen stays the same color as you’re spacewalking along the outside of the ship. It feels a little bit like playing the old Lunar Lander game in that way. On the computer model I was emulating the numbers moved rather fast (even at “realistic speed”) so it took a couple tries before I hit placing the patch at the right moment (as the spacesuit passes by the “purple” spot). Still, the main problem was deciphering what all this meant, so I guess it sort of counts as a puzzle, in a meta way, more than a twitch-fingers sequence.

I was still quite glad to get the sequence over with. You’re then informed the ship has been safely patched and the image on the bridge changes. I don’t know what the consequence of not patching is (was there a hidden timer? will the ship get torn apart trying to land?)

With that done, I turned my attention to


The droid has a unique piece of chatter for each room.

This is where the killer robot, which I had been hearing long about (both lizards mention it) and I had seen on the bridge monitors. I was looking forward to some sort of tricky puzzle confrontation … and I was able to blast it immediately with my micro-laser. I have no idea what the big deal was, except for the fact I’m guessing I may have softlocked the game here (maybe bait the cleaning robot into following me somewhere that it ends up cleaning accidentally…?) The iguana just past was honestly a bit trickier.

It was playing with something but bored. Using cat-logic, you take the strings off the sneakers (you don’t need them any more, I hope) and hand them over as a toy, letting you take the item it was playing with a (a sleeper dial auto-repair manual). I like the puzzle finesse here in that the string does not feel like the sort of item that should be re-used, as it was combined with another object. This led to a GIVE ITEM TO NPC puzzle being actually clever.

The last bit of major progress I made was with


This is relatively straightforward: there’s some rubble you can’t pass and a crashed alien ship (the one mentioned in the microfiche message). Back in the medical area you can fill a beaker with liquid oxygen, then pour the oxygen, light a match, and BOOM.

The clever finesse is letting you play — and kill yourself — with the liquid oxygen earlier. There’s a “grill” where the droid asks about “barbeque?” so I took the oxygen over to the grill and (without setting the oxygen down first) tried LIGHT MATCH to reach an ignominious death. But the death was helpful! This made it easy to realize I needed to make an explosion when it was needed.

Fortunately, the ship is unscathed, and I was able to pick up a small CPU.

Other than that, I’m fairly stuck — I’ve been collecting items that feel like they fix something (some wire in the open, a “power crystal”, the manual the iguana had) but I don’t have an obvious hole or outlet to put things in. READ MANUAL just says I can’t. Trying to FIX DIAL back on the bridge while holding the items says I can’t. (Am I missing items, or am I doing the procedure wrong?)

There’s also a locker I haven’t been able to open and a “cylinder” in the medical area with a lever that doesn’t work (it is supposed to heal people who are inside). I suspect I’m semi-stuck on just parser issues, but there’s likely a few tricky puzzles to sew things up. The end of 1981 approaches!

Posted December 14, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Cyborg: Food for the Truth   2 comments

Only incremental progress since last time (and I have been taking whacks at the game at odd hours all week) but part of it had to do with what may or may not be bugs.

From Schuette’s Book of Adventure Games.

The very first room had a lizard asking for “food for the truth”. I didn’t spend an overly long time agonizing here — I figured food would surface eventually — but Voltgloss mentioned there was a puzzle that didn’t work at all on the Apple version of the game, and when I investigated further I found out it was this one. Specifically, there’s a location that mentions “insects” in the description where you can GET INSECTS, but it does not work in the Apple version of the game. Here’s a screenshot from the C64 version:

Unfortunately, this means I have to start thinking about objects I might be able to take mentioned as the general part of a room description, rather than separated into their own lines. Ugh.

You can then talk to the lizard (“ASK LIZARD”) and get some information which mostly seems to be for plot flair, but it was still worth going through the effort:

The lizard also confirms the forest is “purely an illusion” and mentions it arrived where it did “through a terrible catastrophe” and that “zoological specimens” have escaped their cages and “the robot is worst of all”.

Switching back to the Apple version (because I’m stubborn, and also I haven’t found a good C64 emulator that handles “turbo mode” well without also making keyboard presses too fast and Cyborg runs incredibly slow) I still was quite stuck. I had noticed that I could WEAR the micro-laser in order to shoot it and the shoulder harness could be worn as well, and with the laser I could shoot at the hostile snake and “cut” the string I found tied in the forest into smaller pieces of string, but I was otherwise combing over every location making sure I hadn’t missed anything.

I decided to try HELP because it felt like it was meant as an in-game resource and not an external “giving up” — this lets you “talk” with the computer you are merged with to get advice. Most places were not terribly helpful, and some hints I knew already, like a spot in the northeast had a tree that was climbable (but I kept slipping when trying to climb it). Oddly, one hint seemed to be misplaced.


This happened to the location just north of where I think it should have been.

The path to the “little, shelved room” isn’t necessarily described, but I was blindly trying room exits at the time so I found it almost right away in my first session.

I maybe should have internalized this as a general pattern. There was another hint when climbing a ramp (the same one that has the insects) that there seems to be something below, but if you try to CLIMB DOWN you go splat and die. I tried tying the string into some sort of rope (it was described as strong, so maybe?) but otherwise had no luck so figured this was a puzzle for when I got an object later. But no: this was pretty much required as the next step in the game. But you don’t climb down where the hint is given, but rather one position off from it.

If this was the only place in the game where this happened, I might say the hint was just trying to be sneaky and force the player to think about another location to get down from the same place, but since the other hint location is clearly erroneous, I’m going to guess this one was an error too.

Past the glitch I found some sneakers, matches, a black plastic cube, a power-pack (this helps keep the “your health is reducing” timer at bay) and a stepladder (which helps you get back up to the ramp again).

I also found what was entirely a “flavor maze” when I tried to leave the clearing in an odd direction. The rooms seem to be there entirely just to get the player lost, but I still had to go through the effort of dropping items and testing every direction because I wasn’t sure there wasn’t going to be a hidden item.

I then used the pieces of string I had failed to turn into a rope to make the sneakers wearable, and was able to climb up the tree to find a “strange piece of fruit”.

On a hunch, I took the fruit back to the lizard and tried to give that (rather than insects) and found it worked! Maybe the insects were intended as an alternate solution?

Posted December 12, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Cyborg (1981)   5 comments

When NASA II told you that becoming a cyborg was a painless experience, you believed them, didn’t you? — and you volunteered. The operation was painless. Until you woke up.

Finishing off our tour of 1981 is Michael Berlyn’s Cyborg, his follow-up to Oo-Topos from earlier that year.

Cyborg is also the last adventure game from Berlyn’s own Sentient Software. In 1982 they’d publish two action games (Congo and Gold Rush) but never found much success and sales; Berlyn ended up at Infocom shortly after where he worked on Suspended, Infidel, and Cutthroats before making many more games for other companies (he was rather notably the inventor of Bubsy during the early 90s mascot craze).

From Mobygames.

Berlyn’s game-writing career started immediately after he had published three novels (I didn’t know about his horror novel Blight when I was writing about him last, it was under a pen name). His book #3, rather relevant to the game here, is The Integrated Man (“In a future where minds are enslaved by computer chips, one man seeks revenge.”) Oo-topos didn’t really fulfill the promise of someone taking the sensibilities of novel-writing directly to games — it’s a hunt-the-treasure game at its core with gobs of mazes — but Cyborg is much more promising right off the start as it plays directly with the ideas of the novel.

Half of your body was gone, sent to the organ bank for people who needed transplants. The other half was merged with a mechanical construct of incredible complexity and sophistication. That would have been barely tolerable if NASA II had left it at that, but they also implanted an electronic brain in your skull.

The game quite intentionally tries to have the interface — and the typical problems of being misunderstood by a parser — part of the world-universe itself.

All room descriptions are given with the pronoun “we”. The command “inventory” doesn’t work


and instead BODY SCAN will reveal the protagonist’s possessions. AREA SCAN or just SCAN is used to look at a room description, and MEDICAL SCAN gives the rather crucial CYBORG and BIO levels.

The gimmick of disabling what were then already-established commands like INVENTORY reminds me a little of Nick Montfort’s first game, Winchester’s Nightmare (1999), which disabled abbreviations for literary effect. It doesn’t feel as painful a removal in Cyborg simply because it does fit so smoothly into the narrative frame, even if BODY SCAN is longer to type than I.

The health levels start degrading as you move around so they represent this game’s equivalent of a “light timer” or “hunger timer”. I don’t know how tight the timers are; the game starts fairly open so I’ve not got a “mainline” save game I’m using yet anyway. You start in a 5 by 5 area that is “outdoors” but clearly not outdoors.

For the “clearly not outdoors” part, some room descriptions may help:




I’m guessing where in an artificial spaceship environment of some sort? Despite the NASA II text I quoted earlier (which goes on and on a bit more) the game is vague on details on how we got where we are other than there was some sort of enigmatic malfunction. Quasi-amnesia, I suppose, which works well for a game, since it means the act of exploring is part of the plot. The vivid text helps too:


(“From horizon to horizon” is both lovely and strange, and short phrases after — “the air is still”, “the sky cloudless”, “the forest silent” — are arranged almost poetically.)

So, good first impressions so far! What I can’t do yet is report if gameplay has improved over Oo-Topos, because I have yet to solve a puzzle. I managed to gather a MICRO-LASER, a SHOULDER HARNESS, and a MICROFICHE (with text too tiny to read) but have only so far been able to apply the laser to shoot at a snake who randomly appears and who I’m not sure I’m even supposed to be shooting:

In the forest area, in addition to the hungry lizard from the opening room, I’ve mainly worried about a tangled string attached to some trees I haven’t been able to pick up (that I’m sure is supposed to be used for some puzzle or another). The main sticking points are through the “dimensional doors” or whatnot with more spaceship-feeling areas. There’s a dark area (and no light source), two places that seem to do some sort of identity scan (and me with no card), a vending machine (and me with nothing to put in the slot). I’m still early in the game so I don’t know if these obstacles will be easy or hard, but at least the world feels vibrant enough that exploring isn’t a chore even if I’m not making real progress yet.

Posted December 5, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Softporn Adventure (1981)   15 comments

As you might guess from the title, viewer discretion advised, may not be safe in some environments, etc.

From a 1981 On-Line catalog. Time Zone didn’t even make it by Christmas and had to be pushed to 1982.

One thing I had no concept of before embarking on the All the Adventures project was how much sexuality was included in early text adventures.

Castle (early version 1974, existing version 1978) had multiple endings where you got to choose between going to Nirvana with a prince, a princess, or both at the same time.

You’re in Nirvana with the handsome prince, no longer a frog, AND the beautiful damsel, no longer in distress, who are tied for the title of world’s best lay!

I suspect this element came from the 1974 version, just because of the sheer rarity of a plot choice causing multiple endings, by which I mean it seems to have been conceived independently of the general tide of adventure games. Other than the Interactive Fiction series (again not following traditional adventure schemes at all), the next game I can think of which had a plot choice affect the ending (as opposed to ending being affected by not getting a full point score) is the December 1981 Softside game Black Hole Adventure.

When you exclude the Adventure variants and the Cambridge games, nearly all the mainframe games (like Aldebaran III, Mystery Mansion, Library, Battlestar, Haunt, and Lugi) had some sort of element that was at least raunchy if not outright sexual; after a (required-to-win-the-game) scene in Haunt, you get a football for having “scored a touchdown”.

With commercial games, the elements were much rarer; Odyssey #2 had an “easter egg”, and City Adventure was more up-front about the game’s objective but it gave itself a PG rating in print advertising and it cuts off before anything happens (and requires taking a TRS-80 to bed). The apparent prudishness of the genre had more to do with commercial prospects than inherent technical matters.

The commercializing issues were felt by the author of Softporn Adventure, Chuck Benton, who had originally written the game to teach himself programming on the Apple II in order to entertain himself and his friends. He decided to polish it up for the marketplace but computer magazines would not take his ads. (This is curious given there were ads for Interludes, a program meant to suggest activities for couples, but maybe the “adventure” aspect made the product feel sleazier?) However, Chuck Benton had the good fortune to meet Ken Williams at AppleFest who bought some copies, and later contacted Benton wanting to be his publisher.

From the original manual.

On-Line’s reach with retail was sufficient to get the game into stores, which apparently was bought with other On-Line products in a sandwich, like a surreptitiously inserted issue of Hustler. As Benton later described, it seemed that nearly anyone with an Apple had seen it.

A year later — after he had moved on from the game industry, Ken Williams called and indicated interest in a graphical game, offering royalties. As Benton needed money at that moment he turned down 1% royalties for a flat $5000 payment, and he says he would be “sailing the Caribbean right now” had he taken the royalties, as the new series became Leisure Suit Larry. He had, as of this 2006 interview which I’m pulling my information from, played and enjoyed the first Leisure Suit Larry (essentially a remake) but hadn’t tried any of the others. He did not mention what he thought of the Japanese PC-88 (and FM-7 and PC-98 and Sharp X1) conversion Las Vegas, which keeps it as a regular text adventure with graphics, and is the Hi-Res Adventure that Sierra On-Line never made.

This really is a direct conversion which has the same map and commands.

I had heard of this game for a while — at least 20 years — and had never gotten around to trying it. Oddly, I hadn’t heard any gameplay discussion (Jimmy Maher did a piece, but I saved reading it for after I finished), just the usual oversized history points.

So I had some half-formed expectations in my mind. The game did not meet them.

The three locations are a BAR, CASINO, and DISCO, and the game requires hopping back and forth between them in a taxi.

First off, I have to be clear: you are most definitely not playing “you”. The author’s first game was Scott Adams, and that shows here not only in the general format as shown above (with the minimalist top part, and much more verbose bottom part with joking descriptions and the like, given the Apple II gives a lot more room than a TRS-80); it shows in the idea through out all the games that “I am your puppet” — the “I” being the avatar inside the world as controlled by the player. Sometimes the Scott Adams avatar has a little bit of characterization (like Savage Island) but not so much as here:


I had (incorrectly) figured the game would have put effort in making the avatar feel like a player-insert, but the game goes out of its way to do the opposite. So even though it isn’t involving a 3rd person (like Leisure Suit Larry) it means even if you personally aren’t keen on the game’s overall objective — having sex with three women in one night — there’s at least some distance going on where it is clear the game considers the main character a pervert and leverages that for humor.

There’s also a bit more twistiness to the plot than I expected. The three small areas (bar, disco, and casino) have one woman at each that need to be taken care of in that order. However, what ends up happening with woman #2 is not what our hero would have hoped for, and the person you might expect to be woman #3 turns out to be someone different entirely. This isn’t like a dating simulator; sometimes when the main character gets to an objective, he still doesn’t get what he wants. (Also — and given this is the era of Revenge of the Nerds this has to be marked as a bonus — despite our protagonist’s obsession with women as objects, every encounter is consensual.)

The bar, where you start, has a button which asks for a password. Nearby there’s a bathroom and what might be the first death by toilet in adventure games.

There’s a wedding ring in the basin (useful later) and the graffiti includes the secret word BELLYBUTTON. This lets you go back to a room with a “big man” who wants $1000 to visit a “funky hooker” upstairs.

You don’t start with $1000, but it isn’t too hard to travel to the casino and win the money. There’s a slot machine where the odds are bent to eventually gain you money, so on an emulator it is possible to just keep saying to play again and eventually rack up a large amount of cash.

The other option is to play blackjack, although the easiest way there to make money is to save the game, bet everything, and restore if the hand is a bust.

With the money in hand you can also purchase a “rubber” which is necessary to “score” with the “funky hooker”.


This gives you access to some “candy” in the room which goes the next woman, who is in a disco. (The one our protagonist apparently “dreams” about).

In addition to the candy you need to gather some flowers and the wedding ring I mentioned earlier; she’ll then tell you to meet her at a wedding chapel, which feels like it is missing some steps, especially since when you go to the wedding chapel (at the casino) and MARRY GIRL our protagonist asks “what am I doing?”

You can then meet the woman at the wedding suite, score a second point, but find in the process she ties you to the bed and runs off. I had a knife with me when this scene happened so was able to CUT ROPE; I’m guessing it’s game over if you don’t. (This is what I mean about the protagonist not exactly getting what they want — not only did they question getting married, they didn’t exactly have a great experience with #2.)

Interlude: at one point in all this you need to flip through a TV to distract the pimp and get back upstairs, because the rope that the protagonist was tied up with can be used to reach a new area with some pills.

For the last woman, it might be — based on the expectations of our puppet — a “blonde” in the casino with the “tightest jeans” who is a “36-24-35” and a “smile that dazzles me.” She’ll take the pills I just mentioned in the interlude above, but then will run off to her boyfriend and she’s completely out of the game. (Imagine if a modern dating simulator did this!)

This fortunately opens a new area, where the protagonist finds “Eve”.

There’s an apple you can get through other shenanigans (I won’t go through every detail) but it leads to completing the game.

You need to plant some “seeds” in this location and water them.

Some of the humor is on the Porky’s level, and a few scenes are just strange, like the bit where if you take wine with you in the taxi your taxi driver will grab the bottle and chug it and there’s an extended scene which ends with the protagonist getting run over and the game jumping straight to the Apple II prompt (there’s not even a one-in-three chance of revival like the screen I showed earlier). I will say the author neatly evaded some pain points as mazes and light sources from this era. The parser is still not perfect (I had to struggle at times, including coming up with USE to apply the rope) and there’s nothing in the prose that raises above what is essentially a prank game originally written for friends, but I can at least understand how the startlingly high sales were more than just a fluke.

If nothing else, out of all 1981 games, it perhaps has the longest legacy of all. Even Zork is moribund as intellectual property, but there still keep appearing new Leisure Suit Larry games, including one from last year.

Posted December 3, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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