Windsloe Mansion Adventure (1982)   7 comments

1981 saw 7 games published by Softside for the Adventure of the Month Club (June, July, August, September, October, November, December), a series curated by Peter Kirsch. The series was for TRS-80, Atari, and Apple II; it seems whatever game was used (contributed by readers of Softside, or written by Kirsch himself) was then ported to the other platforms by Kirsch.

With Windsloe House Adventure all 3 ports are available, but it’s fairly certain the TRS-80 is the original. The first line of TRS-80 source code gives the author as David Steenson, another in the long line of authors who tried their hand at one and only one adventure game.

The author’s name is scrubbed out of both the Atari and Apple ports (“(C) 1982 SOFTSIDE PUBLICATIONS”), but I’m still going to stick with the Atari version due to an unusual control decision with TRS-80: after a “special message” the game pauses and asks you to hit the “CLEAR” button as opposed to ENTER or RETURN.

TRS-80 Model 4P keyboard, via eBay. Notice the placement of CLEAR compared to ENTER.

My emulator mapping for CLEAR isn’t terrible (the HOME key) but it feels very alien to use (and it has to be done often). Both the Apple and Atari versions sensibly just ask you to hit ENTER/RETURN to get out of a paused screen.

From Softside, January 1982.

The text is a bit tiny, so let me help you out:

In the dungeon of Windsloe Mansion the world-famous Pumpkin Man is being held prisoner. An underground passage connects the mansion to the Blair house, whose owners have agreed to assist you in rescuing the prisoner. Will you succeed in overcoming both the human and the supernatural creatures who are rumored to inhabit Windsloe Mansion?

The premise feels kind of askew; we’re rescuing a Pumpkin Man from a haunted house? That’s sort of like rescuing a koopa from Bowser Castle. The bit about the Blair is an odd toss in, but essentially where in a town with two houses (Windsloe and Blair) and the front door of the Windsloe’s is locked, but there’s a (not-hidden) passage in the Blair’s house that connects.

The map below shows the layout. White is the starting town, yellow is the Blair house, red is the main part of the Windsloe house, purple is the secret underground portion.

The interface is one we haven’t quite seen before.

To the top is the room description, to the left an oversized place to list objects (they’re listed just going down, not left-to-right, so it needs a bit of room). Any results of actions display below WHAT DO I DO?

The “directions” can be thought of as a light board; if NORTH isn’t possible that word is turned off but everything else stays in position, so it isn’t exactly a “list”. Below it is where names of monsters flash, and below that, the PRESS RETURN prompt which flashes whenever the game is waiting for you to finish reading a message (which on TRS-80, remember, is CLEAR). I’ve demonstrated this with the animation below:

Other than BLINK tags no longer being used for good reason, the method of enemy display is a serious problem, due to the lack of persistence. If for some reason you miss the name, or want to step away from the computer and step back, there’s no way to tell what you’re facing, and while some of the enemies are “neutral” and just there to give out points if you eliminate them, some of them kill on the very next move unless you do the right action. (Also, this is entirely not the original author’s fault, but if you have the emulator speed cranked to maximum, like I did first testing the Apple II version of the game, you can have an enemy name blink without even seeing it. I died from a werewolf without any understanding of what was going on.)

There’s a touch of surrealism to the opening rooms. You start on a sidewalk and go south and suddenly find yourself AT A CHINESE RESTAURANT where you see a FORTUNE COOKIE. Somehow, simultaneously, you are walking outside the buildings, and are simultaneously inside them. This is a fair shorthand but I was a little baffled at first, since it seemed like I was swapping through parallel universes as opposed to traversing a map (and it clearly wasn’t meant to be like Invisible Parties where each room really is a universe).

Some of the locations you can just grab their items (FORTUNE COOKIE, GHOST NEUTRALIZER, HALLOWEEN APPLE, VIAL OF POISON, WOODEN STAKE) but two of them you have to BUY (you start the game carrying MONEY) and the first time I found this out the shopkeeper killed me for stealing. Sometimes vague-metaphorical representations of locations can be a little too vague.

With the money you can get a .45 AUTOMATIC and a CAN OF DOGFOOD, both which are deadly in the right circumstances.

The fortune cookie can give fair warning to the above, but you have to figure out how to open it, and that’s easier said than done. EAT and BREAK don’t work; I finally came across SMASH, which is not the typical behavior I think of with fortune cookies. This gives a common theme across the game of there being an enormous amount of parser struggle. The GHOST that came up in the animation earlier — you might think it a small matter to apply the GHOST NEUTRALIZER. I tried all sorts of things like PUSH and SWING and ACTIVATE and the like, but no, the right command is NEUTRALIZE GHOST.

Here’s another example that ought to be easy to handle. You have a MALLET and a STAKE, surely the vampire should be easy to kill? After much struggle I came across HAMMER STAKE. Note how with the ghost you are making the direct object the enemy you are defeating (GHOST) whereas here you are directing your action onto an item you are holding, where the verb implies the other item. This wouldn’t be so bad except sometimes it isn’t obvious what defeats an enemy. There’s a giant wasp, would the first thing you think of be to SWING SWORD?

As the above is starting to hint at, the overall goal, other than rescuing the Pumpkin Man, are to eliminate as many enemies as possible. The enemies are essentially all worth points, but only one of them (which I’ll get into) is necessary to kill.

I never did kill the werewolf. The game was unclear about this but you need to fashion some bullets. It is also possible to just get by using SWING SWORD, where the game says “NOTHING HAPPENS.” I think it is an actual bug but I choose to believe you scared the monster off.

It took a long time to realize all the above, getting mostly lost in the nebulous parser, so I did my usual tactic of testing words to make a standardized verb list and come up with:

CUT, READ, OPEN, EAT, RUB, THROW, SHAKE, POUR, SMASH, FEED, PUT, MOVE, MIX, BURN, INSERT, SHOOT, BUY, GO, SWING, GIVE, POINT.

Once I finally had everything figured out, my actual game narrative was:

Step 1) Grab or buy all the various items around town; to recap, that’s a wooden stake, a ghost neutralizer, a .45 automatic,
some dog food, a vial of poison, a halloween apple, and a a fortune cookie which contains a warning about the apple. Also, I got an “audiotek” from Windsloe’s Porch which apparently was used for cracking safes.

Step 2) Wander the Blair House checking for things. There’s incidentally a Party Room filled with people but none of them can be talked to or interacted with (not even a “hey, good luck thwomping the ghosts!” Next to the party was a bedroom with a safe, that I could crack with the audiotek (PUT AUDIOTEK -> “on what?” -> SAFE) and find an amulet which never seemed to do anything at all. I also found poison darts, a cue ball, a pool cue (which turned out to be a blowgun for the darts), a crowbar, a steel sword, and a NOTE that says GIVE TO DAVE.

Certainly seems important, but no idea if this has a secret effect or if the author ran out of time.

Not everything can be carried at once so I made small piles in the Windsloe house to grab from when I wanted to test something out.

Step 3) Get mostly lost and confused in the Windsloe house. A bathroom had a head with a sign saying “SHAVE ME” but even with a razor in hand it didn’t understand my attempts to SHAVE HEAD (more on that later). I did finally work out how to NEUTRALIZE GHOST and destroyed two floating around for points — they didn’t actually present a threat. This is where I realized I could get by the werewolf by swinging a sword and find the witch lair with an “incubator” (??) and Witch Windsloe.

Step 4) Hunt around for a secret using the MOVE verb from my list and finding I could move a bed to spot a trap door.

Step 5) Get killed by a moss creature that pulls me in the trap door.

Step 6) Restore my game, then check for more items laying around, and settling on the bottle of acid in the kitchen on the moss creature.

THE BOTTLE HITS AND DESTROYS THE MOSS CREATURE!

Step 7) Find and destroy a vampire (screenshot from earlier) and a threatening dog (POISON FOOD / FEED DOG, I told you the dog food was deadly).

I don’t think the toad is used for anything — this is another optional kill.

Step 8) Find a locked door in the dungeon and some rope. I was able to use the rope (THROW ROPE) to get back up the trap door, but I had nothing that would work on the locked door, so went wandering again.

Step 9) Experiment with a bunch of items before realizing I hadn’t used the note yet (I tried it on the crowd of the party, failed to get a reaction, and decided I was running into another verb communication problem). The one outside location that didn’t have an object was Dave’s Tobacco, and I feel rather silly not thinking about it. By giving the note to Dave I got a packet, and the packet had a key — the key needed to get through the dungeon door.

Why the Blair House would have a note that would convince Dave to hand over a key to a dungeon I don’t know, nor do I know why Dave would have the key in the first place.

Step 10) Break back into the downstairs area and use the key, finding the pumpkin man. He’s considered an “item” so you just pick him up and take him outside, and the game is over.

Despite some enemies left un-killed, I decided I was satisfied stopping there and went to check what Dave Dobson wrote. I found I had missed:

Thing 1) The cue ball is an alien egg. You can put the alien egg in the incubator at the witch to get an alien who then attacks. Then you can kill the alien with the poison darts.

THE DART PIERCES THE ALIEN’S HEART!

Thing 2) You can take the blade from the apple and unite it with the razor in order to shave the head. (Understandable in retrospect, but I didn’t realize the razor lacked a blade in the first place.)

THE HEAD SAYS THANK YOU AND A QUARTER POPS OUT OF HIS MOUTH

The quarter can then be used on a pinball table to get flint

TWO PIECES OF FLINT FALL FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE MACHINE!

and the flint can then be used to a light a stick, which can be used to burn the witch. (The last part isn’t random — there’s a book saying you can kill the witch with a flaming stick — but the other two parts sure are.)

Thing 3) The Blair’s front porch has some loose boards that can be pried out with the crowbar. I actually suspected this but had zero luck with the parser so gave up, but that’s because I didn’t try LIFT PORCH (!?!?!??)

SILVER INGOTS!!!

The ingots can then be melted in a crucible to make silver bullets, which then go in the .45 automatic gun, which then can finally kill the werewolf (rather than just scaring it off).

I don’t feel bad about spoiling any of those.

The overarching theme was a decent sense of humor vastly undercut by extreme communication difficulties. I had to play Windsloe like a meta-game rather than really getting into any sort of narrative or flow. I did appreciate the ability to skip almost everything, because it let me feel like I had least had some success before punting away the rest of the game.

(But, LIFT PORCH? Really, not using the boards as the noun? I’ll end with a screenshot from the TRS-80 version so you can see what I’m talking about.)

Posted March 6, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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7 responses to “Windsloe Mansion Adventure (1982)

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  1. One brief, too-esoteric-for-main-post comment. There was some debate on CASA Solution Archive if the name of the game should be Windsloe Mansion or Windsloe Mansion Adventure, with the “Adventure” on the end. I went with the way it was written on the author’s credit line in the TRS-80 source code.

    10 ‘WINDSLOE MANSION ADVENTURE BY DAVID STEENSON

    • I know that Garry, one of our users who has contributed a lot of the magazine references especially for the early games, always likes to go with whatever the author’s original title seems to have been.

      I must have a nose at the later “shareware” version of the game; apparently released by Steven C. Neighorn as The Haunted Mission Adventure according to our CASA entry. I wonder what the history of that is… I seem to spend a lot of my time these days, amalgamating entries in our database as so many of these early games were taken by other authors, adapted or just straightforwardly ported to other machines, and then released without any credit (or indeed payment!) to the original author or publisher.

      • This happened with Crime Adventure too. I don’t know if the three people involved all knew each other or if Neighborn decided that other Adventures of the Month were ripe for plucking. Still working that out.

        I did plan to discuss this more in the main blog but I wanted to collect some more info first (and then either it’ll be a followup here or on a different game, assuming the ripoff spree continued).

        btw, one of the 1981 games you pointed out that I added to my loop-back list is coming up next.

  2. Kids, don’t eat your Halloween candy without having your parents inspect it first because there are SICKOS out there who will put RAZOR BLADES in it and you will CUT YOUR MOUTH and GET A POISONED INFECTION and DIE, all from eating your candy early. So don’t do that.

    That sure is some title.

    LIFT PORCH? Really, not using the boards as the noun?

    Since you’re using a crowbar, I would have accepted PRY PORCH maybe, but LIFT?

    • LIFT wasn’t even on my standard-testing verb list (it is now!)

      LIFT PORCH sounds like you’re being the Hulk, just casually picking up the building.

    • What, you mean can’t deadlift a porch? How do you even live? Why, back when I was a kid me and the boys used to use our porches as a football. I bet I could still punt one of those babies 300 yards.
      Though in seriousness, I think you could probably lift a porch, if you were really strong and the porch wasn’t properly set into the ground. I’ve seen a few world’s strongest men competitions and they can do some pretty impressive feats. I think one dude semi-recently broke a record for carrying a log like a mile. If that’s possible, its not unreasonable for him to also lift up a (presumably) rotting porch. Though in that case, a game better have the good sense to tell you you’re playing a dude whose biceps are the size of some people’s torsos.

      Morpheus Kitami

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