The Hermit’s Secret (1982)   8 comments

The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society is one of the earliest “fan clubs” for science fiction, founded in 1934. Their clubzine, De Profundis, was first published in 1957.

Logo (and the dates above) from the Fancyclopedia.

One of the members, Dian Girard, is the author of our game today, and significantly, the author of five more games after: Phantom’s Revenge, Castle Elsinore, Monster Rally, Valley of the Kings, and one we don’t even have a name for. I say “significantly” because she seems to be the first woman who was also a “solo author” to have produced multiple adventures. The one-off Miser from the previous year was by Mary Jean Winter; Roberta Williams and Alexis Adams both worked as part of teams (although Alexis did get sole credit for Voodoo Castle) and the other women who have come up so far have been co-authors (like Christine Johnson with Mad Venture or half the team that made In Search Of… Dr. Livingston).

In other words, she was one of the multi-game auteurs at the time, one who, like Scott Adams, produced an article for outlining her methods. There’s a fair chance you haven’t heard of her — beyond the current modern obscurity of text adventures — because her work was originally published by a company not known for games, Norell.

Norell was one of the very early publishers focusing on DOS, and if they’re remembered for anything at all now it is their Pack & Crypt software, essentially the first widespread compression format. Unfortunately (for them) they charged for both compression and decompression utilities, whereas others made their decompression products free, so while it had been well-poised to become a format suitable for the BBS age and the ascent of IBM-compatible clones, they were essentially dead by 1986.

From PC Mag, Feb-Apr 1983.

But back to games: a summer 1982 catalog listed Original Adventure, and two of the Girard games were out by the end of the year.

The Adventure port is of note because Gillogly originally did one extremely early using the C language (1977 while at Rand, later it went in the BSD Unix compilation) and it looks like the Gillogly/Billofsky version is simply a port of that. It’s also of note because The Hermit’s Secret has a strong foot in Original Adventure to the extent it might borrow some code elements (it keeps variants of dwarves and the pirate, for instance, although heavily reskinned). There clearly was also some influence from Infocom, as you can see from just the screen layout:

The screenshot is from the re-published version by Temple Software. No Norell versions are available anywhere and that means the two games Temple never picked up (Monster Rally and Temple of the Kings) are currently lost altogether.

That’s the iconic static status line “moves” and “score” dropped in the corner, there. The parser also accepts some element of full-sentence parsing — you can FILL CAN WITH WATER, for instance — but not everything as it does not accept (for example) TAKE ALL.

As implied from the ad-copy earlier and the title screen, and especially by the derivation-from-Adventure feel, this is a treasure hunt, and as the INFO screen of the game informs us all the treasures go into a room with a sign marked LOAD. It took me a long time to find this room, because the game is quite large. Essentially, the main design decision here is to have, just like Adventure, long descriptions which can’t (generally) be referred to, and where the only items where interaction works are separated from the text. This allows a lot of text without much cost (unlike Infocom, which had to bother describing things with the EXAMINE command).

You are walking along beside a merrily bubbling stream. There is a high cliff north of you, and there is a small path to the southeast that winds down the side of the mountain.
N

You are standing at the bottom of a waterfall that cascades like a white veil down the sheer cliff face. A steep path goes northeast from here, and another path leads south.
NE

You are on a steep path that forks at this point. You can go north or east into the mountains, or to the southwest where a waterfall cascades down into an icy mountain pool.

On the three descriptions above, you can fill a container with water, which solves an early puzzle, but otherwise the rooms are there for trekking by and making a map.

The above is what I have so far, a great deal of which is outdoors; I’ve only solved an absolute minimum of puzzles. Much of my time was spent wandering and checking exits. For example, there’s a “mountain” area which doesn’t look so terrible once laid out, but was sufficiently maze-y with “loops” that I had to drop objects in each room and test every possible direction.

Also, one of the exits randomly goes between a choice of two rooms, which is guaranteed to give me a headache.

Here’s a metamap of the general layout:

The most confusing thing — and it took me genuinely an extra 15 minutes or so to reckon with it — is that going north far enough loops around; that is, you can start at the Meadow and take northward directions to eventually loop back to the Meadow without anything particularly mazelike on the way.

The three marked places (Airfield, Shack, Mountains) all have passages leading into darkness, and that’s where the underworld part of the game is. To get into any of them you need a light source first, which requires entering the shack by solving a minor puzzle with a thirsty dog.

You’re at the hermit’s shack.

There is a large dog, panting slightly, lying across the the doorway. He eyes you with interested anticipation. There is an empty water dish sitting next to the shack.

POUR WATER IN DISH
The dog laps up the water, wags his tail in a friendly manner, and then wanders off to lay down under a nearby tree.

Other than the lamp, there’s a megaton of other items, including treasures, all lying around in the aboveground.

gold ring, ruby necklace, crystal sphere (breaks when you drop it, like the vase in Adventure), emerald, jeweled airplane, valuable etching, keys, a rare stamp (found by using the keys to unlock a mailbox), green paper (“Gnome Industrial – One Unit Voucher”), card (which says “Gnome Industrial” and has a brown stripe)

Two hours in I finally made it to the underground — passing through the warehouse on my meta-map above — and found a bureaucratic complex.

You are in a small conference room. The walls are painted standard off-white, and the furniture all looks rented.
The only exits lead west and south.
S

This is a rather large conference room. The walls are paneled with golden oak and the furniture looks quite expensive. There’s even a built-in bar at one end. One exit goes north, and another leads west.

A yellowing old memo has been left on the floor.
GET MEMO

An old memorandum
Okay.
READ MEMO

“ALL LAB PERSONNEL –
Be certain that megarat cages are securely locked, and all lights are left ON at the close of your shift. In event of a megarat escape, close safety doors immediately and notify Plant Security. These animals are dangerous. Take no chances.”

(Megarats are the “grues” of the game and keep you from wandering around in the dark.)

This setup feels like it’s trying to do something akin to a Zork parody, but with some Adventure-style characters still tossed in. A “very short man in a brown business suit” tries to kill you with an axe, and you have later encounters with “assassins” who you need to kill with the axe. Unfortunately, your aim isn’t great, so it’s quite possible to miss and die without being able to do anything, but here’s what happens when things go well:

You killed a small dark-robed assassin! No sooner does he fall to the ground than six little men in dark suits run out and snatch up the corpse. A moment later a little black hearse labeled “Utter Gnome” roars by and vanishes into the darkness.

There’s also another gnome which scarfs treasures (both in your hand and off the floor) and spirits them away somewhere, just like the pirate/thief.

The very last thing I found in my play session — and it seemed a good stopping point to come here and communicate with y’all — is the room where treasures go.

A broad curving gray surface fills the room from top to bottom.
A slender ladder leads up the surface to some higher level.
U

You are in a cargo room. There is a large bin against one wall, and the word “LOAD” is stenciled on its side. Exits lead up and down along slender steel ladders.
U

You’re in the nosecone of a rocket. A fascinating array of dials, buttons, and switches are set into a control panel in front of a comfortably padded chair. A steel ladder goes down to the cargo room, and a smooth steel corridor leads east.

The treasures go in the “cargo room”. The positioning below the rocket makes me wonder if for the endgame, rather than random getting teleported to an endgame area, our objective will be to take off into space. Because riding into space toting a hold full of treasure would be… awesome? I guess we’ll see.

Posted May 1, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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8 responses to “The Hermit’s Secret (1982)

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  1. I spent a few very interesting days researching Dian Crayne’s work earlier this year; aka Jeraldine D. Crayne, Dian Pelz, Dian Girard, J.D. Crayne; including reading some of her fiction, her technical & adventure articles and having a go at some of the games.

    She was definitely a very interesting and impressive person who sadly died in 2017.

    I never did find out if she was responsible for (the slightly notorious) Granny’s Place, or perhaps if that was the work of her husband.

    • *Note: It’s Girard rather than Gerard, as originally used in your article.

      • I must have typed her name about 50 times in the last few days working on research and so forth. Gah. Thanks.

        I’ll likely bring up her fiction in a later post, I was wanting for something more substantial text-wise to come up in the game to see if there’s some comparison to be made (although this could be like Oo-topos which is more she’s feeling things out rather than referring back to her non-computer story writing).

      • The approach seems to be to take the essential elements of Adventure and put a different scenario on top. “More of the same” is presumably something that many adventure players at the time were perfectly happy with.

        There’s probably more to get your teeth into, from a narrative point of view, in her other 1982 game; The Phantom’s Revenge.

      • Still need to get in farther to be sure! Certainly Crystal Cave managed to be a literal mod of the source code almost right after Crowther/Woods yet add some major spicy narrative elements (the “fake” treasures and area at the beginning, the coke ad, the end game arena).

    • re: Granny’s Place, she _did_ say in the article she wrote six games, with one currently unaccounted for. Her sense of humor would allow for that.

  2. “Utter gnome” seems like a pun but I don’t get it. But it also seems like it could be a command?

    • SAY GNOME doesn’t seem to work anywhere I’ve tried. Maybe there was some semi-well-known company, at least maybe in LA, that it was referencing?

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