The Room (1982)   18 comments

Softdisk Magazette we’ve previously experienced with the Daniel Tobias games, the surprisingly clever Planet of the Robots and the unfortunately bland Smurk. They took a hiatus from adventure games after their January 1982 issue until one arose again in May, of a very unusual nature indeed. So unusual, it is (as of this writing) not entered into any games-listing archive. It took major effort to find a copy, as May 1982 is strangely missing from the places I checked; I almost gave up until encountering Softdisk Supreme, a CD with nearly all the Apple II content they ever published (except for some Penguin/Polarware games that had to be removed for copyright reasons).

Having said all that, The Room is Paul Raymer’s only game credit, and only minimally counts as a game. Yet: it somehow accidentally wanders into being the first escape room game (beating the next-earliest candidate by a year), and the first single-command game.

I think most readers are familiar with the former, but let me explain the latter, which is something of a rare breed which only makes sense to talk of with text adventures. The game Aisle by Sam Barlow (of later Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Her Story fame) is the most prominent example:

Late Thursday night. You’ve had a hard day and the last thing you need is this: shopping. Luckily, the place is pretty empty and you’re progressing rapidly.

The game presents a perfectly ordinary scene in a grocery store, but what’s unusual is then it lets you type nearly any command you might think of. Try to wave at the woman in the same aisle? Lie down and sleep? Rip open bags of pasta and eat them on the spot?

The pasta is a seething mass of off-white food. You tear at the plastic bags until the curls and tubes and twists and shells cascade onto the floor and into your hands. Scooping up a collection of different shapes you cram the pasta into your mouth. It is dry, it is hard. That’s what your body is saying. But you learnt something a while back–that your body (your eyes, your hands, your heart) isn’t always right. No, you’ve learnt to listen to your mind. And your minds says: soft, warm, slightly salty pasta. Tangy sauce. What a feast!

They spoil your fun, they take you away–or so your body says. Your mind knows better; you’re still in Rome eating pasta, drinking wine–everything is fine.

The game is essentially stateless: it simply generates a new story based on your command at that juncture, with no continuation. (The stories don’t even all have a consistent background setting — the main character has multiple possible backgrounds and it picks one depending on the act.)

While I enjoyed Aisle greatly, I’m an even bigger fan of the spoof version, Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle (link to play online here).

The Town Square
You are standing in the middle of a pretty town square in the center of a nondescript New England town. Like most any other nondescript New England town, there’s not much to see or do here, but maybe you’ll find something amusing and enjoyable to do.

A shiny metal phone booth sits in the center of the square.

Ah, yes, the gnocchi flowed freely that week in Venice! She looked at you pleadingly as she bled slowly on the checkered tablecloth, gasping, “My love, do you forgive me?” As you opened your mouth to answer her, a low plooping sound descended and all became black.

Several weeks of hell in total darkness followed, culminating with your joining a bell choir and learning from a young boy how to cook Italian food with moss.

Elegance, Silence, Violence! You wind up sitting alone in a shopping cart somewhere, a lonely old man.

So it is with The Room (1982).

You have one command, and only one, and then the game either tells you about success or failure. Unfortunately, if you try an unsuccessful escape — and it recognizes some wacky ones, like SUPERMAN or DYNAMITE — it just says that whatever you picked “IS NOT THE WAY” as opposed to comedically depicting Superman running into a wall or something. The weird thing is the game could have done this without much extra effort — the author took the time to list a wide variety of escape attempts, and the parser is Eliza-style, meaning it just searches for the keywords, so even sentences work. Without that it’s just the one-off joke of what actually works to escape the room.

Since this is a one-command game, it seems appropriate for me not to spoil the answer here. Please make your best attempt to escape in the comments!


Posted May 14, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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18 responses to “The Room (1982)

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  1. When you say to leave our best attempts in the comments, you mean that we should leave commands and you will type them in for us?


    It sort of seems to me that a one-move game that this even more closely prefigures is Rematch, where there is a consistent-ish backstory (except for one changing element which, frankly, I would much rather do without) and in which iterating failures give you information that lets you home in on the incredibly elaborate command you need to type for the solution. Except without the iterating failures and information, I guess.

    Also, about the response to “NE” in Pick Up The Phone Booth and Aisle: I am in Northern New England and I once had to go to something in St. John’s Newfoundland and I thought, “That’s northeast, I’m northeast, maybe I can drive there?” [Yes I know it’s an island, I figure there’s a bridge.] But it turns out that Newfoundland is as far northeast of me as I am of Bellefountain, Iowa, give or take. It is very far northeast.

  2. Okay, what about jump through window?

  3. I find it interesting that the game mentions the dimensions of the room. Does one climb the closet to get out?

    Either way escape games that place you in a room with no obvious way of entry that aren’t doing something outright magical feel a little silly to me. If the game was a bit more complex I’d say the answer was to open the (unmentioned regular) door. Feels like one of those logic puzzles where you have to figure out that the answer was something the puzzle designer went out of his way to conceal.

    Morpheus Kitami
  4. Very odd but so close to being an interesting game… Such a shame that all those inputs thought up by the author; TUNNEL, SCREAM, TEAR, BUILD, PHONE, etc.; never got custom responses… As it is, it’s just a riddle/joke masquerading as an adventure game.

    • Agreed, finding the endings would have been legit fun. It would make it so the “escape” wouldn’t even been the point, but maybe it was too early to make that leap in ludological development (btw, notice that the REM statements give 1980 as the development date, so this was written 1980 and only published 1982)

      • Like his other programs, it’s clear that it’s just intended as a simple joke.

        I guess, programming in other responses would’ve distracted from the parody and turned it into a text adventure rather than a commentary about text adventures.

  5. Paul Raymer, of “Paul’s Electric Computer, seems to have been a regular contributor of tongue-in-cheek articles and programs in the Apple magazines of the time.

    For example his “The Rebel” program from his “outCider” column, in InCider Vol 1 Iss 2 February 1983, translates “regular English words into the phonetic representations one must assume southerners use when they talk”

    There’s a whole joke manual Softcorn #1 on the Internet Archive.

    • Actually… given Softcorn #1 is described in “The Dirty Book – Users Guide to Erotic Software” (also on the Internet Archive)… it appears the manual is for a real disk!

  6. In addition to all the other games/styles this is a precursor to, I’d also call it the precursor to the game “+=3.”

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