Archive for May 2022

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

Tagged with

The Hermit’s Secret: De Profundis Ad Astra   3 comments

Into space we go. I missed a few exits, and two seriously random magic word locations. Complete spoilers follow, and make sure you’ve read my other posts first before going on.

My favorite of the Dian Girard book covers. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2017 so I can’t ask any questions about her work.

So I had a nagging feeling I was missing yet more rooms, and indeed I was.

You are standing next to a large ornamental urn on the south-most edge of a lovely terrace.
A flight of stairs leads down to the east.

You are at the south end of a wide flagstone terrace. There is a table here with several chairs sitting around it, as if the owner was expecting company.

This region I missed yielded two more treasures, plus an apple that worked on the angry hog I had met earlier who was then my friend. (Unfortunately, the hog did not dig where I thought it would, but somewhere else instead; this was a highly obscure bit I needed a walkthrough for, as I’ll explain later.)

This led to yet another way into the underground. I also found a room in the warehouse with oil I had somehow previously missed; filling my can with oil (as opposed to water, hello Adventure clone) let me make friends with the angry robot.

The robot takes the can, sniffs delicately at the oil, sips a little of it, and murmurs, “Pennsylvania State, 1975. Excellent vintage!” He vanishes through a secret door.

The robot clearing out led to a whole new set of rooms I hadn’t visited, including a salamander defeated by a nearby ice cube:

You are in an alien shrine. Well, not alien if you’re a gnome, I suppose, but it certainly is wierd!

A fiery red salamander blocks your path. The heat from its glowing body is almost more than you can stand.

With what, one lousy little ice cube?
The salamander shivers violently, then sneezes, coughs, and falls flat on its face. It really is amazing what you can do with one tiny little ice cube!

Fairer than original Adventure’s prompt about the dragon; this felt like a question that really was meant to be answered as opposed to an interface glitch.

Besides the salamander there’s a gas mask (that takes care of the spot I mentioned last time where you get dizzy)…

You’re in a somber little room where a marble tomb stands in silent sorrow on the floor. The lid of the tomb has a carved outline of some sort of animal and the simple word, “JENNY.” A withered wreath completes the pathetic picture. The only exit leads west.

There is an old gas mask dumped in a heap here.

…and a bit where I could redeem my green paper from the start of the game for a rare coin.

Off my checklist last time I also mentioned treasure being hidden somewhere by the pirate; this just involved wandering randomly in the Gnomish Vaults until I came across the right place, where there was indeed a Pirate Chest that would not have been there had I not already had my items swiped.

You are in the Gnome King’s dungeon.

A magnificent diamond is gleaming by your feet.
Aha, the Gnome King’s little treasure chest is here.
There’s a vial of rare perfume here.
There is a rare and valuable coin here.

Past here I was really close to done but definitely needed a walkthrough (by Richard Bos, who did amazing walkthroughs for the Phoenix games). The downside is I found out the code for the buttons was 235 without understanding why (it just opens the passage between the two button rooms, so is yet another optional transport-puzzle). It did reveal two parts I would have not worked out alone under any circumstances:

1.) At a “curtain room” in the underground you can type PIRATE to get to a secret room. I worked out on my own I could type WATERFALL to go to the outdoor waterfall and CURTAIN to get back again — these are both off the list of words I had in my earlier post — but I never saw PIRATE anywhere. Even stranger, is while in the secret room, you can get to a second-level secret room by typing JENNY (see the tomb above). Even knowing the existence of the word, why would anyone think to type it there in particular?

You are in a secret room.

A jeweled Gnomish shovel has been left here.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have found the Supersecret Room!

A platinum figure of a burro is standing here!

2.) Nearby the curtain room there’s a muddy room. This is where the hog/pig is useful. There’s no real prompting for this to happen, but it’s at least semi-logical:

You are in a room with a big oozy mud puddle in the middle of the floor. The walls are wet, and strange fungi fill the crevices and corners. Exits lead north and west.

As the pig roots around happily in the muck, its snout turns up a magnificent pearl, as big as your fist!

Taking all the treasures back, and waiting very briefly, leads to final victory. Remember the nosecone of the rocket? It launches on its own once all the treasures are present.

There is a great rushing sound, and a tremendous sense of force and motion. Through the porthole in the nosecone you can see the earth first dropping away and then rushing up to meet you! The rocket lands gracefully in front of a cheering throng of people. As you climb out of the hatch, they rush up to escort you and your treasure through customs and into a life of health, wealth, happiness, and celebrity!

The game possibly outwore its welcome by a smidge, but I do appreciate the ambition of it. There were so many linkages and passages and extra passages and secret passages and optional puzzles I lost count of how many ways there could be to reach a particular area. The walkthrough I mentioned earlier doesn’t even list the WATERFALL password, or the one using the memory room.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that the alternate routes started to get to be too much? I’m not sure why that happened, given Zork does something similar, and I never felt trouble there. Something about the Zork geography (and lamp time limit, which I never ran into with Hermit’s Secret) made for an extra feeling of danger, and extra feeling of gratification when I had more entry points. Here, realizing there was yet another magic word that worked in a random location started to feel … random. The universe just wasn’t quite tight and convincing enough for me to understand why JENNY led to a supersecret room with a burro.

A clip from Richard Bos’s map.

Still not bad for a first game, and since this is a first game, not just a one-off, we’ll get to visit Dian Girard again in 1982. But for now, let’s move on to a new discovery I recently made which marks a significant first in adventure games (or at least, the earliest of a type anyone has ever found).

Posted May 10, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

The Hermit’s Secret: Dearie, Do You Remember?   5 comments

Not a lot of progress, but I did manage to connect up all the map, and I wanted to — for my benefit as much as yours — lay out all the puzzles I still had left to resolve, and items that have yet to hold a purpose.

The first bit of progress was not really from me but from a commenter, the astute Matt W.:

also, what if you try “meadow” or “remember meadow” in the memory room?

Well, let’s try it:

You are in a small, many-sided room. There is an obvious exit to the northeast. Some roughly carved letters on the south wall say “DEARIE, DO YOU REMEMBER?”

You’re in the center of the grassy meadow.

You’re in the Memory Room.

It’s another XYZZY-style teleport. I don’t know if it is useful for a puzzle or just for convenience. The map really tries hard to have multiple entrances and it does all hook together. My “second” and “third” undergrounds hadn’t connected yet, but this room

This is a lovely little room that looks like some kind of beautiful luminous blue jewel inside. A narrow opening heads off to the northeast, and a smooth path leads upward.

There is a message scrawled on the stones. The walls shine with a lovely irridescent glow.

Some demented person has scrawled on the floor “Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, I Don’t Wanna Let The Gong Go.”

and this room

You are in a neat square room with an odd device in the middle of the floor. It has a big metal container, some copper tubing, and smells like something gone sour.

The only visible exit goes south.

You bruise your head painfully on the rock wall.

both link up. Specifically, if you drag the gong to the room with the message, and bring a rubber hammer from next to the cargo room, you can make a new exit.

BOINNNG!! CRASH, rumble, rumble …
When the dust clears you see that the lovely blue wall has crumbled and fallen into a heap of rubble, revealing a room to the west.

Here’s everything linked into one big underground:

I’m unclear if I’m close or not to revealing everything, but the obstacles I haven’t resolved are:

1. Getting dizzy and falling when going down a stair.

You are on a very dangerous path that winds up and down along the sheer stone wall of the abyss.

Suddenly you feel light-headed, sick. Your eyes refuse to focus. You begin to cough, and there is a tight feeling in your chest. You fall to the ground …

2. An abyss you may or may not be able to cross. If something does work I suspect magic.

You are at the west end of a gigantic cavern. The towering walls remind you of some sort of gothic cathedral, and your eyes peer vainly upward in an effort to see the ceiling. Faint wisps of mist eddy around you like lost souls. A narrow opening leads southwest, and the cavern stretches out to the east, where a bottomless abyss crosses the floor.

The abyss effectively blocks you from crossing the cavern.

3. A hog on the outside who won’t let you approach; I suspect it may be connected to a spot on the outside that needs to be dug up. The game says you don’t have a shovel, but it may be the hog can do the digging?

You are in a small smelly animal pen. There is a pile of well-chewed corncobs in one corner, and a lot of mud. The only ways out of the pen are to the east and southeast.

A rather hostile pink hog is snorting at you from a corner.

The hog glowers at you out of little close-set eyes and snorts angrily. He doesn’t seem to like the idea.

4. The robot, which I have still to defeat.

A huge, heavily built robot rolls menacingly around the room, sensors blinking, and refuses to let you pass.

5. There’s a “pirate” gnome that will grab treasures if they’re in your inventory or on the floor, and I have yet to find out where they get stashed; if it is like Original Adventure, by finding the stash there will be a new treasure.

There’s a message about “ominous rustling” I assume has to be from the pirate if you have nothing valuable.

There is an ominous rustling sound from the darkness behind you. When you whirl around, someone — or some THING — dodges back into the shadows.

6. Two rooms of buttons I have yet to be able to do anything with. I still haven’t found anything resembling a combination, but I suspect if there’s any “you just missed an exit and a side room” type puzzle left, it’s this one.

There is a large panel in the west wall. It is firmly shut.
Next to the panel are ten buttons labeled 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.

Items I haven’t used are a magazine…

It’s a copy of “Games for the IBM PC,” but unfortunately it’s the special gnomish edition — all in GNULLIAC.

… and … that’s pretty much it. Everything else has served a purpose. Maybe the rubber mallet that rang the gong also does something else, but I doubt it? I burned using a tuna sandwich to placate a mountain lion and technically the lion is optional. That fur muff I speculated about last time was indeed useful for putting down the fragile sphere:

The lovely crystal sphere lands lightly on the fur muff.

Not much more to keep scratching at, so I suspect victory or bust next time. (I’ll also take hints in comments, but ROT13 only please.)

Another Dian Girard book, this one co-written with her husband.

Posted May 9, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

The Hermit’s Secret: The Undergrounds   14 comments

In addition to being a member of a science fiction club, Dian Girard wrote books and stories herself.

This is from a 1974 volume where authors were asked to write stories predicting the future of 2020.

She published a number of short stories earlier in her life (including one from the collection above) and a story entitled Invisible Encounter from a 1982 collection (the year of this game). She later wrote a set of sci-fi/comedy books. Here’s the description from Hypneratomachia (2009):

Hard on the heels of the side-splitting, hair-raising bestseller Tetragravitron, comes an all new adventure of Captain Spycer, that voluptuous, redheaded, space heroine, and her trusty crew–robot Peter Decade, scaly red Col. Krabchake, lewd and lecherous Prof. Groppe, and that wide-eyed innocent Brian Lefarge–are off to save the universe in their cosmic-powered ship. In this new challenge, our stalwart crew is looking for the evil masterminds behind some mysterious force that sucks the power out of stars, leaving their satellites frigid and lifeless.

As you might have guessed, they also lean on the bawdy side, making it possible that the mysterious unnamed sixth game she wrote is the infamous Granny’s Place, also published by Temple Software and using the same system as the other games. We’re save worrying about that for a future day and dive back into the underground world of The Hermit’s Secret.

My actual gameplay of late has not felt like narrative, but not like puzzle either. I’m not sure a good analogy, but let me describe in two ways:

a.) you’ve figured out how to map “standard” mazes in adventure games before, and drop a bunch of objects and fill in spots; there are no twists. You aren’t really doing a puzzle, and it certainly doesn’t come off as some kind of narrative: maybe an “activity”?

b.) you’re writing a research paper about genealogy. You are studying various family trees and following them back and finding connections. This isn’t a puzzle, really, but it certainly isn’t a narrative, even though there’s an “implied narrative” in the process of parents having children. It’s not drudgery and perhaps even kind of interesting.

My gameplay in the last few days have been a little from columns a and b. Even though there’s been a puzzle or two, they’ve been quick solves, and really, all I’ve been doing is taking the three distinct underground maps and trying to merge them together. (Kind of four, but the sequence I figured things out led me to already know how something was connected the moment I found it.)

To explain, let me first update the meta-map from last time:

Now there are four entrances to the underground, all marked as shown. The “silo” was next to the barn, and I thought it might be an isolated puzzle when I found it (that is, getting in would lead to a single room but no extra exits or geography):

You’re standing in front of a large tall stone silo.
There is a small black box by the door. It seems to be a voice print lock of some sort. Paths lead in most directions.

I found out how to get in by wandering the “bureaucracy area” from last time. One room has a tape; another, a tape machine, and in yet another, a presentation room with a button. Spooling in the tape and pressing the button gets a curious message I still haven’t fully deciphered:

This is a large control room. There are big switches and even bigger machines all around you. Exits go south and east.

There is a glowing white button in front of a display screen. The screen says “ACCESS RESTRICTED – CONFIDENTIAL” and has a list of words: CURTAIN WATERFALL DAVE SHACK REMEMBER MEADOW.

“Dave” seemed like a distinctive word. If you go in the underground through the shack (which I’ll go into detail on later) there is a sign from “Dave” talking about claim jumpers being shot, and I suspect he’s supposed to be the hermit of the title. While back out at the silo (I just started a fresh game) I tested each of the words off the list and DAVE hit paydirt.

You are inside the silo door.

A broad curving gray surface fills the room from top to bottom. It is about ten feet in from the outer stone wall of the silo. There seems to be a doorway in it some distance to the north.

This turns out to be only a few rooms away from the nosecone and the cargo room from last time where all the treasures go. This makes it really convenient to use the treasure stash and pop from there either back outside (with the DAVE word) or inside (through the bureaucracy area).

In case you’re curious, here’s my current latest haul, although there’s a bracelet and fossil I know I haven’t bothered to tote back yet. (Also, there’s still a glass treasure that shatters; it is possible the rug is soft enough to absorb it? I also found a fur muff at the end of my last session that might work to keep it from breaking.)

There is a lovely emerald here.
There is a wonderful little jeweled airplane here.
A magnificent diamond is gleaming by your feet.
A valuable erotic etching has been left here.
An expensive ruby necklace is lying here.
A very valuable stamp is lying here.
There’s a beautiful — and expensive — gold ring here.
There’s a nice persian rug on the floor.
There’s a big bar of silver here.

Despite the list building nicely, I feel like there’s a lot of map to go. Before I start showing off pictures, I want to explain that any “corner mark” that you see represents a room where I’ve tested exits. That is, I didn’t just trust the text (or at least my own reading skills) to put which directions I could go, but did every possible direction possible to see which would work. The game is generally good about listing directions but I did have one spot (in what I’m calling the “third underground”) with a “secret exit”:

You are standing by an immense stone idol. The fantastically carved vaults of an ancient temple stretch out to the south.

Sorry, there’s no way to get through in that direction.
You are standing by the Great Idol.

Sorry, there’s no way to get through in that direction.
You are standing by the Great Idol.

You have found a secret staircase. Dark openings lead north and northwest from here.

Perhaps the author only put one, but the presence of one (and my own downfall of forgetting to mark exits) made me check all of them, and there were a few that were only vaguely described which I might have otherwise not have gotten.

Having gotten that out of the way, let’s finish off the bureaucracy section:

Other notable locations include a “cage room” with a mongoose which you are able to pick up assuming you have an animal cage from elsewhere (one of the other “undergrounds”)…

You’re in some kind of animal care center. Empty cages, their doors hanging ajar, line the walls. Some of them are small, and others are disturbingly large.

A pretty little cream-colored animal with a bushy tail is sitting on the floor, looking at you.

…a “map room” which is clearly meant as a meta joke…

You are in a large room full of charts and graphs. Corridors lead north and south from here.

A large map completely covers the west wall.

Well, it’s sort of hard to describe. It has a lot of little boxes on it, connected by lines, with names like “Steep Path,” “Grassy Meadow,” “Rocky Tunnel,” and so on. Very odd, really.

…a room with buttons where I am unable to refer to any of the buttons…

You are in the Check Room.

There is a large panel in the west wall. It is firmly shut.
Next to the panel are ten buttons labeled 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.

…some minutae like a rec room and lounge which make the life of the dungeon keeper feel black and dreary…

You are in the employee lounge. There are chairs and tables, a small microwave, and all the usual things.
Exits lead north, south, and east.

You have reached the recreation room. There are some old ping pong tables here, and a dartboard without any darts.
There is a doorway north of you.

…and a robot blocking passage to the south. I have a theory on how to get by but I haven’t had time to test it yet.

You are in a large paneled east-west hall. It’s quite fancy, with carpet on the floor and indirect lighting.

A huge, heavily built robot rolls menacingly around the room, sensors blinking, and refuses to let you pass.

Importantly, on the other side of the robot is one of the other undergrounds, the one reached by entering from the shack.

This second underground is enterable from the shack guarded by the thirsty dog — this is where the warning sign from “Dave” appears.

You are at the entrance to an old gold mine. A dark rocky tunnel leads off to the south, and there is a ladder going up to some higher level.

There is a notice nailed up one one wall.

“Claim jumpers will be shot on sight. This means you!”
It’s signed by someone named “Dave.”

Oddly, enough, there’s a heavy gong in one location. It is to the south of an unsteady bridge where the game specifically calls out a weight limit, and to the north there’s a hint that a gong is needed in a particular place:

This is a lovely little room that looks like some kind of beautiful luminous blue jewel inside. A narrow opening heads off to the northeast, and a smooth path leads upward.

There is a message scrawled on the stones. The walls shine with a lovely irridescent glow.

Some demented person has scrawled on the floor “Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, I Don’t Wanna Let The Gong Go.”

This suggests to me that the gong needs to go up out of the Gold Mine Underground and back through the Bureaucracy Underground in order to fulfill its destiny (which requires beating the robot).

There’s otherwise simply a lot of geography to trudge through, leading down to a very curious “memory room”, which feels like it came out of a Phoenix mainframe game (and I also have no idea what to do with it):

You are in a small, many-sided room. There is an obvious exit to the northeast. Some roughly carved letters on the south wall say “DEARIE, DO YOU REMEMBER?”

I should finally mention there’s got to be another link between the second and first undergrounds, as there’s a button room that’s a clone of the previous one I mentioned (“ten buttons labeled 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.”) I would suspect an elevator but the game doesn’t even recognize the noun “button” so I’m at a loss as to how to operate it.

The third underground (which I’ll term The Gnomish Underground Empire) comes beneath a air control tower at an airfield.

The Gnome Dungeon represents a maze of some kind which I think has randomization, so I’m likely just going to save mapping it for when I’m desperate; sometimes it connects to the “Gnome King’s Dungeon” which I have placed below it.

I haven’t been able to connect this one up, although I assume there’s a link somewhere.

Also present is the “secret stair” I referenced earlier; it leads to a “still room”, and testing one of the directions there gave a unique response indicating there’s a secret passage somehow.

Tree roots have grown down into this room, piercing the ceiling and walls until it looks like a forest inside. There are exits leading north and west.

You are in a neat square room with an odd device in the middle of the floor. It has a big metal container, some copper tubing, and smells like something gone sour.

The only visible exit goes south.

You bruise your head painfully on the rock wall.

Again, there isn’t so much “obstacles” as much as “stuff I haven’t finished mapping yet”; there is one abyss I can’t get across, but the room description suggests I’ll reach the other side from some other route rather than finding a way across as if it were a puzzle.

You are at the west end of a gigantic cavern. The towering walls remind you of some sort of gothic cathedral, and your eyes peer vainly upward in an effort to see the ceiling. Faint wisps of mist eddy around you like lost souls. A narrow opening leads southwest, and the cavern stretches out to the east, where a bottomless abyss crosses the floor.

The abyss effectively blocks you from crossing the cavern.

I have intuition I’m closing in on the “exploration stopping point” — where I’m doing finding new rooms just by virtue of wandering and now need to look hard at what puzzles remain and what objects I have access to and start finishing the game. Every time I look there’s been a new area, so I’m not going to bet on it; the author was clearly fond of the “imaginary landscape” portion of Adventure (terminology she uses in the PC Mag article) and since she didn’t have her notions filtered through the technical limitations of Scott Adams TRS-80 games, she kept to the same hundreds-of-rooms mentality as original Adventure without compromise.

Girard’s story The Nothing Spot first appeared in this 1978 issue of Galaxy. From the International Science Fiction Database.

Posted May 5, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

The Hermit’s Secret (1982)   10 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

An old memorandum

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.

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.

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

Tagged with