Archive for August 2022

Colossal Adventure: Finale   7 comments

(You should make sure you’ve read the three prior posts in this series before this one.)

I want to emphasize how big a game this was for Europe. For people without mainframe access (most people) there were many ports of Crowther/Woods Adventure to choose from, but Level 9’s in particular was everywhere. This is the Adventure a lot of Europeans remember, either in the original text only version or in the graphical Jewels of Darkness version which collects the first three of Level 9’s regular text adventure games (I’ve been playing the latter).

If you’re fond of those “family trees” which show games branching into other games, this is one of those nodes. When Aventuras AD made a port in 1989, eventually making themselves a big name in Spain, they referred to Level 9’s port. See below the picnic area which was invented by the Austins to fill in the outdoors:

From this Youtube playthrough, and thanks to Ruber Eaglenest and baltasarq for mentioning the game.

I was looking forward to the extended endgame, given the regular game proper fixed both the all-different maze and the dragon —


Ah yes, the dragon. I left that bit out last time. Here is the classic presentation:





I realize this delights some theorists; Aaron Reed has written about it positively and Jonathan Lessard waxes about how “the game breaks from convention, demanding that the reply be read literally and allowing the player to accomplish a task that would be impossible in the game’s diegesis.”

I call rubbish. The “with your bare hands?” looks to be entirely rhetorical and the prompt is mashed with the UI in such a way that is unfair. I am backed up by an authority of none other than one of Crowther’s daughters (whom the game was originally written for). Quoting Dennis Jerz:

When asked what her father thought of Woods’s expansion, Laura (who became a middle-school science teacher) said, “I remember being extremely irritated by things like the pirate, and Dad saying not to blame him, it wasn’t his fault!” Sandy (who became a Sun Solaris administrator) has vivid memories of being “addicted” to playing the Crowther/Woods version when she was older; as a child, she remembers mostly being frustrated by her father’s version. When asked about her father’s reaction to Woods’s expansions, she recalled: “I got stuck with, ‘Kill dragon.’ ‘What with, your bare hands?’ You have to say, ‘yes.’ I remember my father saying, ‘That was Don Woods.’”

Here is how Level 9 does it:

This significantly changes my major beef with the puzzle. The Level 9 version changes the nature of the prompt to clearly be a yes or no question. There’s still a moment where you have to declare, yes, I am going to engage a dragon in fisticuffs, but there’s no underhanded UI that needs to be reckoned with.


— so as I was saying, the fixes were well-thought out, and despite the misstep of dropping the inventory limit, I thought the endgame would get the same treatment, and there was no way the endgame could get worse. Yet: I also had dread, knowing endgames of the past, and worried that the endgame would somehow get worse.

The elf doesn’t necessarily appear in the building — it’s just a timed event after you’ve escaped the cave. The “make sure to rescue ALL the elves” line is important.

Shockingly: they made it work. There’s one bit with a maze, I’m sad to report. (I’ll spoil it right now: when you get up the top of the ladder, just go east and down. That’s it.) Otherwise this really does make a much nicer denouement than the original, which to recap, dropped you in a pair of rooms, asked you to decipher that A BUNDLE OF BLACK RODS WITH RUSTY MARKS ON THEIR ENDS meant dynamite, and you could say BLAST (entirely unclued) to set them off, and for some reason the command worked even if you weren’t in the same room as the dynamite. (As I think I’ve observed somewhere in my far-too-many-words on Adventure, the puzzle likely came about because Crowther’s original oddly includes BLAST as a verb with BLASTING REQUIRES DYNAMITE as a response, giving the idea for the endgame without thinking about the fact BLAST is a pretty unusual verb.)

The opening is still roughly the same, although the game quite clearly identifies the dynamite, and if you bother to EXAMINE it, the game will mention the word BLAST on the side.

The only somewhat cruel thing is the four inventory item limit cropping up again. The lamp must be obviously carried, but of the keys, sandwiches, black rod, pillow, and small axe, which three must be carried? (There’s a little leeway because it turns out you only need two.)

As the mention of the water indicates, the plot continues: you’ve started a flood.

Now you need to outrace it, so there’s a bit of time pressure, especially for the next part which has the maze I previously mentioned.

A map in case you care, but again, just east and down works.

Once past the maze, I landed in a long corridor with some cells containing elves. Keeping the guidance of the initial elf in mind, I used UNLOCK to free them. There was also, sinisterly, a room with just locked-up skeletons, which I assumed at the time was just scenery.

Further along the corridor there was a gap of the exact same nature as where WAVE ROD makes a bridge in the original. I didn’t have the rod, but fortunately it was a quick journey to redo the section to have it in hand. (I appreciate the callback; not as much the inventory limit!)

This also fits in with Pete Austin’s concern about unnecessary parts of the game — you can skip the crystal bridge in classic Adventure, and you can here, but the re-occurrence means you need to have the puzzle figured out.

Past the crystal bridge is a large up-down staircase. Going to the bottom, you find a jade pentacle and an Elixir of Life.

The pentacle is pretty odd; after picking it up the lamp goes out, and I spent a while wondering if I perhaps missed some extra timed event. However, this isn’t the case: the lamp has essentially unlimited fuel at this phase of the game. After some painstaking experiment I realized

a.) the jade pentacle counts as a light source, and you can leave the lamp behind

b.) you can carry the lamp additionally, but the lamp must be turned OFF, otherwise it gives out darkness which cancels the jade pentacle

This wasn’t hard or upsetting and is the sort of magical experimentation I can stand behind; many times I’ve commented on the absurdity of magic systems in adventure games where you wave Bauble X in an entirely random location and there’s no “physics” to work out. Here, there’s a “physics” of sort to work out. Even if it is counter-intuitive and unusual, it seems at least appropriate magical and can be worked out without lawnmowering (that is, without having to test an item everywhere).

The water’s still been chasing you the whole time. There’s a door leading in the staircase you need to close too, because otherwise you get swept away by a combination of water and lava. (The picture shows the result of having the tower sealed off successfully.)

The top of the tower has a Pinnacle but leads nowhere else. At this point I was fairly stuck so I spent a long time contemplating what to do with the Elixir, thinking perhaps I needed to make myself temporarily immortal and hurl myself off the tower. However, JUMP and related actions on the Pinnacle don’t work; kind of surprising, in a way, given how willing the game was to let us step off a ledge at the start.

I went back over the map and considered all the parts I hadn’t solved yet. This included not quite finishing the maze (which I went ahead and did, no dice) trying to see if there was some secret right at the start with the dwarves and all the items, and more or less futilely beating on walls.

I then thought back to the skeletons and realized that I needed to rescue “ALL the elves”.

The most satisfying puzzle of the endgame.

The path of going to the tower and back means you get the seal off the tower from the lava with only a few turns to go. I was stuck with the jade pendant, the weird darkness-emanating lamp, the keys, the rod, and either a sandwich, axe, or pillow (again, it turns out that item doesn’t matter, but I didn’t know it at the time). I finally got around to testing every exit in every room of the staircase and found a secret side exit to a spider area, which had an orb, scepter, and crown, as well as a spider in the middle.

There’s a spot where you can climb up the middle but the spider follows you if you try and the weight is too much. If you wander outside the web, though, the spider follows as well, “staring at the pentacle”. You can pitch the pentacle off the top of the tower and get rid of the spider at the same time.

You incidentally don’t need to have the lamp figured out until this moment, since the pentacle has been operating as an alternate light source. I originally had the lamp dumped in the basement and was stuck here because I didn’t have the light to go back down.

The rest of the game is smooth coasting. Without the spider following you can crawl up to a passage and eventually back to the main cave (which was satisfying! this wasn’t just sealed off from the main gameplay section, but secretly unified).

That last image is in the main cave; you surface in the reservoir, another of those “unused locations” that now is given a purpose (irresistibly to authors; it is one of the most modded parts of the game; even Don Woods himself added something there in his “version 2.0”).

Not sure where the missing 20 points went, don’t care.

So to summarize the narrative: you still blow up the dwarf area like normal, but this lets forward a flood of water you have to outrun, freeing elves along the way (and re-incarnating some) before finally climbing out to the main cave, and the exit one last time.

Regarding the graphics (this part technically only applies to Jewels of Darkness, not to the Colossal Adventure original): the overarching system really is well-coded. While the re-draw speed isn’t super fast for images, you can type as the game is drawing so you don’t have the “slow-trudge” effect of travelling from one end of the map to the other. The graphics aren’t quite the quality we’ve seen with Lucifer’s Realm but the Atari ones are attractive enough. If you haven’t noticed from my screenshots throughout, the authors do wrangle some trickery together, I assume to save space: many parts of images are reused.

Here is a pit from the All Alike maze:

Here is the same pit recolored in the water maze of the endgame:

Most people associate adventure games with bespoke locations (not considering the more out-there games like Asylum), so it was interesting to see a game lean in to the idea of re-use.

(Also, could someone explain the bizarre blue border that shows up in the Amiga version? Does the blue look darker on a real Amiga screen, or did people just accept everything being surrounded by blue?)

This was a solid start to a storied company, which is good, since we’ve got two more of their games fitting into 1982. I was most impressed not by the new large chunks of territory but by the minor fixes; it’s one thing to feel grumpy at the dragon puzzle and decide to rewrite it entirely (as was done in Bilingual Adventure, adding the sword Excalibur) but a thing much subtler to simply tweak the parser prompt. Another nudge was writing BLAST on the dynamite, which managed to keep the spirit of the original puzzle while make it genuinely solvable. It requires careful design sense to fix a problem with a slight nudge in the right direction rather than wholesale replacement.

Posted August 30, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Colossal Adventure: A Bizarre Chaos of Tortured Rock Which Seems To Have Been Crafted by the Devil Himself   5 comments

(This post won’t make much sense without my prior ones leading up to it. Also, I’m assuming some familiarity with original Crowther/Woods adventure, which you can read up on here if you’ve missed out.)

As I mentioned in my last post, the outdoors have been changed compared to the original. The tendency seemed to be to try to make the environment more interesting, or at least comparably interesting to the rest of the game. The only problem is there still nearly isn’t anything to do; at least with the original the nondescript forest was meant to funnel the player towards the locked grate with a minimum of fuss.

I should add that this kind of random death wasn’t a feature in the original.

To alleviate the problem slightly, the food that had been taken out of the building got moved to a picnic spot. As Pete Austin explained: “It was really because there was a lot of forest around, nothing actually to do with the game.” In other words, they spent their time sprucing up the environment, they wanted some point in the player exploring it.

The most curious scenery change is from the underground portion, not the outdoors: the “volcano” that’s past the troll bridge (and the Lenslok I was stuck on last time). Just as a reminder, here’s how the original room went:

You are on the edge of a breath-taking view. Far below you is an active volcano, from which great gouts of molten lava come surging out, cascading back down into the depths. The glowing rock fills the farthest reaches of the cavern with a blood-red glare, giving every- thing an eerie, macabre appearance. The air is filled with flickering sparks of ash and a heavy smell of brimstone. The walls are hot to the touch, and the thundering of the volcano drowns out all other sounds. Embedded in the jagged roof far overhead are myriad twisted formations composed of pure white alabaster, which scatter the murky light into sinister apparitions upon the walls. To one side is a deep gorge, filled with a bizarre chaos of tortured rock which seems to have been crafted by the devil himself. An immense river of fire crashes out from the depths of the volcano, burns its way through the gorge, and plummets into a bottomless pit far off to your left. To the right, an immense geyser of blistering steam erupts continuously from a barren island in the center of a sulfurous lake, which bubbles ominously. The far right wall is aflame with an incandescence of its own, which lends an additional infernal splendor to the already hellish scene. A dark, foreboding passage exits to the south.

The new variation is much more succinct.

In a way, the shortening is understandable — the text would fly off the text portion allocated to the screen, and the graphics, while pleasant in their own way, just don’t have a chance at describing “a bizarre chaos of tortured rock which seems to have been crafted by the devil himself”. The general effect of the length also wouldn’t strike as hard in context; in the original, it is a remarkable moment simply due to the relatively spare descriptions everywhere else in the game, but the mere presence of graphics undermines the minimalist feel.

There is one other serious change. I mentioned last time the lamp timer seemingly set to force a trip to the vending machine (and the presence of coins which work and don’t count as a treasure, so nothing is lost). However, the all-different maze itself is changed! This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given my characterization of it as the worst maze ever. Pete Austin seems to have agreed, and made the whole thing much more compact.

I admit to being bowled over when I first realized I needed to re-map, but I was of the assumption that the pattern would follow the original monstrosity; the much smaller room count which still keeps the same gimmick of slightly different word order is much nicer to handle.

The all-alike maze, incidentally, is identical to the original. The pirate theft-rate does seem to be reduced a little and I had to wander quite a bit holding some diamonds for the pirate to show up (his chest hidden in the all-alike maze doesn’t show up until after the theft). Also, notice how the vending machine room contains a hint about the chest.

The chest was the last treasure in my sequence, and a message announced I was told to leave out the main entrance. Walking to the building and dropping the last treasure leads to a message from an elf:

Saying yes here reaches this version’s extended endgame, which I’ll write about next time.

One final comment — I mentioned this in passing last time but it is worth spending a little more time — the inventory limit dropped from seven in the original to four. This is an extreme change, since the lamp is absolutely required, and the axe is usually required (pirate frequency might be lower, but dwarves still pop up often). I had to in a couple circumstances just drop the axe and hope I wouldn’t have to worry about it, especially past the troll bridge where you need the lamp, the keys, and the sandwich, and while you get rid of the sandwich, you pick up rare spices, a chain, and the bear itself (which I don’t think counted as an inventory item in the original, but does here). Unfortunately I can’t tell what the experience would be like for someone with fresh eyes who doesn’t already know the puzzle solutions, but it strikes me here as likely much more irritating to experiment; part of the interest in the original is that you typically would have a bottle of water already when first coming across the plant, so there would be the joy of applying it. While logistically juggling back to the bottle technically requires more insight, I just don’t think, given the open-ended exploration focus of the original, that the overall result is quite as effective.

Posted August 28, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Colossal Adventure: Lenslok   11 comments

So I was chipperly plowing through all the usual parts of the game and taking screenshots (other than the aboveground being different and the inventory limit being reduced to four the game’s been straight Adventure) when I ran across a horrible discovery.

No, not the troll bridge (although it is interesting to see something illustrated you’ve only seen in text, kind of like watching a movie after reading a book five times and having it clash with what’s in your head). I mean this spot of nastiness which comes after:

Welcome to 1980s copy protection! This is Lenslok, one of the odder schemes developed by the inventor John Frost to check if you have a physical copy of a game. The game came with a physical piece of plastic which would flip around vertical slices of an image when looked through. So you would get a cryptic looking screen, hold the Lenslok up to it (custom for each game that used it), and the light beams would rearrange into a coherent-looking letter.

There is an app, LensKey, which allegedly will do the decipherment for you. I was having enormous trouble getting it to work.

That left me two options.

1.) decipher what the particular letter rearrangement is for this game’s Lenslok; this is apparently possible using the “OK” calibration screen (the top one) which can then be applied to the actual code that needs to be deciphered (the bottom one)

2.) hack at the memory, where the Lenslok code is apparently stored in plaintext in the same location as the letters OK; while the emulator I’m using (Atari800Win) has a monitor it is a bit cryptic to use

I decided to do one more try at LensKey before starting to crack open source code, and by some miracle managed to get through (the letters “UT”). It was at about the twentieth try. I have found real accounts of people doing alternate options 1 or 2 before.

The game also asks for copy protection with the RESTORE command but I’ve been using save states, so it wasn’t until now I ran into the surprise. Unfortunately, I’ve also found my lamp light fading (four inventory items only is tough, y’all, especially when you need a lamp and axe). Fortunately, the “coins” at the start do _not_ count as a treasure — I think what the game is really intending is that you have to go into the All-Different Maze (which normally can be skipped) since instead of wasting a treasure you just insert the coins.

From the Crappy Games Wiki which includes such gems as “all of the games had different Lenslok lenses, and some of them came with the wrong lenses.”

I’m guessing I’ll be done for-real with the standard adventure section next time, it is just this experience was traumatizing enough I needed to stop and share now.

Posted August 27, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Colossal Adventure (1982)   13 comments

Well the name Level 9 was designed to indicate a level of quality, it was the highest level that you get with a one digit number.

— Pete Austin, in a 1988 interview

This is, for some of my European readers, the mothership.

Level 9 is one of Britain’s most famous companies for text adventures; the only company I’d say with comparable heft is Magnetic Scrolls, although their start is still a few years away.

Level 9 was started in 1981 by Pete, Mike, and Nick Austin and initially published software for the Nascom, a UK-produced kit computer of the same sort as the UK101 but a touch more powerful, coming with a keyboard and video interface and allowing memory capacity of up to 32K.

Electronics Today, June 1978.

Products, as advertised in November 1981, included Extension Basic, Q-DOS (“the ultimate filing system for G805 drives”), Missile Defence (“Destroy enemy ICBMs”) and Fantasy.

Fantasy was an adventure (“a competitive adventure set in a gothic mansion”), and you may be wondering why we’re not starting our Level 9 journey there. Sadly, Fantasy is currently lost to the digital wastes, and one of those with few enough copies sold it may never turn up (although there have been surprises before!)

Pete Austin later described it as “like Valhalla”, a 1983 ZX Spectrum game.

Screenshot from this video walkthrough.

Valhalla features characters that you can give orders to, and if the walkthrough above is any indication, they’d often not be cooperative about following through on the orders.

There were a lot of characters wandering around who changed according to your actions. What I did was to make it print out in proper English.

There’s even further description from this interview in the magazine Page 6:

It was a game with about 30 locations. It had people wandering about and essentially it was one of the few games where the other characters were exactly the same as the player and were all after the gold as well. What made it amusing was that they had quite interesting characters, each had a table of attributes, some of them were cowardly, some of them were strong — that kind of thing and we gave them names. There was one called Ronald Reagan and one called Maggie Thatcher and so on and there was Ghengis Khan, etc so you could wipe out your least favorite person!

The description makes it sound like a world with a lot of independent-moving actors and not much coherent plot, and the gothic mansion plus the addition of people like Reagan strongly suggests it is similar to a game collection featured here before, Atom Adventures, particularly the House module. Atom Adventures was published in the tail end of 1981, later than Fantasy, so I suspect it was a direct rip-off.

The important thing to note is the “independent actor” idea had a hold on some of the later Level 9 games (especially Knight Orc) and that even though The Hobbit — a 1982 game we have yet to get to — had similar ideas and was a colossus in terms of popularity, the through-line of building an adventure game mostly out of enhanced-AI actors had a strong hold on the British industry all the way to the beginning.

Level 9’s follow-up, and today’s selection, was essentially a port of Crowther/Woods Adventure, with an addition of “70 rooms” which I gather are mostly in the endgame.

We put the extra rooms in because we had told everybody that there would be 200 rooms and when we counted them up there were only 130, so we just had to put the others in!

The game quickly made it to Nascom, BBC Micro, and a bewilderingly large menagerie of other platforms, ported to nearly everything available in the British market at the time. It was originally available in 16K, and used an interpreter akin to Infocom’s Z-Code that the company called A-Code.

I found Colossal Adventure at Perkin-Elmer [a computer manufacturer Pete Austin worked for] running on one of their machines. I thought that we could do this, in 16K on a micro and in fact we did. The main thing that we got right at that stage was that we actually wrote a system, we didn’t write a game but we actually wrote a system which interpreted a database.

Division of labor (using the same interview) seems to have been

Pete: design

Mike: coding the Adventure

Nick: machine coding and porting between machines

The 16K requirement (and the fact the game was loading off tape rather than disk) meant text compression was required, with the A-Code system taking large letter fragments and making shorter replacement texts; turning every occurrence of “then” into “~”, say, although being smart about letter combo popularity.

All of Level 9’s early games (including Colossal Adventure) were expanded to have both 16K and 32K versions. I’m not sure on details about the 16K version (none currently exist, there’s a 16K Nascom port out there of Adventure but it is an entirely different port by Syrtis Software). For the 32K version the Austins are nearly showing off, making the text sometimes longer than the original. Here’s the original Hall of the Mountain King:

You are in the Hall of the Mountain King, with passages off in all directions.

Here’s the revised text:

You’re in the Hall of the Mountain Kings, a huge room decorated with majestic statues. The east wall is covered by trophies and the mounted heads of elves and monsters, with a carved granite throne standing beneath them. The hall is hung about with the tattered remains of rich tapestries and has large doorways on all sides.

Colossal Adventure was was eventually followed by Adventure Quest and Dungeon Adventure making a full trilogy for 1982 that was later packaged as Jewels of Darkness. I’m going to try the stand-alone text version some, but I’m going to do the majority of my playing on Jewels of Darkness, because it has some nice graphical versions. Behold, the power of Atari 8-bit:

Two differences to note right away with original Crowther/Woods:

1. The building with keys/lamp/bottle does not have the food, and you can enter the well in order to get some coins.

2. The outdoors portion has been modified quite a bit. I found a spire and a volcano. I’m unclear yet if any of the outdoor changes are important.

For my next post, I’ll play through all the “standard” adventure rooms and try to complete Adventure … again (at least this time with pictures!) For my last post, I’ll tackle the endgame, which is where the majority of the extra rooms lie and is supposedly like an entirely new game within the game.

Posted August 24, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Adventures in Videoland (1981/1982)   7 comments

The first, and easiest task, was watching the movie. This not only helped pass the time, but gave me a glimpse of scenes that could be used in the adventure. Rollercoaster, for those of you who missed the movie, concerns an extortionist who plants bombs on rollercoaster tracks, merry-go-rounds, and other fun places.

— From David Lubar, author of Adventures in Videoland, Creative Computing, January 1982

The concept of the videodisc was developed starting in the late 50s, going through the 60s, and was first shown to the public in 1972; however, it didn’t make it to commercial market as a format until 1978, under the name DiscoVision. Later, more famously, it become known as LaserDisc.

The very first videogame to utilize videodisc format was the gambling game Quarter Horse from 1981. It let you bet “credits” on a particular horse in a race, then show a video of the race, giving you any resulting winnings.

The very second is, oddly enough, a type-in Apple II adventure game from the January 1982 issue of Creative Computing, utilizing the videodisc of the 1977 movie Rollercoaster. The game was designed to have the Apple II hooked up to a videodisc player and then at appropriate moments in the game it would switch to scenes in the movie that matched the action in the game. Sometimes the scenes are static, sometimes they involve snippets so that there’s movement and sound in addition to pictures.

That’s a mental handful, so a shorter recap: this is a game that scavenges off of a movie made 4 years before, re-imagining various scenes as being part of an adventure game.

From Creative Computing. If the company sounds familiar, they recently came up in the game Explore where the manual dissed them for republishing old BASIC games rather than making new ones.

I had this game at the rear of my 1982 list (although publication delay puts it really at 1981) with the assumption that one day, I’d do something like Kay Savetz did and manage to hook up a real Apple II to a real DVD player with a real copy of Rollercoaster, making it the most technically complicated adventure game I’d ever played. (Of course, I don’t own any of the three, so that would have been an adventure in itself to wrangle together.)

From Kay Savetz’s video.

However, things quite recently got much, much, easier, as the laserdisc game emulator Singe added direct support for the game. Now playing was just a matter of downloading the emulator package and the game itself, which already game set-up with the correct video clips. The only difference in gameplay the text of the adventure is displayed directly on top of the video playback (in order to avoid having two screens).

The premise of the game is you’ve received an anonymous tip about a saboteur planting a bomb on a rollercoaster, and your job is to stop it.

Rather amusingly, it’s rather easy to die right away. You start on a midway, and can head north into a restaurant, where the game mentions you are hungry and a waiter asks if you want to eat. If you say YES, the game is over. (So you can experience the entire thing, including video, I have linked the appropriate place in Kay Savetz’s video below.)

The entirety of the map is not large, nor is this a long game: no doubt matching all the scenes to locations was onerous enough. And genuinely, nearly every scene and event has an image. There is the brief occasion where the game shows a person with binoculars, as sort of a “default” if there’s nothing to show…

…but otherwise, even the mundane act of putting on a uniform as a disguise is illustrated.

(That’s a depiction of “you”, I suppose. Except it feels like the person in binoculars might also be “you”? The inevitable result of using scavenged materials, best not think about it too hard.)

The game’s sequence is relatively straightforward. The uniform lets you pass into a shack, and get a book letting you know how to turn radios into jammers. There’s some coins lying around on the midway you can spend to play in a “shooting gallery” and win a teddy bear.

The teddy bear can be used to get by a belly dancer, which lets you in a storage room with a ticket. The ticket can be exchanged a game booth to play a ball-throwing game, where you have a choice of prize.

The book made it pretty obvious the radio was the right choice. With a toolbox from elsewhere you can then MAKE JAMMER and find an observation point where the roller coaster is visible. Trying to USE JAMMER gets…

…a most unfortunate result. The game is softlocked, although I didn’t know it at the time, and I wandered long enough to get a “time over” and have another rollercoaster-crashing scene.

The batteries were back at the teddy bear. If you LOOK at the bear it tells you it is the type that says “I love you” when pushing a button. So you can OPEN BEAR to get at the batteries before giving it away. Whoops!

Assuming you get the sequence right, you can save the rollercoaster and get a final scene.

The game was republished on disk later by Creative Computing, although with some slight tweaks to the text. In particular, the bear puzzle is easier, because when winning it some text is added where a passer-by complains about toys with newfangled technology. The softlock is still possible, but this is intended to hint (for someone who missed the batteries) that the teddy bear might be the kind that uses them.

It was fascinating to play insofar as we’ve only had very limited experience with moving images and sound so far, and it runs into some of the same troubles. The animated locations, for instance, play that way every time a room is entered; even when it is a 2-second clip, when I found myself passing through the same place for the 8th time (under the rollercoaster, say) the brief delay was slightly grating.

The transition from quiet to noisy (as any animated scene had sound) was also a bit disconcerting, although in one case it gave the right story effect; I was walking along the “quiet” Midway when the game decided I ran out of time and decided to start screaming along with the “you have lost” sequence.

The game’s scavenged images also made it have a problem with first person vs. third person. Sometimes, like shooting at ducks, the game shows “you” on the screen; more often, you just see locations, as if you are standing there looking around. If this was a longer game the disconnect might be confusing, but in a way this was simply a proof of concept of a genre that never emerged.

Was the project worth doing? Did it accomplish the desired functions? The main goal was to try an experiment with a fairly new technology. Here I feel partial failure. The new medium was used in an old way … the exercise has convinced me of the potential power of the video-computer connection. The fusion of these two devices will produce some spectacular results … The rollercoaster ride has just begun.

— David Lubar

If you’d like to spend a little more time in Videoland, Kay Savetz (with Carrington Vanston) has discussed it at length on the podcast Eaten by a Grue.

Also, special thanks to Ethan Johnson, friend of the show blog for information about the game Quarter Horse.

Posted August 23, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Quest: Infinite Legs   17 comments

I took a heavy swing at the ICL version of Quest over the weekend, but I whiffed entirely.

Still a good rough impression of playing Quest. (Source.)

I can at least get into what’s distressing me. I think the tightest encapsulation is in a scene with a pink troll.

Blue are enemies, pink is the pink troll in particular. Still not complete.

The troll is one of multiple enemies lurking around the map. Two of them are particularly deadly: a smiling gnome from a forest and Billy the Gnome (who I wrote about already). I have a gun and some ammo and I am able to shoot the gnome, usually. (Random generation.) Billy the Gnome, after multiple tries, has still not fallen to a single bullet; I keep missing. Based on how obnoxious the RNG is in the game, I’m still not certain if that means a.) I’m solving the puzzle wrong b.) I just haven’t had the 5% chance or whatnot I need or c.) I’m supposed to avoid that room entirely.

The big problem is there’s a limit on bullets. The even bigger problem is that the limit on bullets seems to be either buggy, random, or both. I have gone up to kill the gnome, saved my game, then restored my game and went on to kill someone else with the gun and had multiple shot attempts. I have also restored my game and found when attempting to SHOOT the game says I am out of ammo. I suspect somehow ammo count is carrying over from saved games, maybe? The general effect is for me to actually want hold off picking up the gun/ammo in trying to make a “good save” with progress, but the problem is that one thing I’ve been trying to use to make progress will sometimes randomly drop me with Billy the Gnome and inevitable death (more on that in a moment).

The gun doesn’t work at all on the pink troll. It is first encountered in a long north-south “metal tube” (see the map above) and follows while either a.) taking your head off, which is fatal but rare (?) b.) gnawing your leg off, which doesn’t affect anything except your points:

The large evil smelling pink troll has followed you. You’re in the metal tube. An eerie blue glow on the ground resolves itself into the slender lines of a magic sword. The troll has just bitten your leg off. I shall grow you another one, but it will cost you on your score.

I tested and went for about five rounds in a row where I kept having the leg gnawed off and have it be restored by the game’s narrator with a point deduction. The sword, incidentally, works to kill the troll.

The troll has been felled with your magic sword.

As I said, this encapsulates a lot of the annoyances of the game all at once:

a.) mystifying randomness, including the possibility of just dying arbitrarily

b.) odd and still disconcerting treatment of points

c.) inconsistent object physics, as the sword doesn’t work on anyone else seemingly other than the troll, including a yellow ogre nearby on the map

d.) a slightly grating narrator meta-voice, even if I appreciate the innovation

e.) nearly nonsensical scene repetition; if you hang out, you can just get your leg gnawed off over and over

Regarding forced run-ins with Billy the Gnome, one discovery I made is that my silver lamp light source (obtained from the long-talking Bert the elf) can be rubbed in order to teleport between places.

P o p !!! A genie appears. “Hi” he says “want to go somewhere more exciting?” so saying, he claps his hands, and everything goes blurred. When, after several minutes, your senses return. You’ve edged into a room lit with flashing strobe lights and filled with people, rock music and cigarette smoke, Through the haze, you can see a neon sign proclaiming ‘Gandalf’s Garden : Discotheque and Hobbit Gifte Shoppe’. Nobody notices you as you stand on the edge of the floor. To the north, if your compass still works in here, is the emergency exit, and to the south you can see a doorway, beyond which there is a rope ladder leading upwards, Funny clientele, they get in here … Among the litter on the floor is a discarded London Transport underground ticket.

Another destination is the “bar of the Jolly Sailor” which I haven’t found any other way. After a few turns a “press gang” arrives and you land on a ship, and from there can get onto an island. I haven’t explored this part of the game as I’d like because one of the other destinations of the lamp is Billy the Gnome, so some x% of the time the lamp is just deadly.

So I have the combination of erratic occasional death, a highly unreliable saved-game system where I have to avoid certain items in the effort to keep them from bugging out, and a confusing and erratic game generally. I don’t quite want to toss things in the bin yet, because I’m still discovering wild ideas, like this room entirely in French, where unlike the German-room you have to type your commands in French to be understood.

There’s a French language book you can find nearby to help, but the sheer chutzpah of the scene is what I appreciate.

Maybe one more post in the future, but I’m not going to feel like I’m attached any more?

Posted August 21, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Explore (1979)   2 comments

Amawalk, New York, is just a bit north of Manhattan (an hour’s drive, according to Google) and comes close to the Connecticut border. It was also the home of Basics & Beyond, Inc, incorporation date May 23, 1979, whose only claim to technology fame (or rather, complete and utter obscurity) is three products for TRS-80: Microcosm I, Microcosm II, and Microcosm III.

From 80 Micro, January 1980.

All three were package sets where the gimmick was receiving 30 pieces of software (not just games) for the low, low price of $19.95 (later $24.95). The manuals (here for I, here for II) passive-aggressively take shots at their competitors of Creative Computing…

They are not retyped listings of very old programs that are labeled “creative” rather than historical.

…and Instant Software.

Neither are they “instant.”

Both of the aforementioned competitors had far, far, more many products.

Trash talking aside, as far as the games themselves go, South Pole from the Microcosm I collection sounds like it might be an adventure, but falls into the “narrative strategy” genre akin to Oregon Trail. It’s out of scope for this project, but potentially interesting for anyone who likes early text narrative in general.

Evaluating the health of my dogs in South Pole.

Microcosm II contains today’s subject, the generically titled Explore, internal copyright date given as 1979. (Ira Goldklang, who dumped the software off original cassette, also gives a date of 1979, so the date may additionally have been on the physical object itself.)

Being a 1979 game, we are not shockingly hunting treasures again, or as the instructions put it, “YOUR TASK IS TO EXPLORE AN IMMENSE CAVE. AS YOU EXPLORE YOU MAY FIND VALUABLES WHICH YOU SHOULD TAKE OUT OF THE CAVE WITH YOU!”

The instructions also are explicit that the game only uses one-word commands: directions, TAKE, INVENTORY, SCORE, END, and a “FEW MORE COMMANDS I KNOW, BUT YOU MUST DISCOVER THEM YOURSELF.”

This puts the game firmly in the odd period where while Dog Star Adventure had been published (the issue of Softside with Dog Star came out the same month Basics & Beyond was incorporated), but there wasn’t general technological knowledge amongst TRS-80 coders yet on how to write a parser, getting odd games like Dante’s Inferno which was almost purely based on navigation, or Mad Scientist, which technically had a parser but did hacks like checking if a string was long enough to have a noun but not bothering to see what that noun actually was.

In a way, I enjoy these more minimalist games — they are, after all, harkening over to the style of modern “walking simulator” where part of the point is just to look at things, only here it is by technical accident (and the need for stuffing all the games in the collection on one side of one tape) rather than intent.

On the other hand, this is essentially the weakest of the games of this sort I’ve seen so far, comparing with Chaffee’s Quest from 1978, Bernor’s Dante’s Inferno from 1979/1980, and Gold from 1982. I’ll try to unpack why, but the first reason is the map is even more random than usual.

Green marks the starting room.

For example, while you have at least some connectiveness from the starting canyon with the sound of faint chimes to the north, and heading that way leads to a music room…


…heading north again leads to a “fingerprint room”.


Conceptually, a room covered with fingerprints that all come from the same hand is kind of interesting, but it’s just a room hanging with no purpose, other than holding a silver bar to grab. It’s not sensible enough for even an “implied plot”.


No connection to the feather room with anything sensible either. Yes, Crowther/Woods has a “soft room” which is kind of random, but even it has some cave-like connection with moss.

You are in the soft room. The walls are covered with heavy curtains, the floor with a thick pile carpet. Moss covers the ceiling.

There was clearly some imagination flowing, but most of it serves just as window dressing, neither building a coherent environment nor a plot.

This is one of the first rooms I encountered and I anticipated it leading to something satisfying, but no: it’s just here.

The second level has — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — a maze made unsatisfying by being too easy.

It doesn’t even make a good joke. I do appreciate the author’s impulse to avoid having asymmetrical connections (going east and then west will return the player back to where they started) but the obligatory maze should have just been dropped.


The room contains an emerald. Truly inspired.

The third floor is a little more interesting.

The “Match Room” has a giant which tosses you into a random room of the map. (Including the Maze, which I guess would be a little interesting for someone who hadn’t mapped it yet, but not by much.) There’s a “Needle Room” that warns you about touching the needles…

…and if you go UP, the game indeed kills you. (More on dying by going in a direction in a moment.) There’s a small themed “Halloween” area which comes off as a real coherent area; source code follows:


Finally, there’s a dragon with the game’s one and only puzzle.

Keep in mind, up to here, the only thing that’s worked has been directions, and one magic word (IAAPW) which only serves to teleport the player to the room the magic word is in.

If you type LIFT while in the dragon room:


This could have been an amusing and coherent puzzle with a different set-up (and match the dragon you can fistfight in original Adventure) but a sudden appearance of a single verb makes more of a random bit of frustrating rather than any real kind of solving experience.

The other major curveball the game has is the occasional death room. With the needles it works well (and was amusing) and with a waterfall that kills you if you go SOUTH it at least talks about sharp rocks:


Deaths in quicksand and via a “Nork” are a little more unanticipated.

There’s also one minor curveball, and it is one I’ve never seen in an adventure before. I had collected nearly all the treasures and typed SCORE to check where I was at, and the game told me -24. (Yes, that’s negative twenty-four.) I was utterly baffled until I tried going in a random direction, whereupon the game told me “YOU BUMPED INTO A WALL. TRY ANOTHER DIRECTION.” My score was now -25. Every wall bump counts as minus one to the score, and the game doesn’t tell you where the exits are, so the only way to find out where the exits are is to keep bumping into walls and losing points!

Once everything is mapped it isn’t too hard to gather all treasures and head to the exit (see above) but despite all the complaints, that still doesn’t quite nail why this felt like an inferior experience. I think the issue here is: all three of those games I’ve compared with (Quest, Gold, Dante’s Inferno) had a sort of plot twist where you lost an item and had to find it, or had a route blocked off and had to take an alternate route. This meant there was, however slight in each game, some semblance of plot. Explore doesn’t try anything of that sort (even given possible threads like the mysterious black figure) so is only a half-step above the bare-bones experience of the 1973 game Caves.

This was an independent author whose only other adventure experience was likely Crowther/Woods (the author definitely had exposure to that, because the oddly-described CLEAN CLIMABLE PIT is in), so it was interesting to play in a historical-artifact sense, but this mostly served as an anti-example to good game design. South Pole from Microcosm I is honestly more interesting, but that’ll have to be a project for someone else’s blog.

Posted August 16, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Klondike Adventure (1982)   8 comments

While ICL Quest remains a serious nightmare, I thought I’d pull something out that’d be a little easier: the next installment in the Softside Adventure of the Month series.

The cover is for the action game Space Rescue.

Just as a reminder, the Softside series is a long-running set of games published monthly based on adventures submitted by outside authors for publication. A six month subscription on tape was $27; on disk, $45. You could choose Atari, Apple, or TRS-80 as the platform, and the game each month was ported for all three systems.

Here, the TRS-80 version seems to be the original because James Bash’s other works are also for TRS-80. The usual setup with Softside Adventure of the Month games has been to scrub the name from any ports, but interestingly enough here, “James Bash” also appears in the Atari version (the Apple II version has been lost). I do get the impression there wasn’t an official Policy as much as a lackadaisical attitude.

(Incidentally, Black Hole Adventures from December 1981 — which we still don’t have credits for — might have been originally written for Apple II, except we don’t have that version to check. Alternately, the author may have decided they didn’t care about credit, or it was a game internal to Softside, even though the style and coding definitely mean it was by someone other than their usual person, Peter Kirsch. Despite my negative review of the game itself, it is a very early example of an adventure game with plot-based multiple endings, so I’d love to have the mystery resolved.)

James Bash’s other two works are both action games, so this will be yet another author who we only visit once.

I played the Atari version (more or less based on a coin flip) although the TRS-80 version seems to be more or less functionally identical, including the addition of a saved game feature (which is I think is the first time that’s occurred in a Softside adventure!)

Find the treasures again, fine. In this case, the game somewhat leans into the dubious aspect of the exercise, player as thief rather than noble adventurer, as you’ll see as we progress.

The first most obvious problem to resolve is the fact that you will slowly freeze to death if you go outside. Fortunately, the machine here gives out fur coats. Unfortunately, you have no money to buy one, so you have to use the five finger discount.

Just don’t push your luck!

Exploring a little, there’s a pan to the south; too high, and it says not the kind for cooking in.

To the east there’s a locked door. Stepping to the north goes outside.

I wandered a bit before I realized what would help here, but to shorten things down, typing HELP gets

Think of some other way to get help…

which led me to try YELL HELP

The huge snowbank collapses into a harmless pile of snow

This left a KEY and some SNOW. The key’s use was immediately obvious; I was able to get back inside the trading post and get inside the locked door to find a “tool room” with a scrap of paper.

I admit this is the first moment it occurred to me this game would be Slightly Askew. One might expect in a normal game to find a hammer or some other useful device instead of a Christmas wish list.

Moving on and wandering around a little, I found a pipeline and a frozen pond (more or those later) as well as a MOUNTAIN PASS with a KILLER WALRUS. Oddly enough, I was able to quickly realize I could go back to the SNOW I had left behind at the avalanche and MAKE SNOWBALL.

This opens a way to a frozen river, a hole in the ice, and Santa’s workshop. Now is a good time to show the overall map:

Dealing with Santa’s workshop first, you can find a FAT GUY IN A RED SUIT. This led to one of the most frustrating parts of the game.

GIVE turns out to do nothing here. Looking at Santa indicates he’s expecting something. A … bribe for Santa? That doesn’t make sense. I did a run-through of various possible verbs…

Pale purple means fake-out verbs — it only understand the first three letters, so THROW and THREAD (for instance) mean the same thing.

…and noticed the quite curious presence of SIT. It struck me maybe on I could SIT SANTA (not SIT ON SANTA, this is a two-word parser) but the game didn’t understand it. I finally had to check hints which came up with SIT LAP.

Grrrr. This is most decidedly a game about guess-the-noun in a few places. After SIT LAP I was still stumped waving the Christmas list (which wasn’t even mine). I had the thought Santa would be delivering the presents to the original author, Yukon Bill. But no: we’re just taking the stuff for ourselves. We need to ASK PICKAX (which gets us a platinum pickax, one of the five treasures we need) and … a mystery item? I’ll spoil things right now and say it is a bottle of ink, but it doesn’t make sense until a little later why you’d want one.

Jumping off Santa, we can head over to some Stables and find Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and our goal is to gank his nose. Seriously.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer … HAD a very shiny nose …

It took a while for enlightenment to hit but it is the only thing in the game resembling a light source. If you LOOK NOSE the game informs you it is ’45 watts’.

This is fully into the range of jerkface-adventurer, like one of those Euro point-and-clicks from the 2000s (Deponia or Runaway). Anyway, the magical glowing light bulb is enough to get into a dark hole in the ice (that’s to the northeast on my map) and find the frozen corpse of Yukon Bill, he of the trading post and the Christmas wish list we just stole.

I’d say “rest in peace” but we have to steal his boots. Also, a little farther in we can dig and get a silver nugget, another of the five treasures.

Heading back to the pipeline I mentioned a while ago, it turns out you can climb in and crawl around until you find an oil rig. There you can find an old parchment which will let you claim an oil rig if you can manage to sign it.

This is what the bottle of ink is for, but you still need to put the bottle in something. It turns out you can dive into a frozen lake (with DIG), find it is strangely warm…

…go all the way to the bottom, dig again to find an old rusty pen. The pen can then be filled with the ink (from Santa) and used to sign the deed, which finally turns into treasure #3.

For treasure #4, you need to go back to the trading post, and the pan I said was too high. That machine that you really don’t want to kick twice? You can still push it, then climb to the TOP OF THE VENDING MACHINE in order to reach the pan. (This was admittedly clever and I am annoyed I didn’t think of it! Just the game’s physical modeling isn’t that intense, so it never occurred to me it would even let me move a large object around.) With the pan and the boots stolen from Yukon Bill’s corpse we are able to enter a frozen river and pan for GOLD FLAKES.

For the last treasure, well, we’re back to guess the noun. Rather, something I worked out at the start of the game by typing LOOK COAT, the one from the vending machine:

I had to check hints: the only way through here is to LOOK LABEL. Then you find out it is *GENUINE MINK*, that is it, turns into treasure #5.

This game was a near miss for me; if it didn’t have guess-the-noun moments I likely would have found it one of the strongest of the Softside games. It does manage to be compact in a modern way, and put some unusual object uses out there, and the comedy means the slightly odd physics don’t really matter (unscrewing Rudolf’s nose, say). The morality is an interesting factor, and as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t mind an amoral protagonist as long as I’m clued in to the fact; what’s startling is being a paragon of Good and then having to steal some child’s last dollar. While the game doesn’t tip its hand that quickly, my danger sense was alerted with that Christmas wish list, so at least at a conceptual level the puzzles went smoothly for me.

If nothing else, I appreciate this is another “re-formulation” of the Treasure Hunt; we’re deep enough in now that games like Program Power’s Adventure and Hog Jowl Adventure have started to play with the very idea of obtaining all the stuff being your one end goal.

Posted August 13, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Two Kickstarters (Stereotypical, Andromeda Acolytes)   Leave a comment

Sorry for the delay in my next post! Trying to bring Quest to some sort of satisfactory landing so we can get into all sorts of other shenanigans. In the meantime, I have two Kickstarters to mention:


In this point-and-click, choice-based puzzle adventure, you’ll solve cases as a quirky detective and his super spy partner through stories you’ll think you’ve seen before. But be careful! You’ll have to look past the stereotypes to uncover the story’s true ending.

This one is of particular interest as it is a project of Clopas LLC, that of none other than Scott Adams (of Adventureland, The Count, etc.)

This is not a regular text adventure (that’d be Adventureland XL), but a mobile game with character stats, akin to something from Choice of Games.

Andromeda Acolytes is from Wade Clarke who you might know from Leadlight and Six, and is developing a text adventure in the Andromeda “shared universe” with other games like Andromeda Apocalypse.

You’ll play four very different heroines drawn into each other’s orbit when an accident awakens a mysterious power on the planet Monarch. You’ll negotiate underwater mechs, artificial intelligences, abandoned cities, crime, friendship, suspense, horror, humour, an art exhibition, virtual realities and a tank. Experience each PC via first-person prose as you puzzle, converse and explore.

Kickstarter link here

This one’s actually got a demo for the first chapter that you can try here and looks to be a fairly elaborate traditional adventure.

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