Omotesando Adventure (1982)   10 comments

How can I say it? I can’t say ‘I can remember the graphics,’ because there weren’t any graphics. But I remember what I imagined it being, because you entered all the commands yourself: ‘Go up elevator.’ ‘Move ashtray.’ There were no graphics on the screen, so you had to imagine everything yourself. The quote-unquote graphics that I imagined for the game I essentially created myself, because I had to imagine everything.

I got to thinking that it was very interesting that you had to visualize your own graphics. But what would a text adventure look like if it actually had graphics? I thought it would sell very well.

quoted from Koichi Nakamura, executive producer for Spike Chunsoft, who worked on the first Dragon Warrior games, Shiren the Wanderer, and visual novels like Danganronpa and Zero Time Dilemma

Omotesando Street in Tokyo. [Source.]

This game is a nexus. While arguably, all games, even the most obscure ones, have threads leading to them and out of them, with Omotesando Adventure these threads are very bright. This is the first (as we currently know) Japanese adventure game, although it was written in English.

It showed up in ASCII Magazine, a hobbyist computer magazine that had been running successfully since 1977. They were the ones that translated and printed Ahl’s 101 Basic Computer Games in Japan, and printed quite a lot of source code in each issue. Sometimes the source code was given in specialized languages GAME (General Algorithmic Micro Expressions) and later PL/1; sometimes they were straightforward BASIC; sometimes they were raw machine code.

The code was displayed on TRS-80 or PET screens and then the editor, Susumu Furukawa, took pictures with a Polaroid camera and mashed them together.

Our selection today was in raw machine code, in the April 1982 issue; in particular, in a “parody insert” called Ah-SKI! (“An Annual Magazine for Tired & Histerical Computer Scientist”) tucked inside was Omotesando Adventure, a game named after the street ASCII’s headquarters were on.

This issue we are introducing the Adventure Game. It’s an entirely new genre, the like of which was never seen on a computer. We may even call it a “New Type” of computer games.

The goal, as an employee of a rival company, is to sneak into the ASCII offices and sabotage their next issue. Before I get into gameplay details, I want to discuss those bright threads. According to Susumu Furukawa the game was coded with Adven-80, a “general purpose” adventure writing code base published in Dr. Dobbs Journal, in an article by Peter D. Scargill. (Dr. Dobbs was one of the offshoots of the People’s Computer Company, and lasted long after the PCC was dead.)

The system is slightly less flexible than the Scott Adams one; that one allowed for arbitrary timers to allow complex timed object and location effects, like a tide that moves in or out. ADVEN-80 instead hardcodes in a lamp timer and seems to have variable storage but doesn’t seem to allow multiple timers (unless I’m missing some complex hack) so has a relatively static world.

What’s most fascinating about ADVEN-80 is it cites other prior systems as sources:

– Scott Adams games in general

– The GROW system (the node-based system which I’ve written about here)

– Ken Reed’s article for Practical Computing published in the UK from 1980 (that I’ve written about here)

– Blank and Galley describing the system of storage for Zork on home computer

– Greg Hassett’s article on How to Write Adventure games (which I’ve mentioned here)

So, to summarize, the first Japanese adventure game (that we know of) pulls a system from an US publication, which itself was influenced by both US and UK writing about how adventure systems work. This is essentially a synthesis of the early years of adventure history.

Sadly, that doesn’t mean Omotesando is well-coded; perhaps it is understandable as the first adventure from the country and also not being written in Japanese. As the instructions mention, Japanese is hard to parse (it doesn’t really lend itself to “VERB NOUN” style commands without feeling broken and awkward).

Adventure games were developed in America, and so at this point in time both the descriptions and the input are set in English. (Because of that our English has improved considerably. When we play adventure games here at the office, a Japanese-English-Japanese dictionary is an essential accessory).

Furthermore, while outputting text isn’t a problem, formatting a request for action in Japanese is difficult and so is analyzing the input. We think even home-grown adventure games are going to use English for a while.

This prophecy was a little true; the next two adventure games from Japan (both from 1982) use English commands but have text and responses in Japanese, and there were also 1983 games with the same arrangement.

The computer emulated here is a NEC PC-8001 from 1979, essentially exclusive to Japan. It did later make it to the US as the PC-8001A although it remains very obscure outside of its home country.

So, back to the game itself: it is set at ASCII’s own offices, where your goal is sabotage.

You start at the entrance of the ASCII building and eventually find keys to unlock the three floors it is housed on (which I have marked in three different colors on the map above).

I admit being highly stuck for a while at first due to a number of oddities in the system:

1.) You can only see room exits by using LOOK in a particular room. This is relatively normal. However, this also applies to objects, which is slightly odd, and the objects don’t even exist until you’ve done LOOK which is staggeringly odd. That means if you die (and you will die) and restart, it is quite easy to casually try to OPEN DOOR and have the game tell you it doesn’t see one, but that’s because you never materialized the door yet with a LOOK command. Phew.

One of the early GAME OVERs.

2.) You can both LOOK at items and SEARCH them. One, either, or both can reveal differing information, but even more importantly, they do nothing on an item being held. The first set of keys I found I was unable to look at, which is unfortunate because I would have seen they went to the fourth floor and to the security box. The security box helps disable the alarm, as shown above; you need to just UNLOCK SECURITY while holding the right key.

3.) The offices are full of extraneous desks and items that you can’t pick up, except the game is unclear in its parser messages so it took me a while to realize it was trying to give the modern “that’s just scenery”. That applies, for instance, to the computer above, playing the game that you are currently playing.

4.) Sometimes the parser is just regular finicky in all the traditional ways, like the guess-the-verb fest above. I had a spray gun that the game described as for cockroach removal (as long as it was on the floor) but it turns out the right command is KILL COCKROACHES.

The gameplay essentially travels through a series of keys before landing on a gold one. The gold one can be used to open a safe with a “magnetic monopole bomb”.

I placed the bomb at what the game described as the “central zone of ASCII”, ran outside, typed DONE like the game commanded me and:

Oof. That’s not good. Fortunately, a helpful Youtube video by くしかつ Kushikatsu goes through a complete walkthrough, whereupon I found I was missing two things.

First, an umbrella and a raincoat. I actually had grabbed the umbrella already but not the raincoat, because GET RAINCOAT didn’t work when I found it. You’re supposed to just WEAR RAINCOAT upon finding it. I’m not sure if this is really needed at all, but the outside is described as rainy, so I’m fine with the roleplaying.

I’m not sure what is going on with the Klingon reference. Japan did like Star Trek and Ahl’s book includes the famous Star Trek mainframe game.

Second, more importantly: Kushikatsu closed and locked the safe and all the doors. Very unusual! Leave no trace. The only other game with a comparable trick from the Project I’ve run into is Gargoyle Castle where you had to pick up all the trash.

So despite it being caught in a murky fog of dodgy parser choices, and despite the game not giving enough feedback for the reason of failure, Omotesando Adventure has a genuinely clever gameplay trick up its sleeve.

(There’s one more trick, supposedly, based on Jimmy Maher’s writeup. There is a way to save your game based on doing some in-game trick. I never did find it, and the walkthrough I mentioned doesn’t bother. Anyone who knows what’s going on feel free to drop a note in the comments.)

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

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10 responses to “Omotesando Adventure (1982)

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  1. That “Red Alart” message made me chuckle. Seems like their dodgy English skills made the developers produce an odd mashup of “Red Alert” and “Alarm” there. 😁

    • We’ve had equally weird things from early-1980s-era games from native English speakers, so I mostly was able to let the odd language difficulties slide. (The one exception is “Nothing to mean.” which I believe is the game’s “I understood what you meant but that isn’t useful to try doing” message but it fooled me a couple times into thinking the verb just wasn’t parsed at all. >BREAK SECURITY “Nothing to mean.” — that says you can’t break the security box.)

  2. It also didn’t help the text adventure’s chances in Japan that back then it was really inconvenient to output text as anything other than one of their two alphabets, which in most computers were done with katakana. At least some games went with a noun verb order, so it got slightly less confusing.
    Someone should have cut ASCII a check for discovering magnetic monopoles, especially developing a military application for them.

    • Would you be able to go into some detail on “why Japanese is hard to parse”? I grok it a little (and I’ve been studying some Japanese in preparation for certain games coming up) but I’m certainly not at a level to talk about the minutiae of grammar.

    • Okay, bare in mind I’m at a level where I can only catch some of what people say and can only say simple things.
      You probably know that Japanese has three alphabets, hiragana, katakana and the kanji. Kanji, in case you don’t, are the Chinese characters, of which there are at least 2,000 in regular use. Someone just learning the language probably has the wise idea that they should just use hiragana or something, which sounds smart. That’s actually what the Koreans did, they made their own written language, and tried to abandon their form of Chinese characters.
      That failed.
      I don’t know much about Korean, but in Japanese, every single syllable is a word on its own, and it could also be a sound effect. Itsalsobuncheduptogetherlikethis. There are also tons of words that sound the exact same. This is why they kept around the kanji, despite how insane it feels to learn. The only other way would be to completely redesign the language from the ground up and get people to use that. (and each kanji can have dozens of meanings, but those are easier to parse)
      Now, when I played The Count in Japanese, they added spaces to words, but there’s another problem. The particles that hold sentences together are actually added at the end of the word, likethis. I forget if this affected how you input commands, but the text description of the environment could be confusing. (I think this also defeats machine translation tools, but I admit I never checked)
      Once you get down the concepts it doesn’t feel too bad, but buying a good dictionary or extensively checking an online one like Jisho (dot) org is a very good idea.

      • 2 out of the 4 upcoming titles in Japanese have (fan-made) translations, but I’m going to have to bite the bullet at some point. Going to be tougher than Dutch for sure.

      • I will say that despite being harder to learn, I feel like Japanese is a lot more manageable in learning it once you start working at it. They’ve set up various tiers of which kanji are used at which levels and the language’s grammar has less to parse compared to the European languages I’ve tried to learn. Small victories…

  3. A really interesting article, as always. I’ve been diving into some research on the Peter Scargill ADVEN-80 system. Peter mentions it a few times on both his personal and his tech blog (I submitted those links already here) and mentions the fact that he’d been contacted by a Japanese author researching Omotesando Adventure fairly recently.

    It’s sometimes hard to work out which games used these old systems, if they don’t specifically credit them. At the moment there’s this game and Peter’s own short demo. There’s also a demonstration game by Robert W. Rasch (an interesting guy in his own right) which I think is called General Hospital (he was a medical man himself) and is in the “.ark” archive for ADVEN-80. Robert was a Heath Zenith fan/user, judging by his articles and programs in magazines like Sextant and REMark.

    I’ve also found a reference to Mark Mliner mentioning that he programmed an adventure using the system for his daughter to play.

    Possibly the best known ADVEN-80 game is the ZX Spectrum title Castle Blackstar from 1983/4 which was heavily based on the system.

    • Had a quick look in the adven-80.ark file… it’s interesting trying to download a CP/M program that will unarchive an .ark or .lbr file as they’re quite often bundled up themselves as .ark or .lbr files… that you can’t open without a program that will unarchive a .ark or .lbr file!!

      Robert W. Rasch’s General Hospital is a text adventure where you play as the doctor, moving around a realistic hospital solving medical cases. It dates from at least as early as September 1983; the version that’s labelled v1.3

      • General Hospital sounds like a fun premise!

        One of these days I may ram through my collection and look for “signatures” to indicate if a particular system is being used. The only one that’s super-obvious is Scott Adams.

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