Fun House (Ramella, 1982)   7 comments

Every once in a while, just for fun, I dig amongst my pile of “unsorted” games; no year, probably no author, possibly not even a title. Today’s game is just listed as “Adventure” on the TRS-80 site, which has just the sort of genericism I was looking for.

Adventure (191)   1,3   BAS   19xx   Author Unknown

What also caught my eye is the extraordinarily tiny file size of 2353 bytes; even the absolutely minimalist VIC-20 games we’ve seen had more to work with. Surprisingly enough, the game was playable, and while simplistic, had some unique elements and atmosphere. With a little more research I managed to figure out not only who the author is, but where and when it was published, and why the game is so small.

80 Micro, September 1982.

In 1982, Richard Ramella wrote the book Computer Carnival, with sixty very small computer programs intended for children. Quoting a later volume of Microcomputer Magazine:

Children will find mazes, word games, graphics, puzzles, and quizzes.

I haven’t figured out a publication month, so I’m unclear if it started before or after, but in September 1982 Richard Ramella started a column with 80 Micro with a similar aesthetic. Very friendly, small code, meant to be complete in one or two portions of a page; not long to type, and easy to study. The “study” part is somewhat incidental, as Ramella stated:

Fun House is not meant to teach programming, though the simple methods can be good material for the beginner.

I think a similar thread can be drawn with Andrew Colin’s game Dungeon which was part of a VIC-20 tutorial; putting out something that invites the user to tweak the code on their own, without any hand-holding.

The programs (not always games, but at least “fun” in some way) are short enough that the column includes multiple programs, like Pachinko, Motor Mouth, Hot Dog, and today’s game, Fun House. Not only does the reduced length make the games easier to type in, but it gives room for expansion. Fun House involves escaping a dark maze, and if the player is displeased with the size of the maze, they can easily add more material without breaking the memory limit of their TRS-80.

With such a small file size no parser is possible — but if this is intended for kids to learn programming, this seems an appropriate choice. The only actions are movement directions, and at the exit, typing in a code (more on that in a moment). You’re walking “blind” without described exits but it is appropriate here, as the player is just getting IMPRESSIONS if each room while walking through the dark; one room laughter, another with a cold hand.

This Fun House is a building about 80 by 40 feet. I won’t be exact because you travel through in complete darkness. You will know how many feet you’ve traveled, and you will know your location only by what you hear, smell or touch in that location.

If you walk in a direction that doesn’t work the game will explain why.

Adventure games almost never give exact positions, but here, it tells you number of steps taken as you move around.

A little way in there’s a choice like Nightmare Park, but less deadly: if you pick the wrong door you just get sent back to the entrance.

Halfway through the maze there’s a room where you get a code you are supposed to memorize; just a little later the game needs you to type in the memorized code to exit.

So: navigate a small maze, pick the correct one out of three doors, briefly remember a three-character code. This is decidedly not a complex game, but that isn’t the purpose. And despite that, the game has three distinct novelties. First is the use-of-other-senses concept; typically in an adventure of this era (…really, any era?…) darkness means a complete lack of navigational means; other senses are not available. Here, scents and sounds make up the room descriptions.


Second, as already mentioned, is the positional idea; the game is not oriented around a graph-theory construct. Let me show my map and the author’s map (printed in the next issue of Micro 80) to show what I mean:

The author was thinking in terms of coordinate positions, so all step counts are measured accurately; when I first made my map I had “overlap” because I wasn’t extending the longer passages in terms of step count. (As sort of a combination of the two ideas, it is also reasonable that movements would not be all the same length, since the player keeps walking until they hit the next stimuli.)

Novelty three (or perhaps two-and-a-half) is that the room descriptions are randomized at the start. You always start at an entrance followed by “Whistling in the Dark”, but the placement of the smell of popcorn, someone crying about being lost, etc. are placed differently each game. This isn’t the full adventure-roguelike experience (like with Madness and the Minotaur and Lugi) but it is interesting to see even in an absolutely minimal context the author decided to add randomization.

The author kept his column until 1984 (when 80 Micro became less games-oriented). He eventually switched to the Amiga, editing the diskmag JumpDisk from 1986 all the way to 1993.

We will see him again at least once, as he wrote the graphical adventure Lurkley Manor in 1985. In the meantime, I appreciated the chance to rescue another game off the 19xx bin; even these odd experiments that would otherwise be passed over can be fascinating when studied more carefully.

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

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7 responses to “Fun House (Ramella, 1982)

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  1. That “hallway” kind of drawing of a maze is more useful in some contexts than the “rooms connected by passages” model, I think. The hedge maze in Hollywood Hijinx comes to mind.

    • The big reason I haven’t gone for this kind of map often is that it is hard to know when it really is appropriate — the author can make it non-euclidian in the middle somewhere, even if all indications are it is “normal” (Asylum does that with one part, even though it clearly is meant to be mapped on graph paper).

      If I knew a hedge-style maze was coming I might switch.

  2. Hmm, you know, the fact that you included the author’s name in the post title makes me suspicious that there’s another Fun House game from 1982 you’re going to cover.

  3. Pingback: Operation: Sabotage (1982) | Renga in Blue

  4. My dad is Richard Ramella. Thanks for this write up. Cool to see stuff he did back then has lived on.

    Nathan Ramella
    • Wow! Wonderful to hear from you.

      Do you know (or have a way of finding out) what the thinking was in producing the column? The emphasis on very tiny code is fascinating.

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