Haunted House (DEC BASIC, 1979)   8 comments

00290 REM This is the Haunted House Game. It was conceived
00300 REM primarily by Rich Stratton, with Rich Gould and
00310 REM Norm Hurst.
00450 REM November, 1979

We’ve got a namespace clash here with Haunted House (1979), the TRS-80 game intended to fit in 4K on two sides of a tape. This instead was for a DEC PDP-10 mainframe, as found in this directory at bitsavers. I don’t have any other biographical context on this game’s creation other than the names found above. However, it is fair to say (from the content) that the authors would definitely have been in their teenage years.

You are in the Ghost’s Study. It is filled with books and magazines about famous ghosts.
What next? READ BOOK
Hmm..this seems to be written in Swedish!
Each page says..
‘Oh, yah…on chancer der boom-boom!

From the now-closed Living Computers Museum.

I discovered (and played) Haunted House via the website 8bitworkshop, which has a lovely online BASIC interpreter which lets you simulate various flavors of old BASIC, including the original Dartmouth one. Amongst games I was familiar with (like Wumpus and Star Trader) it had Haunted House listed, which I hadn’t heard of before.

Occasionally, someone asks I how I drudge up all these old games; part of the trick is being alert for when something new pops up amidst the very common.

For any transcripts that follow, I am mashing together paragraphs for readability. Additionally, while the November 1979 version isn’t archived, we have versions from March 1980 and June 1982; I’m playing the latter.

This is the latest version as of 2-Jun-82.
Welcome to the Haunted House.
Do you want Instructions? YES
You are about to begin a perilous journey. You will wake up and find yourself in one of the many rooms of an old mansion—a mansion which has been abandoned and is now infested with Evils and Unspeakable Deaths of many kinds. You must escape from the confines of the house. By using single-word comands you may move through the maze of old rooms. You have the following items with you:
Use your common sense to tell you what to do….
Type ‘HELP’ for help.
Select your difficulty level: 1 (easy) to 9 (hard).

Straight off here we’ve got a very unusual thing, and I’m not even referring to the difficulty level — implying this is an adventure-roguelike with randomized elements, like we’ve covered before — but the fact that you start with nearly all the objects already in your inventory. You can find a key and treasure, but otherwise the tools are permanent parts of your inventory. The game hard-codes the “INVENTORY” command that way:

10270 PRINT “You have with you…..”
10280 PRINT “You have collected…..”
10285 FOR N8=1 TO 30

It’s interesting how rare this is amongst adventure games; it makes sense for an infiltration (like Spider and Web) or hiking trip to have a well-prepared character, but there’s often still a reluctance to give the main character too much to start with.

The difficulty, incidentally, just sets

a.) light level — you have both the lantern and flashlight that work, and can refill the lantern with kerosene if you find it and the flashlight with batteries if you find them.

b.) how soon you need to DEFECATE

Directly from the source code:

01670 IF Q$=”DEFECATE” THEN 1690

This needs to be done in a room with a toilet (if you don’t you attract wolverines who eat you) plus the game prompts you after:

06600 PRINT “What next”;

Then to survive you must type WIPE to which the game says “Good. You have saved yourself from the wolverines.” Otherwise:

You neglected to clean up. A pack of wolverines have been attracted by the scent and have devoured you.

While you get started in a random spot, the overall map structure is not random. The game has a slightly different feel to the opening when you start in a basement torture chamber complex…

You are in the torture chamber. Great place for some discipline. You can’t see past your nose since it’s so dark down here. The smell of death is omnipresent.
What next? E
You are in the torture chamber. I’d get out before you undergo a little head shrinking. But who knows which way to go?
What next? E
You are in the torture chamber. You’ll have to find a way out fast, or learn to be a masochist.

…versus a hallway on one of the upper floors.

You are in the Foyer. There is a heavy oak door on the north wall. There is also a doorway to the south.
There is a small box here.
The lantern casts eerie shadows on the wall.
What next? OPEN BOX
Inside the box there is nothing….it’s empty
What next? S
You are in a Hallway. To the north and south are doorways. To the east is a large staircase heading up into the darkness.
What next? S
You are in a Hallway. To the north and south are doorways. To the east is an archway with darkness beyond.

The boxes mentioned in the second excerpt are both filled randomly and placed randomly. They might contain something valuable (like coins) they might have a deadly snake, or the might have an “ambiguity”.

You are in a Bathroom. A toilet sits in the corner. To the north and south are doors.
There is a small box here.
What next? OPEN BOX
Inside the box there is an ambiguity.
You can’t read a AMBIGUITY , FOOL!!

As befits this sort of game, you have multiple gruesome ways to die.

The ghosts have strapped you to the bed and smothered you!!!!

A failure to use GHOST-REPELLANT.

You are surrounded by darkness…..thousands of dwarves and goblins, no longer afraid of you, attack and devour you!!!! AAAAARRRRRRGGHHH!!!

You ran out of your light sources or forgot to turn one on.

The bats have pecked your eyes out and you you have bled to a hideous death!!!!

You didn’t turn on the RADAR-JAMMER when bats are around.

Essentially, the perma-tools in inventory are each applicable to a particular obstacle, so surviving is mostly a matter of knowing the right command to do when. The parser is the very crude bespoke type so the right syntax to use something isn’t necessarily obvious. It isn’t terrible to work out but a single wrong move in the wrong place means death (as opposed to a gentle error message letting you try again) so I dove for the source code early to get a verb list so I wouldn’t be quite so irritated while playing.

01460 IF Q$=”CHOP” THEN 7500
01470 IF Q$=”SWAT” THEN 9570
01480 IF Q$=”SPRAY” THEN 7470

A secondary goal is to get treasures for points, but the primary goal is simply to escape. There are a couple ways, some with a random chance of death.

First, you can find a bedroom with a window. You can OPEN WINDOW; the game will then prompt you what to do next. The response the game wants is TIE SHEETS (although it only bothers to check if your first three letters are TIE, you could say TIE NONSENSE and the game behaves the same).

You have tied the sheets together and they are lowered out of the window. They don’t look very strong…..What next

Then if you go DOWN the game has a partial chance of just killing you, and a low chance (10%) of letting you escape.

Second, you can find the Foyer to the game, have a key randomly obtained from one of the boxes, and escape straightforwardly (no chance of death).

Third, you can follow the senator Ted Kennedy. He can appear randomly.

You are in a Hallway. Your fate is in your
own hands.
an icy chill races down your spine; Someone is behind you!!
you turn……..
!! T E D K E N N E D Y !!
He offers to show you the way out; will you follow him? YES
CONGRATULATIONS!! You have overcome all odds
and escaped from the house!
You are no longer in the house or the game.
You were in the house for exactly 18 moves.
You scored a total of 124 points.

There is a 50% chance if you try to follow you will die instead because he takes a wrong turn. Also, you can summon Ted right away by READING the DICTIONARY that you start with in your inventory.

You open the dictionary….it says…
Ahhhh…too bad. It is written in ghost language.
Do you know how to read ghost language? YES
What does IARANDME mean? I AM A NERD
That is CORRECT!! You must be a NERD to understand ghost language.
All is not lost however. All you have to do is talk to …
!! T E D K E N N E D Y !!
He offers to show you the way out;
will you follow him? YES
Ah Ted, shouldn’t we be going left here??
TED, left…. NO TED, LEFT…..LEFT!!!!!
ooops, looks like Ted missed that turn, but he’ll be back in a week to pull you out (or rather dredge you up).

Incidentally, if you get the anagram wrong, the game gets upset that you were lying about knowing ghost language and kills you.

Despite the game’s written-by-teenager-ness, it does follow in our adventure-roguelike category, and it is useful to ask the same question we’ve asked for the other games: does it work? Does anything work? I think starting with all the tools was necessary, given the game will otherwise sometimes drop you in a room where you’re just going to die otherwise; this evades the problem some games like Lugi had of giving the player a puzzle but hiding the solution so well for a particular random seed it was impossible to solve. I also did like the randomly placed non-descript boxes; for some reason they worked more atmospherically than scattering items would, just because of the possibility of empty boxes or a trap.

One of the floors mapped out, although I can’t guarantee complete accuracy because the game is fussy about describing what exits are possible from each room.

The most erratic aspect is the complete lack of worry on putting the player near the exit. One time I started right at the Foyer; the only reason I couldn’t just walk out immediately was a lack of a key. And of course the DICTIONARY provides immediate exit. However, since this game is really leaning on the slot-machine end of things (but far less painful than Conquest of Memory Alpha) I think the chaotic setup works as is; it wouldn’t necessarily work with games that are less obviously goofy larks.

Posted March 21, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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8 responses to “Haunted House (DEC BASIC, 1979)

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  1. Can’t say I ever expected one of these games to reference the Chappaquiddick incident, and yet here we are.

    • While it was a national story, I think it is random enough as a game element suggest the game was written somewhere in the vicinity of Massachusetts. (I also checked the rest of the directory if there were any clues. There’s a couple odd items including a Mr. Sluggo’s Torture Chamber game written by 3 high schoolers in New York, but it is a random enough selection I wasn’t comfortable making any conclusion.)

  2. It’s hilarious to have an actual verb “defecate” when you consider all the IF games than do anything from admonish to outright kill you for saying “s**t”.

  3. Defecation sure is… a choice… as a story goal.

  4. > “This needs to be done in a room with a toilet (if you don’t you attract wolverines who eat you) (…) Then to survive you must type WIPE to which the game says “Good. You have saved yourself from the wolverines.”

    I had never seen a verb like “defecate” in an adventure. When I saw it in the listing and tried it myself, I died immediately so I just thought it was just a verb falling in the bucket of insults-that-make-you-die. But no!! I find hilarious that you can only do it safely in a room with a toilet, not forgetting to wipe yourself afterwards!!

  5. The bats… PECK? I’m not sure if that was teenage humor, or teenage ignorance, but I’ll admit it raised a chuckle from me!

    • I wondered about that too. Bats could claw (or less likely, bite). Peck? Anything flying must have a beak, I guess…

  6. ‘Oh, yah…on chancer der boom-boom! VIRDE !’

    Really? *sighs*

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