Archive for April 2023

Krakit (1982)   16 comments

For my 1981 sequence of games I played Alkemstone, a treasure hunt with clues hidden in an Apple II game where the treasure has never been found. While we made some progress, most notably extracting every single clue from in the game (not a trivial task) it remains an open historical mystery.

Alkemstone was odd insofar as it was made in the United States, and the place in 1981 that really had been hit by the puzzle-contest bug at the time was the UK, where Masquerade-mania was at its height. 1982 had a bit of a let-down with the solution more-or-less cheated (see the link for the whole story) but there was still a sense in the air of the possibility of more “contest games”, perhaps in computer medium.

The most famous of these games (which is, genuinely, an adventure game) awaits a future post; as preparation, I thought I’d tackle Artic Computing’s entry into the ring. Artic Computing had an ongoing adventure series (so far I’ve written about Planet of Death and Inca Curse); however, Krakit is not oriented as an adventure and is a pure puzzle game. (ADD: Looks like Artic was only the publisher in the UK, International Publishing and Software was the original maker.)


a.) it fits into the history to enough an extent without the game I’d feel like there was a gap

b.) it allows for audience participation of you, the one reading this right now

c.) it allows me to do some more game-design-theoretical ramblings about this sort of thing

d.) just like Alkemstone, it appears nobody has ever solved it, which makes it too tantalizing to ignore.

For (d.) I am reliant on a report in Sinclair User (December 1983) which claims that the game has been “withdrawn” from advertising in the UK, with a quote from the director Richard Turner:

A number of people decided not to buy the cassette because their friends told them how difficult the game was.

From zx81stuff.

The 10,000 pounds from the cover (see above) had by that time been upped to 14,000. In the United States the game was pitched as possibly winning the player “$20,000 or more”. (See Computers & Electronics, March 1983.)

The game then seems to vanish from records. The British Newspaper Archive has no post-1983 mentions and I haven’t found any other reference digging through magazines. My suspicion (although I’m only in the 80%-90% range on confidence) is that the contest was quietly shelved with no winner.

So, with a group of smart people reading this and the power of the Internet, can we solve it now?

It does seem to be easier than Alkemstone. It’s simply a matter of 12 self-contained puzzles following a very particular set of rules; unlike the original Masquerade (or the adventure game I’ll be getting to) there isn’t buried meaning amongst a superfluous narrative. There is a very brief narrative of sorts, but I’m fairly sure it has nothing to do with the main game. Your father was a international courier, and has left you some money in a bank, and to get at the money you need to solve the puzzles.

I’ll be giving screenshots, but if you’re wanting to “play” the game, here’s a link to access it online.

Just to summarize, each puzzle contains a clue that will have a country, city, and number. (The number may or may not be a date.)

There’s a “warm-up puzzle” that the game gives with a complete solution worked out.

I will save the explanation for the comments so you can try to solve it yourself; the actual software leads the player through the solution via a series of multiple choice questions (essentially creating a mini-Socratic dialogue), which is pretty fascinating in itself.

In order to avoid overwhelming people, I just have the first three clues here for now. I do get the sinking feeling there might be some “ambiguous puzzles” where the answer isn’t nailed down securely for each (which might explain why it went unsolved) but I feel like we can at least get a few.

Posted April 30, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Puzzles, Video Games

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Jungle Adventure, Part II: King Solomon’s Mines: Finished!   Leave a comment

Ad from 80 Micro, August 1982.

So the main quest of the previous game, the one thing that we needed in order to reach a glorious conclusion, was obtaining a piece of ivory from the elephant graveyard. It was a Treasure Hunt with only one item.

This item gets used immediately in the first puzzle of the sequel where you trade it away. I find this hilarious.

I did need to check Dale Dobson’s walkthrough for this, because I didn’t understand that the village had a game mechanic attached; drop an item for trade, walk away, and come back to find the trade has happened. In this case, they trade for a map, which leads to a side area which turns out to be really the only other part of the whole map.

The cave is dark so you can’t go in there right away, but you can pick up up some dynamite and a knife. There’s also a spring which serves as a second water source. (For the entirety of the game you occasionally have to go back to water and PUT BAG / IN TROUGH in order to fill up. I found that if I did it every time I passed a water source in general I didn’t have to think about it otherwise.)

The dynamite I was able to blow up using the flint I found last time, but it blows up immediately, which is not terribly helpful. If you LOOK DYNAMITE it mentions a lack of fuse. The solution here is to go over to the grass, grab a handful, and MAKE FUSE.

You then have a little time to run away after blowing up the dynamite.

Having high power in hand I tried it in every single room, including ones where it didn’t make sense to dynamite, with no luck. I tried lighting the dynamite while holding it and walking to the snakes; while you have an extra turn to THROW and run away, you don’t have enough time to move between rooms.

Totally stumped, I had to check for help again. The KNIFE I got from the secret area I had tried to apply to the rhino (CUT RHINO) and the game told me that I couldn’t do that. Even though it is not described, you are supposed to CUT HORN.

Ugh. The worst parser fall-down in all the Olsen games so far.

The HORN, being ivory, can be traded again; if you take it to the village, and leave it behind, you get a FLUTE in exchange. This can be immediately applied to the snakes:

The temple then can be entered, but you’re stopped by a sealed door. However, after trying the dynamite everywhere, it was satisfying to finally know exactly where it went!

The goggles rather curiously make the room dark, but they’re useful for later. The mural indicates eating bark is helpful. I had already tried CUT BARK on the nearby tree (after it is described as the BARK being eaten away) but I hadn’t tried it going up higher on the branches.

With BARK in hand, you can CHEW BARK in order to make the dark cave at the secret area bright. (To see in regular rooms while under the influence of bark, you need to wear the goggles.)

Going down leads to a ledge at some lava. You can JUMP LEDGE in order to get to the other side, but only if you’re not carrying anything.

This is immediately adjacent to King Solomon’s Treasure Room.

Just like the prior game, this isn’t the whole story yet: you have to escape with the loot over the lava somehow. If you try cart them back and THROW DIAMONDS (or RUBIES or EMERALDS) the game says

They scatter and fall into the chasm.

The key here is the bag again: it’s light enough to throw over the lava, and as long as you’ve emptied the water out, you can fit one (1) of the treasures.

While you’re doing all this, your vision-power from the bark is wearing out. It is apparently possible to follow a very tight sequence of tossing the bag over, jumping, stuffing a treasure in the bag, tossing it back, jumping back, emptying the treasure out of the bag, and repeating. You can make it safely out on the very last turn (at least according to Dale Dobson).

However, there’s an easier way: there’s still bark on the tree. The better way to handle all this is to throw over only one of the treasures, then go back up to the surface (using goggles while waiting for the tree bark effect to run out) in order to get some more bark. Alternately, you can eat the bark while up the tree (goggles required), get some more bark right away, and then use the tail end of the vision effect up to as far as you can before eating a second helping of bark.

It’s still interesting to “plan the route” of the conditions here, but at least it isn’t quite as hard as Dobson originally advertised.

There’s only one more wrinkle: the pygmies will stop you from trying to leave after you find the treasure (understandably so, although even if you don’t have it). The solution is the same as the previous game: drop the skull. The presence of the sacred skull will cause them to run away.

I like the game accounts for the possibility of losing treasure in the lava. Because everything game from the same room I still wouldn’t call it a Treasure Hunt in the regular sense.

In a purely mechanical sense, it is gratifying to see Olsen still being relatively strong; he tries to include

a.) timers and general effects (like modifying vision)

b.) relatively tight geography that gets passed over multiple times

c.) mostly logical ideas

I still would call this the weakest of his games so far, just because the trading idea was weakly signaled, the parser issues were messier than usual and … well, let me just quote Dale Dobson:

Despite our blatant disregard for animal life, native religions and archaeological integrity — victory is ours!

The serial-adventure genre just doesn’t age as well when there aren’t Nazis to fight.

Posted April 29, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Jungle Adventure, Part II: King Solomon’s Mines (1982)   3 comments

I was captivated. Writing adventures was more fun than playing them! I immediately started plotting other adventure stories.

Interview with the author in Syntax magazine

This is a direct sequel to John R. Olsen’s game The Elephant’s Graveyard as published in the December 1981 edition of CLOAD (a TRS-80 “tape magazine”), and was published in the month immediately following. This might normally mean it could squeak into 1981 via the “publications tend to be out a month before their newsstand date” rule, but keep in mind CLOAD is direct-mail by tape and doesn’t follow by the same rules; also, in the preface the editor-in-chief (David Lagerquist) apologizes for the issue being late (“January’s issue should come out in January, don’t you think?”)

Also, I’ll be honest, despite John R. Olsen’s Frankenstein Adventure being solid enough to hit my recommended list last year, I was stalling. Part I of this game (“based on the jungle settings of the Tarzan novels”) has a bit with pygmies and a “witchdoctor”. It managed to avoid being terrible and certainly avoided the original book’s section where Tarzan massacres the Africans, but hovering around this subject matter always makes me concerned.

Based on the title, instead of Tarzan, King Solomon’s Mines is instead nominally based on the book by Sir H. Rider Haggard, part of the Allan Quatermain series. (Think Indiana Jones as written by an actual 19th century Victorian.)

The game picks up the day after the previous one ends. Not only does it continue the story, it uses the same rooms, setting, and objects to start with. (I don’t think we’ve hit this sequel-continuity in any game so far! Savage Island was in two parts but didn’t re-use rooms. The same is true of Arrow of Death.)

This seems to be a true Treasure Hunt this time with multiple things to find.

The last game started us at the trading post as in the screenshot above, where we went west past a village and a swamp to a temple, found a map at the temple (with a sealed door and some snakes we ran away from), then used it to go east from the trading post to the elephant grounds.

This time, east is almost entirely sealed off by a rockside, so our mission seems to be west. The temple that we only briefly visited seems to be our real destination, and the snakes (which were previously a red herring puzzle) now have to be reckoned with directly.

Unfortunately, I’m stuck fairly early! The trading post has the IVORY we found from the last game, a REVOLVER with six bullets, and a BAG that will hold water (the same one as the previous game, and I looked up my post to check the syntax: PUT BAG / IN TROUGH). The game has the same tight water timer as the previous one (maybe even tighter) and regular visits back to the trading post are needed to keep from dying of thirst.

The only thing I’ve found going east is a charging rhino, who comes if you hang out for more than one turn. Your revolver works to bring it down in two shots (if you try to run away you just die). I think the rhino might be useful later if I can find a cutting implement (CUT RHINO: “You can’t do that…yet!”)

Going west you pass by a now-abandoned village (although you can pick up a skull), a field of grass (if you need grass, for some reason) and some rocks that work as flint. If you go back and LIGHT GRASS it starts a large fire and you die.

Other than a tree you can climb and get a good view (but no items from) there’s the temple with snakes. There was no way past the snakes before, and I’m unclear what the player has new now that will help. (The revolver, flint, grass, and skull all seem to be the same as before.) If you try to shoot the snakes you get one of them but the rest take you down.

I checked and Dale Dobson played through this already so I have something to fall back on if I need to. He claims the game is rather hard and involves intricate timing.

This is a fairly difficult adventure — there are time pressures of various kinds to deal with, and once a puzzle is figured out it’s often necessary to restore, go back and re-execute as efficiently as possible. The game does have a functional SAVE feature, but it allows only one slot and using it seems to count as a move, so some care is required even there.

I at least have the advantage of using save states, giving me more than one save slot and immunity to the time-passing-by-saving problem.

Posted April 28, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kabul Spy: Magical Unrealism   16 comments

A third-party hint book for Kabul Spy. From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I have finished the game; make sure to read my previous posts on the game before this one.

As the image at the top of the post implies, I definitely needed some hints, including for one puzzle which might be the most absurd I’ve ever come across, both in terms of solving and of narrative action.

Last time I left off on crossing a river with the help of Hisrin. Little did I know I had softlocked the game already even after the successful crossing.

Going to the east at the intersection above leads to some forest rooms, and then:

Yes, that’s Crowther/Woods Adventure dropped in the middle of Kabul Spy, for some reason. Not only can you get keys, food, water, and a lamp, but you can keep going and find the grate in a depression.

And this still keeps going except for the softlock. The LAMP is not like the lamp from adventure which is electric: you need fire to light it, and the matches are wet from passing over the river. Additionally:

a.) you can try leaving the matches behind and coming back for them later, but it doesn’t work

b.) you can try leaving the matches behind, and bring the lamp back over the river, but the lamp specifically gets lost if you do this

Weirdly, you can light a cigarette and it stays lit over the river, even though the matches get wet enough to no longer be lighting. So the key to the lamp is to light the cigarette, then make a beeline over to the lamp and get it lit with the cigarette before the cigarette goes out. (If you’ve thought to drop the cigarettes and match on the south side of the river, bring the lamp close, then swap back to the cigarettes and light them, alas: the matches get damp even if you haven’t brought them over the river. This almost seems like a bug except the game does mention it has rained recently, so I guess they get wet from being dropped. Still, the game went to absurd lengths to get the sequence it wanted.)

With the lamp lit, you can go in the Adventure cave, although only for a few rooms, up to XYZZY.

Saying XYZZY here warps you back to the surface.

We already saw a smidge of magic with the forcefield blocking the bar, but here the game leaps in fully-fledged. And look: magical realism is an actual genre that works. And yes, it sometimes has books where people with guns co-exist with magic.

At that time Macando was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

— From One Hundred Years of Solitude

However, this really didn’t work here atmospherically at all; not only are the elements haphazard and the writing not anywhere in the territory of pulling things off, but the possibility of fantasy makes puzzle solving multiple steps harder, as it is not immediately apparent if we’re supposed to do something “normal” with wire cutters or a sniper rifle or supposed to just unlock a door with a magic word. (You’ll see what I mean a bit later.)

Heading back to the west-or-east branch, I then went west and found a man selling photos.

The photos are marginally important (there’s a nearby Iranian encampment that will welcome you in if you have the photo).

This increases your score. Is there some other secret thing?

What’s more important is that if you look at the man he’s carrying a staff, and you can try to BUY STAFF. He’ll trade for 20 rubles, at which point you don’t need your money belt any more. The staff then lets you successfully climb around the nearby terrain, which is otherwise too steep.

The mountains have two nearby caves. One contains another magic word:

Another contains some diamonds and a sniper rifle, neither which I used (although I found out the rifle was possible to use in an alternate route).

Searching around more, I found a dying commander by a tank.

The tank is a great piece of atmosphere (and gives you the hint to ask about Tarsidan — where the Professor is being held — at a nearby bar), but you then take the keys from Adventure and use them to unlock the tank (!!) and get some oil and wire-cutters. The wire-cutters, incidentally, are another item that gets used on one of the paths that I didn’t take, I only needed the oil.

Exploring east from the tank led to this strange room, which will come back with a vengeance. For now I had to turn around:

Exploring to the north of the tank led to an old mine, where I found a door that reacted to the magic word SUIRIS from the cave.

Further in I found a trap door that was rusty and applied the oil, then climbed up and found myself in a cell block, immediately followed by a very hard road block when the game declared


I wasn’t quite totally lost to the hint book yet, but I did check it here: you’re supposed to simply GET BARS. Why would the game be ambiguous about telling you what’s blocking your way? What does getting the bars work in the first place?

Once inside I found the professor, who will start to follow you.

Then it was just a matter of going back the way I came and … I got stuck. I kept going in a loop around the mine with no way out. To be fair, I remember a “rumble” with part of the mine collapsing, and found if I tried to DIG in one location it says (rather than giving an error) that YOU’LL NEED A SHOVEL.

I was now entirely stumped and flailed around a bit in an earlier section before deciding to check hints again. That oddly colored bridge I mentioned earlier?

“SOMEONE HAS DRAWN THE BRIDGE THAT CROSSES THE RAVINE HERE.” I admit I found the phrasing funny but was mostly puzzled by the fact CROSS BRIDGE and the like didn’t work. The game literally means what I presume is the author for the game drew in a bridge that wasn’t supposed to be there, and you’re supposed to ERASE BRIDGE.

The game had passed my limit: it was “cling to hints at every juncture” time. Fortunately I wasn’t too far from the end.

You need to say KOJA TARSIDAN here (where is TARSIDAN) which will lead you to a new area. Why Arabic again!? Arabic is only spoken by something like 1% of Afghanis.

(Aside: our character may not have spoken English at any point in the game; the very first scene has a sign which the player “TRANSLATES” and reads. All subsequent written material the protagonist is simply able to read, so I’m guessing they understand the local language, which makes sense if the CIA sent them in the first place. The fact even later signs clearly aren’t in English means the author kept his brain in this mindset. That still doesn’t explain the Arabic. Hrf.)

I ended up not having to make a frontal assault on the prison at all. (If you do that, you get to use the sniper rifle and wirecutters and map out a minefield. The last makes me glad I didn’t take the front route.)

If you go to the west you find a hole; to get across you need to THROW ROD which will wedge itself in the hole so you can walk across. (Sigh.) This leads to a dead end but there’s a shovel, which is what the game told me I needed earlier!

So, with hope maybe I wouldn’t need to cling to the hint book for dear life any more (ha) I went back through the mine scene, this time with shovel in hand, and was able to dig myself out and the professor. I then needed to ERASE BRIDGE again some reason, and get stuck on a large locked gate.

You’re suppose to RESET GATE to bust the gate open. Yes, I had RESET on my verb list, but I would not have had the patience to figure that out, and I still don’t know why.

Going inside leads to … a jet!

But you aren’t able to get away with it, as there’s a LOCK. I guess someone didn’t pay their parking tickets. (By the way, pretty much checking all the hints now.) You first need to get a nearby “device” hidden in grass. You walk over the grass and see something in the distance, and need to SMOKE GRASS. No, this isn’t a drug thing; it seems to be you set it on fire? I think? After doing that you see a DEVICE which you can then pick up, and put on the LOCK to open it.



Look, I really try my hardest not to “judge” in a numerical sense — all these games have had worthwhile aspects, and Kabul Spy really does have major ambitions. While it wasn’t the only adventure game trying to do contemporary warfare (see Saigon: The Last Days) it was based on a war that was currently ongoing the time it was written. It has, by my calculation, absolutely no words spoken in English (I mean, they’re in English in the game, but Hollywood Translation style). It has the very fascinating moment with shooting the priest. It has multiple branching possibilities, including fake-out softlock ones early and real ones at the end.

In a way, it is frustrating because I think with a good amount of editing pen this could have been … well, not a good game, but a middle-range quality game. The central through line is solid, it just needed to not ask the player to perform some absolutely absurd puzzles.

Just to stay positive, I’ll just let someone else close things out. This is from the August 1982 issue of Electronic Games, and shows despite the odd mixture, the fresh setting was appreciated at the time:

This game is further proof that computer gaming has moved into a new, more sophisticated period. As recently as a year ago, most software suppliers would’ve thought twice before bringing out an adventure game that wasn’t closely tied to science fiction or fantasy. Kabul Spy is undeniable proof that dragons and space marauders aren’t always necessary to create an involving, fascinating role-playing experience.

From Mobygames.

Posted April 27, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Kabul Spy: You Are in for Some Real Trouble Now   10 comments

So the source of most of my issues last time was either an emulator issue or an issue with the files I was using. Specifically, I was using this version of Kabul Spy from the “Woz-a-Day” collection. WOZ is one of the file formats for Apple II disks; it is a bit less lossy than DSK files that were previously standard:

Capturing highly accurate bit data is of no use if you don’t have a container to hold the data. The WOZ format was designed to be able to contain every possible Apple ][ disk structure and layout. It can be so accurate that even copy protected software can’t tell that it isn’t an original disk.

A “flux visualization” of the first disk side of Kabul Spy, showing the internals bit by bit.

However, Applewin (my emulator) is a bit fussy when it comes to disk changes while using WOZ, and two of the places I was stuck on were purely related to that. The guard bribe was supposed to work as originally intended. Also, you aren’t supposed to get tossed into jail upon crossing the river; rather, the game is supposed to prompt you to flip to side 1 of the disk, then back to side 2. I believe this is loading a “second section” of the game (and if you make a u-turn you have to go through the procedure again to re-load the “first section”).

I only found this out by switching to the old DSK version. It doesn’t preserve the original title screen (so using the WOZ is generally better) but the disk-flipping bug doesn’t seem to occur. (Given the guard payment bug, it is also faintly possible the copy protection on the WOZ is busted and there’s some silent method of sending the player into a softlock once they reach a certain point of the game.)

Getting back into the game, the bit where I got beaten up at the railroad and tossed in the jail at least started as intended.

You can then GIVE (amount) — the same syntax as the boy in Quetta — in order to deliver a bribe, upon which the guard will let you free. The whole point of the scene is to find out what the old man is drawing in the dirt: this is where you need to break in to find the professor.

Incidentally, this needs a little pre-knowledge preparation for the scene. The people that beat you up take everything but your money, but you can find your way back to the train station and if you’ve dropped your items off you can pick them up safely. So in a narrative sense, you have to drop everything off but your money, where it safely sits around (including the pistol and cyanide pill) for you to return.

After the bribery scene, it’s time to buy a train ticket. If you go straight to the border (which I theorized might be a viable route last time) the game is softlocked; there’s a “log” provided by the river which seems to indicate it could be used to cross without losing items, but no: the log is entirely a red herring.

So you need to to Quetta first. I incidentally had missed something upon arriving:

The bed is described as lumpy, so I had tried various permutations of EXAMINE BED and LOOK UNDER BED.

I was still suspicious and did my “standard verb list” check, and found LIFT to be be promising. This turned out to work, and yielded a newspaper. It let me know some language terms (these are all Arabic):


These turn out to be essential shortly.

I then had the scene with the directions (which I already went through) to get to a bar apparently blocked by a force-field. This is a truly bizarro puzzle. There’s a sign that mentions the bar’s name is “The Devil’s Den” and instead of just typing WEST or GO BAR, you’re supposed to enter by typing GO HELL. I discovered this via the game’s built in HINT feature, which quite explicitly says GO TO HELL.

It is unclear what typing this really represents as an in-game action. After all, we’re not saying a password; we’re just conveying the information to the parser in a slightly different way, kind of like how TAKE and STEAL got differentiated in the Program Power game Adventure. (At least in that game, the parser acts sort of as a snarky narrator, and we’re really interacting with it; here, the parser remains characterless, so what is really happening in the narrative?)

Moving on, once in the bar you need to utilize the words from the newspaper to communicate and find your contact Hisrin.

Hisrin then tells you to go outside and watch the sunset while he does his confession before setting off.

Going back in the bar will summon Hisrin (this is “drama time”, not based on the number of turns or anything) who will then take you to the same place that the log/river was at earlier, except this time there is no log. He drags a raft out from hiding and you can ride with him across the river.

This gets your matches wet, which will become important later. What becomes immediately important is Hisrin gets killed.

This turns out to be a softlock, not a story branch. You can’t let this scene happen. How to get through? Well, if you go back to where you’re looking at the sky, the room mentions you can go west. This leads to a church with a priest (we don’t see Hisrin, but this is presumably where the confession happened).

If you look back on the scene with the thieves, they talk about how FATHER WILL BE PLEASED. They don’t mean father, as in parental figure, but The Father, as in the priest. Remember how the back of the box told us we might need to be ruthless?

Before making the river crossing: SHOOT PRIEST.

This deters the thieves, and Hisrin leads you to Afghanistan without getting killed:

Despite requiring foreknowledge of the future — reading the narrative only forward in time, our protagonist pre-emptively shot a priest just because he looked suspicious — this was my favorite moment of the game so far, and it seemed as if the gritty premise that the box for the game promised might actually be starting to kick in.

Unfortunately, the scene right after did not hold with that, but as I’m still exploring the general area so I’ll wait for my next update to explain.

Posted April 26, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Kabul Spy: Delayed Branching   15 comments

Back cover of the FM-7 port and translation into Japanese of Kabul Spy, as published by Starcraft. Via Aucfree.

So the structure of Kabul Spy isn’t quite what I was expecting, and I’m still not sure where it is going. I’m going to toss some lingo out to narrow down what I mean (coined by Sam Kabo Ashwell and Dan Fabulich):

branch-and-bottleneck: A structure that has ostensible story branching, but with eventual merges where all paths lead to the same place.

If a player has multiple routes through a town but will get arrested at a specific time no matter what that route is, then the player has reached a bottleneck.

This keeps the same “main beats” in the story while allowing freedom on how to get there, with the downside of reducing the impact of individual choices across the story as a whole.

Dan Fabulich (of Choice of Games fame) defines a slightly different variant, called delayed branching. This essentially modifies the structure so that nodes and their linkages aren’t all there is to a story; there might be statistics that get modified all the way through a game that affect later choices, so something early in Plot Branch #2 genuinely might affect an aspect later, even given the “merge” of main plot beats. (For example, someone who builds friendship with an antagonist over multiple meetings might get a “friendly” option in an ultimate climax scene that would not otherwise be available.)

I think what Kabul Spy is doing is delayed branching (with the added 1982 bonus of possible softlocks).

First scene: bus ticket. No fancy branching here; you can get killed by walking into a jet engine, but otherwise you are required to buy a bus ticket to move on.

Second scene: train station. You have three branches here. First, you can buy a ticket to Quetta, a town near the border of Afghanistan. Second, you can buy a ticket straight for the border. Third, you can go out to the tracks and find some men to beat you up and toss you into jail. (You’ll lose all your items except your money belt.)

Quetta scene: You start in a sort of “town maze”. There’s a boy who you can choose to give money that will give a hint “ENE”. He explains that that’s the directions he used to find you (traveling from the bar that your contact is at) meaning you are supposed to reverse the directions and go WSW.

The bar the directions point to has a “force field” blocking your way.

This part I haven’t solved. Is there some kind of science fiction going on to this game? Nothing in my starting inventory (knife, gun, cyanide pill, money) is suggestive of a way to break in, and other than some cigarettes and matches, I haven’t picked up anything helpful along the way either.

Going from the bar to the east, you’ll end up in the “Desert” which is roughly where you land going from the train straight to the border.

Afghanistan border scene: you arrive here either via train or via walking from Quetta.

There’s a river with a log; the log is suggestive of you being able to use it to cross the river safely, but I must be missing some kind of syntax to make it work. If I try to PUT LOG IN RIVER and CROSS LOG (or various other permutations of the same concept) I get all my possessions swept away, the same as if I just tried to cross the river without any preparation beforehand.

Arriving at the north side of the river results in getting captured and tossed into jail, the same jail you can arrive at if you don’t take a train at all.

So to summarize so far:

1. I can arrive at the jail with the money belt, but that only, via skipping the train.

2. I can arrive at the jail without any items by trying to pass through the stream.

There’s also a fair amount of choice on spending, other than just the ticket prices varying; the boy who offers directions in Quetta, for instance, will take any bribe amount (even though he asks for 100, he’ll give the directions for even 1 ruble). This suggests some sort of dynamic variation between routes with the amount of money being held.

The other distressing thing about route number 1 is you arrive with a guard there, who says asks if you can make it worth his while to escape. Since you have the money, you should be able to do bribery, but neither OFFER (amount) nor GIVE (amount) nor GIVE (amount) RUBLES TO GUARD nor 50 other variations I’ve tried seem to work. If you arrive via route number 2 there is no guard at all! Does the guard only hang out if he knows you can bribe him? Is the game softlocked in the second case?

I will say at least the manual is suggestive of alternate routes, with the scoring system giving 700 as a “maximum score” even though more is possible. Does spending less money equate to more score in the end?

The score is displayed as a ratio of 700. It is possible to get over 700 points in some circumstances, but rest assured that reaching 700 confers the status of “expert” upon the player.

If anyone knows the game (or feels like perusing a walkthrough) I will take hints at this point (ROT13 format, please) on any of my three dilemmas (force field, river, guard).

Posted April 24, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Kabul Spy (1982)   6 comments

While the character art of Asylum II counts as graphics, it has been a while since we’ve had a game fully illustrated with pixels; the last that really counted was the Japanese version of Mystery House from back in October. So, more than six months?

It’s overdue: let’s luxuriate in the purple-tinged nostalgia of the Apple II, as we try to rescue a missing professor during the Afghani-Soviet War.

From Mobygames.

We’ve seen Sirius Software and the author Tim Wilson once before already, with The Blade of Blackpoole. This seems to be the earlier game, as it gets marked “1981” in lots of places (including the game itself), although according to the US Copyright Office it wasn’t published until February 1982, so this is likely a situation like Time Zone where the intended release date slipped a little.

While early Sirius games and particularly the programmer Nasir have received quite a bit of attention, the period after for the company hasn’t had nearly as much. A great deal of the top-selling Sirius games early on were Nasir’s (he was there right at the founding as the only programmer, but only got royalties, not equity); he left in August 1981 to form his own company (see: no equity), and Sirius kept trucking out games quite rapidly after based on outside submissions.

One or two of every ten games submitted to Sirius is given serious consideration. Sometimes a game meets Sirius’s standards 100 percent, like Tony and Benny Ngo’s arcade game Bandits. If a game is only 70 percent, however, the author works with product manager Ernie Brock. … Releasing three to four games a month for the Apple, Sirius is publishing at a torrid pace.

Softalk, July 1982

Tim Wilson was one of the outside submitters; Bob Blauschild, the other adventure game writer (on Escape from Rungistan and Critical Mass) will wait for another day.

Kabul Agent is set mostly in Afghanistan, which nearly always features in videogames as a warzone. This game is no exception, dropping the player in the thick of Afghanistan’s conflict with the USSR although I’m still hoping for some scenes not of the type found in Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. (If nothing else, the Afghanis are the “good guys” in this one.)

That’s the back cover material, which is interesting in the moral ambiguity it lays onto the protagonist: “…you are not known for your charity … Let’s hope you are clever as you are ruthless.” I don’t know yet if this is setting up our protagonist for amoral behavior or if it is just the manual trying to be clever.

Despite the graphics (see above) sometimes seeming like they came out of On-Line Systems, the parser allegedly understands full sentences, so there’s a hidden technical jump from those games. What does seem to match quite well with Time Zone (published a month later) is the level of instant death. The sign warns you to not go east, but if you ignore it, you get sucked in a jet engine.

The fact any substantial message takes multiple screens of reading is the reason for the customized bigger text screen later seen in Blade of Blackpoole.

Whee! To reiterate what I’ve mentioned before as my position on this kind of thing: insta-death is a perfectly fine design choice, it just means the player is supposed to save amply. With a more flexible undo option (or something like the Lucasarts Indiana Jones adventures which automatically reverse time a bit if you botch something up) it can work in a modern design, it is just that 1982 (with slow computers and disk drives) was not the year to invent the autosave.

There’s not much to do other than go in the building, where there’s a ticket counter. Fortunately, you start the game with cash.

More specifically, you start the game with


which is quite a bit more than most games we’ve seen. At the counter we can buy a ticket for a bus as well as get a A BOOK OF MATCHES.

The bus leads to a train station, where you get two choices for tickets: the town of Quetta (in Pakistan) or the northeast border of Afghanistan. These lead to two entirely different experiences, and there isn’t an obvious way to hop from one location to another. Could this be an actual full-on plot branch?

For the Quetta trip, you land in a town where a boy asks for 100 rubles. Since you have them, you can easily hand them over and get a piece of paper which says “ENE”. Following these directions (east, north, east) leads to just more town, which indicates either the whole thing was a deception to get money, or there’s some added trick involved (and no, it isn’t east and then northeast).

I wandered a bit and also found “outskirts” but I haven’t made a detailed attempt to map the town yet.

Going the other directions leads to mountains and then desert and then forest. I found a “small log” but haven’t explored what I’m guessing is more map; this is a little bit of a maze as well.

You eventually get captured and tossed in a cell with an old man, and that’s where I decided it was a good time to pause for now.

The double plot branch thing is wildly unusual. Going by the intro text we’re looking for the guide in Quetta to help us get into Afghanistan, yet we can go straight there. Does following the appropriate order mean we don’t get captured? Do we just have two different ways of making it in?

And for those who experienced that game, is the character art better or worse than Time Zone?

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

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Secret Kingdom: Failure   7 comments

(Prior posts on this game are here.)

Via eBay. Notice the lack of backspace. Normally delete (“DEL”) serves as a backspace function but Secret Kingdom has its own string input routine which doesn’t use it. I discovered that the left arrow works as a backspace instead, which is good to remember since it probably applies to the other Sharpsoft games.

Alas: one more treasure, obtained via a source dive, but I can’t seem to get at the last two.

I first want to come back what I said about the game having its own “flavor”. Here’s a comment made by baltasarq to my initial post:

This really seems an advanced adventure for the time, at least in the carefully taking care of answer beyond “you can’t do that”.

This isn’t quite true. Or at least, what’s happening is it tries to nudge its responses in a direction that gives more hints than normal — say, by having a noun that is unrecognized give the response I DO NOT THINK THERE IS ONE OF THOSE — but it context this can mean comedy. For example:

You can ENTER PIT here, but for some reason that’s the only way to reference the pit.

Still, there are small bits of assistance, like here, which is a prime example of what I think baltasarq is referring to:

Nearly every other game would insist you don’t have the right item, or just having the bird fly away while you are fruitlessly swinging. Here, it gives a fairly explicit hint that you should come back with some kind of missile weapon (and if you also use the parser to test if particular nouns exist, you can find out quite swiftly it must be a bow and arrow).

Unfortunately, the game isn’t well coded enough for this always to go well. Consider the OIL which I had trouble with.

“YOU DO NEED IT” is a very nice inverse of the “don’t pay attention to this”; it’s “YES, PLEASE DO PAY ATTENTION TO THIS”. It turns out you can WEAR OIL. At least sometimes. For some strange reason, including in the circumstance above, WEAR OIL just says I’M CONFUSED. I think this happens if you are in one of the lake-adjacent rooms; if you are somewhere without water, you can successfully WEAR OIL and smell like a FIERCE FISH.

I would say, hence, using the staff in the wrong place (which spawns the oil) is a softlock, except you don’t technically need the oil at all. As I suspected, the oil is protection from the lake monster — you stay safe 100% of the time. You also die by getting set on fire if you try to light the torch with the oil on. You can remedy this with USE RAGS, which will get rid of the oil, but the odd thing is that you need the torch to get at a SHOVEL, and once you have the SHOVEL in hand you need to go back in the lake to dig up the crown at the island. So even though the oil gets a bit of removal of random number death, you still need to swim in there anyway, and you can just get lucky all the turns you need to without that much effort. There was some interesting thinking here but the end result was the design didn’t quite fully mesh.

Anyway, returning to the original point about “flavor”: I think the slight boost in customizing parser messages is what makes the game feel a bit different than a standard Scott Adams jam. Other games (including his) have clues in the text, but not to the explicit extent here where you might get a hint without even trying for it.

Speaking of the lake, there’s also this:

You can DIVE. I discovered this before my last post, but I thought this might just be arbitrary death. What changed my mind is I dived in the source code, which had a curious line where the text segment “BRE” is checked in the second-word spot (it clearly isn’t being treated as a noun). Thinking hard what it might mean, I realized I hadn’t used HOLD yet. HOLD BREATH? Yes.

With the rags and oil puzzled out, all I have left to deal with are the OLD PARCHMENT which does nothing, and the snow area which still does nothing. I combed through for relevant messages, and all I could find that seemed new was a reference to WINDOW as a noun and a room that talks about standing on a ledge. I tried ENTER WINDOW in various rooms (even with a window not described) just in case there was a bug of some sort or maybe I’d get a different response than the default (I DO NOT SEE ONE !) but alas, no luck.

So I’m calling it here. If someone wants to check the source code, be my guest; you can use the second save state (or the one marked “1” since it starts numbering at “0”) at the file here with the game + emulator and type LIST. Or you can just use this link where I uploaded a video of the entire source code being listed out. I don’t know a good way to dump it as plaintext, unfortunately.

Posted April 20, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Secret Kingdom: Revenge of the Random Number Generator   11 comments

From Sharpsoft User Notes #6, showing all three of the initial Sharp models (K, A, and B) merged together in an Escher-like contraption.

So, since my last post this has mostly been a pleasant experience. Alas, the wolf was not destined to be my friend.

Specifically, the wolf has a fairly low chance (I’m thinking 2%? 3%?) of attacking, as shown above. It can be defeated specifically with the SWORD that was in the lake (USE SWORD) although another wolf will return eventually. So the wolf serves a function something like the dwarves in Crowther/Woods Adventure. I should point out, though

a.) the dwarves weren’t truly and completely random — they had physical locations on the map and moved around, and there was a limit where eventually you kill them all

b.) (more importantly) they can’t kill you immediately upon sight

Regarding b.), at least a couple times through the game I’ve walked into a room to have a newly-spawned wolf only to die immediately after without a chance to even type a command. Adventure did make it possible to die with no chance (you miss with an axe by random luck, they hit with a knife by luck) but that at least felt like going through an unlucky dice roll rather than instant death for mysterious reasons.

In addition to the wolf being random, the fish that gobbles you in the lake is random.

I was able to get the sword, swim over to the nearby island, grab a torch and *silver goblet* (my first treasure, with the asterisks around it), then swim back safely. On a second swim (and there is a reason for a second swim) I died instantly. Fortunately saving isn’t too rough on my emulator (it has save states); the original used tape saving which would no doubt be slow.

The asterisks strongly put this in the territory of Scott Adams clone, which it already had the vibe of. I’m not checking the source code yet (spoilers, arr) but it is possible the author even used a magazine reprint of Adventureland or Pirate Island.

Fortunately, other than those two elements, there’s only been one other random number element. I mentioned getting frozen in the snow last time. It turns out sometimes you can survive going a step through. Using some save state shenanigans I made it all the way to the end of the two mountain branches which resulted in … the game looping back to the lake again.

I also tested out dropping an item in the snow room, and found out that you see it over and over again (that is, if you drop the STAFF, there will always be a staff in the room as you go north). The game seems to be making it a “fake room” to save space. It will actually keep track of how far north you’ve gone, so if you take four NORTHs and then try to turn around, it will still take four SOUTHs to get back again. The whole section is mysterious and even though I’ve solved quite a number of puzzles after (as you’ll see) this section remains mysterious.

Also, on the left branch, the snow doesn’t exist as an item, and the right side, it does and you can pick it up.

Moving on, I still felt like the HEADLESS man from last time had to now be dead. I was reading the room wrong: there’s a tower very clearly described, but despite “there is a tower in front of you” being right there in the text my brain mentally sorted it as being “in the distance”, but no, it is supposed to be right there. If you ENTER TOWER when the man is alive, he’ll stop you; after becoming headless, he will not, hence is clearly dead.

The lever opens an upper level (with no parser feedback, I originally thought I hit a bug). At the upper level there’s a TREASURE CHEST (which I won’t open until later) and an OLD PARCHMENT which SEEMS WORTHLESS. It is of course highly suspicious and it probably is in actuality valuable but I don’t know how to get it to change over.

In the cellar, going down:

I’ve already been to the inside of the tree; that’s where the treasures go.

The warm clothing, of course, lets you survive the snow without any random chance of death, but I still haven’t found anything useful out there. While I was at depositing my first two treasures, I also went ahead and lit my torch (acquired from the lake island) with the flint and cedar box. It does nothing with the cold area (I was hoping to maybe melt the snow).

Prodding further at things, I found that the SEALED DOOR I ran across earlier is described as being made of salt. I had a WATER BAG from the lake that was filled with water, so I tried POUR WATER. This caused part of the door to dissolve and allowed me to enter.

This drops the player into a small cave system.

To the west there’s a pit of snakes; if you have the torch you can safely drop in as the snakes are scared of the torch.

The chain mail syntax is annoying here. You have to use the verb REMOVE to get it off, you can’t just TAKE MAIL.

Going to the south, there’s a rope and a shovel. You then find yourself at the bottom of the well from earlier; you have to THROW ROPE in order to make a route to escape. I appreciated the inversion here; I expected to find a rope and eventually climb down the well, but instead the well was exited from the other side.

Going to the IRON LADY with the newly-found chain mail, I was able to avoid getting spiked:

Inside there’s a *diamond* and a key. The key goes over to the treasure chest, revealing yet another treasure and a hammer.

For the hammer you’re supposed to think creatively. I did not. I wandered around doing USE HAMMER everywhere.

Ha! Ok, I admit that was clever. The stone incidentally is its own separate item I have yet to be able to use.

I was starting to run out of places to hunt for treasure. I did have the shovel so started of regimen of doing DIG everywhere, while being told NOT HERE. I am proud to say I realized fairly quickly the best place to try would be the island back in the lake.

One last treasure I eked out by getting the BOW and ARROW over to the bird and typing SHOOT BIRD. It dropped a gold ring.

This makes me sad.

Putting everything together so far:

I’m truly stumped now, though. Each treasure has been worth 10 points, so there’s almost certainly three left.

Pretty much I just have the snow area left un-prodded. There’s also the OLD PARCHMENT that still claims to be worthless, and the OIL that smells like FIERCE FISH I have yet to use. I have some RAGS where I feel like I could dip them into the OIL, then maybe set a trap for the big monster fish. Unfortunately, that’s just a feeling, because no verb I’ve tried has worked.

A source dive is still possible! We’ll see if I can hang on to the end.

(Oh, and if you’d like to try the game yourself, I have it packaged with an emulator here. Just load the third save state and you’re good to go.)

Posted April 18, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Secret Kingdom (1982)   1 comment

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

We’ve only had the Sharp line of computers here twice before, and only glancingly; once with the Japanese game Mystery House (with a Sharp MZ-80B port I never could find) and once with the British game Quest (or Fantasy Quest) which originally was for the Sharp MZ-80K but I played for the Oric-1 instead.

This time we have a game that was only for Sharp computers, so we get to dive in for real. It was originally for the early computers MZ-80A, MZ-80K and MZ-80B, and later had a port to the MZ-700. The MZ-700 is essentially portable with the MZ-80K, so likely the only addition was color, as the original systems were all monochrome.

The publisher was Sharpsoft out of London, which as the name implies, was dedicated solely to Sharp machines, and published a “User Notes” newsletter which gives the feel almost of a fan-run user group (like the Toronto PET Users’ Group we just saw with Fantasyland).

The cover of Issue 3, the last User Notes of 1981. The illustration is by one of the readers, John Trippick.

Here’s a clip from issue 3 just to give an idea:

From your feedback it appears that software, which you can run on the MZ-80K, is an aspect of these User Notes that readers find helpful and stimulating. Last issue we introduced “Tiny Pilot”; P.L. Birch wrote to us with his comments and suggested changes to this package. Mr Birch’s comments are presented in the letter section of this issue. Our thanks to all those readers who have donated their ideas and software. If you have hints and/or software you would like to share with other MZ 80K owners drop us a line at SHARPSOFT.

Through the 80s they came up with a respectable catalog of software, including at least five adventure games. Escape From Colditz from 1981 does not seem to be available (no relation to the TRS-80 version … I think?) so we’re starting with G. Clark’s Secret Kingdom.

According to their advertising they were “specially commissioned by Sharpsoft”.

From Personal Computing World, Jan. 1983. By the rule of magazines being off their date by a month, this puts these games in the tail end of 1982, although there may be earlier ads.

Nothing fancy plot-wise here: we’re supposed to “find treasure and put it in the correct place to score”. Will we finally get a “proper” Adventure clone here, or will the British pull a weird trick again?

HELP is not recognized as a command. Maybe they forgot about it.

Well … maybe? I made a bit of progress, enough that I’ve not up for cracking open the source code right away (it’s just BASIC and the listing is easily accessible) but I still have quite a bit of game to go.

It does seem so far to want to nail highly traditional fantasy without any odd side-turns into comedy or surrealism. I will say the “flavor” is yet again its own thing; that is, it still feels different than any of the 1982 works we’ve tried so far in a gameplay sense. I’ll try to nail down why more concretely in a later post.

The first part of the map is just a 3 by 4 grid of barren moorland. There’s “fireworks” lying around as well as a “well” (which I have done nothing with yet, but responds to ENTER WELL with YOU CAN’T DO THAT AT THE MOMENT).

There’s also an IRON LADY where LOOK LADY states LOOKS LIKE IT HAS A HIDDEN SECRET. I was baffled on visualization for a while; I thought maybe it was a statue, possibly even a parody of Margaret Thatcher (like the DICK NIXON statue in Escape From Traam). PULL LADY gets the message


I tried to create a verb list. The game fairly consistently rejects nonsense verbs with a specific message…


…so I went through every verb on my “standard list” and marked every verb which gave a response other than the “I MUST BE STUPID” one.

This certainly was a help, but there were some verbs I was dubious about testing in action. I realized that for some reason, the I MUST BE STUPID happens on some verbs _only_ when there is also a noun. I’m unclear why the behind-the-scenes parser would do this, but I took another run through my verb list and crossed out all the verbs where VERB LADY gives the STUPID prompt.

In the process I found out what the iron lady was really referring to. Witness: ENTER LADY.

Ow! That does suggest the action is right, just preparation is needed.

In the process of this verb-searching I discovered that noun-searching works as well; for example GET NONSENSE has the response I DO NOT THINK THERE IS ONE OF THOSE whereas GET TORCH says I DO NOT SEE IT HERE.

Moving on to the top part of the map:

Straight out of the moorland you find a lake with a wizard standing around who LOOKS LIKE HE WANTS SOMETHING. The wizard is entirely static, but if you are in the north part of the map a wolf starts to follow you around.

The wolf I have not been able to get any reaction from; he doesn’t kill you, he just follows. You can try to KILL WOLF but the game then asks how (by saying, for instance, USE FISTS) but nothing has had an effect. Maybe the wolf is actually helping us and will jump in at the right moment?

Back to the wizard, I did figure him out. Going by the assumption this was a Tolkien reference, I did GIVE FIREWORKS and he left behind a STAFF.


I figured out the staff’s primary use, but let me get back to it in a moment. Exploring clockwise around the lake I found some RAGS, followed by a CANNONBALL, and then an UP exit which led to a slightly busy place:

You can CLIMB the tree or ENTER it. If you ENTER you can find a cedar box and some flint which I assume is useful for lighting things on fire (like the TORCH I know exists somewhere). If you climb the tree you end up directly above the man in armour.

Wolf buddy! Or at least I hope he’s my buddy.

You can then DROP CANNONBALL and go back down to find he is now a HEADLESS man in armour. I do not know the reason for this. I suspected (due to the iron lady) I was supposed to take the armour, but TAKE ARMOUR indicates that’s not even a noun the game recognizes! I’m also unclear based on all the verbs I’ve tried if the man is even, technically, dead (yes, no head, but I mean, fantasy?)

The bird is incidentally holding something shiny. I haven’t gotten it yet.

Rotating a bit more around the lake, there’s an exit north to some snow. Travel too far north and you die from cold. I suspect the fire is useful again, too bad I don’t have anything I can get burning.

Finally, to the east there’s a small hollow leading to a stair with three orcs.

This is where the staff is handy. You don’t even need to be in the room; just USE STAFF and it will leave behind some oil (that “smells like a fierce fish”) but the orcs will also be turned to stone.

Ripped from the Hobbit, maybe?

Going up further gets a sealed stone door. I suspect the bird’s item will be useful.

That would normally seal up everything I’ve solved, but in the process of testing a couple verbs in the process of writing this post, I ran across something by accident. You see, I have no idea in the MZ-700 emulator I am using how to backspace. I was going to check something with ENTER TREE but realized, mid-typing, that I was next to the lake rather than the tree. So I hit enter on my keyboard with just ENTER showing (expecting it to be an error so I could move to the place I intended), and:

Trying to get the sword results in death:

However, I haven’t tried yet making a beeline for the island or using the staff and seeing if the “fish smell” oil distracts the monster. So I’ve got more to work on, but this is still a good stopping point.

Posted April 17, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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