The Haunted Palace (1982)   23 comments

John Bell in his 30s, from The Gilroy Dispatch.

In 2018, John Bell wrote a Facebook post for his group Crystalware Defense and Nanotechnology, giving an introduction to his forthcoming game Clonus 2049 A.D. as well as a six minute narrated introduction. He had just survived a heart attack and had renewed purpose:

Crystalware survives and I,some have said one of the grandfathers of the creation of the modern graphic adventure games and a pioneer in the future working on World of Twine – a quantum leap in Augmented and Virtual reality. Will I survive to finish.. I hope so. I am posting an audio we made for Clonus, a game I made and the mythos was revised after 9/11 and done by a Hollywood actress who wishes to remain anonymous. It is my vision of the future – which still haunts me and has since I worked at Lockheed in 1966 with Nuclear Missiles and the Navy. I cannot ever tell what I know but this is the effect that knowledge had on me.
John Bell – a dream in 1966.

Clonus 2049 A.D. had been in progress since the 1990s. Regarding World of Twine, John Bell posted in 2019 about a dream he had of looking at an expensive haunted house that he was able to purchase because the World of Twine Virtual Reality game and novel now made him rich.

I woke up, now inspired to get out my new book and maybe soon to marry the woman of my dreams who would be my last wife. My son, of course, would inherit, the mansion as would my young wife. We would do the concert for the Give Me Shelter Concert for the poor, and also set up Homeless United in Los Angeles, and leave a mark on cyber history as well as set up shelters for the homeless from coast to coast in America, with our new modular design. Yet WOT would be the most amazing computer simulation and massively multiplayer online role-playing game – MMORPG – of 2020.

He died in 2020, never able to fulfill this dream.

I bring this up not to disparage the efforts of the man, but demonstrate his fundamental ambitiousness, pushing many projects all at once, even 35+ years after the game we’ll be discussing today.

A 2019 post from the World of Twine page.

The difference between John Bell in the early 1980s and the John Bell before he died is that he managed to accomplish at least some of his goals, and with his company Crystal Computer (or Crystalware, or U.F.O.) he (and his wife Patty Bell) managed to put out over 20 games in the span between 1980-1982. This might not be that unusual for this time — Adventure International lists over 70 in that same time period — but Scott Adams only wrote a smattering of those, while John and Patty seem to have produced more than half of their catalog themselves. Additionally, all the games are “premium”; most cheeky might be Galactic Expedition, which had a “base game” which cost $39.95 and six expansions that cost $29.95 each. (This also doesn’t include all their other projects as mentioned in their newsletter, like three movies, a “videodisk fantasy” laserdisc, and a series of educational software using the Crystal Theory of Alternative Education.)

Byte Magazine, December 1980.

According to his newspaper profile clipped earlier (which might be exaggerated a bit, but let’s go along with it for now), John went from high school to the army in 1972, getting a medical degree from Fort Sam Houston and practicing at a base in Germany for two years before returning to the States and landing in software development.

I don’t feel like the head of a big corporation. I wrote a few programs then I ended up with a big distribution network. We (he and the other programmers) want to stay creative so we have other people to do the busy work.

The first Crystalware game, House of Usher, is a sort of top-down action adventure, kind of a proto-version of a survival horror game. It doesn’t not count as an adventure game for this blog as the stamina value changes dynamically and there’s heavy structural reliance on action combat.

A fair number of the Crystalware games follow this model, presumably using the same source code to an extent. The CRPG Addict played quite a few before bailing and discarding them as not-CRPGs. He started getting very tired of the games indeed.

Quest for Power is another insulting game from Crystalware, a company that was either knowingly scamming its customers or so clueless about what made a good game that they must have never played one.

Ow. I am here to tell you that The Haunted Palace is a very different game than all of the ones experienced by the Addict. I can’t guarantee it is a good game, but at least it breaks the pattern.

There has been a murder. It all started with the grisly discovery of a charred body in the furnace. The corpse was so badly burned that the mortician couldn’t even tell what sex it was. You can choose to become any of of the six characters in the game. Your role is to find out who is responsible for the murder.

This is a first-person perspective game with directional movement allowing turning. It’s something in feel between Asylum (with “dungeon crawler” style movement) and the Japanese version of Mystery House (also with directional movement but made up of 1 by 1 and 2 by 1-sized rooms).

The manual is fairly extensive, extensive enough that I’m going to save a thorough look for next time. However, the starting choice of character is essential. Unlike many games of this sort, you are not playing an “outside” character coming in — you’re part of the Stuart household, whomever you pick. It’s a bit like a LARP in that sense.

LORD STUART – An Oxford grad in his 50s with a heart condition. His first wife (Lady Alice) committed suicide and he fell in love with a Lady Elizabeth and has been living with her in the Palace for 10 years.

(You cannot play as the Lady — when the charred body is discoved she is away in Boston.)

CHARLES (THE BUTLER) – With the Stuarts for 40 years.

MARY (THE MAID) – Young, carries a knife, “knows a lot of the town gossip”.

MICHAEL (HEAD STEWARD) – Manages the Stuart fortune.

SYBIL (STEWARD’S WIFE) – Doesn’t like the Palace, has ESP ability.

FREDERICK (THE GARDENER) – Former war hero, doesn’t know much about inside the Palace, only has one arm.

Other characters, but non-playable: Herman, the Cat. Virginia, the first wife. Elizabeth, Edward’s current wife. Jonathan Stuart. The Guest.

The characters come pre-built with stats: strength, courage, wisdom, intuition, dexterity, luck, riches, armor, and weapon. So someone like Sybil will have higher intuition while someone like Frederick will have higher weapons ability. I don’t believe there is a way to “build stats” like an RPG (although I will keep an eye on this); this suggests a setup akin to Maniac Mansion where certain actions only can be done by certain characters.

The manual is unclear but you press “C” to enter “command mode” where you can enter a regular parser command. “L” will look. Otherwise, N/S/E/W turn in that particular direction, M moves forward, and D opens doors. There’s no “relative direction” turning, that is, no equivalent to the left or right arrow keys in a dungeon crawler.

You start locked to facing north. There’s a rock you can move to find a key and unlock the front door.

Upon entering, you flip the disk to side 2, and the “freeform” 3D portion of the game starts. Below I have all four views from the first location, north/east/south/west. (I can’t say “room” — again, seems to have large open portions, so the same room may contain multiple nodes.)

I haven’t explored much yet, but I can already tell from my minor wanderings it might be confusing to be able to tell when it is possible to advance forward and when you are “blocked” by the scenery.

I haven’t played much more partially because: I want you (the one reading this right now, and assuming you aren’t going through my backlog) to pick which character I should use. Feel free to make an argument which you think is better. I can’t guarantee I will stick with it for the whole game if something is wonky (some door that I can’t open without a strong character and there doesn’t seem to be any other way through) but I’m going to try my best. The manual includes pictures for all six so I’ve made a collage.

Lord of the Palace, Butler, Maid, Steward, Steward’s Wife, Gardener.

Vote in the comments!

Posted May 16, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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23 responses to “The Haunted Palace (1982)

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  1. I would pick the gardener first. He sort of sticks out with so little to recommend him (for the mystery solving task) in the description.
    Intriguing game concept, I am really unsure of what to expect from this.

  2. I would go with either Frederick or Sybil (along the same lines, the fact that she “doesn’t like the palace” suggests there are possibly ways of tackling the mystery that don’t involve snooping around the palace). Either way, sounds fun!

  3. Ah the hi-res line drawings bring me back to some of the oldest games like Oldorf’s Revenge and Tarturian. Looking forward to this one. Pick the butler!

  4. I would also argue for the butler, he may have an interesting (outside approach). The Butler would also be an interesting choice – after all, “The murderer is usually the butler” (or the gardener :p ).

    I would also be interested in seeing a playthough with the Steward’s wife, but only after the game has already been completed once from another perspective; in a more modern game, her “ESP ability” might lead to an entirely (or mostly) different gameplay experience from all of the other characters

  5. The gardener or the maid seem like they’d be the best for a first playthrough. The bruteforce of what I suspect are the more strength based characters would be easier to manage than the characters with more unusual aspects, which undoubtedly have very different and more difficult puzzles.

    Is it just me, or do all those portraits of the PCs look much younger than they should be? The lord looks to be in his ’50s, yet the description implies he’s older than that. Everyone else looks younger, with some bordering on their ’20s.

  6. My vote is, “you pick your favorite while five of us pick others, to play as alongside your playthrough and we all report back on our differing experiences.”

    Which, if that idea gets traction, I’m happy to play as the Steward whom no one else seems to have interest in.

    • I went with the vote but if someone else wants to play they can pick whoever they want! I can’t guarantee the experience will actually be well-coded enough to actually be different but I did catch one thing I’m guessing will vary.

      some brief tips though

      a.) the graphics definitely can be deceptive sometimes — the best thing I found is to use look (L) in every direction before doing anything

      b.) treat it like a traditional set of adventure rooms and map it out accordingly, they’re dense enough

    • oh also: south goes to a new hall, even thought you entered from the “south”. I believe if you look at that image with the funky split door that funky door is meant to be the entrance (you went in “diagonally” that is) although a couple other bits suggest they just weren’t careful with the graphics sometimes

  7. I seem to recall there was an Apple ][ game called “High Res Adventure” — or maybe it was spelled “Hi-Res” — which also started with a picure of the front of a house and a rock you needed to move to get something useful to happen.

    I also remember reading that the first edition of that game was frustrating because there were a LOT of rocks on the first screen, and you couldn’t tell which one you had to move. The second edition changed the look of the important rock to make it stand out more.

    Roger M. Wilcox
  8. leaving the voting open a bit longer, will check sometime in the morning Pacific time tomorrow before closing

  9. Counting things up, the gardener wins. (I was honestly leaning that way myself just because how many one-armed protagonists do we get? Not counting all the folks with bionic arms, there’s lots of those.)

    looking at his stats, his strength and courage are sky-high, so he’s most likely to just face off against an eldritch horror with a pistol and a lot of gumption

    starting inventory is a hammer

    I’ll report back in either tonight or tomorrow

  10. Awesome post. Even though I got sick of their games, I developed a mild fascination for John Bell, particularly after I heard from his second wife. Great job digging up that newspaper photo. I’ve always been curious what he looked like.

    • I found all your CrystalWare posts fascinating, even though the actual gameplay was meh.

      One thing I’m still trying to dig up is exactly how they got connected to publishing in Japan, since they have two games there to their credit. (And why does the PC-8001 version use the pseudonyms of Brother Sun and Sister Moon?)

      This game really makes me wonder if they had seen the Tsukasa Moritani / Naoto Oyachi version of Mystery House. Normally I’d consider it not possible, but given they had contact with Japan it would be feasible.

  11. Pick up the butler! After all, he is certainly the murderer…

  12. Wow! fascinating guy, and a fascinating game.

    I still don’t understand the first ramblings about World of Twine, world domination, and being rich, but this story has me hooked.


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