Author Archive

Pirate Island: Finished!   4 comments

Back on my Pirate Island post where I was stuck at 12 out of 16, Tom Shave (one of the sons of the author) showed up and gave some hints.

Now this is going back a while so I don’t have all the answers (my Dad wrote this game when I was about 8 years old and my brother and I used to play test it. I think we got 29p for any bugs we found!). The wood shavings I’m pretty sure are to make some sort of tinder box. A light to help you down the well perhaps. The cheese is to give to a Ben Gunn type of castaway in exchange for treasure or a map. I can’t remember where he is though (perhaps down the well). There is indeed a map and it gives you a location to dig. You won’t find it by randomly digging though.

I admit I’m quoting the whole thing just because I love the “29p for any bug” story.

While this did not tell me exactly where to go, it strengthened my suspicion I was missing a room exit (a mistake that long-time readers of mine should be familiar with). After poring over each room in turn, I finally hit the Sandy Beach, and right there in the room description, it mentioned both a west and a south exit.

I may have been fouled up by the physical position I used on my map of the connection to the boat. When there’s more than one way of drawing a map, it’s possible to get a slightly different mental image than the author; I was imagining the boat more or less being to the “south” and only drew it to the side for compactness sake.

This led me to a cave that required using my tinderbox for light. Inside I found a man with a paper; I handed over some cheese and he became friendly.

Picking up the paper revealed it was my long-sought-after map:

GO TO THE LONE TREE. FOR FINAL DIRECTIONS, ASK THE …”. THE REST IS MISSING.

Going back to my list of things I hadn’t used: the spade (which clearly is about to show up), the bottle (which I could fill with water, although I didn’t know what yet), some wood shavings (it turns out these can refill the tinderbox if it burns out) and a parrot. Ah, the parrot!

It had been hanging on my shoulder. I had not been able to interact with it at all, but the message from the game hinted at a verb; I tried ASK PARROT and it said “PIECES OF EIGHT.” (This led me on a long useless side attempt to get the parrot to steal the pieces of eight back I had already spent for the last treasure; we’ll get to that.)

I took the parrot over to a suspicious-looking tree and typed ASK PARROT.

Hurray! I dug the X with my spade, revealed a treasure chest …

I’VE BEEN DIGGING FOR SOME TIME.
IT’S VEY HOT.
I THINK I’VE FOUND SOMETHING!
YES, IT’S A CHEST FULL OF TREASURE.

… and found … that I had gotten thirsty from the digging, and the chest was too heavy to pick up without a drink of water. On that particular run I hadn’t got the water yet.

(facepalm)

Unfortunately, leaving the X mark means you can’t find it again, so I had to reset and make sure I got the water first before digging. Amusingly, on my “winning run” the pirate stole the chest before I could pick it up; I don’t know if that “short circuits” the puzzle so you don’t have to drink water. (It does work on the puzzle with the gorilla that you need to give bananas so you can take a silver bar; one time I ended up with both the bananas and the silver bar because the pirate stole the silver for me. Accidental emergent puzzle solve ahoy!)

This let me get 14 out 16 points, but the last 2 remained elusive. Sneakily, the two pieces of eight used to buy the antidote from the natives can count as a treasure, so I spent a long time trying to either steal the antidote or steal back the pieces of eight with no luck.

redhighlander, who has helped on a previous treasure-laden island, managed to sleuth out the missing 2 points. You may remember I cut open a crocodile to get a clock, but the crocodile wasn’t done being useful yet.

I’ve been trying to reverse engineer how I could have figured this out myself. I’m not sure, other than perhaps the relatively elaborate descriptions of cutting the crocodile were intended as a clue.

Incidentally, the “I am your puppet” idea where you are “remote controlling” a character shows up in full force here, with the line “THIS ISN’T THE SORT OF THING I ENJOY.” It’s like the player character is only reluctantly carrying out your orders. Except, the player character is also the computer, somehow. I find the clash disconcerting. (Also, when we return to Michael Berlyn, we’ll see he plays with this player character vs. computer relationship in the game Cyborg.)

I’m winding down on Mad Venture (it really isn’t a “large” game) so hopefully, by my next post, you’ll see victory there as well.

Posted August 6, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Venture: Off and On I Shall Pay You a Visit   5 comments

Well, I peeked at a map, and this game likely won’t take a few weeks; I have most of the map already. That doesn’t mean the remaining puzzles won’t be hard.

This is most of the right side of the map; I’ll talk about the missing part shortly.

In particular, while I’ve been alert to wordplay (in addition to just regular physical object solutions), I was paying more attention to nouns than to verbs. This was a mistake. Let me reproduce from last time what the beggar said when I handed over a treasure.

The text of what the beggar is saying is an enormous clue: OFF AND ON I SHALL PAY A VISIT TO SEE IF I CAN HELP YOU. This isn’t referring to the beggar visiting the player just based on the passage of time; this is referring literally to the commands OFF and ON, which are shorthand for LAMP OFF and LAMP ON.

What the beggar is trying to communicate is that you can try to get their help by turning your lamp off and on again.

One of the places I was stuck was at a palace guard who needed me to hand over a gold coin.

Turning OFF the lamp here led to a strange THUD.

When I turned it ON again, I found an unconscious guard. Neat!

The actual palace itself didn’t have any puzzles, but was slightly confusing to map (hence my not bothering to add the rooms to the map at the top of this post). It did have a GOLD COIN (well, we could have used that earlier) and a CANDY HEART in a clearing with a loudspeaker.

A SPEAKER IS PLAYING LOUDLY,
“YOU GOTTA HAVE HEARTS,
MILES AND MILES OF HEARTS!”.

The lobby of the Queen’s Palace went meta, and I assume is referencing Micro Lab’s next game (Alice in Thunderland).

Posted August 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Venture: The Key Is the Food to Your Problem   8 comments

Mad Venture is one of those games in split-screen format where room descriptions, objects, and exits are consistently displayed on the screen, so the command LOOK by itself (which makes sense in single-window games to reproduce the room description) is a little redundant. In Mad Venture it gives the message

OK. SEEMS SAME SCENE SEEN!

and I suddenly had 20-year old memories flood in.

You see, this reminded me of Nick Montfort’s game Ad Verbum (2000) which I was a beta tester for.

Sloppy Salon
Simple social space, sadly spoiled. Some skewed situation’s sequel, surely. Seemingly, slovenly students sojourned — scraping, scratching, scuffing surfaces.

Stuff: … stainless steel stapler… sizable sofa.

This is a room where only words with the letter S work. To get by this point you need a word meaning “exit the room” which starts with the letter S.

This alerted me to that — at least to some extent — Mad Venture is a wordplay game, where the physical selves of objects are just as important as the words attached to them.

I had previously managed to get small by eating a sandwich, and pop in a rabbit until to an underground area. From there I was stuck; there was a nasty sandwich there, but if I tried to eat it, it ate me back. I was too small to pick up any of the items, including the lamp, so I wasn’t able to travel anywhere.

Previously, aboveground, I had found a book that read “THE FOOD IS THE KEY TO YOUR PROBLEM” that I used as a hint to eat the sandwich; since I sent everything underground, including the book, I decided to try reading it again and was surprised to find the text had changed:

THE KEY IS THE FOOD TO YOUR PROBLEM

Oho, what about EAT KEY?

This opened the map up much wider.

The left half of the underground, as I’ve mapped it so far.

To the west I found a “small, low chamber” that was “filled with dusty rocks”. You might be familiar with this location from Adventure. Keeping the wordplay in mind, I tried to CLEAN ROCKS:

THE DUST SEEMS TO REVEAL “KATIE WAS HERE” SCRIBBLED ON ONE OF THE ROCKS.

The word “KATIE” in this particular word serves to teleport the player back and forth from the lobby of the movie theater where all the treasures need to be dropped.

I mostly haven’t had other progress. I did find a boulder I pried away with a crowbar, and a beggar who wanted one of my treasures.

I haven’t seen the beggar since; at the moment I’m assuming you get a hint later but not an optimal score if you hand over a treasure.

I got stymied by a guard who wants a gold coin, and found a very strange L I B R A R Y that didn’t let any of my objects in.

I also found a puzzle which utterly blew my mind.

Remember, in a wordplay game, words only connect tenuously with their corresponding objects, so–

Actually, let’s pause a moment. What can happen next?

I found a SMILING CHESSER CAT down one of the branches, but I don’t know what to do with him yet.

While FORK does refer to a fork in a road…

Notice the room description change.

…it can also refer to a utensil, so GET FORK works, and removes the fork in the road! This changes the map so rather than there being a northwest and a northeast exit, there’s just north.

Posted August 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Venture (1981)   4 comments

Micro Labs published only two adventure games, both for the Apple II and both from 1981: Mad Venture (Dale Johnson and Christine Johnson) and Alice in Thunderland (Dale Johnson, again, and Ken Rose).

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History, although I’m guessing this is a picture from an old auction.

This is yet another pure treasure gathering game, although this time the game is very explicit about a time limit, as shown on the box art above. I suspect I will need to create myself a walkthrough to win.

Or possibly: cling helplessly to one. For I’ve known about this game for a while, where the one thing I’ve heard is the difficulty is really high. We’re talking another aspirant for Quondam’s throne of Most Difficult Adventure Ever, here. Of course, I can’t know how hard Mad Venture is until I try it, but I am still blocking out a few weeks.

While Alice in Thunderland is more explicit about the connection, Mad Venture has a vague sense of Alice in Wonderland to what I’ve seen so far. This led some people on the intfiction forums to speculate this was one of the first adventure games with a female character (Alice) but while I’d say the argument holds for Thunderland, I’m pretty sure the hero for Mad Venture is intended to be “you”. (Keeping an open mind, though, until I get deeper in the game.)

You start outside a movie theater where you are told to bring the treasures in 185 moves or bust. Nearby there’s a bunch of items, a rabbit hole (described as too small to enter), and a cave.

I moved all the items to this room to get them in one screenshot.

Going west:

YOU ARE IN A LARGE UNDERGROUND CHAMBER. A PASSAGE WEST HAS BEEN BOARDED UP! THERE IS A SIGN POSTED HERE THAT READS: “CAVE CLOSED FOR REPAIRS. DEPOSIT ALL NON-PERISHABLES IN CHUTE FOR FULL REFUND.

THERE IS A “DEPOSIT” CHUTE HERE.

The book has a faded cover which states “LE…CAR” and the inside notes “THE FOOD IS THE KEY TO YOUR PROBLEM”. This made me think the sandwich was somehow helpful but my first attempt at eating it while standing by the deposit chute led to death.

YOU HAVE BEEN CRUSHED TO DEATH BY A FALLING OBJECT!!
YOU ARE DEAD!

After some experimenting, I found that the sandwich has a better effect while eaten in the initial cave room.

YOU ARE NOW 4 INCHES TALL.

(There’s some rooms where you die and some where you transform — I’m not sure the pattern.)

This lets you be small enough to pop in the previously mentioned rabbit hole. Any items dropped in the DEPOSIT chute await below.

Notice there’s a “nasty sandwich” that’s new. If you try to GET SANDWICH you die with the message “THE SANDWICH GETS YOU FIRST!”

If anyone is inclined to follow along, there’s an easy-to-use online version of Mad Venture at the Internet Archive.

Posted August 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Pirate Island (1981)   18 comments

Can you get your treasure back to your ship ? Beware of the crocodile and the natives ! Don’t dig for treasure till you’ve read the map !

— Ad from Your Computer Magazine, January 1983

Paul Shave’s third release for 1981, like Atom Adventure, used his Create Your Own Adventure system.

Via Everygamegoing.

Also like Atom Adventure, the goal is to gather all the treasures, and many of the objects are randomly scattered. Unlike that game, it doesn’t have super-tight timing (although I haven’t gotten a full score yet, so maybe I’m wrong).

Most of the game is set outside, so a light timer isn’t really an issue. (There is a tinderbox you can light for the purposes of one room.)

There’s an initial “short-term” timer with a crocodile that eventually shows up and starts following you. The crocodile has a ticking sound (yep, it’s a Peter Pan reject). Eventually, the crocodile bites your head off, but if you have a knife, you can kill it and cut it open, revealing a clock.

Note that by bad luck you may run into the crocodile before you get the knife and just die on a particular run (this is another similar element to Atom Adventure).

A “long-term” timer is formed by “natives” that show up at random and shoot poison darts at you. There’s a village where you can buy antidote from other (different?) natives for TWO PIECES OF EIGHT and you can APPLY ANTIDOTE in order to avoid dying.

The antidote is not well described, so this is a likely result from first trying it out. I admit being more amused than frustrated, since this wasn’t far in.

However, the antidote only has so many applications, so you eventually will succumb to a poison dart if the game goes on long enough.

Additionally, the antidote is considered one of the treasures, and there’s a pirate that shows up at random that will swipe all your treasures and take them to his “lair” which is just a spot in the forest. It’s possible to have very bad timing and get the antidote swiped from your inventory right before getting shot with a poison dart, so the pirate inadvertently does a combo special with the natives conspiring to kill the main character.

As noted in the screenshot above, there’s a place marked GRUD OMASSI. If you say these words anywhere on the island you get teleported back to the GRUD OMASSI spot and have all wounds healed. This makes for a nice backup plan for getting stuck by poison where the antidote is too far away. (It works twice, but the third time kills via a lightning bolt, so it’s still an emergency-purpose-only situation.)

The natives that sell an antidote also have an idol which counts as a treasure, but if you try to steal it, they cook you over a pot.

I’ll save some extra commentary on this for the end of this post.

I mentioned getting a clock from the crocodile already. If you give them the clock they gather around it, fascinated, which distracts them enough you can steal the idol.

To win you need to sail away, but the catch is there are two ships. Observe on the map:

There’s a “ship” both on the north side and south side, with a shore and rowboat conveiently placed. You need to LAUNCH BOAT, ENTER BOAT, and ROW BOAT to get to the ship, at which point you may find the HISPANOLA (good!) but it may be the SANTA MARIA (bad!). If you board the Santa Maria you find pirates who make you walk the plank: game over. The placement of the two ships is random, so you have to check and may need to turn around to go to the other ship.

Assuming you do get on the correct ship, you can RAISE ANCHOR and SET SAIL to victory. (The game doesn’t tell you about RAISE ANCHOR; just like drinking the antidote, it expects you to step into a losing game once. “Dying from things that are realistic and logical but in gameplay terms unfair” is sort of a running gag for Pirate Island.)

You may notice a lack of 16 out of 16 in the screenshot above. Each treasure is 2 points, and I’ve managed to max out at 12 with a RUBY RING, GOLD NUGGETS, JEWELS, IDOL, ANTIDOTE, and SILVER BAR. (The first four are randomly placed, the antidote is always bought at the village, and the silver bar you get from a gorilla by trading a banana.)

I sometimes end these with “whelp, the game was too painful, that’s it” but for some reason, the missing points here really gnaw at me. I think it has to do with the advertising blurb I quoted at the top of this post, which you might notice mentions a map for digging. I have found a SPADE in the game and tried digging the ground in every location, so no dice at random luck: I think the map is necessary to find whatever treasures remain. But I have no idea how to get the map! In addition to what I’ve mentioned, I’ve found a PARROT (which perches atop the player’s shoulder), some WOOD SHAVINGS, a BOTTLE (which can be filled with WATER), and some CHEESE. I haven’t been able to make use of any of them. I had strange notions of “reconstituting” a map by combining wood shavings and water, but no luck (at least with the parser commands I tried).

(If you’d like to take a crack, download the Atom Software Archive here, the program Atomulator here, drop the archive files in the “MMC” directory, then start the emulator and pick shift-F12, which jumps to a menu that accesses every available Atom game, including PS3A, Pirate Island.)

Oh, and the natives. They are definitely just old-timey cartoon stereotypes. I especially felt uncomfortable stealing the idol. The pieces of eight (which you use to buy the antidote) incidentally count as a treasure, so it’s possible to get a full point spread you need to steal the antidote in addition to the idol. This makes me tempted to just bail out early for story purposes like I did with It Takes a Thief. But really, where is that map?

ADD: You can see in the comments I missed a location, so I found the map and an extra treasure. No idea on the last treasure; I still have to spend the pieces of eight to get the antidote, and haven’t found a way around that.

Posted August 2, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Assignment 45, A Harry Flynn Adventure: Finale and Analysis   2 comments

I stopped keeping track of how many Harrys we lost (20?), but victory was eventually ours.

I will narrate the rest of the game, then dive into some exploration of structure. There’s been a lot of theoretical work on the effect of overall choice-structure, but not as much on the micro-pieces therein.

Last time, our hero had made it to the hostage storage area.

BY NOW DR. NON HAS RADIOED FOR HELP. KRUEL REINFORCEMENTS ARE ON THEIR WAY.

1) STUDY THE STORAGE SYSTEM
2) FREE EVERYONE BY DISABLING LOCK MECHANISM
3) EXAMINE THE FILES
4) CALL UEC ON SLED RADIO
5) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLET KEYS

Just as a reminder, the hostages are “DATA PATTERNED AND LASER STAMPED” on slides, and we’re trying to rescue a princess. Dr. Non gave Harry one “pellet key” as a “free sample”, but it only works on one slide.

Trying to free everyone:

We start by trying to disable the lock mechanism.

TAMPERING WITH THE LOCK STARTED A BASE DESTRUCTION SEQUENCE. HARRY HAS 60 SECONDS TO DECIDE WHETHER TO:

1) ABANDON THE BASE 2) TRY TO ABORT SEQUENCE

Both are Bad Endings.

HE ALMOST HAD IT, THEN *BOOM!*

Next Harry. Taking his time, he examines the storage system…

FILES
PELLET PRODUCER
LOCKING MECHANISM

…then tries and fails get the mechanism to make more pellet keys.

BY ATTEMPTING TO BYPASS THE PELLET TIMER, HARRY SETS OFF A SIGNAL WHICH ERASES ALL THE FILES! MISSION IS A FAILURE.

The next Harry reconsiders and examines the files more carefully.

THERE ARE MANY FILES. SINCE THE GIRL WAS JUST TAKEN, SHE SHOULD BE AMOUNG THE LAST ENTRIES. BUT HARRY HAS ONLY 1 PELLET.
WHICH FILE IS THE RIGHT ONE?

1) LOAD THE FILES UP AND BRING THEM TO UEC
2) DISABLE LOCK MECHANISM
3) TAKE A GUESS
4) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLETS
5) CUT OFF POWER TO STORAGE COMPUTER
6) GO BACK TO SHIP AND USE RADIO

While not obvious, this is the last choice of the game!

First Harry tries cutting off power…

WITH THE POWER OFF THE SYSTEM BECOMES TOTALLY INOPERATIVE.
SHOULD HARRY:
1) TURN POWER BACK ON
2) EXAM SYSTEM WITH POWER OFF

…but examining the system leads to electrocution.

Then he tries to load all the files at once.

WHEN HARRY ATTEMPTS TO REMOVE A PANE FROM ITS HOLDER, THE FILE DISSOLVES. THE GIRL AND ALL OTHER HOSTAGES ON THE PANE ARE DESTROYED. MISSION FAILED.

The next incarnation makes another attempt at producing more pellets, but it turns out as badly as last time, wiping out the system. Finally, he tries going back to call the UEC.

HARRY DRIVES BACK TO THE SHIP AND CALLS UEC. COMPU-CEN SUGGESTS TAKING MICRO-PHOTOS USING THE MEAD CELL AND ANALYZING THEM ON THE SHIP’S COMPUTER.

IN ADDITION, UEC IS SENDING A TASK FO TO SECURE THE BASE.

HARRY RETURNS TO THE STORAGE AREA, AND FOLLOWING COMPU-CEN’S ADVICE IS ABLE TO IDENTIFY THE GIRL’S FILE.

HE SLIPS THE PELLET IN AND A HOLOGRAPHIC IMAGE APPEARS. IT IS KURVI CALLEASE. SHE IS ALMOST MAGICALLY
BEAUTIFUL. THE IMAGE FILLS AND SHE COMES TO LIFE, BUT IMMEDIATELY FAINTS.

HARRY CATCHES HER AND CARRIES HER TO THE SLED. THEY SPEED OVER THE YELLOW SANDS TO HIS SHIP. ABOVE, THE SKY FLASHES WITH RED AND BLUE LASER STROBES AS UEC AND KRUEL FORCES BATTLE IT OUT.

THE GIRL AWAKENS. A TEAR IN HER EYE REFLECTS THE FLASHES OVERHEAD.

‘WHO ARE YOU?’
‘HARRY FLYNN FROM UEC AT YOUR SERVICE.’
SHE PRESSED CLOSE TO HIM, HER HEAD ON HIS SHOULDER.

‘TAKE ME HOME, PLEASE, HARRY.’
‘YOU’RE AS GOOD AS THERE.’

CONGRATULATIONS,
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Deep thanks to everyone who participated! (I’ll figure out who gets the Steam keys next week.) I wanted to try something a little different, but also, I thought taking a slow journey through the steps might reveal some interesting nuances of game design that’d be easy to miss if I just spilled out the whole plot at once.

Before I analyze a few moments, it’s important to note that this seems intended as a skill-based game; that is, if you think through things carefully, you can make the right choices and not die. This is in contrast to the wild-bouncing structure that can happen in one of the Choose Your Own Adventure novels at the time, where the point is almost more about exploring every node rather than reaching any kind of “success”.

All dotted lines lead to “bad endings”, mission failure and/or death.

The start, riding a sled outside the compound, was relatively sedate: it took at least two choices before a Game Over, and all the initial wrong choices could be backtracked.

But there was still some player confusion; the MEAD cell Harry had could be used to determine laser fire would work on the barrier — “Info” on the map — but choosing then to do an immediate hand laser (as opposed to going back to the sled and using that laser) leads to death. Paradoxically, I think the player who is more reckless at the start and just starts shooting is less likely to lose lives here.

After Harry is captured, and the structure gives four choices.

1) BREAK BONDS
2) ROTATE MIRROR FROM SUN
3) USE MEAD CELL
4) PRAY

Pray is an informational choice: it gives Harry the idea that he should use his MEAD cell. Interestingly enough, we picked that one on our playthrough, but when we picked using the MEAD as hinted, the response of “NOTHING HAPPENS” was enough to turn people away. They then went with both BREAK BONDS all the way to the Bad End, and the same with ROTATE MIRROR FROM SUN before going back to USE MEAD CELL.

The “confirmation” structure was deceptive; if the MEAD cell had worked right away the scene would have been over much faster.

Let’s look deeper at the very last choice.

1) LOAD THE FILES UP AND BRING THEM TO UEC
2) DISABLE LOCK MECHANISM
3) TAKE A GUESS
4) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLETS
5) CUT OFF POWER TO STORAGE COMPUTER
6) GO BACK TO SHIP AND USE RADIO

When I went through I personally got flummoxed; it really seems like genre expectations are to do something heroic, even if it’s “mechanically heroic”. But the correct choice is to go back and use the ship radio, which sounds like an intermediate step and not something that would win the game at all. (Our players were similarly deceived, and the only option not chosen was “TAKE A GUESS”.)

In general, I found myself fairly grouchy with the game in its original form. There are no saved games, so it takes a lot of repetition to work to the end, and there were a lot of “cheap shot” branches. Especially bad was this one, after Harry “successfully” fakes his death.

NO ONE WILL BE LOOKING FOR HIM NOW.
SHOULD HE: 1)ESCAPE 2)TRY TO CAPTURE DR. NON 3)GET THE GIRL

All three choices lead to death. In practice, this means repeating a bunch of actions to that point (thinking it was the next part of the plot) only to repeatedly meet with failure.

I can see why, plot-wise, it is impossible to do the correct action (destroy the base with the mirror) after Harry fakes his death (someone would have to find his … clothes? … the game never spells out how the faking works … but that means Harry can’t use the mirror any more). Still, in a gameplay sense, this was terrible, in the sense that if I was spelling out a Bill of Player’s Rights for Choice-Based Games this would make one of the entries; don’t block apparent success in a dead-end where a player will have to try all the choices before they realize they’re in a dead-end.

This is the message you get if you pick N to the prompt that asks if you want to try again after losing. This emphasizes the attempt to make the game skill-based. While I appreciate the interesting bits of deception, when I played there just wasn’t enough to grasp the pleasure of working things out; it was more sorting out what happened after I had already died.

Posted July 31, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Assignment 45, A Harry Flynn Adventure: Attack of the Clones   19 comments

An ad printed in the page facing the source code for Assignment 45. Accounting for inflation, $3899 in 2020 dollars is $11,057.76.

Since last time, we had reached Harry #3, who had broken into a complex.

HE IS IN A HUGE COMPLEX OF SILVER GLASS PANES.

EACH PANE IS SCORED INTO 5 CM SQUARES, AND EACH SQUARE IS PERFORATED BY A SMALL HOLE.

1) EXPLORE MORE
2) EXAMINE PANE

Checking out the pane led to a villain monologuing and the longest text of the game:

AS HE TOUCHES THE PANE, HE IS STUNNED UNCONSCIOUS. WHEN HE AWAKENS, HE IS SURROUNDED BY A SECURITY TEAM. A MAN WITH GOLD TEETH IS SMILING. THE MAN SPEAKS.

‘THE GREAT HARRY FLYNN. I NEVER THOUGHT I’D MEET YOU IN PERSON.’

(STANDING UP, HARRY RETORTS) ‘THE INFAMOUS DR. NON FROM KRUEL.’

‘YES, KRUEL. KIDNAPPING, REVOLT, USURPATION, EXTORTION LEAGUE.

YOU, MR. FLYNN, HAVE INVADED OUR HOSTAGE STORAGE CENTER.’

(HARRY PROBES) ‘TELL ME MORE.’

‘OF COURSE. EACH HOSTAGE IS KEPT FOR FUTURE POLITICAL USE. THEY ARE DATA PATTERNED AND LASER STAMPED ON THOSE SLIDES YOU CARELESSLY TOUCHED. INSERT A PELLET LIKE THIS, AND THEY ARE RECONSTRUCTED–UNHARMED.’

‘WITHOUT A PELLET, A NASTY SHOCK IS APPLIED. YOU MAY HAVE THIS ONE AS A SOUVENIR.’
(DR. NON SLIPS A PELLET INTO HARRY’S SHIRT POCKET)

‘TOO BAD YOU MUST LEAVE US NOW, MR. FLYNN… PERMANENTLY.’

HARRY IS TAKEN TO THE SOLAR MIRROR. ONE OF THE GUARDS EXPLAINS THAT DR. NON RESERVES THIS FORM OF EXECUTION FOR SPECIAL GUESTS.

HARRY IS STRAPPED TO THE MIRROR. AT SUNRISE HE WILL BE INSTANTLY TOASTED. THE GUARDS LEAVE.

1) BREAK BONDS
2) ROTATE MIRROR FROM SUN
3) USE MEAD CELL
4) PRAY

Harry prays, and gets the idea of using the MEAD cell (his handy gizmo which allows him to see invisible things and project his mind as force).

He tries his bonds…

MIRROR BUDGES A LITTLE AS BONDS STRETCH.

SHOULD HARRY: 1) KEEP TRYING 2) TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

…and backtracks (option #2) and tries the MEAD cell instead.

HARRY REMEMBERS WHAT ORR SAID ABOUT THE CELL AMPLIFYING THOUGHT WAVES. HE CONCENTRATES ON MOVING THE MIRROR’S POSITION CONTROL LEVER.

NOTHING HAPPENS.
SHOULD HARRY: 1) KEEP TRYING 2) TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

Backtracking again, Harry goes back to trying to break the bonds.

THE MIRROR DOESN’T TURN FAR ENOUGH.

GOOD BYE HARRY!

No doubt in a real Choose Your Own Adventure book there would be a carefully-narrated ending, but the TRS-80 here is already jammed to the gills with text.

Reincarnating as Harry #4, he revives and tries rotating the mirror from the sun instead.

THE MIRROR DOESN’T TURN FAR ENOUGH.

GOOD BYE HARRY!

Oops! On to Harry #5, whereupon our audience realizes the MEAD cell was right after all. While the first time using it, nothing happens…

NOTHING HAPPENS.
SHOULD HARRY: 1) KEEP TRYING 2) TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

…picking #1 to try again leads to success.

FINALLY THE LEVER MOVES AND ROTATES THE MIRROR AWAY FROM THE SUN. THIS GIVES HARRY THE TIME HE NEEDS TO BREAK FREE.

1) SNEAK BACK TO HOSTAGE STORAGE AND USE PELLET
2) ESCAPE AND RETURN WITH REINFORCEMENTS
3) CAPTURE DR. NON AND USE HIM TO BARGIN FOR THE GIRL
4) FAKE HIS DEATH BY TURNING MIRROR BACK INTO SUN
5) USE MIRROR AS WEAPON

Harry first tries to sneak to hostage storage:

AS HARRY SNEAKS BACK HE IS SURPRISED BY A SECURITY TEAM.

Reincarnating as Harry #6, he tries faking his death, which succeeds! The games options are:

NO ONE WILL BE LOOKING FOR HIM NOW.
SHOULD HE: 1)ESCAPE 2)TRY TO CAPTURE DR. NON 3)GET THE GIRL

although it turns out all of these are dead ends! We lose Harry #7, #8, and #9 this way.

Reversing time to the previous decision, Harry #10 tries to get reinforcements.

HARRY MAKES IT OUT OF THE COMPLEX, BUT WITHOUT THE SLED. HE PERISHES IN THE DESERT.

Finally, Harry #11 has success when trying to use the mirror itself as a weapon.

HARRY TURNS THE MIRROR ON THE INSTALLATION AND DESTROYS IT.
DR. NON, HOWEVER, ESCAPES IN HIS PERSONAL SHUTTLE.

SHOULD HARRY: 1) GO AFTER DR. NON 2) GET THE GIRL

Harry decides the princess is the top priority and goes to GET THE GIRL.

HARRY MAKES HIS WAY TO THE HOSTAGE STORAGE AREA.
BY NOW DR. NON HAS RADIOED FOR HELP.
KRUEL REINFORCEMENTS ARE ON THEIR WAY.

1) STUDY THE STORAGE SYSTEM
2) FREE EVERYONE BY DISABLING LOCK MECHANISM
3) EXAMINE THE FILES
4) CALL UEC ON SLED RADIO
5) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLET KEYS

What should Harry do next? Please vote in the comments.

(I’m going to restrain myself from commenting too much, but the events above contain two fascinating theoretical bits — the part where the use of the MEAD cell did nothing and the players went back and died on the other options, and the “dead end” where faking death was a success but it led to 3 losing options. We’re almost there, so I’ll get into a full discussion next time.)

Posted July 28, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Steam Key Giveaway

So, I’ve been having trouble keeping the momentum going on the playthough of Assignment 45 (which is close to done!) so for the last leg, I’m going to do the tried-and-true method of GIVING AWAY STUFF.

To recap, Assignment 45 is a TRS-80 game from 1981 in Choose Your Own Adventure style, and we are playing through in the comments. All you need to do is read up to the current update and post a number corresponding to your next choice.

Here’s all the Assignment 45 posts so far together

Here’s the current thread

Now, it so happens that Orihaus (who is likely reading this, hello!) sent me some keys for his interactive fiction game To Burn in Memory to do with what I wanted. I have four spare keys so the next four people who vote (as of the time of this post) each get a Steam key to the game! (Assuming they agree to getting one; if someone passes I’ll move on to the next person.)

In addition, for everyone who has participated (including back to the very start of playing Assignment 45), I will drop everyone’s comments in a randomizer and pick three people who can grab a game of their choice from my pile of Steam keys.

Antichamber
Stardew Valley
Last Word
To the Moon
The Geneforge Saga (This is all five games.)
Owlboy
Puzzle Agent 1 & 2
Epistory – Typing Chronicles
Sam & Max: Devil’s Playhouse

I did say comments, which means the people who participate more have a more likely chance to win. (Only one win per person, though.) And yes, that’s more than 3 games, but I want the last person in line to be able to choose rather than just pick what’s left.

Note I will need access to your email for all this to work, so if you put a dummy address on your reply I’ll have to do some follow-ups. Drawing will happen after the game is over.

Don’t respond to this post — go to the current thread!

Posted July 24, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Atom Adventure (1981)   10 comments

For today’s contender in First Britventure, I bring forth a game published by Hopesoft, written by Paul Shave for the Acorn Atom (a system we previously saw in Acornsoft’s Atom Adventure(s), a game whose title is only differentiated by the “s” there).

So in 1981 when the Acorn Atom came out, it seemed a wonderful opportunity to get back into programming (but obviously not giving up the day job). I splashed out on the top-of-the-range model with 12Kb of RAM and taught myself 6502 assembler. Later that year, Hopesoft was born. I’d recently come across the original Colossal Adventure on the mainframe and was fascinated by it. I started doing text adventures and arcade games for the Atom, but the adventures were my real love, with the challenge being how to cram the maximum amount into my 12Kb. When I’d got a few programs ready, I put a small ad in one of the computer mags, and it all grew from there. I started off buying data cassettes from WH Smith, and spent the evenings saving the programs onto the tapes as the orders came in.

— From an October 2000 interview with Paul Shave

Planet of Death and City of Alzan both appeared in the August/September 1981 issue of Your Computer; this makes it appear both came out in July 1981.

Gareth Pitchford, a blog regular here, has already done the legwork on Hopesoft and concluded from the first game had an approximate release date of July/August 1981. In other words, based on what we’ve seen so far, the title of first Britventure is now a three-way tie.

Mr. Shave wrote his own adventure-writing database, according to him, all on his own (unlike Planet of Death and City of Alzan, he hadn’t seen the Ken Reed article with its own adventure system). You can peruse the source code of his “Sample Adventure” here that came out with his “Write Your Own Adventure” tape (his second title published, after Atom Adventure).

From Everygamegoing.

It really is just a sample and not worth me “playing” for you, but it demonstrates a map, a hungry man, some cheese, and a treasure chest he’s guarding. Even though he didn’t see Reed’s system, rooms, objects, events, and messages get separated out in the same way. Here’s the messages for Sample Adventure:

5000*MESSAGES 8
5010 0,IT FALLS ON THE FLOOR AND GOES OUT.
5030 2,THE MAN LOOKS VERY FIERCE. HE WON’T LET ME NEAR THE
5040@ TREASURE.
5050 3,THE MAN GOBBLES UP THE CHEESE. HE LOOKS MORE CONTENT.
5060 4,THE MAN TURNS VERY NASTY. HE TEARS MY
5070@ THROAT OUT. I’M DEAD.
5080 5,CONGRATULATIONS, YOU GOT IT!
5090 6,GOODBYE.

(There’s also the infamous I CAN’T message which we have only seen with the other two Reed-derived games, which makes me wonder if the author really did see Reed-related code at some point and is misremembering, but it’s not important enough to be fussy about.)

The same system gets used for the stand-alone Hopesoft games from 1981, Atom Adventure and Pirate Island. Pirate Island will wait for another post, so let’s get into Atom Adventure, later advertised as:

A traditional Adventure in caves and a castle.

So this a usual hunt-the treasure plot again, but, remember: the only adventure game the author had previously played was Crowther/Woods Adventure. It turns out, despite initial appearances, there’s something very non-traditional about the game. What if, in designing a game, you made all the puzzles “easy” yet made getting the best ending “hard”?

Atom Adventure certainly felt simplistic in my first 20 minutes of play. You start outdoors, with the Classic Adventure Mostly Standard: lamp, keys, matches, bottle of oil. (The items are randomly distributed, and the bottle can even start underground; this will be important in a second.)

There’s a cave system, with two entrances; either down stairs from a building, or from a grating outside.

Underground you find (again with some scattered randomly) an elastoplast (which you need when a troll hits you, you have to USE ELASTOPLAST to stop the bleeding or die), a knife, a gold bar, a diamond ring, a hamster, and a hamster-eating snake.

To get to the next level you need to find a rusty locked door, use the oil in the bottle to OIL DOOR, then use the keys to UNLOCK DOOR. (You can, if you like, refill the bottle with water after using it for oil.)

Past the door (which is a one-way trip, the door gets barred behind you) is a small castle.

A dragon is satiated by “damsel-flavored crisps”, there’s a magic bean that requires water (and sprouts a silver flower), an underground cellar with an oyster that requires the knife to open, a ruby, and a scroll with a magic word (OKAPI). You use the magic word to open the treasury and finish the game.

However, everything above is much more complicated than it sounds, because you have 1.) a very tight timer before the lamp runs out 2.) an inventory limit of four items and 3.) the randomization makes it impossible to fully predict where objects will show. This means the challenge in getting all the treasures to the end is not in solving the puzzles, but in optimally getting through the game with all the objects you need.

By tight I mean, essentially, you have to squeeze out every turn of lamp light possible, and even then, you sometimes randomly just have an object in a wrong location and can’t make it. For example:

You can enter the underground from the building (top diagram) or the grating (bottom diagram). With the building entrance, you start in darkness. With the grating entrance, you start in light (the sky is visible) meaning you can wait a little longer before lighting your lamp, and the path to check for objects all the way to the river is one step less short than from the building. This is sufficient to make a difference; I don’t think the best ending for the game is possible using the building entrance!

You might also notice that one “Cave, River” room has a connection to another, and the other happens to be next to the exit door for the cave section. You can THROW ITEM OVER RIVER to get it out of your inventory. If you don’t do this with the keys you will not be able to win, because you need the space and can’t cart items over fast enough! (Also fun, the game models some physics here; if you throw the bottle of oil it makes it over the river and breaks, if you try to throw a bar of gold it falls in the river and sinks.)

One other trick I did was throw the matches over the river. When I hit the cave room at the door I was able to TURN OFF LAMP to save a little energy, and the game fortunately let me OIL DOOR, UNLOCK DOOR, and OPEN DOOR while in the dark (and use the keys even though they were on the ground). Then with the matches on the ground I was allowed to LIGHT LAMP again and book it to the cellar in the castle before the lamp ran out.

Even after massive optimization steps I still was running short on space. I needed to get out of the cave with

1. the lamp (the castle is mostly lit, but the cellar which has a treasure is not)
1. a bottle of water (for the magic bean)
3. a gold bar (one of the treasures)
4. a diamond ring (one of the treasures)
5. a knife (for opening an oyster and getting a pearl)

This is five items, and remember the trip is one-way. I could only hold four! I had tried and discarded the idea of wearing the diamond ring since WEAR RING doesn’t work, but I found out after proving to myself the game was impossible that — on a second, desperate pass — that PUT ON RING does work, and saves you an inventory spot.

Here’s what you need the water for.

I was fully prepared for a time to declare the game buggy and impossible, and I even partially wrote and discarded a blog post to that effect, so I’ll say I earned the screen below.

The OBE is the Order of the British Empire, which I also believe I earned.

Just as a reminder, the blog play-along of Assignment 45 is still in progress. Please go vote!

Posted July 23, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Assignment 45, A Harry Flynn Adventure: You Only Live Once, Unless You’re Playing a Choose Your Own Adventure Style Game in Which Case You Die Lots of Times   44 comments

We’ve got far enough in our traversal of this ancient TRS-80 game that it’s time for a story update. Remember, this is blog-play-along style, so feel free to chime in as to what to do next in the comments.

This is the first “section” of the game. I suspect there will be one or two posts left to go, after which I’ll follow with an analysis. (You’ll notice immediately this is not the simplistic “deadly gauntlet” of Albino’s last game. I’m interested in the general effect interactive structures have and how much deaths should be the “player’s fault”, so to speak.)

The cover of the 80 Micro magazine in which Assignment 45 appeared.

In our story so far, Harry Flynn, Special Agent, was on the search for a kidnapped princess.

He immediately came across a cluster of huts guarded by a force field. Trying to be circumspect, he scouted around.

HARRY DRIVES UNTIL DARKNESS APPROACHES BUT FINDS NOTHING.

1) RETURN TO HUTS
2) KEEP LOOKING

Trying to be even more circumspect, he scouted even more.

HARRY DRIVES ON IN THE DARKNESS. SUDDENLY HIS SCANNER DETECTS A MAMMOTH FORM DECENDING FROM THE SKY. ATTRACTED BY THE LIGHTS, A GIANT MANTA MOTH SWALLOWS THE SLED.

Oh dear. Let’s try that again.

Harry #2 has a MEAD (“Matter Energy Amplification Diode”) which brings makes invisible things visible and decides to try it out.

Harry disembarks the sled, hides it, and goes to the barrier.

AS HE APPROACHES THE BARRIER HARRY HOLDS UP THE MEAD CELL. HE STUDIES THE COMPOSITION OF THE FORMERLY INVISIBLE FIELD. IT MAY BREAK DOWN UNDER LASER FIRE.

1) RETURN TO SLED
2) CONTINUE TO EXPLORE
3) USE HAND LASER

Since he happens to have a handy laser at hand, he tries to use it.

HARRY DRAWS HIS HAND LASER AND BLASTS THE BARRIER.

IT HAS A NEGLIGIBLE EFFECT BUT SETS OFF AN ALARM THAT BRINGS ARMOURED SENTRY ROBOTS. THE HAND LASER CANNOT STOP THEM. HARRY GETS VAPORIZED!

Alas, poor Harry #2.

Harry #3 materializes in a poof of light!

Harry uses his superior firepower.

HARRY FIRES THE POWERFUL TWIN LASER CANNONS POINT BLANK INTO THE BARRIER. THE BARRIER HAS BEEN WEAKENED SUBSTANTIALLY, BUT SENTRY ROBOTS OPEN FIRE ON HIM.

1) TURN ON SHIELDS
2) USE LASER CANNONS
3) GET OUT OF THERE

Followed by shields.

LASER BOLTS FLASH AGAINST THE SLED’S SHIELDS.

1) GET OUT OF THERE
2) RAM THE BARRIER

Ramming speed!

WITH FULL POWER TO FRONT SHIELDS, HARRY CHARGES THE WEAKENED BARRIER.

HE BREAKS THROUGH AND ZOOMS PAST THE SLOW MOVING ROBOTS.

HARRY QUICKLY HIDES THE SLED AMOUNG THE CLUSTER OF HUTS.

WITH LASER GUN DRAWN, HE CHARGES INTO THE NEAREST STRUCTURE

IT TURNS OUT TO BE AN ELEVATOR THAT PLUNGES DOWNWARD

HE IS IN A HUGE COMPLEX OF SILVER GLASS PANES.

EACH PANE IS SCORED INTO 5 CM SQUARES, AND EACH SQUARE IS PERFORATED BY A SMALL HOLE.

1) EXPLORE MORE
2) EXAMINE PANE

What do you do next? Please post in the comments.

Posted July 22, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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