Archive for the ‘Interactive Fiction’ Category

Asylum: LOOK UP   14 comments

Presented without comment.

Posted April 6, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Asylum: Oddly Angled   4 comments

I’m trying to get through a big chunk of game before I write my next major update, but I’ve got a small “feature” to report on that is mind-boggling on its own.

I mapped the original Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth on a spreadsheet, as they followed the same pattern as many RPGs of a regular grid; possibly with some teleports or other sneakiness, but a grid nonetheless.

That doesn’t hold for this game. The above picture is entirely wrong. The real map (at least for the starting area) is something like:

So you have five “inward” doors and two “outward” doors in every hall, but even though it appears you are turning 90 degrees to go around halls, you’re turning 72 degrees instead. The real map is a pentagon.

This is one of those times I am intensely irritated by a feature but simultaneously in awe of the chutzpah. The game is essentially lying to the player.

This would have been faster to spot but trying to drop items in a hall causes a janitor to appear and scoop them up. I admit for a long time I assumed I was simply being prey to some teleporter shenanigans (probably I still am — I’m guessing “behind the scenes” in the code there’s still a grid somehow — but it still all comes out functionally to a pentagon).

The only reason this is marginally fair is due to the low-res nature of the graphics; it would essentially be impossible on a modern system (although in a “node” system like Myst you might get close). I am still curious, though, if anyone has been in a pentagonal building before, and if it was possible to “feel” like the turns were at right angles even if they weren’t.

Posted April 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Asylum: Ripped to Shreds   9 comments

I don’t normally talk about my troubles in emulation; usually, it is as mild as “of the two emulators X and Y I could use for this, X doesn’t work but Y does”.

With Asylum, I’ve had issues that bleed over to the gameplay, so it’s worth a little detail this time.

Asylum’s initial release had both a 16K and a 32K version, and using both cassette and disk. (This refers to the memory capacity of the TRS-80 it loads on — 32K means double the text and code capacity over 16K.) This, combined with … magic, I guess, led to many variant files that currently exist.


My two most reliable TRS-80 emulators (Matthew Reed’s and George Phillips’s) died on almost all of them. I had blank screens, bizarre errors, and unrecognized keyboard inputs. The only exception was ASYLUM1G.CMD — based on the 32K version — which had a different “loader” at the front but also skipped asking if I wanted to restore a save game. It meant I could save but not restore a save file.

I had one other option: a cassette file of the 16K version. I was able to save and load with this version.

This led me to the scenario where I could either

a.) Play the 16K version, with saving and loading working properly.

b.) Play the 32K version, with no game saves, but with more text.

I’m currently going with the former, since the manual claims the gameplay puzzles are the same, just the text is terser. This might seem to be the more difficult game, but the 16K version has advantages. CHARGE from Deathmaze 5000 is retained in the 32K version…

…but is cut from the 16K. So I know CHARGE is a useless red herring and I shouldn’t waste time running into walls looking for secrets.

Of course, sometimes more text is clearer. Last time I mentioned a grenade where you needed to PULL PIN FROM GRENADE. Here is the grenade’s description in the 32K version…

…and the 16K version.

Notice the PULL verb is immediately suggested by the 32K version but not the 16K version. I may just swap back to the 32K version on occasion once I have a clearer idea of my route through the game. As things currently are going, I’m dying too often to go without save files.

I’m only made a smidge of progress, so my content update is going to be short. Last time I escaped a second cell with a silver key; I found two more doors that unlocked with the key, including one with the coat and grenade from the start of the game. I was then walled by trying to get past a guard.

I had tried TIPTOE as the game had previously mentioned the verb, but ATTACK GUARD led to me being torn apart. I finally checked hints and found out that PUNCH is considered an entirely different verb! (KILL and ATTACK are mapped together, HIT and PUNCH are considered a different set.)

A brief, general principle I’ve alluded to: if two verbs are understood differently, yet might plausibly seem to a user to be the same action, the text needs to be absolutely clear about what’s going on. It may just be the two verbs should be merged; even if there is technically a difference (punching a guard doesn’t necessarily mean you aim to kill) it isn’t worth the user-end suffering. In this specific case, I imagined ATTACK as using the player character’s fists; I’m not even sure how the game interprets it otherwise since the player doesn’t have a weapon.

I’ve only had a little time to explore past the guard. I found some more locked doors (and had to laboriously try my key on each and every one), some with inmates inside. You can hear giggling from one, see an ugly face from another (both of these are behind still-locked doors).

Two rooms I could unlock and also had inmates inside. One inmate was asking for a cigarette, and when I didn’t have one, called for guards (losing me the game). The other I immediately died via shotgun.

The last thing I did was SEARCH GUARD, yielding a BRASS KEY, a UNIFORM, and CIGARETTES, so next time I should hopefully be off and running with a bigger chunk of the game.

Posted April 1, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Frankenstein Adventure: Ghosts   2 comments

While I polished off the TRS-80 game of this game already, I was poking at John Olsen’s later port (that he titled Frankenstein’s Legacy) and discovered a feature in the z-code version (made by William Stott) I don’t recall ever seeing in any other adventure game.

First, just to note, all the ports generally do is re-format the game’s text to seem more like a more modern text adventure, as opposed to TRS-80 minimalism.

Dirt path
You are on a dirt path. There is an old, rundown mansion to the north, a swamp in the distance to the east, and to the west is an overgrown cemetery.

Compare with:

Honestly, I think I like the original more? The effect is akin to trying to scale up an old 8-bit game into modern graphics but leaving behind jagged edges.

See also this review from SPAG:

FRANKENSTEIN’S LEGACY’s lack of graphic description is at times comic also. If you order the game to cut open a dead body, you are told “OK.” That’s it, just “OK.”

This event is fine in the TRS-80 version — the appearance of the mutilated corpse in the object list is startling, and the main text is essentially an acknowledgment rather than any kind of atmosphere building. Without the two-window setup, all that’s left is the “OK”.

Now, the new feature.

For fun (and to see how it works), I’ve also implemented a ‘bones file’ (as outlined in ex137 of DM4) to generate the ghosts of the previous 10 player characters killed in the game. This is set ‘off’ by default. To switch on the ghosts, type GHOSTS ON (or HAUNT) near the start of the game.

DM4 is the Designer’s Manual 4 for Inform, the language used to make the port. I reckon someone else must have borrowed this idea since it’s direct from the manual, but I don’t recall ever seeing it re-used — anyone?

When you die in the game, you leave behind a ghost where you died.


Edge of a swamp
You are on the edge of a swamp. There are the distant ruins of an old mill further to the east.

You can see a faint ghost, a sign in the grass and a crowbar here.

The ghost stares at you mournfully. Someone must have died near here once, long ago.

If you die multiple times (quite reasonable to happen on the quicksand and the wolf while you’re solving them) there are multiple ghosts, one for each death. I’ve seen this in puzzle games, RPGs, and even in a multiplayer shooter, but never in adventure games.

Posted March 31, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Asylum (1981)   8 comments

In 1980, Med Systems released the graphical 3D adventure games Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth. Both were relatively light with graphics — showing walls, boxes, and the occasional extra like a keyhole. William F. Denman, Jr. and Frank Corr, Jr. released Asylum in February of 1981, which ramped up the graphics with openable and closable doors, inmates and guards, beds, and … well, likely other things, but I haven’t gotten very far yet.

The parser now accepts full sentences. This is very much an object lesson in just accepting more words does not mean the parser is better. Guess-the-verb (which Deathmaze definitely had) has been replaced with guess-the-phrase. (I’ll give examples of what I mean in a moment.)

You start, without preamble, imprisoned in the titular Asylum, with the goal to escape in 8 hours. The time is “real-time” except one minute in game time is 40 seconds in real time. I have yet to assess if this is really a problem or just an extra piece of tension; there’s plenty of ways early to lose without worrying about a time limit on top of things.

You start with just a coat; inside your room is a box with a hand grenade. “EXAMINE GRENADE” indicates the grenade has a pin. In order to escape the starting room, you need to PULL PIN FROM GRENADE and then UNLOCK DOOR WITH PIN. (If you GET PIN FROM GRENADE you are told it can’t be done, GET PIN just indicates it isn’t here. A good parser would understand both the four-word and two-word versions; there’s no reason to be picky here about where the pin is coming from.)

Incidentally: Don’t forget to put the pin back in the grenade!

Leaving the cell gets you into a hall with locked doors, none of which succumb to the pin. I ended up getting caught by a guard and being chided that I didn’t TIPTOE. I restarted and tried TIPTOE — the verb gets recognized, but doesn’t seem to do anything. It’s possible the first time you are caught is forced.

I got tossed into a different cell, wearing a straightjacket, which for some reason was on fire. One ROLL later both stops the fire and discards the ruined jacket. The room this time had a newspaper, and I was able to EXAMINE KEYHOLE to find there was a key in the lock. The next part required these exact steps:


The last one was particularly frustrating, stumping me for a good 15 minutes. The game doesn’t think the newspaper is in scope otherwise, and code seems to have bespoke-hacked in the ability to retrieve the newspaper with that last phrase, and only that last phrase (not GET NEWSPAPER FROM UNDER DOOR, even).

Leaving the room again, I found an identical-looking hallway (it might be the same one?) but with a silver key that let me get into two new halls; however, trying to walk down either led to an instant game over as guards caught me in their “offices”.

This one’s going to take work, for certain. I’m still optimistic this will get fun once I get into the swing of things.

Two last notes for now:

1.) Will Moczarski has blogged through this one already at The Adventure Gamer, if you’d like to see what the whole game is like early.

2.) Med Systems followed up Asylum with Asylum II, and then, very confusingly, Asylum, which is just Asylum II with the sequel number dropped (but ported to more systems like the Commodore 64). This means some places (like the Interactive Fiction Database) you will see mention of a game called Asylum which is actually the sequel. As of this writing, Wikipedia’s text mostly refers to the correct game, except the picture is of the cover of the other game.

Also, Frank Corr is left out of the dev credits. Denman is the sole credit on Asylum II, so I’m guessing that’s the reason for the error.

Posted March 29, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Frankenstein Adventure: Below the Surface Forever   6 comments

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.

— From Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

In the original Frankenstein, Victor abandons his “monster” as soon as he creates it; the monster doesn’t really get into murder until he finds out the circumstances of his creation, and plans revenge.

More modern takes have varied, but we’re jumping ahead a bit in the plot–

Before I made any progress on the real story, I was fussing about with all my objects, and discovered BURN worked as a verb on things other than just matches and candles. Dutifully testing out every item in my inventory, I found a secret message:

I also knew the painting of Victor I found last time was “screwed to the wall” so I just needed to get a screwdriver over to the painting to check it out, but I was blocked (as I left off last time) by a wolf.

The wolf had previously emerged when I had unearthed a coffin and a corpse.

After trying to fight off the wolf with little success, I went back to the CORPSE and applied my SCALPEL. This got me a mutilated CORPSE, which had a HEART and LIVER.

Grisly! I took the LIVER over to the wolf and it gobbled it down and ran away. Then I went back to the painting and unscrewed it, and applied the previously mentioned combination. This got me a DIARY and a MAP.

…I guess maybe I’ll find a liver somewhere else? Or did I make a mistake?

Plowing ahead, I took the map over to the bog where I previously was falling into quicksand and did FOLLOW MAP. This led me to an old mill with a crypt beneath.

The URN incidentally has ashes but you can POUR URN to also find gold ELECTRODES (as mentioned in the diary). The crypt had a passage leading back to the graveyard, but the wolf was back, and this time there was no liver to feed him. I did, however, have a fancy cane.

Now comes the most interesting dilemma of the game. I was able to return the HEART over to the monster back in the lab, but I had no liver because the wolf ate it. Except now the wolf is dead and in the form of a man… so maybe…

…is that the same liver? (I think at a code level it is, but at a plot level it’s the man’s original liver we cut out.)

With liver in hand, some working with needle and thread, and attaching the gold electrodes from the urn, I was able to come close to bringing life. I just needed to pull the lever. I fully expected a “you win” message, but:

Ah, of course. This is the kind of monster that comes out swinging right away. It chases you around which strongly suggested the solution was geographical. Restoring my game, grabbing the map I used last time to get by the quicksand, I tried pulling the lever again, and escaped to safety.

In the end, no progress was made: while we finished Victor Frankenstein’s wish, we then undid the monster we created just as quickly.

La Créature De Frankenstein by the KLAT group in Geneva. Picture by Guilhem Vellut.

Many games from this era use the tropes of horror, but far fewer have really been horror. That is, various “monsters” have often been interchangeable with fantasy — a mummy might as well be an orc, a ghost might as well be a goblin. Fully-fledged horror shows people in desperate in tragic circumstances doing desperate and tragic things, and I think Frankenstein Adventure qualifies with the, ah, creative use of corpses. I really did have a moment I was stunned when I realized how I could get a second liver. The gameplay finesse of having seen one that gets “used up” — bringing up the specter of softlocks, yet not being one — made the moment more effective.

Audible has recently put up some of their material for free (as in actually free, not a free trial). This includes an absolutely stellar reading of Frankenstein by the actor Dan Stevens (from Downton Abbey); it runs for 8 1/2 hours and if you’re looking for distraction I highly recommend it.

If you’re keen on playing Frankenstein Adventure itself, there’s a version you can play online. The display of the online version is slightly glitchy but it still works.

Posted March 26, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Frankenstein Adventure (1980-1981)   11 comments

Frankenstein Adventure is yet another TRS-80 game in BASIC, and was released in the October 1981 edition of CLOAD. (This was the same “magazine on tape” that had CIA Adventure.)

The reason I have the date listed as 1980 to 1981 is that, rather unusually for a simple BASIC game from this era, there is an extensive interview with the author, John R. Olsen Jr. from Oregon (not to be confused with John R. Olson from Kansas who was working at the same time).

I decided that I was going to write an adventure game. But I had no idea of how to go about it. There were no adventure authoring languages like Visionary at that time. My only choice was to write in the BASIC language. And that meant that I had to write everything: the parser, the input routines, the output routines, as well as the movement and other logic. But I had a pretty good knowledge of BASIC and so undaunted I began writing my first adventure during my Christmas vacation of 1980. The plot of my inaugural adventure was taken from the old horror movies. Its working title was ‘Frankenstein Adventure’. The plot had you (the player) discovering you were the long lost relative of Dr. Frankenstein. As his only heir, you had inherited his mansion. When you arrived, you found a letter from him telling you that he wanted you to complete his creature and bring it to life.

As the quote above implies, you’re not tasked with looting treasures or defeating evil. You are here to create life.

So far I’ve mostly explored. The map is fairly small; there’s a cemetery, a bog, and the house; other than the typical kitchen and dining room the house has a master bedroom with a “four poster BED” and “a PAINTING” of Victor Frankenstein.

There’s also a library, which (perhaps inevitably) had a secret passageway, leading to a laboratory.

My most immediate obstacle to fulfilling Dr. Frankenstein’s dying wish is the padlock on the power level, but I’m guessing that’s not the only hitch; I suspect the monster itself will need some work, but I don’t know with what yet. What I’m getting stalled on is some quicksand…

…and a wolf, who blocks my way back in the house after I dig up a coffin with a corpse.

I have access to a CANDLE, MATCHES, a SCALPEL, a CROWBAR, an old LEMON, some silk THREAD, a SHOVEL, and a SCREWDRIVER. It’s possible I’m still missing an ordinary secret in the house so I won’t call this comprehensive.

With a simple treasure-hunt TRS-80 game I likely would have dived into hints or source code already, but the premise is compelling enough I’m giving the game a little more effort before I throw in the towel. I like how the protagonist’s quest is not framed as good or evil, but just fulfilling a mission as Frankenstein’s last living relative.

Posted March 25, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with