Archive for the ‘Interactive Fiction’ Category

Conquest of Memory Alpha (1982)   2 comments

80 Microcomputing, the TRS-80 publication we’ve visited several times before, had an “Annual Games Issue” in August of 1982.

The general theme was type-ins of games, including today’s selection, Conquest of Memory Alpha by L. L. Myers, with biographical info at the end of his type-in being the only information about the individual we have:

L. L. Myers serves aboard a nuclear submarine in the US Navy.

Goose Creek, which the author gives as an address, has a Naval Weapons Station base.

The majority of the text, rather than being devoted to technical details (although they do get slipped in at the end), gives background for the story. The short version is that Buck Starton is kidnapped by aliens and forced to land a ship on Algar V to search for Memory Alpha which contains “the total collection of human knowledge”. For the long version, I have done a dramatic reading:

(Click here if the in-line player doesn’t work, and no, I’m not sure why I went through the work to do this. It does feel a little like honoring the effort of writing the story, even if I’m being somewhat extreme in the delivery. But also, I have trouble mentally “capturing” this large a chunk of game lore without reckoning with it directly somehow.)

Unfortunately, the game does not live up to the drama. This is only marginally-kind-of an adventure game, and definitely not an RPG even though it keeps track of XP. The closest comparison I can think of is Klondike Solitaire.

Mind you, depending on how you play Klondike the chance of winning can vary from 5% to something like … 30%? (mathematicians don’t really know) and the same thing applies here, but I had to do some source diving to come up with a strategy.

You start at the upper right corner of the map.

There’s one glitch where you can exit to the east side and reappear to the west side. Otherwise this is a straight grid structure.

In order to travel anywhere, you need to light a torch. Then, you start moving around the “outer ring” of the map, which has repetitive location names; every room in a 2 by 6 chunk at the top, for instance, is called “The Red Hills”. Along the bottom you get “The Blue Hills”; on the right you get a “Large Bleak Plain”.

Somewhere on the map, randomly, is a plastic card. You need that plastic card to get into Memory Alpha (the center red marked portion, of 4 by 4 rooms).

While you are looking for the card, you get followed by ROBOT GUARDS, BARBARIANS, and RATS, the first two who will try to hurt you. At one point you’ll need to kill and eat a rat, so that you can avoid dying of hunger halfway through the mission. This act incidentally comes with an entirely random chance of getting diseased, and if you get the disease and die, even though the game tries to “reincarnate” you there’s a bug which just sends it in a loop:

The guards and barbarians have relatively interesting behavior; the guards will actively try to follow you, and the barbarians will occasionally also move around, and both will attack at random. If you kill a barbarian (using SHOOT LASER, although you have a limited number of shots) they will give a war cry and summon another one that you will encounter in the next room. Something similar seems to happen with robot guards but I never noticed any increase in enemy amount.

Assuming you find the card at all — and you might not, since according to the BASIC source there is a 9/100 chance the card may appear inside Memory Alpha making it literally impossible to get — you need to make your way to the front door, and contend with the robot tank there. You have a grenade that has to be used (THROW GRENADE AT TANK) otherwise the tank will vaporize you trying to escape. However, the grenade only sometimes goes off. You get a second chance if you miss, but not a third chance. Missing is entirely at random.

Once inside (USE CARD, PULL LEVER), you can make your way to the northwest corner and pick up a DATA WAFER, but in all likelihood you’ve already burned too many moves searching for the cards and will run out of torch light before you can escape. If your torch is dead you simply can’t move; the game is softlocked (or at least, you can hang out until you starve to death).

This screen is before I discovered you could eat the rats.

So, to recap, getting through the game (the “regular” way) requires

a.) killing and eating a rat and hoping you don’t get diseased.

b.) randomly finding a plastic card, which may not even be available, and hoping you find it fast enough

c.) killing a tank with a grenade (and hoping it works, as you only have one grenade; you can try to skip this step but I found I took enough damage looking for the card this never worked out)

d.) grab the wafer and then make it all the way to the start without your torch light running out — hope you didn’t spend too long looking for the card!

I did manage to work out an alternative strategy. By poking at source I realized you can throw the grenade at the doors leading inside Memory Alpha instead of bothering with a card at all. That means you will get hit by the robot tank as you escape (since you can’t destroy it) but since you skip the pesky “hunt around for a card” portion of the game you will have enough health to, er, tank it.

So that means the procedure becomes

a.) kill and eat a rat still

b.) go straight for the doors and throw a grenade, hoping it goes off correctly (you still might die randomly here)

c.) grab the wafer and make it to the start

You still have a chance of dying at this moment. If a robot guard is in the location with you it has a chance of taking a last shot and killing you.

Keeping the backstory in mind, that we are working unwillingly for an alien menace, it looks like we just doomed the human race.

I confess this is slight enough of an adventure I would have been fully willing to discard it, but I do have an entry coming up where this exact game is relevant, so I needed to cover it first.

I will say at least the game was interesting in the sense of being different gameplay; as I said, it doesn’t really fall into either adventure or RPG categories. Even simulation is pushing it. But devising a strategy that optimizes the gauntlet of RNG was at least vaguely satisfying.

The author clearly had some ambitions in terms of trying to “simulate a story” as opposed to dropping a bunch of superfluous puzzles in the player’s path. I do find a game where on some playthroughs you are required to fail by mere random chance kind of intriguing, but only in a meta art-gallery sense; it’s more fun to talk about than to play.

Posted September 26, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Lost Island (1982)   3 comments

From zx81stuff.

Lost Island is related to both Katakombs and Super Spy which both made recent appearances here, insofar as it was distributed by a British company that spawned up in 1981 only to go poof a few years later.

JRS Software started with a ZX-80 “Programmable Moving Display”, which describes itself in terms of extreme programming.

Great care has been taken so that the processing of your codes can always be interrupted to return to the display routine at the precise microsecond that is required to ensure that your T.V. picture remains completely rock-steady.

Synch Magazine, October 1981. Based on the flashing that happens on every single keystroke in Planet of Death, this is perhaps an impressive feat.

They’re located in yet another completely new spot on England, and so far throughout 1982 I feel like we’re throwing darts at random.

By ’82 in the United States you had the software market started to get centered around a few locations (especially in California) but the UK not only was behind a little in timing but also by my reckoning had a longer period of amateur publishing, especially given the prevalence of tape. So companies could still be nearly anywhere on the map. (But also, to be fair: smaller country.) To emphasize what I mean by amateur, in 1983 JRS Software published a gambling game originally by “E. Smith Software” entitled Roulette. Here is what the outer tape packaging looked like:

From ZXArt. I mean, maybe the hand-drawn marker was done later by the owner of the tape, but even without that this is very bespoke packaging. (ADD: According to Gareth in the comments, the website ZXArt which I was using likely linked JRS to E. Smith in error. This is still a sterling example of amateur publishing practice.)

Circling back to 1982, JRS produced a random grab-bag of utilities and games, but for our purposes we are interested in their single adventure published, Lost Island.

Sinclair User, May 1983.

Yes, only one, just like Golem with Katakombs! I was recently listening to the They Create Worlds podcast about Rogue, and learned that both Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman wrote text adventures (that no longer exist) before Rogue. I have the suspicion that a lot of programmers of the time wrote personal text adventures projects now consigned to oblivion. Given the prevalence of low-budget tape publishing in the UK some of these projects which normally might have ended in the bit bin could end up on tape instead. Here, the project is by a “M. Holman” who makes their only appearance in gaming history.

The premise is simply to escape the island you are shipwrecked on. Escape is the second most common plot in this era after Treasure Hunt. What’s curious is (as I’ll explain later) that approaching the game with a Treasure Hunt style mindset can actually hinder one’s progress!

I’m pretty sure the parser here is entirely of the author’s design because it has some oddities particular to this game. Verbs must be typed in full (so no INV instead of INVENTORY) but nouns can be shortened, so you GET COC in order to get a coconut.

Objects are not described in the room description unless you LOOK. At least it isn’t a Omotesando situation where the objects don’t even exist beforehand, but this still makes for an erratic and confusing UI experience and there’s no compelling reason to make the player type LOOK in every room.

Notice the room description repeat; this is where I typed the command LOOK in order to see the spear.

The spear above is interesting insofar as the game tries to stick with “on a real island” objects — that is, no magic wands — but also takes this a bit farther and includes objects that don’t get any use in the game. You can tote the spear above if you want but it serves no purpose, as does a musket you find later. Red herrings wouldn’t normally interfere too much with gameplay, but the inventory limit of 6 ends up popping up more than once so there’s some genuine consideration of “what do I really need?” This gives a different gameplay aura than inventory limits on most games of the time; discarding a gun as useless has a narrative sense of someone desperate for escape. When a game’s narrative instead involves dragging every item on the map into organized piles, it doesn’t come off as a narrative at all as much as the player pretending to be a pack mule.

In some cases, the game inadvertently lets you know what’s useful, because it will have an object described by LOOK that still can’t be referred to even it is there. I suppose this cuts down on the herrings while still allowing a secret cave with a telescope and a hat (you only need the telescope).

You only need one of these things. Neither “RUM” nor “CASK” is a word that is recognized by the game.

The main objective, although it isn’t clear at first, is to set a signal fire and then wait for a ship to arrive. I have it located on the map below at (END).

For the start of the sequence, you take a sword at (1) to some nettles at (2) and chop them away.

Here, the noun “nettles” is not a separate object but part of the room description that you have to assume is able to be targeted. There’s also a random palm tree you can climb (with a rope on top) with a similar issue nearby.

This reveals a cave (3) you can reach with rope that lets you get a telescope, and a cave at (4) that is blocked by rubble. It is possible to remove the rubble but more items are required.

Here I was stuck for while, although I hadn’t quite realized EXAMINE was a verb that occasionally worked yet. At a “large idol” (5) near a village with “skulls” (and yes, they eat you if you try to go in, sigh) I found a “LEDGE IN THE ROCK FACE DIRECTLY ABOVE THE IDOL” by using EXAMINE IDOL. This (via re-use of rope) let me get into a cave area with a tinderbox (6) and a snake (7).

You can KILL SNAKE as long as you have the sword with you. (If you are holding the spear the game just claims you can’t kill the snake with your bare hands.) This gives you access to a spade (8) which lets you take it back to the beach at (9) and dig up a chest, as shown in the earlier screenshot, with GUNPOWDER, GOLD, and a RUM CASK.

Remember, this isn’t a treasure hunt! The useful item is GUNPOWDER. (I mean, you can take the gold with you. It just makes the inventory more annoying to juggle.)

The gunpowder can be dropped off at the cave with rubble (the right verb is LEAVE, DROP isn’t even recognized!) and then lit using the tinderbox. (Not a torch that you can light with the tinderbox. The game may have realistic objects but it is wobbly about realistic alternate uses.)

With the cave blasted open you can find some lamp-oil (10). This lamp-oil can be poured on the signal fire (END) and the fire then lit with a tinderbox. Then you need to use the telescope to SEARCH SEA. This last bit would have likely caused me enormous trouble but I ran into it by accident earlier — I was standing at the signal fire testing out verbs and objects, and realized that if I tried the SEARCH there the game said “I CAN”T SEE FAR ENOUGH”, and that was the only location where that message happened. This made me realize it had to be the spot where the telescope was useful, so once I got the fire going I just started to use SEARCH on every noun.

With the ship’s arrival, you can then just take a couple more steps to victory. No treasure is required.

This game emphasized for me the varying-talents hodge-podge that authors at the time had. Some authors could pull off a relative sturdy parser but had questionable design choices; some had good idea but had trouble conveying them. This game falls into the latter, insofar as communicating was a consistent struggle (and remembering to always LOOK, and to check EXAMINE and SEARCH on nouns that might not even exist) but having a “realistic” series of obstacles and having treasures that should be ignored in favor of the overall goal was a refreshing idea.

If you’re interesting in testing the game out, it is playable online at zx81stuff.

Ok, this is mostly irrelevant, but I have to show this. Here’s the actual tape of Roulette, with everything hand-done in marker. I’m fairly sure this is a case where the author genuinely only published 30 tapes or so (dropped at a local computer outlet or taken to a show) and drew on all of them by hand.

Posted September 22, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Omotesando Adventure (1982)   10 comments

How can I say it? I can’t say ‘I can remember the graphics,’ because there weren’t any graphics. But I remember what I imagined it being, because you entered all the commands yourself: ‘Go up elevator.’ ‘Move ashtray.’ There were no graphics on the screen, so you had to imagine everything yourself. The quote-unquote graphics that I imagined for the game I essentially created myself, because I had to imagine everything.

I got to thinking that it was very interesting that you had to visualize your own graphics. But what would a text adventure look like if it actually had graphics? I thought it would sell very well.

quoted from Koichi Nakamura, executive producer for Spike Chunsoft, who worked on the first Dragon Warrior games, Shiren the Wanderer, and visual novels like Danganronpa and Zero Time Dilemma

Omotesando Street in Tokyo. [Source.]

This game is a nexus. While arguably, all games, even the most obscure ones, have threads leading to them and out of them, with Omotesando Adventure these threads are very bright. This is the first (as we currently know) Japanese adventure game, although it was written in English.

It showed up in ASCII Magazine, a hobbyist computer magazine that had been running successfully since 1977. They were the ones that translated and printed Ahl’s 101 Basic Computer Games in Japan, and printed quite a lot of source code in each issue. Sometimes the source code was given in specialized languages GAME (General Algorithmic Micro Expressions) and later PL/1; sometimes they were straightforward BASIC; sometimes they were raw machine code.

The code was displayed on TRS-80 or PET screens and then the editor, Susumu Furukawa, took pictures with a Polaroid camera and mashed them together.

Our selection today was in raw machine code, in the April 1982 issue; in particular, in a “parody insert” called Ah-SKI! (“An Annual Magazine for Tired & Histerical Computer Scientist”) tucked inside was Omotesando Adventure, a game named after the street ASCII’s headquarters were on.

This issue we are introducing the Adventure Game. It’s an entirely new genre, the like of which was never seen on a computer. We may even call it a “New Type” of computer games.

The goal, as an employee of a rival company, is to sneak into the ASCII offices and sabotage their next issue. Before I get into gameplay details, I want to discuss those bright threads. According to Susumu Furukawa the game was coded with Adven-80, a “general purpose” adventure writing code base published in Dr. Dobbs Journal, in an article by Peter D. Scargill. (Dr. Dobbs was one of the offshoots of the People’s Computer Company, and lasted long after the PCC was dead.)

The system is slightly less flexible than the Scott Adams one; that one allowed for arbitrary timers to allow complex timed object and location effects, like a tide that moves in or out. ADVEN-80 instead hardcodes in a lamp timer and seems to have variable storage but doesn’t seem to allow multiple timers (unless I’m missing some complex hack) so has a relatively static world.

What’s most fascinating about ADVEN-80 is it cites other prior systems as sources:

– Scott Adams games in general

– The GROW system (the node-based system which I’ve written about here)

– Ken Reed’s article for Practical Computing published in the UK from 1980 (that I’ve written about here)

– Blank and Galley describing the system of storage for Zork on home computer

– Greg Hassett’s article on How to Write Adventure games (which I’ve mentioned here)

So, to summarize, the first Japanese adventure game (that we know of) pulls a system from an US publication, which itself was influenced by both US and UK writing about how adventure systems work. This is essentially a synthesis of the early years of adventure history.

Sadly, that doesn’t mean Omotesando is well-coded; perhaps it is understandable as the first adventure from the country and also not being written in Japanese. As the instructions mention, Japanese is hard to parse (it doesn’t really lend itself to “VERB NOUN” style commands without feeling broken and awkward).

Adventure games were developed in America, and so at this point in time both the descriptions and the input are set in English. (Because of that our English has improved considerably. When we play adventure games here at the office, a Japanese-English-Japanese dictionary is an essential accessory).

Furthermore, while outputting text isn’t a problem, formatting a request for action in Japanese is difficult and so is analyzing the input. We think even home-grown adventure games are going to use English for a while.

This prophecy was a little true; the next two adventure games from Japan (both from 1982) use English commands but have text and responses in Japanese, and there were also 1983 games with the same arrangement.

The computer emulated here is a NEC PC-8001 from 1979, essentially exclusive to Japan. It did later make it to the US as the PC-8001A although it remains very obscure outside of its home country.

So, back to the game itself: it is set at ASCII’s own offices, where your goal is sabotage.

You start at the entrance of the ASCII building and eventually find keys to unlock the three floors it is housed on (which I have marked in three different colors on the map above).

I admit being highly stuck for a while at first due to a number of oddities in the system:

1.) You can only see room exits by using LOOK in a particular room. This is relatively normal. However, this also applies to objects, which is slightly odd, and the objects don’t even exist until you’ve done LOOK which is staggeringly odd. That means if you die (and you will die) and restart, it is quite easy to casually try to OPEN DOOR and have the game tell you it doesn’t see one, but that’s because you never materialized the door yet with a LOOK command. Phew.

One of the early GAME OVERs.

2.) You can both LOOK at items and SEARCH them. One, either, or both can reveal differing information, but even more importantly, they do nothing on an item being held. The first set of keys I found I was unable to look at, which is unfortunate because I would have seen they went to the fourth floor and to the security box. The security box helps disable the alarm, as shown above; you need to just UNLOCK SECURITY while holding the right key.

3.) The offices are full of extraneous desks and items that you can’t pick up, except the game is unclear in its parser messages so it took me a while to realize it was trying to give the modern “that’s just scenery”. That applies, for instance, to the computer above, playing the game that you are currently playing.

4.) Sometimes the parser is just regular finicky in all the traditional ways, like the guess-the-verb fest above. I had a spray gun that the game described as for cockroach removal (as long as it was on the floor) but it turns out the right command is KILL COCKROACHES.

The gameplay essentially travels through a series of keys before landing on a gold one. The gold one can be used to open a safe with a “magnetic monopole bomb”.

I placed the bomb at what the game described as the “central zone of ASCII”, ran outside, typed DONE like the game commanded me and:

Oof. That’s not good. Fortunately, a helpful Youtube video by くしかつ Kushikatsu goes through a complete walkthrough, whereupon I found I was missing two things.

First, an umbrella and a raincoat. I actually had grabbed the umbrella already but not the raincoat, because GET RAINCOAT didn’t work when I found it. You’re supposed to just WEAR RAINCOAT upon finding it. I’m not sure if this is really needed at all, but the outside is described as rainy, so I’m fine with the roleplaying.

I’m not sure what is going on with the Klingon reference. Japan did like Star Trek and Ahl’s book includes the famous Star Trek mainframe game.

Second, more importantly: Kushikatsu closed and locked the safe and all the doors. Very unusual! Leave no trace. The only other game with a comparable trick from the Project I’ve run into is Gargoyle Castle where you had to pick up all the trash.

So despite it being caught in a murky fog of dodgy parser choices, and despite the game not giving enough feedback for the reason of failure, Omotesando Adventure has a genuinely clever gameplay trick up its sleeve.

(There’s one more trick, supposedly, based on Jimmy Maher’s writeup. There is a way to save your game based on doing some in-game trick. I never did find it, and the walkthrough I mentioned doesn’t bother. Anyone who knows what’s going on feel free to drop a note in the comments.)

Posted September 16, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Katakombs: Finale   5 comments

As is usual, you should read my prior posts about this game first.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I realize this is a bad sign, but I want to start with discussing the term “moon logic”.

There are some terms which I think narrow and simplify overly much. One such term that used to be in common use is “guess the verb”, the phenomenon of tangling with difficult parsers; the word isn’t wrong, exactly, but it often got applied to guess-the-noun or guess-the-phrasing or interpret-the-deceptive-parser-message.

I’ve seen the term “moon logic” applied to nearly every adventure puzzle sin under the sun, as long as a puzzle causes some difficulty. I still think the term is useful, but I tend to narrow down to circumstances were cause and effect seem to be nearly at random; perhaps you understand from the animation why the bubble gum made the goat move, but the connection is one that could almost never have been predicted. There is a disjoint between action and result. Oddly, in text adventures, this shows up less than you might think, just because the requirement of a verb adds specificity to an action; you can’t just USE BUBBLEGUM ON GOAT and have the animation happen, but rather need to specify to (for sake of example) FEED BUBBLEGUM TO GOAT. The puzzle is still perhaps a bad one, but there’s at least a suspicion that something interesting might happen.

For getting by the dragon — which turned out to be the key puzzle that was stopping my progress — I kept trying a number of methods to help the dragon melt an ice wall. Killing the “docile creature” certainly seemed to be out. The correct item to use was off this list:

salt
lumps of sugar
venetian mirror
stick
dagger inlaid with precious stones
a piece of string
heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom
ruby
stick

The right item was the … lumps of sugar.

While it isn’t the kind of puzzle where the mechanics aren’t even understood after solving it, unless I missed some major mythos regarding dragons, I would say the disjoint clearly falls into moon logic range.

Past the dragon, I was able to get a trumpet; the trumpet let me bust open a glass wall. This was essentially the opposite of the previous puzzle, I knew exactly what the trumpet for the moment I picked it up.

The salt, on the other hand, was a little more fussy. Again, we’re entering moon logic territory, but apparently elephants like salt?

Everything else more or less smoothly fell out, with two exceptions, the first being of a funky parser use. A “heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom” was meant to be used with PUSH STOPPER.

the stopper disappears inside
and a smell liquid rushes out –
it’s parafin.
You manage to fill up your lamp.

(This is necessary to win: the candle doesn’t quite give you enough turns to do everything.)

The second involved (after the elephant) finding out what to do at a “sacred altar with an eerie statue of the animal-god Vik”. While I appreciated the atmosphere here, and I might have been able to solve the puzzle on my own, my trust had been whittled down by the dragon and the elephant, so I just looked it up. I wouldn’t call this absurd, and I likely would have eventually found it (by trying to sacrifice everything in my inventory) but still, I’ll let you decide the moon logic level:

(Somewhere in all this, the ability to SEE kicked in. I’m not sure where — I had drunk the potion on my saved game I was using and never went back to see if there was a treasure that’d otherwise be invisible had I not drunk the potion.)

The oval from the altar flips back again to the “immediately know what needs to be done” category.

I’m not sure what’s with the score, I supposedly have all the treasures. Because they count equally as points when held in inventory versus just being on the ground in the crypt, you don’t have to drop them.

This wasn’t a terrible game — when you get down to it, maybe only 10% had me truly frustrated — but that’s only because I gave up trying to solve puzzles at a judicious time. There’s a couple moments of interesting atmosphere, like the altar of Vik, but the setting really fails to attain critical mass of feeling like a real location (say, the underground of Zork I) or even just a theater of cruelty (Acheton).

Incidentally, the whole business with the Chamber of Horror seems to have been a red herring, as was the string and the stick. You can light the string and it burns like a fuse, but that does nothing. (And no, the stick doesn’t seem to secretly be a stick of dynamite.) I get the feeling maybe the author forgot something? I’ve never been fully against red herrings (in a game like Planetfall they increase the environmental feel) but here they just seem like lost coding bits more than careful choices.

The most comparable recent game I’ve played is Hamil, and I did enjoy that one quite a bit better. Hamil had an equally random map, but it had more clever puzzles overall (despite a frustrating moment or two) and every piece was important. I guess for a “narrative” game red herrings are fine, but for a “British cryptic” style they become more a distraction to the style; sort of like how things that work in the RPG genre don’t work in the Adventure genre and vice versa, this type of game is nearly a different genre than the more story-driven ones, meaning general advice for good adventure writing may differ.

We’re leaving both the US and UK for our next game, and in fact going to a country we haven’t visited yet, even though it is quite important in the history of videogames overall. Soon!

Posted September 15, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Katakombs: The Not-So-Ultimate Rope   5 comments

Zoom in on the cover art, which I think is meant to depict a specific location in the game. “You are among the ruins with hints of alien arches and weird spires. You can see a sharp sword.”

To continue directly from last time: I mentioned offhand this is one of the games where every exit of every room needs be tested because they aren’t mentioned. As you might guess, this is a recipe for everyone’s “favorite”, missing the existence of a room exit, in this case from the early outdoors section of the game:

Southwest of the camp is the missing connection.

This ended up being an important room: it had a rope. Not only that, a rope with multiple uses! Yes, it is going for what at least used to be the ultimate challenge in interactive fiction coding. For emphasis, allow me to quote Emily Short:

The Ultimate Rope: This is one of those things that has received so much attention that it almost seems pointless to recount the variety of the challenges associated therewith. First of all, a rope has two ends, so you have to remember the state of each (and disambiguate between the player’s references to them, of course.) Then there’s marking what the rope can be tied to; the possibility of cutting the rope in the middle, making multiple ropes of new lengths; the problem of using the rope as a fuse, of tying it to something in one room and then carrying the other end, of tying the ends together, etc., etc., etc. Ultimately I think the very trickiest part of all this is the disambiguation problem, ie, figuring out exactly what the player means when he says >TIE ROPE TO X (which end? Do we untie something that’s already tied, if both ends are in use?) But it’s all pretty grotesque, frankly.

To start with, the rope is used rather traditionally: you tie it to a tree and then can extricate a locked pirate treasure from a cave. Then you can move the same rope over at a well which has a platinum key (which unlocks the aforementioned treasure).

I also discovered while doing my rope shenanigans that the red berries I wasn’t sure about should be eaten. They give you strength, which has at least two side effects; one is to increase your inventory capacity by two, and the other is … we’ll, I’ll get to it, but it isn’t necessarily a useful effect.

Now, despite the berries bumping up inventory capacity, there is still now the problem of too many inventory items before jumping underground (which still seems to be a one-way trip). You need to cart

an old parafin lamp, a platinum key, some matches, a sharp sword, a white candle, one green bottle, some tasty food, a padlocked treasure chest, and a coil of rope

but if you count, that’s nine items, one over the max. You can’t just use the platinum key on the chest and then ditch it, because the key counts as a treasure. This ended up being highly logical but still hard to work out. If you want to take a beat to think about it, stare at the verb list from last time.

CLIMB, SWIM, READ, OPEN, DRINK, EAT, KILL, GIVE, FILL, LIGHT, TIE, UNTIE, POUR, PUSH, PULL, WEAR.

Here’s some educational cover art from Golem to fill space and keep you from seeing the answer right away.

The trick here is to WEAR the rope! This will take it out of your hands and lets you now tote 9 items. In a way, this feels odd an arbitrary — you clearly can’t really juggle what you’ve got even with 8, so it’s more a weight thing — but I still found it gratifying to see some extreme rope coding in use. (Too bad the coding in so much of the rest of the game is sloppy! The parser consists of the binary states of You’re Right and I Didn’t Quite Understand That with nothing in between.)

Having resolved that and jumping underground, I realized while I was tied to the rope, I might be able to put it to another use. There is a “blue room” with a lever where pulling the lever causes a wall to fall on the player’s head, but what if we used the rope instead?

What I like here is that the tie-a-rope-to-yourself trick gives a hint, in a way, for this maneuver. Also, the rope is now neatly disposed of, so I hope it doesn’t get yet another use elsewhere!

Past the fallen wall is the place where treasures of the game get stashed. Oddly, you don’t have a score change from stashing — that is, you get a score by picking a treasure up, and that same score is preserved as long is the treasure is dropped in the crypt — so the only real reason to do so is to clear inventory space for solving other puzzles (also, there are 9 treasures total, meaning it’d be impossible to hold all of them at once anyway).

You are in a dark Crypt
You can see a GOLEM (with a small dent in his forehead)

I am not yet certain what goes in the dent.

I did manage to resolve one other issue: the “beans” I found randomly I decided to try to PLANT, given the beanstalk seems to be the thing all adventure ripoffs must have. PLANT didn’t actually give any kind of prompt, but a null prompt is something different so I assumed it had to work. But how to get water? You might logically note the green bottle being toted around and the two rivers we’ve passed by, but no, FILL BOTTLE (or GET WATER, or any other variant) doesn’t work. The real answer is much stranger:

Water in hand, you can get the beanstalk going and find a hole with a silver axe. This may be the only thing that needs to be done, as if you try growing the beanstalk a bit larger, the result is fatal:

Of course it may be possible to hide from the giant, but I’d also consider it equally likely this scene is just a trap.

Overall, this makes the treasure count 5 (I think? I haven’t rigorously tested for score increases). So I’m more than halfway and will hopefully have a win scene by my next post.

One last scene before I sign out: the berries that make you stronger also let you kill a dragon. But I think that might be wrong:

Doing this makes you completely unable to access the ice wall the dragon was trying to burn down. I’ll test out Roger Durrant’s theory the salt might help and then fiddle with things from there.

Posted September 12, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Katakombs (1982)   13 comments

From Acorn Electron World.

Due to a favorable contract between the company Acorn and the British government, the BBC Micro became the de facto choice for schools in the UK, kind of like the Apple II was in the United States; as one ad proclaimed, it made up 80% of purchases “under the current D.O.I. Primary School Scheme”. This is despite the BBC Micro being a more expensive choice out of various options — £300 for the lower-end initial models, as opposed to (for example) the ZX Spectrum being priced at £125. (The Electron was released after the BBC Micro as a home alternative, but was still priced higher than the ZX Spectrum at £199.)

The important thing is that the Micro had a built in “educational” audience, so some companies dived in on that end of the pool, like the obscure Golem Ltd, which hailed from Bracknell, just a bit west of London.

From “Games of Logic”, where the idea here is to change the order of the letters to be alphabetical by reversing the order of groups of letters (the groups can be any size but they always start from the leftmost letter). Link to play online, if you’re keen.

Nearly all their titles were educational, essentially cranked out in the same 82-84 period as Richard Shepherd Software (who we just saw with Super Spy).

Acorn User, October 1982.

In a Westminster Exhibition Catalog from December 1983 they describe themselves as “a small company of computer experts” where their educational software is “now used in hundreds of schools throughout the country”. They tossed out one adventure game in the mix, no doubt trying to cash in the same craze everyone else was.

I’ll admit at least the cover art is striking on this one. From the Complete BBC Micro Game Archive.

The game must have done relatively well because there are two versions, a “plain scrolling” black and white version from 1982 and one from a year later that adds a little bit of color. I don’t know if they tried to angle this one at the educational market too; this late 1983 ad lists it neutrally as a selection along with “Educational 1”, “Educational 2” (see tape image at the start of this post), and “Fun With Words”.

Newer on the left, older on the right.

As you can probably guess from the “high spirits and low cunning” nicked from Crowther/Woods, this is another treasure hunt, this time with 9 treasures.

It’s curious how many of the treasure hunt adventures I’ve played have the player character not actually make off with the loot, despite this being the norm from Dungeons and Dragons. The only adventure I can remember that did explicit currency conversion was Spelunker from 1979. Crowther/Woods has you store things in a building, but are you taking it away further, or is it meant to be a Cave Museum of sorts? O’Hare’s game The Great Pyramid has you take all the treasures of the pyramid to a room inside the pyramid. Hamil had the treasure collection as a proof-of-worth, and test of your royal blood. In some of the games that don’t make it explicit like Inca Curse I think it’s still clearly implied you’re taking the loot, but it weirdly is only the norm maybe half the time.

I bring this up because — at least according to the instructions on the tape for Katakombs — the treasures here get deposited in a crypt. That does not sound like you’re stealing them. Maybe it’s a bizarre prank?

This game has the very regular start of the Adventure clone with a forest and items strewn about; in this case you can snag “one green bottle”, “some matches”, an “old parafin lamp”, “a sharp sword”, “some tasty food”, “red berries”, and a “white candle”. That’s seven items, but you have an inventory limit of six, so you have to choose one to leave behind to go underground.

And I do mean leave behind, because the way to go underground is to fall in a trap door. I haven’t been able to make it back outdoors yet. I’m not even certain if there is a way.

The wicked Trdlo gets you if you try to wander without a light source.

Underground, lots of items and puzzles present themselves, but few answers. Grabbing the surface level items again (including ones from solving mazes, which I’m skimming over because they’re really plain this time):

salt
lumps of sugar
vial of revolting potion
venetian mirror
stick
dagger inlaid with precious stones
a piece of string
heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom
ruby
stick
beans

(The potion is interesting — if you drink it you faint, and when you wake up the game says “you find you can SEE”. I don’t know what this means. I haven’t spotted any extra secrets after doing so but I haven’t searched the entire map yet.)

If you’re wondering why I’m just dumping a big list, well, I haven’t gotten use out of nearly any of them (18 items + a 6 item inventory limit + needing to keep a lit candle for a light source eating one slot does not help matters at all). I did manage to get use of the “venetian mirror” (which I think doubles as a treasure) by attacking a medusa while holding it. I was stumped for quite a while with verbs like WAVE and SHOW and HOLD and so forth but none of them work; the mirror gets used automatically when you attack. I get the impression this is one of those games with a fair amount of implicit item use where puzzles don’t get solved with verbs but by making sure you’re carrying the right things, and the large object list and tight inventory limit are there to help enforce that. (If you could carry everything you see, for instance, the medusa would be almost outright a non-puzzle since you’d have the mirror held by default, rather than just a weak one.)

You incidentally know enough to open that ancient door in the screenshot, if you want to take a shot in the comments. Doing so doesn’t unlock much progress, sadly.

I’m not sure if the puzzles are intended to be highly cryptic or I’m just getting overwhelmed by the number of combinations. I will say the number of verbs is quite low; off of my standard verb list I only found

CLIMB, SWIM, READ, OPEN, DRINK, EAT, KILL, GIVE, FILL, LIGHT, TIE, UNTIE, POUR, PUSH, PULL, WEAR.

For puzzles, there’s that dragon from an earlier screenshot; a lever that pulls a wall on top of the poor player’s head; a dark tunnel blocked by a glass wall; an elephant digging in a room for something; a “granite wall” with “20 and 40 foot holes”.

My underground map so far, excluding mazes.

Oh, and then there’s the pleasure garden and chamber of horror, both very odd rooms. The pleasure garden you can just enter; if you do so, you pass out and find yourself in the chamber of horror, and then are forced to flee to a random location.

Room exits aren’t mentioned so have to be tested. I’m starting to detest this “feature” in old adventure games far more than mazes.

So, kind of a “standard” game, but there’s odd bits of humor poking out from beneath the debris that at least carry some interest. If nothing else, the emulator BeebEm is astonishingly good; every single feature I could possibly want it has, without weird fussy crashes and the like, so playing doesn’t feel as much a chore as it could. Some of these old-era games are truly saved by the existence of save states.

I’m going to guess this is a three-post game based on difficulty and size, but we’ll see. In the meantime you’re welcome to make suggestions in the comments about what all the items might be for.

Posted September 8, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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The Smurf Adventure (1982)   11 comments

I’m going to start with some history background which may seem like overkill for an anonymous public domain TRS-80 game, but I already wrote it a while back, so–

From the episode Smurf Me No Flowers. Papa Smurf on the left (who appears in today’s game), Brainy Smurf on the right (who does not, unless he is supposed to be the player character).

After the Nazis occupied France in May 1940, they wanted to keep the film industry going there with the German-controlled Continental Films, founded only six months after the occupation. The managing director, Alfred Greven, was appointed by his personal friend Goebbels.

At this time, the young Belgian Pierre Culliford, aka “Peyo”, was working as a projectionist in Brussels; while he had a love for Robin Hood and fantasy movies, he had to show mostly propaganda films.

It was in this environment we got Les visiteurs du soir (see picture above), a 1942 film by Marcel Carné, set in 1485, about two envoys sent to the mortal world to cause mischief and recruit for the Devil. The envoys (semi-accidentally) start doing some good works, and the Devil needs to visit in person to fix things. While the production design was heavily influenced by Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry, a rather famous manuscript from the 1400s, the story itself was steeped deeply in fantasy, and Peyo watched it repeatedly. (As critics have later pointed out, the movie also could be viewed as a thinly veiled allegory for the Nazis invading France; while the director insisted it was not intended as such, the important thing is that the film managed to escape the censors.)

When the occupation of both France and Belgium ended, Peyo went from projecting to a short stint at a company called Companie Belge d’Actualités, owned by a journalist (Nagant) who originally aspired to make newsreels. Because of the occupation they had switched to animation instead. Peyo saw the designs for a film called Le Cadeau à la fée (The gift of the fairy) which included elves wearing flowers (this will be important for the story later).

Peyo went on to work in newspaper comics, before eventually landing a job at the magazine Spirou. This is where he made the fantasy comic “Johan et Pirlouit”, keeping in mind his previous inspiration by cinema. It centers around Johan, a servant to a King in a castle, and Peewit, a dwarf hired as a court jester.

For The Smurfs (“Les Schtroumpfs”) they were introduced during a Johan et Pirlouit comic entitled La Flûte à Six Trous about a flute that causes people to dance uncontrollably. The flute is stolen and Johan and Peewit end up seeking the creators of the flute.

Now, the origin of the Smurfs was due to Peyo needing a creator for the flute, perhaps a witch or sorcerer? Keeping in mind the film he saw at the CBA, he settled on “little creatures” that live at night but we rarely see, aka elves or leprechauns. The blue came from his wife (Janine “Nine” Culliford), who was his colorist. They were constantly hiding in leaves so couldn’t be green, red was too visible, and yellow and brown … they were trying to avoid the Smurfs looking like unfortunate stereotypes. Hence, by process of elimination: blue.

As far as the name goes, according to Peyo himself, it came from a slip of the tongue while eating at vacation. He asked for salt (“le sel”)

Passe-moi le sel!

but accidentally asked for “le schtroumpf” instead

Passe-moi le schtroumpf!

(When later translated to Dutch this became “Smurf”, which was re-used in English and elsewhere.)

While Peyo originally thought it was a “momentary craze for secondary characters”, Les Schtroumpfs were quite popular and merited re-appearances and their own spin-off, followed by a series of TV shorts in the 1960s later assembled into a film (Les Aventures des Schtroumpfs). Hanna-Barbara came in fairly late, as the entrepreneur Stuart R. Ross spotted Les Schtroumpfs in 1976 when traveling in Belgium and secured the rights, leading to the launch on American TV in 1981. Peyo (and the former editor-in-chief of Spirou, Yvan Delporte) were involved with overseeing the scripts. (Johan and Peewit do still show up, but now as side characters.)

Contrary to the small, often evil characters in popular legends, such as gnomes and trolls, I wanted mine to be reassuring and kind. The Smurfs aren’t really heroes. They form a community in which it is nice to live. Each one works for his pleasure. They practice the principles of equality, liberty, and fraternity.

Gargamel and Azreal, forever trying to capture the Smurfs, from the episode The Last Smurfberry.

So. Back to the public domain TRS-80 game. It, rather unusually for this time, declares itself public domain in the source code:

1 ‘ 06:15 *** PUBLIC DOMAIN *** 21 DEC 82
4 CLEAR200
7 CLS:PRINTCHR$(23):PRINT@394,”THE SMURF ADVENTURE”:GOSUB346:GOTO10

This indicates this game probably is not reproduced from some magazine I haven’t found (although I did do a search) but rather is someone’s random project that just happened to get saved for posterity.

We’ve had a shortage of this kind of game; it really is interesting to see what differences there are (if any) if someone is writing a game just to write a game, not intended for commercial publication.

For one thing, it is short by 1982’s standards. Now, given we had Space Gorn and The Room both show on a disk magazine, that doesn’t disqualify it, but also, quite oddly, there are some places and characters that are present just for atmosphere. This is another circumstance where a game with the general plot structure wouldn’t feel out of place in a modern itch.io collection, but does come off as strange in 1982; I get the impression perhaps the author meant to continue (7278 bytes only, so there’d be room on a regular TRS-80) but just decided since the game was a personal whim to stop where they liked.

You start with no concept of what you’re meant to do, but heading north into Papa Smurf’s Hut reveals that Papa Smurf has been magically put to sleep.

The book explains that “…YOU’LL NEED 3 THINGS. MAGIC POWDER, SMURFBERRY PLANTS, AND…. THE REST OF THE PAGE IS MISSING!”

The powder is of course just sitting there in the room, so this is solely a quest for two ingredients. The smurfberry plants are out in the forest in a very tiny maze (see map a little earlier) and the unknown ingredient is a lizard toe that you can find at the back room of Gargamel’s Castle.

All you need to do is then drop all three ingredients at Papa Smurf (the game will assume you mean in the KETTLE that’s there) and you can win the game.

That’s not quite everything in the game; you can visit Handy and Lazy and Smurfette. There’s no particular reason to do so other than to perhaps feel the inherent Smurfiness of the environment.

Also, you can have an actual run-in with Gargamel. You can find a key elsewhere that will unlock the front door of his castle (which is only a few steps from Smurf Village, no wonder he goes berzerk) and find yourself Smurf-food upon entering.

To emphasize, you technically solve a puzzle (however small) in order to reach an instant death room that is purely there because it is there in the cartoon! The sheer oddity of this (and the fact you’re only hunting two ingredients that are almost literally in the open) really does make the gameplay insubstantial, but I’d still like to imagine this game being someone’s winter whim one day to re-create the world they saw on television to be able to enter it, even if only for a little while.

From some of the surviving footage of the 1965 version of the Smurfs.

Posted September 6, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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‘Shaken but Not Stirred!’ / Super Spy (1982)   3 comments

If you’re curious on the double-title, possibly lawyers were involved; Richard Shepherd’s game ‘Shaken but not Stirred!’ (“A 007 Adventure”), first released for the ZX Spectrum, was quickly renamed to Super Spy.

Richard Shepherd software was one of those quick-fire companies the cropped up the same time as the ZX81 in 1981/1982. Richard had been working as an accountant and his wife Elaine was in publicity. Elaine saw “a computerized version of the Dungeons and Dragons adventure game running on a large computer” (I suspect Crowther/Woods Adventure, but it’s hard to know) leading the Shepherds to buy an adventure of their own for ZX81. They were disappointed, but that encouraged Richard to try writing his own game. (There’s not that big a selection in 1981, I’m going to guess maybe Planet of Death.)

Richard ended up making Bargain Bytes, a compilation of 8 pieces of software (not just games).

Your Computer, April 1982.

The problem is that the ZX Spectrum went for sale on the 23rd of April, meaning the game came out right when people were upgrading. They switched to ZX Spectrum along with everyone else to make the simulation Ship of the Line, and here I’d like to share a story direct from the news article I’m referencing:

They took it to the Edinburgh computer fair, where they were one of only three companies selling programs for the new machine. Elaine recalled. “When we went to Edinburgh, we couldn’t afford a hotel, and had to camp. We woke up in the middle of the night to find that Scottish football hooligans were shaking the top of the tent.”

Eventually they had a breakthrough with sales to the company Smiths and were able to quit their day jobs in early 1983, but Super Spy was written before this happened. The first advertisement appeared in the October/November issue of ZX Computing.

“Recover a stolen warhead from the lair of Dr. Death”.

Super Spy is a hybrid game in four parts, so it isn’t entirely a pure adventure. From the instructions:

a) The round the world spy chase in which you aim to discover the location of Dr. Death’s secret hideaway.
b) Exploring Dr. Death’s island to discover the entrance to his underground maze.
c) The 3-D graphic maze which you must navigate yourself through to find the control room where Dr. Death has hidden the kidnapped missile.
d) Breaking the code to disarm the missile and save the world.

I’m honestly surprised we haven’t hit more hybrid games as of yet; I think this this is another case where Crowther/Woods was such a fully formed genre people didn’t feel obliged to experiment but wanted to copy instead. Given our last work was such an, ah, slavish copy, I figured something that went the opposite direction might be worth a try, even if the adventure credentials are marginal.

You start the first part of the game pick three gadgets. There seems to be no functional difference other than the number of shots.

Once you’ve picked some gear, you get to travel to different cities. There isn’t any real “physicality” to them that I can tell (other than London is home base). You get random events at each one which potentially give you clues. The clues are single letters which eventually form an anagram of the location you’re supposed to go to. (The manual indicates the location is not on the list — so it’s just an anagram of some random location on Earth.)

Yes, “mysterious”. At least we aren’t dealing with Earthquake San Francisco territory here.

Another encounter is a mysterious taxi that can pull up. If you skip the taxi the game says you “missed a clue” but if you trying to enter the taxi the people inside kill you. It’s possible this is a one-shot find-the-right-command puzzle, like The Room was; I wouldn’t put it past the game to say you missed a clue but you really didn’t though.

You can sometimes get attacked. This stumped me for a long time and I nearly gave up here.

The instructions just indicate to type a sentence appropriately. KILL PRIEST? SHOOT PRIEST WITH GUN? DEFEND MYSELF? All rubbish, apparently. I really did run through quite a few options:

HIT PRIEST
KILL PRIEST
SHOOT PRIEST
FIRE PISTOL
USE PISTOL
SHOOT PRIEST WITH GUN
THROW KNIFE
USE WATCH
IS YOUR PARSER REALLY THIS BAD

I went to find a video of gameplay just to watch what they did. It turns out the magic formula is to type in lowercase. Eek! So yes, “use pistol” and probably a few of the other options work. (You can use uppercase elsewhere, it just doesn’t work here. I did start giving subsequent commands in lowercase, though.) The lowercase rule doesn’t necessarily apply elsewhere, although I didn’t rigorously figure out all the places where you can use uppercase and where it was only lowercase works.

I ran around enough to get the letters R, O, E, I, and S, but I didn’t need to go any farther than that because I got a clue (“from London”) that was just the whole location, just enciphered.

AQVOIXWZM

That’s just the letters rotated by 8 from SINGAPORE. The amount of rotation is random (I also saw HXCVPEDGT, which is rotated by 15).

The location of Singapore is not randomized so on subsequent playthroughs you can skip part 1 altogether and just type SINGAPORE as your very first command.

Dr. Death’s island is I think vaguely modeled off an adventure game but the author forgot to put in, er, gameplay. It randomly generates a map and you meet an enemy every few steps.

Your weapons always work. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to pick anything other than the highest capacity weapons from M at the start. The frequency of enemies degrades your weapon supply until you have to resort to just hitting (hit octopus, etc).

There is almost literally no strategy whatsoever — it’s just getting whittled down and hoping to eventually find Dr. Death’s base before dying. There’s a map up at CASA Solution Archive but as I said, the map is randomly generated, so it doesn’t really help. The only thing that’s a general pattern is that the base seems to be always near the center.

I did eventually get lucky (see above) and made it to part 3, a 3D maze where you are pursued by PAWS.

I’m not sure, given the fearlessness of ripping off copyright elsewhere, Richard changed the name of “Jaws” (from the original James Bond movies).

You are dead if you see this.

Unfortunately, while this section is good enough to include an automap — one that you can only look at for a limited time, but it takes so long to draw in authentic ZX Spectrum speed it doesn’t matter — the overall goal of evading PAWS eluded me, and I was never able to make it to an exit. I think there may be some emulator issues — at the least, the game only barely wanted to recognize when I made a keypress — but I decided given the lack of adventure credentials overall it was high time to bail. Sorry, that means I don’t know what part 4 is. Probably Mastermind or something.

There is at least some interest in this game touching upon (but not well-implementing) the idea of an “episodic adventure game”; while Oregon Trail and its brethren worked in episodes, all decisions were reflective of current resources (do you have enough food? do you want to risk losing oxen?) The first part of this game had one-shot episodes with potentially a brief “adventurer choice” with a freeform command.

The second part was just rubbish due to lack of strategy. With every potential enemy being felled in an equal way by every weapon, the gameplay simply consisted of trying to outrun a countdown timer finding a randomly-placed room. I see what the author was trying to do in a narrative sense, but the gameplay was never brought up to match.

There might have been something to the third part which follows in the same tradition as games like 3D Monster Maze but forgets about the part where you’re actually able to dodge the monster coming after you.

I was honestly tempted to pitch the game altogether instead of writing about it but it did take a while to suss everything above out, and it is true that Richard Shepherd Software will appear again, as they published a few traditional adventures, including one that is allegedly rather good.

Via Mobygames.

Posted September 5, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Colossal Adventure: Finale   7 comments

(You should make sure you’ve read the three prior posts in this series before this one.)

I want to emphasize how big a game this was for Europe. For people without mainframe access (most people) there were many ports of Crowther/Woods Adventure to choose from, but Level 9’s in particular was everywhere. This is the Adventure a lot of Europeans remember, either in the original text only version or in the graphical Jewels of Darkness version which collects the first three of Level 9’s regular text adventure games (I’ve been playing the latter).

If you’re fond of those “family trees” which show games branching into other games, this is one of those nodes. When Aventuras AD made a port in 1989, eventually making themselves a big name in Spain, they referred to Level 9’s port. See below the picnic area which was invented by the Austins to fill in the outdoors:

From this Youtube playthrough, and thanks to Ruber Eaglenest and baltasarq for mentioning the game.

I was looking forward to the extended endgame, given the regular game proper fixed both the all-different maze and the dragon —

INTERLUDE MODE ON

Ah yes, the dragon. I left that bit out last time. Here is the classic presentation:

KILL DRAGON

WITH WHAT? YOUR BARE HANDS?

YES

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE JUST VANQUISHED A DRAGON WITH YOUR BARE HANDS! (UNBELIEVABLE, ISN’T IT?)

I realize this delights some theorists; Aaron Reed has written about it positively and Jonathan Lessard waxes about how “the game breaks from convention, demanding that the reply be read literally and allowing the player to accomplish a task that would be impossible in the game’s diegesis.”

I call rubbish. The “with your bare hands?” looks to be entirely rhetorical and the prompt is mashed with the UI in such a way that is unfair. I am backed up by an authority of none other than one of Crowther’s daughters (whom the game was originally written for). Quoting Dennis Jerz:

When asked what her father thought of Woods’s expansion, Laura (who became a middle-school science teacher) said, “I remember being extremely irritated by things like the pirate, and Dad saying not to blame him, it wasn’t his fault!” Sandy (who became a Sun Solaris administrator) has vivid memories of being “addicted” to playing the Crowther/Woods version when she was older; as a child, she remembers mostly being frustrated by her father’s version. When asked about her father’s reaction to Woods’s expansions, she recalled: “I got stuck with, ‘Kill dragon.’ ‘What with, your bare hands?’ You have to say, ‘yes.’ I remember my father saying, ‘That was Don Woods.’”

Here is how Level 9 does it:

This significantly changes my major beef with the puzzle. The Level 9 version changes the nature of the prompt to clearly be a yes or no question. There’s still a moment where you have to declare, yes, I am going to engage a dragon in fisticuffs, but there’s no underhanded UI that needs to be reckoned with.

INTERLUDE MODE OFF

— so as I was saying, the fixes were well-thought out, and despite the misstep of dropping the inventory limit, I thought the endgame would get the same treatment, and there was no way the endgame could get worse. Yet: I also had dread, knowing endgames of the past, and worried that the endgame would somehow get worse.

The elf doesn’t necessarily appear in the building — it’s just a timed event after you’ve escaped the cave. The “make sure to rescue ALL the elves” line is important.

Shockingly: they made it work. There’s one bit with a maze, I’m sad to report. (I’ll spoil it right now: when you get up the top of the ladder, just go east and down. That’s it.) Otherwise this really does make a much nicer denouement than the original, which to recap, dropped you in a pair of rooms, asked you to decipher that A BUNDLE OF BLACK RODS WITH RUSTY MARKS ON THEIR ENDS meant dynamite, and you could say BLAST (entirely unclued) to set them off, and for some reason the command worked even if you weren’t in the same room as the dynamite. (As I think I’ve observed somewhere in my far-too-many-words on Adventure, the puzzle likely came about because Crowther’s original oddly includes BLAST as a verb with BLASTING REQUIRES DYNAMITE as a response, giving the idea for the endgame without thinking about the fact BLAST is a pretty unusual verb.)

The opening is still roughly the same, although the game quite clearly identifies the dynamite, and if you bother to EXAMINE it, the game will mention the word BLAST on the side.

The only somewhat cruel thing is the four inventory item limit cropping up again. The lamp must be obviously carried, but of the keys, sandwiches, black rod, pillow, and small axe, which three must be carried? (There’s a little leeway because it turns out you only need two.)

As the mention of the water indicates, the plot continues: you’ve started a flood.

Now you need to outrace it, so there’s a bit of time pressure, especially for the next part which has the maze I previously mentioned.

A map in case you care, but again, just east and down works.

Once past the maze, I landed in a long corridor with some cells containing elves. Keeping the guidance of the initial elf in mind, I used UNLOCK to free them. There was also, sinisterly, a room with just locked-up skeletons, which I assumed at the time was just scenery.

Further along the corridor there was a gap of the exact same nature as where WAVE ROD makes a bridge in the original. I didn’t have the rod, but fortunately it was a quick journey to redo the section to have it in hand. (I appreciate the callback; not as much the inventory limit!)

This also fits in with Pete Austin’s concern about unnecessary parts of the game — you can skip the crystal bridge in classic Adventure, and you can here, but the re-occurrence means you need to have the puzzle figured out.

Past the crystal bridge is a large up-down staircase. Going to the bottom, you find a jade pentacle and an Elixir of Life.

The pentacle is pretty odd; after picking it up the lamp goes out, and I spent a while wondering if I perhaps missed some extra timed event. However, this isn’t the case: the lamp has essentially unlimited fuel at this phase of the game. After some painstaking experiment I realized

a.) the jade pentacle counts as a light source, and you can leave the lamp behind

b.) you can carry the lamp additionally, but the lamp must be turned OFF, otherwise it gives out darkness which cancels the jade pentacle

This wasn’t hard or upsetting and is the sort of magical experimentation I can stand behind; many times I’ve commented on the absurdity of magic systems in adventure games where you wave Bauble X in an entirely random location and there’s no “physics” to work out. Here, there’s a “physics” of sort to work out. Even if it is counter-intuitive and unusual, it seems at least appropriate magical and can be worked out without lawnmowering (that is, without having to test an item everywhere).

The water’s still been chasing you the whole time. There’s a door leading in the staircase you need to close too, because otherwise you get swept away by a combination of water and lava. (The picture shows the result of having the tower sealed off successfully.)

The top of the tower has a Pinnacle but leads nowhere else. At this point I was fairly stuck so I spent a long time contemplating what to do with the Elixir, thinking perhaps I needed to make myself temporarily immortal and hurl myself off the tower. However, JUMP and related actions on the Pinnacle don’t work; kind of surprising, in a way, given how willing the game was to let us step off a ledge at the start.

I went back over the map and considered all the parts I hadn’t solved yet. This included not quite finishing the maze (which I went ahead and did, no dice) trying to see if there was some secret right at the start with the dwarves and all the items, and more or less futilely beating on walls.

I then thought back to the skeletons and realized that I needed to rescue “ALL the elves”.

The most satisfying puzzle of the endgame.

The path of going to the tower and back means you get the seal off the tower from the lava with only a few turns to go. I was stuck with the jade pendant, the weird darkness-emanating lamp, the keys, the rod, and either a sandwich, axe, or pillow (again, it turns out that item doesn’t matter, but I didn’t know it at the time). I finally got around to testing every exit in every room of the staircase and found a secret side exit to a spider area, which had an orb, scepter, and crown, as well as a spider in the middle.

There’s a spot where you can climb up the middle but the spider follows you if you try and the weight is too much. If you wander outside the web, though, the spider follows as well, “staring at the pentacle”. You can pitch the pentacle off the top of the tower and get rid of the spider at the same time.

You incidentally don’t need to have the lamp figured out until this moment, since the pentacle has been operating as an alternate light source. I originally had the lamp dumped in the basement and was stuck here because I didn’t have the light to go back down.

The rest of the game is smooth coasting. Without the spider following you can crawl up to a passage and eventually back to the main cave (which was satisfying! this wasn’t just sealed off from the main gameplay section, but secretly unified).

That last image is in the main cave; you surface in the reservoir, another of those “unused locations” that now is given a purpose (irresistibly to authors; it is one of the most modded parts of the game; even Don Woods himself added something there in his “version 2.0”).

Not sure where the missing 20 points went, don’t care.

So to summarize the narrative: you still blow up the dwarf area like normal, but this lets forward a flood of water you have to outrun, freeing elves along the way (and re-incarnating some) before finally climbing out to the main cave, and the exit one last time.

Regarding the graphics (this part technically only applies to Jewels of Darkness, not to the Colossal Adventure original): the overarching system really is well-coded. While the re-draw speed isn’t super fast for images, you can type as the game is drawing so you don’t have the “slow-trudge” effect of travelling from one end of the map to the other. The graphics aren’t quite the quality we’ve seen with Lucifer’s Realm but the Atari ones are attractive enough. If you haven’t noticed from my screenshots throughout, the authors do wrangle some trickery together, I assume to save space: many parts of images are reused.

Here is a pit from the All Alike maze:

Here is the same pit recolored in the water maze of the endgame:

Most people associate adventure games with bespoke locations (not considering the more out-there games like Asylum), so it was interesting to see a game lean in to the idea of re-use.

(Also, could someone explain the bizarre blue border that shows up in the Amiga version? Does the blue look darker on a real Amiga screen, or did people just accept everything being surrounded by blue?)

This was a solid start to a storied company, which is good, since we’ve got two more of their games fitting into 1982. I was most impressed not by the new large chunks of territory but by the minor fixes; it’s one thing to feel grumpy at the dragon puzzle and decide to rewrite it entirely (as was done in Bilingual Adventure, adding the sword Excalibur) but a thing much subtler to simply tweak the parser prompt. Another nudge was writing BLAST on the dynamite, which managed to keep the spirit of the original puzzle while make it genuinely solvable. It requires careful design sense to fix a problem with a slight nudge in the right direction rather than wholesale replacement.

Posted August 30, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Colossal Adventure: A Bizarre Chaos of Tortured Rock Which Seems To Have Been Crafted by the Devil Himself   5 comments

(This post won’t make much sense without my prior ones leading up to it. Also, I’m assuming some familiarity with original Crowther/Woods adventure, which you can read up on here if you’ve missed out.)

As I mentioned in my last post, the outdoors have been changed compared to the original. The tendency seemed to be to try to make the environment more interesting, or at least comparably interesting to the rest of the game. The only problem is there still nearly isn’t anything to do; at least with the original the nondescript forest was meant to funnel the player towards the locked grate with a minimum of fuss.

I should add that this kind of random death wasn’t a feature in the original.

To alleviate the problem slightly, the food that had been taken out of the building got moved to a picnic spot. As Pete Austin explained: “It was really because there was a lot of forest around, nothing actually to do with the game.” In other words, they spent their time sprucing up the environment, they wanted some point in the player exploring it.

The most curious scenery change is from the underground portion, not the outdoors: the “volcano” that’s past the troll bridge (and the Lenslok I was stuck on last time). Just as a reminder, here’s how the original room went:

You are on the edge of a breath-taking view. Far below you is an active volcano, from which great gouts of molten lava come surging out, cascading back down into the depths. The glowing rock fills the farthest reaches of the cavern with a blood-red glare, giving every- thing an eerie, macabre appearance. The air is filled with flickering sparks of ash and a heavy smell of brimstone. The walls are hot to the touch, and the thundering of the volcano drowns out all other sounds. Embedded in the jagged roof far overhead are myriad twisted formations composed of pure white alabaster, which scatter the murky light into sinister apparitions upon the walls. To one side is a deep gorge, filled with a bizarre chaos of tortured rock which seems to have been crafted by the devil himself. An immense river of fire crashes out from the depths of the volcano, burns its way through the gorge, and plummets into a bottomless pit far off to your left. To the right, an immense geyser of blistering steam erupts continuously from a barren island in the center of a sulfurous lake, which bubbles ominously. The far right wall is aflame with an incandescence of its own, which lends an additional infernal splendor to the already hellish scene. A dark, foreboding passage exits to the south.

The new variation is much more succinct.

In a way, the shortening is understandable — the text would fly off the text portion allocated to the screen, and the graphics, while pleasant in their own way, just don’t have a chance at describing “a bizarre chaos of tortured rock which seems to have been crafted by the devil himself”. The general effect of the length also wouldn’t strike as hard in context; in the original, it is a remarkable moment simply due to the relatively spare descriptions everywhere else in the game, but the mere presence of graphics undermines the minimalist feel.

There is one other serious change. I mentioned last time the lamp timer seemingly set to force a trip to the vending machine (and the presence of coins which work and don’t count as a treasure, so nothing is lost). However, the all-different maze itself is changed! This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given my characterization of it as the worst maze ever. Pete Austin seems to have agreed, and made the whole thing much more compact.

I admit to being bowled over when I first realized I needed to re-map, but I was of the assumption that the pattern would follow the original monstrosity; the much smaller room count which still keeps the same gimmick of slightly different word order is much nicer to handle.

The all-alike maze, incidentally, is identical to the original. The pirate theft-rate does seem to be reduced a little and I had to wander quite a bit holding some diamonds for the pirate to show up (his chest hidden in the all-alike maze doesn’t show up until after the theft). Also, notice how the vending machine room contains a hint about the chest.

The chest was the last treasure in my sequence, and a message announced I was told to leave out the main entrance. Walking to the building and dropping the last treasure leads to a message from an elf:

Saying yes here reaches this version’s extended endgame, which I’ll write about next time.

One final comment — I mentioned this in passing last time but it is worth spending a little more time — the inventory limit dropped from seven in the original to four. This is an extreme change, since the lamp is absolutely required, and the axe is usually required (pirate frequency might be lower, but dwarves still pop up often). I had to in a couple circumstances just drop the axe and hope I wouldn’t have to worry about it, especially past the troll bridge where you need the lamp, the keys, and the sandwich, and while you get rid of the sandwich, you pick up rare spices, a chain, and the bear itself (which I don’t think counted as an inventory item in the original, but does here). Unfortunately I can’t tell what the experience would be like, but it strikes me as much more irritating to experiment; part of the interest in the original is that you typically would have a bottle of water already when first coming across the plant, so there would be the joy of applying it. While logistically juggling back to the bottle technically requires more insight, I just don’t think, given the open-ended exploration focus of the original, that the overall result is quite as effective.

Posted August 28, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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