Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Two Kickstarters (Stereotypical, Andromeda Acolytes)   Leave a comment

Sorry for the delay in my next post! Trying to bring Quest to some sort of satisfactory landing so we can get into all sorts of other shenanigans. In the meantime, I have two Kickstarters to mention:

Sterotypical

In this point-and-click, choice-based puzzle adventure, you’ll solve cases as a quirky detective and his super spy partner through stories you’ll think you’ve seen before. But be careful! You’ll have to look past the stereotypes to uncover the story’s true ending.

This one is of particular interest as it is a project of Clopas LLC, that of none other than Scott Adams (of Adventureland, The Count, etc.)

This is not a regular text adventure (that’d be Adventureland XL), but a mobile game with character stats, akin to something from Choice of Games.

Andromeda Acolytes is from Wade Clarke who you might know from Leadlight and Six, and is developing a text adventure in the Andromeda “shared universe” with other games like Andromeda Apocalypse.

You’ll play four very different heroines drawn into each other’s orbit when an accident awakens a mysterious power on the planet Monarch. You’ll negotiate underwater mechs, artificial intelligences, abandoned cities, crime, friendship, suspense, horror, humour, an art exhibition, virtual realities and a tank. Experience each PC via first-person prose as you puzzle, converse and explore.

Kickstarter link here

This one’s actually got a demo for the first chapter that you can try here and looks to be a fairly elaborate traditional adventure.

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

Quest: The Quantum Princess   8 comments

The PCL version of Quest is buggy in a way where it isn’t obvious if a particular glitch is really a bug.

System 10, the system Quest was programmed on, from Bitsavers. The original System 10 was made by Singer — that’s the same as the sewing machine company — before being bought by ICL.

To give a straightforward example: I mentioned last time a room with a dog show.

You are at the national elvish dog show. All around, all breeds both the familiar and the strangely novel are being put through their paces and judged by elderly and distinguished looking elves. The general show like atmosphere continues to the east, but there don’t seem to be any dogs up that end of the hall.

There is another room with an elvish fox hound. It can follow you to the room to the immediate west, but doesn’t like to go south so can’t reach the show (map below, the two pertinent locations are marked in blue).

Leaving the fox hound behind and then immediately going back north finds a normal, intact fox hound still waiting. Repeating the process has the hound still there, but is now dead.

The small but perfect specimen of a pedigree elvic fox hound is dead.

I originally thought perhaps I was missing some subtle clue that was causing this to happen (there’s a “ravenous man-eating orchid” nearby that I thought might be related), but now I’m relatively convinced the game is just being buggy, especially once I discovered the quantum princess. (Before going on, I should add that Roger Durrant who has been keeping up a long stream of notes in my last post, managed to pick the hound up with the verb CARRY and take it to the show for some points. I have been unable to do this; the game just claims what I’m picking up isn’t portable. It is possible Roger had some extra unmentioned object that is helping, but I’m 75% sure it’s just another bug.)

To reach the quantum princess, you need to head north from the Western town, the west to the front of a castle. There’s a cannon nestled nearby.

Assuming you have a cannonball and gunpowder (both just lying around elsewhere on the map) you can load the cannon up and then fire it. This breaks open the portcullis leading in the castle so you can sneak in and find a logic puzzle.

You are now in the main keep of the castle of El Numero the Wise, numerologist, extraordinary and tyrant ruler of these parts. In the comer of his office there is a large safe with combination lock and the following inscription:

if forty + ten + ten = sixty

then my key is onyx.

(No, I haven’t bothered to solve this yet, it’s clearly a number cryptogram, and you’re welcome to take a crack in the comments.)

Downstairs you can find a series of cells (see the map). One always has a skeleton, and two of them are sometimes empty. I say sometimes because one of the times I went through I found a princess.

You are in a small cell. In one comer, bound hand and foot with thick ropes and sobbing loudly is the (obviously distressed) figure of a beautiful fair damsel.

You can free the damsel who will follow you briefly before saying she has to go back to her family farm, whereupon she teleports off (I assume the idea is she “walks off” but game-mechanically she telports).

The catch is: I’ve only found the princess once. There doesn’t seem to be any procedural generation going on, and I haven’t traced any different actions I’ve taken through alternate playthroughs. It’s like the princess is simultaneously there and not there at the same time.

At the far north of the hall, rather than the door opening into a cell it opens into the vastness of space.

One portion of a screenshot just as a reminder what things look like on my end. And yes, the princess followed me into space and teleported from there.

You are floating too far away to get into the blue box. In order to move closer you need to throw an item at let Newton do the rest, but not any item; out of the inventory I had the first time around the only thing that worked without some sort of “I don’t understand that” error was my set of keys. I get the strong impression there is zero world modeling in this game, but rather everything is coded in a bespoke way, so the game can’t interpret the properties of objects in a way that allows any sufficiently hefty item to work. The only items that work are whatever the person doing the port happened to add by hand to their list.

It leaves your hand, and you start to float gracefully toward the phone box, until a few seconds later, you bump gently into it, You are now hovering just by the door to the phone box.

Inside the TARDIS (same description as before, including K-9) I was able to push a button and found myself warped into an empty courtyard with a minor puzzle; a plant crying for water. Where have we seen this before?

There’s also a rusty can with a hole and a puddle of water. You can FIX CAN to take care of the hole (with what? I don’t know, but it worked, and gave me no message) and then fill the can (it gave me an error message but I guess worked anyway) and get the plant to turn into a tall vine.

Your score has been increased for perseverance, patience, and attention to detail. Congratulations!! You are now atop the southern wall of the court- yard. Looking down, you can see that there are handholds down the outside of the wall. The vine has shrunk to its original size after its enormous effort.

Heading off the wall drops you back to an enchanted forest right near the log cabin at the start of the game. (The forest incidentally has a murderous elf, but I had fortunately blasted it with my gun before going through this scene so I didn’t have to worry about it.)

So, the whole purpose of that sequence was … points? I’m not clear if I missed something. Maybe a digging spot? I can say the game has a bizarre relationship with score — or at least I should say, a very different conception than I’ve seen from other games. Points can go up or down for actions that clearly are optional. For example, there’s a fruit machine that you can play, and eventually get a winning combination; this causes your score to go up by 15, but nothing else to happen. I have not verified but it is possible you can keep playing the machine forever to infinitely increase your score. Roger Durrant somehow got to 27,325 points at one point, and I’ve gotten to something abysmal before like -500 for reasons I don’t understand.

Most adventure games treat score as a sort of progress counter, with some points for optional puzzles, with the possibility of losing points for taking hints and the like on games close in spirit to Crowther-Woods. This game clearly is adding and subtracting points at the right moments but with no sense of limits, and the general feels is akin to an episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? (“where everything is made up and the points don’t matter”) or possibly Calvinball.

Now, there are such a thing as treasures — or at least I managed to store one treasure — but the experience was odd. If you go down the stairs at the very start you can find a gold nugget; while it is “too heavy” to bring back up the stairs, you can do an alternate route up through the Enchanted Forest (where that murderous elf I mentioned is) and make it back to the Log Cabin. Dropping the gold nugget yields 20 points, indicating that is likely the right action, but in the process the gold nugget entirely disappears. I tried picking it up again and the item was gone. Perhaps it was getting “stored”? There’s no message, just the score going up.

Yes, this thing is an experience. I certainly will get at least one more entry — I haven’t explored the dinosaur area yet (reached via a different TARDIS) and I’d like to find at least a few more treasures, but based on my luck with the game so far there is no such concept as a maximum score and the player won’t even have a mechanism for recognizing all the treasures are found. Despite the extreme jank, I at least can’t say the game has been boring.

Posted July 20, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Quest: High Noon with Billy the Gnome   38 comments

I’ve tried to play up to a point where I feel like I’ve “colored” in a lot of the edges but the game keeps going and going. I’m just going to highlight a few events just to give you a sense of what I’m up against.

From Resurrection: The Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society. The System 25 was ICL’s followup to the System 10, which Quest was originally written for.

This game is dense in a way that’s odd to describe. There’s a colorful events and characters and rooms, but for the most part you can’t refer to the world modeling that gets implied and where a good chunk of the text is there for pure scenery. To illustrate what I mean, here’s a bit where I managed to get a lamp:

The door is opened by Bert, wearing a fine red cap and olive green suit. Traditional elf hospitality being what it is, he invites you in. You are now in old Bert’s house. The shelves are lined with all manner of strange artifacts gathered during old Bert’s 357 years of life. “I shall show you some of my more prized possessions later if you like” says old Bert “will you stay to tea?”

>YES

Tea is (as always in an elvish household) magnificent. The traditional 27 different courses are all served with the necessary pomp and ceremony. The dishes range from the piquant pickled subterranian mushrooms in oak root sauce to the rare and succulent delicacy of boiled arboron ears in jelly. After tea (which lasts some five hours) Bert takes you through into his back room museum in which his favourite treasures are housed, After browsing, for a pleasant half hour among such rare exhibits as a complete set of coinage from the reign of elf king Zorgat the large, and an autographed copy of the complete works of Cedric Dewdrop, Bert wishes you a fond farewell with a parting gift of a beautiful silver oil lamp with hand painted scenes of the orient on it, You are outside the house of Bert the elf.

You don’t even have a chance to refer to the 27 courses of the coinage or whatnot — this is a scene that just lands the oil lamp in your hands, which you incidentally don’t even have to turn on, it works automatically in previously dark areas.

I wouldn’t say all this extra material is “fluff”, but it can be a little disconcerting compared to one of the Cambridge mainframe games where every ounce of text needs to be pored over as a clue. The game is not afraid to randomly toss you in a “Gnome of Year” Ideal Gnome Show (immediately adjacent to a Dog Show) where you have to pick one of two contestants to win (neither which can be examined or talked to for more detail), and if you make a choice the loser socks you and your score goes down.

You are at “Elves Court” where the annual Ideal Gnome Show is being held. A number of gnomes of all sizes and genders are exhibiting themselves in the hope of being judged “Gnome of the Year”.

The judges however are in a quandary, being unable to decide between two finalists – Basil Wolstegnome and Maria Gnomesick.

As an unbiased outsider, your opinion is sought who do you choose?

Close to this scene — east and down some stairs, although you need the lamp to make it through — there’s a Western town.

You are in what looks like the main street of an old western town. An icy wind is blowing, along the street from the south, sending the odd ball of tumbleweed hurtling past, Above the high pitched shriek of the wind, the sound of piano music can be heard from the saloon to the west. On the building on the east side of the street the sign “sherrif” hangs at a slight angle.

The “sheriff” is asleep and has a gun you can get; as far as I can tell there’s no way to wake the sheriff (the game doesn’t even recognize any related words). You can go into the saloon where you come across Billy the gnome, who starts following you and being aggressive, eventually shooting you to death no matter which way you walk:

You are in a ladies boudoir. The occupant is (unfortunately) not present, but discarded items of clothing scattered here and there tend to indicate that she is in the habit of dressing in the manner of a bygone age (and in rather a hurry !). There are no windows, but the light from a small gas lamp reveals a small bed against the north wall, and a wardrobe against the west wall. The main door is to the east. Standing quietly nearby sneering at you is the tall rugged figure of Billy the gnome, the infamous outlaw. Billy the gnome draws his gun and fires, As you are now dead, would you like to be re-incarnated?

There’s ammo elsewhere for the sheriff’s gun; so you can have a shootout if you like. Unfortunately the game doesn’t let you bring the gun in the saloon where Billy is (even though he has his gun) so I had to leave the gun in the street, run outside after he started chasing, and try to shoot back.

B a n g !!! Unfortunately Billy beat you to the draw. You have been shot in the arm, but I think it should heal. Billy the gnome draws his gun and fires. As you are now dead, would you like to be re-incarnated?

Score: -140

So, things not going terribly well so far. Weirdly, I had an easier time killing a dragon:

You are in a vast, slimy cavern with festoons of phosphorescent moss hanging from the roof. Illuminated in the leprous, green glow, you can see a winding tunnel snaking off to the east, disappearing through the floor is what appears to be a fireman’s pole. To the west is the remains of a brick wall. Leaning against a wall is a dayglo-green dragon with smoke billowing from its mouth, and a strong smell of paraffin.

You can eventually keep trying to shoot it and it will die, but it doesn’t block anything; it just causes a danger if you try to pick up a torch while the dragon is tailing along (“there is a satisfactory loud whoomf!!! and the dragon explodes in a sheet of flame”), if you want to pick up the torch you have to kill it anyway.

I’m still trying to get a grip on the geography — it’s pretty randomly connected — and just as one more thing, past the dragon there’s a river leading up to an ocean, and past the ocean there’s … a German beach?

Sie befinden sich nun am noerdlichen Badestrand im deutschsprachigen Viertel der Hoehle. Die sonnengebraeunten Koerper der faulen Reichen sonnen sich in den Sonnenstrahlen welche durch Loecher in der Hoehlendecke in die Hoeble hinein strahlen, Im westen glitzert der tiefblaue ozean im sonnenlicht, Die hitze schimmert ueber dem heissen sand.

Yes, the game switches to German for that room description, and just that room description. I originally wondered if there was a file corruption or the like, but this was clearly intentional.

I’ll try to wrap the game up into something coherent next time. One more random location for good measure, though, placed in the middle of a cave next to the ocean:

You are in the lounge bar of the Elf club of Great Britain. All around you, a variety of elves, gnomes and other minority groups are having a good time, eating drinking and making merry (who is having a pretty good time also). The door to the west has a sign above it in elfish which you cannot read. The door to the east has the word “exit” above it in 42 different languages (one of them english). Standing in a corner polishing some glasses is the jovial and rotund figure of the club barman.

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

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Quest (1980-1983)   11 comments

Despite this blog’s visit with mainframes in Britain being solely through the Phoenix mainframe at Cambridge (Acheton, Quondam, Hamil, etc.) they were hardly the only game in town. Britain’s big commercial mainframe company (and competitor to IBM) was ICL, itself a merger of multiple other companies, including one that dates all the way back to 1902.

Keypunch from the British Tabulating Machine Company, estimated to be from around 1915. The tabulating machine — originally designed to count the 1890 US Census — was also behind the founding of IBM.

ICL as a company proper was founded in 1968, and while it focused on larger machines at first it did start branching into desktop systems by the late 70s; today’s game was originally written for the their mainframe System 10, with a version by Doug Urquhart and Keith Sheppard developed from 1980 to 1981. Later Jerry McCarthy joined the team before a “final” version was released in 1983. As Doug writes:

Quest is, as they say, functionally rich. We packed over two hundred places into our small part of Cyberspace and peopled them with dragons, elves, insurance salesmen and some of our colleagues. One particularly hated manager was placed, name anagrammatized to avoid legal action, in a rubber goods shop down a sleazy alley near the railway line. He’s still there, if you care to look.

For a long time, the book I just referenced (An ICL Anthology: Anecdotes and Recollections from the People of ICL) is the only evidence we’ve had of the game even existing, even though it claims versions for “System 10, System 25, DRS 20, CPM, DOS and now Windows.” The problem is none of those had ever surfaced!

The game is also utterly obscure enough to not show up on any of my main references (CASA Solution Archive, Interactive Fiction Archive, Mobygames). I had come across it in the past, somehow, but it was in my “wishful thinking” list until a Dave Howorth from the UK (and former ICL employee) pinged me asking if I had heard of this game. I had, and was ready to give the bad news it was buried who-knows-where, when I was surprised to find, snuck two years ago on if-archive:

# Quest.zip

Quest, a text adventure written between 1980 and 1983 at ICL by Doug Urquhart, Keith Sheppard and Jerry McCarthy. Originally written to run on the ICL System 10 mainframe and later ported to System 25, DRS 20, CPM, MS-DOS and Windows. This is a Visual Basic 3 port that requires a version of Windows capable of running 16-bit Windows programs.

You may wonder “why isn’t it on the Interactive Fiction Database then?” Yes, the IFDB indexes nearly everything on if-archive, but it isn’t automatic, and there’s still the occasional “stealth” upload, as this one was.

I was thus able to deliver good news instead, although the version of Windows needed turned out to be all the way back to Windows 98. Instead of going through making a virtual machine I used a version of DOSBOX pre-set for Windows 98.

All the text for every room description is centered and also delivered all as one paragraph. The last point has major gameplay ramifications; there’s been a standard since Adventure to always separate out items that can be manipulated by at least a line break, but here you just have to parse them as the regular text.

I’m not 100% clear if the original game was like this, but I suspect the mash-the-paragraph-together formatting would be odd to add in the Windowsification phase so is authentic. I’m going to convert the text into ASCII rather than forcing you to parse screenshots. The opening screen above reads:

You are in a small log cabin in the mountains. There is a door to the north and a trapdoor in the floor. Looking upwards into the cobwebbed gloom, you perceive an air-conditioning duct. Lying in one corner there is a short black rod with a gold star on one end. Hanging crookedly above the fireplace is a picture of Whistler’s mother, with the following inscription underneath: ‘If death strikes and all is lost – I shall put you straight’.

(Notice how there’s an item that you can pick up jammed in the middle of the paragraph.)

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, aka Whistler’s Mother, from 1871. Her name was Anna.

I haven’t gotten deep enough in to give a full lay of the land, but I can say the general structure seems to have entirely distinct “adventures” based on which direction you travel. If you go down to the underground you find the land of the Arborens.

The small but perfect specimen of a pedigree elvic fox hound has followed you. You are now in the land of the Arborons or tree folk. All around you in the dim light, unblinking pairs of pink eyes can be seen peeping at you through the tree roots. Arboron burrows lead off to the west and south. Lying in one comer there is a small box of .45 calibre ammunition.

I suspect this section may have been written first, given the instructions for the game state: “The object of the quest is to collect as much treasure as you can, and convey it back to the start, without suffering too much harm at the hands of the denizens of the caves.” There are plenty of non-caves to be found, though. If you go outside you can grab a parachute and jump your way into an open range with lots of directions you can go, including this strange machine room:

All your molecules are being disassembled. It is not a particularly pleasant process. You are standing on a dull metal floor, in the middle of a brightly lit room. All around you are banks of machinery whose thin film of dust betrays long disuse. The air is warm, with a hint of ozone, and a low humming noise is coming from the one console which is still functioning, The console comprises a row of eight numbered buttons and a large lever. The button labelled number 6 is illuminated. There is an airlock door to the north. A lambent pool of shimmering light is dancing on the floor, before the console.

If you go up you can find a steel tunnel…

Fighting against a current of air, toffee papers, and other less mentionable objects, you eventually stagger out high up in a mountain range. Looking down (a long, long, long way down) you can just see the log cabin wherein all this business started. To the west is an stainless steel tunnel mouth. In the far distance to the east, a barely discernible object is barely discernible.

…and a blue police box (this is a Brit-game, remember)…

You are now inside the police telephone box; much to your surprise, you discover that there is much more room inside than you would have expected by looking at the outside. In the centre is a control panel; a large button marked “press” is clearly visible thereon. There, standing wagging a cute little metal tail, with its cute little metal head to one side is a BASIC variable (ANSI standard only).

…and get teleported to a jungle land where you get chased by a dinosaur.

The great dinosaur, twice the size of an elephant and ten times as fierce looking has followed you. The passage opens out here, and in some strange strong light, the source of which is not obvious, the walls and ceiling shine with the brilliance of cut glass. They are not made of glass however, they are made of great clusters of sapphires and emeralds, many of them as large as walnuts, and each twinkling out that promise of untold riches that has driven men to war, crime or madness, since history began.

Even if all of the puzzles turn out to be the absurd unsolvable variety, I’ll at least have fun exploring the sheer chaos that seems to be the setting mash-up the game promises. And based on that last room description, at least one of the authors seemed to be all-in to making the writing look good, and being originally on a mainframe means they didn’t need to worry about word count!

Posted June 25, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Skull Cave (1982?)   13 comments

In the history of personal computers, the first significant home computer was the Altair 8800, which briefly made a cameo on this blog with the game Kadath. Quite soon after — designed originally as a terminal to use the Altair before it became its own project — was the Sol line, which appeared on the July 1976 cover of Popular Electronics and was sold in three ways: in kit form, without expansion slots (Sol-10) and with expansion slots (Sol-20). At the time it was called the first complete small computer; it is now sometimes called the first “modern computer” or first “all-in-one” computer.

It did reasonably well — 10,000 units — but in historical memory it is overshadowed by the Altair and Apple I, and shortly after it landed it got bowled over by the Trinity of 1977 (TRS-80, Apple II, Commodore PET).

At the Smithsonian, from DigiBarn. The Apple I and Altair are on the table above, carefully labeled, while the SOL-20 is hiding underneath on the floor with no label at all. I’m not sure if the curator meant this as a metaphor.

The machine eventually was discontinued in 1979; the designer, Lee Felsenstein, ended up going on to design the first successful portable computer (the Osborne 1) but that’s a story for a different time.

Even when a computer is “discontinued” it still can have fans, and the SOL-20 has its diehards and events, like a 30th anniversary party. One such fan, Ray White, wrote what was more or less a private collection of games, including an RPG called Deathmaze. Skull Cave, his only text adventure (and what appears to be the SOL-20’s only text adventure) he estimates to be from 1982.

The setup has an Infidel vibe (“disease, hunger, monsters and desertion” taking their “toll” on your “hirelings”) but the better comparison is Dungeons and Dragons, especially because the final obstacle feels like a scene from one of the very famous early campaigns.

But also: there’s random enemies seeded around for combat. From the opening room above, you can head south (into the “mouth”) to do combat with a skeleton, or head up (through the “eyes”) to do combat with a goblin.

The author here ran into the same problem many adventure writers were running into: how to make the combat interesting? Adventure and Zork both used it a limited amount, so the encounter with (say) the Troll was colorful and not repetitive. Deadly Dungeon tried to give you arrows for a second method of attack, and Eamon added dynamic movement to the monsters, spells, RPG stats, and the possibility of emergent behavior.

Unfortunately, Skull Cave is just taking its cue from Adventure/Zork. Combat isn’t nearly as interesting as Eamon: the only thing possible to do is to ATTACK when entering a room with a monster and hope you win. You can’t even run away and choose to engage later.

YOU CAN’T JUST LEAVE IN THE MIDDLE OF A FIGHT!!!

Sometimes this sort of game has a “experience path” where if you’ve killed weaker enemies you’ll have an easier time against stronger ones. Unfortunately things are too random for me to be sure if this is true, and I found the best strategy is to attack as minimally as possible, because there’s always a chance of random death. You can spend some points for one reincarnation, but after a second death the game is over.

The game is in two sections. The first spans from the skull cave entrance to a locked gate, with a “Guardian of the Gate” enemy. Other than the initial skeleton-or-goblin fight the next one you have to do for certain is the guardian, and you just need to hope you get lucky and restart if you don’t (the game has no saved game capability, either).

I marked the start room at the top and the gate room at the bottom.

In the middle you can choose to fight a troglodyte and get a jeweled wristband, swipe a number of treasures (silver bars, emerald, painting), smash a statue to take its jeweled “eyes”, swipe a glass bottle and a chain, and battle a dragon (which drops gold if you defeat it).

There’s also a room with a magic word (“PLTMP”) which teleports you there and seems to work every time, being the only escape from combat (too bad I found it last when I was mapping!) There’s also a completely unmappable maze, and I’m not exaggerating “hard and annoying”, I do mean unmappable:

If the author meant to copy the “all different” maze, then separate rooms need separate messages. The item-dropping method doesn’t work; any items just disappear instantly. I think the author may have literally messed things up from their intent.

Going back to the locked gate, if you defeat the Guardian (again, I just made a beeline and crossed my fingers, no tactics whatsoever) then you still have the locked-ness of the gate to deal with. I had found SEARCH worked from my various tests but mostly it shows nothing. However, if you happen to use it at the skeleton room at the very start, you can find a skeleton key.

This is _not_ a guaranteed search either! Again, I feel like the author might have had D&D in mind, but given SEARCH works almost nowhere, having it also possibly fail the one place it does work is just cruelty.

(The funky error line is because I made a typo and tried to hit BACKSPACE, which doesn’t work on this emulator. I assume SOL-20 had a backspace but I’m not sure how to trigger it.)

The key leads down to a slightly more interesting area.

Yes, slightly more interesting, just the usual Adventure puzzle where the bottle from the north side is useful to pour water on a plant to turn into a beanstalk. There’s also a scene with a “beautiful girl” which gives you a scroll with the spell NIGNOG which seems to be used for defeating one (1) enemy of your choice:

There’s a tiger attached to a pedestal where you can choose to walk away, but once you fight, you’re committed. Defeating the tiger reveals a gem. (I tried NIGNOG here and got no luck, but I think it was because I wasn’t technically fighting the enemy yet.)

With the gem in hand you can go back to revealing a sword stuck in a stone, and use the gem to free it. (MOUNT is a verb I got from the binary code of the game. Unfortunately it is in machine language so I can’t determine a lot of things otherwise.)

Then, with the sword, you can get to the scene which I mentioned reminded me quite directly of D&D.

Specifically, the infamous “Tomb of Horrors”, which originally debuted in the 1975 in tournament conditions, then got published in 1978 and has been used by GMs to gleefully torture players ever since. It has traps on traps on traps on traps, and a battle with a lich at the end assuming players even get that far (which is just a skull which floats and sucks out one soul per turn).

From a larger piece of art by Jason Thompson describing an actual play session.

I think there might be some more resources, but just NIGNOG (which stuns but doesn’t destroy) plus the sword were enough to destroy the skull. Just NIGNOG alone doesn’t cut it. I assume our player is the “monk” class since they’ve been going without a weapon most of the game taking down skeletons and so forth, but sometimes you need a little magic even when you’ve got fists of fury.

There’s a map up at CASA Solution Archive which includes a place with a “ring” I never got to visit — if you look at the plant room there’s hook where it seems a chain could go, but I could never find the right verb to make it work — and I also skipped entirely a spider guarding a room with a shield. These tools only came after the majority of combat in the game; Skull Cave really could have used spreading out some of the combat resources in a way that picking them up in the right order could have slowly leveled combat up so the player wouldn’t have to just roll the dice on the guardian or the tiger.

Oh, and I’ve failed to mention the thief. Ugh, yes, there’s a thief.

The thief grabs any treasures you’ve gotten — which seem to be purely for points — and stores them, I presume, in the maze. The problem is the mazes are broken! (In addition to the “all different” maze there’s an “all alike” maze which is equally broken.) So while the source code indicates a “lair” where presumably you can retrieve things…

YOU ARE IN THE THIEF’S LAIR. COMFORTABLE, (BUT CHEAP), FURNITURE LINES THE WALLS. IN THE CENTER OF THIS ROOM YOU SEE A LARGE ROCK.

…there is no plausible way to get there. Perhaps the author has the exact maze steps and if someone really was determined to hack at the binary code they could find out a way too, but as is, the treasure is all a sideshow to the main task of retrieving the pearl anyway.

For now, Skull Cave mainly serves as a warning as to how difficult it is to make combat fun in an adventure game without making any extra systems. The large number of adventures from this era where violence is actually a red herring seems to be linked to the same trouble: there need to be statistics, extra moves, a wealth of items, enemy AI, and so forth, none of which had an easy-to-copy model at the time–

From the printed Tomb of Horrors module.

–excepting Eamon, but if people wanted an Eamon game they just wrote it in that system. And incidentally, for those Eamon fans out there, yes, I might loop back sometime and do more than 2 adventures, even though they really lean much harder on the RPG than the adventure side. The backlog is just so, so long. And speaking of backlog, what I’ll be getting to next is a game which is very large, whose existence is recorded almost nowhere, and has only been available to the public quite recently.

Posted June 24, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Mad Monk (1982)   10 comments

From the Centre for Computing History.

Fans of my previous posts may remember a mysterious individual, Mr. A. Knight, who wrote Galactic Hitchhiker, a surprisingly decent riff on Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while using the vanishingly small 8K available on the UK101 computer (shown above).

A. Knight was listed in 1980 as living at Simonside Walk, Ormesby, Middlesborough, Cleveland.

By the end of 1981 he mentioned another game, Mad Monk, that he had ready for sale; at least one person ordered it in March 1982 and never received it, and for a while it was thought perhaps the game was vaporware, until it appeared recently, recovered by baldwint from a stash of UK101 tapes on the Stardot forum. It seems to have taken until mid-1982 before it actually came out. Quoting from the August 1982 catalog:

A graphics Adventure program, all in machine code. We’re sorry about the delay in finishing this one but when you see it you will understand why it has taken so long. It is now receiving its finishing touches and, honest injun, it’ll be ready for mid August….yes, 1982. If you already have this one on order, please be patient just a little longer, as it really is worth waiting for. Again, apologies for the delay.

The catalog is incidentally for “Merlin (Micro Systems) Ltd”; while Knight originally sold software as a personal venture with no company name at all, by 1982 he had branched into a selection from multiple authors with the aforementioned Merlin attached, and later switched names again to Knight Software.

Unlike his previous game, it is fully in the roguelike-adventure mode, like The 6 Keys of Tangrin, Lugi, Mines, and a few others games we’ve seen. Nearly all room placements and exits are randomly generated, and all objects and foes are also placed at random.

The adventure starts with you in the entrance hall of the Mad Monk’s Monastery and your missions is to find and rescue one Lord Magnil the Magnificient, who is being held ranson by the Mad Monk and his acolytes.

Not a princess! Good job, Merlin (Micro Systems) Ltd.

You always start in an Entrance Hall, as shown above, and just to the south of Entrance Hall there is an entrance to a maze, which switches the game to 3D mode (!).

The text adventure part of the game contains a “magic map” and a “compass”. Having the compass will have the game always display what direction you’re facing; having the map will let you press M to get an automap.

While it isn’t clear from the instructions or the game itself, the 3D maze is the exit should only be entered once Lord Magnil is rescued; if you successfully pass through when he hasn’t been rescued, the game asks WHERE’S MAGNIL THE MAGNIFICENT? and ends.

The 3D maze is generated in such a way the right-hand rule works, so it honestly isn’t too distressing to have it in the game (even if the compass and/or map turn out to be elusive); if it was in the middle of the game it would be much worse to go through the effort, as the text adventure portion is quite deadly.

The way enemies work is they start “agitated” when you enter a particular room, and the longer you stay there the more likely they are to get angry and start hitting; other than CEREBUS as shown above you have to deal with THE SANDMAN, POTTY PRINCE YUSUPOV, CRAZY COUNT PAVLOVICH, IGOR THE INSANE, GREENY THE ERRANT INVADER, and the MAD MONK himself. The anger level seems to be a fixed increase, so you strategically only have 5 turns or so with an enemy to either eliminate it or skedaddle. Enemies can block exits so sometimes they have to be killed, although it is possible for them to also show at dead ends (meaning in such cases they can be ignored).

Some of them you can just stab with a dagger, assuming you have one (that’s a big assumption).

Others I have no idea what to do with and I just die. Greeny is only killable with a “zapper” as the instructions indicate, but he’s hard to hit.

The instructions hint that there’s some sort of mini-game to train your zapper ability: there’s an ARCADE GAME and a COIN and assuming you have them together (see animation below) you can put in the coin to get a Greeny Zapping session in with special controls. You need to (at least) entirely beat a wave in order to get enough accuracy, a feat I have (as of this writing) yet to manage.

The room description engine isn’t dense but it works out; most rooms are just “Monastery”, and sometimes with an environmental effect that is either permanent (“THE WALLS ARE COVERED WITH MOSS HERE.”) or temporary (“SOMETHING SLITHERS AWAY IN THE SHADOWS.”). Some rooms have special names like “Alcove” or “Pantry”; in a few cases the special rooms have fixed items. The Bathroom, if it appears, will always have a rubber duck. The bell tower, if it appears, will always have a rope you can pull.

Notice I said “if it appears”; I’m unclear about this for certain, but I think the map generator is busted. Sometimes it works, but sometimes you get one generated like so:

It is faintly possible I’m missing some trick but in this case the only thing available to reach was an arcade machine (and no coin, so I couldn’t test out the minigame). A much better generated map is something like this one:

There’s a bottom floor and a top floor; the top floor is constrained within a 5 by 5 section, and I think that’s in general the game’s default. That would imply the bottom floor also does the same, and it may have done so correctly, but my mapping was cut short by CEREBERUS THE SALTY DOG, and if an enemy is presenting as an obstacle, you can’t just sneak by.

I was able to get a DAGGER and stab both IGOR and the SANDMAN, but the parser just gets confused you even think about stabbing the dog. There’s a message (that has appeared only on a few iterations) about the dog being an “old softie” so I tried things like dropping a bear and a rubber duckie and some sausage in the room, but no dice. The verb list is heavily constrained, so I might be typing the wrong words.

This leaves out BLOW, which works because of a whistle which summons a police officer. The police officer is no help against the dog either.

I’ve done quite a fair number of tries, but it look the game’s logic force-makes Cereberus into a necessary-to-win obstacle, so I have to get by to succeed.

The only other aspect I’ve figured out (partially?) is the mad monk. The monk plays by its own rules and can “teleport in” to a room you’ve previously been in, as opposed to staying in place. Unfortunately, the monk stays put after, so if he’s blocking you (likely) you might be entirely stuck. The only way by I’ve found is to right the bell tower; for some reason this summons the monk away and you no longer have to worry about him at that location.

Despite the frustrations I was rooting for the game to work — or at least get me enough luck somehow I could ignore the dog — but after a significant number of lives wasted trying to find any verb that might be helpful (with the occasional “impossible” map) I’ll need to throw in the towel for now. If anyone is keen and giving it a whirl themselves, head over to here for a copy and instructions.

Neat concept, generally, but the game just didn’t work out. Hanging over it all was the lack of a saved game feature, which made experimenting very frustrating; I had the situation like Lugi where I wanted to test a theory about an object combined with a particular enemy, but I had to wait multiple restarts until the next situation rolled around only to find out my idea didn’t work. Having fatal puzzles combined with making it hard to test theories drains all the energy out of an adventure game.

We’re technically not done with the UK101 yet; the Merlin catalog I quoted earlier also has two games by David Harrison, Dragon’s Lair and Lost in Space, both cited as adventure games. It’s hard to know if they’re “really” adventures (as opposed to action games with a light skin) but tapes for neither have surfaced, so we’re left for now wondering unless another tape cache turns up.

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

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The Queen of Phobos: The Fabled Mask of Kuh-Thu-Lu   9 comments

Paul Berker has done an interview for the podcast ANTIC where he discussed Phoenix Software and Queen of Phobos.

He mentioned that the packaging for the game had “High-res graphic adventure” on the box…

…which was enough for On-Line Systems (of their Hi-Res Adventure line) to sue in California court. Unfortunately Phoenix was a small company out of Illinois so they just simply destroyed any remaining stock they had left, and Berker estimates he only made “about $2000” from the game.

His collaborator Bill Crawford passed away in 1984 so there’s no similar interview for him; Paul Berker said he might have otherwise made more games based on Crawford’s ideas. Paul went back to writing software for businesses, which had much more reliable paychecks.

I have finished the game, and it was excellent enough that before going on, I want toss down a link:

Click here to play The Queen of Phobos online

Complete spoilers follow, and you’ll need to have read prior posts for this one to make sense.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

As implied by my calling the game “excellent enough”, yes, the randomness ended up working out. This was partly due to the rogue’s gallery being less aggressive than they could be, but in a ludic sense they still gave the desired effect.

I had left off last time understanding part of the sequence I wanted:

a.) Get the nuclear weapon and the cable, and use the cable to dispose of the weapon. This is probably optional if you’re fast enough doing everything else! There’s lots of optional elements going on.

b.) Get the shovel and the map from the planet surface. Neither of these have randomized positions so no hunting is required. Again, technically optional, but the maze is randomized. I have some times just moved randomly and found the center with no effort, and sometimes go terribly lost, but I figured for my goal I needed the map.

c.) Somehow get the key from the claw machine; I hadn’t solved this yet.

d.) Use the key to open the locker in the captain’s room, which surely has a helpful item.

e.) Make it over to where the lasers are and throw the map to set the lasers off and have them shoot each other.

f.) Defeat the zombie by ???

g.) Get the mask by ???

h.) ???

i.) Profit!

With a bit more playing around with the claw machine — and a helpful warning not to hit the machine if you LOOK at it — I tried KICK MACHINE after playing, and the token came out again. (I tried this once already, but before playing, hah! I was thinking maybe I could just get the key to fall out on its own.)

By using the token a second time, I was able to get the key. Unlocking the locker gave me a … salt cube?

Not expecting much, I loaded up on some extra items (like a vibroaxe and a surgical chain-saw) with the hope that something I carried would take care of the zombie. The zombie comes out on its own so there’s no opportunity to use a command like ATTACK ZOMBIE, which should have been a clue that this would happen:

Ah yes, the well known aversion of zombies to salt. Actually, there’s a hint to this in a COOKBOOK lurking in the kitchen. You have to TURN PAGE to flip through the cookbook (something I was clued in on because it gets used in a prior Phoenix game). Page 4 states:

THE ZOMBIE: THE ZOMBIE WILL EAT ANYTHING, BUT ‘NO SALT’!

Moving past the zombie is the room with the mask! The mask is wired for electricity, unfortunately. Going back and exploring, I found that I could use a wrench to turn the mysterious spigot in the machine room I was having trouble with, which started dispensing electrolytes to ruin electronics. I also found a crock pot that I could use to take the liquid with me. (Note: both items are randomly distributed; I don’t know how keen the thieves are on stealing them, but I believe the wrench got moved around at least once.)

With the trap disabled, I was able to grab the mask, then die shortly after of a mysterious illness. You need to WEAR MASK to be filled with vitality and escape. Then all that’s needed is to head down to a shuttle and leave.

Note that the thieves become much more dangerous on your way out and will try to kill you. It is possible to run away but given any leeway they will do a surprise attack. On my winning run I had:

a.) found an electric crossbow which killed Dr. Hunter — the person with the sunglasses

b.) failed to find beer; however, the lizard-man and the beetle both by coincidence ended up in the same room, so I threw a gas grenade and took down both of them at the same time

c.) completely ignored the tree-person, as I couldn’t find anything to kill them; one rogue turns out to be not so bad to evade

Incidentally, after wearing the mask and going back to the central room, I found the beer and some footprints going northeast. I’m not sure what the meaning of this was. One might suspect the rogue was nearby and dropped the beer, or maybe the footprints were supposed to show you the way back? I just wandered randomly and kept going south until I found the exit.

But really, the game worked. The fact that the rogues could be killed in at least two ways or ignored was fantastic; it gave a risk-reward feel and opened the possibility to a “pacifist run” where you avoid killing any of them. (If any of them follow you into the shuttle, you don’t have time to push the launch button before they shoot you.)

There weren’t that many obstacles in the end, but that turned out to be a feature; I don’t know if the game’s central idea would have worked well for a more prolonged stay.

This suggests strongly that one of the main principles of a good roguelike-adventure is to allow alternate solutions or even skipping puzzles when randomness is involved. Also — noting that the nuclear device and cable were always in the same place — if something involves critical timing, don’t toss it in the random generator mix.

The game doesn’t quite go all the way to the fantasy of the infinitely repayable adventure, as the fundamental frame is always the same, but it does lend at least more than is typical. The wisdom it holds is good to keep in mind as the next game on my list is fully adventure-roguelike, and was completely lost to the world until quite recently.

Posted June 13, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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The Queen of Phobos: They Must Not Drink Beer Where He Comes From   Leave a comment

Softline, May, 1982.

I think I’m converging on a solution. The game can’t be too huge just on the basis of it only taking one disk side and some of the space occupied by animations. I already showed some of the zombie, here’s a selection of frames from when you jump off into space (and die):

Again, just a selection: it looks startlingly like a cutscene jumped into the game, 1990s-style. I think it’s easy to see the resemblance to, say, The Tartarian and discard the graphics as crude, but there’s some genuine craft and art design put into them.

They’re not museum-frameable, but there’s a ragged 50s-movie vibe to them. Sure, the creators were probably forced into it due to technical circumstance, but they made the most of it.

The frisbee-shaped ship has a game schema like this:

The corridor is the central travel area. To the “south” of each junction of the corridor are the main rooms (navigation, bridge, armory, etc.) To the “north” is a maze of state mazes leading to the center of the ship (and the aforementioned zombie). So unless I’m fundamentally misunderstanding something, the majority of the action plays out on the corridor. I’ve mapped it as a line, but note the two ends wrap around.

Green represents a section where you can teleport down to the planet the Phobos is orbiting. The corridor lets you go north into the “maze”-ish section but that’s where the circular aspect becomes hard to map. Fortunately mapping the maze seems to be unnecessary to winning.

Despite the ad materials mention of “randomly placed” weapons, some of the items seem to be consistent. For example, you’ll always find a SURGICAL-CHAINSAW in the surgery area. It’s possible for the thieves to filch items, but they also will sometimes drop them again; for example, Thomas S. Hunter picked up a bazooka from the planet (he hitched a ride with me through a teleporter) and dropped it off again randomly in the ship’s corridor. That’s a pity, because the bazooka doesn’t work and will blow up whoever tries to use it. Maybe I need to get him to swipe it and then provoke him so he tries to use it.

Thomas S. Hunter posing with Yuggoth.

As implied by the screenshot above, you can have two thieves in a room at once, although I’ve never seen three, which is kind of a pity, because the one item that seems to work on all the thieves — but only works once — is the gas grenade. (You need to be wearing a gasmask, but otherwise you can just throw it.) This means that it may be that all four thieves have a custom defeating-method but the grenade will work in a pinch if you can’t find a certain item or just happen to be stumped.

One of the items that defeats a thief is a case of beer. Normally it isn’t helpful…

THE LOOTER IS HIGHLY INSULTED AND KILLS YOU. THEY MUST NOT DRINK BEER WHERE HE COMES FROM.

…but the Beetle can’t resist the beer, which was apparently too much to handle.

I’m also not 100% sure you actually need to defeat all or even any of the thieves. While they sometimes follow you around they don’t attack (yet) unless you make a move first. There is some secondary havoc they must have caused behind the scenes, because there’s a thermonuclear device in an armory that is set to explode and needs disposing of. You can get a cable from near the engine of the ship, then find a gaping hole with some ship damage; attach the cable to yourself, walk out near to the hole, and toss the device.

If you don’t attach the cable before throwing the nuke, Newton kicks in and you fly into space and die.

In the department of other puzzles: there’s also a machine with a metal claw; you can put in a token, and the claw moves over and picks up a deck of cards. I suspect I need the key right next to it in the machine, but I don’t know how to fix things yet.

This is animated. It doesn’t seem to be a mini-game, but rather the cards get picked up automatically.

I’ve otherwise not got much left to fiddle with. A “spout” in a machine room needs a handle to turn; I’ve found a shovel which dug up a grave on the planet…

…which has a map that leads from the captain’s quarters to the center of the ship, which is why I indicated earlier figuring out the maze was unnecessary.

Each thief is a puzzle of sorts, and it’s fun just to see what kind of combinations can happen on a fresh game, so I’m not bored of things yet. As long as things resolve fairly soon this won’t have outworn its welcome.

I can’t guarantee yet that the random aspect is solid, but the alternate method of thief-killing and the fact they are willing to drop their loot both suggest it shouldn’t be possible to get into an unsolvable situation. I did want to mention one more novelty of this game, which happens if the disk thinks you’ve copied it (that is, this is an anti-piracy measure). As observed by 4am, Apple II preservationist extraordinaire:

The melting is just what happens if the nuclear bomb goes off, so whatever time limit the bomb has (200 moves?) gets set to 1.

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

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The Queen of Phobos (1982)   11 comments

This one’s got a terrific high concept.

Think about the Thief in Zork I. Imagine instead of one Thief there are four of them, moving about an ancient spaceship just like you are, all of different alien races with different personalities and methods of being defeated, as everyone vies to be the first to lay their hands on a powerful ancient artifact: the legendary mask of the long-extinct Martian race, Kuh-Thu-Lu.

Our previous visits with Phoenix Software were both in 1981 with Paul Berker, who wrote Birth of the Phoenix and Adventure in Time for the Apple II. Both were text-only games; Paul returns here with The Queen of Phobos as a programmer, with graphics and design by William R. Crawford. This is Mr. Crawford’s only credited game.

From Mobygames.

I did say “graphics”, although other than the title screen…

…they’re entirely in black and white. I am hence going to turn on the “black and white TV” mode; I know the weird purple sheen that comes from the unique way Apple graphics worked may give some nostalgia, but I honestly think the black and white Apple II games usually look better in actual black and white.

A zoomed-in look at the four thieves from the cover.

The starliner Scalus III — recently appeared after more than a thousand years lost — is rumored to be the famed long-lost ship “Queen of Phobos” with a passenger roster including the Pharaoh Rahnk III of Mars. The ship had the pharoah’s mask, supposedly not just a symbol of power but a real source of power. The loss of the pharoah and the mask brough Mars into a civil war and the Martians themselves into eventual extinction.

While Earth was give right of salvage of the vessel, four thieves have boarded. Your job is to board the vessel on behalf of Earth and get to the mask before the thieves do.

I have yet to assess how much randomness the game has, but I’m serious when I say the AI seems to be like the Thief in Zork — it can go anywhere at any time. For example, upon disembarking on the Queen of Phobos, I went “north” and then “west” (apparently directions are a bit fuzzy as “north” is always towards the center of the vessel) and found an axe in a corridor. On a different playthrough I found the axe filched and one of the four thieves showed up. I ran away because I had no items.

On yet another playthrough I found no item but some beer along the next corridor. The items seems to be randomly scattered at the start but since the thieves are grabbing things, probably it is the best to not be feeling like I need to “race” for a particular item.

The thieves do seem to play hardcore, as evidenced by what happened when I went back to visit the ship I landed with. (This seems to always happen no matter the circumstances, and it means you can’t leave the same way you came in. I’m reminded of the Thief in Zork closing the trapdoor behind you.)

The map is circular, with a long corridor “outer ring” and a web of “staterooms” on the next ring.

Despite the apparent chaos, there’s definite specific puzzles going on. For example, while toting along the case of beer, I found two lasers, and with no other resources, threw one of the beers out.

Immediately afterwards I found a zombie which mauled me in dramatic animated fashion. I guess that explains why The Queen of Phobos went missing.

This one’s going to be fun to play around in. Is it going to be fun to beat, though? It depends how frustrating the randomness gets (and if there’s alternate methods for defeating particular thieves if they swipe an item that you need). So far, though, this feels less like the author felt a need to create an Adventure Game and more “here’s a story where you’re part of it”.

Posted June 9, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Jack and the Beanstalk (1982)   2 comments

This is a direct continuation of my recent post on Victory Software games, so you should read that post first before this one.

(And yes, I’m still doing Cain’s Jawbone, but this is a very short and simple game as opposed to an impossible hard one.)

From Launchbox.

I mentioned last time an Adventure Pack consisting of Computer Adventure, Big Bad Wolf, and Moon Base Alpha. My working theory is that when Big Bad Wolf got published by Commodore in a collection, the author Bruce Robinson did a switch. This is entirely a guess, and on Bruce Robinson’s own page where he discusses the company (“At its peak, Victory Software employed 8 people at the main office”) he doesn’t talk about this at all, other than to say Commodore “licensed” both Big Bad Wolf and the action game Treasures of the Bat Cave, and neither show in later ads for Victory. (It is, to be admitted, one of those minute things that only a tiny group of people care about, although Gareth Pitchford did some investigation.)

Putting all that aside, it should also be noted that there were at least two C64 versions. While the VIC-20 file no longer exists, checking the source code indicates the 1982 C64 version is almost certainly a direct copy of the BASIC from the VIC-20.

A 1983 C64 version beefs up the text.

There are a few other changes I’ll discuss later.

Honestly, there’s kind of a charm in not trying to add much more? At least with this game the puzzles were genuinely solvable even with vanishingly small space to work with. Just like Big Bad Wolf the game is restricted to five rooms.

The goal is to make and climb a beanstalk, then steal a egg-laying hen from a giant. The bean part is pretty straightforward; you go in the TOWN and there’s a SHOVEL and BEAN just sitting there to scoop up, you don’t even have to negotiate for low prices. You can then plant the bean in your yard and water it (using the pitcher from the house), getting the titular beanstalk, which can then be climbed directly into the giant’s castle.

Typing LOOK HEN finds some GOLDEN EGGS you can take (oddly, not the objective of the game) and LOOK GIANT yields a RIFLE. The giant fortunately is very tired through all this and only awakens if you try to grab then hen, which squawks, but even then the giant just boots you out of Castle-land and down to the surface before falling asleep again.

(In other words, merciful game design! It would have been easy to put a GAME OVER but it feels in character for the giant to not feel threatened enough to go that far.)

Back in the house there was a RUG. You can take that to reveal a trapdoor, but it is locked, and even though it’s your house, there’s no key.

You can look at the rifle to find bullets, and at the bullets to find gunpowder, and then stuff the gunpowder into the keyhole of the trapdoor.

This took a little effort to solve, but it’s mainly just a matter of making sure to LOOK at every item and keeping in mind the PUT verb works.

This reveals a basement with an AX. If you try to chop the beanstalk with it the game says

NOT YET, I DON’T HAVE THE HEN!

Before this I admit I was happy with the gold eggs I already stole and not sure why I needed the hen too, but hey, more money in the end I guess. Going back to the squawking hen, I put my thinking cap on and came up with what I confess is an admittedly clever solve. The rug that covered the trapdoor in Big Bad Wolf was solely there to cover the trapdoor; the same is true of rugs in other text adventures like Zork. Jack and the Beanstalk takes what normally is a throwaway item and makes it the solution to a puzzle all on its own:

By covering the hen with the rug, you can mute the sounds long enough to make an escape. The giant still follows, but with ax in hand you can have a happy ending:

Honestly decent! It’s about as good as can be done with the byte space available on the unexpanded VIC-20 (other text adventures tended to use expansions; Scott Adams games required 16K of memory).

The 1983 C64 version which uses more capacity adds around the edges of the basic game.

The rifle you don’t get from the giant, but rather have to purchase it in town. The hen isn’t right next to the giant and you have to travel through a top-down maze to get there.

Not much more to add; we’ve still got more Bruce Robinson games to go, but they’re kicked down a bit further down on my list. If nothing else, this well-illustrates the principle I’ve mentioned of unexpected re-purposing being a very strong puzzle type: taking what seems to be an informational sign and moving it, turning a location into an object that can be picked up when the player is strong enough, and for this game, taking what would normally be scene decoration whose only purpose is to hide one object and making it the essential element for solving the main puzzle in the game.

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

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