The Chambers of Xenobia (1981)   6 comments

Avant-Garde Creations, aka Avant-Garde Publishing, was established in 1979 by Mary Carol Smith and mostly published non-adventure games, but in 1981 they joined the fray with two titles by Steven Sacks.

From an Avant-Garde Creations ad, via Tumblr.

We’re back to strictly traditional gather-the-treasures (12, in this game). If nothing else, the game does innovate in the department of overly long animated title screens.

There’s also occasional graphics. It’s a frankly unusual setup; there’s a “base picture” (which appears right after the animation above)…

…and when a monster appears, the game shows the same screen with the blank space filled by the appropriate monster.

I SEE:A MEAN-LOOKING TROGLODYTE

For the most part, the screen is the same quasi-Scott Adams style layout as seen in Adventure in Time.

The first room of the game; down is a small room with a shiny sword and a message that says LEAVE TREASURES HERE.

I mentioned monsters earlier; there are various monsters scattered throughout the map, CRPG-style, and there’s no real puzzles involved in dealing with them; it’s just KILL MONSTER and then the game tries to be dramatic about how things happen. Another animation to illustrate (the long pause after I CHARGE AT THE STIRGE is authentic):

You either win against a monster or die; the combat is more an object lesson to remind players to save their game rather than a useful mechanic.

The puzzles are also thin. There’s a paper that says COWABUNGA which is a magic word; SAY COWABUNGA is used elsewhere (and arbitrarily) to open a vault.

There’s a formation that’s part of a room description hiding a key.

There’s a clock that lets you set the time (I’ll let you guess from the hint what to set it to).

Most of the monsters leave dead bodies behind after you slay them, but one (and only one) of them is has a treasure.

One of the monsters, a dragon, will incinerate you if you try to attack with a sword; the game says it is invulnerable to normal weapons. Good that there’s a vial helpfully marked “DRAGON DISINTEGRATOR”.

Other than the combat (which I believe is entirely random; there’s not even an element of gaining experience by slaying the monsters in the right order) the author didn’t think in terms of building systems; each puzzle is an individual idea (try killing a monster with something other than your sword, try searching the environment) but since each idea is used only once, there’s no potential for building puzzle complexity.

At the end, I found and stored A HUGE DIAMOND, A BUNCH OF EMERALDS, PURSE OF RUBIES, A BAR OF GOLD, A GOLD NECKLACE, A HUGE EMERALD, A PLATINUM RING, A SAPPHIRE, GOLD DOUBLOONS, A PILE OF PLATINUM, AN ONYX STATUE, and an ANTIQUE BRASS CARVING and became an ADVENTURE GRANDMMASTER, although I didn’t really feel like one.

I get the impression the author started from the direction of wanting to feel like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, filling a set of rooms with monsters with the notion that each would be a colorful “cinematic” encounter, but randomization of text — and dramatic delays — were not enough to carry gameplay interest.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that Steven Sacks’s next game (Race for Midnight) carries the same minimal combat idea, but with two changes that make it more compelling (while still being essentially random). The extended discussion will wait for next time!

I SEE:A HUGE DRAGON

Posted March 23, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure in Time: The Diabolical Machine   16 comments

I have saved the world.

Before proceeding to victory, let me nerd out briefly on the Miocene. The earliest horses emerged during this era, including the Eohippus, which was the size of a cat. (Image from 1920, public domain by Heinrich Harder.)

I had some hungry dinosaurs to deal with. Voltgloss correctly theorized that the seeds from Stonehenge would be useful, although it took me some experimenting before I realized I could go back to the greenhouse at headquarters to plant them.

HEAVILY FRONDED PLANTS QUICKLY GROW TOWARD THE INTENSE RADIATION OF THE ULTRAVIOLET LIGHTS.

The plants didn’t help with the dinosaurs, but I had a sleeping potion that seemed like it’d match, but after some flailing (and some crowdsourcing from you, the audience) I tried PUSH STUD on the robot while at the dinosaurs.

The exact phrasing of the hint made me realize that DRUG PLANTS was the right verb to use.

THE FRONDS ARE NOW COVERED WITH AN OILY LOOKING SUBSTANCE.

Going back to the dinosaurs with DRUGGED PLANTS at hand:

CLIMB doesn’t work here, but GO DINOSAUR does:

I was out of cards to try to jump to other places, and I was nearly out of objects that I’d used on puzzles: I only had the violin, bow, and a hammer.

HIT VIAL with the hammer got me nowhere, but PLAY VIOLIN did the trick. The sound caused the vial to bust open revealing a microfilm.

Typing L99AV into the computer (the one that only so far accepted NOSTRADAMUS and HUNTER) gave me

READY TO RECEIVE MASTER CODE. SEE T1 DATA FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

The time machine has two dials marked T1 and T2. T2 so far only gave destinations of the cards while T1 was locked at 1984; after this computer input the T1 readout changed to 2396. Using the computer one last time:

If this was a Cambridge mainframe game, we’d be up for a big fortress infiltration, but Nostradamus is just right there at the cliff on the north side of headquarters, ready to conquer the world. Here’s what happens if you just hang out and let it happen:

The last remaining useful object, the hammer, is all you need to win.

This is also the last adventure game we’ll see “written” by Paul Berker, although he did “programming” on a game we’ll see in 1982 (Queen of Phobos).

This strikes me as a beginner-with-promise sort of game. Berker’s room descriptions remained strong throughout, and the various actions needed to proceed were colorful and interesting, but in addition to the weak parser, the plot as a whole made little sense. The author tried to invoke heist-tropes (the master criminal leaving his “calling card” at every theft) but the events only made sense on a micro-level. If Nostradamus was going through time stealing parts, why was he leaving the exact cards behind needed to follow him? If he was somehow leaving this trail intentionally, why did he not expect us coming at the end? (He didn’t even give a long and rambling speech about how we fell right into his trap.) How was Nostradamus himself traveling through time? Why did he inject us with the syringe in the first place — was he stealing a portable time machine or some such? The design of the headquarters doesn’t make it seem like there was more than just the single time machine.

Paul Berker has uploaded the source code for his adventure games to the Internet.

While I still need to finish my writeup on my new discovery, I’m generally not sure where I’m going from here; if anyone knows a 1981 game that they want to nominate, I’ll consider dragging it up the queue.

Posted March 20, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure in Time: A Tour of History   14 comments

In a way, nearly all computer games are time travel games.

Even without saves and reloads, it is common to revisit the same places, to iterate on different paths, to send shadows of alternate selves into the tangled variety of possible universes. What happens if we go back and fight rather than flee? What happens if we choose different companions or equipment? What happens if we redo a level, with foreknowledge of the future?

It is the fantasy of time travel to expose the braids of causality, to correct failures of the past, to preview what is to come. For computer games, these are typical activities, almost mundane.

Time travel is well-embedded in the DNA of games, and it is not surprising the genre became popular for adventures. The tripartite separation of plot, character, and gameplay can easily come together with time travel, such that the act of gameplay itself reflects profound and lasting truths.

Having said all that, no, Adventure in Time is not embedded with profound truths, but: blasting through history is fun, and the structure of this game in particular — with a self-contained area for each time period — is enjoyable and coherent.

The time periods are visited by taking colored cards and inserting them in a time machine. The “present” of the game is 1984, represented by a brown card. The first card you start with from another time is blue, taking you to -5000, Stonehenge, in the time of druids.

Area 1: Stonehenge, 5000 BC, Blue Card

There’s no serious obstacles here; there’s a guard for the druids that will stop you unless you have a translator device, but otherwise it’s easy to find a green card, a potion, some seeds, a flute, and a notepad.

Because of the syringe/fingerprints debacle last time, I’m suspicious of the seeds. The game says they were recently planted by the druids, and I fear if I take them there will be a missing tree later. It may be you *want* the tree to be missing, or it may be the game is trying to trick you into ruining the game — either way, I’m leaving the seeds be for the moment.

The notepad also has some faint writing, and this is the first (but won’t be the last) chronological adventure where I do the “rub pencil to make the writing stand out” trick.

Area 2: Unknown, 1001 AD, Green Card

The first room has a snake you can charm with the flute from Stonehenge.

This is followed by a “dark maze” where going the wrong direction kills you. I first mapped it out tediously with save states, but then realized that a laser from back in 1984 lit up the room. It was, in fact, the first thing I tried, but I had my emulator speed cranked up high which means I missed the fact the game displayed the actual cave description for a short time. Slowing the emulator down to 1981 speeds made the puzzle solvable. Using this, I was able to find a bow and a yellow card.

Area 3: Rome, 30 BC, Yellow Card

(Nero pops up here, but he’s AD, not BC. 30 BC would be the year Anthony and Cleopatra die.)

Rome has a soothsayer giving out a charm to fend off evil, a “collosseum” with starving animals who are surprisingly not dangerous…

…and the 1st Legion, that made fun of me, wouldn’t let me pass, and softlocked my game (you can’t leave once you enter).

I reloaded, grabbed the charmed snake from 1001, and brought it to the Legion; dropping it caused them to scatter. I was then able to head north and visit Nero.

I was able to combine the bow I got from 1001 with the violin to make an obnoxious noise, but I haven’t found any use for it yet.

Area 4: Mesozoic Forest, 16,000,000 BC, Red Card

(16 million years ago time would land the player in the Miocene — specifically the end of the Langhian — with some semi-familiar mammals but definitely not dinosaurs or the Mesozoic.)

Here is where I’m fairly stuck — I can fall in quicksand…

…or get eaten by a T-Rex…

…but other than a herd of “hungry” dinosaurs I haven’t found anything else. I don’t have anything that seems like dino food so I’m assuming I’m missing something from an earlier era.

Posted March 19, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure in Time (1981)   Leave a comment

EONS AGO A WEAPON WAS CONSTRUCTED WHICH COULD DESTROY THE HUMAN RACE AS WE KNOW IT. THE HIGH TRIBUNAL ORDAINED THAT HIS WEAPON BE DISMANTLED AND THE PIECES DISTRIBUTED THROUGHOUT MANY TIME PERIODS.

IT HAS SINCE BEEN DISCOVERED THAT THE FILE HAS BEEN STOLEN DOCUMENTING THE LOCATION OF THE COMPONENTS.

WHOEVER HAS POSSESSION OF THE FILE CAN CONTROL…OR DESTROY…THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.

— From the opening screen for Adventure in Time

We just saw Birth of the Phoenix; Adventure in Time was Paul Berker’s other adventure for Phoenix Software from 1981.

It’s given as a “Class 4” adventure — Phoenix had a very very (very) short-lived scheme where they ranked difficulty on a scale from 1-5, so this one’s supposed to be pretty tough.

Starting from the placid present, this text adventure takes you careening through history on the trail of a master criminal. You must hop from period to period, dealing with the traps and puzzles ready to confront you at every hand, so you can eventually nab the fiend and avert his evil plan for the Earth.

— From the 1984 Software Encyclopedia

This is already a mysterious opening. Clearly, we were trying to foil a Bad Guy, but are we the keeper of the time machine and it was stolen, or did we try to bust into their place? (Based on elements you’ll see in a moment, I think it’s the former, but for the start of gameplay I was briefly confused.)

The house you start in has a kitchen with a foul odor and a pencil, a dormitory with burned papers, and a cliff.

IT’S AT LEAST 300 METERS STRAIGHT DOWN TO THE BASE OF THE CLIFF. CIRCLING OVERHEAD IN THE STRANGE SKY ARE FIGURES TOO DISTANT TO RECOGNIZE. LOOKING BACK AT THE CAVELIKE ENTRANCE, IT DOESN’T LOOK SO ARTIFICIAL.

You may have noticed from the opening screen the scratched corner of the picture. This is a hint to MOVE PICTURE, which causes a robot to appear.

>GET ROBOT

THE ROBOT IS NOW PROGRAMMED TO ACCOMPANY YOU ON YOUR TRAVELS.

The robot has a STUD on the back that you can push, causing a ray to flash from the robot and the south wall to open.

This opens into a technological area with a computer room, a security room, and a laboratory with a microscope. The security room included a blocked exit:

>E
YOU CANNOT PASS.
CODE NAME, PLEASE?

There’s also a LASER and TRANSLATOR in storage. After flailing around a bit I tried PUT PENCIL with the microscope.

THE OVERHEAD SPEAKER COMES ON: ‘NO FINGER PRINTS SEEN.’
AND THE STAGE IS AUTOMATICALLY CLEARED AND AWAITING THE NEXT SAMPLE.

This one of those circumstances where a full parser (one understanding more than two words) would have definitely helped matters. Technically the syntax is workoutable, but I had a weird feeling of confinement that made the right command hard to find. The computer room is another instance of this:

>EXAMINE KEYBOARD

THE INSTRUCTION PLATE READS, ‘DATA MAY BE INPUT IF AUTHORIZED.’

It’s not entirely clear the player is “authorized” here so a few failed attempts can cause a wild goose chase; the right syntax is INPUT (NOUN).

Back to the microscope: I took every item I could possibly find and PUT them underneath; I finally had some luck with the SYRINGE from the first room…

…except not really. I did notice the CLOTH which is described as useful for picking up delicate things, but perhaps it could double as a fingerprint protector. I restarted my game and made sure I didn’t touch the syringe until I had the cloth (another two-word parser failing, I had to just guess the cloth was being used since there’s no TAKE SYRINGE USING CLOTH or the like).

>PUT SYRINGE

THE OVERHEAD SPEAKER COMES ON:
‘FINGERPRINT HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED AS BEING THAT OF NOSTRADAMUS.’

(Just to be clear if you missed it, this means you can softlock from the very start of the game by picking up the first object you see.)

Nostradamus must be the game’s nemesis. I went back to the computer and tried INPUT NOSTRADAMUS.

I didn’t have much luck with other words I tested, but this is still a game in progress. I went back to the blocked exit at the security room and tried HUNTER.

It’s not that common, but I have seen adventure games where the player has to figure out something known to the in-game character like their name or code name. I can only suppose the syringe included a bit of an amnesia kick.

Aha, the time machine! This one’s a little unusual in that the entire opening map is part of the machine; when you jump to a new period the “Cliff” to the north gets a new exit.

I made a little more progress, but I’m going to pause here until I get somewhere more substantial. Despite the rocky opening the rest of the game is promising, and Paul Berker maintains his knack for room descriptions we saw in Birth of a Phoenix.

The first destination is Stonehenge circa 5000 BC. The druids are friendly.

Posted March 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Birth of the Phoenix (1981)   Leave a comment

WELCOME TO ADVENTURING.

YOU’RE ABOUT TO LEAVE THE ORDINARY, EVERYDAY WORLD YOU INHABIT AND ENTER A NEW WORLD…A WORLD WHERE MAGIC WORKS AND THINGS AREN’T QUITE WHAT THEY SEEM.

–From the opening text of Birth of the Phoenix

Five years ago, the blogger Kevin Smith went through the bestseller lists appearing in the Apple II magazine SoftTalk (1980-1984) and gathered some data. Looking specifically at adventure game publishers by number of games charted, Infocom had the most at 10, Sierra On-Line had the second most at 5, and right behind them was Phoenix Software, with 3 games that made the bestseller list: Adventure in Time (1981), Sherwood Forest (1982), and Masquerade (1983).

If your reaction is, “Phoenix Software, who are they?”, indeed: I knew very little about them until several days ago when I let random.org pick my next game. This was Paul Berker’s first or second adventure game. (According to this interview he wrote Birth of the Phoenix first and used the source code to help write Adventure in Time, but his interview quote here asserts Adventure in Time came first. It’s faintly possible the order of writing was Phoenix-Time and order of publication was Time-Phoenix.)

From the cover for the game, via the Gallery for Undiscovered Entities. This was also used as the logo for the company Phoenix itself.

The cover calls this a “Class 1 Tutorial Adventure” and as Mr. Berker himself states, “The reason we did Birth of the Phoenix was because there was no such thing as a beginner adventure game, most of them were awfully hard.”

The game came with a manual that feels like a genuine instruction guide. It has a “dedication” to “those of you who have never played adventure games. For all of you, the unique challenge of adventuring still lies ahead … the joys, the frustrations, and the ultimate solutions are just waiting for you to discover.”

The objective is to “help the Phoenix become reborn from the ashes of the old Phoenix.” (There are also a few treasures to collect and place in a Treasury for points. I think the idea may have been “lots of other games do this, and we want this to be a tutorial, so we’re going to include treasures so players know it is a thing.”)

I did finish fairly quickly (45 minutes or so) but I got stuck once on what appears to be an attempt to make sure the player read the manual.

The opening rooms, as shown above, seem fairly straightforward — you need to climb a tree and go down a well and use a flashlight. However, past that there’s one combination safe…

…and a cliff that seemed to be just scenery.

Typing HELP at the safe just states “SEE PAGE 11 OF YOUR MANUAL.” At the cliff, “SEE PAGE 9 OF YOUR MANUAL.” I suspect this may have been an anti-piracy measure.*

I prodded at the manual until I found this comment, which clearly applied to the BOOK from the first room of the game:

In the case of a book or similar object be sure to also try “Open Book”. Then say “Read Book” and you may get an entirely different message. Also try “Turn Page” and then “Read Book” as there may be more than one message.

Grr. While this isn’t technically the first time I’ve been foiled by a book, the main issue here is it’s hard to know what READ BOOK really means in a particular game. Quite often it’s “skim through everything and glean out the one important passage”. Sometimes it’s “grab some text at random”. And here we are apparently only able to read a single page and keep flipping. (Surely this exact manipulation had to happen somewhere in 1980 or before for the author to want to include it here, but I don’t remember seeing it.)

Also, to continue the “which game came first” confusion, Adventure in Time gets referenced inside of Birth of the Phoenix.

I suspected (correctly) the chasm was the place to use the magic word PHOENIX, but only from prior adventuring experience. Checking the manual again I found the section “On Uttering Magic Words” with the line “Obviously we want to get across the cliff to the other side but there is no apparent way to do it.” Again this strikes me more of a test of reading comprehension than pure adventuring.

Here also is the safe combination; it probably isn’t clear to a beginner that the word PHOENIX works to travel back to the original side with the safe. (The safe just has some DIAMONDS for some points, so this might even be appropriate; you can also just start over and enter the combination before crossing the chasm because it doesn’t change.)

The other side of the chasm includes a KEY and a nearby CLOCK. You need to take the KEY to the CLOCK and WIND CLOCK, because otherwise shortly after the game ends.

TOO BAD, YOUR TIME HAS RUN OUT BECAUSE YOU’RE RUN DOWN

There is an obligatory maze, but for tutorial purposes, and there’s even a bag with a maze-mapping starter pack.

The maze contains the phoenix…

I thought the phoenix would be dead? You take the live phoenix, kill it, and then it’s alive again.**

…that you can capture it in a net and take to a TEMPLE OF THE SUN for a re-awakening.

So, not long and hard, but it’s definitely an odd time capsule of what someone thinks a beginner to adventure games circa 1981 needs:

  • A puzzle with enough verb difficulties the manual is required
  • A password said at an arbitrary place
  • A mappable maze
  • Treasures and a place to store them for points
  • A puzzle with a time limit

The writing is more solid than I expected; this game is written for 48K machines (3 times the capacity of a Scott Adams game) and is able to luxuriate not only in writing in room descriptions but giving descriptions to every item.

YOU HAVE COME UPON THE INNER SANCTUM OF THE PHOENIX. ITS DEN IS VERY ANCIENT AND THERE IS A SADNESS IN THE AIR. THE SOUND OF DISTANT MUSIC CAN BE HEARD.

IN THE CORNER IS A NEST MADE FROM A FEW OLD LEAVES AND TWIGS.

A SLOW TRICKLE OF WATER RUNS DOWN THE ROCKS IN THE OPPOSITE CORNER.

The writing wouldn’t impress a creative writing workshop (cliché watch: the phrase “a sadness in the air” appears in 34100 Google results), but it was coherent and strong enough for me to get a real feel for environment and setting, enough so that I’m looking forward to Berker’s next (or previous) game, which I will be playing right after this one.

(*) According to Paul Berker lots of people he met in 1981 had played his previous games (like 3-D Space Battle) but nobody bought them. Quote from the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities coverage: “I had an office that was a converted garage about 24’x20′, done up really nicely inside, and we had some “pirate” parties there, which seemed pretty popular in those days. I had written the two games I mentioned above and found that was how most of the people I bumped into knew of me… they had pirated copies of those games. There was no copy protection on them, I had them in Ziploc bags and sold them out of my trunk to various computer stores I could drive to. There were some other computer vendors that sold a few for me as well.”

(**) The phrase “won’t sit still long enough for me to examine it for you” is noteworthy in a theoretical sense; the player’s commands are asking the computer to implement them, but it’s also simultaneously still “you” in the world where things are happening, yet you are not seeing the phoenix with “your” eyes, since the computer has to relay the information. Analogy: imagine the player’s avatar in the world is a blind puppet being led by an invisible computer fairy, and the fairy can help move the player’s limbs and convey what they ought to be seeing.

Posted March 16, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Savage Island Part 2: Finished!   5 comments

Savage Island Part 2 managed to have essentially no extraneous puzzles — each element is tied in with the plot. In this, it resembles Adams’s own game The Count from two years earlier (and not much else).

So why isn’t this game spoken of as well as The Count? Other than extreme difficulty, including one of the toughest starts of any game I know, there’s one puzzle that requires an action so absurd I combed through the source code trying to find a clue that I missed. I don’t think there was one.

There’s still some fascinating ideas here and a twist at the end I was not expecting.

Back cover of the Apple II version, via Mobygames.

I left off last time in a small control area. There were two consoles, one indicating it was used for landing, and the other with some gym equipment and an “atom”. I only realized I could LOOK ATOM after I used the console, but I might as well give a preview:

>READ DIALS

picture of T-shaped handle
picture of an atom

>LOOK ATOM

OK
it has 8 electrons

So this is the console that fixes the “vacuum” problem. The button does nothing, and the lever “won’t budge”.

The gym, however, included a treadmill that I could go on and I was quite suspicious. I still couldn’t make any kind of connection into I noticed the BANDANNA I was still carrying around was described as having “metallic threads”. One PULL THREAD later and I had a “glowing metal thread”.

>TIE THREAD
OK
To what?
>TO TREADMILL
OK
>TIE THREAD
OK
To what?
>TO LEVER
OK

One hop on the treadmill later, and a RUN, and then… the game took me back in the control room like nothing happened. I had to peek at the hints here to notice that first typing HOLD RAILING while in the treadmill would make the whole setup work. (I had found this command previously, just I forgot about it.)

Having finished that, I assumed maybe something elsewhere in the ship changed and gallantly did GO FIELD:

Hurricane winds suck me into outer space!
I freeze to death!

Whoops! This is where I realized the function of the console; still progress, though!

But here, we hit the ludicrous puzzle. I’m not going to call it “ludicrously hard” because I think it falls outside the easy-hard spectrum. I just don’t know how anyone, anywhere found out how to do this.

The thread that I used to pull the lever, you see, is useful in another way.

>TIE THREAD

OK
To what?

>TO THREAD

This makes a “Meter loop of glowing thread”, where LOOK LOOP says “I see blackness in center!”

This is a portable hole.

Conceptually, wow, this is great! But could there have been some sort of clue that this worked?

Testing the hole in various places mostly yields the empty room shown above, except when testing it in the main control room.

There are fortunately not that many rooms to test in order to find this. The console has a button that returns the ship to normal.

The same room also has an “alien device”; it has red and blue slide switches. Blue just gives a high pitched electronic whine, but red leads to

OK
alien voice says `FREEHJLLGFREEUYE`

Alert reader Lisa already theorized a recorder being helpful at the first console (the one originally in vacuum that requires a voice password). While the vacuum now isn’t a problem, remember the main character is still in Neanderthal form (and realistically or not, has diminished speaking capacity)! So the recording is useful anyways.

(You might wonder why I haven’t gone back and brain transferred back to Original Me yet — more on that later.)

The dials read “Timemachine set for 100,000 years in past and nearest planetary body” so I immediately realized what I needed to do — the console was operating the empty room the game starts out in and sending things back in time. The cube (just sitting right there) explodes after a small amount of time. I originally thought I had to defuse the cube, or put it in the right gizmo for power generation, but since I had a dinosaur problem…

…I nuked the dinosaurs. I’m sorry. It was me.

You can confirm the planet is now dinosaur free by checking the main control room and looking at the screen — no more closeups of dinosaurs. So now all that’s left to do is… hmm, what? The captain’s message mentioned ROBOPIRATE.

Some brute force portable hole searching later, I was able to drop into a metal storage hold the nuke was in:

The cases have “row after row of Neanderthal”. Here is where the blue switch from the alien device works…

…which is only one step away from victory.

The “code” at the end is because the game is presumably pushing its character limit already. The game came with the ending text but with the lines mixed up; the code tells you what line to read in what order. Reconstructed, here is the full final message:

After resealing the wayward seed controller back in its case, the robopirate continues to execute its main programming.

Strangely, none of the master race are around, but the seed specimens are fine in the storage hold.

A strange looking creature is found wandering in the ship. Looking somewhat like the seed specimens, the robopirate decides to treat it as such and temporarily stores it away in the hold.

Continuing with its programming, the robopirate lands the ship on the blue-green planet it is currently orbiting. It then proceeds to hide the ship and rearrange the interior slightly. The engine and control compartment is separated and launched off into deep space. The seed specimens are then released from the display cases in the storage hold. The colony prospers and the strange specimen originally found wandering the ship becomes their chief.

Strangely enough, the chief’s offspring look more like him than they do his assorted wives!

Checking the planet the robopirate finds one lone wandering dinosaur. Being the last of its species, the robopirate stores it away in a now vacant display case.

All looks well and the robot closes the now hidden ship and powers itself off.

100,000 years pass and a timer reactivates the robot, which then goes to implement its final programming in the timeswap plan. The plan: make sure a current inhabitant is tricked into going back in time to eradicate the giant reptiles (for the robot is completely unable to harm or kill any living being.) Later, with a slight robotic chuckle, the robot realizes the strange twist of fate which awaits the specimen he chooses.

For it is obvious now that the Neanderthal sleeping in the display case these 100,000 years has the brains and personality of the chosen victim.
Yet it is the victim’s own genes which help launch the race of Man (after first ridding the world of the dinosaur!) Slayer of the dinosaur and father of all mankind, the world’s greatest hero now rests in the body of a prehistoric caveman. Who knows what great adventures await him in the future?

You may have noticed I didn’t talk about going back to switch brains. The console where PSYCHOTRANSFIGURATION happened does indicate pulling the lever will work for switching back, but there is no way in the game to pull the lever.

That means Original Protagonist is now in a Neanderthal body, and Original Me is now a Neanderthal, and at the end of Part 1 it was Neanderthal Original Me that sent (other) Original Me over to the ship by pushing the button.

That’s quite an ending — not necessarily pessimistic or bad for the main character, who has essentially saved the universe, but still life-changing in a way uncommon for the time — or, to be honest, even now.

Writing puzzles that are tough but fair is an extraordinarily challenging task in any system. Based on his own ad copy, Scott Adams clearly considered his adventures to be part of a set, and since the “easy” games were already taken care of with his earlier work, he was obliged to shoot for hard. (I don’t know about the difficulty of game #12, Golden Voyage, but that game is similar to Pyramid of Doom where another author did most of the writing and Adams just did some editing and polish.)

A question Mike Taylor raises is: just how much was he stymied by technical issues and the capabilities of the system? Nearly every puzzle is at least moderately difficult; for 1981 the conceptual idea of hopping between bodies and having one’s abilities change in the process was enough as is, and I think the only reason I had a smooth time over it was the benefit of years of videogame history where this sort of shtick recurs in many ways.

TIE THREAD TO THREAD doesn’t strike me as difficulty with verbs. Did the authors overlook putting a hint in the text? (Or maybe even: did *I* overlook a hint in the text?) Perhaps they did not have room for more text? Consider the ending text was all given in the manual for lack of space in the game itself. Once the portable hole is made the puzzle becomes semi-fair, especially since at the first use the player is restricted to a tiny area.

HYPERVENTILATE (which can also be BREATHE DEEPLY, but hunt-the-adverb is not much better than hunt-the-verb) is a fascinating case; I’m not sure how you’d indicate it even given the most blatant hintage and parser flexibility, yet the general idea — that you are “backing up” before exhaling, rather than doing a “standing jump”, is technically sound. If I was in charge of revising, I would probably take my editing pen and allow HOLD BREATH there — it’s a carry-over from the first game so not unreasonable, and it’s too easy for a player to be unclear what the real differences is between HOLD BREATH and BREATH DEEPLY.

Even when tools are capable of supporting a piece of complex world modeling, that’s not the same as making it easy and natural to do. It’s quite plausible to say Scott Adams was scratching at the very limits of his system here. And certainly, the forced tightness of the text itself cannot be forgotten; for 1981 home computers the very words themselves were at a premium.

Alas, I can’t say here we have a forgotten masterpiece (although Kim Schuette writing in 1984 calls it a “jewel”) but it’s certainly of strong historical interest and proof that in 1981 Scott Adams wasn’t quite done yet thinking about advancing the craft of adventure games.

Posted March 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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A New Port of Night of the Vampire Bunnies   7 comments

I wrote quite a few text adventures in my youth, including one when I was about 7 or so which went something like: you were on the surface of Mars, which was also a maze. You found three colored buttons. If you pressed the wrong button, you blew up. If you pressed the right button, you went inside the planet to safety and won the game.

Let us just say I had the opportunity to save some of my old GW-BASIC source code, and declined.

The exception would be Night of the Vampire Bunnies, which I wrote when I was 10/11 (I believe I had my birthday somewhere mid-progress). There was a discussion of juvenilia on the rec.games.int-fiction forum and I decided to upload the thing, whereupon people have since treated it far more seriously than I would expect.

This includes a port for z-code which just appeared out of the blue one day — Patrick Kellum emailed me after the fact mentioning he had written it, and it includes a compass as well as a hint system.

We can add a second port to the pile, by the prolific Jim Gerrie. It’s for the TRS-80 MC-10 and allows more of a full retro effect.

The real damage done to Jason’s program, beyond condensing his descriptions, was that he had a fairly complex parser which I removed. It is clear that he did not simply use a standard existing two-word parser example program like “Tower of Mystery” from Compute’t Guide to Text Adventures (1984). He created his own unique system for parsing command input. He had a complex system for removing extra article words like THE and ON and TO. He had ways of breaking the sentences input not just into VERB NOUN, but also W1$ and W2$. He had the ambition to have his players type in more complete English sentences and then to try to parse the input into coherent instructions that could be handled by the program.

By the time I had written it, I was mainly playing Infocom games, so clearly a two-word parser would not do. However, there wasn’t anything in the game that seriously demanded the full parser, so the demake plays just fine.

While I’m mentioning Jim Gerrie, I’d like to point to two of his other ports: his version of Dave Kaufman’s Star Trader which is a seminal early 1970s game that is mostly forgotten today, and his port of Shoplifting Boy, the first stealth game, originally by Hiroshi Suzuki in 1979.

Posted March 12, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction