Katakombs: The Not-So-Ultimate Rope   5 comments

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

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

Southwest of the camp is the missing connection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not yet certain what goes in the dent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Katakombs (1982)   13 comments

From Acorn Electron World.

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

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

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

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

Acorn User, October 1982.

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

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

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

Newer on the left, older on the right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My underground map so far, excluding mazes.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Smurf Adventure (1982)   12 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passe-moi le sel!

but accidentally asked for “le schtroumpf” instead

Passe-moi le schtroumpf!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Computer, April 1982.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AQVOIXWZM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are dead if you see this.

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

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

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

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

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

Via Mobygames.

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

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Colossal Adventure: Finale   7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

INTERLUDE MODE ON

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

KILL DRAGON

WITH WHAT? YOUR BARE HANDS?

YES

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

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

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

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

Here is how Level 9 does it:

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

INTERLUDE MODE OFF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The most satisfying puzzle of the endgame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a pit from the All Alike maze:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new variation is much more succinct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Colossal Adventure: Lenslok   11 comments

So I was chipperly plowing through all the usual parts of the game and taking screenshots (other than the aboveground being different and the inventory limit being reduced to four the game’s been straight Adventure) when I ran across a horrible discovery.

No, not the troll bridge (although it is interesting to see something illustrated you’ve only seen in text, kind of like watching a movie after reading a book five times and having it clash with what’s in your head). I mean this spot of nastiness which comes after:

Welcome to 1980s copy protection! This is Lenslok, one of the odder schemes developed by the inventor John Frost to check if you have a physical copy of a game. The game came with a physical piece of plastic which would flip around vertical slices of an image when looked through. So you would get a cryptic looking screen, hold the Lenslok up to it (custom for each game that used it), and the light beams would rearrange into a coherent-looking letter.

There is an app, LensKey, which allegedly will do the decipherment for you. I was having enormous trouble getting it to work.

That left me two options.

1.) decipher what the particular letter rearrangement is for this game’s Lenslok; this is apparently possible using the “OK” calibration screen (the top one) which can then be applied to the actual code that needs to be deciphered (the bottom one)

2.) hack at the memory, where the Lenslok code is apparently stored in plaintext in the same location as the letters OK; while the emulator I’m using (Atari800Win) has a monitor it is a bit cryptic to use

I decided to do one more try at LensKey before starting to crack open source code, and by some miracle managed to get through (the letters “UT”). It was at about the twentieth try. I have found real accounts of people doing alternate options 1 or 2 before.

The game also asks for copy protection with the RESTORE command but I’ve been using save states, so it wasn’t until now I ran into the surprise. Unfortunately, I’ve also found my lamp light fading (four inventory items only is tough, y’all, especially when you need a lamp and axe). Fortunately, the “coins” at the start do _not_ count as a treasure — I think what the game is really intending is that you have to go into the All-Different Maze (which normally can be skipped) since instead of wasting a treasure you just insert the coins.

From the Crappy Games Wiki which includes such gems as “all of the games had different Lenslok lenses, and some of them came with the wrong lenses.”

I’m guessing I’ll be done for-real with the standard adventure section next time, it is just this experience was traumatizing enough I needed to stop and share now.

Posted August 27, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Colossal Adventure (1982)   11 comments

Well the name Level 9 was designed to indicate a level of quality, it was the highest level that you get with a one digit number.

— Pete Austin, in a 1988 interview

This is, for some of my European readers, the mothership.

Level 9 is one of Britain’s most famous companies for text adventures; the only company I’d say with comparable heft is Magnetic Scrolls, although their start is still a few years away.

Level 9 was started in 1981 by Pete, Mike, and Nick Austin and initially published software for the Nascom, a UK-produced kit computer of the same sort as the UK101 but a touch more powerful, coming with a keyboard and video interface and allowing memory capacity of up to 32K.

Electronics Today, June 1978.

Products, as advertised in November 1981, included Extension Basic, Q-DOS (“the ultimate filing system for G805 drives”), Missile Defence (“Destroy enemy ICBMs”) and Fantasy.

Fantasy was an adventure (“a competitive adventure set in a gothic mansion”), and you may be wondering why we’re not starting our Level 9 journey there. Sadly, Fantasy is currently lost to the digital wastes, and one of those with few enough copies sold it may never turn up (although there have been surprises before!)

Pete Austin later described it as “like Valhalla”, a 1983 ZX Spectrum game.

Screenshot from this video walkthrough.

Valhalla features characters that you can give orders to, and if the walkthrough above is any indication, they’d often not be cooperative about following through on the orders.

There were a lot of characters wandering around who changed according to your actions. What I did was to make it print out in proper English.

There’s even further description from this interview in the magazine Page 6:

It was a game with about 30 locations. It had people wandering about and essentially it was one of the few games where the other characters were exactly the same as the player and were all after the gold as well. What made it amusing was that they had quite interesting characters, each had a table of attributes, some of them were cowardly, some of them were strong — that kind of thing and we gave them names. There was one called Ronald Reagan and one called Maggie Thatcher and so on and there was Ghengis Khan, etc so you could wipe out your least favorite person!

The description makes it sound like a world with a lot of independent-moving actors and not much coherent plot, and the gothic mansion plus the addition of people like Reagan strongly suggests it is similar to a game collection featured here before, Atom Adventures, particularly the House module. Atom Adventures was published in the tail end of 1981, later than Fantasy, so I suspect it was a direct rip-off.

The important thing to note is the “independent actor” idea had a hold on some of the later Level 9 games (especially Knight Orc) and that even though The Hobbit — a 1982 game we have yet to get to — had similar ideas and was a colossus in terms of popularity, the through-line of building an adventure game mostly out of enhanced-AI actors had a strong hold on the British industry all the way to the beginning.

Level 9’s follow-up, and today’s selection, was essentially a port of Crowther/Woods Adventure, with an addition of “70 rooms” which I gather are mostly in the endgame.

We put the extra rooms in because we had told everybody that there would be 200 rooms and when we counted them up there were only 130, so we just had to put the others in!

The game quickly made it to Nascom, BBC Micro, and a bewilderingly large menagerie of other platforms, ported to nearly everything available in the British market at the time. It was originally available in 16K, and used an interpreter akin to Infocom’s Z-Code that the company called A-Code.

I found Colossal Adventure at Perkin-Elmer [a computer manufacturer Pete Austin worked for] running on one of their machines. I thought that we could do this, in 16K on a micro and in fact we did. The main thing that we got right at that stage was that we actually wrote a system, we didn’t write a game but we actually wrote a system which interpreted a database.

Division of labor (using the same interview) seems to have been

Pete: design

Mike: coding the Adventure

Nick: machine coding and porting between machines

The 16K requirement (and the fact the game was loading off tape rather than disk) meant text compression was required, with the A-Code system taking large letter fragments and making shorter replacement texts; turning every occurrence of “then” into “~”, say, although being smart about letter combo popularity.

All of Level 9’s early games (including Colossal Adventure) were expanded to have both 16K and 32K versions. I’m not sure on details about the 16K version (none currently exist, there’s a 16K Nascom port out there of Adventure but it is an entirely different port by Syrtis Software). For the 32K version the Austins are nearly showing off, making the text sometimes longer than the original. Here’s the original Hall of the Mountain King:

You are in the Hall of the Mountain King, with passages off in all directions.

Here’s the revised text:

You’re in the Hall of the Mountain Kings, a huge room decorated with majestic statues. The east wall is covered by trophies and the mounted heads of elves and monsters, with a carved granite throne standing beneath them. The hall is hung about with the tattered remains of rich tapestries and has large doorways on all sides.

Colossal Adventure was was eventually followed by Adventure Quest and Dungeon Adventure making a full trilogy for 1982 that was later packaged as Jewels of Darkness. I’m going to try the stand-alone text version some, but I’m going to do the majority of my playing on Jewels of Darkness, because it has some nice graphical versions. Behold, the power of Atari 8-bit:

Two differences to note right away with original Crowther/Woods:

1. The building with keys/lamp/bottle does not have the food, and you can enter the well in order to get some coins.

2. The outdoors portion has been modified quite a bit. I found a spire and a volcano. I’m unclear yet if any of the outdoor changes are important.

For my next post, I’ll play through all the “standard” adventure rooms and try to complete Adventure … again (at least this time with pictures!) For my last post, I’ll tackle the endgame, which is where the majority of the extra rooms lie and is supposedly like an entirely new game within the game.

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

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Adventures in Videoland (1981/1982)   7 comments

The first, and easiest task, was watching the movie. This not only helped pass the time, but gave me a glimpse of scenes that could be used in the adventure. Rollercoaster, for those of you who missed the movie, concerns an extortionist who plants bombs on rollercoaster tracks, merry-go-rounds, and other fun places.

— From David Lubar, author of Adventures in Videoland, Creative Computing, January 1982

The concept of the videodisc was developed starting in the late 50s, going through the 60s, and was first shown to the public in 1972; however, it didn’t make it to commercial market as a format until 1978, under the name DiscoVision. Later, more famously, it become known as LaserDisc.

The very first videogame to utilize videodisc format was the gambling game Quarter Horse from 1981. It let you bet “credits” on a particular horse in a race, then show a video of the race, giving you any resulting winnings.

The very second is, oddly enough, a type-in Apple II adventure game from the January 1982 issue of Creative Computing, utilizing the videodisc of the 1977 movie Rollercoaster. The game was designed to have the Apple II hooked up to a videodisc player and then at appropriate moments in the game it would switch to scenes in the movie that matched the action in the game. Sometimes the scenes are static, sometimes they involve snippets so that there’s movement and sound in addition to pictures.

That’s a mental handful, so a shorter recap: this is a game that scavenges off of a movie made 4 years before, re-imagining various scenes as being part of an adventure game.

From Creative Computing. If the company sounds familiar, they recently came up in the game Explore where the manual dissed them for republishing old BASIC games rather than making new ones.

I had this game at the rear of my 1982 list (although publication delay puts it really at 1981) with the assumption that one day, I’d do something like Kay Savetz did and manage to hook up a real Apple II to a real DVD player with a real copy of Rollercoaster, making it the most technically complicated adventure game I’d ever played. (Of course, I don’t own any of the three, so that would have been an adventure in itself to wrangle together.)

From Kay Savetz’s video.

However, things quite recently got much, much, easier, as the laserdisc game emulator Singe added direct support for the game. Now playing was just a matter of downloading the emulator package and the game itself, which already game set-up with the correct video clips. The only difference in gameplay the text of the adventure is displayed directly on top of the video playback (in order to avoid having two screens).

The premise of the game is you’ve received an anonymous tip about a saboteur planting a bomb on a rollercoaster, and your job is to stop it.

Rather amusingly, it’s rather easy to die right away. You start on a midway, and can head north into a restaurant, where the game mentions you are hungry and a waiter asks if you want to eat. If you say YES, the game is over. (So you can experience the entire thing, including video, I have linked the appropriate place in Kay Savetz’s video below.)

The entirety of the map is not large, nor is this a long game: no doubt matching all the scenes to locations was onerous enough. And genuinely, nearly every scene and event has an image. There is the brief occasion where the game shows a person with binoculars, as sort of a “default” if there’s nothing to show…

…but otherwise, even the mundane act of putting on a uniform as a disguise is illustrated.

(That’s a depiction of “you”, I suppose. Except it feels like the person in binoculars might also be “you”? The inevitable result of using scavenged materials, best not think about it too hard.)

The game’s sequence is relatively straightforward. The uniform lets you pass into a shack, and get a book letting you know how to turn radios into jammers. There’s some coins lying around on the midway you can spend to play in a “shooting gallery” and win a teddy bear.

The teddy bear can be used to get by a belly dancer, which lets you in a storage room with a ticket. The ticket can be exchanged a game booth to play a ball-throwing game, where you have a choice of prize.

The book made it pretty obvious the radio was the right choice. With a toolbox from elsewhere you can then MAKE JAMMER and find an observation point where the roller coaster is visible. Trying to USE JAMMER gets…

…a most unfortunate result. The game is softlocked, although I didn’t know it at the time, and I wandered long enough to get a “time over” and have another rollercoaster-crashing scene.

The batteries were back at the teddy bear. If you LOOK at the bear it tells you it is the type that says “I love you” when pushing a button. So you can OPEN BEAR to get at the batteries before giving it away. Whoops!

Assuming you get the sequence right, you can save the rollercoaster and get a final scene.

The game was republished on disk later by Creative Computing, although with some slight tweaks to the text. In particular, the bear puzzle is easier, because when winning it some text is added where a passer-by complains about toys with newfangled technology. The softlock is still possible, but this is intended to hint (for someone who missed the batteries) that the teddy bear might be the kind that uses them.

It was fascinating to play insofar as we’ve only had very limited experience with moving images and sound so far, and it runs into some of the same troubles. The animated locations, for instance, play that way every time a room is entered; even when it is a 2-second clip, when I found myself passing through the same place for the 8th time (under the rollercoaster, say) the brief delay was slightly grating.

The transition from quiet to noisy (as any animated scene had sound) was also a bit disconcerting, although in one case it gave the right story effect; I was walking along the “quiet” Midway when the game decided I ran out of time and decided to start screaming along with the “you have lost” sequence.

The game’s scavenged images also made it have a problem with first person vs. third person. Sometimes, like shooting at ducks, the game shows “you” on the screen; more often, you just see locations, as if you are standing there looking around. If this was a longer game the disconnect might be confusing, but in a way this was simply a proof of concept of a genre that never emerged.

Was the project worth doing? Did it accomplish the desired functions? The main goal was to try an experiment with a fairly new technology. Here I feel partial failure. The new medium was used in an old way … the exercise has convinced me of the potential power of the video-computer connection. The fusion of these two devices will produce some spectacular results … The rollercoaster ride has just begun.

— David Lubar

If you’d like to spend a little more time in Videoland, Kay Savetz (with Carrington Vanston) has discussed it at length on the podcast Eaten by a Grue.

Also, special thanks to Ethan Johnson, friend of the show blog for information about the game Quarter Horse.

Posted August 23, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Quest: Infinite Legs   13 comments

I took a heavy swing at the ICL version of Quest over the weekend, but I whiffed entirely.

Still a good rough impression of playing Quest. (Source.)

I can at least get into what’s distressing me. I think the tightest encapsulation is in a scene with a pink troll.

Blue are enemies, pink is the pink troll in particular. Still not complete.

The troll is one of multiple enemies lurking around the map. Two of them are particularly deadly: a smiling gnome from a forest and Billy the Gnome (who I wrote about already). I have a gun and some ammo and I am able to shoot the gnome, usually. (Random generation.) Billy the Gnome, after multiple tries, has still not fallen to a single bullet; I keep missing. Based on how obnoxious the RNG is in the game, I’m still not certain if that means a.) I’m solving the puzzle wrong b.) I just haven’t had the 5% chance or whatnot I need or c.) I’m supposed to avoid that room entirely.

The big problem is there’s a limit on bullets. The even bigger problem is that the limit on bullets seems to be either buggy, random, or both. I have gone up to kill the gnome, saved my game, then restored my game and went on to kill someone else with the gun and had multiple shot attempts. I have also restored my game and found when attempting to SHOOT the game says I am out of ammo. I suspect somehow ammo count is carrying over from saved games, maybe? The general effect is for me to actually want hold off picking up the gun/ammo in trying to make a “good save” with progress, but the problem is that one thing I’ve been trying to use to make progress will sometimes randomly drop me with Billy the Gnome and inevitable death (more on that in a moment).

The gun doesn’t work at all on the pink troll. It is first encountered in a long north-south “metal tube” (see the map above) and follows while either a.) taking your head off, which is fatal but rare (?) b.) gnawing your leg off, which doesn’t affect anything except your points:

The large evil smelling pink troll has followed you. You’re in the metal tube. An eerie blue glow on the ground resolves itself into the slender lines of a magic sword. The troll has just bitten your leg off. I shall grow you another one, but it will cost you on your score.

I tested and went for about five rounds in a row where I kept having the leg gnawed off and have it be restored by the game’s narrator with a point deduction. The sword, incidentally, works to kill the troll.

The troll has been felled with your magic sword.

As I said, this encapsulates a lot of the annoyances of the game all at once:

a.) mystifying randomness, including the possibility of just dying arbitrarily

b.) odd and still disconcerting treatment of points

c.) inconsistent object physics, as the sword doesn’t work on anyone else seemingly other than the troll, including a yellow ogre nearby on the map

d.) a slightly grating narrator meta-voice, even if I appreciate the innovation

e.) nearly nonsensical scene repetition; if you hang out, you can just get your leg gnawed off over and over

Regarding forced run-ins with Billy the Gnome, one discovery I made is that my silver lamp light source (obtained from the long-talking Bert the elf) can be rubbed in order to teleport between places.

P o p !!! A genie appears. “Hi” he says “want to go somewhere more exciting?” so saying, he claps his hands, and everything goes blurred. When, after several minutes, your senses return. You’ve edged into a room lit with flashing strobe lights and filled with people, rock music and cigarette smoke, Through the haze, you can see a neon sign proclaiming ‘Gandalf’s Garden : Discotheque and Hobbit Gifte Shoppe’. Nobody notices you as you stand on the edge of the floor. To the north, if your compass still works in here, is the emergency exit, and to the south you can see a doorway, beyond which there is a rope ladder leading upwards, Funny clientele, they get in here … Among the litter on the floor is a discarded London Transport underground ticket.

Another destination is the “bar of the Jolly Sailor” which I haven’t found any other way. After a few turns a “press gang” arrives and you land on a ship, and from there can get onto an island. I haven’t explored this part of the game as I’d like because one of the other destinations of the lamp is Billy the Gnome, so some x% of the time the lamp is just deadly.

So I have the combination of erratic occasional death, a highly unreliable saved-game system where I have to avoid certain items in the effort to keep them from bugging out, and a confusing and erratic game generally. I don’t quite want to toss things in the bin yet, because I’m still discovering wild ideas, like this room entirely in French, where unlike the German-room you have to type your commands in French to be understood.

There’s a French language book you can find nearby to help, but the sheer chutzpah of the scene is what I appreciate.

Maybe one more post in the future, but I’m not going to feel like I’m attached any more?

Posted August 21, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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