Archive for the ‘argronath-lazurite-alpha’ Tag

Argonath Adventure / The Lazurite Factor / Memory Alpha (1982)   8 comments

We’re going to try something a little different today and work through the complete works of Danny Browne. No, not the reggae music producer. I’m meaning a possibly-Scottish probably-teenager, notable if for nothing else we have yet to have a game hailing from Scotland.

Look at how happy everyone is with their TRS-80. Via UNT Digital Library in a 1981 pamphlet.

I’m guessing, based on factors you’ll see in a moment, Danny was a student who tried his hand at writing adventure games starting in June 1982 and ending in November 1982. I have been unable to locate any ads or reprints of his games in magazines, and based on certain other aspects I highly suspect this is a set of “private games” (like The Smurf Adventure a few games ago), ones written by the author as personal projects but not intended for wide distribution.

Rather helpfully for doing an anthology post, Danny put months (and in two cases exact days) in which he wrote his games.

Acids (May)

Argonath Adventure (June 19th)

The Lazurite Factor (September 3rd)

Memory Alpha (November)

So without further ado:

Acids

The million-selling David Ahl book BASIC Computer Games (first printing: July 1973) included a game called Animal (original by Arthur Luehrmann at Dartmouth), where the player thinks of an animal and the computer tries to guess it with yes/no questions. There’s a stub of questions to start (DOES IT SWIM? IS IT A BIRD?) and then when the computer gets “stumped” the player is meant to give both the animal they were thinking and question that will work to narrow things down to that animal. It isn’t really a game as much as a proto-expert system, of the kind where a doctor can put in responses to a computer’s queries and have a diagnosis get narrowed down. It’s also close to GROW which was used to write an adventure game, except that GROW was not restricted to yes/no responses.

According to Kevin Smith who interviewed Luehrmann recently, the original Dartmouth version of Animal included a swearing filter because college students are predictable.

Techholtz did the modified version of the game for DEC.

Acid is the same game but for acids.

This is not remotely an adventure game, but I mention it since our biographical material on Danny Browne is non-existent. It is dated as May 1982 which suggests he was a student who wrote this potentially thinking in terms of a chemistry class? (Based on the games that are to follow, probably not a teacher.)

The other important bit of context we can glean from Acid is that based on the source code, and despite the easy accessibility of Ahl’s re-print of the game, it seems to have been made from scratch (at least, it doesn’t match any of the versions I’ve looked at).

(As an aside, Arthur Luehrmann is one of the important oft-overlooked people in game history; he was a physics professor who was an early embracer of computer graphics and wrote the game POTSHOT which is one of the earliest “artillery games”; think Scorched Earth or GORILLAS.BAS.)

Argonath Adventure

The file on this game had some corruption, I think due to the presence of non-standard ASCII characters. It only munges up the title screen but the upshot is that instead of my regular emulator I used the online one at willus.com.

I wish I could give what the objective is, but I haven’t been able to finish and I’m not 100% sure the game is finishable. You’re on some sort of alien planet and there’s a spot where you “escape” but past that I am unclear.

Rather unusually, the player is dropped in their initial room at random; the “opening room” shown above is one of many. I’m not sure if this was intentional on an artifact of the game being a work in progress, because there is an apparent “opening room”.

However, unless you get the lucky random start, the only way to reach the room is through the command FART. Yes, FART has returned to us, for the fourth time. Here, it teleports between a handful of rooms (a different set than the starting one) including the surface of the planet. Once going in any direction, the player is locked in the complex.

The blocked exit at the far lower left asks for a key, and the room above it mentions a web blocking the passage.

There are wandering enemies at intervals. They appear randomly in any room. There’s some mention of combat mechanics in the source but they don’t seem to work, and while FIGHT is a verb the game doesn’t understand when I try to use it. They end up not mattering insofar as you can just leave a room as one appears and come back and they will be gone (or at least, there will be a new re-roll with possibly a different monster).

It’s not worth being harsh evaluating the monster system here as game writers in general didn’t know what to do with monsters. The Crowther/Woods dwarves present a “logistical puzzle” in having to carry around an axe, and the slight bit of randomness (in terms of missing axe throws) keeps things from being too monotonous, but it was hard to expand on that concept and keep within an “adventure framework” (no stats, no complicated RPG tactics). Zork’s thief simply scaled in terms of your overall point score (that is, as you gathered more treasure, you gathered more experience so the thief became easier to fight and you were more likely to win) but even as late an Infocom game as Arthur didn’t improve on that (there’s a knight with a similar mechanic).

The game has three objects: a disc, some biscuits, and a bottle of “Irn Bru”. (The last is a Scottish soft drink which at least strongly suggests the author was not American.)

A note regarding Scotland: Spectrum’s main factory (under license from Timex) was in Dundee, and according to David Cowen (of Grand Theft Auto fame), not much attention was paid to loss prevention, meaning “everyone worked there just kinda walked out with a bag full of Spectrums”, causing a large ecosystem of computer clubs. So we would in fact expect quite a few text adventures to come out of Scotland, but written for the ZX Spectrum, not the TRS-80.

I checked the source later, you have to type “TAKE IRN BRU” as a whole and not worry about restricting to two words.

It’s faintly possible the game is finishable but even with source-diving left me puzzled, and I’ve drained the majority of the content juice anyway. The winning message from the source code is

You are the first person ever to get out alive.

The Lazurite Factor

This one’s unfortunately completely unplayable; there’s strings of broken ASCII characters all throughout the text. It seems to be fairly similar to the previous game, so I just pulled up a few pieces of source code to talk about the changes.

The Lazurite factor
By Danny Browne
3rd Sept 1982
For Futura Industries Computer Division

Again, monsters appear at random, exactly the same set as last time, suggesting that there was cutting and pasting involved.

” An orc ” , ” A goblin ” , ” An esgaroth ” , ” A large furry creature ” , ” A troll ” , ” A biggish red eyed animal ” , ” A minotaur ” , ” A bogey man ”

There’s a good chunk of “auto-message” verbs; that is, the game “understands” the verb but also does not do anything with it, so for example, trying to break anything just says “it refuses to break.” Swearing possibilities are included.

6320 READ L4$ CVS “EAT” + GOSUB ” It’s inedible. ” : INPUT p
6325 READ L4$ CVS “BITE” + GOSUB ” You broke your tooth. ” : INPUT p
6330 READ L4$ CVS “LICK” + GOSUB ” Don’t be disgusting. ” : INPUT p
6335 READ L5$ CVS “BREAK” + GOSUB ” It refuses to break. ” : INPUT p
6345 READ L5$ CVS “SMASH” + GOSUB ” Nothing happens to it. ” : INPUT p

There are five items, including a ROM CARTRIDGE which looks to be the overall objective.

4000 READ ZZ CVS LE + GOSUB ” There is a bottle of lemonade in the middle of the room. ”
4010 READ ZZ CVS BL + GOSUB ” There is a blue disc lying in a folder. ”
4020 READ ZZ CVS RD MKD$ RD CVI + GOSUB ” There is a red disc lying against the wall. ”
4030 READ ZZ CVS WH + GOSUB ” There is a white disc lying on the floor. ”
4040 READ ZZ CVS RO + GOSUB ” An inconspicous ROM CARTRIDGE lies on the floor. “

The blue disc is used to open a bridge path, and the white disc is used to open a safe (with the rom cartridge).

3020 IFI$ CVS “BLUE DISC” MKD$ BL$ CVS I$ + GOSUB ” A bridge swung across the chasm. ” : BL$ CVS ” ” : CH CVS : INPUT [
3070 READ I$ CVS “WHITE DISC” ANDWH$ CVS I$ + GOSUB ” The safe opened. ” : RD CVS : WH$ CVS ” ” : INPUT USING

Regarding the ending, I’m wondering if I’ve missed some tech joke here, because the finale text suggests the cartridge is worth millions.

2220 VARPTR : GOSUB ” You have escaped with the valuable rom cartridge! You are RICH! ” : GOSUB ” By the way,will you lend me a few million? “

It is faintly possible the game is recoverable, since the textual errors seem to at least have consistent patterns, but for now let’s move on to the last game:

Memory Alpha

Memory Alpha had no garbled text, and I was able to run it with my regular emulator.

I played for a while, found it fairly broken still (including two crashes at random points) and did some searching around until I realized this was nearly the same game as Conquest of Memory Alpha, which I just wrote about. (To be clear: yes, I played Danny Browne’s version first.) It looks like Danny tried to modify the game to his own design but stopped halfway through. It may have been just to try to study the source code rather than make a game, or it could be the difficulty was such he wanted to hack it to see what the inside of Memory Alpha was like.

The arrows have been added in. If you try to blow the tank at the entrance up with a grenade the game crashes.

So, my apologies there wasn’t some delicious nugget of lost gaming history this time, just some experiments of a mysterious coder who will not appear again. In a sense, though, this gives a swath of what I can only imagine occurred with regularity: people in the early 80s who were interested in adventure games, but not quite capable of coding one all the way through, yet still fascinated enough to keep trying.

Posted September 27, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Argonath Adventure: Finished!   6 comments

From the official Irn Bru Facebook page.

I should’ve known.

The pattern: I write about some halfway-dodgy program, abandon it, and assume I’m done.

The date here differs from the other one in the source of June 19th. I would guess the date here is when this particular room was made, as opposed to the code being started.

My readers take it up as a challenge and finish the thing anyway (Chou’s Alien Adventure being a prime example).

Here, I felt satisfied with what I had seen with Argonath Adventure, but Redhighlander had to go and make it to victory, so I was obliged to give it another try.

The full map, the room is orange being ones I didn’t visit before.

To be fair, I probably should have given it another spin. I often overlook USE as a verb (being so non-specific) and I only figured out how to pick up the Irn Bru at the end of my last session. The way is blocked by some spiderwebs, and while I’m unclear what contribution this particular beverage might provide (is there lore about it being a powerful acid?), here’s the result:

This leads down to a small area with two kitchens, a “monster” that is hungry, and a computer where you are supposed to INSERT a DISC (which I had already from elsewhere).

Of the two kitchens, one of them has a red lever that deposits you in a volcano.

The other has a blue lever that gives you food.

You can take biscuits from elsewhere and feed them to a monster at a jet engine. I’m unclear what purpose this serves, but the monster goes away once USE BISCUITS happens.

Moving over to the computer, you can INSERT DISC to get teleported to a room with a key.

The key then lets you go south from the “Neon Sign” room I gave a screenshot of earlier, and make it to the exit.

The final screen suggests a sort of second game concurrent with the first one, where you try to kill the various monsters for score before escaping. FIGHT alone works, you can’t type the name of the monster, but it doesn’t matter, because this mechanic really does seem to be broken: you just die, even if you fortify yourself first by sleeping and eating.

I admit to finding the “optional objective” here which is almost entirely separate from the main game intriguing, even if it is entirely broken. The closest comparison I can think of from pre-1982 games is Lugi, with a randomly generated map and had tasks like “gather money” which could lend points but didn’t affect the actual element of escape. With platformers and the like, the interface can usually convey that Collectible X is there for points and a shiny medal; with adventure games, it is never clear to the player when one element really is separate, as there just might be a clue or hidden item that requires the right amount of progress.

Is this really the first Scottish text adventure? Well, there’s still not absolute verification of Danny Browne’s identity (but who else who insert a casual Irn Bru reference?) and of course there’s plenty of games on the 1982 list I have yet to examine, but whatever the circumstances, this has a high likelihood of being in the first handful of text adventures from the country.

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

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