Archive for the ‘asylum’ Tag

Asylum (1981)   10 comments

In 1980, Med Systems released the graphical 3D adventure games Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth. Both were relatively light with graphics — showing walls, boxes, and the occasional extra like a keyhole. William F. Denman, Jr. and Frank Corr, Jr. released Asylum in February of 1981, which ramped up the graphics with openable and closable doors, inmates and guards, beds, and … well, likely other things, but I haven’t gotten very far yet.

The parser now accepts full sentences. This is very much an object lesson in just accepting more words does not mean the parser is better. Guess-the-verb (which Deathmaze definitely had) has been replaced with guess-the-phrase. (I’ll give examples of what I mean in a moment.)

You start, without preamble, imprisoned in the titular Asylum, with the goal to escape in 8 hours. The time is “real-time” except one minute in game time is 40 seconds in real time. I have yet to assess if this is really a problem or just an extra piece of tension; there’s plenty of ways early to lose without worrying about a time limit on top of things.

You start with just a coat; inside your room is a box with a hand grenade. “EXAMINE GRENADE” indicates the grenade has a pin. In order to escape the starting room, you need to PULL PIN FROM GRENADE and then UNLOCK DOOR WITH PIN. (If you GET PIN FROM GRENADE you are told it can’t be done, GET PIN just indicates it isn’t here. A good parser would understand both the four-word and two-word versions; there’s no reason to be picky here about where the pin is coming from.)

Incidentally: Don’t forget to put the pin back in the grenade!

Leaving the cell gets you into a hall with locked doors, none of which succumb to the pin. I ended up getting caught by a guard and being chided that I didn’t TIPTOE. I restarted and tried TIPTOE — the verb gets recognized, but doesn’t seem to do anything. It’s possible the first time you are caught is forced.

I got tossed into a different cell, wearing a straightjacket, which for some reason was on fire. One ROLL later both stops the fire and discards the ruined jacket. The room this time had a newspaper, and I was able to EXAMINE KEYHOLE to find there was a key in the lock. The next part required these exact steps:


The last one was particularly frustrating, stumping me for a good 15 minutes. The game doesn’t think the newspaper is in scope otherwise, and code seems to have bespoke-hacked in the ability to retrieve the newspaper with that last phrase, and only that last phrase (not GET NEWSPAPER FROM UNDER DOOR, even).

Leaving the room again, I found an identical-looking hallway (it might be the same one?) but with a silver key that let me get into two new halls; however, trying to walk down either led to an instant game over as guards caught me in their “offices”.

This one’s going to take work, for certain. I’m still optimistic this will get fun once I get into the swing of things.

Two last notes for now:

1.) Will Moczarski has blogged through this one already at The Adventure Gamer, if you’d like to see what the whole game is like early.

2.) Med Systems followed up Asylum with Asylum II, and then, very confusingly, Asylum, which is just Asylum II with the sequel number dropped (but ported to more systems like the Commodore 64). This means some places (like the Interactive Fiction Database) you will see mention of a game called Asylum which is actually the sequel. As of this writing, Wikipedia’s text mostly refers to the correct game, except the picture is of the cover of the other game.

Also, Frank Corr is left out of the dev credits. Denman is the sole credit on Asylum II, so I’m guessing that’s the reason for the error.

Posted March 29, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Asylum: Ripped to Shreds   11 comments

I don’t normally talk about my troubles in emulation; usually, it is as mild as “of the two emulators X and Y I could use for this, X doesn’t work but Y does”.

With Asylum, I’ve had issues that bleed over to the gameplay, so it’s worth a little detail this time.

Asylum’s initial release had both a 16K and a 32K version, and using both cassette and disk. (This refers to the memory capacity of the TRS-80 it loads on — 32K means double the text and code capacity over 16K.) This, combined with … magic, I guess, led to many variant files that currently exist.


My two most reliable TRS-80 emulators (Matthew Reed’s and George Phillips’s) died on almost all of them. I had blank screens, bizarre errors, and unrecognized keyboard inputs. The only exception was ASYLUM1G.CMD — based on the 32K version — which had a different “loader” at the front but also skipped asking if I wanted to restore a save game. It meant I could save but not restore a save file.

I had one other option: a cassette file of the 16K version. I was able to save and load with this version.

This led me to the scenario where I could either

a.) Play the 16K version, with saving and loading working properly.

b.) Play the 32K version, with no game saves, but with more text.

I’m currently going with the former, since the manual claims the gameplay puzzles are the same, just the text is terser. This might seem to be the more difficult game, but the 16K version has advantages. CHARGE from Deathmaze 5000 is retained in the 32K version…

…but is cut from the 16K. So I know CHARGE is a useless red herring and I shouldn’t waste time running into walls looking for secrets.

Of course, sometimes more text is clearer. Last time I mentioned a grenade where you needed to PULL PIN FROM GRENADE. Here is the grenade’s description in the 32K version…

…and the 16K version.

Notice the PULL verb is immediately suggested by the 32K version but not the 16K version. I may just swap back to the 32K version on occasion once I have a clearer idea of my route through the game. As things currently are going, I’m dying too often to go without save files.

I’m only made a smidge of progress, so my content update is going to be short. Last time I escaped a second cell with a silver key; I found two more doors that unlocked with the key, including one with the coat and grenade from the start of the game. I was then walled by trying to get past a guard.

I had tried TIPTOE as the game had previously mentioned the verb, but ATTACK GUARD led to me being torn apart. I finally checked hints and found out that PUNCH is considered an entirely different verb! (KILL and ATTACK are mapped together, HIT and PUNCH are considered a different set.)

A brief, general principle I’ve alluded to: if two verbs are understood differently, yet might plausibly seem to a user to be the same action, the text needs to be absolutely clear about what’s going on. It may just be the two verbs should be merged; even if there is technically a difference (punching a guard doesn’t necessarily mean you aim to kill) it isn’t worth the user-end suffering. In this specific case, I imagined ATTACK as using the player character’s fists; I’m not even sure how the game interprets it otherwise since the player doesn’t have a weapon.

I’ve only had a little time to explore past the guard. I found some more locked doors (and had to laboriously try my key on each and every one), some with inmates inside. You can hear giggling from one, see an ugly face from another (both of these are behind still-locked doors).

Two rooms I could unlock and also had inmates inside. One inmate was asking for a cigarette, and when I didn’t have one, called for guards (losing me the game). The other I immediately died via shotgun.

The last thing I did was SEARCH GUARD, yielding a BRASS KEY, a UNIFORM, and CIGARETTES, so next time I should hopefully be off and running with a bigger chunk of the game.

Posted April 1, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Asylum: Oddly Angled   4 comments

I’m trying to get through a big chunk of game before I write my next major update, but I’ve got a small “feature” to report on that is mind-boggling on its own.

I mapped the original Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth on a spreadsheet, as they followed the same pattern as many RPGs of a regular grid; possibly with some teleports or other sneakiness, but a grid nonetheless.

That doesn’t hold for this game. The above picture is entirely wrong. The real map (at least for the starting area) is something like:

So you have five “inward” doors and two “outward” doors in every hall, but even though it appears you are turning 90 degrees to go around halls, you’re turning 72 degrees instead. The real map is a pentagon.

This is one of those times I am intensely irritated by a feature but simultaneously in awe of the chutzpah. The game is essentially lying to the player.

This would have been faster to spot but trying to drop items in a hall causes a janitor to appear and scoop them up. I admit for a long time I assumed I was simply being prey to some teleporter shenanigans (probably I still am — I’m guessing “behind the scenes” in the code there’s still a grid somehow — but it still all comes out functionally to a pentagon).

The only reason this is marginally fair is due to the low-res nature of the graphics; it would essentially be impossible on a modern system (although in a “node” system like Myst you might get close). I am still curious, though, if anyone has been in a pentagonal building before, and if it was possible to “feel” like the turns were at right angles even if they weren’t.

Posted April 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Asylum: LOOK UP   21 comments

Presented without comment.

Posted April 6, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Asylum: Finished!   10 comments

Rather like the word “illogical”, the word “difficult” when used to describe adventure games can do too much heavy lifting. Sure, saying a game is “easy” or “hard” can be useful for determining the best mood for maximum playability, but does a game test lateral thinking? Aptitude at coordinating many events across time? Skill at visualizing geographic relationships? The ability to spot minor word clues?

Or, as the case with Asylum, a willingness to be patient and keep track of everything? (Or, more bluntly: a tolerance for tedium?)

Asylum does have some puzzles that are difficult for general reasons, but it was clear the game wants you to grind through lists. Find a new key? Painstakingly try it on every single door in the game, since the game doesn’t label what goes where. Facing a reticent NPC? Try giving every item in your inventory, then when you’ve tried everything you are carrying, go to your special cache of items and get another set and try giving all of those. There really are circumstances where the lack of clueing is meant as a feature rather than a bug.

So, reversing time a bit, I found a BRASS KEY, a UNIFORM, and some CIGARETTES off a guard. The brass key is useful on … nothing. Absolutely nothing. I tested it on every door twice assuming I missed something, but nope, it’s a key that’s a complete red herring.

While the key was a dud, the cigarettes were useful. One of the inmates was asking for cigarettes; once I typed GIVE CIGARETTE TO INMATE I got them to follow me in the halls.

As the inmate followed — and as far as the TRS-80 graphics go, they really did follow — they picked locks on some of the doors. Not all the doors were useful to visit.

I received a round peg from one inmate, and a fake nose from another. The inmate following me also picked the lock on one of the “side” doors of the pentagon, leading to a new large maze.

When you go in, you are “rubbed with vanishing cream”, and shortly after hit what seems to be an invisible wall. It’s a mirror, which you can see by wearing the fake nose. However, in addition to being a reflection, this is also showing a square hole (!?), and you need to INSERT ROUND PEG IN SQUARE HOLE to get by. The word “illogical” might be used too often in describing puzzles but it certainly applies here. I think the intent is a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland effect where the hole doesn’t exist until you see its reflection, except … the fake nose isn’t a square. I just don’t know.

By large, I mean essentially twice the size of one of the mazes from Deathmaze. The word “tedium” again comes to mind. I got very, very, tired mapping things out.

Just part of the map; there are teleports and “revolving” walls.

The maze had a BAT (the kind you swing), a HAT, a BALL, some FLIES, and a NOTE (which you saw in my last post). To be clear on the note: it says to LOOK UP, and a piano falls on you if you do, but the note itself is not trapped and typing LOOK UP anywhere in this game will summon the piano.

In one small section of the maze, a carpenter builds a wall behind you as you step through a particular spot (essentially a one-way-door) and you start being chased by an axe murderer.

I think this is the best puzzle of the game, and you technically know enough to solve it, so a brief pause for a picture from the manual:


(alas, not GIVE, Asylum’s parser is still dodgy)

After self-defense via piano, you can take the murderer’s ax and cut your way through the wall the carpenter made. The ax murderer area also has a STEEL KEY you can use to get back to the main asylum pentagon area.

Fortunately, unlike the brass key, the steel key does work in places; after the usual “try everywhere” stratagem I found a fisherman who wanted the FLIES and gave BOOTS, a room full of water that I needed to be wearing the boots to survive, and then a named character…

…who I was able to give the boots to and get a BURRO and LANTERN in exchange.

The BURRO went to a guru who traded me some NAILS, and then I used the steel key again one more time to find a second large maze (20 by 20 again).

The “invisible wall” shtick starts the map again, although this time you get through by using the bat and ball.

I became exhausted. The density of puzzles on the map is just too low; about half is composed of squiggles for no reason other than to fill space. I found some MARBLES, some GOLD, and some annoying puzzles; one of them was a strong candidate for the most tedious puzzle of any adventure I’ve ever played.

The hall above has 20 doors, 10 on each side. Your goal (not spelled out, you just have to be bored enough to try it) is to enter each and every door. Most of them lead to an empty loop and teleport you back to the hall (in a way it’s easy to lose orientation). When you get to door #20 you get “rewarded” with some matches.

I also had some difficulty with a gorilla, especially because the game does not consider DROP MARBLES to be the same as THROW MARBLES (he slips and you can pummel him with the bat), but where I really entered the “start using hints and rely on them for dear life” phase was a long hall where upon reaching the halfway point, I got ran over by a roadster.

The trick here was to light Exodor’s lantern with the matches from the doors-of-tedium. I guess the hallway is too dark for the driver to see you? Except the game doesn’t describe the hall as dark, and there are a few “dark areas” where you can’t see walls (the guru room was one) so really, the interface is implying the hall is well lit.

Once you can get halfway through the hall in safety, you can drop some nails, leave, the roaster comes (even though it previously only came when you were in the hall) and wait for the roadster to wipe out. The screen fades to white (the explosion knocks you out, I reckon) and you wake up after time has passed and it is 5:00 AM. So much for being efficient with previous game actions: you now have 30 in-game minutes (20 minutes real-time) until the guards nab you and you lose the game.

After the “accidental” crash, the hall is filled with car parts, including red herrings like a WINDSHIELD WIPER and TIRE. There’s a VOLTAGE CONVERTER and CRANK that turn out to be useful but it’s very hard to know they’re useful early and you can’t carry everything at once; it’s pretty much guaranteed you’re going to have to restore to a saved game once you know what’s needed.

Past the gorilla (defeated earlier via marbles and baseball bat) was a copper which allow return to the main asylum. The key works on yet more doors in the pentagon, including one with an inmate offering a wire hanger.

I found I could TRADE CIGARETTES FOR HANGAR (and yes, I think it needs to be the verb TRADE, just GIVE CIGARETTE won’t do).

When you examine the hanger after you get it you find out you are literally in the darkest timeline. One quick restore later and the problem is rectified by asking for a PASS KEY as opposed to the hanger, but — again I was both severely annoyed and impressed by the game’s chutzpah. You need to make a wrong choice first to find out what the right choice is; there’s not even a slight pretense of the hero’s continuum being the one where they got lucky.

The pass key unlocks a final set of doors, including a room with a desk and a note (that I could never figure out the parser syntax on) and an adjacent room with a computer. The pass key also unlocked the room of an inmate I’ve been hearing “giggling” since the start of the game.

The inmate wants the gold from the second big maze (the description of the gold is “fool’s gold” and the inmate is supposed to be a fool) Then you can … and no, I did not figure this on my own … SIT ON BED, and it will set off an alarm.

To get by the alarm, you have to take the BAT (still handy!), go back to the computer room, and SMASH COMPUTER WITH BAT. (Not HIT COMPUTER WITH BAT, and my hate for Asylum’s parser burns with the heat of a thousand suns.) After disabling the alarm, the secret passage takes you to a final area.

The area has a professor who you can give the VOLTAGE CONVERTER (from the roadster) to…

At least in the 16K version, there’s no hint the converter is the right item. The professor fixing his time machine rewinds the in-game time by a little; remember, after the roadster scene you normally only have 20 minutes left to beat the game.

…and a catapult which is the final challenge, and one I was not up to, because oh god the parser.


I appreciated the variety of characters and events (amidst a sea of way-too-large mazes), but by the end my tolerance for frustration had bottomed out. I get the sense the authors got caught into the trap of wanting to make everything Bigger and More Complicated (including the map, the puzzles, and the parser) but a lot of the charm of the earlier games was lost in the process. Labyrinth and Deathmaze 5000 might have had some “meaningless squiggle” sections but for the most part every niche was accounted for and interesting.

On the positive end, the hub structure was essentially satisfying (although it would have been much better had there been some notion what each key did) and the small bit of character movement with the lockpicker was innovative. The Corr/Denman duo clearly did not lack for creativity, but unfortunately, this was to be Frank Corr’s last game; Asylum II (1982) is credited to Denman only (Corr is still listed in the manual as making the “graphics” but I think that’s due to re-use of Asylum I assets).

I was never able to read the note next to the computer room.
Did I say a thousand suns? Maybe up that to a million.

Posted April 8, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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