Archive for the ‘cranston-manor-adventure’ Tag

The Cranston Manor Adventure (1981)   3 comments

After Roberta and Ken Williams cranked out three titles in 1980 for their new company On-Line Systems (Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess, and Mission: Asteroid), the company embarked on Roberta’s design for the massive Time Zone. While originally targeted at Christmas 1981, it wouldn’t come out until 1982.

In the meantime, On-Line Systems licensed a game originally published by Artworx and written by Larry Ledden, re-publishing it with graphics and calling it Hi-Res Adventure #3. According to Larry:

Sierra On-Line purchased the rights from me to make the illustrated version. I had written the game as a data driven engine so it was quite straightforward to port it to another system. I got royalties from them for a couple years for sales of their version… I was a newbie at software contracts and didn’t know enough to require a credit.

The Hi-Res version is apparently somewhat different, so I’m playing the original first. It came out for CP/M, North Star, and Atari, but only the Atari version currently exists. (We’ve seen the CP/M system with Bilingual Adventure. We’ve never encountered North Star and by my reckoning, we’ll only see it again once; while the North Star Horizon was one of the first computers to include disk drives, it was another flash-in-the-pan computer system that has fallen into obscurity.)

Also, a brief plug for Ahab at Data Driven Gamer who helped me through emulation issues. He played through both versions of Cranston in quick succession; I’m going to take a breather with some other games before the second one.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

It’s another plunder-the-treasures jaunt, and yes, it seems like I’ve been getting a lot of those lately. Recalculating the number of Treasure Hunts for 1981, and including this game, we’ve seen about 43% of that nature. That’s actually nearly identical to 1980, although I should caution this could change.

Here’s the graph I made after finishing 1980. I’ll wait until I’m further in 1981 before I make an adjusted version of this.

Despite the nondescript opening (shown below), there’s an interesting theoretical bit that pops up.

Not the “deserted mansion where you will find rich treasure” part, which we’ve seen by my scientific estimate eight thousand times; I’m meaning:

Since adventurers of your caliber are very hard to replace, we will send a droid in your place.

One of the central oddities in early adventure game history is that “who are you giving directions to?” is not so straightforward. It is common in modern games to have either a predetermined character or a “designated avatar” that is customizable, but with the computer itself not really considered an intermediary.

With text adventures, there’s enough stubborn-mule effect in trying to deliver commands that often the idea that the computer itself is part of the narrative, and misunderstandings have an element of in-universe to them. Original Adventure started the ball rolling with “I AM YOUR EYES AND HANDS” in the instructions. Scott Adams took the same tack with assuming you were controlling a “puppet” of sorts.

In the game Birth of the Phoenix if you try to examine the Phoenix you are told it “won’t sit still long enough for me to examine it for you” and I wrote, perhaps in one of my odder moods:

…the player’s commands are asking the computer to implement them, but it’s also simultaneously still “you” in the world where things are happening, yet you are not seeing the phoenix with “your” eyes, since the computer has to relay the information. Analogy: imagine the player’s avatar in the world is a blind puppet being led by an invisible computer fairy, and the fairy can help move the player’s limbs and convey what they ought to be seeing.

Sometimes the player avatar and computer narrator were separate; Lost Dutchman’s Gold assumed the computer was controlling “the ghost of Backpack Sam” and customized its responses accordingly.

Despite this disconnect, the person referred to is nearly always “You”. Even Robert Lafore, while writing about Captain Walton in third person establishes at the start of his game His Majesty’s Ship ‘Impetuous’ that you are Captain Walton.

(Exception: Assignment 45: A Harry Flynn Adventure which refers to “he” instead of “you”.)

Going back to Cranston, the game quite explicitly situations the player as a droid in the instructions, and even references it later.

Due to habit, I still more or less ignore all the fussy details above and assume I’m typing sentences that begin with “I want to…” and am doing the action “myself” as an actor in a play. This is because of early heavy Infocom exposure, whose manuals directly make statements like

ZORK usually acts as if your sentence begins “I want to…” although you shouldn’t actually type those words.

where I suppose the lesson is, if you’ve got an explicit world model like “it really is a droid body the player is controlling”, the details will get brushed over by players unless they become explicit.

Pink indicates places where any direction but the correct one goes in a loop. The purple rooms are the only two ones with useful items (unless I’m missing something hidden).

Back to the game! I haven’t got far yet because I have spent an enormous amount of time mapping the outside. It’s intended to build up the idea of entering a town…

…but in actual gameplay practice, I found it tedious. There’s nothing to really see other than grabbing two objects (the lamp previously mentioned, and a crowbar from a junkyard). There were lots of bits of maze-without-being-a-maze which led to a lengthy mapping process. Sometimes, when a clear structure useful to the plot is forming, map-making can be satisfying; in this case, a lot of effort went to knowing to take a beeline to find two objects before entering the manor.

I’ve checked a bit inside but haven’t run into any serious puzzles yet, so I’ll report back next time.

Posted August 18, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Cranston Manor Adventure: On BRIEF   12 comments

Version 9 of Emily Short’s game Counterfeit Monkey was released last week, and it (and many other modern parser games) includes a legacy feature I think very few people use.

> brief
Counterfeit Monkey is now in its “brief” printing mode, which gives long descriptions of places never before visited and short descriptions otherwise.

For example, one of the first locations, Sigil Street, is first described this way:

The buildings here are two and three stories, with shops at ground level and elderly apartments above. The shops are closed for the holiday: a typographer’s office, tourist boutiques of colorful skirts and ethnic bodices (rarely if ever worn by natives) and t-shirts covered with font designs.

The reflective window of a closed shop reflects our synthesized self.

A narrow alley runs between buildings to the south, while the street continues east.

On a revisit with BRIEF mode on:

A narrow alley runs between buildings to the south, while the street continues east.

In old Infocom games, BRIEF mode would just give the room name and any objects. From Sorceror:

Hallway
Rooms lie to the east and west from this north-south corridor. A heavy wooden door, currently closed, leads north.
Tacked to the doorframe of your room is a note, hurriedly scribbled on parchment.

On a revisit:

Hallway
Tacked to the doorframe of your room is a note, hurriedly scribbled on parchment.

From the manual for Sorcerer. SUPERBRIEF makes it so the game never shows long room descriptions, which I assume is only for if you’ve beaten a game and are trying to mess around. It’s very disconcerting to use, like reading a book with alternating pages left blank.

Most modern games use VERBOSE mode (also from Infocom games) which simply displays the full room description each time. I know I always used it as my first command when I played through the Infocom library; I found it too easy to get confused and miss details. Inform now compiles games with VERBOSE as default. Although it is possible, still, to make them start in BRIEF mode, I’m wagering the last game to do so was a long time ago.

The idea of long-initial-description, shorter-revisit-description dates all the way back to original Adventure (Crowther, before even Woods).

YOU ARE STANDING AT THE END OF A ROAD BEFORE A SMALL BRICK
BUILDING . AROUND YOU IS A FOREST. A SMALL
STREAM FLOWS OUT OF THE BUILDING AND DOWN A GULLY.
s
YOU ARE IN A VALLEY IN THE FOREST BESIDE A STREAM TUMBLING
ALONG A ROCKY BED.
n
YOU’RE AT END OF ROAD AGAIN.

No doubt, the fact the game could require being played off a printer was part of the desire to save space; there’s also a bit of narrative finesse in recognizing that a particular scene doesn’t need to be repeated. Every four times a room description is repeated the game gives the long version.

All that long preface is to say The Cranston Manor Adventure uses the Original-Adventure-style brief description behavior, and it’s messing me up in a novel way.

The problem is with making a map — yep, I’m still map-making, it’s a lot of rooms — it isn’t obvious what I should call a particular room.

Paneling is falling off the walls in this room. Immediately to the north is a large hole in the floor. There are doors to the east and west and a large hole in the wall to the south. Standing in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

Later I returned to the room

I’m in the room with the hole in the wall. Standings in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

and my original room title didn’t seem to work anymore. (I’m not even referring to the fact the hole in the floor is no longer mentioned — I called it “falling panels”.) Since The Cranston Manor Adventure has both
a.) a mismatch between long and short descriptions
and
b.) a lot of cases where you re-visit a place from another direction
I had a number of circumstances where I was remapping the same location without realizing I had been there! I started making the habit of leaving a room and coming back to get the “short name” designation before putting it on, but this messed with my mental clue-looking where I would occasionally miss some detail in the long description this way. Another example:

This is a tiny room with stairs winding down on one side. There are windows on all sides. The one to the north has a large hole in it. There is a long, heavy GOLD SPYGLASS lying here.

I’m standing in the lookout. There is a long, heavy GOLD SPYGLASS lying here.

It’s possible after the fact to see the first description and say, yes, that’s a lookout, but that’s not necessarily the word I would pick to initially write on my map.

Admittedly, this is in the scheme of things a trivial complaint, but it struck me as a prime example of interface choices having unintended effects, so I’d thought I’d share.

Just to ring out on a positive note, two things:

1.) You know that large black suit of armor in the earlier room description? They show up in nearly every room in the manor I’ve been to so far.

I’m standing in a long room with tall stained glass windows on the west wall. Hard looking wood pews line each side. There are exits to the north and east. Standing in one corner is a large black suit of armor.

They don’t do anything, at least not yet. It didn’t even hit me at first, but as I came across Black Armor #32, the atmospheric effect was quite strong. I don’t know if there’s going to be a payoff, but it comes off as cinematic, like something ominous building in the background of a scene.

2.) I did find an underground part with a cave, and a lovely way to die.

I look forward to tangling with these guys later.

Posted August 22, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Cranston Manor Adventure: I HAVE PUT THE BULL IN A TEMPORARY TIME STASIS FIELD   6 comments

Ad from Atarimania.

I’m verging close to the end — a lot of the game falls open once the map is mostly done, although the last pesky puzzles may take a bit of work. I’ll list those out, but first, I need to highlight two annoyances:

1.) SLEEP

You need to sleep regularly or you die.

For a long time, I hadn’t found a bed, so my initial mapping efforts involved sending lots of death-clones. I later discovered, by accident, that SLEEP pretty much works anywhere in the house; while you can’t do it outside, you can do it randomly in the middle of a hall safely; I haven’t checked everywhere, but it looks like every room with one of those black armors works. (We’ll get back to the black armors again in a moment.)

There really doesn’t seem to be a gameplay point other than when going underground it’s wise to rest first, lest you get stuck falling asleep randomly in the middle of the (confusing) map.

2.) TIN SOLDIERS

I talked about those last time; they serve as the “dwarves” of the game, and randomly up to try to shoot you. Their accuracy isn’t that high, unless you try to attack them. Then they come in an endless stream.

Despite initial appearances, original Adventure kept track of specific dwarf locations and had limits to their travel (but also a large enough area you didn’t see them constantly). With Cranston Manor it is possible they do the same thing but functionally there are so many of them the best route seems to be ignore them and then reload every once in a while when they actually hit.

This normally wouldn’t be a problem but the game isn’t great about specifying where exits are, so I find myself losing lives just checking there isn’t some exit to the west I missed.

With that away, let’s talk about

Aboveground

Lots of fairly standard rooms for the imaginings of giant manors; halls, an observatory, a “hunting room”, bedrooms mostly upstairs (which, recall, I only found late), an organ room, servant area, a kitchen, and a chapel.

Puzzle #1: There’s a fountain outside with water I’d like to drain, and a cistern inside with a bottle inside that I’d like to fill with water. There’s even a pump switch in the cistern, but if I try to use it I find it “needs some help starting”.
I have a screwdriver I assume somehow works, but I haven’t found anything to screw or unscrew.

Notice the reference to “solar cells” in the lantern. The lantern can run out but can apparently be recharged when outside.

Puzzle #2: if there’s a treasure sitting in a room with one of the suits of armor, they won’t let you pick it up. Two treasures (SILVER CANDLESTICKS and RARE TEA) start out in such rooms, and any treasures from elsewhere that you drop in a room with armor become part of the same issue.

That’s pretty much it for aboveground. The map tries to go for “hidden puzzles” — there was a fireplace where I could GO FIREPLACE but it wasn’t immediately obvious, and a torch which revealed a secret lift…

but for the most part, the other obstacles weren’t “puzzles” as much as navigational oddities. One exception (which I already saw) was a rope you could climb, and twenty-dollar bills on a shelf out of reach. If you just tried to jump you would fall, but SWING ROPE puts them in reach.

This is one of those “slightly specific physical action” puzzles that can sometimes be awkward (see Hezarin with the surfing scene, and climbing at the end, or Savage Island’s breath control). Still, I solved this fairly quickly and found it satisfying; I’m not sure what the dividing line is between action being too unusual and just right.

That leaves the

Underground

where there is (Puzzle #3) a door which requests an ID — I assume I just have to find it so I’m not doing any active solving — and Puzzle #4, the weirdest of all.

If you try to return back through the room a second time the bull gores you.

Past the bull is a gold nugget, but there doesn’t seem to be a way back except through the bull. This still may just be a situation where I need to solve another geographic oddity and getting by the bull is a one-shot deal.

My (no doubt incomplete and broken) current map of the underground.

Posted August 24, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Cranston Manor Adventure: Finished!   4 comments

The puzzles that remained ranged from “not really a puzzle” to “one shot command that almost nobody would find”, so let’s dig in.

Not really a puzzle

Last time I wrote about a pink bull that charged and the game’s … narrator? … froze it in a time stasis field, letting you get by; on a second return it would charge you and kill you. RonReg theorized about waving a red cloth or saying “OLE”, but unfortunately, I simply missed you could go DOWN in one of the rooms and never have to return to the bull. The manual does give an entirely unnecessary hint as to an alternate solution where you just turn off the lantern.

Just for the satisfaction, I went back and tried it out:

Almost not a puzzle

I also mentioned a door requesting an ID. There’s a subway station where you can insert a coin to get a subway card, which apparently doubles as an ID.

Going back to the door and typing INSERT CARD led me to a vault with an impressive enough description I was unable to get it in one screenshot. I’ll type it out instead:

OK. There is a short pause, then a whirring sound. The heavy door slides open.

I’m in a large concrete vault. To the north is a huge steel door. In the center of the vault on a chrome pedestal is a PLATINUM SPHERE which pulsates with an inner light. A sign reads * DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE *. Overhead a large wicked looking laser points directly at the platinum sphere. To one side of the vault is a small computer. Standing in front of the computer is the transluscent figure of an old man. The figure is apparently a hologram. The control panel of the computer looks very old, in fact, I can see small cracks in the housing. Through a thick glass wall on the south side of the room I can see small tin soldiers moving around. They walk into the room, stick the butt end of their rifles into a socket on the wall and freeze. After a short while, they leave. A thick armored cable runs from the chrome pedestal through the glass wall into the other room. There is a large PLATINUM SPHERE here.

Despite this impressiveness, you can just nab the PLATINUM SPHERE and go. The game doesn’t let you interact with the computer and cable and so forth (including logical acts like HIT COMPUTER, which gets interpreted as trying to attack the tin soldier) so I assumed that was that and the scene was for flavor, but I found out post-game (from the hints in the manual, again) that you could throw water and sabotage the whole setup.

The hint indicates that just being able to grab the sphere safely is a bug. Perhaps the graphical version of the game (which I’ve got slated on my roster after a gap of five games or so, don’t want to burn myself out) will patch this up.

Aside from the bug, this would be a moderating satisfying puzzle if it was possible to fuss with the computer in some other way. As is, the only thing that gets a reaction is the right command, and the one that works uses a noun which is not linked to the computer. As an analogy, imagine Diablo where the way to attack enemies is to click on your weapon, *not* on the enemies you are fighting. This sort of indirect setup happens in adventure games all the time and is often pleasing, but it’s atypical — and weirdly alienating — not to allow some interaction with the target of the destruction before it happens.

Still the best moment of the game in a plot sense, even if it never happened during “my” story.

Something that counts as a legit puzzle

I mentioned the suits of armors everywhere that prevented you from taking treasure in the same room as they were. I had found a mouse (captured via cheese + a cage) but originally assumed the mouse was intended for some tiny hole somewhere, but no: it’s meant for the other standard use of mice in adventure games, scaring:

So the many suits of armor never really paid off in an ominous plot sense, but it’s very easy to run into the effect shown above by accident via just experimentation. So I still support how they are placed. I still feel like there should have been a hint that armor + mouse = profit; maybe there was and I missed it.

Also a legit puzzle and I feel sheepish that I had trouble

I got distracted thinking the a fountain (with too much water) and the cistern (with no water) were connected, as in, part of the same pipe system and I needed to cause water to transfer from one to the other (that is sort of what happens with the cistern, but in was water-toted-by-hand way).

There’s a raft in a children’s bedroom of the manor, and you’re just supposed to use it to go in.

There’s a cat statue with rubies for eyes; the rubies are a treasure.

I think I also had a visualization problem here; I don’t think of a typical fountain as even having the room for a raft, but it does make sense.

The aforementioned cistern

Now we get to screamingly unfair. There’s a pot you can fill with water (although only outside the fountain with the specific command GET WATER, FILL POT doesn’t work, getting the water while rafting doesn’t work).

I got the idea to put some water in the cistern, but after numerous failures, including a hard game crash, I decided that wasn’t the way to go.

How wrong I was.

To save you the trouble of trying to read this, the money shot command is PRIME PUMP.

Could someone in the comments make up a word for “verb that has only shown up in one text adventure game, ever”? I’m sure PRIME is a prime candidate.

Even worse

The final sticking point was the gold nugget I got past the bull. While the bull itself wasn’t a problem, the gold nugget just past it was.

As hinted, you can’t just cart it outside; if you try, the game teleports you back to the nugget room.

There is a sudden incredible wrench and everything goes black

What to do? Well, the underground has multiple exits (including a door where a “… triangle” works as a key, but you don’t need it going from underground to aboveground; I suspect this is a bug) but it also has a lift.

The lift is interesting, geographically; there’s torches in the master bedroom and servant bedrooms of the house and you can pull them to sneak into the aboveground lift area.

Despite the explicit text mention, the manual does not mention how to use the lift. Is there an “in-game” manual? (Possibly an item I’m missing?) Maybe it was intended to be put in the real manual but the author forgot? Maybe the game really meant the hints part of the manual with the backward text you’ve been seeing? Otherwise, you judge if this is fair to work out:

What action is even happening here? I assume from the “voice command” clue it is meant to be verbal but what doesn’t SAY LIFT work then? While, oddly, PRIME PUMP didn’t leave me grumpy (I’m always sort of impressed when the unusual verbs come out) but this awkward puzzle made me feel grim (although was fortunately the last one I needed to solve).

Thoughts

The Cranston Manor Adventure is primarily a piece of exploratory geography. In that, it did decently; I liked the feeling of discovering yet another secret niche to poke through. I did also like that the house was a character of sorts, and I could start to theorize about what sort of person would have an observatory and a hunting room and a secret spy tower in the library and a weird magical lift.

I don’t think the multiple entrances to the underground were as effective as, say, Zork; in that game there’s good reason to worry about optimizing for lamp life and avoiding the thief, so I was constantly worrying about which method of entry to use next; with Cranston, the tin soldiers are so overpowered it’s better to ignore their induced deaths like pesky mosquitos (or stop them entirely if you can solve the computer puzzle), and the lantern and sleep cycle recharge so that it’s not worth it to be overly concerned about their respective timers.

In one aspect, the game was a victim of my peronal bad timing: midway through gameplay I started getting tired of treasure hunts. Not in a holistic sense, but just a deep abiding need to recharge. This was my fourth in a row. 1981 was an era where authors were going in other directions, with genuine plots starting to appear. Let’s go and pick one of those games for my next entry, shall we?

Two screenshots of the ending placed side-by-side. It appears that Mariner’s Cove never came out.

Posted August 26, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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