Archive for the ‘earthquake-sf-1906’ Tag

Earthquake San Francisco 1906 (1981)   3 comments

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

On April 18, 1906, the San Andreas fault ruptured, estimated magnitude (by most current research) from 7.7 to 7.9. It lasted less than a minute but was devastating: buildings collapsed, fires raged through the city, and the water mains broke meaning the firefighters couldn’t use them. Artillery troops tried to control the blaze by dynamiting particular buildings (it didn’t work). Full-on looting caused the mayor to declare looters would be shot on sight. Estimated deaths were originally at 700, although that likely understates the true number by at least a factor of 3.

“Souvenir Hunters” from a photo in the National Archives.

75 years later, Jymm Pearson wrote a game on TRS-80, later ported to Apple II, the second of his games set in a historical time period. (Previously: Curse of Crowley Manor.) You awaken on the day of April 18 in a hotel room, with a wad of cash and a threatening letter: your wife is being held for ransom.

Given this is 1906, I suppose that means our character is male. We haven’t seen a lot of defined-role games so this doesn’t bother me, although since there isn’t much character painting past this point, I think most modern players would want to choose both genders.

Just to be clear, this is the regular Jyym Pearson parser we’ve seen before, where there’s an entirely separate room description found by hitting ENTER, so items aren’t shown in the graphical window (unlike Wizard and the Princess or Creature Venture). Additionally, there’s extensive use of LOOK, and you need to both LOOK alone and LOOK at every item carefully to avoid missing anything.

Gameplay-wise, the opening is rough; there’s a wad of cash (only referable to by the full phrase WAD OF BILLS, not WAD or BILLS) and a locked door we can’t open (the key never turns up). You can LOOK to find an envelope on the dresser, but can’t get the envelope, but must instead LOOK ENVELOPE to see a letter inside, which if you try to read says you need to pick it up, so you can finally GET LETTER and READ LETTER to get the screenshot above.

South there’s a bedroom where you can MOVE BED to find a crowbar (…?), and a few turns after is when the earthquake hits. (Yes, that means it is set not real-time but drama-time — the earthquake doesn’t hit until you find the crowbar, as opposed to being after X turns. This is much more polite than many games of the period. It’s possible to miss the letter or cash before the earthquake happens, but it is fairly unlikely.)

You can use the crowbar to lift a beam off your feet and find yourself in the collapsed building.

Outside is an apple seller…

Just to show off the how the text side looks, although this scene also lets the player know about the soldiers shooting looters.

…a piece of debris hiding a gold watch (which you can find via CLIMB and DIG)…

…and an opera house that collapses upon approach.

This scene appears to be here purely for drama (which is kind of impressive for 1981). There were two distinct quakes but they happened within the same minute, but I’m still willing to allow this scene as hedging to historical record.

I was stuck here briefly until I realized I could CLIMB at the original looted hotel.

Bribery via gold watch works here.

Climbing farther is a locked gate and firefighters at work.

Trying to head south from here to a dead end. I had a building collapse on me.

I was expecting a YOU DIED screen, but no, this is all intended: you’re supposed to SCREAM and have a soldier find and dig you out.

You can grab some lumber from the fallen building.

I admit I’m impressed so far! This came off as a series of dramatic events with a main character struggling to survive (and an interesting plot hook, to boot) as opposed to a jammed-together mix of puzzles, even with the slightly confused parser. I’m not sure if it will hold up to the end, as I am now stuck from here. I assume the locked gate is my next objective, but nothing I’ve tried has been successful at barreling through.

My (obviously incomplete) map so far.

Posted June 13, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Earthquake San Francisco 1906: Diegetic vs. Non-diegetic Plot   9 comments

From Mobygames.

I’ve mentioned, offhand, the idea of “diegetic plot” before without much expansion, but it’s useful here.

In movies, “diegetic music” refers to music that is part of the world itself, as opposed to background soundtrack. In a game, often there are actions that are not really part of the story, either by restoring saved games (as I wrote about with Pyramid of Doom) or more subtly, being nonsensical. If a fire is raging through a city, and I decide to test every verb possible to just to see what might work (WASH APPLE, SLIDE APPLE, CLEAN APPLE, …) even if no death occurs to “reset the world”, the story is essentially “paused”.

More subtly, if the player does LOOK FLOOR and LOOK CEILING and LOOK WALL and all sorts of other actions which may or may not even be referring to real objects in the game, even amidst a riot, is that really part of the plot?

Following from last time, as I was stuck, I did indeed try to examine every location carefully to see if I missed something, and found if I use DIG at the opera house I could find a locked iron box, but I had no key. I eventually resorted to restarting and checking the instructions carefully, which mention to use your “eyes and ears” to avoid missing anything. Oho. Perhaps (as the verb list above shows) I should be trying LISTEN everywhere?

The above was in the portion of the map leading to a dead end which was previously just scenery. After LISTEN I was able to CLIMB to find the missing child.

After the rescue, and returning the child to the father, the child left behind a gold key. The gold key — cosmically — unlocks the iron box back at the opera house, which itself holds a silver key. The silver key then works on the iron gate I was being stymied by last time.

Fair, it’s just adventure game logic, try not to think too hard about why the child has a key for a box in an opera house (that out of all the things inside, is the one thing we find in the debris) and the box contains the essential key we need for more progress — the focus is on we rescued a child from a burning fire in the 1906 Earthquake rather than sneak by a dragon or something.

To get to this moment, there was a lot of flailing. I could just try to focus on what worked — listening — but even if I consider some of my wilder stabs at progress to be “out of canon”, so to speak, it’s hard to zero in on the true progress.

Enough distraction —

Past the iron gate is a street with “extreme heat” and a manhole cover leading down. After LIFT COVER (which again, took lots of non-diegetic noodling around to find)…

I got stuck in a very tiny sewer maze with only two rooms. After a great deal of back and forth I reached into my bag of difficult-game tricks and came up with LOOK UP, getting the image above (just like in Nuclear Sub and Forbidden Planet except this time I learned my lesson and tried it on my own without checking hints).

I was able to then CLIMB up to an area with a street leading to a dead end, where again I’ve spun my gears with various LOOK attempts with no luck. The only thing I’ve managed to do is get killed, because in the spot where you first poke out of the manhole, if you LOOK (rather than just leaving) a soldier finds you, and then in the turn after shoots you.

It’s possible I’m supposed to confront the soldier somehow, but throwing various objects doesn’t help, and I don’t have a weapon. Maybe I missed one in the territory I’ve been through so far? Time to check everything over again, I guess.

I have the feeling the “final plot” is going to be smoothly scripted, it’s just figuring out how to get there which is bumpy.

Posted June 15, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Earthquake San Francisco 1906: Adventures With Fruity   Leave a comment

(This post won’t make much sense without reading my previous ones in this series.)

Slow and jerking progress. I’ve somewhat got “in the mind” of the author here.

Reading the Author’s Mind Point #1: The parser has some “general” verbs that work anywhere — I listed them last time — but also some locations/objects with custom responses even on verbs that normally provoke a “huh?” and a custom phrase in one case (that is, the verb was not recognized, but the full verb-and-noun-combo was).

For example, SCREAM in order to get un-buried from the rubble doesn’t work anywhere else. (I had solved the puzzle before I went and made my verb list.) Rather more frustrating and important is that I was staring at the blank wall from last time…

…looked at the lumber in my inventory, and thought to try MAKE LADDER. This led to the response


which does not happen if you try to make a ladder anywhere else, even though there’s no logical reason for this! I was just lucky enough to try the command in the right place.

Moving on, I needed the aforementioned “something” I lacked — I presumed nails, and possibly a hammer, so went searching for them.

Reading the Author’s Mind Point #2: Events can happen in previously visited places. The game doesn’t keep track of the number of turns (except for if you are in imminent danger and have one turn to react) so this is event-based, meaning if you hung out and searched a place for many, many, turns, you may still have missed anything, because time doesn’t “advance” until you get further along.

Case in point: I had sauntered back to the start and somehow encountered the dog below near where the fruit seller was. I will call him Fruity.

Nooooo Fruity that’s rotten fruit, you’ll get sick.

I’m not sure what triggers Fruity to appear — I think it may just be getting into the sewer, or something close to that — but it means that after any progress, prior locations need to be checked.

Points #1 and #2 combined to have me go back and scour each location looking for nails (or a hammer). It occurred to me at the ruined hotel there could be some nails in the debris, even though I did LOOK on everything I could think of.


I apparently hadn’t done LOOK WALL because that yielded me … a handgun? (I tried another look after and the game said NOT NOW!) Well, that doesn’t solve the ladder problem, but I did have a soldier to deal with, and unlike the poor human we gunned down in Escape from Traam he’s actively trying to hurt us, so:

Still feel kind of bad, because the only reason for doing this is to steal the nails from his pack.

Just nails and lumber aren’t quite enough, though. After some frustrating attempts at searching nearby some more…

Still haven’t found anything here, for instance, but the game has me absolutely paranoid something will eventually pop up so I have to keep returning.

…I hiked back all the way to the hotel, and amidst my searching, tried LOOK WALL again. Remember, I found a handgun but couldn’t find anything else!

I double checked, and it looks like the hammer will not appear until you use the gun. I very much get the impression the author had a “script” of action, but even with liberal use of “drama time”, I don’t understand why the handgun and hammer can’t appear at the same time.

With hammer, nails, and lumber in tow, I was finally able to walk back to that wall and MAKE LADDER (and of course I had to walk back first, given that MAKE LADDER doesn’t even get recognized as an understood phrase elsewhere in the game!)

Horray! I was able to ladder myself over the wall, only to drop into a courtyard with an iron door that was too hot to the touch from a fire on the opposite side, and to have Fruity pee all over my pants. This left my inventory with WET PANTS, and no, I’m not kidding. You can avoid this if you immediately go away from the courtyard and don’t try to interact with the door while holding Fruity — more Drama Time it seems. The WET PANTS take up an inventory slot and you can’t drop them without eventually getting arrested for indecent exposure, so I’ve got one save game where I keep the wet pants and one where I avoid getting them to have that extra inventory slot.

ASIDE ABOUT INVENTORY SLOTS: The inventory has a maximum of six, and since the game is linear, it’s a royal pain — whenever I’ve made progress I’ve done back-and-forth trips trucking all the items in the game farther to the front of the line. Will I still need the gold and silver keys used earlier? Probably not, but I got bit so hard in Traam I’m not taking any chances. As part of the back-and-forth trips you have to be careful not to block your progress by not taking along key items; for instance, a crowbar that you use at the very start needs to stay in your inventory to be able to use the manhole cover to the sewer (it’s not obvious this is the case, but the game stops you if you aren’t holding the crowbar, which I found out the hard way).

Fruity runs to the south after the incident and, perhaps to make up for past transgression, digs up a boat paddle (which I haven’t gotten to use yet). I wasn’t getting anywhere with the hot door (I thought maybe the wet pants might serve to cool the handle down or some such) so I had to move on, by jumping up some stairs (steps are missing so if you just CLIMB you die) and finding a horse.

CLIMB HORSE and RIDE HORSE both work (although it took me a while to work this out, progress was much more disjointed than I’m making it seem) leading up to a cliff. Unfortunately, the horse took off on its own and died. Trying to climb further led to death.

This better not happen to Fruity or I’m going to get grouchy.

Back a room I found a CREVICE


so I had to LOOK QUARTZ




followed by LOOK FLAT SPOT


followed by LOOK OBJECT, finding a DIAMOND and leading me to wonder if the author was attempting some analogue of a shaggy-dog joke in puzzle form.

Speaking of shaggy dogs, I was stuck so decided to go back and try the iron door again. This time, the fire had abated and I was able to go through. In a Drama Time sense this makes sense, but why couldn’t we have waited the fire out earlier …? It’s very easy for Drama Time (in the way this author is using it) to interfere with puzzle solving.

Past are the three rooms above. The first two I thoroughly and tried every manner of LOOK and MOVE and DIG I could think of, but I found nothing. It wouldn’t surprise me though if after making a small bit of progress I’ll find a postage stamp under one of the cushions for no good reason.

This means the only puzzle I have to work on is the crack in the ground, but trying to CLIMB or JUMP or apply the ladder in any sense has led to falling to my doom For the record, my inventory (carried and uncarried) is CROWBAR, HANDGUN, SMALL DOG (Fruity!), LADDER, GOLD KEY, SILVER KEY, LETTER, WAD OF BILLLS (from the very start of the game), PADDLE, HAMMER, DIAMOND, and depending on what reality fragment I’m in, WET PANTS. I’ll take speculation as to what to do next in the comments, but if you outright know the answer please use ROT13; I’ve somehow managed to go without hints so far, and I’d like to try for at least a little longer.

Posted June 17, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Earthquake San Francisco 1906: Finished!   11 comments

From Mobygames.

Mostly parser struggles up to the end, although there was one bit where the coding just had bizarre issues. As usual, you should read my previous entries about this game before getting to this one.

I made some small progress on my own via my first “off the keyboard” solve in a while — I was standing in line at a store waiting when I decided to run through game scenarios in my head, and it intuitively occured to me if the game wasn’t letting me use the ladder to get across the crack (even though that’s reasonable based on the depicted size) maybe I could pole vault over. Back on the computer, I tried VAULT and got a response WITH WHAT?, which meant I was on the right track. I needed a pole, but I was out of options for finding one, and meandered uselessly across the map for long enough I set a timer (15 minutes) and resolved to check hints if I couldn’t make progress in that time. (I’d already done this twice earlier in the game, and both times I had a breakthrough.) With no luck anywhere, I finally found out I was supposed to sit on a cushion.

Hmm, OK. Except SIT and SIT ON CUSHION and any other plausible variant fails to be recognized. I finally hit upon


and had to stop playing for a while, because I was infuriated. Usually I can laugh goofball parser antics off, but somehow this one made me feel much less worse than normal, especially since the end result was causing an “EVIL LOOKING MANDARIN” to bring a plate of food. Eating the food leaves a FORTUNE


The only gate I could think of was the iron gate that I struggled earlier to unlock, so I poked and prodded and searched and got absolutely nothing, and because my patience was ruined by the earlier puzzle, checked to find I had to PULL IRON GATE which somehow yields an IRON ROD.

VAULT works with the iron rod, leading to a pagoda with a locked glass door. Given I’d used most of what I was carrying (except the paddle and diamond) I tried out the diamond:

Then I got stuck again (the graphic suggests I’m supposed to reach through the hole and unlock from the other side) until I realized the game is obsessive about the verb CLIMB, which works to go directly to another locked door. Some frustrating wandering later (and using the philosophy that almost every room has something, and the garden next to the restaurant hadn’t been used yet) I came across a helpful person who gave me a brass key for no apparent reason.

The word here shows up in older dictionaries without much fuss (see Fowler’s 1926) as an analogue to “Irishman”, “Englishman”, etc., but still had some slur use early, and by 1945 H.L. Mencken points out it is definitely considered a slur in the Chinese community (see Hughes, An Encyclopedia of Swearing). It’s possible someone circa 1981 might overlook the problem but remember “EVIL LOOKING MANDARIN” just happened too.

Passing through yet another locked door, I finally found myself on a street with a dead body.

This scene will come up again later.

Heading east my progress was blocked off yet again, so I dutifully toted my inventory over — including Fruity the small dog, meaning the wet pants are canon — and Fruity was helpful one more time.

You have to leave for a while and come back to find a hole dug. Fruity takes off, I choose to assume to safety.

The hole dug by Fruity led me to a hotel room and yet more frustration.

Despite the game never having any prior, the safe is a red herring. I wasted so many verb attempts trying to get something to happen.

Trying to go any of the directions led to HUH? I just shrugged and looked up the next step: PRY BOARDS. They’re in the picture but I don’t know how to make “BOARDS” show up in the text description, which makes it the first and only time in the entire game where this happens.

This led me to a soldier who wanted me to drop my stuff so he could steal it.

Good atmosphere, but too bad the game keeps alternating good moments and frustrating ones.

This would have been fine had the soldier only appeared once, but he camps if you bring along any items whatsoever. It turns out — again I just looked up hints — you can OPEN DOOR in one of the locations just past the soldier, which will lead you back to the hotel room. Then, subsequent OPEN DOOR commands will let you skip the soldier area. I assume the intent was a door that was locked on the other side that you then unlocked, but if you try to refer to that door from in the hotel room before reaching it from the other side, the game just goes “HUH?” like it doesn’t exist.

Finally I reached a dock for escape from San Francisco, only to get stopped again.

The key here is the dead woman I left behind earlier — you can dump your wet pants and UNDRESS her to get her dress, which is apparently sufficient to disguise as a woman. If that makes you feel uneasy, just wait for the next scene:

After a few turns, a hole appears…

…and the boat sinks and everyone dies, except you manage to swim to a piece of floating wood.

Some use of the paddle later and you make it to Oakland, and can hop on a wagon.

A quick reminder because it sure was easy to forget when playing: our goal was to reach the Portman Hotel in Oakland to pay some kidnappers and get your wife back. You need to pay attention when the wagon is passing by the aforementioned hotel and CLIMB DOWN, because if you stay on any longer the wagon tumbles down a hill and everyone dies.

I was disappointed at the end — I was expecting to have a double-cross, and maybe a shoot-out using my handgun, but no — you just PAY the dodgy-looking gentleman (assuming you remembered to bring your cash from the start of the game all the way to the end) and you get a win screen.

The immediate words that come to mind here are “wasted potential”. There’s a fair number of intense scenes: you get buried under a building and the screen turns black, you have to shoot a soldier who thinks you’re a looter (or is just shooting without caring), you have to deal with a soldier who is himself a looter, and the boat to safety turns out to be a deathtrap. However, the overlay of parser frustration ruined many of the parts, and the tone was just off — it’s simply difficult to convey the gravity of mass death in the format of sharply truncated text and slightly askew Apple II graphics.

Will Moczarski (who wrote about the game here and here) expressed that “the story of Earthquake clashes with its setting” which I believe is referring to the actual acts done by the player compared to the seriousness of the disaster. Additionally, having the criminal genre mixed with the disaster genre is a time-honored tradition, but that’s not quite what’s happening here, and in the end, the plot hook and conclusion seem incongruent with the rest of what’s going on.

We’ve still got some Jymm Pearson to go — he had a busy 1981! — as his next venture is Saigon: The Final Days (set in the Vietnam War) and his first game where his wife Robyn Pearson is listed as co-creator. For the curious, I’m now at the three-quarters mark in my sequence with about 25 games left to go before wrapping up 1981 entirely.

Posted June 18, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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