Archive for the ‘icl-quest’ Tag

Quest (1980-1983)   11 comments

Despite this blog’s visit with mainframes in Britain being solely through the Phoenix mainframe at Cambridge (Acheton, Quondam, Hamil, etc.) they were hardly the only game in town. Britain’s big commercial mainframe company (and competitor to IBM) was ICL, itself a merger of multiple other companies, including one that dates all the way back to 1902.

Keypunch from the British Tabulating Machine Company, estimated to be from around 1915. The tabulating machine — originally designed to count the 1890 US Census — was also behind the founding of IBM.

ICL as a company proper was founded in 1968, and while it focused on larger machines at first it did start branching into desktop systems by the late 70s; today’s game was originally written for the their mainframe System 10, with a version by Doug Urquhart and Keith Sheppard developed from 1980 to 1981. Later Jerry McCarthy joined the team before a “final” version was released in 1983. As Doug writes:

Quest is, as they say, functionally rich. We packed over two hundred places into our small part of Cyberspace and peopled them with dragons, elves, insurance salesmen and some of our colleagues. One particularly hated manager was placed, name anagrammatized to avoid legal action, in a rubber goods shop down a sleazy alley near the railway line. He’s still there, if you care to look.

For a long time, the book I just referenced (An ICL Anthology: Anecdotes and Recollections from the People of ICL) is the only evidence we’ve had of the game even existing, even though it claims versions for “System 10, System 25, DRS 20, CPM, DOS and now Windows.” The problem is none of those had ever surfaced!

The game is also utterly obscure enough to not show up on any of my main references (CASA Solution Archive, Interactive Fiction Archive, Mobygames). I had come across it in the past, somehow, but it was in my “wishful thinking” list until a Dave Howorth from the UK (and former ICL employee) pinged me asking if I had heard of this game. I had, and was ready to give the bad news it was buried who-knows-where, when I was surprised to find, snuck two years ago on if-archive:

# Quest.zip

Quest, a text adventure written between 1980 and 1983 at ICL by Doug Urquhart, Keith Sheppard and Jerry McCarthy. Originally written to run on the ICL System 10 mainframe and later ported to System 25, DRS 20, CPM, MS-DOS and Windows. This is a Visual Basic 3 port that requires a version of Windows capable of running 16-bit Windows programs.

You may wonder “why isn’t it on the Interactive Fiction Database then?” Yes, the IFDB indexes nearly everything on if-archive, but it isn’t automatic, and there’s still the occasional “stealth” upload, as this one was.

I was thus able to deliver good news instead, although the version of Windows needed turned out to be all the way back to Windows 98. Instead of going through making a virtual machine I used a version of DOSBOX pre-set for Windows 98.

All the text for every room description is centered and also delivered all as one paragraph. The last point has major gameplay ramifications; there’s been a standard since Adventure to always separate out items that can be manipulated by at least a line break, but here you just have to parse them as the regular text.

I’m not 100% clear if the original game was like this, but I suspect the mash-the-paragraph-together formatting would be odd to add in the Windowsification phase so is authentic. I’m going to convert the text into ASCII rather than forcing you to parse screenshots. The opening screen above reads:

You are in a small log cabin in the mountains. There is a door to the north and a trapdoor in the floor. Looking upwards into the cobwebbed gloom, you perceive an air-conditioning duct. Lying in one corner there is a short black rod with a gold star on one end. Hanging crookedly above the fireplace is a picture of Whistler’s mother, with the following inscription underneath: ‘If death strikes and all is lost – I shall put you straight’.

(Notice how there’s an item that you can pick up jammed in the middle of the paragraph.)

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, aka Whistler’s Mother, from 1871. Her name was Anna.

I haven’t gotten deep enough in to give a full lay of the land, but I can say the general structure seems to have entirely distinct “adventures” based on which direction you travel. If you go down to the underground you find the land of the Arborens.

The small but perfect specimen of a pedigree elvic fox hound has followed you. You are now in the land of the Arborons or tree folk. All around you in the dim light, unblinking pairs of pink eyes can be seen peeping at you through the tree roots. Arboron burrows lead off to the west and south. Lying in one comer there is a small box of .45 calibre ammunition.

I suspect this section may have been written first, given the instructions for the game state: “The object of the quest is to collect as much treasure as you can, and convey it back to the start, without suffering too much harm at the hands of the denizens of the caves.” There are plenty of non-caves to be found, though. If you go outside you can grab a parachute and jump your way into an open range with lots of directions you can go, including this strange machine room:

All your molecules are being disassembled. It is not a particularly pleasant process. You are standing on a dull metal floor, in the middle of a brightly lit room. All around you are banks of machinery whose thin film of dust betrays long disuse. The air is warm, with a hint of ozone, and a low humming noise is coming from the one console which is still functioning, The console comprises a row of eight numbered buttons and a large lever. The button labelled number 6 is illuminated. There is an airlock door to the north. A lambent pool of shimmering light is dancing on the floor, before the console.

If you go up you can find a steel tunnel…

Fighting against a current of air, toffee papers, and other less mentionable objects, you eventually stagger out high up in a mountain range. Looking down (a long, long, long way down) you can just see the log cabin wherein all this business started. To the west is an stainless steel tunnel mouth. In the far distance to the east, a barely discernible object is barely discernible.

…and a blue police box (this is a Brit-game, remember)…

You are now inside the police telephone box; much to your surprise, you discover that there is much more room inside than you would have expected by looking at the outside. In the centre is a control panel; a large button marked “press” is clearly visible thereon. There, standing wagging a cute little metal tail, with its cute little metal head to one side is a BASIC variable (ANSI standard only).

…and get teleported to a jungle land where you get chased by a dinosaur.

The great dinosaur, twice the size of an elephant and ten times as fierce looking has followed you. The passage opens out here, and in some strange strong light, the source of which is not obvious, the walls and ceiling shine with the brilliance of cut glass. They are not made of glass however, they are made of great clusters of sapphires and emeralds, many of them as large as walnuts, and each twinkling out that promise of untold riches that has driven men to war, crime or madness, since history began.

Even if all of the puzzles turn out to be the absurd unsolvable variety, I’ll at least have fun exploring the sheer chaos that seems to be the setting mash-up the game promises. And based on that last room description, at least one of the authors seemed to be all-in to making the writing look good, and being originally on a mainframe means they didn’t need to worry about word count!

Posted June 25, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Quest: High Noon with Billy the Gnome   38 comments

I’ve tried to play up to a point where I feel like I’ve “colored” in a lot of the edges but the game keeps going and going. I’m just going to highlight a few events just to give you a sense of what I’m up against.

From Resurrection: The Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society. The System 25 was ICL’s followup to the System 10, which Quest was originally written for.

This game is dense in a way that’s odd to describe. There’s a colorful events and characters and rooms, but for the most part you can’t refer to the world modeling that gets implied and where a good chunk of the text is there for pure scenery. To illustrate what I mean, here’s a bit where I managed to get a lamp:

The door is opened by Bert, wearing a fine red cap and olive green suit. Traditional elf hospitality being what it is, he invites you in. You are now in old Bert’s house. The shelves are lined with all manner of strange artifacts gathered during old Bert’s 357 years of life. “I shall show you some of my more prized possessions later if you like” says old Bert “will you stay to tea?”

>YES

Tea is (as always in an elvish household) magnificent. The traditional 27 different courses are all served with the necessary pomp and ceremony. The dishes range from the piquant pickled subterranian mushrooms in oak root sauce to the rare and succulent delicacy of boiled arboron ears in jelly. After tea (which lasts some five hours) Bert takes you through into his back room museum in which his favourite treasures are housed, After browsing, for a pleasant half hour among such rare exhibits as a complete set of coinage from the reign of elf king Zorgat the large, and an autographed copy of the complete works of Cedric Dewdrop, Bert wishes you a fond farewell with a parting gift of a beautiful silver oil lamp with hand painted scenes of the orient on it, You are outside the house of Bert the elf.

You don’t even have a chance to refer to the 27 courses of the coinage or whatnot — this is a scene that just lands the oil lamp in your hands, which you incidentally don’t even have to turn on, it works automatically in previously dark areas.

I wouldn’t say all this extra material is “fluff”, but it can be a little disconcerting compared to one of the Cambridge mainframe games where every ounce of text needs to be pored over as a clue. The game is not afraid to randomly toss you in a “Gnome of Year” Ideal Gnome Show (immediately adjacent to a Dog Show) where you have to pick one of two contestants to win (neither which can be examined or talked to for more detail), and if you make a choice the loser socks you and your score goes down.

You are at “Elves Court” where the annual Ideal Gnome Show is being held. A number of gnomes of all sizes and genders are exhibiting themselves in the hope of being judged “Gnome of the Year”.

The judges however are in a quandary, being unable to decide between two finalists – Basil Wolstegnome and Maria Gnomesick.

As an unbiased outsider, your opinion is sought who do you choose?

Close to this scene — east and down some stairs, although you need the lamp to make it through — there’s a Western town.

You are in what looks like the main street of an old western town. An icy wind is blowing, along the street from the south, sending the odd ball of tumbleweed hurtling past, Above the high pitched shriek of the wind, the sound of piano music can be heard from the saloon to the west. On the building on the east side of the street the sign “sherrif” hangs at a slight angle.

The “sheriff” is asleep and has a gun you can get; as far as I can tell there’s no way to wake the sheriff (the game doesn’t even recognize any related words). You can go into the saloon where you come across Billy the gnome, who starts following you and being aggressive, eventually shooting you to death no matter which way you walk:

You are in a ladies boudoir. The occupant is (unfortunately) not present, but discarded items of clothing scattered here and there tend to indicate that she is in the habit of dressing in the manner of a bygone age (and in rather a hurry !). There are no windows, but the light from a small gas lamp reveals a small bed against the north wall, and a wardrobe against the west wall. The main door is to the east. Standing quietly nearby sneering at you is the tall rugged figure of Billy the gnome, the infamous outlaw. Billy the gnome draws his gun and fires, As you are now dead, would you like to be re-incarnated?

There’s ammo elsewhere for the sheriff’s gun; so you can have a shootout if you like. Unfortunately the game doesn’t let you bring the gun in the saloon where Billy is (even though he has his gun) so I had to leave the gun in the street, run outside after he started chasing, and try to shoot back.

B a n g !!! Unfortunately Billy beat you to the draw. You have been shot in the arm, but I think it should heal. Billy the gnome draws his gun and fires. As you are now dead, would you like to be re-incarnated?

Score: -140

So, things not going terribly well so far. Weirdly, I had an easier time killing a dragon:

You are in a vast, slimy cavern with festoons of phosphorescent moss hanging from the roof. Illuminated in the leprous, green glow, you can see a winding tunnel snaking off to the east, disappearing through the floor is what appears to be a fireman’s pole. To the west is the remains of a brick wall. Leaning against a wall is a dayglo-green dragon with smoke billowing from its mouth, and a strong smell of paraffin.

You can eventually keep trying to shoot it and it will die, but it doesn’t block anything; it just causes a danger if you try to pick up a torch while the dragon is tailing along (“there is a satisfactory loud whoomf!!! and the dragon explodes in a sheet of flame”), if you want to pick up the torch you have to kill it anyway.

I’m still trying to get a grip on the geography — it’s pretty randomly connected — and just as one more thing, past the dragon there’s a river leading up to an ocean, and past the ocean there’s … a German beach?

Sie befinden sich nun am noerdlichen Badestrand im deutschsprachigen Viertel der Hoehle. Die sonnengebraeunten Koerper der faulen Reichen sonnen sich in den Sonnenstrahlen welche durch Loecher in der Hoehlendecke in die Hoeble hinein strahlen, Im westen glitzert der tiefblaue ozean im sonnenlicht, Die hitze schimmert ueber dem heissen sand.

Yes, the game switches to German for that room description, and just that room description. I originally wondered if there was a file corruption or the like, but this was clearly intentional.

I’ll try to wrap the game up into something coherent next time. One more random location for good measure, though, placed in the middle of a cave next to the ocean:

You are in the lounge bar of the Elf club of Great Britain. All around you, a variety of elves, gnomes and other minority groups are having a good time, eating drinking and making merry (who is having a pretty good time also). The door to the west has a sign above it in elfish which you cannot read. The door to the east has the word “exit” above it in 42 different languages (one of them english). Standing in a corner polishing some glasses is the jovial and rotund figure of the club barman.

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

Tagged with

Quest: The Quantum Princess   8 comments

The PCL version of Quest is buggy in a way where it isn’t obvious if a particular glitch is really a bug.

System 10, the system Quest was programmed on, from Bitsavers. The original System 10 was made by Singer — that’s the same as the sewing machine company — before being bought by ICL.

To give a straightforward example: I mentioned last time a room with a dog show.

You are at the national elvish dog show. All around, all breeds both the familiar and the strangely novel are being put through their paces and judged by elderly and distinguished looking elves. The general show like atmosphere continues to the east, but there don’t seem to be any dogs up that end of the hall.

There is another room with an elvish fox hound. It can follow you to the room to the immediate west, but doesn’t like to go south so can’t reach the show (map below, the two pertinent locations are marked in blue).

Leaving the fox hound behind and then immediately going back north finds a normal, intact fox hound still waiting. Repeating the process has the hound still there, but is now dead.

The small but perfect specimen of a pedigree elvic fox hound is dead.

I originally thought perhaps I was missing some subtle clue that was causing this to happen (there’s a “ravenous man-eating orchid” nearby that I thought might be related), but now I’m relatively convinced the game is just being buggy, especially once I discovered the quantum princess. (Before going on, I should add that Roger Durrant who has been keeping up a long stream of notes in my last post, managed to pick the hound up with the verb CARRY and take it to the show for some points. I have been unable to do this; the game just claims what I’m picking up isn’t portable. It is possible Roger had some extra unmentioned object that is helping, but I’m 75% sure it’s just another bug.)

To reach the quantum princess, you need to head north from the Western town, the west to the front of a castle. There’s a cannon nestled nearby.

Assuming you have a cannonball and gunpowder (both just lying around elsewhere on the map) you can load the cannon up and then fire it. This breaks open the portcullis leading in the castle so you can sneak in and find a logic puzzle.

You are now in the main keep of the castle of El Numero the Wise, numerologist, extraordinary and tyrant ruler of these parts. In the comer of his office there is a large safe with combination lock and the following inscription:

if forty + ten + ten = sixty

then my key is onyx.

(No, I haven’t bothered to solve this yet, it’s clearly a number cryptogram, and you’re welcome to take a crack in the comments.)

Downstairs you can find a series of cells (see the map). One always has a skeleton, and two of them are sometimes empty. I say sometimes because one of the times I went through I found a princess.

You are in a small cell. In one comer, bound hand and foot with thick ropes and sobbing loudly is the (obviously distressed) figure of a beautiful fair damsel.

You can free the damsel who will follow you briefly before saying she has to go back to her family farm, whereupon she teleports off (I assume the idea is she “walks off” but game-mechanically she telports).

The catch is: I’ve only found the princess once. There doesn’t seem to be any procedural generation going on, and I haven’t traced any different actions I’ve taken through alternate playthroughs. It’s like the princess is simultaneously there and not there at the same time.

At the far north of the hall, rather than the door opening into a cell it opens into the vastness of space.

One portion of a screenshot just as a reminder what things look like on my end. And yes, the princess followed me into space and teleported from there.

You are floating too far away to get into the blue box. In order to move closer you need to throw an item at let Newton do the rest, but not any item; out of the inventory I had the first time around the only thing that worked without some sort of “I don’t understand that” error was my set of keys. I get the strong impression there is zero world modeling in this game, but rather everything is coded in a bespoke way, so the game can’t interpret the properties of objects in a way that allows any sufficiently hefty item to work. The only items that work are whatever the person doing the port happened to add by hand to their list.

It leaves your hand, and you start to float gracefully toward the phone box, until a few seconds later, you bump gently into it, You are now hovering just by the door to the phone box.

Inside the TARDIS (same description as before, including K-9) I was able to push a button and found myself warped into an empty courtyard with a minor puzzle; a plant crying for water. Where have we seen this before?

There’s also a rusty can with a hole and a puddle of water. You can FIX CAN to take care of the hole (with what? I don’t know, but it worked, and gave me no message) and then fill the can (it gave me an error message but I guess worked anyway) and get the plant to turn into a tall vine.

Your score has been increased for perseverance, patience, and attention to detail. Congratulations!! You are now atop the southern wall of the court- yard. Looking down, you can see that there are handholds down the outside of the wall. The vine has shrunk to its original size after its enormous effort.

Heading off the wall drops you back to an enchanted forest right near the log cabin at the start of the game. (The forest incidentally has a murderous elf, but I had fortunately blasted it with my gun before going through this scene so I didn’t have to worry about it.)

So, the whole purpose of that sequence was … points? I’m not clear if I missed something. Maybe a digging spot? I can say the game has a bizarre relationship with score — or at least I should say, a very different conception than I’ve seen from other games. Points can go up or down for actions that clearly are optional. For example, there’s a fruit machine that you can play, and eventually get a winning combination; this causes your score to go up by 15, but nothing else to happen. I have not verified but it is possible you can keep playing the machine forever to infinitely increase your score. Roger Durrant somehow got to 27,325 points at one point, and I’ve gotten to something abysmal before like -500 for reasons I don’t understand.

Most adventure games treat score as a sort of progress counter, with some points for optional puzzles, with the possibility of losing points for taking hints and the like on games close in spirit to Crowther-Woods. This game clearly is adding and subtracting points at the right moments but with no sense of limits, and the general feels is akin to an episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? (“where everything is made up and the points don’t matter”) or possibly Calvinball.

Now, there are such a thing as treasures — or at least I managed to store one treasure — but the experience was odd. If you go down the stairs at the very start you can find a gold nugget; while it is “too heavy” to bring back up the stairs, you can do an alternate route up through the Enchanted Forest (where that murderous elf I mentioned is) and make it back to the Log Cabin. Dropping the gold nugget yields 20 points, indicating that is likely the right action, but in the process the gold nugget entirely disappears. I tried picking it up again and the item was gone. Perhaps it was getting “stored”? There’s no message, just the score going up.

Yes, this thing is an experience. I certainly will get at least one more entry — I haven’t explored the dinosaur area yet (reached via a different TARDIS) and I’d like to find at least a few more treasures, but based on my luck with the game so far there is no such concept as a maximum score and the player won’t even have a mechanism for recognizing all the treasures are found. Despite the extreme jank, I at least can’t say the game has been boring.

Posted July 20, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

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

Tagged with