Archive for the ‘jack-the-ripper’ Tag

Jack the Ripper (1981)   4 comments

Softside’s Adventure of Month feature dipped into a grab-the-treasures game for August, but returns in September for a more narrative-oriented game, with Peter Kirsch back at the helm.

I’m assuming Jack the Ripper himself — murderer of at least five women in East London in 1888 — needs no introduction.

Although this can be a quick primer. The Illustrated Police News, October 27, 1888.

The series continued to be published for Apple II, TRS-80, and Atari computers. The Apple version is not available anywhere I can find.

TRS-80 opening on the top, Atari on the bottom.

The Atari version had some bugs — I’ll point out where in a moment — so I stuck with the TRS-80 version for this game. As implied by the starting text, you start on a random London street looking for Jack the Ripper. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt at real geography (despite the game tossing the Thames in) as “Rue Street” and “Pagon Avenue” are nearby and neither show up on a real London map. To the west of your starting place are a pub, and inn, and some shops.

In the Pub, you can PLAY DARTS and win a pound.

The pound can be brought into a dress shop to buy a RED DRESS, which you can then wear. (I gather the premise is, given the real-life Ripper preyed on real-life prostitutes, to dress in a way that attracts his attention and then capture him via superior police kung-fu. Yes, this might be cross-dressing, although the gender of the protagonist is unspecified.)

The Atari version lets you just take the red dress without paying. If it was just that bug I wouldn’t be concerned, but there’s also a missing character — there’s a child playing outside the dress shop that you can trade some candy for a plastic knife, and they don’t appear in the Atari version at all. I assume it’s still winnable because Gaming After 40 has a walkthrough and used the Atari version (although I haven’t looked at it … yet).

There’s also an inn where you can check in, via TAKE QUILL, DIP QUILL, and SIGN REGISTER…

…and then go upstairs only to find a LONG ROPE. I don’t know if this was a complicated way to get at an object of there’s some other narrative purpose to the inn.

The other portion of the map has two residential streets, where you get pushed out if you try to enter any of the houses.

There are “side streets” which are interesting — if you wait enough turns, night falls, and if you go at night you can see a glimpse of someone who runs away. (After more waiting night turns back to day; I don’t know if there’s a time limit or anything changes across the days.) Again, my guess is: you disguise yourself enough to look like a potential victim, then go down the side alley and spring the trap. The problem is I’m out of resources for potential disguise creation.

The only other places I’ve been able to go are Scotland Yard, where a desk seargant asks me what I want, and no response I can come up with has been helpful (“Sorry, I can’t help you.”). I’ve tried WARRANT, MONEY, HANDCUFFS, HELP, PARTNER, and ARREST with no luck.

There’s also a nearby taxi who asks where I want to go, and no destination I’ve tried has worked (“Sorry, that’s not on my route”).

I get the impression the author had a “script” in mind for how the game ought to go and what each scene at each location would be like, and didn’t think about leading the player to the same place. (Another gameplay analogy is to when games try to put riddles, and the player is at a complete loss — the result is essentially a complete impasse where any interaction with the world universe grinds to a halt.) I managed to chance upon PLAY DARTS but I could easily see that being a stopping point along similar lines.

I’ll try a good-faith attempt to whack at the game a while longer. Maybe I can just pull up a list of every London location and try it until the taxi driver succumbs?

Posted January 28, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Jack the Ripper: Finished!   4 comments

Kirsch clearly was trying to maintain his “cinematic” style with a slightly more open setting; the problem is that the parser control still isn’t solid and this leads to some cryptic moments. I was right about the disguise, and this also had an interesting “pre-rig something the villain is using” portion to the plot.

Spoilers follow, and a link to try playing the game yourself is here, but I should go ahead and spoil something now even if you plan on trying it: the thing to ask from the desk seargant is not a WARRANT, but a SEARCH WARRANT. You can’t just say WARRANT. Gaming After 40 lucked into this by trying to SEARCH DESK and having only the first word be needed, but in the TRS-80 version you have to type the whole phrase SEARCH WARRANT to be understood.

Out of the hundreds of letters purporting to be from Jack the Ripper, only one of them came with half a human kidney, the so-called “From Hell” letter.

So! A search warrant it is. Also, it’s a really bad idea when your game is pegged to requiring a specific phrase, as opposed to looking for a noun (warrant) with potential modifiers attached, but only optionally (search).

I needed help twice more after this point.

With the warrant in hand you can raid the various residences (the Atari version you don’t have to be carrying the warrant, but the TRS-80 version makes you have it). Poking through the two residences on Rue Street yield a BLONDE WIG and a BRA. If you combine them together with the RED DRESS I mentioned last time …

… you get most of the disguise, except for one element that’s lacking (as you’ll see later). There are also two more residences nearby on “Pagon Avenue”; one has STARCH and a BOTTLE OF ETHER, and the other is an apparent lair of Jack the Ripper. There’s a “stuck door” you can kick open with a black cape inside, and if you carry the cape outside, things don’t turn out well.

More helpfully, there’s a notepad with a destination that you can tell the taxi driver.

This leads to an ominous warehouse; nearby is a paper with “113” written on it. Inside, our hardy protagonist has a clumsy moment.

This happens if you try to go north or if you try to pick up the lamp, so there’s no way around the event happening. (Another “cinematic” event locked in.) I was able to use the LONG ROPE and the BUCKET from last time together to fish water from the Thames and use it to extinguish the fire. Past is a grisly (but optional!) scene

and a safe.

You need to enter 311 rather than 113 to open the safe. No reason in particular, but this is the nth game I’ve played where a code has to be done backwards.

The doctor bag is the real interesting part — it has a doctor’s scalpel, the weapon of Jack the Ripper. (At least the fictional idea of Jack the Ripper; from what I gather, in real life, there wasn’t strong evidence he used a scalpel as his knife, except the removal of organs from victims imply a doctor’s knowledge.)

I realized I had a play rubber knife from town (from a child I gave candy to) that I could swap in, but I ran across a bug trying to take the scalpel and put in a new one where PUT KNIFE would put in another scalpel, even if the only knife I was holding was the rubber knife. I started to get multiple medical scalpels.

I checked the Gaming After 40 walkthrough; I needed to EXCHANGE the knife as opposed to use the regular TAKE and PUT commands normally offered in text adventures. (Again: the author seems to be scripting in a cinematic sense — here, they’ll trade the knives! — without realizing this clashed with the standard game-interaction level.)

I also closed the bag and put it back in the safe. Leave no trace. (I did this for “role-playing” but I found out later this is necessary for the whole scheme to work — the Ripper will otherwise realize the switch happened. Speaking of doing things for role-playing, while visiting the bodies is optional, on a second playthrough I stopped by anyway; it felt strange narratively not to drop by.)

So: the knife was set up, I had a disguise ready, and I only had two items I hadn’t yet used (starch and a bottle of ether). I got changed and checked the dark alleys for the Ripper to arrive.

It is admittedly not 100% clear until this moment the player is cross-dressing; there aren’t any awkward jokes or the like, except for this moment (which is admittedly delivered by a serial murderer).

I looked up this part: you have to apply starch to the bra. Time to suit up for the big surprise!

I still kept the ether around — I had a sneaking suspicion here is where it would turn up:

There’s one last cinematic moment though. I attempted to drag the body of the Ripper to Scotland Yard, when he woke up while close to the bridge of the Thames.

RIPPER AWAKENS, REGAINS HIS SENSE
AND RUNS TOWARDS THE BRIDGE

This is, based on the source code, the only ending.

I appreciate that Kirsch was trying to make cinematic scenes in a more non-linear environment (compared to Kidnapped and Arabian Adventure), and he might have pulled it off with a little more coding finesse. There’s also one issue of design I sidestepped, but Dale Dobson ran into:

And in the end it comes down to a bit of canned storytelling that’s not easy to guess at. We must have the bottle of ether in hand, to take the Ripper down, and we must have closed both the bag and replaced it in the closed safe before leaving the warehouse, to avoid tipping the Ripper off; otherwise it’s game over.

I had done both things without much prompting, and it felt normal to me to be concerned that the knife ruse needed to be stealthy. But I am highly sympathetic to having a player not realize the issue, and it makes for a curious armchair-designer challenge to try to fix the problem. Being slightly obvious like stating “You feel you did something wrong” upon leaving the bag outside the safe feels forced and still doesn’t give good direction; being bluntly obvious like “put the bag back in the safe, dummy” drains the pleasure of the player’s insight into what is essentially the climax puzzle of the game. I’m still not quite sure how to fix the problem without ruining at least part of the story. Anyone have an idea?

Posted January 29, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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