Archive for the ‘mad-venture’ Tag

Mad Venture (1981)   6 comments

Micro Labs published only two adventure games, both for the Apple II and both from 1981: Mad Venture (Dale Johnson and Christine Johnson) and Alice in Thunderland (Dale Johnson, again, and Ken Rose).

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History, although I’m guessing this is a picture from an old auction.

This is yet another pure treasure gathering game, although this time the game is very explicit about a time limit, as shown on the box art above. I suspect I will need to create myself a walkthrough to win.

Or possibly: cling helplessly to one. For I’ve known about this game for a while, where the one thing I’ve heard is the difficulty is really high. We’re talking another aspirant for Quondam’s throne of Most Difficult Adventure Ever, here. Of course, I can’t know how hard Mad Venture is until I try it, but I am still blocking out a few weeks.

While Alice in Thunderland is more explicit about the connection, Mad Venture has a vague sense of Alice in Wonderland to what I’ve seen so far. This led some people on the intfiction forums to speculate this was one of the first adventure games with a female character (Alice) but while I’d say the argument holds for Thunderland, I’m pretty sure the hero for Mad Venture is intended to be “you”. (Keeping an open mind, though, until I get deeper in the game.)

You start outside a movie theater where you are told to bring the treasures in 185 moves or bust. Nearby there’s a bunch of items, a rabbit hole (described as too small to enter), and a cave.

I moved all the items to this room to get them in one screenshot.

Going west:

YOU ARE IN A LARGE UNDERGROUND CHAMBER. A PASSAGE WEST HAS BEEN BOARDED UP! THERE IS A SIGN POSTED HERE THAT READS: “CAVE CLOSED FOR REPAIRS. DEPOSIT ALL NON-PERISHABLES IN CHUTE FOR FULL REFUND.

THERE IS A “DEPOSIT” CHUTE HERE.

The book has a faded cover which states “LE…CAR” and the inside notes “THE FOOD IS THE KEY TO YOUR PROBLEM”. This made me think the sandwich was somehow helpful but my first attempt at eating it while standing by the deposit chute led to death.

YOU HAVE BEEN CRUSHED TO DEATH BY A FALLING OBJECT!!
YOU ARE DEAD!

After some experimenting, I found that the sandwich has a better effect while eaten in the initial cave room.

YOU ARE NOW 4 INCHES TALL.

(There’s some rooms where you die and some where you transform — I’m not sure the pattern.)

This lets you be small enough to pop in the previously mentioned rabbit hole. Any items dropped in the DEPOSIT chute await below.

Notice there’s a “nasty sandwich” that’s new. If you try to GET SANDWICH you die with the message “THE SANDWICH GETS YOU FIRST!”

If anyone is inclined to follow along, there’s an easy-to-use online version of Mad Venture at the Internet Archive.

Posted August 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Venture: The Key Is the Food to Your Problem   8 comments

Mad Venture is one of those games in split-screen format where room descriptions, objects, and exits are consistently displayed on the screen, so the command LOOK by itself (which makes sense in single-window games to reproduce the room description) is a little redundant. In Mad Venture it gives the message

OK. SEEMS SAME SCENE SEEN!

and I suddenly had 20-year old memories flood in.

You see, this reminded me of Nick Montfort’s game Ad Verbum (2000) which I was a beta tester for.

Sloppy Salon
Simple social space, sadly spoiled. Some skewed situation’s sequel, surely. Seemingly, slovenly students sojourned — scraping, scratching, scuffing surfaces.

Stuff: … stainless steel stapler… sizable sofa.

This is a room where only words with the letter S work. To get by this point you need a word meaning “exit the room” which starts with the letter S.

This alerted me to that — at least to some extent — Mad Venture is a wordplay game, where the physical selves of objects are just as important as the words attached to them.

I had previously managed to get small by eating a sandwich, and pop in a rabbit until to an underground area. From there I was stuck; there was a nasty sandwich there, but if I tried to eat it, it ate me back. I was too small to pick up any of the items, including the lamp, so I wasn’t able to travel anywhere.

Previously, aboveground, I had found a book that read “THE FOOD IS THE KEY TO YOUR PROBLEM” that I used as a hint to eat the sandwich; since I sent everything underground, including the book, I decided to try reading it again and was surprised to find the text had changed:

THE KEY IS THE FOOD TO YOUR PROBLEM

Oho, what about EAT KEY?

This opened the map up much wider.

The left half of the underground, as I’ve mapped it so far.

To the west I found a “small, low chamber” that was “filled with dusty rocks”. You might be familiar with this location from Adventure. Keeping the wordplay in mind, I tried to CLEAN ROCKS:

THE DUST SEEMS TO REVEAL “KATIE WAS HERE” SCRIBBLED ON ONE OF THE ROCKS.

The word “KATIE” in this particular word serves to teleport the player back and forth from the lobby of the movie theater where all the treasures need to be dropped.

I mostly haven’t had other progress. I did find a boulder I pried away with a crowbar, and a beggar who wanted one of my treasures.

I haven’t seen the beggar since; at the moment I’m assuming you get a hint later but not an optimal score if you hand over a treasure.

I got stymied by a guard who wants a gold coin, and found a very strange L I B R A R Y that didn’t let any of my objects in.

I also found a puzzle which utterly blew my mind.

Remember, in a wordplay game, words only connect tenuously with their corresponding objects, so–

Actually, let’s pause a moment. What can happen next?

I found a SMILING CHESSER CAT down one of the branches, but I don’t know what to do with him yet.

While FORK does refer to a fork in a road…

Notice the room description change.

…it can also refer to a utensil, so GET FORK works, and removes the fork in the road! This changes the map so rather than there being a northwest and a northeast exit, there’s just north.

Posted August 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Venture: Off and On I Shall Pay You a Visit   5 comments

Well, I peeked at a map, and this game likely won’t take a few weeks; I have most of the map already. That doesn’t mean the remaining puzzles won’t be hard.

This is most of the right side of the map; I’ll talk about the missing part shortly.

In particular, while I’ve been alert to wordplay (in addition to just regular physical object solutions), I was paying more attention to nouns than to verbs. This was a mistake. Let me reproduce from last time what the beggar said when I handed over a treasure.

The text of what the beggar is saying is an enormous clue: OFF AND ON I SHALL PAY A VISIT TO SEE IF I CAN HELP YOU. This isn’t referring to the beggar visiting the player just based on the passage of time; this is referring literally to the commands OFF and ON, which are shorthand for LAMP OFF and LAMP ON.

What the beggar is trying to communicate is that you can try to get their help by turning your lamp off and on again.

One of the places I was stuck was at a palace guard who needed me to hand over a gold coin.

Turning OFF the lamp here led to a strange THUD.

When I turned it ON again, I found an unconscious guard. Neat!

The actual palace itself didn’t have any puzzles, but was slightly confusing to map (hence my not bothering to add the rooms to the map at the top of this post). It did have a GOLD COIN (well, we could have used that earlier) and a CANDY HEART in a clearing with a loudspeaker.

A SPEAKER IS PLAYING LOUDLY,
“YOU GOTTA HAVE HEARTS,
MILES AND MILES OF HEARTS!”.

The lobby of the Queen’s Palace went meta, and I assume is referencing Micro Lab’s next game (Alice in Thunderland).

Posted August 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mad Venture: Finished!   10 comments

Bear with me: I’m starting with a tangent even more off-track than usual. Also, this post will make no sense unless you’ve read my previous ones on Mad Venture.

We’ll get back to this shortly, I promise.

Underneath almost any game is a second game, one that perhaps only bears partial resemblance to the original. To illustrate my point, consider Elmo’s ABCs (1998) for the Game Boy Color.

The game involves six learning activities, all requiring the player to pick the right letter from some balls that Elmo is juggling:

The letters rotate slowly. In the example above, when the “p” is in front of Elmo, the player must push a button to deposit the “p” in the box to the lower-left.

By all surface measures, this is simply testing the letter-recognition ability of small children, and the animation is simply a mechanic to make the game slightly less mundane as a trivia quiz. But for those who follow speedruns, it may not be a surprise that, yes, people speedrun Elmo’s ABCs. The Any% category has 9 scores on the leaderboard, with the world record at 2 minutes and 32 seconds.

This is not a joke: people have put serious work into optimizing the game, including manipulating the random number generation in order to get favorable ball placement (so you don’t have to wait so long for them to go slowly around the circle).

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

This is glorious. I may have done some nerdy things in gaming, but I can’t say I’ve made a spreadsheet analyzing the frames in a children’s game from the 1990s.

By diving into the number-of-frames level, speedrunners of Elmo’s ABCs essentially discovered a new game hidden within the game, one generated essentially by accident via the system of random number generation used by the programmers. There’s a 15 minute Youtube documentary with exhaustive detail.

In the text adventure universe, while Zork I does has a time-based leaderboard (world record 3 minutes 25 seconds), the “optimization game” under the main game is normally about raw number of turns. This has been implicit from the very begining, with Adventure having a lamp with limited turns and many games following. Adventure 430 (Woods’s own extension of Adventure 350) had point bonuses for finishing under particular move counts (including one bonus I am unsure if it is even possible to get).

The box art for Mad Venture mentions “185 moves, 400 points” explicitly. It is possible to get 400 points without beating the turn limit; the optimizing for a “best ending” only needs to come later. Even more explicitly than any text adventure that came before, optimizing feels like an entire hidden “second game” with different conditions than the main game.

400 out of 400

Before even thinking of optimizing, I needed to get all the points and treasures first. Unfortunately, the puzzles that remained from last time were mostly disappointing.

In the GET FORK area, I had missed an room; in the room Gotfork most of the exits go in a loop back to the same room (“YOU HAVE CRAWLED AROUND IN CIRCLES AND WOUND UP BACK WHERE YOU STARTED.”), except sometimes, entirely at random, you’ll land in a carnival. (The “entirely random” part will become important when I reach the “185 moves” part of the game.)

This puzzle is sort of fair. I didn’t quite have the thinking of the authors (Dale and Christine Johnson) down. Rather than presenting an obstacle to overcome, this room was inviting the creation of a set-piece to match the room description.

>DROP BOTTLE
OK.
>GET BALL
OK.
>THROW BALL
A STRIKE! YOU TOPPLED THE MILK BOTTLE WITH THAT THROW! A ROCK SLIDES OPEN AND A RARE PORCELAIN KEWPIE DOLL FALLS OUT! THE ROCK QUICKLY SNAPS SHUT.

The doll is doubly useful, because if you lose the doll, you can get another one. If you remember the beggar from last time who needed a treasure: to get full points, you have to give the doll, so you can get a second doll and don’t lose any treasures in the end.

Nearby, at the room marked “Cheese” on the map, is a less-fair puzzle.

YOU ARE IN A ROOM WHOSE WALLS RESEMBLE LIMBURGER CHEESE.
THE ONLY EXIT IS THE WAY YOU CAME IN.

EXITS: YOU FIGURE IT OUT!

OBJECTS: NOHOPE DIAMOND! MAD ADDER AROUND IT!

The giant snake can be fended off via fork.

>THROW FORK
NICE SHOT! WITH YOUR FORK IN HIS SIDE, THE WOUNDED ADDER CRAWLS AWAY.

Note there’s a turtle shell in the adjacent room; if you leave it be before forking the snake, the snake will curl up in the shell and die, leaving the fork. If you’ve taken or moved the shell, the snake just disappears. The only reason to suspect there might be something wrong with the snake disappearing is that the fork counts as a treasure. I suspect most people who solved it “legit” (I looked it up) did so by accident rather than by thinking about it, even though “finding an enclosed place to curl up in” is reasonable for snakes.

The “you figure it out” part mentioned in EXITS was also a hassle. The right way to escape is:

>BACK

The text says THE ONLY EXIT IS THE WAY YOU CAME IN, which has to be interpreted as the verb BACK. This sort of follows the same pattern as the ON and OFF puzzle, but at least that one technically made sense in “the real world”; typing BACK is purely a parser-based solution and there’s no clear action attached. (That is, why does BACK differ from just going in a particular direction?)

I had noticed at the odd “L I B R A R Y” room that I could read the book for a new message…

…but I was stumped from there. If you go down (to a room that’s dark, because the lamp can’t fit inside) and type PLUMM it teleports you to the movie lobby (where the treasures go) and back. This teleportation allows you to bring in the lamp after all and find a revolver which counts as a treasure.

Or you can type just PLUM since the game only recognizes the first four letters of each word.

The CHESSER CAT I mentioned being stumped by was resolved by simply typing PET CAT, which led me to a maze

This was an absolute pain in the neck and I gave up mapping and deferred to the expertise of Kim Schuette.

One final obstacle involved a TUESDAY RUBY. If you try to teleport with it the normal way (KATIE) you get sent back to the room it started in. In the maze above, there’s an exit that drops you back in the DEPOSIT CHUTE room so you can hike back to the movie lobby and drop off the ruby sans teleportation.

That was pretty much it — I did say the remaining puzzles were disappointing. I guess BACK counted as a sort of wordplay puzzle but all the ideas were used only once so no sort of system was built up (as would later happen in Nord and Bert, Ad Verbum, Counterfeit Monkey, and other games).

Where things really started to go off-kilter is when I went for 185 out of 185. Just to be clear, the guide I was using does not help with the optimization part, and I did need to write my own walkthrough.

185 out of 185

The first part of my journey in trying to get Mad Venture’s best ending was traditional: thinking about what actions needed to come before others, and clumping runs where I picked up treasures into groups. The inventory limit is technically 6, but the lamp must be carried essentially at all times, so some juggling happened with the five remaining slots.

For example, the doll at “1” needs to be obtained before reaching the beggar at “2”. That means any route will necessarily pass by the adder-with-diamond (at “a”) so I grabbed the diamond as one of my five slots. The doll went to the beggar (so didn’t take up one slot) and I was able to fit the treasures at “b”, “c”, “d”, and “e” in my inventory before making a trip back to the lobby to drop the treasures off.

After some rearranging and squeezing what I assumed was every possible step possible, I still didn’t quite the list down to 185 moves; I was at 195, 10 too many.

I struggled for a while figuring out where to find them, until I reconsidered my opening. Here were the starting steps of my original walkthrough:

GET KEY. N. GET LAMP. GET CROWBAR. N. GET BOTTLE. GET SANDWICH
N. N. UNLOCK DOOR. GO DOOR. GET BOOK. W. LIGHT LAMP
DEPOSIT KEY. DEPOSIT CROWBAR. DEPOSIT BOTTLE. DEPOSIT BOOK. DEPOSIT LAMP. E. S. S. EAT SANDWICH. GO HOLE. EAT KEY.

This solves the opening puzzle with the sandwich and the edible key the “normal” way. However, I realized that solving the sandwich puzzle does not actually give any points. Of equal importance: the word KATIE works without solving any puzzles! In many games, there would be some prohibition to make sure the puzzle was solved the “right” way so you’d have to go through the shrink-and-eat-key-to-get-big process (even potentially randomizing the magic word needed, like Adventure 430 does) but it appears not only does the game let you sidestep solving the puzzle, it requires sidestepping the puzzle in order to get a best ending!

GET KEY. N. GET LAMP. GET CROWBAR. N. GET BOTTLE. N. N. UNLOCK DOOR
GO DOOR. GET BOOK. S. S. S. S. S. E. PLUM.
LIGHT LAMP. D. DROP BOOK. D. GET REVOLVER. PLUM. DROP REVOLVER. KATIE.

This felt like I was breaking into a second game with a different structure: now the sandwich was no longer the essential item for solving the first puzzle, but a red herring.

One last piece of evil: I did say the entrance to the carnival is randomized, and you need to enter it twice. I’m not certain as to the chance of success but I believe it’s somewhere around 20%. So to get through without saving requires getting a 20% luck chance, twice.

My walkthrough has 183 moves; 185 are allowed. The extra two moves can be used to save a game! So the game intends for you to save and reload until you get the right random chance at those positions. I found this utterly, profoundly off-kilter to my views of how games are supposed to work. This sort of thing happens in speedruns, or “cheating” at adventures, but in optimizing Mad Venture, the hidden game became the primary one.

Posted August 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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