Archive for the ‘secret-of-flagstone-manor’ Tag

The Secret of Flagstone Manor: Finished!   3 comments

The game had two clever moments left before the ending.

Both moments felt simultaneously like advances in storytelling and steps back in game design. The game design issue has an easy fix, but it’s something that hadn’t been invented yet when this game was written.

I haven’t been able to find any physical copies of Flagstone, but here’s their logo as printed on The Gambler (a poker game they later published). From sairuk on Twitter.

Last time I predicted I was stuck on what was intended as “easy” puzzles; this was mostly correct. I mostly wasn’t applying MOVE to enough things.

Either here…

>MOVE COBWEBS
O.K.
There’s writing on the wall behind the cobwebs.
It says: “The second is 8”.

…or moving a bed, finding a can opener…

>MOVE BED
O.K.
I see something.

…or moving a chest, finding a rope.

The other thing I missed was I only slept in bed once; I generally was dying before reaching the third day, or resetting and consolidating my previous actions. Eventually, I did finally get round to a second sleep, where I had a dream informing me to leave the wine bottle in the study overnight.

Doing so led to an empty bottle as shown above, but no other apparent effect. Finally, I realized that PRESS PANEL (which previously didn’t work) now had an effect; a secret panel opened to a new area.

I think the intent is that the ghost of Arthur Flagstone (who you’ll meet in a moment) came up to drink the wine, somehow unlocking the panel in the process. I’m not that entirely makes sense plot-wise because the ghost is also the one who kills you if you sleep without locking your door (and you hear chains clanking the first night, so you know he’s out there). If I stretch hard enough I could imagine the ghost accidentally triggering something while they’re indulging their post-death affection for alcohol.

>FEED MOUSE
O.K.
The mouse grabs the cheese
and disappears into a small hole.
I hear a click.
The wall moves aside.

Here’s the aforementioned ghost. The combination lock puts together information found throughout the Manor:

  • “The first is 3” from a paper hidden in a painting
  • “The second is 8” from cobwebs
  • “The third is 7” from a book

You need to have eaten some garlic before approaching the door. Otherwise, the ghost kills you for trying to enter (there’s a hint in a diary that Flagstone hates garlic breath).

Past the ghost is the only treasure of the game.

If you try to take the gold bars out, the ghost goes into overdrive.

The ghost, outraged at seeing me with his gold,
overcomes his dislike of garlic… and THROTTLES me!

This moment is what I meant about an advance in storytelling being accompanied by a step back in gameplay.

The idea of the ghost being so protective of his wealth even after death was oddly human; that it was accompanied by a previous puzzle solution being ignored made it more powerful.

In a gameplay sense, this was a cheap shot; the game gives the impression the player is protected, when suddenly they aren’t — but I don’t think this event would be as effective any other way. A more modern “rewind to the previous mistake” (either automatic or with an UNDO command) would dance around the problem neatly, but that particular innovation wasn’t invented yet (except for maybe in Hezarin).

Speaking of cheap shots, here’s what happens if you try to PULL RING:

A large stone crashes from the roof… and CLOBBERS me!

Ow. But! … this is again a clever moment of plot, because the right solution is to tie a rope, step outside the room (requiring leaving the gold bars, temporarily) and pull the rope. This breaks the roof which turns out the be the flagstone from the very first room of the game.

This is what the flagstone looks like at the very start. I thought at the time perhaps it was meant as just an atmospheric red herring.

This sort of return-in-importance is especially rare for the TRS-80 games of the time; I can’t think of another example offhand.

The Secret of Flagstone Manor was a strong start for a prolific adventure-writer. I’m looking forward to trying more of the Brian J. Betts library, but we have to wait until 1982 before we reach any.

In the meantime, let’s investigate another candidate for First Australian Commercial Text Adventure Game, one I thought was going to be mundane but ended up shocking me.

Posted February 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Secret of Flagstone Manor (1981)   6 comments

Brian J. Betts is most famous for a series of C64 games with distinctive character graphics published by his one-man outfit Mountain Valley Software (based in Victoria, Australia), but he started in 1981 with a bog-standard TRS-80 game.

Given the weirdness of what I’ve played lately, I could use some bog-standard. This does have the possible distinction of being the first commercial text adventure from Australia, with the caveat there is at least one other candidate from 1981 we will get to (similar to how Planet of Death might be the first commercial text adventure from the UK).

The parser is in a Scott Adams style, up to the point I suspect the author was referring to the original source code.

The death screen, for instance, is identical.

Upon entering the manor, you find a suit of armor with an axe. This is what happens when you TAKE AXE.

I really haven’t emphasized enough the “family tree” that’s been happening with codebases around this time. Creating both a world model and a real parser with that understands verbs and nouns as independent entities is a non-trivial problem; some authors just didn’t bother with a parser (see: Quest, Dante’s Inferno).

Once various adventures had their BASIC code printed in magazines — or authors just read through BASIC source code straight off commercially sold copies — it was now easy to avoid starting from scratch. So while Betts clearly was borrowing from Adams, this was not only standard practice at the time but somewhat advisable for a beginner getting started.

The big difference here while the code likely borrows from Adventureland or Pirate Adventure (the two readily available in BASIC) the primary design inspiration seems to be The Count.

Now, I’m not just meaning this game is in the Spooky House family, but there’s a day-night cycle. It’s isn’t too long in when darkness starts falling. I originally thought this was a tight time limit (if darkness falls, the axe fellow mentioned earlier chops you up), but the intent is for you to find the bed and SLEEP which causes time to move on to the next day. (If nothing else, it’s good for atmosphere; if you forget to lock the door behind you when going to bed, someone strangles you in the night!)

There’s also no treasures so far. I don’t have whatever instructions the game came with so I don’t know what the goal really is, but since I’ve found lots of items but no *TREASURES* I suspect the objective is to defeat a spooky enemy of some sort.

The gameplay mostly consists of finding secrets.

  • There’s a library, with a lamp you can TURN causing the bookcase to move, revealing a “Hidden Cellar” with a skeleton and some garlic. The library also has a book on Ghost Stories with the note “the third is 7”.
  • There’s a lounge with fireplace and firewood and lighting the fire (with matches from another room) reveals a “Hidden Room” with cobwebs and a ladder.
  • There’s a dining room with a “small panel” where PRESS PANEL reveals some keys. The keys let you in two locked doors (including the previously mentioned bedroom).
  • There’s a “portrait of old Arthur Flagstone” where “The eyes are watching me.” Finding a KNIFE in a nearby clock and using CUT PAINTING causes a scream, revealing a piece of paper which says “the first is 3”.
  • There’s a study with a DESK that has an ASHTRAY and a LARGE PANEL. I suspect the LARGE PANEL can open just like the smaller one did because there’s a custom “How?” message when I try to OPEN PANEL, but this is one place I’m stuck.

Notice the “It’s getting dark.” messages. That means I need to head up to the bedroom soon if I want to live.

The only other lingering puzzle I have is a CAN I can’t open. I get the intuition this is supposed to be an “easy game” yet I’m stuck just as much as I would be on a hard game. It doesn’t help there’s likely a secret passage I haven’t unlocked yet but I have no idea where it is (that is, I’m missing a so-called “secret puzzle” which I’ve written about before).

The game is online here if someone wants to take a look. If anyone is inclined to drop hints, please use ROT13 encipherment. Despite the game coming off as a clone of other Spooky Houses, the day-night atmosphere alone is enough to hook me in a little longer before I start resorting to hints.

Posted February 14, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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