Archive for the ‘the-adventure-system’ Tag

Burglar’s Adventure (1981)   6 comments

Burglar’s Adventure is the other sample “full adventure” that came with Bruce Hansen’s Adventure System, which was just the database system developed by Scott Adams with an independently developed editor.

From trs-80.com. According to the Australian magazine MICRO-80 the newsletter shown was put into copies of The Adventure System, with the notion of people subscribing quarterly and having adventures contributed by users, much like the Softside Adventure of the Month Club. As far as I can find there was only issue #1, so the whole project was likely another piece of early 80s vaporware.

Burglar’s Adventure was also quite a bit more enjoyable than Miner’s Adventure. The latter suffered from difficulty with guessing verbs and nouns; there are two bits in this game which are similar but it isn’t nearly as egregious.

The setup casts you as a thief, logically allowing for (once again) having a treasure hunt, this time searching for five treasures in a museum.

Most of the map, excluding the “home base”.

You start at a street by a car. I assumed for most of the game this was “your car” but it is not; you’ve apparently hiked it over here some other way, and can’t go back the same way you came in.

You can LOOK MUSEUM to notice that “It’s an ivy covered building” and CLIMB IVY to get up to an open window. I admit I was stuck here briefly but the need to use a second-order noun wasn’t too terrible just because there isn’t much to do yet!

Once inside, you find a sleeping guard.

If you LOOK GUARD, though, there is an important note that mentions that the “vault” will open at 9 am. Looking causes the guard to wake. You can HIT GUARD to knock him unconscious first. Alternately, you can use the power of magically knowing what the note has due to a previous run-through and leave the guard in peace. Hence, you can do the entire heist without messing with the guard at all. (This includes, at one point, running a chainsaw. Sound sleeper.)

The note also warns you that the red corridor has an alarm set, and indeed, if you try to go in, alarm bells go off. Interestingly enough, this is not an insta-loss. You can explore the “red area” a little bit — all the alarm does is set off a timer that eventually triggers. While I didn’t experiment, it is possible you might be able to get a “non-optimal” win where you grab one treasure while triggering the alarm and leave before getting caught. Sort of an alternate solution?

Even without that, the allowance for some exploration after triggering the alarm ended up being a smooth piece of game design, because it allowed seeing what obstacles were ahead and what items might be needed. One of the issues with adventure game design is having 10 items where items #5-#10 are all used for later obstacles, but because the player has no way of knowing that they spend a lot of wasted time trying to apply items #5-#10 on earlier puzzles. Here there’s a way to make those connections early, even if in the “diegetic universe” of the “final playthrough” the same sequence of items #5-#10 only being used later still applies.

One of the rooms past the alarm corridor. There’s an “ice block” that you can break with a tomahawk — suggesting the intended use of the tomahawk early — before solving the puzzle of how to avoid tripping the alarm.

Before dealing with the red corridor, let’s consider the other available places: there’s a “south of the border” area with beans and dough, a “wild west” area with some sticks, a “cowboy” holding a “LARRIET” and an “Indian” holding a “TOMAHAWK” and a “BOW AND ARROW”; there’s a lumberjack room with a chainsaw and some trees; a restroom with a mirror you can take, and finally a manager door that’s locked.

The sticks at the Wild West area can be rubbed to make a fire, which you can then use to cook the beans and dough and form burritos. I admit this is one of first puzzles I solved; I had run through my “standard verb list” and found that COOK worked so still had it in the back of my head when I saw the food and the fire. The game just says YUMMY so I was quite mystified what the effect was, but I kept playing (and found out the use later).

I tried to fiddle with the chainsaw and it told me it was out of fuel. I recalled in the last game extreme shenanigans with forming gunpowder and the like, so I expected I would distill home-made fuel somehow. What I wasn’t expecting was the solution to suddenly appear:

I don’t feel very good. I think I have GAS.

Yes, that’s from the burritos. Once you “have GAS” you can “START CHAINSAW”, and use it to break into the Manager’s Office.

The manager’s office contains a vault. Remember that the note said it opens at 9, and having done this kind of puzzle before, I went back to the central area which had a CLOCK and did TURN HAND to the right time. This let me nab a HOPE DIAMOND and a RUBY. (I guess that means we’re raiding the Smithsonian. Also, the Hope Diamond is now worth over $200 million, making this the biggest payday of any of our player characters so far, except I’m not sure where you would fence such an object.)

For the red corridor, I nearly got it solved on my own, but I had a smidgen of parser issues. I realized I could TIE LARRIET to a coat rack in the central area by the red corridor, and I was able to get the parser to TIE LARRIET to the BOW AND ARROW correctly, but somehow the setup didn’t work. More noun nonsense: the game lets you refer to the BOW and to the ARROW part separately. So while I assumed TIE LARRIET / TO BOW meant implied to the whole bow-and-arrow system, the game just had it tie to the shooting part, not the arrow part. You need to TIE LARRIET / TO ARROW instead.

With the rope so extended (and the guard still sleeping peacefully) I was able to climb over to the second area of the game without any alarm triggers. I’ve already showed off getting ivory tusks off a mastadon (at least we didn’t kill this one ourselves). There’s also a bit where you need to redirect some light with a mirror to get a Picasso and get into a CASE by referring to the GLASS.

This is the second-worst parser moment of the game, but the set piece does have a nifty aspect. You can BREAK GLASS instead to get in the case. The problem is that this sets off the alarm, again. But just like the alarm-setting-off before, it lets you “see ahead” in the plot and get a better run later. The CUT GLASS only works if you’re holding the Hope Diamond, and I cringe thinking of scraping that even if it is theoretically should be strong enough.

From the glass case you can nab a tiara; with the tiara, tusks, Picasso, diamond, and ruby you can then clamber your way back to the car, and drop your treasures off, and…

…realize that this wasn’t the protagonist’s car. I guess it makes sense if we are performing a high-profile robbery we wouldn’t be bringing our own vehicle, but I was still stuck because the only thing I could attempt was START CAR where I was told I didn’t have keys. I poked at a walkthrough and found out that (despite having no tools) the verb HOTWIRE works.

Given our payoff, I hope we’re upgrading our shack.

So, yes: despite some bumps like needing to induce you can refer to the GLASS alone of the “glass case” and it is considered a different thing, this was more fun to tromp through than Miner’s Adventure. I was particularly impressed by the alarm system allowing for “looking ahead” — it was never a true alternate solution if you actually wanted to “win” with all the treasures, but knowing what came ahead helped narrow down my puzzle solving options and know what to focus on. It also made the game less claustrophobic and linear overall.

I’ve mentioned the 1984 games explicitly saying they used The Adventure System. It is hard to know which others might have, given there is no “label” marked in the Scott Adams database if such a thing happens. There are some more random anonymous games that may have used the system for editing, or the authors may have just independently hacked the file on their own to figure things out. So I can’t say The Adventure System made a huge mark on history, but it at least gets some interest for being available so early in text adventure history.

Also, having a chainsaw powered by farts surely deserves at least a footnote in the grand annals.

Posted October 29, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Adventure System / Miner’s Adventure (1981)   8 comments

While Scott Adams wrote his first two games in BASIC (Adventureland and Pirate Adventure) he quickly switched to machine language and in both cases used a “database” file that could be plugged into the same framework every time to run a different adventure.

There was theoretically nothing stopping a person from using the database and requiring the Scott Adams executable file be provided separately to create an entirely new game. Alvin Files and William Demas both independently wrote their own games published by Scott Adams himself, although unofficial games were also quite possible; Kim Watt did this with the unfinished and broken game Marooned. In 1980 Allan Moluf then wrote an early version of The Adventure System he called ADVLIST “for his own use” in BASIC as an editor to make games; this was picked up by Bruce Hansen who rewrote the slower parts (“some ADVLIST commands could take close to three minutes to complete”) in assembly language and redubbed ADVEDIT.

The catch in “providing the executable file separately” is that Scott Adams started protecting the disks to prevent copying. Despite this, Kim Watt (back to him, again) wrote ADVCOPY as a way of getting the executable file anyway, and Bruce Hansen later wrote his own Scott Adams Executor Program to get around any copyright issues.

The new ADVEDIT was eventually launched as a commercial product starting late in 1981.

Manual cover, from the Museum of Computer Adventure Games. Despite the title seeming to be “ADVENTURE the system” here it is given as “The Adventure System” in the manual text proper. The Alternate Source was incidentally a TRS-80 programmer’s journal; this seems to be their only game-related product although they had an offer to publish games made with The Adventure System written into the manual.

The system allowed publishing commercial games using the system. (Jimmy Maher claims there was a $200 fee for that on top of the $40 price of the game, but I can’t find the extra fee listed in either version of the manual I have.) This feels slightly cheeky, given a good initial setup was cadged wholesale from Scott Adams without permission. The only games I know of that took the developer up that offer are the Mega Venture series by Jim Veneskey, published by Big Orc Software in 1984. (At least according to various sites, I haven’t seen a magazine ad or a picture of a box.)

The package came with one “tutorial game” and two “full games”: Mini-Venture, Miner’s Adventure and Burglar’s Adventure. I’ll cover the first two now and save the last for my next post.

The tutorial game (or Mini-Venture, or Mugger’s Adventure) is pretty easy to dispose of.

You get out of your car, light a match to see (this a “timed event” so you see the lit room long enough to know where the exit is, then the room goes back to dark), go in your apartment, go up an elevator, unlock you door, and go inside.

Also, to test out the *TREASURES* system, you need to drop your wallet at the end.

It’s solely there to demonstrate how writing an adventure works and the entire sample adventure is printed in the manual.

The most elaborate portion is in the “ACTIONS” section.

The manual both lists the code and explains the meaning of each line after.

AUTO represents triggers that happen every turn. A fair amount of text games from this era lack much in the way of persistent effects, or “daemons”, but they’ve always been a large part of the Scott Adams games (for good or evil). For example, in the original Adventureland there are bees that when caught in a bottle have a percent chance of dying every turn while contained — not good design admittedly. In the follow-up Pirate Adventure there is a surf that goes in and out, and a location that changes based on the tide — this is much better design which not only open puzzle possibilities but makes the environment feel dynamic. Without any dynamic elements it is easy for text adventures to feel like a series of set-pieces waiting for the right phrase or item to continue.

For example, in the start of the source above, if the player is outside their car for 4 moves they are mugged and die, an outcome that happens 100% of the time when such conditions are met (AUTO 100) The “-IN 2” means “in any room other than room 2 (that’s outside).

The lines 5 through 7 are designed to handle if room 2 is lit or not. Light normally happens in any room other than 2 (the -IN 2 again). The command LIGH MATC (“light match”) from line 7 will trigger being able to see in that room temporarily (it will actually show the room description, then pause in real time, then revert to darkness).

Bruce Hansen seemed to have a technical handle on the system so I was looking forward to the sample games being well-coded, but at least for Miner’s Adventure that is sadly not the case.

The premise of Miner’s Adventure is to go into a mine, get treasures, and return them to the main office.

Yet another treasure hunt, but they’ve worked out fine before. This one has trouble right away. If you LOOK DESK you can see a DRAWER which you then can OPEN with the message “Strange, the drawer was hard to open.” This cues the player to LOOK DRAWER and find an envelope taped underneath. Good so far (and I like the use of tactile sense as a hint). However, I then spent the next 15 minutes searching for a way to get at the envelope (GET ENVELOPE: “I don’t see it here”. GET TAPE: “I don’t know what TAPE is.”) I finally just checked a walkthrough and found I needed to UNTANGLE ENVELOPE, which is the worst guess-the-verb I’ve seen in a long time.

The envelope has a key and a paper stating “Cross over into another world”. The key let me unlock a nearby shed with a fuse, empty dynamite box, and shovel. Outside the shed I was stopped at the Mine Entrance by a guard (and no verbs worked on the guard) and the only other thing I had access to was a “Mining Office”.

The way the room is set, the only available item (other than the SIGN which you can just look at) is the DESK. This time I had about 30 minutes of frustration, since I wasn’t sure if I was really supposed to do something here now (or maybe have treasures checked later or something along those lines). Again I finally resorted to a walkthrough, which told me I needed to GET JOB.

OK, you’re hired

This is the most infuriating sort of parser abuse and I pretty much lost all faith in the game past this point.

Inside the mine, there’s some coal lying out in the open, and “freshly dug earth” you can use the shovel on.

The next awful bit is shown above. Even though the game seems to be coded for ROCK being the noun (as you can LOOK ROCK) GET ROCK gets “I don’t see it here.” No, you need to TIE TWINE / TO KEY. It isn’t clear at all the “keystone” can even be referred to as a separate object, and it can of course be confused with the actual key item from earlier.

After pulling there’s an OBSIDIAN BOWL which is a treasure, and a “stone” with a “sharp edge”. The pile of rocks is still there but GET ROCKS says “I don’t see it here”. The next action is to use the rocks which you can’t see and can see simultaneously and also can’t refer to in any other way in order to MAKE BRIDGE.

As a general rule, the author doesn’t seem to care that an item that is getting used can be referred to in any other sense; only a lateral command (where it isn’t explicit what is happening, and I had to just guess afterwards) works as a method of reference. When this sort of thing happens too often the game ceases to have a “world model” with objects that can be each thought of as entities that can be manipulated and instead asks the player to find the Special Words to make progress.

Next comes a “tropical valley”.

The water from the pond can be taken back to the lava area to pour it and get some “sulpher” (this can mix with coal to make gunpowder, you have to summon up the command MIX GUNPOWDER from the void). You can also dive in the pond (pulling away a piece of metal which turns out to be a speargun) to find some crystals.

The speargun can be used to kill and the sharp stone can skin an alligator for its hide (it’s a treasure). (It’s also good for confusing the parser where you type GUN and it doesn’t know if you mean gunpowder or the speargun, argh.)

You can then swing a vine to a cave, load a cannon with a gunpowder/fuse/bamboo combo (there is no prompting that the word CANNON is even in the vocabulary of the game, but that’s what you have to make)…

…use the cannon to kill a SLEEPING MASTODON (not even being threatening), follow it to take its ivory…

…escape out a stream and using a pole with the word VAULT, because let’s just keep piling it on for hard-to-find verbs, and finally tote the treasures, including the ivory from killing a rare animal, to victory.

This did not feel like victory.

I’m hoping Burglar’s Adventure is a touch better? The author here was good at designing colorful events, not so good at making sure all the pieces were lined up so the players could find the right knobs to push to make those events happen. (I have trouble believing anyone came up with making a “cannon” unprompted — where you had to type that exact noun — without reading the source code.)

Posted October 28, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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