Archive for the ‘the-golden-baton’ Tag

The Golden Baton (1981)   6 comments

IFComp 2020 continues apace; I’ve played some interesting games, but I’m going to save any words for close to the end. (Although, look: this one is really good.)

In the meantime, the Project continues, and for this game, the Quest for Earliest Britventure.

Brian Howarth is famous for his “Mysterious Adventures” series of 11 games, starting with The Golden Baton. He originally coded the first several directly for TRS-80, but later converted all of them to the Scott Adams database format*. If you look them up today, those are the main versions that pop up, but I’ve been playing both the original TRS-80 version and the BBC Micro version** from a year later (after Howarth had switched to Scott Adams format), and I can say they are significantly different. I’ve had puzzles I could solve in one version and not the other, up to the point I started just having both versions loaded at the same time.

I’m happy to describe my gameplay so far, but first! — how does Mysterious Adventure No 1 stack up against our three-way tie, in terms of release day? Just as a reminder, we’ve had Planet of Death, The City of Alzan, and Atom Adventure all come out in July 1981, with the first two even being advertised in the same issue of the same magazine. As the picture above indicates, The Golden Baton was first advertised in May, meaning it almost certainly came earlier (by magazine lag time, March or April of 1981). You can see lots more advertising here as collected by Gareth Pitchford.

I would now normally throw confetti and declare this the winner for Earliest Britventure*** — I had, in fact, planned for a while to finish my Quest here — but Gareth found a wildly-obscure-but-fascinating 1980 game which blows all the rest out of the water (I’ll be getting to that one soon). Disclaimer: to a genuine extent, this sort of chronological jockeying is for fun. A few months, in the tangled thread of influences, is not significant enough to wring hands over, especially given the variety of presentations and platforms (the 1980 game we haven’t got to yet is for yet another computer platform). Also, as I discussed with Atlantean Odyssey the second or third to arrive at an idea can be much more influential than the first. That’s certainly the case here — Howarth’s work is still “famous” (as far as text adventures can be), the series starting with Planet of Death casts a shadow over the Spectrum computer world, and while the City of Alzan game itself didn’t influence much the source code was part of a family tree of borrowing and development. Atom Adventure is just a blip on history but it’s essentially a proto-version of the colossal Xanadu Adventure from 1982.

The intro of the BBC version is rather long, and reminded me of Tower of Fear, so I have done another dramatic reading. Enjoy. (If it doesn’t show in your browser, you can find it here.)

Dark clouds drift ominously across the rising moon, you cringe as the night silence is suddenly shattered by the fearsome howl of some fell creature deep within the forest.

Weary from travelling, unable to force yourself onward, you sink to the ground and lean back against the bole of a huge, gnarled old tree. As your aching limbs slowly relax, you silently curse the road that led you to this evil place.

The noble cause that initially motivated you to undertake this deadly mission seems to pale into insignificance against the perils that you have, up until now, survived.

Your mission is to recover the legendary Golden Baton, a priceless artifact that has been worshipped by your race for countless generations.

The Baton was stolen from the palace of King Ferrenuil, ruler of your homeland. Many learned counsellors strongly believe that the Golden Baton holds within it a kind of life-force that maintains an equilibrium between the forces of good and evil.

For many centuries, your homelands have suffered no wars, no droughts or famine.

King Ferrenuil fears for the future of his people as the influence of the Baton has been taken from his lands.

Ever since the Baton was stolen, brave warriors and hardy knights were sent far and wide through the world in search of this artifact… none ever returned.

So it was that you started out on your journey, travelling through strange, hostile lands until finally you reached this territory of Evil magic whose name is never spoken. An almost tangible feeling of malice pervades the atmosphere and weariness descends upon the traveller like a pall of death.

You draw your robe around yourself to ward off the icy chill of night and sink into a troubled sleep, mortally afraid of what the coming days may cast upon you…

Summary: There’s a Golden Baton. Find it.

In all seriousness: I’m trying — and somewhat failing — to see from the perspective of the writer. To my readers, is there anyone who likes this kind of lore dump? It would be better if there was some relation to the game, but I reckon a 90% chance everything above is fluff. When I’m amidst the actual-gameplay portion of an adventure, I’ll happily go along with odd textual constructions, but when having to treat a block of text as just text, it’s hard for me to remain unruffled with phrases like “this territory of Evil magic whose name is never spoken”.

Art from The Tate’s collection of minimalist work. (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 Unreported.)

On the left, Sol LeWitt’s Two Open Modular Cubes/Half-Off from 1972. On the right, Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII from 1966.

Both are from the minimalist “school”, both in the same museum collection, and they were only made 6 years apart. Yet, there are significant differences in form; the LeWitt piece plays with shadow, while the Andre piece is nearly shadow-free. Andre’s cinder blocks are an arrangement of found materials, while LeWitt’s piece is a constructed sculpture. While both involve “geometric single or repeated forms”, even in that zone the single-offset-repeat of the cube feels much different than the many-block-repeat on the right.

The point here is while we tie the works together with the word “minimalist”, there are still shades of difference within that meaning; we could make sub-schools within sub-schools and still not fully encompass the potential areas of minimalist technique.

This is relevant for The Golden Baton; I’ve used “minimalist” quite a bit to describe this sort of game …

..but also this sort of game.

They’re the same game, by the same person, but the BBC Micro version (the second shot) is sort of an ultra-minimalism, describing locations by one or two words. The TRS-80 version includes a bit more, and the effect on playing is significant.

A few more comparisons just to make the point; I think I can get away with not labeling which is which:


I’m by a Tree


I’m in a clearing by a Cabin


I’m in a Cabin with hole in floor
Things I can see: Barrel – Oil Sodden Rag –

To reiterate, this did have genuine gameplay effect. In the first room you find a sword hidden in the leaves, and just south there are some brambles.


I’m in a tangle of PRICKLY briars

You can CHOP BRAMBLES which reveals a hidden rope. I found it this easier to realize in the super-minimalist version of the game.

The sword can then be used to kill a wolf…

The BBC version just says I’m by a Path and there’s no north direction specified; you need to GO PATH.

… and past the wolf to the north is a castle. You can swim in the moat.


I’m at a Portcullis

I was stumped in the BBC version, but the slight extra text in the TRS-80 version (and the clarification I wasn’t still swimming) led me to try THROW ROPE.


I should note this confusion wasn’t just mine; Dale Dobson at Gaming After 40 got stuck here (he played a Scott-Adams-format-with-graphics version), and complained at length about this puzzle being too hard to solve.

Past this inside the castle is a armored figured. In the TRS-80 edition of the game the figure stops you so you can go no farther.

In the BBC version, you can just walk on by. Past the figure I’ve found a lamp that lets me get in a dark cave at the cabin/hut I clipped earlier.

I haven’t been able to solve the armored figure puzzle, so I can’t yet get the lamp in the TRS-80 version! It still helps to know the progression — I know not to fuss with the dark hole assuming I’ll find something to get by the figure — but I’m going to stick with the TRS-80 as my “primary” game for now with the BBC game as a supplement.

(*) Mr. Howarth reverse-engineered the Scott Adams format on his own, and later helped make official ports of those games.

(**) I chose the BBC Micro in honor of the work of Anthony who recently ported the BASIC versions of Pirate Adventure and Adventureland with some fascinating write-ups. Also, for more IFComp reading, he picked apart and ported the C64 game that Nick Montfort entered.

(***) I’m incidentally excluding ports of Crowther/Woods Adventure from all this. I’m also not discussing Level 9’s Fantasy from 1981 because the game is currently lost, although it’s on my Top 3 of Games I’d Really Like To Try — it’s not only historically important from the angle of the company it came from (sort of the Infocom of the UK, although I’d split the title with Magnetic Scrolls) but in being the odd sub-genre of open-world-with-dynamic-characters as seen in other games like The Hobbit.

Posted October 7, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Golden Baton: Revenge of the Parallel Universes Problem   2 comments

I didn’t get much farther than last time, but I hit an almost perfect variation of the Parallel Universes Problem, so I wanted to share.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

(Definition: situation where the user is in a playthrough with different conditions from another playthrough, and where the difference between the “parallel universes” is non-obvious. I first coined the term in relation to the game Kidnapped.)

I had previously been stopped by an armored figure, but only in the TRS-80 version of the game.

I had *not* been stopped by the same character in the BBC version. I thought, vaguely, perhaps I hit a bug, or just a situation where the defeat gives an item and it was set up so the later version was more forgiving when the puzzle was to be solved.

I had missed a slight difference between the two universes. In the BBC universe, I was wearing a RAGGED OLD CLOAK (from the first room of the game). In the TRS-80 one, I was carrying it, but didn’t have it on.

The cloak makes you invisible to the figure, so you can move on. There is no message or indicator why you can get by (I found the “invisible” thing from the game’s hint sheet).

This opened up two areas for me. First, the inside of the castle (see above), which includes a hunting horn (you can BLOW HORN but I haven’t found a use for it yet), a HELMET (there’s runes on it, just like a STAFF on the road to the castle), a LAMP, a LARGE HAMMER, a magical QUARTZ, a SMALL MIRROR, and a LIZARD MAN. I haven’t tried to face off against the lizard man yet, but I did run across a gorgon, and the results were unfortunate.

Getting in here required a KEY I found by throwing the rope up the tree I mentioned last time.

I would think the SMALL MIRROR would help, but the result above happens even if you’re holding it. I don’t know if there’s some extra verb involved, but I’d be surprised if the mirror didn’t factor into the solution somehow.

The second area I opened — by lighting the lamp — was a series of caves underneath the hut (or “cabin” if you’re playing the BBC version).

The cave layout is slightly different in the BBC version.

I found a padlock which I was able to smash using the LARGE HAMMER from the castle. Inside was a RAFT. I have no idea how to use the raft.

I found some slugs (easily defeated with salt I had) and a crab (who is distracted if you throw the dead slugs). The crab is next to an underground lake, which seemingly begs to have the raft used on it.

This is one of those kind of games where an item only works in the right spot and just gives a vague hint if you’re doing it wrong, so it may be I need to just try (say) THROW RAFT elsewhere. “RIDE” is clearly eliminated as shown on the screenshot above, though.

Other than checking up on the armored figure I’ve been trying to resist hints; I’ve been warned the puzzles are pretty arbitrary on this one so I don’t know how productive it will be to hold off on reading more hints, but I’m going to hang on a little longer.

What I am going to do is drop playing the BBC Micro version for now; I’m finding it too confusing to switch back and forth between the universes (I’m still referring to the HUT as a CABIN by accident) even though it’s fascinating that the author decided to change so much between the two versions.

Posted October 12, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Golden Baton: A Renowned Hero   5 comments

I wasn’t too far from the end, but there was a fair amount of parser struggle to get there.

Via Mobygames.

Let’s take care of the raft first. I went as far as searching for synonyms for RIDE (not the first time I’ve whipped out a thesaurus to play an adventure game), but I still had to look at hints; the elusive verb was SAIL.

I then found a lake with nothing useful on it — it turns out the lake is the final destination of the game. I went back to whacking at the places of the castle I was still stuck on.

First, a chunk of glowing quartz in the “sorcerer’s lab”. The quartz is non-portable (I didn’t quite understand if was “stuck” or just too big). I had a staff with runes around it, so it felt magic-ish enough to try WAVE STAFF.

There’s a helmet that also has runes on it, and if you’re wearing the helmet you can then examine it (which previously had “unreadable” runes that you can now read) to get a magic word. Say the magic word…

…and you are finally awarded with the quartz, and no other assistance. Well, drat. (The glowing doesn’t even substitute for the lamp, unfortunately.) I succumbed to the lure of the hint sheet, because, rather arbitrarily, you have to wave the quartz at the adjacent room, with a lizard man.

It wasn’t an unsolvable puzzle, surely — there wasn’t much left to work on — but I still felt all manner of grumpy after finishing this part. It’s quite standard for magical items in text adventures to have arbitrary effects only discoverable by experimentation, and in theory that should be fine, but in practice stumbling into an answer by chance rather than some thought process just isn’t that satisfying.

Moving on! SEARCH LIZARD yields a jeweled knife. The only other part of the castle I had yet to solve was the gorgon, and I once again reached for hints, because I had the right idea (use the small mirror) but the wrong action. You have to HOLD MIRROR before entering the room with the gorgon.

I suspect the vast majority of players, including myself, thought of using the mirror here, but where stymied when the desired effect didn’t happen automatically. I can conceptually see how HOLD MIRROR might be, to the author’s eye, declaring action in a way that isn’t otherwise present, but for the player who visualized this as already happening, it is intensely irritating.

The parchment with the gorgon gives the final steps for getting the baton. I already knew how to get to the lake, and I had the horn at the ready.

I guessed THR was THROW, but what was I throwing? Well, by process of elimination, the only major item I hadn’t used: the jeweled dagger I got from the lizard man.

The Golden Baton was hurt by two elements I’ve observed before: 1.) it’s hard to include undocumented magical items without a lot of guesswork and 2.) without complex daemons and/or characters, difficult puzzles arise from amping up the obscurity of verbs and arbitrariness of action. Also, the fantasy world is fairly drab compared to the lore-dense opening. I honestly can’t recommend this game except for completionists.

Don’t worry, Howarth fans: this is only the first out of eleven games. There’s still time to improve! (A review from 1985 notes “Later titles in the series appear to be far more intriguing.”) In fact, I have started Mysterious Adventure #2, and it’s already better than #1, so look forward to that for my next post.

BONUS READING: Dale Dobson played the C64 version and wrote about it, so you can see what the game looks like with pictures.

Posted October 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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