Archive for the ‘the-institute’ Tag

The Institute (1981)   4 comments

The duo of Jyym Pearson and Robyn Pearson finish off 1981 (finally!) with The Institute. Will Moczarski calls it a near-masterpiece so we’re likely in for a ride.

Rather than Adventure International, this game was originally published by Med Systems as text-only (for both TRS-80 and Atari computers), and after Med Systems switched to being Intelligent Statements, Inc. (trademark filed July 13, 1982) they published a Commodore 64 version of the game sometime that year (probably text-only, see image above). The next year they published graphical versions for Apple, Commodore 64, and Atari using the name Screenplay. (Screenplay is listed as a trademark owned by Intelligent Statements, even though the trademark on Intelligent Statements itself was listed as abandoned in 1984, so I’m not totally sure what’s going on other than possibly bad handling of paperwork.)

I’m playing with the Apple II version.

It hasn’t been that long since I tackled a Pearson game (see Saigon) but there’s a general style and rhythm where once you get used to it the Pearson games are easier to solve. For example, using LISTEN in all locations, applying LOOK not just generally but to what seem like “location objects” that otherwise can’t be referred to, and being prepared to use movement verbs like CLIMB when otherwise not prompted to.

The premise, from a 1983 version of the manual:

Trapped in a mysterious “Institute”, you know that you are not mad, and yet many of your fellow inmates are. The Freudian solution to your entrapment becomes a series of vivid dreams, induced by a strange powder. Each of the dreams takes place in a different location, making the adventure actually five adventures in one. Each location contains objects and information that you must use in other places in order to escape. You may actually have to let yourself be killed in order to escape one dream and proceed to another.

Promising! The prior Pearson games had issues where the heavily linear structure led to some obnoxious softlocks (Escape from Traam in particular) and we’ve seen with other games from this era that splitting into smaller areas has often made for stronger games.

The credits are incidentally slightly different on this one (not surprising given the change in company)

Written and Produced by Jyym and Robyn Pearson
Programmed by Norm Sailer and Jyym Pearson
All graphics created with the aid of: THE COMPLETE GRAPHICS SYSTEM by PENGUIN SOFTWARE
Illustrated by Rick Incrocci

The graphics have a new illustrator, which starts to be obvious when you see people.

You start awakening in a bed unable to move, and a dwarf enters that you can TALK to.

After the conversation, you can GET UP and walk around.

You can break off a piece of the mirror, descibed as SHINY. I haven’t used it yet.

There’s not much accessible at first. There’s a room with a bottle of mysterious red powder, but if you try to walk away with it you get stopped by a guard and tossed back in your room. You can duck into a closet and try to eat the powder but it “sticks in your mouth”.

There’s a room full of inmates — and this is where the improved art starts to be more obvious —

and you can TALK here multiple times to get clues like the one above. I haven’t gotten anywhere with SAY SHAFLA, but I assume that gets tucked away for later. The most useful message otherwise seems to be:


Well, I can try to oblige that request at least. The third thing easily accessible is the “Counselor”.


Trying to ATTACK does get a reaction: you get tossed in a padded cell. I haven’t found anything useful here. Maybe smuggle in something sharp at tear at the walls? I have gone through the requisite LOOK and LISTEN regiment but it is hard to miss things anyway.

Posted October 11, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Institute: SOCIETY MUST BE PROTECTED FROM YOU   2 comments

(Continued from my previous post)

I had roughly the right ideas last time, but the Pearson parser remains ever-finicky.

I’m still puzzling over how many of the odd tendencies are things One Could Get Used To, and how many are truly bad design. To compare with a later game, Graham Nelson’s Jigsaw (from 1995) requires you in at least one spot to LOOK UNDER an object. Early on (before the moment where the command is required), there’s a rolling piano seat, and you can find something underneath if you MOVE or ROLL it. This gives an early hint that needing to LOOK UNDER things is required, but since it’s not a requirement, there’s still a little bit of ambiguity and the later moment can easily be missed. At the time it was written, LOOK UNDER was kind-of-standard but not really? I remember complaints at the time. Note that SEARCH, EXAMINE, and LOOK UNDER all gave different messages:

The vestry once held surplices. Today, it holds a surplus. Debris, broken furniture, blown-in leaves, panes of dusty glass and mildewed cloth, all unwanted.

There’s even an old Victorian piano stool, but no sign of a piano.

>search stool
You can’t see inside, since it is closed.

>look under stool
There’s a charcoal pencil underneath the stool.

>examine stool
An old wheeled piano stool, wide and tall, with a hinged and padded seat.

The Pearson standard list of verbs has LOOK UNDER. I had tried it early (LOOK UNDER BED) but hadn’t seen anything and forgot about it — the message was IT DOESN’T SEEM TO WORK. Later, I tried it again, but just typing it as LOOK UNDER — the parser usually takes verbs only, and that especially feels natural when the parser is mostly a two-word one. (There’s even a bit later where you are forced to break a command into two parts, like Scott Adams, rather than type all four words as one phrase.) Yet, it turns out at the bed at the very start, if you wait until after the dwarf leaves, you can LOOK UNDER BED to find a mug.

What elements of me being caught by this are “my fault”, so to speak? I was cued in already to the possibility of LOOK UNDER, but that was only because it showed up somewhere in a previous Pearson game (I’m not even remembering where, exactly); there’s no “training moment” like in Jigsaw. I did make a full LOOK UNDER BED but apparently it was too early. Later, it changed — is it really fair that it changed? Certainly “IT DOESN’T SEEM TO WORK” feels like it is being in reference to the action itself, not that there was nothing useful to see. Jigsaw also had the virtue of being a full-sentence parser where it feels normal to type three words, whereas the Pearson parser breaks open 3+ words only in special cases, and really doesn’t seem to “understand” such sentences.

…that was a bit long for just one moment. In any case, I found a mug, which I took over to the padded room from last time (the one I got to by using ATTACK on the counselor) because I had meanwhile found another secret via a Pearson tendency.

Even though there isn’t any particular reason to, LISTEN will reveal a dripping sound. You can then LOOK DRIPPING to find there is water. I previously didn’t have a way to get the water, but DROP MUG lets the mug start filling with water, and you can wait to get thrown out of the room and the mug stays behind (the staff is very on top of some things and very apathetic about others). Then, you can go back and attack the counselor again which gets you tossed in the same padded cell excepted this time the mug is full of water.

From here you (and I) can go on to finally quaff the red powder from last time, but before I do that I’m going to mention another action in the padded cell — I found this rather later in my gameplay but I’d rather get this out of the way. I had theorized last time, remember, of taking a sharp object in the cell. I found a SCALPEL by doing LOOK SHELVES a second time at the place I found the bottle at before (yet another Pearson tendency, repeat those commands until they run dry, and then repeat them a little more just in case) and tried to CUT WALL and CUT PAD and STAB WALL and the like but got nowhere. I eventually found out from a walkthrough I could CUT PADDING (even though the actual word “padding” doesn’t show up in that form in the game, it simply mentions a “padded cell”) and get a rope that was useful later.

Enough noodling around, it’s dreaming time. Grabbing the bottle with the red powder and holding the water from the mug, I could finally EAT RED POWDER.

Just as a heads up, this gets very dense; this is a dream where anything can happen and while there is continuity of landscape, characters can block your progress without anything resembling motivation.

To the east there’s a cliff, which you can climb using the rope and find a telescope. Then you can LOOK TELESCOPE to find it out of focus, and see the Earth.

In yet another Pearson tendency (a good or bad one?) you can keep LOOKing at deeper and deeper levels, LOOK EARTH lets you see continents, LOOK CONTINENTS lets you see a metropolis, LOOK METROPOLIS lets you see a tall building, LOOK BUILDING reveals a billboard on the roof, and LOOK BILLBOARD finally gets a code (which I haven’t used yet).

Heading back the other way to the starting room, you find a corpse that wasn’t there before:

I haven’t been able to do anything with him yet.

Going through my standard rigamarole, I was able to LISTEN to hear a willow whispering, and talk to it where it asks where I am from. SAY INSTITUTE causes it to reveal a stair going down.

There’s the Counselor from the “real” world, who, as part of his speech, repeats the line


Since he does what you ask, you can ask him to SHOOT the gun he’s holding and he’ll disappear


After this encounter comes a stream with an owl.

The plaque referred to here is in the “real” world with the inmates, which says PEACE = DEATH. It will be useful in a moment.

By drinking the water, your skin changes color:


South of the river is a statue (LOOK BASE reveals a tube of glue) where if I say the magic word I learned from the inmates last time (SHAFLA) a door is revealed. I didn’t make any progress otherwise so I assumed a key was somewhere.

Then there’s an encounter with the fellow above, who the game describes as — slur warning — as a “midget”. To be fair, this isn’t like the Earthquake San Francisco 1906 situation; it is quite possible circa 1981 not to know; here’s Roger Ebert in 2005 being informed for the first time the word is derogatory in regards to a review of Death to Smoochy.

In any case, he demands to know what death means, which you must respond with PEACE. This inspires him to the try to start kicking and punching, and you just need to attack back to dispatch of him. Dream logic, yeesh.

The next encounter is a log where CLIMB for some reason is the right verb (but I was used to it from, you guessed it, other Pearson games) except you slip, as shown above. You can take the glue before and either PUT GLUE followed by ON SHOES or simply use GLUE SHOES. (The full phrase PUT GLUE ON SHOES doesn’t work. Also note that shoes never actually show up as an inventory item.)

I finally became horribly stuck on a green man.

He kills you if you try to enter. In dream land this causes you to exit the dream, which isn’t necessarily bad! — and I’m guessing there’s other parts where you want to die. However, I still kept with the current dream and tried various contortions to get through, before I finally resorted to checking hints again.

Remember the river that changes your body’s color? If you keep drinking (remember, in Pearson-world, keep repeating things!) your body turns red, then back to blue, back again to red, back yet again to blue (you’d think you could stop here, but no), green, blue, red, blue, red, bright green. Green is useful, but bright green is really the useful one, as the bright glowing lights up rooms to helps solve a second puzzle later.

Being green is sufficient for the green guard to let you by. While I was hitting the hints, I also found out that after I had crossed the log, I could GO LOG (!) and find a SHOVEL and COPPER KEY hidden away. The key was enough to get inside the locked door from earlier…

…but I couldn’t find anything there (the room was all one color and hard to see) so I moved on to the area past the green man.

The village have other green men, and a hut with someone who calls himself RUDY BEGA…

I assume this is a specific reference, but I’m too exhausted at the moment to figure out what it is.

…and a dark shack where you can find a toolbox as long as you’re glowing.

Locked, can’t open it yet.

Finally there’s wall with a “dark hole” containing an “oracle”.

Using the right item (from my last post, I’ll let you work it out) broke open a crack I could enter and then wake up and exit the dream without dying.

I don’t know if there’s something superior to this method of exit than just dying.

To recap the open threads, because that only vaguely resembled a narrative, I still have to investigate:

– the corpse, who might just be there for plot reasons
– the room inside the statue that’s all one color and hard to see in
– if there’s something useful to do with Rudy Bega
– some way of opening the tooolbox

I suspect that I’ll need to visit other dreams and loop back. Just to be clear, all items carry over, so these aren’t entirely self-contained areas. I additionally yet have to use the code I found from the telescope.

Once I got out of the dream I went back to the red powder to try eating it again. I found three more dreams this way before looping back to the original one, but I haven’t explored yet. Some screenshots to close things out, though:

Posted October 14, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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(Click here to read my entire Institute series in order.)

One of the manual covers, from The Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I have finished. The remaining three dreams turned out to be short, so the structure remaining was more like bouncing between environments as opposed to solving mini-adventures.

I’ve written before about how in this period when authors wanted to make a game difficult, and they didn’t have much in the way of conditional states (like environmental factors that change, or certain timing that needs to happen) they tended to resort to either lots of instant death, hard to find verbs, or hiding things. Given dying is almost a benefit, the game has to resort to the latter two, especially hiding things.

One extra side effect of puzzles being mostly reliant on hidden items is that past a certain juncture, puzzle solutions can come in a flood, where when finding one item it becomes totally obvious where it goes, and the problem is getting the item in the first place. Then, using that item to solve the puzzle in question yields another item, which again has an obvious place it goes, etc., especially given a map that has been combed over many times.

You start at the “Giant Statue Area”. The next dream is an impressionistic version of the Titanic, followed by a temple, followed by a dream with a saber-toothed tiger, going back to the giant statue. To finish the game I had to travel the loop quite a few times. The cover above tries to depict all four.

Fairly quickly after I left off last time, I found an UMBRELLA (I hadn’t done a “LOOK” at the natives just past the large green man). This let me at least get started on the next dream, which starts ambiguously in some smoke, but if you an open an umbrella you float upward out of a smokestack…

…and land on the deck of a ship.

The life preserver reads “TITANIC”. There’s not much to do other than go inside where there’s some furnishings and a picture; the picture is held in by screws. On the outside you can go to the stern of the ship and watch some icebergs incoming which eventually sink the ship. Using the life preserver you can, oddly enough, peek underwater after going overboard, and find a crowbar on the ocean floor. This doesn’t make sense for a deep ocean, but this honestly works fine as dream logic; one of the things I’d expect is expansion and reduction of space. The ship is known as very large but in gameplay is quite small; the ocean is quite deep but in gameplay terms is quite shallow.

There’s nothing else to do after obtaining the crowbar but eventually drown, but fortunately that makes for an exit from the dream. The dream that follows, outside a temple, I was able to get started by noticing a plant poking through the door, and applying the WATER to it.

Inside I found a blood-stained altar and a door with a lizard. I picked up quickly and realized I could try SACRIFICE as a verb, but the game asked me of what, and I was at a loss. I decided the item I needed was probably elsewhere.

You have to die to get out of this dream, which you can do by trying to open the door (a trap slices you) or trying to CLIMB when outside (you fall and die). Either way, you can visit a pre-historic area:

Again, very small: it only turns out to have 3 rooms. If you approach the chest you see at the start the tiger eats you. There’s also an area with rocks and a stream to the south where the water is poisoned and you can drink it to boot yourself out of the dream.

In actual gameplay terms, from here I died, and moved on exploring each dream carefully starting from the Giant Statue one, but to save time in narration, I should mention that if you go south and check the rocks carefully you can find a lizard. You can likely guess where it goes:

This is followed by a men-with-reptile-head room…

… and climbing up some stairs and dying due to toxic gas. The solution to the gas turns out to be straightforward but due to the rotating nature of the dreams I decided to move on and come back.

I poked through the loop a few times trying to search for things I had missed. A “shrub” had popped up at the color-changing water in the Statue area, which I was able to dig up with the shovel. I tried planting the shrub in various places with no luck, and decided to peek at hints again, although I wasn’t fully determined to read them; the questions themselves can be hints of sorts. However, even though the clues were encrypted by rotating the alphabet, I immediately was able to decipher the answer to the key problem anyway.

Specifically, on #8 above, figuring out what to do inside the statue was one of the dilemmas I hadn’t resolved last time.

I thought perhaps I needed special spectacles or the like and moved on, even though I had missed doing an action I already used elsewhere: JMMI SN, which I realized had to mean LOOK UP.

The ladder you spot by doing so lets you get up to a locked room which takes a keycode. (It is incidentally fortunate I happened to be holding the SHRUB — this is where it is useful, as otherwise there is a lack of oxygen.) Fortunately, I had a keycode lying around from last time (with the billboard) that I hadn’t used yet. I led me into another octagonal room with a metal plate on the ground I was able to remove with the crowbar (from the ocean in the Titanic dream). Below that was a bolt, and I knew I probably needed a tool I hadn’t found yet.

Still, that wasn’t quite enough to set off a chain reaction, but passing through the lizard-sacrifice dream again, I tried on a whim HOLD BREATH (the shrub didn’t do anything, but maybe…?)

The hole was frustratingly non-responsive to commands, but enough plodding led me to insert the mirror in it and get light to bounce inside. A rumbling started, and I tried to WAIT to see what would happen but then the whole sequence just aborted! I figured the parser wasn’t worth tangling with here and went straight for a walkthrough which revealed I needed to LISTEN, which is really the same thing as WAIT, but… well, let’s just move on with the result: some meat and a comic book. The meat I figured could go for the hungry tiger who kept tearing me apart in the pre-historic area:

(This is where everything speeds up.)

I was able to throw the meat and the tiger ran off after it, letting me open the chest. The chest had a screwdriver (dream logic, fine) which I immediately toted over to the Titanic (after going through the death cycle again twice) and used to get the painting off the wall.

This yielded up a small key, which I then took immediately over to the locked toolbox I remembered being stuck on and got a wrench.

The wrench I then took back to the bolt in the statue, which after I turned it caused the statue to fall over; you get “thrown free” and land on top of a gold key.

I wasn’t sure where else to go, but I decided “gold key” felt fairly final (and the counselor suggested the father — who the statue is of — being the “key to your insanity”) so I went back to the original Institute area and wandered a little, finding the Counselor was out.

There was a locked door now, which the gold key worked on, and victory.

Creators of art in a new medium don’t have much to go on; they can peer sideways at other works and peer forward at blackness and try to spill light in the right directions, but to make art that really says something in a deep and enduring sense requires some luck.

The Institute did start off promising; the hints of hidden background, the drug-induced mechanism for dreams, the dystopian atmosphere, the Counselor who was there to “help” but you also had to keep attacking, and later get to shoot themselves while in dream form.

The very premise gave lots of leeway for adventure-game oddness while opening a gap for profundities and revelations. Neither was reached. I wouldn’t say this is just from the ending — which essentially gave up the steam of narrative, surprisingly so given the prior Pearson games — but random puzzle after random puzzle just didn’t add to anything. I was expecting maybe the live father to show up and have a conversation, so we could find out what all the references were about, and maybe some of the items would have secondary meetings, but no, sometimes a scalpel is just a scalpel and a statue is just a statue.

As the screenshot hints, yes, there’s more Pearson to come. Lucifer’s Realm involves going into Hell to stop Adolf Hitler from raising an army to organize a coup over Lucifer. Some stores apparently refused to carry it? So that’s promising, but we’ll have to wait until 1982 to see it — which is getting very close, about 7 games to go before I wrap up 1981.

Posted October 17, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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