Archive for the ‘the-prisoner’ Tag

The Prisoner (1980)   4 comments

I’m not typically big on landmark numbers, but excluding Before Adventure and my non-chronological entries, this is my Game #100.

Consequently, I decided to try a game that I’ve been looking forward to playing ever since All the Adventures kicked off in 2011.

In the 1967 TV show The Prisoner, the unnamed main character (played by Patrick McGoohan) has resigned a mysterious organization, and he is kidnapped and taken to “The Village”. He is given the designation Number Six and referred to that way by others in the Village — a fully working, albeit creepy and conspiratorial seaside town. Throughout the TV show, various people (all of designation Number Two, and a different person in almost every episode) try to wrangle free the secret of why he resigned.

David Mullich had been programming freelance for Edu-Ware when he mentioned his intent to create a game based on the TV show mentioned above:

However, I didn’t intend to make a direct adaptation of the TV series; I just wanted to make a game that explored some of the same themes. But Edu-Ware thought that they needed to at least loosely tie the game to the TV series to sell it. So, I wrote a game about the player being imprisoned on a place called The Island (instead of The Village), which is run by an authority figure called The Caretaker (instead of Number 2). As with the TV series, the game’s goal was to find a way to escape without revealing why you had resigned from your former job.

By 1980 Edu-Ware had already seen legal trouble; the year before, without permission or licensing, they made the games Space and Space II which were essentially computer versions of the Traveler role-playing game by Game Designer’s Workshop. They stopped production and settled out of court. It’s interesting they decided to risk the same unlicensed angle on The Prisoner, but as far as I’m aware they got away with it this time without even the thought of a lawsuit.

I’m a large fan of the TV show, and I’ve had to resist the temptation to do a Jimmy Maher-style Parts 1 to 3 giving the history of the show before making it to the game. (I will say you can watch the whole thing for free on the Internet Archive, if you want.)

Rather appropriately, the game is very, very, strange, and has as its central idea something exceedingly rare for computer games. In most games, there is some action you want to accomplish. In The Prisoner, there is an action you don’t want to accomplish.

Right at the start, you receive a three-digit code. If you at any point divest the three-digit code you lose the game.

The game tries very, very, hard to get you to divest the code. More on that in a later post.

After getting the code, you are given a list of cities to fly to, but in the middle of typing, the screen stops and you (represented by a # mark) find yourself in THE CASTLE, #1 ISLAND SQUARE.

This is a maze where the walls are initially invisible, but you can bump into them to reveal them. U, D, L, and R move the character up, down, left and right respectively.

Once reaching the right of the maze, you are asked WHO ARE YOU (with one choice, predictably, being the forbidden 3-digit code) and then told THE CARETAKER WANTS TO SEE YOU AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE, #.

The top-down view is maintained, but the keys U, D, L and R don’t work anymore. It took me a while to puzzle the keys are N, S, E, and W once outside. There are no instructions for this, and it seems to be quite intentional.

The “C” shapes are buildings, and they are given numbers as you walk by. You start in building #6. Heading directly north (you can scroll to another four buildings) I found the buildings #1, #2, #16, and #17.

Nothing is labeled; you have to go in a building to find out what it is. I tried building #2.

Below this message you can type free-form messages in a prompt. I tried out some nonsense, and the game encouraged me to GO ON and that what I said was SPOKEN LIKE A TRUE ISLANDER.

I have no idea what building #2 is. I love it.

Now, I’m not sure if I’ll keep loving the game going farther on… ? I will say I had to crank up the speed rather a lot, because on original Apple II speeds this game runs ludicrously slow. As in, I’m fairly sure that getting to the first room would have taken 10 minutes of waiting. (I’ll go back and time it later.) So this isn’t the true original experience, and I’m ok with that.

There is, incidentally, an “improved” version of The Prisoner called The Prisoner II released in 1982. I have heard it is “essentially the same game” and I will test it a bit alongside the 1980 version. My guess is this will be a game about information so it will be helpful to have a second source.

Posted September 17, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

The Prisoner: This Is Not a Deception   5 comments

One of the buildings you can find in The Prisoner is a “General Store” where you can buy a map.

The Island is on a wraparound grid, with buildings numbered

1 -2 -3 -4 -5
6 -7 -8 -9 -10
11-12-13-14-15
16-17-18-19-20

but where you only see 2×2 chunks at a time so you might be standing next to 15, 20, 11, and 16. Also, sometimes, a building is missing for no apparent reason.

It’s not as if building #13 is gone permanently — later in the same game it was building #12 that was missing. I have no idea if this is a bug or not. The nature of this game is such that bugs might be intentional.

I have organized the buildings by Slightly Off, Quite Curious, Downright Bizarre, and The Carnival.

Slightly Off (2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 20)

The Caretaker (#2) was the building from last time (or least, I think so, based on process of elimination). I haven’t been able to get anything useful from the conversation, but I suspect there might be some key phrase or word that will later trigger a hint.

#6 is where the game starts (The Castle with that invisible maze), and you can go back there if you like; I’m not sure if there’s any use. I did somehow reveal the resignation code (417) once while in the maze and I’m not sure how, but I got this message:

It’s possible to just die elsewhere, but you get a different screen — so I really did divest the resignation code somehow.

#7 is the Island Mutual Savings and Loan. If you want a loan — and it looks like you do, for reasons I’ll get into, you need a gold watch, a black tie, a diploma, a cross, and a percolator.

#10 is the general store and includes a percolator (one of the needed items I mentioned).

#11 is a NEWS STAND. You’re asked which newspaper you want, but get told the only one available is THE ISLANDER. It seems to have vague hints, like “THE ISLANDER LIBRARY NEEDS CONTRIBUTIONS OF BOOKS”.

#13 puts in you in a “class” run by a machine.

The machine plays a game of Simon with you. It gives short sequences of numbers that you need to memorize and type back. Fairly deep into the game (I’d say several minutes) one of the sequences included 4, 1, 7 right in the middle. I was able to avoid the trap. I suspect the diploma is available here (I didn’t quite finish the minigame — I was still mapping and just wanted to look around).

#15 is a church.

It involves a dialogue (like the Caretaker) where the priest/pastor/whoever starts with “DON’T WORRY. ALL IS KEPT IN CONFIDENCE IN THESE CHAMBERS” and responds to any text I’ve tried with vague platitudes like “A SMOOTH SEA NEVER MADE A SKILLFUL SAILOR” and “HE THAT IS DISCONTENTED IN ONE PLACE IS SELDOM HAPPY IN ANOTHER”.

For the sake of experiment, I tried 417, and the game ended. So much for all being kept in confidence. I’m sure the cross I need is here.

#16 has a clothing store, where you can get (among other things) a black tie, a clown suit, and a clone suit. I haven’t tried the clone suit yet, but the clown suit lets you get into building #5 (The Carnival, which I’ll discuss last).

#20 is a casino.

Using “A PIECE OF YOURSELF TO PLAY” doesn’t seem to extract anything other than displaying a random three-digit number. I have the feeling if you play too many times the three-digit number will be 417.

Upon leaving the casino, I had someone mention escape was through slot #1, and they could sell a silver dollar for 5000 credits (hence the need for a loan). The mystery person then said THE BROTHERHOOD LIVES when I left.

Quite Curious (1, 3, 9, 12, 18, 19)

The Hospital (#1) gives you a “test”. It shows five random characters and you press a button and the characters change. You are then told you are adjusting nicely.

The Town Hall (#3) gives you control of the island.

You can tweak the numbers up or down. I tried turning GATES down as far as I could go and I was told security was fixing the gates. I never was able to get “DEATHS” to go up. Eventually, I gave up and was given a gold watch for doing a good job.

#9 is the Theater.

After watching … something happen for long enough, a conversation started:

WE ALL KNOW WHAT THE ISLAND IS
ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS PULL THE …
SHH, WHO’S THAT!
WE’VE BEEN DISCOVERED!
WHO ARE YOU

I answered “2”.

WE DON’T KNOW A ‘2’
GET RID OF HIM

The Library is #12. If you bring two books (you can get them at the general store) you can play some sort of “preference game” where you choose between two options (two types of toothpaste, say) and after enough time, you get a rating.

Then you can “play a game” which rolls a random number. I don’t know if the random number needs to be low or high or what, but I “won” once and got a hint

DON’T UNDERSTAND THE GAME
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

#18 is the Recreation Hall, where there’s a pit you can fall in (it’s game over if you do).

On the map shown above you just walk on the letters and get through, but then you get another pit:

I’m not sure how to get through. If you disobey instructions and “walk on the sides” an invisible wall blocks you.

#19 is the Gemini Diner. You can buy nondescript food, but if you step “left” while there you find a “cloning machine”.

The proprietor says you can clone yourself for 10000 Credits.

Downright Bizarre (4, 8, 14, 17)

Building #4, I have no idea.

Sometimes by pressing buttons I got the number to change. I don’t know.

If you enter building #8 you find yourself in “court” prosecuted for “rebellion”.

The “plead his case” bit involves a very fast string of BASIC code. The Prosecutor and Defense both do one, and then you play a game of hangman. I got up to _ A P T U R E and then was booted from the building being told THE VERDICT IS NOT GUILTY. I have not been back.

#14, The Cat and Mouse: you can order gin for 5 credits. I tried walking in but got stuck with being asked repeatedly if I wanted gin, and strange sparkling rectangles kept growing in different parts of the room.

I had to quit. This may or may not have been a bug.

Building #17 involves a change in perspective. You suddenly are no longer the prisoner, but someone electrocuting the prisoner, trying to ferret out the secret resignation code.

The Carnival (5)

You can’t enter the carnival without a costume. Getting the clown suit from the costume store and entering, I found this screen:

I can’t even begin to tell you what’s going on. I was able to type WT to “add weight” but after doing it a few times, I got this message:

Then I was told my current score was 4 out of 8, and asked (by a message that blinked almost too fast to see) if I wanted a hint for 10 points. Then the game exited with BE SEEING YOU.

Posted September 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

The Prisoner: -53 Points   2 comments

The game keeps a running score, but given its predilection for flashing messages like YOUR SCORE IS 4 OUT OF 8 I wasn’t really sure what to believe, until I noticed something on the Carnival (that place that was crashing my game) — the “SCORE” in the corner seems to be accurate. If I do something that is Island-friendly, so to speak, the score consistently goes down.

Fortunately, typing EXIT leaves this place safely without crashes.

I found this testing out the hospital; each visit costs 20 points.

Additionally, at the slot machine where you enter a “piece of yourself” to spin, each spin costs 1 point.

After a number of other tests, I found that if you “discover” the clone room in building #19 (just push “L” for left, then type “NO” about knowing about cash) you earn 40 points. This action can be repeated over and over and over for 40 points every time. Fairly soon I was looking at 767 points.

These sort of wild swings suggest to me that perhaps score is entirely meaningless and just another red herring meant to keep you trapped on the Island. At least I managed to “discover” something, though?

Where I’m really stuck is still finding a cross. I get trapped whenever I enter the church. If someone knows the way out and can ROT13 me a line, I’d appreciate it. (No hints if I’m barking up the wrong tree entirely, though — that’s part of the experience, I gather.)

Posted September 23, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

The Prisoner: Be Seeing You   Leave a comment

I escaped, although I left a lot of cryptic things behind. That seems to be the intent, really; The Prisoner feels meant to be an experience as much as a game.

Spoilers follow.

Once I got my score up from last time, I went back to the Theater and tried to make contact with the people whispering; I suspected perhaps my “notoriety” or whatnot was up and they would recognize me.

I CAN VOUCH FOR HIM
I’VE BEEN WATCHING HIM
SEEMS SUSPICIOUS TO ME
LET US TAKE A VOTE

THE MOTION IS CARRIED
WE ARE THE BROTHERHOOD

WE ARE DEDICATED TO OVERTHROW
OF THE ISLAND
ARE YOU WILLING TO JOIN US?

Why YES, I would.

GOOD. ARE YOU WILLING TO GIVE YOUR LIFE, COMMIT MURDER
COMMIT ACTS OF SABOTAGE WHICH MIGHT
CAUSE THE DEATHS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE
CHEAT, FORGE, BLACKMAIL
DISTRIBUTE HABIT FORMING DRUGS
FOR THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM?

Also YES, and also a not-unexpected 1984 reference (see also the game cover above). “You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party? If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face—are you prepared to do that?”

They then wanted to give me an assignment which I believe involved the Carnival; fortunately, I was able to pass and get a different assignment instead, to change the headline at the newspaper to DEUS EX MACHINA.

If you get paper and the General Store, and then answer PRINTING when the newspaper proprietor asks if you want anything else, he “takes you to the back” …

… whereupon there is another mysterious machine. After some experimenting, it looks like the numbers you can enter are just ASCII codes, so start with 68 for D, then type 69 for E, 85 for U, etc.

After finishing I was sent back to the “maze” location at the start and had to trudge my way through again. I went back to the theater and they congratulated me.

CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR SUCCESS
YOUR REWARD IS THIS CLUE FOR ESCAPE
THE ISLAND IS A MACHINE

Uh, thanks?

One of the things I’ve been trying is saying various catchphrases to the Caretaker and the Priest. (I never got anything useful out of the Priest.) THE ISLAND IS A MACHINE didn’t seem to do anything useful either, as the Caretaker (picking up on “ISLAND” I’m guessing) responded NO MAN IS AN ISLAND.

Well, maybe it’d help to be more specific?

THE ISLAND IS A COMPUTER

I found out after the fact (via Andrew Plotkin) that the instructions are the method of “cutting and pasting” on an Apple II, so you’re really just typing the [=] symbol if you follow the instructions.

This is followed by an animation which looks like a computer getting unplugged.

Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Nice try, game. I typed some nonsense.

This is not quite the end of the game but let me make a few asides before I get to that.

What Happened to The Prisoner 2?

I did mention in my first post I would try the “sequel”, but I rather quickly concluded it was much different than the original.

The opening maze has a first-person aspect, and there was a key in one part. Trying to visit the Caretaker, I was told YOU NEED A KEYHOLE.

In the Rec Center, the pit now has moving platforms.

The overarching idea and the 20 buildings of the Island are the same, but given the changes to the puzzles, I can’t really consider it the same game — I’m kicking it up to 1982 where it belongs.

Further Reading

If all this makes you want to try the game/experience, I would say go for it now; if you’d rather watch from a safe distance, then I highly recommend Jimmy Maher’s writeup from 8 years ago (!) which includes comments by both David Mullich and one of the founders of Edu-Ware. There’s an entire scene I missed involving “escaping” but having the whole thing be a ruse. I’m guessing it comes about from finishing the business with the loan and the slot machine but I never was able to get a cross.

I also don’t have anything to add to his analysis, or those of others who have tackled the same game. It’s not often gameplay and theme blend so perfectly. The downside of playing a game in a paranoid and confusing environment is that you are playing a game in a paranoid and confusing environment. Instructions are intentionally obtuse; controls are intentionally finicky. This is more a game for Art rather than Enjoyment but that’s ok, especially considering how little of this sort of thing was about in 1980.

You might incidentally wonder (as Andrew Owen does in the Maher thread) if this was the first game with meta-tricks. Dr. Livingston (1980) has a pretty good death fake-out; Acheton (1978) requires you die once at a prompt where most people would restore their saved game. There’s a very old game (1968) which has what might be a bug, or what might be considered meta — I’ll have to report back on it in some future post.

The Thing I Was Most Disappointed In Missing

I heard about this trick secondhand a long time ago, but I had to check the source code after finishing to find it.

In the “Free Association” test at the Hospital, if you type a word like FREEDOM or the like, you get this message:

Notice there is no THIS IS NOT A DECEPTION message here. On an Apple II the usual thing is to LIST 417 to figure out what went wrong, but in this case, it very much is a deception.

Yes, 417 was the resignation code.

The End?

So the endgame screenshot I produced above (“HAVE YOU NOT ALWAYS BEEN IN CONTROL”) is more or less the same one as Jimmy Maher’s. You end at what appears to be the “Apple prompt” where you can type directory commands and so forth. However, if you try to go ahead and type something, the game intercepts your input and instead types:

Posted September 24, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with