Archive for the ‘wander’ Tag

Library (1978)   2 comments

This is the last Wander system game I had left (the other two were Castle and Alderbaran III). It was written by Nat Howard as opposed to Peter Langston (who wrote the other two as well as the Wander system itself).

The date is admittedly a guess; Peter estimated “somewhere between 1974-1978”. There’s an Alderbaran III reference so it has to be after 1977; the actual date on the most recent revision is 1980.

The map is based on the Widener Library at Harvard (shown below). This makes it mark the starting point of the long tradition of interactive fiction based on actual university surroundings (The Lurking Horror being based at MIT is the best-known example).

Through the wonder of Wander, you are going to explore the remains of a world after Chaos has had its way with it. There are treasures to be had here, but there are also undreamed of dangers. The ghosts of the people who once ruled this world are there still, and the products of their godlike meddling have survived them. Be cautious, daring, and sneaky.

You’re at the foot of the stairs of a huge pillored building. There is a faint inscription on the stone crosspiece above the pillars. Walkways go to the south, east and west.

There is a leather sack here.

The post-apocalypse is a convenient way to avoid dealing with coding active NPCs. Once again, the premise is to collect “treasures”.

I wish I could say it’s a pivotal game somehow, but it’s incomplete, buggy, and full of in-jokes. Some I can’t fathom even after extensive Internet searching, like this chapel where the treasures get deposited:

You’re inside what was once a very, very, socially prominent church. Murals on the wall show the ‘prophet of WWXII’, called ‘Bo Diddley’ by some, performing the Miracle of the Unclasped Hand. Which happened on the very ground on which you now stand!!!!!!
There is a door to the north.

The actual chapel in question has a WWI memorial, but that doesn’t cause the Bo Diddley reference to make any more sense.

A sample bug:

The black sword pulses in your hand and begins to hum evilly at the unfortunate gnome. The gnome pales, and leaps at you, hoping to score with the knife. The sword snarls, and forces your arm up, spitting him.

His body vanishes.
You’re in a square chamber 5 cubits by 7 cubits by 8 cubits high. The top of a spiral staircase pokes out of the floor here.
There is an evil gnome here, waving a knife at you!

If I could digress a bit into some coding minutae:

Inform, TADS, Hugo, and a few other interactive fiction coding systems enforce the idea that the words that mean actions are separate from the actions themselves, and actions happen to specific objects in the world. (It’s possible to break both paradigms, but it takes some effort.) That is, if you want to code the ability to >SMELL FLOWERS in a particular area, you need to code a Flowers object that will then link with the Smell verb. Conveniently, this means that SNIFF and any other plausible synonyms will already work (presuming they’ve been matched with the action in the first place) and the flowers can be referred to by other verbs, even if not every use is helpful.

Wander lets you hard-code an action in a room, allowing for terrible habits. You might remember >DROP DIRT from Alderbaran III even though no such object was being held (I suppose the assumption being it was “nearby” somehow). Library runs into parser nonsense early with an elevator sequence:

You’re in an elevator used by the building staff at one time. The elevator was controlled by buttons. The buttons are labeled ‘up’ and ‘down’
There is also an oddly-shaped keyhole on the panel with the buttons.

Your keys stick in the lock, and the doors close
You’re in an elevator used by the building staff at one time. The elevator was controlled by buttons. The buttons are labeled ‘up’ and ‘down’
There are some keys stuck into an oddly shaped keyhole on the button panel.

under construction
library elevator
The elevator plummets with a squeal of old machinery.
You’re in an elevator used by the building staff at one time. The elevator was controlled by buttons. The buttons are labeled ‘up’ and ‘down’
There are some keys sticking out of an oddly shaped keyhole on the button panel.
You can’t leave, the doors are locked.
library elevator
You can’t do that now.
Can’t get keys
You can’t do that now.
You can’t do that now.
You can’t do that now.

The *only* thing that works is the command >LOCK. Just the word, alone, with no reference to the keys. Argh!

The doors open, and the keys fall into your hands.

Science fiction references abound without any attempt at coherency.

You’re in the Star-Trek room. This was quite a tourist draw in its time. Its a mock-up of the Enterprise bridge. Nothing works, of course. The weapons control board is lit, and a button marked ‘Photon Torpedo FIRE’ is blinking.

There are some Vulcan Ears here.

There’s a reference to Adventure, but even it is inscrutable, with a button that arbitrarily ends the game:

You’re in a room used to give demonstrations of computer games. There is a dessiccated corpse still seated at a console, which still displays the words ‘How? With your bare hands?’ There is a bright red button here marked ‘off.’ There are exits to the west, north, and south.

That’ll teach ya….
You wandered to 12 places in 23 moves.

There is one aspect that I think might be a First for adventure games, and that’s the sack from the very first room. It can contain items, and works as a way around the inventory limit of the game. Also, getting items back from the sack is amusing:

You struggle into the sack and then fall in!
You are inside a leather sack. There is some light above you.

There is a wicked looking inscribed knife here.

As far as I can tell, the score goes down rather than up when you deposit a treasure. (The three treasures are, according to the source code: A first-edition Gutenberg bible, a Capt America #1 comic book, and an orchid.) Scanning the code there doesn’t seem to be an end sequence, anyway. Perhaps someone who attended Harvard might glean a little more here, but I think I can safely call this one done.

Second floor of the library, via Wikipedia.

Posted August 2, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Aldebaran III: Finished!   3 comments

Wayne Barlowe’s rendition of our hero.

Last time I was supposed to find a “xyller”, “yangst” and “zwerf” as well as deliver 15 credits to “The Rep” who runs the government.

The next obstacle was a bridge, where only one item could be carried across at a time; at the other end of the bridge was a graveyard which doubled as a maze. All three of the quest items were hidden there, where I had to dig the objects out by shovel.

Also, the graveyard included a completely optional scene with a vampire, which feels like it was ported in from an entirely different game.

You’re inside an ancient crypt of oddly familiar design. It is dark and gloomy here with cobwebs hanging from every wall. Although there are no religious articles visible there is a large black coffin sitting on the ground. There are doorways to the east and west.
The lid seems to give a little …
and then springs off as a small bat escapes from the coffin.
You hear footsteps approach from behind you …

In any case, once attaining the necessary items, it’s required to cross the bridge again. However, you can’t leave the xyller alone with the yangst, or the yangst alone with the zwerf; otherwise bad things will happen:

As you watch, amazed, the yangst turns a muddy, opaque brown and starts to spin, rolling toward the zwerf which, in turn, melts into a green, viscous fluid and starts seeping into the ground!

The yangst is now spinning madly and rolls over traces of the zwerf which seem to boil away on contact!

After the last trace of the zwerf has been vaporized the spinning yangst slows to a stop and resumes its alabaster translucency.

After safely crossing the bridge, I found the subway tokens I had to leave behind stolen. (I had to induce this — they were in the room description, but picking them up resulted in an empty inventory.) They *seemed* to be necessary to get out of the area.

You’re on a street of gleaming white plasmeld. There is not a spot of dirt anywhere. A lovely building of slightly alien design is visible to the west and a bridge is visible to the east. There is a gate set in the wall with a small slot next to it.
You notice a fleck of dust fall from the sky only to be deposited in a hidden chute by mechanical hands.

The “mechanical hands” are a clue.

An alarm sounds and mechanical hands roughly grab you while they swiftly clean up the mess and then drop you back on the subwalk platform.

No, “dirt” isn’t otherwise an object. This is one of those Adventure-did-it-better things; items or even characters in Aldebaran III might be usable without them being separated as items in the game. While commands can be tagged to specific objects, a lot of them are coded directly into the rooms.

Another quick example; when going WEST from one room, this occurs without warning:

You’re in jail, the warden has taken your keys away, (natch), so you can’t get out…

You can BRIBE your way out of the situation, even though it’s not obvious from the description above that the warden or anyone else is hanging around to give money to:

Fortunately you’re a slick talker and get away with a very small bribe, (and your keys).

Here’s the actual source code:

#99 In Jail
You’re in jail, the warden has taken your keys away, (natch), so you can’t
get out…
help m=Nope
bribe v<6.1 m="You don't have any credits to bribe anyone with…"
bribe 21 v-6.1 t+keys m="\
Fortunately you're a slick talker and get away with a very small bribe,
(and your keys)."

Back to the main gameplay: after escaping the “clean” area into the subway, it’s only a few steps away to the Rep, and the conclusion to the game:

You are in the presence of the Rep.
“My Xyller!”, he exclaims.
“My Yangst!”, he crows.
“My Zwerf!”, he coos.
“You Terries aren’t so bad after all”, admits the Rep as he flicks a switch that cuts the power to all the androids that were leading the uprising, “Why don’t you stay for dinner?”. Which, of course, you do.”

I’m not sure why this cover is so gritty compared with the rest.

I think we sometimes take for granted how good the 350-point Crowther and Woods Adventure really is. As a starting point for the text adventure genre it established a vocabulary of verb-noun interaction that led later imitators to have some grounding. Nearly every action involves a reasonable use of an object that the player can see, and the interaction with characters like the dwarfs is limited in a way that suited the parser.

It may have started a penchant for light source timers, treasure hunts, mazes, and general fantasy randomness, but at least it was (and still is) quite playable as a game.

Aldebaran III is hard to play because it demands actions from the players out of a possibility space that is too large. The ambitions for character interaction got overextended. With *very* specific commands you can get some interesting conversation, like

“Want, want, want! You Terries never talk about anything else!”

(Terry = Terran = Earthling)

but in general characters come across as brick walls.

It feels skeletal. Many rooms in the source code don’t get used.

#328 Police Headquarters

#329 Stellar and Park Place

#330 Stellar and Alabaster

#331 Stellar and Zero

#332 Stellar and Laser

#333 Stellar Street

#334 Crystal City Information

The overall impression is one of failed ambition. While I appreciated the humor and ideas of Aldebaran III, but I can also understand why it fell into obscurity.

BONUS READING: Nathan P. Mahney played and wrote about this game back in April, and he discusses some things I passed over (like some ruffians who I never met, and a bit with the board game Go).

Posted July 19, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Aldebaran III: Player as Conscience   2 comments

I once discussed with the game Warp the idea of looking for the future in the past; that often “a work’s innovation is lost because the work itself is obscure or the implementation of a promising concept was badly done.”

The same can be said for works that were ahead of their time, but not so far ahead their ideas haven’t been replicated. Aldebaran III hints at a relationship between player and character that arguably doesn’t appear again until Infocom’s version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1984) or possibly even Plundered Hearts (1987).

Unfortunately, in 1977-1978 the ideas were there but not the technology.

Last time I mentioned some notes which end with “(the notes continue, but your interest wanes)”.

You can keep reading:

Page 2
The ruling species on Aldebaran III is a large, six “legged”, (actually “pseudopoded”), mammal with a roughly Humanoid torso and a perfectly spherical “brain-case” containing, in most cases, a brain the size of a filbert. (In a few, exceptional cases the brain is believed to be quite large. This increased “brain-power” has no effect on intelligence but is believed to provide the ability to alter body appearance at will.)

This continues (using more READ NOTES commands) all the way until past Page 6:

At this point the notes trail off into meaningless scribbles and, thinking back, you vaguely remember an interesting interlude with some rather illicit drugs and two stewardesses on the trip here … Ahhh … Anyway, going back to the beginning of the notes …

Let me be clear: this is a large infodump and not good game design. Still, this reflects the idea that the player is not just “role-playing” but is actually the “inner voice” of the character, forcing him to read through the notes that he wrote when clearly … distracted.

Somehow in the stories he is highly competent anyway.

This sort of plot demands quite a few characters, but the coding is so skeletal it’s hard to get anything at all to happen. For example, early on you encounter a bar:

You are in the dimly-lit Spaceport Bar on Aldebaran III, which appears to be nearly deserted except for you and the burly bartender whose eyestalks keep twitching suspiciously in your direction. A large sign hangs over the door to the south.
It cost 5 credits and tastes like kerosene but you slurp it down!
With an amazingly graceful movement for someone his size, the bartender leaps over the bar and blocks your exit while pointing at the sign!
The sign says “Jsu Snarret POTE kirs meawed jokero quakonk!”
(obviously some local dialect).

It turns out you can do this:

The bartender solemnly folds your offering into his apron and leaves
something sitting on the bar.
Spaceport Bar
There is an electronic all-dialect dictionary here.

Upon which you can now use the >TRANSLATE verb:
Checking your dictionary you discover that the sign says:
“Due to new liquour law all Terrans MUST show papers before leaving!”

Showing papers results in a silly in-joke:

The bartender checks your papers and grunts in amazement.
You are in the dimly-lit Spaceport Bar on Aldebaran III, which appears to be nearly deserted except for you and the burly bartender who has brought you a drink, (on the house), after learning that you are a user of UNIX software.

but also means, separate from the bribe, you can also do this:

The barkeep feigns ignorance, but leaves something lying on the bar.
Spaceport Bar
There is a map here.

The map gives an important “secret word” where if you don’t have it you’ll get stuck on a conversation later. I’ll jump to that conversation in a moment, but first, note the improbability of coming up with BRIBE, TRANSLATE, and ASK FOR HELP completely unprompted. Not only that, but the bribery in order to get the dictionary has to happen *before* getting the map. Otherwise the game just gives the message “You can’t do that now.”

It’s like the author had a transcript in mind and coded it, but there wasn’t enough flexibility for all the parts to show up in actual play. This is not even referring to guess-the-verb, exactly; it’s more like the rules of adventure-play not being codified when it comes to character interaction to know some of the 100 possible reasonable actions that might be useful.

Later, you encounter a church:

As you pass through the door it silently swings closed. You’re in a magnificent seven-sided room with rows of pews in concentric heptagons facing the center. A door to the south is tightly closed. A small, gnarled native is standing in the center of the room and looking expectant.
You can’t do that now.
“Why should I help you? I don’t even know who you are”, the native states.
House of Worship
“Papers can always be forged” he counters.
House of Worship

I have *no* idea how one is supposed to summon the next command without looking at the source code (as I had to do). Maybe it’s a reference to the stories? It’s the only way to make progress:

The man’s face turns purple with effort as he answers,
“My name iss Igna…
my name iss Ig…
Arrrrgh! I cannot lie here, my name iss … R. Nixon Shilth!, To defend yoursself, soft one!”
So saying, the man crouches as if to leap at you…
As you battle with the man he starts to fade in and out and finally undergoes an amazing metamorphosis into a beautiful woman!

“Ignarp’s the handle”, she says, “Thanks for distracting Shilth while I regained control. I’m afraid I foolishly let him slip a Groaci drug into my prune juice which left me bound by a metamorph- dominance spell which I couldn’t break without a little distraction. I’d be glad to return the favor …”
You’re in a magnificent seven-sided room with rows of pews in concentric heptagons facing the center. A door to the south is tightly closed.
A beautiful woman is standing in the center of the room looking expectant.
I’d like to help you, whoever you are, but I’m not sure I should…

If you didn’t get the map earlier, you won’t know the the secret password. Even if you *did* get the map, it’s not all that obvious it applies here:

So you’re Retief from the CDT? Perhaps you’d like to hear the story behind the Aldebarran anger at Terrans?
Another day passes…
Mr. Shilth, whom you’ve already met, is interested in acquiring the grounds on which the Terran Embassy stands to subdivide into condominiums for vacationing Groaci Peace Enforcers. Because the land can’t be bought while the Embassy still occupies it, Shilth is hoping to have the Terran Embassy forcibly removed. Disguised as a native trader, he sold a set of “Native Art Objects” to your Ambassador Pouncetrifle. Unfortunately, the objects were stolen from the Rep’s Meeting Hall, the one truly sacred spot on Aldebarran III, which the thieves desecrated with obscene slogans. Ambassador Pouncetrifle learned of all this when he proudly displaying them at an Embassy reception. Naturally the Ambassador was imprisoned. After much verbal footwork the Ambassador convinced the Rep that the whole matter might have been a misunderstanding. The Rep graciously agreed that matters could be set to rights by the return of the objects and the payment of a token fine of 1,000 galactic credits. Shall I go on?
The Ambassador paid most of the fine with the 985 credits he was carrying with him, (having expected to make further art purchases), and was released from confinement to gather the remaining 15 credits and the missing objects. Returning to the Embassy via Park Place the Ambassador made the mistake of trying out his Aldebarran-English phrase book on a native he believed to be participating in a quaint street fair. He has not been heard from since, but the deadline for returning the objects is only 29 days away and Shilth’s agents are reported to have stolen the objects again!
If you can find the missing objects and present them to the Rep with the final 15 credit payment he may be able to help avert the uprising.

The three objects are:
a pale Xyller
an alabaster Yangst
and a green Zwerf
They are rumored to be hidden in an isolated area near Pont St. Michel.

That’s about all I know about it.

I have found all three, and the process is a little absurd, and the Xyller will eat the Yangst if you leave them together alone. (I swear I’m not making this up.) I’ll get more into that in my next post (where I’ll hopefully have won the game as well).

Posted July 17, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Aldebaran III (1977)   4 comments

This is another game by Peter Langston using the Wander system. (For those who haven’t read about it yet, Wander is a system for writing text adventures originally from 1974, before Crowther and Woods Adventure.)

The first Wander game I played, Castle (original version 1974, current version 1978-ish) felt a bit conventional; without the oddness of the parser it’s not obvious it’s a “side branch” in the history of adventures. This is not the case for Aldebaran III.

Aldebaran III is based on the stories of Keith Laumer, and specifically his intergalactic diplomat Jame Retief. Hence, it’s the first adventure game where you are playing a well-defined character, rather than “yourself”.

You’re this guy, or at least Richard Martin’s imagining from the cover of Retief!

Keith Laumer was a diplomat himself (stationed in Burma) and consequently this is a bit like Ian Fleming and John le Carré going from working in intelligence agencies to authoring spy novels. His stories about Retief are satirical and contain jokes that are (apparently) funnier to those who have been in the real-life diplomatic corps.

Just Imagine …

You are traveling as First Under-secretary to the Ambassador for the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, (CDT). Your direct superior, Mr. Magnan, has managed to duck out of the action and leave you as sole assistant to his superior, Ambassador Pouncetrifle. (The Ambassador is a classic bungler and would, if left on his own, mess things up badly.)

You have been sent to Aldebaran III where you are to avert an uprising against Terran nationals expected at the end of April.

The “Just Imagine…” is a strong cue that we are, in fact, roleplaying, a fact emphasized further by checking the papers we are holding:

Page 1
Aldebaran III is an eighty-four percent earth normal planet which revolves around a brilliant red star, (Aldebaran, or Alpha Tauri). A III has an atmosphere consisting of 52% nitrogen, 26% helium, 20% oxygen and 2% other gases, (by volume). The period of revolution of A III is 18.628 Earth Standard hours which is expressed in local time as 24 hours. The axis of A III tilts less than a degree with respect to the ecliptic, (47.6′), providing virtually no variation in season and length of daylight, (sunrise is at 6:00 Aldebaran Standard Time, sunset at 7:00 p.m. A.S.T.).
… (the notes continue, but your interest wanes)

Note the last part “your interest wanes” — the character you are playing is bored, which is a good way even in modern games to avert having to write a lot of text for something that should be book-length.

The satirical approach to procedures from the original stories appears in the game, at least in this early encounter:

You are in a low-roofed customs building with long tables stretching between a door at the east and a door at the west. A large sign reads

|    --> SHOW PAPERS HERE <--     |
|     --> PAY DUTY HERE <--       |

in a dozen languages. A serious-looking customs official is eyeing you.

“Your papers, pleese”, lisps the official

“Hmm, a Terry” mumbles the official
“Have you anything to declare?” snaps the customs official

“If you really have nothing to declare you may leave.”
“I don’t believe you’ve declared that credit card”, admonishes the official.
“Yes”, says the official sliding it down the counter and muttering to himself, “credit card — five credits”.

The parser is still as broken as Castle’s (I keep typing GET but the verb is unrecognized, it insists you use TAKE) but the main character still makes the experience feel weirdly modern.

I don’t know how long / difficult this is, I suppose we’ll find out next time!

Posted July 13, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castle: Finished   4 comments

Or rather, finished one ending. According to the source there’s three endings, but they require an action in the winning path that crashes the game. I’ve worked out enough to describe what happens, though.


(Click the image above for the full map.)

First, how I escaped the forest, which had the odd attribute of being acutely unfair in a game system but would make some sense in real life.

You’re in a dark and dreary woods with dense foliage in all directions.
Splashing sounds and bird calls seem to come from the east.

There is a shovel here.
The way is blocked by a deep river.
This spot looks awful familiar.
You’ve made a circle.

I am not ashamed to say I had to check the source for this.

West end of bridge

I suppose if this was an episode of Survivorman and not an IF game, I could see this being the logical course of action, but “upriver” isn’t even a noun mentioned in the text. Even with that added, it’s hard enough to convey in text-form the thought “it looks like if I stay close and follow the river it will lead somewhere” that I suspect most people would not attempt it at all. (FOLLOW RIVER would have been ok, but it doesn’t work.)

A few minor puzzles later and I reached the titular Castle. It’s kind of an odd map in that there are a lot of rooms for “geography’s sake” that don’t get used for much. There’s multiple routes to different locations, including secret doors via pushing buttons that lead to places reachable from different directions. Other notable aspects:

1.) There’s a sack of potatoes inside. Once eaten I had no more problems with hunger.

2.) There’s a “true maze” of cells in the basement, but it is totally possible to ignore it. I only partially mapped it above because it was clearly not leading anywhere.

3.) There’s a missile silo which lets you launch at the portcullis to blow it up. Obviously the game didn’t have a lot of concern about sticking to a particular time period of technology.

As I already mentioned, there are three endings.

DAMSEL ENDING: The damsel is in a room named “Rapunzel’s Tower”.

You’re high above the castle in the east tower; in fact, you are so high up that you can see clouds outside the window. A spiral staircase leads down.

Oddly, doing “take damsel” results in

Don’t be lewd! (This is neither the time nor the place)

and some guessing the verb leads to instead

The damsel gratefully climbs into your arms and whispers
“take me to the cross-roads and I’ll repay your kindness!”
You hear a sound like stone grating on stone.

Unfortunately, the sound indicates the staircase being blocked off. Escape requires an item from another tower:

There is a 30 foot long wig here.

Trying to CLIMB WIG results in

You get 9 feet down and find a little tag that says
“Made in Hong-Kong, Inspcted by no 1” — the wig starts to shred!!
You frantically scramble …
and just manage to get into a window as the wig falls apart.

I am very uncertain of the physics of this situation: How were you lugging around a giant wig? How would anyone wear such a wig anyway? What is the wig attached to as you’re doing this? How are you carrying a damsel at the same time?

In any case, after this rescue there’s a clear route back to the opening room (the “cross-roads” the damsel mentions) at which point you are taken to “nirvana” and win the game.

FROG ENDING: Getting to the frog ending seems to require using the missile silo I already mentioned, but also smashing a chain with a mace (which lowers the drawbridge). The bit that involves getting a mace is what crashes the game. I’ll just reproduce the raw source code.

#44 Armory
“You’re in the castle armory. There are suits of chain mail, maces, lances,
swords, suits of armor, axes, etc, etc here. Most seem to be made of either
crude metal, perhaps iron, or a smooth grey substance; all of them, even the
wooden lances, appear to be held to the wall by some magnetic, (or is it
magic?) force. A small black and yellow sign is posted on the wall.
A small doorway leads to some stone steps going up and down.”
e 51
up 52
down 58
read\ sign m=”The sign says: \”Danger — Shock Hazard\””

take m=”You can’t budge anything, the strange force is stronger than you are.”
drop t?%INP_OBJ% s=44.1 o+mace o+%INP_OBJ% m=\
“clank … … K A B O O M ! !
The slight shock seems to have detonated some plastic explosive!

In any case, getting through both leads to a frog, which can be carted back to the Crossroads just like damsel. He then turns into a prince and you are taken to Nirvana to win the game.

DAMSEL AND FROG TOGETHER: Yes, the game is socially liberal enough you can both rescue the frog and damsel. You will all go to Nirvana together.

I’m not sure I’m ready for “final thoughts” here — I think I need to try the other offerings from the Wander system before I decide.

As a game, I found the parts after reaching the castle to be the most interesting, and I theorize they are also the parts designed before the influence of Adventure. The multiple routes simply suggest the author was trying to design a layout, and the opening linear-route-of-puzzles section was attached later to make it more of a “game”. This is pure theory, though, and it won’t be resolved unless the 1974 version written in BASIC is located. (And it’s perhaps too tempting a theory, knowing that before the original Crowther source for Adventure was located people assumed it was a pure cave exploration crawl with no magic, but this turned out not to be the case.)

The parser system in Castle is a little too erratic for me to recommend it just as a game, but it’s worth a try based on historical merits. The online version located here is the easiest to get to, although my original post has links to compiled versions.

Posted December 29, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castle: Starving for Progress   2 comments

Well, I’ve made progress, but the hunger timer is so tight that gameplay feels like an IF version of Paranoia where I send out clone after clone to die, each time using knowledge from the last clone to get a little further.


My suspicions from my last post were correct: I just needed to move the boat. and it was a silly verb issue.

You can’t do that now.
You can’t do that now.

Silly in that I had already discovered earlier that TAKE was the way to get objects, but somehow that knowledge didn’t transfer to the boat because it was entirely plausible to block taking the boat from sheer size.

Getting the boat moved led to getting a rope, and getting the rope led to getting some keys, and getting the keys led to access to a balloon and a ladder.

The balloon let me cross the bridge which had earlier stopped me due to a weight limit

You’re at the east end of a rickety wooden bridge crossing over a deep river. A road leads east toward a shallow valley filled with wildflowers. There is a large, official-looking sign here.

It must be helium in that balloon because you now weigh only 17.9 qwerts
You’re at the west end of a rickety bridge crossing a raging river.

at which point I found a shovel in a forest that I think I’m supposed to take back to the well (there’s a message “can you dig it”) but I seem to be 100% lost in the forest, and not in the maze sense — any direction loops me back to the same room. (It is possible the twisty-room type maze is purely a Crowther invention.)

There’s a river blocking one side of the forest I’m lost on, but trying to take the boat through results in:

As you start to cross the bridge you hear a loud groan and feel the bridge sag. You drop the boat and rush back just in time to see the boat and the bridge collapse into the river and get washed away.

Perhaps there’s a more clever way to get the boat safely to the right location, or another way to escape the forest with the shovel. I’ll report back when something happens.

Posted December 22, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Castle [using Wander system] (1974)   2 comments

In David Craddock’s book Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games he uses the term “convergent evolution” to describe a phenomenon where multiple independent people (or groups) invent the same gameplay genre independently. In the case of roguelikes, Beneath Apple Manor (1978), Rogue (1980), and Sword of Fargoal (1982) all had some uncanny similarities that we now sort under “roguelike” but the creators weren’t aware of each other’s work. (In the case of Beneath Apple Manor, sales were low and the game remained obscure. Rogue was still restricted to a university mainframe while Sword of Fargoal was being developed.)

More recently, the games Scoundrel (2011) and Donsol (2015) both used the idea of a deck of cards as the basis of a dungeon crawl, and ended up so eerily similar they seem like clones. However, Scoundrel never had a digital edition, and the designer of Donsol (Devine Lu Linvega) had never heard of it until after Donsol came out. (More details on this story from The Clone That Wasn’t.)

All this means is that when Peter Langston designed the Wander system starting in 1974 (or possibly as early as 1973) the fact it is similar to Crowther’s Adventure is not without precedent. It indicates, instead, that perhaps there was something natural and inevitable about the act of moving a character around a world with verb-noun commands.

In any case, after the opening above there’s very little direction and no treasures to find. (I recall something about rescuing a princess, but that’s only from an external source.)


However, there are puzzles. There’s a locked door, a river which is raging too fast for a boat, a wire fence, a bridge with a weight limit (dropping everything doesn’t make you light enough), and a well that needs a rope.

The parser doesn’t feel as solid as Crowther’s. For example, at the bridge there’s a sign where you can “read sign”

The sign says,

Load limit : 18 qwerts (max)
cross at your own risk

You’re also holding a guide to playing, but if you are in the room with the sign:

The sign says,

Load limit : 18 qwerts (max)
cross at your own risk

That is, the verb is caught in a location-dependent way, and if the verb is usable in the location the parser gives it top priority and ignores the noun.

There’s a hunger timer, unfortunately, and it is possible to die of starvation. Upon death, rather than exiting the program, the game just displays this message over and over in response to any further input:

You have starved!
You Are Dead.

The general feeling is something similar to but slightly alien from Crowther’s world. I should point out this particular version was a later revision (1977-78 is the estimate) because the original ’74 source is lost, and hence it does have awareness of Adventure:

Nice try, but that’s an old, worn-out magic word.

In any case, despite the small size of the area so far I haven’t made any real progress. I do wonder if I’m missing something, because it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of possibilities to hack at. I’m particularly suspicious of the boat, which I might be able to move further on land with just the right verb. I’ll report back when I have something actually solved.

Posted December 21, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Wander (1974) release, and questions answered   42 comments

(For the opening of this saga, you might want to read Anthony’s post first.)

There is a text adventure creation system that dates back to before Crowther wrote ADVENT.

I’ve been stalking a copy of Wander for months now; I made a blog post about it and some other games I’ve been tracking down. Anthony read my post and reached out to the author Peter Langston, who has been enormously helpful and managed to find a friend (Lou Katz) who had an archived copy in email, but it only contained a demo version of one of the games.

I had the vague suspicion it might be in a public place if I knew where to look. Indeed: Doug Merritt has found a copy of Wander buried in a software distribution from the Usenix 1980 conference. It includes all four games mentioned in my “lost mainframe games” post.

NEW: This is an update archive which includes all worlds (except advent) and should compile out of the box. Saving and restoring are fixed. Also now fixes a one-line typo that prevented compiling.

Here’s a binary for Windows 32-bit, made by Jayson Smith.

Here is the advent “world” as a separate file which is a Wander version of the Crowther and Woods Adventure. It seems more like a demo than the other games; Peter only made a partial conversion.

Part of the “castle” world for Wander.

These are by Peter:
castle (1974): you explore a rural area and a castle searching for a beautiful damsel.
a3 (1977-1978): you are the diplomat Retief (A sf character written by Keith Laumer) assigned to save earthmen on Aldebaran III
tut (1978): the player receives a tutorial in binary arithmetic.

One of the games is by Nat Howard:
library (somewhere between 1974-1978): You explore a library after civilization has been destroyed.

Also, Peter himself did a very incomplete port of Crowther and Woods Adventure called advent dated at 1981.

There’s one “missing” game. Lou Katz (who I mentioned earlier) wrote “a department store world, trying to make a computer game that would appeal to girls.”

Now to address some questions (note to Peter: please let me know if anything is off!) —

Was it really from 1974?

To quote Peter:

As I remember I came up with the idea for Wander and wrote an early version in HP Basic while I was still teaching at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA (that system limited names to six letters, so: WANDER, EMPIRE, CONVOY, SDRECK, GALAXY, etc.). Then I rewrote Wander in C on Harvard’s Unix V5 system shortly after our band moved to Boston in 1974. I got around to putting a copyright notice on it in 1978.

The early version in HP Basic was possibly from 1973; Peter isn’t sure. The move to Boston is a distinct event, though, so 1974 as a start date is is definite.

Note: Peter Langston’s legendary Empire was from 1971.

Did it look like its current form in 1974?

Peter says “the concept didn’t change, but implementation got better and the worlds got easier to create”. He doesn’t have a good recollection, though, so he can’t answer questions like “which features got added first” and “did anything get tweaked after the release of Adventure”.

Probably the best way to verify the early state would be to somehow track down the HP BASIC version, which was never revised post-1974.

Do we have to rewrite the history books?

Er, sort of. Wander never really had the same impact as Adventure; Peter notes that in his games distribution Empire, StarDrek and the Oracle attracted all the interest.

What else is there to do?

There’s a need for modernization and ports. (People have been mentioning Github; if someone wants to start one, feel free to do so and toss a note in the comments section.)

Finding the original BASIC version would be huge; we’d know exactly what things were like at the earliest stage of the development of the adventure game.

For my part, I’m going to play the games and blog about them in my All the Adventures project.

What about other mainframe games?

Ok, this is my question. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can refer to my lost mainframe games post and see if you can find any of the others. LORD is particularly tantalizing but I don’t know where to even start searching for an archive from Finland.

Posted April 23, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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