Archive for May 2011

Mystery Mansion: Guess the phrase   1 comment

At least one person is anticipating my final post on Mystery Mansion, so let me share what has me stuck.

While two word parsers (which I’ll be seeing more of in 1978) are problematic, usually with a verb list it is possible to work out how to communicate.

There’s also the ideal of Zork and beyond, which is a multi-word parser that handles both two word and complex sentences smoothly enough I don’t have to pull my hair over the parser.

Then there’s Mystery Mansion, which also understands more than two words in its parser, but this turns out quite unfortunate.

For example, LOOK AT THING is how you examine objects. EXAMINE doesn’t work as a verb, and just LOOK THING gives a “not understood” message.

Here’s another example that increased my blood pressure:

> kill warrior

YOU KILLED THE WARRIOR
> look at warrior

YOU ARE LOOKING AT THE WARRIOR
WHO HAS:
A METAL SHIELD
A PARANOID PARROT
A MENACING MACE
AND IS DEAD
> get parrot from warrior

I DON’T SEE THE PARROT
> take parrot from warrior

YOUR BOOTY NOW CONTAINS THE PARROT

Note that GET by itself normally does work

> get note

YOUR BOOTY NOW CONTAINS THE NOTE

but in the case of taking from a dead body, only TAKE works. You can also TAKE just by itself, no preposition

> take mace

YOUR BOOTY NOW CONTAINS THE MACE

but the failure of GET led me on a extremely long battle with the parser where I presumed some sort of prepositional phrase was necessary and I just needed to guess the right phrase.

I’m struggling at the moment with amulets and a lever system.

YOU ARE IN A LARGE TREASURE ROOM. IT LOOKS LIKE THERE USE TO BE A LOT OF VALUABLE ARTICLES HERE ONCE. YOU NOTICE A SMALL CAVITY IN THE MIDDLE OF A DRAWING ON THE WALL. THERE IS A LADDER GOING UP, WHICH IS ALL SLIMY.
> look at drawing

YOU ARE LOOKING AT A DRAWING OF SOME KIND OF A LEVER SYSTEM CENTERED AROUND A TRIANGULAR CAVITY CUT IN THE WALL.

According to Bob Sorem I’m supposed to use the amulet somehow, but I have yet to find a two-word or many-word phrase that does anything at all useful. I have a verb list. I’m not playing just guess the verb, but guess the phrase.

Posted May 31, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Stuga: A brief excerpt   1 comment

The back cover from the commercial version of Stuga.


I’m not that far in Stuga yet (I’m close to a finish on Mystery Mansion and should have an ending post soon) but some things are immediately striking. A short excerpt should illustrate what playing is like in general.

SOUTH

You are in the forest, southwest of the lake.

EAST

You are south of the lake. A cavern leads EAST.

EAST

You are on the shore of an underground lake beside a huge gambling machine. On it is written: ‘PULL THE LEVER IF YOU
HAVE A FAUN SHOE TO STAKE’

EXAMINE LEVER

I don’t know what that means.

You are on the shore of an underground lake beside a huge gambling machine. On it is written: ‘PULL THE LEVER IF YOU
HAVE A FAUN SHOE TO STAKE’

E

You are on the shore of an underground lake.

N

The water is still, you swim fast.

You are in a cemetery. You are standing by a tombstone on the edge of a grave. A path leads forward and backward.
There is a spade here.

F

You are in a misty rock shelter. Cold raw air is blowing in your face. There is a wardrobe here.
A path is leading upwards and downwards.

U

You are in Thorvald’s room. A big sealed up chest is standing by the wall. In the ceiling is a hatch and in the floor is a hole.
On the wall it says: CORKSCREW HELPS WITH THE SA…
There is a diamond here.

D

You are in the Hilbert room, a room with four doors and holes in the ceiling and the floor.

B

You are in an empty room. There is a hole in the ceiling and a set of wall bars leading there. Doors lead to the right and to
the left.

R

You are in the Hilbert room, a room with four doors and holes in the ceiling and the floor.

Some observations from the text:

1. Outdoors compass directions work, while indoors it’s FORWARD/BACKWARD/LEFT/RIGHT only. I’m not sure yet if they’re fixed (like Hunter, in Darkness) or if they adjust based on the direction a room entered from (like Mystery Mansion — that is the game keeps track of which way the player is facing and describes left and right based on that).

2. The map moves around. Going north from the underground lake has led me to four different destinations, seemingly at random. The mismatch with Rock Shelter -> up -> Thorvald’s -> down -> Hilbert room (instead of Rock Shelter) seems to be more an instance of the destination shifting rather than a strange connection.

3. EXAMINE doesn’t work. This is like Adventure, but unlike Zork or Mystery Mansion. This isn’t absolutely a bad thing: a while back on the rec.games.int-fiction group there was a spirited defense of games that don’t allow examine:

I HATE EXAMINE!
There, I feel better…
Far too many games involve “puzzles” whose solution is “Oh, you didn’t notice you could ‘x minefield’ or ‘search countryside’ because these were built into room descriptions”. I was brought up to believe that the computer was your eyes and hands. Thus if the dial is set to 8, you get told this, without having to say ‘x dial’ every time.

Peter Killworth

4. The room descriptions are oddly minimalist, even moreso than normal for the era.

You are in a dark room.
There is an old man sitting here wearing a pearl necklace.
In his arms is a water bottle.

The entire effect I’d describe as “surreal gonzo”, slapping together ideas without pattern or reason. It’s the stereotype for all games from the area, but while it fits this game I’m not sure if it’s a fair characterization in general; even the wildly out-of-place robot in Zork was in a technological section of 3 rooms rather than dumped in the middle of the map.

Posted May 23, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Stuga (1978)   6 comments

I’m not done with Mystery Mansion, but I’m in dire need of hints on a few things so I’ve emailed Bob Sorem and James Garnett (authors of the two ports I’ve been using) to see if either can help. If that fails I’ve done enough on my own (including source diving) to wrap things up.

In the meantime, I wanted to try the next game on my list: what appears to be the first adventure game in a language other than English.

Du står på en brygga någonstans i Småland. Bakom din solvärmda rygg åker man vattenskidor. En kyrkklocka (som du inte ser) slår tolv. Du ser ett hus rakt fram.

You’re standing on a jetty somewhere in Småland. Behind your sun-warmed back people are
water-skiing. A church bell (which you can’t see) strikes twelve. You can see a house straight ahead.

[Source.]

“Stuga” is Swedish for “cottage”. According to the website above, it was one of the most widespread PC games in Swedish during the 20th century. Four years ago it was ported to Inform by Fredrik Ramsberg and Johan Berntsson, and two years ago Johan Ottosson translated it into English. That’s the version I’m going to play.

But first, a little history straight from the ABOUT text:

The first version of Stuga was written in 1977-78 by the brothers Kimmo and Viggo Eriksson (Viggo’s last name is now Kann) and their friend Olle Johansson. When the project started in the summer of -77 the authors were 10, 12 and 14 years old . . . The game was written in DEC Basic on the mainframe computer Oden at the Stockholm Computer Central for Research and Higher Education, QZ.

Through QZ the young authors had come into contact with the mainframe game Adventure by Crowther and Woods, which was released in 1975 and practically invented the text adventure genre. All three of them already had some experience making games: Kimmo had written a gaming machine simulator, Viggo a Hangman-like guess-the-word game, and Olle a Mastermind game where you played against a character called Thorvald.

They started talking about combining all three games into one – a kind of virtual gaming arcade where you would choose which of the games to play. Inspired by Adventure they added some surroundings to walk around in, and the idea of making a Swedish counterpart to Adventure started to take shape. At one point Kimmo’s father commented on the project: “That’s impossible – you can’t write large programs in Basic!” The gauntlet had been thrown: they decided to make the game, and to make it big.

By how I’ve been dating mainframe games, I’ve been using the first year people outside the author or authors were able to play the game in some form. In this case the game was started in the summer of 1977 — right when Zork was still being developed — but nobody other than the authors had access until 1978.

The history of early computer games seems to be full of young authors; in addition to this game Greg Hassett started writing adventures in 1978 when he was 12, and a teen-aged Richard Garriot was soon to come out with Akalabeth leading to the Ultima series. Are there teen authors out there publishing any more? It seems like the resources are out there.

Posted May 19, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Mansion: Plan of attack   Leave a comment

Usually I write posts after I’ve had a play session, but this time I’m doing one before. I’m at the point I need a serious push to make progress and this is the point where it helps me to step back and make a plan of what I plan to investigate and how.

For an old-school adventure, this step is necessary to me. Some insights I have difficulty seeing from the close, avatar-in-the-game-world perspective. The best example from Zork was how I realized I forgot to test my magic boat on a particular portion of water, hard to notice while running around individual rooms but to easy to see while studying the map.

General tasks

  • Create a partial (maybe not move-by-move) walkthrough covering what order I want to tackle potential tasks. Should I kill the vampire first? Or make a beeline for the mazes which have torches which will burn out with time? Maybe I should try to catch the killer first thing?
  • Search each room carefully for secrets. It’s starting to look like every potential item, even the scenery, is important.
  • Finish map of garden — does wolf have a “patrol path” or some system?
  • Figure out what’s going on with BRIBE system
  • Muck about with magic words some more

Puzzles

  • Cold corridor timing. Always seems to be fully open and closing when starting to go down it — is it possible to trigger that, wait until it closes, and then enter just as it starts opening so there’s more time?
  • Door in roof. Poke open with something long? Secret catch in room?

Loose objects

  • Experiment with talismans — protection from particular attacks? magic spells on right action?
  • Try searching for items and people with parrot and globe
  • What’s oil for? Try on random creaky places.

A final note on ports: I worked out how to save games in the James Garnett port: SUSPEND. So I’m playing mostly his version 19.4 now. There’s only one save game slot, but I’m repeating my system I used with Zork and storing multiple files with the mighty power of DOS batch file programming.

Posted May 9, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Mansion: A wild stew   3 comments

Please note the maps below are only in progress. Click them for PDF files.

After a lot of confusion I finally read James Garnett’s Mystery Mansion Spoilers, which serve enough to clarify what is going on without giving too much away.

* There are treasures to collect, but it’s much more nonobvious than Adventure or Zork. Every item in the game — including mundane ones like the broom and the rusty shovel — gives points. It’s just some give more than others, and there’s an inventory limit. There are 13 “major” treasures (that give 10 points each) and 3 “minor” treasures (that give 5 points each). I’ve only come across two of the treasures so far, so I’ve got a ways to go.

* There’s a map you can pick up that tells you what you’ll find in each cardinal direction:

> READ MAP

THE MAP SHOWS THAT IT IS:
NORTH TO THE BACK GATE
EAST TO THE STRANGE STREAM
SOUTH TO THE DENSE WOODS
WEST TO THE DENSE WOODS

The map only works on the outer edges of the map (not indoors or in the garden).

* The screams I was hearing are just the game’s way of counting time. At every hour on the hour something noisy happens off of this list:

YOU HEARD A WOMAN SCREAM
YOU HEARD A WOLF HOWL
YOU HEARD A CROW CAW AS IT FLEW BY
YOU HEARD SOME ROCKS FALLING NEARBY

* There’s a fair amount of alternate solutions for things. For example, there’s a secret passage (the west rooms on each floor) that can be entered in 8 different ways. The identity of the murderer, weapon, and location of the crime can be discovered completely by working out how to unroll a magic scroll, or piecemeal by questioning suspects and finding random messages on walls. There’s a vampire that can be killed in two different ways (one of them clever enough to be a worthy puzzle in a modern game).

* There’s a book that gives a single random possible verb depending on which mystery number (1 up to 999) you are playing. If you want to get a complete verb list you are technically supposed to return to the book over and over until you’ve randomly manage to hit upon every possible word. (For two of the magic words, this appears to be the only in-game way to find them.) I said “hmm, no” to that and cut and paste out of the source code instead (I already needed to look at the verbs to find out LIST stood for INVENTORY anyway).

* There’s some random distribution of objects based on the mystery number. Normally there’s an AXE to the east that I go to as my very first move but on rare occasions (possibly when it is the murder weapon) it isn’t there.

* You have one day of time to solve the mystery, grab as many treasures as you can, and escape. Oddly this bothers me more than the lamp-running-low-on-power time limit in Adventure and Zork. I think it’s because you have a certain measures of control over the lamp and can coordinate and plan to save lamp energy. With this game time passes even if you are goofing around looking for a secret passage with the lamp turned off. Also, the lack of a hard score limit makes me less inspired to try and grab all the treasures (I am unsure if it is even possible to carry all the major treasures at once).

Posted May 6, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Mansion: A mix of genres   1 comment

Jimmy Maher mentions in the comments to my last post that “If nothing else, Mystery Mansion is very important for being the first non-fantasy IF.”

The genre is specifically a blend of mystery and horror and fantasy, and it’s rather confusing how they relate:

The “Fantasy” Part

There’s a maze with a dwarf found either by wandering in the woods or by going down a “dark pit” in the basement of the mansion. There’s also a garden with “witching wells” and magic words that teleport the player. There’s two talismans (although I haven’t figured out what they do yet).

The “Horror” Part

There’s a vampire you run into from falling down some floorboards, and a werewolf. There’s a weirdly oppressive atmosphere, including a “haunted hallway” and random screaming and various rooms are dark unless a curtain is opened but sometimes the curtain can close itself again (?).

The “Mystery” Part

Overall, Mystery Mansion is kind of like Clue. You gather information from a message on a wall:

THERE ARE MANY BONES SCATTERED ABOUT, SOME OF WHICH LOOK HUMAN. THERE IS A MESSAGE WRITTEN IN BLOOD ON ONE WALL THAT SAYS THE MURDER WAS COMMITTED WITH THE CLUB

and questioning suspects.

question master

YOUR QUESTION IS ANSWERED WITH A HESITANT:
I THINK THE MURDER WAS COMMITTED IN THE BELL TOWER

Once you have the murderer, the weapon, and the location of the murder identified, an in-game note explains–

THE NOTE SAYS: IF YOU HAVE THE MURDER WEAPON AND CAN GET THE MURDERER TO RETURN TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME WITH YOU, YOU WILL SCORE POINTS
SIGNED: A FRIEND

I think now (although the game is too confusing to entirely know) that a corpse is around before you get to the house (which makes sense) but beyond that I’m a little puzzled. At one point the curtain closed on a room with a corpse causing the lights to go out, and when I reopened the curtain the corpse was gone: what was going on there? Why is there screaming at random points — are people discovering the body? Why are sometimes the weapons where they normally are and sometimes not? Why do characters sometimes follow me?

Posted May 6, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Mansion (1978)   11 comments

HI ODYSSEUS!

WELCOME TO MYSTERY MANSION, MYSTERY # 301, A COMPUTERIZED FANTASY ADAPTED BY BOB SOREM FROM AN HP-1000 FORTRAN PROGRAM BY BILL WOLPERT.

THE ELEMENTS OF MYSTERY MANSION ARE BASED ON THE FACTS, FICTIONS AND FANTASIES OF THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE. THE SCENARIO WAS DESIGNED TO CHALLENGE THE DARING AND YET, ENTERTAIN THE CURIOUS. ESCAPE FOR A FEW MOMENTS AND EXPERIENCE FRUSTRATION AND TRIUMPH, HOPE AND DESPAIR, POWER, LUST AND GREED. USING WHAT YOU KNOW, WHAT YOU CAN FIND OUT AND WHAT WORKS, TELL THE COMPUTER WHAT YOU WANT OR THINK YOU SHOULD DO.

YOU ARE IN FRONT OF A HEAVY IRON GATE WHICH IS APPARENTLY THE ONLY WAY THROUGH A HIGH BRICK WALL PROTECTING AN OLD MANSION, JUST VISIBLE THROUGH THE GATE. A ROAD LEADS TO THE EAST AND WEST ALONG THE WALL. IT IS DAWN AND A THIN LOW FOG IS JUST CLEARING FROM THE COOL AREAS. BEHIND YOU TO THE SOUTH ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD IS A HIGHWAY GOING SOUTH AS FAR AS YOU CAN SEE. YOU CAN JUST SEE THE TAXI THAT DROPPED YOU OFF, DRIVING OUT OF SIGHT.

This one’s got a mystery right away: when was it written?

Let me first give James Garnett’s take:

It was originally written by Bill Wolpert while at the Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station in Keyport, Washington, for the Hewlett-Packard HP1000 line of computers. He started work on it in 1978 as a way to learn Fortran IV, and continued to make changes and add details until his final version (Revision 16) in July, 1981. The first 15 revisions were intermediate versions; Bill would update the revision number whenever old saved games would not work, or whenever the game would seem to play differently than before.

Given the extra details suggests this came from a personal testimonial of the author, I’m inclined to trust this text the most. However, an earlier start date has been suggested:

Mystery Mansion, like Adventure, has a “twisty maze of passages, all alike”. This would seem to indicate that Mystery Mansion is influenced by Adventure since it seems unlikely that two game authors would come up with the same idea independently of each other. However, if one carefully distills the map of the mansion used in the game, it is clear that there is a very clean 3x3x3 grid used in it. The location numbers for each room are incrementing: 1-9 for the basement, 10-18 for the first floor, 19-27 for the upper floor. They are also laid out in a very regular fashion. However, the twisty maze of passages is not part of this neat arrangement: it was clearly added after the fact, as were several other parts of the map. It is also clear that provision was made to add more, and there are two roomnames for locations which do not even exist; apparently the author either had them in earlier versions and removed all but the names, or meant to add them later. Since the source code for the later revisions of Mystery Mansion (where the maze is added) were available for the HP3000, possibly from the launch of the machine in 1976, the author might have been influenced by the original version of Adventure created by Will Crowther in 1972, before it was expanded by Don Woods in 1976-1977.

(We know now the Crowther date of 1972 is bogus, the date for that should be 1975; also from file timestamp we know the Woods expansion is from 1977.)

There are two other reasons to be suspicious. Learning Fortran IV in 1978 would be a touch quaint. It gives the source an early-programming feel, as mentioned by Bob Sorem:

I assume it was written in the mid-1970′s, as the code was *very* unstructured (no IF-THEN-ELSE constructs, for example, which became standard in Fortran 77, I believe), aka “spaghetti code.”

Also, INVENTORY doesn’t work. The command for taking inventory is LIST. Given Crowther’s original Adventure did not have an inventory command at all, if Bill Wolpert was familiar with that version but not the Woods version it makes sense he would have invented his own method of taking inventory. (Somewhere along the development line he had to be familiar with the Woods version because the maze includes batteries for the lantern, a feature not present in the Crowther original.)

Still, the detail James Garnett included in his own history — and that he originally only tentatively attributed the game to Bill Wolpert at all — suggests he somehow got a hold of the author. So I’m inclined to say Mystery Mansion got started somewhere early in 1978.

Now, there’s three ways to play:

1.) Somehow get a HP1000 emulator to work, akin to Jimmy Maher’s efforts on The Oregon Trail. I’m not keen on this unless it is really necessary.

2.) James Garnett’s port, stored at if-archive. According to his web page (defunct, link goes to backup at archive.org) he has a version newer than what’s on if-archive, but it appears to have vanished into the digital ether. CORRECTION: The archive.org download link works (it hadn’t when I tried it a while back) and it is the newest version (19.4). He was careful with authenticity and studied the output from an actual HP machine to make sure his port matched.

3.) Bob Sorem’s port off of his web page into C (not available on if-archive). He has added some “broken features” apparently intended by the author — for example, Sorem’s port starts by asking the player their name, whereas Garnett’s port skips that.

4.) NEW: Terry Newton has a “practically exact” port here. It’s of version 16, not of 17 like Garnett’s and Sorem’s ports.

5.) NEW: There’s a server dedicated to playing Empire on the HP3000 that has a playable version of Mansion. I’m a little unsure but it appears to be a real HP3000, not an emulated one.

I’ve tried both ports alternating but I’ve found Sorem’s port to be the more pleasant — it seems slightly smoother and less buggy — with the exception of occasional use of the PC speaker. (“YOU HEARD A CROW CAW AS IT FLEW BY.”)

In either port, I can tell this game had quite a lot of ambition for its time. A sampling:

* The game starts with compass directions, but when the player enters an area where they would lose track — lost in woods, or indoors — the game switches to relative forward/backward/left/right directions. These directions are true-relative and if you enter a room from a different door they will be modified in the description appropriately. Also, more annoyingly, doing anything with an object will also move one’s relative position, so it is very easy to get befuddled. Inside the house there’s a compass; picking up the compass will turn off the relative-direction thing for good (and of course, it is one of the last rooms I found while trying to map out the game).

* The game has randomly generated elements: note the MYSTERY # 301 in the opening text. Each MYSTERY represents a different generated game, and there’s special commands to pick a particular mystery number or restart the same mystery.

* There are many independently moving characters like the HUNTER, the BUTLER, the GARDENER, and the MAID. You can QUESTION or BRIBE them and possibly do other things I can’t understand yet. One (?) of them is a killer and will start to murder people as time goes on using various weapons scattered through the house. (I think that’s how it works?) This all appears to be dictated by the random generation element.

* The highest possible score is 999 (according to James Garnett nobody has reached that score and it may be impossible). The game also keeps track of (and displays) your potential high score in your current game (for example, someone being killed seems to reduces your potential score).

* The game is in semi-real time. While it won’t print messages on its own, it does keep track of time. For example, in one place there’s floorboards that will break if you stay in a particular place too long. There’s a later puzzle involving a corridor trap that seems to require coordinating the timing.

I haven’t been doing much solving yet, just getting the lay of the land. I’ll talk about puzzles and what I figure out about the characters in my next post.

Posted May 4, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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