Pyramid of Doom (1979)   3 comments

Let’s finish with Scott Adams for 1979!

Except, well, this isn’t Scott Adams, but rather the only game ever made by Alvin Files. Alvin had worked out how the Scott Adams Adventure system worked, and wrote a game on his own. He sent it to Mr. Adams, and after minor tweaks, it was released as Scott Adams Adventure #8.

This is one of those early-difficulty games: the are four desert rooms, a small hole I can enter, and I have no idea what to do to get the game started.

The style of starting with a tight area containing a difficult puzzle can work on occasion. Christminster is a text adventure from 1995 with a very devious timing puzzle in the first four rooms. Once solved the resolution is glorious. (On the other hand, it caused some people to quit playing.)

I wrote a level set called A Quiet Place for the game DROD where I made the first room high-pressure just as a way of throwing down the gauntlet — if someone couldn’t beat it, they were best off playing some easier levels first. Also, the tight pressure was a thematic device throughout (as the Youtube video I just linked explains, “everything wants me dead. Immediately.”)

To pick a less obscure (and only slightly less relevant) example, the first boss of Dark Souls is legendary for being extremely difficult. That is, extremely difficult for someone approaching the game as a standard RPG button masher; the repeated deaths are intended to train the player that yes, you might need to dodge and aim your attacks to win the game. By the end, the player has either quit or undergone a sadistic sort of tutorial which sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s really the case here that the puzzle is supposed to be classically “difficult”; the resolution may end up being just silly and frustrating. (The difficulty overall of the game is advertised as “Moderate.” Savage Island, which will come in 1980, starts with a small difficult section but is “Advanced” and clearly intended to challenge the player.)

I’ve got access to:

  • A canteen, and water
  • A shovel
  • A flashlight
  • A tiny key, which I found by digging in one of the desert rooms.
  • A stone; READ STONE tells me “Confusing. Part appears missing.”; taking the stone causes “the sound of machinery” and a “door with large keyhole” to appear.
  • In the same place as the stone I can DIG to make a hole, and then enter the hole to find a tiny locked door. The tiny key unlocks the tiny door (again causing “the sound of machinery”) and that’s the point I’m stuck. I can’t get any more machinery sounds and the door is too small to enter.
  • There’s also a “small nomad” that appears not long after starting the game who follows the player around, but I haven’t found any use for him yet. Other than TALK NOMAD (which ends up being fruitless) I can’t interact with him at all. I suppose maybe he’s small enough to fit in the door, but this isn’t an Infocom game where I can say >NOMAD, ENTER DOOR.
  • Oh, and finally, there’s a sign that states “He who defiles to tombs of Egypt shall surely perish!” Not likely useful, but when I’m this stuck I’m willing to try anything.

I’d be willing to take hints, but if you post one, ROT13 format only please. I’m going to keep at this for a while yet.

Posted June 20, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventureland Special Sampler (1979)   3 comments

(You may wish to read my series on the original Adventureland before this post.)

The manual informs us:

“SPECIAL SAMPLER” Never tried ADVENTURE? This special inexpensive sampler complete with 3 Treasures is a cut-down version of our large Adventureland. Guaranteed to supply hours of enjoyment: Try an ADVENTURE today!

Somewhat less kindly but still accurately, R. Serena Wakefield calls it “An abbreviated version of the full Adventureland, probably one of the first examples of crippleware in history.”

In essence, it is Adventureland with a.) no dragon eggs b.) the fish is just a normal fish, not golden and c.) the lamp is removed so the part of the game where you are supposed to go underground just cuts off.

This experience might be very disorienting as an introduction to adventure games, because many of the things that are part of the main game are left in! Previously essentially game items are now red herrings. There is flint and steel, skeleton keys, a bottle of water, mud, swamp gas, and the dragon from the original game (without the dragon eggs).

Even stranger: the opening part of the game has you climb a tree to find the skeleton keys, then chop the tree down and enter the stump. In the regular game, if you chop the tree down first, you hear something falling in the swamp; there’s a definite signal something “went wrong”.

TIMBER. Something fell from the tree top & vanished in the swamp

However, since the skeleton keys just open the door to the dark area, they are entirely useless in this game! So the signal that the player did something bad is misleading.

While many games genres have demos, even today, adventures never seemed to pick up on the trend. (I believe some of the Myst games had demos, but those are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head.) It’s just too hard to figure out where to cut. Also, one of the primary aspects of an adventure is to seed information and items in the early phases of a game where their presence may just be confusing in a demo.

Anyone recall any other particularly prominent adventure game demos?

EDIT: Some demos mentioned in the comments:

Space Quest 6 demo (This one is essentially a new mini-adventure to go alongside the regular one.)

Full Throttle demo (This includes 3 separate sections from the regular game.)

Mini-Zork (This was released relatively late in Infocom’s history, 6 years after Zork I.)

Day of the Tentacle Demo (Not exactly a demo, more of a preview video.)

Secret of Monkey Island demo (Also apparently a mini-adventure, as opposed to part of the regular game.)

Posted June 19, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Empire of the Over-Mind: Finished!   Leave a comment

The Over-Mind is no more!

More than 1000 years ago there were a pair of planets, blue and red, hanging close in each other’s sky.

The blue planet was inhabited by the king Alcazar Rex, who ruled in peace with the help of four ministers: Gerald the Green, Rubin the Red, Byron the Blue, and Griffin the Gold.

Griffin was minister of the tax, and while the kingdom prospered, he worked constantly. One night, in a dream, he was spoken to by a dark angel. The angel spoke of a “tireless servant” in a “bright crystal city” in the form of a “smooth sphere of shining gold”.

Griffin found the city in his dream and located a golden sphere. Upon touching it, the golden sphere awoke:

I am Servant-Mind, to thee tireless slave.
The work of dull tasks forever I save.
Provide me the records kept in thy care;
Then I shall compute for each the fair share
Of taxes owed. Yet I can do much more:
Alcazar’s nation wastes goods by the score.
By my plans this will end. Thus shall it be,
If all confidence is given to me.

So it was done. The Servant-Mind gradually was given more and more information, and started to take over all the tasks of the kingdom.

Servant-Mind corrupted the ministers with false promises of power; as soon as the time was right, it declared itself Over-Mind and became a tyrant.

The Over-Mind summoned demons to protect itself; Alcazar Rex was unable to defeat them. The old king fled (via magical device) with his daughter to the red planet, where he built a tower and was able to live in safety.

With magical foresight, Alcazar cast a magic spell so his daughter would sleep, and the same for Griffin the Gold, now filled with regret. Griffin he put in a cave in order to be discovered by a stranger who would rescue the kingdom in 1000 years.

One implication of the plot is you can teleport between the two planets.

I mention all this to note that the the main enemy is, essentially, a static object. Here is the final showdown:

There are multiple ways to deal with the demons (including just shooting them, although you’ll need an ally for backup with that approach) but once the Over-Mind is alone you can pick it up and take it places. This results in a final dilemma of how to destroy it, as opposed to how to fight it (I’ll spoil the method how a little bit later).

. . .

While this is not one of the explicit goals of my project, I’ve mentally tallied along the way what I might consider “required curriculum” for a designer who wants to learn from studying interactive fiction. In addition to the original Adventure (for historical reasons) I’d tag The Count and Local Call for Death as having innovation that’s still relevant today.

Empire of the Over-Mind also belongs on the list.

Mind you, partly as a cautionary tale — anyone who claims compass directions became the norm in text adventures purely because of cultural inertia should try this game and see how often they find themselves going in circles because they accidentally went through a “wooden door” rather than a “trap door”. I did say in my last post the lack of compass directions gave an otherworldly feel to the game, but really, the negatives far outweigh the positives here.

But! The number of alternate solutions is really impressive. Take this late-game section, which is full of goblins:

It’s necessary to enter this area to get goblin ale, which helps protects against the pain the Over-Mind can inflict when you get close. However, you can enter by a.) using a climbing kit from above b.) using a pistol to blast in from the bottom or c.) teleporting in via a box which moves the player to random locations.

While there, you can deal with the many goblins via d.) using the PYRO spell word and summoning a flame salamander, who can help fight them e.) with a friendly dwarf ally, who also is talented at goblin-killing f.) by shooting them with a xenon pistol or even g.) evading them altogether.

As I came close the the end-game I experimented with a.) through g.) inclusive. I’m not even sure I’ve found every possibility; there are, for example, three stones whose use I was never able to discern.

There might even be more than one way to defeat the Over-Mind. I first tried using the black box to teleport to many different locations to find one that was deadly. In the end I used lava:

The Deluxe version (which I linked to at my first post) has some very different elements, so if you’d like to play the game yourself, I’d recommend that one; likely not much has been spoiled. According to the manual, the only thing that is really the same is the Poem of the Over-Mind itself.

(The entire map is shown above. Click for a larger view.)

Two last postscripts: I managed to finish without hints! I don’t know if you noticed how on longer games I invariably make a statement along the lines of “and then I had to get a hint” or “and then I found a map of the game” but in this case I did this one entirely on my own.

Also, the inventory system is designed so there is a difference between “carrying” and “holding”. You can “>HOLD OBJECT” to make OBJECT your current item. I was initially confused as to why >FILL WATERSKIN led to a message that I didn’t have the right object; I had to >HOLD WATERSKIN first before I could use it. It does make sense, it’s just very unconventional.

Posted June 15, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Empire of the Over-Mind: Fascinating/Frustrating   Leave a comment

I’ve played games with mixed thoughts before. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where the things fascinating about it were the exact same things that were frustrating.

Let’s take the map; here’s just a snippet:

Remember, there are no compass directions; you go places by the name of the connection. Not only does this make the map take a lot longer to make (due to having to label absolutely everything) but I had multiple cases where I had rooms that clearly linked in some close pattern but ended up on opposite parts of the map due to me having no idea which direction to go.

For example, here the “Oasis” and “Desert” link together. I clearly needed to orient the bottom section flipped up rather than down.

Still, the concept threw me into a sort of other-worldliness that ended up being appropriate for the game. Once I had sufficient mapping done, navigation gave me a singular feel which I haven’t experienced in any other adventure game.

Let’s backtrack to that 1,592 word poem. Clip below:

Alcazar buried his friend in the sand.
While he was digging, cold revenge he planned
Against Over-Mind. In a secret room,
He worked alone to seal Over-Mind’s doom;
Removed the enchantments, canceled the role
They had in giving Over-Mind control
Of the weapons, so that when completed,
By its own snares it could be defeated.
Then he shut the room with black iron cold,
And only his daughter the pass-spell told.

I bounced very hard off the act of reading the whole thing in one go, and in fact I still haven’t. It’s not even badly written (or at least, as bad as it could be) but I had to struggle through in small doses.

There are indeed some important hints within, including one which I needed for essentially the first puzzle.

But still — the process of returning to the poem to comb for more hints ended up feeling like I was playing an alternate reality game, searching for hidden messages. While this is technically true of many Infocom games that include “feelie” materials, they never quite elicited the same notion of cipher that the Over-Mind poem does.

The manual mentions multiple solutions to things, and it isn’t kidding. This is mainly because of roaming enemies.

The enemies are in the style of Lords of Karma, with the major exception that you have no working attack command. There is no sword or dagger or other weapon. (There’s a xenon blaster later in the game and the SHOOT command is recognized, but the blaster doesn’t work and I suspect it never will work.) [EDIT: I got the blaster working. It has limited energy, so the next comment about resource management still stands.]

The intent is to use magic items and allies you find on the way, both which are limited resources.

For example, there is, early on, a chance to summon a flame salamander. The salamander provides light and is fairly good at defeating enemies. However, the flame salamander can only be used once, and when it leaves, it takes one of your items with it. If it’s a useful item, it means you have lost the game, although because of multiple solutions it’s unclear what a useful item is!

I’ve done reloading and optimizing in a way that closely resembles Hadean Lands, except without the reassurance I can backtrack any mistakes. I’ve enjoyed the narrative feel that resulted, and the non-linearity, but it’s simultaneously annoying to not know if I’m in a “dead adventurer walking” scenario.

Posted June 14, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Empire of the Over-Mind: Three Novel Difficulties   3 comments

The people (all two of them) have spoken, and I’m using the earlier rather than the later version. (The TRS-80 version, because the speedup on my emulator avoids both spastic blinking cursor and dropped keyboard input issues.) I do want to be clear I’m fine with “remake” versions, as long as the gameplay is essentially intact, and especially if the original author is involved.

However, despite the organized user interface of the 1986 edition as shown above, I find myself gravitating to minimal UI: just text and a parser.

A curiousity: the development of first-person shooters went from heavy background interface to gradually letting things go until it was (is?) considered admirable to have no interface at all. Text adventures underwent the opposite, gradually adding elements until arriving at the complexity of the interface below used in the Legend games.

Is more really more when it comes to a text game, though?

. . .

In any case, Empire of the Over-Mind introduced three novelties that make playing it more difficult than usual.

1.) The placement of items is at least somewhat randomized. In the first room of the game upon multiple reboots, I have found: a waterskin, a stick, a golden leaf, or nothing at all.

2.) The game comes with a 1,592 word poem that contains information required to beat the game. The original looked like this:

Thankfully, I have an ASCII version I was able to put on my phone for better readability.

Clever Servant-Mind had this long foreseen
And protected itself. Gerald the Green,
By false promise of power corrupted,
Had natural life vilely disrupted;
And, with the magic of a leaf of gold,
To animate or dispel he did hold
Control over plant and skull long dead,
To serve as sly traps for the sphere of dread.
Then for amusement at living man’s pain,
Servant-Mind had Gerald horribly slain.

I’m not going to do an intensive evaluation right now of Mr. Bedrosian’s skill at verse (maybe later), but it isn’t bad. At the very least the poem gives enough about the rise of the Over-Mind that it feels like an actual foe with motivations rather than Generic Baddie #295.

3.) There are no compass directions in this game. You have to state you want to go down a PATH or to a CLIFF or whatnot.

This makes me feel slightly uneasy and lost. On a couple occasions I accidentally went back to a previous location because I was confused, and there are some items meant as scenery that can’t be traveled to but it isn’t obvious until you’ve tested it out.

Still, while even original Adventure let you navigate by landmarks in some cases, they were only used in special cases; dispensing with compass directions completely is very rare for the era (I believe Battlestar does it in 1980, but I haven’t reached that year yet).

Posted June 10, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Empire of the Over-Mind (1979)   3 comments

Empire of the Over-Mind was Gary Bedrosian’s follow-up to Lords of Karma. While he wrote it in 1979 it didn’t get published until 1981.

The powerful magic of King Alcazar summons you beyond the boundries of time and space to a different plane of reality, to the Empire of the Over-Mind. The Over-Mind is tyrant of the blue and red planets; part machine, part spirit of evil. Long ages past, it cleverly overthrew the great King Alcazar, but the king escaped to safety and planned revenge that has taken a thousand years to fulfill. Now, at the Conjunction of the Seventeen Planes, the stage is set for YOU to travel to the Empire of the Over-Mind and destroy the infernal abomination!
— From the back cover of the published game

It has a reputation for being one of the best text adventures of the era, so let’s see if it lives up to that!

First, though, I need to pick a version. Here is the Apple II version:

Here is the 1986 “Deluxe” version, in DOS:

Gary Bedrosian’s own website links to the latter, so it seems to be the “author preferred” version. The main difference appears to be the longer room descriptions in the right column, although after playing through a little of both games there are clearly other tweaks here and there.

In a way I like the minimalism of the Apple II version, but it does run very slow; while the “speedup key” works it also makes the cursor blink insanely fast. I’ve also tried the Atari version which doesn’t have a blinking cursor but cranking up the speed seems to cause issues with the keyboard.

I’m not going to play both of them. Before I decide, I’d like you, the readers, to weigh in. Which one should I play?

(Note I do have override veto here, but I will definitely lean to the version everyone else wants.)

Posted June 9, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Journey to Atlantis: Finished!   Leave a comment

Sometimes I try hard to find an “angle” on a game, pulling out some game design lesson. I’m just not seeing it here.

This really is one of the simplest adventures I’ve played. From the map on my last post, you can remove the enemies by a.) using a peanut butter cup, as shown above b.) yelling, which apparently works on squids underwater c.) throwing a spear, which works on octopi and minotaurs and d.) feeding the “paranhas” to a black manta, who swims away content.

Just a reminder that this was sold as commercial software. Presuming the same price as the other items from Greg Hassett, for $9.95. Accounting for inflation, that’s $32.00 in 2017 dollars.

I was too young and missed this era. Did anyone buy a new copy of a game like this at the time? Did you think it was worth the cost? Is there something about the novelty of it that made it not seem so absurd at the time?

(Isn’t this BBS great? This end screen is from the “Lensman” release — the Mad Hatter commercial version promotes their other games. I have not found references anywhere to “Eiyromancia”.)

Posted June 2, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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