The Colonel’s Bequest: Murder Most Foul   1 comment

I technically “finished” the game; once I settled in (and made liberal use of the “increase speed” key when walking around) it took about 2 hours to get to completion. The plot “plays itself” in a way (more on that in a moment) so it’s not hard to solve the murders even with sub-par play. I left enough loose ends that I don’t consider myself done just yet.

Note that from this point there are many spoilers.

ZERO

From a game-designer-theory standpoint, the message upon picking “About” from the menu is fascinating.

There isn’t a “quest,” as such. Your goal is to get to know the story and the haracters; to understand what’s going on; and to survive the long night. We feel that “The Colonel’s Bequest” is a true interactive STORY rather than a game and every effort was put into giving you the sensation that you are part of the story.

This text was helpful to me in that once dead bodies start to show up in this game, they keep coming; I thought perhaps I was missing actions I needed to stop the carnage, but I realized the story to an extent “plays itself” — the intent is you just learn as much as you can in order to make a wise decision in the endgame.

There have been many essays on the use of the word “game” and I don’t plan on writing a new one, but I would say it’s a pity that every interactive media meant for leisure is shoehorned under “game”. I know I’ve been insistent on calling Renga in Four Parts “interactive poetry”. I haven’t seen much other interactive poetry go beyond clicking on hyperlinks as a mode of interaction; I theorize this is because so many other interactive actions belong to “games” so poets are shy to try them. What about a poem the reader can walk around in? (And if doing that “turns it into a game” for you, why?)

In any case, I think nearly everyone in a modern context would still recognize The Colonel’s Bequest as a game — it’s got traditional adventure puzzles and a high score, even — so I’m comfortable still calling it that.

ONE

The characters are:

Laura Bow, the hero.
Colonel Henri Dijon, the owner of the estate and the one who announced his intent to give his inheritence to all present.
Lillian Price, Laura’s friend and the Colonel’s niece.
Ethel Prune, Lillian’s mother.
Gertrude Dijon, widow of the Colonel’s brother.
Gloria Swansong, Gertrude’s daughter.
Rudolph Dijon, Gertrude’s son.
Clarence Sparrow, the Colonel’s attorney.
Dr. Wilbur C. Feels, the Colonel’s physician.
Jeeves, the butler.
Fifi, the Colonel’s maid.
Celie, the Colonel’s cook.

Nearly all of them will be dead by the end of the story.

TWO

The game is divided into 8 “acts”. Each act represents an hour of time, and every quarter hour you get a reminder of the time. However, it’s not “real time” — time only advances with certain events, like hearing a conversation or seeing a body. It’s not possible to just wander a corner of the map and come back to find the story finished. This fits with the game’s conceit as a “play” — time stalls in place while the scenery is being changed, so to speak.

In gameplay terms, this can be quite frustrating. Once I wandered the map multiple times for a full 15 minutes without finding anything new. (It turned out the next event was in the bathroom, which had nothing else happen before this time.)

The uncertainty about advancing time can foil efforts to “search as much as possible for new stuff before it goes away” — on a number of occasions I had time advance (without wanting / meaning it to) and lost access to certain clues / conversations in the process.

THREE

The first body I found was Gertrude, Gloria and Rudy’s mother. Last I saw her she was sleeping, but now she had “fallen” out of a second story window.

Searching the body didn’t yield up much information. Gloria herself happens to be just inside, and you can go there and >TELL GLORIA ABOUT GERTRUDE; she’ll step outside, pop back in, and tell you “that was mean.” In the short span the body isn’t visible, it gets “cleaned up.”

This ends up being a common theme through the plot — telling people about the bad things going on is entirely fruitless. They don’t even bother to check. It hits upon one of my least-liked tropes of literature, where the hero knows something and everyone else thinks they are crazy. I mean, I can understand this is a totally normal reaction with UFO landings / ghostly monsters / walking squids but the characters stonewall so much here the realism drops off a cliff. Really, you *aren’t* interested in this rolling pin I found with blood on it?

(Ahem.) In the meantime, I kept overhearing conversations and finding more ways people don’t like each other. The Doctor knows some medical secret of Gloria’s. Gloria was dating Clarence but drops him for a director. The Doctor and Clarence plot together to recover $100,000 that Clarence stole from the Colonel to buy a racehorse. Rudy and Clarence get into an actual fistfight at one point. Everyone thinks Ethel drinks too much.

To be fair, Ethel spends a lot of the game either drinking so much she can’t respond to questions, or wandering drunk like she is in this screenshot.

Murders continue. The next person I found was the Doctor, dead by the end of Act III in the Carriage House by the horse. Just like Gertrude, his body disappeared by the time I came back.

At one point, I found Jeeves cleaning up some evidence of a struggle. I asked him about it, and he just claimed he was doing what he was told. This aroused strong suspicions in me that a.) the Colonel himself was behind the murders and b.) he was getting help in cleaning up the results.

More people die, and I discovered the bodies in this order: Gloria, Ethel, Clarence, Lillian.

It was nearing the end of Act VIII, and I had found a key on Lillian’s body. Next to her body was a gun and one bullet; I took both. Entering the house I could hear a scuffle upstairs. Going into the attic (which I previously couldn’t unlock) I found the Colonel and Rudy in a struggle holding a hypodermic needle. This is where you get the choice.

FOUR

Who was responsible, Rudy or the Colonel? Which one should you shoot?

This is the elegant way of asking “who is guilty?” Do you believe the Colonel’s announcement of the inheritance set off a desire to kill among the already-morally-askew family, or did the Colonel lure his family in as a way of ending it?

I’m not going to spoil things here just yet. When I get to my next post of “Finished!” I probably will, but I’m holding off because there are plot holes I am currently frustrated by which may turn out to simply be gaps of knowledge.

I know I have gaps because a.) there’s a score at the end of sorts; I’m only halfway up to “Super Sleuth” and b.) also at the end you can look at Laura’s notebook, which includes pages like “Person With Surprising Secret” and “Ultimate Location of Most Bodies” that are marked “INCOMPLETE”.

I’m also missing “Person Befriended”, which leads me to some last thoughts for now …

FIVE

… I struggled a *lot* with communicating in this game. It uses a relatively free-form ASK/TELL type system (ex: >ASK LILLIAN ABOUT ETHEL) but the vast majority of what I tried was either not understood, or stonewalled off by the character. The Colonel (who you would think would be interested in dead relatives) just snaps at you if you try to communicate anything. Right before Clarence dies, you can try to tell him about murdered people and he says what nearly amounts to default responses, but then you find (after he’s been dragged off) that he was writing in a diary about a sense of dread. In theory, that’s dramatically appropriate; in practice, my attempts at interactivity were being thrown into the void.

Posted August 18, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Colonel’s Bequest: The Lay of the Land   Leave a comment

I originally made the reasonable assumption that to get by the opening screen (which stays up for a long time) one just simply clicked, and then the next portion of the game would appear. This did more or less happen; I went straight to being up in Laura’s guest room and being able to move her around. However, in the process I ended up skipping a long cutscene!

The setup I missed was this: the Colonel has invited all his family members (and some associates) to his island estate, where he makes the announcement that a.) he is splitting his inheritance evenly among everyone present (except Laura who is just visiting) and b.) if someone present dies, the distribution will be evenly split among those who remain. (b.) does make legal sense but is a very weird thing to say; it sets up the possibility that someone might not want to bump off the Colonel, exactly, but one of the other relatives in order to get a bigger share.

In any case, after the announcement, there’s no directive other than to “explore”, so I mostly did that. The main house itself includes a series of secret doors where you can spy on conversations:

The characters have a full ASK / TELL / SHOW style system where you can pester them for information, although I admit I haven’t gotten much information this way yet. I instead went to get a feel for the surrounding area.

For those used to object-dense Sierra games, it definitely feels sparse so far. I found an oil can in one of the locations, but that’s it. Generally speaking, it looks like most of the locations are meant to be important later, for secret meetings at midnight and the like. Two interesting bits, though:

There’s a strange shaft in a hedge maze, which suggests some sort of secret opening via unusual key.

I also found the Colonel’s horse Blaze, who (in addition to the Colonel) is a veteran of the Spanish-American war. The lantern behind the horse was out of reach, so I opened the gate to get to it, and this happened. Laura died immediately after. It wouldn’t be a Sierra game without some instant death going on.

It’s all been relatively sedate so far. I’ll get more into the cast of characters (and my attempts to interrogate them) next time.

Posted August 14, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Colonel’s Bequest (1989)   3 comments

A few months back I listed the Innovation 13, a set of 13 adventures I was going to play out of the usual chronological order from the All the Adventures project.

It’s time to finally play one of those. It not only has graphics, but parser and point-and-click!

By 1989, Roberta Williams was already a veteran game designer; in addition to writing in the text adventure era she had already finished the first four King’s Quest games and the edutainment title Mixed-Up Mother Goose.

This was her first mystery adventure since Mystery House (1980). It was made right before Sierra switched to an all point-and-click interface (no typing at all, that is). Commands are still typed in via a parser, but clicking the mouse is available to move places and to examine items. Since moving and examining are the main activities of the adventure (at least so far) the game really feels 60% point-and-click and 40% parser.

You play as Laura Bow, a young journalism student in the 1920s. You’re tagging along with your friend Lillian to a family reunion at the island estate of Colonel Henri Dijon.

I assume murder and mayhem ensue — there are a number of other characters and nearly all of them seem to dislike the Colonel — but I haven’t done much yet other than explore.

I would like to take a moment to confess: I am very bad at adventure game mysteries. The major ones all seem to depend a lot on time; various events happen at various times, and if you’re not in the right place at the right time you’ll miss some crucial clue. The idea is to replay enough times that an “optimal route” of information is built up as you decipher the movements of the various characters. Theoretically, this sounds fine by me; in practice, I can never figure the mystery out. I never even finished The Witness (1983) which is notorious for being one of the easiest of the Infocom games. I’m hoping by writing about the experience I’ll get over my issues? We’ll see.

Posted August 10, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 501: Finished!   12 comments

I gathered all the necessary treasures, but the endgame wouldn’t trigger. Cross-checking with the source code, I’m definitely at maximum, so I must have run into a bug; I can call this one done. (Also, the source code indicates an essentially identical endgame with Adventure 350, so I’m not missing anything.)

Before I made it to the end I was going to call this post “Annoyances” because I ran into legions of them. Case in point: gathering the necessary treasures isn’t just a matter of dropping them in right room. There’s a safe that stores most of the items. However, some of them don’t fit, but *do* fit in the pirate chest (it is unclear how one would know the pirate chest can contain extra loot and is an acceptable holder). Some don’t fit in either so really are just dropped on the floor. One of them (a radium stone) is radioactive and can only be stored in a special container; the score only increases when storing the stone in the container and it doesn’t matter where the container goes in the well-house. The only way to figure all this out (other than spoilers) is to keep an eye on the current score and test every possibility out.

You might remember last time an outdoors location that was reached by going north from a certain location where the destination was chosen via random number generator. The game does it again on an important indoors section, going south from the East End of Long Hall:

(Rant Mode On) Again, I should note the room-exit based version of this doesn’t seem to be a Thing outside of ports of Adventure, but in other adventures I have seen characters and/or objects only appear in certain rooms based on a random chance. Suppose, as a game designer, you want an Event to occur in a certain central location. Since the location is central, you expect the player to pass through 10 times, and you set the Event to happen with 25% probability. Surely the player will see it?

75% to the 10th power is 5.6%, so approximately 1 out of 20 players will never see the event by random chance! Don’t be lazy: engineer things so the event may seem random but the player is guaranteed to see it in a timely manner. (/Rant Mode Off)

The sad thing here is that the annoyance is followed by the best puzzle in the game, and in fact the best instance of re-appropriation of an object I’ve seen any of the Adventure variants.

You’re in the Cloakroom. This is where the dreaded Wumpus repairs to sleep off heavy meals. (Adventurers are his favorite dinner!)
Two very narrow passages exit NW and NE.
A lovely silken cloak lies partially buried under a pile of loose rocks.
In the corner, a Wumpus is sleeping peacefully.

The Wumpus stays asleep until you grab the cloak, at which point it starts chasing you. You have about six moves to somehow escape or defeat the Wumpus. As is tradition, I will not solve the puzzle here, but I did leave enough information in this post (as long as you’re somewhat familiar with original Adventure) to figure things out. Answers in the comments are welcome.

From Dennis Donovan’s map of Adventure 751.

Back to annoyances: I ran into two deadly guess-the-verb issues in a row. I’ve tried to argue before that guess-the-verb is rarer than the reputation of old adventures suggests, and then a game like this comes along and asks me to exit a boat:

>EXIT BOAT
I don’t know in from out here. Use compass points or name something in the general direction you want to go.

>LEAVE BOAT
I don’t know in from out here. Use compass points or name something in the general direction you want to go.

>OUT
I don’t know in from out here. Use compass points or name something in the general direction you want to go.

>U
There is no way to go in that direction.

>ESCAPE BOAT
I don’t understand the word escape.

>QUIT BOAT
What do you want to do with the boat?

I pretty much rammed through every verb I could think of until I came across this, which is so bizarre it might be a legitimate bug.

>PULL BOAT
Dropped.

Immediately after this there are some bees where I wanted to get to their hive. I had some flowers where I thought >GIVE FLOWERS, >THROW FLOWERS, or some variation thereof would work. It eventually came down to >FEED BEES which I guess sort of makes sense, but I don’t think is the word most people would use.

One infamous aspect of 350 point Adventure is “the maze of twisty passages, all different” which contains a vending machine that dispense batteries for the battery-powered lamp. It was a way to extend the time allowed for solving puzzles, but since getting the batteries required using rare coins (and thus destroying a treasure) the vending machine was useless for anyone who wanted a high score.

One consequence of expanding the map in Adventure 501 is that the battery-powered lamp doesn’t have enough charge to get through every puzzle, even in the most optimized route. In this game there are “lead slugs” you can find which work in the vending machine. However, the map is big enough that once the lamp starts going out, there often isn’t enough time to go pick up the lead slugs and trudge all the way to the maze. I lost one of my “final runs” just from getting in an impossible scenario here, and on my subsequent attempt made sure I picked up the batteries early before I even needed them. This isn’t outrageous, but it did surely count as an Annoyance.

(Adventure 550 had a similar conceit of needing a lamp recharge, but there was a magic word that recharged the lamp when it got low and the magic word could work anywhere. Therefore, the annoyance was neatly avoided.)

I suppose if there’s anything positive I can grasp out of this experience, it’s that a coherent map is a pleasing thing. The expansion allowed many gaps to be filled in, and many more routes to be created to get from points X to Y. It led to routing decisions: if I want to reach object Z, do I use a boat, do I walk in from the bridge going the other direction, or do I teleport in with the ruby slippers? (Predictably, they’re just a Wizard of Oz reference; wearing them and typing >CLICK works.) The general feel of Adventure 501 was exploring an real environment, not a node graph.

I’d still recommend Adventure 550 over this one, though; it didn’t suffer nearly as many annoyances.

And that’s it! I can say I have played and written about every adventure game of the 1970s. I’ll likely make a summary post at some point and dive into 1980, but before that, I’m going to do something entirely different.

Posted August 9, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 501: Outdoors   4 comments

Part of Dennis Donovan’s map from 1980.

In yet another episode of Whose Version Is This Anyway?: I mentioned in my first post that there was two later branches that was derived off Adventure 501 (a 551 point version and a 751 point version). There’s a part involving a spider and fly in the port I’m playing which is not in either branch, leading to the theory that this particular version was modified by an anonymous person off of David Long’s no-longer-in-existence original. The addition is very slight, so it’s perfectly fine to call it the “same game”, but it has a silly/annoying scoring trick I wanted to point out:

You have entered Haunted Chamber. A cold wind whistles eerily throughout the room. Strange chords from an unseen organ echo from all over. A passage leads east and a small hole leads south. There is a giant spider in the eastern corner guarding the door. He is grinning at you.

>THROW FLY
The spider grabs the fly, wraps it in silk, and proceeds to quietly munch on it, leaving the door unguarded.

This obviously loses the fly, but it also loses points. Even though the description of the fly doesn’t have the patented exclamation mark at the end (like all the other treasures do) it gets points if stored as a treasure.

I had explored the outdoors at the very beginning of playing this game, and had concluded there weren’t any additions. I apparently missed going west two times from the starting room, because there’s an extensive outdoors section:

I originally went north from the “Jumble of Large Broken Rocks” where I was led to the “High Cliff”, dutifully marking my map and assuming I had reached a dead end.

Soon after, I had reached the point of stuckness that I decided to peruse the Dennis Donovan map excerpted at the top of this post. The map really is a pleasure to look at, and it makes the game feel like a real location far more than any other map I can recall. It’s also useful for meta-solving; consider this portion on the lower-left corner:

This is technically of the 751-point version, although there only seems to be one small portion that doesn’t match with Adventure 501. This was sold commercially at the time; no high-resolution scan was available until earlier this year when Arthur O’Dwyer happened upon a copy.

I never found a “Thunder Hole” on my map, but it certainly looked like it was accessible. I made a return trip and found that going north from the “Jumble of Large Broken Rocks” also can go (simply at random) to the “Thunder Hole” area instead. Argh! This kind of trick I’ve only seen in Adventure variants, and I am deeply grateful nobody else picked up on it the way other authors ran with mazes.

Posted August 8, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 501: Wrong Number   Leave a comment

Adventure variants are named after their high score. This is imperfect when more than one version has the same top score, and especially confusing in the case of Adventure 501:

>score
If you were to quit now, you would score 45 out of a possible 505.

To clarify (?), the game doesn’t have a hard-coded high score; it’s determined by the events / treasures placed in the game. At one point this port (by Scott Healey) showed a maximum score of 622; after fixing a bug, the high score went down to 496. After fixing another bug, the high score went up to 501. Now it seems to have floated to 505.

According to David Long’s own information (circa 1978) the high score should be 501. So I’m sticking with that, especially since Adventure 501-ish doesn’t sound like a good title.

Updates:

1. I managed to solve one significant puzzle: the sword in the anvil.

You are on a narrow promontory at the foot of a waterfall, which spurts from an overhead hole in the rock wall and splashes into a large reservoir, sending up clouds of mist and spray.
Through the thick white mist looms a polished marble slab, to which is affixed an enormous rusty iron anvil. In golden letters are written the words: “Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of This Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King-Born of All This Mountain.”
There is a narrow chimney on the east side of the promontory.
A gleaming sword is stuck into the anvil!

When this happened in Adventure 550 a boost of strength was required. Alas, brute strength here doesn’t help.

>PULL SWORD
You grasp the sword’s handle and give it a mighty heave, but with a loud clang the sword blade shatters into several fragments.

The golden letters give a hint. Earlier, I found a new area by the Hall of the Mountain King:

You are on the east side of the throne room. On the arm of the throne has been hung a sign which reads “Gone for the day: visiting sick snake. –M.K”
An ancient crown of elvin kings lies here!

If you wear the crown, pulling the sword gets a different result:

>PULL SWORD
Taken.

2. As I predicted, there was a large section past “Dante’s Rest” (map shown above). The trident has been moved from its original spot in Adventure 350 to this area.

You are on the eastern shore of the Blue Grotto.
An ascending tunnel disappears into the darkness to the SE.
There is a jewel-encrusted trident here!

>WEST
You can’t swim. You’d best go by boat.

There may be another area with the aforementioned boat. The strangest part past Dante’s Rest is the Rotunda:

You’re in the Rotunda. Corridors radiate in all directions.
There is a telephone booth standing against the north wall.
The telephone booth is empty. The phone is ringing.

>ENTER BOOTH
As you move towards the phone booth, a gnome suddenly streaks around the corner, jumps into the booth and rudely slams the door in your face. You can’t get in.
You’re in Rotunda.
The phone booth is occupied by a gnome. He is talking excitedly to someone at the other end.

There’s a horn and a lyre elsewhere that I’ll try out later to see if I can annoy the gnome enough to get him to leave, but as the setup resets whenever you leave the room, I suspect the solution has more to do with outrunning the gnome than chasing him away.

3. One portion of the game, the section past the troll chasm, looks entirely unchanged at first; no special passage through the lava this time.

From Kim Schuette’s The Book of Adventure Games.

However, there’s one slight difference that has me stumped. I think it may qualify as a new category in my mod taxonomy, but I don’t know what the word for it would be.

Normally the “tasty food” from the opening of the game serves to make the bear happy, but this occurs instead:

>FEED FOOD TO BEAR
All you have are watercress sandwiches. The bear is less than interested.

I don’t have a good answer. This and the phone booth are the only two puzzles that seem to be available. That doesn’t discount the possibility of hidden puzzles; combing over all the prior rooms is a good way to procrastinate while I’m stuck.

Posted August 7, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 501 (1978)   2 comments

From the cover of Creative Computing port of Adventure, via the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History.

This version of Adventure (by David Long) marks the last one of the 1970s I’m writing about. There are a few that are essentially direct ports I have skipped, but I’ve played all of them that modify Crowther’s original game in some fundamental way.

501-point Adventure has a tangled history, but I’ll simplify things down to say this was the basis of a “lost” 751-point version by David Long in 1980 (it was on Compuserve, and died when Compuserve did) as well as a 551-point version by Doug McDonald from 1984. I’m playing the version at Gobberwarts.

A difference between this version and all the others pops out right away:

You are inside a building, a well house for a large spring. Off to one side is a small pantry.
There is a shiny brass lamp nearby.
There is a leather sack here.
Taped to the wall is a faded poster.

>READ POSTER
The poster has on it a picture of a short, fat wizard with a bushy red beard and a white painted face. He is playing an electric guitar. The caption reads: ‘LOOK OUT KISS!! Here comes WIZZ!!!! Brian Baas lead singer and vocals. Playing at a Woodstock near you!’

>GET POSTER
Hidden behind the poster is a steel safe, embedded in the wall.

I thought for a brief time you were denied the typical food / water / keys at the start of the game, but the pantry can be entered.

>ENTER PANTRY
You’re in the caretaker’s pantry.
There is food here.
There is a bottle of water here.
It contains:
Clear water
There is a large black fly here buzzing around rather lazily.
There are some keys on the ground here.

Note how the bottle “contains: clear water” as a separate entry, as opposed to water just being an object. This game has a “proper” container system where in order to, say, free a bird from a cage, you have to >OPEN CAGE before getting the bird out, or if you want to pour the bottle of water, you have to >OPEN BOTTLE first. In a way, this makes for stronger simulationism, but it’s also more of a pain in practice to type two commands with something that previously only needed one. In short, improving the underlying system made the surface parser worse. For a container system to be an actual improvement, it needs “assumed actions” like in the Infocom parser — that is, if you POUR WATER without having opened the bottle, the game says “(first opening the bottle)” to avoid the tedium of typing an action that was clearly implied.

In any case, I haven’t run into too many more differences yet. There’s these two areas early on…

…but neither as of yet seem to be extensive or interesting (given I found no treasure or item associated with the “Haunted Chamber” I suspect I’m missing something).

I also found a sword in an anvil (very similar to the sword in the stone from Adventure 550) and a chasm called “Dante’s Rest” where I suspect the rest of the rooms are hidden. I will report back my results next time!

Posted August 5, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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