Archive for February 2017

Burial Ground Adventure (1979)   Leave a comment

title

Joel Mick is another young entrepeneur, like Greg Hassett or the trio of Viggo Eriksson, Kimmo Eriksson and Olle Johansson. In all these cases (including Joel himself) the authors were about 13 when they started.

I do wonder if I missed my fame/fortune window by being born 10 years too late. I wrote Night of the Vampire Bunnies at roughly the same age, but by 1990 the market for slightly dodgy text adventures in BASIC was long closed. It’s currently 2 1/2 stars on IFDB, which might be a little overrated, but it’s still much better than Burial Ground Adventure.

Five of the first inventory items. Art by Laymik, Simon Child, Baboon Designs, Joshua Ganyon, and Amelia Edwards. CC BY 3.0 US.

Five of the first inventory items. Art by Laymik, Simon Child, Baboon Designs, Joshua Ganyon, and Amelia Edwards. CC BY 3.0 US.

1.) Just like many other games from the era, there is no plot: your only objective is to collect treasures. Also unfortunately like some other games of the era, the setting is pretty random: you’re on an island that happens to have a catacomb and a house with treasure. The house, of course, must include every room possible:

realism

2.) There’s a “pit” you fall into and can’t get out without the right item. This is par for the course for the era, but things ratchet up a level in that even when you *do* have the correct item, it’s difficult to figure out how to use it:

rope

What I think Mr. Mick was running into was the adventure game problem I call “implicit action”. He really seemed to visualize: a.) forming a lasso with the rope b.) throwing the looped end of the rope and c.) catching it on a rock which is not described anywhere in the room. The actions needed to be boiled down to a single two word command (having an intermediate state would have been more complex than the coding here could handle) so he went with THROW ROPE which is puzzling on its own. If you imagine the literal action, it’s just throwing the entire rope; you have to have the other parts to it for the command to make sense.

3.) A portion later suffers the same problem, even worse.

closet

This time I confess to checking Dale Dobson’s walkthrough, but he admits he had to check the source code himself, so it’s faintly possible nobody in the world other than the author figured out this puzzle without help.

Again, implicit action seems to be to blame, although in a different sense. The author seemed to have in mind raising the trapdoor by pushing it up with the bamboo, but couldn’t figure out how to express it in a two word parser. He could have gone the route of PUSH DOOR working as long as the bamboo was in the inventory, but that would allow the implicit action of utilizing the bamboo to do it. This would lead to a puzzle likely being solved without the insight, so he settled on the nonsensical PUSH BAMBOO instead.

So in first case, the puzzle was confusing because it allowed the implicit action; in the second case, it was confusing because it disallowed the implicit action. Implicit action still bedevils adventure games to this day, where in games that involve a single-click interface the character does some action that turns out to be useful but never actually occurred to me until the game did it for me.

4.) After obtaining a key by feeding two types of meat to some dogs, you can break into the catacombs which I presume are the “burial grounds” of the title. The catacombs are connected to a maze which in several directions will inexplicably drop you in the upper rooms of the house. This is an easy contender for the most nonsense piece of geography I’ve seen in an adventure.

bgroundmap

I guess we’ll just say it’s “magic”, right?

There are two elements that I found interesting and different, so I’ll switch from numbering to lettering:

a.) There’s not only a gun object, but ammunition you can find later; when taking the ammunition the gun will automatically be loaded. However, the gun is a complete and utter red herring. You can attempt to use them on the previously mentioned dogs (the ones you feed meat to) but things don’t turn out well.

gun

This suggests both a game design finesse (having a weapon be useless really is a nice red herring) and possibly some sort of social commentary on violence.

b.) Right before the catacomb, there’s a dark room. The only light source is a match, but the source lasts very briefly.

There is way to “see” the room, but it turns out to be totally unnecessary. While I’ve played text adventures while fumbling in the dark that mostly due to trying to preserve battery life; here there is a room that is meant to *never* be seen, which makes for a nice moment.

So here, again, I find a common experience for this project: authors still fumbling with a new art form, with faint glimmers of possibility. Did I really need more than that?

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Posted February 25, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Strange Odyssey: Strange Ending   5 comments

The title screen of the Electron version, via Mobygames.

The title screen of the Electron version, via Mobygames.

I’m carrying: * ANCIENT FLASK SAURIAN BRANDY *, * RIGILIAN ICE DIAMOND *, * STRANGE ALIEN BELT *, * RARE ALIEN PAINTING *, * ALIEN SCULPTURE *
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop brandy
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop diamond
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop belt
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop painting
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop sculpture
WHAT SHALL I DO? score
I’ve stored 5 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 100. Well done.
This adventure is over. Do you want to try this adventure again?

I need to backtrack slightly on what I said in my last post; the treasures are not optional. In fact, my major sticking point which required a glance at hints involved one of the treasures.

But first, let me pick up where I left off last time. I had gotten to the point where I had gotten to the damaged Power Crystal of my ship but hadn’t worked out how to fix it.

This turned out to be a very nice puzzle with some lateral thinking involved. The crystal is described as a “thin rod” but I originally assumed this meant that I had to reshape the crystal in that format.

Then it occurred to me, well, what if I just replaced it? Is there already something that works like a Power Crystal? Indeed there was.

From the FM-7 version of the game, in Japanese. Via Mobygames.

The Hexagonal Room, from the FM-7 version of the game, in Japanese. Via Mobygames.

I realized the “rod” from the Hexagonal Room I had been using to teleport around, is, in fact, a thin rod, and maybe I could use it. After all, once I left the planet, I didn’t need to teleport around any more. After BREAK ROD:

Odd it only required very little force for it to break off in my hand with a CRYSTALLINE snap!

Oho. It fit into the right spot of the ship perfectly. I gathered the treasures I had found so far (ANCIENT FLASK SAURIAN BRANDY, STRANGE ALIEN BELT, RARE ALIEN PAINTING, and ALIEN SCULPTURE) and left. I landed at a “mother ship” which told me to drop treasures and type “score”, just like Adventureland. I dutifully did so, but got the dreaded message:

I’ve stored 4 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 80.

In other words, I was missing one treasure!

At this point I was extremely stumped. There was a “methane snow storm” location I hadn’t been able to get anything out of, but I assumed it was a red herring (there is also a “black emptiness” location which really is a red herring, so that wasn’t too outrageous an assumption). However, I threw every item and verb I could at it with no success.

I finally succumbed to the peek of a walkthrough, and realized I had fallen to most dreaded of text adventure blocks: missing a room exit entirely.

mapextra

The “plain with jungle” location, which I previous assumed was there just so you could DIG, let you type “GO JUNGLE” to a new location.

To be fair, this is violation of the implicit rules previously set up; all other exits in the game that describe locations are mentioned in the “object list” (see the curtain in the image below) and anything in the main description of the room was (up to this point) non-interactive.

jungpic

So in some sense my need to resort to hints was caused purely by a UI issue, but still, I’ve haven’t had a perfect run at Scott Adams game since Pirate Adventure. Sigh. Maybe next time?

Fortunately, the puzzle solving sequence after went smoothly:

– I came across a “Rigalian Dia-Ice Hound” which needed to be stunned by my phaser. (The phaser previously had only been used to vaporize a boulder, so I’m glad it got some more use. The phaser can be set TO STUN or TO DESTROY.)
– I took the Hound over to the “methane snow storm” area. Ice Hound and all that.
– The hound eventually woke up and ran off into the storm. I searched about and a room that previously led to nowhere now had a “mound.”
– Using an ice pick, I was able to dig into the mound. Inside awaited the hound, and a RIGILIAN ICE DIAMOND. I had to stun the hound again, nab the diamond, set the phaser to DESTROY, and the vaporize the entire mound.
– The hound runs off after this sequence and I was able to escape with the treasure.

Really this was an excellent set piece, and I’m glad I went through it for the last treasure. Still, I’m somewhat disappointed that the winning state of the plot did regress to collecting all the treasure, but in a way I suppose it may have been a conservative compromise; perhaps players were getting uncomfortable with the treasure-less uncertainty of Secret Mission, Voodoo Castle and The Count.

I know I tend to be somewhat allergic to ranking things on this blog, but I figured it would be fun to pause for a moment to rank the Scott Adams games I’ve played so far, from worst to best. I’m including the Alexis Adams game as well.

6. Secret Mission by Scott Adams: I loved the use of implicit plot, but the puzzles felt like I was just lurching between improbable sequences rather than figuring anything out.

5. Adventureland by Scott Adams: His first effort, and it shows; some kind of wonky puzzle design, but still a fun setting and certainly an amazing technical achievement for the time.

4. Pirate Adventure by Scott Adams: I liked the parrot, and the pirate who seemed to care more about alcohol than treasure.

3. Strange Odyssey by Scott Adams: This game had some genuinely excellent puzzles and setting, although the plot was strictly mundane.

2. The Count by Scott Adams: Strong connection between gameplay and plot still eludes most authors; The Count nails it about as squarely as possible. There’s too much learn-by-dying for it to rank #1 but otherwise this game is the benchmark to beat. (If I was teaching a class on text adventures, this is probably one of the games I’d use.)

1. Voodoo Castle by Alexis Adams: The ritual that makes up the plot is a little bit arbitrary but there aren’t any puzzles I can complain about, there was a genuine feel of unraveling a mystery, and I still found this as fun as a modern game.

Note that even Secret Mission would rank higher than at least half the games I’ve played so far from this era. I can understand why in this brief sliver of time Adventure International was the company to beat.

Posted February 22, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Strange Odyssey (1979)   Leave a comment

strange_odyssey_australian

If we want to compare this era in electronic games to very early film, most of the adventure game authors are still in the “point a camera and hope something interesting happens” phase, while Scott Adams is experimenting with the actual vocabulary of design.

Strange Odyssey is his first science fiction game, with the popular tack of “you’ve crashed on an alien planet, now try to escape.” There are in fact treasures to collect, but they seem to be optional, so they’re more of a nod to past works than an attempt to backpedal on his plot innovations.

The major experiment here is a “disconnected map” where you teleport between distant places.

I’m in a strange hexagonal room
Obvious exits: NONE
Visible items: Strange flickering curtain of light, Small piece of plastic flush in the wall, Rod jutting straight out of the wall, Strange looking goggles

The hexagonal room above is the central hub. The rod and plastic act as controls the destination of the curtain. Entering the curtain might lead to a methane snow storm, or jungle, or an alien art museum, or a Jovian mining colony with high gravity.

(Spoiler warning: puzzle spoiled below.)

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This section really gives the strong feel of gameplay merged with plot with trying to work out the controls to an “alien machine.” The rod can be PULLed and PUSHed at which point the plastic glows:

WHAT SHALL I DO? pull rod
Odd it only required very little force to slide out
WHAT SHALL I DO? push rod
Odd it only required very little force to slide in
The plastic GLOWED briefly 8 times.
WHAT SHALL I DO? touch plastic
OK I feel strangely disoriented for a moment!

The number of times the plastic glows corresponds to the destination of the curtain, although you have to touch the “small piece of plastic” to finalize it. Each time you pull/push the rod the plastic glow count goes up by 1. If you need to go back to a destination with an earlier number you need to “reset” the mechanism by touching the plastic when the rod is pulled.

It took me a good hour to get a hang of what was going on, but after I worked out the mechanism it made perfect logical sense. This is in opposition to mechanisms in some other adventure games (*cough* Myst clones *cough*) which often seem to be obtuse for no reason at all.

There’s no “light source” in this game but the space suit has a set amount of oxygen. It’s a tight enough window that I started writing a walkthrough. I’m not sure 100% how necessary this is (I’ve already found a machine that can refill the space suit, and it might be usable multiple times) but the suit timer is combined with a very tight inventory limit which makes me lose a lot of time just juggling items.

Other than the mechanism I mentioned most of the puzzles have been very straightforward, so I may wrap this one up quickly. I need to be careful about any promises, though, because sometimes the last lingering puzzles in a Scott Adams game are the hardest.

My main obstacle for escape is a damaged Power Crystal, which the game reports was originally in the form of a “thin rod”. I suppose I need to brainstorm ways to create one. I’m suspecting perhaps bringing the pieces the heavy gravity planet can mash them together? I also have an ice pick I’ve haven’t got to use, but other than that it seems like I’ve seen everything. The map below is likely close to complete.

Posted February 21, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Imaginary games jam update   5 comments

jam

What, what?

This thing from last year. Authors wrote a set of reviews for “five games that do not (and possibly, cannot) exist in our universe,” then received randomly chosen reviews from others, and produced “a sequel, a prequel, a fan fiction, a critical response game, a sidequel, a remake, a demake, a parody, or an artifact of some genre category never before seen by humans.”

It turned out well! All the games can be found here.

Weren’t these supposed to go onto a more permanent archive?

Indeed. All the games are currently sitting at the incoming directory at http://www.ifarchive.org/ and I am sure they will be sorted soon.

As soon as they are settled I was going to add entries for all the games at The Interactive Fiction Database. If you are an author and want to add the entry yourself, please let me know!

What happened to the bit after with the response pieces?

I did receive some very good ones (thank you!) but it turned out the coverage was pretty spotty. Some works had no responses at all, some had in-universe reviews, some had “serious reviews”, and when I laid it all out it felt very weird and imbalanced. I toyed with filling in the gaps myself but it just didn’t work. So I’m going to be putting the responses up still if people are still interested, but they’re not going in the book.

Oh yes, you also promised a book.

Indeed I did. The intent was to put the reviews followed by game excerpts followed by the responses. After a lot of editing it turned out to not work very well.

What I settled on was a compilation of all the original reviews of imaginary games people sent.

You can find this compilation, right now, here. It currently runs at 59 pages although I still have some fixing up to do. It’s extremely good!

Note I also still need to do some formatting standardization, and to that end, I have two questions:

a.) Should I put each imaginary game description on a new page?

b.) Should I put the author credits right before the ones they wrote, or should I just put them as an appendix at the end? I’m inclined for the latter just because it reads smoother, but I can understand why people might want their credit front and center, hence I wanted to solicit comments.

For publishing I was going to go with Lulu unless someone has a better suggestion; I was going to price it to be just the printing costs.

Anything else we should be worried about?

Well, the annual XYZZY Awards are coming up, and it is often the case things from earlier in the year have slipped the mind when nomination time comes around. So consider this a friendly reminder there was some innovative work here! It’s important to get the entries up at The Interactive Fiction Database soon because that’s what determines they’re eligible.

Posted February 20, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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