Library (1978)   1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

There is a leather sack here.

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

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

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

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

A sample bug:

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

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

If I could digress a bit into some coding minutae:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science fiction references abound without any attempt at coherency.

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

There are some Vulcan Ears here.

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

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

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

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

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

There is a wicked looking inscribed knife here.

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

Second floor of the library, via Wikipedia.


Posted August 2, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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One response to “Library (1978)

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  1. getting items back from the sack is amusing

    Oh, wow! I’ve long aspired to work into a game a scene in which you enter your own carryall, a room complete with giant-sized versions of everything in your inventory, and what happens when you recursively open the flap and lift yourself out… and… it seems I was beaten to the punch before I was even born!

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