The Lost Dutchman’s Gold (1979)   3 comments

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. I announce I’m done with 197X and almost immediately afterwards I discover a game that’s been misfiled. To be fair, most copies state “copyright 1980” (and seem to be derived off the source code published in Byte magazine, December 1980) but the TRS-80 version at least is clear:

This game (and the followup, Spider Mountain Adventure) was written by Teri Li (a pseudonym for Terry Kepner). The goal is simply to find the secret Lost Dutchman’s Mine and retrieve four treasures.

Really, based on the first couple screens, this game has amazing atmosphere: you get full saddlebags, a rifle *and* a gun, a map, and a mule that you can load the saddlebags on.

As seen in the title screen shot, the “computer voice” is actually a dead character (“the ghost of Backpack Sam”) inside the game world. Later, you even find a room with PILE OF BONES (MINE). The default messages keep this unique flavor:

>GET MULE
JUST WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, PAUL BUNYON? YOU’RE NOT STRONG ENOUGH.

>DIG
OK
DAG NAB IT! THAR’S NOTHIN’ HERE!

You can feed the mule and lead it around, and it can carry your saddlebags around for you. Nice!

Unfortunately, after this opening phase, things break down pretty quickly. To get to the mine, you need to be holding the map, and then in one of the locations type >FOLLOW ROAD. Note that >GO ROAD is actually parsed and goes to an entirely different location!

The saddlebags have some lovely mimesis, but they end up being a pain. While they can hold quite a bit, the the number of items you can hold in your hands is a low number. This means at nearly every action I was doing inventory juggling; this is similar to the issue I had in Adventure 501 where a smarter container system actually made for worse gameplay. Historically, this sort of thing is cured once automatic item juggling becomes common (that is, if you need to use the map, having the game automatically put items and take them out for you).

When I found my first treasure, *SPANISH COINS*, I had no idea how to pick it up. After checking the source code, I realized that unlike every other game of this time, the “*” marks aren’t just decoration noting the item is a treasure – you have to use them in the parser. That is, >GET SPANISH is unrecognized, but >GET *SPANISH is.

The mines are simplistic. You go to three different rooms and DIG to find the treasures. The only real danger is from the fact there’s a maze with no exit whatsoever.

Then there’s this:

THAR’S NOISE UP AHEAD.
SOUNDS LIKE INJUNS.
>GO BUSHES
YER BEHIND A BUSH.
YA SEE: INDIANS. BUSH.
OBVIOUS EXITS: WEST

It’s hard to come across this scene without feeling uncomfortable. The entire genre of Westerns has always had trouble with Native Americans, in the same fashion that a story about colonialism has intrinsic issues that can’t be shuffled away. Throughout much of its history the genre stomped through them without much self-consciousness; I think perhaps the turning point was John Ford’s last western, Cheyenne Autumn (1964), which nearly comes off as an apology for his earlier work. In any case, by the 1970s the genre was still out there, and books could still refer to “injuns”, but there was definite awareness of a Problem.

Oddly, the case here is redeemed, perhaps accidentally, by: a.) the line being delivered by a dead character in the story as opposed to a “modern narrator” and b.) the fact that if you try to fight, you will get killed. There is no way to “win” against them. This marks the third game I’ve played so far (here’s the first, here’s the second) where you are given a weapon (here two weapons!) that serves no purpose at all.

From the published game cover.

Still: the first adventure game western! (Not the first electronic game — there’s Highnoon (1970) and The Oregon Trail (1971) for instance.) It must also be said that computer-narrator-as-in-universe character is pretty unique for the time, so even though this game is extremely rough, it’s got genuinely intriguing innovation going for it.

A winner is me. I switched later in play to the Apple II version, which is why this screenshot looks different from the others.

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Posted September 1, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “The Lost Dutchman’s Gold (1979)

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  1. It is worth remembering that copyright years don’t always correspond to release years. In the case of this game, looks like it was first sold on the TRS-80 Software Exchange, and was first cataloged in the March 1980 issue of SoftSide, the magazine that created and ran the Exchange. So, even accounting for magazine lead times, it may very well have first appeared on the Exchange in January of 1980.

    This all very arbitrary of course — should it really be a big deal whether it shipped in December of 1979 or January of 1980? — but we need our organizing principles. I do the same thing.

    When you get a little further, the United States Copyright Office database will start to become a great resource: http://cocatalog.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi. Its records include a “published date” for every entry, which in my experience has always been accurate. But at your current stage the games industry was still such an amateur, hobbyist endeavor that few bothered to register their copyrights.

    • I did start going by (sometime after Pirate Adventure, although no dates needed to be changed) “the time first version is done” as opposed to “first time published”. This makes the dates with published games more consistent compared to dates I’ve been using for mainframe games, for which I always used first version. (For example, while Acheton was substantially done by 1978, the mainframe was worked on until 1981-ish, and the commercial version wasn’t out until 1984. 1978 as a date makes the most sense in terms of prior and future influence – for example, Brand X / Philosopher’s Quest [1979] includes a reference which clearly expects players to have seen Acheton before, and there’s also the Hitchhiker’s Guide 1978 radio show reference.)

      Also, it prevents headaches like the one here. This and the next game were published as a 2-pack direct in stores by Rider Fantasy Creations (which seems to be just the early version of The Programmer’s Guild), so the fact the first game was sold through TSE in March 1980 doesn’t strike me as definitive. (But it’s still evidence!) Since I’m going by the date put on the tin I can just bypass this whole worry.

      Not like I’m not curious, though; I believe both Terry Kepner and Bob Liddil are alive and active on the Internet, so I might just ask them to clarify.

    • The tape of CLOAD Magazine, June, 1979 includes Spider Mountain Adventure.
      http://www.trs-80.com/wordpress/magazine-cload/

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