Archive for April 2019

Death Dreadnaught: Finished!   1 comment

Last time, I left off on being unable to get by a creature.

One more ad for the game, this one from Rainbow magazine March 1984, mainly because I’m about to spoil what is more or less the only puzzle.

The solution was of the I-guess-that’s-sort-of-logical? kind which really only came up because THROW was on the verb list but hadn’t become useful yet:

It turns out that was essentially the only problem left. Just past the creature was a console reading “fuel shuttle” with a lever and a knob. Don’t pull the lever! (One final deathtrap, for fun.)

Having opened shuttle bay doors, and fueled up the shuttle, winning was a matter of gathering the oxygen tanks, batteries, and food I had already found, and flying to victory.

(Oh, and that’s a torso of a body that’s screaming WASH ME somehow and you can >WASH BODY and get the reply THANKS, but nothing of importance happens. I kept the decapitated arm I found, too.)

I suppose I said most of what I wanted to say in my last post; although I am hesitant to suggest a game like this needs more death, I think the main issue (other than the massive spelling errors and bad parser) was the static feel to the creature. The creature could kill you when you entered a door, but that was just a red herring. The creature could kill you if you shot it. However, it doesn’t pursue the player or otherwise move about, so the sort of tension you can get from Zork or even one of the wackier Greg Hassett games just isn’t there. The endgame felt goofy rather than intense.

I suspect I know who the authors are. “Biff Mutt and Spud Mutt” were also known as The Dog Brothers, and based in Texas.

Also from Texas, there happened to be a company called Device Oriented Games, ran by two brothers:

If you’re not getting it yet, look at the acronym.

That’s right, Haunted House fans: I’m pretty sure we’re dealing with another Arnstein joint. In the Gaming After 40 post about Death Dreadnaught one of the comments mentions “this game is sometimes credited to Robert Arnstein”; given the three strong instances of location, company acronym, and the fact the company was run by two brothers, I’m inclined to agree with the credit.

We’ll still see Mr. Arnstein again in 1981 with Raäka-Tū and in 1982 with Xenos and Bedlam.


Posted April 30, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Demon World / Hijacked   Leave a comment

The first episode, Demon World, starts with the Enterprise in a mock-battle against another Federation ship (essentially a warm-up exercise to demonstrate ship combat, which I wrote about in my last post). After the combat is over the Enterprise is summoned to a colony where “demons” are appearing and scaring the colonists.

The colonists are part of a religious sect known as The Acolytes of the Stars. (They seem to be, more or less, Christians; while Christianity isn’t that prominent in Star Trek, there are a fair number of references.)

I met with the prelate (shown above) who explained the colonists had found a door at local “Idyll Mountain” and shortly after demons began appearing, and one of their colonists went missing. Heading north, I ran into some Klingons who just started shooting; after downing them with phaser fire, it turned out they were some manner of robot.

Further in, there were some rocks blocking a door. As long as I shot the rocks with phaser fire in the right order, I was able to free a trapped colonist.

There was a *wrong* order to shooting the rocks that caused one of them to tumble and crush my red-shirted companion. It seems like “is the redshirt alive?” is a pretty good metric to if you’re playing well or not.

After some extra shenanigans, I was able to get inside the door and wake an alien (a “Naurian”) from stasis. Apparently, the demons and Klingons had been part of a security mechanism to chase people away; they used people’s owns fears to create foes (which is why the Acolytes saw demons, whereas Kirk and friends saw Klingons).

You can choose to be kind of a jerk to the alien.

The aliens had seen a meteor impact coming, and to preserve their race and designed a machine to put them in stasis until the next solar eclipse. However, the meteor impact also destroyed the moon, so the machine never had an eclipse to wake them up.

After some friendly conversation, the Naurians agreed to look into an application to join the Federation.

. . .

The second episode, Hijacked, starts with the Enterprise heading to the Beta Myamid system to investigate the disappearance of a federation ship: the U.S.S. Masada.

Shortly after arriving, I was confronted by an Elasi pirate ship which started shooting without any prelude. After defeating it in ship combat (the mini-game) the Elasi ship ran away, and the Enterprise was able to find the Masada in orbit around a nearby planet. Getting within hailing frequencies, I found that the pirates and taken over the ship:

The dialogue is an interesting moment here: you can choose to be more or less threatening, and I never did quite work out what the optimal things to say were (or if there even was an optimum). It was quite clear when talking with a friendly alien what the “jerk” options were, but here: was it better to cut to the chase and make an absolute ultimatum right away? Should I have played along and pretended to talk terms?

While the Elasi had shields raised so the transporter wouldn’t work, I was able to use a “command code” to stealthily drop the Masada’s shields long enough to get over an away team (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and … a different redshirt).

I shortly thereafter found the crew in a nearby brig (where I had to stun two Elasi pirates with phaser fire)…

…and at this point the game ground to a giant halt for me. If you try to free the crew, there’s an explosive on the inside that blows them up. I did the thing many point-and-click adventurers are familiar with where I clicked on literally every object I could find and testing every item in my inventory (I found a random morass of stuff in the hallway — more on that in a moment).

I finally gave up and consulted a hint guide (the “official” one for the game in fact) and found out that the wires attached to the brig device can be clicked on as a separate object from the rest of the device.

Grr! To clarify, this wasn’t a pixel hunt: this was just a complete failure of interface. I assumed that actions done to the bomb device would consider the bomb device as a whole, and that the wires wouldn’t be a separate object. In a text game, this wouldn’t be an issue. Even in most graphical games, this wouldn’t be an issue, at least the ones where you have a clear indicator of what your cursor is hovering over (consider in LucasArts games how you could always see the name of what you were hovering over). Here, the only way to know there was something to click on was to do the action straight on the object.

Things kept falling apart, gameplay-wise. After freeing the crew, one of them told me about a special spot I could use a welder on to break into the bridge. (“Two feet to the left of the door and one foot off the ground.”) I made five attempts with no luck, and turned back to the clue book.

Secret pixel! I mean, I think there may have been *two* pixels of leeway. Grargh.

Now, that’s enough to finish the episode: I broke into the bridge and started shooting at Elasi pirates, but I couldn’t keep from losing my redshirt in the ensuing firefight (the pirates were shooting on KILL of course). After a lot of back and forth and another round of try-every-object-in-my-inventory-on-everything I consulted the clue book yet again to find out that a transporter beam that Spock had claimed was unfixable was, in fact, fixable. By Spock. He’ll repair it if you give him some very random items; items that are so random I’m guessing most people who solved the puzzle did it by luck.

Fixing the transporter is followed by an interesting moment: what do you do with it? You can just beam in and start shooting (which isn’t much different from entering by the door). Your security guard suggests beaming in the bomb that got disarmed earlier and catching the pirates as they ran from the bridge (which McCoy calls “inhuman” and someone else points out could damage the bridge). Or … could you do something different?

Well, yes: if you teleport in and “talk” to the captain (just the captain, it doesn’t work on any of the other pirates) you can talk him into surrendering before the shooting starts. Once I found this out, I went back and found the same result was possible when entering via door (so why go through the whole teleporter sequence then?)

(I did test the bomb; the pirates don’t notice it and all die, and not only does the bridge get destroyed but the entire ship as well. Oops. I appreciated having it as an option, even though the characters point out how bad an idea it is.)

So, grump grump. The first episode went smoothly, the second one was essentially plotted well but was let down by major interface issues. Other than the wires being a separate item from the bomb, and the pixel hunt, for the longest time I didn’t even know you could combine personal inventory objects together (trying to do so gets a confused enough response I thought my command wasn’t registering).

One out of two, so the game hasn’t lost my interest, yet. The next episode (Love’s Labor Jeopardized) seems to promise a meeting with Romulans and a certain Carol Marcus of Kirk’s acquaintance.

Posted April 29, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Death Dreadnaught (1980)   6 comments

I want to keep my 1980 track going, but let’s stick with space theming —

Via 80-U.S. Journal, September/October 1980.

Death Dreadnaught is the fourth game published by The Programmer’s Guild (after Lost Dutchman’s Gold, Spider Mountain Adventure, and Temple of the Sun) and was written anonymously by two brothers in Texas who went by Biff Mutt and Spud Mutt. Bob Liddil (who ran The Programmer’s Guild) said in an interview that their royalty checks were endorsed the same way.

Also from the interview: “80 Microcomputing magazine would not accept The Programmer’s Guild ad for the game as originally submitted, until Bob amended it to label the game with an MPAA-inspired R rating.” I’m not so sure on this point, or at least, that it really was a problem; the ad above was printed roughly at the same time, so The Programmer’s Guild must have decided to lean in on the marketing. (This is despite the fact the MPAA ratings are trademarked so technically can’t be used in this way, but given we just had a commercial unlicensed Star Trek game with none of the names changed, it’s keeping in line with the era.)

The EXTREME depictions of VIOLENCE are pretty much straight gross-out horror.

It’s the sort of thing I associate with a.) teenagers trying to be edgy and b.) early Peter Jackson movies.

Despite the overheated predilection for gore and questionable spelling choices, I feel like there’s something original (for 1980) going on here. You start alone in an alien ship where the only objective is to escape, and as long as you don’t push any buttons or turn any knobs on the way…

This is from the first screen of the game. There’s a lot of knobs and buttons you don’t want to push.

…it’s smooth walking over to the shuttlecraft bay, where there’s a button helpfully marked FLY. If you try to push it, you die because the shuttle bay doors are still closed.

Oops. I found a lever to open the shuttle bay doors (which required solving a small puzzle), tried launching again:

Yes, the game really likes to kill you. The gimmick is you need to find all the supplies to survive the shuttle trip, but doesn’t detail exactly what those supplies are. So far I’ve found batteries, food, and oxygen, but the shuttlecraft currently still runs out of gas when I try to launch it.

My map so far.

The thing is: despite the small puzzle I mentioned, and two spots where the way is blocked by creatures (see death screens earlier in the post), the map is essentially open. This is a game mostly about wandering and taking in the blood-soaked atmosphere. Which is relatively original! The closest comparable games I’ve played for All the Adventures I can think of are Ringen and Battlestar.

Despite feeling light on puzzles, I’m stuck. I haven’t found gas anywhere, so I suspect I need to get by the monster. I do have a weapon, but shooting the monster just results in it killing you straight up. There aren’t any other items I have other than the needed survival ones, and the parser is not cooperative with creative approaches other than the ability to SHOOT basically anything in the game.

Posted April 25, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Ship Combat   3 comments

I made it through the first two episodes. The game is nice enough to tell you your score upon finishing an episode, and both were in the 90s, so I’m valiantly trudging through episode 3 now.

I’ll lay out more about each individual episode in detail on my next post, but I wanted to get ship combat out of the way first.

Every episode so far has had one scene where the Enterprise battles another ship in real time; you aim and fire phasers / photon torpedoes with the mouse, and use a radar display to detect where the enemy is when it is off the main screen.

It’s been decent as far as adventure action mini-games go, but to give the short explanation: it plays a lot like Wing Commander, and I always tended more to the X-Wing end of the space combat game spectrum.

Wing Commander was an early 90s game that used bitmapped sprites for ship display. For the technology at the time, this looked rather good.

X-Wing, on the other hand, used just polygons.

There are some gameplay ramifications between the approaches. Wing Commander tended to have a “neutral” dogfighting area, where in every direction there was the same type of space, so a lot of combat involved jockeying to get the superior position on an enemy ship. There were “capital ships” and “escort missions” and so forth, but because of the sprite-based technology, the locations of various ships didn’t provide a “topology” to space as much as “more things to shoot at”.

X-Wing’s polygons allowed things like capital ships being literal architecture in space, where you might need to fly around in a specific way to hit the shield generators on a destroyer. It also enabled flying through gates of an obstacle course or past turrets on the Death Star. The general effect was to give a stronger “geography” to each map. (Some of this wasn’t technology at all, but game design approach — Wing Commander could still have pulled off a lot of the same types of missions as X-Wing.)

I enjoy X-Wing more because just a small change in the geography of space can have a large impact on each level, whereas the dogfights in Wing Commander often feel (to me) the same.

So far, each Star Trek dogfight has been the same setup: two ships facing off where you try to get your ship pointed at the other one before it points at you. The actual combat in the Star Trek TV show has always been omnidirectional, so already the game’s setup feels a bit off; the fact space all around is essentially the same means there isn’t much variety as a game like X-Wing.

I shouldn’t rag on this too much, certainly when most adventure game action sequences fall between “annoying” and “abysmal”; the ship combat in Star Trek: 25th Anniversary feels legitimately game-y, at least.

Posted April 23, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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All the Infocom Source Code is Available, and Other Recent News   1 comment

This morning, a few minutes past midnight, Jason Scott of the Internet Archive dropped a Github full of the original source code to most of the original Infocom text adventure games. (As of 4 hours ago, all of the Infocom text adventure games except for Quarterstaff, which was a Mac-only game not having anything to do with the Infocom Z-machine.)

Included are the unpublished games Restaurant at the End of the Universe (the sequel to Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy), The Abyss (based, it looks like, on the movie), and Checkpoint (a predecessor to Border Zone).

Github link to all the source code

It’s all written in ZIL, which is sort of a mutant form of LISP. More information on ZIL can be found here.

Screenshot from The Abyss running in Frotz.

Related to the above news, Ahab over at The Data Driven Gamer has posted an analysis comparing the variation in text across different versions of Zork I across the years.


After four years of labor the folks at inkle have released Heaven’s Vault.

It could be described as a history-em-up game where you wander the universe translating an ancient language. It’s currently out on PC and PS4 and will have Mac and iOS releases later this year.

Vasilis came out yesterday and is based on events in Ukraine from 2014.

Finally, Enrique over at Datalexic published an analysis of all the Twine games released to the IFComp and Spring Thing competitions, with automatic clustering by structural features. (Via @emshort).

Posted April 16, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (1992)   Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve pulled a game from my Innovation 13 list — in fact, I’ve only done it once so far with The Colonel’s Bequest — so I reckon I’m due for another.

The Digital Antiquarian just happened to write about this game, so if you’d like another perspective, there you go. I’m going in totally blind, so I’m avoiding reading that article until I finish.

What I have played is the sequel, Star Trek: Judgment Rites. I’ve always wanted to play the first game since I enjoyed the second, which had a particular innovation I don’t recall being done much elsewhere.

To explain the innovation I’m thinking of, I’m going to make a big digression, back to 75 years ago.

June 14, 1944: an explosion southeast of London marks a new phase in the terror bombings of World War II. Before, bombs had to be dropped by a plane with a human flying it, but now Germany could send the V1 flying bomb, aka “the world’s first guided missile”.

There was a catch: the Nazis had no idea where their flying bombs were landing. They were aimed at the London city center, but most fell a few miles south.

They attempted to gather eyewitness accounts to adjust their aim, but fortunately, the British intelligence game was on point, and the British had the capability to feed false information as to where the V1s were landing.

With this came opportunity, and a dilemma.

Since the Nazis had no idea where the bombs landed, the British could make something up … that sent their aim even farther off. If they were told the bombs were falling too far to the north then the bombs would start falling even farther away from the city center, and away from a major part of the population.

However, south London also had people in it, and by adjusting the Nazi aim from one target to another, it was potentially putting people at risk who wouldn’t have been before.

In other words, it’s close to a real-life equivalent of the famous Trolley Problem.

Original problem by Phillipa Foot, drawing by Jesse Prinz.

It also might be considered a rich and complex game dilemma: not one with a good choice or an evil choice, but without a clear right answer, with potential ambiguity and agony and drama.

However, there’s an aspect that most games seem to miss–

Someone had to think up the plan to redirect the missiles in the first place.

In other words, there wasn’t a prepackaged set of two multiple choice options; doing the “right thing” included needing to know there was an option there to even choose from.

The two Star Trek games by Interplay are divided episodically, where each episode is self-contained enough to avoid combinatorial explosion. You are given a score based on amount-you-followed-Federation-ideals when playing; ex: don’t randomly shoot aliens if you can help it. Sometimes there will be a dilemma where you *can* shoot past aliens to solve a particular puzzle. Maybe there’s another way? But if there is, you have to come up with a plan an enact it, there isn’t a morality button you can just press to do the right thing. Perhaps sometimes there *isn’t* another way.

For example, early in 25th Anniversary there’s a scene where some Klingons appear. After some delay, they start shooting. You can shoot them back to get by. Was there a “peaceful” way? You find out after the scene the “Klingons” aren’t really Klingons at all, but … robots? Does that knowledge mean the earlier action of “just shoot” was correct? I don’t even know yet if this even has an alternate solution, and it’s the first thing that happened to me in the game upon arriving on a planet.

I’ll start giving the play-by-play detail next time on the first episode, “Demon World”.

Oh, to finish the WWII story. The plan did go ahead, although the result was ambiguous. Quoting from the first chapter of Would You Kill the Fat Man?:

The success of the operation is contested by historians. The British intelligence agency, MI5, destroyed the false reports dispatched by Garbo and ZigZag, recognizing that, were they ever to come to light, the residents of south London might not take kindly to being used in this way. However, the Nazis never improved their aim. And a scientific adviser with a stiff upper lip, who promoted the operation even though his parents and his old school were in south London (“I knew that neither my parents nor the school would have had it otherwise”), estimated it may have saved as many as 10,000 lives.

Posted April 15, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Trek Adventure: Finished!   2 comments

If the parser was just a little bit better and the game was a tiny bit less cheap with “pockets” I might consider this a 1980 classic. It has, at least, a nice set piece for a finale.

From the Star Trek Annual 1980 comic book collection.

First, to get the hardcore stuff out of the way: I stubbornly wanted to continue using the OSI version, but I ran across two broken lines of code while playing. I’m guessing the file got corrupted, because they were character swaps, but if you’re actually planning on playing the OSI version, you need to replace these lines before starting.

570 IFS>7THENIF(L(S-7)=0)THENL(S-7)=L:C=C1:GOTO9
860 IFL=23ORL=1THENP(23,3)=-10:P(10,4)=-23:Z=0:GOTO9

The code above is also a pain to type because the OSI keyboard does not match a modern one. I highly recommend just using the C64 version (link to play online).

To recap from last time: I was left in an abandoned Enterprise, trying to get to the engine to replace a broken valve. I hadn’t made much progress but suspected I was stuck on a small thing.

Indeed I was. In the gym there is a locker with UNIFORMS and SHOES. I picked up both and valiantly tried to wear them and LOOK at them to no use.

If you LOOK AT UNIFORMS while they are still in the room you will get something different happen:

Do you see it? Yes, the room location now has POCKETS.


OPEN POCKETS yielded an ID BADGE, which let me get at two areas: the parts storage — which had the replacement valve I needed for the engine — and the armory — which contained a phaser and a kligat. [1]

What’s a kligat, you ask? Allow a redshirt to demonstrate:

Via Imgur.

Space ninja stars, fun! Also not helpful for my predicament. On the other hand, the phaser let me blast all the closed doors. This included the ones I thought were permanently jammed — they just led to adjoining rooms, although it was still a nice touch. So I now had full access to the second floor of the map without having to clamber around a ventilation system:

It was time to try to fix the engine. This required going into the shuttlecraft bay and using a spacesuit, since the bay was exposed to the vacuum of space.

So far, so good: PUT SPACESUIT to put it on. [2]

Then I opened the door, entered the bay, tried to GO OUT whereupon I floated away and tumbled into space. Whoops.

I also found out that the oxygen in the spacesuit runs out very quickly. So any actions had to be fast. It took me about 4 runs to figure things out, and each time I was very tense. (There are no saved games or save states so I had to repeat my steps to get to that point every time.) Here was where I had the strongest feeling of being in an actual Trek episode.

The Original Series never had any magnetic boots, but some of the later series and movies did, like this scene from Star Trek: First Contact where Worf does combat in zero-gravity.

After a bit of fussing I realized the LOCKER in the bay had some magnetic boots and another (fresh) spacesuit. Actually going through the process of putting on the low-oxygen spacesuit, retrieving the locker materials, going back to the turbolift, resealing the door, and removing the spacesuit right before dying felt very dramatic. [3]

The new spacesuit fortunately seemed to have infinite oxygen, so I was able to get all the relevant materials together, including wearing the magnetic boots and new spacesuit, and step outside for a repair …

… only to try to open the hatch leading to the broken valve and be told “THEY’RE PHILLIPS SCREWS!”

Argh! (Double Argh, because you can turn a Philips screw with a flathead — just not the other way around.)

At this point I resorted to a walkthrough, which told me that Bob Retelle really likes pockets. If you LOOK SPACESUIT it becomes a “spacesuit with pockets” and then you can LOOK POCKET to find a PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER.

That was the last difficulty — it was just a matter of REPLACE VALVE [4], heading back in the Enterprise, resealing the shuttlecraft, and going to the auxilary control.

One last observation: while this game had many red herrings (in addition to the screwdriver fake-out there was a flashlight, wrench, and hammer that never got used) they really were necessary for the atmosphere. The Cabin, for instance, only has one necessary item (the pillow, which keeps the valve from cracking when you set it down) …

You ARE–

You Can See-
Saurian BRANDY

… but it would feel out-of-place and sterile without the brandy and mirror there, especially since the minimalist style means no room descriptions.


You Can See-
rerutnaevdA ydraH A
YDNARB nairuaS

Next up, another Star Trek game, one that you may have encountered recently on another blog.

Also, there is a Part 6 of the Before Adventure series coming, but it’s going to take a little longer to arrange than the other 5. I promise it will be worth the wait.

[1] The “PR” verb I was wondering about last time was short for PRESENT — you can PRESENT BADGE as a method of getting by the security places, but it maps as a synonym for DROP.

[2] I got used to the weirdness of using PUT rather than WEAR — I assume the game means PUT ON, and you can even type PUT ON SPACESUIT and the game will be fine — but every single time I used SUIT first instead of SPACESUIT. It’s interesting how games can easily “train” you to do certain odd things easily while other behaviors are almost perversely ingrained.

[3] It would help if it didn’t get undercut by REMOVE SPACESUIT by default referring to the one being carried, not the one being worn, which is how I racked up another death.

[4] I guess “RE” wasn’t “READ” after all. REPLACE at least was hinted as a word in an early message, but you had to have remembered the exact wording for it to count as a hint.

Posted April 10, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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