Archive for the ‘Interactive Fiction’ Category

Goblins: Terrible Maps   4 comments

Goblins start you off able to access a *very* large chunk of the map – I’m going to guess, by the capacity of Apple II games, most of it — and most of is terrible. Take a look at the outdoor section above. Starting at “By Lake”, N, SW, S, NW gets you back to where you started. While outdoors. Argh!

The troubles are triple-multiplied by the minimal descriptions also saying nothing about room exits. The only way to tell what the room exits are is to thoroughly test N, S, W, E, NE, SE, SW, NW, U, and D. In every single room in the game. Yes, I had to do this with all of them. It made mapping incredibly slow.

Of course there is a maze. Hoo boy, is there a maze.

This really doesn’t look so bad, does it? However.

a.) Any exit that’s not displayed on the map actually does a loop. I had to keep track of which loops I tested as I went along.

b.) Sometimes (randomly) instead of a loop, you find a “smelly tunnel” and go to a random location in the maze instead. It took me a while to catch on to this and some parts of my map were originally wrong.

c.) The goblins are still out and about and occasionally killing you. I ran out of items to drop in rooms for mapping purposes and tried to go out and get more, but I couldn’t because they kept stabbing me. I ended up resorting to moving the knife around (see “knife 1”, “knife 2”, “knife 3”) and hoping that it wouldn’t get things totally confused.

d.) Unless I’m missing something, the maze is essentially useless – notice it just goes in a loop, with no treasures indicated. There’s a room to the left of the starting room (“Light From Above”) that you can use to poke your head above ground and get killed by the silly-looking ogre you saw from my last post, but that doesn’t require navigating the maze at all.

It’s possible a lot of this was “busy work” trying to justify the game being commercial (it sold for $27.50; in 2017 dollars that would be $75.26).

There is one saving grace, and that is the “safe place” the game wants you to store treasures in has a magic word associated with it — two, in fact. HXME (found on a tree) takes all objects the player is carrying and teleports them to a treehouse, while QIM (found in a mine) will teleport the player (but not what they’re carrying). So you can choose to teleport just treasures to the treehouse, or you can just teleport yourself, or you can teleport both. This has been genuinely handy in a few circumstances, and I don’t recall it in any other game I’ve played.

There’s a little animation of the ghost moving around when you enter (the ghost is that blob-thing in the upper-left of the picture). It doesn’t seem to be either friendly or hostile, it just floats there. I don’t know if I’m supposed to banish it or come up with a way to ally with it or whatnot yet.

I’m at the point now I have a list of objects and obstacles, but they’re all far apart from each other. I’m going to tilt this game over from “easy” to at least “annoying” but it’s starting to lean to the “hard”; I need to keep going to be sure.

Advertisements

Posted December 14, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Goblins (1979, 1981)   1 comment

We just went through a game Roberta Williams explicitly cited as an influence. But what if there was an influence that was intentionally left out?

Goblins was originally a text-only adventure game for Apple II by Hal Antonson and Linda Stix:

We sent the program to Programma International in California for publishing. It was “released” in 1979. This version was strictly text. There were no graphics. I have forgotten how many copies for which we were paid. I think it was 13 or 30! An interesting note. Roberta and Ken Williams had just moved to Coarsegold and had started Sierra Systems. They had a copy from Programma. Ken was the assembler guy and Roberta became the Queen of fantasy games. There are a dozen similarities in their first game, “The Wizard and the Princess,” to Goblins.

In 1981, a version with graphics was published by Highlands Computer Services. This is the version that survives today.

I’m not sure what to think of the above story – The Wizard and the Princess (from 1980) isn’t the Williams’ first game, and the business names they went through were On-Line Systems and Sierra On-Line respectively. I can chalk the discrepancies up the usual fuzziness of memory, but it means the rest of the story may include some of the same fuzziness. Really, the easiest way to confirm the link is to play the two games. Since Goblins theoretically came first chronologically, I’m playing it first.

However, the 1981 game clearly isn’t identical to the 1979 one. If Sierra borrowed from Goblins, then Goblins must have borrowed back from Sierra, because this game includes some rooms that are described purely by the visuals, which wouldn’t work in a text-only game.

These rooms are scattered throughout regular named text rooms, although the rooms are quite minimally described. (There’s enough of them I can understand why – the game undoubtedly pushed a disk capacity limit.)

Every item has an associated picture which gets drawn on top of the room graphic (those two strange ovals are the limes).

In any case, the premise is that you are tromping through “goblin country”. From the instructions:

GOBLIN COUNTRY IS A LAND OF MAGIC, TREASURE AND ADVENTURE. TO WIN, YOU MUST FIND ALL THE TREASURE AND TAKE IT TO A SAFE PLACE.

Also,

YOU INCREASE YOUR SCORE BY PUTTING YOUR TREASURE IN A SAFE PLACE (YOU MAY HAVE TROUBLE KEEPING THE PLACE SAFE!)

Every once in a while you get attacked by a goblin, with a random chance at killing the player. As far as I can tell so far there is no way to evade or avoid this, which means sometimes the player just dies because a random number generator decreed it to be so.

I’ll report back when I have more of the map filled in; I still can’t tell yet if this is going to be an easy game or a toughie.

Posted December 13, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Journey: The Deathtrap Legacy   5 comments

Quick recap: Journey was a game by Steve Baker from 1979. Roberta Williams mentioned as an influence before embarking on writing Mystery House; it seemed to be entirely gone from the internet, but with the help of Howard Feldman it’s now on both The Internet Archive and if-archive.

The manual for the game.

Note the use above of “DESCRIBE” instead of “EXAMINE”; it looks like Steve Baker’s only previous experience was 350-point Adventure, which didn’t have an examine command. (I find these early variations on common norms fascinating, like peering into alternate universes. Mystery Mansion had LIST instead of INVENTORY. Empire of the Over-Mind not only eschewed compass directions but required you to >HOLD an object before you could do anything with it. Warp tried adding conditional commands to the parser.)

WELCOME TO JOURNEY

YOU ARE STANDING BEFORE A SMALL, BRICK WISHING WELL. THE WELL HAS AN OAK WINCH WITH 25 FEET OF ROPE.

In any case, a few steps away there’s a house:

YOU ARE AT THE END OF A GARDEN PATH. THERE IS AN OLD, VICTORIAN HOUSE TO YOUR IMMEDIATE EAST. A SMALL CREVICE MARKS THE ENTRANCE TO A GRANITE ROCK WHICH LIES TO THE WEST. IF YOU ENTER THE CREVICE YOU WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO CLIMB BACK OUT!

Inside the house:

YOU’RE IN THE NORTHERN HALL OF HOUSE

MANY PORTRAITS OF ADVENTURERS HUNG HERE LINE ALL WALLS. OAK DOORS MARK THE ENTRANCE TO A SOUTHERN HALL.

THERE’S ARE SOME MATCHES HERE!

The goal, as the instructions indicate, is to find all the treasures and store them in the *SAFE* EST place possible (there’s a safe in the house). Every once in a while (assuming you’re playing the Applesoft version) you get attacked

THERE’S A VERY LARGE THREATENING RODENT IN THE ROOM WITH YOU!!!!!!!

HE LEAPS FOR YOUR THROAT! AND BITES YOU!

The rat is are essentially like the dwarves from Adventure; they will appear randomly throughout the adventure and you have to use a KNIFE found in the mansion to fend them off.

>THROW KNIFE
THE RODENT SHRIEKS AND VANISHES IN A *POOF* OF SMOKE!!!

RODENT:0 PLAYER:1

Earlier the game mentions “a small crevice” which is described much like one of the cave entrances of Adventure. However, things take a turn rather quickly:

IT SEEMS TO BE A PRETTY TIGHT FIT!…
YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A GRANITE ROCK. THERE IS A HOLE IN THE FLOOR OF THE ROCK. AN EEERIE, RED GLOW DIMLY LIGHTS THE WAY SOUTH.

>S
BY JOVE! THIS PLACE LOOKS LIKE DOWNTOWN HOLLYWOOD. RED LIGHTS SEEM TO PAINT A DRIVERS NIGHTMARE. “ROCKY” IS PLAYING NORTH OF THE INTERSECTION AT YOUR PRESENT LOCATION. THE 12TH DISTRICT, POLICE STATION LIES SOUTH.

At this point, my brain had to entirely shift what time and place the game was happening at. The map might assist (click to enlarge):

The west side is the “city” area and includes an underground sewer. The right side is the mansion, and there’s a very small “cave” area connecting the two up top (“Below Granite Rock”, “Dimly Lit Cave”).

This was, in the end, a fairly short game, but I wanted to mention three more things:

1.) I rather liked the feel of this scene, a horror movie in miniature:

YOU ARE IN THE STREET. THERE IS A NARROW SEWER GRATE IN THE EASTERN CURB

SOMEONE IS STARING UP AT YOU FROM INSIDE THE GRATE!

>DESCRIBE SOMEONE
I THINK IT’S YOU!
>>> SHAZAM <<<

YOU ARE LOOKING THROUGH A NARROW, GRATE ONTO A DARK STREET. THE STREET IS DESERTED. THE SEWER CONTINUES DOWN.

2.) The treasures are scattered at random and will change if you reset and restart the game. I didn’t work out the entire system, but I should note this was pretty unusual for the time and the only comparable game I can think of from that era is Lords of Karma.

3.) There are a few ways to die, and two in particular are noteworthy.

YOU’RE IN THE ATTIC. THE A-SHAPED, OPEN BEAMED ROOF IS LACED WITH COBWEBS. A THREE-LEGGED CHAIR IS UNDER THE MAIN BEAM.

THERE’S A ROPE TIED TO A BEAM HERE!

>UNTIE ROPE
THE ROPE IS TOO HIGH TO REACH!

>DESCRIBE ROPE
THE ROPE WOULD UNTIE VERY EASILY IF YOU COULD STAND ON SOMETHING TO REACH IT.

>STAND ON CHAIR
YOU ARE NOW STANDING ON THE CHAIR!

>UNTIE ROPE
WHILE TRYING TO REACH FOR THE ROPE, YOU LOST YOUR FOOTING, AND WERE HANGED!

Now, it’s not like we haven’t seen our fair share of death in prior adventure games, but for the most part death has been either a sudden consequence for failing a puzzle or a straight-up arbitrary event. In this case, there’s a long wind-up, like setting up a joke, and the player is essentially complicit in their own demise. (Compare to participatory comedy in Mystery Fun House.)

Here’s another instance:

YOU ARE IN A SMALL, NARROW ALLEY BEHIND THE POLICE STATION. THERE IS A LARGE IRON MANHOLE COVER INLAID INTO THE GROUND. THE ALLEY HEADS NORTH AND SEEMS TO OPEN UP. A SMALL GARAGE IS TO THE WEST. THERE IS A PECULIAR ODOR TO THE AIR AROUND HERE.

>OPEN COVER
OK!

THE MANHOLE COVER IS OPEN!

So far, so good. This place happens to be next to the police station, so if you later get arrested, and try to get out:

YOU ARE IN A SMALL, DINGY JAIL CELL. THERE’S AN OPEN WINDOW JUST OUT OF EASY REACH ABOVE YOU.

>JUMP WINDOW
YOU BARELY REACH THE LEDGE OF THE WINDOW, AND SCURRY OUTSIDE INTO…….

AN OPEN MANHOLE!!!!! SOMEONE HAS CARELESSLY LEFT THAT DARN COVER OFF AGAIN! PANCAKES ANYONE?

Death as both obstacle and amusement is essentially one of the trademarks of the Sierra adventure style; one could argue it was exactly here where it started.

With the manhole death I could see the little EGA figure falling.

Posted December 7, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Recent Interactive Fiction and Text Adventure News   Leave a comment

Sorry, I have been snowed under by work / personal things – I hope to get back to posting soon!

In the meantime:

  • The 2018 IF Competition (24 years running now) happened, and you can view the results here.
  • Cragne Manor: An Anchorhead Tribute organized by Ryan Veeder and Jenni Polodna is a giant multi-author text adventure tribute (I’ve lost track but it’s something like 50 people?) and is now in its final testing phase. I’m guessing a release this year?
  • AdventureX (the adventure game convention in the UK) happened and one of the games was Over the Alps, which explicitly takes inspiration “from fellow UK company inkle, and particularly from their interactive fiction adventure 80 Days.”
  • Choice of Games continues to release a whole mass of things. I recommend The Martian Job, a casino heist set on Mars.
  • I haven’t been able to follow visual novels that closely lately, but last week saw the release of Don’t Forget Our Esports Dream, about attempting to make it as a professional Starcraft player. “Minigames” (mini-Starcraft scenes, essentially) which focus on “actions-per-minute” speed are included.
  • I’m not sure if this counts as interactive fiction, but since Tin Man Games has done a lot in the space, I’ll post this video of Table of Tales, which is designed for Playstation VR.


  • ADD: A parser adventure game called The Lost Legends of Redwall: Escape the Gloomer came out this month on Steam based on the books of Brian Jacques. It includes the involvement of Scott Adams (the original author of Adventureland / Pirate Adventure / etc.)
  • redwall

  • ADD: Daniel Benmergui (I Wish I Were the Moon, Fidel) has (as of today) teamed up with Annapurna Interactive (Gorogoa, Donut Country) to finish Storyteller, “a puzzle game about building stories” that won the IGF Nuovo award back in 2012.

Posted November 26, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Journey (1979)   3 comments

I picked up the thread of this one with an academic paper.

Al Tommervik’s 1981 Softalk feature highlighting the Williamses and their company shelves any claim to ADVENT’s primacy: “Roberta discovered and mastered Microsoft’s Adventure and fell in love with the genre. She bought Softape’s Journey and every Scott Adams adventure that was released. She loved them all, and then there were none left.”
Let’s Begin Again: Sierra On-Line and the Origins of the Graphical Adventure Game, Laine Nooney

The quick summary is: other academic papers just jump directly from Crowther and Woods Adventure to Mystery House, but Roberta Williams clearly had other influences.

Given what I’ve been doing on this blog for 7 years, I can support a thesis like that, but it struck me: what is this Journey game? The paper gave no detail, but based on the time span, it had to be a game from 1979 that I hadn’t heard of before. After an exhaustive archive search, I didn’t find the game anywhere on the internet, the only reference being from the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History which apparently had a copy. (It’s now listed on the CASA Solution Archive as well.)

From the Museum. The design here is pretty clever: that’s a hole where the tape goes, so the outer packaging works with any of Softape’s games.

I emailed Howard Feldman, the proprietor of the Museum, and after some back-and-forth on tech issues he managed to pull the game off his tape. The game is quite rare and without Howard’s help there is a strong chance it would have fallen into oblivion.

You can now download the game with the manual, right at this link. You will need an Apple II emulator (I recommend AppleWin if you’re using Windows.)

So, yes: this is one of the only games aside from Adventure and the Scott Adams games that Roberta Williams played before she embarked on writing Mystery House. I hoped there might be some obvious connection with her work, and there is a strong one in particular.

I’m not going to go into detail yet, because I feel strange spoiling the game immediately after announcing its discovery. I will post more next week.

If you do plan to try it, note there is an Integer Basic version and an Applesoft Basic version (the tape had one version on each side). I recommend the Applesoft one generally, but if you want more specific spoilers as to the main difference: (in ROT13) Gurer vf n eng va gur tnzr gung nggnpxf lbh ng enaqbz ybpngvbaf va gur Nccyrfbsg irefvba (nxva gb gur qjneirf bs Nqiragher) gung qbrf abg frrz gb nccrne va gur bgure irefvba ng nyy.

Also, while it is mentioned in the manual, I should give fair warning DESCRIBE is used instead of EXAMINE as a verb.

Posted August 31, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Haunt: Descendants   13 comments

I have “finished” with one puzzle left undone (the combination safe). I’m going to spoil three puzzles. One of them threw off my entire conception of what is possible in a game.

From Brenda Starr #1 (1947) via the Digital Comic Museum. We’ll get to this shortly.

There’s a library where the response to >GET BOOK led me astray.

You get a book but discover it has only virtual pages.
The book disappears.

I assumed that meant the books were a decoy and moved on. I should have remembered the rule that in any game involving books or textual materials, to always try reading multiple times. I don’t know why so many adventure game writers have settled on this as a thing to do. In any case, after a second GET BOOK:

>GET BOOK
The title of the book is ‘Vampires I have known’

>READ BOOK
Vampires can only be destroyed by a stake through the heart, or by the light of day. They are invunerable to all other attacks. They dislike garlic and fear crosses. They are known to frequent dark rooms.

Even though the book seems generic, this is a strong hint as to how to deal with this guy:

When you open the casket you notice that a well dressed man
with pale skin is inside. He appears dead.
There is a huge diamond ring on his left hand.
Suddenly his eyes blink open, you notice the irises are red.
It is Dracula. Oops.
The casket is open.
Dracula has left his casket and is approaching you.

I have trouble categorizing this puzzle. It requires a step that is so out of the norm for a regular text adventure that it has never occurred to me before. I’m reminded a little of the game +=3 from 1994, which was created in response to the question “it is possible for a puzzle to have a completely logical solution, and yet be nearly impossible to solve except by randomly guessing commands?”

This isn’t quite that, and it might even be a “fair puzzle”, but it feels like the same territory. Since I’ve dripped a few hints already, I am fairly confident one of my readers can figure it out, as long as I also provide an inventory list:

piece of valuable jade
empty bottle
gold
silver candlesticks
stool
diamond corkscrew
wetsuit
speargun
coins
old chair

. . .

Getting out of the house: hoo boy. While the previous puzzle was marginally solvable, this one required a hint from the author because of how the game uses the parser. Things start in the elevator:

You are in the elevator.
There are a bunch of buttons on the wall.
They are labeled: P, H, B, HALT, OPEN DOOR.
Scrawled on a wall is ‘Homer kisses dead goats’
and ‘Homer turns my head’
On the floor it says, ‘L__t g_e_ _ere!’
The H is lit.

To be fair, the entire game the HALT button has been taunting me. If you push one of the regular floor buttons the elevator makes it there before you have time to push HALT, and the button does nothing if the elevator is already at a floor. I assumed that perhaps you slowed the elevator down with a heavy enough load, giving enough time for an extra button press.

This was not the case. The parser, while not taking unlimited sentences, does take up to five words, and you were supposed to type:

>PUSH B THEN PUSH HALT

The elevator doors close. BOOM!
The elevator bounces to a halt. SCREEEECH!
The H is lit.

I just want to be clear that NO OTHER SYNTAX WORKS. Even though PUSH B BUTTON works, for instance, PUSH B BUTTON THEN PUSH HALT BUTTON does not because it is longer than 5 words. Especially bad is

>PUSH B THEN HALT

because it gives the HALT command which is one of the ways of quitting the game. I first thought I hit a crash, but no: the game was interpreting my input “correctly”.

In any case, after the elevator halt, you can make it here:

You are atop the elevator. The machinery is of alien creation
On the side of it is a small decal.
The decal reads ‘afihYwn Matter Transmission, Inc’
There are two buttons on the machine, one says NORMAL.
The other says WAY OUT.

After activating WAY OUT and getting back in the elevator, using it leads to escape.

The doors squeek close.
The elevator shakes and starts to move down.
You feel like you are in free fall.
You hit a bump, and start to slow down.
You made it. The elevator has stopped.
The doors open.
You suddenly feel very ill. Your body seems to be dematerializing.
You can’t hold on to the stuff you were carrying.
POOF!!!
Poof!
Poof!
Poof!
You’re on the front walk.

Sadly, because of the parser troubles, this was the worst puzzle in the game, although it was to be followed by the most astonishing. (I don’t necessarily mean the next puzzle was “good”, but … you’ll see.)

. . .

The other main dilemma of the game, other than escaping the house, was that the house gives madness. I mentioned this at my first post about Haunt and it has remained a central mystery of the whole game. Specifically, it seems like only “your family” is capable of surviving the madness, so I had studied this clue:

This is a tiny closet. Against the wall is a skeleton.
Scrawled on the wall, next to the skeleton is:
Dear Bas,
So the mystery man finally decides to come home.
Well you’re a little late.
I was never able to resurrect your mother, but I saw in the paper that you have a beautiful redheaded wife, and a lovely child. I only hope she hasn’t inherited our disease.
I finally succumbed to the illness when I was unable to take care of the crop.
Good luck,
Dad

“I was unable to take care of the crop” suggested something about the dead garden outside, but watering it required getting a bottle from the house (which required me solving the elevator puzzle first). After watering the garden, an black orchid came out, and on a hunch, I tried to >EAT ORCHID:

Chomp! chomp. I don’t think your real family had a taste for orchids.
It looks like you aren’t one of those that knows how to digest orchids.

The beginning of the game asks for your name. While this is nearly universally always a customization choice, it occurred to me that this was perhaps a puzzle, and tried out “Bas” as the name. Unfortunately, this led to nothing different.

I was close, but not quite; I needed the author’s help here.

Brenda Starr is a soap opera comic that ran from the late 1940s all the way to the early 2010s. (Trivia note: it was written and illustrated by women for the entirety of the run.) The main love interest was (at least until the 1980s) the depicted Basil St. John, with black-orchids-as-medicine often playing a part of the plotlines.

The name “Bas”, the “redheaded wife”, and especially the orchid were supposed to be clues to this specific piece of pop culture. So at the very start of the game, you have to give your name as

>BASIL ST. JOHN

‘Oh, so you’re one of my descendants. Come in.’
‘You don’t have to answer any more questions.’
‘Good luck in your quest. Maybe you’ll do better than your father.’

although I should note anything ending with “St. John” or even just “John” works, so you don’t *have* to be the eye-patch character from the comic. If you choose the appropriate last name, the choice of liking “male, female, etc.” gets bypassed and instead the game sets that you are a “redhead” lover.

The door creaks open.
A voice from within says: ‘Welcome, redhead lover.’

This means that you can pick any of the descendants of St. John to get by the puzzle (maybe one that doesn’t have a redheaded wife, but your character still has to like redheads). However, it’s still true that to win the game, you need to name yourself correctly.

I can’t think of any other game which subverts the character creation process quite so completely. (I can think of a recent one that comes close, but I will skip discussing it due to spoilers.) In film, there’s a trick where what appears to be background music turns out to be actual music in the “real cinema world” (Blazing Saddles has a good instance of this); this similarly takes something which appears entirely outside the regular process of the game – just customization – and makes it both an essential puzzle and the thing the entire plot hinges upon.

Posted August 27, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Brief State-of-the-Blog Update / Survey   4 comments

Emily Short recently posted a great list of ways to support interactive fiction tools and creators.

I’ve never brought up having a Patreon here nor do I intend to get one (I do have a regular day job and I am doing OK, so I’d rather your money go to some of the fine creators mentioned at the link above). Just comment and link me where you can, and that will be enough.

I do have a related question, though. I have always used the free plan for my blog. I am aware this means WordPress pushes out ads at the end of blog articles. However, in my corner of the Internet universe, nearly everyone uses an ad-blocker. There are people who don’t, so let me ask: is it worth paying a yearly fee for the no-ad option? I would just do it out of pocket.

. . .

Also, general update: I’m working on my final Haunt write-up, and then I’m going to be posting about a “lost game” that is integral to interactive fiction history and that has never been previously available on the Internet.

Posted August 21, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction