Archive for the ‘Interactive Fiction’ Category

Pirate Adventure: Beginner difficulty   2 comments

Out of all the Scott Adams games, Pirate Adventure is the only one with a difficulty level of “Beginner”. Does the designation hold up? Heavy puzzle spoilers ahoy.



The map is still a work in progress. Roughly in order of when I did things:

1. There’s a pirate in a grass shack. Getting rid of him is simply a matter of providing a bottle of rum. Then you’re able to take his treasure chest and parrot.

2. There’s a “maze”, but it nearly seems like a formality (unless I’m missing some secret) because the useful destination can be reached from the opening room.

3. The rug at the London flat gives this response upon an attempt to take it:

Sorry I can’t
Its nailed to the floor!

Fairly early on there’s a “claw hammer”, which when brought back to the flat, you can “take nails”, and then “take rug”, which reveals a set of keys.

5. The keys then unlock the pirate’s treasure chest.

Its open

They’re plans to build the Jolly Roger (a Pirate ship!) You’ll need: hammer, nails,
lumber, anchor, sails, and a keel.

So far I’ve got the hammer, nails, and keel.

6. I know where everything else is, but it requires getting through a locked door in the maze.

I am in a pit. Visible items:
Mean and hungry looking crocodiles. Locked door.

Some obvious exits are: UP

Crocs stop me

So far, I don’t think there’s the unfair timing (bees, chiggers, limited light source) of Adventureland, and there hasn’t been what I’d call outright trickery so far. We’ll see if things stay fair.

Posted March 25, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Pirate Adventure (1978)   1 comment

This one’s credited by as being by Alexis & Scott Adams, which marks the first credit in the adventures I’ve played for a woman. (Alexis comes back again in 1979 as a solo credit for Voodoo Castle, and Roberta Williams doesn’t get started until Mystery House with 1980).


Unlike Adventureland (which while fun had a bog-standard setting) Pirate Adventure gives a feel of environment-as-story. The above map represents the starting area, where it’s possible to imagine oneself lounging in a London flat before going on an adventure. I even did some small amount of role-playing, feeling the rug and smelling the book (neither works, but the fact I wanted to is a good sign).

I also find it interesting the number of exits that aren’t n/s/e/w — for example, to go up in the first room you have to GO STAIRS. While slightly irritating in terms of user-friendly interface, it does go some way in unlocking the geography from “the grid” and the artificial “everything is oriented on the compass” feel of a lot of other interactive fiction.

Doing JUMP from the window sends the player to “Never Never Land”, but unfortunately not the good kind. The proper method of exit is the magical word YOHO.

I’M outside an open window
on the ledge of a very tall building


Everything spins around and suddenly I’m elsewhere…

I am in a sandy beach on a tropical isle. Visible items:

Small ship’s keel and mast. Sand. Lagoon.
Sign in the sand says:
“Welcome to Pirates Island, watch out for the tides!”

Some obvious exits are: EAST

In contrast to Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure which tries to convey a sense of location via its prose, Pirate Adventure relies on description-by-objects. By not relying on prose descriptions, Scott and Alexis were able to pack in richer detail and possibility given the limitations of the TRS-80.

Posted March 23, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure: Finished   2 comments


This one pretty much was over right when it began. Just to be warned, I spoil what is essentially the only puzzle in the game.


It turns out getting past the hydra was the only thing to pose any difficulty. I found out the game has a HELP command which when applied in the hydra room gives this cryptic message: “CIGAR? CIGARETTE? TIPPARILLO?”

There’s a nearby cigarette lighter, and I thought — no, it can’t be —



Alas, the humble lighter was invented too late for Hercules.

Past the hydra there is a “Mac’s Earthdigger Body Shop” which has the “gonkulator” which you use to fix your ship. No treasures are necessary at all — you can just pick it up, drop in the ship, type FIX GONKULATOR, and get game over.

I hoped, perhaps, there would be challenge then in collecting all the treasures. The “secret passage” on the map has some randomization but other than that all the treasures are in the open.

I have marked on the map all the unnecessary parts. (Click for a full sized version.)


The “shiny sword”, “magic wand”, and “keys” are all useless. The “treasure room” is a joke. I don’t mean that flippantly. It is an actual joke room:


If you go back to the Scott Adams interview I linked to when I wrote about Adventureland, he mentions when he hit the limits of the TRS-80 he knew he was done. The same thing must have happened here; I suspect the author had grand ambitions but ran out of space. Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure gave me a greater appreciation for Scott Adams’s choice of minimalism in text allowing for greater complexity in game-world.

I have played a later Greg Hassett game (Devil’s Palace) which I enjoyed, so I know at least things are going to get better.

Posted March 22, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure (1978)   Leave a comment


I’m not going to go into the history on this one (although this Asio City overview is excellent) other than to say Greg Hassett was sort of a rival to Scott Adams but given he wrote his work between the ages of 12 and 14, he never managed the same leverage.

I’m also going to use the chronology given at Asio City, even though it differs from other sites:

Journey to the Center of the Earth, The House of Seven Gables and King Tut’s Tomb in 1978. Sorcerer’s Castle, Voyage to Atlantis and Enchanted Island in 1979. Mystery Mansion, Curse of the Sasquatch, World’s Edge and lastly Devil’s Palace in 1980.

So, is it based on Verne’s book? That would be “no”:



I’m honestly puzzled about the “crashed ship” opening because the rest of the game seems to be a “mimic Adventure” style fantasy. This includes treasures that need to be returned to the ship for points (although this objective is never explained in the game itself — I just testing by taking a gold nugget to the ship, dropping it, and seeing if my score increased).

Click the map for a full-sized version.

Not yet complete. Click the map for a full-sized version.

Notice the Maze of Twisty Little Passages, or the parrot in a cage, or the chasm which is crossed via (rot13 here) jnivat n jnaq.

Perhaps the only original contribution I have been able to find is this room:




Coke Is It!, circa 1978.


In all seriousness, I am stuck on a hydra that apparently needs food (but more than just the tasty food in Al’s Diner) a troll which straight out kills me.





There’s also a “secret passage” leading to a “troll’s palace” except trying to go back the way I came leads to a loop. I am guessing some sort of magic word to escape, although the circumstance resembles a bug more than a puzzle.

(Also: not quite wrapped up with MUD1, but given the lack of a definite goal I’ll be poking at it gingerly while I run through my regular adventures.)

Posted March 21, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Lost mainframe games   21 comments

Some games I’ve investigated for the All the Adventures project simply don’t seem to exist any more. I have cataloged them here for reference and especially if someone has a lead.

“Lost” doesn’t have to mean “lost forever”. For instance, the book Twisty Little Passages mentions Lugi as not even having a known author, but now the author has a web page.

Wander (1974, Peter Langston)

This is probably my “most wanted”, not only because comments on old newsgroups indicate wide distrubtion, but also the early date (earlier than Adventure!) and author (who earlier wrote Empire and later went on to fame at Lucasarts).

Wander uses “databases” as its worlds. These are reportedly by Peter:

castle: you explore a rural area and a castle searching for a beautiful damsel.
a3: you are the diplomat Retief (A sf character written by Keith Laumer) assigned to save earthmen on Aldebaran III
library: You explore a library after civilization has been destroyed.
tut: the player receives a tutorial in binary arithmetic.

The date of 1974 I have only seen mentioned in one place, the Inform Designer Manual.

Peter Langston’s ‘Wander’ (1974), a text-based world modelling program included in his PSL games distribution for Unix and incorporating rooms, states and portable objects, was at least a proto-adventure: perhaps many others existed, but failed to find a Don Woods to complete the task?

The PSL games distribution might still be active somewhere (it’s mentioned on a gopher at MIT), but not any account I have access to.

We now know that Crowther’s Adventure was already an adventure before Don Woods got to it. Could Wander be an adventure before Crowther? I won’t know unless I find I copy.

LORD (1981, Olli J. Paavola)

I’ve got dual interest in this one, not only from it being a mainframe game from Finland (it was written while Olli was at the Helsinki University of Technology) but also for being allegedly the first interactive fiction book adaptation.

However, by all reports I’ve seen this didn’t have wide distribution and is probably lost forever.

There’s a touch more detail at this newsgroup post from 1995:

With 550 separate locations, this game is huge by most standards. It does not really try to be completely consistent with Tolkien but mixes elements from many other sources. It is clear, however, that it is made with a great love for and knowledge of Tolkien’s books.

The same post mentions The Shire as a text adventure from possibly 1979, which puts the “earliest book adaptation” statement into question. (Orthanc is also mentioned but is an RPG.)

New Adventure (1979/1980, Mark Niemiec)
Martian Adventure (1979/1980, Brad Templeton and Kieran Carroll)

These were written at the University of Waterloo and it mentions here that “Archive tapes for this mainframe exist and it might prove possible to get at the source code for these games.”

FisK (1980, John Sobotik and Richard Beigel)

From here: “A really big, Zork-like game that started at an innocuous house like Zork and led to a big complex of rooms with treasures and bad guys.”

Posted March 19, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

MUD1: The omnipotent antagonist   2 comments

This book is the closest we'll get to "cover art" for MUD1. [Source.]

This book is the closest we’ll get to “cover art” for MUD1. [Source.]

MUD1’s parser has a tone I might describe as “harsh.”

*examine bow
You can examine ’til your heart’s content, you won’t find anything special. Heavens, if I let folk examine things they’d spend the whole game doing it!

This effect can lead to some mind-blowing effects in other games (see the bit in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where a typo destroys a civilization) but here it’s as if the parser is playing along as an ever-present antagonist, ornery about syntax

*burn stick
With what do you want to light the torch? Say things in full, bedlamite!

even when it’s clear the game is capable of understanding but just chooses not to.

*unlock door
Unlock the door with what? If you want to unlock the door with keys, why not say so? Just to please me?

To switch to general theory for moment, I’ve occasionally run into the philosophy that error messages are a good thing and understanding too much will somehow harm the player’s general ability to interact. I’ve never subscribed to that. I feel like if the parser is capable of understanding, it should go ahead and do what the player wants, perhaps indicating what the standard syntax is for future reference.

Posted February 13, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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MUD1: The abandoned edifice   3 comments

I. The lurker in the maze

I haven’t run into anybody while playing MUD1, although I know there exist other players because I’ve seen objects moved to other positions. Still, I feel like a digital archaeologist visiting ruins. I have to keep in mind while poking at design aspects the intent is for there to be other players roaming around.

Roy Trubshaw's original map of the starting area, from Richard Bartle's website.

Roy Trubshaw’s original map of the starting area, from Richard Bartle’s website.

For instance, the first area I wandered into was a graveyard maze. There are tombstones with descriptions colorful enough I wonder if they are player-created (maybe previous players who made wizard or witch have the honor?).

Road opposite cottage.
You are standing on a badly paved road with a cemetery to the north and the home of a grave-digger to the south. An inscription on the cemetery gates reads, “RESTING PLACE OF LOST SOULS”.
You are lost in a misty graveyard.
As you stride past the dark, marble tombstone of Tank the wizard, a frantic voice in the distance shouts “I need an exit… fast!”
You are lost in a misty graveyard.
There stands before you a black tomb with crossed axes emblazoned on it; inscribed on the tomb is: “Druss the wizard”.
You are lost in a misty graveyard.
A headstone to the east bears the inscription, “OK, so maybe the dragon WAS a bit of a handful…”.

However, I’m not sure yet if there is a sensible mapping process, because leaving the graveyard and entering again led me to an entirely different room to start. In normal circumstances this would be another maze to sigh about, but with other players there’s an extra dimension.

The graveyard was put to great use by Gwyn the Wizard in his mortal days while he was working his way up to that exalted rank. It’s quite easy for novices to wander in accidentally, and it takes them a while to find how to get out (you type the direction OUT!). So Gwyn would wait at the the start of the maze, slaughter anyone who wandered in, then run deeper in and go to sleep. Going to sleep gets you back lost stamina points from fights, and is usually very dangerous in case anyone stumbles across you. But who is going to find you in a maze?

[Source. Going south also leaves the maze, at least as the code in MUD1 stands now.]

I’ve played MUDs before where formless, undescribed rooms became sites of memorable events or epic confrontations. A MUD is less obliged to make every room “mean something” in itself when the players can impose their own meaning.

Also, after enough wandering there was a message about being able to pry open graves. I’ll have to explore further.

II. Combat

The lurker in the maze wouldn’t be possible without a combat system.

Since players with more points tend to be more popular targets for those with an urge to kill, they have better attributes than those they started with. MUD generates a random set of characteristics for you when you start – your “persona”. These are strength, stamina and dexterity. The other Dungeons & Dragons abilities are up to you, so if you’re thick in real life you’ll be thick in the game. The abilities are used mainly in fights, where stamina is how much damage you can take, strength determines how much damage you do when you hit, and dexterity is your chance of hitting. They crop up in other places too; for example dexterity is used to see if you manage to steal from another player successfully.

Richard Bartle

Here’s what the stats display looks like for a beginning character:

Score to date: 36
Level of experience: novice
Strength: 57 Stamina: 23 Dexterity: 38 Sex: male
Maximum stamina: 55
Weight carried: 1000g (max. weight: 57000g)
Objects carried: 1 (max. number: 5)
Games played to date: 3

As far as I can tell so far, there are no weapons/armor/other combat augmentations. There is a spell system which may be usable in combat but I haven’t found any spells yet. It also may be the intent is for the variety to come from multiple players targeting each other at the same time. From the stories I’ve heard MUD1 was never a free-for-all but rather a place where individual players would snipe at each other, but for the current evidence I’m not sure.

I obviously haven’t tested the inter-personal combat, but here’s my battle against a zombie.

*kill zombie
*You narrowly duck a pathetic punch from the zombie.
*Your weak punch is no problem for the zombie.
*You comfortably duck a limp cross by the zombie.
*You smite the zombie with a weighty thump!
*The vigour of a punch by the zombie sends you sideways.
Summoning strength you bear up, and charge back into the engagement.
*Your wild return lunge at the zombie is easily ducked.
*You effortlessly duck a tame cross from the zombie.
*You beat the zombie with a vicious punch!
*You are wounded by the energy of a blow by the zombie!
Gritting your teeth you concentrate, and start into the slaughter.
*Your counter swing sends the zombie reeling!
Your last cross did away with the zombie!
You are victorious – this time…

Notice the whole thing runs on automatic after typing KILL ZOMBIE. It’s possible to flee but otherwise the sequence above was entirely non-interactive.

III. The house that delivered Death

Zork had a central house, and MUD1 feels obliged to follow suit.

Warning: probably incomplete.

My house map so far; click for a larger view.

I am not certain the items on the map are in their “starting places”, due to mystery players moving objects.

On the map is my first solved puzzle, which simply involve moving a bookcase to expose a staircase going down. At the bottom was the previously mentioned zombie as well as a door I can’t get through yet. The door has runes on it that kill me if I try to read them. I can’t think of any other MUD I’ve played that has this kind of deathtrap, but it does fit in with the late 70s text adventure genre.

I did manage to get through the door via a hint from a tome (“DOOR: be polite when entering.”) where I found a “sorceror’s room” with a large number of objects that I haven’t got a chance to play with yet, because there was a potion that killed me upon drinking it (in real time via delayed reaction; I left the keyboard briefly and returned to find my character dead).

Attempting to go from the second floor to the attic causes another instant-death.

Fitted cupboard.
The cupboard appears to be bereft of any shelving, there are scratches on the wall but there is nothing here which can explain them.
A heavy stepladder leads upwards to the ceiling.
The cupboard is unlatched.
The cupboard is very small, and as you ascend the ladder you suddenly realise that you are running out of air! Try as you might, you cannot break your way out of the place, although you bash at all the walls, and the ceiling and floor. Eventually you suffocate. Now you know how the scratch marks on the wall were made!

IV. Goal

I am fairly certain the idea of going for “wizard” is dead. Richard Bartle himself chimed in my last post to call MUD1 “essentially a museum piece” and the scoring seems to be engineered toward social interaction.

I also still haven’t found anything resembling a treasures list and will probably pass on that as objective.

That leaves the “newbie quest” list, of which I’ve only done “Find a stick, find a fire, and make a fire brand” and “Find the sorcerer’s room” so I’ll try to make a run at the rest. The list, again, was: Find the mausoleum / Find the portcullis and open it / Find the golden apple / Find the mine entrance / Flood the mine / Find the jetty / Find the attic / Find a light source other than a fire brand / Get into the badger’s sett / Find the magic spring

I might want to actually try some of the mausoleum (rather than just find it), because of this Bartle comment: “The mausoleum is the only place in MUD1 (or MUD2) that has actual puzzles in it. I put it in specifically because people wanted puzzles and I didn’t, so I showed them what a pain the world would be if it were all puzzles by giving them the mausoleum.”

Well, puzzles can be a pain when multiple players are there to mess things up, but they might work solo? I do find his remark puzzling, though, because I’m fairly sure the door-opening was a puzzle. Perhaps he means elaborate logic puzzles? We’ll see, I guess.

Posted February 12, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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