Local Call For Death (1979)   3 comments

I expressed in an earlier post disappointment that most games in the adventure genre copied their model from Crowther and Woods meaning we didn’t get as many odd experiments as early CRPGs.

However, there is one person who seems to have gone completely his own way: Robert Lafore.

He wrote five games in an “Interactive Fiction” series published by Adventure International (the Scott Adams company) which are unlike most anything from the era.

Interactive Fiction 1: Six Micro Stories (1980)
Interactive Fiction 2: Local Call for Death (1979)
Interactive Fiction 3: Two Heads of the Coin (1979)
Interactive Fiction 4: His Majesty’s Ship Impetuous (1980)
Interactive Fiction 5: Dragons of Hong Kong (1981)

The dates are very definite because they show up in the source code from the author himself. It appears Six Micro Stories was written third, even though it was published as if it were first. The ad copy suggests it is a good introduction to the format, although I find it weirder and more experimental than the 1979 games.

Speaking of the ad copy, I think it’s interesting enough to reproduce in full. This is from the Summer 1980 Adventure International catalog; keep in mind this is not referencing their entire library of adventure games, but just these Robert Lafore creations.

INTERACTIVE FICTION
WHAT IS IT?
Interactive Fiction is story-telling using a computer, so that you, the reader, can actually take part in the story instead of merely reading.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
The computer sets the scene with a fictional situation, which you read from the CRT. Then, you become a character in the story: when it’s your turn to speak you type in your response. The dialogue of the other characters and even the plot will depend on what you say.

IS IT A GAME?
No. In a game the situation is rigidly defined and you can select from only a limited number of responses. But in Interactive Fiction you can say anything you like to the other characters. (Of course if your response is too bizarre they may not understand you.)

IS IT IMPORTANT?
Interactive Fiction is the artform of the future. Just as the birth of the novel had to await the invention of the printing press, so does the widespread use of micro-computers make possible Interactive Fiction.

In all previous literature the information flow was one-directional: from the work (novel, story or poem), to the reader. Now the computer provides the medium to change this. The reader, instead of merely absorbing it, can now influence the story, explore it in his own way, become a part of it. The story will be different each time, blending the imaginations of reader and writer. And this is only the beginning. Technology will soon permit Interactive Fiction to become a verbal medium, as synthesized speech and speech recognition techniques eliminate the need for typing and reading. The user will be able to actually speak with the other characters in the story. Later, holography and animation will permit the user to “see” the characters he is talking with and we will have Interactive Movies!

Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in the birth of a new artistic medium.

For the game I’m going to be discussing:

Local Call for Death is a detective story in the style of Lord Peter Whimsey. Considerably more challenging than the above program [referring to Six Micro Stories], this one will put your analytic skills (and social savoir-faire) to the test.

The Scott Adams adventure games show up earlier in the catalog. Esentially, the writer(s) of the catalog considered the concept of Interactive Fiction an entirely different idea than adventure games.

So, back to the game — it feels like an evolutionary route from the genre of “solve it yourself” mysteries that date back to at least 1929 with Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery. I was also reminded while playing it of reading one of the old Two-Minute Mysteries books.

All responses are “open prompt” where you are essentially typing what the main character says.

local1

Later on, the game is even very picky that conversations have in complete sentences. I admit this won me over and had me role-playing reasonable wodges of text, even though I am certain (via the most advanced AI a TRS-80 can muster) the game was simply responding to key words.

To start the game off, though you are prompted for a name, gender, and background location

local2

and then thrown into a setting that tries very hard to be British.

local5

There’s the occasional prompt for verisimilitude (asking what you do in America, and if you play bridge) but otherwise the opening scene runs on a straight track.

Later there’s a crime scene:

local7
local8local9

At this point you are allowed to type single words corresponding to examining items in the scene. (Hint: Type ROOM to go back to looking at the whole room if you get stuck.) This gives a feel of an actual investigation.

localmore

I shall quibble that about half the words I tried were unrecognized, but this section was otherwise solid. Then Sir Colin starts asking you probing questions. This is where the complete sentences come in. You have to attempt to logically justify various arguments about who did the crime and what the evidence is.

local11

And part of the time, the magic worked — I typed a totally logical argument, and Sir Colin not only understood it the way I meant but it advanced the plot.

local12

There were also times here I struggled to communicate, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as some guess-the-verb experiences I’ve had (typing >GET UP from the opening room of The Count still burns). If you struggle for too long Sir Colin will even prompt you with suggestions.

There are also moments where you will be prompted to go back to examining the scene to help make more deductions.

I am intentionally being a little vague with spoilers (please note the game makes the identity of the murderer terribly obvious, so I’m not spoiling there, the proof is the hard part) because this game was enjoyable enough I’d recommend it for playing. (I’m quite serious — I was shocked by how good it is.) Even though it’s a circa-1979 TRS-80 game there is fortunately an easy way to play:

Click here

Give things a moment to load. After everything boots up, type RUN “STORY” at the prompt.

There is no save game feature so give yourself about an hour before you sit down with it. You’ll want to take notes.

The end is worth getting to — Sir Colin does a very satisfying period-mystery-appropriate spiel where he lays out all the facts.

localend

If you like the era, Christopher Huang has very recently written two interactive fiction mystery games set in the same era (and a traditional book, if that’s more your style).

Peterkin Investigates

Cheerio!

Posted August 4, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Count: Won!   3 comments

I was indeed close to a win last time, although I did need a hint to pull it off.

First off, while staying awake with the no-doz pills I went to have a face-off with Dracula, but he never came out of bat form.

draculameet

This led to some tense chasing about the castle, but unfortunately I realized Dracula would not be trappable in bat form. I did find after he left his coffin I could go in …

draculameet2

… and I suspected I could fiddle with the lock somehow, but none of my objects worked.

This is the point I needed a hint. If you recall I mentioned an oven with “sunlight and heat” and I suspected I had to toss Dracula in somehow. I had a visualization problem, because it never crossed my mind I could *enter* the oven. It’s a solar oven that only works during the day, and going in night revealed a nail file.

This bit of annoyance led to the most clever moment in the game. You can make it in Dracula’s coffin on Day 2 and break the lock with the file, and then come back in Day 3 after he has gone to sleep and open the coffin (which is no longer locked).

Using preparation to outsmart Dracula felt like a perfect merge of action and narrative.

draculameet3

I want to take a moment before moving on to praise Scott Adams’s use of absence to tell a story. Secret Mission had the opening briefing describe a manila envelope that was not there, implying something had gone wrong. The Count takes this even further with an omitted first act (what did happen before the first day?) and nights where the protagonist sleeps while other things go on — items are stolen or removed, and the PC is harmed. This leads to a plot where half of it is reconstructed by evidence in a way unique to the medium.

Certainly The Count is the most coherent of any of the games I’ve played so far. Alas I didn’t find it quite as fun as, say, Voodoo Castle, or even Zork. The sparse structure led to too many moments were I felt completely constricted and couldn’t come up with any action at all that was helpful. Additionally, while the timed structure of The Count is very clever in retrospect, in practice I had a lot of annoyances of having to save and restore and restart and save and restore and restart. So while I might recommend a play, and it isn’t even that hard a game comparative to other works at the time, there would be no shame in using a walkthrough to see it to the end.

Posted August 3, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Count: Gearing for Battle   Leave a comment

So my best reconstruction of the plot is that the main character was sent to destroy Dracula (see: angry peasants outside who kill you if you try to leave) but there is some sort of vampire-spell when Dracula is awake that forces the PC to sleep. The first time around results in just being tucked into bed and the tent stake in our inventory being overlooked (maybe there was other equipment, too, so he was busy with that). The next day Dracula senses his mistake and makes sure the stake goes away (unless it’s hidden; more on that below). He also gets hungry (maybe our neck was secretly smeared with barbecue sauce and it needed 24 hours; maybe the day before Dracula already ate) and our neck is bitten, with vampirism resulting in 48 hours.

We’re hence either on a suicide mission or killing the source will cure the vampirism — either way it’s safe to say the end result of this game will be killing Dracula, meaning I need to find him during the day. Well, I found him, although the pun injury is severe:

coffin

I am fairly certain I am close to the end and just need to get my sequence of actions down. I have a set of items that seem kind of vampire-hunting-ish:

Tent stake
Rubber mallet
Dusty clove of garlic
Torch
No-doz tablets
Sulfur matches
Cigarette (that summons the coffin)

Note that the cigarette is from a package that arrives on the second day, after the neck bite, hence a first day kill would be impossible.

At the moment I can’t open the coffin:

Sorry I can’t do that
Its LOCKED from INSIDE!

I suspect this part is simply a matter of timing; I think Dracula himself will open the coffin and I need to use the no-doz tablets to be awake for the event.

I did manage to figure out how to keep the stake from being stolen. There’s a locked door downstairs, and I managed to PICK LOCK with a paperclip helpfully attached to a postcard that arrives the first day. Inside are the no-doz tablets on the list above. If I leave the stake in the room and lock it behind me, the stake is still there the next day.

There is one more item which may aid in vampire-killing, which involves an oven.

oven

I am unclear why an oven would emit SUNLIGHT but that seems strangely specific to mention. I could foresee somehow getting Dracula upstairs and … tossing him in? Maybe the stake immobilizes but doesn’t kill (there are so many vampire mythologies it is hard to know what’s getting used here).

In any case, I hope to have BIG WINNER attached to my next post on this game. Fingers crossed.

Posted August 3, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Count: Illumination   Leave a comment

A chronology —

Day 1: I have no neck bites and a tent stake in my inventory. If I look into a mirror I see:

TODAY I look healthy…

A bell rings part of the way through the day (“DING-DONG”) at which point a postcard arrives just outside the castle.

countx1

At the end of the day after the sun sets, I fall asleep and end up in bed.

Day 2: I now have neck bites (98% sure these are guaranteed to happen), and my tent stake no longer in my inventory (“I’VE A HUNCH I’VE BEEN ROBBED!”; 50% sure this is supposed to be hidden somewhere to prevent this from happening).

countx2

A bell rings again and there’s a letter and a package.

countx3

Day 3: I awake in bed again. If the cigarettes or blood from the package were in my inventory, those are now gone (although if I have a single cigarette, that remains).

countx4

There are no new special events that I know of.

Day 4: I am a vampire! (Game over.)

I did make a bit of progress — I managed to get to a room underneath the starting room by tying a sheet to the bed. This leads to a room with a Dracula portrait that can be moved to reveal a dark tunnel. Unfortunately I have no portable source of light. If I try to light one of the cigarettes the game complains that I don’t have any matches. I’ll have to search around; my guess is there’s a secret item somewhere. Other than getting a source of light, I’m trying my best to find a hiding place for the tent stake.

The experience overall is far from anything I’ve played so far; Secret Agent had a few dramatic elements like The Count, but still was a collect-a-thon at heart; with this game it feels like the author intended a narrative where the puzzles are incidental, as opposed to designing a puzzle sequence with some narrative attached.

Posted August 1, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Count (1979)   5 comments

I could go back to Warp some more, but I’m rather exhausted of gathering treasures. The next Scott Adams game off my list has a reputation for being experimental and not just a treasure grab, so I decided to go for it next.

trs80

Despite the “what are you doing here” setup from the cover this does not seem to be amnesia.

count1

Rather, this is a case where the in-game character has knowledge that the player doesn’t, and part of the gameplay is simply deciphering what’s going on. It’s quickly established The Count means the vampire Dracula.

count2

(Footnote.)

The objective is (probably?) to destroy him

count3

but if that’s the case, why are we sleeping at the castle? And how does that match with the cover which indicates this might be a love story of some sort? Perhaps the main character intended to destroy Dracula but fell enamored instead? If so, is this voluntary or involuntary? If involuntary, why did we get “tucked in” apparently by Dracula without any physical damage?

Also experimental: the main map is tiny even for a Scott Adams game

countmap1

and it seems like the main notion is that time advances to sunset, at which point you get sleepy and awake in bed. Day Two below:

count4

Is the neck bite necessary to the story, or am I supposed to prepare Day One so it doesn’t happen?

It’s highly disconcerting to play a game without even knowing the player character’s motive (or if there was an original motive that changed). It’s a dream where you are dropped as an actor in a play and everyone else expects you know the lines but you have no idea what’s going on.

The only thing resembling a “puzzle” is there is a room visible underneath the window of the opening room, and it appears like the game wants you to get there somehow. Still, the whole thing is refreshingly odd and I might just spend some time mapping out if any changes happen when time passes. I’m suspecting an Infocom-mystery-game setup where certain things only happen at certain times and it’d be useful to get a map of the schedule.

Footnote: This is a bit of a side rant but I have to say — what’s up with the spelling and capitalization of Scott Adams games? “ADVEWNTURE?” This isn’t even version 1 I’m playing; nobody ever noticed the extra w? And why does “afternoon” have the spelling “AFternoon”? More than once in the game? And why does that sort of odd capitalization happen in multiple games? Is there some genuine technical reason? It’s been driving me bananas in every Scott Adams game. Also, tip for future players: the way to get out of bed is GET UP. Not STAND, UP, OUT, GET OUT, EXIT, or a dozen other variants that would seem to work. I spent about 40 turns at the start of this game just trying to do basic movement. It’s the first time in a while I hit a genuine guess-the-verb puzzle that took me more than one extra turn to resolve. My journey through the 1970s in general has hit much less guessing of the verb than the reputation of old text adventures suggests.

Posted July 30, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Philosopher’s Quest: Finished!   3 comments

(Click the image below for the complete map, except for mazes.)

mapdone

(Click here if you’d like to read the whole sequence of posts leading up to this point.)

I actually rattled this game around a few times in the interim period since I made my last post, but got enough nowhere that I finally consulted a walkthrough. Fortunately it turned out to be one of those chains-of-causality situations where a single hint led me through nearly the entire game (except for two bits at the end which I will share soon). The game is one of those where items and things don’t necessarily exist until they are ready to, and I had simply never quite got through the first part of the “quest chain.”

The chain starts with the Victorian lady wanting her dog. I am certain you don’t remember what I’m talking about, so here’s a clip:

> make tea
You drop the teabag in the cup, add boiling water, and brew up a fine cup of tea.
> n
An old lady in a wheelchair glares at you as you enter a living room. Her gaze softens as it alights on the cup of tea you’re carrying. “At last!” she exclaims. “How I’ve waited for a decent cup of tea – even if it doesn’t have a saucer,” she adds. She grabs the cup from you greedily and drains it. “Aaah, that’s better. And now I wonder if you could be so kind to little old me and find my little lost dog for me? He ran out a while before you came in. I’m very worried because he hasn’t had his din-dins yet. I do hope he hasn’t gone to play up the cliffs again. Do find him – I would be SO grateful.” She shoos you gently back into the kitchen again.

After a convoluted set piece involving a large plank, I had gotten to the point where I had the dog but the Victorian lady’s house was now blocked off. I had been carrying a dog biscuit to keep the dog from running off, but that turned out to be wrong; I needed to plant the biscuit near the house, so the dog would run off and forge a path through the undergrowth that I could then follow as an alternate route back to the Victorian lady. Whereupon …

The old lady beams as you enter. “What a delightful little doggy,” she smiles, taking it from you. “But my dog was shaggier than that. Could you try again, please?”
As you leave the room, you see the dog running into the dark passage to the north. He yelps once, and is then silent.

… the dog search continues. I discovered fairly quickly the next dog in the danger room sequence of riddles (I had suspected given the empty rooms I was waiting for a quest trigger there) which led to a much more straightforward delivery …

“Another dog!” says the old lady. “But that’s not mine either, I’m afraid. I’ll look after it, though.” She takes it from you. “My dog was much shaggier than that one,” she tells you, as she pushes you back towards the kitchen.
As you leave the room, you see the dog running into the dark passage to the north. He yelps once, and is then silent.

… and yet more dog hunting. Again I found the next dog in short order; it was near the Tower of Babel area in a “Gloomy Cave” that smelled of dog. Surely this is the one?

“Wrong again,” declares the old lady, “but you’re doing well. Give him to me. My dog was extremely shaggy and answers to the name Spot. Off you go!”
As you leave the room, you see the dog running into the dark passage to the north. He yelps once, and is then silent.

This time there happened to be dog footprints leading back to the danger room, so a literal hop, skip, and jump later …

“Oh dear, this is difficult,” says the old lady, ” but this dog still isn’t shaggy enough. Could you try again, just for little old me?”
She takes the dog from you and pushes you firmly towards the kitchen. As you leave the room, you see the dog running into the dark passage to the north. He yelps once, and is then silent.

… and I really started to wonder how far the game is pushing this. In any case, the only dog-related item I hadn’t used yet was a kennel that was empty … and was still empty. However, I could hear happy barking. >GET ALL yielded an invisible dog in my inventory (I swear I am not making this up). Fortunately there was a nearby brown paint trap I had long been dying to know the purpose of, and a few steps later, finally, finally:

“Oh hooray!” shrieks the old lady, grabbing the dog, “My darling little Spotty-wotty! I should have told you he was invisible – no wonder you were having trouble finding him. I’ll make you a beneficiary in my will,” she declares, and writes something on a document. “I’ll just go and blot it,” she says, and starts to wheel her chair toward the passageway to the north. “It’s a pity the lights are so unreliable here – gas lights were so much better,” she mutters as she disappears into the murky passage.
There is a sudden cry of “AAGH!” from the passageway, and an equally sudden thump. Everything goes still.
You are in the living room of the bungalow. The windows are boarded up
in here, too. The only exits are north, through a dark passageway,
and south to the kitchen.
> n
You are in the hall of the bungalow. To the north there has been a small earthquake recently, and a big pit has opened up. The old lady and some dogs are lying at the bottom. She must have stumbled onto the pit in the dark, fallen in, and broken every bone in her body, poor dear! The only safe exit is back south.
There is a will here, naming you as beneficiary.

I’ve heard of amoral adventuring, but this tops anything I can remember, even though the adventurer is actually just trying to be helpful the whole time. In any case, the will can be turned (at a nearby solicitor’s office, of course it can) into a cheque which counts as a treasure.

There is a large, stuffed albatross here!
There is an ancient treatise by Socrates here!
There is a fine silver chain here!
There is a valuable cheque, made out to you, here!
There is a treasure chest here!
There is an erratic but valuable antique clock here!
There is a stuffed platypus here, encrusted with jewels!
There is a valuable platinum-edged portrait of
Maurits Escher, who is portrayed holding
a valuable platinum-edged portrait of
Maurits Escher, who is portrayed holding
……
……
…… here, here, here!
A piece of sausage is curled up here.
There is an inlaid slipper wrought with the finest filigree here!
There is a gold tooth the size of an egg here!
There is a bronze trophy, marked “Riddle Champion of
Brand X”, here!
There is an exquisite ivory tusk here!
> score
If you were to stop now, you would score 289 points out of
a maximum of 300.

After multiple checks, I did indeed have all the treasures; I just somehow lost 10 points. Deciphering the mystery required a complete replay and reference to the walkthrough.

I found out I went through a particular section called the Garden of Eden wrong. There’s a snake with a tempting fruit you can eat, and eating the fruit causes you to “fall from grace” so to speak and land in the North of Eden – East of Eden area I wrote about once.

I assumed eating the fruit was a necessary part of the script, but it turns out doing reduced my score. After harassing the snake enough times by trying to take it (!) the snake gets mad and leaves and there’s a route to leave the garden of Eden without eating the fruit.

Oif. Replay was fortunately fairly fast (this is not Acheton length) so I corrected my loss of points, returned all the treasures to the correct place, and …

> score
If you were to stop now, you would score 299 points out of
a maximum of 300.

… still didn’t have a CONGRATULATIONS YOU ARE WINNER screen. Huh. At this point I confess to weariness; I went straight for the walkthrough. There’s a magic word “BLACH” from one of the very first rooms that’s been useless the entire game.

> blach

You have scored 300 points out of a maximum of 300.
WELL DONE! YOU’VE CRACKED THE WHOLE GAME!
YOU GOT THE POINT AT LAST!

Mission accomplished?

pquestcover

One, and most importantly, this is a rotten hard and randomly unfair game. In fact, it has the reputation of being one of the nastiest of the Phoenix/ Topologika games, and it thoroughly deserves it. The other games of this origin want you dead; this one wants you dead _now_, and if at all possible, for you to suffer in the process. You can die at the game’s slightest whim.
— Richard Bos

I think you can probably guess I am not going to recommend this game to play. The main quest line is a terrible shaggy dog joke, death is rampant, and the puzzles are filled to the brim with unfair.

Yet —

As a whole experience, to sum up, I enjoyed myself. The world is truly random, but somehow I started to grasp a logic to it where of course a puzzle could be solved with a literary allusion and why yes of course I’m hearing an invisible dog that I need to drop a bucket of paint on. This may simply be a sign I was on this game too long, and while I enjoyed myself, I’m also very glad to move on.

(That includes, by the way, the imaginary worlds gamejam, which has not been forgotten and is at this very moment the subject of a much-edited draft. Soon!)

Posted July 29, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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A Brief Update   1 comment

I know I have people awaiting both a.) the next post in my All the Adventure series and b.) the reviews and pseudonym reveals from imaginary games jam (authors are still welcome to reveal themselves at any time, though).

I must apologize: have been working two jobs from the time since my last post and my mental energy has been spent of late. I will be down to one job after May 20th at which point normal posting can resume.

Posted May 13, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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