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Misadventure, Star Cruiser, Jailbreak (1980)   Leave a comment

In the era of adventure games we’ve seen, they’ve been in one of three categories:

1.) Commercial releases, on disk or tape.

2.) Source code printed in magazines (“type-ins”).

3.) On large mainframes, meant to be played by those who could access the games, but were not released in a method accessible to the general public.

Quite often these meshed together, with a mainframe release being pared down and sold on home systems, or games released both in source code and tape format. There’s a fourth category that hasn’t come up yet.

4.) Private games, meant to be played by a small audience (possibly just friends and family, possibly just the author themselves), without distribution.

And even if we don’t or can’t do this all the time, writing some games for friends helps – well, at least, it helps me – resolve some of the false market-vs-art dichotomy. The things that we make don’t have to be only for ourselves or only for someone else: they can be both. They can be honest and still accommodate someone else’s truth.

Emily Short, “Private Games”

Games in category #4 tends not be studied or written about for the obvious reason that by definition the public (and historians) don’t have access. While there is a wealth of diaries and letters from the past (the non-interactive equivalent of private games) the ephemeral nature of digital media means most private games are destined for oblivion.

The only catch might be if someone wrote a private body of work, but decided 30 years later to dig it out and let the Internet have a go. In other words, they might be Roger M. Wilcox and his collection of 21 adventure games, written between 1980 and 1983.

He considers his seventh adventure (The Vial of Doom) to be his first “good” adventure game. His early works give more of a feel of just noodling around and learning how to design. They’re also fairly short, so I’ve packaged together Adventures #1 through #3 in this post.

Misadventure

The scientists of your time have developed a time machine, with which to travel any place on Earth, at any time. However, they have not perfected a way to get you back, unless you are above ground. They have you aimed for a small underground cavern, and have armed you with a light source. Your mission is to find as much medieval material as possible (they have the time machine set for 1223 A.D.), and probably bring back your own treasure as well.

To move about, use the directions NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, and WEST (N, S, E, and W will suffice) and/or GO. To pick up something, say GET, TAKE, or .; to put it down say DROP, PUT, or P.

The transporting time machine is ready, you enter, and disappear!

You are in a damp, dusty 3-way intersection.
Passages lead: North South East

Grab stuff, bust past simple obstacles, survive. It took me roughly 10 minutes to finish. There’s insect repellent in one room guarded by a dwarf (more on him in a second). There’s a spider that you can drive away with the repellent; it was guarding a “snake-bite kit”. There’s a snake you can drive away with the kit. Then there’s a giant you can shoot with a phaser (?).

This is from the author’s port for 32-bit Windows. The original TRS-80 files are only available for some of the games.

The dwarf, in addition to being codged off Adventure, has an awkward issue with the random number generator.

You’re in the “small room.”
There is a threatening little dwarf in the room with you!
There is some insect repellent spray here.
Passages lead: South East West

The dwarf takes a swing at you!
The blow missed you completely!

Here’s the problem: there’s a strong chance upon just entering the room the dwarf will (randomly) hit and kill you. There’s armor in another room that slightly reduces the possibility (the dwarf will sometimes hit the armor) but essentially this is a situation where death can come by random chance in a way the player has literally no control over.

I rebooted the game about 6 times until I made it through the dwarf. If anything in this game felt like a rookie mistake, this was it.

There is one “actual” puzzle to the game:

This room is called “magic central.”
Written randomly about it are the letters “X”, “Q”, and “Y”.

>XQY
Nothing happens. Don’t forget, the letters may not necessarily belong in the order they appeared.

>XYQ
Nothing happens

>QYX
I don’t know how to “QYX” something.

It essentially gives away its only puzzle-aspect right away, it’s still good to note, since any sort of threads of authorship may mutate and reappear in later work.

In fact, there’s a similar start to the next game …

Star Cruiser

… where ZLP is the magic word to get things started.

This is pretty much the same structure as Misadventure: single items spread out and used to defeat enemies either violently or by scaring them off. It’s only slightly trickier than Adventure #1; I was stalled by a “prismatic square” which reflected my phaser fire. (There’s a silver ball you throw at it: “The ball dents the prismatic square out of existence!”)

There’s an alien that starts shoot right as you enter, just like Misadventure, and can randomly kill you with no recourse. Immediately after there are three buttons:

>1
You’ve started the self-destruct countdown at 20 seconds!!
>2
Self-destruct sequence terminated.
>3
You are now the commander of the star cruiser. Suddenly, Federation H.Q. appears on the screen, and tells you that this is the “Enterprise”, and that you must stop the Klingons. To continue, play “Another Star-Trek Game”.

The Star-Trek game is not an adventure game, and seems to be another branch off of Mike Mayfield’s 1971 game. It wasn’t written until 1981 so I assume either this message was added in a later revision or the author already had plans to make it.

Jailbreak

No intro here: you’re in jail, struggling to get a parser to do something. >KILL GUARD yields “Be more specific as to how.” and led me to a sad / amusing list of ways to kill a videogame NPC, none which were successful. I had to check the source code.

>THROW VOICE
The guard, hearing the sound, runs to the north.
In doing so, he drops his keys.

Young Mr. Wilcox seems to have fallen into the same “puzzles are too easy or too hard” trap of many other adventure authors.

Later, >SEARCH (just the word, by itself) is necessary to find a secret passage, and a loaded revolver. You can then blast the next security guard you see. (“The guard, unprepared for the attack, dies.”)

Then you find a disguise and badge, and manage to sneak by the world’s most unalert warden. This gets you outside where someone is selling shovels. Buying the shovel (with some cash that just happened to be lying around) and digging in an open field yields some “Evidence”.

Then you can go in the courthouse, which is right next to the prison, and win:

The (now much older) author does have self-awareness of the absurdity. This is from the source code:

// Never mind the prison guard you had to kill in cold blood to get to this point,
// or the judicial procedures required to overturn a felony conviction when new
// evidence is uncovered….
adventure_over();

In the first game you shoot a giant, in the second an alien, and the third a security guard. All are treated equally.

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Posted September 25, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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