Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Adventure of the Week: House Adventure (1983?)

We're returning to the early portable TRS-80 Model 100 computer this week, to tackle House Adventure, a fairly conventional BASIC language treasure hunt set in a sprawling, multi-floored but sparsely furnished house.  The author is unknown; I found this game at the Interactive Fiction Archive in the same collection as the other Model 100 games I've been playing recently, and I'm assuming these were all written circa 1983 when the LCD-display machine was the coolest tech around.  It's possible this game was written in another version of BASIC and ported to the Model 100, based on some significant bugs I ran into.

I'm going to say something I almost never say, in this case, and that is: DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME, unless you have a high tolerance for debugging your adventures while trying to play them.  House Adventure seems to have been coded without ever really being played through, and features several game-breaking bugs that I had to uncover and work around.  If you do tackle it, please consider adding a DEFINT A-Z at the beginning of the code; without it, many things don't work as I assume they were meant to by the designer, and the odds against completing the game become stratospheric.  I'll detail my struggles with the game along with the gameplay in the following, so feel free to save yourself the pain and simply indulge in the...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******

The first issue I encountered was no fault of House Adventure -- I got an OM error at startup, indicating insufficient memory, but I just hadn't been doing my housekeeping.  The Model 100's entire memory space is shared -- the storage is really a RAM disk, and too much of the system's memory was used up by files.  Once I cleaned that up, the game fired up with its title screen, including a cryptic clue, "Remember the Imposter is last," displayed before the game begins.

We find ourselves in a foyer, with a wooden box and a locked door, and exits east and west.  We have //NOTHING\\ in inventory; OPEN DOOR, as expected, suggests that I NEED SOMETHING FIRST!  OPEN BOX, less predictably, indicates that I'M SORRY, BUT I ONLY KNOW HOW TO UNLOCK DOORS AND DRAWERS.  Trying to EXAMINE BOX reveals that the parser has yet more to apologize for, as it seems to interpret this as a desire to travel East, to the family room.

Since we're here, we'll note that there are no objects of interest at hand, but we can travel north or south.  South takes us to the dining room, where we can travel east to the first floor elevator.  So there must be a second floor, at least; we can also head east again or exit north from the elevator.  Going UP takes us to the second floor elevator; we can go up again to the third floor, which is as high as we go.  So the map might be fairly large.

Returning to the first floor, we exit the elevator to the east to enter a coat closet and discover a flashlight.  And, to my surprise, heading east from the coat closet wraps around to the foyer again!  So this map doesn't necessarily adhere to real-world geographical conventions.

Well, since we're back here, let's try to READ BOX -- we have to GET it first, according to the parser, and only then, once we have it in inventory, are we permitted to discover that YOU CAN'T READ THAT!  SHAKE BOX yields YOU CAN'T GO THAT WAY -- apparently no general verbs can begin with the letters E, W, N, S, U or D.  Except that's not entirely true -- WAVE BOX is recognized by the parser but has no effect.

Let's explore the rest of the first floor -- north of the family room is the bedroom, with nothing of interest but an exit east to the pantry.  The cupboard is bare -- this house is very sparsely furnished -- but we can travel north to a telephone booth incongruously placed there, or south to the kitchen.  Now things are getting a little more interesting -- there's a carving knife here, as well as a vampire.  He doesn't prevent us from continuing south to the first floor elevator, but he SEEMS TO HAVE GROWN VERY ATTACHED TO THE KNIFE AND WON'T LET YOU HAVE IT.

So this seems to be our first puzzle -- how do we deal with the vampire?  There are rules about these things in pop culture, but we don't have any obvious implements of vampire-spookery on hand, so we'll head up to the second floor and poke around there for a while.

West of the second floor elevator is a sewing room, once again bare of any items of interest, with a closet to the south containing A SMALL DIAMOND.  We can exit the closet to the south again, to find a guest room occupied by a Ming vase and an insane monk, who guards the vase much as the vampire guards the knife.  An exit west leads to another guest room, and heading west again discovers a bathroom with a brass bathtub and exits in all four cardinal directions.  We can't TAKE BATH -- I SEE NO BATH HERE -- nor can we GO BATHTUB.

Traveling west from the bathroom leads us back to the insane monk -- his affliction does not seem to be evident in his behavior, and one person's insanity can be another's deeply held faith, but we don't have to deal with his mental condition in any direct way.  South of the bathroom is a sitting room with a hairbrush we can take with us, and an exit west into a den with a banjo and a dusty moose head.  We have a four-item inventory limit, we now discover, so we'll leave these here for the moment; we can't take the moose head, anyway, but it seems we can PLAY BANJO if we pick it up later on.

West of the den is another telephone booth, this one containing 100'S OF GOLD COINS, which we also can't carry at the moment.  This is a dead end, so we'll return to the bathroom and head north into the master bedroom, with a king sized bed and another exit north.  We can't MOVE BED or GO BED, or SLEEP (unless we choose to believe we tend to sleepwalk to the south) or otherwise learn anything about it, so perhaps it's just window dressing.  Traveling north leads us back to the second floor elevator, another twist in the map.

Nothing we've found looks like it will have much effect on the vampire, so we'll take the elevator up again to the third floor.  Exiting the elevator the east, we find ourselves in a library with a Sorcerer's Handbook, guarded by a leopard.  Just on a whim, I try to BRUSH LEOPARD with the hairbrush -- and it actually works!  THE LEOPARD IS VERY GRATIFIED FOR THE GROOMING, AND LEAVES.  Now we can DROP HAIRBRUSH, TAKE BOOK and READ BOOK -- it mentions four magic words that can be used to make objects, which may help us solve some of these puzzles.  The four words are ABRACADABRA, SHAZAAM, SEERSUCKER and UGABOOM.  A warning trails off: "BE SURE TO USE THE RIGHT WORD IN THE . . ." -- so we may need to be careful using these.

Let's finish mapping before we try the magic words out.  South of the library is a trophy room, with a set of batteries and an exit west.  LIGHT FLASHLIGHT confirms that it doesn't work, until we GET BATTERIES, and then I realize the verb works differently than I thought -- we use LIGHT ON to turn the flashlight on, LIGHT OFF to turn it off.  Oddly enough, we can LIGHT ON with the batteries in hand, and then DROP BATTERIES with no apparent impact.  That flashlight's circuitry must store a lot of electricity!  We also need the batteries if we want to LIGHT OFF, though, so two of our four inventory slots are going to be eaten up if we want to keep a light source handy.

West of the trophy room is a bare living room, and going north takes us back to the elevator; the third floor is a lot smaller than the other two, just four rooms.

Okay, let's try these magic words out and see what happens... apparently, nothing if we're in the wrong place, so we may be protected against flagrant misuse.  Just for fun, let's try to SAY SEERSUCKER in the vampire's presence -- nope, NOTHING HAPPENED.  None of the other magic words do anything either here, or at the locked door in the foyer.  Do we need to have the spellbook in hand?  It doesn't seem to make a difference.

I try to GIVE DIAMOND or THROW DIAMOND to the monk, to no avail, and DROP DIAMOND just prevents us picking it back up again as long as the monk is around.  We can't FILL BATHTUB.  What about that drawers reference earlier?  I don't see any drawers around so far, and my avatar's pants remain invisible and out of reach so we'll never know about that possibility.  PLAY BANJO doesn't have any effect on the monk, or the vampire.

... Hey, this game actually has a SAVE command!  I didn't expect that.  It exits the game after we save, though we can use the BASIC CONTinue to return to the game in progress.  (This will prove extremely handy later on.)

We have nothing to KILL MONK with -- though that carving knife might be handy.  The parser recognizes WATER in the bathroom, but we can't GET WATER and of course DRINK WATER is interpreted as Down.  Can we perhaps frighten the vampire with the flashlight?  Yes!  LIGHT ON and WAVE FLASHLIGHT sends him flying away.  I guess it doesn't have to be sunlight after all!  We'll LIGHT OFF to conserve the batteries, assuming this game adheres to that convention.

Now can we KILL MONK with the knife?  We don't actually succeed in doing so, but THE MONK HAS BECOME FRIGHTENED AND RUN AWAY, which will suffice for our needs.  This gives us access to the Ming vase, but since we don't have anywhere to stash treasures yet it doesn't seem like we should fill our limited inventory with them.

Hmmmm.  Aha!  We can take the elevator Down from the first floor -- I hadn't tried that.  It's too dark down here to see, so I'll go back and fetch the batteries from the kitchen where I left them.  We can exit the basement elevator to the north or south.  South is yet another telephone booth; continuing south, we find the torture chamber, with a bag of gold and a set of stocks, also treasures it seems. 

South again is the workshop, with exits east and west.  East is a freezer, where a protoplasmic blob guards a wrinkled parchment.  There's a dirt-floored room to the east, where we could probably DIG FLOOR -- but YOU CAN'T DIG THE FLOOR?  Ah, we must ask the parser to DIG DIRT -- but YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO DIG WITH

We can continue south to an empty laboratory, and go E from here to the pumproom, where we find a can of bug spray and a savage beast.  Again, this beast doesn't block our path -- we can head south to the furnace room, with exits to the east and south.  East is a dusty coal bin, and east from the bin wraps back around to the workshop.  South from the furnace room leads back to the elevator in similar fashion.

Well, presumably we can use music to soothe the savage beast, and yes, PLAY BANJO does so -- THE BEAST HAS WANDARDED [is that like drownded?] OFF IN A STATE OF BLISS!  And now we can drop the banjo and GET SPRAY -- well, GET CAN, actually.  Might as well try to SPRAY BLOB -- and that sends it scurrying through a crack in the floor, providing access to the parchment.  READ PARCHMENT suggests that we use "THEM" IN A TELEPHONE BOOTH, IN THE LIVING ROOM, and IN THE DINING ROOM.  This information should help, assuming it relates to the magic words!

Let's try the magic words in the basement telephone booth.  SAY SHAZAAM makes us disoriented and sends us to the family room?  It looks like the locked door in the foyer has vanished, though no new exits are apparent, and we no longer need to turn on the flashlight when we go into the basement.  That's powerful magic!  Let's try using one in the dining room -- nope, none of these words seem to work here.

I'll start over and see if I can figure out how these work.  I try to SAY ABRACADABRA in the basement telephone booth, and this time I end up in the guest room.  UGABOOM goes to the pantry, and SEERSUCKER to the laboratory after subsequent restarts.  But nothing seems to change otherwise???

Let's try the first floor telephone booth instead.  Nope, nothing seems to happen here at all.  And when I try to SAY ABRACADABRA again in the basement, it seems the magic word sends me to a random destination.  What about the phone booth upstairs with the gold coins?  Nope, nothing happens here either.  So the basement must be the right place to start.

Is there an order in which we're supposed to use these incantations?  It seems like only one word works -- after that, nothing happens even in the basement telephone booth.  Does it matter which word we use where?  Let's go to the living room next and try there.  Nope.  First floor telephone booth?  Nope.  Second floor?  Nope.  Ack!

Time to dig into the code, methinks -- the magic word logic is pretty convoluted, and as it turns out, it's just plain buggy.  There seem to be two stages to it -- each stage checks to see if we're in a specific valid room, i.e. the basement telephone booth first and the dining room second, so that kind of makes sense.  But it compares X (the object of the command, i.e. the magic word) to a P array of floating point numbers that seem unlikely to ever match a value of 0, 1, 2, or 3.  It looks like P is initialized to a random value between 1 and 4, but it isn't being rounded to an integer so a match for 1 of 4 words would be pretty rare.  Z also gets randomized after a bad guess to a number that may prevent any guess from working, as there are only two possibilities, 0 and 1, and Z ends up as a floating point number between 0 and 3.  Was this feature ever playtested?  My first thought was that I should force P(0) and P(1) to something consistent so the game can be played successfully and more predictably, so I edited line 5 and attempted to restart and continue.

The next thing I learn is that if we move around too long in the dark basement without light, we end up getting killed by something unseen but gruelike in its habits and habitat, ending the game.  So we'll be more careful about that on the next try.  Saying the correct magic word in the telephone booth yields an old leather glove, and in the dining room it produces an aluminum dime.

I'm stuck again, so I try to crack the next puzzle by willing the shovel into inventory by altering the O array.  So let's try using the shovel in the dirt-floored room -- now it seems we can't DIG FLOOR or DIG DIRT either?  Ahhhh... our location is partly determined by variable Z, which is roundable to 0 but is not actually 0 when the dig logic checks our location.  So line 75 doesn't quite work right unless we force Z to a nice round 0.  Now DIG DIRT turns up a rusted key.

I'm beginning to realize what's going on here, though I wouldn't have figured it out if I hadn't recently been reading some old magazine articles about dialects of Microsoft BASIC.  The game works a lot better if we modify line 1 to start with DEFINT A-Z:  -- Model 100 BASIC supports this and now these variables all behave much better, allowing random numbers to land cleanly on an integer instead of a messy floating point value that won't match many game logic comparisons.

I remove my modifications to line 5, to be a good sport now that I've realized where House Adventure's biggest issue lies, and it takes me a few tries, but SAY SHAZAAM in the basement telephone booth yields the old leather glove, and SAY ABRACADABRA in the dining room produces the aluminum dime.  Nothing ever happens in the living room, though, so the parchment is a little misleading.

Now the telephone booth room on the second floor takes us (as I'm sure the author intended) back to the telephone booth on the first floor; actually, this is randomized, taking us to different telephone booths each time we enter one.  And I find the rusted key and a clove of garlic on the floor of the dirt-floored room, without having to do any digging; not sure if that was intended, but it works for me.

With the rusted key, we can finally UNLOCK the DOOR in the foyer.  This lets us go to the front porch, where we can see the front yard, and I suspect this is where we need to bring treasures.  It also appears that monsters now run away but turn up elsewhere, as they are not randomized away into nonexistent rooms any more,so we need to keep track of where we left important items for shooing them off again.

Let's round up the treasures we know about -- the diamond, the gold... and it turns out the set of stocks are not stock certificates as I was picturing, but actual non-portable as-in-"put-the-prisoner-in-the" stocks (it's a torture chamber after all!)  The wooden box also counts -- it seems we get credit for hauling anything not nailed down out to the front porch!  The hairbrush, the sorcerer's handbook, the... uh-oh.  I've run into the leopard again, and after we take items out of the house, they disappear!  So perhaps we'd better collect things in the foyer instead, in case we need them again.

Starting fresh, it seems some items are randomized, and I'm seeing some objects I didn't encounter before, like a block of dry ice in the dining room.  And I exhaust my flashlight batteries before I manage to get anything out of the house.  Sigh.

The batteries only last 40 turns, tracked by a variable U in the code, and with the tight inventory limit it's pretty difficult to get everything out of the basement.  There's also no clear victory condition when we die or quit -- just a score for how many items we got out of the house?  I cope with the battery life by occasionally doing a QUIT, U = 0, CONT sequence.  Yes, it is cheating.  No, I am not ashamed of myself. I don't think it's possible to carry a light source and remove everything from the basement in 40 turns, and if we wander in the dark for more than a few turns we are consumed by an unseen menace, so that's not an option.

What's going on with the telephone booth rooms?  They seem a lot more stable since I restarted.  Do they react to having the dime in inventory?  Yes!  Now they start teleporting us randomly around again.  But while the design intends for it to be possible to reach a "secret" fourth telephone booth in a separate section of the third floor we can't otherwise reach, it's nearly impossible for this to happen given the random number algorithm used in line 7.  This can be patched imperfectly by changing the code to randomly pick a number between 0 and 5, instead of 0 and 4; the odds of it being greater than or equal to 4 are much better now.  (After the fact, I realize that multiplying the random number by 4.999 would prevent a bad value of 5 from coming up without substantially altering the odds of it being 4.)

Good, now we randomly find ourselves in a new telephone booth, with an exit to the east.  This leads to a barroom with a block of dry ice, and an exit leads east to the game room.  North of this point is the computer room, with a UNITRON 30/50 MAINFRAME and a shovel.  Traveling north of the computer room takes us back to the first floor telephone booth.

Finding our way back again, we establish that south of the game room is the art hall, where we see a silk pillow and a werewolf, guarding it of course.  To the west is a nondescript bedroom.  We can WAVE GARLIC (is that canon?) to ward off the werewolf and take the silk pillow, so we can take the Ming vase formerly guarded by the insane monk (a steal from Colossal Cave there, though more insistent in implementation, as we can't drop the vase at all without the pillow present.)

I try to use the glove to take the dry ice, but I end up dying with a scream, followed by "REMEMBER?"  Hmmmm.  Maybe that's what the imposter business on the title screen is about -- the dry ice in the living room is not the real dry ice?  Or it's the last thing we should take out of the house?  Or dry ice is an imposter for real ice?  There are two locations where it appears, though, so that's probably what this means, especially as we have to get into the hidden telephone booth area to find the real one.  I think.

I grab the shovel from the computer room and finally DIG DIRT in the dirt-floored room, but nothing comes up.  At least we can dispose of the shovel.  I haven't grabbed the diamond from the closet yet this round, so I'll do that.

Now let's see if we're allowed to pick up the dry ice from the barroom... yes, we can GET ICE here without dying.  We do need the glove in order to do so -- if we try to drop it first while carrying the dry ice, we're prevented: YOU'LL BURN YOURSELF IF YOU DROP THE GLOVE NOW!  So that's done, but it seems I'm still short an item, namely the hundreds of gold coins from the second floor telephone booth.

We can't GET COINS directly, but if we have the wooden box in inventory we can.  And after we drop it and all of the other remaining items outside, victory is ours -- with an end message that's just as bugged up as the rest of the game!

Playing House Adventure was not a great deal of fun -- it took a lot longer than I was expecting due to its general quality problems, though somehow it kept drawing me back, probably because having the source code made it possible to finish, in theory at least.  I was able to fix a couple of game-breaking bugs, though I also had to cheat quite a bit to extend battery life and occasionally continue after an untimely demise. 

And this completes my tour through the handful of TRS-80 Model 100 text adventures I currently know to be in circulation -- pity this last one was probably the least polished of the batch!  Onward!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Dreamer (1983)

This week's subject might be one of the earliest intentionally surreal and experimental adventures, in a vein modern interactive fiction authors continue to explore.  Dreamer was written by Jorge Mir in BASIC for the TRS-80 Color Computer, as another magazine contest entry published in The Rainbow Book of Adventures in early 1983.

Dreamer was designed to run in a mere 4K of RAM, the basic early Color Computer configuration that saw very little commercial support.  The objective is to explore all 26 rooms without being killed, but the tight memory constraints result in a novel engine approach -- there's no real parser, so there's nothing in the way of feedback, and the puzzles consist almost exclusively of guessing exactly the phrase that the game wants.

Mr. Mir claims his game is suitable for beginners, and in a way he's right -- since there's not much complexity to it, anyone can sit down and guess at phrases until something happens.  But I can't really encourage anyone to play this game today -- it's not so much an adventure game as a series of brick walls, and I had to peek at the code on a few occasions when guessing wore thin.  So feel free to experience Dreamer vicariously by reading on into the...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We are LOST IN THE FOREST as we begin.  We have nothing in inventory; in fact, it seems there is no I or INV command, so we probably won't have to deal with any objects.  There's no exit list given, so movement will have to be by trial and error.  But it seems we can move in all directions without really going anywhere -- again, hard to verify without inventory -- and no verb I try seems to do anything.

Trying to use the title as a jumping-off point, I attempt to SLEEP and DREAM and WAKE, with no response to any of it.  I try to SEARCH WALL and JUMP and YELL, also to no avail.  I try to CLOSE EYES and IMAGINE something that might happen.  I DIG and EXAMINE FOREST and CLIMB TREE, but nothing ever occurs.

At last I try battling the parser on its own terms, and GO WEST finally brings me somewhere new -- to the edge of the forest, near a house.  Here, if I try to E I am at least given a useful response -- I CAN'T E, whereas in the forest I got no feedback at all to any phrase I tried.  We can't go anywhere else from here using compass directions, but we can GO HOUSE to approach its door.

We can't, however, GO DOOR, or OPEN DOOR, or EXAMINE DOOR, or KNOCK DOOR or RING BELL.  We can't PUSH or PULL or MOVE or SLIDE it either.  And we can only GO EAST here, which gets us lost in the forest again.  Ah!  We can UNLOCK DOOR.  This might be our house, as we've seen no evidence of a key, although since this is a dream there's not necessarily an answer to the question.  Once we've done that, the door stands open, but we can't GO DOOR or ENTER DOOR.  We have to ENTER HOUSE.

At this point I wonder if we're being graded at all, so I try to SCORE -- and I CAN'T SCORE.  Okay.  We can see STAIRS and FURNITURE here.  But we can't GO STAIRS or GO UPGOing EAST puts us back in the forest again.  We can't CLIMB STAIRS or USE STAIRS, nor STAND on, USE, MOVE or CLIMB the furniture.  We can, however, GO UPSTAIRS.

I'm beginning to realize how this game manages to work in 4K -- every location has a specific "command," really a phrase that we must hit upon exactly to get to the next stage.  There's no real parser at work here, which is why the engine is so strict yet arbitrary in its demands.  This does not make the game very much fun, I might add.

Upstairs we find a bedroom with a window, a bed, and some stairs again.  We'll try to GO DOWNSTAIRS, which actually works, leading to a family room with a fireplace and TV set.  We can GO FIREPLACE to find ourselves in the dark, and (it turns out) GO NORTH to find ourselves out in the forest again, though not in the starting LOST location this time.

We can see A HOUSE FAR AWAY, but we can't GO HOUSE from here.  GO NORTH takes us back to the starting location, lost in the forest, and we have to find our way back here exactly as we did before.  GO SOUTH takes us to a river bank with a cave.  We can't ENTER CAVE, but we can GO CAVE.  Inside we see a large box and a light to the east.

We can't OPEN BOX, but we can GET BOX -- and finally something produces a negative response, as THE BOX WAS FULL OF POISONOUS SPIDERS.  YOU ARE NOW DEAD!  YOU ONLY GOT TO SEE 11 ROOMS.  So this is how we're scored, then... if we die, we at least learn how well we performed to the author's exacting specifications.

Starting over again, we choose to ignore the box and GO EAST instead, arriving outside the cave near a hungry bear and a tree.  CLIMB TREE proves fatal, as THE BEAR CLIMBED THE TREE ALSO AND ATE YOU!  We've now seen 12 rooms.  Of 26?  This is going to seem like a very long adventure despite its simplicity.  Maybe a peek at the code will make up for the lack of a save game -- it appears we can GOTO 4 to pick up wherever we died and try something else.  I'll allow myself this concession for the sake of efficiency.

With this trick speeding things up, I try some other possibilities.  We can't PET BEAR or KILL BEAR or WRESTLE BEAR, but we can RUN to escape to a hill with a small cabin.  GO CABIN brings us to its door, where we also see a horse.  Unfortunately, we cannot GO HORSE or RIDE HORSE, nor do anything with the door.  But we can ENTER CABIN regardless.

Here we find some food and a saddle.  GET SADDLE actually responds like a normal adventure game -- the saddle disappears from the screen, leaving the food behind, though this is in actuality a simulation of normal adventure behavior.  But we can't GET FOODEAT FOOD proves, as I suspected, that it's poisonous, and we die with 16 rooms under our collective belt.  After we get the saddle, we need to EXIT CABIN.

We can't SADDLE UP, or SADDLE HORSE, or GO HORSE, but now that we have the saddle we can RIDE HORSE to a large lake.  We can't SWIM or DIVE or EXAMINE LAKE or GO LAKE or DIVE LAKE or DRINK LAKE or DRINK WATER or anything else that seems reasonable to try.  We're still on the horse, but we can't DISMOUNT or GET DOWN or GET OFF, and directional navigation doesn't get us anywhere.  I finally had to look at the BASIC code to see that Mr. Mir threw us a curve on this one -- we have to abandon the two-word approach used almost everywhere else, and dismount and/or overcome a serious drug habit as we GET OFF HORSE!

Now we can see a small boat, and GO BOAT to approach a small island.  Of course, we can't GO ISLAND, or SWIM ISLAND, or EXIT BOAT.  We have to ROW BOAT to reach the island.  Here we find some sand and a shovel; we can't GET SHOVEL or DIG, but we can DIG SAND to find a bottle.  We can't GET BOTTLE or OPEN BOTTLE, or READ BOTTLE or GET NOTE (guessing there might be one in it)... but we can, in desperation, BREAK BOTTLE.

Now we find ourselves magically transported to A STRANGE LOOKING PLACE where we see a magic wand, and a blue cloud engulfing us.  GET WAND transports us to a palace, where we see a WELL ARMED GUARD (somehow I picture Ray Harryhausen's interpretation of Kali instead of the author's intended imagery) and some DIAMONDS ON A TABLE.  Fortunately, since the engine really only recognizes a couple of responses for any given location, we can freely attempt to KILL GUARD and STAB GUARD and GOUGE OUT EYES OF GUARD without irritating him in the least.

As it turns out, what we really want to do is give in to our base impulses and simply GET DIAMONDS -- and now we have an ANGRY GUARD at hand, probably because he's envisioning his next job evaluation.  Let's try the bear strategy again, and RUN... and we find ourselves at home!  It may have only been a dream, but victory is ours!

Dreamer has an interesting concept at its core, but in execution it's a novelty, rather than a true adventure -- the solution is so constrained that it's more of a guessing game along narrative lines.  But it was fun to fight through it anyway, and I appreciate the technical variety found in low-memory adventures -- they are always forced to compromise in some way, and Dreamer does squeeze a lot of story into 4K of RAM.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Lighthouse Adventure (1983)

Our journey through The Rainbow Book of Adventures for the TRS-80 Color Computer circa 1983 continues this week, with Chris Wilkinson's Lighthouse Adventure.  Written in BASIC and available as a type-in as well as on tape and disk at the time, this is a treasure hunt with a little more atmosphere (and more typos) than usual -- we're looking for a golden cargo, seized by smugglers and hidden away in late 1700s New England.

The parser is slightly more sophisticated than the norm, as it supports PUTting objects in or on other objects, although usage is sometimes very situational and the dictionary doesn't recognize TAKE, only GET, which kept tripping me up.

I always urge interested readers to venture forth before listening to my own tales of erring-do, as much of the joy of adventuring lies in discovery, and Lighthouse Adventure is a fun but straightforward game that only took me a few hours to play through.  Beyond this point, I will recount my own experience in detail, and there are bound to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

As the game gets underway, we find ourselves standing on a rocky peninsula south of an old lighthouse.  There are some rocks here, and EXAMINE ROCKS reveals that we can GET FLINT.  We have nothing else in inventory at the moment.

The area surrounding our starting point seems to be a maze of rocky ground, so we'll have to come back and map it more carefully.  For now, we'll head north to the ground floor of the lighthouse, with exits leading up, down and back out to the south.

Downstairs is the generator room, with a hole in the wall which we can EXAMINE to see a pulley system, now visible as an object in the room.  EXAMINE GENERATOR similarly reveals a switch.  We can't convince the parser to let us FLIP SWITCH or TURN SWITCH, but if we PULL SWITCH then NOTHING HAPPENS.  Clearly the old facility is in need of some repair.

Heading upstairs, we find a bedroom with a piece of paper prominently displayed.  READ PAPER reveals some clues in the form of a poem:
Presumably the meaning will become clearer later on, probably just after we've died, in the great adventure game tradition.  We can climb further up to the top of the lighthouse, with rocks below and an opening in the wall.  EXAMINE OPENING yields only I CAN SEE DOWN A LONG WAY.  Since we've just started the game, I'll try to GO OPENING and ENTER OPENING, to no avail, and also discover that I DON'T KNOW HOW TO JUMP.  Probably a good thing, that.

The map so far is pretty small, so we'll go back to the basement and mess with the pulley system a little.  It appears to be a dumbwaiter, so we'll try to PULL PULLEY and observe that THE PLATFORM STARTS TO RISE.  The same happens if we PUSH PULLEY, so it appears to be a one-way movement.  And I can't find a way to climb into the hole or otherwise try to ride the dumbwaiter. 

Let's try to map out the peninsula with the few objects we have collected in inventory.  This doesn't take much doing -- there are really only two peninsula "rooms," one of which is the starting location, with all other exits leading to the other room, from which one exit leads west back to the starting location.  So we haven't learned anything new outdoors, and this game's frontiers probably lie within the lighthouse itself; it is the Lighthouse Adventure, after all.

Can we put something in the dumbwaiter?  I try to PUT ROCKS, but before prompting me for a destination, my attempt is greeted with HOW CAN I ; I$ I DON'T HAVE A MUSKET (a little bit of code cleanup missed there, it appears.)  So apparently the rocks are meant as ammunition?  Not so fast -- it seems trying to PUT anything at all produces the same response, so that verb probably has a specific purpose.

What else can we try?  A second EXAMINE GENERATOR reveals a panel, and while we can't examine it (I was picturing a control panel) we can PULL PANEL to open it, revealing A CORRIDOR LEADING DOWN.  Now we're getting somewhere!  Before we head down, I'll examine the generator one more time to see if it's hiding any other secrets, and the third attempt comes up empty.

The passage leads downward to a long corridor carved out of the rock, where a lantern has been left behind for our convenience.  Of course, it has no oil in it, so we can't light it yet.  South of this point we encounter a guard room, with, surprisingly enough, a live guard who WON'T LET ME PASS, and a rope connected to the wall.  EXAMINE GUARD prompts, "WHAT'S THE PASSWORD?"  So we'll have to discover that somewhere.  Fortunately, he's not particularly suspicious and allows us to walk discreetly back north.

To the east, we find a store room, with a tool box, weapon rack, musket, and dagger.  The musket is already loaded, so we don't have to deal with that just yet.  EXAMINE RACK reveals nothing special, but if we OPEN RACK we find some bullets, in case we need to reload.  We have a six-item inventory limit, the game now reveals, so I'll drop the rocks and the piece of paper.  OPEN BOX produces a can of oil, with which we can FILL LANTERN -- WITH WHAT? -- OIL, after which the can mysteriously vanishes along with its contents.

And here I encounter a common adventuring bug -- if we OPEN RACK and OPEN BOX again, the oil and the bullets magically reappear in their original places.  But since we didn't officially DROP them, they're still counted against the inventory limit!  So we can now only carry four items, and we'll have to restart and be careful about trying to break the game logic.  (Actually, using the oil as intended causes this same bug to manifest, so we really have a five-item inventory limit after this point.)

Heading west this time from the corridor entrance, we find a large dining hall sporting a fireplace and a dead smuggler.  EXAMINE SMUGGLER simply verifies that he's dead, but SEARCH SMUGGLER turns up a folded note.  We can READ it to see that THERE'S ONE WORD WRITTEN ON IT ....MARPLE....  Could this be the password?  Or was the smuggler simply an Agatha Christie fan with tattoo plans?

Before we try the password, we'll examine the fireplace to find a cup there.  We can't enter objects in this game, it seems, so we'll take the cup with us and assume there's no secret passage hidden in the fireplace.  The guard room's rope appears to be a bell-pull.  We'll try to SAY MARPLE here... and yes, the guard says, "GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, CAP'N" before vanishing into thin air.  Are these ghost smugglers?

We are now free to head south, but I'll try to PULL ROPE before going there.  NOTHING SEEMED TO HAPPEN?  Okay.  We stroll south into the chart room, where we can EXAMINE MAPS to see RATHER BADLY EXECUTED PICTURES OF ISLANDS WITH LARGE 'X'S DRAWN ON THEM.  (Presumably, all the smuggler's 'X's live in T'X's.)  East of the chart room is the Captain's Room, where a closed coffin is a surprising addition to the expected decor.

We can OPEN COFFIN to find a skeleton, and EXAMINE SKELETON to uncover a PIRATES LOG.  Fortunately, it's the kind we can READ to learn that it was written by a Captain James, lamenting the loss of his crew to one or more serpents (the late captain's lack of punctuation makes it difficult to interpret "THE SERPENTS TAKEN ALL BUT ME.")  This final entry trails off, and doesn't give us a lot of information, though perhaps the aforementioned BEAST is a serpent of some kind.

If we EXAMINE COFFIN, we espy a knob on its bottom and... um... PULL KNOB, opening a hidden door to the north.  This leads to a metal storage cabinet -- these smugglers do maintain a tidy operation -- with a RING (IT LOOKS MAGIC) and a bottle.  The ring has HIEROGLYPHICS AROUND IT, and the bottle contains a liquid we can't seem to identify.  We can WEAR RING -- IT FIT'S [sic] WELL.  And if we FILL CUP -- WITH WHAT? -- BOTTLE, we... encounter an adventure-crashing syntax error in line 166.  I'll go ahead and peek at the BASIC code with a LIST 166, since the error has pinpointed this location, and learn that what was supposed to happen was the cup was supposed to dissolve.  So it's probably a bottle of acid.  Fortunately we can GOTO 31 and continue the adventure; I'll drop the cup, since its only purpose may be to reveal the nature of the liquid.

We can SEARCH FIREPLACE again to spot a button, and PUSH BUTTON to open a secret panel leading north into a narrow path with a lagoon to the west, an exit to the east and a door to the north.  East is a small passageway containing a flute, and we can continue south to an ENOURMOUS [sic] VAULTED CHAMBER containing a TREASURE CHEST!  Hmmmm... something tells me it's not going to be quite this easy.

I guess the ring counts as something beautiful worn, and we ought to be able to play the flute for some music.  We can't OPEN CHEST, though, and EXAMINE CHEST suggests only that it is VERY UTILITARIAN.  These smugglers know their storage, all right. 

What about the door to the north?  If we try to open it, we learn it's jammed shut; actually, examination reveals that it's locked.  The chest is far too heavy to lift.  Can we pour acid on it?  Nope, it seems we can only POUR BOTTLE on something we have in inventory.  READ MAPS establishes that our avatar can't read Spanish.  We can't PUT BOTTLE into the opening at the top of the lighthouse, or anywhere else; now that we have the musket, it appears we just get NO EFFECT from any PUT attempt.

Actually, it turns out we can POUR BOTTLE -- IN OR ON WHAT? -- DOOR, and the jammed door disintegrates.  This allows us to access a large room containing a boat.  I wish this game had a SAVE facility, but we'll have to prepare for the unknown as best we can.  EXAMINE BOAT suggests that IT'S BIG ENOUGH FOR TWO OF ME.  We can't GO BOAT or ENTER BOAT or SET SAIL or LAUNCH BOAT or GET BOAT, but we can SAIL BOAT to find ourselves out on the lagoon.

We can return from the waters by heading E, and floating W, we encounter A HUGE SEA SERPENT!  IT LOOK'S [sic] TERRIBLY FERROCIOUS [sic or ironic]  -- we can try to SHOOT SERPENT, but BULLETS HAVE NO EFFECT ON A SERPENT THIS SIZE.  The musket remains loaded, at least, and we can try to WAVE RING instead... or SHOW RING... nope.  PLAY FLUTE?  Yes!  THE MONSTER SMILES HAPPILY AND DISSAPEARS [sic].

We can now reach a wide beach on the west side of the lagoon, where a trolley stands.  We can GET TROLLEY, so it must not be the streetcar variety, but just in case I'll try to RIDE TROLLEY and BOARD TROLLEY to the expected lack of effect.  What use could this be?  I carry it back to the treasure chest, and nothing visibly changes there.  I try to return to the beach, but I left the flute behind and now the sea serpent has returned, preventing that possibility.  Sigh.

Further exploration establishes that the bell-pull opens and closes the passage from the generator room to the smugglers' area, not of any immediate use.  Oh, here's an idea -- let's try to PUT CHEST -- ON OR IN WHAT? -- TROLLEY.  This works!  It's the British usage of the word, and there's a usage hint right there in The Rainbow Book of Adventures.  The physics aren't really presented in any convincing way here, but we can now GET TROLLEY and wheel the treasure chest out of the caves.

Of course, I CAN'T GET THE TROLLEY UP THE STAIRS once we get back to the generator room, so we'll have to use the dumbwaiter.  We can't PUT TROLLEY anywhere, but we can PUT CHEST -- ON OR IN WHAT? -- HOLE, and then PULL PULLEY to send it to the top of the lighthouse.  We have to put it back on the trolley there, and now we can come back down and exit the lighthouse -- to victory?  Well, we have the treasure chest in hand, but now we're just standing forlornly on the rocky peninsula with it.

I try to GO HOME, but that's not going to work.  How else can we make off with our ill-gotten salvaged gains?  Do we have to open the chest?  We can't THROW CHEST from the top of the lighthouse, but if we DROP CHEST there, it falls and smashes open on the rocks below.

In my haste to exit the lighthouse and recover the treasure from the rocks, however, I accidentally overstep by one move and find myself in the generator room again, where I run into a fatal bug.  I can't go back upstairs with the trolley in hand, once I've found it, and even if I DROP TROLLEY the game continues to insist I can't go upstairs, rendering me a prisoner.  And I can't PUT the TROLLEY itself in the dumbwaiter, only when it's attached to the chest, which is no longer possible!  So I've gotten myself trapped here, within what seems like an inch of victory.

Having one more go from the start, we manage to get out of the lighthouse to see the gold bullion scattered at its base.  Fortunately, all we have to do is GET BULLION -- no, whoops, GET GOLD -- and victory is ours!

Lighthouse Adventure is a fun little treasure hunt, despite a few bugs.  It manages to convey a sense of its world with minimal text, and I appreciated its logical puzzles that reward careful exploration.  I took a peek at the source code after finishing and it looks like we can try to shoot at the guard -- confirming he is a ghost as the bullets pass through him -- and we can also blow the door away with the musket, instead of using the acid.  The attention to detail is unusual for a type-in game, and Mr. Wilkinson is to be commended for allowing a variety of approaches.  A pleasantly brief adventure.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Search For The Ruby Chalice (1983)

It's summertime, and I've been spending the month of August working my way through several contest-winning amateur adventures for the TRS-80 Color Computer, published in The Rainbow Book of Adventures in early 1983.  This week, we're tackling Search For The Ruby Chalice, submitted to The Rainbow magazine by Justin Paola, and written in BASIC.  I'm playing the version made available on a supplemental disk, avoiding any bugs or typographical corrections introduced by secondhand type-ins, running via the VCC emulator.

As the title quite honestly suggests, Search for the Ruby Chalice is a traditional treasure quest -- we have to find the ruby chalice hidden somewhere underground, after crash-landing with our pilot near PARTIALLY EXPLORED JUNGLE.  We're also warned about A TRIBE OF HEAD HUNTERS IN THE VICINITY!!!   The parser responds quickly -- the CoCo's sprightly 6809E processor benefits the BASIC interpreter -- though it has an unusual and annoying habit of clearing the screen whenever it processes a command, rather than maintaining the room display at the top.  And there's no SAVE GAME available, so we may be restarting from scratch on occasion.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to Search for the Ruby Chalice firsthand before reading further, as my notes are likely to give away all the surprises.  It's not a difficult game, though there is a straightforward cheat that comes in handy if multiple deaths converge on the poor player at the same time.  To protect the game's integrity for those who wish me to do so, I'll wait to reveal that information as part of all of the other...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin in our pontoon plane, with an exit to the west and our pilot visible.  INV (not I) reveals we are carrying NOT A THINGLOOK PILOT establishes that HE LOOKS HEALTHY AND READY TO FLY YOU AWAY.  We can't TALK PILOT or ASK PILOT anything, but we can try to FLY -- of course, we are told that we need to retrieve the chalice first.  Rules are rules.

Exiting the plane to the west, we discover our base camp already established, so why did we start out inside the plane?  Well, anyway, there are some useful adventuring tools available here -- a gun, some matches, a snake bite kit (o foreshadowing!) and a magnifying glass.  We'll take all of these with us, naturally.

Heading west again brings us to a savanna with a river, VERY HOT AND DRY (the savanna, we presume), where we can acquire a torch and an ancient cloth.  READ seems to be a synonym for LOOK here -- we're not given any text, but the parser suggests we'd better keep the cloth, as it LOOKS VERY INTERESTING.  We can head north or further west from here.

West brings us to more of the savanna, where a *GOLD NUGGET is visible, suggesting that the ruby chalice isn't the only treasure in this game.  But alas, six items is our inventory limit, so we can't carry it along just yet.  We'll go further west to see yet more savanna, with a *TRANSLATION BOOK handy.  And I just now realize that all items are listed with a leading asterisk, so it doesn't necessarily denote something is a treasure, something to keep in mind when we have our own * (thanks, Ogden Nash!)

To the west again we find more savanna, and we're seeing passages north pretty consistently, so the map may be roughly rectangular.  We'll keep mapping it out... at what seems to be the western edge of the map, we find a clearing with a waterfall.  We can't GO WATERFALL -- unusual in these games -- and if we try to SWIM, we are told THERE'S NOTHING TO SWING ON, as the parser recognizes only three characters and in this case they are reserved for a different purpose.  But that does kind of qualify as a hint for future reference.

Let's head back east and start exploring the region north of the territory we've charted so far.  The river must border the map's southern edge, as going north we're no longer in sight of it.  The area immediately north of the torch and cloth location contains a coil of rope, which we're really wishing we could carry right now.  We can travel north again to an area with a jade ceremonial necklace and one exit to the west.

Stepping west leads us immediately into dense jungle, so dark we can't see.  It appears to be a maze, but fortunately we can walk back east the way we came in.  We'll want the torch in here, but let's do some more exploration first.

As I head back south, we receive a WARNING, A WILD CAT JUST LEAPED AT YOU!!!  And when I try to LOOK to see if the cat is still nearby or just attempting a leap-by assassination, THE CAT SERIOUSLY INJURED YOU AND YOU DIED!!! TRY AGAIN!!!  So death comes suddenly here, it seems.

Trying again, we map a little more of the savanna.  There's an EASILY CLIMBEABLE [sic] TREE north of the gold nugget, and heading U lets us observe a cliff to the west, a large rock slab to the north, a lake to the east, and a river to the south.  I run into the wild cat again, but this time an immediate SHOOT GUN scares the animal away.

North of the translation book is a high canopy jungle, where we see a *SPEAR WITH STRANGE LETTERING.  If we have the translation book, we can READ SPEAR to learn that it translates as "XYLO."   Hmmmm.  West is more high canopy jungle, and a kiwi fruit.

Heading north, we wander into a village where a stereotypical *GROUP OF MEAN LOOKING HEAD HUNTERS resides.  The group DAMANDS [sic] THAT YOU GIVE THEM A TREASURE, and as I fail to do so immediately because the wild cat has returned at the same time, my head is forfeit and the game ends.

At least we're getting close to having the map filled in, if we can navigate the jungle at least.  I'll try to solve the head hunter puzzle too -- but they don't seem interested in the gold nugget, no matter whether I try to GIVE or THROW or DROP it, so we'll have to find another treasure to appease them.  Maybe the jade necklace?  We can't GET NECKLACE, we have to GET JADE... but they don't seem to consider that a treasure either.

So let's LIGHT TORCH and map the jungle.  The entrance area west of the jade necklace room contains a jug of water, which we'll leave here as a landmark for now.  South returns to the high canopy area with the spear, north leads to a clearing with the rock slab we saw earlier from the treetops.  Examination suggests that the rock slab opens and closes, but we can't PUSH or PULL or MOVE or OPEN it at the moment.

The jungle isn't actually a maze, as it turns out, just a dark area we can't pass productively through without the torch; we can see the exits, but not the objects present.  We find an inflatable raft in an area along the north side of the map, east of a cliffside clearing containing a compressed air cylinder.

South from the cliffside we encounter the head hunter village again -- and this time I notice I've been responding inappropriately to the changed prompt, WHAT TREASURE DO YOU DROP?  So I've been answering with various commands while the parser just wants a noun, immediately.  I try offering the NECKLACE, even though I don't have it with me, and THEY ACCEPTED IT, a handy bug if we have to pass through here again.  Emerging from the jungle, I see that the jade necklace is no longer in its normal location, but as long as we can produce it out of thin air we should be okay.

So... it seems we've mapped out the game world, but we haven't made any substantial headway toward finding the ruby chalice.  What can we do with the raft?  While juggling inventory, I drop the snake bite kit, and as luck would have it, almost immediately get bitten by a snake.  Before I die two turns later, we also hit the customary YOU ARE THIRSTY warning, but that's the least of my worries as the game is once again over.

The fatalities are getting annoying, so just as an experiment I try to fake the BASIC code out by using the CONTinue command at the operating system prompt to keep going after death ends the game.  And this actually works, in a way -- the parser gives us a new prompt, allowing us to sneak one postmortem move in before we die again, so even as we continue perishing of snake bites and dehydration, we can fight our way gradually to where we can do something about it.  I'll try not to abuse this, but it comes in very handy when we face competing deaths at the same time -- there isn't, for example, time to USE KIT and DRINK WATER before one or the other does us in, so it's handy to be able to reincarnate after fixing one problem.

We can INFLATE RAFT with the air cylinder, but it doesn't seem to be useable by the river -- it must be meant for the lake.  We hear a SCREAM FROM THE EAST when we revisit our base camp while trying to find our way there... and aboard the plane, we find our pilot, decapitated.  Not good.

We can't give up now, though.  Can we tie the rope to something for swinging?  There's nothing to tie it to in the treetop, it seems, nor at the cliffside to lower ourselves down.  We can't USE RAFT, though the parser suggests trying another verb; I try to LAUNCH RAFT and GO RAFT to no avail, but FLOAT RAFT produces a more helpful response: YOU ARE NOT NEXT TO A RIVER YOU FOOL.

This fool accordingly goes to the river, only to learn that YOU SHOULD GET THE CHALICE BEFORE YOU GO DOWN THE RIVER.  So it seems the river will be our escape route, since our pilot clearly isn't going to be flying.  I'll leave the raft by the waterfall for the sake of inventory slots; since we have to keep the gun, the snake bite kit, the torch and the jug of water handy at all times, we really only have two free slots with which to juggle other necessities.

What next?  As I'm experimenting, the wild cat shows up for the... well, apparently the seventh time, as I can't SHOOT GUN because I am out of bullets.  So we're starting over yet again.

I've been thinking that XYLO (from the spear) is meant to suggest we play something like  a xylophone, or find another piece of equipment with more of the clue, but it now occurs to me that maybe it's just a magic word on its own.  SAY XYLO at the rock slab doesn't do anything, but invoking XYLO alone causes the slab to rumble open, revealing a cave below. 

The cave features a viper pit room, with a hook above and vipers below.  This proves to be a suitable place to TIE ROPE, giving us a HOOK ON CIELING [sic] WITH ROPE TIED TO IT.  We can now SWING ROPE to the east side of the pit, swinging precariously over the vipers; perhaps WEEEEE!!! isn't actually a misspelling, under the circumstances.  We pass through a long east-west corridor, to find...

The Chalice Room!  This seems a little anticlimactic, as we can simply TAKE CHALICE and it wasn't particularly hard to get here.  On the way back out, we check the area south of the cave entrance -- there are some indecipherable hieroglyphics here.  Curious, I fetch the translation book, dropping the ancient cloth in the process, and return -- the translation says, "DO NOT GO FURTHER THAN THE EAST VIPER ROOM WITHOUT THE ANCIENT CLOTH OR YOU WILL BE PIERCED BY ARROWS."  I had good, if dumb, luck on that count, then!

It seems we're close to the end of the story now, at any rate.  I inflate the raft, FLOAT RAFT by the waterfall, and we emerge from the jungle victorious!

I was a bit surprised that we weren't admonished for failing to bring the gold nugget or jade necklace along as bonus treasure, since it's possible to avoid the headhunters completely and avoid giving either of them up, but there's nothing wrong with focusing on a single objective.  I also took a post-game look at the source code -- the pilot doesn't necessarily have to die, as it turns out; if we find the chalice and return to the plane within 100 moves, we can fly away to what seems to me a slightly happier ending.

Search For The Ruby Chalice isn't a bad game, in its brief, old-school way -- the puzzles are logical or at least guessable, and I didn't have to consult the source code to solve anything, though I did take advantage of the unintended continue feature.  Like many magazine type-in adventures of the early 1980s, Justin Paola's effort provides a few hours of decent, straightforward text adventuring.  There's nothing at all wrong with that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Horror House (1983)

This week, we're entering the Horror House, another contest entry from The Rainbow Book of Adventures, published in 1983 as both a magazine-style "book" collecting the type-in listings and a collection on tape or disk, ready to run.  This adventure was written in BASIC by Robert W. Mangum II.

I couldn't initially get the game running on the VCC CoCo emulator running Disk Extended Basic -- I was stuck on a series of flashing pink and green screens, which I was supposed to use to select one of the available text mode color sets.  Starting the program up with RUN 5 instead skips over a POKE command that may have been the source of my problem, skips the author's time-consuming title screen, and gets us underway more quickly. 

Horror House is a text adventure/RPG hybrid -- several screens of instructions establish that we're exploring a monster-infested house, where we have to PUNCH or HIT the monsters to defeat them without running out of hit points ourselves.  Our health regenerates at 1 point per ten turns, and every 50 turns one of the monsters is reincarnated.  After all the monsters are vanquished, we're told that the computer will be destroyed by an explosion.  Scary!  We can also REST once to regain all of our HP and reincarnate all of the monsters.  The parser vocabulary is helpfully displayed, limited to MOVE/PULL/PUSH, PUT/LEAVE/DROP, N/S/E/W for navigation, INSERT, LOOK, REST, and GET/TAKE.

This one's actually fairly fun to play -- success is partially random due to the combat-heavy gameplay, but it's a pleasant diversion and I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying it out.  As always, my further notes here will detail my entire experience in the Horror House.  So if you want to experience it firsthand, step away and go do so, because otherwise you will be subjected to the comprehensive...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

As the game starts up, it becomes clear that the rooms are very generic, with no descriptions of specific locations -- we have to differentiate rooms based on the exit list and any objects that happen to be present, so mapping is a necessity.  The first room has exits to the north and west, and we can see the closed, locked door we just came in through.  We can't KICK DOOR or OPEN DOOR, and if we try to PUNCH DOOR, IT IS NOT HEREHIT DOOR suggests that YOU MUST HAVE THE SWORD, so finding that may be our most pressing need at the moment.

There's a hideous statue in the room to the west; we can MOVE STATUE to find a blue coin underneath it, but the statue also comes to life!  Fortunately it's not a very formidable foe -- it kept missing me while I slowly PUNCHed it to death.  And we might as well TAKE BLUE COIN (TAKE COIN doesn't work, the parser considers it to be a BLUE COIN and not a COIN.)

North of the entrance is a room with exits in all four directions.  Heading east and south, we discover a room with a vending machine and a giant crab.  The crab is a more formidable foe -- I had to fight pretty hard and lost about a third of my health before killing it.  The vending machine reads, "DRINK CREATURE COLA."  I tried to INSERT BLUE COIN, but while the machine accepted it nothing seemed to happen as a result.

There's nothing in the room to the west of the four-way room, and the north exit leads to a T-shaped room with exits east and west.  East is a bedroom, where I run into the giant crab again.  After killing it, we can MOVE BED to find an exit to the west, leading to a gargoyle.  He's a pretty tough customer, so I'll gamble and try leaving the gargoyle room to the north -- the monster doesn't actually block our way, so we're free to explore some more.

We're in another T-shaped room, and east/southeast down a bit of a hall I encounter a minotaur... and a sword!  Killing the minotaur takes a little bit of time, and these random battles prove to be rather comical, as both the player and monster spend a lot of time missing each other, with both combatants much less competent than fantasy lore would have one believe.  The sword bears the legend, "MONSTER SLAYER," just in case we didn't think to use it that way.

There's a computer in a room to the south, and while we're pondering that, A SNAKE JUST ENTERED ROOM!  It seems some of these monsters are of the wandering variety.  The computer is a 64K COLOR COMPUTER.  I try to READ COMPUTER, and the parser takes it as REST, so I am back up to full health but all of the monsters are alive again.  Curses!

Well, I'm not really trying to kill all of the monsters yet -- I'm just trying to map the place out.  I find a room on the west side of the house containing a rat and a cassette tape.  Killing the rat isn't too difficult, and we'll TAKE CASSETTE; it's labeled 5452532D3830, which if we assume these are two-character hexadecimal ASCII codes, translates to... TRS-80.  So it's not much of a clue.

There are some suspicious holes in what appears to be a 6 x 5 map on my graph paper, so it's not too surprising that when we INSERT CASSETTE in the computer room, a new exit opens up to the east.  We meet a goblin here, another toughish customer to dispatch, and can wander into the southern central area of the map to meet a zombie guarding a gold coin.  I'm not sure if we're supposed to want these treasures, but we might as well take it along after dealing with the walking dead.

There's only one room we haven't explored yet, it appears, in the southeast corner of the house, where an orc lives.  None of these monsters are too difficult to kill, but we do have to be careful as some of them can do a fair amount of damage if by chance they connect with an attack.  We've explored the map, as far as I can tell, so it's time to wander around and kill all of the beasties.

It appears that the living statue does not return to life after being terminated, or else it wanders off after it's reincarnated.  I do meet a new monster -- a skeleton in the vending machine room I managed not to run into before.  I dispatch it, and the giant crab, without too much trouble, and then run into the rat again.  This time I get it down to 1 hit point, and it runs away!  When I catch up with it, it's in the same room as the zombie and the gargoyle, and together they manage to overpower me before I can kill them all.

Trying again from the beginning -- there's no SAVE GAME in this brief adventure -- I kill the statue and gargoyle by punching, then use the sword to slay the minotaur, the statue (again, it does indeed reincarnate), the snake, the rat, the goblin, the orc, and the zombie.  I'm missing the crab and the skeleton, I think.  While looking for them, I find and kill the rat again, and the minotaur again, and the crab, and the minotaur a third time, and the crab a second time.  It appears that the monsters are not forced to actually navigate the maze, but can reincarnate at any random location.

So where is the skeleton?  While I'm looking for it, I find a PILE OF JUNK has materialized in one of the rooms, and LOOK PILE reveals a red coin.  Ah, this is the computer room!  So we must have destroyed all of the monsters, and the computer has exploded as promised.  Can we open the closed door by the entrance now?  Nope.

What else?  I am not seeing any monsters lately, so I think we have indeed dispatched them all, even though I never ran into the skeleton this time.  Let's try putting all three coins into the vending machine... and yes, A KEY FALLS TO THE FLOOR.  (We can't see it in the room if we LOOK after this happens, but we can still TAKE KEY successfully.)

Now we just have to INSERT KEY at the closed door, with no pesky monsters bothering us on the way there, and we can escape to victory!

Horror House isn't much of an adventure game, but it makes effective use of limited computing resources to present a simple, entertaining monster hunt.  The battles are randomized enough to provide some close calls and drama, and the timed reincarnation of the monsters makes the final leg of the trip fairly tough, though the final journey to victory is comparatively relaxing once all the monsters are dead.  Not a lost classic, but Mr. Mangum's game is fun and certainly not terrible by magazine type-in standards.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Mystic Mansion (1983)

This week, my TRS-80 Color Computer adventuring binge continues, as we tackle Chris Hawks' Mystic Mansion, published in 1983.  It's a menu-driven illustrated adventure, with no parser per se, written in BASIC with picture files loaded from disk.  I've been reading some old issues of the CoCo magazine The Rainbow lately, and this game was being advertised for sale circa early 1983, but I hadn't run across it in my travels until just now.

The opening instructions tell us we must escape the mansion, which was built by AN EVIL MAN!!!, and escape the island where the mansion stands as well.  It's pretty standard escape-the-house fare.

I'm not going to recommend that anyone else tackle Mystic Mansion, as the design really doesn't play fair -- the puzzles are straightforward, but the game is very strict about how and when we do things.  There are invisible triggers that make no story sense, and I had to dig into the code several times to figure out how to finish it even when I knew what I was trying to do.  It is entirely possible to complete the game without cheating, but it's not easy to pull off without a lot of tedious repetition.  So to save humanity the pain of actually playing Mystic Mansion, I invite everyone to jump straight into the...

**** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin in the Mystic Mansion's Drawing Room, and can choose to go through the green door (G), the red door (R) or (U)p the stairs.  The game is entirely prompt driven, with a limited menu of choices provided in each location and the occasional Y/N question.  For the sake of brevity (I know, not my style!) I'll omit listing the menu options and just discuss the actions we can take along the way.

The green door leads to the Master Bedroom, where we can examine a picture, look out the window, check out the closet or go back through the green door.  The picture depicts a sun, with text suggesting THE WAY OUT IS A LOWLY ONE  -- LOOK IN AN UNKNOWN PLACE FOR THE KEY.  The window provides a view of a lake with a sailboat.  The closet contains another small door -- we can enter, it's not locked, but it's too dark to see inside at the moment.

The drawing room's red door leads to the Parlor, and it appears we can't go back directly, at least at first.  A window here is painted over, or is just a painting, the text isn't very clear; the picture on the wall depicts a sunrise, with no visible text or other details.  A green door here leads to the Kitchen -- windows look out on a tree-speckled hillside, and examining the cabinets turns up a lamp, always helpful.  And the parlor's blue door leads back to the drawing room -- the door is just painted red on one side, blue on the other.  Whew!

Let's head upstairs before we try our luck in the closet with the lamp.  A picture in the Upstairs Hall looks very much like the one in the parlor.  A red door provides access to the Study, where we find a book called "FALL OF ROMAN EMPIRE," apparently abridged or written by the Incredible Hulk.  The window offers the same view of the hillside we saw from the kitchen -- it seems the uncompressed picture file approach has its limitations.  A closet in the study is locked, so we'll return to the hall and take the blue door into a Small Bedroom, sharing the view visible from the master bedroom; a box here contains a gold chain.

It seems we're rapidly exhausting the options here, so let's take our lamp through the closet's little doorway.  This is a Secret Room!  There are two items here we can examine -- a chest and a sack.  The chest offers -- !!!!SPIDERS!!!!, whose bite puts us to sleep for a while, presented as a lengthy pause in the gameplay.  When we examine the sack, we find a key.  So let's go upstairs and try the key on the locked closet in the study.

The spider bites persist, it seems, so we're forced to sleep every now and then though it seems there are no fatal side effects... oh, wait, that was apparently only temporary.  We eventually do die, so next life we'll avoid opening the chest at all.

Now this gets interesting -- my second venture suggests that some things are randomized?  The box in the small bedroom upstairs is empty this time, although the lamp is where it was before, in the kitchen cabinet.  The sack is also empty, but the chest contains spiders again, dang it.  Or... wait, things are randomized each time we look?  Trying the box again, I find the gold chain again.  And the sack now yields a key.  Strange.  But I again die of spider bites while trying to reach the closet to try the key, so I'll restart from a fresh run this time.

Even with freshly initialized variables, the sack can be empty when we're expecting to find a key based on previous experience.  And it seems to stay empty now.  So some event must trigger the sack to contain the key.  Interesting.  Trying the locked closet door doesn't seem to be a factor, nor does finding the gold chain.  Well, this is a fine kettle of arachnids -- it seems we have to get bitten by the spiders in order to find the key!

Fighting our way through spider-sleep, we at last unlock the study closet, and fall down into the darkness... saved by the snagging of our gold chain on a root!  We can crawl through a hole here to find ourselves in the BASMENT [sic].

A box on the floor is nailed shut, but a shelf contains a prying bar so we can open the box.  Inside is a trap door, which we can choose to enter or not.  It leads into a tunnel with light at the end, but we find a note saying we have to touch the mystic medallion to the door, a gewgaw we do not have, so we're forced to turn back.  And now I'm dead, yet again, of spider bites.

This time I'll do a full reset of the virtual CoCo before I start, in case the code doesn't properly initialize memory.  And... the sack is empty, again, until I open the chest and take my spider bites, at which point the sack magically reveals the key.  And this time, the box is empty, so I don't see any way to keep myself from falling eternally down the closet hole.  Ack!

I think it's time to peek at the code -- I feel like the designer is being unfair, so I'm going to return the favor.  We can only survive four spider bites, and yes, the key cannot be found until we have been bitten once.  And the gold chain only appears if LP = 1 -- meaning it's only available after we pick up the lamp but before we pick up the key; I just lucked into the right order the first time I played.  (I'm also going to edit line 1920 to increase the spider bite survival time -- I'm hoping there's an antidote somewhere in the game, but since we can't save a game in progress I'd like to survive a little longer while figuring this out.  I also edited line 1940 to shorten the spider bite sleep time, which can be up to a minute normally and really slows down the gameplay.)

After getting back to where we were the last time we succumbed, I check out the drain hole in the basement again -- and it seems every time we do this, we get bitten by a spider, so it's a very easy way to die quickly.  Going through the door leads us back into the house, apparently.  I check the pictures and windows again while we're here to see if we can find that medallion the note mentioned, to no avail.  And when we fall through the closet a second time, the chain no longer saves us, and we fall to our doom... or, at least, we are advised to WRITE WHEN YOU GET TO CHINA!
Another try... avoiding the door in the basement this time, we'll explore the trap door in the box.  This is just the tunnel where we need the mystic medallion to proceed.  And it seems we can only pry the box open to go through the trap door one time, as well, so we really need the medallion before we enter the closet.  Aggravating.  Ah, wait, we can look at the shelf again to regain the prying bar and reuse it.  So this one isn't so bad, then... although it seems we still go into the tunnel, whether we answer Y or N to the prompt asking us if we want to when we open the box.  And we also learn that the basement door actually transports us to a random location in the mansion.

Before I die this time, I examine the painted window in the parlor -- and lo and behold, this time we find the fabled medallion!  How odd, I'm sure I checked this earlier.  And the box upstairs no longer holds the gold chain, and as there's no visible inventory I'm not sure if it survived the earlier fall, so I'm not quite sure how to approach that issue.  I fear it's time to cheat some more... the code indicates that we can only find the medallion if DR=1, a variable set when we approach the end of the tunnel but don't have it with us.  No a priori knowledge allowed.

I'm fed up enough with this game's demands that I'm ready to seriously cheat, breaking out of the code and setting DR=1 manually in the early going so I can get the medallion.  With that simplification, all we really have to do is reach the basement and go through the tunnel to the waiting sailboat -- victory is ours!

Feeling more than a little guilty, I spent some additional time poring over the BASIC code and experimenting with the game, trying to figure out if I had missed some more natural solution.  It actually is possible to win playing by the rules, but we have to do everything exactly as the game demands.  The key is to avoid traversing the spider bite locations more than once -- they are not timed, but location-triggered -- after we've examined the chest, and to be lucky enough that the magic door doesn't drop us in the wrong location.  Passing through the door resets the bite count to one, but if we land in the drawing room (as I did my first time getting that far) we'll get bitten three more times, twice in the drawing room and once in the study, and thus die before we can make it back to the tunnel.  We also have to be careful with the chain due to a bug that I didn't realize I was running into -- if we already have the chain, but we examine the box in the small bedroom, we'll be told the box is empty; but when we leave the room, we'll actually lose the gold chain!

This was more of a meta-adventure than a legitimate experience; I think I spent more time examining the source code than actually playing the game.  Perhaps it's a meta-reference, and the game itself was also written by AN EVIL MAN!!!  In the end, the most mystifying thing about Mystic Mansion is that the game retailed for $29.95 back in the day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Polynesian Adventure (1983)

Last week's excursion into Lurkley Manor inspired me to seek out further TRS-80 Color Computer adventures from the pages of The Rainbow magazine; I had almost forgotten that several adventure-focused issues were published over the years.  I tracked down a readable PDF file of the January 1983 adventure issue, and was actually considering typing in one of the contest-winning games the old-fashioned way.  But further research turned up a collection of disk image files containing the entire Rainbow Book of Adventures, including eleven more contest entries which were described but not printed in the magazine.  And so it is that this week, as a more-or-less random selection, we're playing through Polynesian Adventure, submitted by Don Dunlap.

The interface borrows from the Scott Adams style, with an upper window displaying location, obvious exits, and objects, and a bottom section for command entry and feedback.  It runs at good speed for a BASIC game, and while the simple music commended by the Rainbow judges at the time no longer impresses, Polynesian Adventure remains an attractively presented game that fits the CoCo's limited 32x16-character text mode well.

Interested readers are encouraged to take a Polynesian Adventure of their own before reading my playthrough notes below, of course.  It's not a difficult game at all -- most of the treasures are simply lying around for the taking, the map is not large, and there are no fatal puzzles.  But simplicity can be deceptive; I tripped myself up near the end by assuming I was keeping all the details straight in my head, when I should have been drawing a map.  At any rate, my experience (embarrassing details and all) is documented below, and therefore there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin at a Polynesian Treasure House, though there are no treasures visible here, so we'll step outside to the south.  This brings us to a road, where a Trans Am car looks interesting; there's no EXAMINE verb, but if we GO CAR we can LOOK COMPARTMENT to examine the glove compartment.  Inside is a boarding pass, which we will presumably be needing at some point.  We can try to DRIVE, but I CAN'T DO THAT.

Getting out of the car proves a bit of a puzzle -- there are no obvious exits, and EXIT, GET OUT and OPEN DOOR all fail miserably.  We have to GO OUT, at which point we can explore a discount store to the west to pick up an empty gas can, and a gas station to the east where we can FILL CAN.  Oddly, if we try to FILL CAR now, we're told that YOU'RE MISSING SOMETHING, but we can FILL TANK successfully; it seems the parser often focuses on the verb and a small collection of valid objects, which sometimes leads to strange behavior.  The display doesn't always indicate nearby objects, either, so we have to remember what we're doing and where we are on our own sometimes.

With a full gas tank, we can DRIVE to find ourselves on a pier near a boat.  It turns out to be the Love Boat (remember, this was 1983) -- it's not very big, with just a dining room and a hallway leading to the cabins for us to explore.  READ PASS tells us that our cabin number is G7 and our table is A1, so we can go to the dining room, GO A1, steal the *SILVERWARE* there, and then go the cabins and GO G7 to get our voyage underway... and pocket the *GOLD NECKLACE* apparently provided in lieu of a complimentary mint.  We achieve no SCORE for just picking these things up, though; we'll probably have to take them back to the Polynesian Treasure House at the end of our voyage.

Our first stop on this cruise brings us to a Samoan Village, where we see a pink hibiscus.  We can't TAKE it, LOOK at it or MOVE it, but if we SMELL it we are stung by a bee and rushed back aboard the boat for medical treatment.  Fortunately, this doesn't otherwise interfere with our adventuring.  We can see a FIRE KNIFE DANCER in the community house, though we can't GIVE him or her a treasure or anything.  And we can GET PEARLS from the council house, robbing the local community of its poorly-guarded assets.  We'll GO BOAT this time, even though it's not immediately clear that we can do that, to save ourselves the sting and ensuing medical treatment.

We GO G7 again, and when we emerge from our cabin and debark again, we find ourselves near a Maori village, with a colorful red tulip tree at hand, the smelling of which earns us nothing but another bee sting.  We can loot the local museum of its *VALUABLE RELICS*, without a second thought, although at this point we learn that YOU'RE TOO WEAK TO CARRY ANYMORE, i.e., we've hit the game's five-item inventory limit.  We'll have to risk leaving our treasures in our cabin, it seems, and as there's no SAVE game command and entering the cabin automatically moves us along to the next stop on the cruise, I'll just start over in case we can't come back here later.

Our next stop turns out to be Fiji, where a beautiful plumeria tempts us into getting stung once again.  The local chief's house sports *A DIAMOND HEADED SPEAR*, and a nearby hut contains Tonga coins which are not denoted as a treasure.  We'll steal them anyway, since we're not like those other suckers on this trip who are probably just here for the scenery.

Next up, Tahiti, where *A HAWAIIAN ORCHID* greets us -- it can also result in a sting, but we'll steal it as subtly suggested by the glittering asterisks.  In a prayer house to the south, a group of Boy Scouts is singing "Kum Ba Ya," and we can lift an *EXQUISITE CARVING OF A FISH* from a fisherman's house to the east.  Back to the boat!

We now find ourselves in a Tonga village -- maybe we need to spend those coins here.  There's a waterfall here, and for once in adventuring history we can't GO WATERFALL to reach a hidden cave of any kind.  A Queen's Bedroom to the south contains a bird of paradise, though the parser doesn't recognize BIRD as a noun so we can't really interact with it.  A Tongan Festival offers FREE HULA LESSONS, but we can't TAKE LESSONS or LEARN HULA just for fun.  No treasures here, apparently -- maybe we've been preceded by fellow looters.

Next stop -- Marquesas!  An active volcano looks scary, and in a cooking house to the south we can see *A GOLD KNIFE (VERY HOT)*, too hot to GET, apparently.  There's a guest house to the east of the cooking house, a tattooing house north of that, and a warrior's house to the east of the tattooing house, where we can acquire *AN EMERALD STATUE*.  We'll have to come back for the knife when we can figure out a solution; for now we'll proceed to...

Our original location again!  Of course, we aren't carrying our treasures, having left them in the cabin, so we'll have to tour the circuit again until we can unload.  We'll do that, returning to our cabin six times to complete the trip, and then DRIVE back to the Polynesian Treasure House.  Dropping the four treasures we can carry (along with our boarding pass, which it seems we ought to keep) gets us up to a SCORE of 40 out of 100, so there must be ten treasures to collect, of which we have found eight so far.

On our next circuit, let's see if we can do something with the Tonga coins.  We can't GIVE or THROW them to the fire knife dancer, and DROP COINS doesn't catch anyone's attention either.  The Boy Scouts aren't interested in our money, and the game's design, which plays a room's theme music whenever the location is entered or re-displayed, forces us to listen to three renditions of Kum Ba Ya while we DROP and GET our coins back.  Our money is no good at the Tongan Festival either.  But while I'm here, I realize that I forgot to head east from the Queen's bedroom, into the Queen's Bed.  There's a *BEAUTIFUL WOVEN MAT* here, which we can steal.  Fortunately there don't seem to be any antiquities officials on the lookout for globe-trotting, heritage-plundering adventurers like us!

We can't READ MAT -- it just reads our boarding pass instead, another case of a single-purpose verb.  The hot knife can't be KICKed or MOVEd or BLOWn on or FANned, it seems, and I can't find a way to carry water from the waterfall to cool it down.  Trying to PICK KNIFE provokes another verb anomaly and gets us sent back to the boat, as it is unlawful to pick flowers.

Four more treasures dropped off gets us up to 80 points, and it occurs to me that the gas can, now empty, might be useful for carrying water.  But we can't seem to FILL CAN at the waterfall, or GET WATER either; the gas can can only be used to carry gas, it seems.  The fire knife dancer might be able to handle the hot knife... but we can't PAY DANCER, GET DANCER, ASK DANCER, or TALK DANCER... so that doesn't seem like a good idea.

And I seem to have misplaced the Tonga Coins altogether somewhere along the way... hmmmm.  I guess it's time to cheat and peek at the original BASIC listing from the Rainbow Book of Adventures.  We're on the right track with the idea of using water to cool the knife, some text fragments suggest, but we have to jump through a few hoops now.  I had filled the gas can at the station again, and while we can't FILL TANK at the pier to empty it, we can do so after we drive back to the road where we first found the car.

Now that we have an empty can again, where can we fill it with water?  I've tried the pier, the boat's boarding area, and the waterfall location.  The FILL CAN code only responds in locations 3 and 17; 3 is the gas station, and 17 is the... lagoon?  Where is there a lagoon???

Oh, man, it's right there, just east of the Maori museum!  I guess I was too busy helping myself to the relics to finish my map -- actually, because this game only has a handful of locations, I hadn't even bothered to draw a map.  My mistake -- my incomplete tracking of the obvious exits displayed onscreen made for tougher going than necessary.

Now we can FILL CAN at the lagoon, POUR CAN on the hot knife (we're not allowed to do this when the can contains gas), take the now-cold knife, and deliver it to the Treasure House.

The final tune, for some reason, is Amazing Grace -- I don't feel particularly amazing or graceful.  But victory is ours!

Some non-commercial adventure games are really easy, and Polynesian Adventure is hardly difficult, but my experience here confirms that observation always remains important, even when there are no mazes and the puzzle solutions seem obvious.  Mr. Dunlap's effort provided a pleasant evening's diversion, and I'm planning to dig into some of the other Rainbow magazine adventures now that I've located this treasure trove.  Forward, into the past!