Monday, August 24, 2009

The Great Scott Project - Adventure #5

We're one week into The Great Scott Project, and we're already up to Adventure #5: The Count. And we're not talking about Count Cristo this time -- from the vintage Adventure International catalog:

You wake up in a large brass bed in a castle somewhere in Transylvania. Who are you, what are you doing here, and why did the postman deliver a bottle of blood? You’ll love this adventure, in fact, you might say it’s Love at First Byte…

This is the only Adventure I've encountered in the journey so far that doesn't quite work in a modern interpreter -- one puzzle depends on a brief light illuminating the room just long enough to read the description and spot a significant object, and the display flickers by WAY too quickly in ScottFree 1.02 on a modern PC. So we'll be playing this one in its S.A.G.A. edition for the Atari 800 computer, via Richard Lawrence's Atari800Win emulator.

The attractive title screen features an unusually genial vampire who bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Adams:

The Atari edition has a painful game saving and loading process -- it requires creation of a separate formatted save disk (image) that has to be (virtually) swapped in and out of the (emulated) disk drive each time. But in general, the S.A.G.A. experience on the Atari 800 is better than on the ZX Spectrum we used for Mission Impossible -- the graphics are larger onscreen and much more accommodating, courteously disappearing to reveal the text whenever the player starts typing. There's also a graphic display of the player's inventory, though it's pretty hard to figure out what some items are from the pictures, and a funny "It's Too Dark To See!" graphic. I'm not positive about this, but I get the impression the Atari version's graphics aren't drawn procedurally with vectors and fills -- they don't take advantage of the Atari hardware's broader color palette, and appear to be bitmaps converted from the Apple II originals, complete with red/blue color artifacting.

I was able to keep the S.A.G.A. graphics turned on for this Adventure, and I discovered that the room displays never quite map to my own mental model of the setting. I tend to think of NORTH as my forward-facing direction, side-stepping EAST and WEST so I can keep my internal orientation clear. I was reminded by this playthrough that text adventures exist primarily in the mind of the player -- we really do fill in the missing details for ourselves, with distinct and consistent ideas about where things are in each room. The in-game images are much more concrete, presenting an artist's vision that's usually very different from my mental picture. I don't think it's an improvement, though I understand the market conditions that made graphics an attractive addition to the series.
There's some evidence that this title signified the end of Scott's first planned wave of Adventure titles. For one thing, it actually does NOT feature an ad for Adventure #6 -- but it does refer to the previous game (Voodoo Castle can be seen from the bedroom window), and there's this in-game note from Mr. Adams where, it seems, an ad would usually turn up:
Dear Adventurer:
I wanted to take this time (1 move!) to thank ALL of you out there in
Adventureland for the fantastically warm reception Adventure has received!
Happy Adventuring,
Scott Adams
(Chief Adventurer)

The Count is more difficult than the earlier games, and the plot is more complex, spanning three days of game time. It's quite a challenge to keep everything safeguarded and available at the climax, and there's a night-day mechanic that presents some great puzzles. Lots of inventory juggling, careful planning and frequent saving are required to achieve success.

I had to resort to the hint book at one point, but it's no fault of the design -- I expect the solution would have come to me if I had been more patient and considered certain telling details. As much as I try not to rely on hints, they are always very much appreciated when I finally break down and look up a clue -- and Adams' approach to gently ramping up the nudging works well for me. I'll know the going is really getting rough if I start resorting to walkthroughs.

As always, I encourage you to stop here and play the game on your own before proceeding. I'm happy to share MY impressions of each game, obviously, and I thank you very much for reading, but the joy of Adventuring is really in the experience itself. I hope my observations are illuminating and entertaining, but secondhand reports are no substitute for actually "living" each game as a player.

******* HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! **********

How I Spent My Transylvania Vacation:

A novel concept -- there's a "room" at the end of a sheet dangling from the ledge above, with a fold that's capable of holding objects so inventory items can be managed in this unusual location. I always like it when an Adventure pushes the engine to do something beyond (what I presume were) its original design goals.

I resorted to the hint book to figure out how to keep myself from getting robbed of critical items -- the dusty room with a lockable door should have been an obvious "safe room", but I mistakenly focused on garlic and attempting to get through the night without sleeping.

I also missed a better solution to another puzzle that would have saved me some headaches. I managed to complete a riskier playthrough by making frequent saves before attempting to climb down the sheet tied to the flagpole outside the bedroom window, allowing me to retry after my frequent random deaths. Looking at the hint book afterwards, I was reminded of the better way I lucked into doing it the first time I ever played -- it's a lot safer to tie the sheet to the BED and carry the loose end out the window. Either my brain was working better in 1980, or I hadn't noticed the ledge outside the window and assumed I needed a safe way to climb down from the bedroom directly.

Another memorable Scott Adams cheesy gag moment:
There's something there, maybe I should go there?

Ah that's much better!

The dumbwaiter is a great, atmospheric mechanism, with associated RAISE and LOWER verbs that move it from room to room. The only problem is that, unlike a real dumbwaiter, it's operated from the inside, and due to this implementation can become completely inaccessible if the player falls asleep while it's on the upper or lower level, forcing a restore/restart.

The WAIT verb comes in handy for the time-based events -- once I had learned my way around the map, I found myself solving the available puzzles efficiently, and then waiting a few turns for the mail to arrive each day so I could continue.

I like the way the player character's objective is established in The Count -- it seems obvious, of course, but there's an angry crowd gathered outside the castle gate. If we're completely confused and decide to just leave the castle, the ensuing events make it quite clear who we are and why we're here. It's a small thing, but it feels very organic and sure beats reading a note.

I suspect this is a remnant of an earlier design, or a "freebie" behavior provided by the engine -- it's possible to drop the mirror and break it, or drop it on the pillow and keep it intact, but there's no critical reason to do either (though I did spend some time experimenting with it in the solar oven, thinking the lens/mirror combination might lead me to a means of dispatching Dracula.) The mirror is just there so the player can check on his/her health, but it's handled appropriately in the game world.

The Adams sense of humor persists even at the most macabre moments. Light up a cigarette and smoke it to find Dracula's resting place. How? "There's a "COUGHIN" in the room"! The solution depends on a pun, but it's a fair puzzle, as there's a NO SMOKING sign on the wall of the crypt.

When the player takes a no-doz tablet, the response is, "I'm real PEPPY now!" I wonder whether this was a reference to the artist who provided the pen-and-watercolor cover art for the early releases, before Adventure International could afford someone with an airbrush. Was the artist formerly known as 'Peppy' staying up late to meet deadlines, with chemical assistance? Was Adventure International in its heyday similar to Andy Warhol's Factory? Was that magic wizard dust strewn around cartoon Scott's feet in the catalog, or something more potent? Someone needs to write a book-length history of AI so we can solve all of these mysteries.

I did run into one fatal bug -- if the player can't actually take the full-length portrait of Dracula because inventory is already full, the portrait still disappears from the room, and doesn't appear in the inventory. Unfortunately, the dark passage that's supposed to be discovered behind it does not appear, either -- the DOORLESS room remains so, and it's time to restart.

As in other Adventures, it's possible to move around with an unlit torch if you know the map perfectly. This is handy for climbing up and down the sheet after dark, something I found myself doing on Day 2 to restock my cigarettes before sleeping.

Reaching the end of the game takes some doing, and the player's hard work is rewarded with a Hammer Horror-worthy ending. At last, we confront the sleeping Count Dracula in his private quarters:

And when the death blow is delivered, he transforms, with some evocative text:

And I'm pleased to see that the S.A.G.A. artwork is pretty darn evocative too!

Dust to dust, as they say. 10! 9! 8!... He's officially down for...

Wait for it...

Actually, don't. I'll leave the puns to the master.

Next up -- we're leaving the castles of Transylvania behind and venturing into sci-fi territory, as Adventure #6: Strange Odyssey finds us marooned on a forsaken hunk of space rock...


  1. Wow you are good :)

    Yea Peppy was always very peppy and quite the artist. He build up his own company in tandem with mine. Totally seperate but he did all our external art and packaging and so on. It was called...
    ready for it?

    ADventure Graphics!

    No kidding!

  2. Hey, Scott!

    Thanks for the insight. I remember when the polybags with headers were replaced by the styrofoam, bookshelf-style packages, still bearing Peppy's colorful artwork at that time.

    The later painted covers looked really great, but I will always associate these games with Peppy.

  3. Hello again, just a quick stop by to let you know that I ran The Count under my AdvPDA interpreter (well AdvPC version actually) and the pause-for-a-moment-when match-is-lit-so-you-can-peek-at-something-briefly works also on AdvPDA - I guess I thought it would as its the same code routine which runs in Ghost Town (the bit in the mine) - now back to sort out the chap with the pointy teeth :) All the best and keep on gaming x

  4. This game scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I played in on cartridge for Vic-20... I think if I played it with graphics I wouldn't have been near as scared.

  5. My apologies Terence! It was never my desire to scare anyone with my games, especially children!

    I probably should have toned this one down somehow!

  6. I can't speak for Terence, but being scared is a lot of fun when you know it's ultimately in a safe, controlled context. I was 13 or 14 when I played "The Count," so I was able to enjoy its gothic atmosphere without being genuinely frightened. I definitely agree with Terence that the "theatre of the mind" is more powerful than the visuals, nicely done as they were. Maybe it's Scott's welcoming vampiric visage on the title screen that makes it seem friendlier. :)

  7. It was scary in a wonderful way! I enjoy vampire and horror stories, and games, to this day.

  8. after getting a vic 20 for Christmas the Count was the 1st game i got for it. My Dad took a great liking to it. It was text based (no graphics). Dad actually got so into the game it was not uncommon to wake up and find Dad in the lvingroom (in the wee hours of the am) working on the game. When we did finally get it right and finsih the game, dad danced around the house and took mom and i out to his fav place to eat. He then told us both he was done adventureing. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  9. Nice to find this blog. Even the post is from 2009 I think a comment is really welcome.

    My experience with the count started with my, passionate, addiction to Angry Video Game Nerd. I'm 24 years old now and the nerd talks most of the time about my youth but that's not just it. He talks about a past that I could not live because I wasn't born yet and this game is an example: The Adventures of The Count by Scott Adams.

    The problem for me to play this game is that I'm brazilian and my native language is portuguese, so even speaking english very well there are words, and most of times related to items or rooms that gives me a very hard time, even with a dictionary.
    One example is the "dumb-waiter", I had no idea what is was, even looking on google images I couldn't figure it out because here we don't have that and just after seeing a video on youtube where a guy play the Java version of this game that I managed to know what it is and what it does. I never had an idea that a dumb-waiter could go up and down.

    Another point that sucks is that the Vic20 or the Atari800 were never sold here, AFAIK, the brazilian ebay: mercadolivre don't sell it or if it rarely shows up it costs a fortune. I could buy from ebay but the shipping always kills the deal $100 just for the shipping and besides that I never found The Count to buy for those 2 system so I'm using an emulator that is a mood killer for myself but the game is worth it :))

    I hope I can beat this game, this one will be a great addition to my "games I've beat" collection.

    By the way, you should check Hugo's House of Horror game, it's way more simple, it has graphics but it's an awesome game!

  10. hi thanks fir the count walkthrough. It was my favorite trs80 text game and I never knew the solution until today. I will always remember the sokar oven and dumbwaiter with fondness. I am looking for one orher game can you tell me the name if poasibke? it was a fantasy adventure that had golden fish a dragon and pergatory thanks thats all i remember

  11. You might be thinking of Scott Adams' Adventure #1, Adventureland -- it definitely has a golden fish and a dragon, though I don't remember purgatory (unless that's the zone you are sent to after dying?)

  12. I'm trying to play this game right now, but somebody (possibly the person who ported it to Z-code) introduced an unpassable element of guess the noun at a very critical point, and even the walkthrough avails me nothing. *facepalms*
    BTW, whose decision was it to put Weird Al Yankovic into the game (first screenshot on this page)?

  13. There are other versions of this game available from the download section of my web page. And no that's not weird AL :) That's me.

  14. I got to the part you mentioned where you have only half a second to read the room description before the map goes out. My solution? To immediately use the "PRINT SCREEN" button on my keyboard, then paste the screen shot in a document so I could read it at my leisure. :D

    BTW, it's interesting to hear that the mirror/pillow thing has no real use. (I haven't quite finished it.) But I totally recognized the effect! See, in the original Crowther/Woods Adventure, one of the treasures you have to obtain is a Ming vase. But if you drop it back in your safe house, it shatters! So first you have to find the velvet pillow, drop IT in the safe house, and only THEN drop the vase. It was a pretty famous puzzle, and from the first text adventure, so maybe Scott included the mirror/pillow bit simply as a fun but useless homage?

    1. That could very well be -- I've seen several adventure games, especially in the early years, that borrow this very same puzzle. It's not quite as common as the orange smoke or the maze of twisty passages, all alike, but it's up there!

  15. I played Colossal Caves Adventure all the way through before writing my games. So yes that was a feature (pillow) I thought worth emulating. I actually stopped playing other people's adventures once I was writing my series. I didn't want to use puzzles that others were using.

    I didn't pick up an adventure game until after AI was long gone. The game was Myst and it was a delight to play!

  16. Hi Scott, it's great to find this site and rediscover the very beginnings of my computing world.

    I managed to afford a TRS-80 keyboard unit as a student in 1979 (sold all my photo gear to get it) and the one game I was able to buy was The Count. My girlfriend and I absolutely loved it and played it for ages - we knew it was the start of a whole revolution. We went our separate ways and I ended up as a games developer myself (Airwolf and Paperboy among others).

    35 years later we're back together and can play The Count again on the PC - so everything's come full circle! It's so good to hear from you and to talk to you, and thank you for that wonderful inspirational beginning.

  17. Andy thanks for sharing that! It is always great to hear from folks with good memories of my classic games! If you are on Facebook please look me up

  18. And my personal years-long mystery has been solved. :) I am so happy.

    After posting a question to reddit (, my dedication to the search increased and I finally tracked it down!

    And yeah, even though I my teacher and classmates were also in the classroom when I played, I was still creeped out and scared. Then again, I was no older than seven years at the time.