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:
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!
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...