This Halloween week, I'm continuing a recent trend and filling in more gaps in my coverage of the SoftSide disk magazine adventures, with SoftSide Adventure #8 - Windsloe Mansion Adventure, published in January of 1982. It seems apparent that the game was meant to come out closer to Halloween -- it's filled with traditional monsters and spooky (not horrific) references, and the very plot as stated in the intro text sounds seasonal: The world famous 'Pumpkin Man' has been kidnapped and is being held prisoner in the dungeon of Windsloe Mansion.
The introductory screen goes on to inform us that the player's goal, as we might have guessed, is to rescue the Pumpkin Man and return him to our starting location, making use of the neighboring Blair house which is connected to Windsloe Mansion. We earn points for killing or dispelling the monsters and rescuing the Pumpkin Man; the highest possible score is 230. (It's an interesting historical coincidence that Mrs. Windsloe is reputed to be a known witch, and there's a Blair house involved... more than a decade before The Blair Witch Project.) There's no onscreen or code-level author credit, but some sources attribute this game to Steven Neighorn.
The game opens with a PLEASE WAIT...INITIALIZING message uncommon to the SoftSide series, and the interface is also quite different, resembling Brian Moriarty's approach in the games he created for ANTIC magazine before he moved to Infocom. A VISIBLE OBJECTS window alternates with the player's INVENTORY display, and as there's no room for scrolling we usually have to hit the return key to acknowledge messages from the game.
As (almost) always, I encourage interested adventurers to explore Windsloe Mansion independently before proceeding here. The game's puzzles are not difficult, though the limited parser dictionary causes some issues along with its occasional insistence on single-move solutions; the main storyline can be finished without solving every last puzzle. My full 230-point walkthrough is available at the CASA Solution Archive, and is also included at the bottom of this post. In between, I will provide detailed commentary about the game and its approach, which means there will certainly be...
***** SPOOKY SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
We begin standing on a sidewalk outside the Blair house, and we should note our location since to win we have to return the Pumpkin Man to this very spot. We have some money available, which we can discover only by using the I command, not INV or INVENTORY.
This town seems to have no zoning regulations, as its residential areas are haphazardly intertwined with the commercial district, filled with many shops, none of which have more than a single item on offer, and only a few of which insist on payment, as it turns out.
To the immediate south of our starting point is a Chinese restaurant containing a fortune cookie. We can't OPEN COOKIE or READ COOKIE or EAT COOKIE -- IT'S BEYOND MY POWER TO DO THAT! in this last case, which seems strange, but maybe that's why this restaurant has no customers. It wasn't until much later in the game that I figured out we have to SMASH COOKIE to get at the Chinese Proverb inside. It reads, "DON'T BE FOOLED BY A HALLOWEEN PRANK THIS YEAR. WATCH OUT FOR THEM APPLES!" -- which sounds more like a Kentuckese Proverb. There's a HALLOWEEN APPLE on the sidewalk outside the Blair house, but by the time I got around to reading this message, I didn't need the clue anymore. Still, I had to confirm that if we EAT APPLE, then I'VE EATEN A RAZOR BLADE! I CAN'T CONTINUE THIS ADVENTURE!
In the Spirit Shop south of the restaurant we find a Ghost Neutralizer, unusual in 1982 before Ghostbusters made the idea popular, and we can use it to NEUTRALIZE GHOST (three of them, actually, though we don't actually have to dispatch them -- being discorporeal, all they can do is slow us down while the game engine makes their presence known.)
A Lumber Shop contains a wooden stake, so we may conclude that we'll need to deal with vampires too.
Despite the intro text, which mentions a husband and wife owning the Windsloe mansion, a room description later places us ON A SIDEWALK OUTSIDE OLD LADY WINDSLOE'S MANSION. (We will find evidence of Mr. Windsloe's existence later in the game, however.) We can't get into the house this way, but a device called an AUDIOTEX III is sitting on the Windsloes' front porch. We can LOOK AUDIOTEX (there's no EXAMINE verb here, but LOOK works to reveal more detail, unlike other SoftSide games) to learn that it's a UNIQUE SAFE CRACKER. So that should be handy, should we encounter a safe.
Dave's Tobacco Shop appears to be empty. The Pharmacy contains a vial of poison, like the old-fashioned apothecary, apparently; the really old-fashioned kind that served the Capulets and Montagues, I mean. And the Plaid Pantry store contains a can of dog food.
The GUN'S [sic] UNLIMITED STORE has a .45 automatic for sale. And unlike most of the other stores, if we just go ahead and GET .45, we are busted for shoplifting and the game is over. We have to BUY .45; in fact, if we try to BUY GUN we are incorrectly told that THE GUN DOESN'T COST ANYTHING! We can run around and SHOOT things, even if we don't have the gun in our possession yet, which reveals a key detail about the gun's intended use, as we learn that SILVER BULLETS ARE NO MATCH FOR A [whatever it was we attempted to shoot].
Having toured the neighborhood, it's time to explore the Blair house. Kitchen has a note reading, "GIVE TO DAVE." Presumably this refers to the note itself, and not to some sort of charity -- and ah, yes, we can GIVE NOTE in Dave's Tobacco Shop to obtain a packet of Tobacco. We can't OPEN PACKET, but we can LOOK PACKET to find a key. If we do so a second time, however, the key returns to the floor of the current room, and the game doesn't remove it from the inventory count, which soon causes item limit problems. So we should try to avoid this.
The Blair house's game room contains a cue ball and some... POISONOUS DARTS? Interesting games these people play. The storage room to the south provides a pool cue, and the attic to the north features a crowbar and steel sword. All of these things seem potentially useful, but our inventory limit grows tight before long and we will need to figure out what to do with some of these things before we haul them around.
The Blairs are hosting a party, apparently, as there is a party room filled with people. And there's a safe in the Blair bedroom. The bedroom closet leads into an underground passage, where we run into a ghost, and at the end of the passage we find a storage room, and a tool room with a crucible and mallet. There's a razor on the ledge outside the tool room, perhaps left there by someone suicidally indecisive.
To the south of the tool room, we suddenly find ourselves inside the Windsloe house's master bedroom. Another ghost is in the bedroom closet (no skeletons though). And a book in the library reads, "BURN WITCH WITH FIERY STICK!" -- rather an odd book to have in the home of a purported witch. There is a convenient stick in the parlor, which seems even stranger.
The maid's bedroom has a bed, but no maid -- all we can do is MOVE BED to find a trap door. If we choose to OPEN DOOR, then A HAND REACHES UP AND PULLS ME THROUGH THE DOOR. IT'S THE MOSS CREATURE! We need to act quickly here -- if we try to leave the room or do anything else that the designer doesn't want us to, we learn that THE MOSS CREATURE HAS HUNGRILY CONSUMED ME! We need the bottle of acid from the Windsloe kitchen - we can THROW BOTTLE to destroy the moss creature, though why it doesn't work on anything or anyone else remains a mystery.
Beyond the Moss Creature we encounter a Vampire, so we can guess that we need the wooden stake and mallet, but given inventory limitations I didn't have them with me at the time. If we encounter the vampire and are not ready to deal with him, any wrong move means THE VAMPIRE HAS SUCKED MY BLOOD! and the game is over, so I chose to come back here later.
The Entertainment Room has a pinball machine, though we can't seem to do anything with it at first or even find out what sort of machine it is. Related to this is a head in the bathroom with a sign reading "SHAVE ME." What does shaving the head get us? Some puzzle solving, at first -- it seems that having the razor is not enough, but we can CUT the Halloween APPLE to obtain the razor blade inside. Chilling! Even with the razor and blade, though, we can't SHAVE HEAD. We also can't INSERT BLADE or USE RAZOR or LOAD RAZOR -- we must PUT BLADE - IN WHAT? - RAZOR. Now we can SHAVE HEAD, and... THE HEAD THANKS YOU AND A QUARTER POPS OUT OF HIS MOUTH! Quite a bit of work for two bits.
A werewolf in the MUSTY DARK ROOM south of the Kitchen tears us apart if we try to go past him, or, again, fail to do exactly the right thing. I wondered if we could possibly dispatch the werewolf with poisoned dog food -- disrespectful, I suppose, but it seemed like a possibility -- so I went back to the Plaid Pantry and found that we have to BUY CAN, not GET CAN, which again gets us busted for shoplifting. But with the can of dogfood and the vial of poison in hand, I still couldn't figure out how to combine these items. And we can't seem to SHOOT WEREWOLF despite the gun's silver bullets -- though this was a red herring, a misleading impression engendered by the game's standard response text.
There's a broom in the Windsloe house's closet, though I never found a use for it.
I was running out of ideas, so I wondered if we could use the AUDIOTEX III to crack the safe in the Blair bedroom. But it seems we can't CRACK SAFE, OPEN SAFE or UNLOCK SAFE. Hmmmm.
Back to kill the vampire, it took me several restores to discover that we have to HAMMER STAKE; I died numerous times frantically trying to USE STAKE and STAKE VAMPIRE and USE MALLET, all to no avail. Once I knew the right command, I learned that we can try to HAMMER STAKE before we run into the vampire to get a hint that most players will find useful only in hindsight: THERE IS NO VAMPIRE HERE, SO WHY HAMMER THE STAKE!
Beyond the vampire, we find a room adjoining the dungeon; the door has a lock requiring a key.
The Circuit Control Room contains a coil of rope. The Utility Room in this area contains a toad, and a KILLER DOG, so we can guess that the poison and dog food must be meant for this situation. Figuring out how to use the poison is tricky, again due to parser limitations and the fact that THE DOG HAS TORN ME TO SHREDS! if we don't know what to do immediately. The parser uses specific text strings for comparison, and is annoyingly inconsistent here -- we have to BUY CAN (not BUY FOOD) but we have to POISON FOOD (not OPEN CAN or OPEN VIAL or POUR VIAL or POUR POISON or POISON CAN) to produced POISONED DOGFOOD. We cannot, apparently, drop our handiwork after this point -- at least, we can't DROP POISONED or DROP FOOD or DROP DOGFOOD. All we can do is FEED DOG.
Going back to the safe, I learned that if we try type a long command line (e.g. OPEN SAFE WITH AUDIOTEX) that wraps around the end of the display line, the whole display gets out of synch by one line, looking odd from that point on. To open the safe, we have to PUT AUDIOTEX - ON WHAT? - SAFE. This reveals a Magical Amulet, and also reveals that the parser does occasionally get a little more ambitious, but the purpose of doing this is not clear. We can't WEAR AMULET, and I never found a reason to bother with it -- perhaps it was meant for an idea that never quite got implemented.
Back to the cellar to finish off the moss man, vampire and killer dog, I learned that we can't get out of the cellar until we finish killing most of the monsters down there, and we need the key to unlock the dungeon door. Or rather, not UNLOCK DOOR or OPEN DOOR or UNLOCK LOCK or UNLOCK DUNGEON, but... INSERT KEY! Dang parser. So we need to come down here with a full load of very specific inventory.
And in the Dungeon we find... the famous PUMPKIN MAN! We never do learn what he's supposedly famous for -- perhaps it's the fact that he's very portable, as we can just put him in our inventory. But we still need to find a way out of the cellar -- I thought perhaps I'd arrived at the finale a little too early, but we can THROW ROPE (which normally drops it, but it seems we can't SWING ROPE or CLIMB ROPE) to get back up to ground level. And then we just have to walk back to the starting location -- as soon as we arrive there with the Pumpkin Man in tow, victory is ours!
But we're missing quite a few points, with 135 out of a possible 230, and the clues found along the way suggest that we have some killing left to do.
The descriptive text suggests that we can use the Crowbar on the Blair house porch, which has some suspiciously cracked boards. But we can't PRY BOARDS or LIFT BOARDS or GET BOARDS. We have to summon our superhuman strength, or our willingness to delve into the BASIC code, to discover that we actually have to LIFT PORCH -- which reveals some SILVER INGOTS!!! (Exclamation points not mine.)
We can then PUT INGOTS - IN WHAT? - CRUCIBLE in the Tool Room. Presumably this will let us actually make the silver bullets alluded to earlier, since the .45 doesn't seem to do us any good against the werewolf. We aren't told that there are also bullet molds handy, so it's fortunate all we have to do is POUR SILVER to make this work. Then we can load the gun with the silver bullets and SHOOT WEREWOLF.... or at least it seems like we should be able to. We can't actually LOAD .45 or LOAD GUN. It seems like we really are supposed to SHOOT WEREWOLF, because if we're in the room with the creature, that command yields I CAN'T DO THAT... YET! while anything else leads to immediately being ripped apart by the werewolf. We have to LOAD BULLETS, then we are finally informed that GUN LOADED! Now at last we can SHOOT WEREWOLF, and get 20 points for our trouble, and now we can get to WITCH WINDSLOE'S EVIL SPELL ROOM, where we find... an incubator?
The witch isn't here at the moment, but we can surmise that we're probably going to need a way to light the stick on fire. We can INSERT QUARTER in the pinball machine -- and, oddly, TWO PIECES OF FLINT FALL FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE MACHINE! So we can presumably make a fire now. But we can't MAKE FIRE or LIGHT STICK or BURN STICK or START FIRE. We must RUB FLINT -- and then FLYING SPARKS IGNITE THE ALCOHOL SOAKED RAG ON YOUR STICK! The Windsloes really don't protect themselves very well, what with all this witch-burning paraphernalia in the house.
What else? Well, we still haven't done anything with the cue ball, pool cue, sword, or poisonous darts. LOOK CUE reveals that THE POOL CUE IS A DART SHOOTER! We can BLOW DART anywhere we please, but it's no good against the giant wasp in Mr. Windsloe's taxidermy room or the werewolf. The ball LOOKS MORE LIKE AN EGG THAN A BALL! Okay... now we know what to do with the incubator.
We can kill the wasp with the sword (not KILL WASP, but SWING SWORD) and THE WASP FALLS TO THE FLOOR IN TWO PIECES! We don't gain anything but points for the effort, however.
There's an incubator in Witch Windsloe's evil spell room. We can PUT BALL - IN WHAT? - INCUBATOR, and THE EGG HATCHES INTO A HIDEOUS ALIEN. We can BLOW DART (at last!) to take the alien out with a dart to the heart.
Beyond the spell room is WITCH WINDSLOE'S EVIL WORSHIP ROOM. There are some chemicals here, along with WITCH WINDSLOE. As before, if we don't act fast and BURN WITCH, then THE WITCH HAS TURNED ME INTO A FROG! So we need to have the fiery stick in hand before we enter her lair.
I had to dig into the code again to see if we were now close to done, because there's no way to find out our score without dying or QUITting. We get 10 points for neutralizing each of the three ghosts; 20 points for throwing acid at the Moss Monster; 15 for staking the vampire; 15 for shooting the werewolf; 20 for killing the dog; 20 points for cutting the wasp in two; 25 points for killing the alien with a poison dart; 35 points for burning Old Lady Windsloe; and 50 points for returning the Pumpkin Man to the starting location. Committing all of the requisite homicides yields the entire 230 points:
Windsloe Mansion is one of those early, nonsensical adventures -- there are lots of puzzles, but many are incidental to the main plot, such as it is. The parser is problematic because so many puzzles depend on very specific phrasings, so even when we know what we want to do, it's hard to convince the game to let us do it. But I enjoyed the adventure and it seemed just the right choice for the Halloween week. My full walkthrough is below the fold.
**** WALKTHROUGH ****
N, N, N
S, S, S, E
N, N, N, N, N, E
E, E, E
W, S, S
THROW BOTTLE (acid destroys moss monster)
FEED DOG (poisoned dog food kills killer dog)
HAMMER STAKE (take out the vampire)
GET MAN (we've rescued the pumpkin man!)
N, N, W
DROP MAN (we'll come back for him later)
(before we finish the rescue, we have some killing to do to max out the score)
S, W, W, W, W, W
E, N, N, N, W, N
S, E, S, S
N, E, E, E, E, E, E, N
PUT INGOTS (in what?)
S, W, W
SWING SWORD (giant wasp is cut in two)
S, S, S
PUT BLADE (in what?)
SHAVE HEAD (a quarter pops out of its mouth)
W, W, W
INSERT QUARTER (pinball machine yields two pieces of flint)
S, W, W, N, N, W, N, N, N, W
N, E, E, S, E, E, E, E
S, S, S, S, S
SHOOT WEREWOLF (werewolf dies and returns to human form)
PUT BALL (in what?)
BLOW DART (alien dies)
RUB FLINT (stick catches on fire)
BURN WITCH (she shrieks as she is burned to a crisp!)
(time to wrap this up)
W, N, N, W, N
S, W, W, W, N, N, W (victory with all 230 points!)