It's been a couple of months since I've returned to the long-running BASIC adventure game series published by SoftSide disk magazine. So this week we'll be playing SoftSide Adventure #17 -- The Deadly Game on the Atari 400/800, published in October of 1982. As is the case with most of the SoftSide games, the author is uncredited; all I can say is that this game shares some stylistic characteristics with other SoftSide text adventures.
The Deadly Game starts with a boilerplate Agatha Christie setup, as six greedy cousins gather
for the reading of Uncle Henry's will. A rather lengthy text introduction takes us to Sir Henry Drysdale Vanderbilt's mansion, where we must spend the
night -- a substantial inheritance will be divided among the survivors in the
morning. I don't know what sort of person Uncle Henry was in life, but as a corpse he manages to come off as a sadistic jerk who desires to cause his extended family as much bloodshed as possible.
The intro is actually a bit misleading, but we'll get into the specific details later. As always, I recommend that interested readers sample this one for themselves before continuing below. This post won't try to kill you, but it no doubt contains murder, mayhem and ...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
With the intro out of the way, the maid escorts us to a guest room and locks the door, and the game launches right into the action. We see a bed, a dresser, a portrait of Uncle Henry, and an unbreakable, unopenable window, with deadly gas seeping under the door! (How exactly we observe that it is deadly gas remains a mystery; I like to imagine it forms cartoon-style clouds in the shape of a skull.) So it seems we're in an escape-the-room adventure, at least to begin with.
We can TAKE the PORTRAIT of Uncle Henry on the wall to reveal... a safe. It's already hard to breathe by the second turn. The dresser has three drawers... all of which are locked. The bed has a pillow and a blanket... and we can STUFF BLANKET - In what? - IN CRACK to stop the gas from entering. If we TAKE PILLOW, we get a nasty surprise as You have just been bitten by a tarantula hiding under your pillow. The title seems fitting, as there's certainly no shortage of ways to die in this game.
The wall safe has a combination lock. We can see a gypsy woman down below, through the unbreakable window, and apparently hear her throwing an unsubtle hint our way -- Diamonds are a girl's best friend replacing the constant PSSST of the gas heard earlier. We can also LOOK DRESSER to see that the top drawer has a bronze lock, the middle gold, and the bottom silver -- so we will probably have to find three matching keys.
The engine uses I for inventory, with no alternate INV or INVENTORY verbs, and we are constrained to a five-item inventory limit, though we aren't carrying anything at the start of the game. HELP hints that the parser is a little broader than the norm for this era, if a bit awkward -- we can LOOK UNDER - Under what? - UNDER BED to find a bronze key, though it's too far back to reach it (and the initial LOOK step isn't actually required.) We can also find a wad of gum under the chair, though it's odd that looking under the pillow does not reveal the tarantula waiting to attack.
We can't MOVE BED or take the key WITH GUM. But we can obtain the key WITH PORTRAIT (that must be why it's initially described as a LONG PORTRAIT.) We can't UNLOCK TOP, but we can just OPEN TOP now that we have the bronze key, to find a bobby pin and... a zinc key, which doesn't look like much help yet. But we can use the bobby pin to PICK LOCK and escape this first room, finding ourselves on the balcony which seems to surround the entire house.
An open door adjoining our guest room leads to the body of cousin Fred, who's already been shot. LOOK FRED reveals nothing further, and we can't SEARCH or MOVE his corpse. We may also notice that there are no other doors in these rooms, making Uncle Henry's house seem more like a Holiday Inn.
Along the south side of the balcony, we find one room that is locked, and another containing the body of cousin Phil, also shot. Whoever is doing this isn't being very original, or perhaps is saving all of his or her creative approaches for the player, as evidenced by the fact that the room's walls are caving in, moving towards us! There's a gold key in here, but it's in a far corner and we can't reach it; at least we can reset the trap by leaving the room, so this puzzle can be worked on later.
A room on the eastern side contains the body of cousin Rachael; also shot. So three of the five cousins are already dead, and the villain options are narrowing; if we had a list of our cousins, we'd almost be able to name the killer, or so it seems. The room is dark, and the light switch on the wall does nothing, so if we want to see something beyond Rachael's remains, we may need some illumination here.
Down a spiral staircase we find a massive living room, divided into nine locations. The front door to the east is locked. We find an elevator shaft on the western side, and a cellar door in the southwestern corner -- these are rather odd connections to find in the living room.
The cellar has a fuse box with two broken wires that keep falling apart if we try to reassemble them (LOOK BOX establishes all of this.) We do have to be observant, as some useful items are mentioned in the rooms descriptions and are not listed as distinct objects. There's also a garden hose, and a workbench that seems to have nothing useful on it, behind it or under it. We can mend the broken wires with... the wad of gum? This doesn't seem like it would be a good way to fix a fuse, but we can STICK GUM - On what? - ON WIRES to connect them. To go back upstairs, we can't GO STEPS as they are described onscreen, but must GO STAIRS.
We can't get back up to the balcony from the living room easily -- we encounter a live rattlesnake, and of course Snake won't let you if we try to GO STAIRS. But we are free to explore the rest of the lower level. North of the living room is a long hall with a telephone -- always busy if we try to make an outgoing call, of course -- as well as a dining room and kitchen. There's a pot on the stove with a lid -- and as we examine the kitchen, Suddenly a shadowy figure throws something sharp at you. We seem to have plenty of time to figure out what to do as the parser shrieks, "QUICK! DO SOMETHING!" We can't DUCK the incoming missile or leave the room, but we can TAKE LID as an impromptu shield, and claim the jagged rock thus deflected.
Old school adventure games sometimes have odd puzzles, and here we get to THROW HOSE at the rattlesnake, yielding the surprising response: GOOD THINKING! Snake falls in love (It looks like him too) and takes it away in some dark corner. Ahem. I'm not about to LOOK CORNER.
Now we can go to cousin Rachael's room and TURN SWITCH, turning on the lights and getting electrocuted. So why did we want to fix the fuse box?
North of our starting point, we can go to an attic upstairs, with an elevator, and visit the maid's room which contains a bed and a long broom. UNDER BED reveals nothing, but says it looks like a good hiding place so we may need to make use of it later. Taking the elevator is dangerous -- it plummets at 90 miles per hour, and we have to JUMP to survive, ending up in the living room downstairs. We actually have to take this route, however, as if we try to go back downstairs the normal way we trip and fall, fatally.
Can we use the long broom to block the crushing walls in the late cousin Phil's room? Not easily, and the parser is unforgiving -- if we try to JAM BROOM or INSERT BROOM or PUT BROOM -- On what? -- BETWEEN WALLS, we get no useful result but the walls still close in within a few turns. We can't take the gold key with the broom, either. But we can THROW BROOM (initially the parser takes this to mean THROW BRONZE if we are still carrying the bronze key!) and it automatically becomes a HORIZANTAL [sic] BROOM, preventing the walls from closing all the way.
With the gold key we can open the middle drawer in our own room and obtain a brass key. This allows us to access the room containing the corpse of cousin Marilyn, who has also been shot. A note here reads, "76L." This sounds like a combination, but my initial attempts to use suggested (incorrectly) that it's not for the wall safe.
So what next? LOOK ROCK reveals some writing, and READ ROCK reveals an inscription: 31R. So we seem to be picking up the combination in pieces. But I still couldn't figure out how to DIAL it as suggested when we try to OPEN SAFE; I tried DIAL RIGHT, DIAL 31 RIGHT, DIAL 31R, and DIAL 31R76L, which didn't get me anywhere.
Exploring some more, I realized I'd been getting tripped up a bit by the parser and was missing some key items. While we can't OPEN CABINET in the kitchen, or look behind or under it, if we simply LOOK CABINET we find an axe and some nails. We can use the axe to SMASH DOOR into the last guest room, producing a broken door and PLANKS OF WOOD. Inside the room is cousin Alex, also shot. With the saw we can SAW WOOD to... what? Ah, a step is produced. Maybe we can get back upstairs now and use that hiding space.
While checking this possibility out, I discovered a small bug here. We can LOOK STAIRS heading up to see that now A wooden step is missing. Looks dangerous! But then the game follows with the puzzling, "IN A GUEST ROOM. The door is open". This is just a minor glitch, not game-breaking.
Now it seems we should try to FIX STEP, but Sorry, you can't do that. FIX STAIRS is more informative: You can't yet. We probably need another tool, like a hammer.
I wandered into the living room at this point and ran into THE KILLER -- who shoots us. Hmmmm... we've already found the bodies of Cousin Phil, Cousin Fred, Cousin Alex, Cousin Marilyn and Cousin Rachael, which accounts for all five of them. But there's clearly an independent murder at large, contradicting the game's scenario -- the greedy cousins are not out killing each other. It doesn't seem I can get through here any more, after we have broken down the door to Alex's room, and there's no time to react:
So I ended up backtracking to a previous save for better navigational freedom. Given my lesson with the kitchen cabinet, maybe i should go back to the workbench? Ack - LOOK WORKBENCH (and all the variations on that theme) reveals nothing, but LOOK BENCH turns up a can of hydrofluoric acid and a jar of turpentine, considerably more useful. The acid reportedly dissolves glass -- that's strong stuff in that can! -- and we can return to our own room to POUR ACID / ON WINDOW to dissolve it. This doesn't really do anything for us at the moment, though. The gypsy woman is still down below, still reminding us about the diamond she apparently expects us to produce. We can also POUR TURPENTINE / ON PORTRAIT, but it doesn't seem to do anything.
It seems we've explored the place pretty thoroughly, and there aren't any new puzzles pending, so it's time to see if perhaps we can survive any of the deaths we've discovered. A little a priori knowledge from a previous life lets us SMASH PILLOW / WITH ROCK -- yielding CRUNCH - You killed a tarantula under your pillow. I had to peek at the code to figure this out, though -- and also to learn that we can now use the pillow to WIPE PORTRAIT to reveal another painting, and READ PORTRAIT to get the third part of the combination, 33R.
Now we seem to have the whole combination. 33R 76L 31R (or a variation, swapping the two right turns.) But I'm still having problems getting the parser to understand what I want to do. Ah - we have to DIAL 31R76L33R, cramming it all into one "noun" to get it open. The safe contains a diamond, and it seems we should take hint and THROW it to the gypsy, who tosses us the silver key in exchange. Now we can get some gloves out of the bottom drawer, and maybe these will help us survive the electrocution in Rachael's room.
This proves to be the case -- the electrocution was built into the switch itself -- and now we can see and take a hammer, and go back to the balcony stairs to repair the step. Now we can get back up to the maid's room again, where we find a gun hidden under the bed. It contains a single bullet -- probably meant for us, and it implies the killer is either a really good shot or a really bad planner.
Leaving the maid's room, we run into Uncle Henry's lawyer, who says, "You need a permit to carry a gun." Busybody! And the game rubs it in by claiming that I don't know what 'SHOOT LAWYER' means. He won't let us past him with the gun in hand. But if we put it back and then try to go and call the police downstairs, the killer shows up and shoots us, so it seems confiscating the gun is a good idea. The lawyer disappears if we drop the gun, and reappears if we pick it up, so this constraint seems intentional.
But aha! We don't need a permit to carry a bullet, so we can disarm The Killer this way, assuming he or she doesn't have any other ammunition. I am certainly beginning to suspect the maid, what with the tarantula under the pillow and the gun hidden in her room and all of my greedy cousins dead of gunshot wounds. Not to mention her locking us in our room just before the deadly gas hits, at the very beginning of the game.
We may notice now that we still have 2 nails after repairing the step -- I wonder why, as the remaining nails never come into play.
Going back to The Killer's usual haunt, we are again confronted by this villainous figure -- but this time the empty gun clicks, and we are informed that "It's the maid! She was deemed to inherit uncle's fortune if no one survived. You grasp her and she can't escape." Funny that Uncle Henry's lawyer didn't mention this catch-all condition at the reading of the will, so we could have sent the maid away for the night on account of her clear conflict of interest.
Anyway, we are fully able to drag the captured maid all over the house. But what we should really do is go to the telephone, CALL POLICE, and take her to the front door to await processing. There's a knock, we OPEN DOOR... and apparently we are supposed to load some sort of climactic piece, but the game is bugged or expecting to load from cassette! There's no further section of code on the disk that I can see. Ah, well, I'm going to call it victory and assume whatever's left unseen here is just a quick wrapup, bundling the maid off to jail while we enjoy the much larger inheritance her machinations have afforded us. Hmmmm... maybe we shouldn't press charges. At any rate, the game ends happily if not very neatly:
In testing my solution, I discovered that The Killer does not appear as expected until we have found all of the bodies; we don't otherwise have to visit Cousin Fred's room, but the plot demands it. And the rattlesnake did not appear on my second go either, perhaps for similar reasons. The biggest issues I had with this game were parser wrestling problems, especially when discovering contents of cabinets and workbenches. But there are some tricky-for-the-wrong-reasons puzzles afoot too -- I can say with a high degree of confidence that there aren't many games where SMASH PILLOW actually does something interesting, and THROW HOSE was a bit of a stretch too. Fortunately the SoftSide games are written in BASIC, so it's not difficult to dig into the details when necessary; I like to think of it as a meta-adventure of sorts.
To save others the headaches, my walkthrough is available at the CASA solution archive, and is included here below the fold.
**** WALKTHROUGH ****
STUFF BLANKET (In what?)
IN CRACK (poison gas stops seeping in)
LOOK UNDER (Under what?)
UNDER BED (find a bronze key)
UNDER CHAIR (find gum)
TAKE PORTRAIT (reveals wall safe)
TAKE BRONZE (With what?)
LOOK TOP (a bobby pin and a zinc key)
GO DOOR (cousin Fred is dead)
UNDER BED (looks like a good hiding place)
PUSH BUTTON (elevator plummets at 90 mph)
JUMP (arrive in western part of living room)
STICK GUM (on what?)
ON WIRES (the fuse is fixed -- somehow)
POUR TURPENTINE (on what?)
N, W, W
N, N, N, N, N, E
(LOOK several times until thrown rock is deflected)
READ ROCK (part of combination)
S, S, W, W
THROW HOSE (if rattlesnake is here, rattlesnake falls in love and takes
S, S, S, W
THROW BROOM (walls stop closing in)
W, W, N, N, N
LOOK MIDDLE (brass key)
SMASH PILLOW (with what?)
WITH ROCK (killed tarantula)
READ PORTRAIT (part of combination)
POUR ACID (on what?)
ON WINDOW (window dissolves)
LOOK WINDOW (gypsy woman below)
S, S, S, E
READ NOTE (part of combination)
E, E, N, N, N
E, N, N, E
S, S, W, W
SAW WOOD (a wooden step is produced)
S, S, W, W, W, N, N, N
DIAL 31R76L33R (the complete combination)
THROW DIAMOND (gypsy tosses back silver key)
S, S, S, E, E, E, N
S, W, W, W, N, N, N, N
UNDER BED (a gun)
LOOK GUN (one bullet)
S, S, S, S, E, E, E, N, N, N
E (it's THE KILLER! With an empty gun! We grab her!)
S, E, E, S
OPEN DOOR (apparent end, some kind of coda missing)