Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Adventure of the Week: The Lansford Mansion Adventure (1987)

As we approach the New Year, it seems a fitting time to (re)tackle a game that stumped me pretty thoroughly when I first took a look at it a few years back -- The Lansford Mansion Adventure, published in 1987 for the TRS-80 Color Computer by Diecom Products.  The game was programmed and written by Dave Shewchun and Roland Knight, with graphics by Kevin Hoare.  It's been made freely available by the authors since -- a disk image is available at L. Curtis Boyle's invaluable CoCo web archive -- but as with many vintage games, the only surviving version is ironically a "cracked" (pirated) copy:

The Scott Adams influence was visible in many 1980s adventures including Lansford Mansion -- the windowed text display, the two-word parser and the SCORE mechanism are very similar, and as in several of Adams' adventures, our goal is simply to Collect * TREASURES *.   The parser isn't quite as solid as its inspiration's, though -- extra spaces tend to confuse it, and it has a bad habit of confirming with an OK message before actually processing the player's command, leading to OK / Sorry, you can't! types of responses.  Interestingly, the game supports the Radio Shack speech/sound pack, augmenting the CoCo's limited audio capabilities, but I wasn't able to play the game with that feature enabled.

As with many graphically-augmented text adventures, the visuals here are not really necessary, and in fact they get in the way more often than not, as they overlay the display window listing available items and exits and the artist makes no attempt to depict some important details of each room.  Fortunately, the illustrations can be turned on and off with a function key (the PC Alt key when using Joseph Forgione's Virtual Color Computer emulator) so the player doesn't have to make a permanent choice between pretty pictures and concrete information.   The illustrations are half-screen bitmap images residing on a second diskette; the executable code and all text loads from the first, so no disk swapping is necessary after starting up.  Like most CoCo games that use artifacted colors, we have to reset the machine until the check screen is blue in order to see the artist's intended palette.

As always, I encourage interested readers to tackle The Lansford Mansion Adventure before proceeding with my complete playthrough notes below.  But I will note that, while finally getting through this game provided a bit of New Years' closure for yours truly, I doubt I could have managed it at all without the help of the CASA Solution Archive, where Juan Duc's comprehensive walkthrough helped me out on several key occasions.  Most of this game's puzzles make sense in hindsight, but there aren't many clues provided to help the player understand that certain puzzles even exist, and confirming or revealing details that ought to be available to the player are often obscured by misleading, generic responses.  It's one of those games that plays fine if you're the designer, but not so much if you're coming in blind.  I got stuck in the early going on my first attempt, so you're absolved of all guilt should you wish to simply dive into the...

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

We begin in the entry hall of the Lansford Mansion, with lots of items in the first room - an axe, a hose, and some boots, though the first two items are locked in a glass cabinet.  We can't ENTER the DOORWAY to the north, only GO, but a Guard throws us out if we try to get past the entry hall.

A library to the west contains a Book, Desk, Guard, and a Paper in display caseREAD PAPER yields There is nothing important written on it, which seems odd, while the book is written in a strange code!  We can try to break the display case window, but the Guard kicks you out for vandalism!  (And if we try to UNLOCK DOOR here, It already is!, but the cabinet remains impenetrable -- I think the code doesn't consider that there may be no locked door in the room and returns a generic response, and the cabinet doesn't have a door as such.)

We can GO DOORWAY from the starting location to explore the outside of the mansion.  A Pole in a garden area outside the mansion to the east of the entrance is too smooth to climb, but we note that the garden has very moist soil in it.  There's a sports car in the parking lot west of the entrance, and we can apparently unlock the door somehow, as EXAMINE CAR suggests that One window is open a tiny bit.

There's no DIG verb in this game, which is unusual, and it seems we have to WEAR things explicitly.  We can find some Wire cutters in an open field east of the southeast parking lot, but there's no CUT or USE verb -- it seems some of the puzzles just require possession of the appropriate equipment to OPEN or GET things.  The SAVE GAME command writes to the image disk, which is convenient, and the save feature has a generous ten slots available, numbered 0-9.  We can SIT DESK in rooms with no desk in them, though nothing really happens as a result.  And INVENTORY doesn't work, only I.

North of the starting location is an entry hall with an Open doorway, a Table, and a Vase full of flowers.  A guard sends us back if we try to go through the doorway -- "No visitors in this part of the mansion."

We can remove the flowers from the vase with TAKE FLOWERS, but we can't PLANT FLOWERS in the garden. We can EMPTY VASE to create a Puddle of water, and TAKE WATER to put it back in the vase; left alone, the puddle eventually evaporates.  Aha!  We can SHAKE FLOWERS a few times to yield a couple of seeds, and PLANT SEED in the garden, though nothing happens immediately as a result. 

So we've explored the available map and done some experimentation, and I'm back where I got stuck on my previous attempt.  We can't use the wire cutters to disable any alarms in the entry hall or the library, nor can we climb the plant in the garden (after it appears) without some structural reinforcement, so those ideas proved fruitless.  I needed the walkthrough to learn that we can RIP PAGE from the book in the library, then YELL FIRE so that the guard leaves (and liberates the fire axe from the case in the entry hall) so that we can OPEN CASE and replace the paper we want to examine more closely with a coded page from the book.  Once we have it in hand, the paper, which previously seemed to have nothing interesting written on it, in fact says: "I hearby [sic] give the holder of this paper permision [sic] to enter any room in my mansion, R. Lansford."  Apparently the mansion's owner had some spelling difficulties, and I never did find a way to decode the book or its torn-out page.  But now we can explore the mansion much more freely, and we can get the hose from the glass cabinet in the entry hall.

North of the room with the table is another hallway, with a Large pipe organ and exits going in many directions.  PLAY ORGAN yields, "Yuk! Sounds terrible!", so that's probably a puzzle we'll need to return to later.

East of the organ room is an office with a chair and desk.  We can SIT CHAIR to find a typewriter bolted to the desk (and completely invisible if we EXAMINE DESK without sitting down.)  We can TYPE, though at this point there doesn't seem to be any reason to, so we'll just GET UP.

Upstairs from the office is a study with curtains -- opening them reveals a Mirror; we can't examine it, or GET it, as MIRROR is not recognized by the parser, so it seems we'll have to bring something here to make use of the mirror (and, no, SHOW BOOK doesn't help us decode it.  I never did find a way to decode the book, or to yield a text excerpt to decrypt manually, so this seems to be a red herring.)

West of the round room is a metal room with a TV Monitor, TV Camera and Metal door.  The monitor reads, "MAINTENANCE CARD REQUIRED FOR ADMITANCE [sic]."  Another, similar room to the north requires a SECURITY CARD for admitance admittance.

North of the organ room is a sewing room, which for some reason contains a Fish tank full of fish.  There's a box in the tank; if we stick around, a piranha (spelled correctly in the text announcing the event, but Pirhana in the visible items list and the parser dictionary) jumps out of the tank.  We will probably regret trying to GET PIRHANA -- and yes, Piranha eats your hand and you quickly bleed to death! YOU'RE DEAD...

Restoring and exploring upwards from the organ room, we traverse a staircase through several floors that comprise about half the map.  One level up, we can travel east to an old fashion photography room with a camera mounted on a tripod.  Closer examination of the camera reveals a button/cable, probably for taking a photo at a short distance or with a time delay.  We can't TAKE PHOTO, PRESS BUTTON, or GET CABLE, but we can PUSH BUTTON to take a blank photo.  There's no indication of what we're photographing (the camera appears to point out the window in the illustration) and we can't DEVELOP FILM, so this mystery will have to await further investigation

Further up the staircase, we can access a storage room, a small room with a small button, and another small room with a Strange piece of machinery featuring a glass plate attached to the top of the machine; in the illustration, it resembles a photocopier.  The storage room features a metal box pointing at a chair; we can SIT CHAIR to discover a microphone, a large slot, and a button, none of which has a clear purpose or function at the moment.

The third story (this staircase goes and goes) contains a room with a glass floor, a very deep pit, and a very hot room containing a Piece of very hot metal that we can't cool down by EMPTYing the VASE.  Even stranger, below the hot room is a dungeon like room where a Weak looking man cries, "Food! Food! I must have food!"

Four floors up, at last, is a single, glass-domed room at the top of the mansion -- it's the SCORE room, with a "Drop treasures here then score" sign in the Scott Adams tradition.

We've explored the accessible map, so it's time to do some puzzle solving.  We can WEAR the BOOTS from the entry hall.  We can CLIMB the PLANT that's now grown where we planted a seed -- except the "Plant bends over and you're thrown to the ground, breaking every bone in your body!" and it's time to restore again.

There's now a hole in the cabinet window in the entry hall -- our false fire alarm earlier inspired the guard to break the glass and remove the axe, apparently, so now we can GET HOSE and TIE PLANT -- To what? -- TO POLE -- With what? -- WITH HOSE, allowing us to CLIMB PLANT successfully and enter a large bedroom.  There's a coat here, and closer examination reveals a Coat hanger.  We can't seem to unlock the room's locked interior door, so our only option is to go back out the window.

With the coat hanger in hand, we can't BEND or USE or INSERT HANGER or UNLOCK CAR... but we can UNLOCK DOOR -- How? -- WITH HANGER, and then open and GO DOOR (GO CAR fortunately yields Try: "GO DOOR").  We can't, however, START CAR, as it appears to be out of gas, which is probably why another car is available in the other parking lot.

With the hose (retrieved from its plant-securing position) and the emptied vase, we can SIPHON GAS.  Then... hmmm... INSERT GAS, FILL CAR, FUEL CAR, GAS CAR... nothing seems to be working.  But we can't DROP GAS... interesting... ah, we have to PUT GAS -- Where? -- IN CAR.  It seems PUT takes the place of INSERT in this parser's construction.  And now -- nope, we still can't start the car, probably because we don't have the keys.

What now?  We can't OPEN GLOVEBOX, though the noun is recognized, unlike WHEEL or SEAT.  We can EXAMINE DASHBOARD to find a couple of loose wires, and CONNECT WIRES, allowing us to fire up the engine at last.  There's a road going north from here, and while we can't GO NORTH sitting in the car we can DRIVE NORTH.  Unfortunately, a few locations up the road, You get pulled over for speeding and when the cop finds out the sports car is stolen he arrests you!

We're now in a jail cell, with a Locked door, naturally.  We can't PICK LOCK (the verb isn't recognized) or CUT LOCK with the wire cutters; UNLOCK DOOR yields Sorry, you have no key that fits.  So we must have missed something prior to this point, and it's time to QUIT and restore again.

I needed a hint at this point -- while EXAMINE BED doesn't suggest there are sheets present with which we can interact, EXAMINE SHEETS is recognized (though still, You see nothing special.)  We have to GO BED to see a Nail file as well as the Sheets, and EXAMINE SHEETS to discover they are lined with gold, making * SHEETS * the first treasure we've found.  Dropping them in the domed-roof room yields a SCORE of 10, on a scale of 0 to 100, so it seems we'll need to round up ten treasures.

Will the nail file help us escape from jail?  Well, it might, as when we get arrested for speeding, the police confiscate the file.  Trying again, I learn that we can PUT FILE / IN BOOTS, and thanks to shocking police incompetence, keep it long enough to FILE LOCK and escape the cell.  We can even examine the unattended police desk, open a drawer and discover a * GOLDEN GUN *, a * GOLD POCKET WATCH * and some * MONEY *.

Driving back to the mansion, we don't run into any further obstacles; it's a short trip to drop off the new treasures and get our score up to 40.  Returning to the car, and heading further north, we can find another parking lot north of the speed trap (which fortunately doesn't trigger again.)

There's a general store here, and a metal glove (which might be handy for piranha and hot metal handling.)  The store clerk will let us BUY a BOX of cereal -- except I didn't bring any of the * MONEY * along.  We don't get any change, so that treasure now seems to be lost, but when we EXAMINE (not OPEN) BOX we find... a Small lead figure?  Hmmmm.  Not the safest cereal premium ever offered...

If we GIVE BOX to the starving man (we have no way to warn him about the possible lead contamination) he eats it and runs off, leaving us with a * GOLD BAND * in return.  So we're back up to 4 treasures.  And with the metal glove on, we can pick up the piece of hot metal, if we come up with any reason to do so.  We can try to JUMP in the pit room, but that's fatal.

What else?  There are those security doors on the first floor, and some apparatus reminiscent of Adams' Impossible Mission adventure that suggest we need to create our own security cards.  My earlier attempt produced a Blank picture; we can't PUT this PICTURE in the typewriter, or in the slot of the chair with the metal box, but we can put it on the glass plate of the strange machine.  Putting it there, and pushing the small button in the next room... dang!  It causes the machine to explode into a pile of smoking rubble, leaving the blank picture intact.  This is probably not what we wanted to happen.

Dropping the hot metal on the room with the glass floor causes the floor to heat up... but that doesn't seem to have any real effect?  Ahhhhh... walkthrough time again!  I was supposed to get the water back after emptying the vase to siphon the gas, and this has to be done quickly as there is just enough time to put the gas in the car and return to retrieve the water.  Mine evaporated long, long ago.

Soooo... it's back to square one for a retracing of my steps up to this point.  Now we can use the hot metal to heat up the glass floor, with a chaser of cold vase water to shatter the glass, creating a Hole in floor leading to a greenhouse.  A sad looking gardener is here, but he's not distraught over being sealed away in an otherwise exitless greenhouse, perhaps to accompany R. Lansford in the afterlife; his primary concern is that he needs one seed, which is why the flowers yielded two earlier.  We GIVE SEED and gain the gardener's * RARE COINS * collection in exchange.  There's also a backpack here, though it can't be opened, shaken or otherwise examined.  With the coins, we're up to 50%!  Halfway done!

Now, about that camera... I thought maybe we could aim the camera up through the glass floor, but those rooms aren't actually adjacent.  I needed to reference the walkthrough again to understand that the camera is on a timer -- so after we push the button, we have to run back to the room with the mirror, open the curtains, and SHOW repeatedly for five turns (I tried to figure this mechanism out in more detail, but it seems to be very particular -- fewer turns doesn't seem to do the trick, and I don't think I would have guessed that SHOW was the magic verb.)  Now we have a picture of ourselves (I am assuming, examination doesn't confirm this) that we can use to fake our way past the security doors.

This involves putting the picture in the typewriter (unlike the blank picture, the "real" picture inserts just fine) and TYPEing SECURITY (I first tried to TYPE MAINTENANCE, figuring I might be able to crack the lower level of security more easily to access the first camera-guarded room, but when we try to read the typed message afterward the game replies, "Sorry, you can't make it out"; the only successfully legible text is SECURITY, and fortunately we can type over any illegible text we've already tried.)  We can now SHOW PICTURE at the northern security door, and it allows us to quickly dash into another metal room with a * SMALL RUBY *, some Sheets of cloth, and a small button used for exiting.

Now... can we augment this security picture to make it valid for maintenance also?  I tried putting it on the strange machine, going to the microphone system, SAYing MAINTENANCE, and pushing that button; nothing changed in the other room.  Pushing the button in the room closest to the machine destroys the equipment again, but we end up with an enlarged picture.  This Large picture can be placed into the microphone chair's slot, and then after we say the magic word and push the button, we are returned an updated picture with MAINTENANCE typed on it (the picture is now too large to fit into the typewriter, so this is the only way to do this.)  It seems odd that Mr. Lansford has more complicated security procedures around gaining maintenance access than an official security ID, but we've seen stranger systems in adventure games.

Now we can enter the maintenance area, obtaining a * SAPPHIRE RING * and some pieces of rope.  70% now, and we're starting to run out of puzzles.  What about the piranha?  With the metal glove on, we can GET PIRANHA PIRHANA and return it to its tank -- though rather than a grateful rescued piranha, we end up with a tank otherwise full of well-fed and satisfied fish, and now we can GET the mysterious BOX out of the tank.

We can EXAMINE BOX to reveal some chemicals, and a la Adams' Voodoo Castle, MIX CHEMICALS -- the smoke somehow changes the lead figure into a * SMALL GOLD FIGURE *.  (Man, I wish I'd written down what those chemicals were before I started just randomly mixing them!)

What now?  There's that fatal pit left over... and we have some sheets of cloth, several pieces of rope, and a backpack, raising the suspicion that we can... MAKE PARACHUTE?  Yep!  We have to pick our Make-shift parachute up after assembling it, but we don't have to (and can't) WEAR it.  We just JUMP at the edge of the pit, and now we are floating down; we have only one chance to snag a Metronome and a * DIAMOND * conveniently placed on passing ledges, before our parachute gets ripped to shreds and we land back in the organ room.

Simply STARTing the METRONOME and PLAYing the ORGAN again doesn't help the results at all -- odd?  Ah (thanks, walkthrough!) -- we have to DROP METRONOME after starting it, and now that we got rhythm, the Music causes a secret panel to open! revealing a new passage containing a * SOLID GOLD BAR *.

We have all the treasures now, and taking these last few to the score room should yield the expected victory... except... after we type SCORE and confirm our 100 points, the treasures do something very odd, magically melding together and becoming something altogether different.  Now there's a Half of a large electrum star in the room, and we can't go D to the rest of the mansion anymore.  We can't GO STAR or JUMP to get sucked into it, but we can GET STAR -- and thus, we are presented with a password for The Lansford Mansion Adventure Part II -- which unfortunately never saw the light of day as far as I can discover.  As it's been a good 25 years we've been waiting now, I'm just going to call that second game a forfeit and declare unmitigated victory!

The Lansford Mansion Adventure is not a perfect game -- its challenges arise too often from design assumptions that the reader may not share, or maybe the hints were just too subtle for me to pick up on.  But I enjoyed the challenge, and the obvious Scott Adams homages, once I had a solution handy to help me through the frustrating bits.  I wish the sequel had materialized; the disk image contains a LANSFORD/BIN and a LANSPRT2/BIN file, but these seem to be two binary sections of this one adventure.  Onward we go!


  1. I am glad to see that my walkthrough is helping others tackle this difficult adventure. It took me quite a bit of time and lots of trial & error to figure out some of the tougher parts.

    1. This is definitely not an easy adventure, and I greatly appreciated your work. Good to hear from you!