Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Bedlam (1982)

This week, we're exploring the halls of Bedlam, a text adventure published in 1982 by Radio Shack for the company's TRS-80 Model I/III and Color computers.  It was written by Robert Arnstein, author of Raaka-Tu and Xenos (and reportedly Pyramid 2000, I learned recently, though he's not credited in the manual.)  I first played this game on the TRS-80 Color Computer, having at the time left my Model I behind, but I'm re-playing it on the classic TRS-80 here, for the sake of its 80-column text display; it's a better platform than the TV-compatible CoCo for text adventures.

Like Arnstein's earlier games, Bedlam uses a simple teletype-style interface -- the game prints a message, the user enters a command, the game responds, and the text just keeps scrolling.  But the parser is quite helpful when it comes to syntax and disambiguation -- if we type EXAMINE DOOR, for example, and the game needs more detail, it will flash EXAMINE ?WHICH? DOOR before letting us edit the command to, say, EXAMINE GREEN DOOR.

Bedlam is an escape-the-insane-asylum adventure, a fairly common theme at the time though it wasn't done to death.  Its most innovative and unusual characteristic is that it has some randomized elements and multiple endings, in that there are several escape routes possible.  I don't remember how I discovered this back in the day, as it certainly wasn't expected -- I think I was on the trail of one solution, and then stumbled across another along the way.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to wander the halls of Bedlam before proceeding with my notes below, and Sean Murphy's Bedlam page is highly recommended as supplemental reading. Without further ado, I'll describe my own experience in the following material, so beware that there are certain to be...

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

We begin in a small padded room, with a closed green door on the south wall, as we wake up after a "bad dream" about doctors and padded rooms.  We have nothing in inventory, there are no items here, and we learn nothing new from EXAMINEing the walls, floor or ceiling.  But, contrary to expectations, we can simply OPEN DOOR and leave the room.

We now enter the east-west hallway; a red door on the south wall is locked.  Traveling east leads to an almost identical room, where a green door to the north is unlocked and the red door to the south is locked.

Behind the green door is... Marilyn Chambers!  No, just kidding, it's Napoleon Bonaparte!  Or, at least, a short funny looking man who claims he is "THE MIGHTIEST LEADER IN THE WORLD!"  This is ironic, because while we can't TALK to him or ASK him about anything, if we say, NAPOLEON, FOLLOW ME, he readily responds, "OK, LEAD THE WAY."

He's a little more obstinate if we continue on to the east end of the hall, open the next green door, go into the padded room and say, NAPOLEON, STAY HERE; he responds, "YOU WOULDN'T LEAVE ME HERE!" and refuses to stay behind.  So I guess we'll be stuck with him for now, though eventually his attention will wander off and his person will follow.

Further east is the electroshock therapy room, where a uniformed woman who LOOKS LIKE THE ROLLER DERBY QUEEN assumes "YOU MUST BE HERE FOR TREATMENT" and gestures toward the apparatus.  We can escape by heading W, but if we wanted the GREEN KEY from the electroshock room we would have to stick around.  At the moment, though, we haven't run into any locked green doors, so there's no reason to try to retrieve it (assuming this game follows the usual color-coded security conventions typical of doors and keys designated with specific colors.)

Going all the way back to the west end of the hall, we find yet another openable green door and locked red door.  Here, we encounter a pseudo-Merlin, IN A BLACK CLOAK AND POINTED HAT, who believes we are a demon he has summoned to do his bidding.  We can also command MERLIN, FOLLOW ME; most of the characters we will encounter turn out to be fairly compliant, though most of them aren't very useful.  They do have their personality quirks, though, and their actions can provide clues -- we happen to see that NAPOLEON IS RUNNING HIS HANDS OVER THE WALLS.  And Merlin is getting impatient, saying, "I CAN'T UNDERSTAND IT.  I MUST HAVE CONJURED THE WRONG DEMON."

Further west is the dispensary, with exits to the east, west and south.  There's a blue pill here, and a locked cabinet on the wall with a tiny hole in it.  EXAMINE HOLE reveals a red key inside the cabinet.  Interesting.  We can TAKE PILL and then EAT PILL -- but it seems to have NO EFFECT.

Moving west again brings us to the Maintenance Room, where we find a long-handled window hook and an unsavory-looking doctor -- A SHORT, STOCKY, UNSHAVEN MAN WEARING A BLOODY WHITE SURGICAL GOWN -- who says, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? GO WHERE YOU BELONG!"  We can continue west into an office, but it seems the doctor is following us.  He occasionally lags behind, but if he catches up for more than one turn, he gives us a frontal lobotomy.  We do wake up, with blood on our gown, and can continue playing, but we are now badly confused, and every move we make is complicated by random attempts to navigate immediately following our every command.  So it's safer to restore a saved game or start over after this happens, at least until we can find a cure for it.

Merlin keeps insisting that we "REVEAL THE DOOR OF ESCAPE," which may be what Napoleon is feeling around for.  Trying to get the green key from the electroshock room is unsuccessful, as we get subjected to electroshock therapy before we can make off with it, and experimentation establishes that Merlin refuses to pick it up on our behalf.

Hmmmmm.  What about that long handled window hook?  If we go to the east end of the hall, just outside the electroshock room, and try to GET KEY, the parser is smart enough to tell us that YOU CAN NOT REACH THE GREEN KEY FROM OUT HERE.  And we can successfully GET KEY WITH HOOK from this location, without having to enter the electroshock room!  Unfortunately, though, the green key can't unlock the cabinet in the dispensary.  Wandering around and running into the evil doctor again, we can gain independent verification of the medical consensus that getting electroshock treatment does not undo the effects of a frontal lobotomy.  But -- referencing the original manual -- we discover some not-so-subtle hints that the longstanding adventuring magic word PLUGH will undo the confusion, and we need not fear lobotomization any longer.  Magic Words: 1, Medical Science: 0.

What else can we try?  Well, we can EXAMINE ROOM in any location to see NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT THE ROOM, suggesting that this may not always be the case.  And what about that other key?  We can't GET RED KEY from the cabinet, even with the window hook in inventory, or GET RED KEY FROM CABINET, as YOU ARE QUITE INCAPABLE OF REMOVING THE RED KEY, or PUT HOOK IN HOLE, as THE WINDOW HOOK WON'T FIT IN THE CABINET -- but these are kind of misleading responses, as we can successfully GET RED KEY WITH HOOK.

Now we can explore the rest of the map and UNLOCK RED DOOR WITH RED KEY as necessary.  The first one we try is empty, at the west end of the east-west hallway, but the one directly south of our starting point houses a man with a very bad French accent, who announces, "EYE AM A GRATE ARTEEST! MAH NAM EEZ PICASSO!"  (despite the fact that Picasso was Spanish.)  This impostor likes to paint doors on the wall, and if memory serves sometimes these can be opened; but in this case, OPEN PAINTED DOOR yields only, "ARE YOU CRAZY? IT IS JUST A PAINTED DOOR!"

Unlocking the third, easternmost red door gets us somewhere new -- the north end of a north-south hallway, opening up the rest of the map.  A blue door on the right-hand side can be freely opened, but the padded room beyond is empty.  Continuing south along the hallway, we can enter a kitchen to the east, with a refrigerator that drops some hamburger meat onto the floor when OPENed.

East of the kitchen is the asylum's kennel, where a VICIOUS GUARD DOG blocks the southern exit.  We can PUT PILL IN MEAT, and while the blue pill had no effect on us personally earlier, the dog finds it (or the meat) less appetizing -- THE DOG LOOKS SICK.  HE WEAVES AND FALLS OVER DEAD.  But we can't just exit the asylum to the south -- as we try, some guards throw us into a storage shed and lock the door!  The game isn't over yet, though, as we can still take action -- the shed has a green door on the north wall, so we can UNLOCK GREEN DOOR WITH GREEN KEY, and just walk north to escape to freedom -- and victory!

So that's one solution.  But there are some other aspects of the game I recall that we haven't run into yet, so let's explore the map a little more.  Backtracking, we find a dining room south of the kitchen, and returning to the north-south hallway we encounter a man named XRAY JOHNSON ("BUT YOU CAN CALL ME RAY") who claims to have X-ray vision.  Maybe he will be helpful in spotting a different escape route.

There's also a straitjacketed man who claims to be the real doctor, which we're willing to buy given the unsavory nature of the other doctor we've met, but he passes out before we can do anything with him, and we can't WAKE DOCTOR, so this is just a bit of storytelling atmospherics.  In the Recreation Room, we can meet another similarly confined man hanging from the ceiling -- he claims to be Houdini, but he seems unable to get out of his straitjacket.

That was entertaining, but I didn't succeed in finding any different solutions on my backtracking foray, which makes me suspect that each game we start actually makes only one solution available.  So we have to start over, and doing so, we find the characters originating in different, random rooms, though the key puzzles remain the same. 

In this run, as it turns out, EXAMINE ROOM -- in the eastern green-doored padded room -- freely reports, THERE IS A SECRET DOOR HERE... but we are NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO OPEN IT if we try.  Neither is Ray, if asked -- "SORRY, I'VE BEEN RATHER ANEMIC LATELY!"  But Napoleon can do it, and we're free by an alternate route!

Any other possibilities?  I seem to recall that Picasso's painted doors can be opened under some circumstances, and guessing that it may be random, I start a third game.  It takes a few tries before this surreal possibility is selected as the valid solution, but on my sixth game I succeed!

A little online research confirms that we've covered all three ending possibilities, so let's call this one done!

Bedlam is not a very complex adventure -- most of the 16K game's limited memory is devoted to presenting its colorful characters, and perhaps as a consequence there are only a few puzzles, and they generally succumb to common sense if we remember that the parser is not limited to two words.  It's not a terrible game, but like many adventures with random elements, it's just not quite as satisfying as a well-plotted adventure game can be.  I enjoyed revisiting the halls of Bedlam, but it was mostly for nostalgia's sake; I like Mr. Arnstein's other games quite a bit more.


  1. I remember playing Bedlam on the TRS-80 back in the day. I must have done something differently than you did, because when I put the pill in the hamburger meat and threw the hamburger meat to the dog, the dog simply ate it and kept barking at me viciously. He didn't fall over dead; in fact, he didn't so much as fall asleep. I ... actually gave up on the game at this point and never finished it.

  2. It seems there's only one possible solution each time the game is started -- so if the "dog poisoning" solution isn't the one selected, that tactic won't work at all, even though all of the objects are available. I ran into that while trying to experience all the endings here -- Picasso's doors can either be opened shortly after you meet him, or never. And even when the dog CAN be poisoned, the blue pill remains harmless to the player, which isn't very consistent.