Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Horror House (1983)

This week, we're entering the Horror House, another contest entry from The Rainbow Book of Adventures, published in 1983 as both a magazine-style "book" collecting the type-in listings and a collection on tape or disk, ready to run.  This adventure was written in BASIC by Robert W. Mangum II.

I couldn't initially get the game running on the VCC CoCo emulator running Disk Extended Basic -- I was stuck on a series of flashing pink and green screens, which I was supposed to use to select one of the available text mode color sets.  Starting the program up with RUN 5 instead skips over a POKE command that may have been the source of my problem, skips the author's time-consuming title screen, and gets us underway more quickly. 

Horror House is a text adventure/RPG hybrid -- several screens of instructions establish that we're exploring a monster-infested house, where we have to PUNCH or HIT the monsters to defeat them without running out of hit points ourselves.  Our health regenerates at 1 point per ten turns, and every 50 turns one of the monsters is reincarnated.  After all the monsters are vanquished, we're told that the computer will be destroyed by an explosion.  Scary!  We can also REST once to regain all of our HP and reincarnate all of the monsters.  The parser vocabulary is helpfully displayed, limited to MOVE/PULL/PUSH, PUT/LEAVE/DROP, N/S/E/W for navigation, INSERT, LOOK, REST, and GET/TAKE.

This one's actually fairly fun to play -- success is partially random due to the combat-heavy gameplay, but it's a pleasant diversion and I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying it out.  As always, my further notes here will detail my entire experience in the Horror House.  So if you want to experience it firsthand, step away and go do so, because otherwise you will be subjected to the comprehensive...

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

As the game starts up, it becomes clear that the rooms are very generic, with no descriptions of specific locations -- we have to differentiate rooms based on the exit list and any objects that happen to be present, so mapping is a necessity.  The first room has exits to the north and west, and we can see the closed, locked door we just came in through.  We can't KICK DOOR or OPEN DOOR, and if we try to PUNCH DOOR, IT IS NOT HEREHIT DOOR suggests that YOU MUST HAVE THE SWORD, so finding that may be our most pressing need at the moment.

There's a hideous statue in the room to the west; we can MOVE STATUE to find a blue coin underneath it, but the statue also comes to life!  Fortunately it's not a very formidable foe -- it kept missing me while I slowly PUNCHed it to death.  And we might as well TAKE BLUE COIN (TAKE COIN doesn't work, the parser considers it to be a BLUE COIN and not a COIN.)

North of the entrance is a room with exits in all four directions.  Heading east and south, we discover a room with a vending machine and a giant crab.  The crab is a more formidable foe -- I had to fight pretty hard and lost about a third of my health before killing it.  The vending machine reads, "DRINK CREATURE COLA."  I tried to INSERT BLUE COIN, but while the machine accepted it nothing seemed to happen as a result.

There's nothing in the room to the west of the four-way room, and the north exit leads to a T-shaped room with exits east and west.  East is a bedroom, where I run into the giant crab again.  After killing it, we can MOVE BED to find an exit to the west, leading to a gargoyle.  He's a pretty tough customer, so I'll gamble and try leaving the gargoyle room to the north -- the monster doesn't actually block our way, so we're free to explore some more.

We're in another T-shaped room, and east/southeast down a bit of a hall I encounter a minotaur... and a sword!  Killing the minotaur takes a little bit of time, and these random battles prove to be rather comical, as both the player and monster spend a lot of time missing each other, with both combatants much less competent than fantasy lore would have one believe.  The sword bears the legend, "MONSTER SLAYER," just in case we didn't think to use it that way.

There's a computer in a room to the south, and while we're pondering that, A SNAKE JUST ENTERED ROOM!  It seems some of these monsters are of the wandering variety.  The computer is a 64K COLOR COMPUTER.  I try to READ COMPUTER, and the parser takes it as REST, so I am back up to full health but all of the monsters are alive again.  Curses!

Well, I'm not really trying to kill all of the monsters yet -- I'm just trying to map the place out.  I find a room on the west side of the house containing a rat and a cassette tape.  Killing the rat isn't too difficult, and we'll TAKE CASSETTE; it's labeled 5452532D3830, which if we assume these are two-character hexadecimal ASCII codes, translates to... TRS-80.  So it's not much of a clue.

There are some suspicious holes in what appears to be a 6 x 5 map on my graph paper, so it's not too surprising that when we INSERT CASSETTE in the computer room, a new exit opens up to the east.  We meet a goblin here, another toughish customer to dispatch, and can wander into the southern central area of the map to meet a zombie guarding a gold coin.  I'm not sure if we're supposed to want these treasures, but we might as well take it along after dealing with the walking dead.

There's only one room we haven't explored yet, it appears, in the southeast corner of the house, where an orc lives.  None of these monsters are too difficult to kill, but we do have to be careful as some of them can do a fair amount of damage if by chance they connect with an attack.  We've explored the map, as far as I can tell, so it's time to wander around and kill all of the beasties.

It appears that the living statue does not return to life after being terminated, or else it wanders off after it's reincarnated.  I do meet a new monster -- a skeleton in the vending machine room I managed not to run into before.  I dispatch it, and the giant crab, without too much trouble, and then run into the rat again.  This time I get it down to 1 hit point, and it runs away!  When I catch up with it, it's in the same room as the zombie and the gargoyle, and together they manage to overpower me before I can kill them all.

Trying again from the beginning -- there's no SAVE GAME in this brief adventure -- I kill the statue and gargoyle by punching, then use the sword to slay the minotaur, the statue (again, it does indeed reincarnate), the snake, the rat, the goblin, the orc, and the zombie.  I'm missing the crab and the skeleton, I think.  While looking for them, I find and kill the rat again, and the minotaur again, and the crab, and the minotaur a third time, and the crab a second time.  It appears that the monsters are not forced to actually navigate the maze, but can reincarnate at any random location.

So where is the skeleton?  While I'm looking for it, I find a PILE OF JUNK has materialized in one of the rooms, and LOOK PILE reveals a red coin.  Ah, this is the computer room!  So we must have destroyed all of the monsters, and the computer has exploded as promised.  Can we open the closed door by the entrance now?  Nope.

What else?  I am not seeing any monsters lately, so I think we have indeed dispatched them all, even though I never ran into the skeleton this time.  Let's try putting all three coins into the vending machine... and yes, A KEY FALLS TO THE FLOOR.  (We can't see it in the room if we LOOK after this happens, but we can still TAKE KEY successfully.)

Now we just have to INSERT KEY at the closed door, with no pesky monsters bothering us on the way there, and we can escape to victory!

Horror House isn't much of an adventure game, but it makes effective use of limited computing resources to present a simple, entertaining monster hunt.  The battles are randomized enough to provide some close calls and drama, and the timed reincarnation of the monsters makes the final leg of the trip fairly tough, though the final journey to victory is comparatively relaxing once all the monsters are dead.  Not a lost classic, but Mr. Mangum's game is fun and certainly not terrible by magazine type-in standards.

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