Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Adventure of the Week: The Deed of The York (1983)

This week, we're trying to hunt down The Deed of The York (1983), yet another Rainbow Book of Adventures contest winner, in this case created by Dwight Logan and translated to TRS-80 Color Computer BASIC by Chris Harland.  We're playing using the VCC emulator.

As we might surmise from the title, we're trying to track down the deed to the York Hotel, a family asset hidden by one William T. York, our late, unlamented grandfather, before a rival family faction does.  It's reportedly hidden in his summer home, so it seems we'll be spending our time there rather than going anywhere near the hotel.

Like a lot of the other reader-submitted adventures in The Rainbow's first adventure collection, the format of The Deed of The York comes partly from experimentation, partly from inexperience.  It's not nearly as limited as some of the menu-driven adventures I've recently been covering, but it's not a full-blown adventure engine either.  We're given text descriptions and prompts, and are free to enter whatever we like, but the parser recognizes only a limited set of options in each location and is highly situational, with no inventory system to broaden the possibilities.

This is another one you can safely skip playing -- it's easy enough to explore the world, and the structure is simple enough that death isn't a huge setback.  But actually completing the game depends on sidestepping a frequently fatal bug at the game's conclusion, and I don't generally wish that upon my readers.  So feel free to see what recovering The Deed of The York is all about by venturing directly into the...

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

The game's intro text informs us that THE DOOR WILL ONLY OPEN IF YOU SHOUT 'PIZZA'.  The parser, unusually, asks us to type WHERE to get our bearings rather than LOOK, and its tone is rather snippy -- an initial WHERE at the first prompt yields, YOU'RE OUTSIDE AN OLD HOUSE, STUPID!  And a LOOK, for some reason, causes us to exit the game completely?  Ah -- apparently if we fail to invoke the magic word PIZZA on our first or second turn, the game unceremoniously ends.

Surviving into the entrance hallway, we see a very worn carpet, a coat rack, doors to the right and left and a glass door straight ahead.  LOOK COATRACK reveals the carved initials W.S. -- not William York, apparently.  William Shakespeare?  Will Smith?  MOVE COATRACK and TAKE COATRACK produce the same response as LOOK -- apparently the parser just looks for recognizable keywords in the player's input, so we can save ourselves some typing by sticking to nouns and navigation.

Let's head to the RIGHT and check out the living room -- a couch and two easy chairs are covered in sheets, with a folding door on one wall, a sliding door on another, and a door going left back to the entrance hallway.  Accessing the FOLDING door leads to a dining room with a long oak table and eight chairs, a swinging door, two pictures and a wall switch.  PICTURES moves one of the pictures, yielding a cryptic note: "HE GOT A PIGLET, HE GOT A BIG MAC, BUT WHEN HE LEARED [sic?], HE GOT HISTORICAL."  Is that supposed to be LEARNED or LEERED?  No telling at this point.

Returning to the living room, we move the COUCH to reveal a panel in the wall -- an arrow shoots out, narrowly missing us, with another note: "DON'T MAKE MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING."  Another Shakespeare reference?  This action will repeat any time we access the couch -- the game doesn't worry about retaining a memory of events, it seems, so everything kind of happens in the moment.  (And no, I don't think it's going to go all Marcel Proust on us, it seems resolutely focused on Shakes.) The SLIDING door takes us to a den with no other exits, where we spot a TV set -- written in the dust on its top are the words, "BOOKS ARE BETTER!"

Okay -- so far, not much has been learned, or leared, for that matter.  We'll continue exploring the right side of the hall by returning to the dining room north of the living room.  If we touch the TABLE, a trap door unceremoniously dumps us into the basement, and our rivals the Chomiuk family find the deed first, leading to our expulsion from the York family.  I'm not sure I really want to be part of either of these clans, but such is the familial hand we've been dealt.

Re-starting again, we touch the SWITCH on the dining room wall, and LIGHT FILLS THE ROOM every time we do this; there seems to be no way to turn the lights off, nor does there seem to be any reason to want them in either state.  Going through the SWINGING door here leads to a kitchen, with doors left, right and straight ahead.  The CUPBOARD is bare except for a dusty glass, and the ICEBOX contains a roll of paper, reading "SHELVE ALL PLOTS AS THE BARD WAVES HIS JAVELIN."  A double Shakespearean reference here, giving the Prince of Denmark +2 points while the Fresh Prince remains at 0.

Continuing our vaguely northeastern progress, we'll step outside the kitchen to the RIGHT, onto the back porch, where we are explicitly told we should return to the house and nothing else I try produces any interesting responses.  Moving AHEAD from the kitchen is far more dramatic -- A DISEMBODIED ARM SWINGS AN AXE AT YOU!  We stagger through another door, bleeding badly, and take a chance at heading RIGHT -- which leads us outside, to attract help at the hospital, where we can recover and try again (from scratch) another day.  Retrying and going LEFT instead leads us into the central ballroom, where we simply bleed to death.  So we'd best not try to travel north of the kitchen at all, it seems, despite the glimpse of a pantry mentioned before the axe connects.

In our next life, traveling LEFT from the kitchen puts us in the central ballroom -- so apparently we staggered back into the kitchen earlier.  We're always facing north in these rooms, so LEFT is WEST and RIGHT is EAST for traditional mapping purposes.  The ballroom is quite impressive, with a chandelier, a settee, doors to the BEHIND (south), LEFT and RIGHT, a winding staircase leading upstairs, and a green door near the staircase.

There's a music room behind the GREEN door (no, there's no Marilyn Chambers quartet), with a red door, a piano, and portraits of famous English authors and playwrights providing decor.  If we approach the PIANO, unseen fingers play "AS YOU LIKE IT," though trying to look for the portrait of SHAKESPEARE produces nothing interesting.

The music room's RED door leads to the study, with a DESK containing a library card with "1600S" written on it.  A door to the right returns to the music room -- I had my bearings reversed here at first -- and approaching the big FIREPLACE creates a phantasm, a choking hand of ash that drives us back into the ballroom (we can also get there by going through the study's DOUBLE doors.) 

The study's LEFT hand door accesses the library, where we find a shelf of books and a metal panel.  The PANEL leads to a narrow enclosed porch, with a mirror and an old novel lying on a lawn chair.  The MIRROR produces a hummed rendition of "I'M HENRY THE EIGHTH I AM," meant to evoke Shakespeare's work rather than Herman's Hermits, of course, or DJ Jazzy Jeff for that matter.  The NOVEL proves to be a book of blank pages, except for "THIS IS NOT 'A SUMMER'S TALE'" on the first page, and "ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL" on the last, just in case we haven't yet gotten the message.  A DOOR at the rear of the porch takes us back to the entrance hall, through the door on the left that we hadn't explored yet.

Oddly, messing with the SHELF in the library doesn't do anything, despite the apparent hint about shelving the plot.  And I note that some of the geography doesn't quite make sense here -- we go left from the kitchen into the ballroom, and left again from the ballroom to the kitchen.  Touching the SETTEE in the ballroom drops a carved pumpkin on our heads, and we stagger back into the kitchen in a daze before recovering.  Trying to interact with the CHANDELIER causes it to sway away from our attempts.  Curious.  Where have we not been yet?  We can try to go UP from the ballroom -- and a loud wailing noise precedes the appearance of a ghost in white that rushes at us, scaring us out of the house in terror for several days, forfeiting our chance to find the deed.

So... it seems we've explored the accessible house now.  I hadn't yet examined the CARPET in the entrance, which has a label reading, "MADE BY LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S MEN'S SEWING COMPANY-1605," another reference to the Bard's personal history.  We can't use the old library CARD in any direct way, and as I muddle about I eventually provoke an OS ERROR IN 130, as the BASIC program runs out of string memory and forces yet another restart.

What else?  Well, we can pinch our finger in the old lawn CHAIR, to no real effect.  And oh!  It strikes me now that the apparent misspelling LEARED is intentional -- that verse refers to Hamlet (PIGLET), MacBeth (BIG MAC), King LEAR, and Shakespeare's HISTORICAL dramas.

It sure seems like the study or the library might be the place to invoke the Bard and find the deed, but I try SHAKESPEARE and BOOKS and PORTRAITS in both locations to no avail.  And while I'm experimenting in the library some more, I again run into the fatal OS ERROR IN 130 I saw a bit earlier... and that happened here, in the same location... hmmmmmm... maybe we should peek at the code to see what tiny infuriating detail I'm blindly missing... aha!  It's not my approach at fault, for a pleasant change -- this bug's to blame, wherein we'll catch the concept of the game!

All of the unsubtle clues lying around the house are meant to point us toward SHAKESPEARE as our inevitable target, a magic word clearly held as a source of great power by the authors of this adventure.  We've got that much right.  But the game logic doesn't quite work the way the authors intended.  They clearly expect us to enter the library, and immediately say SHAKESPEARE -- which wins the game like so:

Whoops!  Looks like I just told everyone THE SECRETS!

But anyway, here's the technical problem I was running into -- if we hang around the library trying other possibilities, as adventure gamers are wont to do, the routine in line 130, meant to safeguard the magic word from prying eyes, actually causes it to grow with every move.  It's looking for SHAKESPEARE on the first turn we're in the library, but it just keeps adding to the "decrypted" string with each turn.  That is, it starts looking for SHAKESPEARESHAKESPEARE, and then it wants SHAKESPEARESHAKESPEARESHAKESPEARE, and so forth, creating a moving target until it runs out of string memory and produces the game-crashing OS ERROR IN 130.

So the game's offer of victory is good for a very limited time only, and that makes The Deed of The York rather more difficult to complete than it should be!  This is why playtesting is so important -- this is exactly the type of bug that an author never runs into, while almost all players are likely to encounter it.

I have to say, while these old amateur adventure games are often simplistic and buggy, they do come in more varieties than the commercial efforts of the time.  Not everyone had the benefit of reading Scott Adams' seminal article in BYTE magazine during those pre-Internet days, and I'm enjoying seeing how different people starting from scratch chose to implement their own ideas, even if they weren't always completely successful.

(And don't worry, faithful readers -- I'm itching to get back to some more traditional adventuring myself, and will do so before too much longer.)

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