Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Adventure of the Week: 666 The Haunted House (1987/2003)

This week's adventure possesses a lengthy historical pedigree, at least by computer game standards.  666 The Haunted House is a Portuguese illustrated text adventure, released for the TRS-80 Color Computer in 1987 originally, and updated to this version 2.01 in 2003, at which time it was also converted to the Japanese MSX computers.  The original game was written by Guilherme Castro and Cristian Hofsetz, with the 2003 update credited to Hofsetz alone.

The title screen provides a brief and mysterious backstory -- clearly, our mission here has something to do with an old family demonic curse:

The engine is fairly primitive technically -- we can see graphical objects being drawn and stored in memory before the game proper starts, giving away some of what lies ahead.  And the keyboard routine seems to have some issues with multiple hits, what we used to call "key bounce" back in the day, so we have to type with a light touch.  The parser doesn't support very many commands, and there's also no SAVE GAME feature, so we must tread carefully; fortunately the game is also fairly small and short, so replaying from scratch is annoying but not maddening.

It's not a difficult game, so experienced adventurers will not need to reference the CASA walkthrough -- but I will mention that while that solution is written for the MSX version, it applies equally well to this edition.  Beyond that, I advise interested readers to visit the old family estate for themselves before proceeding here, and advise all to brace themselves for a few religious oddities and questionable plot devices.  Hot off of Satan's griddle, we're serving up...

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

The player starts out in a randomized location within the house -- fortunately the map is fairly open, and I never found myself stuck in an impossible spot at startup.

The title screen illustration is unimpressive, and the in-game graphics are even simpler, drawn schematically from a simple perspective-based template, like a dungeon crawl.  The game's locations are generic and rather nondescript -- while the ECTO-SCREENING ROOM is nicely evocative, it's an exception, and we too often find ourselves in ANOTHER ROOM or a SMALL ROOM.

While the parser is simple, it does have a sense of humor, avoiding some of the old cliches -- if we attempt to navigate in an invalid direction, for example, it tells us You should buy some glasses.  I can't go there.

There aren't many items to deal with, but most have a clear purpose in this brief game.  In the library, we find a letter that reads, THE PACT IS SEALED! THE CURSE WILL REMAIN UNTIL THE CHRISTIAN SYMBOL IS RESTORED.  The meaning of this becomes clear when we visit the BEDROOM WHERE YOUR ANCESTOR WAS KILLED, which contains a bed and a cross-shaped frame.  Hmmmm.

Most useful objects are also mentioned in the text, but in the TRANSIT ROOM, a staircase is displayed with no further detail onscreen.  I had to experiment to establish that we can't go UP or CLIMB STAIRS -- we must simply GO STAIRS.

LOOK MIRROR in the bathroom yields MAN, YOU LOOK UGLY.. AND SCARED TO DEATH, but otherwise serves no purpose that I could discover.

There's a knife in the EXECUTION CHAMBER -- truly, this is an elegant and well-appointed domicile --  and a key in an attic room.  We can't UNLOCK DOOR with the key, but we can OPEN DOOR - WITH WHAT: - KEY.  This leads us to a LIVING ROOM with a not-so-secret PASSAGE -- though we can't GO PASSAGE until we first OPEN PASSAGE, so it does make an effort to conceal itself.

The passage leads us down to a creepy cellar, where we find a cross, a coffin and a skull.  We may be tempted to GET CROSS and hightail it out of there, but the skull will have none of that (and to be fair, remember that this was written in Portugal by a non-native English speaker):

Returning to this point on our next attempt, we note that LOOK SKULL indicates THE SKUL [sic] IS CREEPY; no surprise there, really.  LOOK CASKET also proves fatal, as A SKELETON HAND HOLD YOUR ARM AND PULLED YOU INSIDE.  What we need to do here, nonsensical as it may seem, is KILL SKULL - WITH WHAT: - KNIFE.  I was relieved and amused when THE SKULL DIED SAYING... WHATEVER!!!!!!

Now we can PUT CROSS in the bedroom, fulfilling the letter's instructions, at which time we are instantly informed that THE PACT WITH THE DEMON IS VOID!!! -- and that we have 15 moves with which to RUN NOW!!!!!.

Successfully escaping from the house proves more difficult than one might think.  We can reclaim the cross once the pact is broken, but LOOK CROSS only discovers a legend reading MADE IN BRAZIL Z.F. MANAUS, which may or may not be some sort of in-joke, not very useful in any case.

Because we don't have time to do very much at this point, it's best to take advantage of several unsubtle hints the game offers along the way.  If we examine the portal in the ECTOPLASMA TRANSPORT ROOM, the game replies I wonder how can we CROSS it.  Carrying the cross allows us to pass through the portal safely.

We can't actually exit the house this way, however; all we find on the other side of the portal is an ECTOPLASMA RECEPTION ROOM containing a Star of David; from here, we can exit to the attic, or go back through the portal, but we're still stuck in the house as the demon's vengeance approaches. 

So how does this all work out?  Well, if we tried to leave the house with GO ENTRANCE before breaking the demonic pact, we were told YOU HAVE NOT CANCELED THE PACT WITH THE DEVIL!   So this must be the right exit to take, if we can get circumstances properly aligned.

So at last... well...

This might have been handled with a little more finesse, or creativity.


If we try to pass through the door without the Star of David in hand, we are presented with this little poem:  THERE IS NO MOTIVE FOR YOU TO GET THRU; NO ONE WILL SURVIVE EXCEPT THE JEW.

Yeah.  I don't think it's meant to be intentionally offensive, but at best it's a clumsy bit of doggerel.  Anyway... I wish I could say it gets better, but...

With the Star of David in hand, we can escape the house and learn that The adventure was solved! 

Except that the story isn't over, and we don't feel very triumphant.  A sequel is promised, and we are warped through time and space... to a Nazi concentration camp circa 1940, because THE DEMON WANTS REVENGE!  This feels like the designers are trivializing the Holocaust, unfortunately, and the artwork here certainly does not help the situation:

Yikes.  The promised continuation never appeared, as far as I can determine, and that's probably a good thing.

It might have been in poor taste.

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