Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Adventure of the Week: The Lost Dutchman's Gold (1979)

In memory of Bob "Captain 80" Liddil, who recently passed away, we're going to look at one of the earliest TRS-80 text adventures we've tackled -- The Lost Dutchman's Gold, written in 1979 by "Teri Li" (a.k.a. Terry Kepner) and published as the very first release from the late Mr. Liddil's company, The Programmer's Guild.  Its opening screen uses the Radio Shack TRS-80 computer's double-width text mode, which was quite the impressive hardware feature back in its day.

A technical aside -- if you're tracking this game down in the online Internet archives, be aware that the version called LSTDUT1A/BAS doesn't seem to work, and LSTDUT1B/BAS is much more reliable.  There's a functional SAVE GAME command in this one, so you will probably want to play it on (real or virtual) diskette for the sake of speed.  And if you're playing on an emulator, you might want to crank up the CPU speed a little bit, as this one's written in BASIC and doesn't always respond with haste.

As always, I urge interested readers to track this one down and seek The Lost Dutchman's Gold for themselves before proceeding, as in the discussion that follows, there are bound to be...

***** SPOILERS, BY CRACKY! *****

The Lost Dutchman's Gold was a pretty early microcomputer adventure game, following closely in Scott Adams' pioneering footsteps, but with an interesting stylistic difference -- the story is formally hosted by THE GHOST OF BACKPACK SAM.  Usually there's no personified narrator in these games, and this character lends a little freshness to the experience; I like to picture this one as an ethereal Gabby Hayes.

As the game begins, we find ourselves in a vintage gold rush setting, standing in a miner's shack with limited supplies.  It seems that we can't really do much, either, which led me at first to speculate that perhaps we are also a ghost, or that the parser is very, very limited.  But eventually I figured out that the engine is simply case-sensitive, dating from the early TRS-80 days when no lowercase character set was available, and only responds to uppercase input.  We need to use INV (with optional additional letters) to check our inventory, not I.  And my initial SCORE attempt yielded YOU CAN'T, YOU'RE IN THE WRONG LOCATION!   So there's one puzzle -- we have to find the right place, which turns out to be the saloon in town.  The game calculates our score as both a count and percentage of the available treasures; there are only four in this relatively brief adventure.

There are a few things we can do before leaving the shack.  There's a MAP to be discovered in the miner's bed; a drawing of some boulders is the only noted feature when we READ MAP.  We can't OPEN SADDLEBAGS until after we GET SADDLEBAGS, adding some CARROTS and a GUN to our inventory and allowing us to carry up to six items at once (more, actually, but I didn't figure that out until it was too late to be of much use.)

From inside the miner's shack, GO WINDOW and GO DOOR both lead to the same location on a dirt path.  Once we leave the shack, it initially appears to have been a one-way trip, but I eventually figured out that we can GO MINER'S to get back inside.

There's an old, weary grey mule standing outside the shack, and the local landscape is dominated by a desert that doesn't map in any interesting fashion -- we can just go W from any of its three locations to return to the DIRT ROAD.  The desert "rooms" are distinguished by the type of cactus growing in each -- cholla, barrel and saguaro -- but the varying vegetation isn't meant to provide any clues or puzzles.  Navigation is pretty straightforward and naturalistic, with GO [place] and GO [direction] often both available -- GO ROAD leads us through the desert to a town in the distance; GO PATH leads back to the shack.

We can DIG, of course, which usually just yields DAG NAB IT! THERE'S NOTHIN' HERE!  Objects we can't TAKE yield JUST WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, PAUL BUNYON? [sic] YOU'RE NOT STRONG ENOUGH, even when the item is fixed in place but not actually heavy.

The TOWN IN THE DISTANCE proves to be a GHOST TOWN upon closer inspection.  READ SIGN yields WELCOME TO FRONTIERTOWN, which sounds more like a theme park than a Wild West settlement.  Perhaps it's one of those planned communities.

The local saloon contains quite a few interesting props -- whiskey bottles, paper, broken glass, tables, and chairs. We can LOOK TABLES to find a set of keys, specifically THREE KEYS, TIED TOGETHER WITH A LEATHER STRAPREAD PAPER promotes upcoming titles, but the Programmer's Guild name isn't quite established in this early effort -- it reads, WATCH FOR OTHER RIDER FANTASY CREATIONS ADVENTURES.  And we can, of course, DRINK WHISKEY, producing WHEEEEEE ! YOU GOT PLASTERED AND LOST A DAY., without any other obvious ill effects.

LOOK WHISKEY is more useful, discovering a BOX OF RIFLE BULLETS.  Now we can LOAD RIFLE - WITH WHAT? - BULLETS (not BOX, mind; in this instance, the game's vocabulary is properly handled by early text adventure standards.)  Now, if we like, we can discover that SHOOT MULE turns the poor animal into a DEAD MULE, but LOOK MULE still responds, YOU SEE AN OLD, WEARY GREY MULE, neglecting to mention the creature's sudden decline in health.

GO MOUNTAINS outside of town leads us to THE BASE OF THE SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS, and the treasure-hunting portion of the game.

HELP at the base of the mountains actually produces a helpful response -- TRY 'FOLLOW'.  And FOLLOW ROAD (if we have the map) gets us to someplace new, THE BASE OF WEAVER'S NEEDLE.  Here we find a PILE OF BONES (MINE) -- per the Ghost of Backpack Sam, naturally -- and LOOK PILE reveals that it LOOKS LIKE THERE'S GLASS UNDER 'UM, producing the customary adventure game staple, a LANTERN.

North of Weaver's Needle is a NARROW DEFILE, with bushes and caves, plus a little casual vintage racism:  THAR'S NOISE UP AHEAD - - SOUNDS LIKE INJUNS.  Fortunately, the Native Americans never actually intrude on the action, so we aren't forced to make any ethically questionable decisions.  Instead, we can simply travel further north to a BOX CANYON, featuring boulders arranged as they are on the map.  We can FOLLOW BOULDERS to reach A PARTIALLY HIDDEN MINE, and GO EAST from here to enter said mine, easy to do as the mine is only partially hidden.

The mine entrance has the standard-issue burlap sack, ore cart and mine shaft.  The parser breaks down a bit here -- we have to call the sack BURLAP, not SACK, which is inconsistent with the game's other, generally sensible usages.  We do need to LOOK BURLAP to find some MATCHES inside, very useful for actually lighting the lantern.

It's a good time to SAVE GAME here, as a RATTLESNAKE lurks in the dark as we enter the mine, and we are bitten and killed immediately if it didn't occur to us that it might be dark inside the mine.  If we have the lantern lit upon entering, the snake doesn't seem to show up at all.  There's a LOCKED IRON DOOR at the end of the tunnel, which we can open easily with the keys from the saloon.

Beyond the door, we find a large chamber with crates, and one of those unpredictable adventure game cave-ins occurs, so we will need to find another exit.  LOOK CRATES yields a note, saying BRING TREASURES TO SALOON, AND SAY SCORE, if we haven't already figured that out; remember, these were all new conventions when this game was written.  In keeping with another classic adventure game trope, the lantern runs low over time, with Backpack Sam telling us YOU'RE RUNNIN' LOW ON KEROSENE with no indication of just how much time we might have left.  We can UNLIGHT LANTERN to conserve fuel; we can't really navigate safely in the dark, but if we play efficiently it's not necessary to do so.

In the mine, we can DIG more productively -- in a dead-end tunnel we find some # SILVER #, and there's # GOLD # in them thar nearby location to boot.  We also have to GO DARK in the mine to enter a DARK HOLE and collect the * TOURQUOISE * [sic] treasure down there.  We also have to include the treasure-denoting punctuation when referring to these things, for the parser's sake -- we need to GET * TOURQUOISE *, for example, not GET TOURQUOISE.

Inventory juggling becomes a bit of a challenge at this point in the game -- I discovered to my dismay that I should have kept the keys to deal with a LOCKED TRAP DOOR on the lower level, instead of dropping them somewhere back beyond the range of my remaining lantern fuel. And we can't CLIMB LADDER or GO DOWN once we're at the point of dealing with the trap door, anyway.  Ack!  But I was relieved to discover, after a restore, that the trap door leads back to the familiar territory of the miner's shack, though it only goes one way.

I was less relieved to discover that if we have dropped the map after finding the lost mine, we can't get back to the mine to pick up any treasures we failed to liberate on the first visit. And I was downright irritated to discover a maze in the mine as well that goes nowhere!  Once we've entered the maze, standard mapping technique establishes that N, S, E, and W all return to the same room; we just need to avoid this part of the map.

The fourth treasure, which I had missed earlier, is a set of * SPANISH COINS * found in a small cave off of the narrow defile.  I had to refer to the CASA walkthrough to figure that one out, and in passing also learned that we can PUT items and treasures in the saddlebags to carry more items -- but it can only hold four items, so it's most convenient to use it for the treasures.  (I think I missed this because the INV display doesn't really distinguish between what's in the saddlebags and what isn't; I thought that opening the saddlebags simply transferred their contents into inventory.)

Time for the usual endgame -- we drop our four treasures in the saloon, say SCORE, and we're done!

I enjoyed playing The Lost Dutchman's Gold, thanks in large part to its colorful, naturalistic setting.  It does feel a little unfinished -- the "injuns," the desert, the rattlesnake and the crates never really resolve into anything interesting.  But Terry Kepner's game is a fun little text adventure from the very early days of the genre.


  1. Hi!
    1. First of all - thank you for the article. It's good to know there are people still playing classic text adventures.
    2. Yes, we can't CLIMB LADDER or GO DOWN once we're at the point of dealing with the trap door, but we can just CLIMB). Took me a while to figure it out).
    3. I have DOS-version of The Lost Dutchman's Gold and here is the strange thing: it wasn't published by The Programmer's Guild. It was published by International PC Owners (IPCO) in 1982 and there is no mentioning of Teri Li in this release. I've tried to find any information about this company IPCO, but did not succeed. Do you have any information about this version of the game or why was it published by different people? Oh, and one more thing: it seems there is a bug in IPCO-version of the game. It doesn't count my treasures in the saloon.

  2. Evgeniy,

    Thanks for stopping by. The DOS version appears to have been converted to BASICA by one Chris Sidener, based on the Teri Li/Terry Kepner version published in BYTE Magazine in 1980 after the Programmers' Guild version was released. The source code also appeared in the Captain 80 Book of BASIC Adventures.

    From what I can find online, IPCO was kind of a hobbyist organization, not a commercial publisher, so this conversion was largely unofficial and may not have been completely tested. It was not properly credited to the original author. All I see in the code is this:

    1020 REM
    1030 REM ** CHRIS SIDENER **
    1050 REM *****************************************************************

  3. You can play this game at virtualapple.org as option H in the first menu. http://www.virtualapple.org/adventurecavesdisk.html

    I discovered it by accident just looking for a random game to play at the site. I was never too into text games. I can't get past the frustration of having to find the exact syntax.

    Anyways, just thought I'd post this in case anyone might be looking for an online version of the game.

  4. My friend's dad typed this in from Byte magazine and we played it on their Apple II. Occasionally it broke due to typos and we had to try to fix the code to keep playing. The version we played had more colorful speech patterns: "YER IN A SHACK. YA SEE:..." which was a small touch but added a lot of character. I remember that the parser only read the first 3 letters, so SHO MUL would shoot the mule, EXA CAC would examine the cactus, etc.