Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Adventure of the Week: The Devil's Palace (1980)

It's been a while since I've played one of Greg Hassett's early TRS-80 text adventures, so this week we're playing through his 1980 game, Devil's Palace, dedicated to John Flanigan and Harry Collins.  This one was published by a company identified as Adventure-World, of P.O. Box 914, Chelmsford, Massachussets, which sounds a lot like the address of Mad Hatter Software, another publisher of Hassett's work.  The computer game industry was in its infancy, and company names were often in flux, so I'm inclined to think these were both the same company behind the scenes.

Hassett was a precocious young programmer who graduated rapidly from BASIC to machine language during the few years he was active in the game industry, before going to college and launching a real and very successful career.  His games are generally treasure hunts or explore-and-escape contests, sometimes with maddeningly random puzzle solutions, and always rife with misspellings.  The Devil's Palace is Hassett at his most random, with almost no plot and few puzzle solutions that make any sense.  But the game does have a certain retro charm.

I tried to solve this one on my own last year, but got stuck early on, so I was grateful to find Dorothy Millard's solution posted at the CASA Solution Archive so I could knock this one off of my uncompleted list.  As always, I encourage interested readers to explore The Devil's Palace before continuing here, but I will warn you that I was not able to get the SAVE GAME command to work under emulation; or, rather, I could SAVE but not RESTORE.  So you may wish to play on real hardware, or use an emulator with independent save state capabilities.  In any event, the ensuing discussion will contain plenty of...

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

The game begins outside of the titular Devil's Palace, giving us a chance to explore, although even this relatively open portion of the game is still pretty linear.  The fabled three-headed dog Cerberus lurks in a clearing to the north, though he's not actually dangerous.  We can CLIMB TREE in the forest to see a strange palace somewhere to the east or north, and find a bird's nest that contains a strange whistle.  If we BLOW WHISTLE early on, a vulture swoops down, picks us up and drops us into molten lava, and it's Game Over -- there's no land of the dead allowing easy resurrections here.

The game's map is sizeable, with a lot of rooms underground, and a little bit mazey, with some loops and off-kilter connections, but it's not annoying.  A few sections of the game are very linear -- we solve one puzzle and are moved to another room with a new puzzle to deal with and no way to go back where we came from.  And there's one genuine maze, but the solution is provided directly if we're keeping an eye out for clues, so we really don't need to map it.

A loose cobblestone reads MAGIC WORD: "ETNAD".  This is more of a directive than a hint -- it's DANTE backwards, obviously, but when the magic word is called for (on more than one occasion) we must SAY ETNAD as stated and leave the illustrious 14th Century Italian poet out of it.

A black tar pit contains a fossil (which RESEMBLES A TRILOBITE) and a rotten vulture egg, both of which we will later need -- but if we discover this without having taken proper precautions, we find that we're now stuck in the tar pit and can't get out.  We need to tie the bit of vine found along the cobblestone path to a nearby boulder -- that is, we must TIE VINE - TO WHAT? - TO BOULDER.  Now we can pull ourselves out of the pit, just this once, and watch the vine disappear into the tar from a safe distance.  I ran into a related bug here -- TIE VINE / TO WHAT? / STONE proves mysteriously fatal, as we are suddenly prompted, WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY AGAIN?

There are some bones in a small depression near the tar pit -- we need to LOOK BONES to find a scroll, which reads, "(JOTFSU GPTTJM) - 1".  This is a simple cipher -- subtracting one character from each letter yields INSERT FOSSIL, though one could go mad trying to figure out where to insert it at this point.  INSERT FOSSIL generally yields NOWHERE TO INSERT IT HERE!, while  INSERT [anything else] yields the default NOTHING HAPPENED.  None of these textual clues need to be discovered if we have played the game before; the game is not picky about where or when we learned the necessary information.

We can't EXAMINE DRAWBRIDGE in front of the palace, but we can safely BLOW WHISTLE here, causing the drawbridge to come down, or go up; we will want it to be down. But we can't simply CROSS DRAWBRIDGE, as A STRANGE, EVIL FORCE THROWS ME BACK!  And SAY ETNAD doesn't help.

We can go back to Cerberus with the bones, and while we can't GIVE BONES we can FEED CERBERUS, so that The Cerberus [sic] eats my bone and runs away, revealing an iron grate.  But we can't ENTER, GO, EXAMINE or OPEN this new object.  CUT GRATE yields I don't have the right tools, which might be a hint, but isn't, and JUMP GRATE produces THAT'S HAZARDOUS TO MY HEALTH! NO WAY!, which seems a bit of an overreaction.

This is where I became stuck for a while, until the walkthrough was posted at CASA and I learned that -- aha! -- if we BLOW WHISTLE in the tree after lowering the drawbridge, we don't get dropped into the lava.  It hadn't occurred to me that the bird was dropping us into the castle's lava moat.  This is one of those old-school adventure traditions, in which the player must try something that is known to be fatal, in the hopes that perhaps something has changed; it's a design approach that I'm glad to see has fallen by the wayside in the modern era.

Once we're in the tall, dark room on the other side of the drawbridge, where there's nowhere to go and not much we can do, BLOW WHISTLE causes the floor to rise to meet a door seen far above.  There aren't many options here either, so we must KNOCK and tumble into the palace, where we discover such misspelled delights as a CUBICAL and A FABULAS POOL OF LAVA.

We find ourselves in a strange, warm room that has visible exits to the east and downward, but we can't use either of these paths as they lead into molten lava.  At least in this case the game prevents us from blithely walking into the lava, saving a good deal of SAVE/RESTORE frustration.  There are carvings on the wall of prehistoric animals, with a trilobite-shaped concave carving among them.  (never mind that early humans almost certainly never saw a trilobite.)  We can INSERT FOSSIL here, clearly, to yield a MING STATUE OF A CAT.  On the cat's bottom, we read, "MADE BY MIMI STATUE INC."  And there's another small bug here -- if we INSERT FOSSIL repeatedly, the statue is wrested from our inventory and returned to the room each time.

So now we have this Ming statue of a cat, and experimentation establishes that we cannot productively EXAMINE STATUE, READ STATUE, THROW STATUE or BREAK STATUE.  So I consult the walkthrough again, to learn that if we RUB STATUE -- really? -- a BEUTIFUL [sic] WINGED CAT TAKES ITS PLACE, and carries us across a stream (what stream?), and then vanishes.  So that was a straight verb-guessing puzzle, a sheer hintless dictionary roadblock of the sort that probably kept text adventures from reaching a broader audience.

Anyway, from the precarious ledge where we've been dropped off, we can apparently go down.  But that just leads us into lava again.  EXAMINE LEDGE here establishes that it resembles cobblestone, so that's an indirect clue that this is where we are supposed to SAY ETNAD, spinning the ledge to deposit us into the (D)ANTE-CHAMBER, which is exactly the sort of pun I love; I tip my hat to Mr. Hassett, and forgive him for the whole statue rubbing business.

This new area is more mappable than the series of rooms we have just passed through, and much less linear, although we really do have to accomplish key tasks in the right order, lest we find our game in an unsolvable state.  A dead end contains a chest, which is locked, and we don't have the key, per usual.  So we should wander around a bit, if we can do so safely. 

It is not safe at this point to discover that there's an eight-foot tarantula occupying a web in the Eerie Crypt's west end; an iron gate closes up after we enter its lair, so we can't go back the way we came, but trying to go east is fatal, as I ENTER THE WEB, BUT I GET TANGLED UP! THE SPIDER APPROACHES AND BEGINS TO DEVOUR ME!  So we shouldn't go in here until we are prepared; this is not the same grate that we saw in the Cerberus location aboveground.  If we are prepared, we can BURN TARANTULA with the GLOWING TORCH found elsewhere, and travel to the crypt's eastern end, which contains an upright coffin.  But if we go S from this location, to explore the available exits, it's a one-way trip and we can't get back to this area to do something more productive.  So we need to be doubly-prepared to enter the Eerie Crypt, with no way to predict what we will need to do when we get here. 

In the STRANGE, GLOWING ROOM, the writing on the wall reads NNSWDNEE - these are almost certainly maze directions, but where should we use them?  We need to enter the labyrinth through the aforementioned coffin, and follow the directions provided. This ultimately leads us to a foyer, and we can go U to a platform.  We PULL LEVER here to slide to a room with an elevator, as it becomes apparent this is another linear funhouse-style progression.  In the ROOMY ELEVATOR is a crystal key; hopefully it will fit the chest at the dead end south of the (D)ante-chamber.  Finally, we PUSH BUTTON in the elevator, fall asleep and wake up in the glowing room again.

Opening the chest reveals... magic sandals?  It's not a treasure, but we will figure out what to do with these later on.

A balcony has a railing, and examination reveals that one spindle is covered with fingerprints.  TURN SPINDLE causes the whole assemblage to slide along the wall of the palace, allowing access to the Dining Hall.  Here we can GO TABLE, and see that there is a DUCT MESH there; it's not a familiar term but I can kind of picture it if I mentally squint a little.  Movement in any direction allows us to get off the table, and the Kitchen to the north conveniently has a pair of tinsnips on the shelf.  Now we can CUT MESH to open the air duct, and enter the Devil's Sitting Room, where we find a crown.  We can WEAR CROWN, though inventory does not show it as worn; as far as I can tell we just need to carry it with us for later use.

We find a MACHETTI along the way -- spelling, Mr. Hassett! -- and enter a Crystal Room, where we discover a ruby and a crystalline figure.  The crystalline figure won't let us take the ruby, though it's not really apparent how it's doing so.  BLOW WHISTLE here is fatal but potentially informative, as THE CRYSTAL ROOM CRASHES DOWN ON ME! I DIE!  But blowing the whistle is always worth a shot in this game when all else fails.  I was surprised to find that I could GET FIGURE -- I had assumed it was larger -- and can then GET RUBY.  But now the crystalline figure returns to the room,  the game tells us that CRYSTALLINE FIGURE IS STARING AT ME, and it starts following us.  We  have a little bit of time to experiment with this turn of events, but the CRYSTALLINE FIGURE DIVES AT ME AND KILLS ME! as soon as we try to leave the immediate area.  So that's not entirely a solution.  What we can do is lure it into the laboratory nearby and BLOW WHISTLE there to make the figure vanish.

This STRANGE, CONVOLUTED LABORATORY contains a laser and a paper reading "INSERT RUBY, THEN FIRE LASER. MAGIC WORD: MIJUKEL."  I'm not sure what this magic word means, and I never had to use it.  We do need the ruby though; after we insert it, and FIRE LASER, then LASER BURNS HOLE IN WALL!  The resulting hole lets us reach a small connecting chamber, beyond which is a crystal wall that we can breach by again blowing the whistle, leading us into a VAST NETWORK OF CAVES AND PITS, though it's not truly a maze.

A very narrow ledge has a CHANDELEIR [sic] HANGING ON A ROPE.  With the machete, we can CUT ROPE, and CHANDELEIR [sic] FALLS, TURNS INTO BRIDGE BELOW.  I did not see that coming.  MY MACHETTI [sic] FALLS INTO THE LAVA TOO! -- so that must be its one and only intended use.  (Some versions of the game may require us to DROP MACHETE, apparently -- at least Ms. Millard's walkthrough indicates we need to do this explicitly.)

Below, we now find a DIAMOND BRIDGE spanning a lava stream.  But we can't just go E, we have to GO BRIDGE.  And of course,  THE SHARP DIAMONDS CUT MY FEET.  I FALL OFF THE BRIDGE AND INTO THE LAVA. NATURALLY, I DIE.  This is where the magic sandals will come in handy, but we'll come back here in a bit after exploring elsewhere.

We find ourselves at a DEAD END. COULD THERE BE A ROOM UP ABOVE?  This is a hint that we need to fetch the LADDER from the room carved out of bedrock; now we can access the Devil's Throne Room, WEAR CROWN and SIT THRONE to reach a SECRET MEDITATION ROOM (apparently this is a fairly mellow Satanic being) where we can acquire a MAGIC WAND.  The exit E takes us back to the Dining Hall again.  Fortunately, it seems that the sliding balcony is accessible from either of its destinations -- we aren't stuck here with the balcony slid over where we last left it.

With the magic sandals, we can cross the Diamond Bridge and find a glowing ember at the brink of a lava stream on the other side.  But we can't pick it up safely.  To the east is a dead end chamber with IMPRESSIONS OF FEET on the ground - if we INSERT FOOT with the sandals on, it gives us a non-fatal shock, but if we REMOVE SANDALS (which also drops them) and try again, a hidden vault opens revealing a HUGE EGG-SHAPED IRON VAULT.  Is this a clue?  Are we finally going to do something with this rotten vulture egg we've been carrying around?  There's a BEUTIFUL [sic] GARDEN inside the vault, where we find the pair of tongs we need to pick up the glowing ember.  The garden is decorated with paintings and carvings of eggs, but there's still no obvious application of the rotten egg.  I'm just glad it has survived all these falls and tumbles without breaking open and stinking up the place.

Now we can go back to the iron gate that closed when we entered the Eerie Crypt, using the wand to open it so we can traverse the labyrinth again.  This time, rom the foyer we go south to the FIREHEAT CHAMBER.  There is a thick water-pipe here, and a small platform, and a conundrum because obviously we're supposed to do something here, but there are no real clues available.  I consulted the walkthrough again to learn that we must DROP EMBER, at which point -- unpredictably and inexplicably -- the PIPE TURNS INTO A TRANSPORT TUBE, EMBER VANISHES.  Really?  Really?!?

Oh, well.  GO TUBE takes us to the TOP OF A VERY HIGH TOWER.  There is a sceptre here, but we can't GET SCEPTRE because, once again, A STRANGE, EVIL FORCE THROWS ME BACK!  We're running out of options, so what the heck, let's... DROP EGG?  Oh, good!  The EGG DROPS, BREAKS, VANISHES. FEELS GOOD IN HERE NOW!  Oh, my.  Apparently the Evil Force dislikes the smell of rotten eggs even more than I do.  Or perhaps it's just a magic egg.

Having accomplished that feat of exorcism by sheer dint of trial and error, we are thrilled to discover that... now we are trapped here.  LOOK TOWER yields only, in one of those irritating adventuring moments where the parser makes its implacable presence known, WHAT IS "TOWER"?  SAY MIJUKEL does nothing useful, so we give up and SAY ETNAD again, which brings us back to the (D)ante-chamber.  From here we can navigate over the diamond bridge and through a tight crawlway, eventually reaching a grate which is, I believe, the same one we encountered outdoors.  Hear, the game tells us that I HEAR SOMEONE REPEATING OVER AND OVER: "OPEN WITH SCEPTRE... OPEN WITH SCEPTRE."

That's probably a good clue, though it wouldn't surprise me if it's a trick.  To nobody's real surprise,  OPEN GRATE yields I DON'T SEE IT HERE.  Sigh.  But WAVE SCEPTRE blows us into the outdoors, where we are overwhelmed with VISIONS OF BEUTY [sic].  And we are now victorious, apparently, though it wasn't really clear that we accomplished anything at all!

This was quite a convoluted adventure, with lots of guessing and hints required to come up with the expected solutions; only a few are truly hinted at, and the plot is muddy at best.  The puzzles are often nonsensical, and so is the map; we have to explore a bit, including experiencing fatal dead ends, to find the right sequence in which to do everything.  Thanks again to Dorothy Millard for her invaluable walkthrough.

We still have several more Greg Hassett adventures to tackle, and I'm sure we'll revisit his oeuvre as time goes on.  I'm trying to get back to some of the series I have started but never finished, filling in  a few holes on the Adventure Games Index page.  But I can never resist sampling a new series by a new author, so it often takes me a while to make these return trips.


  1. Hi, I just recently discovered your blog and am LOVING these old-school adventure reviews. This early TRS-80 stuff was the first real computer gaming "scene" to develop (along with and probably even a little ahead of the Apple II), but it seems way too lost in the mists of time now, so it's great to see a more detailed analysis of these games. In fact, your Scott Adams series has inspired me to revisit all of these classics again. I'm currently up to Strange Odyssey, and it's still a lot of fun!

    Anyway, a couple of requests/recommendations along these lines: Curse of the Sasquatch (as long as you're covering Hassett games), which if I remember correclty was actually set in Alaska, where I'm from. Also, a really interesting one would be Atlantian Odyssey, which I think was written by Teri Li. It's a graphic adventure (although very crude), and since it's from 1980 it might actually be the first one ever released! It's probably more likely to be an early TRS-80 answer to Mystery House, but is still of real historical interest. Also, both of these games have that uniquely late 70s/early 80s "In Search Of..." type of atmosphere, which is always good for nostalgia.

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

  2. Hey, Rob! I have taken a brief look at Atlantian Odyssey -- I believe it actually existed in two forms, an original type-in text version and the commercially marketed graphics version. Teri Li was a pseudonym for Terry Kepner, who was writing games for two companies at the same time and had to adopt an alias. I'll play it seriously and write about it sometime soon. And Curse of the Sasquatch will get its due at some point as well. So many games -- when I started doing these on a regular basis I thought I would run out at some point, but that doesn't seem likely! Thanks for the kind words.