Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Adventure of the Week: The House of Seven Gables (1979)

It took me a while to track down Greg Hassett's The House of Seven Gables adventure for the TRS-80 -- some online archives have what appears to be a machine-language version, but that game is actually Bill Miller's House of Thirty Gables, in a very different style from Hassett's games.  Like Miller's game, this one bears remarkably little resemblance to the classic Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, House of the Seven Gables, aside from the fact that the house that serves as the game's setting does indeed feature a number of gables.  I knew this was the right code as soon as I saw the title screen: 

Like most of Hassett's early adventure games, this one is written in BASIC and has a rather limited vocabulary.  It still performs pretty well, and it's fun to play, if a little obtuse when it comes to scoring.  The game seems to be introductory in nature, given the copious hints available within the game itself; the source code was published in the Captain 80 Book of BASIC Adventures.  A version also exists for the Commodore 64.

As always, I encourage interested readers to try The House of Seven Gables before proceeding below.  It's a treasure hunt set in a mysterious house, and it's not a hard game to finish, really, though earning all of the points can be a challenge.  Beyond this point, in the interest of documenting my experience with this game, for those who have already played it or may never get to do so, be advised that there are comprehensive...

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

The story begins outside of a house with, naturally, seven gables.  There's a doorbell and a compass we can take with us.  We can't TAKE COMPASS, but we can GET COMPASS, and we can't look at it, examine it, or read it.  So it may not be very useful, except that -- aha! -- we can't maneuver anywhere without it -- no exits are displayed, so we do need to keep it in hand.  Most adventure games take directional navigation for granted, so young Mr. Hassett deserves credit for turning this into a minor puzzle.

The game is very player-friendly -- if we try to go S, we are told THE DOOR IS LOCKED. I THINK I CAN GET BY IT, THOUGH.  And if we try and fail to OPEN DOOR, then we learn that MAYBE THESE PEOPLE (?) ARE FRIENDLY, SO TRY RINGING THE BELL.

Upon RINGing the BELL, we are swept inside and the entrance vanishes.  We are in a living room, with no objects visible, and can explore to the south, east and west.  The Dining Room contains an empty bucket and some silver candlesticks.  We don't seem to gain any SCORE points after we get the candlesticks, so maybe they are not a treasure.

The kitchen contains SOME FRESH GARLIC, a BANANA, and a SINK WITH A WORKING SPICKET [sic].  Mr. Hassett's spelling was often... inventive.  The spelling is the same in the listing in the Captain 80 book, although there the text is in mixed-case unlike this version; it may have been typed in by a TRS-80 owner without an uppercase kit installed, like many of us back in the day.

A door east of the dining room has no doorknob or keyhole, but again it is suggested that we can get by it.  KNOCK DOOR doesn't do the trick, though.  And HIT DOOR returns I DON'T WANT TO HIT THE DOO.  Neither do I, sorry for suggesting it!

The Guest Room right off of the living room leads to the first and second gables.  There's a BLACK CAT at the second -- if we try to GET him, he vanishes, SAYING "I WILL RETURN..."

South of the living room, in a dark closet, A HOLLOW VOICE SAYS: MIX THEM.  This is yet another early adventure game influenced by Scott Adams' approach.

Downstairs is a long east/west hallway.  At the east end is DRACULA'S CHAMBER.  We can try to OPEN COFFIN, but THE VAMPIRE WON'T LET ME!  He's listed as a MEAN LOOKING VAMPIRE, to boot.  Why aren't there ever any friendly vampires in these games?

The Barren Library contains a BOOK TITLED PRIMEVAL WITCHCRAFT; I don't think that word means what Mr. Hassett thinks it means.  The book is very short, reading NOTTUB SSERP, or PRESS BUTTON backwards.  But there's no button in the library.

This sort of thing occurs at random:

Ahem.  After self-consciously checking my attire, there's only one turn before THE GHOUL KILLS ME!  This was the first death I ran into; restoring, I made it past that room with no ghoul appearing, and found my way to a DUNGION [sic] where A CRUDE NOTE ON THE WALL READS: YOU CAN'T GET OUT WITHOUT KILLING ME FIRST! -- WITCHY-POO.  No wonder the Bay City Rollers couldn't get out of their Saturday morning contract with the Krofft brothers!  This isn't actually true, at least if we take it at face value, as while most paths return to this same location, we can just go S to exit the dungeon.  The dungeon entrance doesn't really lead to a maze, it seems, but there's a real maze nearby, also at the west end of the hallway, containing an AXE.

Randomly during our explorations, we may see that A GHOST POPS OUT AND SAYS: THROW ME SOME TREASURE!  He'll accept our gift if we THROW CANDLESTICKS, so apparently scoring is just deferred; clearly, we should avoid this situation if possible so we can earn all the available points.

The hallway maze leads to a MAD SCIENTIST'S LABORATORY where we can pick up some chemicals.  Presumably these are what we want to mix.  If we MIX CHEMICALS they turn into AN ORANGE BUBBLING LIQUID.  We can FILL BUCKET with water using the kitchen's spicket [sic], though this doesn't seem to be necessary for working with the chemicals.  And when we run into the GHOUL we can THROW CHEMICALS so that THE GHOUL MELTS TO NOTHING.  But eventually it comes back.  Fortunately, the chemicals also remain intact, we can just pick them up each time and reuse them later.

I did run into a small bug -- at a couple of points I tried to GET AXE after finding or dropping it, and was told I couldn't carry any more; but after an INV check, I was able to; some counter must get cleaned up when we take a look at our inventory.

Returning to the interior locked door with the axe, we can't SMASH DOOR but we can CHOP DOOR so that THE DOOR IS CHOPPED TO PEICES [sic].  This leads to a staircase, with A BEAUTIFUL ROSE at the top.  There's also a BROOM CLOSET, with some VALUABLE RECIPIES [sic] written IN WITCHISH.

The sixth gable contains a PAPER AIRPLANE; the third, a TEST TUBE OF FLUID (which is neither a TEST TUBE nor a TUBE, but FLUID per the game's dictionary.)

Another hallway south of a DILAPIDATED BEDROOM leads to a MAMOTH [sic] ART GALLERY where we can pick up a PRICELESS REMBRANT [sic].

At the eastern end of the hallway is A ROOM WITH A PEDESTAL IN THE MIDDLE, and we can see a button atop the pedestal.  Even if we haven't read the book in the library, it's tempting to PRESS BUTTON here (actually, PUSH BUTTON doesn't work so the book's clue is actually kind of helpful). 

This leads to the WITCH'S CHAMBER, where an UGLY WITCH has a POT OF WITCHES' BREW, in case there was any question; where the other witches are who are apparently responsible for the brew remains an open question.  The Books of Oz tell us what to do - THROW WATER and THE WITCH HAS VANISHED! HER HAT REMAINS.

With the witch's hat in hand, we can return to the LIVING ROOM.  And the entrance door has been reopened, so we can just go N.  And suddenly, we've won!  (So that's what the witch's note meant.  Odd of her to invite her own death that way.)

Except... I haven't done very well scorewise -- yes, that is actually a negative 70 points -- and there's no opportunity to continue.  It looks like we need to ignore the red herrings, and carry as many treasures as possible out the door as we take our one shot at exiting.  Basically, it appears we need to grab the compass, fill the bucket, mix the chemicals, kill the witch, collect all the valuable treasures and leave the house.

So what puzzles remain to be solved?  There are a number of objects we haven't experimented with yet.

We can EAT BANANA to be left with a BANANA PEEL.  It looks like a slip-and-fall may be in someone's future. But whose?  Random ghoul appearances continue to be a pain, as the creature can arrive long before we have an opportunity to acquire the chemicals.

We can SHOW GARLIC to send the vampire scurrying off, and claim a SULTON'S [sic] DAGGER from his coffin.  He shows up again at the top of the stairs, at which point we need to STAB VAMPIRE so that he dies and vanishes; why he was keeping this dangerous dagger in his own bed is another unanswerable question.

I also notice that my once-SHINY COMPASS has become A TARNISHED OLD COMPASS while playing, though this seems to have no bearing on our score at the end of the game.

The ghost will eventually kill us if we don't throw him a treasure when he demands it; I didn't find any solution to this, we just have to be quick about our business and hope the random number generator looks kindly upon us.

We can UNFOLD AIRPLANE to turn the paper airplane into A PIECE OF PAPER WITH WRITING ON IT.  It reads: "REMEMBER THE WIZARD OF OZ."  So we've already figured that out.

Down from the pedestal room is the Seventh Gable, with a DIAMOND in it; I had just missed exploring that direction, after seeing the button on the pedestal.  The WITCHY-POO note room is still not a maze, just a room whose exits all lead back to itself; it does not change state after the witch is dead, so the note refers only to our ability to leave the house itself.

It seems that if we are not efficient, our score drops dramatically.  I was down to -595 points at one point, and dropping by 25 points per turn!  I wish I knew what the object of the game was, or had some way to determine which items were the critical treasures!

Fortunately, Dorothy's walkthrough at CASA indicates that the AXE, HAT, REMBRANDT, ROSE, RECIPES and DIAMOND are the treasures, and that we don't need to carry them with us -- just drop them in the living room before we escape the house.  So playing quickly, we can pick up all the valuables and escape to a proper victory:

The House of Seven Gables is not a particularly difficult game; the biggest complications stem from all the red herrings (I never did find anything useful to do with the black cat) and a few random unsolvable situations that can present themselves at inopportune times.  I'm slowly working my way through the Greg Hassett oeuvre, and I enjoyed this one.

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