Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Adventure of the Week: House of Thirty Gables (1979)

This post comes about as the result of an online mis-filing -- I discovered Bill Miller's House of Thirty Gables, published in 1980 by Instant Software for the TRS-80, when I thought I had found and was playing Greg Hassett's The House of Seven Gables.  I was making notes about the significant contrasts with the rest of Hassett's adventures, and then, when I got stuck, I consulted a walkthrough... and realized I was playing a completely different game.  Bill Miller also wrote Dr. Chips, an Eliza variation published by Adventure International, and some chess and backgammon software, but as far as I know this was his only adventure effort.

House of Thirty Gables is a straightforward treasure-hunt game, set in a mysterious house and the caverns below.  And it dates from the early years of the genre -- the scoring model isn't very transparent, red herrings abound and there are enough random events to make it a challenge for the wrong reasons.  The game adopts the primitive interface approach of early mainframe adventures -- the text just scrolls indefinitely until we reset the display with a LOOK command, unlike the more sophisticated windowed location/command style pioneered by Scott Adams.  Miller's code is written in machine language and responds quickly, though the text and dictionary are fairly bare-bones.  For example, INV is the inventory command, not I or TAKE INVENTORY -- but it's hard to determine this at first, as when we have nothing in hand we get a completely blank response.  And a surprising number of words are used onscreen but are not recognized by the parser, like... DOOR?

As always, I encourage interested readers to visit the House of Thirty Gables before proceeding here, as I will be tearing the wrappings off most of the surprises.  But it's not an easy game to finish -- special thanks to reader Walter, who graciously provided the final clue for my own playthrough, without which this post would have languished in draft mode for quite some time to come.  So try it, but don't feel obligated to finish it -- I'll be happy to give away everything I discovered here, along with various other...

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

We begin standing outside a house, with an open door to the east; we can't CLOSE DOOR, as the parser does not recognize the word, and exploring in any direction brings us right back here.  Entering the house by walking E is the only option.

We enter a LARGE DUSTY ROOM with exits east and west, a staircase leading down, and a sign reading, "PLEASE DON'T FEED THE TROLL," who hangs around in this part of the map but doesn't do much of interest. To the north is a pyramid-shaped room with a gold coin and a dead rat.

We can carry the dead rat, accompanied by A TERRIBLE SMELL.  If we DROP RAT, YOU ARE RID OF THE RAT, and oddly it seems to stop smelling.  This seems like it ought to be part of a puzzle, but I never found a reason to carry the dead rat around at all.

Past the rat we see a flute hanging on the wall -- a Pied Piper reference? -- in a passageway leading to a circular room, where we find another gold coin.  The inventory system keeps count of the coins, so we will apparently be finding a number of them.

A room with a hole in the floor and a ladder leads not unexpectedly to THE BOTTOM OF A HOLE.  Passages lead off in all four directions here, but of more immediate concern is the LARGE BEAR STANDING BESIDE YOU.  But he's not really dangerous, just annoying -- BEFORE YOU CAN DO ANYTHING THE BEAR GRABS YOU, SPINS YOU AROUND A FEW TIMES THEN THROWS YOU OUT OF THE ROOM.  This sends us randomly through one of the available exits, and I never found a way to turn this off -- there were times I had to enter and re-enter the room ten times until I finally got thrown in the direction I wanted to go. 

North of the bear, we pass through a tunnel with a coin in it, arriving at a LARGE GLOOMY ROOM with an emerald guarded by a deadly green snake.  We can PLAY FLUTE, and THE SNAKE IS MESMERIZED.  But the reptile is not as mesmerized as some other adventure games would lead one to believe -- certainly not enough to prevent us being BITTEN BY THE DEADLY GREEN SNAKE, with 10 moves left to find an antidote!  And as death approaches, we learn about the game's rather innovative hint system -- I WILL GIVE YOU A HINT BUT IT WILL COST YOU A GOLD COIN.  This is a neat idea, but I didn't take the hint on first offer.  I'm assuming we will need the coins for something later on.  So I died and had to restart.

To the south of the bear is a DIMLY LIT ROOM containing an elevator and a lute.  If we enter the elevator, the door immediately closes.  We can go UP from here to find ourselves back outside the house at the starting location, so this will probably be handy later on.

To the east of the bear we encounter another snake, this one a SERPENT to keep it distinct in the game's dictionary.  If we linger, it wraps itself around our legs and we can't navigate or JUMP with it attached.  It doesn't respond to the flute or the lute, either.  HELP handily produces a list of verbs -- we can KISS SERPENT, earning a smack and a hiss for our trouble (does this serpent have hands, then?)  We can FEED SERPENT, or we could if we had... maybe the dead rat?  It's a moot question at the moment, as we can't escape the serpent's grip, so the only option is to QUIT and try again.

West of the enthusiastic traffic-control bear is a MISTY ROOM with a gold coin and a sleeping dragon on the east side of the room, blocking an exit.  KISS DRAGON does not wake it up.  But PLAY LUTE sends the dragon away, HOLDING ITS EARSPLAY LUTE in the absence of an audience reveals that THE LUTE IS HORRIBLY OUT OF TUNE.  Sorry, Mr./Ms. Dragon!

Past the dragon is an east-west passageway shrouded waist-deep in opaque mist.  To the south is a room with a large stone idol and a brilliant ruby.  READ IDOL reveals it is TLOLOC, probably a corruption of the Aztec god Tlaloc.  If we TAKE RUBY, then we are SUDDENLY CONFRONTED BY AN ANGRY DWARFSLAY DWARF prompts, SLAY THE DWARF WITH WHAT? -- but the lute doesn't work, and he shortly (no pun intended) throws a knife at us, ending the game.  Actually, the dwarf shows up at random, whether we have taken the ruby or not, so we need to find some way to keep him out of our way.

Hmmmm... this is interesting... the map changes itself up a bit?  The room with the ladder leading down to the bear somehow becomes a TRIANGULAR ROOM where we find an AX and an APPLE.  How did this happen?  Oh, no, never mind, I just didn't draw my map correctly!

We can sneak past the coiling serpent if we don't hang around too long, that is, more than one move.  One direction loops back to the emerald/snake room.  Another leads to a cylindrical room with another gold coin in it, but if we take it, or even if we just wait a turn before exiting the room, a HEAVY STEEL GRATE SUDDENLY COMES CRASHING DOWN IN FRONT OF THE ONLY EXIT.  In another few turns, the ceiling starts to lower, one foot at a time, until we are squashed.  Time to restore once again. 

East of the serpent is a LARGE DAMP ROOM (these locations are very non-descript) with walls COMPLETELY COVERED WITH IVY, north of which is a room where we see A MAN WITH A FRIENDLY SMILE OFFERING YOU A GOLD COIN.  If we TAKE the COIN, the man vanishes in a puff of smoke -- and we are left with AN I.O.U. FOR 10 GOLD COINS SIGNED BY WORLD POWER SYSTEMS.  I couldn't make sense of this joke, so I did a little research -- a company calling itself World Power Systems advertised in TRS-80 magazines circa 1979, but it was a scam run by an escaped criminal and fraudster -- it collected money and never delivered the promised products.   

The dwarf seems to wander around the map, actually, so the encounters are far from predictable, though they don't happen too often.  We can try to slay him with the ax, but he's too nimble -- but we can also randomly sidestep the attack, in which case THE DWARF GRABS HIS KNIFE AND RUNS.  We can try to SLAY MAN, too, in which case he disappears in a puff of smoke without stealing our coins.

So... how are we to survive the collapsing ceiling room?  I finally gave in and bought a hint -- PMPH IS THE WORD, we are informed, but if we SAY PMPH, all we get is CHUCKLE, CHUCKLE.  MAN ARE YOU GULLIBLE.  Well played, Mr. Miller!  If we buy another hint while the ceiling inches downward, the parser says I APPRECIATE YOUR TRUST and we are spared our imminent doom.  But we've spent one gold coin, net, so this doesn't seem worth it, or at least it's not the best solution.

Can we collect all the gold coins?  The serpent coiled about our feet can't be killed with the ax, lest we chop off our feet.  I went to retrieve the rat, but if we DROP RAT in the serpent's room, THE RAT VANISHES ON IMPACT, which seems odd, and is certainly not helpful.  Trying again with FEED SERPENT -- FEED THE SERPENT WHAT? -- RAT also doesn't work out, as A SERPENT WON'T EAT ANYTHING DEAD.  It doesn't want the apple either.

A hint in the misty area says, BE PERSISTENT, and if we keep trying to go E we do eventually come back out into the ivy room.  At this point in my playthrough, I have a score of 35 out of 80, with the ruby plus 5 gold coins inventory.  We apparently don't have to drop the treasures anywhere -- in fact, the parser says I WON'T ALLOW YOU TO DROP YOUR RUBY, and if we drop coins they vanish on impact, never to return.

We can feed the apple to the troll, or kill him with the ax, but there doesn't seem to be any good reason to do so.  If we pick up the ivy, we develop a rash that requires constant scratching within a few turns, so that's probably not a good idea either.  Fortunately we can get rid of the itching by dropping the ivy.

Ah!  If we FEED SERPENT the apple after it has wound itself around our legs, now THE SERPENT TURNS YOU LOOSE TO EAT THE APPLE.  Now it looks like we need to collect 10 gold coins, the ruby and the emerald to score the total possible 80 points.  And to figure some of this out, we will probably need to buy the hints and then replay.

For being poisoned by the green snake, the hint is MAREZEDOATS.  Are there oats to eat somewhere? Oh, wait, that rings a bell -- mairzydoatsandozydoatsanliddilamzydIVY!  But carrying the ivy around is difficult -- eventually we are scratching so much we can't move -- and the bear makes it hard to get from the snake area to the ivy area.  We can EAT IVY, so should we eat it ahead of time in case of snake bite later on?  Ah, I just didn't catch this when I was mapping -- after being bitten, we can go south from the emerald room to find ourselves in the serpent room near the ivy room.  Whew!

Which other coins have we not claimed at this point?  There's a JUMP verb we haven't used.  Cheating and looking at the game dictionary reveals the possible existence of a GUN, but I never found it in my travels. 
The code also mentions a RICKETY STAIRWAY heading somewhere... I haven't seen this!  And some NAILS; we can't GET the nails that keep the ladder nailed down, and no other likely source makes itself apparent.  Probably serves me right for peeking.

In the grate/ceiling trap room, we can THROW AX, but just like anywhere else, it bounces around and doesn't accomplish anything.  Most other things we can throw just vanish on impact; in fact, sometimes the ax does too!  So that's not a productive path to explore.

At this juncture, I can't seem to get farther than 60 of the 80 points, and that's a temporary state at best, as claiming the coin from the trap room is ultimately fatal.  There are no points awarded for killing the troll, or for any other actions we can take, and no evident place to drop things for SCORE purposes.

Fortunately, reader Walter reports that he's been able to earn 60 points while staying alive, and then leaving the building via the elevator ups the score to 80.  So where are the 5 points I'm missing -- one coin?  Aha! -- thanks to Walter again -- it emerges that if we KISS MAN instead of killing him or taking the coin from him, he drops it and we can take it.  (It's not clear whether the man is simply surprised, or this game was just rather forward-looking, or I've simply made a stupid assumption about our hero's gender, but that's one more coin.)

And yes, if we have acquired 60 points, then if we're standing in the meadow outside the house, SCORE yields 80 points.  Anywhere else we only have 60 points.  So I guess, with no fanfare to speak of, we have to declare that we are victorious as long as we are standing in this exact spot.  Being in the right place at the right time is apparently 25% of success!

Every time I think I'm aware of most of the TRS-80 adventure games out there, another one crops up to shove its way onto my to-play list.  House of Thirty Gables was an unexpected discovery, and a fun little game, though without some timely external intervention I might never have guessed what I was missing when it came to finishing the story.  Though I did think to KISS SERPENT and KISS DRAGON, I mistakenly assumed the man with the gold coin was just a little TRS-80 community in-joke and not actually a puzzle.  Just goes to show that one sometimes has to go everywhere and try everything, whether it seems logical or not.

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