Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Cloak of Death (1984)

This week, as a bit of a Halloween season hangover, we're playing Cloak of Death by David Cockram, published in 1984 by Bug-Byte for the Atari 8-bit home computers.  The game originated in the UK, published by Mind Games, where it also appeared on the Sinclair Spectrum ZX, and that probably explains why this illustrated text adventure was released on cassette instead of disk as was common in the US.

Is Cloak of Death a spooky old house adventure?  A treasure hunt?  It's hard to tell at first, and the vector-and-fill graphic illustrations are necessarily sparse and schematic due to memory limitations (though the game does utilize a textured-fill technique to make the visuals a bit more interesting.)   The house is also rather empty, with several unfurnished rooms.  Mr. Cockram uses a standard two-word parser, though its tone is humorously sarcastic, replying "Is that the best you can come up with?" or "Why do that?" when it can't understand the player's intent.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to encounter the Cloak of Death before proceeding with my playthrough notes below, though in this case I strongly suggest having a walkthrough handy -- I used Anthony Deakin's at CASA -- as several of the puzzle solutions are maddeningly obtuse and it's easy to get oneself stuck by leaving the wrong item in the wrong place.  Beyond this point, be advised that there are almost certain to be...

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

We begin in a dark hall with nothing whatsoever in inventory; there's a Hungry looking rat lurking about, and in the great adventure game tradition, it looks as if we've just come into the house through the front door but there's no obvious way back out.

To the east is a large sitting room where You can hear someone walking around upstairs.  The Grandfather clock here can be OPENed, or at least the parser doesn't object, but we can't seem to discern any new details after doing so.  Examination of the fireplace yields some Lumps of coal.

The oak paneled study to the north of the sitting room contains a writing desk, suspiciously devoid of any other accessories; examination reveals a Leather bound BIBLE on the desk.  There's also a letter, cryptically reading, "3 CEMETARY WAY,GOOLE....One free through heaven....."  Again, OPENing the desk doesn't seem to do anything, though we're not told that we can't do that.

A conservatory in the northwest part of the first floor contains an old wooden chest; OPEN CHEST yields only Tell me how, so it appears we will need to figure this out.

The Cloak of Death map is a little wonky by normal indoor-adventure standards, with some inconsistent navigation between adjacent rooms, though everything makes reasonable geographic sense.  Graphics can be toggled on and off by entering a blank command, and gameplay speeds up quite a bit without the illustrations.

Heading upstairs, we find a hallway with exits leading north, east, and west.  North takes us into an icy corridor, and further north it is too dark to see.  We can't go E from the icy corridor, as That's the haunted bedroom!  W is the master bedroom, though it's devoid of anything interesting.

Returning back to the T-shaped hallway, we find a guest bedroom to the west and a dressing room to the east.  Oddly, there seems to be no furniture in either room, and we can't OPEN CLOSET or OPEN WARDROBE despite the illustrations' suggestions that such might be available.

We've mapped out the basics of the house that we can reach at this point, so let's see what we might be missing.  The hungry rat Looks pretty nasty! and apparently blocks passage into a Dark corridorLOOK BIBLE calls it to fall open at the first page, and READ BIBLE yields the expected "In the beginning..." material.  The lumps of coal don't seem unusual, though we can RUB COAL -- and nothing happens.

Ah -- the map is wonkier than I thought, I had missed a large dining room on the first floor, accessible by going west from the starting point (instead of coming around through the conservatory.)  It contains a wicker chair, which proves to be portable.  There's also a kitchen with a carving knife, a half eaten loaf of bread, and a sink containing water.  We can't GET WATER yet, probably because we have nothing to put it in.

Now, can we KILL RAT with the knife?  Nope, the rat attacks and the game is over.  We can't GIVE BREAD -- the parser doesn't recognize that -- or DROP BREAD -- it just sits there -- but we can FEED RAT, and now we can GO CORRIDOR.  (Actually, I misunderstood this whole puzzle -- the rat lets us pass if we are carrying the carving knife, in semi-keeping with the classic nursery rhyme, but I didn't figure this out until much later!)

The dark corridor leads further west, to a pantry where we can acquire a candle.  There's also a cellar door here, though we can't open it yet.  Coming back out of the corridor, we see that the hungry rat has returned, and our bread is all gone (or so I thought), so we may have missed out on something while we were in there.  Going back to the kitchen and LOOKing, we can see a cupboard containing matches.  Though for some reason, when we try to GET MATCHES, You can't do that just yet -- and it doesn't seem to be an inventory limit issue.

Having learned that we can LOOK in a room and (sometimes) learn more about its furnishings, it's worth another tour of the house.  We didn't miss much, but there's a creepy Silk cord hanging from the ceiling in the guest bedroom.  If we PULL CORD, there's a strange rumbling noise, but I didn't see anything different anywhere in the house as a result.

Random thoughts at this point -- (another impression corrected later) the rat doesn't actually block our progress after he's been fed, he just likes to hang out by the stairwell, looking hungry and playing on the sympathies of wandering adventurers.  "One free through heaven" on the letter might be a misheard number, 1327, should we find a phone or a combination lock.

I still can't do that just yet when I try to GET MATCHES or GET MATCH, but why?  Ah -- while the parser won't tell us this directly, the handy CASA walkthrough suggests that we have to CLIMB CHAIR to reach them.  I never like these kinds of puzzles, but, okay, it's described as a Tall cupboard, which I should have taken as a hint.  Now we have the matches and the candle, and we can venture into the dark room upstairs.  In doing this, I inadvertently discover that we're not allowed to go upstairs without the Bible in hand -- it looks too creepy! otherwise.  I didn't run into this puzzle earlier because I opted to explore the ground floor before trying to go upstairs, acquiring the holy book in the process.

The dark room turns out to be a library with shelves full of books, but we have to LOOK to spot a specific book -- THE EXORCIST?  This must be a hint of some kind, but we still can't get into the haunted bedroom.

My efforts to BREAK CHEST were unsuccessful earlier, but it turns out that we can KICK CHEST and the lid flies open to reveal a small key, with which we can unlock the cellar door.  Down here is a Huge lump of iron, and additional areas to explore as well.

An old garage holds a claw hammer and rusty saw.  A tunnel further east is blocked by a Ferocious dog guarding Heavy iron gates, which may be an escape route should we need one later.  A dirty workshop south of the garage holds a SILVER BAR (it appears treasures are capitalized?) and an oil soaked rag.  And a wine cellar at the west end of the cellar contains a bottle of wine.

We can LIGHT RAG to burn it up, but after it Burns away nicely! we don't have anything to show for it, so that was probably not the intended use, and it's time to restore the game.  The heavy lump of iron can only be carried if we drop almost everything else, so we'll leave it alone until we come up with a use for it.

What next?  The dog guarding the gate has eyes like red embers... a hell hound?  He's apparently not much of one, as if we DROP RAG and DROP COAL and BURN COAL, the dog runs away in fright at the glowing coals, apparently mistaking them for another dog.

And aha -- we can PUSH BOOK in the library (even if we've pulled it out to look at it, DROPping it restores this capability) to open a secret passageway leading to a creaky attic.  From this spot, we can hear footsteps below, so we must be above the haunted bedroom.

There's also a sewing room up here, containing nothing of apparent interest, and a large pool room with a pool table and a nailed-up hatch.  There is a pool ball on the pool table, a red herring it seems, and the claw hammer comes in handy here, though we can't PULL NAILS or GET NAILS, we have to REMOVE NAILS.  Inside the hatch is a store room containing some SILVER WIRE.  Maybe these aren't treasures, but significant exorcism equipment.

I needed a walkthrough to escape this area -- we have to PUSH the pool TABLE to open up an exit out of the secret passageway back into the library.  We still can't enter the haunted bedroom, so what else can we do?  Well, with more walkthrough help, it seems we can CUT the silver BAR with the saw to make two pieces of it, then use the wire to MAKE CRUCIFIX -- not something I would have thought of immediately, and that's a pretty impressive rusty saw!

Another aha! -- we don't have to give the bread to the rat, he actually reacts to the carving knife... and if we drop it later we can't get past him again, which is how I figured this out.  Dang.  Restore time again.

I have to admit that, without a walkthrough, you would not be reading this post -- I don't know how I would have figured out that carrying the huge lump of iron to the guest bedroom would cause the silk cord to be "held tight" after it's been pulled once, forcing open a Small annexe in the master bedroom, allowing us to acquire a SILVER GOBLET.

Now we can get into the haunted bedroom, but of course it's too dark to see in there.  Probably a good thing, too, as once we have candle light we can see an Oil painting and a Bloodstained cloak moving slowly towards you!! ... and within another move, before we can actually react, cold, bony fingers grip your throat, and you slip into eternal darkness... or at least eternal restores.

So what are we missing?  Well, we don't have time to even EXAMINE PAINTING in the haunted bedroom, because I wasted a turn by entering the room without a lit candle.  Trying again, we see that upon our initial entry, the cloak is just standing upright, and we have one move to act before it starts closing in.  We can examine the painting to see that it's a painting of two horses, which isn't particularly useful; we can't MOVE PAINTING, either -- and even unparseable commands eat up a move, allowing the cloak to close in.  GET PAINTING reveals a wall safe, but again there isn't time to do anything about it before we die at the hands of the Cloak of Death.  Can we SHOW CRUCIFIX to scare the phantom away?  No... we can try to EXORCISE CLOAK, which seems more promising even though You can't do that just yet.

A complete restart lets me keep the bread handy instead of feeding it to the rat, on the theory that maybe the wine and bread as well as all the silver equipment... but wait, there are inventory juggling issues to solve before we can get upstairs with everything we think we need... and it wasn't a good idea to DRINK WINE, as now the bottle is gone completely and WOW! MY HEAD IS SPINNING!  FILL GOBLET prompts What with?, but neither WINE or WITH WINE seems to convince the parser.

We have to light the candle, then drop the matches so we can haul the bible, crucifix, goblet, bread and wine into the haunted bedroom.  And -- nope, I still can't seem to EXORCISE CLOAK!  Hmmmm.  Can we FILL GOBLET / WITH WATER in the kitchen?  No, but we can GET WATER, which is now seen to be HOLY WATER!!  This seems more useful, and yes, finally we can make the cloak just a plain old bloodstained cloak again. 

How an old cloak came to be possessed by a murderous entity, and why we're so intent on dealing with it instead of just staying out of the warning-protected haunted bedroom and going on with our lives, is left as an exercise for the reader.  There's certainly no motivation offered as we finally get to  OPEN the SAFE -- and yes, 1327 proves to be the combination -- as it contains no treasure, just a Skeleton key.  We can use this to unlock the gate formerly guarded by the hell hound, and escape to freedom, though complete victory is a few steps away, perhaps to allow for a sequel.  At any rate, victory is ours for the time being, and the final image is one of the best in the game:

Cloak of Death is definitely an old-school adventure -- the puzzles do make sense, but there isn't a lot of assistance or information provided to the player and a lot of trial and error is needed to figure out a few of the more complicated and non-intuitive puzzles.  Without a walkthrough I think I would have gotten stuck early on, but with the assistance available as needed I enjoyed this game's sparse but spooky atmosphere.


  1. "we've just come into the house through the front door but there's no obvious way back out"?

    Good gravy, they've resorted to ripping off that 4K TRS-80 classic, _Haunted House_!

  2. I played this game circa 1993 on a 65XE and always got stuck in the bedroom with the strange rumbling noise.. Pulled it apart in notepad one day a few years ago then wished I hadn't as it made me very sad..