Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Secret Agent: Mission 1 (1988)

This week, we're going to play through Secret Agent: Mission 1, written by Barry Kolbe for the Atari 8-bit computers and published by ANALOG magazine in 1988.  It's unusual in that it was written in machine language, but still published as a type-in with lots of DATA statements and assembler code; I am indebted to whomever preserved it in executable form for the archives.  It was apparently Mr. Kolbe's only adventure game, though I did run across a completely different, apparently unrelated Secret Agent - Mission One illustrated adventure for the Apple II computer as well.

Secret Agent: Mission 1 employs a text-compression technique of some technical note in the original magazine article; it saves memory space and also makes it harder to cheat by looking at the code.  The display uses a cursive font that isn't always easy to read, and adopts an Infocom-style status bar with the player's location and current score shown at the top of the screen.  The parser design is interesting -- many common commands are only available as abbreviations, like I (for inventory) and L (for looking at the room again.)  It's also not strictly a two-word parser, as it implements WITH and INTO prepositions.  Unfortunately, it doesn't emulate the assumptions the Infocom parser makes, leading to a lot of misleading responses until the player realizes these details are required inputs, and a lot of extra trial-and-error typing afterward.

This isn't a game I'm going to insist anyone play -- it's not hard to solve with patience and persistence, but few clues are provided in the text and it's probably the most egregious example of try-everything-with-everything-else design I've encountered in quite a while, maybe ever.  But I also won't suggest you shouldn't give it a try before reading my comments below.  As always, I'll be documenting my Secret Agent: Mission 1 experience in detail, for history's sake and in this case so that others may be spared its frustrations; in short, there are bound to be...

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

We begin Outside the Hanover-Tyler research facility, visible to the west, with no other exits available.  We have nothing in I ; heading west leads to an Entrance, with a desk in the corner of the room and a steel panel blocking the east door (sealing the entrance we just came through, apparently).

We can OPEN DESK to discover a badge and a nailfile, though we can't seem to discover much detail about them.  To the north is a Reception area, with another desk that can't be OPENed just yet, for reasons not explained by the parser.  To the west is a Security area, where we can see a metal cabinet with a slot before Suddenly laser bursts cut through you, ending our game before we can react.

Restarting, avoiding the security area for now, we head south of the entrance to a conference room, containing a pad, which we must GET before we can READ it to learn that "The blue button turns off the lasers."   This seems good to know, and the Storage room south of this area contains red and blue buttons.  Having PUSHed BLUE, and heard a reassuring if vague Click, we visit the security room... and once again, the lasers cut through us.  The pad is a lie!  So we decide to PUSH RED instead, and we can proceed safely.

The security room cabinet's metal slot yields no immediate information -- chances are we need to put something in it -- but we can explore more of the map.  A Kitchen to the north features a food cabinet, though we can't open it yet either -- this place is pretty well locked down, though apparently deserted.  A Cafeteria west of the kitchen contains chairs, tables, and a vending machine; we can't tell what it vends, though it will probably demand a coin of some sort if this is a standard adventure game universe.

There's another metal cabinet with another slot in the Hallway west of the security area, and we can to further west to the West end of hallway with a knob on the wall.  We can TURN KNOB, hearing another Click, though any result is not apparent.

North of the hallway's west end is a Stairwell with a decorative plant in one corner; before we go upstairs or downstairs, let's finish exploring the main floor.  South is an Animal room with another knob on the wall and an albino ape in a cage; we can't OPEN CAGE, but we can visit the Experiment room nearby to find a folder labeled "The Effect of Bio-Agents on Mammals," so maybe we don't want to get too friendly with our fellow primate.  There's a Storage room to the south, containing a box with a gas mask that may come in handy.  (We have to GET GAS, GET MASK isn't recognized; the parser's grammatical conventions are not always consistent.)

Just for fun, we'll try TURNing the KNOB in the animal room, and of course, yes, now The ape is charging at you! and one move later The ape crushes yourbones [sic], and it's time to restore again (I'm using an emulator with save state capability, but the game does have well hidden save and restore commands of its own -- X to save, R to restore.)

Now that we've mapped out the main floor, we'll head downstairs to discover another security area, this one guarded by a robot.  We can't seem to leave this area after we've entered -- the robot fires every time we try to go anywhere, randomly missing or connecting and killing us.  A knob on the wall just outside the room seems to have no impact on the robot's functionality, so we'll avoid this area for now.

Upstairs is yet another security area, this one with an electrified floor that zaps us as soon as we enter.  Turning the knob on the lowest floor deactivates the electrified floor, as it turns out, and while we can't open the eastern door, we can visit an office to the south where a memo reads, "Tighten security on all floors," which is not exactly news at this point.  We can MOVE a PICTURE on the wall to discover -- shock! -- a safe, which we can't open just yet.  South of the office is a storage room with... scuba gear?  It seems there will be some water in our future, then, and it also develops that we have a six-item inventory limit, so we need to start getting rid of some extraneous items.

What now?  The robot doesn't seem to respond to any of the knobs on the map we've explored so far.  We can learn that pushing the blue button turns the lasers back on, so that's not a good thing to do.  We can't run fast enough to lead the ape to the robot.  The safe doesn't seem to have a combination lock, so we probably can't crack it by trial and error.  We can't seem to INSERT BADGE in the mysterious metal slots, or INSERT anything in the vending machine.  Trying to SHOW BADGE occasionally produces different responses in different locations -- What for? or You can't do that -- but they don't seem to be meaningful.  But WAVE BADGE produces Nothing happens -- so we can guess it's a separate verb (and maybe SHOW is actually being interpreted as SHOOT.)

Aha!  We can't MOVE PLANT, or SEARCH PLANT, or DIG PLANT, but we can LIFT PLANT to find a small key.  (I had to peek at the binary file and find the verb list to figure this out.)  It's apparently no use for the food cabinet, the locked desk, or the safe, though.  We can also try to, for example, UNLOCK CABINET WITH SMALL KEY, which seems to be recognized but still doesn't work.  We can't INSERT SMALL KEY INTO DESK or FILE KEY to change its shape, either.

Here's something new -- when we TURN KNOB and free the ape, an exit south into the cage opens up, and he doesn't necessarily crush our bones right away.  We can acquire a disk in the cage, but there's no way to get the ape caged again.  It seems we have a random (or non-random but impossible to predict) chance of escaping the ape's charges, and he stays in the animal room, so with a little trial and error we can make it out with the disk in hand.  Whew!  Though, as with the small key, there doesn't seem to be any place we can INSERT DISK at the moment.

Aha!  We can OPEN DESK WITH NAILFILE -- the WITH and INTO prepositions are not only supported, but required, it seems, and now things are starting to make more sense.  Doing so reveals a card... and yes, INSERT CARD in the security area yields only It won't fit while INSERT CARD INTO SLOT in the same location produces a gun.  (This consumes the card, but the card can't be used in the other slotted cabinet anyway.) 

Properly armed now, we feel much more capable of secretive agency!  In practice, this means we can SHOOT ROBOT -- though success is random and he shot me back the first time I tried it -- to disable the lower level security system.

Past the robot is an Electronics Lab, with an electronic device and a flashing ball visible; an adjoining office contains another desk and another cabinet.  We can OPEN CABINET WITH SMALL KEY to reveal... a large key... and then we can OPEN DESK WITH LARGE KEY to discover a coin and a combination.

We can INSERT COIN INTO VENDING (INSERT COIN INTO MACHINE fails) to obtain ... a formula?  Presumably this is part of what we're here to retrieve.  But we can't OPEN SAFE WITH COMBINATION or READ COMBINATION.  Hmmm; this is odd -- we can open the food cabinet in the kitchen using the combination, revealing a vial of... what?  Hmmm again.  We can INSERT BADGE INTO SLOT in the hallway to produce a baton in exchange... it's one of the few items we can EXAMINE, learning that It has a gravity controlled switch.  Meaning... ? 

South of the robot room is another storage room, this one with a 36 inch high cabinet.  Its diminutive stature seems to be a clue that we can MOVE CABINET to reveal a passage down to a small room with a blue button on the wall.  PUSH BLUE seems to rotate the room, as now there's an exit to the east; going east leads us to a watery doom, however, unless we WEAR SCUBA before entering.  So this must be an airlock, and after we WEAR SCUBA we head east again to escape the lab -- but we have failed the mission, so we obviously have missed an objective or two (or three) along the way, probably having to do with that darn old safe upstairs.

The electronic device we found in the downstairs lab has an on/off switch.  If we FLIP SWITCH in the safe room, the safe opens to reveal a rod.  Not quite the game-winning object I was expecting.  We can also WAVE BATON in the upstairs security area to open the eastern door, leading to the Chemical Lab.

There's a switch by the door here, and chemicals lying around.  There's an X-Ray Lab to the east, where danger is hinted at, and traveling south to yet another Security area leads to death by poison gas.  Wearing the gas mask allows us to live long enough to reach another Stairwell, where a coat hangs on a hook.  We can't EXAMINE COAT, nor can we GET it; going down the stairs is a one-way trip back to the storage room with the red and blue laser control buttons near the entrance.

Returning to the task at hand, we try flipping the switch in the chemical lab -- and now Deadly radiation melts your flesh in the X-ray Lab, so that's a trap too.  There's a hole near the west door (currently closed, apparently) in the security area, and if we... ahem... INSERT ROD INTO HOLE, the door opens allowing passage to a Photo Lab.

The photo lab contains a photo-enlarger, and nothing else.  We can't seem to insert anything handy into the enlarger.  Why are we here?  The parser recognizes it as ENLARGER, not PHOTO, and trial and error has been productive so far -- and yes, as it turns out, we want to INSERT MEMO INTO ENLARGER to yield... a microdot.

We still have this disk from the ape's cage, too... but we've seen no computer equipment yet.  What about this coat on a hook?  We can't LIFT or PUSH or MOVE it, and the parser doesn't even recognize the coat, but we can TURN HOOK to open a passage into a Computer Lab.  Here, as was common in games of this era, the player's hardware is celebrated -- this highly secure lab is doing its advanced work in nefarious science using an ATARI 130XE computer.  We INSERT DISK INTO COMPUTER -- whoops, no, we INSERT DISK INTO DRIVE -- to yield a program.  (Probably printed on the attached printer, in this pre-Internet/thumb drive era; apparently our secret agency can't afford an Atari 130XE with disk drive, so we need hard copy.)

I now notice that we have been scoring points when we pick certain things up, and we're up to 4 points as we take the program.  We seem to be out of obvious puzzles, so maybe we have everything we need for a successful mission now?  Yes!  Victory is ours on both counts -- lab escape and mission success!

I can't say I didn't enjoy working my way through Secret Agent: Mission 1, despite the mundane storyline, but it suffers badly from its trial-and-error design.  The player isn't given enough information about items and equipment to make many logical predictions, and so we spend most of our time inserting objects into other objects at random until something interesting happens.  The engine is also a little too enamored of its own implementation of WITH and INTO, without the helpful assumptions of the Infocom Z-machine it's attempting to emulate, and that makes it more of a slog than might otherwise have been the case.  Onward to the next adventure!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

New York Nintendo Sightings

My apologies to regular visitors -- I wasn't able to get an adventure post together this week, as I was in New York for International Toy Fair all weekend.  I should be back on schedule next week, but in the meanwhile here are a couple of videogame-related items spotted during the trip.

I visited the Nintendo World store in midtown Manhattan -- not all of the specimens are museum-quality, but they have a nice glass case display of artifacts from Nintendo's game product history.  The first section features playing cards, Game & Watch units, the Famicom and NES, along with the Zapper and R.O.B. the striking but nearly useless robot accessory:

At Toy Fair, Little Buddy had all of their licensed Nintendo plush toys on display.  Most of their products are the expected ones -- Mario, Luigi, Link, and their friends and enemies -- but I was pleased to see that the company is making the most of the license with a few unexpected characters.

Kirby appears in various cuddly forms:

And the company's new release lineup for 2014 includes a Professor Layton plush, Pikmin in various colors, and a broad range of Animal Crossing characters in smaller form, with larger versions of the more popular characters as shown here:

There are quite a few videogame-related toy and figure products in the works for this year, but I didn't have a chance to capture most of them -- several interesting products were still in a licensor-approval-pending, no-photos-please state.  There's lots of good stuff in the works, though, if your gaming interests extend to physical gewgaws and thingamajigs. 

So have fun, kids!  Why, when I was your age, we thought it was a great thing that we could slog through the snow to K-Mart and buy a wind-up Q*Bert toy that got its mechanism jammed as soon as we started playing with it, that is, if we managed to make it home without waiting in a long gas line while the communists plotted to brainwash us all with some kind of crazy block-fitting game...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Planetfall (1983)

I've been in a bit of a nostalgic mood lately, so this week I'm going to revisit a classic work of interactive fiction I've played before but not written about here: Steve (S. Eric) Meretzky's Planetfall, published by Infocom in 1983.  I remember straining to read the evocative opening text from a photographed monitor on the cover of Radio Shack's TRS-80 Microcomputer News magazine once upon a time, when my paper route budget could not provide for a disk drive, and wanting very much to dive into its world.  I finally played it on the TRS-80 Color Computer several years later, when Infocom released a handful of its "gray box" titles for the platform.  For this post, I'm playing the Release 37 version included with Activision's Lost Treasures of Infocom compilation, using the modern Frotz interpreter.

As most regular readers will be well aware, Infocom pioneered more complex storytelling in adventure games, building on the sophisticated ZORK parser to create a variety of interesting tales.  The company's games were not always difficult, nor always complex, and the Infocom games still suffered from the occasional round of parser wrestling.  But Infocom's titles went beyond basic puzzle solving and pioneered the efficient Z-machine interpreter technology, still in use today by modern interactive fiction authors via the Inform language.

If you haven't played Planetfall yourself, you really, really must.  It's funny, it's well-plotted, and it took the medium a step forward in ways that should be experienced firsthand.  The game is still commercially available from Activision, albeit only on the iOS platform at present, as part of the current incarnation of the Lost Treasures package.  My comments below, as always, will be rife with...

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

We begin aboard the Stellar Patrol Ship Feinstein, doing our assigned janitorial work as an Ensign Seventh Class (Sierra would later borrow this idea as a jumping-off point for its long-running Space Quest series.)  There's a certain bleakness to our hero's existence scrubbing featureless corridors, leavened by humor as we wield our Patrol-issue self-contained multi-purpose all-weather scrub brush and try to avoid Ensign First Class Blather.  Taking inventory, we find ourselves with a chronometer -- a fancy watch -- and an ID card in our patrol uniform.

A slime-trailing alien ambassador happens by and hands us a brochure, advertising his planet's primary export -- the adventure game ** PLANETFALL **, in a self-referential take on the in-game advertisement tradition.  There's an escape pod bulkhead nearby, but we can't open the emergency escape unless there's an emergency.  Aboardship, we can navigate using PORT/FORE/STARBOARD/AFT, though W/N/E/S are also accepted.

Starboard lies the Reactor Lobby, where we do indeed encounter Blather, who orders us back to Deck Nine.  He keeps us from exploring further, though his threats seem empty aside from issuing us numerous demerits.  We can't ASK characters about anything, it seems.  We can travel U from Deck Nine along a gangway to Deck Eight, although here too we encounter Ensign Blather and can't proceed anywhere else. 

Persistence in trying to explore the ship establishes that Blather's threats are not so empty, and after ignoring him a little too long we find ourselves thrown into the Feinstein's brig, where various limericks about Blather adorn the walls, only one of which we can actually READ.  Suddenly, a massive explosion rocks the ship, and... we're stuck in the brig... and as the ship's escape pods do what they were made to do, we're stuck in the exploding Feinstein.  And so it's time to start over and steer clear(er) of Blather. 

This time, we stay at our post, though Blather still shows up to criticize our work.  We pass the time by discovering that we can somehow SCRUB BRUSH with the brush itself, making it slightly shinier, in a rare Infocom parser oversight.  This time, when the explosion hits, we can duck into the Escape Pod to port as the door opens automatically.

Inside the pod, we find some safety webbing, so it's probably a good idea to CLIMB INTO WEBBING.  The pod automatically ejects -- so many locations we were unable to explore onboard shall remain forever unexplored! -- and we shortly find ourselves heading toward a human-habitable planet, courtesy of the pod's autopilot systems.  We pass through an atmosphere, with the pod's climate control systems engaged, and can see a pair of islands dotted with buildings and surrounded by ocean as we approach landing.  Oddly, we can't EXAMINE ISLANDS or EXAMINE BUILDINGS, and EXAMINE OCEAN yields only You can't see any ocean here!

The pod is precariously balanced after it lands, and we'd better take the offered survival kit and towel (presaging Meretzky's later collaboration with Douglas Adams) before anything drastic happens.  Of course, the pod falls into the ocean as we leave the safety webbing, and we have just enough time to grab the towel and kit, open the door, and escape the pod before it sinks, swimming up out of the water to reach a Crag in a cliff wall.

There's a structure above which we can climb -- though we can't CLIMB STRUCTURE, as the parser thinks we want to climb *onto* it, so we can only CLIMB or navigate Upward.  We find ourselves on an octagonal Balcony, where a plaque in a corrupt form of Galalingua reads: "SEENIK VISTA" and describes the Kalamontee Valee and the kapitul bildeeng along the Gulmaan Rivur.

We climb further, up a winding stair to a Courtyard -- Planetfall takes its time (and a good portion of its disk space) establishing atmosphere, and doesn't throw too many puzzles at us just yet.  The courtyard leads to the crumbled remains of the castle's west wing, and north is the Plain Hall, branching to the north and northeast.

Traveling north, we find a Rec Area, with games and tapes lying about, and a combination-locked door to the north.  (The games and tapes make passing reference to Double Fannucci, a ZORKian card game which could actually be played in ZORK Zero.)

Heading east rejoins the northeast passage from the plain hall, forming a wide east-west Rec Corridor with additional portals to the north and south.  North is Dorm B, with a SanFac B further north, where we can SCRUB TOILET if we feel like we need to keep our skills up, though nothing interesting happens; a similar Dorm A facility lies to the south.  We can't RUN WATER in the sanitary facilities, as the fixtures are dry, so this establishes more atmosphere, establishing that this building once housed many beings, now nowhere to be seen.

Traveling east again from the Rec Corridor, we enter the Mess Corridor.  A door to the north is padlocked; a doorway south leads to the Mess Hall, where an octagonal canteen can be acquired; if we OPEN CANTEEN THEN EXAMINE IT, however, we see it is empty.  There's a door to the south, apparently leading to the kitchen based on the sign that flashes if we try to OPEN DOOR.  The door features an adjacent ten-centimeter wide, two-centimeter deep slot that is probably yet another lock mechanism.  We can try to SLIDE CARD THROUGH SLOT, but our Stellar Patrol ID card is an "Inkorekt awtharazaashun kard" according to the sign that flashes up.

We're getting hungry and thirsty, which probably means I've been paying too much attention to detail along the way and should really have been focused on getting into the kitchen before now.  But we're going to need something we don't have yet, we suspect, so let's head further east into the Dorm Corridor.

This area leads to Dorms C and D, with nothing notably different about them at first glance.  Heading E to the Corridor Junction takes a while, and now we are starting to feel faint from lack of food and liquid.  Uh-oh.  Any exploration we're about to do will probably be our last, but let's press on until we need to restore a saved game.  The Admin Corridor South north of the junction betrays a glint of light on the floor, but EXAMINE FLOOR and SEARCH FLOOR don't reveal its source.  And now we've collapsed from extreme thirst and hunger, so it's time to restore back to the escape pod and make a quicker trip back to this point.

Returning here, we find another non-functional SanFac E east of the admin corridor's southern end.  North is a section of the Admin Corridor, interrupted by an eight meter wide crevice, and a passage to the Systems Monitors room.  We see green monitors for the LIIBREREE, REEAKTURZ, and LIFE SUPORT systems, but PLANATEREE DEFENS, KORS KUNTROOL, KUMUUNIKAASHUNZ and PRAJEKT KUNTROOL appear to be malfunctioning.

South of the corridor junction is the Mech Corridor, leading to Storage East, with some interesting items on hand -- an oil can and a cardboard box containing several electronic components, including a cracked fromitz board, a good bedistor, and K- and B-series megafuses.  The box seems to be too heavy to readily carry, so we'll leave it here until we know what we might need from it.

Also accessible from the mech corridor is the Physical Plant, a two-location area with heavy equipment for heating and ventilation, none of which we can understand.  We can also reach Reactor Control, with a button-operated metal door and a stairway leading downward to darkness (where, yes, It is pitch black.  You might be eaten by a grue, and yes, we can in fact wander into the slavering fangs of a lurking grue!  So it seems this is the Infocom/ZORK universe, just a different place in time and space.)  We can enter the Reactor Elevator by pushing the button on the wall, and travel up or down -- if we have the right authorization card to put in the slot, which we do not currently have.

The south end of the Mech Corridor branches off into three more locations.  The Tool Room contains a glass flask, an Akmee Portabul Laazur with a notably old battery, a metal U-shaped bar, and a pair of wide-nosed pliers, all potentially useful.  The Machine Shop has a coolant and catalyist dispenser operated by colored buttons; it can also dispense bases and acids by means of round and square buttons, probably in conjunction with the glass flask.

And finally, we reach the Robot Shop, where only one robot, about four feet high, looks even remotely close to being in working order.  It doesn't seem to be operational at the moment, as nothing happens if we try to turn it on, but it does have a compartment containing a magnetic-striped access card for the lower elevator.  As we take the card, the little robot bounds to life and introduces itself as B-19-7, a.k.a. Floyd.  The playful robot wants to play Hider-and-Seeker, he tells us, but we're getting parched and famished again.

Floyd is a charming, childlike creation -- he tends to enter the room and announce, "Floyd here now!", and he amuses himself (and us) in quite a variety of ways.  And while we can't quite picture how he manages to be "smiling broadly," it's not hard to accept that he is.  And yes, "it" has become "he" in very short order.

The lower elevator access card doesn't work in the Reactor Elevator, but it should be useful in the Elevator Lobby area east of the corridor junction.  The tiny Booth 2 further east features a couple of buttons labeled 1 and 3, which apparently operate teleportation facilities, not currently activated. 

There are blue and red doors in the elevator lobby -- the elevator access card does nothing for us in the blue elevator, but does enable the red elevator, though only for travel down to a Waiting Area adjoining the Kalamontee Platform, where we can enter Shuttle Car Alfie, a large transport with control rooms at either end.  But we're dead of thirst and hunger once again, so maybe we should try to solve the mess hall situation before we explore this other stuff.

Checking out the padlock in the Mess Corridor north of the kitchen, we can't OPEN LOCK WITH PLIERS or CUT LOCK WITH PLIERS -- not that I really expected that to work.  Can we get some acid in the flask?  If we PUT FLASK ON FLOOR, it doesn't put it in the right spot and whatever we dispense just evaporates; we can't PUT FLASK BELOW SPOUT, either, but we can PUT FLASK UNDER SPOUT.  We can POUR FLUID ON LOCK to do some damage, but it's still locked, and BREAK LOCK yields only, "And, as we go into the next round, it's Padlock 1, Adventurer 0..."  A second acid treatment doesn't seem to create any more appreciable damage, so we're probably on the wrong track here.

What about the glint of light seen occasionally in the Admin Corridor?  We can't EXAMINE GLINT or EXAMINE LIGHT, and FEEL FLOOR doesn't seem to find anything.  But we can EXAMINE CREVICE to find a shiny steel key... but we still can't GET KEY, as the crevice here is too narrow for our fingers (this is a narrow, jagged crevice in the floor, not the wider chasm further north.)  It's also too narrow for the pliers.  READ TOWEL produces the expected "Don't Panic!" but that's no help here.  Ahhh.. the U-shaped metal bar is in fact a magnet, the key is made of steel, and we can GET KEY WITH BAR.

Past the padlock -- after we unlock and remove it -- we find Storage West, containing a tin can of "Spam and Egz," and an extendable ladder.  We can't open the can, at least not yet.  We're hungry again, though, so maybe it's time to open our survival kit and eat... the red goo, I guess, which tastes just like scrumptious cherry pie.  Hopefully this will delay our encroaching hunger and thirst for a while.

Let's go back down to Shuttle Car Alfie and use the controls to travel a bit.  Floyd provides plenty of support and witty comic relief -- after a SAVE, he will occasionally say, "Oh boy! Are we gonna try something dangerous now?"  But our elevator access card does not double as a shuttle control access card, so we'll have to come back here later.

Oh, and dang -- the elevator access card uses 20th century magnetic striping technology, apparently, so carrying it along with the magnet tends to randomize the data and prevent all further usage.  So we have to be careful here -- I chose to backtrack, get the key and drop the metal bar before dealing with any of the many access cards it seems we will need.

Now maybe we can use the extendable ladder from Storage West to cross the gap in the Admin Corridor.  It's very heavy, so I ended up dropping everything including my Patrol uniform to carry it (oddly, nobody comments on our nakedness later in the game.)  We have to DROP LADDER, EXTEND LADDER (to eight meters, perfect!) and PUT LADDER ACROSS RIFT.

Crossing the rift, signage indicates that we can access the administrative offices, transportation supply room, and plan room (I'll dispense with deciphering the Galalingua spellings from here on in and just use the translated text for the sake of readability.)  We can pick up a kitchen access card -- yay! -- and an upper elevator access card from a desk drawer in the office.  The Plan Room's map indicates that we're in the Kalamontee Complex, and that there's also a Lawanda Complex -- that's probably where the shuttle goes.  The transportation supply room is dark, so we will still need a light source to get in there.

Now we can get into the mess hall -- it contains a high protein liquid dispensing machine with an octagonal, likely canteen-sized niche beneath a spout.  Hopefully this stuff will serve as both food and liquid... and yes, it does, though it works a lot better if we OPEN CANTEEN before pushing the button.

Now we have some immediate needs taken care of, and an upper elevator access card, so we can explore a little more.  The card does indeed activate the blue elevator, although now another physical limitation is encroaching on our adventurous pursuits -- we are feeling weary and ready to sleep, though the dorms should suffice for that when the time comes.

The blue elevator takes us up to the Tower Core, a small circular room with exits northeast, southwest, and up.  We can access a helipad atop the tower, where a weathered 'copter resides -- we can't GO COPTER or GO VEHICLE, but we can ENTER VEHICLE.  The controls are locked, and we don't have a suitable key right now.

We can also access the Comm Room, with Receive and Send transmission stations.  We can replay the last message received, which is the SPS Feinstein's last communication before -- apparently -- being blasted into oblivion.  The Send Station is malfunctioning due to a coolant issue; there's a manual override hole, described as "funnel-shaped."  LOOK HOLE yields You can't look inside a funnel-shaped hole, no matter how much we may beg to differ.

Southwest of the Tower Core is the Observation Deck, where we can again see the Lawanda Complex about 20 kilometers to the east.  And we're now seriously tired, so we'll head down to Dorm D, ENTER BUNK, and sleep... perchance to dream, as we experience a nightmare of being drowned by the local bully at age eight... then wake up to an impatient Floyd bouncing at the foot of the bed, anxious for us to resume our exploration.

What now?  The combination lock in the Rec Area can be turned to any number between 0 and 1000; we might be able to brute-force a solution, but it's probably better to find the combination somewhere.  We're also noticing that we feel a bit weak and slightly flushed, which is probably not a good sign.  I also discover that sleeping drops all of our inventory, so I have to go back and pick it all up -- thank goodness GET ALL works.  And, seeking nourishment, I learn that the canteen only holds one round worth of liquid, so we should try to conserve it.

Ah -- I didn't notice the Large Office west of the small office in the admin corridor earlier.  There's a shuttle access card in a desk drawer; we can't SLIDE SHUTTLE ACCESS CARD THROUGH SLOT, as I found too many nouns in that sentence, but we can SLIDE SHUTTLE CARD THROUGH SLOT.  We can now PUSH LEVER UP, and the shuttle starts moving east, accelerating as it goes, 5 units per turn based on the speed display.  A sign suggests the speed limit is 45, so we can PULL LEVER DOWN when we reach that speed for safety.  A trackside sign indicates we've reached the halfway mark and should decelerate, so we'll do that by pulling the lever down again... this is a little bit tricky, as we hit signs that require us to be at 15, 10 and 5, before we stop at the Lawanda Complex.   I came to a stop too early and had to get back into gear for a bit, subsequently crashing into the eastern end of the line twice before making a successful attempt; we have to keep our speed one move behind the numbers on the recommended deceleration signs, it seems.  Driving the shuttle makes for a fun, and wholly logical, little puzzle.

We are now at the Lawanda Platform.  Another shuttle lies to the north, and we can go up a non-functioning escalator to the east.  It leads to a forking northeast/southeast hallway, which in turn leads to Systems Corridor West and Project Corridor West.

Project Corridor West adjoins SanFac F, which is smaller than the other SanFacs but seems to have no other distinguishing features.  The ProjCon office to the south has a Project Control logo on one wall, and an odd, rippling mural on the south wall; it's suggested that a breeze seems to come from behind it, though we can't push or pull or enter it.  East of the ProjCon office is the Computer Room, where we find a pile of computer output, with a Miniaturization Booth to the south. Interesting. 

Floyd suggests that we can teleport into the computer, via miniaturization, and also notes that the computer is broken.  So we will probably need some of those electronic parts from the Kalamontee Complex to fix it.  We can read the last page of the computer output, which suggests the "project" was well underway and almost through drug testing, before something went seriously wrong in Section 384.

I'm worried about this weakness and fever that seems to be haunting us; I have no idea what's causing it, though, so we'll continue exploring until we drop.  The Main Lab lies at the eastern end of the Project Corridor, with a Lab Storage room to the south and some heavy metal doors to the northeast and southeast.  A blue lab coat in the storage room contains a teleportation access card and a piece of paper with the combination for the conference room: 141.  There's also a fresh laser battery here, sure to come in handy for replacing that old one.

The heavy metal doors in the Main Lab sound a bit scary -- one is a radiation-lock door, and one is a bio-lock door, but we can freely open the doors and enter.  The Bio Lock is a sterilization chamber... does that mean it can cure our fever?  We won't find out right now, as opening the door at the far end reveals a Bio-Lab full of horrible mutations which shortly devour us.  So that's a bad idea.

The radiation-lock area seems equally dangerous -- we need to wear a radiation suit, according to a sign.  Returning to the bio-lock area, Floyd arrives and volunteers to rush in and retrieve a card we need to fix the computer.  "You open the door, then Floyd will rush in.  Then you close door."  And adorably, Floyd's voice trembles slightly as he waits for you to open the door.  Unfortunately, this plan doesn't seem to work out, as the biological nightmares still come out when we open the door again, and Floyd's metallic scream doesn't sound like success either.  But looking through the room's window, we can see a card just inside the door... maybe we're opening the door too soon?

Ahhhhh.  Ah.  Oh.

Oh, no.  This is the moment I remember so well from playing this game the first time, but I'd forgotten exactly how it came about.  After we wait for his knock at the door, Floyd emerges with the card -- but he's badly torn apart from the mutant creatures' attacks, damaged and leaking.  "Floyd did it... got card.  Floyd a good friend, huh?"  And, in perhaps the most poignant moment in adventure game history up to this point, we cradle his head and sing him the Ballad of the Starcrossed Miner as his energy ebbs away.  This affected me greatly back in the day, and even though I knew it was coming this time, it still brought tears to my eyes more than 25 years later.  We can't even bear to examine his lifeless form to see if there's anything we can do to repair him -- You turn to look at Floyd, but a tremendous sense of loss overcomes you, and you turn away.

Okay... no sense wasting time, we can't let Floyd's sacrifice be in vain.  The miniaturization card he has retrieved should let us into the computer system, though I think we'll have to go back and retrieve some parts to finish the job.  For now, let's enter the computer and see what there is to see in there.  The miniaturization system requests a sector number, so we'll TYPE 384 per the computer printout.

Now we find ourselves standing on a metal plate, with another one above us, and a wide metallic strip heading east.  We follow it through several locations, until we reach a micro-relay sealed in transparent red plastic.  It's jammed open by a speck of dirt, and given the red plastic shell, we will probably need the laser to blast it out of the way.  We head back not a moment too soon, as the miniaturization seems to wear off fairly quickly -- or maybe it's just automatic when we return to the entry point.

Before we head back to fetch the laser, let's explore the Library Lobby north of Project Corridor East.  There's a small object nestled among the dust, which turns out to be a green spool, but our load is getting too heavy to add it to inventory so I'll leave it for now.  There's a computer terminal here, which can be turned on to explore some information about this planet's history, culture, and so on.  We have to translate from Galalingua throughout, so while this information is interesting and enriches the backstory significantly, I'm not going to say much about it here, except to note that the online material mentions supplemental spools.

The green spool is labeled "Helicopter Operating Manual," so it may be useful to examine its content if we can find a way to do so; we can't INSERT SPOOL INTO TERMINAL or anything, as there seems to be nowhere to put it, but there's another Library room to the west, with another machine featuring a small circular opening.  Reading the spool here informs us that we need a helicopter access card and a control panel key, obtainable from the Transportation Storage area (the dark room at the north end of the Admin Corridor.)  So this may be worth noting as an ultimate escape route.

We're getting sleepy, so maybe we should try to use the Teleportation Booth #3 east of the library to head back to the dorms more quickly than the shuttle will allow.  This works -- we can beam back to Booth 2 near the elevator lobby, and this time we'll sleep in Dorm C.  We have a fond and sad dream about Floyd, and wake up refreshed, though still a bit sick and feverish according to the DIAGNOSE command.

We can also reach a conference room via teleportation to Booth 1; the door to the south is locked from the other side, presumably via a combination lock, and there doesn't seem to be much we can do here right now.  We can read more in the library, but while the Medicine section claims all diseases are now curable, it provides no ideas about curing our symptoms.

Let's check out Systems Corridor East -- we should have most of the map explored now.  There's another Physical Plant here, for the Lawanda Complex, and a Course Control room, where lights indicate something has gone wrong and the planet is off course.  There's also a metal cube here, which we can OPEN to see a fused ninety-ohm bedistor; this is probably why the good bedistor we ran across back at Kalamontee exists.  We can also visit the Planetary Defense room, where a circuit board appears to be out of order; an access panel reveals four seventeen-centimer fromitz boards.  Hmmmm.  There's also a Repair Room, where we see a broken robot -- there's a robot-sized doorway here, as well, and I wonder if we should have come here before letting Floyd sacrifice himself.

Ah -- there's an Infirmary at the west end of the Systems Corridor, with some medicine and a small red spool.  The spool says that The Disease (which presumably we have) usually results in death in eight to ten days, with symptoms including fever and an increased need for sleep.  Let's try taking the experimental medicine, then -- it doesn't seem to do anything immediate.

Let's see if we can fix the main computer before we tackle these other puzzles.  Our initial attempt to SHOOT RELAY WITH LASER fails, as it puts out a blue beam that bounces off the relay.  It has six settings in different colors -- setting 1 is red, but that doesn't seem to pass through either.  We can see that the relay is red and the boulder is blue... setting 6 is violet, and maybe we should try to SHOOT SPECK WITH LASER -- though that doesn't work very well as now the relay collapses into a heap of plastic shards after its red plastic seal is breached.  So we want to use setting 1 for a red beam, but shoot the speck instead of the relay itself?  Yes, and we need to shoot it several times before the obstruction is vaporized.

Now the sector is about to be reactivated, but our trip back is obstructed by a giant (from our current perspective) amoeba creature.  Its translucent outer membrane is red, so a red beam does nothing to it; we don't have time to do much experimentation, so we'd better set it to something else before we start exiting.  And now we see that our (on setting 5) blue beams are wounding the microbe, but its wounds are quick to self-seal again.  We can do this indefinitely, dodging the creature's attacks, but we never quite seem to kill it.  We do, however, notice that as the weapon heats up from repeated firing, the creature's pseudopods seem to be reaching for it.  THROW LASER doesn't quite work, as it just drops it and we are likely to die before we can pick it up again, but THROW LASER INTO VOID once it is quite hot sends the creature plummeting into the abyss after it.  "(Whew!)" indeed!

As we try to return to the computer lab, something malfunctions and we are instead sent to the Lab Office, on the opposite side of where we really want to be.  This station is receive-only, so we will have to go through the mutant-infested bio lab to get back on track.  There are three buttons on the wall, though -- Lab Lights On, Lab Lights Off, and Emergency System.  A memo on the messy lab office desk indicates that the Emergency System floods the bio lab with a deadly fungicide.  Fortunately, the desk can be opened to obtain a wearable gas mask.

Hmmmm... while we're working on this, a message over the complex's PA system indicates that revival is beginning, and we can now access the cryo-chamber from the Project Control Office.  My first attempt to dash through the Bio Lab fails, as the mutant creatures catch up with me before I can close the door behind me.  It seems we can run for a little while, but the monsters catch up before we can open the bio-lock door?  If we turn the lab lights on, it seems to slow them down just a hair.  We can even lead them on a merry chase around the Lawanda complex, but they still catch up as soon we need to stop and do something in any location.  Hmmmm.

Can we hit them with a double dose of the fungicide?  Nope, pushing the red button twice doesn't seem to make any difference.  We can dash in, open the lab door, and then come out again, but the lab door closes in the meanwhile so it doesn't buy us any time to dash through more quickly.  With the lights off in the bio lab, we can see through a crack into a lab emitting a blue glow to the north, but we can't go through the crack and this seems informational only.  Aha!  We can make it to the ProjCon Office, where the mural on the southern wall has now vanished to reveal an elevator door, standing open; we can enter and PUSH BUTTON to close the elevator door just before the monsters reach it.  Whew! Again!

I'm not at all sure we've done everything we need to up to this point, but we're already heading downward in the elevator and clearly the mutants have taken over the area we would likely want to revisit.  And yes, my fears are confirmed, as we reach the Cryo-Anteroom and meet one of the reawakened residents, only to learn that Resida (the planet) is on an irreversible course to plunge into the sun.  We're at an ending point, but this seems far from the best possible outcome:

Okay -- clearly my decision to deal with the computer repair before the other ones was a bad one, as once we fix the relay everything else happens in short, forced order.  Going back to the other complex and picking up a good bedistor, we can replace the fused bedistor with the good one, after we PULL FUSED BEDISTOR WITH PLIERS to get it out of the socket.  A blinking light now reads, "Course divergence minimizing," so that seems to be a good fix.  Is there any reason to replace the fromitz boards in the Planetary Defense room with the cracked one?  I will guess not.

Repairing the computer and fleeing the bio-mutants again, we get a better ending -- but fixing the Planetary Defense system seems to be important as well, as now we learn that a second Stellar Patrol ship was destroyed by the malfunctioning defenses, and we are stuck on Resida forever.

Third time lucky... how do we fix the system when the only spare fromitz board we have found is cracked?  We get a shock when we try to GET FIRST BOARD, and as it turns out only the second one can be removed; after we take it out, we can see that is fried beyond repair.  Replacing it with the cracked fromitz board, however, doesn't seem to repair anything or change the system's malfunctioning behavior.  Can the repair room help?  Yes, we can see a supply room through the small robots-only door, but I am going to need Floyd here I think.  Back to a much earlier save, then!

FLOYD, GO NORTH in the repair room yields a shiny new fromitz board.  Knowing what's ahead, I can save a little bit of inventory juggling by dropping access cards soon to be obviated by the teleportation booths.  I repair the other facilities before I send Floyd to his sad but inevitable doom this time, if only so I can spend more time with him.  Now we go through the final cycle again... and we're still not quite successful, as the communications system is still broken and therefore Resida couldn't flag the second Stellar Patrol ship to get us home.

Fourth try luckier?  We have to engage the communication system's manual coolant system override, it appears.  Maybe we need to pour some coolant into the system, as suggested by the funnel-shaped hole.  Since it's a blue warning light flashing in the communications room, let's try dispensing some blue coolant.  This is progress -- the blue warning light goes off, but it's replaced by a green warning light.  Pouring green fluid in, a black light comes on.  But the black button is a catalyst according to the signs in the machine shop -- do we want to do this?  Yes, apparently, as now the system is functioning properly.

Okay, back to the big finale we go... and now, all seems to be in order!  We are promoted to Lieutenant First Class, a team of mutant hunters has arrived to deal with the bio-lab monsters, we're cured of The Disease by a medical robot, and... Floyd is back in working order!  He even hands us a few items related to apparent puzzles we never had to solve.  Victory is ours, with 80 out of 80 points!

I had forgotten much more of this game than I remembered, and it was a real pleasure to revisit Planetfall and work my way through Steve Meretzky's classic adventure again.  It has plenty of atmosphere, tight plotting, logical puzzles, and of course the indelible Floyd, one of the first electronic game characters to elicit a genuine emotional reaction from players.  And while there's a lot to do here, Planetfall is not a difficult game -- I didn't even need any Invisiclues, though I did have to backtrack quite a bit to correct mistakes and omissions I'd made along the way.  Now maybe I can finally tackle the sequel, Stationfall... but probably not right away.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Bedlam (1982)

This week, we're exploring the halls of Bedlam, a text adventure published in 1982 by Radio Shack for the company's TRS-80 Model I/III and Color computers.  It was written by Robert Arnstein, author of Raaka-Tu and Xenos (and reportedly Pyramid 2000, I learned recently, though he's not credited in the manual.)  I first played this game on the TRS-80 Color Computer, having at the time left my Model I behind, but I'm re-playing it on the classic TRS-80 here, for the sake of its 80-column text display; it's a better platform than the TV-compatible CoCo for text adventures.

Like Arnstein's earlier games, Bedlam uses a simple teletype-style interface -- the game prints a message, the user enters a command, the game responds, and the text just keeps scrolling.  But the parser is quite helpful when it comes to syntax and disambiguation -- if we type EXAMINE DOOR, for example, and the game needs more detail, it will flash EXAMINE ?WHICH? DOOR before letting us edit the command to, say, EXAMINE GREEN DOOR.

Bedlam is an escape-the-insane-asylum adventure, a fairly common theme at the time though it wasn't done to death.  Its most innovative and unusual characteristic is that it has some randomized elements and multiple endings, in that there are several escape routes possible.  I don't remember how I discovered this back in the day, as it certainly wasn't expected -- I think I was on the trail of one solution, and then stumbled across another along the way.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to wander the halls of Bedlam before proceeding with my notes below, and Sean Murphy's Bedlam page is highly recommended as supplemental reading. Without further ado, I'll describe my own experience in the following material, so beware that there are certain to be...

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

We begin in a small padded room, with a closed green door on the south wall, as we wake up after a "bad dream" about doctors and padded rooms.  We have nothing in inventory, there are no items here, and we learn nothing new from EXAMINEing the walls, floor or ceiling.  But, contrary to expectations, we can simply OPEN DOOR and leave the room.

We now enter the east-west hallway; a red door on the south wall is locked.  Traveling east leads to an almost identical room, where a green door to the north is unlocked and the red door to the south is locked.

Behind the green door is... Marilyn Chambers!  No, just kidding, it's Napoleon Bonaparte!  Or, at least, a short funny looking man who claims he is "THE MIGHTIEST LEADER IN THE WORLD!"  This is ironic, because while we can't TALK to him or ASK him about anything, if we say, NAPOLEON, FOLLOW ME, he readily responds, "OK, LEAD THE WAY."

He's a little more obstinate if we continue on to the east end of the hall, open the next green door, go into the padded room and say, NAPOLEON, STAY HERE; he responds, "YOU WOULDN'T LEAVE ME HERE!" and refuses to stay behind.  So I guess we'll be stuck with him for now, though eventually his attention will wander off and his person will follow.

Further east is the electroshock therapy room, where a uniformed woman who LOOKS LIKE THE ROLLER DERBY QUEEN assumes "YOU MUST BE HERE FOR TREATMENT" and gestures toward the apparatus.  We can escape by heading W, but if we wanted the GREEN KEY from the electroshock room we would have to stick around.  At the moment, though, we haven't run into any locked green doors, so there's no reason to try to retrieve it (assuming this game follows the usual color-coded security conventions typical of doors and keys designated with specific colors.)

Going all the way back to the west end of the hall, we find yet another openable green door and locked red door.  Here, we encounter a pseudo-Merlin, IN A BLACK CLOAK AND POINTED HAT, who believes we are a demon he has summoned to do his bidding.  We can also command MERLIN, FOLLOW ME; most of the characters we will encounter turn out to be fairly compliant, though most of them aren't very useful.  They do have their personality quirks, though, and their actions can provide clues -- we happen to see that NAPOLEON IS RUNNING HIS HANDS OVER THE WALLS.  And Merlin is getting impatient, saying, "I CAN'T UNDERSTAND IT.  I MUST HAVE CONJURED THE WRONG DEMON."

Further west is the dispensary, with exits to the east, west and south.  There's a blue pill here, and a locked cabinet on the wall with a tiny hole in it.  EXAMINE HOLE reveals a red key inside the cabinet.  Interesting.  We can TAKE PILL and then EAT PILL -- but it seems to have NO EFFECT.

Moving west again brings us to the Maintenance Room, where we find a long-handled window hook and an unsavory-looking doctor -- A SHORT, STOCKY, UNSHAVEN MAN WEARING A BLOODY WHITE SURGICAL GOWN -- who says, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? GO WHERE YOU BELONG!"  We can continue west into an office, but it seems the doctor is following us.  He occasionally lags behind, but if he catches up for more than one turn, he gives us a frontal lobotomy.  We do wake up, with blood on our gown, and can continue playing, but we are now badly confused, and every move we make is complicated by random attempts to navigate immediately following our every command.  So it's safer to restore a saved game or start over after this happens, at least until we can find a cure for it.

Merlin keeps insisting that we "REVEAL THE DOOR OF ESCAPE," which may be what Napoleon is feeling around for.  Trying to get the green key from the electroshock room is unsuccessful, as we get subjected to electroshock therapy before we can make off with it, and experimentation establishes that Merlin refuses to pick it up on our behalf.

Hmmmmm.  What about that long handled window hook?  If we go to the east end of the hall, just outside the electroshock room, and try to GET KEY, the parser is smart enough to tell us that YOU CAN NOT REACH THE GREEN KEY FROM OUT HERE.  And we can successfully GET KEY WITH HOOK from this location, without having to enter the electroshock room!  Unfortunately, though, the green key can't unlock the cabinet in the dispensary.  Wandering around and running into the evil doctor again, we can gain independent verification of the medical consensus that getting electroshock treatment does not undo the effects of a frontal lobotomy.  But -- referencing the original manual -- we discover some not-so-subtle hints that the longstanding adventuring magic word PLUGH will undo the confusion, and we need not fear lobotomization any longer.  Magic Words: 1, Medical Science: 0.

What else can we try?  Well, we can EXAMINE ROOM in any location to see NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT THE ROOM, suggesting that this may not always be the case.  And what about that other key?  We can't GET RED KEY from the cabinet, even with the window hook in inventory, or GET RED KEY FROM CABINET, as YOU ARE QUITE INCAPABLE OF REMOVING THE RED KEY, or PUT HOOK IN HOLE, as THE WINDOW HOOK WON'T FIT IN THE CABINET -- but these are kind of misleading responses, as we can successfully GET RED KEY WITH HOOK.

Now we can explore the rest of the map and UNLOCK RED DOOR WITH RED KEY as necessary.  The first one we try is empty, at the west end of the east-west hallway, but the one directly south of our starting point houses a man with a very bad French accent, who announces, "EYE AM A GRATE ARTEEST! MAH NAM EEZ PICASSO!"  (despite the fact that Picasso was Spanish.)  This impostor likes to paint doors on the wall, and if memory serves sometimes these can be opened; but in this case, OPEN PAINTED DOOR yields only, "ARE YOU CRAZY? IT IS JUST A PAINTED DOOR!"

Unlocking the third, easternmost red door gets us somewhere new -- the north end of a north-south hallway, opening up the rest of the map.  A blue door on the right-hand side can be freely opened, but the padded room beyond is empty.  Continuing south along the hallway, we can enter a kitchen to the east, with a refrigerator that drops some hamburger meat onto the floor when OPENed.

East of the kitchen is the asylum's kennel, where a VICIOUS GUARD DOG blocks the southern exit.  We can PUT PILL IN MEAT, and while the blue pill had no effect on us personally earlier, the dog finds it (or the meat) less appetizing -- THE DOG LOOKS SICK.  HE WEAVES AND FALLS OVER DEAD.  But we can't just exit the asylum to the south -- as we try, some guards throw us into a storage shed and lock the door!  The game isn't over yet, though, as we can still take action -- the shed has a green door on the north wall, so we can UNLOCK GREEN DOOR WITH GREEN KEY, and just walk north to escape to freedom -- and victory!

So that's one solution.  But there are some other aspects of the game I recall that we haven't run into yet, so let's explore the map a little more.  Backtracking, we find a dining room south of the kitchen, and returning to the north-south hallway we encounter a man named XRAY JOHNSON ("BUT YOU CAN CALL ME RAY") who claims to have X-ray vision.  Maybe he will be helpful in spotting a different escape route.

There's also a straitjacketed man who claims to be the real doctor, which we're willing to buy given the unsavory nature of the other doctor we've met, but he passes out before we can do anything with him, and we can't WAKE DOCTOR, so this is just a bit of storytelling atmospherics.  In the Recreation Room, we can meet another similarly confined man hanging from the ceiling -- he claims to be Houdini, but he seems unable to get out of his straitjacket.

That was entertaining, but I didn't succeed in finding any different solutions on my backtracking foray, which makes me suspect that each game we start actually makes only one solution available.  So we have to start over, and doing so, we find the characters originating in different, random rooms, though the key puzzles remain the same. 

In this run, as it turns out, EXAMINE ROOM -- in the eastern green-doored padded room -- freely reports, THERE IS A SECRET DOOR HERE... but we are NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO OPEN IT if we try.  Neither is Ray, if asked -- "SORRY, I'VE BEEN RATHER ANEMIC LATELY!"  But Napoleon can do it, and we're free by an alternate route!

Any other possibilities?  I seem to recall that Picasso's painted doors can be opened under some circumstances, and guessing that it may be random, I start a third game.  It takes a few tries before this surreal possibility is selected as the valid solution, but on my sixth game I succeed!

A little online research confirms that we've covered all three ending possibilities, so let's call this one done!

Bedlam is not a very complex adventure -- most of the 16K game's limited memory is devoted to presenting its colorful characters, and perhaps as a consequence there are only a few puzzles, and they generally succumb to common sense if we remember that the parser is not limited to two words.  It's not a terrible game, but like many adventures with random elements, it's just not quite as satisfying as a well-plotted adventure game can be.  I enjoyed revisiting the halls of Bedlam, but it was mostly for nostalgia's sake; I like Mr. Arnstein's other games quite a bit more.