Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Mad House Adventure (1983)

We're diving into the SoftSide Magazine archives again this week, to tackle Mad House Adventure, published with issue 44 of the magazine in 1983.  This one was written by the prolific Peter Kirsch -- he identifies it as #24 in the code, but by my count it's the 27th entry published, due to a few inserted entries from other adventure game authors.  I'm playing the TRS-80 Model I/III version, using the TRS32 emulator.

As we might surmise from the title, this is a fairly common plotline for early text adventures -- we've been cast as a person IN A MENTAL ASYLUM, UNJUSTLY SENTENCED FOR A CRIME YOU DID NOT COMMIT.  We're informed that there a few guards and other inmates wandering around, and of course our goal is to escape.

As much of the fun of adventure gaming is in exploration and discovery, I always recommend that readers interested in so doing go forth and experience these games before reading my playthrough notes.  Mad House Adventure is fairly well constructed, though it's easy to get stuck (as I did early on) by the nature of the puzzles -- the game is driven by a long sequence of item trades, so if an exchange doesn't suggest itself the action tends to grind to a halt.  As usual here, there are going to be comprehensive...

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

We begin in our room, with a bunk and an exit to the south.  Kirsch's parser dictionary is usually limited, and Mad House Adventure is no exception.  We can't EXAMINE BUNK, MOVE BUNK, LIFT BUNK, or SEARCH BUNK, and LOOK BUNK reveals nothing of interest, so we'll head south into an east-west Insane Ward hallway.

There's a door here, and I'll GO DOOR to verify it returns to our room, after which I think to try GOing BUNK -- which does work, though there's apparently nothing new to do while we're LYING ON YOUR BUNK IN YOUR ROOM.  Although... yes, we can SLEEP here, and A NIGHT PASSES.  So time may be an element in this adventure.

I probably didn't want to waste that night, but I'll go with it for now and head east along the hallway outside our room.  I arrive shortly at a hall with exits in all four directions; for now, I'll continue east through the Looney Ward, where a sign advertises the services of DENNIS THE DENTIST.

Continuing east, the Looney Ward also introduces us to TRICKY DICKY, who says, "I'M LOOKING FOR AN HONEST MAN," before I run into the eastern end of this part of the map.  So I'll go back and visit Dennis, who says, "ME PULL YOUR TEETH, NO?"  No thank you, sir -- I'll just return south to the hallway.

I'll try going north from the hall intersection, finding another 4-way intersection and meeting WANDERING WANDA, who presents a fairly typical adventure game scenario: "GIVE ME A FIDDLE AND I'LL GIVE YOU A BOOK."

Heading east from here takes us to the COMPLETELY LOONEY WARD, where JED THE VET advertises his services -- though, inside his office, he is creepily silent.  The east end of the C.L.W. features a locked door, and we don't have any keys or tools yet.

Continuing north from the hall back to the west, the hallway turns east into the Administration Wing.  We can visit an office here, with a desk -- and LOOK DESK reveals a typewriter, a note, and a flip calendar.  We can GET NOTE and READ NOTE to learn that laundry pickup happens on Wednesday, which might be a hint about an available means of escape.  LOOK CALENDAR reveals it's Friday, so we have some time (though I may regret wasting Thursday so early in the story.)  There's nothing in the typewriter, but it may come in handy later.

Continuing through the administration wing, we find a vending machine -- it accepts $1.00 in coins for a pack of cigarettes, and we conveniently find a silver dollar to the east.  I'm going to hang onto the coin for now, though, in case we find a better use for it.

Whoops -- as I head back west, I encounter ROBBER ROBERT, who steals one of our possessions if we don't have a cigarette to offer him, the bum.  Fortunately, he only took the note about laundry day, and maybe this is a good use of the silver dollar.  I INSERT DOLLAR and GET CIGARETTES after they are ejected onto the floor by the vending machine.

I'm curious about how big this place is, so I head all the way south through one new intersection to reach a stairway heading down at the south end.  We can't use D or DOWN to use the stairs, we have to GO STAIRS.  Downstairs we encounter BART THE GUARD, who appears to be guarding a locked door; he doesn't prevent us from going east to a hall with a large, locked, unbreakable glass door controlling access to a garden.

Back on the main floor, I explore the last eastward wing -- the TOTALLY INSANE WARD.  We can visit STARVIN' MARVIN, who says, "GIMME FOOD."  I also encounter LUCKY CHUCKY, who will let us pass by if we win a coin flip.  Unfortunately, I no longer have a coin to flip, so I can't reach the east end of this ward.  Hmmmm.

Exploring west of the main hall, we find a stairwell leading up to another instance of BART THE GUARD.  (I also discover the parser will only recognize GO STAIRS, not GO STAIR or GO STAIRWELL.)  There's another locked door here, as well as a fire extinguisher Bart won't let us take unless there's actually a fire in progress (at which time relying on the inmates to put it out seems a poor strategy, but I don't make the rules here.)

Returning to the hallway outside our room, we head west past THE GREAT NUTSO, WORLD'S GREATEST MAGICIAN, who says "I'VE NOTHING TO DO A TRICK WITH."  Poor guy.  There's nothing else down this hall, but I do run into Robber Roberts again, who steals the cigarettes but drops a small key while he escapes.

Will the key work to open the locked door in the Completely Insane Ward?  Yes!  This appears to be Robert's treasure trove; it contains a fake beard and the note he stole earlier.  Good, we should be able to retrieve anything he steals now.  And I'll take the fake beard too.

We'll travel west now into the FAMOUS PEOPLE WARD, where we hear AWFUL MUSIC and can GO DOOR to find an inmate who believes he is NERO, playing a fiddle.  I try to GET FIDDLE, as we know Wanda wants it, but of course HE WON'T GIVE IT TO YOU.  His next door neighbor is Napoleon, who is eating a hamburger.  (There's a nearly-cool thing here -- outside Napoleon's room, we hear a voice saying, "SO WHAT IF I'M SHORT..." with no apparent source, and it would have been intriguing if LOOK DOWN had revealed someone the player character didn't happen to see at first glance, but that's not what's happening here.)

Shakespeare also resides here, complaining of writer's cramp, as well as George Washington ("MEN, I'M GETTING TIRED. I'VE GOT TO SIT DOWN.")  And it now appears that we've mapped out all the accessible parts of the map, so it's time to try to solve some of these puzzles, most of which appear to be trade-an-item-with-someone situations.

I can GIVE BEARD to Jed the Vet, but he just thanks us for the gift and the item disappears with no other effect -- apparently these characters will accept anything we offer, which had to be aggravating to anyone trying to play this game back in the day.  Fortunately, we're in emulation mode here, so I'll restore an earlier save state and try something else.  The small key won't work on the locked doors near Bart the Guard.  I try to SHAKE MACHINE or GET DOLLAR so we can play coin-flip with Lucky Chucky, but that doesn't get me anywhere. 

Well, let me start over and learn just what's beyond Chucky.  I get the silver dollar, FLIP COIN and win the coin toss so I can pass by him after he vanishes.  I can also retrieve the dollar so we haven't given anything up yet, and shortly I manage to buy the cigarettes and then get Roberts' key so we don't have to worry about him much.  Past Chucky's location, we find a stairwell going up to a storage compartment, where we find a top hat.

This suggests an idea, so off we go to Nutso's room -- we GIVE HAT, and he pulls out a HUNGRY BUNNY RABBIT, which he gives to us.  I try to GIVE RABBIT to Jed the Vet, but he insists it be fed before he'll take him.  I try to DROP RABBIT in the hallway near the garden, hoping he can find his way into it somehow, but IT RUNS AWAY, NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN, so I'll have to restore again and find some way in.

Can I do anything with the fake beard?  It provokes no special reaction from Shakespeare for stage makeup purposes or silly Bard/Beard punning; I try wearing it and removing it in front of Tricky Dicky, but that doesn't seem to demonstrate honesty in his eyes.   

Shakespeare did say he was suffering from writer's cramp, but we haven't seen any liniment or wrist rests around.  Maybe the typewriter would help?  Yes, he accepts it, and offers to write us a poem if we come back TOMORROW, AND ONLY TOMORROW.  So we'll have to watch the timing here.  I go back to our room to SLEEP, and now we can receive and read Shakespeare's poem -- it's not even in iambic pentameter, but this impostor suggests he can give us a key we'll need to escape, if we bring him some luck.  GIVE RABBIT (four rabbit's feet could be lucky) doesn't work here either -- it just runs away again.

I try wearing the beard to see George Washington, but he doesn't mistake me for Abraham Lincoln or anything.  What does he want?  What does Napoleon want?  I find myself getting stuck here -- it seems I have nothing anyone would want.  So I dig into the BASIC code, and learn that George wants the silver dollar, so I have again given it away too soon.  Starting over, I get past Chucky, then give the silver dollar to George, who gives us his wooden teeth.  And then... he chucks the silver dollar back into the hallway after we leave?  I don't get the joke or historical connection here if there is one, but at least that risk-free move means I can again buy the cigarettes and get Robert's key when I run into him.

Does Dennis the Dentist want George Washington's wooden teeth?  Yes!  And in exchange he gives us... a magazine centerfold?  LOOK CENTERFOLD reveals that IT'S A PICTURE OF MISS APRIL - JOSEPHINE!  So maybe Napoleon wants this?  Yes -- he gives us his hamburger in exchange, which we can then give to Starvin' Marvin to obtain... the Gettysburg Address?

Ah!  If we WEAR the fake BEARD and GIVE ADDRESS to Tricky Dicky, he accepts us as Honest Abe... no, wait, he doesn't, he just accepts the address and it vanishes.  Hmmmmm.  Drat.  I think I need the top hat we gave to Nutso back a ways.  I restore and retrace to this point, and yes, now Mr. Dicky gives us some Roman Candles!  The possible permutations are shrinking, which always helps in this case.

Let's try giving those to Nero, then... yep, he gives us his fiddle.  And as we head out... we smell smoke!!!  We'd better grab the fire extinguisher, then head back to Nero's room, where simply showing up with the extinguisher allows us to put out the fire.

What can we do with these new items?  THROW EXTINGUISHER fails to break the garden door.  But PLAY FIDDLE creates enough high frequency noise to shatter the door!  Now we can give the top hat to Nutso and feed the rabbit, methinks.  FEED RABBIT doesn't work, and maybe the luck Shakespeare wants isn't the rabbit's foot anyway -- there's clover growing here, and if we GET CLOVER we end up with a four-leaf specimen.  And when we DROP RABBIT here, he runs into the clover, feasts, and falls asleep.

Let's take the sleepy rabbit to Jed -- it wakes up immediately when we pick it up, but stays with us for the trip.  Jed is happy to have a pet, and hands us... a dirty shirt in exchange.  Wonderful.  Well, let's see if Shakespeare wants the four-leaf clover for luck... he does, and he gives us a large key.

While looking around for Wandering Wanda, I realize I've missed a door west of Nutso's room.  Here, an inmate named SILLY WILLY demands a book to read.  We have a real reason to find Wandering Wanda now!  She gives us a book in exchange for the fiddle as promised, and now we obtain a flashlight from Silly Willy.

The flashlight would be useful if we had somewhere dark to go, so let's check out the remaining locked doors.  The large key won't open the door by the fire extinguisher, but it works downstairs near the garden.  Bart the Guard makes no attempt to prevent us from entering the room, either, which makes me wonder whether he's just here for window dressing.  (A follow-up check of the code reveals that if we don't have the dirty shirt, he won't let us into the laundry.)

I try to TURN ON FLASHLIGHT and TURN ON LIGHT and USE FLASHLIGHT, with no success, but ON FLASHLIGHT works.  And now we can see that we're in the Laundry Room, where a suspiciously VERY TALL BAG OF LAUNDRY stands.  We can GO BAG to hide under the laundry, though we may be here a while as it's only Friday, and IT'S TOO UNCOMFORTABLE TO SLEEP HERE.

So I'll go back to bed and sleep until Wednesday.  As soon as I reach the laundry room, we hear someone unlocking the door, so we have to quickly GO BAG.  We're then placed in a truck that leaves the facility, but I make the mistake of trying to emerge Up out of the bag before we stop moving, and the guards recapture me.

There's no WAIT verb to pass the time, but we can repeatedly LOOK until we hear the sounds of a city outside.  This time, I wait until the laundry is unloaded -- we're told the guards aren't looking, but I still get captured again.  One more try -- I wait longer, and am discovered hiding in the bag.

Maybe we need a better disguise -- the guards have been spotting me as an "ASYLUM ESCAPEE" every time.  Fortunately, when I back up a few steps to a save en-route, and LOOK LAUNDRY from inside the bag, YOU SEE A GUARD'S UNIFORM.  We can GET UNIFORM and WEAR UNIFORM within the bag.

With the uniform on, THE GUARDS PAY NO PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO YOU instead of raising the alarm, and we are free to GO DOOR to freedom!  Victory is ours!

Peter Kirsch managed to cram a lot of puzzles and challenges into 16K here, and the design's unusual reuse of objects tripped me up exactly as I imagine it was intended to.  I enjoyed playing Mad House Adventure and I hope we see at least another game or two by Mr. Kirsch before we reach the end of the SoftSide Magazine series, just a few more games down the road.


  1. This adventure sounds awfully similar to _Bedlam_ in a lot of ways. Since it came out before _Bedlam_, I wonder if it influenced the latter?

    1. It certainly reminded me of Bedlam, though it lacks the multiple endings and the writing isn't as detailed or atmospheric, limiting the content in favor of a larger map. There were a number of insane asylum escape adventures published back in the day, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few echoes of this game in Bedlam.

  2. True, I remember an earlier graphical TRS-80 adventure called _Asylum_, in which there was a grand piano hovering over you at all times, just waiting for you to look up.

  3. This was a favorite game of mine from childhood, used to play it on an Apple IIe. Or was it an Atari 800? It's been so long. I was fascinated by the characters and my friend and I used to draw maps and make out own asylum to escape from with grid paper. Does anyone have any leads for the original file or a ROM for this? I've been searching for YEARS and finally found this page.