Sunday, January 14, 2018

Game 22: Stuga aka The Cottage (1978)

A while ago, it was Ultima VII that kept me from blogging.  More recently, it's been The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is an incredible game, and probably the best in the series since at least 1998.  It's very hard to dig into text adventures from the 1970s when I have the vastness of Hyrule to explore (and boy, is it vast), but here I am with my first non-English game: Stuga, otherwise known as The Cottage.

The cover of the 1986 commercial release version

The Cottage (as I'll refer to it from now on) was created in Sweden by two brothers (Viggo and Kimmo Eriksson) and their friend (Olle Johansson).  They were, respectively, 10, 12 and 14 years old, which puts them in a similar category to Greg Hassett, whose games have been haunting this blog for a while now.  All of their parents were on staff at the Stockholm Computer Central for Research and Higher Education, which gave them access to the Oden mainframe, and also exposed them to the Woods/Crowther version of Colossal Cave Adventure.  In summer of 1977 they started crafting The Cottage, and the first playable version of it was released in 1978.  It was made commercially available - retitled as Stugan - in 1986, but I gather that that version had some changes from the original.  Much later, around 2009, the game was translated to English, and that's the version I'll be playing (using Winfrotz).

No hints yet on who or what VIOL might be.

The Cottage begins with the hero standing on a jetty, with people water-skiing in the lake behind and a house in the distance ahead.  The goal seems to be to get a high score by collecting valuables (i.e. the same goal as pretty much every other adventure game of 1975-1978).  Your score starts at 50, and can be increased to a maximum of 307.  I haven't done much experimentation with the parser yet, but it all seems to be pretty basic stuff.  The main thing it does that I haven't seen elsewhere is change up the way you move depending on whether you're inside the mansion or in the wilderness.  When you're outside, the game uses the standard compass directions (N, S, NE, SW, etc.), but when you're inside it switches to directional commands (Forward, Left, Right, Back).  I haven't done much exploration inside yet, so I can't say exactly how irritating this is, but I'm going to hazard a guess and say "very".

Given the potential irritation of this change, I've stuck to the wilderness and pretty much explored that completely.  Most of it is forest areas surrounding a lake, with a fence around the perimeter to create a boundary.  So far the rooms and there exits all line up and make sense really well, and the game has been quite simple to map.  I fully expect that this will be right out the window once I get inside the cottage.

The game has already presented some basic obstacles and mysteries.  There's a rowing boat that I haven't tried yet, and a locked gate for which I've yet to find the key.  In one place there's a hole in the perimeter fence you can crawl through, which leads to an area where someone has been digging.  I haven't probed any of these mysteries too hard yet, as I'm in exploration mode.  I like to map as much as possible before I start getting stuck into solving things.

I've solved one puzzle so far, though it barely qualifies as such.  In a cave with numerous entrances (including one behind a waterfall) there's a gambling machine, with a sign reading "PULL THE LEVER IF YOU HAVE A FAUN SHOE TO STAKE".  In a room directly to the south a faun runs through, leaving its shoe behind.  Sure enough, if you pull the machine's lever with the shoe in your possession, you're rewarded with some gold coins.  It's hardly Acheton-level stuff, but it's a start.

Fear my genius.

There are a number of ways to get inside the titular cottage.  I've gone in through the front door, climbed down a well, and crawled through holes in the side of the house.  There's a bathing hut in which the floor collapses when you enter, leaving you in "Thorvald's Room".  I do like a game that rewards exploration, but I have to say that the transition from wilderness to interior can sometimes be a little jarring.  I'm chalking it up to language/culture differences for the moment, and I'll try not to let it bother me too much.

There's one other thing in the game that makes little sense to me, but may possibly be better understood by Swedish players.  In a couple of areas, instead of a room description I've gotten a message saying "You have a half-rotten tomato in your hand but it vanishes".  Following that, I've found myself somewhere inside the cottage, usually in a boiler room.  It's weird and nonsensical, but in a way that jars me out of the game.  If there's anyone who knows what this might be a reference to, I'd love to hear it.

As you may have guessed, Googling "rotten tomato" is of no help.

So far, The Cottage seems to be another in a long line of whimsical fantasy adventure games (it seems to be the thing to do in 1978).  It's very sparse in its descriptions, which is a double-edged sword.  It makes the game less immersive, but it also makes it easier to figure out what's important in each room.  By the time I get to my next post I'll have explored inside the cottage, and I'm hoping that the inconsistent movement inputs don't ruin the experience for me.  Regardless, I expect there'll be enough oddities in the game to keep me amused.  You know, provided I don't just play another 100 hours of Breath of the Wild instead...

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