Sunday, March 4, 2018

Game 23: Library [designed using Wander] (1978)

Wander, as my regular readers may remember, is a programming language designed for creating text adventures that predates even Colossal Cave Adventure.  I've played two adventures created using this language so far: Castle and Aldebaran III.  Both were interesting, and somewhat unusual for their vintage, but ultimately flawed.  I had to rewrite some code just so I could finish them, which is about as flawed as it gets outside of the game not running at all.

Library is the third and final Wander game I'll be playing.  The other two were created by Peter Langston, the creator of Wander and future person of significance at Lucasarts.  Library was made by Nat Howard, who I have in my notes as a co-author of Aldebaran III.  I can't find anything else about him though.  The map for the game is supposedly based on the Widener Library at Harvard, so one can assume that he was a student or a teacher there.

The opening screen of Library.

The game begins with you standing at the steps to a library, in a post-apocalyptic world.  It's 1978, so of course the goal is to gather up all of the treasures in the library and deposit them in the correct location.  In this case, the game tells you outright that this location is the chapel, which is just to the south of the starting area.  I appreciate the lack of ambiguity here, even though we're dealing with yet another treasure hunt.  It's good to have a concrete goal.

You begin the game empty-handed, with a leather sack at your feet.  I'm not sure if it has any other uses, but you can put items inside, presumably to get around the game's inventory limit.  I haven't hit that limit yet, though, so I can't be certain.

There's not a lot to see in the area outside of the library.  There's a chapel to the south, which gives an odd bit of backstory that mentions WWXII, and Bo Diddley, which I'm certain that I'm not supposed to take seriously.  To the east is another library, the "Pusey Pit", the entrance to which is blocked by rubble.  There's an alley running between the two libraries, which leads to a gate and a back door.  The gate, called the Dexter Gate, is so far impassable.  The back door into the main library is covered with ivy, which is quite animated and will block your entrance.  There might be a glitch here, because I haven't been able to return the way I came from the back door.  So far, this game has been pretty good about matching the exit directions between locations.  If you leave an area to the south, it's a good bet you can return to it by going north, unless you're in a maze.  So I was surprised that I couldn't do so at the back door.  I was completely stuck there, with no means to destroy the ivy and no means to go back, so I had to restart.

Any Bo Diddley fans know if this means anything?

The areas inside the library have so far been quite easy to navigate.  There is, of course, an obligatory maze - the Folklore & Mythology Stacks - which uses the standard trick of repeating the same room description and making no mention of exit directions.  I was able to map it using the time-honoured method of marking locations with dropped items.  This was made a little more difficult due to a lack of sufficient items to cover all the areas, but I got it done eventually.  Mapping the rest of the library was a breeze.

The initial area is a Lobby, with a desk to the west.  The desk was manned by a robotic guard (the first indication that the previous civilisation was more advanced than the present day), and I also found some keys and a knife.  An inscription on the knife read "Acme Knife, made by Acme Knife & Throttle Co, Framingham".  There's no significance to that yet, but you never know.

Some other areas of interest are:

  • A lift with buttons marked 'up' and 'down', and a keyhole.  I guess that the keys I found will activate it, but INSERT KEYS didn't work.  I also tried TURN KEYS, USE KEYS and a bunch of other commands.  Nothing so far.
  • A movie theatre.  At first the screen is dark, but you can activate the projector by flicking a switch in the nearby projection room.  It runs a film on venereal disease, which nets you a mildly humourous gag.

This reminds me that Stan Lee spent part of his military career writing anti-VD pamphlets.

  • A supposed "bookie operation" which used to run out of the library.  It features a basket, which was used to catch coins used in the movie booths above.
  • A men's bathroom, with a vending machine and three buttons.  I tried inserting a quarter that I found, but the coin got stuck.  It's supposed to take $0.25, so I'm not sure what the problem is.  Maybe it's a random chance thing?  Old-school text adventures are known to do that.
  • The rare books room, which can only be accessed through the stacks maze.  It contains a 1st edition Gutenberg Bible, which I have to assume is one of the treasures.
  • There's a section of erotic books, which is also only accessible via the stacks maze.  In it can be found a diamond-studded vibrator, which has to rate as one of the more interesting treasures I've encountered in an adventure game.  You can't just GET it, though, because someone might be watching.  Instead you need to put it in your sack.  The problem is, I have no idea how to get something out of the sack once it's gone in there.  I need to do a bit more wrestling with the parser on that score.

Wouldn't those diamond studs be uncomfortable?

  • Near the sex books there's a movie booth, which has a coin slot.  I probably should try putting the quarter in, but the only time I've been here I'd already lost it in the vending machine.
  • There's a card catalogue room, but I haven't found a use for it yet.
  • At the top of a spiral staircase I found a room guarded by an angry gnome.  Once you're in there he won't let you leave.  I've tried to kill him, bare-handed and with the knife, and both resulted in the game shutting down.  Presumably he killed me, but I don't know for sure because it doesn't give me time to read the message.  There's little that shits me off more in a game than being dumped out of it unceremoniously.

I haven't found a lot of items yet.  There's the aforementioned sack, keys, and knife.  The vibrator, of course, and the bible.  I also found a shiny quarter in the stacks maze, and a plastic vomit bag in the movie theatre.  It's a shockingly small inventory for a text adventure.

So far I've explored all of the areas open to me, about 34.  There are a number of obvious places that I should be able to explore beyond, the lift, the gnome room and the back door being the most likely.  The Dexter Gate may also be passable, and the Pusey Pit entrance at a stretch.  Those two strike me as boundaries at the edge of the game rather than obstacles, but I could be wrong.

Right now I'm enjoying Library.  It's laid out very simply, the descriptive writing is good, and there are no random events or time-limit puzzles (like a light source) to contend with.  I have had a small amount of parser trouble, of the "pick the right verb" variety, but we'll see how bad that is once I get properly stuck into the game's puzzles.  So far - getting dumped out of the game aside - it's been a pleasant game to just roam around in and explore.

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