Sunday, July 14, 2019

Game 29: Lords of Karma - Victory!

Having spent most of my last post on mapping and exploring, I decided it was time to dig into this game and start solving some quests. The most obvious goal was to earn enough karma to enter Heaven, but there were a number of other quests in the game as well. Laying out my goals was helped by the discovery of a book on a mountain top, which purports to hold the wisdom of someone called Maharathi. Continuously reading the book gives a number of hints:

  • CHAPTER I. Putting the Torch to Cobwebs
  • CHAPTER II. I Give a Beggar a Silver Dollar
  • CHAPTER III. A Cooling Egg
  • CHAPTER IV. Secrets Found in a Crystal Ball
  • CHAPTER V. An Idol Destroyed.

This was a pretty good set of quests to go on. In addition, I had been asked to rescue a princess from a knave and return her to the palace.  Tackling all of these took me the better part of an afternoon, which was time I could have better spent watching hard Japanese wrestlers batter the hell out of each other (it's G1 Climax season once again!). Still, I've had worse weekends, and played worse games.

Rescuing the princess turned out to be not difficult at all. Her and the knave are always found somewhere in the Oak Forest to the west of the city of Golconda. The last time I tried to fight him he killed me, but this time I battered him to death with a lit torch. Combat is very swingy in this game; you can kill a Troll with your bare hands, then lose a fight to a bat when armed with a sword. It's very much just a case of luck, though it seems that the knave is one of the game's weaker enemies.

The princess then started following me, demanding to be returned to the palace. I returned her to her father, who rewarded me with a diamond before taking his daughter on a vacation. From that point on I was able to enter the palace without fear of being thrown in the dungeons, although there's not really much reason to do so.

Reuniting the royal family.

It was time to get to the clues in the book, and I started with the beggar. The silver dollar is usually found somewhere in the Oak Forest to the east of Golconda (the locations of items and creatures is randomised, although they usually pop up in the same general area). The beggar is easy to find as well, as he's always on the road either north or south of the city. I gave him the dollar and he rewarded me with a lamp that never runs out. This game involves a fair bit of stumbling around in the dark, so it comes in handy.

The next easiest clue to solve was the one about torching cobwebs. I'd found some cobwebs in the Cyprus Swamp, so I went there armed with a lit torch and tried to burn them. None of the commands I tried worked, so I explored a bit and was soon attacked by a giant spider. The spider kept firing webs at me, but with my torch I was able to burn them away and thus avoid being killed. Eventually I struck a killing blow, although it was a long, laborious process of typing KILL over and over again. Searching the swamp afterwards I found a sword, which soon became my primary weapon.

I had no idea about the egg, but after an hour of fruitless exploring, monster killing, and treasure-finding, I decided to try talking to everyone I met. Most of them just attack, but I was quite pleased to note that every creature I tried to talk to had some sort of response.  Success came when I talked to the giant who lives in the Redwood Forest to the south-west. He told me that humans aren't welcome in his forest, but I could win his trust by bringing him a sapling.

I'd found a sapling in the swamp during an earlier game, so I wandered around (and killed a crocodile) until I found it again. The sapling is heavy, so I had to drop everything from my inventory to even move. Then I couldn't get back out of the swamp the way I came, because the sapling was too big to fit through a crack in a wall. I was forced to find another path east and north of Golconda, but I was eventually able to circle around and take the sapling to the giant.

I hope those are some REALLY big leaves.

He rewarded me with an egg. I suspect there's a way to hatch it, but I never did figure it out. The "cooling egg" in the clue had me trying to light it on fire, which I couldn't get to work. So I'm not convinced that I solved everything here, but finding the egg is good enough for me to consider the third clue dealt with.

The other two clues took quite a bit longer to deal with, because they both involve exploring underground. There are a number of underground areas in the game: the sewers beneath Golconda, the tunnels under the mountains, more tunnels accessed through holes in the swamp. The most extensive of these seems to be the caves under the southern Promontory. It's hard to tell, because there are secret doors all over these areas. Sometimes they appear when you LOOK, and other times they don't, so fully exploring these places is a matter of luck and patience. I'm still not sure I got everything.

There are monsters underground, and all of them can kill you: the worm and the vampire bat are the weakest. There's an axe-wielding goblin, a mace-wielding troll, and a shimmering wizard who will happily roast you with a fireball from his staff when he sees you. The idol mentioned in the clues is also underground, in the caves below the Promontory, past a maze of stalactites and stalagmites. The troll always guards the areas leading up to it, and he can be tough to kill even when you're well-armed.

The idol is dedicated to Baal, and when you examine it you're asked to make an offering. I knew it would be a bad idea, but I had to try it at least once.

Whoever the god of this world is, he punishes you worse for this than for murder.

Yes, I got blasted for idolatry and took a massive karma hit. Needless to say, I restarted.

With idol located I needed a way to destroy it. I had earlier found a bomb lying in the Aspen Forest to the north-west, and I figured this was the way to do it. Sure enough, I took the bomb to the idol, lit a match, lit the fuse, and moved away. The bomb exploded, reducing the idol to rubble, and I got a big karma boost. (What I didn't get was a screen shot, because my torch had run out while I was waiting for the bomb to go off.)

My final goal was obtaining the crystal ball, which I knew was being held by a friendly wizard who roams about the wilderness. When you talk to him, he asks you to bring him the staff of the shimmering wizard. Which I then tried to do. Many, many, many times. That guy is tough.  In the end I resorted to praying at the temple, which sometimes results in you grabbing a torch and wandering into the underground tunnels, and is probably the quickest way of finding the wizard. So I just kept on praying, fighting him when I found him, and returning to pray after he killed me. It probably took me thirty tries to beat him (with a lot of fruitless underground journeys when praying sent me to the wrong area).  When I took his staff to the good wizard, he rewarded me with the crystal ball, which I discovered could be used to see secret doors. I considered using it to map out the whole game accurately, but even I have my limits (I would have totally done it if this was an RPG though).

Say "appear" one more time...

Last of all, it was time to earn enough karma to make my way into heaven. If I'm being honest though, I accomplished this one way before destroying the idol and obtaining the crystal ball. The number of points required to ascend to heaven is randomised with every game; in some games I've ascended with only 24 points, and in others it's taken me over 300. So as you can see, the game can vary greatly in difficulty.

There are three ways to earn karma: solving quests, donating treasure, and killing monsters. The first of these I've covered pretty comprehensively above.  Donating treasure simply involves taking any treasure you've found to the temple and using the DONATE or GIVE command. A sign tells you that "contributions will be gratefully accepted", so it's not all that obscure, but it did take me a few tries to hit on the right command. Despite this game's premise supposedly being to do good deeds, it still ultimately boils down to finding treasures and returning them to a single location. We haven't escaped the influence of Colossal Cave Adventure just yet.

Killing monsters is a little more interesting, because doing so can earn you karma as well as lose it. I think it has something to do with the weapon you're using.  When you examine a weapon it tells you where it was made. Some are forged in Valhalla, some in Hades, and some are made by "Knave Armaments, Inc."  I'm pretty sure that you get points when using weapons from Valhalla, and lose them when using weapons from Hades. I found a ring from Hades that shot lightning bolts, and while it was powerful I lost karma every time I used it.  As for the Knave Armaments weapons, I'm not sure, but I think you lose karma from those as well. I just tried to test it and got killed by a vampire bat, so it'll have to remain a mystery.  Oh, and of course killing friendly characters always loses you karma.

So I amassed a couple hundred karma, went to the temple, prayed, and got the following victory screen.

After this it dumped me to the OS prompt, so I guess heaven is using a TRS-80 you guys.

So that's Lords of Karma done, dusted, and off the books. After a couple of games that I feel like I didn't properly beat, it's a relief to notch up another win. All that's left is a quick Final Rating and I can move on to something else.

FINAL RATING

Story & Setting: The set-up for Lords of Karma promised more than the usual late-70s adventure fare, but in the end it wasn't much more than another treasure hunt. It perhaps deserves some props for being one of the first game adventure games that has a number of sub-quests, and multiple paths to victory. It's possible to win without donating any treasure at all, by completing the quests instead. The setting doesn't have a lot of personality, and I'm tempted to dock it for mixing mythologies with Hades and Valhalla. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The characters are simple quest-givers, but they do all respond when spoken to, and have a minimal amount of personality. The selection of monsters is decent, although combat is too random to differentiate them all that much. It's a slight cut above the other adventure games available on home computers at the time in this regard, though. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: As with so many of its kind, it's a text adventure with very sparse descriptions. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser is very simple (I doubt it knows more than about a dozen commands), but it gets the job done. Once you know how to GET, DROP, GIVE, TALK, PRAY, LIGHT and KILL you're pretty much good to go, and the games does what it's supposed to do. Combat is very random though, and there are no tactics that can mitigate this swinginess. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: In terms of puzzle solving this game has very little in the way of difficulty, and gives a decent amount of hints as to what you need to do. Earning karma is also not that hard, especially once you know how to avoid losing it. The game even resurrects you when you die, with no loss of karma at all. The most challenging thing is combat, but even that's a minor setback in terms of the goal of ascending to heaven. It's probably about the right amount of challenge for the size of the game, if not a little too easy. The randomisation gives it some small replay value, though. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: It doesn't seem as though this game had much of an impact, but it does feature some minor innovations. It might be the first adventure game to explicitly have "doing good" as a goal, and it might also be the first to feature elements of Eastern philosophy and religion (albeit in a minor way). Rating: 3 out of 7.

Fun: I only had three sessions on this game, perhaps five hours in total, but I found myself enjoying it while it lasted. There's just enough to see and do in the game to make it worth exploring for a short while, although the combat can be very frustrating. Rating: 2 out of 7.

No bonus point for Lords of Karma; I doubt I'll revisit it.  The above scores add up to 17, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 34. That puts it equal 14th overall, and 8th on the chart for adventure games. That's right in the middle, equal with Pirate Adventure, and among the highest-rated adventure games for home computers.

NEXT: It looks like I have tracked down a copy of Quest after all, so I'll be looking at that if I can get it to work. If not, it's either Swords & Sorcery (a minor PLATO RPG) or Daniel Lawrence's DND (which I doubt I'll be able to get running but you never know). The end of 1978 is finally in sight!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Game 29: Lords of Karma (1978)

The cover of Avalon Hill's 1980 release

Lords of Karma is the first game from Gary Bedrosian, who will later create the well-regarded Empire of the Over-Mind and something called GFS Sorceress.  It was first created in 1978, and eventually published by Avalon Hill in 1980. (Avalon Hill is not a name I connect with video games. I know them much better as a purveyor of wargames, and it's weird to see them involved here.)  It was created to work on TRS-80, Apple II and Commodore PET, but I'm playing the TRS-80 version.

After reading over some articles it seems that Lords of Karma is going to a bit more forward-thinking than its contemporaries: rather than collecting treasures, my goal is to do good deeds and earn karma. With enough karma, I'll be able to ascend to heaven and win the game. I gather that a lot of this is randomised, and that the karma required to win is different with every game. I'm not so keen on the randomisation, but I am pretty happy to find a game with a goal that isn't a simple treasure hunt. I've had enough of those for a while.

Starting the game

You start the game in the central square of the city of Golconda, and can wander around pretty much anywhere from there.  For my first game, I left Golconda by the city gates and followed a path north to the Chapel of Prayer. I prayed there, and earned a point of karma. I decided to pray a second time, which caused me to faint. When I woke up I was in some underground tunnels, and I never found my way back out again. I did kill some sort of worm while I was down there though, and earned some karma for that.

Restarting, I decided to explore the overworld instead. Golconda is small, with just the Central Square, the Royal Palace, and a Market. In the Market you can find a brass farthing, a torch, and 6 matches.  (I haven't tried taking them, so I'm not sure if you need to buy them or not.)  If you enter the palace, the king tasks you with rescuing his daughter, and threatens to throw you in the dungeon if you return without her. I think I've found the princess, being ravished by a "knave" in the forest, but when I tried to save her the knave killed me.

Killed by a knave and reborn on a mountain.

Most of the overworld consists of different types of forests: redwood, pine, and aspen. There's a cyprus swamp to the southeast, and the land is bordered to the south by an ocean. It's all very sparsely described, and to get any sort of detail you need to type LOOK in every location, which can get a little tedious. The LOOK command tells you where you are, lists anything of interest, and gives you all of the exits from that area. It even lists the Up and Down exits, which I appreciate.  I've noticed, though, that some exits aren't always listed; the door to the Royal Palace is one that comes and goes, and there were secret doors when I was underground that only appeared sometimes.

The game has rudimentary combat, like many of the adventure games of the era. I haven't had a lot of success, aside from the worm that I killed in the underworld. So far I've been killed by a giant to the south-west, a crocodile and a spider in the south-eastern swamps, a wizard on a mountain, and the aforementioned knave a little to the west of Golconda. When you die you are reborn on a mountaintop to the north-east of Golconda. Dying doesn't seem to harm your karma score at all, although it does scatter your inventory around the map.

I've also encountered a beggar, and a grey-robed man carrying a crystal ball. When spoken to, the beggar asked for alms, and the robed man asked me to fetch him the wizard's staff. I've met that wizard and come off much the worse for it, so I'll skip this quest for a while.

Despite the goal of this game being to do good, there are treasures scattered around as well. I've found a topaz, a silver dollar, and an emerald. You don't get any karma just for picking them up, but giving them to the beggar might do so, and there's a suggestion that offering them at the Chapel of Prayer might do so as well.

I'm enjoying this so far, but I usually do in the initial stages of a game when I'm mostly exploring and mapping. I think that eventually the random elements of this game will get to me, especially because the map seems to be somewhat random as well. We'll see how it goes, but so far I like playing a game that's not quite so influenced by Adventure as the games surrounding it while still remaining accessible.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Game 28: Devil's Dungeon (1978) - Tainted Victory.

When the question is asked "What was the first commercial CRPG", most of the knowledgeable folks around will tell you that it was Beneath Apple Manor. It's a fair answer: although there were plenty of CRPGs created before 1978, none of them were available in stores.  Of the other commercial CRPGs from 1978 that I've played, Dungeon Campaign was created in December at the earliest, and Space is believed by Matt Barton to be a 1979 game (and I ain't about to argue with Matt Barton on these matters).  There's one more game that just might qualify though: Devil's Dungeon.

An appropriately used apostrophe in a game from the 1970s is a rarity to be cherished.

Devil's Dungeon was created by Dr. Charles William Engel, a maths professor from Florida, and was shown to be available in an ad dating from February 1978. At this point it was simply sold as a 15 page booklet with the BASIC code for the user to enter themselves, but it was available for sale. Whether a booklet of code counts as a commercially available game is up to the reader, I suppose, but as far as I'm concerned it was commercial, which strikes one requirement off the list. Whether it qualifies as a CRPG is another matter entirely.

(For a deeper exploration of this topic, head over to The Golden Age Arcade Historian, who really goes in hard on it.)

I tried to find an Apple II version with no luck, and have settled instead for playing it on a TSR-80 emulator. I'm actually not sure what platform it was originally intended for, or if Engel's code was even intended for a specific platform. Apple II and TRS-80 would be the most likely options in 1978, so I'm happy with either.

The game itself gives no backstory, but a preamble before the code in Simulating Simulations 2nd edition (a 1979 book featuring the code for a number of Engel's games) reads as follows: "For many years you have heard rumors of large quantities of gold hidden in a maze of caves whose connecting passageways lead deep beneath the earth of an occasionally active volcano. The stories tell of monsters and demons who roam through the caves, poisonous gas, tremors from the volcano, and one man who returned from these perils alive and named the caves The Devil's Dungeon. After much searching, you have located the wealthy, solitary man who survived a journey through the dungeon; and he has agreed to see you. Although now very old and in poor health, he tells you everything he can remember about the dungeon."  That's a classic 1970s Dungeons & Dragons setup right there: a big hole in the ground full of monsters and treasure. My goal is to get in, survive, and get out with as much loot as possible. It doesn't get much more basic than that.

The gameplay itself is also pretty basic. It's entirely text-based, and bears quite a few similarities to Treasure Hunt, which I covered not that long ago. If Treasure Hunt was the adventure game boiled down to its barest essentials, Devil's Dungeon is the same thing for the CRPG. Each move displays your current status, how deep you are underground, which room you are in, and which rooms the exits lead to. The bulk of the game is simply typing the number of the room you want to explore next, and trying to avoid or fight the various dangers of the caves. All of the command inputs are numbers, as shown on the screenshot below.

A starting character in Level 1, Room 1.

The dungeon is split into levels, and everything I've read indicates that you can keep descending infinitely. Every level has 16 rooms. You can explore them using the regular exits, or one-way slides that don't allow you to return the way you came. Mapping the levels is of limited utility, because there are tremors that happen periodically that rearrange the rooms. These tremors are frequent enough that I gave up on mapping very quickly, and if you can get me to stop mapping a game then it must be a truly futile effort. You can enter '88' to bring up a list of the caves you've visited and their exits, which is pretty handy.

Some rooms feature "drop-offs", which can be used to descend to the next level down. Once you go down you can't get back up again, but you can always escape the dungeon from Room 1 on any level (assuming you can find it). As in most games of this type, it gets more dangerous the deeper you descend, but also more rewarding.

There are monsters lurking around, and you can't claim the treasure in a room until the monster has been dealt with. Every monster is simply listed as "Monster", which is disappointing. The player and the monsters have Speed and Strength scores which dictate how effective they are in combat. Battle is not involved at all; you simply hit "0" to fight, and the game tells you if you killed the monster, if it lived, or if you died. The monsters scores are right there in the open, so it's usually pretty easy to tell if you're going to win or not. You can flee from any monster, but it has a chance based on your Speed to hit you as you escape.

Killing a "monster", type unknown.

The final dangers, and the most irritating, are Demons and Poisonous Gas. Each one has a chance to affect you in some way as you leave the room: Gas can drain you of half your Strength, while Demons can drain half your Speed, or steal some of your Gold. There's no way to avoid these dangers, and little you can do to stop them affecting you once you've encountered them. The majority of dungeon rooms feature one or both, so no matter how high your stats get there's always some chance they'll get drained back down very quickly.

The only option the player has against the game's hazards is the Magic Wand. In any room you can use it, and it will destroy every danger in the room as well as creating a drop-off to the next level. It works 60% of the time, but otherwise it backfires and drains both Speed and Strength by 50%. I tend only to use it when I absolutely have to. You can sometimes get into rooms with no exits, and that's when the wand is essential.

I escaped from a monster, got gassed, and walked right into a room with more gas and some Demons.

The majority of the game consists of moving from room to room, killing monsters for experience points, scooping up gold (which also gives you experience points), and hoping that the gas and the Demons don't get you too many times. The goal is to amass plenty of experience and gold, then find Room 1 on any level. Room 1 is where you can exchange experience for Speed and Strength. The game is a war of attrition, with monsters and hazards constantly draining you as you try to get enough loot to stay ahead. Even just moving around drains both stats, with each move taking an amount equal to your depth underground.

The best I managed (playing fairly) was to descend to Level 6, and escape the dungeon with a dozen gold pieces. Even when making maps and trying carefully to avoid the hazards I'd already encountered I found the game incredibly difficult. With no way to know when you're about to stumble into some Demons or gas, and no way to control whether they drain you or not, it's a tough nut to crack, and seems to be based almost entirely on luck.

See that note in parentheses above? The one that says "playing fairly"? I put it there because I completely broke this game. Whenever you're about to leave a room, you can enter the number of a room that's not adjacent to the one you're in. This takes you to a screen that displays the amount of gold you found in the room, and asks you to enter a valid exit. If you just keep hitting enter on that screen your character keeps on finding gold, over and over again for as long as you like. I used this to amass over 100,000 gold pieces, and jack my character's stats up to around 20,000 each.

I could have cranked those scores even higher, except that after a while I found myself unable to locate Room 1 on any level. Demon and gas encounters took their toll, as did simple movement, and I died on Level 22 when my Speed was reduced to zero.

Loaded down with "spondooly" as some of my older relatives might say.

In another game I used the above technique to garner a decent amount of gold on Level 1 (enough to raise my stats to about 3,000), then I dropped down a few levels until I found a room that would net me a decent amount of gold. (Rooms will tell you the maximum amount of gold you can earn from them, so it's easy to know whether a room is worth farming or not.) I quickly amassed over 100,000gp, but once again I found it really hard to find Room 1. I ended up descending to level 12, bouncing from one hazard to the next as my stats got lower and lower, until I eventually lucked onto an exit to Room 1 and escaped with my fortune.

I left the question of whether this game qualifies as a CRPG open at the start of this post, with the intention of returning to it later. It's certainly an attempt to recreate the play of Dungeons & Dragons, which was the goal of the vast majority of CRPGs of this era. Your character has statistics that determine your success, and can increase those statistics over time by earning experience points. There's a rudimentary magic system, and very basic combat. As far as I'm concerned it covers most of the bases that other early CRPGS cover, albeit in an extremely simplistic form. So yes, it's a CRPG. And yes, if Dr, Engel was selling those booklets it was definitely commercial. Unless another, earlier game is unearthed, it looks like Devil's Dungeon really was the first ever commercial CRPG.

FINAL RATING:

Story & Setting: The story is the same old search for treasure in a monster-filled hole, and that hole is described in the most perfunctory way possible. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There are no characters in this game, only Demons and other monsters. None of those monsters are individualised with names or types; the only variety here comes from their statistics. I guess that's all these games do when you get under the hood, but it's still disappointing. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a text-based game with not even the barest attempt made to give the writing some character or atmosphere. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: It's a simple game that does everything it was designed to do, but there's nothing all that interesting going on. Throw in the game-breaking bug I discovered and I have to knock it down. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Challenge: Playing this game fairly I would have described it as too arbitrary and difficult. After discovering the money-making bug it's much easier, and far too easy if you have the patience for farming gold on Level 1. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: In terms of influence, I would have to say that Devil's Dungeon is negligible. It's barely mentioned on the internet, and these kinds of text-based CRPGs petered out pretty quickly. It's also not all that innovative, being mostly a slightly more complex variant on Hunt the Wumpus (imagine playing Wumpus without any warnings about where the dangers are, and you have an idea what Devil's Dungeon is like). It should get some points for being the earliest known commercial CRPG, though. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Fun: I'm sorry to say, but I derived very little enjoyment out of the couple of hours I put into this game. There's just not enough that the player can do to control their fate, and that's always a frustrating game experience. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Bonus point? Are you kidding me? The above scores total 13, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 26. Overall, that puts it even with a couple of Greg Hassett's adventure games, and above King Tut's Tomb, Treasure Hunt and Library. King Tut and Library were broken, and earned their place at the bottom. Treasure Hunt is a better game than Devil's Dungeon, but it's not as significant. (I'm starting to regret that Innovation and Influence category.) As for the CRPG chart, Devil's Dungeon is at the bottom, and that's where it belongs despite it's significance.

NEXT: The next game on my list is something called The Dragon for the Commodore PET. I was notified about this by regular commenter Brian way back in 2017, but Google isn't showing any signs of its existence. The same qoes for Quest, which is another one that he told me about. I'll table those for now, unless Brian can tell me if his leads on those games bore any fruit. That leaves me with Lords of Karma as my next game, a text adventure whose sole aim seems to be the doing of good deeds. I'll bet you anything that it involves killing things and collecting treasure.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mystery Mansion: Capitulation.

Alas, I am giving up on Mystery Mansion. I'm sure I could persevere with it, and eventually get a 999 point game, but to be honest I just want to move on. It stings a little, especially coming off of MUD1 which I also gave up on, but I need to keep moving. Persisting with games I'm not enjoying will be a sure-fire way to kill the blog dead.

When I left off last time, I had accomplished most of what I was capable of in the game.  Now my goal was to put it all together into a single run. Doing that took some planning, as there are certain tasks that need to be done before others. Below I've outlined the order that I tackled things.

Gathering Items: The first essential item is the lantern, which hangs from the mansion's front gate where the game begins. Second is the compass; dealing with relative directions is a real pain so I like to get this early. The third item I go for is the gauntlet to increase my carrying capacity, and then the door keys.

Killing the Vampire: Before going to release the Vampire, it's important to grab the cross from the chapel for protection. After opening the Vampire's coffin, it's a simple matter to lure him upstairs and open a curtain to let in the sunlight. I also tried killing him with a wooden wedge, but the game told me "you have not figured out how to do that yet".

Solving the Murder: To do this, you need to find and carry the murder weapon, then lure the murderer to the location of the dead body. I like to do this fairly early, because once the sun has set you can't access the garden, and if anything you need is in there you'll never solve the murder. The first thing I do here is listen to the radio in the Game Room; a news bulletin plays that tells you that the police are looking for the murderer, which reveals the murderer's identity. If I know where the corpse is, the next thing I do is examine it, which can give clues to the murder weapon. In my last game, the body was doubled over as though clutching its stomach, which indicates that the poison was the murder weapon. If I don't know the corpse's location, I'll just question people until they tell me. It doesn't usually take too long to get all three requirements in the same location, unless one of them happens to be in the garden (which I only go into as a last resort).

Once the murder has been solved, you just have to call the police using the phone in the Entrance Hall. They show up immediately and arrest the murderer.

The Mole Maze: Before you can hit up the Treasure Trek maze, you need the amulet from the Mole Maze. As mentioned in a previous post the mole changes the maze occasionally, but ever since I switched to Bob Sorem's port I've had no trouble navigating it using the map found here. Perhaps the changes aren't implemented properly in Sorem's port, or perhaps I've just been able to get through before the mole starts digging new tunnels.

Getting the Transmitter: If you enter the Bathroom and drop everything - including your clothes - you can go up into a secret lab where you'll find a matter transmitter and receiver. These are very handy for navigating the mansion, and as far as I can tell essential to escaping the Treasure Trek maze. While leaving the lab through the Large Bedroom, you can fix a crooked mirror, where some jewelry is hidden.

The Treasure Trek Maze: To get through this maze you need the compass, gauntlet, keys, and transmitter. First you have to unlock the door and get through before being crushed by a moving wall. After heading down to the Treasure Room, you need to quickly move through the maze to the two Troll Traps and the Den of Death. Doing this run nets you some pearls, an emerald, some pirate treasure, a ruby necklace, some diamonds and a silver goblet. With that done, it's a simple task to BEAM UP to the lab, then BEAM DOWN to wherever you stashed the matter receiver.

Finishing Up: With those tasks done, I collected the Vampire's Ring then went to the Front Entrance to phone for a taxi. As far as I can tell you can't do this until after 10pm. The mansion explodes at midnight, so I waited out front with my treasures. While I was waiting I killed the Warrior, because he's an irritating NPC who will attack you on a whim. After the mansion blew up, I simply headed south and got the following "victory" screen:


All through this you need to monitor your lantern power, and head to the twisty maze to get some batteries when it starts to wear off. I spent a good portion of the game with my lantern turned off, and it was still running out of power near the end.

There are also the various noises that happen once every hour, for which you need to type SCORE POINTS in order to get the full 999. I tried to remember them when they came up, but I'm sure I missed a good number.

In the end, I got 781, which I'm going to have to consider good enough. I scored 90 points for the items I was carrying, most of which were treasures. My inventory was full, so I don't think I could have earned much more here. Perhaps killing the werewolf would have done it; I can see in some walkthroughs that there is one, but I never did find it aside from getting killed in the dark by it one time. You can also kill the wolf in the garden, which I just figured out, by distracting it with food and shooting it. If those two don't account for the 200+ points I missed, I'm stumped. Perhaps there's something to do in the attic, which I accessed by standing on a chair in the closet and climbing through a door in the ceiling. I got up there and got down via the fire escape (which has to be oiled to use safely) but there didn't seem to be any point to doing so.

I also confirmed that you can sleep with the male characters, which gives you the same message as the female ones (so the game isn't assuming your gender or sexuality). You can't do it with the Vampire though, because you have to drop everything, and without the cross he drains your blood real quick. The Elf can't be lured inside, so he's not an option either.

And so, on 781 points, I bid farewell to Mystery Mansion. I could keep trying, but with such an obtuse game as this one I might end up banging my head against it for months with no progress to show for it. It's even worse with games of this vintage, because walkthroughs can be harder to come by. I found some, but none of them gave away everything.

Mostly though, my capitulation is the result of the fact that I just wasn't enjoying the game very much. I was intrigued by it at first, but after solving the mystery portion of it I just couldn't make any more progress. As I've said before, I just think the game is too obtuse for its own good. It's also very disjointed, with a mystery plot grafted onto a treasure hunt. Not that you'd know it, because Mystery Mansion does very little to let you know that the game even has treasures to collect. With just a little more guidance it could have been enjoyable.

Before I do a Final Rating, I present to you the Wall of Shame. These are all of the puzzles for which I sought outside help:

THE WALL OF SHAME

  1. Navigating the Mole Maze
  2. Finding the gauntlet
  3. Opening the Treasure Trek Maze with the amulet
  4. Finding the pearls
  5. Getting into the Laboratory
  6. Calling the taxi on the phone

FINAL RATING: 

Story & Setting: The setting of a mysterious old mansion is a classic one, but this game doesn't do anything new with it, and doesn't do anything to tie any of its disparate tropes together. Why is there a matter transporter upstairs? Why is Dracula in the basement? I don't know, and Mystery Mansion isn't about to tell me. As for the story it's one part murder mystery and one part Adventure-style treasure hunt. The mystery part, at least, is novel, so I'll mark it up slightly for that. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters: There are a lot of characters roaming around in this game, all of whom can be interacted with. You can question them, you can shoot them dead, and you can even have sex with some of them. Unfortunately, most of these characters are interchangeable, and their main purpose is mostly to act as murder suspects. It's a step up from most of the adventure games of the era, though, where most of the characters are simply obstacles. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a text adventure with pretty simple writing. The Bob Sorem port has some sound effects that play through the PC speaker occasionally, but those are more startling than pleasant. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: For all the frustrations I had with this game, it does things reasonably well. The parser is simple, but I didn't find myself searching for the right verb too often. The relative directions when inside are annoying, but I was impressed that the room descriptions change depending on which way you're facing. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: For the mystery portion of the game, I think the difficulty was pitched pretty well. It took me a little while to figure out, but with various hints and clues I was able to solve it within a reasonable time. The treasure hunt is absurdly hard though. There are so many actions that could only be figured out through trial and error, or very lucky guesses, and the game gives you no help. And then there's the changing mole maze, which is just cruel. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: I don't believe that this game was particularly influential; I've never heard of it, or seen it brought up by early game developers. But as possibly the first ever murder mystery adventure game I have to give it some props. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Fun: I briefly enjoyed this game during the mystery portion, and the mapping phase, but after that it very quickly lost its shine. I think the Mole Maze drained my enthusiasm, and it never came back. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Obviously, no bonus point for this game because I really don't want to play it again. The above scores total 18, which doubles for a Final Rating of 36. That places it 13th out of 27 games overall, and 8th out of 17 adventure games. That seems a little high, but it does earn some extra points for doing some things that I've yet to see before during the course of this blog. It has more ambition than most of the games below it, which has to count for something.

NEXT: My next game is Devil's Dungeon, a text-based Apple II RPG that promises an infinitely deep dungeon. Whoopee, just what I was asking for!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Mystery Mansion: Getting Some Booty

Before I get started, I should note that I've given up on Terry Newton's "practically exact" port of Mystery Mansion. The lack of a save feature became much too frustrating, so I switched over to a C port made by Bob Sorem (which can be found here). It's not exactly authentic, but I was never going to get anywhere in this game without saves. Plus, both ports look and feel the same in play, which I feel says something for the authenticity of both.

My plan at the end of the last post was to explore the tunnels underneath the Front Porch, where I had been previously savaged by a werewolf. This turned out to be a bust; after falling through the Porch (with a light on this time) I found that I was in the basement's Furnace Room, which I had previously explored. There were no werewolves in sight, and now I'm wondering if I might have imagined getting killed by one in the first place.

Since I was down there, I decided to have a closer look at the Cold Corridor, which is accessed through a Secret Room. When you enter the Cold Corridor, a wall move towards you and will crush you if you hang around too long. I hadn't had a proper look here yet, but closer inspection revealed a door to the north. I was able to unlock it and get through, but the closing wall left me trapped in the room beyond. The trick to getting in lay in the fact that the crushing wall retreats when you go back into the Secret Room. I jumped into the Cold Corridor, unlocked and opened the door, and went back to the Secret Room. After the wall retreated, I was able to zip back through the door and down a ladder, where I found the Tricky Treasury.

The Treasury contained some pirate's treasure, and there was also a cavity in the wall. I wasn't able to figure this out yet (but more on it later). I had one more avenue to explore: the Mole Maze.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this in my previous posts, but if you head down from the Storage Room in the basement there is a maze of tunnels that's been dug out by a mole. I had an absolute bastard of a time trying to map this thing out, using the tried-and-true method of leaving inventory items scattered about in each area. It didn't help here, because while I was about halfway through the maze changed. Not only did a mole dig out these tunnels, but he's still around, and will happily dig out new ones just to mess with you. I killed him with a sword, just to see if I could, but I'm not sure if this murder solved the problem or not. In the end I caved, and copied the map made by Jason Dyer of bluerenga.wordpress.com. Using this I was able to penetrate the maze to the Mole's Vault, where I found an amulet. I was also able to find my way back before the mole changed everything, and I chose that as a very good time to save my game. Hopefully I can start all of my games from this point from now on, and never have to deal with this maze again.

Jason Dyer's Mole Maze Map

Having broken the seal, I read a few more spoilers from Jason's page in an attempt to speed up my completion of the game. The first thing I discovered was the purpose of the cavity in the Treasure Room: if you put the amulet in it and turn it, it opens a secret stairwell. As far as I can tell, there is basically nothing in the game that would signal this as a possibility, so I feel okay about this cheat.

The stairwell led down into another maze, the Treasure Trek. I had a lot more success mapping this one out by dropping items, except for one problem: the maze is slowly filling with water, and it's a race against time to get through to all of the treasures. I was able to map it out through trial and error, and I'm pretty sure that I found everything.


There were two tunnels that were flooded no matter how quickly I raced through the maze. The Troll Traps both featured a sleeping troll, and numerous items scattered around. I've marked those on the map that can be taken safely. If you try to take anything else, the troll wakes up and bludgeons you to death.

As for the Den of Death, I wasn't able to find the pearls on my own. The room is filled with nothing but boulders and skeletons, and the first time I entered I couldn't find anything to do here. I didn't even register that the boulders could be interacted with. Looking at a walkthrough on ifarchive.org, I discovered that you could try to move the boulders multiple times, with a bag of pearls eventually being revealed.

Before the boulders could be moved, though, I needed the Gauntlet of Gargantuan Girth. This could apparently be found in the kitchen, by moving a wooden figure of a king. When I went back to the kitchen, there was no chess board mentioned. There were some tables though, and to see the king you need to LOOK AT TABLES. Move it, and the gauntlet will be revealed. (There's also a queen figure, but moving that gets you shot by a row of wooden indians.) Not only does the gauntlet let you move boulders, but it also increases your carrying capacity, so it's real handy.

I guess those wooden indians were distracting me?

It's become very apparent that success at this game requires a very careful study of the room descriptions. I'm all for this in general, but if something is just sitting on a table I feel like it should be mentioned. I guess there's a case to be made that the gauntlet is an optional item, and doesn't need to be located to beat the game, but I don't think it's playing fair to obscure things that should be readily observable by the protagonist.

So I had located all of the treasures of the maze, but I had one small problem: how would I get back out? I was able to navigate back to the Tricky Treasury, but every time I tried to leave I found the path back to the basement blocked by the crushing wall. So, once again with shame, I consulted a walkthrough for the answer.

It turns out that there's a door leading up from the Batty Bathroom. I'd noticed it before, but every time I tried to enter I was told that I "could not quite get through the small door". At first I figured that I needed a stepladder or something, or perhaps a means of making myself smaller. Later on I tried dropping all of my stuff, but that didn't work either. Well, this game has yet another surprise: you can drop your clothes, even though they're not mentioned in your inventory. With that done I was able to squeeze through the door into a mad scientist's laboratory. There I found a matter transmitter and a matter receiver, which could be used to teleport.

What was I wearing, an inflatable fat suit?

Of course, I had no idea how, and none of the commands I tried worked. Perhaps I would have had more success if I'd put myself into the mindset of a late-1970s college student, because the commands BEAM UP and BEAM DOWN were the magic words. BEAM UP serves to teleport you to the lab, and BEAM DOWN will take you to wherever the receiver is set down. Again, I doubt I ever would have tried these.

Armed with the above items, I feel like I can make a run at finishing the game with a good score, but before trying that there's one more thing you can do in this game that I noticed while skimming the walkthrough.

Bad grammar in that first sentence makes it sound like I'm pulling myself into bed.

This one takes some doing. First, you have to take a shower. Then you have to get the maid into a locked room where there are no other characters, and you also have to drop all of your gear and get undressed. She doesn't like doing it with the lights on either, so you have to close the curtains before the above raunchy sequence can occur.  You can also sleep with the Lady, using the same tactics. None of this is hinted at in the game, but since it doesn't score you any points I guess that doesn't matter. I'm not sure what other characters you can sleep with, because I'm a whitebread hetero dude and I only tried it on with the ladies. I might at least have a crack at the vampire to see what happens though.

Also, while we're on the topic of sex...

No word on whether it's pining for the fjords.

It's funny with pretty much every other inventory item in the game as well.

That's enough for this week. As you might have gathered by my frequent resorting to walkthroughs, I've kind of had a gut-full of this game. I suppose that it's not so difficult to figure out how to solve the main plot - the murder mystery - but everything else you can do is ridiculously obtuse. My current plan is to cheat like mad, and knock this game off in one more post. I'll be happy to see the back of it.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Mystery Mansion: A Quick Bit of Gardening

I haven't played much Mystery Mansion in the last fortnight, but in the interests of keeping a regular schedule I just did a quick bit of exploring so that I can at least post something. It's not going to be all that substantial, but it's all I got.

The area that I explored was the Gargoyle Garden, which can be found at the back of the mansion, and accessed either through the Back Gate, or by going out the back door of the mansion from the Library.

A map of the Gargoyle Garden

I mapped the place out, and it is pleasantly skull-shaped. I didn't find anything of particular use here, but what I did find were a number of ways to die.

The most prominent of these is the wolf. There are two areas in the garden which are described as "meadows", and it will always be noted that you can see something moving about in the grass. Enter either of those meadows, and you'll be eaten instantly. Perhaps there's a way to kill these wolves, but I haven't tried anything yet. I suspect it's not necessary.


There are also three Witching Wells, and you can climb down them. Two of them are too slippery to climb back out of, and I never figured out how to escape once I was down there. The other one has hand-holds and can be climbed out of, but all I found down there was a note that had the same message I've seen elsewhere (a reminder that you can type the first letter of a direction instead of typing GO NORTH). I tried to make a wish, but the game doesn't recognise WISH, so alas that idea was a bust.

There are two ponds that you can enter, but the sides are too steep to get back out again. Luckily, each of the bridges has a magic word written on it, something along the lines of WOMIX or WIMOH (they change with every game). If you type in these words you'll be teleported to the Dense Woods, which is the only way of escaping.

There are two Foul Fountains, but they've both dried up. It's possible that something can be done here, but the parser doesn't recognise FOUNTAIN, so I think these are just for decoration.

There are two characters wandering around the garden, a Gardener and an Elf. The Gardener is much like the other NPCs in the game, and you can question him for clues about the murder. The Elf is more irritating. He sneers at your questions, and has a habit of kicking you in the shins or stealing something from your inventory. I haven't tried to kill him yet, but it's very tempting. (Actually, I'm not sure if you can kill the NPCs. I've been attacked and wounded by the Warrior, and I've fought the Dwarf in the maze a few times, but all I was ever able to do was drive him away. The combat system remains a mystery to me.)

There's a note near the Veranda that says that the Garden closes at sunset, so I'm pretty sure there's a time limit for getting things done here. I honestly don't know if its necessary to explore the garden, unless the murder victim and/or the murder weapon are placed there.

Next time around I'll explore the area under the front porch, and try to get rid of the werewolf that's under there. After that, it'll be time to start figuring out some puzzles and putting together a run where I can get all of the points (if possible).

ADDENDUM
I just killed the Vampire! I was right in my last post, all you need to do is lure him from the Crypt in the basement up to a room on the ground floor, then open the curtains.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Game 27: Mystery Mansion (1978)

The next game on my list is Mystery Mansion, which was programmed by Bill Wolpert for the HP-1000 minicomputer. I'm not exactly sure if this system is comparable to PLATO or the PDP-10 (I'm really not a hardware guy), but the prospect of venturing back into the world of non-commercial adventure games was making me very nervous. I was not prepared for another Acheton, or even another Zork, as much as I loved playing the latter. Games of that size are not what I'm looking for right now, and I was worried that Mystery Mansion would be one of those.

I'm pleased to say that it's not over-large. More accurately, I don't think it's over-large based on what I've explored so far. I don't think size is going to be the problem here. What's really going to stop me in my tracks is just how little the game does to let you know what the goal is.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. The first thing to determine when playing Mystery Mansion is what version to use. The original is out of my reach, as I'm not really up to getting a HP-1000 emulator up and running (guess what, I'm not a software guy either). There are a few different ports, which Jason Dyer helpfully outlines here. I chose the version ported by Terry Newton, which claims to be a "practically exact" port of the game as it was in 1981. Not having ever played the original, I can't tell how close it is, but it runs fine in Dosbox and feels authentic enough to the period. Download it here if you'd like to take a crack.

As you might have guessed from that 1981 date above, this is yet another game that was developed over the course of several years. I've often lamented that these games are often not available in their original forms, but recently I've come around to the idea that those earlier versions were much like today's alpha and beta tests. It may not strictly be true, but it helps me sleep easier at night. With this in mind I considered kicking the game back to 1981, but I've already set the precedent of playing these games in their first year of development. So Mystery Mansion is stuck in 1978, and I'm stuck playing it.

Lust? Whatever you say, Bill.
First off, let's really take in that start screen, because it's setting my expectations of what I'll experience while playing very high. Frustration? Definitely. Triumph? I sure hope so. Hope and despair? Conceivable. Power, lust and greed? I'll give you power and greed as possibilities, but lust? Mr. Wolpert, I can tell you right now that it ain't happening.

When the game begins, you're standing at the front gate of an old mansion. A taxi has just dropped you off, although the game doesn't bother to let you know why you're there. On my first attempt, I noted the highway leading south, and decided to see what would happen if I just kept on walking away from the mansion. Much to my surprise, I could keep walking south for a long time, with signs appearing occasionally to let me know how close I was to the mansion and the "Big City". After a time, the sun set and I was walking in the dark. A little further down the road and I heard an explosion, which sounded like the passages underneath the mansion had collapsed. (Pretty good hearing on my part, considering I was at least 30 miles away.) Eventually, after what must have been hundreds of moves to the south, I was told that the game was giving up on me. It was a game over, but I'd gleaned some valuable information: there's a limited time to explore the caves beneath the mansion, and probably a limited time to complete the game.

The death screen indicated that the game has a score, so upon reloading I entered the SCORE command. The game has 999 points that can be earned, and you begin with 45. Commenter Jason Dyer has informed me that I need to type SCORE POINTS every time I hear a woman scream or a wolf howl in order to score 2 points. I'm grateful for the help, but right off the bat this has me expecting some egregious bullshit from this game. Because let's be real, that right there is some egregious bullshit.

I also tried checking my inventory, another thing I always do at the start of a game. The INVENTORY command didn't work, but LIST did, as did BOOTY. My inventory was empty however.

To begin the game, I started by exploring the areas surrounding the mansion.

A map of the outdoors

The first thing that should be noted is that although the game does call out items and characters that can be interacted with, you also need to pay attention to the room descriptions. There's the lantern in the opening area, for instance: it's only mentioned in the room description, and it's vital for making any progress.

The area I've mapped above represents the road that goes around the mansion walls. The front gate is closed, and the back gate leads into a garden (which I haven't explored properly yet). There are cliffs to the east and north, which are predictably fatal if you decide to head that way. To the west is a dense wood, which is pretty easy to get lost in. I tried mapping it by dropping items, but I couldn't make sense of the results. I think the exits might be randomised. Moving around in the woods will eventually lead to a Strange Stream. Heading down from the stream leads to a cave, with "twisty passages, all alike", which is always a triggering phrase for me. More on that later. Heading up leads to a cottage which contains a map, which can be used to see the destinations of every exit from the room you're in. Alas, it only works in the outdoor areas, but it's great for getting you out of the woods.

At this point I should note that Mystery Mansion uses the same irritating navigation style as The Cottage: when you're outside you can use cardinal directions (N,E,S,W), but when you're in the forest or the mansion you have to go Forward, Left, Right or Back. It's very disorienting, and very, very annoying. Thankfully you can find a compass, which allows you to use cardinal directions everywhere.

There's a note pinned to the mansion's front gate, which gives you a hint. These notes will appear in various locations, and seem to be scattered at random, but there's always one on the gate. Most of the time it will tell you that someone will help you open the gate. There are three characters wandering around in the opening area: a Hunter, a Woodsman and a Warrior. They will follow you about once you encounter them, although they won't enter the mansion. Any one of them will help you open the gate.

It's easy enough from there to enter the mansion, but you shouldn't linger on the front porch. If you wait around for too long (and it tracks actual time, not just commands entered) you'll fall through to some underground tunnels. I've fallen in there a couple of times, and been killed by a werewolf.

The mansion has three levels, as shown below:

A map of the mansion

Each level of the mansion is structured in a neat 3x3 pattern. Most of the rooms in the mansion are dark, which is why you'll need the lantern to proceed (although the candles in the Chapel and the matches in the Kitchen are a short-term alternative; you can't take the lamp from the Living Room, although you can light it with a match). There are various items scattered about, though I haven't found a use for most of them. There are also several characters: the Butler, Cook, Maid, Lady and Master, as well as the Vampire in the crypt.

The compass, which I mentioned before, can be found in the Haunted Hallway on the top floor. (I have no idea why it wasn't already marked on the map.) The scroll in the Library crumbles whenever it's touched, but the book can be read. It reveals the verbs that the game understands, showing a different verb with every game. I just tried it now, and it says "THE BOOK CONTAINS WORDS I KNOW LIKE THE VERB DIG". None of these have been too helpful yet, but they were perhaps more useful to people at the time, who may have been less familiar with adventure games.

The telephone in the entrance hall rings occasionally, and if you answer it you'll receive a hint. It will always ring and tell you to return to the front gate for the lamp if you forgot to take it.

The Secret Passages are the easiest way to navigate up and down between floors, and there are certain areas you can only get to by passing through them. Each room connected to a Secret Passage has a hidden method that opens the way in. Some examples include drinking the wine in the Charming Chapel, sweeping the Haunted Hallway with a broom, or feeding bananas to the monkey in the Butler's Room.

The Cold Corridor off to the left in the basement is a trap, with a moving wall that will crush you. I haven't worked out what to do here. The tunnel leading down from the Dark Pit is another entrance to the maze of twisty passages.

The Vampire in the crypt will kill you pretty quickly after you encounter him, unless you are carrying the cross from the Chapel. Otherwise, he follows you around but does no harm. I haven't killed him yet, but I suspect that if I lead him up to the ground floor and open some curtains it might do the trick.

As for the other characters roaming the house, they will happily follow you as well. After some experimentation I figured out that you can QUESTION them, and they'll give you clue about a supposed murder. There are three clues: the culprit, the murder weapon, and the location. You can also find out the identity of the murderer by turning on the radio in the Game Room.

There is always a corpse in the murder location. The weapons are scattered around the game, but they aren't always in the same place. The goal of the game, or one of the goals, is to find the weapon, and lead the murderer to the place where they did the deed. I managed to do this by accident, which was how I was able to figure out what to do in the first place. In later games I found a note that told me about this, but the first time around I had to stumble into it.

It was the Master, in the cellar, with the club. I knew it all along.

After identifying the murderer, I eventually found another note telling me that I should call the police. This game might be mystifying at the start, but it does provide help here and there. If you call the police on the phone, they'll come and arrest the murderer.

The only other place I've properly explored is the maze of twisty passages, which was nowhere near as large as its counterparts from Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork.

A map of twisty passages, all alike

This maze only has six rooms, thankfully, but it can be difficult to navigate if you don't have the compass. The torch is a light source that eventually burns out, and the battery can be used to extend the life of your lantern. Both of them are placed randomly in the maze, in different areas every game.

I've solved one of the larger problems of Mystery Mansion, but that only left me with 332 points. This means I've only figured out one-third of the game. I suspect that the rest might involve hunting down some treasures, but I only say that because it's the goal of every other damn game I've played so far. My immediate goals are to properly explore the garden and the tunnels beneath the porch. There's a werewolf down there, and I've got a pistol and silver bullet ready to go. Hopefully I can figure out what to do pretty soon, because I don't want to spend much more time with this game.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Treasure Hunt: Victory!

I covered most of what Treasure Hunt has to offer in my last post, and I'd hoped that it would be a one-post game. Lord knows I need a lot of those if I'm ever going to make any progress on my list. I just couldn't beat the game in time. I had located all of the treasures, solved every puzzle, and pinpointed every danger, but there was one small thing that was stopping me from achieving my goal.


The magic carpet. For some reason, it would randomly disappear whenever I was carrying it. I'd pick it up, move towards the exit cave, and POOF! It would vanish. Initially I had thought that it would reappear in a different cave, but I'm pretty sure that it doesn't. Once it's gone, it's gone for good, and the game becomes unwinnable.

As I was playing the game I realised that, as with most computer-based "randomisation", it's not truly random at all. When you run Treasure Hunt, the objects in the first game you play will always be in the same locations. The second game will have them in different locations, as will the third, and so on, but the layouts always run in the same sequence every time you run the game from scratch. So the first game is always the same, as is the second, and every game on down the line.

The magic carpet is always in Cave 30 on the first game, so I spent a lot of time repeatedly going to that cave and trying to get it to the exit. I never managed it, although I did get it to Cave 1 on a couple of frustrating occasions. I also couldn't figure out a pattern to the disappearances, and a look at the game's source code left me none the wiser. It was beginning to look like I'd have to stretch this to a three-post game, somehow.

That's when I remembered that I had played an earlier game where the magic carpet was in a cave not far from the entrance. So I started cycling through games, exploring the first few caves and quitting if I didn't find it. Eventually I found a game where the carpet was in Cave 3. Very nervously I picked it up, and moved to Cave 1, dreading the POOF message that I was sure would come. It didn't, and the carpet stayed in my possession. I half expected it to vanish out of my inventory in Cave 0, but it stayed there as well, and I was finally able to deposit the magic carpet safely, much to my great relief.

From there, it was a simple matter to hoover up the rest of the treasures, avoiding the pits and the pirate, and admire my complete collection.


It was relieving to finally finish the game, but I will admit that I was disappointed that it doesn't acknowledge the victory at all. I don't think I missed anything, unless there's a way to kill the pirate. Regardless, I would have liked some sort of affirmation. I could use the ego boost.

Treasure Hunt was an interesting look into a branch of adventure gaming that didn't really take off. I'm not sure that there was much else that could be done with such a format, though, as it's very limiting. I enjoyed it for what it was, at least up to the point where the disappearing carpet started to get on my nerves. Time for a Final Rating.

Story & Setting: This is 1978, so naturally this game has you hunting for treasure in some caves. Neither the story nor the setting gets more fleshed out than that, so I have to give it the minimum rating. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: Again, this game is very minimal when it comes to the creatures and characters you meet. There's a dragon, a pirate, a wizard, a bat, and an invisible man searching for an invisible dog. You can't really interact with any of them, aside from solving their puzzles or getting killed by them. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a text-based game, with very minimal descriptions. Admittedly, sparse descriptions serve the kind of game it is quite well, but it still doesn't make for an aesthetically pleasing game. It's also full of spelling errors, which I find baffling considering just how little text it features. My computer made all sorts of horrible screeching noises for as long as I had the sound turned up while playing. I'm not sure if this was part of the game, or part of the TRS emulation, but it wasn't pleasant. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The game is mechanically very simple, but those mechanics do exactly what they're meant to do. I think the word "adequate" sums it up pretty perfectly. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: After the initial phase of mapping and experimenting with the game's various dangers, it's pretty easy. If it wasn't for the disappearing magic carpet, I would have finished it in a couple of hours. That carpet, though, has to bump the score down, as it makes the game simultaneously too easy and too frustrating. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: Treasure Hunt seems to have been lost to time, so it's influence is effectively nothing. I suppose it's mildly innovative in that it develops on the framework of Hunt the Wumpus while adding adventure game elements, but there's not a lot here that wasn't in that earlier game. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: I was mildly amused and distracted by this, and I did enjoy the process of mapping out the caves and figuring out the areas I should avoid. That carpet really sucked the joy out of things though. Rating: 2 out of 7.

This game doesn't get the bonus point, as I'll never play it again. The above scores total 13, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 26. This puts it very low in the rankings, down in the mix with several of Greg Hassett's adventure games. The only games lower are King Tut's Tomb Adventure and Library, both of which were buggy or unfinished. Treasure Hunt is more polished than most of the games around it, but it loses out due to simplicity and it's questionable adventure game status.

Next: My next game is Mystery Mansion, which I'm rather dismayed to see is another mainframe adventure game. I'm hoping against hope that it's smaller than Zork, Acheton, and its other contemporaries.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Game 26: Treasure Hunt (1978)

In choosing to write about CRPGs and adventure games for this blog, I've cast a wide net. Both of those genres are vast, and both of them have boundaries that can best be classed as "fuzzy". In making up a list that covers everything in both genres, there are going to be games that are questionable, because what it is exactly that defines an adventure game or a CRPG is up for debate.

The subject of this post is Treasure Hunt, a 1978 game created by Lance Micklus. Although Micklus was definitely inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure (citing it as an influence on his later game Dog Star Adventure), Treasure Hunt bears very little resemblance to that game. Instead it draws heavily on Hunt the Wumpus, a 1972 game that saw the player navigating a series of caves while trying to pinpoint the titular Wumpus and kill it with an arrow. Treasure Hunt is like a larger version of Hunt the Wumpus, with more dangers and 20 treasures to collect. There is no text parser, simply a series of prompts that are answered with numbers corresponding to the cave you want to enter, or a simple yes/no response. As such, its status as an adventure game is debatable. I think it qualifies. Yes, the interface is basic, but it does have an environment to explore and puzzles to solve. What else do you want?

Treasure Hunt was apparently available in 1978, but I haven't been able to turn up an image of its packaging, or any sort of instructions. It doesn't even have a page on MobyGames. The only evidence of its existence (aside from the game itself) seems to be a short write-up about it in SoftSide Magazine.


The version I'm playing is for the TRS-80, emulated using TRS32 for a decently authentic experience.


The game is set in the Lumus Caves, near Lumusville, Vermont (not a real place as far as I can tell). Scattered throughout the caves are 20 treasures that must be collected and dropped off at the cave entrance. As the screenshot says, there is indeed a dragon, as well as a pirate and a number of deadly pits. It also mentions a map, which the game apparently shipped with. I don't have that, and I declined to use the one made by Jason Dyer over at bluerenga.wordpress.com. I was going to be mapping this bad boy all by myself.

The bulk of the gameplay consists of navigating from one cave to another searching for treasure. There are 95 caves in total, numbered from 0 to 94, with 0 being the exit/entrance. Each cave lists the other caves it's connected to by number, and when prompted you move by typing the number of the cave you want to go to next.


There are dangers, of course, such as the aforementioned dragon, pirate and pits. Whenever you're in a cave that's adjacent to one of these dangers, you will get a warning. By paying attention to which caves have warning messages, you can pinpoint where the dangers are located and avoid them. As long as you're paying attention, that is.

The treasures are scattered all over the map, and their locations are different every time you play (as are the locations of everything else in the game). You can only carry three items at a time, which makes collecting them all a little difficult. There's also the fact that some items are required to solve various puzzles, and that once you've dropped them off at the entrance you can't pick them up again. A big part of Treasure Hunt is figuring out which items these are, and learning not to collect them until much later in the game. The twenty treasures are as follows: a $1000 bill, a black book, a diamond, some elf food, an emerald, some furs, gold coins, a gold watch, a golden harp, jewelry, keys, a magic carpet, a necklace, an old clock, an old gun, a pearl, a ruby, a silver bell, a sword, and a wand. You can leave the game from the exit at any point, keeping any treasures you've collected. I have no idea if it does anything special when you obtain all 20.

I'll outline the various dangers and puzzles below, along with their solutions. There's no trick to solving the puzzles, you just need to have the right item in your inventory.

  • The aforementioned pits are lethal, and there's no way to stop yourself from dying if you fall into one. There are three of them, and the only thing to do is note their locations,and avoid them.
  • Similarly, the pirate is best avoided. I tried killing him with the sword or the gun, but neither worked. If you encounter him he will steal whatever treasures you're carrying and move to another cave. I'm not sure if those treasures are scattered or just gone for good.
  • There's a giant bat that sometimes grabs you and drops you in another cave, scattering whatever you were carrying to various locations. As far as I can tell, the bat is a random occurrence. I haven't had this happen to me very often.
  • An earthquake occasionally rocks the cave, changing the locations of various things. It's a real pain, as you have to explore all over again.
  • The dragon will kill you if you encounter it, but you can kill it with the old gun (not the sword as I'd originally hoped). When you do, it drops a "little back book"...

Vermont. I love how ultra-specific and mundane this is.

  • There's one area surrounded by danger signs. If you pass through it, there's a chance the roof will collapse and kill you.
  • Your flashlight has a limited charge, and will eventually run out. To get some batteries, you need to find the gold coins and take them to the vending machine. You'll be able to buy batteries with a single coin, which doesn't use up or devalue that treasure at all.
  • Occasionally an "Invisible Man" will pop up wherever you are, asking for the location of his invisible dog. As with lots of other things in Treasure Hunt, you'll be notified of the dog's presence when you're in a cave adjacent to it, as you can hear it barking. If you tell the invisible man where his dog is, he leaves you with the $1000 bill.
  • There's also a wizard, whose location is marked by "strange mist". If you can tell him where his magic book is, he'll reward you with a golden harp. If you give him the wrong location he'll kill you, and if you try to take the book with you you will also die.
  • There's a locked box that's too heavy to take with you, but it can be unlocked with the key. It contains the ruby.
  • The sword is stuck in a rock, and can't be removed. To get it, you need the magic wand.

The first thing I did when starting the game was map the caves. At first I was simply noting down the cave numbers, followed by the numbers of each connecting cave, as follows:

CAVE 1
0
2
3

Eventually, I noticed a pattern. All of the caves up to a certain point connect to the cave that is double their number, and the cave one higher than that. So Cave 1 connects to caves 2 and 3. Cave 8 connects to Caves 16 and 17. Once I'd spotted this, making a map was pretty simple.

Sorry this is so small, but it gives an idea of the general layout. The map wraps around, so that Caves 32 and 64 connect up. The entrance cave (0) connects to Caves 1 and 94.

With a map made, and a list of every item, danger and special location in the game, it was time to try and collect all of the treasures. I almost did it on my first try; it's not that hard when you know the items to avoid collecting early (the coins, the keys, the gun and the wand). I collected 19 of the treasures, but one item kept on thwarting me: the magic carpet.

For some reason I can't figure out, the magic carpet keeps disappearing on me. Every time I try and get it to the exit it just vanishes into thin air. I haven't been able to figure out why it does this, or how to stop it, but it's happened in every game I've played. My hope is that it reappears in another location, but so far I haven't found it after it's vanished. It's very frustrating.

I took a look at Jason Dyer's posts on Treasure Hunt to see if he figured out the magic carpet thing. He beat the game, and mentioned that the carpet disappears sometimes. For me, it's been every time. At the moment I'm just playing repeatedly, hoping that I'll eventually get a game where the carpet stays in my possession. It obviously happened for Jason, but I'm wondering if there's some trick to it that he lucked into without realising. If there is, I sure don't know about it.

I'd hoped that this would be a one-post game, but no such luck there. Hopefully I'll be able to beat it by next weekend, but unless I can solve this carpet problem it ain't going to happen. I'm really reluctant to postpone victory for two games in a row, so if I can't figure it out I might be on Treasure Hunt for a really long time.