Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Game 48: Journey (1979)

The original cassette packaging of Journey.

For a game I had never heard of before, Journey does have a certain level of historical significance.  In an early feature article in Softalk magazine, a number of text adventures were mentioned among those that Roberta Williams played before she started creating Mystery HouseColossal Cave Adventure is one of those, of course, and it's not surprising that she also played every Scott Adams adventure she could get her hands on.  Also mentioned among those luminaries was Journey, a much more obscure title.  So obscure, in fact, that it was barely mentioned anywhere on-line before Jason Dyer of did the detective work to dig it up.  Even now, it's far from well-known, but if it had any influence on Roberta Williams, then it's a much more important game than its obscurity would indicate.

Journey was created by Steve A. Baker, and released by Softape for the Apple II.  I tracked down Steve Baker's web-site, and it turns out that he had an extensive career in the video game industry, releasing games for Apple and Atari, working for Epyx, and making games all the way up to circa 2006.  It's all here if you want to learn more.

The packaging and manual for Journey don't give an accurate picture of the type of game it is.  The image on the front cover depicts a well and a mansion, both of which are in the game, but it really makes it look like it's in the horror genre.  The manual simply says that the goal is to find everything of value and put it in the SAFE-est place possible.  That it's a treasure hunt in the style of Colossal Cave Adventure is clear, but further details are unforthcoming.

The closest thing Journey has to a title screen.

The game doesn't provide any further guidance or preamble, simply beginning with you standing next to a wishing well.  I went through my routine as usual: INVENTORY revealed that I was carrying nothing; HELP gave me a hint to try a compass direction; and SCORE revealed that I would need 350 points to fully beat the game.  As mentioned above, the goal of the game is to find as many treasures as possible and put them in the right area (in this case, a safe).  The game ends after 175 moves, then gives you a score and a rank.  Even if you die, you can keep resurrecting until the time limit is up.  175 moves doesn't sound like much, but it's more than enough time to do everything in the game in a single run.  The main thing that sucks up time is the paltry four item inventory limit; there's a decent amount of going back and forth required to collect everything.

The area around the well is mostly fields, with some gardens and a mansion to the east.  I also explored down the well, finding a sewer tunnel, a closed grate, and a brass key on the ground.  My initial instinct was that this game would be fantasy, or perhaps something in the haunted house genre, but the following scene divested me of those notions.

I was not expecting this.

Downtown Hollywood? That was something of a surprise, I'll admit, as modern cities haven't really been tackled in a text adventure before this point.  This game is pretty light on fantasy and sci-fi trappings in general, a rarity at the time.  There is a dragon that pops up sometimes when it's dark, but that's about it.

The map for Journey isn't particularly large or difficult to traverse.  I'd divide it into five distinct areas: the area around the well; the sewers; the mansion; downtown Hollywood; and the tunnels connecting Hollywood and the mansion.  I'll go through each one by one and highlight the most interesting stuff.


The well itself is pretty much the only thing of interest in this area.  It has a winch with a rope attached, and you can climb down the rope into the sewers below.  The well is specifically called out as a wishing well, and dropping a coin in it reveals the solution to a later puzzle.


The area under the well features a brass key on the ground, as well as a closed grate (both of which I mentioned above).  The grate can't be opened from this side.  Because of rising water this area can't be explored much further, and if you linger here for too long you will drown.  (I should also note at this point that the items aren't always found in the same place: every time the game is reloaded, the items are shuffled around. The item locations run through the same sequence every time the game is loaded, though, and I just kept playing with the initial configuration rather than trying different ones. I'm unadventurous like that.)

The other section of the sewers is accessed from downtown Hollywood, either via a manhole cover or a sewer drain.  The only item I found down there was a pile of diamonds.  The sewers are also inhabited by rats, which will go for your throat when they see you.  Eventually they will kill you, unless you get them first by throwing a hunting knife (found in the mansion).  They remind me a great deal of the dwarves in Colossal Cave Adventure.

Being attacked by a large threatening rodent.  I have no knife,
so there's nothing to do but try to run away.

Also in the sewers is a vertical shaft with an o-ring at the top.  At first I thought this o-ring was a type of seal or gasket, but I think it's actually a railing.  I was able to get down the shaft by tying a rope to the o-ring.  There was nothing at the bottom of the shaft, but I suspect that in other games some treasure might be located down there.


This is a busy area of the game, so I'll run it down in point form.

  • There's a hardware store where you can find an electric lantern.  A light source is necessary to explore the sewers and the upper floor of the mansion; if you wander around in the dark you'll soon be incinerated by a dragon.  The lantern runs out well before the game's time limit, so it needs to be used sparingly.  (Remembering the final puzzle that stumped me in The Wizard and the Princess, I tried to RUB the lantern.  The game didn't recognise the command, but I'm pleased that it's entered my list of standard actions to try. Hopefully I won't forget about it.)

This dragon only ever attacks when you enter a dark room
without a light source. Don't ask me how the two correlate.

  • At the back of the hardware store is a dark alley, which was empty in my game but probably has an item in others.  There's also a sewer drain, from which you can see someone staring back at you.  If you DESCRIBE that person (this game's version of LOOK or EXAMINE), you get transported into the sewers.
  • There's a manhole cover, with a nearby shed.  Inside the shed is a crowbar, which is required to open the manhole.
  • South of the initial area is a police station, and entering it gets you thrown in a jail cell.  The only way out of the jail cell is to JUMP through a window, which leads to the area with the manhole.  If you do this while the manhole is open, however, you'll fall through the hole and die.


The tunnels connecting Hollywood, the mansion and the sewers aren't that extensive, but there's enough going on down there to tackle it in point form as well.

  • There's a secret passage, which can't be escaped by using standard compass directions.  The solution is to type GET OUT.  It only leads to the police station jail though, so going through there doesn't serve much purpose that I could figure out.  As with the other useless areas I discovered, I suspect that items are located there in other games.
  • One of the tunnels has carvings on the wall, which give the following clue when examined: "The key to the password lies within <the password>".  I never figured out what this was about.
  • One area has a broken bottle on the floor, which has just released some poison gas.  When you try to leave, the game asks you for a magic word. It also gives you a hint: "the roll candy with the hole".  The answer is LIFESAVER, referencing the lolly brand that is in turn referencing the flotation device.  I'm rarely a fan of puzzles that require knowledge from outside of the game, but in this case the word can be learned if you drop a coin in the wishing well.  Beyond the gas is a sewer grate, which can be opened, and leads back to the area under the well.

Regular Lifesavers are alright, but give me a packet of
Fruit Tingles any day.


The mansion has two floors (with more rooms on the top floor, which is something of an architectural marvel).  One the bottom floor there are two rooms, containing a box of matches and a gold coin.  The coin can be used in the well, as I've said.  The matches are a possible light source, but every one you use comes with a penalty to your score, so it's not recommended.  The matches also keep getting blown out, so they're just annoying all round.

The top floor is dark, and infested with hostile rats.  This is where I found the hunting knife, the only weapon in the game.  Not far from that is the attic, where there's a rope hanging from the rafters not far from a chair.  Climbing up on the chair and trying to take the rope results in death by hanging, but you can take the rope safely if you cut it with the knife.  It's useful for accessing the shaft in the sewers.

There's a locked door that can be opened with the brass key.  That leads to a dining room where you can find a silver spoon.  Past that is the safe, which is the place where you need to store your items.  The game doesn't discriminate between treasure and mundane items, as almost everything in the game gets you points if you drop it in here.  There are eight items that need to be placed in the safe: the key, the coin, the knife, the matches, the crowbar, the diamonds, the silver spoon, and the rope.  The lantern is the only item in the game that doesn't count as a treasure, as you are unable to drop it once it's in your possession.

Depositing treasure in the safe.

I would have been finished with this game in a day or two, but I got caught up in trying to find all 350 points.  I was stuck on 312 for a long time, until I figured out that the rope in the attic could be cut down.  Currently, I'm stuck on 349 out of 350; this game has a Last Lousy Point in the style of Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork.  There aren't any walkthroughs or guides out there for Journey as far as I'm aware, so I'm going to have to give up on this for now.  I did email Steve Baker to see if he can give me any hints, but I haven't gotten a response, and to be honest I'd be surprised if he remembers the answer after 40 years.  Anyway, here's the list of things I've earned points from, just in case someone reading this has beaten Journey and can tell me what I'm missing.

  • The game gives you 1 point for every two moves, so regardless of how well you play you'll always end with at least 87 points.
  • Finding all nine items (lantern, key, coin, knife, matches, crowbar, diamonds, silver spoon and rope) is worth 134 points.
  • Putting all of the items above (minus the lantern) in the safe is worth 88 points.
  • Turning the winch on the wishing well is worth 10 points.
  • Unlocking the door in the mansion is worth 10 points.
  • Opening the sewer grate is worth 10 points.
  • Opening the manhole is worth 10 points.

I might revisit this one day, but for the moment that elusive point will have to go undiscovered.

Something else for me to tell my therapist, I guess.

Having played Journey, I don't see a lot of influence on the work of Roberta Williams.  Jason Dyer remarked on Journey's humourous deaths, and their similarity to the kinds of deaths in Sierra's adventure games, and I suppose I can see that.  The humour in Journey is pretty sparse though, and I wouldn't have drawn the connection myself just from playing the game.  Aside from the contemporary setting, most of what Journey does is pretty obviously cribbed from Colossal Cave Adventure, so anything Williams would have gotten from it would also be covered by her more famous influences.


Story & Setting: This is a treasure hunt, and treasure hunts don't earn no points around these parts unless they're exceptionally well done.  As for the setting, it feels pretty disjointed and poorly realised.  I feel like video game abstraction works better when dealing with things that the player isn't familiar with.  Fantasy realms and sci-fi worlds are all well and good, but when you start depicting things like downtown Hollywood, the obvious deficiencies of ancient games are made even more stark.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The only characters in this game aside from the player are the rats.  They do serve as pretty much the game's only obstacle to victory, but typing THROW KNIFE over and over again and hoping you kill the rat before it kills you isn't my idea of great interaction.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a text adventure with terse descriptions and no sound.  What else do I gotta tell you?  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Puzzles: Most of the puzzles in this game are rudimentary actions like unlocking doors and opening grates.  The Secret Passage GET OUT puzzle is very mildly clever, and I'm lukewarm on the poison gas/LIFESAVER puzzle, as it makes no logical sense.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Mechanics: The game has a simple parser that works well enough.  The use of DESCRIBE instead of LOOK is an odd curio, but doesn't adversely affect gameplay once you know about it (and it is in the manual).  I didn't have any issues here, but it's pretty simplistic. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: I'd rate this game as a touch too easy, with one caveat: I didn't figure out how to find that last point.  Still, rating this on what I actually played, it's going to score low.  The rats are the only genuine danger, but surviving them is down to pure luck, which makes them an annoyance rather than a challenge.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: I didn't hate Journey, but I also can't think of any moments that made me smile while playing it.  Aside from the initial surprise of discovering downtown Hollywood, I doubt there's much about the game that I'm going to remember a year from now.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 11, which doubled gives Journey a RADNESS Index of 22.  That's pretty far down the list.  In terms of adventure games, it's 30th out of 34 games, equal with Journey to the Centre of the Earth Adventure and King Tut's Tomb.  It's definitely not the worst adventure game I've played so far, and I don't know that I'd even describe it as bad.  It's probably the most unremarkable game I've played though, notable only for a novel setting and its minor influence on Roberta Williams.

NEXT: My next game is The Datestones of Ryn a return to the Dunjonquest series that gave us The Temple of Apshai.


  1. I'm impressed the Lifesaver puzzle hadn't been outdated (unlike *cough* certain elements of Haunt).

    I doubt I would have noticed the interesting-death thing playing the game cold, but the bit with manhole in particular is very distinctive for the era and feels very much like something from a Sierra game.

  2. Another ancient one that was neat to hear about. The early days were just interesting in what they produced on the early machines.

  3. "The game gives you 1 point for every two moves, so regardless of how well you play you'll always end with at least 87 points."

    Perhaps just taking an extra LOOK or something of the like would have given you a point? A poor scoring system, not encouraging efficiency.

  4. Nathan I am thankful I am not as obsessive compulsive as you where points are concerned or I'd have no hair left. Your tenacity however is admirable. I mentioned your discovery of a blurb in Softside magazine in my own blog. Thanks to you and Jason for paving the way for other intrepid adventurers