Monday, November 30, 2015

Current Final Ratings

I've now done Final Ratings for all the games I've completed.  More detailed write-ups are in the Victory posts for those games, but here I present the leaderboard as it stands currently.  And yes, I realise that it's ridiculous to compare RPGs and adventure games.  I'm doing it anyway.

Final Rating
The Game of Dungeons (aka dnd)
Beneath Apple Manor
The Dungeon (aka pedit5)
Colossal Cave Adventure

Some of the results here were expected, but there were some genuine surprises. I was pretty sure that The Game of Dungeons would be right at the top, as it's easily the most enjoyable game on the list so far.  I'm surprised at how high Beneath Apple Manor rated.  Perhaps it benefited from being short, but it's also a really tightly designed game.  Orthanc is an expanded, improved version of The Dungeon, but because of that it lost points in the Innovation category.

It's surprising that the text adventures are both languishing at the bottom.  I expected Colossal Cave Adventure to rate higher, but certain factors (most notably its absurdly obtuse final puzzle) brought it down a little.

It's also a little disheartening to see that after almost two years I've only completed seven games.  The pace is going to pick up now that I'm into the era of the home computer, thankfully.  I'm already done with Space, and should have a post ready for later in the week.  (Here's a spoiler for you: it's probably going to end up at the bottom of the list.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Game 8: Beneath Apple Manor (1978)

Before I begin the post proper, I need to give special thanks to Chester over at The CRPG Addict.  Without his help I'd never have been able to find and play the original version of Beneath Apple Manor.  So kudos to you good sir, your help is much appreciated.  Now let's get on with it, shall we?

The front cover art.  Someone got the set square 
out for this one.

Beneath Apple Manor is probably the first commercial CRPG, so I've decided to play it early on in my list of games from 1978.  (Besides. I really wanted to play the first commercial adventure game and CRPG back-to-back).  It was programmed by Don Worth, and published by The Software Factory.  Worth is a significant figure in the history of Apple computers: he wrote the book Beneath Apple DOS, which exposed the inner workings of Apple's operating system, and became an essential tool for programmers and hackers.  The Software Factory is less significant, it seems.  I can't find any information about them, possibly because they have a name that is almost impossible to google effectively.

The manual gives a short backstory to set up the game.  For three centuries the Apple family had ruled in Apple Manor, sending monsters out to terrorise the people and steal their wealth.  Now the family is dead, and the manor lies abandoned and gutted by fire.  Rumours abound that the source of the family's power was a golden apple.  Many have sought it in the tunnels below the manor, but few have survived the attempt, and none have succeeded.  (I'm not actually certain that this backstory was present in the original documentation.  The only manual I've been able to find is for the Special Edition rerelease.)

The first impression given by this game is impossible to avoid (at least in retrospect): it's very similar to Rogue, a massively influential game that it predates by two years.  It has the same randomly generated dungeon levels, the same macguffin-at-the-bottom-of-the-dungeon plot, and similarly - shall we say - "functional" graphics.  I'd hesitate to call it a true Rogue-like, though, as it doesn't have perma-death.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Rogue doesn't come out until 1980, and there'll be plenty of time for me to discuss that game when the time comes (probably because it's going to take me a hell of a long time to beat it).

Your character in Beneath Apple Manor has four stats: Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity and Body.  There is no character generation, as every character begins with a score of 20 in each stat.  Your Strength determines how much damage you deal in combat, and how much gold you can carry.  Intelligence determines the effectiveness of your spells.  Dexterity is used to determine how accurate you are when attacking.  Body is simply your hit points, and when these reach zero you're dead.

There are various activities in the game that deplete these scores.  Strength is depleted by attacking monsters in melee, and if your Strength drops to zero you can't attack at all.  Your Intelligence drops whenever you use the Zap spell in combat.  I'm not certain, but I believe the amount of damage you deal affects the amount of Intelligence lost, and much like Strength if your Intelligence gets too low you can't cast spells until you rest.  Dexterity is depleted simply by moving around.  These scores can be restored by resting, which has a novel mechanic.  You use the number keys to rest, and the number chosen determines how many rounds you want to rest for.  The longer the rest the more your scores are restored, but the greater the chance you'll be attacked by a monster.  You can also press 0, which restores all of your scores to their maximum (except for Body), but runs a similar risk of monster attack.

Advancement comes via the accumulation of gold and experience points.  You gain a small amount of experience from defeating monsters, but most of it is awarded by finding gold.  Whenever you leave the dungeon you can choose to spend experience points to increase your four stats, at a rate of 10-to-1 (i.e. if you spend 1000 experience you can raise a stat by 100).  You'll need to increase your stats significantly to win the game, as the dungeon levels are generated based on how strong your character is, and the Golden Apple doesn't appear until you reach a certain power level.

The dungeon levels, as mentioned above, are randomly generated.  At the beginning of the game you can set the number of rooms per level, and also assign a difficulty rating of 1 to 10.  The levels contain monsters, of course, and chests that contain traps and treasure.  Once a level has been generated, though, it remains static, so you can continue to leave and return, making yourself stronger in the process, and the level doesn't scale up with you.  It just means that the next level will be that much tougher when it gets generated...  The square you start on contains the stairs back to town, where you can buy equipment, increase your stats, save your game, or head to a deeper dungeon level.

The levels are navigated by using the NESW keys, for North, South, East and West (you get used to it).  Doors can be bashed open by pressing B (another activity that drains Strength), and you can even (L)isten at a door to hear if there are monsters lurking behind.  There are also secret doors, which are discovered by pressing I for Inspect.

The game in Colour mode.  I'm the blue square.  Right next to me is a light 
purple Worm.  On the other side is a brown door, and the dark purple 
block beyond that is a Dragon.  This is not a good place to be.

There are five monsters in the game.  Originally I had some trouble identifying them, because when you play in Colour mode the monsters are represented by coloured blocks.  It was easy enough to figure that the green block was a slime, and the white block was a Ghost.  The red block was probably a Troll.  But what about the light purple block, and the dark purple one?  Matters were further complicated because I only had the manual for the Special Edition, which adds a few new monsters.  Eventually I figured out that if I play the game in black & white the monsters are represented by letters instead of colours, and the two mystery monsters were revealed: W for Purple Worm, and D for Dragon.  The Special Edition (which I'll do a post on eventually) adds Vampires and Invisible Stalkers, but thankfully I didn't have to deal with those in the original game.

The game in B&W mode.  The Y is me, the T is a Troll and the 
W is a Purple Worm.

The slimes are weak, with few hit points and a low damage range.  Ghosts can only be affected by a magic sword or the Zap spell, and their attacks permanently drain your Strength score.  They only drain 1 or 2 points at a time, and you can easily replenish your Strength by spending experience, but it is a nuisance.  Trolls, Worms and Dragons are all just big piles of hit points, each progressively stronger.  There's not a lot of variety to be had in fighting them, and combat is largely a matter of deciding between (A)ttacking with a melee weapon, or using your (Z)ap spell.  You can also (R)un away, but that causes you to drop your gold.  (Dropped gold instantly returns to the chest you found it in, so it can always be reclaimed.)

Having my Strength drained by a Ghost.

In addition to Zap the game has a small selection of spells, each of which costs Intelligence points to cast.  Heal restores your Body points (which aren't replenished by resting).  XRay reveals everything in a three-square radius, which is good for scouting.  Teleport moves you to a random spot in the dungeon.  It's good for escaping a tight spot, but like running it makes you lose all of the gold you're carrying.

You can upgrade your equipment, and there are magic items to be found in the dungeon chests.  You begin the game armed with a dagger, but you can spend gold to upgrade to an Axe or a Sword.  The best weapon is the Magic Sword, which you'll find in a chest eventually.  You can also buy armor, with Leather, Chain Mail and Plate available.  Again, there's Magic Armour to be found in the dungeon, which is the best defense available.  The chests also contain wands and potions.  Some of them will double one of your stats, but there are also cursed items that reduce a stat by half.

This is always welcome.

One of the best items is the Zap Wand, which allows you to cast Zap without losing any Intelligence.  There's also a wand that lets you open doors without losing Strength, and a potion that causes you to lose your memory.  The memory loss is represented by the disappearance of your dungeon map, which I thought was very clever.  There could be more items, but those are all the ones I discovered.

I had a lot more of the screen filled in before I drank this potion.  
I think there might have been whiskey in it?

Death in the game is not permanent: whenever your character dies you are reincarnated at the entry stairs of the current level, and you can keep retrying as often as you want.  Your stats will be reset to the last time you had a Brain Scan, which is the equivalent of a saved game.  When you're in town you can pay gold to have a Brain Scan, which saves your current stats.  The higher your stats, the more expensive it is to have a scan done.  If you haven't had a Brain Scan done your stats reset to the beginning (all 20) which is pretty much a death sentence on the deeper levels.  After so long playing PLATO CRPGs, which all delete your characters permanently when you die, using the Brain Scan almost felt like cheating.  I got over it quickly though.  It's a feature of the game, and I feel no shame in using it.

Getting drained to death by a Ghost.

With a decent amount of saving it's not difficult at all to win this game.  The toughest monsters (Worms and Dragons) start appearing when your stats get to approximately 100.  I had a habit of keeping my stats on an even footing, but there's nothing stopping you from pushing one stat sky-high and ignoring the rest; in that case I don't know when the endgame would begin.  But for me, the Golden Apple started to appear when my stats got to about 120.  I've encountered a fake Golden Apple, which blew up and killed me instantly.  Luckily, I had saved just minutes before.  Finding the real Golden Apple is something of an underwhelming experience.

Hitting enter takes you to the command prompt.  How I laughed!

Basically, it's a big old terrible pun.  The Golden Apple... is a computer!  Geddit?  An Apple computer!  I don't know what it is about vintage games, but they love getting self-referential.  The Game of Dungeons had monsters that were programmers.  Colossal Cave Adventure had a final area that was a storeroom for the various elements of the game.  In Adventureland you could wander inside a computer chip.  It's weird, but I suppose it's an accurate reflection of what the creators of these games were obsessed with..

I completed the game on difficulty level 1, and on level 5.  I had a crack at level 10, but I wasn't able to get too far.  Maybe one day, but for the moment I have too many other games to tackle.

So that's that: a one-post game!  A few more of these wouldn't go astray.  Time for the final rating.


Story & Setting: The backstory described above is evocative enough, but like other CRPGs of this vintage it doesn't factor into the gameplay in any way.  The dungeon is just a collection of featureless rooms and corridors, and randomly generated at that.  It's functional, but it's not all that interesting.  Rating: 1.

Characters & Monsters: With just five monsters in the game, and nothing else to interact with, I can't rate this category highly.  The monsters aren't even particularly varied.  Rating: 1.

Aesthetics: The graphics are primitive, and not all that appealing.  It's either coloured blocks, or black & white ASCII characters, and neither looks very good.  I forgot to mention that the game has sound, and that's probably because I spent most of my time playing it with the sound turned off while listening to Turbonegro.  It's just beeps from the PC speaker every time you move or attack, and they got irritating after a minute or so.  Rating: 1.

Mechanics: It's a tight, simple game where everything serves a purpose, and every feature does what it's supposed to do.  Combat is a little simplistic, but the way that stat depletion ties into the gameplay is excellent, and I liked being able to choose which stats to advance when spending experience.  Rating: 5.

Challenge: I have to rate this game highly for its varying levels of difficulty.  It's dead simple on level 1, mildly challenging on level 5, and balls-hard on level 10, which feels exactly right.  Rating: 6.

Innovation & Influence: It's the first commercial CRPG, the first CRPG with a save game feature, and the stat depletion system is novel as well.  There's no doubt that this is going to score high.  Rating: 6.

Fun: Beneath Apple Manor is an enjoyable way to pass an hour or so if you happen to have a taste for prehistoric CRPGs.  It never wore out it's welcome for me, and to be honest I'd quite happily fire it up now and have a game right now.  Rating: 4.

I'm awarding this game the special bonus point, because I still want to play it; I never did beat it on difficulty level 10, after all.  With the scores above added up, and the bonus point as well, that gives a total of 25 out of 50.  Doubling that (because I'm anal and want my rating system to give a score out of 100) gives me a final rating of 50 out of 100.

Final Rating: 50 out of 100.


Somewhat later in this blog I made the decision to overhaul my Final Rating system, so I'm going back through and fixing all of the games I've already played as of March 2020.  I've ditched the Innovation and Influence category, and replaced it for CRPGs with a category for Combat.  I've also changed the purpose of the bonus points, saving them for games that are important, innovative, influential, or have features that are otherwise not covered by my other categories.

Also, the Final Rating is a boring name.  The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET.  The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating.  Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons.  So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.

Combat: The combat in this game is extremely simplistic when considered on its own. The only actions available are Attack, Zap or Run.  The way your stats are depleted by combat is the most challenging aspect, and I'll bump it up for that, but there just aren't enough options here to make the combat otherwise interesting.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 1. It's one of the earliest commercial CRPGs, and deserves a bonus point despite not being hugely influential.

Beneath Apple Manor's RADNESS Index is 41.  This puts it second on the list so far, just ahead of Orthanc and below The Game of Dungeons v5.  It's a simple game but I remember really enjoying it, and thinking that it had a lot of replay value.

NEXT: The next game on my list is Space, a sci-fi game for the Apple II that is heavily based on the tabletop RPG Traveller.  I've already been tinkering with it, and I'm pretty sure that this will be another single post job.  Progress!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Some Changes to the Final Rating System

I've made some changes to the way that my newly instituted Final rating system works.  To check out the explanation (and the new score for the game), read my final post on Adventureland.

I've also done a rating for the first game on the blog: PEDIT5, aka The Dungeon.  Check it out over here.  More to come in the near future!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Adventureland: Victory!

As of my last post I had gotten a bit stuck in Adventureland, but it turns out that the puzzles I was having trouble with weren't so difficult at all.  To recap the puzzles I had yet to solve:

1) The sleeping dragon, which is the first puzzle you will encounter in the game.  It will probably be the last one you solve, which is a structure that I often enjoy.

2) The bees.  As I mentioned in the last post, I can capture the bees in a jar, but they suffocate and die when I try to leave the room.

3) Getting the mirror without using the honey.  The magic mirror is guarded by a bear, and you can make the bear go to sleep by feeding it the honey.  As I suspected, the honey is one of the treasures needed to finish the game, and this is not the correct solution to this puzzle.

4) The lava flow at the bottom of the maze.  Obviously there's something inside it, but it's too hot for me to approach.

Okay then, let's tackle each of these one by one.

The Bear: The bear is found on a ledge over a chasm, guarding a magic mirror.

I was able to solve this without resorting to a walk-through, but in order to solve it I needed to fail it first.  The hint I needed came from the magic mirror.  I had mentioned in my last post that when I dropped the magic mirror on the persian rug, it gave me a hint: "DRAGON STING".  Later I tried it again, and it gave me an entirely different hint: "Don't waste honey, get mad instead! Dam lava!?"

This provided me with help for two of the puzzles I was stuck on, but for the moment I'll stick with the bear puzzle.  I restarted the game (with some minor grumbling), and played my way back to the bear.  With the clue being to "get mad", I tried typing YELL.

Success!  I had claimed the mirror without losing the honey, though I have to call foul on this puzzle.  While it's not impossible to solve without failing it first, it's not exactly obvious either.  The only way to really do it is to start trying random stuff, and see what works.  I'll give it props for leading in to my favourite joke in the game though.

That "slightly woozy bear" gets me every time.  I suppose he's lucky that he didn't land in the lava.

The Lava: Speaking of the lava, I was able to solve that dilemma with the other half of the clue I mentioned above.  Using some bricks from a wall I blew up earlier in the game, and the command DAM LAVA, I was able to stop the lava flow.  This revealed a glowing Firestone, which was initially too hot for me to pick up.  Pouring water on it cooled it down, and I was able to claim my twelfth treasure.

The Bees: This puzzle was easier to solve than I had thought.  I'd previously thought that the bees died as soon as I left the room, but it turns out that the length of time they survive is variable.  It was enough time that I could use my magic rug to teleport to the dragon, which is where the bees come in useful.  Oh yeah, remember to drop the mud before going to the dragon.  You need the mud to survive the bees, but it makes the dragon wake up and kill you.

The Dragon: With some living bees in my possession, this was a simple matter of typing RELEASE BEES.

I say simple, but if I'm being honest this is the most frustrating past of the game.  Forget the mud when you go to get the bees, and you're dead.  Forget to drop the mud, and the dragon kills you.  Sometimes the mud dries and falls off you before you get to the bees.  Sometimes the bees die before you can get them to the dragon.  All of these factors combine to make what can be an intensely irritating experience.  Generally I'm against random factors in adventure games, and this one of those puzzles that suffers from it.

As you can see from the screen shot, the dragon flies away to reveal some eggs, which are the final treasure.  All I had to do was take my ill-gotten gains to the room below the tree stump, drop them all on the floor, and say SCORE.

Underwhelming, isn't it?  I'm not sure what I expected from a game of this vintage, but this is probably the most disappointing end game screen of the games I've played so far.  But, I have finished it, and that means it's time for a final rating.


A Final Rating, you say?   Yeah, I know, I haven't given ratings to any of the previous games I've blogged.  I was reluctant to do so, given that I'm playing games from very different genres.  But I've been reading a lot of The CRPG Addict, and The Adventure Gamer, and I decided to jump on their bandwagon.  Besides, there's something fun about giving hard ratings to games, and comparing them against each other.  At the very least, it's bound to make someone angry.

As I said, though, I have to rate both CRPGs and adventure games, genres with very different play-styles.  The rating system I've developed is, by necessity, a bit more generalised than those used at CRPG Addict and Adventure Gamer.  I'm rating games in seven categories: Story & Setting, NPCs & Monsters, Challenge, Aesthetics, Mechanics, Innovation and Fun.  Each of these categories is scored out of 7, which is a lovely mythological number, and also has the added benefit of having an exact mid-point.  I'll also award a bonus point based on whether I still feel like playing the game after I've completed it.  This gives me a potential top score of 50, and I'm going to double it just so I an satisfy my obsessive-compulsive desire to make it a score out of 100.

Story & Setting: The story for Adventureland is barely there.  There are thirteen treasures, and for reasons unknown (though we can assume pure greed) the protagonist is out to collect them all.  There's no background, and very little in the game to give it context.  I understand that the technical limitations of the TRS-80 would necessitate this lack of detail, but could it have hurt to throw a little something into the manual?

The setting isn't overly large, and it's similarly low on detail and description.  The text sticks solely to the items and scenery that are important, and leaves out extraneous details.  This makes the puzzles a lot easier to solve, but it doesn't do a lot for the game's atmosphere.  The areas above-ground feel particularly disjointed, with the protagonist moving from meadow to swamp to lake to quicksand with no transitional areas between.  Again, it's a deficiency born of technical limitations, but I can only rate what's there.  Rating: 1.

Characters & Monsters:  Adventureland doesn't have a lot of characters to meaningfully interact with, but there are a few monsters around.  Let's see, there's the sleeping dragon, the chiggers, the bees, and the bear.  It's not a lot, though I do have to give it props for the ability to blow up the dragon, and the bit with the woozy bear.  Rating: 1.

Aesthetics: This category covers the game's graphics, sound and general atmosphere.  Adventureland, being a text adventure with no sound, is not going to score very highly, though I'm willing to stretch higher for text adventures with particularly evocative descriptions.  Adventureland is not that game.  Rating: 1.

Mechanics: This category measures how well the game functions.  For RPGs, that will include things like character creation and combat.  For text adventures, it will include how well the parser works.  Adventureland has a simple two word parser, and only recognises the first three letters of any word.  (This has resulted in amusing situations, such as SCREW BEAR working to startle it from the ledge, as opposed to SCREAM BEAR.)  That said, the basic nature of the parser puts a limit on the number of actions you might think to try, and I found that I was rarely in a situation where I was searching for the exact phrasing needed to solve a puzzle.  I also came to like the split-window interface (with my input in the lower window and the room description at the top) the more I played it.  Having the room description visible at all times is really very handy.

I thought about knocking the game down a point for its random elements, but on further thought they're not so bad.  They're restricted to the mud and the suffocating bees, and really only affect one puzzle, so I'm going to be generous.  Rating: 4.

Challenge: This is a good game for text adventure beginners.  The puzzles aren't overly difficult, and the game is full of clues in the form of signs and the magic mirror, not to mention the HELP command which can be used if you get stuck.  There's only one puzzle that I thought was unfair, and that's the bear.  Even so, that one gives you a clue after you fail.  This makes for a mildly challenging game.  Rating: 4.

(A note about the above rating.  It's not so much about rating how difficult a game is, but rather how well-balanced it is.  A super-hard game won't necessarily score a 10, and a super-easy game won't always score a 1.  Indeed, games that are too easy or too hard will no doubt get low scores here.  Games that are challenging without becoming frustrating will score high.)

Innovation & Influence: Adventureland is the first ever text adventure game on a home computer, so I have to give it a high score here.  It's very derivative of Colossal Cave Adventure however, so it loses points for that.  Rating: 6.

Fun: And now, the most subjective rating of them all: how much fun did I have playing this game?  Adventureland was a mild distraction.  I enjoyed it, but it was short, and it didn't have a lot of jokes (I like text adventures that have a sense of humour).  I'll bump it up a point for the ability to blow up the dragon.  Rating: 4.

I didn't award the bonus point for Adventureland, as I doubt I'll ever play it again.  The above scores add up to 21, which gives me a final rating of 42 out of 100.  That seems a bit high, but it did score very highly for innovation, and given its limitations it achieves its goals quite well.

FINAL RATING: 42 out of 100.

I'm going to go back and rate the other games I've finished; expect that to be done within the next few weeks.  Then I can set about making a leader board, and give you the definitive, not to be questioned rankings of every significant CRPG and adventure game.


Somewhat later in this blog I made the decision to overhaul my Final Rating system, so I'm going back through and fixing all of the games I've already played as of March 2020.  I've ditched the Innovation and Influence category, and replaced it for adventure games with a category for Puzzles.  I've also changed the purpose of the bonus points, saving them for games that are important, innovative, influential, or have features that are otherwise not covered by my other categories.

Also, the Final Rating is a boring name.  The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET.  The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating.  Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons.  So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.

Puzzles: The puzzles to this game are a mild challenge, and pretty much all of them play fair. There are hints via the magic mirror, and a HELP command for when you get stuck.  The only really obtuse puzzle was the bear.  I'm also tempted to ding this for the randomness of the bees; failure by random chance in an adventure game is usually bad design, and it's one of the few genuine black marks on this game.  Overall, though, this does impressively despite its limitations.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 1. It's the first Scott Adams game, and the earliest significant adventure game on a home computer.

Adventureland's RADNESS Index is 37.  That puts it fourth so far, just one point below Colossal Cave Adventure.  I think that's fair actually.  It's a smaller tighter game, with fewer bugs and loose ends, and puzzles that play a little fairer.

NEXT: Beneath Apple Manor!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Game 7: Adventureland (1978)

Adventureland, programmed by Scott Adams and originally released for the TRS-80 microcomputer, is a milestone on a number of levels.  It's the first ever text adventure released for a home computer (and may very well be the second text adventure ever created).  It's the first game commercially released by Scott Adams, a significant figure in early game design.  And, perhaps most importantly for this blog, it's the first game I'm playing that wasn't designed for a mainframe.  I still have a few games designed for the PLATO system to get through (including Moria and The Game of Dungeons v8.0, both of which I am in the middle of), but I feel with this game that I've turned a corner.  Games designed for home computers should be shorter than those on mainframes, so maybe now I can start getting through my list a little faster.

Before I get into Adventureland proper, I should probably write a bit about Scott Adams.  Adams was one of the pioneers of gaming in the late 1970s.  As I mentioned before, Adventureland is the first ever text adventure designed for a home computer, and even if it turns out to be terrible it's still significant.  He designed a total of eighteen text adventure games between 1978 and 1984, all published through his own company, Adventure International.  Despite his pioneering work, I've often seen Adams disparaged by fans of the genre.  I've played a few of his later efforts (most notably the baffling Incredible Hulk game from the Questprobe series), and found them to be a bit crude in comparison to their contemporaries.  Hopefully Adventureland and his other early efforts will hold up better.

Adventureland was released on a lot of different platforms, but I opted to go with a TRS-80 emulator in order to get the most authentic experience.  It was rereleased in 1982 with added graphics, but I've decided not to play that version.  That's probably a stupid idea for a blog that relies on images, but I'm sticking with it.  I want to play the game as it was in 1978, or as close as I can possibly get to that experience.

The plot of Adventureland is basic to the point of nonexistence: there are thirteen lost treasures, and you have to find them all and return them to a safe location.  No reason is given for why the hero is looking for these treasures, or how they got lost, or what they are.  It's just the objective of the game, and that's that.  It's the exact same plot as Colossal Cave Adventure, and you'll discover as this article progresses that this game owes a heavy debt to its predecessor.

One thing unique to Adventureland, however, is it's screen layout.  The screen is split into two text windows.  The window at the top displays the area descriptions, and the objects that can be seen, while the bottom window displays the results of your actions.  I found this disorienting at first, but after playing for a short time I became accustomed to it.  It's not what I'm used to from text adventures, but it works well enough, and it's nice to always have the relevant room details in sight.

One thing I quickly noticed about the game is that it's parser feels a little less sophisticated than the one in Colossal Cave Adventure.  This is to be expected, I suppose, as home computers were at that time far less powerful than the PDP-10 mainframe that Colossal Cave Adventure was designed for.  Adventureland only accepts two-word commands, and only recognises the first three letters of any word.  It feels limiting, and frustrating in a way that any fan of old-school text adventure games will be familiar with.

That said, the sense of relief I feel to be playing this game instead of Moria is palpable.  There's stuff in this game.  There are things.  Stuff and things I can interact with.  Sure, the interaction is crude, but it's there nevertheless.  I'll run down some of the things I've discovered, and the puzzles I've solved so far.

  • The game begins in a forest, with some wilderness areas surrounding it and a small underground dungeon.  The setting has a sort of generic fantasy/fairy tale vibe.  I'm pretty sure that I've mapped out most of the game, and so far I've visited a mere 28 separate locations.  It's not a large game, and the detail is sparse.  It lacks much of the character and sense of place that Colossal Cave Adventure had.  That's probably due to technical limitations, and the fact that Colossal Cave Adventure was based on a real cave system.  Adams does pretty well here, crafting a number of interesting locations to visit, but it's all a bit disjointed.
  • The first thing I encountered was a sleeping dragon, but I haven't been able to wake it up without being killed.  It wakes up if you enter the area carrying mud from the swamp, and kills you with fire. I've also been able to blow it up with swamp gas, but that didn't seem all that helpful.

  • The first puzzle I solved involved retrieving one of the treasures from out of a pool of quicksand: a statue of a blue ox.  Getting the ox is easy enough, but you can't leave the quicksand while carrying any item.  To get the ox statue out of the quicksand you need to be carrying an axe with the word BUNYON carved on it.  (The axe is found in a pool just south of the quicksand.)  Saying that word while carrying the axe and the ox will transport both items to an area marked as "Paul's Place".  It's not that difficult to figure out, though a knowledge of the legend of Paul Bunyan certainly helps.  Being Australian I'm only vaguely familiar with the story, but it was enough to put me on the right track.
  • Getting out of the quicksand isn't as easy as typing a direction.  You need to SWIM, which takes you to a nearby lake, but you can't do so while carrying any item.  Getting stuck in the quicksand with any item other than the ox and the axe is a bad idea, as you'll have to drop them in the quicksand to get out again.  If you do this the items dropped are gone forever, so you might as well restart.
  • In the lake is a Golden Fish, one of the thirteen treasures.  I'm able to catch it with a Golden Net I found in the dungeon, but it dries up and dies if you're not also carrying a bottle of water.
  • I had some trouble getting into the underground dungeon.  I figured out that you need to chop down the cypress tree in the swamp, and climb down the hollow stump, but I wasn't able to unlock the door at the bottom.  It turns out that you need to climb the cypress before cutting it down, so that you can find the skeleton keys.  If you cut down the tree first the keys vanish into the swamp, and the game becomes unwinnable.  The game does give you a message that something has fallen into the swamp, though, so at least it's playing somewhat fair.
  • The swamp is home to creatures called "Chiggers" (which is a word that I'm somewhat uncomfortable typing).  Occasionally the Chiggers will bite you, but the bites are easily cured by taking mud from the swamp.  I'm not sure if the Chiggers are needed to solve any puzzles, but I do rather enjoy picking them up and dropping them in the quicksand.
  • I've found some Royal Honey, which is one of the 13 treasures, but it's guarded by north african bees.  When I first tried to take the honey the bees stung me to death, but later on I figured out that the bees don't attack me if I have the mud from the swamp.  Even later I tried taking the bees themselves, and you can do so if you have en empty jar.  Unfortunately, the bees instantly suffocate when you leave the room, so I'm a bit stuck with this one.
  • There's a weird bit where you wander into the memory chip of a computer.  There's nothing to interact with in this area, and I suspect that it's just a bit of programmer's humour.  Not that it's very funny, but it is memorably strange.

  • There's a maze in the dungeon, though thankfully it's not composed of "twisty passages, all alike".  This maze is dead simple, because it only has six areas, and they're distinct enough that you always know which one you're in.  I panicked a little when I first wandered in, but it wasn't as harrowing an experience as I was expecting.
  • I found a Persian Rug in the maze, and a sign saying that the magic word was AWAY.  I've worked out that, by carrying the rug and saying AWAY, I can teleport between the sleeping dragon to the bottom of the maze.  Indeed, this seems to be the only way to escape the maze at all, and it's a very handy navigation tool. 
  • I've managed to blow a hole in a bricked up window by igniting swamp gas.  Beyond it is a bear guarding a magic mirror, and I'm not sure if I've solved this puzzle correctly. The bear goes to sleep if you give it some honey, but the royal honey is one of the treasures needed to complete the game.  I feel like there should be another solution.  (It's not the axe.  If you throw it, the bear dodges and the mirror gets smashed.)
  • Dropping the Magic Mirror causes it to smash.  In order to drop it safely, you need to first drop the Persian Rug.  When you do so, the Mirror flashes and gives you the following message: DRAGON STING.  Obviously this is related to waking the dragon, but I'm not sure exactly how.  It may have something to do with the bees, but as I said I'm having trouble keeping them alive in my bottle.
  • There's a lava flow at the bottom of the maze, and there appears to an object hidden within it.  It's too hot to do anything with, though, so I'm stuck for now.
  • The game has a lamp, which is required for exploring underground without falling and breaking your neck.  It runs out after a time, like the one in Colossal Cave Adventure.  If you rub the lamp while it's turned off (it's too hot to rub when lit), a genie appears and gives you a diamond ring.  Rub it again, and the genie leaves a diamond bracelet.  Rub it again, and it kills you for being too greedy.
  • Sometimes when you die, you go immediately to Hell, and the game is over.  Sometimes, you find yourself in Limbo, with a chance to choose a direction and return to the game if you pick correctly.
  • So far I've been able to claim the following treasures: a Golden Net, a Golden Fish, a Pot of Rubies, a Jeweled Fruit, a Persian Rug, a statue of a Blue Ox, a Diamond Ring, a Diamond Bracelet, some Royal Honey, a Crown, and the Magic Mirror.  So far that means I've found 11 of the 13 items required.  I suspect there's another in the lava, and that the dragon is guarding one, but otherwise I have no idea.  I've also had to sacrifice the Honey to claim the Mirror, which doesn't seem right.

With the majority of the treasures claimed, and only a few unsolved puzzles, I feel like I'm just about done with this game.  I haven't had to resort to a walkthrough either, something that I needed for Colossal Cave Adventure.  So far I'm having fun, and it's refreshing to be playing a game that feels short.  The end is in sight, and that's fine by me.