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.


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.  For CRPGs I'm using a Combat category.  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 in Treasure Hunt are about as simple as it gets: all you need to do is have the right item in your inventory before you go to a certain location.  The only thing that gave me trouble was the magic carpet, and I had to beat that by cheesing the original item locations. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

That gives Treasure Hunt a RADNESS Index of 22. That puts it equal 22nd, along with Journey to the Center of the Earth and King Tut's Tomb.  The only adventure game below these is the incomplete Library.

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 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:


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.