Sunday, May 24, 2020

Game 46: Haunt (1979)

Haunt doesn't have a title screen

Well, I had a week off.  I've been pretty good about keeping to a schedule of late, but ever since I started playing Rogue my desire to blog has somewhat dimmed.  The problem is, I don't want to play anything else, but the blog cannot survive on Rogue alone.  It's a great game, but after a while it's hard to find things to say about it.  On top of that, I'm really into Dungeons & Dragons right now.  My interests run in cycles.  Sometimes I'm obsessed with D&D, sometimes with comics, and sometimes with video games.  At the moment, video games is near the bottom of the cycle.  Never fear, it'll get to the top again.

What all of the above means is that I'm cutting my posts back to once a week, for the most part.  On Sundays(ish) I'll post about whatever game is next on my chronology.   On Wednesdays(ish), I'll post about Rogue, if I have something new to say about it.  Once I'm done with Rogue I might pick up the pace again, but I'm not sure about that.  We'll see what happens.

For today's post, I'm tackling Haunt, which is another mainframe-based text adventure.  (It's often written as HAUNT, all caps, and I don't know why.)  I'm not sure why I get so trepidatious about the mainframe adventure games.  Zork was one, and it's undoubtedly the best game I've played for the blog so far.  Colossal Cave Adventure, Acheton and Battlestar have all rated well.  The mainframe games do tend to be better on average than their home computer equivalents, but they also tend to be longer.  Perhaps that's it.  I like making progress on the blog, and short games are great for that.  I'm at the point where I'd almost rather play a short but terrible game than one that's long and pretty good.  I have no idea how big Haunt is, and that makes me nervous.

Haunt was created starting in 1979 by John E. Laird, who is currently a computer science professor at the University of Michigan.  He would have been studying for his Ph.D at the time.  Laird worked at Xerox PARC for a bit before getting into academia, and he's significant enough to merit his own Wikipedia page, but I don't think he did anything else in gaming beyond creating Haunt.  The game was developed from 1979 to 1982, but as usual I'm playing it in the year that the game's development started.

Getting the game running was a bit of a nightmare.  It requires TOPS-20 emulation; I gather that TOPS-20 was the operating system for the DEC-20 mainframe.  To play the game, I had to go to and create a TOPS-20 login.  Then I needed to download a telnet client; I ended up going with PuTTY, which can be found here.  It was a lot of rigmarole, and not the sort of thing I'm used to, but I got there in the end.

The game kicks off with its backstory, and, well... it's weird.  Get a load of this.

This stuff is wild.

For those who don't want to squint at my screen caps, the gist is that there's a bloke whose wife got killed by a moose.  He bought the land where the incident happened, built a mansion called Chez Moose, and set about trying to return her to life.  He wasn't seen again for seven years, and was declared dead.

What also happened on the fateful day of that picnic was that the man's child was kidnapped by gypsies (which I'm aware isn't a word I should be using, but I'm going with what the game says. Apologies to any Romani people who may be reading.).  Only that child will apparently be able to enter the house and find the treasures inside without going mad and committing suicide.  So yes, it's a treasure hunt, but the story around it is bizarre enough that I can excuse it.

Also wrapped up in this story is an obscure hereditary disease called "Orkhisnoires sakioannes".  I've no idea what this is getting at.  Google just points back to articles about this game, so I gather that it's completely made up.  I guess it could be a pun or an anagram, but I'm not at the stage where I'm going to try and solve it just yet.

That's mighty nice of the government, who are always wonderful chaps.

The game began with me standing at a bus stop. My inventory contained a watch and a couple of bus tokens.  I tried moving off in various directions, but there's nowhere to go from the bus stop.  The only thing to do was to wait until a bus pulled up, get on board, and exit when it dropped me at the front gate of Chez Moose.

I could see the mansion from the front gate; it was dark, but there were lights coming from the windows.  There was seemingly no way to open the gate, so I did a lap of the perimeter wall.  I found a gate with a buzzer on the east wall, but decided to ignore it for now.  The wall was surrounded with a forest, which I'm pretty sure is only there for show.  I tried to explore it, but it very quickly became impenetrable.  The road to the south was bordered by a similarly impenetrable forest, but I discovered that if I went far enough east or west I'd end up back at the bus stop.  I could wait and catch the bus again, but only once.  After that, I had no tokens left, and being unable to catch the bus I sat down on the corner and starved to death.  Going home and living the rest of my life was not an option, I suppose.

Another weird thing happened while I was exploring the wilderness.  At the stroke of midnight, a ghostly moose appeared and charged right through me.  It didn't seem to have any negative effect, but I'm a little concerned about it.  I wonder if there's a way to avoid it somehow, or if it's tied into the whole going mad and committing suicide thing?

Yep. It's a ghost moose alright.

There's also a weird area just off the south-west corner of the wall that has no description at all.  It's just a blank space.  I'm not sure if this is significant or not, but I've learned not to dismiss this kind of thing.  I'll have to remember it when I'm thinking of ways to earn extra points.

With nothing else to do I approached the east gate and pressed the button.  There was a buzz, but nothing else happened.  At this point, I got really stuck, and I almost searched for a walkthrough, which would have been pretty shameful at this early stage.  It turned out that all I had to do was press the button a couple more times.  The buzzing woke up the person on the other end, and after a series of questions he let me through the gate.  Some of those questions were simple (name, quest, etc.) and some of them were weird trivia.  The most common one I've gotten is "What was the first production system with more than 1500 productions?"  The answer to this is "Haunt", which apparently has something to do with the language it was coded in; I only knew the answer to this by looking at  The other question I keep getting is "What is the capital of Assyria?"  I've tried Assur, and the alternate spelling Ashur, but it keeps telling me I'm wrong and I'm not sure why.  Google wouldn't lie to me.  (Actually, I've just realised that the answer is probably "A", which is the sort of dumb thing I would write on geography tests when I didn't know the answer.  I'll have to try that next time.)

After answering the questions I was let inside, and informed that I wouldn't be getting back out through the gate.  The mansion grounds were mostly areas of lawn, with the mansion at the centre and an empty garage to the north-east.  I also found a grave in the north-east corner, which I dug up.  Inside was a bone from the Missing Link, which I took with me.  Taking it increased my score, so I gather that it's one of the treasures I'm seeking.  There's also a dry garden bed, which I'm thinking I need to water, but at the moment I don't have anything appropriate.

The mansion has two entrances.  On the north side is some ivy, which I was able to climb up to a balcony.  Inside was a master bedroom, and a bathroom.  I tried flushing the toilet, and it spun around so rapidly that I was knocked over and cracked my head open on the bathtub.  A "10th level cleric" came by and resurrected me, and I found myself back outside the wall with an empty inventory.  I was able to buzz myself back into the mansion grounds, and I tried climbing the ivy again.  This time I tried to test climbing back down, which was also fatal.

There's something very undignified about being resurrected
by a bus driver.

I wonder if maybe I can jump down?  I dismissed it at the time, but it's worth a shot.

On my next try I gave up on the ivy, and decided to go through the front door.  The only way to open it was to knock, and the game gave me a very unusual greeting.  I hadn't mentioned that the guy on the other end of the buzzer asked me about my sexual preference.  I'm not sure if it factors in elsewhere in the game, but it does get a mention here.

I've been called worse.

Once I was inside the house, the door slammed behind me and couldn't be opened.  This game just loves cutting off the path back to the start...  In the foyer was a bowl of candy, which I took with me and resisted the urge to eat.  Exploring west, I found a closet containing a wet suit with fully functioning scuba gear.  I was pretty skeptical about finding a place where this would come in handy, but I put it on anyway.

North of the foyer was the main hall, with passages heading east and west, and stairs leading upwards.  The game mentioned that there was a horrible noise coming from upstairs.  There was also an old chair, which I took with me.  It had a plaque on the back that said it was made by Louis XIV, so I figured it was another treasure.

I explored west, finding a dark hall with a safe.  The safe was shut, and had a combination lock with three two-digit numbers.  The game gave 10-10-10 as an example, and I tried it.  I wasn't surprised that it didn't work, but I was a little surprised that the game acknowledged that I was being a bit of a smart-arse by trying it in the first place.  Haunt responds to quite a lot of things I wouldn't expect, and generally has something amusing to say.

West of the safe was an art room, with a modern art painting inside.  I tried to take it, only to be told that it was worthless.  I held on to it anyway.

East of the main hall was a library, with a bust of Homer and shelves full of books.  I tried to read a book, only to be told that all of the pages were "virtual", and that the book disappeared.  I tried again, and found a book about vampires, and how to kill them.  Just the usual methods, nothing too revelatory here.  Trying another book, I was told that the rest were all made out of wood, so I left the library and headed upstairs.  (The stairs creaked ominously, and I started to think that I'd only get a few shots at using them before they'd collapse or something.  I went up and down them about a dozen times, with no trouble, so it's probably just there for spooky ambience.)

The upper hall had passages heading north, west, and south.  The stairs also continued up, but I decided to save those for later.  First I went south, into a dark room with a casket.  I'd already been warned by the book to expect vampires, but I went and stupidly opened the casket anyway.  Sure enough, I found Dracula inside.  He got up to try and bite me, but I quickly left the room, and he didn't follow.  When I went back in he was back in his casket.  I didn't have anything I could obviously use to kill him, so I left him where he was.  (Dracula's been in quite a number of adventure games that I've played for the blog.  He'd have to be a front-runner for the most frequently recurring character or monster.)

Exploring east, I was getting closer to the "horrible noise" I'd heard from downstairs.  Eventually, at a dead end, I recognised it as an Alice Cooper record.  Seriously, when it comes time for me to give this game its RADNESS Index, can I knock it down a couple of points for this?  Alice Cooper rules, particularly in the 1970s.  He sings about getting it on with skeletons.  Anyway, there was a wire running along the floor, so I pulled it and the noise stopped.  I'm not sure if this affected anything.

North of the upper hall was a "dull room", with a closet to the west.  Inside the closet was some gold (another treasure) and a ventilation shaft leading south.  Of more interest, though, was a skeleton and a note scrawled on the wall.

All of our dads are skeletons, deep down.

Plot development?  In a game from the 1970s?  I'd come into this game expecting another treasure hunt with arbitrary puzzles.  For the most part that's what Haunt has given me, but there are hints that it has deeper mysteries to unravel.  Who is Bas?  Is it me?  What's the deal with the illness, and the crop?  I'm intrigued by all of this, and I really hope that it plays out further and isn't just a bit of story detail thrown in at the beginning.

I explored the ventilation shaft heading south, which led into a maze of ducts.  The maze was small though, and the areas easily differentiated by their exits.  It didn't take me long to navigate, and I soon found myself in a ventilation shaft over the torture chamber. I couldn't open the grill to get down though, so there was nothing to do but retrace my steps back to the upper hall.

I decided to go upstairs, and found myself in a laboratory.  There was something under a sheet, and a lever on the wall.  First I tried looking under the sheet, but either the game wouldn't let me or I couldn't find the right verb-noun combination.  So I threw the lever, and was not entirely surprised when a monster emerged from under the sheet.

I really want to know what he does for a trick.

The monster's "trick or treat" greeting was a little more unexpected.  Luckily I had a bowl of candy on me, and when I gave it to the monster he left, crashing through the west wall.  I followed through the hole, and found a bar.  There was no alcohol, but there was a bottle of turpentine (or "turps" as its known around these parts) which I took with me.

I had an instant brainstorm upon finding the turps, and decided to pour it on the modern art painting that I'd found.  The paint washed off to reveal a valuable Rembrandt underneath; I'd found another treasure.

I was somewhat stuck at this point, and did quite a bit of stumbling about achieving not much of anything.  Eventually I found myself back in the library, and on a whim I tried turning the bust of Homer.  This opened a secret door to the east.  I wasn't able to get through while wearing my wetsuit, so I took it off and slipped through the opening into a secret room with stairs leading down.

The stairs led down to a wine cellar, where I found a diamond corkscrew (another treasure, which brought my tally up to five, I think).  I went exploring among the empty wine racks, and was lost in a maze.  The racks apparently stretched on infinitely in all directions, and try as I might I couldn't find any way out.  Just as I was about to give up (and the game started mocking me) I found a trapdoor in the floor.  It was open, so I slipped through.

It led down into a room, where I found a drunk ghost.  Despite being drunk, the ghost blocked every single action I tried to make.  Even basic commands like INVENTORY and LOOK were unavailable to me.

This game has a lot of euphemisms for being drunk.

I figured that, whatever the solution was, it must be completely divorced from my inventory.  At least I hoped so, as I couldn't look to see what I had.  I tried all sorts of things, including various levels of invective and a quote from Thor: Ragnarok, before hitting on the amusingly simple solution: BOO.  The ghost disappeared, and I was able to continue on.

Beyond I found the torture chamber that I'd seen from the ventilation shaft earlier.  Someone rushed out and closed the door behind them.  Of more interest was the supposedly sexy female who was imprisoned there.  I set her free and, well, one thing led to another...

I am a female lover, after all.

I opened the duct and crawled my way back to the main house, but at that point I was really quite stuck as to what to do next.  I was also well overdue to write this post, so I decided to call it a day and switch off.  I don't think I have anywhere else left to explore inside the main area of the house, but I also don't know how to get back outside.  Well, I guess dying gets me back outside, but it also loses points, and dumps my inventory, so that's not a good solution.  And I'm pretty sure that I do need to get back outside to beat the game.

One thing I haven't mentioned is that while I was doing all of this exploring, my character was slowly going mad.  I'd occasionally get a message about how the house was getting to me.

On my next game I'm going to try STAY SANE or DON"T GO MAD.
You never know.

The messages gradually ramped up in intensity, until I went completely mad and killed myself.  (Oddly enough, this is the second game in a row that I've played with suicide as a theme; Space II had it as well.)  After I died I was resurrected by a passing cleric, and was able to continue playing, and had no more problems with going crazy.  I'm not sure what effect it has on the game, aside from a loss of points.

That's as far as I've gotten with Haunt.  It's quite fun so far, and has enough of its own style and quirks to stand out from a lot of its contemporaries.  If it actually follows through on its promise it could be a real stand-out, and a game that's well ahead of its time.  I suspect that it won't quite get there, but I'm still holding out hope.


  1. By the way, I haven't officially "moved" it yet, but Crystal Cave (which I currently have at 1980) is probably back to at least 1978 and maybe even 1977 (!). Someone showed up in my comments who played it back in the day. It's a "mod" of Adventure but it's a complete mod, so it's a totally new game, only a handful of elements are kept.

    Good luck with Haunt!

    1. It's almost like you're keenly aware that I rely on you to build the adventure game portion of my list...

    2. Funny that!

      HipolitoPichardo (the Twitch streamer, he's doing his own play-all-the-adventures quest, but users get to vote which game comes next) uses my list too.

    3. Thanks for the pointer, Jason, I'll have to check that streamer out. Oooh, and he even did Portopia recently. As a big NES fan, I've always been interested in that one.

      Also, it's hilarious to me that someone would name their channel after Hipolito Pichardo -- that is a deep cut right there.

    4. Wow, that's an extra deep cut for me, because baseball really is not a thing over here in Australia. Cricket is our bat-and-ball game of choice.