Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ulysses and the Golden Fleece: Won!

Ulysses and the Golden Fleece is a cruel game, even by Sierra’s standards. I never found the King’s Quest series as egregious as its reputation suggests – sure, they will kill you for walking one pixel away from the bad edge of a staircase, and happily let you screw up your game by eating a crucial inventory item or nonlethally failing a required action and then let you continue playing an impossible scenario, but these were quickly remedied by reloading a recently-saved game, provided you always kept multiple save files as the manual strongly recommended.

But this game, I do find egregious. This was evident within the first few minutes of play, as I entered a store where I was allowed to buy exactly seven of their eight items. Game logic said that exactly one item was unneeded, and I would absolutely need the other seven, and the only way to reasonably find out would be trial and error, forcing a restart several hours in. Other spiteful acts included:
  • An alley that you must enter to find a coin, but if you enter while possessing treasure, a thief steals it
  • The worst maze-of-twisty-little-passages I’ve seen in my life, set in an ocean where breadcrumbing is impossible, landmarks are few and far between, and where you must sail off the critical path to locate an albatross who gives you a bag of diamonds, but must not stumble upon the seagull, who will just steal your entire inventory. Both birds are in completely arbitrary locations.
  • Numerous points of no return, which would be less of a problem if the parser weren’t so bad, but in Ulysses it’s nigh impossible to tell the difference between a red herring and an important point of interest which you just haven’t yet figured out the right combination of words to use.
  • Multiple MOTLP’s, some of which lie about their valid exits, making it necessary to try out every possible direction anyway.

I was stuck on a canyon, and for all I knew I was missing whatever item I needed to cross, and almost certainly had missed out on something critical to the game if not that, so I restarted with a walkthrough.

The first major point of divergence from my first playthrough was, unsurprisingly provisioning at the store. The red herring object was the lantern, which I had suspected was the case when I found I could navigate the cave in the Island of Storms without lighting it, but this is still a troll move by Bob & Ken. Maybe they wanted to be subversive by offering a lantern, the ubiquitous inventory item of the early adventure, and make it turn out to not be needed, but if this is a joke, I don’t think it’s funny. If you buy the lantern, you’ve already lost!

The next point of divergence happened soon afterward; you are supposed to bribe a guard with the gold coin found in the alley, in exchange for a map.

This makes absolutely no sense. There’s no indication that the guard has anything that you would want except passage onto a ship, and you don’t have to bribe him for that – you already have permission from the king! And why would I have to bribe him for a map? I’m on a royal quest – why wouldn’t the king just order him to give it to me? Maybe if the guard said something like “psst… do you have a cousin named Ganymede,” then the bribe would be a reasonable action.

The “map” is just a list of directions, which will take you from the hurricane near the start to the Island of Storms, but it’s still necessary to go off-course from it once and locate the albatross while avoiding the seagull.

On the island, in the south-east corner of the jungle, there’s a pile of dust found in hole in a tree which you must take.

No verbal clues, but you must type “LOOK HOLE” here.

The walkthrough soon converged at the great canyon with my original playthrough, and the solution to get across was to pluck the dead condor and use its feathers and my wax to make wings and fly across. From here, I continued playing unguided.

Past the canyon, down a one-way passage, I ran into Pluto.

Or maybe Dracula. Not sure.

The magic dust, thrown in his direction, drove him out of my way.

A few more rooms in, I ran into the other side of the firewall.

I couldn’t figure out what to do here. I had water from the spring, but drinking it didn’t help, the parser didn’t recognize “THROW WATER” or “EXTINGUISH FIRE” or several other attempts, and I couldn’t think of how my inventory items might help, so I consulted the guide.

It was a good thing I did, because I had missed an item.

This one was on me. I was in the zone, mapping the caverns, and completely missed that this rock was mentioned in the text, and therefore important. There were reins underneath, which turned out to be the whole reason for visiting the deep end of the cave.

But that didn’t help me leave, so I kept reading the solution, which is to pour wine on yourself and then walk through the fire while wet. But why? Is there a Greek myth where someone does that? I remember a version of the Odyssey where Odysseus used especially strong wine to make something MORE flammable, but not to pass through fire unsinged.

Anyway, I was reasonably sure I had explored every inch of the island, and within it I found a bridle, reins, a rock, and some spring water, which I figured must be the potion I came here for. I left the cave through the hole near the fire, departed the island, and sailed on to Neptune’s pass.

It took me a few tries to figure out what to do, but Neptune fell when I poured the potion into the ocean, clearing the way for me to sail north.

More horrible ocean MOTLP’s awaited beyond, though not quite as awful as the one at the start, and I estimate that in this stretch, one could stumble upon the path through without mapping. In some enchanted waters, a voice in the wind warned me to beware the sirens, and whispered “E-1 N-1;” simple directions which took me around their deadly island.

I did try seeing if I could resist them by stuffing my ears with the remainder of my wax, but was told the wax was too hard. The parser did recognize my attempts to tie myself to the mast, but this act alone didn’t accomplish anything, so I kept moving on.

Beyond the siren’s island, the ocean MOTLP got pretty convoluted, and to make things worse, a whirlpool would sometimes randomly jolt the ship to a new location. But the island lay to the north, and I landed after painstakingly finishing my map of the choppy waters.

More jungle awaited on the island, a medium-sized maze, but without any twisty passages. My crew followed, and started to grumble that I hadn’t fed them. On the west side, I found a tree that I couldn’t climb, but looking at it reveals the word “SVENEESAS” carved in the trunk. Northward, I found a cage guarded by harpies, but found no way to interact with either.

To the east, I found a cave, where the cyclops lived and kept sheep.

My sword had no effect on the cyclops, so I replayed out the scene in The Odyssey. I offered him wine, and he left to gather some grapes so that I could make more of it. As he left, I sharpened a branch with my sword. When he came back, I made him more wine, until he passed out drunk. Then I blinded him with the sharpened branch, after struggling a bit with the parser to type out the exact sequence of two-word commands it expected (and getting eaten whenever I typed anything else). We then made a fire with the flint and wood, then cooked and ate his sheep, and continued on.

The jungle beyond was more maze, made painful by a dwarf in one corner who would steal all of my items, and a “clearing” with a bunch of skeleton warriors.

One of us is in the wrong myth.

They followed, for a little while, and then attacked and killed us.

Stuck again, I consulted the walkthrough, from Neptune. Turns out you are supposed to visit the siren’s island, even though a voice of the ocean warns you not to. By typing “HOLD WAX,” it becomes soft enough to put in your crews’ ears, and then if you tie yourself to the mast, you can hear the song:


The guide told me to just open the cage on the island, but that didn’t work. I tried typing “SEVENSEAS,” and the harpies scattered, allowing me to open the cage and free the man inside, who gave me a magic mallet.

The walkthrough converged with my playthrough at the clearing with the skeletons. Here, you must say “ECEELF,” the word seen on the note at the beginning of the game, which unlocks the chest found in the forest at the beginning of the game. This doesn’t work anywhere else; only here.

Inside the chest was a magic sword, which cut down the skeletons where they stood, allowing me to continue my journey.

Past the clearing was an unclimbable cliff, which yielded to the magic word SUPPELTUEL.

Beyond was the Golden Fleece, draped on a thorny tree, and Pegasus!

Approaching the tree to take the fleece was deadly. But I broke Pegasus’ chains with my magic mallet, secured my bridle and reins on Pegasus, and rode over the lethal brambles.

I snagged the Fleece and flew home.

Why did I even bring you guys ashore? All you did was follow me and eat the Cyclops’ sheep.

Interesting that Cranston Manor made me a “Level 3 adventurer” and this made me a “Level 2 adventurer.” It implies a countdown to Sierra’s next adventure, the monstrous Time Zone, which would have already been in the planning phase by 1981, and grants you the “Ultimate adventurer” title when finished. Were they planning on making that their final adventure?

For my own curiosity, I just had to see what happens when you try “KILL KING.”

That happens.

I like mythology, and I think it makes for a great adventure game theme. The Odyssey itself is like an adventure game plot, with Odysseus sailing from one location to the next, defeating deadly foes with his wits, and with each chapter getting closer and closer to his destination. Ulysses and the Golden Fleece has a decent enough Hero’s Journey framework, starting out in your homeland, a call to adventure, and a journey to a fantastic island with one excursion along the way. The colorful graphics, the raison d'etre of this series, though not exactly high art, are a step up from previous efforts, and complement the mythological theme.

That said, I hate this game. Last month, I declared The Demon’s Forge to be the worst adventure game I’ve ever played in my life, but it’s hard to say whether this tops it or not. While the parser here isn’t nearly as bad, the excess of mazes makes mapping, a fairly pleasant exercise in The Demon’s Forge, a tedious slog. And even though Ulysses’ mazes are light on twisty little passages (that horrendous ocean maze notwithstanding), you don’t know that until the map is finished, and must check every single passage in both directions just in case. It’s just a massive load of obnoxious padding in a game that’s otherwise light on puzzles.

The puzzles themselves are just as obtuse and unsolvable as in The Demon’s Forge at its worst, and the design far more spiteful, which manifested from the very first area with its store that will sell you a worthless lantern of all things. The game features no fewer than three puzzles solved by saying magic words at completely arbitrary points, three screens where your items can just get outright stolen (two in mazes where you’re probably trying to hit every screen), and several points of no return, where it is easy to have screwed yourself over by not finding an obscure item previously.

A Scott Adams-style interface which unambiguously told you which exits were viable and which objects you could interact with would have improved this game immeasurably, but wouldn’t have quite elevated it to “good” status, as none of the puzzles are particularly inspired. It just would have been significantly less annoying to plod through.

Needless to say, my GAB rating is Bad.

Time Zone would be Sierra’s next adventure on the Apple II, but I won’t bother playing it, as it falls short of whale status. For what it’s worth, I had played it some years ago, sometime in the 2000’s, but I don’t remember much about it, except that I was impressed by its massive size, and enjoyed the endgame sequence on the planet Neburon in the year 4082 A.D. But I’m sure I spent quite a bit of the playthrough just following a walkthrough too; something I’d be a lot more adverse to nowadays, and can’t help but wonder if I made an earnest effort to play now, if I wouldn’t hate it even more than I hated Ulysses. For now, though, there are hundreds of games I’m actually looking forward to playing, so I’d rather focus on those.

My Trizbort map:

Monday, November 25, 2019

Game 112: Ulysses and the Golden Fleece

Read the manual here:

Sierra’s fourth complete graphical adventure is their first to use a double-sided floppy, though this doesn’t necessarily mean a doubly long adventure, as side A is only used for booting. Once again, I used WOZ images for more assured authenticity. Although AppleWin and MAME don’t allow writing to WOZ, you can still save your game natively, as Sierra’s adventures were designed to use blanks for saving.

The manual, as with Sierra’s other Apple II adventures, mostly covers general and familiar adventure game instructions, with one page establishing the plot. You are the legendary sailor Ulysses of ancient Greece, and are tasked by your king to set sail in search of the mythic Golden Fleece, which has been protected by the gods for “decades.” Foes along the way will include the deadly sirens, cyclops, the gods Neptune and Pluto, and others, and will at some point encounter the magnificent Pegasus.

The mash-up here of the plots of The Odyssey and Jason and the Argonauts makes my inner mythologist cry a little, but it does seem to be deliberate.

For the first time in this series, there’s now a title screen, albeit a very simple, non-graphical one.

Booting into the game, we’re in Ancient Greece.

This initial area branched off to three locations; to the west and north was a town consisting of the docks, a tavern, a general store, and an alleyway connecting them. To the south lied the castle. To the east, a dense forest, a MOTLP of sorts with mostly consistent navigational rules, but just enough inconsistency to make things confusing.

At the docks, a bottle floating in the ocean had a note:

The guard responded to “TALK GUARD,” which surprised me. In later adventure games, ones I’m more familiar with, “TALK TO MAN/WOMAN” would be a universally useful command, but in earlier ones this was never recognized! All he did here was tell me that I needed permission from the king to pass, but it was something.

At the castle, the king gave me my quest, once I bowed.

Unlike Edward the Benevolent, he'll kill you for not bowing.

I went into the woods and found it mostly straightforward to map out, except for one room whose one-way exit violated the otherwise perfectly orthogonal design. Within, I found a chest which I could take but not unlock, and deeper within, a voice warned me that Neptune schemed against me, and my only hope was to find a potion on the Island of Storms.

I’d have to provision for my trip, and I had one bag of silver, one bag of gold, plus one gold coin found in the alleyway of town. The general store had a grab bag deal:

Ugh, that’s eight items, he’ll give me seven, and you just know that you need exactly seven to win the game, with no way to know ahead of time which one you can do without. Wizard and the Princess did something similar, with a travelling merchant offering four items for sale, and only one was useful, but at least there you found out within a minute whether you picked the right one or not, as the correct item was used in the very next screen. I expected no such mercy here; this seemed like a decision where the wrong choice would bite me hours later.

And all of these seemed useful. Wax to plug my ears to the siren’s lure, wine to drug the cyclops, a sword and flint for blinding the cyclops, wood, leather, and rope for ship repairs, and what kind of adventurer doesn’t bring a lantern with them?

The sword seemed the least useful – perhaps I could find something else sharp along my way, so I bought one of everything else.

I hired crew at the tavern, which included an erudite reference to Hercules, and boarded the king’s ship “Minerva,” but ran into parser difficulty, as the game did not respond to my commands such as “SET SAIL” or “LAUNCH.” A walkthrough told me to type “CAST OFF.”

The ocean beyond was a mapping nightmare, a horrendous Maze-of-Twisty-Little-Passages, with few landmarks – most of the “rooms” were just ocean, lots of twisty one-way passages, and no way to drop items for use as breadcrumbs.

Without being able to use items as breadcrumbs, I would need a different navigational technique. What I did was that upon entering a “room,” I would use saves and loads to determine which of the four directions were valid exits, and this combination served as a room signature of sorts. If a signature was unique, then I was in a new room. Each time I entered a new room, I’d search for a path to lead to a landmark from that room, which in most cases was the docks I left from. If a signature was not unique, then I’d use a known path to a landmark, and if it worked, then I could conclude the room wasn’t new. If not, and I exhausted all known paths from known rooms with the same signature, then it means I found a new room.

It took me about six hours to map out the ocean this way. As it turns out, there is an intended linear path from the docks to the Island of Storms, and once you reach the island, there’s no turning back. In the first “room” in this path, which begins to the east of the first junction, a condor flies into your mast and dies (and can be collected), and in the very next room, a hurricane is brewing. From here until the island, there are no more landmarks or events, just rooms and rooms of identical ocean. The intended path twists and turns, with some paths reversible, some one-way, but if you veer from this path at all, you’ll be taken to one of several “lost in the ocean” rooms clustered around the docks area, and not all of them are labeled in such a way that makes it clear you took a wrong turn. In one of these “lost in the ocean” rooms, an albatross drops a bag of gems into your boat, which I assume is required to finish the game. But in another one of these rooms, a giant seagull swoops down and steals everything in your inventory. Really.

The ocean beyond the island is a comparatively simple network of nodes which sails through a pass, where on the other side, Poseidon will smash your boat, as the voice deep in the woods had warned me.

The Island of Storms is yet more MOTLP, but bearable as the graphics help distinguish one room from another.  It is divided into two segments; a small jungle and beach area, with a collectible bridle in one room, and a large network of caves accessed from a mountain on the north side of the island. The cave maze is completely orthogonal, not even a single twisty passage, and most of the room descriptions even tell you which exits are viable. It also, surprisingly, wasn’t dark, did not require me to light my lantern, and was perfectly navigable when I tried dropping it outside, just to see what would happen. Was the lantern the red herring item all along?

Within the cave, there were some points of interest:
  • An open room with a bubbling spring
  • A stream which drowns you if you try to cross. You must drop all of your items first... or you could just walk around it.
  • A wall of fire
  • A hole leading back to the jungle
  • A deep fjord

I was able to cross the fjord (that’s not a fjord, Bob!) by tying the straps of leather with rope and throwing them across. Throwing the rope would simply toss it in, losing it forever.

This was a one-way trip, as the straps came loose and fell in after I crossed.

On the other side, I found a dragon.

I offered my bag of gems, which he accepted and left.

Past the dragon were more caves, eventually leading to a canyon which I couldn’t figure out how to cross.

Stuck, I’m calling it a day, and giving it another try tomorrow.

My Trizbort map so far:

Friday, November 22, 2019

Ahab GABs about 1979-1980

Continuing my initial GAB post, here is my retrospective GAB ratings for the whales of 1979-1980 and their ancestors.

My first harpoons

Star Raiders is, far and away the best pre-1980 game I’ve ever played. An early title for the Atari computer line, this was a next-gen title compared to the VCS offerings, with exciting arcade-like action and gameplay depth beyond any arcade game of the day. Star Raiders is a good game, and I award it my first harpoon.

Zork I, released for the PDP-11, TRS-80, and Apple II in 1980, also gets a harpoon. I praised it enough in my posts about it, so this should go without saying - it's such a huge step up from Colossal Cave Adventure that it makes non-Infocom adventures look embarrassing, and for years.

Four ways to follow-up Colossal Cave Adventure

It's hard to appreciate now just how big of an impact Colossal Cave Adventure made in its heyday. I only ranked it Average, but that was with the knowledge of how much better such games would get in relatively little time.

Among the games I played for the 1979 and 1980 phases of Data Driven Gamer were multiple titles that had been directly influenced by Colossal Cave, and without any known influence from each other. Each of the four developers had a distinct approach.

The additive approach

When four MIT students crafted Zork for the PDP-10 from 1977 to 1979, they used Colossal Cave as a launching point and vastly expanded on the concept, improving the parser, the writing, the puzzles, and the worldbuilding. They weren't even considering what it would take to make it run on personal computers until later. It is unquestioningly a Good game, if unwieldy due to its extreme size. By my own rules, I can’t give it a harpoon as it is not a whale, but I’d consider it otherwise.

The subtractive approach

Scott Adams, whose 1978 Adventureland I rated favorably, was inspired by Colossal Cave to create something similar, but stripped down to accommodate the typically configured computers of his day. His 1979 title Mission Impossible ran on the same engine and specs, has a reputation for being the worst of the Scott Adams adventures, and it’s the worst of the three that I’ve played, but I didn’t find it intolerable. It gets some points for some then-innovative storytelling techniques and signposting, for exploring narrative beyond the simple treasure hunt, and like all Scott Adams adventures it’s short enough to not overstay its welcome. But the clever moments don’t make up for a dearth of content, and a completely linear solution sequence, which is not a good thing when one illogical puzzle can bring your progress to a halt. It’s not bad enough to offend, but not interesting enough to rank better than Below Average.

The graphical approach

Ken & Roberta Williams had played Colossal Cave and felt it needed graphics instead of lengthy prose. Of the three High-Res Adventures they released for the Apple II in 1980, The Wizard and the Princess is the longest and the best, but still only Average – it needed to have better puzzles for me to consider it in the same league as Adventureland. It’s also the one with the strongest resemblance in structure to their famous King’s Quest series, even taking place in the same universe as established by KQ5.

The other Williams' adventures of 1980, Mystery House and Mission: Asteroid are, frankly, Bad. Mystery House is inadequate as both a mystery and as an adventure, which would ordinarily put it at Below Average, but the irritations resulting from the parser and the struggle in just navigating the house pushed it over the edge. Mission: Asteroid is somehow even more badly polished than Mystery House, despite having very easy puzzles. They’re not the worst adventure games I ever played, and they’re not without redeeming values, but the annoyances are still their defining features.

The cross-genre approach

Rogue, which I played in as close to its original 1980 form as is likely possible today, isn't exactly a game one would think of as an adventure, being more easily compared to CRPGs, but it was nonetheless inspired by Colossal Cave, if for the thematic and exploration elements and if not for any mechanics, and there's no direct evidence that the PLATO CRPGs did anything to inform it despite some strong similarities to the dnd lineage. I rate it Good for its unprecedented depth and complexity, but with the caveat that you should not play it expecting to win. For the sake of completion, I did win, but only through a hefty dose of savescumming, and this lessened my enjoyment. 

Lord British’s juvenilia

Richard Garriott’s DND-1 is a complete mess. “Unplayable” is an often abused word, but if it can be applied anywhere, it applies here. Monsters kill you with endless hits, entire inventories vanish when you equip things or just because, monsters sometimes fail to spawn leaving the dungeon devoid of life, spells do nothing, invalid input can crash the game, etc. We may never know what the original PDP-11 version actually played like – Slashie’s web port claims to be authentic, but there’s no way to know which bugs are true to the original and which were introduced in the conversion process. In the end, this is the only way of playing DND-1 I know of, and it is a Bad game.

Akalabeth, though playable, is also a Bad game if played on the highest difficulty as I did. I’d be less harsh on it if Garriott had playtested it and capped the difficulty at whatever level provided a reasonable challenge, but the game encourages you to beat the hardest difficulty, and provides no tools for accomplishing this, except for ones that can only be used effectively by abusing the RNG, namely the Lizard Man transformation spell.

More mainframe madness

Lunar, which I rewrote in VB.Net finding no other way to play its original FOCAL-69 version, is ultimately a semi-interesting math problem that offers no replay value once the problem is solved and optimized. Average.

Star Trek, another game that took some reconstructive code surgery before I could run it, appears deep for the era, but really isn’t. Figuring out how to play was kind of fun, but once I understood how to reliably find and kill Klingons the challenge and replay value was gone. Average at best.

Arcades in the console age

Of the nine arcade games I played, five rank Good, all whales. Galaxian is a good game following in the footsteps of Space Invaders. Asteroids plays well on MAME, and seeing it in action on a real vector monitor made me love it even more, and wish MAME would try a little harder to replicate that look. Missile Command is relentlessly bleak and difficult, but that’s the point. Berzerk and Wizard of Wor are fun, mindless shooters, though quite different from one another despite strong superficial similarities.

Battlezone is Above Average. Points given for the presentation and performance. Points docked for the high degree of luck (or extreme devotion to identifying its patterns) involved.

Atari’s Lunar Lander is more replayable than its FOCAL predecessor thanks to an action focus and randomness, but without any real interaction with the environment, the appeal of replays is still limited. Average.

Namco’s Gee Bee is functional but a bit boring. Breakout was better. Atari’s Video Pinball, though it has advanced physics for its times, suffers from a boring table layout, typical of the EM tables of the day, and merely emulates such tables rather than do anything interesting with its video game configuration. Both rank Below Average.

VCS, round two

Of the four Atari VCS games that I played, Space Invaders and Adventure were the best. Space Invaders is a good conversion, despite having an absurd 112 gameplay modes, most of them poor. The simultaneous two-player modes are easily the best of them, and the only reason to play this when the arcade original is available. Adventure is often considered the best game on the VCS. I’m not sure that I agree, but I still like it. Both games rank Good.

I can only rank Carol Shaw’s two VCS games Average, despite some impressive technical achievements given what little she had to work with. Polo is still as good as launch title Combat at its best, more of its modes are worth playing, and there’s an actual AI to play against, even if it’s not all that competent. 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe is impressive for its strong AI, but there’s only so much to say about the gameplay.

I'm still looking for feedback on this rating system, as I just started using it. I'll have another digest ratings post for the games of 1981, but moving forward I'll probably just rate these games in the initial posts.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Games 110-111: The Cranston Manor Adventure & Cranston Manor

The next whale is Sierra’s High-Res Adventure #4: Ulysses and the Golden Fleece, but it would feel strange to play that and skip #3: Cranston Manor, which itself is a graphical remake of an obscure text adventure called The Cranston Manor Adventure, licensed by Sierra but without credit to its original author Larry Ledden.

A scan of a vintage ad for software by Artworx hosted at Atarimania shows the original game had versions for Atari, North Star, and CP/M computers. It’s a moot point to this project on which is Ledden’s original, as only the Atari version is readily available for emulation, and according to Atarimania, it’s among the rarest games on the system.

Game 110: The Cranston Manor Adventure

Read the manual here:

The manual sets up the premise as another treasure hunt game, a “fantasy exploration simulation.” You remotely-control an “android” in a small town, and your goal is to loot the abandoned Cranston Manor for its 16 treasures. It warns us that navigation can include intercardinal directions, that room descriptions don’t always clearly indicate exists, and that there is a both a maze and cavern area where leaving EAST doesn’t always ensure you’ll enter the next room from the WEST. Oh joy.

Unusually, the manual also has a complete walkthrough, but each section is printed backwards to prevent unintentional spoiling.

Booting up the game, there are instructions, and then we are taken to the west end of Main Street.

One thing I appreciate here is the use of mixed-case font. Apple ][ computers of the time didn’t support this with system fonts, but Atari computers did, and after so many AppleSoft BASIC games typed in all upper-case, it’s a relief to once again play a game with the improved readability that standard case provides.

I began as I always do, by Trizborting. The need to exhaustively search every possible room exit slowed things down a lot, though, and pretty soon I found out a nasty surprise; the droid’s battery is only good for about 65 moves. It complains that it needs a rest sometime about 50 moves in, but every place where I tried to rest, it short-circuited because it was “too cold and too damp.”

The street network outside Cranston Manor is fairly sprawling too, with about 25 locations including multiple street intersections, lots of one-way roads leading to one of two corn fields which can only be exited in one direction, and a boulevard which cuts through the manor. The main points of interest, apart from the manor’s gates and wall corners, are an abandoned store with a free lantern, and a junkyard with a crowbar lying around. Mapping it out took many tries, with my droid only able to explore so much before running out of juice!

A tree overlooking the manor provided a preview of things to come:

I pried open the gate to Cranston Manor, and the adventure began in earnest.

A hedge maze to the east, this game’s MOTLP, was kind enough to distinguish the rooms by marking their exits in the room descriptions, but also unkind enough to give three of them the exact same room description, which led me to think they were the same room until it dawned in on me that they weren’t. And with the robot’s battery life being what it was, this was a deadly prank. The hedge maze turned out to be a diversion, leading to a driveway which could also be reached by walking around the maze, but a gazebo in the middle had a bag of jewelry lying inside.

A garage at the end of the driveway had an attic with a bag of coins inside, which I only discovered because I had been exhaustively exploring each direction of every room. Through the garage, I entered the manor, and was finally able to rest my tired droid.

I Trizborted out the sprawling, heavily interconnected manor. There weren’t a lot of obvious puzzle rooms, but there were many loose treasures, and I noted a few interesting features:
  • Numerous suits of black armor lining the halls on the ground floor
  • Two treasures – a pair of silver candlesticks and a box of rare tea, which are guarded by the suits of armor
  • A library with a set of footprints leading into the east wall, but no obvious interactive objects which could open the ostensibly secret door
  • A cistern room with a nonfunctioning pump, connected to a featureless underground stone room
  • A secret room connecting the servants’ quarters to the master bedroom, accessible by pulling a torch on either side of it
  • A bridal suite on the upper floor which, when entered, locks the door behind, the only way out a balcony from which a tree may be jumped to
  • An empty closet with a box secured to the wall, with no apparent way to interact
  • A red-eyed cat fountain
  • An observatory with a book stating “Enter the lookout with ‘EMASES’”
  • A low room with a mouse running around it
  • A number of rooms with holes in the ceiling described as too high to reach

Beneath the manor was a large underground network of caverns, heavily reminiscent of Colossal Cave Adventure.

Gee, these room descriptions are familiar.

The cavern area is dark and changes the screen’s colors to signify this, and requires the lantern to navigate safely. A number of more fantastic elements are found in this region too, such as a room with phosphorescent mushrooms, an ice cavern, and then there’s this room:

But most annoyingly of all, is a tin soldier that patrols a good number of the rooms and randomly shoots you dead sometimes.

This. Got. Really. Annoying!

Between the non-orthogonal, often non-Euclidean navigation, the incomplete room descriptions, the limited lantern time, the fact that resting underground is unsafe, and that damned soldier that kept popping me while mapping, the underground region took much longer than the rest of the map, but I eventually charted it, taking note of some possible puzzle areas:
  • A subway station with a coin-operated pass machine
  • A concrete corridor leading to a closed blast door, with a keycard reader to the side
  • A gold nugget, which while possessed, teleports you back to the gold mine if you try to leave the underground region
  • A nonoperational Lift Chamber

I restarted and replayed, making an effort to hit every single room of the manor and underground, as the game keeps track of percentage explored. The underground took multiple sojourns thanks to the lantern’s limited batteries, and the tin soldier proved annoying as ever, but thankfully recharges whenever you rest. I scooped up every inventory item I could, using the picture room in the front of the manor as a stash and base of operations.

I also connected some dots. Saying “EMASES” in the library opens the hidden passageway there and leads to a lookout tower containing a golden spyglass. Underground, the pass machine can be operated with a silver coin from the garage’s attic, and the pass opens the blast door to an alarmingly guarded vault.

But could this be a clue to getting those horrible tin soldiers out of my hair?

I couldn’t find a way to interact with the computer or cable, but weirdly, I could just take the sphere and leave.
My tour of the mansion gave me these items:
  • Crowbar
  • Plastic subway pass
  • Lantern
  • Lookout book
  • Iron pot
  • Cheese curds
  • Wooden chair
  • Wooden cage
  • Inflatable plastic raft
  • Screwdriver

And these valuables:
  • Bag of jewelry
  • Bag of silver coins
  • Gold eggs
  • Gold spyglass
  • Bars of gold
  • Platinum sphere
  • Gold pendant
  • Pearl ring
  • Emerald necklace
  • Jade figurine

That’s ten out of 16 treasures, and I knew where to find three more; the silver candlesticks, rare tea, and gold nugget, I just didn’t yet know how to retrieve them from their locations. The game indicated I had explored 92% of the manor.

The cheese curds and cage let me catch the mouse in the low room. The cat statue seemed like the obvious place to use a mouse, but I couldn’t figure out what to do there. The chair allowed me to reach a ceiling hole in the caverns that was just out of my reach, but it didn’t lead anywhere new.

Stuck, I consulted the manual-walkthrough on what to do with the cat fountain. The mouse isn’t needed here; you must inflate the raft, paddle it into the fountain, and use the screwdriver to pry out the eyes, which are actually rubies.

One treasure ahead but still stuck, the manual-walkthrough next informed me that the smoking room had a desk I missed. Inside was a key. This opened a closet in another room, containing a rope, which I climbed to a hidden stack of cash.

Stuck again, the walkthrough advised me that by catching and releasing the mouse, I could frighten away the suits of armor and take the treasures they guarded.

Alrighty then. Two more treasures for the collection, and two to go – the gold nugget, and one more unknown.

The walkthrough next told me that a fireplace in the organ room on the first floor could be entered. I did so, and inside found a dagger, a crystal triangle, and a white pill. The triangle unlocked a door to the underground – not immediately useful to me, because I had already been on the other side of it, but this gave me another way to enter this region. The white pill was fatal to ingest. The dagger allowed me to fight the tin soldiers… unsuccessfully.

Bringing a knife to a gunfight

The walkthrough section on the cistern explained that the pump must be primed by carrying water from the cat fountain in the iron pot. After doing this, I started the pump. It filled the cistern, and a bottle full of diamonds rose to the top. Fifteen treasures, only the gold nugget was left.

The walkthrough section on the gold nugget told me how to retrieve it. You bring the gold nugget to the lift room and type “LIFT NUGGET.” This transports it to the secret room.

I had all 16 treasures, but some unsolved mysteries remained, so I consulted the rest of the walkthrough, and learned two last things.

First, the pink bull can be dealt with by turning off the lantern for one turn. I had dealt with him by just exiting to the east into the gold mine, which worked out fine for me.

Second, apparently I wasn’t supposed to just be able to take the platinum sphere from the vault. The walkthrough says that the security system will fry you, but this didn’t happen to me. The intended solution is to take a pot full of water and throw it on the computer, which will not only deactivate the security system, but disable the tin soldiers too. I did this for good measure.

Eat it, you flat, clanking, goose-stepping, pot-shotting pewter punks!

I never did figure out what the pill or dagger were used for, but with all 16 treasures gathered, I carried them out of the mansion eight at a time, and left Main St. to the west.

Did this actually get a release?

The game claimed that I had explored 96% of the mansion, implying a few rooms were left undiscovered, but I was content to move on.

The Cranston Manor Adventure is very much in the style of Colossal Cave Adventure, even more so than any other personal computer game I’ve played yet. It’s roughly the same size, room descriptions are about as verbose, there’s no plot – you’re just here to explore and loot the mansion and caverns below, and no puzzle is any more mechanically complex than a lock-and-key, though solutions can be obscure at times. The cavern region practically plagiarizes Adventure, with several room descriptions lifted wholesale, and even a puzzle involving a golden nugget which can’t be taken out of the region the same way that you went in, though the solution is different. The manor region is even larger and more interconnected, and the puzzles, though not complex, are overall more clever than those in Adventure, and while there are quite a few twisting and turning passages, it’s overall much less egregious, and the map is fairly orthogonal and logically laid out.

But many of the annoyances in Adventure are present here. Once again, you can’t rely on room descriptions to tell you where the exits are, and to cope I had to obsessively type N/E/S/W/NW/NE/SW/SE/U/D in every single room; a problem that Scott Adams had solved years earlier. And while Cranston Manor shows some mercy by setting much of the game above ground where the lantern can be recharged, it undoes that mercy by giving the player itself limited energy, which exhausts very quickly when searching for exits. And while Adventure had its nuisance dwarves which kept showing up and randomly killing me, Cranston Manor’s tin soldiers were so much worse.

It’s interesting that Sierra chose this game to remake graphically in their High-Res Adventure series. Their earliest adventures, for all their faults, never fell neatly into that treasure hunt mold which inspired them. In their previous titles, there was a plot, and you had a goal – go to a spooky mansion and solve a murder mystery, go to a fantasy land and save the princess from the evil wizard, go to space and save the world from the asteroid, go to discount Las Vegas and seduce chicks. Perhaps they wanted one traditional treasure hunt-style game for their catalog.

My Trizbort map:

Game 111: Cranston Manor

Read the manual here:

The manual provides a bit of backstory not seen in the original game:

Old man Cranston trusted no one. He accumulated his immense wealth through questionable means. Before being dragged to his grave by cancer, he hid his treasures on his estate. Now it is suspected he still haunts the mansion and grounds guarding his treasure.

You are in the deserted town of Coarsegold, which was strangled to death through old man Cranston's greed and plotting. You are determined to enter Cranston Manor, find the treasures and put them outside the gates so they can be used to rejuvinate Coarsegold.

You have a list of the 16 treasures old man Cranston stole and hid, but it is not legible!

I played with a WOZ image, and used my old map as a guideline, adjusting/simplifying the layout as needed.

As with Sierra’s other High-Res Adventures, it boots right into the game, no title screen or anything.

Right off the bat, I found that Cranston Manor, as with Sierra’s previous adventures, no longer recognized intercardinal directions, and thanked heaven for it. The starting area was also simplified, and wouldn’t let me walk into the useless cornfields. Unfortunately the oak tree overlooking the estate is also removed, and therefore there’s no bird’s-eye view of the manor as in the original.

You also don’t need to rest now, which was a huge inconvenience in the original, now alleviated.

Inside the gate, the driveways and paths around the manor are also simplified, and the hedge maze is so much simpler – it is essentially a 3x3 grid with perfectly orthogonal passages between its nodes, plus two entrance nodes to the east and west of it.

The cat fountain now kills you if you try to swim in it.

The sign, in both versions, says “DON’T FEED [THE] PIRAHNA.”

The graphics in the garage interior make it much more obvious that you can go up to reach an attic.

The suits of armor dotted around the manor’s first floor look more like space suits than armor.

This time, they don’t let you take ANYTHING, except for the cheese in the kitchen, and cage in atrium. You have to catch the mouse before you can accomplish much inside, and then drop it in any room where you want to interact with stuff.

Playing the organ in now opens the secret fireplace passage.

There’s no pill in the room beyond, this time.

There’s also no limit on inventory items, which is a huge convenience since your goal is literally to collect all of the treasures in the manor.

The cistern room. The cistern looks pretty shallow, why do I have to pump water in again?

In the caverns, the tin soldiers seem to patrol fewer rooms and shoot less often. They’re still pains in the ass, and attacking them with the dagger still doesn’t work.

The pink bull puzzle has been made nonsensical.

In The Cranston Manor Adventure, the intended solution, which I didn’t discover, but accidentally circumvented just by walking away, is to turn off the lantern, which causes the bull to calm down and leave. There is a clue for this; some scratches in the wall in the room before by the bull’s last victim state that the beast smashed his lantern, suggesting that the bull, who lives in darkness, is enraged by light.

Now, the scratches just say “THE BEAST GOT ME I CAN’T GO ON.” Worse, the solution here, which can’t be circumvented, is to turn off the lantern and then walk away. Normally, walking in the dark is fatal, and there’s no indication that this room is an exception.

The mushrooms, which served no purpose in the original, can’t be taken here.

As if anything else is?

The security device in the computer room works this time.

The clue for entering the lookout tower is found in a book right inside the library where it’s needed.

To win, after gathering all of the treasures, you must unlock the front gate and leave. The game won’t end if you leave the same way you came, through the rusty side gate.

Between these two versions, I think I enjoyed the text-only original better, but that could easily be because I had played it first, and Sierra’s version didn’t offer anything new except streamlining and mediocre graphics. There are some really big annoyances that Sierra’s remake fixed or alleviated, especially the inventory limit and the need to constantly rest. The somewhat simplified map is much less of a pain to chart, but also felt less interesting. And as with Sierra’s previous graphical adventures, the graphics are really not very good, and came at the expense of verbosity, and while the writing in The Cranston Manor Adventure wasn’t exactly mind-blowing, it still wasn’t a good trade to lose it.

Next post, I’m back on track to hunting whales, by playing High-Res Adventure #4: Ulysses and the Golden Fleece.

My Trizbort map:

Monday, November 18, 2019

Game 109: Softporn Adventure

Read the manual here:

There’s a WOZ copy available, but I ran into some crashes and freezes. After switching to a 4am crack DSK copy, my experience wasn’t exactly trouble-free, but I managed to reach the end.

Can’t say I’ve really been looking forward to this one. I know of this game only because it’s been cited as the inspiration behind Leisure Suit Larry, which I consider to be Sierra’s first unequivocally good adventure. Quite some time ago, I briefly played a DOS port that came with the Leisure Suit Larry collection, and found it to be familiar, but worse in every way. The locations, characters, items, and puzzles, from what I saw, were exactly as I remembered them, but with banal, flavorless writing, devoid of any character or humor, and with the same parser woes as early Sierra at its worst. If I didn’t know otherwise, I would have thought this game was poorly imitating LSL!

Compare this dialog:

To this:

I’ll grant that the prose here is fairly vivid in describing the grimy hallway, not a patch on Infocom, but who was? But the line “THE GUY GIVES ME A TV CONTROLLER!!” evokes an image of a bored teenager remaking LSL in BASIC, copying the puzzles but not the form, character, or humor. I know designer Chuck Benton wasn’t pressed for space here as Scott Adams and his necessarily terse prose was; the disk had a capacity of 140KB, and he used a bit over half of it.

Speaking of Scott Adams, I’d say there’s a zero percent chance that the divided screen layout here wasn’t following the lead of his Adventureland engine.

The game was originally produced without Sierra’s involvement, self-published by Benton as “Blue Sky Software.” Sierra’s edition probably doesn’t change anything; all of the copies floating around credit Blue Sky Software rather than On-Line Systems, but the manual is a bit higher quality, and features that infamous cover art with Roberta Williams and two other women.

In either version, the manual sets the stage – it’s the year 2020, the world is on fire, the economy is in the gutter, and discount sin cities have popped up around the country, offering escape and debauchery to stressed-out white collar stiffs such as you. You’re visiting Lost Vagueness for the night with some goals – have some depraved fun, seduce three women, and survive!

As the game was originally released for the Apple II, I played that version. I started off as I always do – with Trizborting.

The starting location is a sleazy bar, with the hallway, and a bathroom with a dangerous looking toilet. The graffiti on the wall revealed some computer puns and a password:

I tried flushing the toilet just to see what would happen. It did warn me that the toilet “looked dangerous.”

Monty Hall sure raised the stakes!

I picked door 1, and got immediately dumped to a DOS prompt. I’m guessing that was the door to hell. A soft-reset restarted the game.
I went through the LSL motions from memory. Bought a whiskey, traded it for a remote control, collected some flowers and a ring from the hallway and bathroom, and then gave the pimp the password to get in. One thing found in the hallway not in LSL was a newspaper, the “Gambler’s Gazette,” telling me that the Adventurer’s Hotel offers Blackjack and slot machines, which can be played by typing “PLAY 21” or “PLAY SLOTS.” The businessman in the hallway can’t be talked to; in typical style of the adventures of the era it just says “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO TALK SOMETHING!”, but looking at him reveals that “HE LOOKS LIKE A WHISKEY DRINKER.”

In the backroom, there was a pimp and a TV, but here was a first divergence from LSL; I couldn’t turn the TV on. The pimp just wouldn’t allow it.

Outside, you can HAIL TAXI to reach the game’s other areas; the casino and disco. Here, the taxi doesn’t seem to cost anything. I continued mapping while going through the LSL playthrough, taking note of things that were different in Softporn Adventure.

The pharmacy nearby the disco shoots you dead if you “get” stuff rather than “buy” it.

They also don’t sell wine, as far as I can tell, and the lad’s mag recommends picking up women by dancing and showering them with gifts.

The famous condom-shaming gag.

The casino has a harsh policy towards insolvency – as you enter, a big loser at the slots is carted off and exterminated for vagrancy. An influence on Space Quest 1, perhaps?

A plant in the hotel’s lobby conceals a secret entrance to a magic garden, complete with magic mushrooms.

The slots seem to offer slightly favorable odds, but are a slow way to make money.

Blackjack, on the other hand, lets you double your money with a win, but the odds of multiple consecutive wins are crummy, and if you wager everything and lose, you die. I went with slots, as you can be nearly assured your funds will go up as you keep playing it, without needing to savescum.

After visiting the casino to get money and the disco/pharmacy area to get a rubber (and grilled about contraceptive preferences), I returned to the bar backroom to put them both to good use. The pimp took my money as I went upstairs.

Softporn Adventure can be fairer than LSL sometimes, e.g. this caution sign.

Having “scored” once, I went to the disco with the flowers, ring, and the hooker’s candy.

A bit livelier than LSL’s dead disco scene.

Looking at the available disco girl

I gave the nameless conquest here the candy, flowers, hit the dance floor, and gave her the ring, and then my game crashed.

Reloading, I tried again, this time dancing before giving any gifts, and things proceeded as normal.

A telephone booth in the disco provided a bit more tomfoolery.

In exchange for the wine, the bum outside the disco gave me a knife and spun a yarn.

Then I got killed in a way that wasn’t signposted.

Reloading, I ditched the wine, eloped with the disco girl, and went back to the hotel, where the honeymoon suite was open. From the balcony, I engaged in some voyeurism:

Disco girl wanted some wine, but I already knew bringing it from the disco wasn’t safe. The radio on the balcony played an ad for liquor delivery, so I ordered from the casino, and came back to a kinky surprise (not really).

So I cut the rope with the bum’s knife, somehow. Unlike in LSL, I still had my money. I went back to the bar, and back to the pimp, who wouldn’t let me go back upstairs, but allowed me to turn on the TV this time. Channel-flipping through a bunch of dumb TV parodies eventually landed on an X-rated film “Deep Nostril” (ew), which distracted him and let me go upstairs. There I used the rope to secure myself to the hooker’s balcony and break into an apartment window, where I snatched some pills. Climbing down the fire escape dropped me into a smelly dumpster, where I found an apple core. No homeless Steve Jobs selling apples from a barrel in this version.

I also found that you can try to stab the pimp, but it doesn’t end well for you.

Back at the casino, I knew from LSL that I was supposed to give the pills to the voluptuous blonde at the hotel desk, but couldn’t find any ingame clues to this, so I just did it.

The unguarded elevator took me to the penthouse. There, I found a kitchen, with a cabinet I could reach by climbing a stool, containing a pitcher, which I filled with water from the sink. Upstairs was a closet with an inflatable doll, which I dutifully used to no obvious purpose. On the porch was a Jacuzzi and a ringing phone, the payoff of that brick joke from awhile back.


A girl named “Eve” (the only named character in the game!) allowed me into the Jacuzzi with her, but the game didn’t allow any interactions other than looking. I knew I had to give her an apple, and unsurprisingly, my apple core from the trash wasn’t good enough. Here, for the first and only time, I had to consult a guide.

To get the apple, you have to go into the magic garden at the hotel, plant seeds from the apple core, then water them, and an apple tree sprouts.

So I went back to Eve, gave her the apple, and things got biblical.

And that’s the end of the game.

I guess I found this more tolerable than I expected – I’d say it’s about on par with the Scott Adams adventures. The two-word parser was mostly cooperative, the game design is fairer than the Sierra games of the time with few dead-ends or ways to die without warning, and apart from the endgame the puzzles are completely reasonable, if on the easy side. But the writing is uneven, the humor is weak, and even without comparisons to Leisure Suit Larry – something I’m not sure I can completely avoid on a subconscious level – it just feels like it comes up short of its own ambitions, whatever those are.

Before Leisure Suit Larry, Sierra’s Japan-localization partner StarCraft, Inc, who previously remade Mystery House with improved graphics, remade this game as Las Vegas. This version, taking advantage of Japanese computers’ higher-resolution displays, features some really good artwork. Mobygames has a gallery, but it isn’t exactly SFW:

To wrap things up, here’s a text dump of every use of the word “kinky” in the game:







THAT GIVES ME AN IDEA!................

My trizbort map:

Most popular posts