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:

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