Saturday, December 2, 2023

Game 389: Mindshadow

Read the manual here:

In 1985, Activision is a much bigger name than Interplay.


Ah, Interplay. The long troubled publisher of famous PC classics like Descent, Fallout, and Freespace, and some not-so-classic games like Boogerman and Clay Fighter, their early era as a third party developer for big-name publishers like Activision and Electronic Arts is almost uncharted territory for me, and one of the backlogs that I'm most excited to explore.

Mindshadow, a text adventure that loosely adapts the plot of The Bourne Identity, is formally their first original product as a software house, though informally I consider founder Brian Fargo's The Demon's Forge to be a predecessor.

Based on some discussions I had with former Interplay employees David Lowery and Rebecca Heineman, I believe that even though Mindshadow's earliest release was on the Commodore 64, it had been developed first on the Apple II, and ported from that to C64, Atari, and PC. An enhanced Amiga port came later in 1985 and was converted to Atari ST. I believe that for the most part, Interplay's early games followed the same process, using Apple II as the 8-bit master platform and Amiga as the 16-bit one, at least until becoming a PC-focused developer in the 90's. In short, I'm playing the Apple II version of this game, as I consider it most likely to be the original version of it and most of Interplay's early games.


The first thing I did was launch the "living tutorial," which opened up a slide-show presentation that teaches the player the basics on how to play adventure games. And honestly, it's a pretty solid and well-written primer! Even veteran text adventurers, all too familiar with the frustration of playing find-the-verb, getting useless "you can't do that" prompts to what seemed like logical actions, and wondering just how you were supposed to know a scene had interactive objects X, Y, and Z in it, might appreciate some of the guidance here. Compared to Adventureland, which offers a bare-bones "command me with 2-word sentences" directive, and the nearly useless advice to "try another word if I don't understand," this tutorial is generously informative, with a better overview of its parser and mapping mechanics than most paper manuals of the era do.

Mindshadow's paper manual isn't anything special in comparison, offering few further substantial gameplay instructions, and not much backstory either - you're stranded on a beach with amnesia and have to figure out your own identity before the game's objective can be revealed. Apart from standard text adventure how-to, the manual also provides some shortcut keys, explains that a "HELP CONDOR" command will grant you context-sensitive hints from the almighty condor, and that a "THINK" command may be used to reflect on certain material clues and unlock your memories.

Graphics draw pretty fast, but you can still see the line rendering process.

I began Trizborting - I went north to the hut, kept going and saw a sign warning me of quicksand. Soon enough, I found the quicksand.

Can't say I wasn't warned!

And over the next half hour, I wound up seeing that death scene a lot. The southern part of the island only has about six rooms to map out, but past the warning sign is an early MOTLP, where every room looks like this:

Mercifully, navigation is orthogonal. North, east, west, and south are your only options, and heading south from a node that you went north to enter takes you back to where you came from. You don't even need inventory breadcrumbs to map this place out. Unmercifully, there are twelve deadly quicksand pits in this maze, and more steps lead you into one than not.

There was another beach at the end of the maze:

Some of Mindshadow's scenes are animated.

No major epiphanies here - just a bottle of cheap rum sitting in a steamer trunk.

Going back to the other side of the forest, I entered the hut, but couldn't figure out anything to do here.

Eastward, a washed-up boat could be stripped for scrap steel, but the wood is useless.

Further east, the jungle dead-ended, but I picked up a vine.

The vine is used to descend a cliff southward.

The text description suggested to me that we're meant to light a fire here, and an "abrasive" rock implied flint. I thought the hut might be a source of straw - it indeed was. But straw couldn't sustain a fire; I'd need some fuel.

Oh, but don't think you can leave the cave carrying all the stuff you brought into it!

Around this point, I learned that saving doesn't work with the WOZ copy of the game I had been playing. I'm not sure if you're supposed to format a disk, or if it's an issue with write-protection, or something else. At least you can use emulator quicksaves.

Stuck for the first time, I summoned the condor, who gave me a not-too-subtle hint to try digging. This uncovered a map.

A little late for that now.

Still stuck, I summoned him again.

Back to the beach, I guess.

Why would you think of doing that on your own?

Maybe I needed to start a fire here? Bringing the stuff back from the cave, two items at a time, I did, summoning the captain.

Obviously the rum is your ticket.


Map of the island:


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