Reviews by jgerrie

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The Secret of Flagstone Manor, by Brian J. Betts
Elegantly Written BASIC Text Adventure, February 16, 2020
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

The Secret of Flagstone Manor by Brian Betts of Mountain Valley Software is reportedly Australia's first text adventure from 1981. Or so reports Renga in Blue.

Renga in Blue suggested that the game had similarities Scott Adams early games, but I'm pretty sure it's not like the Adventureland parser. The BASIC version of that program is very complex (and slow) and uses lots of numeric arrays, probably because it is meant to be a generalized "engine" for multiple adventures. This one uses a more standard and simple cascade of IF/THENs to parse input for different verbs. It also doesn't read its locations into an array. There are only 18. So it just uses a sequence of IFs to print specific room info. Lot's of ELSE statements used that I had to disentangle. I'd say this game does not have a parser engine at its core. It just applies some common approaches to programing adventures that had developed from 1979-1981.

On the whole it is a very well debugged, basically elegantly written, BASIC text adventure program. Although the room count is small it is fairly complex. There is a timer aspect that can result in death, but it is basically fair. The puzzles make sense and there is a pretty interesting dynamic HELP command. So don't just accept the first responses of "LOOK AROUND" from that command. They eventually do change according to progress and context. The other sources of death are also fair, and there are clues to help avoid them too.


The Night of the Vampire Bunnies, by Jason Dyer

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A Late Classic, February 12, 2020
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

There is a text adventure program that I have been wanting to complete for a long time. It's by Jason Dyer. The name of the game, "The Night of the Vampire Bunnies" is what intrigued me.

The game has the feel of being a creation of someone deeply inspired by the the classic early 80's BASIC games but who was creating games in the later part of the 80s. Bunnies is interesting because it plays like an early Greg Hassett, Scott Adams or Tim Hartnell adventure.

That being said, the original GWBASIC version has a parser that aims to go beyond simple two-word input. It is clear that Jason did not simply use a standard existing two-word parser example program like "Tower of Mystery" from Compute's Guide to Text Adventures (1984). He created his own unique system for parsing command input. He had a complex system for removing extra article words like THE and ON and TO. He has ways of breaking the sentences input not just into VERB NOUN, but also supplemental words. I commend the author for the ambition to have his players type in more complete English sentences and then to try to parse the input into coherent instructions that could be handled by the program.

This ambition appears to have bitten in the buttocks when it came to the reception of his program in more recent years. The reviews found here and other places on the Net tend to complain about its departure from the standards of two word VERB-NOUN parsing. Some of the puzzles involved having to figure out 4 word command sequences. (Spoiler - click to show)For example JUMP OVER THE RIVER rather than JUMP RIVER. To be fair, in the context of 80s hobby BASIC programming, this convention was not sacrosanct.

It was with a little regret that I had to strip this unique parsing engine and put in its place an extremely simple 2-word parser in order to port the program to my little 8-bit home computer system.

I now have a working version of "The Night of the Vampire Bunnies." I spiffed up the title page a little by adding an ASCII text graphic of a Vampire Bunny. I also added some screen flickering using to evoke lightning flashes on the title screen, which I think is in keeping with the B-horror movie feel Jason was attempting to evoke (along with Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail).

I have played it through to the end. It is whimsical and atmospheric. I enjoyed playing it.


The Vespozian Affair, by Keith Campbell
Lost Classic 8-Bit Space Adventure, March 2, 2019
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

The Basic source code from the Sinclair Spectrum that I worked from to port this game to the TRS-80 MC-10 was very buggy and unwinnable. I used a scan from The Computer & Video Games Year Book (1984) of the original Dragon 32 version to help with the debugging. I got the impression this version might be unwinnable too. If that's the case, the MC-10 version might be the only working version available online.

There is a BBC micro version you can play online. I tried it using a playthrough I developed and discovered that it did not seem to recognize the command PUSH BUTTON in the hanger, which which would prevent the possibility of winning. There were also a number of minor annoying but non-catastrophic bugs shared with the Speccy version. For example, despite there being a REMOVE command, you can drop wearable items while wearing them, which results in them being listed as being (WORN) even after they are dropped. The interactions with the captain and the spy in the captain's cabin also don't work.

All the bugs and typos are probably why this program has no playthrough online and why it seems to be "missing" from so many games collections for various machines (See this thread: https://stardot.org.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?t=12062&start=30)?-- It might have been unwinnable all these years on all the systems it was ported to from the original Dragon 32 version. And maybe even that version is too buggy to complete?

If so, this is a real shame because it is an incredibly rich and subtle puzzle, with neat NPC interactions, good story and evocative mood created through many little flourishes. Definitely not something you could finish in an hour. It would have kept me occupied for many days, if not possibly a week or two back in the 80s. That being said, it is pretty brutal in it treatment of even the most minor mistakes on the player's part, such as forgetting to close a door behind yourself!

Despite its brutality, with careful attention to all the in-game story elements you can discover, you can obtain all the clues necessary to complete the game. Still, I added some additional instructions and story background to the MC-10 version just to help get players off on the right track, if there ever are any additional players. I hope there is because this is a lost classic 8-bit space adventure, which deserves to be played.


The Bianco Mansion, by Clive Gifford
Buggy, But a Lost Treasure of the 8-Bit Era, February 20, 2019
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

I stumbled upon a text adventure in a PDF of a book on the Color Computer Archive. I couldn't find any information about it on any of the text adventure databases and forums I know about. Asked folks on Facebook if they had ever played "The Bianco Mansion" by Clive Gifford and had one response by Gareth Pitchford that it seemed similar to another game by Gifford for the Commodore 64 called "The Nielson Papers." He felt that some of puzzles were the same. Unclear which version came first, although Gareth felt the Dragon version, published in More Games for Your Dragon 32 by Virgin Books, might be first. He noted about Gifford that:

He did a few "enter & retrieve" type-in adventures... I imagine the Nielson Papers is probably the recycled version, if anything... fleshed out a little for the C64... Seems a smart move to use the same premise multiple times and just tweak things for books for different machines.

Garry over on the CASA Solution Archive also typed in the code, using a TRS-80 Color Computer and found it to be a pretty standard adventure for the time. In other words, difficult, not overly impressive and annoying. He noted in the "Classics" forum:

It's really badly written. There are lots of bugs. There are lots of guess-the-verb scenarios, at least two situations where you have to use multi-word input with the two-word parser and at least one situation where you have to refer to an object that is not mentioned. The game has potential, but suffers from juvenile inexperience and lack of testing. (The author was still at school when the book was written.)

In my MC-10 version I have fixed many of the bugs that Garry mentions. In debugged form it is a pretty fun game to play. The deaths are not completely arbitrary and there is a coherent set of puzzles that have to be worked through to achieve final victory. If you can get past the confusing illogic of its map, it is really quite enjoyable. In fact the illogic adds something to its challenge and it classic 8-bit charm. You are not given directions for exits to rooms, except for locked doors, so you must try all directions. It's certainly worth the effort if you are into 8-bit computer adventures written in BASIC. And it might be a particular obscure one for those craving lost treasures from that era.


Pharaoh's Curse, by Tim Koonce
A Mini Adventure that might be Fun for Kids., July 24, 2017
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

This program, written in BASIC for the TRS-80 Color Computer (Coco) and now ported by me to the Coco's little brother system, the MC-10, is extremely simple. It probably would only be interesting for very young children. The most appealing aspect is that it has some very simple graphic images that go with the text descriptions. This was relatively rare for simple BASIC text adventures on early 8-bit computer systems. It might also be of interest for adventurers who are looking only to spend 20-30 minutes gaming. The puzzle is not extremely challenging, but is coherent and does require some care in terms of ones search for clues and interpretation of messages. There are a few possibilities of arbitrary death, but they are no too vexing given the size of map. It's easy to restart and get back to where you were and try again. If you wanted to give a young child a taste of what early 1980s type-in gaming was like on an 8-bit computer, this game could fit the bill.


African Adventure, by R. B. Fullerton and C. K. Russell

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Try the original Version, June 16, 2017
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)
Related reviews: TRS-80 MC-10

I have read the other reviews and can't but wonder whether some of the frustrations result from the versions they are playing. The parser is not so problematic in the TRS-80 versions of the program. These machines often ran in all caps mode (the original TRS-80 didn't have uppercase characters and the TRS-80 MC-10 never had them). Apparently there were also changes made to the puzzles in many of the unofficial versions. The TRS-80 version I ported remains entirely true to the original TRS-80 16K version.

There are some intentional inconsistencies to the movement in the game. I didn't find them all that bad (especially compared to some other games from the era). For the most part I think they were carefully chosen and meant to enhance the effect of being "lost in the jungles and savannas" of central Africa. To a large extent, I think this technique works successfully in this adventure, where the setting makes it appropriate to use. Once I had some mapping in place, it wasn't all that problematic and there is a kind of logic to the backs-and-forths.

There are some really charming aspects to the game. The quicksand graphic is a wonderful piece of TRS-80 chunky pixel 8-bit animation. (Spoiler - click to show)If you die the program simulates a return to the basic command prompt, before surprising you with a resurrection to a restore point part way into the game (preventing a need for a complete restart.

The game is challenging and doesn't have any of the totally arbitrary deaths that are so common in games from this genre. I found the plot to be a nice balance between slightly humorous almost fantastical whimsy and and an attempt to remain true to the Victorian mythology of the quest for Dr. Livingston.

For fans of 8-bit Basic adventuring I would highly recommend this game. But for less hardy souls, it might be better to stay away from venturing into the dark heart of the Victorian imaginary.


Haunted Forest, by Uwe Schlenther
20 Minute Charmer, March 2, 2016
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

This is a little adventure for the VZ-200/300 8-bit computer and the TRS-80 MC-10. It is not hard. It has some random elements that will bring about your demise in arbitrary ways, but if you simply looking for a about 20 minutes of 8-bit two-word parser nostalgia, you could do worse. As with many games of this type, the world can appear much larger than it is, until you get down to the business of real mapping. There are some very subtle clues to help you make guesses about the quirks of the limited vocabulary, which can help get you out of trouble. Or you can simply peek at the listing...

Oh and there's a cute little graphic title page. Nice work unknown author, and the person who revised it for the VZ-200. There are few few errors in the programs handling of the tunnel and the carrying of items, that I fixed in the MC-10 Version, but they won't necessarily stop you from winning. You start each game at a random location. I have added a link to the Virtual MC-10 Emulator (VMC10.exe) on the main page. Enjoy!


The Mystery of Silver Mountain, by Chris Oxlade and Judy Tatchell

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Visual Elements are Neat, but a little Slow at Parsing, November 1, 2015
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

In a review I did of the game "The Temple of Apshai." I argued that the early TRS-80 version of this classic RPG should also be considered as a kind of interactive fiction. The reason I argued this was that the TRS-80 version was really so slow and the graphics so spartan, that the main focus of the game really was on engaging with the narrative of the prologue and the detailed room descriptions of the printed manual. The computer program just provided a structure for bringing that narrative experience to a satisfactory conclusion. The Mystery of Silver Mountain is a lot like that. It is a pure text adventure program, but it really cannot be played without the aid of the original book by Osborne Computing in which the source code was published. The reason is that that book contains graphic images (containing visual clues) of the various locations and additional written materials (codes and clues) that are necessary for completing the adventure. The BASIC program does provide a bare bones set of descriptions and it handles and responds to the input (it's a simple 2-word parser). But there would be little point in attempting to solve the mystery using the program alone. So if you want to play this game on one of its various 8-bit platforms (Commmodore, Atari, TRS-80, etc), you should also find a PDF of the original book. Alternatively there are many copies available on the regular used book sites. The puzzles and clues are very challenging, especially due to the added visual nature of some of them. This is not a simple adventure to solve. That being said, it was meant as an introduction to computer adventuring for 8-bit home computers, so it is not diabolical. It was such a popular program in the mid 80's that I would certainly recommend that anyone interested in surveying some of the greats of 8-bit BASIC IF gaming from that period should probably try it.

My only critical comment is that the parsing engine is a little on the slow side. This might just be my TRS-80 version that I played, but I suspect it is due in part to the program being written in as generic a form of BASIC as possible so that it could easily be modified for a bunch of different systems. In other words, it contains many program remarks and no special programming shortcuts (unique to any particular 8-bit computer) to speed up execution. However, the delay is not too bad--I recall some Scott Adam's BASIC IF games being worse!


Adventure, by William Crowther and Donald Woods

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A New Version of an Old Version of the Original Text Adventure, October 31, 2015
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

For Retrochallenge 2015 I ported Will Crowther's original Colossal Cave "Adventure" source code to Microsoft Micro Color Basic. The new basic source code should be easily shifted to other Basics. I elaborated a few uncompleted elements and areas and changed a few things to create some new challenges for old players.

I also added some new commands such as SCORE, which will tell you how you're doing and if you have won. HELP will provide some rudimentary aid. UNLOAD will perform the same function as the more standard "drop all" command of other adventures. QUIT not only exits but prompts whether you would like to save the progress you have made so far. You are prompted each time the program is run if you wish to load a previous game. The same file name "COLOSDAT" is used for each save, but in the emulator (VMC10.exe) you can save the resulting virtual cassette file to any file name you like in order to differentiate between different saves.

I re-coded the program from the Fortran source code and data file of Will Crowther's original version of "Advent" for the PDP-10 recently recovered from an old back-up tape by Dennis Jerz. This is not the classic "350 point" version modified by Don Woods. So if you are interested in playing a new version of the original version of the "original" text adventure, you can try this one out. My version contains all the room movement info in numeric form and most of the text descriptions of rooms and events. I had to wedge it into 20K of my favourite 8-bit the TRS-80 MC-10, so some of the descriptions got "edited" a little, but I was able to transfer the map info from the data file into Basic DATA statements, so it's a largely accurate rendition of the original map. I only made a very few tweaks where directions were quite clearly messed up or to eliminate a few NE, NW, SE and SW directions.

Using various descriptions from the Net of the puzzles and other game challenges and by examining Crowther's original source, I was able to recreate what I believe is a reasonably accurate presentation of all the original game elements. However, as I worked on the rooms in the Bedquilt (“Under Construction”) area of Crowther's original code I really could sense where his patience with the project petered out (sometime in 1975 or 1976) so I also ended up adding a few unique elements of my own to “complete” what is obviously an unfinished work just begging for elaboration. I can understand what tempted Don Woods to make his additions in 1977 to create the classic version.

That being said, I do not like some of the more surreal fantasy elements that Woods added. Crowther's version has a more austere set of locations, but they have a feel of realism that is absent from the classic version's chaotic hurly-burly of branches. Also, there is clearly a sense that Crowther's fantasy elements (Hall of the Mountain King, nasty little dwarfs, finding a cave in the woods) were drawn from a single classic narrative source, such as the story of Peer Gynt, rather than a hodgepodge of fantasy cliche's. I tried to respect this integrity in the few additions I made to fill out Crowther's obviously abandoned work.

Don Woods helped Crowther overcome the problem of the game's unfinished nature by significantly expanding the complexity of the cave and by adding improved scoring and completion routines. It's this latter version which is normally referred to as "the original adventure" or the "350 point" version. In homage to this latter title I have also made my re-coded version worth 350 points, although these points only represent six 50 point treasures. Only five of these treasures are present in Crowther's original. I have added one treasure and one puzzle and a few new threats. I have also slightly changed the operation of some of the magic of the original to prevent old hands from simply applying their prior knowledge.

The following file contains the Virtual MC-10 emulator and the program file COLOSSAL.C10 for loading and running in the emulator:
http://faculty.cbu.ca/jgerrie/Home/VMC10_073D.zip


The Quest, by Christopher Lampton
A simple adventure for a simpler time, July 5, 2015
by jgerrie (Cape Breton Island, Canada)

This game is not for serious gamers. It will be of interest only to those interested in BASIC programming and the modest programs that could be created on 8-bit home computers from the early 1980s. It might be worth a look for those with some nostalgia for such systems or with some acquaintance with the book it was published in.

"The Quest" is a very simple BASIC two-word parser text adventure meant to be an example of the programming techniques needed to create adventures of one's own. It was included in a book meant to teach those techniques to budding BASIC programmers using the early 8-bit computers. The code is very adaptable and fairly straightforward. Unlike more complex syntax parsing engines, such as the one created by Scott Adams (which was published in BYTE in December 1980), by the time Lampton was writing his book and sample program the conventions of text adventuring had become so formalized that undue complexities could be omitted. People were comfortable with the two word system and the basic vocabulary had become fairly standardized (GET,PUT,LOOK,EXAMINE,INV,GO, etc.). The program might be useful for someone wishing to write their own BASIC text adventure for an 8-bit computer. However, I would rate "The Tower" example program for Compute's Guide to Writing Text Adventures as more flexible and more feature rich. The Tower allows the use of single letter commands such as N,S,E,W for motion and I for inventory, while "The Quest" does not. Having to type "GO NORTH" continuously instead if simply "N" is a little tedious and annoying.

The game itself is simple. There is a small number of puzzles, only a couple ways to fail. The puzzles are coherent and so I would warn against giving up too quickly and sneaking a look at the code if you are stumped. This is not one of those BASIC adventures with incoherent puzzles requiring almost completely arbitrary acts to solve. I promise you, you will get there in the end with a little extra thought. If all you're looking for is an hour of reminiscence of what 8-bit computing was like when you were a kid, this game will fit the bill.



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