Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Ben There, Dan That! (Special Edition, 2011)

This week finds me in the mood to tackle a game I know very little about going in, either by experience or reputation -- Ben There, Dan That! (Special Edition), a point-and-click adventure inspired by the comedic Lucasarts style.  It was created by (and named for) Ben Ward and Dan Marshall of the UK-based Size Five Games, using Chris Jones' wonderfully enabling Adventure Game Studio engine, and released as freeware in 2008.  This Special Edition upgrade was released in 2011, with some graphical updates, design improvements and a new jazzy musical score.  The game can be purchased on a "pay what you wish" basis at Size Five Games' website, or via Steam in a bundle with its sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please!




Interested adventurers are, as always, encouraged to play Ben There, Dan That! firsthand before reading about my experience in the following.  It's not overly difficult -- that is to say, almost everything has a purpose even if it isn't obvious -- though I did have to reference a walkthrough to get a couple of final details nailed down near the end.  The casually profane dialogue is often quite funny (though there's no voice acting to help sell the jokes), and there are plenty of point-and-click adventuring in-jokes to keep the proceedings entertaining.  Beyond this point, beware!  There are sure to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****



The game begins with our titular duo half-dead -- that is, Ben is alive, and Dan is dead, as Ben returns from some adventure-type object wrestling with a firework he expects to, in some way, help revive his friend.  His intended solution appears to involve getting Dan to Doc Oddball's shack on a nearby mountain top, across a bottomless gorge.  The situation as read involves many oddball props, including a specific nod to The Secret of Monkey Island with A rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle.  Having, erm, inserted the non-lightable end of the firework into Dan's, um, nether receptacle, we can...

Well, what can we do?  We have no way to light the firework, and a manual push (we are informed) won't provide enough force to get Dan's corpse across the gorge.  Ah -- there's a tiny cigarette lighter sitting on the ground nearby.  That should do the trick!  Rocket-propelled Dan shoots across the gorge and is presumably re-animated by the resulting explosion, as after the stylish credits roll, we find our heroes in their London apartment, both looking hale and hearty.  Of course, the telly's antenna is missing, a casualty of the previous adventure, and so our first goal is to find a replacement.  (We will also note the pop art on the walls, inspired by Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and Full Throttle.)


There's an old note on the door from Dan, held in place by some Blu-Tak that Ben refuses to take along despite its potential usefulness.  The boys refuse to go outside, so we'll have to explore the apartment's inner sanctum.  A door to the left of the living room leads into another area with doors leading to the water closet, Ben's room, and Dan's room.  There's a chalk outline on the floor resembling the old Lucasarts logo, in case the game's inspiration wasn't yet clear, symbolizing the Death of the Adventure Game, which was still largely true back in 2008 when this game debuted.

The water closet is huge and dark, with a single light bulb hanging over the toilet and a light switch near the door, which the guys refuse to touch due to its questionable wiring.

Ben's room is filthy and cluttered, and nobody wants to take the comic books, skateboard (lightly used), bowling ball, or books strewn about, so we'll move on to Dan's much neater room.  Here, in Dan's now-empty closet -- Ben having sold his clothes for some ill-considered adventure-related reason -- we can acquire a metal coat hanger and learn that Ben and Dan are themselves working on a terrible adventure game.  Many copies of Dan's previous game, Gibbage, are stacked up near the computer.

Returning to the living room / lounge, we apply the coat hanger and restore the telly to working order, just in time for Magnum P.I.  Well, not quite that easily.  We have to take down the Max & Sam poster to get access to the window, at which point a classic little green alien is observed peering in.  We can open the window, enhancing the reception possibilities, but there's still too much distance between the signal and the television.

Trying to use the lighter on the coathanger suggests we don't want to melt that, which suggests we might be able to melt something around here.  There's a long wire in the bathroom, which nobody is willing to touch.  I realize we play mostly as Ben, and can use Dan on things when he decides to be useful; here, he can be used to turn off the light switch in the bathroom.  But the wire can't just be yanked out, and the coathanger isn't suitable for cutting it.

Ah -- there's some lumpiness in Ben's bed, concealing some paste and scissors under the blanket.  And with the scissors, we can cut the wire in the bathroom, assembling some good raw materials for our aerial.  (Of course, Ben notes, we'll be S--TING IN THE DARK from now on, but this is an adventure game after all.)

We hold up the antenna near the window, trying to get it positioned for the best reception... and, of course, disaster strikes!  In the form of actual lightning!  And our heroes are zapped into an alien world!




It appears that the apartment's front door is right here, though it's locked with an alien locking device of some kind.  So our next objective appears to be at hand!  There are other doors along the hallway, each with a lock matching a small object's shape.  We see an elevator, a crypt, a furnace perhaps, next to a freezer, another apartment door, a sewer door, and a giant cow head.  Do we have anything in inventory that will open any of these doors?

Well, we can use the scissors to cut Max's head out of the poster we're carrying around, producing a bunny head-shaped key that should open the crypt.  It does!  And now we're in a graveyard, perhaps in an alternate dimension as Dan and Ben's gravestones are prominently visible and there are quite a few corpses and formerly active zombies strewn about.  A church in the background might be worth exploring...

A cutscene intrudes here, informing us that there are indeed alien invaders about, observing Ben and Dan and preparing to put Phase II of their plan into action.

Returning to our story, we find the church rather blood-stained and castle-like, with some Bible verses on the wall.  There's a Bible near the altar in the sanctuary, where we can look up the six verses cited.  They all refer to flame or wind in some fashion... flame, wind, wind, flame, wind, flame.  Lighting the six candles on the altar in this pattern reveals a secret passage, to nobody's great surprise.

There's a trail of blood leading down the cellar stairs, and off screen left, where we discover that the priest has locked someone named Gilbert in the cellar, someone close to him whom he does not want killed or de-brained.  The man's hand is wrapped in a bandage, though in conversation he strenuously denies having been bitten by a zombie.  We can ask if he has a Yin-Yang symbol -- the apparent key to the lock back into our apartment -- but he doesn't.  He does, however, have a cross, which would help with one of the other doors.  He says it's the only religious relic he still has, because his Bible is upstairs.  We can bring it down, and then bash him over the head with it (the boys' choice, I assure you), then take his crucifix -- "It's not stealing, it's 'adding to my inventory."

With the priest knocked out -- perhaps dead -- yes, quite dead, it develops -- we can enter Gilbert's room, and see a small action figure on the floor, which also looks like it would fit one of the other locks on the alien ship.  So we'll need to get it away from the "Zomboy" Gilbert -- the priest's son, apparently -- somehow.  I luck out with my first idea, throwing the jar of paste to him, which he chews until his jaws are gummed shot, removing the threat of a deadly bite.

I think we've done what we came to do here, so we'll go back aboardship and try the crucifix in the lock near the door that looks a lot like the other side of Ben and Dan's front door.  It brings us to a fragmented, post-destruction Earth, and we can see part of the Yin-Yang symbol on a small island of sod just out of reach.  A door can be opened but goes nowhere; a note on the door is from Dan, telling Ben that the world is about to blow up and he's gone to the pub.  Ben decides to keep the Blu-Tak on the back, just in case, even though he was quite adamant about not taking the Blu-Tak from the note in the apartment earlier.  Adventuring logic!

A streetlight here might allow us to get to the Yin, if we had some sort of metal-cutting tool, but for now we'll have to explore elsewhere.  The action figure opens a door to a ladder, that allows us to travel to a bizarre, neon-ridden dimension where... ah, I see.  Britain has become the 51st United State of America.

Well, we'd best try to hunt up some sort of key here.  There's a Fish'n'Fries (horrors!) shop, a pub called The Limey, and a garish pink castle.  The shop is boarded up, with three aggressively antisocial drunks lying about in front and posting crayon drawings of various ways they might attack the city.  Conversation establishes that David, Ste and Simon are ex-video game journalists, despairing of any amazing new worlds to conquer, so they might as well blow it up and start fresh.  We can ask about their blueprints -- all are about smashing things into tiny pieces, and none are plausible in the least.  But there is one about opening a portal to another dimension which we may want to investigate later.  We might also be able to pull the boards off the boarded-up Fish'n'Fries shop, if we could find a crowbar.

We'll check out The Limey, after a cutscene in which the alien invaders promise to make their amazing Match-3 puzzle game, Hello World, available to everybody on Earth, to give them a sense of purpose.  The pub is run by a top-hatted guy named Brad, and the TV is showing (gasp!) American football, with the players padded up like little girls playing rugby.  There's a stout British beer and a weak low-calorie US beer on the counter, and a key behind the counter we would like to have but can't get at.  We can grab a sponge off the bar, anyway. 

Three British louts are drinking and apparently watching the game.  Their drinking game consists of downing their pints whenever anyone cheers, "COME ON ENGLAND!"  While Brad is refilling their glasses, we can sneak behind the bar and grab the key, easy as pie. 

The non-entrance door leads to a back area with a gents', a ladies', and a "Staff ONLY" room.  We'll check out the ladies' room first -- which, to my surprise, we are allowed to do.  The bathroom is fairly nondescript, with several stall doors, two sinks... and two heroes who leave immediately after wondering why they're in here.  It does provide a notable contrast in cleanliness to the men's room, where most of the accommodations are broken (in part to save some design and coding, per the characters' commentary.)  We can acquire a "near infinite" supply of 10p coins from the broken condom machine, and it seems we can acquire some of the "Loo Cakes" from the urinals, if we had something in which to carry them.

The Staff ONLY door is locked, but we can use the key we snagged from behind the bar to open it.  It leads to the cellar, where the beer barrels of Lion's Roar and Starz n Stripez are connected to the taps in the bar.  We can swap the hoses, then return upstairs and get the louts completely blistered on strong English beer.  They fall over, drunk, and Brad quits, refusing to deal with any more drunken English yobs.  He leaves his top hat behind, which should serve to open one of the other dimensional doors.

Outside The Limey, knocking on the door of the pink castle summons its apparent king, a large American man in a cardboard crown.  He won't let the boys in to rummage through his stuff, no matter how we plead, but we do learn from a newspaper acquired nearby that he's the Governor of England, following the re-integration a year ago.

Back to the alien ship we go, to use the top hat to open the elevator door.  There's not much in this dimension, but the lift appears to travel to six different floors... if it were working.  Ben fancies himself a repairman now and is sure there's just a broken wire back there or something, if we could only get the panel off.  He thinks a crowbar would work, but we're not likely to find one, so something heavy will have to do.  The Bible?  Not heavy enough.  The rock?  Yes.

We connect the broken wire (without benefit of cutting the power or other protection, somehow) and now we can push the lift button to (very slowly) reach the top floor.  Disembarking from the lift, we discover a bunch of dinosaurs sitting in cubicles.  They are video game developers, and our heroes decide to tread lightly.  Two arcade cabinets at the back of the room have crashed, and the one running Spectrum ZX classic Chuckie Egg requires coinage.

We can talk to the T-Rex, who isn't apparently doing any work, as he's on a disability arrangement due to his short, keyboard-unfriendly arms.  There are Star Wars references a-plenty in the dialogue, and our main goal it seems is to get Cecil the T-Rex to be productive in some way.  There's a box of handheld games ready for testing which nobody has been able to open due to their keyboard-blunted claws, but our scissors make short work of it.

The box contains three handheld gaming consoles, preloaded with Gibbage 2.  Cecil can't use them, but we can put them in inventory, along with a thermos flask sitting in an empty cubicle.  And... oh, wait, we do have that supply of 10p coins, so we can play Chuckie Egg!  Maybe we can beat Carl the Nerd-a-saurus' high score and distract him away from his desk to reclaim it so we can... do... something.  Ben can't get a high score, but Dan does it with no problem (just as our purportedly infinite supply of tenpence coins gives out!)  He enters his initials as B.U.M. (ha ha -- UK humor!) and yes, Carl leaves his desk to start working on reclaiming his high score.

A cutscene reveals that our heroes are being watched by the alien invaders, and are right on schedule; Hello World is becoming a major casual gaming hit and the mysterious Phase IV is approaching readiness.  Now we can fiddle with Carl's highly collectible Death Star model with real working plutonium laser -- and accidentally kill Cecil with its beam.  At least we can take his model X-Wing fighter, which will probably open up one of these doors... the one with the reddish-orange glow, it looks like.

Yes!  And now we are in a dimension with a charred, cracked landscape and a smoking volcano in the background.  A spanner/wrench on the right side of the screen, held by the ashen corpse of a man, looks very useful, if we can get over there.  We can fill up the thermos with piping hot lava, which likely means we want to do that.

Can we use the lava to melt the lamppost in the fragmented-Earth dimension?  No, the label (we now learn) indicates it is lavaproof.  We have the sponge from The Limey, but we can't use it to soak up the lava (not that I was expecting that to work either.)  I return to 51st State England to see if we can do something with the drunks at the Fish'n'Fries.  Ah, yes -- we can give them the handheld gaming consoles, and all three are now happily absorbed playing Gibbage 2.  And now we can snag one of their moonshine bottles.

The homebrewed bootleg indie-label booze isn't strong enough to melt the lamppost either... or rather, it likely is, but our heroes don't want to waste it on that.  No further explanation required, really, in an adventure game.  It can't be used to take the boards off the Fish'n'Fries either, though I do think we want to do that, as my guess is we need a plank to get across the lava to retrieve the spanner.  While looking around for other ideas, I notice the faint outline of a new door on a formerly blank section of wall -- we don't even need a key to get into the aliens' surveillance center.  We can pick up a crowbar here, and learn about Dan and Ben's predicted next steps -- "HOT - SPANNER," "COLD-GEAR", "SUPER MUSEUM-YANG."  Which we were kind of thinking anyway as our possibilities narrow.

We use the crowbar to remove a plank, use it to cross the lava stream, and retrieve the spanner (rather destroying the dead man's arm in the process, unfortunately.)  The spanner opens the cold room, a very similar location to the lava room, where a man is frozen in ice.  We can use the crowbar to pry a suspiciously prominent purple panel off a machine, but of course we need another spanner to get the gear inside out.  Guess we need to melt the ice with the thermos full of lava... yep.

Now the man with the spanner is out of the ice -- and very much alive, but freezing.  He won't give us the spanner, but he'll remove the gear for us if we can help him warm up.  We can get another thermos full of lava, but of course that's a little too warm to imbibe.  But the moonshine does the job, and while our new friend is trying to fix the turnstile, we can undermine his work completely by stealing the gear after he sets it "temporarily" aside.

Another cutscene interrupts -- now the aliens are in Ben and Dan's apartment, apparently transporting it elsewhere with their futuristic technology.  They note that Ben and Dan's adventure is nearly complete, and so is their plan -- everyone in the world has played Hello World and been imprinted with the alien Hypno-Code.




The gear allows us to enter the cow's mouth, leading to a dimension with a (presumably Super) Museum, where the famous Yang is on display.  We learn this from The Human Aeroplane, a man whose superpower is flight -- a few inches off the ground, with plenty of arm-flapping required.  Everyone here is a superhero, granted powers by the mystical Yang when it was unearthed, though their powers are of a degree not necessarily considered "super" in our culture.

In the entrance outside the exhibit hall, we meet a transparent man named Bob the Blob, who is keeping his museum pass tucked safely inside his 68%-water body while he waits for the museum staff to turn off the heat inside so he won't evaporate when he enters.  We could ask the pretty museum lady about the Lost Element, as her badge indicates, but that would reveal that Ben's eyes have been where they shouldn't, so he won't.  We learn that the Yang was dug up about a year ago, and that the Yin may destroy the world if it's ever unearthed.

The museum shop is closed -- the shopkeeper's superpower turned out to be stealing -- and we can't get into the exhibit without a pass, which we can't imagine ever being able to afford.  We can't use the lava to evaporate Bob, but we can throw the sponge at him -- into him, actually -- to soak up his mass and free up the ticket.  This kills him, of course -- yet another unintended casualty of Dan's unintentional murderous rampage across the dimensions.

The alien plot thickens in another cutscene -- the aliens are activating the subliminal Hypno-Code via radio signal.  We return to the museum, where our heroes need to steal the valuable Yang.  We can pinch a can opener from a diorama, then head into the next room to see the Yang, perched on a thief-proof plinth.  The Yang is protected by a force field being generated by a nearby superhero guard, who we will likely need to disable somehow.

The guard has a small dish of sugar cubes, which he is using to sweeten his tea, it appears.  Conversation establishes that his beverage of choice is in fact coffee, which helps him concentrate.  We can try various gambits to distract him in conversation, but none of them work.  It appears we need to disable the security camera and slip the guard a mickey in his sugar cube bowl in order to obtain the Yang.

Can any of the other superheroes hanging around help?  One can summon ants... well, an ant, anyway.  And the last one he summoned scurried under the caveman exhibit.  Another guy, the Wood Handler, has sandpaper palms.  And another guy named Lightspeed can run at 10 miles per hour.  A child hero named Darren can repeat everything we say, BEFORE we say it.  And a woman standing nearby is capable of standing perfectly still and being perfectly symmetrical.  That's it on the superhero front, with limited puzzle-solving potential.

Can we lure the ant out with a sugar cube?  We could if we could obtain a sugar cube, but we're not allowed to.  So maybe we need to explore elsewhere some more.  The can opener is the right tool to take the street lamp down in the fragmented dimension, allowing us to get closer to the Yin.  I suspect introducing the Yin to the Yang-powered dimension might cause some useful chaos, but even with the lamppost down, we can't quite reach the Yin.

The lamppost is being held in place by a couple of thin wires, but we can't cut them.  We can't get Dan to walk out there and help weigh it down.  We probably need something with better reach.  What else?  Oh, we haven't grabbed any Loo Cakes from The Limey's men's room yet.  We still need something to carry them in.  Revisiting the ice room, I pick up a long length of frozen rope... but can't put the Blu-Tak on its end as I was hoping.  It seems we need to thaw it, which we can do simply by visiting the lava dimension again.

The rope is flexible now, but we can't grasp the Yin symbol with it and the Blu-Tak won't take to it.  We can swap our rock for a clump of old archaeologically significant mud in the museum, Indiana Jones style.  But it won't work on the rope either.  Ah!  It's useful for disabling the security camera, where the Blu-Tak wasn't sufficient.  So that's part of that puzzle taken care of.

I had to consult a walkthrough to learn that we can use the newspaper to carry the loo cakes -- I was looking for something more bowl-ish, at least liquid-proof, so my attempt to use the thermos failed and this possibility hadn't occurred to me.  Now we can wrap up the loo cakes, substitute them for the guard's sugar cubes... and yes, they distract him.  Actually, they kill him, being poisonous and urine-soaked and all.  But now we can grab the Yang and escape!  Nobody seems to notice the theft, so that last bit is easy enough.

Now what about that Yin?  Will the Yang magically draw it in somehow?  Nope, they "aren't magnets" per Dan when I try this.  But we're so close!  It turns out (walkthrough again) that a body part I did not investigate closely enough in the zombie cemetery is in fact portable -- a hand, which in combination with the rope and the Blu-Tak can be used to fetch the Yin.

Now we have the Yin, and the Yang, combined!  And we can open the apartment door to discover that the aliens have stolen all of Ben and Dan's stuff, and are still hanging around the place.  We now discover that the aliens are Future Ben and Dan, who have arranged this whole charade in a fake spaceship built in a downtown warehouse to make themselves world dictators with their Hypno-Code. 

But of course, that destiny has to be fulfilled by the present-day Ben and Dan, making their future selves redundant and unable to claim the destiny they thought they were creating for themselves.  So the future Ben and Dan fade out of existence, and our heroes are left to face their new subjects as the credits roll.  Victory is theirs!  Ours!  I never quite know how to present the editorial perspective in these animated adventures where the protagonists are visible on screen!  But the game has reached a successful conclusion!




I enjoyed Ben There, Dan That! quite a lot.  It was a more substantial game than I expected, the writing and visuals are frequently funny and the simple graphical approach still affords considerable style with strong use of color.  The music is effective, and reading the dialogue onscreen makes it a pleasantly retro experience.  It's good stuff from Size Five Games and I intend to play the sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please! at some point.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Uninvited (1987, Apple IIgs ver.)

I've somehow managed to miss playing any of the classic ICOM Simulations MacVenture adventure games of the late 1980s, so this week I'm going to take on the company's haunted mansion tale, Uninvited.  This series premiered on Apple's Macintosh, but the titles were ported to a number of systems including the Nintendo Entertainment System.  The 1986 Mac and 1987 Apple IIgs versions of Uninvited (along with the rest of this classic series) have recently been repackaged and returned to commercial availability at Steam, at very reasonable prices, thanks to the good folks at Zojoi.



I'll be playing the color "Apple IIgs" version for this post, though I should note that the re-release isn't a straight emulation -- this edition uses the audiovisual assets of the originals, but renders the interface in a more modern style, with proportional fonts and scalability of the Mac/IIgs "desktop" window within the user's desktop real estate.  I'm not sure the animation plays at the right speed, as much of it seems faster than it ought to be, but it's not a major issue.  I checked the Mac version out briefly, and found that its digitized sound effects are quite a bit better, if fewer, but I'll stick with the color imagery for the sake of visual interest.

The MacVenture interface was heavily influenced by Apple's interpretation of the Xerox graphical user interface vocabulary.  It has that early ain't-windows-nifty feel, with no fixed organization of the text, illustration, inventory, exit map and verb buttons, and lots of drag-and-drop required within the game itself.  The novelty of using the mouse to select verbs and objects from the illustrations wears thin after a while, and I found myself wishing for a keyboard for speed's sake, but as an early attempt to move the genre forward this works well enough.  I appreciate the continued attention paid to the text -- while there are some really nice audio and animation touches included, the classical design and well-written text keep this game firmly grounded.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to be Uninvited themselves before reading my comments below.  I'll be documenting my experience from beginning to end, and there are sure to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****






As the story begins, we find ourselves summoned as the Uninvited, following a car crash that leaves us trapped in our vehicle, our younger brother apparently having gone for help, with the smell of gasoline leaking from the tank in the air.  We can see immediately that we have nothing in the Inventory window, and the Exits window indicates we can potentially travel to the west.  (I'm not sure the game was designed around a traditional compass rose -- the map doesn't seem to adhere to any fixed orientation, and the listed Exits might more accurately be thought of as forward/right/back/left.)  We can see the brick wall of a mansion through the cracked windshield.

I spend a few clicks trying to open the glove compartment or otherwise find something of value before leaving the car, but I dawdle too long and the car is engulfed in flames, ending my game very quickly.  On the retry, I manage to OPEN the car door and double-click on the exit, just as an explosion (with sound effects) signals the end of that vehicle's roadworthiness.

We find ourselves standing at the front porch of a foreboding Gothic mansion, with no stated objective beyond finding our brother and getting out of here.  Pounding thunder is depicted visually and audibly as I open the mailbox in the foreground to find an envelope addressed to a Master Crowley at 666 Blackwell Road, Loch Ness, Scotland, and drag it from the newly opened mailbox window over to my Inventory window.

Can I open the envelope?  Yes -- this opens yet another window, in which we find a heavy chain necklace with a gold amulet attached, and a note advising the recipient to wear it to ward off evil.  I'm not sure if this was incoming or outgoing mail, but wearing the amulet seems like a smart thing to do.

The statues flanking the mansion's entrance represent Adonis and a young Grecian man who seems out of place, according to the description.  The limited set of verbs here doesn't suggest we can move the statue, though, so I'll opt to OPEN the front door and enter.

We find ourselves standing in the mansion's Entrance Hall, with a pentagram rug on the floor, a prominent fireplace, and exits to the northwest, east, and south the way we came in.  The door can't be reopened, so the only way out is going to be through.  Paintings depict an eagle swooping down on its prey, a barren landscape under a night sky -- an amateur work possibly depicting this estate -- and a python wrapping itself around an egg.  We can interact with the firewood in the fireplace, but can't move it into inventory, so perhaps we'll need to start a fire here later.

As I'm poking around, a small creature with a key in its hand appears to prance through the room, but it doesn't pause long enough for me to interact with it.  I try to sit in one of the old chairs, but it gives us a sharp pain in the derriere.  I still don't see anything unusual about it on further examination; we're allowed to try lying down on the sofa, but not to stay there.  So I'll just have to keep an eye out for that creature, we can't sit around here waiting for it to return.

I'll head east into the Library, well-stocked with books, a star map and a globe.  A book in the foreground bears a pentagram on its cover, clearly very old.  We can OPEN and EXAMINE it to read some definitions of pseudo-Latinate terms -- Instantum, Illuminaris, Projectum, Spearca, Specan, Heafod, Magisterium, and Abraxas (a magical word) -- that may come in handy at some point.

There's nowhere else to go here, so I'll head back through the entrance hall into a hallway to the north, with four doors (something this graphical interface approach handles quite well) and a stairwell leading up.  A photo on the wall resembles a still from the silent classic Nosferatu, and ICOM Simulations principal Dave Feldman is reportedly visible in the background.

To our immediate left/west is a door -- when we open it, a woman emerges, dressed like Scarlett O'Hara.  Trying to examine her attracts her attention, which is a bad thing as it turns out -- the last thing we see as she tears us to bloody shreds is her fleshless, grinning face.  I restore and try using the amulet on her, but whatever I try seems to end the same way, so I'll ignore that door for now.

The door to the east... produces the same result?  Maybe she's not coming out of the doors, maybe my timing is just bad... no, she appears if we open any one of the "new" doors in this room.  We can go back the way we came through the northeast door, and we can go upstairs without incident, so I suspect we need to find something to help us deal with Hell's belle.

Heading upstairs seems most likely to help us do that, given our limited options, and this brings us to another hallway with five doors to risk opening.  There's a fish trophy on the wall at the end of the hall; and while I'm unproductively fiddling around, the key-bearing creature runs through the frame again, with running commentary from the parser. 

The forward-left door (I think our perspective changes as we navigate, so I'm not really sure which way is north anymore) leads into a Master Bedroom.  An empty wheelchair is most prominent here, along with a heavy built-in cabinet, some photos on the wall, and a small table near the bed.  We spot a lab journal on the table -- it begins, "I have lost control of Dracan. My star student now fancies himself a Master," and ends by suggesting that the errant student's star is locked away in "my hingeless box."  The final statement is clearly a clue: "I've hidden the key, a chair knows where."

We can claim the candlestick on the table, dragging it into the inventory window, and take an antique cut-glass bottle containing a brown liquid, along with the lab journal.  The cabinet is locked, and while we can ride the wheelchair around the room for fun, it doesn't provide an immediate clue about the key, so we may be looking for a different chair.

There's a door at the back of this room which leads to a bathroom with a sink, tub, and zebra-patterned rug.  We can acquire a voodoo doll, a clay mask with large ears, an African ceremonial mask, and a Mayan mask with a cold, hard stare here, though I never found a real use for any of these items.  We can take the two fluffy towels here also.

I find that I can OPERATE the mask with the large ears, putting it on, but I can't quite figure out how to remove it.  Looking in the mirror with it on seems to protect us in some way, though it's not clear if we're just "fortunate" because we don't have to look at our own ugly mug.  We can turn the faucets on and off, filling the sink or the tub with water, but I don't have a reason to do that so I'll leave them off.

I'm messing around with the rug on the floor when I am informed that "the evil that dwells within the estate vies for control of your spirit" -- we had a flash of this earlier -- and learn that soon we won't have the strength of mind to fight it off.  This seems to be a timing-based mechanism, not a turn-based counter, so I'll probably be replaying after we succumb, unless I find some way to keep this force at bay.

Some bottles above the sink contain dark yellowish, yellowish, and red liquids; I'll take those too.  The inventory window is getting full, so I'll use the handy Special -> Clean Up menu command to neaten up the layout.  I also learn that I can swap one mask for another, though I can't directly take off the one we're wearing.

I think we've done what we can in the bathroom, so we'll work our way back out to the upstairs hallway and continue exploring.  I do take a brief detour to see if the painful chair downstairs contains the key, now that we suspect it should, but I am unable to confirm anything; I think we might need to cut the cushions.

Working my way clockwise through the upstairs hallway, I next enter a bedroom on the left, sensing "a powerful presence."  We can open the nightstand here to find a sealed scroll, marked with the same self-consuming snake that adorns the mansion's doorway outside.  We can open the scroll in turn to read six words over two lines -- they translate, using the definitions we found in the library, to something like "Speak Head Abraxas" and "Instant Light Abraxas."  I try saying Instantum Illuminaris Abraxas to the candle (when we SPEAK, we are given a pop-up typing interface in which to elaborate), but it ignores me and remains resolutely unlit.

A book on the nightstand appears never to have been opened -- it seems to have been written by Dracan, complaining about his treatment and the loss of his star.  He swears vengeance on this technological society and sounds mighty power-hungry.  We can take a second candle here too, just in case, and steal the pillows, though I have a feeling the usual "collect everything just in case it's needed" rules aren't going to apply to this adventure.  The advent of drag-and-drop and the use of windows as containers gave ICOM's designers the freedom to throw in all kinds of useless junk to create a more naturalistic sense of the game world, but it's a design choice that did not survive much past this era.

What about the wardrobe in this room?  We can open it, but it doesn't appear to contain anything; maybe we can use it later to stash excess inventory.  This bedroom has its own bathroom, with a fishtank, a hamper, and no toilet, oddly enough.  The hamper contains another fluffy blue towel -- but this one is damp and moldy, stained by what looks like blood.  We'll grab a bar of soap here, and note that the overhead light can be turned on and off by grappling with its edges, an unusual design.  There are gold flecks in the fish tank that look a lot like goldfish to me, but I can't find a way to interact with them.

I see the key creature now and then, taunting me, but I have no new ideas about how to catch him yet, or find my btother as the reminders come in every now and then, so we'll keep mapping out the mansion's upper level.  Northeast of the upstairs hall is yet another bedroom, with an old fashioned radio, a bed and a dresser.  The dresser contains a small iron pentagram, and we can't move the big rug on the floor, so there's not much else to do here beyond examining three thin plywood shelves on the wall, all empty.

The upstairs hallway's mid-right-hand doorway takes us to a rickety spiral staircase heading up.  We can grab a huge battle axe here -- but it's awfully large and can't be carried unless we ditch some of our inventory, so I'll drop the note to Master Crowley and one of the several towels I've managed to pilfer from the estate so far to fit it in.  A weapon seems like a smart thing to carry around here.

The staircase leads up into an iron cage -- the door is stubborn but not locked, and after we open it, the phantasm of a decapitated peasant holding his own head materializes, telling us plaintively that there is "No escape!" before it fades away.  The key-bearer runs past again, and I should probably be getting the hint here: The way he runs around he must get very hungry.  This little devil must eat something that makes him awfully hyper.  Coffee beans? Sugar?  I'll keep an eye out for a pantry.

I make the mistake of passing through the cell door, which locks behind us -- for eternity, causing our eventual starvation.  After restoring, I visit the last room on the upper level -- it's a storage closet, full of all kinds of stuff I could carry around if I had good reason.  A hatbox on the upper shelf seems like a good place to start; it contains a derby hat.  The second shelf contains a spray apparently designed for stunning spiders, some NO GHOST ghost repellent, and an empty box that may once have contained a bottle.  On the third shelf we find a box of antique laundry detergent, an empty cardboard box, and some insecticide.  The fourth shelf features a silver spittoon and a glass ashtray, and on the floor we find a paint-stained tarp, a mop and a broom.

I get another intimation of impending mortality as time ticks away, and I didn't come up with any new ideas based on the closet's contents.  Can we use the battle axe against the antebellum apparition downstairs?  Nope.  Can I wear the African mask designed to ward off ill-willed spirits?  I can wear it, yes, but the bloodthirsty ghost lady ignores it.  The iron pentagram doesn't work as a weapon either, and I can't throw the paint-stained tarp over her or SPEAK to her to try out a spell.

I try to light the entrance hall's firewood by SPEAKing to the firewood and typing in Instantum Illuminaris Abraxas -- and am pleased to see that this provokes a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning, though it doesn't actually seem to start the fire.  Am I translating this right?  Ah -- Instantum means momentary, and Illuminaris specifically a bright, white light.  So maybe I should try Spearca Instantum Illuminaris instead, to create a flame?  Nope, that doesn't do anything, nor does Instantum Spearca or Spearca alone.  At least the lightning spell is repeatable, so we are free to experiment.

What about the other spell, the Speak Head one?  There's a bust of a sailor next to the fireplace, and Specan Heafod Abraxas provokes the response, "Help your brother!"  I'm trying to do just that, Midshipman Obvious!

Maybe we can consume one of these mysterious liquids to provide protection?  The brown liquid is weakening, with an aroma of... almonds... uh-oh.  Which poison is it that smells like almonds?  Cyanide?  Too late, anyway, we're dead.  The yellow liquid causes everything to glow, but then the effect fades without any lasting results.  The red liquid makes us feel great for a short while before fading, and the dark yellow liquid is just a perfume, non-toxic but not productive either.  It doesn't seem like any of these effects (other than the poison) last for more than a moment, so I'm probably on the wrong track sampling the medicine cabinet.

Can we talk to the fish trophy?  No.  Use the battle axe on the locked cabinet?  No.  We can damage the fish tank, causing the water and fish to leak out, to no apparent purpose.  Can we use the detergent to wash the bloody towel, maybe?  I don't get to find out, as now "The evil presence proves too much for you" and we find ourselves surprisingly at peace with eternal undeath as the game comes to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Restoring before I start over from scratch, I determine that the ancient detergent simply dissolves in the house's hard water and does nothing to cleanse the towel.  It was worth a try, anyway.  I do learn that we can dampen the towel with running water, at least. 

Aha!  I wield the mighty battle axe against the literally pain-in-the-ass chair, and manage to rip it open, producing a skeleton key!

Now what might this open?  The obvious target works out -- the heavy cabinet in the master bedroom yields a sealed wooden box, probably containing Dracan's star; a glass vial containing a strangely solid black liquid; and two more scrolls.  One reads, "Gold, silver and mercury. Together they form a key," while the other reads, "The heart of the garden maze contains the Blothney gem.  There are certain places you cannot go, 'til you unlock the mystery."  Potentially useful clues, these.

Can we mix the mercury (which I now presume the solid blackish liquid to be) and the yellow liquid I drank earlier in the silver spittoon from the closet?  Doesn't seem like it -- and the yellow liquid is apparently cologne, not liquid gold or anything.

Maybe I can use the ghost repellent on the dangerous downstairs apparition?  YES!  She is 'fraid of NO GHOST, and dissolves away into nothingness.  Having learned that, maybe I should restart and repeat some of these early steps more efficiently.  But I'll do some mapping until the forces of evil win out again.

The left-hand downstairs door leads to the mansion's Rec Room, with a gramophone, a chess board, and another locked cabinet.  The gramophone is manually powered and features a Rudy Vallee recording of "Winchester Cathedral," actually playing a very brief excerpt if we OPERATE it, until its mainspring snaps.  There are two more doors here -- one leads to a large dining room, and one to a trophy room.

The Dining Room has four doors -- one leads back out to the downstairs hallway -- and we find the remnants of a party here, including a bouquet of flowers, a pewter bowl, a pepper mill, and a couple open bottles of Dom Perignon. One set of double doors leads to the Kitchen, with some knives and cookie jars -- including one stained with blood around the lid, though none of them contain anything.  I don't find anything that looks like creature bait, unfortunately.

There's a small bedroom attached to the kitchen, and I get overtaken by evil while trying to investigate it.  So it's time for me to restart and establish a new save baseline, getting the basics out of the way before returning here.  The dresser is empty, though there's an atomizer on the dresser that might prove useful later on, given all the liquids we seem to be running across. 

I also check out the kitchen pantry, full of more random stuff we might or might not be able to use.  Some matches are worth taking, I assume.  And there are some cooking basics here -- flour, rice, iodized salt... and sugar!  Maybe we can use it with one of the platters here to catch that creature?  I put a platter on the kitchen floor, put some sugar on it (though the OPERATE verb isn't working, I'm just placing it visually in the room) -- and watch as the creature runs by, ignoring it.

Returning to the dining room, we find that the other set of double doors leads into the Study.  A desk here opens to reveal a number of notecards -- these helpfully describe mercury, and many other chemical elements organized by atomic number, but since the Hg card is on top I think it's meant to help solidify our chemistry lesson for making that other key.  Another door here is locked.

I'll return to the trophy room now and examine the taxidermist's works on display.  There are some guns, locked in a gun rack, and a small, portable cage.  Ah, maybe this will help us out!  I put some sugar in the cage, though I'm clearly still missing something as nothing happens by to take the bait and leave, say, a key.  A door leads outside -- we are apparently not prevented from leaving the mansion, though we're still on the grounds -- to display a fanciful landscpae with three outbuildings.

The Magisterium (translating to "mystery," according to our magic dictionary) on the left is locked, but two suspicious metal orbs framing the doorway look like a possible target for a magical lightning bolt... or not.  There's a diamond-shaped niche above the door that probably has something to do with this puzzle.

The second building, in the center, is a greenhouse -- maybe this leads to the garden maze and the gem mentioned before?  There are no other exits, just a lot of dead plants, but I'll steal a watering can sitting here, just in case.

Finally, we investigate the chapel -- where two menacing dogs block our path and salivate at the sight of living flesh!  At last I find a use for that lightning spell, sending them scampering off in fear.  The chapel has long been abandoned, but there's another stone head here that I hope will have something more to say... and he obliges, calling upon his Master to open a door at the side of the sanctuary so that we may no longer walk in darkness.  I try to take the small cross on the altar -- and when I move it, the altar slides aside, revealing a passage beneath!

The game warns me that the chapel's basement is inhabited by a huge spider, so I go back to the house to fetch the Spider Cider from the upstairs closet.  Inventory is getting crowded -- there seems to be an item count limit, on top of the visual space constraints -- so I leave the bulky cage in the upstairs hallway.  As it turns out, the spider downstairs is really big, and I don't have a chance to use the Spider Cider spray on it before it kills us.

Okay -- another restore is in order.  What's through this other chapel door?  I step through it, and a horrifying apparition swoops down and peels the skin from my skull!  Ah, I'm not wearing the necklace from the mailbox, I missed that after my restart... and I can't get back there now, can I?  Another reset is required!  Unfortunately, having the necklace with me isn't sufficient protection.  Neither is carrying a crucifix along.  So I may be here prematurely.

I still haven't checked out the room at the lower right-hand side of the downstairs hallway back at the mansion, so I'll do that now.  Here, we find a neatly appointed Parlor, though it's fallen into disrepair over time.  A back door leads out onto the Veranda, where a spider scampers by.  I thought we might have to try to intercept it -- which wouldn't be easy, I fear, as the animation seems to play faster in this modern version that it would have on the Apple IIgs -- but we can simply spray the railing, leaving a film there.  I have to leave the room and return, and this time when the spider runs by, it gets stuck... it's not dead, but paralyzed.

I can't SPEAK to the spider, so I put it in inventory for now and close the veranda door, as I'm hearing a dog barking in the distance and I'm not sure that's a good thing here.  OPERATEing the spider on the chapel cellar doesn't do anything, and visiting the giant spider downstairs still proves fatal.  Hmm.

What else?  Maybe the skeleton key can work on the other locked cabinet in the Rec Room?  Yes -- and the key stays available in inventory for further use, I hadn't noticed that earlier.  There's a doll in the cabinet -- a gypsy fortuneteller doll -- and the speakin' spell suggests we "Talk to my pious brother..." who "... can open doors in high places," which we already know about.  Ah, well.

I retrieve the sealed box from the upstairs cabinet, and try to open it, but it's sealed shut with no visible means of entry.  Can I use the big kitchen knife on it?  Not to any visible effect.

Oh, hey!  It looks like the electricity is back on -- that's what the pious head must have meant when it talked about making sure we're no longer walking in darkness.  I'm allowed to turn on the lamp in the bedroom next to the kitchen -- and the picture on the wall (which I was not allowed to manually move out of the way earlier) slides aside.  Unfortunately, I can't see what's in there, as an unhappy ghost in chains materializes, indignant about our invasion of his private quarters.  And I'm all out of ghost repellent!

I try to use the skeleton key to unlock his chains, but that doesn't work.  The cross, the necklace, and the empty NO GHOST bottle also fail.  But applying the spider scares the ghost away with an unearthly shriek -- apparently the neatness of the ghost's former quarters suggests a certain phobia of insects.  Now we can open the journal stashed behind the picture to read the servant's diary, telling of how he hid Dracan's star in the Master's special box.  He also says that "Dracan's star never discerns.  In fire it freezes.  In ice it burns."

Does that mean we can burn the special box and still retrieve the star intact?    I try to operate the matchbox on the firewood, which of course doesn't work -- I have to open the matchbox and use a match on the firewood... oh, no, that doesn't work either.  I try to strike the match on the matchbox.  Nope.  Ah!  We have to close box before striking, of course.  Clever!  It took me a few tries to figure out how to apply the now-burning match to the firewood -- it finally worked best to drag it into the room display, then click OPERATE, the firewood, and the match to get the fire going.  Time is of the essence, as the match will burn out after a few seconds, though there are enough matches in the matchbox to allow for a little trial and error.

I thought I'd have to do something similar with the box, but simply dragging it over to the fire does the trick, turning it to ash and allowing us to retrieve a heavy, brass pentagram labeled "Fire and Ice."

Will this let me get past the ghost at the chapel?  Nope, I'm still prevented from reaching the garden maze.  Hmmmm... I see that, unlike most of the furniture in this place, we can actually take the candelabra from the chapel with us.  Is that useful?  With the candles lit, I step outside and... YES!  The ghost flits in and then flees at the sight of it.

Now we can enter the garden maze, outlined in brick walls with fog obscuring the distance.  The Exits map makes this a little bit easier to navigate than would otherwise be the case, but the maze is quite large and it takes some time to explore.  I run into a zombie along the way, and while trying to figure out what I might use on him, I'm dead again.  After a few retries, I figure out that the pentagram doesn't do anything to the zombie, but the necklace frightens it away.

I wander around the maze some more, eventually coming upon a dead end where a stone slab marks someone's passing.  I don't have a shovel and haven't seen one.  Maybe I should have brought those flowers from the dining room?  Dropping the bouquet at the grave produces a response praising our kindness, but I don't see anything happening as a result.  Are there other graves in this maze?  Yes -- and additional zombies, too.  I drop the flowers at another grave with no real results, but I finally find a gravestone placed suspiciously at the side of the screen instead of face-on, and using the flowers on it causes it so slide aside, revealing a crawlable tunnel.

We now face a puzzle involving a keyhole and three cages with doors.  The skeleton key works to open up the three cages -- and three hungry animals jump out!  I am still trying to identify them when the crow, viper and wildcat attack and tear me to pieces.  Drat!

Can I somehow connect the cage from the Trophy Room to these three cages to contain their dangerous contents?  I have to give up the candelabra to make room for the cage, and am glad to see that the attacking ghost stays gone after our initial encounter. Trying the cages again, the animals don't seem eager to go into my cage.  I try to drag the bird into it, but it jumps out of my hands.  The snake and cat do the same thing, making a meal of me before I can try many alternatives.  It isn't until I try to OPERATE the cage on the animals that I make progress -- of course, I mis-click the first time and confirm only that "The maze can't be caged," but I succeed in caging the viper, allowing the cat to satisfy itself with the bird and leave me alone.  Oddly, the snake appears to have disappeared from the cage when I open it again (the animals tend to wander off when they can, I realize later.)  And I don't find anything in the other cages to suggest why I might have wanted to empty them in the first place.

 

Heading out of this area, I encounter a weird bouncing tomato creature (for lack of a better description) -- it doesn't seem dangerous, but I can't get past it.  There's a horde of zombies lurking west of the puzzle room, so that's not a good way to go either, and the only other passageway takes me back out into the maze.  Where's that gem supposed to be?  Ah!  I see it hiding behind the bouncing monster, briefly, when he's in the air.  So we'll have to deal with him.

Can I get the cat to attack?  No, it's no longer hungry, and I can't drag the snake or cat onto the monster directly.  What if I backtrack and cage the bird instead?  The cat and snake attack each other, and now when I open the cage the bird escapes and the creature is distracted, taking off after it.  Talk about getting just the right permutation in place!

I grab the Bothney gem (or so I assume it to be), and since this room is a dead end I work my way back out of the maze.  Now that I have the gem, let's see if we can get into the Magisterium... yes, using it on the gem-shaped compartment opens the door!  Inside, we find a strange blue creature floating in the middle of the room, and it proves immune to the talisman and the pentagram.  It blocks access to the center door, though it appears we can freely access the rooms to our right and left.

To the east/right we discover an Observatory, a huge telescope trained on the heavens, and an indecipherable text lying open on a table.  The door to the left is locked, and the skeleton key won't open it.  The demon (for such this creature proves to be) won't let us do much, but it doesn't directly attack and we are free to come and go.

What about the greenhouse?  Inspecting the dead plants, I find one pot that has nothing growing in it, and when I try to operate the watering can on it, the potted soil eagerly sucks up the moisture.  Can this help us with the demon somehow?  I try to OPERATE the plant on the demon, with no luck, but when I put it on the ground, the demon flies down to check it out, but then returns to his post disappointed.

Some time has passed, and there's a small green shoot poking out of the pot now.  It probably needs more water, but before I get to one of the mansion's bathrooms, I see the plant has grown some more.  The demon still isn't interested, though, until the plant starts to bear fruit, at which point it takes and eats some, then disappears.

Now we can go through the central door -- the one with a pentagram on it, of course -- to access the Laboratory.  There's a safe here that requires a combination to open, and I have no clue what that might be... oh, wait, maybe I do!  There are a bunch of beakers here, calling that earlier note to mind.  Gold, silver, mercury -- that would be Au, Si, Hg -- atomic numbers 79, 14, 80... no, wait, silver isn't Si, that's Silicon.  Ag is silver, #47, and yes, 79 47 80 opens the safe!

The safe contains a cookie jar -- examination suggests it contains one big solid object, but it's sealed very tightly.  Can I open it with that little jar of black stuff?  No -- I can splash it all over the jar, but it still won't open.  I go back to the house and try the battle axe on it -- and yes, that works just fine, revealing a large cookie.

Um... so now what?  Oh, that little critter with the key is still running around.  Let's see if we can tempt him with the cookie!  I drop it on the kitchen floor, and he obliges me by nibbling on the cookie and leaving the key behind.

Now what can we use this key on?  There's that last door in the Magisterium... but no, it doesn't unlock that.  Nor does it unlock the door in the study.  Are there any other locked locks on the map?

I finally needed a walkthrough to find something I'd missed here -- a trap door in the floor of the laboratory that I visually took to be a simple bit of circular shading.  We don't even need the key for this, it can just be opened, leading down into a dark cave.

Heading north on this lower level, I encounter that huge spider we met earlier underneath the chapel.  But it doesn't immediately attack?  Well, it only waits a little bit -- I have enough time to try the Spider Cider on it, but he's much too big to be vulnerable to an over-the-counter insect paralysis spray.

Trying my luck to the southwest instead, I meet a man who forms himself out of the mist of these frozen tunnels -- "You've come.  I've been waiting for you... for you!" he says before vanishing.  The pentagram of Fire and Ice proves effective on the ice, melting it away by summoning a fiery creature.  We then see a human figure, or perhaps a corpse, apparently released from the ice, just before it gets washed downstream, to the north.

The robed figure reappears -- I guess he's meant to be the Master, trying to help us defeat Dracan.  He tells us to hurry, so we'll try.  Heading north, we find a strange stone altar with a pit in its center.  The figure we saw washed away is also here -- and thawing out rapidly, as a growing sense of foreboding fills the room.  So I try dragging him into the pit -- and this seems to work, as the pit sounds quite bottomless and his screams (what a rude awakening!) fade away.

We don't want to go down the pit ourselves -- though we can take that fatal route if we choose -- so we'll head north again, to find a stairway leading up to a locked door.

 

Maybe this is what that black key is for!  Yes -- though we're not at the endgame quite yet.  This door brings us back into the mansion's study, where we can now hear our brother's pained voice and screams from upstairs before he is suddenly cut off.  Uh-oh.

I rush upstairs -- I guess about which way to go and luck out, finding myself in the second bathroom where it sounds like his screams are right on top of us (the audio is especially effective here, given the limited technology of the time.)  Maybe this is where that weird light fixture comes into play -- can we remove it to access an upper level?  We can't reach the light, even though we can clearly turn it on and off?  Hmmmm.  Can we fill the tub and then freeze the water with the pentagram?  I don't have the pentagram anymore, so we may never know.

But I've got the right idea here -- the tub is now overflowing, and the water is rising in this tiny bathroom.  After a while (not a moment too soon, it feels like!) I can open the fixture.  I go up through the hole to the attic, and yes, here's our little brother, complete with a standard-issue 1980s haircut!  We can't SPEAK to him, but EXAMINE reveals that he seems to be possessed.  I try to use the cross on him, but am advised that this isn't a movie.

So close!  What am I missing here?  Can I wake him out of his trance somehow?  HIT actually works -- we haven't really used it anywhere else, come to think of it.  The demon is knocked out of his host, and our brother voluntarily crashes through the window to (we hope) safety.  The cross is much more effective on the exposed demon, who recoils and fades into nothingness.

There seems little left to do now but go out the window after our brother.  And victory is ours!



As an unusual final touch, we're given the opportunity to type in our name and print out an official Certificate of Completion, but I'm all for the paperless society so I'll be content with this blog post as my official record.


I thoroughly enjoyed playing Uninvited -- the plot is traditional haunted mansion adventure game stuff, and some of the puzzles seem arbitrary, but the innovative interface design and top-notch execution make for a memorable experience.  Now that the MacVenture games are back in circulation, I will have to tackle Deja Vu, Deja Vu II and Shadowgate at some point.  Watch this space!
 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Voodoo Island (1985)

This week, I'm tackling a vintage text adventure game whose quality belies its generic title:  M.  J. Sayer's Voodoo Island, published by Mindscape via Angelsoft, Inc. in 1985.  We're cast as a castaway, a shipwreck survivor who has apparently been silently observed by someone while passed out on the beach.  The game was published for the Apple II and IBM PC computers -- I'm playing the Apple II version here, though I had to detour into the IBM PC edition to check out an issue.




Angelsoft was one of the few American companies competing seriously with Infocom in the pure text adventure field, obtaining licenses for many of its titles (e.g. Stephen King's The Mist.)   The company's prose was solid enough, but the Angelsoft engine (at least on the Apple II) is notably slow to respond, with lots of clunky disk access for text and no apparent cacheing.  (I ended up turning up the speed on the AppleWin emulator I'm using here, just to save some time on my numerous replays, and I don't usually do that.)  Angelsoft's biggest issue may have been timing -- the company was active from 1985 to 1987, when the commercial text adventure market was starting to fade.

As usual, I'll be detailing my playthrough experience below.  I can easily recommend this game to avid adventurers, but I will warn you that the game has a design flaw that blocked my progress for a couple of hours trying to figure out what I'd done wrong.  I finally had to restart and do things the way the author expected (the CASA walkthrough by Jonathan Blask is handy, though not explicit on this point.)  I should also tell you that, if you plan to visit Voodoo Island yourself, the game's copious prose displays more clearly and runs faster on the IBM PC than on the Apple II.  Beyond this point, gentle reader, there are sure to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****



We begin on the beach, with a forest to the north and shark fins visible in the water to the south.  Angelsoft was never as successful as Infocom, but the company did try to make its prose original -- an unproductive EXAMINE FOOTPRINTS yields, Your first glance saw all.

We'll head west to the end of a rocky point, where we find our tote (at least I assume we've seen it before, as the game calls it "the tote") -- it's empty, but monogrammed on one side is THE ADVENTURER, so we have an appropriate if generic identity.  This location is a dead end, so we'll travel all the way east to a jungle-bound area, from which we can see a stone citadel on the slopes of an extinct volcano.

As I'm looking around, we're informed that The raft just arrived.  I try to GET RAFT, which apparently is taken as a desire to board -- we are pulled out into the nearby waters, drifting past a ruined graveyard and landing at a small park on the western shore of the island.  We can GET RAFT again to reach a gravel spit on the northern side of the island, and a third time to return to our original departure point.  This island has some very interesting currents!

I wanted to come back here, anyway, as we haven't explored the jungle north of our starting point yet.  A dirt path leads north between trees confined by a barbed wire fence.  We can continue North to a green lawn in front of a large white building to the north.  This turns out to be a deserted but well-maintained hotel, with wicker chairs that for some reason provoke visions of people running away in panic when we inspect them.

We can OPEN DOOR and head north into the hotel; the door closes behind us.  A stairway leads east, and there's an archway to the north leading to the lobby and the front desk, where a clerk dressed in white stands at the ready though there's no sign of any other guests.  The guest register lies open, but its pages are blank when we try to READ BOOK or TURN PAGE.  Strange.

I'll head north onto the porch, after I... well, I guess I can't OPEN the FRENCH DOORS, because they're locked.  We can see a dining room through the western windows, but can't go there, nor can we pass through the ornate golden gate on the eastern wall.

So I'll try heading up the stairs near the entrance -- and the staircase seems to go on forever, the air getting thinner, until we find ourselves in a long white hall heading north.  We head north, where You see the picture frame -- ah, I see now, the engine uses definite articles at all times.  We can see that it's a small, silver picture frame, if we EXAMINE FRAME, and EXAMINE PICTURE describes a smiling island woman cradling a baby, wearing a necklace of shells and... bones?

We can continue north through the hallway, arriving at a room with a brass elevator on the west wall and mahogany doors to the east.  Before exploring either of these, I'll go north one more time to the end of the hall -- a staircase appears to lead up to another floor, and The Booth Suite is denoted by a plaque over a closed door on the west wall.

I feel like going upstairs and getting a general sense of the hotel's layout before I start opening doors and exploring in detail, so I head upstairs to a small, dark alcove adjoining The Beauvais Penthouse to the east.  We can OPEN DOOR to enter the sitting room, with a bathroom to the north and a conservatory to the east.  I'll check out the conservatory first.

We see Doctor Beauvais and Sharleen here, a handsome man and a buxom blonde, respectively.  TALK BEAUVAIS prompts the Doctor to tell us his name is well regarded in France; TALK SHARLEEN proves fatal, as she rests a hand on our shoulder and we are dead after experiencing a brief but excruciating pain.  Death will not be a stranger on Voodoo Island, it appears.

Restoring, I'll opt to OPEN BATHROOM DOOR and head north before I spend any more time with the local residents.  There's a mirror here, which we can't remove from the wall; LOOK MIRROR is disconcerting, as we cannot see our own face, just the walls of the room.  I check out the conservatory again, and this time only Sharleen is here, but Doctor Beauvais arrives shortly afterward.  I try to head E, and am told  that Without Moma's help, you'll never get through here.  Interesting -- I wonder who Moma is?

I can't see anything new or safe to try here (I do try to KISS SHARLEEN, just for fun, with the expected fatal results), so I'll head back downstairs for now.  The disambiguation in the Angelsoft engine isn't quite as robust as Infocom's -- if I try to generically OPEN DOOR in the penthouse, where there is a penthouse door as well as a bathroom door, I have to answer a series of "Do you want to open the [penthouse/bathroom] door?" prompts to help the parser figure out what I mean.

Checking out the Booth Suite on the second floor, we find ourselves in a Presidential-looking suite with an archway to the west and a copy of the Bible on hand.  The book is cracked and mildewed, but we can GET BIBLE and READ BIBLE to catch a legible fragment concerning how "... you shall be defeated by your enemies."  In the suite's bedroom to the west, we find a card reading... well, before we can GET CARD, I need to DROP BIBLE to comply with the game's strict three-item inventory limit.  Now I can finally READ CARD: "THE ISLAND TAXI."  I try to CALL TAXI and the parser gives away the joke: The donkey is not here.

Backtracking south down the hallway, I open the mahogany doors to enter the Ballroom, polished and elegantly decorated, with ragtime music coming from an invisible band.  A mural on the wall depicts island workers in a sugar cane field; we can't MOVE MURAL or LOOK BEHIND MURAL, which is interpreted as a room-level LOOK, but this isn't too surprising as the mural is painted on the wall.

Back in the hallway, I OPEN GATE to try to access the elevator -- but there's no elevator car here, and all I can do is grab onto a hanging rope before the gate shuts again, climbing down into blackness with no apparent footing beneath.  I take a chance and drop D, falling twenty feet and arriving bruised, but unbroken in front of a golden elevator gate.  OPEN GATE here leads to the hotel lobby again (this path is the only way back, actually, as after we climb the seemingly endless stairs we are not allowed to return the way we came.)

I try to SHOW PICTURE TO CLERK, and he comments: "That is a photo of a very great lady and her baby."  I ASK CLERK ABOUT DOCTOR, and learn that "Doctor Beauvais has done much to our island."  Interesting choice of words.  I ASK CLERK ABOUT TAXI, and he says, "The taxi will take you to town," as the French doors that were locked earlier swing open.  Curiouser and curiouser!

We can access the hotel's front porch now, where it seems the only accessible path is north to a white road.  I try to enter the shrubbery to the east, anticipating a dead end, though not of the sort I encounter as we are suddenly attacked and killed; our unseen assailant chuckles: "Welcome to my tropical paradise."

The same happens in the western shrubbery, so we'll head north to the road, marked by a sign as Pudding Lane.  We see a seaplane flying overhead, and The donkey is here.  Before climbing aboard, I head into the cane fields on the other side of the road and get lost, wandering in the maze until I find a walking stick.  I'm out of inventory slots again, and finally realize I might be able to PUT CARD IN TOTE to conserve space -- this does in fact work, though I can't do the same with the larger picture frame, as the tote is only the size of a soda can.

EXAMINE STICK proves interesting -- it's five feet in length, with blood-stained chicken feathers tied to one end by a vine.  This looks more like a voodoo artifact (or at least a Western idea of one) than anything else we've encountered so far, so it is likely important.

I wander in the cane fields some more, lost, and encounter someone named Bob, who appears to be a college student circa two decades past, with pasty white skin.  But when I try to ASK BOB ABOUT TAXI, he reaches out silently, just like Sharleen did, and we're dead again.

On the next try,  I take some time to map out the cane maze... but it's fairly large, with more rooms than I can carry inventory items.  I do manage to figure out that if we enter the maze, then go W and N, we find a giant spider web and can head W to get back to the road, though the donkey has moved on while we were away.  We can also walk E into the sticky web, for eventual disposal by its maker, though that's not a good idea.

I do some more mapping and figure out that if we enter the maze and travel S, N, and N again, we find the walking stick... but it seems to be randomly placed, or to move on of its own accord before we can GET STICK, or perhaps Bob is stealing it.  The map also doesn't seem entirely consistent here, though I may just be doing a poor job of mapping it.  I also discover that the donkey can wander into the maze (he doesn't actually get lost, though that wasn't clear at first), so it seems like a good idea to restore and skip this area for now.  Maybe a map will turn up later.

I decide to retrieve the walking stick, at least, and try to travel on foot without the donkey.  The road leads west from the hotel past an abandoned airfield.  It's overgrown, but a short runway appears functional.  And there's a cemetery to the west, from which it seems our new acquaintance Randall has emerged; I try to ASK RANDALL ABOUT RUNWAY and am once again fatally paralyzed.  The same happens if I WAVE STICK, so that's not going to help us with these zombies.

We can avoid Randall and head into the cemetery, adjoining a park to the north -- ah, this is the same park where the raft stops on its journey around the island!  I was wondering when this map was going to start to cohere, so this is a good discovery.

There's also a crypt in the cemetery, though we can't ENTER CRYPT -- we can only OPEN CRYPT to see "the necklace," which looks just like the one the woman is wearing in the photo.  I'll opt to WEAR NECKLACE in case it confers any protections -- at least, it doesn't seem fatal to put it on.

Returning to the road, I encounter an island girl, beautiful and graceful.  Most of my attempts at interaction -- ASK, TALK, KISS -- just cause a shadow to cross her face, though SHOW PHOTO TO GIRL indicates that she looks very sad.

I head north along the road past the airfield, encountering a crowd that appears to be guarding a town.  Cane fields are to the east (entering the cane maze at the same point we did from the other location), and the park is to the west.  I'm pretty sure the crowd won't let me through, but we can travel north into their midst.  They won't let us go west, as expected, but we can return south or head east.

The road to the east leads to a banana plantation -- we can see the tin roofs of the town to the west, where the crowd won't let us go.  I'll avoid the cane fields to the south, assuming that we'll just be back in the maze, and continue east to a banana grove.  When I attempt to enter, however, we hear an old woman's voice calling out: "Neither you nor any of Beauvais' slaves will ever enter this grove -- at least, not on foot."  Hmmmmm.  I find the donkey again in my wanderings, but he currently won't let me RIDE DONKEY, though when I try to PAY DONKEY we're told he's here waiting for us so I'm not quite sure how this is supposed to work.

I think I've mapped this area out pretty well, though I don't see any obvious puzzles or solutions yet, so we'll hop on the raft at the park to revisit the gravel spit.  Fortunately, the parser allows us to WAIT FOR THE RAFT, a much-appreciated time saver, and there does not appear to be a ticking clock of any kind in this game.

The spit adjoins a dock to the east, with a dark tunnel visible in the cliffs to the west, apparently guarded by unnaturally large crabs.  I'll check out the dock first -- a seaplane is parked here, but its door is locked and the pilot scowls when we try to RIDE SEAPLANE.  The parser suggests that we need to fix something on the island before we can depart; the plane leaves, at any rate, while I'm poking around.  I try to enter the caves, but the crabs tear me to pieces, so that's not productive at the moment.

What else?  I discover that I've made a bad assumption -- the donkey is simply stubborn and randomly puts up resistance.  I can't initially RIDE DONKEY -- The donkey brays, but will not let you ride -- but then it seems I can TAKE DONKEY to ride from Pudding Lane to the banana grove, and from there to the cane fields.  Finally, the donkey obliges by taking me into town -- though I get the temporary, incorrect impression there's no way to TAKE DONKEY again at this location, and even if I WAIT FOR DONKEY he leaves before I can climb aboard again.  It just takes persistence to use the local transportation system.

The town appears deserted, with a single main road leading north to a church, the local park visible to the south, and an alley leading west to a pier.  On the pier, we see a wrecked ship that we could "probably swim to" except for the rough seas; we can't actually SWIM, I never found a way to get there and it doesn't enter into the plot at all, so I think it's just window dressing.

The church steps lead to a rusting iron door, and we can OPEN DOOR to enter.  The aging Father Xavier is here, dressed in a white cassock, and says: "I wish I could be of more help, but you know I can't leave my church."  He's not happy with Beauvais -- "That wicked man has driven the dead from their graves" -- but all he can do is shake his fist, though he does note that "My church is one place that evil man dares not enter."  Asking the good Father about other characters we've met notes that there are few people left on the island, and SHOW NECKLACE TO XAVIER confirms that "Many Voodoo objects have extraordinary powers."

Interesting -- when I try to SHOW PHOTO TO XAVIER, he asks me to take it out of the picture frame so he can see it better, and I realize I went back to an old save to try the donkey out.  But when I try to resume from where I was, the donkey seems much more stubborn (this turns out to be because I didn't keep the Island Taxi card in inventory.)  So I'll go from here and revisit the other areas as needed.  Once I have the photo out of the frame, Xavier says: "From the necklace around the woman's neck I'd say it has something to do with Moma."  ASK XAVIER ABOUT MOMA reveals something important: "Moma is the only one who can help you against Beauvais.  Perhaps you should go and see her."   So we're talking about a person, and not the Museum of Modern Art, then.

So where is Moma?  Ah -- repeating the question to Father Xavier indicates that she can't leave the banana grove.  That's probably the voice I heard earlier!  As luck would have it, when I leave the church I am able to TAKE DONKEY again, and he drops me in the banana grove.  The banana trees are occupied by oversized black spiders, and there's a weather-beaten shack to the east.

Moma is here, in a white turban and colorful dress, puffing on her pipe.  She indicates that if Beauvais were dead, her people could be freed and his monsters quieted.  She also confirms that Sharleen, Randall and Bob are zombies, and that the hotel clerk is one of Dr. Beauvais' followers.  When I ask her about the island girl, she says: "Bring her to me."  How do I do that?

I take the donkey again, and he drops me off at the airfield.  I notice a wrecked fuselage to the south, which I didn't visit last time I was in the neighborhood, and explore it to find a skeleton, bleached white and sitting in the passenger seat.  While I am poking around, though, Randall turns me into a zombie.

I find the island girl in the road near the airfield after a restore, and when I ASK GIRL ABOUT MOMA a tear trickles down her cheek.  GIRL, FOLLOW ME doesn't work, though, and I can't just GET GIRL.

The donkey is being stubborn again, so I don't think having the necklace or the walking stick is really an issue as long as we have the card; I just have to persist.  So I round those items up again... except the walking stick has moved from where I found it originally, probably thanks to Bob (or some randomness in the game initialization, I never did figure out what's going on here.)  We can't enter the banana grove except by donkey, even though we've visited Moma once already.

I SHOW NECKLACE TO MOMA, and she says it is very special.  I GIVE NECKLACE TO MOMA, and she smiles.  But it isn't until I check a walkthrough that I realize I have to TRADE NECKLACE TO MOMA, receiving a linen shirt in return, "one of my most powerful pieces."  It's probably a good idea to WEAR SHIRT.  I also learn that I didn't do enough at the wrecked plane -- we have to EXAMINE SKELETON CAREFULLY to find a small pouch, containing an herbal powder.

I still need to reclaim the walking stick.  I run into Bob in the cane field maze and EXAMINE BOB CAREFULLY -- his eyes reflect the image of Dr. Beauvais, but he's not carrying the stick.  I decide to backtrack a bit to an earlier save, as I don't see a way to find the stick once it vanishes.  But I'm having trouble taking the donkey?  Ah, this is when I realize I need to have the Island Taxi card in my possession -- but I can't seem to find it anywhere.  I think I might have dropped it in the cane maze.

I find Bob in the cane fields, but when I try to HIT BOB WITH STICK I just join the walking dead, and KILL doesn't work either.  Maybe it's easier just to restart, so I'll do that.  The walkthrough advises us to break the mirror in the penthouse bathroom, leaving a piece we can take with us, though it's too big to store in the tote.  Ah!  I also learn that we can read the guest registry a second time, to see notes from Sharleen, Bob and Randall enthusing about their vacations here.  So Dr. Beauvais has been turning the hotel guests into zombies!  Seems like that would be bad for tourism.

I find the walking stick in a different location than before, suggesting some randomness or movement afoot.  And I can CUT WEB WITH MIRROR to create a hole we can wiggle through, allowing us to access a thicker part of the jungle to the east.  We see a huge snake coiled through a skull, and encounter a strange mob of human-face monkeys, picking at our clothes, and can go no farther.

Getting back to my intended agenda, I reassemble my inventory and try to HIT RANDALL WITH STICK after I get and wear the linen shirt.  And yes!  Randall falls to the ground, the unnatural glow fading from his skin.  Can we GET RANDALL?  Yes, to my surprise, though I put him back down again.  I grab the pouch again, but it's too big to store in the tote.

The herbal powder smells strange -- jasmine and rotted fish?  Can we use it to subdue the island girl?  I try to THROW POWDER ON GIRL but have to juggle inventory so I can remove it from the pouch before I do.  This causes her to pass out, mumbling, "I gave the doll to... You must..." before she closes her eyes.

Another series of donkey rides gets us back to Moma's shack.  I GIVE GIRL TO MOMA and am relieved to learn the girl is Moma's long-lost daughter, not a sacrifice of some kind.  Her daughter is saved, her eyes now clear, but, Moma says, "all the tormented souls who wander must be put to rest."

That probably means I should have put Randall's body in the crypt, so I'll do that, closing the crypt just in case.  And we'd better do the same thing with Bob before we try to take care of Sharleen in Beauvais' penthouse.  Okay, good, that worked as planned (or so I think.)

I head into the hotel to face Beauvais.  I try to KILL BEAUVAIS WITH STICK to no avail, as he summons a zombie to deliver us to his operating table; apparently zombification on Voodoo Island is a medical procedure, and  has nothing to do with voudou magick or cosmic radiation.

What was that about a doll?  I can't ASK GIRL ABOUT DOLL -- she actually disappears from sight after we bring her home -- but Moma tells us, "You can use it against that wicked man.  Break it in his presence and he will be destroyed."  Ah!  So easy once you know how it's done.

Of course, I don't know where this doll actually is.  Who did the girl give it to?  Let's look in the voodoo jungle area.  It looks like I can CLIMB TREE near the monkeys, but they won't let me do so, crowding in to prevent my access.  LOOK TREE reveals a rag doll, but I can't GET DOLL from ground level.  I try to go south and east, but the twelve-foot snake bites and instantly kills me.  I can't KILL SNAKE WITH STICK either.

The herbal powder is too fine to gather up, so I can't use it to subdue the monkeys.  I ASK MOMA WHERE DOLL IS, but "That you must find out for yourself."  And she knows nothing at all about the monkeys, it seems.

I try going to the penthouse to stick it to Sharleen and see if that helps.  I'm able to put her to rest, and Dr. Beauvais doesn't seem to take exception to this.  So I put her in the crypt... and I still can't climb the tree.  I visit Moma again -- asking her about the snake confirms that it guards Beauvais' citadel -- but I can't pick any bananas here to use with the monkeys, so that's not an idea.  I EXAMINE STICK CAREFULLY and EXAMINE SHIRT CAREFULLY, finding some voodoo markings but no clues about how to proceed.

So -- I always hate to do this midstream, but my game doesn't seem to be jiving with the walkthrough and it feels like we're so close to victory that I have to figure out what's going on.  So I switch to the IBM PC version, published at the same time, and see if there's a difference here.  This version plays much faster, too, so it won't take long to retrace my steps... and... nope, the monkeys are just as aggressive in this version. 

Reading the Bible or bringing it here and throwing it at the monkeys makes no difference either.  What about the cave with the crabs off the spit?  We still can't enter it, so that seems unlikely to be fruitful.  I go back and grill Moma some more, but don't learn anything new.  I ride the donkey's full circuit, back around to Pudding Lane.  And I realize that it is Beauvais' citadel we can see from the shoreline near the start of the game, but that doesn't help us get there.

AHA!  Trying the IBM version again, just following the walkthrough, Moma tells us that she's put the snake to sleep.  This appears to be because I've put Randall and Bob away in the crypt before bringing Moma's daughter back to her, so instead of telling me there are other souls to put to rest, she goes ahead and helps out.  And yes, now I can climb the tree!  The description hasn't changed at the monkey room level, but I am allowed to clamber up and retrieve the rag doll, almost human looking, dressed in Bermuda shorts.

Into the citadel we venture, opening the iron gate and heading through a high arched opening into an area with curtains in all three directions.  A study to the west contains Sharleen -- we'll KILL SHARLEEN WITH STICK to put her to rest.

Heading west from the study, we find Doctor Beauvais in the conservatory of his penthouse suite -- and BREAK DOLL is sufficient to freeze him and end his power, though he seems to keep wandering around, zombie-like.  I head east now, through a parlor and upstairs to the bad Doctor's operating room.  Going upstairs again brings us to a museum of death, with a coffin handy.

It seems only right to put Sharleen to rest in the coffin, so we'll do that.  I find a teddy bear in a bedroom on my way out -- and when I try to GET BEAR, it turns out to be a wanga, a fatal voodoo trap laid especially for us!  So close, and yet so far!  (And while the PC version runs fine in DOSBox, it's hard to SAVE GAME with its 1985 assumptions -- it believes there's only one disk drive and refuses to write to the game disk folder, no matter how much space is available, and I can't swap in a save diskette.)

So we'll go back to the Apple II, where in my current game Moma simply will not put the snake to sleep no matter how many times I ask, even though she now knows and confirms that Randall and Bob are at rest.  So I start over one more time!


That's much better -- instead of just commenting that the other souls need to be put to rest, Moma is very helpful.  The design expects the player to follow a specific sequence of events -- we have to put Bob and Randall to rest, then bring Moma's daughter to her, even though she gives us no inkling of priority when we talk to her beforehand.  It doesn't seem that there's any way to jog Moma's recognition that we've done everything she asked if we do it in the "wrong" order; this strikes me as a design flaw, and not an easy one to ferret out.  But we're back on track -- now she's put the snake to sleep, allowing us to climb the tree and retrieve the rag doll.

Now we can put Sharleen to rest, and explore the rest of the citadel while we're looking for the evil Dr. Beauvais.  Downstairs, below the bedroom, we find a number of cells crammed with human beings.  I try to go through a tunnel to the east, but run into evil crabs and die -- this must be the same guarded passage we can see from the gravel spit, and we're not going to get through it this way either.

I find the Doctor wandering around and do my amateur voodoo magic on him, incapacitating him once more.  I try to OPEN CELLS to free the imprisoned people, but that can't be done -- Moma will have to help them, I guess.  I go to the dock (the long way around) and WAIT FOR SEAPLANE.  It arrives, and then we simply RIDE SEAPLANE to safety and...

Uh-oh.  The pilot's been possessed by Dr. Beauvais' spirit!  I apparently should have left the voodoo doll behind.  Doing that on the retry works better -- we return safely to friends and family, and tell them all about our crazy adventure, which somehow gets taken seriously enough to spur a search for all the missing tourists (apparently they weren't otherwise missed.)  Victory is ours with a happy ending!







Voodoo Island is an entertaining work of interactive fiction, though it's not quite on the level of the Infocom games, and that substantial design flaw caused me quite a few problems.  M. J. Sayer apparently never created any other games, but this effort is a well-written if traditional adventure story, and I'm encouraged to check out more of the Angelsoft titles.