Game 37: Burial Ground Adventure (1979)

From CRPG Adventures

A familiar style of title screen.

Today’s game is Burial Ground Adventure, another in the surprisingly common sub-genre of “early text adventures designed by young boys”. Joel Mick is the boy in question for this game. He was twelve at the time, based in New Jersey, and apparently distributed the game himself (with the help of his family, I suspect). Mick later became one of the original playtesters for the seminal trading card game Magic: The Gathering, then went on to be one of the game’s brand managers, so he did alright for himself.

As for Burial Ground Adventure, this should be a quick one, because there’s not a lot going on with this game that we haven’t seen before. It was released in 1979 for the TRS-80, and it’s yet another text adventure where the goal is to hunt down some treasures and take them to a specific location. Other games in that style have gotten by on being early enough in gaming history to have a novel location, but this game doesn’t even have that going for it.

The game begins by asking your name (which is only used to name the save file), and then begins with the protagonist standing on the beach of a small island, carrying nothing at all. To the south there’s a sand bar with a sign saying that this is the place where you should drop your treasure and type SCORE to win. As with other games of its type, the game has a score (with 100 maximum points) and gives you a rank when you end the game.

The start of the game.

Further exploration revealed that the island is not at all large. There was some jungle to the north, a small swamp to the west, and some cliffs and a waterfall to the northwest. Further north was a hole in the ground that looped back to the cliffs and the beach (or so I thought, but more on that later). A path headed east, leading to a house. Or it might have been a castle, the game has it both ways.

The door to the castle was locked, which constituted the first obvious puzzle of the game. There was a kennel not far away that had a key in it, but that key was guarded by dogs who wouldn’t let me take it. There were a number of items scattered around the island that I thought might be helpful though:

  • There’s a gun lying to the west of the starting location. It’s no good for killing the dogs though, because it has no bullets.
  • Near a stream west of the jungle is a note, but that’s just a plug for Mick’s next game, Damsel in Distress. This sort of stuff is all over games of this era.
  • South of the kennel is a shed, and inside can be found a wire hanger.
  • One of the paths in the jungle leads to a pit trap, set to catch animals. At the bottom of the pit is a bamboo shoot and some nondescript animal meat. The meat seems like a good solution to getting rid of the dogs, but at this point there’s no way to climb out of the pit. If you stumble in here without the right item there’s nothing to do but restart or reload.
  • There’s also a shovel lying on the path to the house. I used it to dig in every location, and in the swamp I found some rope.
With the rope in my possession, I was able to make some progress. I went back to the pit, grabbed the meat and the bamboo, and used the rope to climb back out. The command used to get out of the pit is a little awkward, because we’re dealing with a simple two word parser here: you need to THROW ROPE while you’re at the bottom of the pit, and then CLIMB ROPE. I didn’t have any trouble with it, because I’d just encountered the exact same puzzle solution in Battlestar, but I could see it causing some problems.
I took the meat to feed it to the dogs, with some further awkwardness with the parser: rather than FEED DOGS you have to type FEED MEAT, which isn’t intuitive at all, but at least the game tells you outright what it expects here. Much to my surprise, it didn’t work. Half of the dogs left after being fed, but those that remained were still blocking me from the key.
With no other paths to explore, I figured that there must be another way to open the door. The wire hanger seemed a good bet, so I tried PICK LOCK, which worked. I have to admit, it’s a mildly clever fake-out to put an obvious but false solution out in the open, while hiding the actual solution in plain sight.
The ground floor of the house had six rooms:
  • The entry hall.
  • A recreation room, where there was a TV. I turned on the TV and saw an ad for dog-food, which explicitly says that you shouldn’t feed dogs steak or meat. This made me think I’d need dog-food to solve the game, but it ends up being a red herring.
  • A bathroom, which serves no purpose at all.
  • A laundry, with a laundry chute (which the game spells “shute”).
  • A kitchen with a refrigerator. Inside the fridge is a steak.
  • A closet with a match and some ammunition. There’s also a trapdoor leading up, but nothing I did was able to open it.
Feeding the steak to the dogs seemed like the logical thing to do at this time, but now that I had some ammo I opted for a violent solution. Predictably, it did not end well.
I think this might be the only death in the game.
Giving them the steak was more successful, satisfying the half that hadn’t been sent away by the meat. But now I had a key and no door to try it on. It didn’t do anything to the trapdoor, so I was stuck.
At this point I started using the game’s HELP command, which gives a small hint at various locations. At the beach with the hole in it, it told me that there might be something in the hole. Naturally I’d thought of that myself, but going DOWN from the beach just led to some cliffs with nothing of note to be found. It turned out that I had to GO HOLE. Having that DOWN option was a bit misleading here.
Going down led to a dark pit. I lit the match I had found in the closet, and was given a brief glimpse of a door before it fizzled out. I opened the door with the key, and found myself in a catacomb, which is presumably the “burial ground” from the game’s title. The catacombs don’t require a light source, even though the entrance did.
In a passage east I found some rubies, and then a secret room with more treasure: diamond jewelry, some ancient drawings and a gold cross. The tunnel had also collapsed behind me, but luckily I was still carrying the shovel. Without it, there’s no way to dig to freedom.
The catacombs also have a small maze. Seriously, it’s only got two locations, but I’m not complaining. Somewhat nonsensically, this maze leads to the top floor of the house, don’t ask me how. I wasn’t all that upset about it though, because I hadn’t been able to get up here through the closet trapdoor.
There are three more treasures in the top floor rooms: a pearl, a stamp album, and a portrait of George Washington. I tried to read the stamp album, but no luck. If I’d tried OPEN ALBUM instead, the stamps would have all blown away, but I avoided that pitfall by using the wrong command.
There’s also a pillow, and a “shute” leading down to the laundry. You can slide the pillow down and then slide objects down after it so that they land softly. It’s kind of pointless though, as I later discovered that you can just carry items out of the house in your inventory with no problem.
Right now I had a problem, though, because I was trapped on the top floor of the house. There’s no way to get back to the catacombs. There’s a room that’s obviously on top of the closet, but the trapdoor doesn’t exist as an object from that side. The “shute” would be a likely way down, but the game crashed when I tried to slide down it.
I had to figure out a way to open the closet trapdoor from the bottom. The HELP command told me I should try pushing it open, but PUSH DOOR returns the message that “nothing happens”. I’ll admit that at this point I consulted a walkthrough for the answer: you need to push the trapdoor open with the bamboo shoot, presumably because it’s out of reach. It’s a solution I might have come up with after a trawl through my inventory, but that “nothing happens” message threw me off. I was thinking that the trapdoor must be locked, or blocked somehow, not that I couldn’t reach it. On top of that, the command used is PUSH BAMBOO, which is terribly unintuitive.
Now that I had a way to get up to the top floor and back down, I gathered all of the treasures and took them back to the sand bar: the rubies, the diamond jewelry, the ancient drawings, the gold cross, the portrait, the pearl, and the stamp album. With all of these treasures, plus one point for each location visited, I had earned the full score.
Finishing Burial Ground Adventure took me about two hours, albeit with some help. That’s about the length of time I want to spend on a game like this, so I wasn’t exactly bored, but it also wasn’t giving me anything new or interesting. I need games that are short and simple for the blog now and then, just to maintain my sanity, but it’s hard to know how to sum it up. It’s exactly a text adventure from 1979, and not exactly terrible, but you’re better off playing something from Scott Adams.


Story & Setting: The story is in well-trodden territory by this point. I get that a treasure hunt is a very good framework for a simple text adventure, and I don’t exactly hate it, but I’m happier to see some games that do something else at this point. The setting, an island with a house/castle and some burial grounds, is pretty bland and uninspiring. The descriptions are much too brief to evoke much of anything. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The game doesn’t have any other creatures in it except for the dogs, and as I’ve had to say countless times before, they’re more obstacles than characters to interact with. Oh, I just checked: you can’t pat the dogs. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Text adventure, terse descriptions, no music and very little atmosphere. I could cut and paste the text from any number of adventure games from this era and use it here. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The game has a simple two word parser that only recognises the first four letters of any word, but it performs adequately enough despite some awkward commands being needed to perform more complex tasks. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: Aside from the one bit I got stuck on, this game is very easy. The trapdoor puzzle was a victim of both some imprecise description as well as an awkward parser command, otherwise it would have been pretty simple as well. So this game is mostly too easy, and in the place where it’s difficult it’s not difficult in a satisfying way. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: Burial Ground Adventure isn’t doing anything that hasn’t already been done by other games that preceded it, and it comes off as an imitation of what Scott Adams was doing. The game also doesn’t have much of a historical footprint, so I can’t rate it highly here. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Fun: I didn’t get much out of this one beyond the usual enjoyment I get from exploring and mapping, but it was short which always counts for something. Rating: 2 out of 7.

I won’t revisit this game, so it doesn’t get the bonus point. The scores above total 11, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 22. That puts it right down near the bottom, with only Library – which was broken – scoring worse. As we go on there’s be less of these games getting a bump from the Innovation & Influence category, so lower scores might become more common.
NEXT: I have a game called Devil’s Caverns on my list, but the only reference I can find to it points to Devil’s Dungeon, so I’m going to say that it doesn’t exist unless I’m told differently. That makes the next game Super Dungeon, a CRPG for the Apple II which was helpfully provided to me by The CRPG Addict.

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