From The Adventure Gamer
Written by Will Moczarski
Asylum must have been a major success for Med Systems Software, as the team of company president William F. Denman jr. and Frank L. Corr jr. teamed up once more about one year later to program its sequel, simply called Asylum II. The original version of this game seems to have been written – once more – for the TRS-80, and the game marks several forks in the road for Med Systems Software: It was the last game by both Denman and Corr as well as the last adventure game they developed in-house. They published three more games by Jyym Pearson but apart from that, the following years saw only re-releases and re-packagings, mostly of their short-lived Asylum brand. Asylum II, in particular, was confusingly re-released as simply Asylum for the Commodore 64 and the Atari computers in 1986. This was the game that made me first encounter Screenplay, the company formerly known as Med Systems Software, and the desire to go back and play through it gave me the idea for this whole marathon.
Asylum II has the same graphics and the same plot as its predecessor – once again, you are a mental patient who needs to escape from the asylum before he goes “insane.” Both the asylum and the game’s concept of “insanity” have a b-movie feel and don’t even make an effort to come across as realistic. If you haven’t read my other three playthroughs of Med Systems’ trademark “Continuum” games (Deathmaze 5000, Labyrinth, Asylum), you may be surprised at the wireframe 3D graphics that apparently challenged Sierra’s claim to have released the first graphic adventure with Mystery House in 1980. However, these games evolved from a different tradition – that of 3D maze games, a viable mainframe genre that first came into contact with the yet-undeveloped genre of the adventure game in the famous Hunt the Wumpus and its many clones. The “Continuum” games thus progressively qualify more and more as adventure games – while the plot of this latest iteration is not very complex, there are some notable NPC encounters as well as actual puzzles apart from geographical ones. I have very mixed feelings about this game as I kind of enjoyed Asylum but it took me a very, very long time to solve it and I had to resort to a hint sheet in the end. As my memory of the game’s Commodore 64 port is more than hazy, I don’t really know what to expect. Sometimes that’s a good sign, though, innit?
|The highest art is no art, the highest form is no form, the biggest surprise is no surprise?|
The first two hours of Gameplay
As the other “Continuum” games largely started out as mapping exercises, I figure that this game will be no different, and I’m right. I start out in a small cell and as soon as I make a move, I am told that I should have looked behind me because objects are sometimes hidden in devious places. At least the game acknowledges its own cruelty – I think that may count as a step in the right direction. When I turn around, I find a nut fork which serves as a key for quite a few doors in the starting maze. I open my cell door with it and start my escape.
Two doors down there’s an inmate I can free by applying the nut fork to his door, too. He’s quite helpful, too, as he tells me that the goal of the game is to escape through the exit marked “doctors only” – but it will be necessary to look like a doctor, “wear a doctor’s coat, maybe.”
|It’s Meta Man!|
I see where this is headed – hopefully, there will be no cat hair camouflaging involved. Beyond the fellow inmate’s cell (who runs away screaming after having provided me with the necessary information) the maze proper begins. I spend about an hour mapping the beast which turns out to be 23 by 18 squares. Along the way, I find several things. For your convenience, I will just spare you a rundown of my painstakingly slow progress and rather tell you about the hotspots:
a. There is a very long corridor (18 squares long) on the western side of the maze. The previous game had one, too, and I vaguely remember being chased by a race car there. I walk its entire length several times but nothing happens – maybe there’s no puzzle here this time around.
b. I find two teleporters that spit me out on the diagonally opposite side of the maze, respectively. It’s more painful to find and map them this time as you can still see your dropped items from the other side of the maze. Still, they were not too difficult to figure out.
c. Next to the very long corridor there is a succession of doors. I can open all but one of them and find several items there: a bird costume, a bean bag, a stethoscope, and a steel key. The steel key doesn’t open any of the doors in this maze – so far it’s (seemingly) useless.
d. There is a pay phone in one of the dead ends in the mid-eastern portion of the maze. When I examine it, I am told that it also has a receiver but I can’t seem to interact any further with either.
e. I find an axe in the southeastern part of the maze. When I pick it up, someone builds a wall behind me and traps me in a small portion of the labyrinth. This is not too bad, though. I can use the map to find the place where the fresh wall must be located and smash it with my newly-found axe. Also, I stumble upon an electrician with a sign. The sign tells me to “look up” and if I follow suit, I am crushed to death by a cartoonish piano dropping from the ceiling. I can also kill the electrician with the axe and he leaves behind a fuse.
f. The northeastern portion of the maze is entirely made up of a circular structure with twenty doors, ten on each side of a long corridor. I can open each of them but don’t find anything behind them. However, I can hear someone running around and slamming doors in the distance. After some experimenting, I find that I can lock the doors with my steel key. This is a rather painful endeavour as you have to lock all twenty doors to achieve anything, and at almost every turn the other inmate (I assume) slams the doors, making me read the message time and again. I have to doubt the reason behind this design choice, as this is neither a puzzle nor a fun obstacle but rather an unnecessary chore. However, after having locked all of the doors, the inmate (I assume) can’t run away anymore and I can hear him bang into one of the doors somewhere in the distance. Strangely, I don’t encounter him but he leaves behind a candle and some matches.
|I don’t recall ever hating an NPC I never even saw this much!|
g. There are two doors on the north and south walls of the maze. I cannot open the one to the north but the one to the south leads me to another part of the asylum which offers a bit more content.
In my second session, I explore the second part of the asylum which seems to be made up of a hexagonal structure. Once again, my knowledge of Asylum is helpful as that game had a pentagonal structure. I don’t know how to properly map it in Excel, so I translate it into a flat layout. Neither the nut fork nor the steel key is of any use here but I can enter three of the many, many rooms without a key.
First up is the psychiatry from which I can hear “psychiatric mumblings.” If I enter, the psychiatrist literally talks me to death – I die of boredom and have to start over. As control is taken away from me as soon as I enter the room, I assume that there is nothing else to be done here. Behind another door, there is the electro-shock room. This doesn’t sound good, and indeed I get strapped down immediately when I enter (I assume) and after the “therapy” I am returned to my cell. As I can’t do anything here, either, this may just be a handy shortcut. The third door is marked “surgery”, and I meet a rather friendly surgeon there. He regretfully tells me that he can’t help me, though, as he doesn’t have any drugs for the anasthesia. A bit further down the corridor, I find a door marked “doctors only” and get excited just reading that. Unsurprisingly, I cannot unlock it yet.
Now this is where I’m stuck for a while and I tend to blame the game for it. Having run out of things to do, I return to some points of interest like the pay phone or the very long corridor but nothing happens. Then, suddenly, I find a gold key just lying there in the middle of the first maze. Did I overlook it on my first mapping excursion? Truth is, I didn’t. I restore back to verify this, and after some experimentation I discover that the key only appears after I have entered the hexagonal structure and returned to the first maze, and this even only if I have freed the inmate. What a cruel move! Ninety minutes into the game, my trust is already gone.
The gold key brings about some progress: I can unlock another door to the west of the maze and find some circuits behind it. Maybe this has something to do with the electroshock therapy? I try to fumble with the circuits but to no avail. At this point, I have actually solved this problem (in my next play session) but I will keep the solution to myself until next time. Let’s make this another parser game, then: What did I have to do to manipulate the circuits?
I can also enter the room next to my cell now – I find a rocket belt there and immediately guess what this is for: the very long corridor. This seems to be right but once again, I’ll tell you all about it next time. Thirdly, I can unlock three more doors in the hexagonal structure: a film set where I get chased out by a “mad movie producer”; the scientist’s room where I encounter someone who needs “a battery, magnet and some copper” (my first quest!); and the room marked “doctors only” – but of course I don’t look like a doctor (yet) and one of the guards spots me right away: “an escapee! Take him to electro-shock!” This also confirms that I play as a “he”, quite unnecessarily (for a game with a first-person perspective) determining my gender.
|My Excel map so far.|
Stay tuned for more (mis)adventures in the wacky asylum and don’t forget to guess the score! The first part got a healthy 32 points.
Session time: 2.5 hours
Total time: 2.5 hours
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it’s an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won’t be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 20 CAPs in return. It’s also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.
(a) 1980 Summary [P1]
(b) Reality Ends (1980) [P1] [P2]
(c) Rat’s Revenge [P1] / Deathmaze 5000 (1980) [P1] [P2] [P3] [P4]
(d) Labyrinth (1980) [P1] [P2] [P3]
(e) Asylum (1981) [P1] [P2] [P3] [P4]
(f) Microworld (1981) [P1] [P2]
(g) The Institute (1981) [P1] [P2]
Jyym & Robyn Pearson Mini-Marathon Overview: