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Missed Classic 68: Reality Ends (1980) - Introduction

By Will Moczarski

A general rule seems to be that the more work you put into thorough research, the more work you create for yourself as a result. Does that make sense? Well, I had ambitiously planned to write a short connecting blog post to describe the non-adventure games Med Systems Software released between Labyrinth and Asylum but as a result I found out that there are many more, almost undocumented adventure games by the company I hadn't even heard about. Med Systems appears to have been as prolific as, say, Sirius Software, and not much less innovative, either. Today's post deals with the first of the overlooked adventure games that came out in 1980 – the same year as Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth so who knows which one came first? – and some of the non-adventure games that probably fall into the period between the second and the third "Continuum" adventure games Labyrinth and Asylum. The game in question is called Reality Ends and there is not much information about it to be found on the internet. Actually, Jason Dyer just played it on his blog “Renga in Blue” but I have kept myself from reading his posts because I want to avoid spoilers.

Reality Ends is yet another TRS-80 game but it uses a different premise, a different engine and a different approach to adventure gaming than the 3D maze/adventure crossover games I've previously been writing about. The introductory screen looks familiar because of a sort of corporate identity thing they seem to have been going on but the story is really unique. I can honestly say that I know of no other adventure game or even computer game to have a similar idea at its core. It "places you in a reality composed of over 200 parallel universes. You must move from universe to universe seeking the necessary materials to destroy Baldir." You have 400 moves to accomplish that or "reality dissolves". Sound weird? Well, the game isn't. The "universes" are actually clever metaphors for the rooms. Each room has a different description and the grid consists of 18 by 12 (216) "universes". The descriptions are just a little bit different, though, stressing the idea of hopping between parallel universes instead of just moving through adherent spaces.


 
“Yeah.” (Marlo Stanfield feels at home.)

You can see your location on a small mini-map (Legend of Zelda style) and the parser is just as basic as in the maze games. The command "VOCAB" shows you all possible verbs, although many of them are abbreviated which involves a bit of verb-guessing, and that in a supposed tutorial! Gameplay is the usual: make a map, take note of all the items and monsters, try to find solutions for the puzzles at hand. No mazes and no teleporters, though. The map consists of forests, grasslands and "dead places" which make up about a third of the "universes" respectively. Baldir's citadel is located in the northeast and probably the location of the endgame but first there are items and puzzles scattered all over, some obviously linked to one another, some don't have any apparent connection. And this is where the metaphor shines: The slightly different locations are one thing but the puzzles can be read as results of dislocation accordingly. Your job is to bring the disjointed elements of the separate parallel universes back together to create one reality which in turn is a very constructivist take on reality itself. Nice groundwork, game. Let's see how the actual playing goes.

As always my first job is to map the gameworld. In the forested universes I find some gold, a dog, a bone and a log. Furthermore, there's a book of lore guarded by a scaled minotaur, a deep ravine with mail on the other side, a sword guarded by a fire-breathing dragon and a quicksand bog protecting some small plants from me. The dog is hungry and doesn't like me much. He doesn't care for the bone, either. The scaled minotaur and the dragon kill me right away if I attempt anything in their respective universes and I can sink into the quicksand as well as fall into the ravine to die. In the grasslands there are a rope, a cloak, an umbrella and some food. Also, a tavern which I can enter – if I do that, the barkeeper immediately serves me a stein but I cannot figure out how to pay for it so I cannot keep it or drink it. There are three cities in the grasslands, too: Lameris is famous for its jewelers and their specific polish, Tel-Aviv is a place where you can buy guns and bullets (is that supposed to be political commentary?) and the city of Margon has an "amulet of Sangi" its inhabitants don't want to part with. If I try to take it, they simply kill me. In the dead places I find a staff and a horse. The citadel of Baldir is located here as well as the town of Rayor, a place famous for its marksmen. They can be hired, too, but I don't know how to pay them yet. The third town is called Mandar, "home of warrior fanatics" who attack me right away. If I simply move on, I can get away unharmed, however. The last point of interest has deadly acid raining from the sky which prevents me from picking up some diamonds lying around there. This appears to be all there is to it. Seems easier than the other adventures but I'd better hold my tongue for now.


EASTMOST PENNINSULA IS THE SECRET

Time to get into it. If I feed the dog with the food, he becomes my friend for life. I just don't know what to do with him at this point. I can use the umbrella to fend off the acid rain and pick up the diamonds. If I ride the horse I'm able to jump across the ravine and pick up the mail. At this point I spend some time trying to read the mail but the parser won't let me. After a while I attempt to wear it and that works: It's not that kind of mail, apparently. When I throw the rope across the quicksand bog I'm able to get to the small plants. They seem to be of the "medicinal" (recreational?) variety and since the jewellers of Lameris had told me that they'd accept something like that (drugs, I reckon?) as payment I can now buy their polish. I'd assumed that the polish would be for the diamonds but that seems to be wrong as I cannot polish them but I can use them to pay for some guns in Tel-Aviv. In the first 40 minutes I have mapped the whole gameworld and solved six of the puzzles – it's time for a short break.

Session time: 40min.
Total time: 40min.

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