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Missed Classic: Curse of Crowley Manor – WON! and Final Rating

by Will Moczarski





This is an astonishing game. I know that it might seem as if I was easily satisfied by a few extra descriptions in a text adventure but for a game released in 1981 it does a lot of things right. So far, it’s not very challenging, and the story may be conventional but it’s still involving. Last time I was stuck with a limited gameworld and the brown growth who’d jump headfirst into the pantry and devour everything there, including myself. This time I remembered the words of wisdom from the fragmentary manual I had consulted before starting the game. It’s very sparse and does not provide a lot of backstory, however, it advises you to LOOK everywhere and also rely on your other senses. You can LISTEN and SMELL, too, so I tried to LOOK, SMELL and LISTEN in every room one more time and happened upon the solution rather quickly.

Next to the pantry there’s an exquisite dining room with a large oak table I can investigate. If I do that, I find some food there. Maybe it’s spoiled and will provide a trap for the hungry brown growth is what I think. That is not the case but still dropping the growth will solve the puzzle, prompting it to devour the food and “shoot” under the china cabinet, causing it to fall with a crash. Upon examination I find a letter opener and a hand axe. I know right away what both items are for and decide to backtrack to the rosewood chest to unfasten the screws there. Inside I find a golden crucifix and an old note with only a number on it: 5271. I take a new note and go back to the plywood wall. With the crucifix and the holy water in my hands, I almost expect to find a roast chicken behind it. It’s not all fun and games, however, as the parser doesn’t understand “hack” or “break”, only “chop”. After three or four useless turns there’s a hole in the wall and I can enter. Supposedly. Again, going N or GO HOLE does not work, only “CLIMB HOLE”.

The next part of the manor is like a hidden underground area. It’s a nice touch that I am delving deeper into the interiors of the building as I progress; it’s a sequence of rooms with an unfinished air about them, and a lot of secret passages. Looking and listening excessively also thickens the plot substantially. In a darkened room strewn with scientific instruments I encounter the demon yet again, his tremendous voice booms “You have not the power to face me yet be warned...” (sic!) The demon is not a fan of punctuation. Also, why are old adventure game voices always booming? Looking again I see that everything is filthy and smashed. Among the rubble, there is an ancient book lying open on a table. I can only make out one sentence: “Gafala alone can help.” Who is Gafala? Am I supposed to know? West of here, there is a musty room. On the only door there is an ancient numeral lock. This is pretty easy if you have discovered the old note (as I have): just dial 5271 and be done with it. I arrive at a damp brick walled room where there is a horrible stench. Smelling (or looking) results in my being slammed against a wall by a powerful force. If I listen (or look) once more, I am thrown flat on the floor, and a voice bellows “Soon youll be mine” (sic!). Yours? Er…eek?




But I thought you were just looking for someone to watch Dirty Dancing with?

After another turn, the demon is gone. The room cools although my golden crucifix remains red hot. Also, there is an evil smelling smoke everywhere which seems to be an indication of the demon having just left. This effectively leaves me with a dead-end. Behind another long hall, there is a stark room of red brick with nothing in it. Looking, listening and smelling leaves me without a clue, so maybe it’s time to try out something else – maybe Gafala is not a name but a magic word! And...it works, although it is a name: “A wall falls and a voice shouts...’I am here!’” Nice to see you, Gafala, whoever you may be – but there is no new exit, it seems. Once again, looking solves the puzzle: The west wall has collapsed exposing a stairway. Maybe I haven’t explained this yet, so here goes: if you find stairways the cardinal directions don’t work (except with the kitchen, strangely). Instead it’s necessary to “climb stairs.” Doing so leads me to a brilliant crystal room where there is a towering figure in white. It’s Gafala, of course, who turns out to be the evil demon’s good brother. Now this is getting a bit silly, especially because Gafala demands that I kill his brother: “Two paths lead from here N and S you must follow both in time” (sic!) Did you two skip the punctuation lessons together then?

However, heading south first takes me to a low ceilinged crypt full of dust and cobwebs. Examining the place rouses the demon once more. “Where is your weapon..maggot”, it screams. Where is your question mark..demon, I reply. Looking again is not a good idea, however, as it drops me back with poor Davonn. At least my throat has not been ripped out. I backtrack all the way and then try to advance from the crypt as I don’t appear to have a weapon yet. To the west there is a dim shimmering room with a ghost sitting at a piano. Two pianos? The Crowleys really know how to make a splash! Looking at the ghost tells me that it resembles the portraits back in the music room. Wait, I didn’t examine them, did I? Maybe the punishment of being thrown back to Davonn is really a short-cut? When talking to the ghost he demands the name of a composer. If I guess correctly, he will play. I don’t know the answer, so I decide to check out the elegant music room once more.

First, the portraits: They have fiendish, inhuman eyes. Then the piano: I still can’t interact with it. Now for the victrola: Turning the crank again, I can hear some music. This time I listen to it and...the music is Mozart! That must be it. Back to our friendly musical ghost. If I say “MOZART” he plays and a stairway appears out of nowhere. However, behind the stairway there’s only another large deserted room with nothing in view. Listening reveals a noise above my head, so I try to go up. That does not work but climbing does the trick: I am now in a damp musty passage with a rope underneath me. Looking reveals a gold shield, and naturally I pocket it. Do I have to equip it, too? Just kidding but gold has served me well against the demon already (remember the crucifix) so it’s probably a good sign. Looking again reveals a light to the east. Going there I discover a great silver room with a circular depression in the floor. I first check out all possible exits and then my inventory. The crystal ball is the most likely candidate. Dropping it indeed reveals a vision of a sword and a beautiful fountain. Looking again makes a magic sword appear. Wow, that was a really successful detour! I now have a weapon, demon – watch out! The demon has already fled the crypt in horror, though (at least that’s what I’d like to think). This time I only find a silver club lying on the ground. As I am carrying six items, I have to drop the hand axe to pick it up – it seems unlikely I will need it again now that I have a magic sword. Looking again lets me discover some half decayed corpses on the floor – boy, this game is really grisly! Examining the silver club lets me figure out that it’s heavy. Right.

Gafala has nothing new to tell me, so I venture north this time. I find a wide, dark, smelly pit with a stone stairway leading north. Also, a “low wailing moan permeates the darkness.” Listening to it allows me to make out some of the words: “He has the sword..but is it cleansed…….?” Oh, do I need to cleanse it, too? With the holy water, maybe? Thank you kindly for talking to yourself, evil demon! Despite this obvious hint, cleansing the sword does not work. I decide to move on for now before resorting to another round of guess-the-verb.

It’s game-over time anyway. Beyond the stone stairway there is a stone room strewn with bones. A huge, ugly rat attacks me after one turn, and attempting to kill it with the sword results in it ripping my throat out. It has been you all along, right, rat? Admit it! Gafala does not have a brother. It’s people. Dead people.

Enough with this silliness. I do it all over again. The game does not have a save feature but it drops you back at your office with most (all?) of your belongings in order to let you start over again without having to retread your every step. This always causes my version of the game to crash, and I had to drop my money anyway to pick up all of these weapons, so I presumably wouldn’ t be able to afford the cab this time. Back in the stone room, I club the rat. It still rips my throat out. I start cursing Crowley Manor but discover that the demon got there first.

On my third attempt, I use the revolver and the rat finally drops dead. There is nothing else of interest here but I can open the door now and continue to the west. I find another smelly pit with a dirt floor. Fungus grows on the walls and a stairway is blocked by wooden beams. Do I need the hand axe I just dropped? Yes, I do. After backtracking to the axe (and dropping the revolver this time) I can chop the beams to create a large hole opening up to a stairway. I find a very eerie chamber (as if that was still a distinction at this point!) with the walls painted black and strange symbols on the floor. The symbols are magic runes but I can’t read them. There is also a ghostlike appearance of Gafala floating around. Talking to him he admits that he can’t help me anymore and advises me to wait for the one correct moment to strike. Good advice, I hope? I also find a golden doorway to the north but check out the other exits first as I’ve gotten used to it.

Good thing I did that, too! Heading east lets me enter a brilliant green room with a beautiful fountain, and I can guess what this is for: cleansing the sword. This time it works: The sword gleams, I can feel the power surging within it, and the demon is moaning somewhere north. I take that to be a good sign.

Beyond the eerie room, there is a gigantic cavern stretching east and west. The odor is sickening. Going north again brings me to the gates of hell itself. That escalated quickly! When I look the demon turns up and slams me against the wall. I try to kill him with the sword but he helpfully advises me that I strike too soon and my magic is now gone, then proceeds to devour me. Another round? I can feel that we’re close, don’t you think?


By the way, I’ve figured out how Trizbort works!

This time I wait for another round, and the demon howls “Thank you for dropping in fool” [sic!]. Then he slams me into a small passage and laughs “Youve been duped..you cant kill me..” [sic!]. My body shakes with convulsions as the demon tries to crush me but I keep waiting, anxious that my attack may be premature again. Then he touches the sword and screams in pain – this seems like a good moment to slay the beast, right?


Will the unforgiving English teacher finally slay this abomination of punctuation errors?

Wrong. I strike too soon and break my magic. Once more with feeling. This time I will wait until the bitter end. After going all Darth Vader on me and offering to share his evil power, he helpfully tells me that I have missed my moment: “No hope now fool..” [sic!] I am eaten alive. “A horrible death”, says the game. I am tempted to call this “WON!” but I’ll give it another go. At least I get pretty good at speedrunning this game.

It’s a bit underwhelming but all I get is this message:



Talk about coitus interruptus. Time to compare the ports.

Ports Comparison: Curse of Crowley Manor

There are four ports from the original TRS-80 version of Curse of Crowley Manor. The Atari 400/800 version released in 1982 is largely the same game, only featuring coloured backgrounds. The inventory can be seen at all times; apart from that, the screen is separated into the visible items, the room description, the game’s title and the actual parser input, just like in the original version.


Atari: First Room

It’s a bit irritating that the background colour changes in (almost?) every room. Also, you cannot “GO CAB” to enter the taxi but have to “CLIMB CAB” which took me a wee minute to figure out. Some details are also changed, for example there’s a crystal chandelier in the dining room now. When something physical happens (e.g. the china cabinet falling over), the screen flickers for a short time. Most changes are changes of tone, however. Davonn now tells me that no man murdered his master and “now IT is loose.” The musty room is now a dingy room, the spirit (at the piano) now plays beautfiully. The rat now spins before dropping dead on the floor. The smelly pit is now a rancid pit. Interestingly, the game doesn’t let me drop the revolver after having disposed of the rat. “Not now”, it says, as if I still needed the weapon. The final message after the endgame is even starker than before: “You have won Crowley Manor.” Great! Can I keep it?



I wasn’t able to check out the port for the obscure NEC PC-6001. The TRS-80 CoCo version is the same game as the TRS-80 version, only uglier. I’ll spare you the horrible green background colour and the additional spelling mistakes and move on to the Apple ][ version. Now this one really made some changes. Sometime after the release of his first SaGa adventures, Scott Adams’s company also decided to give the OtherVentures a makeover. Norm(an) Sailer was hired in 1982 to add graphics to all the Jyym Pearson games, and this is the version that most people remember these days.

At first I notice the new instructions screen which is essentially an ad blurb. It also notifies me that I can toggle between text and hi-res mode by hitting the return key. Plus AI appears to have added the necessary save feature now. Maybe I should have played this version all along.


 
Now THAT’s what I call an office. (ahem)

Again, there are some changes in the descriptions. For example, the cab driver no longer informs you how much you have had to pay himself – it’s part of the narrator’s text now. Also, the old note is now an old yellowed note. The brown growth is not depicted but some of the corpses are. The difference between live Davonn and dead Davonn is now visible. My third playthrough makes me remember the door nailed shut in the kitchen. Could I have done something with it? I had all but forgotten about it. Thus I fiddle around with the hand axe for a bit but it doesn’t seem to work. CAPs for anyone who knows if it’s possible to achieve anything here. (Btw, what happens to the brown growth after I have vanquished the demon?! It would seem that an ever-growing creature is the even bigger threat!)


Inspector Strade! You’ll never solve this case by sleeping in cabinets!

All of the dark rooms are quite light but it was probably impossible to handle this in a different way. Only the large deserted room is virtually as sparse as it gets. Especially the ghost at the piano seems a bit silly. My overall impression is that the graphics don’t add to the atmosphere but rather detract from the well-written text. The original version is much better and it’s much easier to take it seriously as a horror adventure.


A cameo by Dizzy or the smokey remains of the demon?

Poking around at the later part of the game, I actually find a new exit from the crypt. I think this wasn’t there in the original version. It’s a rather silly location, too: “You are in the ‘dogfood bar & grill’ in El Paso, Texas….a truck driver has passed out with his face in a bowl of raunchy chili.” Looking reveals this to be an easter egg: “I think we have stumbled into the wrong adventure game.. we had better go back south.” Does anybody know which game this might be referring to?


The silliness prevails.

The glorious ending with the silver room, the brilliant green room, the ghostlike appearance of Gafala and the threatening rat is especially prone to silliness when graphics are added. Norman Sailer may have done a great job for the time but completely alters the atmosphere of Pearson’s original game. A dream team this is not.


My nemesis.

So that’s it – here are two more screenshots showing the demon and the final message. The endgame is actually separated into different pictures, one for each taunt the demon has to offer. This is a nice touch but the graphics are, again, rather silly. They even give you a hint at when you should attack it, as there is a point at which the graphics don’t change. It’s time to forget about these unworthy ports and give the original game a proper PISSED rating!


Sympathy for the demon



PISSED Rating

Puzzles & Solvability: Although this second OtherVenture was marketed towards “experienced adventurers”, I didn’t think it was particularly difficult. The absence of a save feature was irritating but not frustrating and LOOKing and LISTENing got me through most of the puzzles easily. The game is thus very short and a little bit easy even, and the puzzles are definitely not its strongest suit. However, I’m thankful for every early 1980’s game that doesn’t throw a calculator at me and refuses to let me out: 3.

Interface & Inventory: The natural point of comparison would be Scott Adams’s interface of around the same time and I have to say that I liked Pearson’s model better. The picture of the manor on the right is a nice if unnecessary touch but the separation between visible items and the room description makes a lot of sense in a game so dependent on its look and listen commands. The parser is very simple but Pearson strictly refuses to include any guesswork puzzles in spite of it which is highly commendable: 3.

Story & Setting: Yes, it’s very cliché but we’re talking about a 1981 work and an adventure game debut here. The descriptions are short but very evocative and I really liked the little “cutscenes” introducing the demon early, leaving lots of corpses in his wake. Of course this kind of plot tends to be a little illogical but that hardly matters if it’s done so comparably well. This game predates Deadline and does a better job than Mystery House. Joe gave that game three points in this department – I shall say 4, accordingly.

Sound & Graphics: No sound, no graphics. The Apple ][ version with graphics actually feels like a downgrade, though, so maybe that’s not a bad thing. One point for the cute picture of the manor: 1.

Environment & Atmosphere: Yes, it’s very cliché (see above) but it works surprisingly well! Jyym Pearson’s writing is never off and the frequent encounters with the demon really pull you in. The subplot concerning the good brother is a bit silly and doesn’t really tie in with the diary we find in the beginning but all things considered the game does a very good job here. If Mystery House earned 4 points in this category, this must be at least a 5.

Dialogue & Acting: Some minor dialogue, or rather monologue that adds substantial flavour to the game. Gafala’s lines are as silly as his backstory but Davonn, the musical ghost and the several books found around the manor definitely add to the story. I’d say that a modest 2 is in order here, again by comparison with the rating for Mystery House.

3 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 5 + 2 = 18 / 0.6 = 30 points. That seems very reasonable. As Curse of Crowley Manor is Jyym Pearson’s debut and a very innovative game for its time, I thought of adding a discretionary point, elevating it just slightly above Microworld. Also, only one point more than Mystery House (which I really dislike for a variety of reasons) just seems wrong. I’ll use the powers vested in me by the TAG board for the first time and use my discretionary point to elevate this to a final score of 31. 



Next up will be Escape from Traam aka OtherVenture #3. I’m psyched to see how the Pearsons have handled the science-fiction setting!

Session time: 2.5 hrs
Total time: 3 hrs

Med Systems Marathon Overview:

(a) 1980 Summary
(b) Reality Ends (1980)
(c) Rat’s Revenge / Deathmaze 5000 (1980)
(d) Labyrinth (1980)
(e) Asylum (1981)
(f) Microworld (1981)

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