Skullduggery: Adventures in Horror

It’s no secret, I would have no problem putting it on a tee shirt and wearing it out in public: I like, but am terrible at, text-adventure games.

Text adventure games should be perfect for me. I like reading things, I like to think that I’m reasonably intelligent (I may not be, but I like to think I am), and I like solving puzzles. Text-adventure games bring together all three of these things to tell an interactive story that is fueled by imagination. Text adventure games were borne by necessity. Older computers didn’t have the graphical horsepower to push amazing visuals, and even if they did, storage space was at a premium. You couldn’t just put crazy-high resolution pictures in your game. This was in the days before the Internet, so unless it fit on a couple of disks or took more than an hour or so to download from your favorite BBS, then it wasn’t getting played. It was too much hassle.

The classic format of a text adventure game is presented entirely in the second person, putting you directly in the middle of the action. You are the prime mover, if you will. You can envision the entire world as being divided up into discrete ‘rooms’ laid out on a grid. You can generally move in any of the cardinal directions, and sometimes, if you were lucky, the diagonals. Your goal was to MOVE throughout the rooms, PICK UP and EXAMINE items, SEARCH for clues and attempt to solve whatever mystery you were presented with. In the case of Skullduggery the mystery is: Where is the secret treasure that was hidden by your ancestor?

Skullduggery presents you with the standard description of what’s around you, and has the standard one line at the bottom of the screen to type the cryptic commands to your avatar. One of the things that makes it stand out is the map. Skullduggery has a somewhat crude map made out of ASCII characters (letters numbers and symbols) that shows roughly where you are, and largely removes the need to sit there with a pencil and graph paper to keep track of your movements.

The writing in the game is reasonably good, especially taken in consideration with the minimap. They come together to give the locales a sense of scale that is refreshing as you search the countryside to solve the puzzles.

Oh yes, the puzzles. Like any good text-adventure game there are puzzles. You have to PICK UP and USE the right items in the right order to proceed. The only problem is that many times you have either no clues to help you or the clues are so obtuse they may as well be written in Esperanto. For example: One part of this game has you putting a corpse (I won’t even go into how you even get the corpse in the first place) on a Ouija board, killing yourself, crossing the river Styx, fishing a bottle out of the river, filling up the bottle with river water, going to the other Ouija board, getting the corpse (the Ouija board is apparently a magic portal of sorts), taking it to an altar, setting it on fire, putting the ashes into the jar of river water, setting the ashy river-water on the Ouija board, letting the Grim Reaper resurrect you, going back to the first Ouija board, retrieving the jar, and using the contents as one of several ingredients in a magic potion. As a wide-eyed kid playing this on his monochrome computer, I figured out how to to cross the river and get the water. And that’s about it. And it wasn’t for lack of effort, I poured at least two dozen or more hours into this game, and just couldn’t make any headway.

Years later, in January of 2007, I found a text file on some website with the solution and a copy of the game from an old shareware site. I downloaded both, played through the game, and finally know what happens to the protagonist when you don’t have him commit suicide out of frustration. It turns out that if you know what you’re doing you can finish the game in about two hours or so. All in all, it was a good afternoon.

5 Responses to “Skullduggery: Adventures in Horror”

  1. [...] interesting. Shadowgate is a point-and-click adventure, which is really just one step up from a text adventure, and all that means is that instead of just getting a description of the room you’re in, you [...]

  2. [...] game is a throwback to those text adventure games that I like so much, but is way easier to figure [...]

  3. [...] is kind of like those text-adventure games that I like so much but am really bad at combined with action games that I also like a lot, but am [...]

  4. Josh says:

    Wow! I just found this. I used to play this as a kid, but COULD NOT remember what it was called. Anytime I thought about it, it would drive me insane. I’m so glad that I figured it out now. I doubt that I’ll play it again, but I played this for forever. The only thing that I could remember about it was crossing the river Styx and climbing some crazy stair case and being totally creeped out the entire time I played it. It was amazing as a child. Thank you for writing about this odd lost game.

  5. basscomm says:

    You’re very welcome!

    I never could finish the thing without the walkthrough, but there was just something about the writing style that creeped me out and compelled me to keep trying.

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