Saturday, August 15, 2015

Murder in the Museum

  Welcome back to the second installment in the 50-or so-part series, Knees Calhoon: the LOADSTAR Years. I started as managing editor in September 1987 and LOADSTAR #43 was the first issue published with me on the masthead, although I had little to do with putting it together. It was with #44 that I took over, selecting which programs would go on the issue, and of course I had to have Murder in the Museum featured. I had worked on the damn thing for almost all of 1986!

  I was vaguely familiar with text adventure games and had played a little of the original Adventure game ("You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building.") when I wrote it, but I knew very little about programming BASIC. I started it on the VIC-20 and ran out of memory, so when I got a C-64 I really embellished the game, but that just allowed me to add even more naive and inefficient programming.

  Back then Softdisk had an excellent art department and one day Jerry Jones, the photographer, Dan Tobias, a fellow PC programmer, and I went to a local Shreveport museum and took the cover picture. That was probably the last time I was beardless. Dan was the mummy.

  I re-did Murder in the Museum (as well as Murder in the Monastery) a few years later for the C-128 mode and both programs are much better. It's hard to imagine anyone in 2015 having the time, the stamina or the attention span to "solve" the mystery in this game. Back in the 80s I guess we weren't so rushed.

  Here is the Read It as published in 1987.

   Professor Plum, the curator of the world-famous Calhoon Museum, has been murdered! His lifeless body was found in the Dome Room of the Museum and, so far, no clues to the killer have been found. You, Inspector Claude la Mort of the Surete, have been assigned to the Plum case in the forlorn hope that you may be able to find the culprit before there are more grisly deaths, especially yours.
  As you move from room to room you will see exhibits that have entertained school-children and adults alike for years, but now they cast a more sinister shadow, because they are all potential clues. You would be well-advised to examine everything you can and make a map of the Museum as you explore.
  MURDER IN THE MUSEUM is written in the classic Scott Adams’ style. The program expects a two-word command in the form, VERB NOUN. Unlike many adventure games that have gigantic vocabularies and require you to try many different actions to succeed, this program requires little imagination to get around and do things. It’s how you assimilate all the information you gather that determines whether you go back to France a national hero or a Gallic goat.
  At any time in the adventure you may enter the word “help” and a couple of instruction screens will explain the syntax of the accepted commands. There are two handy commands, LOAD and SAVE. If you are getting ready to do something potentially dangerous, or if you want to quit for the day, enter the word SAVE. After entering any name as a filename your status and inventory will be saved to disk under that name. When you resume your game enter LOAD and at the prompt enter the name you saved the game as, and you will be back where you were before.
  MURDER IN THE MUSEUM is an intermediate level adventure. Truly expert adventurers may solve it in a single sitting, but they should be forewarned; each time the game is played, a different suspect may be the actual killer. I’m afraid the principals of the Calhoon Museum are a rather unsavory lot, at least some of the time.
  The scenario takes place in the fall of 1963, a time of turmoil for the world at large, as well as for you, Inspector la Mort of the Surete.

Back to 2015. When I wrote the game on the Vic-20 my detective was Inspector Claude La Merde of the Surete. I sent a copy to Commodore guru Jim Butterfield (sometime in 1986) and he replied in detail -- not about the game, but about the proper French syntax for "La Merde". It should be "le Merde" I believe he argued. In any case, when I decided to publish the game on LOADSTAR I changed it to the more politically correct "La Mort". Is the L capitalized? Who knows?

Tomorrow night we visit two of my favorite topics: word games and bowling.

Emulator tip: In the LOADSTAR directories boot files begin with "b." So to boot and run Murder in the Museum you double-click on "". 


  1. Sounds like fun!

    A couple of years later, I was frittering away lots of time trying to use HyperCard to create an adventure game, with lots of graphic elements. It was a lame game, but I have to say it was a lot of fun to design.

    According to an online dictionary, merde is definitely feminine.

  2. My memory is hazy, but I'm sure Jim Butterfield had the facts about "xx Merde" correct and I didn't. I was really flattered that he wrote such an involved letter about the detective's name. The fact that he didn't mention the game at all is probably a tipoff to something.

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  4. Do you know who did the conversion to the PC for Softdisk's Big Blue Disk? Apparently, "Murder in the Museum" was quite popular in its PC / MS-DOS form as it was included in a Best of Big Blue Disk compilation disk.

  5. I wouldn't be surprised if it was Dan Tobias who translated MUSEUM for the PC. He was one of the coders at the time. I had completely forgotten about it being on Big Blue Disk.