Friday 23 August 2019

Missed Classic: Asylum – (Almost) Lost (My Mind)

by Will Moczarski

Med Systems Marathon Overview:
(a) 1980 Summary
(b) Reality Ends (1980)
(c) Rat’s Revenge / Deathmaze 5000 (1980)
(d) Labyrinth (1980)

Map of the World

My next session is devoted almost exclusively to mapping. I try the silver key, the brass key and the inmate with all of the doors and get caught several times because only guards are allowed in the offices, I leave too many doors open or I walk into a trap. The offices are not even recognizable – whenever I go to the northeast (I assume) corridor, that’s apparently where they are. I soon figure out that wearing the guard’s uniform lets me walk that corridor unharmed but I don’t find anything new apart from four more doors I cannot seem to open. The inmate can pick one of the locks there but it’s only a trap: “Come in! Lobotomy time!” says a voice from the inside, ending my game once more, telling me: “You are now very calm.”

Am I really? I wish! There’s another obstacle posed by my friend, the lock-picking inmate. Whenever I start feeding him cigarettes at varying rates, he will turn on me and call the guards, that little traitor. After a while I notice that the building is somewhat asymmetrical, consisting of five corridors in the main part and a small loop in the east (I assume). The five corridors link into one another, making it impossible to map the construction by using generic tiles. I painfully redraw the whole map and try to make it fit somehow but maybe it’s just for the best to let the corridors coexist without linking them to some kind of non-functional structure. Or could it be...a pentagram? That seems likely but so far I cannot really get it to work. I’m not the cartographer I thought I was, obviously. At least I find a new room with another inmate. An ugly face appears at the grate and when I let the other inmate (my chain-smoking friend) pick the lock, he tells me that I sure am ugly and offers me his glasses. The glasses, however, turn out to be a novelty nose. I imagine something along the lines of the nose glasses from Zak McKracken and a hundred thousand junk stores.

As I don’t seem to be able to discover anything else, I set out to mapping the maze. This poses a problem as I’ve already hit the inventory limit (although the screen doesn’t look like I should have) and need to decide what I want to take with me. Because I get pushed into the maze with no means to go back, I need to carry everything I might need. I decide to leave everything that I’ve used at least once already – the hand grenade, the newspaper, the coat – but still cannot carry all of the keys. I’ll have to gamble a little more, but maybe I’ll see what I would have needed once I’ll need it.

What I get for being nosey.

Horrible Mazes

And it’s back to mazes. While Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth consisted only of those, Asylum has so far provided a more attractive framework. The maze proper is endowed with all of the niceties of its predecessors, as I will soon discover. Mapping this beast is nothing short of frustrating, and it doesn’t take long until I feel that maybe I belong in an asylum after all. The starting section is not too bad. I can map a small area but then I hit an invisible wall in the middle of a corridor. SPLAT! At least it’s not an invisible guillotine this time, and I get a chance to work on this puzzle. As my inventory is rather empty at this point of the game, it’s simply a matter of trial and error. And pretty soon I attempt to wear the novelty nose, as I still remember distinctly how the inmate described it as glasses. Maybe the mix-up is really down to a bug and the glasses will allow me to see something I otherwise wouldn’t be able to see? And that’s exactly what happens. Wearing the nose makes me see a small keyhole of sorts. It appears in the middle of nowhere but I won’t complain. Unfortunately, none of my keys seem to fit. Should I have brought the pin from the grenade? I resort to some more trial and error before restoring again, and I get lucky although I’m none the wiser for it. PUT PEG IN HOLE makes the invisible wall disappear and a box containing a bucket appears in front of me. The game also tells me that the mirror disappeared and that the water can flow freely now. What mirror? What water? Is it inside the bucket? Was it...oh right, the vanishing cream. Despite all these twisty little passages looking alike, I didn’t even think that the invisible wall might in fact be a mirror. Did I shove the peg up my own novelty nose then? If so, why did it accomplish anything? Am I doomed to be an invisible ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally ambiguous adventure person forever?

The next part of the maze is much more challenging. I find a spot that feels like a teleporter but I can’t put my finger on the point where it actually begins to drop me elsewhere. Also, I don’t know anything about the dimensions of this maze – Labyrinth and Deathmaze 5000 were more outspoken about the features of their levels, if I remember correctly. Another obstacle is a revolving door. This one at least notifies me of its presence, and it seems to take me both ways which is a relief. Still it makes me erase and redraw more often than I’d like to. The only item I come across (apart from the bucket) is a bat. I assume that there will be monsters in the asylum, too.

Beyond the revolving door

After some more careful mapping, I come across a note. When I read it, it tells me to LOOK UP! If I try to do that, a piano comes falling out of nowhere and I’m dead. This is one of the many slapstick elements that the previous two games also contained – they appear to be part of the Med Systems corporate identity, or maybe William Denman was just a huge Laurel & Hardy fan in the 80’s. Not too far from the note I find some flies. My hands are full although I don’t seem to have reached the inventory limit yet which is odd. Looking at the inventory screen, I notice that there are three types of items: I carry the BAT in my hands, almost everything else in my pockets, and I can wear the coat and the nose (“being worn”). If I drop the bat, pick up the flies and then pick up the bat again, I can get around this little problem. Maybe it’s even supposed to be realistic: While my hands are full, (carrying the bat) I cannot pick up anything else.

Moving on, I spend some time figuring out how the revolving doors work. It seems that they are actually made up of four tiles and revolve both ways. If I enter from the left, I end up on the other side of them; I can also turn back which is unusually convenient for this game. Entering the doors in the same direction twice gives me access to a new area containing lots of corridors, nooks and crannies as well as a ball. As I already have the bat, this seems consistent. I really hope that there won’t be any Zork references like, say, a baseball maze. The section doesn’t contain anything else but the last part of the maze is packed with action. When I enter the revolving doors from the right I can reach the northeastern quadrant of my map which I was previously unable to enter or explore. Moving east, a “carpenter builds a wall” just behind me. Isn’t it enough to be shoved into the damn maze, game? Do you have to wall me in, too?

As if this wasn’t challenging enough, suddenly I’m being chased by a murderer. I can’t attack him, evade him, talk to him or bribe him. Because this is slapstick country, I find the solution quite easily: showing him the note (just giving it to him is not enough!) prompts him to look up, and he is crushed by a piano. How I manage to jump away without jumping away, I don’t know. At least the murderer is out of my hair. Also, he conveniently drops an axe in front of the newly built wall. Watch out, carpenter: Heeeeere’s Johnny!

A reference to The Shining makes sense in a 1981 game, as the film was released the previous year. However, the parser refuses to be my film buff companion: hitting the wall with the axe does not work, neither does hacking it. I have to BREAK the wall with the axe which seems a little odd but at least I’m not stuck anymore. Searching the section nets me a hat and a steel key. Could this be my ticket to freedom?

Indeed it is. After mapping the final sector (and not finding anything else), I go back to the entrance and unlock the door with my new key. I get back to the asylum proper but there may be some new doors I previously wasn’t able to unlock. As I’ve got way too many items at this point, I once again put the ones I’ve already used into my stash house. Let’s see where the steel key will take me!

We’re stealing the towels!

If all of this seems straightforward, just take a look at my session time after you’ve finished reading this blog post – this game is HARD and I have omitted much of my trial-and-error gaming. Also, my save feature did not work up to this point. Treading through the whole first maze every time I die slowly became unbearable, though, and trying another emulator finally gave me the opportunity to use the game’s original save feature.

The steel key lets me access seven new rooms. In the first one, there is a guru meditating. He uses the mantra “Omm!” which is nice and all but I’m trapped. I try to MEDITATE, SAY OMM(!), use my items, turn around, LEAVE ROOM, you name it. Nothing works, so I have to restore. The next room is empty. The third room has an inmate called Renfrow who mutters that he needs flies. Wow, what an easy puzzle! Giving Renfrow (is this an anagram? CAPs if someone finds out!) the flies works, too, but he just eats them and gives me nothing in return. How do I know that he eats them? Just wait! Instead of dropping an item, Renfrow gives me a hint: “The room next door...” Ahhh, the empty room? I know: something must have materialized over there, right? Is that my reward? I take a heartening (but shortish) stroll there and get pushed from behind (by Renfrow?), then that little traitor calls the guards. “Never trust one who eats flies!”, the game says. Right. As I was curious, I played through the whole scenario again, and figured out that if I lock Renfrow in his room before heading to the empty room, nothing happens. This is a very nice touch but I’m still not getting my flies back. Let’s take a look at those other rooms.

The fourth room has a fisherman called Blake who is wearing boots. That description is somewhat suspicious and I get the sudden urge to steal Blake’s footgear. If I politely ask Blake whether he might give it to me, to my surprise the parser understands me perfectly: “What may I have for them?”, drones the merry fisherman. Impressive! As I have no idea what a fisherman who’s locked up in an asylum might be in dire need of, I decide to brute-force it and simply offer everything I have to the man. And I will be really glad I did that, too. After my encounter with Renfrow (and the game’s snarky comment) I normally wouldn’t have given the flies to anyone else but that is actually the solution. Indoor fly-fishing, I suppose – am I correct, Blake? Whatever the reason, Blake drops his boots immediately, wraps them in a nice box for me to pick up and I can strut around in them for eternity. Well, at least for a few in-game minutes.

The fifth room has water pouring out but the boots provide a firm grip, saving me from being washed away. This was probably supposed to be a puzzle that I solved accidentally. My reasoning was that the inventory limit may be linked to the items’ categories (in hands, in pockets, being worn) and that wearing the boots might save a slot. I restore to see what happens if I enter the room with no boots on, and the water still comes pouring out but now I am being washed away. With the boots, I can safely enter and retrieve an “ancient key”. Could this be for the guru? Maybe it’s not a physical key but some kind of koan?

After leaving the room, I am instantly confronted by three figures – at least, that’s what the parser tells me. I am informed that Exodor, lantern and burro are seeking truth. Good for them, right? They follow me everywhere and at first I think that I can’t interact with them in any way. It seems that this is another set-piece situation and I have to solve this puzzle to progress. I get the first hint by examining the three of them. When I start with Exodor, the parser comes up with its standard “nothing special” reply. Examing the lantern and the burro is more informative, as the game tells me that I am not carrying either one of them. So they are actually items in search of the truth? That’s odd.

It takes quite some time for me to realize that I need to bring out my inner Ultima IV player to get through this one. The solution is to return the stolen boots, at least that’s what I think might be the reason behind this. If I give them to Exodor, he drops the burro and the lantern and vanishes in the air. I always like me a good lantern in an adventure game but what is this burro? I know that it’s the Spanish word for donkey but am I really picking up a donkey? Did I unwittingly stumble into the Bloody Lip on Woodtick? (I know, that was a monkey.)

Not a mirror. Can’t you see the difference?

Two more rooms to go: the first one is pitch dark and I can’t light my lantern. The second one leads to a maze that seems identical to the first one. I start mapping and get stuck in front of the very same mirror, so I restore and bring my novelty nose. That trick does not work here, though, and I lost my peg in the first maze anyway. This is strange – why would they lock the same maze behind two different doors needing two different keys? Or does it turn into another maze after I have solved another puzzle? I decide to tackle the guru first. The game appears to unlock parts of its storyworld everytime I find a new key, so I should probably solve all of the open riddles before moving on. I also try the ancient key on the remaining doors, but that one doesn’t fit anywhere. As it’s so ancient, maybe I’ll need it for the endgame.

The next part takes a LOT of time. I go over all of my notes again and try anything that seems remotely reasonable. After taking a long break, I read it all once more with fresh eyes and one thing that previously eluded me suddenly appears in a different light. Time and again, I kept coming back to the strange phrasing of Exodor, the lantern and the burro all seeking truth. Surely the lantern is an inanimate object but what if the burro really is a donkey? Who could help him to seek the truth? The guru, naturally. Handing the burro over to the guru actually works and the wise man turns out to be a fakir, too, giving me “nails for a bed” in return. Better than the asylum bunks, I suppose. At first I think that I still cannot exit the room but I am just disoriented by the darkness, and after a few turns I can finally leave.

Any more puzzles inside the asylum proper? Renfrow, maybe, but honestly I don’t think so; it may be time to see whether the maze has changed.

At least it wasn’t a banana that made the mighty Donkey Kong fall.

The maze to end all mazes

Spoiler alert: it hasn’t. Hence, I try everything with that stupid second mirror. Wearing the hat doesn’t work. Hitting the MIRROR does not work. Hitting the WALL does not work. Hitting the GLASS does not work, either. I try the same thing with the bat but – you guessed it – does not work. I play guess-the-verb for quite a while, poke the mirror, break the mirror, kick the mirror, you name it. I try to brute-force it by using (almost) every verb from the vocabulary. I also try to hit the ball into the mirror, throw the ball at the mirror, throw the ball at the wall and so on. After a while, my half-hearted attempt to hit the BALL with the bat … succeeds. Just like that. I curse so loud that a neighbour rings me up to ask if I’m okay. Oh brother, I’m not sure – I may be ready for the actual asylum.

Behind the “glass wall” which now shatters (oh, that’s what it was!) there is more mapping goodness. I assume that the second maze is the same size as the first one, meaning 20 by 23 tiles, and plan the map accordingly. I soon stumble across an anomaly that makes me suspect another teleporter. Apart from that, I find some gold, another wall is built behind me, I find some marbles and I encounter a gorilla. Nothing too bad, right? Right. The gorilla is not impressed by my bat and simply ignores me if I hit it with it. The nerve of that primate! However, he does not really attack me either, he just won’t let me through to whatever it is he is guarding. Having finished both Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth, I still remember that throwing things at foes is almost always a good strategy, and this one is no exception. After trying some more reasonable items, I finally throw the marbles and the gorilla slips, making himself vulnerable to my cold-blooded attack. Eat my unforgiving bat, you beast! (It actually took me a lot more time to figure out that I could hit him now that he’s not on guard but the story just works better cut short.)

Beyond the gorilla, there’s a copper key, presumably so I can leave the maze. But there are still some sections I haven’t mapped yet. I find two more puzzles, and both are set in very long corridors. One of them is a corridor of 11 squares containing some 20 doors. Upon entering the corridor, another worksome carpenter builds a wall behind me. For now, I am trapped here. If I enter one of the doors, I emerge into a twisty little passage with another door at the end leading back to the corridor. However, the doors don’t match up – this is a mini-maze. I set about mapping the entry points and the exit points but soon get confused as the newly-built walls make the two ends of the corridor look exactly the same.

The Door can see into your mind! The Door can see into your soul!

Adventure game trick #71 helps me out, of course, as dropping an item will provide a visible clue which side of the corridor I’m at. I systematically go through every door and don’t really get a feel for the maze, however that proves to be unnecessary. Behind the final door, there’s a box of matches (literally) and I can light my lantern now. The door at the end of the passage now takes me back into the maze proper but what about my item?! Oh no, I messed up. I’ll have to do it all over again but at least now I know the right door. Right? As I have last saved upon entering the maze, that is kind of a pain. And it turns out that I have to pass through every door instead of just the right one – there is no right one. This time, I duly pick up the dropped item (it’s the gold, in case you were wondering) before entering the last of the 20 doors – it works and I get out of there, matches and gold in hand, er, pockets.

The other puzzle is where I’m currently stuck. There’s another long corridor on the south end of the maze. If I move along that corridor for too long, a roadster races towards me and runs me down. There is nothing I can do. Of course, the obvious solution is to drop the nails and hope that the roadster will drive right into them. However, if I drop them in the middle of the corridor and turn the other way, the roadster simply approaches from the other direction. If I stay at one end of the corridor and drop the nails in front of me, nothing happens – I have to move to get the roadster’s attention. Now where is the gorilla when you need him? At present, I’m out of ideas. I’ll try to solve this puzzle for a couple more hours and if I don’t happen upon the solution, I shall consult the official hint sheet for the game. This is not a request for assistance (yet) but if you want to give me hints in rot13, I shall look at them if it turns out to be necessary. As I already have the ancient key (which doesn’t fit anywhere so far and sounds endgamish but maybe I’m wrong) I feel that the ending may not be too far away. I could be wrong, though, and Asylum could, like Labyrinth and Deathmaze 5000, contain three more mazes.

Evel Knievel got the best of me.

Session time: 8 hours
Total time: 10.5 hours


  1. I think Renfrow is a reference to Renfield from Dracula, not an anagram. I could be wrong though. I say this because I distinctly remember Renfield being a consumer of insects after Dracula hypnotizes him.

    1. Nice catch, thank you! I don't actively remember Renfield at all but that seems extremely likely. William Denman sure was a master of references.

    2. I wonder if the cigarette man is a reference to something then. Because all these references remind me of Hugo and that question about the dog. And a man who constantly chain-smokes cigarettes and follows anyone who gives him some sounds like something that might happen in a comedy film.

  2. "I have to BREAK the wall with the axe which seems a little odd but at least I’m not stuck anymore."

    If you're lucky there may be three more, then you'll have a game that lets you break the fourth wall.

    "He uses the mantra “Omm!” which is nice and all but I’m trapped. I try to MEDITATE, SAY OMM(!), use my items, turn around, LEAVE ROOM, you name it. Nothing works, so I have to restore."

    This is a Guru Meditation error that even predates the Amiga!

    Renfrow is absolutely a Dracula reference.

    1. Despite specifically reading the book last year I only remember the name from the Leslie Nielsen film. His name is Renfield in the books and film, I don't know if the frow is maybe some joke pertaining to the reference that we are missing.

    2. @Rowan: This may be one of my favourite comments of all times!

    3. @ShaddamIVth: I'll try to check it out if I get around to it but it seems likely that it's just a play on Renfield then. If the -frow is a joke, I don't get it.

  3. "Am I doomed to be an invisible ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally ambiguous adventure person forever?"

    Nice Grand Inquisitor reference there :D


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