Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Missed Classic 73: Curse of Crowley Manor (1981) – Introduction

by Will Moczarski

Who was Jyym Pearson?

The sixth adventure game in our Med Systems marathon is the last one released in 1981, and it’s a rather famous one. The Institute is also the first game I’ve played before (albeit in the later port for the Commodore 64), and it picks up on the ‘mental illness’ theme we’ve already encountered in Deathmaze 5000, Labyrinth and, especially, Asylum. Jyym Pearson was the third freelance programmer to be published by Med Systems following Arti Haroutunian (Microworld) and Simon Smith (Knossos). Med Systems founder William Denman appears to have put some thought into his company’s portfolio, as Microworld is a nice companion piece to his own The Human Adventure, while Smith’s Knossos picks up on the theme established in Labyrinth, in which the player has to vanquish a mythical minotaur. The Institute is sort of a companion piece to Asylum, so much so that the former seems like a text-only version of the latter at first sight. However, Jyym Pearson was already an established author of text adventures when Med Systems first published one of his games, and he continued to make a name for himself through this fruitful collaboration. As this is as good a place as any to go back and play the four text adventure games that Pearson wrote before teaming up with Med Systems in 1981, I will hereby start a short sub-marathon of the four games that came before The Institute.

It has to be noted that Jyym often didn’t work alone. His wife Robyn Pearson contributed to many of his adventure games and also received some credit for it. Like Alexa Adams, she is not as famous as her male counterpart which likely says a lot about the rules of early video game publicity, maybe even about our society in general. As it’s very difficult to research who did what exactly, I will try to be as accurate as possible in this regard but please bear in mind that I might underestimate the extent of Robyn’s work every once in a while which is, needless to say, completely unintentional.

Apart from his illustrious body of work, Jyym Pearson is a rather elusive personality. He wrote the odd editorial piece for early 1980’s computer magazines but it is rather difficult to find out more about his biography. Sadly, he succumbed to cancer in 1994 so it won’t be possible to conduct an interview with him, and moreover, Robyn Pearson appears to be such an widespread name that it proved impossible to find out what Jyym’s widow might be up to these days. All that I can gather is that Jyym apparently was an avid computer collector and a loving family father, but other than that we’ll have to let him speak through his works.

Jyym Pearson first entered the scene in 1980 with a text-based space simulation game called Zossed in Space which had a small but loyal fanbase. In 1981, he wrote his first text adventure (The) Curse of Crowley Manor which was highly innovative being an early detective game steeped in occultist lore. It was released as one of Adventure International’s OtherVentures – a gig that Jyym was subsequently subscribed to, it seems. His next game, Escape from Traam, was also released – as OtherVenture #3 – in 1981, and Earthquake San Francisco 1906 followed the same year, labelled as #4. The Pearsons’ final game for Adventure Internationale, Saigon: The Final Days, was also released in 1981 and became famous for immersing the player in a relatively contemporary story: the retreat of the Americans from Vietnam in 1975. The Pearsons’ other four adventure games were published by Med Systems over the following years, starting with The Institute in 1981. They appear to have been very creative and prolific writers, never adhering to the most conventional adventure game tropes but always eager to stretch the limits of the still-juvenile form.

As an homage to these highly interesting writer personalities, I shall blog through the four 1981 Pearson games before continuing the actual Med Systems marathon with The Institute. I had considered doing all of the OtherVentures in the process but the first one is just a port of the Crowther & Woods Adventure called Classic Adventure, and Lance Micklus’s 1979 classic Dog Star Adventure was only labelled as an OtherVenture in a later re-release. I hope that you will enjoy this little detour but I’m very optimistic that the good reputation of these games is highly justified and that the Pearsons’s work should have a place on this blog dedicated to adventure game history.

Introduction #2: Curse of Crowley Manor

I start the game inside my office. Apart from a small part of the manor (is it supposed to be a turret?) the screen is divided into a VISIBLE ITEMS section, a room description, the abbreviated name of the game (“CROWLEY MANOR”) and the expectant cursor. Typing LOOK will give me the actual room description, so this is where I start. There are a calendar and a nametag on the desk as well as a door leading east. Looking at the calendar tells me that it’s April 2, 1913. Outside the window I can see London at night. A quick look at the nameplate tells me my name and occupation: I am Inspector Black and I am located at Scotland Yard. Neat! Unfortunately, I can’t open the door, so I try some other (ineffective) things until my phone suddenly rings. Answering it, I am told by Officer Strade (Lestrade dropped his french article due to copyright reasons, I assume?) that there has been a murder at the Crowley Estate and I should be heading over there immediately. Now I can finally open the office door and leave the building.

Outside there’s a brick street. Looking at it reveals a cab, and the driver is smiling at me. I enter the cab and look again, to no avail. Talking to the driver, he asks me “Where to governor?”, and I can enter “Crowley Manor”. Off we go, passing by Trafalgar Square and Big Ben on our way. A little bit of text adventure sightseeing for the sole purpose of adding to the atmosphere. Looking at the driver lets me discover a vial sitting next to him, and because it’s not nailed down, I put it in my pocket. It turns out to be holy water, so maybe I will be dealing with some serious vampirism soon. One of the rules of the game seems to be that looking at everything is very important!

When we arrive, I can get out of the cab, prompting the driver to take 10 shillings from me. What do I have in my inventory, anyway? A quick survey turns up a revolver and an I.D. card as well as 40 more shillings. Police Inspector Harbour is already waiting for me on the porch. He informs me that the body is in the kitchen and Inspector Strade is waiting inside. Going north lets me enter the manor. I grab my pencil and paper and start to make a map right away.

Most of the exits are hidden, and even typing LOOK won’t reveal them. However, there are only the four cardinal directions (N,S,E,W), hence the topology is rather simple. The first room is a plush entry hall with opulent furnishings. Taking a look reveals a cabinet but it’s locked. Heading west, I find a parlor with a rosewood chest which is fastened with two screws. I need a key and a screwdriver to progress, apparently. South of the parlor, there’s an elegant music room with a victrola and a piano. I can’t interact with the piano but looking at the victrola turns its crank into a visible item, and looking at the crank reveals a gold key. After removing the key, I can turn on the victrola but Maniac Mansion is still six years away so I have to imagine the “music”. The gold key lets me open the cabinet in the plush entry hall. Inspector Strade’s mutilated body drops out and onto the floor. Wow, this is going to be as grisly as Mystery House, I suppose. And Crowley is meant to be Alistair Crowley, perhaps?

Going west and north, I find a dimly lit room with a small figure huddled on the floor. I can’t examine it as it’s too dark but talking to it reveals that it’s Davonn, the original victim’s servant. He claims that “no man murdered [his] master”, and that is in keeping with my theory about a gold-key-hiding monster. I don’t get anything more out of him, and he seems to be in mourning. East of Davonn, there is a study. Opening the desk reveals a crystal ball I can take. There is also a silver book on the desk, and reading it provides some backstory: This is the 1742 diary of one Adam Crowley, and it says: “I AM DOOMED TODAY..THE DEMON IS TRAPPED IN THE HOUSE HE WILL SURVIVE LONG AFTER MY DEATH”, and, “THE DEMON HAS CORRUPTED MY BLOOD..HE WILL INFEST THE GENERATIONS THAT FOLLOW ME..” A blood-infesting demon, huh? This is getting creepy quick. Good thing I “borrowed” that holy water from the cabbie.

Heading back west reveals that Davonn’s throat has been ripped out while I was busy reading old books. Why am I still alive again? Oh right, I’m the protagonist. Tough luck, I guess. East of the entry hall, there’s a long N/S hall separated into three rooms (south, center, north). At the south end, there’s a small white statue of an elephant I can pick up. Inventory limit, here I come – I can only carry six items which seems a bit harsh. I decide to turn this room into my stash house until somebody (a demon maybe?) steals from me and I need to relocate. In the center part, I seem to encounter the demon for the first time. “A TREMENDOUS FORCE THRUSTS YOU AGAINST A WALL.. THERE IS A HIDEOUS SMELL.” This is confirmed when I type “SMELL”, as the response is a daft “PHEWWWW…!” The force is content with thrusting me against a wall, however, and I can’t interact with it in any other way. It doesn’t block my way, either, so I continue north.

How unpleasant!

This brings me to the kitchen where there is blood splattered on the walls and floor – the site of the original murder. I examine everything and find a door nailed shut to the north as well as a brown slimey growth on the floor. It’s not nailed down, so I pick it up and carry it around with me. A good idea, you say? Wait till you read this! Two rooms on, there’s a well stocked food pantry. Upon looking at the shelves here, the brown growth slips from my pockets and starts eating like crazy. It grows and grows with every turn until it’s big enough to eat me for dessert. My first game over. On my next attempt I leave the room after having dropped the growth in the pantry. That seems to save me temporarily but upon returning there, it still devours me.

I decide not to pick up the beast the next time around. There are only two more rooms beyond the pantry: a very short E/W hall and a small storage room with a plywood wall (which is vibrating) to the north and another door nailed shut to the south. What do they keep in there? Do I really want to know? As I am a little stuck and will have to tackle the brown growth puzzle next (I assume) this seems like a good place to stop for now. It will certainly leave you with enough of an impression to guess the final score for this game. Next time: the exorcism of the demon that used to be Adam Crowley by the coward Inspector Black – or something.

Session time: 0.5 hrs
Total time: 0.5 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)

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 20 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.


  1. I'll bet 25. Maybe I'm just a sucker for spooky mansions games, but I got a good feeling about this one.

    On betting CAPs, can a bet be done, against, say, a gameplay element rather than a puzzle? Would I still have to use ROT13 if that's the case? Also, does the reviewer using in-game hint systems result in me still losing the CAPs? How about if he uses it like a crutch?

    1. Your second question is easier to answer: Yes, I think use of in-game hint systems also warrants a winning bet, as do use of external hints or walkthroughs. With the main games, we try to avoid their use altogether and do only Requests when we get stuck (with the possible exception of using in-game hint system, just to see what it's like), with Missed Classics we are more lenient (since they are more of an extra).

      As for your first question, I'd really like to get an example what you mean. Something like in my experience with Inca, where I couldn't get unassisted through action sequences? I don't remember if anyone has ever tried to bet about such matters, and I don't have strong opinions whether such bets should allowed. Does anyone have some thought about this?

    2. Ah, that makes sense why Will was able to use the hint system in Asylum.

      I'd say more like something Alone in the Dark-ish or, I dunno, Wolfenstein-ish. Inca-like works too. I'm just thinking along the lines of people getting screwed over by action sections. Which will happen, I know. I figure before I can insult someone's reflexes I should ask.

    3. If Ilmari thinks it's fine, it's also fine by me.

      In other words: insult away! ;-)

    4. Okay, two for it, but no thoughts on whether or not I should use ROT13.

    5. The rule of thumb is: when in doubt, use rot13, so I‘d be all for rot13ing your bet.

  2. I have updated Will's place on the reviewer leaderboard. He's shifted one position above Torch.

  3. I'm gonna go with a super optimistic 32, a good solid number for a (possibly) good solid horror adventure.

  4. Let's guess 34, better than "Asylum".

  5. I am going to go for 30 as this is still thecearly days of pc gaming. I do love the tower they display on screen, adds a bit of atmosphere and I have always loved ASCII art.

  6. I haven't played the game, but I wonder... If the "brown slimy growth" was inspired by the Star Trek "Trouble With Tribbles" episode, maybe the idea will be to poison or taint the food in the pantry first, *then* take the growth there. It will eat all the food and die (or metamorph), leaving you something useful. But that's all just a guess, of course.

    1. I think that seems quite likely as a source of inspiration even if there probably won't be a way to prove it! Pearson appears to have been quite the Trekkie according to his first effort "Zossed in Space" which is basically a Star Trek game, and as we will see again in "Escape from Traam".

      The solution to the puzzle is very similar, too, if not exactly the same.

  7. Apart from a small part of the manor (is it supposed to be a turret?)

    I think it's a side view of the front facade.

    And Crowley is meant to be Alistair Crowley, perhaps?


    Hmm, maybe some inspiration ("hey, who's a famous British guy involved with the occult"), but I doubt it's a direct reference, at least in a researched sense (maybe I'm expecting too much?). At the time Aleister Crowley lived in a remote home by Loch Ness (Boleskine House), while it sounds like this "manor" is supposed to be in London. (Also, "manor" is used pretty loosely in American English to mean something like "a big house", but I understand in the UK it has a more specific meaning, and isn't something you'd find within a city, rather out in the middle of a parcel of land in the country?)

    1. Argh, I had a hunch I should look up his first name. Thanks, though!

      I agree that he must have used Crowley's name as a general reference - there are no traces of serious research into his work or biography in the game, I guess. I had actually assumed a long cab drive to the country due to the word "manor" but you're right, it's probably supposed to be located somewhere in London, which also makes much more sense when you compare it to the distance between the in-game sights (Big Ben, Trafalgar Square etc.) It may even be possible to hazard a guess about its location.

  8. Title-wise, I cannot help but wonder how we managed to have both a Cranston Manor and a Crowley Manor released the same year... although there doesn't seem to be any connections, just a coincidence.

    (But this is a reminder that I still have a half-completed draft of Cranston Manor Adventure, the text adventure that the Sierra "Hi-Res Adventure" version was adapted from. I left it when I switched to the Zork marathon instead of working through Sierra's older games, but I could polish it up and put it up at some point...)

    1. I'd love to read your takes on Cranston Manor and "Time Zone" (but I'm not sadist enough to suggest that you review that one as well), Joe!

  9. I’ve been away but managed to get here before the first post, so... 27