Saturday 2 November 2019

Missed Classic: Earthquake – San Francisco 1906 – WON! and Final Rating

by Will Moczarski

The game’s own PISSED rating

To get the most important fact out of the way first: You need the crowbar a lot.
Last time I was stuck somewhere in earthquake-ridden San Francisco in the year of 1906 with nothing left to do. My only lead was the storm drain I could enter by lifting a manhole cover, and I only figured out how to proceed from there because I have previously finished Escape from Traam. In Jyym Pearson’s previous adventure there is a dark cave with quite an unfair puzzle. You can move between two rooms and typing “look” gives out different descriptions – however, you have to do this for quite a while until you bump into an unknown object in the dark. It’s not exactly a maze because dropping items reveals there are actually only those two rooms. However, there appears to be no fixed rule about at what point you will discover the object. In Escape from Traam I stumbled upon the object by sheer luck. This time I was warned.

Moving around in the storm drain does not give you different results when you look. It’s even more sinister. Only when you look up you will discover a light beam but only if you previously moved south. There is no change in the room description to indicate this at all but at this point I didn’t trust the game designer anymore, and boy, was I right about that! Looking at the light beam (“look light” does not even work, it has to be “look light beam”) seemingly does not change anything but if you climb up again after having looked at the light beam you emerge in a different location. Does that sound logical? Yeah, right. Now how do you go back? Easy, by going north inside the storm drain, then looking up and then climbing to the surface. What an incredibly stupid puzzle, and this was only the beginning!

I’m not even proud about anything that happened next because the solutions were all so random. This is clearly the worst part of the game. When you emerge from the storm drain in the second location, there is a soldier waiting for you pointing his rifle at you. The only way (I found) to resolve this situation without dying yourself is shooting the handgun. Although the soldier kills me if I don’t kill him first, this seems like an odd choice. When I investigate the corpse, I find a pack with some iron nails inside. Other than that there is only a dead end nearby with three walls one of which seems lower and potentially climbable. That is not the case, though, and after disposing of the handgun here (you can’t leave it next to the soldier’s corpse), I find myself with nothing left to do already for the third time in this game.

It will take almost an hour until I actually make some progress again. Heading back to the other side of the storm drain and then back down to the hotel, I decide to look at everything once more. Next to the fruitstand I find a small dog that wasn’t there before so maybe the environment has changed in other places as well. I pick up the dog and look at everything again, dig everywhere again a hammer that wasn’t there before inside (?) the walls of the wrecked hotel. The only way to find this is to persisently try out everything over and over and over again. Had I not played another Jyym Pearson’s game just before this one, I would have resorted to a hintsheet or a walkthrough or just plainly given up quite some time ago.

Quite a while later I have the next breakthrough. Looking at my inventory, I find that I now have a hammer, some nails and some lumber. I may be able to build something here. Actually it may be only because I’ve played Alexis and Scott Adams’s Pirate Adventure in the past that I have happened upon this kind of puzzle before. Back then I had to build a boat without any indication by the game that I could. What might I need to cross that wall? A ladder, maybe? I’ll spare you all my failed attempts and simply say that “make ladder” works. You can then proceed to “climb” the wall and access a new area.

Soon after, my small dog companion needs to relieve himself, so I drop him. He goes about his business and runs south where he digs up a paddle for me. Good dog! I must say I really like these little events that Jyym Pearson employs to strengthen the narrative, although I am still more than a little disgruntled because of all the time he made me spend looking for new clues so very recently.

To the west, there are some stairs but when I try to climb them I fall to my death. After retracing my steps all the way back here, I look at them before doing anything and notice that they appear to be half-burned. I try to place my paddle across them but no luck. To the north I find a door to the east that appears only after looking repeatedly. Unfortunately, it’s too hot to touch because there seems to be a fire behind it. I’m stuck yet again, and because of that I decide to take a little break.

As usual, my mind keeps working on the problems away from the screen, and I come up with some new ideas. After some failed attempts to cool the door somehow, I decide to jump the stairs, and it works. I land in a partially burned stable, and there’s a frightened horse right next to me. Fortunately, I am carrying the apple as the horse eats it right away and I don’t know what would have happened otherwise. I climb the horse and then nothing. Only after I also ride the horse, it throws me off and to the south end of the stable. Fortunately, I might add, as it comically leaves behind a horse-shaped hole to the east beyond which there’s a narrow cliff. At the bottom of the cliff, I can barely make out the dead horse. I’m still wondering what I’m doing here, though, because I can’t seem to interact with the cliff. If I try to climb it, I die, and there’s nothing else to do. At the southern end of the stable there’s nothing to be done either but one should never forget about Jyym Pearson’s love for looking at things repeatedly. I need to look at a precipice, then a crevice, then some quartz, then an indentation, a flat spot and an unknown object before I can pick up a diamond. The game feels very similar to The Typing of the Dead at this point – without the zombies. At least I’ve got a diamond now which will presumably go a long way to help me pay my bills.

And after my short excursion, the door is suddenly not hot anymore. This appears to have been an artificial bottleneck without my even noticing it which is (probably?) good game design. It also tells me that the elusive hammer was not a coincidence; some of the game’s events appear to be timed, some need to be triggered. Anyway, behind the door I find myself in a smashed Chinatown garden. There’s apparently nothing to do here but to the south I can see an old “chineze” restaurant. Going there I can sit down on the soft cushions and eat the food brought to me by a “sinister mandarin”. This is pretty straightforward and leaves me with a fortune cookie, some wordplay and another riddle. The wordplay first: Pearson playfully uses for the short object description not a “cookie” but a “fortune”, prompting me to “get fortune” and “drop fortune” after having read it which is kind of funny considering that I’m on a quest to pay my bills worth thousands of 1906 dollars. However, the message inside the cookie is written in a bad stereotype of Asian-American English and says “He who uses gate prevails.” Gate? I can only think of the iron gate but I have already used it quite excessively, haven’t I? Should I return there now?

Indeed, I should. One could even see it as an attempt at good game design that I tediously needed to unlock and open the gate every single time I passed through it previously, as that made sure I remembered the gate right away. I’m not sure whether I should hug or kick the game for it but the intention was apparently good. Going back to the gate, I try various standard ways of interacting with it, and although in reality “pull iron gate” would not feel like the thing to do right there and then, in an adventure game it’s kind of a no-brainer. Doing so reveals an iron pole but I don’t know what I should use it for.

With a smile of fresh success on my face, I walk back to the smashed Chinatown garden and discover an exit I have previously not seen. That leads me to a tiled plaza which is severely destroyed by the earthquakes, so much so that I cannot cross from its northern end to its southern end due to a large crack blocking my way. I try to jump, I try to climb but I die each time and slowly begin to loathe not having a save game feature. Once again, I will be ready for the speedrun contest when all is said and done. Finally I look at my inventory. The paddle seems too short for this but maybe I can drop the iron pole? Yes, I can, but it is just lying uselessly on the ground if I do. Should I actually pole vault? The game can’t be serious. After a bit of wrestling with the parser I find out that simply “vault” does the trick. “Wow!”, says the game, and I do too, albeit for entirely different reasons. The next puzzle is much easier. I find myself in front of a pagoda which is locked by a glass door. With no apparent way in or out I use my diamond to cut the glass. This was easy. It’s more difficult to actually enter the pagoda as nothing seems to work. You actually have to climb the hole you’ve just cut. I should have guessed that right away as it’s one of the standard verbs but it just felt a bit counterintuitive. However, if it’s a keylock, I still wouldn’t be able to open the glass door after my merry act of vandalism.

Inside the pagoda there’s nothing but another locked door. Now I am stuck here for quite some time and I still can’t forgive the game for the next puzzle. I went back to all of the newer locations, attempting to listen, look, smell, feel, touch everything. This was my luck, as passing a few turns (three or four, I think) in the smashed Chinatown garden triggers another event. An old man (regrettably, the game actually calls him a “chinaman”) turns up and if I talk to him, he hands me a brass key. This unlocks the door inside the pagoda, and I get to a storage room where I can’t find anything to do. I am warned now and stay there for at least five turns regardless, looking, listening, feeling everything that’s in the description. It’s an empty room.

South of the storage room, I emerge on a cobblestone street. I find a dead woman here who apparently has been shot. I can’t investigate her corpse any further but maybe that’s for the best. Going east, there’s another part of that cobblestone street, and another dead end. Now this one takes me a long time to solve once again and it’s very helpful that I’ve just played through Escape from Traam. If you remember, I had to drop an insect in a cell to escape from jail. What I’ve learned from it: dropping live objects in dead ends is sometimes good. (Very) long story short: If I drop the small dog here, it digs a hole which is accessible after a few turns of walking to and fro. I can climb the hole to emerge in a wrecked hotel lobby to the south. At first I assume that I have come full circle but it appears to be a second hotel. I can see an old safe which is badly damaged but I can’t interact with it at all. There’s a door I cannot open, and the front door has even been boarded up by some soldiers. This reminds me of the door in Crowley Manor and I wonder whether I will be able to do something with it this time. It takes a while but having just tested all kinds of verbs in the similar situation in that other Jyym Pearson game, the parser-wrestling is over more quickly than it otherwise would have been: pry boards. I’m not happy with this solution at all but the OtherVentures really appear to follow the idea of an overarching learning curve. It’s a good thing that I’m playing them back to back, otherwise I would have been lost quite a few times already.

West of the lobby, there’s a soldier who demands that I drop all of my stuff. If I don’t obligingly follow his orders, he shoots me right away. Martial law, remember? Another restart, and this time I notice something odd. When I don’t drop the small dog right away when he needs to relieve himself, he simply goes about his business, leaving me with wet pants, and still uncovers the paddle. This wouldn’t seem significant if my wet pants wouldn’t subsequently become visible as an inventory item. Maybe I’ve stumbled upon something there, I don’t know.

Back at the soldier’s, I drop all of my belongings for him, and he confiscates all of my stuff. Will I be able to get it back? I can climb down from the porch and emerge on Foster Street where there are some more atmospheric descriptions but nothing else. South of Foster Street, there are the docks. Another soldier shoos me away from here, though, as only women and children are allowed on the boats. I also solve a puzzle by sheer luck. Because I hazily respond to the description of “metal stairs” by typing “open door” instead of “climb stairs”, I find another exit leading from Foster Street back to the wrecked hotel lobby. How should I have figured this out? I try to reconstruct the puzzle but apart from just lucking out, I don’t really know. But it’s probably a good thing: Maybe I can drop my stuff there and get it back after having passed by the soldier!

I still feel bad for having tried this, even if it turned out to be the solution.

As I don’t find another way of getting my items back, I need to restart anyway. This time I try to drop my wet pants after getting peed on by the small dog. It works but after running around like that for a while “the police shot you for indescent [sic!] exposure!!” A-ha! Where might I get a fresh set of clothes? Maybe even some woman’s clothes? My next suspicion is correct, too: It’s possible to drop my pants in the alley next to the dead woman. Everything about this feels wrong but what I do next is even worse: I can undress the dead woman to pocket her green dress. The game tells me that I look great in it, so it’s likely that the soldiers will mistake me for a woman. From a role-playing standpoint this is another part that doesn’t feel right: shooting a soldier who’s out to get me was one thing but stealing the dress off a dead woman and cheating my way onto a lifeboat reserved for women and children feels really wrong even if it’s all to rescue my own wife. I can see that Jyym Pearson wanted to create a dog-eat-dog world in times of disaster here but that sometimes misfires.

Sorry, I’d help you but I really have to pay my bills!

But it feels like I’m very close to the end. I drop all of my items in the lobby before heading out to meet the soldier. After getting them back, I can exit to Foster Street unharmed. The soldiers at the docks are now much more welcoming and tell me to go south where I will find another boat. I climb aboard and find myself in the middle of another scripted sequence. The boat leaves the dock but after a while everything goes wrong – we are sinking and everybody is screaming and finally drowning. I try to swim and that seems to work. After one or two turns, I find a piece of a boat I can hold onto. Using my paddle for several turns (improbably) takes me to Oakland. There I am rescued by a friendly soldier. He tells me to climb a wagon full of refugees, and this whole sequence showcases some of the strenghts of Pearson’s event sequences: the wagon passes some landmarks in Oakland and I have to get out at the right time, e.g. in front of the Portman Hotel. I climb down from the wagon right there, enter the final hotel lobby, meet up with a sinister gentleman who identifies himself as Hampton, the guy who had sent me the letter, and all that’s left to do to beat the game is to pay Hampton and be done with it. This may also qualify as good game design since I learned from the encounter with the aggressive fruitstand owner that I can (and should) pay for things sometimes. But regarding the story...really? I was just too lazy to give the guy his money? My main quest made it seem like I’d have to come up with some cash in the course of the game, so I half-expected to be turned away by Hampton and thus lose the game. However, this is all there is to it, and, as I already wrote in my introduction, I’m not really sure if the plot and the setting don’t actually work against one another.

I’ve heard this sentence way too often.

WON screen

How much I love those maps!

Ports Comparison

Atari 8-bit version

Once again, the 1982 Atari port shows some minor differences but nothing game-changing. The bed now has not been slept in but “is unmade”. Also, some spelling mistakes have been added, such as standing “in front if the Grand Opera House.” Dialogue has been cut short in places – e.g., when I bribe the soldier he’s not afraid of being shot anymore. Climbing down the manhole cover lets me enter a “pipe” now, not a storm drain. Also, the fact that the screen colour changes in every room makes it easier to figure out that there are different sections of the pipe. Some rooms have different names, such as the “dark stable of horses” or the “burned Chinatown garden.” The “chineze” restaurant is now spelled with an “s”. More importantly, the hint inside the fortune cookie is now different: “He who searches gate prevails” makes it easier to find the iron pole, I think. Near the end, the soldier now tells me to “go south, maam”, acknowledging that he mistakes me for a woman and his punctuation is as solid as the demon’s in Curse of Crowley Manor.

First Room

WON screen...just how many names does this game have exactly?

Apple ][ version

The Apple ][ version once again gives part of the credit to Norm Sailer while Mark Pelczarski seems to have provided the graphics, just like in Escape from Traam. It was released in 1982 (possibly 1983) and marks the latest version of the game other than the ones included in various compilations of all the OtherVentures. Earthquake – San Francisco 1906 appears to have been a very inspiring text for Mark Pelczarski as his graphics really add to the atmosphere and evoke a disastrous and fragile environment throughout.

After the first quake.

Even the portraits are far from silly this time, and the Apple ][ version for once can really be recommended. There are some sensible changes here – for example, you don’t have to look at the lumber anymore to turn it into a visible item, effectively saving one useless and misleading turn. Also, navigating the storm drain makes a lot more sense if you have pictures to accompany the experience.

When a dog’s gotta pee, a dog’s gotta pee.

The small child and the small dog are now depicted in cute images, and the dog is nibbling at a fruit when I first encounter him. Some things have taken a turn for the worse: The sinister looking mandarin is now an evil looking mandarin. The fortune cookie now says “He who examines gate...prevails” which is the most direct of the three hints. While the image of the “chinaman” is extremely stereotypical, the game handles me undressing the dead woman (still a disturbing sentence) as decently as possible. Mark Pelczarski also saved some of the best images for last – the whole endgame looks very atmospheric. The final message at least acknowledges that I did all of this (save a child, shoot a soldier, undress a dead woman to pose as one in order to acquire a seat on the refugee boat) for my wife who is free to go now.

Hel-looo stereotypes

Some things that still don’t make sense in any of the versions: Why is there no fire behind the iron door although it is so hot that I can’t even touch it? Why am I shot by the police when I drop my (wet) pants but not when I drop the green dress? If everyone huddles together on the lifeboat how come no-one notices I’m not a woman? Oh well, let the PISSED rating see to that.

Having cheated my way into the lifeboat to leave the drowning women and children behind.

Damn you, Hampton – you got here first.

WON screen (and another variation of the title)


There sure were some highly unfair puzzles in Earthquake – San Francisco 1906 that took me a long time to figure out. However, I enjoyed the game much more than Escape from Traam which was, frankly, a bit ridiculous. I already stated in the introduction that I think that the story of Earthquake clashes with its setting which is of course an irreparable flaw – however, the game still works as a game, and that’s how I’m going to rate it.

Puzzles & Solvability: Some really silly bits, some very nice puzzles. I’m not sure if I had an epiphany to come up with the pole vault solution or if I had read about it before somewhere on the internet and it was stored away subconsciously like these things sometimes are. The invisible door back to the second wrecked hotel lobby that you just assume to be there because that would make sense is another possible game breaker. I think that I never would have solved the game without having been exposed to the previous OtherVentures (“drop small dog”, I’m looking at you) but having just played them it was very difficult but ultimately doable: 3.

Interface & Inventory: The only rather obscure verbs involved were “pry” and “vault.” Apart from that, the use of the parser feels rather balanced. No unexpected prepositions (e.g., you have learned that you can “look up” before you enter the storm drain), no differences between “climb” and “climb rubble”, and most of the descriptions could be acquired by typing either “look” or “listen.” One of Pearson’s favourite puzzles seems to involve making you look several times in places you wouldn’t expect anything to happen which kind of reminds me of the dreaded timed sequences in the King’s Quest games. I know I’m mixing in some of the P category here but in a text adventure, P and I are kind of hard to separate sometimes. All things considered, it does a better job than Escape from Traam: 3.

Story & Setting: The story is kind of ridiculous and clashes severely with the setting (it had to come up somewhere). However, the setting is – apart from some rather pulpy episodes and (once again) a couple of unfortunate racial stereotypes – very convincing. Pearson’s prose works very well to make you feel like you’re in the middle of a disastrous event, and like in Crowley Manor there are a lot of additional descriptions that don’t advance the plot but enhance the immersion: 3.

Sound & Graphics: The usual picture on the right side of the screen is a bit confusing this time but I liked that every earthquake caused the screen to be filled with random numbers and other symbols, effectively marking the consequences for the environment. It’s a nice idea for a text adventure: 1.

(Addendum: The Apple ][ version boasted the best additional graphics so far – Pelczarski’s pictures are truly atmospheric and add to the experience rather than detract from it the way they did in the past two games.)

Environment & Atmosphere: This is where I can reward the game for its setting without punishing it for the story. The descriptions are uniformly well-written. It’s not up to Infocom’s standards but in 1981 no-one really was. Earthquake – San Francisco 1906 is just as good as Crowley Manor in this respect, so I’ll give it a 5 as well.

Dialogue & Acting: Again some minor dialogue/monologue that is meant to add to the flavour but this time seems rather stereotypical. It’s not as well-written as the other descriptions and even more useless than the demon’s silly but enjoyable taunts in Crowley Manor. The taunts had some B movie flair, the soldiers’ oneliners don’t. 1 point.

All right, let’s break it down: 3 + 3 + 3 + 1 + 5 + 1 = 16 / 0.6 = 26.66666… I’ll round it up to 27 which seems about right.

This game is a lot better than Escape from Traam but less complex than Asylum and less fun than both Microworld and Crowley Manor. The next game coming up already ends our little Jyym Pearson mini-marathon. It’s another “realistic” game set during the Vietnam war, and it was co-written with his wife Robyn. Let’s see if it’s an improvement or a step backwards next time!

Session time: 7 hrs
Total time: 8 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)

Jyym & Robyn Pearson Mini-Marathon Overview:
(a) Curse of Crowley Manor (1981)
(b) Escape from Traam (1981)


  1. And the winners are...ShaddamIVth came closest to the final score (26), and Vetinari correctly predicted that I'd need to use the crowbar again and proved to be beloved of the dice.

    1. I will admit that after the first post I was regretting going so high, thought this wouldn't even crack 20 with the initial puzzles!

      And thanks for the very interessting playthrough, this is exactly why text adventures scare me so much, I simply don't have the patience to try the same thing so many times. I would have broken a monitor for sure if I had tried this back in the days!

    2. Breaking the monitor out of frustration was the touchscreen technology of its time.

    3. My pleasure! Thank you for your kind words, ShaddamIVth!