Saturday 29 October 2022

Missed Classic 114 - Transylvania (1982)

 Written by Morpheus Kitami

Polarware/Penguin Software is a name we've seen on this blog before, but in a really roundabout way. Back when Voltgloss talked about Oo-Topos he was also reviewing the first Polarware game the blog has seen. I'm sticking with Polarware. Polarware was the brainchild of one Mark Pelczarski, who I suspect is Polish in some way. He started off creating some of the first color drawing programs on the Apple II. Somewhere around 1982, Pelczarski decided to publish some adventure games. So the story goes that the author of this game, one Antonio Antiochia, then a teenager, showed it to Pelczarski and he liked it so much he gave the lad his drawing program and said he'd publish the end result.

Actually, I say adventure games, but really, only one came out in 1982, everything else that year were generic and forgotten action games. The only interesting titles among those they published outside of the adventure genre was some of Damon Slye's early work. Its a funny thing in retrospect, how so many of these action titles from the '80s people worked hard on at the time, and now they are forgotten entirely in lieu of adventure games only enjoyed by a select few.

All of these games use Polarware's very own COMPREHEND Engine, and most use The Graphics Magician, their in-house graphics engine. The Graphics Magician got licensed out to companies, so I think this is the very first example of a engine part getting licensed out to other companies. Don't quote me on that, I haven't done any research. Ironically enough Oo-Topos was the last Polarware title to use The Graphics Magician, so you've already seen how this will end.

I'll be playing the Macintosh version. The game was released on most available western computers, along with some Japanese computers. There was also a rerelease, with presumably a newer engine and the ability to play it on an Amiga, but it doesn't look that impressive to me. One quirk here, the game disk ejects every time I quit the game. Which means sometimes when I quit I have to reinsert the disk.

Transylvania is the first in a three game series about...uh...the story is...hang on, the back of the box says nothing and the manual is a sheet of paper explaining how to play text adventures. Fortunately, there's a letter and an entry in a game catalog explains what's going on quite nicely. Princess Sabrina has disappeared in the mysterious Transylvanian forest east of Wallachia. The king, John, has offered his kingdom to anyone who can bring her back. This is where we come in. I'm supposed to find her, and kill all sorts of nasty creatures in my way, including a werewolf.

You know, its funny, later this month on my own blog I'm planning on playing Ecstatica, a weird survival horror game that also involves a werewolf. In both this game and that game you're chased around a weird, vaguely eastern European area, and a good chunk of the game is dedicated to getting rid of it.

Anyway, there are feelies for this game. You know I don't think I've ever played a game on this blog with any of those before. There's that manual for illiterate morons like me, explaining how to play the game, the letter explaining the backstory, a card for some wizard named Zin, and then a newspaper. While I am going to go over it, I should note I started the game without the newspaper.

Its a very weird document, half then modern journalism, half parody. People are concerned about Princess Sabrina's disappearance, not just because she's missing, but because King John the Good might not be so good when it comes to taxes. In other news Das the Conquerer has captured Arroya, slaying the demonlord Xyphus. There's something about a vast underground and how Das is going to turn the world into a peaceful and just place. I'm probably reading too much into a document intended to be funny. I think it actually does that.

Now that I look at this title screen, those penguins look very off

The game begins with me getting a prompt to type in my name and my next of kin. Guess I should pick someone here. Rolled a die, and Ilmari it is. (Jauhianen is too long, also I can't spell Finnish names...actually I couldn't spell anyone's last name without looking it up, sorry guys) Hope you enjoy my massive collection of computer games, books and copies of obscure Japanese movies from the '70s that somehow have blu-ray releases. You're welcome buddy! If you want to give some of it to Joe or something I don't mind. I'll be dead. A werewolf will have stripped the flesh from my bones for its supper.

 I definitely didn't forget to take a proper screenshot of this or anything

There's a stump out in the open, which has words on it. Supposedly, can't read it because the words are too covered up to read. Wiping it off does nothing. Guess I'm not solving this yet. 

"We're gonna leave a note for the sucker who's coming for her, because we're smart"

A note. I dislike the game having read do something different than examine. I guess its more logical from the perspective of someone new to the genre, but when I examine something with words on it, I expect words to be read. Anyway, the princess is going to die at dawn. But why did they drop a note in the middle of the road? Couldn't there be a note to the king? Oh, right, practically non-existent backstory. To the south, a bullfrog, he's peckish. I guess I'm supposed to feed him something. There's a sailboat next to him where I'm supposed to take the princess. If I arrive without the princess they threaten to guillotine me.

To the north, I find some civilization. And now we're in one of those annoying game things where I have to guess which direction the game wants me to take. Behind isn't really a direction when you're normally using the compass directions. I can enter it by typing go cabin, but there's nothing inside it for now.

I feel like there could be a more effective way of putting this than "Not Here"

Continuing north, there's a broken cart with a coffin in it. I can't open it here, whatever that means.

They write that a vampire is here with the same energy one would use to describe the state of one's house

East I find a castle. With a vampire. If it sounds like I'm underexplaining this, keep in mind you can see what I'm getting all the time. There's nothing I'm hiding. He follows me around as long as I'm in the castle, but otherwise leaves me along. Oh, yeah, that werewolf I keep pretending not to see is easy to run away from too. Kind of less intense than I imagined this game would be. Less total terror and more casual stroll through the woods. King's Quest was scarier than this.

I'm not really sure why I can't attack him in retrospect, but oh well

Somewhere in the southeast portion of the map I find a goblin. Oh, he's a fun one. Talk, ask, speak, hit, attack and punch do nothing. I can't kill him, unfortunately. So he's just standing here, being annoying, and annoying me. At least the werewolf can't enter this room. Guess that's an engine limitation. Incidentally, sometimes he gives me a "Bronx cheer", which is something I have never heard of. Apparently its just some strange way of saying "blowing raspberries".

I remember Black Cat (1981), I know what kind of damage this guy can do

A bit north in a hut I find a cat guarding a bottle of weak acid and a broom. Yeah, that's the metaphor I was looking for. Mildly interested cat trying to murder me rather than non-stop terror. The vicious monster refuses to let me take either item, so I have to find something elsewhere.

In the northern most part of the map, I find a house. Unfortunately the werewolf got here before me...somehow. Don't really care about a loaf of bread yet, but I figure it'll be important soon enough. The werewolf is mildly concerning, you know. Upstairs is a flintlock pistol. I can't examine it, but who cares? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Now that cat is going to get it. Oh, I can't shoot it. How about the goblin? No? What's the point then? I can't just shoot the werewolf, right? No, not that either. I'm starting to sense that this pistol is a red herring or something.

Guess I better start mapping.

The final map I had, I didn't add the one room above the ladder or the one in the graveyard

While building my map I notice a handful of things. In the cemetery is a wooden cross I can pick up, presumably for that vampire. I find a wooden shack next to the cabin, which has a clove of garlic. Both of these should help with the werewolf, but I'll be thankful if I can protect myself against the vampire. At the end of it, I have a map of 28 rooms, although I note that there's a few more. In the castle's tower there's a ladder that if I try to go up I get shaken off. Quite a modest size, it actually feels as small as The Count did, though I guess there are a lot more connecting rooms in this game compared to that one.

Time to think. I have access to five items, garlic, flypaper, pistol, stale bread and a wooden cross. I know of a key being held by a goblin and a broom and acid guarded by a cat. Violence doesn't seem to be the answer. I also believe the werewolf following me around most of the map is guarding the coffin, not directly, just preventing me from opening it. I fiddle around for a little while, but it's clear that there's something I'm missing. I generally like the system, but it feels very much like a guess the verb kind of situation. Sometimes verbs seem to exist, but don't actually work when I think of it. Right, tell me oh, walkthrough, what stupid mistake did I make?

Note the game including my name in the background noise there

Well, the walkthrough is actually for a different version of the game, appparently there are real differences between the different versions. The walkthrough tells me to enter a room that doesn't exist and to type commands that don't work. However, I do find out that I can enter the wagon. Ah, that's why I don't like playing text adventures, that and guessing the verb. Inside the wagon I can actually open the coffin...which contains a rotting corpse, some mice and a silver bullet. Aha! I have solutions for my problems! And the werewolf walks in on me putting down an item to take the silver bullet and I don't know how to get out. I do figure out later that its go out.

The game doesn't seem to register any commands past the first two words, which is both good and bad. Now...I already figured out the solution to another problem...I have to feed the cat the mice. I just have to take the mice! How do I feed the cat? This is a less interesting solution, I just have to drop it in front of the cat. I only used it since I figured that was as good a solution as any. Next thought, since that writing on the stump is obscured, I could use the broom or the acid...I guess, to clear it out. It was the acid, and the words are "knock here".

This takes me inside the cave. The door is locked and you can see how helpful this magic book is. I can't get out of here, but thankfully I figured that out before saving. Since there are flies, I figure the flypaper must be useful. At first I think it's not useful, but then I hit on taking the bullfrog. I can't, but that brings me around to taking the flies while holding the flypaper. That works, but it doesn't get me out of here. I'm stuck again. This is gonna be guess the verb isn't it. Well, let's guess all the verbs. And by guess the verbs, I mean I went over to Renga in Blue and found an image of a word list and downloaded it. (I'm not going to bother someone over something as inane as this)

Okay, it does have some marks from the parts he tried in the game he was playing, but it's not like I'm using this process with any kind of serious scientific accuracy!

I try most of these in order. Some of them I already knew, some were obvious they wouldn't be necessary. When I hit ride, I realize what went wrong. Of course. RIDE BROOM. Because it belongs to a witch. Yeah, see, I've been playing Sweet Home, so that's where my mind went. In Sweet Home you use a broom to clean paintings and to beat up maggots and things. (I guess it makes sense in context) I didn't see any paintings or maggots so that just slipped my mind. Figures that game is annoying me so much it's ruining other games.

This gets me a long wall of text, probably the longest this game will ever get, all for some silly broom ride. Now I'm in a tree. Apparently Zin, that is the wizard on the card, lives in a log cabin in this forest. Cool, let's just find it. Can't go anywhere, but I guess down works...and I'm at the sailboat and the frog. Yippee. No, there's nothing up there except a sign telling me that Zin lives in a log cabin. I don't care if he lives inside my closet, I just want to advance in this stupid game. It's not my day today, if it's ever my day. Walkthrough, tell me how stupid I am right now.

This, I found out after the fact, is actually different between versions

Get book, which teleports you out of the cave. Wow. I admit, that isn't something I would have ever figured out. Either my own ideas of how to play text adventures are ruining this game for me or this game is a bit crap. Since I can get the flies, I give those to the frog, who thanks me and tells me to say egnie to the goblin...which causes the goblin to flee into the darkness when I say it, leaving behind the key of course. Now I can open the locked door there, right? No, this has been a completely pointless action right now. I'm starting to agree with that Spanish anon who complains about these text adventures. I feel like if I were playing some mediocre Japanese pervert game I'd be having a tiny bit more fun in that I wouldn't be frustrated like this. I guess there might be music, but I appreciate being able to listen to Himiko Kikuchi right now.

Right, log cabin. Guess I better search that. They wouldn't bring it up if it wasn't important. There's a fireplace and a deer trophy, the game doesn't tell me that, they're just background objects. But they're the only things here. Let's go over all the usual crap. Fireplace doesn't respond to anything, and the deer doesn't. Okay, either I'm missing something or the game lied to me somehow. This game isn't smart enough to lie to me like that. What else qualifies? Mantle? Wood? Stone? None of those, antlers. Pull antlers. Not a bad puzzle, but I'm starting to realize what this game's problem is. I'll explain later.

When you're playing this like I do, you rarely get to see these guys up close, so now I realize how goofy that deer looks

This nets me a wizard's cloak. Guess I'm going to be spending the next hour figuring out what that's supposed to do. That's another puzzle solved that doesn't help me with anything else. Now what? Look around some more, fruitlessly screwing with environmental objects. In the witch's hut I even notice I missed a spider and a lantern, but I can't take those.

Eventually I think to try showing the cross to the vampire. The garlic prevents him from appearing, but I figured I needed something else to deal with him. This works. I'm as shocked as when I didn't come up with the solution and had to look it up. Maybe this does something to the guy who shook the ladder? Yeah.

There are some vines up here. I'd tell you how I got rid of them, but you can clearly see that. Apparently I should have used move or something, because when I check my inventory next I have a string of gibberish in my inventory and nothing else. I cannot open the sarcophagus, because it's hermetically sealed. I also can't do anything else. Finally, I return to the downstairs area and check the treasure coffer again, I can get the shiny ring now. Wait, now this means there are two magic items I don't know what to do with!

How do I advance now? Why, I search the cloak to get a lockpick. I definitely found that on my own and didn't look up a walkthrough in absolute disgust again. I want to remind readers that though I seem incredibly incompetent right now, examine/look does absolutely NOTHING as a command in this game. Even if it actually does say something, it's something generic you already knew. This game might have some good ideas, but through dozens of bad design choices, they're ruined. All the hard puzzles are ones the game (or other games) trains you to ignore the way to solve.

I feel like if I told you this was a picture of some mountain you'd believe me

This opens the locked door in the cave, which contains a crystal ball. This gives me a vision of a man waving the ring in front of a statue, and an explosion going off. I'm describing it poorly, you can see it here. I feel like you'd sooner figure out how to solve that puzzle than search for a lockpick in your cloak, but that's just me.

A good game would visualize this, but I'm not sure I want to see it

This releases an alien. Ah, yeah, cool. That's just the cherry. He says he's indebted to me and breaks the ring so he doesn't get captured again. Cool. Now what?

Alien says "lmao, get wrecked scrub"

Why, I wait around for a shooting star to appear! It's not something you'd realize, and if you miss it, you have no idea what's going on. The game trains you to figure these kinds of messages since you always get some spooky message after each action anyway. A shooting star might just appear to be a rustling sound if you don't care anymore. This causes a saucer to appear where the statue is. I black out upon entering, because apparently saving someone's life doesn't mean I'm not getting anal probed. I awaken with the saucer gone and a box in my inventory. Without anything else to do, the solution is obvious.

But first, let's deal with the other key. There are two screens I haven't done anything with yet, the graveyard and some in the castle, but it occurs to me that I'm missing something here in the graveyard. Since there's something actually here, as opposed to empty rooms. If I push the grave, this reveals a grate, a locked grate. The key works here and inside is the elixir.

Not that impressive, but it is 1982

The box opens the sarcophagus with an explosion. Why I couldn't just use the ring is a guess for someone who isn't incredibly annoyed at this game right now. Behold, Princess Sabrina. To save the princess I need to wave the elixir, pour it and then clap. Now I can take the princess and sail the boat back to her country.

Note that there's no real ending screen, just this

Whereupon the "good" king suggests I go to Africa to save his very real other daughter. The sequel hasn't anything to do with anything I've just said beyond "good king" and "Princess Sabrina". Also, I'm still there because apparently I don't have anything better to do. You know, that next of kin thing didn't come up at all. Considering how many background things there were, do you think it would have been possible to put in, say:

"You feel a cold chill. 

'Wooooooo! It's me, Ilmari!

I have your stuff!

I'm not giving it back.


Or you know something scary.

Total Time: 4 hours 00 minutes

Puzzles and Solvability

I don't think any of the puzzles in the game are necessarily bad, just incredibly poorly implemented. The game is designed in such a way that discourages figuring out the proper solution to most of these puzzles. Why would you get a book when you can read it without taking it? Why would you think to go to the wagon when it doesn't seem like an area you can enter? So much of it is just setting the player up for failure. I guess because without those setups, this game would be 2 hours long, and without them, I suspect realistically this game would have taken me about twice as long.


Interface and Inventory

I wish the manual told you that this was exclusively a two word parser, but otherwise I think it works well. The only guessing of verbs I had to do was when I didn't have any idea of what the hell was going on. It contains enough variations on verbs that this is rarely a problem and no slowdown ever occured. You can't really do much with inventory items, but that's not terribly important.


Story and Setting

Find Princess, kill vampire. Not very important.

The game goes for as cliche horror settings, creepy forest, graveyard, and castle. Thing is, you just can't do anything with these places, you cannot examine anything more closely, it comes off as worse than even a graphical version of Scott Adams' adventures. You just don't get anything!


Sound and Graphics

There was no sound, but I thought the game looked nice. Of course, I picked out the Macintosh version because it looked better than the other versions, and it looks atmospheric at least. Unlike in other versions, the aggressive dithering works a bit with the game rather than against it. Not great, but it is 1982...1984 I guess, and games that were pretty were few and far between.


Environment and Atmosphere

Everything the game does is towards making this game feel creepy. While the werewolf did get annoying, his presence made the game's willingness to kill you clear and added a bit of depth to what would have otherwise been a random text adventure with pictures. Albeit, one with some nice Halloween-esque atmosphere. It's nice, nothing special, nothing awful.

Of course, the alien kind of screws with this.


Dialogue and Acting

Some minor stuff that mostly contributed to the atmosphere or just telling you simple things.


4+4+0+3+5+1=17/0.6=28.333 so 28.

This game is honestly at it's strongest during the beginning of the game, when you're still trying to figure out how to deal with the werewolf. After that, everything sort of fizzles out. It's later issues could very easily be fixed with a few changes and fixes. Will I see if the 1985 release fixes my issues? Uh...I don't know. Since there's a Japanese version, it's likely that I'll be talking about that someday, but that's more of a "I'm the only person interested in doing this so I'm going to do it" kind of thing. Well, a lot of time is going to pass between now and next Halloween.

That's not it for this Halloween, the spookiest game yet is about to arrive, so prepare your breeches. Prepare second breeches. Prepare third breeches. It's gonna be a bloodbath!


  1. I guess a 28 .. oh wait.

    Great job on covering these ancient titles !

  2. Why choose the Mac port released two years after it launched on Apple 2? Probably literally every other platform would have had nonmonochrome graphics that looked more along its lines.

    A notable early licensee of The Graphics Magician was Al Lowe with Troll's Tale for Sierra.

    "Bronx cheer" is weird slang, but it's not like "blowing a raspberry" = "raspberry tart" = "rhyming slang for fart" is any less weird.

    1. I was about to make the same comment about the choice of platform. From the screenshots I've googled, I suspect that the Apple II version was much more attractive.
      To be fair, almost no Macintosh games were playable to me until color Mac's were widespread. The Mac Classic, with the teeny tiny B&W screen wasn't really conducive to gaming.
      And don't forget that Apple then, just like now, liked to avoid "innovations" from other PCs, such as arrow keys.

    2. Also, yes, a Bronx Cheer is a common synonym for a raspberry, which apparently means something different here in the States than some people here are used to.

    3. I've seen a lot of American TV and movies and I think this is probably the first time I've ever heard the phrase "bronx cheer"!

    4. I actually chose the Mac version because I thought most of the other versions looked worse. B&W tends to be more appealing than a limited number of colors used not so well and it didn't seem different in this case. The Apple II in particular has issues with the color screens that I tend not to care for.
      (also, there seems to be more text on-screen here than in those other versions, also a factor)

    5. (Joe) Google is not letting me sign in to respond for some reason.

      “Bronx cheer” is obscure slang even for native speakers who grew up not too far from “the Bronx”, maybe 1930s or 1940s? Seems pre-war.

      Until googling it at this moment, I thought it meant a fart noise. I had a whoopie cushion as a kid that had “Bronx cheer” written on it and so “fart” is what it thought it meant. But it seems to really mean a raspberry sound which is pretty close but doesn’t have the scatological connotation. When did TAG become the “explain American slang!” blog? I’m not complaining. :)

    6. I'm familiar with the phrase Bronx cheer, but I don't think I've ever heard it said out loud, only seen it written down.

    7. When did TAG become the “explain American slang!” blog? I’m not complaining. :)

      I'd say it started when the non-Americans were confused by the monkey wrench puzzle in MI2, but it was probably long before that. :)

    8. Ah, but if it isn't Americans explaining American slang/culture, its Brits explaining British slang/culture. Hmm, you know, despite the number of French games we've played I don't think French slang/culture comes up that much.

    9. I am reminded that the junior novelization of "Spaceballs" repeats the "No one gives me the raspberry!" joke, but adds a weird and unfunny explanation that it is a reference to Helmet being allergic to raspberries.

  3. The ending text had me chuckle though. Instead of the tired old "Our hero! Here, marry my daughter and take over (half or the entirety of) my kingdom!" you get "Nice work, chum. Now, piss off to Timbuktu or whatever and leave us alone." Payoff for heroic deeds? Heck no! But it fits well into the campy horror that Halloween should entail, I think.