I’ve been doing a series of Let’s Play videos exploring old adventures, text games and lost design forms from the 1980s Apple IIe and Commodore 64 era. In a time when young men shout over new action games, I will talk softly over strange old ones. Come along on a visitation of a different era that’s one part meditations on my childhood, one part adventure game criticism, and one part preservation effort. Bonus: Everyone says the quiet talk, lo-fi handmade feel and keyboard tapping triggers ASMR responses. Please enjoy!
For the first time, I’ve got virtually nothing to tell you about the origin or creator of this week’s obscure find, Man-Eng: Master of Evil. I mean. I can tell you it has a wine river. A wine river! But otherwise, I found it in the annals of the Virtual Apple site, and all my research couldn’t turn up even a pack shot, let alone information on its creators, The Chiang Brothers.
Fortunately, this game is incredibly simple — I use the word “pure”, because it’s so unambitious it’s impossible for it to be confusing, and therefore we can apply real old-fashioned adventure game logic to it. Remember when we played Mystery House, and concluded the addition of graphics just made the game itself confusing and inconsistent? Sometimes all the information you needed was in the game’s text, and sometimes it wasn’t.
Many early-80s adventure games were struggling through the same adolescence. As if it wasn’t enough to butt heads with various inconsistent text parsers as creators attempted to evolve them to understand and do more things, it was often hard to tell whether the images you saw on screen were things you needed to examine further or interact with if they weren’t indicated by the text.
Not so for Man-Eng, which even includes a Zork-style maze early on. I got to break out Bob Redrup’s priceless Adventure Gamer’s Manual (out of print, but if you love old games and can find a copy on eBay or secondhand I highly recommend it) and consult his chapter on maze-solving.
Why do you need help solving a maze, you ask? Don’t you just draw a map as you go? Well, friends, this traditional style of adventure game maze is like a hall of mirrors; you may enter by typing “N”, but typing “S” will not return you to the entrance. Rather, each screen of the maze has a rule — going north from Screen A will always take you to Screen B, but going south from Screen B will end you up at Screen C, and you illogically may have to go east from Screen C to end up back at Screen A.
Redrup’s manual taught adventure gamers to solve these mazes by dropping items from their inventory to act as landmarks, and testing ways to find them again. I solved Man-Eng’s forest maze for us using that technique (and dropping a dead bat as a landmark), and luckily the maze has several innate landmarks of its own, so it wasn’t super difficult. I take the direct route in this Let’s Play — I didn’t want to put you all through watching me solve it. I also get really anxious under pressure.
In this Let’s Play I tried to demonstrate a few rudimentary techniques for testing what the game “knows” and therefore eliminating avenues that aren’t likely to make sense. In no time at all, we make it all the way to the tower of Man-Eng. Shortly after completing this video, I reached Mr. Eng himself and was bested — if you do your own playthrough and get just as far as I did, the final battle isn’t much further on, and I’d love to know if you can defeat him. Failing that, the sight of the guy alone is enough. (SPOILERS).
Seriously. I can’t handle him. Someone let me know how this all ends.
The entire Lo-Fi Let’s Play series is available and regularly updated at my YouTube channel if you’d like to subscribe, but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on, with some additional written analysis and commentary.