Author: William Denman and Frank Corr
Publisher: Med Systems Software (later ScreenPlay)
Compatibility: Model I and III, tape and disk
Asylum was the third game in the “Continuum series” of 3-D graphics adventures sold by Med Systems Software. It was preceded by Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth and followed by Asylum II. In early 1983, Med Systems Software changed its name to ScreenPlay (which was itself a division of Intelligent Statements, Inc) but continued to sell Asylum.
Med Systems Software sold Asylum for the TRS-80 in both cassette and disk versions. The cassette version came in both 16K and 32K version. The 16K version contains the same puzzles, but the descriptive messages are shorter and the parser recognizes fewer words.
In addition to the TRS-80 version, Asylum was also available for the Apple II for both tape and disk. However, the versions released in 1985 for the Commodore 64, Atari 400/800, and IBM PC were not adaptations of the TRS-80 version of Asylum. Those versions were actually adaptations of the TRS-80 version of Asylum II.
Asylum, which stands for Adventure Syndrome Leading to Ultimate Madness, is a full-screen graphical adventure. According to an advertisement, Asylum places the player in “an institution full of guards, inmates, doctors, and many more bizarre characters.”
The goal to Asylum is to escape from the facility. The player starts out alone in a cell with a locked door. The trick is to leave the room and find a way out, all the while trying to avoid the guards who want to recapture you.
Asylum operates more or less in real time (40 seconds equal one minute of Asylum time). The game begins at 9:30 PM and the player has to escape by 5:30 AM. The time constraints are a little bit deceptive, because of an event that occurs late in the game which takes up hours of time.
Here is another description from a 1981 Med Systems Software catalog:
Asylum places you on a cot in a small room. Periodically, a janitor lobs a hand-grenade through the window of your locked door. What you do next could mean survival and escape! It could also mean permanent residence in the home for Deathmaze survivors! To leave, you will have to deal with guards, fellow survivors, doctors, the infamous Crazed Carpenter, and much, much more. Don’t expect to get out any time soon!
Med Systems Software invited anyone who completed Asylum before November 15, 1981 to send in their solution. All valid entries were entered in a drawing, with the winner to receive an Atari 400 computer.
For those unable to complete the adventure, Med Systems Software sold official hint sheets to frustrated adventurers for $1. The official Asylum hint sheet contains 22 different hints.
The Asylum game engine improves upon Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth, even though it takes up the same amount of memory. As Frank Corr said in a 1981 article, “Everything is twice as good as Deathmaze.” The layout in Asylum consists of over 1500 locations and the vocabulary parser is also more sophisticated, allowing longer sentences such as “GET EVERYTHING ON THE TABLE” or “OPEN DOOR WITH SILVER KEY.”
Part of the fun of Asylum is in exploring all of the strange details. For example, every time you look up, a piano will fall on you, ending the game. But that seemingly unimportant detail becomes very useful later on in the game. Lying down on the bed in your cell does nothing (the game says “Forget it for now”), but it becomes very important later on. For more fun, try buying the tuba from the inmate who says “Do you want to buy a tuba?” or see what happens if you release the inmate who says “Let me out and I’ll kill you.”
Asylum was one of most creative TRS-80 games and remains one of my favorites.