Bedlam is a text adventure game released by Radio Shack for the TRS-80. Written by Robert Arnstein (Raaka-Tu, Pyramid 2000) and released in 1982, the game sets you up as a patient trying to escape an asylum.
I knew from my research that the cassette recorder functoned as the TRS-80’s “tape drive”. It stored data as analog sound on magneetic audiotapes. When Halliday had first started programming, the poor kid hadn’t even had access to a floppy disk drive. He’d had to store his code on cassette tapes. A shoebox sat beside the tape drive, filled with dozens of these cassettes. Most of them were text adventure games: Raaka-tu, Bedlam, Pyramid, and Madness and the Minotaur.
Bedlam is a text adventure game in which players use text commands (“North”, “West”, “Look”, “Open Door”) to navigate the game. It begins with a text prompt:
YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU HAVE JUST AWAKENED FROM A VERY LONG BAD DREAM ABOUT DOCTORS AND PADDED ROOMS. YOUR THOUGHTS ARE, “WHERE AM I?” YOU ARE IN A SMALL SQUARE ROOM. ALL FOUR WALLS ARE COVERED WITH A THICK PADDING. ON THE SOUTH WALL THERE IS A GREEN DOOR WHICH IS CLOSED.
From there, you open the green door and explore what lies beyond, hoping to find a way out of your mental nightmare.
I had a hard time getting into the Bedlam. Its premise isn’t as instantly engaging as Colossal Cave or Zork, and it doesn’t have the cultural heft of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I explored the asylum, but found myself repeatedly undergoing unplanned and unwanted brain surgery after an encounter with this guy:
YOU HEAR A NOISE AND YOU NOTICE A SHORT, STOCKY, UNSHAVEN MAN WEARING A BLOODY WHITE SURGICAL GOWN AND HOLDING A LARGE HYPODERMIC IS STARING AT YOU.
I also got into a disagreement with a cabinet. The locked cabinet held a red key, which I could glimpse through a tiny hole, but could not reach.
So I attacked it instead.
IT DOES NO GOOD TO ATTACK THE CABINET.
Despite this assertion, I spent a fair amount of time trying to break that cabinet. When that didn’t work, I wandered around the asylum, got knocked out by the medical staff, and ended up in my room with a broken brain. I eventually gave up and read through Gaming After 40’s Bedlam walkthrough. It was there that I learned that the “window hook” you find can be used to fetch a key from another room (thus safely avoiding one of the staff). I also learned it could be used to fetch the aforementioned red key which … makes no sense.
Following the blog post’s advice, I made significantly more progress in the game, but ultimately gave up. It just wasn’t as much fun as the other text adventure games I’ve played.
That said, this game did teach me about a magic word in text adventure games: “plugh” and its signature phrase:
A hollow voice says “Plugh”.
Having spent many, many hours playing Colossal Cave, I was familiar with the magic word “xyzzy”, which you could use to teleport between rooms in the dungeon. Somehow though, I never came across “plugh” (or never realized what it meant). Using the word in Bedlam caused me to teleport to the electrotherapy room which instantly lead to me being captured, drugged, and returned to my room.
The Ready Player One Replay is an ongoing exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Love it or hate it, there’s value in revisiting our geeky roots.
- My High Score: I gave up.
Where to Play
- Gaming After 40: Adventure of the Week: Bedlam – A walkthrough of the game.