The Lurking Horror (DOS)

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'The Lurking Horror' is a 1987 text adventure game by Infocom, creators of Zork and other classic adventures. You play as a freshman at George Underwood Edwards Institute of Technology, and one dark and stormy night, you will witness that something weird and unnatural is going on.
screenshot
A hacker whom you recognize.

Analysis

  • 12901 

    The Text Adventure Genre

    When the genre of text adventures was at its peak, I was about 10 years old and not a native english speaker, and this type of game seemed completely impenetrable. Also, I was always very focused on graphics and sound, and having the choice between a text adventure and, say, Marble Madness or Hybris, the game with no graphics or music would never win. I did use to read Fighting Fantasy books, which were like text adventures, except with fixed choice instead of a text parser, and later on, I would make a short Warhammer 40K text adventure myself for the Amiga.

    Hybrid text adventures had existed for a while, games such as Mindshadow, a text adventure with accompanying still images, originally written in 1984 for the Apple II by Ayman Adham, co-founder of Silicon & Synapse, programmer on Battle Chess and The Lost Vikings, and lead designer of World of Warcraft. The game was released by Activision, and the 1985 Amiga port is one of the earliest games to come out for the Amiga 1000. However, as this point, the genre was evolving into different styles of adventure games: there were the Sierra-style adventures games such as Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry, which still used a text parser, but were fully graphical and animated with a controllable third person character, there were first person mouse-controlled adventure games such as Uninvited and Deja Vu, and finally the third person point 'n click adventures that ended up being very popular in the 1990's such as Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. All of these flavours of adventure games had graphics and sound, and seemed much more appealing to me at the time.

    The Lurking Horror

    30 years and thousands of video games later, I felt curious about text adventures. This was a very unique genre - could there possibly have been a unique experience that I had missed completely? I decided to try playing through a real text adventure by the prolific text adventure game company Infocom. The Lurking Horror from 1987 was supposedly one of the best of its kind. In the game you play as a university freshman just enrolled at a university, and everything takes place in the university location in a single night. The Lurking Horror is set in 'present day', which in this case means the 1980s, and it is very inspired by the weird tales of H. P. Lovecraft.

    I completed the game in 2018, and it was a pretty interesting experience. The Lurking Horror is far from perfect, and it actually had a lot of frustrating moments, many of which could be solved using modern design ideas adapted for the text adventure genre. But it did one thing right - it had one of the most intricate mechanical puzzles I have encountered in a game: The elevator puzzle. Here is a quote from my game log:

    I made sure that the elevator was on the first floor, pryed open the elevator door, put the crowbar in the door to keep it open, climbed down, attached a chain I found to a rod using the padlock from the Tomb, climbed up and attached the other end of the chain to a hook on the bottom of the elevator, removed the crowbar, went up and called the elevator on a higher floor, ripping the rod out of the wall and opening a passage to the Steam Tunnels. Now this was a pretty sofisticated puzzle that made mechanical sense, and was pretty easy to figure out. Very nice.

    Text Immersion

    Games without graphics generate visuals in your mind as you play them, and these visuals are strong in your memory after playing the game. One of the first times I noticed this was playing Moria back in the 90s, a classic roguelike. I have a vivid memory of walking through dank tunnels with torches on the walls, hearing my footsteps echo against the stone walls. None of that is in the game, all of that is something I made up myself. The Lurking Horror had a similar effect, I can see G.U.E. Tech in my mind, the walkways, stairs, elevators, the snow storm outside, and something I haven't tried before: a clear layout of the whole place in my head, something rare for someone with no sense of direction such as myself.

    Text adventures have the potential to be more immersive than most games, even games that deliberately avoid showing or hearing your own character, such as first person RPGs. In 'The Lurking Horror', I felt I completely inhabited the character, and it reminded me of playing a pen and paper RPG, without the social aspect. When a Call of Cthulhu pen and paper RPG 1990s campaign was started at the office where I work, I decided to transplant my character from 'The Lurking Horror' to this game. I took the backstory and decided that my character would be traumatized and antisocial after the events of the game, and played him like that.

    Please check out my playthrough on YouTube.

Log entries

    2014-07-10
  • 4167 
    I never played a lot of text adventures, as my english skills weren't good enough when the genre was at its peak (I was about 10 years old at the time). I used to read Fighting Fantasy books, which were similar, and I also made a short Warhammer 40K text adventure on the Amiga. But didn't really play any of the computer text adventures. 'The Lurking Horror' is supposedly one of the best of its kind; it takes place at a university in 'present day', meaning the 80s, and it seems to be inspired by H. P. Lovecraft. If I were ever to summon the motivation needed to play a text adventure, this would probably be the game.
  • 4168 
    I managed to install the Infocom interpreter, frotz, on my Linux machine, and copied the game data files over. Now, it's a Linux game.
  • 4169 
    Hmm, I can SAVE and RESTORE my game.
  • 4170 
    OK, I guess you need the game manual for the first part. I found the manual here. The manual has login and password for the terminal in the Computer Center.
  • 4172 
    The Lovecraft inspiration is not subtle. Game starts out with a dream sequence with an ancient horror. Also, there is a network node called 'Lovecraft'.
  • 2018-04-07
  • 8484 
    I tried playing this game again, recording a video including some improvised ambient horror music playing in the background. I have not found a way to get past that maintenance man.
  • 8485 
    I checked a FAQ, and I guess I should get up to the Great Dome in the center of the Infinite Corridor. I had not realized that was an option.
  • 2018-04-08
  • 8489 
    I misread the FAQ. But in checking that, I stumbled over another couple of tips: 1) that the hacker likes chinese food, and 2) that the container found in the Infinite Corridor contains a useful liquid.
  • 8490 
    I've learned a lot from this last hour of experimentation:
    • Opening the plastic container, pouring liquid on the floor, and cutting the cord with the axe disables the Maintenance Man of Doom.
    • The hacker likes his chinese food (from the fridge) cooked exactly 4:00 on the HI setting (very annoying puzzle which caused me to attempt murdering the hacker after he rejected my slightly undercooked food). After that you can 'ask hacker for master key'.
    • The Professor will let you into the Alchemy Lab. One of his students seem to have committed suicide (or was murdered.)
    • The roof of the Brown Building leads to the Great Dome.
    • The dark flying creature can be scared away by throwing the stone at it. The stone can be picked up again outside the Brown Building.
    • The subbasement of the Aeronautical Engineering Building leads to the Steam Tunnels, which are filled with hordes of murderous rats.
  • 8491 
    Briefly consulting a FAQ, apparently I missed some stuff in the Great Dome.
  • 8494 
    Playing a bit more, I learned a few things:
    • The Computer Center has 3 floors and a roof. I haven't found anything new, though.
    • In the dirt underneath the peach tree is buried a hand.
    • The rats in the Steam Tunnels can be scared away by opening a valve using the crowbar.
    • Drinking Coke makes you less tired. You seem to have more than one sip in the bottle.
  • 8495 
    I checked a FAQ for a very early hint: there is something I should get from inside the elevator! It was right in front of me.
  • 2018-04-14
  • 8504 
    I finally gained some progress after getting the flashlight from the elevator. I pushed the basement junk out of the way with the forklift, discovered a tunnel that seems to have been dug from the Alchemy Lab down to an older tunnel, leading to the sacrificial chamber I saw in my waking nightmare in the beginning of the game. There was a sacrificial knife there, and a plate where something monstrous lurked beneath. I found a flask in the Temporary Building and went down into the steam tunnels and discovered a nightmarish room full of mind-controlled urchins, and a dead end with a crumbling wall reinforced with steel. Now I don't know what to do.
  • 8505 
    After looking briefly at the first map in the InvisiClues booklet for this game, I realized that I hadn't read the FAQ wrong about the Great Dome in the center of the Infinite Corridor. It is there, this game has two domes.
  • 8506 
    Also, I think there is a way to move through the urchin tunnels. My current theory is to use the boots and gloves.
  • 2018-04-15
  • 8507 
    I've got to say, the inventory limit is a bit frustrating. As the game progresses, having to dump most of your stuff somewhere and go back and get items is needlessly annoying.
  • 2018-04-23
  • 8531 
    Some minor progress: I found the real Great Dome by climbing what turned out to be a tentacle using the gloves, and used the very specific phrase 'lower ladder' to be able to get down again. I found a suicide note that I showed to the Alchemy Professor, who started performing a horrible ritual, summoning some monstrocity. I didn't figure out how to get away from that. I have a flask that seems to contain a white mist, but I have no idea what it's for. I tried everything I could think of to proceed, but I was stuck. In frustration, I tried to eat the dead rat, and finally stabbed myself to death with the ritual knife.
  • 8532 
    Looking at a FAQ, I saw something ridiculous about using the hand buried under the peach tree to scare the urchin. That's incredibly random. I guess I'll try that out next time.
  • 8533 
    I was playing this game in the strangest possible way: At work, during a bathroom break, on my Samsung Android phone running terminal emulator Termius, connected to the very server that is currently hosting this website, using the great terminal multiplexer tmux to take notes :D. This was where I figured out that I could enter a sequence of movements like this:
    d,d,w,w,u,s,e,e,e,e,s
    This is how you get from the second floor of the Computer Center (currently my base) to the Alchemy Lab.
  • 8534 
    I just figured out how to interrupt the ritual in the Alchemy Lab: The professor cuts the line of chalk to get me inside the pentagram, and redraws it. If I wait for a while, I can cut the line with the Ritual Knife. I tried a lot of different versions of 'stepping out of' the pentagram or moving in the cardinal directions, throwing stuff at the professor and at the black mist, pouring out the misty liquid, drinking it, etc. After one look at a FAQ, it turned out the parser wanted 'exit pentagram'. This is one of the weaknesses of this game, how the parser may be a bit too specific in certain situations, misleading you from the real solution to a puzzle.
  • 2018-04-24
  • 8535 
    OK, after some experimentation, I have found the exact order of actions required in the alchemy lab:
    show paper to professor, s, z, z,
    break line with knife, exit pentagram, move bench,
    open trapdoor, enter trapdoor, turn on light
    . The problem is that you have limited time to do these actions, and the punishment for doing anything else is instant death. Much reloading was required. Getting back to the lab, I put the hand into the vat for a while to reanimate it and showed it to the urchin to scare him and get his bolt cutter. This came from a FAQ, I'm pretty sure I would never have figured that out myself. What I did figure out myself was that you can pry open the elevator doors, and in the basement, you can get below the elevator. There are some bricks loose in the wall, which I guess could lead back to the steam tunnels. Then I could probably get more items down there. Maybe use the bolt cutter to cut the tentacle things that are connected to the poor urchins?
  • 2018-04-25
  • 8537 
    I decent amount of progress: I reanimated the hand by leaving it in the Elixir of Life vat for 3 turns, showed it to the urchin, who dropped the bolt cutter. I made sure that the elevator was on the first floor, pryed open the elevator door, put the crowbar in the door to keep it open, climbed down, attached a chain I found to a rod using the padlock from the Tomb, climbed up and attached the other end of the chain to a hook on the bottom of the elevator, removed the crowbar, went up and called the elevator on a higher floor, ripping the rod out of the wall and opening a passage to the Steam Tunnels. Now this was a pretty sofisticated puzzle that made mechanical sense, and was pretty easy to figure out. Very nice. I clipped the tentacle things attached to the urchins with the bolt cutter and was allowed down the gross tunnels. I have no idea what I'm doing down there, and my flashlight went out, leading to instant death.
  • 2018-10-16
  • 9204 
    It's Halloween month, and it's time to publish these videos soon. I read somewhere that you can use the hand and the 'hyrax' (which is a ring) to navigate the tunnels, so I'm going to try that.
  • 2018-10-17
  • 9205 
    The hand guided me through the tunnels, as long as I remembered to pour the misty liquid on the slime. The ancient door wouldn't open, and I didn't have a key. I had to look at a FAQ to remember the Master Key the hacker had. I did it all again with the key, entering a room with the final nameless horror, which had connected itself to a network router, infecting the university network, and possibly the rest of the world. I swiftly grabbed my axe ... that I forgot to bring. Start over. Now back with axe in hand, I cut a power line and fried myself. I tried different options and kept frying myself. I finally remembered the rubber boots and gloves. Start over. Back again, cut power line, opened network box, plugged power line into box. The hacker had appeared and was sucked into the horrible thing. I fried the thing, threw the stone that had started vibrating and glowing at it, and it disappeared.
  • 9206 
    When I picked up the stone again, it cracked and revealed small, pale thing with membranous wings, which flew away and disappeared. The hacker reappeared, back to normal, asking for his key back.
  • 9207 
    Completed the game. 'Your score is 100 of a possible 100, in 903 moves. Graded on the curve, you are in the class of President of the Institute.'
  • 9208 
    My flashlight, one of the game-ending limited resources (the other being Coke) burned out in the Inner Lair, the turn before the final one. Pretty close, there.

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Screenshots marked with 🍒 are created by syltefar and are considered public domain, free to use for anything. If you want to, you can note where you found it and link to this page.