Buying and collecting vintage software is a dangerous racket. As is being related to anyone else who does it.

As a regular seller on eBay, I am continually amazed by the sheer number of people who expend so much effort placing a bid and winning an auction, only to have personal tragedy strike at the most inopportune moment. The most inopportune moment always seems to be the precise moment when the winning bidder should be sending out a payment. I find myself wondering if there's a connection.

These personal tragedies come in two forms. The first possibility is a sudden, unexpected hospitalization of the bidders themselves, leaving no time for them to inform the seller of their absence. The second, and most common, is the death of a close relative, invariably an aunt, or perhaps a grandmother. We're looking at a serious national shortage of aunts and grandmothers, people. Just last month the National Bureau of Useless Statistics released a report stating that of the 2,294,912 aunts who passed away last year, 85% (1,996,573) had nieces or nephews who participated in online auctions. 15.8% of online bidders have lost two grandmothers since they started eBaying, while 7.6% have lost three or more.

Whatever could be causing these sudden hospitalizations and massive kin genocide, you ask? I'll tell you what I suspect: I think that somewhere out there is a secret and particularly vindictive sect of game collectors who become so enraged when they miss an auction that they maliciously target the unfortunate winners. They e-mail bidders during the course of the auction and demand that they deliberately lose, threatening them with bodily harm or the death of a beloved relative.

Naturally, no one ever believes them... who would fall for such a ridiculous and implausible threat? But then, weeks after I've given up on them, the poor souls finally e-mail me back with their bitter, heartrending tales: "I couldn't pay you because I was in the hospital and was too busy there to fill out a check." "Sorry I didn't send payment but my aunt dropped dead just as my hand was poised to put it in the mailbox." Some, out of fear, don't write back at all, quickly disappear from eBay, and are never heard from again. But one detail is consistent: They never, ever send the payment. And who can blame them? They've already had their emotions run raw by one personal tragedy. Why further anger the Vintage Game Mafia and risk another? Better to just let it go, force the seller to relist the item, and let them have it.

Oh, they're a devious lot, these eBay eVildoers. They never bump off victims' fathers, mothers, siblings, or children, fearing exposure from the suspicions this would raise. Sometimes instead of putting their enemies in the hospital, they secretly poison their food, leaving them sick and bedridden for 2-3 weeks, or infiltrate their work environment, piling on so many extra tasks that the poor winner just doesn't have time left to fill out the check and put the stamp on the envelope. And they go to great lengths to ensure that victims' experiences are so unspeakably horrible that they will never for the rest of their lives even mention the Vintage Game Mafia, let alone attempt to prosecute!

They're not confined solely to eBay either, oh no. It seems these harmful hoarders are particularly prominent on Yahoo!, where a lack of bidder verification means less chance of being tracked. Why, they've even been known to prey on patrons of Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe! I can't count the number of times some unfortunate soul has e-mailed me begging to have a game reserved for them, only to disappear for weeks and resurface after countless unanswered inquiries with the all-too-familiar sob story... It appears these auction assassins are able to intercept my personal e-mails as well... Shoppers beware!

So the moral here is: The next time you see a shrinkwrapped Starcross saucer on an auction site, do not bid on it. Resist the overpowering urge to add a scarce piece to your collection, a piece you'll likely never again even find for sale, a piece you've been after for years that you just want to win SO BADLY! Just let it go. The continued survival of a close family member, or your very well-being, may be at stake. Those insidious bidders, the Vintage Game Mafia, are out there... and they are watching.

Thank you, and good night.


Angelsoft... Isn't That Also a Brand of Toilet Paper?

Whatever the case, Angelsoft is my choice for this month's company profile, for those of you looking to expand your horizons beyond Infocom.

Angelsoft created a series of text-only games in 1985, right at Infocom's height. These were published by Mindscape, under the label name Alert, for Apple, IBM PC, and in some cases, Macintosh. Some titles were sold "Apple on one side, PC on the other". I'm aware of their releases in two distinct package types: Originally they were published in sturdy folders made of hard cardboard. Toward the bottom are the words "Angelsoft Interactive Fiction by Mindscape" -- Infocom wasn't the only company to use this term. Inside, on the left side is a sleeve containing the disks and registration card (the sleeves have a tendency to come unglued). On the right is an interactive fiction manual describing the parser. (This same year, the first three ICOM games -- Deja Vu, Shadowgate, and Uninvited -- were also distributed by Mindscape in this type of folder.)

Thunder Mountain, a mass-producer of budget software, later released the Angelsoft titles in small transparent plastic packages, the same kind they used to reissue the Scott Adams Adventures (Adventureland at least). The Questprobe series was also packaged in these, albeit without the Thunder Mountain inlay. A miniature square version of the interactive fiction manual was included in the Angelsoft repackagings.

Parser-wise? The general clich? would be "not as good as Infocom's". But more specifically, it's full-sentence but doesn't allow for examining much of the scenery, allows odd actions but has lots of generic responses. Also it does a pre-parsing routine for certain commands -- GIVE/TRADE, naughty words (there are some funny responses to swears) -- that ignores the rest of the command, often with odd results. This artificially makes the parser seem more powerful than it actually is, as commands like "HEY KING WANNA TRADE THE SWORD TO ME?" are recognized.

Also, with my Apple versions at least, response between commands is godawful-slow (lots of disk access, slow text scrolling, long pauses that you wonder if it was sluggish programming or if they just put them in to make it appear more complex / extend gameplay, etc). The writing is consistently excellent, though.

Here's a rundown of the complete Angelsoft/Mindscape library:

Forbidden Castle, by Mercer Mayer.
A save-the-princess quest in a quite cohesive fantasy world with lots of descriptive text. Some original puzzles, many involving interactions with a memorable cast of characters (in fact, all of Angelsoft's games are pretty NPC-intensive). My favorite -- the nasty Blue Faerie who would always do the opposite of what you asked her (i.e., to get something in trade you'd have to act like you didn't want it).

Goldfinger (aka James Bond 007 in: Goldfinger)
You play Ian Fleming's famous secret agent. Great for fans of the film, as it follows the plot quite closely.

High Stakes (aka Dick Francis: High Stakes)
Follow intrepid gambler Dick Francis (played by you) on a series of misadventures. Lots of intense action sequences in this one, unusual for a text adventure.

Indiana Jones in: Revenge of the Ancients
You're Indy, in search of a lost civilization. (I'd personally rate this one as the rarest, but that's only because it was the hardest for me to find. In reality, they're all pretty equally challenging.)

The Mist (aka Stephen King's "The Mist")
Probably the most sought-after title in the Angelsoft library, adapted from a short story by the famous author. King fans tend to go after this one on eBay, especially a coveted PC copy. Either get lucky, or expect to pay around $35 - $40.

Racter
Technically neither interactive fiction nor by Angelsoft, but it's by Mindscape and in the same type of folder, plus it uses a text parser, so I'm including it here. A descendant of the Eliza and Freud AI conversationalist programs, only instead of being a psychologist, Racter is a psychotic.

Rambo: First Blood Part II
Yes. It's a text adventure based on Rambo. Use your machine gun and red headband to liberate POW's in Vietnam. I expect a lot of action game fans bought this and were quickly disappointed to find out it was all-text. On the plus side, you never have to struggle to decipher what Sly's saying. If your local used-software store organizes their games by category, check the war and action games for this one; it's possible they've misfiled it. (That's how I snagged mine, anyway.)

A View to a Kill (aka James Bond 007 in: A View to a Kill)
Just as in Goldfinger, you play Bond. James Bond. I'm not sure how closely this one follows the film's plot.

Voodoo Island, by M.J. Sayer
A variation on the "Most Dangerous Game" story, set on a remote island. Destroy the evil of Dr Beauvias while avoiding the voodoo rituals and black magic practiced by the local population.

And of course, the true completists among you can buy the toilet paper (just like Ultima collectors can buy the cosmetics).


The Mage's Treasure Room, Revisited

Just a reminder to anyone looking to get started on eBay, the mysterious TomMage still has plenty of boxes of vintage overstock games ready to move. Currently he's getting rid of it for $100 per box, shipped. Each box weighs in at between 35 - 50 pounds and easily contains more than $100 worth of software for someone with the time to sell it individually. If interested, be sure to e-mail the Mage for details, and tell him YOIS sent you. (I swear I'm not getting any sort of kickback from this.)


One last thing... I've debated making the YOIS want-list available for public viewing, so collectors can help each other out without my own intervention. What does everybody think of this? Or would you prefer other people not knowing you're the one ahead of them for a rare item? Please share your thoughts -- if I don't get any responses, I'll make the decision on my own (and I'm leaning toward yes).

On that subject, the YOIS survey has gotten a pretty anemic response thusfar. If you'd like me to invest the time expanding or filling in the empty Shoppe pages, I need you to tell me what you want to see. (So far I've received only four suggestions, and I'm afraid I'm not going to create a whole new page for four people.)


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