Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Search For The Ruby Chalice (1983)

It's summertime, and I've been spending the month of August working my way through several contest-winning amateur adventures for the TRS-80 Color Computer, published in The Rainbow Book of Adventures in early 1983.  This week, we're tackling Search For The Ruby Chalice, submitted to The Rainbow magazine by Justin Paola, and written in BASIC.  I'm playing the version made available on a supplemental disk, avoiding any bugs or typographical corrections introduced by secondhand type-ins, running via the VCC emulator.

As the title quite honestly suggests, Search for the Ruby Chalice is a traditional treasure quest -- we have to find the ruby chalice hidden somewhere underground, after crash-landing with our pilot near PARTIALLY EXPLORED JUNGLE.  We're also warned about A TRIBE OF HEAD HUNTERS IN THE VICINITY!!!   The parser responds quickly -- the CoCo's sprightly 6809E processor benefits the BASIC interpreter -- though it has an unusual and annoying habit of clearing the screen whenever it processes a command, rather than maintaining the room display at the top.  And there's no SAVE GAME available, so we may be restarting from scratch on occasion.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to Search for the Ruby Chalice firsthand before reading further, as my notes are likely to give away all the surprises.  It's not a difficult game, though there is a straightforward cheat that comes in handy if multiple deaths converge on the poor player at the same time.  To protect the game's integrity for those who wish me to do so, I'll wait to reveal that information as part of all of the other...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin in our pontoon plane, with an exit to the west and our pilot visible.  INV (not I) reveals we are carrying NOT A THINGLOOK PILOT establishes that HE LOOKS HEALTHY AND READY TO FLY YOU AWAY.  We can't TALK PILOT or ASK PILOT anything, but we can try to FLY -- of course, we are told that we need to retrieve the chalice first.  Rules are rules.

Exiting the plane to the west, we discover our base camp already established, so why did we start out inside the plane?  Well, anyway, there are some useful adventuring tools available here -- a gun, some matches, a snake bite kit (o foreshadowing!) and a magnifying glass.  We'll take all of these with us, naturally.

Heading west again brings us to a savanna with a river, VERY HOT AND DRY (the savanna, we presume), where we can acquire a torch and an ancient cloth.  READ seems to be a synonym for LOOK here -- we're not given any text, but the parser suggests we'd better keep the cloth, as it LOOKS VERY INTERESTING.  We can head north or further west from here.

West brings us to more of the savanna, where a *GOLD NUGGET is visible, suggesting that the ruby chalice isn't the only treasure in this game.  But alas, six items is our inventory limit, so we can't carry it along just yet.  We'll go further west to see yet more savanna, with a *TRANSLATION BOOK handy.  And I just now realize that all items are listed with a leading asterisk, so it doesn't necessarily denote something is a treasure, something to keep in mind when we have our own * (thanks, Ogden Nash!)

To the west again we find more savanna, and we're seeing passages north pretty consistently, so the map may be roughly rectangular.  We'll keep mapping it out... at what seems to be the western edge of the map, we find a clearing with a waterfall.  We can't GO WATERFALL -- unusual in these games -- and if we try to SWIM, we are told THERE'S NOTHING TO SWING ON, as the parser recognizes only three characters and in this case they are reserved for a different purpose.  But that does kind of qualify as a hint for future reference.

Let's head back east and start exploring the region north of the territory we've charted so far.  The river must border the map's southern edge, as going north we're no longer in sight of it.  The area immediately north of the torch and cloth location contains a coil of rope, which we're really wishing we could carry right now.  We can travel north again to an area with a jade ceremonial necklace and one exit to the west.

Stepping west leads us immediately into dense jungle, so dark we can't see.  It appears to be a maze, but fortunately we can walk back east the way we came in.  We'll want the torch in here, but let's do some more exploration first.

As I head back south, we receive a WARNING, A WILD CAT JUST LEAPED AT YOU!!!  And when I try to LOOK to see if the cat is still nearby or just attempting a leap-by assassination, THE CAT SERIOUSLY INJURED YOU AND YOU DIED!!! TRY AGAIN!!!  So death comes suddenly here, it seems.

Trying again, we map a little more of the savanna.  There's an EASILY CLIMBEABLE [sic] TREE north of the gold nugget, and heading U lets us observe a cliff to the west, a large rock slab to the north, a lake to the east, and a river to the south.  I run into the wild cat again, but this time an immediate SHOOT GUN scares the animal away.

North of the translation book is a high canopy jungle, where we see a *SPEAR WITH STRANGE LETTERING.  If we have the translation book, we can READ SPEAR to learn that it translates as "XYLO."   Hmmmm.  West is more high canopy jungle, and a kiwi fruit.

Heading north, we wander into a village where a stereotypical *GROUP OF MEAN LOOKING HEAD HUNTERS resides.  The group DAMANDS [sic] THAT YOU GIVE THEM A TREASURE, and as I fail to do so immediately because the wild cat has returned at the same time, my head is forfeit and the game ends.

At least we're getting close to having the map filled in, if we can navigate the jungle at least.  I'll try to solve the head hunter puzzle too -- but they don't seem interested in the gold nugget, no matter whether I try to GIVE or THROW or DROP it, so we'll have to find another treasure to appease them.  Maybe the jade necklace?  We can't GET NECKLACE, we have to GET JADE... but they don't seem to consider that a treasure either.

So let's LIGHT TORCH and map the jungle.  The entrance area west of the jade necklace room contains a jug of water, which we'll leave here as a landmark for now.  South returns to the high canopy area with the spear, north leads to a clearing with the rock slab we saw earlier from the treetops.  Examination suggests that the rock slab opens and closes, but we can't PUSH or PULL or MOVE or OPEN it at the moment.

The jungle isn't actually a maze, as it turns out, just a dark area we can't pass productively through without the torch; we can see the exits, but not the objects present.  We find an inflatable raft in an area along the north side of the map, east of a cliffside clearing containing a compressed air cylinder.

South from the cliffside we encounter the head hunter village again -- and this time I notice I've been responding inappropriately to the changed prompt, WHAT TREASURE DO YOU DROP?  So I've been answering with various commands while the parser just wants a noun, immediately.  I try offering the NECKLACE, even though I don't have it with me, and THEY ACCEPTED IT, a handy bug if we have to pass through here again.  Emerging from the jungle, I see that the jade necklace is no longer in its normal location, but as long as we can produce it out of thin air we should be okay.

So... it seems we've mapped out the game world, but we haven't made any substantial headway toward finding the ruby chalice.  What can we do with the raft?  While juggling inventory, I drop the snake bite kit, and as luck would have it, almost immediately get bitten by a snake.  Before I die two turns later, we also hit the customary YOU ARE THIRSTY warning, but that's the least of my worries as the game is once again over.

The fatalities are getting annoying, so just as an experiment I try to fake the BASIC code out by using the CONTinue command at the operating system prompt to keep going after death ends the game.  And this actually works, in a way -- the parser gives us a new prompt, allowing us to sneak one postmortem move in before we die again, so even as we continue perishing of snake bites and dehydration, we can fight our way gradually to where we can do something about it.  I'll try not to abuse this, but it comes in very handy when we face competing deaths at the same time -- there isn't, for example, time to USE KIT and DRINK WATER before one or the other does us in, so it's handy to be able to reincarnate after fixing one problem.

We can INFLATE RAFT with the air cylinder, but it doesn't seem to be useable by the river -- it must be meant for the lake.  We hear a SCREAM FROM THE EAST when we revisit our base camp while trying to find our way there... and aboard the plane, we find our pilot, decapitated.  Not good.

We can't give up now, though.  Can we tie the rope to something for swinging?  There's nothing to tie it to in the treetop, it seems, nor at the cliffside to lower ourselves down.  We can't USE RAFT, though the parser suggests trying another verb; I try to LAUNCH RAFT and GO RAFT to no avail, but FLOAT RAFT produces a more helpful response: YOU ARE NOT NEXT TO A RIVER YOU FOOL.

This fool accordingly goes to the river, only to learn that YOU SHOULD GET THE CHALICE BEFORE YOU GO DOWN THE RIVER.  So it seems the river will be our escape route, since our pilot clearly isn't going to be flying.  I'll leave the raft by the waterfall for the sake of inventory slots; since we have to keep the gun, the snake bite kit, the torch and the jug of water handy at all times, we really only have two free slots with which to juggle other necessities.

What next?  As I'm experimenting, the wild cat shows up for the... well, apparently the seventh time, as I can't SHOOT GUN because I am out of bullets.  So we're starting over yet again.

I've been thinking that XYLO (from the spear) is meant to suggest we play something like  a xylophone, or find another piece of equipment with more of the clue, but it now occurs to me that maybe it's just a magic word on its own.  SAY XYLO at the rock slab doesn't do anything, but invoking XYLO alone causes the slab to rumble open, revealing a cave below. 

The cave features a viper pit room, with a hook above and vipers below.  This proves to be a suitable place to TIE ROPE, giving us a HOOK ON CIELING [sic] WITH ROPE TIED TO IT.  We can now SWING ROPE to the east side of the pit, swinging precariously over the vipers; perhaps WEEEEE!!! isn't actually a misspelling, under the circumstances.  We pass through a long east-west corridor, to find...

The Chalice Room!  This seems a little anticlimactic, as we can simply TAKE CHALICE and it wasn't particularly hard to get here.  On the way back out, we check the area south of the cave entrance -- there are some indecipherable hieroglyphics here.  Curious, I fetch the translation book, dropping the ancient cloth in the process, and return -- the translation says, "DO NOT GO FURTHER THAN THE EAST VIPER ROOM WITHOUT THE ANCIENT CLOTH OR YOU WILL BE PIERCED BY ARROWS."  I had good, if dumb, luck on that count, then!

It seems we're close to the end of the story now, at any rate.  I inflate the raft, FLOAT RAFT by the waterfall, and we emerge from the jungle victorious!

I was a bit surprised that we weren't admonished for failing to bring the gold nugget or jade necklace along as bonus treasure, since it's possible to avoid the headhunters completely and avoid giving either of them up, but there's nothing wrong with focusing on a single objective.  I also took a post-game look at the source code -- the pilot doesn't necessarily have to die, as it turns out; if we find the chalice and return to the plane within 100 moves, we can fly away to what seems to me a slightly happier ending.

Search For The Ruby Chalice isn't a bad game, in its brief, old-school way -- the puzzles are logical or at least guessable, and I didn't have to consult the source code to solve anything, though I did take advantage of the unintended continue feature.  Like many magazine type-in adventures of the early 1980s, Justin Paola's effort provides a few hours of decent, straightforward text adventuring.  There's nothing at all wrong with that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Horror House (1983)

This week, we're entering the Horror House, another contest entry from The Rainbow Book of Adventures, published in 1983 as both a magazine-style "book" collecting the type-in listings and a collection on tape or disk, ready to run.  This adventure was written in BASIC by Robert W. Mangum II.

I couldn't initially get the game running on the VCC CoCo emulator running Disk Extended Basic -- I was stuck on a series of flashing pink and green screens, which I was supposed to use to select one of the available text mode color sets.  Starting the program up with RUN 5 instead skips over a POKE command that may have been the source of my problem, skips the author's time-consuming title screen, and gets us underway more quickly. 

Horror House is a text adventure/RPG hybrid -- several screens of instructions establish that we're exploring a monster-infested house, where we have to PUNCH or HIT the monsters to defeat them without running out of hit points ourselves.  Our health regenerates at 1 point per ten turns, and every 50 turns one of the monsters is reincarnated.  After all the monsters are vanquished, we're told that the computer will be destroyed by an explosion.  Scary!  We can also REST once to regain all of our HP and reincarnate all of the monsters.  The parser vocabulary is helpfully displayed, limited to MOVE/PULL/PUSH, PUT/LEAVE/DROP, N/S/E/W for navigation, INSERT, LOOK, REST, and GET/TAKE.

This one's actually fairly fun to play -- success is partially random due to the combat-heavy gameplay, but it's a pleasant diversion and I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying it out.  As always, my further notes here will detail my entire experience in the Horror House.  So if you want to experience it firsthand, step away and go do so, because otherwise you will be subjected to the comprehensive...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

As the game starts up, it becomes clear that the rooms are very generic, with no descriptions of specific locations -- we have to differentiate rooms based on the exit list and any objects that happen to be present, so mapping is a necessity.  The first room has exits to the north and west, and we can see the closed, locked door we just came in through.  We can't KICK DOOR or OPEN DOOR, and if we try to PUNCH DOOR, IT IS NOT HEREHIT DOOR suggests that YOU MUST HAVE THE SWORD, so finding that may be our most pressing need at the moment.

There's a hideous statue in the room to the west; we can MOVE STATUE to find a blue coin underneath it, but the statue also comes to life!  Fortunately it's not a very formidable foe -- it kept missing me while I slowly PUNCHed it to death.  And we might as well TAKE BLUE COIN (TAKE COIN doesn't work, the parser considers it to be a BLUE COIN and not a COIN.)

North of the entrance is a room with exits in all four directions.  Heading east and south, we discover a room with a vending machine and a giant crab.  The crab is a more formidable foe -- I had to fight pretty hard and lost about a third of my health before killing it.  The vending machine reads, "DRINK CREATURE COLA."  I tried to INSERT BLUE COIN, but while the machine accepted it nothing seemed to happen as a result.

There's nothing in the room to the west of the four-way room, and the north exit leads to a T-shaped room with exits east and west.  East is a bedroom, where I run into the giant crab again.  After killing it, we can MOVE BED to find an exit to the west, leading to a gargoyle.  He's a pretty tough customer, so I'll gamble and try leaving the gargoyle room to the north -- the monster doesn't actually block our way, so we're free to explore some more.

We're in another T-shaped room, and east/southeast down a bit of a hall I encounter a minotaur... and a sword!  Killing the minotaur takes a little bit of time, and these random battles prove to be rather comical, as both the player and monster spend a lot of time missing each other, with both combatants much less competent than fantasy lore would have one believe.  The sword bears the legend, "MONSTER SLAYER," just in case we didn't think to use it that way.

There's a computer in a room to the south, and while we're pondering that, A SNAKE JUST ENTERED ROOM!  It seems some of these monsters are of the wandering variety.  The computer is a 64K COLOR COMPUTER.  I try to READ COMPUTER, and the parser takes it as REST, so I am back up to full health but all of the monsters are alive again.  Curses!

Well, I'm not really trying to kill all of the monsters yet -- I'm just trying to map the place out.  I find a room on the west side of the house containing a rat and a cassette tape.  Killing the rat isn't too difficult, and we'll TAKE CASSETTE; it's labeled 5452532D3830, which if we assume these are two-character hexadecimal ASCII codes, translates to... TRS-80.  So it's not much of a clue.

There are some suspicious holes in what appears to be a 6 x 5 map on my graph paper, so it's not too surprising that when we INSERT CASSETTE in the computer room, a new exit opens up to the east.  We meet a goblin here, another toughish customer to dispatch, and can wander into the southern central area of the map to meet a zombie guarding a gold coin.  I'm not sure if we're supposed to want these treasures, but we might as well take it along after dealing with the walking dead.

There's only one room we haven't explored yet, it appears, in the southeast corner of the house, where an orc lives.  None of these monsters are too difficult to kill, but we do have to be careful as some of them can do a fair amount of damage if by chance they connect with an attack.  We've explored the map, as far as I can tell, so it's time to wander around and kill all of the beasties.

It appears that the living statue does not return to life after being terminated, or else it wanders off after it's reincarnated.  I do meet a new monster -- a skeleton in the vending machine room I managed not to run into before.  I dispatch it, and the giant crab, without too much trouble, and then run into the rat again.  This time I get it down to 1 hit point, and it runs away!  When I catch up with it, it's in the same room as the zombie and the gargoyle, and together they manage to overpower me before I can kill them all.

Trying again from the beginning -- there's no SAVE GAME in this brief adventure -- I kill the statue and gargoyle by punching, then use the sword to slay the minotaur, the statue (again, it does indeed reincarnate), the snake, the rat, the goblin, the orc, and the zombie.  I'm missing the crab and the skeleton, I think.  While looking for them, I find and kill the rat again, and the minotaur again, and the crab, and the minotaur a third time, and the crab a second time.  It appears that the monsters are not forced to actually navigate the maze, but can reincarnate at any random location.

So where is the skeleton?  While I'm looking for it, I find a PILE OF JUNK has materialized in one of the rooms, and LOOK PILE reveals a red coin.  Ah, this is the computer room!  So we must have destroyed all of the monsters, and the computer has exploded as promised.  Can we open the closed door by the entrance now?  Nope.

What else?  I am not seeing any monsters lately, so I think we have indeed dispatched them all, even though I never ran into the skeleton this time.  Let's try putting all three coins into the vending machine... and yes, A KEY FALLS TO THE FLOOR.  (We can't see it in the room if we LOOK after this happens, but we can still TAKE KEY successfully.)

Now we just have to INSERT KEY at the closed door, with no pesky monsters bothering us on the way there, and we can escape to victory!

Horror House isn't much of an adventure game, but it makes effective use of limited computing resources to present a simple, entertaining monster hunt.  The battles are randomized enough to provide some close calls and drama, and the timed reincarnation of the monsters makes the final leg of the trip fairly tough, though the final journey to victory is comparatively relaxing once all the monsters are dead.  Not a lost classic, but Mr. Mangum's game is fun and certainly not terrible by magazine type-in standards.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Mystic Mansion (1983)

This week, my TRS-80 Color Computer adventuring binge continues, as we tackle Chris Hawks' Mystic Mansion, published in 1983.  It's a menu-driven illustrated adventure, with no parser per se, written in BASIC with picture files loaded from disk.  I've been reading some old issues of the CoCo magazine The Rainbow lately, and this game was being advertised for sale circa early 1983, but I hadn't run across it in my travels until just now.

The opening instructions tell us we must escape the mansion, which was built by AN EVIL MAN!!!, and escape the island where the mansion stands as well.  It's pretty standard escape-the-house fare.

I'm not going to recommend that anyone else tackle Mystic Mansion, as the design really doesn't play fair -- the puzzles are straightforward, but the game is very strict about how and when we do things.  There are invisible triggers that make no story sense, and I had to dig into the code several times to figure out how to finish it even when I knew what I was trying to do.  It is entirely possible to complete the game without cheating, but it's not easy to pull off without a lot of tedious repetition.  So to save humanity the pain of actually playing Mystic Mansion, I invite everyone to jump straight into the...

**** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin in the Mystic Mansion's Drawing Room, and can choose to go through the green door (G), the red door (R) or (U)p the stairs.  The game is entirely prompt driven, with a limited menu of choices provided in each location and the occasional Y/N question.  For the sake of brevity (I know, not my style!) I'll omit listing the menu options and just discuss the actions we can take along the way.

The green door leads to the Master Bedroom, where we can examine a picture, look out the window, check out the closet or go back through the green door.  The picture depicts a sun, with text suggesting THE WAY OUT IS A LOWLY ONE  -- LOOK IN AN UNKNOWN PLACE FOR THE KEY.  The window provides a view of a lake with a sailboat.  The closet contains another small door -- we can enter, it's not locked, but it's too dark to see inside at the moment.

The drawing room's red door leads to the Parlor, and it appears we can't go back directly, at least at first.  A window here is painted over, or is just a painting, the text isn't very clear; the picture on the wall depicts a sunrise, with no visible text or other details.  A green door here leads to the Kitchen -- windows look out on a tree-speckled hillside, and examining the cabinets turns up a lamp, always helpful.  And the parlor's blue door leads back to the drawing room -- the door is just painted red on one side, blue on the other.  Whew!

Let's head upstairs before we try our luck in the closet with the lamp.  A picture in the Upstairs Hall looks very much like the one in the parlor.  A red door provides access to the Study, where we find a book called "FALL OF ROMAN EMPIRE," apparently abridged or written by the Incredible Hulk.  The window offers the same view of the hillside we saw from the kitchen -- it seems the uncompressed picture file approach has its limitations.  A closet in the study is locked, so we'll return to the hall and take the blue door into a Small Bedroom, sharing the view visible from the master bedroom; a box here contains a gold chain.

It seems we're rapidly exhausting the options here, so let's take our lamp through the closet's little doorway.  This is a Secret Room!  There are two items here we can examine -- a chest and a sack.  The chest offers -- !!!!SPIDERS!!!!, whose bite puts us to sleep for a while, presented as a lengthy pause in the gameplay.  When we examine the sack, we find a key.  So let's go upstairs and try the key on the locked closet in the study.

The spider bites persist, it seems, so we're forced to sleep every now and then though it seems there are no fatal side effects... oh, wait, that was apparently only temporary.  We eventually do die, so next life we'll avoid opening the chest at all.

Now this gets interesting -- my second venture suggests that some things are randomized?  The box in the small bedroom upstairs is empty this time, although the lamp is where it was before, in the kitchen cabinet.  The sack is also empty, but the chest contains spiders again, dang it.  Or... wait, things are randomized each time we look?  Trying the box again, I find the gold chain again.  And the sack now yields a key.  Strange.  But I again die of spider bites while trying to reach the closet to try the key, so I'll restart from a fresh run this time.

Even with freshly initialized variables, the sack can be empty when we're expecting to find a key based on previous experience.  And it seems to stay empty now.  So some event must trigger the sack to contain the key.  Interesting.  Trying the locked closet door doesn't seem to be a factor, nor does finding the gold chain.  Well, this is a fine kettle of arachnids -- it seems we have to get bitten by the spiders in order to find the key!

Fighting our way through spider-sleep, we at last unlock the study closet, and fall down into the darkness... saved by the snagging of our gold chain on a root!  We can crawl through a hole here to find ourselves in the BASMENT [sic].

A box on the floor is nailed shut, but a shelf contains a prying bar so we can open the box.  Inside is a trap door, which we can choose to enter or not.  It leads into a tunnel with light at the end, but we find a note saying we have to touch the mystic medallion to the door, a gewgaw we do not have, so we're forced to turn back.  And now I'm dead, yet again, of spider bites.

This time I'll do a full reset of the virtual CoCo before I start, in case the code doesn't properly initialize memory.  And... the sack is empty, again, until I open the chest and take my spider bites, at which point the sack magically reveals the key.  And this time, the box is empty, so I don't see any way to keep myself from falling eternally down the closet hole.  Ack!

I think it's time to peek at the code -- I feel like the designer is being unfair, so I'm going to return the favor.  We can only survive four spider bites, and yes, the key cannot be found until we have been bitten once.  And the gold chain only appears if LP = 1 -- meaning it's only available after we pick up the lamp but before we pick up the key; I just lucked into the right order the first time I played.  (I'm also going to edit line 1920 to increase the spider bite survival time -- I'm hoping there's an antidote somewhere in the game, but since we can't save a game in progress I'd like to survive a little longer while figuring this out.  I also edited line 1940 to shorten the spider bite sleep time, which can be up to a minute normally and really slows down the gameplay.)

After getting back to where we were the last time we succumbed, I check out the drain hole in the basement again -- and it seems every time we do this, we get bitten by a spider, so it's a very easy way to die quickly.  Going through the door leads us back into the house, apparently.  I check the pictures and windows again while we're here to see if we can find that medallion the note mentioned, to no avail.  And when we fall through the closet a second time, the chain no longer saves us, and we fall to our doom... or, at least, we are advised to WRITE WHEN YOU GET TO CHINA!
Another try... avoiding the door in the basement this time, we'll explore the trap door in the box.  This is just the tunnel where we need the mystic medallion to proceed.  And it seems we can only pry the box open to go through the trap door one time, as well, so we really need the medallion before we enter the closet.  Aggravating.  Ah, wait, we can look at the shelf again to regain the prying bar and reuse it.  So this one isn't so bad, then... although it seems we still go into the tunnel, whether we answer Y or N to the prompt asking us if we want to when we open the box.  And we also learn that the basement door actually transports us to a random location in the mansion.

Before I die this time, I examine the painted window in the parlor -- and lo and behold, this time we find the fabled medallion!  How odd, I'm sure I checked this earlier.  And the box upstairs no longer holds the gold chain, and as there's no visible inventory I'm not sure if it survived the earlier fall, so I'm not quite sure how to approach that issue.  I fear it's time to cheat some more... the code indicates that we can only find the medallion if DR=1, a variable set when we approach the end of the tunnel but don't have it with us.  No a priori knowledge allowed.

I'm fed up enough with this game's demands that I'm ready to seriously cheat, breaking out of the code and setting DR=1 manually in the early going so I can get the medallion.  With that simplification, all we really have to do is reach the basement and go through the tunnel to the waiting sailboat -- victory is ours!

Feeling more than a little guilty, I spent some additional time poring over the BASIC code and experimenting with the game, trying to figure out if I had missed some more natural solution.  It actually is possible to win playing by the rules, but we have to do everything exactly as the game demands.  The key is to avoid traversing the spider bite locations more than once -- they are not timed, but location-triggered -- after we've examined the chest, and to be lucky enough that the magic door doesn't drop us in the wrong location.  Passing through the door resets the bite count to one, but if we land in the drawing room (as I did my first time getting that far) we'll get bitten three more times, twice in the drawing room and once in the study, and thus die before we can make it back to the tunnel.  We also have to be careful with the chain due to a bug that I didn't realize I was running into -- if we already have the chain, but we examine the box in the small bedroom, we'll be told the box is empty; but when we leave the room, we'll actually lose the gold chain!

This was more of a meta-adventure than a legitimate experience; I think I spent more time examining the source code than actually playing the game.  Perhaps it's a meta-reference, and the game itself was also written by AN EVIL MAN!!!  In the end, the most mystifying thing about Mystic Mansion is that the game retailed for $29.95 back in the day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Polynesian Adventure (1983)

Last week's excursion into Lurkley Manor inspired me to seek out further TRS-80 Color Computer adventures from the pages of The Rainbow magazine; I had almost forgotten that several adventure-focused issues were published over the years.  I tracked down a readable PDF file of the January 1983 adventure issue, and was actually considering typing in one of the contest-winning games the old-fashioned way.  But further research turned up a collection of disk image files containing the entire Rainbow Book of Adventures, including eleven more contest entries which were described but not printed in the magazine.  And so it is that this week, as a more-or-less random selection, we're playing through Polynesian Adventure, submitted by Don Dunlap.

The interface borrows from the Scott Adams style, with an upper window displaying location, obvious exits, and objects, and a bottom section for command entry and feedback.  It runs at good speed for a BASIC game, and while the simple music commended by the Rainbow judges at the time no longer impresses, Polynesian Adventure remains an attractively presented game that fits the CoCo's limited 32x16-character text mode well.

Interested readers are encouraged to take a Polynesian Adventure of their own before reading my playthrough notes below, of course.  It's not a difficult game at all -- most of the treasures are simply lying around for the taking, the map is not large, and there are no fatal puzzles.  But simplicity can be deceptive; I tripped myself up near the end by assuming I was keeping all the details straight in my head, when I should have been drawing a map.  At any rate, my experience (embarrassing details and all) is documented below, and therefore there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin at a Polynesian Treasure House, though there are no treasures visible here, so we'll step outside to the south.  This brings us to a road, where a Trans Am car looks interesting; there's no EXAMINE verb, but if we GO CAR we can LOOK COMPARTMENT to examine the glove compartment.  Inside is a boarding pass, which we will presumably be needing at some point.  We can try to DRIVE, but I CAN'T DO THAT.

Getting out of the car proves a bit of a puzzle -- there are no obvious exits, and EXIT, GET OUT and OPEN DOOR all fail miserably.  We have to GO OUT, at which point we can explore a discount store to the west to pick up an empty gas can, and a gas station to the east where we can FILL CAN.  Oddly, if we try to FILL CAR now, we're told that YOU'RE MISSING SOMETHING, but we can FILL TANK successfully; it seems the parser often focuses on the verb and a small collection of valid objects, which sometimes leads to strange behavior.  The display doesn't always indicate nearby objects, either, so we have to remember what we're doing and where we are on our own sometimes.

With a full gas tank, we can DRIVE to find ourselves on a pier near a boat.  It turns out to be the Love Boat (remember, this was 1983) -- it's not very big, with just a dining room and a hallway leading to the cabins for us to explore.  READ PASS tells us that our cabin number is G7 and our table is A1, so we can go to the dining room, GO A1, steal the *SILVERWARE* there, and then go the cabins and GO G7 to get our voyage underway... and pocket the *GOLD NECKLACE* apparently provided in lieu of a complimentary mint.  We achieve no SCORE for just picking these things up, though; we'll probably have to take them back to the Polynesian Treasure House at the end of our voyage.

Our first stop on this cruise brings us to a Samoan Village, where we see a pink hibiscus.  We can't TAKE it, LOOK at it or MOVE it, but if we SMELL it we are stung by a bee and rushed back aboard the boat for medical treatment.  Fortunately, this doesn't otherwise interfere with our adventuring.  We can see a FIRE KNIFE DANCER in the community house, though we can't GIVE him or her a treasure or anything.  And we can GET PEARLS from the council house, robbing the local community of its poorly-guarded assets.  We'll GO BOAT this time, even though it's not immediately clear that we can do that, to save ourselves the sting and ensuing medical treatment.

We GO G7 again, and when we emerge from our cabin and debark again, we find ourselves near a Maori village, with a colorful red tulip tree at hand, the smelling of which earns us nothing but another bee sting.  We can loot the local museum of its *VALUABLE RELICS*, without a second thought, although at this point we learn that YOU'RE TOO WEAK TO CARRY ANYMORE, i.e., we've hit the game's five-item inventory limit.  We'll have to risk leaving our treasures in our cabin, it seems, and as there's no SAVE game command and entering the cabin automatically moves us along to the next stop on the cruise, I'll just start over in case we can't come back here later.

Our next stop turns out to be Fiji, where a beautiful plumeria tempts us into getting stung once again.  The local chief's house sports *A DIAMOND HEADED SPEAR*, and a nearby hut contains Tonga coins which are not denoted as a treasure.  We'll steal them anyway, since we're not like those other suckers on this trip who are probably just here for the scenery.

Next up, Tahiti, where *A HAWAIIAN ORCHID* greets us -- it can also result in a sting, but we'll steal it as subtly suggested by the glittering asterisks.  In a prayer house to the south, a group of Boy Scouts is singing "Kum Ba Ya," and we can lift an *EXQUISITE CARVING OF A FISH* from a fisherman's house to the east.  Back to the boat!

We now find ourselves in a Tonga village -- maybe we need to spend those coins here.  There's a waterfall here, and for once in adventuring history we can't GO WATERFALL to reach a hidden cave of any kind.  A Queen's Bedroom to the south contains a bird of paradise, though the parser doesn't recognize BIRD as a noun so we can't really interact with it.  A Tongan Festival offers FREE HULA LESSONS, but we can't TAKE LESSONS or LEARN HULA just for fun.  No treasures here, apparently -- maybe we've been preceded by fellow looters.

Next stop -- Marquesas!  An active volcano looks scary, and in a cooking house to the south we can see *A GOLD KNIFE (VERY HOT)*, too hot to GET, apparently.  There's a guest house to the east of the cooking house, a tattooing house north of that, and a warrior's house to the east of the tattooing house, where we can acquire *AN EMERALD STATUE*.  We'll have to come back for the knife when we can figure out a solution; for now we'll proceed to...

Our original location again!  Of course, we aren't carrying our treasures, having left them in the cabin, so we'll have to tour the circuit again until we can unload.  We'll do that, returning to our cabin six times to complete the trip, and then DRIVE back to the Polynesian Treasure House.  Dropping the four treasures we can carry (along with our boarding pass, which it seems we ought to keep) gets us up to a SCORE of 40 out of 100, so there must be ten treasures to collect, of which we have found eight so far.

On our next circuit, let's see if we can do something with the Tonga coins.  We can't GIVE or THROW them to the fire knife dancer, and DROP COINS doesn't catch anyone's attention either.  The Boy Scouts aren't interested in our money, and the game's design, which plays a room's theme music whenever the location is entered or re-displayed, forces us to listen to three renditions of Kum Ba Ya while we DROP and GET our coins back.  Our money is no good at the Tongan Festival either.  But while I'm here, I realize that I forgot to head east from the Queen's bedroom, into the Queen's Bed.  There's a *BEAUTIFUL WOVEN MAT* here, which we can steal.  Fortunately there don't seem to be any antiquities officials on the lookout for globe-trotting, heritage-plundering adventurers like us!

We can't READ MAT -- it just reads our boarding pass instead, another case of a single-purpose verb.  The hot knife can't be KICKed or MOVEd or BLOWn on or FANned, it seems, and I can't find a way to carry water from the waterfall to cool it down.  Trying to PICK KNIFE provokes another verb anomaly and gets us sent back to the boat, as it is unlawful to pick flowers.

Four more treasures dropped off gets us up to 80 points, and it occurs to me that the gas can, now empty, might be useful for carrying water.  But we can't seem to FILL CAN at the waterfall, or GET WATER either; the gas can can only be used to carry gas, it seems.  The fire knife dancer might be able to handle the hot knife... but we can't PAY DANCER, GET DANCER, ASK DANCER, or TALK DANCER... so that doesn't seem like a good idea.

And I seem to have misplaced the Tonga Coins altogether somewhere along the way... hmmmm.  I guess it's time to cheat and peek at the original BASIC listing from the Rainbow Book of Adventures.  We're on the right track with the idea of using water to cool the knife, some text fragments suggest, but we have to jump through a few hoops now.  I had filled the gas can at the station again, and while we can't FILL TANK at the pier to empty it, we can do so after we drive back to the road where we first found the car.

Now that we have an empty can again, where can we fill it with water?  I've tried the pier, the boat's boarding area, and the waterfall location.  The FILL CAN code only responds in locations 3 and 17; 3 is the gas station, and 17 is the... lagoon?  Where is there a lagoon???

Oh, man, it's right there, just east of the Maori museum!  I guess I was too busy helping myself to the relics to finish my map -- actually, because this game only has a handful of locations, I hadn't even bothered to draw a map.  My mistake -- my incomplete tracking of the obvious exits displayed onscreen made for tougher going than necessary.

Now we can FILL CAN at the lagoon, POUR CAN on the hot knife (we're not allowed to do this when the can contains gas), take the now-cold knife, and deliver it to the Treasure House.

The final tune, for some reason, is Amazing Grace -- I don't feel particularly amazing or graceful.  But victory is ours!

Some non-commercial adventure games are really easy, and Polynesian Adventure is hardly difficult, but my experience here confirms that observation always remains important, even when there are no mazes and the puzzle solutions seem obvious.  Mr. Dunlap's effort provided a pleasant evening's diversion, and I'm planning to dig into some of the other Rainbow magazine adventures now that I've located this treasure trove.  Forward, into the past!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Lurkley Manor (1985)

This week, I'm dipping into the TRS-80 Color Computer archives again, to play a game I only vaguely remembered from back in the day -- an illustrated adventure called Lurkley Manor, written by Richard Ramella and published in a 1985 issue of The Rainbow magazine circa as a type-in listing.  (Mr. Ramella also wrote a book called Computer Carnival: Sixty Programs for Starters, published in 1982.)  As we might expect, this game is written in BASIC with simple code-drawn vector/fill illustrations, and if personal memory serves, I started to type it in once upon a time but either never finished or never actually played the game.  So I'm glad to have the opportunity to take a look at it now.

As the game begins, a hunchbacked Igor character appears to tell us that we must find the attic to escape!  He also mentions that we can navigate with N, E, W, S commands, and that we always face north as far as the illustrations are concerned.  The engine is a little odd -- it displays text, then erases it, so it was a little tricky to take notes for this blog entry.  But most of the text just describes the location, followed by a DIRECTION? or situational action prompt.  There's no real parser here, just prompts -- and we do have to be careful, as N can mean North or No depending on the prompt at hand, and some responses are fatal.  There's also no save-game feature, so we have to be doubly careful (or use a virtual machine with save state capability, something the VCC emulator I'm running lacks.)

I usually advise readers to visit these worlds before proceeding below, as much of the fun of adventure gaming is in the firsthand experience, and reading about my experiences may be more entertaining after you've had your own.  But Lurkley Manor is fairly linear -- we have some freedom to explore, but key actions must be accomplished in a certain order, and successful approaches will tend to be very much the same.  So feel free to proceed into all of the...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin in the Great Hall, where a flickering mess of magenta lines suggests the flames of a roaring fireplace.  We can go east to the scullery, and further east to a parapet, where we are warned that IT'S HUNDREDS OF FEET DOWN to the north, south, and east.  If we try to go E anyway, a ghost appears, warning us to RECONSIDER.  Going N after the warning causes the ghost to be redrawn with a frowning face as we jump to our doom.  It's THE END, and a rather lengthy ending tune plays -- interminably, actually, until we break out of the program or reset the computer.

Trying again, we find the door south of the Great Hall locked, so this must be the way we came in. To the west is the Drawing Room, where we get a different sort of prompt -- a woman named Noira Dark asks if we HAVE SOMETHING TO DRINK, ES or O.  Lying with a Y enrages her, and she produces a bomb, which promptly explodes, killing everybody in a sort of nihilistic morality play:

At least we have learned that it was genuinely a question of whether we do have something to drink, as opposed to awkward grammar asking whether we wish to have something to drink.

This is becoming a game of making the right decision -- there are lots of ways to die, and not much to do other than explore and answer prompts.  Another round verifies that we can't walk north through the fireplace without burning to death -- no secret passages there, it seems.  North of the drawing room is the dining room, which tempts us to try the food available there, but we're not hungry so I'll pass... well, no, actually I can't resist trying what I am pretty sure is the wrong choice, and yes, eating all the food kills us as ANOTHER PIGGY BECOMES A DINING ROOM VICTIM.  Uh-oh... is the Manson Family nearby?  Or The Beatles?

North of the dining room we must choose between two staircases, or return back to the dining room.  The left stair collapses when we try to climb it, but it is suggested that in our next life we REMEMBER THE FLAGON AND STAIR COLORS MUST MATCH as we die; rather a clumsy way of providing the hint, but it will probably be useful advice.  Since we haven't even seen a flagon yet, we'll go explore elsewhere before we try to assay the stairs.

East of the dining room is the Flagon Spilling Room -- we're told there are small strange things all around, and we are VERY LUCKY... FOR SOME REASON.  Maybe because we don't have a flagon with us, so there's nothing to spill and poison us or otherwise cause our untimely demise?  There are no exits from this room, except back the way we came, so we'll just avoid this area in the future.

South of the drawing room is the flagon room, where a man introduces himself, almost, as COUNT DRACU- before thinking better of it and not mentioning his name (though the fangs and trickle of blood on one side of his face kind of give it away.)  He offers us a flagon of POIS- before cutting himself off again.  He really should have rehearsed this spiel!  Accepting his offer gives us the option of accepting the RANGE or LUE flagon -- I took the Orange.

Passing through the drawing room again, we have to remember to answer Noira's question honestly -- when we tell her we do have something to drink, she asks if we can give her a drink.  Given that it's poison, presumably, I opt not to -- she gets angry but we're still alive, though she assures us we will slake her thirst before the night is through.

We haven't been north of the scullery yet, so we'll go there to witness someone named Blurton Sharpe practicing his shooting skills.  He observes that we have a flagon and asks for a drink; our well-meaning refusal to poison him proves fatal to ourselves, though, as does walking north through his line of fire if we enter the room without a flagon.

In yet another life, I offer Noira a drink from the flagon -- but she sniffs it and says the skeleton must okay it first.  At least she doesn't get mad.  And Blurton says he hates the orange stuff, so we'll try again with the blue... except Noira hates it and sets off her bomb again, so we need to avoid offering her a drink when we're carrying the blue flagon.  And Blurton wants the blue drink approved by his MOMMY -- no, MUMMY before he will taste it.

We can access the Laboratory east of Blurton, where a Professor Fuddles experiments on amoebae, but there doesn't seem to be anything we can do here beyond waiting for the beep-boop music and light display to finish each time we answer a prompt.  Going back to the staircase, we successfully ascend the blue stairs on the right with the blue flagon in hand, and must now open the left, middle, or right door.  I'll go with the Middle one first... and I fall through a trapdoor, to be devoured by a ravenous creature from another game who manages to "PAC" in a little more food.

Restarting once again and trying the left door, with the orange flagon this time since we needn't bother visiting Blurton yet, leads us to the mummy -- who kills us, enraged as he is by the orange beverage we're carrying.  So, by process of elimination and deduction, we can guess that the door on the right should house the skeleton... and it does, but he is unhappy as we are here too early, and now we are "THE LATE" and dead once again.

Okay.  Let's try grabbing the blue flagon and visiting the mummy first... he's friendlier this time, as he performs some sort of gesture over the blue flagon and advises us to offer it to someone whose name begins with the same letter.  (Actually, the same diphthong applies in this case!)  Blurton Sharpe drinks the blue beverage, enjoys it and, by way of gratitude, promises never to shoot us.

Now we can travel North of the gymnasium, to encounter an elephant, who rushes toward us happily and inadvertently kills us!  So getting past Blurton isn't necessarily something we want to do.

On yet another attempt, we return to the flagon room for the orange flagon, after giving Blurton the blue one, and now we can get the skeleton's approval to give the flagon to Noira Dark.  She drinks it happily and advises us to walk through a wall, now.  Hmmmm.  A little experimentation establishes that we are able to walk East through the wall of the laboratory, to obtain a bucket from the dungeon and return.

As we pass through the gymnasium, Blurton now advises us to GO SEE THE ELEPHANT... and this time, instead of trampling us, it fills our bucket with water from its trunk and advises us to GO DOUSE SOMETHING.  The only thing that comes to mind is that fire in the Great Hall... and yes, when we take a chance and try to go N there, we automatically douse the fire and reach the Attic.

We don't really get to explore the attic -- Igor is up here, clearly surprised to see us, and provides us with a parachute.  We suspect that we can use this on the parapet, and if we ignore the ghost's warning and jump South (other directions might work as well), we escape Lurkley Manor just as the sun comes up!  We are VERY HAPPY, and hopefully wiser about getting ourselves locked in creepy old mansions, and the game is over:

Lurkley Manor isn't a complex adventure, and it's very linear -- we really have to do everything the game wants us to do in a prescribed order, and the lack of a true inventory system or parser means our options are very limited indeed.  There were a number of these choice-driven adventure games produced back in the 1980s, but the format hasn't really survived -- while they were easy to design and code, they weren't a lot of fun and left little room for individual play styles.  I enjoyed the game's random structure and sense of humor, but the lack of a SAVE feature and unpredictable deaths made me glad it's not more substantial than it is.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Graphic Pyramid (1984)

Aardvark (known under various similar names during the 1970s and 80s) produced a number of text adventure games for early microcomputers, most of which are a little bit buggy and obtuse.  The company also released two graphic adventures for the TRS-80 Color Computer, which as a "CoCo" owner in my youth I remember seeing listed in Aardvark's catalogs.  I never came up with the financial means to play them at the time -- college was coming up in a few years -- so I've been on the lookout for these titles for quite a while.  I managed to play Graphic Mars, like this one an illustrated version of an earlier text-only title by Aardvark founder Rodger Olsen, back in 2011, and I have been trying to track down a copy of Graphic Pyramid without much success.  So now that it's finally turned up in the online archives, thanks to a recent reader tip, I'm looking forward to playing it, even though I expect to run into some issues in the mighty Aardvark manner. 

The illustrated version was reprogrammed by Roderick Smith, and it was published in 1984, when the company was calling itself Aardvark Action Software.  I'm playing using the VCC Color Computer emulator; reds and blues are probably reversed in these screenshots, as the CoCo was notoriously inconsistent in its hi-res artifact color mode and VCC doesn't provide any way to randomize or switch the palette interpretation.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to visit the Graphic Pyramid (or its text-based predecessor, Pyramid) before reading through my comments below, although based on my experience it may be a much more pleasant experience just reading about my travails, especially near the game's conclusion.  (You can discount the old Aardvark marketing claim that this "tough" game takes 50 to 70 hours to complete -- it took me about five hours in the Internet era, with help on a couple of sticking points in one section.)  Whatever you decide, be forewarned that beyond this point, there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin in an Archeologist Hut (spelling was never Aardvark's strong suit) where we find a knapsack, shovel, and sign, of the traditional "BRING TREASURE HERE. TYPE - SCORE -" variety.  We have nothing in inventory, and we can OPEN KNAPSACK, though after doing so we can't seem to EXAMINE it or SEARCH it or LOOK in it... ahhh, wait, we have to pick it up before we can examine its contents.  LOOK and READ are treated as synonyms, so I can my case I ended up with READ KNAPSACK to discover a tin can, a pistol, and a flashlight. 

We'll also take a moment to confirm that there's no SAVE capability here (and VCC does not have a save state capability), so we'll have to be careful as we progress.  We can't OPEN the DOOR visible in the illustration here -- it's LOCKED, apparently -- but we can go N to exit the hut.  This brings us to a path with exits in the cardinal directions; walking further north takes us to the steps of the pyramid, festooned with vines and featuring a heavy door, also LOCKED.  (Actually, we can try to OPEN DOOR in any location at all, and if there's not even a door there we'll be told it's LOCKED.)  We can't CLIMB VINES here, either.

From the path, we can also head east into the desert, where we find an aardvark, a monkey, and some bananas, though the illustrators have opted not to show us any of these interesting things, probably because the engine doesn't support objects overlaid on the background.  Heading further east wraps back around to the path, so this is not a very large area so far.

Can we TAKE BANANAS and then TAKE MONKEY?  Nope, MONKEY WONT LET ME (old BASIC issues with single quotes persist in this machine-language update), though the aardvark is more compliant.  And there's nowhere else really to go here, either, as the desert wraps back onto itself to the north and south.  Can we FEED MONKEY or GIVE BANANAS? Nope.  But we can PUT BANANAS -- WHERE? -- ON VINES to attract the monkey to the pyramid steps.  (Actually, it seems the monkey is just following us around now, as the parser did not actually recognize ON VINES and just dumped the bananas on the ground where we stand.)

Now what?  We can TAKE VINES -- and now trying to TAKE anything else yields HANDS FULL, so we've hit the inventory limit.  Fortunately, we can PUT VINES - WHERE? - KNAPSACK to tuck them away, at least, not a bad implementation there (or so it seems for the moment...)

What else?  Well, we can DIG with our shovel on the path, to fall through to a cavern with steep walls and a boat parked in the sand.  A stream flows into a hole in the wall.  We can TAKE ROCKS from the cavern floor, and GO BOAT, then go D to return to the cavern.  We can't LAUNCH BOAT or PUSH or PULL or TAKE it.  I seem to be stuck here without a way to SET SAIL or otherwise escape, so we'll start over... QUIT... I DONT KNOW HOW.  Uh-oh -- your persistence is admirable, but I really want to... let's see... DIETOO HARD.  Well, yippie-ki-yay... I guess we have to hit the reset button.

What can we try?  Well, we can TIE VINES -- TO WHAT? -- TO DOOR at the pyramid.  But that doesn't seem to really do what we think it might; in fact, it does nothing at all, though the parser doesn't respond with anything one way or another.  After we dig and fall down into the cavern again, we can try to PULL VINES -- WHERE? -- but I can't come up with a useful response.  Aha!  This parser only uses two significant characters.  So PULL = PUT.  And DIE = DIG.  There's a reason most of these early games recognized at least three characters...

It seems if we put the vines anywhere at all, the monkey arrives, though I would have put my money on the bananas under other circumstances.  If we OPEN the TINCAN from our knapsack, it produces some matches.  We can try to LIGHT VINES, which produces no response at all, or BURN VINES, which indicates only that, oddly enough, they WILL NOT BURN.  Neither will anything else around here, it seems -- the monkey, the aardvark, the boat, the SCORE sign and even the matches are similarly fireproof.

So we have some vines and a monkey who clearly likes them, but no clear way to use this information.  The tree visible near the pyramid is not recognized by the parser.  SHOOT MONKEY with our trusty pistol yields NO EFFECT!  Hmmmm.  Ah, we can PUT ROCKS -- WHERE? -- STREAM and now the water is rising.  Fine time for the game to tell us we can't swim!  We'll get back on the boat and see what happens.

Ahhh -- now the boat has floated to a new location.  Somehow, immediately after we step off the well-lit boat, it's TOO DARK and I CANT [sic] SEE.  We can GET FLASHLIGHT from our knapsack, though, and LIGHT FLASHLIGHT to see that we're in an ANCIENT CAVE.  Heading up from here takes us to an empty treasure room, with a sword and an altar.

The sword confuses the traditional Egyptian mythology a bit here, as it's apparently PROPERTY OF ALI BABBA, the off-brand Arabian hero.  I can't figure out whether I'm trying to PRAY or PRY, as it responds, WITH WHAT?, but I can't find a way to MOVE ALTAR or otherwise do anything new here.  But it feels like this is a one-way trip so far, so there must be some way to make progress.

Starting over, I figure out that PR stands for PRY, as if we try to PRY the heavy DOOR of the pyramid, we're prompted WITH WHAT? and SHOVEL returns, THAT IS A SOLID DOOR. NOTHING HAPPENED.  Back at the altar, I try to SACRIFICE AARDVARK to no avail.  Aha!  We can GO ALTAR for a different perspective.

Once on the altar, we can try to JUMP ALTAR... NO???  Ahhh... SA is not SACRIFICE, and if we SAY SESAME here, presumably with Ali Babba's sword in our possession, we end up in a twisting corridor with exits south and east.  To the south is another twisty passage, leading south and east again; we can READ INSCRIPTION here to see:


If Aardvark's other adventures are anything to go on, this will prove to be not ancient Egyptian but modern English encoded with a letter substitution cipher.  And yes, if we just shift all the letters one place to the left, we get:


South of this point we encounter a skeleton -- we can't do much with him, but if we GET SKELETON we hear (I hope) a TINKLE.  Yes, a KEY has been revealed!  We can't learn much about it, though, so we'll just keep it in the knapsack in case we find a lock, a reasonable likelihood by adventure game conventions.

Heading E of the skeleton takes us back to the corridor with the inscription.  To the west is another section of corridor with exits south, east and west.  Mapping is going to be important here -- while trying to get my bearings, I encounter a MUMMY who WILL NOT LET ME PASS and later run into a floorless room that leads to my first design-based demise.  The game doesn't allow us to try again or even exit back to the operating system after we die -- we have to do a full system reset, and load the game all over again.

Trying again, I am more careful to map the twisty corridors.  Most of them follow standard geography but there are a few tricky loops and nonsensical connections.  The section where I fell through the floor earlier was in fact preceded by a north-south corridor where the FLOOR FEELS FUNNY, so I'll take that as a hint not to proceed in those areas, at least for now. 

There's another section east of where we enter the corridors that has a funny-feeling floor, and some GRAFITTI [sic] that translates the same way as the other to:


That seems like useful information, at least.  I also find a DEAD END in the passages that displays an illustration instead of a black screen, and confirm that ignoring the FLOOR FEELS FUNNY messages tends to kill us with a fatal fall if we proceed in either such area.

Starting over again -- with no SAVE support this will be a frequent necessity -- I try to BURN MUMMY with the matches.  This produces no response.  SHOOT MUMMY has NO EFFECT!   While going through my belongings, I notice that the knapsack has a limit -- once it's full, PUT [object] -- WHERE? -- KNAPSACK just drops it on the ground, without mentioning that to the player, so I've misplaced some items along the way.  I try to LIGHT MUMMY and LIGHT MATCH and THROW MATCH... and I'm not quite sure what I did, but now the mummy is reduced to ashes and we can travel south.  First, though, we'll LOOK ASHES and see that SOMETHING GLEAMS -- if we GET ASHES, we don't actually pick them up, but an amulet is revealed on the ground.

South of the mummy, we find a crypt with a sarcophagus that gives us the key to the inscriptions with "CAT=DBU" if we read it, but we've already cracked the code.  We can OPEN SARCOPHAGUS here to obtain a DEATHMASK OF GOLD.  Cool!  One treasure down, it seems, assuming we can find a way back to the hut to SCORE our haul.

Can we do something at the dead end?  We can't seem to CLIMB WALL or WAVE AMULET or SHOOT WALL.  We can't seem to JUMP in the areas with the shaky floors to reach a new area.  But we can GO SARCOPHAGUS in the crypt to find ourselves in a dusty cellar that looks just like the dead end in the other part of the maze.  Examining the floor and walls doesn't seem to yield any new information, however.

Can we do anything here?  I've been doing pretty well up to this point, but I think I'm going to have to do a little cheating.  I wasn't having any luck finding a walkthrough for the Aardvark version of either Graphic Pyramid or the original Pyramid, but the CASA Solution Archive comes through again with Dorothy Millard's walkthrough for an alternate version of Pyramid distributed by Mogul Communications, here

Now I can learn that... Ack!  The game actually recognizes two variations of the verb PU -- while I have been assuming it always means PUT up to this point, and I tried without success to MOVE WALL earlier, the parser will accept PUSH WALL in the dead end room.  IT SWINGS!, and this opens up an exit to the south.

This takes us into an empty room, with a very small hole in the floor. LOOK HOLE reveals a lock mechanism, and we can use that key to open it... well, at least we ought to be able to.  I couldn't UNLOCK LOCK or OPEN LOCK or OPEN MECHANISM or USE KEY, or... INSERT... KEY... or...  INSERT... MONKEY?

Ah, thanks again, Dorothy!  It seems this isn't the kind of lock that works with a key, but the kind that has to be blown open.  We can OPEN PISTOL to find some BULLETS, and then OPEN BULLETS to get some... GUNPOWER?  We'll assume it's supposed to be GUNPOWDER, and PUT GUNPOWDER -- WHERE? -- HOLE.  Retrieving the matches from the crypt, where I left them earlier, we LIGHT GUNPOWDER and an EXPLOSION results -- fortunately, being at extremely close range does us no damage.

Now this is strange indeed, as the image displayed post-explosion appears to be a corrupted version of the Martian character from Graphic Mars!  There's now a BIG HOLE in the floor, and we can go D to a narrow ledge near a chasm.  LOOK CHASM reveals a dagger with a jeweled handle lying at its bottom.  Can we use the vine to retrieve it?  TIE VINE -- TO WHAT? -- DAGGER yields DONT SEE IT HERE, which is fair enough as it's at the bottom of the deep chasm.  Maybe this is why the monkey has been following us around, though. TIE VINE to MONKEY doesn't work either, though.

We can, however, TIE VINE to BANANAS and then PUT BANANAS into the CHASM -- the monkey climbs down and brings back the dagger!  Have we found the three treasures, then?  SCORE yields only, NOT HERE.  Hmmmm.

Well, we've been refused our attempts to JUMP quite a bit along the way, and if we JUMP CHASM here... I WAS YOU HEAVY AND DIED.  What the... Hey!!!

Ahem... since it feels like we've been getting plenty of exercise in this maze, I'm going to assume this text was supposed to be I WAS TOO HEAVY AND DIED, and that it means we're carrying too much when we try the jump.

Restarting and finding our way back here again, we try jumping across with nothing but the flashlight in hand, and we land in the Throne Room -- where we see some killer ants!  Can we make it across with the aardvark and the flashlight both in hand?  Well, we might be able to, were it not for a bug here that seems to think our hands are full when we have nothing at all in them, making it impossible to pick up the things we want after dropping too many items, apparently.  Aarrrrgh!

Trying again, I learn we have to LIGHT MATCH before we can LIGHT GUNPOWDER -- apparently the match burns indefinitely once it's been lit, but with a fresh game I have to light it first.  This time, we successfully JUMP CHASM with the aardvark and the flashlight in hand, as well as the key that we haven't used yet, so we can apparently take three objects with us.  We DROP AARDVARK -- with a quick GOBBLE, the killer ants are gone, opening an exit to the south.  If only the aardvark could gobble up the game's other bugs, but we'll soldier through.

Going south leads to the Hall of Columns.  There's a door here, visible in the illustration though it isn't mentioned in the description -- I'm not sure how this worked at all for the original text version.  We can OPEN DOOR with the key, and find ourselves on the steps of the pyramid again, back near the start of the game.  And fortunately, with the heavy door unlocked, we can now reenter the pyramid to the north, so we should be able to start putting our treasures away with a nice straightforward path from the map's beginning to its end.

Of course, I have none of the treasures yet, but I do learn that YOU HAVE 0 OUT OF 4 TREASURE-SCORE 0.  Wait, *four* treasure... treasures, I mean?  Hmmmm.

Well, nothing for it but to round up whatever treasures we can now.  And it seems the Dagger counts for two -- after I drop it, we have 2 out of 4 treasures, for a score of 50.  The jeweled handle must count separately?  Odd.

Okay, let's grab the amulet and the golden deathmask again... except I am once again running into the nasty item carrying bug.  And the game thinks I am too heavy to jump the chasm even though I am empty handed!  This is getting ridiculous.  It seems we have to keep at least three things in hand to avoid this issue, more inventory juggling than we bargained for.  Something is getting set to -1 somewhere, methinks, and breaking all of the inventory count logic.

One more go... we have to LIGHT MATCH and then BURN MUMMY to get the amulet.  And I think I see a cause of the item carrying bug -- after we use the vines and the bananas to retrieve the dagger, we temporarily have five objects in inventory, when we're normally only allowed four.  I'm going to be careful here and try to bring all the treasures across the chasm, one at a time, so I don't have to jump it again later.  And now the bug works to my advantage, as after I deliver them to the throne room side, I can now carry all of the treasures at once, without running into the four-item limit.  At least, I think I have all of them...  And yes!  We don't actually have to DROP them at the hut, just have them in our possession -- the instant I check my score, with all four of the treasures in hand (the sword does count as one, which is why I was getting credit for two earlier), we have achieved victory!

After several decades of anticipation (if low expectations) for Graphic Pyramid, I'm glad I finally had the chance to play it.  Despite the bugs, spelling errors and a few strange puzzles, I had fun working my way through what is in the end a fairly straightforward little treasure hunt adventure, once some of the technical issues are worked around.  Pyramid and Mars must have been Aardvark's best-selling titles, as it seems they're the only ones given an illustrated upgrade.  And now it seems I have some other CoCo adventures to follow up on...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Adventure of the Week: The Nuclear Submarine Adventure (198x?)

This week, I'm returning to the early portable TRS-80 Model 100's small library of adventure games, to tackle Steven Neighorn's The Nuclear Submarine Adventure, probably published around 1983 when the Model 100 was the new tech toy on the block.  I'm not sure if this game was original to the Model 100 -- versions exist for the IBM PC and Japanese MSX computers as well, but it runs well on Radio Shack's proto-notebook.  I'm playing it using the VirtualT emulator.

This is the only TRS-80 Model 100 BASIC game I've played to date that adopts a Scott Adams style interface, with location and objects at the top of the screen and commands entered at the bottom -- the dividing line means we're down to 7 lines of usable display, but it looks very nice.  The game is the usual escape-the-critical-situation plot, with no treasures to find or complex objectives -- we just have to get ourselves and our fellow crew members to the surface alive after our sub experiences an impact of indeterminate origin.

Interested adventurers are always encouraged to try these games firsthand before reading my comments below, and this one is freely available at the Interactive Fiction Database.  The Nuclear Submarine Adventure isn't difficult, though time constraints are tight, the SAVE/LOAD commands aren't fully implemented, and there's one sticking point that tripped me up near the end.  But I'll let you make that decision, dear reader.  Beyond this point, there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin in a bunk, with nothing of interest visible and nothing in INVentory.  While we're exploring our surroundings, something hits the ship and we're sinking!  GET UP yields only That's not hereUP yields You don't know how to 'UP.'  U (or GO UP) is the only way to climb out of the bunk.

Our bunk is in the after crew's quarters; the room is full of bunks, and there's a red locker here.  We can't EXAMINE anything, apparently, and OPEN LOCKER indicates we don't have the right key.  So we'll head F(ore) to the main passageway.

Here there's a water-tight door, which we're not strong enough to open, and passages to port and starboard.  Port is the maneuvering room, with a depth gauge and ballast control.  READ GAUGE suggests, You can't read anything... yet.  Interesting.  Do we need our glasses?

We can travel down from the maneuvering room to the lower aft section of the engine room, where we see a steam turbine engine and a drive train.  Is the steam engine powered by nuclear fuel, then?  We can LOOK ENGINE -- which works like EXAMINE, I now see -- to observe that it's turning but not operating properly, most likely because the drive train is broken.

From here, we can F off to the fore section of the engine room, and see that the electrical generator isn't working and the ship is operating on its batteries.  Going U takes us to the upper deck of the engine room, fore of the maneuvering room, where there's a hatch You can't even begin to open.

Closing the loop and returning to the maneuvering room, LOOK GAUGE indicates we're at 108 fathoms, and LOOK CONTROL indicates it's set for DIVE.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, so I'll leave it alone for now.

On the starboard side of the main passageway we find a laundry room containing nothing of apparent interest.  The main passageway continues forward to a warning sign.  As I'm exploring, we hear a ** claxon** [sic], so we're probably going to run out of time while we're mapping out our surroundings.  But we'll keep going as long as we can.

The warning sign suggests that an ANTI-RADIATION SUIT MUST BE WORN before we head below.  We can open the water-tight door here, despite the warning, but we don't have to go down there yet, so we'll CLOSE DOOR.  (I always appreciate adventure designs that allow closing things we've opened; it's rarer than one might suppose.)

Heading forward some more we discover the missile compartment, with a panel reading .  Forward again is the attack center, with a remote microphone and a passageway leading down to the main control room, where a push-button control regulates the reactor.  North of the control room location is the radio shack (tee hee), with a complex radio that isn't so complicated we can't tell it is broken, but is so complicated we can't readily FIX it.

Fore of the attack center (the sub runs quite a distance lengthwise) is the periscope room, with two periscopes, one for search and one for attacking.  I'm about to head upwards from here, when the reactor melts down and my adventure is over.  The briny sea claims another victim...  fortunately, this game implements a SAVE feature, so we'll use that in the future.

Returning to mapping, we find an access passageway above the periscope room, with a hatch that can't be opened until the ship surfaces.  Fore of the radio shack is a main passageway area with passages in every direction but upward.  Downward is the infirmary, where we can GET some smelling SALTS.  To port is the captain's stateroom, with a combination-locked wall safe that isn't even hidden behind a picture.  We have to enter three numbers to open the safe, and since I'm just guessing I'm not able to open it yet.

Returning to the passageway, to starboard we find the officer's wardroom, empty, and the main passageway continues fore again.  Port here leads to the crew's mess, where we at last see our fellow crew members... all unconscious in front of a videocassette player and television; perhaps they have been watching Down Periscope.  We can WAKE CREW with the smelling salts.  There's no tape in the VCR, and we can't ORDER CREW, so we'll leave them standing around for now.

Oh.  Actually, we can't leave the crew behind, as it seems they are bent on following us around now.  The galley features a stove, and we can go down to the main stores and the frozen stores room, where a single frozen T.V. dinner is available.  We can PUT DINNER -- Into what? -- STOVE, and then COOK DINNER so we can FEED CREW... no... OFFER DINNER... no... GIVE DINNER... no... well, now the klaxon is going off again, so it probably won't matter in our lifetimes.

Starboard of the crew's mess, on the other side of the passageway, we find the health room, with a weight training set.  And they must have some of that Captain America technology here, as we can LIFT WEIGHTS to become incredibly strong in a single turn.  That may come in handy.

Fore again leads us to the chief's quarters across the hall from the galley, where a white locker waits for us to find the right key.  The ship overheats at this point, and when I try to LOAD and the filename I specified earlier doesn't seem to work, we find ourselves in a kind of limbo.  The crewmen are unconscious but continue to follow us around.  We'll take advantage of the extended play to do some more mapping, anyway.

The main passageway continues fore to another bunk room with a blue locker, locked awaiting the right key, of course.  We can go D into a bunk, where we find a decoder, with a plug in it -- I'm not sure what that means yet.

Fore again -- this is a very large map by Model 100 standards -- we find the forward torpedo room, with one tube labeled and the other .  We can continue F into the empty torpedo tube, though this doesn't seem like a safe place to hang out.

Now it seems we've mapped the submarine out pretty well, and solved a few puzzles along the way.  Let's see if we can use our super strength to open that door near the start of the game.  (On the way, I discover that the LOAD command does work, it just throws a false alarm error, so we do die shortly as the sub's reactor overeheats, and I have to LOAD again.)

We can indeed open that water-tight door now, to reach the ship's can (our group of unconscious crewmen still in tow -- they remain unconscious as described after a restart and restore, but they're still dragging themselves around with us somehow) where we find a Navy repair manual.  It contains instructions for repairing the ship's radio, also handy.

Our first order of business, however, would seem to be stopping the reactor from melting down.  We can't open the hatch in the upper engine room.  But we can PUSH BUTTON in the main control room to switch the reactor to COOL mode, and the warning klaxon ceases.  Easier than I expected!  Pushing it again sets the reactor mode back to hot, and sets off the alarm again, but we can switch between modes at will so that's no longer a big problem.

Now that we can explore with a little less pressure, let's see what else remains to be done.  If we lift weights and then read the Navy repair manual, maybe we can FIX RADIO.  While I'm working on this, though, it turns out we're very hungry... and then the ship's batteries run down and the lights go out!  It's dangerous to move in the dark, but if we've mapped well we can still get around -- we can even read the manual in the dark.  But one wrong move in the pitch black, and we're dead of a broken neck, so we'd better restart and play more efficiently.

On the next try, I discover that just reading the manual isn't enough to let us FIX RADIO.  We probably need some tools or something.  So let's see if we can get the ship's generator working again, as that seems like a more pressing matter.  It's not going to be as simple as START GENERATOR or FIX DRIVE TRAIN, though.  Can the crew help out?  I don't know, because I can't figure out how to EAT DINNER or OPEN DINNER when we start getting hungry again.  Ah, we can only EAT DINNER in the crew's mess -- it's impossible to consume it anywhere else!  This game is going to be fastidious about its rules, it appears.

The ship's batteries have run out again, but let's see if I can fake my way through in the dark to see if the crew can fix the drive train.  Nope.  We need something to open the hatch in the engine room, I think.  We can die by entering the nuclear reactor without protection, but that's not going to help.

We aren't strong enough to open the hatch or the door in the torpedo room, even if we've lifted weights.  Hmmmm... ah, if we have the crew in tow (and conscious) they will help us to open both.  We can access the forward access and escape trunk now, to find a wrench, and a repair and work compartment below the torpedo room to pick up an electronic repair kit.  Now we should be in better shape to get the sub working again!

We'll stop to prepare and eat the TV dinner on the way, just to have that puzzle out of the way, since we can probably navigate in the dark if we need to.  I get to the engine room just as the lights go out, but with the wrench, we can now FIX TRAIN to restore power.

We can't just PUSH BUTTON to change the sub's direction in the maneuvering room; presumably we'll want to switch from DIVE to SURFACE at some point, but we can't yet, at least not with any commands I can come up with.  We can use the wrench to open the hatch in the engine room, finding a key labeled WKEY -- probably good for the white lockers in the chief's quarters.  Yep!  Here's the anti-radiation outfit.

Let's fix the radio before we go too much farther -- with the repair kit and the manual, we can get it working.  We can now USE RADIO -- but a coded message comes through that we can't make sense of, and then it blows up!  We must need to use that decoder we found in a bunk earlier.  Restoring our saved game doesn't restore the radio to its pre-smoldering state, however, so we have to QUIT and LOAD to get it back into a fixable state again.  This time, we LOOK RADIO to see that it has an empty plug -- and we can PUT DECODER -- Into what? -- RADIO before we use it.  The message we receive now indicates we've been hit by a Soviet anti-submarine weapon, and gives us the combination to the captain's safe: R 36, L 7, R 46.  The radio still blows up after we use it.

We can now open the safe -- the spaces in the coded message are significant, so typing R36 doesn't work but R 36 does -- to obtain... a videocassette?  This better be worth it!  GET VIDEOCASSETTE doesn't work, but GET CASSETTE does.  We can put the cassette into the player, and then... hmmmm... USE PLAYER and START PLAYER don't work, and WATCH T.V. just shows a 'HEAVY' film?  Ah, wait, maybe that's a hint -- "the ups and downs of life in the submarine corps" might mean this is a training film.  Yes, now we can PUSH BUTTON in the maneuvering room to shift the ballast into service to help surface the sub.

What else?  We haven't used the anti-radiation suit yet, so let's go try it out.  We can WEAR OUTFIT, OPEN DOOR by the warning sign, go D and observe that the reactor is running normally.  Fortunately, the crew has the good sense to stay behind; the only reason we need to come down here, apparently, is to pick up the blue key in the aft section of the reactor room.

Going back to the crew quarters near the torpedo tube, we open the blue lockers to recover a Captain's uniform.  We can WEAR UNIFORM, but to what end?  Ah, the microphone in the attack center is the captain's microphone upon a closer look.  We can SAY FIRE -- Fire what? -- TORPEDO, but can't do that yet; SAY SURFACE returns a similar result.

Trying to LOOK through or USE the search and attack periscopes proves fruitless, as does UP SEARCH or UP PERISCOPE.  The captain's microphone is portable, it seems.  What about the red locker at the start of the game?  Ah, the RKEY is available if we just LOOK BUNKS -- the locker contains a book called "The Submariner" that just gives us basic navigation tips for the game.

Maybe we can mess with the torpedo tubes.  LOAD TORPEDO doesn't work, as it just invokes the game restore command.  And while I'm trying to fire a torpedo from the torpedo room using the captain's microphone, to no avail, we run out of time for surfacing the sub, and the game is over again.

What do we have to do here?  I'm going to break down and take a peek at the BASIC code.  We're on the right track -- line 174 specifies a lot of conditions for giving the order to surface.  We have to be wearing the captain's uniform; ballast setting has to be set to SURFACE; and we have to be at a depth other than 0 fathoms.  Check on all those counts.  Ahhhh... what I was missing was that we have to be in the main control room when we SAY SURFACE, or our orders are ignored.

Now we can go there, SAY SURFACE, and the sub surfaces... and now we can open the hatch above the periscope room and make our way past the bridge to the open air on the main deck, where we see rescue ships in the distance!  Man, it's a good thing we never figured out how to fire that torpedo.  Victory is ours!

I enjoyed playing through The Nuclear Submarine Adventure -- the tight timing made for a bit of a challenge over and above the straightforward puzzles, although the final puzzle seems unnecessarily opaque; why make the captain's microphone portable at all, if it has to be used in a specific place?  But I've definitely run into more aggravating requirements in vintage adventure games, and this one had some nice moments of discovery.