Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Putt-Putt Travels Through Time (1995)

Thanks to a recent Steam sale on the entire Humongous Entertainment library, this week I'm tackling Putt-Putt Travels Through Time, published in 1995 as third in the Putt-Putt series of Junior Adventures.  Humongous founder Ron Gilbert licensed the Lucasarts SCUMM engine for his children's games, and as these titles were being produced for some time after Lucasarts got out of the business, it's interesting to see the framework continuing to evolve here.  This entry features nicely airbrushed backgrounds and smoother animation than the earlier Putt-Putt titles, along with a digitized (non-MIDI) musical score and full voice acting.

Putt-Putt isn't much of a character -- he has a basic niceness about him and that's about it -- so most of these games depend on plot and simple puzzles for entertainment.  In this case, Putt-Putt wants to show his friend Mr. Firebird his Smokey the Fire Engine lunchbox, calculator, and history report, but we suspect the journey to school may become a bit complicated; it's not called Putt-Putt Travels Through Town, after all.

This one is pleasant and brief enough to play through easily -- it's available from Steam, and an iOS port was released a few years ago.  It's cheerful and straightforward, with a bit of painless educational content and simple inventory and conversation puzzles.  You might want to play it with a youngster to get the most out of it.  For those with more curiosity than time, feel free to proceed into the remainder of this post, where there are certain to be...

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

The Humongous Entertainment games always provide lots of non-essential clickables onscreen, just for fun, with brief, comical animations to keep younger players engaged even if the plot eludes them.  Clicking on Putt-Putt's dashboard radio does set up the story a little bit, as the announcer mentions Mr. Firebird's new time portal.  We can take a coin from the workbench ("I'd better not leave home without it") and nearly run over the semi-traditional cow in the road on the way into town to visit Mr. Firebird's lab.

Mr. Firebird is about to fire up his portal for the very first time (these being the most ominous words in all of science fiction) -- it's meant to show images from other times, not support actual time travel.  He needs a coin to start the washing machine that drives the contraption, providing a simple inventory puzzle we can readily solve.

Of course, things go wrong, and all of Putt-Putt's possessions as well as his faithful dog Pep are sucked into the portal.  Mr. Firebird's vision of his own creation is, it seems, a bit myopic -- his viewing window is just a piece of glass placed over an actual time portal.  And he can't close the portal until Putt-Putt retrieves everything that's been sucked in, for some reason.  After we retrieve our stuff, Firebird plans to close the portal for good, which seems a bit of an overreaction if you ask.  But that's the plot at hand, so into the time portal we go!

We find ourselves in a void with four individual portals to different time periods (and locations, it appears, suggesting that the old world-rotation conundrum of time travel may be accounted for in some way here.)  Clicking on a small group of talking props in the lower left hand corner provokes an elaborate musical number that sets up the game's structure -- we'll visit prehistory, medieval times, the old American West, and the future, seeking to retrieve Pep and a handful of belongings.  We're free to pick any of the four portals, and travel back and forth between them.

I'm going to start by visiting the Old West.  We find ourselves in the town of Tire Flats (get it?), where Putt-Putt can acquire a triangular rock on the hillside and then visit several locations in town.  An old barn is occupied by a horse who mentions the gold rush is in progress; he lets Putt-Putt take some hay.  Putt-Putt can also acquire a rope here, a rare case where he doesn't ask for permission.

The General Store sells Chewy Fruity Wagon Wheels for a nickel, which Putt-Putt doesn't have (and seems like an outrageous luxury in the Old West economy, where a pound of bacon could be had for a quarter.)  Humongous' Pajama Sam makes a cameo appearance as a jack-in-the-box toy if we click on the shelves above the counter.  The storekeeper, a covered wagon named Lurleen, seems frustrated by her game of solitaire, but it seems we can't really interact with her to help out.

Visiting the Train Station confirms that Putt-Putt's universe anthropomorphizes all forms of transportation.  The engine, one Tobias T. Train, is seeking to hire a Junior Conductor -- the job pays a nickel.  Putt-Putt's first duty for the elderly engine is to -- erm -- "oil me up," but there's a traditional oil can here so the moment is saved by literalism.  The old train is grateful for the assistance, and pays Putt-Putt a nickel for this service, letting him keep the oil can.

Toby also needs help filling himself up with water, and asks Putt-Putt to find something to pull the water spigot down to where he can work with it.  The rope serves the need, and Toby tells us that -- ahem -- "I'll give you a ride you won't soon forget" any time we choose to claim it.  He apparently has a drinking problem too -- "I've chugged all over the West!" 

We can ride Toby to several locations -- the Gold River, the Desert, a Rock Mine and Hubcap Hill.  An old prospector is panning for gold at the river -- but he's hard of hearing, so we can't really talk to him.  He does turn up a set of old rusty keys, though, which may come in handy.

In the desert, we spot animal tracks leading past a series of dry watering holes -- it's a bit of a maze, but we can just follow the tracks to find the only interesting location.  A prairie dog seems to be the only living creature around, and he doesn't talk, though Putt-Putt gives us a little bit of information about the species.  Maybe we'll have to bring him something later on.

The ghost town of Hubcap Hill contains Putt-Putt's lost calculator, perched precariously on a rotting timber.  A friendly critter tries to retrieve it, but drops it and gets it locked in an old steamer trunk.  We have to choose the right key to open the star-shaped lock, and in short order we have one item retrieved!

We'll visit the old Rock Mine, but there seems to be nothing to do here.  I stop to buy a wagon wheel candy from the store before we go back into the time void; Putt-Putt eats the candy immediately, though, so we'll assume this is just a little side activity.

The age of the dinosaurs greets Putt-Putt with a roadway blocked by a large brachiosaurus tail.  She's non-plussed by the appearance of a talking machine in her world, and provides some facts about the era.  We can acquire a round-shaped rock here, which Putt-Putt exchanges for the triangular one he picked up in the Old West; apparently he has only so much room in his trunk for rocks.

We can't get around the brachiosaurus' tail, either, but all we need to do is ask her to move it.  There's a pentagonal rock here, so it seems we may need to do some shape-shifting.  Up the road we find a talking rock wheel who's trying to push a stack of rocks over to bridge a bubbling tar pit.  Putt-Putt helps push it over, but we need a round rock to plug a prominent hole in the new bridge.  Not a tall order, that; I left it behind just a moment ago while picking up the octagonal stone, and the bridge is quickly completed.

Wheel invites Putt-Putt to his home and offers him some primordial soup (har har); we get to keep the stone bowl.  A bird perched on a nearby crag offers an optional game of "Follow the Volcano," basically a version of Simon/Repeat with belching color-coded volcanoes that we can play until we get bored.

A hungry triceratops can't stop eating long enough to chat, as a friendly compsognathus explains.  We can feed him some hay in several chunks, exhausting our supply but eventually luring him off of something he's standing on -- Putt-Putt's history report!  Two retrievals down.

A scaredy-cat allosaurus cowers behind some stone slabs and sounds a bit like Ed Wynn.  He offers a game of picture jumble using the stone slabs; it's a simple, slow-paced, linear tile rearrangement puzzle.  There's no reward for completing the picture, but maybe it provides a clue?  It depicts -- I think -- several snake-like creatures in the jungle.

To the west, an apatosaurus suffers from a bad itch -- Putt-Putt offers to drive down his back and scratch it.  Following his instructions for several turns earns his thanks, and free passage to drive over him anytime, allowing us to reach a pterodactyl's nest and observe the mother feeding her nestlings, though there seems to be no real reason to come here.

I think we've done what we can here for now, so we'll head to the Medieval Times portal next.  Putt-Putt won't pick up any more rocks -- apparently the round rock was the only stone-based puzzle -- so the rectangular stone near the portal here can be ignored.

We soon meet a fancy coach, Princess Chassis, who is trying to repair her manservant Woodward, a lumber wagon that's lost a wheel.  We need to help them re-mount the wooden wheel, which is just a matter of offering to do so and lending an extra hand.  The Princess invites Putt-Putt along, but the castle gate won't open because recent rains have rusted the gate shut.  Fortunately, we still have the oil can handy, and we can join the castle's residents for story time.

We'll visit the local blacksmith first, though, to observe him working on a beautiful shield for King Chariot; he has an in-house dragon for keeping the fires stoked.  We can also meet the wizard Merlin, a garishly painted medicine wagon who recognizes that Putt-Putt is from the future.  He assures us that we'll find everything we are looking for, and his workshop has lots of fun, magical stuff to click on.

We might as well attend story time now, to hear King Chariot reading from the Royal Joke Book... as soon as he selects an appropriate passage.  The jokes are simple puns with kid appeal -- throwing a glass out the window to see "water fall," a cat having "mittens" after swallowing a ball of yarn -- along with more traditional medieval riddles about mirrors and such.

Venturing further into the courtyard, we spot Pep stranded high on a ledge on one of the castle walls.  Putt-Putt can't reach him with his manipulator arm, so we'll need to find some way to get him safely down.  We can't seem to take any of the banners flying around the kingdom to use as a net, so we'll have to venture elsewhere to see if we can come up with something useful.

We can't take any more hay from the Old West, so I'll go into the future.  It's a world of conveyor-belt roads and flying machines.  We can see a Spy Fox constellation through a telescope before we press a button to reverse the direction of auto-mover, allowing us to go downtown.

An auto shop run by a pink hovercar named Miss Electra offers paint job changes, batteries, and other accessories.  She gives Putt-Putt a balloon maker absolutely free, and we can help operate the battery-making machine, really a simple addition game where we must punch a series of digits in the range 1-6 to meet a specified target (e.g., we need to produce a 7 volt battery, so we hit 1 and 6, or 3 and 4, etc. to reach the correct total.)

We might be able to use the balloons to rescue Pep, but he's safe enough for now so we'll explore the future a bit more.  A hovering platform puzzle allows us to teleport from place to place using trial and error, until we reach an arcade machine offering an optional game of "Squoosh," a 3-D Pong contest that reveals images from the game as we hit tiles.  It starts with 4-piece images, advancing to 6 at the fifth level, but I stopped at that point.

A Pet Food machine provides a bag of... something.  Maybe we'll need this to help lure Pep down?  I guess not, because Putt-Putt immediately uses the food to feed a hungry looking cat hanging around the shop.  Ah -- we can set the type of animal we wish to feed using a series of buttons, matching the head, torso and legs on the display.  We can't set it up for dog food, but we can set it up for cat food -- the cat happily eats, then turns into a penguin.  Hmmmm.  Maybe we can take some food to the dragon in the blacksmith's shop?  Nope, and the former-penguin-now-monkey turns green when he tries to eat it.  We can't seem to use the stone bowl we picked up earlier to catch the food, so there's no apparent purpose to this; it's just something to play around with.

Let's visit the local library.  Besides a bunch of punny titles like "Gone With the Windshield" and "Moby Pickup," we can see Mr. Firebird's autobiography -- but it seems we can't read any of the electronic books on offer, so we won't be gaining any insight into our own era.

There's also a museum, featuring artifacts from the ancient past -- including Putt-Putt's lunchbox!  The curator, Art T. Fact, disputes our ownership claims and will only exchange it for another ancient food container -- handily, the stone bowl suffices.  Three down!

Now let's see if we can rescue Pep using the balloon machine.  Yes!  Now that we've got everything rounded up, we automatically return to Cartown to tell Mr. Firebird about our adventures.  He fails to see the value in his discovery and chooses to close the time portal with a big, simple padlock.  Putt-Putt makes it to school in time to deliver a very vivid history report to his classmates, and victory is ours as the credits roll!

The Putt-Putt games are aimed at very young adventurers, obviously, and the puzzles barely qualify as such.  But there's a charming, uncomplicated sense of fun about these games, and I find myself coming back to them from time to time just to appreciate the music, animation, and silly, kid-friendly sense of humor.  It will be a while before I return to Cartown, but I will. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Atlantis (SoftSide, 1983)

I'm continuing my journey through the SoftSide Magazine series of monthly text adventures, with Peter Kirsch's Atlantis.  This one was published in Issue 41 and by my count would be #24 in the series; Kirsch labels it as #23 in the first line of his BASIC code, but it seems the interloper Volcano Island may have thrown off his count.  There are lots of adventure games called Atlantis or some variation thereof; the mythical underwater city has always been a popular theme for adventure games.

I'm playing the TRS-80 Model I/III version; I couldn't get the SoftSide Issue 41 disk image I found in the archives to boot with the TRS32 emulator, so I had to boot in NEWDOS and then load the game from BASIC.

I always encourage interested readers to experience these games directly before reading my playthrough notes, and this is one I can recommend -- there's one slightly obtuse but not completely illogical puzzle, and the game generally rewards exploration and experimentation, though you'll want to use an emulator with save state capability as there are a number of irreversible actions that can't be seen coming.  Beyond this point I'll be documenting my playthrough experience, so there are certain to be... 

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

We begin underwater, looking for the city of Atlantis.  There's a coin here, and we can GET COIN (not TAKE COIN -- the SoftSide/Kirsch parsers tend to have limited dictionaries) and LOOK COIN (not READ COIN) to discover... NOTHING SPECIAL?  We can't FEEL COIN or RUB COIN to learn anything new about it.  Messing around with it doesn't appear to trigger a magical gateway to Atlantis, at any rate, so we'll have to explore in all directions and see what we can do.

It looks like we'll be able to map the ocean out in a fairly straightforward manner, at least.  North of our starting location, we encounter a mermaid, who swims away with a parting glance over her shoulder.  She seems to be randomly located, assuming we're exploring a fairly small area.  We can't go UP until we find Atlantis, so we'll have to figure this out somehow.

We can't follow the mermaid, it seems; at least, we don't get any information about which direction she's heading when she swims away.  If I restart and leave the coin at the starting location, it appears that we're in a two room area -- if we leave the coin room via any exit, we reach the "other" room and come back to the coin room through any of its exits.  So there's got to be another solution here.

I haven't taken Inventory yet -- we have a wet suit and scuba gear, which explains why we're freely wandering around underwater.  I try to THROW COIN, and it rolls away... never to be found again, apparently, so I'll restart.  The same thing happens if I DROP COIN, so we're going to have to be careful with it.

Ah!  If I check inventory after picking up the coin, it's listed as 1 ATLANTEAN COIN.  Sounds like we'll be acquiring more of these, then.  And... why I didn't think of this earlier, I don't know... I discover we can simply FOLLOW MERMAID.

After we do this for several turns, we find ourselves in front of a large plastic dome.  THERE IS A CITY INSIDE.  IT LOOKS LIKE ATLANTIS.  Somehow, I think finding any sort of underwater city would count as a major discovery, whether or not it's actually the Atlantis of legend.  But I digress.  A door in the dome opens here, and the mermaid disappears inside, her role in the story complete.

There's a SMALL ROUND HOLE in the dome.  I try to INSERT COIN, but it rolls away again and I have to restore.  (Thank goodness for emulator save states, as this game has no SAVE feature of its own.)  The hole must not be as small as I was picturing, because we can GO HOLE to find ourselves on a hill inside the dome.  We can see North, East, South and West Atlantis from here, though the hole seems to have disappeared so we will probably have to find another way out.

Climbing down from the hill, we are surrounded by the Prison/Guard Dome, and are immediately spotted and thrown in jail.  The cell has a single door to the south, and our scuba gear has been swapped for a prison outfit, which we are now wearing over our wetsuit.  To my surprise, we can simply OPEN DOOR -- it hasn't been locked -- and GO DOOR to leave the cell.

Traveling W from here, we find a common area filled with many human prisoners drawn to Atlantis and captured.  One of them rather lengthily informs us that Atlantis has prepared four neutron missiles to attack the surface world, designed to destroy the human race but leave buildings intact for immediate colonization by the Atlanteans.  Our prescribed goals, then, are to DEACTIVATE THE LAUNCH TUBES.  DEFEAT PRINCE RETEP.  DESTROY ATLANTIS.  ESCAPE.  And SAVE YOURSELF, naturally.  Man, I hope this random prisoner knows what he's talking about.

Traveling west and up, we spy a SLEEPING GUARD in a north-south hallway, with a door to the east adjoining a triangular slot.  We probably need a key of some kind.  We'll avail ourselves of a blaster available in the weapons room to the north, and then travel south to... get spotted by the authorities and thrown back in jail, this time with a locked cell door.  I try to SHOOT DOOR, but GUN WON'T WORK! IT MUST BE BROKEN.  Another restore, then.

We can't OPEN DOOR by the sleeping guard.  The triangular slot has no visible features, and INSERT COIN just causes it to roll away (reminding me that these coins are round, not triangular.)  I try to INSERT BLASTER, thinking maybe it's a weapon lockup of some kind, but learn only that INSERT is a synonym for DROP in this adventure, as a junkman arrives and carts it off.

Maybe I can REMOVE OUTFIT -- a cleaning woman picks it up and carries it off after I do -- and travel south.  Yes!  We're no longer recognized as an escaped prisoner, and are free to roam a little bit now.  I end up back on the hill, and run into the Atlantean police again on my way down, receiving an initial warning for being OUT OF UNIFORM.  We'd better remedy that somehow.

On the west side of South Atlantis, we find a fountain with a large statue that we can't learn much about by LOOKing at it.  Wandering into the northwest corner of the area, I find a small domed building where uniforms are stored.  We can't GET UNIFORM but we can GET CLOTHES and WEAR them, hopefully avoiding any more run-ins with the local authorities.

Traveling west of the statue, we find ourselves in CENTRAL ATLANTIS, a hub from which we can reach the other sections of the city.  West Atlantis has a small domed building with a square-shaped slot in the ground.  I try to GO BUILDING, but FORCEFIELD STOPS YOU.

There's also a council dome in West Atlantis, and southwest from that point we find the West Launch Tube.  We can't simply DISABLE TUBE, though, and the gun is still broken (though SHOOT MISSILE might not be the wisest idea anyway.)

Let's check out North Atlantis next, home of the Senate Dome.  At one location, we see a speeding car heading toward an Atlantean -- we can't do anything to save him from the impact, but can we help him after he becomes an INJURED ATLANTEAN?  I look around for some sort of medical facility, but don't find anything nearby, though I do locate the North Launch Tube.

East Atlantis features the Launch Tube Control Dome -- possibly more relevant to our goal -- and a small repair dome with a sign reading, "WE REPAIR ANYTHING."  We take a risk and DROP BLASTER, and the repairman fixes it and hands it back.  Northwest of the repair shop we find a note on the ground: "IMPORTANT COUNCIL MEETING TODAY" (odd how these non-humans all seem to speak English.)

The map is a little tricky to navigate, with many NE/SE/SW/SE directions, but it's not too hard to find the four launch tubes in the remotest corners of the city.  I try to SHOOT TUBE and SHOOT MISSILE in the eastern section with my repaired blaster, but keep missing.  Ah!  I can GO DOME to enter the launch tube control center, where we find a red slot, apparently a lock mechanism for the door to an inner area.

Returning to West Atlantis, I try to attend the important council meeting, but am chased out as I'm obviously not a council member.  We do catch a glimpse of Prince Retep and the rest of the council, so maybe if we can get inside we can assassinate the Prince.  I try to visit the Senate Dome in North Atlantis and am also chased from the premises.  These chase-happy Atlantean security guards are certainly more fun than those in the surface world!

Wandering around, I encounter a dead Atlantean, formerly the injured one, I fear, and discover (too late) that we can GET ATLANTEAN.  I find a junkyard in East Atlantis, containing a crystal rod when we LOOK JUNK.  It's apparently not a square rod, as when I try to INSERT CRYSTAL near the forcefield-protected building in West Atlantis, it won't fit.  Carrying the rod doesn't gain us entry to the council dome or the Senate either, and it doesn't unlock the launch tube control dome.  I try to visit the prison with it, but get thrown in jail this time, so I'll restore yet again.

I visit the junkyard again, and find that a second LOOK JUNK yields a coin.  I also confirm, not much to my surprise, that the repair shop can do nothing with the dead Atlantean.  I find we can SHOOT GUARD in the prison, without apparent reprisal, but the crystal rod doesn't fit the triangle-shaped slot or the prisoners' cell downstairs, so I'll restore in case that murder was a bad idea.

What else?  Well, since I haven't run into any real mazes, I've been trying to work through this with a mental map in my head, but it's becoming clear I need to map out Atlantis on paper to make sure I haven't missed any locations.  Doing so, I discover a sickbay in South Atlantis that I didn't see before -- I probably need to restore and bring the injured Atlantean here before he dies.  We GET ATLANTEAN, take him to the sickbay, DROP ATLANTEAN, and observe as the doctor heals him with a health ray.  There's no immediate reward, as the revived citizen simply gets up and leaves, but this still seems like the right thing to do.

I stop into the uniform building next door again, and this time we see a COUNCIL UNIFORM lying on the pile of clothes.  As a bonus, a coin falls out as we pick it up, and we can WEAR UNIFORM now and presumably gain access to the council meeting.  This works, and we arrive in time to hear Prince Retep concluding his speech -- "SOON WE SHALL DESTROY THE HUMANS ABOVE US" -- and as he exits, he drops something... a square rod.  (Why the Atlanteans know so much about the humans above, while we think Atlantis is made up out of whole cloth, is not explained.)

Now can we get past the forcefield?  Yes!  We INSERT SQUARE, the rod vanishes into the slot, and now we can GO BUILDING... it's Prince Retep's private chambers!  Good thing he's out at the moment.  We can take an octagonal rod just lying here; a foot locker is rusted shut, but we can SHOOT LOCKER to reveal its contents: a second crystal rod.  Interesting... inventory keeps count of coins and crystal rods, so we must need some quantity of each.

With our council uniform on, we're allowed to enter the Senate Dome as well, where the octagonal rod allows us to access a door to the Senate Chambers.  Here, and rather unexpectedly, we find Prince Retep standing by the city's weapons controls, his hand near a red button.  Signage tells us that the red button activates the launch tubes, and there's also a dial and a lever for an EMERGENCY DESTRUCTION OF ATLANTIS timer.  One has a difficult time picturing what sort of emergency would make this a reasonable course of action, but it's likely to make our adventure easier.

We really don't want Prince Retep to launch those missiles, so can we SHOOT PRINCE?  We can, but he falls on the red button and activates the launch timer anyway.  A loudspeaker informs us we have 69 moves until the neutron missiles launch to destroy our entire species.  I try restoring to play with the timing, but we can't set the destruction timer until after the prince is dead.  I TURN DIAL / TO 50 and PULL LEVER.  This suggests that the destruction of Atlantis should happen before the missiles launch, but I have no idea how we're going to get out of here at this point!

I try visiting the Launch Tube Control Center, but have nothing to put in the red slot to open the door.  So I may have triggered the destruction too soon.  But I'm curious to see what might happen, so I wander around a little bit more while the timer counts down.  I find the Atlantean we rescued earlier back on the street -- and he gives us a crystal rod as thanks, so now we have three of these.  And I think to LOOK PRINCE this time, finding a triangular rod and a red rod.  Okay, these might help -- the red rod should open the launch dome door, and the triangular one might work in the prison, where I hope there's some kind of evacuation mechanism.

INSERT RED in the launch dome lets us into the control room, where we find a machine with 4 slots and a sign: "TO DEACTIVATE, INSERT CRYSTAL RODS."  But I only have 3 of them!  INSERT CRYSTAL puts them into slots #1 through #3, but that's not going to do the trick -- I need one more crystal rod.

I now learn that, with the timers set up as they are, Atlantis does indeed explode before the neutron missiles launch, but we don't get any credit for our noble sacrifice if we haven't escaped -- we're just dead and the adventure is over.  Time to restore and delay the climax until we've got four crystal rods ready to go.

Hmmm.  Maybe we don't need to set the destruction timer just yet, and we can focus on disarming the launch now that we (kind of) know how to do that.  Let's see what the triangular rod will do in the prison -- I SHOOT GUARD for safety's sake, then INSERT TRIANGULAR.  This allows us to access a storage room, with a push button on the wall and our scuba gear handy.  So maybe we'll be making our escape by swimming, the same way we arrived.  PUSH BUTTON produces a whirring sound... but no apparent effect?

Well, we're no closer to having four crystal rods, so I'll take a step back again.  Can we somehow buy a rod with our coins?  I haven't seen any shops or vending machines, so I finally peek at the BASIC code to get a suggestion -- it looks like we can INSERT COIN -- WHERE? -- IN FOUNTAIN.  But this just gets us hints we already know -- the statue says, "KILL PRINCE RETEP," and then, "DESTROY ATLANTIS," and... Aha!  With a third coin spent, the statue spits out the missing crystal rod.  Okay, now we have the four we need (and I hope we won't need cash for anything else.)

This time, I kill the prince, then run to the launch tower and disarm the missiles with the four crystal rods.  A sign flashes, "POWER DOWN."  Good, that seems right.  Now we just have to destroy Atlantis and escape.

How many moves should I set the destruction timer for?  I suspect because we have a choice there is some risk here; too short and we won't make it, too long and perhaps some enterprising Atlantean will disarm the destruction timer.  I need to get to the prison, retrieve my scuba gear, and hope that whirring push button does something that will help us escape.  Our only available choices for setting the number of turns on the timer are 0, 10, 25 and 50 -- I'll try setting it for 25 moves, as 0 and 10 seem insufficient and I shouldn't need 50.

I run to the prison, shoot the guard, enter the storage room, drop my Atlantean garb, put on the scuba gear, and push the button.  Looking for the most likely exit, I return to the hillside where we came in, and the small round hole in the dome is open again (I think that's what the button in the storage room does.)  We GO HOLE, swim Up, and... victory is ours!

I enjoyed exploring and destroying Atlantis -- the time element and multiple-goal design makes for a tense finale, and it's a fair game that rewards exploration and experimentation, though without a save game feature I think I would have found it more frustrating back in the day.  There aren't too many more of the SoftSide games left for me to play, but I'm glad to have discovered this "second wave" of titles I missed in my first pass.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Volcano Island (1983)

I'm continuing with the later SoftSide Magazine adventure games this month, tackling what I believe is the 23rd game in the series: Volcano Island Adventure, published in 1983.  There's no author credit in the first few lines of code, and the style of this game suggests a different authorship than many of the SoftSide adventures -- it uses mixed-case text, unlike many of its TRS-80 predecessors, and the author conveniently capitalizes nouns so we have some idea which words matter to the parser.  This is a convention I wish more of these early games would have used.

Volcano Island follows a traditional shipwreck/escape-the-island plot, with the specific threat of a volcano on the verge of eruption.  The time limit seems generous at first, but it actually presents a fair challenge thanks to some moderately complex puzzles and a tight inventory limit.

I always encourage interested readers to go adventuring on their own before reading my playthrough notes, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this one -- it's a pure, old-fashioned text adventure with no major bugs and some interesting puzzles.  Beyond this point, I will be detailing my experience... so there are certain to be...

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

We begin on a short beach at the water's edge, where we can travel east or west.  There are some seagulls flying over a lagoon, and some tall beach grass, but LOOKing at all of these potentially interesting objects fails to realize any potential.

The east edge of the beach adjoins a cave, with more seagulls perched above its opening.  We can GO CAVE or simply head E to enter its dim interior, where a dark pool of water is accessorized by a skeleton, an old diary and a seaman's knife, with a rock ledge high above. 

We can GO POOL to swim in it, DIVE into the deep waters, come back Up, and exit to the North.  I'm guessing a light source might help us find greater value in the deep dark WATERS.  In the meanwhile, we'll read the diary -- it tells of a shipwrecked French sea captain, who hid a valuable gift for his wife in a place the natives fear.  So we may have some additional objectives here.

Returning to the beach where we started, we can head W to find a tidal pool and rolling sand dunes.  The pool is too shallow to enter, which is probably for the best, as LOOK POOL reveals that There's an electric EEL trapped in it.  The dunes can't be explored in more detail, so we'll head south to a clearing.  Here we find a shack, a cliff to the south, and an island native, who carries a SPEAR and looks stubborn.

The volcano is already rumbling ominously; I expect my initial foray will be cut short by the eruption, but we need to explore the map a bit before we try to find an efficient version of this story.  We can GO SHACK to see bare walls and an opening to the east, which just takes us back outside.  We can't TALK NATIVE, or STAB NATIVE; we can GIVE KNIFE, but he just looks at it and drops it on the ground.  This at least suggests that we may be able to find something of greater interest to our new acquaintance.

South of the shack is... ah, the native won't let us pass.  So this is the first obvious puzzle we've encountered.  Can we GET EEL?  Not without dying of electrical shock, apparently.  Restoring, we try swimming in the lagoon by the beach; we can see a coral reef enclosing the lagoon, but can't seem to access it.  We can GET GRASS on the beach to obtain a handful of the stuff, but the native isn't interested in that either.

The bare grass walls in the shack don't succumb to GO WALLS, or PUSH WALLS, or TOUCH WALLS or FEEL WALLS.  I wander around poking at this and that, as the volcano starts belching steam.  I learn that we can apparently hold our breath indefinitely in the dark waters in the cave.  The coral reef continues to be in accessible as the ground begins to shake, and then I realize that I have not tried to DIVE in the lagoon.  Aha!

We can see an underwater cave to the east, and a sunken galleon to the north; we can return to the beach by swimming south.  The cave contains a large octopus, and if we are so foolish as to waste time by LOOKing at the OCTOPUS, the vicious cephalopod grabs us and we're dead.  We can't KILL OCTOPUS either, during our single-turn chance, at least with the simple knife we're carrying at the moment.

The galleon is largely rotted away, but we can pick up a wine bottle here, which is sealed.  We do eventually start to run out of breath, but the limit is quite generous with a convenient warning, and here at the galleon we can just go back UP.

We can GIVE BOTTLE to the native, who drinks the wine and retires to the shack.  Now we can access a high cliff, where we see surf pounding the rocks below and a large flat, stained rock.  LOOK ROCK reveals dried blood, so it must be a sacrificial altar of sorts, indicating this is a sacred spot

East of the sacred spot is a bamboo grove, where we can CUT BAMBOO to take some with us as we head north into a small valley containing a single tree.  We can't CLIMB TREE or GO TREE, but LOOK TREE reveals that it's a rubber tree.  We can CUT TREE to create a pool of rubbery sap, but it appears we'll need something to carry it in before we can GET SAP.

I try to go back to the shack, where I do find the empty bottle as I'd hoped, but by the time I return the sap is now a hardened pool of rubber.  I try to CUT TREE and GET SAP, or FILL BOTTLE, but it seems to be unsuitable for the purpose. 

Heading east of the rubber tree, we find ourselves at the base of the volcano!  There's a hole in the side of the mountain, and a steaming pool of water, neither of which looks particularly inviting.  But we'll try to GO HOLE anyway, and we discover a hot cavern.  We can travel east through an opening to find ourselves on the rock ledge above the cave pool, near the start of the game. 

There's a package here, and we can't learn anything about it by examining it, so we'll open it -- to find a string of PEARLS!  So the old sea captain's treasure appears to be claimed, though we're no closer to leaving the island.

We can JUMP from the ledge to return to the cave's dark pool, or take the long way around, which I do just for curiosity's sake.  The native is friendly now, but we see a decidedly less friendly shark fin in the lagoon now.  I test the obvious hypothesis by GOing LAGOON, and dying immediately, of course.

It's probably time to think about getting off this island, though to my surprise the constantly threatening volcano has yet to end my game.  I try to PUT PAPER -- In two words, tell me where? -- IN BAMBOO, to see if I can make a flare; this proves fruitless, but the ability to PUT things IN other things opens up some other possibilities.  And while I'm trying to PUT SAP in something, which doesn't work because I have to have whatever I'm trying to manipulate this way in hand, the volcano actually does explode, sinking the island and ending the game.

Starting again, I wonder if the pearls we found are the captain's gift for his wife, or a red herring -- the natives don't seem to particularly fear the ledge in the cave, at least.  Can we trade something for the native's spear, so we can defend ourselves against the shark and the octopus?   Yes!  If we GIVE PEARLS, the native gives us his spear and exits the shack.

The shark is back -- claiming the pearls seems to trigger its arrival -- but we can't SPEAR SHARK or SPEAR FIN or PUT SPEAR / IN SHARK, and if we THROW SPEAR it just sinks into the lagoon.  Ah -- maybe we can use the rubber to pick up the electric eel and throw it at the shark.  That doesn't pan out, in my attempt at least, but we can just SPEAR EEL; that doesn't help, though, as it's dead now, and THROW EEL just allows it to sink into the lagoon.

I try to let the rubber tree sap land on the wrapping paper, or get caught in the bamboo, with no luck.  We can't CUT RUBBER after it hardens, either.  I try asking for HELP, which usually doesn't do anything, but in this case yields, "You need some ink and a pen."

Well, the octopus ought to provide some ink if we can figure out how to deal with it.  A pen, though?  Hmmmm.  Some more experimentation may be in order.  PUT BOTTLE / IN SAP re-seals the bottle, interesting.  PUT HANDS / IN SAP is even more interesting, as the sap forms a pair of rough rubber gloves when it dries.

Safely insulated, let's see if we can GET EEL -- yes, we can -- and now THROW EEL electrocutes the shark just as it kills the eel, eliminating a couple of dangers at once.  And now we can SPEAR OCTOPUS, and LOOK OCTOPUS to find an ink bladder, which we can take with us.

Let's assume that we need the wrapping paper, the bottle, the ink and a pen of some sort to put a rescue note together... maybe?  This hardly seems like a timely strategy given the volcanic activity here, but we'll try it anyway.  Can we MAKE PEN?  Probably -- the response echoes the classic Scott Adams semi-hint, You can't do that...yet!  So let's try to do it with... maybe a sliver of bamboo and the ink?  Nope.  PUT BLADDER / IN BAMBOO and PUT BAMBOO / IN BLADDER don't do the trick either. 

Oh, there are seagulls around here!  Maybe a feather would be a better basis for a pen.  It won't be as simple as heading to the beach to GET SEAGULL, though.  Can we BUILD a CAGE from bamboo?  Nope.  Maybe lure a bird in with some dead octopus?  Ah!  On the way to try to retrieve some octoflesh, we now see a school of small fish in the lagoon, and we can SPEAR FISH to get one of them.  But we still can't GET SEAGULLHELP tells us... with impeccable timing... that we should Trap a SEAGULL.  TRAP SEAGULL doesn't work directly, but we can try to MAKE TRAP... though I can't do that yet, especially because the volcano has again exploded.  Time is more of the essence than I had thought!

Let's see if we can MAKE TRAP now, with some bamboo and the dead fish... Not here!, in the bamboo grove, but by the cave where the seagulls are perching... we can't do that, yet.  We must need some other component.  Maybe some grass, to make a pit trap, even though our p?  Yes, that seems to work, but we also have to PUT FISH / IN TRAP to catch a seagull, then GET SEAGULL and finally GET FEATHER.  As I DROP SEAGULL, I notice it's dead -- not quite what I had in mind, but at least I have a tail feather now and can MAKE PEN... no, PUT FEATHER / IN BLADDER... no?

LOOK BLADDER indicates that the ink has dried, coating the inside of the sac.  Hmmmm.  Can we steam it back into viability using the hot pool by the volcano?  Sorry, you'd burn your hands.  With the gloves back on -- I dropped them earlier to free up an inventory slot -- we can PUT BLADDER / IN POOL to restore the ink.  But PUT FEATHER / IN BLADDER doesn't produce a pen like I thought it would, and neither does MAKE PEN.  We can't GET INK to put it on the feather, either.

I try to PUT INK / IN BOTTLE, but the parser doesn't consider us to have the ink even though we have the bladder.  PUT BOTTLE / IN BLADDER and vice-versa are also unproductive.  Ahhhh.. we have to MAKE PEN first, using the feather and the knife in combination, without the gloves on to avoid clumsiness, and then we can PUT PEN / IN BLADDER.  Finally!

Now what?  We can WRITE NOTE... which writes a rescue note on the wrapping paper.  And PUT NOTE / IN BOTTLE, hoping that an unlikely solution will eventually pan out.  And then we can THROW BOTTLE into the lagoon... where it sinks without a trace.  Ah, maybe this is why we can re-seal it with the rubber tree sap.  This last bit gets tricky because we can only carry five items at once, but we can use the shortcut to come back to the beach more quickly than taking the long way around.

Now we THROW the sealed, note-containing BOTTLE into the lagoon... and now that it's sealed, it...  Drat.  It just washes back to shore.  Hmmmm. 

The pools aren't good places to throw it either.  We can throw it into the surf from the cliffside at the sacred spot -- and, by a fortunate coincidence, there's a ship visible on the horizon.  But now we've defiled the sacrificial waters with our littering, and the natives are attacking from the north!  We'll use the volcano-to-cave shortcut again to try to elude them... they stop chasing us outside the cave (maybe they are afraid of this location), and as we return to the beach once more, we are rescued!

Apparently we feel no inclination or obligation to rescue the indigenous population, who remain scant turns away from death by volcano, but we also don't know that's going to happen if we escape in time, so I guess we can give ourselves a moral pass on this one.

Volcano Island is a tautly-plotted little adventure, more involved than the usual escape tale thanks to quite a few construction tasks that are logical but not necessarily obvious.  I had fun playing this one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Adventure of the Week: It's About Time (1983)

This week, we're continuing with another of SoftSide Magazine's monthly adventure games, with It's About Time, published in 1983.  I've been trying to piece together the sequence of these games, which is complicated by the magazine's shift of numbering scheme partway through its life.  But this one gives us a clue -- written by the prolific Peter Kirsch, it's numbered #22 on the first line of the BASIC code, so I will tentatively conclude that The Wizard's Sword probably was #21 as I speculated last time.  We're playing the TRS-80 version here, but it appears SoftSide cross-published for the Apple ][, Atari 400/800 and IBM PC as well during this period.

The SoftSide games used similar engines, with simple two-word parsers and small dictionaries, but they were varied and often tackled unusual themes.  This one doesn't give the player a lot of information up front, just a scenario wherein we will find a time machine.

I usually encourage interested readers to sample these games firsthand before reading my notes, but in this case I'll warn you that the TRS-80 version I found in the online archives has a couple of game-breaking typos which close off critical exits unless they are repaired.  I'm not sure how this happened, as I'm playing from a SoftSide magazine disk image, not a typed-in version, but if you find the same version I did, you'll need to fix these two lines:

  • 18 PRINTJ$:W=10:E=9:NW=7:GOTO320
  • 34 PRINT"IN A CLEARING":NW=22:NE=25:SW=23:SE=28:GOTO320
Whether or not you choose to play on your own, be warned that these posts are meant to capture my experience in detail.  So there are certain to be...

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

We begin in an unnamed city, in front of our own house, with a green door mat on the front steps.  It's not at all surprising that we can GET MAT and find a KEY.  We can't EXAMINE KEY, as the parser doesn't recognize the verb, and even LOOK KEY reveals nothing special.

We can't explicitly UNLOCK anything, but we can GO HOUSE -- KEY UNLOCKS YOUR DOOR -- and find ourselves in rather sparse surroundings, with just a BOTTLE OF WINE visible indoors.  We can't GET BOTTLE (THERE'S NO BOTTLE HERE) but we can GET WINE, and we can't LOCK DOOR after we leave to protect our now non-existent belongings.

(Ed.: Note that the bugs I mention above were unknown to me when I started playing, so I'm going to keep my original narrative here as I run into and finally resolve the related issues.  I just posted them up top to save others the headache.)

We can explore east and northwest from the house.  East takes us further into the city, though there's nothing of note here until we go northeast into a clearing.  The parser behaves a little oddly here, displaying a message reading "NE WHAT?" after we enter.  This is either a bug, repeating our previous command after we enter the room, or a puzzle of some kind.  At any rate, there's nothing we can do here except go NE to loop back to this location or travel W back into the city.

So let's head northwest from our house, where we find an area dominated by a tall mountain with exits to the west and northeast, and a small cave.  There's nothing of note in the cave at this point.  NE takes us back into the city, and we can loop back to the clearing from the north side of town (where we get a SE WHAT? message, suggesting this is indeed a minor bug -- except this is also oddly symmetrical, returning us to the north side of town when we blindly wander west again, so it may prove to be a puzzle.)

West of the mountain we find a clearing with a Time Machine.  Before we hop in and embark upon what is likely the heart of this adventure, we'll go southwest into a forest and see if there are any other useful objects we might want to take along.

The forest is structured with diagonal exits, and while it's not really a maze -- the geography is internally consistent -- that same navigation bug turns up here.  We can end up getting a W WHAT? message, followed by YOU CAN'T MOVE THAT WAY messages until we stumble across a valid navigation direction.  I ended up coming back to the time machine with nothing new in hand.

So let's GO MACHINE!  We find ourselves in front of a big glass window and a lever -- we must PULL LEVER to go into the past, and PUSH LEVER for the future.  I'll fight my natural inclination to nostalgia and PUSH LEVER, zooming us forward to...

3031 A.D.!  I must give Mr. Kirsch credit for setting up his future scenario for the long term; many 1980s games send us to the "futuristic" early 2000s, so this is refreshing.  (We do have to pay attention to the initial reading on the time machine's meter as we go -- after we've arrived and are told it reads 2031 A.D., LOOK METER returns TRY: READ, but READ METER only yields YOU SEE NOTHING SPECIAL.)

We can't GET OUT of the time machine, but we can GO OUT to find ourselves in what appears to be the same clearing we were in before.  Apparently a millennium of development in the nearby city has managed to spare this area.  There's still nothing in the small cave, though our hometown has now become a DOMED CITY (though we seem to have no problem passing through the dome to pay it a visit.)

The city remains featureless otherwise, and our old domicile is long gone.  Though I do realize I've missed visiting a path up the tall mountain, so we'll GO PATH and see what we find up there.  We follow the winding path through several locations to reach the edge of a cliff, where we see a tree stump.  Hmmmm.

I'll check out the forest area again, and now there's a park here.  I wander around and find a newspaper, with a headline reading: "HENRY BOWMAN THREATENS WORLD WITH B BOMB."  Save us, Mario!  Oh, whoops, different universe.  This must be the logical successor to the A-Bomb.  Is this something we're supposed to interfere with, somehow?

Well, let's go back to our original present, if the time machine works that way -- yes, PULL LEVER brings us back to 1983.  The mountain path still features a lone tree stump at the end, so there's nothing notably different here.

Let's check out the limitations of the time machine -- an initial PULL LEVER takes us to the 1700S, then another one to EARLY AMERICA, and again to 200 B.C., then THE STONE AGE, and a PREHISTORIC ERA, and finally THE CREATION OF THE EARTH, which of course proves fatal as we observe molten materials coalescing.  The future takes us a very small increment past 3031 A.D. to 3032 A.D., where we see the city in ruins and a newspaper's final edition lying on the ground; how this was published and distributed remains a conundrum, as the headline reads, "HENRY BOWMAN CREATES B BOMB AND DESTROYS WORLD."  Dang that rascally Henry Bowman!

A further PUSH LEVER takes us to the end of the Earth, again fatal if not physically coherent as HUGE SUNS SWOOP IN UPON THE EARTH AND BLOW IT TO BITS.  So we have 8 non-fatal time periods to explore, and it seems like we ought to stop this Bowman character to ensure the Earth a few more years of trouble-free service.

We can go about our time travels a little more systematically now, so let's go back to the prehistoric era -- I'm guessing it doesn't make a lot of sense to work our way backwards, as future events seem unlikely to influence the past.  The forest was once a jungle, it seems, but just as featureless; the cave is empty way back when, and my trip up the mountain path is cut short by a sabre tooth tiger attack!  Let's try that again... a large jungle area occupies the space where a city will later rise, and I find nothing useful here either.

So let's go to the stone age and see if we can find a club or something.  The cave features a small, bird-sized hole in the wall at this point in its history -- and LOOK HOLE reveals an arrowhead.  YOU CAN'T REACH IT WITH YOUR HAND, though, so we'll need a tool or assistance of some kind.  The mountain path is still occupied by sabre tooth tigers, and I'm dead again.

What about 200 B.C.?  No tigers lurk now, but the mountain path leads to a tree stump again.  That stump somehow remained rot-proof for thousands of years!  I find nothing else here; these early times are remarkably barren.

Early America is dominated by forest, rather than jungle, and we encounter a MAD TURKEY in the woods, which bites our fingers if we try to GET TURKEY.  Nothing else suggests itself in the area.

We're off to the 1700s, then... where we spot a MAD PIG on the mountain path.  We can't carry it, and it won't let us pass.  Hey!  In the rural area where the city will someday be, we encounter BEN FRANKLIN, looking dejected with a small kite in hand.  Can we GIVE KEY to aid him in his quest to study electricity?  He now has a kite and a key, but he still looks discouraged and doesn't seem to get the idea of a combination here.  We can't ATTACH KEY, or TIE KEY, or GET KEY back.  We can't FLY KITE or SHOW BEN, or anything along those lines, but maybe if we leave him to his own devices over time we'll have helped out a bit.

Can we explore the post-acopalyptic world of 3032 A.D.?  Nope, radiation poisoning sets in immediately if we set foot outside the machine.

So we have some puzzles, but their outcomes don't seem to interlock in any obvious way.  The pig doesn't want the wine, nor does Ben Franklin, nor the turkey.  Can we use the turkey to retrieve the arrowhead from the bird-sized hole?  We would need to acquire the turkey to try that.  Nothing quite seems to fit, and I think we've explored everything.

So I'll cheat and peek at the BASIC code -- and on line 37, I see a reference to some pilgrims sitting at a large table.  I have not seen any such pilgrims, though I can guess which era I should look in.  This text appears to correspond to location 27, which references T$(T), a list of era-specific paths or roads that I haven't seen either.  It appears this is all connected to the clearing on the map, via a northeast exit that I have so far not discovered.  And I notice that code line 34 has what appears to be a typo or bit of BASIC interpreter corruption -- the fragment "SW=PRINT3" certainly does not look right to me!  So there have been some exits made inaccessible by those "WHAT?" messages -- let's try to fix that by replacing line 34 with:


I'll have to start from scratch after the code change, but let's see if this "cheat" is actually a fix.  It looks good so far -- we no longer see the "NE WHAT?" error, and there are now visible exits out of the clearing in all four diagonal directions!  This is much, much better -- the 1983 city now contains a JEWELRY STORE, with a sign reading "WE BUY."  An endless street leads east, so the map will probably remain rather sparse, but we should be able to find some locations and items we simply couldn't reach earlier.

The prehistoric era contains a swamp; the stone age is also swampy, but we encounter a CAVEMAN PEDDLER who, we are informed, might have something to trade and has a mole on his left ear?  In 200 B.C., we encounter an INDIAN TRADER who says, in the grand old adventure tradition, something in his supposedly native tongue, which is just backwards text that translates to "GIVE ME ARROW HEAD, OR I'LL KILL YOU."  I don't have the arrowhead yet, so I'll just avoid offering him anything that might give offense.  Early America continues the commercial tradition with a PILGRIM BARTERER standing in this same spot.  He doesn't want the doormat, though, and I seem to have misplaced the wine.  And here are those PILGRIMS we saw in the code, waiting to have a feast but looking bewildered.  I'm guessing a little turkey would help.

The 1700s bring us a SQUINTING PEASANT MERCHANT -- maybe he can't see too well so we can take advantage of him -- and 3031 A.D. features an AUTOTRON SHOPPING MART.  Ah!  Here we could buy a knife, a rope, an axe and a mirror -- if we had any cash, that is.  We'd better find something valuable to sell to the jeweler in 1983.

Since I apparently lost the wine at some point, I'll just restart and see if any of these merchants want it.  The caveman peddler won't even indicate he doesn't want it, it just gets left on the ground; TRADE, GIVE and DROP are apparently synonyms in the parser's dictionary. and while some merchants explicitly reject unwanted trades, this guy just ignores the offering.

I'm still seeing "WHAT?" errors in the western jungle/forest area, and I discover another typo in line 18 -- NW=' should probably be NW=7.  I'll fix that too.  One more restart and I hope we're in a bug-free zone now.

We can now reach a desert circa 1983, though it's just a single location that loops back on itself until we exit E back to the forest.  The desert is SCORCHING in the prehistoric era and the stone age, reduced to VERY HOT later on.

I'll take some time to re-explore a little more thoroughly now that we've fixed the navigation bugs.  I discover a taxi stand in the domed city of 3031, and the fare costs 35 cents, tip-free.  There's also a liquor store, where the robot clerk says, "I'LL TRADE YOU SOMETHING FOR A GOOD BOTTLE OF WINE."  Aha!  I think I have this one nailed, but he says our 1983 bottle is not aged enough!

Okay, this is a puzzle we might be able to solve.  I'll try leaving the bottle in the desert for a while.  Nope -- when I go to pick it up in 3031, our bottle has been scavenged.  Drat.  But this feels right, so I'll look at the code again -- WN=2... DROP verb involved... conditional on J=19,T=1, A=12 to set the WN=1 flag when it's currently 0... okay.  It looks like the desert is not the right place to store it. A=12 points us to the Cave, which makes more sense as a wine cellar, now that I think about it.  Now we can leave the bottle of wine in the cave in the prehistoric era, pick it up again in 3031 A.D., and trade it to the clerk for an OLD HANDGUN.  We can SHOOT GUN wherever we like, though we can't really aim at anything and the default response seems to be MISSED...

Wandering further afield, I run into a MAD PTERODACTYL in the jungle that I haven't seen before, and find two rocks in the mountain cave.  We can't THROW ROCKS at all, as the parser doesn't understand the concept, so they don't seem useful against the pig or the pterodactyl.

What can we do with the gun?  I turns out that we can SHOOT CAVEMAN -- he drops dead, though he still supposedly HAS SOMETHING TO TRADE which we can't discover after his death.  And there's that mole on his left ear that the game seems quite insistent on pointing out.  We can't seem to shoot anybody else.  So is this action supposed to alter something in the future?  The newspaper in 3031 no longer contains anything of interest.  And now, if we continue forward, we see an ultramodern, thriving city in 3032 instead of post-B Bomb destruction... and when we GO OUT... we've suddenly won!?!?

Well, that was sudden!  Apparently the caveman peddler was somehow related to Henry Bowman (he'd be an ancestor, not a descendant as the game declares here).  And now we've changed the future and prevented the destruction of the world!  Well, at least for a while -- our planet still ends in a fiery cataclysm of galactic destruction at some undefined time after 3032, but maybe we've all moved away by then.

It's About Time isn't a great time travel game, though it does make use of that idea, and it isn't even one of the better SoftSide adventures, at least as I experienced it.  The bugs I had to fix made the early going frustrating, and victory occurred almost at random.  Looking at the code, it appears we're supposed to have solved a series of puzzles in order to find a post office with a wanted poster, depicting Henry Bowman with a mole over his left ear as possessed by all of his ancestors (again called DESCENDANTS in the code.)  But the game's actual design allows us to shortcut all of that, winning by just randomly shooting at people and hoping the ripple effects somehow prevent Henry Bowman from ever existing, which is the solution I stumbled upon.

Ah, well.  It's fun to be playing these again, and if there's one thing I love about BASIC adventures, it's that they're almost always solvable one way or another.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Adventure of the Week: The Wizard's Sword (1983)

It's recently come to my attention via the CASA Solution Archive that the SoftSide magazine series of monthly adventures is more extensive than I had realized.  I've played adventures #1 through #20 on the Atari 400/800 computers in past years, but it looks like the magazine ran through at least issue #47.  There seems to be a gap between adventures #20 and #38, but this might be an artifact of a change in the issue numbering sequence, which would mean there are about 29 games in the series rather than the 47 there appear to be.

At any rate, I'm picking up this generally playable series with the next game I've been able to find, The Wizard's Sword, from issue #38 for the TRS-80 Model I/III computers (SoftSide published for multiple platforms.)  The source code credits this one to P. Kirsch, most likely Peter Kirsch who wrote a number of the SoftSide adventures. I also note that this credit line refers to this game as #20, so maybe this was simply published as #21 after Danger Is My Business took that slot.  If that's the case, then there's no real gap here and I'm picking up right where I want to.  There will be more to come as we get this history figured out, I'm sure.

I'm playing using the TRS32 emulator, mostly for the sake of save states as the game has no built-in SAVE function.  The SoftSide BASIC language engine is flexible but simple -- it doesn't have a windowed display, and makes minimal use of platform-specific effects to keep porting straightforward.  The Wizard's Sword is a fantasy tale in which the player is cast as an apprentice to The Wizard of Zzarg.  As the curtain rises, our master's dying words charge us with slaying the evil Medusa of the Green Kingdom, in order to earn our full Wizard status.  Why he didn't bother mentioning this earlier remains a mystery; we suspect he was trying to avoid dealing with it himself, or simply misplaced the necessary equipment and was too embarrassed to admit it.  So it's up to us to find his sword and five magical jewels required to power it; we are told, for example, that the yellow jewel provides wisdom when rubbed.  (Hopefully this wisdom is not along the lines of "I look like an idiot rubbing this jewel to no apparent effect.")

Interested readers are encouraged to reclaim The Wizard's Sword before reading my playthrough notes below;  this is a straightforward but well-built adventure, well worth experiencing firsthand.  Beyond this point, I will be documenting the game in detail for history's sake, so there are certain to be...

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

We begin at the aptly-named Valley of Crossroads, with exits in all four directions and nothing in inventory.  There's a sleeping unicorn here, but we can't WAKE UNICORN or PET UNICORN or YELL or even EXAMINE UNICORN.  However, if we try to walk to the North, the unicorn wakes up and becomes an ANGRY UNICORN (IT HATES PEOPLE.)
The unicorn will now chase us, attempting to gore us with its horn as we walk around, finding the Yellow Kingdom's Valley of Moon to the west, the (apparently ungoverned) Valley of Ice to the south, the Red Kingdom's Valley of Sun to the east, and the Blue Kingdom's Valley of Stars to the north.

There's an iceberg in the Valley of Ice -- can we somehow get the unicorn to lodge its horn in the ice?  We can't GO ICEBERG, but if we hang around here long enough, the unicorn will smash the iceberg with its attack, revealing... THE WIZARD'S SWORD!

There's another iceberg to the east... and here, the angry unicorn gets stuck in the ice after ramming the berg with its horn.  We can see a yellow key buried deep in the ice if we LOOK ICEBERG, so we probably want to break it down if we can.  We can't SMASH ICEBERG or MELT ICEBERG, but I was surprised to find that we can simply FREE UNICORN -- the appreciative animal calms down, drops the RED JEWEL OF LIGHT at our feet and vanishes.

When we GET RED, it automatically attaches itself to the sword, but RUB RED doesn't produce any interesting effect at the moment and LOOK RED doesn't tell us anything further; presumably it will be a light source when needed.  Mapping is a little tricky here, as we don't get a lot of inventory items to work with and many rooms have apparent (if looping) exits in all directions.  Here, in the Valley of Ice, it seems there are three "real" locations; one directly to the south of the Valley of Crossroads, one to the west where the wizard's sword turns up, and one to the east with the yellow key buried in the ice.  Heading north from the Valley of Ice's entry point returns us to the crossroads.

Now that the unicorn isn't chasing us, we can explore the Valley of Stars to the north.  The most interesting location here is to the north, the Valley of All-Ways.  Going north again brings us to the Valley of Horace Greely, and if we take the hint and go W, we find the Valley of Silver and the SILVER JEWEL OF STRENGTH.

East of the Valley of All-Ways, we find the Valley of the Dwarves, where a dwarf child plays with WHAT APPEARS TO BE A PIECE OF BLUE PLASTIC.  We can't just GET BLUE, and it seems barbaric to KILL CHILD (and yes, I have done my duty to you, dear reader, by confirming that the parser will inform us that I WON'T LET YOU KILL THE DWARF CHILD if we try.)

We can continue east into the dwarf village, where we see some huts, and as we wander around we notice that the dwarf child disappears and reappears on occasion, though the piece of blue plastic also vanishes with him so that doesn't give me any ideas.  RUB SILVER makes us feel stronger, but RUB RED doesn't do anything here.  We'll come back here later, maybe we'll find something that a child might like to take in trade.

The Blue Kingdom also contains the Valley of 4 Corners, adjoining the Valley of Poof, which contains the GREEN JEWEL OF COURAGE but also "POOFS" us to the Valley of the Shifting Sands before we can grab it.

I'll make my way back to the crossroads and check out the Yellow Kingdom for a while.  West of the entry point is the Valley of Riddles, where a statue says, "WHAT IS IT THAT NO MAN WANTS, YET NO MAN WANTS TO LOSE?"  I try to ANSWER LIFE first -- thinking that no living creature wants for it -- but this produces no response from the statue.  Neither does MIND or HIS S--T, nor TIME, which I throw in just because it seems appropriate to these kind of mythical stories.  West of the statue is the Valley of Oops, where we can't proceed further west due to a magical force field blocking the way.

Okay.  I'm stuck here, so I'll go back east of the crossroads to the Valley of Sun.  We can travel east again to find ourselves in the Valley of Darkness, where RUB RED turns on the light as expected.  We find a short rod here, and LOOK ROD reveals that THE WORD 'POOF' IS ETCHED IN IT.  Sounds useful!  East again is the Valley of Dreams, where we fall asleep -- and the rod gets stolen overnight!

We might as well keep exploring, anyway -- we enter the Valley of the Dragon next, where some mean dwarves are abusing the poor chained beast, forcing it to breathe fire so they can roast hot dogs.  The chain is red, and we can't UNLOCK CHAIN, although the parser recognizes it, so we might need a red key here.  Trying to go east again causes the dwarves to run off, but we are also seized by an irrational fear and forced to run back to the Valley of Dreams.

Funny how this world has so many valleys, and nary a hill is mentioned, but we'll keep exploring.  The Blue Kingdom also contains a Giant Condor, inspiring fear and fleeing similar to what we just experienced near the dragon (maybe we need that green jewel to build up our courage for these encounters.)  For some reason, a red key has now materialized in the Valley of the Shifting Sands, but we can't overcome our fear long enough to unlock the dragon's chain.

I'll backtrack now, since the short rod doesn't seem to be turning up anywhere after being stolen, so I'll try to get the green jewel before entering the Valley of Dreams.  At least I think this is how this is supposed to work -- nothing changes if I just walk into the Valley of Poof, though.  I have to WAVE ROD first, and now we can GET JEWEL.  Three down, two to go!

Returning to the dragon, it seems that scaring the dwarves triggers the appearance of the red key in the desert.  RUB GREEN overcomes our fear of the dragon, though we still can't travel east as the poor creature is lying there moaning, blocking the path.  We can also RUB GREEN to visit the condor long enough to notice a blue key hanging around its neck, but if we try to KILL CONDOR it just flies off somewhere else (and may not come back for all we know, so I'll restore to an earlier save again.)

Okay -- now we can UNLOCK CHAIN, freeing the dragon, who drops a PIECE OF RED PLASTIC before vanishing.  Aha!  Maybe we can trade this to the dwarf child... and yes, GIVE RED allows us to obtain a PIECE OF BLUE PLASTIC.  It's a filter -- we can see through it to make everything look blue -- but not a power jewel, as far as I can see.  Hmmm.

Past the dragon we find the Valley of Hills -- with a TALL HILL at last!  We can't CLIMB HILL or GO HILL, but LOOK HILL reveals a cave.  GO CAVE finds us in darkness, and we can RUB RED to illuminate the area and see a large boulder, FAR TOO HEAVY TO MOVE when we try.  But we can RUB SILVER to boost our strength, and then MOVE BOULDER to find the YELLOW JEWEL OF WISDOM.

Maybe... yes, RUB YELLOW at the riddle statue in the Yellow Kingdom comes up with an answer I hadn't tried: LAWSUIT.  Clever!  This produces a yellow piece of plastic, and some noise at the bottom of the statue... ?  Ah, there's a yellow keyhole visible in its base now.

Going back to the iceberg where we saw the yellow key earlier, we find this puzzle solved for us -- the dragon we rescued is waiting here, conveniently helping us out by melting the iceberg when we arrive.  Now we can UNLOCK BASE (INSERT KEY and UNLOCK STATUE don't work) and disable the force field, reaching the Valley of Dead Ends to acquire the BLUE JEWEL OF SLEEP.

So we have all five jewels now, and should be ready to find the Green Kingdom and face Medusa.  We can't COMBINE PLASTIC to make a green filter out of the blue and yellow plastic, but when I LOOK YELLOW, EVERYTHING SPINS and YOU FIND YOU ARE ELSEWHERE, echoing the influential early adventures created by Scott Adams.

This magical transportation, however, has only brought us to the Yellow Kingdom we've already visited on foot.  And LOOK BLUE just brings us to the Blue Kingdom's Valley of Stars.  LOOK BLUE AND YELLOW is evaluated as LOOK YELLOW, so that doesn't work.  LOOK GREEN acts as though it could work, but YOU SEE NOTHING SPECIAL, probably because we don't have an actual green piece of plastic.  We must need to mix these two filters somehow... we can't seem to MIX or ATTACH or CONNECT them, though.  Aha!  We can PUT BLUE -- ON WHAT? -- ON YELLOW, and now we have two pieces of plastic clinging to each other.  Now we can LOOK through either piece and reach the Green Kingdom!

Heading south from the Valley of Many Paths, we find the Valley of Medusa.  It's tricky to map, as we only have a few portable items we can afford to drop, but if we head S, E, and N from our entry point, we find a location where a STRANGE GREEN DOOR BLOCKS YOUR WAY.  It's locked, naturally, and we can't UNLOCK DOOR at this point.  Odds are we need a green key, which we have not seen anywhere yet.

What about the condor?  We can RUB BLUE now, causing the bird to fall asleep, and GET KEY.  So now we have a blue key... but no blue lock has turned up so far.  The green door can't be unlocked with the blue key, which isn't surprising, and we can't PUT one key on another, so there must be a blue keyhole somewhere we haven't been yet.

We can't put the dwarf child to sleep by rubbing the blue jewel.  There don't seem to be any exits on the map that we haven't tried yet.  Can we combine the yellow and red plastic to reach an Orange Kingdom?  Everything looks orange when we look through the plastic, but we don't get sent anywhere new.  There's no Purple Kingdom either, apparently, though I give credit to Mr. Kirsch for anticipating both attempts.

What about the dwarven huts?  I was trying to GO HUTS earlier, to no avail, but further experimentation establishes that if we attempt to GO to a specific HUT instead, we can choose to enter Hut #1, #2, or #3.  Hut #1 features crude etchings of four kingdoms -- red, blue, yellow and green -- all of which we have visited.  Hut #2 contains a hope chest -- we can UNLOCK CHEST, probably with the blue key, and... OUT SPRINGS BOB HOPE!  The popular 1940s comedian thanks us for rescuing him and gives us a GREEN KEY!  Hooray!  Hut #3 contains the stolen short rod, so this would have been useful to discover earlier but isn't essential at this point in my playthrough.

Okay, now we should be able to breach Medusa's lair.  We can indeed UNLOCK DOOR with the green key, OPEN DOOR and GO DOOR to reach the aptly-named Valley of Almost There, where a wooden door stands in our way and SEEMS TO BE STUCK until we RUB SILVER to temporarily augment our strength.  Beyond the wooden door we find a giant spider, and must RUB GREEN to gain the courage to face it before we can RUB BLUE to put it to sleep.

Now we sense a TERRIFYING SHADOW CREEPING UP BEHIND YOU.  WHAT DO YOU FEED SNAKES?   I try to RUB BLUE and KILL MEDUSA, neither of which does anything useful.  Remembering our mythology and thinking to CLOSE EYES helps, though -- we cover our eyes with one hand and can hear her hair hissing behind us as Medusa draws closer.  Now we can try to KILL MEDUSA again... and this time, victory is ours!  We strike a Harry Hamlin-esque pose before we're unceremoniously dumped out to the BASIC prompt:

The Wizard's Sword is a high-quality adventure by magazine standards -- the puzzles are varied and logical, and information we acquire early on has value in the endgame.  There's not much risk or tension in the plotting -- even the endgame lets us fumble around quite a bit without penalty -- but I quite enjoyed the journey and I'm glad to have a few more SoftSide adventures to play.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Escape From Sparta (1983)

I'm returning once again to the 1983 Rainbow Book of Adventures this week, to tackle Escape From Sparta, written by Rick Townsend and Rick Hollerback in BASIC for the TRS-80 Color Computer.  It took me a little doing to get this one running, only because the first disk image I found in the online archives contained only the instructions and loader program, and I finally figured out I needed to insert a second disk to load the game proper (ESSPARTA/BAS).  I'm playing using the VCC 1.42 CoCo emulator.

Escape From Sparta is a science-fiction tale, casting the player as a robot on a mission to rescue its Creator from an evil alien warlord bent on destroying all robots so he can take over the galaxy/universe/neighborhood/school board/whatever.  The peculiarly short-sighted Creator has imbued his robots with a novel approach to planned obsolescence -- he is the only person who can control or modify them, and they will self-destruct if anyone else tries to, say, repair them.  So we have to rescue him from Space Station Sparta, where he is being held captive.

Interested readers are encouraged to Escape From Sparta independently before proceeding with my playthrough notes below -- it's not a difficult game at all, and it does a few interesting things with the format.  Beyond this point, I'll be documenting my experience for history's sake, and there are guaranteed...


After the optional instructions are displayed, we find ourselves in the Security Room, with broken monitors strewn about and an enemy robot immediately attacking.  The parser requires us to hit a key to interrupt the constant attacks and enter a command; a few KILL ROBOT commands are sufficient to cause it to explode into rubble (apparently these robots are made of concrete.)  LOOK RUBBLE (EXAMINE doesn't work) discovers something called a redchip, and we now have 1 REDCHIPS and ENERGY LEFT = 750 in inventory.  So we can guess that we need to collect some number of these, without running out of energy ourselves as we take hits from enemy robots.

We can only travel up or down from our starting point, so we'll venture into the bowels of the ship first.  We find ourselves in the -- ahem -- BOTTOM ACCESS CHAMBER, with a computer console in the center of the room and exits in multiple directions.  The first door I try, the one to the west, is locked; we can INSERT REDCHIP and confirm security clearance, but the door remains locked; the card apparently only goes into the console.  But we might as well check that out while we're here -- LOOK CONSOLE establishes that the console is off, and while we can't TURN ON CONSOLE or SWITCH CONSOLE or ACTIVATE CONSOLE, we can ON CONSOLE and then type $ as prompted to use it.

This is a neat design concept -- we actually get to interact with the computer console, though it's really just the parser in disguise, as we answer the INPUT REQUEST? prompt with OPEN DOOR -- and DOORS ARE UNLOCKED.  We type X to return to the main game.

Let's head west, since the door is now open, into Tunnel #4 where we can see a brilliant star cluster out the window.  Continuing west through the tunnel, we reach the Robot Repair Room where another enemy robot is attacking and can be dispatched.  I also discover that if we hit the [ENTER] key without typing a command, we waste 10 energy units doing nothing -- and normal moves don't cost us energy at all, so I'll try to keep my keyboard fingers under control.

North of the Robot Repair Room is a lab, with lab animals and ELECTRONIC EQUIPTMENT [sic -- and a persistent typo in this game].  There's nothing we can apparently do here, so I suspect this is going to be a hunt-down-the-robots game at heart; this is odd, as the mad alien overlord we're trying to defeat is supposedly trying to destroy all the robots, and it seems like we're actually helping him by doing so.  But while I personally believe that everybody must get stunned, we don't have that option here.

East of the access chamber is Tunnel #6, with more broken EQUIPTMENT, leading to the Engineers' Quarters, where we are attacked by a human for a change.  We can easily KILL HUMAN -- there are no Asimovian restrictions in this world -- and LOOK HUMAN to discover a greenchip.  Hmmm. 

There's also a console here, but we'll go north first into the nuclear reactor room and kill another robot, collecting another redchip.  There are some levers here for controlling the nuclear reactor, but I'm not going to mess with them just yet.  South of the Engineers' Quarters is the MAINTANCE ROOM, apparently with signage provided by the same people who maintan the equiptment.  There are tools and parts here, none of which seem interesting if we LOOK at them; other than enemies and colored chips, there's not much we can interact with on this space station.

Back in the EQ, I try to ON CONSOLE but don't have security clearance until I INSERT GREENCHIP.  This console presents the same INPUT REQUEST? prompt, and I don't have anything specific to do with it just yet, though I do attempt to ask it to KILL ROBOTS for me, with no success.

Returning to the bottom access chamber, I head south through Tunnel #5 to the Computer Room, killing another human when we get here to collect another greenchip.  We can use the console here, the same way as the others, by inserting a chip and turning it on.  East of the computer room is the Sick Bay, where the beds and medical equiptment reveal nothing interesting.  The Doctor's Quarters contains yet another console, on the doc's desk, though we can't interact with this one for some reason.

Trying to head west from the Computer Room, I encounter a locked door, so we need to use the console here to open it.  This leads to a Control Room with another easy-to-murder human, and from here we can go north to the Captain Quarters, where we find THE CREATOR, the human we are here to rescue!  We have to kill a human guard, of course, and can GET SILVERCHIP after doing so.

I'm down to 290 in energy at this point, so this first run will probably be a learning experience.  But we'll try to GET CREATOR -- and this seems like a milestone, as the parser tells us O.K. YOU RESCUED THE CREATOR NOW LETS GET OUT OF HERE.   He's in no position to repair us, nor can we take a moment to berate him over his bizarre need for job security.

North of this room is the Weapon Room, but everything is smashed so we'll have to continue working with our built-in weapon.  We've explored this floor completely now, so we'll head D from the access chamber to find ourselves in the promising-sounding DOCKING BAY #2.  There's another, somewhat tougher robot to kill here, before we travel downward again to find ourselves in the even more promising ESCAPE POD #2 with a computer console handy.

This may not be a moment too soon, as we're getting ENERGY LOW! warnings now because I'm down to 100 units of energy after that last battle.  I opt to try the obvious -- we INSERT SILVERCHIP into the console and turn it on... then we access the console, and finally attempt to LAUNCH POD... to unexpected victory!

This seemed a little too straightforward -- I never even explored the upper part of the ship -- but I guess I was just lucky that my initial explorations led me straight to victory without so much as a restart.  I tried again, and confirmed that the locations of The Creator and the necessary chips are not randomized, so it's possible to finish the game in just a few minutes if you know where to go.  We do need the silverchip to use the escape pod, but since the human guarding The Creator has one, it's not like we have to go hunting for it.  On a second try, with less exploration and therefore fewer extraneous battles, I finished the game with 496 energy units to spare.

Escape from Sparta is closer in spirit to a dungeon crawl than a standard adventure -- while there's a plot of sorts, it plays more like an RPG; we spend most of our time engaging in semi-random combat, and there are no significant puzzles beyond working out how to use the computer consoles.  But I enjoyed it, simple as it is, and this brings me one game closer to exhausting The Rainbow Book of Adventures.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Adventure of the Week: SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal" (1997)

For a change of pace, this week I'm taking a look at another Humongous Entertainment series, with SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal", the debut title for a character aimed at slightly older children than the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish and Pajama Sam games.  Ron Gilbert's kid-focused adventure game company released this title in 1997, and it's still commercially available today via Steam.  I have been consistently impressed with the quality and quantity of 2-D animation in the Humongous Entertainment games -- they're well above the technical standards of the Lucasarts classics that preceded them, though they run on the same SCUMM engine, and they always make me wish point-and-click adventures for adults had stayed in production a few years longer.

As the curtain rises, in a pun-heavy bit of exposition, our Bond-inspired hero SPY Fox learns that an evil goat named William the Kid has stolen the world's milk reserves in an effort to subvert the bovine dairy industry and replace it with goat's milk.  Then our hero parachutes down to the Greek island of Acidophilus to begin his mission.

Interested readers are encouraged to spend some time with SPY Fox #1 before proceeding here -- the animation is loose and energetic, some of the writing and voice work is genuinely funny (especially if you're about 10 years old), and it's a perfectly pleasant round of old-school point-and-click adventuring.  Beyond this point, I'll be detailing my own experience, so there are sure to be...

***** SPY FOX SPOILERS AHEAD! *****   

As we plummet to earth, we're allowed as much time as we need to pick one of Spy Fox's pen gadgets for a safe landing, though he (in a Don Adams-inspired voice) urges us to do something at frequent intervals.  After safely landing using a remarkably well-damped pogo-stick, we're supposed to meet up with Miss Monkeypenny at the Mobile Command Center, but we'll do a little exploration first.

A salty penguin (who sounds like Bobcat Goldthwaite) is eager to show off his chest tattoo, with animations including a dolphin that leaps from pectoral to pectoral.  This is in keeping with the Humongous tradition of providing plenty of fun, non-essential point-and-click gags for the player, though this joke is a little more complex with sardonic commentary from Fox ("Your mother must be so proud") and quite a few different animations are available with repeated clicks.

A trinket shop nearby is closed, as we have arrived unfashionably early; we can dial random numbers on a nearby pay phone, with random responses, including one at the offices of Amalgamated Moo Juice indicating the staff is "all tied up."  There's a Feta Factory down the pier, but it's locked up tight behind a solid steel door.  The Greek Cantina in the town square is also closed at the moment.  The door to an unidentified building up a staircase is also locked, though we get a brief glimpse of its interior while SPY Fox is knocking -- the desk has a nameplate indicating it would normally be occupied by one Grande Fromagio, the Big Cheese as it were.

It seems we have nowhere else to go, so we'll have to take a look at inventory.  Ah, I had forgotten about the fortune cookie Monkeypenny mentioned -- it came with our airplane meal, and contains an entrance code, 555-4023, which sends the phone booth down to an underground command center.

Here, Monkeypenny hands Spy Fox some drachmas and a special laser toothbrush for cutting through thick steel.  Amalgamated Moo Juice CEO Howard Hugh Heifer Udderley III is being held prisoner somewhere, we believe.

After we go back topside, Monkeypenny calls us on the Spy Watch to remind Fox he can use this to contact her at any time; the watch also contains the game's Save and Load buttons, so this is probably a good time to take advantage of the Save feature.  The local establishments are still closed, so we'll try the laser toothbrush on the factory doors.  It's only good for one use, exploding after the door is breached, but that's enough for our purposes.

Inside the factory, we find Mr. Udderley tied up and dangling over a pool of piranha.  There's a winch nearby -- it just lowers him into the pool and back up again, fortunately with minimal munching in the process.  We can turn the temperature of the pool down, and taking it to its lowest setting freezes the water over so Mr. Udderley can get safely down (he sounds like Don Knotts.)  Back at the command center, he tells us that thugs broke into his office, stinking of feta cheese, stuck him in a bag and whisked him away to the factory.  The villain behind the kidnapping is confirmed to be William the Kid, whose Nectar of the Goats corporation (N.O.G.) is apparently out to frame the world's cows with heinous milk-related crimes to turn the world against them.

Udderley had the presence of mind to steal the documentation needed to disarm Kidd's secret weapon, but he had to swallow it for safekeeping.  Fortunately, the vending machine at Mobile HQ has beef-flavored X-Ray Gum for sale -- courtesy of Professor Quack, our inventive gadget source.  Udderley faints during the painless procedure, but we're able to find the note in one of his four stomachs and see that a special key is needed to disarm the weapon.

Other gadgets available from the vending machine include Spy Putty, a copying compound; a Night Vision Shoe that can be strapped onto the user's head; a Cheese and Safe Cracker kit; a Spy Trap nickel that launches a net capable of trapping three or more bad guys; and Suction Cufflinks for scaling walls.  We can obtain all of these items and place them into inventory, though we only have room for four items, so we have to make choices here.  I'll put the X-Ray Gum back for now, gambling that it only has one use in the game, and leave the Spy Trap in the machine as well.

As we leave HQ, we find that the trinket booth is now open for business.  The rabbit proprietor, Gilbert, sounds less than sincere as he "welcomes" customers.  He sells stuffed animals, pennants, taxidermied fish, and a fez that he seems to have confused with Pez.  There doesn't seem to be anything we need here at the moment.

The cantina is open now too, a seedy lounge with a lizard playing organ, grumpy hostess Bea Bear, and a few customers.  Bea's Secret Sauce "may cause drowsiness in alligators," according to the label on the bottle.  A talkative pig at one table offers to play a round of Go Fish, for trinkets, so we'll go buy a jar from the trinket booth for 50 drachmas.  The pig puts up a whistle against Fox's kazoo.  The game follows traditional rules -- my first round played to a draw, I won on the second round.  But the whistle doesn't seem to show up in inventory, so this may just be an entertaining diversion.

The Big Cheese's office is still locked, so we'll have to do some exploring elsewhere.  The cruise ship parked by the pier is now having a deck party, though entry is by invitation only.

We can't get onboard past the weasel doorman, but SPY Fox adds the topic to his word balloon inventory and now we can ask other characters about it.  Gilbert has an invitation, but verbal hints suggest we have to distract him somehow so we can copy it with the spy putty; nothing I try seems to work yet.  The pelican knows nothing about the party; Bea Bear and Big Pig both mention that Gilbert always has an invitation, so we're on the right track.  We can't use the spy trap to trap piranha to use as a distraction; nobody at HQ has any ideas either.

The rabbit never even looks away from the invitation, except when we're conversing, but we can't try to use the spy putty until the dialogue is over.  We can't buy either of the sauces at the cantina, but we can buy some chicken knuckles to go and put the Secret Sauce on them.  But they aren't useful at the trinket booth either.  Can we buy anything besides the trinkets?  The fez is not for sale; neither are the pennants.  But the ship's wheel hung up above is, but proves to be hung too high up for Gilbert to reach.  This seems suitably distracting, and yes, we can make a copy of the invitation while he's struggling to get it down.

The doorman accepts the fake invitation (signed by someone named Russian Blue) and we are now free to come and go on the ship.  Fox checks in with Monkeypenny -- she advises us to look for clues about the location of Kid's secret fortress.

The deck party is in full swing -- a bulldog conducts an orchestra playing a waltz, and various hoity-toity animals occupy the deck.  Russian Blue proves to be an attractive feline femme fatale, and owner of this ship, the S.S. Deadweight.  She loves the tango, so perhaps we want to swap the waltz sheet music here with the cantina's tango pages.  We can visit the ship's cabin, but there's nothing here to do or undo besides triggering some funny incidental animations.

So let's see if we can obtain or copy the tango sheet music.  The spy putty has been consumed now, and the lizard organ player at the cantina won't let us borrow his music.  We can steal a page of the orchestra's waltz music on the ship, though, and trade it to the willing lizard for a sheet of tango music.  (The bulldog sounds like Lawrence Welk, to great comic effect.)  We can't easily sneak it into place, though -- on my first few tries, the conductor catches us in the act and we have to step away.  It's just a matter of timing; it works best if we start trying to place it just before he looks away from the music.

Now Russian Blue goes into what looks like a hypnotic trance and does the tango with SPY Fox, and we can repeat this if we shuffle the sheet music pages.  It seems we're supposed to try to get at her handbag, which she puts down to dance, but our opportunities for interaction are limited.  Maybe we can use the X-Ray Gum on it?  This doesn't seem to work; not while we're dancing, at least.  And there still doesn't seem to be anything we can do while on the ship's bridge.

We do have a new topic to investigate -- Russian Blue is available for discussion, and our vulpine hero suggests it might be worth tracking her movements.  Everyone talks about her passion for the tango.  Monkeypenny's research reveals that Russian Blue works for N.O.G., and provides a (literal) bug named Walter Wireless to help us spy on her.

So how do we "bug" Russian Blue?  We can't just click the bug on her, we have to distract her; this proves to be the point of the tango, and we can access inventory while the dance is in progress to plant the bug on her purse (Walter comically launches, lands and pulls his tiny parachute inside.)  Afterward, Ms. Blue retires to her quarters.

As we leave the ship in search of new clues, a call comes in from Monkeypenny -- we're supposed to meet spy Mata Hari in front of the N.O.G. feta cheese factory.  Walter also calls in with a live report, telling us that Russian Blue has taken an escape speedboat to an unknown destination, and his cover has been compromised.  Spy Fox's car is also repaired (from a previous adventure) and is ready to go.

It seems we're reaching critical story mass, so let's go to the factory first.  Mata Hari is hiding, so we have to poke around a bit until we find her.  She's a giraffe, hidden in a drain pipe, and has discovered a coded password -- "The happy fat girl" -- in a fortune cookie.

We have no conversation topics available right now, so we'll head back downtown.  The Big Cheese's office is still closed, so I guess it's time to jump in the car and see where we can go.  We're supposed to follow a trail Walter left on Fox's spy radar, but we seem to end up right back in town.  Ah... we have to influence the direction Spy Fox travels, instead of just watching as I was doing.  This puzzle takes a while to execute successfully -- there are multiple possible paths, most of which lead back downtown, and it requires some speedy point-and-click reaction times even though we can see the radar onscreen and hear its beeping getting louder as we make correct choices.  Eventually we reach an ornate mansion with a puzzle on the front door.  Walter meets us outside and tells us Russian Blue went through a secret passage, before he splits to avoid the exterminator Ms. Blue has apparently called.

SPY Fox interprets the hieroglyphics on the door (noting that the Greeks didn't use them, to avoid educational malfeasance) as we click on them, trying to find the right combination.  Ah, of course -- we want to click on happy, fat, girl, i.e. smiley face, round body, figure in dress.  This opens the secret passage, and we find ourselves trying to cross a waterway infested with... snapping turtles?  The food from the cantina is no help here.  Neither is the spy trap.  But the suction cufflinks are useful -- if we time Fox's movements to avoid the sporadically draining pipes, we can scale the back wall to cross the channel.

Entering the evil fortress, we check in with Monkeypenny, who reminds us that our next step is to disarm the Milky Weapon of Destruction.  A guard robot boots us out of the room if we don't have a proper uniform.  There's a locker room nearby; opening one locker transports us back to the town square -- into the office we were unable to enter before, in fact.  And we can go back the way we came too, so this provides a quick shortcut back to town in case we need an unequipped spy gadget or something. 

Fortunately, one of the lockers contains a yellow uniform, which allows us to get past the guard robot to an area with conveyor belts.  Spy Fox has to hide behind some boxes, as Russian Blue confers with William the Kid.  He gives her a key wallet to return to its normal storage location -- it contains the disarm key, we are helpfully informed by their conspiratorial chatter.

We can enter a control room, and call Monkeypenny again to confirm that we need to find the key and disarm the weapon.  The key is not just lying around in the control room, of course; we have to configure a control panel in the conveyor room to match a diagram in the locker room (which I somehow failed to notice, so the dialogue hint was appreciated.)  It has levers in left, left, right, up, up positions, reading from upper left down and then right.  Configuring the conveyor belt controls to match reverses the direction of the belts, and Fox can now ride up to the top of Kid's missile-shaped milk carton weapon.

A small tram car here allows us to reach rooms on the upper level of the fortress.  Heading left, we find a room with several N.O.G. employees hanging around, sort-of-guarding a door.  There are three of them, so perhaps the spy trap will work here -- and it does, after a well-crafted bit of animation as the three guards sweat it out before diving for the nickel simultaneously and being trapped in a net that springs out and leaves them all suspended from the ceiling.  So that's how it works!

Now we can access Kid's secret office, where the key is held behind laser beams, a puzzle requiring us to replace the existing mirrors with differently angled ones while keeping red and blue points connected consistently.  This isn't too difficult; we can also draw on a nearby easel using the mouse and colored chalk, just for fun.

Now that we have the key, we just need to return to the weapon control room and disarm it... right?  We have five keys to pick from, with different patterns.  It takes me four tries -- there doesn't seem to be a direct clue to help us out with this -- but now the bomb is disarmed.

Of course, William the Kid refuses to give himself up, and pulls a lever flooding his stables with milk, to drown all of the world's kidnapped cows.  As he departs on his world domination getaway blimp, he conveniently mentions that there's a secret passage to the stables.

How to get there, then?  Kid's yellow ascot has been left behind, sticking through the secret door, so maybe we can just see it somewhere, but I'm not spotting it anywhere so far, even downtown.  Ahhh, here it is -- on the "Goat Milk?" billboard on the upper level of the fortress, next to the tramway. 

Past the secret door, we find a waterfall and a shallow waterway blocked by alligators.  The cantina's chicken knuckles, doused with alligator-drowsiness-inducing secret sauce, prove useful here (and there are empty takeout containers strewn about, in case we need a visual hint.)

Now we can rescue the cows before they drown in their own milk, by pulling the most prominent lever available.  But now Kid's blimp rises, to threaten another attempt on the world's milk supply!

We have to act quickly here to help SPY Fox take after him in a truck, and on my first try I was taking notes and failed to capture the bad guy.  We still earn a small victory cookie, a Presidential commendation (from a bull who sounds like Bill Clinton), and a reasonably happy ending. 

This isn't quite satisfying, though, so trying again, I manage to take a jump off the end of the mountain road and board Kid's escape blimp.  SPY Fox is concerned that actually defeating Kid will prevent the production of a sequel, but Monkeypenny assures him there are plenty of other villains about.  She also tells us we have to maneuver the blimp to a location 4 degrees north, 16 degrees east, in order to capture William the Kid with ground support.

We can take a small airplane from the back of the blimp to the front, where the controls are, along with Kid, who is distractedly staring out the window and contemplating his comeback.  An A2-PLT robot is actually doing the flying, and we can adjust the destination coordinates simply by messing with the interface on its back.

Our next task is to get Kid out of the blimp and to "evil villain jail."  Fortunately, the ejection seat controls are also handily available, if we can get the panel open with a screwdriver.  We can take a zipline back to the rear of the plane, where a screwdriver is sitting on a workbench, then return and select the right drill bit shape to open the panel.  Next, we have to put something into the ejector gadget (a toaster) to get it to fire; we can also find a piece of bread in the back of the blimp.  Funny how these things become easier to spot when you know you're looking for them!

Now all we have to do is arm the toaster and wait.  The ejection mechanism pops William the Kid out of the blimp and into jail, protesting loudly about the meddling SPY Fox.  And this time, we get a bigger victory cookie:

I enjoyed playing SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal" -- it was more like a traditional adventure game than most of the Humongous Entertainment games, with a little more meat on its bones, aimed at a slightly older audience.  The puzzles are simple and the hints plentiful, but the storytelling and animation are well handled and the game is entertaining though not difficult to solve.  I had fun with it.