Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Mummy's Curse (1981)

Recent forays into the Apple II adventure game library, with many early and exclusive titles,
has brought me to this week's subject: Mummy's Curse.  It was released in 1981 by a small publisher variously known as Highland Computer Services and Highlands Computers Inc. -- the company published several Apple II graphic adventures written by Butch Greathouse and/or Garry Rheinhardt in the early 1980s.

The intro explains that the scenes are DONE IN HIGH RESOLUTION GRAPHICS (not yet common in 1981, though the illustrations are fairly simple) and the game uses a two-word parser.  Our goal is TO RECOVER THE SOLID GOLD DEATH MASK OF KING RUTTATUTTUT WHICH IS GUARDED BY THE MUMMY.  We're also informed that we will encounter a number of amulets and must use their individual names for differentiation, and that we must bring the gold mask back to the Oasis to win.  Sounds straightforward enough!

As always, interested readers are encouraged to face the Mummy's Curse firsthand before continuing into my playthrough notes below.  I found the game fairly challenging -- the map is large and maze-infested, and while the puzzles are generally straightforward it's not easy to find everything that's important; I had to avail myself of some clues at the CASA Solution Archive to finish this one on deadline.  Beyond this point, for the sake of documenting these games, I will be detailing my experience from start to finish.  That is, there are sure to be...

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

As the game begins, we find ourselves at a Desert Oasis WHERE ALL TRAILS CROSS.  There appear to be a couple of palm trees near a pool here, but we can't LOOK TREE or LOOK POOL, or CLIMB TREE; we can't DRINK POOL, but we can DRINK WATER -- AHHH THAT WAS GOOD.  I try to DIG, but YOU HAVE NO SHOVEL, suggesting that we're likely to run across one at some point.

Heading north from the Oasis brings us into the Great Sahara Desert, with the sun beating down on the dunes.  Continuing north for the moment, we see some mountains in the distance, and North again brings us to a location with LUSH MOUNTAINS AHEAD and a stick lying on the ground.  We'll follow adventuring best practices and GET STICK in case it comes in handy later.

I'm just plowing forward here, seeing what the map looks like, and heading N once again we find a branch in the path through the mountains.  North again shows us the Nile river off to the west, and one more northward step is as far as we can go for now, as we encounter a Great Wooden Door that is locked.

I'll backtrack south to the Oasis again, and head South to see Shiek Mazurka's Small Palace.  Heading south again here loops back to the desert location just north of the Oasis.  I always like to map the world out before we get into the story, so now I'll head east from the Oasis to discover a Small Village on the edge of the desert.  It looks like the map is a little more constrained than it appeared to be at first -- heading east from the village takes us to Shiek Mazurka's palace again.  But we can go north into the village, where two stucco huts lie to the east and west.  A similar location to the north contains another pair of huts, and then loops back to the main Sahara desert location if we continue north.

Before I check out the huts' interiors, I want to map the desert a bit more -- we can go East from the main Desert to another similar location, then north to an Ancient Temple.  We can enter the temple to see an inscription on the ceiling -- it reads, "FIGURE ME SOUTH. ONLY TWO PITS = DEATH. FIGURE ME IN FIGURE ME OUT."  Hmmmm.  Cryptic!

We're still traveling light, inventory-wise, so let's see if we can find anything useful in those village huts.  In the village's south end, the small western hut is vacant but the large eastern one is a Trading Post.  It's operated by a stereotyped Chinese merchant named Woo Fooy, and he has... wait for it... a KNIFE AND SHOVEL FOR SALE.  We are prompted DO YOU WANT TO BUY THEM?..Y/N.  I'll answer Y -- after all, I do want to buy them -- but of course, WOO FOOY SAYS AW FOOY YOU NO GOT GOLD COINS and kicks us out of his establishment with its wonderful but limited wares.  At least we've learned something about the coin of the realm, and we can keep an eye out for some gold coins.

The northern end of the village is similarly laid out.  In the small western hut, we find A MYSTERIOUS MAN WRAPPED IN A BLUE SHROUD who shouts "BEGONE AMAHD," and a great wind drives us back out of the hut.  Interesting.  We can also reach the same Trading Post here, it apparently spans the north-south length of the village.

Our map is filling in bit by bit -- now I'll explore the region west of the Oasis, where we see the PYRAMID OF SATSOP II on the horizon.  The map, which is never too straightforward, gets even more convoluted here, with two different rooms where it LOOKS LIKE A HUGE PIT AHEAD.  We can work our way around the pyramid's other side to the west, and fall fatally into the huge pits if we're not careful with our navigation.  It took me a while to figure out what's going on here -- it seems there are also multiple locations where THE PATH HEADS SOUTH AND EAST/WEST, and one of them leads to THE ENTRANCE TO THE PYRAMID, but this only seems to happen after we've circled the pyramid's western side without falling into the eastern or southern pit.

Anyway, we've reached the pyramid's entrance and can now attempt to explore it, which seems exactly the sort of thing one should do in an adventure titled Mummy's Curse.  We enter it by traveling south into an entrance/exit area, and the pyramid presents a substantial mapping challenge.  Immediately to the east of the entrance is the CONFUSED YET? room.  There's a long hall south of the entrance which leads to (I think) a different CONFUSED YET? room, but I die of thirst before getting too far and have to restore and visit the Oasis to rehydrate.

The map is designed (and maybe forced by limited disk space) to confuse the player by featuring multiple identically named and illustrated rooms, but the geography is generally consistent and naturalistic.  Our main objective here seems to be to find some useful items.  A dead end in the southeast corner of the pyramid contains some matches.  Another in the southwest area provides the gold coins we need for supply purchases.  There's also a dead end with a FULL EWER.  The pyramid maze is messy to map, but eventually I manage to find my way back outside so we can head into the village to buy some supplies.  We don't have to make any choices here -- we buy the knife and the shovel in one turn when we answer the prompt in the affirmative with gold coins in hand.

I don't have a use for the knife yet, but I spend some time digging in the various locations on the map.  This proves fruitless, but in touring the map I've drawn so far I realize I have not visited the Nile -- there's still nothing to dig up there, but we can try to CROSS NILE... nope... GO NILE?  Nope.  SWIMYOU GOT TO MIDSTREAM AND RAN OUT OF BREATH AND DROWNED.  Whoops!

I also see that I missed a northeastern part of the desert, where THERE IS SOMETHING BURIED IN THE SAND.  Eureka!  DIGging here reveals STAIRS LEADING DOWN INTO A CRYPT!  It's the only part of the game so far where traveling Down is an option, so there we shall go...

THE EYE OF HORUS IS PAINTED ON THE FLOOR here.  To the west we see a rather large portrait of Cleopatra on the wall, and there don't seem to be any other rooms we can explore down here yet.  I try to PUSH WALL and TOUCH WALL and EXAMINE CLEO and TOUCH EYE and KISS CLEO, but nothing seems to have an effect.  The ewer is full of water, but that doesn't suggest anything.  I try to LIGHT MATCH and LIGHT STICK, but the parser is obstinate: WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO BURN THAT?  I poke around a little bit, but thirst sets in and I die on the way back to the Oasis before realizing I can DRINK WATER repeatedly from the ewer, as it's magically always full of water.

Anywhere else we haven't been?  The path that splits in the mountains has a westward branch that leads to a cliffside where we can see THE MUMMY'S TOMB.  We can't get to the tomb from here, but we can climb northward to the top of the mountain, where we find the AMULET (SMA).  Entering an old stone shrine here lets us acquire some incense, and we're told this was used as an alternate location when the priests couldn't find the crypt.

Maybe we can BURN INCENSE somewhere in the crypt?  I try this at the entrance -- SMELLS LIKE HIPPY HOLLOW.  YOUR INCENSE IS GONE.  Well, dang, that didn't do much.  But I do notice that we can go further down into the crypt, to a room with a picture of Isis and the AMULET (HORUS) available.  Another passage leads south to an image of the Phoenix, and west is an OLD RELIGIOUS ALTAR with an ax for the taking.

Can we use the ax on the big wooden doors?  Nope -- CUT DOOR just returns PUT YOUR AX AWAY UNTIL YOU REALLY NEED IT.

Standing on the southern bank of the Nile again, trying to find a way to the Mummy's Tomb, I try to MAKE BOAT -- YOU HAVE NO ROPE, but it seems this might be possible if I have the right elements.  I try to CHOP TREE at the Oasis, but am advised to LEAVE THESE TREES ALONE.  Have we seen any other wood or rope around?

Maybe I need to explore the pyramid more, its confusing map may be hiding some more artifacts.  I find a flashlight in a linear passage west of the entrance, and I think I've exhausted the pyramid now.

Can I BURN INCENSE at the old altar in the crypt?  Aha!  The altar opens and reveals a hidden room behind it.  The AMULET (APEP) is here, and a painting of Nefertiti.  I also visit the Temple again, and realize that the drawing on the wall is a rough map of the Pyramid.  Yes, it does look like I've cleaned that place out.  I try to LEARN MAP and MEMORIZE MAP but it seems to be a visual reference only.

What now?  Can I... MAKE TORCHMAKE KEYCARVE IT.  Really?  Wow.  CARVE KEY produces a wooden key!  Maybe we can open that massive gate now... and yes, we can!  The only thing behind it is the end of the path, a forested area with some strands of hemp.  I try to BURN HEMP, but fortunately the game won't cooperate, and I try to MAKE ROPE instead, which works.  Can I MAKE BOAT now?  No -- YOU HAVE NO WOOD.  But I can CHOP TREES right here -- clearcutting the whole area, apparently -- and GET LOGS.

MAKE BOAT now allows us to make a raft -- can we carry it all the way to the Nile?  Apparently so!  USE RAFT allows us to cross the Nile, and we are now standing at the threshold of the Mummy's Tomb.

The game warns us that there's only one way in and we won't get out the same way, so this is a great time to SAVE (the game provides a single save/restore slot, but I'm using the AppleWin emulator so I'll just save the entire machine's state instead.). Immediately upon entering, I have difficulty breathing, and shortly YOUR LUNGS EXPLODED IN FLAMES AND YOU DIED ON THE SPOT!  That's pretty strong stuff, whatever it is.  I try to HOLD BREATH, but that doesn't work.  Maybe these amulets are supposed to help?  WEAR HORUS isn't recognized, the parser thinks we are trying to WEAVE something.  When I USE HORUS, the amulet glows and vanishes AS YOU FEEL ITS EFFECT ON YOU, but I can't really tell what effect that's supposed to be, so we'll have to use a little trial and error here.

USE HORUS doesn't help us breathe, but USE SMA does and the parser confirms we have been saved by THE POWER OF SMA.  The next room seems to be a dead end -- we are told that "MUMMY DEAREST" was here but hid when he heard us coming?  The other amulets don't seem to reveal his whereabouts, and we can't DIG here, nor can we LIGHT FLASHLIGHT to seek him out.

What have I missed?  Ah -- thanks, CASA!  I never entered the Sheik's Palace, and didn't realize I could due to the map layout -- we go south to reach the Palace, then north to enter it, and I hadn't actually tested navigation in that direction. Inside, we meet ABDUL THE PALACE GUARD.  We can't LOOK GUARD or TALK GUARD, but if we SAY HELLO he lets us enter.

Inside the palace there are stairs going up and a hallway to the north.  The room to the north is empty -- BROTHER THIS GUY DON'T HAVE MUCH OF A PALACE, the parser comments -- and the upstairs room contains a STRANGE MIXTURE OF DIRT AND STRAW.  Mud?  Brick?  MAKE BRICK doesn't work, nor does MAKE MUD.  I try to POUR WATER -- and the mixture somehow softens and provides access to a new room, a north/south passage with a ramp heading upwards.

This map is a lot bigger than I expected for a single-disk game -- the ramp leads to stairs, leading up to The Dome Room, though there doesn't seem to be any reason to come up here.  The north/south passage connects to an east/west passage, where we meet the WICKED PRINCESS FATIMA of legendary mirror fame to the east, and find a trap door to the west.

I try to GO DOOR and OPEN TRAP to no avail, but when I try to simply go D the parser suggests that we need to pick the lock with a knife.  PICK LOCK does work, and now we find ourselves in a room with a mirror?  We can't BREAK MIRROR, but if we go N we walk into the mirror... and die.  It's safer to go S, into another east/west passage; a shimmering blue wall to the east takes us back into the palace's upper level, but we should probably restore and explore to the west first.

There are some traps down this hallway -- first, a small but bottomless pit.  We can't JUMP PIT, but if we go N, then THE STRENGTH OF HORUS kicks in and carries us over.  I realize that I must have USEd HORUS earlier when I was experimenting, as I no longer have any of the amulets in hand; fortunately, the effect is long-lasting, and so is the power of APEP that subsequently protects us from a three-headed snake.

We've reached an orange room, where we find a scepter that we should probably take along.  After finding our way back out the way we came in, it seems like a good time to go see if we can deal with the mummy yet.

In the room where the mummy is hiding, I WAVE SCEPTER -- and we rise to a location where the parser opts for minimal drama and punctuation: YOU HAVE FOUND THE GOLDEN MASK BUT SOMEBODY IS HERE TO SEE YOU.  HEY ITS THE MUMMY.

KILL MUMMYYOU UNFORTUNATELY ARE THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN BE KILLEDBURN MUMMYWHY ARE YOU TRYING TO BURN THAT?  Hmmmm, there go all the obvious ideas.  I try to leave the room, but I can't escape and after a few turns of my fumbling about THE MUMMY JUST DID YOU IN.

Something unusual happens here, though.  After I die, I'm given the option to keep playing -- and when I do, I find myself back at the Oasis, with a victory message!

Apparently, when we reincarnate we don't lose any of our inventory items, and we've been given the Mask when we entered the room!  So even though we died in the process of reaching our objective, the game thinks we've won fair and square.  But this doesn't quite seem right, so I check the walkthrough and learn that I was supposed to explore an area west of the Pyramid to learn a magic phrase to use against the mummy.  Apparently if we have the flashlight and travel east from one of the LARGE PIT AHEAD rooms, we enter the pit -- and find graffiti on a wall in the passage reading, "HORUS = STRENGTH, APEP = SNAKE, SMA = LUNG," which we've already figured out by trial and error.  The text also tells us that AMAHD means ADVENTURER, so that's what the folks in town have been calling us.  Ah!  The mysterious man says "BEGONE AMAHD" and we are whisked away.  Does that work when we try it?  BEGONE AMAHD yields CLOSE BUT NO COOKIES, but BEGONE ADVENTURER sends us instantly back to the Oasis, with exactly the same victory message.  Basically, dying whisks us back to the Oasis, and so does employing the hard-won magic phrase, so either way we come out a winner if we've made it into the heart of the Mummy's Tomb.

Mummy's Curse is a more involved experience than I was expecting for a game of its vintage -- the map is very large considering the number of illustrations included, and the puzzles are intertwined and reasonably challenging.  The tricky layout sometimes feels like a bit of a design cheat, but the game is fair enough in its way if we're careful to draw an accurate map.  I'll have to try the other Highlands Computers games, if I can track them down -- these small, obscure companies often produced interesting adventures that are well worth playing, even if they're not well known.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Troll's Tale (1983)

A few weeks ago I was reminded of Sierra On-Line's Troll's Tale, from 1983; it's another game for younger adventurers, using the same menu-driven approach as the company's Dragon's Keep and Gelfling Adventure.  It's almost identical in structure to Dragon's Keep -- instead of collecting animals held captive by a lonely dragon, we're collecting treasures stolen by an evil troll.  If the troll appears in the same picture as the treasure, we can't acquire the treasure at that time and must wander off to another location and hope the troll has moved on when we return.  We're playing the Apple II version here, but the game also appeared (with improved color) on the Commodore 64 and Coleco Adam computers.

One technical advance visible in Troll's Tale is that its graphics were implemented using Penguin's The Graphics Magician, a step up from Ken Williams' homegrown fill-and-vector graphics tool used for the early Hi-Res Adventures.  It provides more variety in fill patterns, has some simple animation capabilities, and appears to be more space-efficient, with all the illustrations fitting on a single-sided disk.  Programming was handled by Al Lowe of Leisure Suit Larry fame, with text and graphics by Mike MacChesney, and the design presages the Macintosh Hypercard game The Manhole with its simple and imaginative exploration-based style.

Troll's Tale does not take long to play -- there are no real puzzles, just a world to explore in search of the unhidden but scattered treasures, and no fatalities or dead ends.  I was able to finish it in about an hour while making notes, and I didn't even need to draw a map, although if I'd had to leave and come back it would have been handy for memory-jogging purposes.  It's clearly aimed at young players, and I can't say you're missing any great challenge if you opt to read on into the...

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

The game begins with an optional tutorial demonstrating the menu system -- we use the space bar to iterate through the available options (they are numbered, but we can't just hit the key corresponding to our intended selection), and RETURN to select.  We are informed that THE EVIL TROLL HAS HIDDEN ALL THE TREASURES OF MARK, THE DWARF KING.  The F key is used as an inventory command, showing the treasures we have already FOUND.

We're also given a handy list of treasures to find -- a flashlight, a candy sucker, a bag of gold, a chest of jewels, a diamond ring, a copper penny, a fiddle worth a fortune, a treasure chest, a silver shell, a gift for the guard, a lovely necklace, a gold brick, a pot of money, a silver cup, a bag of pennies, and "a dollar and a cent" -- sixteen in all.

The game proper begins with the player facing a dark cave, and we can choose to 1) GO INTO THE CAVE or 2) GO SOUTH INTO THE FIELD.  I'll follow my usual habit and poke around outside before taking the obvious route into the dark cave.

In the field, I find the flashlight -- one treasure down already, and the narration tells us this item will be useful inside the cave as well.  Next, we'll head west into the mountains, where we can read a stone tablet that reiterates the very basic plot with a note from King Mark about his stolen treasures, then head back toward the field.

We run across a tree on the way back to the cave, where a nearby sign again advertises the Dwarf King's plight; this monarch is starting to sound a bit whiny.  We can't always go back the way we came using the game's limited menus, so gameplay consists primarily of exhausting the available options.  A rare instance of genuine player choice occurs here as we enter the cave -- we can choose to turn on the flashlight before we enter the cave, or turn it on afterward when we find ourselves in the dark.

With the lights on, we can see a dwarven guard who, we are told, IS AFRAID OF THE TROLLS.  We have three choices at this point -- we can take one of three tunnels to the west, the north, and east.  I'll go west for now.

Here, we find ourselves LYING DOWN IN A NARROW HALL, with further crawls to the right and north and a door on the left, in an odd mixture of relative and cardinal directions.  I'll try the door on the left, where I run into the TROLL, though there's no treasure here so he really isn't a nuisance at the moment, beyond the fact that it takes several additional seconds for the engine to overlay his fearsome visage on the illustration.

There are three sets of stairs here -- left, center, and right -- and I'll keep exploring to the left.  There's a long winding road up here, and we can choose to GO DOWN THE ROAD, where we find the DOLLAR AND A CENT treasure, then turn around to come back the way we came.  The center staircase leads to a large area with two dark spots faintly visible to the north -- one is a doorway, the other proves to be an open safe containing the BAG OF PENNIES treasure.

At the door near the safe, we can either go through it or travel east to part of the Troll Underworld.  We can travel east again here, pausing to LOOK DOWN THE WELL, promptly falling in with a little bit of animation.  We can retrieve the FIDDLE WORTH A FORTUNE here before climbing up a rope to escape. 

I'm going to go back and check the door to the north before continuing past the well -- it leads into a Troll's Room with a bottle and a fireplace.  In an implied bit of safety education, we're advised against -- and actually prohibited from -- drinking from the unlabeled bottle, but we can find the SILVER CUP in the fireplace.  We're down to 11 treasures already!

Returning to the well, I head east, where we find two huts.  The one on the left contains a treasure chest, which provides an easy way to carry our accumulating treasure load in addition to counting as a treasure itself.  We can also enter the fireplace, where hot coals flame in a nice bit of animation; here, we can go left to exit the fireplace or continue to the right.  Going right takes us into a room with THREE MAGIC POTS, and we're allowed to put our hand in the left, middle, or right one.  The left one beams us back to the narrow crawlspace near the entrance, forcing a fairly long journey back but also providing an escape from this area; the middle one takes us to the location outside the huts; and the right pot seems to contain a treasure, though in my playthrough the troll randomly shows up.  I have to leave and return to claim the COPPER PENNY.

We've got 40% of the treasures in hand now as we exit from the hut on the right, the fireplace apparently connecting the two huts.  There's also a back door leading out of the left hut, to a tree with a hole in it, near a cave.  The hole in the tree leads into another branching cave, with paths to the upper and lower left.  The path to the upper left contains the QUEEN'S NECKLACE, and the other takes us to a large globe containing three levers we can choose to pull.

The left lever simply exits the globe.  The middle one takes us to a nondescript room containing a gold brick.  It sits on a box that is too heavy to roll out the door; we can take the brick, and are advised that it is heavy and we need to finish the game soon, though this warning doesn't seem to manifest in any concrete way.  The only exit from this room leads to a barrel floating in the water; we aren't allowed to go south into a dark, scary area, but we can walk east back to the globe.  The right-hand lever in the globe takes us back to the barrel; before we ride it, I'm going to look behind the globe using the available menu option, where someone is throwing rocks at the screen, forcing us back to the globe. 

Riding the barrel down the river, we can acquire the POT OF MONEY on a stretch of beach to reach 60% of our goal.  The river currents are weird and shifting things, it appears, as getting back on the barrel takes us back to the place where we found it.  Returning to the beach again, we wander east to find a SILVER SHELL.  This location is a dead end, but we are invited to close our eyes and think about a TUNNEL or a TREE.  The former takes us into the cave near the tree we hadn't explored yet, while the latter takes us to the tree standing outside this cave.  Pulling a ring inside the cave transports us back to the globe room -- this map is nothing if not self-referential -- so I'll take the opportunity to head west of the pot of money area to find a door set into the dirt bank.  This door leads, one-way, back into the Troll's Room, closing one of the map's many loops.

Making my way back to the cave by the tree again, I head through a lighted exit to find a small house, where we acquire a GIFT FOR THE GUARD, i.e. the dwarf we saw standing at the main cave entrance earlier.  I've finally exhausted this section of the map, so I'll go back to the well and head south into a room with a tile floor.  To its west we enter another tunnel area, with the BOX OF JEWELS claimable, and a passage south leads back to the narrow crawlspace.  East of the tiled room is the DIAMOND RING, which we must retrieve from its current installation as adornment for a troll statue. 

We can go south from this point to reach a crawlspace with a door on the east end, where we find the CANDY SUCKER treasure hidden in an assortment (we are not allowed to take any of the other suckers which don't belong to King Mark.)  A flashing text and rising musical tone alerts us that we have only one treasure left to retrieve!  If we STAND UP in the eastern passageway, we harmlessly bump our heads, triggering a parser joke implying the physical presence of the omniscient narrator, who bumps his/her/its head as well.   Doing this also clears that menu option, introducing another so that we can travel west out of this tunnel, back to the guarded cave entrance.

I haven't taken the staircase on the right yet, back at the western crawlspace area -- but it just leads back to the main cave entrance. The only treasure we're missing now is the bag of gold, and I'm hoping to find it somewhere in the northern tunnel.  And... yes, there it is, in the very first place we look!   We're told that YOU HAVE FOUND EVERY TREASURE and instructed to TAKE THE TREASURES TO THE GUARD.  I could just back out to the south, but I can't resist going north through another exit to make sure I've explored this world thoroughly.  This path just leads back to the tiled room, and I take the roundabout western path to get back to the tunnel system entrance.

We can choose to 1. TALK TO THE GUARD now, and he asks us to leave the cave with him, promising a "SMALL SURPRISE."  Outdoors, with the troll's tail conspicuously visible at the left edge of the screen, the guard thanks us for the treasures, and tells us to "PULL THE TROLL'S TAIL AND WE END THE TROLL'S TALE!"  This action reveals (to almost no one's surprise) that the troll-phobic guard is really King Mark, with perhaps the least dramatic prose possible:

And that's about all I can say about Troll's Tale -- victory is strictly a process of elimination, and tackling it in one sitting meant I didn't have to stack unexplored paths too deeply.  There's no real challenge here, but its open structure makes it a lot less linear than many "more sophisticated" games, and as an intro to the art form I'm sure it introduced a lot of kids to the joys of adventuring.


Whoops.  Sorry, Mark!  Yes, I am being sarcastic.  You didn't have to tell me the secret either, you know.  It's not like you gave me any kind of real reward or anything, and knowing you used to dress up as a guard for personal reasons I'm too polite to speculate about won't buy me a cup of coffee.  Maybe you should hire some security personnel or something to prevent your treasures being stolen all the time.  Sorry, your "treasures."  I left out the air quotes.  I hope your currency is staying stable on the candy sucker standard, there, King.  Yeah, yeah, you've got a bag of gold and a silver cup.  I had no trouble carrying your entire national treasure through a bunch of caves, if you hadn't noticed.  I also note that naming me an Honorary Dwarf costs you nothing at all, and to tell you the truth it actually feels a bit insulting.  You think I'm a coward?  A layabout who expects other people to clean up his messes?  Maybe a troll-phobe like your royal High-horsedness?  You know what?  I don't care that I told everyone your big secret.  Not one bit.  I had other things to do today, you know.  Maybe you should get your mom to sew name tags on your treasures, maybe that would help.  While you're at it, ask her why she named you Mark.  Didn't she know you were going to be King someday?  "King Mark"?  Really?  Does poor planning run in your family?




Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adventure of the Week: 4K Adventure (1996)

This week's wanderings through the online archives brought me to John Metcalf's 4K Adventure, written in 1995 for the PC MART Venture Forth programming contest.  Its primary feature is that it consumes a mere 4096 bytes of code and data in total, using a text compression technique to cram some nicely written text and a minimal but sufficient parser into a very small space.  I'm playing it this week because it sounded intriguing conceptually, and also because I had limited time available and ran into technical dead ends with a couple of other games I was hoping to tackle.  The old-fashioned PC DOS .COM executable file requires a DOSBox environment to run on newer machines, and that's how I'm playing it here.

The game begins with a surprisingly lengthy and evocative bit of text -- the player is cast as Grimbis, a black dwarf seeking to retrieve a stolen magical orb from some elves, in order to help our master Gawyn maintain his reign of eternal winter; nothing too substantial, but it's a nice change from the usual fantasy adventure heroics.

I can recommend 4K Adventure to any adventurer seeking a brief challenge -- the parser is very limited but there are a few interesting puzzles on hand, and Metcalf's design nicely avoids some of the traditional adventure design cliches.  As always, my playthrough notes beyond this point will give the game away in detail, so there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! ***** 

We start in the depths of the forest, where we can hear water through some bushes to the west.  I'll avoid the obvious attraction here and go North, to a snowless area near a door in a wall.  The door is made of old oak, we learn if we EXAMINE DOOR; we can't OPEN it without a key.  I also note a parser limitation here -- LOOK [anything] is always a room-level look, regardless of the noun specified.

East of this area is a windy track near the edge of the forest, with a holly bush preventing travel north.  We can go further east to the edge of a gloomy forest, where we can see distant hills to the north, but this is otherwise a dead end for navigation.  Given the game's text-compression technical goals, I'm not surprised to find that the map fairly limited.

Heading south, we pass through a snowy forest clearing and reach the entrance to a prominent fissure cave.  Beyond navigation and a few verbs, there's not much room for parser vocabulary in this game, and we can't GO FISSURE or ENTER FISSURE; it's just here for atmosphere, it seems, exuding darkness that prevents us from entering.

I'm back at the starting location now, and head to the west to see the river Burre, the source of the sounds of water we heard earlier.  There's a boat tied up here, but I can't UNTIE ROPE or SET SAIL or RIDE BOAT or USE BOAT -- it seems we could CUT ROPE if we had a knife, but we don't yet.  EXAMINE BOAT provides more detail but only confirms that the rope has shrunk too tightly around its post to be untied.

Looking for a knife, I happen to EXAMINE BUSH along the windy track, and lo and behold, here's Gawyn's orb!  That part was a lot easier than I expected, and nicely unpredictable; the elves must have left it here, and now we probably just have to make it back to our master.  Where could that knife be?  EXAMINE RIVER reveals a pike, glimpsed momentarily in the murky waters, but I think it's pike as in fish and not as in head-on-a so it won't be a substitute for a proper knife.

I wander around for a while, trying to EXAMINE everything I can.  I finally discover, at the eastern edge of the forest where "The moonlight dances slowly in the thin icicles," that EXAMINE MOONLIGHT is unrecognized, but EXAMINE ICICLES finds a moonbeam trapped in a shard of ice.  Perhaps this will act as a light source so we can enter the dark fissure... and yes, it does!

Inside the narrow cave with the moonbeam in hand, we can travel east until the passage widens into a cavern of boulders.  An odd grey fungus grows here, so I'll GET FUNGUS just in case it proves useful.  Heading back west and then south, I find a pool of icy cold water and a small key.  Now we're getting somewhere.

The small key works on the door in the crumbling wall, providing access to a summer meadow, where our moonbeam melts, so I hope we don't need it anymore.  To the west of the meadow is a murmuring brook, containing pebbles of many colors.  We can't take these, but EXAMINE PEBBLES reveals a knife, so we can GET KNIFE and put it to good use.

CUT ROPE now lets us ride the boat across the icy river, and upon landing we can see Gawyn's Tower to the west.  We travel in that direction, and in an instant, victory is ours!

Apparently we get bonus "gold coin" points for acquiring the odd fungus, even though we never needed to do anything with it, and points for any items that survive in our final inventory.  I went back and checked -- we get 35 additional points if we keep the moonbeam frozen, by dropping it before entering the summery meadow and picking it back up after fetching the knife.

4K Adventure
is a brief but entertaining experience -- not bad for 4 Kb of material!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Gelfling Adventure (1984)

A longtime reader commented on last week's The Dark Crystal post to remind me that Sierra released a simplified version of the game a few years later, using the same illustrations, called Gelfling Adventure.  Since I'm pressed for blogging time this week, and its predecessor is fresh in my mind, this seemed a fine opportunity to see how this alternate version compares to the original. 

Released in 1984, a few years after the original game and the Jim Henson movie that inspired it, Gelfling Adventure is aimed at younger players.  Some of the darker story content is toned down, the map and plot are simplified to fit the game onto one double-sided disk, and it uses a simple choice-based interface, similar to Sierra's earlier Dragon's Keep.  Almost all the artwork is reused as-is from The Dark Crystal, with numerous scenes dropped for space reasons, but the new title screen utilizes early digitization technology, which might have helped the first game out visually had it been available in 1982:

If you're going to play one of these two games, I'd recommend the original The Dark Crystal over this simplified edition, just because it feels more like a proper adventure game than this choice-based redesign.  But feel free to satisfy your curiosity about this version with my playthrough notes below, which are, as always, certain to contain...

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

As the game opens, JEN IS PLAYING THE FLUTE -- there's no need to find it by digging with a piece of shale, so this is closer to the film's opening.  The Mystics are here referred to as THE OLD ONES, and as in the original game, we can't really do anything meaningful before one such creature arrives to summon Jen to the dying Ursu's side.  We have some conversation options -- we can say HELLO or GOODBYE or take a nap instead -- but we're not allowed to say goodbye before saying hello, and if we choose to sleep we dream that we must rush to the cave of Ursu, so the message gets through anyway.

Since I've played the original game, I'll opt to navigate to the west and then take a detour to the north to see what might be different.  In this version, Jen explicitly notices that the Valley of Stones casts shadows pointing to the top of a small hill, and there's no path here, just a tree which we're not allowed to explore at this time.  We still have some freedom to wander and avoid our destiny -- we can visit the pond with the lily pads, though if we try to communicate with them, we're informed that the animals' mothers have advised them not to talk to strangers, replacing the Dr. Doolittle joke used in the original game.

There doesn't seem to be a time limit here -- the dying Old One hangs on until we reach him -- but we're also not really able to do much beyond visiting Ursu's cave.  We do have the opportunity to glance at his bowl to see the image of the Crystal, and Ursu's advice is much simpler, replacing a few screens of text with the more direct "FIND AUGHRA. SHE HAS SHARD LIKE THAT ONE. USE IT TO FIX DARK CRYSTAL."  (The puppet characters -- created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, so this was not technically a Muppet production -- all talk like cartoon cavemen in this version of the game, for some reason, while they were much more articulate in the movie and the original adventure.)

We don't have a lot of options for exploration in this version -- much of the swamp, mountain and forest map is cut out.  After Ursu passes away, we are given the option of going straight to Aughra's dome... but that doesn't actually work, so we will have to explore a bit within the constraints of the reduced map.

That tree on the hill is being emphasized as we exit the cave, and now that we're past our visit to Ursu, Jen is allowed to dig at its base (with his hands, apparently) to find a shiny golden key.  We can now talk to the frog-like creature in the swamp, though he's not helpful -- he tells Jen to "GET LOST," and Jen innocently says that he already is.  We don't have to mess with the lily pads at all -- we can just wade north through the swamp to the location where the babbling brook was found in The Dark Crystal, but here it's just a dry patch of land with some shiny pebbles obviously visible.

When Jen touches them, we hear a loud crash of thunder, but he is allowed to take these "MAGIC PEBBLES" and there's no sling available in Gelfling Adventure.  After doing this, Jen is lost in the swamp, and can choose to follow various passing creatures and sounds, some of which lead back to his starting point.  I feel like I'm headed in the right direction as I head out of the swamp toward the mountains and we're advised that "TIME IS RUNNING OUT"  to urge us along, even though there's no real time limit here.  I wander into the northern swamp, where Jen finds himself trapped by some vines, and as in the 1982 title, Aughra rescues Jen.  We don't have to answer a riddle in this version of the game; we can just tell Aughra we're looking for a shard, and she leads Jen to her observatory.

Here we only have three shard color choices, as compared to four in The Dark Crystal -- if we choose to play the flute, the melody is different, but the blue crystal glows as expected.  I am surprised to discover that we are actually allowed to take the wrong crystal, but if we do we don't get very far before Jen "accidentally" drops it and we end up back at Aughra's, sparing young players the more substantial frustrations possible in the 1982 Hi-Res adventure.

If we pick the blue crystal shard, the Garthim soldiers show up right on cue, and we can "choose" to escape (we can try to save Aughra or fight the Garthim, but those don't pan out and we're given another shot at the expected action, i.e. jumping out the window.)

Now Jen needs to find the Dark Crystal; we don't need to do anything fancy, we can just head toward the Pod People village, where we can "ASK THE VILLAGE PEOPLE FOR HELP."  (Perhaps Henson's whole story concept was just a metaphor for the ravages of disco?)

To meet Jen and Fizzgig, we have to intentionally head back to the east, get Jen lost in the swamp and select the CALL FOR HELP option.  Jen and Kira are introduced to each other telepathically via Dreamfasting when they touch hands, and the text confirms that Jen and Kira are not close relatives, just surviving Gelflings, something that was left open to interpretation in The Dark Crystal.

We don't have to solve any puzzles around the beetle shell, but our heroes still use it to paddle downstream and return to the Pod People village.  On the way downstream, we see a crystal bat flying overhead, and Jen is able to use Kira's slingshot to knock it out of the sky, referencing a puzzle that was apparently designed but never fully implemented in The Dark Crystal.

There's a continuity bug here, as the Pod People seem never to have seen Jen before despite our earlier visit -- they're suddenly afraid of him, whereas he seemed unremarkable just a little while earlier.  But this is a minor plot point, as Kira smooths things over and everyone shares a meal.

The important thing to do now is to talk to the Pod People again; they tell us how to find the Castle of the Skeksis -- "GO WEST, SOUTH, AND THEN WEST FROM LANDSTRIDER HILL."  We can't proceed to do that, though, until we opt to DANCE TO THE MUSIC and then flee the Garthim warrior that arrives (summoned by the deep throbbing rhythms of the village discotheque, no doubt.)  We can opt to drop the magic pebbles we picked up earlier, creating a crash of thunder that frightens the beetle soldier away.

Continuing to flee, Jen and Kira discover the ancient Gelfling hieroglyphs, called GELFLING PICTURE WRITING here for the benefit of younger players, with no mention of the ruined village.  We had to discover these on our own in The Dark Crystal, and the displayed image still depicts the flute, though it's not mentioned in the text.

Now Fizzgig is barking, and investigation reveals a Skeksis lurking nearby -- I think this is partially new artwork, as this scenario didn't occur in my playthrough of The Dark Crystal.  He invites us to follow him, but it seems more prudent to flee to Landstrider Hill, climbing aboard the creatures and following the Pod People's directions to reach the castle, where Jen and Kira encounter a group of Garthim soldiers.

At this point, I make the wrong choice, jumping off the landstriders and allowing Jen and Kira to be captured by the Skeksis!  The Crystal is left unrepaired as the three moons come together, and the game does in fact end unhappily!  We are allowed to read either the good news or the bad news first -- the bad news being that we've lost the game, the good that we can try again.  But there's no quick recovery offered -- we have to start over from the beginning, an unusual penalty in a game meant for younger players.

On the retry (from a saved AppleWin emulator state, in my case; the game has no save function as far as I can tell), I discover that, while we can wander around a bit on the landstriders, dead ends and the setting sun drive us inevitably toward the Castle of the Skeksis, even if we didn't learn about the recommended route earlier in the village. 

Choosing to ride into battle on the landstriders this time, we experience a similar scenario to the one in the movie and the earlier game -- we are knocked off the landstriders, and our only real option is to JUMP OFF OF THE CLIFF.  Kira's wings appear and Jen automatically grabs on to her legs, so there's really no choice to make until we hit the ground.

There are still some fatal scenarios possible here -- upon discovering the entrance into the castle, if we opt to SHOUT AND JUMP FOR JOY then our Gelfling heroes are captured and the story ends badly.  Choosing to follow Fizzgig into the opening is more productive, and we actually do have to navigate a simpler version of the sewer maze to find our way into the castle.

As in the original game, a Skeksis appears and kidnaps Kira and Fizzgig, leaving Jen trapped by a rockslide, though there's a difference here as Jen is actually trapped under the rocks and must move them.  After doing this, however, we skip some navigational puzzles present in the earlier design as Jen simply finds himself inside the castle.

We don't have to hide behind the curtain in the Skeksis' dining room, and Jen's not really in danger of being captured here, so we can listen to their conversation to remind us that Jen needs to heal the Crystal.  And we don't have to hide in a closet to avoid wandering Skeksis -- we can just use the door at the end of the hall to find and free Aughra (actually, she won't let Jen free her, as there's "NO TIME FOR THAT!"  This is allowed, but actually optional, in the original game.)

We're close to the end of the game now, and the story is very linear from this point on; any wrong move is either neutral or ends the game with Jen's capture by the Skeksis.  To succeed, we must go through a big wooden door, unlocking it using the gold key we found earlier, then jump to the Crystal from a balcony, dropping the shard in the process.  As in the earlier game, Kira throws it back, but in this toned-down version of the story, instead of being stabbed by one of the Skeksis, Kira is simply knocked fatally to the floor.

Jen heals the crystal using the blue shard, and some Old Ones arrive, merging with the Skeksis to unify both species into new creatures called the UrSkeks.  The Dark Crystal didn't clearly incorporate this aspect of the movie's plot -- perhaps because a final puzzle was needed, requring a Gelfling kiss to wrap things up, or maybe the scripted ending was modified after the game was underway.  At any rate, in this version, the UrSkeks restore Kira to health, as thanks for Jen's help.

We're offered an opportunity to see our score, and after a simple congratulatory message -- CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE WON "GELFLING ADVENTURE" -- we're told how many moves it took us to finish, 138 in my case, with 66 suggested as a target for improvement.

The existence of Gelfling Adventure suggests that The Dark Crystal itself was not a big seller, and this alternate version may have been designed to squeeze a little more revenue out of Sierra's Henson license, some while after the movie was released.  But online sources suggest this remake was not marketed well, did not sell well (the movie's unspectacular box office results likely providing little support in these pre-VHS days), and is quite rare today as a result. 

Still, it's a unique example of a studio implementing two different versions of the same basic adventure game design, and I'm glad I took the time to tackle it this week.   It also reminds me that Sierra Online published several other menu-driven adventures for young players during the pre-King's Quest years, and now I'll have to try to knock those off my to-play list as well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Adventure of the Week: The Dark Crystal (1982)

I met the gentleman behind Muppet website ToughPigs.com last weekend at International Toy Fair, and was reminded of an adventure I've always meant to play -- The Dark Crystal, published by Sierra On-Line in 1982 as the sixth and final entry in its Hi-Res Adventure series of illustrated text adventures.  Based on the Jim Henson movie, with visual design work by Brian Froud and a cast of sophisticated puppets, Roberta Williams' game was one of Sierra's larger adventures, occupying two double-sided floppy disks.  I remember reading magazine articles about it back when the movie was released, and it's been on my to-play list for decades now.  It's also something of a bridge to the King's Quest series that followed, presented in third-person perspective with our hero, Jen the Gelfling, seen onscreen, unlike the first-person perspective of the earlier Sierra adventures.  I'm playing the Apple II edition here, using the AppleWin emulator; The Dark Crystal was also released for the Atari 400/800 computers.

In license-based games, especially those based on an existing novel or movie, the plot is often constrained to conform to the existing narrative, and The Dark Crystal runs into some issues in that area.  The circa-1980 Sierra game engine was also showing its age by 1982 -- the vector-and-fill illustrations don't capture the characters or world of the film with much fidelity, and dropped objects are often drawn in strange places.  There are no indications of which directions we can move in, so we have to just try things to see how the navigation works, and I was surprised to find out that only INV works to take inventory, I and TAKE INVENTORY do not.

As always, interested adventurers are encouraged to heal The Dark Crystal firsthand before reading my playthrough notes below -- though I will note that the game is not meant to be difficult, but I had to reference a walkthrough several times to get myself unstuck.  If you've seen the film, you know the story already, but as far as the gameplay goes, be warned that there are certain to be...

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

As the adventure begins, we see our character, Jen, onscreen, and are informed that JEN IS IN A BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAIN VALLEY.  This is the Valley of the Stones, according to the Gelfling Mystics, and we can't tale any action before one approaches to tell Jen that he has been sent for by the dying Ursu, "WISEST OF OUR RACE."
We're urged to go quickly, but since we don't really know which way to go I'll take time to explore a little.  To the east is a rocky mountainside, where we can get LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS but safely return the way we came.  North of the starting point, we tumble into a forested wilderness area from which we can't return; we find a sling in the woods to the northeast.

As I pick up the sling, JEN SHUDDERS, and HE SENSES THAT HE IS TOO LATE, AND URSU HAS DIED.  Whoops!  Well, I'll continue exploring here before I restart, if only for the sake of mapping.  Continuing north, I encounter the dreaded disk-change boundary of the pre-hard drive days, moving on to disk 2, side "A" thanks to the game's simple but copious illustrations.

We are now in the Village of the Pod People -- but not that kind, these are GENTLE PEASANTS WHOSE LIVES ARE DEVOTED MAINLY TO FOOD, LAUGHTER AND SONG (proto-Fraggles, perhaps.)  There's a one-location silent forest to the east, and to the west is another forest, where a creature hides behind a rock; LOOK CREATURE suggests that it APPEARS TO BE VERY, VERY HUNGRY.

This creature does not attack or interfere with Jen's movement northward, where we find another wooded area with a great river visible to the east.  We can head west along what seems to be the northern edge of the map, through an arid scrub area and a desert bordered by a chasm TOO WIDE FOR A GELFLING TO JUMP ACROSS.  (The map layout here presages some of Sierra's King's Quest games, with north-south bands of similar terrain laid out in a rectangular grid.)

In this area, west of the Pod People village, Jen finds the Hill of the Landstriders; TWO LONG-LEGGED BEASTS ARE GRAZING HERE.  If we try to RIDE LANDSTRIDER, however, they won't let him approach.

I head back south (across the disk change boundary) to explore the forest near the mountainside some more.  There's a pond with frog-like creatures, and a dead-end area with deafening wild noises (I try to COVER EARS but JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO COVER, though the illustration clearly shows him doing so.)  Returning to the pond, I try to TALK CREATURE, but THIS IS "THE DARK CRYSTAL"... NOT "DR. DOOLITTLE."

We also find the ruins of a Gelfling village, with two flat stones positioned in front of a large wall.  We can't CLIMB WALL, but if we GO ROCKS, the wall rumbles and some hieroglyphics emerge.  The pictured items include a two-pronged flute, a crystal shard, a female gelfling, and a castle, as well as a drawing of a triangle inscribed in a circle.  A clue about our destiny, methinks!

The river near the twisted trees is flowing too swiftly to enter.  I continue mapping, and in the area where I found the sling earlier, Jen sees a crystal bat hovering overhead, with an eye made from artificial crystal; I try to GET BAT but it flits out of reach before disappearing.  Near the pond, Jen encounters a Garthim, ONE OF THE MENACING, BEETLE_LIKE WARRIORS WHO SERVE THE SKEKSIS.  It attacks Jen, taking him prisoner, and the world of the Gelflings -- and the game -- is lost!

Starting over, it makes sense to try to track down Ursu's whereabouts before we go off exploring.  I head west and north through the valley of stones, discovering a shadowy path, but I tumble down the mountainside again, so I'm back to mapping for a bit.  Confirming that there's not (at present at least) a way back to the Valley of the Stones once we've crossed this border, I have to restart again.  (Reboot, actually -- I try to QUIT, but, to his credit, JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO QUIT.)

This time, I attempt to FOLLOW MYSTIC after his visit, but all the parser can do is ask WHICH WAY DID HE GO? in return.  A cave to the west winds north into a candle-lit cavern, where Ursu lies dying.  (The peculiar amnesia adventure game characters always suffer concerning the world they inhabit really feels out of place here, as Jen really should have known how to get here instead of letting me drag him all over the woods!)

There's a bowl of liquid on the floor, but if we try to GET LIQUID, IT WOULD BE SACRILEGE FOR JEN TO TAKE THAT WHICH BELONGS HERELOOK LIQUID reveals the image of a crystal shard, probably that Dark Crystal all the cool kids are talking about.  TALK URSU yields a full screen and a half of text -- unusual for a Sierra Hi-Res adventure -- detailing the end-of-the-world scenario we experienced earlier.  The time of the Last Conjunction of the Three Suns is at hand, and the Skeksis have control of a great Crystal that is missing a shard; restoring the shard will restore the Crystal's integrity and the future of the Gelflings.  Jen has been chosen to heal the crystal by replacing the shard at the next great Conjunction, and we are advised to seek out Aughra, KEEPER OF SECRETS AND WATCHER OF THE HEAVENS.  Ursu also leaves us with this riddle: "WHAT DO THE SUN BROTHERS QUARREL ABOUT?"  We must present the answer to Aughra, Ursu tells us, before he dies and his body vanishes from the sleepframe (because this is an alien fantasy world, where most words mean the same thing as in English except for stuff like, you know, beds.)

So now we have an official quest.  I don't see any interesting paths in the mountains, so we'll tumble down the hill again and see what we can accomplish in the forest.  I pick up the sling again, and try experimentally to SHOOT BAT -- it's not around, but maybe I need to take out its eye to prevent the Garthim soldiers from harassing Jen.

So it's time to wander around and see if we can solve any puzzles.  I TALK PEOPLE in the Pod village, and learn that they have a nearly unpronounceable name used amongst themselves, translating to "MASTER GARDENERS WHO LIVE IN BULGING PLANTS."  We can't GO HOUSE, as Jen has not been invited to visit anyone.  I can't JUMP LANDSTRIDER at their grazing grounds.  What else might we try?  While I am wandering, the bat shows up, and I realize I can't just SHOOT BAT as I thought; the Garthim warrior does indeed show up shortly, though I manage to run away before it grabs Jen.

Exploring some more, I learn that Jen can CLIMB TREE in the silent forest; he sees nothing special there before clambering back down, but we should try to do the same elsewhere.  I find nothing new in the process, however; I try to GIVE SLING to the creature hiding behind the rock, but JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO GIVE.  I guess our heroes aren't always nice people.  CLIMB ROCK produces the same non-result as climbing the trees, so that response may be generic.

And where could Aughra be?  I seem to have mapped everything out.  I try to GET LIZARD in the brushland, to feed the hungry rock creature, but they are too fast.  I try to GET ROCK to collect ammunition for the sling, but there aren't any handy.  I think I may have to restart and look around in the mountains, but I pass the brook while considering my options.  LOOK BROOK reveals some pebbles, and GET PEBBLES allows us to take several along.  I also discover that the intended syntax is SHOOT PEBBLE -- AT WHAT? -- AT [object], though we can't shoot the rock creature or the lizards in the brushland so I'll have to wait for the bat to arrive again.

I try to SMELL SCENT in the area with an enticing scent of undefined origin, but the parser doesn't understand, and I try to LISTEN BROOK just in case its babbling has meaning.  Surprisingly, it says, "E-E-EN, N-N-NEN" -- with a stutter, so maybe it just wants us to go E, N, N, E, N?  Ahhh!  As we go east, a new path has been revealed out of the forest!  We can only go E-E-E-N-N, reaching an impassable swampland.  We can see the other side of the swamp far to the north, but IT WOULD BE SUICIDAL FOR JEN TO ATTEMPT A CROSSING.

Hmmmmm.  We can try to shoot AT CREATURES near the pond, but the frog-like creatures are only startled by Jen's missed sling shots.  I try to GET PAD, but THE WATER LILIES HAVE VERY THICK STEMSCUT PAD is recognized, but we have nothing to cut with.  Maybe a sharp rock?

Restoring an earlier save, I notice that there's some EXTREMELY SHARP SHALE east of the Valley of Stones, and Jen can GET SHALE, allowing him to CUT PAD.  I try to DROP PAD and GO PAD in the swamp, to no avail, and it doesn't serve as a raft in the river either.  Drat!

I finally resort to a walkthrough to learn that we must USE PAD -- in the swamp -- to reach the northern side.  I run into another crystal bat, but my attempt AT BAT isn't quick enough, and the bat flies away, so we'll probably have to flee a Garthim beetle in a few turns.

Jen can trudge north into murky, slimy swampland, and east, where he becomes trapped by vines.  I try to CUT VINE with the shale, but JEN CAN SEVER NO VINE BEFORE ITS TIME.  Har har -- 80s joke!  I try to SWING and WRIGGLE, with no success, but then a friend arrives to help -- it's a single eyeball, held up by a withered hand, and if we've seen the movie we know this is Aughra.  She wants to know the answer to the riddle Ursu posed earlier.  Uh-oh.  What do the Sun Brothers argue about?

I try BEDTIME and LUNCH, and TIME, thinking that three suns are likely to cause disagreement about these things, but the parser will have none of it. I try MOON -- hilariously, JEN CAN'T.  THE VINES ARE BINDING HIM TOO TIGHTLY.  But MOON seems to be a recognized word, at least, and I suspect it's not meant to be used as a verb.  MOON AUGHRA?  No.  MOON SETMOON DAUGHTERS proves to be the successful answer; I'm not sure if I was supposed to find a clue to the answer earlier or not, but the riddle makes sense on its face.

Aughra now releases Jen from the vines.  JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO THANK -- what an ungrateful waste of foam rubber! -- but Aughra takes him to her observatory anyway.  She says, "WHAT YOU WANT?"; CRYSTAL isn't recognized, but SHARD is.  She puts four shards on the table -- blue, green, violet, and orange, and once we choose one, we can't change our minds!  This seems like a fine time to save the game.

I'll chance the violet crystal being the right one -- it seems to most closely match the darkness I would expect to see.  Exiting the observatory, Jen encounters a horde of Garthim, attacking the observatory!!!  I try to run N back inside, but that doesn't work -- Jen is trapped and the game is over.  For some reason, we can GO WINDOW -- ah, I see, we never actually got outside -- and Jen escapes, though Aughra is captured and the observatory burned.  Definitely a little darker than Mr. Henson's Muppet films!

We can only travel south from the eerie bog where Jen has landed, which brings us back to the murky swampland west of the vine trap.  Heading west from this point, Jen becomes mired in a deep bog, sinking into the muck, as another Gelfling watches without apparent concern (thanks to the limitations of 8-bit graphics, which aren't helped by the implacable Gelfling puppet faces.)  We can cry for HELP, and he is rescued by Kira -- the indistinct blob of 8-bit graphics near her feet proves to be her fuzzy pet Fizzgig.  Apparently Jen and Kira have both been led to believe they are the only living Gelflings, so this is probably quite a shock for both of them.

Jen and Kira now stand at the edge of a river, with a giant beetle shell available.  We can't GET SHELL, or ROLL SHELL, but we can MOVE SHELL -- or try to, the parser suggests that we need Kira's help.  ASK KIRA reveals that the Gelflings can communicate telephatically by "Dreamfasting," but does nothing to move the shell.  TURN SHELL works better than MOVE, for some reason, and we find a small pouch underneath it. 

The pouch is full of -- ahem -- smoke seeds.  But there's no time to find out if the light weed is less addictive than the dark crystal.  We need to GO SHELL and float downstream, returning to the Pod Village.

We learn that Kira has been living here since early childhood -- odd that none of the locals thought to tell her about Jen's earlier visit, given the rarity of Gelflings, but they were perhaps too busy singing, eating, and smoking -- and another crystal bat shows up, once again flying away before Jen can actually shoot a pebble at it, and we have to flee some Garthim again.  The Garthim are strong but slow-witted, and I'm beginning to think that we can't actually do anything about their attacks -- they never seem to pursue Jen, and they're always gone if we return to the area.

With Kira along, the rock creature changes -- the rock now displays a spiral pattern, though we still can't seem to do much here.  I try to JUMP LANDSTRIDERS again, with no luck, and have to reference the walkthrough again to learn that I should be trying to JUMP ON instead.  Jen, Kira and Fizzgig hop aboard, and aboard these long-legged creatures we are able to jump the wide chasm to the west!

Riding further west through the parching desert, we eventually see THE TURRETS OF A DECAYED CASTLE to the south.  Heading in that direction, we are attacked by Garthim and thrown from our landstriders as the big beetles attack them and kill one of them.  I try to CLIMB down into the chasm, but we are captured and taken to the crystal chamber, and evil triumphs!

Well, dang.  Can we JUMP into the chasm and see what happens?  Yes -- and we're now on disk 2, side B.  And... wait, what?  Kira has wings???  Good for her, but Jen is still a-plummeting.  His call for HELP is not answered, but he can GET KIRA to cling to her skirts and glide down with her.

Now we're at the bottom of a ravine, where an evil face is carved into the rock.  Its teeth form a gate barring access to a closed door, and above it is the circle/triangle symbol we saw earlier.  I try to DIG, and discover that Jen can in fact do so with the shale, suggesting I may have missed something earlier in our travels as we find nothing here.

I'm stuck again, and learn from external sources that we can SEND FIZZGIG behind the bars.  This command asks where Jen wants to send him, and THROUGH BARS sends him through the gate.  He comes bounding back shortly with a key in his mouth that we couldn't see back there earlier.  How convenient!  We can now UNLOCK GATE, and when we OPEN GATE the door behind it also opens.

We can now GO GATE to enter a foul-smelling sewer, with tunnels to the east, west and south, and a door with an image of a serpent chasing its tail.  We can OPEN DOOR to leave the sewers, but this just takes us back outside into the ravine.  The sewer appears to be a maze, but it's geographically consistent with no weird loops or one-way passages, and the game's use of shorter descriptions after the first visit makes it easy to tell if we've been to a specific location before.  Again, each of these sewer areas has a unique illustration, accounting for the amount of disk swapping required.

The most interesting location is off to the west, where we hear strange sounds coming from the south.  Heading that way, we run into trouble as the skeezy Skeksis Chamberlain kidnaps Kira and Fizzgig, setting of a boulder trap as he exits and trapping Jen in the passage.

We can only go south now, where we enter a room full of sleeping Garthim who immediately wake up and advance on Jen.  I try to run to the south, but am captured; retrying, I DUCK but Jen doesn't know how to do that either.  On the next try, I more generally RUN instead, which works better as the Garthim claws smash a big hole in the wall while trying to connect with our hero.

GO HOLE doesn't get us out of danger completely, though, as Jen finds himself perched on a precarious ledge above a lake of fire, with no girlfriend wings to help this time.  But we can see the Dark Crystal itself floating up above!  CLIMB SHAFT actually works, to my surprise, and we find Aughra tied up in the Chamber of Life.  We can RESCUE AUGHRA, and if we TALK AUGHRA she urges us to hurry and find our friend, as the Great Conjunction is imminent.  She isn't kidding - I head east into a hallway and pause to take INVentory, and before I can even do that I am caught by a band of Skeksis coming from the north, so the game once again ends unhappily.

On the next go, I head east, south, and east from the Chamber of Life and am once again caught.  East, South, West proves more helpful, as the Skeksis (is the plural Skekses?) head to the east at the southern end of the hall, leaving Jen undetected in a closet.

Now we can freely travel north, to visit the Throne Room, where we can GET SCEPTER and SIT THRONE to allow Jen a brief daydream that he is Emperor of the Skeksis.  But there's no time for that -- we'll head east now, to the rotting floor of a deserted tower.  We can't seem to do anything here, so we'll go back to the southern end of the hall.

The Skeksis are gathered in the room where we got caught earlier, but they haven't noticed Jen yet, and a curtain runs along the wall, covering it.  We can GO CURTAIN to eavesdrop, learning about a secret panel in the tower before Jen slips out, still unnoticed by the arguing bird creatures.

FIND PANEL doesn't work -- JEN WILL HAVE TO DO THAT HIMSELF.  But FEEL WALL succeeds -- a small panel is discovered, with a small latch.  OPEN LATCH doesn't work -- it's too small for even Jen's fingers to work.  Hmmmm.  I try to USE SCEPTER, with no luck, but LOOK SCEPTER reveals that it has a small hook, and USE HOOK is much more effective.

Jen can now access the bottom of a narrow stairway to the east, and we can go Up to the top, where we hear strange noises from the east.  This leads us to the Crystal Chamber, where the Skeksis are gathered, prepared to recharge their powers and continue their reign as the Great Conjunction occurs with the Crystal still darkened.  Jen is on the balcony above the crystal.

We can now GO CRYSTAL, leaping onto it from our balcony perch.  Unfortunately, Jen drops the crystal shard in the process, and it lands on the brink of the shaft below the Crystal, near Kira and Fizzgig.  The planet's three suns are touching, visible through an open ceiling portal, so the moment is at hand.  Kira grabs the shard and is preparing to throw it to Jen, when the Skeksis Ritual-Master threatens her with a drawn dagger.

We are given the option of saving Kira -- and I'll save the game here so I can see what happens if we try later on -- but I think we need to fix the crystal first.  Answering NO to the question allows Jen to regain the shard, and now we can FIX CRYSTAL -- and... oh no!  I chose wrong at Aughra's observatory, and the violet shard does not fit!  OVERCOME WITH DISPAIR [sic], JEN SLIPS OFF THE CRYSTAL and is captured.  Yet another unhappy ending.

Okay -- it's walkthrough time again, as I don't want to trudge all the way here again with a 25% chance -- well, 33% now -- of ultimate success.  How was I supposed to know which shard to take?  It turns out that I was supposed to DIG near Ursu's cavern way back at the beginning, then PLAY FLUTE to discover the true shard, as seen in the movie.  (I kind of assumed Jen always had his flute with him, but I guess that's not the case here, so he has to go find somebody else's germ-ridden flute buried in the dirt.)  So it's back to square one, almost, but it shouldn't take too long to retrace our steps once we're better prepared.

I find the flute by digging on the shadowy path, and use it at Aughra's.  PLAY FLUTE yields the game's one and only sound effect, as two notes play and the blue shard glows and resonates.  The rest of the game is very linear, almost identical to my earlier attempt, though I do learn that my wanderings around the stone face gate were important -- Fizzgig comes back empty mouthed where we land, we have to travel west before he can find the key (it's hard to tell, because the locations appear identical.)  I am shortly back at the climax.

I might as well see what happens if opt to save Kira instead of fixing the crystal -- and of course, Jen just gets captured after he jumps down to protect her.  If we make the "difficult" choice and FIX CRYSTAL instead, the crystal is restored as the blue shard is inserted, the Garthim warriors are destroyed, the castle walls are restored to crystalline purity, the reign of the Skeksis ends, and... we discover that Kira has been stabbed and is dying.  We can KISS KIRA, however, to magically rekindle her life!  Jen and Kira are all set to save the Gelfling species, we surmise, if they can somehow conquer a critical lack of genetic diversity and the fact that, according to the parser, JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO F... um, anyway, HARMONY, AFTER A THOUSAND YEARS OF DARKNESS, HAS BEEN RESTORED and victory is ours!

The Dark Crystal is an old-fashioned design with its share of dead ends, and the story has the usual difficulties with adapted material -- if we've seen the film, we know some things we perhaps should not, and if we haven't, we have to guess mightily to come up with some key actions in the game.  We're given a lot more freedom in the early, exploratory stages of the adventure than we are toward the plot-heavy end, which makes the climax rather less exciting than it ought to be, as the player can really only take one series of correct actions to reach a successful conclusion.  The game was reportedly put together in a little more than a month, which may account for some of its limitations.  But I'm glad I finally got around to playing it, and I still have a couple of Sierra's Hi-Res Adventures to tackle so maybe I'll make those a priority this year.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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No Adventure of this Week... I have been swamped with other projects and out of town, and hope to resume my normal posting schedule next week.

But I'll take a moment to briefly celebrate the recent resurgence in point-and-click adventure gaming... not only have we received an update of Tim Schaefer's brilliant Grim Fandango, and a more substantial remake of Jane Jensen's Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, but Square-Enix is trying its hand at Telltale Games' episodic approach to storytelling with the interesting Life Is Strange.  Dave Gilbert has completed his Blackwell series, and the second act of Schaefer's Broken Age is also due soon.  It will be a while before I write about any of these -- if I'm going to tackle anything less than five years old, it will be Scott Adams' The Inheritance -- but it's a fine time to be an adventure gamer!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Dante's Inferno (1980)

CASA Solution Archive founder JGunness inquired recently about this game; I hadn't heard of it before, so it presented a fine opportunity to explore some new old territory.  Dante's Inferno is a fairly early microcomputer text adventure, written in BASIC for the TRS-80 Model I and published in the January 1980 (Vol II, No 4) issue of SoftSide Magazine.  It was not part of the magazine's monthly adventure game series; it's credited only to "Adventures In Software" in the code, but the printed magazine article credits the game to Gerard Bernor.  I'm playing using the TRS32 TRS-80 emulator.

Cast as a greedy person who sold our soul to the devil in exchange for wealth, we must now try to escape our fate by entering Hell, finding our contract with Satan, and escaping with it.

This is another interesting case of originality-by-necessity, in the days before adventure game design and programming became more standardized.  There's no verb/noun parser in Dante's Inferno -- instead, single-character commands are used to navigate, and even that's surprising, as the available commands turn out to be Back, Forward, Left, Right, Up and Down.  This is a rare variation on the compass-based standard, although the engine doesn't actually take the player's orientation into account; for practical purposes, B/F/R/L correspond to N/S/E/W, and we're always facing forward for the room descriptions.  There's no list of "obvious exits," though some rooms describe the navigation options, so we have to bang into walls and wander into dead ends a lot to figure out where we can actually go.

As always, interested adventurers are encouraged to travel through Dante's Inferno before reading the rest of this post.  The game is cleanly coded and not difficult, but map-making is an absolute must, as the game's primary challenge is navigational in nature.  I will note that the game's simple interface is case-sensitive, so if your commands are being ignored, try turning Caps Lock on or off.  Feel free to save yourself the old-school headaches if you like, and proceed straight into the...

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

We begin on the banks of the River Styx.  There's quite a bit of descriptive, large-character prose in this game.  The stage is set as we stand before the Gates of Hell, reading the "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here" warning invented by Dante and a tradition for centuries since.

I'll opt to be contrary and move Back first, which takes us into Purgatory.  We can't go back any further or in any other directions here, though the game's response to my floundering is amusing: IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE HAVING TROUBLE GOING TO HELL.  Even going Forward doesn't always get us out of Purgatory; we have to keep trying until we eventually make it through to the bank of the River Styx again.

Any movement L or R from this location just takes us back into Purgatory, so our only real option is to head Forward into Hell itself.  Well, Hell's Portal, anyway -- there is a small opening on the left and dim visibility forward and right.

I'll head forward into Satan's Room -- IT'S LUCKY FOR YOU THAT HE'S NOT HERE NOW.  We can travel to the left here, to a tunnel traveling forward/back; going back takes us through a narrow tunnel and back to Hell's Portal.  There's also a dead end off to the left of the tunnel.

Traveling right of Hell's Portal leads to another dead end.  So the only avenue we haven't yet explored is the tunnel to the left of Satan's Room, which leads to the Mud Pit.  To its left is a little grotto where LOST SOULS SHOVEL COAL AND SULFUR INTO STEAMING PITS, making me wish there were postcards for sale.

Traveling further left takes us into another narrow twisting tunnel, and careful exploration discovers a twisting narrow tunnel, a very narrow twisting tunnel, and a pair of Dead Ends, one of which is clearly not really a dead end but still doesn't lead anywhere interesting.

It looks like I've mapped Hell pretty well in the cardinal directions, encountering little opposition and no sign of our contract with the Man Downstairs, so we'll have to look at up and down moves.  We can go D into the bubbling mud pit, with lava audible on the left.  No other directions prove fruitful to explore, so we'll check out the Large Grotto on the left.  THE FLOOR IS COVERED WITH WHAT LOOKS LIKE HUMAN BONES -- I'm not sure what else might look like human bones, but we'll allow the author a little atmospheric vagueness.

Left of the grotto is another twisting tunnel leading to a dead end.  Forward takes us to a room under a heating shaft, with a dim red glow above.  Right of the shaft is the FOURTH LEVEL OF THE DAMMNED [sic], where the tormented souls have BURNING LOADS HUNG FROM THEIR ARMS AND LEGS.

We might be getting closer now -- going forward from this room leads into ANOTHER RECORD KEEPING SECTION, which implies there's an original Record Keeping Section somewhere, though this room is a dead end so it's not nearby.  So we'll go Up the heating shaft to a room at its top.  Forward here takes us into the Cave of Lost Souls -- where, unfortunately, YOU HAVE ALSO LOST YOUR SENSE OF DIRECTION.  So we may be in for a maze or at least some confusion.

Panicking slightly, I wander around this maze too quickly to map effectively, and eventually find a location where we can slide back down, one-way, to the Large Grotto.  Trying to map more carefully on a second try, I find few other options -- Back from the top of the shaft, we HEAR THE GARGOYLES COMING and are forced forward again.

So back into the Cave of Lost Souls we go.  Up from the entry point is Hell's Central Heating System, and to the right we find the Fifth Level of His Satanic Majesty's Domain.  Lucifer's out of the office at the moment, but there's a small opening in the floor here -- it leads all the way back to Hell's Portal and may be a handy escape route.

But we still have to find the contract, so back to mapping we go.  North Forward of Central Heating we discover the Cave of Gargoyles, the Pit of The Mortal Sinners, and a point where the tunnel floor drops away, too wide to jump.  Left of this point is the slide down to the Large Grotto that I stumbled upon earlier.

Left of the Pit of Mortal Sinners is the room of the TWICE DAMMED [sic I presume], from which we can reach the Section of the Cursed, FILLED WITH POISONOUS FUMES.  Traveling to the left of this section warps us back into the Very Narrow Twisting Tunnel near the start, providing another potential escape route, though of course we can't come back that way.  This map is convoluted and confusing!

There's also an Evil Smelling Pit forward of the Section of the Cursed, and if we go D into it we slide down the Sulfur Supply Tube to Hell's Portal.  So there are at least three ways out of here, suggesting we may need to work fast at the end of the game.

I'm not finding much else of interest and I think I've mapped most of the game's world, so there must be some critical locations I haven't found yet.  I try going Up and Down from some dead ends, finding nothing new beyond a few additional dead ends.  But at last I find a Rocky Ledge above the Fourth Level room, and to its right is the Record Keeping Section!  And yes, we've finally found THE HIDING PLACE OF SATAN'S CONTRACTS, and are prompted, WANT TO TAKE IT WITH YOU NOW?  I'll answer Y -- OK, LETS GET OUT OF HERE!  Agreed!

According to my map, the most direct escape route will be to go through the hole in Lucifer's throne room to return to Hell's Portal... but when I get there, I discover that I can't squeeze through it while carrying the box of contracts.  Nor can I get through the narrow, twisting tunnel, for the same reason.  I wish we could just find our own contract and drop the box, but there's apparently no time for that -- we have to take the whole box, freeing who knows how many damned souls along with our own.  I almost feel bad for Satan, but if he's just going to toss all of his business-critical legal documents in a box with no backups, I guess I can't be held responsible.



I get one of those shocks deliverable only by early computer games!  As I move toward another possible exit in the complete silence that has prevailed up to this point, the TRS-80 speaker bursts to life with horrendous, screechy white noise, and I jump out of my seat as FROM THE DARK LEAP THE INCUBI OF MEPHISTOPHELES!  And... and the noise!  This noise, this horrible noise, it never seems to stop!  I would have had to reboot the whole machine back in the day; fortunately, in the emulation age, returning to an earlier save state silences this torture.  The TRS-80 was not really designed for sound, so this was doubly shocking.


Checking the code later, curious about how this was achieved, I discover that this scare may not have been intentional.  It appears to be a tokenization error in the BASIC listing published in SoftSide -- instead of PRINTing some intended text, it CSAVEs!  So, with a virtual speaker hooked up to the virtual line out for general gaming purposes, I was actually just hearing the sound that would have been generated to save the BASIC program to audio cassette tape.  This error means that I never saw the remaining text, and suffered a fate the author likely never intended.

Anyway, back to finding our way to a viable escape route.  I've only got one left to try, and yes, sliding down the sulfur supply tube from the Evil Pit room north of the Cursed room works  We're conveniently dropped off at Hell's Portal and can quickly back out of Hell... to victory!

The game can be finished much more quickly than I did here -- there's no way to die, so aside from some time-saving restores my 334 move "score" includes a lot of exploration and dead-end mapping.  All we really have to do is find the contract and then exit, so with a good map in hand it could probably be finished in around 30 moves.

Dante's Inferno is an interesting early adventure game.  Mr. Bernor's engine is unsophisticated but still provides a lot of exploration, colorful prose and a degree of challenge, without a single traditional adventure game inventory or action puzzle.