Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Adventure of the Week: Calixto Island (1982)

This week, we take a look at the first graphic adventure I personally ever played; it was the first of the six-game series released by Mark Data Products for the TRS-80 Color Computer, and with this post we've now covered the entire collection.  Originally a text adventure by Ron Krebs, Calixto Island was re-released in a graphically enhanced version by Bob Withers and Stephen O'Dea in 1982:

The game sends the player on an exploratory mission whose object isn't immediately clear, but involves teleportation, hazardous travel, and the mysterious Trader Jack.  Calixto Island qualifies as an introductory-level adventure -- the game's puzzles are generally solveable by examining the available items and trying the obvious.  And almost every object comes in handy for something.

I've enjoyed revisiting this series and playing the titles I never explored back in the day.  As always, I encourage interested readers to play these games for themselves before reading on.

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

There are plenty of useful goodies readily available at the start of the game.  The chest in the attic contains a couple of valuable items, and is itself worth taking along.  The basement contains a pump, bucket, and mouse trap, all of which are vital to finishing the game.

A holdover from the game's text adventure roots -- the game hints that "I heard a strange sound" after touching a concealed switch in the basement, which originally would have nudged the player to LOOK -- but the auto-refreshed illustrations in this version make it clear that a secret passage has opened.

After exploring the secret passage, we discover the Professor's lab:

Fortunately the Professor's cheerful teleporter has a manual -- outside the device it reads as follows:
The title is :
- Teleporter Operating Manual
The introduction says :
- To be used if problems arise
READ INSTRUCTIONS provides more detail when read inside the teleporter, an interesting early use of context sensitivity.

I ran into a few old-school parser issues.  Neither OPEN TRAP DOOR nor OPEN TRAPDOOR worked, but OPEN DOOR did.  Inside the teleporter, there's some confusion around the prominent instrument panel as LOOK PANEL and READ PANEL fail; LOOK INSTRUMENT appears to work, as the game suggests READing -- but then READ INSTRUMENT is actually parsed as READ INSTRUCTIONS.  While trying to go to Calixto Island from my raft toward the end of the game, the only thing that worked was GO SHORE, not GO ISLAND nor GO CALIXTO.

As is often the case with vintage adventures, where testing of fatal paths was an easily neglected task, death and typos go hand-in-hand:

I learned before long that the flashlight doesn't have a lot of battery power -- I had to restart once, being more careful to turn it off after emerging from dark areas.  I did discover that one can find and press the concealed basement switch completely in the dark, saving several moves' worth of light.

There are only a few human characters in the game -- one is Trader Jack, essentially a vending machine:

I ran into a trap/bug with Trader Jack's extremely short memory -- it's necessary to trade one item to Jack at a time.  He'll gladly accept both items he's interested in, but if we trade both before taking anything he only lets us take one item in exchange!  Once we have succeeded in obtaining both of the interesting artifacts in his shop, he closes for the summer, role fulfilled.  I also noticed that if we didn't open the chest before trading it, so that its graphic remains in the closed state, it isn't displayed at all in Trader Jack's place after he accepts it.  That's a bad idea for a number of reasons, so this minor presentation bug likely slipped through testing.

Another vintage adventure convention -- I wasn't able to TRAP MICE, but I was able to TAKE MICE if I was carrying the trap.  And of course, TAKE BOOTS is equivalent to wearing them.

Some of the graphics are quite evocative and attractive -- green was rarely seen on the Color Computer, and this is one of my favorite images:

Within the jungle lies a Mayan pyramid maze, simply but effectively rendered with hieroglyphics on the walls:

The game limits the player's inventory to four items, so a fair amount of juggling is required, especially on the trip to the titular island.  The "unfriendly natives" are a tad on the stereotypical side:

They can be fobbed off with a box of cheap costume jewelry, but consequently, or perhaps because they're angry at their clumsy depiction, they deflate the player's boat.  If the tire pump hasn't been carried to the island, it's time to restore.

The game's objective only really becomes clear after the keys are brought to the Professor's house, so that the desk can be opened and the microfilm read with the spectacles.  Even then the information provided is a bit of a red herring:
It must be buried at the pagan idol on Calixto Island. If you find it, put it in my study.
I followed the Professor's instructions, went to the island, dug up some ancient pottery and brought it back to the study.  No go.  So I restored, dug twice near the idol this time, and found what I was really looking for -- *Montezuma's jewelled crown*.  I should have noticed the pottery's distinct lack of treasure asterisks.

Too bad Professor Lagarto didn't make it; we found him buried near the pagan idol, which sort of devalues the whole experience (or did mine, anyway, as I imagined myself to be some sort of protege of the good Professor.)  But with that final errand run and the treasure collected, pyrrhic victory is ours!

Next time, we return to the realm of the text adventure!


  1. One of my favorites in the CoCo... thanks for the review!

  2. Calixto Island was the first text adventure that I ever played, which led me into a sea of long nights, solving games of this nature. It was a love hate relationship, at first but once I got the hang of it, I was an unstopable force. Tried downloading them onto my PC but unable to play them. Would be great to see them available for Android ;)