Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Adventure of the Week: The Golden Baton (1981)

This week, we're going to play a cousin of the classic Scott Adams text adventures -- The Golden Baton, the first of Brian Howarth's series of Mysterious Adventures.  Howarth wrote his games in the UK, using the Scott Adams engine, but these titles never made it to US shores as far as I know.  So while the framework and parser structure feel very familiar, the stories and puzzles are all new (to me, at least -- the games were contemporaries of the Adams series, published originally in the early 1980's.)

Mysterious Adventure #1 starts in a deep, dark forest:

I started playing the game using the modern ScottFree interpreter, but the Mysterious Adventures handle lamp expiration in a different way than the Adams games, causing some odd behavior. So I switched to the vintage Commodore 64 version with illustrations, which raised some different issues.  The area fill routine on the C-64 is very slow, causing the game to plod along when the illustrations are turned on.  But as objects and characters are not displayed, only described in the underlying text, it's necessary to switch the graphics off anyway to get one's bearings on occasion.  I ended up playing the C-64 version in text mode, turning the graphics on occasionally to see what the illustrations looked like (and to capture screenshots for this post.)

It was interesting to tackle a Scott Adams-style game designed with a different sensibility. The puzzles in The Golden Baton seem arbitrary in many cases, with few clues available as to what the correct course of action might be.  There's also no real plotline here -- just a series of loosely interconnected puzzles to solve.  I enjoyed the experience, and will be playing more of the Mysterious Adventures -- but I would recommend novice adventurers try the Adams originals first.

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

The game's puzzle solutions are sometimes hinted at, sometimes not.  The first use of THROW ROPE makes sense, as we're at the foot of a tree that is not otherwise climbable.  But the second use, in a similar situation, didn't suggest itself until I consulted a walkthrough. I think the illustration confused me, as it doesn't really suggest that there's anything above us but a stone tunnel ceiling.

I pondered whether or not to KILL WOLF early on.  It didn't seem necessary -- the animal wasn't fatally hostile, and I spent some time trying to interest it in various items without success.  I hadn't initially noticed that the wolf was blocking a path, so I expected something interesting to happen when I killed it, and when nothing obvious changed, I restored a save prior to the deed and explored for a while.  Finally I returned and noticed that the wolf's location wasn't really a dead end - GO PATH got me on my way, once the beast was justifiably dispatched.

The Golden Baton requires some actions that can only be arrived at by random experimentation.  I learned on my own that RUB RING caused a key to materialize, but it was sheer dumb luck on my part.  A similar instance of SHAKE QUARTZ came from a walkthrough, I doubt I would have stumbled upon it myself.

The Adams parser is generally well implemented here, but it does throw some odd stumbling blocks in the player's way.  We can't CROSS MOAT, but we can SWIM MOAT to reach the closed portcullis.  The quick dip makes our matches unusably wet if we haven't made proper arrangements, but only on the trip across the moat traveling north where the SWIM verb must be employed; the matches stay perfectly dry when crossing the moat heading south.  And if we have squeezed the oil from the rag, the "dry rag" stays dry even after a swim.

I was able to map out the first dark area semi-successfully without a lamp, by saving and restoring whenever I moved in an invalid direction and died of a broken neck.  I was able to guess that there was a door, and learn that it had a rusty padlock on it, without any light source at all.  Later, after I had one, I discovered that the ScottFree 1.02 interpreter doesn't handle the Howarth approach to lamp expiration very well.  After the game reported the lamp had gone out, I found myself with an "empty lamp" in the room, AND a "LIT oil lamp" still in my possession, which provided an undying source of light from that point forward.  The C-64 version handled this correctly.  

I ran into several obtuse puzzles involving magic items, though some have roots in venerable fantasy tradition.  We can't kill the dark knight, but if we're wearing the old cloak he doesn't stop us from going through the archway.  When wearing the old helmet, we can read the magical runes on the ring and staff, revealing a magic word that plays a role in a later Howarth adventure, and in this game... though finding its proper use was for me a matter of trials, errors, and lots of Nothing happens, plus a hint that we also had to WAVE STAFF.  Finally, we must HOLD MIRROR before entering the Gorgon's lair -- simply carrying it in inventory is insufficient to reflect the creature's deadly stare, resulting in an old-school instantaneous fatality when Gorgon's stare turns me to stone! I'm dead!  I like the illustration of the Gorgon's previous victims:

I was amused to discover that dropping salt on the Huge Slugs does not kill them, but turns them into Salted Slugs, which sound strangely tasty.  Feeding them to the huge yellow crab caused it to ignore me, granting access to the lake.

A few conventions inconsistent with the Adams games threw me off for a while, until a walkthrough came to my rescue.  There's a hole in the floor under the straw in the stable, but unlike the Adams games, the straw is not listed as a visible object in the room, only as part of the room's description.  So it hadn't occurred to me to SEARCH STRAW, even though it seemed obvious in hindsight.  Also, I assumed I could drop the raft in the room with the lake, then climb aboard -- but with Howarth's approach, I had to carry the raft and walk into the lake to achieve the desired result.  I also noted that the raft isn't counted as anything larger or heavier than any other inventory item when it comes to determining whether the player is carrying too much.

The endgame steps are largely spelled out by a piece of parchment -- the last step is only partially readable, but there are limited items to THR... by the time we reach the climax.  It's a good thing this clue is provided, as I still can't work out why throwing something at the hand rising from the waters causes it to stop fleeing our grasp and willingly give up its treasure.  But it does, and victory is achieved:

I had fun with The Golden Baton, but without a walkthrough handy I would have had a very difficult time completing it.  The Scott Adams puzzle solutions generally have a basis in the game world or in the real world; Howarth's approach here relies more on trying random actions, verbs especially, until something interesting happens.  But I enjoyed the journey, and can recommend this series to anyone looking for a little extra Adams-style adventuring.

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