Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adventure of the Week: The Domes of Kilgari (1981)

In this installment, I'm playing through The Domes of Kilgari, a 1981 Programmer's Guild adventure written by Alex Kreis for the TRS-80 Model I.  I have reason to believe that Kreis (not sure if it should be Mr. or Ms.) was also a young programmer when this game was made, judging from the style of the game.  I haven't been able to find any biographical information to confirm that; it's only been about thirty years, but the history of these early games is already fading.  At least it seems I'm in no danger of running out of interactive fiction titles to explore in this series -- every platform has its own unique adventures, and text games worked well on even the earliest microcomputers.

The screen RAM fills with the title and some graphic decoration while the game loads:


The Domes of Kilgari is an early adventure game, with a classic Crowther/Woods scrolling parser interface rather than the more advanced, windowed Scott Adams approach.  It's written in machine language and runs speedily enough, but it also has no SAVE feature whatsoever, so while it doesn't take long to solve, fatal mistakes are annoying and time-consuming.  There's also no way to QUIT or RESTART if we discover we've made an irreversible error, and if we die (or succeed) the game just hangs, so the system reset button also gets a bit of exercise.

The game's sci-fi plot finds the player in a broken-down shuttle craft, out of fuel, near an imposing alien structure.  We must infiltrate the building and find a fuel rod, which ends up having some unintended consequences as the plot develops.

As always, I encourage readers to try these games out before reading my comments below the fold.  I have no qualms about ruining a particular adventure's surprises, as these titles are fairly old and my goal is to document them for the historical record.  In other words, there's a plethora of...

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

The game gives away an element of the final puzzle rather early -- right at the start, if we observe that the cockpit is missing a fuel rod, and attempt to TAKE ROD just in case there's one handy, the parser informs us we must specify RODA, RODB, OR RODC.

Leaving the ship and wandering around lost in the alien desert doesn't appear to be fatal in the short term, which is a nice change from tradition, given that there's no source of potable water at hand.  There's also nothing at all to do in the desert, so eventually we have to head northeast to find the fabled Domes of Kilgari.

The game seems to run completely in-memory, and the text is fairly verbose and detailed, at the expense of a rather tight map.  Room descriptions are evocative, but there are quite a few typos - MIDDILE, SEPERATES, EMERGENY, GIRRAFE, and SHREAK, among others.  And the available exits are not always described or listed, producing a few cheap puzzles in the form of false dead-ends requiring us to literally beat our heads against the wall to get past them.

We have to pull the lever in a hidden chamber to turn the building's Laser Protection off; I never actually proceeded with it on, but I assume the consequences are fatal.  It's one of those situations where the fact this is a game comes into play in our decision-making.  The Laser Protection can't be turned off and then back on, as touching the lever twice breaks it, but it makes sense that we have to pull it once, or it wouldn't be there, eating up precious bytes of game data.  So the only course of action that seems reasonable is to pull it once, only once, and that is in fact the right thing to do.

Apparently our eyesight is not the best, as the parser insists that we be carrying an object before we can READ it; signs that we can't take with us have their contents posted in the room descriptions.  When we READ METER after finding it in the equipment room south of General Office, we discover it's an ION DETECTOR.  It's amusing that when we find a strange weapon, READ WEAPON yields ON THE SIDE OF THE WEAPON A LABEL READS, "STRANGE WEAPON."  The most useful information comes from reading a plastic card that reads SATURN - IS THE KEY on one side and MANUFACTURED BY DIGITRON CORPORATION on the other.

We need the information from the plastic card (though not the card itself, as I discovered on subsequent post-death attempts) in order to get past a red door that can't be forced open manually.  I got tripped up for a bit trying to use the password, as SAY SATURN fails but SATURN opens the door.  We are immediately drawn into an elevator, where what is described as a MEAN VOICE intones:  "GIVE THE PASSWORD TO GO TO LEVEL 3. NOW!"  Failing to give the right password causes gas to pour out of hidden vents, ending the game swiftly, without a useable warning, old-school style.  The password in question is DIGITRON, as I finally figured out, which is the name of the company that makes the keycards, so the security system is less than airtight.

The game environment is constructed around a transparent blue rectangle that I initially took to be a reactor core of some kind, but we can enter it and traverse up and down without apparent ill effect.  There are some environmental puzzles -- we must carry insulation to get through a very warm passage -- and multiple floors to traverse, though some rooms don't have anything of interest in them.  The design is very linear -- in general, we reach a point where we are stuck, solve that puzzle, and then should be able to find what we need to solve the next one before we get there.

We encounter some colored rods in yellow, green, and blue pointing at us from the walls in a strange room, but we can't take them or examine them closely, so they're not related to the fuel rod we're seeking, nor do they seem to be a hazard or serve any other purpose.

I never did find a use for the strange weapon.  My attempt to SHOOT DOOR yielded simply, NO.

Our eyesight can't be all that bad, actually, as in one room we are informed that YOU CAN SEE THE ION BEING TURNED INTO POWER, a process which takes place on a scale not visible to the naked eye, or to the scanning electronic microscope, for that matter.  Maybe our character suffers from macro-level degeneration.

The game's least sensible puzzle involves a strange, cartoonish monster who for some reason I have chosen to visualize as the Crunchberry Beast, even though the description sounds nothing like him/her/it:


The beast refuses to succumb to the strange weapon -- SHOOT CREATURE results in our being REDUCED TO A WET SPOT ON THE FLOOR as the angered creature stomps on us. I wandered around and found a hidden room above the blue shaft, with a miniature rubber monster in it. READ MONSTER yields MINIATURE REPLICAS INC. written on the bottom. THROW MONSTER scares the real creature off.

If we have the ion meter in hand, it lights up to warn us about a potentially fatal area. But it lights up, then goes dim, which led me incorrectly to believe that something dangerous had approached and passed by. I walked W one more room to investigate, and immediately died a horrible death:





After disposing of the monster, we can access the storage rooms and find an ION PROTECTIVE SUIT, allowing us to explore the dangerous passage and find a key.  Unlocking the lead door yields this coded message and a slightly misleading hint:

UIF XPSE JT BOLI


TO DECODE-..YO-..MO-E..U-..O-E..LE--ER.

I took the obscured message to be YOU MOVE UP ONE LETTER, which when I did so yielded VJG YQTF KU CPMJ.   Apparently those are actually the encoding instructions, or "up" refers to a written list of the alphabet running from A down to Z rather than the ASCII sequence -- moving down one letter (as I interpret it) reveals THE WORD IS ANKH.   Egyptian themes tend to crop up in these vintage adventure games at the least likely moments -- this one is clearly an homage to the classic Adventure, as using the magic word invokes a PUFF OF ORANGE SMOKE:


The self-destruct sequence triggered by the magic word gives us very little time to grab a fuel rod and escape; we actually have to get to our ship and take off before the whole plant explodes.  We can't just pick up the rods either -- we need to have the SMALL ION ROD CARRYING BOX  found south of the code room, and we can only carry one rod in it.  I opted to grab RODC, as it takes longest to reach and the path of most resistance is often the most productive one in adventuring situations.

The emergency exit is narrow, so we can't squeeze out with too much stuff in hand, and as time is of the essence we can't afford to waste turns taking inventory to see what we still need to DROP.  It's best to dump most of our belongings before setting off the self-destruct.  If we're able to do everything efficiently, we reach our ship, install the fuel rod and reach our happy ending:



Apparently it's not just the alien power plant, but the whole planet that blows up.  And we're not given any information about the PLANET THAT YOU ORIGINALLY STARTED FROM, so all we know is that we haven't really gained anything from the experience.  We just ran out of gas and had to solve some dangerous puzzles so we could get right back to where we started from.  Presumably with Maxine Nightingale  playing on the shuttlecraft's radio.

I quite enjoyed playing The Domes of Kilgari --  the lack of a save feature was balanced by its brevity, so it was an evening's entertainment, and sometimes that's all a game needs to be.  The text is well-written enough, typos aside, to stimulate the imagination, and the puzzles are interesting but not obtuse or needlessly difficult.  I haven't been able to find any other adventures written by Alex Kreis, so if this was his or her only contribution to the form, it stands as a worthy effort.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Dale,

    Thanks for writing and posting this fun review.

    I am the original author of Domes of Kilgari (Alex Kreis), and remember it well. It was my first commercial adventure game that did well financially.

    At that time I wrote a few other adventure-type programs and quite a few other programs which were mostly bought by "CLOAD" magazine (remember them?) over the years back then. I lived in Santa Barbara at the time and CLOAD was there as well, near the airport if I recall. I could tell you all kinds of stories about them and other things regarding the TRS-80 computer. That was during my teenage years.

    Anyhow, I am glad you enjoyed the game. It was fun to create.

    Alex Kreis

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  2. Alex,

    Great to hear from you! I had a chance to talk to Bob Liddil before he passed away this year about the Programmer's Guild, he shared some fun stories about those years. I'll have to track down some of your other games, which seem to have been lost -- do you recall any of the titles? I found a reference to a sequel to this one called "The Missing People" but I don't know if you were involved with that one.

    Dale

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  3. Hi Dale,

    That is great about talking to Bob. I liked PG a lot, they had a lot of interesting games.

    It's been a few years, but "The Missing People" does sound familiar and sounds like a title I would use. I would need to check my TRS-80 files but they are in a box right now.

    PG only published a few of my games. I wrote a few text adventures that were printed in a magazine or article or something, I never saw them in print but did get paid for them. Perhaps that is where that game title comes from.

    Many of my games got published by CLOAD magazine, for the TRS-80 and the Color Computer that Radio Shack sold back then.

    Alex

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