We continue our exploration of the Artic Computing series for the British Spectrum home computers this week, playing the company's third release, Adventure C: Ship of Doom. Some sources credit this 1982 adventure to Charles Cecil, and the author's style seems a bit different from the earlier adventures A and B, although the engine is likely the same.
The title screen does not cite the author's name, though there is a dedication to Chris and Gaynor; there's no color on the title screen, but the text presenting the game's very basic objective is presented in mixed-case, while the game proper reverts to uppercase-only.
You must find the control button and free your ship, which is simple enough, though... shall we say... reminiscent of the plot of Adventure A: Planet of Death and many, many other sci-fi text adventures. I will shortly reveal quite a few details about the game's plot, so if you wish to experience Ship of Doom for yourself, I advise you to give it a go before continuing. Because, as always, there are serious...
**** SPOILERS AHEAD ****
At the start, we learn that our ship is held in place by a GRAVITON BEAM; the Star Wars influence is strong with this one, as with many of these early 1980's adventure games.
One stylistic difference compared to the earlier Artic adventures pops up early on, though the lack of apostrophes persists and appears to be a limitation of the text engine. If we try to PULL HANDLE in the alien air lock, we are only told I CANT. If we TURN HANDLE, a passage opens, and we are prompted with the question DO YOU WISH TO GO ON BOARD?, to be answered YES or NO. It's an unusual conditional prompt -- most games would automatically move us along, or reveal a door and expect us to navigate on the next turn. This design choice adds a little tension to the proceedings, though we can return easily enough.
Most of the challenge consists of mapping out the game world -- our ultimate goal is to find the control button, and escape back to the ship before "time" (i.e., a limited turn count) runs out. Some rooms and opportunities are red herrings, and there are some bizarre and humorous elements provided strictly for atmosphere.
This game was created in the United Kingdom, and so I wasn't immediately sure whether the TORCH I found was of the to-be-waved-by-angry-villagers variety, or a flashlight. We can't TURN ON TORCH, and LIGHT TORCH yields only I CANT DO THAT YET. I never did figure out which it was on my own, nor did I need to use it for anything, actually, but a walkthrough reveals that we can SHINE TORCH to disable a laser-beam alarm, as an alternate solution to the JUMP BEAM approach I discovered.
As we've seen before, the Artic Computing engine does not usually recognize object-specific LOOK commands. LOOK HOOK in a windowed room confused me by revealing that I CAN SEE THE WHOLE GALAXY, VERY PRETTY -- but it was actually referring to the room, not to some transdimensional property of the hook. This also means that, again, REDESCRIBE must be used to refresh the displayed room description. There is, however, one interesting exception to this general rule -- LOOK HOLE at one point reveals an in-game advertisement:
Another parser limitation -- PUT [object] IN [object] appears to work, as the parser doesn't reject the command, but is really recognized as PUT [object], i.e. DROP. Where this sort of action is called for, the INSERT command must be used; for example, INSERT MICROBATTERY turns the SILVER ROD WITH SQUARE SLOT into the SONIC SCREWDRIVER.
There are some infrared glasses, but they don't do a lot -- they serve only to transform a dark corner in one room into the now-visible microbattery, and serve no other purpose. Getting the sonic screwdriver is important, because we need a key stored securely under a glass cover; SHOOT GLASS with the laser isn't a good idea, as the whole case disintegrates, taking the key with it. I was stuck here for a while -- there didn't seem to be any other puzzles I could work on, so it was clear I needed to find a way to remove the glass. But I ultimately needed a walkthrough to get past the parser here -- UNSCREW COVER does not work, nor does USE SCREWDRIVER, nor USE SONIC. The magic command is POINT SONIC - one of those times when an EXAMINE verb might have provided some insight into how the tool works, but the Artic games generally require us to take objects at face value.
Once I had the key, I was able to INSERT KEY - INTO WHAT? - INTO HOLE, which turned on the heat. This allowed the ice in a nearby room to melt after a few turns, freeing A BODY IN A BLOCK OF ICE and revealing it as a murderous little girl, next to a hitherto inaccessible door. I got myself randomly strangled by her a few times; SHOOT GIRL is not allowed by the parser, but I tried WITH LASER as a shortcut to finding the right target. The parser kindly selected a target for me, shooting a hole in the door and allowing me to escape into the next major area of the map.
I never did figure out who FRED was -- in the room with the alarm, we are told that FRED WARNS YOU THAT THERE IS A LIGHT BEAM ACROSS THE SOUTH EXIT. If we try to go south without disabling the alarm, BARS DROP BLOCKING THE EXITS... AND YOU ARE GASSED. But we can see the light beam in any event, with or without the infrared glasses, so the warning seems extraneous.
There's another interesting side trip in Ship of Doom, but it involves some mildly adult content, so the related discussion can be found at the very bottom of this post.
Some comic relief is provided by an android repairing his ship, while tied to a rope that we need; when we CUT ROPE, he screams in horror and floats into space. This action seems needlessly cold, but later on when we're escaping the ship, we see him as a CROSS ANDROID CLIMBING ABOARD, so there's no permanent harm done.
A control room has a switch and a sign reading DO NOT TOUCH, but TOUCH SWITCH is not recognized. PUSH SWITCH is not a good idea, either, as it only establishes that YOU HAVE BEEN SENT HURTLING INTO OUTER SPACE.
A random hazard appears repeatedly, requiring us to keep the laser gun at the ready. We are often told that THE LITTLE ALIEN HAS APPEARED AND IS WAVING A GUN. We have to SHOOT ALIEN -- sometimes we miss, but usually we are told that THE ALIEN HAS DIED. WELL DONE. If we take a pacifist approach, the alien follows us and eventually succeeds in shooting us, so it's best just to keep him/her/it and any persistent relatives as dead as possible.
We can TIE ROPE - receiving the further prompt WHAT TO? - but I wasn't sure how to respond at the time I first discovered this. Later, I was able to use TO HOOK to end up with the very British-sounding A ROPE WITH HOOK ON. But I wasn't able to figure out what to do with it -- I found a PIT ROOM, but couldn't GO PIT or USE HOOK or USE ROPE. A walkthrough came to my rescue again -- LOOK UP reveals that I SEE A LEDGE ABOVE ME. But the (what seemed to me) logical commands THROW HOOK, HOOK LEDGE, CLIMB LEDGE and GO LEDGE do not help us get up there; we have to THROW ROPE. This works even if we haven't actually discovered the ledge.
Making good use of the rope helps us get to a Galactic Bar where we find AN ODIOUS PURPLE DRINK and an ANDROID BARMAN DEMANDING MONEY. We can't GIVE COIN, but can PAY BARMAN / WITH COIN, making him happy. But then GET DRINK knocks us unconscious, and we wake up in a Laser Prison. We can't easily backtrack in this section of the game -- if we go back down from the ledge after climbing up, the hanging rope disappears; apparently we pulled it up after ourselves and left it on the level above, with no recollection of doing so. So it's clear we must need to do something useful with the drink. We do have to go to prison, then USE MIRROR to fuse the laser bars, opening exits south and east.
Going S takes us back to the bar. Going E leads to a Lift Shaft with red, green, and orange buttons. At this point, we're very close to the end of the game, pending a little trial and error. We have to push all three buttons to reach a destination, with saving before experimentation highly recommended; RED / ORANGE / GREEN takes us back to another level, and we can't easily return. Other combinations take us fatally to outer space, or back to the prison cell, a temporary setback. RED / GREEN / ORANGE is the magic sequence that takes us to a computer room and the fabled CONTROL BUTTON.
PUSH CONTROL kicks off the alien ship's self-destruct sequence, and we have only 30 moves to get back to our own craft after being returned to the prison cell. Good mapping comes in handy here, as does efficient play; for example, USE MIRROR is more efficient than the alternative FUSE BARS / WITH MIRROR combination, although we can cheat the parser by jumping straight to WITH MIRROR. We also have to hope that we don't run into the gun-waving alien, or that our luck holds and we can keep moving instead of stopping to shoot it.
When we reach our ship, victory is ours; the antecedent of IT in the wrapup text is grammatically unclear, but it seems safe to presume it is not EARTH:
I had fun with this one, briefly, but there's not much of a plot here -- just a series of puzzles and a straightforward objective, nothing we haven't seen before in many other text adventures. Our only concrete reward seems to be that we are now free to proceed with Artic Computing's ** ADVENTURE D **. Which we will likely do, at some future date.
Oh, and one more thing... if you dare...
**** WARNING - ADULT CONTENT BELOW THE FOLD ****
Adventure C: Ship of Doom was the subject of some "videogame nasty" controversy with the UK's Mary Whitehouse back in the day, due to one scenario that's not actually essential to finishing the game. At one point, we find ourselves in an ANDROID PLEASURE ROOM, where a beautiful android lies in tempting repose. The game recognizes a certain four-letter verb here, sounding somewhat like that common table utensil which is neither a spoon or a knife, but the controversy arose in large part because the parser treats another, nastier word as a synonym. This word can be uttered on the radio, but it starts with an R and usually refers to violent non-consensuality. A poor dictionary choice, to be certain, but there it is.
Fortunately, neither word need be used at all -- it's really provided as an excuse for a few jokes, most at the expense of the dirty-minded player's sexual prowess. Applying the verb to the android yields one of several random responses:
THAT WAS SATISFYING... BUT GOT YOU NOWHERE.
SHE SAYS: PERHAPS YOU SHOULD TAKE A COURSE IN ANDROID ANATOMY.
SHE POINTS OUT THAT PERHAPS YOU WOULD BE MORE SUCCESFUL [sic] USING A SCREWDRIVER.
SHE MOANS VIOLENTLY AND BLOWS A FUSE.
The verb is also recognized in relation to a humanoid figure strapped to a table, but not in any graphic or meaningful way, with the game telling us that FRED POINTS OUT THAT YOU WILL HAVE AMPLE CHANCE FOR THIS LATER. It's best just to kill the humanoid, as if we UNTIE MAN he immediately strangles us.