Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Adventure of the Week: Adventure D - Espionage Island (1982)

This week, I'm tackling Artic Computing's fourth text adventure for the UK's Sinclair Spectrum computer -- Adventure D - Espionage Island, attributed to Charles Cecil by online sources and dedicated to Liz, Kath and Tone on the title screen.  It's another two-word parser adventure, but there are some notable dictionary improvements compared to adventures A, B and C.

As with the other games in this series, the startup screen lays out our objective, perhaps in a little too much detail, before launching us into the action-packed opening scenario:


It's a pleasant little spy adventure, not overly difficult, and fun to map and explore.  There aren't many surprises in store, or even many puzzles, but just the same, if you plan to play this game yourself, I advise you to stop here and continue reading after you've explored Espionage Island on your own.  Because, Mr. Not-James-Bond, there are...

**** SPOILERS AHEAD! ****

The Bond-esque opening sequence isn't actually very action-packed -- we start onboard a plane about to crash, but the immediate events are linear, without any real choices or puzzles.  We just have to grab the parachute, pull the lever, pull the parachute's cord, and remove the parachute after we land in the jungle.  It is, however, important to WEAR PARACHUTE before exiting the plane, lest we end up as A LARGE RED MESS.

The game doesn't have a lot of puzzles -- the few that exist are generally practical or tactical in nature, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Near the beginning, we can't examine a dark corner near our airplane's wreckage -- EXAMINE CORNER yields only I'VE HIT MY HEAD ON THE FUSELAGE.   We can find a match to illuminate things, but LIGHT MATCH only establishes that THE WHOLE WRECKAGE HAS EXPLODED AND YOU HAVE BEEN BLOWN UP!   At last, I tried FEEL CORNER, which yielded a string leading to some lucky beads.

The lucky beads serve to support an old-school adventure stereotype -- a nearby native woman will gleefully run off if we GIVE BEADS, leaving us with a handy knife.  As an alternative, we can employ some adult verbiage to learn that HER HUSBAND HAS APPEARED AND YOU HAVE A SPEAR THROUGH YOUR HEAD. YOU ARE DEAD, but that's not particularly useful.

In a notable improvement over previous Artic parser dictionaries, we have to DROP BRANCH at a crevasse to make a bridge, and BOARD BOAT at the river, instead of relying on the overworked USE verb.  Prepositions are still handled by a two-command sequence, a la THROW KNIFE - AT WHAT? - AT GUARD, with the second phrase sufficing as as shortcut, but at least there's more situation-specific variety this time around.  As with the other Artic games, the REDESCRIBE verb is still needed to refresh the display, and LOOK works as a room-level reveal.

The game's author appears to have forgotten which grammatical person the engine uses, as there are a couple of perspective-mangling constructs like this:  I AM IN A SINKING SWAMP.  YOU ARE SINKING!   The swamp is a maze, but as with other Artic games it need not really be mapped -- in this one, the compass permutation S-E-W-N takes us to the next interesting area.

Clues are handy and important but not particularly subtle -- some prominently mentioned graffiti scrawled on a table yields IT SAYS "RICK WAS 'ERE 27/09", apparently written in dialect, and the four digits serve as a safe combination later on. 

Taking a boat downstream is straightforward, although if we don't get out at the first stop we drift into the enemy's sights and are summary dispatched by armed helicopter.  We can GET ROPE here, then take a one-way tumble back to the main area of the map.

The rope is used to remove a rock from the mouth of a tunnel, but I ran into some parser challenges and had to consult a walkthrough to get back on track.  TIE ROPE yields I CANT DO THAT YET in rooms where there's nothing to tie it to, so it's clear that we have to use it with the rock. But I kept trying to pick up the loose end of the rope and take it somewhere else, which is not supported; we just have to use TO ROCK and TO TRUCK in series.

There are a couple of fatal dead ends in the game, mostly when we wander into range of an enemy guard or gunsight.  But there's one map location we shouldn't explore -- if we enter the rock cell, the game immediately tells us THERE ARE NO EXITS! I AM AFRAID THERE IS NO WAY OUT OF HERE, and apparently our character succumbs immediately to despair and commits suicide, ending the adventure.  But there is a warning on a sign in the room above; IT SAYS "DANGER BELOW", a warning I blithely ignored while mapping out the room.

I also couldn't figure out what to do in the control room near the landing light.  A fundamental adventuring rule of thumb is that any switch found must be used, but I couldn't convince the parser to PULL, USE, PUSH, PRESS or THROW SWITCH.  I finally tried a construct that most old-school parsers weren't designed to handle, but in this case SWITCH SWITCH did the trick.

Switching said switch turned off the light, but I had no clue what to do next.  I returned to the walkthrough to learn that we have to put plastic explosives in the landing light after turning it off and removing the bulb.  Oddly, the plastic seems to undergo a bit of transformation, as afterwards we see A LANDING LIGHT WITH DYNAMITE IN IT.  Switching the switch again causes an explosion with no immediate benefit, but it does distract the tank blocking a nearby path.

Walkthrough assist number three came into play when I found a hole in a panel on a metal platform, but couldn't FEEL HOLE or OPEN PANEL or LIGHT TORCH (a pen light flashlight) to examine it.  I should have come up with this on my own, but SHINE TORCH - INTO WHAT? - INTO HOLE did the trick, causing a door to the south to slide open.  Apparently the enemy's security system is based on Radio Shack photocell hobby kits, as opposed to anything that might actually be considered secure.

We're close to the end of the game at this point.  We can surprise the enemy Colonel in his office - there's time to execute a quick SHOOT COLONEL, and HE obligingly FALLS TO THE GROUND DYING and becomes a DEAD COLONEL.  We can then OPEN CUPBOARD to obtain the recently-departed officer's jacket, the mere wearing of which allows us to get past his remarkably nearsighted staff, including a guard and a flight operator.  Why we're so intent on spying on this inept and poorly-defended enemy force remains a geopolitical conundrum.

Of course, if we open the safe in the aptly-titled Safe Room, using the combination casually scrawled on the table in the guard hut as mentioned earlier, we find a briefcase containing Secret Plans.  We can READ PLANS to learn that THEY DESCRIBES [sic] PLANS FOR A MASSIVE INVASION, apparently rendered in the same Eliza Doolittle dialect as the graffiti.

Now we can get in a handy helicopter and PUSH LEVER to take off.  We spot our own side's aircraft carrier from the air, and it's a good idea to REMOVE JACKET at this point, as our harrier pilots are just as quick as the enemy's senior staff to assume that the clothes make the man.  We have to maneuver around the carrier's anti-aircraft gun, and wandering too far off course is also fatal, so this is a bit of a maze requiring lots of trial and error as we figure out how to approach the situation.

I thought I was done at this point, but the game actually has an alternate bad ending:


I thought I had done everything there was to do, but then realized that while I had found and read the enemy's Secret Plans, I didn't actually take them with me!  Backtracking to a previous save and bringing them along led to happier results:



(I am assuming here that THE DECK IS COVERED WITH CHEERING SAILORS because the good news has attracted a throng of happy seafarers, and in no way refers to a clumsy landing on my part.)

If there's an in-game advertisement secreted away on Espionage Island, I didn't run across it, but the game takes advantage of this final opportunity to urge us to play the as-yet-untitled Adventure E.  And we will do so in the future.

7 comments:

  1. Wow I remember this, I'm 34 now and had my father bought me a speccy around 1983. I remember being particularly stuck on Ship of Doom. Good times buddy. Have you tackled many other adventures ? (not looked around this blog much yet). p.s. How the hell do you save game on this adventure ??!

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  2. Welcome! I tackle an adventure game every week, with the Speccy represented mostly by the Artic Adventures at this point. Regarding the save game -- this is sort of a cheat, I suppose -- but one of the best things about playing these games today, in the age of emulation, is that most decent emulators have a save-state capability. So you can save the whole machine's state and return at any time, making these games quite a bit easier to solve than they were back in the day. I can recommend ZXSpin, that's the emulator I use.

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  3. Hi, I agree ZXSpin is superb & as you said you can save the whole snapshot which is really handy (which I didn't think of before). I can recommend Chuckie egg 2 as it was one of the most engrossing arcade adventure I ever played on the speccy. I can also recommend Murder at the Manor and Inspector Flukeit as fairly tough adventures (for me anyway) as my cousin and I never finished them and only recently did I search online and see the solution after all those years. Its good to speak to someone who remembers a time before the Console boom where video games were still 'Underground' and when coin-op arcade games were actually BETTER than the ones you can play in your own home :) Shaun.

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  4. Just like to say how much I'm enjoying your reviews of these old adventure games. Very impressed that someone from the States picked up on these Artic adventures as I know the ZX Spectrum was pretty unknown there. Here in the UK these games were fairly high-profile as they were included in the line-up of Sinclair Research branded software when the Spectrum first came out. Espionage Island was always my favourite; and I find it amazing looking back now that such terse description could conjure up such a vivid world in my childhood imagination. My friends and I used to play this game regularly until we completed it, and back then once you were stuck at any point you really were stuck - no Internet or walkthroughs available. It's all too easy now to get help when you're stuck and that's kind of a double edged sword. What always makes me chuckle is that in those days, 'guessing the verb' was actually part of the fun of the game ('SWITCH SWITCH' had us stumped for ages but the sense of accomplishment when we finally figured it out was almost euphoric) whereas nowadays it's just frustrating.

    Thanks again for not taking a wholly US-centric perspective on our gaming history. Have you had a look at Melourne House's 'The Hobbit', originally for the Spectrum? That was absolutely massive over here. Again a Sinclair approved product and absolutely ground-breaking in terms of parser, NPC interaction and what nowadays is called emergent gaming. No one had heard of Infocom at the time and compared to the usual VERB NOUN parsers we were used to us Brits were blown away by it.

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  5. Add another vote for The Hobbit on the Speccy (and when you finish it, try the C64 disk version, or the DOS CGA one, which are supposed to be enhanced in several ways, including the descriptions).

    I'd also love to see you tackle two other British companies: Level 9 and Magnetic Scrolls. Level 9 were famous for being so proud of their compression routines that most of their games announced "over 200 locations" on the box -- which is indeed quite a feat on 32-48KB machines without a disk drive. But their games *were* good, and their parser became very decent with time.

    Magnetic Scrolls were more Infocom-like, with a great parser and long, detailed descriptions. They were also known for having great (static) graphics, especially on the Amiga and Atari ST, but even the C64 and Amstrad versions are impressive. (The Spectrum versions are text-only.)

    By the way, there are interpreters available for both companies' games. But it's probably more fun to play each game on a different system, as you usually do. :)

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  6. I echo what others say about loving this game when I was but approaching my teenage years.

    IF I recall correctly the swamp maze was described as a "stiched swamp" which gives you the solution to directions out ... SEWN. I never really understood that at the time but reading now that the Artic Computing adventures where full of spelling errors would suggest it should have been stitched!

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  7. Another one done! Thanks again for your review. I would never have got 'feel corner'. Mind you! I never used the knife or gun.

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