Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Great Scott Project: Return to Pirate's Island 2 (2000)

Here, at least for the time being, the Great Scott Project finishes its journey by landing once again on the beach of Pirate's Island.  In the year 2000, more than 20 years after the original Adventure #2: Pirate Adventure, and fifteen years after Adventure #14A: Return to Pirate's Isle, Scott Adams released his new text adventure as an independent shareware release for Windows PCs: Return to Pirate's Island 2.

The title is a bit of a misnomer -- it might more accurately have been called Return to Pirate's Isle 2.0, as it's not so much a third pirate-themed Scott Adams adventure as a remake of the second.  The opening sequence, the high-level map layout, and many of the puzzles are taken straight from #14A.  So it's not a new experience in the fullest sense of the word.  But it's a rare opportunity to see how the same designer approaches the same raw material with newer technology, and more memory space -- 440K of game engine and data, plus another 4 MB of sound samples, compared to the 16K size of the original adventures.

Adams' new parser incorporates many of the advances seen in his second-generation S.A.G.A.+ interpreter, used for several later Adventure International releases, and it advances a few more steps, with support for combined tool use and more complex command structures.  The game itself is still challenging, but generally much friendlier than the tough-as-nails original -- descriptions are lengthier, EXAMINE responses more informative, and subtle, punning hints and throwaway gags more abundant.  There's also an online HELP command with substantial content.  The third-generation Scott Adams engine now supports digitized sound effects (which can be turned off), making the incessant alarm clock's furshlugginer ringing well and truly irritating.  The screen font size can be adjusted, and there's even a single-window mode to support accessibility with a text-to-speech tool.

Return to Pirate's Island 2 is still commercially available and can be purchased here, at Scott Adams' official website.  As always, I encourage interested readers to tackle the game themselves before reading further here.  In the interest of documenting the history and substance of the work, I'm duty-bound to climb to the crows' nest, hollering...

***** SPOILERS AHOY! *****

After my experience with #14A, I came into this game expecting a serious challenge -- but while the puzzles are often difficult, pre-release playtesting and modern technology have made this a much friendlier experience than its predecessors.  The brand new Windows-based engine features clickable buttons for inventory ("What I have"), Save Game, Load Game, Look Around, Score, and Help.  But the mouse is strictly optional, and the game adheres strictly to its text adventure roots.  For the more technically inclined, there's a TRACE.txt file that saves the player's actions and can be used as a playback and review file, and it can be edited and hacked if we find our SAVE GAME use inadequate.  Also, the game database is exposed as a text file, SPL14.DAT, so if we really get stuck or ambitious we can experiment at our own risk!  The format bears a strong resemblance to the vintage Scott Adams binary game files, but it's stored as plain ASCII, the overhead of storing and reading text files having become negligible in the decades since the original games were written.

The game starts with some introductory text, after which we are invited to START GAME to kick off the adventure.  We awake with blurred vision to the sound of an alarm clock ringing, with vague memories of a dream about our previous adventure in the land of the pirates, including a funny reference to our character frequently yelling Score! to see how you were doing.
The dream description also mentions a female pirate drinking rum, which points out that the pirate's gender may not have been mentioned in the previous games.  I am suitably chastened and feeling uncomfortably paternalistic and gender-biased until I notice two things.  One, in this game the pirate is sometimes referred to as a female, and sometimes as a male.  Two, the pirate's dialogue is recorded by a female performer.  So I'm inclined to believe there was a change partway through the game, or else the pirate is still fighting with a buccaneers' HMO somewhere concerning upcoming elective surgery.

It's interesting to see the familiar Scott Adams style expressed without the technical limitations of old.  The text is much more substantial in this one -- near the very beginning, FEEL AROUND yields much more than I found something & I got it!, specifically:
O.K. Your hand brushes against the nightstand. You note delightedly that the mattress is soft and you just want to sink back to sleep... But NO! The adventure has already started and as Sherlock would say the game is afoot!
FEEL NIGHTSTAND yields the glasses and we pick them up automatically -- and we are told what it is we've picked up, so we don't have to guess the word as we did in the previous version.  Now we can see we're on the buttom bunk of a shipboard bunk bed.  And discover a leaflet under the mattress that teaches us how to make glue from Funori (now where have you heard that before?)  And GET UP to find ourselves in a ship's cabin, with a rotating ceiling fan, and a porthole, and a painting of Blackbeard, and a top bunk containing a diving mask...

It is at this point that seasoned adventurers will realize that Return to Pirate's Island 2 is more than substantially similar to Adams' earlier Return to Pirate's Isle.  Fortunately, we'll see some variation in the puzzles and discover some new things to do, but since I've covered the original game recently, for this post I'm going to focus mostly on the differences and advances between the two generations.

One big difference, of course, is that now we can actually hear the alarm clock ringing ALL THE #@&!$!% TIME.  We can turn the sound effects off, of course, but I opted to soldier through for the sake of atmosphere, earning numerous baleful looks from the little white dog who's usually lying at my feet while I'm adventuring.

The new parser seems to be based on the later S.A.G.A.+ interpreter, and shares some of its quirks -- for example, we can GO NIGHTSTAND to be positioned at the nightstand, but this doesn't ever really seem to accomplish anything.  Also as in S.A.G.A.+, the WAIT command supports 5, 10, 15 and 50-turn variants.  LOOK defaults appropriately to LOOK AT; we can also LOOK THROUGH WINDOW (for example).  And we can now GET and DROP ALL -- and apparently we are quite naked in this game, as DROP ALL reveals that You realize that Donald Duck has more clothes than you do... *Blush*.

The player's boat has been updated in this version -- it's now a modern cabin cruiser, with a solar charging system for the battery, and the boat's internal map is much bigger and more detailed.  We can explore the deck, the fair weather bridge, the bow, and the engine compartment (once we have obtained the hatchway lock's combination.)  The cabin has a new feature, a drain on the floor containing the only fresh water in the game, and some mold on the ceiling around the fan, which makes the button controlling the floodlight much easier to discover.  I didn't realize I could access the rest of the boat from the cabin initially -- I had to come back to the boat by a roundabout path to realize I could GO CABIN from the stern, and thus GO STERN from the cabin.

We no longer have to guess or use a walkthrough to figure out what to do with the painting, if we are observant.  We can EXAMINE PAINTING and EXAMINE PAINTING FRAME (EXAMINE FRAME asks for more clarity, as our glasses have a wire frame) to discover that it's held on by screws.  EXAMINE PAINTING CLOSELY reveals that it's unusually thick, a clue to the map and second painting concealed within.  All of this makes this game much kinder than the original -- puzzle complexity isn't compromised, but our odds of solving these challenges are significantly improved.  As compensation, perhaps, restoring the *Rembrandt painting* is more complicated -- more on that later.

I'm not completely sure that we should be letting Scott play with the sound effects.  SAVE GAME yields a toilet flushing sound, followed by the pirate's audible exclamation, Okay! That should save it!

As before, after we squeeze through the cabin's porthole, we can't see again because our glasses couldn't come through with us.  SQUINT also works in this game to provide a brief glimpse of the environment; again, we can't go back the way we came, so we have to JUMP OCEAN after we get the raincoat from the catwalk (and should not be carrying anything subject to water damage.)

In the ocean, we find something new -- a friendly and playful porpoise.  I believe this cheerful aquatic mammal exists for two reasons.  One is to make it more plausible that the ocean has "rooms" and provide a reason that we always have to TAKE DEEP BREATH (lasts longer than HOLD BREATH), SWIM DOWN, then SWIM [direction] rather than simply paddling around above the surface.  The second is to let Scott pun by having the animal block our movements... "he gets in your way on porpoise."  After finishing the adventure, I took a look at the game data file to see if I'd missed any interaction with the porpoise -- one entry implies that we can scare the poor animal off by being mean to it, but then we immediately get eaten by a shark.  So this isn't a puzzle, just an obstacle to work around.

Getting the engine room's access hatchway open requires a combination for the lock -- this is a brand new puzzle.  The sign on land (which is planted firmly in the ground and cannot be moved this time) still reads Welcome to Backside of Pirate's Island.  But with the new parser we can READ OTHER SIDE OF SIGN to learn You don't have to be a mathematician to know that some locks are as easy as pie to open.  Taking our usual Adams pun-ishment, we TURN DIAL LEFT TO 3, RIGHT TO 1, LEFT TO 4 to open the hatch.

The newly expanded text explains what the Helm is: (That's the steering wheel for all you land lubbers!)  Both SET SAIL and SAIL SHIP are recognized, though both helpfully yield No map! until we have obtained one.

From the fair weather deck up top, we can JUMP RAILING to get to the bow, but can't go back that way, so again we have to get wet to return from this location.  There's a sealed wiring conduit here, with wires running from the boat's solar panels to a maintenance access panel.  If we've looked around in the engine room, we know that the solar-powered trickle charger is not working, and may have thought to bring the screwdriver found atop the engine.  The parser is pickier about tool use than it used to be -- we have to explicitly REMOVE SCREW FROM ACCESS PANEL WITH SCREWDRIVER.  Faint pencil writing on the liberated panel cover says YOHO.  Drawing on Pirate Adventure memories, we can SAY YOHO -- which now yields the intriguing but currently unhelpful Sorry, nothing happens.  You aren't holding a book!  The solar puzzle panel is entirely new. The access panel contains three single-lead male connectors, colored indigo, purple, and green, and three female triple connectors, orange, yellow and multi-colored (clueishly described as "hamburger brown").  My first crack at this was influenced by the color name indigo;  I tried using the rainbow mnemonic ROYGBIV to guess at a solution here, with no success.  Male leads can only connect to females, and if we make a mistake we have to DISCONNECT the whole mess and start over.  The built-in hint system -- MORE HELP ON SOLAR -- finally got me unstuck.  It turns out that the other side of the hatch cover has the word PING penciled in.  Using these key non-magical words in alignment, I was able to figure out the right wiring scheme -- Yellow-Purple, Orange-Indigo, Hamburger-(Nothing), and Orange-Green.

We find a rock on the rocky beach, the same as before, but it's now a pumice rock, which plays into another new puzzle.  It still contains the algae, containing in turn the *Piece of Amber* treasure.  EXAMINE ALGAE now reveals it explicitly as Funori, a critical piece of information we had to guess at back in the days of #14A.

The battery/fuel puzzle has changed and is easier to deal with now.  The parser will let us EXAMINE LED GAUGE, which combines the output of EXAMINE LED and EXAMINE GAUGE and is very handy, if unintentional.  It shows us that the solar trickle charger is working (now that we've wired it up), and if we give it time to charge, eventually we will have 20 amps of current in the battery and our initial 20.0 liters of gasoline.

As before, we have remove the lenses from our glasses and glue them into the mask to enable us to see underwater; the blob of glue survives the process this time, as it has a secondary use.  The blurry rooms are consistently blurry now, with no dark overlays simulating the effect.  The mask is a little more complicated -- if it gets fogged up or filled with water and we remove it while in the ocean, waves tend to keep filling it with seawater.  We have to get to dry land to empty the mask (which happens automatically), then SPIT IN MASK and WEAR MASK again.

The pirate painting, after it's given up the map, can be examine closely to discover the second painting beneath.  In the old game, we were able to simply CLEAN PAINTING without appropriate tools, but in the remake we need fresh water and fine grit sandpaper to reveal the hidden Rembrandt.  I tried to use the pumice rock directly as a substitute for sandpaper, but that didn't work; the online help eventually revealed that we have to make our own sandpaper.  This involves pummeling the pumice rock with a hammer and gluing the resultant grit to the leaflet under the bottom bunk mattress.

Here's where I got myself into trouble.  As before, we SWIM DOWN, SWIM WEST, FEEL BOAT to open the large opening, ENTER OPENING, then ENTER BOAT to find the smuggler's hold.  This time we can see that there's a small compartment below the cabin -- we can't do anything with it, but the additional text fills in the geography a bit.  Now to shut that alarm clock up -- its ringing is quite loud here (and in our real-world surroundings, thanks to the new sound effects), and simply picking it up no longer stops it ringing.  We can't just STOP CLOCK either, as Mr. Adams takes sadistic delight in telling us that The alarm clock is battery operated and the battery cover is sealed with a screw.  Shut off switch is broken.  In desperation, I found I could fling it into the water to shut it up, but as it sank beneath the waves, disappearing in a final melange of cartoon sound effects, I began to wonder if this was really the best thing to do.  I consulted HELP ON SCORING, which used to tell me to silence the alarm clock first, but now informed me I had destroyed an essential item and could not complete the adventure!  The alarm clock does have mildly sharp edges, so I thought perhaps it was meant to be useful for something.  So I restored and came back with the screwdriver in hand, only to encounter:
Yes, you think as you chortle foolishly in glee, you are finally going to have your revenge on the clock! But what is this? OH NO! The clock is sealed with a phillips (cross head) screw and you have a flat head screwdriver! AHHHHHHHH you scream out your frustration!
No supplementary digitized sound effects were required at that moment, I assure you.  So I spent some time trying to shut the alarm clock up by other means.  Trying to wrap it in the oilskin raincoat to muffle the sound only established that the clock's sharp edges would tear the oilskin, so we can't do that.  Trying to SMASH CLOCK WITH HAMMER reminded me that I'm no vandal.  I discovered that I could carry the alarm clock into the water, shorting it out without losing it in the sea, but that made no difference to the HELP ON SCORING feedback.  I finally decided to SAVE GAME and continue on, guessing I would eventually run into the situation that requires the alarm clock and discover some clue as to what I had done wrong.  And in fact, I never ran into such a situation, and suffered no ill consequences whatsoever from sacrificing it to the briny deep.  My guess is that the HELP command was defaulting to an answer related to a treasure I hadn't discovered or revealed, so it concluded I had destroyed it when I had done nothing of the kind.  Whew!

There aren't many deaths in this game -- the only one I ran into was drowning, and we are given a few warnings that breathing would be wise.

The expanded text makes it clearer how, exactly, we  manage to JUMP UP eight feet while assaying the hilltop this time.  The crack in the rock is also defined more clearly now - it's 18" wide x 7' high, which explains (in theory) why certain items cannot be carried in and out.  Again, we find the pirate asleep and can SEARCH PIRATE to steal her snuff box and *Gold Earring*.  And again, we must drop the rum before waking her, or she sulks off angrily on the assumption it will not be forthcoming.  The digitized sound is fun here, as we get to hear the pirate sing (no Disney lawyers being present on the island), belch and emit what polite society used to call a digestive wind.  Classy!  Here's where a minor gender inconsistency turns up -- EXAMINE PIRATE yields He seems to have something on him you want!   Hmmmm.  Breasts, perhaps?

The pirate gets some additional digitzed dialogue later on - if we GO PIRATE on the fair weather deck where she's taken the helm, she says, Hey, matey!  What happened to your clothes?  She also
mentions she's being irritated by the alarm clock if we haven't yet silenced its irritatintinnabulations.

The fan in the cabin behaves differently in this game -- it now stops turning only when we have run the battery all the way down to zero amps, instead of at 5 as in the earlier game, so we have to fix the solar charger before we take any big trips. 

We also can't recharge the battery using the ship's engine, and by the time we travel to the distant treasure shown on the map along our drunken pirate friend's meandering route, it's grown dark and the solar panels won't work.  So we need to reserve enough charge for the trip to run the floodlights, allowing us, as before, to dive to the sunken Spanish galleon (complete with Adams-brand half-pint and quart jokes) and retrieve the *Jeweled Chest*.   Fortunately the ship's engine burns fuel conservatively, so it's not too difficult to deal with the timing here.  We will discover that our pirate helmswoman is asleep, and at any rate the tide is out so we can't navigate anywhere at the moment.  I tried to WAIT for various durations, to no avail, and eventually figured out that we have to stop the engine, turn out the lights, drop all of our inventory, and take off the diving mask so we can comfortably SLEEP.  In the morning we discover our piratey pilot is still sleeping it off, so it's appreciated that the game will now let us SET SAIL on our own.

One minor bug -- DIGging and finding nothing yields: You found You found nothing.  And old-fashioned Adams typos persist in the new millennium:  Please try to break it up into something simplier [sic].   And there's even a bonus pun hidden in the parser -- GO SEA yields HUH? Even though you're myopic you will try! Now what do you want to see?  GO OCEAN works much more reliably.

In the cave beyond the hilltop crack, we no longer need to have our Adventure #2 map handy.  We can FEEL AROUND -- carefully, fortunately -- and find an opening to the west.  This takes us to a small chamber carved out of the living rock, a nice nod to the original Crowther/Woods Adventure, followed by Scott Adams humor -- Do rocks say ouch when they are carved?.  The chamber is illuminated by a workman's utility lamp, and there's a strange spider web here as well.  We can't read it, but EXAMINE WEB reveals a sign saying it's under construction. A TAKE WEB attempt brings Earl the spider (though he spells it Url - Adams' World Wide Web joke) scurrying out.  We can't bring the lamp out of the crack, but we can find the hammer in the old shed, and note again that the water wings found there in #2 are no longer around.

The pirate's snuff box puzzle requires more tools and a little parser wrestling -- we have to OPEN BOX WITH HAMMER AND SCREWDRIVER, which opens the box slightly but not enough to see into. SHAKE BOX assumes we mean to shake it lightly; SHAKE BOX HARD allows the *Rare Stamps* to fall out where we stand, so again, we really shouldn't open it until we're safely in the hold!

We can no longer simply open the jeweled chest, either -- we have to OPEN CHEST WITH HAMMER, which damages the lid but apparently not enough to devalue it as a treasure.  Inside is the *Rare Book*, and as before we need to open the chest in the hold so the book doesn't get wet and damaged in transit.  While we can't OPEN BOOK, we can READ it to get the SQUINT hint.  SAY YOHO with this treasure in hand gives us an intentional error message that leads into an extended fantasy glimpse of the Scott Adams Adventure Prep Area:

I realize the font is way too small to read, and I don't want to spoil this completely, so let me quote briefly:

Visible items include an open spacesuit, a squirrel trap, a large megaphone (suitable for boooming voices), a large reel to reel tape recorder, a snuff box full of chiggers, a battery alarm clock, a bottle of blood, a stack of books, a rusty ax, and many other interesting items. You can't wait to get your hands on them! 

Of course, Mr. Adams sends us back to Pirate's Island before we can get our hands on anything.  We can visit virtual Scott three times, until he finally fixes the bug.  It seems that this interlude can also occur randomly if we haven't tried the SAY YOHO gamut -- I wasn't sure whether I had sought too much HELP, triggering this event, or it was purely random.  I noticed on the second visit that a crate is marked Adventure #16 props. Top Secret.  That kind of implies that this game fits into the old numbering scheme as Adventure #15, which would explain the odd #14A/#14B numbering seen earlier.

This time, we can actually see the pilings under the dock -- it's not entirely clear they extend down into the water, but that's a perfectly logical conclusion.  CLIMB PILING reveals a *Silver Dollar*, as before, and this time we LOOK UP to find the *Diamond Pin*EXAMINE PILINGS underwater discovers the aquatic snail as before, and it dies instantly if we take it out of water, so we have to bring the oyster found under the ship here and open it underwater using the snail's remarkable drilling capabilities.  I did find a bug on this front -- after we have extracted the pearl, we can get the closed oyster again.

In this late stage of the game, I discovered to my puzzlement that the boat sometimes seemed to drift off entirely, so I was unable to return to it and had to restore.  I thought I was I navigating incorrectly or missing a puzzle, but finally realized I had just left the boat's engine running after returning from the brief voyage.

Nearing the end of the game, I had stored eleven treasures and wasn't sure which ones I was missing.  HELP ON SCORE still indicated that something essential had been destroyed, so I saved my game and restarted to see if I could do something more efficient with the clock, monitoring the help feedback along the way.  It pointed me to the bed, then to the mask in the top bunk; this time, MORE HELP ON SCORE was already reporting Sorry, you have destroyed an essential item and can not complete the Adventure! even before I shorted out the clock.  So I concluded that the whole business was a red herring, and was relieved to discover that such it seems to be.

So it was back to treasure hunting.  I realized I hadn't opened the snuff box on this round, and doing so got me to twelve of the thirteen treasures with the *Rare Stamps*.  The HELP was still being no help, so I looked back at the earlier game and wondered if the *Doubloons* might be at large somewhere.  HELP ON DOUBLOONS had nothing specific to offer, but also didn't complain about the word being unrecognized, so I seemed to be on the right track.  The rocky beach no longer allows access to the ocean, but the beach nearby does -- we can once again SWIM DOWN, FEEL SILT and we're all set.

As we stash the thirteenth treasure in the hold, it's best to have the sound effects turned on so we can hear the recorded congratulatory message from Scott Adams himself.  I hadn't heard his voice before, as I was playing through this just before seeing Jason Scott's GET LAMP documentary, so this personal touch was a pleasant new feature.  Victory is ou... whoops!

I actually ran into a bug here -- a Visual Studio popup appeared with an Invalid procedure or argument run-time error -- and I thought maybe it was due to the length of this final sound effect.  But the engine successfully took me to the standard ending screen after I acknowledged the message, so this was not fatal.  I was then able to quit the program, restart, restore my near-victory save and finish over again without the error appearing.  So it must have been a fluke, perhaps because I'd left the game running for more than a week while working my way through it as time permitted.

At last, we have claimed the 13 pirate treasures yet again, and victory is ours!

Regular readers may recall that Scott Adams recently resumed work on a brand-new project, a Biblically-inspired adventure called The Inheritance, so this isn't necessarily the end of the line.  But its continuation is off in the future somewhere.  For the moment, The Great Scott Project has fulfilled its charter -- we've played through all nineteen of Mr. Adams' published adventure games.  It's a significant and influential body of work that inspired many, many imitators and successors on the early microcomputer platforms.

My deepest thanks to Scott Adams for his support and participation, and to all the readers whose visits and comments have made this project fun for me.  Next week, the Gaming After 40 Adventure of the Week series will continue -- there's certainly no shortage of adventure games for us to explore.

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