Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let's Make Us a Game! -- Building The World

Last week, we gave some thought to the basic concept of our adventure game, starring a puppy named Riley whose only goal in this slice of his life is to confiscate and eat the family's turkey dinner (or some manageable portion of it, say, a leg).  This week, we're actually going to start building something using Inform 7.

A more substantial project would require considerably more effort in this planning stage, but I'm cutting to the chase here -- our game will be small enough that we can patch up any errors as we go, and I think the lessons learned from my lack of planning will be more interesting than any rules or maxims I might offer.  So let's get to work implementing the game world.

First, I've drawn up a simple, approximate map using Christopher Madsen's GUEmap utility:

Inform 7's shorthand programming convention expects us to provide description content immediately after establishing that something exists.  So as I lay out the map, I'm going to write some preliminary descriptions of each room.  I'm also going to establish the location of two key objects I know we are going to need based on our general story concept -- the turkey, and the player.  Note that rooms are defined in relation to each other -- if this were a larger map, I'd have to give some more thought to the implementation so I don't lose track of the details.  But this design only has a handful of rooms, so I'll just wing it based on my crude map.

Here's the initial source code -- Inform 7 uses natural language, so this text should be fairly readable to non-programmers:

Mom's Kitchen is a room. "This is where the magic happens. Strange and mysterious scents fill the air, and the floor is always worth checking for treasure."

The turkey is here. "One scent in particular stands out -- rich and juicy and tasty."

The Hallway is north of the kitchen. "The hallway is often populated by feet and shoes coming and going, but it's quiet at the moment."

The Back Yard is north of the hallway. "The back yard is full of grass and bugs and the occasional squirrel. A large tree provides shade on hot summer days. A lovely puddle of mud remains from yesterday's rain."

The Mud Puddle is in the back yard. "Mud, glorious mud! Rich and thick and pungent, made of dirt and worms and everything else that is wonderful in this world."

The Dining Room is east of the hallway. "This is where the people eat. It is a sumptuous palace of steel and fabric, with chairs rising high into the air. The dinner table dominates the room, overshadowing everything else with its promise of tasty past and future."

The Dinner Table is in the Dining Room.
The player is in The Back Yard.

Note that, at this time, there are no obstacles implemented, so we (as the player) are free to maneuver around the map and make sure the layout works.  The Inform 7 parser and engine will prevent Riley from going in unworkable directions to places that don't exist, so we don't have to worry about those details.  You may also note that my initial room descriptions don't provide any useful detail as to which directions are navigable.  We will fix that for the player's sake, but since we set it up and drew the map, we know how the navigation works.

I click the Go button in Inform 7, and am pleased to see that the text compiles without throwing any immediate errors.  But right from the get-go, we run into a problem -- I haven't used "in" properly.  The Mud Puddle is being treated as a thing placed in the Back Yard, not as a location on its own (and the same problem afflicts the Dinner Table.)  So this doesn't quite play as I wanted it to:

Riley's Adventure 
An Interactive Fiction by GamingAfter40
Release 1 / Serial number 100905 / Inform 7 build 6E72 (I6/v6.31 lib 6/12N) SD

Back Yard
The back yard is full of grass and bugs and the occasional squirrel. A large tree provides shade on hot summer days. A lovely puddle of mud remains from yesterday's rain.

Mud, glorious mud! Rich and thick and pungent, made of dirt and worms and everything else that is wonderful in this world.

>go puddle
That's not something you can enter.

Fixing the mud puddle will take a little bit of work.  We need to treat the Mud Puddle as a container inside the Back Yard, that is, an object that's truly IN the yard, but is big enough to enter.  We want it to present itself as part of the room-level description only when we're NOT inside it, so we don't confuse the player as to whether Riley is actually in or just near the puddle.  We also want to account for the transitions between the back yard and the puddle with some evocative puppy prose.  And we need to make sure the player's not allowed to take the mud puddle.  (Thinking about future puzzles, I will leave open the possibility of taking some mud -- but we won't worry about implementing that detail right now.)

The changes required are rather extensive -- the Back Yard description is changed so as not to include the mud puddle description itself, and the Mud Puddle gets redefined with some special actions. We'll also move the description of the mud to be the target of an explicit EXAMINE command.

The Back Yard is north of the hallway.  "The back yard is full of grass and bugs and the occasional squirrel. A large tree provides shade on hot summer days."

The Mud Puddle is an enterable container.  The Mud Puddle is in the Back Yard.   "[if the player is not inside the Mud Puddle]A lovely puddle of mud remains from yesterday's rain."

After entering the Mud Puddle, say "SPLASH!  Mud, glorious mud!  It squishes delightfully between your claws."

After exiting from the Mud Puddle, say "You hop out of the mud puddle, dripping awesomely muddy water."

Instead of taking the Mud Puddle, say "You can probably take some mud with you, but picking the entire puddle up is beyond even your puppy powers."

Instead of examining the Mud Puddle, say "It's rich and thick and pungent, made of dirt and worms and everything else that is wonderful in this world."

Fixing the dining room table presents a similar challenge.  But we want the player to be able to get onto the table, not inside it, so we define it as a supporter instead of a container.  The Inform 7 environment will take care of many of the other details -- for example, it assumes that any supporter is fixed in place, so we don't have to explicitly reject attempts to take it.

One special thing we want to do to emphasize Riley's small size is make sure that the player has to CLIMB to get onto the table, instead of simply ENTERing it or GOing there, which default supporter behavior allows.  We'll flesh this out with more details later to create a puzzle; there are other, and probably better, ways to implement some of this don't-enter-but-climb behavior, but this approach will suffice for now.  Also, it's reasonable to let the player travel DOWN from the table, with a little descriptive detail for the jump down.  And we should make sure that the player can't break the world's reality by repeatedly climbing up once Riley is already on the table.

We're also covering one new detail here -- we want to represent the Dining Room itself differently from different perspectives, depending on whether Riley is on the floor looking up, or is currently standing on the table.  So we'll add some conditional logic to that room's description using Inform 7's [if][otherwise][end if] conditional phrasing.

The Dining Room is east of the hallway. "This is where the people eat. It is a sumptuous palace of steel and fabric, with chairs [if the player is not on the Dinner Table]rising high into the air.[otherwise]surrounding the table.  From up here you can see the whole dining room.[end if]"

The Dinner Table is an enterable supporter.  The Dinner Table can be climbed.  The Dinner Table is in the Dining Room. "[if the player is not on the Dinner Table]The dinner table dominates the room, overshadowing everything else with its promise of tasty past and future."

Instead of entering the Dinner Table when the player is not on the Dinner Table, say "Perhaps you could climb up there?"

Instead of climbing or entering the Dinner Table when the player is on the Dinner Table, say "You're already up here."

Instead of climbing the Dinner Table: say "You jump high, higher, and then clamber up onto the dinner table."; move player to the Dinner Table.

Instead of going down when the player is on the Dinner Table, try getting off the Dinner Table.

After getting off the dinner table, say "You hop off the dinner table, landing on the floor with a mighty (small) oof."

With these refinements, we have created a very small, but complete and navigable game world.  Next time, we'll set up a few physical obstacles to help drive the story.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Elsewhere: Activision Keystone Kapers TV Commercial

Next week, if I'm lucky, I will have a new podcast episode to share with you.  This week, I direct your attention to this vintage TV commercial for Activision's classic Atari 2600 title, Keystone Kapers, designed by Garry Kitchen:

The game is pretty good and remains playable today, with more variety than the quick shots seen in the ad.

Kitchen's game was inspired by Mack Sennett's classic Keystone Kops silent comedy shorts, produced between 1912 and 1917.  Enough time had passed that, as far as I know, nobody at Activision worried about official licensing of the name; in fact, Warner Brothers and Universal Studios made Keystone Kops movies in the 1930's and 1950's, so the name was in the public domain long before videogames came along. 

A little Wiki-research on the topic reminded me about just why I write this blog.  In 2010, a lost 1914 Keystone Kops short was rediscovered, featuring a "previously unknown" cameo by Charlie Chaplin.  Obviously, SOMEBODY knew about it circa 1914 -- but human beings don't live very long, movies were considered a fad and a novelty at the time, and such tidbits of history can easily be lost.  I care about games as a hobby, and moreover as an art form -- I'm doing what I can to preserve its weird and wonderful history.

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.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Atari 7800 News - New Expansion Module Coming Soon!

8-Bit Rocket has a great interview up with Kurt Vendel of Legacy Engineering.  Vendel was responsible for the Atari 7800 High Score saving cartridge released some years ago, and his company is now taking preorders for an expansion module that lends the venerable 7800 some very interesting new capabilities.  Most interesting from a retro perspective, he's packaging it in an unused official Atari case design, producing an official vintage-style box for it, and using hardware that would have been feasible circa the mid-1980s.

Read the interview here.

Check out the product here.

The LoadDown - 09/27/2010

Out of the ether and into your console...

WiiWare -- Two titles this week.  Astro Bugz Revenge is a retro-style puzzle game.  Target Toss Pro: Lawn Darts brings the infamously dangerous backyard family sport to the Wii, unfortunately without any Mii involvement (and by "involvement," I mean "impalements.")

 Wii Virtual Console -- Back to the usual silence this week.

DSiWare -- Just two briefly-titled games this week.  FIZZ is a puzzle game with aligning/linking colors set in an outer space environment.  ZENONIA is a substantial RPG with character classes and skill trees.

XBox Live Arcade -- Four new titles last week, three of them sequels.  Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter continues the frenetic FPS series, remastered in HD for the 360.  Blade Kitten is an interesting platform/action series in two episodic parts from Krome and Atari; it has a nice cel-shaded anime style.  Alien Breed 2: Assault is the second chapter of the episodic sci-fi blaster series begun in December 2009.  Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue is an insta-sequel of sorts, showing up less than three months after the release of the original game.

Game Room -- Back to a more normal schedule, with 4 games unlocked from the new Game Pack 010.   Last week, we got Atari's 2600 game of Bowling (likely ducking in for a few quick sales before the slightly superior Intellivision title turns up), Activision's Plaque Attack for the 2600, the Intellivision minor rarity Horse Racing, and Konami's 1985 arcade game Galactic Warriors, an early one-on-one fighting contest starring robots.

PS3 on PSN -- Three games last week.  Blade Kitten, as above; Sonic Adventure, which is ported from the PC version, apparently, not the Dreamcast as I had assumed when it showed up on the 360 last week; and Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue (also as above.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sega's Metaphor Is Perhaps Too Apt

Sega's 32X, an add-on for the 16-bit Genesis intended to bring the system up to 32-bit standards, was an unmitigated commercial disaster.  It was rushed to market for Christmas 1994, with a limited launch library, and despite the hardware's impressive 3-D capabilities third-party developers referred to it snidely as the "SNES upgrade."

Worse, the 32X debacle may have severely hampered Sega's "real 32-bit" Saturn launch the following spring, by making formerly loyal Sega fans feel like they'd been suckered into buying a system that was obsolete before it ever hit the shelves.  Sega's misstep, it can be argued, essentially handed the 32-bit market to Sony.

All of which makes this Sega ad for the 32X... shall we say, uncomfortably accurate in hindsight:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bundling: A Time-Honored Tradition

No, I'm not talking about the Amish courtship tradition, also known as Gee, Dad!  It's Temptation!

Bundling a bunch of older games into a discount compilation at a low, low price to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the back catalog is nothing new.  Back in 1985, home computer software publisher Spectral Associates tossed thirty of its early titles into a $29.95 discount package:

Most of these were simple action, card and board games, written in BASIC to a magazine type-in standard -- no doubt they weren't selling tremendously well when this catalog was produced, so the $8-to-$21 original price had become a moot point.  I don't think Tiny Calc is even a game -- I believe it was designed to turn your expensive TRS-80 Color Computer into a pocket calculator. 

UPDATE:  tfernando's comment below raised a worthwhile and inspired further investigation.  Tiny Calc was slightly more powerful than I had assumed -- it could function as an adding machine OR as a pocket calculator!

Looking at thirty 1985 US dollars (or thirty-four on disk) for this TREASURY PAC of thirty low-budget games, compared to ten to twenty dollars today for a collection of quality coin-op arcade games from the same era...

It just makes one realize how kind the passage of time can be to gamers' wallets.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Dragon Half

Lately I've been playing a lot of Japanese games more or less successfully, so it's actually kind of refreshing to encounter Dragon Half, an odd RPG-board game hybrid based on the popular manga and anime series.  I can deduce a little bit of what's going on, but with my extremely limited knowledge of Japanese and no clue as to the ultimate object of the game, I hesitate to say that I'm actually playing it.

The game was released by Micro Cabin Corp. in 1994, fairly late in the PC Engine's life cycle, on the Super CD-ROM format.  According to Wikipedia, the original Dragon Half series ran in print from 1998 to 1994, with the anime OVAs released in 1993, so this game would have been a coda of sorts for the series, which often parodied RPG conventions.  The design is also technically interesting, in that it uses the onboard sound chip for all of the in-game music, reserving the CD capacity for loading graphics on the fly, and it does so fairly seamlessly.

Dragon Half's appeal is simultaneously of the kawaii and ecchi variety -- most everybody is cute and super-deformed, and most of the female characters wear revealing outfits heavy on the decolletage.  The fully-voiced, simply-animated intro sets up the premise -- it opens with an intentionally over-dramatic scenario of impending doom and the forces of good that oppose it.  Then we segue into comedy -- as near as I can make out, there is some kind of contest in progress, a handsome warrior is the object of too many girls' affections, and our swimsuit-clad hostess is rapidly losing control of the proceedings:

The game supports up to 4 players using the PC Engine's multi-tap adaptor, but even in single-player mode, there are four pre-defined teams, with the CPU handling any teams not assigned to a human player.  There's a second setup menu available -- the text is completely in Japanese, so I'm not absolutely positive, but while it seems there are options for turning sound on and off and speeding up play, there are always four teams in action.

The teams are made up of established characters from the Dragon Half universe, and it's interesting to see the variations in art styles.  One team's members look grown-up and serious (even when faced with what I can only assume is a bikini-clad mud monster):

While others are super-deformed and resolutely cute in the face of danger:

The game proceeds in board-game fashion -- each team rolls the die (it's more like a spinner, actually) and moves around the board using the resulting number of movement points.  The board is structured as a map -- there's no specific beginning or end, and the layout has loops and branching roads.  The team can make decisions about which way to move during its turn, but must use up all the rolled points, which can make landing on a desirable node difficult.

Of course, I can't quite tell which nodes are desirable, as I can't read the text or understand the characters who pop up to offer advice.  I can see that they're color-coded as red, blue and yellow.  And I know that after stopping on a node, the party encounters advice from other characters, visits an inn or shop, or enters a Battle Stage

The battles are handled RPG style, except only one of the player team's characters is allowed to attack during each round, and the character selection is handled slot-machine style, with a lot of  unpredictability.  We also can't select which comical attack our champion will use, or influence its success -- sometimes spells go wrong and do damage to our own team.  But this will be familiar stuff to any JRPG fan, with a twist of parody now and then:

The battles are fun, nicely animated with some funny attacks and results.  But in the end, while I had no problem maneuvering around the board and participating in battles, I couldn't figure out the actual object of the game.  Teams are unable to battle each other when they collide, it seems, and the board is circular in nature, with no clear end goal.  We earn experience and money along the way, which may have some bearing on the victory conditions, but that's all I have to say about Dragon Half -- without a working knowledge of Japanese, it remains largely unfathomable.

If your Japanese is in better working order than mine, or you're a big Dragon Half fan, you may be able to find this game for sale at a reasonable price here or here:

Dragon Half PC-Engine SCD

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Let's Make Us A Game! -- Preliminary Design

All right.  I talk a lot here about game design, gameplay and technical implementation details.  It's time for me to ante up and actually blog through the process of making a game, or trying and failing miserably to do so.  I won't promise that the end product will be interesting, but I hope the process will be fun to write and read about.

It's going to be a text adventure, for a number of reasons.  For one, the scope will be easy to maintain -- we can focus on content and stick to a simple design, so this series doesn't have to become a book.  For another, as regular readers know, I have a special fondness for the genre.  And for a third, there are plenty of good, free tools available for creating interactive fiction.

We're going to use Inform 7 as our development tool.  It's a major shift in direction from previous versions of Inform -- I have worked with Inform 6, which is more programmerly and precise.  This new version attempts to let users design and implement a game using natural language, essentially turning a sophisticated parser into a compiler.  I expect to wrestle with this approach a bit, especially when we get to the nitty-gritty details of debugging, but for non-programmers I think Inform 7 is likely to be more comprehensible and readable.  It'll be an interesting learning experience for me too.

Care to join me?  Then go download the necessary development environment at the Inform website.  The Inform team has produced excellent documentation, tutorials and examples, and I encourage you to take full advantage of the years of hard work they've put in.  Modern interactive fiction  has benefited immeasurably from the dedication of Graham Nelson, Emily Short and others, inspired by the classic Infocom games but taking the genre into interesting new territory. Inform can be used to create all kinds of interesting interactive experiences; for this series, we're going to stick to the old-fashioned text adventure format, or something close to it.

Fear not, you won't need to follow along with the actual tools in hand -- I will try to make entertaining reading out of the process.  Following along may be irritating, anyway, as I'm not really sure about the best way to structure this.  So I'm going to work the way I normally work -- find something fun to focus on, and when that gets to be either finished or temporarily intractable, shift my attention to another issue for a while.

So.  We begin.  Let's make us a game! (he cried, leaping into his virtual pickup, his software rack brimming over with compilers and documentation)

Before we get into actual programming, let's give a little thought to the game design.  My ideas here are more or less random -- our goal is to build a small but complete and playable game, not necessarily a masterpiece of interactive fiction.  But a starting point is always a good place to, er, start, so...

Extremely High-Level Design Document:

-- The protagonist is an energetic puppy named Riley.  He can jump three times his own height.  He cannot tell time or read.  He cannot talk or understand much in the way of human language beyond certain key words.  But he is a keen student of human behavior and routine, especially when food is involved.  (This character choice will allow us, I hope, to come up with some interesting puzzles from a dog's perspective.  Plus it sounds fun and potentially fresh.)

-- Riley's goal in this story is to retrieve and devour the family's turkey from the dinner table, before everyone sits down to dinner.

-- The map should be small -- let's start with the dining room, the kitchen, the hallway, and the back yard.  There is a doggy door connecting the hallway to the back yard.  There will be some interesting puzzle-related items in each of these locations, and some locations within them, like the dinner table in the dining room.

-- Nemeses include Mom and the family cat. We will have to invent some obstacles and puzzles as we flesh this scenario out.

-- We'll start the story with Riley playing in the back yard.  Perhaps playing in the mud.  A faint scent of turkey will drift out of the house, and that will set our story into motion.

That's enough to give us something to chew on.  Suggestions and playtesting are entirely welcome as this series progresses.  Please, if you have a neat idea, comment and share it!

Next time, we'll start turning this into an actual game using Inform 7.  If you want to play along or use my examples to build your own story, I encourage you to download the tool and do some experimenting in the meanwhile.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Elsewhere: Magnavox Odyssey TV Ad

Here's one I missed way back in the day -- a vintage 1973 TV ad for Magnavox's original Odyssey, the first commercial home videogame system created by Ralph Baer:

As you can see, the Odyssey was a very simple machine -- big, white squares on a black background were displayed on the TV screen, with the color and flavor provided by plastic overlays taped onto the TV screen.  The system featured "cartridges" that were essentially jumper collections, rewiring the internal board's analog logic components to construct specific games, all of which came down to moving squares.

In this ad, we can see Magnavox doing its best to inform people that the Odyssey would work with ANY brand of television, not just Magnavox sets, which was a common misconception at retail.  We can also see that TV sets were relatively small at the time - no videogame system today would specifically target 18" to 25" screens.  And you can see that the nascent game industry was already striving for some sort of respectability, with a Geography game. 

There was no such thing as a home computer in 1973, so the ad doesn't try to evoke futuristic technological imagery -- it does call it the "electronic game of the future," but the selling proposition is that it's something fun and new to do with your living room TV. 

And it doesn't focus on kids, which is an interesting and remarkably prescient choice.  Best of all, it even appears that Mr. and Mrs. Lecherous Coffee Drinker are moving their paddles in synch with the action on the TV -- they're actually playing the game!  I had to rewatch that shot several times to convince myself, but you can see that the player paddle is controlled by the right-hand knob, and everything's happening in real time.

Of course, videotape was also still maturing, so simulated display options were limited.  And there's no great challenge involved here -- evenly matched partners can have fun at any skill level.

It's no surprise that modern Wii/Move/Kinect ads have this same sort of feel.

But in color!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Great Scott Project: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1985)

The Great Scott Project is working through the remaining Scott Adams games, and we have arrived at the last of the original series: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, based on the 1984 MGM/UA movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.  MGM's potential-blockbuster licensing was oddly fragmented in the mid-1980's, with the official Poltergeist game landing at Radio Shack, a couple of 2010 games produced by Coleco, and this one adapted by Adventure International.  Unofficially, this game has been referred to as Adventure #14B, though contentwise it's no relation to #14A.  This licensed game was a one-off with no specific series identified; many sources just call it Buckaroo Banzai for short.  It's credited to Scott Adams, of course, and a co-author, Phillip Case.

Like the later QuestProbe games, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai was released in both "classic" and "S.A.G.A.+" versions, as Adams' updated interpreter was not available for some older platforms.  The two versions are very similar, with additional descriptive detail and extended puzzles in the "plus" version, and the game featured graphics by Kem McNair on several platforms.  I intended to play this one using the ScottFree interpreter, but after I had worked out most of the game, I discovered that neither the Windows nor the DOS version would allow me to use the DISCONNECT verb as intended.  So I fired up the Apple II version, which turned out to be in SAGA+ and threw a new puzzle at me almost immediately, invalidating some of what I'd been figuring out.  So I ultimately played through this one using the UK Sinclair Spectrum version, and then took a quick tour through the Apple II version to gather some screenshots.  There aren't many differences, really; the most visible one is the character-based prompt, reading Buckaroo Banzai, I want you to, as seen in the SAGA+ QuestProbe games.

The Buckaroo Banzai game doesn't attempt to cover the scope of the movie.  Instead, it's a prequel of sorts, with a plot that precedes and overlaps the movie's opening sequence -- we have to get Buckaroo Banzai's incredible Jet Car up and running, then stop an atomic bomb from destroying the world.

If you haven't seen the movie (it's currently available for instant online viewing via NetFlix), the game won't give too much away.  But if you haven't played the game, and wish to do so, be aware that there are...


We start out in the Yoyodyne offices.  MOVE TABLE (in the classic interpreter) reveals a Floor SafeEXAMINE SAFE yields I see it's a key safe, so we have to track down the key.  The SAGA+ edition includes another puzzle here -- MOVE TABLE results in Sorry, it's too heavy!  But the bomb-disarming passwords are the same as in the classic version, so we don't actually have to solve this part of the game if we've played the other edition.  There's also a staircase in this room, but it's wise not to go down until we've obtained a light source.  GO STAIRS takes us down into the darkness, but trying to go UP from the dark basement causes the traditional neck-breaking fall (another GO STAIRS works, but it's hard to figure that out without the flashlight in hand.)  A technical aside -- the Spectrum version has no illustrations, but the dark rooms still display a solid black block in the graphics area of the screen.

Outside the office we find ourselves in a small town at the foot of a mountain, with a gas station across the way and just a couple of major streets to explore.  This setting doesn't have much to do with the movie, but it's nice to have an outdoor environment for a change, though it's strangely unpopulated.  The SAGA+ version makes it clearer that the town has been abandoned by a panicking citizenry, presumably due to the atomic bomb set to go off if we're not quick about solving the puzzles ahead.

There's a large house in the cul-de-sac at the east end of Hickory -- we can only enter and explore the garage, where a small toolbox bears a sticker reading Sam's Service Station.  With a simple OPEN TOOLBOX we obtain several useful items -- a key, a roll of duct tape, and a flashlight.  The puzzles in this adventure are fairly logical and straightforward -- no magic words or odd usages are involved, though we do have to be creative with the tools we're given.

The west end of Hickory ends in another cul-de-sac -- the classic version has a house with a living room containing nothing of interest, while the SAGA+ version has an empty lot, and tells us that there were probably plans to build houses here at a later date.

At the west end of a parking lot we find the fabled Jet Car, which will be the object of most of our puzzle-solving.  The cockpit is open, and there are power terminals, a fuel tank and a jet engine connected to the tank by a hose.  The graphical version has a nice illustration by Kem McNair, though the Jet Car is white instead of black as in the movie:

We can ENTER CAR and EXAMINE DASHBOARD to discover a starter button, a glove compartment, and a fuel gauge on empty.  The glove compartment contains a fuel formula and a glowing jar of green fluid.  The formula reads Fuel is made from gasoline, sand, quartz, catalyst; we can correctly presume that the mysterious glowing fluid is the catalyst.  (The SAGA+ version replaces the quartz with Bauxite crystal.)  So the first major puzzle is set forth -- we have to mix up some jet fuel before the car's going to do anything.  Time to GET OUT of the car; EXIT doesn't work.

To the north is a lifeguard shack on the beach, containing a small ham radio that will be involved in  the game's primary non-fuel-related puzzle.  It has a transmit switch, but no battery and no antenna, so it's not working.  We have to take it to a shed on west Hickory, where an immovable antenna lead exists.  Arranging a power source will take a bit more work.

The beach abuts a cold, shallow mountain lake - we can SWIM while standing in it, but that never does anything or takes us anywhere, and we can't HOLD BREATH in this adventure -- so the only useful thing here is the water itself.  The mountain nearby is more intriguing -- EXAMINE MOUNTAIN at the foot yields I see a ledge about 15' up with a small peak.  Precise measurements are always suspicious, so we'll be on the lookout for something measuring fifteen feet or longer.

We can only carry five inventory items at a time, although temporary overloading is allowed when an action discovers or produces new items that are automatically carried.  So there's some juggling required as the game progresses, and we need to be efficient, given the time pressure presented by the bomb.  The hardware store on Main Street has a number of useful items - a climber's pick (described more helpfully as a pick ax in the SAGA+ build), hydrometer (for testing car batteries), manual hand pump, and jumper cables.  The gas station has gas pumps, a cashier's booth, and a padlocked filler pipe connected to the underground gas tank, which we can unlock with the key found in Sam's toolbox. The cashier's booth is cluttered with a trash pile, containing an old, empty car battery, and a control console with a switch for the gas pumps, which proves useless.  So we have a fuel source, but no ready way to get at the fuel.

With Sam's flashlight, we can return to Yoyodyne and see the basement laboratory and its mixing vat, presumably handy for making jet fuel once we've gathered the requisite ingredients.  I had to consult the CASA walkthrough to find a container for the gasoline -- EXAMINE STAIRS in the basement lab does the trick.  The floor safe in the Yoyodyne office can't be opened with the service station key, so that remains a puzzle for the moment.

It's always worth trying to DIG anywhere and everywhere in these games, and Buckaroo Banzai hints at a solution by responding Not with these hands when we try to do so without the proper equipment.  With the climber's pick in hand (oddly, it's not at all useful for climbing the mountain!) we can DIG a hole in the field of tall grass near the freeway to find an underground phone line.  It's best not to venture onto the freeway, as once we've gone up the exit ramp we cannot leave the open pavement, and we can only walk east or west for a few turns before An atomic explosion erupts.  I'm fried Banzai.  So that's not a productive area to explore.

We can FILL BATTERY in the cool, shallow lake, and CONNECT BATTERY to the ham radio, though that doesn't do much good until we can charge it up.  We can remove the fuel hose from the Jet Car and carry it to the gas station, and in the ScottFree interpreter I ran into something weird here.  I believe I tried to CONNECT HOSE at the gas station -- it didn't appear to work, and the hose wasn't connected to the distant car, but the car fuel gauge changed to read full.  Trying to START CAR, however, caused it to blow up, so apparently it was filled with regular gasoline, not the required jet fuel.  I ultimately restored and tried again after confirming that I was on the wrong track.

We can use the manual hand pump to help out here, but it took me some time (and the walkthrough) to get everything worked out.  I discovered that we can't CONNECT PUMP / TO PIPE at the gas station.  At the Jet Car we can CONNECT CABLES / TO BATTERY and TO TERMINALS, though in the classic version we can't really tell if it's actually connected; the SAGA+ display is clearer on the details.  The hydrometer can be used to TEST BATTERY; it initially tests as DeadCHARGE BATTERY is recognized by the parser, but the correct approach requires more specific actions.

(I found a related bug while working on this, in the classic edition - once the Old car battery becomes Battery attached to radio, we can EXAMINE TRASH to find the Old car battery again.)

To get the quartz/Bauxite, we actually have to DIG twice in the field to make Another large hole.  I couldn't quite tell at first why this is allowed -- GET LINE yields I can't, it's still attached, even after CUT LINE says I see the line is severed.  With the walkthrough I was able to figure out that we have to cut the line in two spots to free up a section, which is why we are allowed to dig two holes.  CUT LINE requires the climber's pick, which isn't generally a problem as we're using it to dig the holes.  The whole process yields a suspiciously precise 20 feet of phone line.

Now we can go to the foot of the mountain and THROW LINE, which catches and dangles down from the ledge fifteen feet above.  The quartz is accessible from the ledge, but we need a tool to free it from the mountainside, and we can't climb while carrying anything.  So we have to TIE LINE / TO PICK, CLIMB LINE, then PULL LINE to retrieve the pick, which now allows us to GET QUARTZ.

EXAMINE HOSE indicates that the fuel hose is clean, which isn't significant at this point, but its condition will be important later on.  The manual hand pump has a hose 6 feet long, which is not enough to reach the fuel in the gas station's underground tank, but we can duct tape the car's fuel hose to the pump to make a combined hose 10 feet long.  Now we can INSERT HOSE (yielding It does reach the gasoline) and PUMP GAS if we have a suitable container.  At last we're able to MIX FUEL in the basement vat at Yoyodyne, yielding a Jug of jet fuel.

The modern ScottFree interpreter caused me no end of problems at this point -- I could not get it to allow me to DISCONNECT HOSE, so I couldn't finish the steps required to get the car going.  And when I refueled the vehicle (after the odd CONNECT HOSE bug occurred earlier) the fuel gauge in car now read full full, probably because the game's internal state had both gasoline and jet fuel in the tank simultaneously.  I didn't run into any of these issues while playing the Spectrum and Apple II versions.

With a tank full of jet fuel, we can start the car (unless we forgot to clean and replace the fuel hose, in which case the car either blows up or doesn't work at all.)  It's important to take a moment here to charge the car battery using the jumper cables -- the car doesn't need it, but we need it for another purpose.  If it's connected while the car is idling, it will go from Dead to Weak, enough to run the radio later.  The car fuel gauge remains on full while it's idling -- only driving from place to place seems to use up fuel.

At this point we're almost ready to go.  PUSH BUTTON yields I drive to Main St for attempt to mountain; the SAGA+ version is clearer, saying I drive the jet car to Main Street for an attempt at entering the mountain.  PUSH BUTTON a second time replicates the movie's opening sequence, with a brief animation in the SAGA+ version:

Once we're inside the mountain (using the Jet Car's remarkable matter transparency capabilities) we'd better still have the flashlight, with which we can discover the bomb.  EXAMINE BOMB indicates that it has an RFI (radio frequency interference) shield, currently turned on, and a switch.  There's also an envelope nearby, which contains the key for the floor safe at Yoyodyne.  We need to turn off the bomb's RFI shield -- how anyone would know this before exiting the mountain and failing to stop the radio from detonating using the radio is beyond me, so chalk this action up to the traditional "It's an adventure game, so any unpressed switch should be pressed at least once" rule.

We escape the mountain by simply walking north and exiting through a handy door, at least in the classic interpreter version.  The SAGA+ edition has extra locations inside the mountain, a tunnel and a duct-like maze that presumably contains something to help us move the heavy table.  I never did actually solve this in my playthrough, as the flashlight I carelessly left on for too long earlier kept running out of juice before I could explore the area thoroughly.  But as it turns out, the same bomb-disarming code words found in the classic version are also valid in the SAGA+ version, and the game does not require that we actually find and read the paper to win.  So I was able to finish this run using the a priori knowledge from my Spectrum run.

In the classic version, I can confirm that the paper found in the floor safe reads:
Disarm Code: 1=Warfin 2=Yoyodyne

This is a bit odd -- Warfin is spelled differently from the name of John Lithgow's movie character, Lord John Whorfin (alias Dr. Emilio Lizardo).  This is an odd mistake to make, because the character actually spells out his name letter by letter during a phone conversation in the movie!  But back in the day the designers may have had to work from a raw script without later additions and on-set revisions, and in any case we have to abide by the game's spelling to satisfy the parser.

Once we get back to the radio shed and connect the battery to the ham radio, we hear a doomsday countdown.  In both of my walkthrough-assisted attempts, we had plenty of time left until detonation, more than 400 moves, so there wasn't a lot of pressure at this point.  Of course, we can't hear this status update and breathe any tentative sighs of relief until we have the radio hooked up, and if we left an item behind or forgot to do anything important inside the mountain, we're stuck at this point.

Since we have the opportunity to compare, let me record a few random observations about the SAGA+ interpreter as compared to the classic Scott Adams engine.  LIGHT and UNLIGHT are replaced by TURN ON / TURN OFF, and DROP MANUAL PUMP at the gas station seems to ignore the adjective and still prompts for disambiguation regarding gas pump versus manual hand pump.  I also found the Apple II version a bit frustrating just because it plays more slowly due to graphics loading time, but that's just because I've recently been spoiled by the lower-quality but faster-loading graphics of the IBM PC QuestProbe games.  I suspect the classic interpreter build was cut down from a primary design intended for SAGA+ -- the SAGA+ text is more elaborate, and the MOVE TABLE and mountain duct maze puzzles bookend the whole story, making it seem like those were cut for space in the classic version.  Also, one oddity is that in SAGA+, GO STATION works the same as ENTER STATION, but GO YOYODYNE puts us "at" the Yoyodyne building instead of taking us inside from outside.

In either version, all we have to do now is transmit the bomb-disarming passcodes in the proper sequence -- the world is saved, and the game is over:

(The Want to play again? prompt always strikes me as disingenuous at this point.  I realize it's a standard behavior of the game engine, but I'm almost always ready to be done once victory has been achieved!)

Next time, we'll take a look at Scott Adams' post-Adventure International return to the genre and a favorite adventuring environment, with his independent shareware release, 2000's Return to Pirate's Isle 2.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The LoadDown - 09/20/2010

Another week, another raft of downloadable games...

WiiWare --  Two new titles this week.  Triple Throwing Sports is a set of traditional throwing/aiming events using motion controls.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar's ABCs is an educational alphabet game for young children based on Eric Carle's classic children's book.  Gratuitous nostalgia image:

Wii Virtual Console -- The revived incarnation of Sunsoft continues to keep the Virtual Console flame alive, with Aero the Acrobat 2 this week.  I'm still waiting for some of those TurboGrafx-16 Nihon Telenet titles to show up; hopefully we'll see some activity there before we get, say, Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel.

DSiWare -- Three new titles arrive.  Nintendo Countdown Calendar allows users to set event dates and track countdowns. GO Series 10 Second Run is a high-speed, ultra-short platforming challenge with 50 levels.  Everyday Soccer is a generic soccer game with some character customization and online features.

XBox Live Arcade -- Three new downloadable games last week, despite Halo Reach dominating the platform.  Sonic Adventure brings Sega's Dreamcast game to XBLA.  Space Invaders Infinity Gene is more from Taito (see PS3 version below.)  And King of Fighters: Sky Stage is... a shooter starring the cast of SNK's legendary fighting game series.  So crazy it just might work, with Mai Shiranui bringing her sizeable talents to the fore along with five other classic KOF characters.

Game Room -- A change in the pattern, with just two new games last week, both of them pleasantly obscure Konami coin-ops.  Flak Attack is a vertical shooter of the usual variety.  Kitten Caboodle is a cutesy block jumping/pushing game, with a gambling minigame and more than a hint of Pengo about it; it's quite a bit of fun in small doses.

PS3 on PSN -- A big week for the PS3, with 4 new downloadable games.  My Aquarium is what you'd expect, a PS3 version of Hudson Soft's WiiWare hit.  Space Invaders Infinity Gene is more pumped-up, modernized, highly playable hyper-Space Invaders action from Taito.  Worms 2: Armageddon is the classic multi-player action/strategy/warfare game.  And Tumble is a physics-based block stacking game that shows off Sony's new Move motion controller.  Methinks there might be a trend here...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Super-8 Converter

Did anyone ever own one of these?  It would be a convenient gadget to have today, as it supports playing Japanese Famicom and Super Famicom games on the American Super NES (as well as 8-bit NES games.)  Innovation distributed one version under the brand name Super 8:

Apparently it was also known as the Tri-Star converter.  There's a really solid FAQ about it over here.  There was also something called the TriStar 64 which did the same for the Nintendo 64, featuring backward compatibility for the NES and SNES.

I don't care so much about the NES/SNES compatibility -- but being able to play Famicom and Super Famicom games would come in handy.

I wonder if anyone bought one of these hoping their Super 8mm home movies could now be shown on TV using the SNES?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Spectral Associates' Quality Rip-Offs

It was common practice in the early days of gaming for publishers to "borrow" home computer game ideas from the arcade; Sierra On-Line produced a game called Cannonball Blitz that was Donkey Kong in all but name and graphics, for instance.  But few were quite as blatant about it as TRS-80 Color Computer publisher Spectral Associates, as evidenced in the company's 1985 holiday season catalog:

The Spectral Associates games approximated their inspirations fairly well given the capabilities of the CoCo, and as a customer back in the day I was rarely disappointed.  But nobody would have mistaken Pengon for anything but a Pengo rip-off, or Lunar Rover Patrol for something other than Moon Patrol.  And just in case you haven't visited an arcade, or imagine Ms. Gobbler to be something less than wholesome, the Spectral Associates catalog helpfully identifies the illegitimate source of each and every bit of stolen intellectual property.

It's telling that when Tandy picked up Spectral's Color Meteoroids as an official Radio Shack cartridge release, the name was changed to Microbes, with the manual's backstory (though not the gameplay) changed to describe a spaceship microscopic germ fighter shooting asteroids microbes that split into smaller rocks single-celled organisms, while dodging UFOs hostile antibodies.

And calling a game a "Spectral Original," when it's obviously a clone of Taito's Electric YoYo and/or Midway's Solar Fox, then selling it using the name of an unrelated Activision game, Beam Rider, is a bit much even by these standards.

But that's how the industry rolled back in the day.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oddities East and West: Jackie Chan (and his Action Kung-Fu)

Back in 1991, comic martial arts actor Jackie Chan was known on American shores only to die-hard kung fu movie fans and Cannonball Run aficionados.  But he was a major star in Japan, which is why Hudson Soft produced Jackie Chan for the Famicom and PC Engine (as the company's thirty-sixth title for the machine.)  The game was a solid platformer, with particularly nice graphics on the PC Engine, and it came to the US for the Nintendo Entertainment System and even the TurboGrafx-16 as Jackie Chan's Action Kung-Fu.  We're looking at the PC Engine/TurboGrafx edition here.

The only real difference is in the title screen:

Which was translated to:

The game maintains a light-hearted sense of humor, with Jackie determinedly kicking and punching his way across the landscape as he seeks to rescue his sister from an evil sorcerer.  The world map unfurls on a classical-style Asian scroll, and while Jackie's progress is strictly linear, the artwork provides a nice sense of atmosphere:

Befitting the actor's stature, videogame Jackie Chan has a number of attacks at his disposal -- he can punch and kick, crouch and low kick, and leap through the air for a flying kick, with some more complicated fireball and spin kick moves available as the game progresses.

There are some really nice special effects in the game -- Hudson Soft designed the PC Engine and knew how to get the most out of the hardware, with rotating platforms, color-cycling background animation, parallax scrolling on some levels, and this interesting shadow effect, unique in my TurboGrafx gaming experience:

The animated caricature of Jackie Chan is full of personality, though when he isn't fighting he looks rather more like a dark-haired Gordon Ramsay.  Green frogs turn up from time to time, with a little amphibian abuse yielding power-up items, like bowls of rice to restore Jackie's hit points.  Occasionally Mr. Chan finds a bell, enabling access to a Special Stage.  These bonus challenges include bouncing off of clouds to pick up fruit, and punching a series of targets as quickly as possible, with his weary sensei rating his success afterward.   The text is in English in both territories -- this is from the Japanese edition:

The animation is cartoonish and simple, with some very nice backgrounds and enemy sprites.  Unlike Bonk, Jackie isn't subjected to the indignity of Westernization -- when he dies, he gets the bug-eyed, twitchy manga treatment on both sides of the water:

The action is not overly difficult but it takes some practice and memorization to master each level.  The challenge ramps up significantly as we progress, and a limited number of continues means that eventually it's time for Jackie Chan to be crushed under granite:

Jackie Chan is a charming little Hudson platformer, with solid controls and memorable music.  The license was unfortunately too far ahead of its time in the States, but knowledge of Mr. Chan's work isn't essential to appreciating the gameplay, which still holds up well almost two decades later.

Jackie Chan hasn't been remade or released on the Wii Virtual Console, probably due to re-licensing issues, and it's gained some value as a licensed collectible, so it's not always easy to find at a good price.  It may be available for purchase here.