This week, we return to SoftSide Publications' monthly disk magazine adventure series, assaying its second entry, Adventure #2 - Alien Adventure, published in 1982 for the Atari 400/800 computers. Some sources indicate that this game was published in 1981, but the BASIC source code shows a final update on 08-Mar-1982 in the comments; there's no author cited, so its origins remain a bit unclear. (Several other text adventures by the same name appeared on various early-80s platforms, to further confuse the intrepid Internet researcher.)
As in most space and alien-themed adventures, the player's mission is to explore and escape an alien world; in this specific case, to deliver a cargo of oil to earth, after stocking up on heavy metals and/or loot, and avoiding the THING that massacred your crew! At least, this is what the introductory text screen tells us; the actual plot seems to have evolved a bit after the intro was written, and the game-winning conditions aren't entirely clear.
Escape-the-alien-planet games were a dime a dozen during the early years of adventuring, but I almost always enjoy them; most wear their influences on their sleeve, and this one was clearly inspired by the Ridley Scott/Dan O' Bannon Alien movie, with no official licensing, of course. As always, I urge interested readers to sample the Alien Adventure before proceeding here; there are useful hints by SDon78 available at the CASA Solution Archive, along with my detailed solution. Here, there are sure to be...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
One unusual feature of Alien Adventure is that the game starts up with a choice of three skill levels -- Advanced, Average, and Beginner. I started playing on Advanced, but finally dropped back to Beginner. The puzzles are the same in all cases, but on Advanced the inventory limit is tighter, the space suit provides fewer moves' worth of air, and random alien attacks make carrying the flamethrower necessary, forcing further inventory juggling. It's a true adventurer's adventure in Advanced mode, no doubt, but I opted for playability over challenge.
We begin in the hyper-sleep chamber of the NOSTROMO, betraying a certain cinematic influence. And EXAMINE POD reveals a cat, so we can surmise that this story takes place after the events of the movie. We also begin with nothing at all in inventory, and may learn that we can backspace over the command prompt and cause the parser to miss part of the entry. The BASIC-language code runs fairly slowly, so I recommend turning up the speed if you're using an emulator.
A nearby storage room contains fuel, and a portable winch with built-in rope. The food locker contains cat food, which should be useful for keeping the critter on our side should the need arise. We can carry the cat around, but if we try to enter the airlock, the parser interrupts the story to tell us: SPCA HERE: You can't take that cat out of the airlock!!
The airlock contains a button, some oxygen, and a closed door. The SPCA does not interfere if we choose to PUSH BUTTON, which establishes that there is no breathable air here and ends our game with 0 out of 100 possible points.
There's a certain downbeat feel onboard the Nostromo, as there are no other human survivors. A computer console reads: It's been nice knowing you! And the view from the bridge squanders any opportunities for otherworldly beauty -- EXAMINE VIEWPORT yields only I see an alien planet outside.
The infirmary has an examination table and a microscope, neither of which can be used to do anything interesting. It also has a closet that doesn't show up until we take an explicit LOOK. The Reserve Supplies Closet thus discovered contains a battery pack; we have to GET PACK, not GET BATTERY.
The ship has three decks. C deck, the topmost level, has an Engineering Section with a portable Flamethrower; EXAMINE FLAMETHROWER reveals that it has 9 shots left when we find it. The Nostromo's Reactor Control Room contains a BUTTON, and a CLAW room by the landing legs features a readily visible closet and a Tracker for warning of approaching aliens. The utility closet contains a shovel, which we will need to unearth a couple of treasures. On the Beginner level, we don't need to bother with the flamethrower or the tracker unless we are careless planetside.
For some reason, START TRACKER produces The rope isn't connected to my suit! I wasn't sure what that implied, but it seems to be bug and makes more sense later on. At least we know that there's a suit available somewhere. PUSH BUTTON in the Reactor Room is, predictably, a bad idea. Once it is pushed, we have 25, 50 or 75 moves left until the reactor goes critical, depending on the skill level selected at startup.
On any level above Beginner, at some point we hear a loud tearing noise and eventually a HUGE ALIEN appears, accompanied the FLASHING of the tracker's warning light (we don't actually have to START it, apparently.) We can KILL ALIEN, but if the flamethrower runs out of gas, or we fail to respond to the threat immediately, then we are informed that Alien attacks... It's tearing me to shreds... Aarrrrgh I'm dead!!! Funny how that makes complete sense in the disembodied world of the adventure game, while anywhere else I'm dead!!! would be an obvious baldfaced fabrication.
The parser dictionary is limited and makes some traditional puzzle-solving possibilities strictly infeasible. We can't TIE ROPE - I don't know how to 'TIE' something. Or PET CAT. Or READ anything. Hm. We can, however, CONNECT things, like the ROPE and the PACK. CONNECT ROPE connects it from the WINCH to ourselves. CONNECT PACK must also have a specific object in mind, as we're not asked for a target. The HELP verb actually provides some information, such as, BEWARE OF ALIENS... be kind to animals. And while this might be a bug or a leftover developer feature, I discovered that SAY produces a dump of the dictionary, indicating that directions are fully-parsed, but verbs and nouns use only three significant characters.
The map is pretty open, and I wandered around for quite a while without really discovering a puzzle per se. Consulting the CASA hints suggested I needed to examine the Shuttle Airlock more closely. LOOK doesn't do it, and the parser doesn't know what a FLOOR or CEILING is. We can't productively EXAMINE WALL, though it recognizes the word. But aha! We can GO SHUTTLE. Dang it. And EXAMINE LOCKER doesn't describe any interesting details, especially that we can GO LOCKER to find a SPACE SUIT. Whew. That should come in handy, except that we can't seem to WEAR SUIT. Or DON SUIT. So how do we put it on? EXAMINE SUIT yields A tag on the suit says 'SUIT UP.' Doing so reveals that the space suit has air for 240 moves (on Beginner; 80 on Advanced) when we first put it on. And experimentation reveals that we can DROP SUIT to take it off.
While we're here, we can discover that the EMERGENCY ESCAPE SHUTTLE has a Control Console with a slot next to it, and a lever. PULL LEVER doesn't do anything at first, but it's probably safe to say this is not a futuristic one-armed bandit and we will probably need to put something informative or energetic in the slot later on.
Outside the airlock at last, we can JUMP DOWN to reach the surface outside the ship, though this proves unwise later. The alien planet's surface is a very simple maze -- just traveling north a few turns gets us to an ALIEN SHIP. Beyond some slimy corridors lies the HUGE skeleton of an alien, as seen in the movies, one imagines, and a * RARE ALIEN JEWEL *, as seen in adventure games. There's also a DEEP HOLE here. And EXAMINE SKELETON reveals it is holding an *ALIEN BOOK *; it in turn contains a * MAP OF UNIVERSE *. EXAMINE BOOK reveals it is the TELEPORTER MANUAL (as written on the book's "conver" [sic]) but I never did figure out how to use it, and in fact the book is just a treasure.
If we wish to go into the hole, we should use the winch -- EXAMINE ROPE yields 'START WINCH' to wind up rope, which will be very important to know. There's an ORGANIC OVOID and an * ALIEN EXPLOSIVE * down there. If we EXAMINE OVOID, a SMALL ALIEN appears from the now-open egg. This is not a good thing, so we should not do that; it shortly develops that the little critter is just as capable of tearing us to shreds as its huge adult brethren.
Now that we have found a few interesting treasures, how do we get back into the Nostromo? Well, the dictionary does not recognize the word SHIP. And GO PLATFORM yields OH NO! I can't reach it! So... hmmmm. We can't THROW WINCH to the platform, and the game won't let us go very far with the rope attached. We can't take either of the ladders from the ship's between-decks crawlways. The CASA hints inform us that we have to use the button on the platform outside the airlock to raise and lower it properly... before we jump willy-nilly down to the surface, of course. So it's time to restore an earlier save and try again.
The hints also suggest using the shovel to dig on the planet's surface. DIG SHOVEL (or almost anything else) yields, "Yeah man, groovy!!" That joke never gets old! We can't DIG GROUND or DIG FLOOR, but it's a matter of context -- DIG HOLE works, at least in a few locations. We can GO HOLE to find a * DIAMOND *. And further DIG HOLE here to make ANOTHER HOLE where we find an * ALIEN TELEPORTER *. It's unfortunately not functional, so we have to use the winch to get ourselves back out, assuming we remembered to CONNECT ROPE before digging down so far.
There's a SCORE command, which establishes that we get 0 points for finding treasures, so we must have to store them on the ship. These aren't exactly the valuable heavy metals specified in our original mission statement, but they have asterisks around them so they will have to do. Points are earned only for dropping treasures in the shuttle or the shuttle suit locker; we have to find this out by trial and error, as there's no traditional drop-treasures-and-say-SCORE sign around. We don't even actually have to drop them onboard, as long as we are carrying them when we take off.
It feels like I'm getting close to the end of the game, but with 6 treasures collected, I only have 70 points. What am I missing? Well, there are some other non-treasure objectives here; we should bring the cat from the pod along, most likely. Beyond that, it seems like we should earn some points if we get the battery pack from the reserve supplies closet, CONNECT the battery PACK to the shuttle's control console, PULL the LEVER, and blast off for home!
So... that sounds like a victory, but we still only have 80 points. And the game is rather tight-lipped about whatever it is we were supposed to have done and didn't. So it's time to dive into the source code, where a little sleuthing discovers that we get 10 points for setting the ship's reactor to destruct before we escape. (This is more obvious on higher difficulty levels, where the aliens have visibly infested the ship.)
Even with that, I'm still missing ten points... further dissection of the code indicates that I am missing an important item -- the FUEL from the ship's storage room. So there are actually nine objects we need to bring onboard the shuttle: the cat, oxygen, fuel, and the six treasures -- and we also need to set the reactor to explode before we leave. This ending looks much the same, but is somehow more satisfying:
I gave the Advanced difficulty a shot for comparison's sake, but it requires great care, inventory juggling, and the utmost in execution efficiency, especially because the tightened inventory limit makes more backtracking necessary when rounding up the alien treasures. My walkthrough, below the fold and also posted at the CASA Solution Archive, is only valid at the Beginner level, where the action is much more predictable. Use it as a basis for a tighter Advanced-level solution if you like -- I would be impressed, if that matters.
There are many more of these SoftSide adventures ahead -- I jumped into this series with a random selection, and only later discovered that the games were numbered, so I'm trying to tackle them in sequence from here on out. This means that at some point I will be playing #3, Treasure Island. But probably not next week.
***** WALKTHROUGH *****
(Select BEGINNER difficulty at start, or improvise using this as a basis as the random aliens attack!)
W, U, U, U, U
N, E, N
W, S, W, S, S
W, N, N
D, D, D, D, S
N, N, W
W, N, N
N, E, E, N
DROP ROPE (winds back into winch)
(trip back to the ship, inventory limit)
D, S, W, W, S, S, S, E
E, S, U, U, U, U, S
W, N, N, D, D, D, D, N, W
W, N, N, N, E, E, N
(back to collect more treasures)
D, S, W, W, S, S, S, E
E, S, U, U, U, U, S
W, N, N, D, D, D, D, E
N, N, U, U
W, W, U, U
W, S, S
SCORE (should have 90 points at this point)
PULL LEVER (course set for home! Victory!)