I had time to catch up on a few things over the Labor Day weekend, but not everything I might have wanted to. So this week we're taking on SoftSide Adventure #5 - Crime Adventure, temporarily skipping over #4 in that series until I have time to play through it properly. We're playing Crime Adventure on the Atari 400/800, which is significant as there are apparently some differences between versions.
The game was featured in the October 1981 issue of the SoftSide disk magazine, with no author credited onscreen or in the BASIC code. (UPDATE 07/01/2012: This post drew the attention of a Mr. Neil Bradley, who wrote this game's original TRS-80 version. He based the map on his local neighborhood in Portland, Oregon!) While the title may imply that the player will be committing crimes in the course of the adventure, this is not the case -- according to the introductory text, Mrs. Fenwick has been kidnapped, and is now hidden in some unknown location. You must sift through the clues you will find, and rescue her!
Traditional Agatha Christie-style mysteries inspired a number of early adventure games; Infocom arguably did the most to develop the genre, with significant conversation and independent action by the potentially guilty parties. Crime Adventure does not approach this level of interactive fiction; it's a more traditional adventure game, with object-based puzzles and clue hunting dominating the rather nonsensical action.
As always, I encourage interested readers to give this game a go independently before continuing here. In the interest of historical documentation and an ongoing exploration of the art of interactive fiction, I will reveal all I was able to discover in the ensuing discussion. In other words, there are certain to be...
The story begins with an unexpected historical flashback, as the player begins in a 1980s arcade, with unlicensed Asteroids, Space Invaders, Star Castle and Gorf machines. (Apparently other versions featured variations here.) But should we try to PLAY ASTEROIDS, the limited parser steps in to inform us that You don't know how to 'PLAY ASTEROIDS'. So why are we in the arcade? We can examine the machines to see that they accept quarters or tokens, but we can't TALK ATTENDANT or ASK ATTENDANT, and we have nothing in inventory. There's a token dispenser on the sidewalk outside, but it sports an Out-of-Order sign. So we will probably have to come back here later if we're supposed to do anything on the arcade's premises.
There are quite a few shops in town that we will need to visit to gather important items. The shoe store next to the arcade has some golf shoes for sale, and there's a golf ball on the corner outside. An advertisement in the nearby parking lot reads, "Come to the big sale at the shoe store. Premium quality golf shoes only $29.99!" So clearly there's a theme here.
The game's design is generally fair and not overly anxious to do away with the player, but unforeseeable death results if we explore the street too much, as we can easily get hit by a car. The Middle on an east-west street location maps as a bottleneck between the north and south sections of the map, and going east or west from that location results in an untimely demise. The north-south street is not as heavily traveled and is safe to explore.
To the south of town is the Fenwick House, which is convenient as it's Mrs. Fenwick that's been kidnapped. The home's back yard has a putting green and a flag, so golf continues to be a factor.
A notebook near the backyard fence reads, "The ground beneath may reveal a treat!" We can find a shovel behind the restaurant to the east. But if we try to DIG - With what?? - SHOVEL -- Nothing is found. This is odd, and I tried to figure out if the notebook had somehow been moved from another location, but as it turns out we have to DIG GROUND specifically to discover a coin.
A rotten egg lies on the sidewalk, but we can't GET EGG - It's smelly and rotten...Leave it alone. I never found a need for it and was happy to let it lie. The local computer store has an Atari computer running (in this version, naturally), and EXAMINE COMPUTER tells us that There is a program on the computer. But we can't USE PROGRAM or READ PROGRAM or LIST PROGRAM; we have to READ COMPUTER to see that it's a lesson for cooking beef stew.
The neighboring Beauty Salon contains a hairpin and nothing else; the game is generally free of extraneous detail, so if an object turns up, we probably need to do something with it.
A neighboring gypsy's house can be explored in some detail; the owner, a gypsy woman, has a crystal ball and says, "A penny for my thoughts..." Coming up with some money will be important it seems. A painting in her hallway may be tempting -- It looks very valuable -- but if we try to GET PAINTING, The gypsy kicks you out of the house and locks the door! We can also EXAMINE MIRROR in the gypsy's master bedroom, learning only that You don't like what you see. So again we should probably come back here with a little money.
The Crime Adventure map is geographically consistent, except for the interior of the Fenwick and gypsy houses which are fairly large.
The Fenwick house contains a hat, not our size, a picture of Mrs. Fenwick -- She's a beauty! -- and a dresser containing $30 in cash which we are allowed to liberate, presumably in the interest of solving the ultimate mystery on Mrs. Fenwick's behalf. There's also a forward-looking diary entry for today, indicating that the phone went out of order, so she had to go down to the phone booth, and that she was planning to make stew for dinner. The kitchen contains carrots, onions, meat, potatoes, and a fry pan, while Mr. Fenwick and his putter are found waiting in the dining room; we can EXAMINE MR. to learn that He looks lonely and hungry. There are no complicated character motivations or subtle plotlines here -- we can't SHOW or ASK him anything.
The Tesn-Teisn restaurant contains a fortune cookie, with a pidgin-English fortune reading, "He who putt around go places." We can figure this out on our own, sans the stereotyped Asian reference, but it is a valid clue.
Of course, Mr. Fenwick won't just let us take his faithful putter. And if we try to MAKE STEW without having visited the computer store, the engine yields You can't make anything... yet. We can't CHOP ONIONS or CUT CARROTS, either, and there's a five-item inventory limit, so we have to drop everything else in order to pick up the pan and four ingredients. Then, finally, we can produce some delicious stew; apparently mere exposure to the "one easy lesson" on the Atari computer was sufficient. We can then FEED MR. to obtain the putter.
But we're not quite ready to do any putting yet. We have to visit the shoe store to get the golf shoes, where we must BUY PAIR -- BUY SHOES yields You can't do that... yet, because the 3-character parser dictionary means that SHOES are actually interpreted as the SHOVEL.
While no time limit is explicitly stated up front, it develops that we don't have all the time in the world to solve the mystery -- the game starts reporting that Time is running out for Mrs. Fenwick! after a while.
Having bought the golf shoes for $29.99, in a world free of sales tax, we have a penny left over and can visit the gypsy's house (if we didn't get thrown out earlier, in which case we must restart or restore.) We can't GIVE PENNY, but we can PAY GYPSY to learn that "I see a woman...trapped... in an underground prison...you must rescue her." Then we get transported to her front porch and locked out of the house, our business transaction apparently completed.
We've spent all of our existing money, so we should take a look at that coin we dug up earlier. Unfortunately, there's a bug in the Atari 400/800 version that makes this inquiry fatal -- EXAMINE COIN tells us that we've found a quarter, but then summarily crashes the game. The BASIC code should GOTO 210 but goes to the non-existent line 910 instead:
So it's best to avoid this action the next time around. We can try to putt on the Fenwicks' backyard putting green, but with the golf ball, golf shoes and putter in hand, we are told that You can't putt....yet. Experimentation reveals that we have to DROP BALL first, and PUTT BALL instead of just PUTTing, but even then we're not able to putt. I had to resort to the always-valuable CASA walkthroughs to learn that we have to return to the arcade and INSERT COIN into the Asteroids (or any other) machine, getting the high score to earn a free putt-putt course card from the attendant. The IBM version has a Pac-Man machine, missing here, but playing any of the games appears to work, and just like the stew recipe, the knowledge is instantly osmosed -- we don't actually have to take the course to learn how to PUTT BALL.
We're near the end of the game now. Putting the ball drops us into an underground hallway, where a lady's footprints are visible. A four-way junction leads to some odd mapping, as going W takes us out to the sidewalk in front of the arcade, and we can't go back the way we came, though we can return via the Fenwicks' back yard, now converted into a hole that immediately drops us down again.
The eastern room has a lock on some machinery, and there's a solid steel wall to the south, but security has not been very well thought through, as we can easily PICK LOCK with the hairpin, taking advantage of the system's weakest link.
Behind the steel wall, we find Mrs. Fenwick -- she says she will follow us, but there is one more thing we need to do to complete the adventure. She looks lonely, which is a clue, but not in the way one might be tempted to think. We just have to take her back home to her husband, still sitting in the dining room, where the two are happily reunited. Apparently Mrs. Fenwick doesn't even suspect that Mr. Fenwick might have had something to do with all of this, what with the high-security underground prison concealed beneath his backyard putting green, and the complete absence of any kind of ransom demand. So the storyline seems strangely unresolved in the end, but all's well that ends well, I suppose. Victory is ours!
I took a peek at the code to understand the timing details -- there's no score per se, but we have 250 moves to find Mrs. Fenwick, and we must reunite her with her husband in 300 moves, otherwise we will learn that Mr. Fenwick has given up on his wife and left town. So he's not only lazy, but impatient as well. I just don't trust him, but Mrs. Fenwick seems happy enough.
Crime Adventure has a fairly extensive map that takes some time to explore, but the puzzles are generally simple, aside from some unclear expectations and circa-1981 parser wrestling. It was a good, quick game for the Labor Day weekend, thanks in part to CASA, and I enjoyed it despite its contrivances and a remarkably silly ending. Next time I tackle a SoftSide game, I will almost certainly get back to #4, for which it appears I will have to create my own walkthrough.