Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Jack the Ripper Adventure (1981)

This week, I'm finally making good on a promise I made a while back, by getting back into a proper sequence with SoftSide Adventure #4 - Jack the Ripper Adventure, published for the Atari 400/800 in the September 1981 issue of the monthly SoftSide disk magazine.  (I had skipped ahead to game #5 a few weeks back.)  The game opens with a simple, colorful title screen:

The introductory text that follows lays out the game's basic plot and setting.  We find ourselves in 1888, where:
As a constable of Scotland Yard you have been assigned to patrol the Whitechapel section of London to seek out one Jack the Ripper and put an end to his murderous crimes.

Sounds simple enough, right?  Given that the Ripper's identity remains a mystery today?

The game, unlike the real-life mystery, is solvable, though there are some unclear victory conditions that sent me digging into the BASIC code to figure out what I was missing towards the end.  As always, I encourage interested readers to tackle Jack the Ripper before continuing below.  If you just want to know what this game is like and how it plays, where its design succeeds and fails, then feel free to march right into the...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

The SoftSide games were created by different authors, and while many of them share a look and feel, it's not uncommon to see small variations in the engine behavior.  This one asks us to HIT ANY KEY after giving us significant feedback, or even picking something new up, which gets annoying after a while.

We start out on a London street.  We can explore the neighborhood, but if we try to ENTER RESIDENCE, the maid throws us out "Unless this is police business."  So we will need some means of introduction, or a search warrant.

Our investigative options are otherwise rather limited by the parser.  We can't SEARCH ALLEY or EXAMINE ALLEY, LOOK repeats the room-level description, and INVESTIGATE is taken to mean INVENTORY.  The parser also checks against the 5-item inventory limit before it actually checks whether we can GET the item in question, occasionally resulting in unnecessary DROPping and re-GETting.  Leading spaces aren't trimmed off, so we can confuse the parser with sloppy command typing.  There's also no QUIT or RESTART command available; we must die or reset.

The game has a night-day cycle -- dusk and dawn alternate, and certain events only happen in a specific timeframe.  A patron standing outside the pub reads a newspaper with the headline "Ripper still at large", and the reported victim count will increase as the days pass in-game.  We can't EXAMINE NEWSPAPER further, or ASK PATRON or TALK PATRON or EXAMINE PATRON either, so we won't be learning anything further.  We can ENTER PUB, to find a bar, a bartender, and a dart game in progress.  And we can PLAY DARTS to (easily) win a prize of 1 British pound.  We can't talk to the bartender either; this detective work is going to be rather difficult.  The pub's small back room contains a handled bucket; it seems that should be useful as well, if only because such items usually are in adventure games.

So having failed to engage anyone in conversation, it appears this will be more of a "shopping for evidence" game.  We find a Dress Shop and Candy Store down a side street; we can buy a red dress with the one pound we won playing darts, and WEAR DRESS, which either invalidates my assumptions about the character's gender tranvestite tendencies, or means we are going to go undercover as a target for the Ripper.  We have to specifically DROP POUND to complete the transaction to the merchant's satisfaction, but the game will actually let us just take the dress without paying if we GET DRESS or even if we BUY DRESS but never deliver the money in return.  We can (legitimately) obtain free candy and nuts in the candy store --  "For you, Constable, no charge!"  -- which is nice, though this implies the red dress is not much of a disguise.

We start getting a countdown at 20 turns until dusk, and briefly fall asleep at dusk; there doesn't seem to be any practical impact from this nap, so I think this is to cover for any changes that happen where we could have noticed them.  Now it's dark out, with gas streetlamps burning bright, and eventually we will start seeing a 35-turn countdown to dawn.

The local inn's lobby contains a number of items -- stairs, a clerk, a counter, the register, a quill, and some ink.  We can READ REGISTER but There are no entries; not that our quarry would sign in as Jack the Ripper or anything.  We can't initially GO STAIRS -- the Clerk says, "Rooms are for guests, sorry."  These Constables don't have much authority, it seems.  But we don't actually have to rent a room -- we just have to sign in.  We GET QUILL, DIP QUILL, SIGN REGISTER -- and then we can GO STAIRS, and pick up a long rope in what appears to be the inn's only room.

The river bank features a bridge over the Thames to Parliament Blvd.  Here, we can visit Scotland Yard, where the Desk Sergeant asks, "What do you want?"  WARRANT yields, "Sorry, I can't let you."  But we can SEARCH DESK here to obtain a SEARCH WARRANT... or so I thought.  What actually happens here is that he wants us to ask for a SEARCH WARRANT, not just a WARRANT.  Which is why we can't SEARCH anything, and we must DROP WARRANT and not DROP SEARCH.  Sigh.

There's a horse-and-buggy taxi available at a taxi stand south of the Yard.  The Taxi Driver asks, "Where to?"  Every location I tried yielded only, "Sorry, that's not on my route."  I wonder where he does go, because I tried directing him to London, Parliament, Big Ben, Scotland Yard, Nowhere... and I finally had to restore from an earlier save, as without a recognized destination I could not find a way out of the taxi.

So we're off to search the four residences with our warrant in hand.  The northernmost one has a bedroom containing a Bra.  And yes, we apparently need to WEAR BRA.  Too many doughnuts, Constable?  The game invokes its fashion sense at this point to reply Dummy! Take the dress off first! if we are already wearing it.  But even after we DROP DRESS, we still get this message, and if we pick it up again we find we are already wearing it.  This seems to be a bug -- apparently we have to dress up in a certain order.  Which is what we will be doing, as another residence to the south has a BLONDE WIG in its bedroom, and nothing else, in the grand old sparsely-furnished adventure tradition.

Once we start exploring the residences, in the London Street we will notice that There's a small lad playing Jack the Ripper with a rubber knife.  Fortunately, he is not doing so not with any small lass.  We can GIVE CANDY and GET KNIFE, though the only reason to do so at this point as that it can be done.

The southernmost residence on Pagon Avenue has a stuck door in the den, and a locked door in the kitchen.  We can KICK DOOR to open the stuck door and gain access to a closet containing a black cape.  Is this Jack's house?  When we GET CAPE, a small key falls out, and while we can't UNLOCK DOOR, we can OPEN DOOR in the kitchen once we have the key.  Getting into the pantry, we find a NOTE PAD, on which is scribbled 13 Rue Lane.  So now we have a concrete destination to visit.

The last residence (of four) has a washroom with some starch and a bottle of ether.  Hmmmm.  Maybe Jack the Ripper lives here instead?  We can use the starch to STARCH BRA, which yields You got the idea! and apparently addresses the Nothing there hint, mentioned when our brave Constable put on his bra earlier.

Taking the taxi to 13 Rue Lane appears to be a one-way trip to an old warehouse, but there's another taxi stand to the south, an unadvertised direction.  In front of the warehouse we find a tree, and a hungry squirrel begging.  So we will need to have nuts (not just be nuts) to go after Jack the Ripper.  A slip of paper (GET PAPER, not GET SLIP) at the top of the tree reads (READ SLIP, not READ PAPER) 113, which is probably a clue of some kind.

The warehouse door is, of course, locked, but we can simply GIVE NUTS gets the squirrel to deliver a large key.  This is not much of a security system, in my opinion, though I guess it has its own twisted logic.  We must OPEN WAREHOUSE and then GO WAREHOUSE or GO through the previously invisible DOOR.

Inside the warehouse is an old kerosene lamp.  Trying to GET LAMP or TURN OFF LAMP or move past it -- any action at all, actually, even checking inventory -- unavoidably leads to: OH NO! You accidentally tipped over the kerosene lamp and started a fire!  We can't easily get past the fire and can only go south back out of the warehouse, so it seems this is a trap.

So... hmmm.  Do we NOT get trapped if we are dressed as a woman?  It's worth a try.  When we WEAR BRA, the game says You still look strange.  Nothing there!  But after we add the blonde wig and the red dress, we get You look lovely.  But this doesn't help with the fire.

Maybe we can put the fire with the black cape, but if we're carrying it, when we go back outside we learn that You have just been shot!  People thought you were Jack the Ripper!  So we won't be using the cape to put out the fire.  We need to bring some water from the Thames, using the long rope and the handled bucket, and then we can POUR WATER to put out the warehouse fire.

In the warehouse's two storage rooms, we find some mutilated bodies, which the parser insists we are totally uninterested in examining, and a steel combination safe.  The slip of paper in the tree doesn't seem to be the combination though -- TURN 113 doesn't work, nor does TURN 1, TURN 1, TURN 3 -- all return Wrong combination...  We have to use TURN 311, doing it backwards.  A clever one, this Jack the Ripper.

Inside the safe is a doctor's bag, in keeping with one of the myriad hypotheses about the historical Jack's identity.  We are told There's a surgeon's knife in the bag, but if we GET BAG the knife apparently stays in the room, and GET KNIFE yields There's no KNIFE here.  What's actually happening is that the knife travels with us, in the bag, but is constantly announced while the bag is open.  This implies that we are supposed to do something with it -- maybe replace it with the lad's rubber knife?  If we are carrying the bag and we step outside, we get shot again.  How is it that these unidentified People can identify Jack the Ripper just by seeing his cape and doctor's bag, but we don't have any clue as the Constable?

Given these constraints and behaviors, the knife gambit seems worth trying.  But we can't SWAP KNIFE or SWITCH KNIFE or PUT KNIFE IN BAG or CHANGE KNIFE or SUBSTITUTE KNIFE.  Fortunately, we can EXCHANGE KNIFE.

While we're working on this, we may notice that -- aha! -- Jack the Ripper apparently prowls after dark, as his bag disappears from the safe after dusk.  We can WAIT for the next phase of day to come if need be.

Now that we've arranged a surprise, we can get into full drag, and can enter a dark alley (which one of the four is random) to see a shadowy figure.  But if we haven't disposed of the surgeon's knife properly, Suddenly you feel the cold steel of a surgeon's knife penetrating your back! You're dead!  So do we need to get rid of it more permanently?

I had to explore a bit to figure out what was going on here.  In the meantime, I discovered that once we have obtained the search warrant, we don't actually need to carry it around to show it to the citizens, so that saves an inventory slot.  I also learned that the taxi driver near Scotland Yard will not drive up the block a few feet; only the taxi near the warehouse will take us there.

As it turns out, the conditions which must be met to avoid being knifed in the back are complicated.  I had to look at the BASIC code to figure out why I was still getting attacked with the surgeon's knife, even though I had switched to the rubber knife in the doctor's bag.  And in the end it comes down to a bit of canned storytelling that's not easy to guess at.  We must have the bottle of ether in hand, to take the Ripper down, and we must have closed both the bag and replaced it in the closed safe before leaving the warehouse, to avoid tipping the Ripper off; otherwise it's game over.  I also discovered that if we didn't take the hint and starch the bra, Jack the Ripper is onto our ruse in more specific terms.  I quote: Aha!  No boobs, figure thinks, a disguise! and vanishes.  It now seems doubly odd that our mind-reading Constable character is having such a hard time solving this case.

With the proper conditions satisfied, the shadowy figure approaches and we deftly turn him into a SLEEPING RIPPER.  So can we try to take him to Scotland Yard?  We can try, but there's a little bit of drama ahead.  After a few moves, Ripper awakens, regains his senses, and tuns [sic] toward the bridge.  We are obligated to chase him to the bridge, where he climbs it and says, "Constable, one move and I'll jump!"  This doesn't really seem like much of a threat.  And as it turns out, we don't have to do anything specific -- even if we just pause to take INVENTORY, he hurls himself into the stream and apparently dies.  Or if not, per the suspensefully ambiguous epilogue, at least the killings have stopped, and the adventure is over.

This was a fun one, and despite a few anachronistic references and typos, the writing is nicely descriptive.  But I don't think I could have solved it without peeking at the code; there just aren't enough in-game clues to lead the player to the designer's intended end game scenario.  To save others these travails, my walkthrough has been posted at the CASA Solution Archive, and is also provided here below the fold.  There are many more SoftSide adventures to play, but I will probably tackle something different next week.


E, E
E, N
GO YARD (Desk Sergeant asks 'What do you want?')
W, S

W, W, W, W, W
E, S, N

(there's some randomness here -- somewhere along the way, you should encounter a small lad playing with a rubber knife; when you do:)
(and then carry on following this walkthrough)

W, S, E
PLAY DARTS (win a prize of one pound)

S, S, E, E, E
E, S
GO TAXI (Taxi driver asks, 'Where to?')

GIVE NUTS (squirrel delivers large key)
N (kerosene lamp tips over, starts fire)
POUR WATER (fire is out)
N, W
TURN 311
E, S, S, S
GO TAXI (Taxi driver asks, 'Where to?')

W, W, W, N, N
S, S, S
S, S, S, W, W, N, N
W, S, S, E, E, E, S
WEAR DRESS (You look lovely)

(we have to tour the dark alleys looking for Jack the Ripper now; his location is randomized so your mileage may vary here.  We need to find him in an alley and then chase him to the bridge.  I assume here that he turns up in the nearest dark alley)
S, W

(when we find him, a figure approaches -- with the rubber knife, we ether him and he's asleep)
E, N, E

(the Ripper awakes and runs toward the bridge)

(he threatens to jump)
WAIT (or any other action here)

(he jumps, and the killings stop -- victory!)

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