Thursday, September 29, 2011

The LoadDown -- 09/29/2011

Another week, another new wave of downloadable console games...

WiiWare -- One new game: escapeVektor: Chapter 1, an arcade-inspired maze game with a neat retro-vector-graphics look.  The title implies a series is in the works, presumably contingent on this first game's sales.

Wii Virtual Console -- Nothing new here this week.

DSiWare --  Three new games on Nintendo's most active platform.  The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition brings the Link to the Past-inspired multiplayer game back after too many years away, and this time it works wirelessly on the DSi and 3DS, making it much more accessible than the hardwired GBA/Gamecube approach of the original version.  Crystal Caverns of Amon-Ra is a shoot-the-balls-on-a-track puzzle game, with an Egyptian mythology-inspired title that doesn't seem to affect the gameplay all that much.  And Bugs 'N' Balls is a public service advergame for servicemen.  No, actually it's a game of dodgeball played by colorful insects.

3DS eShop -- One truly classic vintage title arrives, the Game Boy title Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, featuring the debut of Wario.  And, of course, the DSiWare games above are also available on the 3DS.

XBox Live Arcade -- Three new games this week.  Mercury Hg actually is a puzzle game about a blob of mercury making its way through levels based on the periodic table of elements -- it's a remake of the PSP game Mercury MeltdownWorms: Ultimate Mayhem trots out the classic multiplayer combat game yet again -- it's always good destructive fun when friends get together to lob bombs over hills at each others' worms.  MLB Bobblehead Battle is a new entry in Konami's licensed baseball series, which plays a bit like a Mario Party game with a gameboard and baseball-inspired minigames.

PS3 on PSN -- Three new releases hit the bitways this week.  Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, previously seen on XBLA, combines elements from Castlevania history into a massive HD 'vaniathon.  Mercury Hg shows up here too (see XBLA section above.)  Rochard is a Metroidvania-style game about a miner, with more of an emphasis on puzzle-solving, combat and platforming.

PSOne Classics -- Nothing new here for US retro gamers this week, though the Japanese region has remained fairly active.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Quest for Fire (1983)

This week, we're tackling another vintage adventure game for the TRS-80 Model I -- Quest for Fire, written by Anthony Wood and published in 1983 via the CLOAD cassette magazine.  I wasn't familiar with Mr. Wood's work, and simply ran across this game in a miscellaneous archive collection.  But it's a quality effort, running in efficient machine language -- the author created several text adventures back in the day using his own MicroAdventure engine, and he has graciously made his work freely available today at his website.

The game begins with a simple title screen rendered using the TRS-80's limited graphics capabilities:

Despite the familiar title, the game is not based in any way on the 1981 movie or the 1911 novel Quest for Fire.  The game's object, clearly stated on a sign in the first room, is to "Bring the Emerald of Fire here."  So it really is a quest for fire, and we know what do with it; now we just have to find it.

I always encourage interested readers to sample these works for themselves before reading my detailed comments, especially in this case, as Quest for Fire is freely available and a very straightforward adventure to play and beat.  There are only a few deadly scenarios and they're not difficult to anticipate and avoid.  There's a walkthrough at the CASA Solution Archive, but you probably won't need it.

Keep all of the above in mind, and be aware that beyond this point, there are bound to be...

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

The engine is pretty solid -- some of the text is in mixed-case, some in uppercase only in keeping with the standard original TRS-80 hardware.  The game's SAVE and LOAD commands are functional and occasionally come in handy, but the game is really quite brief and fair, and these features aren't critical.

Adventure game geography tends toward the incongruous, and Quest for Fire is no exception.  Here, we find a pyramid and a coconut tree (with a coconut at the top) in a clearing in a forest of oak and pine.  And there's sand in the forest too.  We can DIG SAND there to find a chest, but opening it requires a key.  The map has a lot of loops and odd connections, but isn't hard to figure out -- it's fairly compact outside the pyramid, just six rooms, and there aren't any mazes per se.

We can't GO PYRAMID (There isn't a door on the pyramid!) or CLIMB PYRAMIDEXAMINE PYRAMID tells us only that The pyramid is very old.  Examining the coconut indicates that there might be something inside, and we can THROW COCONUT from the sacrifice cliff above the pyramid to break it open and reveal a key.  The key opens the chest, revealing that I SEE AQUA-LUNG.  Trying to WEAR AQUA-LUNG reveals only that I never learned how to scuba!  So what is it for?

The chest also contains a note, found with a second LOOK CHEST (repeated inspection pays off on several occasions in this adventure.)  The note says 36-26-36.  Um.  We'll assume that's a combination and not somebody's measurements.  The chest also contains a dagger.

There's a goat hanging out in a small clearing in the forest -- not a traditional habitat for these animals, really, but we can GET GOAT and carry the poor animal around.  We can THROW GOAT at the sacrifice cliff, but unlike the coconut scenario, the parser treats this action as a simple DROP GOAT here.  With the dagger in hand, however, we can SACRIFICE GOAT.  (Sorry, Mr. Goat!)  And now The pyramid seems to change below, we have a carcass left over, and we can GO ENTRANCE to enter the pyramid; the door disappears behind us as we enter, though we can get back outside easily enough so it's not a fatal situation if we have forgotten something important.

The pyramid seems to be not so much a man-made construction as a portal to a large natural/constructed area that seems bigger on the inside than the outside.  There's a safe inside the magnificant [sic] cavern inside the pyramid.  When we open it, using the combination from the coconut, A gas mask falls out!  This is a little strange, but this is an old-school adventure game so we'll just go with it.  There's a bottle of gas with a valve on it in a cubic shaped room to the south, so we will probably want to WEAR MASK and OPEN BOTTLE when a threat appears, if adventure game tradition holds.

There's a pool of murky water inside the pyramid, but we can't do anything with our non-scuba-friendly avatar, who refuses to do any DIVEing, at least for the moment.

A giant rat and a rat's nest greet us in a small dead-end alcove, which given our experience with the goat seems like an opportunity for further animal cruelty.  With the gas mask on, we can... well, we can't OPEN BOTTLE or OPEN VALVE or BREAK BOTTLE or THROW BOTTLE, but we can TURN VALVEThere is a slight hissing.. The rat dies!  Man, we are just murdering animals left and right here.

Fortunately, the rat's nest contains a book, entitled "11 Easy Steps to Scuba Diving."  Nothing like instant skill acquisition!  Now we can don the aqua-lung and SWIM DOWN in the murky pool to find some slime.  There's a trap door embedded in the slime, leading to the remains of a well shaft, below which is a flooded hall, leading to a large cavern with a resident shark, an irregular cavern with a weird chair, and the treasure chamber where the fabled Emerald of Fire resides.

So it seems we are already close to completing this Quest for (the emerald of) Fire.  Of course, we can't simply GET EMERALD and make off with it -- It's too heavy!!  So we can try something else -- if we GO CHAIR and TURN KNOB, it instantly beams us back to the game's starting location in the forest.  Hmmmm.  This will probably be handy for actually finishing the game, but we're going to need to figure out how to bring the emerald there with us.

So what else can we do?  Well, someone has to try these things, so I confirmed that we can't GET SHARK -- Bad move my friend, the shark decides it is lunch time...  We can't safely try to SACRIFICE SHARK either.  We can also die if we DROP AQUA-LUNG while underwater, yielding AGGGHHHH... I can't breath [sic] under water. GURGGLR.. BURBBLE GURBLE....

So we do have a puzzle here.  But if we EXAMINE SLIME a second time, we find a spear-gun.  Then all we have to do is SHOOT SHARK -- KKAAAAAAAPPOOOFFFFFF!! You really totaled that shark!  Now we have a mutilated (and apparently an insured and now written off) shark, and EXAMINE SHARK reveals... a magic ring.  Yes, this is an adventure game.

We can now WEAR RING -- I feel strange. -- and now we can magically carry the heavy emerald to the weird chair.  We use the chair to go back to the forest, drop the emerald, and voila!  Suddenly my [sic] back in the forest, and victory is ours!

Quest for Fire is a VERY straightforward adventure, but I found it a pleasant experience.  The puzzles generally make sense, and the descriptive details do a fine job of steering the player in the right direction; it's really much better than a lot of its peers in that regard, but it's also rather brief.  It only took me about an hour to solve, mapping and note-taking included, mostly because no items go unused, the puzzles are simple and clear, and we can generally find an appropriate item or action to get past any obstacle if we look around and experiment a bit.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Anthony Wood published four adventure games back in the day, so I will probably get around to playing the rest of his works eventually.  But probably not next week.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cover to Cover: Adventure International Spring 1981 Catalog (pp. 11-12)

Our pagethrough of a vintage computer software catalog continues, as we come to pages 11 and 12 of the Spring 1981 Adventure International catalog.

Page 11 reminds us of the small scale of the computer game industry at the time -- magazines were just getting off the ground and dial-up bulletin board systems could only transmit so much information.  So there was a certain community theatre/high-school booster club feel about everything, with various small companies advertising in each others' catalogs.   Here, SoftSide pushes its disk magazine (which ran a monthly adventure game around this same time, not mentioned here for understandable reasons) for Apple II, TRS-80 and Atari home computer users.  This is the only published reference I recall that calls the TRS-80 the "S-80" for short; I don't think that ever caught on.  I think even enthusiasts (myself among them) found the affectionately pejorative "Trash-80" more appealing.

And if we needed any reminders about the state of the computer game industry in 1981, we have page 12.  Even a puzzle-focused publisher like Adventure International needed to stock a healthy selection of arcade-style games -- most of which were unlicensed, slightly renamed imitations of existing arcade games.

The TRS-80 was not an audiovisual powerhouse by any means -- it didn't have built-in audio capabilities, and its black-and-white graphics were limited to a chunky 128x48 matrix.  And the market was too small (and safely under the radar) to make official licensing the standard.  That didn't stop enterprising programmers and publishers from implementing lots of arcade-style games on Radio Shack's popular little box -- here we have ripoffs conversions of Gremlin's early Blockade and Atari's Missile Command and Lunar Lander (this one without so much as a name change.)  Missile Attack developer The Cornsoft Group would later pioneer more legitimate titles on the TRS-80, with Sega's official Frogger.

There are some notable programmers from the early days involved here too.  Bill Demas' Frog is not a Frogger rip-off, but a semi-original fly-tongue-shooting game, and Jeff Jessee's Deflection for the Atari was a simple arcade contest bolstered by Simon Says for value purposes.  Planetoids for the Apple II was, of course, a version of Asteroids, and apparently was originally published as Asteroid before someone got a little nervous and offered an "upgrade" to this slightly safer title.

More arcade games to follow on page 13, next time!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cover to Cover: Adventure International Spring 1981 Catalog (pp. 9-10)

After a week's hiatus, we're back to the pages of Scott Adams' Spring 1981 Adventure International catalog, looking at pages 9 and 10.

Page 9 continues the Maces & Magic section of the catalog begun on page 8, with a detailed description of the game system -- and enough detail to have brought TSR's lawyers into the fray, one suspects, had the computer game industry been bigger at the time.  The rules are clearly inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, though gameplay is limited to the dungeon environment, as was usually the case with early games of this type.

Page 10 continues with more diverse titles in an adventure vein -- even in 1981, the industry was exploring the boundaries of the genre and trying to figure out what would work and what would sell.

I bought a copy of James Talley's KID-VENTURE #1 - Little Red Riding Hood back in the day, as my very first mail-order third-party game for the TRS-80.  It used a unique tape-based audio narration system, synched with the game program.  The narration was provided by the programmer in the days before professional voice work was standard for games.  I've written about this title in more detail a few years ago, here.  The sequel did not include the audio tape supplement, and was more of a Concentration game with a Christmas mini-venture thrown in.  These games featured minimal graphical illustrations, using the TRS-80's limited capabilities (there was apparently an Apple II version as well, which I have not seen).  These games were meant to introduce younger players to classic stories and adventure gaming in a semi-interactive fashion.  But I think most of us decided that Pirate Adventure was a better bet.

The use of the term "Interactive Fiction" on this page is reportedly one of the first published usages of the term.  Robert LaFore (who later wrote for The Comics Journal, which is where I had run across his name in more recent times) created a series of titles that aren't really adventure games -- there's no inventory, and the narrative tends to move along in a linear direction as long as the player does or says what the author is expecting; other options aren't really available.  But it's an interesting attempt to do something more traditionally literary with computers.  I've been meaning to write about these someday, but this excellent article at The Digital Antiquarian covers LaFore's work nicely and in considerable depth.

Next time, more!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The LoadDown -- 09/22/2011

I'm trying to get back on schedule with at least a few of my regular items here.  Here, on Thursday per usual, is the latest in downloadable console gaming news...

WiiWare -- One new game, Aya and the Cubes of Light, which sounds like some kind of New Age band but is actually a game.  I hope the look is meant to be intentionally retro, because it looks like nothing so much as a Nintendo 64 game, with low-polygon models and sparse texturing.

Wii Virtual Console -- Nothing here this week, either.

DSiWare -- Two games: Break Tactics is a military tactics game with anime styling and non-hex-based maps; the E10+ rating's "suggestive themes" are provided by the midriff-baring female mage character.  Escape Trick: Ninja Castle is an adventure/puzzle game with stylus-based action puzzles; it awkwardly involves the DSi's camera by allowing the player to post pictures to its internal Memo screen, though this does not seem to be part of the gameplay.

3DS eShop -- One worthy new title, in addition to the DSiWare games above -- Konami's Famicom port of the arcade cute-'em-up finally arrives in the US as 3D Classics: Twinbee, with new 3-D graphics.  It's still a standard NES design, with the background layer pushed into the depths and all of the action in the foreground plane, and the graphics are simplified quite a bit compared to the original coin-op.  Still a fun little scrolling shooter if you've never played it.

XBox Live Arcade -- Two new games here.  Burnout Crash! (see PS3 section below) and Rotastic, a very cartoony 2-D platformer.

PS3 on PSN -- Three new titles here this week.  Altered Beast (which I thought had arrived last week) actually shows up this week.  Cubixx HD is a high-def remake of the PSP Mini puzzle game; while the name sounds like one of the myriad unlicensed Q*Bert ripoffs of the 1980s, the game actually rips off Taito's QixBurnout Crash! is a fascinating drug rehab simulation!  No, actually it's a motorcycle racing game, the latest in EA's Burnout series that began in 2001.

PSOne Classics -- Quiet again here this week, after a surprising recent revival.

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.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The LoadDown -- 09/18/2011

I haven't been keeping up with the blog very well these past few weeks, but I'm going to try get back on track now that my personal schedule is slowing down a bit.  So let me start by catching up with what should have been last Thursday's posting...

WiiWare -- One new game, MotoHeroz, a cartoonish motocross physics-based platformer with local multiplayer and online challenges and leaderboards.

Wii Virtual Console -- Nothing here this week; Nintendo's retro focus seems to be shifting to the handheld 3DS these days.

DSiWare -- Two new games this week.  Bridge, is, well, the classic card game of bridge; Defense of the Middle Kingdom is a tower-defense game with cute 16-bit-RPG-style graphics.

Nintendo 3DS eShop -- In addition to the DSiWare titles, 3DS owners get Capcom's 2-D black-and-white Game Boy classic Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge.  It's very much in the style of the 8-bit NES Mega Man games (and the recent neo-retro sequels) but only has 4 stages.

XBox Live Arcade -- Two new games last week.  Red Bull X-Fighters is a racing game based on the extreme motocross competition sponsored by the makers of the popular beverage.  And Treasure's classic, rare Saturn shooter Radiant Silvergun comes to XBLA, making this excellent game a lot easier to find and enjoy.

PS3 on PSN -- A healthy selection of four new titles.  From Dust is a recent Populous-style "god game" with powerful (if sometimes fiddly) landscape-sculpting controls and realistic simulations of water and plants.  Elemental Monster: Online Card Game is what it sounds like, a card-based battle game, new from Hudson Soft.  Renegade Ops is an overhead-perspective vehicle shooter.  And Sega's Altered Beast is an up-rezzed HD version of the classic coin-op fantasy beat-'em-up, now with trophies and leaderboards.

PSOne Classics -- This platform seems to be coming back to life, just when I was on the verge of dropping it.  Last week saw two new releases: Capcom's fighting game Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness, never originally released for the US Playstation, and Atari's reimagined Pong: The Next Level.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Black Hole Adventure (1981)

Last week I tackled the fifth entry in the long-running SoftSide Publications disk magazine adventure series, jumping ahead to game #5 due to a lack of free time.  I promised I'd go back and cover #4, the one I'd skipped over, before moving on, but I lied.  So this week I'm jumping ahead yet again, to tackle 1981's SoftSide Adventure #7 -- Black Hole Adventure, again for the sake of playing a game with a published solution.  As it turned out, this was a straightforward adventure, and I did not need to reference a walkthrough.  I was able to finish it honestly in a couple of hours, a more pleasant scenario that also worked out fine for my schedule.

As was not uncommon in the wild-and-woolly early days of the game industry, Black Hole Adventure turns out to be a completely unlicensed and entirely unabashed ripoff of the 1979 Walt Disney science-fiction feature, The Black Hole, from a time when creators of these newfangled computer games could fly under the legal radar with some degree of safety.  The intro text sets up the basic plot, informing us that Deep-Space One, the Cygnus, is sitting at the edge of the black hole.  We land on the Cygnus in the USS Palomino, and as in the movie, we discover that the larger ship is now a ship of robots, a ship controlled by its only human survivor, Dr. Hans Reinhardt.  So this is an escape-the-domestic-spaceship adventure, for a slight change from the usual.

The intro text also introduces us to several robot characters -- the menacing Maximillian, the cute VINCENT, and the cute, vintage Old Bob -- just in case the Disney lawyers happened by and needed further evidence of this game's "inspiration."

No author is credited onscreen, and the code comments indicate only that the final version was completed on 2-Jan-1981.  The prose style resembles some of the other SoftSide games, but the simple two-word parser is not very friendly -- no I or INV shorthand is allowed, INVENTORY must be fully typed.  And so must the navigational directions, so we can't simply N, but must go NORTH.  Once we get used to battling the parser, however, the game is straightforward -- there are few descriptive details to discover, the puzzles are simple, and it's mostly a matter of collecting objects and using them in the right locations.

As always, I urge interested readers to sample the Black Hole Adventure before proceeding here.  In the interest of documenting the game's design and quirks, there will be plenty of...

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

The game starts out with a rather annoying issue -- I thought at first that some navigation directions are only in the room descriptions, and are not listed in the OBVIOUS DIRECTIONS ARE: section.  But this turned out to be a different problem at root -- a bad room description here indicates that the door to the south is OPEN before it actually is! 

So we start in a docking bay, where we find a small gun and an identification pin and a red button.  It's frustrating that we can't READ PIN or EXAMINE PIN or USE PIN or WEAR PIN; I don't know how to do that is the hapless engine's only response.  We can't EXAMINE GUN either, so it seems we will not be gathering a lot of subtle details in this game; signs also prove unREADable, with their messages listed in the room descriptions instead.  So we have to rely on action more than our investigative skills.  As it turns out, PUSH RED doesn't follow the usual convention; we have to PUSH BUTTON, which initially yields There is no fuel for the palimino [sic].  The parts the palimino [sic] has are bad.  Therefore, I can't blast off.  It sounds like the program is checking a couple of flags here, and not providing any real detail, but our basic mission seems clear -- fuel up, and replace those darn ol' bad space parts.

Since the button won't do anything, we can try to OPEN DOOR, which yields I don't have any key to unlock the door!  Is there even a locked door?  It's not mentioned in the room description.  We can't GO SOUTH through the apparently OPEN DOOR, nor can we ENTER DOOR, or GO DOOR, or S, or SOUTH.  Okay, now this is getting frustrating.  Fortunately, we don't have a lot of options yet, and I at last managed to SHOW PIN (I didn't need to reference the CASA walkthrough, but it was a close call) to get the door to actually open.  After doing so, the door is still (now correctly) described as being OPEN, but now there is an obvious exit available to the south.

To the south, if we're carrying the gun, A BURST OF LASER FIRE WHICH COMES FROM AN UNKNOWN SOURCE DESTROYS MY GUN.  That didn't seem like a good thing when I was playing, so I restarted and left the gun behind; as it turned out, I didn't need that gun at all.

The map is quite open, and we are free to explore most of the ship.  Below decks, we find some humanoid robots ejecting body-like objects into space, which is disturbing but doesn't really come into play in the game's plot.  A LARGE BEAUTIFULLY DECORATED DINING ROOM contains ALL SORTS OF FOOD.  We can GET FOOD and EAT FOOD here -- all of it in one go, apparently -- but this seems to be optional.  An Air Car travels back and forth in a long glass tunnel, but doesn't take us anywhere we can't otherwise reach -- the map is large but fairly circular, and most areas connect back to others, with no required routes, substantial mazes, or serious navigational challenges.

The main obstacle we encounter is that occasionally we are told: HOLY SMOKES! An armed robot just walked in!  And then, suddenly, ARMED ROBOTS ARE EVERYWHERE. I'VE BEEN CAPTURED. NOW REINHARDT CAN COMPLETE HIS EVIL PLANS.  Another room contains AN EVIL LOOKING ROBOT, and suddenly we are captured again.  So we need to avoid these robots, it seems.

Fortunately, the crew barracks area contains two very useful items -- some ammunition and a blaster.  We can't GET AMMUNITION first, as I don't have a blaster to put it in, but if we do things in the designer's expected order, we end up with a loaded blaster.  Now, or at least until we run out of ammo, we can SHOOT ROBOT whenever one shows up -- ZZZAP! No more robot!

There's no SAVE GAME or RESTORE support for this brief adventure, but we're free to QUIT at any time, though it's a rather drastic decision, as the game informs us that I HAVE FAILED TO ESCAPE FROM CYGNUS.  I AM DEAD. before asking if we'd like to play again.

We're free to visit the Cygnus' bridge, which features the imposing crimson robot MAXIMILLIAN, the evil DR. HANS REINHARDT, and just so we know we're playing a futuristic sci-fi game, a FLOPPY DISKETTE.  An attempt to SHOOT REINHARDT gets us killed by Maximillian's whirring chest blades.  We can't SHOOT MAXIMILLIAN either, as the blaster shot just bounces off of his shiny, angular surface.  But as it turns out we can just walk through the bridge unmolested to visit the engine room.

The engine room looks like a maze, but we can't actually get anywhere except by going east to the HYDROPONIC SYSTEM room, where a humanoid robot carelessly drops AN ELECTRONIC KEY.  How convenient for us!  We want to GET KEY, but we don't want to continue east into the HYDROPONIC GREENHOUSE, because as soon as we enter the room, a huge meteor breaks through the glass ceiling, and I AM SUCKED UP INTO THE VACUUM AND I DIE.  It's best to avoid this location, which is also accessible from the south, as this fatal meteor appears to have it in for us personally, and won't impact the Cygnus unless it sees us wandering among the hydroponically-grown plants.  Perhaps it's actually an alien ship on some sort of anti-marijuana mission.

With the key in hand, we can visit the ship's only locked door.  However, we can't UNLOCK DOOR -- I don't know how to do that. -- but we can OPEN DOOR -- OK.  The door is unlocked.  This aggravating sequence of events gains us access to a SUPPLY ROOM containing ALL SORTS OF THINGS.  We can't GET THINGS or SEARCH THINGS or EXAMINE THINGS or EXAMINE SORTS or EXAMINE ALL, however, so it's not immediately clear what we're supposed to do here.

If we wander around enough, we will discover that the blaster only allows us to SHOOT ROBOT a limited number of times -- and the code's event sequencing is odd, as when we run out of ammo, we are told My gun is out of ammunition.  ZZZAP!  No more robot!   Before that happens, we need to SHOOT the non-wandering evil looking ROBOT to gain access to some new areas.  We can GET VINCENT in this area -- if we DROP VINCENT in the supply room we can't see him, but we can still GET VINCENT again.  He doesn't do anything in this location, like, say, hunt for something useful, but I had to try it.

A DIMLY LIT ROOM contains a humanoid robot and an ID Bracelet.  We can't learn anything about it, of course, but SHOW BRACELET apparently does something somewhere, just not here. While we can carry VINCENT around, we can't GET ROBOT -- He's too heavy to carry and too stupid to follow me.

At this point, it seems we are out of puzzles to solve and new areas to explore.  So are we supposed to be working on getting the Palomino running somehow so we can escape?  Yes -- if we try to do so, we readily discover that in the supply room we can simply GET FUEL and GET PART, and taking INVENTORY reveals that we now have FUEL SUITABLE FOR THE PALIMINO and SPARE PARTS NEEDED BY THE PALIMINO Hopefully these off-brand items will also be suitable for the PALOMINO .

With these critical, if vaguely defined, items in hand, we can go back to the docking bay, DROP FUEL, DROP PART and watch as VINCENT takes the fuel and parts and repairs the ship.  A final, more successful attempt to PUSH BUTTON, and we are victorious!

I didn't actually need to reference the walkthrough, as the game only took a few hours to play through to this ending.  But there seemed to be a few loose ends here -- I never did run into Old B.O.B., the floppy diskette seemed to have no purpose, and possessing the ID bracelet didn't seem to do anything (though I thought it might have protected me from running into further random armed robots late in the game.)  I took a look at the BASIC source code, and discovered something intriguing -- there's apparently a more dramatic alternative ending available, which involves piloting a ship through the black hole, riding B.O.B. to safety when the meteor crashes through the ceiling, destroying Maximillian with VINCENT's help, and ending the game successfully by beginning a new life in a new universe.  Or something like that.  But I'd rather go home to Earth, personally, so I'm glad the more rewarding ending is also the easiest one to achieve.

Black Hole Adventure is definitely one of the simplest adventures I've played in a while, alternate ending aside, which was fine with me given my schedule of late.  Maybe I'll finally make time to take on something more challenging for next week.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cover to Cover: Adventure International Spring 1981 Catalog (pp. 7-8)

Our pagethrough of the Spring 1981 Adventure International catalog continues...

Page 7 continues the then-new Other Ventures series, with the first two interactive fiction releases by Jyym Pearson, whose more story-driven style would come to define this "official" alternative to the classic Scott Adams Adventure series:

I have only briefly sampled The Curse of Crowley Manor and haven't tried Escape From Tramm at all, so I will have to remedy that.  I have played and enjoyed Pearson's later Med Systems release, The Farvar Legacy -- my impression of his style is that it is more "directed," sacrificing a degree of player freedom for the sake of more dramatic storytelling.  I think Scott Adams made a good business decision here, offering adventures in a different style from his own before somebody else did.

Page 8 presents another early attempt to bring TSR's Dungeons & Dragons pencil-and-paper role-playing game system to home computers, with Adventure International's entry in the race that Richard Garriott's Ultima would arguably win:

I never played any of these games, the 2-drive disk system requirement of the original Balrog Sampler being well beyond my paper-route income at the time.  On the next page (next week) we'll read some more details about the Maces & Magic game system, which clearly borrows more than its alliterative naming from classic D&D.  (M&M doesn't quite have the same ring -- or perhaps it does, but that one's already taken.  Twice, actually, with more recent history in mind.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cover to Cover: Adventure International Spring 1981 Catalog (pp. 5-6)

We're continuing another trip back in time, as we page through the Spring 1981 catalog from Scott Adams' pioneering computer game publisher, Adventure International.

Page 5 continues the classic Scott Adams Adventure series, with the then-newest entry, the savagely difficult Adventure #10: Savage Island - Part 1.  This page also features the famous original Adventure Hint Book, covering the canonical Adventures #1-#9, with a keyword-decoding scheme that helped prevent unwanted peeks at things to come.  Individual hint sheets were also available for the Scott Adams games and the largely-Jyym Pearson-created Other Ventures series.

The packaging and marketing of the Adventure series across a wide variety of platforms was fairly complicated given the technology of the day, with a lot of variations and options.  The business-oriented TRS-80 Model II was given a full-series package on a single 8" floppy disk, while the Commodore PET only received the first two Adventures in their original BASIC language format.  I owned a tape-based TRS-80 Model I back in the day myself, and had forgotten that the only disk-format releases were the three-packs for most platforms.  Floppy disk drives were still newfangled, expensive and unreliable -- not that tape was much better in that regard.

Page 6 brings the launch of a new, complementary text adventure series, though the Other Ventures were not ultimately best remembered for this first entry, an Apple II-only port of the classic Will Crowther/Don Woods Colossal Cave Adventure:

There have been so many variations of Adventure published and ported over the years that it's hard to keep track of the genealogy; the original game was never copyrighted, as there seemed to be no reason to do so, and various modified, expanded and "accurate" versions still show up on a regular basis today.  I actually briefly played this version on a friend's computer, and was surprised to realize that Radio Shack's Pyramid 2000, which I had already played, was in fact a modified subset of the classic Adventure.  What was impressive about this version is that it managed to squeeze a full version of the game into RAM on the 48K Apple II, no mean feat before compression and disk-based text retrieval were obvious and commonly-used solutions.

Tomorrow, no surprise -- pages 7 and 8!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The LoadDown - 09/08/2011

Downloadable activity seems to be picking up a bit as everyone goes back to school.  Nintendo's weekly press release was late today, or else my browser cache was acting up.  At any rate, all the news seems to be in now...

WiiWare -- One new title and one demo.  The new item is Paint Splash, a creativity tool that allows one to four painters to splash paint around at the same time and save the results to the SD card.  There's also a demo for Liight, the music/color/puzzle game released in March.

Wii Virtual Console -- Nothing here this week.

DSiWare -- Two new games: Puzzle Rocks, a dual-screen game with shape-matching and color-matching in tandem, and DotMan, replicating the classic Atari Dodge 'Em gameplay (or more obscurely, the TRS-80's Tunnels of Fahad.)  DotMan is rated E10+ for suggestive themes, not so much due to the anime babe on the title screen as to the use of a spotlight to highlight certain of her features.

Nintendo 3DS eShop -- The above DSiWare games are also available on the 3DS, along with the vintage Game Boy Golf.

XBox Live Arcade -- Four new games are on tap this week.  Bloodrayne: Betrayal and SkyDrift appear here as well (see PS3 details below), Crimson Alliance is an action-RPG (with an odd per-character-class pricing structure), and Konami's Leedmees borrows a core concept from the classic Lemmings for a novel Kinect experience.  I'm glad to see more XBLA support for Kinect -- the novelty of the camera-based controller isn't always able to justify big-budget experiences, but downloadable games may work out pretty well.

PS3 on PSN -- Two new games arrived this week.  Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a new 2-D animated side-scrolling slasher that looks to be more fun than the bigger-budget 3D Bloodrayne games.  SkyDrift is a stunt-plane racing game with nice graphics.

PSOne Classics -- Hey, I missed a couple of good ones!  This platform isn't down for the count yet.  Capcom released the RPG Breath of Fire IV on August 16th, and Square-Enix put Parasite Eve II out August 23rd.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Crime Adventure (1981)

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...

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

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.

The game's engine appears similar to other SoftSide adventures, displaying a friendlier-than-the-norm You could easily go for the obvious navigation directions.  EXAMINE needs to be used for more detailed item descriptions, as LOOK just repeats the room description.

It's not entirely clear what we are supposed to do, but if we wander around for a few moves, suddenly A car comes screeching around the corner!  Someone jumps out and grabs Mrs. Fenwick from the telephone booth near the arcade and drives off!!!  He left something behind.  The something turns out to be a licence [sic] plate.  So we can conclude that these criminals are a bit careless, especially as it turns out to be a vanity plate with the conspicuous letters "KID-NAP" on it.  It should be a simple matter of calling the police, as these idiots are probably well-known to local law enforcement.  But this is an adventure game, and all the available phones are out of order, so we will have to solve this mystery on our own.

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 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.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

It's Labor Day today in the US, so I have taken the day off.  I hope you and yours have been able to as well!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cover to Cover: Adventure International 1981 Catalog (pp. 3-4)

Our cover-to-cover pagethrough of the Spring 1981 Adventure International catalog continues, capturing the home computer game industry in its very early years.  I was a huge fan of Scott Adams' classic text adventures back in the day, so this will also feature a degree of personal reminiscence.  Whenever I open these aging pages, everything spins around and suddenly I'm elsewhere...

I'm going to let these next few pages speak for themselves, for the most part.  This page, reprinting an article by Ken Mazur from Creative Computing magazine, was another eye-opener for my younger self -- I realized that you could write about games as an art form, and discuss the nature of gaming as a serious subject.  It may have taken me several decades to get around to doing so myself, but I must have read this short piece dozens of times over the years, and I still regard it as a personal influence.

Page 4 is the big one -- it probably explains why I have always thought of the first nine Scott Adams Adventures (plus the Special Sampler demo) as the official "canon," solely because I walked in when this catalog page was current.  It describes the concept and the plots of these classic text adventures, "using all 16K of your computer."

If you'd like to know more, I have written about these classic text adventures at length:

#0 - Special Sampler
#1 - Adventureland
#2 - Pirate Adventure
#3 - Impossible Mission
#4 - Voodoo Castle
#5 - The Count
#6 - Strange Odyssey
#7 - Mystery Fun House
#8 - Pyramid of Doom
#9 - Ghost Town

Next weekend, we'll continue.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cover to Cover: Adventure International 1981 Catalog (pp. 1-2)

This may have been the first "real" software catalog I ever encountered as a youngster, aside from Radio Shack's TRS-80 publications.  I learned about Adventure International's existence through Tandy's TRS-80 Software Sourcebook, and sent a money order in for James Talley's Kid-Venture #1, only to learn it was on backorder and I would not see it ship for another few months.  In the meanwhile, I was sent a copy of the Spring 1981 catalog from Scott Adams' pioneering software company, and my eyes were opened.  Radio Shack was suddenly not the only source for TRS-80 games!  I spent many hours reading and re-reading this publication in my early teens, so I think it's high time we did a page-by-page review.  Three decades have passed, and this is a time capsule from the very early days of the home computer industry.

The cover shows us a company experiencing early, tentative success; the catalog is still in blue-and-white, not full-color, but it weighs in at a substantial 36 pages.  There's a brand-new computer mascot character named "Whiz," designed by the equally colorful Adventure International cover artist "Peppy," although the mascot didn't last very long if memory serves.

"Whiz" is promoting a couple of products -- a complete, disk-based Apple II port of the classic Will Crowther/Don Woods Adventure, and a database tool called Maxi Manager.  The classic Scott Adams adventures were newly available for the Atari 400/800 home computers, and the company was supporting the TRS-80 Model I/III (and II) computers, as well as the TRS-80 Color Computer, Apple II, Atari 400/800, Commodore PET, and Exidy Scorcerer [sic].  We are also urged to Watch for "WHIZ" in all our ads, just like riding the subway.  Ahem.  Anyway...

Page 2 contains an index, a snapshot of the state of the industry in early 1981.  The TRS-80 Model I/III computers dominate the product offerings, and Adventure International even published some titles for the business-oriented Model II, which used an 8" disk format.  Games were available on tape, disk, or "tape to disk," an awkward term indicating that the game shipped on inexpensive tape but could be transferred to disk by the end user for convenience.

The market shares would shift dramatically within a few years, with the Apple II dominating and the gaming-oriented Atari 400/800 doing well also, as the affordable but relatively primitive "Trash-80" began to fade out.  The TRS-80 Color would become more popular in the Adventure International lineup, with many AI products ported to the 6809-based machine, the Commodore PET would fade away in favor of the VIC-20 and Commodore 64, and the Exidy Sorcerer would fade out quickly.  Scott Adams' text-based Adventure series relied on a standard data format, so only the game engine had to be ported to various platforms, and the company supported a number of relatively obscure machines over the years.

More to come...

Friday, September 2, 2011

In Which I Am Easily Amused

Another brief post to help me get through crunch time.  I keep looking for an appropriate context in which to bring up this personal mondegreen, and having been unsuccessful for a few years, I'm just going to write about it now.

You see, I can never hear Alanis Morissette's song You Oughta Know without mishearing a particular lyric as follows...

Did you forget about me?

Mr. Do?

Mr. T?

Ah, 1980s nostalgia.  When Alanis Morisette was still on Nickelodeon's You Can't Do That On Television, and arcades were still free of ticket redemption counters.

(FYI, the lyric actually refers to Mr. Duplicity.  But I like my version better.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The LoadDown - 09/01/2011

New downloadable activity this week...

WiiWare -- One new game this week, Trenches Generals, a cartoony T-rated World War II-themed tower defense game (with a zombie mode, naturally!)

(Wii?) Virtual Console -- Nothing new here, but as a side note, the NES Virtual Console platform is apparently expanding its reach to the 3DS, as a perk for Nintendo's newly-christened 3DS Ambassadors, i.e., early adopters who paid full price for the 3DS before the price cut on August 12th, 2011.  And a number of Game Boy Advance titles will also be showing up on the 3DS, so I may have to restructure the Virtual Console coverage here.

DSiWare -- Two new games.  House M.D. -- Blue Meanie is the second episode in the clinical/puzzle adventure series based on the popular TV show, House M.D.  GO Series Fishing Resort is a simple, inexpensive anime-style fishing game.

Nintendo 3DS eShop -- This week, in addition to the DSiWare titles above, 3DS owners can download Namco's classic Pac-Man; the gameplay usually holds up, but this black-and-white, scrolling-heavy Game Boy version is not the best available.

XBox Live Arcade -- A whopping four new titles this week, all with a sense of humor.  Rock of Ages is a physics-based, artistically cartoonish contest where two players controlling giant boulders try to destroy each others' castles.  Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection brings the first three entries in Midway's gory coin-op fighting game series together, now under Warner Brothers' wing.  The Baconing is a new Deathspank action/adventure from Ron Gilbert and company, this time with more of a sci-fi noir setting.  And Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon is a twin-stick end-of-the-world shooter based on the animated Comedy Central TV series.

PS3 on PSN -- This week's winner, with FIVE new titles arriving!  These include The Baconing, Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection (why is it not Arkade Kollection?) and Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon, described above.  Also, Elevator Action Deluxe, a remake of Taito's classic 1980s arcade/NES game, and 4 Elements HD, a match-N fantasy puzzle game.

PSOne Classics -- Okay, it's been about 3 months since we've seen any activity here.  Time to retire this category for the time being.