My schedule has been a bit overcrowded lately, so for the sake of brevity I'm tackling another SoftSide adventure game for the Atari 400/800. Published in November 1982, and as usual uncredited to any specific author, SoftSide Adventure #18 -- The Dalton Gang casts the player as a newly-minted sheriff out to stop the nefarious Dalton brothers. (Incidentally, the Daltons are distant relatives on my wife's side of the family, but don't worry -- I'll still be happy to fulfill my expected role by gunning them down in the dusty streets of an unnamed town in the vintage American West.)
The disk image I found online omits the usual SoftSide intro and launches us right into the game, so we'll have to figure out the objectives on our own. Fortunately, the setup seems to speak pretty well for itself:
I always suggest that interested readers try these games out before proceeding below. Much of the fun in adventure gaming comes from discovery -- getting past an obstacle to explore a new location, coming up with the solution to a vexing problem, and figuring out what is going on in the designer's virtual world. But I also know there are literally thousands of these games out there, and they can be maddening to solve at times, so for history's sake I am trying to document my own experience of playing them. That is, I have absolutely no qualms about offering copious and (I hope) comprehensive...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
As the game begins, we find ourselves standing in front of the Sheriff's Office, currently unoccupied; a sign directs us to "APPLY AT MAYOR'S OFFICE." We can enter to find an open jail cell and a desk with a locked drawer.
Next door to the Sheriff's office, in perhaps the worst possible location for this type of business, is the town's SALOON. There are no further details provided; most of these locations are remarkably nondescript, as was usually the case with these BASIC-language adventures. The GENERAL STORE on the east side of town is closed at the moment, bearing a gag sign -- "GONE TO A HANGING, BE OUT FOR A STRETCH." There's also a LIVERY, hosting a BLACK STALLION; the Horse won't let you if we try to CLIMB STALLION, and the parser doesn't know what RIDE means.
At the NEWSPAPER OFFICE, a clerk hands us a note reading, "SEEN NEWS" -- which by adventure game logic means these are probably compass directions for navigating a maze of some kind. From the roof, up a rope ladder visible from the street, we can see the nearby BANK, but see nothing special about it.
A RAIN BARREL down the street reveals nothing special, but there's an interesting stylistic idea here -- at this location, in addition to the customary Visible Exits and Visible Items the game adds an In the distance you see category for the bank. I'm surprised more games didn't try this kind of thing -- the intrepid adventurer always seem to have tunnel vision in these early efforts.
At the eastern outskirts of town, we find ourselves walking a DUSTY TRAIL where a GOLDEN RATTLER hisses and threatens. We have nothing anti-snake in our inventory, so we'll have to go back into town to find the MAYOR'S OFFICE, which is directly west of where we start.
In the office, Mayor asks, "What do you want" (one word, please)? Apparently he is not much of a talker. Requesting a BADGE yields, "Sorry, I can't help you. Begone!", but SHERIFF produces a better response: "Ok, you'll do. Here's your first paycheck for $200. You'll get another $200 on a performance basis." Wait -- so we get half the money available just for applying, and we have to do a fair amount of work to get the other half? It sounds like the Mayor is inadvertently subsidizing drifters and encouraging a high turnover rate, but we don't seem to have any other options here so we'd best get down to business.
Travel SW of the Mayor's Office leads to a trail ending at a creek. (The screen changes background color here, as if to suggest something special; SoftSide's earlier adventure The Deadly Game adopted the same convention, but no author is credited on either.) We can GO CREEK to cross it, arriving at a green pasture at the edge of a desert. We can't walk across the desert to the east, but we can navigate the pasture as a maze; however, there are only two rooms to it, and nothing interesting to explore or find.
Maybe we need a horse to cross the desert, as the game hints: It's too far to walk on foot. So we'll go back to town and look around for a way to commandeer the Black Stallion. If we enter the Saloon now that we are armed and badged, the story kicks into gear -- Someone runs in and yells, "Sheriff, Sheriff! The bank's being robbed!"
As we approach the bank in the distance, we can see a shootout in progress, with EMMETT DALTON, BOB, BILL and GRAT participating. This seems to go on for quite a while -- at least, we have time to figure out we need to DRAW GUN... except then if we dilly-dally too long, Bill Dalton shoots us. And if we try to SHOOT BILL before he does the reverse, we tend to miss.
We can, however, GO BARREL to hide behind the rain barrel... this seems to keep us safer, but our shots keep missing. I just kept trying and while I was trying to SHOOT BILL, I did eventually hit Grat Dalton, killing him with one poorly aimed but nevertheless effective shot.
Now Bill Dalton climbs up onto the roof of the bank, as the remaining brothers continue to fire from the street in front of the bank. We can climb up the ladder on the newspaper office to the roof, where we are able to SHOOT BILL across the way. Unfortunately, while two of the Daltons are now dead, we see Emmett and Bob riding out of town, apparently with a hostage in tow. We can't GO BANK to investigate further -- for some reason we get chased out. And then the same happens at the stable, and at the general store which is now open for business. Are the townsfolk already so profoundly dissatisfied with the new Sheriff's performance? We can't even get in to see the mayor!
Hmmmm. Can we explore the Indian Reservation east of town? Trying to SHOOT RATTLER only brings out a stereotyped Native American, who says, "No shootem my pet" in terse early-80s adventurese. I'm out of bullets anyway, but clearly this is not a solution.
It seems that maybe we don't want the Daltons to show up so soon. We don't seem to have a key for the Sheriff's desk, even though now we are legitimately able to look in the drawer -- but we can SHOOT DRAWER to shoot the lock off (without damaging the contents, suggesting that the previous sheriff managed to put a padlock on a desk drawer.) Here we find a set of keys we can use to lock the jail cell, if we had to.
The parser is typical of the SoftSide games -- responses are brief and the dictionary is limited; there's no TAKE verb, only GET is supported. And DROP GUN just reholsters it, so it's no help for maze-mapping.
Starting over fresh with some knowledge in hand, I found that I was still getting chased out of all the local establishments even though the bank hadn't been robbed yet, and realized it's because I didn't HOLSTER GUN after using it. I also discovered that we can't TALK MAYOR, but if we draw our gun while in his office we get chased out.
So it's time to get back to dealing with the Daltons, now that we can visit the General Store. The store carries a typical adventure game assortment of goods -- some practical, like a canteen, boxes of ammo, a saddle, a tobacco pouch, a shovel, and food, along with more specialized items like a small ladder and a disguise (which is not described; I pictured it as a forward-looking Groucho Marx nose and glasses.) Our tab would run to $270 if we wanted to buy one of each, so we're going to have to be careful about using the $200 we currently have available to spend; the Mayor doesn't take kindly to expense reports.
The saddle is the most expensive item in the shop, at a whopping $145, but we probably need it to get anywhere, and I decided to buy some extra ammunition as well. We PUT SADDLE on the Black Stallion, and now we can CLIMB STALLION and ride him into the DRY, DUSTY, DESERTED DESERT. Navigating according to the newspaper clerk's note, we randomly encounter rattlesnakes we can shoot, but shortly it develops that You're dying of thirst. It seems that the canteen is a good investment too; we can fill it at the creek before entering the desert, and we need to drink its contents just as we reach the end of the desert, emptying the canteen.
We can explore an old mine, if we DISMOUNT, letting our horse run off. It's a maze, and the only unique room has loose floorboads. But we can't seem to GET FLOORBOARDS or GET BOARDS, and DIG FLOOR and DIG BOARD reveal nothing. If we attempt to SHOOT FLOOR, our aim is so bad that we miss completely.
Emerging from the mine, we can also visit a cabin with some bushes and a small, unclimbable tree nearby. If we DISMOUNT, the Daltons appear from the cabin. We have to DRAW GUN and probably LOAD GUN at this point, but if we wander right up to their hideout we are shot immediately. We can GO BUSHES to hide; GO CABIN is fatal. And even if we hide in the bushes just as the Daltons appear, we are discovered and shot. This appears to be because after the horse runs off, he ends up at the Daltons' cabin, arousing their suspicions.
I was a bit stuck here, so I cheated by looking at the code, where I found a reference to a CROWBAR, which ought to help with those stubbornly slippery floorboards. Looking for a possible place to find this worthwhile item, I discovered that we can GIVE FOOD to the Golden Rattler to gain access to the Indian Reservation, as the meal puts the creature to sleep. And we can buy and give the tobacco pouch to the old Indian there, who gives us a MAGIC STICK.
The magic stick doesn't appear to be anything special, and we can't WAVE STICK to summon anybody's vengeful ancestors. But later, in inventory, it becomes MAGIC STICK (POINTING DOWN) near the creek. Is it a dowsing rod? Could be, but I never actually found a practical use for it.
It's time to go back to the cabin, to see if we can figure out how to outsmart the Daltons; by this time it had occurred to me that if we are hiding in the bushes AND on the horse, then perhaps we can see them come out before they see us. This proves to be true -- if we SHOOT EMMETT they both scatter, Emmett going behind the cabin and Bob running into the mine.
A hidden trail northwest of the cabin doesn't tell us anything about where Emmett went, but we can follow it back to town, it's just a shortcut. It was worth the return trip, however, as the clerk hands us another $200 if we go into the Mayor's office; then he says, "The Mayor's been kidnapped." So is the game over??? It doesn't feel like it should be yet; apparently we have goals beyond earning a paycheck.
Backtracking yet again, I found that we can GO CABIN after scattering the Daltons to find the coveted CROWBAR. Good! Trying to find our way back to the loose floorboards in the mine, we run into Bob Dalton hiding in the mine; he shoots us before we can get there. We can take cover (automatically) but we keep missing if we try to shoot back from here, and approaching him also proves fatal. But if we wait until his six-shooter runs out of ammo (temporarily) we can go NE, see him and SHOOT BOB before he shoots us. Now that we have the crowbar, we can GET BOARD to find a SACK OF MONEY. And we are apparently such an honest lawperson that we cannot even LOOK MONEY or OPEN SACK!
We still have to deal with Emmett Dalton somehow, and find the kidnapped Mayor. If we go back to the bank, we see the last of the Daltons fleeing at a distance. We can stop at the bank and GIVE SACK to the grateful officials, but Emmett appears to be long gone.
We can reset this chain of events by coming back to the bank after leaving for a bit -- and this time I noticed that Dalton is recognizing the long arm of the law well out of its reach. It's time to buy the disguise with our recent payday, and WEAR DISGUISE. But Dalton still recognizes us and flees? Maybe we need to drop our SHERIFF'S STAR as well... yes! Now we can SHOOT EMMETT dead! But the game still isn't over -- maybe what we really want to do is ARREST EMMETT, and put him in the cell in the Sheriff's Office. (If we don't have our gun drawn when we try to do so, though, he just laughs and runs off.)
Now that I think about finding the kidnapped mayor, I realize I probably could have arrested Bob instead of shooting him earlier, so I backtracked and did so. We might as well buy the small ladder too, as we've almost cleaned out the store.
Now we can go look for the mayor. Maybe the ladder will let us climb the tree by the cabin? Nope, Ladder's not high enough. Hmmmm... it must be high enough for something, then. It doesn't work in the cabin either, there are no hidden ledges or attics available.
I was stumped again, so a more detailed peek at the code was in order. There's a room 49 we haven't visited, a pit in the mine; we apparently can reach it if we are in room 65 and MR > 0, whatever that means (I think it means the mayor has been kidnapped.) And it looks like we need the ladder to get out of the hole. Room 65 appears to be the top of a hill, another location we haven't visited. And we can CLIMB HILL outside the mine to get here -- d'oh! I just didn't explore thoroughly enough. Falling into the pit, we find the Mayor! We can climb out of a hole in the side of the pit using the ladder, and the Mayor automatically climbs out of the hole and rides with us on our horse so we can take him back to his office.
The Mayor thanks us for the rescue, and then (if our gun is still drawn) we are again chased out. And we have 8 out of 8 points, for victory! This is less than a heroic final image -- the foolish Sheriff being booted into the street after not having the good sense to put his gun away -- so it's good that we can also just LOOK to actually trigger the official end of game. Strangely, SCORE reports that we have all 8 possible points but does not actually end the game. In any case, we are victorious!
This was a more complicated little adventure than I was anticipating, and I took full advantage of peeking at the BASIC code to solve a few stumpers (perhaps a little too hastily, in this case -- I can't blame the parser as much as my own lack of exploration.) I didn't find a published walkthrough for this one, but mine should soon be up at the CASA Solution Archive, and it's included here below the fold. I'm not sure how many more SoftSide adventures were actually published -- we may be reaching the end of the series soon, but we're not there yet.
**** WALKTHROUGH ****
GO SALOON (the bank is being robbed!)
S, E, N, N, E, E
SHOOT GRAT (repeat until Grat Dalton dies)
SHOOT BILL (Bill Dalton dies, Emmett and Bob escape)
D, W, S
BUY SADDLE ($145)
BUY CANTEEN ($10)
BUY SHOVEL ($10)
BUY AMMO ($5)
BUY AMMO ($5)
BUY FOOD ($5)
BUY POUCH ($20)
E, N, E, E, E, E, NE
GIVE FOOD (snake goes to sleep)
GIVE POUCH (get a magic stick)
W, SW, W, W, W, W
S, S, S, W, W, W, SW, S, SE
(This navigation may be interrupted by a rattlesnake or two:)
S, E, E, N, N, E, W, S
(if you encounter one, SHOOT RATTLESNAKE )
(wait for Emmett and Bob Dalton to come out of the cabin)
SHOOT EMMETT (they scatter)
S, E, SE
(Bob Dalton starts firing at us -- may need to save here, this is somewhat random; LOOK repeatedly, and wait until he does NOT fire a shot)
SE, NE, NW, SW, SW
NE, NW, W
NW, N, NE
GO CELL (Bob is left there)
GO OFFICE (collect $200)
LOOK (the mayor's been kidnapped)
S, E, E, E, N
N, E, E
W, W, W, S, S, W, W
GO CELL (Emmett is left in the cell)
S, E, E, N
N, E, E, E
(now to rescue the mayor!)
S, W, W, W, S, S, W, W
W, SW, S, SE
(again, shoot any snakes we encounter)
S, E, E, N, N, E, W, S
CLIMB HILL (we fall into a pit)
DROP LADDER (Mayor will follow you)
NE, NW, W
NW, N, NE
GO OFFICE (Mayor thanks us)
LOOK (8 out of 8 points - victory!)