Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Adventure of the Week: City Adventure (19??)

This week, we're tackling another TRS-80 adventure of uncertain history.  City Adventure bears no opening credits or in-code attribution, no publisher or year.  I would guess it was an amateur effort -- its BASIC language engine is rather slow and doesn't acknowledge some unsupported commands, leaving the player a bit confused.  It also doesn't refresh the screen correctly on occasion, leaving fragments of previous displays around.  But the code exists, and has managed to survive the binary vagaries of vintage diskettes to make it into the online archives.  So we're going to tackle it this week, and if I'm lucky perhaps the author will see this post and come forward to make him- or herself known.

The player's objective in City Adventure is a bit vague, there's a random event that can make the later stages of the game maddeningly difficult, and the successful endgame conditions are difficult to pull together; I had to dissect the code to figure out exactly what needed to be where to complete the adventure, even though I was on the right track.  So while I always encourage readers to sample these games independently before proceeding here, in this case I can't say you're missing out on a lot should you choose to barge forward into the...

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

We start out in a bed.  Getting D (or moving in any other direction, actually) puts us in the bedroom of our house placed rather specifically in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where we see a double bed, a night table, a five dollar bill, a closed drawer and a "DOG TRAINING" book.  OPEN DRAWER and LOOK DRAWER reveal a WALLET containing a NOTE... which we can't read just yet, due to bad eyesight.  The Dog Training book hints that we can teach a dog to fetch NEWSPAPERS, SHOES OR -GLASSES- by giving him a reward.  The hints in this game won't be any too subtle, it appears.

It makes sense to grab all the movable items before heading west into the living room; the parser provides a generous 13-item carrying capacity so we won't need to start dropping extraneous items until we're fairly far into the game.  A locked door adjoining a panel with buttons lettered A-G prevent exiting the house at this point, but the kitchen to the north contains a cassette tape intriguingly labeled -ALARM SYSTEM-.

A pantry contains a box of cookies and a stairway leading down to the basement, where we are confronted by a growling doberman guarding a wrench.  GIVE COOKIE doesn't work, but FEED DOBERMAN does -- DOG EATS COOKIE, WAGS ITS TAIL.  Now we can order the friendlified dog to FETCH -- IN ONE WORD TELL ME WHAT THE DOG SHOULD FETCH -- GLASSES produces a pair of glasses.

With the glasses, we can read the note from our wallet to learn that we should "REMEMBER DATE WITH SUZY MEET HER AT 45 & 6 NY."  At last, a plot!  There doesn't seem to be any time constraint or urgency, though; this Suzy seems remarkably patient.

We're still stuck in the house, so if we're going to make our date we'd better solve that puzzle.  A study to the south of the living room contains a chair and a table.  The table contains a TRS-80 computer, in the reflexively-referential style of a number of these early games, and we can SIT CHAIR to access the computer, its cassette recorder, and a sheet of paper.

Using the computer requires a little familiarity with the cassette-based system's operating procedures.  We can INSERT CASSETTE, LOAD CASSETTE, and TYPE RUN to be confronted with a prompt: TRS-80 HOME SECURITY SYSTEM.  WHAT IS THE PASSWORD!  So is this an Abbott & Costello routine?  We can't type WHAT on an A-G panel, so I guess not.  The paper is from our office at NEW YORK COMPUTER CO. 38TH AND LEXINGTON, NY NY 10020.

Aha -- we can't type out WHAT on the alarm panel, but we can TYPE WHAT on the TRS-80 to learn that the panel password is D-E-C-C-G.  That's an intriguing approach to a security system, dependent on subtleties of punctuation.  We can't TYPE D-E-C-C-G on the panel (in fact, attempting to do so somewhow causes the computer in the study to respond with a ?SN ERROR -- a syntax error code on the TRS-80) but we can PUSH D, PUSH E, and so forth -- the parser notes that THE TONES MAKE UP THE THEME FROM CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.  It's definitely the late 1970s, folks!  And actually, if those letters are meant to correspond to musical notes they definitely do not make up John Williams' famous five-note theme, so our author is apparently not musically inclined.

Stepping outside the house lets us explore an alley near a drugstore to the west, where the primary item of interest is a trash bin.  We can't LOOK BIN but we have to GO BIN -- I hope Suzy is a good sport regarding personal hygiene -- in order to READ GRAFFITI that tells us, "FOR SOME REAL MAGIC GO TO 39TH AND ELEVENTH!"  The drug store is rather sparsely stocked, with a local magazine containing an article entitled CRIMINALS FOUND TO FEAR ANIMALS (and apparently nothing else of interest, as repeated attempts to READ MAGAZINE draw our attention repeatedly to this same story.)

To the east is a DEAD END, with a sign helpfully reading "+DEAD END+" and a soda machine.  We have no change, so we have to make a trip back to the drug store to BUY MAGAZINE and obtain a DOLLAR and a HALF DOLLAR in change.  We can BUY SODA now, ending up with a dime in change and a can of soda.

A bus stop to the south has a crosswalk, which we can cross to be able to see an ad on the other side of the bus for CITIBANK (yet another unlicensed brand name reference typical of this under-the-radar period in computer gaming), citing its MAIN OFFICE 44TH ST. & FIFTH AVE.  Our sightseeing itinerary once we get to the city is getting to be pretty substantial.

Before we leave town, it occurs to us that the magazine article might have been a hint -- and yes, we can simply GET DOBERMAN to take him with us. We have to pay the bus fare with exact change -- GIVE DIME and GIVE DOLLAR to the driver -- and then SIT DOWN.  We quickly fall asleep, waking up at the corner of 34th and Eighth in New York City.

We're free to wander around town, block by block, to visit the available destinations and discover one new one.  In no particular order:

39TH AND ELEVENTH --  Here we find a pile of garbage, and a sign reading, "GO WEST YOUNG MAN!"  (READ SIGN produces this response anywhere there isn't a sign, actually.)  We can LOOK GARBAGE and GET a SCRAP of tarnished metal.  Going west as directed leads to a fire hydrant and a closed valve.  We can USE WRENCH -- WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH THE WRENCH? - OPEN VALVE to unleash a stream of water.  PLAY WATER yields the puzzling SOMETHING'S MISSING!  I'm not sure what purpose this serves yet.  But our dog jumps down -- to take advantage of the hydrant, perhaps -- and disappears.  With our canine companion gone, we start to see frequent instances where A MUGGER APPEARS AND TAKES SOMETHING, and these random disappearances make it rather difficult to progress.  So it's time to restore and explore a bit more before coming here; it now becomes apparent that the dog will spontaneously jump down at any time, seemingly at random.  Hmmm.

44TH AND FIFTH -- The CITIBANK BRANCH is here, right next to THE GUTTER where a dirty mangled brochure can be found advertising X. ZITTY'S SORCERY AND MAGIC SHOP at 42ND AND 7TH AVE.  (This seems to be, in part, an obscure pun referencing the early Exidy Sorcerer home computer.)  The bank contains only an ATM, where we must INSERT BANK CARD.  But we don't have one, so we'll just add the magic shop's address to our itinerary for now.

38TH AND LEXINGTON -- There's a computer store here, as expected.  And it stocks APPLES AND ATARIS as well as A TRS-80 PROGRAM.  Closer inspection indicates that the program is called INTERLUDES... hmmmmm; Interlude was a notorious early sex-suggestion-for-couples program, is Suzy into that sort of thing?  A poster on the wall reads WATCH FOR THE NEXT ADVENTURE - MICRO COMPUTER - AVAILABLE SOON.  As far as I can determine, such a game never saw the light of day.  The office features our BOSS -- we LOOK BOSS, apparently in some meaningful way as BOSS REACHES INTO HIS POCKET AND PULLS OUT SOMETHING -- a check for $25, apparently something we are owed.  Or else the boss hopes we are about to settle in for a round of INTERLUDES.

42ND AND SEVENTH -- The magic shop is closed -- a note reads OUT TO LUNCH - BACK IN 10000 YEARS -- but it appears that anything the mugger has stolen from us ends up here.  A posted leaflet cites J.R.R. Tolkien' famous -ONE- RING TO RULE THEM ALL, -ONE- RING TO FIND THEM, -ONE- RING TO BRING THEM ALL AND IN THE DARKNESS BIND THEM.  But it's not clear what this means at the moment.

45TH AND SIXTH -- SUZY is waiting here as expected, and we can GET SUZY, at which point it may become apparent that there's an inventory bug -- items stolen by the mugger aren't removed from our inventory count, so if anything's been stolen our carrying capacity is permanently reduced.  The mugger can also steal Suzy herself from us -- her affections are easily won, it seems -- so we'd better solve that problem if we're going to have a successful date.

So how do we keep the dog?  It appears that the game contains a LEASH; at least the dictionary recognizes the word.  Except it's not in the code... ah, LEA refers to the LEAFLET, okay.  Peeking at the BASIC code, we can see that line 159 implements a random 1-in-50 chance of losing the dog once we've been carrying him for 25 moves.  There doesn't seem to be any way to prevent this, or to recover the dog, so I resorted to breaking out of the code and forcing O(15,0) back to a value of -1 every time the dog ran away, forcing him back into inventory with a blatant cheat.  Dropping any item in town is troublesome too, as A MAN tends to run by and pick it up, so we need to be careful to drop only disposable items.

What else?  Well, the wallet also contains a bank card, allowing us to cash our check from the Boss -- the machine dispenses correct change, but while we can TAKE TWENTY we can't TAKE FIVE, we have to satisfy the parser and TAKE BILL to obtain the FIVE DOLLAR BILL.  The SCRAP OF METAL in the garbage pile turns out to be a SHINY GOLDEN RING if we WASH SCRAP in the hydrant's stream; odd that its underlying ring shape is apparently not apparent without a good washing.  The ring bears an inscription: "IF YOU BY CHANCE SHOULD SAY MY NAME, I'LL TAKE YOU BACK FROM WHENCE YOU CAME!"  No return bus trip for us, apparently, which Suzy will probably appreciate. I'm guessing the ring's name is ONE, but we'll test that in a moment.

We're out of obvious puzzles, so it's time for our date, I think -- we pick up Suzy (literally) at 45th and 6th.  And, yes, SAY ONE spirits us back to the apartment... and straight into bed.  We can DROP SUZY and KISS SUZY -- as well as a few more explicit verbs -- yielding in all cases, M-M-M. THIS IS FUN! BUT YOU HAVEN'T COMPLETED YOUR ADVENTURE!  Hmmmm.  Maybe we can go to the TRS-80 with Suzy in tow, and PLAY INTERLUDE... ? No, we can't do that.  What are we supposed to do?

LOOK SUZY yields I SEE NOTHING OF INTEREST.  Really?  Then why are we going to all this trouble?  We can't PAY SUZY, or BUY SUZY; if we try to GIVE BILL, the bus driver apparently pops into the bedroom to tell us, "CAN'T GIVE CHANGE. COME BACK WHEN YOU HAVE THE EXACT AMOUNT OF $1.10", which kind of destroys the sensual mood we are presumably trying to create unless Suzy has some kind of Ralph Kramden fixation.  At least it appears that Suzy, is actually a date and not a "date."

I had to dig into the code and do quite a bit of trial-and-error experimentation to figure this out.  Here's what we actually have to do:  go to the computer room, INSERT PROGRAM (as opposed to the TAPE we loaded up earlier) and LOAD PROGRAMTYPE RUN now yields NOT HERE! in the study, but if we take our trusty TraSh-80 into bed with us (presumably with the aid of a lengthy extension cord or a spontaneous invention of the world's first laptop computer) and TYPE RUN there, victory is ours, and the curtain is discreetly drawn over the remaining action:

I really have no idea where City Adventure came from -- these days, I'd assume it was a stealth ad campaign for Interlude, but that probably wasn't the case, especially as it takes quite a bit of effort to discover the product's climactic ultimate value and the name isn't exactly right.  The uncredited author apparently felt this tale represented a wonderfully romantic urban evening, and ignored the likelihood of Suzy dissolving into helpless, eye-rolling laughter as her would-be paramour brings his TRS-80 to bed.  In a just world, the immortal phrase "Move over a bit there, Suzy!" would still be a popular meme today.

And so one more obscurity from the TRS-80 archives is checked off my to-play list.  City Adventure is not a very good adventure, as some puzzles are way too easy and others too obtuse -- but sometimes that's what's most fun about playing these early, awkward games, from a rule-free industry still finding its way.

Move over a bit there, Suzy!

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