Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Cloud 99 (1988)

This week, I felt like dipping at random into the adventure game archives, and I came up with Cloud 99, written using Gilsoft's PAW by Linda Wright of Marlin Games for the Sinclair Spectrum ZX.  It was published in 1988 by Zenobi Software, long the keeper of the Speccy adventuring flame; apparently an illustrated version exists, but the edition I came across is text only (or I never figured out how to turn on the graphics!)

Ms. Wright's style is whimsical and original -- the plot here concerns the player's attempts to restore ten different weather systems operated by the denizens of Cloud 99 after a thorough round of sabotage by the mischievous Jack Frost.  The author writes clearly and evocatively, with lots of humor and puns, along with some witty default responses -- for example, the parser responds, "No... no WAY!" when we try to navigate illegally.  There is a time limit, which caused me to replay once, and a good deal of searching required to solve the myriad interlocking puzzles, but this game is fun, relatively logical and only rarely unfair.

If you're interested in discovering Cloud 99 for yourself, I advise you to stop here and go try it out.  I'll wait right here.  For everyone else, I provide my usual warning... there are certain to be...

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

The story begins as the player awakes from a strange dream concerning Jack Frost and the automated weather halls on Cloud 99 to discover an eerie light shining through your window.  This bears investigation, though we can't dawdle too much as there is a time limit.  The clock formally ticks up by one minute on the clock for each move or two, but if we let the game stand idle it also continues to tick.

We begin in the bedroom, with a few pieces of furniture and nothing in our possession but the pyjamas we are wearing (pajamas for the American audience.)  SEARCH DESK reveals only that it is Covered in junk!, but SEARCH JUNK yields a pen, and SEARCH FLOOR turns up a penknife.  A voice is calling out our name, but we can't LISTEN VOICE to make out anything specific.  And our Very ordinary cat has a bit of an attitude, but doesn't participate in the action at this juncture.

The landing outside the bedroom leads to a bathroom piled with dirty washing.  There's No need. to OPEN CABINET, but SEARCH WASHING yields an anorak; it's not clear whether this is actually an anorak, or an anorak, e.g. British slang that equates to the Japanese otaku, more or less.  We can WEAR ANORAK and cannot TALK TO ANORAK, so I will assume it is the former, especially as a warm jacket is likely to come in handy if we're going to be meeting Jack Frost.

Going downstairs brings us to a hall; heading E takes us outdoors, but our feet grow cold and immediately force us back inside the warmth of the house.

The magazines on the living room table are Well-thumbed Speccy mags, and almost antique!, suitable given this game's 1988 vintage.  SEARCH TABLE produces a film, though we can't tell what film it is; READ FILM indicates only "35mm", so it's probably blank camera film.  We can also SEARCH SETTEE to find some thick socks! 

The kitchen contains a kettle, and if we SEARCH CUPBOARD (we can't OPEN it) we find a colander and some string.

Walking outside with the socks and the anorak on, we can see a silver ladder leading up into a cloud.  But before we go anywhere vertical, we should check the exterior out some more.  Our garage contains a crowbar, and SEARCHing some PLANKS piled against a bench yields a hook... which is firmly fixed to a plank, so we have to UNSCREW HOOK to obtain it.  The lawn sports the traditional gnome, and a pond, which reveals a key with further searching.  (My first PAW game experience did not benefit from sufficient SEARCHing, so I applied its lessons here.  Sometimes the engine does influence the gameplay!)  We can't just get the key, though; we have to TIE STRING TO HOOK and then GET KEY WITH HOOK... no... USE KEY WITH HOOK... no... ah, yes, FISH KEY WITH HOOK works.  (The text suggests we can fish it out with something suitable on a failed attempt to get it with our hands, so this isn't too much of a wrestle.)

(Inventory limits are not too tight in this game, apparently; I'm carrying eleven items at this moment.)

Climbing the ladder takes us into the clouds, where a sign reads, "WELCOME TO CLOUD 99."  A large gate leading to a city is closed, guarded by a sulky weather man who now details the actual object of the game -- our hero/heroine is to restore the weather man to his rightful place after he has been ejected by the weather-mangling Jack Frost, and fix the weather-generating systems while we're at it.  He needs the key for the gate, which has been tossed into our garden -- we've already found it, so this is a simple task to meet.  Or so it would seem, but GIVE KEY TO MAN yields only Nope!  Seems no-one here wants the silver key.  But OPEN GATE works, and now we can enter the city.

The weather man remains sulky, and wanders off after a bit, though he doesn't leave the area.  Beyond the gate we find ourselves in Rainbow Square, with paths in all directions.  Now we have to fix the weather, somehow.  There are quite a few buildings to explore, so we will spend some time mapping out this game's world, though there are no mazes and the hub-oriented, three-tiered layer is easy enough to navigate.

The Tourist Office to the north welcomes visitors to CLOUD 99 THE WEATHER CITY, and leaflets promote a viewing platform, Mother Nature's Garden, the theatre, the automated weather halls (as seen in our vision at the start of the game) and the Control Centre.  A video running on a huge screen (remember, this is 1988 when such visions were of either magic or the future) shows images of life in the weather city.

The Weather Man's House to the northwest sports a weather chart we should expect to see adorned with symbols, though at the moment it is actually adorned with None!  The weather man's desk has junk scattered over the desk and chairs, but SEARCH JUNK produces nothing of interest, while SEARCH DESK finds some crumpled paper, though the two hardly seem distinguishable; the paper is covered in doodles, with no apparent system or message therein.  The Control Centre to the west has a huge console and a flashing warning message: "WARNING! WEATHER HALLS NOT OPERATIONAL! EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!"

The smiling proprietor of the baker's shop has Some crusty bread for sale.  BUY BREAD confirms that you've nothing to buy that with, something the local authorities are apparently well aware of, as an attempt to TAKE BREAD summarily gets us evicted from the city by the Cloud 99 police squad.  We are dropped back outside our own front door, so this is not a fatal setback. 

TALK BAKER reveals that he was going to bake a cake but has run out of eggs.  We can't find any eggs just yet, nor can we buy the quick-drying cement on offer at the hardware shop next door.  Paradoxically, we are informed that the friendly shopkeeper eyes you suspiciously from behind his till; perhaps he saw the police bundling us out of the baker's shop a few minutes earlier.

The local launderette features washing machines, a token-operated softener dispenser, and a coin-for-token machine, all potentially useful if we actually had some cash.  A grille covers a drain at the foot of the token machine, which seems awfully poor placement; there might be a lost token down there, we suspect, but we can't seem to PULL GRILLE or PRY GRILLE or OPEN GRILLE or LIFT GRILLE or CROWBAR GRILLE or GET ALL UP IN GRILLE.  So we'll have to come back to this.

The Cloud Bank is staffed by a single distracted clerk, who comments on the strange weather but seems otherwise uninterested in conversation.  There's a grey card on the bank clerk's desk, which we can take with us, though there's nothing readable on it.

An Art Gallery sports a weird sculpture surrounded by poles.  We can TAKE POLES, but in my first playthrough, Jack Frost appeared and ran off with them, so I wasn't able to do anything much with them.

It seems we've mapped out the area and found a number of interesting objects, but how should we proceed now?  Can we somehow simulate weather with all of these things we are carrying?  I spent some time messing around the fountain in Rainbow Square, confirming that we can't FILL COLANDER or GET WATER or GET WATER IN COLANDER or DIP COLANDER; probably not the most effective way to produce a quantity of rain, anyway.

A floating disc above the Rainbow Square fountain contains a rainbow card.  Showing it to the clerk or giving it to the clerk produces no useful response, beyond the parser's refusal: No - too useful!  There's a central control unit on the disc, with a slot and a sign reading, "Insert card here."  If we try to INSERT RAINBOW CARD, we are informed that there's No point... you're already at Rainbow Square.  But this is a useful clue -- INSERT GREY CARD takes us to Cloud Square.  (We also have to remember this is not exclusively a two-word parser; INSERT RAINBOW and INSERT GREY do not work, we have to add the noun CARD.)

Cloud Square also has paths going off in all directions.  A muddy lane leads north, where we find a muddy card and a large patch of mud blocking the way further north.  Northeast of Cloud Square is Snow Hall, where machinery makes snowflakes, apparently not very well as the flakes are oddly hard.

An Ice Hall northwest of the square features a huge cavern of ice and icicles, reminding you of one or
two other adventures that you've been on!  A fire in the center of the room is gradually melting the ice.  We can FILL KETTLE from the fountain in Rainbow Square, and POUR WATER ON FIRE, but  that doesn't accomplish anything.  An American tourist is standing nearby (he wanders around the map at will, this was the first I had encountered him), and he drawls, "Wouldn't you know it!  First American here, and I haven't got a film! Boy! What a disaster!"  If we GIVE FILM TO TOURIST, he gives us Some dollars in exchange, though we can't COUNT them so I guess we just have to hope these will cover our needs.

A tall tower west of Cloud Square warns of DANGER - ELECTRICITY, with a spiral staircase leading up, except we can't go there at the moment -- No! Too shocking!  Thunder Hall to the east features gigantic drums -- this is probably what the poles are needed for, except we don't have them at the moment thanks to Mr. Frost's thievery.

A vat in the Hall of Mists (the air is shrouded in mistery!) is empty.  A sign reads, "KEEP WINDOWS CLOSED," and EXAMINE WINDOWS indicates that They're all open!  So it seems simple enough to CLOSE WINDOWS, and see if the vat fills up again without the excess ventilation.

Windy Hall to the south features 8 gigantic fans arranged on octagonal walls, to blow the wind in any direction.  Rain Hall to the southwest has pipes and tanks to supply rainwater.

What now?  We can WASH MUDDY CARD WITH WATER at the Rainbow Square fountain to reveal it as a yellow card.  We can't BUY CEMENT yet, though -- dollars are not acceptable currency, so we have to stop by the Cloud Bank to CHANGE DOLLARS.  The exchange rate remains unclear, as we simply exchange Some dollars for Some coins, so we don't know if we're being ripped off or not.

The yellow card takes us to Sun Square, also a hub with rooms in all directions.  North of Sun Square is a shimmering, narrow bridge, with Jack Frost staring us down (the poles he stole earlier are here, but he won't let us travel further north or reclaim our belongings.)

Neat Hall, northwest of Sun Square, is a grimy furnace room with an empty furnace, dressed up only slightly by the presence of a Sunbeam Fairy who dances from room to room.  West is the Astonomer's House (sic -- one of the few typos in this game), where the Astronomer sits, mourning the lenses missing from his telescope, stolen by the evil Jack.  Father Time snores in his house to the southwest, where clocks of all types tick loudly but aren't keeping proper time. 

Walking south from Sun Square leads to a park with colorful flowers and a stream that feeds the Rain Hall below; the disc is apparently a lift, with Sun Square located above Cloud Square.  There is gold dust visible if we EXAMINE STREAM.  I tried to use the colander to pan for gold but didn't come up with any successful word choices.

At this point in my first attempt, I suddenly learn that there are only 15 minutes left, with 4:15 on the clock.  I've been spending too much time exploring and documenting, it seems, so I'll have to start over.  I just have time to explore Mother Nature's Garden, where Mother Nature needs some fertilizer (Father Nature apparently can't be bothered to go to the hardware store), stop by Sunbeam Hall, where switches dominate and the light bulb sockets are all empty, and the Cloud Theatre, where an usherette guards a door heading further east and will not let us pass without a ticket.

Cloud 99 is about to rise high into the air with us on board... and shortly does so, at 4:30 sharp, ending the game on an unsatisfactory note, even if this is all a dream:

Okay, then, it's time to start over and waste minimal turns getting the useful things done.  At least we have the world mapped out, so we should be able to start solving the remaining puzzles at hand.  We have found lots of puzzles and items, but I'm not seeing a lot of obvious solutions.

Examining some objects more closely, we find that the pen we obtain near the start of the game contains refills and springs; when I tried to DRAW DOODLES ON MAP earlier it failed to write, so the refills will be handy.  The penknife contains several blades.  The cupboard in the bathroom contains glasses which do not turn up with a SEARCH CABINET or OPEN CABINET, but EXAMINE reveals their presence, and they have thick lenses that might be suitable for telescope repair (I know this makes little optical sense, but this is an adventure game.)

I needed to consult a walkthrough at the CASA Solution Archive to learn that we can LOOK BEHIND CUSHION on the settee -- I had tried to SEARCH CUSHION and EXAMINE CUSHION, neither of which discovered the tarnished choker hidden there.  Ack.  And we must LOOK BEHIND BENCH in the garage to find an aerosol can of de-icer.  And we can't PAN GOLD WITH COLANDER, but we can PAN SAND WITH COLANDER, which is technically more accurate but not the phrasing that sprang to my mind.

We can INSERT POLES in the Thunder Room (Jack's thefts are apparently random) to fix the thunder machinery.  We can SPRAY CAN at Jack to scare him off and recover any stolen belongings (in my second playthrough he stole the film.) 

We can UNSCREW PEN and give the springs to Father Time to fix his broken clocks, earning a duster for our trouble.  We can REMOVE LENSES FROM GLASSES, and while we can't GIVE LENSES TO ASTRONOMER -- he's too upset -- if we INSERT LENSES the telescope is repaired, and he gives us a ticket.  Now we can enter the theatre and see a red fire extinguisher sitting there, which we can take, furthering our cause and endangering the lives of hundreds of future theatregoers.

We have to LOOK UNDER STAGE (thanks again, walkthrough!) to find a smoke gun, possibly useful for restoring the Hall of Mists to working order.  North of the area where we scared Jack Frost away is the Viewing Platform, where a halo-less angel sits and sighs.  This is why we need the choker and duster -- we can rub it with gold dust to make a reasonable halo substitute, a shiny choker, which the angel happily accepts, giving us some star dust in exchange (the parser treats STAR DUST and GOLD DUST similarly, so it's improper to call it STARDUST.)

The smoke gun refills the vat (FIRE GUN doesn't work but SHOOT GUN does).  We can EXTINGUISH FIRE in the ice cavern, producing some hot coals.  They're too hot to take without a container of some kind, and the kettle doesn't seem to cut it, so we'll have to come back here later.

The Weather Man's map is useful for tracking our restoration of the 10 weather elements -- at this point, we have only restored three: Ice, Thunder and Fog.

INSERT COIN IN MACHINE at the launderette yields a token -- which promptly falls down the grille and into the drain.  Fortunately, the token floats, so we can POUR WATER INTO DRAIN to recover it before the water drains away again.  Now we can get some softener from the dispenser, and return to the Snow Room to soften the flakes and restore that portion of the weather.

4 down, 6 to go.  We can DUST FANS to clear away the cobwebs in the Windy Hall, restoring the fans to working order.  That's 5.

We can POUR CEMENT in the muddy room to produce a path, though Jack Frost shows up to steal the empty bag afterwards (even though we have sprayed him earlier; this seems to be the author's convenient way to get rid of extraneous objects, as a rogue container can cause all kinds of debugging problems.)  The hardened cement path leads to Cloud Farm, where a cockerel cries, "COCK-A-DOO."  A pun is in the making here, it appears, and yes, giving him the weather man's doodles restores his full cry.  Now he'll let us explore the rest of Cloud Farm to find some brown eggs in the henhouse and a bucket of fertilizer in the barn.  SEARCH MUCK prompts only the parser's disgusted refusal, but SEARCH STRAW yields some rubber wellies, which should help in the electrified Tall Tower...

Yep -- we can now ascend to the top of the Tall Tower, and see an empty contraption which should be full of currents.  I suspect another oncoming pun here -- and yes, we give the eggs to the baker, and he produces a cake (after a time) which is full of currants.  We can REMOVE CURRANTS FROM CAKE, eating the rest, and then PUT CURRENTS IN CONTRAPTION, restoring the electricity for lightning.

Giving Mother Nature the fertilizer leaves us with the now-empty bucket, and she gives us some bulbs which will probably function as bulbs for the Sunbeam Room, given recent events.  But we can't INSERT BULBS IN SOCKETS, they are too high to reach.  We have to find the Sunbeam Fairy and GIVE BULBS TO FAIRY once we track her down -- she keeps dancing away, so we have to play chase for a bit until we catch her being static in one location for a move.  She restores the bulbs and the Sun is back in working order.

Things are falling rapidly into place now.  We can use the empty fertilizer bucket to carry the hot coals from the ice room to the Neat Hall, and PUT COALS IN FURNACE to restore Heatwave weather.  8 down!  What's left?  Rain and... Rainbows maybe? 

The dull fountain in Rainbow Square probably needs some help; EXAMINE STAR DUST reveals that it is rainbow-colored, and PUT STAR DUST INTO FOUNTAIN restores Sun and showers, weather conducive to rainbows.

Now we have to deal with Rain.  The equipment in Rain Hall looks like it's functioning all right, except when we EXAMINE UNIT the disposal unit most of its holes are plugged with corks.  We can't just REMOVE CORKS -- a tool is needed, and the crowbar doesn't do the trick.  Hmmmm.  They are apparently smaller corks -- REMOVE CORKS WITH PENKNIFE works, and Jack shows up again to run off with the corks, blissfully unaware that we've just undone all of his hard anti-work.

We've got all ten weather elements restored now, aaccording to the official map, with almost an hour of game time to spare:

But the game isn't quite over.  The console in the weather man's control room now reads, "WEATHER HALLS NOW OPERATIONAL.  RESET CONTROLS! RESET CONTROLS!"  We RESET CONTROLS and... no, it wouldn't be that easy, would it?  But PULL LEVERS works, and everything is back to normal!  We are promised good weather by the grateful Weather Man... except that we wake up in a storm.  Perhaps it was all a dream, but the game is over and successfully so:

I scored 100% after 427 moves -- I don't think it's possible to finish the game without scoring 100%.

Cloud 99 is not an overly easy game, but it's not difficult either; the puzzles and puns all make sense of a sort once we break through a few key roadblocks, though I definitely needed some help tracking down a few critical objects.  Linda Wright has a creative and whimsical sense of design, and she writes well, with considerable originality given the genre's constraints.  I will have to check out more of her interactive fiction efforts; she wrote half a dozen adventure games, and Cloud 99 was a fresh and pleasant play.


  1. You need to play the '128k' version in order to experience the 'graphics'.

    If you really fancy playing another 'Linda Wright' then check out "Agatha's Folly" .. you will not be disappointed.

  2. If you want to download (freely) any Zenobi titles just go to zenobigames.blogspot.co.uk and help yourself. I am currently uploading the entire back-catalogue (a couple of hundred titles) and have presently completed "A" and "B".

  3. Such a pleasure to hear from the Balrog himself! Thank you for making these games available, John -- I've only played a few of the Zenobi titles but I have been impressed with the quality and your company's dedication to keeping the text adventure flame alive on the faithful Spectrum. Thank you!

  4. The uploads are now up to "S" and still being added ....

  5. I thoroughly recommend "The Beast of Torrack Moor" also known as "The Beast" (128K spectrum only). It has a uniquely English feel to it, being set in a small English village and has a sense of menace about it at all times. I bought very few adventures back in the 80s but this was one of my favourites.

    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I've been a bit wary of the 128K Speccy adventures, just because I know how large and convoluted even the 48K titles can be compared to the 16K/32K adventure games that were the norm in the US. But I will keep the Beast in mind.