Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Adventure of the Week: The Poseidon Adventure (1980/2013)

We're going back to the Roger M. Wilcox archives this week, to tackle the author's eighth game, another recent Windows conversion after the original TRS-80 source code was recovered from tape.  Like a number of early computer games, The Poseidon Adventure was inspired by an existing property without benefit of licensing -- but as these games weren't commercially distributed, it never became an issue in this obscure corner of the nascent technology/entertainment industry.

In case we thought this might be an adventure starring Poseidon, God of the Sea, we are immediately informed that The cruise liner "Poseidon" has capsized at sea, and you're trapped on board!  You'd better find a way out before it sinks!   So this will be an escape-the-non-alien-ship adventure, it appears.

As always, I encourage interested readers to sample The Poseidon Adventure before reading my further comments.  Mr. Wilcox has graciously made his adventures freely available, and it's always interesting to compare playthrough notes after the fact.  My purpose here is to document the history of the adventure game genre by way of specific examples, so this discussion will necessarily contain...

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

There's no starboard/port navigation here, the game retains the normal N/S/E/W/U/D conventions, though movement in the vertical directions is predictably not quite as expected.  And I believe this is the first Wilcox adventure to incorporate a true ticking clock element.

We have nothing in inventory to begin with, so a little exploration is in order.  The first room is rather generic -- just the ship "Poseidon" -- but things get a little more specific as we check things out.  A tool room contains a hand drill, screwdriver, and keyhole saw.  A medical "closet" contains a bottle of some liquid -- we can't READ BOTTLE, but EXAMINE BOTTLE indicates it contains lye soap.  So it's not liniment, or a health potion or anything, then.

A hallway ends at a grate over a long, dark shaft -- we can UNSCREW GRATE -- With what? -- SCREWDRIVER to gain access to the air shaft, which leads to a bathroom where (echoing a memorable moment from the film) EXAMINE TOILET indicates that It is on the ceiling.  A nearby room for smokers contains a cigarette lighter.

Heading U or D from the starting location confirms that we're aboard an inverted, most likely sinking ship.  The cargo hold at the bottom of the ship now lies above, and we can find a plastic bag and a closed suitcase containing a metal rod and long thermal undies.  (I found myself approaching the game's seven-item inventory limit here, something I didn't really run into much in the earlier Wilcox games.  To this efficiently we'll have to drop some things when we're done with them; fortunately most items are used to solve a single puzzle and can then be discarded.)

Below the starting area is a room with a hatch that's now located on the "floor."  West of here lies an ex-stoner's cabin containing a Nitric acid capsule.

And that's about it for mapping at this point, so let's see if we can figure out how to open the hatch and get out of here.  Except... wait, we're upside down, so that's probably a bad idea.

The metal rod has a place for a connection at one end.  We can try to CONNECT ROD in various places, but something is missing.  And while I've been exploring and experimenting, the parser is now informing us that "The Poseidon is sinking fast!"  So yes, time is of the essence.

Can we SAW HATCH?  No, a keyhole saw requires a small hole.  Can we make a small hole with the acid?  OPEN CAPSULE?  SQUIRT ACID?  EAT CAPSULE?  Erm... DROP ACID?  Nope.  And as I try to DRILL HATCH and DRILL FLOOR with the same lack of success, we reach the point where The Poseidon has sunk.  The adventure has ended.

I like tight-timing adventures -- they're usually brief, intense experiences, and it's oddly entertaining to relive the same experience, trying to do everything right this time and inch closer to victory.  But I seem to be stuck here -- what am I missing?  I've tried to SEARCH ROOM (there's no "search" verb) and EXAMINE ROOM everywhere; I've examined all the objects I've run across and discovered no new salient details.  So what am I missing?

A peek at the source code suggests part of my problem -- we need to simply LOOK or EXAMINE in the tool room to note that The north wall looks like it used to have an exit, but it was boarded up some time in the past.  (EXAMINE WALL yields only, "You see nothing special.", and I didn't expect LOOK to behave this way.)

Now we can DRILL HOLE and SAW WALL to reach an Abandoned tool shed (as Mr. Wilcox's source code comments note, this is an odd thing to find onboard) and acquire a large hand axe.

We can't WEAR UNDIES -- I have a feeling it wouldn't look good on you -- so they must have some other purpose.  We can INSERT CAPSULE -- I was trying to get it into the hatch somehow, but what this actually does is put it into the bottle of lye soap so that we now have a Bottle of nitroglycerin.  This could be very useful if we're careful.

Of course, if we LIGHT BOTTLE while holding it, You're blown to shards!!   We can DROP BOTTLE and then light it, but all it does in the hatch room is go BOOM!  If we do this in the bathroom, however, then The explosion destroyed the toilet, made a hole in the ceiling, and caused something to fall out!  -- a pipe wrench, apparently left behind by a plumber like an absent-minded doctor's surgical sponge.

We can now travel upward from the bathroom now to visit a passenger's room with a closed window.  We can try to OPEN WINDOW -- With what? -- AXE, but that's surprisingly ineffective -- It remains closed.  Nor can we CHOP WINDOW.

What about the hatch?  We can't OPEN HATCH with the wrench, or TURN HATCH... ack!  We can just GO HATCH at any time to reach an underwater pocket, and all along I had been assuming it was sealed against the ravages of the fathoms below!  We can pick up a metal claw here, and examination reveals that It is of solid construction, as if it were one end of a crowbar.  We CONNECT ROD, and now we have a useable crowbar, though we don't need to PRY HATCH obviously (and I wonder about the structural integrity and durability of a two-piece crowbar.)

We can't PRY WINDOW either -- "pry" is not a recognized verb -- but we can OPEN WINDOW -- With what? -- CROWBAR.  Of course, It cracks open stubbornly, then bursts forth with water from the surrounding ocean, and we drown.  We can avoid this fate if we have the foresight to WEAR BAG -- this plastic bag apparently holds enough oxygen to allow fairly extensive underwater exploration, and is also resistant enough to external water pressure to keep us from being suffocated by the bag itself.

We're too far below the surface to swim up and escape that way, it seems, but we can navigate the waters outside the cabin to enter another passenger's room with a (fortunately) broken window, though why the water has not used this breach to take the whole ship down faster is unclear.  Those cabin doors must be pretty airtight!  From this second passenger room we can reach a slanting hallway, blocked by a Wall of flames (also undamped by ocean water, though it may be slanting upwards.)

And -- since we can't wear the undies, this solution suggests itself -- THROW UNDIES puts out the fire, as the "Thermal" evidently meant fire retardant. (They even remain miraculously unburned!)  Now we can pass through a corridor leading toward the Propeller Room, where there's a shutoff valve.  An upward passage is blocked by live steam, which is where the pipe wrench comes in handy.

At last we're in the actual Propeller Room, where there's a button.  We PUSH BUTTON, and... The propellers have started!  You're ground to pieces!  So maybe that was a bad decision.  But we're obviously at the bottom of the ship now.  What we actually want to do here is CHOP HOLE with the hand axe, and then GO HOLE to victory!

Without the source code I think I would have been stuck for a while, although I suppose eventually I might have tried to DRILL HOLE everywhere and in everything until it worked in the tool room.  And I got tripped up on my own assumptions about the hatch -- it seemed like opening the hatch would comprise the game's major puzzle, when in fact it was not even an obstacle.  The Poseidon Adventure is more good old-fashioned fun from Mr. Wilcox, and I'll be continuing our journey through this series in the future.


  1. Whatever you do, don't flush the toilet!

  2. I completely agree that EXAMINE/LOOK WALL should have yielded the same information in that one place that EXAMINE/LOOK did with no noun.

    So, I've modified the source code so that EXAMINE and EXAMINE WALL have the same behavior. If you retrieve the game from my site now, you'll be able to read about the boarded-up north wall to your heart's content.

  3. Thanks, Roger! I always appreciate your rapid response when minor bugs and gameplay issues like this turn up. I hope these posts are helping your games find a new audience -- I am thoroughly enjoying them.