Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Adventure of the Week: CIA Adventure (1980)

This week, we're returning to the venerable TRS-80, with Hugh Lampert's CIA Adventure, published by the cassette-based CLOAD software magazine in 1980, and also featured in Bob Liddil's classic Captain 80 Book of BASIC Adventures; later ports to the Commodore 64, PC, Mac and Linux also exist, but we'll be playing the original TRS-80 BASIC version here.  (Actually, I can't be sure that the disk image I ran across in the archives is truly the original CLOAD version; some typos in this version are not present in the Captain 80 book, so it might have been inaccurately typed in from the book, or errors in this version might have been corrected for the book.  At any rate, we're playing it on the original platform!)

The player's goal as a secret agent is to recover a ruby being used to construct a deadly laser device; the game posits an unusual avatar mechanism, suggesting that "YOU WILL HAVE A PARTNER WHO IS NOT TOO BRIGHT AND NEEDS YOU TO TELL HIM WHAT TO DO," but this doesn't really manifest in the gameplay, and we're in control of our "self" or a "puppet" as usual.

Interested readers are encouraged to tackle CIA Adventure before proceeding here, though I will warn you that a few of the game's puzzles are made unnecessarily difficult by parser dictionary ambiguities, and the challenge ramps up quite a bit at the end -- it took me numerous tries, peeks at the source code, and an entire replay to get the final sequence right.  So be forewarned, or save yourself some irritation and venture happily into the...

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

As the game starts up, we are prompted for a name, and we can type ORDERS PLEASE for a premise summary and basic instructions:

We begin standing on a BUSY STREET near a tall office building, with a CIA identification badge in inventory.  We can't navigate anywhere else, but we can GO BUILDING -- only to catch a brief glimpse of the lobby, with a large sculpture and a pair of sliding doors, before the doorman decides he doesn't like something about our appearance and throws us out.  We have to DROP BADGE and re-enter, taking advantage of his evidently poor memory and/or eyesight.

To the east of the lobby is a DINGY ANTE ROOM with a LOCKED WOODEN DOOR.  To the west is the VISITOR'S ROOM with a VIDEO CASSETTE RECORDER, which we can EXAMINE to learn that THERE'S NO POWER FOR IT; we can't OPEN it either.

We can PUSH BUTTON in the lobby to summon the elevator, where we spot AN OLDE FASHIONED KEY and a PANEL OF BUTTONS NUMBERED ONE THRU [sic] THREE.  We're on the first floor, apparently, as PUSH ONE does nothing, but PUSH TWO takes us to the second floor (and, oddly enough, seems to send us out through the elevator's west side, instead of its north side where we originally entered.)

On the second floor we find a COFFEE MACHINE, with which we can't seem to do anything interesting yet.  To the south is the CAFETERIA with a LOCKED MAINTENANCE CLOSET.  West is a SECURITY OFFICE with a PORTABLE TELEVISION and A BANK OF MONITORS.  The only interesting thing to see is on the monitors, where we can observe: A METAL PIT 1000'S OF FEET DEEP ON ONE MONITOR.  ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PIT, I SEE A LARGE HOOK.  This is probably a clue we should note.

The key from the elevator can be used to unlock the maintenance closet, where we find a variety of items - a PLASTIC BAG, a BROOM, a DUSTPAN and a PAIR OF RUBBER GLOVES.  We'll take the gloves for now.  Returning to the first floor, we find that we can also UNLOCK the wooden DOOR to access the COMPANY PRESIDENT'S OFFICE, with an ELABORATE PAPER WEIGHT and AN OLD MAHOGANY DESK.

The paper weight is heavy, but we can take it with us, and the desk contains a LOCKED DRAWER that can't be opened with the key -- IT'S STUCKPULL DRAWER yields only, and confusedly, I DON'T SEE THAT HERE.  Going back to the maintenance closet on the second floor, we soon encounter the game's five-item inventory limit, so we'll probably have to come back after we know more about the puzzles ahead, or better yet, pick up and drop everything that might be useful in the elevator, where these items won't be too far out of reach.

Using the elevator to reach the third floor, AN ALERT SECURITY GUARD in front of a SOLID LOOKING DOOR throws us back into the elevator.  Carrying the broom and dustpan fails to allay his suspicions, and we don't get an opportunity to do anything else while we briefly set foot outside the elevator.

So what else can we do?  We can take the portable television to the visitor's room, and while we can't CONNECT the video cassette RECORDER, we can CONNECT TELEVISION to hook it up.  But we still can't START RECORDER, as it remains without power.

The sculpture in the lobby can't be examined or moved, or broken.  The VCR is the old-fashioned kind that can't be moved.  We can't PUSH FOUR or PUSH ZERO to access any such "hidden" floors.  We can WEAR GLOVES, but that doesn't make us look any less suspicious.  Can we somehow make the security guard less alert, by BREAKing the coffee MACHINEI'M TRYING TO BREAK IT, BUT I CAN'T.  Hmmmm.  Can we OPEN BAG?  Nope -- I CAN'T.  IT'S TOO STRONG.  Also interesting.

Aha!  We can use the heavy paperweight to BREAK DRAWER in the mahogany desk, revealing a LARGE BATTERY and a SPIRAL NOTEBOOKREAD NOTEBOOK cryptically reveals, "WE HAVE DISCOVERED ONE OF CHAOSES [sic] SECRET WORDS.  IT IS: BOND-007-.  TO BE USED IN A -TASTEFUL- SITUATION."  This could be useful, and also provides the obligatory unlicensed James Bond reference required of all vintage spy adventures.

We can now INSERT BATTERY -- TELL ME, IN ONE WORD, INTO WHAT? -- RECORDER to power up the VCR.  But START RECORDER still does nothing interesting -- maybe there's no tape in it.

"TASTEFUL" appears not to refer to the coffee machine, but typing BOND-007- in the cafeteria opens a trap door, leading to a SUB-BASEMENT where we find some STRONG NYLON ROPE.

To the east of the sub-basement, we find ourselves at the ENTRANCE TO THE SECRET COMPLEX, though how we can discern this remains unclear; one doubts there is a sign.  Perhaps we know this because we sense that to the east we will find the SECRET MONITORING ROOM, where the monitors reveal A ROOM WITH A CASE ON A PEDESTAL IN IT

South is the ledge of the METAL PIT 1000'S OF FEET DEEP seen earlier, and with that bit of foreknowledge we can THROW ROPE -- TELL ME, IN ONE WORD, AT WHAT? -- HOOK to snag it on the hook.  The engine's behavior is a little misleading here -- the rope disappears from inventory, and we can't SWING ROPE or CLIMB ROPE, so I thought I might foolishly have tossed it across the pit; it's not immediately clear that we can just GO ROPE to swing to THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PIT.

From here, a LONG CORRIDOR leads through a NARROW CROSS CORRIDOR to a SECRET LABORATORY containing a BOX WITH A BUTTON ON IT.  We can take the box, and because we can't resist PUSHing the BUTTON, we are relieved that nothing happens at the moment.

East of the long corridor is a LARGE ROOM with a SMALL PAINTING -- A PICTURE OF A GRINNING JACKAL, on closer examination.  We can TAKE PAINTING, and a SMALL CAPSULE falls from the frame; we can't figure out what it is, but it might come in handy so we'll take it along.

Continuing south, we find a CROSS EXAMINATION ROOM on the way to the OFFICE OF THE CHIEF OF CHAOS (fortunately for our mission, the secret complex seems to be deserted today.)  West of the office is a SMALL BATHROOM where we find only one item -- a RAZOR BLADE (memory restrictions meant that often only salient details were described during this era.)  To the south, we find ourselves NEAR THE END OF THE COMPLEX, and can acquire a CHAOS I.D. CARD.  In the CHAOS CONTROL ROOM, there's a large button on the wall, and we can PUSH BUTTON -- though the parser decides this means the one on the box, which in a magical scientific flash of transportation returns us to the street outside the building where we began the adventure.

Returning to the building, we can use the razor blade to CUT BAG -- and a VIDEO TAPE falls out.  Putting it into the VCR and starting it up reveals another message: "WE HAVE UNCOVERED A NUMBER THAT MAY HELP YOU.  THAT NUMBER IS: 2 5 4 6 3.  PLEASE WATCH OUT FOR HIDDEN TRAPS.  ALSO, THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE SCULPTURE."  (The combination is randomized, so your mileage will likely vary.)

I hadn't tried to OPEN SCULPTURE, and doing so now produces a BLANK CREDIT CARD and a QUARTER.  We can buy a CUP OF STEAMING HOT COFFEE from the machine on the second floor, though we can't seem to INSERT CAPSULE into the coffee.  We don't need to, though, as the third floor security guard is happy to accept us with our CHAOS ID badge in hand.

Now we can EXAMINE DOOR to spot a slit near the solid-looking door, but the guard won't let us insert the blank card into the slit.  We're also apparently in some danger -- the parser begins to warn us, "I THINK THEY ARE ON TO ME.... I HEAR NOISES."


The security guard is still alert, though.  Drat... oh, we can DROP CAPSULE -- which "accidentally" allows it to fall into the coffee, and even though we just drugged the beverage standing right in front of him, the GUARD TAKES MY COFFEE AND FALLS TO SLEEP RIGHT AWAY.  Now we're free to insert the card into the slit, which reveals an electronic lock.  We can't PUNCH 2 or PRESS 2 or ENTER 25463 or UNLOCK DOOR, though, and the guard starts waking up after a while.  I had to track down a walkthrough to discover that the magic parser words are OPEN LOCK (thanks, CASA!) which prompts, WHAT'S THE COMBINATION? -- and if we get it wrong, the guard has more time to wake up and shoot us.  Dang, I thought I had it?  Ah, the spaces are significant -- 25463 is wrong, 2 5 4 6 3 is correct.

The door slowly opens, and now we can enter a HALLWAY MADE OF METAL, leading to A SMALL PLAIN ROOM and in turn to A SMALL SOUND PROOFED CUBICLE -- with the glass case on the pedestal we glimpsed earlier -- at which point sirens go off -- and guards run in to shoot us to death.  So we're still not quite there.

We don't have time to go back and get anything we're missing after the guard wakes up, so it's a bit hard to experiment here, and I had to restore quite a bit while figuring this out.  I thought I had turned off the power, and confirmed that I had, but the sirens are still going off.  Pulling the generator lever without the rubber gloves on leads to instant electrocution, so that isn't a factor.  Drugging the guard too soon leads to other guards being alerted before we can get to the lever, or at least that's what seems to be going on...

Have we somehow tipped off the enemy too soon, is that what the I THINK THEY'RE ON TO ME messages are about?  I had to look at Mr. Lampert's BASIC source to learn two key things.  One, if we take more than 375 moves to finish the game, THEY'RE ON TO ME, and at turn 400 the game is over as the guards catch up.  Two, I needed to push the button on the wall at the end of the Secret Complex to keep the sirens from going off, so I really needed to drop the magic transportation box before trying to PUSH BUTTON there, as the parser otherwise assumes we mean the one on the box.

Starting over for the sake of efficiency, we get to the room with the glass case before they're on to us, and can use the razor blade (diamond, is it?) to CUT CASE to remove the VERY LARGE RUBY.  But a secret door has slammed down behind us, and there are no other exits, so we're still stuck.  Restoring and trying to bring the push-button transportation box with me, I run out of inventory slots and try to DROP CARD.  I fail to notice that I've dropped the credit card instead of the CHAOS ID card, and when I drop that to free up an inventory slot, the unconscious drugged guard still manages to throw me out.  Dang!

Getting everything right on the umpteenth attempt, at last we manage to get into the room before the guard wakes up, and before any other guards arrive, cut the case, grab the ruby, and push the magic button to escape to the street.  Victory is ours!

CIA Adventure is a good example of TRS-80 era design -- it squeezes lots of gameplay into a minimal map using a limited parser dictionary.  And it's an entertaining and fairly challenging game, although some of the challenges are admittedly due to parser conflicts handling words like BUTTON and CARD that could have been avoided with more distinctive terminology.  As far as I can discover so far, Hugh Lampert didn't write any other adventure games, but I enjoyed this one-off effort despite some frustration during its complicated ending.  Good stuff.

1 comment:

  1. I note that the secret spy organization in this adventure is called CHAOS.

    I wonder if they're any relation to KAOS, the international organization of badness and evil from _Get Smart!_.