Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Medieval Space Warrior (1981/2012)

This week, another foray into the Roger M. Wilcox archives comes up with his fourteenth TRS-80-to-Windows text adventure, Medieval Space Warrior, originally written in 1981 and ported to modern PCs in 2012.  We arrive at the story's beginning having recently obeyed a suggestion to Pull rod to save the world, and via some sort of green light we now find ourselves in medieval Europe; the intro also hints that "In some science fiction stories" items can be stored digitally for the long term.

Readers are always encouraged to play the games I discuss here independently -- much of the joy of adventure gaming is in the discovery, and Mr. Wilcox has graciously made his games freely available.  But my goal here is to document the history of the genre by examining specific games, and so my playthrough notes in the following are certain to contain...

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

We begin somewhen as well as somewhere -- in the middle ages on a dirt hill, with a single visible exit to the east and an Iron rod in inventory, presumably the one we pulled to arrive here.  Examination doesn't reveal anything special about the rod, but we can DIG (no shovel required this time) and discover a Gold nugget.

Heading east, we're immediately in the thick of things, as the open plain contains a Sealed-off castle and an Evil wizard.  He can be bought off easily, however, by giving him the gold nugget; after a nice little pyrotechnics display, he flies off into the distance, leaving his glasses behind.  (Oh, no, Harry!)

The glasses are fairly thick and magnifying, it seems, as we're told That wizard must have been incredibly myopic on further examination.  We can't WEAR GLASSES, due to the blurriness.  DIGging again on the hill discovers another gold nugget, but this is probably a bug, as further digging keeps moving the nugget from inventory to the ground, so we probably won't need it.

EXAMINE CASTLE reveals that A stone is loose, and if we PULL STONE we discover that it was the keystone as the castle crumbles, leaving nothing but Castle rubble behind.

We can enter the pile of rubble to discover a Huge black vertical shaft (shut yo' mouth!) and a portable Wooden log.  We can GO SHAFT, to find ourselves at its bottom, with glowing walls; we can PUSH WALLS, but You pushed it so hard that it short-circuited!  You're fried to death by a zillion angry purple sparks!

Taking the hint after a restore, we discover that TOUCH WALL transports us to a cylindrical transport tube.  There's a touch panel inside; we can also go east to the "reception" room of a space craft, where an Armed alien is stationed.  Trying to sneak past the alien, we're likely to be shot, and in that case Your central nervous system suddenly doesn't want to cooperate.

Restoring again, we learn that we can TOUCH PANEL to return to the medieval area, but that doesn't do us much good.  The parser won't let us HIT or KILL or TALK or SHOUT ALIEN, or USE ROD to give him a good whack.  EXAMINE ALIEN reveals only that It looks like every other space alien you've ever seen.

We can attempt to BREAK GLASSES to get an old-fashioned TRS-80 BASIC gag, as the text reads BREAK IN 250 / READY.  But the game continues with the glasses intact.  GIVE NUGGET just drops it, while the alien continues to try to shoot at us, missing most of the time, though he doesn't want the glasses either.  HELP reveals only that I know the noun "MAINTENANCE." Hmmmm.

Going back to medieval times, we can dig on the pile of rubble to find an Ancient forging furnace, with a lever on its side.  We PULL LEVER and we have a working forging furnace, allowing us to FORGE ROD and create a Pointed rod.

Returning to the alien spacecraft, we learn that we can't STAB ALIEN, and he still occasionally shoots us, but we can THROW ROD and obtain his Beam rifle, which he won't be needing now that he's an Alien impaled on rod (shut yo' mouth again!)  The next room contains another alien, and we can't retrieve the rod from its current position for reuse, but we can SHOOT ALIEN with the beam rifle -- Got him!  Boy, he was a terrible shot by comparison.

We can't just open the portal, of course, but examination of the second dead alien turns up some Sheet music and a Strange alien helmet, too small for us to wear.  We can't PLAY MUSIC but we can SING MUSIC -- though that doesn't open the portal, nor does it seem to do anything anywhere else.

What about that hint?  We can't EXAMINE or OPEN or CALL MAINTENANCE; trying to FIX MAINTENANCE cryptically says that You don't have a frame.  Frame?  Well, we can GET LENSES to remove the Concave lenses from the evil wizard's glasses, and there are purple lenses in the alien helmet, which we can remove by doing a second GET LENSES.  Oddly, FIX FRAMES indicates that You don't have the right kind of lenses after we have popped out the originals, but once we have the alien lenses in hand, FIX FRAMES creates a pair of Dark purple glasses.  We can WEAR GLASSES, and now It's too purple to see! -- and this seems to apply everywhere we can go right now.  Hmmmm.

Ah -- I had to look at the source code to figure this out.  I had EXAMINEd the MUSIC earlier, but we can actually READ MUSIC to see a series of notes on a Gregorian staff: RE MI DO DO SOLSINGing each of these notes in the prescribed sequence, instead of just generically singing the music as I had tried, opens the portal.

Now we can enter an east-west hallway with a Viewscreen at one end, showing an alien fleet approaching earth -- It will arrive in 200 centons, though this seems to be a fairly lengthy timeframe, at least more than one turn per centon, and I discovered no actual countdown to worry about.

The east end of the hallway has a Floor hatch, a Gigantic stone statue, and another closed portal with a shiny circuit protector near it.  The statue bears a sign reading, "THE MASTER."  We can't open the hatch or the portal easily.

I had to cheat and look at the source code again -- and even then, it took a little bit of work.  We can't BURN LOG or FORGE LOG, but we can SHOOT LOG with the beam rifle to produce a pile of ashes, then RUB (wait for it... ) ASHES (shut yo' mouth!) on the shiny circuit protector to make it a Sooty circuit protector, and then SHOOT PROTECTOR to clear the portal.

Past the portal is a dark room, where we see the glowing face of the Master.  The purple glasses don't seem to do anything here, but we are free to come and go, and we can leave the room and CLIMB STATUE to discover the Statue's single ruby eye.  We can't take it, but we can see that The ruby is circular, and then TURN EYE -- You hear a grrrrsphydink from below.

Hoping that grrrrsphydink is onomatopoeia and not monstergonnaeatcha, we climb back down to find the hatch open, granting passage down to a lower storage room.  Here we find several items of interest -- an Adamantine space suit, a Normal space suit, a Strange cylinder, and a Strange unlit light.

LIGHTing the strange light and wearing the purple glasses in the Master's first chamber, we can now see an exit to the east -- and the Master still makes no attempt to inhibit our movement.  We can travel through a twisting hallway to reach the Master's second chamber, where yet another closed portal blocks progress.

The cylinder we found down below reads, "THROWING CHARGE" -- so it seems natural to THROW CHARGE.  It hits the portal and goes off, and now there's a Highly charged force field where the portal used to be.  No further puzzles here -- we can simply GO FIELD, and now we're on a ledge in a large domed room.

Going down leads to the main computer room, with Rows and rows of computers.  Do we want to disable them?  We can't SHOOT COMPUTERS, but the intro said something about adamantine, so let's bring that space suit here.  It has a button on it.  We PUSH BUTTON, and Thrusters engage on the back of the suit.  They fling you around a bit, then shut down.  Not particularly useful at present.

Remembering the earlier hint, I tried to OPEN MAINTENANCE, etc. again -- but as it turns out, this is more of a magic word than a service or hidden panel.  We SAY MAINTENANCE, and then A mechanical voice intones, "PERMANENCY DEACTIVATED."  Interesting, but what does that mean?  We still can't SHOOT COMPUTERS, but -- aha! -- we can now PUSH COMPUTERS , and The computers topple over like dominos!

As a direct result, apparently, the alien ship disappears -- and with it, the adamantine space suit we were wearing!  It's a cold and lonely death for the player, but at least the primary objective has been accomplished back home -- The alien fleet arrives and, seeing that their flagship has probably deserted them, heads back for home!

But we can probably do better.  Using the normal space suit instead, which also has a thruster button, we can dematerialize the alien flagship and also manage to get home safely!  This feels much more like a proper victory:

There's quite a bit going on in the story of Medieval Space Warrior, and I enjoyed the ride, even if a few of the puzzles seemed as loosely thrown together as the title.  It's really a shame Roger M. Wilcox's adventures didn't see commercial publication back in the early 1980s when they were written -- the Scott Adams influence is clear, as with almost every adventure game published at the time, but young Wilcox had his own freewheeling style.  I've been enjoying these games, and we still have quite a few to go.


  1. Ooh! So many juicy notes to look at:

    * There was SUPPOSED to be a countdown -- the 200 centons were 200 game turns, which was supposed to start the moment you began the game -- but apparently I messed up on implementing the game timer when I ported it from Level II BASIC to C#.

    * Touching a panel activates it, but pressing the panel causes a short-circuit. This comes DIRECTLY from Scott Adams' _Strange Odyssey_, one of the 3 Scott Adams adventures that had a strong impact on me.

    * "You hear a grrrrsphydink from below" is an homage to -- perhaps even a direct quote from -- _Death Dreadnought_ by Biff and Spudd Mutt. As a teenager, that game had a certain allure because the ads for it said it was "Rated R for gory descriptions". Ooh, edgy!

    * The computer storing the pattern of the ship (and the space suit) owes a little something to Arthur C. Clarke's _The City and the Stars_. But only a LITTLE something.

    * And just in case y'all didn't recognize it, RE MI DO DO SOL is the 5 notes from _Close Encounters of the Third Kind_.

  2. I went back and looked at the earlier BASIC source code, and sure enough, there was code there to decrement the TR (turnsRemaining) counter and display a failure message should it reach zero. The message read:

    "The alien fleet has arrived!
    Future Earth has been taken over!"

    I have since gone back and modified the C# port so that it will end the game after 200 turns.