Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Followers Adventure (1982/2002)

This week, we're tackling Followers Adventure, Roger M. Wilcox's nineteenth adventure game, written for the TRS-80 back in 1982 and ported to Windows in 2002, with a recent 2013 update to enable restore-after-death capability.  Most of Wilcox's ports were done in 2012 and 2013; this older port looks different from his other adventures visually, though the interface is very much the same (with the unfortunate addition of a tendency to lose focus in the prompt box when alt-TABbing away from and back to the app, something that I ran into a lot while taking notes for this post!)

Mr. Wilcox's website tells us that the story is set in Palestine around 2000 years ago... hmmmm.  We are apparently playing as Yeshua himself, or Monty Python's Brian, at least.  And the parser knows the verb RAISE, should our Nazarene get Lazarene along the way.  The player's goal is to convince *everyone* that we are the savior of all mankind before conquering the world in a crusade.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to play through (or at least sample) Followers Adventure before reading my detailed playthrough notes.  The joy of adventure games lies largely in discovering the surprises for oneself, and Roger M. Wilcox has made all of his resurrected works freely available at his website.  Beyond this point, as always, there are certain to be...

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

We find ourselves on a long east-west dirt road, near a Beggar, with nothing in inventory.  An attempt to HEAL BEGGAR yields the game's first unintentional joke, as It's beyond your power to do that.  So we may have to come up with some sort of alms.

To the east is a hill with a horse trail; we can't GO TRAIL -- Sorry, that's for horses.  North of this point is a small forest with a Sword sticking from boulder.  Our less-than-omnipotent would-be savior fails again as we try to GET SWORD: Harrumph! It's no use, you can't do it.  East of the hilltop is a vast meeting & battle ground, where we see ten brigades of Roman legion and a Chariot.  Trying to GET CHARIOT only leads to being Caught! You're crucified by the Romans!  And the adventure is now over.

Starting over and exploring to the west, we find a manger containing Ave Maria herself and a Nickel.  She's in no mood to be a follower, wishing her son had become something respectable like a doctor or a lawyer; Leo Rosten might not approve of her Yiddish, but she gives us our allowance, allowing us to GET NICKEL.  This is a rare occurrence in a Wilcox game of a character who speaks to us, triggered by entrance to the room:

The beggar's allegiance is now easily bought -- we just GIVE NICKEL, and he says, "I will be your follower."  One down!  Untold millions to go!  He doesn't actually follow us around, fortunately.  And it seems there are only 20 people we have to convert, as with the Beggar taken care of, SCORE tells us that You have 5 percent of the population as your followers.

This doesn't seem to gain us anything immediate, though.  We still can't get the sword out of the stone.  HELP yields only, "Like the movie says, "Use the force..."  So RAISE might refer to levitation in general?  FORCE is not a verb the parser recognizes.  But we can USE FORCE in various places... and if we use it on the battlefield, then the soldiers are all looking the other way and we can GET CHARIOT without getting crucified.  We can't USE CHARIOT at all, but trying to RIDE CHARIOT yields Save it for later, so we shall.

So how do we solve a problem like Ave Maria?  USE FORCE and she's convinced.  Man, Old Ben Kenobi could have done so much more with this skill!  What else?  Ah, we have to DROP CHARIOT on the top of the hill by the horse trail, then we can RIDE CHARIOT -- "Yaah, boy! (Crack!)" -- and travel to a small town at the other end of the horse trail.  (There must be a horse already harnessed to the chariot, though it's not otherwise visible or mentioned.)

To the east, a Blind man lives in a peasant's home; we can HEAL MAN, and he leaves, showing remarkable restraint at regaining his sight, as all he says is, "I will be your follower."  To the west we find a rocky basin with a wall of monoliths blocking further passage, and it's more than USE FORCE can deal with.

At the southern end of town, we see a Starving crowd; we can't just FEED CROWD, and we have no loaves or fishes at the moment.  Fortunately, they don't block our way; we can explore a deserted graveyard to the east, where we see a large (and anachronistic) cement block that's also force-resistant.  West is a royal palace where the King of the Jews reigns, providing confirmation that Pontius Pilate didn't really know the local politics very well; he's also force-resistant, as one might expect from royalty.

Going south, we mix mythologies as we find Young Arthur in a testing ring for knights.  We can USE FORCE to make him a follower, but we can't just GET him afterward.  Fortunately, he does follow us around.  There's a supply shed nearby, containing an Almost empty basket (though we can't seem to EXAMINE or OPEN it to find out what's keeping it from being empty), some Strange glider wings, and a Rooster bar.

Well, let's see if we can do the expected -- yes, Young Arthur follows us back to the sword in the stone, and "Shing!" -- Excalibur is liberated.  But the sword isn't flaming, and we can't seem to use it against the Roman legion per prophesied Messianic expectations.  We also can't use it to cut through the monoliths in the rocky basin.

The "almost empty basket" appears to contain at least some amount of bread, as we can GIVE BREAD and the basket gets dropped.  Ah -- we can RAISE BASKET, and ** P O W ! ! ! ** -- we now have a Basket of bread.  We GIVE BREAD to the starving crowd, and They gobble it up, leave, and all say: "I will be your follower."  Though we're still only at 30 percent, gaining 10, so these people were either a rather small crowd or somehow not as significant as other people in the country.

What else?  We can try to FLY at the basin, yielding only Believe me, you don't need to fly now.  This seems to hold true everywhere else on the map.  Is the Rooster bar a sly way of suggesting it's a "crowbar"?  We can't PRY anything, but in the graveyard we can PULL BLOCK -- With what? -- ROOSTER BAR to move it out of the way, revealing a hole.  Now we can go D and find an inner sanctum with a dirt wall, and DIG WALL to make our way east into a cement antechamber.  There's a small slot in the wall, but we don't have anything obvious to do with it -- INSERT EXCALIBUR doesn't do anything, and it's force-proof.

I'm getting stuck, so it's time to peek at the code, which Mr. Wilcox always graciously provides for just such emergencies.  Aha!  I didn't try to BREAK NICKEL, which splits it into two halves.  Starting over, I confirm that the Beggar will accept half a nickel -- he's even easier to buy than I previously imagined -- and now we can use the other half in the slot underground.  A Glowing green sphere materializes.

What can we do with it?  The King doesn't seem interested in it; dropping it doesn't seem to affect the Roman legion on the battlefield.  If we DROP EXCALIBUR in the palace, however, we gain 20 percent, as the King of the Jews says, "My lord! My people and I will be your follower."  If we GET it again, he says the same thing and we aren't penalized score-wise, so we don't actually have to leave it here.  We're now at 50 percent, halfway to undisputed saviorhood!

Ah, here's something I hadn't tried.  We can CLIMB MONOLITH in the rocky basin -- no need to move it -- to find ourselves at the top of the wall of monoliths, with a cliff visible on the other side of a wide crevice (crevasse?)  We can't RAISE SPHERE or USE SPHERE or RAISE BRIDGE to make a bridge, but we can simply FLY (with the wings from the supply shed) to the other side.

We find ourselves at the foot of an odd-looking spacecraft; it wouldn't be a Roger M. Wilcox game without some sci-fi elements, after all.  We can GO inside to find a Metal tablet, a Large circular receptor, and a Voice receiver.  The circular receptor seems noteworthy -- and yes, when we INSERT SPHERE, the space ship lifts off.  We can READ TABLET, but it's in an alien language; we can't TRANSLATE it.  Here's how it is presented to us:
7(2/  2/  <[*  <%  7(*  ;
<1 nbsp="">/  2[  *-2/7*['* ,
'<;>+*7*  127(  %+52[&  #:2+272*/  #[@  #  ;2//2+*  #77#'!2[&
/5/7*;  7(#7  (#/  />+2772[&  '#>#:2+272*/ .  #++  7(*  1<$!
2/  '<;>97*$  #[@  0<2 .="" i="" nbsp="">

Is it a character-substitution cipher?  I always like these, and it's been a while since I've seen one in an adventure game so I'll share the gory details this time.  There are only a few symbols -- lots of 2s and 7s, and special characters.  7, 2, and * seem to be pretty common -- 18 7s, 20 2s, and 13 *'s with a quick approximate count.  E, T, and A are the most common letters in English.  7 = E doesn't look like it's getting us anywhere, but 7 = T does.  If T(* = THE, then * might be E and ( H, which seems promising too.  TH2/ might be THIS, suggesting that 2 = I and / = S, making the first two words THIS IS, which looks REALLY promising.

THIS IS <[E  <%  THE  ;<1e nbsp="" shi="">S  I[  E-ISTE['E ,
'<;>+ETE  1ITH  %+52[&  #:I+ITIES  #[@  #  ;ISSI+E  #TT#'!I[&
S5STE;  TH#T  H#S  S>+ITTI[&  '#>#:I+ITIES .  #++  THE  1<$!
IS  '<;>9TE$  #[@  0

Um... it's a good thing that S, H and T are already accounted for!  We can surmise that > = P, to fill in SHIPS; 1 = W, to fill in WITH; and, what the heck, ' = C, < = O, ; = M and + = L to complete COMPLETE.  Now we're cracking, guessing that [ = N, % = F, $ = R, 9 = U, - = X, & = G, 5 = Y, # = A, @ = D, ! = K, 0 = V...

Of course, we can't just SAY FIRE now that we've figured it out -- it's good that we've cracked the code pretty thoroughly, because now we have to re-encode our intended commands.  (Funny how these alien languages always turn out to be scrambled English!)  That is, we have to SAY />+27 to split the missile before firing it, and then SAY %2$* to fire it. If we mess up, we can fire repeatedly, although without splitting we can only ever destroy one of the ten Roman legions; ideally,  A sizzling missile streaks from the bottom of the ship.  It splits into ten fragments in mid-flight, and destroys the entire Roman legion! 

With the infidels destroyed en masse, we're at 100 percent, and victory is rather suddenly ours!

I don't think this is quite how the Christian Bible tells it, but I enjoyed the Followers Adventure and it was a fine way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon this past weekend.  We've only got a few games left before we'll have finished our trip through the Roger M. Wilcox archives -- I'll be sad to see the series end, but there's still no shortage of adventure games I haven't played.


  1. Tsk tsk tsk -- you should have EXAMINEd the NICKEL before you gave it to the beggar the first time. Then, you would've seen that "It has a weak seam."

    Or peek at the source code. That works too. ;-)

    1. Unfortunately, it wasn't until I found the slot in the wall and had run out of other obvious puzzles that I suspected I might have squandered the nickel prematurely, too late to EXAMINE it. I was planning to investigate the slot puzzle specifically when I saw the "Half a nickel" items in the game data, which was enough to get me back on deadline. :)

  2. Oh ... and before I forget, the "Rooster bar" thing came from an episode of the Three Stooges:

    CURLY: "Oh, a rooster-bar!"
    MOE: "Don't you mean a crow-bar?"
    CURLY: "Don't a rooster crow?!"
    (whereupon Moe pokes Curly in the eyes)

  3. And the thing with raising the almost empty basket to the sky? That came from one of the Jesus movies that was out in the theaters in 1979 (either the one with Brian Deacon, or _In Search of Historic Jesus_). In depicting the loaves-and-fishes episode, this movie showed Jesus holding a basket containing the loaves and fish to the sky, and when he lowered it back down, BAM, there was food aplenty for everyone.

    The actual story in the synoptic gospels only mentions Jesus LOOKING to heaven and giving thanks, then breaking the bread. There's no point in the narrative where you can say, "Okay, *here* is where the extra food magically appears."