This week, we're playing through an illustrated adventure game called Stranded, but first I need to try to avoid any potential confusion by noting that this isn't the only adventure game by this name. In fact, I think it's the third independent use of the title I've encountered -- clearly, multiple designers found Stranded to be a good, succinct name for a very common concept in the early development of the text adventure.
In this instance of Stranded, written by D. Woodhouse and C. Hughes, published by English Software in 1984 for the 8-bit Atari 400/800 computers, we're once again cast as a starship pilot stuck on an alien planet, looking for a way to escape and return home.
The game was published in the U.K., and, in keeping with the market in that part of the world, it's designed to load and run completely in memory, allowing publication on cassette as well as disk. The text is brief but evocative, and the illustrations are schematic but with better composition than some contemporary games of this type, though objects tend to be tiny and static. Stranded apparently sold well enough to make it into English Software's Atari Smash Hits Volume 2 compilation, although it's possible the company just tossed anything it had available into the mix.
Interested readers are always encourage to get (and un-get) Stranded firsthand before proceeding with my comments below. The game isn't difficult at all, given sufficient patience for maze-mapping, and it's refreshingly free of unresolvable dead ends and parser struggles. That said, some will doubtless find it too easy, so I can't blame anyone who wants to save an hour or two and venture directly into the...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
We begin on a barren plateau, devoid of any vegetation, with nothing in inventory. To the south is the edge of a steep cliff; east is a rocky mountain path with a view of trees below and a desert horizon out in the distance; west is another path, with a FUEL CAPSULE lying about. The parser expects us to GET FUEL CAPSULE, GET CAPSULE doesn't work (though this convention will not hold true elsewhere in the game.)
Somehow, the westward path manages to wrap around to a point partway down the eastward path, and going in either direction from our starting point we can eventually find our way down to the base of the cliff, where we can see that a small ledge is visible halfway up the cliff face. We can't CLIMB LEDGE or GO LEDGE or even EXAMINE LEDGE from here (actually, the parser doesn't support an EXAMINE or an object-level LOOK verb, so we have to take everything at face value.)
South of the cliff base is a spaceship, though access is blocked by a robot who looks like the offspring of Artoo-Detoo and the Berzerk robots. East of this location is a small lost in the desert maze, where we can pick up a LOCKPICK.
There is also a lost in the forest maze west of the cliff base, where we can hear ominous rustlings in the undergrowth that never seem to amount to anything. There are only two "rooms" to the forest maze, and in one of them we can CLIMB TREE to discover A PARACHUTE. (Now that we have a third object, we can confirm that the desert consists of only three locations, with the lockpick the only item of note.)
We don't have anything to unlock with the lockpick at the moment, but maybe we can jump down to that cliffside ledge with the parachute. We can't WEAR PARACHUTE, but we don't have to; as long as it's in inventory, we can simply JUMP from the top of the cliff to safely reach the ledge, where we can acquire a LASER RIFLE before jumping down again, back to the base of the cliff.
Now we can SHOOT ROBOT -- the explosion blows you to the south, perhaps for design convenience, and now we can see the spaceship's airlock entrance. We GO AIRLOCK and find ourselves standing in a [sic] airlock with a locked inner door. We PICK LOCK and find ourselves in the main control room, where we conveniently find a slot for a fuel capsule and a lever.
Is this all there's going to be to this story? Well, we can't INSERT CAPSULE -- or INSERT FUEL CAPSULE -- but if we PULL LEVER we notice that the fuel gauge shows zero, so it's clear we need to fuel the ship somehow. Ah -- we can just DROP FUEL and then pull the lever; the ship takes off on automatic pilot. But victory is not yet at hand -- After a while you hear the engines cut out. The plot thickens!
We can go north from the control room to enter a long twisty corridor -- this isn't a maze per se, just a large section of the map devoted to hallways with a few more interesting rooms. We can make our way to the ship's engine room, roughly to the north of our entry point, where we note a warm glow to the south which we'll avoid checking out for now, on the assumption that it might be radioactive.
To the west is an outbound airlock, with an outer door leading west. North of this airlock we find what the game tell us is a familiar time machine, with a locked door, but we can pick this lock too. (Incidentally, it appears the player character is some sort of space cop, as our time machine bears a POLICE label.)
East of the time machine's entryway is an empty boot room with what appears to be an empty pair of boots on the floor; we can't interact with these, though, so this seems to be a floppy disk joke of some sort. There are exits from this location in all directions -- one exit leads to the control room, which apparently needs a time crystal to fill its empty slot, and contains a console with red, black and white buttons. More interesting at the moment is the suit locker room, which contains a SPACE SUIT.
Assuming that, as with the parachute, we don't need to bother with WEARing the space suit, we go through the western airlock... and are blown out into space, fatally! So we are missing something, it seems. The boots still aren't retrievable, so they're not going to help us magnetically cling to the ship or anything. Ahhh! The so-called space suit is actually more useful for protecting us from the radiation in the reactor room south of the engine room, where the required time crystal is available for the taking. (And we can GET CRYSTAL but not GET TIME CRYSTAL, just to keep our parser wrestling skills in fighting trim!)
Now can we figure out how to drive the Time Machine's console? We DROP CRYSTAL, and now things happen when we push the buttons. PUSH RED seems to send us into hyperspace... and so does pushing BLACK and WHITE. So these buttons must be taking us to different locations; this doesn't seem to be a time machine, really, but a teleporter (unless, I suppose, we're staying in one place and different worlds are rotating into position at different points in time. But the storyline isn't impacted at all by any apparent time-shifting effects, so we can probably treat this simply as transportation.)
Going south after pressing the red button dumps us out at a cave entrance, adjoining yet another maze; the only interesting location is a large cave with a strange glow to the south. The glow comes from the walls of a ravine, where a DOOR KEY is available. Presumably we will be encountering a door of some sort which is impervious to the lockpick.
The black button just brings us back to the ship. The white button delivers us to a field, and we can see a lone house to the south. We can enter a maze of grassy hills by navigating to the east or west, but there's no real reason to explore it. Waling directly to the south of the time machine puts us at what is suddenly revealed as the front porch of your house. But the door is locked, and the lockpick won't do the job! Whatever shall we do? Well, we can use the mysterious door key we must mysteriously have dropped in the mysterious glowing cave to UNLOCK our own front DOOR, and now we're safe at home! Victory is ours! If only our sofa was larger, we could kick our feet up and relax!
Stranded is a very straightforward adventure, with simple, obvious puzzles and almost no red herrings or surprises; there isn't much of a story, either, but at least it doesn't end immediately after we take off in the commandeered spaceship, a refreshing difference from the typical escape-the-planet adventure. It didn't take long to play through, and I only had to restore a few times, but I enjoyed the trip -- at least the simplicity of the puzzles meant I didn't have to struggle too much with the parser. The authors aren't credited with any other adventure games that I can discover, but the English Software Stranded is a perfectly reasonable effort for its time, and a quick, fun play.