No, you're not experiencing deja vu -- this week I'm tackling Secret Agent: Mission One, an Apple II illustrated adventure of murky provenance, which I ran across while tackling the completely different but similarly named Secret Agent: Mission 1 for the Atari 8-bit computers last week. Some online sources credit a company named Jor-And as the publisher, but no publication date or author's name seems to be known or displayed in-game. I'm guessing it was published in the early 1980s, but I have no evidence to go on beyond its simple line-drawing illustrations and simple parser.
Like most Apple II illustrated adventures, the display relies on the system's built-in mixed-mode hardware; the display is dominated
by graphics, with a four-line text window at the bottom. This often means
we have to read part of the description (like visible items) and then
press return to see the location description, and text is necessarily
terse. We can use the return key with no command entered to toggle the graphics on and off,
however, allowing recently scrolled text to be visible in the text-only display mode. The parser is a
basic two-word affair; one annoying "feature" is that time continues to
tick away even when the player's command isn't comprehended, meaning
that the search for the right phrasing can be in and of itself a costly challenge under pressure. One nice visual touch is that portable objects are visible onscreen and are updated as
we collect or drop them, and doors visibly open and close; this was unusual at a time when many games were written as pure text adventures and simply augmented with static illustrations.
As always, interested readers are encouraged to tackle Secret Agent: Mission One before reading my notes below. The game is not especially difficult, although there are a few well-hidden details that make the CASA Solution Archive's walkthrough very useful. I will be documenting my experience in detail, so there are sure to be...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
The game begins by asking us to select a secret three-digit code AS A MEMBER OF THE SECRET INTELIGENCE [ironic sic] AGENCY for all official business. I chose 123, just to retro-spite VisiCalc.
We are allowed to skip the introductory dossier and go directly to the game if we like, but reading it on a first go is vital, as it tells us quite a bit of important backstory and provides a few critical pieces of information. We're on the trail of one Rupert H. Melton, Ph.D., who used to work with the United States government but following a disagreeement has created his own energy weapon at his remote island lab. Fellow agent 411 will apparently play a role in the adventure as well, as we're shown a line-drawn portrait; he was sent to investigate Melton and has not returned. A letter of o'erweening arrogance (I always wanted to use that word -- did anybody ever overween?) has been sent to the UN, in which Melton demands to be recognized as leader of the world, and threatens to start destroying cities across the globe if not satisfied. Our mission is to de-activate his autofiring system so the island can be bombed. Then we have to TURN DIAL on our watch to signal mission completion, and meet a helicopter within 30 minutes. We have 15 hours to complete the mission, we're checked into a local hotel under the alias "JOSE CALDERA" on the nearby island of Batangali, and there's a special hotline set up at 247-6658. Now, on with the game!
We begin aboard an airplane, with an emergency exit handy and a gun on the floor, and nothing in inventory but our signal watch. A sign reads: "-TO OPEN EXIT- LIFT LATCH." We can GET GUN, but as I try to examine it an enemy plane flies by, guns blazing, and now we're in a nosedive. We LIFT LATCH, GO EXIT, and find ourselves IN MID-AIR... and of course, we're not adequately equipped, so my attempts to PULL RIPCORD and DEPLOY CHUTE go unheeded, and it's shortly THE END.
Being more efficient next time, we GET GUN, LIFT LATCH... and succumb to depressurization at high altitude. So we need the plane to nosedive before we try to exit. We can't explore the airplane very much, it seems -- NO DIRECTIONS INDOORS, PLEASE, an odd convention that will remain in force throughout the game -- and the visible interior door is LOCKED FROM THE INSIDE. There's a seat visible, but SEAT isn't in the parser's vocabulary and trying to LIFT CHAIR yields THAT'S INAPPROPRIATE, as do many other arguably appropriate but unrecognized commands. While I've been dithering about, though, THE PLANE CRASHES INTO A MOUNTAIN AND BURSTS INTO FLAMES. This game is certainly action-packed at the very start!
What else can we try? Well, after we GET GUN we can SHOOT DOOR, opening the door to the cockpit, just before the pilot screams as the enemy plane fires on us. GO COCKPIT confirms that the pilot is dead, but there's a cabinet here, which can be OPENed to reveal a parachute -- GET PARACHUTE also straps it on. Now if we can only LEAVE COCKPIT or EXIT COCKPIT... and while I'm trying to find a command the parser will accept, we crash into the mountain yet again. We have to GO DOOR, LIFT LATCH, and then... well, PULL RIPCORD still fails, but the game automatically allows the parachute to open.
Our unplanned descent leads us into a collision with some trees, as a result of which we suffer a mild concussion and wake up to a doctor's recommendation that we sleep. There's a fork on a nearby tray in the hospital room, and we're informed that YOU FEEL VERY DIZZY; in fact, when we GET UP, we ARE TOO DIZZY TO WALK. The doctor returns and advises us to sleep, but that's a bad idea, as we wake up with an hour of our critical schedule gone, facing a nurse who insists we GIVE ARM, then INJECTS YOU WITH 15CC'S OF CYANIDE. We no longer have our gun, of course; James Bond has it easy compared to Agent 123!
Trying again, we can try to GET some FOOD from a tray near the bed -- but the game assumes we want to eat it, and we spit it out. Sleeping without trying to get up again leads to the poisonous nurse, but if we grabbed it before sleeping, we can use the fork to STAB NURSE and send her running out of the room. The short nap has cured our dizziness, too, so we can now GO LOBBY. There's a phone here, so can we call the hotline? Yes, but we have to GO PHONE -- and then INSERT DOLLAR, according to the information provided, which we do not at present have. We can GO EXIT -- the nurse on duty confiscates the fork, but lets us leave and explore the local streets. The game design opens up a bit here, after the initial series of find-the-right-command-to-reach-the-next-set-piece events.
We're on A STREET IN BATANGALI, where a billboard promotes the local transit system, noting that buses run every half hour. Our watch indicates the time is 3:56; I probably should have noted what time it was when we started (I went back and checked; it was 1:00.) Since we're no longer indoors, we can actually navigate a little bit -- S takes us back into the hospital, and we can go N to an abandoned store.
While the windows are boarded up, we can OPEN DOOR and GO STORE to find a cash register; OPEN REGISTER obtains SOME MONEY, though we can't COUNT or EXAMINE it to determine exactly how much. GO STAIRS takes us upstairs to an office with a card on the table and a closet. Just as we GET CARD, we hear two men entering downstairs, and we have to GO CLOSET and CLOSE DOOR to hide. Except that... "HEY, WHERE THE HELL'S MY STUFF?" THE TWO MEN SEARCH THE ROOM AND FIND YOU TRESPASSING. THEY SHOOT YOU. It works better if we drop the card again and then hide in the closet, overhearing something about "WE GOTTA GO HELP LOAD THE BOSS'S BOAT" and avoiding death.
Further north up the street is a building with NOTLEM above the door -- Dr. Melton's name backwards, most likely -- and we can't enter without authorization. SHOW CARD doesn't help, but we can duck into an alley to the east and CLIMB LADDER to a fire escape with a window. It's locked from the inside, unfortunately, but we can BREAK WINDOW with our fist and GO WINDOW.
We find ourselves in another office, with a tape recorder on the desk and a picture on the wall -- with a safe behind it, naturally, though it's locked. Instructions on the recorder suggest that we PLUG RECORDER, INSERT TAPE and PUSH PLAY. There are no outlets here, nor do we have a tape. We can't OPEN SAFE or OPEN the DOOR visible in this room, either, at least not now.
Let's go use the phone in the hospital, now that we have a dollar -- it prompts for the number to dial, so it's a good thing we read the intro and can enter 247-6658. We hear a phone ringing, and the anonymous person who picks up tells us to MEET AGENT 747 AT THE ISLAND RESTAURANT.
There's a bar west of the store, where the bartender is berating a man: "LOOK YOU BUM, NO MONEY, NO DRINKS." GIVE MONEY gets the bartender to pour us a drink; we can GIVE DRINK to the man, who mumbles something incoherent about life and not knowing why he "WAS THERE." He's unshaven and in tattered clothes. TALK MAN and TALK BARTENDER produce NO RESPONSE -- Cheers this is not -- but a third drink reveals that "THERE'S THIS PLATE ON THE FLOOR THAT YOU HAVE TO WALK OVER. I NEVER GOT PAST IT, NO WAY." Further drinking allows the man to mention that the plate appears to be a weight sensor and "ONLY HIS WEIGHT GETS BY IT," and that he's 5'7, 190 LBS., GRAY HAIR. After this, all we get is "THANKS MAN" from pouring more alcohol into the man's bottomless thirst. Was that poor inebriate agent 411? It's not clear, but the information sounds like it's worth remembering.
North of the bar is a clothing store, with a glass cabinet and a snooty proprietor. We can't UNLOCK CABINET, but when the phone rings and the man goes into the back of the store, we can break the glass with our amazing unsliceable fist before getting shot by the old man. If we are quick about it, we can BREAK GLASS and escape before he comes back, but he's quick to shoot us if we set foot in his store again, so that's not what we want to do here. He'll even run out into the street and shoot us after we exit, so we probably shouldn't break the glass until we know why we might want to.
Ahhh.. the restaurant is north of here, but the head waiter won't let us in without a tie. Those abstract geometric shapes in the clothing store's cabinet must be bow ties! We have to BREAK GLASS, GET TIE, and get far away from the clothier as quickly as possible. There's no WEAR verb, so simple possession is enough to get us into the restaurant... except now we can't get in because we don't have a reservation? MAKE RESERVATION isn't workable, so we'll have to figure something out. It appears that every move -- whether valid or not -- consumes two minutes. And after we have stolen a tie from the clothier, we need to avoid the area outside his store, as the proprietor will run outside and shoot us if we so much as walk by; fortunately the city is laid out in a grid and we can easily navigate around the shop.
We could try to call the restaurant and make a reservation, but we don't know the phone number and dialing 0 doesn't summon operator assistance. So we'll go to the bus stop and wait for the BTS; we GO BUS when it arrives, YOU TAKE A SHORT RIDE ON THE BUS, and now we're at the other end of the line, with a hairpin lying on the ground. There's a gated area to the north, with what looks like barbed wire above and a guard who demands a password, so we won't be entering just yet.
To the west of the bus stop is a hotel, with a receptionist and an open elevator. She wants to know what name our reservation is under -- JOSE CALDERA is the right answer, and now we can go up to the penthouse suite. Just as we enter, a bellboy arrives and drops off a package... that's ticking... so it seems like a good idea to GO BALCONY and THROW PACKAGE. Fortunately, THE BOMB EXPLODES HARMLESSLY IN MID-AIR and we haven't just used our license to kill to blow up innocent bystanders.
Now the phone rings, and the caller gives us the password CROW. There's also an electric socket visible in the room, and we can PLUG RECORDER, though we have no tape to insert just yet. So we'll PUSH BUTTON and return to the lobby.
Can we give our name at the restaurant to get in? No, we have no opportunity to do so. Back at the gate, CROW lets us access a long pier -- this must be the "BOSS'S BOAT" the unseen thugs at the store were talking about. We can walk east and examine some crates piled up at the end of the pier -- actually, we can OPEN a particular CRATE and then examine it. Oddly, it contains a life-size statue of Mr. Melton -- he's been planning this for a while, apparently. We can LIFT STATUE -- YOU LIFT THE STATUE OUT OF THE CRATE AND DROP IT IN THE OCEAN. Okay, not quite what I meant, but we might as well GO CRATE and CLOSE CRATE to get wherever it's going. After the boat is underway, the crew mentions inspecting the crates but decides to play cards instead, and eventually we dock somewhere.
We're now in a shack of some sort, with a long rope on the wall that we can take. When we OPEN DOOR, unfortunately, we encounter A PACK OF VICIOUS DOGS. Trying to FEED DOGS suggests that YOU'RE NOT CARRYING SOME FOOD, 123, so it seems getting into the restaurant before coming here would have been a very good idea.
Restoring to an earlier save, we try calling the hotline again, but it just tells us again to meet agent 747 at the restaurant. And now we can get in without doing anything about a reservation -- I must have missed making that call after an earlier restore! The special today is DUCK, the waiter mentions, just before agent 747 sits behind us and give us a powerful magnet ring, activated by PUSHing the GEM. Suddenly, two vehicles pull up, and open fire. I should have DUCKed, I guess! No, actually, that doesn't seem to help -- we're still FILLED WITH LITTLE HOLES even if we duck just before the car pulls up? Ah, we have a brief window of opportunity to enter one command as they're pulling up -- and if we don't do it fast enough, they open fire, but if we succeed, we hide under the table and escape damage for now.
What about getting some food? BUY FOOD, GET FOOD, and ORDER FOOD are all unsuccessful, but just as we give up and GO DOOR, THE WAITER HANDS YOU SOME FOOD IN A DOGGY-BAG (this waiter is prone to giving not-so-subtle hints!)
Now we can retrace our steps back to the shack. We don't actually have to stop at the hotel and deal with the bomb -- CROW will get us past the gate if we happen to know it's the password. We FEED DOGS, and now we can exit the shack and continue our mission.
We find ourselves on a beach, north of the shack. Returning to the shack or leaving the door open proves fatal -- the dogs are only distracted for so long, so it's best to trap them in the shack by closing the door after we exit.
North is a forest, where a note reading "WELCOME TO MY ISLAND!" arrives via barely-missing-us arrow, then dissolves after we read it. We can't GET ARROW as it's stuck in the tree, and the tree is unclimbable, but we can travel north to discover a large structure with a sign reading, "***MELTON MANOR*** NO PEDDLERS OR SALESMEN ALLOWED." So going in through the front door is probably not advisable.
There's not much to this island -- there is a field to the west of the manor with a well, however, and we can TIE ROPE and CLIMB ROPE to reach the bottom of the well, with brick walls all around. SOME OF THE BRICKS LOOK LOOSE on closer examination, and while we can't PULL BRICK, the parser helpfully suggests that we MAY BE ABLE TO PUSH ONE THROUGH. PUSH BRICK works, and now we can see a passageway through the hole, though it's too small for us to enter. We can PUSH BRICK four times, though, to open up a hole large enough to crawl through.
A sign in the passageway helpfully suggests that we "*SAVE GAME!*," in case we somehow made it this far without recognizing the value of doing so, and we can GET BRICK in case a blunt object proves useful.
And now... dang it! We're in a maze, and it's the disorienting three-dimensional kind where we can only go forward, go left or right, and turn completely around, using A, the left and right arrow keys, and Z, respectively. There are quite a few dead ends, and the maze is fairly large -- maybe 10 x 10 cells, though I didn't map it out completely. After we successfully find our way through the maze, we end up at a room with a ladder going up.
The ladder leads to a closet; we can hear steps outside, and they stop in front of the door and do not move on. We can safely OPEN DOOR and see A UNIFORMED GUARD WITH HIS BACK TO YOU. We can HIT GUARD with the brick, and HE FALLS INTO THE CLOSET, UNCONCIOUS [sic]. It seems like a good idea to GET UNIFORM, and we find a piece of gum in the pocket, though further examination of the guard only doubles down on the misspelling: HE'S UNCONCIOUS.
The passageway outside the closet leads to a cell, and we can try to UNLOCK CELL, but YOU DON'T HAVE THE NECESSARY OBJECT; we can't BEND HAIRPIN either.
We can go up some stairs near the closet, where a sign reads, "**INSERT CARD**." A guard emerges from the room after we open the door; he SALUTES AND WALKS BY, presumably because we're in the proper uniform. We can now access a room with a corridor, an elevator, and a closed grate on the floor that can't be opened from this side.
We can PUSH BUTTON and GO ELEVATOR, but we get gassed in transit; fortunately, we can CHEW GUM and PLUG the small HOLE from which the gas is issuing, staggering out of the elevator onto another floor. There's a loose plank in the nearby hallway, which we can take, and some stairs we can climb to see a doorway on the other side of a pit. We DROP PLANK, and now we can GO DOOR, though the plank falls into the pit immediately after we cross.
We're now in front of a bank of five switches, which we can manipulate by typing the numbers of the switches. Switch 3 seems to close the pit behind us; an armed guard walks by, and we can dump him into the pit by hitting switch 3 again. Is this puzzle just about dispatching the guard?
Trying to reenter the elevator summons Melton's guards, who escort us blindfolded to a dark cell. EXAMINE WINDOW seems to crash the game, at least with the disk image I am using; the door is locked and we don't have the key we need to open it, and trying to EXAMINE HAIRPIN crashes the game in a different way. But the game isn't officially over, so maybe there's something we can do to escape the cell.
I had to peek at the walkthrough mentioned above at this point, because my inability to EXAMINE WINDOW prevented my seeing a key on the other side, hanging on a wall. Now it makes sense to PUSH GEM on our magnetic ring to pull the key in, so we can UNLOCK DOOR and continue. This brings us to the other side of the cell door we could not unlock earlier, so rescuing any captive colleagues doesn't seem to be on our agenda.
Now Mr. Melton (not Dr. Melton?) orders his guards capture us again and bring us to him. He thanks for joining us on the verge of what he believes to be his imminent crowning as KING OF THE WORLD (wait for it... wait... what, no "MA"?) He unceremoniously dumps us into a pit, where we find ourselves standing on a platform surrounded by water.
We can SWIM down to a grate, and UNLOCK it, but we have to do this in short steps as we can only hold our breath for a very limited time (there's no explicit HOLD BREATH command available, we just get two moves on each trip before drowning.) Fortunately we can OPEN GRATE and GO GRATE on the second dive, arriving back at the elevator area (though the grate slams shut and still can't be opened from this side.)
We've made an escape, but now what? I needed a hint to understand that switches 1 and 2 in the switchboard room enable our card to open the door to a study (near the grate/elevator room.) There's a heating duct here, and a book -- READ BOOK tells us that the bad doctor's automatic detonating system can be shut down for maintenance by "ENTERING THE CLASSIFIED COLOR CODE INTO THE CENTRAL COMPUTER."
We have to GO TABLE and GO DUCT (it's too high otherwise) to reach yet another hallway, with an extinguisher on the wall and a sign warning us of severe skin irritation should we PULL HANDLE. This is an adventure game, so we'll assume we might want to produce embarrassing rashes at some point and GET EXTINGUISHER. (At this stage, I have ten items in inventory and have not hit any enforced limit; there doesn't appear to be any such constraint in this game.)
We can INSERT CARD here, and GO DOOR to access a lab with a microscope and a booth. We have no immediate reason to do anything here, so we can go back out and GO STAIRS. Upstairs, we encounter a guard, who goes for his gun just as we PULL HANDLE, dousing him with the fire extinguisher and forcing him to drop a piece of film as he staggers away. Past the guard, we can reach the library, where an attempt to examine the shelves sends us into a hidden passageway with lasers blocking the stairway ahead. We can GO LIBRARY to return.
And -- oh, no! Just as it seems we are getting close to victory, our watch goes off, informing us that YOUR TIME HAS RUN OUT, and the story ends unhappily, though not fatally for the player:
It's time for a restart from the beginning, to see if we can waste as little of our fifteen-hour window as possible. My replay establishes that the pier gate password is randomized, so I have to visit the hotel, dispose of the bomb, and receive the phone call to learn that this time it's been set to SHARK. We're inside Melton's complex by 8:40, so we should be in better shape now.
As I'm retracing my steps, I discover a gym with a treadmill and a scale, which I had missed earlier. GO SCALE establishes that YOU WEIGH 165 LBS., and our target appears to be 190, so we'll have to carry some more stuff with us and maybe use the treadmill to adjust things.
We're back where we were earlier by 10:32. Can we use the piece of film with the microscope? It's a little more "micro" than traditional microfilm, but when we INSERT FILM and LOOK MICROSCOPE we see some text reading... GVASOL? Entering the adjacent booth, we PULL LEVER, and the room is bathed in orange light, then green, then blue... and we're back on the beach? We can try to TURN DIAL to signal for rescue, but our mission isn't over despite the fancy light show -- THE E.S. IS NOT DEACTIVATED YET, 123. So we don't want to pull the lever just yet, but this may be a handy escape route when the time comes.
What about the doorway blocked by lasers? A closer look notes that the beams are generated on one side and bounced back by small reflectors on the other. Can we make use of that information somehow? We probably could if we had something reflective -- and I had to reference the walkthrough to learn that we can GET MIRROR in the microphone room. Searching for the clue I missed, I discovered that we have to EXAMINE BOOTH to see it attached to the top of the booth; it's not mentioned in the general room description and the illustration doesn't much resemble a mirror to my eyes.
Now we can USE MIRROR (INSERT and DROP don't help) to reach a new corridor, where a metal plate sits in front of a door. Presumably this is the plate we need to avoid, based on the drunken mumblings we picked up in the bar back on Batalinga. Just to test -- yes, if we step on the plate without adjusting our weight, we get fatally zapped.
So we go to the treadmill room, where it seems we weigh 212 pounds now -- presumably because of inventory on hand. Each time we GO TREADMILL seems to take off two pounds, but dropping the extinguisher instantly takes off a good twenty pounds, and we're now weighing at our target of 190 pounds. Now let's see if we can get across the plate... yes!
We find ourselves in a control room, with a computer equipped with one of those ubiquitous card slots. We have LEVEL 2 access, according to the verification system, which is just enough to allow us to use menu option 2: SHUTDOWN FIRING MECHANISM. We're prompted to INPUT AUTHORIZED COLOR CODE:, and typing GVASOL... sets off an alarm! Two guards enter the room and open fire, ending the game.
So let's assume GVASOL is encrypted text, and we need to enter the unencrypted version, not a code at all. Since we have a limited domain of possible values, I'm going to jump to conclusions here instead of trying to do a formal decryption; for all the physical security here, Mr. Melton doesn't seem to have given his electronic systems as much attention. (Actually, the physical security is a bit weak too -- he's paid no attention to our whereabouts after dumping us through the trap door, and we haven't really seen very many guards.) The string has enough letters to represent ORANGE -- I'm assuming it's not YELLOW because the third and fourth letters don't repeat -- and yes, ORANGE is accepted by the system. THE AUTOMATIC DETONATOR IS NOW OFF.
We're advised -- forced actually -- to TURN DIAL before we leave the computer room, and now we officially have thirty minutes to escape, so it's time to use the escape route we stumbled across earlier. Except... it's not working this time? PULL LEVER seems to do nothing at all! Ah... we have to DROP MIRROR, putting it back into place atop the booth before the system will work, and on my first try, we don't quite make it, pulling the lever just as the first bombs hit the island!
Trying once more, we make it in time, and as we GO HELICOPTER, YOU FORGET TO DUCK! THE HELICOPTER BLADES CHOP YOUR HEAD OFF!
Um... hmmmm... if we try to DUCK before we board, we're told DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME...
Ah, the game is JUST KIDDING! We get aboard and fly safely away as A HUGE EXPLOSION destroys the island. Victory is ours, and we can enter our real name as we're entered in the SECRET INTELIGENCE (that's the secret!) AGENCY HALL OF FAME, and promised a sequel that never materialized:
The final credits only mention the cryptic name JOR-AND, not as a company name but as the designer and programmer, and as far as I know Secret Agent: Mission Two was never released. But we've done the needful!
Secret Agent: Mission One was quite a bit more involved than I expected, with a fairly complicated plot and a nice balance of "think fast" events and more deliberative exploration. I liked that some clues were available, but not required -- I never did open the safe or find a tape to play in the recorder -- so that we can figure some things out on our own. And the simple vector illustrations are not bad, with a few nice character drawings. It's not a lost masterpiece, but I think it deserves more attention than it has gotten over the years; I probably wouldn't have run across it had I not tackled Secret Agent: Mission 1 last week, and I'm glad I had a chance to experience it.