Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Robin of Sherwood (1985)

This week, we're tackling Brian Howarth's Robin of Sherwood, one of his later games, released in 1985 after his popular Mysterious Adventures series had run its course.  It uses the Scott Adams engine, as usual for Mr. Howarth, and was published by Adventure Soft UK under license based on the BBC TV series of the same name airing at the time.  (It also aired in the US as Robin Hood.)  The show had a strong cast and high production values, though what I find most notable about it as I write this in 2014 is that Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O' Brien appeared as the wizard Gulnar in several episodes, and Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch also showed up on occasion. 

I'm playing using Hein Pragt's modern Scott Adams adventure interpreter, though it presumes to start every location with "I'm in a" and the game seems to be coded for a variation where "I'm" is the only standard text, so the screenshots are slightly glitchy.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to become Robin of Sherwood for a few hours before reading my detailed playthrough notes below, but I will suggest keeping Solution Archive founder J. Gunness' own walkthrough handy, as there are a couple of puzzles whose solutions are very well hidden indeed.  Beyond this point, dear adventurer, beware -- in the interest of documenting history, there are certain to be...

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

The story begins as we find ourselves (as Robin, naturally) locked in a dark Dungeon, with Much, Will Scarlet, and some other undistinguished Prisoners nearby.  We have nothing in inventory, but that Locked grating looks promising... though a closer look reveals that it's twelve feet off the floor.  We can't CLIMB MUCH or GET WILL to help, and we can't JUMP to reach it on our own, or STACK WILL or LIFT WILL or TALK MUCH.  (Well, obviously, I can, but not in the game.)

Hmmmm.  We're off to an unusually slow start here!  SHOUTing and SAYing things doesn't seem to get us anywhere.  But we're Robin Hood -- shouldn't we be able to do something athletic?  CLIMB GRATING, maybe?  No.  But we can CLIMB PRISONERS to end up standing on somebody's shoulders, where we can EXAMINE the GRATING more closely, to observe a guard standing on top of the grating.  He moves periodically between a stool about ten feet away and the grating.  We can try to GRAB GUARD, but the prisoners have gotten tired and we all collapse into a heap.

Trying again, we can't TICKLE GUARD or PUSH GUARD or POKE GUARD.  I'm guessing we want to get him to drop a key, or something; we can't KILL GUARD or GET GUARD through the grating, obviously.  But we can GET FOOT -- The guard falls over and is winded.  But if we can't figure out what to do next quickly enough, he recovers, raises the alarm, fetches Sir Guy, and ends our adventure.

We can't readily KILL GUARD or GET THROAT or GET LEG, and we only have a little bit of time.  I was on the right track, actually, but just didn't trust the limited parser enough -- it turns out that we can in fact STRANGLE GUARD, and The guard chokes to death.  We couldn't see the guard's sword while he was alive, for some reason, but now we can GET SWORD, PULL BOLT to unlock the grating (the bolt also becoming visible now that we have a tool to assist), and GO GRATING to escape the dungeon.

Now we're in the Guardroom -- and we can hear running soldiers, just as we accidentally lose our sword into the bowels of the Dungeon.  There's a Door here, though, so we might as well just GO DOOR into the castle courtyard.

Here we find two more Doors, some Battlements, and Main Gates with Portcullis up.  The doors aren't visibly distinguished -- we have to try to GO DOOR to learn that we can GO LEFT or GO RIGHT.  Heading left takes us through the door we haven't yet been through, to the Great Hall, but the Sheriff of Nottingham is here, and we're overpowered by the guards.  Game over!

Restoring, we try to GO GATES -- the portcullis is lowered now, but our flight is blocked by soldiers, though Much and Will manage to escape.  We can GO BATTLEMENTS, about the only available option, and GO DOOR to reach a stone staircase heading up and down, with two more doors available.

The left door takes us into a bedroom, with a Locked Treasure Chest, a Window and a Bed.  The chest is too heavy to carry, and it's locked, of course.  Through the window we can see the soldier-infested guardroom below, so we won't be going back that way any time soon.

The right door takes us to another bedroom, where The Lady Marion waits for us to TALK to her -- she informs us that her father is Sir Richard at the Lea, and she lives at Leaford Grange, so perhaps we are not yet acquainted.  This bedroom's window overlooks a fifteen-foot drop, but we can successfully GO WINDOW to escape the palace.  (We also note that when we try to GO BED in other bedrooms, we're told it's no time for sleeping, but if we try to GO BED in Marion's room, it's Not allowed!)

Before continuing, it seems a good idea to backtrack a little bit and check the rest of the staircase out -- above Marion's level is a single, empty bedroom, and below is the Great Hall where the Sheriff is stationed, so the window does seem to be our best option.

Now Herne the Hunter appears, to tell us: "find six Touchstones of Rhiannon and return them to their rightful home."  I knew we'd get around to some more traditional adventuring eventually!  We find ourselves in Sherwood Forest now, where most of the game will take place, with travel possible in the four cardinal directions.

It's hard to map the forest out, as we have nothing in inventory, but we can wander around a bit and eventually run into John Little, bewitched slave of Belleme, who threatens us with his quarterstaff, though we can pick up a spare one nearby.

North of Little John's location is a waterfall, and as is almost always the case in adventure games, we can GO WATERFALL, in this case to discover Herne the Hunter's cave.  Herne just repeats his earlier message, but we can pick up our long bow and a quiver with arrows here, as well as Albion, one of the seven swords of Wayland.

North of the waterfall is the outlaws camp, where Much and Will have arrived after escaping the castle in Nottingham.  The forest is large, but not hard to map -- there are some boundary loops where we hit the end of its range, but standard N/S/E/W navigation works as expected.  Most of the significant areas lie around the edges of the forest, so we just have to spend some time mapping it out.

In the northwest corner of the forest, we find the Templars Camp -- they have a touchstone, but will only exchange it for their stolen Holy Crest.  The northeastern area leads us to Kirklee Abbey and Leaford Grange.

On the east, we find a sand flat leading to the Castle de Belleme.  We can enter the courtyard, where a Statue of Azeal stands in front of the door.  Trying to GO DOOR is a bad idea, as A mighty wind blows you back.  You are in the grip of the forces of Azael the Evil One.  There is no escape!  Darn that Little Mermaid!

Elsewhere in the forest we meet Gregory the tax collector -- though he wanders off on his own before we can really interact with him, so we'll have to track him down again later.  On the western edge of the forest we can find a stone circle, and a couple of areas near a stream.

It feels like we've explored the area pretty well, so let's check out the puzzle possibilities.  Trying to GO GRANGE at Leaford is fatal, as there are numerous soldiers around, but we can KNOCK DOOR at Kirklees Abbey to meet a Nun, who says she will exchange the Abbey's Touchstone for four hundred gold pieces.

Okay, so we have a lead on a couple of Touchstones, but we gotta pay the Nun.  Can we ROB GREGORY?  Not directly.  (What if his name was Rich?)  We can't TAKE TAXES either.

I had to resort to the classic J. Gunness walkthrough to learn that we can SAY FOLLOW to get our Merry Men to tag along, and that if we ATTACK JOHN with the quarterstaff we can break the spell.  With our gang of four, we are able to intercept Gregory and... no, no, we're not.  Hmmm... okay, what else am I missing?  Apparently (thanks, J!) if we hang around the outlaw camp for a while, a messenger will arrive.... and yes, A messenger enters and tells of an archery contest at Nottingham with a silver arrow as first prize.

Off to Nottingham we go (we can GO NOTTINGHAM from the spot in the forest where we can see it in the distance).  The contest is already in progress, and all we have to do is SHOOT ARROW, easily winning the contest, but falling into the Sheriff's trap!  Trying to escape again via the Battlements isn't successful.  We can't SHOOT SHERIFF, or SHOOT DEPUTY for that matter, because we can only SHOOT ARROW as far as the parser is concerned, but we can GRAB SHERIFF and use him as a hostage while we GO GATES, then DROP SHERIFF after we're safely back in the forest.  Fortunately, he runs off and the guards break off their pursuit.

The silver arrow is valuable, presumably, but what do we do with it?  Trying to find my way back to the outlaw camp, we run into Friar Tuck and SAY FOLLOW to get our band up to five -- except he won't follow, it seems.  TALK FRIAR does reveal that Marion is now a captive of Simon de Belleme -- so we'll have to go deal with that evil castle now.

We can enter the Castle de Belleme, but when we try to SHOOT ARROW, its master uses magic to burn up Robin's bow.  Ah, but we can just KILL BELLEME and stab him with the Silver Arrow!  We have to reclaim the silver arrow from his body after he dies, but we also find our first of the six Touchstones!  We should also UNTIE MARION, and she tags along.

We can CLIMB the STATUE in the courtyard safely now, and EXAMINE its hollow EYES to find One hundred Gold Coins!  And what function does Marion serve?  Well, without the walkthrough, I don't think I would have ever found out that we need to EXAMINE BUSHES in the spot just south of Leaford Grange to let her show us a hidden cave, as the bushes aren't specifically mentioned as an available object!

Marion leads us into a passage underneath the Grange, avoiding the heavily armed surface patrols, to a cellar, where Siward the Thief resides.  Siward is nervous and shy, apparently, as he cowers from conversation, and he won't respond to SAY FOLLOW, but we can GET SIWARD and carry him around like luggage.

In the forest, we encounter a serf driving a horse and cart -- we can STOP CART and the serf runs away, making this a clear predecessor to the current Grand Theft Auto series.  We can't DRIVE CART, but we can GO CART -- the horse runs out of control but still leaves us neatly parked inside Nottingham Castle.  It's not a good idea to LEAVE CART, as we will be overpowered by guards, but if we WAIT until nightfall, then we can DROP SIWARD to get the thief to unlock that treasure chest across from Marion's room.  We can liberate the Templars' Holy Crest, another Touchstone, and another hundred gold coins this way... but we have to work fast, as the guards will arrive as soon as dawn breaks.  We have to get all three items and escape through Marion's bedroom window again -- she's been along for the ride this whole time.

We can GIVE CREST to the Templars -- we now have three of the touchstones.  But we only have one hundred gold coins to give to the nun at Kirklees Abbey.  Hey, shouldn't we have two hundred now?  It seems we have to KILL SIWARD as soon as he opens the chest, or he manages to ill-get some of our own ill-gotten gains.  Having restored to an earlier save and done that, it's time to take on the tax collector -- with some walkthrough help to know that we have to EXAMINE SACKS to find the coins he's carrying (again, the sacks aren't directly visible, and Gregory and his cart move on before we can examine anything else in detail, so this is hard to figure out!)  Now we have two hundred additional coins, and can GIVE COINS to the Nun, yielding a fourth touchstone.

Okay, we have four of the six touchstones, but not a lot of obvious puzzles remaining.  Any place we've missed on the map?  Well, I learn that we need to avoid returning to the Templars -- they surround and overpower us if we wander into their enclosure a second time.  But I do find the village of Wickham, to the west of the north side of the stream -- I hadn't quite realized there were two sides to the stream on the map.  There's a notably Large Tree off to the west; EXAMINE TREE suggests that The tree is Holy to Herne the Hunter, though only if we examine it from the village; standing at its foot, this is not discernible.  We can CLIMB TREE and EXAMINE it from a closer perspective to find one more Touchstone.

Okay -- what about that stone circle?  It seems like a safe place to drop the Touchstones; at least we can get rid of them for now in case we need the inventory space.  There's no SCORE command, so I can't tell if this is the right thing to do, and nothing else suggests that this is something we ought to do here.  Maybe I should be dropping the mystical sword Albion here instead?  Or the silver arrow as well?

Um... okay, I guess now that we've dropped the arrow, the game is over!  After we drop it, see, Herne magically appears and magically turns it into the sixth Touchstone -- why didn't he just say we needed to find five Touchstones of Rhianna and a silver arrow?   Or even four, since the fifth one was in his own holy tree?  Anyway, that's it -- chances are Mr. Howarth was running short on memory, so this will suffice.  The game is over, and victory is ours!

I enjoy these early adventure games in large part because they leave so much to the player's imagination -- there's quite a lot that happens in this game, communicated by the briefest of text.  But Robin of Sherwood also exemplifies the limitations of these early games -- several of its puzzles are extremely well-hidden, and with a more sophisticated parser and more room for descriptive text, the designer's intent might have been much more clearly hinted at.  As it stands, there's a little more game here than the technical constraints can support, and without a walkthrough I imagine many adventurers got hopelessly stuck deep i' th' Hood.

1 comment:

  1. It wasn't a BBC series. It was made by ITV's HTV franchise.