Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Aardvark (known under various similar names during the 1970s and 80s) produced a number of text adventure games for early microcomputers, most of which are a little bit buggy and obtuse. The company also released two graphic adventures for the TRS-80 Color Computer, which as a "CoCo" owner in my youth I remember seeing listed in Aardvark's catalogs. I never came up with the financial means to play them at the time -- college was coming up in a few years -- so I've been on the lookout for these titles for quite a while. I managed to play Graphic Mars, like this one an illustrated version of an earlier text-only title by Aardvark founder Rodger Olsen, back in 2011, and I have been trying to track down a copy of Graphic Pyramid without much success. So now that it's finally turned up in the online archives, thanks to a recent reader tip, I'm looking forward to playing it, even though I expect to run into some issues in the mighty Aardvark manner.
The illustrated version was reprogrammed by Roderick Smith, and it was published in 1984, when the company was calling itself Aardvark Action Software. I'm playing using the VCC Color Computer emulator; reds and blues are probably reversed in these screenshots, as the CoCo was notoriously inconsistent in its hi-res artifact color mode and VCC doesn't provide any way to randomize or switch the palette interpretation.
As always, interested readers are encouraged to visit the Graphic Pyramid (or its text-based predecessor, Pyramid) before reading through my comments below, although based on my experience it may be a much more pleasant experience just reading about my travails, especially near the game's conclusion. (You can discount the old Aardvark marketing claim that this "tough" game takes 50 to 70 hours to complete -- it took me about five hours in the Internet era, with help on a couple of sticking points in one section.) Whatever you decide, be forewarned that beyond this point, there are certain to be...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
We'll also take a moment to confirm that there's no SAVE capability here (and VCC does not have a save state capability), so we'll have to be careful as we progress. We can't OPEN the DOOR visible in the illustration here -- it's LOCKED, apparently -- but we can go N to exit the hut. This brings us to a path with exits in the cardinal directions; walking further north takes us to the steps of the pyramid, festooned with vines and featuring a heavy door, also LOCKED. (Actually, we can try to OPEN DOOR in any location at all, and if there's not even a door there we'll be told it's LOCKED.) We can't CLIMB VINES here, either.
Can we TAKE BANANAS and then TAKE MONKEY? Nope, MONKEY WONT LET ME (old BASIC issues with single quotes persist in this machine-language update), though the aardvark is more compliant. And there's nowhere else really to go here, either, as the desert wraps back onto itself to the north and south. Can we FEED MONKEY or GIVE BANANAS? Nope. But we can PUT BANANAS -- WHERE? -- ON VINES to attract the monkey to the pyramid steps. (Actually, it seems the monkey is just following us around now, as the parser did not actually recognize ON VINES and just dumped the bananas on the ground where we stand.)
Now what? We can TAKE VINES -- and now trying to TAKE anything else yields HANDS FULL, so we've hit the inventory limit. Fortunately, we can PUT VINES - WHERE? - KNAPSACK to tuck them away, at least, not a bad implementation there (or so it seems for the moment...)
What else? Well, we can DIG with our shovel on the path, to fall through to a cavern with steep walls and a boat parked in the sand. A stream flows into a hole in the wall. We can TAKE ROCKS from the cavern floor, and GO BOAT, then go D to return to the cavern. We can't LAUNCH BOAT or PUSH or PULL or TAKE it. I seem to be stuck here without a way to SET SAIL or otherwise escape, so we'll start over... QUIT... I DONT KNOW HOW. Uh-oh -- your persistence is admirable, but I really want to... let's see... DIE? TOO HARD. Well, yippie-ki-yay... I guess we have to hit the reset button.
What can we try? Well, we can TIE VINES -- TO WHAT? -- TO DOOR at the pyramid. But that doesn't seem to really do what we think it might; in fact, it does nothing at all, though the parser doesn't respond with anything one way or another. After we dig and fall down into the cavern again, we can try to PULL VINES -- WHERE? -- but I can't come up with a useful response. Aha! This parser only uses two significant characters. So PULL = PUT. And DIE = DIG. There's a reason most of these early games recognized at least three characters...
It seems if we put the vines anywhere at all, the monkey arrives, though I would have put my money on the bananas under other circumstances. If we OPEN the TINCAN from our knapsack, it produces some matches. We can try to LIGHT VINES, which produces no response at all, or BURN VINES, which indicates only that, oddly enough, they WILL NOT BURN. Neither will anything else around here, it seems -- the monkey, the aardvark, the boat, the SCORE sign and even the matches are similarly fireproof.
So we have some vines and a monkey who clearly likes them, but no clear way to use this information. The tree visible near the pyramid is not recognized by the parser. SHOOT MONKEY with our trusty pistol yields NO EFFECT! Hmmmm. Ah, we can PUT ROCKS -- WHERE? -- STREAM and now the water is rising. Fine time for the game to tell us we can't swim! We'll get back on the boat and see what happens.
Ahhh -- now the boat has floated to a new location. Somehow, immediately after we step off the well-lit boat, it's TOO DARK and I CANT [sic] SEE. We can GET FLASHLIGHT from our knapsack, though, and LIGHT FLASHLIGHT to see that we're in an ANCIENT CAVE. Heading up from here takes us to an empty treasure room, with a sword and an altar.
The sword confuses the traditional Egyptian mythology a bit here, as it's apparently PROPERTY OF ALI BABBA, the off-brand Arabian hero. I can't figure out whether I'm trying to PRAY or PRY, as it responds, WITH WHAT?, but I can't find a way to MOVE ALTAR or otherwise do anything new here. But it feels like this is a one-way trip so far, so there must be some way to make progress.
Starting over, I figure out that PR stands for PRY, as if we try to PRY the heavy DOOR of the pyramid, we're prompted WITH WHAT? and SHOVEL returns, THAT IS A SOLID DOOR. NOTHING HAPPENED. Back at the altar, I try to SACRIFICE AARDVARK to no avail. Aha! We can GO ALTAR for a different perspective.
Once on the altar, we can try to JUMP ALTAR... NO??? Ahhh... SA is not SACRIFICE, and if we SAY SESAME here, presumably with Ali Babba's sword in our possession, we end up in a twisting corridor with exits south and east. To the south is another twisty passage, leading south and east again; we can READ INSCRIPTION here to see:
XBMMT IBWF TFDSFUT
If Aardvark's other adventures are anything to go on, this will prove to be not ancient Egyptian but modern English encoded with a letter substitution cipher. And yes, if we just shift all the letters one place to the left, we get:
WALLS HAVE SECRETS
South of this point we encounter a skeleton -- we can't do much with him, but if we GET SKELETON we hear (I hope) a TINKLE. Yes, a KEY has been revealed! We can't learn much about it, though, so we'll just keep it in the knapsack in case we find a lock, a reasonable likelihood by adventure game conventions.
Heading E of the skeleton takes us back to the corridor with the inscription. To the west is another section of corridor with exits south, east and west. Mapping is going to be important here -- while trying to get my bearings, I encounter a MUMMY who WILL NOT LET ME PASS and later run into a floorless room that leads to my first design-based demise. The game doesn't allow us to try again or even exit back to the operating system after we die -- we have to do a full system reset, and load the game all over again.
Trying again, I am more careful to map the twisty corridors. Most of them follow standard geography but there are a few tricky loops and nonsensical connections. The section where I fell through the floor earlier was in fact preceded by a north-south corridor where the FLOOR FEELS FUNNY, so I'll take that as a hint not to proceed in those areas, at least for now.
There's another section east of where we enter the corridors that has a funny-feeling floor, and some GRAFITTI [sic] that translates the same way as the other to:
THREE TREASURES HERE
That seems like useful information, at least. I also find a DEAD END in the passages that displays an illustration instead of a black screen, and confirm that ignoring the FLOOR FEELS FUNNY messages tends to kill us with a fatal fall if we proceed in either such area.
Starting over again -- with no SAVE support this will be a frequent necessity -- I try to BURN MUMMY with the matches. This produces no response. SHOOT MUMMY has NO EFFECT! While going through my belongings, I notice that the knapsack has a limit -- once it's full, PUT [object] -- WHERE? -- KNAPSACK just drops it on the ground, without mentioning that to the player, so I've misplaced some items along the way. I try to LIGHT MUMMY and LIGHT MATCH and THROW MATCH... and I'm not quite sure what I did, but now the mummy is reduced to ashes and we can travel south. First, though, we'll LOOK ASHES and see that SOMETHING GLEAMS -- if we GET ASHES, we don't actually pick them up, but an amulet is revealed on the ground.
South of the mummy, we find a crypt with a sarcophagus that gives us the key to the inscriptions with "CAT=DBU" if we read it, but we've already cracked the code. We can OPEN SARCOPHAGUS here to obtain a DEATHMASK OF GOLD. Cool! One treasure down, it seems, assuming we can find a way back to the hut to SCORE our haul.
Can we do something at the dead end? We can't seem to CLIMB WALL or WAVE AMULET or SHOOT WALL. We can't seem to JUMP in the areas with the shaky floors to reach a new area. But we can GO SARCOPHAGUS in the crypt to find ourselves in a dusty cellar that looks just like the dead end in the other part of the maze. Examining the floor and walls doesn't seem to yield any new information, however.
Can we do anything here? I've been doing pretty well up to this point, but I think I'm going to have to do a little cheating. I wasn't having any luck finding a walkthrough for the Aardvark version of either Graphic Pyramid or the original Pyramid, but the CASA Solution Archive comes through again with Dorothy Millard's walkthrough for an alternate version of Pyramid distributed by Mogul Communications, here.
Now I can learn that... Ack! The game actually recognizes two variations of the verb PU -- while I have been assuming it always means PUT up to this point, and I tried without success to MOVE WALL earlier, the parser will accept PUSH WALL in the dead end room. IT SWINGS!, and this opens up an exit to the south.
This takes us into an empty room, with a very small hole in the floor. LOOK HOLE reveals a lock mechanism, and we can use that key to open it... well, at least we ought to be able to. I couldn't UNLOCK LOCK or OPEN LOCK or OPEN MECHANISM or USE KEY, or... INSERT... KEY... or... INSERT... MONKEY?
Ah, thanks again, Dorothy! It seems this isn't the kind of lock that works with a key, but the kind that has to be blown open. We can OPEN PISTOL to find some BULLETS, and then OPEN BULLETS to get some... GUNPOWER? We'll assume it's supposed to be GUNPOWDER, and PUT GUNPOWDER -- WHERE? -- HOLE. Retrieving the matches from the crypt, where I left them earlier, we LIGHT GUNPOWDER and an EXPLOSION results -- fortunately, being at extremely close range does us no damage.
Now this is strange indeed, as the image displayed post-explosion appears to be a corrupted version of the Martian character from Graphic Mars! There's now a BIG HOLE in the floor, and we can go D to a narrow ledge near a chasm. LOOK CHASM reveals a dagger with a jeweled handle lying at its bottom. Can we use the vine to retrieve it? TIE VINE -- TO WHAT? -- DAGGER yields DONT SEE IT HERE, which is fair enough as it's at the bottom of the deep chasm. Maybe this is why the monkey has been following us around, though. TIE VINE to MONKEY doesn't work either, though.
We can, however, TIE VINE to BANANAS and then PUT BANANAS into the CHASM -- the monkey climbs down and brings back the dagger! Have we found the three treasures, then? SCORE yields only, NOT HERE. Hmmmm.
Well, we've been refused our attempts to JUMP quite a bit along the way, and if we JUMP CHASM here... I WAS YOU HEAVY AND DIED. What the... Hey!!!
Ahem... since it feels like we've been getting plenty of exercise in this maze, I'm going to assume this text was supposed to be I WAS TOO HEAVY AND DIED, and that it means we're carrying too much when we try the jump.
Restarting and finding our way back here again, we try jumping across with nothing but the flashlight in hand, and we land in the Throne Room -- where we see some killer ants! Can we make it across with the aardvark and the flashlight both in hand? Well, we might be able to, were it not for a bug here that seems to think our hands are full when we have nothing at all in them, making it impossible to pick up the things we want after dropping too many items, apparently. Aarrrrgh!
Trying again, I learn we have to LIGHT MATCH before we can LIGHT GUNPOWDER -- apparently the match burns indefinitely once it's been lit, but with a fresh game I have to light it first. This time, we successfully JUMP CHASM with the aardvark and the flashlight in hand, as well as the key that we haven't used yet, so we can apparently take three objects with us. We DROP AARDVARK -- with a quick GOBBLE, the killer ants are gone, opening an exit to the south. If only the aardvark could gobble up the game's other bugs, but we'll soldier through.
Going south leads to the Hall of Columns. There's a door here, visible in the illustration though it isn't mentioned in the description -- I'm not sure how this worked at all for the original text version. We can OPEN DOOR with the key, and find ourselves on the steps of the pyramid again, back near the start of the game. And fortunately, with the heavy door unlocked, we can now reenter the pyramid to the north, so we should be able to start putting our treasures away with a nice straightforward path from the map's beginning to its end.
Of course, I have none of the treasures yet, but I do learn that YOU HAVE 0 OUT OF 4 TREASURE-SCORE 0. Wait, *four* treasure... treasures, I mean? Hmmmm.
Well, nothing for it but to round up whatever treasures we can now. And it seems the Dagger counts for two -- after I drop it, we have 2 out of 4 treasures, for a score of 50. The jeweled handle must count separately? Odd.
Okay, let's grab the amulet and the golden deathmask again... except I am once again running into the nasty item carrying bug. And the game thinks I am too heavy to jump the chasm even though I am empty handed! This is getting ridiculous. It seems we have to keep at least three things in hand to avoid this issue, more inventory juggling than we bargained for. Something is getting set to -1 somewhere, methinks, and breaking all of the inventory count logic.
One more go... we have to LIGHT MATCH and then BURN MUMMY to get the amulet. And I think I see a cause of the item carrying bug -- after we use the vines and the bananas to retrieve the dagger, we temporarily have five objects in inventory, when we're normally only allowed four. I'm going to be careful here and try to bring all the treasures across the chasm, one at a time, so I don't have to jump it again later. And now the bug works to my advantage, as after I deliver them to the throne room side, I can now carry all of the treasures at once, without running into the four-item limit. At least, I think I have all of them... And yes! We don't actually have to DROP them at the hut, just have them in our possession -- the instant I check my score, with all four of the treasures in hand (the sword does count as one, which is why I was getting credit for two earlier), we have achieved victory!
After several decades of anticipation (if low expectations) for Graphic Pyramid, I'm glad I finally had the chance to play it. Despite the bugs, spelling errors and a few strange puzzles, I had fun working my way through what is in the end a fairly straightforward little treasure hunt adventure, once some of the technical issues are worked around. Pyramid and Mars must have been Aardvark's best-selling titles, as it seems they're the only ones given an illustrated upgrade. And now it seems I have some other CoCo adventures to follow up on...