Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Search For The Ruby Chalice (1983)

It's summertime, and I've been spending the month of August working my way through several contest-winning amateur adventures for the TRS-80 Color Computer, published in The Rainbow Book of Adventures in early 1983.  This week, we're tackling Search For The Ruby Chalice, submitted to The Rainbow magazine by Justin Paola, and written in BASIC.  I'm playing the version made available on a supplemental disk, avoiding any bugs or typographical corrections introduced by secondhand type-ins, running via the VCC emulator.

As the title quite honestly suggests, Search for the Ruby Chalice is a traditional treasure quest -- we have to find the ruby chalice hidden somewhere underground, after crash-landing with our pilot near PARTIALLY EXPLORED JUNGLE.  We're also warned about A TRIBE OF HEAD HUNTERS IN THE VICINITY!!!   The parser responds quickly -- the CoCo's sprightly 6809E processor benefits the BASIC interpreter -- though it has an unusual and annoying habit of clearing the screen whenever it processes a command, rather than maintaining the room display at the top.  And there's no SAVE GAME available, so we may be restarting from scratch on occasion.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to Search for the Ruby Chalice firsthand before reading further, as my notes are likely to give away all the surprises.  It's not a difficult game, though there is a straightforward cheat that comes in handy if multiple deaths converge on the poor player at the same time.  To protect the game's integrity for those who wish me to do so, I'll wait to reveal that information as part of all of the other...

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

We begin in our pontoon plane, with an exit to the west and our pilot visible.  INV (not I) reveals we are carrying NOT A THINGLOOK PILOT establishes that HE LOOKS HEALTHY AND READY TO FLY YOU AWAY.  We can't TALK PILOT or ASK PILOT anything, but we can try to FLY -- of course, we are told that we need to retrieve the chalice first.  Rules are rules.

Exiting the plane to the west, we discover our base camp already established, so why did we start out inside the plane?  Well, anyway, there are some useful adventuring tools available here -- a gun, some matches, a snake bite kit (o foreshadowing!) and a magnifying glass.  We'll take all of these with us, naturally.

Heading west again brings us to a savanna with a river, VERY HOT AND DRY (the savanna, we presume), where we can acquire a torch and an ancient cloth.  READ seems to be a synonym for LOOK here -- we're not given any text, but the parser suggests we'd better keep the cloth, as it LOOKS VERY INTERESTING.  We can head north or further west from here.

West brings us to more of the savanna, where a *GOLD NUGGET is visible, suggesting that the ruby chalice isn't the only treasure in this game.  But alas, six items is our inventory limit, so we can't carry it along just yet.  We'll go further west to see yet more savanna, with a *TRANSLATION BOOK handy.  And I just now realize that all items are listed with a leading asterisk, so it doesn't necessarily denote something is a treasure, something to keep in mind when we have our own * (thanks, Ogden Nash!)

To the west again we find more savanna, and we're seeing passages north pretty consistently, so the map may be roughly rectangular.  We'll keep mapping it out... at what seems to be the western edge of the map, we find a clearing with a waterfall.  We can't GO WATERFALL -- unusual in these games -- and if we try to SWIM, we are told THERE'S NOTHING TO SWING ON, as the parser recognizes only three characters and in this case they are reserved for a different purpose.  But that does kind of qualify as a hint for future reference.

Let's head back east and start exploring the region north of the territory we've charted so far.  The river must border the map's southern edge, as going north we're no longer in sight of it.  The area immediately north of the torch and cloth location contains a coil of rope, which we're really wishing we could carry right now.  We can travel north again to an area with a jade ceremonial necklace and one exit to the west.

Stepping west leads us immediately into dense jungle, so dark we can't see.  It appears to be a maze, but fortunately we can walk back east the way we came in.  We'll want the torch in here, but let's do some more exploration first.

As I head back south, we receive a WARNING, A WILD CAT JUST LEAPED AT YOU!!!  And when I try to LOOK to see if the cat is still nearby or just attempting a leap-by assassination, THE CAT SERIOUSLY INJURED YOU AND YOU DIED!!! TRY AGAIN!!!  So death comes suddenly here, it seems.

Trying again, we map a little more of the savanna.  There's an EASILY CLIMBEABLE [sic] TREE north of the gold nugget, and heading U lets us observe a cliff to the west, a large rock slab to the north, a lake to the east, and a river to the south.  I run into the wild cat again, but this time an immediate SHOOT GUN scares the animal away.

North of the translation book is a high canopy jungle, where we see a *SPEAR WITH STRANGE LETTERING.  If we have the translation book, we can READ SPEAR to learn that it translates as "XYLO."   Hmmmm.  West is more high canopy jungle, and a kiwi fruit.

Heading north, we wander into a village where a stereotypical *GROUP OF MEAN LOOKING HEAD HUNTERS resides.  The group DAMANDS [sic] THAT YOU GIVE THEM A TREASURE, and as I fail to do so immediately because the wild cat has returned at the same time, my head is forfeit and the game ends.

At least we're getting close to having the map filled in, if we can navigate the jungle at least.  I'll try to solve the head hunter puzzle too -- but they don't seem interested in the gold nugget, no matter whether I try to GIVE or THROW or DROP it, so we'll have to find another treasure to appease them.  Maybe the jade necklace?  We can't GET NECKLACE, we have to GET JADE... but they don't seem to consider that a treasure either.

So let's LIGHT TORCH and map the jungle.  The entrance area west of the jade necklace room contains a jug of water, which we'll leave here as a landmark for now.  South returns to the high canopy area with the spear, north leads to a clearing with the rock slab we saw earlier from the treetops.  Examination suggests that the rock slab opens and closes, but we can't PUSH or PULL or MOVE or OPEN it at the moment.

The jungle isn't actually a maze, as it turns out, just a dark area we can't pass productively through without the torch; we can see the exits, but not the objects present.  We find an inflatable raft in an area along the north side of the map, east of a cliffside clearing containing a compressed air cylinder.

South from the cliffside we encounter the head hunter village again -- and this time I notice I've been responding inappropriately to the changed prompt, WHAT TREASURE DO YOU DROP?  So I've been answering with various commands while the parser just wants a noun, immediately.  I try offering the NECKLACE, even though I don't have it with me, and THEY ACCEPTED IT, a handy bug if we have to pass through here again.  Emerging from the jungle, I see that the jade necklace is no longer in its normal location, but as long as we can produce it out of thin air we should be okay.

So... it seems we've mapped out the game world, but we haven't made any substantial headway toward finding the ruby chalice.  What can we do with the raft?  While juggling inventory, I drop the snake bite kit, and as luck would have it, almost immediately get bitten by a snake.  Before I die two turns later, we also hit the customary YOU ARE THIRSTY warning, but that's the least of my worries as the game is once again over.

The fatalities are getting annoying, so just as an experiment I try to fake the BASIC code out by using the CONTinue command at the operating system prompt to keep going after death ends the game.  And this actually works, in a way -- the parser gives us a new prompt, allowing us to sneak one postmortem move in before we die again, so even as we continue perishing of snake bites and dehydration, we can fight our way gradually to where we can do something about it.  I'll try not to abuse this, but it comes in very handy when we face competing deaths at the same time -- there isn't, for example, time to USE KIT and DRINK WATER before one or the other does us in, so it's handy to be able to reincarnate after fixing one problem.

We can INFLATE RAFT with the air cylinder, but it doesn't seem to be useable by the river -- it must be meant for the lake.  We hear a SCREAM FROM THE EAST when we revisit our base camp while trying to find our way there... and aboard the plane, we find our pilot, decapitated.  Not good.

We can't give up now, though.  Can we tie the rope to something for swinging?  There's nothing to tie it to in the treetop, it seems, nor at the cliffside to lower ourselves down.  We can't USE RAFT, though the parser suggests trying another verb; I try to LAUNCH RAFT and GO RAFT to no avail, but FLOAT RAFT produces a more helpful response: YOU ARE NOT NEXT TO A RIVER YOU FOOL.

This fool accordingly goes to the river, only to learn that YOU SHOULD GET THE CHALICE BEFORE YOU GO DOWN THE RIVER.  So it seems the river will be our escape route, since our pilot clearly isn't going to be flying.  I'll leave the raft by the waterfall for the sake of inventory slots; since we have to keep the gun, the snake bite kit, the torch and the jug of water handy at all times, we really only have two free slots with which to juggle other necessities.

What next?  As I'm experimenting, the wild cat shows up for the... well, apparently the seventh time, as I can't SHOOT GUN because I am out of bullets.  So we're starting over yet again.

I've been thinking that XYLO (from the spear) is meant to suggest we play something like  a xylophone, or find another piece of equipment with more of the clue, but it now occurs to me that maybe it's just a magic word on its own.  SAY XYLO at the rock slab doesn't do anything, but invoking XYLO alone causes the slab to rumble open, revealing a cave below. 

The cave features a viper pit room, with a hook above and vipers below.  This proves to be a suitable place to TIE ROPE, giving us a HOOK ON CIELING [sic] WITH ROPE TIED TO IT.  We can now SWING ROPE to the east side of the pit, swinging precariously over the vipers; perhaps WEEEEE!!! isn't actually a misspelling, under the circumstances.  We pass through a long east-west corridor, to find...

The Chalice Room!  This seems a little anticlimactic, as we can simply TAKE CHALICE and it wasn't particularly hard to get here.  On the way back out, we check the area south of the cave entrance -- there are some indecipherable hieroglyphics here.  Curious, I fetch the translation book, dropping the ancient cloth in the process, and return -- the translation says, "DO NOT GO FURTHER THAN THE EAST VIPER ROOM WITHOUT THE ANCIENT CLOTH OR YOU WILL BE PIERCED BY ARROWS."  I had good, if dumb, luck on that count, then!

It seems we're close to the end of the story now, at any rate.  I inflate the raft, FLOAT RAFT by the waterfall, and we emerge from the jungle victorious!

I was a bit surprised that we weren't admonished for failing to bring the gold nugget or jade necklace along as bonus treasure, since it's possible to avoid the headhunters completely and avoid giving either of them up, but there's nothing wrong with focusing on a single objective.  I also took a post-game look at the source code -- the pilot doesn't necessarily have to die, as it turns out; if we find the chalice and return to the plane within 100 moves, we can fly away to what seems to me a slightly happier ending.

Search For The Ruby Chalice isn't a bad game, in its brief, old-school way -- the puzzles are logical or at least guessable, and I didn't have to consult the source code to solve anything, though I did take advantage of the unintended continue feature.  Like many magazine type-in adventures of the early 1980s, Justin Paola's effort provides a few hours of decent, straightforward text adventuring.  There's nothing at all wrong with that.

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