Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Escape From Sparta (1983)

I'm returning once again to the 1983 Rainbow Book of Adventures this week, to tackle Escape From Sparta, written by Rick Townsend and Rick Hollerback in BASIC for the TRS-80 Color Computer.  It took me a little doing to get this one running, only because the first disk image I found in the online archives contained only the instructions and loader program, and I finally figured out I needed to insert a second disk to load the game proper (ESSPARTA/BAS).  I'm playing using the VCC 1.42 CoCo emulator.

Escape From Sparta is a science-fiction tale, casting the player as a robot on a mission to rescue its Creator from an evil alien warlord bent on destroying all robots so he can take over the galaxy/universe/neighborhood/school board/whatever.  The peculiarly short-sighted Creator has imbued his robots with a novel approach to planned obsolescence -- he is the only person who can control or modify them, and they will self-destruct if anyone else tries to, say, repair them.  So we have to rescue him from Space Station Sparta, where he is being held captive.

Interested readers are encouraged to Escape From Sparta independently before proceeding with my playthrough notes below -- it's not a difficult game at all, and it does a few interesting things with the format.  Beyond this point, I'll be documenting my experience for history's sake, and there are guaranteed...


After the optional instructions are displayed, we find ourselves in the Security Room, with broken monitors strewn about and an enemy robot immediately attacking.  The parser requires us to hit a key to interrupt the constant attacks and enter a command; a few KILL ROBOT commands are sufficient to cause it to explode into rubble (apparently these robots are made of concrete.)  LOOK RUBBLE (EXAMINE doesn't work) discovers something called a redchip, and we now have 1 REDCHIPS and ENERGY LEFT = 750 in inventory.  So we can guess that we need to collect some number of these, without running out of energy ourselves as we take hits from enemy robots.

We can only travel up or down from our starting point, so we'll venture into the bowels of the ship first.  We find ourselves in the -- ahem -- BOTTOM ACCESS CHAMBER, with a computer console in the center of the room and exits in multiple directions.  The first door I try, the one to the west, is locked; we can INSERT REDCHIP and confirm security clearance, but the door remains locked; the card apparently only goes into the console.  But we might as well check that out while we're here -- LOOK CONSOLE establishes that the console is off, and while we can't TURN ON CONSOLE or SWITCH CONSOLE or ACTIVATE CONSOLE, we can ON CONSOLE and then type $ as prompted to use it.

This is a neat design concept -- we actually get to interact with the computer console, though it's really just the parser in disguise, as we answer the INPUT REQUEST? prompt with OPEN DOOR -- and DOORS ARE UNLOCKED.  We type X to return to the main game.

Let's head west, since the door is now open, into Tunnel #4 where we can see a brilliant star cluster out the window.  Continuing west through the tunnel, we reach the Robot Repair Room where another enemy robot is attacking and can be dispatched.  I also discover that if we hit the [ENTER] key without typing a command, we waste 10 energy units doing nothing -- and normal moves don't cost us energy at all, so I'll try to keep my keyboard fingers under control.

North of the Robot Repair Room is a lab, with lab animals and ELECTRONIC EQUIPTMENT [sic -- and a persistent typo in this game].  There's nothing we can apparently do here, so I suspect this is going to be a hunt-down-the-robots game at heart; this is odd, as the mad alien overlord we're trying to defeat is supposedly trying to destroy all the robots, and it seems like we're actually helping him by doing so.  But while I personally believe that everybody must get stunned, we don't have that option here.

East of the access chamber is Tunnel #6, with more broken EQUIPTMENT, leading to the Engineers' Quarters, where we are attacked by a human for a change.  We can easily KILL HUMAN -- there are no Asimovian restrictions in this world -- and LOOK HUMAN to discover a greenchip.  Hmmm. 

There's also a console here, but we'll go north first into the nuclear reactor room and kill another robot, collecting another redchip.  There are some levers here for controlling the nuclear reactor, but I'm not going to mess with them just yet.  South of the Engineers' Quarters is the MAINTANCE ROOM, apparently with signage provided by the same people who maintan the equiptment.  There are tools and parts here, none of which seem interesting if we LOOK at them; other than enemies and colored chips, there's not much we can interact with on this space station.

Back in the EQ, I try to ON CONSOLE but don't have security clearance until I INSERT GREENCHIP.  This console presents the same INPUT REQUEST? prompt, and I don't have anything specific to do with it just yet, though I do attempt to ask it to KILL ROBOTS for me, with no success.

Returning to the bottom access chamber, I head south through Tunnel #5 to the Computer Room, killing another human when we get here to collect another greenchip.  We can use the console here, the same way as the others, by inserting a chip and turning it on.  East of the computer room is the Sick Bay, where the beds and medical equiptment reveal nothing interesting.  The Doctor's Quarters contains yet another console, on the doc's desk, though we can't interact with this one for some reason.

Trying to head west from the Computer Room, I encounter a locked door, so we need to use the console here to open it.  This leads to a Control Room with another easy-to-murder human, and from here we can go north to the Captain Quarters, where we find THE CREATOR, the human we are here to rescue!  We have to kill a human guard, of course, and can GET SILVERCHIP after doing so.

I'm down to 290 in energy at this point, so this first run will probably be a learning experience.  But we'll try to GET CREATOR -- and this seems like a milestone, as the parser tells us O.K. YOU RESCUED THE CREATOR NOW LETS GET OUT OF HERE.   He's in no position to repair us, nor can we take a moment to berate him over his bizarre need for job security.

North of this room is the Weapon Room, but everything is smashed so we'll have to continue working with our built-in weapon.  We've explored this floor completely now, so we'll head D from the access chamber to find ourselves in the promising-sounding DOCKING BAY #2.  There's another, somewhat tougher robot to kill here, before we travel downward again to find ourselves in the even more promising ESCAPE POD #2 with a computer console handy.

This may not be a moment too soon, as we're getting ENERGY LOW! warnings now because I'm down to 100 units of energy after that last battle.  I opt to try the obvious -- we INSERT SILVERCHIP into the console and turn it on... then we access the console, and finally attempt to LAUNCH POD... to unexpected victory!

This seemed a little too straightforward -- I never even explored the upper part of the ship -- but I guess I was just lucky that my initial explorations led me straight to victory without so much as a restart.  I tried again, and confirmed that the locations of The Creator and the necessary chips are not randomized, so it's possible to finish the game in just a few minutes if you know where to go.  We do need the silverchip to use the escape pod, but since the human guarding The Creator has one, it's not like we have to go hunting for it.  On a second try, with less exploration and therefore fewer extraneous battles, I finished the game with 496 energy units to spare.

Escape from Sparta is closer in spirit to a dungeon crawl than a standard adventure -- while there's a plot of sorts, it plays more like an RPG; we spend most of our time engaging in semi-random combat, and there are no significant puzzles beyond working out how to use the computer consoles.  But I enjoyed it, simple as it is, and this brings me one game closer to exhausting The Rainbow Book of Adventures.

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