Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Great Scott Project - Adventure #1

My playthrough series continues with the premier title in Scott Adams' seminal adventure game series, Adventureland, circa 1978. It was the first text adventure commercially available for home computers, and its success helped to establish Adventure International as a major software publisher in the early 1980's.

Wikipedia and some other sources appear to think that Adventureland was adapted from the Crowther/Woods Adventure (a.k.a. Colossal Cave Adventure), but while AI did later publish a disk-based conversion of that classic design for the Apple II computer, Adventureland was an original effort. The inspiration is apparent -- the game contains a maze of twisty passages, a lamp with limited fuel, and an assortment of treasures to collect -- but it's not a direct adaptation by any means.

The catalog copy was suitably enticing:

You wander through an enchanted world trying to recover the 13 lost treasures. You’ll encounter wild animals, magical beings, and many other perils and puzzles. Can you rescue the Blue Ox from the quicksand? Or find your way out of the mazes and pits? Happy Adventuring…
This time, I began the game using the older DOS version of ScottFree, with the -t flag to turn on its TRS-80-style layout. The result is a little closer to the vintage look-and-feel, although the availability of upper AND lowercase letters in the system font is still a big step up from the Model I. Eventually I found a room (the lava room) with too much text to display, losing part of the description, so I went back to the Windows version. But I will continue to try a number of different interpreters as we move along, for a sense of period flavor and to demonstrate the versatility of Adams' engine. The same game data could be run on any platform once an interpreter was written, which explains how the series found its way onto every even marginally viable platform of its time (including online service Compuserve!) and can still be run today. Here's how the ScottFree DOS interpreter looked on startup:

Now THIS is an old-school adventure game, with frequent death, cryptic puzzles and parser obstinacy at every turn. It took me a little while to realize that I'd never actually played this one back in the day -- I started with #2, Pirate Adventure, and only experienced this first game via the sampler version my younger brother owned. It took me several hours to play through this one, and I had to resort to a few hints along the way.

If you intend to play the game yourself, you may want to skip the rest of this post and come back after you've tried it -- I can't describe my experience in any detail without revealing a number of SPOILERS about the game. Be forewarned.

************ SPOILERS AHEAD *************


Still with me?

Good. Here we go.

The many ways in which I screwed up irrevocably and had to restart from a saved game:
  • Discovered the *GOLDEN FISH* can die and vanish, making the game impossible to finish with a perfect score. Catching the fish is tricky, too, as you have to have certain inventory objects in hand, and must drop the fish in the scoring location BEFORE dropping any of the prerequisite items. Otherwise the fish escapes back to the lake several rooms away, or failing in that, dries up and dies on the spot.
  • Ruined the *Thick PERSIAN RUG* by accidentally stepping into the quicksand bog while carrying it.
  • Chopped down the cypress tree before retrieving a critical item from its branches (although there is an alternate solution to the related puzzle, so I could have worked around that.)
  • Died several times by annoying the bees, chiggers, dragon and bear.
  • Ignored the game's warnings about the Bottomless Pit, and went straight to Hell.
  • Forgot to drop the distended gas bladder before igniting it.
Hints I had to resort to, using Adams' coded, graduated hint sheet system to give myself a nudge in the right direction:
  • The bees were vexing me, but the hint sheet was right -- the HELP verb was actually helpful in the octagonal room.
  • The hint sheet revealed the chasm to be a verb-guessing challenge; the same goes for the best solution to the bear puzzle. I now realize how much I've been spoiled by modern adventure games with visible verb lists and point-and-click interactions -- I never even thought to try a couple of obvious verbs!
  • I didn't need the hint itself, but the phrasing of one question informed me that there were actually TWO diamond-related objects to be obtained from the same puzzle, so I was able to grab that elusive 13th treasure.
There are quite a few in-game hints on signs and such, but the most useful ones were provided by the *MAGIC MIRROR*. Two of the mirror's clues came too late, as I had already solved those puzzles before finding the mirror, but "Dam lava!" was helpful indeed.

I noted these differences from the Special Sampler version covered in my previous post:
  • On the shore of the lake, we find not just any old fish, but a *GOLDEN FISH*.
  • The in-game outdoor advertising billboard promotes the upcoming Adventure #2:

Check with your favorite computer dealer for the next Adventure program: PIRATE ADVENTURE. If they don't carry "ADVENTURE" have them call: 1-305-862-6917 today!
  • A lamp is available -- its absence prevented exploration of the underground sections in the Sampler.
Favorite moments:
  • Side room, purely for laughs -- "I'm in a Memory chip of a COMPUTER! I took a wrong turn!"

  • Eventual death from infected chigger bites, with an instant, unforeseen drop in mobility -- "My bites have rotted my whole body! I am dead."

Good old-fashioned infuriating verb-guessing challenges and parser oddities:
Game: "Maybe if you threw something... ?"
Game: "Sorry, I can only throw the ax."

TAKE WATER (in a bottle) does not work, but TAKE BOTTLE does.

Conversely, working with a gas-filled wine bladder, LIGHT BLADDER does not work ("That won't ignite"), but LIGHT GAS sure does.
One thing I really appreciate about playing these games on a modern PC -- game restarts, saves and restores are many, many times faster. No more firing up a cassette tape at 1500 baud to slowly write or read myself back to a safe stopping point.

That wraps up my impressions of Adventure #1: Adventureland. Avast, ye lubbers! On to the Pirate Adventure!


  1. Oh yes! 26 years ago my father bought this game for my VIC20. At first I expected (because of the fantasy art on the box) an flashy arcade game, but only got textscreens when I fired it up. But I liked it from the very first minute!
    This game really gave me a great adventure at those days.
    Now I realise it even lighted my true passion for RPG games and fanatasy novels later on. Great work by Maestro Scott!

  2. Thanks I appreciate the comments. I think I am going to take this post as my world-wide announcement that I have started work once again on my next adventure "The inheritance". I stopped work on it about 3 years ago and I hope this time to complete it! Happy Adventuring all!

  3. Scott, that's great news! And I am honored to have the announcement posted here. You have a lot of fans who want nothing more than a new Scott Adams adventure, myself included.

    (By coincidence, I've just been reading R. Crumb's The Book of Genesis Illustrated -- is this Bible Adventure #1 by any chance related to the story of Jacob and Esau? No need to answer if you want to keep the details secret for the time being.)

  4. Nope the game is totally original. Its not based on anyone story in the bible and takes place in the present.

  5. Good to hear. I wasn't looking forward to working seven years and getting stuck with Leah. :)

  6. Don't waste honey.. Get mad!

    My word.. how that takes me back!

  7. There are three ways to wake the dragon. My dad and I say still say that to each other...

  8. I don't remember a lot about this game. BUT. I remember trying, over and over again, to ditch the chiggers in the swamp where I wouldn't have to worry about them biting me. Once, it finally worked! I kept using that saved game, and didn't have to worry about the chiggers. And I think you only had to go to the swamp once, so it was safe. Good times.