Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Great Scott Project - Adventure #2

Ahoy, maties! The Great Scott Project is sailing along nicely. The magical, treasure-strewn Adventureland is well and truly behind us now, so it's time we tackled Scott Adams' Adventure #2: Pirate Adventure (also known as Pirate's Cove in its VIC-20 cartridge form, released through Commodore). Per the Adventure International catalog:

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum… You’ll meet up with the pirate and
his daffy bird along with many strange sights as you attempt to go from your
London flat to Treasure Island. Can you recover Long John Silver’s lost
treasures? Happy sailing, matey...

As this was the first of Adams' adventures I ever played, on my first home computer, it seems fitting that I run this one on an emulated TRS-80 Model I. The emulator I'm using is Matthew Reed's superb TRS32 -- and it supports lowercase characters, a luxury ROM upgrade I was never able to afford, so the text is considerably more readable than it was my first time through.

On startup, I see that the interpreter was apparently responsible for displaying the classic boot screen I remember but haven't seen in decades -- I haven't seen this text on any of the newer interpreters I've been using, so I'm preserving it here for posterity:

I remember thinking at the time that the reference to a "PIRATED" COPY OF ADVENTURE was specific to this game's startup screen, but it appears on all of the TRS-80 Adventure games and in similar form on other platforms. From a coding perspective, I suspect this screen was loaded directly into screen memory as part of the game loading process, or into memory otherwise recycled after this point -- on a platform with 16K of RAM, it seems an awful lot of space to devote to introductory text otherwise.

No hints were needed for my playthrough -- having played the game several times before, I found myself in familiar territory and was able to finish in about an hour. This is largely because Pirate Adventure is more straightforward than Adventureland, by design -- the objectives are spelled out clearly, death is better foreshadowed, and aside from a little magic transportation the world makes coherent sense. Objects and characters behave logically, and the primary challenge is inventory juggling -- unable to carry everything needed at once, the player has to drop and shuffle and find alternate modes of transportation. The Parrot is a useful source of hints and reminders, making it harder to miss something important. Navigation is straightforward, with no serious mapping needed; there is a small maze of caves, but the tricky parts can be ignored. And the game has a sense of humor -- it's a fun piratey romp, and while Ron Gilbert has never to my knowledge cited it as an influence, it's hard to see how it could NOT have informed The Secret of Monkey Island to some degree.

Again, if you plan to play it on your own, go forth and do so! This post will still be here when you get back, ye treasure-huntin' scallywag.

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

Points of interest:

A great, creepy prop is encountered early in the game: "Large blood soaked book." The brief text description is visually evocative in the best early text adventure tradition. And as always, Adventure #2 promotes the next one in line, this time via an advertising flyer stashed inside said book:

Ask for Adventure number 3: "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE" at your favorite computer dealer. If they DON'T carry "ADVENTURE" have them call: 1-305-862-6917 TODAY! "ADVENTURE" also supports lower case!
(I've never known if the lower case reference was meant specifically for TRS-80
users; it does appear in the canonical "generic" .DAT files in circulation, but
I believe those originated on the TRS-80 as well.)

There's one tactical similarity to Adventureland here -- one has to be carrying a bottle of (salt) water to keep a fish alive and kicking in inventory. These kinds of associative in-possession/in-room object puzzles are part of Adams' style -- the parser can't generically handle containers or explicit object linkages, so it's often the case that you have to be carrying associated objects, or have one in hand and find one in the room, for these connections to work. Consequently, certain puzzles can be difficult to grasp -- the rules can seem inconsistent, when in fact you just didn't notice whether or not you had access to some significant combination of items. It's useful to notice such quirks -- playing an adventure game is like pitting one's brain against that of the designer. Actually, at this writing, I am pitting my aging brain against the designer as he was 30 years ago! Methinks Scott Adams has found the key to immortality.
One great meta-gag suckers me in no matter how many times I play this game. The player encounters a Mongoose, and having been through this sort of thing before, feels obligated to take it along, "in case it should come in handy" (the adventurer slyly remarks to him- or herself). And near the game's climax, when the deadly mamba snakes turn up right on cue, the Mongoose is thrown into battle and... does not survive. It develops that the mongoose is a squirrel, or was a squirrel, and is now a dead squirrel. The play on the gamer's tendency to take the game's word for granted presages any number of Monkey Island jokes, and I laugh every time.
I did encounter one bug I'd never noticed before -- after digging up the wooden box, you can OPEN BOX repeatedly, and the *RARE STAMPS* keep falling out of it (pulling them out of your inventory if need be.)
But Pirate Adventure is not frustrating at all -- patience, observation, and trial and error make it possible to get a worthy ship built and crewed, a lengthy process that occupies most of the game. Once on Treasure Island, digging up the two treasures and lugging them home is fairly straightforward.
Victory is ours!

A pleasant trip to the beach, really, and quite profitable. Time to shake the sand out of our safety sneakers, put the Peter Gunn Theme on the stereo and don our Secret Agent Man sunglasses for Adventure #3: Mission Impossible!


  1. I was trying to remember this game so i googled "text adventure mongoose snake" and this came up - hahaha happy gaming

  2. I hope you enjoy your trip down memory lane :)

    Happy Adventuring!


  3. Scott, it's so great that you've taken the time to post comments here! Just today, I watched a fun little documentary called "Get Lamp", and it was great seeing you along with so many of the other true "rock stars" of my youth.
    Back in Newfoundland, Canada, where I grew up, I only had access to a few of your games, but I will never forget the sense of accomplishment upon completing "Pirate Adventure" (I think it was "Pirate Cove Adventure" on my copy) and "The Count".

    "The Count", in particular, was tremendously exciting, and truly scared me (I was 10 when the game came out). But wow, to be so involved in words on a screen!! I think it really opened my mind to the power of the written word, and I thank you for all you've done!

  4. This was a great adventure. :) I was about 10 or 11 when I played it. It's was good that I was able to SAY YOHO to get out of Never Never Land and not have to use the Restore.

  5. Pirate Cove first introduced me to the power of the written word. I was not even ten and could picture the pirate and island vividly. Even with my dad and mums help I could not complete it.. until today, and I could remember much of it vividly. Isn't it amazing how the fake mongoose sticks in your mind. The narrow crack and the dark caverns also.

    Genius, thanks Scott Adams, I am glad your efforts survived your attention starved wife cooking them in the oven, as the legend goes. You were the first computer pioneer and I owe you for a lifetime of appreciating literature and imagination! - Dorian

  6. One weird or difficult or strange thing that stopped me even replaying it now, and certainly gave us pause way back in the summer of 1981 when it was the first adventure game I had ever played on my own computer -- a 16k Atari 400 with a 410 cassette recorder...near the end of the game *how* you find where to dig up the box with the rare stamps. What does walking 30 paces even mean in the context of room-based geography -- in which direction?? The fact that you had to do it more than once, in more than one place really messed with the "I am in this room, east is that room, south is that other room" concept of geography in the first few years of two word text adventures. It did not happen many times in the next few dozen games written by Scott and others either. I expected to see a few more of these sorts of issues and concepts explored in these retrospectives, although I am no enemy of pure nostalgia.

  7. I'll also say that when I see those (very few) people who love modern interactive fiction discount or completely ignore Scott Adams I just shake my head, as he unquestionably created the genre of text adventures for very small home computers. Making a direct comparison between them and modern efforts dozens or even hundreds of times larger (and running on far more powerful machinery) is missing the point. It is quite likely that the whole genre wouldn't have taken off without the catalyst of people getting hooked on these small tape-based games in 1978 through 1981 or 1982 and then getting wowed with the likes of Infocom once we eventually had huge mountains of RAM (like 32k or 40k or even 48k) and disk drives that could hold 80k or even more on one disk! I feel they still hold up very well given the mind-numbingly small resources at the disposal of an author writing games that "everyone with a computer" would be able to play at the end of the 70's and beginning of the 80's -- this was actually extremely significant.