Thursday, November 5, 2009

Adventure of the Week: Sea Search (1983)

This week, we tackle Sea Search, another of the Mark Data Products graphics adventures for the TRS-80 Color Computer.  It was written and illustrated by Bob Withers and Stephen O'Dea, with some design credit to their spouses in this case:

The game was originally advertised under the title Sea Quest, and later changed to Sea Search.  I actually called Mark Data Products to check on an order back in the day and asked about the name change, but the only reason they offered my teen-aged self was "for business reasons."  Of course, with the benefit of historical context, we can see that Activision's Seaquest for the Atari 2600 was also on its way to market, and Activision presumably had a toothier legal staff.  A new name was in order; Sea Hunt, of course, was unavailable, as the name was used for a 1958-1961 TV series starring Lloyd Bridges.  So the game ended up as Sea Search.

This one's just a basic treasure hunt with puzzles in the way -- there's a "Bring treasures here, say SCORE" room in the classic tradition, and five treasures to discover and deliver.  I tend to prefer adventures with richer plots, because they do more to push the capabilities of the interactive fiction format.  Sea Search is an old-fashioned find-the-whatzit, give-it-to-the-whoozit so you can get to the wherezit collection of unrelated, arbitrary puzzles.  And its protagonist seems oddly amoral, as will be made evident below.  But it's still good fun, and the animated graphics are very attractive by CoCo standards.

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

The conventional treasure room is hidden slightly out of the way, but the only step necessary to find it is to MOVE BOULDER after encountering said object parked suspiciously against a rock wall.  After locating the first treasure, dropping it in the cave and saying SCORE, it becomes apparent that there are five such gewgaws in the game, each worth twenty points.

There's a strange little scuba shop, with necessary equipment for getting to the underwater areas.  It's out in the middle of a field, rather than near the beach, which seems odd.  And the clerk isn't really recognized as a person by the parser -- he's more like an automated vending machine who responds to the presentation of a credit card with a cheery, "Thank you sir, I'll put that on your charge."

A found scrap of newspaper informs us that a recent hurricane has broken a lot of windows, which implicitly gives us permission to break the window of a beach house to gain entry.  Of course, I found this token of moral absolution long after I had already done so, following unsuccessful OPEN DOOR, UNLOCK DOOR, BREAK DOOR and KICK DOOR attempts.  And, of course, I made free use of the owner's credit card at the scuba shop, but never did find any news stories claiming the hurricane ran up unauthorized charges with local merchants.

There's a good walkthrough available elsewhere, but if you're like me and would prefer a more subtle nudge, let me document here that there are five treasures to find: silver bars, a gold anchor, a diamond ring, a ruby statue, and a pearl.  Happy hunting!

Although it's in no way necessary, the metal detector can be carried, and used, underwater, with no shorts or corrosion.  That's one sturdy search coil!

Why the mermaid possesses the key to a trapdoor in the beach house, I can only imagine.  Perhaps she's having an affair with Michael Nelson, Jr., the owner of the aforementioned credit card.  Why she opts to keep her shark repellent locked up in his attic, instead of near her underwater home where it might actually come in handy, remains a mystery.

One word-subsitution gag -- there's a giant clam that when opened reveals itself to be an oyster, containing a treasure.  Actually, from this point on the game misspells it as an "osyter", but you get the idea.

I struggled with the parser a bit after discovering I would immediately drown underwater whenever the air tanks ran out.  The tanks have a gauge, but I couldn't READ GAUGE; EXAMINE GAUGE ultimately worked just fine.  It measures the remaining air in moves, which is great for adventure game players but dashed inconvenient for everyone else, one imagines.  (I looked at the ocean floor briefly... was that a move?  Hmmmm.  I have absolutely no lung capacity, so I'd better be really careful...)

While searching for something new to use or do, I mapped the entire field near the scuba shop.  It has a lot of "invisible" dead-ends that return to the same room, but is otherwise consistent and logically laid out.  That's always appreciated.

I was misled for a while by inadvertently discovering that the parser recognizes the noun ROPE, even though I never did find one in the game.  Serves me right for hoping a rope would magically materialize if I tried to use it.

Yet another nod to Scott Adams' seminal Pirate Adventure -- the player encounters a peg-legged, eyepatched pirate on a small island.  He refuses the obvious bribes ("Don't be bringing me old worn out treasure") but succumbs, as all adventure game pirates must, to the gift of rum.

A minor vocabulary bug -- once emptied, the "empty bottle" is no longer recognized for GIVE BOTTLE purposes, but DROP and TAKE still work.

There's a brief bit of sound in this game, for a sight gag recalling old American Express ads -- when the credit card is read, the owner's name is typed out onscreen, character by character, with beeps.
I resorted to a walkthrough after getting stuck at one point -- it emerged that while I had tried the metal detector in the cave (and discovered it's not at all sensitive to UN-buried treasure), I hadn't done a plain old DIG.

At the end, it's not actually necessary to issue a final SCORE command.  The game automatically notices that all five treasures have been found and stored, and summarily declares victory:

So that's Sea Search.  Light, funny, and not too difficult.  Good stuff.


  1. Dear Lord! I use to play this game a lot as a kid! I was never able to finish it because I couldn't navigate the ocean and would always die. Now I want to find a copy and try to actually finish it!

  2. Then you may be interested in knowing it's actually been made freely available by its authors for download -- take a look at:

  3. I would often be found "Dead In the Ocean" when playing Sea Search but never gave up hope. Tried downloading them onto my PC but unable to play them. Would be great to see them available for Android ;)