Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Adventure of the Week: Arrow of Death (Pt. 1) (1981)

Returning to the oeuvre of Brian Howarth, this week we tackle the first of a two-game saga, Arrow of Death (Pt. 1) (Mysterious Adventure #3).  Howarth's games run on the Scott Adams engine and can be played on modern machines using the ScottFree interpreter.  I solved this one using ScottFree for the sake of better save/restore support, then played through the illustrated version on the Commodore 64 for screen capture purposes.

Set in the same universe as Mysterious Adventure #1, The Golden Baton, this fantasy story sends us off to destroy a bad guy named XERDON with a magical arrow.  As it turns out, Part 1 is concerned strictly with acquiring the components of said magical arrow, so we'll have to wait for Part 2 to wrap up the storyline.

The game opens in a courtyard, with a dead messenger at our feet; it's a sign of dark things to come:

This game wasn't too difficult, but I did resort to a walkthrough after running out of experiments to try, and I needed a hint to solve a parser challenge where I was otherwise on the right track.  Suffice it to say that searching every room and object is key to solving Arrow of Death (Pt. 1) -- there are lots of hidden items and clues, and while the map is straightforward within each area, it's vital to acquire necessary objects before making any navigational leaps.

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

Many of the in-game clues are informational in nature -- which means the puzzles and actions revealing them can be skipped altogether on a replay.  The amulet is decorated with a picture of a barge, for instance, but the player does not need to discover this in order for it to work as intended; also, it's not strictly necessary to visit the burned-out village or roll away the boulder in front of the cave.

We find ZARDRA the magician early in the game, and he dies shortly thereafter, though not until we LOOK ZARDRA and get to hear his dying words, which set the plot in motion.  It's very considerate of him to delay his demise on our account.

We also find the Golden Baton we reclaimed playing the first of Howarth's adventures, but times have changed -- even looking at it proves fatal in this one.

Bribing the beggar isn't initially essential -- he doesn't block our way in the traditional guardian-puzzle mode, but he reveals a critical clue that tends to dead-end the game if the player doesn't know about it: we have to WAIT in several locations for magical transport to take us elsewhere.  He also gives us the Glass Orb, which is critical to finishing the game.

The game's map is straightforward -- there are a few mini-mazes where similar rooms are adjacent, but nothing that randomly wandering can't handle.  Deciding when to move forward is a bigger challenge, as after certain moves the player can no longer return to previously visited areas.  This geographical constraint may have been a design decision, if the author wasn't sure where Part 1 would end and Part 2 would begin.

There's a slave chained up in one area, and fortunately the parser helps us out a bit.  FREE SLAVE yields Cut his chains!, so CUT CHAINS has the desired effect and the slave begins following us around.  We have to avail ourselves of the slave's assistance before wandering into the Toadstool location, however, because the Beggar shows up here and drugs him.  This bit of uncalled-for nastiness is apparently meant to demonstrate the toadstools' effectiveness as a sleeping drug, though I happened to discover it myself by eating the mushrooms (and dying when the giants found me asleep) before freeing the slave.

Magic-based puzzles can be irritating, because there isn't always a clear reason why the player would want to act the way the designer expects.  The most difficult puzzle I ran into involved the suit of armour (UK spelling) found early in the game.  It has only one purpose -- if we don't wear it when facing the serpent, the serpent eats us, and it provides no defense against the giants.  Finding the armour's use is a "path of most resistance" puzzle -- we can't carry it up to the cliff ledge, and there are no clues as to what we should be doing there anyway.  I had to resort to a walkthrough to learn that RUB ORB on the ledge opens the cave where the serpent resides; I had discovered the Orb's alternate use as a light source, but it hadn't occurred to me that it might have another purpose.  It then became clear that getting the armour up to the serpent's cave was going to be necessary, and I might never have found the necessary rope, if not for seeing the first few steps of the same walkthrough while looking for a hint.

The vintage two-word parser has a few annoying limitations.  TIE HOOK does not work, but TIE ROPE assumes (to hook) and does.  TALK is interpreted as SAY, and there's no way to talk to another character; any verbal clues are triggered by more direct actions.  And I could not for the life of me figure out how to drug the giants' broth -- BREW TOADSTOOLS, BOIL TOADSTOOLS, ADD TOADSTOOLS, MIX BROTH, DROP TOADSTOOLS... none of these worked.  The lack of prepositions always makes these kinds of puzzles difficult to solve -- fortunately, the walkthrough led me to DRUG CAULDRON, which sufficed (DRUG BROTH also works.)

The game allows us to KILL EAGLE, but it's not a good idea.  PLUCK FEATHER gets us what we need and also transports us to a new location.

Death is everywhere in this dark tale -- a dead dwarf lies in what would otherwise seem an idyllic hut near the babbling brook:

If we borrow the dwarf's spectacles, steal his silver medallion, and find the trapdoor in the burned-out village nearby, we can read an ancient book to learn that we should:
Destroy XERDON the Evil
with an Arrow from the Sacred Willow
The Guardians of the Willow
Lust for Silver!
These instructions seem pretty clear.  However, GIVE MEDALLION in the Willow Grove does not work or provoke any informative reaction from the guardians.  THROW MEDALLION causes them to chase it, however, giving us a chance to CUT WILLOW, leading immediately to this chapter's rather abrupt ending:

We are now, presumably, prepared to proceed with Part 2 of the adventure with the titular Arrow of Death in hand.  There's no password given at the end of this chapter, or required by the next one, so it's not technically necessary to finish this game before tackling the next one.  But the story makes more sense in the proper order -- and of course, we will take on Arrow of Death (Pt. 2) in a future installment.


  1. This is probably my favourite Brian Howarth game. I play it every so often on the trs-80 model 1 (which didn't have the graphics) to remind me. Always loved the location changes. Did you have a model 1 back in the day?

  2. I did indeed - my first text adventure experiences were on the Model I, and the CoCo followed a few years later. Those were my platforms during the golden age of text adventures. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Funny thing, Howarth's games used Spectrum graphics in every version he did, including the C64, whose graphics were typically of a different style (and resolution / colors). This includes games he converted from Adams's originals, such as Adventureland (he did both the Spectrum and C64 versions). Such was not the case with, for instance, Pirate Adventure or Questprobe 3, which had "real" C64 graphics.

  4. I also had a bit of bother figuring out how to drug the giants, and the slave was of little use except in getting into the cave we don't need to..it was fun taking him on the log flume.

    Pluck feather working when get feather doesn't even give a clue was mildly lame.

    Overall, I kind of liked it. I saw some people hated it because they found it hard to know what to take with them when they had to wait for the mist, or they had to search too much in unexpected ways. I'll play the next one.