Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Adventure of the Week: Blade of Blackpoole (1983)

This week, we're taking a look back at a classic Apple II adventure (also released for the Atari 800 and Commodore 64) -- Tim Wilson's Blade of Blackpoole, published in 1983 by Sirius Software.

The graphic illustrations are simple and schematic, even crude, but the display system is technically impressive in other ways.  The draw-and-fill artwork renders very quickly, and the layout doesn't rely on the Apple II's standard 4-line text window -- instead, it renders a full 8 lines of text using characters drawn in graphics mode, and does so with acceptable speed.

The game starts us off in the countryside, and most of the adventure takes place outdoors.  There are plenty of tricky puzzles, a number of unusual items that go unused, and several ways to mess up irrevocably.  The parser is also misleading in a number of spots, and downright buggy in others.

As always, I recommend playing any of the adventure games I cover on your own before reading further here, if you're inclined to do so.  I'll be giving away a number of secrets and surprises in the interest of documenting the game. That is to say...

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

Blade of Blackpoole is well written from a textual perspective, with brief but evocative descriptions, but I wish there were more detailed EXAMINE support -- most of the items yield YOU SEE NOTHING OF INTEREST.  Unfortunately, limited disk space was a real handicap for these early graphic adventures -- space devoted to illustrations often meant text content had to be tightly budgeted.

At the start of the game, obstacles abound.  There's a landslide to the north, a carnivorous plant to west, and dangerous quicksand to the east (with no warning before entering it, although it's not difficult to escape if one doesn't panic).  The player starts out with a money belt containing 50 gold pieces; it's rare and pleasant to see a little adventuring forethought on the part of the main character.

The local tavern is nicely rendered compared to most of the game's imagery, and the bartender sets up the story in case we haven't read the manual.  We learn that the name of the titular Blade is Myraglym, and that we are on a quest to recover it.  We can also buy several items at the shop next door, although the shopkeeper is very strict -- if we drop anything at all in the shop, we cannot simply TAKE it, even if we own it -- we must BUY it back!  Given the game's tight six-item inventory limit, a fair amount of juggling is required until we figure out what's truly needed and what can be safely ignored or left behind after its utility has been exhausted.

The SAVE GAME command is complemented by a RESUME command, rather than the more standard RESTORE or LOAD GAME.  The game supports 10 save slots on the game data disk, but I had difficulty getting the mechanism to work successfully using the AppleWin emulator; saving and restoring the emulator's complete state proved much more reliable.

We discover a small boat in a lake that's not much larger near the beginning of the game.  We can PADDLE WEST and PADDLE EAST all day to no practical effect, but cannot easily TAKE BOAT to a more productive location.  We must find the white potion, which isn't labeled; in my case, I drank it and learned, fatally, that it's a shrinking potion. as YOU WERE SMOTHERED BY YOUR OWN CLOTHES AS THEY FELL ON YOU.  I wasn't sure its effects were consistent, though, as when I tried to use it on the carnivorous plant, this exchange ensued:


I got the same response when I attempted to BURN PLANT, so this was probably a glitch, but it threw me off for a while.  There seem to be some parser bugs around the plant in general.  I tried to SING PLANT, hoping to put it to sleep, and was told A VERY NICE MELODY. THANK YOU THE PLANT WOULD PROBABLY CATCH YOU IN MID-AIR.  The second phrase is the response to JUMP PLANT, so clearly something's amiss in the dictionary here.

Back to the boat.  A walkthrough finally clued me in that I could POUR POTION ON BOAT to shrink it down to a more portable size, which had occurred to me already.  But the syntax is critical -- this similar sequence I had attempted earlier was unsuccessful:


I also spent some time wrestling with the quicksand.  Entering the muddy yellow lake and trying to CLIMB ROPE yielded THERE'S NO ROPE TIED UP HERE, so I speculated we must have to TIE ROPE somewhere.  But I couldn't TIE ROPE TO ROCK or TIE ROPE TO TREE to escape the quicksand.  Further experimentation established that we can simply SWIM [direction] to maneuver in and escape from the quicksand; as long as we keep moving we don't drown.

There are several potentially useful items found or available for purchase near the beginning of the game -- a shield, a hammer, a battle axe, and a sharp knife -- all of which prove to be totally useless for purposes of actually completing the game.

At one point we discover a recluse living behind a tree, although he never comes out to show himself; he says, "BRING ME THE JEWEL OF SELMARN AND I'LL TELL YOU AN INTERESTING RIDDLE."  It's important to remember where we ran into him, as he does not put in any repeat appearances until we find the amulet with the jewel in it and are in a position to GIVE AMULET, which he rewards with a bit of doggerel containing a useful clue:

A vintage walkthrough helped me out in several spots.  At one point, I couldn't GET HIVE or THROW HONEY, and was pretty sure I was on the wrong track, but the walkthrough pointed out I could GET BEES.  I tried to THROW BEES at the carnivorous plant, but only learned THE BEES FLEW AWAY AFTER STINGING YOU ONCE MORE.  For some reason I then tried to SWALLOW BEES, ending my game as SEVERAL BEES STUNG YOUR THROAT AS YOU SWALLOWED THEM AND SUFFOCATED YOUFEED BEES and FEED PLANT also did not work, but the handy walkthrough told me to GIVE BEES to the carnivorous plant, which made it happy enough to let me pass at will.

Frequent saving is virtually required by the game's design.  At one point we fall into a dark pit in the woods, without warning.  Even if we have the old lamp, we can't light it yet; we have to THROW ROPE, then CLIMB ROPE to get out on the other side.  And the rope gets left on the ground after climbing out of the pit, so if we try to go south again we get stuck if we didn't remember to pick it up again.

Once we have the lamp lit, we can't UNLIGHT, TURN OFF, EXTINGUISH or otherwise stop the lamp from running.  But the game doesn't appear to have a tight limit on the duration of the light, if indeed there is any limit.

The game presents a couple of useful clues in the form of short poems, and some magic words turn up as well.  Unfortunately, one of the magic words causes all of our inventory items to disappear, never to be seen again, so it's again important to SAVE before doing any experimentation.

There's a river monster blocking the way at one point -- the game tells us he is hungry, but we don't have anything to feed him, we can't get close enough to KILL MONSTER in our boat, and jumping into the water to SWIM is immediately fatal due to the strong currents.  I needed the walkthrough to learn I was supposed to have a mug of ale at this point, and of course by this stage of the story I couldn't go back to the tavern to buy it without restoring.  Once I had worked my way back to face the monster, GIVE ALE yielded only THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.  Walkthrough to the rescue once more -- POUR ALE IN WATER produces the desired effect:

Near the end of the game, Sirius Software's alien mascot character appears as a pagan idol:

A spell book given to us by the recluse indicates we can SAY SOLOCIN here, as a prayer, but all that produces is a hint about a later event.  We actually have to GIVE BOOK to obtain a vital key.

My next sticking point was at a cave blocked by a boulder, where I spent some time ineffectually waving various inventory items at the implacable hunk of rock between useless bouts of PUSHing and KICKing.  Without the walkthrough I might never have learned that, for some mysterious reason, simply attempting to move W gets the boulder out of the way.

The game's only true maze lies beyond a locked door - we have to enter it to find a longbow and a scroll with a couple of magic words on it.  I was running out of inventory items to drop as bread crumbs while mapping out the maze, and learned to my chagrin that one must never DROP LAMP -- it goes out on impact and we're stuck, unable to return to any location where it can be lit.  The maze is even more convoluted than the norm -- no direction takes us back where we came from, and there's only really one path back out.  Once the two key items have been found, it seems the best bet is to keep going E until we emerge at the entrance.

Nearing the finale, the walkthrough saved me yet again -- I was trying to SWIM DOWN, DIVE, even PADDLE DOWN at a suspicious spot in the lake, to no avail.  All I had to do was move D.  This takes us to the lizard's lair, where we use a magic word to conjure an arrow, which we then use with the longbow to SHOOT LIZARD.  The sword lies in a chamber nearby.

Here's where it gets a bit tricky.  At this point, we have the sword but the game is not quite over.  There's a sign in the cave -- we can READ SIGN, but the text is clearly displayed in the illustration -- which warns us:  SPEAK NOT THE NAME MYRAGLYM UNTIL SHE IS HOME.  This advice must be taken seriously -- we have to bring the sword back to a specific spot, and drop it there, before saying its name.  If we say it in the wrong room, we learn that THE SWORD GLOWED BRIGHTLY AND EXPLODED IN A BRIGHT BLUE FLASH.  If we are in the right room but haven't put it in place, it explodes AND we are trapped by a cave-in.  When we say it after putting it in its proper home, we are magically returned to the forest with the legendary sword in hand.

Unfortunately for my playthrough, so close to the climax, I had to revert to a much earlier save once again, as hunger overtook me and I shortly ran out of energy:  YOU PASSED OUT FROM HUNGER AND WERE EATEN BY ROVING WOLVES.  Backtracking, I left the honey near the room we land in upon our return -- EAT HONEY established that YOU FEEL MUCH BETTER NOW.

Finally, we are able to drag ourselves back to the tavern where all the adventurers hang out, the Blade of Blackpoole clutched impressively in our bee-stung, honey-stained grasp:

This was a moderately difficult adventure for me -- I definitely needed the walkthrough, and in some cases my ideas weren't even close.  But I have to blame the parser to some degree as well -- in several cases I was trying things that should have worked but simply didn't, and didn't produce any interesting responses that might have put me on the right path.  Still, parser struggles are part of the experience of playing these vintage games, and I had a good time struggling through to find the fabled Blade of Blackpoole.

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