Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Adventure of the Week: Atlantis (1980)

This week, we're looking at an early Greg Hassett text adventure, Atlantis, written under his occasional nom de plume, The Lensman.

Atlantis was one of this young designer's early efforts, programmed in BASIC for the TRS-80 Model I.  The game was later updated as Adventure in Atlantis for the Commodore 64, written by Steven Darnold with credit to Hassett for the original version.  Darnold modified the game rather extensively, moving and renaming items and adding more complicated puzzles built on Hassett's comparatively simple structure.

The TRS-80 original opens aboard a submarine, with the traditional (if unlikely) sign indicating that this is where we must bring and drop our treasures:

I found myself chafing against the slow response of this BASIC game, so I artificially cranked up the emulator speed to improve performance to an acceptable clip.  I also had to shift my keyboard into caps-only mode, as read sign does not work but READ SIGN does, even though the game's own text is presented in mixed-case.

Atlantis isn't a terribly difficult game -- as in Hassett's Enchanted Island, some not-overly-subtle hints are provided, most of the puzzles are guardian situations, and most of the treasures are lying around for the taking.  The scoring mechanism is a little tricky -- it's not easy to earn the maximum 200 points -- but it's not a hard game to finish.

If you wish to play Atlantis yourself, I encourage you to go and do so before plunging into the remaining text.  As always, there are bound to be...


Mapping is important early on.  There are a couple of maze areas -- a Hall of Mirrors and a Labyrinth -- but it's even more important to locate and avoid the whirlpool room that sucks most of the player's belongings away.  It leaves the critical air tank in our possession, so such a mistake isn't necessarily fatal, but we have to visit the Electric Eel's room to recover our inventory, and if we have lost the silver key or the shotput before disposing of the eel, we have no hope of recovering all the treasures.  It's best to map out the world and sidestep the whirlpool room altogether.

Young Hassett's spelling remains uneven -- this game features a CORRODOR, CLAMSHEL, and a ROYAL COLLISEUM, just for starters.

Despite the sign's guidance at the outset, we should not SAY SCORE, but just SCORE.  The game's scoring mechanism is a bit obtuse, and I had to dissect the code to figure it the last few details.  There are 170 points to be earned by gathering all the treasures, with values assigned as follows:

>>> MANY COINS <<< - 20
>>> JADE MEDALIAN [sic] <<< - 10
>>> GOLDEN APPLE <<< - 10
>>> GOLDEN FLEECE <<< - 44
>>> A PLATINUM PICK <<< - 7
>>> SILVER KEY <<< - 5
>>> a platinum spear <<< - 11
>>> GOLD STATUETTE << - 16
>>> VALUABLE PARANAH [sic] TEETH <<< - 15
>>> PLATINUM PLACQUE [sic] <<< - 15
>>> PEARL <<< - 12

The remaining 30 points are awarded as bonus points based on other aspects of the player's performance.  We can earn up to 10 points for visiting 4 locations -- the ELECTRIC EEL'S ROOM, the TOP OF POST, the Minotaur's dead-end room in the labyrinth maze, and the Hall of Spirits.  Only the Minotaur's room has to be visited to collect all of the treasures.  We can also earn up to 20 bonus points for finishing the game using a minimal number of turns, that is, less than 310.  This explains why, if we die right away by heading east without the air tank at the start, we still earn 20 bonus points for our short-lived trouble.

The geography of Atlantis is eclectic and a bit random.  There's a barbershop near the temple, and cameos from Greek mythology not directly related to Atlantis pop up -- the names of Hercules and Prometheus figure into a couple of locations, and the Minotaur plays a prominent role.

Printed matter serves as a frequent source of Hassett's clues -- a newspaper reads:
Use crust toothpaste for sharper teeth (SNAP!)
Squids hate loud noises (W O P T O N)
The first line refers to the ravenous piranha, whose dental hygiene is rather poor -- we can feed them a peanut butter cup, causing them to lose their teeth.  (Darnold's remake replaced the cup with a jar, which makes a little more sense.)  Of course, due to spelling issues, we can't FEED PIRANHA -- that only yields Don't be ridiculous -- we have to grit our nitpicking teeth and FEED PARANAH.  The second clue seems to indicate that the POW noise the cannon makes when we fire it is not what scares the squid (W O P T O N backwards is NOTPOW); as it turns out, YELL is the right action.

Hassett's puzzles are usually dependent on inventory items, without a lot of special verb implementations.  We have to carry the AIR TANK to pass through water-filled areas, but no other maneuvering is necessary to utilize it, and it never runs out of air.  The parser is helpful too -- OPEN CLAM without the platinum pick hints that we don't have the right tools, for example, and THROW [anything] tells us Sorry, I can only throw the spear.

One annoying characteristic of Atlantis that was corrected in Hassett's later assembly-language efforts is that the screen display resembles the Scott Adams windowed design, but does not automatically update the room display when we drop/take items or something changes in the room; we have to explicitly LOOK to force a refresh.  And there's no EXAMINE or object-specific LOOK verb, so we have to take things at face value and can't discover any interesting details.

Another clue -- the small book in the library reads, What is thought to be, isn't what you see! Nori; Nori is iron spelled backwards, and if we find the IRON STATUETTE and SCRAPE STATUE we discover it's actually a >>> GOLD STATUETTE <<<.  My first guess along these lines was RUB STATUE, which didn't work.

A less helpful scroll reads,  BEWARE THE FIERCE MINOTAUR! MINOS WAS AN EVIL KING!  At least the creature's name is spelled right on the scroll - once we enter the maze, we are constantly on the lookout for a busload of senior citizens:

Captain Ahab's Journal is a nautical, though non-Atlantean artifact, that provides the most clueish of clues -- Lee said pow and died, which apparently indicates that if we fire the shotput out of the cannon, it will land in the Electric Eel's room and kill the creature residing there.  That's what happens in practice, anyway, and Lee spelled backwards is Eel, so I can buy that this is an intentional hint.

There are a few dead-end locations that don't really factor into the adventure -- the edge of a cliff, and the top of a post.

We have to dispose of several appropriately themed monsters - a manta, a squid, an octopus, the Minotaur, and the aforementioned Paranhas [sic].  The spear comes into play for both the Minotaur and the Octopus -- I tried to throw it at other creatures, whereupon The spear vanished in midair and could not be recovered.  To use it for its intended purpose, we have to face the proper creatures with the SPEAR THROWER in hand (I was very relieved to discover this is apparently a mechanical device of some kind, and not a racist reference.)  The game's design also apparently intends that we kill the Octopus BEFORE killing the Minotaur, as the steel spear turns into platinum when we kill the minotaur -- and if we kill the Octopus second, the spear somehow manages to reappear far away, turning up in the minotaur's room deep in the labyrinth.

FEED MANTA only works if we have the toothless piranha in hand; otherwise, the game wrongly assumes we want to feed ourselves to the creature, ending the adventure.  I'm not really sure how a manta ray manages to eat us with its tiny ventrally-mounted mouth, designed for filter-feeding, but maybe it's a magic ray, or has a ray gun.  Sorry.

The parser has a few fall-through bugs -- READ with no object-specific content returns > It says:.  And I never figured out anything productive from this exchange:

I experimented further with OPEN APPLE, which seemed to be recognized, but I eventually figured out it was really falling through again and treating it as OPEN CLAM.

Having rounded up all the treasures and reclaimed the missing spear, I finished the game with 176 points out of 200:

The bonus points are not awarded until we actually QUIT the game:

I only earned six of the bonus points during my playthrough, which included a lot of experimentation, mapping, death and restoration.  To max out the score and earn the top rank, one would have to carefully plan around the seven-item inventory limit, doing certain things in the right order to traverse the sprawling map efficiently.

Atlantis was fun to play, but not spectacular -- it's a simple treasure hunt, but quality assurance is lacking in many places and there's not really any story holding the whole thing together.  It's interesting primarily as an example of the many Scott Adams-influenced text adventures released during the early microcomputer era; there's a reason the Adams games are still played today while so many imitators have faded into history.

No comments:

Post a Comment