Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Great Scott Project: Adventure #13 (1984)

It was one year ago today that we embarked upon The Great Scott Project, in which we played through the first twelve of Scott Adams' highly influential microcomputer text adventures.  I had a great time, and positive reader response inspired the regular Adventure of the Week feature that keeps me mapping out worlds and scratching my head on a regular basis.  So it's high time I got around to playing the rest of the master's works.

To pick up where I left off last year, this week we're looking at Scott Adams' Adventure #13: The Sorcerer of Claymorgue Castle, published by Adventure International in 1984.  In this adventure, we must collect 13 stars hidden away by an evil wizard, by solving puzzles and mastering a variety of spells.  Ad copy of indeterminate origin describes it thus:

Long ago, in times passed beyond remembrance, Solon the Master Wizard and wearer of the Secret Cloak lost the 13 Stars of Power. The grasping Vileroth believed the Stars to be the only source of Solon’s expert wizardry. But, unbeknownst to Vileroth, it was the Secret Cloak that controlled the Stars and protected the wearer from their awesome powers. Unable to master the Stars, Vileroth was undone.

In his final days, as Vileroth’s strength slipped from him, he concealed the 13 Stars of Power within the Castle of Claymorgue, determined that no one save he should possess them. Solon, learning of Vileroth’s destruction, despatches his faithful young apprentice Beanwick to retrieve the Stars.

“Tread carefully, O Beanwick! Would that I could assume this quest myself, but alas, I can only send with you these few spells. Claymorgue Castle harbors further spells, but beware — one unskilled in the arts cannot predict their outcome.”

As with most of Adams' adventures, #13 was released for a wide variety of platforms thanks to a highly portable data format; I played it using the modern ScottFree interpreter.  The game opens outside what I can only assume is the fabled Claymorgue Castle:

There isn't much of a plot here, but many of the stars are well-hidden, and it takes some experimentation and luck to find them; the official Adventure International hints are likely to come in very handy.  As always, I urge interested readers to cast themselves as The Sorcerer of Claymorgue Castle before proceeding here, because in the interest of documenting the game, there will of necessity be...


We start out standing in a field with nothing in our inventory but a handful of spells, most of which can only be cast once.  Much of the game's challenge involves learning what the spells do, AND finding the most appropriate opportunity to use each of them.  Almost all can be misused or wasted in various ways, so it's best to save early and often before experimenting.

We can't do very much outside the castle, and there's not much territory to explore, so it soon becomes clear that getting inside is our first real objective.  While we're working on that, we can GO MOAT, HOLD BREATH, SWIM DOWN, GET TOWEL, SWIM UP and BREATHE.  We can't swim north or south, as the moat is enchanted, and walls block movement to the east and west; nor can we climb up.  It seems we're stuck here, but if we attempt to WAKE the handy sleeping moat monster we are ejected with this Adams-esque quip:

I've been de-moated in the field!

We can DIG in the field to find one of the thirteen *STARs.  We can also SQUEEZE TOWEL to turn the soggy towel into a damp towel, but I never really figured out what it was for.  I tried to THROW TOWEL, yielding Sorry, I can't throw that!, which at least eliminated throwing the towel as a possible solution for anything.  Or as a synonym for QUIT.  I suspect the towel gave me some protection while crossing a lava field later on.

It's a pleasure to be back in a world where the punny Adams sense of humor reigns.  To lower the castle's drawbridge, we can CAST SEED, yielding Open SESAME SEED!  Spell works!  Of course, as I discovered later, this is not the best use for the seed spell.  But using it in the proper place omits the corny pun, so I was glad I took the side trip.  The best way to get into the castle is to enter the moat and swim further down, then east, coming up in the castle's kitchen.  We can lower the drawbridge for future use by using a fragile lever on the interior side.

I wasn't able to figure out what to do with the magic large water fountain with 2 story centerpiece encountered early on.   We can GO FOUNTAIN to pick up another *STAR, but learn that I feel very odd!, a condition that shortly proves fatal without adequate preparation, or any real explanation.  This puzzle can and should be left alone until near the end of the game -- apparently, what's happening is that the fountain is a Fountain of Youth, which de-ages us into oblivion in short order.  We need to find the METHUSELAH spell to survive its influence.

The moat also has a *STAR at its bottom, but escaping before drowning after we EXAMINE BOTTOM proves to be a challenge.  We can't survive long enough to come back up the normal way, so we have to CAST YOHO (a nod to Adams' classic Adventure #2: Pirate Adventure), or CAST BLISS if we've found the Spell of Bliss.  This second option works better, as we need to use YOHO's two-way travel capabilities near the game's finale.

The puzzles in Sorcerer of Claymorgue Castle are fairly intricate.  For example, inside the castle is a ballroom, with a hanging chandelier tied up with a rope -- of course, the obvious UNTIE ROPE sends it crashing fatally down on our heads.  So does CLIMB ROPE.  We can CAST FIRE - in 2 words; at what? - AT ROPE; this causes the rope to burn slowly, giving us time to leave the room before the chandelier falls.  But I couldn't initially figure out what purpose this action serves --  it doesn't open the wooden crate if we leave it in the room during the crash.  Neither does CAST FIRE / AT CRATE, as it turns out.  I figured out we can CLIMB CRATE and get to an "on a box" location; we JUMP to return to the room where the crate is residing, but that didn't help.  But if we LOOK UP in the ballroom, we can see an inaccessible loft, so it seems we should try to get up there...

I had to use more than a few of Mr. Adams' encrypted hints at this point, to learn that we need to find and CAST an UNRAVEL spell, saving the FIRE spell for another use; then climb on the fallen chandelier, CAST LIGHT SQUARED to cause it to rise temporarily (LIGHT LIGHT punnily translating to unheavy lamp), and finally reach the loft above.  From here we can obtain a potion, and are suddenly empowered to THROW CRATE, after previous attempts to throw the crate in other locations yielded only Sorry, I can't throw that!  We can't get down from the loft unless we have cast BLISS; assuming we are prepared and can thus get down safely, we can climb back onto the crate to find a newly-made hole, enter the crate and find a metal hook.  Whew!

I couldn't figure out why I would want to CAST PERMEABILITY for a while; if we cast it at the moat bottom, it puts us into a dark location, where attempts to navigate in the dark prove fatal in the traditional fashion (I fell down and broke my neck!).  CAST YOHO should and does take us out of there, but a second use puts as back at the moat bottom, where we drown.  Until we have a light source available none of this is a useful course of action.

The coyly-named plain room presents some interesting puzzles -- EXAMINE ROOM reveals it has 3 odd walls & floorEXAMINE FLOOR yields the text-intensive small cracks around edges & empty icon niches.  I thought I would have to find some icons to put into the niches, so I put off dealing with this room for a while, but eventually referred to the official Adventure International hints to learn that we can actually PUSH [direction] to get to additional locations to the east and south.  And later, much to my chagrin, that we cannot PUSH but can instead PULL WEST to find a couple of important spells!  We can also PUSH DOWN -- darn you, Scott! -- but we fall and serve immediately as dragon fodder.  We can avoid this fate if we DRINK POTION beforehand, in which case the old dragon doesn't do anything to us, though we need to take one star and LOOK DRAGON to get a second one.

To the south is a storeroom with a sign reading STAIRWAY CONDEMED [sic].  We can go down the stairs to discover some rabid rats.  We can WALK UP, but can also CAST LYCANTHROPE to scare the rats away, presumably with our new werewolf visage.  We can also CAST FIRE / AT RATS, but we burn up too, so that's not an option; besides, we need to save the FIRE spell for casting AT TREES in the enchanted forest, to obtain another * STAR.  We can THROW BRICKS / AT RATS, but that doesn't scare them off either.  If we leave the rats alone, CAST PERMEABILITY here puts us under the stairs, where we find another * STAR, but then we're stuck there -- it's better to scare the rats away and use their hole as a means to reach this star and escape again.

The Adams parser engine allows some flexibility, apparently -- this game requires an unusually lengthy 5 letters for dictionary noun recognition, so GET PERM is not recognized, but GET PERME is (which made we wonder if this choice was intentional, so that we think of the spell as conferring PERME ability!)  It also means that the magic fountain's 2 story CENTErpiece is referred to as a CENTRepiece in the UK editions of the game, so walkthroughs may not quite work as written.  And Adams' parser is smarter than some others of this era -- we can't just use the AT clause as a shortcut, but must set up the CAST or THROW command properly.

For the first time in my experience, Adams' Adventure #13 feels like it's starting to outgrow his classic microcomputer interpreter, which was five or six years old when this game was written.  It feels similar to Infocom's Enchanter series, with complex puzzles and multiple uses for spells, but the memory constraints mean that descriptions are sparse and the player has to guess at possible solutions, with very few in-game clues or subtle hints.  Even the official hint book format has to stretch -- after some situation-specific questions and hints, a number of catch-all, detailed solution items follow. 

Some critical objects are not explicitly listed as objects where they are found, and there just isn't room in 16K of memory for much description, which means we really need the hints.  There's no direct way to tell that there are cabinets in the kitchen, for example, as EXAMINE KITCHEN only mentions the usual things.  We have to OPEN CABINETS to find the Spell of Bliss, and while it makes logical sense that kitchen cabinets exist, I don't think I would have guessed this without help.

Similarly, there are BATTLEMENTS accessible but not visible from the drawbridge; we can learn of their existence if we think to LOOK CASTLE, but since by this time we've explored the castle fairly thoroughly it's not the first action that comes to mind.  And while it makes perfect sense that we can GET DUST in the dusty room, it makes less sense that we need to do that so we can BLOW or THROW DUST at the old dragon to make him sneeze.  (Note also that BLOW is implemented as a synonym for THROW, which makes no sense at all until we know this!)

The Wicked Queen's Spell is a Snow White allusion that transforms the broken glass from the chandelier into a mirror.  It gives us quite a bit of information - age, health status, and elevation above the surface (if we have cast BLISS).  But I was disappointed that the LYCANTHROPE spell produces no change in our countenance as reported by LOOK MIRROR.

It took me a while to find the traditional treasure storeroom inside a hollow tree, and we must navigate carefully, as we can't carry all the stars at once, and can only visit it twice.  We must CAST PERMEABILITY to get there the first time, with an inventory slot reserved for the FIREFLY spell to light the darkness; we can then use CAST YOHO to exit and return a second time with the remaining stars in tow.  Unless we have already used it once, in which case we're stuck.

In the end, the detailed backstory gives way to victory achieved the old fashioned way, by gathering all 13 stars in the hollow tree:

I enjoyed the journey, and there are some fun fantasy ideas here despite the occasional obtuse puzzle -- Scott's setups are much less arbitrary than Brian Howarth's, but I still relied heavily on hints and walkthroughs to finish this one.  I was expecting more of a plot -- there's not much tension or time pressure to deal with, as all we're doing is rounding up the thirteen stars and dumping them in a hollow tree.  Vileroth failed to master the power of the stars, but I was kind of hoping to show him up or at least battle him for the future of the kingdom.  Oh, well.  I guess I'll just have to CAST BLISS and go about my business.

Next time, we'll tackle Scott Adams' first-ever sequel, Adventure #14A: Return to Pirate's Isle, which was originally released exclusively for the TI 99/4A home computer... just in time for TI to get out of the personal computer business.

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