Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Great Scott Project - Adventure #14A (1984)

The revived Great Scott Project continues this week, with Scott Adams' Adventure #14A, Return to Pirate's Isle, also known as Return to Pirate's Island, the first of two eventual sequels to the classic Adventure #2: Pirate Adventure.  We're about to lose the trail of the original Adventure International numbering sequence -- licensing considerations established a brand new series for the Marvel Comics-based QuestProbe games, and the movie-based Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai was treated as a stand-alone title.  Even this number, #14A, is kind of unofficial, but at least it has one.

Return to Pirate's Isle was originally released exclusively for the TI 99/4A home computer, and unlike the other Scott Adams Adventures on that platform, it did NOT rely on the solid-state Adventure cartridge containing the standard interpreter.  Instead, it shipped as a supersized cartridge containing 8K of program code and a whopping 40K of GROM graphics content.  The graphics were constructed differently from the disk-based S.A.G.A. series, with a library of fixed shapes and patterns combined to create each screen display.

I spent considerable time trying to get an emulator up and running to play the graphical original, but after fiddling around with several TI 99/4A emulators and cartridge loading addresses I finally settled for playing the text version using the ScottFree interpreter.  As far as I know, the illustrated version only appeared on the TI, with all other computer versions presented as text-only.

Be forewarned at the outset that detailed knowledge of Adventure #2 is a must -- the reasons for this will become clear about halfway through #14A.  So if you're going to play Return to Pirate's Isle on your own, dig out your Pirate Adventure maps and notes, or play it if you haven't.  When you've conquered it, or had enough, come back here and continue.  Because, matey, thar be...

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

This is still the vintage Scott Adams adventure engine at its core, and its tried-and-true approach is being stretched a bit.  We start out in a room where the engine displays the standard I can't see. It is too dark! message, but the startup text clarifies that this is not precisely the case:  Everything is not exactly dark, but it's too FUZZY to see! 

At this point, we can FEEL to discover a mattress but nothing more; we have to GET UP and FEEL to obtain... something unidentified.  This happens quite a lot as the game goes on, but at this moment our vision is so poor that we can't even take INVENTORY; it takes a lucky guess to WEAR GLASSES and discover we're in a ship's cabin.

The tie-ins to the original Pirate Adventure are initially subtle -- I expected to start out in the familiar London flat, but instead we begin aboard a pilotless modern ship, already docked at Pirate's Isle.  And the island landscape isn't familiar at first, which is confusing until we find a sign reading, Welcome to Backside of Pirate's Isle!  (The sign can be picked up and carried -- I thought at first this was an oversight, but it's a subtle hint for a later puzzle.)  And eventually we find our way to a familiar hilltop with a crack in the rock, though if we try to descend, we are mystically blocked by the author's message:  Sorry, to explore Pirate's Isle you'll need Adventure #2.

For once, I was glad these games don't have sound effects -- there's a ringing alarm clock at the start that persists even after we get up.  LISTEN tells us I hear it's on the ship somewhere.  But it's not readily accessible -- we can't find it (and shut it off) until we discover a secret smuggler's hold below deck, accessible only from the water.  It's a good design choice, giving the player a reason to investigate and track down its whereabouts, and providing a little background on our treasure-hunting character, assuming we were responsible for setting and hiding the clock in the first place.  Of course, that also implies that some sort of temporary amnesia set in overnight, so perhaps it's best not to examine this too closely.

One major early puzzle involves our character's poor vision, which makes several important areas inaccessible.  Trying to GO PORTHOLE, for example, causes our glasses to slip off; we also can't SWIM DOWN without losing them in the drink.  A better solution is in order, it would seem.  Incidentally, the ocean features a Strange current that seems to follow us wherever we go; it never seems to factor into anything, though GO CURRENT yields I am.  I think it's just there to account for the fact that all of the sea rooms are actually the same location in the database, so if we drop an item in one room it appears in the others.

The Helm in the cabin is not a helmet, but a ship's helm.  We can try to GO HELM, yielding only Sorry, I'm no sailor!   We can also go back to the Bunk bed, but attention to detail becomes important here.  GO BUNK takes us back to the bottom bunk where we woke up at the start of the game.  GO TOP takes us to the top bunk, where we find a *Diamond Watch* and a diver's face mask.  GO BOTTOM yields only Give me a direction too.

The face mask ought to come in useful, but we can't wear it over our glasses, so we can't see anything while wearing it.  Trying to put it on underwater notes that My mask's full of water!, but we can still breathe if we SWIM UP again, though we can't see.  This conundrum leads to a fairly complicated series of actions in which we have to GET (an invisible but logically present) ROCK from the rocky beach, examine it to discover some algae, read a rare book to learn How to make glue from Funori, take a break from the game to look up funori on Google and learn it's a type of seaweed, find a screwdriver in the ship's engine room, disassemble our spectacles (losing the little screws in the process, which fortunately we do not need), MAKE GLUE from the algae, and GLUE LENS - In 2 words tell me to or in what - IN MASK.  I can't quite picture this, or the flexible focal length required to make it practical, but it solves a major problem.

From the ocean, we can see our boat described as a ship with floodlights lit not at all!  The awkward phrasing implies that the floodlights can be lit -- which they can, but running the floodlights is part of the game's nastiest puzzle.  It took me a while to work through this, even with a walkthrough handy.  It all started with my silly attempt to GO FAN - yielding the response, Good idea! But ... the fan's turning.  So I tried to STOP FAN, which was met with the customary How?  I tried to BREAK FAN, learning only that BREAK is not recognized but is a synonym for BREATHE.  I finally learned (thanks, CASA!) that we can LOOK CEILING and find a Small button there.  Pushing the button turns on the floodlights, and the power diversion stops the fan -- eventually -- after running the ship's battery down from 20 amps to 4 or 5, at a rate of one amp per move as revealed by LOOK BATTERY in the engine room.  On the stopped fan we find a *Diamond Brooch*, and with the screwdriver we can REMOVE BLADE, providing a substitute shovel.  But if we neglect to turn the floodlights back off, the ship's battery runs down completely and can no longer be recharged by starting the engine.  So while we're off trying to solve various related puzzles, and wondering why the floodlights have suddenly gone off, we have in fact marooned ourselves.  It's critical that the battery be kept healthy, and the ship's fuel is limited as well, so recharging is not a complete solution.  For safety's sake it's best to take advantage of a good map and do much of our maneuvering in the dark, so we don't have to turn on the floodlights unless absolutely necessary.

Loose ends:  In the cabin, we can OPEN PORTHOLE but can't CLOSE it again.  The *Diamond Watch* gives us a move count if we look at it, but this isn't strictly necessary.  We can swim under the boat and come up in a sea location with flotsam and jetsam.  If we haven't actually discovered the floodlight button, the game knows it exists but nothing happens when we push it.

There's a painting in the cabin, but to my surprise there was nothing hidden behind it and I needed some hints to figure out what to do with it.  The painting itself is the basis of a couple of puzzles -- it's a portrait of Blackbeard to begin with, but with the screwdriver we can REMOVE FRAME, then LOOK PAINTING to discover a map documenting a Sailing route to TREASURE!  And if we examine it a second time, we discover that there's another painting hidden beneath the visible image.  In my case, I had carried the painting into the sea while exploring, so all I had was a Ruined watersoaked painting. But if we have kept it dry, it's revealed as a *Rembrandt painting*, which fortunately survives the world's most casual restoration process:  I see by edges other picture is visible beneath! I cleaned top one off!

We can MOVE BED in the ship's cabin to find another treasure, the *Diamond Ring*.

Digging with the fan blade discovers a bottle of rum, and pirates like rum very much, if memory serves from Adventure #2.  The pirate is napping atop a nearby hill -- we have to CLIMB HILL to reach a ledge, then JUMP UP a good eight feet, yielding I made it, fortunately.  Here, we are back in familiar territory for a moment.  LOOK PIRATE adds a Box to our inventory, which contains *Rare stamps* that should not be uncovered until we've gotten the box into the hold.  It also introduces a bit of a paradox -- in our previous Pirate Adventure, we dug what appears to be this same box up at 30 paces and claimed the stamps.  But here they are, back in the box, ready to be SCOREd again.

At any rate, we have to LOOK PIRATE again to claim his *Gold earring*, and then be careful with our next set of actions.  It does us no good to WAKE PIRATE, planning to GIVE RUM -- he wakes up, exclaims "Matey, you be forgetful for sure!", and leaves in a huff before we can act.  We have to DROP RUM, then WAKE PIRATE to establish that Pirate drinks rum and heads to work, just as in the original game -- he takes up his post at our ship's helm, ready for a little alcohol-enhanced piloting.

What's critical at this point is that we played the first Pirate Adventure and accurately mapped the area beyond the narrow crack.  Without benefit of a light source this time around, we must find our way into the familiar Shed and retrieve the Hammer; the water wings are nowhere to be found and are not needed in this adventure.

Getting back down from the hilltop can be frustrating -- if we try to GO DOWN, we are forbidden from entering the world of Adventure #2.  If we JUMP DOWN, we fall too far, fatally.  This sent me stumbling around in the crack and shed area again, breaking my neck repeatedly, until I figured out that we have to JUMP LEDGE to get back down.

Finding the smuggler's hold isn't easy -- and the *Rembrandt painting* can be ruined by the underwater journey.  We have to drop our glasses or mask, GO PORTHOLE blind, TAKE RAINCOAT, then return to the ship's cabin by way of the sea to regain our vision. Here we can WRAP PAINTING / IN RAINCOAT to make it waterproof for the time being.  I didn't think there was a way to pull this off without a hint, as I didn't discover any legitimate way to see or find the raincoat by feeling around, but the SQUINT verb reveals the room temporarily but clearly.  We have to FEEL BOAT to discover the large opening leading to the hold, and the opening does not visibly appear on return visits so good mapping is essential.

The treasures are scattered around Pirate's Isle, sometimes hidden, sometimes just in places we haven't yet thought to look.  A beam found by swimming under the dock leads to two more treasures, the *Diamond Pin* and *Silver Dollar* (if we think to LOOK BEAM.)

Technical aside: I could not get the SQUINT verb to function in the ScottFree interpreter version 1.02 for Windows, but the DOS version works properly.  The problem appears to be one I've run into before -- SQUINT is meant to reveal the current room's details briefly, but the time delay is far too brief on a modern computer.

Remember the sign on the beach?  Mr. Adams has a little fun with one of his own conventions here.  There's another sign hidden in the ship's hold -- but it's impossible to read it in the dark, as the crawlway leading to it is very narrow, and squinting doesn't give us enough time to read the sign.  We also can't get the treasures through the narrow passageway, so even if we could read the sign, it doesn't do us any good until we have picked it up and moved it to the smuggler's hold.  And until we have placed the sign in the room, we can't actually Leave *TREASURES* here -- that is, we can, but they don't count for SCORE!

Again, a good walkthrough is a huge help, if not an absolute necessity.  There's an invisible PILING underwater, which logically exists in the ocean, but I would never have thought to look for it.  EXAMINE PILING yields a Snail, of no apparent value, until we FEEL SILT elsewhere to find an Oyster, and then extract a *Pearl* after we OPEN OYSTER / WITH SNAIL.  Come again?  Ah, the snail is an Oyster Drill, a predatory species with a specialized raspy tongue, not known for its ability to open oysters in the traditional sense.

We have to SAIL SHIP in this one, rather than SET SAIL as in #2; perhaps this is because our ship here is motorized, rather than wind-powered.  Assuming the pirate has been properly rewarded, he takes the helm and takes us to the location indicated on the treasure map.  Here, we need to use the floodlight, stretching the capacity of the ship's battery and fuel, to take a quick dive and find a very well-sealed chest inside a sunken ship.  Inside the chest is a *Rare book* -- READ BOOK reveals that I see it's on Ophthalmology. Squinting can help with Myopia, which is the only in-game indication that the SQUINT verb exists.  Oddly, after we have taken this trip (with our piratey pilot, or piloty pirate) and returned to Pirate's Isle, we can no longer STOP ENGINE.  There doesn't seem to be any need to do so, though.

It was an arduous journey, but we've accomplished the usual goal -- acquire 13 treasures, drop them in the appropriate location, and say SCORE:

Playing the later Scott Adams adventures, including this one, I can't help feeling that as Adams' games became more difficult and complex, they may have been reaching a narrower market.  There were also major industry changes afoot, obviously, exemplified by Texas Instruments' decision to get out of the home computer business shortly after this title was released.  But I miss the simpler pleasures of the early Adventures, where hints were useful but not necessarily required.

Pirate Adventure clearly holds a special place in its author's heart -- we will eventually tackle the second sequel, Return to Pirate's Island 2, released by Scott Adams in the year 2000.  But first, we'll venture into the Marvel Comics-Scott Adams collaborations known as QuestProbe.


  1. You were very correct about your deduction of the strange current. Working within the limited memory avialable at the time I was not able to open the vast ocean areas. I wanted an explanation why items dropped in the ocean were always visible. I know a bit of a stretch!

    Also the part of gluing lens to a mask was something I actually did in my early days of snorkeling and later when scuba diving.

    And indeed the game came out just before TI decided to exit the market and was immediately firesaled.
    Unfortunately this was also the begining of the end of Adventure International as the industry imploded!

    The original has been sold I notice on Ebay over the years. I picked up a TI 99/4a and cartridge for nostalagia sake myself.

    I was very proud of what I did to get a full graphic adventure game into a single cartridge of the area!

  2. And you should be proud, Scott! The screenshots I've seen of the TI version look quite nice, and I'm sure if the industry had been healthier you would have used that technique again. Thanks as always for sharing your memories, and confirming or correcting my wild speculations.

    I'm currently working my way through "Return to Pirate's Island 2", and it's interesting to compare the two and see how you've taken advantage of the "unlimited" memory available on modern PCs.

  3. I remember playing the TI 99/4A version as a kid. It was great, because no loading time, and fun graphics! But boy was it hard!

  4. "...with floodlights lit not at all." I stopped there, back in the day. Can't tell you how frustrated it made me. Had no idea what to do, and no way to find out.

  5. I quit after probably about 10% of the game. Ridiculously hard as you've said, if you have no walk through.