Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Adventure of the Week: Marooned (TRS-80 Color, 1985)

UPDATE II:  Again thanks to a diligent CoCo researcher, we have an author -- one Steve Hartford, and a confirmation on the year of publication, 1985.  The Internet is a grand and wonderful thing.

UPDATE:  Thanks to some very helpful input and research from the CoCo community, we can state (with some confidence) that this game was published by Saguaro Software circa 1986.  No author is identified yet, but Marooned did see commercial distribution.

This week, we're tackling Marooned, another obscure adventure from the rapidly fading past, with no publisher or author identified in-game, and no reliable information floating around the Web.  This is one of several unrelated adventure games published under the same title over the years; in this case, it's a simply-illustrated graphic adventure for the TRS-80 Color Computer.  I owned a CoCo back in the day, and read the associated literature faithfully obsessively, but I don't even remember this game being advertised.  It likely originated in the mid 1980's; the boot program is in BASIC, but the core executable is in machine language, so I doubt it's a magazine type-in; and it's a competently written adventure game in several respects.   But who wrote it, and marketed it, I do not know.  It's identified as MAROONED 2.0 on its graphic/color test startup screen; any information readers may be able to offer will be very welcome!

The game itself, as suggested by the title, is a straightforward escape-the-alien-world game.  The parser is very limited and most of the illustrations are schematic at best:

I played using the MESS CoCo emulator.  Even though Marooned is a machine language program, it apparently relies on the CoCo's rather slow built-in ROM drawing routines, and judging from an error message I ran into it's probably running as a compiled BASIC program.  I found that cranking up the emulator speed to 500% allowed it to play at a decent clip.  The SAVE GAME command works well, with 9 slots available on the game disk, no swapping required.

Marooned manages to be fun in its old-school way, despite its quirks.  Interested readers are advised to tackle this one before proceeding here -- it's not difficult to solve, and I will be giving away a number of details in the following discussion, followed by a complete walkthrough; I hadn't found another one published anywhere, my own is also available at the CASA Solution Archive.  In brief, I remind you, there are...

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

The engine is well-implemented in some respects, sloppy in others.  There's not much animation in the game -- in fact, only the very first screen has any movement at all, a simple flashing light visible in the distance:

The flashing lights of the UFO continue to blink even if we've gone into the INVENTORY screen, which replaces the graphic display temporarily, except for the blinking lights which somehow continue to shine through our consciousness even as we rummage through our pockets.

The first few moves of the game really leave us no choice -- all we can do is go N a few times to enter the UFO, which promptly leaves Earth.  Some designers and players prefer to keep this sort of "set piece" storytelling non-interactive, some don't.  I kind of like it -- it's a way of drawing the player into the action, even when it's a bit of a cheat.

In a break with adventure game tradition, there are no textual room descriptions, and no names given to the rooms.  This makes mapping a bit of a challenge -- I ended up drawing lots of empty boxes and noting the items initially found in the rooms, which at least helped me focus on the salient details.  The map is cooperative -- straightforward N/W/E/S navigation, with a few reflective dead-ends but no real mazes.  Some images are reused, and maddeningly a couple of important items aren't explicitly named -- guessing what the CAVE is isn't hard, but I kept trying to work with what I thought was a tray before discovering it was a SHELF.  The room illustrations are simple and don't usually provide much information, and there are often intriguing objects on display despite the evident fact that You see: nothing.  I spent some time trying to figure out if this was an alien map, or a set of globes, but never found the words to express my intention:

The parser is limited in many ways, but oddly sophisticated in others.  Its worst habit is that it responds to anything it does not specifically recognize with I don't understand, and gives us no clue about exactly what it does not understand.  I thought at first that there was no OPEN verb, because OPEN BOX doesn't work.  But later I succeeded in my attempt to OPEN EGGS, yielding (to my mild disgust) There is a red gush (which we can pick up and carry around, to my even milder disgust.)  The parser is fairly context-sensitive -- PUT GOLD is treated as a DROP in areas where there's nowhere specific to put it, but responds with a Where? query in other situations.  The HELP command is also well implemented, advising us to get rid of unnecessary objects or explore particular avenues, depending on where we are and what we are carrying.

There are four eggs aboard the UFO, which we can only really figure out by trying to OPEN EGGS four times; the fifth attempt yields They're open, signaling the end of the process.  We discover a small worm (that eats the red gush, to no apparent effect), a bee (that, as far as I know, has no purpose either), and a leather bag.

OPEN BAG yields a gold coin; we can't TAKE COIN, but we can TAKE GOLD, and later PUT GOLD, but it's not immediately clear where we should do this.  We need to find the glass rod and EXAMINE CHAIR in what appears to be a control room; PUT ROD / Where? / IN CHAIR opens another passage to a room containing lead coins.  Again, we can't TAKE COINS, but have to TAKE LEAD.

And here's where I got stuck the longest -- HELP in this room hints that we should replace the lead coins with the gold coins, but it's not at all clear how we can do that.  In fact, once we've taken the lead coins, we cannot discover the right phrase without sheer guesswork.  I had to start over and EXAMINE LEAD before taking them, to discover that originally the coins are on a blue shelf, which is pictured but not otherwise mentioned or described.  PUT GOLD - Where? - ON SHELF produces the... well, it may not seem like a desirable result, but it causes the UFO to crash-land on an alien world so the game can continue with part two:

(One minor bug here -- the part two legend at the top of the screen gets updated as we exit the alien lifeboat.  But if we start over at the beginning and LOAD GAME, the part one legend from startup remains in place even if our restored game puts us straight into part two.)

A glass box found aboard the UFO glows, but does not provide sufficient illumination to explore the ruins on the alien planet -- we have to learn that some glowrocks found a few "rooms" south of the ruins are bright enough to solve the problem.  We don't need to find or carry the lone silver glove found aboard the UFO, at least not for any reason that I could discover, but it does provide supporting evidence for the game's 1980's origins.  WEAR GLOVE yields You feel like breakdancing, a probable if somewhat inaccurate reference to Thriller-era Michael Jackson.

As was often the case when graphics were added to standard text adventures, the pictures unintentionally make the alien planet easier to map, as the image doesn't change when we try to move past an invisible dead-end.  The alien planet is fairly sparsely dressed, actually - there are some ruins to the northeast, an alien with a white sheet to the south, and some vines and logs further south/southeast of our starting location.  Traveling all the way south, we encounter an alien sea -- and it's not a safe area to explore, as if we attempt to leave the area, we learn that Playing in alien fish-waters has gotten you killed.

The solution is hinted at by the raw materials available -- the vines and logs imply that we can MAKE RAFT, but are not sufficient, as we are told You don't have the materials.  We also need the white sheet guarded by the alien, presumably for a sail.

There's a nasty bug that occurs if we enter the alien ruins without a light source -- if we enter and RUB BOX or otherwise spend more than a turn in there, the game crashes unceremoniously out to the operating system. With the glowrocks in hand, we can see hieroglyphics on the wall and retrieve the ancient statue sitting there, yielding You have a [sic] ancient statue.  We can then GIVE STATUE to the alien to obtain his white sheet, which doesn't seem like much of a bargain considering the risk we went through to obtain said statue, but at the moment we're just trying to survive (fortunately the alien planet has breathable air).  We can only grumble and hope that a Bed Bath & Beyond will open nearby and put the extortionate alien fabricmonger out of business..

Now we can build the raft -- I wandered around the beach area for a while trying to DROP RAFT and USE RAFT, before learning that we can simply GO RAFT.  In fact, a handy bug ensures that we can GO RAFT from any location on the map and find ourselves on the raft in the water.  Traveling S on the raft leads us to an alien island, which is laid out as a simple 4 x 4 square of 16 rooms, one of which contains a cave.

We can enter the cave, where we inexplicably discover a screen door.  GO DOOR puts us back outside the cave, and I suspect it's actually treating it as GO OUTSIDE.  But if we OPEN DOOR, we discover that...


Rather abruptly, we've finished the game!

The game can be solved in about 60 moves, actually, as shown in my walkthrough below the fold.  Next week... well, who knows?  Maybe I'll tackle something a little more mainstream and well-known.  Maybe not.


N, N; (UFO takes off)
N, E, E;
N, TAKE ROD, N, N, W, W;
S, E, E, E, E;


  1. Next week... well, who knows?

    Since you've busted open the CoCo vaults, here's a bid for a look at its notorious Madness and the Minotaur.

  2. Madness and the Minotaur is on my list of games to tackle someday, Rowan, but I've always been a little bit intimidated by its sheer randomness. I owned a copy (the Radio Shack distribution of Spectral Associates' original) back in the day but never got close to solving it. Maybe the save-state emulation era will give me a consistent basis to fight from!

  3. Never heard of this title. I looked at Curtis Boyle's games list first and didn't find any reference to this game, searched also the Tom Dykema (T&D) libraries to no avail; the title 'Marooned!' does not come up AFAIK on any The Rainbow, Hot CoCo and Color Computer magazine I have read. Interesting, to say the least. Will ask around, maybe a die hard CoCo nut will have some more info on this. Where did you get this game?

    Curtis's list -

  4. Rogelio, thanks much for doing some research. It's really puzzling -- I found Marooned.zip in the CoCo archives at theoldcomputer.com, but haven't been able to find any other references to it anywhere. It doesn't help that so many adventure games have used similar titles or descriptions, of course. But the game's title screen is remarkably anonymous as well. Strange!

  5. Update... this review index was helpful:


    There was apparently a review published in the February 1986 of RAINBOW Magazine of a game called "Marooned." If we can track that issue down, we might be able to find out more about it!

  6. The review in the February 1986 issue RAINBOW is for Marooned by Saguaro Software of Telluride, Colorado. No pictures are included of the game, but the description seems to closely match the one reviewed here.

  7. Greg, thanks for the research! I am pretty sure we've nailed it now -- Saguaro Software published a couple of other graphic adventures, including Scott Cabit's "Adventure In Mythology", around the same time. This game doesn't fit Cabit's style, so the author remains anonymous for the moment. But at least we know it was commercially distributed. Much appreciated!

  8. It's been a while since you posted this, but I found out the author of the game to be Steve Hartford - according to an ad published in Rainbow Magazine (June 1985, pg. 161) by Saguaro Software. Let me see if I can post it somewhere...


    1. Thanks, Gustavo! Very glad to have that detail tracked down. I'll post an update here.