Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Arrow One (1982)

This week, we're playing another of the prolific Softside Publications' adventures for the Atari 400/800 computers -- it's Softside Adventure #13, Arrow One, from June of 1982.  The author is unfortunately uncredited, either onscreen or in the code, but we can discern from the comments that the final source code was completed on May 24, 1982.

Arrow One is a science-fiction adventure -- the player is cast as one Adam Trent, a trouble shooter for the Federation of Space:

We're not given any other details about the "horrifying discovery" or the "desperate and dangerous quest" ahead.  It's actually not particularly clear what we're supposed to be doing here, or what sort of trouble Mr. Trent is meant to be shooting; initially, mapping is the primary challenge, with few obvious puzzles to solve.

There are several further text screens of Scott Adams-style instructions presented, prior to loading the main game.  We learn that we've arrived upon "an unchartered planet," which may be true but seems rather more municipal than sci-fi scary.  The titular Arrow One, it develops, is our spaceship, where we will be spending no time whatsoever during our adventure, and the alien planet has a human-breathable atmosphere for convenience, with a jungle and a couple of cities visible as the story gets underway.  To set the plot in motion, we watch as a strange vehicle descends and disappears into the treetops, accompanied by some suitable Atari sound effects.

As always, I urge interested readers to track down and play Arrow One before proceeding here; in the interest of historical context and documentation for the many Internet denizens not so inclined, there will be copious...


Text adventure parsers were not very consistent or flexible during this early industry era -- we must use I, not INVENTORY or INV, to take stock of our possessions.  As we come down from the hill where we start (we can't re-enter the Arrow One), we find ourselves in a jungle, carrying a laser.  The jungle is not a maze, fortunately, but it behaves oddly -- going E appears to return to the first jungle room, but going S from there actually takes us to a different location.  Several routes will lead to the middle of the jungle, and very often don't make geographical sense, but it isn't usually hard to find our way back to where we intended to go.

To the north of our starting point, the entrance to the domed City of Renn is guarded by two burly aliens.  If we try to enter the city, they kill you with a quick burst of laser fire,  and despite this maltreatment we are not allowed to shoot them pre-emptively with our own laser (No effect).

From the beach to the west, we can glimpse the City of Pfitt, which apparently does not translate well into our native tongue; it will change name when we visit it later on.  There's also LOTS OF SAND here, but it's impossible to carry any of it.

A BABY GOOBA appears as we further explore the jungle, but LOOK GOOBA yields only Don't ask me... I don't know what it is either.  Nearby is a crashed alien shuttle -- the dead astronaut lies on the ground, wearing a uniform with the name PING stitched into the pocket.  We can't refer to him as PING though, and we can't GET ALIEN, but we can GET UNIFORM.  After we do so, LOOK ALIEN now yields the slightly disturbing response He's naked.

Fortunately, the dead pilot's body plan matches our own well, and with Ping's uniform on, we can enter the city of Renn.  (Apparently we also resemble the aliens fairly closely, so no one shoots us on sight if we're wearing a uniform.)  Navigation in Arrow One is slightly odd, as some rooms don't list all of the available exits in the Some exits are section of the screen, and we have to derive them from the room description.  Mapping is also unnecessarily complicated by ordinary-looking exits in the city that somehow manage to loop all the way back to the middle of the jungle.

In town, we can discover that the Hen House contains a XIPPI BIRD (apparently the aliens know what hens are.)  The library has a set of encyclopedias, something called FROTTI and an ALIEN LIBRARIAN.  We can try to gain some credibility with the locals, or learn more about this alien world, but Arrow One uses a 3-character parser, and SHOW is therefore equivalent to the much less sociable SHOOT.  So our interactions with other characters are limited.

There's a Transporter Room in the city, a common and generally useful feature of sci-fi adventure games, which contains a red button, a hole, and a sign: INSERT CYLINDER.  A small room nearby contains a Truth Mirror, which eventually helps us decode the alien language, indirectly, if we can figure out how to use it.  This isn't immediately easy to do, as the label reads: TO USE - VUMJ BHFOYVL.  Interesting.

The desert appears to contain a XENON CYLINDER, which should work in the Transporter, but GET CYLINDER reveals it as a frustrating mirage.  A NASTY ALIEN also turns up in various locations from time to time; I wasn't immediately sure what to do with him, but we can SHOOT ALIEN to turn him into a DEAD NASTY ALIEN and steal his sunglasses.  There's also a NICE ALIEN wandering around the map, but shooting him brings the ALIEN POLICE to summarily end our game, so we should leave him alone.  Apparently law enforcement is highly discretionary in the City of Renn.

The ETERNAL TRIANGLE ROOM seems to be an infinite loop, and it is; we'd best not even enter, as this is an old-school game and there is no possible escape from this room.  In the WEIGHTLESS ROOM, the engine notes that Something's too heavy as we enter; we have to reduce our inventory by dropping items, each of which floats upward, until we are light enough to do the same, arriving at a long catwalk where we can reclaim our belongings.  A piece of torn paper at the west end of the catwalk reads... well, it Doesn't make sense.  At least not until we learn to translate the alien language.

A garden accessible from the catwalk contains a HELKI (again, untranslated) and a SNARLING ALIEN DOG.  It remains unclear why Adam Trent clearly interprets some things approximately in Earthling terms, like hens and dogs, yet knows the precise alien word for any items he doesn't recognize.  Trying to go W leads to a fatal dog (or dog-like creature) attack, so that's a dead end for the moment.

Wearing the nasty alien's sunglasses in the LIGHT ROOM reveals a crystal rod we can't otherwise see, thereby, apparently, justifying his murder in cold blood.  He was pretty nasty, after all, and we will later use this rod to help save the world, or this world at any rate.

Before finding out how to deal with the alien language properly, I did some experimentation.  The alien code does not at first appear to be a simple cipher -- at least it's not an inverse alphabet or letter-shifted code.  But a little experimentation starts to break down the barriers once we find a phrase we can make sense of.  In my case, the "aha!" moment came when the alien librarian asked DVPL RUMBAT?, and I discovered that if we answer with a letter we are allowed to peruse that volume of the encyclopedia.  We can also just take any volume, e.g. GET C, for shorthand.  Apparently the alien alphabet contains the same 26 letters ours does!

Some alien terms are in fact new nouns that don't directly decode.  From the encyclopedia's Volume F, we learn that FROTTI = POWERFUL MAGNET; we also learn that the GOOBA loves to eat Xippi eggs, and as an adult is capable of supporting a human in flight.  (How do the aliens know anything about its capabilities vis-a-vis humans?)  It's painful, but it pays to go through all 26 volumes, though volumes I and W are missing.  Volume X tells us that the Xippi bird loves potatoes, and the HELKI in the garden turns out to be a potato; that is, now that we've encountered it, Volume H of the encyclopedia confirms this as fact.  We have to know what we're looking for, it seems, though if we've played before, we need not even bother with the encyclopedias.  There's some interesting parser behavior here -- once we know a word's translation, the original alien word becomes unavailable, so while we could GET HELKI when we had no idea what it was, we must now GET POTATO.

Feeding the Xippi bird a potato yields a Xippi egg, and feeding the egg in turn to the baby Gooba results in a TEENAGED GOOBA.  We need to repeat this action once more to make him an ADULT GOOBA, and can find no more potatoes in the garden afterwards. 

Returning to the beach, we stumble (with a KLING) onto an Alien Coin if we're carrying the frotti powerful magnet.  Giving the coin to the ALIEN BEGGAR in town yields a translator, which would have been handy if we'd found it earlier -- except its battery compartment is empty, so it's not quite useful until we LOOK POCKET (of the uniform we stole from PING) to discover a TINY BATTERY

With the translator, much about this world becomes clearer.  The piece of paper on the catwalk says UPRIGHT, which doesn't help us much out of context.  We can confirm the translation of the librarian's DVPL RUMBAT? as WHAT VOLUME?, and deduce that the alien language (aside from the specific nouns identified by the encyclopedia) is in fact a letter substitution cipher -- we just needed some confirmed translations to crack the code.  VUMJ BHOYFVL is HOLD UPRIGHT, which allows us to use the Truth Mirror to disrupt any troublesome illusions and obtain the XENON CYLINDER at last (it often looks like a VICIOUS HOUND if we aren't making appropriate use of the mirror.)

Off to the teleporter we go, but it isn't immediately ready for use after we INSERT CYLINDER -- it's being recharged.  So we need to explore some other possibilities while we wait.

I had to battle the parser to figure out what to do with the Adult Gooba, even after reading up on it.  We can't GET GOOBA even when it's a baby, and neither can we USE, RIDE, SHOOT, or CLIMB the poor creature... but we can GO GOOBA.  Once so imposed upon, the bird carries us to the far off city of PHTTT on the other side of the sea, earlier referred to as PFITT.  But Istanbul was Constantinople, so this is not a uniquely alien issue.

No guns are allowed in the City of Phttt, so we have to leave our laser pistol behind.  This seems odd, because the crime rate is high here -- a CROOKED ALIEN lurks in the area, and will steal our possessions at random, though fortunately he always leaves them in the same place so we can gather them up again as needed.  There's an Air Car parked in an open field on the other side of town, and we meet A DYING PROFESSOR in a CRAMPED BEDROOM behind a TINY OPEN DOOR, who in the grandly minimalist BASIC text adventure tradition says "find my daughter," and gives us an IGNITION KEY.  The key works in the air car... which immediately takes us back to the city of Renn.  Hmmmm.

Now we can find a freeze gun in the desert, which seems an unlikely place for it, and again HOLD the truth mirror UPRIGHT so we can GET GUN.  We can now SHOOT DOG in the garden to turn him into a FROZEN DOG, GET DOG, and DROP DOG into the bottomless pit nearby before the poor creature wakes up, just in case there was any doubt remaining about Adam Trent's feelings concerning the sanctity of alien life.  We can enter the GREENHOUSE now, where the PROF'S DAUGHTER has been trapped.  The game informs us that Girl says she'll go with you, which is flattering if a bit disturbing, considering we've just met, and then She gives you something, which turns out to be the DOOR KEY if we have managed to get our minds out of the gutter long enough to check inventory.

Now, of course, the teleporter has recharged, so we can use it to take the Prof's Daughter back home to Pfttt.  As a reward, the dying academic gives us a code to enter into the nearby computer, so that we may avert a terrible but unspecified tragedy.  The professor instructs us, "Please hurry and come back when done," the terseness understandable because he is dying and the designer is running out of text space.  In the COMPUTER ROOM, we need to INSERT ROD (ahem -- the crystal rod, into the WALL-TO-WALL COMPUTER) and enter the code the professor gave us.  In my playthrough, the code was 697; in fact, it is always 697.  But we have to PUSH 697, rather than entering one digit at a time.

Having turned off the computer, which dies in a cloud of electronic stench, we have apparently done something good for this world.  We return to the professor, who dies, conveniently giving his daughter's hand to us in marriage or some semblance thereof before he goes.  And yes, it's an old-fashioned pulp sci-fi twist ending:

The player is Adam Trent; the Professor's daughter's name is Eve, and This adventure is just beginning, instead of the usual This adventure is over; it's a fresh little coda that made me smile.  Hooray for the Federation of Space!  Hooray for saving the planet!  If it weren't for my nagging doubts about the troublesome lack of genetic diversity that will most likely doom this couple's progeny to a variety of fatal heritable defects after a few generations, this would be a happy ending indeed.

I enjoyed playing Arrow One -- the unassuming Softside games are usually simple and not terribly difficult, but are diverse enough to be fun every now and then.  I would not easily have solved this one (at least not without examining the code) without SDon78's set of hints, now joined by my detailed walkthrough at the CASA Solution Archive.  My solution is included below the fold here.

***** WALKTHROUGH *****

(Hit RETURN through intro)

(Move S and E until you arrive at a location with a CRASHED ALIEN SHUTTLE)
N, N
N, N, N
E, W
DROP LASER (float up)

(along the way, if the NASTY ALIEN shows up, SHOOT ALIEN, LOOK ALIEN and GET SUNGLASSES)

E, D, W
N, N, N, W
E, S, S, S
N, N, N, N
E, W
DROP SUNGLASSES (if you have them)
(float up again)
E, D, W
N, N, N, W
E, N, W, N, E
W, S, E, N
(wander in desert until you see the XENON CYLINDER)
S, W, N, W
E, S, E, S, S, S
(navigate S and E until you find the TEENAGED GOOBA again)
GIVE EGG (it becomes an ADULT GOOBA)

(make sure you have met and killed the NASTY ALIEN before going on here)

N, N
(drop all belongings but the uniform, or let the CROOKED ALIEN steal them)
GO DOOR (professor gives you the ignition key)
W, W, N, W (to storage room)
(recover belongings, especially the TRUTH MIRROR and SUNGLASSES)
E, E
(wander in desert until you see the FREEZE GUN)
S, E, N
S, W
(drop all but uniform, float up)
(recover all items sent up)
E, D, W
DROP DOG (into bottomless pit)
W, W (the professor's daughter is here, gives you the DOOR KEY)
E, N, N, N, N, N
W, N, W
PUSH BUTTON (teleport)
E, E, S
GO DOOR (to computer room)
W, N
(drop all belongings but uniform, if they haven't been stolen; recover from STORAGE ROOM if need be)
GO DOOR (professor gives you the CODE)
W, S
READ CODE (apparently it's always 697)
PUSH 697
W, N
GO DOOR (to an intriguing victory scenario!)

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