Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Adventure F - The Eye of Bain (1984)

It's been a while since I've looked at Artic Computing Limited's series of text adventures for the Sinclair Spectrum ZX, a popular home computer in the UK.  So this week we're playing through Artic Adventure F - The Eye of Bain, sixth in the cassette-based series.  Like Adventure E - The Golden Apple before it, this one features an illustrated title screen that attempts to provide an overview of the game's landscape, and an onscreen credit for the series' author, Simon Wadsworth. 

The next screen of text also credits one Ken Gosling for the "Adventure scenario," though I'm not quite sure what that means.  There are also in-game illustrations for every room, viewable with the LOOK command, but they are strictly for illustration and don't really add anything to the gameplay.  The Artic games all seem to share the same idiosyncratic parser, with an equally idiosyncratic design sensibility that sometimes requires a good deal of word guessing to get the player's point across.  But they're also varied, colorful, and short enough not to be too aggravating.

Adventure F begins in a grass hut with no obvious exits but some interesting items; presumably our goal is to obtain the titular Eye of Bain, and despite the game's vintage this almost certainly has nothing to do with Diff'rent Strokes TV star Conrad Bain.

As always, I encourage interested readers to seek out and play Adventure F -- The Eye of Bain before proceeding here.  I will be documenting the game's quirks and storyline in some detail, which means there will surely be...

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

The cabin where we find ourselves as the game begins contains a number of potentially useful items, so we should probably TAKE anything that's not nailed down -- i.e, the Dagger and Net.  The Pole and Door are permanent.  I or INVENTORY reveals that we are already carrying a heavy Chain as the game begins, and its nature is revealed when we try to CLIMB POLE, yielding You're joking?! I can't do any climbing with this chain wrapped around my leg.

We can't DROP CHAIN, as it's clamped firmly to my leg.  We can't GO DOOR with the chain on either.  So this is our first puzzle, it seems, and LIFT POLE solves it -- As I lift the pole the chain is released and part of the wall falls in.  (The Speccy's generous 32K of RAM was kind to cassette-based, single-load text adventures -- there's little SOMETHING HAPPENED! vagueness here.)

We have to remember to EXAMINE objects of interest, as LOOK just brings up the vector-and-fill location illustrations, which generally contain no new information.  I took a peek at some of them early on, but eventually stopped bothering; a few of them are quite nice, though, like this image of an ape in a tree:

Once we've freed ourselves, it's still not a good idea to GO DOOR, as The villagers see me.  This time they make no mistakes and execute me on the spot.  So it's better to explore the village outskirts.  An apiary contains a Hive and some bumble bees, but it's not wise to EXAMINE HIVE -- I get stung to death by very protective bees!  Hmmm.  We can't WEAR NET or COVER HIVE or NET BEES, so we may have to come back here later.

The crossroads to the south feature a whipping post, with a man tied to it, making this game's world seem suddenly not quite so quaint and tropical.  Fortunately we can easily FREE MAN - he is grateful, and says, "The blade and the hilt together do make, the downfall of the really big snake!"  Apparently he's a bit dehydrated and delirious, but we should make note of this in case it eventually means something, in the way that odd adventure game utterances always do.

We can try to CUT UNDERGROWTH at the edge of the forest, learning only that I can't do that.. YET!   So that's something else to try again at some point.  Down a nearby well, we encounter a shapeless black Beast and a Hole.  We can't GO HOLE, of course; the beast erupts into grey flame and drives me back.  So we will likely have to dispatch this creature at some point; right now, we should at least take the well's obviously useful Bucket along.

The Eye of Bain is largely an outdoor adventure, and free of traditional mazes, which may have been falling out of favor already by the time this game was written.  But there are navigation puzzles to contend with, and of course, in the forest we still can't CLIMB TREE with the chain wrapped around our leg.

A mountain path has a rocky Slope and a large Stone.  (The Artic parser tends to capitalize the operative word in more complex object names, which often comes in handy.)  A desert region is just large enough to dehydrate us in three moves.  We can FILL BUCKET at the stream to carry water with us, but to our chagrin we discover that we can't DRINK WATER!  Even as we teeter between life and death, the parser taunts us, gleefully informing us that The noun "WATER" is not in my vocabulary right before it tells us that I am totally dehydrated. I'm dead!  Yowza.  We can't DRINK BUCKET either; only a simple DRINK command does the trick.  (And apparently we can only DRINK after we FILL BUCKET, even in the direst circumstances while we are standing right next to an obvious source of potable H2O.)  Once we survive the desert -- and the parser -- we can reach a rocky canyon with a River and a Shovel, and visit the Port of Amrath where a Pirate captain waits with his pirate Ship.  It's not a good idea to GO SHIP, however, as we are pounced upon by his motley crew and made a galley slave, ending the game.

We can DIG with the shovel, but it's difficult to find anything within the tight, three-move desert heat limit, and in fact there's nothing to be found beneath the shifting sands.  We can also make our way north to a Nomad's tent, containing a Jar of oil, two slave Girls, a Tapestry, and an unhappy desert Nomad who says, "Be gone, infidel scum."  Apparently he is unhappy with us, as evidenced by the fact that eventually he attacks me with a scimitar and kills me.  EXAMINE TAPESTRY reveals yet another hole in the wall, but the Nomad kills us before we can further explore.  We can't FREE GIRLS either, or KILL NOMAD, at least not before getting killed ourselves.  But we can THROW DAGGER and earn an immediate weapons upgrade: As the dagger plunges into the nomad he drops a scimitar and dies.  And now we can take time to EXAMINE GIRLS -- One of them had a ruby in her navel.  The ruby falls out and the girls wander off.  So we can GET RUBY, though we cannot FOLLOW GIRLS.

Going through the hole behind the Tapestry, we find a Cave outside the nomad's tent which contains a Tunnel and a mean looking Bear, who probably wants honey, if this is a typical adventure game, especially considering that we've already encountered some bees.  We can finally DIG successfully, in the nearby Field, to find some... Worms.  No buried treasure here, apparently.

The ruby bears a faint inscription: "Fire will harm the beast of black"... this likely refers to the shapeless creature lurking the well.  I tried to THROW JAR (of oil) and DROP JAR near it, and then irritate it by trying to GO HOLE, but apparently its grey flame is not actually inflammatory.

So let's see if we can obtain some honey and undo some of the usual adventure game's Gordian knot of interrelated puzzles.  One action I hadn't tried yet was to THROW NET, establishing that the net lands on the bees covering them completely.  Now we can EXAMINE HIVE to obtain some Honey, and GIVE HONEY to the Bear, so that he becomes a friendly happy Bear and allows us to  GO TUNNEL in the cave to emerge on a narrow ledge with a bird's Nest, and a Magpie who pecks at us when we try to EXAMINE NEST.  Can we GIVE WORMS to Magpie?  Nope.  But we can be mean about it and THROW WORMS -- I throw the worms off the ledge and the magpie chases after them and disappears.   Don't worry, folks, he can surely fly -- and now we find a shiny Cross in the nest.

Having done well by the animals, it's time to continuing our bloodthirsty vendetta against human beings -- we can KILL PIRATE with the Nomad's scimitar, and EXAMINE PIRATE to obtain his Hook.

Now what?  Well, the strong Pole from the hut might be useful; I thought perhaps we could tie or attach the Hook to it to produce a reaching device, but I was on the wrong track.

We can take the large Stone from the mountain path, which surprised me as I mentally pictured it as a much larger Stone than Mr. Wadsworth intends.  And now we can simply BREAK CHAIN -- Wham! The heavy stone breaks the chain from my ankle.  (And fortunately not vice-versa.)

Now we can CLIMB, which allows us to access several new areas, including some non-obvious ones -- we can't GO SLOPE, for example, but we can CLIMB SLOPE.  There's a Pile of Wood on the mountain top, but we can't GET WOOD so we'll have to come back here if we're going to do anything with it.  We can CLIMB TREE in a few places, to meet the huge Ape shown above in the Forest, and find a bunch of Bananas in the palm tree at the Oasis. And yes, if we GIVE BANANAS, the Ape gives us a Vine.

It appears that we can TIE VINE, to which the game responds, To What?  This is a very good question.  We can't seem to tie it to the Tree near the Ravine, or to the large Stone, or to the Pole, or the Hook.  The Pole might be useful in another way, but we can't JUMP RAVINE, at least not successfully, or VAULT RAVINE.

I got stuck here, and ran out of things to try, which on my weekly deadline meant it was time to seek help -- fortunately, the venerable JGunness has prepared some hints and a walkthrough at his excellent site, the CASA Solution Archive.  These hints were not much help to me at the moment I looked them up, though they did indicate that we can successfully JUMP RAVINE.  I had to consult the detailed walkthrough, however, to learn that -- aha! -- we need the whipping Post, not the strong Pole.  Something doesn't seem quite right about that, but now we can continue.

Fetching an Axe from the stone hut on the south side of the ravine, we can CUT UNDERGROWTH near the well to reveal a hidden Path, leading to a ruined Tower and a very locked Door, and no Keys seen in our travels so far.  So I went back to the walkthrough, learning that we can SAY FIRE to create fire with the Ruby -- apparently the inscription was not just a hint, but actual instructions.  I had been looking for some way to use the vine and wood and stone to spark a flame, to no avail, but with the magic Ruby fired up, the black Beast vanishes, and now we can GO HOLE.  Here we find a skeleton Key among some stinking Bones -- ah, that joke never gets old!

The skeleton Key lets us unlock the door of the ruined Tower.  The decrepit structure's basement has a Crypt, with a closed Coffin and an iron Lever.  PULL LEVER reveals it's too rusted to pull, so this is probably what we need the Jar of oil for... and, yep, OIL LEVER and PULL LEVER causes an animated skeleton to pop out of the coffin.  It's apparently some sort of rough, limited approximation of a vampire, as if we SHOW CROSS, it falls to bits, allowing us to EXAMINE COFFIN to get the sword Blade.

Exploring the Tower further, we find an altar upstairs, and a lit Torch at the very top of the tower.  From up here, we can hear priests talking in the tower below -- but if we try to go downstairs and see what they're up to, The priests seize me and I become the next sacrifice to the great god Bain.  We don't want to EXAMINE ALTAR, as doing so trips a trap full of deadly snakes.  Hmmm.  We can GO WINDOW at the top of the tower, and TIE VINE / TO GARGOYLE (finally!) to climb down, returning to the base of the Tower.

With the Torch, we can BURN WOOD on the mountain top, which sets off a panic in the village over this sign from the Gods, and turns the pile of Wood into a Beacon.  The endgame is clearly approaching, so we probably need to MAKE SWORD now.  We have the Blade, and... ?  What's the Hilt?  Apparently neither the dagger nor the scimitar can be used for this purpose.  So, having exhausted most of the available items, I returned to the walkthrough, and discovered that we have to get the Hilt from the Altar, but DROP POLE first to keep from falling into the pit of snakes!  Ack.  Time to restore a previous save and do this before the priests show up, as we can't return to the Tower once they've occupied it.

Now we have the Sword foretold by the whipping boy assembled, and the villagers have been dispersed a bit, allowing us to safely GO DOOR from the hut and enter the Temple of Bain to find a stone Idol and a giant Serpent, probably the aforementioned snake.  We can KILL SERPENT with the Sword, which isn't difficult and seems a little bit anticlimactic.  But we're not done yet -- we can't TAKE IDOL.  This is because it's rather larger than I had assumed -- we can, however, CLIMB IDOL.  We need the Hook to remove the emerald from the idol's head -- clearly, the Pirate captain did not die in vain.  But once we have the fabled Eye of Bain, we can't escape the temple the way we came in, as the villagers are still angry and have apparently decided the sign from the gods wasn't quite as scary as it might have seemed at first, and might just be an ordinary bonfire.

So what do we do now?  Well, we can EXAMINE HEAD to see that there's a lever in the idol's mouth, and PULL LEVER produces a grinding noise somewhere, actually opening a secret Passage out of the Temple.  Now it's a simple matter to GO BOAT at the end of the path, to finish as a Hero (our murdering ways clearly excised from the official account):

We are also, in the Artic Adventure tradition, advised to Look out for adventure G, as yet unnamed.  And we will take a look at the series' final entry, Adventure G - Ground Zero, at some future date, I assure you.


  1. "The next screen of text also credits one Ken Gosling for the "Adventure scenario," though I'm not quite sure what that means."

    The magazine "Computer & Video Games" ran an adventure plot competition; the winner was to have their story made into a game. Ken's entry didn't win, IIRC, but the guys at Artic asked if I'd implement it.

    So I did all the programming, two unnamed artists at Artic painstakingly created the screens in a primitive "draw lines & fill" language I'd created and the story was from Ken (who I never met).

    I'm always proud of this game from a technical standpoint - proportionally spaced text and we squeezed all those screens into the 48K (just).

    I have my own walkthrough, which includes all the screenshots:
    http://www.wadsworths.net/swift/eye_of_bain/eye_of_bain.html - given the limitations of colour on the Spectrum I think the artists did an awesome job; especially on the tower and crypt scenes.

  2. Simon,

    Thank you so much for stopping by, and for sharing some of the background on this particular game. I'm always thrilled to hear from the people who created these games. I'm trying to document the early history, as games are increasingly being recognized as an art form.

  3. I spent hours with my mum trying to finally crack "LIFT POLE", this brought back some long forgotten memories, thank you!

  4. Try the Interactive Fiction archive -- in the past they have hosted the Artic games at http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/spectrum/artic.zip.

  5. Just completed this, another fine review thanks. Hope all is well in your adventureland.