Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Adventure of the Week: James Brand Adventure (1982)

This week, we're playing another of the SoftSide disk magazine adventures, from an era where the games industry was so small that slightly-modified, thinly-disguised trademarked properties could be "borrowed" with little fear of legal repercussion.  It's SoftSide Adventure #10 -- James Brand Adventure, an action-packed (as text adventures go) spy thriller published in March of 1982 for the Atari 400/800 home computer.


As the titular Mr. "Brand," we must save the President from an assassination plotted by the evil Dr. Death (no, not James Kevorkian).  The title is inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond, obviously, though there's actually very little directly lifted from 007 in this story.  And in a departure from the usual SoftSide habit of not providing authorial credit, the game's colorful title screen informs us that this game was created by Peter Kirsch:

The game's parser is similar to other SoftSide adventures, strictly text with a simple parser, though it does take advantage of the Atari 400/800 hardware.  Unlike most text adventures, the world of James Brand is not very open -- it's largely a series of set pieces that keep the plot moving along at a good clip, at some expense to interactivity and puzzle-solving; most of the time we just have to come up with certain very specific actions the sequence at hand requires.

As always, I encourage interested adventurers to try James Brand Adventure for themselves before proceeding with my commentary here; but I'll warn you that it's not easy to solve, due to some parser oddities and even odder puzzle solutions.  The game's nearly three decades old, so I will not shy away from revealing all of the game's events and secrets; in other words, there are...

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

We begin at Headquarters, carrying a gun, a small suitcase, and 2 cyanide capsules.  The suitcase contains -- well, that's a bit of a mystery, because we can't OPEN (Sorry, you can't do that) or DROP it (You're not carrying it).  We can EAT CAPSULE -- You're dead / This adventure is over -- but in general this is not a very descriptive game.  We can't EXAMINE anything, but we can LOOK GUN to discover we have 6 bullets left.  SHOOT [object] plays a nice Atari sound effect, but we generally Missed..., except, we presume, when it comes to the designer's intended target.

The author seems to be fond of non-linear mapping -- we go W from Headquarters to the street, S from the street to Headquarters.  Oh, joy.  GO CAR puts us in the car parked in the street, where we find a KEYHOLE for which we don't seem to have a key.  START CAR -- Won't startOPEN HOOD -- Sorry, you can't do that.  Okay, this looks like it's going to be tough.  We have no key; a suitcase we can't open; three rooms containing a CAR and a KEYHOLE, with no other visible objects beyond our initial possessions; a gun; and a cyanide capsule, which we can swallow but hardly solves the real problem at hand (though there's no QUIT command, so this is a reasonable substitute when the going gets unbearable.)  Many verbs that might apply to more creative solutions aren't recognized -- we can't HOTWIRE CAR or RADIO HQ or YELL for HELP.

I had to peek at the code -- really early -- to find out that what we're carrying is not a SUITCASE, nor is it SMALL, but it's a CASE, according to the parser's dictionary.  Ack!  The situation is not helped by the parser's willingness to fake responses -- LOOK SUITCASE yields You see: nothing special but LOOK CASE reveals You see: red button, yellow button.

Now we have something to explore.  PUSH YELLOW -- Knife shoots out from your case / Missed...  We probably should have saved that one for a real emergency.  PUSH RED -- Heavy black smoke shoots out from your case.  At least it looks like we can do these things repeatedly, so we haven't wasted any opportunities.  And now we can actually succeed with OPEN CASE -- no puzzle here -- as Something falls out.  It's the CAR KEY, at last!  We can't INSERT KEY but we can START CAR now.  We are immediately prompted to HIT RETURN TO RELEASE BRAKE?...

And now we're in a car, out of control, because somebody has tampered with the non-parking brakes.  If only Mr. Kirsch had let us OPEN HOOD and give it a proper inspection!  The car speeds up to 55 miles per hour, then 80, then 105, then 130 -- and of course, There's a cliff.  We can't JUMP or REMOVE KEY or GET KEY or OPEN DOOR or OPEN WINDOW.  And there's a really annoying white-noise sound effect playing constantly through all of this.  And if we haven't guessed the right verb in time, we are informed that You fall over / You're dead, which I presume means we have fallen over the cliff, not that we have just keeled over of a sudden heart attack.  Trying again, I discover we can't PULL KEY either, but we can TURN KEY to shut off the engine; fortunately someone didn't do a very thorough sabotage job.

Now we're on a north-south road, though it's really just one room that loops back to itself, and it's not at all clear where we should go -- this mission isn't very well planned, it seems.  A motorcyclist in a full suit of armor appears, and if we can't figure out what to do, IT'S SHISKABOB [sic] ALA BRAND, and we're dead again.  We can use our fancy suitcase, however, PUSHing RED to shoot a smokescreen out, blinding the cyclist and sending him into a wreck; it's not fatal, but his armor is too heavy and he can't get up.  We can't LOOK CYCLIST or RIDE MOTORCYCLE; we can try, unsuccessfully, to SHOOT CYCLIST, which I'm sure he appreciates.  Nor can we GET CYCLE or GET MOTORCYCLE or MOUNT anything, which I'm sure he appreciates.  But we can GO MOTORCYLE and ride until we run out of gas.  Again, Mr. Brand exhibits a serious lack of planning.

Now we're on a street, and we have an urban landscape to explore.  Near a building to the north, a female voice says, "James, in here".  But we'll ignore her summons for the moment, being the suspicious adventuring types that we are.  Further north is a beach with a lake and a speedboat, and there's a hot dog stand at the west end of the beach.  There's also the Kit Kat Klub -- so we're suddenly in a production of Cabaret? -- and along the street a stranger bumbs [sic] into us and disappears, leaving us with a slip of paper reading, "Meet me at the Kit Kat Klub SIGNED: Madame XXX."  Oh, so that's who owns all those movie theatres!

Inside the building, we do not find the source of the alluring voice; we see a note, but someone tosses a box into the room... a box that goes Tick...Tick...Tick...  If we pause to READ NOTE, the bomb explodes and we're dead.  We can leave the building, and return after the bomb goes off.  We still can't READ NOTE, but we can LOOK NOTE to discover that It's C-SHARP!  Very funny, Mr. Kirsch.  But this isn't just for comic effect -- inside the wall, accessible through a hole blown by the bomb, we can find a quarter.

On the beach, we can try to take the speedboat for a spin.  LOOK BOAT reveals an outboard motor and a dashboard, which has another keyhole for which we don't possess the key.  We can GO LAKE and find a CLAM underwater.  But we can't GET or OPEN it.  Visiting the hot dog stand, where our quarter should come in handy (it's 1982, remember), we can't BUY HOT DOG or BUY DOG (there's no BUY verb), or GET DOG or GET HOT.  It's not until we think twice about our mental picture of the situation and try to GO STAND that we learn: Sorry, we're closed.

So let's try visiting the Kit Kat Klub instead.  Madame XXX is waiting at a table and invites us to sit and have a toast; we are immediately suspicious, of course.  LOOK TABLE reveals 2 glasses of wine.  PUT CAPSULE lets us drop a cyanide capsule into her glass.  We're about to drink the toast when we sneeze and hear a sliding sound.  Is it, perhaps, best to SWITCH GLASSES before we drink?  Yep.  Now Madame XXX is dead.  Did we want her that way?  After we get up from the table, we're back on the street and the Klub is klosed.  I wasn't sure I had done the right thing, so I restored and replayed this section, noting this time that LOOK MADAME before we sit indicates that she has a small pistol tucked into her bra, and that she probably plans to kill you.  Further experimentation establishes that if we don't poison her, then she shoots us as we drink the toast.  And if we don't swap glasses, we also die.  But James Brand's universe is a nihilistic one -- we don't seem to gain anything from the death of Madame XXX, really.  Except now the hot dog stand is open.

Inside the Hot Dog Stand, if we have a quarter we can GET HOT (even though elsewhere the word isn't in the dictionary -- the code uses some specific word recognition, rather than always relying on the database, which calls it a DOG.)  There's apparently not a speedboat key in it -- the only remaining puzzle for the moment -- and if we EAT DOG all we get is a BURP!   But we can GO LAKE and DROP HOTDOG so that the clam... eats it and spits out a key.  Oookay.

Getting in the boat, we can't INSERT KEY or START MOTOR but we can PUT KEY, which both inserts it and turns it.  LOOK MOTOR reveals a string (I didn't notice that before) and we can PULL STRING; You ride the ocean blue (I thought this was a lake?) until we hit land.

We're now on Death Island -- presumably where arch-villain Dr. Death hangs out -- on the shore of a shallow lake.  We can see another island at the other end of the lake, but if we GO LAKE we run into a hungry crocodile.  Going the other way leads to a road and a tree, where a Sinister figure throws boomerang at you.  It's heading for your head!  We need to DUCK here.  We can see Dr. Death's palace, but if we wander onto his lawn a guard with a sword appears and chases us, killing us before we can get away.  Up the tree near the road is a silencer; with our gun properly silenced, we can kill the guard.  But then he somehow still manages to kill us if we head back toward the palace.  Maybe it's a different guard?  Aha -- LOOK PALACE reveals a *different* guard guarding it, before we ever meet the one on the lawn.  We can avoid the lawn and SHOOT this GUARD to get into the palace.  But then we fall through a hole in the floor.

Now, in a ludicrous twist beyond anything in Moonraker, we find ourselves in a HUGE HUMAN PINBALL MACHINE where Dr. Death shoots a giant ball at us.  These villains always invest so much effort in colorful ways to kill our hero!  LOOK BACKGLASS reveals a tilt sign, so maybe we can trigger the machine to dump the ball somehow.  We can run from the ball through several locations, with different screen background colors for a nice atmospheric touch, until the only exit shown is DEATH.  But as it turns around, we don't even have to run, and there's no need to KICK BUMPER or CLIMB BUMPER or anything; a simple TILT MACHINE ends the game.  Exploration finds an OUTHOLE, which seems to be an exit as opposed to a primitive restroom, but we can't GO OUTHOLE -- we must GO HOLE.

Now we're in a small enclosed room, where we find ourselves getting drowsy.  There's a vent here, and gas is seeping into the room through a small opening the width of a knife.  That seems like a clue, and PUSH YELLOW plugs it neatly with a knife shot from the briefcase.

Now what?  There are no other apparent exits.  But some directions return to the pinball machine, apparently climbing out of the hole.  We're stuck here, it seems.  Should we restore and spend some time with the crocodile first?  We can't SHOOT CROC.  Trying to go E in spite of the creature puts us Right into the croc's mouth!, fatally so.  So it'sback to the pinball machine...  ah, we can GO VENT!  It didn't seem nearly that big in my mind, being the width of a knife and all; I think the gas-spewing opening is supposed to be inside the larger vent.  Here we find a small stick, and another hole leading to a hall.

The hall features a locked door and a doorbell -- we can't RING DOORBELL or RING BELL or PUSH DOORBELL but we can PUSH BELL (complete with sound effect).  Someone opens the door and shoves you inside.

Now we are face-to-face with Dr. Death, who challenges us to a game of pool, intoning in a sinister manner, "If you win, you live."  There are guards here also.  We can't really win at the bad Doctor's pool challenge -- actually, we can't even PLAY POOL -- but we can notice that the 8 ball looks strange, and then take it and throw it to kill... the guards, anyway.  Now Dr. Death takes a hostage, a woman not previously visible in the room, and if we try to PLAY POOL, or do almost anything else at this point, Dr. Death cuts her throat, and then shoots us.

For some reason, as this drama is unfolding we now learn that You're getting sleepy; apparently Mr. Brand is so calm, cool and collected that adrenaline is not coursing through his veins.  I tried to shoot Dr. Death and use my briefcase attacks, but we only have a few turns to act.  I couldn't see any source of gas here, so could not figure out why we were getting sleepy.  As it turns out, and I had to peek at the code to discover this, this is a hint to YAWN.  Dr. Death also opens his mouth wide to yawn, and we can THROW CAPSULE to kill him with cyanide as the girl escapes.  Really?

Now all we have to do is rescue the President, I suppose.  Outside the pool room with all the fresh corpses in it, we find a Weapons Room with no apparent weapons in it.  A workshop nearby has a BOX OF TACKS; we can't GET BOX (There's no "BOX" here) but we can GET TACKS.

Going north from here leads us back to the palace's lawn, where the guard with the sword jumps out again and is just as obstinate about being shot and knifed as before.  Nor can we lead him through the pinball machine and lose him or dispatch him -- he just goes back to his hiding place after we enter the palace.  We can't KICK GUARD or GET SWORD, either.  Cheating once more, I discover that we have to GET SWORD in the Weapons Room, even though it's not visible there.  Now we can effectively ATTACK GUARD, after which we run into a flurry of guards chasing you with sharp swords.   It's interesting how explosives are obviously readily available to Dr. Death, but he outfits his guards with swords.  We can't THROW TACKS but we can DROP TACKS, and the Guards retreat in a hurry!  Wimps.  But the boss is dead, so I can't really blame them. And Dr. Death's cheapness apparently also extends to footwear.

Now we're ready to face the crocodile, whose mouth is also wide open.  We can PUT STICK to jam his mouth open and send him away hungry.  On the other side of the lake is... a golf course.  There's a flag and a hole here, and we hear a Tick...Tick...Tick...  Uh-oh.  Near the clubhouse is a sewer, leading to the bottom of the cup... and a bomb.  It has a red wire, which is either a trap or the world's simplest disarming mechanism.  CUT WIRE reveals Sword's too big, so we need some other way to handle this.

In the golf course's clubhouse we see a man shaving.  Even though it's not directly visible, we can make a reasonable assumption and GET RAZOR -- he doesn't put up a fight -- then go back to the bomb (which seems to tick for a good long time) and CUT WIRE to save the day.  Victory is ours!  Compose(Even though we haven't seen the president -- what if he's already dead?)

I felt like I'd missed something here, story-wise, so I had to look into the bomb situation -- it seems to tick forever, but it turns out that if we wait long enough, the golf course explodes, the President dies and so do we.  That's right, he hasn't been kidnapped by Dr. Death -- a bad assumption on my part -- we're out to foil an assassination attempt while our nation's leader is playing golf.  Apparently the golf course is set up so that if the President knocks a ball into the hole, the bomb below goes off and kills him; apparently Dr. Death is counting on him using his putter, and not allowing anybody else to play through.  The code seems to indicate that we can witness the President teeing off, but I never managed to discover this in-game -- either we have to be in the right place at exactly the right time, or this scene is not actually implemented.

James Brand Adventure is really just a series of set pieces with very specific actions required -- it's not much of an adventure, in part because it's so linear.  It has some nice sound effects usage, and the ludicrous story is kind of fun.  But many of the puzzles don't make sense, and it's a little TOO structured and action-specific; I'm pretty sure I could not have finished it without looking at the source code.  To save others these headaches, my solution is below the fold and will also be posted at the CASA Solution Archive.

At least the SoftSide series, with its varying authors and styles, is pleasantly unpredictable, and I look forward to the next one.


START CAR (and hit RETURN to release brake)
TURN KEY (out-of-control car stops and we get out on road)

N, N (repeat if necessary until motorcyclist appears)

PUSH RED (smoke screen blinds cyclist)
GO MOTORCYCLE (ride until we run out of gas and find ourselves on a street)

N (voice calls from inside building)
GO BUILDING (ticking box is tossed in)
W (explosion in building)
LOOK NOTE (very funny)
W, W

S, W, W (somewhere here we should bump into a stranger who gives us a slip of paper)
GO KLUB (Madame XXX invites us to sit down)
SIT DOWN (she invites us to drink a toast)
PUT CAPSULE (we sneeze and hear a sliding sound)
SWITCH GLASSES (we switch them -- back)
DRINK TOAST (Madame XXX is dead)
W (back on the street)

GET HOTDOG (in exchange for quarter)
DROP HOTDOG (clam gobbles it up and spits something out)
U, E
PULL STRING (arrive at Death Island)

W, N (sharp-bladed boomerang is thrown)
GET SILENCER (it's attached to our gun)
D, N
SHOOT GUARD (You got him!)
GO PALACE (fall through hole in floor to... giant human pinball machine)

LOOK BACKGLASS (there's a tilt mechanism)
TILT MACHINE (ball drops out of play)
S, E
GO HOLE (small enclosed room with seeping gas)
PUSH YELLOW (knife shoots from case and plugs gas vent)
GO HOLE (to a hall)

PUSH BELL (shoved inside room, Dr. Death challenges us to a game of pool)
LOOK TABLE (8 ball looks strange)
THROW BALL (explosion kills guards; Dr. Death takes a hostage; we are getting sleepy)
YAWN (Dr. Death yawns too)
THROW CAPSULE (Dr. Death dies, girl escapes)

W, W
GET SWORD (it's not visible, but...)
ATTACK GUARD (kill him with our sword)
E (bunch of guards with swords give chase)
DROP TACKS (guards retreat)

S, S, E
PUT STICK (jams crocodile's mouth)
E (to golf course)

GO CLUBHOUSE (man shaving)
GET RAZOR (again, it's not mentioned)
S, E (a bomb!)
LOOK BOMB (red wire)
CUT WIRE (the bomb is defused and the President is saved!)


  1. Hi, I'm a longtime fan of your blog and I have a quick question for you...

    Inspired by these adventure game reviews/walkthroughs you've been doing, I've been delving back into the old TRS-80 classics. I'm currently trying to work my way through all the Greg Hassett games (finished Journey to the Center of the Earth and House of Seven Gables, currently on King Tut's Tomb), but I noticed that one of his later games, Mystery Mansion, seems to be missing in the large archive of TRS-80 stuff that I have. I see it listed on the Ira Goldklang site, and it's entered into CASA, so I figure it must be out there somewhere, but I can't find it! I know that Hassett actually released all of these into the public domain years ago, so this seems kind of odd. Anyway, I'd like to be able to do the whole series, and I know you've covered a few of these, so I was wondering if you have any idea where I could snag this one?

    Thanks for your time!

  2. I haven't gone looking for it myself yet, and a quick check of the usual suspects doesn't turn it up. There are a number of these still-lost games out there -- none of the Software Magic adventures are online that I've been able to find, and while there are a number of Greg Hassett collections around this particular game seems to be missing. I think some of the early and late games simply didn't sell well enough to be in circulation today -- and often the authors don't have copies themselves -- so we'll just have to keep an eye out. Good luck!