Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Basements and Beasties (1982)

This week, we're looking at what seemed to be a random adventure from the online archives, a TRS-80 text adventure called Basements and Beasties.  No author, publisher or year is credited onscreen or in the code, but the CASA Solution Archive's database solved the mystery -- this game was published in 1982 as a type-in listing, centerpiece of Frank Dacosta's book Writing Basic Adventure Programs for the TRS-80.  It was later translated to the TI-99/4A by Barry Traver, with some apparently reworking of the verbiage to address some of the original's issues.  Surprisingly for a TRS-80 game, it supports the lowercase kit for more readable text.

Basements and Beasties is a very minimalist text adventure.  We're given little information about the story in-game, just the title.

It also runs VERY slowly, despite the author's claims that he would demonstrate speedy command processing in BASIC, so it's worth playing under emulation with the clock speed cranked up to 5x or more.  The game is rather derivative of ZORK and the Crowther/Woods Adventure -- we have to kill some monsters and collect some treasures.

As always, I encourage interested readers to take on Basements and Beasties in person before proceeding below; it's not a difficult game to finish, and I managed to get everything accomplished in a few hours.  That said, I'll also advise you that the scoring mechanism is unsatisfying and there's no official end to the game, so no one here will blame you if you decide not to bother.  Beyond this point, be advised that there are certain to be...

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

The player starts out with nothing in inventory, standing at the bottom of a large pit with a small hole just wide enough to crawl into.  But we can't GO HOLE or CRAWL HOLE or ENTER HOLE; the parser is very limited.  As it turns out, we can go Down -- but we have to figure this out via experimentation, and as it's dark down there, doing so tends to be fatal early in the game.  We're not always told we can't travel in any given direction, and an attempt to do so unsuccessfully just returns us to the same room.  There are some odd stylistic choices here -- each room initially presents itself with a more detailed description, then reverts to a brief title.  It's not immediately apparent that the game is doing this, which, coupled with the fact that in the first few rooms we can't tell which exits are available without trying them, makes mapping a challenge at the start.

The parser is also annoyingly coy about what it does and doesn't understand -- we can't GET TORCH when we find it in the ruins of the ancient troll-castle to the east, but we can TAKE TORCH.

Going down from the starting location is randomly fatal -- we may fall into a pit without a light source.  But if we die, the game brings us magically back to life and places us at the starting location.  This doesn't appear to be very helpful if we die in the dungeon and lose our torch along with our other belongings -- but after many unsuccessful attempts to stumble through the dark to where I was sure I had been at the time of my untimely demise, and finding that I could still not TAKE TORCH there, I discovered that the torch also returns to its original location.

A grate in the ruins is closed and locked.  But with the torch in hand, we can reach the weapons room -- or the weapon room, to be more prices, as the only one available is a hefty magic axe sitting in the middle of the room.

Exploring to the east establishes that this is going to be a treasure hunt, as we find a crown of jewels guarded by a giant mantis at the site of a long-ago battle.  We can KILL MANTIS -- Your magic axe connects!  The creature vanishes in a puff of foul smoke!  So that wasn't too hard.  But there's also an angry orc who shows up randomly; we can KILL ORC the same way, except that he tends to turn up again and often slashes us to death with his scimitar before we can do anything about it.

Southeast of the weapons room is a ledge with a key that opens all the locked doors and grates in the game.  We can travel west to enter a cold stream that carries us toward a slimy cave entrance; we don't have to do anything special, exiting in any direction drops us on the sands near a slimy cave wall.  We can't LOOK at any of the monsters or objects, just the room itself, and there is no EXAMINE verb, so there won't be any details to examine aside from occasional READing.  But there's a huge iguana here, which we also need to KILL.

A business office to the north contains an enchanted grenade, and adjoins a lunch room with an empty (and unlicensed) Coke machine.  A steamy cave to the northeast contains a black onyx. A room to the northwest of the business office is behind a locked door, which we can open with the ledge key.  

Behind the door we find an ancient hourglass and a nameless terror, Lovecraftian in nature judging from the pit and the tentacles. A message on the wall reads, "The danger here is pretty thick but say AARDVARK you'll get out quick!"  The magic word warps us back to the bottom of pit room, that is, the starting location.

With the key from the ledge we can also open the grate in the troll-castle ruins -- there's a giant spider below, and it cannot be killed with the axe, so we probably need to bring the grenade here.  We can also reach the spider's lair by way of the slimy cave area, so that's easy enough to do.

Given that we get returned to the bottom of the pit by a couple of different channels, I surmised that we have to drop the treasures in the starting location to earn the full score, and that does seem to be the case; there's no sign or other formal indication, though the TI 99/4A version appears to refer to this location as "HOME BASE" which is a significant clarification.

Beyond the spider -- which we can indeed kill using the enchanted grenade -- we find a treasure vault with a valuable golden cube and a coin.

There's a troll cemetary [sic] northeast of the battle site, where we see a platinum ring.  And behind a locked door to the south is a fine silver belt.  These artifacts do nothing to protect us from random orc attacks, and we can't WEAR anything, as the game doesn't recognize the verb.

Eventually I found myself with seven treasures rounded up, but the game was not over and I had no idea how many points SCORE was supposed to report to consider the job done.  I realized I hadn't explored the area southeast of the ledge; it leads into a maze, which consists of three rooms; one of them is slightly differentiated, replacing the usual You are lost in a maze! with You are a lost in a maze!, apparently the Italian version.  There's nothing to do here but get lost and find our way back out, it seems, but I later learned that the scoring mechanism takes the number of rooms visited into account.

Not having found any treasures in the maze, I consulted the CASA notes about the game, which indicate that there are 8 treasures, and I was missing a diamond beetle.  It turned up in a room with a fiery spire below the steamy cave, another direction I hadn't yet explored.

So now I had all 8 treasures and 300 points, but was still not done?  I checked the BASIC code, which appears to indicate that to max out the score we have to kill all 4 monsters and collect all 8 treasures.  There are also some points awarded for visiting all of the rooms, but I soon realized that there's no formal recognition by the game that we've done everything we're supposed to -- it just provides a score, a number of moves taken, and lets us keep going.  It's hard to minimize the number of moves taken, due to the random deaths that put us back at starting location without our belongings, so I decided to focus on killing the monsters.

We can't seem to kill the terror or the spider with the magical axe.  The enchanted grenade appears to kill the terror -- but it doesn't actually?  The grenade just lies there and the tentacles continue attacking? No, wait, that's because an orc has appeared that also fatally leaps at your throat like the tentacles were doing when I tried to kill the terror with the magic axe.  The terror is dead, but the grenade is recoverable after use so we can use it against both the terror and the spider.  That's one enchanted grenade!

The game never officially ends, so I declared myself finished, happy with 8 treasures, 4 dead monsters, and 340 points earned in 76 steps:

This is one of the more primitive home computer text adventures I've played -- BASIC was slow and RAM-hungry, compared to the sleeker machine-language games that flourished on the text-oriented TRS-80, and given that this game was written for teaching purposes it's not surprising that it's sluggish and limited in scope.  But it was a quick playthrough and I can't say I didn't enjoy it -- I just wish it had a more definitive ending.  To save others any difficulties in solving this one, my walkthrough is below the fold, and is also available at the CASA Solution Archive.



(note that if you die you will return to the starting point, and the torch will return to its starting location)

W, D

(if you run into any wandering orcs from this point on, try to KILL them with the axe)

W, W
SAY AARDVARK  (return to bottom of pit)


D, E
W, U

D, S
D, SW, N
S, NE, U
THROW GRENADE (spider is destroyed)
SE, N, U, W

D, E
SW, W, U

(visit the rooms we haven't been in yet and dispose of the terror)

N, W, E, W
W, W, NE, D
U, U
D, SW, N, E, W, NW

SCORE (8 treasures, 4 monsters dead, should have 340 points)

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