Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Adventure of the Week: World's Edge (1980)

It's been a while since I've played one of the early TRS-80 text adventure games written by the prolific and precocious young programmer, Greg Hassett.  So this week we're playing World's Edge, a sci-fi explore-the-planetoid-and-retrieve-the-mineral game from 1980.  This is one of Hassett's later efforts, written in machine language for speed; no publisher is cited, but several different company names including Adventure World and Mad Hatter Software were used to publish his works out of Chelmsford, Massachusetts back in the day.

I always encourage interested readers to try these games out independently before I get into the details, and World's Edge isn't too difficult to solve.  As always, beyond this point there lie...

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

We begin on a long path, where we hear the sound of owls hooting.  So this planet has owls on it?  We can't LISTEN to anything.  The path leads to a barnyard with a barn and silo; this story is not feeling very science-fictiony so far.

The barn contains a sickle, a ladder, and a letter... written on NASA letterhead.  We learn that smog is overtaking Earth, and we have to go to planet AW-8 near Alpha-Centauri to retrieve a mineral that can absorb it.  We're also warned that the mineral, APC-80, is central to the locals' RELIGEOUS [sic] BELIEFS, so we will presumably have some opposition to deal with when we get there.

We can't take the ladder with us, but we can CLIMB LADDER to find a haystack in the loft.  LOOK HAYSTACK reveals a NEEDLE -- rather more easily than conventional wisdom would have it.  We can use this to PICK LOCK and get into the silo.

The silo, of course, turns out to be A ROCKET-SHIP.  IT LOOKS MIGHTY COMPLICATED, but all we see is a LEVER.  All we have to do is PULL LEVER, and IT TAKES OFF, THEN LANDS.  And a voice over the loudspeaker informs us that when we exit, the ship will vanish into a time warp. That may prove inconvenient, and it doesn't make a lot of sense unless our transportation depends on some newfangled silo/wormhole effect currently unknown to physics.

Now we find ourselves in a SMALL FLAT ON THE PLANET.  An apartment?  With TALL GRASS?  We must just be standing in a small flat area, actually.  With the sickle we brought from home, we can CUT GRASS to discover a JETPAK and the remnant of a PAPER, which tells us to say START to start the jetpak. But the part telling us what to use for fuel has been cut off.  We can SAY START -- we go up a ways, then down a ways, before we fatally crash.  So it has some fuel, but we shouldn't try to do this just yet.

Next we come to a DARK SWAMP, a maze in the traditional vein.  We find a pointy knife, a chunk of plastic, and something referred to as a SPORK HORN.  The maze isn't too difficult -- most rooms just have some directions that cycle back and some that go to new locations, but it still requires some traditional drop-and-check mapping.  We need to come in here to find the various objects hidden in the swamp, but there's no exit as such.

To the south of our landing site, we find ourselves standing on a SMALL, BURNT-OUT PLANETOID near a building.  Apparently this PLANETOID has actually landed somewhere and is not hurtling through space, and it's not big enough for us to do anything interesting on it.

The building nearby is something called the HOLOFAME, where a voice repeats, "INSERT YOUR CREDIT DISC FOR THE NEXT SHOW!"  Fortunately, there's a square credit disc just lying here on the ground.  The parser insists that we refer to it as a SQUARE; apparently we will encounter other shapes later.  We can discover a minor bug if we try to READ SQUARE, as I SEE NO WRITING THERE! -- and then the game chugs right on into re-reading the NASA letter, even if we are no longer carrying it.

INSERT SQUARE whisks us into the Holofame on a moving speedwalk, where we find not so much a show as a puzzle.  Three buttons, round, square, and triangular are available; the round one won't press, and the square one presents an unlicensed image of FLASH GORDON, who says, "YOU SHOULD HAVE SAVED YOUR SQUARE DISC..."  I tell you, these showbiz people think they can get away with anything.  A step back is in order.

Inside the cave is a SEMI-DARK TALL CHAMBER with a glowstone, a vent in the ceiling, and a SPACE AMOEBA.  Funny how space amoebae are always visible to the naked eye, unlike their Earthly counterparts.  It guards the glowstone, which we will likely need to explore the darker recesses of the cave.  Can we KILL AMOEBA?  No, because this is a pacifist parser and I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO "KILL" SOMETHINGPOKE isn't recognized either, though STAB AMOEBA simply DOESN'T WORK.  So the pointy knife we found earlier isn't helping.  HIT AMOEBA finally puts us into a fight with the creature -- but then we die after throwing PUNCH AFTER PUNCH, presumably drowning in a miasma of space protoplasm.

Even without the glowstone, we can poke around in the dark a bit without dying -- we're told if we run into a wall, and there are no accidental trip-and-fall deaths.  We can discover that there's a TROLL on the lower level who won't let us go east.  But we're really going to need that glowstone.  BLOW HORN doesn't do anything interesting in the troll's room.  THROW KNIFE produces the interesting, "NAH... I THREW OUT MY ARM YESTERDAY WHILE GUIDING SOMEONE THROUGH 'MYSTERY MANSION ADVENTURE.' YOU MIGHT TRY 'DROP'."  I haven't been able to confirm that such a game exists; perhaps it's an unpublished or lost Hassett work, or it might have just sounded like a generic adventure name for the purpose.

We can KICK TROLL, apparently defeating it handily (or footily) even in the dark.  If we BLOW HORN in the dark room east of the space amoeba, an ANGRY SPORK shows up and eats it.  But (again even in darkness) we can see that SHE'S GOT A LITTLE EGG WITH HER that MIGHT BE VALUABLE TO THE INHABITANTS OF AW-80TAKE EGG isn't successful though -- THE MOTHER SPORK IS STARTLED, BUT SHE KILLS ME.  We can, however, STAB SPORK with the pointy knife; "PLEASE... PLEASE DON'T CRACK MY EGG...", she says, before IT KICKS THE BUCKET AND VANISHES.  The egg is listed as a LUMINOUS SPORK EGG in inventory, but it apparently doesn't throw off enough light for us to see any better in the dark areas.

Given our general disregard for the native flora and fauna, we may decide to CRACK EGG anyway -- a baby spork emerges and says, "GO BACK TO THE CAVE ENTRANCE" before running off.  We find a NOTE at that location now, reading DROP THE POWDER HERE, GO BACK TO THE HOLOFAME, AND YOU'LL FIND A CREDIT DISC.

This proves true -- the powder is a LUMINOUS POWDER left over after we crack the egg -- and the triangular holoshow features James T. Kirk, another unlicensed stalwart of 80s adventure games, who tells us, "FOR FUEL USE WATER..."  The AW-80ans must be desperate for entertainment if they enjoy these short, cryptic presentations.  We can't FILL JETPAK in the swamp, though; we must need a cleaner source of water.

What to do with the amoeba?  GIVE PLASTIC produces unexpected results -- IT EXPLODES AND DESTROYS ME.  So apparently it is a plastic explosive, and should be handled with care, but it doesn't do anything to the amoeba that it doesn't also do to us.

We can use the jetpak outside the cave to fly up to THE EDGE OF A CLIFF.   We're out of fuel now, it seems, but we can enter the cliffside to the east to find a depression in the rock, and the entrance to a gated city.  GO HOLE in the depression lands us on the amoeba, AND IT SWALLOWS ME ALIVE. I'M DEAD.  So this must be the way back down, if we have disposed of the amoeba.  LOOK HOLE reveals that it LOOKS LIKE I CAN SEE AMOEBA TRACKS DOWN THERE...   Ewww.

The city's gates require insertion of a DELOCKING CUBE, which we don't have, and the amoeba is starting to be a roadblock.  But the Troll room, dark though it may be, contains the CUBE we now know we seek if we just go there and TAKE CUBE, so we're not stumped yet.

Unlocking the city gates whisks us into the city, where a sign informs us we are in POLARIZON, LARGEST CITY ON AW-80.  But it's not very big.  There's a park, IMMACULATE, and a bookstore.

The guard at the police station can be heard muttering to himself, "I SURE WISH I HAD A DISC TO GO TO THE HOLOFAME, BUT UNTIL THEN, I'M GONNA BE REAL MEAN TO ALL MY PRISONERS."  He apparently considers us one of his prisoners, just because we've wandered into the police station, as if we try to go E we are told that THE MEAN POLICEMAN WON'T LET ME GO!  But giving him the square disc sends him running off, presumably to see Flash Gordon tell him he's wasted his entry fee.  Perhaps we should conclude our business here as quickly as possible.

Below the police station is a scene that prefigures both Space Quest and The Secret of Monkey Island, as we arrive at HONEST QUORON'S USED SPACECRAFT LOT, where a STARHAWK FIGHTER is on sale.  There's no fuel onboard, so we will need to FILL TANK before we can TURN KNOB.

The local FLOWER SHOP has a FLOWER POT; we can just take it, there's no clerk on duty who would force us to BUY it.  A GUN SHOP has a LASER PISTOL, which can be similarly lifted.  Further into town we find a manhole, a fuel station with a pump where we can FILL POT to obtain a flowerpot full of fuel, and the POLARIZON SAVINGS BANK with a locked iron safe.  It's too dark to see down the manhole, and if we try to DROP PLASTIC down the manhole, it doesn't work -- it still hits the ground and explodes.

Once we're inside the town, it appears we cannot exit through the gates. But we can use the fuel in the Starhawk fighter, and TURN KNOB -- at this point, though, we're too early:  I TAKE OFF AND LAND ON EARTH.... I HAVE FAILED. I DIDN'T GET THE CRYSTALS.

So now we have the general lay of the land mapped out.  But I still haven't dealt with the space amoeba, which seems to be key to finishing the game properly.  We can't reach the vent above the amoeba, or JUMP VENT; maybe it's just the exit from the hole above.  Can we drop the plastic down that hole?  Oh, yes!  That actually worked.  And now there's a SMALL POOL OF WATER conveniently left behind so we can refuel the jetpak for a second run.

I made a lucky guess that we can RUB GLOWSTONE to gain illumination.  Now we can see SPORK TRACKS in the room where mama spork shows up.  And we can see that the troll is in fact a SPACE-TROLL.  And that there's a ROUND CREDIT DISC in the room to the east of the troll.

At the Holofame, the round disc summons an image of Luke Skywalker who hints that, "THE SPACE ORC HAS A POINT."  If that's a hint that the SPORK is a SPACE ORC and that we can stab her with the pointy knife, we already figured that out, working blind to boot.  (The only credit disc the police guard wants is the square one, apparently, so he must already have seen this oddly specific message.)

The manhole takes us into another maze, of sewers.  There's an ENERGY CAPSULE down here, and apparently no other reason to explore it.  We can't INSERT CAPSULE or CHARGE PISTOL, but we can LOAD PISTOL to put the capsule in and push its energy meter to full.

Now we can go back to the bank, SHOOT SAFE, and POW! IT DEMATERIALIZES! LOOK WHAT WAS INSIDE...  Which turns out to be the APC-80 CRYSTALS we were sent to retrieve at great expense.  There's no sign of the religious ramifications of these sacred crystals, so far at least.  And no, as it turns out, there are none at all; we can just get in the Starhawk fighter, FILL TANK, TURN KNOB, and head back to Earth, victorious!

This game was easier and more logical than some of Hassett's games, with some sensible built-in clues, and aside from the amoeba puzzle I didn't really get stuck anywhere.  World's Edge was good fun, and a good quick play; I will likely return to this author's body of work before too long.

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