Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1978)

I'm a little bit busy this week, so for the sake of tight deadlines, we're tackling another Greg Hassett adventure for the TRS-80 -- Journey to the Center of the Earth, published in 1978, which I believe is his second published game after Enchanted Island.  No publisher is credited, but it's likely this one was released by Mad Hatter Software or Hassett's own Adventure World; it was also published in type-in form in 1981, in Bob Liddil's Captain 80 Book of BASIC Adventures, and also appeared on the Commodore 64 a few years later.

Hassett's style was still developing -- he was only twelve or thirteen years old at the time -- and so we see that spelling and grammar are again an issue, and the map is rather loosely and randomly constructed.  If we die, the program just ends; there's no opportunity to retry.  And the BASIC-language parser is surprisingly fast, but limited -- for instance, INV and INVENT don't work, we must spell out INVENTORY, and some words are very situation-specific, requiring a fair amount of guessing.  The name borrows from Jules Verne's classic novel, but like Hassett's later The House of Seven Gables, the game is a treasure hunt that borrows the basic concept but otherwise bears no substantial resemblance to the book.

I always urge interested readers to try these games out before proceeding here; Journey to the Center of the Earth is not a particularly difficult game to finish, though the map is fairly large and it's not always obvious which items are score-worthy treasures and which are just items.  As usual, I will be giving away most of the puzzle and plot details as I encountered them, so as you proceed beyond this point, be advised there are...

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

The game begins by prompting "WHAT IS YOUR NAME?"  -- I went with GUYBRUSH -- but I never saw the game make use of this information; it seems to be an unfinished idea, and does not appear in Hassett's other games.  I can only speculate that this is here to confuse the player with a later "WHO GOES THERE?" puzzle -- our entry here is not useful as a password.

We begin in a ship with nothing in inventory, apparently arriving at the center of the Earth rather woefully undersupplied.  This adventure won't be too serious in tone, as the ship's computer screen reads: SHIP WILL NOT FUNCTION -- FRIBULATING GONKULATOR IS BURNED OUT.  So presumably we will to have to get it refribulated so it can gonkulate, or gonkulate it for the sake of fribulation.

North of the ship, we suddenly find ourselves in a COBBLESTONE HALLWAY, with a chirping that reportedly SOUNDS LIKE BUGS.  Further north is a room with rubies in its walls, and there's a LARGE RUBY we can take.   But GADZOOKS!!! A GAINT [sic] BUG JUST WALKED IN TO KILL ME!  Hassett's early games never felt bad about telegraphing a creature's intentions... and whoops, maybe I'm misunderstanding and that's not a misspelling, as shortly I'M BEING DEVOURED BY A GAINT BUG!!  And then I'M DYING...DYING...DEAD, in rather an overdramatic (not to say impossibly uttered) manner.

So we don't want to run into any Gaint Bugs, at least not yet.  But they show up randomly, and all over the place, so we're going to have to figure out a solution before too long.

Over to the west is A ROOM WITH MANY ANIMALS... until WAIT! THEY'VE ALL RAN [sic] AWAY.  All that remains is A PARROT IN A CAGE.  We can't GET CAGE or OPEN CAGE, as it's not a recognized noun, but we can GET PARROT and the cage comes along.

South of the ship is a DUSTY PLACE containing A SET OF KEYS.  Past this, as the topography becomes increasingly random, we find A HUGE ICE CAVERN, leading to A ROOM WITH TRACES OF SLIME ON THE FLOORS AND WALLS.

The slime room leads to AL'S DINER, apparently of unlicensed Happy Days fame, where there's a COKE MACHINE, joyfully and explicitly unlicensed with an ENJOY COCA-COLA banner.  Presumably we will need a quarter to avail ourselves of its carbonated bounty.  There's also some FOOD here.  I never found a need to eat or drink in-game, though the game will let us imbibe and consume these, or try to feed various creatures.

South of the slime room is the source of the slime - the HYDRA ROOM, occupied by a nine-headed hydra.  It blocks our way south and west, but we can explore a TORTURE CHAMBER to the east (where THERE IS [sic] SOME HUMAN SKELETONS and a giant bug asleep.)  Trying to KILL BUG indicates that I CAN'T KILL ANYTHING. I'M TOO WEAK. BUT MAYBE IF YOU WERE A BIT MORE SPECIFIC... though this actually a lie, as the game will let us KILL things in the right context.

The HUGE PIT west of the slime room contains a quarter and a cigarette lighter.  We can't BUY COKE, but we can INSERT QUARTER to get a bottle back at Al's Diner.  We can't SHAKE COKE or SPRAY COKE or even OPEN COKE, so that's not going to be a novel attack.

A SMALL ROOM west of our starting point contains a GOLD NUGGET, and a scribbling reading HAR HAR HAR! YOU'LL NEVER MAKE IT! >> ARBADAC ARBA.  A 35,000 CARAT DIAMOND (could a human being actually lift that? We can carry it, anyway) lies in a low crawl space south of this room, and going east from that room leads into the traditional MAZE OF TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES a la the classic Colossal Cave Adventure.  The maze contains a MAGIC WAND.

One exit from the maze leads back to the ruby room -- and with no giant bug about at the moment, we can go north to find ourselves IN A DARK ROOM.  And I THINK I HEAR GRUNTS AND GROANS NEARBY.  Ahem... I never found out what this was referring to, and that's probably a good thing.  East of this area is another maze.

North of the dark room is the SOUTH SIDE OF A CHASM, and a SHINY SWORD, with molten lava below.   The game keeps us from walking blithely into the molten lava, but we will probably want to find a way across.

We seem to score 10 or 15 points per treasure, out of a maximum of 175, but they do vary.  We have to drop them in the ship to earn points, otherwise we remain at 0 with a BOY, YOU STINK! assessment from Mr. Hassett.

Hassett's mazes are usually pretty straightforward -- each room generally has multiple exits that lead back to the same place, with one that goes to a new area and one (usually) that goes back to a previous one, so they are not hard to map using the traditional item-drop method.

The "secret passage" maze leads to THE TROLL'S PALACE, with gold bars and a diamond necklace. With 5 treasures claimed, I have 80 of 175 points.  I am hoping the sword will help deal with the hydra or any giant bugs I encounter, but in a dark room where THERE ARE GIANT [sc!] BUGS ALL AROUND ME! we still can't KILL them, though at least we can just exit the room without being harassed or killed.

Ah, yes, when a giant bug arrives specifically to kill us, we can use the sword to KILL BUG -- DING! DONG! THE BUG IS DEAD, THE BUG IS DEAD!!!  Several of the author's works contained Wizard of Oz references.

How can we cross the lava chasm?  POUR COKE and OPEN COKE and THROW BOTTLE don't do anything -- not that I should have realistically expected a cold soda to cool down molten lava.  But we can WAVE WAND to magically transport ourselves to the north side of the chasm.  It leads to a wooden platform and a sign warning us about the rickety wooden bridge, but we can ignore the sign and travel to the TROLL'S PLACE. (Which turns out -- [sic] -- to be the Troll's Palace again, but by a different entrance and with more resistance from the resident troll, who throws an axe at us if we try to enter without dealing with him.)

The axe-throwing troll is another homage to the classic Crowther/Woods adventure, but his axe is consistently fatal, so we don't want this to happen.  We can't answer the Troll's "WHO DARES TO ENTER MY PALACE???", it seems, nor can we KILL TROLL or exit the room without being killed by his axe.  So is this a red herring?  Are we just supposed to get into the palace via the maze?

What about the hydra?  We can FEED HYDRA, which turns him into A GIANT HYDRA RUBBING HIS STOMACH, but he still won't let us past.  HELP is actually helpful here, suggesting CIGAR? CIGARETTE? TIPPARILLO [sic]?  We can't USE LIGHTER or LIGHT LIGHTER, but we can BURN HYDRA and THE HYDRA CRUMBLES TO THE GROUND DEAD.  With this surprisingly flammable creature dispatched, we can get an emerald from the CLAM ROOM and a MING VASE from the DRAGON ROOM.  We've got 7 treasures and 105 points now.

Past the Dragon Room, we can get some silver bars in a MAMMOTH GARDEN.  The VELVET ROOM contains some tools (not described further and treated as a set).  There's a TREASURE ROOM where MANY DWARVES GUARD SOME PRETTY SCRAWNY TREASURE that's not further described and cannot be obtained, and an ARABIAN ROOM with an oil slick, in a bit of 1970s pop culture xenostereotyping.  But we can't BURN SLICK, as oddly enough IT DOESN'T BURN.

The oil slick is meant to be a hint leading us south to MAC'S EARTHDIGGER BODY SHOP, which contains a new fribulating gronkulator!  This is a little clearer now -- we are near the center of the earth because our "ship" is a digging contraption of some kind.  But we can't GET FRIBULATING GONKULATOR because the parser doesn't recognize any variant of it???  We have tools, so maybe we can FIX FROBULATING GONKULATOR... but I CAN'T.   Oh, wait, I have been mistyping, calling it a GRONKULATOR [mic] instead of a GONKULATOR!  We can GET GONKULATOR.

Now can we install it in the ship?  We can't REPLACE or INSTALL it; if we try to FIX it here, the parser says I THINK I HAVE TO DROP IT FIRST, but DROP GONKULATOR doesn't work?  Ack, I keep typing GRONKULATOR!

And as soon as we DROP and then FIX GONKULATOR, the game is over!?!  I am 5 points short, though, with 170 of the 175 points, so let's see what I've missed.

Aha!  If we return to the dangerous TROLL'S PALACE entrance with the parrot in hand, the parrot chants, "SIR ALEXANDER...SIR ALEXANDER!"  But SAY SIR ALEXANDER doesn't solve the problem?  A simple SIR ALEXANDER works, and THE TROLL SCURRIES AWAY IN FEAR without tossing an axe in our direction.  But this is just another way into the Troll's Palace, where we have already been, and we don't get any points for doing it. 

I had to look at the BASIC code to see that DROP PARROT at the climax counts as a 5-point treasure, earning us the rank of ADVENTURER GRANDMASTER:

Hooray!  We're the Adventurer Grandmaster of Adventurerdom!

I'm getting close to exhausting Mr. Hassett's sizeable body of work, but there are still a couple of his games I haven't tackled.  We'll get around to them in due course, I am sure; somehow I missed the existence of his games back in the TRS-80 era, so I've been enjoying discovering them, three decades later.


  1. Anyone know what became of Greg when he grew up? He certainly was talented!

  2. I've tried to track him down, with no luck so far; the closest hypothetical match I've found is a Greg Hassett, an IT consultant in the Boston area who used to be an executive at POINTCAST. I'm sure he's been successful in whatever path he's decided to follow.