Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Burial Ground Adventure (1979)

This week, we're returning to the vintage TRS-80 archives to play through Burial Ground Adventure, published in 1979.  Young author Joel Mick was based in New Jersey at the time and distributed the game himself, as was often the case in the early years of computer gaming.  Mr. Mick notably went on to work at Wizards of the Coast on Magic: The Gathering and other role-playing games.

The adventure begins with the standard screen of introductory text - in 1979 it was still de rigeur to provide some basic orientation about how this whole "adventure game" thing works.  According to more detailed credits in the game code, we're playing version 3.4.

Burial Ground Adventure isn't nearly as gothic as the title suggests -- it's a treasure hunt adventure, set on an island with beaches, jungles, and a house or castle depending (literally) upon one's perspective.  The parser is limited, but the implementation is generally solid -- it even has a SAVE/LOAD mechanism, though in this day and age it's much faster to use an emulator with save state capability.  The game's BASIC engine is also rather slow, so a little overclocking comes in handy too.

I always encourage interested adventurers to sample these works before reading my further comments -- they will mean more if you have an experience of your own to compare and contrast, and most of the fun of adventure gaming lies in exploration and discovery.  But I'm here to capture the history of these interactive entertainments, and I will fully document this one for all those who won't ever get around to playing itFor those who want to try Burial Ground Adventure, I'll warn you that there are a few parser aggravations ahead; I'll provide a walkthrough at the bottom to save you a few headaches.  All of that said, I have no qualms about the multitudinous...

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

We begin standing on a nondescript BEACH OF A SMALL ISLAND, with nothing in inventory.  To the north is a jungle, and further north we find a palm tree; we can, per long-standing tradition, CLIMB TREE to see a house, located far to the east.   Further north lies another stretch of beach, with a deep, dark hole we'll avoid for the moment and a separate downward path that leads to a cliffy area and back to the jungle.  The SCORE "room" is situated on a sand bar to the south of the starting location, sporting a traditional "LEAVE TREASURES HERE : SAY SCORE FOR AN EVALUATION" sign.

As much of the map wraps around or redirects, it's not as open or large a layout as it first appears.  To the west of our starting point we find more beach with sand dunes, and a GUN that seems like it ought to come in handy.  We can try to DIG anywhere, but I DON'T HAVE A SHOVEL at this point (though this suggests we should try to find one.)

The eastern edge of the jungle adjoins a pit; the game notes that IT MUST HAVE BEEN AN ANIMAL TRAP, containing a bamboo shoot and some remarkably non-specific ANIMAL MEAT, suggesting that this trap skins, butchers and packages its victims beyond recognition, or that our hero is not at all familiar with the local fauna.  But we are apparently stuck in the trap ourselves -- if we try to CLIMB BAMBOO, I SLIDE BACK DOWN.  So it's time to restore or restart.

Exploring the jungle further, we find a note by a stream running out of the swamp.  It's a Scott Adams-style advertisement: "BUY JOEL MICK'S NEXT ADVENTURE - DAMSEL IN DISTRESS - AVAILABLE SOON - CALL 609-829-2047 - YOU MAY ALSO CALL IF YOU BECOME STUMPED."  I'm pretty sure that offer is no longer valid, though I didn't bother the current residents to find out.

The stream also leads to a STEEP WATERFALL, which would be understating the case for most waterfalls I've seen, but there's nothing we need to do here.  On the easter side of the jungle, heading toward the house glimpsed earlier, we can finally acquire a SHOVEL.

Nearer to the house is a kennel, containing a key and some dogs, who of course won't let us take the key.  If only we had the animal meat!  To the south nearby is a shed, containing a WIRE HANGER, which may come in handy, especially if we run into Joan Crawford.  Traveling further east leads to the house -- though close up we can now see we are actually on the PORCH OF A CASTLE, with a locked door.

We can DIG everywhere with the shovel, but I only found anything useful in the DISGUSTING SWAMP - a rope!  We can THROW ROPE to climb back out of the bamboo pit with the animal meat (though the rope is invisible after we've thrown it, we're allowed to CLIMB ROPE and keep it in inventory.)

Up to this point this game has been very straightforward.  But now we DROP MEAT... and the dogs ignore it.  FEED DOGS yields the fourth-wall-shattering RE-ENTER COMMAND TELLING ME WHAT TO FEED (EXAMPLE: FEED FRUIT)FEED MEAT produces... a partial success?  HALF OF THE DOGS EAT THE MEAT AND LEAVE, BUT THE REST REMAIN.  Ack!  And we can't SHOOT DOGS as the gun has no ammunition.  And if we try to THROW MEAT to create a better distraction, the parser just drops it and the dogs again pay no attention.

The parser is rather primitive -- it suggests other options for EXAMINE (like READ or WATCH) but provides few details about most objects.  And the dictionary confuses SHOOT and SHOVEL, so we have to call the bamboo shoot BAMBOO.  I also found a bug -- if we try to SLIDE without specifying a noun, the game crashes.

So what else can we do?  We have the wire hanger -- can we PICK LOCK at the castle?  Yes, this actually works!  The castle's kitchen contains a REFRIGERATOR, which we can open to find a STEAK.  So if we do need to deal with the dogs, we can probably do so now.  Maybe that key is for some other door.

The laundry room contains a LAUNDRY SHUTE [sic] coming out of the wall.  A RECREATION ROOM has a television set -- we can WATCH TELEVISION to learn (from a commercial) that "YOU SHOULD FEED DOGS ALPO INSTEAD OF STEAK OR RAW MEAT."  Nobody ever worried about unlicensed use of trademarks during this era!  We can watch the TV repeatedly, but we never see anything different; this network is all Alpo commercials, all the time.  But this is just a hint -- we already suspect that we can FEED STEAK and FEED MEAT to distract all of the dogs in the kennel and get the key.  (And afterward, we can OPEN REFRIGERATOR again and get another steak, should we want one.  I'm pretty sure this is a bug.)

The castle on the inside looks remarkably like an ordinary house.  It has one closet with a trap door in the ceiling; we also find some ammunition and a match here.  How do we get up there?  THROW ROPE does nothing, nor can we GO TRAP or GO DOOR.  If we try to OPEN DOOR, we're told I CAN'T, TRY PUSHING IT.  This sounds helpful, but PUSH DOOR yields only NOTHING HAPPENS, and PULL DOOR only reestablishes that I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOUHELP yields TRY PUSHING THE DOOR OPEN, but that's still not happening.

Do I need to have a specific item in hand to do this?  The shovel and the bamboo, both of which seem long enough to be useful, don't seem to be.  Peeking at the BASIC code, it appears I need A(21,4) = 0 on line 60020, and object 8 in inventory -- that's the bamboo shoot -- and both of these flags are set as expected.  I finally figured out that we have to PUSH BAMBOO, not PUSH DOOR.  Double ack!

From the location above the closet, we can access an empty attic, a tiny storage room containing a BIG BLACK PEARL and an OLD STAMP ALBUM, and a bedroom with A VALUABLE PORTRAIT OF GEORGE WASHINGTON and a PILLOW.  We should not OPEN ALBUM, as it turns out, because ALL THE STAMPS FALL OUT AND BLOW AWAY.  Oops.  It also seems like we're supposed to run into a puzzle here -- there's a chute in the bedroom, and we can SLIDE PILLOW to see that it ends up downstairs in the laundry room.  But none of the treasures is too large to take downstairs via the closet trap door, so if this is meant to let us move items around it's not necessary.

We can take these three treasures to the sand bar, but we still only have 58 points.  Clearly we must be missing something somewhere; we haven't used the key yet, or the match, or the gun.  We haven't seen anything ignitable; we can LIGHT MATCH, but generally I SEE NOTHING SPECIAL before tenses change and THE MATCH DROPPED AND WENT OUT.  But if we light the match in the dark hole near the north beach (DOWN does not go into the hole, actually, just down the cliffside -- we want to GO HOLE), we can NOW SEE A DOOR IN THE SIDE OF THE WALL.  This door is locked and can be opened with the key from the kennel to access a catacomb maze.

In the maze we find a remarkable concentration of treasures, suggesting the adventure is nearly over -- we can acquire a PILE OF RUBIES, DIAMOND JEWELRY, ANCIENT DRAWINGS and a GOLD CROSS.  We also run into a cave-in that we have to DIG our way out of (so we'd better have brought the shovel.)  There's also a maze that leads back, via the usual odd adventure game geography, to the castle/house's bedroom.

With these additional four treasures stored up, we've got 98 points.  What am I missing?  Another look at the code establishes that we get 63 points for collecting and storing the treasures, and up to 37 more for visiting all of the locations in the game.  I had not visited the cliff area or climbed the palm tree in my final playthrough attempt; stopping by those locations topped off the score nicely.  Victory is ours!

If we QUIT prior to officially winning, we're assigned a ranking; anything above 74 ranks us as a MASTER ADVENTURER, but if we actually finish the game we're not given a ranking of any sort.  Maybe Mr. Mick felt it was a moot point if we'd actually completed the adventure.  Joel Mick's next game, Damsel in Distress, was released as the first of a new series under the "Odyssey" moniker, so I will have to track it down someday.

I enjoyed Burial Ground Adventure, even though some of the parser wrestling encouraged me to look at the code to finish it up.  I didn't find a solution posted online, so my walkthrough is below the fold and will also turn up at the CASA Solution Archive.

***** WALKTHROUGH *****

(Part of the scoring is based on visiting all locations, so some of these paths will seem a bit inefficient!)

N, N, N, W, S, E
D, S, E, W, N
E, E
N, W, W, W, S
N, E, E, S
THROW ROPE (it catches on a rock)
E, E
PICK LOCK (with the wire hanger)
OPEN REFRIGERATOR (something falls out)
N, S, S, N, W, S, N
W, W, N
S, E, E
PUSH BAMBOO (trap door is opened)
U, E
W, N, S, S
N, D
W, W, W, W, S, S, S
N, N, N, N, N
LIGHT MATCH (door is briefly revealed)
W, N (enter the maze)
E, W, N, S
D, S
W, W, W, W, S, S, S

1 comment:

  1. I found the complete Odyssey series by Joel Mick (Damsel in Distress, Treasure Island, Journey Through Time) on Marmotking's Vintage Computer Site, although it appears to be down at the moment. I tried the first game, but I don't think I'm as patient as you when it comes to tackling primitive parsers. The game gets confused with the objects Horses and Horseshoes, for example. I didn't get very far.