Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Misadventure (1980/2012)

This week, we're playing a bit of a historical oddity -- Roger M. Wilcox's Misadventure, originally written in 1980 for the TRS-80 computers and updated in 2012 to run under Windows (and not to be confused with Bob Krotts' similarly-named series of adult TRS-80 adventure games.).  I ran across the author's body of work during a random internet search for TRS-80 adventure games I hadn't sampled yet, and as I haven't been able to find the original version anywhere, I'm happy to tackle this modern edition -- it still feels like a classic early text adventure, running in a Window with proportional fonts.  Mr. Wilcox has published free Windows conversions of quite a few games in a series of more than 20 adventure games he wrote for the TRS-80 back in the early 1980s -- some of the original source code has unfortunately been lost to the ages, but his surviving games have been converted and at this writing can be freely downloaded at http://www.rogermwilcox.com/apps/.

Misadventure was Wilcox's first effort, and it's not a very long or difficult adventure -- I was able to play through it in about 90 minutes including note-taking for this post.  The design is simple to accommodate a limited parser -- there are no hidden details to be EXAMINEd, and few verbs aside from the essentials; there aren't even many red herrings or nested relationships, so found objects and puzzle solutions fit together in fairly obvious ways.  The story has something to do with time travel, though it's not really a mechanic in the game -- the player is sent back in time as the game begins, and we just have to survive getting from point A to point B so we can return to our own time:

Normally I suggest that readers play these games independently before reading my further comments, especially when they are freely available as is the case here.  Misadventure may be an exception for experienced adventurers, due to its simplicity, but players new to these types of games may find it a good introductory experience, especially because it is easy to get up and running on a Windows PC.   There's not a lot to discuss here, but in the interest of documenting adventures large and small, there will of necessity be thorough...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD *****

The story begins in a dusty 3-way intersection, after we are informed that the player is the first live citizen test subject for a time machine.  We can't travel back from underground, and we're only given a flashlight to work with; apparently some twenty-five previous test subjects met with messy ends, so the setup is not particularly reassuring.

The parser's vocabulary is limited -- some generally-expected verbs like EXAMINE and OPEN are not supported.  And the map isn't quite as big as it seems when we're first exploring it -- lots of apparently new exits loop back to rooms we've already visited.  The Windows stand-alone program is a little more old-school and cumbersome than I'd like -- it intentionally hangs when we die, so we have to exit out and restart to play again; the system provides Load and Save features, but we can't Load a game if we're dead, so frequent re-launches are necessary.

The map features a number of distinct rooms with potentially useful items in them -- generally one item per location -- and most of these objects will be needed to finish the game. The armory to the east of the starting point has a suit of shiny armor.  The treasury has a treasure chest we can't open, and the Magic Central room has a can of 3-in-One Oil and walls with letters X, Q and Y written on them.

The Room of Webs contains a snake-bite kit, guarded by a huge spider, and the complex's dungeon (kind of belying the sci-fi setup) provides a worn-down sword.  The Small Room pays homage to Zork Colossal Cave (thanks for the correction, Roger!), as There is a threatening little dwarf in the room with you! along with some insect repellent spray.  We have to be careful here, as the dwarf can kill the player instantly if one of his blows randomly connects.  (I think this is actually pseudo-random, as in my experience if I went there on the third move, I always died, so a more roundabout route is recommended.)

A huge snake bars passage north in the Hall of the Mountain Queen, so we will probably need to dispatch the serpent somehow.  The Room of Technology contains a phaser.  There's also a Priest's Temple north of the starting point, with no objects in it, and I never found anything interesting to do here; the usual standbys of KNEELing and PRAYing produce no response from whatever deity this Temple is honoring.

We can use the phaser to SHOOT DWARF, then use the insect spray to SPRAY SPIDER and take the snake-bite kit.  But the snake can still fatally bite us, so that's not useful as a post-hoc remedy.  I tried taking direct action against the snake, but didn't get anywhere with SWING SWORD -- Your sword bounces harmlessly off the opponent's tough hide -- or FIRE PHASER -- There is nothing here worth shooting at. Believe me.  So I had to revisit this puzzle later.

The Magic Central room's array of letters appears to suggest a puzzle -- SAY XYZZY does nothing (nor would I have expected it to), but SAY XQY returns, "Nothing happens.  Don't forget, the letters may not necessarily belong in the order they appeared."  SAY QYX is less enlightening, yielding only "I don't know what 'qyx' is."  SAY XYQ seems more potentially promising -- nothing happens in the Magic Central room, but we don't get an error message either.

With the armor on, we can... still not walk past the snake. Hmmm.  We can't SHOW KIT to the snake or USE KIT proactively, but if we DROP KIT, then The snake turns white with fear at the sight of the kit, and flees for its life.  I guess it's very sensitive to being disarmed, or else it knows something about how the kit works that the player is unable to discern.

Past the snake, we find ourselves in the Room of Concealment, with a panel on the east wall; we can't MOVE or OPEN it, or OIL it for that matter, but we can PUSH PANEL to enter a secret magical passage.  And if we SAY XYQ here, we find ourselves magically transported to the Large Room, with a giant already attacking. 

Fortunately with the armor on (it is worn as soon as we pick it up), The blow bounces harmlessly off your armor every time the giant tries to attack.  SWING SWORD is no good against the giant's tough hide either, but SHOOT GIANT informs us that The giant cannot withstand phaser fire, so he dies.  We can't claim anything from the dead giant on the floor, but dispatching him allows us to travel south of the area.

We now find ourselves at the foot of a rusty iron door (hint hint).  OIL DOOR allows us to enter a room at the foot of a large wooden ladder.  We climb the ladder...


The game is abruptly over, as we find ourselves in the middle of some large-scale historical battle, and are swiftly rescued by the TIME RAY in the nick of time before we are trampled to death, winning the game as the first successful time traveler!  This final event seems to come about through sheer luck and no particular feat accomplished by the player, but victory of a sort is ours!

The game scores us based on how many valuable items we came back with, and since there aren't many items or any apparent inventory carrying limit to deal with, this isn't hard to pull off.  (Actually, we only have to bring back one such item to *REALLY* win the game -- if we bring back none at all, then the effort is considered a loss.)

Misadventure is very straightforward -- nothing is hidden, no details or complex puzzles need to be explored, and most of the objects available have fairly obvious applications.  It was a quick and simple play, but sometimes that's just what I want as my weekly deadline here approaches.  I expect more sophistication from Mr. Wilcox's later efforts, but I found this one a pleasantly brief diversion.

1 comment:

  1. I'm the author of (the somewhat aptly named) _Misadventure_.

    The intro and endgame text you're seeing in this review actually came from a late 1980s/early 1990s attempt to rewrite the game for the PC and make it more interesting. I never got past the text you see here in the rewrite.

    The original TRS-80 version's intro and endgame text are much less sardonic. ("The time machine is ready, you enter, and disappear!" / "Suddenly a massive time ray envelops you and takes you back to your own time.") You can see why I opted to use the rewrite-attempt's text for these messages instead.