Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Demon Adventure (1988)

I was in the mood for something not found on my to-play list this week, and some random searching came up with Demon Adventure, written by Adrian Cox and published by Page 6 back in 1988 for the Atari 400/800 home computers.

Page 6 was a United Kingdom magazine that also collected the Softside Adventures on disk, billed as "Super Adventures", so we might expect this non-Super offering to be a bit simpler.  The plot of Demon Adventure is straightforward -- the player is trapped in the Duke's castle by a hideous demon, and must find a way to destroy the demon and escape.

Generally, I recommend that readers try these games out before reading my comments, but Demon Adventure is an exception -- at least, I would not recommend anyone try to finish it without editing line 1290 of the BASIC code to set DF=5 instead of DF=2.  This isn't a cheat, exactly -- the puzzles are generally logical and simple, but the endgame is buggy in a number of ways that make the game unwinnable (as far as I was able to determine) unless this code tweak is made.  With that said, players and casual readers alike should be aware that, as always in these posts, I am providing a large number of...

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

We begin in a nondescript small, round tower room, with nothing in inventory; this room adjoins a spiral staircase that leads up to the tower's roof, where a signal fire burns, and down to a long upper hallway.

A storage room contains a crate which can't simply be OPENed.  A panelled room bears claw marks, evidence of some great beast, likely the titular Demon, and a wooden chest that's easy to open, revealing a note reading: "It is very close."  Another room is burnt out and otherwise empty, obviously damaged by fire, though we aren't encountering the creature just yet.

The main bedroom contains a bed, naturally, and if we try the usual adventurer's gambit and attempt to MOVE BED, the expected secret passage is revealed, leading down.  It's too dark to see what's down there at the moment, though, so it's fortunate that the map is logical and U takes us back to the bedroom.

The long hallway in the center of the building leads to another tower, this one with birds visible overhead from the roof.  A lower level contains a banquet room with deep grooves cut in the floor -- demons do not make good houseguests, it seems.  The adjoining kitchen contains a metal bucket and a table, upon which a knife can be discovered with further EXAMINEation.

A courtyard is surrounded by the castle walls, confirming the sort of structure we find ourselves in.  There's a well here, down which we can FILL BUCKET (GO WELL yields Don't be silly, but we can just go D.)  West of the courtyard is a gate with a portcullis; the roof of the gate tower above features a metal pole, a lever, and a grey substance.  If we are tempted to PULL LEVER, the grey substance reaches toward you.  You are dead.  But we can take the pole with us easily enough.

We POUR WATER and the grey substance "runs away" so we can PULL LEVER... oh, wait, no, it is apparently only the water that has run away, as we're still killed by the grey substance.  Darn that lack of antecedents!

There's a library in the southern end of the castle, sporting an ancient book and a wooden shelf containing a parchment scroll.  The book informs us that a demon must be destroyed by magic, in case we thought we could just call Orkin.  The scroll says, "Throw the remains of fire, burn the means of flight, then say the word 'Mittam', To keep him out of sight."  It's the usual sort of adventure game magical recipe, suggesting that nobody really needs to master any wizardry to handle these DIY projects.  There's also a weapons room containing a bow and a single arrow, so we'd better make it count. 

We have a six-item inventory limit, which is now starting to get a little tight, but at this point it looks like we've mapped out the castle and found all of the obvious items.  So let's see what we can do to move the story along.

Pouring the water on the signal fire atop the southern tower puts it out, producing some ashes, so that should be helpful per the spell.  The crate can be SMASHed if we have the metal pole, revealing another secret passage and producing a piece of wood... which would probably make a good torch had I not just put out the signal fire.  So it's time to restore to an earlier save and try again... yes, that works, so with our blazing torch in hand we can check out both secret passages. 

The one below the bedroom leads to an escape tunnel blocked by a rockfall, with a spade in it.  The secret passage below the storage room leads to a cellar with a chalk circle all ready to go -- or it would be, if the circle were not already broken -- adjoining a maze of sticky red walls.  The maze is fairly small, just three rooms with the usual confusing connections.  The only important room has a grey "almost alive" curtain, and it seems like the game's finale will occur somewhere in this area.

But we have more puzzles to solve first.  We can SHOOT BIRD from the top of the northern tower to kill one of them -- does this have something to do with the "means of flight"?  We can CUT CURTAIN -- it shrivels and disappears, allowing us to go north to the lair of the demon, where the Demon himself is waiting motionless among some human bones.  We THROW ASHES, and then... well, we can't BURN BIRD, but we can PLUCK BIRD and then BURN FEATHERS.

Unfortunately, it's not going to be this easy.  As soon as we burn the feathers in the lair, the demon is woken by the spell and moves towards you... You are dead.  What we can do is throw the ashes in the demon's lair, which wakes him up, and then run... but he still catches us within a few moves.  Actually, the demon wakes up as soon as we leave his lair, it doesn't have anything to do with executing the spell.

So we need some protection, it seems.  We can't REPAIR CIRCLE --- What with? -- SPADE.  But maybe we can DIG with the spade to find some chalk or something -- and yes, there's some buried in the courtyard near the well.

Now we can fix the circle and GO CIRCLE... and... now what?  We still don't have time to run back to the circle after we begin the spell.  The symbol on the book's cover shows a circle with 8 arrows radiating out from it, but I'm not sure that means anything.

Oh, maybe I was forgetting to fix the circle... nope, the demon still catches up too quickly, and there aren't any walkthroughs available online, so it's time to go into meta-adventure mode, dig into the BASIC logic and see what I'm missing.  Looking at the code, I can't quite figure out what triggers the demon; it seems he only has two states, immobile or murderous. Feathers are object 2, ashes are object 7.  I learned the following:  If we burn the feathers in the demon's lair, it wakes him.  If we burn them in the chalk circle, something else happens.  So that's a clue, it appears we need to burn them within the circle.  The Demon is object 20, DROP is verb 7, which in this game is not the same as THROW, verb 23.

It looks like we need to THROW ASHES while we're in the circle and BURN FEATHERS there too.  Oh, wait, do we need to THROW BONES in the lair?  Or BURN BONES?  Nope, but I did confirm that CP = 33 when we're in the chalk circle.

So how does the DF variable shift from -1 (demon immobile) to DF>0 (demon active) to DF=0 (we're dead if we're not in the circle)?  This variable goes to DF=2 first at line 1290 which is a GO verb.  So yes, GO SOUTH to leave the demon's lair triggers him into action.

There doesn't seem to be a good route to get back to the chalk circle in time after triggering the demon, though.  Aargh!  So I finally cheated, or debugged in my opinion, editing line 1290 to set DF=6 instead of 2.  This bit of counter padding gives us enough time to go back through the maze by the most efficient route and get safely inside the chalk circle (actually, DF=5 is sufficient).

And now -- hmmmm -- it seems the recipe is slightly buggy?  We have to BURN FEATHERS first, then THROW ASHES, then SAY MITTAM -- and now, at last, the demon fades from sight and disappears. 

Actually, that's not quite it -- the order of the steps doesn't in fact matter, but we can't even successfully execute the intended first step (THROW ASHES) until DF reaches zero and the Demon is in the room, reportedly unable to enter the circle.  My extra step on the counter gave me one move to be confused as the spell still didn't seem to be working.

So now we just have to clear the grey substance away from the portcullis lever -- oh, and conveniently it's already gone, so all we have to do is PULL LEVER, then go downstairs and exit west through the gate to a rather plain sort of victory:

I'm pretty sure that Demon Adventure as I found it is not quite winnable -- I checked the map data, and there seems to be no way to make it from the Demon's lair to the chalk circle within the 2 moves allowed; at least 5 are needed.  I didn't come up with any magic words or objects that can spirit us instantly back to the circle or anything, and the endgame design requires the demon to reach the chalk circle room before we can cast the spell; in fact, we can completely waste the feathers by BURNing them before the demon is present.  So it seems that breaking into the code to correct line 1290 is in fact required, a bug of sorts that made this otherwise straightforward adventure a bit frustrating.  I'll chalk it up to a lack of playtesting due to Page 6's publishing schedule, or inexperience on the author's part, and hope for better things next time!

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