Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Adventure of the Week -- The Staff "Slake" (1981/2012)

Time to tackle The Staff "Slake" (1981/2012), the twelfth game in Roger M. Wilcox's recently unearthed text adventure series -- the games have not been converted in chronological order due to the vagaries of aging TRS-80 cassette tape, so this one was written in 1981 and converted to Windows by the author in 2012.  As the title suggests, this one takes place in a traditional fantasy setting, with magical creatures, weapons and treasures to find.

I always encourage interested readers to sample the Adventures of the Week before reading my comments, as they are certain to ruin many of the surprises.  But (at this writing on 05/20/2013) I will note that this one is difficult (actually impossible) to finish correctly due to a handful of bugs, an unusual oversight which I suspect Mr. Wilcox will soon remedy.  Like all of his games, The Staff "Slake" is freely available for download from the Roger M. Wilcox archives.  And while I couldn't quite finish the game, I was able to see most of it, so there are definitely...

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

We begin in a clearing in the midst of a forest, with paths leading in all directions (a traditional fantasy adventure start, and thus beholden to the adventurer's conventional amnesia about how we got here.)  We have nothing in inventory, and have nothing to DIG with, so we'd best do some exploring

North is the entrance to an underground stronghold, with steps leading down to a foyer and darkness ahead.  We can't muddle our way through -- bad moves mean You fell and broke your neck! You're dead! -- so we need to find a light source.

East we discover a secluded and deserted campsite, and what appears to be a makeshift gunpowder factory not subject to OSHA regulations.  A mound of white phosphorus and a pile of sulfur lie perilously close to an old lantern which is self-igniting, but couldn't possibly hold liquid fuel.  It needs some sort of fuel however, as an attempt to LIGHT LANTERN confirms.

South of the starting area is a desert wasteland, and to the west is a dense jungle, so we may need to do some maze mapping here.  The wasteland features the skeleton of a prospector, an empty canteen, and a shovel.  The prospector has a cracked ribcage -- but we can't TAKE RIB or GET RIB or KICK SKELETON or GET SKELETONOPEN RIB mysteriously replies, "You don't have a key." 

The desert area isn't really a maze -- it's just two rooms, with most directions just returning to the current location.  The jungle is similarly minimal, with only one location we can't even seem to DIG in.  So where can we dig?  Digging in the phosphorus and sulfur at the campsite yields a key and a sign indicating the campsite is the *SCORE* location.  Now we have a key, but reality holds -- You can't open a rib.  We can BREAK RIB, though, to obtain a dry human rib bone.

We can dig in the dark area south of the foyer to find something we can't see yet... but we're informed that the stone is rushing downstream quickly, and shortly thereafter The stone flowed on past you.  Is this lava?

We can GET SULFUR and GET PHOSPHORUS, but trying to FILL LANTERN correctly suggests that Phosphorus would explode.  How do we... ah, MIX SULFUR produces a sulfur-phosphorus mixture, then we can GET MIXTURE and FILL LANTERN.

Now we can return to the stronghold to see an uncompleted room with dirt walls (and hear a river trickling by, apparently being in the dark somehow prevented the sound from reaching us earlier.)  There's also a locked iron gate denoted as the stronghold's final entry point.  We have a key, so we can simply UNLOCK GATE, and it disintegrates, leaving us with a Coated key due to some deteriorata left behind.

Digging in the uncompleted room produces a river of wine, and the stone called "Staffbreaker."  Now we understand what the rushing and stone business in the dark earlier was about.  We can GET STONE before it washes past, and FILL CANTEEN with wine.

Entering the stronghold, we find ourselves in a hallway laden with cobwebs, the body of a previous adventurer bearing two large puncture wounds in his back upon closer examination.  Giant spider?

An out-of-the-way dead-end room features a thin iron door, which the parser informs us "can't be opened by normal means, but it does have a keyhole.  Just go through the motions."  I tried to INSERT KEY -- which seems to work -- but couldn't then TURN KEY or UNLOCK DOOR or OPEN DOOR.  The door reads, "Treasure room. No entry."  The key is coated with a black, stinking, pressure-sensitive powder.

There's actually nothing to prevent us traveling through the cobweb room -- I had assumed a spider attack was in the offing -- to reach the brink of a pit.  There's a nice bit of user-friendly design here -- if we go into the sheer-walled pit when we're improperly equipped to escape, the game gives us one chance to take back that command. We will want to go back later to retrieve the *Jeweled crown* visible during our brief stay down there, though.

Past the pit is a "T" intersection with the warning, "Entry to the west is prohibited."  Going west, as our investigative honor compels us to do, we face an armored warrior with a magic sword that magically can't magically miss.  Game over!

Going east instead, we find some leprechauns guarding a * Pot of gold * in a cul-de-sac.  We also (in my playthrough) learn that the lantern eventually burns through its fuel, forcing us to return to the campsite for more.

There's a bug here (as of 05/18/2013) -- we can INSERT KEY at the thin iron door, but it remains in inventory.  We can then drop it elsewhere, and see it there, but when we try to GET KEY again, "It is in the door, sorry."  Back at the door, TURN KEY for some reason reports, "You don't see it here."  We can't PULL or TOUCH or PRESS or HIT it to any productive end, either.  I had to peek at the source code to find the right combination to make progress -- we have to INSERT KEY, then DROP KEY in the same room as the thin iron door, and then TURN KEY.  I think the design thinks that inserting the key also suggests that the key is in the room, but the logic isn't quite coded that way.

Now a gunpowder explosion (from the coating on the key) blows us back and reveals a passage to the south.  In the main treasury/weapons chamber, we find the titular treasure -- * The staff "Slake" *.

HELP suggests that we can PARRY and FILL, as a couple of unusual verbs.  PARRY versus the magic warrior prompts, With what?, and LANTERN is of no use.  But STAFF works much better, causing the magical warrior to magically drop his * Magic sword * and run away in magical fear.

West of the guard station is a large stone door, apparently requiring a key, and a "bird house" room featuring a carnivorous goose, eyeing you hungrily -- a gander is appetizing for the goose, it seems.

The armored warrior is still hanging around and blocking the entrance, sans his offensive gear, and we can KILL WARRIOR -- With what? -- SWORD to destroy him with his own weapon.  Taking the sword and staff to the campsite, the two treasures yield a .16 percent score, which suggests we have a lot more treasures to capture.  Even if it's meant to be read as 16 percent, we have a long way to go.

We can't KILL LEPRECHAUNS or KILL GOOSE.  We can't GIVE BONE or FEED GOOSE either, but if we DROP BONE, The goose eats the bone, lays an egg, and says, "Goodbye."  Somehow a talking male goose that can lay golden eggs seems much more valuable than the * Golden egg * remaining, but we'll have to settle for what we can get.

Examining the staff suggests it can be tapped against the ground to produce a retributive strike.  But TAP STAFF -- Against the what? -- GROUND does nothing to dispel the leprechauns, despite the three-gold-snakes-and-no-potatoes motif of the staff's design.  Does it work against the stone door?  Nope.

What about this stone called "Staffbreaker"?  We can drop the staff near the stone door, and THROW STONE to produce a "RETRIBUTIVE STRIKE!" flashing message, after which we see a disintegrated door and some loose * Gold dust * we can't yet pick up.  The now-accessible last treasure room contains a * Silver worm statue * and a * Rod of pure ruby *.

What about the wine? Can we get the leprechauns drunk?  Doesn't seem so.

The pit?  We can't even go into the pit, it seems.  Ahhh -- we need to have the staff "Slake" to be allowed in (without the fatal warning, with its immediately fatal consequences if we proceed.)  I had to peek at the code -- we can TURN STAFF to make the ruby glow, then TAP STAFF to produce an energy beam from its ruby tip to destroy the boulder in the pit, revealing a path back up to the "T".  Whew!  (If we use the ruby in the wrong place, it deforms from the energy and is useless.)

That helps a bit, but we're still stuck.  Ah -- we can FRISK ADVENTURER, not SEARCH ADVENTURER which I tried earlier, to find a 2-handed sword and a filled bag.  The 2-handed sword is too heavy to move out of the room after we pick it up, but if we try to GET BAG with it in hand, "A giant spider suddenly leaps from the ceiling, and impaled himself upon your two-handed sword by accident!"  (We can anticipate this if we LOOK UP to see the spider beforehand, though the puzzle and its solution remain a surprise.)

What's in the bag?  We can't EXAMINE BAG (you see nothing special) or OPEN BAG (you don't have a key.)  But we can EMPTY BAG to obtain some * Platinum Pieces *, then use the bag to collect the * Gold Dust * as we FILL BAG.

We have six treasures now, and most of the puzzles seem to be solved.  But we've found no way to obtain the pot of gold?  Can we blast it into dust instead of the staff?  Nope, using the staff here just deforms the ruby.  If we throw the stone at the staff here, it blows up but we just have * Gold dust * and the unharmed * Pot of gold * (and leprechauns) after the explosion, and the stone door remains unbreachable.  Even looking at the source code, I could find no way to dispel the Irish little people and claim their treasure.

The SCORE mechanism is also not quite right -- I think it's meant to award a score of 12.5 multiplied by the number of treasures, but in fact it awards a value based on the number of treasures divided by 12.5, which is why we're not getting anywhere close to 100 percent.

With six treasures in hand, we have:

So I wasn't actually able to finish this one!  Normally that means I don't publish anything here, preferring to give it another go later on, but since we have access to the source code I think I can say that we've seen most of what there is to see and do here.  I expect the prolific Roger M. Wilcox will provide a correction in the near future, as the complexity of this one lends itself to more bugs than the norm for this series.  I'll publish an update if I'm able to conclude the adventure!


  1. Two of the bugs you found -- the score being ridiculously low, and the leprechauns being insurmountable -- were accidents involved in translating 32-year-old Level II BASIC into modern C#.

    The third bug you found -- having to drop the key before turning it -- was, from my perusal of said Level II BASIC source code, always there.

    All 3 of these bugs have been fixed. If you download this adventure again, you'll get this new-and-improved slightly-less-bug-ridden version.

  2. Er ... my mistake. The bug with having to drop the key before you turn it was not in the original Level II BASIC source code.

    What was supposed to happen was that inserting the key should automatically place the key in the room. Instead, I had a brainfart when translating that line and had key-insertion put the key in your inventory.

    This, too, is now fixed.

  3. Oh ... and in case I wasn't clear in my first comment above:

    My fix for the leprechaun bug WILL now allow you to complete the entire adventure.