Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Adventure of the Week: High School Adventure (1983)

I'm not really sure I want to go back to high school, but this week I am faced with SoftSide Adventure #26 (by my count), High School Adventure, published in 1983 in issue 43 of SoftSide Magazine's monthly compilation.  It's credited to one D. Pleacher, who refers to his or her adventure as High School Confidential internally, but for official purposes I'm going with the name listed on the SoftSide disk menu and intro display.  We'll be playing the TRS-80 Model I/III version here, using Matt Reed's excellent TRS32 emulator.

The plot is minimal -- the player is cast as a student at John Handley High School, where we must pass six subjects with three activities possible in each class.  There's some flexibility in the grades we earn, but we should try to complete all three in each subject to earn Straight A's.

High School Adventure is an odd one -- it's not buggy enough for me not to recommend it to interested old-school text adventurers, but the experience is not really worth the effort it requires to complete.  Most of the challenge lies in figuring out the game's convoluted and geographically illogical map, then coming up with the right phrases to apply to each class; while some puzzles are inventory based, many rely simply on parser guesswork, in-game hints, or (in my case) cheating by peeking at the code to see what the dictionary will tolerate.  So you may not feel like you've missed much of a High School Adventure, really, if you choose to proceed straight into the...

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

We begin standing outside the school, with movement possible in all cardinal directions as well as up.  Up seems like the most unusual path to take, and this brings us to the school's computer lab with five TRS-80 machines on hand (I presume the versions SoftSide released for other platforms feature the user's chosen machine.)  We can't EXAMINE COMPUTERS or TURN ON COMPUTERS, so it's not quite clear what activities we should be trying to perform here.  I try heading N out of the computer room and end up in Geometry Class, but I can't get back to the computer room afterward -- a sign of convoluted mapping to come, as it turns out.

In the Geometry room, I attempt to DO HOMEWORK -- but YOU NEED PAPER.  I check Inventory and find that we have NOTHING.  And we can't go back S to the computer lab, so I'll just keep exploring.

E takes us to the Library, where we have two options, EXODUS or MACBETH.  We can GET MACBETH, but when I try to READ MACBETH, YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO DO THAT.  Are we a seriously remedial student?  We can't OPEN MACBETH or STUDY MACBETH, nor can we do anything similar with EXODUS.  At least we can go back W to Geometry Class if we want.

North of the library is a corridor with exits in many directions.  Heading South takes us, not back to the library, but to Algebra Class.  South of algebra class is the Math Office, where we can acquire a pencil; walking west from algebra class returns us to the library.  So the map isn't quite consistent here.  Going Down from the math office reaches the Shop, where we can pick up a hammer, and south at that point takes us back outside the school where we started.

I'll try heading south here this time, into Typing Class -- we still need paper when I try to TYPE PAPER, and I travel west and north to reach the School Store, where it appears we could buy the paper here, if we had any money.  Once again we find we can't go back the way we came -- the hallway leads instead to History Class. 

I travel E from History Class into the bathroom, where the Assistant Principal walks in and suspends me because I don't have a HALLPASS, before I can even check out the graffiti on the wall.  I end up in Suspension Class for two days, though at least I can get a pen here.  Trying to leave Suspension Class to the north via the Commons Area just earns further suspensions, but wandering east and north through the library and clinic leads safely to the General Office.  There's a key here, and the Assistant Principal again, who warns us: "AVOID SUSPENSION CLASS."

We have a five-item inventory limit, so I drop Exodus to pick up the key.  Traveling east from the General Office leads back outside.  This map is nothing if not unpredictable, to the point that it almost seems random.

From outside, this time I go E and find myself in the Band Room.  East again brings us to Biology Class, with trays for (we presume) dissection on the tables, though we have nothing to DISSECT at the moment.  Heading east from the Biology Class leads to the Upstairs Hallway.

It's clear I'm going to need to draw a map on paper to make sense of this high school's crazy layout, so I spend some time doing that from a restart of the game.  I can't even begin to describe how this map works, so I'll just list the new locations and objects I discovered or confirmed in the process:
  • Commons Area with an apple, south of Typing Class
  • French Class U of the Commons
  • Guidance Office east of the Commons
  • Treasurer's Office south of the Guidance Office, with a hallpass available
  • Auditorium south of English Class, with a check
  • Locker north of English class, with a flute, some music and a cassette
  • A Gym west of French Class
  • Cafeteria down from Biology, with coins and food
  • Vault north of the Shop, containing Money
  • Dark Passageway above the Vault
The map is indeed very random, with many loops and connections that make little sense.  And I'm not really sure what we're supposed to be doing in any of these classes yet, but at least we can maneuver around now.

The Counselor in the Guidance Office offers random hints each time we enter, such as, "HAVE YOU TRIED TO CLOAD SOMETHING?"  Picking up the hallpass in the Treasurer's Office nearby should make life easier, at least.

Reading the graffiti in the bathroom suggests "TRY NOMIALS IN MATH," "HW COMES IN 3'S," "ENGLISH IS GREEK TO ME" and "I CAN COUNT THE TIMES I WAS SUSPENDED!"  I also find out that we can get suspended for spending too much time outside the school, so we'll want to keep our navigation inside the building as much as possible.

The Dark Passageway above the vault is a mini-maze, actually a linear set of three rooms though it's hard to tell where we are without dropping objects.  If we go U, then N from its starting point, we find a door leading to the west, though we can't open it without the key from the General Office.  This isn't the dead end it seems to be, though, as we can go down from this location back to the Shop.  Using the key to open the door leads us to another, final dark passageway, with a cap and gown available, and we can exit back to the Commons area from there.  We may need these later for graduation.

SCORE is quite useful here -- it reveals all the subjects we can try to pass: COMPUTER SCI, GEOMETRY, ALGEBRA, ENGLISH, HISTORY, TYPING, FRENCH, P.E., BAND and BIOLOGY.  We currently have F's in all of them, and the game suggests we try doing some homework as a starting point.

For that, we'll need paper, which we can get using the money from the vault, and the pencil from the Math Office.  We can DO HOMEWORK in Algebra Class to get to a D, but repeated homework doesn't elevate our grade at all.  The same applies to French Class and Biology Class, among others, though some classes don't work this way (e.g. P.E. and Band.)

We can TYPE PAPER in Typing Class to get a D there; this counts as passing, though it does little for our GPA.  We can bring the Macbeth book to English Class and RECITE MACBETH to get to a C (after doing homework to get to a D.)

We can bring the flute and music to the Band Room and PLAY FLUTE to get up to a D.  We have now passed six subjects, but apparently we have to pass all of them to graduate.  Computer Science, Geometry, History and P.E. remain to be conquered, and we don't seem to be able to DO HOMEWORK for any of these.

We can CLOAD CASSETTE, per the Guidance Counselor's hint, to pass Computer Science.  Trying to THROW HAMMER in Gym Class, though, gets us another day of suspension for tossing school property around.  READ EXODUS in English Class gets us a bump up to a B, improving our GPA (a hint I encountered later suggests that the English teacher likes Leon Uris' work.)  I try to DISSECT FROG in the Biology Class, just on a whim, and now we're passing that one also.

Ah!  The Guidance Counselor suggests, "HAVE YOU TRIED TO LEARN SOMETHING?"  But I can't seem to LEARN GEOMETRY or DRAW TRIANGLE.  He also suggests we work on a TERMPAPER, PAY YOUR DEBTS, and QWERTY, and recites part of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

Taking these suggestions to heart, I try to RECITE DECLARATION in History Class, as well as LEARN CONSTITUTION and LEARN INDEPENDENCE, to no avail. But RECITE PREAMBLE works!

In the Gym, I try to RUN LAPS, DO PUSHUPS, DO CHINUPS and PLAY SPORTS; nothing works, or is recognized by the parser, until I chance upon PLAY BASKETBALL as an attempt.  READ MUSIC in the bandroom improves our grade a notch, counting separately from playing the flute contrary to my assumption earlier.

I still haven't found a workable accomplishment for Geometry Class.  I finally try to LEARN THEOREM, and that works, and when I try to DRAW PROOF, I am told I can't draw one, so while the word is recognized I'm not using it as the game expects.  This correctly suggests that WRITE PROOF counts for something.

I've now passed all the subjects, but the game doesn't seem to recognize this; we're only 38% complete, so we must need to improve our grades.  I end up having to peek at the noun and verb lists in the BASIC code to get some hints, since I'm running out good guesses and the parser is picky -- COIN is not the same as COINS, for example.  This cheat accelerates my progress quite a bit.

LEARN DEFINITIONS gets us to an A in Geometry.  RECITE DIALOGUE gets us to a B in French, but while CONJUGATE VERB is recognized we don't get credit for it there or in English class.  We can PLAY BADMINTON and PLAY VOLLEYBALL to get to an A in P.E.

We're making good progress here when I get some bad news -- I've been in Suspension Class for too many days and have been expelled!  I really don't want to replay all of this, especially as I'm pretty likely to get suspended just as often on the next try by setting foot in the wrong places; even walking through the Suspension Class counts as a day of suspension.  So I opt for breaking out, forcing C = 1 and continuing, as I haven't been able to find another hall pass and this map makes it difficult to proceed without being expelled at some point.

SOLVE EQUATIONS helps in Algebra Class; we can't SOLVE TRINOMIALS or LEARN TRINOMIALS, but FACTOR TRINOMIALS does work.  We can LOOK TRAYS in Biology Class to learn we have both a frog and a worm available, and DISSECT WORM (along with DO HOMEWORK, which I hadn't done here yet) gets us to an A in Biology.

In Computer Science, I can CSAVE PROGRAM to cassette, but when I try to WRITE PROGRAM we are asked, "WHAT IS THE FIRST STEP IN WRITING A PROGRAM?"  I think back to my own early Computer Science studies, and am pleased to find that DRAW FLOWCHART works.

I still need A grades in English, History, Typing, French, and Band, it appears.  LEARN KEYBOARD helps in Typing, but TYPE TERMPAPER doesn't do anything.  WRITE STORY helps in English.  DRAW MAP helps in History, as does WRITE TERMPAPER (which didn't work in English class.)  The SCORE display is telling us we're on the honor roll now.

So have we done enough?  I take a gamble and just try to GRADUATE -- and we are told to report to the auditorium!  I'll grab the cap and gown from the dark passageway first; there's no WEAR verb, so we'll just carry these items along.

I go to the Auditorium, and GRADUATE this time indicates that we need to pay some fees.  I GET CHECK here (convenient), and while PAY FEES isn't recognized PAY FEE yields NOT HERE.  I go to the Treasurer's Office, where PAY FEE is accepted.

I return once more to the Auditorium, and this time my attempt to GRADUATE indicates my fees have not all been paid, even though further attempts to PAY FEE now return FEE HAS BEEN PAID.  Hmmmm.  Do we have some outstanding library fines, maybe?  I go to the Library and PAY FINE, using the coins I found in the cafeteria earlier, and this also seems to be accepted.

On my final attempt, we have 88% of the game completed as we successfully GRADUATE at last -- victory is ours!

I wasn't tempted to go back and try to get to 100% -- the parser guesswork required to complete the class assignments had become tedious by this point, and I had completed more than the minimum requirements, so I was just glad to be out of high school at long last.

Hmmmm... perhaps High School Adventure is the Most Realistic Adventure Ever!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Arabian Nights Adventure (1983)

I'm digging into the SoftSide archives once again this week, to tackle what I believe is number 25 in the magazine's monthly adventure game series -- Arabian Nights Adventure, published for multiple platforms in 1983 with issue 42 of the magazine.  It's distinct from SoftSide's inaugural text adventure, Arabian Adventure, and mixes Greek and Middle Eastern mythology.  I'm playing the TRS-80 version here.

Interested adventurers are encouraged to tackle the Arabian Nights Adventure independently before proceeding here -- and if you manage to make it through the final leg of the story without having to cheat as I had to, please share your tips in the comments here!  Beyond this point, I'll be detailing my playthrough (and cheating) experience in detail, so there are certain to be...

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

We begin in the throne room of the Caliph of Baghdad -- his daughter has been placed under a spell by the evil magician (and early l33t speaker?) Roxor.  She is in a trance until we can bring her a piece of shell from the egg of the giant Roc, and we can expect to encounter magic along the way.

We're not allowed to do so much as check INVentory before the Caliph's guards hustle us out of the room to a large waiting room with chairs; the Caliph must be auditioning a lot of heroes today.  We can't find anything special about the chairs, or take one with us, so we'll head east out onto the palace steps.

From here, we can travel north to a bazaar and pick up a silver coin from the ground.  There's a shop on the bazaar's eastern side, operated by a shopkeeper named Hassan who offers Various woven goods.  He doesn't speak, but if we LOOK SHOPKEEPER he holds out his palm.  GIVE COIN isn't productive, though -- he just tosses it on the ground.

Traveling west, we find ourselves at the gates of Baghdad, with desert visible to the west and a SEER sitting cross-legged on the ground.  He holds out his palm, too, and will accept the silver coin.  For some reason we are told he "whines" this prophecy: "Of the two pools in the desert, one is poisoned.  But the other makes you invulnerable for a short time."  Fortunately, unlike a lot of SoftSide adventures, this one actually has a SAVE GAME command.

Outside the city walls, we see sand, and can travel north into the desert.  Fortunately, there's an oasis not too far off to the north, with a sign reading, "Pool of Omar."  We can't GO POOL or SWIM, but we can DRINK WATER -- Gulp. You feel different.  Hmmmm.  I hope that wasn't the poison!

Heading east into the desert, we find another oasis, the Pool of El Habib.  Let's see if this water is safe to drink -- You feel normal again by the time we get here, so this one is probably the poisoned pool, but maybe the seer isn't seering so well these days...  Nope, he was right!  Gasp, you've been poisoned!  -- and we're dead.

I'll avoid both pools for the moment, since the invulnerability appears short-lived and we might need to carry the water somehow.  I head north from the desert into a narrow ravine with steep rock walls.  Continuing through the ravine, I come upon a sandy beach with a ship visible to the north.

Since we might be going on a trip, I pause here to DIG SAND -- and discover an amulet.  EXAMINE AMULET reveals that it contains an emerald.  Further digging in the desert map so far uncovers a scimitar, a Dragon's Eye ring, and a slingshot.  Does Hassan want any of this stuff?  Nope.  I am starting to think his woven goods are a front for something else.  At least he's not one of those adventure game shopkeepers who won't let us take our own stuff back after it ends up on the ground in their establishments, so some experimentation here doesn't cost us anything.

Let's go check out the ship, which turns out to belong to Sinbad the Sailor, though he's not actually on board.  LOOK SHIP reveals that The SHIP has no SAILS!  So we probably need to buy one from Hassan, somehow.  I try to SHOW AMULET, but "You have no ammunition!" is the unexpected response from the parser (SHO = SHOOT, I think.)  I try to KILL SHOPKEEPER, just in case that's what's expected, but The SCIMITAR has no effect!  Hmmmm.  I try to GIVE AMULET to the seer, but he takes it and runs off, apparently never to be seen again, so I'll restore an earlier save.

Hassan is still holding out his palm, and I don't seem to have anything he wants (and no, GIVE FIVE doesn't do anything either.)  I don't stay invulnerable long enough after drinking from the Pool of Omar to get to where I can try anything dangerous, it seems.  We can't KILL SEER with the scimitar.  Does anything interesting happen if I WEAR RING and/or WEAR AMULET?  Not that I can discern, though doing so does seem to lessen the inventory burden.

HELP proves valuable -- "Two magic words you may need are: SESAME and AWAY."  Let's try those out -- SAY SESAMESAY AWAYNothing happens!  -- in the shop, at least.  But in the narrow ravine, SAY SESAME causes a large stone to move aside, revealing an opening in the rock wall.

Now we can access Ali Baba's secret cave, finding a bag of gold and a magic lamp.  We GET LAMP, of course, and GET BAG seems a good idea also.  Oddly, SAY SESAME doesn't close the cave back up, and neither does SAY AWAY.  Sorry, Mr. Baba!

The next events are interesting -- Hassan accepts the bag of gold, and offers us either canvas sails or a magic cloak in exchange.  I'm going to opt for the magic cloak, and when we WEAR CLOAK, we are now invisible!  That's got to be more valuable than some generic sails.

What about sails, though?  I step outside and RUB LAMP, and a blue genie appears, but admonishes us, "Wait until you really NEED me!" before vanishing.  He does the same thing on Sinbad's ship, so he's not going to magick up any sails for us.

Maybe this invisibility cloak isn't all that useful, either -- the Caliph's guards still escort us out of the palace, we can't STEAL anything, and stowing away on the boat doesn't seem to be an option.  So I'll backtrack to a pre-decision save and see what the more practical sails can do for us.

We SET SAIL, rigging the ship, and arrive at Roxor's island in two days -- apparently the Roc lives there?  We can visit Roxor's temple to the east, where a gong sits near large closed doors.  We GET GONG and HIT GONG, and with a BONG! the doors open.  We can acquire a golden goblet and a diamond here -- not bad! -- and SET SAIL for the mainland after finding the grotto to the north blocked by magically sealed doors.

Hassan doesn't want the diamond -- man, this guy is picky about his currency -- but he will give us the cloak in exchange for the goblet.  But I'm not sure I want to do that -- we can GET WATER with the goblet, and temporary, portable invulnerability might be valuable.

Let's check out the grotto some more on Roxor's island, then.  There are wet rock walls here, with no other detail to make them useful, and the sealed gates won't respond to either of our magic words, or the genie, or to PRY GATES.  Does the gong do anything here?  Ah, yes, HIT GONG opens the gates!

We can now access a rock passage leading to a closed stone door, guarded by a large dragon.  SHOW RING produces a strange response -- the diamond flies out and lands on the ground, so I think SHOOT [anything] assumes we want to use the diamond in the slingshot.  GIVE RING also fails to impress the dragon.  But this is a good time to RUB LAMP -- the genie appears, poofs the dragon out of existence, and then disappears along with the magic lamp.

When we OPEN DOOR, we are transported into Roxor's secret room, where a magic carpet is available and there are no visible exits.  I SAY AWAY -- and the carpet floats off without us!  Restoring, I confirm that we can GET CARPET, but that doesn't help; I finally realize we need to leave it on the ground and simply GO CARPET before invoking the magic word.

We are now magically transported to a huge mountain-top nest, where we see -- are we here already? -- A giant Roc EGG.  We can't GET EGG, as it's too big, but all we need is a piece of it.  With the scimitar, we can CUT EGG, and now it's a broken egg, but we can't GET PIECE, we have to GET SHELL.

We can SAY AWAY here for transport back to Roxor's secret room, but there's still no other exit available in either location.  As we GET OFF the carpet, Roxor (we presume) says: "I put a curse on thee!  You'll never get the egg shell to the princess!"  Why he couldn't have just hidden his magic carpet instead of having to go to all this trouble remains a mystery.

So the story is not quite over, it appears.  We can't SAY AWAY with the carpet in inventory and jump off or anything, it just floats away if we're not standing on it.  If we GET OFF the carpet at the Roc's nest, Roxor doesn't make his announcement, but we can't go anywhere else from here either.  (Actually, Roxor curses us if we stay in his secret room for any length of time, we don't have to disembark from the carpet to trigger this event.)

I try to SHOOT a few objects, but it seems the diamond is the only ammo available, and it always just shoots out and hits the ground.  I finally return to an earlier save and bring the gong along -- and yes, HIT GONG in the secret room opens up a passage to the south, leading back into the temple through a hidden, one-way door that vanishes after we use it.

When we come back to Sinbad's ship, we see a SEA SERPENT that's probably going to be troublesome.  We can't SHOOT SERPENT, nor can we SET SAIL while he's here.  We can take the magic carpet out of the secret room, but when we SAY AWAY it just takes us back to the Roc's nest again and then back to the secret room.  We can't KILL SERPENT with the scimitar, either.

Can we dispatch these beasts using a goblet of poison?  The dragon and the serpent refuse to drink it.  RIDE SERPENT returns a surprising O.K. but nothing really seems to happen.  I try to RUB RING -- and It glowsRUB AMULET is more interesting -- the serpent screams and disappears!  (I go back and check -- we can also use the amulet to dispatch the dragon, but it disappears like the lamp did, whereas it seems to survive the serpent.)

Let's see if we can get back to the princess now.  It won't be that easy -- the giant Roc now occupies the beach back in Baghdad.  But we can KILL ROC with the scimitar; one more menace down!

A giant cyclops now blocks our passage through the narrow ravine -- SHOOT CYCLOPS finally puts the slingshot to good use, though our diamond disappears after use as ammunition.  We can use the amulet a second time to get rid of a seven-headed snake in the desert, but then the amulet disappears too.  We are running out of weapons here!

Next, we encounter a flock of vultures, and I decide to backtrack and try the Dragon's Eye ring on the dragon, since it hasn't proved useful anywhere else -- this seems to work, saving the lamp and the amulet for later.  I return to the vultures with the lamp intact, and the genie appears and dispels the flock.

The city gates are magically sealed -- and the gong comes in handy once again.  Next, a red genie blocks our way through the bazaar -- so close! -- and we can GIVE him the GOBLET (full of poison water) to dispatch him.

This makes me wonder if I might want a little invulnerability on hand going forward, so I return to the Pool of Omar to refill the goblet.  The next creature in our way is a living skeleton, standing just outside the palace.  And I'm out of lethal magical items, it seems... GIVE GOBLET doesn't work with the skeleton, no matter what it contains.

But!  Since I'm pretty sure I no longer need the goblet for anything else, I can now GIVE GOBLET to Hassan the shopkeeper and obtain the invisibility cloak, allowing us to sneak by the skeleton.

Now Roxor's voice rings out again, telling us he's made himself invisible too, so he can see us and we can't get past him (I'm not quite sure how that is supposed to work -- visibility is not commutative -- but we'll accept it for the sake of a dramatic finale.)  He won't let us past the waiting room to the Caliph's chambers, so we'll have to dispatch him somehow.

HIT GONG does nothing.  I can't come up with any other options either.  I am starting to think I should have saved the Genie for this moment, somehow.  Maybe I can find another way to dispatch the vultures?  Peeking at the BASIC code, I conclude that they're not vulnerable to the amulet or the scimitar or the ring.  Playing the game again, I verify that shouting or yelling or trying to RUN past them doesn't work; only the genie has any power over them, as far as I can tell.  Maybe I can get the emerald out of the amulet and use it as additional slingshot ammo?  Nope.  I re-confirm that the lamp disappears if we use the genie on the vultures. 

So I start digging through the code to find alternatives -- the vultures are object number 38, but I'm not seeing anything else that appears to affect them.  I ultimately restored to an earlier save, broke out of the BASIC interpreter and set D(38) = 99 to meta-remove the vultures, instead of wasting the magic lamp.  Not really a solution, but it will let me try some more possibilities.

And yes -- though I had to cheat to try this, the genie succeeds in dispatching Roxor, and now we can enter the throne room and deliver the egg shell.  Victory (of a predominately honest variety, I swear) is ours!

Thanks, Mr. Caliph, but, while I respect your traditions, perhaps we should wait for the princess to wake up before we decide whether we actually want her hand in marriage, or she wants ours.

Arabian Nights Adventure is one of the more challenging SoftSide adventures -- the puzzles are relatively straightforward, but the final journey back to the palace requires quite a bit of trial and error and I'm not actually sure it's solvable without cheating, though I'd be thrilled to learn what I've missed.  We still have a few more of these SoftSide adventure games to tackle, and they will be coming up soon I expect.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Putt-Putt Travels Through Time (1995)

Thanks to a recent Steam sale on the entire Humongous Entertainment library, this week I'm tackling Putt-Putt Travels Through Time, published in 1995 as third in the Putt-Putt series of Junior Adventures.  Humongous founder Ron Gilbert licensed the Lucasarts SCUMM engine for his children's games, and as these titles were being produced for some time after Lucasarts got out of the business, it's interesting to see the framework continuing to evolve here.  This entry features nicely airbrushed backgrounds and smoother animation than the earlier Putt-Putt titles, along with a digitized (non-MIDI) musical score and full voice acting.

Putt-Putt isn't much of a character -- he has a basic niceness about him and that's about it -- so most of these games depend on plot and simple puzzles for entertainment.  In this case, Putt-Putt wants to show his friend Mr. Firebird his Smokey the Fire Engine lunchbox, calculator, and history report, but we suspect the journey to school may become a bit complicated; it's not called Putt-Putt Travels Through Town, after all.

This one is pleasant and brief enough to play through easily -- it's available from Steam, and an iOS port was released a few years ago.  It's cheerful and straightforward, with a bit of painless educational content and simple inventory and conversation puzzles.  You might want to play it with a youngster to get the most out of it.  For those with more curiosity than time, feel free to proceed into the remainder of this post, where there are certain to be...

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

The Humongous Entertainment games always provide lots of non-essential clickables onscreen, just for fun, with brief, comical animations to keep younger players engaged even if the plot eludes them.  Clicking on Putt-Putt's dashboard radio does set up the story a little bit, as the announcer mentions Mr. Firebird's new time portal.  We can take a coin from the workbench ("I'd better not leave home without it") and nearly run over the semi-traditional cow in the road on the way into town to visit Mr. Firebird's lab.

Mr. Firebird is about to fire up his portal for the very first time (these being the most ominous words in all of science fiction) -- it's meant to show images from other times, not support actual time travel.  He needs a coin to start the washing machine that drives the contraption, providing a simple inventory puzzle we can readily solve.

Of course, things go wrong, and all of Putt-Putt's possessions as well as his faithful dog Pep are sucked into the portal.  Mr. Firebird's vision of his own creation is, it seems, a bit myopic -- his viewing window is just a piece of glass placed over an actual time portal.  And he can't close the portal until Putt-Putt retrieves everything that's been sucked in, for some reason.  After we retrieve our stuff, Firebird plans to close the portal for good, which seems a bit of an overreaction if you ask.  But that's the plot at hand, so into the time portal we go!

We find ourselves in a void with four individual portals to different time periods (and locations, it appears, suggesting that the old world-rotation conundrum of time travel may be accounted for in some way here.)  Clicking on a small group of talking props in the lower left hand corner provokes an elaborate musical number that sets up the game's structure -- we'll visit prehistory, medieval times, the old American West, and the future, seeking to retrieve Pep and a handful of belongings.  We're free to pick any of the four portals, and travel back and forth between them.

I'm going to start by visiting the Old West.  We find ourselves in the town of Tire Flats (get it?), where Putt-Putt can acquire a triangular rock on the hillside and then visit several locations in town.  An old barn is occupied by a horse who mentions the gold rush is in progress; he lets Putt-Putt take some hay.  Putt-Putt can also acquire a rope here, a rare case where he doesn't ask for permission.

The General Store sells Chewy Fruity Wagon Wheels for a nickel, which Putt-Putt doesn't have (and seems like an outrageous luxury in the Old West economy, where a pound of bacon could be had for a quarter.)  Humongous' Pajama Sam makes a cameo appearance as a jack-in-the-box toy if we click on the shelves above the counter.  The storekeeper, a covered wagon named Lurleen, seems frustrated by her game of solitaire, but it seems we can't really interact with her to help out.

Visiting the Train Station confirms that Putt-Putt's universe anthropomorphizes all forms of transportation.  The engine, one Tobias T. Train, is seeking to hire a Junior Conductor -- the job pays a nickel.  Putt-Putt's first duty for the elderly engine is to -- erm -- "oil me up," but there's a traditional oil can here so the moment is saved by literalism.  The old train is grateful for the assistance, and pays Putt-Putt a nickel for this service, letting him keep the oil can.

Toby also needs help filling himself up with water, and asks Putt-Putt to find something to pull the water spigot down to where he can work with it.  The rope serves the need, and Toby tells us that -- ahem -- "I'll give you a ride you won't soon forget" any time we choose to claim it.  He apparently has a drinking problem too -- "I've chugged all over the West!" 

We can ride Toby to several locations -- the Gold River, the Desert, a Rock Mine and Hubcap Hill.  An old prospector is panning for gold at the river -- but he's hard of hearing, so we can't really talk to him.  He does turn up a set of old rusty keys, though, which may come in handy.

In the desert, we spot animal tracks leading past a series of dry watering holes -- it's a bit of a maze, but we can just follow the tracks to find the only interesting location.  A prairie dog seems to be the only living creature around, and he doesn't talk, though Putt-Putt gives us a little bit of information about the species.  Maybe we'll have to bring him something later on.

The ghost town of Hubcap Hill contains Putt-Putt's lost calculator, perched precariously on a rotting timber.  A friendly critter tries to retrieve it, but drops it and gets it locked in an old steamer trunk.  We have to choose the right key to open the star-shaped lock, and in short order we have one item retrieved!

We'll visit the old Rock Mine, but there seems to be nothing to do here.  I stop to buy a wagon wheel candy from the store before we go back into the time void; Putt-Putt eats the candy immediately, though, so we'll assume this is just a little side activity.

The age of the dinosaurs greets Putt-Putt with a roadway blocked by a large brachiosaurus tail.  She's non-plussed by the appearance of a talking machine in her world, and provides some facts about the era.  We can acquire a round-shaped rock here, which Putt-Putt exchanges for the triangular one he picked up in the Old West; apparently he has only so much room in his trunk for rocks.

We can't get around the brachiosaurus' tail, either, but all we need to do is ask her to move it.  There's a pentagonal rock here, so it seems we may need to do some shape-shifting.  Up the road we find a talking rock wheel who's trying to push a stack of rocks over to bridge a bubbling tar pit.  Putt-Putt helps push it over, but we need a round rock to plug a prominent hole in the new bridge.  Not a tall order, that; I left it behind just a moment ago while picking up the octagonal stone, and the bridge is quickly completed.

Wheel invites Putt-Putt to his home and offers him some primordial soup (har har); we get to keep the stone bowl.  A bird perched on a nearby crag offers an optional game of "Follow the Volcano," basically a version of Simon/Repeat with belching color-coded volcanoes that we can play until we get bored.

A hungry triceratops can't stop eating long enough to chat, as a friendly compsognathus explains.  We can feed him some hay in several chunks, exhausting our supply but eventually luring him off of something he's standing on -- Putt-Putt's history report!  Two retrievals down.

A scaredy-cat allosaurus cowers behind some stone slabs and sounds a bit like Ed Wynn.  He offers a game of picture jumble using the stone slabs; it's a simple, slow-paced, linear tile rearrangement puzzle.  There's no reward for completing the picture, but maybe it provides a clue?  It depicts -- I think -- several snake-like creatures in the jungle.

To the west, an apatosaurus suffers from a bad itch -- Putt-Putt offers to drive down his back and scratch it.  Following his instructions for several turns earns his thanks, and free passage to drive over him anytime, allowing us to reach a pterodactyl's nest and observe the mother feeding her nestlings, though there seems to be no real reason to come here.

I think we've done what we can here for now, so we'll head to the Medieval Times portal next.  Putt-Putt won't pick up any more rocks -- apparently the round rock was the only stone-based puzzle -- so the rectangular stone near the portal here can be ignored.

We soon meet a fancy coach, Princess Chassis, who is trying to repair her manservant Woodward, a lumber wagon that's lost a wheel.  We need to help them re-mount the wooden wheel, which is just a matter of offering to do so and lending an extra hand.  The Princess invites Putt-Putt along, but the castle gate won't open because recent rains have rusted the gate shut.  Fortunately, we still have the oil can handy, and we can join the castle's residents for story time.

We'll visit the local blacksmith first, though, to observe him working on a beautiful shield for King Chariot; he has an in-house dragon for keeping the fires stoked.  We can also meet the wizard Merlin, a garishly painted medicine wagon who recognizes that Putt-Putt is from the future.  He assures us that we'll find everything we are looking for, and his workshop has lots of fun, magical stuff to click on.

We might as well attend story time now, to hear King Chariot reading from the Royal Joke Book... as soon as he selects an appropriate passage.  The jokes are simple puns with kid appeal -- throwing a glass out the window to see "water fall," a cat having "mittens" after swallowing a ball of yarn -- along with more traditional medieval riddles about mirrors and such.

Venturing further into the courtyard, we spot Pep stranded high on a ledge on one of the castle walls.  Putt-Putt can't reach him with his manipulator arm, so we'll need to find some way to get him safely down.  We can't seem to take any of the banners flying around the kingdom to use as a net, so we'll have to venture elsewhere to see if we can come up with something useful.

We can't take any more hay from the Old West, so I'll go into the future.  It's a world of conveyor-belt roads and flying machines.  We can see a Spy Fox constellation through a telescope before we press a button to reverse the direction of auto-mover, allowing us to go downtown.

An auto shop run by a pink hovercar named Miss Electra offers paint job changes, batteries, and other accessories.  She gives Putt-Putt a balloon maker absolutely free, and we can help operate the battery-making machine, really a simple addition game where we must punch a series of digits in the range 1-6 to meet a specified target (e.g., we need to produce a 7 volt battery, so we hit 1 and 6, or 3 and 4, etc. to reach the correct total.)

We might be able to use the balloons to rescue Pep, but he's safe enough for now so we'll explore the future a bit more.  A hovering platform puzzle allows us to teleport from place to place using trial and error, until we reach an arcade machine offering an optional game of "Squoosh," a 3-D Pong contest that reveals images from the game as we hit tiles.  It starts with 4-piece images, advancing to 6 at the fifth level, but I stopped at that point.

A Pet Food machine provides a bag of... something.  Maybe we'll need this to help lure Pep down?  I guess not, because Putt-Putt immediately uses the food to feed a hungry looking cat hanging around the shop.  Ah -- we can set the type of animal we wish to feed using a series of buttons, matching the head, torso and legs on the display.  We can't set it up for dog food, but we can set it up for cat food -- the cat happily eats, then turns into a penguin.  Hmmmm.  Maybe we can take some food to the dragon in the blacksmith's shop?  Nope, and the former-penguin-now-monkey turns green when he tries to eat it.  We can't seem to use the stone bowl we picked up earlier to catch the food, so there's no apparent purpose to this; it's just something to play around with.

Let's visit the local library.  Besides a bunch of punny titles like "Gone With the Windshield" and "Moby Pickup," we can see Mr. Firebird's autobiography -- but it seems we can't read any of the electronic books on offer, so we won't be gaining any insight into our own era.

There's also a museum, featuring artifacts from the ancient past -- including Putt-Putt's lunchbox!  The curator, Art T. Fact, disputes our ownership claims and will only exchange it for another ancient food container -- handily, the stone bowl suffices.  Three down!

Now let's see if we can rescue Pep using the balloon machine.  Yes!  Now that we've got everything rounded up, we automatically return to Cartown to tell Mr. Firebird about our adventures.  He fails to see the value in his discovery and chooses to close the time portal with a big, simple padlock.  Putt-Putt makes it to school in time to deliver a very vivid history report to his classmates, and victory is ours as the credits roll!

The Putt-Putt games are aimed at very young adventurers, obviously, and the puzzles barely qualify as such.  But there's a charming, uncomplicated sense of fun about these games, and I find myself coming back to them from time to time just to appreciate the music, animation, and silly, kid-friendly sense of humor.  It will be a while before I return to Cartown, but I will. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Atlantis (SoftSide, 1983)

I'm continuing my journey through the SoftSide Magazine series of monthly text adventures, with Peter Kirsch's Atlantis.  This one was published in Issue 41 and by my count would be #24 in the series; Kirsch labels it as #23 in the first line of his BASIC code, but it seems the interloper Volcano Island may have thrown off his count.  There are lots of adventure games called Atlantis or some variation thereof; the mythical underwater city has always been a popular theme for adventure games.

I'm playing the TRS-80 Model I/III version; I couldn't get the SoftSide Issue 41 disk image I found in the archives to boot with the TRS32 emulator, so I had to boot in NEWDOS and then load the game from BASIC.

I always encourage interested readers to experience these games directly before reading my playthrough notes, and this is one I can recommend -- there's one slightly obtuse but not completely illogical puzzle, and the game generally rewards exploration and experimentation, though you'll want to use an emulator with save state capability as there are a number of irreversible actions that can't be seen coming.  Beyond this point I'll be documenting my playthrough experience, so there are certain to be... 

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

We begin underwater, looking for the city of Atlantis.  There's a coin here, and we can GET COIN (not TAKE COIN -- the SoftSide/Kirsch parsers tend to have limited dictionaries) and LOOK COIN (not READ COIN) to discover... NOTHING SPECIAL?  We can't FEEL COIN or RUB COIN to learn anything new about it.  Messing around with it doesn't appear to trigger a magical gateway to Atlantis, at any rate, so we'll have to explore in all directions and see what we can do.

It looks like we'll be able to map the ocean out in a fairly straightforward manner, at least.  North of our starting location, we encounter a mermaid, who swims away with a parting glance over her shoulder.  She seems to be randomly located, assuming we're exploring a fairly small area.  We can't go UP until we find Atlantis, so we'll have to figure this out somehow.

We can't follow the mermaid, it seems; at least, we don't get any information about which direction she's heading when she swims away.  If I restart and leave the coin at the starting location, it appears that we're in a two room area -- if we leave the coin room via any exit, we reach the "other" room and come back to the coin room through any of its exits.  So there's got to be another solution here.

I haven't taken Inventory yet -- we have a wet suit and scuba gear, which explains why we're freely wandering around underwater.  I try to THROW COIN, and it rolls away... never to be found again, apparently, so I'll restart.  The same thing happens if I DROP COIN, so we're going to have to be careful with it.

Ah!  If I check inventory after picking up the coin, it's listed as 1 ATLANTEAN COIN.  Sounds like we'll be acquiring more of these, then.  And... why I didn't think of this earlier, I don't know... I discover we can simply FOLLOW MERMAID.

After we do this for several turns, we find ourselves in front of a large plastic dome.  THERE IS A CITY INSIDE.  IT LOOKS LIKE ATLANTIS.  Somehow, I think finding any sort of underwater city would count as a major discovery, whether or not it's actually the Atlantis of legend.  But I digress.  A door in the dome opens here, and the mermaid disappears inside, her role in the story complete.

There's a SMALL ROUND HOLE in the dome.  I try to INSERT COIN, but it rolls away again and I have to restore.  (Thank goodness for emulator save states, as this game has no SAVE feature of its own.)  The hole must not be as small as I was picturing, because we can GO HOLE to find ourselves on a hill inside the dome.  We can see North, East, South and West Atlantis from here, though the hole seems to have disappeared so we will probably have to find another way out.

Climbing down from the hill, we are surrounded by the Prison/Guard Dome, and are immediately spotted and thrown in jail.  The cell has a single door to the south, and our scuba gear has been swapped for a prison outfit, which we are now wearing over our wetsuit.  To my surprise, we can simply OPEN DOOR -- it hasn't been locked -- and GO DOOR to leave the cell.

Traveling W from here, we find a common area filled with many human prisoners drawn to Atlantis and captured.  One of them rather lengthily informs us that Atlantis has prepared four neutron missiles to attack the surface world, designed to destroy the human race but leave buildings intact for immediate colonization by the Atlanteans.  Our prescribed goals, then, are to DEACTIVATE THE LAUNCH TUBES.  DEFEAT PRINCE RETEP.  DESTROY ATLANTIS.  ESCAPE.  And SAVE YOURSELF, naturally.  Man, I hope this random prisoner knows what he's talking about.

Traveling west and up, we spy a SLEEPING GUARD in a north-south hallway, with a door to the east adjoining a triangular slot.  We probably need a key of some kind.  We'll avail ourselves of a blaster available in the weapons room to the north, and then travel south to... get spotted by the authorities and thrown back in jail, this time with a locked cell door.  I try to SHOOT DOOR, but GUN WON'T WORK! IT MUST BE BROKEN.  Another restore, then.

We can't OPEN DOOR by the sleeping guard.  The triangular slot has no visible features, and INSERT COIN just causes it to roll away (reminding me that these coins are round, not triangular.)  I try to INSERT BLASTER, thinking maybe it's a weapon lockup of some kind, but learn only that INSERT is a synonym for DROP in this adventure, as a junkman arrives and carts it off.

Maybe I can REMOVE OUTFIT -- a cleaning woman picks it up and carries it off after I do -- and travel south.  Yes!  We're no longer recognized as an escaped prisoner, and are free to roam a little bit now.  I end up back on the hill, and run into the Atlantean police again on my way down, receiving an initial warning for being OUT OF UNIFORM.  We'd better remedy that somehow.

On the west side of South Atlantis, we find a fountain with a large statue that we can't learn much about by LOOKing at it.  Wandering into the northwest corner of the area, I find a small domed building where uniforms are stored.  We can't GET UNIFORM but we can GET CLOTHES and WEAR them, hopefully avoiding any more run-ins with the local authorities.

Traveling west of the statue, we find ourselves in CENTRAL ATLANTIS, a hub from which we can reach the other sections of the city.  West Atlantis has a small domed building with a square-shaped slot in the ground.  I try to GO BUILDING, but FORCEFIELD STOPS YOU.

There's also a council dome in West Atlantis, and southwest from that point we find the West Launch Tube.  We can't simply DISABLE TUBE, though, and the gun is still broken (though SHOOT MISSILE might not be the wisest idea anyway.)

Let's check out North Atlantis next, home of the Senate Dome.  At one location, we see a speeding car heading toward an Atlantean -- we can't do anything to save him from the impact, but can we help him after he becomes an INJURED ATLANTEAN?  I look around for some sort of medical facility, but don't find anything nearby, though I do locate the North Launch Tube.

East Atlantis features the Launch Tube Control Dome -- possibly more relevant to our goal -- and a small repair dome with a sign reading, "WE REPAIR ANYTHING."  We take a risk and DROP BLASTER, and the repairman fixes it and hands it back.  Northwest of the repair shop we find a note on the ground: "IMPORTANT COUNCIL MEETING TODAY" (odd how these non-humans all seem to speak English.)

The map is a little tricky to navigate, with many NE/SE/SW/SE directions, but it's not too hard to find the four launch tubes in the remotest corners of the city.  I try to SHOOT TUBE and SHOOT MISSILE in the eastern section with my repaired blaster, but keep missing.  Ah!  I can GO DOME to enter the launch tube control center, where we find a red slot, apparently a lock mechanism for the door to an inner area.

Returning to West Atlantis, I try to attend the important council meeting, but am chased out as I'm obviously not a council member.  We do catch a glimpse of Prince Retep and the rest of the council, so maybe if we can get inside we can assassinate the Prince.  I try to visit the Senate Dome in North Atlantis and am also chased from the premises.  These chase-happy Atlantean security guards are certainly more fun than those in the surface world!

Wandering around, I encounter a dead Atlantean, formerly the injured one, I fear, and discover (too late) that we can GET ATLANTEAN.  I find a junkyard in East Atlantis, containing a crystal rod when we LOOK JUNK.  It's apparently not a square rod, as when I try to INSERT CRYSTAL near the forcefield-protected building in West Atlantis, it won't fit.  Carrying the rod doesn't gain us entry to the council dome or the Senate either, and it doesn't unlock the launch tube control dome.  I try to visit the prison with it, but get thrown in jail this time, so I'll restore yet again.

I visit the junkyard again, and find that a second LOOK JUNK yields a coin.  I also confirm, not much to my surprise, that the repair shop can do nothing with the dead Atlantean.  I find we can SHOOT GUARD in the prison, without apparent reprisal, but the crystal rod doesn't fit the triangle-shaped slot or the prisoners' cell downstairs, so I'll restore in case that murder was a bad idea.

What else?  Well, since I haven't run into any real mazes, I've been trying to work through this with a mental map in my head, but it's becoming clear I need to map out Atlantis on paper to make sure I haven't missed any locations.  Doing so, I discover a sickbay in South Atlantis that I didn't see before -- I probably need to restore and bring the injured Atlantean here before he dies.  We GET ATLANTEAN, take him to the sickbay, DROP ATLANTEAN, and observe as the doctor heals him with a health ray.  There's no immediate reward, as the revived citizen simply gets up and leaves, but this still seems like the right thing to do.

I stop into the uniform building next door again, and this time we see a COUNCIL UNIFORM lying on the pile of clothes.  As a bonus, a coin falls out as we pick it up, and we can WEAR UNIFORM now and presumably gain access to the council meeting.  This works, and we arrive in time to hear Prince Retep concluding his speech -- "SOON WE SHALL DESTROY THE HUMANS ABOVE US" -- and as he exits, he drops something... a square rod.  (Why the Atlanteans know so much about the humans above, while we think Atlantis is made up out of whole cloth, is not explained.)

Now can we get past the forcefield?  Yes!  We INSERT SQUARE, the rod vanishes into the slot, and now we can GO BUILDING... it's Prince Retep's private chambers!  Good thing he's out at the moment.  We can take an octagonal rod just lying here; a foot locker is rusted shut, but we can SHOOT LOCKER to reveal its contents: a second crystal rod.  Interesting... inventory keeps count of coins and crystal rods, so we must need some quantity of each.

With our council uniform on, we're allowed to enter the Senate Dome as well, where the octagonal rod allows us to access a door to the Senate Chambers.  Here, and rather unexpectedly, we find Prince Retep standing by the city's weapons controls, his hand near a red button.  Signage tells us that the red button activates the launch tubes, and there's also a dial and a lever for an EMERGENCY DESTRUCTION OF ATLANTIS timer.  One has a difficult time picturing what sort of emergency would make this a reasonable course of action, but it's likely to make our adventure easier.

We really don't want Prince Retep to launch those missiles, so can we SHOOT PRINCE?  We can, but he falls on the red button and activates the launch timer anyway.  A loudspeaker informs us we have 69 moves until the neutron missiles launch to destroy our entire species.  I try restoring to play with the timing, but we can't set the destruction timer until after the prince is dead.  I TURN DIAL / TO 50 and PULL LEVER.  This suggests that the destruction of Atlantis should happen before the missiles launch, but I have no idea how we're going to get out of here at this point!

I try visiting the Launch Tube Control Center, but have nothing to put in the red slot to open the door.  So I may have triggered the destruction too soon.  But I'm curious to see what might happen, so I wander around a little bit more while the timer counts down.  I find the Atlantean we rescued earlier back on the street -- and he gives us a crystal rod as thanks, so now we have three of these.  And I think to LOOK PRINCE this time, finding a triangular rod and a red rod.  Okay, these might help -- the red rod should open the launch dome door, and the triangular one might work in the prison, where I hope there's some kind of evacuation mechanism.

INSERT RED in the launch dome lets us into the control room, where we find a machine with 4 slots and a sign: "TO DEACTIVATE, INSERT CRYSTAL RODS."  But I only have 3 of them!  INSERT CRYSTAL puts them into slots #1 through #3, but that's not going to do the trick -- I need one more crystal rod.

I now learn that, with the timers set up as they are, Atlantis does indeed explode before the neutron missiles launch, but we don't get any credit for our noble sacrifice if we haven't escaped -- we're just dead and the adventure is over.  Time to restore and delay the climax until we've got four crystal rods ready to go.

Hmmm.  Maybe we don't need to set the destruction timer just yet, and we can focus on disarming the launch now that we (kind of) know how to do that.  Let's see what the triangular rod will do in the prison -- I SHOOT GUARD for safety's sake, then INSERT TRIANGULAR.  This allows us to access a storage room, with a push button on the wall and our scuba gear handy.  So maybe we'll be making our escape by swimming, the same way we arrived.  PUSH BUTTON produces a whirring sound... but no apparent effect?

Well, we're no closer to having four crystal rods, so I'll take a step back again.  Can we somehow buy a rod with our coins?  I haven't seen any shops or vending machines, so I finally peek at the BASIC code to get a suggestion -- it looks like we can INSERT COIN -- WHERE? -- IN FOUNTAIN.  But this just gets us hints we already know -- the statue says, "KILL PRINCE RETEP," and then, "DESTROY ATLANTIS," and... Aha!  With a third coin spent, the statue spits out the missing crystal rod.  Okay, now we have the four we need (and I hope we won't need cash for anything else.)

This time, I kill the prince, then run to the launch tower and disarm the missiles with the four crystal rods.  A sign flashes, "POWER DOWN."  Good, that seems right.  Now we just have to destroy Atlantis and escape.

How many moves should I set the destruction timer for?  I suspect because we have a choice there is some risk here; too short and we won't make it, too long and perhaps some enterprising Atlantean will disarm the destruction timer.  I need to get to the prison, retrieve my scuba gear, and hope that whirring push button does something that will help us escape.  Our only available choices for setting the number of turns on the timer are 0, 10, 25 and 50 -- I'll try setting it for 25 moves, as 0 and 10 seem insufficient and I shouldn't need 50.

I run to the prison, shoot the guard, enter the storage room, drop my Atlantean garb, put on the scuba gear, and push the button.  Looking for the most likely exit, I return to the hillside where we came in, and the small round hole in the dome is open again (I think that's what the button in the storage room does.)  We GO HOLE, swim Up, and... victory is ours!

I enjoyed exploring and destroying Atlantis -- the time element and multiple-goal design makes for a tense finale, and it's a fair game that rewards exploration and experimentation, though without a save game feature I think I would have found it more frustrating back in the day.  There aren't too many more of the SoftSide games left for me to play, but I'm glad to have discovered this "second wave" of titles I missed in my first pass.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Volcano Island (1983)

I'm continuing with the later SoftSide Magazine adventure games this month, tackling what I believe is the 23rd game in the series: Volcano Island Adventure, published in 1983.  There's no author credit in the first few lines of code, and the style of this game suggests a different authorship than many of the SoftSide adventures -- it uses mixed-case text, unlike many of its TRS-80 predecessors, and the author conveniently capitalizes nouns so we have some idea which words matter to the parser.  This is a convention I wish more of these early games would have used.

Volcano Island follows a traditional shipwreck/escape-the-island plot, with the specific threat of a volcano on the verge of eruption.  The time limit seems generous at first, but it actually presents a fair challenge thanks to some moderately complex puzzles and a tight inventory limit.

I always encourage interested readers to go adventuring on their own before reading my playthrough notes, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this one -- it's a pure, old-fashioned text adventure with no major bugs and some interesting puzzles.  Beyond this point, I will be detailing my experience... so there are certain to be...

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

We begin on a short beach at the water's edge, where we can travel east or west.  There are some seagulls flying over a lagoon, and some tall beach grass, but LOOKing at all of these potentially interesting objects fails to realize any potential.

The east edge of the beach adjoins a cave, with more seagulls perched above its opening.  We can GO CAVE or simply head E to enter its dim interior, where a dark pool of water is accessorized by a skeleton, an old diary and a seaman's knife, with a rock ledge high above. 

We can GO POOL to swim in it, DIVE into the deep waters, come back Up, and exit to the North.  I'm guessing a light source might help us find greater value in the deep dark WATERS.  In the meanwhile, we'll read the diary -- it tells of a shipwrecked French sea captain, who hid a valuable gift for his wife in a place the natives fear.  So we may have some additional objectives here.

Returning to the beach where we started, we can head W to find a tidal pool and rolling sand dunes.  The pool is too shallow to enter, which is probably for the best, as LOOK POOL reveals that There's an electric EEL trapped in it.  The dunes can't be explored in more detail, so we'll head south to a clearing.  Here we find a shack, a cliff to the south, and an island native, who carries a SPEAR and looks stubborn.

The volcano is already rumbling ominously; I expect my initial foray will be cut short by the eruption, but we need to explore the map a bit before we try to find an efficient version of this story.  We can GO SHACK to see bare walls and an opening to the east, which just takes us back outside.  We can't TALK NATIVE, or STAB NATIVE; we can GIVE KNIFE, but he just looks at it and drops it on the ground.  This at least suggests that we may be able to find something of greater interest to our new acquaintance.

South of the shack is... ah, the native won't let us pass.  So this is the first obvious puzzle we've encountered.  Can we GET EEL?  Not without dying of electrical shock, apparently.  Restoring, we try swimming in the lagoon by the beach; we can see a coral reef enclosing the lagoon, but can't seem to access it.  We can GET GRASS on the beach to obtain a handful of the stuff, but the native isn't interested in that either.

The bare grass walls in the shack don't succumb to GO WALLS, or PUSH WALLS, or TOUCH WALLS or FEEL WALLS.  I wander around poking at this and that, as the volcano starts belching steam.  I learn that we can apparently hold our breath indefinitely in the dark waters in the cave.  The coral reef continues to be in accessible as the ground begins to shake, and then I realize that I have not tried to DIVE in the lagoon.  Aha!

We can see an underwater cave to the east, and a sunken galleon to the north; we can return to the beach by swimming south.  The cave contains a large octopus, and if we are so foolish as to waste time by LOOKing at the OCTOPUS, the vicious cephalopod grabs us and we're dead.  We can't KILL OCTOPUS either, during our single-turn chance, at least with the simple knife we're carrying at the moment.

The galleon is largely rotted away, but we can pick up a wine bottle here, which is sealed.  We do eventually start to run out of breath, but the limit is quite generous with a convenient warning, and here at the galleon we can just go back UP.

We can GIVE BOTTLE to the native, who drinks the wine and retires to the shack.  Now we can access a high cliff, where we see surf pounding the rocks below and a large flat, stained rock.  LOOK ROCK reveals dried blood, so it must be a sacrificial altar of sorts, indicating this is a sacred spot

East of the sacred spot is a bamboo grove, where we can CUT BAMBOO to take some with us as we head north into a small valley containing a single tree.  We can't CLIMB TREE or GO TREE, but LOOK TREE reveals that it's a rubber tree.  We can CUT TREE to create a pool of rubbery sap, but it appears we'll need something to carry it in before we can GET SAP.

I try to go back to the shack, where I do find the empty bottle as I'd hoped, but by the time I return the sap is now a hardened pool of rubber.  I try to CUT TREE and GET SAP, or FILL BOTTLE, but it seems to be unsuitable for the purpose. 

Heading east of the rubber tree, we find ourselves at the base of the volcano!  There's a hole in the side of the mountain, and a steaming pool of water, neither of which looks particularly inviting.  But we'll try to GO HOLE anyway, and we discover a hot cavern.  We can travel east through an opening to find ourselves on the rock ledge above the cave pool, near the start of the game. 

There's a package here, and we can't learn anything about it by examining it, so we'll open it -- to find a string of PEARLS!  So the old sea captain's treasure appears to be claimed, though we're no closer to leaving the island.

We can JUMP from the ledge to return to the cave's dark pool, or take the long way around, which I do just for curiosity's sake.  The native is friendly now, but we see a decidedly less friendly shark fin in the lagoon now.  I test the obvious hypothesis by GOing LAGOON, and dying immediately, of course.

It's probably time to think about getting off this island, though to my surprise the constantly threatening volcano has yet to end my game.  I try to PUT PAPER -- In two words, tell me where? -- IN BAMBOO, to see if I can make a flare; this proves fruitless, but the ability to PUT things IN other things opens up some other possibilities.  And while I'm trying to PUT SAP in something, which doesn't work because I have to have whatever I'm trying to manipulate this way in hand, the volcano actually does explode, sinking the island and ending the game.

Starting again, I wonder if the pearls we found are the captain's gift for his wife, or a red herring -- the natives don't seem to particularly fear the ledge in the cave, at least.  Can we trade something for the native's spear, so we can defend ourselves against the shark and the octopus?   Yes!  If we GIVE PEARLS, the native gives us his spear and exits the shack.

The shark is back -- claiming the pearls seems to trigger its arrival -- but we can't SPEAR SHARK or SPEAR FIN or PUT SPEAR / IN SHARK, and if we THROW SPEAR it just sinks into the lagoon.  Ah -- maybe we can use the rubber to pick up the electric eel and throw it at the shark.  That doesn't pan out, in my attempt at least, but we can just SPEAR EEL; that doesn't help, though, as it's dead now, and THROW EEL just allows it to sink into the lagoon.

I try to let the rubber tree sap land on the wrapping paper, or get caught in the bamboo, with no luck.  We can't CUT RUBBER after it hardens, either.  I try asking for HELP, which usually doesn't do anything, but in this case yields, "You need some ink and a pen."

Well, the octopus ought to provide some ink if we can figure out how to deal with it.  A pen, though?  Hmmmm.  Some more experimentation may be in order.  PUT BOTTLE / IN SAP re-seals the bottle, interesting.  PUT HANDS / IN SAP is even more interesting, as the sap forms a pair of rough rubber gloves when it dries.

Safely insulated, let's see if we can GET EEL -- yes, we can -- and now THROW EEL electrocutes the shark just as it kills the eel, eliminating a couple of dangers at once.  And now we can SPEAR OCTOPUS, and LOOK OCTOPUS to find an ink bladder, which we can take with us.

Let's assume that we need the wrapping paper, the bottle, the ink and a pen of some sort to put a rescue note together... maybe?  This hardly seems like a timely strategy given the volcanic activity here, but we'll try it anyway.  Can we MAKE PEN?  Probably -- the response echoes the classic Scott Adams semi-hint, You can't do that...yet!  So let's try to do it with... maybe a sliver of bamboo and the ink?  Nope.  PUT BLADDER / IN BAMBOO and PUT BAMBOO / IN BLADDER don't do the trick either. 

Oh, there are seagulls around here!  Maybe a feather would be a better basis for a pen.  It won't be as simple as heading to the beach to GET SEAGULL, though.  Can we BUILD a CAGE from bamboo?  Nope.  Maybe lure a bird in with some dead octopus?  Ah!  On the way to try to retrieve some octoflesh, we now see a school of small fish in the lagoon, and we can SPEAR FISH to get one of them.  But we still can't GET SEAGULLHELP tells us... with impeccable timing... that we should Trap a SEAGULL.  TRAP SEAGULL doesn't work directly, but we can try to MAKE TRAP... though I can't do that yet, especially because the volcano has again exploded.  Time is more of the essence than I had thought!

Let's see if we can MAKE TRAP now, with some bamboo and the dead fish... Not here!, in the bamboo grove, but by the cave where the seagulls are perching... we can't do that, yet.  We must need some other component.  Maybe some grass, to make a pit trap, even though our p?  Yes, that seems to work, but we also have to PUT FISH / IN TRAP to catch a seagull, then GET SEAGULL and finally GET FEATHER.  As I DROP SEAGULL, I notice it's dead -- not quite what I had in mind, but at least I have a tail feather now and can MAKE PEN... no, PUT FEATHER / IN BLADDER... no?

LOOK BLADDER indicates that the ink has dried, coating the inside of the sac.  Hmmmm.  Can we steam it back into viability using the hot pool by the volcano?  Sorry, you'd burn your hands.  With the gloves back on -- I dropped them earlier to free up an inventory slot -- we can PUT BLADDER / IN POOL to restore the ink.  But PUT FEATHER / IN BLADDER doesn't produce a pen like I thought it would, and neither does MAKE PEN.  We can't GET INK to put it on the feather, either.

I try to PUT INK / IN BOTTLE, but the parser doesn't consider us to have the ink even though we have the bladder.  PUT BOTTLE / IN BLADDER and vice-versa are also unproductive.  Ahhhh.. we have to MAKE PEN first, using the feather and the knife in combination, without the gloves on to avoid clumsiness, and then we can PUT PEN / IN BLADDER.  Finally!

Now what?  We can WRITE NOTE... which writes a rescue note on the wrapping paper.  And PUT NOTE / IN BOTTLE, hoping that an unlikely solution will eventually pan out.  And then we can THROW BOTTLE into the lagoon... where it sinks without a trace.  Ah, maybe this is why we can re-seal it with the rubber tree sap.  This last bit gets tricky because we can only carry five items at once, but we can use the shortcut to come back to the beach more quickly than taking the long way around.

Now we THROW the sealed, note-containing BOTTLE into the lagoon... and now that it's sealed, it...  Drat.  It just washes back to shore.  Hmmmm. 

The pools aren't good places to throw it either.  We can throw it into the surf from the cliffside at the sacred spot -- and, by a fortunate coincidence, there's a ship visible on the horizon.  But now we've defiled the sacrificial waters with our littering, and the natives are attacking from the north!  We'll use the volcano-to-cave shortcut again to try to elude them... they stop chasing us outside the cave (maybe they are afraid of this location), and as we return to the beach once more, we are rescued!

Apparently we feel no inclination or obligation to rescue the indigenous population, who remain scant turns away from death by volcano, but we also don't know that's going to happen if we escape in time, so I guess we can give ourselves a moral pass on this one.

Volcano Island is a tautly-plotted little adventure, more involved than the usual escape tale thanks to quite a few construction tasks that are logical but not necessarily obvious.  I had fun playing this one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Adventure of the Week: It's About Time (1983)

This week, we're continuing with another of SoftSide Magazine's monthly adventure games, with It's About Time, published in 1983.  I've been trying to piece together the sequence of these games, which is complicated by the magazine's shift of numbering scheme partway through its life.  But this one gives us a clue -- written by the prolific Peter Kirsch, it's numbered #22 on the first line of the BASIC code, so I will tentatively conclude that The Wizard's Sword probably was #21 as I speculated last time.  We're playing the TRS-80 version here, but it appears SoftSide cross-published for the Apple ][, Atari 400/800 and IBM PC as well during this period.

The SoftSide games used similar engines, with simple two-word parsers and small dictionaries, but they were varied and often tackled unusual themes.  This one doesn't give the player a lot of information up front, just a scenario wherein we will find a time machine.

I usually encourage interested readers to sample these games firsthand before reading my notes, but in this case I'll warn you that the TRS-80 version I found in the online archives has a couple of game-breaking typos which close off critical exits unless they are repaired.  I'm not sure how this happened, as I'm playing from a SoftSide magazine disk image, not a typed-in version, but if you find the same version I did, you'll need to fix these two lines:

  • 18 PRINTJ$:W=10:E=9:NW=7:GOTO320
  • 34 PRINT"IN A CLEARING":NW=22:NE=25:SW=23:SE=28:GOTO320
Whether or not you choose to play on your own, be warned that these posts are meant to capture my experience in detail.  So there are certain to be...

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

We begin in an unnamed city, in front of our own house, with a green door mat on the front steps.  It's not at all surprising that we can GET MAT and find a KEY.  We can't EXAMINE KEY, as the parser doesn't recognize the verb, and even LOOK KEY reveals nothing special.

We can't explicitly UNLOCK anything, but we can GO HOUSE -- KEY UNLOCKS YOUR DOOR -- and find ourselves in rather sparse surroundings, with just a BOTTLE OF WINE visible indoors.  We can't GET BOTTLE (THERE'S NO BOTTLE HERE) but we can GET WINE, and we can't LOCK DOOR after we leave to protect our now non-existent belongings.

(Ed.: Note that the bugs I mention above were unknown to me when I started playing, so I'm going to keep my original narrative here as I run into and finally resolve the related issues.  I just posted them up top to save others the headache.)

We can explore east and northwest from the house.  East takes us further into the city, though there's nothing of note here until we go northeast into a clearing.  The parser behaves a little oddly here, displaying a message reading "NE WHAT?" after we enter.  This is either a bug, repeating our previous command after we enter the room, or a puzzle of some kind.  At any rate, there's nothing we can do here except go NE to loop back to this location or travel W back into the city.

So let's head northwest from our house, where we find an area dominated by a tall mountain with exits to the west and northeast, and a small cave.  There's nothing of note in the cave at this point.  NE takes us back into the city, and we can loop back to the clearing from the north side of town (where we get a SE WHAT? message, suggesting this is indeed a minor bug -- except this is also oddly symmetrical, returning us to the north side of town when we blindly wander west again, so it may prove to be a puzzle.)

West of the mountain we find a clearing with a Time Machine.  Before we hop in and embark upon what is likely the heart of this adventure, we'll go southwest into a forest and see if there are any other useful objects we might want to take along.

The forest is structured with diagonal exits, and while it's not really a maze -- the geography is internally consistent -- that same navigation bug turns up here.  We can end up getting a W WHAT? message, followed by YOU CAN'T MOVE THAT WAY messages until we stumble across a valid navigation direction.  I ended up coming back to the time machine with nothing new in hand.

So let's GO MACHINE!  We find ourselves in front of a big glass window and a lever -- we must PULL LEVER to go into the past, and PUSH LEVER for the future.  I'll fight my natural inclination to nostalgia and PUSH LEVER, zooming us forward to...

3031 A.D.!  I must give Mr. Kirsch credit for setting up his future scenario for the long term; many 1980s games send us to the "futuristic" early 2000s, so this is refreshing.  (We do have to pay attention to the initial reading on the time machine's meter as we go -- after we've arrived and are told it reads 2031 A.D., LOOK METER returns TRY: READ, but READ METER only yields YOU SEE NOTHING SPECIAL.)

We can't GET OUT of the time machine, but we can GO OUT to find ourselves in what appears to be the same clearing we were in before.  Apparently a millennium of development in the nearby city has managed to spare this area.  There's still nothing in the small cave, though our hometown has now become a DOMED CITY (though we seem to have no problem passing through the dome to pay it a visit.)

The city remains featureless otherwise, and our old domicile is long gone.  Though I do realize I've missed visiting a path up the tall mountain, so we'll GO PATH and see what we find up there.  We follow the winding path through several locations to reach the edge of a cliff, where we see a tree stump.  Hmmmm.

I'll check out the forest area again, and now there's a park here.  I wander around and find a newspaper, with a headline reading: "HENRY BOWMAN THREATENS WORLD WITH B BOMB."  Save us, Mario!  Oh, whoops, different universe.  This must be the logical successor to the A-Bomb.  Is this something we're supposed to interfere with, somehow?

Well, let's go back to our original present, if the time machine works that way -- yes, PULL LEVER brings us back to 1983.  The mountain path still features a lone tree stump at the end, so there's nothing notably different here.

Let's check out the limitations of the time machine -- an initial PULL LEVER takes us to the 1700S, then another one to EARLY AMERICA, and again to 200 B.C., then THE STONE AGE, and a PREHISTORIC ERA, and finally THE CREATION OF THE EARTH, which of course proves fatal as we observe molten materials coalescing.  The future takes us a very small increment past 3031 A.D. to 3032 A.D., where we see the city in ruins and a newspaper's final edition lying on the ground; how this was published and distributed remains a conundrum, as the headline reads, "HENRY BOWMAN CREATES B BOMB AND DESTROYS WORLD."  Dang that rascally Henry Bowman!

A further PUSH LEVER takes us to the end of the Earth, again fatal if not physically coherent as HUGE SUNS SWOOP IN UPON THE EARTH AND BLOW IT TO BITS.  So we have 8 non-fatal time periods to explore, and it seems like we ought to stop this Bowman character to ensure the Earth a few more years of trouble-free service.

We can go about our time travels a little more systematically now, so let's go back to the prehistoric era -- I'm guessing it doesn't make a lot of sense to work our way backwards, as future events seem unlikely to influence the past.  The forest was once a jungle, it seems, but just as featureless; the cave is empty way back when, and my trip up the mountain path is cut short by a sabre tooth tiger attack!  Let's try that again... a large jungle area occupies the space where a city will later rise, and I find nothing useful here either.

So let's go to the stone age and see if we can find a club or something.  The cave features a small, bird-sized hole in the wall at this point in its history -- and LOOK HOLE reveals an arrowhead.  YOU CAN'T REACH IT WITH YOUR HAND, though, so we'll need a tool or assistance of some kind.  The mountain path is still occupied by sabre tooth tigers, and I'm dead again.

What about 200 B.C.?  No tigers lurk now, but the mountain path leads to a tree stump again.  That stump somehow remained rot-proof for thousands of years!  I find nothing else here; these early times are remarkably barren.

Early America is dominated by forest, rather than jungle, and we encounter a MAD TURKEY in the woods, which bites our fingers if we try to GET TURKEY.  Nothing else suggests itself in the area.

We're off to the 1700s, then... where we spot a MAD PIG on the mountain path.  We can't carry it, and it won't let us pass.  Hey!  In the rural area where the city will someday be, we encounter BEN FRANKLIN, looking dejected with a small kite in hand.  Can we GIVE KEY to aid him in his quest to study electricity?  He now has a kite and a key, but he still looks discouraged and doesn't seem to get the idea of a combination here.  We can't ATTACH KEY, or TIE KEY, or GET KEY back.  We can't FLY KITE or SHOW BEN, or anything along those lines, but maybe if we leave him to his own devices over time we'll have helped out a bit.

Can we explore the post-acopalyptic world of 3032 A.D.?  Nope, radiation poisoning sets in immediately if we set foot outside the machine.

So we have some puzzles, but their outcomes don't seem to interlock in any obvious way.  The pig doesn't want the wine, nor does Ben Franklin, nor the turkey.  Can we use the turkey to retrieve the arrowhead from the bird-sized hole?  We would need to acquire the turkey to try that.  Nothing quite seems to fit, and I think we've explored everything.

So I'll cheat and peek at the BASIC code -- and on line 37, I see a reference to some pilgrims sitting at a large table.  I have not seen any such pilgrims, though I can guess which era I should look in.  This text appears to correspond to location 27, which references T$(T), a list of era-specific paths or roads that I haven't seen either.  It appears this is all connected to the clearing on the map, via a northeast exit that I have so far not discovered.  And I notice that code line 34 has what appears to be a typo or bit of BASIC interpreter corruption -- the fragment "SW=PRINT3" certainly does not look right to me!  So there have been some exits made inaccessible by those "WHAT?" messages -- let's try to fix that by replacing line 34 with:


I'll have to start from scratch after the code change, but let's see if this "cheat" is actually a fix.  It looks good so far -- we no longer see the "NE WHAT?" error, and there are now visible exits out of the clearing in all four diagonal directions!  This is much, much better -- the 1983 city now contains a JEWELRY STORE, with a sign reading "WE BUY."  An endless street leads east, so the map will probably remain rather sparse, but we should be able to find some locations and items we simply couldn't reach earlier.

The prehistoric era contains a swamp; the stone age is also swampy, but we encounter a CAVEMAN PEDDLER who, we are informed, might have something to trade and has a mole on his left ear?  In 200 B.C., we encounter an INDIAN TRADER who says, in the grand old adventure tradition, something in his supposedly native tongue, which is just backwards text that translates to "GIVE ME ARROW HEAD, OR I'LL KILL YOU."  I don't have the arrowhead yet, so I'll just avoid offering him anything that might give offense.  Early America continues the commercial tradition with a PILGRIM BARTERER standing in this same spot.  He doesn't want the doormat, though, and I seem to have misplaced the wine.  And here are those PILGRIMS we saw in the code, waiting to have a feast but looking bewildered.  I'm guessing a little turkey would help.

The 1700s bring us a SQUINTING PEASANT MERCHANT -- maybe he can't see too well so we can take advantage of him -- and 3031 A.D. features an AUTOTRON SHOPPING MART.  Ah!  Here we could buy a knife, a rope, an axe and a mirror -- if we had any cash, that is.  We'd better find something valuable to sell to the jeweler in 1983.

Since I apparently lost the wine at some point, I'll just restart and see if any of these merchants want it.  The caveman peddler won't even indicate he doesn't want it, it just gets left on the ground; TRADE, GIVE and DROP are apparently synonyms in the parser's dictionary. and while some merchants explicitly reject unwanted trades, this guy just ignores the offering.

I'm still seeing "WHAT?" errors in the western jungle/forest area, and I discover another typo in line 18 -- NW=' should probably be NW=7.  I'll fix that too.  One more restart and I hope we're in a bug-free zone now.

We can now reach a desert circa 1983, though it's just a single location that loops back on itself until we exit E back to the forest.  The desert is SCORCHING in the prehistoric era and the stone age, reduced to VERY HOT later on.

I'll take some time to re-explore a little more thoroughly now that we've fixed the navigation bugs.  I discover a taxi stand in the domed city of 3031, and the fare costs 35 cents, tip-free.  There's also a liquor store, where the robot clerk says, "I'LL TRADE YOU SOMETHING FOR A GOOD BOTTLE OF WINE."  Aha!  I think I have this one nailed, but he says our 1983 bottle is not aged enough!

Okay, this is a puzzle we might be able to solve.  I'll try leaving the bottle in the desert for a while.  Nope -- when I go to pick it up in 3031, our bottle has been scavenged.  Drat.  But this feels right, so I'll look at the code again -- WN=2... DROP verb involved... conditional on J=19,T=1, A=12 to set the WN=1 flag when it's currently 0... okay.  It looks like the desert is not the right place to store it. A=12 points us to the Cave, which makes more sense as a wine cellar, now that I think about it.  Now we can leave the bottle of wine in the cave in the prehistoric era, pick it up again in 3031 A.D., and trade it to the clerk for an OLD HANDGUN.  We can SHOOT GUN wherever we like, though we can't really aim at anything and the default response seems to be MISSED...

Wandering further afield, I run into a MAD PTERODACTYL in the jungle that I haven't seen before, and find two rocks in the mountain cave.  We can't THROW ROCKS at all, as the parser doesn't understand the concept, so they don't seem useful against the pig or the pterodactyl.

What can we do with the gun?  I turns out that we can SHOOT CAVEMAN -- he drops dead, though he still supposedly HAS SOMETHING TO TRADE which we can't discover after his death.  And there's that mole on his left ear that the game seems quite insistent on pointing out.  We can't seem to shoot anybody else.  So is this action supposed to alter something in the future?  The newspaper in 3031 no longer contains anything of interest.  And now, if we continue forward, we see an ultramodern, thriving city in 3032 instead of post-B Bomb destruction... and when we GO OUT... we've suddenly won!?!?

Well, that was sudden!  Apparently the caveman peddler was somehow related to Henry Bowman (he'd be an ancestor, not a descendant as the game declares here).  And now we've changed the future and prevented the destruction of the world!  Well, at least for a while -- our planet still ends in a fiery cataclysm of galactic destruction at some undefined time after 3032, but maybe we've all moved away by then.

It's About Time isn't a great time travel game, though it does make use of that idea, and it isn't even one of the better SoftSide adventures, at least as I experienced it.  The bugs I had to fix made the early going frustrating, and victory occurred almost at random.  Looking at the code, it appears we're supposed to have solved a series of puzzles in order to find a post office with a wanted poster, depicting Henry Bowman with a mole over his left ear as possessed by all of his ancestors (again called DESCENDANTS in the code.)  But the game's actual design allows us to shortcut all of that, winning by just randomly shooting at people and hoping the ripple effects somehow prevent Henry Bowman from ever existing, which is the solution I stumbled upon.

Ah, well.  It's fun to be playing these again, and if there's one thing I love about BASIC adventures, it's that they're almost always solvable one way or another.