Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Mean Streets (1989)

The recent release of the Kickstarter-funded The Tesla Effect has brought the post-apocalyptic detective Tex Murphy back onto the adventure game scene, so I decided it was time to play one of the earlier games in this long-running series.  So this week, we're taking a look at the first Tex Murphy title, Mean Streets, published by Access Software in 1989 for PC compatibles.

Mean Streets came to market on the cusp of the PC's arrival as a serious gaming platform -- its RealSound technology was innovative at the time, tricking the basic PC beeper into playing digitized audio long before onboard sound cards became standard.  The game was also one of the first to feature 320 x 200, 256-color VGA graphics, pushing past the 32-color Amiga standard and well beyond the original PC's hideous 4-color CGA visuals (also supported for backwards-compatibility, of course.)  This pre-Windows adventure doesn't support the mouse, however, so everything is keyboard-driven, including the menu-based adventuring interface as well as the flight simulation and gunfighting sections.

The Tex Murphy games were a little more mature in tone and theme than most of the Sierra and Lucasarts adventures, presenting hard-boiled detective stories full of death and vice, but leavened with humor and fun sci-fi trappings.  Mean Streets was directed by Bruce Carver from a story by Chris Jones and Brian Ferguson; Jones also played Tex Murphy in digitized stills, and continues in the role as a live-action performer today.

Regular visitors know that I almost always encourage readers to try these games out before reading my comments, as firsthand experience can't be beat.  And this one isn't even hard to track down or get running -- it's still commercially available via the good folks at GOG.com as part of a package containing the first two Tex Murphy adventures, Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum.  Beyond this point, I'll be detailing my playthrough experience, and there are certain to be...

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

The game opens (past a few DOS menus for installation and configuration) with some funky 80s cop-pop music, a sampled loop that actually still sounds pretty good on a modern system with DOSBox emulation.  After the title screen, we are given an introductory screen of text -- the case involves the murder of a Dr. Linsky, a University of San Francisco professor.  His daughter Sylvia believes he was murdered, while the police think his fall from the Golden Gate bridge was clearly a suicide.  The player is cast as Private Investigator Tex Murphy, in the year 2033, which was farther away when this game was published than it is now.  This opening feels very much like a classic text adventure, right down to a final grammatical error:

We begin with $10,000 in cash, five leads to pursue, and advice to refer to the manual, write things down, and accommodate the technology by spelling correctly and using people's full names when questioning suspects.

We begin in Tex's "speeder" flying car, with a fairly sophisticated instrument panel; hitting H for help on the controls as suggested indicates we can fly manually or toggle the autopilot on.  While I'm trying to decide what to do, a fax arrives from Vanessa, Tex's assistant, forwarding a newspaper article about Dr. Linksy's death.  The deceased had a fiancee named Delores Lightbody, and funeral services will be at 10:00 Wednesday, September 24, at the All Saints Church.

So perhaps we should fly to church.  We can hit V to call Vanessa on the picture phone, and ask her about All Saints Church, but she "Can't help you there."  We can ask her about the characters we've heard about so far, but she just refers us to the faxed information already sent.  We can also call Lee Chin, an underground source who doesn't like Murphy much and doesn't seem to know much either.  Soon another fax arrives, though, with Navigation Computer coordinates for Delores Lightbody's address in Berkeley at NC 4920.  Another fax comes listing Sylvia's home address in Woodland at NC 4421, and another with Carl Linsky's address at NC 4660.

We can use the navigation computer manually, setting a position and then actually lifting off, turning around and heading there, or we can enter a Nav Code and turn on the Autopilot to keep things simple.  I'm opting to focus on the adventure and not worry about the flight simulation aspect of the game, so we'll use the autopilot to get to Dr. Linsky's address.  It appears that time ticks away in real time, so if we're stepping away from the computer we need to stop playing; I didn't run into any true time limitations while playing through the game, but it's a distinct possibility.

The late professor's three-story Queen Anne-style apartment home contains a few clues.  We can walk Tex around the room using the arrow keys -- when objects are close enough to interact with, we're prompted to press ENTER to access a limited menu of items verbs -- LOOK, GET, MOVE, OPEN, ON/OFF, and TASTE.  Fortunately, Tex has a better reach than Sierra's heroes, and having the items available listed means we don't have to do any pixel hunting, just traverse the space and see what we can see; most locations are divided into four separate quadrants for the four corners of the room, and I didn't find any locations with multiple rooms.  The menu also allows for item hierarchy -- the cabinet has a cabinet door, which can be opened to reveal a book and a cabinet key.  We have to navigate the available verbs using the right and left arrows on the keyboard, and the objects with the up and down arrows; this interface takes a little getting used to but it works well enough.  In general, the engine will let us take small objects, but not large ones, so we'll be mostly looking for clues of a portable nature; there are no inventory usage puzzles per se, Tex will automatically use an appropriate item if we have it and do nothing if we don't, so we can't (and don't have to) try every object with everything else.

The book is one of Dr. Linsky's; a page is marked, though I never managed to view the marked page because I chose to GET the book before I thought to OPEN it.  The general inventory list is only available in the speeder, and while it allows us to LOOK at objects and automatically reveals any contained items within carried objects, it doesn't allow us to employ any of the other verbs.  A chair contains a desk key.  A display case is protected by a magnetic field, with two slot screws slightly exposed; if we had a slot screwdriver we could shut it down, according to the LOOK response.  The case contains the Maltese Fruitcake, a joke treasure -- or maybe not such a joke, as it's valued at 4000 dollars.

A trash can contains a lease on space in the Bridgeview Warehouse at NC 4675, "rented by Carl Linsky 10 months ago."  There's also a breakup note to Delores -- "It has nothing to do with Sandra Larsen.  I just know there are other whales in the sea and I..."  Motive, perhaps?

The desk drawer contains a digital tape and a grade sheet for an Advanced Psychology course -- a student named Blaze Wiener received an E, and his or her name is circled.  There's also a digital tape player here -- and we have to figure out how to interact with it... oh, I see, if we have the digital audio tape in inventory, we just have to turn on the digital tape player.  The tape contains an unrecognized voice, crying out, "They're in my head, they're in my head..."  It's a male voice in the brief RealSound audio clip played for us.

A chess board on the coffee table is missing a bishop; a note nearby reads, "I'm going to get you for failing me, Linsky."  We can open the bar's cabinet door to find a shoe box, with a note from someone with the initials S.F. regarding "POSSIBLE NEXUS PASSWORDS" - ISBPHO, UEQNE, LASENTOLW, NODGAR, GNOP, NIKG, OORK, NAPW, EHCETMACK, BMGTAI, ETSAELMAT, SLCTAE, NIKTGH, CLBAK, and TEWIH.  Hmmmmm.  These appear to be anagrams for chess pieces, black and white, plus, perhaps, fantasy characters -- Dragon -- and, um... Pong?  Cleats?  Not quite a consistent theme, it appears.

We can open the half-empty bottle of whiskey on the bar, though trying to take a simple TASTE causes Tex to drain the contents.  We'll still take the bottle along, as we can pawn most items of even limited value to raise additional funds for the investigation.  In the entranceway we find a switch, a cabinet, a bookcase, and a fax machine (the game's designers didn't, apparently, foresee the advent of email or tablet computing, so in the year 2033 faxing is ubiquitous.)  A fax reads, "Dear Professor, Looking forward to our date Saturday.  Love, Sandra Larsen."  The plot thickens!

What now?  Well, we have one new address -- the warehouse at NC 4675.  Flying there, we find ourselves in a bit of a firefight against armed goons -- the combat action is handled with simple controls and rules.  Tex can advance to the right, ducking and standing using the arrow keys, and firing his pistol using the space bar.  We have to make it to the right side of the screen, as endless bad guys arrive, to enter the rented warehouse.  Why all the heavily-armed guards?

After two screens of heavy gunfire, we make it to a small, closed-off area in the dark warehouse.  A crate here has an uneven, jaggedly-cut hole, near the floor by a rat trap and an old forklift.  We find an antique watch (worth $600) in a desk drawer.  There's also a check ledger indicating a deposit to Linksy's account from MTC Corporation, and the last check written was to a Sonny Fletcher, Private Investigator.

A cabinet contains Pepto Bismol, a Band Aid can, and non-trademarked Radiation pills.  The band aid can contains a NEXUS passcard.  A calendar has October 3, 2003 marked as "DOOMSDAY!"  Uh-oh.  A file cabinet here requires the key from Linsky's home, revealing a list of "SCIENTISTS THAT MAY BE WORKING ON OVERLORD. 1 - JOHN KLAUS, 2 - MAURICE GRIBBLE, 3 - DAVID POPE."

Some boxes are stacked too high to reach, and a safe requires a key we don't have.  A newspaper on the floor mentions a lab accident that killed Cal Davis, scientist.  Accidental?  A fax message here reads, "PROFESSOR, THEY'RE ON TO YOU. I SUGGEST YOU DISAPPEAR FAST."  It came from Sonny Fletcher, the P.I., probably the "S.F." who sent the password list we saw at the apartment.

A computer on the desk accepts the blue passcard and lets us try to enter the "BLUE PASSWORD."  KING fails, and so do several other chess terms, but BISHOP works -- I should have guessed that the missing chess piece was a clue.  We can now read Linsky's Project Notes -- he was apparently working on OVERLORD himself, and employed Sonny Fletcher to find the other scientists involved in what seems to be a highly secretive project.  Linsky was trying to obtain all the NEXUS passcards and passwords, and Fletcher believed scientists were being eliminated once they had finished their work.  Linsky finished his around 09/07 and was uneasy, so he planned to take his concerns to J. Saint Gideon, former president of Gideon Enterprises and MTC Corporation.  But he started experiencing strange headaches and odd behavior, according to his last entry on 09/20.  That must have been his voice on the tape.

In the lower right-hand corner of this area is a machine "CALLED AN ALPHA-WAVE PROCESSOR" and more crates.  Tex can refill his ammunition here.  We can also acquire some 3-1 oil, a safe key, and a step ladder... and a bit of masking tape reading "BLUE-BISHOP" in case we didn't figure that out on our own.  The key opens the safe, where we find a life insurance policy from Transamerica (more trademark law-scoffery!) on Linsky for a million dollars, with his daughter Sylvia as the beneficiary.  The stepladder allows Tex to reach one of those out-of-reach boxes, which is from England and contains a lamp; it has no apparent purpose, but it's comforting that we can GET LAMP here in this new-fangled graphical adventure.

Before we leave, we take another look at the jagged hole in the one crate -- and a black rat bites Tex's finger pretty hard, to no apparent effect other than Tex's comical "OWWWWW!" showing off the RealSound tech.

It seems we're doing a pretty good job of investigating so far.  Let's go to Sylvia's house at NC 4421.  She wears notably short white shorts, and Tex rather clumsily narrates that he thinks he is falling for her, a bit odd as we haven't really gotten to know her at this point in our adventure. 

We can't explore this location, just question Sylvia.  She knows nothing about Blaze Wiener or Sonny Fletcher; tells Tex she is maybe thinking about settling down... with him, which seems suspicious; and thinks Delores Lightbody used "black magic" on her father.  She says Linsky was happy at USF (NC 4663), but his personality changed after he left to do some consulting work; the loss of her father and the life insurance money as well is motivating her to investigate, she claims, and she gives us his apartment address though we've already been there.  Questioning can include bribing or threatening, though Sylvia isn't interested in his money, and threatening earns Tex a crushing blow to his, um, pride:

Checking out USF -- the University of San Francisco, as it turns out when we get there -- sounds like a useful next step.  We break into Linsky's office, which seems disused, and the notes lying around don't provide any clues.  This action is all handled with canned text, not gameplay, and there's nothing we can do here, so we'll take to the air again.  Perhaps it's time to visit Delores Lightbody at NC 4920.

Ms. Lightbody lives in a Victorian house in a wealthy neighborhood, and is not an attractive woman.  This is another interrogation-only stop.  She mentions that Carl had a lab in the city somewhere, where he worked on a secret project, and that the life insurance agent involved in denying Sylvia's claim was named Peter Dull.  Questioned about Dull, she'll give us his work address at NC 4674.  We can get Tex punched hard in the face with threats; fortunately, the interrogation system is pretty simple -- there's no real conversation, and no apparent character memory if we've offended anyone Tex needs to talk to again, so we can always re-enter with a clean slate.

Off to Peter Dull's office we go.  He is the vice president of Transamerica, suggesting this is getting some attention, and he says Sylvia demanded the insurance payment, but the policy was void due to the circumstances around Linsky's death.  Dull says that she stormed out of his office, screaming, "We'll see about that."  He knows a few of the other principals but doesn't tell us much we don't already know.

What about this Sandra Larsen?  Vanessa says she'll get back to Tex if we ask her about Sandra, and she promises to fax information on scientists Gribble and Pope (though not John Klaus.)  In short order we learn that Sandra is at NC 4599, Pope at NC 6211, and Gribble at NC 8231.  We can also get Peter Dull's address from her -- I always appreciate adventures, especially mystery games, that allow multiple pathways and cross-confirmation of critical information, as it makes it feel more like a genuine investigation.

Sandra Larsen is another interrogation subject, an attractive young woman whom Tex finds at a local pub in a rather seedy district featuring neon signs advertising "NUDE FREAKS" and other questionable delights.  She says she dated Carl for about two months and was heartbroken about his death, and considers Sylvia a little wild.  She also says Carl was worried about Delores' temper when he broke off their engagement.  She maces Tex if we threaten her -- it's getting to be quite entertaining just seeing what happens to our poor hero when he gets overbearing.

Let's visit Gribble and Pope next.  Gribble can't be interactively questioned -- in text, he just says that he is retired and has been relaxing, showing us to the door so he can get to the golf course.  It seems we're not going to learn anything from him.  Pope claims not to have heard of Gideon Enterprises, MTC Corporation, or Carl Linsky, saying he works for Zeno Morph Corporation, training mutated insects to be butlers and factory workers.

What now?  Let's ask Sylvia about Peter Dull, as we didn't have his name earlier -- but all she'll say is that he is a pompous ass.  She was supportive of Carl's dating Sandra, and doesn't know his fellow scientists.  No new leads here.  Vanessa can't help us with J. Saint Gideon or Sonny Fletcher, but she can provide information on MTC and Gideon Enterprises (NC4650).  It seems MTC (Management Training Center) iss a subsidiary of Gideon Enterprises, specializing in high tech computer and electronic surveillance equipment, founded in 1997.  Vanessa's fax also mentions that Gideon handed the reigns over to a Frank Schimming when he retired, and we can get her to find out that his office is at NC 4650, the same as the company address.

The frequent autopilot flights that account for much of Mean Streets' playing time aren't such a bad thing, as they provide some time for us to think over recent developments in the case.  Before we go to the lair of the beast, let's threaten Peter Dull just for fun, getting Tex thrown bodily out of Dull's office.  We can also call Lee -- she apparently has some information, but demands payment from Tex. $1000 seems to work for Fletcher (NC5170), $800 for Klaus -- he and Ms. Lightbody were romantically involved -- and $750 for J. Saint Gideon (NC3891).

Going to Sonny's run-down apartment, we don't learn much.  He is pretty resistant to questioning, though bribes are effective and threats just get Tex punched out again.  We learn nothing new about Sylvia, but confirm that Linsky hired Sonny to check out MTC, and he was researching mental ability improvement before he got "iced."  Sonny suggests visiting Wanda Peck (NC 4621) at the San Francisco Chronicle for more about MTC.  Sonny can confirm a bunch of other information, but the bribes add up fast.

Let's go visit Mr. Gideon at his lavish estate.  He's at an advanced age, focusing his attention on a chess board, and there's a photo on the wall of him with (future) President Michael J. Fox.  We learn that Schimming forced Gideon out of his own company, and is in Gideon's opinion "ruthless and totally unethical."  Gideon was formerly head of British intelligence.  He's heard something unusual is going on at MTC.

We can visit Delores again to quiz her about John Klaus, learning that Carl and John were once partners, and Delores left John for Carl.  John was angry at the time, but more recently he believes he is in danger and is hiding out in Reno, Nevada (NC7012).  It's not too far away, so we'll visit and learn that Delores was a great dancer, some people are afraid of Schimming, Klaus is a neuroscientist who worked with MTC and fears for his life as a result, and Linsky was trying to reach him but Klaus wouldn't return his calls.  The best new information we get is that OVERLORD was "a project designed to enhance an executive's mental capacity and performance," but something wasn't right and Klaus was threatened when he started asking questions.

Checking in with Wanda Peck at the San Francisco Chronicle re-confirms a lot of things we've heard elsewhere; it doesn't seem anyone we've met is trying to lead us deliberately astray.  She suggests that MTC really means "Management Through Control," and that OVERLORD started 50 years ago in England and involved connecting a person's brain directly to a computer.  The result did increase IQ, but also increased a person's susceptibility to suggestion -- some committed suicide or died under mysterious circumstances.  She will accept bribes though it doesn't really seem necessary, and threats earn Tex another kick in the tenderloin district.

Well, let's go visit MTC Corporation and see what's afoot.  Tex (perhaps foolishly) informs the security guard that he's working on a murder case and wants to talk to Frank Schimming, who is not happy to see him.  He is vague about Linsky, but bribes are pointless and threats just get Tex thrown out again.  He claims to know nothing about OVERLORD, and is generally not very willing to talk.

As Tex returns to his speeder, he receives a threatening fax from a "CONCERNED CITIZEN" urging him to "GET OFF THIS CASE OR YOU'LL BE SORRY!"  So we must be getting somewhere, especially because if we visit Schimming again, we get sent another copy.

So now what should we do?  We haven't found a screwdriver to use on the trophy case at Linsky's apartment, but I think we only need this if we want to steal the statue to get 4000 dollars.  Tinkering with the display case sets off an alarm -- if we don't disarm it in five minutes, the police arrive.  And we can't just flee the premises as the clock winds down, either; it's GAME OVER after time runs out.  We can, however, use the safe key found at the warehouse to liberate some plain old money from a safe behind the painting -- $1000.

Revisiting the warehouse, we have to shoot our way in again.  This time we take more informed notice of the desk chair cabled to the computer with the Alpha-Wave machine across the room, but it doesn't seem we can do anything new with this equipment other than observe its similarity to the OVERLORD system we've heard described.

Reading Linsky's NEXUS log again reminds us that he thought he needed all the passcards and passwords.  Sandra heard Gideon threaten Schimming once.  Asking Klaus about NEXUS reveals that he did have a passcard and a password, and asked about PASSCARD and PASSWORD, he gives us his green passcard and password, PAWN.  Any further luck with Pope or Gribble?  No.

So let's see what we can learn from Klaus' account, after fighting our way into the warehouse yet again.  Darn, we can't log in to this terminal with anything but the blue passcard.  Asking Klaus about the terminal doesn't yield any new information, and we don't have any options at the MTC building to go looking for another terminal.  Does Sylvia or Sandra know anything about Carl's lab?  Not that I can determine.  What about that marked page in Linsky's book?  We can't seem to examine the book in inventory, so we'll have to hope whatever information it contained will turn up elsewhere.

Maybe we should talk to Gideon again -- or not, as I don't learn anything new, but in flight, I review the original game manual and detective information chart and discover a name I haven't encountered yet, investigating officer Steve Clements at NC 4680.  As copy protection goes, this is one of the most subtle schemes I've seen!  The detective chart also lists the terms we can ask people about -- including LAW AND ORDER and INSURANCE, which I haven't tried out yet.

Ahhhh... there is a Law and Order political party in Tex's universe, which we note as we enter Clements' office.  There's a witness named Bash Dagot (NC 4657) who claims he saw Linsky jump from the bridge the night he died, and a suicide note that doesn't quite ring true.  Clements doesn't trust the Law & Order Party himself.  His investigation never discovered the insurance policy, apparently.

Let's pay Mr. Dagot a call.  It's a rough neighborhood, so we have to shoot our way through a few screens of bad guys.  Dagot is "a scum bag" who needs a little encouragement to talk -- we can get some information about Linsky and the Law & Order Party if we're willing to pay him.  He says Linsky didn't hesitate, just walked past him, climbed over the barrier and jumped.  He also thinks the party wants to get all the "freaks out of town."  Dagot also responds to threats and violence, so I could have saved some money.

Wanda Peck will share info about the Law & Order party, but she needs payment to cover the risk -- $800 as it turns out.  Robert Knott is their president, Peck says, and they have moved from the political fringe to become more mainstream, blaming any and all of society's problems on the mutants of this post-nuclear era.  She advises we talk to Larry Hammond, via Ron Meat.  Meat moves around a lot, so we will probably need to talk to Lee, and Hammond used to do some computer work for MTC.

Tex is getting low on funds here after paying Wanda, then Lee for information on Ron Meat (NC 4525) and the Law and Order party.  There's a pawn mechanism in the inventory screen, but we really need a screwdriver soon, methinks.

Visiting Mr. Meat is interesting -- he's only got one eye, in the center of his forehead.  Threats and violence are effective, and we learn that Larry Hammond is at NC 4935 in Freak Town.  He has heard L&O is planning "something big" -- maybe that October 3 doomsday?

Larry Hammond has a twin... or at least a second head.  He was hired to design a computer for MTC along with eight access terminals.  A colleague, Cal Davis, was also hired to work on human behavior aspects of the Overlord project, and was later killed.  To stop project OVERLORD, Hammond tells us, Tex will have to get to the main computer (location unknown) and destroy the satellite used to impose OVERLORD's control.  To do that, we will indeed need all eight passcards.  Hammond's was grey, with password KING, but has been stolen by the L&O party.  He directs us to Gideon Enterprises' accounting team -- Jerome Milbourne, Ed Bradley, and Arnold Dweeb -- to see if we can find the names of the other six scientists involved (we already know about Klaus and Linsky, of course, so we really have four names and six passcards left to track down.)  Hammond also hints at a political movement he's involved with, opposing the Law and Order Party, and says the movement considers Wanda Peck a friend.

Vanessa can check out Cal Davis and Jerome Milbourne, but she has no information on Bradley or Dweeb, so we have to pay Lee again.  Vanessa's report indicates Cal Davis (NC 3720) was poisoned, according to the Santa Barbara police deparment (NC 3614) report.  His body was discovered by a close friend, Aaron Sternwood, who told police he mumbled some chess term before he died.  Supposedly, Davis absent-mindedly drank a flask of cyanide instead of his Diet Coke.  Lee faxes us to let us know Arnold Dweeb will meet us at the Oakland Coliseum (NC 4610) and Ed Bradley lives at NC 7312.  Vanessa's fax on Jerome Milbourne sends us to NC 4623.

Okay, finding Hammond was a substantial breakthrough -- at least we know what we have to do now.  Checking out Davis' home should prove productive.  (Heading there, I think I discover that the autopilot isn't always able to do its job -- I got the impression that if we're blocked by a building at an oblique angle, we need to manually back up and rotate the speeder to allow it to take us airborne.  Except what really happened is that I had already come here before saving, so the autopilot had nothing to do until I made it take a very short flight back to where I had parked.)

There is still police tape up as we enter Cal Davis' home -- and a burglar alarm sounds, giving us ten minutes to shut it off before police arrive!  We can liberate a screwdriver from the rat cages.  A note in a file cabinet indicates Davis' NEXUS password is coded as EHCCETAMK.  An ominous table has straps and a powerful drill at one end, which we can turn on but not take with us.  Opening an angry ape's cage proves fatal, though Tex's demise is only described, not animated.

Restoring and looking around some more, we see a small metal box inside the ape cage, probably containing something we want.  Turning on the table lamp over the workbench reveals a key.  It opens a drawer in the file cabinet, revealing a receipt dated shortly before Davis' death for a Galium Arsenide Bar, 2000 dollars.  I find a key after moving the desk -- but not soon enough to do anything with it.  Another try lets me open the desk drawer to find a deposit slip from MTC Corporation to Davis' account.  And moving the rat cages reveals a key and a circuit box, with a switch that turns off the surveillance camera and disables the alarm.  Whew!

The key lets us open the cabinet on the wall, where we find a valuable bar of Galium Arsenide.  It doesn't seem we have any way to soothe the savage beast to get the metal box, and there's no sign of Cal's passcard, but the screwdriver may help us back at Dr. Linsky's place, at least to help us raise some funds.  Unfortunately, while the screwdriver allows us to disable the magnetic field, the pressure sensitive alarm still goes off when we try to take the valuable fruitcake statue inside.  So we'll have to restore and think of something else.

Let's go talk to Detective Monroe of the Santa Barbera police about Cal Davis' death.  He demands a little "consulting fee" to give us any information, and we're short of cash, so we need to pawn some of the treasures we've acquired along the way -- the antique lamp, the watch, and the galium arsenide -- to raise some funds.  Monroe needs $500 to tell us that the investigation concluded that Davis died when he accidentally drank a hazardous chemical instead of his Diet Coke.  The emergency call came from an Aaron Sternwood, a friend of Davis, which we had heard earlier.  Another 200 bucks reveals that Sternwood hangs out at the beach (NC 0439).

Might as well visit Sternwood before we go on.  He says that Davis' last word was "checkmate," and he doesn't believe Davis accidentally poisoned himself.  Sternwood says (as we might have guessed) that Davis' passcard is kept in the small box near the ape cage.

Next on our list is Arnold Dweeb... complete with nerd glasses held together with tape.  He also demands payment for information.  I tried threatening him, only to be shot with a .38, so that was a bad idea.  He knows Gideon threatened Schimming, which isn't worth the $1000 it takes to get him to talk, and that Davis was on the MTC payroll.  All of his information is overpriced; it costs us a solid three grand to get the MTC payroll list, with navcodes for some of the people on it.  Since we can use a restore to time warp back without losing the information gained after we spent the money, I'm going to cheat and copy down the list right here 'for free':

Carl Linsky
Ron Morgan
Jorge Valdez (NC 4931)
Brenda Perry (NC 4577)
Greg Call

Cal Davis (NC 3720)
Big Jim Slade
Tom Griffith (NC 4590)
John Klaus
Bosworth Clark
Sandra Larsen (NC 4599)
Della Lang (NC 2111)
Sam Jones
Larry Hammond

Interesting.  At least we can believe the information, as it jives with what we've learned independently.  And there's a Kentucky Fried Movie joke in there, always nice to see.  Visiting Dweeb also triggers another threatening fax, so somebody's watching us.

Let's finish up checking out the other contacts we learned about earlier, before we start hitting the payees. Ed Bradley just directs us to Arnold Dweeb. Jerome Milbourne left a few days earlier on an extended vacation, according to his neighbor.

We're starting to get some redundant information, so it's probably time to focus on finding the other scientists and seeing if we can round up more of the passcards.  Vanessa has no information in her files on any of the new people on Dweeb's list.  Before we pay Lee or anyone else, let's visit the new addresses we've acquired.

Jorge Valdez lives in a tract house in Oakland, and works for MTC security.  He mentions that "some Law and Order Party big shots" have been around the office, secretly, and he seems suspicious of their activity.

Brenda Perry has only worked at MTC for six weeks, Tex asks her to call if she hears about anything odd or peculiar.

Tom Griffith lives under armed guard -- he's the V.P. and General Manager of MTC.  He admits OVERLORD is almost operational, and promotes it as a new frontier in public safety.  He considers J. Saint Gideon a good friend, and is happy Schimming stays away for the most part.  He says Larry Hammond designed the NEXUS system, and Big Jim Slade works for the Law and Order Party.  We also learn that Greg Call was the victim of an "accidental" shooting, and that MTC is very interested in finding John Klaus.  Asked about himself, Griffith says there are big changes in his future.  All interesting but vague and non-incriminating, and we don't get any new addresses out of him.

Della Lang lives in an apartment in Ventura -- she is impatient with Tex's questioning.  She shares Schimming's ideals, and is a management consultant.  We do get Ron Morgan's address, NC1998, as they date occasionally. 

So let's go visit Mr. Morgan -- we can explore his remote cabin, though he's nowhere to be seen.  There's a lockbox key hidden behind a panel on his high-definition television set.  Switches operate the ceiling fan and gas-lit fireplace.  A latch under a moose head on the wall yields 500 dollars.  A crumpled fax, not yet burned in the fireplace, says the Professor's computer equipment has been moved to his beach house.  Moving a chair near the fireplace yields a Phillips screwdriver. 

Under a couch cushion we find some Cheetos brand corn chips, nylons with Della Lang's initials, a dollar's worth of change, and a handcuff key.  An ashtray on the end table yields a small key.  On the breakfast table, a newspaper lies open to an article about Linsky's death.  And a compartment under a loose floorboard yields jewels worth $2000, a deed to property near Bakersfield (NC 1710), and some ammunition.

The fax machine on a desk in the upper right-hand corner has jagged paper, as if something has been torn away hastily.  There's a photo of an attractive woman in lingerie in the desk drawer, along with a mortgage book.  A wad of paper in the trash can reads, "DEAR RONNY, LAST NIGHT WAS INCREDIBLE," yada yada yada, "BUT I NEED MY NYLONS BACK.  YOURS ALWAYS, DELLA."

The Bakersfield property is barren, no leads there.  Visiting Della again yields no new information.  Vanessa still has nothing about Greg Call, but Lee does -- for $500 she faxes us info.  $250 buys something on Big Jim Slade.  More money gets us info on Bosworth Clark and Sam Jones.  We're supposed to talk to Steve Clements about Greg Call and Big Jim Slade, John Klaus about Sam Jones, and Peter Dull about Bosworth Clark.  So all we really did here was buy some more specific hints from Lee, and we'll use the restore cheat to avoid the unnecessary expense.

Clements says he's under orders not to talk to anyone about the Greg Call case, especially Tex, but we get Call's apartment address, NC 4753.  He also mentions that a couple of Law & Order goons went through the house before the police arrived.  Big Jim Slade is from Detroit, and Clements thinks he's a hired gun and dangerous, but suggests we talk to Ron Meat about him.  Following up with Meat indicates that Slade has probably been bumping people off, as he has been throwing money around.

We have to fight our way into Greg Call's place in Vallejo, and all we get is a brief text display.  We do get a map of an area in California near Mt. Shasta, NC 8911.  Tex thinks this might be where the lab is located?  Ah, it's Greg Call's lab, another explorable area.

We're able to open a rusty cabinet with the 3-1 oil we picked up in Linsky's lab earlier, retrieving diamonds worth $3000.  There's a voltage regulation control panel nearby, with a master power control switch.  Turning it off, though, releases deadly nerve gas, and Tex has 5 minutes to deactivate the door locks and escape.  We can retrieve a circuit breaker key from a chemical workstation, and we can set off the alarm again by trying to retrieve a vial of nerve agent.  A map points to NC 1700, the Lost Dutchman Diamond Mine.  We can open the circuit box with the key, but all that does is let us turn off the energy field.

Maybe it's better if we reenter fresh.  We can turn off the energy field, grab a ten-foot metal pole, and take the diamonds to fund our investigation.  Turning off the inertial containment unit directly does not set off the alarm; interesting.  We can't seem to do anything with the equipment otherwise.

Can we use the ten-foot pole with the gorilla in Cal Davis' lab?  The alarm goes off again, so we have to move the rat cages and turn off the alarm; the Mean Streets engine tracks inventory locations but not general status of the room.  The ten foot pole does allow us to retrieve the box, yielding the orange passcard as well as some money.  Now we have three of the eight passcards!

We can put the orange passcard into Davis' computer, and enter the password -- unscrambling EHCCETAMK/EHCETMACK to Davis' final word, CHECKMATE.  Davis' NEXUS files document his successes with control microchips in primates, aimed at psychiatric assistance, then behavioral manipulation.  He accidentally discovered a way to kill the subject with this technology, creating an aneurism, and when MTC encouraged his experiments along these lines, he grew suspicious.  His last log entry was on 08/10/33.

What next?  Let's talk to John Klaus about Sam Jones.  He says Jones is "an arrogant old Nazi who works in Las Vegas (NC 0021)," a Law & Order party member who won't be cooperative.  We have to fight our way in once again -- these constant gunfights are becoming repetitive -- to interrogate Jones.  He refuses to talk about OVERLORD, but since we've taken out his security guards, threatening works out fine.  He tells Tex that OVERLORD is almost operational, the Law and Order party is becoming more powerful every day, and that MTC Corporation and the political party are heavily intertwined, seeking world domination.  He also says that Schimming won't be at his post long, suggesting that Tom Griffith is primed to take over MTC.  He has a passcard and a password for NEXUS as well, and we can threaten him to get his yellow passcard, password QUEEN.  4 down!  It seems we don't necessarily need to access everyone's computers; obtaining the cards and passwords is the primary goal.

We might as well contact Peter Dull and find out about Bosworth Clark's insurance policy next; Dull directs us to Clark's lab in Death Valley, NC 9932.  We find him lying on the ground... "dead as a rock."  It looks like an explosion occurred -- equipment is smoking and lots of objects have been blown out of place.  There's a locked cabinet in the upper left hand corner of the room, and a robot we can switch on and off.  A matchbook that used to be on a lab table is from the Big Surf Hotel, NC 5162.  A list headed "CAGED RATS" lists the names of prominent Californians, and here are Camel cigarette butts littering the floor.

We can acquire a pair of brown leather work gloves from an open cabinet, near a mug with a "SKI UTAH" promotion on it.  We cam run water in the sink -- it tastes cold and clear, no obvious issues there.  A control panel appears to control the MTC Corporation satellites?  No, it just controls the monitors for the satellites.  Some blueprints for a high-frequency relay satellite are nearby.  We can turn a bank of computer monitors on and off, though some are broken.  We can also take some data from the satellites from a drawer -- Tex can't make sense of it but maybe someone can.

We don't have the passcard for this NEXUS computer system; if we examine the dead scientist, we can see that he's been garroted with a thin steel cord.  We can find the man's wallet if we move the corpse; his ID identifies him as Bosworth Clark.  There's $50 in his wallet, which Tex can take, though he doesn't feel good about it, and a dog-eared appointment book with a page marked: "CALL FRANK SCHIMMING."  

There's no sign of Clark's passcard, so let's go to the Big Surf Hotel. Onscreen text informs us that Big Jim Slade's name is on the register, staying recently in room 305.  The manager remembers him -- he left yesterday, but the room hasn't been cleaned yet.  Tex checks it out and finds a faxed order, apparently from MTC, to add Lola Lovetoy to a hit list, with the initials "R.K." at the bottom -- Robert Knott, maybe?  Following up with Vanessa, a fax sends us to NC4603, Lola's club.

Before we go there, let's check out NC 1700 -- the Lost Dutchman Diamond Mine.  Tex finds nothing to do here -- the mine appears long-abandoned -- so we're off to Lola's.  Her club appears to be in the same sort of neighborhood where we found Sandra Larsen, but she doesn't know anything about her.  We can bribe her to learn that Tom Griffith asked her to find out about Schimming's awareness of MTC, and if he ever mentioned OVERLORD; she was paid to keep an eye on him, and was given a key to an apartment: NC 4605.  She thinks Griffith wants to take over Gideon Enterprises, and says he was developing a project with the Law & Order Party, working with Robert Knott.  She has no address for Knott.  Lee can't provide any information either, but Vanessa can send a fax -- it contains no new names or destinations, though.  Clearly this is going to be one of our challenges.

The apartment is heavily guarded, and after another gun battle, Tex enters a seedy-looking "love nest" room that wouldn't be out of place in a Leisure Suit Larry game.  The Serta-brand bed has a small panel in the headboard -- we find a bottle of vodka and Camel cigarette butts inside, suggesting Schimming is the person who's been leaving these all over the place.  There's also a box containing an inflatable companion, in case Mr. Laffer does show up.

A piece of artwork on a table bears a sign reading, "DANGER - ELECTRICAL FIELD."  A suitcase is tagged as belonging to Slade, and a shirt inside contains a note mentioning NC 5194, the L.A. Air Bus Station.  There's a valuable antique Radio Shack mood globe here, but trying to get it proves electrically fatal to Tex (I guess those work gloves don't serve as adequate protection.)  Restoring, we find a switch behind a piece of artwork on the wall -- it resets the pressure-sensitive burglar alarm, but doesn't apparently turn off the zapper.  There's also a book here called "AN ELDERLY MAN'S GUIDE TO PICKING UP CHICKS," by Dr. Ron Morgan.  More significant, perhaps, is a binder with the Law & Order insignia; someone has written the address NC 5037 inside.  There's also a hit list with a few new names -- Harry Rice and Tex Murphy (uh oh!) as well as Lola Lovetoy and Sonny Fletcher.  And we get NC 0132 -- the code for Robert Knott's home!

It's 2033 but the hotel room still features a video cassette recorder -- though it's a high-definition model connected to a holographic imaging display.  There's also a locked panel in the entertainment cabinet.  A dresser contains lingerie, size medium, and a matchbox containing a bus locker key and the same navcode we saw earlier, 5194, though the locker number has been filed off. A jewelry box is locked; we can move the mirror to find a button which pops open the panel in the holographic unit.  This panel contains another button, which turns off the energy field protecting the mood globe.  This stumped me for a bit -- the menus don't reveal the button per se, but it also doesn't turn off the energy field automatically, so I got Tex zapped again and had to restore.  What happens is that LOOKing at the panel reveals the button's existence, but we still have to OPEN the panel and press the button, even though the panel is supposed to have popped open when we pressed the mirror button.  There is a visual indication that the force field is off, at least, so it's not hard to avoid this issue.  After we grab the globe, we have five minutes to turn off the alarm using the wall switch behind the art.  (During the retry, I take the matches without opening the box to find the key -- fortunately both items end up in Tex's inventory after we leave the room.)

Vanessa has nothing in her files on this Harry Rice, but Lee will send information for $500 -- he lives at NC 1231 in Pasadena.  Let's visit the Air Bus terminal and that other mysterious location before we invade Knott's place.  We don't have to figure out the bus locker number -- Tex just tries about 50 of them in non-interactive text before turning up a wallet with a black passcard and the word "KORO", which probably decodes to ROOK.  5 down!

Visiting NC 5037 takes us through another shootout into Law and Order party offices -- with an alarm set off as we enter, and 10 minutes to disarm it.  We have to find a button in a desk drawer and push it to open a closet, then move a shelf in the closet after removing a hat with white, stringy hairs attached to it, revealing the alarm reset button.  I was able to do this in one shot by shirking my note-taking, but in passing I found some anti-mutant hate literature, weaponry, and a note indicating that the L&O security chief has the navcode for the secret computer lab.  Something we've done also unlocks a safe in the wall behind a picture, where we find some cash and Larry Hammond's gray NEXUS passcard.  We have 6 passcards in hand now.  Some L&O meeting minutes give the names of the group's officers -- Robert Knott, President, of course, along with V.P. and security chief Bazil Mallory, Secretary Melba Wiedbush, and attorney Stanford DeMille.  We'll be wanting to walk to Mr. Mallory, it seems.  An answering machine message from Slade, with matching RealSound audio, says Clark has been taken care of.  Ah, those Camels are Slade's cigarettes, not Schimming's -- that makes more sense.

Vanessa can get Tex some information on Wiedbush (NC4122) and DeMille (NC 3199), but not Mallory.  Lee advises Tex to talk to Sonny Fletcher, so we'll visit him again -- for $750 worth of encouragement, he'll give us Mallory's address: NC 2713.  We'll check on Wiedbush and DeMille first -- both are quick, text-only encounters.  Wiedbush is a raving conspiracy theorist with nothing serious to say, politically or otherwise.  Getting to Demille requires another gunfight, and this one is particularly difficult due to the light-colored background artwork which makes the bullets harder to see.  DeMille goes on the offensive, accusing Tex of all manner of illegal activity and defamation against the Law & Order party, and we leave frustrated, with no new information.

Bazil Mallory is also heavily body-guarded, and Tex finds him cowering in a closet after we get into the house.  We're anxious to interrogate this guy, with a little threatening and fisticuffs generally required to extract the information.  His responses are not very masked -- we confirm that the Law and Order party intends to rule the world with the help of OVERLORD, and asked about NEXUS he gives us the address of the core computer system: NC 4550.  He also indicates that Gideon sympathizes with the party's views, which is not something I had guessed yet.

Perhaps it's time to talk to Harry Rice, before we go to Knott or the computer center -- we still need to track down two passcards.  Rice appears to have left in a hurry, Tex notes, and there's nothing we can do at his place.  So it's time to visit Robert Knott, after another round of the firearms combat so in vogue in these social circles.  At least Knott is cooperative after Tex dispatches his goons.  He echoes Mallory's statements about OVERLORD -- it will be used to rule the world, but he won't be in charge.  He also suggests Tom Griffith isn't pulling any strings -- that J. Saint Gideon is the leader (the white hairs on the hat in L&O headquarters might belong to him, we surmise.)  Knott keeps encouraging us to ask about Gideon Enterprises when we approach the topic in the course of other discussions, but when we finally do ask directly, he gets shot in the head by an unseen assailant who flees before Tex can get a look at him.

We don't have all the passcards, but we're short on leads now, so let's go check out the computer lab... except as we're about to take off, a fax comes in with an address for a meeting with Big Jim Slade, NC 4921.  This might be dangerous -- we're advised to come alone.  Sure enough, Tex runs into another invitation to battle, replying soon via pistol, and Big Jim ends up with six slugs in him, puffing on a Camel cigarette as his life ebbs away.  He doesn't know a lot, but he provides deathbed confessions concerning his murder-for-hire work on Cal Davis, Carl Linsky, and Greg Call.  Unfortunately, in my game he died before I could get any other information.  Hmmmmm.  Retrying, we learn that he killed Bosworth Clark but never did find Ron Morgan or John Klaus.  (We can cheat a bit here, as the game seems to remember that we've already played through the gunfight -- restoring to a point just prior lets us go straight to the dying Slade and ask different questions before he drops dead.) 

Not having really learned much from Slade, but confirming a few suspicions, we head off to the secret computer facility.  Exiting his speeder, Tex is jumped by a couple of thugs and treated to the usual power-mad dictator speech that gives away the whole plan.  This guy is seen only in silhouette; he believes Tex has all the passcards and has served nicely as a pawn to round them up.  Will he be surprised when he learns we only have six of the eight?

We'll have to find out later, as right now Tex has to find a way to escape after he is imprisoned in the boiler room.  Opening a blast furnace door directly fries Tex to a crisp, so that's not a good idea.  A sprinkler head is out of reach; some notes on a table suggest there's a remote control panel for the furnace door, and the door should not be left open for long as it is a serious fire hazard.  A floor grate can't be opened, and a sliding panel on the wall is locked.  The control panel is in the lower right-hand corner, but we should look around some more before we open the blast furnace again.  Tex can open a vent above the room's only exit using the Phillips head screwdriver we picked up earlier, but it's too narrow to crawl through.

There's a box of pipes and flanges in one corner of the room, but we can't seem to do anything with them.  Let's try opening the blast furnace from the remote panel -- the heat pours out, along with noxious fumes that take Tex out as well.  So that's not quite the right approach.  The door switch for the exit is disconnected, of course; moving the pipe boxes reveals a key, which allows us to open the sliding panel and examine a box hidden behind it.  The box contains a gas mask, so we're making some progress here.

When we hit the switch now, the fumes increase, Tex's gas mask does its job nicely, the sprinklers come on, and a robot enters to reset the system, leaving the door open briefly.  I missed the first opportunity, but trying again I was... confounded again, the entire sequence happens faster than Tex can easily move to the door.  Flipping the furnace door switch on and off can keep the robot in the room longer, but we still can't move away from the control panel to make an escape.  We can't seem to pick up the piping or flanges to set any kind of sprinkler trap to short out the robot, or plug the air vent, or disable the furnace monitoring.  Hmmmm.  I finally resorted to a walkthrough to learn that we are indeed supposed to be able to escape while the robot is doing its work -- I turned my CPU speed down to 2314 from 4000, which may or may not have made a real difference, and was finally able to escape the room.  (I think it had more to do with my walking upward through the exit instead of trying to walk off the screen on the left edge, where it seems Tex can get stuck in the doorway without actually passing through the door.)

Leaving the boiler room, Tex shortly finds himself held hostage by the NEXUS supercomputer, which demands he insert all eight passcards and enter the matching passwords.  I'm short two passcards and we only get 60 seconds to enter all the information!  And the first card it prompts for is a red one, which I haven't seen yet, though it lets me go on to the green one.  I'd better make an offline list so I don't mess up under pressure when I try this for real; now we'll go back and track down the remaining passcards.

Who might have them?  Slade didn't seem to have a passcard.  Sandra Larsen doesn't have one.  I think we're missing Ron Morgan's card, at least.

Returning to Morgan's cabin, I find nothing new, unmoved or unopened.  Then I realize we never did find his beach house -- I was confusing Greg Call's lab with Morgan's, and the Bakersfield property on the Morgan deed was a dead end.  I still have the mortgage book in inventory -- it took a while to find it as it's just called BOOK -- and it lists the beach house address as NC 6470, a detail I failed to make proper note of earlier.

The beach house is protected by an alarm, and we have five minutes to shut it down -- but this is an easy one, there's a console on the coffee table and switch 3 is clearly labeled "BURGLAR ALARM" so we can just switch it off.  We can open a panel in the table and unlock the safe to gain 3000 dollars for Tex's investigation.  There's a computer here, which requires a passcard; a desk drawer is locked.  And we find a packet of piranha food under the lamp... hmmmm.

The answering machine plays an upset message from Della -- again, the futurism fails a bit here, as answering machines per se are already largely gone in favor of voice mail, and we're nowhere near 2033.  There's a chess book in the bookcase, which I failed to open before taking it, so I'll have to check it out later.

Ah!  Ron's lab has a fish tank in the lower left-hand corner, and we can see a passcard resting on the bottom.  But that piranha food sounds ominous.  The BASE OF TANK is available as a separate object to inspect... it has a door, behind which we find a book about the care and feeding of piranha.  Warning signs abound!  Can we use something to get the passcard out safely?  Or move the whole tank?  Ah, there's a key underneath, which opens the desk drawer, producing a valuable diving watch.  Does this accessory somehow protect Tex's wrists from the fish?  No, but sticking a hand in is not fatal anyway -- Tex just lets out a shriek as the piranha take a quick nibble.  Can we use the fish food?  Yes, Tex automatically feeds the fish with something other than his hand and GETs the passcard.

Now can we use it in Ron's computer?  Yes, this is the red passcard.  Password is... ?  Working from Fletcher's list, I try PONG -- which produces an amusing easter egg that lets Tex play the classic video game, earning 10 dollars a point!  I have no luck with DRAGON, but STALEMATE ends up working.  Morgan's personal log notes that he realized J. Saint Gideon was a dangerous lunatic and left town.  We've got seven passcards ready to go!

My guess is that the last card belongs to either Bosworth Clark or Greg Call -- the one from the bus terminal might have been Clark's, so let's check Call's Mt. Shasta lab again.  There's that weird vine in the lower right-hand corner.  Aha!  With the work gloves from Clark's lab, we are now able to MOVE the vine (GET still refuses, noting as before that IT'S A NATURAL ADDITION TO THE ROOM, AND CANNOT BE MOVED, though this isn't strictly true!)  And there's a purple passcard on the shelf now visible.  Call's computer accepts the card, and the password turns out to be KNIGHT, in keeping with the chess theme of all the valid passwords.  Call's log notes his concerns about the implications of his work toward controlling emotions with a microchip, trailing off ambiguously.

Okay, now we have all 8 passcards and passwords!  It's time to try the secret computer lab once more, with my list populated as:


We escape the boiler room (the CPU speed does seem to make a difference on the timing), fight our way to the supercomputer, enter all the passcards and passwords, and Tex saves the day!


And he gets the girl, after he apologizes to Sylvia for suspecting her because of the insurance money.  Tex Murphy and Sylvia Linsky ride off together into the sunset, and following some slightly risque romantic dialogue, victory is ours!

Detective adventures aren't normally my favorite genre -- my impression has been that they too often devolve into ASK EVERYONE ABOUT EVERYTHING exercises.  But I thoroughly enjoyed playing through Mean Streets -- the speeder flights and gun fights become repetitive after a while, and it took me quite a while to play through, but I like its adult sensibility and its nonlinear design, a mixture of exploration and interrogation.  As Tex Murphy, the player gets to unearth little bits of information that add up to a storyline, and there are many optional puzzles and thus many possible paths to its satisfying ending.  I'll definitely be tackling Tex Murphy's further adventures as time permits.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground) (2007)

This week, we're tackling a more recent work of interactive fiction.  Infocom's portable Z-machine interpreter lives on in the capable hands of modern IF authors, who have continued to develop the art form using the modern Inform compiler.  Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground) is attributed to Grunk the orc, "as told to Admiral Jota," who has been awarded several prizes for his work.  We're playing Release 2, in .z8 format, using the Windows Frotz interpreter.

While illustrated, animated, fully-voiced adventure games have come to dominate the field, the text adventure format still has a few storytelling advantages.  In the case of Lost Pig, our hero is a dim-witted orc farmhand named Grunk, ordered to rescue an escaped pig, and the game is narrated by Grunk himself: Boss say that it Grunk fault.  Say Grunk forget about closing gate.  Grunk has limited observational and thinking skills, and he can't read or recognize some common items; the text adventure format keeps the player's perspective firmly rooted in Grunk's thick skull, and makes for plenty of humor along with some fresh and interesting challenges. 

Interested readers are, of course, encouraged to play Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground) firsthand before proceeding with my impressions below.  It's freely available at the Interactive Fiction Database, for use with any Frotz interpreter (it's also available as part of the Frotz package for iOS.)  Beyond this point, I will be detailing my playthrough, and I won't be able to resist quoting Grunk's inimitable way with words.  So there are certain to be...

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

We begin Outside, after dark.  There forest to east and north.  Grunk can't go back south to the farm until he has the pig in hand, and the large field to the west isn't explorable -- That field part of other farm.  Grunk not allowed over there.  Some time it all full of vegetable, but right now it just dirt.  All we have on hand is a lit torch and pants (Grunk wearing them).

We can't just walk into the forest by the obvious routes, however -- Not want end up lost in forest with no pig.  If we LISTEN a few times, though, Grunk can get a fix on the sound to the northeast, and [Grunk score go up one.] -- of 7 possible points.

It's not going to be that simple, though, as Grunk stumbles into the thick brush and suddenly, there not ground here any more!

Torch go out when Grunk land on it, too.  We're now at the bottom of a hole, with light filtering in from the east.  Broken stairs lead up to the outside; we can't climb them with anything in inventory, and even if we DROP ALL (Grunk take pants off first), Grunk not leave without pig!  He's also not sure he can climb the stairs with the pig, so we'll have to find another exit.

There's a crack in the ground near the stairs, large enough to REACH INTO CRACK, but Grunk arm not long enough to feel the bottom of the hole.  So we'll head east, to the brightly lit Fountain Room.  Hey! There pig!  It good thing that Grunk fall down same hole as pig.  But it won't be easy to GET PIG -- Grunk walk right up to pig.  Pig walk right away from Grunk.  CHASE PIG just makes Grunk dizzy after a while.

The fountain is broken, with no water in it.  LOOK IN THE FOUNTAIN reveals a coin, scoring another point.  The pig sometimes imitates Grunk, looking over at the fountain when he does, but keeps its distance.  The fountain room has formal exits to the north, southwest, and southeast, and the east-west tunnel continues to the east.  There's also a curtain on the south wall, depicting a little man (maybe called "gnome") holding a torch and pointing at the way out of the cave.  Behind the curtain is another glowing wall; Grunk can't pull the curtain down.

North of the fountain is the Statue Room, with a statue of a little man on a big stone block, pictures on the east and west walls, and a blank north wall.  One picture shows black powder ... all on fire with water being poured on it.  The other depicts a purple rod with yellow objects hovering around it.  The statue has an empty hand up in the air, the other one pointing north, and wears funny suit and pointy shoe and little round hat.  We can't MOVE HAND or TURN STATUE -- Grunk is strong, but not that strong.

We can try to GET SUIT -- just part of statue -- and GET SHOE fails similarly, but GET HAT works -- Hat come right off!  We can WEAR HAT, though it may be pointless as Grunk hasn't put his pants back on yet.  PUT TORCH IN HAND works, but nothing seems to happen -- it likely needs to be re-lit.

There are no other exits from the Statue Room, so we'll head east of the fountain to the Cave With Stream room.  The stone bench is too heavy to move, and Grunk think there little reddish thing on other side of stream.  But it's too far away to grab, and Grunk won't GO STREAM or JUMP STREAM -- Grunk never try swimming before.

Southeast of the fountain is the Shelf Room.  There lots of shelfs in this room as well as a stone chest and a long green pole.  The chest is locked, of course, but we can take the pole.  Interesting -- Feel like pole push Grunk away.  But Grunk strong; get pole anyway.  Is it magical in some way?

Can we VAULT STREAM with the pole?  Nope, it's still too far, and POLE VAULT ACROSS STREAM doesn't parse.  But we can GET THING WITH POLE -- I was expecting to maybe hook it or pull it closer, but Red thing stick to end of pole!  Grunk pull it back and find out that thing really key, so Grunk take key.  Neither the pole nor the key feels sticky, though; Wonder why key stick to pole.

The key works to unlock the chest -- it's filled with black powder, light and fluffy, like smoke, and too fine to pick up with Grunk's fingers.  But we score another point for unlocking the chest.

West of the Shelf Room is a Closet -- it's dark, and there's a strange noise.  "Snrkxltkxshzkt!"  Is this an elevator?  We can FEEL FLOOR and FEEL CEILING but don't discover anything, and FEEL WALL isn't recognized.  Strange noises continue to occur here, though, so we'll head west into the Table Room.

The Table Room only has two exits, northeast back to the Fountain Room and east back into the Closet.  There are orange marks on the wall -- Grunk can tell they were made by some creature, but can't read or interpret them.  There's a tall metal box here, with a slot near the top, a basket at the bottom, a lever, and a dent -- Look like box maybe lose fight if we EXAMINE DENT.  We can INSERT COIN IN SLOT, PULL LEVER, and obtain... a brick?  The pig seems interested in it; Brick feel more soft than normal brick.  Little bit sticky too.

EXAMINE PIG notes that Grunk know that this pig quick. And smart.  SHOW BRICK TO PIG is interesting -- it maybe want brick, but still not want get close to Grunk.  The brick is light brown and not too big.  There lots of little colored thing stuck in it all over.  Wires?  Is this a plastic explosive? Hmmmm.

Can we use the brick on the crack by the stairs?  STICK BRICK ON CRACK seem like bad idea.  If brick fall down crack, not know if Grunk can get it back.  Can we STICK BRICK ON POLE to position it more precisely?  Brick just crumble and break in two.  Now we have two half bricks.  Hmmmm.  Can we STICK POLE IN CRACK?  The pole reaches bottom, but if anything hiding down there, Grunk not find it.

Okay.  The pig is sniffing around the tall box in the Table Room, clearly interested in its contents.  If we try to GIVE BRICK TO PIG, the pig still won't come close enough to take it.  If we DROP BRICK, the pig doesn't fall for the usual adventure game feed-the-animal trick -- it looks at Grunk, then at the brick.  If we WAIT, it walks over and sniffs at the brick, and another bit of waiting allows it to eat it.  But it wants more than the half brick.  Giving it the other half produces a similar result, it still wants more and is still wary enough that we can't just pick the pig up.

There are no more coins in the fountain.  But if we HIT DENT on the box, the original coin falls back out into the basket.  So we can buy another brick (I think it's some kind of brownie now, actually) and continue to feed the pig.  But TAKE PIG still doesn't work -- after a merry chase, both Grunk and Pig are too tired to continue.  We can repeat the process again -- and it seems Grunk now knows this routine.  He automatically pulls the lever and hits the dent, so we just have to INSERT COIN IN SLOT, GET COIN, and GET BRICK.  At the moment, Grunk have: two brick in inventory.

So there are no dead ends on the brick front, though we have no solution to luring the pig in yet either.  Will the pig follow Grunk into the closet for the sake of bricks?  Hard to say.  As we arrive, the "Shkkrnnnk!" sound strikes us a little more onomatopoeic than the earlier noises -- it might be something snoring!  SAY HELLO rouses the occupant, who shouts "Ztorf!" to light up the room.

A little man in pointy slippers gets out of bed and squints at Grunk, identifying him as an orc, and Grunk agrees.  We can ASK MAN ABOUT FOUNTAIN, to learn that a plumbing contractor is expected but has not arrived.  Grunk can ask about a lot of things; ASK ABOUT MARKS reveals that they read "Belkar was here" and were left by a band of looters who destroyed most of the chairs.

The gnome is searching in his trunk -- we can ASK GNOME ABOUT SEARCH, and he tells us he's missing a book called "Mogglev's Shocking Forces."  He'll show us the glowing ball that provides light here, but won't let Grunk take it as he hasn't earned the right.  ASK GNOME ABOUT POWDER indicates that it is dehydrated fire.  So maybe the picture on the wall was indicating that pouring water on it produces fire, rather than putting it out.  The gnome will answer just about any question, but won't light Grunk's torch or otherwise provide concrete assistance.

Maybe we should help find the book.  SEARCH ROOM doesn't work anywhere, but we can SEARCH SHELVES in the Shelf Room to find nothing... but Grunk does mention that he can't see the top shelf.  We DROP CHAIR, CLIMB CHAIR and SEARCH SHELVES to reveal a book on the top shelf, which Grunk can GET.

SHOW CHAIR TO GNOME suggests we should return it to its original place when we're done with it, so we'll do that.  GIVE BOOK TO GNOME is promising -- it is indeed the missing text -- and we score a point.  But this is temporary, as we lose it again after the gnome discovers a page has been cut out.  It's not Grunk's fault, but we will have to track it down.

Let's go search some more.  We find nothing else in the fountain or under the table or behind the shelves.  EXAMINE STAIRS by the hole, though, reveals... a little metal thing?  It's a tube, the size of Grunk's thumb.  SHAKE TUBE makes a whiffing sound, and BLOW TUBE sounds a whistle.  Grunk recognizes it as a whistle now, but the gnome doesn't know anything about where it came from.

Can we summon the pig with the whistle?  If we BLOW WHISTLE without the pig in the room, he certainly doesn't come running.  If we do it in his presence, he jumps and glares at Grunk.  Can we BLOW WHISTLE and DROP BRICK to train the pig?  I try this a few times, but no pattern is emerging.  BLOW WHISTLE doesn't seem to do anything anywhere else, though it annoys the gnome and the pig.

The gnome doesn't think the page would be useful without the rest of the book, so it's probably tossed somewhere.  We can learn that the statue is of a famous gnome alchemist, and the hat was not part of the original design.  Mogglev was another alchemist, specializing in lightning.  We observe the pig running in from the west as if spooked by something, though I never found a reason for this.

Can we light the torch?  We can't carry water or powder at the moment.  We can DIP TORCH or DIP PANTS in the stream, and they get wet, but putting them in the chest just causes them to become charred and smoky, without producing an open flame.  The "bricks" don't even get wet, so we can't use them as sponges.  Can we use the pants and WRING PANTS?  Some water comes out.  WRING PANTS OVER CHEST produces a spark and a hiss, but we need more water it seems.  The tube doesn't get wet or hold water, and we can't COVER TUBE WITH THUMB or PUT TUBE ON THUMB to make it a container.

The gnome is working on a "thinking cap" meant to harness the power of lightning to produce some kind of computing device, but we can't borrow it to give Grunk a little extra brainpower, so we'll have to muddle through as we are.  SHOW BRICK TO GNOME reveals that they are addictive, "just like mother used to make."

What about the hat?  Grunk can't examine it while it's on his head.  Oh, it is made of rock -- I'd lost sight of that, and we can probably carry powder or water in it!  GET POWDER IN HAT works, but POUR POWDER IN STREAM just creates a brief fireball that drifts off downstream.  GET WATER IN HAT and POUR WATER IN CHEST works much better, and now Grunk can LIGHT TORCHMmm. Grunk like fire.
Let's check out that crack again now.  Now, Grunk see that there piece of paper way down inside.  But we can't GET PAPER WITH POLEIt white and it paper.  That all Grunk can see from here.  TELL GNOME ABOUT PIECE OF PAPER produces a noncommittal response, as we have no verification it's the missing page, so we'll have to solve this one ourselves.  We can't SHARPEN POLE or STAB PAPER WITH POLE.  The pole is made of metal, so it doesn't burn.  But it does get sooty, and sticky enough to retrieve the paper.

GIVE PAPER TO GNOME takes a few turns, while he checks it and glues it back into place, but now we have the fourth point legitimately, and a more helpful gnome to work with, though he won't help us directly with the exit.

If we PUT TORCH IN HAND in the statue room, now that it's lit, the north wall opens up and we earn a fifth point.  We can now enter a Windy Cave, quite dark and darker heading north, maybe leading outside.  Secret door in south wall not look so secret from here.  Grunk won't go north without light, for fear of getting lost.

We can retrieve the torch, and the door stays open, but Grunk still can't leave without the pig, and the torch is flickering in the wind so it might not stay lit; if we try to close the secret door, it blows open again.  GREET PIG is ignored.  I tried to drop two bricks -- the pig finishes one, and hurries to the other, but we still can't TAKE PIG?  Ahhh... I just wasn't patient enough.  Letting the pig eat for four turns, until it not even notice Grunk at all anymore, allows Grunk to succeed.  Grunk win, pig lose!  And we have six points.

Now to get out of here and back to the farm!  Except when we TAKE TORCH, the pig gets upset being in proximity to the flame.  We can try to TAKE BALL from the gnome, but he needs something to replace his light source.  So we need to bring the torch here, which we actually can do without the pig becoming so unhappy he wiggles out of Grunk's arms.

The Twisty Cave beyond the Windy Tunnel is confusing, and mapping somehow seems beyond Grunk's capabilities.  Heading back south leads to Different Room, and Grunk is good and lost.  We can't DROP PIG and try to follow it outside, as Grunk doesn't want to let the pig go after all that work.  SNIFF AIR reveals a little bit of fresh air, but no directionality.

We can wander through a number of confusing areas, named things like Maybe Same Tunnel -- and eventually we run into the gnome again, now dressed like the statue, dragging his heavy trunk.  He greets Grunk, knowing his orc acquaintance would get lost in here, and gives him the trunk to carry.  We just have to FOLLOW GNOME -- he's decided to quit being a hermit, thanks to Grunk's sociability and timely assistance, and leads Grunk outside.  Grunk returns to the farm, puts the pig back in its pen, and *** Grunk bring pig back to farm ***.  Victory is Grunk's! ...


Well, there are only 7 points to earn here.  But we only have 6 of them, so we've missed something along the way.  We've finished the story, clearly enough, but a little external walkthrough research establishes that we're supposed to have put everything back the way we found it.  The gnome's parting remarks did say something about Grunk leaving a mess, but after restoring and doing some basic restoration I'm still not sure what I'm missing.  I cleaned the sooty pole, and was unable to THROW the key back across the stream so I just left it on the accessible side.  I locked the chest again, and picked up the leftover brownies.  Ah!  I forgot to close the secret door behind us.  I had tried to earlier and it blew open again, but we can close it now that we're on the final path to victory.  And yes!  Now the gnome is impressed with Grunk's careful restoration, and Grunk is victorious with flying colors!

I thoroughly enjoyed Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground) -- it's one of the best adventure games I've played in a while.  The writing is just fantastic, with every word and verbal image well-considered, and the story is brief but satisfying.  The characters are well-drawn, including the pig, and it's clear that a lot of effort and playtesting were lavished on the storytelling, conversation and gameplay.  I'm glad people like Admiral Jota are still creating well-told, playable interactive fiction in the classic Infocom style, and I intend to play more of Admiral Jota's works in the future.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Escape From Atlantis (1985)

This week, I'm tackling an old TRS-80 text adventure called Escape From Atlantis, one of those archive games with no clear provenance or official publisher.  It's been a bit elusive, mainly because the first source I found years ago was confusing it with Greg Hassett's Atlantis.  I finally tracked down a .CAS tape image online -- trying to load it with CLOAD in Disk Basic reminded me why these games took so much longer to play back in the day, as the tape load itself takes a few minutes!  But at last, we have a title screen:

This version is credited in online sources to Thomas Ally alone, back in 1985 when he was in middle school, but this version also mentions a Shaun Shelton.  It also crashes shortly after starting, but fortunately some technical notes are included with the cassette image -- it won't run with Radio Shack Disk BASIC, only standard Model I Level II BASIC, and the TRS-80 has to be started with MEMORY SIZE? at 32511 to avoid issues with the scrolling routine. 

In a break with my usual pattern, I'm seriously not going to recommend anybody actually play this one, at least not the version I found, as it proved to be broken in some key areas that make the game unfinishable as-is.  There seems to have been a different, more playable version available at some point, as the CASA walkthrough by Dorothy Millard is different in a number of key areas, but I was able to get through this one, albeit with copious amounts of code analysis and genuine cheating to work around broken pathways.  As such, my experience will include a great deal of frustrating code-level head-scratching, as well as the usual...

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

As we start the game up, the title screen gradually gets covered by asterisks, probably to give us something to look at during variable initialization time, and then we're asked to select a difficulty level, from (1) HARD to (6) EASY.  I started with (1) HARD, but had to switch to (6) later on as it seems the main impact of the difficulty switch is the number of moves we are allowed before our lamp runs out.  (Why we need a lamp even when we're outdoors remains a mystery.)

We begin in THE SUBMARINE DOCKING BAY (about the only hint that this game is meant to be set in Atlantis, as the rest of the map resembles Anytown USA) where we see an IMMOVABLE DOOR and a LAMP with no POSSIBLE EXITS shown.  We have nothing in inventory (both INV and I work), but we'll start out with the obvious -- we can GET LAMP, since it's right here, and try (and fail) to OPEN DOORMOVE DOOR produces a specific response, clearly written by a 1980s teenager -- "DUH!! CAN'T YOU READ, IT'S IMMOVABLE."  PULL DOOR produces no response at all, though PUSH DOOR informs us that YOU CAN'T PUSH THAT.  But EXAMINE DOOR reveals that ON THE DOOR IS SOME TYPE OF BUTTON, and PUSH BUTTON opens the door and sends us tumbling into a different room.

IT'S TOO DARK TO SEE ANYTHING, of course, so we'll try to LIGHT LAMP... or ON LAMP... hmmmm, no response from the parser.  SWITCH LAMPYOU CAN'T SWIM HERE.  Lighting the lamp before we push the button doesn't seem to work either.  We can apparently safely navigate with no light source, but we're not going to be able to finish the game this way.  Peeking at the available walkthrough is no help, as lighting the lamp isn't mentioned at all.  Looking at the BASIC code suggests that L1=0 indicates the lamp is unlit, but what's the verb?  The implementation is at line 780... ah, we have to RUB LAMP!

Okay, now we can see that we're in a malt shop with a GOLD SUNDAE SPOON * (a treasure, apparently) and a DELICIOUS LOOKING MALT, with exits to the north, south, and west.  GET SPOON doesn't yield any immediate impact on SCORE, so we will probably have to store these somewhere.  We'll try to take the malt, but we can't -- and DRINK MALT produces no response at all from the parser.  If we EXAMINE MALT, we see that THE MALT IS BROWN, AND SMELLS LIKE BURNT ALMONDS.  Isn't that... vague memory bank access delay... cyanide?  Good thing we can't drink it, then!

West of the malt shop is an auditorium, with nothing obvious going on beyond available exits in the four cardinal directions.  A warehouse north of the auditorium contains a crate, but trying to READ CRATE yields only I WAS NEVER TAUGHT HOW TO READ THAT, and OPEN CRATE produces YOU CANT [sic] DO THAT.

Escape From Atlantis' geography is even more random than the adventure game norm, as directly west of the warehouse is a Japanese Geisha House with A VERY BEUTIFUL [sic] WOMAN.  We can't KISS her... and we'll refrain from going any farther at the moment.  Her place of business is just east of the high school -- as we explore the neighborhood, this location will seem even more inappropriate, trust me -- where we find a WOOD & GLASS TROPHY CASE.  We can't EXAMINE it, or OPEN it, or even BREAK it, at least at this point.

Directly across from the Geisha House by way of the high school is a church, where we can steal a silver cross, as long as we fool the gods with misdirection as we GET SILVER instead of brazenly trying to GET CROSS.  We can try to PRAY but there's no response.

On the street south of the church we spy a folded piece of paper -- but we can't examine or read it?  Ah, we have to UNFOLD PAPER and then READ PAPER to learn that ITS [sic] THE COMBINATION TO A SAFE.  (I'm beginning to suspect that our young BASIC programmers hadn't figured out how to use single quotes within strings, but CAN'T is spelled properly in other cases so this just seems to be a grammatical oversight.)

There's a graveyard west of the street, probably associated with the church, and it's clear that YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DIG WITH if we try, so we'll have to return here later with the proper tools.  South of the graveyard is another section of street, with a manhole and a large dirt pile.

It's tempting to GO MANHOLE, so we do, finding ourselves in a MAZE OF TWISTING PASSAGES.  We find a ladder and a WATCH * treasure here, and we have enough items in inventory to make mapping possible. As it turns out, there are quite a few landmarks available anyway, and the maze's geography is straightforward and fairly consistent -- which is good, because we can't actually DROP anything!  A pool of water lies north of the ladder -- we can't EXAMINE POOL or EXAMINE WATER, but if we try to GO POOL we can't -- "I DON'T LIKE THIS, THERE SEEMS TO BE SOMETHING MOVING ON THE BOTTOM."  The maze consists of just a few rooms, it seems, and semi-wraps around, so if we get lost, heading in any direction for a few moves will bring us back to the ladder.

It's worth exploring a bit, though, as east and south of the ladder is an UNDERGROUND LABORATORY containing a large machine and a dusty sign; I CAN ONLY MAKE OUT THE LETTERS E, T, AND M FROM THE DUSTY SIGN.  The machine features a button, so why not PUSH BUTTON?  This reveals that it's a time machine, and we become dizzy... and are sent back to the very beginning of the game, selecting the difficulty level!  Very funny, Mr. Ally.

Restoring my save state (the game has no built-in save feature, so an emulator is really valuable) I avoid pushing the button, but my lamp goes out suddenly, without warning.  Restoring again, I discover that we can READ WATCH to see that it reports time in terms of the lamp going out, and it appears we'll have to be conservative with our lamp light.

I navigate in the dark for a bit, just for fun, and learn that if we enter the Geisha House in the dark, ALL OF A SUDDEN A BEUTIFUL [sic semper] WOMAN COMES OUT OF THE DARKNESS AND STABS YOU RIGHT IN THE HEART. YOUR [sic] DEAD!!!   So the lamp is going to be a pretty important element here.

Starting over, I opt for a lower level of difficulty in case the length of the lamp light is what that controls, and also decide to explore the map differently -- it's fairly large for a TRS-80 BASIC adventure game.  There's a hotel south of the malt shop, with a sign -- ah, this is the DROP * TREASURES * AND SAY SCORE location.  But the DROP verb still isn't working, which concerns me a bit.  The drop verb implementation is at line 370 -- the way the system manages inventory is by keeping a string array, and it stores location information using an array that allows ten slots for each room.  But it doesn't look like the DROP command is even reaching this code, as I add some debug statements to try to figure this out.  Line 170 compares the user's input to a data array of 33 verbs -- and DROP should be verb 6.  But this is really weird -- the data statement at line 1180 only contains a handful of verbs???  Just NOR, SOU, EAS, WES, GET?  Ah, no, the line of code actually contains some embedded backspacing to prevent cheating of exactly the type I'm trying to do!  But it appears that it's not recognizing the DROP verb, no matter what I try to do here.  So I'm going to expose the verb list by replacing this line and see if that helps:
And... nope, now it's not recognizing any of the verbs.  Maybe it's an early Model I upper/lowercase issue, and we can't tell onscreen if it is typed in upper or lowercase?  Nope, here's the actual bug -- the commands are abbreviated to three characters in line 1180, but the command DRO actually turns up with 4 characters, not three, when read from the DATA statement!  Deleting the extra byte value x01 character in line 1180 seems to fix the problem.  (I also discover that, having peeked at the verb list now, DRINK MALT is not fatal but the less traditional EAT MALT certainly is!)

Okay, back to the adventure!  Dropping the spoon scores us 10 points out of 80, so there must be 8 treasures to find.

West of the treasure store location is THE DOCTORS [sic] OFFICE, empty at the moment.  West again leads us to a greenhouse with a DYING PLANT, which is probably in need of water, though there's none here, which seems rather odd considering this is a greenhouse.

This is definitely an odd little town -- next to the auditorium is a bank with a bank vault, perhaps wisely built right next to the police station further west, where we can steal a gun from the unstaffed office.  West of the police station is a motorcycle shop, with a motorcycle available.

With the vault combination from the folded paper, we can OPEN the bank VAULT -- talk about poor security! -- and LOOK VAULT to liberate a bag of gold coins; we must GET BAG rather than GET COINS.  We'll round up the silver cross and watch again for treasure's sake -- the watch indicates we have 530 moves left until the lamp runs out, confirming my hunch that this is what the difficulty setting controls.  We've got 40 of the possible 80 points now.

Where haven't we been yet?  North of the malt shop is a grocery store with a VERY HEAVY SHOPPING CART.  It's so heavy we can't PUSH it or GET it, and we can't GO CART or EMPTY CART.  So we'll move on for now, heading west to visit... ah, we're back at the warehouse.  So it seems we've mapped out the world, more or less, and we can start breaking down the puzzles.

Can we SWIM in the pool of water down the manhole?  Not until we enter it, apparently, and the game won't let us do so.  Can we ride the motorcycle anywhere?  No, but we can GET MOTORCYCLE and drag it around, even up and down ladders.

Now that DROP is working, let's make sure we've explored the manhole maze thoroughly.  We can RUB SIGN in the underground laboratory to confirm that the newly less-dusty version reads "EXPERIMENTAL TIME MACHINE."  We found that out the hard way earlier.

I'm feeling like a dead end is approaching, and that whole command bug situation is making me nervous, so I take a peek at the walkthrough at CASA to see if I'm on the right track -- and discover that it appears to be for a significantly different build of this game!  At the very least, m attempts to JUMP DIRTPILE with the motorcycle are coming to naught.  Line 470 of the code suggests that this should work, with several variations, but it doesn't seem to be recognized, though the JUMP verb is available.  So we'll cheat by breaking out, forcing location variable LC = 13, and continuing.  (Looking at the code some more, it looks like the intended use is to JUMP DIRT followed by WITH MOTORCYCLE, as two separate commands in sequence.  But this doesn't actually work -- a flag that's meant to be set by the first command doesn't stay set, so the WITH portion never does anything useful.)

On the other side of the dirt pile is a gas station, where we can acquire a gas can.  East of the gas station is a library, where we can READ an old scientific MANUAL to learn about the theories behind time travel.  Interesting.  We can SHAKE CAN (I would not have guessed this without a hint in the .CAS file's accompanying README) to reveal a SPANISH DOUBLOON *.  So that's five treasures.

Can we do something new with the time machine now?  It doesn't force us to restart the game, at least, now that we've read the manual.  We can't exit the area after the button is pressed, as we've moved from the lab to a WET & SLIMY UNDERWATER CAVE.  There doesn't seem to be anything to do here, though we can PUSH BUTTON to return to the lab, in our own time.

Time for a little more cheating, I fear -- it looks like the only object we haven't seen yet is a crowbar, meant to be found in room 23.  This is the bottom of the pool, which the code won't let us reach -- any time we try to enter the pool, it just prevents us from doing so, and there appears to be no logic or condition that will allow it.  So we'll break out, set LC = 23, continue, grab the crowbar, and then return to LC = 21.  I'm beginning to suspect this version of the code was being "improved upon" by Shaun Shelton or some other unnamed accomplice from Tom Ally's original, but never quite got finished!

With the ill-gotten crowbar, we can OPEN CRATE in the warehouse to reveal a canteen.  Can we GET WATER at the pool of water?  Nope, nor can we FILL CANTEEN.  We've visited all the possible locations, it seems.  Can we BREAK CASE now that we have the crowbar?  BREAK WOOD?  Nope, but BREAK GLASS is fatal as the trophy case shatters and cuts us to ribbons.

What do we need for digging?  A SHOVEL, apparently.  I wonder where that comes from?  I'm in do-whatever-it-takes-to-finish-this-game mode now, so I'm happy to comb through the code and find out that watering the plant should reveal the shovel at line 820.  But how do we fill the canteen?  Ohhhh, we don't have to -- it's already full, or at least the code lets us simply WATER PLANT and FOR YOUR GOODNESS A SHOVEL SUDDENLY APPEARS.  This is the downside of getting stuck early and peeking at things -- the walkthrough for the more playable version requires that we FILL CANTEEN, and the code here clearly doesn't have a FILL verb, so I made a bad assumption that this puzzle even existed.

Now we can dig in the underwater cave in the past to find some DIAMONDS *, and in the graveyard in the present to find a buried casket.  We can OPEN CASKET -- and are strangled by the occupant!  Can we WEAR CROSS?  We can't, but carrying it would traditionally work against vampires, and it seems to keep this corpse quiescent long enough for us to examine it and take a valuable NECKLACE *.  We can't CLOSE CASKET, so we'll just head out of here now.

Since we've got the hood open on the game's actual code, let's follow up on a few apparent red herrings -- it appears that we can't do anything with the grocery cart, we can't use the gun anywhere, and while we can employ a verb starting with CHR$(102) at the Geisha House, we just get stabbed in the back during the festivities, though the verb does produce a humorous response if employed elsewhere.

Okay, we have seven of the eight treasures now.  What could the last one be?  There's still that trophy case -- and a CUT verb -- and we have some DIAMONDS * now.  And yes!  We can CUT GLASS to discover a JEWELED TROPHY *.  This school district must have quite the intramural athletics budget!  And now we have eight treasures stored, and victory -- of a somewhat disreputable sort -- is ours!

We are, if not A FIRST CLASS ADVENTURER, a first class cheater at least.  But I make no apologies, as this version of the game seems to be broken in several key areas -- as far as I can tell from reading and tweaking the code, we simply can't reach the bottom of the pool, or jump the dirt pile with the motorcycle, or drop treasures to score as required.  So given that the version of Escape From Atlantis I tracked down was otherwise unfinishable without a little BASIC skulduggery.  I'll just call the operating environment part of the puzzle, and venture onward.