Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Adventure of the Week: The Nuclear Submarine Adventure (198x?)

This week, I'm returning to the early portable TRS-80 Model 100's small library of adventure games, to tackle Steven Neighorn's The Nuclear Submarine Adventure, probably published around 1983 when the Model 100 was the new tech toy on the block.  I'm not sure if this game was original to the Model 100 -- versions exist for the IBM PC and Japanese MSX computers as well, but it runs well on Radio Shack's proto-notebook.  I'm playing it using the VirtualT emulator.

This is the only TRS-80 Model 100 BASIC game I've played to date that adopts a Scott Adams style interface, with location and objects at the top of the screen and commands entered at the bottom -- the dividing line means we're down to 7 lines of usable display, but it looks very nice.  The game is the usual escape-the-critical-situation plot, with no treasures to find or complex objectives -- we just have to get ourselves and our fellow crew members to the surface alive after our sub experiences an impact of indeterminate origin.

Interested adventurers are always encouraged to try these games firsthand before reading my comments below, and this one is freely available at the Interactive Fiction Database.  The Nuclear Submarine Adventure isn't difficult, though time constraints are tight, the SAVE/LOAD commands aren't fully implemented, and there's one sticking point that tripped me up near the end.  But I'll let you make that decision, dear reader.  Beyond this point, there are certain to be...

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

We begin in a bunk, with nothing of interest visible and nothing in INVentory.  While we're exploring our surroundings, something hits the ship and we're sinking!  GET UP yields only That's not hereUP yields You don't know how to 'UP.'  U (or GO UP) is the only way to climb out of the bunk.

Our bunk is in the after crew's quarters; the room is full of bunks, and there's a red locker here.  We can't EXAMINE anything, apparently, and OPEN LOCKER indicates we don't have the right key.  So we'll head F(ore) to the main passageway.

Here there's a water-tight door, which we're not strong enough to open, and passages to port and starboard.  Port is the maneuvering room, with a depth gauge and ballast control.  READ GAUGE suggests, You can't read anything... yet.  Interesting.  Do we need our glasses?

We can travel down from the maneuvering room to the lower aft section of the engine room, where we see a steam turbine engine and a drive train.  Is the steam engine powered by nuclear fuel, then?  We can LOOK ENGINE -- which works like EXAMINE, I now see -- to observe that it's turning but not operating properly, most likely because the drive train is broken.

From here, we can F off to the fore section of the engine room, and see that the electrical generator isn't working and the ship is operating on its batteries.  Going U takes us to the upper deck of the engine room, fore of the maneuvering room, where there's a hatch You can't even begin to open.

Closing the loop and returning to the maneuvering room, LOOK GAUGE indicates we're at 108 fathoms, and LOOK CONTROL indicates it's set for DIVE.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, so I'll leave it alone for now.

On the starboard side of the main passageway we find a laundry room containing nothing of apparent interest.  The main passageway continues forward to a warning sign.  As I'm exploring, we hear a ** claxon** [sic], so we're probably going to run out of time while we're mapping out our surroundings.  But we'll keep going as long as we can.

The warning sign suggests that an ANTI-RADIATION SUIT MUST BE WORN before we head below.  We can open the water-tight door here, despite the warning, but we don't have to go down there yet, so we'll CLOSE DOOR.  (I always appreciate adventure designs that allow closing things we've opened; it's rarer than one might suppose.)

Heading forward some more we discover the missile compartment, with a panel reading .  Forward again is the attack center, with a remote microphone and a passageway leading down to the main control room, where a push-button control regulates the reactor.  North of the control room location is the radio shack (tee hee), with a complex radio that isn't so complicated we can't tell it is broken, but is so complicated we can't readily FIX it.

Fore of the attack center (the sub runs quite a distance lengthwise) is the periscope room, with two periscopes, one for search and one for attacking.  I'm about to head upwards from here, when the reactor melts down and my adventure is over.  The briny sea claims another victim...  fortunately, this game implements a SAVE feature, so we'll use that in the future.

Returning to mapping, we find an access passageway above the periscope room, with a hatch that can't be opened until the ship surfaces.  Fore of the radio shack is a main passageway area with passages in every direction but upward.  Downward is the infirmary, where we can GET some smelling SALTS.  To port is the captain's stateroom, with a combination-locked wall safe that isn't even hidden behind a picture.  We have to enter three numbers to open the safe, and since I'm just guessing I'm not able to open it yet.

Returning to the passageway, to starboard we find the officer's wardroom, empty, and the main passageway continues fore again.  Port here leads to the crew's mess, where we at last see our fellow crew members... all unconscious in front of a videocassette player and television; perhaps they have been watching Down Periscope.  We can WAKE CREW with the smelling salts.  There's no tape in the VCR, and we can't ORDER CREW, so we'll leave them standing around for now.

Oh.  Actually, we can't leave the crew behind, as it seems they are bent on following us around now.  The galley features a stove, and we can go down to the main stores and the frozen stores room, where a single frozen T.V. dinner is available.  We can PUT DINNER -- Into what? -- STOVE, and then COOK DINNER so we can FEED CREW... no... OFFER DINNER... no... GIVE DINNER... no... well, now the klaxon is going off again, so it probably won't matter in our lifetimes.

Starboard of the crew's mess, on the other side of the passageway, we find the health room, with a weight training set.  And they must have some of that Captain America technology here, as we can LIFT WEIGHTS to become incredibly strong in a single turn.  That may come in handy.

Fore again leads us to the chief's quarters across the hall from the galley, where a white locker waits for us to find the right key.  The ship overheats at this point, and when I try to LOAD and the filename I specified earlier doesn't seem to work, we find ourselves in a kind of limbo.  The crewmen are unconscious but continue to follow us around.  We'll take advantage of the extended play to do some more mapping, anyway.

The main passageway continues fore to another bunk room with a blue locker, locked awaiting the right key, of course.  We can go D into a bunk, where we find a decoder, with a plug in it -- I'm not sure what that means yet.

Fore again -- this is a very large map by Model 100 standards -- we find the forward torpedo room, with one tube labeled and the other .  We can continue F into the empty torpedo tube, though this doesn't seem like a safe place to hang out.

Now it seems we've mapped the submarine out pretty well, and solved a few puzzles along the way.  Let's see if we can use our super strength to open that door near the start of the game.  (On the way, I discover that the LOAD command does work, it just throws a false alarm error, so we do die shortly as the sub's reactor overeheats, and I have to LOAD again.)

We can indeed open that water-tight door now, to reach the ship's can (our group of unconscious crewmen still in tow -- they remain unconscious as described after a restart and restore, but they're still dragging themselves around with us somehow) where we find a Navy repair manual.  It contains instructions for repairing the ship's radio, also handy.

Our first order of business, however, would seem to be stopping the reactor from melting down.  We can't open the hatch in the upper engine room.  But we can PUSH BUTTON in the main control room to switch the reactor to COOL mode, and the warning klaxon ceases.  Easier than I expected!  Pushing it again sets the reactor mode back to hot, and sets off the alarm again, but we can switch between modes at will so that's no longer a big problem.

Now that we can explore with a little less pressure, let's see what else remains to be done.  If we lift weights and then read the Navy repair manual, maybe we can FIX RADIO.  While I'm working on this, though, it turns out we're very hungry... and then the ship's batteries run down and the lights go out!  It's dangerous to move in the dark, but if we've mapped well we can still get around -- we can even read the manual in the dark.  But one wrong move in the pitch black, and we're dead of a broken neck, so we'd better restart and play more efficiently.

On the next try, I discover that just reading the manual isn't enough to let us FIX RADIO.  We probably need some tools or something.  So let's see if we can get the ship's generator working again, as that seems like a more pressing matter.  It's not going to be as simple as START GENERATOR or FIX DRIVE TRAIN, though.  Can the crew help out?  I don't know, because I can't figure out how to EAT DINNER or OPEN DINNER when we start getting hungry again.  Ah, we can only EAT DINNER in the crew's mess -- it's impossible to consume it anywhere else!  This game is going to be fastidious about its rules, it appears.

The ship's batteries have run out again, but let's see if I can fake my way through in the dark to see if the crew can fix the drive train.  Nope.  We need something to open the hatch in the engine room, I think.  We can die by entering the nuclear reactor without protection, but that's not going to help.

We aren't strong enough to open the hatch or the door in the torpedo room, even if we've lifted weights.  Hmmmm... ah, if we have the crew in tow (and conscious) they will help us to open both.  We can access the forward access and escape trunk now, to find a wrench, and a repair and work compartment below the torpedo room to pick up an electronic repair kit.  Now we should be in better shape to get the sub working again!

We'll stop to prepare and eat the TV dinner on the way, just to have that puzzle out of the way, since we can probably navigate in the dark if we need to.  I get to the engine room just as the lights go out, but with the wrench, we can now FIX TRAIN to restore power.

We can't just PUSH BUTTON to change the sub's direction in the maneuvering room; presumably we'll want to switch from DIVE to SURFACE at some point, but we can't yet, at least not with any commands I can come up with.  We can use the wrench to open the hatch in the engine room, finding a key labeled WKEY -- probably good for the white lockers in the chief's quarters.  Yep!  Here's the anti-radiation outfit.

Let's fix the radio before we go too much farther -- with the repair kit and the manual, we can get it working.  We can now USE RADIO -- but a coded message comes through that we can't make sense of, and then it blows up!  We must need to use that decoder we found in a bunk earlier.  Restoring our saved game doesn't restore the radio to its pre-smoldering state, however, so we have to QUIT and LOAD to get it back into a fixable state again.  This time, we LOOK RADIO to see that it has an empty plug -- and we can PUT DECODER -- Into what? -- RADIO before we use it.  The message we receive now indicates we've been hit by a Soviet anti-submarine weapon, and gives us the combination to the captain's safe: R 36, L 7, R 46.  The radio still blows up after we use it.

We can now open the safe -- the spaces in the coded message are significant, so typing R36 doesn't work but R 36 does -- to obtain... a videocassette?  This better be worth it!  GET VIDEOCASSETTE doesn't work, but GET CASSETTE does.  We can put the cassette into the player, and then... hmmmm... USE PLAYER and START PLAYER don't work, and WATCH T.V. just shows a 'HEAVY' film?  Ah, wait, maybe that's a hint -- "the ups and downs of life in the submarine corps" might mean this is a training film.  Yes, now we can PUSH BUTTON in the maneuvering room to shift the ballast into service to help surface the sub.

What else?  We haven't used the anti-radiation suit yet, so let's go try it out.  We can WEAR OUTFIT, OPEN DOOR by the warning sign, go D and observe that the reactor is running normally.  Fortunately, the crew has the good sense to stay behind; the only reason we need to come down here, apparently, is to pick up the blue key in the aft section of the reactor room.

Going back to the crew quarters near the torpedo tube, we open the blue lockers to recover a Captain's uniform.  We can WEAR UNIFORM, but to what end?  Ah, the microphone in the attack center is the captain's microphone upon a closer look.  We can SAY FIRE -- Fire what? -- TORPEDO, but can't do that yet; SAY SURFACE returns a similar result.

Trying to LOOK through or USE the search and attack periscopes proves fruitless, as does UP SEARCH or UP PERISCOPE.  The captain's microphone is portable, it seems.  What about the red locker at the start of the game?  Ah, the RKEY is available if we just LOOK BUNKS -- the locker contains a book called "The Submariner" that just gives us basic navigation tips for the game.

Maybe we can mess with the torpedo tubes.  LOAD TORPEDO doesn't work, as it just invokes the game restore command.  And while I'm trying to fire a torpedo from the torpedo room using the captain's microphone, to no avail, we run out of time for surfacing the sub, and the game is over again.

What do we have to do here?  I'm going to break down and take a peek at the BASIC code.  We're on the right track -- line 174 specifies a lot of conditions for giving the order to surface.  We have to be wearing the captain's uniform; ballast setting has to be set to SURFACE; and we have to be at a depth other than 0 fathoms.  Check on all those counts.  Ahhhh... what I was missing was that we have to be in the main control room when we SAY SURFACE, or our orders are ignored.

Now we can go there, SAY SURFACE, and the sub surfaces... and now we can open the hatch above the periscope room and make our way past the bridge to the open air on the main deck, where we see rescue ships in the distance!  Man, it's a good thing we never figured out how to fire that torpedo.  Victory is ours!

I enjoyed playing through The Nuclear Submarine Adventure -- the tight timing made for a bit of a challenge over and above the straightforward puzzles, although the final puzzle seems unnecessarily opaque; why make the captain's microphone portable at all, if it has to be used in a specific place?  But I've definitely run into more aggravating requirements in vintage adventure games, and this one had some nice moments of discovery.

1 comment:

  1. The parser recognizing "U" and "GO UP", but not "UP", was also typical of Scott Adams's adventures. It saved having to add 6 extra verbs to the verb list.