Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Search For The Ruby Chalice (1983)

It's summertime, and I've been spending the month of August working my way through several contest-winning amateur adventures for the TRS-80 Color Computer, published in The Rainbow Book of Adventures in early 1983.  This week, we're tackling Search For The Ruby Chalice, submitted to The Rainbow magazine by Justin Paola, and written in BASIC.  I'm playing the version made available on a supplemental disk, avoiding any bugs or typographical corrections introduced by secondhand type-ins, running via the VCC emulator.

As the title quite honestly suggests, Search for the Ruby Chalice is a traditional treasure quest -- we have to find the ruby chalice hidden somewhere underground, after crash-landing with our pilot near PARTIALLY EXPLORED JUNGLE.  We're also warned about A TRIBE OF HEAD HUNTERS IN THE VICINITY!!!   The parser responds quickly -- the CoCo's sprightly 6809E processor benefits the BASIC interpreter -- though it has an unusual and annoying habit of clearing the screen whenever it processes a command, rather than maintaining the room display at the top.  And there's no SAVE GAME available, so we may be restarting from scratch on occasion.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to Search for the Ruby Chalice firsthand before reading further, as my notes are likely to give away all the surprises.  It's not a difficult game, though there is a straightforward cheat that comes in handy if multiple deaths converge on the poor player at the same time.  To protect the game's integrity for those who wish me to do so, I'll wait to reveal that information as part of all of the other...

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

We begin in our pontoon plane, with an exit to the west and our pilot visible.  INV (not I) reveals we are carrying NOT A THINGLOOK PILOT establishes that HE LOOKS HEALTHY AND READY TO FLY YOU AWAY.  We can't TALK PILOT or ASK PILOT anything, but we can try to FLY -- of course, we are told that we need to retrieve the chalice first.  Rules are rules.

Exiting the plane to the west, we discover our base camp already established, so why did we start out inside the plane?  Well, anyway, there are some useful adventuring tools available here -- a gun, some matches, a snake bite kit (o foreshadowing!) and a magnifying glass.  We'll take all of these with us, naturally.

Heading west again brings us to a savanna with a river, VERY HOT AND DRY (the savanna, we presume), where we can acquire a torch and an ancient cloth.  READ seems to be a synonym for LOOK here -- we're not given any text, but the parser suggests we'd better keep the cloth, as it LOOKS VERY INTERESTING.  We can head north or further west from here.

West brings us to more of the savanna, where a *GOLD NUGGET is visible, suggesting that the ruby chalice isn't the only treasure in this game.  But alas, six items is our inventory limit, so we can't carry it along just yet.  We'll go further west to see yet more savanna, with a *TRANSLATION BOOK handy.  And I just now realize that all items are listed with a leading asterisk, so it doesn't necessarily denote something is a treasure, something to keep in mind when we have our own * (thanks, Ogden Nash!)

To the west again we find more savanna, and we're seeing passages north pretty consistently, so the map may be roughly rectangular.  We'll keep mapping it out... at what seems to be the western edge of the map, we find a clearing with a waterfall.  We can't GO WATERFALL -- unusual in these games -- and if we try to SWIM, we are told THERE'S NOTHING TO SWING ON, as the parser recognizes only three characters and in this case they are reserved for a different purpose.  But that does kind of qualify as a hint for future reference.

Let's head back east and start exploring the region north of the territory we've charted so far.  The river must border the map's southern edge, as going north we're no longer in sight of it.  The area immediately north of the torch and cloth location contains a coil of rope, which we're really wishing we could carry right now.  We can travel north again to an area with a jade ceremonial necklace and one exit to the west.

Stepping west leads us immediately into dense jungle, so dark we can't see.  It appears to be a maze, but fortunately we can walk back east the way we came in.  We'll want the torch in here, but let's do some more exploration first.

As I head back south, we receive a WARNING, A WILD CAT JUST LEAPED AT YOU!!!  And when I try to LOOK to see if the cat is still nearby or just attempting a leap-by assassination, THE CAT SERIOUSLY INJURED YOU AND YOU DIED!!! TRY AGAIN!!!  So death comes suddenly here, it seems.

Trying again, we map a little more of the savanna.  There's an EASILY CLIMBEABLE [sic] TREE north of the gold nugget, and heading U lets us observe a cliff to the west, a large rock slab to the north, a lake to the east, and a river to the south.  I run into the wild cat again, but this time an immediate SHOOT GUN scares the animal away.

North of the translation book is a high canopy jungle, where we see a *SPEAR WITH STRANGE LETTERING.  If we have the translation book, we can READ SPEAR to learn that it translates as "XYLO."   Hmmmm.  West is more high canopy jungle, and a kiwi fruit.

Heading north, we wander into a village where a stereotypical *GROUP OF MEAN LOOKING HEAD HUNTERS resides.  The group DAMANDS [sic] THAT YOU GIVE THEM A TREASURE, and as I fail to do so immediately because the wild cat has returned at the same time, my head is forfeit and the game ends.

At least we're getting close to having the map filled in, if we can navigate the jungle at least.  I'll try to solve the head hunter puzzle too -- but they don't seem interested in the gold nugget, no matter whether I try to GIVE or THROW or DROP it, so we'll have to find another treasure to appease them.  Maybe the jade necklace?  We can't GET NECKLACE, we have to GET JADE... but they don't seem to consider that a treasure either.

So let's LIGHT TORCH and map the jungle.  The entrance area west of the jade necklace room contains a jug of water, which we'll leave here as a landmark for now.  South returns to the high canopy area with the spear, north leads to a clearing with the rock slab we saw earlier from the treetops.  Examination suggests that the rock slab opens and closes, but we can't PUSH or PULL or MOVE or OPEN it at the moment.

The jungle isn't actually a maze, as it turns out, just a dark area we can't pass productively through without the torch; we can see the exits, but not the objects present.  We find an inflatable raft in an area along the north side of the map, east of a cliffside clearing containing a compressed air cylinder.

South from the cliffside we encounter the head hunter village again -- and this time I notice I've been responding inappropriately to the changed prompt, WHAT TREASURE DO YOU DROP?  So I've been answering with various commands while the parser just wants a noun, immediately.  I try offering the NECKLACE, even though I don't have it with me, and THEY ACCEPTED IT, a handy bug if we have to pass through here again.  Emerging from the jungle, I see that the jade necklace is no longer in its normal location, but as long as we can produce it out of thin air we should be okay.

So... it seems we've mapped out the game world, but we haven't made any substantial headway toward finding the ruby chalice.  What can we do with the raft?  While juggling inventory, I drop the snake bite kit, and as luck would have it, almost immediately get bitten by a snake.  Before I die two turns later, we also hit the customary YOU ARE THIRSTY warning, but that's the least of my worries as the game is once again over.

The fatalities are getting annoying, so just as an experiment I try to fake the BASIC code out by using the CONTinue command at the operating system prompt to keep going after death ends the game.  And this actually works, in a way -- the parser gives us a new prompt, allowing us to sneak one postmortem move in before we die again, so even as we continue perishing of snake bites and dehydration, we can fight our way gradually to where we can do something about it.  I'll try not to abuse this, but it comes in very handy when we face competing deaths at the same time -- there isn't, for example, time to USE KIT and DRINK WATER before one or the other does us in, so it's handy to be able to reincarnate after fixing one problem.

We can INFLATE RAFT with the air cylinder, but it doesn't seem to be useable by the river -- it must be meant for the lake.  We hear a SCREAM FROM THE EAST when we revisit our base camp while trying to find our way there... and aboard the plane, we find our pilot, decapitated.  Not good.

We can't give up now, though.  Can we tie the rope to something for swinging?  There's nothing to tie it to in the treetop, it seems, nor at the cliffside to lower ourselves down.  We can't USE RAFT, though the parser suggests trying another verb; I try to LAUNCH RAFT and GO RAFT to no avail, but FLOAT RAFT produces a more helpful response: YOU ARE NOT NEXT TO A RIVER YOU FOOL.

This fool accordingly goes to the river, only to learn that YOU SHOULD GET THE CHALICE BEFORE YOU GO DOWN THE RIVER.  So it seems the river will be our escape route, since our pilot clearly isn't going to be flying.  I'll leave the raft by the waterfall for the sake of inventory slots; since we have to keep the gun, the snake bite kit, the torch and the jug of water handy at all times, we really only have two free slots with which to juggle other necessities.

What next?  As I'm experimenting, the wild cat shows up for the... well, apparently the seventh time, as I can't SHOOT GUN because I am out of bullets.  So we're starting over yet again.

I've been thinking that XYLO (from the spear) is meant to suggest we play something like  a xylophone, or find another piece of equipment with more of the clue, but it now occurs to me that maybe it's just a magic word on its own.  SAY XYLO at the rock slab doesn't do anything, but invoking XYLO alone causes the slab to rumble open, revealing a cave below. 

The cave features a viper pit room, with a hook above and vipers below.  This proves to be a suitable place to TIE ROPE, giving us a HOOK ON CIELING [sic] WITH ROPE TIED TO IT.  We can now SWING ROPE to the east side of the pit, swinging precariously over the vipers; perhaps WEEEEE!!! isn't actually a misspelling, under the circumstances.  We pass through a long east-west corridor, to find...

The Chalice Room!  This seems a little anticlimactic, as we can simply TAKE CHALICE and it wasn't particularly hard to get here.  On the way back out, we check the area south of the cave entrance -- there are some indecipherable hieroglyphics here.  Curious, I fetch the translation book, dropping the ancient cloth in the process, and return -- the translation says, "DO NOT GO FURTHER THAN THE EAST VIPER ROOM WITHOUT THE ANCIENT CLOTH OR YOU WILL BE PIERCED BY ARROWS."  I had good, if dumb, luck on that count, then!

It seems we're close to the end of the story now, at any rate.  I inflate the raft, FLOAT RAFT by the waterfall, and we emerge from the jungle victorious!

I was a bit surprised that we weren't admonished for failing to bring the gold nugget or jade necklace along as bonus treasure, since it's possible to avoid the headhunters completely and avoid giving either of them up, but there's nothing wrong with focusing on a single objective.  I also took a post-game look at the source code -- the pilot doesn't necessarily have to die, as it turns out; if we find the chalice and return to the plane within 100 moves, we can fly away to what seems to me a slightly happier ending.

Search For The Ruby Chalice isn't a bad game, in its brief, old-school way -- the puzzles are logical or at least guessable, and I didn't have to consult the source code to solve anything, though I did take advantage of the unintended continue feature.  Like many magazine type-in adventures of the early 1980s, Justin Paola's effort provides a few hours of decent, straightforward text adventuring.  There's nothing at all wrong with that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Horror House (1983)

This week, we're entering the Horror House, another contest entry from The Rainbow Book of Adventures, published in 1983 as both a magazine-style "book" collecting the type-in listings and a collection on tape or disk, ready to run.  This adventure was written in BASIC by Robert W. Mangum II.

I couldn't initially get the game running on the VCC CoCo emulator running Disk Extended Basic -- I was stuck on a series of flashing pink and green screens, which I was supposed to use to select one of the available text mode color sets.  Starting the program up with RUN 5 instead skips over a POKE command that may have been the source of my problem, skips the author's time-consuming title screen, and gets us underway more quickly. 

Horror House is a text adventure/RPG hybrid -- several screens of instructions establish that we're exploring a monster-infested house, where we have to PUNCH or HIT the monsters to defeat them without running out of hit points ourselves.  Our health regenerates at 1 point per ten turns, and every 50 turns one of the monsters is reincarnated.  After all the monsters are vanquished, we're told that the computer will be destroyed by an explosion.  Scary!  We can also REST once to regain all of our HP and reincarnate all of the monsters.  The parser vocabulary is helpfully displayed, limited to MOVE/PULL/PUSH, PUT/LEAVE/DROP, N/S/E/W for navigation, INSERT, LOOK, REST, and GET/TAKE.

This one's actually fairly fun to play -- success is partially random due to the combat-heavy gameplay, but it's a pleasant diversion and I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying it out.  As always, my further notes here will detail my entire experience in the Horror House.  So if you want to experience it firsthand, step away and go do so, because otherwise you will be subjected to the comprehensive...

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

As the game starts up, it becomes clear that the rooms are very generic, with no descriptions of specific locations -- we have to differentiate rooms based on the exit list and any objects that happen to be present, so mapping is a necessity.  The first room has exits to the north and west, and we can see the closed, locked door we just came in through.  We can't KICK DOOR or OPEN DOOR, and if we try to PUNCH DOOR, IT IS NOT HEREHIT DOOR suggests that YOU MUST HAVE THE SWORD, so finding that may be our most pressing need at the moment.

There's a hideous statue in the room to the west; we can MOVE STATUE to find a blue coin underneath it, but the statue also comes to life!  Fortunately it's not a very formidable foe -- it kept missing me while I slowly PUNCHed it to death.  And we might as well TAKE BLUE COIN (TAKE COIN doesn't work, the parser considers it to be a BLUE COIN and not a COIN.)

North of the entrance is a room with exits in all four directions.  Heading east and south, we discover a room with a vending machine and a giant crab.  The crab is a more formidable foe -- I had to fight pretty hard and lost about a third of my health before killing it.  The vending machine reads, "DRINK CREATURE COLA."  I tried to INSERT BLUE COIN, but while the machine accepted it nothing seemed to happen as a result.

There's nothing in the room to the west of the four-way room, and the north exit leads to a T-shaped room with exits east and west.  East is a bedroom, where I run into the giant crab again.  After killing it, we can MOVE BED to find an exit to the west, leading to a gargoyle.  He's a pretty tough customer, so I'll gamble and try leaving the gargoyle room to the north -- the monster doesn't actually block our way, so we're free to explore some more.

We're in another T-shaped room, and east/southeast down a bit of a hall I encounter a minotaur... and a sword!  Killing the minotaur takes a little bit of time, and these random battles prove to be rather comical, as both the player and monster spend a lot of time missing each other, with both combatants much less competent than fantasy lore would have one believe.  The sword bears the legend, "MONSTER SLAYER," just in case we didn't think to use it that way.

There's a computer in a room to the south, and while we're pondering that, A SNAKE JUST ENTERED ROOM!  It seems some of these monsters are of the wandering variety.  The computer is a 64K COLOR COMPUTER.  I try to READ COMPUTER, and the parser takes it as REST, so I am back up to full health but all of the monsters are alive again.  Curses!

Well, I'm not really trying to kill all of the monsters yet -- I'm just trying to map the place out.  I find a room on the west side of the house containing a rat and a cassette tape.  Killing the rat isn't too difficult, and we'll TAKE CASSETTE; it's labeled 5452532D3830, which if we assume these are two-character hexadecimal ASCII codes, translates to... TRS-80.  So it's not much of a clue.

There are some suspicious holes in what appears to be a 6 x 5 map on my graph paper, so it's not too surprising that when we INSERT CASSETTE in the computer room, a new exit opens up to the east.  We meet a goblin here, another toughish customer to dispatch, and can wander into the southern central area of the map to meet a zombie guarding a gold coin.  I'm not sure if we're supposed to want these treasures, but we might as well take it along after dealing with the walking dead.

There's only one room we haven't explored yet, it appears, in the southeast corner of the house, where an orc lives.  None of these monsters are too difficult to kill, but we do have to be careful as some of them can do a fair amount of damage if by chance they connect with an attack.  We've explored the map, as far as I can tell, so it's time to wander around and kill all of the beasties.

It appears that the living statue does not return to life after being terminated, or else it wanders off after it's reincarnated.  I do meet a new monster -- a skeleton in the vending machine room I managed not to run into before.  I dispatch it, and the giant crab, without too much trouble, and then run into the rat again.  This time I get it down to 1 hit point, and it runs away!  When I catch up with it, it's in the same room as the zombie and the gargoyle, and together they manage to overpower me before I can kill them all.

Trying again from the beginning -- there's no SAVE GAME in this brief adventure -- I kill the statue and gargoyle by punching, then use the sword to slay the minotaur, the statue (again, it does indeed reincarnate), the snake, the rat, the goblin, the orc, and the zombie.  I'm missing the crab and the skeleton, I think.  While looking for them, I find and kill the rat again, and the minotaur again, and the crab, and the minotaur a third time, and the crab a second time.  It appears that the monsters are not forced to actually navigate the maze, but can reincarnate at any random location.

So where is the skeleton?  While I'm looking for it, I find a PILE OF JUNK has materialized in one of the rooms, and LOOK PILE reveals a red coin.  Ah, this is the computer room!  So we must have destroyed all of the monsters, and the computer has exploded as promised.  Can we open the closed door by the entrance now?  Nope.

What else?  I am not seeing any monsters lately, so I think we have indeed dispatched them all, even though I never ran into the skeleton this time.  Let's try putting all three coins into the vending machine... and yes, A KEY FALLS TO THE FLOOR.  (We can't see it in the room if we LOOK after this happens, but we can still TAKE KEY successfully.)

Now we just have to INSERT KEY at the closed door, with no pesky monsters bothering us on the way there, and we can escape to victory!

Horror House isn't much of an adventure game, but it makes effective use of limited computing resources to present a simple, entertaining monster hunt.  The battles are randomized enough to provide some close calls and drama, and the timed reincarnation of the monsters makes the final leg of the trip fairly tough, though the final journey to victory is comparatively relaxing once all the monsters are dead.  Not a lost classic, but Mr. Mangum's game is fun and certainly not terrible by magazine type-in standards.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Mystic Mansion (1983)

This week, my TRS-80 Color Computer adventuring binge continues, as we tackle Chris Hawks' Mystic Mansion, published in 1983.  It's a menu-driven illustrated adventure, with no parser per se, written in BASIC with picture files loaded from disk.  I've been reading some old issues of the CoCo magazine The Rainbow lately, and this game was being advertised for sale circa early 1983, but I hadn't run across it in my travels until just now.

The opening instructions tell us we must escape the mansion, which was built by AN EVIL MAN!!!, and escape the island where the mansion stands as well.  It's pretty standard escape-the-house fare.

I'm not going to recommend that anyone else tackle Mystic Mansion, as the design really doesn't play fair -- the puzzles are straightforward, but the game is very strict about how and when we do things.  There are invisible triggers that make no story sense, and I had to dig into the code several times to figure out how to finish it even when I knew what I was trying to do.  It is entirely possible to complete the game without cheating, but it's not easy to pull off without a lot of tedious repetition.  So to save humanity the pain of actually playing Mystic Mansion, I invite everyone to jump straight into the...

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

We begin in the Mystic Mansion's Drawing Room, and can choose to go through the green door (G), the red door (R) or (U)p the stairs.  The game is entirely prompt driven, with a limited menu of choices provided in each location and the occasional Y/N question.  For the sake of brevity (I know, not my style!) I'll omit listing the menu options and just discuss the actions we can take along the way.

The green door leads to the Master Bedroom, where we can examine a picture, look out the window, check out the closet or go back through the green door.  The picture depicts a sun, with text suggesting THE WAY OUT IS A LOWLY ONE  -- LOOK IN AN UNKNOWN PLACE FOR THE KEY.  The window provides a view of a lake with a sailboat.  The closet contains another small door -- we can enter, it's not locked, but it's too dark to see inside at the moment.

The drawing room's red door leads to the Parlor, and it appears we can't go back directly, at least at first.  A window here is painted over, or is just a painting, the text isn't very clear; the picture on the wall depicts a sunrise, with no visible text or other details.  A green door here leads to the Kitchen -- windows look out on a tree-speckled hillside, and examining the cabinets turns up a lamp, always helpful.  And the parlor's blue door leads back to the drawing room -- the door is just painted red on one side, blue on the other.  Whew!

Let's head upstairs before we try our luck in the closet with the lamp.  A picture in the Upstairs Hall looks very much like the one in the parlor.  A red door provides access to the Study, where we find a book called "FALL OF ROMAN EMPIRE," apparently abridged or written by the Incredible Hulk.  The window offers the same view of the hillside we saw from the kitchen -- it seems the uncompressed picture file approach has its limitations.  A closet in the study is locked, so we'll return to the hall and take the blue door into a Small Bedroom, sharing the view visible from the master bedroom; a box here contains a gold chain.

It seems we're rapidly exhausting the options here, so let's take our lamp through the closet's little doorway.  This is a Secret Room!  There are two items here we can examine -- a chest and a sack.  The chest offers -- !!!!SPIDERS!!!!, whose bite puts us to sleep for a while, presented as a lengthy pause in the gameplay.  When we examine the sack, we find a key.  So let's go upstairs and try the key on the locked closet in the study.

The spider bites persist, it seems, so we're forced to sleep every now and then though it seems there are no fatal side effects... oh, wait, that was apparently only temporary.  We eventually do die, so next life we'll avoid opening the chest at all.

Now this gets interesting -- my second venture suggests that some things are randomized?  The box in the small bedroom upstairs is empty this time, although the lamp is where it was before, in the kitchen cabinet.  The sack is also empty, but the chest contains spiders again, dang it.  Or... wait, things are randomized each time we look?  Trying the box again, I find the gold chain again.  And the sack now yields a key.  Strange.  But I again die of spider bites while trying to reach the closet to try the key, so I'll restart from a fresh run this time.

Even with freshly initialized variables, the sack can be empty when we're expecting to find a key based on previous experience.  And it seems to stay empty now.  So some event must trigger the sack to contain the key.  Interesting.  Trying the locked closet door doesn't seem to be a factor, nor does finding the gold chain.  Well, this is a fine kettle of arachnids -- it seems we have to get bitten by the spiders in order to find the key!

Fighting our way through spider-sleep, we at last unlock the study closet, and fall down into the darkness... saved by the snagging of our gold chain on a root!  We can crawl through a hole here to find ourselves in the BASMENT [sic].

A box on the floor is nailed shut, but a shelf contains a prying bar so we can open the box.  Inside is a trap door, which we can choose to enter or not.  It leads into a tunnel with light at the end, but we find a note saying we have to touch the mystic medallion to the door, a gewgaw we do not have, so we're forced to turn back.  And now I'm dead, yet again, of spider bites.

This time I'll do a full reset of the virtual CoCo before I start, in case the code doesn't properly initialize memory.  And... the sack is empty, again, until I open the chest and take my spider bites, at which point the sack magically reveals the key.  And this time, the box is empty, so I don't see any way to keep myself from falling eternally down the closet hole.  Ack!

I think it's time to peek at the code -- I feel like the designer is being unfair, so I'm going to return the favor.  We can only survive four spider bites, and yes, the key cannot be found until we have been bitten once.  And the gold chain only appears if LP = 1 -- meaning it's only available after we pick up the lamp but before we pick up the key; I just lucked into the right order the first time I played.  (I'm also going to edit line 1920 to increase the spider bite survival time -- I'm hoping there's an antidote somewhere in the game, but since we can't save a game in progress I'd like to survive a little longer while figuring this out.  I also edited line 1940 to shorten the spider bite sleep time, which can be up to a minute normally and really slows down the gameplay.)

After getting back to where we were the last time we succumbed, I check out the drain hole in the basement again -- and it seems every time we do this, we get bitten by a spider, so it's a very easy way to die quickly.  Going through the door leads us back into the house, apparently.  I check the pictures and windows again while we're here to see if we can find that medallion the note mentioned, to no avail.  And when we fall through the closet a second time, the chain no longer saves us, and we fall to our doom... or, at least, we are advised to WRITE WHEN YOU GET TO CHINA!
Another try... avoiding the door in the basement this time, we'll explore the trap door in the box.  This is just the tunnel where we need the mystic medallion to proceed.  And it seems we can only pry the box open to go through the trap door one time, as well, so we really need the medallion before we enter the closet.  Aggravating.  Ah, wait, we can look at the shelf again to regain the prying bar and reuse it.  So this one isn't so bad, then... although it seems we still go into the tunnel, whether we answer Y or N to the prompt asking us if we want to when we open the box.  And we also learn that the basement door actually transports us to a random location in the mansion.

Before I die this time, I examine the painted window in the parlor -- and lo and behold, this time we find the fabled medallion!  How odd, I'm sure I checked this earlier.  And the box upstairs no longer holds the gold chain, and as there's no visible inventory I'm not sure if it survived the earlier fall, so I'm not quite sure how to approach that issue.  I fear it's time to cheat some more... the code indicates that we can only find the medallion if DR=1, a variable set when we approach the end of the tunnel but don't have it with us.  No a priori knowledge allowed.

I'm fed up enough with this game's demands that I'm ready to seriously cheat, breaking out of the code and setting DR=1 manually in the early going so I can get the medallion.  With that simplification, all we really have to do is reach the basement and go through the tunnel to the waiting sailboat -- victory is ours!

Feeling more than a little guilty, I spent some additional time poring over the BASIC code and experimenting with the game, trying to figure out if I had missed some more natural solution.  It actually is possible to win playing by the rules, but we have to do everything exactly as the game demands.  The key is to avoid traversing the spider bite locations more than once -- they are not timed, but location-triggered -- after we've examined the chest, and to be lucky enough that the magic door doesn't drop us in the wrong location.  Passing through the door resets the bite count to one, but if we land in the drawing room (as I did my first time getting that far) we'll get bitten three more times, twice in the drawing room and once in the study, and thus die before we can make it back to the tunnel.  We also have to be careful with the chain due to a bug that I didn't realize I was running into -- if we already have the chain, but we examine the box in the small bedroom, we'll be told the box is empty; but when we leave the room, we'll actually lose the gold chain!

This was more of a meta-adventure than a legitimate experience; I think I spent more time examining the source code than actually playing the game.  Perhaps it's a meta-reference, and the game itself was also written by AN EVIL MAN!!!  In the end, the most mystifying thing about Mystic Mansion is that the game retailed for $29.95 back in the day.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Polynesian Adventure (1983)

Last week's excursion into Lurkley Manor inspired me to seek out further TRS-80 Color Computer adventures from the pages of The Rainbow magazine; I had almost forgotten that several adventure-focused issues were published over the years.  I tracked down a readable PDF file of the January 1983 adventure issue, and was actually considering typing in one of the contest-winning games the old-fashioned way.  But further research turned up a collection of disk image files containing the entire Rainbow Book of Adventures, including eleven more contest entries which were described but not printed in the magazine.  And so it is that this week, as a more-or-less random selection, we're playing through Polynesian Adventure, submitted by Don Dunlap.

The interface borrows from the Scott Adams style, with an upper window displaying location, obvious exits, and objects, and a bottom section for command entry and feedback.  It runs at good speed for a BASIC game, and while the simple music commended by the Rainbow judges at the time no longer impresses, Polynesian Adventure remains an attractively presented game that fits the CoCo's limited 32x16-character text mode well.

Interested readers are encouraged to take a Polynesian Adventure of their own before reading my playthrough notes below, of course.  It's not a difficult game at all -- most of the treasures are simply lying around for the taking, the map is not large, and there are no fatal puzzles.  But simplicity can be deceptive; I tripped myself up near the end by assuming I was keeping all the details straight in my head, when I should have been drawing a map.  At any rate, my experience (embarrassing details and all) is documented below, and therefore there are certain to be...

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

We begin at a Polynesian Treasure House, though there are no treasures visible here, so we'll step outside to the south.  This brings us to a road, where a Trans Am car looks interesting; there's no EXAMINE verb, but if we GO CAR we can LOOK COMPARTMENT to examine the glove compartment.  Inside is a boarding pass, which we will presumably be needing at some point.  We can try to DRIVE, but I CAN'T DO THAT.

Getting out of the car proves a bit of a puzzle -- there are no obvious exits, and EXIT, GET OUT and OPEN DOOR all fail miserably.  We have to GO OUT, at which point we can explore a discount store to the west to pick up an empty gas can, and a gas station to the east where we can FILL CAN.  Oddly, if we try to FILL CAR now, we're told that YOU'RE MISSING SOMETHING, but we can FILL TANK successfully; it seems the parser often focuses on the verb and a small collection of valid objects, which sometimes leads to strange behavior.  The display doesn't always indicate nearby objects, either, so we have to remember what we're doing and where we are on our own sometimes.

With a full gas tank, we can DRIVE to find ourselves on a pier near a boat.  It turns out to be the Love Boat (remember, this was 1983) -- it's not very big, with just a dining room and a hallway leading to the cabins for us to explore.  READ PASS tells us that our cabin number is G7 and our table is A1, so we can go to the dining room, GO A1, steal the *SILVERWARE* there, and then go the cabins and GO G7 to get our voyage underway... and pocket the *GOLD NECKLACE* apparently provided in lieu of a complimentary mint.  We achieve no SCORE for just picking these things up, though; we'll probably have to take them back to the Polynesian Treasure House at the end of our voyage.

Our first stop on this cruise brings us to a Samoan Village, where we see a pink hibiscus.  We can't TAKE it, LOOK at it or MOVE it, but if we SMELL it we are stung by a bee and rushed back aboard the boat for medical treatment.  Fortunately, this doesn't otherwise interfere with our adventuring.  We can see a FIRE KNIFE DANCER in the community house, though we can't GIVE him or her a treasure or anything.  And we can GET PEARLS from the council house, robbing the local community of its poorly-guarded assets.  We'll GO BOAT this time, even though it's not immediately clear that we can do that, to save ourselves the sting and ensuing medical treatment.

We GO G7 again, and when we emerge from our cabin and debark again, we find ourselves near a Maori village, with a colorful red tulip tree at hand, the smelling of which earns us nothing but another bee sting.  We can loot the local museum of its *VALUABLE RELICS*, without a second thought, although at this point we learn that YOU'RE TOO WEAK TO CARRY ANYMORE, i.e., we've hit the game's five-item inventory limit.  We'll have to risk leaving our treasures in our cabin, it seems, and as there's no SAVE game command and entering the cabin automatically moves us along to the next stop on the cruise, I'll just start over in case we can't come back here later.

Our next stop turns out to be Fiji, where a beautiful plumeria tempts us into getting stung once again.  The local chief's house sports *A DIAMOND HEADED SPEAR*, and a nearby hut contains Tonga coins which are not denoted as a treasure.  We'll steal them anyway, since we're not like those other suckers on this trip who are probably just here for the scenery.

Next up, Tahiti, where *A HAWAIIAN ORCHID* greets us -- it can also result in a sting, but we'll steal it as subtly suggested by the glittering asterisks.  In a prayer house to the south, a group of Boy Scouts is singing "Kum Ba Ya," and we can lift an *EXQUISITE CARVING OF A FISH* from a fisherman's house to the east.  Back to the boat!

We now find ourselves in a Tonga village -- maybe we need to spend those coins here.  There's a waterfall here, and for once in adventuring history we can't GO WATERFALL to reach a hidden cave of any kind.  A Queen's Bedroom to the south contains a bird of paradise, though the parser doesn't recognize BIRD as a noun so we can't really interact with it.  A Tongan Festival offers FREE HULA LESSONS, but we can't TAKE LESSONS or LEARN HULA just for fun.  No treasures here, apparently -- maybe we've been preceded by fellow looters.

Next stop -- Marquesas!  An active volcano looks scary, and in a cooking house to the south we can see *A GOLD KNIFE (VERY HOT)*, too hot to GET, apparently.  There's a guest house to the east of the cooking house, a tattooing house north of that, and a warrior's house to the east of the tattooing house, where we can acquire *AN EMERALD STATUE*.  We'll have to come back for the knife when we can figure out a solution; for now we'll proceed to...

Our original location again!  Of course, we aren't carrying our treasures, having left them in the cabin, so we'll have to tour the circuit again until we can unload.  We'll do that, returning to our cabin six times to complete the trip, and then DRIVE back to the Polynesian Treasure House.  Dropping the four treasures we can carry (along with our boarding pass, which it seems we ought to keep) gets us up to a SCORE of 40 out of 100, so there must be ten treasures to collect, of which we have found eight so far.

On our next circuit, let's see if we can do something with the Tonga coins.  We can't GIVE or THROW them to the fire knife dancer, and DROP COINS doesn't catch anyone's attention either.  The Boy Scouts aren't interested in our money, and the game's design, which plays a room's theme music whenever the location is entered or re-displayed, forces us to listen to three renditions of Kum Ba Ya while we DROP and GET our coins back.  Our money is no good at the Tongan Festival either.  But while I'm here, I realize that I forgot to head east from the Queen's bedroom, into the Queen's Bed.  There's a *BEAUTIFUL WOVEN MAT* here, which we can steal.  Fortunately there don't seem to be any antiquities officials on the lookout for globe-trotting, heritage-plundering adventurers like us!

We can't READ MAT -- it just reads our boarding pass instead, another case of a single-purpose verb.  The hot knife can't be KICKed or MOVEd or BLOWn on or FANned, it seems, and I can't find a way to carry water from the waterfall to cool it down.  Trying to PICK KNIFE provokes another verb anomaly and gets us sent back to the boat, as it is unlawful to pick flowers.

Four more treasures dropped off gets us up to 80 points, and it occurs to me that the gas can, now empty, might be useful for carrying water.  But we can't seem to FILL CAN at the waterfall, or GET WATER either; the gas can can only be used to carry gas, it seems.  The fire knife dancer might be able to handle the hot knife... but we can't PAY DANCER, GET DANCER, ASK DANCER, or TALK DANCER... so that doesn't seem like a good idea.

And I seem to have misplaced the Tonga Coins altogether somewhere along the way... hmmmm.  I guess it's time to cheat and peek at the original BASIC listing from the Rainbow Book of Adventures.  We're on the right track with the idea of using water to cool the knife, some text fragments suggest, but we have to jump through a few hoops now.  I had filled the gas can at the station again, and while we can't FILL TANK at the pier to empty it, we can do so after we drive back to the road where we first found the car.

Now that we have an empty can again, where can we fill it with water?  I've tried the pier, the boat's boarding area, and the waterfall location.  The FILL CAN code only responds in locations 3 and 17; 3 is the gas station, and 17 is the... lagoon?  Where is there a lagoon???

Oh, man, it's right there, just east of the Maori museum!  I guess I was too busy helping myself to the relics to finish my map -- actually, because this game only has a handful of locations, I hadn't even bothered to draw a map.  My mistake -- my incomplete tracking of the obvious exits displayed onscreen made for tougher going than necessary.

Now we can FILL CAN at the lagoon, POUR CAN on the hot knife (we're not allowed to do this when the can contains gas), take the now-cold knife, and deliver it to the Treasure House.

The final tune, for some reason, is Amazing Grace -- I don't feel particularly amazing or graceful.  But victory is ours!

Some non-commercial adventure games are really easy, and Polynesian Adventure is hardly difficult, but my experience here confirms that observation always remains important, even when there are no mazes and the puzzle solutions seem obvious.  Mr. Dunlap's effort provided a pleasant evening's diversion, and I'm planning to dig into some of the other Rainbow magazine adventures now that I've located this treasure trove.  Forward, into the past!