Tuesday, November 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Adventure of the Week: The Wizard's Sword (1983)

It's recently come to my attention via the CASA Solution Archive that the SoftSide magazine series of monthly adventures is more extensive than I had realized.  I've played adventures #1 through #20 on the Atari 400/800 computers in past years, but it looks like the magazine ran through at least issue #47.  There seems to be a gap between adventures #20 and #38, but this might be an artifact of a change in the issue numbering sequence, which would mean there are about 29 games in the series rather than the 47 there appear to be.

At any rate, I'm picking up this generally playable series with the next game I've been able to find, The Wizard's Sword, from issue #38 for the TRS-80 Model I/III computers (SoftSide published for multiple platforms.)  The source code credits this one to P. Kirsch, most likely Peter Kirsch who wrote a number of the SoftSide adventures. I also note that this credit line refers to this game as #20, so maybe this was simply published as #21 after Danger Is My Business took that slot.  If that's the case, then there's no real gap here and I'm picking up right where I want to.  There will be more to come as we get this history figured out, I'm sure.

I'm playing using the TRS32 emulator, mostly for the sake of save states as the game has no built-in SAVE function.  The SoftSide BASIC language engine is flexible but simple -- it doesn't have a windowed display, and makes minimal use of platform-specific effects to keep porting straightforward.  The Wizard's Sword is a fantasy tale in which the player is cast as an apprentice to The Wizard of Zzarg.  As the curtain rises, our master's dying words charge us with slaying the evil Medusa of the Green Kingdom, in order to earn our full Wizard status.  Why he didn't bother mentioning this earlier remains a mystery; we suspect he was trying to avoid dealing with it himself, or simply misplaced the necessary equipment and was too embarrassed to admit it.  So it's up to us to find his sword and five magical jewels required to power it; we are told, for example, that the yellow jewel provides wisdom when rubbed.  (Hopefully this wisdom is not along the lines of "I look like an idiot rubbing this jewel to no apparent effect.")

Interested readers are encouraged to reclaim The Wizard's Sword before reading my playthrough notes below;  this is a straightforward but well-built adventure, well worth experiencing firsthand.  Beyond this point, I will be documenting the game in detail for history's sake, so there are certain to be...

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

We begin at the aptly-named Valley of Crossroads, with exits in all four directions and nothing in inventory.  There's a sleeping unicorn here, but we can't WAKE UNICORN or PET UNICORN or YELL or even EXAMINE UNICORN.  However, if we try to walk to the North, the unicorn wakes up and becomes an ANGRY UNICORN (IT HATES PEOPLE.)
The unicorn will now chase us, attempting to gore us with its horn as we walk around, finding the Yellow Kingdom's Valley of Moon to the west, the (apparently ungoverned) Valley of Ice to the south, the Red Kingdom's Valley of Sun to the east, and the Blue Kingdom's Valley of Stars to the north.

There's an iceberg in the Valley of Ice -- can we somehow get the unicorn to lodge its horn in the ice?  We can't GO ICEBERG, but if we hang around here long enough, the unicorn will smash the iceberg with its attack, revealing... THE WIZARD'S SWORD!

There's another iceberg to the east... and here, the angry unicorn gets stuck in the ice after ramming the berg with its horn.  We can see a yellow key buried deep in the ice if we LOOK ICEBERG, so we probably want to break it down if we can.  We can't SMASH ICEBERG or MELT ICEBERG, but I was surprised to find that we can simply FREE UNICORN -- the appreciative animal calms down, drops the RED JEWEL OF LIGHT at our feet and vanishes.

When we GET RED, it automatically attaches itself to the sword, but RUB RED doesn't produce any interesting effect at the moment and LOOK RED doesn't tell us anything further; presumably it will be a light source when needed.  Mapping is a little tricky here, as we don't get a lot of inventory items to work with and many rooms have apparent (if looping) exits in all directions.  Here, in the Valley of Ice, it seems there are three "real" locations; one directly to the south of the Valley of Crossroads, one to the west where the wizard's sword turns up, and one to the east with the yellow key buried in the ice.  Heading north from the Valley of Ice's entry point returns us to the crossroads.

Now that the unicorn isn't chasing us, we can explore the Valley of Stars to the north.  The most interesting location here is to the north, the Valley of All-Ways.  Going north again brings us to the Valley of Horace Greely, and if we take the hint and go W, we find the Valley of Silver and the SILVER JEWEL OF STRENGTH.

East of the Valley of All-Ways, we find the Valley of the Dwarves, where a dwarf child plays with WHAT APPEARS TO BE A PIECE OF BLUE PLASTIC.  We can't just GET BLUE, and it seems barbaric to KILL CHILD (and yes, I have done my duty to you, dear reader, by confirming that the parser will inform us that I WON'T LET YOU KILL THE DWARF CHILD if we try.)

We can continue east into the dwarf village, where we see some huts, and as we wander around we notice that the dwarf child disappears and reappears on occasion, though the piece of blue plastic also vanishes with him so that doesn't give me any ideas.  RUB SILVER makes us feel stronger, but RUB RED doesn't do anything here.  We'll come back here later, maybe we'll find something that a child might like to take in trade.

The Blue Kingdom also contains the Valley of 4 Corners, adjoining the Valley of Poof, which contains the GREEN JEWEL OF COURAGE but also "POOFS" us to the Valley of the Shifting Sands before we can grab it.

I'll make my way back to the crossroads and check out the Yellow Kingdom for a while.  West of the entry point is the Valley of Riddles, where a statue says, "WHAT IS IT THAT NO MAN WANTS, YET NO MAN WANTS TO LOSE?"  I try to ANSWER LIFE first -- thinking that no living creature wants for it -- but this produces no response from the statue.  Neither does MIND or HIS S--T, nor TIME, which I throw in just because it seems appropriate to these kind of mythical stories.  West of the statue is the Valley of Oops, where we can't proceed further west due to a magical force field blocking the way.

Okay.  I'm stuck here, so I'll go back east of the crossroads to the Valley of Sun.  We can travel east again to find ourselves in the Valley of Darkness, where RUB RED turns on the light as expected.  We find a short rod here, and LOOK ROD reveals that THE WORD 'POOF' IS ETCHED IN IT.  Sounds useful!  East again is the Valley of Dreams, where we fall asleep -- and the rod gets stolen overnight!

We might as well keep exploring, anyway -- we enter the Valley of the Dragon next, where some mean dwarves are abusing the poor chained beast, forcing it to breathe fire so they can roast hot dogs.  The chain is red, and we can't UNLOCK CHAIN, although the parser recognizes it, so we might need a red key here.  Trying to go east again causes the dwarves to run off, but we are also seized by an irrational fear and forced to run back to the Valley of Dreams.

Funny how this world has so many valleys, and nary a hill is mentioned, but we'll keep exploring.  The Blue Kingdom also contains a Giant Condor, inspiring fear and fleeing similar to what we just experienced near the dragon (maybe we need that green jewel to build up our courage for these encounters.)  For some reason, a red key has now materialized in the Valley of the Shifting Sands, but we can't overcome our fear long enough to unlock the dragon's chain.

I'll backtrack now, since the short rod doesn't seem to be turning up anywhere after being stolen, so I'll try to get the green jewel before entering the Valley of Dreams.  At least I think this is how this is supposed to work -- nothing changes if I just walk into the Valley of Poof, though.  I have to WAVE ROD first, and now we can GET JEWEL.  Three down, two to go!

Returning to the dragon, it seems that scaring the dwarves triggers the appearance of the red key in the desert.  RUB GREEN overcomes our fear of the dragon, though we still can't travel east as the poor creature is lying there moaning, blocking the path.  We can also RUB GREEN to visit the condor long enough to notice a blue key hanging around its neck, but if we try to KILL CONDOR it just flies off somewhere else (and may not come back for all we know, so I'll restore to an earlier save again.)

Okay -- now we can UNLOCK CHAIN, freeing the dragon, who drops a PIECE OF RED PLASTIC before vanishing.  Aha!  Maybe we can trade this to the dwarf child... and yes, GIVE RED allows us to obtain a PIECE OF BLUE PLASTIC.  It's a filter -- we can see through it to make everything look blue -- but not a power jewel, as far as I can see.  Hmmm.

Past the dragon we find the Valley of Hills -- with a TALL HILL at last!  We can't CLIMB HILL or GO HILL, but LOOK HILL reveals a cave.  GO CAVE finds us in darkness, and we can RUB RED to illuminate the area and see a large boulder, FAR TOO HEAVY TO MOVE when we try.  But we can RUB SILVER to boost our strength, and then MOVE BOULDER to find the YELLOW JEWEL OF WISDOM.

Maybe... yes, RUB YELLOW at the riddle statue in the Yellow Kingdom comes up with an answer I hadn't tried: LAWSUIT.  Clever!  This produces a yellow piece of plastic, and some noise at the bottom of the statue... ?  Ah, there's a yellow keyhole visible in its base now.

Going back to the iceberg where we saw the yellow key earlier, we find this puzzle solved for us -- the dragon we rescued is waiting here, conveniently helping us out by melting the iceberg when we arrive.  Now we can UNLOCK BASE (INSERT KEY and UNLOCK STATUE don't work) and disable the force field, reaching the Valley of Dead Ends to acquire the BLUE JEWEL OF SLEEP.

So we have all five jewels now, and should be ready to find the Green Kingdom and face Medusa.  We can't COMBINE PLASTIC to make a green filter out of the blue and yellow plastic, but when I LOOK YELLOW, EVERYTHING SPINS and YOU FIND YOU ARE ELSEWHERE, echoing the influential early adventures created by Scott Adams.

This magical transportation, however, has only brought us to the Yellow Kingdom we've already visited on foot.  And LOOK BLUE just brings us to the Blue Kingdom's Valley of Stars.  LOOK BLUE AND YELLOW is evaluated as LOOK YELLOW, so that doesn't work.  LOOK GREEN acts as though it could work, but YOU SEE NOTHING SPECIAL, probably because we don't have an actual green piece of plastic.  We must need to mix these two filters somehow... we can't seem to MIX or ATTACH or CONNECT them, though.  Aha!  We can PUT BLUE -- ON WHAT? -- ON YELLOW, and now we have two pieces of plastic clinging to each other.  Now we can LOOK through either piece and reach the Green Kingdom!

Heading south from the Valley of Many Paths, we find the Valley of Medusa.  It's tricky to map, as we only have a few portable items we can afford to drop, but if we head S, E, and N from our entry point, we find a location where a STRANGE GREEN DOOR BLOCKS YOUR WAY.  It's locked, naturally, and we can't UNLOCK DOOR at this point.  Odds are we need a green key, which we have not seen anywhere yet.

What about the condor?  We can RUB BLUE now, causing the bird to fall asleep, and GET KEY.  So now we have a blue key... but no blue lock has turned up so far.  The green door can't be unlocked with the blue key, which isn't surprising, and we can't PUT one key on another, so there must be a blue keyhole somewhere we haven't been yet.

We can't put the dwarf child to sleep by rubbing the blue jewel.  There don't seem to be any exits on the map that we haven't tried yet.  Can we combine the yellow and red plastic to reach an Orange Kingdom?  Everything looks orange when we look through the plastic, but we don't get sent anywhere new.  There's no Purple Kingdom either, apparently, though I give credit to Mr. Kirsch for anticipating both attempts.

What about the dwarven huts?  I was trying to GO HUTS earlier, to no avail, but further experimentation establishes that if we attempt to GO to a specific HUT instead, we can choose to enter Hut #1, #2, or #3.  Hut #1 features crude etchings of four kingdoms -- red, blue, yellow and green -- all of which we have visited.  Hut #2 contains a hope chest -- we can UNLOCK CHEST, probably with the blue key, and... OUT SPRINGS BOB HOPE!  The popular 1940s comedian thanks us for rescuing him and gives us a GREEN KEY!  Hooray!  Hut #3 contains the stolen short rod, so this would have been useful to discover earlier but isn't essential at this point in my playthrough.

Okay, now we should be able to breach Medusa's lair.  We can indeed UNLOCK DOOR with the green key, OPEN DOOR and GO DOOR to reach the aptly-named Valley of Almost There, where a wooden door stands in our way and SEEMS TO BE STUCK until we RUB SILVER to temporarily augment our strength.  Beyond the wooden door we find a giant spider, and must RUB GREEN to gain the courage to face it before we can RUB BLUE to put it to sleep.

Now we sense a TERRIFYING SHADOW CREEPING UP BEHIND YOU.  WHAT DO YOU FEED SNAKES?   I try to RUB BLUE and KILL MEDUSA, neither of which does anything useful.  Remembering our mythology and thinking to CLOSE EYES helps, though -- we cover our eyes with one hand and can hear her hair hissing behind us as Medusa draws closer.  Now we can try to KILL MEDUSA again... and this time, victory is ours!  We strike a Harry Hamlin-esque pose before we're unceremoniously dumped out to the BASIC prompt:

The Wizard's Sword is a high-quality adventure by magazine standards -- the puzzles are varied and logical, and information we acquire early on has value in the endgame.  There's not much risk or tension in the plotting -- even the endgame lets us fumble around quite a bit without penalty -- but I quite enjoyed the journey and I'm glad to have a few more SoftSide adventures to play.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Escape From Sparta (1983)

I'm returning once again to the 1983 Rainbow Book of Adventures this week, to tackle Escape From Sparta, written by Rick Townsend and Rick Hollerback in BASIC for the TRS-80 Color Computer.  It took me a little doing to get this one running, only because the first disk image I found in the online archives contained only the instructions and loader program, and I finally figured out I needed to insert a second disk to load the game proper (ESSPARTA/BAS).  I'm playing using the VCC 1.42 CoCo emulator.

Escape From Sparta is a science-fiction tale, casting the player as a robot on a mission to rescue its Creator from an evil alien warlord bent on destroying all robots so he can take over the galaxy/universe/neighborhood/school board/whatever.  The peculiarly short-sighted Creator has imbued his robots with a novel approach to planned obsolescence -- he is the only person who can control or modify them, and they will self-destruct if anyone else tries to, say, repair them.  So we have to rescue him from Space Station Sparta, where he is being held captive.

Interested readers are encouraged to Escape From Sparta independently before proceeding with my playthrough notes below -- it's not a difficult game at all, and it does a few interesting things with the format.  Beyond this point, I'll be documenting my experience for history's sake, and there are guaranteed...


After the optional instructions are displayed, we find ourselves in the Security Room, with broken monitors strewn about and an enemy robot immediately attacking.  The parser requires us to hit a key to interrupt the constant attacks and enter a command; a few KILL ROBOT commands are sufficient to cause it to explode into rubble (apparently these robots are made of concrete.)  LOOK RUBBLE (EXAMINE doesn't work) discovers something called a redchip, and we now have 1 REDCHIPS and ENERGY LEFT = 750 in inventory.  So we can guess that we need to collect some number of these, without running out of energy ourselves as we take hits from enemy robots.

We can only travel up or down from our starting point, so we'll venture into the bowels of the ship first.  We find ourselves in the -- ahem -- BOTTOM ACCESS CHAMBER, with a computer console in the center of the room and exits in multiple directions.  The first door I try, the one to the west, is locked; we can INSERT REDCHIP and confirm security clearance, but the door remains locked; the card apparently only goes into the console.  But we might as well check that out while we're here -- LOOK CONSOLE establishes that the console is off, and while we can't TURN ON CONSOLE or SWITCH CONSOLE or ACTIVATE CONSOLE, we can ON CONSOLE and then type $ as prompted to use it.

This is a neat design concept -- we actually get to interact with the computer console, though it's really just the parser in disguise, as we answer the INPUT REQUEST? prompt with OPEN DOOR -- and DOORS ARE UNLOCKED.  We type X to return to the main game.

Let's head west, since the door is now open, into Tunnel #4 where we can see a brilliant star cluster out the window.  Continuing west through the tunnel, we reach the Robot Repair Room where another enemy robot is attacking and can be dispatched.  I also discover that if we hit the [ENTER] key without typing a command, we waste 10 energy units doing nothing -- and normal moves don't cost us energy at all, so I'll try to keep my keyboard fingers under control.

North of the Robot Repair Room is a lab, with lab animals and ELECTRONIC EQUIPTMENT [sic -- and a persistent typo in this game].  There's nothing we can apparently do here, so I suspect this is going to be a hunt-down-the-robots game at heart; this is odd, as the mad alien overlord we're trying to defeat is supposedly trying to destroy all the robots, and it seems like we're actually helping him by doing so.  But while I personally believe that everybody must get stunned, we don't have that option here.

East of the access chamber is Tunnel #6, with more broken EQUIPTMENT, leading to the Engineers' Quarters, where we are attacked by a human for a change.  We can easily KILL HUMAN -- there are no Asimovian restrictions in this world -- and LOOK HUMAN to discover a greenchip.  Hmmm. 

There's also a console here, but we'll go north first into the nuclear reactor room and kill another robot, collecting another redchip.  There are some levers here for controlling the nuclear reactor, but I'm not going to mess with them just yet.  South of the Engineers' Quarters is the MAINTANCE ROOM, apparently with signage provided by the same people who maintan the equiptment.  There are tools and parts here, none of which seem interesting if we LOOK at them; other than enemies and colored chips, there's not much we can interact with on this space station.

Back in the EQ, I try to ON CONSOLE but don't have security clearance until I INSERT GREENCHIP.  This console presents the same INPUT REQUEST? prompt, and I don't have anything specific to do with it just yet, though I do attempt to ask it to KILL ROBOTS for me, with no success.

Returning to the bottom access chamber, I head south through Tunnel #5 to the Computer Room, killing another human when we get here to collect another greenchip.  We can use the console here, the same way as the others, by inserting a chip and turning it on.  East of the computer room is the Sick Bay, where the beds and medical equiptment reveal nothing interesting.  The Doctor's Quarters contains yet another console, on the doc's desk, though we can't interact with this one for some reason.

Trying to head west from the Computer Room, I encounter a locked door, so we need to use the console here to open it.  This leads to a Control Room with another easy-to-murder human, and from here we can go north to the Captain Quarters, where we find THE CREATOR, the human we are here to rescue!  We have to kill a human guard, of course, and can GET SILVERCHIP after doing so.

I'm down to 290 in energy at this point, so this first run will probably be a learning experience.  But we'll try to GET CREATOR -- and this seems like a milestone, as the parser tells us O.K. YOU RESCUED THE CREATOR NOW LETS GET OUT OF HERE.   He's in no position to repair us, nor can we take a moment to berate him over his bizarre need for job security.

North of this room is the Weapon Room, but everything is smashed so we'll have to continue working with our built-in weapon.  We've explored this floor completely now, so we'll head D from the access chamber to find ourselves in the promising-sounding DOCKING BAY #2.  There's another, somewhat tougher robot to kill here, before we travel downward again to find ourselves in the even more promising ESCAPE POD #2 with a computer console handy.

This may not be a moment too soon, as we're getting ENERGY LOW! warnings now because I'm down to 100 units of energy after that last battle.  I opt to try the obvious -- we INSERT SILVERCHIP into the console and turn it on... then we access the console, and finally attempt to LAUNCH POD... to unexpected victory!

This seemed a little too straightforward -- I never even explored the upper part of the ship -- but I guess I was just lucky that my initial explorations led me straight to victory without so much as a restart.  I tried again, and confirmed that the locations of The Creator and the necessary chips are not randomized, so it's possible to finish the game in just a few minutes if you know where to go.  We do need the silverchip to use the escape pod, but since the human guarding The Creator has one, it's not like we have to go hunting for it.  On a second try, with less exploration and therefore fewer extraneous battles, I finished the game with 496 energy units to spare.

Escape from Sparta is closer in spirit to a dungeon crawl than a standard adventure -- while there's a plot of sorts, it plays more like an RPG; we spend most of our time engaging in semi-random combat, and there are no significant puzzles beyond working out how to use the computer consoles.  But I enjoyed it, simple as it is, and this brings me one game closer to exhausting The Rainbow Book of Adventures.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Adventure of the Week: SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal" (1997)

For a change of pace, this week I'm taking a look at another Humongous Entertainment series, with SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal", the debut title for a character aimed at slightly older children than the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish and Pajama Sam games.  Ron Gilbert's kid-focused adventure game company released this title in 1997, and it's still commercially available today via Steam.  I have been consistently impressed with the quality and quantity of 2-D animation in the Humongous Entertainment games -- they're well above the technical standards of the Lucasarts classics that preceded them, though they run on the same SCUMM engine, and they always make me wish point-and-click adventures for adults had stayed in production a few years longer.

As the curtain rises, in a pun-heavy bit of exposition, our Bond-inspired hero SPY Fox learns that an evil goat named William the Kid has stolen the world's milk reserves in an effort to subvert the bovine dairy industry and replace it with goat's milk.  Then our hero parachutes down to the Greek island of Acidophilus to begin his mission.

Interested readers are encouraged to spend some time with SPY Fox #1 before proceeding here -- the animation is loose and energetic, some of the writing and voice work is genuinely funny (especially if you're about 10 years old), and it's a perfectly pleasant round of old-school point-and-click adventuring.  Beyond this point, I'll be detailing my own experience, so there are sure to be...

***** SPY FOX SPOILERS AHEAD! *****   

As we plummet to earth, we're allowed as much time as we need to pick one of Spy Fox's pen gadgets for a safe landing, though he (in a Don Adams-inspired voice) urges us to do something at frequent intervals.  After safely landing using a remarkably well-damped pogo-stick, we're supposed to meet up with Miss Monkeypenny at the Mobile Command Center, but we'll do a little exploration first.

A salty penguin (who sounds like Bobcat Goldthwaite) is eager to show off his chest tattoo, with animations including a dolphin that leaps from pectoral to pectoral.  This is in keeping with the Humongous tradition of providing plenty of fun, non-essential point-and-click gags for the player, though this joke is a little more complex with sardonic commentary from Fox ("Your mother must be so proud") and quite a few different animations are available with repeated clicks.

A trinket shop nearby is closed, as we have arrived unfashionably early; we can dial random numbers on a nearby pay phone, with random responses, including one at the offices of Amalgamated Moo Juice indicating the staff is "all tied up."  There's a Feta Factory down the pier, but it's locked up tight behind a solid steel door.  The Greek Cantina in the town square is also closed at the moment.  The door to an unidentified building up a staircase is also locked, though we get a brief glimpse of its interior while SPY Fox is knocking -- the desk has a nameplate indicating it would normally be occupied by one Grande Fromagio, the Big Cheese as it were.

It seems we have nowhere else to go, so we'll have to take a look at inventory.  Ah, I had forgotten about the fortune cookie Monkeypenny mentioned -- it came with our airplane meal, and contains an entrance code, 555-4023, which sends the phone booth down to an underground command center.

Here, Monkeypenny hands Spy Fox some drachmas and a special laser toothbrush for cutting through thick steel.  Amalgamated Moo Juice CEO Howard Hugh Heifer Udderley III is being held prisoner somewhere, we believe.

After we go back topside, Monkeypenny calls us on the Spy Watch to remind Fox he can use this to contact her at any time; the watch also contains the game's Save and Load buttons, so this is probably a good time to take advantage of the Save feature.  The local establishments are still closed, so we'll try the laser toothbrush on the factory doors.  It's only good for one use, exploding after the door is breached, but that's enough for our purposes.

Inside the factory, we find Mr. Udderley tied up and dangling over a pool of piranha.  There's a winch nearby -- it just lowers him into the pool and back up again, fortunately with minimal munching in the process.  We can turn the temperature of the pool down, and taking it to its lowest setting freezes the water over so Mr. Udderley can get safely down (he sounds like Don Knotts.)  Back at the command center, he tells us that thugs broke into his office, stinking of feta cheese, stuck him in a bag and whisked him away to the factory.  The villain behind the kidnapping is confirmed to be William the Kid, whose Nectar of the Goats corporation (N.O.G.) is apparently out to frame the world's cows with heinous milk-related crimes to turn the world against them.

Udderley had the presence of mind to steal the documentation needed to disarm Kidd's secret weapon, but he had to swallow it for safekeeping.  Fortunately, the vending machine at Mobile HQ has beef-flavored X-Ray Gum for sale -- courtesy of Professor Quack, our inventive gadget source.  Udderley faints during the painless procedure, but we're able to find the note in one of his four stomachs and see that a special key is needed to disarm the weapon.

Other gadgets available from the vending machine include Spy Putty, a copying compound; a Night Vision Shoe that can be strapped onto the user's head; a Cheese and Safe Cracker kit; a Spy Trap nickel that launches a net capable of trapping three or more bad guys; and Suction Cufflinks for scaling walls.  We can obtain all of these items and place them into inventory, though we only have room for four items, so we have to make choices here.  I'll put the X-Ray Gum back for now, gambling that it only has one use in the game, and leave the Spy Trap in the machine as well.

As we leave HQ, we find that the trinket booth is now open for business.  The rabbit proprietor, Gilbert, sounds less than sincere as he "welcomes" customers.  He sells stuffed animals, pennants, taxidermied fish, and a fez that he seems to have confused with Pez.  There doesn't seem to be anything we need here at the moment.

The cantina is open now too, a seedy lounge with a lizard playing organ, grumpy hostess Bea Bear, and a few customers.  Bea's Secret Sauce "may cause drowsiness in alligators," according to the label on the bottle.  A talkative pig at one table offers to play a round of Go Fish, for trinkets, so we'll go buy a jar from the trinket booth for 50 drachmas.  The pig puts up a whistle against Fox's kazoo.  The game follows traditional rules -- my first round played to a draw, I won on the second round.  But the whistle doesn't seem to show up in inventory, so this may just be an entertaining diversion.

The Big Cheese's office is still locked, so we'll have to do some exploring elsewhere.  The cruise ship parked by the pier is now having a deck party, though entry is by invitation only.

We can't get onboard past the weasel doorman, but SPY Fox adds the topic to his word balloon inventory and now we can ask other characters about it.  Gilbert has an invitation, but verbal hints suggest we have to distract him somehow so we can copy it with the spy putty; nothing I try seems to work yet.  The pelican knows nothing about the party; Bea Bear and Big Pig both mention that Gilbert always has an invitation, so we're on the right track.  We can't use the spy trap to trap piranha to use as a distraction; nobody at HQ has any ideas either.

The rabbit never even looks away from the invitation, except when we're conversing, but we can't try to use the spy putty until the dialogue is over.  We can't buy either of the sauces at the cantina, but we can buy some chicken knuckles to go and put the Secret Sauce on them.  But they aren't useful at the trinket booth either.  Can we buy anything besides the trinkets?  The fez is not for sale; neither are the pennants.  But the ship's wheel hung up above is, but proves to be hung too high up for Gilbert to reach.  This seems suitably distracting, and yes, we can make a copy of the invitation while he's struggling to get it down.

The doorman accepts the fake invitation (signed by someone named Russian Blue) and we are now free to come and go on the ship.  Fox checks in with Monkeypenny -- she advises us to look for clues about the location of Kid's secret fortress.

The deck party is in full swing -- a bulldog conducts an orchestra playing a waltz, and various hoity-toity animals occupy the deck.  Russian Blue proves to be an attractive feline femme fatale, and owner of this ship, the S.S. Deadweight.  She loves the tango, so perhaps we want to swap the waltz sheet music here with the cantina's tango pages.  We can visit the ship's cabin, but there's nothing here to do or undo besides triggering some funny incidental animations.

So let's see if we can obtain or copy the tango sheet music.  The spy putty has been consumed now, and the lizard organ player at the cantina won't let us borrow his music.  We can steal a page of the orchestra's waltz music on the ship, though, and trade it to the willing lizard for a sheet of tango music.  (The bulldog sounds like Lawrence Welk, to great comic effect.)  We can't easily sneak it into place, though -- on my first few tries, the conductor catches us in the act and we have to step away.  It's just a matter of timing; it works best if we start trying to place it just before he looks away from the music.

Now Russian Blue goes into what looks like a hypnotic trance and does the tango with SPY Fox, and we can repeat this if we shuffle the sheet music pages.  It seems we're supposed to try to get at her handbag, which she puts down to dance, but our opportunities for interaction are limited.  Maybe we can use the X-Ray Gum on it?  This doesn't seem to work; not while we're dancing, at least.  And there still doesn't seem to be anything we can do while on the ship's bridge.

We do have a new topic to investigate -- Russian Blue is available for discussion, and our vulpine hero suggests it might be worth tracking her movements.  Everyone talks about her passion for the tango.  Monkeypenny's research reveals that Russian Blue works for N.O.G., and provides a (literal) bug named Walter Wireless to help us spy on her.

So how do we "bug" Russian Blue?  We can't just click the bug on her, we have to distract her; this proves to be the point of the tango, and we can access inventory while the dance is in progress to plant the bug on her purse (Walter comically launches, lands and pulls his tiny parachute inside.)  Afterward, Ms. Blue retires to her quarters.

As we leave the ship in search of new clues, a call comes in from Monkeypenny -- we're supposed to meet spy Mata Hari in front of the N.O.G. feta cheese factory.  Walter also calls in with a live report, telling us that Russian Blue has taken an escape speedboat to an unknown destination, and his cover has been compromised.  Spy Fox's car is also repaired (from a previous adventure) and is ready to go.

It seems we're reaching critical story mass, so let's go to the factory first.  Mata Hari is hiding, so we have to poke around a bit until we find her.  She's a giraffe, hidden in a drain pipe, and has discovered a coded password -- "The happy fat girl" -- in a fortune cookie.

We have no conversation topics available right now, so we'll head back downtown.  The Big Cheese's office is still closed, so I guess it's time to jump in the car and see where we can go.  We're supposed to follow a trail Walter left on Fox's spy radar, but we seem to end up right back in town.  Ah... we have to influence the direction Spy Fox travels, instead of just watching as I was doing.  This puzzle takes a while to execute successfully -- there are multiple possible paths, most of which lead back downtown, and it requires some speedy point-and-click reaction times even though we can see the radar onscreen and hear its beeping getting louder as we make correct choices.  Eventually we reach an ornate mansion with a puzzle on the front door.  Walter meets us outside and tells us Russian Blue went through a secret passage, before he splits to avoid the exterminator Ms. Blue has apparently called.

SPY Fox interprets the hieroglyphics on the door (noting that the Greeks didn't use them, to avoid educational malfeasance) as we click on them, trying to find the right combination.  Ah, of course -- we want to click on happy, fat, girl, i.e. smiley face, round body, figure in dress.  This opens the secret passage, and we find ourselves trying to cross a waterway infested with... snapping turtles?  The food from the cantina is no help here.  Neither is the spy trap.  But the suction cufflinks are useful -- if we time Fox's movements to avoid the sporadically draining pipes, we can scale the back wall to cross the channel.

Entering the evil fortress, we check in with Monkeypenny, who reminds us that our next step is to disarm the Milky Weapon of Destruction.  A guard robot boots us out of the room if we don't have a proper uniform.  There's a locker room nearby; opening one locker transports us back to the town square -- into the office we were unable to enter before, in fact.  And we can go back the way we came too, so this provides a quick shortcut back to town in case we need an unequipped spy gadget or something. 

Fortunately, one of the lockers contains a yellow uniform, which allows us to get past the guard robot to an area with conveyor belts.  Spy Fox has to hide behind some boxes, as Russian Blue confers with William the Kid.  He gives her a key wallet to return to its normal storage location -- it contains the disarm key, we are helpfully informed by their conspiratorial chatter.

We can enter a control room, and call Monkeypenny again to confirm that we need to find the key and disarm the weapon.  The key is not just lying around in the control room, of course; we have to configure a control panel in the conveyor room to match a diagram in the locker room (which I somehow failed to notice, so the dialogue hint was appreciated.)  It has levers in left, left, right, up, up positions, reading from upper left down and then right.  Configuring the conveyor belt controls to match reverses the direction of the belts, and Fox can now ride up to the top of Kid's missile-shaped milk carton weapon.

A small tram car here allows us to reach rooms on the upper level of the fortress.  Heading left, we find a room with several N.O.G. employees hanging around, sort-of-guarding a door.  There are three of them, so perhaps the spy trap will work here -- and it does, after a well-crafted bit of animation as the three guards sweat it out before diving for the nickel simultaneously and being trapped in a net that springs out and leaves them all suspended from the ceiling.  So that's how it works!

Now we can access Kid's secret office, where the key is held behind laser beams, a puzzle requiring us to replace the existing mirrors with differently angled ones while keeping red and blue points connected consistently.  This isn't too difficult; we can also draw on a nearby easel using the mouse and colored chalk, just for fun.

Now that we have the key, we just need to return to the weapon control room and disarm it... right?  We have five keys to pick from, with different patterns.  It takes me four tries -- there doesn't seem to be a direct clue to help us out with this -- but now the bomb is disarmed.

Of course, William the Kid refuses to give himself up, and pulls a lever flooding his stables with milk, to drown all of the world's kidnapped cows.  As he departs on his world domination getaway blimp, he conveniently mentions that there's a secret passage to the stables.

How to get there, then?  Kid's yellow ascot has been left behind, sticking through the secret door, so maybe we can just see it somewhere, but I'm not spotting it anywhere so far, even downtown.  Ahhh, here it is -- on the "Goat Milk?" billboard on the upper level of the fortress, next to the tramway. 

Past the secret door, we find a waterfall and a shallow waterway blocked by alligators.  The cantina's chicken knuckles, doused with alligator-drowsiness-inducing secret sauce, prove useful here (and there are empty takeout containers strewn about, in case we need a visual hint.)

Now we can rescue the cows before they drown in their own milk, by pulling the most prominent lever available.  But now Kid's blimp rises, to threaten another attempt on the world's milk supply!

We have to act quickly here to help SPY Fox take after him in a truck, and on my first try I was taking notes and failed to capture the bad guy.  We still earn a small victory cookie, a Presidential commendation (from a bull who sounds like Bill Clinton), and a reasonably happy ending. 

This isn't quite satisfying, though, so trying again, I manage to take a jump off the end of the mountain road and board Kid's escape blimp.  SPY Fox is concerned that actually defeating Kid will prevent the production of a sequel, but Monkeypenny assures him there are plenty of other villains about.  She also tells us we have to maneuver the blimp to a location 4 degrees north, 16 degrees east, in order to capture William the Kid with ground support.

We can take a small airplane from the back of the blimp to the front, where the controls are, along with Kid, who is distractedly staring out the window and contemplating his comeback.  An A2-PLT robot is actually doing the flying, and we can adjust the destination coordinates simply by messing with the interface on its back.

Our next task is to get Kid out of the blimp and to "evil villain jail."  Fortunately, the ejection seat controls are also handily available, if we can get the panel open with a screwdriver.  We can take a zipline back to the rear of the plane, where a screwdriver is sitting on a workbench, then return and select the right drill bit shape to open the panel.  Next, we have to put something into the ejector gadget (a toaster) to get it to fire; we can also find a piece of bread in the back of the blimp.  Funny how these things become easier to spot when you know you're looking for them!

Now all we have to do is arm the toaster and wait.  The ejection mechanism pops William the Kid out of the blimp and into jail, protesting loudly about the meddling SPY Fox.  And this time, we get a bigger victory cookie:

I enjoyed playing SPY Fox in "Dry Cereal" -- it was more like a traditional adventure game than most of the Humongous Entertainment games, with a little more meat on its bones, aimed at a slightly older audience.  The puzzles are simple and the hints plentiful, but the storytelling and animation are well handled and the game is entertaining though not difficult to solve.  I had fun with it.