Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Atlantis (SoftSide, 1983)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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