Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Adventure of the Week: The Dark Crystal (1982)

I met the gentleman behind Muppet website ToughPigs.com last weekend at International Toy Fair, and was reminded of an adventure I've always meant to play -- The Dark Crystal, published by Sierra On-Line in 1982 as the sixth and final entry in its Hi-Res Adventure series of illustrated text adventures.  Based on the Jim Henson movie, with visual design work by Brian Froud and a cast of sophisticated puppets, Roberta Williams' game was one of Sierra's larger adventures, occupying two double-sided floppy disks.  I remember reading magazine articles about it back when the movie was released, and it's been on my to-play list for decades now.  It's also something of a bridge to the King's Quest series that followed, presented in third-person perspective with our hero, Jen the Gelfling, seen onscreen, unlike the first-person perspective of the earlier Sierra adventures.  I'm playing the Apple II edition here, using the AppleWin emulator; The Dark Crystal was also released for the Atari 400/800 computers.

In license-based games, especially those based on an existing novel or movie, the plot is often constrained to conform to the existing narrative, and The Dark Crystal runs into some issues in that area.  The circa-1980 Sierra game engine was also showing its age by 1982 -- the vector-and-fill illustrations don't capture the characters or world of the film with much fidelity, and dropped objects are often drawn in strange places.  There are no indications of which directions we can move in, so we have to just try things to see how the navigation works, and I was surprised to find out that only INV works to take inventory, I and TAKE INVENTORY do not.

As always, interested adventurers are encouraged to heal The Dark Crystal firsthand before reading my playthrough notes below -- though I will note that the game is not meant to be difficult, but I had to reference a walkthrough several times to get myself unstuck.  If you've seen the film, you know the story already, but as far as the gameplay goes, be warned that there are certain to be...

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

As the adventure begins, we see our character, Jen, onscreen, and are informed that JEN IS IN A BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAIN VALLEY.  This is the Valley of the Stones, according to the Gelfling Mystics, and we can't tale any action before one approaches to tell Jen that he has been sent for by the dying Ursu, "WISEST OF OUR RACE."
We're urged to go quickly, but since we don't really know which way to go I'll take time to explore a little.  To the east is a rocky mountainside, where we can get LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS but safely return the way we came.  North of the starting point, we tumble into a forested wilderness area from which we can't return; we find a sling in the woods to the northeast.

As I pick up the sling, JEN SHUDDERS, and HE SENSES THAT HE IS TOO LATE, AND URSU HAS DIED.  Whoops!  Well, I'll continue exploring here before I restart, if only for the sake of mapping.  Continuing north, I encounter the dreaded disk-change boundary of the pre-hard drive days, moving on to disk 2, side "A" thanks to the game's simple but copious illustrations.

We are now in the Village of the Pod People -- but not that kind, these are GENTLE PEASANTS WHOSE LIVES ARE DEVOTED MAINLY TO FOOD, LAUGHTER AND SONG (proto-Fraggles, perhaps.)  There's a one-location silent forest to the east, and to the west is another forest, where a creature hides behind a rock; LOOK CREATURE suggests that it APPEARS TO BE VERY, VERY HUNGRY.

This creature does not attack or interfere with Jen's movement northward, where we find another wooded area with a great river visible to the east.  We can head west along what seems to be the northern edge of the map, through an arid scrub area and a desert bordered by a chasm TOO WIDE FOR A GELFLING TO JUMP ACROSS.  (The map layout here presages some of Sierra's King's Quest games, with north-south bands of similar terrain laid out in a rectangular grid.)

In this area, west of the Pod People village, Jen finds the Hill of the Landstriders; TWO LONG-LEGGED BEASTS ARE GRAZING HERE.  If we try to RIDE LANDSTRIDER, however, they won't let him approach.

I head back south (across the disk change boundary) to explore the forest near the mountainside some more.  There's a pond with frog-like creatures, and a dead-end area with deafening wild noises (I try to COVER EARS but JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO COVER, though the illustration clearly shows him doing so.)  Returning to the pond, I try to TALK CREATURE, but THIS IS "THE DARK CRYSTAL"... NOT "DR. DOOLITTLE."

We also find the ruins of a Gelfling village, with two flat stones positioned in front of a large wall.  We can't CLIMB WALL, but if we GO ROCKS, the wall rumbles and some hieroglyphics emerge.  The pictured items include a two-pronged flute, a crystal shard, a female gelfling, and a castle, as well as a drawing of a triangle inscribed in a circle.  A clue about our destiny, methinks!

The river near the twisted trees is flowing too swiftly to enter.  I continue mapping, and in the area where I found the sling earlier, Jen sees a crystal bat hovering overhead, with an eye made from artificial crystal; I try to GET BAT but it flits out of reach before disappearing.  Near the pond, Jen encounters a Garthim, ONE OF THE MENACING, BEETLE_LIKE WARRIORS WHO SERVE THE SKEKSIS.  It attacks Jen, taking him prisoner, and the world of the Gelflings -- and the game -- is lost!

Starting over, it makes sense to try to track down Ursu's whereabouts before we go off exploring.  I head west and north through the valley of stones, discovering a shadowy path, but I tumble down the mountainside again, so I'm back to mapping for a bit.  Confirming that there's not (at present at least) a way back to the Valley of the Stones once we've crossed this border, I have to restart again.  (Reboot, actually -- I try to QUIT, but, to his credit, JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO QUIT.)

This time, I attempt to FOLLOW MYSTIC after his visit, but all the parser can do is ask WHICH WAY DID HE GO? in return.  A cave to the west winds north into a candle-lit cavern, where Ursu lies dying.  (The peculiar amnesia adventure game characters always suffer concerning the world they inhabit really feels out of place here, as Jen really should have known how to get here instead of letting me drag him all over the woods!)

There's a bowl of liquid on the floor, but if we try to GET LIQUID, IT WOULD BE SACRILEGE FOR JEN TO TAKE THAT WHICH BELONGS HERELOOK LIQUID reveals the image of a crystal shard, probably that Dark Crystal all the cool kids are talking about.  TALK URSU yields a full screen and a half of text -- unusual for a Sierra Hi-Res adventure -- detailing the end-of-the-world scenario we experienced earlier.  The time of the Last Conjunction of the Three Suns is at hand, and the Skeksis have control of a great Crystal that is missing a shard; restoring the shard will restore the Crystal's integrity and the future of the Gelflings.  Jen has been chosen to heal the crystal by replacing the shard at the next great Conjunction, and we are advised to seek out Aughra, KEEPER OF SECRETS AND WATCHER OF THE HEAVENS.  Ursu also leaves us with this riddle: "WHAT DO THE SUN BROTHERS QUARREL ABOUT?"  We must present the answer to Aughra, Ursu tells us, before he dies and his body vanishes from the sleepframe (because this is an alien fantasy world, where most words mean the same thing as in English except for stuff like, you know, beds.)

So now we have an official quest.  I don't see any interesting paths in the mountains, so we'll tumble down the hill again and see what we can accomplish in the forest.  I pick up the sling again, and try experimentally to SHOOT BAT -- it's not around, but maybe I need to take out its eye to prevent the Garthim soldiers from harassing Jen.

So it's time to wander around and see if we can solve any puzzles.  I TALK PEOPLE in the Pod village, and learn that they have a nearly unpronounceable name used amongst themselves, translating to "MASTER GARDENERS WHO LIVE IN BULGING PLANTS."  We can't GO HOUSE, as Jen has not been invited to visit anyone.  I can't JUMP LANDSTRIDER at their grazing grounds.  What else might we try?  While I am wandering, the bat shows up, and I realize I can't just SHOOT BAT as I thought; the Garthim warrior does indeed show up shortly, though I manage to run away before it grabs Jen.

Exploring some more, I learn that Jen can CLIMB TREE in the silent forest; he sees nothing special there before clambering back down, but we should try to do the same elsewhere.  I find nothing new in the process, however; I try to GIVE SLING to the creature hiding behind the rock, but JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO GIVE.  I guess our heroes aren't always nice people.  CLIMB ROCK produces the same non-result as climbing the trees, so that response may be generic.

And where could Aughra be?  I seem to have mapped everything out.  I try to GET LIZARD in the brushland, to feed the hungry rock creature, but they are too fast.  I try to GET ROCK to collect ammunition for the sling, but there aren't any handy.  I think I may have to restart and look around in the mountains, but I pass the brook while considering my options.  LOOK BROOK reveals some pebbles, and GET PEBBLES allows us to take several along.  I also discover that the intended syntax is SHOOT PEBBLE -- AT WHAT? -- AT [object], though we can't shoot the rock creature or the lizards in the brushland so I'll have to wait for the bat to arrive again.

I try to SMELL SCENT in the area with an enticing scent of undefined origin, but the parser doesn't understand, and I try to LISTEN BROOK just in case its babbling has meaning.  Surprisingly, it says, "E-E-EN, N-N-NEN" -- with a stutter, so maybe it just wants us to go E, N, N, E, N?  Ahhh!  As we go east, a new path has been revealed out of the forest!  We can only go E-E-E-N-N, reaching an impassable swampland.  We can see the other side of the swamp far to the north, but IT WOULD BE SUICIDAL FOR JEN TO ATTEMPT A CROSSING.

Hmmmmm.  We can try to shoot AT CREATURES near the pond, but the frog-like creatures are only startled by Jen's missed sling shots.  I try to GET PAD, but THE WATER LILIES HAVE VERY THICK STEMSCUT PAD is recognized, but we have nothing to cut with.  Maybe a sharp rock?

Restoring an earlier save, I notice that there's some EXTREMELY SHARP SHALE east of the Valley of Stones, and Jen can GET SHALE, allowing him to CUT PAD.  I try to DROP PAD and GO PAD in the swamp, to no avail, and it doesn't serve as a raft in the river either.  Drat!

I finally resort to a walkthrough to learn that we must USE PAD -- in the swamp -- to reach the northern side.  I run into another crystal bat, but my attempt AT BAT isn't quick enough, and the bat flies away, so we'll probably have to flee a Garthim beetle in a few turns.

Jen can trudge north into murky, slimy swampland, and east, where he becomes trapped by vines.  I try to CUT VINE with the shale, but JEN CAN SEVER NO VINE BEFORE ITS TIME.  Har har -- 80s joke!  I try to SWING and WRIGGLE, with no success, but then a friend arrives to help -- it's a single eyeball, held up by a withered hand, and if we've seen the movie we know this is Aughra.  She wants to know the answer to the riddle Ursu posed earlier.  Uh-oh.  What do the Sun Brothers argue about?

I try BEDTIME and LUNCH, and TIME, thinking that three suns are likely to cause disagreement about these things, but the parser will have none of it. I try MOON -- hilariously, JEN CAN'T.  THE VINES ARE BINDING HIM TOO TIGHTLY.  But MOON seems to be a recognized word, at least, and I suspect it's not meant to be used as a verb.  MOON AUGHRA?  No.  MOON SETMOON DAUGHTERS proves to be the successful answer; I'm not sure if I was supposed to find a clue to the answer earlier or not, but the riddle makes sense on its face.

Aughra now releases Jen from the vines.  JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO THANK -- what an ungrateful waste of foam rubber! -- but Aughra takes him to her observatory anyway.  She says, "WHAT YOU WANT?"; CRYSTAL isn't recognized, but SHARD is.  She puts four shards on the table -- blue, green, violet, and orange, and once we choose one, we can't change our minds!  This seems like a fine time to save the game.

I'll chance the violet crystal being the right one -- it seems to most closely match the darkness I would expect to see.  Exiting the observatory, Jen encounters a horde of Garthim, attacking the observatory!!!  I try to run N back inside, but that doesn't work -- Jen is trapped and the game is over.  For some reason, we can GO WINDOW -- ah, I see, we never actually got outside -- and Jen escapes, though Aughra is captured and the observatory burned.  Definitely a little darker than Mr. Henson's Muppet films!

We can only travel south from the eerie bog where Jen has landed, which brings us back to the murky swampland west of the vine trap.  Heading west from this point, Jen becomes mired in a deep bog, sinking into the muck, as another Gelfling watches without apparent concern (thanks to the limitations of 8-bit graphics, which aren't helped by the implacable Gelfling puppet faces.)  We can cry for HELP, and he is rescued by Kira -- the indistinct blob of 8-bit graphics near her feet proves to be her fuzzy pet Fizzgig.  Apparently Jen and Kira have both been led to believe they are the only living Gelflings, so this is probably quite a shock for both of them.

Jen and Kira now stand at the edge of a river, with a giant beetle shell available.  We can't GET SHELL, or ROLL SHELL, but we can MOVE SHELL -- or try to, the parser suggests that we need Kira's help.  ASK KIRA reveals that the Gelflings can communicate telephatically by "Dreamfasting," but does nothing to move the shell.  TURN SHELL works better than MOVE, for some reason, and we find a small pouch underneath it. 

The pouch is full of -- ahem -- smoke seeds.  But there's no time to find out if the light weed is less addictive than the dark crystal.  We need to GO SHELL and float downstream, returning to the Pod Village.

We learn that Kira has been living here since early childhood -- odd that none of the locals thought to tell her about Jen's earlier visit, given the rarity of Gelflings, but they were perhaps too busy singing, eating, and smoking -- and another crystal bat shows up, once again flying away before Jen can actually shoot a pebble at it, and we have to flee some Garthim again.  The Garthim are strong but slow-witted, and I'm beginning to think that we can't actually do anything about their attacks -- they never seem to pursue Jen, and they're always gone if we return to the area.

With Kira along, the rock creature changes -- the rock now displays a spiral pattern, though we still can't seem to do much here.  I try to JUMP LANDSTRIDERS again, with no luck, and have to reference the walkthrough again to learn that I should be trying to JUMP ON instead.  Jen, Kira and Fizzgig hop aboard, and aboard these long-legged creatures we are able to jump the wide chasm to the west!

Riding further west through the parching desert, we eventually see THE TURRETS OF A DECAYED CASTLE to the south.  Heading in that direction, we are attacked by Garthim and thrown from our landstriders as the big beetles attack them and kill one of them.  I try to CLIMB down into the chasm, but we are captured and taken to the crystal chamber, and evil triumphs!

Well, dang.  Can we JUMP into the chasm and see what happens?  Yes -- and we're now on disk 2, side B.  And... wait, what?  Kira has wings???  Good for her, but Jen is still a-plummeting.  His call for HELP is not answered, but he can GET KIRA to cling to her skirts and glide down with her.

Now we're at the bottom of a ravine, where an evil face is carved into the rock.  Its teeth form a gate barring access to a closed door, and above it is the circle/triangle symbol we saw earlier.  I try to DIG, and discover that Jen can in fact do so with the shale, suggesting I may have missed something earlier in our travels as we find nothing here.

I'm stuck again, and learn from external sources that we can SEND FIZZGIG behind the bars.  This command asks where Jen wants to send him, and THROUGH BARS sends him through the gate.  He comes bounding back shortly with a key in his mouth that we couldn't see back there earlier.  How convenient!  We can now UNLOCK GATE, and when we OPEN GATE the door behind it also opens.

We can now GO GATE to enter a foul-smelling sewer, with tunnels to the east, west and south, and a door with an image of a serpent chasing its tail.  We can OPEN DOOR to leave the sewers, but this just takes us back outside into the ravine.  The sewer appears to be a maze, but it's geographically consistent with no weird loops or one-way passages, and the game's use of shorter descriptions after the first visit makes it easy to tell if we've been to a specific location before.  Again, each of these sewer areas has a unique illustration, accounting for the amount of disk swapping required.

The most interesting location is off to the west, where we hear strange sounds coming from the south.  Heading that way, we run into trouble as the skeezy Skeksis Chamberlain kidnaps Kira and Fizzgig, setting of a boulder trap as he exits and trapping Jen in the passage.

We can only go south now, where we enter a room full of sleeping Garthim who immediately wake up and advance on Jen.  I try to run to the south, but am captured; retrying, I DUCK but Jen doesn't know how to do that either.  On the next try, I more generally RUN instead, which works better as the Garthim claws smash a big hole in the wall while trying to connect with our hero.

GO HOLE doesn't get us out of danger completely, though, as Jen finds himself perched on a precarious ledge above a lake of fire, with no girlfriend wings to help this time.  But we can see the Dark Crystal itself floating up above!  CLIMB SHAFT actually works, to my surprise, and we find Aughra tied up in the Chamber of Life.  We can RESCUE AUGHRA, and if we TALK AUGHRA she urges us to hurry and find our friend, as the Great Conjunction is imminent.  She isn't kidding - I head east into a hallway and pause to take INVentory, and before I can even do that I am caught by a band of Skeksis coming from the north, so the game once again ends unhappily.

On the next go, I head east, south, and east from the Chamber of Life and am once again caught.  East, South, West proves more helpful, as the Skeksis (is the plural Skekses?) head to the east at the southern end of the hall, leaving Jen undetected in a closet.

Now we can freely travel north, to visit the Throne Room, where we can GET SCEPTER and SIT THRONE to allow Jen a brief daydream that he is Emperor of the Skeksis.  But there's no time for that -- we'll head east now, to the rotting floor of a deserted tower.  We can't seem to do anything here, so we'll go back to the southern end of the hall.

The Skeksis are gathered in the room where we got caught earlier, but they haven't noticed Jen yet, and a curtain runs along the wall, covering it.  We can GO CURTAIN to eavesdrop, learning about a secret panel in the tower before Jen slips out, still unnoticed by the arguing bird creatures.

FIND PANEL doesn't work -- JEN WILL HAVE TO DO THAT HIMSELF.  But FEEL WALL succeeds -- a small panel is discovered, with a small latch.  OPEN LATCH doesn't work -- it's too small for even Jen's fingers to work.  Hmmmm.  I try to USE SCEPTER, with no luck, but LOOK SCEPTER reveals that it has a small hook, and USE HOOK is much more effective.

Jen can now access the bottom of a narrow stairway to the east, and we can go Up to the top, where we hear strange noises from the east.  This leads us to the Crystal Chamber, where the Skeksis are gathered, prepared to recharge their powers and continue their reign as the Great Conjunction occurs with the Crystal still darkened.  Jen is on the balcony above the crystal.

We can now GO CRYSTAL, leaping onto it from our balcony perch.  Unfortunately, Jen drops the crystal shard in the process, and it lands on the brink of the shaft below the Crystal, near Kira and Fizzgig.  The planet's three suns are touching, visible through an open ceiling portal, so the moment is at hand.  Kira grabs the shard and is preparing to throw it to Jen, when the Skeksis Ritual-Master threatens her with a drawn dagger.

We are given the option of saving Kira -- and I'll save the game here so I can see what happens if we try later on -- but I think we need to fix the crystal first.  Answering NO to the question allows Jen to regain the shard, and now we can FIX CRYSTAL -- and... oh no!  I chose wrong at Aughra's observatory, and the violet shard does not fit!  OVERCOME WITH DISPAIR [sic], JEN SLIPS OFF THE CRYSTAL and is captured.  Yet another unhappy ending.

Okay -- it's walkthrough time again, as I don't want to trudge all the way here again with a 25% chance -- well, 33% now -- of ultimate success.  How was I supposed to know which shard to take?  It turns out that I was supposed to DIG near Ursu's cavern way back at the beginning, then PLAY FLUTE to discover the true shard, as seen in the movie.  (I kind of assumed Jen always had his flute with him, but I guess that's not the case here, so he has to go find somebody else's germ-ridden flute buried in the dirt.)  So it's back to square one, almost, but it shouldn't take too long to retrace our steps once we're better prepared.

I find the flute by digging on the shadowy path, and use it at Aughra's.  PLAY FLUTE yields the game's one and only sound effect, as two notes play and the blue shard glows and resonates.  The rest of the game is very linear, almost identical to my earlier attempt, though I do learn that my wanderings around the stone face gate were important -- Fizzgig comes back empty mouthed where we land, we have to travel west before he can find the key (it's hard to tell, because the locations appear identical.)  I am shortly back at the climax.

I might as well see what happens if opt to save Kira instead of fixing the crystal -- and of course, Jen just gets captured after he jumps down to protect her.  If we make the "difficult" choice and FIX CRYSTAL instead, the crystal is restored as the blue shard is inserted, the Garthim warriors are destroyed, the castle walls are restored to crystalline purity, the reign of the Skeksis ends, and... we discover that Kira has been stabbed and is dying.  We can KISS KIRA, however, to magically rekindle her life!  Jen and Kira are all set to save the Gelfling species, we surmise, if they can somehow conquer a critical lack of genetic diversity and the fact that, according to the parser, JEN DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO F... um, anyway, HARMONY, AFTER A THOUSAND YEARS OF DARKNESS, HAS BEEN RESTORED and victory is ours!

The Dark Crystal is an old-fashioned design with its share of dead ends, and the story has the usual difficulties with adapted material -- if we've seen the film, we know some things we perhaps should not, and if we haven't, we have to guess mightily to come up with some key actions in the game.  We're given a lot more freedom in the early, exploratory stages of the adventure than we are toward the plot-heavy end, which makes the climax rather less exciting than it ought to be, as the player can really only take one series of correct actions to reach a successful conclusion.  The game was reportedly put together in a little more than a month, which may account for some of its limitations.  But I'm glad I finally got around to playing it, and I still have a couple of Sierra's Hi-Res Adventures to tackle so maybe I'll make those a priority this year.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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No Adventure of this Week... I have been swamped with other projects and out of town, and hope to resume my normal posting schedule next week.

But I'll take a moment to briefly celebrate the recent resurgence in point-and-click adventure gaming... not only have we received an update of Tim Schaefer's brilliant Grim Fandango, and a more substantial remake of Jane Jensen's Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, but Square-Enix is trying its hand at Telltale Games' episodic approach to storytelling with the interesting Life Is Strange.  Dave Gilbert has completed his Blackwell series, and the second act of Schaefer's Broken Age is also due soon.  It will be a while before I write about any of these -- if I'm going to tackle anything less than five years old, it will be Scott Adams' The Inheritance -- but it's a fine time to be an adventure gamer!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Dante's Inferno (1980)

CASA Solution Archive founder JGunness inquired recently about this game; I hadn't heard of it before, so it presented a fine opportunity to explore some new old territory.  Dante's Inferno is a fairly early microcomputer text adventure, written in BASIC for the TRS-80 Model I and published in the January 1980 (Vol II, No 4) issue of SoftSide Magazine.  It was not part of the magazine's monthly adventure game series; it's credited only to "Adventures In Software" in the code, but the printed magazine article credits the game to Gerard Bernor.  I'm playing using the TRS32 TRS-80 emulator.

Cast as a greedy person who sold our soul to the devil in exchange for wealth, we must now try to escape our fate by entering Hell, finding our contract with Satan, and escaping with it.

This is another interesting case of originality-by-necessity, in the days before adventure game design and programming became more standardized.  There's no verb/noun parser in Dante's Inferno -- instead, single-character commands are used to navigate, and even that's surprising, as the available commands turn out to be Back, Forward, Left, Right, Up and Down.  This is a rare variation on the compass-based standard, although the engine doesn't actually take the player's orientation into account; for practical purposes, B/F/R/L correspond to N/S/E/W, and we're always facing forward for the room descriptions.  There's no list of "obvious exits," though some rooms describe the navigation options, so we have to bang into walls and wander into dead ends a lot to figure out where we can actually go.

As always, interested adventurers are encouraged to travel through Dante's Inferno before reading the rest of this post.  The game is cleanly coded and not difficult, but map-making is an absolute must, as the game's primary challenge is navigational in nature.  I will note that the game's simple interface is case-sensitive, so if your commands are being ignored, try turning Caps Lock on or off.  Feel free to save yourself the old-school headaches if you like, and proceed straight into the...

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

We begin on the banks of the River Styx.  There's quite a bit of descriptive, large-character prose in this game.  The stage is set as we stand before the Gates of Hell, reading the "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here" warning invented by Dante and a tradition for centuries since.

I'll opt to be contrary and move Back first, which takes us into Purgatory.  We can't go back any further or in any other directions here, though the game's response to my floundering is amusing: IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE HAVING TROUBLE GOING TO HELL.  Even going Forward doesn't always get us out of Purgatory; we have to keep trying until we eventually make it through to the bank of the River Styx again.

Any movement L or R from this location just takes us back into Purgatory, so our only real option is to head Forward into Hell itself.  Well, Hell's Portal, anyway -- there is a small opening on the left and dim visibility forward and right.

I'll head forward into Satan's Room -- IT'S LUCKY FOR YOU THAT HE'S NOT HERE NOW.  We can travel to the left here, to a tunnel traveling forward/back; going back takes us through a narrow tunnel and back to Hell's Portal.  There's also a dead end off to the left of the tunnel.

Traveling right of Hell's Portal leads to another dead end.  So the only avenue we haven't yet explored is the tunnel to the left of Satan's Room, which leads to the Mud Pit.  To its left is a little grotto where LOST SOULS SHOVEL COAL AND SULFUR INTO STEAMING PITS, making me wish there were postcards for sale.

Traveling further left takes us into another narrow twisting tunnel, and careful exploration discovers a twisting narrow tunnel, a very narrow twisting tunnel, and a pair of Dead Ends, one of which is clearly not really a dead end but still doesn't lead anywhere interesting.

It looks like I've mapped Hell pretty well in the cardinal directions, encountering little opposition and no sign of our contract with the Man Downstairs, so we'll have to look at up and down moves.  We can go D into the bubbling mud pit, with lava audible on the left.  No other directions prove fruitful to explore, so we'll check out the Large Grotto on the left.  THE FLOOR IS COVERED WITH WHAT LOOKS LIKE HUMAN BONES -- I'm not sure what else might look like human bones, but we'll allow the author a little atmospheric vagueness.

Left of the grotto is another twisting tunnel leading to a dead end.  Forward takes us to a room under a heating shaft, with a dim red glow above.  Right of the shaft is the FOURTH LEVEL OF THE DAMMNED [sic], where the tormented souls have BURNING LOADS HUNG FROM THEIR ARMS AND LEGS.

We might be getting closer now -- going forward from this room leads into ANOTHER RECORD KEEPING SECTION, which implies there's an original Record Keeping Section somewhere, though this room is a dead end so it's not nearby.  So we'll go Up the heating shaft to a room at its top.  Forward here takes us into the Cave of Lost Souls -- where, unfortunately, YOU HAVE ALSO LOST YOUR SENSE OF DIRECTION.  So we may be in for a maze or at least some confusion.

Panicking slightly, I wander around this maze too quickly to map effectively, and eventually find a location where we can slide back down, one-way, to the Large Grotto.  Trying to map more carefully on a second try, I find few other options -- Back from the top of the shaft, we HEAR THE GARGOYLES COMING and are forced forward again.

So back into the Cave of Lost Souls we go.  Up from the entry point is Hell's Central Heating System, and to the right we find the Fifth Level of His Satanic Majesty's Domain.  Lucifer's out of the office at the moment, but there's a small opening in the floor here -- it leads all the way back to Hell's Portal and may be a handy escape route.

But we still have to find the contract, so back to mapping we go.  North Forward of Central Heating we discover the Cave of Gargoyles, the Pit of The Mortal Sinners, and a point where the tunnel floor drops away, too wide to jump.  Left of this point is the slide down to the Large Grotto that I stumbled upon earlier.

Left of the Pit of Mortal Sinners is the room of the TWICE DAMMED [sic I presume], from which we can reach the Section of the Cursed, FILLED WITH POISONOUS FUMES.  Traveling to the left of this section warps us back into the Very Narrow Twisting Tunnel near the start, providing another potential escape route, though of course we can't come back that way.  This map is convoluted and confusing!

There's also an Evil Smelling Pit forward of the Section of the Cursed, and if we go D into it we slide down the Sulfur Supply Tube to Hell's Portal.  So there are at least three ways out of here, suggesting we may need to work fast at the end of the game.

I'm not finding much else of interest and I think I've mapped most of the game's world, so there must be some critical locations I haven't found yet.  I try going Up and Down from some dead ends, finding nothing new beyond a few additional dead ends.  But at last I find a Rocky Ledge above the Fourth Level room, and to its right is the Record Keeping Section!  And yes, we've finally found THE HIDING PLACE OF SATAN'S CONTRACTS, and are prompted, WANT TO TAKE IT WITH YOU NOW?  I'll answer Y -- OK, LETS GET OUT OF HERE!  Agreed!

According to my map, the most direct escape route will be to go through the hole in Lucifer's throne room to return to Hell's Portal... but when I get there, I discover that I can't squeeze through it while carrying the box of contracts.  Nor can I get through the narrow, twisting tunnel, for the same reason.  I wish we could just find our own contract and drop the box, but there's apparently no time for that -- we have to take the whole box, freeing who knows how many damned souls along with our own.  I almost feel bad for Satan, but if he's just going to toss all of his business-critical legal documents in a box with no backups, I guess I can't be held responsible.



I get one of those shocks deliverable only by early computer games!  As I move toward another possible exit in the complete silence that has prevailed up to this point, the TRS-80 speaker bursts to life with horrendous, screechy white noise, and I jump out of my seat as FROM THE DARK LEAP THE INCUBI OF MEPHISTOPHELES!  And... and the noise!  This noise, this horrible noise, it never seems to stop!  I would have had to reboot the whole machine back in the day; fortunately, in the emulation age, returning to an earlier save state silences this torture.  The TRS-80 was not really designed for sound, so this was doubly shocking.


Checking the code later, curious about how this was achieved, I discover that this scare may not have been intentional.  It appears to be a tokenization error in the BASIC listing published in SoftSide -- instead of PRINTing some intended text, it CSAVEs!  So, with a virtual speaker hooked up to the virtual line out for general gaming purposes, I was actually just hearing the sound that would have been generated to save the BASIC program to audio cassette tape.  This error means that I never saw the remaining text, and suffered a fate the author likely never intended.

Anyway, back to finding our way to a viable escape route.  I've only got one left to try, and yes, sliding down the sulfur supply tube from the Evil Pit room north of the Cursed room works  We're conveniently dropped off at Hell's Portal and can quickly back out of Hell... to victory!

The game can be finished much more quickly than I did here -- there's no way to die, so aside from some time-saving restores my 334 move "score" includes a lot of exploration and dead-end mapping.  All we really have to do is find the contract and then exit, so with a good map in hand it could probably be finished in around 30 moves.

Dante's Inferno is an interesting early adventure game.  Mr. Bernor's engine is unsophisticated but still provides a lot of exploration, colorful prose and a degree of challenge, without a single traditional adventure game inventory or action puzzle. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Deathworld (1983)

After a disappointing issue #45 of SoftSide Magazine, which omitted the customary monthly text adventure due to disk space constraints (or so we are led to believe), issue #46 returned to form with what I count as #28 in the series, Deathworld  (it's referred to as Death World Adventure in the magazine's menu, I'm going with the in-game naming here.)  This 1983 effort is yet another Peter Kirsch adventure, but he changes his style a little bit here, working in mixed-case text, adding more descriptive plotting, and referencing some objects in the room descriptions instead of as obvious "visible items."  This game also includes a save and restore feature, which would be very handy if I didn't have save states available; I'm playing the TRS-80 version here, using the TRS32 emulator.

The setup takes advantage of the disk medium to include a prologue that would have been a waste of memory otherwise.  Deathworld is set in then-future 1992, where we have been in space for two months.  Our colleagues Brent, Reeves and Jackson disappeared during a mission to Alpha Beta II, and we've been sent to discover what may have happened to them.  Upon landing, our ship's power system is damaged, of course, so in addition to solving the mystery we will have to figure out how to get ourselves back home.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to visit Deathworld before continuing below.  It's not a terribly difficult game, though mapping is a must and the climax is a bit complicated.  I ran into a few parser frustrations myself, where I had the right idea but couldn't figure out how to express it.  But it's an atmospheric and well-written game with a startling finale, and you may wish to spend some time with it firsthand before reading the comprehensive...

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

As the game begins, we find ourselves planetside aboard our spaceship, with a damaged power crystal fastened in place with four screws, and a red, unresponsive push button, presumably for launching.  I (for inventory, naturally) establishes that we have a blaster in hand, and we are not currently suffering from injury, hunger, or thirst, novel metrics measured on a scale from 0 to 100 percent.

We can only travel South, to exit the ship and reach a plateau allowing east-west travel.  It seems the atmosphere here is breathable, at least so far.  To the east is a dead end section of plateau; to the west, we climb a steep, rocky hill.

Trying to go D the hill proves dangerous -- we trip over a jagged rock, slamming into another rock on the way down.  But the fall isn't fatal, though it does inflict 11% damage and a bleeding forehead.  At the bottom of the hill, we see a slime-covered space ship, half decomposed with someone apparently sitting inside it.

Against my better judgment, I decide to GO SHIP and see what's going on inside before exploring more of the map.  There's a skeletal body here, with an armband indicating these are the remains of Jackson.  There's also a flight recorder here, and what appears to be an intact power crystal held in place with four screws.  If only we had a screwdriver!  We can't PLAY RECORDER directly, but LOOK RECORDER reveals a button, and PUSH BUTTON allows us to hear Jackson's last words -- Brent and Reeves have already been taken by "something out there."  Bonus atmosphere points to Mr. Kirsch for the 1950s EC Comics-esque "NO! NO! KEEP AWAY! YAAAHHHHH....." as Jackson meets his demise.  Negative futurism points for the flight recorder's use of tape.

Southwest of the ship is a dirt-strewn path leading to a mountain cave, but it's too dark to see inside, so we'll have to come back when we have a light source.  Northwest of the ship is another path with exits west, northwest, and northeast.

I stop to check health, and learn that our health is worsening -- I'm at a 30% injury level, so we'd better try to stop the bleeding.  We're getting into a maze of paths here, with lots of diagonal directions, though the map seems fair and consistent for the most part.  I find a power shed off to the west, with a large 10,000 volt transformer and almost a mile of wire on a spool.  We can GET WIRE to carry the bare end of the wire -- perhaps we will be using this to electrocute the creature that killed the others, but I'll leave it here until I come up with a place to take it.

East of the power shed is a beach, which we can see from many other locations nearby.  A broken fence post and a tall tree here provide some possibilities.  I try to CLIMB TREE, but only slide back down.  There are a number of these broken fence posts along the beach, and multiple locations to navigate and map out.  While I'm trying to get my bearings, though, I bleed to death and have to start over.

I decide to try remapping the confusing area, now that I know more about how the world is laid out, and I discover a dispensary west of the power shed.  Inside I find some iodine and a bandage -- it takes me a few false starts to figure out that we can PUT IODINE, though that doesn't do much good, as it's just smeared on our arm.  BANDAGE WOUND doesn't work, nor does WEAR BANDAGE, but PUT BANDAGE does the trick (and miraculously heals our injuries, all the way back to 0%!)

It seems we're in a more populated section of the map over here -- roughly west from the dispensary we find a tool shed.  But it's locked, and SHOOT LOCK only returns Not now.  South of the tool shed is a steel shack, with a timer lock; we're told only that the door will open at an unknown predetermined time.  Hmmmm.

There's another dark cave in the northern section of the path network.  I try to SHAKE the unclimbable TREE on the beach, and it yields some STRANGE FRUIT.  Northeast of the beach, we find a mountain, and spy a LITTLE ALIEN CREATURE carrying a red rod and moving east, somehow disappearing from sight. There's another dark cave entrance up here as well.

I finally get the the complicated map worked out (I think) and am strolling along the beach when a slimy tentacle reaches out of the water and tightens its grip around my waist.  SHOOT TENTACLE only gets my blaster slapped out of my hand by another tentacle, and I don't have time to try anything else before I am dragged into the water and drowned. 

Now I can start over and be a little more efficient with the opening of the story. I play Jackson's flight recorder and bandage my head.  Now what about these locked sheds?  Can we zap the lock with the wire from the power shed?  Nope, the wire won't quite reach that far.  Can we zap the tentacles with the wire?  I leave it on the beach and turn the power on, but nothing obvious happens (though if I GET WIRE now, I am electrocuted as expected.  Just checking.)

We can't GO LAKE, because we can't swim, apparently.  Are we supposed to make an electrified, tentacle-proof fence around the lake using the broken fence posts, maybe?  I try to BUILD FENCE, MAKE FENCE, ATTACH WIRE, STRING WIRE, CONNECT WIRE, and PUT WIRE, with no luck, so I turn the power back off.

What about hunger and thirst?  DRINK WATER proves fatal -- the lake is poisoned.  EAT FRUIT is similarly fatal.  So we don't have any way to sustain ourselves yet, and we may just have to work fast once we figure out everything we need to do.

The mountain where we saw the little alien is too steep to climb.  Can we KILL ALIEN when we first see him?  No, he disappears before we can act.  Are any of the caves lit naturally?  Not that I can see.

Aha!  TIE POST allows us to tie the wire to the fence posts on the beach; two-word parsers always make these kinds of puzzles difficult to approach (TIE WIRE also works.)  I am able to circle the lake, tying the wire at each point, and the game confirms we have made a complete circuit of wire.  I'll turn the power on, just in case those tentacles show up again.

I check the steel shack, and it's open now -- apparently the timer has expired!  I can now get a RED ROD from inside, and maybe climb the mountain like the alien appeared to do?  Nope, the mountains are still too steep.  But I can go E where I could not before, walking right through the mountain into a cave where we find a luminous rock.  Progress at last!

With this light source in hand, we can visit the three cave locations.  The one in the northeast corner contains the DEFORMED, SLIME-SMEARED BODY OF REEVES, and I try to SEARCH BODY and LOOK BODY to no visible effect.  A passage connects this location to the cave in the northwest.  The southwest cave contains Brent's rotting body, similarly impervious to inspection, so we have confirmed the demise of everyone we were sent here to rescue.  Mission accomplished, I guess?

The southeastern cave contains... a captive little alien!  He mutters, in that strange alien dialect peculiar to adventure games, "KOVZHV UIVV NV. HSZPV Z YOFV ILW GL LKVM NB XSZRMH."  This conveniently translates to English by reversing the letters (A = Z, B = Y, etc.), to read:  "PLEASE FREE ME. SHAKE A BLUE ROD TO OPEN MY CHAINS."

Now if only we had a blue rod!  I am feeling stuck now, so I check the code and discover that I have been trying to LOOK BODY, which the parser sort of recognizes but doesn't specifically address, and should have been trying to, for example, LOOK REEVES instead.  Doing this, I find a small key on the body, and can access the tool shed to acquire... a screwdriver.  Good!

What about Brent's body?  He has a blue rod!  Even better.  We can now SHAKE ROD -- Shake red or shake blue rod? -- okay, SHAKE BLUE to free the little alien.  It tells us its name is Nikki and starts following us around, intending to help out.

It's too late to help me very much, though, as I'm just about dead of hunger, but Nikki points to the fruit and says, "YZW!" -- "BAD!"   Which was already pretty obvious.  When I DROP FRUIT, it rolls away, never to be seen again.  Hmmmm.  Time to restart and work back to this point as quickly as possible before we starve to death.

This time, when we're walking along the beach, Nikki points to the water and says (in translation), "POISONED," and as the tentacle attacks again, Nikki's "OH OH" is similarly lacking in news value.  But we're right by the tall tree, so I take a chance, GRAB TREE and the tentacles give up on dragging me into the lake and let go.  Apparently the electrified fence isn't stopping the monster,and Nikki continues stating the obvious with a heartfelt, "WHEW!"

But this is new -- when I SHAKE TREE again, the fruit this time provokes a cry of "YUMMY!" from Nikki.  So we can safely EAT FRUIT, though it only knocks our hunger down by about 50%.

Do we need to do anything else, or can we just grab the power crystal from Jackson's decaying ship and get out of here?  As I try to head back to the ship by way of the beach, we hear something slithering, but manage to return to the hillside without being attacked.

Inside Jackson's ship, our tag-along alien says, "POOR BABY" and I begin to wonder if it's even worth the translation effort.  We just have to GET CRYSTAL to use the screwdriver and remove it.  But as we leave the ship, a tentacle appears from seemingly nowhere, and drags us off to a cave to meet its owner.  So it seems we'll need to deal with this creature somehow before we'll be able to leave.

Purely by chance on the next try, I miss the beach I was trying to get to and end up by the northwest cave.  A monster emerges, with eight tentacles, and its face is almost nothing but teeth.  Nikki says, "THE BOGEY MAN!", suggesting that the alien language is not only a highly unlikely perfect inverse of Earth's North American English, but that cultural archetypes transcend time, space and biology.

I know the wire won't reach this far, but maybe we can lure the monster into range of the electrified wire.  I try heading towards the lake, but it wraps its tentacles around us and we're dead.  SHOOT MONSTER is more productive, though not in the way I intended -- it buys us a little time, though.  The monster grabs our blaster and a wild shot injures our arm, instantly infecting it.  While the monster is inspecting the weapon, Nikki suggests, "MAYBE HE EAT IT."

I try to lure the beast toward the lake, and as soon as we head in that direction, it moves toward the lake and gets zapped by our electrical trap.  "OOH! BAD BOY GO UP IN SMOKE!", Nikki helpfully adds.

Our badly infected arm is why we need the iodine, I surmise, and I PUT IODINE to clear up that health issue.  "FIX YOUR SHIP GO HOME."  Yes, Nikki, that's what I intend to do.  I am quite relieved when our alien companion finally says "BYE BYE" and scampers away, never to be seen again if we're lucky.

Anyway, now we can GET CRYSTAL from the late Jackson's ship, toss out the damaged one from our own ship, PUT CRYSTAL to install the good one, and PUSH BUTTON to launch.  And just when we thought it was safe to go back into space, our host pulls a twist ending on us:

The tentacles are going to take over the world!

So... this is not exactly a victory, then, as our best efforts seem destined to infect our home world with an intelligent and violently predatory alien species.  This is a nice twist, a refreshing change from the clean, convenient, treasure-laden victory scenarios that end most adventure games.  Deathworld is another solid entry from the prolific Peter Kirsch, and I think it's safe to say it's one of my favorite SoftSide adventures, as we draw near the end of this long-running series.