Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adventure of the Week: 4K Adventure (1996)

This week's wanderings through the online archives brought me to John Metcalf's 4K Adventure, written in 1995 for the PC MART Venture Forth programming contest.  Its primary feature is that it consumes a mere 4096 bytes of code and data in total, using a text compression technique to cram some nicely written text and a minimal but sufficient parser into a very small space.  I'm playing it this week because it sounded intriguing conceptually, and also because I had limited time available and ran into technical dead ends with a couple of other games I was hoping to tackle.  The old-fashioned PC DOS .COM executable file requires a DOSBox environment to run on newer machines, and that's how I'm playing it here.

The game begins with a surprisingly lengthy and evocative bit of text -- the player is cast as Grimbis, a black dwarf seeking to retrieve a stolen magical orb from some elves, in order to help our master Gawyn maintain his reign of eternal winter; nothing too substantial, but it's a nice change from the usual fantasy adventure heroics.

I can recommend 4K Adventure to any adventurer seeking a brief challenge -- the parser is very limited but there are a few interesting puzzles on hand, and Metcalf's design nicely avoids some of the traditional adventure design cliches.  As always, my playthrough notes beyond this point will give the game away in detail, so there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! ***** 

We start in the depths of the forest, where we can hear water through some bushes to the west.  I'll avoid the obvious attraction here and go North, to a snowless area near a door in a wall.  The door is made of old oak, we learn if we EXAMINE DOOR; we can't OPEN it without a key.  I also note a parser limitation here -- LOOK [anything] is always a room-level look, regardless of the noun specified.

East of this area is a windy track near the edge of the forest, with a holly bush preventing travel north.  We can go further east to the edge of a gloomy forest, where we can see distant hills to the north, but this is otherwise a dead end for navigation.  Given the game's text-compression technical goals, I'm not surprised to find that the map fairly limited.

Heading south, we pass through a snowy forest clearing and reach the entrance to a prominent fissure cave.  Beyond navigation and a few verbs, there's not much room for parser vocabulary in this game, and we can't GO FISSURE or ENTER FISSURE; it's just here for atmosphere, it seems, exuding darkness that prevents us from entering.

I'm back at the starting location now, and head to the west to see the river Burre, the source of the sounds of water we heard earlier.  There's a boat tied up here, but I can't UNTIE ROPE or SET SAIL or RIDE BOAT or USE BOAT -- it seems we could CUT ROPE if we had a knife, but we don't yet.  EXAMINE BOAT provides more detail but only confirms that the rope has shrunk too tightly around its post to be untied.

Looking for a knife, I happen to EXAMINE BUSH along the windy track, and lo and behold, here's Gawyn's orb!  That part was a lot easier than I expected, and nicely unpredictable; the elves must have left it here, and now we probably just have to make it back to our master.  Where could that knife be?  EXAMINE RIVER reveals a pike, glimpsed momentarily in the murky waters, but I think it's pike as in fish and not as in head-on-a so it won't be a substitute for a proper knife.

I wander around for a while, trying to EXAMINE everything I can.  I finally discover, at the eastern edge of the forest where "The moonlight dances slowly in the thin icicles," that EXAMINE MOONLIGHT is unrecognized, but EXAMINE ICICLES finds a moonbeam trapped in a shard of ice.  Perhaps this will act as a light source so we can enter the dark fissure... and yes, it does!

Inside the narrow cave with the moonbeam in hand, we can travel east until the passage widens into a cavern of boulders.  An odd grey fungus grows here, so I'll GET FUNGUS just in case it proves useful.  Heading back west and then south, I find a pool of icy cold water and a small key.  Now we're getting somewhere.

The small key works on the door in the crumbling wall, providing access to a summer meadow, where our moonbeam melts, so I hope we don't need it anymore.  To the west of the meadow is a murmuring brook, containing pebbles of many colors.  We can't take these, but EXAMINE PEBBLES reveals a knife, so we can GET KNIFE and put it to good use.

CUT ROPE now lets us ride the boat across the icy river, and upon landing we can see Gawyn's Tower to the west.  We travel in that direction, and in an instant, victory is ours!

Apparently we get bonus "gold coin" points for acquiring the odd fungus, even though we never needed to do anything with it, and points for any items that survive in our final inventory.  I went back and checked -- we get 35 additional points if we keep the moonbeam frozen, by dropping it before entering the summery meadow and picking it back up after fetching the knife.

4K Adventure
is a brief but entertaining experience -- not bad for 4 Kb of material!

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