Thursday, November 28, 2019

Game 34: The Atlantian Odyssey (1979)

I want to know more about Ultra-Mon, the Intelligent Monitor!

Today's game is The Atlantian Odyssey (spelled as the more aesthetically-pleasing Atlantean Odyssey in some places, but I'm going with what's on the title screen). It's not one I've ever heard of before, and I can't find anything about its origins except that it was created by someone called Teri-Li, with later help from a Mark Robinson. It's relative obscurity belies its possible historical significance, however, because it has a decent claim on being the first text adventure to feature graphics throughout the game (Zork and Stuga had some ASCII art, but it was very occasional). That accolade is usually given to Sierra's Mystery House, which was released in 1980, but if The Atlantian Odyssey was written in 1979 (as Renga in Blue believes likely) then it definitely came first. Even if it's a 1980 game (as the copyright screen shows), it still stands a good chance of being first. And even if it's not first, being the second ever graphical adventure game is still a pretty big deal.

Not every area of a game can be an innovation, however, as the plot of Atlantian Odyssey sees the player having sailed to an island in the Pacific Ocean in search of a number of treasures (six, in fact). The goal of the game is to find all of these treasures, sail back to Hawaii, go into the pawnshop and type SCORE. It doesn't have a points total like Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork, but the player does get ranked based on how many moves they took to finish the game.

So uhhhh I can see sand *and* a beach?

You begin the game on a beach, with your sailboat nearby. It's interesting to see just how much stuff the game says you can see: jetsam, sand, a roadway, the ocean, the beach, and your sailboat. Most of these are pointless, or can't be interacted with, which is a pretty rare case of wasted resources in a game of this vintage. All of those red herrings are using up precious memory! Similarly, the boat contains a number of mostly useless items: a speargun, a scuba diving suit, and a knapsack containing a flashlight. The flashlight has been rusted by seawater, and doesn't work. The speargun can be used to shoot a shark in the ocean nearby, but that only serves to provoke the beast into killing you. And while the scuba suit can be used to dive underwater, its air-tank runs out pretty quickly and is superseded by another item in short order.

From the beach you can swim into the ocean (which is thankfully restricted to a single area), or you can head east. The island itself consists of only three locations: the beach, a jungle clearing, and an ancient temple. Inside the temple is a crystal pyramid - the first of the treasures - and a mural, which depicts a man underwater, wearing a medallion with a glowing ruby.

At this point, I have to admit that I got stuck for a decent amount of time. Wearing the scuba gear I was able to swim down to another temple beneath the ocean, but I wasn't able to do anything there, and as mentioned before the air in the scuba tanks doesn't last long. The solution, which I eventually figured out through a lot of trial and error, was to DIG in the jungle clearing. This uncovers the medallion from the mural. It's described as a "flat hexagon with a ruby-sapphire-blue diamond around a green opal". Not only is it another of the treasures, but pressing the ruby grants the ability to breathe underwater.

Hanging out in an underwater temple. You can just make out part of the
hexagon on the floor.

With that ability, I was properly able to explore the underwater temple. This place had another mural, this one showing a man wearing a medallion with the opal glowing. I pressed the opal this time, and found myself transported to an area called the Gates of Hercules, with a sea cave and a path leading up a cliff.

A quick dip in the ocean showed me that I was now in the Mediterranean. I tried to swim down again, but this time it didn't work. The path up the cliff led to a rift, which was dark beyond. Instead I went into the cave, where I found a lamp hidden beneath some rocks. There was also a door disguised as a bas-relief sculpture, but I decided to explore the dark rift first. Inside were two rooms, and a cylinder inside a decayed box: the third treasure!

Back in the cave, I went through the disguised door, into another small room. There didn't appear to be anything of interest inside, but the graphics showed something on the floor, and when I typed LOOK FLOOR I was told that there was a hexagon painted on it. Taking the hint, I started pressing the stones on my medallion. The opal took me to another room, but it was underwater and I promptly drowned.

(More accurately, I was transported to Davy Jones' Locker, a maritime euphemism for being dead. I could still take actions, although only one had any effect: by pressing the sapphire on my medallion, I was transported back to the beach where I started the game, with my inventory fully intact.

I made my way back to the room with the hexagon, and this time I pushed the ruby before pushing the opal. The small underwater room I found myself had only one exit, which was locked, but an examination of the wall showed a pyramid-shaped depression. The crystal pyramid was the obvious key, but getting it in there was a struggle with the game's simple two-word parser. INSERT seemed the obvious command, but that wasn't recognised. I tried some others, like SLOT, but the eventual solution was PUT PYRAMID (testing it now, I discovered that PLACE also works). The game then gives a prompt that says IN WHAT?, to which the answer is WALL, but it's all a bit clumsy. Two word parsers can have their advantages, as they let you know there's a limit to how complex a puzzle can get, but on the other hand they can make even something as simple as putting a pyramid in a slot a trial.

A quality parser at work.

With the door opened, I was able to enter a large hall. To the east there was an "arcade", which in this case would be a covered passage with arches, not a building full of video game cabinets. The ante-chamber this led to had no seeming purpose, and I never did figure out what this room's deal was. It has a hexagon on the floor (although not pictured in the graphics) but pushing the gems in the medallion had no effect.

North of the hall was an alcove with a large wall sculpture, showing the same medallion-wearing man, this time with his medallion glowing. There was also some "cloth material", which on closer inspection is velvet. Underneath it is a gold dolphin, which is treasure number 4. Annoyingly, the game doesn't recognise CLOTH, only MATERIAL, which is a bit rough when it's written in the description as CLOTH MATERIAL. You're going to try the words in that order, you know?

Anyway, pushing the medallion's diamond opens a door, which leads to a long corridor and another door. It's locked, but has a metal plate to the side, and opens when you insert the cylinder. Beyond is a "gigantic underwater city" which sounds daunting but in actuality is like four locations. One of those involves getting lost, but you can always swim up (revealing that you're in the Atlantic Ocean) then swim down to return to the first area. The other two are an empty building, and a plaza full of debris. Hidden in the debris is an atlantean coin, the fifth treasure. That's the entire extent of the lost city of Atlantis folks!

Behold! The majesty of fabled Atlantis!

Unfortunately, I'd explored everywhere and only found five of the six treasures. Finding the elusive sixth took about half an hour of roaming around and searching every little thing I could think of. Eventually I discovered that the room beyond the rift where I had found the cylinder also had a hexagon painted on the floor (even though there was no sign of it in the graphics, like in the other hexagon rooms). A press of the opal took me to a palatial bedroom. Searching the drapes revealed a string of black pearls, the final treasure. There's a pointless balcony (which you can jump from if you feel like committing suicide), and a library full of books that crumble at the touch. The library has a hexagon on the floor, which is the only way to leave this area (by pushing the opal).

With the six treasures in hand, I set sail to Hawaii to get my final score. Not only did I score poorly, being ranked as a Novice, I was told that I was not being properly ranked because I had killed my "android" (by drowining, presumably). (I guess the term avatar hadn't yet been coined for the player's in-game proxy, and probably wouldn't be until Ultima IV.)  The Novice rank, I figured, had to do with how many moves it took me to beat the game.  So I played through again as efficiently as I could, and this time I got a slightly more satisfying victory screen.

A check of the source code showed that Professional is the highest rank, achieved by winning in under 95 moves. So, with The Atlantian Odyssey officially done and dusted, it's time for a Final Rating.

Story & Setting: Oh look, it's a treasure hunt! Look, I get it, it's an easy justification for an adventure, and it's a natural story type for gaming. It's never going to score highly in the category though. The underwater setting of Atlantis is slightly novel, although Greg Hassett's Voyage to Atlantis came out the same year with a similar premise; I don't know which was first. Either way, it's not fleshed out enough to elevate this game beyond the lowest score. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The only living things that can be encountered in this game are a shark and some fish. The fish are simply there to remind you that you're underwater, and the shark is a hazard only if you provoke it with the spear. Otherwise, the game is conspicuously empty: even the pawn shop in Hawaii is devoid of life. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: The addition of graphics had the potential to elevate this game above it's contemporaries, but let's be real here: they're pretty ugly. The TSR-80, by and large, was not known for its visuals, and this game doesn't change that. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser for this game is a clunky two word affair that only recognises the first few letters of any word, and has to go to some awkward places just to facilitate something as simple as placing an item in a wall slot. Still, it's functional, and I only had a couple of instances where I had to struggle for the correct verb. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: The puzzles for this game are rudimentary, and for the most part make sense. The main sticking point for me was right at the beginning, where it wasn't clear exactly what I had to do; digging up the medallion was pure luck and persistence on my part. After that things progressed more smoothly, and I had cracked the game in about 2 hours. I'd say the game errs on the side of being too easy, with the only difficult parts being frustrating rather than clever or challenging. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: It's difficult to rate this one. It deserves a high score for being one of the first - if not the very first - graphical adventures. On the other hand, it doesn't appear to have had much of an influence or legacy. It doesn't even have a page on Mobygames as far as I can tell. Still, I'll be generous, and rate it high for what it achieves. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Fun: I didn't get a lot of enjoyment out of this, but it's hard for me to give a game this short the lowest score. There's a lot to be said for entertainment that doesn't overstay it's welcome. Rating: 2 out of 7.

No bonus point, as I won't be playing the game again. The above scores total 15, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 30. That puts it equal 23rd overall, and equal 12th out of 21 adventure games played. It's on a par with Mission Impossible, Colossal Cave Adventure II, and Voyage to Atlantis; all of those are slightly better games, but the graphical innovation edged The Atlantian Odyssey a bit higher than it strictly deserves.


Somewhat later in this blog I made the decision to overhaul my Final Rating system, so I'm going back through and fixing all of the games I've already played as of March 2020.  I've ditched the Innovation and Influence category, and replaced it for adventure games with a category for Puzzles.  For CRPGs I'm using a Combat category.  I've also changed the purpose of the bonus points, saving them for games that are important, innovative, influential, or have features that are otherwise not covered by my other categories.

Also, the Final Rating is a boring name.  The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET.  The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating.  Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons.  So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.

Puzzles: Simple puzzles that make sense, although none of them are all that clever or interesting. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 1. As the first graphical adventure game it gets a bonus, but because it's so obscure it doesn't get the full 2 points.

The Atlantian Odyssey gets a RADNESS Index of 25. That puts it equal 24th overall, and 15th out of 21 adventure games. That one bonus point just got it ahead of Greg Hassett's House of Seven Gables.

NEXT: It's back to the world of CRPGs as I tackle Wilderness Campaign, Robert Clardy's follow-up to Dungeon Campaign.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Game 33: Mission Impossible (1979)

The opening screen of Mission Impossible

The screen above shows the beginning of Mission Impossible, the third Scott Adams adventure, and it starts with a bang. Well, relatively speaking; we're not exactly at the fireworks factory, but by the standards of the era things are zipping along. You start in a briefing room, with someone running away (from you, presumably). There are three obvious courses of action suggested here: check out the mysterious object in your possession, listen to the tape recorder, or follow the person. From a modern perspective it doesn't seem all that special, but having spent the last few years playing adventure games from the 1970s, this feels propulsive. There's a sense of action that no game before this one has attempted, and it feels refreshing.

But before I get into the game proper, it's time to back up and talk about the history a little.  I've already covered Adams' previous two games on the blog: Adventureland and Pirate Adventure. I enjoyed them well enough, though both of them were standard affairs, being innovative only because they came so early in the life of home computing. Adventureland in particular was a valiant effort to get something resembling Colossal Cave Adventure onto the TRS-80. Regardless, both games sold well, and it's probable that by this point Adams was one of the most successful game designers around.

For his third game, he went with a spy theme, and in a blatant disregard for intellectual property rights called it Mission Impossible. In Adams' defense, the early gaming industry was full of such infringements, and the show was hardly a going concern by 1979.  Even so, somebody must have wised him up, because later ports were renamed: it was called Mission Impossible until around 1982, when it was briefly renamed Impossible Mission, until the name Secret Mission was finally settled upon. Also, it was called Atomic Mission on the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 for some reason. These name changes were fairly haphazard; I've read that while the title on the front was covered with a gold sticker featuring the new title, the spine remained unchanged, and the disks inside were still labelled as Mission Impossible. Regardless of any later names, in this post I'm going with the original title. The title screen for the TRS-80 version calls it Mission Impossible, so that's what I'm going with.

The original packaging is not entirely accurate;
the saboteur didn't have a key or a gun!

As I mentioned above, the game presents you with three obvious options from the outset. Checking your inventory reveals that you're carrying a surgically implanted bomb detector, which is currently glowing green to indicate that the bomb is safe. What bomb, you might ask? That riddle is solved by listening to the tape recorder, which plays the following message:

A little more of that good old IP violation. The recorder doesn't
self-destruct, though.

Okay, so a saboteur, presumably the fellow who just ran away, has set a time bomb to blow up a nuclear reactor. The security keys and map you'll need for the mission are contained in a provided manila envelope, but when you LOOK around the room the envelope is nowhere to be seen. The game doesn't draw your attention to this, but it leaves it up to you to draw your own conclusions, the obvious one being that the saboteur has made off with it. It's a very early example of environmental storytelling, and the game has a little more of that to offer later on.

The area that can be explored outside of the briefing room is small, but it actually comprises almost the whole game. It consists of a central hub, with a Maintenance Room to the west, a room with a strange apparatus to the south, and three colour-coded doors (white, blue and yellow) each monitored by a security camera that demanded I "show authorization" before I'd be able to get through.

All of the time I was exploring this area the saboteur was running about just out of my reach. At first I worried that catching him might be a time-sensitive puzzle (the kind I hate most in adventure games, just ahead of "all alike" mazes), but I was thankfully wrong. After a while I heard a thump, and found the saboteur's dead body slumped on the floor near the yellow door. An empty pill case on his body indicated that he had just committed suicide via cyanide capsule.

Also on his person was an empty envelope and a torn up map, no doubt the one I'd been looking for. There was no sign of the keys, but he was carrying the tape recorder, a piece of yarn, a photo of himself labelled "window maintenance", and a leaflet. The leaflet was nothing more than a cheap plug for Voodoo Castle, Adams' fourth game, and could safely be ignored, but the rest was sure to come in handy or provide clues to where he might have hidden the keys.

Finding the saboteur's body

Still unable to unlock the coloured doors, I went back to the other rooms. In the Maintenance Room I found a bucket, but of much more interest was the apparatus in the south room, a box pointing at a chair bolted to the floor. Sitting in the chair revealed a line of buttons: red, white, blue and yellow. The buttons had keyholes under them, but I figured I'd try pressing them anyway.

I went in order, and discovered that pressing the red button caused my bomb detector to buzz angrily and flash yellow: the bomb had been armed! Pressing the white button right after that activated the box pointing at the chair, which turned out to be a camera. It also disarmed the bomb, at least temporarily. I guess the saboteur had booby-trapped the camera? That's fair enough, but he really shouldn't have made it so easy to disarm right after. I'd guess that most people would press the buttons in order, and that's all I had to do to get this sequence right. If he was really committed, the bomb would have gone off as soon as I pressed that red button.

I left the room, now in possession of a photo of myself stamped "visitor". After some experimentation, I figured out that showing this photo to the camera on the white door would allow me to pass. (It didn't work for the blue or yellow doors.) Past the white door was a visitor's room, with a panel of buttons, a window connected to some red wires, and another camera monitoring the window.  Looking through the window (with the EXAMINE command) I could see that I was on the second floor, with the control room of the reactor core below. I could also see a ledge, just outside the window.

The panel had two buttons, one white and one green. The white one simply allowed me to leave the room, while the green one activated a movie projector that was currently empty.  Obviously the window and the ledge beyond were of more interest. I tried to BREAK GLASS, and the game prompted me as to what I'd like to try breaking it with. It's suggestion of my fist was ineffective, so I had a look at my inventory. A picture, an empty bucket and a piece of yarn didn't sound heavy enough, so I tried the tape recorder. Success! It smashed through the window, falling to the control room below. Unfortunately, the TV camera came to life, and my bomb detector starting flashing yellow again...

Ignoring the warning, I stepped out onto the ledge, where I found some broken glass and a yellow key. My bomb detector was wailing now, but I scooped up the key and tried my best to get it back to the room where I'd had my picture taken. Alas, the bomb exploded before I could get there, and it was back to the beginning.

This time, I figured that I should try to identify myself to the camera before breaking the window. The saboteur had a picture that identified him as "window maintenance", so I took that with me this time. The camera was powered down when I tried to show it though. So I broke the window and then tried it, getting a message that said "owner of badge is not present". Figuring that a dead face is still a face, I lugged the saboteur's body into the room and showed the picture again. This powered the camera down, and allowed me to get onto the window ledge without setting the bomb into a countdown mode. I was able to take the key out of the room, use it to unlock the yellow button, and take a picture of myself marked "maintenance". And once again, taking this picture set my bomb detector back to a safe green level.

Fooling the security system with a dead body.

The maintenance picture allowed me to pass through the yellow door, which led to another maintenance room. This one contained some wire cutters and an old yarn mop. I pocketed the wire cutters, because I figured I'd be defusing a bomb at some point. As for the mop... remember the piece of yarn I found on the saboteur's body? That was a hint, and a SEARCH through the mop caused the blue key to fall to the floor. Upstairs there was nothing but an empty movie projector, so there was nothing left to do but head back to unlock the blue button.

This time, unlocking the button and pressing the correct sequence got me a picture marked "security". The only door left that I hadn't been through was the blue one, and sure enough my new picture allowed me to pass. Inside was an anteroom, with a door labelled "control room", a room to the west, and stairs leading up. For some reason I couldn't open the door, so I looked in the room to the west. In this storage room I found a radiation suit (which I put on) and a vat full of heavy water, which is generally used for cooling nuclear reactors. I figured I'd have to fill my bucket with this stuff for later.

The stairs up lead to a viewing room, with a small window. Looking through, I could see that the control room door was blocked by some debris. Heading back down, I tried a bunch of ways to get the door open. HIT, BASH and PUSH were all ineffective, and I didn't have anything in my inventory that looked useful. At this point I was stuck, but also pretty eager to get this game over and done with, so I looked up the solution: PUSH HARD was the answer to my problem, and I later discovered that KICK would have worked as well. So I had the right idea, but ran afoul of the parser. Stepping through, I saw that the debris that had been blocking the door was the tape recorder that I had earlier thrown through the window. It's a nice bit of continuity, but when I read "debris" I was picturing a pretty sizable blockage. I doubt it affected my ability to solve the problem, but it was a bit of a disconnect from what the game described.

The control room had stairs leading down to the core, and a break room off to the east. There was also a sign: "No beverages, please use Break Room". A seemingly superfluous detail, but those are few when you're dealing with games with such tight memory restrictions. There was also a film cartridge, which I took back to the empty movie projector to watch. It showed me a safety film about the core, with two relevant bits of information: 1) Plastic deforms strangely in radiation, and 2) Even short exposure to high radiation is lethal, so suit up. I'd already done the latter, so all I had to remember was to not take my bucket into a high radiation area.

There was nothing left to do except head down into the core. I found a time bomb attached to the reactor by a red wire. I snipped it with my wire cutters, causing my bomb detector to buzz angrily. Taking the bomb, I carried it to where I had left my pail, in the break room. There I put down the bomb, poured heavy water all over it, and it was defused. I had, apparently, beaten an "impossible mission".

No, it was actually very possible.

Going into the core without a radiation suit on is lethal, of course, and results in you falling over and retching as the bomb explodes. Taking the bucket into the core is also a bad idea, because it deforms and spills your heavy water. Finally, you can't defuse the bomb in any other room except for the break room. You can't actually take the bomb back out through the control room door, so there are only three rooms to choose from anyway, but the break room is the only one that has a floor that doesn't absorb the water when you pour it.

So that's Mission Impossible, a pretty simple, small game that nonetheless did some interesting things with the adventure game genre.  Firstly, it completely discards the treasure hunt format so popular at the time for something with a more narrative focus. It's not necessarily the first game to do this, but it's definitely among the earliest. Of more significance is its use of environmental storytelling: the missing envelope at the beginning, the various items on the saboteur's body, and the piece of yarn from the mop in particular, are examples of this kind of thing. I'm not playing the games from 1979 in a strict chronological order, but regardless of whether another game got there first, Mission Impossible is still doing it in 1979, and that has to count for something.

That said, the story it's telling, aside from being a complete knock-off of a popular TV show, doesn't exactly hang together. The saboteur's plan is the main culprit here, as his various booby traps are pretty nonsensical, obviously designed to be puzzles from an adventure game rather than actual traps a real saboteur might set. Yes, I get that criticising a game for having unrealistic puzzles is a little absurd, but the closer to the real world a game's setting tries to be, the more it invites this kind of criticism.

And now, to the Final Rating.

Story & Setting: The setting for this is a novel one, but it's not all that convincingly realised, being little more than a series of coloured doors to get through. That's no doubt a consequence of the hardware, but I gotta rank what's there. As for the story, it gets some extra points for novelty and environmental storytelling, but it's still too simplistic to rank high. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There are none, aside from the saboteur who commits suicide right at the start of the game. You're never able to occupy the same area as him until he's dead, and his body is even used to solve a puzzle, so he's much more of an inventory object than a person. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a sparsely-written text adventure on the TRS-80, what did you think it was going to get? Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: It's the same two word parser that Adams has been using since his first game, and even at this point it's starting to feel a little long in the tooth. I had one "guess the verb" problem, which I probably shouldn't dock it for, but I'm feeling ever-so-slightly uncharitable right now. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: I'd say this game is a little too easy, even though I consulted a walkthrough to beat it.  That took me about an hour, and I'm pretty confident that I would have sussed out the answer without too much time on top of that. It's certainly Adams' easiest game yet, so I can't rank it high. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: This should get some points for being an early Scott Adams game, as well as for its storytelling innovations. It might seem simplistic now, but I haven't played anything else for the blog that had done this kind of thing before. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Fun: The main advantage this game has in this category is that I finished it really quickly. On the other hand, I consulted a walkthrough so that I could finish it more quickly, which I think says something. It didn't elicit any negative feelings in me, but I wasn't exactly having a blast with it either. Rating: 2 out of 7.

I won't play Mission Impossible again, so it doesn't get the bonus point. The above scores total 15, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 30. That put's it 23rd out of 33 games played, and 12th out of 19 adventure games. It's equal on points with Greg Hassett's Voyage to Atlantis as well as Colossal Cave Adventure II. Both of those are better games, but the former lacks Mission Impossible's interesting points, and the latter is full of hella annoying puzzles.


Somewhat later in this blog I made the decision to overhaul my Final Rating system, so I'm going back through and fixing all of the games I've already played as of March 2020.  I've ditched the Innovation and Influence category, and replaced it for adventure games with a category for Puzzles.  For CRPGs I'm using a Combat category.  I've also changed the purpose of the bonus points, saving them for games that are important, innovative, influential, or have features that are otherwise not covered by my other categories.

Also, the Final Rating is a boring name.  The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET.  The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating.  Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons.  So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.

Puzzles: The puzzles here aren't too difficult, and most of them make some kind of sense. I wasn't thrilled with the description of the debris blocking the final door, but getting through still wasn't super difficult to figure out.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

This gives Mission Impossible a RADNESS Index of 26, placing it equal 22nd overall, and 14th out of twenty adventure games.  It's the lowest rated of the three Scott Adams adventures I've played.

NEXT: I'm sticking with the TRS-80 to play Atlantean Odyssey, which has a decent claim to being the first ever fully graphical adventure game. Eat that, Roberta Williams!