Sunday, March 29, 2020

Game 41: Eamon: The Beginner's Cave (1979)

This is pretty dope for the time, to be honest.

I'm tackling Eamon today, which presents something slightly different from my usual fare.  On the surface it looks like a text adventure, but when you dig into it a little bit it's very obviously a CRPG.  More than that, though, it's a tool for users to create their own games, very possibly the first one that was ever made available to a wide audience.  Certainly it's the first one I've encountered on the blog (unless you count the Wander programming language used to create games like Castle and Aldebaran III, but that could hardly be described as widely available).

If the number of games available for Eamon are anything to go by, it certainly had some measure of popularity.  The Eamon Adventurer's Guild - which is still posting updates in 2020, surprisingly - has a list of over 250 games available, which beggars a real question for a project like mine.  How many of these games am I going to play?  My gut instinct is to defiantly shout ALL OF THEM whenever the question comes up, so that's a possibility.  But being more realistic, I'm going to play it by ear as I plan out each year. For 1979 I have two Eamon adventures lined up: Beginner's Cave and Lair of the Minotaur.  1980 jumps up to ten, and by 1984 there are a whopping 41.  I'll stick with it for as long as it seems feasible, and for as long as I'm enjoying the games.

But let's take a step back and look at how Eamon came about.  The details are a little hazy, because the game's creator Donald Brown has spent the last 30 years not wanting to talk about it.  What we do know is that Brown was a university student around the time that his father purchased an Apple II circa 1978.  He was fascinated by the machine, as well as two other interests that seem so common to the CRPG creators of the era: Dungeons & Dragons, and the Society for Creative Anachronism.  With the encouragement of his friends, Brown combined these interests to create Eamon, and distribute it out of his local shop, the Computer Emporium.  From the beginning Brown made Eamon public domain, and it's pretty clear that he wasn't making any money from it: he was selling the game and its scenarios for the price of the media they were stored on.  Later, in the mid-80s, Brown had a stab at a commercial version of Eamon with the SwordThrust line, but that apparently failed and Brown has had little to do with Eamon ever since.  Others have maintained the community in his stead, and the entire library of games is still available today.

There's some debate about exactly when Eamon first debuted.  Most sources will cite 1980, but Jimmy Maher over at the Digital Antiquarian has done some pretty convincing detective work that suggests a date of 1979 is more likely.  It's pretty hard to dispute, so I'm going with 1979.

At this point I should probably get to the point and talk about what Eamon is, and what it does that's inspired a community spanning close to half a century.  I can't really get into the technical specifics, which are well beyond my expertise, but I can speak to what it offers that no CRPG before it has done: an ongoing "campaign".  One of D&D's most compelling features is its persistence, the ability to take your character from one adventure to the next and to have him or her gain in power (hopefully) or suffer setbacks along the way.  Certainly games had emulated the "gain in power" aspect, and persistent characters were a thing going back to the PLATO days, but you were always stuck inside the same game, the same dungeon.  Eamon expanded that to include a potentially endless number of scenarios, and gave users the tools to create their own scenarios as well.  Not a bad deal for the price of a few floppy disks.

Eamon's original release was on the Apple II, but it was later ported to the PC, and an Eamon Deluxe was created in the late 90s for MS-DOS.  It was even made playable in a browser in 2017. I'm going to be playing the Apple II version, of course, and I won't be checking out any of the other ports right now.

Before getting into the game I took a look at the documentation that's out there, at least for players.  (I didn't want to get into the manuals for creating scenarios, because as much as I'd like to try it I don't have the time to get sucked into something like that.)  It covers the game's systems in some detail, as well as giving a little bit of backstory: "Far away, at the dead center of the Milky Way, is the planet of Eamon. It doesn't orbit any suns - all of the suns orbit it.  The shifting pulls of all these great bodies bring strange forces to bear upon this planet; twisting light, tides, even the laws of science itself!"  So that's the basic framework for adventures within Eamon, although I've no doubt that there'll be scenarios out there that make no sense within that framework.  The player is supposedly a citizen of the planet Eamon, a free person out to seek their fortune.

The core of Eamon is the "Main Hall" of the Guild of Free Adventurers, which is contained on the main game disk.  Here you create your characters, equip them, and save them between adventures.  My first experience with the game was a rather ignominious one.  The game begins as you enter the hall.  There are many men and women guzzling beer, and a desk with a sign that says "register here or else!"  I opted to join the beer drinkers first, and got a sword in the back for my troubles.

I mean, do I really want to associate with these people?

I'm not sure what the point of that was, but I suppose Donald Brown wanted to send a message to Eamon players to follow the rules.  Or maybe he just thought it was amusing, who knows.

If you go to the desk, a burly Irishman - which already puts a dent in the planet Eamon set-up if we're being honest - asks for your name.  Here you can retrieve a character you've created before, or put in a new name to create a new character.  If the character's new, you get to choose whether you're Male or Female, and then you get given your statistics.

This is done by a "tall man of possible elvish descent", who tells you what your scores are in Hardiness, Agility and Charisma.  He also gives you a book of instructions, which you can opt to read or totally ignore.

The three stats range between 3 and 24, generally landing in the mid-teens.  Or at least, they're supposed to be between 3 and 24; on the first version of the game that I downloaded I was getting stats in the 30s and 40s.  Almost every version of Eamon that I found had the same problem.  I suspect that the game had been cracked somewhere along the way, and for whatever reason that was the version that's become widespread on the net.  The version from the Eamon Adventurer's Guild works correctly though, so if you're looking to play the game that's the place to get it from.  The browser version also works correctly.

Hardiness is the equivalent of hit points.  It also determines how much weight you can carry, although I can't say that I ever ran into any encumbrance problems during The Beginner's Cave.

Agility measures how often a character lands a hit in combat.  It can apparently be useful for avoiding traps and other hazards, but again this didn't come into play in this adventure.

Charisma is used to determine how characters will react to you, whether certain NPCs will be hostile or friendly.  It also has an effect on the prices in shops, which is a thing that fantasy CRPGs like to do a lot that is in no way applicable in real life.  No matter how lovable and charming I might be, ain't nothing changing the price of that jar of Vegemite.

After that, the elf-like man gives you a Vulcan-like hand gesture, and you can enter the Main Hall proper.  From here you get six options: go on an adventure, buy weapons, buy spells, deposit your gold in a bank, look at your stats, or save and quit.  Going on an adventure without weapons would be foolish, and the spells are too expensive for a beginning adventurer, so visiting the weapons shop is the best first option.

Temporarily leaving the universe sounds pretty good right about now.

Eamon splits weapons into five categories: axes, bows, clubs, spears and swords.  The game is very up-front with its internal systems, and gives you your base chance to hit with each weapon: beginning adventurers are good with clubs (20%), okay with spears (10%) and axes (5%), average with swords (0%) and bad with bows (-10%). This seems like a fair approximation to me for what weapons would be easiest for a novice to pick up and use without training.  

Armour has only three categories, leather, chain and plate.  Wearing armour reduces the damage you take when hit, but it also reduces your own chances to hit when attacking.  Shields work much the same way.

You begin with 200 gold pieces.  This was generally enough to buy one weapon, a suit of armour (usually leather, although with a high enough Charisma I could sometimes afford chain) and a shield.

My character just before his ill-fated adventure.

All of the above is done through menus, and is pretty self-explanatory, but the game does try to liven things up a bit by giving the various shopkeepers some personality.  The weapons shop is run by Marcos Cavielli, a pretty heavy italian stereotype.  The wizard who sells magic is an old grump called Hokas Tokas.  The banker is called Shylock, which I'll assume is a Shakespeare reference and leave it at that.  It's a valiant attempt, and it's somewhat charming the first time you go through the process, but after a while it becomes a little tiresome reading the same dialogue over again.

When it's time to adventure, the game asks you for the scenario disk.  For The Beginner's Cave, you just leave the main disk in and continue.

I couldn't bear not to add an apostrophe.

The Beginner's Cave is the first Eamon scenario, and the manual helpfully explains that it was set up by "The Warlord" as a service to all Free Adventurers, as a way for them to test their skills in a mildly dangerous setting.  How thoughtful!  As we'll see, it makes very little sense with the adventure as described below.

The adventure began when I apparently stole a horse and rode it to the cave, where I was inspected by the local knight marshal. If you have no weapons he will turn you away, and he also won't let you in if your stats are higher than those of a beginning adventurer.  Like the sign on the cave says, this one is strictly for beginner's only.

Doesn't the guy care that I nicked some poor bugger's horse?

Movement and commands are done in the usual adventure game manner: NESW for North, East, South and West.  The game has a parser that generally behaves like an adventure game, but the commands are limited.  In fact, if you type a command that the game doesn't recognise it gives you a list of every command in the game.  Apparently these can change depending on your scenario,  For The Beginner's Cave, it's mostly basic stuff like GET, DROP, LOOK, EXAMINE, READ, OPEN, etc.

The entrance to the cave led to a passage heading south that then opened into a huge chamber with torches lining the walls.  The entire dungeon is filled with lit torches, so there's no need to worry about light sources.  A tunnel headed south, and there were chambers to the east and west.

I started by exploring the east chamber, where I met a smelly old hermit.  Also in the room was a bottle, which I took.  The hermit, perhaps incensed that I was nabbing his personal belongings, attacked me.

The hermit was hostile this time, but in other games he's been friendlier and decided to follow me around and help me fight various monsters.  As I mentioned above, this is dependent on my Charisma.  It also depends on the NPC's Friendliness rating.  The manual says that the Hermit has a Friendliness of 50%, which means that without modifiers he will be friendly half the time.  This is modified by the player's Charisma score minus 10, then multiplied by 2.  A character with a Charisma of 5 would subtract 10 for a result of -5, then multiplying by two come up with a modifier of -10, which would reduce the Hermit's Friendliness to 40%.  If the player had a Charisma of 15, the Hermit's Friendliness would be raised to 60%.  Some characters and monsters have a Friendliness of 0, and will be hostile regardless of the player's Charisma.

Obviously this time the roll hadn't gone my way, because the hermit was attacking me.  We exchanged blows for a few rounds, until he fumbled and dropped his axe.  I picked it up, and without a weapon he wasn't able to defend himself, so I beat the hermit to death without fear of reprisal.  After the fight I examined the bottle and learned that it was a healing potion.  I'd only been struck once byt the hermit, so I decided to save it for later.

Beating an unarmed hermit to death. Hey, he started it!

The chamber to the west had some treasure in the form of a pile of diamonds, but it was guarded by a trio of giant rats (each a different colour so that the parser can differentiate them).  I struck the black rat, killing it, and the other two fled out of the room.

The ability to land a blow in combat is a percentage based on your Agility score multiplied by two, modified by your skill with the weapon you're using and the complexity of that specific weapon.  My character had an Agility of 16, which is doubled for a base score of 32.  He was using a mace, for which he had a skill of 20%, but its complexity was -10%, so his chance to hit each round was 42%.  If he'd been wearing armour it would have been further reduced, but for this game I didn't buy any.

Your weapon skills increase through use.  Basically, for every blow you strike, the chance of missing is your chance of increasing the skill.  My character above would have a 58% chance of increasing his score with clubs every time he hits.  This raises your skill in that weapon by 2% each time, which increases the chance to hit but makes the chance to learn a little lower.  It's a pretty solid system, and I could even see someone building a decent tabletop RPG out of it.  Unfortunately, in practice it boils down to typing ATTACK BLACK RAT over and over again until you win or die.  The math works, but it's still a system that doesn't give the player a lot of options.

I should also note that once you're on an adventure you can't look at your stats, and you have no idea how much Hardiness you have left.  The combat descriptions give you a general idea of how your character is feeling, but you never know exactly how close you are to dying.  It does provide a certain level of uncertainty that I appreciate (and I've done similar things when running tabletop D&D), but it would be nice to be able to check how my weapon skills are advancing.

With the black rat dead I scooped up the diamonds, and fought the two remaining rats in the main chamber.  Sometimes when a creature fumbles its weapon can break, and in the screen shot below you can see the absurd situation of a giant rat killing itself by breaking its own teeth.

Actually, I've smashed a tooth out on the concrete before and
it was bloody awful, so this tracks.

I headed south, into a long passage lined with cells, six in all.  In the first one I explored was a human warrior armed with a sword and shield.  His shield had a sticker on it that said "Hi! I'm Heinrich!"  Sometimes Heinrich will help you out, but once again the random numbers were against me, because Heinrich was hostile.  I won the following battle, but by the end I was "knocking on death's door", so I drank the healing potion to regain some Hardiness.

In the other cells I found a gorilla guarding some gold pieces, and a mimic disguised as a chest.  The gorilla fumbled and broke its weapon, so I was able to kill it without it fighting back.  The mimic was disguised, as I said, but there was no way to find that out without first opening the chest.  This caused it to grab me with its tentacles, and I had no choice but to fight back.  I killed it with my first blow, and found a gold ring hidden beneath its corpse.

Further south I came to an intersection.  One path led to a library, where I found a glowing book.  I took it with me and left.  (You can read the book, but this results in you being transformed into a fish and dying of asphyxiation.  A typically arbitrary adventure game death, with no way of figuring out beforehand that this might happen.)

The tunnel east led to a flight of stairs heading down.  The tunnel continued east until emerging in a small bay surrounded by cliffs.  There was a pirate here, guarding a pile of jewels, and at my approach he muttered a word that caused his ornate sword to blaze with green fire.  I probably should have fled at this point, seeing as I was quite badly wounded, but I decided to fight anyway.

Yarr, it be Trollsfire it be.

After the first swing the pirate fled.  I took his jewels and pursued him along the tunnel, killing him with my first stroke.  Now that he was dead I could claim his magic sword, called Trollsfire.  Unfortunately, I used the wrong command when trying to wield the sword.  I should have typed READY TROLLSFIRE, but instead I typed WIELD TROLLSFIRE.  The game interpreted this as me activating the sword while it was on my person but not in my hand, and burning myself to death.  Whoops.

Dumb ways to die,
So many dumb ways to die.

Despite dying I'd covered everything that Beginner's Cave had to offer, or so I thought.  While I was doing some preliminary reading for this post I discovered that there's a secret passage leading to another area.  I promptly stopped reading and sent another character into the cave, and began searching.  I found the secret passage in the tunnel just south of the cells, where the walls are described as "very broken and rough".  I suppose that's a hint, but it doesn't come across as one when you're not actually thinking about secret tunnels.

You can go east here without finding the tunnel first. If I'd been using my usual
adventure game method I'd have stumbled across it for sure.

At the end of the passage I found a temple, being presided over by a mad priest of some sort.  Also here, presumably as a captive, was Cynthia "Duke Luxom's not-too bright daughter".  This was the first I was hearing of any of this, but I duly killed the priest and allowed Cynthia to follow me.  I also took some rare spices before I left the temple.

"An insane look on his face" covers most of the priests I've met.

Whenever you return to town, you sell all of your treasures to Sam Slicker, the local buyer of such things.  I also got an extra reward for rescuing Cynthia, which kid of irks me to be honest.  If I'd been told about her beforehand I'd have been much more inclined to start searching around for secret tunnels. As it was I thought I was done after killing the pirate, because there was no indication that there was anything else to do.  And that's not even mentioning the apparent set-up of "the Warlord" creating the cave for adventurers to train, which seems an unlikely place for an evil priest to be holding the duke's daughter captive.

The reward you get for Cynthia is based on your own Charisma, which certainly
says something about how much Duke Luxom value's his daughter.

I can't say that this is a great start for Eamon, if I'm being honest.  I like the idea of a CRPG with an adventure game parser, and I love the idea of being able to take my characters from adventure to adventure.  Beginner's Cave is a little too simplistic, though.  There's really nothing to do inside it but fight.  Sure, there are friendly characters, but you can't actually interact with them.  Either they attack you or they follow you; they don't react to any of your other actions.  I'm also aware that fighting is pretty much all you do in loads of other CRPGs, but that works when the combat has some tactical depth.  Eamon doesn't, at least in its first scenario, and it suffers from that.

I suspect this will change in further adventures, particularly because of Eamon's spell system.  The game has four spells: Blast, Heal, Speed and Power.  Blast hits the target with a magic arrow.  Heal restores your Hardiness. Speed doubles your Agility for a time.  Power is an odd one, in that its effect changes from scenario to scenario.  It's justified in-game as a "call to the gods".  It's the only spell that's cheap enough for a starting character to afford, so I bought it and tried to use it in the Beginner's Cave.  When I cast it I heard a sonic boom in the distance, but when I explored I didn't notice any changes to the dungeon.  Casting it in battle didn't seem to do anything either, although in the final room it caused the rare spices to disappear.  I'll write more about the spell system when I cover The Lair of the Minotaur, because I'll actually be able to afford some of the spells before going in.


Story & Setting: There is a story to Beginner's Cave, but the game doesn't clue you in until you stumble upon it.  If it had mentioned the duke's daughter and the evil priest at the beginning it might have scored a little higher here.  As for the setting the caves don't really make a lot of sense.  The setup with a warlord maintaining them to train adventurers almost works in a fantasy D&D-logic sort of way, but it's harder to see how an evil priest got in there, or why it opens into a pirate's cove.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: I appreciate that the game goes to some extra effort to give its shopkeepers personality, even if they are more than a little stereotypical.  The monsters don't offer much in the way of tactical variation, but they make up for that a little bit with some descriptive prose.  The characters that you can befriend and fight alongside are a nice touch as well, although genuine interaction with them is very limited.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: This is effectively a text adventure in terms of visuals, with no sound beyond the very occasional beep from the speakers.  Still, the descriptions of the rooms and characters are better then those in the vast majority of adventure games on home computers from this era.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Combat: This is among the least complex combat systems I've encountered in a CRPG.  Possibly the magic system would mitigate this, but it's pretty much inaccessible in the Beginner's Cave scenario.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: Despite the lack of options in combat, the math behind it is solid, and I do like how your abilities improve through use.  The parser works, although it is extremely basic.  I never had problems finding the right command in a situation (aside from accidentally killing myself), but that's because the numbers of commands available are very limited by the standards of parser-based games.  Or maybe not. It could be that adventure games of the era are just as limited, but hide it by not giving you the full list of commands available. Either way, I feel like Eamon loses that illusion of flexibility by putting the commands right out in the open.  It's a simple game that does what it does pretty well, but at least in this scenario it's not trying to do all that much.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: I only died twice in the half-dozen times I played through this adventure: once when I read the book, and once when I accidentally burned myself to death with Trollsfire.  For all the battles I fought in the cave, I never lost one of them, and the game was really rather easy.  Of course, that is its intention: it's a beginner's dungeon designed to give an Eamon novice some extra experience and a feel for the game.  It succeeds at that, but as a game in its own right I'd still say that it rates as trivially easy.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Fun: I like a short game, but this one was too short, and not at all challenging.  I didn't hate it, it's just inconsequential.  Although the secret passage and the unmentioned kidnapping of Cynthia did irk me slightly.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 2.  I'm giving this game both bonus points for its historical significance and the potential it gives for better adventures in the future.  I really like what it's trying to do, it just doesn't quite get there with its first scenario.

The above categories total 12, which doubled (and given the bonus points) gives a RADNESS Index of 26. That puts it equal 27th, and equal 11th out of 17 CRPGs.  It's equal on points with Moria, which has the opposite problem, in that it's empty and far too long.  Otherwise it's sitting just below Akalabeth, which was impressive but fundamentally flawed, and above a whole bunch of CRPGs that I didn't much care for.  Right on the dividing line between games I liked and games I didn't get much enjoyment out of seems about right.  I suspect that future scenarios for Eamon will do better.

NEXT: Next on my list is Futurewar which is a PLATO game that seems to be part CRPG and part primitive 3D shooter.  I'm tempted to kick it off my list because I just don't want to get stuck on a months-long mainframe game again, but it does have stats and experience points and levels, so... I guess I have to at least check it out.  If I do get into it for any great length of time, I'll alternate posts between playing Futurewar and progressing through the other games on the list.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Game 40: Voodoo Castle (1979)

Scott Adams' covers are always a good
representation of what you'll find in the game.

With Voodoo Castle, it's time for another game in the "Scott Adams Adventure" series.  I've enjoyed them all so far, to varying extents: Adventureland was a well-executed attempt to get a game like Colossal Cave Adventure onto a home computer, Pirate Adventure (written alongside his wife Alexis) was a welcome step away from the fantasy genre, and Mission Impossible gave me one of the earliest adventure games that isn't a treasure hunt.  Regardless of how they play today, Adams' text adventures are a cut above their contemporaries, at least in the home computer market.

Voodoo Castle is credited solely to Alexis Adams in the game itself, but I've seen other sources credit both her and Scott.  Scott has apparently said in later years that he did most of the work, while Alexis has claimed that the game was all hers.  I don't know the truth of it, so I'm going to credit them both while assuming that the bulk of the design came from Alexis.  I don't believe that I credited Alexis when I wrote about Pirate Adventure, which was remiss of me: as the first known female adventure game designer she deserves some recognition.

The original release of the game seems to have been by the Software Exchange in July 1979, for the TRS-80.  As I understand it, the Software Exchange was the game publishing arm of SoftSide magazine.  Adventure International didn't form until some time in 1979, so all of Adams' previous games would also have been first published by the Software Exchange.  I'm playing a later TRS-80 version of Voodoo Castle, that's credited to Adventure International, but if you scroll down to my new section Ports of Call you'll see that I checked out a few different versions.

The premise of this game is an odd one: Count Cristo has been placed under a voodoo curse, and it's up to the player to save him from his plight.  There's little else to go on.  Is Count Cristo a good dude?  (Probably not, all counts are vampires.)  Are you his friend?  Is there any reward for this benevolent activity, beyond the satisfaction of beating a video game?  Having beaten this game several times, I am not much the wiser.

This count is Monte's brother, Santo.

The game begins in a chapel with a closed coffin.  Opening it revealed the count's body, a rhyme outlining the objective of the game and a sapphire ring.  I did my usual pregame ritual: I for Inventory revealed that I was carrying nothing, and SCORE revealed that there were no points to obtain in this game.  Waking Count Cristo from his voodoo coma was my sole objective.

Before I begin describing the game, I want to point out the weird capitalised As in the text above.  There are only a couple of them on that screen, but I can tell you that they are all over this game.  There are plenty of lower-case As, so it seems to me that this was a deliberate stylistic choice.  I spent a good portion of the game thinking about this, and wondering if it was a deliberate clue to a puzzle.  It wasn't, it was just a piece of formatting that bugged me a lot.  I'm still baffled by it.

Taking the ring, I saw that it was inscribed with the words WAVE ME.  Doing so had no effect here, but I kept it in mind for later, and started exploring and mapping.  West was a ballroom with a fireplace.  North was a room with a window that slammed shut upon my entrance, and couldn't be opened.  South was a stairwell and some passages which I decided to ignore for now, though I did take a piece of broken glass I found there.  East was a door with a sapphire embedded in it, as well as a bloody knife.  I took the knife, but trying to take the sapphire was fruitless (those old treasure hunting instincts die hard).  The door wouldn't open, but waving the ring caused it to disappear and reveal a chute.  (Also, I'm just now realising the connection between the sapphire ring and the door with a sapphire in it.  I just waved the ring here hoping that something would happen.)

Sliding down the chute (with no way back up) I found a room with a crack on one wall and a hole on another.  There was also a plaque, but because the letters are phosphorescent I couldn't read it in the light.  (If I hadn't been carrying the broken glass, I'd have been told that the print was too small for me to read. The game doesn't indicate that I'm using the glass here, and is bad in general at letting the player know when an item is being used passively.)

The crack was too narrow for me to pass through, and I was informed that I'd need powerful magic to get by.  I was able to get through the hole though, into Medium Maegen's Mad Room (or as the game irritatingly puts it, "Medium MAegen's MAd Room".  I startled the medium when I entered and she disappeared.  Not knowing how to get her back I decided to examine her crystal ball, but "spirit vibrations" drove me from the room, leaving me conveniently at the top of the chute.

I decided to check out the fireplace this time, which I was able to enter.  I found a dusty idol there, and a flue that opened easily to give me access to the chimney.  The chimney was dark, and much like Colossal Cave Adventure moving around in the dark can break your neck in this game.  Dusting the idol revealed that it was glowing, though, and I was able to get up there safely.  All I found was some soot, and wooden boards nailed to the chimney wall.  The boards were solidly in place, but somehow I was able to take the soot.  Don't ask me how, but I gathered it all up because this is an adventure game and has a pretty hefty nine item inventory limit.  I could also hear someone moaning, which made me think of zombies, so I got the heck out of there.

On my way out of the fireplace I was accosted by a maid who was angry about me tracking soot everywhere, and she hurried me out of the room.  I found myself in a dungeon with a shovel on the floor and an open jail cell nearby.  I decided to enter the cell, and the door slammed shut behind me.  Inside was a leaflet, which read "For a reading just "SUMMON MEDIUM MAEGEN" today!!"  Typing SUMMON MEDIUM didn't do anything here, but the game did acknowledge it, so I made a note to try it elsewhere.  Unfortunately, the cell door was now locked, and nothing I had on me was able to open it.  I couldn't even dig my way out with the shovel.  There was nothing for it but to restart.  (To be honest, I never did figure out how to get out of the cell on my own.  There's a saw elsewhere in the game, and you can SAW DOOR to get out.)

Starting over, I decided to explore south.  Up the stairwell I found a stone statue of a Ju-Ju Man (who I gather was some kind of voodoo priest).  Exploring east of the stairwell I found a room with a big kettle full of soup. Eating the soup gave no response, but examining the kettle revealed a dark hole underneath. I pushed the kettle aside, climbed down, and lighting my way with the idol found a lucky rabbit's foot.

North of that was a room with some animal heads (on the wall, one assumes, but I guess they could just be severed heads on the floor).  I wasn't able to take them, so I explored to the east and found a cast-iron pot containing "witch's brew".  I was a bit more suspicious of this than the soup, so I didn't try any.  (Eventually I succumbed to my curiosity, and found that it transforms you into a broom. A witch then appears and rides you away, for a quite bizarre game over.)

Further east I found a lab, with three items of interest: a Ju-Ju bag, some test tubes, and some chemicals.  I was keen to examine this stuff, but as soon as I tried to open the bag one of the test tubes exploded, and I was unceremoniously killed.

The only random factor in this game, I'm pretty sure.

Starting over again again I headed west from the stairwell and found the dungeon.  This time I ignored the open cell and went south to the torture chamber.  There I found a tiny door, which was far too small for me to enter.  Again, I was told that I'd need powerful magic to get through.  East of that I found an Armory, with a shield, a broken sword, and a suit of armor which was too heavy for me to lift.  The game didn't recognise WEAR as a command, so I took the other items and left.

At this point I'd explored all the paths that were obvious to me, and it was time to begin painstakingly putting this puzzle together.  And I do mean painstaking: I was determined to get through this one without any outside help, because I've been leaning a little too hard on walkthroughs for my liking.  Every step of the following process involved lots of trial and error, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The first thing I figured out was that I was able to take the animal heads using the broken sword.  Behind them was a safe, with a dial numbered 33 to 38, that I wasn't able to open.  The second thing I figured out is that I could survive the exploding test tubes by carrying the shield.  As with using the glass to read, neither of these results were signposted. I had to figure out what was going on myself.  (Incidentally, you can carry these exploding test tubes with you as long as you also have the shield. I spent way too long exploding every room in the game to see if anything would happen.)

Now I was able to examine the Ju-Ju bag, but I discovered that it couldn't be moved or opened... yet.  (If there's one thing the game is good at, it's letting you know that an action will be possible in the future.)  Instead I examined the chemicals, which I was told looked like they could be mixed.  So I mixed the chemicals and drank them like any good scientist, and was rewarded with a clap of thunder and a reduction in height to 4 feet tall.  This is never reversed, by the way: the protagonist of this game remains four feet tall forever.  Such is the price for meddling with voodoo, I suppose.

Now that I was small I could get through the door in the torture chamber, and past it I found a graveyard.  There was a rusty saw there, as well as a four-leaf clover growing out of a grave that was supposedly reserved for me.  (With the deaths I had suffered already, it was probably getting a little crowded in there.)

Exploring around a little, I went back to the room with the window.  This time it stayed open when I entered, apparently because I was carrying the lucky four-leaf clover.  On a ledge outside I found a doll with pins in it.  I couldn't pull them out, but a voodoo doll had to be important in Voodoo Castle so I held on to it.

(There's also a raven that flies around the window, and if you listen it tells you to go and buy The Count, Scott Adams' next adventure.  Apparently it will be "LOVE AT FIRST BITE!", a pun the authors are so proud of that they capitalised it and gave it an exclamation point.).

At this point I finally remembered the leaflet that had told me that I could summon Medium Maegen. So I went back to her room, and after she vanished I typed in SUMMON MEDIUM.  Sure enough, she reappeared and gave me a cryptic hint.

Give it to me straight, lady!

I figured that this meant the Ju-Ju bag could help me through the narrow crack, but seeing as I couldn't move the bag at all right now it wasn't that helpful a revelation.  But on my way to the medium's room I had passed by the plaque that I'd been unable to read before.  Obviously I needed some darkness to read the phosphorescent writing, but I didn't know how to make it dark in that room.  I'm embarrassed to say that it took me a very long time to figure out that I could pick up the plaque, and carry it to a dark room.  I dunno, I figured it would be screwed into the wall or something.

So I took the plaque into the dark chimney (leaving my glowing idol temporarily behind) and was able to read its message: "safe --> 38 33".  I went to the safe behind the animal heads, and after some wrangling with the parser - the relevant commands were TURN 38 and TURN 33 - I got it open and found an antique hammer inside.  (I guess it's antique to explain why the hell it's being kept in a safe.)

Back to the fireplace, I used the hammer to take the nails and then the boards.  Behind those was a grate, which I cut open with my saw.  Behind that was a button, and pressing it activated a fan that sent me whooshing up the chimney.  All this time I'd been worried that the moaning I could hear meant that I was about to be eaten by a zombie, but what I found further up the chimney was somewhat less frightening: a stuck chimney sweep.  Obviously the fellow wasn't too happy to be in there, so I tried to help him and eventually hit on PUSH SWEEP.  Grateful to be free, he gave me a piece of paper before leaving. On it was written this message:

Chim-chimerny, chim-chimerny
chim-chim, cheroo
I only exist
to solve puzzles for you

"SAY ZAP to restore someone changed to stone."  I went back to where I'd left the Ju-Ju man statue, said the magic words, and restored the Ju-Ju man to life.  He was standing there mumbling, and at this point I got a bit worried and high-tailed it out of the room.  The game warns you that you might be in trouble, and the packaging tells you to "beware that you don't end up a victim of the voodoo man", so I was wary of this guy.  It turns out he's friendly, and if you listen to his mumblings he will tell you to take his bag, as it will help you -CRACK- the curse.  I missed this unsubtle clue, but in the end it didn't hinder me too much.

I'll refrain from a joke about bags and cracks.

After trying a bunch of stuff I discovered that I could now take the bag and open it.  Inside I found a stick and a book on removing curses.  Inside it read: "With knife in hand you take a stand. Circle coffin and..."  The rest of the page was missing, but I finally felt like I was getting somewhere.  The only place left for me to explore was the crack, and I guessed that the rest of the page would be somewhere beyond.

I took the bag down to the crack, but I still wasn't able to get past.  This is where I really got stuck, and spent a good half-hour trying dumb things and experimenting just to make any progress at all.  I actually had to sleep on this one, and as is the way of such things when I got back to the game I hit on the solution on my first try: WAVE BAG.  (The medium had clued me in on this by telling me that a "moving bag" would get me through, but I only figured out what she was on about in hindsight.)  Beyond the crack I found the page, and the rest of the ritual: "...wave the stick and hold the lamp and don't forget to yell "CHANT"! Oh yes, to help it succeed, a doll you'll need..."

I had everything I needed, so I took it all back to the coffin and started trying to cast the ritual on Count Cristo's body.  None of it worked.  Not circling the coffin, not waving the stick, not telling the game to go screw, not nothing.  I only hit on the solution by accident.  Figuring that emptying my inventory might help, I started dropping things.  When I tried to drop the lucky rabbit's foot, I got a message: "On what?"  Knowing how limited the parser was, I skeptically typed in ON CRISTO.  It worked!  I was able to go through the steps of the ritual, and eventually succeed in lifting the curse.

Smiling Count Cristo could definitely be a wrestler from the 1970s.

So I was only technically victorious: I hadn't figured out how to escape the jail cell, so the info I got from going in there came from earlier games where I'd died.  I still got to the endgame though, even if there was one puzzle I didn't figure out.  I'll take it!

Despite the satisfaction of beating a game legitimately, though, I didn't get much enjoyment out of Voodoo Castle.  Adventure games often operate on a sort of weird Rube Goldberg/puzzle box logic, but most of the other ones I've played at least try to disguise it somehow.  This game just rolls with it, and makes very little attempt to explain itself.  Why is there a chimney sweep stuck in there?  Because it's a puzzle, that's why.  "Because it's a puzzle" is the entirety of this game, and it nagged at me the whole way through.  It's well constructed, but it's so obviously constructed that it hurt the experience, at least for me.

Before I get into the RADNESS Index, here's my Trizbort map of the game:

Clickin' makes it bigger.


Story & Setting: The game doesn't do a lot to explain the context, but there is a story here: the count is cursed and you have to help him. Who cursed him?  Why?  Why are all the things you need conveniently scattered around the castle you're in?  Who is Medium Maegen?  Why can't she do the ritual if she's so great?  Why the hell is there a chimney sweep stuck in the chimney?  It goes on and on.  Because puzzles, that's why.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: We're in early adventure game territory here, where the characters serve no other purpose except as problems to solve.  They have no personality, and no reason to exist otherwise.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Text adventure, no sound, terse descriptions. You know the drill by now.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Puzzles: I will actually give the game some praise here, it does have some good puzzles, and all of them are fair.  Sometimes it's not all that clear when you've solved a puzzle, or that there was a puzzle to solve in the first place, but in hindsight the solutions all make sense (even if some of the situations don't).  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: I've always been a fan of the split-window style of the Scott Adams adventures, and even though this is a simple two-word parser it does the job adequately.  I had a couple of moments where I had to wrack my brain for the right command, but none of them stumped me for too long. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: I spent most of this game frustrated, and making progress felt painful, but in retrospect I was never stuck for long.  The puzzles were all fair, the random deaths were minor setbacks, and I was always making some kind of progress.  And I was able to finish it without a walkthrough.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Fun: Despite the things I praised above, I didn't actually enjoy playing this game.  I just found something impenetrable about it's weird illogic, which isn't something that normally bothers me this much, but in this game it did.  For whatever reason, I couldn't connect with it, and the whole thing felt like pulling teeth.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Bonus Point: 0.

The above scores add up to 15, which doubled gives a RADNESS Index of 30. That places it 20th overall, and 11th for adventure games.  Coincidentally enough, it's equal on points to Pirate Adventure, which seems appropriate.  If I'd been able to connect with it a little better it might have done quite respectably.


This is a new section I'm trying out, where I try to play through some other ports of the game I'm covering.  I won't do it for everything, because even I only have so much time, but for games that are quick to play through I'll check out a few different versions.

The Apple II version is pretty much the same game, with two minor differences: it features a dedication "to all Moms" at the beginning; and its advertisement of The Count says that it will be LOVE AT FIRST BYTE, which is an even worse pun.  Oh, and the game is in all caps, so it doesn't have all those irritating upper case As everywhere.  I'd be tempted to bump it up a point in Aesthetics just for that, but that would be frivolous.

You think any kids were disappointed that this wasn't a sequel
starring Smiling Count Cristo?

I also found an earlier TRS-80 version than the one I played above, although I couldn't tell if it was early enough to be the Software Exchange version.  It was pretty much identical to the Apple version, except that it retained the annoying As.  Oh, and for some reason both the Apple and early TRS-80 version have an extraneous empty room that got cut from the later version.

There wasn't a port released for the Commodore PET, surprisingly, but there was one for the VIC-20.  I couldn't get it to work, though, so I jumped all the way ahead to the Commodore 64 port from 1985 and got a big surprise.

She really loves those MOMS.

Apparently a whole bunch of the Scott Adams catalogue got converted to graphic adventures in the 1980s, and I'm only just finding out about it now.  I was a C64 kid, how did this happen?  Anyway, the gameplay and puzzles here remain the same, although the graphics replace some of the text in places.  Some of the visuals change when you take certain actions (such as opening the coffin above), but there are other places where they remain annoyingly static.  The raven in this version has lowered his standards, though: rather than advertising The Count he tells you that Questprobe featuring The Hulk is a SMASHING GOOD TIME.  He's lying.  Still, this is a good adaptation. I'd mark it a point higher for Aesthetics, but without the split-window letting you always know what's in the room I mark it a point down for Mechanics, so it comes out even.

Did I win? 'Cos dude is still lying down.

NEXT: The next game on my list is Eamon, a text adventure RPG hybrid that also intended as a system for people to create their own games.  It still has something of a fan community, I understand, and it all sounds pretty intriguing.  I'll post about it on Sunday.  Because I have a schedule now!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Game 39: Dog Star Adventure (1979)

The title screen. Note, if you will, the masterful use of negative space.

Before I kick things off, I should mention that I've completely redone all the Final Ratings, and converted them to the new RADNESS Index (standing for Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores).  I'm pretty pleased with how it's turned out, and I feel like it's a much better representation of the relative quality of the games I've played.  The top games remain mostly unchanged, but there was a lot of shuffling at the bottom that put the worst games where they belong.  Check out the link on the sidebar if you care about my arbitrary ranking scheme.

*  *  *  *  *

About a month ago, I played Battlestar, a game that culminated in a lightsaber duel with a thinly veiled Darth Vader.  No doubt Star Wars was still in the zeitgeist in 1979, because Vader is back in the game I'm writing about today, Dog Star Adventure.

Oh, sorry, it's not Darth Vader, it's "General Doom".  Doom and his Roche Soldiers are preparing an attack on the Forces of Freedom, and they've captured Princess Leya and taken her to one of their battle cruisers.  Geez lads, couldn't you have tried a bit harder?  Obviously, this game is nicked from the middle third of Star Wars (and no, I'm not going to call it A New Hope, I'm using the movie's real name).  Intellectual property concerns were definitely not a thing in the gaming community in the late 70s.

Dog Star's creator was Lance Micklus, who's been featured on the blog before as the author of Treasure Hunt, currently languishing near the bottom of my RADNESS Index.  That game was more of a mapping exercise in the style of Hunt the Wumpus, with some light adventure game elements based on inventory.  Dog Star is a proper text adventure.  Reading up on Micklus, I'm surprised to see how prolific he was around this time.  Not only did he create the games above, but he also made a bunch of boardgame adaptations, utilities for programmers, financial software, and a port of the Star Trek game that was such a big deal on the mainframes.  The dude's got a resume.

Dog Star Adventure was released commercially circa March 1979 for the TRS-80.  At about the same time its code was published in SoftSide, in the issue cover dated May 1979.  This is it's main claim to fame; as the first text adventure to have its code publicly released it served as a reference point for loads of future game creators.  Micklus never made another text adventure after this, but his creative DNA will be seen in a bunch of games as I progress forward in my chronology.

I couldn't find the cover to the commercial release,
so here's the cover of the
SoftSide issue.

The article accompanying the code in SoftSide gives the backstory to the game.  General Doom has captured Princess Leya aboard her spaceship, as I mentioned above.  They also took a chest containing Melidium crystals, which apparently comprise the entire treasury of the Forces of Freedom.  Leya was also wearing a Shinestone necklace, and encoded in one of the stones is the location of the rebel base.  The player takes the role of a character (presumably a member of the Forces of Freedom) who has stowed away on board her ship.  The goal of the game is to rescue the princess from Doom's battle cruiser, find the two treasures, and escape.  So yeah, it's another treasure hunt, but at least this one's wrapped up in a rescue mission.

The game starts with the player inside the ship, aboard the battle cruiser.  For anyone who's played a Scott Adams adventure, the style and tone here are very familiar.  As usual, I went through my adventure game preparation routine.  First I checked my inventory, and discovered that I was carrying nothing.  Second, I typed SCORE, and learned that there are 215 points to earn before I can beat the game.  I also tested movement, and was surprised that the standard NESW abbreviations weren't implemented.  To move around I had to type the full words NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST, UP and DOWN.  Also, I had to use INVEN instead of a simple "I" to check my inventory.  I figured those abbreviations were pretty universal by this point, but not here.  (I also spent a good minute or so wondering why none of my commands were working, until I realised that I had the Caps Lock off.  The game doesn't register anything unless it's in all caps.)

User friendliness is big in the future.

There were only two rooms inside the ship: the cockpit and the storage compartment.  The cockpit had a launch button, but pressing it did nothing.  Storage was empty, but I figured that this was where I'd need to bring any treasures I found.  With nothing else to do, I left the ship to explore the battle cruiser.

North and east I found a Vault, but when I tried to enter a voice asked "who goes there?".  I answered GENERAL DOOM, but apparently I wasn't fooling anyone because I was swarmed with Roche Soldiers and imprisoned.  That was a game over, but it was worth a crack.

West of the Vault I found a research lab, with a slightly confusing layout (including a room description that simply says "I'm Lost".  I found a laser gun in one of the labs, and took it with me.

Heading north I passed through a computer room, where a TRS-80 was happily whirring away.  This is fairly consistent with Star Wars, which has a sci-fi setting where the computer displays haven't progressed past vector graphics.  A message on the monitor read >> CSAVE TAPE <<.  I tried that message as a command and was told that I wasn't carrying any blank tape, so I made a mental note to try and find some.

Further north was a test laboratory, where I found an ID card, a cloaking device, and something called a "turboencabulator".  Also in the lab was an "evil-looking" scientist, which is kind of a shitty assumption to make.  Still, he looked evil so I tried to shoot him with the gun I'd found earlier, only to be told "I'm not carrying a BLASTER".  Dude, I have a LASER, isn't that good enough?  Apparently not, because while I was trying to pull the trigger the scientist called for the guards, and it was game over once more.

Getting transferred to cell block 1138.

On the next game I tried exploring south, along the flight deck.  I found some anti-matter fuel, as well as a sign that read >> NEEDS TURBO <<; this was probably a reference to the turboencabulator in the test lab.  Exploring east I came to a supply depot, said to contain "all kinds of things", which I left without exploring too much.  South of that I came to a decontamination room and an interrogation room, where I found Princess Leya's cape, and the Shinestone necklace, one of the treasures I was looking for.  I'd thought that it would be better guarded, honestly.

My good fortune was short-lived, because I soon stumbled into a strategy room, and a guard who called for help.  Game over number three...  I really needed to find that blaster.

Exploring further I found a lounge, with a McDonald's hamburger on the table.  I guess "long, long ago" doesn't apply here.  Nearby was a bathroom with some graffiti, some of which read >> SAY SECURITY <<.

Climbing up from the bathroom led into a maze of pipes, which was really only two areas that looped back on themselves a whole lot, and not at all difficult to navigate.  In one of the rooms I found a map of the battle cruiser which I couldn't read, apparently because I'm not a cartographer.

Eventually I found my way down from the pipe maze and into the jail.  There were two empty cells, and another that was locked.  Without a key I left the jail and found a security desk manned by an attack robot.  Beyond the robot was an elevator, but he wasn't letting me past.

I was a little stumped at this point, so I resorted to the HELP command, which gives you hints in various locations.  In this case it said "Did you bring anything to eat?"  I had the hamburger in my possession, so I tried FEED ROBOT.  Sure enough, he took the burger and I was allowed to pass.  I really should have thought of this, because feeding has been one of the most common solutions in these games.  Anyway, the elevator just looped back to the interrogation room, so it seemed that I was out of places to explore.

Wait did I just feed that robot a citizen of Hamberg, North Dakota?

At that point a guard wandered in, and I was captured.  There are randomly occurring guards who pop up occasionally, and if you don't have the means to kill them it's a game over.  I generally dislike random elements like these in adventure games, but in this case it's not so bad once you have the solution.  Before that, it's a real pain.

I'd pretty much exhausted my options, and it was obvious that I needed to find a blaster so I could kill the various personnel that were blocking my progress.  I thought I'd found the password necessary to get into the vault (SAY SECURITY), and it did get me past the first level of security, but I also discovered the hard way that I needed an ID card.  Once again, I was stuck.

The answer came in the form of the supply depot, which has among its "all kinds of things" a blaster.  I didn't figure this out on my own; I had to resort to the HELP command once again, which in the supply depot says "How 'bout a BLASTER".  Type GET BLASTER while you're in there, and sure enough you'll find one.  It's kind of a clever puzzle, but a little irritating as well.

With blaster in hand I stormed around the place shooting everyone in sight.  The evil scientist got it first, and with his ID Card in my possession I was able to access the Vault, where I found Leya's treasury, the Malidium crystals (the in-game spelling differs from the backstory).

Next I went and vaporised the guard in the strategy room.  There I found some keys, a communicator, and some death ray schematics.  When I picked up the communicator, someone on the other side said "Sesame".  I replied with the same word, and a voice over the PA announced that the flight deck doors would be opened.

I'll have some holy smokes. Menthol.

Past the strategy room was the tractor beam room.  There were no guards there, just a sign warning people not to press any buttons.  I'm not on General Doom's payroll, so I pressed those damn buttons, and the tractor beam was shut off.  I could have escaped at that point, except for one thing: with the flight doors open, there was no oxygen in the flight deck, and no way to get back to the ship.  I couldn't figure out how to get the flight doors closed again, and I don't think there's another way back to the ship, so I had to restart again.

Getting back to where I was didn't take long though, and with the keys in my possession I was able to open the locked cell in the jail, where I found the princess as expected.  Somewhat amusingly, she's implemented as an object that you carry in your inventory.  You can't interact with her in any way, and she doesn't even react when you enter her cell, or return her to her ship.  Micklus didn't even code a response to KISS PRINCESS, which is a real failing.

I'm Lewk Skywarker, I'm here to rescue you!

I ran into one last hurdle, though: my blaster ran out of ammunition, and I was captured before I could make it back to the ship.  I had a hunch, and on my next game I went back to the supply depot and typed GET AMMUNITION.  To my delight, I found some, and used it to reload when I thought I was getting low.

I'd rescued the princess, and stashed her necklace and treasury in the ship's storage.  I also had the fuel and the turboencabulator, as well as as a bunch of other items that were worth some points (the cape, the laser, the cloaking device, the map, the schematics, etc.).  I'd disarmed the tractor beam, and used the communicator to open the flight doors (this time from the safety of my ship).  So I went to the cockpit, hit the launch button, and basked in a victory well-earned.

Well, almost.  I'd struck a blow for the Forces of Freedom, but I was 20 points shy of the full 215.  The only unexplained thing left on the map was the TRS-80, but I hadn't yet found the blank tape I needed to use with it.  Once again I went to look for it in the supply depot, and once again that room came through.  With blank tape in hand I typed CLOAD TAPE into the computer, and was rewarded with a printout of General Doom's secret attack plans.  This was the final item I needed, and I was able to complete Dog Star Adventure with full points.

Way to disguise your Very Secret Plans, dude.

We can be HEROS, just for one day

You can end the game without finding everything, though, and the game gives you a congratulatory message even if you just escape from the battle cruiser without the princess or any of the treasures.  Somehow that's helped the Forces of Freedom defend the galaxy, don't ask me how!

You get points for depositing various items in the ship's storage hold.  The point values are as follows:

  • Anti-Matter Fuel - 5 points
  • Leya's Cape - 5 points
  • Shinestone Necklace - 20 points
  • Death Ray Schematics - 20 points
  • Micro Laser Gun - 20 points
  • Cloaking Device - 20 points
  • Turboencabulator - 5 points
  • Malidium Crystals - 30 points
  • Map of the Ship - 20 points
  • Secret Attack Plans - 20 points
  • Princess Leya - 50 points

Finally, here's my map for the game, created in Trizbort.

Click to enlargenate

I had a decent time playing this game: it's short, and it doesn't have any exceptionally frustrating puzzles.  The ones it does have are well covered by the game's HELP command, which I'm a bit less reluctant to use than an outside walkthrough.  It's a solid game for the era, and I think it will do okay on the RADNESS Index.


Story & Setting: As with other games that have knocked off properties that I love, I have to be careful to rate what's actually in the game, rather than what I'm bringing to it from those outside influences.  The story amounts to a treasure hunt once you get down to the gameplay, but it has far more context than other games of its type: there are rebels fighting against an evil force, and every one of the treasures you have to find is relevant to that fight.  The setting is novel, with Battlestar being the only other game I've played that's set on a space station.  Still, it's very sparsely described, and there's not much in the way of atmosphere.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: We have the guards, the evil scientist, Princess Leya, and the burger-eating robot.  The first two are obstacles and wandering hazards, and the only thing you can do with them is shoot or be captured.  Leya is a literal object.  The robot is memorable, but again you can't interact with him beyond his one function in the game.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: A TRS-80 text adventure with sparse descriptions and no sound is always going to score low.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Puzzles: Dog Star has one puzzle I'd consider clever, and a bunch of others that are simple (buttons to press, doors to unlock, etc.)  I think I come down on liking the supply depot puzzle, and I'm down with it being used twice as a solution.  Three times might be pushing things, though.  And too many of the game's obstacles are solved by shooting them.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Mechanics: The game has a very simple parser, that only recognises about 20 verbs.  It does the job, but that's all it does.  Still, I had very few issues with hunting for the right command.  Movement was annoying, though; abbreviating it to the first letter should be standard practice, even in 1979.  It's not a gamebreaker, though, and the game does what it does reasonably well.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: Outside of the puzzles, which I'd consider a mild challenge, there are the wandering guards to contend with.  They're annoying at first, but easily dealt with once you find the blaster.  That's decent design I feel: things can be frustrating for a short while, just not the entire game.  I'd rate Dog Star as pretty easy, but short enough that it doesn't matter. By the time you run out of challenges, the game is over.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Fun: I enjoyed this while it lasted.  It helps that it was short, and I never got stuck for long because of the HELP command.  The guards at the start were annoying, but that just makes it more enjoyable once you get the ability to kill them.  Still, there's not a lot to this one, and no scope for activities outside of the puzzles required to beat the game.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 1.  As the first adventure game to have its source code published, Dog Star does have some influence and a little bit of historical importance.

That gives Dog Star Adventure a RADNESS Index of 29.  Overall that places it equal 21st, and on the chart for adventure games it's 12th out of 24 games rated so far.  It's equal in points to Castle, just below Pirate Adventure and above Voyage to Atlantis, squarely in the area of the chart that separates the games I liked from those I didn't.  Middle of the pack feels about right, I'd say.


I also played through the version for the Commodore PET, which was ported in 1980.  The major difference is that it's even more explicit with its Star Wars connections: General Doom is Darth Vader, Leya is Leia, the ship is the Millennium Falcon, and the guards are stormtroopers.  I'm not sure why IP violation was fine on the PET and not on the TRS-80, but whatever. It mercifully uses the NESW abbreviations, but only recognises TAKE, not GET (my preferred verb).  The blaster isn't loaded when you first pick it up, you need to also take the ammunition, but it tracks how many shots you have left. The random stormtroopers take potshots at you when they appear, but I never got hit by one.  The most difficult thing for me was that the TRS-80 has been replaced by a generic terminal, and it's a little harder to figure out the correct command.  It takes 225 points to win, but you don't need to do anything new, you just get the extra 10 when you escape.  It's much the same game, and despite a nifty image of Vader on start-up it gets the exact same RADNESS Index. I probably like this one a touch more, simply because it's explicitly Star Wars.  Still, it's weirder to treat the princess as a literal object when it's actually Leia, and not a stand-in.

To be honest, this is a better Darth Vader than most of the artists of
Marvel Comics managed in the 80s

At least this version can spell "heroes"

Dog Star was also released by Adventure International, under the title Death Planet: A Dog Star Adventure (although it's just called Dog Star in the game itself).

This is a much better name

It uses the split-panel style of Scott Adams adventures, with the room descriptions at the top and the player's commands at the bottom, and is the most technically sound of the three versions I played; it ran really smoothly compared to the others. My major problem with it is that it completely removes the supply depot puzzle: when you enter the room the blaster, ammunition and tape are already out in the open.  It also has a score out of 100 rather than 215, and it explicitly marks the treasures with asterisks.  In terms of RADNESS Index I'd rate it a point higher in Mechanics, but the removal of the supply depot puzzle loses it a point in Puzzles, so it still comes out the same.

Brother, I've already finished this thing three times.

NEXT: It's back to Scott Adams, as I take a look at his fourth effort, Voodoo Castle.  This time his wife Alexis is also involved, so we'll see how much difference that makes.