Monday, April 20, 2020

Back-Tracking: The Scott Adams Graphic Adventures - Adventureland, Pirate Adventure, and Mission Impossible

A while ago, when I was playing Dog Star Adventure, I had the bright idea to explore the different ports for the games that I played.  I still think it's a good idea, and one that helps my blog stand out a little by exploring some versions of games that don't get brought to light all that much. I'm also kind of fascinated by the minor differences that old games have between platforms, so it helps keep my interest up on the blogging side of things.  In the era that I'm currently in it's perfectly viable, as the games - particularly adventure games - are short, and can be blasted through in a matter of minutes once you know all of the solutions.  Later on it's going to be untenable, because the games will just get too big, but I plan to keep it up for as long as I can.

While I was playing through ports of Scott and Alexis Adams' Voodoo Castle, I stumbled across one for the Commodore 64 that had graphics.  Through that I discovered that all of the Scott Adams adventures were re-released with a graphical upgrade, which was something of a revelation for me.  I grew up with a Commodore 64, and amassed a sizable collection of ill-gotten games over the years, but I never encountered these.  I wasn't planning to go back and play through ports of the games I'd already covered, but for ones as significantly different as these I thought I'd make an exception.


The original cover was much more representative
of the game, but this one has it's good points.

This version of the game was released in 1982 for the Apple II, but because I found these games through playing a Commodore 64 port of Voodoo Castle, I decided to play the C64 version.  I just had a quick check, and my usual sources didn't have this for the Apple II anyway, so my options were limited.

For those who need a quick reminder, Adventureland was Scott Adams' first game, and his attempt to get a game similar to Colossal Cave Adventure onto a personal computer.  It's a treasure hunt with a loose fantasy theme: there are dragons but there are also references to Paul Bunyan, so the mythology is a hodge-podge. I liked it at the time, and I think I'd still rate it as the best of his games I've played so far.  My initial post on the game is here.

The opening screen of Adventureland.

I have to admit, I had a lot of trouble with this game at the beginning.  As I explored the opening wilderness, it appeared to me that the graphics had completely replaced the room descriptions.  Nothing was described, and none of the items you could take or interact with were even mentioned.  I was all set to come into this review with a scathing take-down, until I accidentally bumped the Enter key.  If you hit Enter without typing a command, it toggles between the graphics and the room descriptions.  You can actually play this game completely without the graphics, if you prefer, but you certainly can't do it the other way around.

Based on my hazy memories of Adventureland - which I jogged by making a Trizbort map of my old notes - the game hasn't been changed.  If there are any changes, they're almost certainly very minor ones.  I was able to play through this with little trouble (once I got past my initial issues), and even the random elements like the bees dying in the jar didn't give me any hassles.

This is meant to be a hollow tree stump.

For the RADNESS Index, I'd rate this a point higher in Aesthetics.  The graphics aren't spectacular, and there are definite points where they really don't give a good representation of what's meant to be in the room.  They're not all that interactive, either.  But despite all those issues, it's still an aesthetic step up from the all-text version.  As for Mechanics, I'm torn on it.  I found the constant toggling between graphics and room descriptions a chore, but you can actually play the game in its original form if you ignore the graphics.  I'll rate it about the same as I rated the original.  If I take away the game's bonus point for historical significance, that leaves it with a RADNESS Index of 38, just one point higher that the original version.  That seems about right.  It's exactly the same game, with just a dash of extra visual flair.


I don't remember this from the original.

As with Adventureland, the graphical version if Pirate Adventure was released in 1982 for the Apple II.  Again, I'm playing the C64 version.  Adventure International were really trying to ramp up the sex appeal of their games with these covers.  I'm not against it, but it does make me wonder what their sales were looking like around this time.  It seems like a bit of a desperation move.

In this game, you have to explore an island to find some pirate treasure.  It's a lot thematically tighter than Adventureland, but I remember not quite enjoying it as much.  My original posts on it start here.

The opening screen of Pirate Adventure.

Pirate Adventure endears itself to me immediately by ditching the toggling between room descriptions and graphics.  The graphics window stays there at all times, the text is underneath, and it's much less annoying to play.  Unfortunately, that means that you can't choose to play it all text, in its original split-window format, but it's a fair trade-off.

Like Adventureland, this version has barely been changed in terms of its structure and puzzles.  It's major changes come from the addition of graphics, which are a fair bit more interactive than those of Adventureland were.  As the screenshot above shows, the items you can pick up are visually depicted.  When you take them they disappear, and they'll appear in any room where you drop them.  It's similar to Roberta Williams' Mystery House in that respect.

This game has very little in the way of random elements, so it was a simple matter to consult my old notes and get through it.

They had the chance, and they still never fixed "dubleons".

It's a little boring to show two screen-shots of the same place, so here's one from the island.

During lockdown, this is as close as I'm allowed to go to a beach.

The graphics for this are a little better than those in Adventureland in terms of accurately representing your surroundings, but they're still only worth one extra point in Aesthetics.  I'm tempted to ding this for not using the Adams split-window layout, but it earns a point back by allowing any inventory item to be depicted on-screen in any area.  It comes in with a RADNESS Index of 32, two points higher than the original game.


Who knew the enemy spy in this game was
a sexy lady? Dragging the corpse around to
solve a puzzle suddenly feels a lot more sordid.

Again, this was a 1982 release on the Apple II, but I'm playing the C64 version.  My original post on the game can be found here.

Adams' foray into the spy genre wasn't one of his finer efforts, but it had certain merits in terms of environmental storytelling.  The graphical adventure version, like the others, is fundamentally the same game with a visual overlay.

Starting Secret Mission.  It was still called Mission Impossible on the Apple II
version, though.

This one returns to the system used by Adventureland, where you could toggle the graphics on and off.  It also doesn't show your inventory items like Pirate Adventure.  It does have a cool death screen though.

Back when we were worried about clouds of radiation, not clouds of bacteria.

This game was still pretty fresh in my memory, and the puzzles are pretty simple, so I was able to get through it quickly without the need to resort to a walkthrough.

Defusing a bomb in the comfiest of settings.

As with the others, this one gets an extra point in Aesthetics, and it remains the same in every other respect. It get a RADNESS Index of 28, two points higher than the original.

NEXT: I'll be getting stuck into the 430 point version of Colossal Cave Adventure. As for my next back-tracking project, I have a quick post lined up for Colossal Cave Adventure II and Mystery Mansion, and I've been playing the original TRS-80 version of Temple of Apshai.


  1. Funny. I, too, have a sign on the wall of my residence that says "Treasures Here". Alas, there is but a bare patch of rug beneath it.

    1. If adventure games have taught me anything, you need to check under that rug. You'll find a key to a treasure chest for sure.

    2. Or, failing that, a great underground empire.

  2. SAGA #1 was my first ever exposure to Adventureland, probably back in 2004 or so. I think it was the Apple II version but I am not sure. I just remember not getting very far due to the useless graphics replacing the room descriptions.

    *picture of sign*

    Did discover at some point that you can toggle the room descriptions on and actually read the damned sign that way, but by then I was fed up and beyond caring.

    1. Yep, this was exactly the experience I had to begin with. Luckily I discovered the room descriptions before embarrassing myself by posting about it.