Sunday, July 17, 2022

Priority Adventure 7: Zork: The Great Underground Empire (1980)

For long-time readers of the blog (or those who've gone back through the archives), this post might give a sense of deja vu.  After all, I have covered Zork before, way back in the dim dark days of 2016 (the so-called "worst year ever" until every year after proved to be successively more horrible).  The version I covered at that time was the original developed for the PDP-10 mainframe at MIT, or the closest I could get to emulating that version.  Today I'm covering the game in it's most iconic, recognisable form: its commercial release as Zork I: The Great Underground Empire.

But first, a little history refresher.  After Colossal Cave Adventure became popular at MIT, four students (Dave Lebling, Tim Anderson, Marc Blank and Bruce Daniels) decided to create their own game in the same style.  They developed it from 1977 to 1979, and it proved extremely popular.  After graduation, three of the game's creators (Lebling, Blank and Anderson) went on to help found Infocom as a software development company.  The three of them convinced the other founders that Zork could be sold commercially, and the game's eventual success changed the entire direction of the company.

In the original game, the goal was to explore the Great Underground Empire in search of 31 treasures.  Finding all of the treasures allowed entry to the Tomb of the Unknown Implementer, and an end-game gauntlet of puzzles that led to a fantastic treasury.  The game ended with the player being forced to assume the role of the Dungeon Master, who must oversee the dungeon and its trials.  The complete Zork was far too large for release on home computers, so the development team gradually cut it down into a smaller game.  This game was released late in 1980 for the TRS-80, then on the Apple II in 1981 (followed by every computing platform known to man in later years).


The initial release of Zork was distributed by Personal Software, and features some artwork of dubious accuracy.  The white house and the mailbox are on point, but the hulking barbarian is a far cry from the adventurer of Zork, at least as I imagine him.  The manual that came with this version was quite extensive at around 30 pages, but mostly focuses on introducing the player to basic text adventure concepts, with little in the way of lore.


By 1981 Infocom had taken control of its own packaging, and this saw the debut of the classic cover that most of you should recognise.  Early releases of this cover featured the same manual as before, but eventually the game would come with a booklet entitled The Great Underground Empire: A History (the version I found has a copyright of 1984).  It's written in Infocom's customarily humorous style, and presents a history of the kings of Quendor, the empire which formerly ruled the lands where Zork is set.  In brief, the war-like king Duncanthrax, after conquering everything he could on the surface, decided to expand his empire below ground, hiring the Frobozz Magic Construction Company to undertake the project.  The work would be continued by his great-grandson, Lord Dimwit Flathead the Excessive, who commissioned a number of large and pointless projects (including the Flood Control Dam which appears in the game).  That this was all written years after Zork's development should tell you how relevant it is to the game itself, but it's amusing enough to be worth a read anyway.

I replayed Zork earlier this year (April, which means I've nearly caught up to the present day), choosing the Apple II version.  It didn't take me long to breeze through, because I pretty much know all of this game's puzzles by heart.  Playing this game is almost like being on autopilot for me, so I have no memory of the order I did things, or what my mental process was like at the time.  There probably wasn't any mental process at all.  So instead of going through the game beat by beat, I'm just going to run through all of the treasures and where they're found, with a focus on what's changed from the original game.

The iconic beginning.

The game begins in front of a white house, with the player standing next to a mailbox.  The mailbox contains a leaflet welcoming the player to Zork.  The surrounding forest hasn't changed from the original, still featuring a grate hidden under a pile of leaves, a tree with a nest containing a jewel-encrusted egg, and a canyon leading to the end of a rainbow.  The house inside is also much the same: a kitchen with a water bottle and a sack (containing garlic and some lunch); a dark attic with a rope and a knife; and a living room where the player finds an elvish sword, a lantern, and an empty trophy case to store any treasures they find.  The original version had a couple of extra items: a newspaper reporting on recent updates to the game, and a clay brick in the attic.  The newspaper's obviously no longer needed, as the game's no longer in active development, and the puzzle involving the clay brick has been cut (more on that, and other cut content, below).

Also in the living room is a trapdoor hidden beneath a rug, which leads to the Great Underground Empire.  This is where the vast majority of the game's treasures are found, and as I said above I'm going to run through them all to give a sense of the game.  If I don't mention any differences from the original game, assume the treasure is obtained in roughly the same way in both versions.

1. Jewel-Encrusted Egg: This is found in a tree not far from the white house, and is likely to be the first treasure the player will find.  In a devious touch, it also happens to contain one of the last treasures the player is likely to find.  See the Clockwork Canary below.

2. Beautiful Painting: The path south of the entrance to the underground leads to an art gallery, where this painting is found.  There's also a shaft here leading back up to the house, but the player can't squeeze through while carrying more than two inventory items.  It's a quickly discovered way back to the surface, but an inconvenient one for someone who's found a lot of treasures.

3. Bag of Coins: North of the entrance to the underground is a hostile axe-wielding troll, who will have to be dealt with violently.  (Zork has a couple of combat encounters, the outcomes of which are randomly determined.  The player is more likely to succeed the more treasures they've found, but the troll is met much too early in the game for the player to have gotten any stronger.  Luckily the elvish sword is usually enough to kill it.)  West of the troll is a "maze of twisty little passages, all alike", which can be mapped by dropping items. (I must admit, this time around I just used a map I'd made years earlier.)  Found in the maze is the skeleton of a former adventurer, and on its body is a rusty knife, a useless lantern, a skeleton key, and a bag of coins.  The coins are a treasure, and the key unlocks a grate  in the maze that leads back to the surface.  (This adventurer was supposed to be the protagonist of Colossal Cave Adventure, something that I guess wouldn't have been as obvious to home computer players as it was to the mainframe users at MIT.)

In combat with the troll.  They've cleaned out the seemingly meaningless
string of numbers that appears every round in the mainframe version

4. Platinum Bar: Not far east of the Troll is a room that's so loud you can't concentrate to take any actions; everything you try just results in your command being echoed back at you.  There's a platinum bar here, but the noise means you can't pick it up.  I've always beaten this puzzle by using the ECHO command, which then allows you to act as normal.  It's somewhat nonsensical, but shouting "echo" when there's an echo is something people do in real life, so I appreciate the designers acknowledging it.  Apparently the noise is coming from the Flood Control Dam above, and you can also stop the noise by messing around with the dam, but I've never tried it that way.

5. Torch: Not far from the Loud Room is a room with a deep shaft and a railing.  You can tie a rope to the railing and climb to the bottom, where you'll find an ivory torch that is always lit.  This item fixes the problem of your lantern having a limited battery, but it's also liable to be stolen by the thief if he wanders past.  (Speaking of the thief, his tendency to move items around made this one of the biggest problem areas of the original version of the game.  If you left the rope tied to the railing, he'd almost certainly wander by, untie it, and leave it at the bottom of the shaft where you could no longer get to it.  It's needed for a later puzzle, so if this happens you can't win the game.  In Zork 1 you only need the rope to climb down this shaft, so if this happens it's not such a big deal.)

6. Gold Coffin: South of the Torch Room is a Temple, an Altar, and an Egyptian Room where you find a gold coffin.  In the original game this coffin's in an entirely different area, and due to its size and weight it takes a bit of rigmarole to carry it back to the trophy case.  In Zork I you just need to pick it up then go pray at the nearby altar to be transported to the surface.

7. Sceptre: The sceptre is inside the coffin.  I don't think this treasure is in the original game.

8. Pot of Gold: If you take the sceptre to the end of the rainbow, you can WAVE SCEPTRE and the rainbow becomes solid.  A pot of gold also appears at the end of the rainbow.  This puzzle is in the original game, but instead of the sceptre you have to wave a magic wand which looks like a normal stick.  Once the rainbow is solid you can use it to get to the top of the nearby waterfall.

9. Crystal Skull: Back at the Temple and Altar you'll find a brass bell, a book, and some candles.  Not far from there is a gate to Hades that's blocked by the spirits of the dead.  To get by the spirits you need to ring the bell, light the candles (using matches from the Dam), and read from the book.  This lets you pass through the gate into Hades where you'll find a crystal skull just lying around.  In the original game this gate leads to the Tomb of the Unknown Implementor, which eventually opens to reveal the end-game trial that's been cut from Zork 1.  There's no crystal skull in the original game either.

10. Trunk of Jewels: Getting this treasure requires operating Flood Control Dam #3.  To do this you need to figure out the right buttons to press in the dam's control room, and activate the control panel with a wrench.  This activates the dam which lowers the water level of the river so you can cross.  You can also then take the trunk of jewels, which is embedded in the river floor.

11. Trident: The crystal trident of Poseidon is just lying around to the north of the river, and you can easily take it once you've activated the dam and crossed over. Alternatively you can use a mirror situated not far from the entrance to Hades: touching it teleports you to another mirror near the Trident Room.

12. Jade Figurine: Not far from there is a room with a Giant Bat guarding a jade figurine.  The bat will grab you and dump you somewhere in the nearby Coal Mine, but if you're carrying some garlic it will leave you alone and you can take the figurine.

Being carried away by the bat, with a reference to Hunt the Wumpus.

13. Sapphire Bracelet: This bracelet is between the Bat Room and the Coal Mine, in a room filled with gas.  Taking the ivory torch or a lit candle into this room results in a fatal explosion, but the lantern is safe.

14. Diamond: At the end of the Coal Mine maze is a strange machine that can only be turned on if you're carrying a screwdriver.  Getting into this room requires squeezing through a narrow crack, which you can only do while carrying one item.  Unfortunately it's also dark in this area, so you need to bring a light source through as well as the items required for the machine.  This is done via a basket that can be sent down from an area above.  With all of this done, you then need to place a piece of coal in the machine and activate it to turn the coal into a diamond.

15. Jeweled Scarab: To get this item you first need to find the boat at the base of the dam, then inflate it using an air pump found across the river.  Any sharp items in your inventory will cut the boat open, so you need to be careful before getting in and riding it downstream on the river.  After a while you can disembark on a beach on the east bank and dig to find the scarab.  In the original game, this item is a statue.

16. Large Emerald: Further down the river is a buoy that's there to warn you that you're about to go over Aragain Falls.  If you take the buoy with you and open it up you'll find an emerald inside.

17. Silver Chalice: Deep in the maze is the lair of a Cyclops, which can be put to sleep with some food and water (or scared away with the name ODYSSEUS, but that solution's a little more obscure).  Up above the Cyclops' lair is the hideout of the Thief.  He'll show up to defend his home, and you'll have to beat him in a straight-up fight.  If you try this early in the game there's little chance you'll win, but once you've obtained a decent number of treasures and racked up a good score you'll be able to kill him.  In his lair you'll find the silver chalice, as well as any other treasures he's nicked off you during the game.

18. Clockwork Canary: But wait, don't kill that Thief too quickly...  First you'll need to make sure he steals the jewel-encrusted egg from you, because he's the only one who's skilled enough to get it open.  Inside the egg is a clockwork canary.  (Make sure to take the canary out of the egg before putting it in the trophy case, otherwise it won't register as a treasure.  I forgot about this, and it took me ages to figure out why the game wasn't acknowledging that I had all of the treasures.)

19. Brass Bauble: To find the bauble you need to take the clockwork canary into the forest and wind it up.  The canary's song will summon a bird that drops the bauble at your feet.  There are some birds singing occasionally when you go through the forest, which is definitely a clue, but this is one of the more obscure puzzles.

20. Ancient Map: Once you've placed the previous 19 treasures in the trophy case, an ancient map will appear.  This map leads outside to an old stone barrow, which you enter to beat the game and progress to Zork II.  This map isn't in the original game, as it has an entirely different end-game.

Following the map to the stone barrow. I forgot to screenshot
this when I played through, so I nicked this image from
gameingafter40.blogspot.com

Going back over Zork I and comparing it to the mainframe version, I'm impressed at how much of the game they managed to fit into a home computer release.  The entire overworld is present, as is the bulk of the underworld, albeit rearranged and streamlined somewhat.  The areas that haven't been included are the ones that are harder to get to, and the ones containing the most difficult puzzles.  I'll do a quick run-down of what was cut below:

  • The Bank of Zork is gone, which is just as well because I never quite figured out how it works.  I guess I'll get to refamiliarise myself with it when I get to Zork II.
  • The whole volcano shaft and the hot air balloon is gone.  In terms of timing it's one of the more complex sequences in the original game.  his is where the clay brick explosive I mentioned earlier came into play.
  • The area with the four cakes where you have to eat one to shrink down has been cut.
  • The nearby area where you have to control a robot to free yourself from a trap is also gone.
  • The puzzle with the three interconnected crystal balls is gone.  This means that you no longer need to use the rope and timber to suspend yourself halfway down the coal mine shaft in order to access a secret room.  This was one of the cleverer puzzles of the original, but also one of the fiddliest, so I can't say I miss it.
  • The entire end-game trial is gone, and as I recall has been moved to Zork III.
  • There's no "last lousy point", which was earned by sending away for a brochure and receiving a stamp that featured a dig at Colossal Cave Adventure's creator Don Woods.  It's a shame, because I love the gag, but the in-joke wouldn't play as well on home computers as I assume it did to the mainframe users who were familiar with Zork's predecessor.

That's pretty much all the major material that's been cut from the game, which isn't a whole lot.  Of course this is just what I recalled from skimming my maps from years ago, so I could be missing something.  Most of this material was moved to Zork II, with just the end-game trial being moved to the third game.  I'm much less familiar with the latter two parts of the trilogy, and I'm looking forward to revisiting them to rediscover what's been added around the existing puzzles.

I heartily enjoyed going back to Zork I, but I know the game so well that it hardly counts as playing it.  Instead of being a challenge it's like a nostalgic walk through an old neighbourhood, albeit one where I might be murdered by a nasty Troll or a sly Thief.  But the atmosphere and idiosyncratic humour of the game are so good that I always enjoy going back, and I'm sure I'll do so again a few years down the track.  I expect this game to do exceptionally well on the RADNESS Index.

RADNESS INDEX:

Story & Setting: The mailbox, the white house, Aragain Falls, Flood Control Dam #3, the maze of twisty passages, all alike...  The setting here is iconic, and the couple of asides about the fall of the Empire give it just a touch of history and wonder.  The treasure hunt story is nothing special, but as an excuse to explore the Great Underground Empire it does the job. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The Troll, the Thief, the Cyclops and the Bat are pretty much it.  Most of them are simple puzzle or combat obstacles, but the Thief is something else entirely.  He has personality, he has an agenda, and he has the ability to make you hurl expletives at your monitor.  As I said when I played the mainframe version, the Thief is the single greatest villain in gaming up to that point.  As of Zork I's release in 1980, I still believe that's true.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's an old-school text adventure, but due to the enjoyable writing this one's going to score about as high as a text adventure of the era can score.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: I don't know if I mentioned it the first time around, but the Zork parser runs really smoothly.  Perhaps it's just my familiarity with the game, but I hardly ever run into issues with finding the right command, and that can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for this genre.  It also accepts some quite complex commands, especially in comparison to its contemporaries that are usually restricted to two words.  I might be rating this one a little high, but it's the parser that all others are measured by.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Puzzles: It doesn't have the difficulty of the mainframe version, but the puzzles in this game have been tightened up, and the most irritating ones have been completely cut.  The difficulty ranges from dead simple to devious, but there's nothing here I'd classify as unfair.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Challenge: Zork I is a tough game to crack, but with persistence it can be done without the need for a towering intellect (i.e. I was able to do it without help about a decade ago).  I especially like that it begins with loads of simple puzzles, and saves the really hard ones for later.  There's always something else to try in Zork, even when you feel like you're stuck.  There are random elements that can kill you off, but the most likely of these is the Troll, and he's encountered right near the start.  A hard game, but a fair one, and about as well-judged as any adventure game I've played. Rating: 6 out of 7.

Fun: I always enjoy going back to Zork, so there's going to be an amount of bias in this score.  But let me be real with you, this category is kind of bullshit, and represents nothing more than my own  personal enjoyment of a game.  Zork's one of my faves, but it's not one of my all-time faves, and there's only so much you can get out of most adventure games once you've explored what they have to offer.  It's hard to go past this one though, as it's one of the most enjoyable of the era.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 2. Iconic, influential, and it still holds up.  A masterpiece.

The categories above total 33, which doubled comes to 66.  Add the bonus points, and Zork I scores a  whopping RADNESS Index of 68. That's the highest rated game on the blog so far.  The mainframe version is second on 64 points, which makes sense to me.  The mainframe version might have more packed in, but Zork I is more focused, with a tighter environment and an emphasis on the exploration and puzzles that worked best from the original.  Funnily enough, taking out the more frustrating parts of the original made for a better game.  I doubt I'll ever go back to the mainframe Zork, but there's no question of whether I'll return to Zork I.

NEXT: It's back to Scott Adams territory, as I put on my old west prospector's hat for Ghost Town.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Priority Adventure 6: Pyramid of Doom (1979)


Pyramid of Doom is the third game in a row on the blog from Scott Adams' Adventure series, which I realise could be getting a little tedious.  I'm trying to catch up on the games I played last year when I thought the blog was dead for good.  There'll be a little more variety going forward, I promise.

Despite this being part of his eponymous series, Adams only co-wrote this one. It's mostly the work of Alvin Files, who I can't find much about. According to Wikipedia he reverse-engineered Adams' games to write Pyramid of Doom and submitted it to Adams himself.  Adams made some tweaks (so he gets a co-creator credit) and released it as part of his series.

We're back in familiar territory here, with the goal being to loot a pyramid of 13 treasures.  I was convinced that Adams had made a game like this already, but I was getting mixed up with King Tut's Tomb by wonder-child Greg Hassett. Given the frequency of the treasure-hunting theme in these early adventure games, it's surprising that there have only been a couple of Egyptian-based games.  It seems like a natural fit.

I originally played this game in September and October of last year, but I remember almost nothing about it.  I've probably said this before, but blogging through a game really helps to cement it in my memory, especially for short games that can be played through in a couple of hours.  Those games go through my head so quickly that I might as well not have played them at all, but having to actually think and write about them makes the stick.  It's one of the things I find most valuable about the blogging experience.

The earliest versions of Pyramid of Doom were released on the TRS-80 and Apple II.  The first time I played it was the TRS-80 version, but I'm switching to the Apple II for this revisit.  Alas, my non-existent memory means that I won't be able to write about any differences between the two versions: the Ports of Call section is one of the things that's probably going to disappear from the blog due to lack of time.

Beginning my quest.

I start the game standing in the desert next to a pool of water, with a wooden pole embedded in the ground nearby.  As usual, I began by typing the same three commands: SCORE, HELP and INVENTORY.  SCORE told me that I'd found no treasures, giving me 0 points of a possible 100.  HELP responded with the advice to "search and ye shall find".  Thanks a bunch Scott and/or Alvin, I'd never have figured it out.  INVENTORY revealed that I was carrying an empty canteen and a flashlight.  This worried me a bit, as I thought I might have to deal with a finite light source as well as thirst.  Thankfully neither became a problem.

The initial desert region was small, only four areas: the opening one with the pole and liquid, two apparently empty areas, and an area next to the titular pyramid.  In the initial area I was able to fill my canteen with water, and also take the pole (which was actually a shovel embedded in the sand).  I was also able to enter the pool of liquid, where I found a large key at the bottom.

The area directly north of the starting area was just empty desert, and the same was true of the area to the north-east.  Digging in both of them revealed a tiny key in the north-east area.

East of the pool was the area next to the pyramid.  There was no obvious way inside, but there was a sign and a stone nearby.  The sign warned me that "he who defiles the tombs of Egypt shall surely perish", which is definitely accurate as I died many times during this quest.  The stone was covered in strange markings, but I couldn't read the message because it was incomplete.  I was able to take the stone with me, revealing a large locked door.  (It's not clear how, as the stone is hardly big enough to conceal a door if I can take it with me.  Let's assume it was holding down a pressure plate or something.)  The large key fit the door, but when I tried to go through I was crushed by a large stone.  I needed to find a way to disarm this trap before I could start exploring the pyramid.

Crushed by a falling stone.

I hadn't tried digging next to the pyramid yet, and when I did it created a hole.  At the bottom of the hole was a tiny locked door, which I was able to open with the tiny key.  I was too big to get inside, but when I opened the door there was a sound like machinery.  Sure enough I was now able to safely enter the pyramid, so I guess opening the tiny door disarmed the trap.

It was dark inside the pyramid, but my flashlight was a simple solution to that problem.  (A lot of adventure games of this era take inspiration from Colossal Cave and Zork by giving the player's light source a finite lifespan, but Pyramid of Doom mercifully refrained.)  I was in a rocky entrance-way, where I found a pistol and some mouldy bandages.  (I never did find a use for the bandages. Perhaps they're just there as a clue to the presence of a mummy, although this game being set in a pyramid was already a bit of a giveaway.) There was also a closed sarcophagus, and exits to the north and south.  The sarcophagus opened onto a staircase leading down, but I decided to ignore that for now and explore to the north.

It was at this point that a small nomad appeared and started following me around wherever I went.  He wasn't an obstacle or impediment as such, but he was annoying enough for me to try killing him with my bare hands.  Alas, I was informed that it wouldn't work, so it looked like I was stuck with this guy for a while.  I figured he might come in handy later, but to be honest I was hoping to be able to get rid of the nuisance as quickly as possible.  That was when I remembered my pistol, and gleefully shot him.  He disappeared in a puff of smoke (like the dwarves from Colossal Cave Adventure), which was very satisfying.  If I needed this guy, I was going to have to find out the hard way.  (A look at my inventory revealed that my gun had 3 bullets remaining.  The nomads keep popping up as you play, and it's possible to run out of bullets and get stuck with one following you.  I never did find a purpose to these guys though.)

Heading north from the entrance, I passed through a dining room with a table, then east into a room that was dominated by a giant oyster.  The oyster was blocking an archway beyond, and none of my attempts to move, kill or open the oyster were successful.  There was a flute on the ground, but playing it had no effect.  I took it with me and explored south of the entrance.

I entered a sitting room, with a fireplace, ashes and a basket.  Looking in the fireplace I found a lump of coal.  My immediate instinct was to wash the coal, as I'd encountered similar puzzles in games before; doing so revealed that the coal was a *ruby*, denoted as a treasure by the surrounding asterisks.  Looking in the ashes revealed a *gold necklace*, yet another treasure.  I was on a roll!  Looking in the basket wasn't quite so fruitful, as I was confronted by a hissing cobra.  Playing the flute I'd found earlier caused the snake to open a secret passage behind the fireplace and slither away.

The cobra opens a secret passage.

Through the passage was a sloping crawlway, where I was confronted by starving rats. With no food to give them, I tried shooting, and the noise scared them away.  Unfortunately they weren't gone completely, they'd just fled north, into a room with a blood-stained altar.  This time the rats attacked and killed me, and I was forced to restore a saved game.  Heading back through the crawlway I ignored the rats, heading north without disturbing them.

There was nothing obvious I could do with the altar (the game didn't recognise PRAY or SACRIFICE as verbs), so I took a passage east into a hieroglyphics room.  On the floor was some dried camel jerky, which I took, thinking it might possibly be food for the rats.  The hieroglyphics said "LEAVE *TREASURES* HERE!", so I'd found the all-important location to store my ill-gotten gains.  (I later discovered that the hieroglyphics are incomplete, and you need the stone from outside the pyramid to read them. I'd been lucky enough to have it with me the first time I went in there.)

Dropping the gold necklace increased my score to 7, but curiously dropping the ruby didn't increase my score at all.  I kept a note of this oddity, because small details like that can prove to be very important in these kinds of games.  I was pretty sure the ruby was needed for another puzzle deeper in the game, but for now I left it in the treasure room for later.

Heading south from the altar, I fed the rats with the jerky.  This satisfied them, and I was able to take the rats with me.  Heading back north from the altar led to the room with the oyster, presumably through the arch.  The urge to feed the rats to the oyster came over me, but that didn't work.  Later, when I was trying different things to open the oyster, I tried feeding the jerky to it instead of the rats.  The oyster ate the jerky and opened up, revealing a *black pearl*.  It also allowed me to pass through the arch freely, back to the altar room.  This path safely bypassed the rats, so I was happy enough to ignore them for now.  By the time I tried this I was close to the end of the game, so I wasn't all that concerned as to whether feeding the rats was necessary.

I'd fully explored the ground floor, so it was time to enter the sarcophagus and go downstairs. The stairs led to a burial room, where I found an *antique tapestry* and some burning tanna leaves. More importantly, there was a fearsome mummy who was stopping me from taking the tapestry. I tried to shoot the mummy, but it didn't work, and the mummy strangled me to death.  One restored game later, I returned and tried burning the mummy with the leaves, but they were too hot to take.  There were exits leading north and south, so I decided to high-tail it and deal with the mummy later.

The north passage led to a bricked-up doorway, with a rope on the floor.  I couldn't get through the door, so I took the rope and ran back south past the mummy.  This led to a tall room with a metal bar protruding from the ceiling.  On the floor were a saw and a decapitated skeleton.  I couldn't reach the bar, and nothing I tried worked on the skeleton.  There was little I could do except go back north, and try to deal with the mummy.

With no other bright ideas, I resorted to the standard adventure game technique of looking at my inventory and seeing what might work.  It took me entirely too long to try pouring water on the leaves, but this worked, and put the mummy to sleep.  Now I could take the tapestry, which revealed a hidden alcove.

Putting the mummy to sleep.

Inside the alcove I found a chopping block, a skull, and a box.  Looking at the skull revealed some *gold teeth*, and inside the box I found some bones and an iron glove.  The obvious thing to do was reattach the skull to the decapitated skeleton, and when I did so the skeleton leapt up, pulled on the metal bar I couldn't reach, and lowered a ladder.  The skeleton, now glowing, stayed behind, but I couldn't get it to respond to anything.

The ladder led to a "revolving cavern", with exits to the north and south.  North was a prison cell, with a dead explorer chained to the wall and a pile of rubbish.  Looking around I found a *gold pin* on the explorer, and a *jade carving* in the pile of rubbish.  There was also a closed portal; opening it caused a purple worm to enter the room.  On the next move the purple worm devoured me; I suspect some Dungeons & Dragons influence here, as the purple worm is a D&D monster with the ability to swallow creatures whole.  Reloading my game, I decided to leave that portal closed for now and explore elsewhere.

Feeding myself to the purple worm.

South of the revolving cavern was a narrow ledge, where I found a *sapphire*.  Far below was a pool of liquid (acid, as I fatally discovered when I tried jumping in), and above was a hole in the ceiling.  I couldn't reach it, but throwing the rope worked.

Climbing the rope, I emerged into a throne room with a lot going on.  Seated on the throne was the iron statue of a pharaoh.  There was also a chain hanging from the ceiling, a wall mural, and a chest.  The mural revealed a clue when I looked at it: "SEEK YE WELL THE HEART OF IRON".  Next I tried pulling the chain, which resulted in the statue standing up with a hollow laugh.  Pulling the chain again revealed a spiral staircase, but it was too late, as the advancing statue tore me apart.  I returned and tried to open the chest, but the statue wouldn't let me do that, either.  I figured I'd need to locate this "heart of iron" before I could do anything in this area.

Before that, I had other things to mess around with.  Among my various fruitless endeavours I tried cutting the table with the saw, only for a *diamond necklace* to fall out.  I hadn't expected this to work, I just thought I'd try the saw on the only wooden object in the game.  The only other obvious place to go was the bricked-up doorway.  I figured this one out through process of elimination: what items hadn't I used yet?  The answer was the iron glove, which I used to punch through the bricks (badass).

Beyond the door was a hall of mirrors, which reflected my flashlight to the point where it was so blinding that I had to shut it off.  I was still able to move around, and heading north, west or south took me back to the bricked-up hallway.  Heading east led to a dressing room, where I found a *gold scarab*.  I suspected there might be more to this puzzle than I'd discovered, but my initial impulse to break the mirrors resulted in 1,000 years bad luck in the form of a cave-in.  I decided to leave this, and focus on the heart of iron.

I was stumped at this point, and had gotten to the point where being done with the game was more enticing to me than figuring it out on my own.  I looked up a walkthrough, and learned that the heart of iron was the ruby I'd uncovered earlier.  I should have been able to figure this out; after all, I'd already spotted that it wasn't a proper treasure.  But like I said, I'd reached the point of the game where I just wanted it done.  To get rid of the iron statue I needed to throw the ruby into the pool of acid below the ledge.  Once this was done, the statue melted into a pool of slag, and I could get to the treasures it was guarding.

Getting vengeance on the iron statue.

The chest opened without any trouble, and contained a *platinum crown*.  The spiral staircase from the throne room led to a treasure room, with a barred window and a locked coffer.  The coffer could be unlocked by the small key found way back at the beginning, but when I did a poison needle killed me.  Wearing the iron glove allowed me to survive this trap, and take an *emerald bracelet*.  The window bars could be cut open with the saw, and a *platinum bar* was found outside, on top of the pyramid.

At this point I'd found 12 treasures, which was one short of the full amount.  As I was nearing the end of the game, and I'd already cheated once, I succumbed to the urge to use a walkthrough and be done with it.  The last treasure was a gold coin, which was found in the hall of mirrors.  With no light source usable in that area, the only way to find the coin was to FEEL.  It's a puzzle I've encountered a couple of times in adventure games already, so I should have thought of it.  Alas, I'm much more likely to try to think my way through things at the start of a game than near the end.

Winning Pyramid of Doom

Pyramid of Doom doesn't do anything outside of the box, but it does provide a solid experience and I expect it to do reasonably well on the RADNESS Index.  It should score comparably with Scott Adams' games, which would make it a cut above the standard fare of the day.

RADNESS Index:

Story & Setting: The Egyptian-themed setting is strong at the beginning, but weakens a little towards the end as things get somewhat unfocused.  The latter stages feel more like standard D&D than Egypt, what with the purple worm and the iron statue with its ruby heart.  To the game's credit, the levels of the pyramid get smaller the further up you go, just as they would in real life. As for the story, it's yet another treasure hunt.  I get why they're so prevalent, but boy they are prevalentRating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: This one has a number of enemies that must be defeated: the mummy, the purple worm and the iron statue being the most prominent and memorable.  There's also the string of desert nomads which follow you around, serving no apparent purpose except to provide a persistent nuisance for you to waste bullets on.  There's a decent variety here, but none of these creatures can be interacted with to any great extent.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Text adventure, terse writing, no graphics or sound. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The game runs adequately, and I had no glitches or major problems wrangling with the parser.  I object somewhat to the game not recognizing EXAMINE as a command, but LOOK still works so it's a minor quibble.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Puzzles: This game plays fair for the most part, with the majority of its puzzles making sense, or being doable with a little trial and error.  I wouldn't have minded some more clues for the ruby heart puzzle, but I don't think it's absurdly difficult (especially if you've noticed that it's not really a treasure).  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: With fair puzzles and not a lot of random elements that can kill the player, Pyramid of Doom presents a reasonable challenge for the kind of game that it is.  Of course, it's an old text adventure, and even the best of those have their frustrating and annoying elements.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Fun: It's a decently enjoyable text adventure, but there's a limit to the amount of enjoyment I can eke out of one of these things.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 16, which doubled gives it a RADNESS Index of 32.  Nothing special, but it does stand alongside Adams' games, which is a good debut effort for Alvin Files.  I don't think Files made any games other than this, which is a bit of a shame.  Reverse-engineering the Scott Adams engine is somewhat impressive, and I'd like to see what else Files could have done with it.

NEXT: My next game is Zork: The Great Underground Empire, which I might be able to polish off reasonably quickly.  I've already covered the mainframe version, and this cut down adaptation for home computers is a game that I have practically memorised.  Always good to go back to though.

I should also mention that I've updated the sidebar with a page titled "Priority List and Chronological List".  This replaces my schedule for 1979, since I've abandoned the Chronological List for the moment.  If you want to know what games are coming up, that page has the answers. (Spoilers, it's a lot of Scott Adams adventures and Dunjonquest RPGs...)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Priority Adventure 5: Mystery Fun House (1979)

Blatant IP theft was much easier to
get away with in 1979


My catch-up run of Scott Adams adventures continues with his seventh game, Mystery Fun House.  The cover above indicates that this is another spy adventure, a genre that Adams has already tackled with Secret Mission.  And not only is it a spy adventure, it's one where you apparently play James Bond, agent 007 himself.  Did Scott Adams actually pay for the rights to use the potentially lucrative Bond franchise in his game?  Hahaha it's the computer game industry in 1979, what do you think?

Unfortunately, none of the above is readily apparent if you're just playing the game.  Boot up Mystery Fun House and you're seemingly a regular shmoe standing in front of the titular funhouse with no way to get in.  There's nothing to indicate that you're Bond, that you're a spy, or even what your mission is.  As you'll see, discovering what your mission is won't happen until you figure out a certain puzzle; this could happen early on, or it could happen right near the end.  For some players it might never happen.  Ah well, at least it's not another treasure hunt I guess.

Mystery Fun House was initially released in 1979 for the TRS-80 and the Apple II.  I played it almost a year ago on the TRS-80, but for this replay I've switched to the Apple II version.  I think I'll be playing the Apple II versions of these games going forward, if only for my own peace of mind.  I have grown sort of fond of the TRS-80 aesthetic, but getting games to run on that emulator can be a real pain.

The Man That Be Holdin' Gum

The game begins in front of the funhouse, with a ticket counter and a sign that read as follows: "PARK CLOSES AT MIDNIGHT. SHOES REQUIRED AT ALL TIMES. MANAGEMENT NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENTS!! CAUTION THIS PARK IS DANGEROUS!"  I was carrying some shoes, a watch, and some hard, dry chewing gum.  SCORE didn't bring up anything, and HELP simply told me to "try examining things".  Examining my watch told me that I had 595 turns until midnight, so the game had a hard limit. Time to get cracking.

Trying to enter the funhouse got me kicked out by a bouncer, so I went to the counter instead.  The ticket lady told me that tickets were a dollar, so obviously I needed to find some cash.  (Don't think I've ever seen a movie where James Bond gets stopped because he's not carrying any loose change.)

The only obvious exit was to the east, which led to a parking lot where I saw a dead tree, a rusty grate (closed), and a 5 dollar bill.  I quickly grabbed the bill and took it back to the counter, only for the ticket lady to tear it up, as "a $5 grocery bill ain't money bub!".  I knew that was too easy, but it's hard to be mad about being harmlessly tricked by a terrible pun.

Back in the parking lot, I started looking around.  The tree had a bare branch that I was able to take, and the grate led to a drain with a shiny coin at the bottom.  The gate was held shut by two big bolts, and my arm was too short to reach the coin, but the solution to this one was fairly evident.  I chewed my gum until it was soft, stuck it to the end of the branch, and used it to pick up the coin.  (I complained in Strange Odyssey about the tendency for adventure games to feature a difficult puzzle that blocks progress right out of the gate.  This is the opposite; progress is blocked quite early, but the puzzle to get through is simple and logical.  I much prefer this design: give the player an easy victory early to make them feel smart, then hit them with the hard stuff later.)

Cointaker

With the coin I was able to buy a ticket, but when I tried to go inside the bouncer still tossed me out.  I eventually figured out that I needed to wear the shoes I was carrying.  (Again, Bond going around barefoot?  Terribly out of character.)  This allowed me to get inside, but I noticed as I walked around that my heel was loose.  I've learned that nothing in these games is pointless, so I spent a while messing about with my shoes, trying to open the heel.  Eventually I tried REMOVE HEEL, and a short fuse fell out.  Obviously I was going to need to blow something up later.  I also found a letter, that read as follows: "James: we must get the plans back by tonight! We believe they're hidden within his fun house! Signed, M. P.S. Q says enjoy the gum!"  Okay, so I'm definitely playing Bond, and I'm looking for some secret plans that have been hidden in the funhouse.  I'm always happier playing a game when I know what the hell it is I'm supposed to be doing.

The first room of the funhouse featured a strange mirror, in which I could see distorted images of myself.  There was nothing I could do here, and breaking the mirror got me thrown out for vandalism (requiring that I restart), so I moved on.

The next area was the obligatory Windy Maze, with exits heading off in all directions.  This one only had four areas, and I was able to map it by dropping items with little difficulty.  At this point a maze like this feels like half-hearted padding, the sort of things that's included in an adventure game because it's expected.  At least here it's not out of keeping with the theme, I suppose.

The maze led to a small room, then another chamber with a low ceiling, where the door closed behind me   In this chamber was a skeleton, and three knobs on the wall (yellow, green and blue).  The skeleton collapsed into a pile of bones when I touched it, and I was able to take the bones with me.  There was an exit to the west, but pressing the knobs opened up other areas to explore:

  • Pulling the yellow knob allowed me to go back the way I came, through the maze.
  • Pulling the blue knob opened an area where I found a fortune telling machine and a sign saying that it was out of order.  Sure enough, the machine fizzled when I tried to activate it.  In another room I found a loud steam calliope and a merry-go-round.  Pressing the nearby blue button stopped the merry-go-round, but the calliope was so loud that I couldn't concentrate to do anything else.
  • Pulling the green knob opened into an area where I found a small trampoline I could take with me.  The next room was a shooting gallery, where I found a mounted gun pointing into a window with some clay pigeons on the other side.  I was able to shoot some clay pigeons to no discernible effect.  With little else to do here, I took some spectacles I found on the floor and left.

The west exit from the knob room led to a room with a water tank.  Peering through a window I saw a mermaid inside, waving at me.  I waved back, and continued up a sloping hallway.  Halfway up on a landing I came to a slippery slide, with a sign saying that it was for authorised personnel only.  A gentle blast of air was blowing up my leg for unknown reasons.  Figuring that getting back up might be difficult, I decided to ignore the slide for now and continue exploring elsewhere.

An eastern passage from the landing led to a "windy hall", which led back to the "windy maze", so I guess that explains the air blowing up my leg in a punny sort of way.  Heading further up a rickety staircase, I came to a ledge over a deep pit.  A ladder led down, with a sign that also indicated it was only for authorised personnel.

Ignoring the pit for now, I took a passage east and found myself in a rolling barrel room.  Here I found a comb and a match, but due to the rolling I was unable to get out as I kept falling flat on my face.  A ROLL command did the trick, and allowed me to get back out to the ledge.  (I was having trouble with my inventory limit at this point: having to carry the shoes and the ticket around at all times is a bit of a hindrance.)

Facefall

I decided to climb down the ladder into the pit, only to find that the ladder retracted and left me trapped.  In the pit were a locked door and a warm pipe with a valve on it.  I had no key for the door, and there was no handle to turn the valve, so there was nothing I could do down here at the moment.  Luckily I had the trampoline with me, so I was able to jump back up and out of the pit.

The only place I had left to explore was the slippery slide, which led inside the water tank with the mermaid.  Also here was a closed drain, some water, and a rusty key.  As I predicted, the slide was too slippery to climb back up.  The mermaid was described as "pretty, but with snarled hair", so I gave her the comb.  She thanked me and turned a hidden knob that opened a secret door that led back up to the landing.  (You can also open the drain, which lets out the water and the mermaid with it.  Doing this before giving her the comb puts you in an inescapable position though.)

A View to a Gill

With the rusty key I went back to the pit, only to discover that it didn't unlock the door down there.  So I was stuck, with no obvious path forward.  The grate, the shooting gallery, the mirror, and the room with the calliope and merry-go-round seemed like the best places to investigate right now, so I spent some time mucking about with those.  Eventually I hit on the idea of wearing the spectacles while looking at the mirror, and when I did the mirror showed me a hidden door.  The door in the mirror led to an observation chamber, where I found a valve handle and yet another locked door.  Frustratingly enough, my key didn't work here either.

With the valve handle I went back to the pit, and this time I was able to turn the valve.  It had no immediately obvious effect, but upon some more exploration I discovered that the steam calliope was now quiet.  Aha, that explains the warm pipe!  I was now able to get onto the ride, with a laborious sequence that involved typing GO RIDE, GO HORSE, and GO POLE.  On top of the ride I spotted a rope (to which I was clued in by a piece of hemp falling on my head), but it was a little out of my reach.  Alas, when I tried to jump the moving ride threw me to my death.  I guess I needed to stop it with that blue button after all...

After a reload I climbed the rope onto a landing where there was yet another locked door that my key wouldn't fit.  An exit east led to a storeroom, where I found a wrench and yet another locked door.  Thankfully I could unlock this one, and behind it I found some shelves and a flashlight.  There was also a red knob, but I have no idea what this one activated.

Armed with the wrench, I went all the way back to the carpark outside and was able to use it to remove one of the bolts.  After doing this I could move the grate to reveal an open manhole cover.  (This took a while to find the right command; MOVE and SLIDE GRATE both worked.)  This predictably led down into a sewer and through an open flood door, where I found a dark hole with a grate welded over it.

At this point, after much banging my head against various dead ends, I consulted a walkthrough.  It turns out that I needed to make a bomb to blow up the grate.  This was done by sticking the fuse in the gum, sticking the gum to the grate, and lighting the fuse with the match.  I'd thought of the fuse, but assumed I needed an explosive of some sort to attach it to.  That the fuse and the gum would be enough to blow up the grate never occurred to me.

Anyway, my problems weren't over when I did this, because a guard heard the explosion and shot me dead.  Time for another reload...  After some messing about I figured out that the flood door can be closed, and this was enough to blow up the grate without alerting the guard.  The hole led to a long tunnel, and a path upwards.  This path led into the room with the clay pigeons, next to the shooting gallery, but as soon as I entered I was shot dead by a mystery gunman.

The Guard Who Shot Me

I suppose I needed to disable the gun somehow.  I went back to the shooting range to try a few ideas.  First I tried shooting until the gun ran out of bullets, but that didn't work; I just kept shooting clay pigeons with a seemingly never-ending supply of ammunition.  Next I tried to break the gun, after which I was thrown out for vandalism by the bouncer.  At this point I figured that maybe I didn't need to go back inside, so getting thrown out wouldn't be a hindrance.  Even so, the mystery shooter was still able to kill me.  (I'm not actually sure if the bouncer throws you out after you break something, or if he does so before you can do the breaking, so I guess it makes sense.)

I was utterly stuck at this point, and when I looked up the answer I was both amused and surprised.  The trick is to take the OUT OF ORDER sign from the fortune-telling machine and drop it next to the gun at the firing range.  So the assassin thinks the gun's not working and he can't shoot you.  I'm not sure if this is the dumbest or the cleverest puzzle in a Scott Adams game, but it might just be my favourite.

Now that I was able to get into the clay pigeon room, I could make my way to a hidden lab where I found the missing secret plans.  Taking the plans earned me a short congratulatory message, and the game was over.  I'd won, albeit with a little help from the internet (as usual).

You Only Cheated By Looking at a Walkthrough Twice

So, another Scott Adams game down, and another solid effort.  It's impressive that he could churn out so many games and keep the quality up: this is his sixth of seven games in 1979 alone.  He slowed  down considerably from 1980 onward, and I suspect that he burned himself out with this prodigious output.  Even so, his work in 1978 and 79 was enough to cement him a spot among the most important pioneers of gaming's early days.

RADNESS INDEX:

Story & Setting: The spy setting is still a novel one, and I have to give Adams some props for just brazenly making a game that stars James Bond.  There have been a number of games that committed IP theft before this, but I'd say this would have to be the most prominent to date.  The fun house setting makes sense from an adventure/puzzle game perspective, but it's an odd fit for the spy genre, and an especially odd fit for Bond.  None of this hangs together, really. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There's a bouncer, a ticket lady, a mermaid, a guard, and a mystery assassin.  As with most Scott Adams games they don't display any personality, although the ticket lady gets a couple of gruff lines in.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Puzzles: There's a logic to pretty much all of the puzzles in this game, and none are too frustrating.  I wouldn't have minded a bit more of a clue regarding the fuse/gum (is it meant to be explosive gum?), but otherwise I thought this game did things well.  And it earns an extra point for the OUT OF ORDER sign puzzle, just because I'm tickled by it. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Not even the switch from TRS-80 to Apple II can drag a terse text adventure off the bottom rung. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: Another adequately functional Scott Adams text adventure.  I didn't have much trouble wrangling with the parser, but I've become a bit of an old hand at these games by now. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: I think this one was pretty well judged: lots of mildly challenging puzzles early on with a couple of real head-scratchers at the end.  The OUT OF ORDER puzzle might be a touch too clever for its own good, but it's hard to ding it.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Fun: The setting doesn't really work, but it is fun to explore and puzzle out.  There's only so much enjoyment that can be had from an ancient text adventure, but this one got about all it could out of the standard formula, and had a distinct lack of frustrating random elements. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0

The above scores total 18, which doubled give a RADNESS Index of 36. That is respectably high, just one point below Adams' first game Adventureland, and five points below The Count (his highest effort).  I'm not sure that it deserves to be six points higher than Pirate Adventure, Voodoo Castle and Strange Odyssey, but I do feel like it's maybe Adams' least-frustrating game to come to grips with.  Perhaps it just caught me in a good mood.

NEXT: The Scott Adams marathon keeps on rolling, with Pyramid of Doom.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Priority Adventure 4: Strange Odyssey (1979)

Yes, this game does contain a spaceman
and a Laser Wolf (sort of)

I left off last time saying that I'd be following the Priority List, meaning that for the moment the blog will be mostly covering games of a more historically significant nature than it's done in the past.  This required a little bit of rejigging though, because the Priority Adventure List had a glaring omission: the games of Scott Adams.  This wasn't an oversight, but more of a practical consideration, as most of Adams' work was going to come up fairly soon on the chronological list anyway.  But now, with my temporary abandonment of the chronological list, it would be remiss of me not to cover his games.

(And yes, I did say "temporary abandonment".  For now the blog will chug along as I cover whatever relevant games I've been playing lately.  When I have time I plan on returning to the original chronology, but with limited hours and the finite nature of the human lifespan on my mind, I'm concentrating on my gaming bucket list.  The obscurities will have to wait.)

Strange Odyssey is the sixth text adventure game published by Adventure International.  As with the previous games in the series, this one has a simple two word parser and the same split-screen interface showing room contents in one window and commands/responses in the other.  This time around the player controls a space explorer whose spaceship has broken down on a remote planetoid.  The goal is to collect five alien treasures and repair your ship.  This is incredibly familiar territory for adventure games in 1979, but Adams has a pretty steady track-record so far, and this is his first brush with sci-fi themes.

Before I get into the game proper, I should mention that I played it in August of 2021, not all that long after my marriage ended.  My memories of it are understandably hazy, but I'll do my best here.  Replaying it for the blog should refresh things.  As with previous Scott Adams games I played the TRS-80 version.  I really should just play the Apple versions for my own sanity, as the emulator I have is much more reliable, but I do get a little hung up on playing the earliest versions I can find.

Starting the adventure

When the game begins the player is inside a scoutship, described in Adams' customarily terse fashion.  Typing SCORE told me that I had stored 0 treasures, giving me a score of 0 out of 100.  INVENTORY told me that I was carrying nothing.  HINT and HELP didn't provide me with any clues, so it looked like I'd have to rely on my own wits. (Or those of the many internet walkthrough-writers, as the case may be.)

In the scoutship there was a closed door, an exit down, and a console with two buttons: a blue one marked "blast off" and a red one with no label.  Pressing the blue button revealed that the ship had "insufficient power" due to a damaged power crystal.  I guess replacing that crystal could be added to my list of essential tasks along with finding the required treasures.

Pressing the red button opened the door which led to an airlock.  The outer door was closed, and there was another red button on the wall.  Pressing the red button predictably opened the outer door and caused me to asphyxiate in the airless planetoid, but what adventure gamer could resist trying it?  Finding ways to die is part of the fun, after all.

Below the console room was a hold where I found a space suit, a phaser and a shovel.  Wearing the space suit was the obvious solution to the airlock puzzle, and I was pretty stoked about getting a weapon so early.  Examining the suit revealed a pressure gauge that indicated exactly how many moves I had before my air would run out.  Enforced time limits in adventure games aren't new, but it's a rarity that they give you a way of seeing how close you are to the end.  It's a welcome touch.

Examining the phaser revealed that it had 28 charges left, and was set on stun.  Typing SET PHASER told me that I could set it to STUN or DESTROY, both of which sounded like all sorts of fun.  I left it on STUN, but I was anxious to get down to some DESTROYing.

The hatch was stuck. Blasting it with the phaser on stun had no effect, and examining it revealed nothing.  I saved my game and tried blasting it with my phaser set to destroy.  As I expected, this ruined the ship and ended the game.  Still, the attempt had to be made; in adventure games, the knowledge gained by failure can be vitally important.  I tried a few other things with the hatch (kicking, punching, hitting, turning, pushing, pulling) but nothing worked.  That bad boy was stuck, so I resolved to come back and try again later.

With my spacesuit on, it was time to explore the planetoid.  Surprisingly, there wasn't that much to find.  The airlock opened onto a ledge, where I could jump down in the low gravity to a more open area.  There were exits in all four directions, but the game uses loops to make the planetoid seem much bigger than it actually is.  By dropping items I figured out that it only had three areas, and in those areas the only thing of interest was a cave.

The cave only had one exit and a large boulder, which was too heavy to move.  Destroying it with the phaser worked, leaving behind nothing but rock dust.  Behind the boulder was a "strange flickering curtain of light".  With nowhere else to go I walked through the curtain and found myself in a strange hexagonal room.

The hexagonal room contained three items of interest: some goggles on the floor, a small piece of plastic flush in the wall, and a rod jutting straight out of the wall.  Examining the rod revealed nothing special; I figured it was probably a lever of some sort.  The piece of plastic had a picture of an alien tentacle on it, which was odd.  I couldn't take either of them, but I could take the goggles, which had a yellow button on them.  Wearing the goggles rendered me blind, but by pressing the button I could see things in a bluish tint.  I was a little worried that they might have a finite lifespan, so I turned them off and saved them for later.

The hexagonal room

I pulled the rod, and it came out of the wall a little.  It couldn't be pulled any further, but pushing it back into the wall caused the plastic to glow three times.  Doing the same thing again made the plastic glow four times, doing it again made it glow five times, and so on.  Nothing else happened, and at this point I was stuck.  I kept on messing around with the rod and the plastic, tried digging everywhere with my shovel, tried looking at everything with my new goggles, but it all got me nowhere.  In frustration I even tried shooting the rod and the plastic, which destroyed them both but didn't help any.

The solution, which I figured out after a couple of hours of frustration, was to TOUCH PLASTIC.  On doing this I felt disoriented, and on leaving the room I found myself on a grassy plain at the edge of a jungle.  The hexagonal room was a sort of teleport chamber, with the destination indicated by the number of times the plastic glowed when I operated the rod.

  • 2 times: a grassy plain
  • 3 times: a methane snowstorm
  • 4 times: a derelict spacecraft
  • +5 times: a black emptiness
  • 6 times: an alien art museum
  • 7 times: a Jovian mining colony
  • 8 times or more: the same black emptiness

The Grassy Plain

The plain only consisted of a single area (although I later discovered that it was a little bigger than I'd originally thought).  I used my shovel to dig, and found an ancient ice pick.

The Methane Snowstorm

I could explore the snowstorm in all directions, not that it did me much good.  Exploring only got me hopelessly lost in areas where there was seemingly no way out.  Obviously this was an area to explore later, but I had no idea how to make the hexagonal room destinations cycle backwards at this point.

The Derelict Spacecraft

This was an empty ship drifting in space.  The only thing here was an alien machine with a hose and two buttons, one black and one white.  Pressing the white button did nothing, but pressing the black button caused some gas to come out of the hose.  Getting the hose automatically attached it to my suit, and pressing the black button afterwards refilled my suit with oxygen.  So while I had an oxygen-based time limit, I also had a place I could visit to get a refill: very handy!  (Filling the suit with too much oxygen caused my suit to pop open, which was expected but also quite amusing.  The white button apparently toggles the hose between oxygen and some other deadly gas, because I also died by filling my suit with non-breathable air.)

Black Emptiness

There was nothing here except for a black hole, and at this point there was nothing I could do with it.

Alien Art Museum

This area was the jackpot as far as finding the game's treasures was concerned: there was a rare alien painting and an alien sculpture, both of which were marked with asterisks to denote their treasure status.  There was also a sign, but all that did was advertise Adams' next game Mystery Fun House, as well as an "adventure t-shirt" which I assume was for sale at the time.

The painting was in shades of black that made my eyes swim.  I remembered the goggles, and tried looking with them turned on.  This time I saw an image of an alien twisting a buckle on a belt.

The sculpture was of an alien being, and it was wearing a strange belt, no doubt similar to the one in the painting.  Putting the belt on and twisting the buckle caused it to float; presumably I was floating along with it.  The belt was also a treasure.

I tried taking the painting and the sculpture, but this is where I hit my inventory limit.  I'd have to come back for them later.

Jovian Mining Colony

The mining colony's heavy gravity proved to be instantly deadly, but I was able to survive (after restoring my game) by wearing the floating belt.  In the colony I found a flask of ancient saurian brandy (the fourth of five treasures) and a short twisted piece of metal, neither of which appeared special upon examination.  The gravity here meant that my inventory limit was greatly decreased, so I had to drop everything but my suit and belt, and I could only get the flask and metal one at a time.

Gassing myself to death on the derelict spacecraft

Having explored all of the game's areas, I now had a dilemma: how do I reset the teleporter so that I can revisit earlier destinations?  As it stood, the teleporter just kept counting upwards, and after the mining colony it only led to the black hole.  Not only did I need to go backwards for exploration and puzzle-solving purposes, but I also needed a way to get back to my ship.  I'm a little ashamed at how long it took me to figure this one out, but resetting the teleporter required touching the plastic while the rod was pulled out.  That caused the plastic to glow once when the rod was pushed back in, and returned me to the planetoid with my ship.  The upside is that in all this experimentation I tried twisting the rod, and this caused it to break off with a "crystalline snap".  That message was too specific to be just window-dressing, so I filed it away in my memory for later.

I now had four out of five treasures, and no idea where the fifth might be.  I didn't even know where to store my treasures; I had assumed it would be the storage hold of my ship, but putting them there didn't affect my score at all.  I was able to solve one outstanding puzzle though: the stuck hatch.  With the twisted metal in my possession I was able to open it, which gave me access to a crawlway where I found a metal holder and some broken pieces of power crystal.  Recalling the "crystalline snap" of the rod from the hexagonal room when I'd broken it, I tried placing the rod.  It was a perfect fit, and I was now able to blast off.  This worked, and after a short journey I arrived at my destination, which was apparently the storage hold of my mothership.  There was a sign indicating that this is where I needed to leave my treasures, so I'd solved that problem at least.  All that was left was for me to find the last treasure, wherever it might be.

Breaking the rod

The first piece of the puzzle came back in the grassy plain near the jungle.  Sometimes this game indicates all of its exits in an obvious fashion, but sometimes you need to type things like GO DOOR.  This was the case here, as I needed to GO JUNGLE to find a new area.  This led to a jungle of "centurion slime trees", and exits in all directions.  Heading east led to the ruins of an intergalactic zoo, and a "rigilian dia-ice hound".  Examining the hound gave me a warning: "Watch it! It's known to spit molten DIAMONDS!"  This sounded like the treasure I needed, but before I could try anything the hound attacked and killed me.

Upon returning I tried shooting the hound with my phaser, and obliterated it as I had it set to destroy.  A satisfying revenge, but obviously not the solution I was looking for.  Next time I tried it with my phaser set to stun, and that worked.  I was able to get the hound and carry it around with me, but once again I had no obvious path ahead of me.

There were two areas in which I hadn't accomplished anything: the black hole and the methane snowstorm.  Dropping the hound near the black hole didn't do anything (and while I was trying things it woke up and killed me).  Besides, it was an ice hound, so a snowstorm seemed like its natural habitat.

Dropping the hound in the snow and then waking it up caused it to burrow off, although no direction was indicated.  With some trial and error I discovered a large ice mound to the west that hadn't been there before.  Using my pick I was able to dig it up, but as soon as I did the hound came along and killed me.  This happened again on my second attempt, but on my third it didn't attack and I found a Rigilian Ice Diamond.

Finding the ice diamond

At this point I was stuck, trapped at the bottom of a hole with an angry ice hound.  I wasn't able to climb out or dig my way free, and my frustrations got the better of me as they tend to do when I'm nearing the end of a game.  I looked up a walkthrough, and the answer was to SHOOT MOUND with my phaser set to destroy.  This allowed me to get free with the diamond, and return to the hexagonal room and then to my ship.

With all five treasures in hand and the ability to repair my ship, all I had to do was fly to the mothership and place my treasures in the hold.  This required a fair bit of back and forth due to the inventory limit (as well as a trip to replenish my oxygen), but I got there in the end for the following victory screen.

Surrounded by my newfound riches.

Strange Odyssey is another solid outing for Scott Adams.  I do question the decision to block progress with a potentially difficult puzzle at the very beginning of the game though.  I only got through by stubborn perseverance, and it certainly would have stumped me when I was younger.  I suspect a decent number of players back in the day never got further than the initial planetoid.  Other than that, and the frustrations inherent in typing PULL ROD, PUSH ROD, TOUCH PLASTIC over and over again to get anywhere, it's an adventure game with solid puzzles that make sense and can be figured out with some persistence.  That may sound like faint praise, but in this era that puts it a cut above.

RADNESS INDEX:

Story & Setting: The story is yet another in a long line of treasure hunts; I understand why they're so common, as they work very well as the basis for an adventure game, but it's hard to get excited about one at this point.  And while the sci-fi setting is still a novel one, Strange Odyssey's various locations don't hang together in any cohesive way.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There's exactly one character/creature in the game other than the player, and that's the Rigilian Dia-Ice Hound.  One of the game's more interesting puzzles does centre around the creature, but other than that it's just a hostile killing machine and not terribly interesting otherwise.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Puzzles: As I said above, the puzzles in this game are all solid, with solutions that make sense once they're figured out.  I do take some issue with the hexagonal room puzzle blocking all progress so early in the game, and I'm also not too keen on the SHOOT MOUND puzzle at the end given that the player has already dug up the mound and is now in a hole.  And now that I think of it, the crystalline rod is also a little obscure; I only figured it out by accident. Still, by the standards of the day this game does quite well.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Aesthetics: This is a text adventure, and Scott Adams doesn't go for flowery descriptions, so the score has to be low.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: As with all of Adams' games this one has a simple two word parser, but it uses that parser well, and does a decent job of prompting the player when their are moments that could stump the player (such as setting the phaser to stun or destroy).  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: It's a fair adventure game that will provide a decent challenge to someone willing to persevere through the navigation puzzle at the beginning.  The ice hound is also a bit of a stumbling block with its unpredictable nature, but not so much that it's going to drag the score down.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Fun: Zipping around to different sci-fi settings via teleporter is fun in theory, but those areas are too small to be of much interest.  And while giving the player the ability to zap everything in sight provides some amusement, in practice there's very little that can be blasted without effectively ending the game.  Outside of that, it's a primitive text adventure, and that always limits how much fun can be had. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 15, which doubled gives a RADNESS Index of 30.  That puts it on par with other Scott Adams adventures such as Pirate Adventure and Voodoo Castle.  Only The Count and Adventureland rate higher of Adams' games, with Secret Mission ranking slightly lower.  It's quite a consistent track record for such a prolific output.  They're not exceptional games outside of their historical context, but it's enough to give Adams the crown for the era as far as home computer adventure games go.

NEXT: It will probably be the next Scott Adams adventure, Mystery Fun House, which I also played about a year ago.