Sunday, August 14, 2022

Priority Adventure 8: Ghost Town (1980)

Among the many things that can kill a blog is a repetition of the same material over and over again.  It's possible I'm in danger of committing that sin right now, as I'm back with yet another Scott Adams text adventure.  Not only that, it's another Scott Adams treasure hunt.  I'll say this for the man, he knew what was working and he stuck with it.  Thankfully he has a habit of switching up the themes and settings.  So far he's done a D&D-style fantasy, a pirate game, a spy game in a nuclear facility, two horror-themed adventures, a sci-fi, a spy game set in a theme park, and an Egyptian adventure.  Now he's back with a game set in an Old West ghost town.  There aren't a lot of Western-themed adventure games that I'm aware of, so this one promised to be a bit of a novelty.  Well, for the sake of the blog I sure hope so...

Another accurate cover from
Adventure International

There's not a lot out there about the creation of Ghost Town.  It's coming towards the end of Adams' white hot creative output, where he released a dozen games over the course of three years.  We'll see eventually if the workload starts to affect the quality of Adams' games, but thus far he's been remarkably consistent.

I played Ghost Town back in May.  Apparently I played the TRS-80 version, as my victory screenshots at the end of this post will attest.  For reasons of convenience I used the Apple II version to get my screenshots while replaying the game to write this post.  I'm now only two games away from catching up on the games I played when I thought the blog was dead.  Once I've caught up I have some plans which might allow me to increase my output.  We'll see, I make no promises; regular readers will be aware of how erratic and inconsistent I can be with my schedule.

As I mentioned above, Ghost Town is a treasure hunt, set in an Old West ghost town.  There are thirteen treasures to collect (which I assume was done deliberately for maximum spookiness).

Does anyone know who the Cherens were?
I got nothing.

The game begins with the player standing out in the street of the titular ghost town.  Checking my inventory revealed that I was carrying nothing.  Typing SCORE told me that I had stored 0 treasures, giving me a score of 0 out of 100.  It also showed that I had 0 out of a possible 50 bonus points.  This was a new wrinkle to the Adams formula, and although I scored a few along the way I didn't figure the bonus points out until I started reading a walkthrough.  More on that later.

On one side of the street was a jail, with barred windows and a door latched from the inside.  On the other side was a barbershop, where I found a stetson hat.  Wearing the hat gave me the message that "something feels strange", which immediately set my alarm bells ringing.  Adams doesn't put these messages in the game for nothing, so I was convinced that there was something hidden in the hat.  Looking at it told me that the hat was my size, but nothing else I tried gave me more information.  I wouldn't figure out the hat's secret until much later.

Heading east down the road eventually led to Boot Hill (the name of TSR's western tabletop RPG, and also a common term for a burial site for gunfighters).  A rattlesnake was here, and although it wasn't particularly hostile its presence was enough to stop me from getting anything done in this area.  Trying to take the rattlesnake caused it to bite and kill me (predictably).  This was something to come back to later.

West of the barbershop and jail was more road, flanked by a saloon and a dry-goods store.  In the saloon I found a large bell and a mirror.  Looking in the mirror told me that I was "very pretty", while ringing the bell caused a ghostly voice to whisper the word "vain...".  Could these be connected?  (Probably not, because the ghost kept pestering me all over the map regardless of the bell's presence.  The ghostly voice was sometimes accompanied by a bell sound.)  I was able to take the bell, but not the mirror.

In the dry goods store I hit the inventory jackpot: a shovel, a compass (pointing north), and a dozen matches.  A sign here read "DROP *TREASURES* THEN SCORE", which could be rudimentary dating advice but in this context meant that this is where I needed to bring the town's various treasures to beat the game.  Finding the place where you need to store your treasures is always a massive relief in a Scott Adams game.

Heading west down the street again, I came to a telegraph office and a hotel.  The office contained a safe (locked) and a telegraph key,  Nothing happened when I pressed the key, so I left and entered the hotel lobby.  Behind the counter was a *cashbox* - my first treasure!  There was also a sign that read "RING FOR ROOM SERVICE".  Ringing the bell I'd found in the saloon seemed like the thing to do, but had no effect here.  East of the lobby was an empty hotel room.  Empty rooms are always suspicious in these games, so I tried ringing the bell again (it was for room service, after all).  This caused a bed to appear.  I was able to get inside the bed, but no amount of examining or trying to look under the bed revealed anything.  This was another mystery for later.

Even further west down the road I came to a stable.  Inside I found a stall and a manure pile.  There was a horse in the stall (called 'Ole Paint, which is apparently an American breed of horse), and a horseshoe.  Getting on the horse was the obvious course here, and once I was up there I found some *silver spurs* (where were they before?).  I tried putting them on and spurring the horse, but he bucked me off into the manure pile.

(On the subject of 'Ole Paint, I assume that I'm supposed to read its name as "Old Paint", but the placement of the apostrophe makes that difficult.  It should be spelled Ol' Paint, but as it is in the game the horse has a name like Hole Paint, Pole Paint, or maybe even Swole Paint.)

Leaving the horse for now, I used my shovel to dig in the manure pile.  All I found was a pile of white crystals.  Back in the stall I saw that there was now a hole in the wall and a bare hoof print.  I tried shoeing the horse, only to be told that I was missing something (nails, I suspect).  Sure enough, through the hole was a storeroom where I found a keg of nails.  I couldn't take the nails directly; I had to empty the keg and take the nails once they were on the ground.  After all this, I was still unable to shoe the horse.  Maybe I need a hammer or something similar.

Continuing west down the road I was finally out of town, at a crossroads leading north and south.  The path north led to a large (and empty) field.  As I've said before, nothing in these games is ever empty, and this was no exception.  Digging revealed some yellow powder, which immediately made me think of gunpowder.  (I'm not sure why, I have no idea how gunpowder is made.  But what other powder would be appropriate in a western?)  I tried typing MAKE GUNPOWDER, only to be told "something is missing".  So I was right, I just needed to find more ingredients.

South of the fork was a ridge with a narrow ravine.  (Remember that word "narrow", it'll be relevant in a later head-slapping moment.)  I tried to go down the ravine, but the way was blocked by impassable sage brush and tumbleweed.  This was the last avenue of exploration that was obviously open to me, so it was time to take stock of what I'd already discovered and start figuring things out.  I'd only found two out of 13 treasures, which meant that I still had most of the game ahead of me.

Before I could do much investigating, though, the sun started going down, alerting me that the passage of time is important in this game.  After a while the sun went down completely, and it was too dark to see.  Moving around in the dark made me trip and break my neck, and no matter how long I waited it never got light again.  I tried sleeping in the hotel bed, and woke up the next day with the sun shining again, but obviously I'd missed something here.  I figured I needed a light source of some kind so I could explore the town at night.  I had some matches, but those only lit up for a short time.

I didn't have a light source, but remembering the matches made me think that I might be able to use them to burn the undergrowth blocking my entry to the ravine.  This worked - all I had to do was LIGHT MATCH - and with the sagebrush burnt away I could descend to the bottom.  There I found the charcoal remains of the sagebrush, and the entrance to a mine.

Inside the mine it was predictably dark, but my recent play-through of Pyramid of Doom reminded me that items are often hidden in dark areas.  I lit a match, which briefly flared and revealed a passage down, as well as a *silver bullet*.  (Werewolves?  In a western-themed game it seemed unlikely...)  Heading down into another dark area, I lit a match again and... eureka!  A candle!  I now had a light source, and could explore the mine without the risk of breaking my neck in the dark.

Alas, there was nothing to explore.  A passage south led to a dead end with no apparent purpose.  I tried digging there, but found nothing.  There was nothing to do but return to town, drop the *silver bullet* off at the store, and try to solve some other puzzles.

The first thing I tried was looking around town at night now that I had the candle.  The only thing out of the ordinary was in the saloon, where something was scared off when I entered.  A bunch of stuff flashed on the screen when this happened, but it was all too fast for me to read.  I could have tried taking a screenshot to read the flashing messages, but I figured that players in 1980 wouldn't have had that luxury.  Whatever this mystery is, I wanted to solve it as legitimately as possible.

The next puzzle I solved happened almost entirely by accident.  Frustrated after an hour of ineffectually trying things, I decided to take a look at the compass.  Normally it points north, but this time it pointed to the horseshoe (which I luckily had in my possession).  A magnet!  During the last hour I'd tried the door to the jail, which was barred from the inside, so it was fresh in my mind.  Using the horseshoe I was able to unlatch the door and get inside.

As I went inside, a ghostly voice whispered a strange message: "Don't collect $200 then don't pass go! Contrapositive."  I took the meaning of "contrapositive" to be that I should pass go and collect $200.  Typing PASS GO informed me that "I can't do that... yet!"  Something to keep in mind for later.

Inside the jail I found a *golden derringer* and a locked door.  I couldn't unlock the door (the magnet didn't work), and I had no idea if the derringer had bullets or not.  But I did have an idea of where I could try it out...

Heading east out of town, I tried shooting the snake with the derringer.  Much to my surprise, the gun shot a stream of water; not what I expected, but enough to make the snake go away.  With the snake gone I was able to dig with the shovel, creating an open grave.  Inside the grave was a *gold coin* and a purple worm.  Thankfully this purple worm was less deadly than the type from Dungeons & Dragons, or the one from Pyramid of Doom.  I was able to kill it, leaving behind some purple slime and giving me a sense of satisfaction (as well as 1 bonus point).

I can't imagine this ending well in real life.

I was stymied again for a while, and spent a lot of time cycling back through the same areas and trying things that didn't pan out.  My next breakthrough came at the ravine.  I'd thought that making my way down the ravine was all I needed to do in this area, but I'd missed one important piece of description: it was a narrow ravine.  I tried jumping over it, and much to my surprise it worked.  I leaped over the ravine, into a whole new area of the game.

There wasn't much here though, just an old shack with creaky floorboards and another telegraph key.  Pressing the key did nothing, so I left.  It wasn't until some time later that I registered the creaky floorboards as unusual.  Taking one of the floorboards, I uncovered an entrance into the cellar, where I found some *pelts*.  Another treasure down, seven left to go.

The problem was, this time I was really stuck.  I had plenty of loose ends: the locked door in the jail, the safe, the two telegraph keys, getting what I needed to shoe Swole Paint, the incomplete gunpowder ingredients.  The last of these is the one I solved first - I had the crystals and the yellow powder, but the final ingredient I needed was the charcoal left over from burning the ravine underbrush.  So now I had a pile of gunpowder, but no way to pick it up.  The solution here was the keg I'd found earlier, which had originally been filled with nails.  I had a keg of gunpowder, now all I needed was something to blow up.

The obvious candidate was the safe, so I took the keg to the telegraph office and dropped it there.  I had matches, but lighting one didn't seem like the wisest course of action here.  (I tried it anyway, with predictable results.)  For that to work I needed a fuse, or maybe to make a trail of gunpowder.  The game didn't seem to recognise the word FUSE, and I wasn't able to figure out a way to take a handful of gunpowder from the main pile.  Either I was missing something obvious, or I didn't have what I needed to blow up the safe without killing myself.

I eventually caved here, and looked up the answer.  I was on the right track with using the gunpowder, but the method of blowing it up was not what I'd have expected.  I needed to move the safe, thereby exposing some loose telegraph wires.  By connecting the wires and pressing the telegraph key, I could run a spark through the wires that would blow up the gunpowder.  Of course pressing the key in the telegraph office would kill me as well, but that's where the other key in the shack across the ravine came in.  By dropping the keg here, going to the old shack, and pressing the key there, I could blow up the safe.  This left the entire telegraph office as a smoking crater, with the wrecked safe lying open in the middle of the street.  Inside it was a bag of *gold dust*, leaving me with six treasures still to find.

While messing with the key in the telegraph office (after connecting the wires) I'd received a clue in the form of a morse code message: "... .... .- -.- . - --- .--. .--. . .-.".  Luckily for me I was playing this with the aid of the internet, where I was able to find a handy morse code translator; I pity the poor kids who had to figure this stuff out in the 80s from actual books with their actual brains.  The code translated to SHAKE TOPPER, which baffled me for a bit before I realised that the topper it was referring to was a hat.  Shaking the stetson I'd found earlier made a key fall out (and also made the hat fit my head properly).

The key unlocked the door in the jail, which led to a cell.  The only thing in the cell was a hammer, but I'd been looking for one of those for ages.  It was the last item I needed to shoe Profiterole Paint.  I figured that now I'd be able to ride him somewhere, but when I tried I was told that I "may need a magic word".  The first thing I tried was PLEASE, which obviously didn't work, but I had no other ideas, and there hadn't been any obvious clues.  After a bit of experimentation I tried GIDDYUP as the obvious thing you say when you're on a horse.  Asshole Paint raced off with me on his back, until he eventually bucked me off and left me in a hidden canyon next to a teepee.

Inside the teepee I found a *sacred tom tom* and a *turquoise necklace*; only four treasures to go!  The problem was, I had no obvious way out of the canyon.  With nothing else to do I ran through my inventory and started using the items I was carrying.  The sacred tom tom provided the solution, as playing it summoned an Indian ghost.  I must have really been in the stereotypical Western mindset at the time, because it didn't take me long to try saying HOW.  "Geronimo" teleported me back to the manure pile in the stable, and I was able to deposit my treasures.

At least the game didn't ask me to smokum peace pipe.

The last few things I'd discovered had completely wiped out my list of loose ends, so I went through my notes to find anything that I hadn't found a use for, or other odd things I hadn't worked out.  There were two things on that list, both involving the saloon: the mirror, and whatever it is that runs away when I go there at night time.  The saloon ended up being the place that led me to all four remaining treasures, but I didn't work any of this out myself.  From this point on, I was completely relying on a walkthrough.  Eight years of this blog, and I'm wondering if I'm ever going to get good at these games...

The first thing I'd missed was a ghostly piano player that shows up during the day (apparently after the mysterious bell noises I've been hearing periodically).  The ghost and his piano are insubstantial, but if you clap the ghost takes a bow and vanishes, leaving his piano behind.  (I guess this is the solution to the "vain" hint, with the piano player being the vain one in question.)  Playing the piano clues you in that something is inside, and opening it reveals a map.  The following message is written on the map: "IT'S MINE, DIG ROOF!"  Aha, the dead end in the mine!  I'd forgotten all about it as a potential mystery.  I went back to the mine and used my shovel to dig away at the roof, and found a *gold nugget*.

For the next treasure, I had to wait until nightfall and go back to the saloon.  After entering (and scaring the patrons away), I extinguished my candle and then lit a match to briefly illuminate the place, which was now full of ghostly line dancers.  I danced along with them and won a prize: a *silver cup*.

Getting a brief glimpse of the ghostly square dance. If this
is what happens in the afterlife, I choose oblivion.

The next treasure was hidden behind the mirror, but breaking it without the right preparation resulted in me being slashed to ribbons by flying glass.  I needed to tape the mirror using a roll of tape found under the bed in the hotel.  I hadn't found that tape, despite searching the bed multiple times.  What I'd needed to do was MOVE BED, which is the second time in the game I'd been stumped by the need to move things around.  By taping the mirror I was able to break it safely, and gain entrance to a hidden office.  There I found an *Oriental Go board*, and only had one treasure remaining to find.

I was able to get the last treasure on my own.  I'd been clued in previously about the need to PASS GO, so I tried it here and was rewarded with $200.  This is the second adventure game I've played that's used a Go board in conjunction with the idea of "passing go" from Monopoly.  I think the other one was Aldebaran-III.  I'm not sure that Aldebaran-III was widely played, so it's possible that Adams came up with it independently.  It is the sort of odd pun that he seems to like.

With all of the treasures in hand, all that was left to do was collect them all at the store and type SCORE.  This was my winning screen.

It looks like my candle had run out just as I beat the game.

Winning was satisfying, of course, but having -34 bonus points wasn't something I could stand for.  Apparently the amount of bonus points is determined by how many moves you make before finishing the game (as well as a single point for killing the purple worm in the grave).  I wasn't able to find a detailed breakdown anywhere as to how the points and moves correlate. I ended up using a walkthrough with a solution, because I really couldn't be bothered sitting down to figure out an optimal path on my own.  Here's my completely unearned total victory:

I've solved it ALL, except the bits I didn't!

Having more or less finished Ghost Town, it feels like a more satisfying experience than most of Adams' other games.  The puzzles are difficult without being unfair (I was too quick to get help with the answers at the end), and it sticks to its theme throughout.  Another solid effort from Adams, who has been nothing if not consistent.


Story & Setting: The treasure hunt plot isn't going to score highly, but I like the Western ghost town setting.  It sticks to its theme well, with only a moment or two that break the verisimilitude (I'm thinking mainly of the water pistol derringer here).  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters:  There are various ghosts about, as well as a snake, and 'Ole Paint.  As usual with Adams, they're all obstacles with little in the way of personality or possibilities for interaction. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics:  Come on now, you know how this works by now.  It's a text adventure. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics:  Another mechanically sound effort from Adams.  His parser does the job, but it's still very simplistic.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Puzzles: There were some genuine headscratchers in this one, but they all made sense in their own way.  I especially liked the whole sequence required to blow up the safe: it's involved, but every step makes sense.  My only complaint is that certain puzzles (especially saying HOW to the indian ghost) are easier if you have a familiarity with the kinds of Western stories that were common circa 1980.  I grew up watching those movies, so for me it wasn't much of a problem, and I doubt it would have been for anyone when the game came out.  Those Western cliches have very much gone out of style, but it's hard to criticise a game for expecting knowledge that was ubiquitous at its time of release.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: I feel like this one was balanced pretty well, with a variety of puzzles and no frustrating random elements.  The bonus points are also a nice optional challenge for those who want to try beating the game faster.  I'm a little disappointed in myself for giving up on beating this game legitimately near the end; I feel like these were all puzzles I might have figured out eventually.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Fun: Aside from The Count (Adams' best game) and Adventureland (a genre that's right in my wheelhouse), I think I enjoyed playing this more than any of Adams' other games.  Something about the setting and the nature of the puzzles came together for me, and it also didn't have any annoying early bottlenecks.  It's a primitive text adventure, so there's only so high this rating can go, but the process of working this one out was enjoyable.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 19, which doubled give Ghost Town a RADNESS Index of 38. That puts it just above Adventureland, Adams' very first game.  I probably enjoyed Adventureland more, but if I'm being honest that game has a bunch of annoying random elements that drag it down.  I'm happy enough for Ghost Town to sit second out of all Adams' games, with only The Count ranking higher.

NEXT: It's time to go back to the dunjon, with the latest Dunjonquest installment, Morloc's Tower.