Thursday, September 20, 2012

The LoadDown -- 09/20/2012

School is back in session but there's still time to play some new downloadable titles.  Lots of retro and retro-inspired games this week...

WiiWare -- Just when this particular platform seemed to be dying, hat-and-whip action comes to WiiWare in the form of LA-MULANA, an archaeological platformer announced quite a while back that puts Professor Jones Lemeza through dangerous territory.  It has a charming pixel-art retro look.

DSiWare --One new DSI title: Retro Pocket, a neat idea presenting 8 all-original (but clearly Game & Watch-inspired) LCD-style action games in one inexpensive package.  Retro indeed.

3DS eShop --  Retro Pocket will run on the 3DS as well, of course, and one additional eShop title is out: Rising Board 3D, which has nothing to do with baking; it's a side-scrolling collect-'em-up game featuring an airboarding penguin and a bunch of incongruous but entirely appropriate electromechanical (think pinball) game sound effects.

XBox Live Arcade -- Three new games on XBLA -- Sega's Jet Set Radio (see below), Wizarbox's co-op hack'n'slash action RPG Realms of Ancient War, and comical stunt game Joe Danger 2: The Movie.

PS3 on PSN -- Two new titles here.  Sega's Dreamcast-era classic skateboarding/tagging game Jet Set Radio (aka Jet Grind Radio in the US) comes to the PS3, and PopCap's latest sequel, the ball-queuing casual puzzle game Zuma's Revenge! is also available.

Notable on Steam -- A couple of popular console titles come to PC via Steam -- Sega's Jet Set Radio is worth checking out, while Activision's sequel/remake/repackage Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD may not measure up to its seriesmates.  And Torchlight II is finally out, along with full-priced shooter/RPG sequel Borderlands 2.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Burglar's Adventure (1981)

This week, we're tackling Bruce G. Hansen's TRS-80 game, Burglar's Adventure -- no year is cited, but I believe this game was published in 1981 along with Hansen's Adventure System, an editor reverse-engineered from the Scott Adams adventure game engine.  The distribution I found online actually includes the Scott Adams engine; legal niceties like licensing were not always recognized back in these early years of computer gaming, though I don't know whether Hansen sought Adams' permission in this specific case.  At any rate, it's always fun to play another adventure in this early, classic style.

The story concerns the player, a burglar who's rather more ambitious than the norm as he or she sets out to steal five major treasures from a remarkably poorly-guarded museum.  It's a treasure hunt game, but the puzzles have more to do with stealth, cleverness and evading detection by museum security than most adventure games in this vein.

I always encourage interested readers to play these games independently.  This one's fairly straightforward, with few red herrings or unused items, although one puzzle solution is clearly not realistic.  Beyond this point, there are comprehensive...


We start out someplace where Its [sic] too dark to see! -- fortunately our INVENTORY contains a Flashlight, as if we try to move anywhere at all we're very likely to fall and break our neck, per long-standing Scott Adams tradition.  Thanks to the way the engine is implemented, we do get a brief initial glimpse of the starting location just before the display shifts to the "dark" message.  But it's not necessary -- though of course, we can't TURN ON FLASHLIGHT but must LIGHT FLASHLIGHT.

Now we can clearly see that we're on a street with a car and a museum, in the traditional minimalist style of these early adventures.  EXAMINE reveals nothing special about the car, and all we learn about the museum is that it's an ivy-covered building and the front door is locked.  There's no place else to go, so given these salient details, CLIMB IVY seems like a good thing to do.  This leads to a window sill, with a conveniently open window that leads into the museum proper.

The museum has a bathroom with a mirror and a toilet.  GO TOILET yields Ah! That felt good! but has no practical outcome.  LOOK MIRROR produces Boy am I good looking! The flashlight reflection hurts my eyes!  Turning off the flashlight doesn't reveal anything new in this area, though; this is just a nice bit of detail (and a clue for a puzzle later on.)

There's a Sleeping guard in the museum's main corridor -- he seems to be the only person on duty, making our job rather easier than it might have been.  If we LOOK GUARD, we find a note but the guard wakes up.  We can READ NOTE before the guard catches us to learn that "The time lock on the vault opens at 9:00 AM.  Remember to turn off the security system before entering the RED corridor."  This is likely an important clue.  But once we wake the guard, eventually he gives chase -- and if he catches us, then the game ends with the player thrown in jail.

The museum contains several displays of questionable curatorial provenance.  The Lumberjack Display features a chainsaw and some trees.  We can try to CLIMB TREE, but we slide back down, in an unusual break from tradition.  A South of the Border display provides us with some Dough & beans.  And an Old West Display features a Cowboy, an Indian, and some Sticks; examining the human figures discovers a Larriet [sic], a Bow & arrow and a Tomahawk.  The manager's office down the eastern hallway is locked; we can try to SAW DOOR with the chainsaw, but The saw isn't running, and START SAW confirms that I have no fuel.

The coat rack in the central museum corridor contains an Umbrella, and a Clock nearby tells the time in hours and minutes.  One minute passes per turn, so we suspect that we must need to get everything done before the vault opens at 9:00 AM.  We can only carry five items in inventory, though, so we'll have to be purposeful in our selections.

We've explored all of the currently available map, so it's time to experiment a little.  The bathroom mirror is portable, as it turns out, so perhaps we can put it somewhere else to reflect light.  We can RUB STICKS to create a fairly short-lived Fire, and then COOK DOUGH to (somehow) make Burritos.  Huh.  THROW LARRIET just drops it.  We can't KILL GUARD or feed him a burrito.

Entering the Red Corridor sets off an alarm, as expected, waking the guard.  But we are given some time to explore the rest of this small and oddly haphazard museum before we are caught.  There's a *Picasso painting* in the Art Gallery, a Block of ice in the Ice Age display, and a Glass case containing a mannequin of Cleopatra in the Egyptian Display.

I tried to see if I could grab the painting and flee -- but my inventory was full, and when I decided to DROP MIRROR to make room I conveniently learned that The mirror reflected the light beam!  So that can be used to suppress the painting-specific alarm, making for one treasure we can steal without being caught.  This discovery likely foreshadows a trend in this Burglar's Adventure.

We can see something in the block of ice, but lighting the fire in the Ice Age room doesn't melt it at all.  If we have the tomahawk, though, we can BREAK ICE to reveal a Mastodon, with *Ivory tusks* available upon further examination.

But all this treasure finding does us no good if the guard has been alerted, so we need to go back and figure out how to enter the Red Corridor without setting off the alarm.  We can TIE LARRIET - TO WHAT? - TO ARROW to attach it to the bow and arrow.  Then we can SHOOT ARROW to get it stuck in the RED Corridor's wall over there!  Finally, in a more complicated puzzle than usual for this generation of adventure technology, we can further TIE LARRIET / TO RACK to create a Taut rope stretching through Red Corridor.  Hopefully the elevation will allow us to bypass the security -- and yes, if we now CLIMB ROPE instead of entering the red corridor directly, we don't set off the alarm.

Now to deal with Cleopatra and her glass case.  I got stuck here briefly because the noun CASE is recognized for many purposes -- like EXAMINE CASE -- but BREAK CASE does not work, while BREAK GLASS does.  The Cleopatra mannequin is wearing a *Golden Tiara*, but of course the sound of breaking glass wakes up the guard.  CUT GLASS yields the usual suggestive but non-committal I can't do that...yet!  We also can't WEAR TIARA and POSE, in the hope that the guard might be nearly blind.  So we will need to work on this puzzle some more, after a pre-alarm restore.

Ah -- we need to be carrying the umbrella to safely climb the rope, otherwise it may happen that I lost my balance and fell!, once again setting off the alarm.  This suggests that Mr. Hansen pictured this as more of a tightrope walk than a horizontal hand-over-hand climb, as I was picturing it.

So what's left for us to experiment with?  There's the chainsaw... can we get fuel from the car parked outside the museum?  The parser doesn't recognize SIPHON GAS, FILL CHAINSAW, or FUEL CHAINSAW, and the game's dictionary doesn't seem to know what a TANK or GAS or FUEL is either.  But aha -- and yes, this is a bit of a stretch even for an adventure game -- we can EAT BURRITOS, and then... yes... wait a while until I don't feel very good.  I think I have GAS.  Now, overlooking the scenario's implausibility mostly because I don't even want to think about how this could be made to work, we can START CHAINSAW, and while it can't CUT GLASS in the Cleopatra exhibit, it can SAW DOOR to get us into the Manager's Office where the locked vault sits.  We can also CUT TREE in the Lumberjack exhibit, but don't seem to gain anything from doing so.  We can try to SAW DOOR outside the museum, but it remains locked; this appears to be a bug, some parser confusion of this resolutely indestructible door with the breachable door inside.

At 9:00 AM, just as promised, the vault automatically opens.  Inside are the * Hope diamond * and a * Ruby necklace *; we've got quite a haul so far, except that we still don't know where to store these things so that they will be officially recognized by the SCORE command.

Another bug I ran into -- a common one in adventure games -- is that after we've strung up the rope through the Red Corridor, LOOK COWBOY and LOOK INDIAN resurrect the original form of the Larriet, Tomahawk, and Bow & arrow in their original location.  This doesn't seem to break anything or shortcut any puzzles, though; just one of those little bugs that tends to escape playtesting.

What else can we try?  Well, we can HIT GUARD to knock him out, giving us access to the note we saw earlier without getting ourselves thrown in jail.  And now that he's knocked out, maybe we can freely smash the glass case... except that even if he's knocked out instead of just sleeping, he shakes it off and wakes up.  And it's impossible to HIT GUARD again when he's awake -- he always catches us and puts us in jail.

What about starting the car so we can make a clean getaway?  There are no keys as such in the dictionary -- but we can HOTWIRE CAR to get it started, with no specific objects required.  DRIVE CAR takes us to the Edge of a forest, where we find our hideout, a Shack with the traditional "Leave *TREASURES* here" sign prominently displayed.  Dropping two treasures here yields 40 of a possible 100 points, so it looks like we will need to stash all 5 treasures we have discovered so far, without getting caught.  We also learn that after this initial drive to the hideout, the car now appears to be broken down.  So we'd better have all five treasures on hand before we try to drive anywhere.

Can we just make a run for it with * Cleopatra's Tiara *, after rounding up the other treasures?  No -- while we can give it a good try, the guard always seems to catch up with us before we can DRIVE CAR, even if we've left the engine running.   And we can't CLOSE WINDOW on our way back out of the museum to slow him down at all.

Turning off the flashlight for additional stealth doesn't seem to help either.  But of course I've overlooked the obvious solution here -- once we have the * Hope diamond * from the vault we can CUT GLASS.  This allows us to open Cleopatra's glass case without breaking the glass and alerting the guard, so we can escape with all five treasures, leaving the guard blissfully asleep or knocked out before he wakes up and finds himself suddenly unemployed. 

With all five treasures stashed, victory is ours -- though with the flashlight running out at the end of my first successful attempt, I just barely made it in time!

Burglar's Adventure is a pretty straightforward vintage adventure, but it's not badly done -- the puzzles make sense and it's a pleasant journey.  The only big problem is that, once we've figured out most of the puzzles and know what we're doing, we may have to wait an awfully long time for the vault to open at 9 AM; there's no WAIT command to speed up the process, and typing INV or LOOK or even I up to 240 times between 5 AM and 9 AM on the game clock quickly becomes painful.

Bruce Hansen wrote at least a few of these games, primarily to demonstrate his editor; this one was a nice quick play, so I will try to track down more of his work in the future.  My walkthrough is below the fold and will also be made available at the CASA Solution Archive.

***** WALKTHROUGH *****

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The LoadDown -- 09/13/2012

September is here -- back to school time, so we'd expect new game releases to slow down a little bit as publishers prepare to ramp up for the holidays.  But where packaging and shipping are of no concern, games are still being released...

WiiWare -- Nintendo just announced the price point and release date for the Wii U, so it's not surprising they're ignoring the Wii this week.

DSiWare -- One new game for the DSi -- BOOKSTORE DREAM, a simulation of running a retail bookshop, coping with demand and suppliers, although one doesn't actually get to evaluate the books available.  It's anyone's guess as to what will sell, just like in real life.

3DS eShop -- Three new games, one old and two new.  The classic is Konami's Mystical Ninja starring Goemon, a Game Boy spinoff of the SNES Legend of the Mystical Ninja, first of the Japanese Goemon series to see North American release.  Fractured Soul is a tricky, attractively presented sci-fi platformer that uses both screens, requiring the player to shift focus from one to the other.  Heavy Fire: Special Operations 3D is an old-fashioned arcade rail-shooter, with really nice graphics for a portable download game.

XBox Live Arcade --  Two new games arrive on XBLA this week: Double Dragon: Neon and Red Johnson's Chronicles -- One Against All.  See below for details.

PS3 on PSN -- Three new games hit the PS3:  Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a tower defense/escort mission game that's been popular on other platforms.  Double Dragon: Neon revives the classic co-op/versus beat-'em-up arcade game series with a new style and a positive critical reception.  Red Johnson's Chronicles -- One Against All is a gritty investigation/adventure game that looks potentially better than that sounds.

Notable on Steam -- This game has been out for a while, but I haven't had a chance to mention it: To The Moon, a retro-style adventure/RPG with music by Laura Shigihara, finally arrived on Steam this week.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Adventure of the Week: House of Thirty Gables (1979)

This post comes about as the result of an online mis-filing -- I discovered Bill Miller's House of Thirty Gables, published in 1980 by Instant Software for the TRS-80, when I thought I had found and was playing Greg Hassett's The House of Seven Gables.  I was making notes about the significant contrasts with the rest of Hassett's adventures, and then, when I got stuck, I consulted a walkthrough... and realized I was playing a completely different game.  Bill Miller also wrote Dr. Chips, an Eliza variation published by Adventure International, and some chess and backgammon software, but as far as I know this was his only adventure effort.

House of Thirty Gables is a straightforward treasure-hunt game, set in a mysterious house and the caverns below.  And it dates from the early years of the genre -- the scoring model isn't very transparent, red herrings abound and there are enough random events to make it a challenge for the wrong reasons.  The game adopts the primitive interface approach of early mainframe adventures -- the text just scrolls indefinitely until we reset the display with a LOOK command, unlike the more sophisticated windowed location/command style pioneered by Scott Adams.  Miller's code is written in machine language and responds quickly, though the text and dictionary are fairly bare-bones.  For example, INV is the inventory command, not I or TAKE INVENTORY -- but it's hard to determine this at first, as when we have nothing in hand we get a completely blank response.  And a surprising number of words are used onscreen but are not recognized by the parser, like... DOOR?

As always, I encourage interested readers to visit the House of Thirty Gables before proceeding here, as I will be tearing the wrappings off most of the surprises.  But it's not an easy game to finish -- special thanks to reader Walter, who graciously provided the final clue for my own playthrough, without which this post would have languished in draft mode for quite some time to come.  So try it, but don't feel obligated to finish it -- I'll be happy to give away everything I discovered here, along with various other...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******

We begin standing outside a house, with an open door to the east; we can't CLOSE DOOR, as the parser does not recognize the word, and exploring in any direction brings us right back here.  Entering the house by walking E is the only option.

We enter a LARGE DUSTY ROOM with exits east and west, a staircase leading down, and a sign reading, "PLEASE DON'T FEED THE TROLL," who hangs around in this part of the map but doesn't do much of interest. To the north is a pyramid-shaped room with a gold coin and a dead rat.

We can carry the dead rat, accompanied by A TERRIBLE SMELL.  If we DROP RAT, YOU ARE RID OF THE RAT, and oddly it seems to stop smelling.  This seems like it ought to be part of a puzzle, but I never found a reason to carry the dead rat around at all.

Past the rat we see a flute hanging on the wall -- a Pied Piper reference? -- in a passageway leading to a circular room, where we find another gold coin.  The inventory system keeps count of the coins, so we will apparently be finding a number of them.

A room with a hole in the floor and a ladder leads not unexpectedly to THE BOTTOM OF A HOLE.  Passages lead off in all four directions here, but of more immediate concern is the LARGE BEAR STANDING BESIDE YOU.  But he's not really dangerous, just annoying -- BEFORE YOU CAN DO ANYTHING THE BEAR GRABS YOU, SPINS YOU AROUND A FEW TIMES THEN THROWS YOU OUT OF THE ROOM.  This sends us randomly through one of the available exits, and I never found a way to turn this off -- there were times I had to enter and re-enter the room ten times until I finally got thrown in the direction I wanted to go. 

North of the bear, we pass through a tunnel with a coin in it, arriving at a LARGE GLOOMY ROOM with an emerald guarded by a deadly green snake.  We can PLAY FLUTE, and THE SNAKE IS MESMERIZED.  But the reptile is not as mesmerized as some other adventure games would lead one to believe -- certainly not enough to prevent us being BITTEN BY THE DEADLY GREEN SNAKE, with 10 moves left to find an antidote!  And as death approaches, we learn about the game's rather innovative hint system -- I WILL GIVE YOU A HINT BUT IT WILL COST YOU A GOLD COIN.  This is a neat idea, but I didn't take the hint on first offer.  I'm assuming we will need the coins for something later on.  So I died and had to restart.

To the south of the bear is a DIMLY LIT ROOM containing an elevator and a lute.  If we enter the elevator, the door immediately closes.  We can go UP from here to find ourselves back outside the house at the starting location, so this will probably be handy later on.

To the east of the bear we encounter another snake, this one a SERPENT to keep it distinct in the game's dictionary.  If we linger, it wraps itself around our legs and we can't navigate or JUMP with it attached.  It doesn't respond to the flute or the lute, either.  HELP handily produces a list of verbs -- we can KISS SERPENT, earning a smack and a hiss for our trouble (does this serpent have hands, then?)  We can FEED SERPENT, or we could if we had... maybe the dead rat?  It's a moot question at the moment, as we can't escape the serpent's grip, so the only option is to QUIT and try again.

West of the enthusiastic traffic-control bear is a MISTY ROOM with a gold coin and a sleeping dragon on the east side of the room, blocking an exit.  KISS DRAGON does not wake it up.  But PLAY LUTE sends the dragon away, HOLDING ITS EARSPLAY LUTE in the absence of an audience reveals that THE LUTE IS HORRIBLY OUT OF TUNE.  Sorry, Mr./Ms. Dragon!

Past the dragon is an east-west passageway shrouded waist-deep in opaque mist.  To the south is a room with a large stone idol and a brilliant ruby.  READ IDOL reveals it is TLOLOC, probably a corruption of the Aztec god Tlaloc.  If we TAKE RUBY, then we are SUDDENLY CONFRONTED BY AN ANGRY DWARFSLAY DWARF prompts, SLAY THE DWARF WITH WHAT? -- but the lute doesn't work, and he shortly (no pun intended) throws a knife at us, ending the game.  Actually, the dwarf shows up at random, whether we have taken the ruby or not, so we need to find some way to keep him out of our way.

Hmmmm... this is interesting... the map changes itself up a bit?  The room with the ladder leading down to the bear somehow becomes a TRIANGULAR ROOM where we find an AX and an APPLE.  How did this happen?  Oh, no, never mind, I just didn't draw my map correctly!

We can sneak past the coiling serpent if we don't hang around too long, that is, more than one move.  One direction loops back to the emerald/snake room.  Another leads to a cylindrical room with another gold coin in it, but if we take it, or even if we just wait a turn before exiting the room, a HEAVY STEEL GRATE SUDDENLY COMES CRASHING DOWN IN FRONT OF THE ONLY EXIT.  In another few turns, the ceiling starts to lower, one foot at a time, until we are squashed.  Time to restore once again. 

East of the serpent is a LARGE DAMP ROOM (these locations are very non-descript) with walls COMPLETELY COVERED WITH IVY, north of which is a room where we see A MAN WITH A FRIENDLY SMILE OFFERING YOU A GOLD COIN.  If we TAKE the COIN, the man vanishes in a puff of smoke -- and we are left with AN I.O.U. FOR 10 GOLD COINS SIGNED BY WORLD POWER SYSTEMS.  I couldn't make sense of this joke, so I did a little research -- a company calling itself World Power Systems advertised in TRS-80 magazines circa 1979, but it was a scam run by an escaped criminal and fraudster -- it collected money and never delivered the promised products.   

The dwarf seems to wander around the map, actually, so the encounters are far from predictable, though they don't happen too often.  We can try to slay him with the ax, but he's too nimble -- but we can also randomly sidestep the attack, in which case THE DWARF GRABS HIS KNIFE AND RUNS.  We can try to SLAY MAN, too, in which case he disappears in a puff of smoke without stealing our coins.

So... how are we to survive the collapsing ceiling room?  I finally gave in and bought a hint -- PMPH IS THE WORD, we are informed, but if we SAY PMPH, all we get is CHUCKLE, CHUCKLE.  MAN ARE YOU GULLIBLE.  Well played, Mr. Miller!  If we buy another hint while the ceiling inches downward, the parser says I APPRECIATE YOUR TRUST and we are spared our imminent doom.  But we've spent one gold coin, net, so this doesn't seem worth it, or at least it's not the best solution.

Can we collect all the gold coins?  The serpent coiled about our feet can't be killed with the ax, lest we chop off our feet.  I went to retrieve the rat, but if we DROP RAT in the serpent's room, THE RAT VANISHES ON IMPACT, which seems odd, and is certainly not helpful.  Trying again with FEED SERPENT -- FEED THE SERPENT WHAT? -- RAT also doesn't work out, as A SERPENT WON'T EAT ANYTHING DEAD.  It doesn't want the apple either.

A hint in the misty area says, BE PERSISTENT, and if we keep trying to go E we do eventually come back out into the ivy room.  At this point in my playthrough, I have a score of 35 out of 80, with the ruby plus 5 gold coins inventory.  We apparently don't have to drop the treasures anywhere -- in fact, the parser says I WON'T ALLOW YOU TO DROP YOUR RUBY, and if we drop coins they vanish on impact, never to return.

We can feed the apple to the troll, or kill him with the ax, but there doesn't seem to be any good reason to do so.  If we pick up the ivy, we develop a rash that requires constant scratching within a few turns, so that's probably not a good idea either.  Fortunately we can get rid of the itching by dropping the ivy.

Ah!  If we FEED SERPENT the apple after it has wound itself around our legs, now THE SERPENT TURNS YOU LOOSE TO EAT THE APPLE.  Now it looks like we need to collect 10 gold coins, the ruby and the emerald to score the total possible 80 points.  And to figure some of this out, we will probably need to buy the hints and then replay.

For being poisoned by the green snake, the hint is MAREZEDOATS.  Are there oats to eat somewhere? Oh, wait, that rings a bell -- mairzydoatsandozydoatsanliddilamzydIVY!  But carrying the ivy around is difficult -- eventually we are scratching so much we can't move -- and the bear makes it hard to get from the snake area to the ivy area.  We can EAT IVY, so should we eat it ahead of time in case of snake bite later on?  Ah, I just didn't catch this when I was mapping -- after being bitten, we can go south from the emerald room to find ourselves in the serpent room near the ivy room.  Whew!

Which other coins have we not claimed at this point?  There's a JUMP verb we haven't used.  Cheating and looking at the game dictionary reveals the possible existence of a GUN, but I never found it in my travels. 
The code also mentions a RICKETY STAIRWAY heading somewhere... I haven't seen this!  And some NAILS; we can't GET the nails that keep the ladder nailed down, and no other likely source makes itself apparent.  Probably serves me right for peeking.

In the grate/ceiling trap room, we can THROW AX, but just like anywhere else, it bounces around and doesn't accomplish anything.  Most other things we can throw just vanish on impact; in fact, sometimes the ax does too!  So that's not a productive path to explore.

At this juncture, I can't seem to get farther than 60 of the 80 points, and that's a temporary state at best, as claiming the coin from the trap room is ultimately fatal.  There are no points awarded for killing the troll, or for any other actions we can take, and no evident place to drop things for SCORE purposes.

Fortunately, reader Walter reports that he's been able to earn 60 points while staying alive, and then leaving the building via the elevator ups the score to 80.  So where are the 5 points I'm missing -- one coin?  Aha! -- thanks to Walter again -- it emerges that if we KISS MAN instead of killing him or taking the coin from him, he drops it and we can take it.  (It's not clear whether the man is simply surprised, or this game was just rather forward-looking, or I've simply made a stupid assumption about our hero's gender, but that's one more coin.)

And yes, if we have acquired 60 points, then if we're standing in the meadow outside the house, SCORE yields 80 points.  Anywhere else we only have 60 points.  So I guess, with no fanfare to speak of, we have to declare that we are victorious as long as we are standing in this exact spot.  Being in the right place at the right time is apparently 25% of success!

Every time I think I'm aware of most of the TRS-80 adventure games out there, another one crops up to shove its way onto my to-play list.  House of Thirty Gables was an unexpected discovery, and a fun little game, though without some timely external intervention I might never have guessed what I was missing when it came to finishing the story.  Though I did think to KISS SERPENT and KISS DRAGON, I mistakenly assumed the man with the gold coin was just a little TRS-80 community in-joke and not actually a puzzle.  Just goes to show that one sometimes has to go everywhere and try everything, whether it seems logical or not.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The LoadDown -- 09/06/2012

What's new on the wire this week?  Quite a few titles, though most are on the smaller end of the scale...

Wii Virtual Console -- Konami's Super NES version of Jordan Mechner's classic Prince of Persia comes to the Wii, published now by Ubisoft, current controller of the franchise.  This version is notable for some additional levels and more detailed graphics.

DSiWare -- Something called Crazy Hunter arrives, and it's making a stab at originality -- players control an alligator who must use a speedboat to knock goats into the water, then use them with a crane to build a tower in order to reach hens that lay golden eggs.

3DS eShop -- Two new games here.  Heyawake by Nikoli is another Sudoku-esque puzzle game; oddly, it's only being released on the 3DS but doesn't appear to rely on any 3-D effects.  Balloon Pop Remix takes the Balloon Pop puzzle formula and brings the stylus to bear, with accurate swipes popping multiple balloons.

XBox Live Arcade -- Two new games up here too.  Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior's Rise is an overhead beat-'em-up with co-op features and waves of enemies to pummel into submission.  Dogfight 1942 takes arcade airplane action and adds more realistic flight dynamics.

PS3 on PSN -- Just one new game, Zen Pinball 2, which is not so much a sequel as an upgrade for the original Zen Pinball.  Fortunately all of the DLC from the original game works with the improved graphics and physics engine, so fans will likely find it worth the investment.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Burial Ground Adventure (1979)

This week, we're returning to the vintage TRS-80 archives to play through Burial Ground Adventure, published in 1979.  Young author Joel Mick was based in New Jersey at the time and distributed the game himself, as was often the case in the early years of computer gaming.  Mr. Mick notably went on to work at Wizards of the Coast on Magic: The Gathering and other role-playing games.

The adventure begins with the standard screen of introductory text - in 1979 it was still de rigeur to provide some basic orientation about how this whole "adventure game" thing works.  According to more detailed credits in the game code, we're playing version 3.4.

Burial Ground Adventure isn't nearly as gothic as the title suggests -- it's a treasure hunt adventure, set on an island with beaches, jungles, and a house or castle depending (literally) upon one's perspective.  The parser is limited, but the implementation is generally solid -- it even has a SAVE/LOAD mechanism, though in this day and age it's much faster to use an emulator with save state capability.  The game's BASIC engine is also rather slow, so a little overclocking comes in handy too.

I always encourage interested adventurers to sample these works before reading my further comments -- they will mean more if you have an experience of your own to compare and contrast, and most of the fun of adventure gaming lies in exploration and discovery.  But I'm here to capture the history of these interactive entertainments, and I will fully document this one for all those who won't ever get around to playing itFor those who want to try Burial Ground Adventure, I'll warn you that there are a few parser aggravations ahead; I'll provide a walkthrough at the bottom to save you a few headaches.  All of that said, I have no qualms about the multitudinous...

****** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******

We begin standing on a nondescript BEACH OF A SMALL ISLAND, with nothing in inventory.  To the north is a jungle, and further north we find a palm tree; we can, per long-standing tradition, CLIMB TREE to see a house, located far to the east.   Further north lies another stretch of beach, with a deep, dark hole we'll avoid for the moment and a separate downward path that leads to a cliffy area and back to the jungle.  The SCORE "room" is situated on a sand bar to the south of the starting location, sporting a traditional "LEAVE TREASURES HERE : SAY SCORE FOR AN EVALUATION" sign.

As much of the map wraps around or redirects, it's not as open or large a layout as it first appears.  To the west of our starting point we find more beach with sand dunes, and a GUN that seems like it ought to come in handy.  We can try to DIG anywhere, but I DON'T HAVE A SHOVEL at this point (though this suggests we should try to find one.)

The eastern edge of the jungle adjoins a pit; the game notes that IT MUST HAVE BEEN AN ANIMAL TRAP, containing a bamboo shoot and some remarkably non-specific ANIMAL MEAT, suggesting that this trap skins, butchers and packages its victims beyond recognition, or that our hero is not at all familiar with the local fauna.  But we are apparently stuck in the trap ourselves -- if we try to CLIMB BAMBOO, I SLIDE BACK DOWN.  So it's time to restore or restart.

Exploring the jungle further, we find a note by a stream running out of the swamp.  It's a Scott Adams-style advertisement: "BUY JOEL MICK'S NEXT ADVENTURE - DAMSEL IN DISTRESS - AVAILABLE SOON - CALL 609-829-2047 - YOU MAY ALSO CALL IF YOU BECOME STUMPED."  I'm pretty sure that offer is no longer valid, though I didn't bother the current residents to find out.

The stream also leads to a STEEP WATERFALL, which would be understating the case for most waterfalls I've seen, but there's nothing we need to do here.  On the easter side of the jungle, heading toward the house glimpsed earlier, we can finally acquire a SHOVEL.

Nearer to the house is a kennel, containing a key and some dogs, who of course won't let us take the key.  If only we had the animal meat!  To the south nearby is a shed, containing a WIRE HANGER, which may come in handy, especially if we run into Joan Crawford.  Traveling further east leads to the house -- though close up we can now see we are actually on the PORCH OF A CASTLE, with a locked door.

We can DIG everywhere with the shovel, but I only found anything useful in the DISGUSTING SWAMP - a rope!  We can THROW ROPE to climb back out of the bamboo pit with the animal meat (though the rope is invisible after we've thrown it, we're allowed to CLIMB ROPE and keep it in inventory.)

Up to this point this game has been very straightforward.  But now we DROP MEAT... and the dogs ignore it.  FEED DOGS yields the fourth-wall-shattering RE-ENTER COMMAND TELLING ME WHAT TO FEED (EXAMPLE: FEED FRUIT)FEED MEAT produces... a partial success?  HALF OF THE DOGS EAT THE MEAT AND LEAVE, BUT THE REST REMAIN.  Ack!  And we can't SHOOT DOGS as the gun has no ammunition.  And if we try to THROW MEAT to create a better distraction, the parser just drops it and the dogs again pay no attention.

The parser is rather primitive -- it suggests other options for EXAMINE (like READ or WATCH) but provides few details about most objects.  And the dictionary confuses SHOOT and SHOVEL, so we have to call the bamboo shoot BAMBOO.  I also found a bug -- if we try to SLIDE without specifying a noun, the game crashes.

So what else can we do?  We have the wire hanger -- can we PICK LOCK at the castle?  Yes, this actually works!  The castle's kitchen contains a REFRIGERATOR, which we can open to find a STEAK.  So if we do need to deal with the dogs, we can probably do so now.  Maybe that key is for some other door.

The laundry room contains a LAUNDRY SHUTE [sic] coming out of the wall.  A RECREATION ROOM has a television set -- we can WATCH TELEVISION to learn (from a commercial) that "YOU SHOULD FEED DOGS ALPO INSTEAD OF STEAK OR RAW MEAT."  Nobody ever worried about unlicensed use of trademarks during this era!  We can watch the TV repeatedly, but we never see anything different; this network is all Alpo commercials, all the time.  But this is just a hint -- we already suspect that we can FEED STEAK and FEED MEAT to distract all of the dogs in the kennel and get the key.  (And afterward, we can OPEN REFRIGERATOR again and get another steak, should we want one.  I'm pretty sure this is a bug.)

The castle on the inside looks remarkably like an ordinary house.  It has one closet with a trap door in the ceiling; we also find some ammunition and a match here.  How do we get up there?  THROW ROPE does nothing, nor can we GO TRAP or GO DOOR.  If we try to OPEN DOOR, we're told I CAN'T, TRY PUSHING IT.  This sounds helpful, but PUSH DOOR yields only NOTHING HAPPENS, and PULL DOOR only reestablishes that I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOUHELP yields TRY PUSHING THE DOOR OPEN, but that's still not happening.

Do I need to have a specific item in hand to do this?  The shovel and the bamboo, both of which seem long enough to be useful, don't seem to be.  Peeking at the BASIC code, it appears I need A(21,4) = 0 on line 60020, and object 8 in inventory -- that's the bamboo shoot -- and both of these flags are set as expected.  I finally figured out that we have to PUSH BAMBOO, not PUSH DOOR.  Double ack!

From the location above the closet, we can access an empty attic, a tiny storage room containing a BIG BLACK PEARL and an OLD STAMP ALBUM, and a bedroom with A VALUABLE PORTRAIT OF GEORGE WASHINGTON and a PILLOW.  We should not OPEN ALBUM, as it turns out, because ALL THE STAMPS FALL OUT AND BLOW AWAY.  Oops.  It also seems like we're supposed to run into a puzzle here -- there's a chute in the bedroom, and we can SLIDE PILLOW to see that it ends up downstairs in the laundry room.  But none of the treasures is too large to take downstairs via the closet trap door, so if this is meant to let us move items around it's not necessary.

We can take these three treasures to the sand bar, but we still only have 58 points.  Clearly we must be missing something somewhere; we haven't used the key yet, or the match, or the gun.  We haven't seen anything ignitable; we can LIGHT MATCH, but generally I SEE NOTHING SPECIAL before tenses change and THE MATCH DROPPED AND WENT OUT.  But if we light the match in the dark hole near the north beach (DOWN does not go into the hole, actually, just down the cliffside -- we want to GO HOLE), we can NOW SEE A DOOR IN THE SIDE OF THE WALL.  This door is locked and can be opened with the key from the kennel to access a catacomb maze.

In the maze we find a remarkable concentration of treasures, suggesting the adventure is nearly over -- we can acquire a PILE OF RUBIES, DIAMOND JEWELRY, ANCIENT DRAWINGS and a GOLD CROSS.  We also run into a cave-in that we have to DIG our way out of (so we'd better have brought the shovel.)  There's also a maze that leads back, via the usual odd adventure game geography, to the castle/house's bedroom.

With these additional four treasures stored up, we've got 98 points.  What am I missing?  Another look at the code establishes that we get 63 points for collecting and storing the treasures, and up to 37 more for visiting all of the locations in the game.  I had not visited the cliff area or climbed the palm tree in my final playthrough attempt; stopping by those locations topped off the score nicely.  Victory is ours!

If we QUIT prior to officially winning, we're assigned a ranking; anything above 74 ranks us as a MASTER ADVENTURER, but if we actually finish the game we're not given a ranking of any sort.  Maybe Mr. Mick felt it was a moot point if we'd actually completed the adventure.  Joel Mick's next game, Damsel in Distress, was released as the first of a new series under the "Odyssey" moniker, so I will have to track it down someday.

I enjoyed Burial Ground Adventure, even though some of the parser wrestling encouraged me to look at the code to finish it up.  I didn't find a solution posted online, so my walkthrough is below the fold and will also turn up at the CASA Solution Archive.

***** WALKTHROUGH *****

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cover to Cover: Jaguar EGM Promo (pp. 12-13)

We're finally getting back to our current cover-to-cover series, with a few more pages from a circa-1994 Atari Jaguar promo insert packaged with Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine.  We're into the latter pages of the 16-page insert, with some of the older and less-promotable titles from the Jaguar's small catalog.

Page 12 features one port, a semi-sequel and a couple of Jaguar exclusives:

Zool 2 is another U.K. platformer, with the alien ninja Zool leaping around a colorful, literally candy-colored world sponsored by the Chupa-Chups company; it's a competent action game with decent music, but was another 16-bit port that failed to take much advantage of the Jaguar's advanced hardware.  Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales brought Acclaim's entrant in the furry mascot sweepstakes to the Jaguar; the game featured all-new levels but failed to make a positive impression.  Cybermorph was the Jaguar's original pack-in game -- it made good use of Gouraud-shaded polygons and the battle/collecting gameplay was interesting enough to be worth playing, but it was already looking dated as texture mapping was starting to become the standard on PCs and the upcoming Playstation and Saturn.  Val d'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding -- licensed based on the ski resort, not an individual skier -- remains a personal favorite of mine.  The smooth-scaling sprites and subtly graded blue-white coloration of the track looked good and played at top speed, making for an exhilarating downhill run.

Page 13 rallies with a few new but arguably niche titles, including one that never made it to market:

Battlemorph was the worthy sequel to Cybermorph, upping the ante with more complex geography, spot texture-mapping and the benefits of CD-ROM capacity.  Blue Lightning brought the popular Lynx air-combat game to the Jaguar as one of the pack-in titles shipped with the Jaguar CD; this version wasn't as impressively smooth as the handheld edition, and didn't do much to promote the capabilities of the new CD platform.  Space War 2000 was an attempt to update the classic player-versus-player space battle, one of the very first computer games in the mainframe era, but it was never completed or commercially released.  Brutal Sports Football was another Amiga port, a fairly early Jaguar cartridge with loose rules and clunky animation; it was fun in small does, but it was never really a substitute for a proper football title.

We'll wrap up this up next weekend if all goes as planned.