Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Volcano (1981)

This week's adventure is something I ran across in my occasional quest to discover something both obscure and straightforward.  Volcano was part of a four-game Adventure Pak compilation published by budget-oriented Keypunch Software back in 1981 for the Atari 400/800 computers.  It's the closest thing to a genuine adventure game in the package, but even this one is really more of a choose-your-own-adventure experience.  A game of this sort would have been quick and cheap to develop and debug, but the gameplay is very limited, so the market didn't see many of these "adventures" in commercial circulation, even in the early years.

Volcano begins with quite a bit of text, including some interesting and scientifically valid educational information about volcanic eruptions; there's even a little bit of audiovisual material here, though it's just a lengthy run of white noise accompanying a simple graphical animation of an eruption.  The plot is inspired by the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980, and as we finally we arrive at "THE SCENE" we learn that we're camping on the west side of the mountain, at a remote site we hiked to after leaving our car behind.  We have a campfire, and the world is eerily quiet... until, of course, an earthquake hits, and the top of the mountain explodes, making a quick escape our most pressing priority.

Interested readers are always encouraged to sample these games directly -- in this case, I highly recommend using an Atari 400/800 emulator with save-state capability rather than real hardware.  The introductory sequence is lengthy and (as far as I can determine) unskippable, and as death is frequent, unpredictable and always a single decision away, I can't imagine that many summoned the patience to finish this game back in the day.  But you needn't even go that far, really -- there isn't much to the game, in keeping with its budget-publisher roots, so it's not going to take me long to summarize it in the following discussion... which, as always, contains myriad...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! ***** 

With the lengthy introduction out of the way, we at last arrive at the "gameplay" -- should sufficient memory remain to support any.  

Digging in UNTIL IT'S SAFE TO MOVE doesn't seem like a good idea; stopping to take photographs also seems unwise; getting to high ground might be dangerous; and starting back down the mountain to the car might not really work out well either.  I'm going to opt for action #5, TRY TO FIND SOME SELTER [sic] -- but we're too close to the hot ash for this to be a valid survival strategy.  We're dead, and we'll need to start over (or restore a saved state, thanks!) and try something else.

Sulfur dioxide gas prevents us from getting to higher ground; it turns out that our best course of action is to try to drive out.  We find the trail to our parking spot blocked by fallen trees, but we have the option of trying a short cut.  I correctly guessed that we're better off dealing with a known trail than a vaguely-remembered short cut, and we're making progress.

Reaching the car, we see that large rocks have rolled onto the road.  We can opt to wait for the rescuers, as this is a likely place for them to look, or try to move the rocks; we can also build a fire to attract help, which doesn't seem useful given the smoky atmosphere, or leave the car and traverse the road on foot, which is fatal as YOU ARE OVERTAKEN BY A MUDSLIKE [sic].

Proceeding with all due speed is still the best choice, so after moving the rocks out of the way, we drive down the road at 80 mph -- until the bridge ahead is taken out by a mudslide where the Toutle River normally runs.  And now the famous Mount St. Helens Ash Cloud is coming!  We are blinded by the hot, dark cloud, and we fall down with eyes full of ash... but not fatally!

Opting not to LIE DOWN WITH YOUR FACE ON THE GROUND, I chose to RUB THE ASH FROM YOUR EYES -- but that was a bad choice, as the ash is very abrasive and with our swollen eyes we are rapidly overcome!  It's better to try to keep moving -- we do so, and find ourselves in a creek. 

Washing our eyes out with water isn't successful either, as it becomes a heavy, gritty paste.  Leaving the creek also proves a bad idea, though I thought maybe we'd want to get out of the way of any impending mudslides.  Our best option is to keep walking in the creek -- hopefully away from the eruption -- and yes, our avatar has enough presence of mind to check the current and follow it downstream.

THE[sic], WITHOUT WARNING we find ourselves in hot water... literally, HOT WATER UP TO YOUR NECK.  We find a fallen tree and grab hold, traveling downstream with it.  Opting to HANG ON instead of swimming underwater or trying to reach the bank, we end up safely on the bank after we hit a log jam.

We have arrived at the outskirts of the eruption zone, where the landscape is devastated.  We have some injuries, but resting is a bad idea -- YOU FALL ASLEEP AND NEVER WAKE UP!  Heading down leads us into a pocket of poison gas; we're better off heading up to the ridge, overlooking a lower layer of thick smoke.

Having already risked the trip down, it seems wise to try to attract rescuers.  We arrange rocks to spell out 'S O S' and build a small fire before falling asleep, exhausted.  Then we hear a helicopter, and it's semi-naked time as we rip off our shirt to attract attention!

And victory is ours!

Volcano is a really brief adventure, but even so I would have had a hard time mustering the will to finish it back in the day, due to its lack of save-game capability.  There's only one path to success, and navigating that path depends solely on picking the right menu option at each juncture.  It's a shame, too, because despite the almost nonexistent gameplay and myriad typographical errors, there's actually a lot of good, seriously-presented information here about surviving an ash-heavy volcanic eruption.  It's just not much fun to play.

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