Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Dr. Avaloe (1983)

Dr. Avaloe is in the house this week, another contest winner published in The Rainbow Book of Adventures circa 1983, written by Scott Slomiany for the TRS-80 Color Computer.  The interface is unique -- it shows a schematic layout of each room, though we can't usually navigate or interact from that perspective, reverting to a normal text parser for almost all interaction.

This is one of those amateur BASIC efforts that -- like several in The Rainbow Book of Adventures -- doesn't implement a full parser or object model.  Instead, it lets us try and fail to interact with any of the objects in a given location, letting us proceed when we hit upon the right phrase.  The game's worst technical fault is that it cannot handle a short input -- trying to use I for inventory results in a fatal crash in line 1790.  The game's initialization cycle requires us not just to HIT ANY KEY, but to hold it down so there's an active input between cycles of the opening tune.

Interested readers are, of course, encouraged to play Dr. Avaloe before reading about my experience.  But I'll mention that this one is more nonsensical than most -- it's really just a sequence of puzzles, with few clues about the right course of action, no save feature, and many ways to die without warning.  I don't think I would have had the patience to finish it without diving into the source code, so you have my blessing if you simply wish to read the...

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

We begin in a room with a cot, a hole, and a door.  LOOK HOLE reveals that it LOOK'S [sic] DEEPLOOK COT suggests that it's nailed down and unbreakable, and we can't GO HOLE.  I try to REACH HOLE, SEARCH HOLE, FEEL HOLE, LISTEN HOLE, and even explore some rather unsavory but linguistically sensible alternatives, to no avail.  LOOK FLOOR is potentially more intriguing, as it returns two responses -- NOTHING / YOU CAN'T.  Hmmmm.  That doesn't get me anywhere either, so I finally peek at the BASIC code -- it turns out that Dr. Avaloe cares little for conventional adventure game grammar, and we need to answer the WHAT DO YOU DO prompt with DOWN HOLE to leave the room.

The next room presents us with a rather unfair action challenge -- we have to navigate through the room to the door using the arrow keys, while we WATCH OUT FOR INVISIBLE CREATURES.  See the problem here?  Running into one of them ends the game, though fortunately we just have to DOWN HOLE again after restarting.

When by some feat of luck we get close to the door, we fall down a trap door into a room with two keys and some water.  The keys have writing on them, but READ KEY doesn't work.  Neither does GET KEY or GET KEYS or GET KEY1.  Hmmm.  There are deadly fish swimming about in the water, though they don't really seem to be bothering us.  And for some reason, while we can't pick the keys up, we can THROW KEY to drain the water, and now we can DOWN STAIRWAY.

We're now in a room with a carpet, a diamond, and a lever; of course, the stairway we just used vanishes as we arrive here.  Somehow, when we LOOK LEVER, we learn there are some words, but if we attempt to READ LEVER we get electrocuted.  Restarting and returning to this point, we learn that the diamond is VERY BIG and the carpet has text reading, IT'S OWND!  Must be made of that space-age n00b fiber.  I try to DOWN CARPET, and THE DIAMOND TURNS YOU INTO FLAMING DEATHGET DIAMOND is also fatal, as the room collapses.  DOWN DIAMOND and OWND CARPET produce similar results.  I try to PULL LEVER, and to my surprise we don't die -- instead, THE DIAMOND SPEAKS: THE CARPET!!  I try to STAND CARPET and GO CARPET, but the only acceptable solution turns out to be to SIT CARPET.  (By this time I have figured out that we can just end the game and GOTO 1060 to return to this room -- the code is written as a sequence of self-contained puzzles, rather than a map data structure with an overall game loop, so we can jump past that furshlugginer room with the invisible monsters.)

The carpet drops us off in a room with a bottle and a coin.  GET COIN causes the room to fill with molten lava -- our tormentor Dr. Avaloe seems not only sadistic, but completely random at this point.  LOOK BOTTLE reveals a piece of paper, but we can't GET or READ it.  BREAK BOTTLE works, providing a clue: 323LOOK COIN reveals that it looks like a button, and PRESS COIN causes a door to appear.  GO DOOR proves fatal as the walls close in.  PULL DOOR, however, lets us go into a new room.  Dang your nitpicky parser, Dr. Avaloe!

Now we face a room with A 'DEAD' BODY AND A MAGAZINELOOK BODY seems to confirm that it's dead, and LOOK MAGAZINE indicates it's a SPLUNKER MAGAZINE WITH 10 PAGES (for spelunkers who tend to fall, apparently.)  Is this what that 323 clue was about?  I fail to READ PAGE 2 or even READ MAGAZINE -- oddly enough, IT WON'T BUDGESEARCH BODY produces this response from the corpse: I AM DR. AVALOE'S LAST EXPERIMENT. LOOK IN MY HAND.  But when I try to LOOK HAND I am knocked out! 

Ah... this is intentional.  This is where execution gets handed over to the second part of this program -- I was wondering how the game handled retention of variables with two-part BASIC code, but the simple design ensures that it doesn't need to.  The second section of the code allows us to carry an item, but it's not a full inventory system -- when we get rid of it, it disappears, we are informed as the second part begins.

We're in a room with a cabinet, a door, and a couch.  LOOK CABINET reveals a key, and we can GET KEY.  The couch is OLD AND APPEARS COMFY, but SIT COUCH proves it to be carnivorous.  Even with the key in hand, UNLOCK DOOR indicates it won't open, and OPEN DOOR gets us electrocuted.  KICK DOOR gets us to the next room, though, in another of the bad Doctor's devilishly exacting puzzles.

We're now in a race against time, as we're being sucked up a shaft toward a spinning fan!  We have to enter a three letter word -- IT IS AN ITEM THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE.  The interface is a little unclear here -- we have to hit a key to go to the action screen, then another to acknowledge the start of this puzzle, and then finally hit the letters K, E, Y to solve the puzzle.

The next "experiment" sports a door, a button, and some armour (I think this game originated in the U.K.)  The armour appears to be our size, but we can't WEAR ARMOUR or DON ARMOURREAD DOOR reveals a clue -- 216, and indicates the door is unlocked.  But OPEN DOOR is a bad idea -- we are drowned in blood.  Restarting the second half of the game and getting back to this point, we learn that PUSH BUTTON causes a fully charged magnet to appear.  But GET MAGNET proves fatal as the walls close in, as does PULL MAGNET.  Oddly enough, though par for the course in Dr. Avaloe it seems, LOOK MAGNET reveals a passage.  We are prompted DO YOU GO IN IT, and answering Y gets us to the next room.

We're now in a room with a door, and all we have to do is notice that it's unlocked and OPEN DOOR.

Next up is a coffin and another door.  We can't READ or OPEN the COFFIN; LOOK DOOR indicates that it's locked... and getting hot?  SLEEP COFFIN plays a little animation of the coffin scooting out of the room, but if we fail to answer Y to the prompt, "WASN'T THAT NEAT, HUH?", the program erases itself and must be reloaded.

The coffin vanishes and we now face the titular Dr. Avaloe himself!  He gives us a clue -- 518 -- and tells us we have until the timer equals 5000 to solve the message.  He says he will come back to HEAR THE WORD, and I don't think he means we need to prepare a church service.

We're shown a screen with a rapidly counting timer, and I have no clue what to do here.  Our numeric clues seem to be 518 + 323 + 216... hmmmm.  If these translate straight to letters, they've got be in a fairly narrow range.  Either that or they're fragments of two-digit numbers.  Let's see what makes sense, structuring these to allow values between 1 and 26.  518 could be E and R.  323 could be C and W.  216 could be either U/F or B/P.  BPERCW? 

Hmmmm.  I must be missing some clues.  Digging into the code, I find that the HELP message is actually necessary.  For one thing, it gives us instructions for reading the magazine next to the dead body, and if we READ PA8, we get another clue: 405.  That suggests we're looking for two-digit numbers, as 40 wouldn't make sense but 05 would.  But nothing in our existing clues makes sense as a lead-in to the 4, either; 84, 34 and 64 are all out of range.  I don't find another numeric clue on my first pass, but I do learn that the unlikely decision to SMELL DOOR in the room after the secret passage just plain gives us the secret word: POWER.  And if we ask for HELP in this room, we get the fifth clue - 116.  Ah!  Now I see how the code works: for example, 116 tells us that character 1 is the 16th letter.  So 116, 216, 323, 405, and 518 resolve to... um... PPWER?  Oh, that crazy Dr. Avaloe!

I had no hope of doing any of this before the timer got to 5000, but fortunately, after it gets there, the game simply pauses when it prompts the player to enter the secret word!  So the time element is just a bluff.  Let's try what we've come up with... POWER... and victory is ours!!!

Dr. Avaloe never answers its premise's most interesting questions -- namely, what kind of doctor is this guy, and who on earth is funding his research?  Is there any kind of peer review involved in his experimental design?  Those details aside, this still isn't much of an adventure -- it's just a guessing game requiring a high tolerance for unpredictable death and retreading conquered territory.  But it's an interesting example of some of the experiments the genre went through in its early days, and it gets me one game closer to exhausting The Rainbow Book of Adventures.

1 comment:

  1. The contest judges had some interesting notes about this entry in the book's introduction. I transcribed the highlights:

    RUNNER-UP (Graphics Division) to Scott Slomiany for Dr. Avaloe. This is a very interesting entry. It's a two-part ptrogram, done in two-part format, calling for two-word entries... Words soon to become a catch phrase among the judges were: "You died a sorrowing death; I hope you had fun, though." Rule #8 was a favorite, too. It reads: "Don't do stupid things." We found this to mean "Don't do anything the least big logical," in actual play. If you want to leave a room, heading for the door is a last restor. If you find a key, don't expect to unlock anything. You get the idea. Why did we climb into the coffin when invited? Well, in the convoluted scheme of reverse psychology we soon learned to live by, it seemed like a bad idea at the time -- so, of course, we did it.