Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Birth of the Phoenix (1982)

This week called for something fresh but brief, so I'm tackling an obscure adventure for the Atari 8-bit computers... Birth of the Phoenix, a novice-level tutorial adventure published in 1982 by Phoenix Software, programmed (and designed I presume) by Paul L. Berker.  A version reportedly exists for the Apple II, but I haven't been able to track it down.

Mr. Berker's design uses a two-word parser, with an unusual hybrid presentation style that borrows the Scott Adams location summary display at the top of the screen, but also displays quite a bit of descriptive text in the interactive command window below.

Interested readers are of course encouraged to experience Birth of the Phoenix firsthand before reading my playthrough notes below.  It's not a difficult game, though without the manual to look at I did need to reference a walkthrough at the CASA Solution Archive to come up with the magic word required at a critical juncture.  Beyond this point, I'll be detailing my experience with little regard for giving anything away.  In other words, there are sure to be...

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

We begin in a dark forest glade, in the autumn, with nothing in inventory (thoughtfully represented as an empty pack).  There's a book here, and if we READ BOOK, I DON'T SEE THAT HERE!  Um... it is right here, in the room, but we have to GET BOOK and OPEN BOOK before we can READ it to discover that THE PHOENIX IS REBORN EVERY 500 YEARS BY BURNING THE OLD PHOENIX.  Okay, that probably sets up the game's finale in some way.

We can predict that this is not going to be too much of a challenge when we head east to a Toolshed, where we see a shovel and a flashlight just here for the taking.  I try to DIG -- WITH WHAT? -- SHOVEL, but THE GROUND IS TOO HARD TO DIG HERE.  I try to LIGHT FLASHLIGHT -- SORRY BUT I CAN'T DO THAT!  TURN ON FLASHLIGHT and USE FLASHLIGHT also fail, but ON FLASHLIGHT does the trick -- unfortunately, the light is MIGHTY FEEBLE and the switch is now jammed in the ON position.  And I DON'T KNOW HOW TO 'OFF', just in case we thought we might try that anyway.

The flashlight only lasts a few turns, so I probably tried to use it too early, but let's keep going and see what happens.  West of the glade (the toolshed is a dead end) we find a forest with a conspicuous tree.  CLIMB TREE leads us up to the tree top, where we see a branch and a net.  I am surprised to find that this simple parser provides some detail when I EXAMINE NET, learning it's made out of a soft material.  There's a branch here, but we can't GO BRANCH or CLIMB BRANCH; it's apparently smaller than I was imagining, as we can readily GET BRANCH.  Before descending, I note that the ground is still too hard to dig, up here in the tree where one wouldn't expect it to exist, let alone put up much resistance.

Traveling north through the forest, we arrive at a clearing with a well and the burned out remains of a wood cabin.  There's a rope leading down into the well, so we'll chance heading down there and hope we can return.  It's very dark, and our narrator is afraid of snakes, so we'll head back up for now; I probably shouldn't have wasted the flashlight earlier, so we'll handle this differently on the next go.

East of the well we find a cliff, with a raging rapids 300 meters below.  We can't get down there from here, but we can continue East into a shallow cave containing a dial and a safe (so a combination lock, it would appear, then.)  We can't OPEN SAFE (because we don't have it and can't GET it) but we can TURN DIAL to a specified number.  If we fail, a disembodied voice heralds our failure.

I'm sure there's a clue to the combination somewhere in the game, but I like trying to crack these freestyle sometimes, and some experimentation establishes that the first number of the combination is 10.  More work gets me to 10, 22, but then I get stymied on the last one and after a while I decide to look for the real answer elsewhere.

This also seems like a good time to start over to conserve the flashlight's battery, but all I get from the bottom of the well are some (RUBIES), apparently a treasure.  I try to JUMP at the cliffside to cross the chasm, but fall to my death.  On the retry I confirm that we can GET RUBIES without turning on the flashlight at all, just in case it proves valuable at all later.

I wonder if we can make a bridge across the gorge using the branch, but DROP BRANCH doesn't seem to do it and MAKE BRIDGE isn't recognized.  I was doing so well up to this point, but after trying a number of things with the limited objects we've run across, I decide I am actually stuck here, so I consult a walkthrough to learn that if I'd read the manual (and had a copy to read) we can SAY PHOENIX at the cliffside to magically cross over.  Here, some numbers are carved into the cliff: "10 22 35."  I must have missed that last one -- I was thinking it might represent a date, maybe the author's birthday, so I jumped into the 60s and up while searching for the last number, then worked my way back down but clearly wasn't methodical enough in the thirties.  There's also a key here.

Before we go back to open the safe, let's check out the paths to the northwest and northeast.  Northeast takes us up a road to the mountains; there's a stick here, which we can take.  Continuing north, we find ourselves at a mountain pass.  We can see but not pick up a clock here, and while I keep trying to DIG the ground remains resolutely firm and unyielding.

The clock is running down, and before I quit trying to pick it up and realize I need to go back and get that key (which I neglected to pick up earlier) in order to WIND CLOCK, the game ends because YOUR TIME HAS RUN OUT BECAUSE YOU'RE RUN DOWN.  Retrying, I get the clock wound until it's ticking briskly again -- this seems to solve the problem permanently -- and then head west onto a rocky road where we see and pick up a potion.

Continuing west, we find ourselves on the road to Heliopolis, and can acquire the (SAPPHIRES) here.  The unpassable road west apparently leads to Oz, based on the signage, which may explain the road's pavement of yellow bricks.  But we can only go north, to the Treasury, where we're supposed to store our treasures.  I DROP RUBIES here, and check SCORE -- that's 30 of the possible 100 points already, and depositing the sapphires here gets us up to 60.

Heading north again takes us into the Temple of the Sun, where there's some myrrh on hand.  A phoenix is carved into the altar's marble base, and YOU FEEL A SENSE OF SERENITY AND ACCOMPLISHMENT HERE.

But that feeling seems premature, as we haven't finished the game yet, so we'll return to the cliffside and head northwest to find a Guardhouse, guarded by a guard, per longstanding and well-guarded traditions of guardianship.  The ground here is crumbly and soft, and our feet sink into it, dirtying our socks, which provides an ample hint that we should DIG here.  The action unearths a bag, and OPEN BAG scatters a bunch of funny little pieces of colored paper on the ground, along with a label reading, "MAZE MAPPER (PAT. PEND.)"  Is there a maze ahead here?  The guard won't let us proceed to the northwest.

I'll go back and get the diamonds, and after we drop them off at the Treasury we're up to 90 points.  What about those pieces of paper?  We can take the myrrh from the Temple -- I'm not sure that's a good idea but it's not immediately fatal -- but the guard's not interested in it.  If we GIVE POTION, however, he drinks it and falls into a deep, happy sleep.

Ah, I get it -- the different-colored pieces of paper will probably make it easy to map out a maze instead of using other inventory items we might not want to leave scattered around.  Heading NW from the guardhouse, I find the expected maze, and use the colored slips to map things out, finding the Inner Sanctum of the Phoenix without too much trouble.  The Phoenix won't be EXAMINEd -- it hisses and spits as we attempt what must be a more hands-on approach than this standard adventuring verb usually implies-- and we can't initially GET PHOENIX, but we can CATCH PHOENIX with the net, then GET it successfully.

Now what?  The Phoenix's nest seems rundown, so perhaps we're supposed to burn the mythical bird and help it regenerate, though BURN PHOENIX isn't recognized.  Getting back out of the maze is a little tricky -- we can't get there with cardinal directions, but U takes us back to the maze entrance, I finally discover, and we can go SE from there to return to the Guardhouse.

It seems like I ought to take the phoenix into the Temple of the Sun now, so I do that and drop it here.  I try to BURN PHOENIX again, but BURN still isn't recognized by the parser.  ON MYRRH and LIGHT MYRRH don't do anything here.  The branch we've been carrying is very dry and brittle, but can't be lit directly.  The stick is reportedly AN UGLY STICK.  And we can't START FIRE, as the parser doesn't recognize START.

So... hmmmm.  RUB TWIGS?  This is helpful, at least, as the verb RUB is recognized.  RUB STICKOK.  NOTHING SEEMED TO HAPPEN.  I pick up the branch and try again -- and now, with no further direct action on our part, the wood bursts into flames, and the Phoenix voluntarily leaps into the fire.  It is consumed, then reborn, and victory is ours!

Birth of the Phoenix was a little more fun and challenging than I had anticipated, even though it's not a lengthy game, about 90 minutes with note-taking included.  It's a well-structured design with some nicely written prose, and I'm a little bit surprised that Paul Berker only wrote one other adventure game, again for Phoenix Software, called Adventure in Time, and that's on my to-play list now.

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