Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Sultan's Palace (1981)

I'm entering the Sultan's Palace this week, in another Atari Program eXchange adventure for the Atari 8-bit computers.  It was written by Dennis Koble using Atari's quirky in-house text adventure engine and published in 1981; Koble would go on to co-found Imagic the following year.

We've seen this plot before -- we're to rescue the princess (Fatima) from the evil villain (Sultan Abdul).  But this is another example of the freewheeling Atari philosophy of the time, with a couple of puzzles involving decidedly adult content.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to visit the Sultan's Palace independently before reading my detailed notes below.  But be advised that the SULTAN.DAT data file included on the Marketing Adventure disk image in circulation online is corrupted in a very inconvenient manner -- a fatal error occurs at the very end of the game -- so look for the stand-alone version.  Beyond this point, I will be documenting my experience in salacious detail, so there are certain to be...

****** S.P. SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

The game starts off with more momentum than many text adventures -- the Sultan's guards have been drugged (presumably by our hero?) and there's a massive iron gate in our way, with a feeling of forboding [sic] in the air.  In our Inventory we have... PANTS.  Okay.  I didn't realize how exposed we'd been in every other adventure game.  Just for fun, I attempt to DROP PANTS -- and we can do that, but THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE.  Erm.  There may be an interesting incident ahead for our hero.  We can TAKE PANTS -- not GET PANTS, mind, as this parser has a very limited dictionary; we also can't WEAR PANTS so we'll have to assume possession comprises nine-tenths of the decent non-exposure.

We can't go anywhere else from here, so opening the gate would appear to be our initial challenge... except all we have to do is OPEN GATE.  We can now reach the Entrance Hall to the north, where many doors await you.  So we have some exploration to do -- the APX games don't give us an exits list, and the room descriptions tend to be pretty brief, so mapping requires some trial and error as we test all the possible directions.  (I tend to miss the upward and downward paths, as will become apparent later on.)

A Storage Room to the east contains a rusty scimitar, so we'll take that along.  A Dusty Empty Room to the west is of undetermined size but doesn't seem to occupy multiple locations.  To the North of the dusty room is the Guards' Quarters, currently empty, where we can acquire an empty jar from a pile of trash.

East of the guards' quarters is the Grand Hall, housing the Sultan's diamond-encrusted golden throne and a number of Persian carpets that, if adventure tradition holds, will prove capable of flight, so we'll take one (actually, this seems to take all of them, as if we drop the carpet elsewhere we're given the same description of many carpets.)  Heading south from the Grand Hall returns us to the entrance hall; this map is pretty consistent geographically.

West of the dusty room is the Guards' Brothel, where a dark beautiful girl with a fantastic body and sultry expression approaches you.  But none of the verbs I can think of (including the CENSORED ones the parser recognizes but pretends not to) seem to be helpful here, and GIRL isn't a recognized noun.  I also discover a bug in the APX engine that has somehow escaped my notice in playing through several of these recently -- if we start our command with a space, it errors out.

The brothel's western and southern exits loop back to the dusty room, while heading East takes us to the guards' quarters.  North brings us to the Kitchen, where a tray of peacock eyes is available if we wish to TAKE PEACOCK EYES (we must spell nouns out completely to make the parser happy, no shorthand is implemented or allowed.)

East of the kitchen is the Sultan's Chambers, where a golden lamp radiates, beckoning us to TAKE LAMP.  And this wouldn't be an Arabian Nights-themed adventure if we didn't at least try to RUB LAMP -- but THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE so we'll have to save the presumed genie for a more appropriate situation.

North again takes us into the Sultan's Bedchamber, where a wall of erotic scenes lends a festive note to the room.  It appears this wall can be moved, as when we try to travel west SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY.  First, we'll go east, to the Harem Room, where we are suddenly besieged by sex starved lovelies who leave us very tired and unable to move after the required exertions, although we can figure out that there are no other exits from this room.  I take a chance and EAT PEACOCK EYES, which renews our strength enough to escape.

Above the Sultan's bedroom is his Observatory, though it doesn't seem there's anything to do here besides pondering the starry night.  Can we move the erotic mural?  PUSH WALL, RUB LAMP and DROP PANTS (which I just now remembered to try) have no effect, and to my considerable relief neither does RUB PANTSMOVE BED and MOVE WATERBED are also unproductive. 

We've got some more exploring to do, so we'll continue mapping.  East of the Sultan's chambers are the Eunuch's Quarters.  We can pick up a pink pillow with a heart embroidered on it here; there's a one-way passage north to the harem room, and we can travel east to the Fountain Garden where a tinkling fountain adjoins a beckoning copper door to the east.

North of the fountain is the Concubine's Quarters, where the Sultan's wives live and A lovely girl named SALOME especially tempts you.  We can TAKE SALOME -- which just puts her in inventory.  Travel West takes us through another one-way passage to the Harem Room -- the design is clearly meant to get us trapped there at some point -- and the only other exit is south, back to the fountain garden.  I do try to OPEN DOOR here, but YOU HAVEN'T DONE SOMETHING ELSE YET, this engine's all-purpose response when some pre-condition has not been met.

More mapping remains -- east of the Grand Hall is the Hall of Mirrors, where we can glimpse a reflection of the Princess.  This proves to be the southwest corner of a 3 x 3 maze that contains a jeweled dagger.  We can also explore up and down from a couple of rooms; there are about 16 rooms in the maze, with some one-way loopbacks, but the only item I find here is the dagger, and it can be located on the main floor without going into any of the mazier passages.

It feels like we've mapped everything that's not behind a blocked passageway now, so it's time to see if we can solve some puzzles.  That whole DROP PANTS business is intriguing, so I try it with Salome in our company in the harem room and the Sultan's bedchamber, with no results.  But in the guards' brothel, that sultry girl comes into play -- as she performs unmentionable acts upon your body, between gulps she mutters the magic word SHAZAM.  So that's not really unmentioning them, is it?  But this gives us something new to try.

I get lucky on my first attempt, as SAY SHAZAM opens the copper door by the fountain, so we can OPEN DOOR and then go E to the Exit from Palace.  Unfortunately, the game seems to think we shouldn't be doing this yet, and unceremoniously crashes with the magic words ERROR-136 AT LINE 3070.  So I'll have to restore to an earlier point using an emulator save state, as this engine has no SAVE command -- this is ameliorated to a degree by the lack of fatal situations in most of the APX games, but unforeseeable dead ends still can and do occur.

Returning to the bedchamber, I can't TALK to SALOME, but I manage to ASK SALOME and she screams the magic word SESAMESAY SESAME produces the unexpected response YOU CAN'T SAY A SESAME, but OPEN SESAME (which we might have guessed on our own) opens the wall.  This leads us west into the Treasure Chamber, filled with gems and gold, as well as a seven-headed Hydra blocking a stairway down. 

The parser won't let us try to KILL HYDRA or THROW DAGGER, but we can WAVE DAGGER and it steps out of our way; apparently the bejeweled weapon belongs to its master, confusing the dreaded beast.  This allows us to enter the Torture Chamber below, where escape is your only thought.  We can escape back Up to the treasure room, but it's more interesting to head South into some Subterranean Caverns, a small cluster of similar rooms with a boulder blocking the way south in the southwest corner.  We can't MOVE BOULDER, but if we RUB LAMP a genie appears and rolls the boulder aside with a magic word.

Ah!  This is how we reach the Princesses [sic] Room, where there is but one Princess who won't leave with us until we gain her trust.  What do we have in inventory?  Maybe the heart-embroidered pillow?  DROP PILLOW doesn't do it, and we can't GIVE PILLOW, though the parser's response suggests we can give her something else.  GIVE SCIMITAR and GIVE DAGGER don't work, and neither does anything else we have in inventory.  And we can't leave without the princess, so once we're here we're stuck!  Time for another save state restore.

So what have I missed?  I start rechecking my mapping, and shortly discover that I didn't try to go Up from the entrance hall, to the Guard's Tower.  We can hear voices in the distance here, and if we LISTEN... no, LISTEN VOICES... no, LISTEN GUARDS... hmmm.  Can we get a HINT?  Yes -- Listen carefully!  And now I notice that THERE IS A CAREFULLY HERE in the room, apparently a limitation of this engine; it has to have a pseudo-object present so we can LISTEN CAREFULLY.  We hear that SULTAN ABDUL IS A EUNUCH.  I guess this is a state secret or something?  This information might be a relief to the Princess, but it doesn't seem like an artifact I can carry with me to gain her trust.

Anything else?  Aha!  I missed another vertical passage -- D from the Sultan's Bedchamber is a Chamber of Horrors, where a wizened head lies on a shelf covered with webs.  We can TAKE HEAD, which, erm, suggests... uh-oh... really, Mr. Koble?

Yep.  We enter the Princess' room, and GIVE HEAD, and The Princess now likes you and will go with you.  We TAKE PRINCESS, return to the fountain garden's exit door, and... I get the same error as before.

AH!  After I dig into the BASIC code a bit, I realize that the on-disk data file is corrupted, and the game's attempt to read the description and hint text for this room is actually failing.  So the copy of Sultan's Palace included on the Marketing Adventure disk is corrupt.  Fortunately, I'm able to find and run a clean corruption-free version with a slightly different version of the engine -- I get a different color scheme, and a much more satisfying ending!  Victory is ours!

These APX games are generally not too difficult -- although the limited parser doesn't help, it does keep the puzzles on the simple side.  And this one is interesting as an artifact of the days when a company like Atari wouldn't raise an eyebrow, or perhaps even know about, potentially controversial humor in one of its products.  There are a few more of these adventures in the Atari archives, though I plan to take a break to play something more substantial before I continue there.  Onward!

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