Odyssey #1, Damsel in Distress (1980)   5 comments

Back in the 1979s when I was writing about Joel Mick’s Burial Ground Adventure I found a scroll in the game:


The “next adventure” was part of a trilogy. Unfortunately, the game (and the other two) was nowhere to be found on any of the usual TRS-80 archives. (There was a number after the message above to call — it’s possible it was only available at the time by direct mail.) After my blog post here, I received a helpful email from a “John Doe” who happened to have snagged copies from a now-defunct website, and uploaded them to if-archive on my suggestion. They should now (hopefully!) be available forever.

I just wanted to point out how much of a near miss this was: the original files themselves were copied by a “David J. Cooper” off a mysterious disk titled “DD Games 20” in 2009, which was thankfully still intact. Then, John Doe had to have saved copies when the archive they were on went under, and then he had to care enough to want to pass them on.

Odyssey #1, Damsel in Distress is credited to Joel Mick and Jeffrey M. Richter, while the other two games (Treasure Island and Journey Through Time) have James Taranto as a co-author instead. I don’t know the story there; perhaps they helped with the coding, because while Burial Ground Adventure was in BASIC, the Odyssey trilogy is in native machine code.

Damsel in Distress opens quite strangely: you’re in a tavern with a sword and bottle, and a royal messenger walks in.

I assumed this was a “you are approached by a stranger with a quest” type setup, but nothing happens: the royal messenger just sits there. Any attempt to >TALK or otherwise communicate failed. I had to >KILL MESSENGER to get something to happen, upon which I found a scroll.

So…. I guess killing the messenger was ok? The lack of communication verbs structurally suggested the direction the plot needed to move (a bit like how Quondam lacked the verb UNLOCK suggesting a key was of a certain type). This is sort of a “motivation media res”; it’s fairly clear the character had some idea of what was going on enough to randomly murder someone, and the player catches up along the way.

A rescue mission! Not a terribly complicated one, as it turns out, although there was one early puzzle that stumped me enough I had to stop playing for a while. While away from playing, a solution occured to me; back at the computer, I tried to implement it and it worked. (If you want to avoid spoiling the puzzle for some reason, avert your eyes from the next screenshot.)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a solve off the computer. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about adventure games, but the early-era ones often rely on in-game experimentation in a way that just stopping and thinking isn’t quite enough to solve a tricky puzzle.

After the curious opening (which I won’t say is good or bad, but it made me think) and the actually-decent puzzle, I am sad to say the rest of the game was perfectly ordinary. There’s a castle you explore; down below there is a dungeon with a prisoner.

The prisoner informs you of a secret passage (but you don’t get to rescue them, sorry prisoner!) and in the secret passage you find the titular damsel which you can carry out of the castle. There is no opposition from guards when leaving; in fact, other than those two people there’s nobody in the castle at all. The only danger comes from setting down the damsel too early:

Fortunately you have a shack in the woods where you can find safety (?!) and win the game.

OK, fair, this wasn’t great. But: it’s easy to take for granted I’m able to get to these games, but often it’s luck they’re available at all. I don’t think my time spent was valueless; the startling opening in particular is of theoretical value, and no matter the quality the game is a piece of history.

I want to thank all of the archivists and obsessive collectors who make my writing possible.

Posted September 27, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Odyssey #1, Damsel in Distress (1980)

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  1. I’m glad to see you were able to beat this game. I got stuck on the same puzzle you did, with the rope and horseshoe. Unlike you, I gave up at that point. Since you showed me how to get past that part, I kept going . . . only to get stuck on how to the damsel out of the castle. You glossed over that part, which makes me feel dumb (again). :-) I could not figure out how to lower the drawbridge, and could not seem to climb down the same rope I climbed up.

    btw, I’m the John Doe you mentioned above.

    • Did you want me to change your name on there, by the way? I just went with your email.

      I usually try to avoid spoiling all the puzzles. I do occasionally have people try a game after reading a particular series. (It also depends on the quality of the game, and if I need to mention everything to go into sufficient depth.)

      Progressive hints given in rot13:

      1. Ivbyrapr vf gur nafjre gb guvf bar.

      2. Fcrpvsvpnyyl, n jrncba sbhaq bhgqbbef.

      3. Lbh pna hfr gur nkr.

      4. Pubc gur punva.

      • Ah, of course. Usually when I get tripped up in adventure games, it’s for one of two reasons. Either I have the right object, but lack the right verb, or I have the right verb, but lack the right object. Sometimes I’m so convinced it’s the one that I fail to realize it’s the other. I still don’t get why I can’t climb down the same rope I climbed up, but such is adventure game logic, I suppose. Either that or the Damsel is quite heavy :-)

        My email account has a fake name, since I use that account for Internet purposes and the Internet is a sketchy place. John Doe or Redhighlander are both fine by me.

  2. Wonder if that’s the James Taranto who is op-ed editor of the Wall Street Journal, or something.

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