Savage Island Part 1: Finished!   5 comments

Via Every Game Going. Not the greatest cover; the game only has one stone head (and one that’s supposed to look like the protaganist).

What do we mean when we say a game is difficult?

I was warned, multiple times before starting, how ludicrously hard this one was.

My heretofore-adequate Adventuring skills have been knocked down the stairs, dragged out the window and hung out for the vultures to pick at by the near-insurmountable challenges of Adventure #10: Savage Island (Part 1).
Gaming After 40

I don’t think it’s quite up there with Philosopher’s Quest or Quondam. (If you want to be quantitative about it, I only needed two minor hints related to the parser to win this one, whereas for the other two games I needed … quite a few more hints.)

The thing that really makes this one tricky to handle is the looping and timing. You have to go through the same part of the map multiple times, with subtle differences in terms of items held. You have to anticipate ahead and time things out in a way that makes solving puzzles genuinely a matter of handling both time and space as opposed to just applying the right item in the right place.

Certainly, at the time this game was written, it was asking the player to do things far outside the norm. For me, the difficulty was mitigated by the fact I’ve beaten Hadean Lands (2014) before; I’m trying to think of other instances where a type of adventure game puzzle was intensely hard at the time due to its sheer novelty but later extensions of the idea made the initial instance more manageable. (Maybe within a series, like playing Myst after beating Riven is easier, even if you’ve never beaten Myst before?)

Continuing directly from last time, I was trying to work out how to move a stalactite with a “hinge”. THROW wasn’t a verb, although THROW COCONUT was one of the first things that occurred to me. Having discarded that possibility, I resorted to testing every verb-noun combination. Fortunately, I had found earlier (completely by accident) USE was a recognized verb:

This is about as frustrating as guess-the-verb gets: a.) I had figured out a logical solution, but discarded it because the logical method of conveying it (using a common adventure game verb!) was unrecognized so I b.) did the lawnmower thing with every verb and noun concluding with c.) finding I was right all along by accident.

Smooth sailing from here, thankfully: the action above led me into some metal halls with alien devices, including a force field where I was able to get my plastic block glowing.

This glowing technically forces one more loop: take the raft back to the dark maze, then finally get to see what’s in there — it turns out the YUCK message I was having before was from digging bat guano, where I found a wire. The wire could be brought back to fix the alien machine. (In practice, what I actually did was reload an earlier save once I realized what was in the dark maze and grabbed the wire without using a light at all. Unintended solution ahoy!)

The alien halls also had a display case with a miniature T-rex dinosaur and a full-sized caveman. You can bring both of them to life. (Yes, you can get them to fight, although this seems to be purely for flavor.)

The caveman, in particular, is what you need to get to the end of the game, although it was a touch unexpected:

Best password ever!

In the end, I enjoyed this a great deal more than the prior Scott Adams game Ghost Town, which was sunk by numerous bad design decisions (including ones, to be fair, that wouldn’t have been obviously bad design decisions until the game was made). This game definitely has its major frustrations in the use of RNG; a walkthrough would have to mention at multiple points “save here, and if you die in the next few moves, reload”.

In the case of the storm, rather more than a few moves. I’ve been trying to isolate why this didn’t annoy me more; I guess partially it’s personal preference (knowing what to do and having to redo it is less annoying than not knowing what to do and staring at a blank screen) but also the idea of the “possibility space” in the plot. With Pyramid of Doom there was an entrance that could kill you; even when the danger was defused, the tension of an alternate universe where that death exists remained. Here, the RNG was present to such a degree that the feeling of being able to be killed by nature at any moment was present even in those parts of the game where it was safe. Once I had a sequence down (through careful planning), being able to tread the razor’s edge to victory made me feel like a wizard.

Before leaving, I want to riff off a comment Jimmy Maher made regarding Adams in 1980:

From 1980 on, Adams is more interesting as a businessman and an enabler for others than as a software artist in his own right.

To be fair, from that year he only played Ghost Town (which he appropriately lambasted) when he made his conclusion. It’s perfectly fine to suppose Savage Island Part 1 took a few decisions too far (with parser difficulties to boot) but the structure is definitely original to an extent I can’t think of matching examples. Additionally, as Ruber Eaglenest points out, the game goes all-in on a man-vs-nature theme, and this is not a route many adventure games have taken. Strategy, roguelike, or survival, sure; as individual obstacles in adventure games, of course; but as an overarching theme adventures with a looming menace like the hurricane from this game are rare.

Posted May 26, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Savage Island Part 1: Finished!

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  1. I guess the intended commands are PUSH STALACTITE > How? > WITH COCONUTS

    Note that once you have a light source, it is possible enter the ancient cave via the volcano maze, skipping one raft trip, which I thought was a clever touch.

    However, it is still very easy to get killed by RNG by the raft breaking before you reach your intended destination. I think it breaks after a set number of turns, but where PADDLE takes you is random.

    One last diabolical twist: if you finish the game without holding a crucial object, you actually get a different password which lets you start part 2 but makes it unwinnable.

    Petter Sjölund
  2. From the parts of this I played, I liked it a lot. The log puzzle seemed, dare I say, logical. The thing that prevented me from going farther was that I thought you needed to do some stuff to prevent random deaths, but you actually needed to survive randomness. Which makes sense in this kind of game–if there’s a possibility of RNGing your way through a sequence, that’s probably something you could do with lots of reloads. (Of course I wouldn’t have got the sand or salt puzzles without your explanations.)

    That last diabolical twist is diabolical, though.

  3. When I think of man v nature adventure games, I think of Swiss Family Robinson for the Apple II. I played that a bunch as a kid, and it’s all about fending off wild animals, finding raw materials and making things from them, and trying to ultimately get rescued from the island.

  4. When I first tried to solve this Adventure back in the early 1980s, I too was stumped by the stalactite, but for a different reason — the saved game I’d beed using didn’t have access to the coconuts.

    You see, one of the things you can do with the coconuts is cut them open with the knife. This turns them into coconut meat. I’d assumed that the coconut meat would be more useful than the uncut coconuts. Nope! The coconut meat was worthless, and the whole coconuts were *absolutely necessary* to be able to hit the stalactite. D’oh! I had to do an entire new playthrough and generate a new save file, where everything was the same as before except I *didn’t* cut the coconuts open.

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