Nuclear Sub (1980)   5 comments

Aardvark gives us one last game for 1980, this time by Bob Retelle (who previously wrote Trek Adventure).

From a 1983 Aardvark catalog. It states the game was plotted by Rodger Olsen, Bob Retelle, and “someone you don’t know”. We definitely won’t know if there’s no name!

I was looking forward to this one, given Trek Adventure was quite solid even given the minimalism. This game, alas, mostly just made me grumpy.

It starts just like Trek Adventure (and Deathship) on a vehicle headed to disaster.

Unlike those two games, the goal is not to rescue the ship, but merely to escape. This was part of the reason I was originally baffled; I spent a while trying to “fix” the problem, leading me down entirely the wrong path. The game constantly reminds you about rising core temperature

and even though it turns out time is relatively ample, getting a message of imminent death every 10 turns threw off my normally patient adventurer demeanor.

The first major puzzle involved getting a leaking battery (whilst wearing gloves) and pouring the battery acid on a broken hatch. This led to a flooded compartment, going down was death.

The right action here was HOLD BREATH. I had sussed out an identical action in Savage Island Part 1, so theoretically I could have found this on my own, but keep in mind this is still with the Aardvark two-letter-only parser where communicating anything at all is rough.

After HOLD BREATH you can go down into a flooded compartment to find a locker and a chest. If you open either one, you get no description, but you can then either LOOK LOCKER or LOOK CHEST to find out what’s inside…

…and then die again. HOLD BREATH only gives you one turn of leeway. So you have to HOLD BREATH, GO DOWN into the flooded compartment, OPEN LOCKER, go back up, HOLD BREATH again, GO DOWN again, see what’s in the locker (an underwater lantern and a box of washers), and forgetfully try to then OPEN CHEST and die from drowning yet again.

Wait, that maybe shouldn’t be “you” there, but it was sure “me”. This was incredibly frustrating; it turns out the CHEST has SCUBA GEAR, and once the player has the gear they’re safe from drowning.

From here, the game had stripped off pretty much all resistance I had to checking for hints. I have zero regrets, because the next puzzle was even worse.

Would you think to … LOOK UP?

I suppose the puddle was supposed to be a clue, but the action is entirely out of left field for text adventures.

After knowing the pipes are there, you can BREAK PIPES with a SLEDGEHAMMER which causes the submarine to flood completely (this is why you needed the scuba gear). You’re informed all the electrical systems are now shot, but the meltdown has fortunately now stopped.

If the PIPES were in the room description to begin with, this would have been a conceptually cool puzzle: in order to prevent reactor meltdown, we have to destroy something else and completely change the environment. And it really is changed, because now inside the sub there is a MORAY EEL and ELECTRIC EEL (you can see previously both outside in the ship’s periscope).

The effect of trying to get past the moray eel.

You can pick up the electric eel as long as you have rubber gloves (whether this is remotely plausible in real life, I have no idea) and then you can use the electric eel to scare away to moray eel. This isn’t quite so unreasonable, except for the verb you need to use.

That’s SHOO EEL, and this may be the only time in a text adventure game I ever see the verb SHOO. (ADD: Andrew Plotkin and Matt W. are theorizing other options in the comments, given SH is the recognized verb. SHOCK definitely works.)

Past the EEL is the torpedo room. If you’ve fired a torpedo before shutting down the power (you just declare FIRE TORPEDO, there doesn’t seem to be a button or anything), you’re able to go through the torpedo tube to the outside and escape.

So, in summary: HOLD BREATH, LOOK UP, and SHOO EEL. Nuclear Sub had some good ideas, but it needed a better parser and world model to pull them off.

I was still impressed by the player causing the entire map to get immersed underwater. This kind of dramatic change is very rare, but is the sort of dynamism that makes adventure games interesting.

I also like how the map felt very tight and modern; nothing tangled or sprawling, and it is easy to remember where everything is.

Posted December 11, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Nuclear Sub (1980)

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  1. Maybe the command was “SHOW EEL [TO EEL]”?

    • Yeah, that’s what I thought when I saw “SHO EEL.” Scaring-by-showing isn’t unprecedented, is it?

      Wait! What if it’s “SHOCK EEL”? Ha ha, two-letter parsers are fun.

    • Interesting theory, but: ELECTRIC refers to the electric eel (the game is polite enough to capitalize the specific bit you need to refer to) and EEL refers to the morey eel. So SH EEL would be SHOW MOREY EEL, not SHOW ELECTRIC EEL (there’s also no followup asking what you’re using).

      I’m still willing to believe it’s some other verb, but I’m coming up blank. SHOVE would work but it’s as unusual as SHOO is.

      I had SH on my verb list (SHOOT is one of my test words) so if I had a little more patience I could have solved this particular puzzle.

  2. I like how the blurb begins “There is literally no way to go up”, this gives one of your options as “raise the ship”. And then when the actual game starts: “Obvious exits are– FORWARD, UP, DOWN” :-)

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