The Poseidon Adventure (1980)   2 comments

Wilcox’s 8th game (after The Vial of Doom) was originally called The Poseidon Adventure, then renamed to The Upsidedown Adventure, then renamed back to The Poseidon Adventure. For those not familiar with the original movie: a cruise ship gets flipped over by a tsunami, and the passengers who survive the disaster need to escape whilst everything is upside down.

The original TRS-80 file had some corruption near the end, so I played the author’s Windows port this time.

From the original 1972 movie poster made by Mort Künstler. The movie is pretty good — I’d say one of the best disaster movies of the 1970s — although I just learned there’s a 1979 sequel called Beyond the Poseidon Adventure which has 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Also, a brief reminder, since I dunk on the game pretty hard: this was written when Mr. Wilcox was very young and only distributed when he was much older. (I very much appreciate these are available; there’s no other collection of “private games” I know of from the era.) This was a learning experience for him, but it still can be a learning experience for us: what makes a design go wrong?

Mr. Wilcox seemed to have fallen into the same trap as Mr. Hassett with Devil’s Palace: he had ambitions to make a more difficult game, but a difficult game is hard to make fun, especially when there are no persistent, timed, or “cross geography” effects. (This game technically has a timer, but it’s just an overall timer where the Poseidon eventually sinks and you die, forcing a game restart.)

You’re in a room, you have an object, and you can either use it to defeat a particular obstacle, or you can combine it with another object to make a new object. That’s it. In general, the only way to make a game with these limits hard is to a.) add lots of potential death b.) add some hard-to-find verbs and c.) hide things in obscure ways. The Poseidon Adventure goes for all three.

(For contrast, the game The Vial of Doom had the “strength” effect that made objects do different things; normally the player couldn’t win a fight against a cobra, but adding the magical effect beforehand changed the outcome.)

You start alone on the ship Posiedon. There are no dead bodies or the like, and since the game later says you are the sole survivor, I assume everyone else was cut off on a different section of the ship. Going “up” leads to the cargo hold at the “bottom” of the ship.

Going “down” leads to a “hatch at the ship’s top”. I admit to being highly stuck here trying to OPEN HATCH and TURN HATCH and the like but you can just GO HATCH to get to an “underwater pocket”.

OPEN HATCH should have said something like “the hatch is already open!” but the game just says “I don’t see how to open such a thing.” This is your regular reminder that a good parser is more about making intelligent responses than just how many words are understood.

My full object list from “easy to reach” objects was: a plastic bag, a metal rod, long thermal undies, a bottle of some liquid, a metal claw, a nitric acid capsule, a screwdriver, a drill, a saw, and a lighter.

Fortunately, the parser isn’t necessarily picky about if you apply a noun to a verb, so I found one useful combination by accident: typing MAKE will cause the nitric acid and bottle to mix to become a bottle of nitroglycerin. I was able to use it (with the lighter) to blow up a toilet and find a wrench and a closed window, whereupon I was very stuck.

I resorted to checking the walkthrough at Gaming After 40. Apparently CONNECT is another verb (not ATTACH, grr) and if you type CONNECT while holding the metal claw and rod you get a crowbar. This is sufficient to open the window and drown when the water from outside rushes in.

Whoops! Fortunately, in my experimentation, I found I could WEAR the plastic bag, and that it was sufficient to prevent drowning. (!!)

Where things really got “interesting” was at the end in a “propeller room”.

Push the button and the propeller chops you to bits. I am unclear why the designers of the ship would place the button in such close proximity to the propeller that it controls, but since I already used a plastic bag as a scuba device, I let it slide. However, I still had no idea what to do. The only items I hadn’t used yet were a drill and a saw; neither were useful here.

I went back to the walkthrough, where I found out I missed a completely unprompted secret wall back in the tool room where I found the drill and saw in the first place.

The north wall looks like it used to have an exit, but was boarded up some time in the past.


DRILL followed by SAW led me to a secret room with an AXE. Then I was able to take the AXE back to the Propeller Room (well, not exactly, I had to restart the game and redo the sequence since I ran out of time) and chop a hole to victory.

You’ve chopped a hole in the ceiling, which has bright, yellowish light pouring through.
>go hole
You crawl through the hole out into daylight.
Fantastic! You’re the sole survivor of this “Disaster”!!

There is exactly one (1) game to go before I am finished with 1980. Excitement!

Posted December 18, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “The Poseidon Adventure (1980)

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  1. Pingback: The Golden Baton: A Renowned Hero | Renga in Blue

  2. This is Roger M. Wilcox, author of this Adventure back in 1980.

    At the time I wrote this game, I had never actually seen _The Poseidon Adventure_ (the movie). I had only heard a few rumors about some of the scenes in the movie, and read the Mad Magazine parody. This is the main reason why my game doesn’t resemble the film at all.

    I changed the name to _The Upsidedown Adventure_ because my dad was worried that 20th Century Fox would come after me for copyright infringement. I’ve since changed the name back because, hey, Scott Adams got away with publishing an adventure game named _Mission Impossible_, so clearly I’m safe, right? … Wait, what do you mean Scott Adams had to change the name of _Mission Impossible_ to _Secret Mission_ due to copyright or trademark issues?!? :O

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