Inca Curse (1981)   8 comments

The founders of Artic Computing (Richard Turner and Chris Thornton) made their first adventure game (Adventure A, Planet of Death) themselves.

Richard had a friend (that he “met on a sponsorship programme for Ford”) named Charles Cecil. Adventures B (Inca Curse), C (Ship of Doom), and D (Espionage Island) were all by Charles (and he stayed with Artic essentially until they folded in 1986). Charles later went on to found Revolution Software and produce adventures like Broken Sword, Beneath a Steel Sky, and the forthcoming-for-2020 sequel Beyond a Steel Sky.

(ADD: Gareth in the comments points out an interview which mentions the work process — Charles gave the design on graph paper to Richard who then added his own ideas and implemented the game, so he definitely should be listed as a co-author.)

We’ll get to C and D when we reach 1982, but let’s take a look at Inca Curse.

I went straight for the Spectrum version this time, although the ZX-81 version is slightly less blinky than Planet of Death (the screen flashing only happens when you hit the enter key as opposed to at every single keypress).

IN THIS ADVENTURE YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A SOUTH AMERICAN JUNGLE NEAR AN, AS YET, UNDISTURBED INCA TEMPLE. INSIDE THIS TEMPLE YOU WILL FIND LOTS OF TREASURE, YOUR AIM IS TO GET OUT WITH AS MUCH TREASURE AS YOU CAN. BEWARE, DO NOT LET GREED BE YOUR DOWNFALL.

YOUR ADVENTURE IS COMPLETE WHEN YOU HAVE RETURNED TO THE JUNGLE CLEARING WITH TREASURE.

Yep, we’re back to a Treasure Hunt.

I AM IN A JUNGLE CLEARING
EXITS ARE SOUTH
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A BRANCH

If you try to GET BRANCH the game tells you IT IS HEAVY WITH LOTS OF LEAVES (and you don’t get the branch).

The only other location accessible at the start is some TEMPLE STEPS and a door with a LATCH. If you could bring the branch over you could break the latch.

To get the branch you need to

>CUT LEAVES
OK..

which makes no sense as a verb given the player has no cutting tool! Not only is the player being asked to refer to a “second-level” noun inside the noun, but “GET LEAVES” or “REMOVE LEAVES” don’t work even though they’re more logical verbs for what’s happening.

INTERLUDE

From an interview with Charles Cecil at Gameboomers:

Without doubt the film that profoundly influenced my first games, and many since, is ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. My first game for the Sinclair ZX-81 was called ‘Adventure B: Inca Curse’. It started off “You are in a jungle clearing” – that was the extent of the description. In my mind that jungle clearing had huge trees towering above you, dappled light shining through the canopy of leaves, the squawks of parrots, the distant roar of a jaguar. But all I wrote was “You are in a jungle clearing”. And years later when I was the head of development at Activision one of the producers came to talk to me, and he was very impressed that I had written ‘Inca Curse’. He told me that he remembered the game so well – how it started off in a jungle clearing, there were huge trees towering above you, the dappled light shining through the canopy of leaves, the squawks of parrots, the distant roar of a jaguar etc. I realised at that moment the power of interactive narrative – and that he had given me much more credit than I was due!

I’ve somewhat had this effect before, where minimalist descriptions nonetheless convey a much deeper world than depicted in the prose, certainly moreso than the equivalent description in a novel…

…but not on this game! When I played this I never got visualizing past the branch. In the quote, not only is the visualization strong but the memory of it includes extra detail not in the original. I’m wondering if this is a “lost effect” from early games that can’t be recaptured in 2020 the same way — Inca Curse could easily be someone’s first or second adventure game, so it probably had some intrinsic magic to players.

END INTERLUDE

The finangling with the branch was an unfortunate way to start the game, but fortunately, the rest of the was (intentionally) fairly easy. The temple is structured into two layers. Here is the top layer:

The most important section is a FIRE ROOM with a FIRE, a LAMP, and a MAGIC RING EMBEDDED IN FLINT. You can SMOTHER FIRE (as long as you have a MAGIC BLANKET) and take the RING and LAMP along. You can then use a CHISEL on the MAGIC RING to de-embed it.

In the “SLAVES WAITING ROOM” you can find a HYROGLIPHIC TRANSLATOR used to read a sign further on:

Incidentally, if you don’t have the translator, you are told

I CANT READ IT….
IT IS WRITTEN IN SPANISH..

Clearly, this wasn’t a well-researched piece, but just to spell things out: a.) the Inca did not have a writing system, although they did have “talking knot” recording devices called “quipu” and b.) it makes no sense for them to be writing things in Spanish and c.) it definitely makes no sense for Spanish to use “hyrogliphics”.

If you ignore the sign and go down, you find you are in a SAND DUNGEON where a PORTHOLE LEADS DOWNWARDS. You can arrive in the exact same location from a SACRED STONE ROOM which has a sign warning of death if you GO WEST unprepared.

The only way back to the top level is if you have a ROPE and type USE ROPE. Otherwise, you’re stuck. (Well, the game did warn you.)

In order to go down to the next level, you need the MAGIC RING from back in the fire room and a BLUE STONE that happens to just be lying around. (There’s also a RED STONE but it appears to be useless. ADD: Lee Parker mentions in the comments there is a particular passage in the lower level not visible unless you’re holding the red stone. There’s no indication you’re “solving a puzzle” as this is happening and I’m guessing a lot of players missed it.) If you don’t have these items and try to go down the game says YOU ARE NOT CARRYING THE CORRECT POSSESSIONS. Otherwise:

In any of the “Maze” rooms a wrong direction will loop back to the same room.

This is essentially just a big maze. All the treasures are here, and there are no puzzles whatsoever (except for the maze itself). There are eight treasures in total, all golden (golden knives, golden brush, gold coins, golden statue … you get the idea).

Winning requires, simply taking at least some treasure to the jungle clearing at the start.

I was doing the typical thing of having a big pile awaiting liberation, so I was startled because the game ends immediately upon reaching the exit. Also, you can carry at most 6 inventory items, but remember there are 8 treasures, you have to leave some of them behind.

The only reason this works structurally is the upper level-lower level format — if there was a treasure or two “in the open” at the start it would be too easy to end the game with “success!” immediately. (This also makes Inca Curse feels a little bit like an “optimizer” game akin to Mystery Mansion, except the treasures essentially all being “in the open” once the lower section is reached makes it almost more a shopping trip than an optimizable puzzle.)

I did have a much more enjoyable time with Inca Curse compared to Planet of Death insofar as I didn’t get stymied by a parser issue every other turn. The author was clearly trying to build more of an environment than a puzzle game. However, this did result in empty sections…

There are no objects here, or descriptions past the room titles.

…which I think may have heated up the imagination of a 1981-era player, but felt to me kind of meaningless.

Still, I don’t think my time was wasted, and if you’d like to try exploring yourself, the ZX Spectrum version is easy to play online. (There’s also a forthcoming Android version made with permission from copyright holder; I’ll post about it when it goes up.)

We’re going to stay in the UK just a bit longer. While the home computer scene was just starting, the mathematicians at Cambridge University were still busy cranking out long and difficult puzzlefests, and in 1981 they produced what is arguably their largest game.

Posted January 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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8 responses to “Inca Curse (1981)

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  1. The original ZX81 subtitle for “Adventure B” was “Inca Treasure”, only becoming Inca Curse later on. The early games in the series were all referred to by their “Adventure” names on the original (more homegrown) monochrome inlays, with the subtitles only coming into prominence on the more colourful, later releases.

    Although Charles Cecil designed Inca Treasure, Richard Turner was actually the co-author; he added extra ideas and coded the game. Ref. http://solutionarchive.com/interview_charles_cecil/

    Being responsible for marketing, Charles also designed the Artic logo, as mentioned in a recent ClassicAdventurer.co.uk interview. (See issue 4)

    I look forward to the Adventure C (Alien Spaceship/Ship of Doom) post… although, there are a lot of games to get through before you reach that one! :/

    • I was going to put Richard Turner as a co-author on my official catalog link (if nothing else just for the engine), but it’s good to see confirmation as to the process.

      Re: 1981 — there’s some very good games in there! It’ll be fun!

      (…and a game for the Microtan of all things, which is not a machine I’ve even heard of until about a month ago.)

      If it weren’t for the long mainframe stuff I could say 1981 would be done by the end of 2020, but I know Hezarin is going to be at least a month and we’ve got at least one more large mainframe game happening later.

    • Tanland Adventures by Microtanic for the Microtan 65… Sounds… “tantastic”. :)

  2. Nice review.
    My understanding of the stones is that you need the Blue Stone to see the secret passage down in the Sand Dungeon and you need the Red Stone along with the Magic Ring to see the secret passage down in the Emperors corridor to Eagle Hall. I believe it is the only way to Eagle Hall to get the high scoring Golden Eagle. This is how I’ve implemented it in my “updated” version. Most people know to have all 3 items (Red & Blue Stones and Magic Ring) at this stage, along with the rope.

    • Ah, thanks! That had been bothering me about the stone, I’ve added to the post. (I also added a mention of the interview Gareth linked.)

      You definitely need to be physically holding the blue stone and magic ring to go down the sand dungeon (on the Spectrum version at least), that one was easy to test.

  3. Your INTERLUDE section is very resonant with my experience. I think of the first Scott Adams game in particular, Adventureland, and how “I’m in a forest. I can also see: trees” sparked my imagination back in, I guess, 1981. Partly I’m sure this is just down to how much lower our standards were in the days of 16k TRS-80s; but partly I think there is a genuine power in minimalism, in deliberately leaving space for the imagination. (Not that I’m suggesting that was Adams’s motivation.)

    • Did you have the same effect of remembering the text having more than was actually there?

      The effect reminds me a little of this podcast I listened to recently — people with partial memories fill them in with other details, and it’s possible to make people “remember” things that never happened. I never thought about it in terms of people remembering fictional worlds.

      • Ah, no. That’s an important distinction. I remembered it as being just as minimal as it actually was — but I also remembered the sense of place that I felt when I played it, minimal as it was.

        The ability to “remember” things that didn’t happen is worrying.

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