Savage Island Part 2: Finished!   5 comments

Savage Island Part 2 managed to have essentially no extraneous puzzles — each element is tied in with the plot. In this, it resembles Adams’s own game The Count from two years earlier (and not much else).

So why isn’t this game spoken of as well as The Count? Other than extreme difficulty, including one of the toughest starts of any game I know, there’s one puzzle that requires an action so absurd I combed through the source code trying to find a clue that I missed. I don’t think there was one.

There’s still some fascinating ideas here and a twist at the end I was not expecting.

Back cover of the Apple II version, via Mobygames.

I left off last time in a small control area. There were two consoles, one indicating it was used for landing, and the other with some gym equipment and an “atom”. I only realized I could LOOK ATOM after I used the console, but I might as well give a preview:


picture of T-shaped handle
picture of an atom


it has 8 electrons

So this is the console that fixes the “vacuum” problem. The button does nothing, and the lever “won’t budge”.

The gym, however, included a treadmill that I could go on and I was quite suspicious. I still couldn’t make any kind of connection into I noticed the BANDANNA I was still carrying around was described as having “metallic threads”. One PULL THREAD later and I had a “glowing metal thread”.

To what?
To what?

One hop on the treadmill later, and a RUN, and then… the game took me back in the control room like nothing happened. I had to peek at the hints here to notice that first typing HOLD RAILING while in the treadmill would make the whole setup work. (I had found this command previously, just I forgot about it.)

Having finished that, I assumed maybe something elsewhere in the ship changed and gallantly did GO FIELD:

Hurricane winds suck me into outer space!
I freeze to death!

Whoops! This is where I realized the function of the console; still progress, though!

But here, we hit the ludicrous puzzle. I’m not going to call it “ludicrously hard” because I think it falls outside the easy-hard spectrum. I just don’t know how anyone, anywhere found out how to do this.

The thread that I used to pull the lever, you see, is useful in another way.


To what?


This makes a “Meter loop of glowing thread”, where LOOK LOOP says “I see blackness in center!”

This is a portable hole.

Conceptually, wow, this is great! But could there have been some sort of clue that this worked?

Testing the hole in various places mostly yields the empty room shown above, except when testing it in the main control room.

There are fortunately not that many rooms to test in order to find this. The console has a button that returns the ship to normal.

The same room also has an “alien device”; it has red and blue slide switches. Blue just gives a high pitched electronic whine, but red leads to

alien voice says `FREEHJLLGFREEUYE`

Alert reader Lisa already theorized a recorder being helpful at the first console (the one originally in vacuum that requires a voice password). While the vacuum now isn’t a problem, remember the main character is still in Neanderthal form (and realistically or not, has diminished speaking capacity)! So the recording is useful anyways.

(You might wonder why I haven’t gone back and brain transferred back to Original Me yet — more on that later.)

The dials read “Timemachine set for 100,000 years in past and nearest planetary body” so I immediately realized what I needed to do — the console was operating the empty room the game starts out in and sending things back in time. The cube (just sitting right there) explodes after a small amount of time. I originally thought I had to defuse the cube, or put it in the right gizmo for power generation, but since I had a dinosaur problem…

…I nuked the dinosaurs. I’m sorry. It was me.

You can confirm the planet is now dinosaur free by checking the main control room and looking at the screen — no more closeups of dinosaurs. So now all that’s left to do is… hmm, what? The captain’s message mentioned ROBOPIRATE.

Some brute force portable hole searching later, I was able to drop into a metal storage hold the nuke was in:

The cases have “row after row of Neanderthal”. Here is where the blue switch from the alien device works…

…which is only one step away from victory.

The “code” at the end is because the game is presumably pushing its character limit already. The game came with the ending text but with the lines mixed up; the code tells you what line to read in what order. Reconstructed, here is the full final message:

After resealing the wayward seed controller back in its case, the robopirate continues to execute its main programming.

Strangely, none of the master race are around, but the seed specimens are fine in the storage hold.

A strange looking creature is found wandering in the ship. Looking somewhat like the seed specimens, the robopirate decides to treat it as such and temporarily stores it away in the hold.

Continuing with its programming, the robopirate lands the ship on the blue-green planet it is currently orbiting. It then proceeds to hide the ship and rearrange the interior slightly. The engine and control compartment is separated and launched off into deep space. The seed specimens are then released from the display cases in the storage hold. The colony prospers and the strange specimen originally found wandering the ship becomes their chief.

Strangely enough, the chief’s offspring look more like him than they do his assorted wives!

Checking the planet the robopirate finds one lone wandering dinosaur. Being the last of its species, the robopirate stores it away in a now vacant display case.

All looks well and the robot closes the now hidden ship and powers itself off.

100,000 years pass and a timer reactivates the robot, which then goes to implement its final programming in the timeswap plan. The plan: make sure a current inhabitant is tricked into going back in time to eradicate the giant reptiles (for the robot is completely unable to harm or kill any living being.) Later, with a slight robotic chuckle, the robot realizes the strange twist of fate which awaits the specimen he chooses.

For it is obvious now that the Neanderthal sleeping in the display case these 100,000 years has the brains and personality of the chosen victim.
Yet it is the victim’s own genes which help launch the race of Man (after first ridding the world of the dinosaur!) Slayer of the dinosaur and father of all mankind, the world’s greatest hero now rests in the body of a prehistoric caveman. Who knows what great adventures await him in the future?

You may have noticed I didn’t talk about going back to switch brains. The console where PSYCHOTRANSFIGURATION happened does indicate pulling the lever will work for switching back, but there is no way in the game to pull the lever.

That means Original Protagonist is now in a Neanderthal body, and Original Me is now a Neanderthal, and at the end of Part 1 it was Neanderthal Original Me that sent (other) Original Me over to the ship by pushing the button.

That’s quite an ending — not necessarily pessimistic or bad for the main character, who has essentially saved the universe, but still life-changing in a way uncommon for the time — or, to be honest, even now.

Writing puzzles that are tough but fair is an extraordinarily challenging task in any system. Based on his own ad copy, Scott Adams clearly considered his adventures to be part of a set, and since the “easy” games were already taken care of with his earlier work, he was obliged to shoot for hard. (I don’t know about the difficulty of game #12, Golden Voyage, but that game is similar to Pyramid of Doom where another author did most of the writing and Adams just did some editing and polish.)

A question Mike Taylor raises is: just how much was he stymied by technical issues and the capabilities of the system? Nearly every puzzle is at least moderately difficult; for 1981 the conceptual idea of hopping between bodies and having one’s abilities change in the process was enough as is, and I think the only reason I had a smooth time over it was the benefit of years of videogame history where this sort of shtick recurs in many ways.

TIE THREAD TO THREAD doesn’t strike me as difficulty with verbs. Did the authors overlook putting a hint in the text? (Or maybe even: did *I* overlook a hint in the text?) Perhaps they did not have room for more text? Consider the ending text was all given in the manual for lack of space in the game itself. Once the portable hole is made the puzzle becomes semi-fair, especially since at the first use the player is restricted to a tiny area.

HYPERVENTILATE (which can also be BREATHE DEEPLY, but hunt-the-adverb is not much better than hunt-the-verb) is a fascinating case; I’m not sure how you’d indicate it even given the most blatant hintage and parser flexibility, yet the general idea — that you are “backing up” before exhaling, rather than doing a “standing jump”, is technically sound. If I was in charge of revising, I would probably take my editing pen and allow HOLD BREATH there — it’s a carry-over from the first game so not unreasonable, and it’s too easy for a player to be unclear what the real differences is between HOLD BREATH and BREATH DEEPLY.

Even when tools are capable of supporting a piece of complex world modeling, that’s not the same as making it easy and natural to do. It’s quite plausible to say Scott Adams was scratching at the very limits of his system here. And certainly, the forced tightness of the text itself cannot be forgotten; for 1981 home computers the very words themselves were at a premium.

Alas, I can’t say here we have a forgotten masterpiece (although Kim Schuette writing in 1984 calls it a “jewel”) but it’s certainly of strong historical interest and proof that in 1981 Scott Adams wasn’t quite done yet thinking about advancing the craft of adventure games.

Posted March 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Savage Island Part 2: Finished!

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  1. I’m an Alert Reader! I feel honored :)

  2. I have a theory about how someone might have solved that without sourcediving. (Someone who is not me, but someone who played this kind of hard adventure at the time.)

    You already figured out PULL THREAD and TIE THREAD (to what?). Then you get stuck. It seems like when you’re stuck on something, especially in one of these games, the thing to do is try absolutely everything on absolutely everything. And then the insight is… one of the things you can try TIE THREAD to is the thread itself.

    Of course there’s no way to anticipate that this will work, and beyond no way to anticipate its effects, but that seems par for the course in a game like this. At least there’s a way in which the solution is in the space of possibilities of things you know you can try. There’s a way in which it seems fairer than HYPERVENTILATE, where it makes sense that if you can do that it might work, but it’s hard to know you can do that.

    On the plot, trying to keep track of where things wind up at the end… the protagonist’s mind is now in one of the Neanderthals who’s just a run-of-the-mill member of the tribe, being ruled over by the original captured Neanderthal’s mind in his own body?

    Also, while taking your judgment on this one, I did feel that Part I was maybe a forgotten masterpiece. Working through the part I worked through was interesting and it relied on a complex world model, not like the parade of nonsensical setpieces that Ghost Town seems to have been.

    (Also, hope you’re keeping safe–you’re in the PNW, aren’t you?)

    • (No, I’m SW — only had a few local cases, but it has still been intense.)

      Modern-human-body has the brain of what was previously a run-of-the-mill Neathanderal and becomes the chief of the new tribe.

      Neanderthal-with-modern-brain was put inside the case in storage. He (you) gets freed by yourself in Part 1, and Neathanderal-you pushes the button to send modern-body-you to the past. It’s a true time loop.

      Modern-human-body you still has your “genetic code” so you are still indirectly the father of the human race.

      • But didn’t all the Neanderthals in display cases get released to become the new humanity? “The seed specimens are then released from the display cases in the storage hold.” The last line of the plot somewhat suggests to me that the Neanderthal-with-modern-brain is out and about somewhere, rather than permanently locked in a display case where there will be no more adventures. Though I guess permanently locked in doesn’t mean *permanently* locked in, if the author decided to write a sequel.

      • I believe the idea is that You-in-Neanderthal is not in one of the “seed cases” but one of the preservation cases like the dinosaur.

        So you do get free, but in “modern times”. Dunno what adventures you’d have from there.

        Another funny implication of all this is the memorial of “you” and picture of “you” from Part 1 are not really of “you” but of random-neanderthal-in-your-body-who-became-chief.

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