Arabian Adventure (1981)   6 comments

Last time Peter Kirsch came up was regarding his game Kidnapped as published in Softside magazine. I also mentioned despite being obscure now, he has an epic number of adventures attached to his name, because he was the author of quite a few entries in the Softside’s Adventure of the Month series, starting in June 1981 and running all the way through 1984.

This Sinbad tribute game seems more based on the Harryhausen movies than any sort of original source material, and since skeleton combat makes an appearance, here’s a brief clip from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958):

The games were released on a monthly basis for Apple II, Atari 800, and TRS-80, although only the Atari folks seem to have a complete collection, so I’ll mostly be playing on that platform.

The game tries to be structured “cinematically” with brief “cutscenes” like the opening above. If you ENTER PALACE you hear screams coming from upstairs, and then if you go upstairs, as the game narrates:

You run to the window and just manage to see Princess Jasmine flown off on a giant roc in the grasp of Rex, wizard of darkness.

(Side note: as the editors at CASA Solution Archive point out, Jasmine is not a name found in the original stories; it also isn’t in any of the Harryhausen movies. However, this is related to the Disney folks only coincidentally; the Jasmine in Disney’s 1991 movie Aladdin is named after the actress Jasmine Guy.)

The wizard left behind a “magic lamp” which you can rub to have a genie give you a rare arabian riyal. The Riyal can be taken to a pawn shop and traded for regular riyals, which then can be used to buy a carpet. I think you can guess where this is going.

SAY FLY

Carpet slowly lifts off, then speeds up and carries you off to some far off location.

The carpet takes you to a mashed-up area with a desert, forest, and beach next to a “Whistling Sea”.

You see a roc lift off from a mountain in the distance carrying a shrieking princess. It disappears across the ‘Whistling Sea’

While there’s an oar at the beach, there’s no boat; you have to go to the mountain first (grabbing some TWINE laying around in the forest on the way), and fight some skeletons.

You just type KILL SKELETON over and over and eventually they go from six to zero; sometimes you miss. I get the impression the intent is to again be “cinematic” with the hitting/missing being a proxy for a more elaborate combat situation like in the movie. In terms of actual gameplay it’s just repetitive.

Past the skeletons you can find a cave with an AXE, a FISHING POLE, and a MAGNET. There’s also an IRON KEY stuck in a SHALLOW ‘SEA OF DECEIVE’.

I’m guessing (adding in the TWINE I already mentioned) you know how to get the key, but the actual command took me a while: you’re supposed to TIE MAGNET. TIE POLE or MAKE POLE or ATTACH MAGNET don’t work. After that, GET KEY now maps onto the command “GET KEY BY USING THE FISHING POLE” rather than “GET KEY BY DIVING IN AND DYING”, although I admit I was rather nervous at first because the change in command is non-obvious and I could see THROW POLE or some other oddity being the solution.

(If you remember my Parallel Universes Problem post from Kidnapped, in that game it was possible to threaten the kidnapper with a gun at the same time as picking something up — that is, the command GET DOLLAR did both things — as long as you had a weapon at hand; it was non-obvious that a particular item in inventory would cause the extra action. Here is a similar situation, where GET implies two entirely different actions based on held inventory.)

The key unlocks a chest with some more riyals. Leaving the cave, I was able to take those riyals back to the shops I missed and buy a SAUCER and a COCONUT, for no other reason than they happened to be there.

Moving on: I was able to chop the trees in the forest, and then had to look up that BUILD RAFT was a command (I did try MAKE RAFT, grrr). I was then able to take the raft to the sea and paddle my way forth, whereupon I met sea monster.

More cinema! Like the skeletons, there’s some randomization; you’re just supposed to draw your sword, and sometimes you miss when you try to attack.

After the serpent comes another beach, a cyclops, and the most absurd puzzle of the game.

You see, the magic lamp at the start get you (rather underwhelmingly) a rare riyal that could be traded for 5 regular riyals. Any subsequent attempts of RUB LAMP just lead to a snoring sound and being asked to go away.

Unless you’re being chased by the Cyclops. After meeting the cyclops, you can “run away” to the west, then climb up CYCLOPS MOUNTAIN until you can go no farther…

…and then, and only then, are you able to RUB LAMP.

Then you can EAT BANANA and DROP PEEL.

There are lots of weird exceptions so don’t take this as Absolute Theory, but there are two essential opposing methods to adventure writing: simulationist and cinematic. Simulationist would be something like Adventure or Zork where the world comes first, and the interactions are embedded within, and plot moments (like the thief in Zork stealing your treasures mere steps to safety) are products of the system. Cinematic is where the player is expected to run through particular scenes, and the adventure plot loosely follows a “script” of action. The first King’s Quest game I’d call simulationist (just wander, the witch can pop up anywhere) and the first Police Quest game (follow the police procedures exactly or you lose) I’d call cinematic.

Styles can switch back and forth and there are lateral directions like ramping up the characters rather than the world, but the distinction is sufficient for the point I’m about to make: by my reckoning, the big flaw with the cyclops puzzle stemmed from the author thinking in a cinematic sense. Cue music: the player spots the fierce cyclops and runs away, going up a mountain with the cyclops close behind, before being cornered at the top. What do they do? At their last thread, they try their lamp again, and miracle of miracles, it works! But for a moment of humor, rather than some conventional item (like a spear of eye-gouging) out comes a banana. A light-hearted relief!

However, there is no in-game reason to think that the lamp’s action would be different on top of the mountain! This kind of has a fix; the genie, instead of just telling you to go away, could say something like “only use me again if you’re desperate”. This would clue in the fact the lamp will have a purpose somewhere, and it sets up the cinematic scene while still in “simulationist mode”.

Essentially, the cinematic aspect can be fixed by thinking what happens in terms of the raw sense of playing through the world. Problems in simulationist worlds (like frustrating randomness or timing) can sometimes be fixed by considering a cinematic lens; forget realism for a moment, what would cause the most drama?

Moving on, once passing the cyclops you can get into the palace of the evil wizard.

There’s some items like FLOUR, POWDER, a BOOK (with a recipe I’ll talk about in a moment), a LASSO, and a MIRROR. Obstacles include:

a.) a “hairy, red-eyed, slime spitting tarantula” guarding a tiny key

b.) the princess has been shrunk to doll-size; this is from the movie

and the princess is trapped in a cage, which requires the tiny key

c.) you occasionally get attacked by something invisible — this is the wizard!

d.) after going upstairs (where the princess is) when you go downstairs you find the main door has been locked

To tackle the wizard (problem c.) you need to THROW FLOUR when he’s present. He sometimes does a hit-and-run strategy so you might THROW FLOUR and get nothing, but once it works, you need to DRAW SWORD one last time to cut him down.

His body has a large key which works to solve problem d. For the tarantula, you can take the MIRROR I mentioned earlier and drop it at the tarantula, and then they are transfixed by their own gaze. (There is no hint or reference to Narcissus or anything, but this comes late enough in the game there aren’t many actions to try.)

The tarantula has at tiny key so you can resolve b.) except the princess is still small.

The BOOK I mentioned earlier gives an antidote to shrinking: milk plus the POWDER, but they have to be mixed in a dark place. For the MILK you need to combine the SAUCER and the COCONUT (and use a giant rock to break open the coconut to get at the milk).

But the “dark place” is kind of a dilemma — unlike a lot of games in this era, there’s not much that’s dark. You can’t finish the mixture while at the evil wizard’s palace. What you can do is go outside and lasso a roc:

which takes you back to the place where you parked your rug, so you can fly back to the home palace.

Downstairs in the opening palace, there was a cellar with a “very small” window that previously seemed useless. Here is where it’s handy — the room is dark! I admit to liking this puzzle as a combination of thinking outside the box (in a normal adventure the cure for smallness would be made at the wizard’s palace) but also simultaneously forcing a narrative move, where the player has to return where they started.

Arabian Adventure’s parser was deeply frustrating and it had some slightly off-kilter puzzles, but fortunately, it didn’t make me dread trying Peter Kirsch games, which is good, because there are 21 games to go, including 2 more from 1981.

If nothing else, I hope the Softside games catch a microcosm of author development — these one-shot slightly-off games have been frustrating in the knowledge that an author could develop but we won’t see it, so here we’ll get to see Kirsch’s up and downs.

Posted May 29, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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6 responses to “Arabian Adventure (1981)

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  1. Lunch for $1.16 a day? That’s $3.42 today. Maybe if you’re very thrifty about it. Even if we assume a workday-month of 22 days, it’s only $4.69. Plausible for the cost of lunch brought from home perhaps, but I think the only thing in my workplace cafeteria at that price point that could qualify as “lunch” is a slice of pizza. (It’s a college cafeteria primarily aimed at students, so they are at some pains to keep prices down, but the average is more like $6.00-$7.50.)

    “Rex” is a weird name choice for this setting. Maybe it’s supposed to be Latin.

    Trinity also does the thing of asking for milk for a potion/spell and having the solution be not mammal’s milk, but coconut milk. (I will also be pedantic and point out that what is inside a coconut is not milk, but coconut water. Coconut milk is made from the flesh of the coconut.)

    • I remember Trinty messing me up on that, but I don’t recall the details of the puzzle.

      • There’s a cauldron in a cottage in the Wabe (the mushroom-land) where you have to put some objects you collect elsewhere to make an emerald: milk, honey, lizard “killed in the light of a crescent moon”… the coconut is on the tropical island (the Bikini Atoll scene).

    • I could usually get lunch at my workplace cafeteria for $3.52 by getting a bagel and some egg/tuna salad and other ingredients at the salad bar, which then can be combined into a sandwich, but I also think the medical center (which is not where I work, it’s just the near my office) is subsidizing the prices. For $4.69 I could get an actual entree about half the time.

      The previous paragraph was written from the Before Time, since my office has been closed for almost three months, I may never be able to eat from a self-serve salad bar again, and since university is on summer break I almost never go to campus anyway. Though the cafeteria may be going, since the medical center is surely essential.

      There is some unusual milk involved in Cragne Manor but that particular puzzle plays fair in letting you know exactly what’s going to get milked… though it’s a bit tricky in other ways.

  2. “There are lots of weird exceptions so don’t take this as Absolute Theory, but there are two essential opposing methods to adventure writing: simulationist and cinematic. Simulationist would be something like Adventure or Zork where the world comes first, and the interactions are embedded within, and plot moments (like the thief in Zork stealing your treasures mere steps to safety) are products of the system. Cinematic is where the player is expected to run through particular scenes, and the adventure plot loosely follows a “script” of action. The first King’s Quest game I’d call simulationist (just wander, the witch can pop up anywhere) and the first Police Quest game (follow the police procedures exactly or you lose) I’d call cinematic.”

    Finding the perfect balance between these two approaches would be the closest thing I have to a statement of intent with regard to writing interactive fiction.

  3. Just a quick correction (which I just changed in the text rather than do a cross-out) — Kirsch only did 3 of the 1981 Adventure of the Month games, although the point about being able to follow his development still stands.

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