Alien Adventure (Chou, 1981)   12 comments

We’ve had quite a few games by teenagers now, enough so that it’s hardly a surprise when I unearth another one: Alien Adventure is a TRS-80 game written by Thomas Chou,

SOPHOMORE 1980-81
WARREN CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI

What has been surprising so far is a lack of teenaged “voice”. Barring spelling and grammar errors; the sheer minimalism enforced by computer limits has led to relatively brisk prose. For example, in the game I just played, Interstellar War:

A missile streams out from this space ship, and misses the enemy ship!
The enemy ship returns fire with its own missile!
Your point defense laser system knocks it out of the sky just in time before it reaches you!

Compare with the stand-alone story the game was based on, that is, what the teen-aged author Roger Wilcox was like when he didn’t have to worry about character limits.

“Then what are you waiting for?? Send out an anti- missile!!”

The helmsman didn’t waste time in responding, but simply carried out the order. The small missile streaked toward its intended target, but instead of exploding when it hit, it…melted! That thing must’ve had a temperature of over three thousand degrees celsius!! As the thing continued to race toward Zelta-Dee, the commander gave the order to split it with their most powerful microwelding laser. The laser went through it as a sword through butter, but it did not split in half— instead, it reassembled into a long, narrow cylinder. Now it became obvious—yes it was matter, but in the form of a very hot liquid or gas— probably liquid. The commander made his biggest defensive order: “With the only exception being life support, divert all power to the screen!”

In Alien Adventure, Thomas Chou jettisoned some typical parser amenities (you’ll see specifics shortly) for longer text, but that resulted in a very, ah, high school sophomore kind of read.

Before the game proper even starts there’s an “intro” file which gives credit to a “Cord Coslor” in addition to Chou, asks the player PLEASE INSERT 25 CENTS and prompts the player to type the number 25, and then has a long screen before the game proper starts.

Now this reminds me of the writing of teenagers; the rambling tone, the bragging about the BASIC being machine language quality, the “SINCE YOU’RE CRYING NOW JUST FORGET IT YOU BIG BALL BABY” line and the “MWA” at the end.

The game asks your name and if you’re male or female, and then it’s off to the mission:

The game strongly hinted (in that long opening) you needed to HIT DOOR, so I was quite baffled when I HIT DOOR and the game responded “What ?”

This wasn’t an error message. The parser asks for the verb and noun separately. “Your command” is not referring to a full VERB NOUN combo, but just the verb; then it prompts “What ?” where you enter just the noun.

This was an absolute pain and I kept accidentally typing two-word commands the entire time I was playing, then having to type the noun again. An example from later in the game:

THERE IS A HEAVY DUTY FLASHLIGHT HERE.

Your command ? GET FLASHLIGHT

What ? FLASHLIGHT

(This is incidentally the approach some early Japanese adventure games used, since parsing Japanese is difficult and really only managed successfully when SystemSoft made ports of Infocom games in the 90s.)

Back to the opening: after HIT and then DOOR:

You’re dropped in a space station with lots of bodies and aliens that attack at random.

You have a gun (from the start) which you can use to teleport but not kill the aliens.

There are at least two sepulvadites; a male and female version. Remember, the game asked you to choose a gender at the start; if you are the opposite gender of the sepulvadite you are facing, you can KISS / SPULVADITE to drive it away.

They’re strictly hetero; if you try to kiss the male alien when you’re male or female alien when you’re female, you’re told “Being a member of the same sex, it (Luckily) shows no interest in you.”

Placed randomly, the first floor of the station has a silver knife, a key, a flashlight, a battery, a root beer, and glasses.

The glasses can be used to read a message on the wall.

To escape, you need to get into one of the “hidden passage” rooms using UNLOCK / DOOR followed by OPEN / DOOR while holding a key. Inside the hidden rooms are dark, so you also need a flashlight and a battery and then the commands TURN ON / FLASHLIGHT.

TURN ON I needed to dive the source code for; I was under the impression all verbs were single word commands, so I tried LIGHT (as works in most games) but no: it has to be specifically TURN ON.

Once inside the hidden passage, you can try CLIMB / ESCALATOR but sometimes it doesn’t work and the game says “No”. I don’t understand why; when this happened I would wander the station a little and come back and try again.

The second floor has three escape ships. The goal (according to the source code) is to find the correct one of the three ships, TURN ON / SHIP, and fly to victory. I’m saying “the source code” because I never quite managed it, possibly due to a bug.

The problem is when entering the ship room the game is programmed to make the protagonist thirsty.

While dying from thirst, the player can’t use the ship. I drank root beer which had a message indicated the effect was cured, yet the effect kept going. So I suspect there’s a bug here.

I might be missing something. There’s a room with a voice saying DRINK ME

a similar one with a voice saying EAT ME, and a moss that complains about being dry.

However, I haven’t been able to get anything useful to happen at those places, and death results in a reset with the strange non-working escalators, so I’m past my patience enough to throw in the towel here. The alien eats well tonight.

(Still, there’s always someone from my audience who is curious, so you can play the game online here or read the source code here.)

Posted July 7, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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12 responses to “Alien Adventure (Chou, 1981)

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  1. I’m really annoyed that I only thought of this after playing through and failing twice, but what if you drink the root beer in the ship room? Pouring the root beer on the moss does something, but AFAICT by searching the code for M5 (the thirst variable) the only way to reset your thirst to 0 is to drink the root beer… and every time you reenter the ship room M5 will get increased by 1, so only drinking the root beer in the room can possibly work.

    I’m not quite sure but it looks to me like the escalator thing might be a check that you have picked up all the items from the bottom floor (and you have to have read the note too). And you may have to have thrown the glasses up the escalator too.

  2. You can only quench your thirst by drinking beer, not root beer. There appear to be four items (hamburger, beer, light saber, and magic cape) that you can only see if you have the glasses. The hamburger and beer should be in the “eat me”/”drink me” rooms. Like Matt said, you can apparently throw the glasses up the escalator in order to have them in the 2nd section of the game.

    The code for these glasses-only objects is at lines 1690-1700, if someone wants to check my work.

    • Also potentially of note, this game contains an Easter egg of sorts. If you visit certain locations and/or take certain actions (like watering the dry moss) and then beat the game, you’ll get a bonus message of up to six lines from the author. It includes his home address, so you know where to send your hate mail.

  3. At risk of just talking to myself about this great game here…

    “Once inside the hidden passage, you can try CLIMB / ESCALATOR but sometimes it doesn’t work and the game says “No”. I don’t understand why; when this happened I would wander the station a little and come back and try again.”

    ELSEIF E = 0 OR OB(2,1,2) = 1 OR OB(4,1,2) = 0 OR R = 13 OR R = 16 PRINT “No”

    This is really the biggest flaw in the game right here. It won’t let you use the working escalator if…
    – You haven’t read the message at the entrance OR
    – You have the glasses OR
    – You don’t have the knife OR
    – You’re in either location at the top of an escalator

    And all it does in response to this is “No”.

    Since the glasses are useful on the 2nd floor to read the note on the computer (without doing that, I think the computer always blows up) you have to figure out a way to get them up there, which is where throwing them up the escalator comes into play. Because, you know, throwing glasses around is a great way to keep them in a usable condition. How you’re supposed to land on that action as a useful possibility is a mystery to me.

    There’s also weirdness where you can’t pick up the knife if you have the glasses. The game reports back:
    “THE KNIFE GENTLY LEVITATES AND FLOATS OUT OF YOUR REACH.

    IT COMES BACK TO REST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM.”

    Frustratingly, this is not the only combination of objects that solicits this response, and there is again no in-game indication of why it’s happening.

    FWIW, I have verified that the glasses do indeed allow you to see all of the hidden objects on the 2nd floor and that the game is winnable.

    For those looking to do so, I have one tip. The knife allows you to both KILL and STAB the aliens (so you don’t need to carry the gun anymore), but only one of those two verbs is guaranteed success, which again… makes no sense.

    • Ah, I source-dove a little to figure out that there was a hamburger and a glass of beer, but not enough to figure out that you need the glasses. I guess I should’ve figured that there was some use to having the glasses upstairs.

      Blocking the escalator to keep you from locking yourself out is kind of user-friendly in a way! Too bad it wasn’t done better.

    • This is disaster enough I guess I’ll need to write a follow-up. Wow.

      I am trying and failing to reverse engineer what the thinking was on the escalator.

    • DRINK BEER just gets me I can’t. No idea what to do with the thirst still.

      • You need to open it first. Looking at the source code I think the required command may be OPEN/CAN rather than OPEN/BEER.

        (I’m not trying to play along anymore, just straight-up source diving.)

  4. Did you notice he spelled his own name two different ways in the intro – Chou and Chow?

    • I figured the second was just him being silly; probably the way to pronounce it.

      He uses Chou in the main game so I went with that.

      • It’s definitely Chou. He’s actually pretty easy to find on the Internet since he gave his old school and home address in the game. And no I’ve not contacted him or pointed him to this glowing review of a high school project.

  5. Pingback: The Time Machine (1981) | Renga in Blue

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