Atom Adventure (1981)   10 comments

For today’s contender in First Britventure, I bring forth a game published by Hopesoft, written by Paul Shave for the Acorn Atom (a system we previously saw in Acornsoft’s Atom Adventure(s), a game whose title is only differentiated by the “s” there).

So in 1981 when the Acorn Atom came out, it seemed a wonderful opportunity to get back into programming (but obviously not giving up the day job). I splashed out on the top-of-the-range model with 12Kb of RAM and taught myself 6502 assembler. Later that year, Hopesoft was born. I’d recently come across the original Colossal Adventure on the mainframe and was fascinated by it. I started doing text adventures and arcade games for the Atom, but the adventures were my real love, with the challenge being how to cram the maximum amount into my 12Kb. When I’d got a few programs ready, I put a small ad in one of the computer mags, and it all grew from there. I started off buying data cassettes from WH Smith, and spent the evenings saving the programs onto the tapes as the orders came in.

— From an October 2000 interview with Paul Shave

Planet of Death and City of Alzan both appeared in the August/September 1981 issue of Your Computer; this makes it appear both came out in July 1981.

Gareth Pitchford, a blog regular here, has already done the legwork on Hopesoft and concluded from the first game had an approximate release date of July/August 1981. In other words, based on what we’ve seen so far, the title of first Britventure is now a three-way tie.

Mr. Shave wrote his own adventure-writing database, according to him, all on his own (unlike Planet of Death and City of Alzan, he hadn’t seen the Ken Reed article with its own adventure system). You can peruse the source code of his “Sample Adventure” here that came out with his “Write Your Own Adventure” tape (his second title published, after Atom Adventure).

From Everygamegoing.

It really is just a sample and not worth me “playing” for you, but it demonstrates a map, a hungry man, some cheese, and a treasure chest he’s guarding. Even though he didn’t see Reed’s system, rooms, objects, events, and messages get separated out in the same way. Here’s the messages for Sample Adventure:

5000*MESSAGES 8
5010 0,IT FALLS ON THE FLOOR AND GOES OUT.
5030 2,THE MAN LOOKS VERY FIERCE. HE WON’T LET ME NEAR THE
5040@ TREASURE.
5050 3,THE MAN GOBBLES UP THE CHEESE. HE LOOKS MORE CONTENT.
5060 4,THE MAN TURNS VERY NASTY. HE TEARS MY
5070@ THROAT OUT. I’M DEAD.
5080 5,CONGRATULATIONS, YOU GOT IT!
5090 6,GOODBYE.

(There’s also the infamous I CAN’T message which we have only seen with the other two Reed-derived games, which makes me wonder if the author really did see Reed-related code at some point and is misremembering, but it’s not important enough to be fussy about.)

The same system gets used for the stand-alone Hopesoft games from 1981, Atom Adventure and Pirate Island. Pirate Island will wait for another post, so let’s get into Atom Adventure, later advertised as:

A traditional Adventure in caves and a castle.

So this a usual hunt-the treasure plot again, but, remember: the only adventure game the author had previously played was Crowther/Woods Adventure. It turns out, despite initial appearances, there’s something very non-traditional about the game. What if, in designing a game, you made all the puzzles “easy” yet made getting the best ending “hard”?

Atom Adventure certainly felt simplistic in my first 20 minutes of play. You start outdoors, with the Classic Adventure Mostly Standard: lamp, keys, matches, bottle of oil. (The items are randomly distributed, and the bottle can even start underground; this will be important in a second.)

There’s a cave system, with two entrances; either down stairs from a building, or from a grating outside.

Underground you find (again with some scattered randomly) an elastoplast (which you need when a troll hits you, you have to USE ELASTOPLAST to stop the bleeding or die), a knife, a gold bar, a diamond ring, a hamster, and a hamster-eating snake.

To get to the next level you need to find a rusty locked door, use the oil in the bottle to OIL DOOR, then use the keys to UNLOCK DOOR. (You can, if you like, refill the bottle with water after using it for oil.)

Past the door (which is a one-way trip, the door gets barred behind you) is a small castle.

A dragon is satiated by “damsel-flavored crisps”, there’s a magic bean that requires water (and sprouts a silver flower), an underground cellar with an oyster that requires the knife to open, a ruby, and a scroll with a magic word (OKAPI). You use the magic word to open the treasury and finish the game.

However, everything above is much more complicated than it sounds, because you have 1.) a very tight timer before the lamp runs out 2.) an inventory limit of four items and 3.) the randomization makes it impossible to fully predict where objects will show. This means the challenge in getting all the treasures to the end is not in solving the puzzles, but in optimally getting through the game with all the objects you need.

By tight I mean, essentially, you have to squeeze out every turn of lamp light possible, and even then, you sometimes randomly just have an object in a wrong location and can’t make it. For example:

You can enter the underground from the building (top diagram) or the grating (bottom diagram). With the building entrance, you start in darkness. With the grating entrance, you start in light (the sky is visible) meaning you can wait a little longer before lighting your lamp, and the path to check for objects all the way to the river is one step less short than from the building. This is sufficient to make a difference; I don’t think the best ending for the game is possible using the building entrance!

You might also notice that one “Cave, River” room has a connection to another, and the other happens to be next to the exit door for the cave section. You can THROW ITEM OVER RIVER to get it out of your inventory. If you don’t do this with the keys you will not be able to win, because you need the space and can’t cart items over fast enough! (Also fun, the game models some physics here; if you throw the bottle of oil it makes it over the river and breaks, if you try to throw a bar of gold it falls in the river and sinks.)

One other trick I did was throw the matches over the river. When I hit the cave room at the door I was able to TURN OFF LAMP to save a little energy, and the game fortunately let me OIL DOOR, UNLOCK DOOR, and OPEN DOOR while in the dark (and use the keys even though they were on the ground). Then with the matches on the ground I was allowed to LIGHT LAMP again and book it to the cellar in the castle before the lamp ran out.

Even after massive optimization steps I still was running short on space. I needed to get out of the cave with

1. the lamp (the castle is mostly lit, but the cellar which has a treasure is not)
1. a bottle of water (for the magic bean)
3. a gold bar (one of the treasures)
4. a diamond ring (one of the treasures)
5. a knife (for opening an oyster and getting a pearl)

This is five items, and remember the trip is one-way. I could only hold four! I had tried and discarded the idea of wearing the diamond ring since WEAR RING doesn’t work, but I found out after proving to myself the game was impossible that — on a second, desperate pass — that PUT ON RING does work, and saves you an inventory spot.

Here’s what you need the water for.

I was fully prepared for a time to declare the game buggy and impossible, and I even partially wrote and discarded a blog post to that effect, so I’ll say I earned the screen below.

The OBE is the Order of the British Empire, which I also believe I earned.

Just as a reminder, the blog play-along of Assignment 45 is still in progress. Please go vote!

Posted July 23, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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10 responses to “Atom Adventure (1981)

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  1. Well, this is utterly fascinating to me because although I’ve made an incredibly long “Let’s Play” video of a later Hopesoft game, Xanadu Adventure, I clearly didn’t do my research properly by playing Atom Adventure first, or I’d have realised that Atol Adventure is a sort of “first draft”, or prototype, of the Xanadu, both in its use of randomisation and in its constraining of resources like inventory-size and available light. You think you had to work hard to earn your OBE in Atom Adventure? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

    • Here’s that Let’s Play of Xanadu:

    • Oo yeah, I remember when you posted that and thinking “that’ll be fun when I can stop worrying about spoilers” (based on my current rate, 1981 will be done by summer 2021 sometime; won’t make it by the end of 2020, COVID and all that).

      Is there some specific reason you know it wasn’t beaten in the intervening years? Is it infamous for having Internet discussions where people are baffled? (I remember one of the “contest puzzles” on Blue Ice, a game from the time of cheap Myst clones, has legendarily never been solved and is probably broken somehow.)

      Hopesoft Pirate Adventure has some similar things going, I’m going to be writing about it next (with an Assignment 45 tossed in, assuming I can coax my readers to pick numbers and they haven’t given up yet).

      • I don’t think it’s infamous, exactly, but there is a thread on the CASA forum where people had tried but failed to solve it. And in a recent mini-interview Paul Shave said, “I’m pretty sure he was the first” — i.e. that I was probably the first person ever to solve the game! However, as I state at the end of the video, there is a little wrinkle that I overlooked, so the solution I submitted to CASA is flawed! Aaargh.

      • Confirmation from the author himself is strong evidence.

        I think you can upload an update on CASA if you need to fix something on the walkthrough? (…I might need it next year, after all.)

  2. Possible typos: “1991” should probably be “1981”. And “Paul Reed” should be “Ken Reed”, I think.

  3. An interesting write-up, as always.

    Paul certainly had a slightly unique approach to his adventures and it’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t create any more after Xanadu.

    I think I’ve exhausted all my possible leads for early “Britventures” now… taking things back to 1980, with at least two games from that year; only one of which currently survives in archived form.

  4. Gareth has just alerted me to your blog and I continue to be amazed – and impressed – with the ingenuity of adventure solvers.
    You said, “makes me wonder if the author really did see Reed-related code at some point and is misremembering”. Well, it’s a VERY long time ago and my memory isn’t what it was, but I had honestly never heard of Ken Reed and I’ve never used a Sinclair computer – all my programming was in assembler and I stuck to 6502 architecture, never Z80. I did have experience of playing Colossal Cave and looking at its source code (I think – that bit may be misremembered) and it had it had a huge influence on my adventures.
    It’s great to see these old adventures rising from the dead!

    • Thank you so much for stopping by!

      (And re: seeing Reed-related code; a coincidence is possible, it’s just “I CAN’T” is a distinct error message that hasn’t shown up elsewhere.)

      I still am trying valiantly to beat Pirate Island (I did enjoy getting up to 12 out of 16, though), and I project I will reach playing 1982 games some time next year, so Xanadu won’t be that far off.

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