Treasure Island Adventure (1981)   2 comments

All videogame genres have norms; some are obvious (first-person shooters using WASD keys) and some are less visible (the lack of softlocks in modern adventure games). They can, of course, evolve (see softlocks in older adventure games) but they can feel as organic as the air, and it takes a off-kilter game that violates the norm to make them apparent.

The first two of the Softside Adventures of the Month (see: Arabian Adventure, Alien Adventure) both cadged liberally off movies, and I can tell you from peeking ahead that the September through December 1981 installments do relatively the same, but Treasure Island Adventure is a one-off: a traditional treasure collect-a-thon. It’s also Pete Tyjewski’s only game.

Softside, August 1981.

The “goal” is simply to find the pirate’s treasure, and if you want to declare victory with just that objective, you can. There’s a traditional building-with-vault to stick it in.

However, every single item in the game counts for points. So if you’re actually going for a maximum point total (258), you’re scavenging everything to bring back, not just ostensible treasure items. Specifically, the treasure chest is 50 points, three other treasure items are 20 points each, everything else is 2 points each. Oddly, some of the 2 point items are described as treasures, like a gold ring or a gold shield, equal to the “garbage” items which also count for 2 points, like a parchment giving the author’s name.

This is deep in the game, and the author’s name isn’t given elsewhere.

In addition, the game adds a point for every room visited (like Adventure 500) and it has a point bonus for finishing within a certain turn limit (like Adventure 430); handling both and getting all the items requires some serious routing.

Above-ground is very, very, plain, and establishes a minimal room-description style.

The only items are a keg of “whale oil”, a lamp, and some matches; those all go together to make a light source (FILL LAMP / LIGHT LAMP) which I’m fairly sure is unlimited.

Incidentally, the verb list is very small; other than lamp lighting, you can move around, pick up and drop, examine things, read things, and say words. That’s it. The experience is akin to Chaffee’s Quest (1978) in being mostly exploration and finding a treasure, but the game manages to eke out puzzles in the form of requiring items to be held for certain effects, and two magic words.

The sparse style is thrown for a loop by a couple rooms inside.

I think the norm being broken here was something like “at most 4 objects to a room”. A snath is a handle of a scythe.

I admit being somewhat boggled when I first hit these; I had spent a long time making my outdoor map (I still can’t guarantee it’s error-free) so the transition to having a cavalcade of items was both notable and confusing. Especially because so many of the items are “useless” except for the 2-point count. For example, in the Armory, the sword is useful, and only the sword.

This sword is magic
The runes say

I’ll get to the meaning of that in a second. There’s a gold coin two rooms away with a similar message (accompanied by an absolutely useless coil of rope).

The coin is magic, the runes are:

Map-making remained slow because directions were usually but not always mentioned in room descriptions, which means I had to keep testing them all. Eventually I came across a maze, and progress was even slower. (I would say this was penance for skipping the maze in Castles of Darkness, but I had played through this part before Castles. I had shelved the game a while due to exhaustion before I got back into it two days ago.)

Inside the maze I found … nothing. Absolutely nothing. Similar to Microworld, this is because there was going to eventually be an object in the future, but I still felt a sliver of despair upon mapping the last unmarked exit with nothing to show for my efforts.

Another section of the map led me to Hell.

Hell is kind of tiny. Must be the Sartre kind of hell.

You need to have asbestos boots to cross a red hot iron bridge inside. (Just in your inventory, they’re apparently assumed to be worn — as I indicated earlier, tiny verb set. Compare with the bit in The Golden Baton where I got messed up due to having an invisibility cloak in inventory but not being worn.) Within Hell there’s an arch which requires a wizard outfit. Specifically: a robe, hat, and the 2-foot rod with a rusty star; yes, you use it as a costume, not as a magic item.

When I attempted to go farther the game said “You must have known a pirate and have a treasure to enter.”

Off in another direction there was a “scholar’s cave” with a treasure map, a book, and a parchment. Here’s the map:

The parchment is the author credits I mentioned earlier; the book translates the sword and the coin.

If you have this weapon, and say vargay, no door will ever, bar you way

If you have me with you, and say valoor, I will reveal, A secret door

The map indicates where to try VALOOR:

This led me to the desired treasure chest.

You are in a little nitch

There is a very large treasure chest here

Upon which the game threw another curveball similar to Quest: the routes back were either blocked by the wizard, who had come back…

…or used holes that the chest couldn’t fit inside.

I wandered a bit and the pirate came to steal and re-hide his treasure.

Suddenly Long John and the pirate leaps out of the gloom and takes the treasure

HAH, he shouts, found me treasure, did you. Well this time I’ll hide it better!
He dissappears into the darkness with the treasure

Fortunately, I had already mapped the maze, so it was a straightforward matter to reach the “more secret” hiding spot and get the treasure chest back. The chest is fortunately only stolen from you only once. (Aside: although we’re really the ones stealing the chest, right? I’m sure the pirate didn’t get his bounty through bake sales, but I get no sense the protagonist has a noble cause in mind.)

Having both the chest in hand as well as the encounter with Long John, I finally was able to go back into the lounge of Hell.

I’ve been taking a pass commenting on typos, but I can’t resist pointing out buccaneer is spelled wrong twice, and in two different ways.

This led to a (mercifully) tiny maze and an alternate exit which bypasses the wizard giving a straight shot to taking the chest to the vault.

The other valuable treasures are a Ming vase (it’s the Adventure puzzle where you have to drop a pillow first), a crown (that you get from a cage of the wizard that locks behind you; you use the magic word on the sword to get out) and an anvil (which if you EXAMINE tells you it’s secretly golden, which sounds kind of not-useful for an anvil).

When Dale Dobson tried this, he took a crack at optimizing, but threw in the towel. I tried a little, but unlike Madventure, it started to feel tedious rather than a tight puzzle; so, I’m going to stop here as well. I will say I appreciated the sheer oddness of a treasure hunt that was both simultaneously sparse (only 4 “meaningful” treasures) and packed (every item gives points) at the same time, where weapons are useless for killing, where one of the main antagonists only appears as something to avoid, and where a heavily restricted verb set nevertheless put forth a few tricky puzzles.

Posted November 22, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “Treasure Island Adventure (1981)

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  1. Wow, the level of detail given to the rec room and throne room (less so the armory) is, uh, it’s, er, interesting.

    A snath is a handle of a scythe.

    Ooo, a new word! This seems like a pretty deep cut (NPI) of English vocabulary.

    “Long John Lindy the software pirate”? (And then “Long John and the pirate”?)

    Archie’s Place. Really? Okay.

    • It took me about an hour of gameplay mapping outside before I got to the rec room, so, yeah, “interesting”. Closest comparison I can think of is the volcano in Adventure but that didn’t have any De Sade references.

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