Calixto Island (1981)   4 comments

Ron Krebs wrote two text adventures in 1981 for the TRS-80, purely in text: Calixto Island and Black Sanctum. Later he saw the work of Stephen O’Dea and Bob Withers — specifically the game Shenanigans — and asked if his games could be converted in the same way. Since I wasn’t able to find the original of Calixto Island, I played the graphical version instead, and oddly enough, the graphics look … nice? There’s even small animations. From the starting room:

Slightly later in the game:

Now, it helps these games were converted starting in late 1983, but even so, trust me when I say 1983 will have some art just as dodgy as 1981. It’s nice to see something approaching what might pass for modern pixel art.

The plot, unfortunately, likely doesn’t pass as modern: Professor Lagarto has gone missing and we’re trying to find him. We are given an entirely different starting premise in a later port for Dragon computers…

Your object in this game is to find a treasure and return it to its rightful place.

…but both quests amount to the same objective, as you’ll see.

The opening just starts you in the professor’s study, with a bunch of items you can slurp up, in fact more than you can comfortably hold in your very tiny inventory limit of four items: a flashlight, a chest, some glasses (in the chest), a manual (also in the chest), a box of costume jewelry, and the oriental rug from the start, which reveals a trap door when you pick it up. Beneath is a storage room with a tire pump, a bucket, a mouse trap, and a hidden switch which leads to a lab.

Remember back during Timequest where I said the time travel device might as well have been a teleporter? Well, this one’s an actual teleporter, although it only goes to and from one place.

I got stuck for a while here because I could only go west (to that animated path with jungle growth I showed off earlier). Is the intent really to have GO HILL be a hidden exit, or was this an interface failure?

There’s some fairly staightforward puzzles around here I won’t belabor, and someone in a “grass shack” that wants to trade.

The trader fairly specifically first wants the rug and then the wooden chest (interesting insofar as those didn’t originally seem like typical “useful” objects for solving puzzles but I was fortunately being a packrat). You can get some keys and a machete in the process. After you’ve traded both objects the teleporter disappears.

The disappearance is relatively subtle and I admit I didn’t spot it until I tried GO DEVICE and got confused from its lack of presence. (I mean, OK, it’s large on the screen, but I had reached the point where I was on autopilot-navigation mode through rooms I had been through before.)

This sequence is interesting and mysterious but kind of odd in that the keys go back to the desk at the start of the game and unlock it, revealing a microfilm.

It must be buried at the pagan idol on Calixto Island. If you find it, put it in my study.

Spoilers, the machine appears back again after you retrieve “it” — I’m not entirely clear why — but assuming a player who has to wait until the end to read the message, it seems like it’s already moot? Seeing the microfilm early requires getting the keys first and trade for the machete later.

Onward: adjacent to the trading shack there’s a inflatable raft that requires the tire pump to INFLATE RAFT, paddles from a nearby maze to go into the ocean…

…and a bucket to keep from drowning. Afterwards:

The “unfriendly natives” are satisfied if you give them jewelry. Then you can head off to the west and find The Professor.

Oops. Guess he’s not coming with us. You can apply a shovel to dig both the idol and the grave. The first digging reveals a pot, the second reveals *Montezuma’s jeweled crown* — that is, our object. The only problem is, the natives from earlier are observent:

Yes, they deflated the boat and are waiting for you. I died the first time through here because I didn’t tote along the tire pump. If you hurry to inflate the raft you can rush off the island to safety, head back to the study, and “win”?

So, let me recap the plot to make sure I have this right:

1.) You start looking for a missing professor, and find a teleporter that goes to some islands.

2.) On the islands, you find a set of keys, one which fits the desk back at the start and reveals a microfilm that for some reason informs you that the item you are looking for should be dropped off in the study.

3.) You locate Calixto Island, and find the grave of the Professor. Buried nearby is a crown that you are allowed to take because a microfilm told us to? And the natives aren’t happy with us taking it, which sounds kind of like “stealing”?

4.) Then we deposit the crown in the study of a professor we know to be dead, and “win”.

OK, I’m being a little harsh here, but the game really seemed to try to have a twist, so it was hard to ignore. I am glad the natives were not gullible rubes, and I suppose in some sense the game went out of its way to highlight we were being amoral. It’s interesting that the Dragon instructions are defensive that we’re to “find a treasure and return it to its rightful place” — it is of course possible that being buried on a beach isn’t its rightful place, but I’m pretty sure the professor’s study most definitely isn’t.

Nitpicks aside, I appreciated a game tilted to the easy end, and art that was genuinely nice to look at. I sometimes stopped just to watch the animated clouds float by.

That’s despite the shadows going in multiple directions.

Posted November 30, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Calixto Island (1981)

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  1. The graphics do look unexpectedly nice. I really like the art style, to my eye it has aged better than Sierra games or SAGA/OtherVentures.

    • I’m going to compare in a little more detail when I get to Black Sanctum (which won’t be long — I’m going to do one all-text game in between and then hop back). The On-Line stuff used vectors to keep file sizes down, whereas the Mark Data games used compression that was able to be decompressed on the fly.

  2. Those natives, oo er.

    “Jeweled crown”? Hmm… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moctezuma_II#/media/File:Moctezuma_II.jpg

    Are we supposed to picture this island as being geographically anywhere in particular (off the coast of Mexico, perhaps?) or is it just Exotic Location #2?

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