Escape from Traam: Finished!   4 comments

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

While playing chronologically can have its charms in seeing author development (Greg Hassett comes to mind) it also runs the risk of leaving a bad impression of a particular author. Escape from Traam has a TRS-80 copyright date of 1980 so has a fair chance of being Jyym Pearson’s first game, even though Adventure International published it after Crowley Manor. I am still frankly happy I got to this one second because … well, let’s just watch it in progress.

Last time I was flailing with nowhere to go. I had found a dark cave where I could CLIMB up to a cabin, but no other leads. I was making a conjunction of two wrong assumptions, such that the combination got me stuck.

1.) I assumed the cave, being dark, couldn’t be mapped by dropping objects — this is true for a lot of other text adventures.

2.) I assumed, after enough testing and finding CLIMB always went to the cabin, that was the only outcome.

The dark cave is composed of two rooms, where nearly all exits go loop back to the starting room where CLIMB goes to the cabin. I realized this by testing assumption #1 on a whim, and once I realized there was a second room, I found out that the second room has a different message for CLIMB: YOU’LL FALL.

Some fiddling with the parser later: LOOK has you bump into an object, then TOUCH OBJECT reveals the unknown object is some STEPS. So you can explicitly go CLIMB STEPS. (Notice how the climb in the other case does *not* use a noun. The game is very inconsistent about if a noun or an indirect object is needed and much of my flailing later came from this problem.)

The steps led to an inscription which read THE ALCHEMIST in the same crypto-language as the other messages. I could then go down a hallway and climb up back to the starting ship, which “rolled over” — I guess it covered the exit I went out of? I was then able to find a SILVER KEY there.

The silver key worked on the locked trunk in the cabin, where I found a dictionary and an alphabet which explicitly gave part of the crypto-language. Since I already had figured it out I didn’t need it. (This seems to be a common theme through cryptogames in games we’ve seen so far — both Pyramid and The Domes of Kilgari featured cryptograms I solved before coming across a clue to said cryptogram.)

So in a way, I felt like I had just traveled in circles with no progress. I kept poking around until I tried to DIG GROUND WITH FROND in the inscription room above, revealing an altar and a silver cup. “The alchemist”, aha! I went back to the silver stream and filled the cup, then tried pour it on the altar and the game just has you stumbling clumsily and the water pouring out to no effect. Huh.

After a few loops of frustration, I tried walking out with the filled cup to find a cave-in where I normally went back up to the crashed ship.

Oho. Pearson definitely has a very set scene sequence for this game, so even though there’s no particularly logical reason for the collapse to happen when it does, it’s there to reveal the next piece of the game. The floor (as seen in the graphic above) has a lead brick, so you can pour the cup to get a gold ball.

Fortunately, the cave-in didn’t block the only exit — you can go back through the cave and the cabin still — so I took the gold ball back to the alien who wanted gold, and dropped it.

Climbing the tree takes a one-way trip to a monkey-like creature, who you can pump for information with TALK MONKEY multiple times.

MY NAME IS STAMMD. I SPEAK YOUR TONGUE AND I AM ONE WHO CAN HELP YOU. YOU ARE DOOMED IF YOU STAY HERE. YOU MUST ESCAPE FROM THIS PLANET. YOUR SHIP IS IN ORBIT SCANNING FOR YOU. YOU WERE ON PATROL WHEN YOUR SHIP WAS STRUCK BY A GROUND LASER. YOU HAVE LOST YOUR MEMORY.

How does he know all this? How does he know we have amnesia? How do we not know we have amnesia until we are told about it?

You can keep typing TALK MONKEY but then just get the message, multiple times:

HE SAYS “I HAVE ALREADY SAID ENOUGH TO BE EXECUTED.”

But you still have to keep going, and no, I didn’t realize this on your own. If you keep pestering poor STAMMD enough times he says

FIND KASTAMAN…

which is absolutely essential information, and in fact the only essential information in the entire info-dump. I think the author ran across the opposing desires of wanting a movie-like scene where a friend reveals more to the mystery, but simultaneously tried to fulfill the desire to stuff in another puzzle.

Moving on, there’s a statue with a plaque that translates DICK NIXON, and I’m not going to even try to think about what the author was going for there. What I do want to point out is the above is the result of PUSH STATUE, but trying to PUSH STATUE again does nothing; you have to instead MOVE STATUE. But how is that different…..!??

(Beneath the statue is an insect, which is useful later.)

After that nonsense you come across a forest with a raiding part of Traam. You can LISTEN to get some information about needing to PUSH a PIN on a door, but trying to boldly stride forward farther gets you killed. You can instead CLIMB to get up and across.

As far as I can tell the pendant is a useless item that gets you killed — a traam spots you later with it and asks who you stole it off of.

This is followed by a bit where you go in a storm drain, and run across some deadly poison gas.

I was entirely baffled here, thinking I had pretty much combed every part of the game up to here. This was definitely the inflection point where I went from mostly staying away from hints to hitting the hints hard and often. (Interesting for me how often it isn’t a “natural” progression, but sheer annoyance building up until all faith in the game is lost at once.)

All the way back where I had found the stone cup, I needed to DIG a second time, and I would have found a helmet which protects against the gas. Really?

Look: I’ve certainly played enough games that required digging multiple times maybe that was my fault a little, but there is just so little satisfaction in finding a hidden item that is too far back to be reached in a linear progression. Exploration puzzles are compatible with exploration gameplay; for example, I did find some pleasure in The Golden Voyage where a location yielded more to a second dig. Here the chance of recognizing one’s mistake is incredibly low; the logical thought process has to go from “what to I do against the gas?” has to proceed to “I must have missed an item” and then “I must have missed a SPACE HELMET while digging.” In all seriousness, I could see someone combing over the prior bits of the story and finding their missing object that way, but again, this clashes badly with the linear cinema that this game wants to go for.

Helmet in hand on a fresh game, I was able to get up to the three doors shown above. The LISTEN hint with PUSH PIN applies and I was able to go through. If I hadn’t found the LISTEN clue — and it seems awful easy to miss it — they would get the same terrible loop as the helmet, except this time the resolution to the problem wouldn’t even be an item!

Oh, and then I ran across a human slave in a uniform that warned me the Traam were going to get me so I shot him.

Keep in mind when trying to shoot anyone else the game just says you’re too nice to, or trying to shoot an object claims the gun is jammed. I had no idea the gun was even working, let alone that the right action here was indiscriminate slaughter.

Anyway, now you can take his uniform and wear it. This lets you get by a Traam nearby and find another slave, who asks a weird trivia quiz of sorts.

The correct action is to say KASTAMAN, although I really don’t know how being from Earth is equivalent to knowing to interrogate a talking monkey long after he stopped wanting to say anything.

Using KASTMAN leads to the man unlocking a door, which eventually (after some puzzles I’m going to skip talking about because I’m annoyed enough as it is) leads to a library with a locked book. You need to BREAK LOCK to see some critical information.

UNHOOK AUTO PRESSURE, LIFT DECOUPLING RING, AND PUSH THRUST BAR

After getting that info, there’s not much more to do other than find the exact right room to enter so you get captured rather than killed by the Traam. I don’t know why they capture rather than kill in one specific circumstance.

Since the aliens helpfully leave you with your stuff, the insect (the one retrieved from retrieved from under the statue of Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States) is now useful:

This lets you find a crack in a particular block that can be pulled out. Then you can crawl and climb down to a dark area where there’s a SHARP OBJECT. LOOK SHARP OBJECT reveals the object to be a spike…

…and I sure hoped you remembered to take the NYLON ROPE with you, because I didn’t! (There is an inventory limit, so you just have to vaguely guess what still needs to be toted along with you after you use it.)

Almost there! Tying the rope to the spike leads you down to a ship; escape involves repeating those directions from earlier (UNHOOK AUTO PRESSURE, LIFT DECOUPLING RING, AND PUSH THRUST BAR)…

…and then activating a beacon once in orbit.

A little compare and contrast — the other Jymm Pearson game we’ve seen, The Curse of Crowley Manor, was much more effective. Why?

It still had, for the most part, a linear setup, with small pieces of geography revealed for each new part of the plot, but

a.) the puzzles weren’t heavily dependent on having to restart because of a missed item; only one item (a vial at the very start) was easy to miss

b.) the parser wasn’t as egregious; I don’t recall guess-the-phrase showing up anywhere

c.) it handled the narrative in much more deft way, with bodies slowly revealed at the start, and info-dumps that more or less made sense — I’m still not sure why the monkey creature knew so much, how the “amnesia” was even relevant, and why they were so reticent to convey a critical piece of information, and why that piece of information proved the main character was from Earth

d.) it doesn’t require shooting a random person

Fortunately, things with Jyym Pearson get more interesting from here; his other 6 games we haven’t got to yet are allegedly much better. His next game — otherVenture #4 — involves your wife being kidnapped for ransom on the same day as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

We’re going to swerve away from all that for a bit, because yet another lost game from history has been found recently (in a most unusual way) so I’m going to be playing that next time.

Posted March 24, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Escape from Traam: Finished!

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  1. Moving on, there’s a statue with a plaque that translates DICK NIXON, and I’m not going to even try to think about what the author was going for there.

    It’s covering something up?
    It’s tricky? (“Tricky Dick”)
    It is not a crook…ed statue?
    We’re thinking of entirely the wrong Dick Nixon?

  2. Congratulations! It’s all uphill from here.

    The game-breaking bug won’t let you dig up the helmet so it’s a particularly nasty one. If your worst puzzle refuses to work it’s almost as if your parser went on strike, right?

    Remember that mindless repetitions will be useful in the other Pearson games as well but they are much more interesting and rewarding than Traam, I think. “The Institute” is a real gem.

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