Tanker Train (1981)   7 comments

THE NEWEST AMERICAN TRAIN TRAVELS AT OVER 400 MILES PER HOUR, AND YOU’RE ON IT. THIS STARTED AS A VACATION, BUT SOON BECAME A VITAL MISSION WHEN YOU HEARD A NEARBY SCREAM FOLLOWED BY QUICKLY SCAMPERING FOOTSTEPS.

Tanker Train — another in the long series of Roger M. Wilcox — is a good contrast to Castlequest, since instead of a sprawling 100 rooms, it only has 14. It’s a very tight, cinematic, and linear experience where you’re tasked with stopping a saboteur and defusing a time bomb.

You start sitting in a cabin seat (holding an FBI badge and a pistol, so we’re only marginally off-duty, I guess), and we hear a scream as mentioned above and stand up to find a dead body.

Like all the Roger M. Wilcox games, this was originally on TRS-80. I had trouble getting that version working so early on I switched with his modern port.

This is admittedly one of the most puzzling parts of the game — we wouldn’t notice someone else in the room coming in? Wouldn’t the murderer at least notice us and be concerned?

And unfortunately, things don’t quite hit fast-paced from here, because I was terribly stuck for about 10 minutes. You can go back to the original seat you start at an open a window, but try to go through and your hands slip and you go flying out at presumably 400 miles per hour.

I made a verb list testing my standard words

DIG, CLIMB, READ, OPEN, RUB, SIT, POUR, JUMP, PUT, TURN, MAKE, MIX, EXAMINE, SHOOT, GO, SHOW

and while this turned out to be useful later, I was still lacking the right word to get started: FRISK. (Just random inspiration I tried it, but I remember now it was used in a prior Wilcox game, so I have now added it to my standard verbs-to-test list so I don’t get stalled the same way again.)

The body had a credit card, a leaflet advertising a different Wilcox game even though they were still all private games (“GET ‘THE VIAL OF DOOM’ ADVENTURE FOR YOUR TRS-80!”) and a helpful note.

The card works to open the door, revealing a coal fireplace and a fire extinguisher which can be applied to it.

IT’S A GOOD THING THIS IS AN ELECTRIC TRAIN!

I suppose 400 miles per hour on coal-burning would be tricky. The burning leaves a pile of ashes, and DIG ASHES reveals a bent piece of metal, and here I was stuck again for a while longer until I just rammed through the entire list of verbs and found RUB ASHES was useful as well — it meant that I was taking the main characters hands and covering them with ash. (I guess that’s correct syntax, but not usually the way the word RUB is used, so it didn’t occur to me. An odd bit of gameplay where slight variants of action based on the same verb can cause confusion — RUB is usually used to activate magic rings and the like in adventure games of this period.)

Moving on, the ashes were enough to give me a solid grip climbing out the window, and I was able to walk on the train to another car and use the piece of metal to break into it. (OK, it really can’t be going full speed, I guess then.)

Then I was able to drop into a car with a security guard and show my FBI badge.

HE SAYS, “PASS,” THEN LEAVES.
IN THE DISTANCE YOU HEAR A THUD, FOLLOWED BY FRANTIC SCURRYING.

Moving on, there’s another security guard, but trying to show the badge this time doesn’t go so well.

Yep, that’s the saboteur. You’re supposed to shoot him instead. Then just behind him you can find a ladder leading to an open valve (TURN VALVE closes it) and the time bomb. My first thought was to pick it up and take it somewhere to throw safely.

Fortunately, past the bomb there just happens to be a secret lab where you can mix some nitroglycerin. Taking the nitroglycerin back to the bomb and pouring it (as long as you’ve closed the tanker)…

…and victory!

Really, that’s it. That’s the whole game. I said it was short. It still felt satisfying to finish without hints, even if the swiftness of the plot seemed to demand a slightly more expansive parser. It’s the eternal dilemma with action-based text adventures like Heroine’s Mantle — you want to fight a ninja, or whatnot, but spending five minutes to communicate just how you want to disarm the blowdart mangles the atmosphere. Fortunately, with this game the big stopping point was right at the start.

Posted April 14, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

7 responses to “Tanker Train (1981)

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I remember complaining that FRISK had no business being in a game that didn’t have a police kind of theme. Well, I guess I’ll have to let it go in this case.

    If you could use indirect objects then RUB ASHES ON HANDS would make sense. I guess that’s what we’re meant to picture, if it improves your grip (like gymnasts’ chalk powder).

    I’m… skeptical that pouring nitroglycerin on a bomb and then standing right there is any safer than just picking up the bomb was. And what was supposed to have set off the nitro? The movement of the train, maybe? (Didn’t they do this on Mythbusters and find that in many cases it was a lot harder to set off nitroglycerin by impact alone than cartoons would have you believe?)

  2. >> “I’m… skeptical that pouring nitroglycerin on a bomb and then standing right there is any safer than just picking up the bomb was.”

    I was thinking exactly the same! :-)

  3. FRISK was used in Scott Adams 3: Mission Impossible. This game also included a sabotear, a dead body and a bomb that needed defusing. Maybe there s a connection…

    • I just checked it out:

      I don’t see anything special.
      Maybe I should FRISK him?

      So the original game cues the verb very strongly. Wilcox definitely played the Adams games (one of his later ones has an aspect based on the Savage Island games) so I think you’re right — he picked up the verb as “standard” from here but never went through the extra step of remembering to hint it when it came up.

  4. I can see the logic of the whole “Rub ash on your hands to improve grip, like gymnasts with chalk”. Except… It won’t work. It will do the opposite of working. Ash is SLIPPERY.

    • It wouldn’t, say, absorb sweat if your palms were moist? Whenever I clean ashes out of the barbecue or fireplace it always makes my hands feel very dry and almost “squeaky”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: