Sleazy Adventure (1981)   7 comments

To recap our misadventures with Atari and the APX catalog, the entire 1981 library consists of

Castle by Robert Zdybel
Alien Egg by Robert Zdybel
Wizard’s Gold by Unknown
Wizard’s Revenge by Max Manowski
Chinese Puzzle by Dennis Koble (haven’t played this yet)
Sultan’s Palace by Dennis Koble (haven’t played this yet)
Sleazy Adventure by Bob Smith (today’s selection!)

Wizard’s Revenge is the odd one out; it’s the only one that followed the APX tagline of “User-Written Software”, as it was originally given away as public domain (under no title at all), resulting in the author being contacted by Atari and the game being added to the catalog in December 1981.

However, all of the other games share the same internal Atari text adventure engine, written by Larry Kaplan, who also worked on the operating system for the Atari 400/800 itself (with David Crane and Alan Miller). All games share the issue of having “initial descriptions” of objects not necessarily match their real names, …

From Alien Egg. The correct action is TAKE SPACESUIT.

… a slightly erratic verb list (TAKE but not GET, TURNON and TURNOFF as single words), and a generic message of “THERE IS SOMETHING IN YOUR WAY” on exits that are blocked off for puzzle reasons (without much help as to what is causing the blocking).

According to Bob Smith, making a text adventure with the engine was something of a rite of passage for new programmers at Atari, and he produced Sleazy Adventure the first few months he was there (before eventually finishing the Atari 2600 game Video Pinball before striking it out on his own and helping form Imagic). The concept came from his younger days when built catamarans in San Francisco and “knew a lot of smugglers”; a group of “hippies” were building boats at the time, and “about half” were interested in smuggling.

You’re really into sailing. Not only do you spend all your spare time sanding and painting the hull of your thirty-foot sloop, but you’ve taken out three mortgages on your home (and an your mother-in-law’s as well) to pay far your dream boat. You suspect you might be going under when your bank starts foreclosing on your home and all your creditors are asking to be invited for a sail. A rich sailing buddy has recently purchased a sixty-foot cutter, currently moored in Thailand. Desperate to make a quick haul and also keen for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to sail a cutter, you volunteer to sail it home for her, thinking you can bring back a little contraband while you’re at it. She agrees that you’re just right for the job and pays your way to the Bangkok International Airport. From there on, you’re on your own. Before you attempt to find the ship, hoist the sails, and head out to sea, you need to explore the town to discover what’s worth taking along. The problem is, Bangkok is known for being a contraband capital. The more you try to take, the greater risks you face, customs officials being just one of them. You’re probably in deeper than you bargained for, but just think about all your creditors if you need a little motivation. Good luck!

Stated faster: you land in Thailand and need to sail a friend’s ship home, and you can (optionally) get some “treasures” to take home with you. It’s the Treasure Hunt genre (from Crowther/Woods Adventure, Zork I, Warp, etc.) but with customs agents involved.

Here’s a video of actual Thailand in 1981:

What follows does not resemble Thailand in 1981. It does not even resemble a random foreigner’s impression of Thailand in 1981. It’s more like a satirical mashup of every pop-cultural notion of Thailand except the protagonist is taking the same drugs that Hunter S. Thompson did in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is appropriate as Mr. Thompson will be making a cameo.

“You wonder why you came” is decidedly odd for an adventure game of this era, and resembles the parts of Aldebaran III where you “play a character”; the game, after all, is putting thoughts inside attributed to “you” such that “you” are not really you.

Incidentally, the HINT command in this game is custom for each room, and if you type HINT here:

You can here because there are easy, but illegal, ways of obtaining wealth.

The above is the only depiction of the main portion of Bangkok (that is, the majority of the video above if you watched it). The “bad water” stereotype is still around; in 2014 in Phuket improper waste handling caused black water:

Tourists simply do not go to that end of the beach and long-tail boat club members have to stand watch on the beach and warn local children not to go in the water. Contact with the water, the boatmen said, results in itchy skin … Tourists staying in the hotel nearby walk to this point on the beach and then, when they hit the wall of smell, turn around and walk away.

There is nothing useful here to do except go down in a sewer.

The flashlight lets you move forward into the “city cesspool” (see image at the top of the post), where you’ll be stuck. Now is a good time to mention the game’s deeply odd verb list, that you can get from the manual, and includes:

CONTRACT, DROP, EAT, GRAB, HOIST, HUMOR, MOVE, READ, SAY, SELL, STEAL, STOW, STRIKE, TAKE, TURNOFF, TURNON, WRAP

“HUMOR”? “CONTRACT”? STOW, HOIST and WRAP also seem like normal verbs, but I don’t think I’d yet seen one in a game.

Trying to leave indicates “SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY”; based on the text, that “something” would be the nurses. You need to get yourself unsick. The typhoid is still in your inventory…

YOU ARE CARRYING:
FLASHLIGHT
TYPHOID
POISON

…so the correct thing is to simply DROP TYPHOID. Cured! (“You improve 100 percent, and are able to walk again.”) Then you can escape, and the only reason for the whole sewer sequence was to pick up some poison. The world is “open”, so to speak…

…but for the purposes of the journey here, let’s suppose you go west into an ALLEY.

I’m just going to assume the protagonist is completely high from this point.

You fit right into the supposed atmosphere by immediately coming across a drunken sailor and stealing their wallet.

Assuming you want all the treasures. You can skip quite a bit of this, which I’ll get to at the end.

The wallet can be used to bribe a nearby “waif” to make it to a hovel with a mysterious package.

You also need one more thing from this area, a map in order to get past a forest to your boat, and this part isn’t optional.

I feel safe in declaring that this is the only time in adventure game history that the necessary command is HUMOR PERVERT.

Out from the “sleazy” area, you can visit a lumber mill and pick up a bundle of ebony (just a treasure on its own) and get lost in a forest.

This is where the map is necessary. You can then go east, visit a beggar, drop them a coin, and get a mantra; the mantra gets used immediately after with some monks.

This is the third and last treasure, which turns out to be a gold buddha. The package and the ebony are the other two.

Going south in the forest gets to the boat. (You can skip everything except the map and go straight to the boat if you want to skip the treasures.)

Remember, the author used to build boats, so the world model here is fancier than you’d expect from a bare-bones Atari 400 game. Directions now switch to port/starboard/forward/aft, and to get sailing, you need to raise two different sails in different places (JIB and MAINSAIL), you need to hoist a jib after finding a mooring line, and you need to use a compass to set sail.

Each direction command now represents traveling a giant chunk of map. It only takes 6 or so commands (jumping between entire continents in single bounds) to arrive at San Francisco.

Above is the result of my first traversal (I didn’t find the buddha the first time, otherwise the IRS would be there too). I forgot the “smuggle” part of smuggling so the ebony and package attracted some unwanted attention. (How did the agents know to show up? I’m assuming the giant spans of time where just going EAST hops you from the Indian Sea to the Pacific included a few stops for supplies that got elided in the gameplay.)

The key here is to clear out a secret shipping area (there’s a rat, the poison from the sewer gets rid of him) and use the WRAP and STOW commands I mentioned earlier to hide each of the three treasures.

Doing the trip again with everything properly hidden led to a better ending.

Remember, this was published by Atari in 1981, the richest videogame company in the world (Washington Post headline, November 8, 1981: Warner’s Atari Video Games Are a Rocketship to Riches). This was originally a “private” game which only got unearthed because the APX crew was desperate for product; the initial APX catalog allowed for a bizarre stab in the dark to go commercial.

(Thanks to Kevin Bunch who helped on finding a source.)

Posted June 29, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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7 responses to “Sleazy Adventure (1981)

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  1. It’s all here… open gutters, starving dogs, nightly killings.

    >TAKE NIGHTLY KILLINGS

    Did he write a game about drug smuggling that never mentions drugs, or was it Atari that changed it to incense and Buddhas?

    • Pretty sure based on all the descriptions of low-effort handling of APX this was dumped as-is from the Atari server with no editing. (And drugs are mentioned on BACKSTAGE, at least! But yes, Hunter S. Thompson is very interested in your … incense.)

      • Oh! Right! The drug midget. How could I forget?

        (It was blasted out of my mind by DROP TYPHOID and HUMOUR PERVERT.)

  2. So where did the “I Intentionally Contracted Typhoid In A Bangkok Sewer And All I Got Was This Lousy Poison” poison actually wind up being used?

  3. The implied world-model in the CONTRACT TYPHOID stuff is very strange.

    “A rare, costly, and potent incense.” Suuuure. *wink* The boy “assur[ing] you” it’s incense seems like an in-universe code-word; that the game wants you to keep calling it that in commands is a bit odd. If it’s “fragrant” I suppose we’re meant to think of opium? (Heroin isn’t fragrant, is it?)

    (A bit of a tangent, but in the US at least, though it varies state to state, various sorta-psychoactive plants including things like dried opium poppy pods are quasi-legal to sell as long as it’s “not for human consumption” and so often they are marketed as ostensibly being curios, for decorative purposes, or “incense”.)

    I feel safe in declaring that this is the only time in adventure game history that the necessary command is HUMOR PERVERT.

    Missed opportunity on the part of Softporn Adventure or LSL…

    How did the agents know to show up?

    I expect they’re just on hand at points of entry. Why they would have heard of rumors of you specifically is a little odd, but maybe they have agents watching activity over in Thailand?

    • I assumed marijuana for the package, but opium would also be appropriate for that part of the world.

      re: how the agents find out about you, I was definitely being a little flippant, insofar as the items *have* to be in the secret compartment, even though at no point does the ship get searched. I can think of the IRS showing up as shorthand for the process of what landing at a port looks like as opposed to realistically how the process would go, which would be kind of dull. Although your drugs would have to be kind of epic for Hunter Thompson to show up personally.

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