Jungle Adventure, Part I: The Elephant’s Graveyard (1981)   6 comments

I submitted my first adventure to Cload, a cassette based magazine for the TRS-80. They had previously bought some of my other games (non-adventure games), and they snapped up Frankenstein Adventure. Several months later, it appeared in one of their issues. My first adventure! Within a matter of days I started getting letters. Everyone loved it. I got letters from all over. I even got letters from other countries. Some were in foreign languages that I couldn’t read, but had to have interpreted. Some people would ask for help. Others would simply write expressing their appreciation for the thrilling experience. And although the volume of letters dwindled, I still received letters for many years after that, as copies of my program continued to be circulated.

— From an interview in Syntax, Issue #32

John R. Olsen’s previous work, Frankenstein Adventure, was one of the more solid BASIC-only games I’ve written about; it had an interesting plot hook (a descendent of Dr. Frankenstein fulfilling his legacy), mostly thematic puzzles, and a slight twist at the end with a satisfying puzzle to finish things off.

I’d say I was consequently looking forward to his next adventure, but I still was tentative given it is set in Africa and “based on the jungle settings of the Tarzan novels”.

Via Ira Goldklang. The Elephant’s Graveyard, aka Elephant Adventure, aka Elephant Graveyard Adventure, aka Jungle Adventure, Part I: The Elephant’s Graveyard is on side 2. They really weren’t picky about titles in this era.

The game includes a scene with a village of Central African Foragers, or “pygmies”. In the relevant Edgar Rice Burroughs book:

That is until one day when a Bantu Pygmy came into their territory hunting and killed Tarzan’s ape mother. Crazed with grief, Tarzan followed him back to his village and discovered that these natives were warlike pygmies who killed and ate apes! Sickened at the gory sight, Tarzan decided to rid the jungle of these wicked Bantu Pygmies.

This only mildly resembles what happens in The Elephant’s Graveyard, but I wanted to make the source material clear.

“Bwana” is a Swahili word that doesn’t have a great equivalent translation. I’d call it somewhere between “Mister” and “Sir” (here’s a recent use). It sometimes gets used to refer to animals. In the Tarzan series it ends up being a generic term used to refer to Europeans.

I wouldn’t really call this a Treasure Hunt in my plot categorization (that is, Crowther/Woods Adventure gather-the-loot style), in that there is only one treasure, ivory from an elephant graveyard. You start outside a trading post as seen above, the trough contains water, and inside there is a “revolver” and “bag”. Throughout the entire game there is a very fast “thirst timer” where you die after 9 moves without drinking water. Early on I kept having to send “scouting” runs to look over the map and try to get back to the trough in time to drink the water until finally realized I could PUT BAG / IN TROUGH to fill it with water. (FILL BAG just states “I don’t understand you” and other permutations don’t work, so I assumed the bag was one that wasn’t watertight.) Once the water-filled bag is obtained the thirst timer slows down considerably.

An example of the fast thirst timer. This is only two locations away from the start with the good water. The bad water here made me suspect (while I had discarded the bag as a water-holding possibility) there was a way to “purify” the water and the idea was to “leapfrog” from water site to water site. The red herring here had to be intentional.

Early on I dispatched with a crocodile (see above) and a boa constrictor with my revolver from the Trading Post, but got stuck on some cliffs I couldn’t pass (they were meant for later) and a village with skulls on poles outside.

We are in a Pygmy village. We see:

A large group of PYGMIES.

One of the skulls is the key for getting by.

They’re not being murderous, which is an improvement over Tarzan, at least.

This is followed by a wall with some stones (which I realized after some time I could BURN things with, more on that in a moment) and a scene in an “ancient temple” with a “witchdoctor”.

You can just grab the map and go; snakes appear after an extra turn, but they (and the sealed door) are both red herrings.

The map reveals a secret pass at the cliffs I mentioned by the trading post (typing FOLLOW MAP is the required command, which is one of those verbs I’d have a difficult time with for except I’ve seen FOLLOW used in Lost Dutchman’s Gold).

This leads to a small mountainous area with a charging lion (revolver required, for the third time), some vines, a river, and a waterfall. Behind the waterfall is a dark cave. The vines and some grass can combine to MAKE TORCH, but then comes a dilemma:

You can’t take a torch or anything that can be used to make a torch through the water without it being ruined. This involved a level of re-appropriating an item for a different use that was sneaky enough I had to stop playing a bit, and logical enough I was able to realize the solution while away from the computer.

The bag had been serving as a water container, but since it’s watertight enough to keep water in, it’s watertight enough to keep water out.

Having found the graveyard and grabbed the ivory, I thought it would be a quick matter to victory as all that was needed to take it back to the trading post, but the game had one last wrinkle.

Looking at the map, there are two ways back to the “Foot of Mountains”, which is just a room away from the “Trading Post”. However, both possible exits aren’t possible to go through while just holding the ivory as the ivory is too large: going up from the hidden valley is too steep, and you can’t swim across the river either.

I did know — from previous experimentation after knowing MAKE was a verb — that MAKE RAFT was parsed correctly (although it indicated I didn’t have the supplies). I figured I could get more vines, but I needed some sort of logs, and here was stuck enough to check hints (the only time I needed to).

Remember those skulls on poles where the sacred skull scared away the villagers when it touched the ground? You can get the poles.

This is not only problematic from the amorally-grab-the-sacred-items angle, but in a game design sense prior objects that could be manipulated always were written in ALL CAPS. The poles are the exception.

This is sufficient to MAKE RAFT, which you can then put the ivory on to get past the river and make it to the trading post and victory (or “victory” depending on your perspective).

I will say, relative to other BASIC TRS-80 games we’ve seen, this is skilled design. There was some thought put into the simulation aspects — of water, of fire, of environment — such that solving felt like a rich enough experience that I could experiment (this is despite a very small set of allowed verbs!) Very particular items are flammable, for instance, and you can die by setting a grass field on fire while you are standing in it.

Hence, I’m still anticipating reaching other works by John R. Olsen, although I’d rather get back to works not with inspiration in Tarzan novels. (Part II of this particular series, at least, won’t hit until 1982, which we are lurching ever closer to.)

Posted August 22, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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6 responses to “Jungle Adventure, Part I: The Elephant’s Graveyard (1981)

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  1. Wow! this really was not as bad as the inspirations suggested!

    Glad the game did not become genocidal, like Tarzan, or Mario.

    • What’s interesting here is unlike our other nonviolent examples (I went into a big list writing up Dragonquest) it isn’t like the revolver was a red herring (or used in an unconventional way, like disassembling the revolver for gunpowder) — it gets used three times on wild creatures and is relatively satisfying. Just it doesn’t get used on people.

  2. I think that the key to success of this game is the balance between story and puzzless. This is actually really difficult to achieve, it does not matter the year, the tools you use, or whatever.

    • Olsen clearly has the knack (with a sample size of 2) of making puzzles feel thematic (where solving a puzzle is the same thing as doing a plot beat) and not superfluous.

  3. I’m guessing you meant to write “descendant” instead of “ancestor”. It would be difficult for one of Dr. Frankenstein’s forebears to fulfill the legacy of a member of the family who had yet to exist.

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