Arctic Adventure (1981)   12 comments

With this game I close the book on something I’ve been working on for a long time: playing through all the games listed as source code in the Captain 80 Book of Basic Adventures, as collected and published by Bob Liddil of the Programmer’s Guild. We’re not quite done with Liddil (he put out a later volume for C64, Castles and Kingdoms) but still, given I technically started the book with Adventureland in 2015, it’s the ending of a long trip.

From the aforementioned book.

I ended here — and saved this game for close to the end of my 1981 sequence — because the source code wasn’t anywhere on the Internet, so I knew I would need to type it. I got part of the way through, but one day I noticed a website

arctic81.com

show up on my arrival links for the blog. Clicking curiously, I found the original author (Harry McCracken) had revived his game and wrote about it in detail, and made a version playable at that very link!

So, no typing the entire chunk of BASIC source code after all. Not today, Satan. Also, rather vitally, the author discovered that the source code contained a bug that made the game entirely unplayable, and fixed some other bugs besides. He also added features — it seems mostly to be a slot machine he coded in 1979 — so if I was super-concerned about original authenticity I would go back to typing anyway, but in truth, if there was one bug that likely came from a printing error, other bugs might come from the same source, so as long as I note the major changes ahead of time (as I just did) I feel perfectly comfortable playing the 2021 remix.

Even if you’re not planning on playing the game, I do recommend reading the history rundown which includes nuggets like:

  • Harry McCracken was (and still is) friends with Charles Forsythe (of games like Tower of Fear) and first encountered Bob Liddil when he visited the TRS-80 Users’ Group of Eastern Massachusetts, which met at their school.
  • There’s a largely imaginary bio in the book that claims he was fifteen (he was actually seventeen) and that he took computer courses, played Dungeons and Dragons, and was a science fiction fan (none of which were true).
  • In addition to appearing in the book (which he knew about) he also showed up in the still-mysterious MICRO-FANTASY tapezine (I have never seen any actual copies) but without permission. He only learned about the tape quite recently.

This admittedly falls within Bob Liddil’s self-description as a “hustler and a huckster”.

(I’m incidentally about to describe a “full playthrough”, so if you’re genuinely interested in a 1981 game that has been revised in 2021, you should try playing it at the link above first.)

Moving on to the game itself, it has an odd sort of innovation in not being clear what the main objective is. I didn’t actually know the objective until I had won the game. That sounds “objectively bad” but there’s a sneaky bit of deception that I’ll get into which made the maneuver interesting. (Also: a little bit of shades of Mystery Fun House where I didn’t find the explanatory message until about halfway through.)

In the meantime, you start in an igloo with a coat and shovel. I quickly used the shovel outside the igloo to unearth a large chest containing a wetsuit and radio. (The radio gives random “general help” messages.) The wetsuit was sufficient for me to dive into the nearby (very cold) ocean, but I was stuck floating at the surface. It does the interesting TRS-80 trick of very briefly showing the room description of the place you try to get into before booting you back to the prior location, so some quick screenshotting can be used to get an idea what’s ahead.

Near the igloo is a cave leading down to a polar bear guarding a flare gun, and a locked gate leading farther down. Going in a different direction, there’s an ocean with an ice floe you can ride.

For a while this happened apparently at random, but I think it is simply based on weight being carried. I tried to keep my inventory at a minimum at all times — the map is pretty tiny so it wasn’t onerous to keep dropping things — and I ended up mostly safe after.

This leads to a village with a “small casino” which I gather is one of the new additions to the game, and has a slot machine mini-game the author wrote in 1979 that he pitched in. The casino gives $25 and you need to get up to $40, so playing the slot machine is required. I eventually realized the odds were tilted pretty seriously towards the player, but in my first game I nearly lost all my money. This is a variant on an issue I’ve written about before where if an essential event is triggered by randomness, some players will miss it by bad luck. Here, the luck is more of the accumulative sort, but it’s still roughly the same problem; I thought perhaps I needed to do some serious save-and-reload-game fiddling to get more money before I started having jackpots.

The village also has a “trading post”, “rustic shack”, and “kennel”. The kennel has a trainer with a dog, and is willing to give over the dog for sufficient chips from the casino (this is what the $40 is for, although the trainer doesn’t tell you how much money is needed so I needed to go back and forth until I met success).

Incidentally, the first time I got the dog — which was after a lot of slot machine pulls — I went back to ride the floe back to the starting area and died. Oops.

The shack only had a raging fire (which will be useful later) and the post, curiously, had a storekeeper who says “Drop your treasures here and I’ll give you supplies.” This is the “bit of deception” I was talking about; there are treasures with asterisks around them just like a Scott Adams game (*TREASURE*) and in every other game from the era I’ve played it means the treasures must be dropped in a particular collection area to gather points and win. Here, the concept ends up being similar (you need the treasures to win), but this is not a treasure hunt for its own sake — you’re only dropping the treasures in order get items from the storekeeper to solve more puzzles. The author was playing with the standard form here, but the standard form is so long out of memory I’m guessing it is not obvious for most modern players anything is being changed.

With only the dog in tow, I tried seeing if it would get me anywhere new. The only thing that was new was that the radio — which previously had random messages — gave a message about saying MUSH to go to base. Unfortunately, the dog was not a help at the bear (not like I could blame the pupper) and after enough random meandering I realized I could LOOK IGLOO at the starting place to find an ICE BRICK.

It took me longer than it might normally would to find the brick because the igloo is a place you can GO. The general principle for Scott Adams style adventure games has been that objects that are just “navigation places” don’t contain extra secrets, although it is logical an igloo would have something. What is not logical is that you can remove the brick to elsewhere, go back, and LOOK IGLOO again to have the brick teleport back.

Looking at the brick, the game noted it might be hiding something. I tried BREAK BRICK and THROW BRICK various permutations thereof before deciding the shack with a raging fire would be a help.

Still trying to be careful about inventory, since hopping back and forth between the igloo area and village area requires riding the ice floe.

I took the key back to the locked gate near the bear, and was able to go underwater to grab a *MEDALLION* treasure. There was also a “lost ship” (Charles Forsythe reference, I reckon) with an octopus and another treasure but I immediately floated up to the surface of the ocean when I tried to go in there (the TRS-80 only-show-the-screen-for-a-moment trick again).

Still, I was able to trade the medallion for a harpoon gun. Great! That’d be useful against an octopus … except I can’t get to the octopus without floating up and away.

Really, all I had left puzzle-wise to solve was the polar bear, so I made various futile attempts to deal with it.

The response here reminded me of YOU UNFORTUNATELY ARE THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN BE KILLED from Mummy’s Curse, but without the existential dread.

Finally — and this was the last real difficulty I had with the game — I did LOOK on an item I had got from the very start: LOOK COAT. There were rations in the pocket. Argh!

(Veteran readers may know I’ve had this trouble in Trek Adventure and elsewhere. In my defense: why would you not notice they were there if you were wearing the coat?)

The rations were enough to make the bear happy, so I grabbed the flare gun it was guarding, went out to the igloo, and fired it into the air. A plane came by and dropped off some weighted boots. Kind of a random choice to be helpful, but actually what I needed!

Wearing the boots (and the diving suit, and the coat) let me take on the octopus, and the *ANCIENT RUM* which manages to still be ok despite being underwater.

One last trip to the trading post: for the ancient rum the storekeeper gave me a sled. I had to struggle a little with the parser here; you can GO SLED like a location, and then trying SAY MUSH notes that you have to hitch the dog. HITCH is not a verb I’ve encountered in an adventure before, but the instructions were explicit enough I was able to ride to victory.

I seriously thought until I saw this screen that the base was just a new location and I’d be riding the dog to more adventures.

This was honestly as good a send-off for Captain 80 as I could hope for: not too absurd to figure out, reasonable puzzles despite my inability to find pockets, and a slight twist in the overall structure just for one last iota of game-theory interest. It will not reverberate through the ages, but the whole point of All the Adventures is to try everything, both the grand gestures via epoch-making games and the little moments formed by a high school student’s game being published by random chance meeting only to be unburied 40 years later.

The overall map is nicely compact, which I also appreciate.

Posted September 6, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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12 responses to “Arctic Adventure (1981)

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  1. “…not today Satan…” lol I still can’t stop laughing. Great write up as always. I read the introduction and then skipped the play through as I want to get to this some year lol. You have been a machine of late.

  2. Thanks for the nice piece on ARCTIC ADVENTURE. A few notes:

    —The only *major* new elements are the slot machine and the dog/breeder. After adding the slot machine, I wanted to give you something to spend money on. In the original game, the storekeeper (formerly an Eskimo) brought you out a sled with dogs pre-hitched, which 2021 me found a touch goofy. So I made it one dog, had you buy it, and had it follow you around as a bit of non-generic action.

    —The radio is unchanged from 1981 (except that I added “LISTEN RADIO” as a synonym for “USE RADIO.”)

    —1981 me wasn’t trying to completely obscure the game’s goal. In fact, if you enter SCORE, it tells you that there is no score and that your object is to get back to the base. HELP brings up something similar. I think I was expecting most players to try one or both of those early on.

    —After I relaunched the game a little over a week ago, I was amazed by how much feedback I got. I have been incorporating some of it into the game with additional updates. (After 40 years of it being in print with a typo, it’s fun to be able to make and deploy changes whenever I feel like it.) People have found additional bugs or logic flaws which I’ve then fixed. And I’ve tried to clear up some confusion: I made the HATCH a HATCH IN DECK, for instance to show it’s not the hole you just climbed through from the cave. A friend who isn’t steeped in the Scott Adams playbook was also confused by messages that say things like “You found something” without saying what it was, so I added the specific item in the scroll as well as in the location description.

    —Charles and I decided to insert allusions to each other’s games in our remastered versions, so I made my wrecked ship a lost ship. I also remapped the ship and ocean a bit in a way that feels more logical to 2021 me, and made it so that the octopus doesn’t kill you instantly if you come in from the wrong direction (now it takes a few moves).

    —I put in a few more words people might try (such as KILL) even if they don’t help you make progress. In fact, after seeing here that you ATTACKed the bear, I added that. I also added some additional descriptions, sometimes to help gameplay along and sometimes just for color.

    —I left in a lot of stuff that makes sense (sort of) only in the world of early 1980s text adventures. Why is the key embedded in the igloo? Why does the plane drop weighted boots rather than rescuing you? I prefer not to ask too many questions.

    —I think I’m largely done with major changes, but I do plan to document the code better and make it available, probably on GitHub.

  3. Also, small correction: That’s Bob Liddil, not Lidill.

  4. Oh, and oddly enough, I learned of CAPTAIN 80’S MICRO-FANTASY not from your blog but an ad in a copy of 80–US magazine—one of five I bought for $1 (total) at the Vintage Computer Festival West last month. I’ve only seen ads for the first issue and I guess I’m not positive that even that was actually released.

  5. Mr. McCracken, Thanks for doing this! Took me back! Also, I named the dog, “Harry” and we are best friends.

  6. You don’t need to use the verb HITCH, at least, not in the version I played. EXAMINING the sled reveals that it has a harness, and I then typed HARNESS DOG which seemed logical enough.

  7. I added both HITCH and HARNESS as verbs at the same time, as well as some hints to help people figure them out.

    • Usually I just write and these things fall into the void, it’s uncanny to have the void talk back. Feel free to stick around, I’ve got lots more interesting TRS-80 text adventures to write about (a multiplayer one is coming up soon).

      Also, if Charles ever comes by to look at all this, I really enjoyed Tower of Fear!

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