Arrow of Death Part 1 (1981)   3 comments

From Mobygames.

Previous Brian Howarth games: The Golden Baton, The Time Machine.

This is, as far as I can find from records, the last of the Mysterious Adventures to have a unique TRS-80 version. Just as a reminder (or if you haven’t read my prior entries) the original TRS-80 versions were rather more verbose than the later versions, which were re-written (and later, freshly-designed) to run using the Scott Adams database system. This led to some scenarios where it was easier to solve a puzzle on one version of the game than the other; I simultaneously ran the BBC Micro and TRS-80 versions and hopped back and forth when I was stuck.

I’ll do relatively the same here, but with more emphasis on the minimal version, for two reasons:

1.) Since Part 2 (coming in 1982) will be the ultra-minimal style, I’d rather have my Part 1 gameplay be somewhat comparable.

2.) Due to the recent passing of Sir Clive Sinclair, in his honor I wanted to play this game using the ZX Spectrum version of the game.

By playing on the ZX Spectrum I also can show graphics, but since I have yet to show ZX Spectrum graphics on this blog and not everyone has yet experienced the joys, I need to explain: they look strange for a technical reason. Here, for example, is the title screen for one of the best of the ZX Spectrum games:

This screen does a good job hiding the tech problem, but if you look at the “S” you may notice there is a portion where the white “bleeds over” into the yellow.

Zoomed in. I’ve circled the relevant spot.

This is because, on any given 8 by 8 tile on the ZX Spectrum, only two colors are allowed. So you could have white on black or yellow on black but not white, black, and yellow all the in the same area. This led to lots of clever and not-so-clever tricks of mitigation, and on some games it is clear the authors just gave up and let the colors go wild.

Screenshot from the academic paper Arcade Colour, Illustration and Attribute Clash 1979 – 89 if you want to read about the effect in more detail.

I give all this intro to avoid confusion. I gather my older European audience is just used to this and are waiting patiently for the main show to start, but I assure you for someone not raised on such graphics it looks like there might be some sort of graphical error. Here is the first screen to Arrow of Death Part 1:

This is why, for example, the black lines to the right have interruption around the white, since there’s a portion that is set to show only yellow and white.

The story picks up from The Golden Baton, where the magical gizmo in the title which brings magical prosperity was returned (by yourself) to the Palace of Ferrenuil. An evil spell descends on the kingdom and the Baton, which had previously “shone with a brilliance far surpassing that of ordinary Gold” has now become “dull and tarnished” and and anyone nearby now feels “an almost tangible feeling of hatred for living, growing things.”

The king’s sorcerer, Zardra, tries to study the baton, but has been missing for three days, and there have been screams and flashes of lightning from the castle.

You return to the palace, with a messenger, and the plot picks up — with an interesting jump hinting at a hidden event — at the Courtyard of the palace, with the messenger dead for some unknown reason:

The “text description” screen and graphics screen are separated where you can switch by hitting ENTER, just like many games at the time. The interface “locks in” to either one or the other in such a way that the way to play with graphics is to “peek into” the graphics window at each step to see the new room, then switch back since there isn’t enough information without the text. Another odd side effect of this is that there is a death graphical screen, but you almost have to pre-setup to see it, by switching to the graphics window, typing a command (on an unseen object, location exit, etc.) and have the death occur. It’s weirdly like playing blindfolded. In Saigon: The Last Days there was sufficient text with the graphics to get what was going on, plus you would see the graphics initially upon entering a room.

Taking the messenger’s amulet, it is only a few steps in to encounter Zadra and the Baton. Trying to interact with the Baton kills you. Talking to ZARDRA quickly results in his name description becoming ZARDRA (dead):

He gasps and says:
Magical Arrow…Destroy ZERDON..!
He Dies!

Despite there not being that extreme a difference in plots, I found this opening more engrossing than The Golden Baton’s — just the minor action at the start makes the difference — which threw out a bunch of undigested lore before the quest for the Foozle. Here, I’m guessing the Arrow is the Foozle, and then in Part 2 we’ll need to shoot it in the right direction.

Despite the Baton being deadly on even trying to LOOK at it, it is otherwise safe to explore the castle, and I racked up a few items both secret and not-secret:

  • a hook in a Kitchen (the room was otherwise empty, I had to LOOK KITCHEN, just LOOK wouldn’t do it)
  • a suit of armour (wearable)
  • a sword hidden in a secret passage (enterable by turning a Coat of Arms multiple times)
  • a pillow hiding a purse with coins (the pillow can be cut open with the sword)

The Kitchen, with the hidden hook. None of the items shown can be referred to.

The Coat of Arms, which can be turned to open a secret passage. The graphic is entirely static.

There’s a beggar outside the castle, where if you give the coins you get a Glass Orb and a Note.

When all seems lost.. WAIT!

I’m stuck fairly shortly after that.

I can make my way to a “ledge” and climb up, although the armour is too heavy to go up. There’s a cave up top (findable via rubbing the Glass Orb) but entering it is death:

Serpent eats me!

I suspect either a.) there’s some way to shuttle the armour up, in which case it might protect against serpent-eating or b.) some sort of serpent-repellent or c.) a light source I’m missing. There’s also the ever-classic-for-me d.) I missed a room exit but the game is very tight so I doubt I made a mistake, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

If I get stuck for much longer I’ll break out the TRS-80 version for comparison purposes. If nothing else sometimes approaching in a fresh context can help my brain unlock new puzzle-solving ideas, kind of like how if I’m editing a text it helps to switch devices to prevent my eyes from skipping over typos.

Posted September 24, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “Arrow of Death Part 1 (1981)

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  1. I think you’ll have to go back to the castle, as there is something there you haven’t found yet – you need to search (location name) in a particular place.

  2. Yeah, attribute clash can be particularly problematic (and a lot more apparent) when using the simplistic “line and fill” technique that many 8-bit adventure engines utilised in order to store graphics in the extremely limited memory allocation that was available on tape-based systems. There are some excellent examples of 8-bit “line and fill” illustrations on the Spectrum, but nothing comes close to what the really talented Spectrum artists can produce with bitmap images.

    I do find “Line and fill” graphics wonderfully charming and often quite evocative. I much prefer them to “digitised” images which only, to me, highlight the low graphical fidelity of the old systems.

  3. Pingback: Arrow of Death Part 1: The Edge of an Awesome Precipice | Renga in Blue

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