Sultan’s Palace (1981)   3 comments

From Atarimania.

That rainbow cover can only mean one thing: we’re back to the Atari Product eXchange (APX) series from Atari, and one of the text adventures made using their slightly dodgy in-house engine and where the games were more or less written as private flights of fancy and then dropped on the APX catalog in order to fill in space. (More background about this is at my writeup on Wizard’s Revenge, the only one of the text adventures to be written by an outside party.)

This is one of the two APX games by Dennis Koble, whose Atari credits go back all the way to 1976 with Sprint 2.

From Flyerfever. Kee Games was Atari. Atari made their own competitor. Quoting Nolan Bushnell: “I wanted world domination, and it turns out that there are two coin-op [game] distributors in every city. One would have Gottlieb pinballs, one Williams. We had chosen the best distributors, but the [distributors] who didn’t have the Atari brand were doing everything they could to spawn a competitor. So I thought, let’s make that happen.” The jig was up after 1974 but they still kept making games under their own name for a while.

This also has the distinction of being the only game from Atari reviewed in The Dirty Book, volume 2, number 1 alongside other titles like Zesty Zodiacs, Dirty Old Man, and Softporn Adventure (the latter being a game we still need to get to). Yes, this one was advertised as being Slightly Naughty.

The notorious Sultan Abdul has abducted the sheik’s daughter, Princess Fatima, and is holding her captive while he arranges for the wedding. Gallantly, you accept the distraught father’s plea to rescue the princess from Abdul’s pleasure palace … This is an R-rated Adventure. The verbs are the usual ones, but how they combine with certain objects makes the result quite provocative. This version also has many humorous comments.

As typical for APX games, this has a very limited verb set; including the usually TAKE (no GET) and DROP, you can WAVE, RUB, OPEN, LISTEN, GIVE, ASK, and SAY. (The imaginary verbs TURNON and TURNOFF that are particular for the Atari games are here, but there’s no items they go to.)

Also as typical, some of the room descriptions stylized in quite a particular way —

ENTRANCE HALL
You have entered the Palace and many doors await you.
You have but to choose.

— by what I mean, is they have an odd informality that doesn’t always bother describing exactly but instead try to get across a mood. This is bad in an interface sense (you have to test every room exit, they are almost never described in this game) but allows for some moments of narrative atypical in a 1981 game:

Room exits do have a way of making it difficult to be poetic.

Now, alas, all this is buried in what was surely just an Atari internal whim of a game.

Most of the game’s map, excluding a small mirror maze and underground area.

The protagonist inventory start off empty, except for a pair of pants. I started making a map and scooping up a bunch of items out in the open: a golden lamp, …

… a jar, a pillow, some peacock eyes …

You have to use PEACOCK EYES in full to refer to the noun here.

… a carpet, a “wizened head”…

… and a jeweled dagger. I a ran across a “Fountain Garden” with a closed copper door, a “Concubine’s Quarters” with Salome (who you can take along with you, and doesn’t demand your head on a platter, but more on that in a second), a Harem Room where you get dragged down by “sex starved lovelies” and have to eat peacock eyes to get the strength to escape, and a “Sultan’s Bedchamber” where I knew one of the exits was blocked off because when I tested going WEST the game told me — in the ambiguous way of the APX library — SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY.

A bit more wandering and I realized DROP PANTS had an odd effect:

DROPPED
THAT HAS NO EFFECT HERE

Ah-ha! Given the promised content of the game, this ought to have an effect somewhere. Indeed it does, in the Palace Guards Brothel, where for some reason a woman does “unmentionable acts” while saying the word SHAZAM.

This word is for the copper door, but it isn’t quite useful yet — the game says you need to have something else for it to work — the something else turns out to be the princess you’re rescuing. A bit more searching and I found that Salome, who I was still toting around along with the dagger, jar, etc, says the word SESAME if you ASK SALOME while in the Sultan’s Bedchamber. One OPEN SESAME later:

Waving the jeweled dagger somehow works here (ATTACK, THROW, and the like aren’t even verbs).

The Hydra recognizes the jeweled dagger as belonging to its master and in its confusion moves out of your way.

This leads to an underground corridor with a more or less straightforward walk to the princess, with a boulder blocking the way.

The “you must do something gain her trust” is pretty interesting — one of the items I’ve described already works (LAMP, SALOME, CARPET, JAR, HEAD, DAGGER, PANTS, PILLOW, SCIMITAR) — can you guess which one?

?GIVE HEAD
The Princess now likes you and will go with you.

Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, from 1507-1509, by Andrea Solario.

So, to break this down, this is simultaneously

a.) impressing a woman with a head picked off from a “Chamber of Horrors” with “objects of ghouldom”

b.) a reference to the story of Salome, who (at the coaxing of her mother) requested the head of John the Baptist from King Herod

c.) the sex pun

d.) a weird out-of-body experience, given Salome can still be in the protagonist’s inventory when giving over the head, and then they can carry both Salome and the Princess at the same time.

With the princess rescued, the word SHAZAM works to leave to victory.

The Orientalizing was uncomfortable, the sexual references were just odd. I’m not sure to whether to be impressed or horrified. The Dirty Book was not impressed: “very mild inspite of the enticing advertising and promotion”.

At the least, this was a window into what the computer industry was like when they didn’t bother screening content or doing any bug-testing whatsoever. We’ve only got one APX game left to go (Chinese Puzzle) by the same author, so we should enjoy (“enjoy” ?) the slightly askew products while we can.

(Thanks to Kate Willaert who pointed out the existence of The Dirty Book, and writes things at A Critical Hit!)

Posted October 3, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “Sultan’s Palace (1981)

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  1. Some of the prose is interesting, but the lack of research is betrayed by the name of “Sultan Abdul”. In Arabic “Abdul” means “servant of the…” and is not used as a name by itself, but is followed by one of the traditional 99 Names of God (or “Allah” itself, resulting in the name Abdullah). Though this mistake is a very common one in the sort of Orientalist work this game is clearly drawing from. (See also Lovecraft’s “Abdul Alhazred” for a long-standing example.)

    On the other hand, the hero starting with only a pair of pants in his inventory reminds me of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s 1924 silent film The Thief of Bagdad, which is a delightful film even all these years later.

  2. Peacock eyes? Like literal bird eyeballs, and not the eyes in the tail feathers? Ew.

    Harem Room where you get dragged down by “sex starved lovelies”

    I don’t think this sultan knows what a harem is supposed to be for.

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