Trash Island (1981)   1 comment

Roger M. Wilcox bequeaths us one more set of games to (finally!) round out his 1981 selection. They were originally a trilogy. The original titles are

In Search of Trash Island
Hidden City of Trash Island
Escape From Trash Island

although the first two he later combined into a single game, Trash Island. A password from that game is needed to go onto the last one (which I’ll play next). And in case you’ve lost track (and I know I have) these are games #16, #17, and #18 of his complete collection of twenty-one adventures which started in 1980 with Misadventure and were never “published” until recently, except for uploading adventure #7 (Vial of Doom) to the Internet sometime in the 1980s.

The opening gives me a Where the Wild Things are feel, although rather than a sailboat, we’re going to escape our room and put together a speedboat.

After escaping is a fairly small area where the goals are to a.) gather items to form a speedboat b.) gather items to form an engine for the boat and c.) make a shovel (which won’t be used until arriving at Trash Island).

One of the items is glue, and I’ll let you guess what the result of PRESS BUTTON is. Ew.

Weird concept here: you find a sign about dropping *TRASH* but in this particular area there are no items marked with asterisks, that is, no treasure. It took me a while to puzzle out what was going on, but fortunately (as you’ll see shortly) when I finally had my vessel ready I grabbed every item I could in case it was a one-way trip, including the sign. Given that Escape from Trash Island is the last title I had the (correct) guess that it would be a one-way trip.

I did my usual technique of rattling down a bunch of verbs that I’ve seen before, and it turned out to be super useful in this game. I didn’t know what to do with the skeleton until I hit upon SHAKE; sort of a meta-solve, since I wasn’t shaking as an intentional action, but as an attempt to try everything. (The skeleton key is incidentally useful for opening a “fiberglas” factory which has some of the materials for the speedboat. With those materials plus the glue…

…you can MAKE the boat. MAKE is another case where I was just running down a verb list and found it useful, since the game takes MAKE on its own (and explains you don’t have enough material yet, assuming you’ve done the verb early). This meant I knew one of my goals fairly quickly. FIX I was productive with in the same way (I could FIX a broken engine) as was CONNECT, where I attached the stick and the scoop (from one of my earlier screenshots) to make a shovel. I wasn’t even thinking about those two objects going together at the time, but I’d rather the game err on understanding more than I really typed in as opposed to being too stringent and not understanding when I’ve clearly typed the right command.

With the engine (which you can fill with gas) and the motor you can be on your way, although it took poking source code to realize the correct verb for getting the motor running. (I even tried REV MOTOR but somehow didn’t come across START.)

This enters “part 2” of the game, and was previously a separate game altogether. There’s just a short area with a beach and the shovel is useful to find some random objects like a “lodestone” and a “bottle of moonshine”. The moonshine can be used to burn away some scrub, although I had parser difficulty in that BOTTLE is treated separate from MOONSHINE.

Past this point the main gimmick of part #2 is revealed, and it is oddly similar to the one from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, except all the treasures are marked with asterisks, Scott Adams style, and they’re all items like a TRASH CAN or SEWAGE. The best moment was having a regular bottle with vitamins that, once used, becomes trash; that is, by removing the “intended use” of the item, it becomes a treasure!

Most of the items are fairly straightforward to find; there’s no convoluted constructions needed, just mapping out a (minor) maze with an in-joke within.

The only difficult part is that it doesn’t appear at first that there’s any good location to do the usual “drop the treasures” gain points thing. However, if you remember, I grabbed a sign earlier that said to drop the trash here; dropping the sign created the treasure room where the sign was placed. Then all the trash in the same place is worth points.

Notice the Hustler tossed in there. No wonder Mother disapproved.

This was all relatively smooth and pleasant so far. It feels like Wilcox maybe got the attempts at trying to be difficult out of his system. (Except for the bit with the sign, which was apparently only added after parts 1 and 2 were combined.) There’s still not much in the Wilcox programming oeuvre resembling complex systems that can really make hard puzzles pleasing — it’s gathering and combining objects — but when the gathering is straightforward and kind of silly it makes for a decent hour’s play.

We’ll see if the finale holds up, though!

Posted November 12, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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One response to “Trash Island (1981)

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  1. The best moment was having a regular bottle with vitamins that, once used, becomes trash; that is, by removing the “intended use” of the item, it becomes a treasure!

    That is pretty good!

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