Adventure (Program Power, 1982)   8 comments

Explore the tortuous forests, dark caverns & castle dungeons. Beware the maze of twisting tunnels and the desert wastelands. Outwit the predators. Rescue the PRINCESS and carry off the treasures.

Ad from Computer & Video Games, April 1982, back when the game was called Atom Adventure

Lucifer’s Realm, two games ago, was wildly untraditional in setting. Castle Fantasy, the last game I wrote about, was wildly untraditional in gameplay. I figured since they’re hanging out on my list and need to be fit in sometime, I should try a game that’s the opposite direction, and super-traditional in both respects. Enough so that the actual name of the game is Adventure, as written and programmed by a mysterious J. Spilsbury.

The traditional-ness held for about halfway through the game until things started to seem a little awry, eventually landing on an absurdly meta puzzle which stretched the relationship between player, avatar, author, and narrator past its breaking point.

From Gamebytes.

Micro Power was another one of the software publishers in the UK that operated out of an independent computer store (the last one we looked at was A & F). In this case they had a shop in Leeds and was run by the Managing Director Bob Simpson (you can see a picture of him here). An interview by Richard Hanson (who published with them before going on to found Superior Software) notes that

Bob was one of the first people in the UK to appreciate that home computer software was going to become a very big profitable industry.

Early on Micro Power published games as the label Program Power before eventually just slapping Micro Power on everything. They started by specializing in programs for the Acorn Atom, before expanding to the Acorn Electron and BBC Micro once those computers were available. Adventure was released for all three.

Art from the cover of the Electron version of the game, via Acorn Electron World.

The most unusual thing about the packaging — and may be it isn’t so unusual for UK 1982, but I just haven’t played enough games from the year yet — is that at least the BBC Micro version came with an insert meant to be slipped in the keyboard, for hotkeys on some commands.

Otherwise everything was presented as very standard — you need to collect 7 treasures, plus princess — and at least some printings included “hints”, possibly to forestall people getting stuck, akin to how enough people got stuck at the maze in Wizard of the Princess that On-Line Systems included a hint card just for that puzzle.

Stories that you should read during your adventure include Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and Aladdin.

Rats are afraid of owls. Owls are afraid of the light.

I did dutifully try out the very first version, for the Acorn Atom…

Asking if you are a wizard is a tribute to the original Crowther/Woods Adventure only allowing play during “off hours” on valuable mainframes: “Only wizards are permitted within the cave right now. Are you a wizard?” The original let you type YES and a password. This game also asks for a password, but there is (according to people who have looked at the source) no password that works, so this is just a goofy tribute.

…but ended up settling on a version for the BBC Micro with some fixes to the text by The 8-Bit Tinker (so it wraps properly, and uses case) and the addition of an actual end state; the game normally doesn’t recognize you’ve won. I’m honestly fine with all uppercase, and I’m fine with just realizing I’ve won rather than the game telling me, but having words wrap over improperly is a pain in the neck to read, so I’m grateful for the modified version. The added end state part affects the meta-aspect I was talking about (affecting the “message” of the game), but I’ll discuss that when the time comes.

Moving on! As shown above, just south of the starting place is a “lost luggage office” with keys and a lamp outside. I went through most of the game without realizing IN worked as a command, and in fact tried to futilely drop treasures outside the lost luggage office and be baffled at my score going down. There have been, in very few cases, were IN and OUT count as standard directions like N/S/E/W, but this game didn’t do a great job of announcing that. Notice how the strip of paper setting hotkeys only has the cardinal directions.

Just north of the office is a closed-off cavern.

You are near a closed cavern entrance. A road runs off south into the distance

Moving farther gets the player into a forest maze, which is just as tiring as ever. There’s an axe hiding within, as well as a precipice which sticks the player there forever, unless they try the command GO BACK. (In other words, not a puzzle as so much as an oversight / bug.)

A bit more wandering let me to think I wasn’t missing any exits, so I circled back to the cavern entrance and remembered the explicit hint given by the packaging (as well as Time Zone using the same command).

Some definite weirdness here: the game should already know I have a LAMP in inventory, why did it need to ask? And if you say NO, it tells you to check your inventory, indicating it already knows. Going north again leads to a frog:

Given the Roberta-Williams-style fairy tale reliance (thinking perhaps the princess was a frog), I immediately tried KISS FROG.

Oh yeah? you are thrown out of the adventure by order of the wizard.

I marked this as an odd little joke and moved on, toting the little frog on for maybe a magic potion or eating a fly or some such.

Adventure-tribute signals continued, like the cage for catching a bird in, so I dutifully picked it up expecting a bird.

Look, oil. That’s for filling our lamp when it runs out, just like Adventure 500, right?

I had in the back of my head — keeping in mind the hint about Aladdin — that RUB LAMP would be useful somewhere. I had the good fortune of this being the first room I tested it out in, it just felt like magic had to happen here. The rubbing turns out not strictly necessary; it lets you skip navigating a maze, but you have to go in the maze anyway to get one of the 7 treasures of the game.

A very random and obnoxious one, as well, where I found the only treasure quite early (a pearl) but still had to map the rest to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. There were additionally many more rooms than items so I had to do exit-testing on unlabeled rooms in the hopes that I would be able to figure out where they were relative to other rooms I was able to mark with objects (that is, test to see if south goes to a room I was storing, say, a glass slipper in — if so, then I could assume it is the same maze room as a previous one I had found where going south also led to a glass slipper).

I found a ming vase (a treasure from Adventure, again, it breaks if you DROP it, but LEAVE works, and why are these British games assuming DROP means “drop violently”?), a hostile rat, and a “cobwebbed lair” with an owl that flew away from my lamp. I tried in vain to turn off the lamp before entering, but you fall in a pit and die if you attempt that. The owl flies into the maze and I was able to after some experimentation have the owl “run away” but randomly locate itself in the room I just entered. Then I tried to CATCH OWL or TAKE OWL or USE CAGE or the like but kept getting rebuffed by parser errors.

A bit more wandering led me to a “castle of a black wizard”. It had wine in a bottle and a plant underneath a hole, and original-Adventure style, I was able to drink the wine

Thanks. Thersh an old mill by a shtream, nellie….Hic!

and fill the now-empty bottle with water (from back where the frog originally was) and use it to grow the plant into a beanstalk. I could then climb the beanstalk to find a diamond, another one of the 7 treasures, and an empty bedroom.

The black wizard castle was otherwise mostly empty, no wizard. Adjacent to the castle was a sleeping dragon; going farther led to a “rocky landscape” and a maze of desert that turned out (I found out later) to have no exit and was entirely meant as a trap.

My confusion went for a while longer, but I think now is the best time to mention that in addition to the desert being useless, the cage I tried to trap the owl in is, in fact, also utterly useless. The oil is useless, the lamp goes on forever. The scarf from the start of the game is useless. And the frog, that I got booted for kissing earlier? The right action was to KILL FROG.

The green frog turns into a beautiful princess and runs off

The princess runs to one of the empty bedrooms at the Dark Wizard castle so you can pick her up. If you drop her she just runs back to a bedroom again.

To handle the owl, you don’t take it at all. You can go to that hostile rat I mentioned earlier, turn off your lamp, and HOOT.

I found this whole sequence baffling since there was no room past. Was this a useless puzzle? I eventually found out IN works here (notice “near” a peculiar little room) even though typing IN gives no feedback until you LOOK.

For all this being lost, I was eventually able to acquire 6 of the 7 necessary treasures and get back the princess. While doing so, the parser started giving off strange messages in the middle of everything, like:

You are a persistent little…

or

Let me think about that…
Dear me! I dozed off

the latter which pauses until you hit a key. It went (upon taking a treasure)

Your next move is so obvious that I shall not mention it

even though the game had already not been stating anything upon picking up an item from the very beginning of the game. In other words, the game had to specifically program itself saying something when it would by default be saying nothing!

All this weirdness affects the very last puzzle, which I don’t think is solvable without poking at source code. Instead of just using GET to take a treasure, you need to at some point STEAL one.

This is the only way to get to this room! If you have the keys on you from the start you can easily let yourself out. This is the only method of getting the golden ring.

If we just interpret what’s going on in the physical space, there’s no way to distinguish GET versus STEAL: the player is just taking the item. The only way to get the send-to-Dungeon flag to trigger is to declare intent as if this was stealing happening, like the Wizard is watching from behind the electronic screen but normally gets too sleepy to pay attention to what’s going on except if you use the magic word STEAL.

I mentioned the port I was using fixing the ending. In the version I played, dropping the princess at the lost luggage area gets:

The princess gives you her heartfelt thanks for rescuing her from the clutches of the Black Wizard, and invites you to a banquet to be held in your honour.
CONGRATULATIONS!!

but remember, this only occurs in the ported version! If you drop the princess in the published version she just runs back to one of the bedrooms. Given that she runs “into the dark” this was probably just a bug, but it still felt weirdly apropos to have the princess be, strictly speaking, impossible to rescue as if she doesn’t want to be rescued.

I really got the impression that the wizard was the narrator the whole time, and this was some sort of lark on his part.

You can get out of this by typing WAKE UP.

The puzzle with the owl definitely indicated some sort of intention on the author’s part to be wry rather than just lazy (although I still suspect some element of “I’m out of my 12K of space, this is good enough”). And while the “wizard” has the say most of the time, the programmer does poke out once themselves, if you try to swear.

Posted March 31, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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8 responses to “Adventure (Program Power, 1982)

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  1. The owl puzzle has me suspecting the author played Adventure II. As a refresher/reminder, see https://bluerenga.blog/2015/12/19/adventure-ii-finished-sort-of/

    • That’s definitely cadging the puzzle. The spider is from that version of the game too.

      It’s interesting that the nature of the puzzle is made slightly different by cutting the bird that the cage gets applied to.

  2. The section above the function keys where you could slot in a piece of paper/cardboard to label them was one of the many, well-thought-out aspects of the BBC Micro . That’s where the insert, you included a picture of, would go.

    Other British computers didn’t have this… but you do still get some similar extras packed in with some games… The ZX Spectrum, for example, wasn’t blessed with a proper keyboard (like the expensive BBC computers) but its chiclet keyboard could be easily labelled by dropping a suitably matching punched-out cardboard ‘keyboard overlay’ over the top.

    Overlays and keyboard strips tended to be more commonly found in education/productivity software or complex games like RPGs and simulations. I don’t think you’ll encounter too many in text adventures in the years to come.

  3. Odd that the game recommends you read Aladdin/Ali Baba, when both of the references it includes are very common in pop culture (and in adventure games) and yet the frog puzzle seems to have a much more uncommon folkloric source. Given the fact that the correct action is “kill frog”, I think that including “The Frog Prince” as part of the reading list may have been more helpful.

    Why? In the Grimm’s original version of “The Frog Prince”, the Princess throws the frog at a wall and he turns into the Prince. The kissing motif was only added later. Perhaps that’s what the game was going after? I wonder if some variant of “Throw Frog” would work?

  4. That is a curiously Asian-style dragon on the cover. That’s a fairly rare thing, even today, and in Asian countries.

    Please tell me that you accidentally left on the one-way arrow function in Trizbort and that it isn’t supposed to look like that. That might just be the cruelest maze ever made if it is.

    Morpheus Kitami

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