Colossal Adventure: Finale   7 comments

(You should make sure you’ve read the three prior posts in this series before this one.)

I want to emphasize how big a game this was for Europe. For people without mainframe access (most people) there were many ports of Crowther/Woods Adventure to choose from, but Level 9’s in particular was everywhere. This is the Adventure a lot of Europeans remember, either in the original text only version or in the graphical Jewels of Darkness version which collects the first three of Level 9’s regular text adventure games (I’ve been playing the latter).

If you’re fond of those “family trees” which show games branching into other games, this is one of those nodes. When Aventuras AD made a port in 1989, eventually making themselves a big name in Spain, they referred to Level 9’s port. See below the picnic area which was invented by the Austins to fill in the outdoors:

From this Youtube playthrough, and thanks to Ruber Eaglenest and baltasarq for mentioning the game.

I was looking forward to the extended endgame, given the regular game proper fixed both the all-different maze and the dragon —

INTERLUDE MODE ON

Ah yes, the dragon. I left that bit out last time. Here is the classic presentation:

KILL DRAGON

WITH WHAT? YOUR BARE HANDS?

YES

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE JUST VANQUISHED A DRAGON WITH YOUR BARE HANDS! (UNBELIEVABLE, ISN’T IT?)

I realize this delights some theorists; Aaron Reed has written about it positively and Jonathan Lessard waxes about how “the game breaks from convention, demanding that the reply be read literally and allowing the player to accomplish a task that would be impossible in the game’s diegesis.”

I call rubbish. The “with your bare hands?” looks to be entirely rhetorical and the prompt is mashed with the UI in such a way that is unfair. I am backed up by an authority of none other than one of Crowther’s daughters (whom the game was originally written for). Quoting Dennis Jerz:

When asked what her father thought of Woods’s expansion, Laura (who became a middle-school science teacher) said, “I remember being extremely irritated by things like the pirate, and Dad saying not to blame him, it wasn’t his fault!” Sandy (who became a Sun Solaris administrator) has vivid memories of being “addicted” to playing the Crowther/Woods version when she was older; as a child, she remembers mostly being frustrated by her father’s version. When asked about her father’s reaction to Woods’s expansions, she recalled: “I got stuck with, ‘Kill dragon.’ ‘What with, your bare hands?’ You have to say, ‘yes.’ I remember my father saying, ‘That was Don Woods.’”

Here is how Level 9 does it:

This significantly changes my major beef with the puzzle. The Level 9 version changes the nature of the prompt to clearly be a yes or no question. There’s still a moment where you have to declare, yes, I am going to engage a dragon in fisticuffs, but there’s no underhanded UI that needs to be reckoned with.

INTERLUDE MODE OFF

— so as I was saying, the fixes were well-thought out, and despite the misstep of dropping the inventory limit, I thought the endgame would get the same treatment, and there was no way the endgame could get worse. Yet: I also had dread, knowing endgames of the past, and worried that the endgame would somehow get worse.

The elf doesn’t necessarily appear in the building — it’s just a timed event after you’ve escaped the cave. The “make sure to rescue ALL the elves” line is important.

Shockingly: they made it work. There’s one bit with a maze, I’m sad to report. (I’ll spoil it right now: when you get up the top of the ladder, just go east and down. That’s it.) Otherwise this really does make a much nicer denouement than the original, which to recap, dropped you in a pair of rooms, asked you to decipher that A BUNDLE OF BLACK RODS WITH RUSTY MARKS ON THEIR ENDS meant dynamite, and you could say BLAST (entirely unclued) to set them off, and for some reason the command worked even if you weren’t in the same room as the dynamite. (As I think I’ve observed somewhere in my far-too-many-words on Adventure, the puzzle likely came about because Crowther’s original oddly includes BLAST as a verb with BLASTING REQUIRES DYNAMITE as a response, giving the idea for the endgame without thinking about the fact BLAST is a pretty unusual verb.)

The opening is still roughly the same, although the game quite clearly identifies the dynamite, and if you bother to EXAMINE it, the game will mention the word BLAST on the side.

The only somewhat cruel thing is the four inventory item limit cropping up again. The lamp must be obviously carried, but of the keys, sandwiches, black rod, pillow, and small axe, which three must be carried? (There’s a little leeway because it turns out you only need two.)

As the mention of the water indicates, the plot continues: you’ve started a flood.

Now you need to outrace it, so there’s a bit of time pressure, especially for the next part which has the maze I previously mentioned.

A map in case you care, but again, just east and down works.

Once past the maze, I landed in a long corridor with some cells containing elves. Keeping the guidance of the initial elf in mind, I used UNLOCK to free them. There was also, sinisterly, a room with just locked-up skeletons, which I assumed at the time was just scenery.

Further along the corridor there was a gap of the exact same nature as where WAVE ROD makes a bridge in the original. I didn’t have the rod, but fortunately it was a quick journey to redo the section to have it in hand. (I appreciate the callback; not as much the inventory limit!)

This also fits in with Pete Austin’s concern about unnecessary parts of the game — you can skip the crystal bridge in classic Adventure, and you can here, but the re-occurrence means you need to have the puzzle figured out.

Past the crystal bridge is a large up-down staircase. Going to the bottom, you find a jade pentacle and an Elixir of Life.

The pentacle is pretty odd; after picking it up the lamp goes out, and I spent a while wondering if I perhaps missed some extra timed event. However, this isn’t the case: the lamp has essentially unlimited fuel at this phase of the game. After some painstaking experiment I realized

a.) the jade pentacle counts as a light source, and you can leave the lamp behind

b.) you can carry the lamp additionally, but the lamp must be turned OFF, otherwise it gives out darkness which cancels the jade pentacle

This wasn’t hard or upsetting and is the sort of magical experimentation I can stand behind; many times I’ve commented on the absurdity of magic systems in adventure games where you wave Bauble X in an entirely random location and there’s no “physics” to work out. Here, there’s a “physics” of sort to work out. Even if it is counter-intuitive and unusual, it seems at least appropriate magical and can be worked out without lawnmowering (that is, without having to test an item everywhere).

The water’s still been chasing you the whole time. There’s a door leading in the staircase you need to close too, because otherwise you get swept away by a combination of water and lava. (The picture shows the result of having the tower sealed off successfully.)

The top of the tower has a Pinnacle but leads nowhere else. At this point I was fairly stuck so I spent a long time contemplating what to do with the Elixir, thinking perhaps I needed to make myself temporarily immortal and hurl myself off the tower. However, JUMP and related actions on the Pinnacle don’t work; kind of surprising, in a way, given how willing the game was to let us step off a ledge at the start.

I went back over the map and considered all the parts I hadn’t solved yet. This included not quite finishing the maze (which I went ahead and did, no dice) trying to see if there was some secret right at the start with the dwarves and all the items, and more or less futilely beating on walls.

I then thought back to the skeletons and realized that I needed to rescue “ALL the elves”.

The most satisfying puzzle of the endgame.

The path of going to the tower and back means you get the seal off the tower from the lava with only a few turns to go. I was stuck with the jade pendant, the weird darkness-emanating lamp, the keys, the rod, and either a sandwich, axe, or pillow (again, it turns out that item doesn’t matter, but I didn’t know it at the time). I finally got around to testing every exit in every room of the staircase and found a secret side exit to a spider area, which had an orb, scepter, and crown, as well as a spider in the middle.

There’s a spot where you can climb up the middle but the spider follows you if you try and the weight is too much. If you wander outside the web, though, the spider follows as well, “staring at the pentacle”. You can pitch the pentacle off the top of the tower and get rid of the spider at the same time.

You incidentally don’t need to have the lamp figured out until this moment, since the pentacle has been operating as an alternate light source. I originally had the lamp dumped in the basement and was stuck here because I didn’t have the light to go back down.

The rest of the game is smooth coasting. Without the spider following you can crawl up to a passage and eventually back to the main cave (which was satisfying! this wasn’t just sealed off from the main gameplay section, but secretly unified).

That last image is in the main cave; you surface in the reservoir, another of those “unused locations” that now is given a purpose (irresistibly to authors; it is one of the most modded parts of the game; even Don Woods himself added something there in his “version 2.0”).

Not sure where the missing 20 points went, don’t care.

So to summarize the narrative: you still blow up the dwarf area like normal, but this lets forward a flood of water you have to outrun, freeing elves along the way (and re-incarnating some) before finally climbing out to the main cave, and the exit one last time.

Regarding the graphics (this part technically only applies to Jewels of Darkness, not to the Colossal Adventure original): the overarching system really is well-coded. While the re-draw speed isn’t super fast for images, you can type as the game is drawing so you don’t have the “slow-trudge” effect of travelling from one end of the map to the other. The graphics aren’t quite the quality we’ve seen with Lucifer’s Realm but the Atari ones are attractive enough. If you haven’t noticed from my screenshots throughout, the authors do wrangle some trickery together, I assume to save space: many parts of images are reused.

Here is a pit from the All Alike maze:

Here is the same pit recolored in the water maze of the endgame:

Most people associate adventure games with bespoke locations (not considering the more out-there games like Asylum), so it was interesting to see a game lean in to the idea of re-use.

(Also, could someone explain the bizarre blue border that shows up in the Amiga version? Does the blue look darker on a real Amiga screen, or did people just accept everything being surrounded by blue?)

This was a solid start to a storied company, which is good, since we’ve got two more of their games fitting into 1982. I was most impressed not by the new large chunks of territory but by the minor fixes; it’s one thing to feel grumpy at the dragon puzzle and decide to rewrite it entirely (as was done in Bilingual Adventure, adding the sword Excalibur) but a thing much subtler to simply tweak the parser prompt. Another nudge was writing BLAST on the dynamite, which managed to keep the spirit of the original puzzle while make it genuinely solvable. It requires careful design sense to fix a problem with a slight nudge in the right direction rather than wholesale replacement.

Posted August 30, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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7 responses to “Colossal Adventure: Finale

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  1. I understand it was interesting to have the game ported to smaller systems, however I don’t quite get why every company (including aventuras AD), chose to create it’s own version to begin with their production.
    Again I understand this was the first adventure game, but honestly I regard it more like a starting point better than a story of reference.
    So, treasure collection was a start, but I found it the less interesting of interactive stories.

  2. Fantastic reading!!!

    Some more notes on the Spanish Aventura Original. I think way of getting rid of the dragon is different there, and more to your liking. But I won’t spoil that 1989 game.

    But I think the joke is better with “with your bare hands?” In the level 9 the puzzle is sanitised, but it lost some of its punch.
    Also, your complaint about being mixed with the UI is unfair because in those times it was the first adventure, so there was not convention formed yet, so very likely players would stop, think and answer yes or no
    Anyway, opinions…

    That is, fantastic article. I think you are going to enjoy a lot future level 9 games, because the logic of the layout of the land. The are very complex territories, but very satisfying to traverse and learn about.

  3. Not sure if this has been thought of before, but do you think Crowther intended “Blasting requires dynamite” as a cheeky response to “BLAST” being used as mild swearing? (I believe the default reponse to “BLAST” in Inform 7 is “Quite,” though they may have taken out all the swearing responses now.)

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