Archive for the ‘alien-adventure-chou’ Tag

Alien Adventure (Chou, 1981)   11 comments

We’ve had quite a few games by teenagers now, enough so that it’s hardly a surprise when I unearth another one: Alien Adventure is a TRS-80 game written by Thomas Chou,

SOPHOMORE 1980-81
WARREN CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI

What has been surprising so far is a lack of teenaged “voice”. Barring spelling and grammar errors; the sheer minimalism enforced by computer limits has led to relatively brisk prose. For example, in the game I just played, Interstellar War:

A missile streams out from this space ship, and misses the enemy ship!
The enemy ship returns fire with its own missile!
Your point defense laser system knocks it out of the sky just in time before it reaches you!

Compare with the stand-alone story the game was based on, that is, what the teen-aged author Roger Wilcox was like when he didn’t have to worry about character limits.

“Then what are you waiting for?? Send out an anti- missile!!”

The helmsman didn’t waste time in responding, but simply carried out the order. The small missile streaked toward its intended target, but instead of exploding when it hit, it…melted! That thing must’ve had a temperature of over three thousand degrees celsius!! As the thing continued to race toward Zelta-Dee, the commander gave the order to split it with their most powerful microwelding laser. The laser went through it as a sword through butter, but it did not split in half— instead, it reassembled into a long, narrow cylinder. Now it became obvious—yes it was matter, but in the form of a very hot liquid or gas— probably liquid. The commander made his biggest defensive order: “With the only exception being life support, divert all power to the screen!”

In Alien Adventure, Thomas Chou jettisoned some typical parser amenities (you’ll see specifics shortly) for longer text, but that resulted in a very, ah, high school sophomore kind of read.

Before the game proper even starts there’s an “intro” file which gives credit to a “Cord Coslor” in addition to Chou, asks the player PLEASE INSERT 25 CENTS and prompts the player to type the number 25, and then has a long screen before the game proper starts.

Now this reminds me of the writing of teenagers; the rambling tone, the bragging about the BASIC being machine language quality, the “SINCE YOU’RE CRYING NOW JUST FORGET IT YOU BIG BALL BABY” line and the “MWA” at the end.

The game asks your name and if you’re male or female, and then it’s off to the mission:

The game strongly hinted (in that long opening) you needed to HIT DOOR, so I was quite baffled when I HIT DOOR and the game responded “What ?”

This wasn’t an error message. The parser asks for the verb and noun separately. “Your command” is not referring to a full VERB NOUN combo, but just the verb; then it prompts “What ?” where you enter just the noun.

This was an absolute pain and I kept accidentally typing two-word commands the entire time I was playing, then having to type the noun again. An example from later in the game:

THERE IS A HEAVY DUTY FLASHLIGHT HERE.

Your command ? GET FLASHLIGHT

What ? FLASHLIGHT

(This is incidentally the approach some early Japanese adventure games used, since parsing Japanese is difficult and really only managed successfully when SystemSoft made ports of Infocom games in the 90s.)

Back to the opening: after HIT and then DOOR:

You’re dropped in a space station with lots of bodies and aliens that attack at random.

You have a gun (from the start) which you can use to teleport but not kill the aliens.

There are at least two sepulvadites; a male and female version. Remember, the game asked you to choose a gender at the start; if you are the opposite gender of the sepulvadite you are facing, you can KISS / SPULVADITE to drive it away.

They’re strictly hetero; if you try to kiss the male alien when you’re male or female alien when you’re female, you’re told “Being a member of the same sex, it (Luckily) shows no interest in you.”

Placed randomly, the first floor of the station has a silver knife, a key, a flashlight, a battery, a root beer, and glasses.

The glasses can be used to read a message on the wall.

To escape, you need to get into one of the “hidden passage” rooms using UNLOCK / DOOR followed by OPEN / DOOR while holding a key. Inside the hidden rooms are dark, so you also need a flashlight and a battery and then the commands TURN ON / FLASHLIGHT.

TURN ON I needed to dive the source code for; I was under the impression all verbs were single word commands, so I tried LIGHT (as works in most games) but no: it has to be specifically TURN ON.

Once inside the hidden passage, you can try CLIMB / ESCALATOR but sometimes it doesn’t work and the game says “No”. I don’t understand why; when this happened I would wander the station a little and come back and try again.

The second floor has three escape ships. The goal (according to the source code) is to find the correct one of the three ships, TURN ON / SHIP, and fly to victory. I’m saying “the source code” because I never quite managed it, possibly due to a bug.

The problem is when entering the ship room the game is programmed to make the protagonist thirsty.

While dying from thirst, the player can’t use the ship. I drank root beer which had a message indicated the effect was cured, yet the effect kept going. So I suspect there’s a bug here.

I might be missing something. There’s a room with a voice saying DRINK ME

a similar one with a voice saying EAT ME, and a moss that complains about being dry.

However, I haven’t been able to get anything useful to happen at those places, and death results in a reset with the strange non-working escalators, so I’m past my patience enough to throw in the towel here. The alien eats well tonight.

(Still, there’s always someone from my audience who is curious, so you can play the game online here or read the source code here.)

Posted July 7, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

Alien Adventure: A Sadistic Exercise in Not Giving Feedback   2 comments

Matt and Brian Decker poked at the source code of Chao’s Alien Adventure enough that I decided to make another try.

This was perhaps a mistake, or at least for me. For you reading this, it might be entertaining.

TRS-80 Model III, picture by Zalasem1, CC BY-SA 4.0.

AS A COPING MECHANISM FOR HOW BAD THIS GAME WAS I’M GOING TO WRITE RANDOM STUFF FOR CAPTIONS, OK?

The main thing I was missing was I needed to take the glasses (used to read the message in the opening) up to the second floor. Even trying to do so presented some difficulties.

When toting around the glasses, I tried to get the silver knife.

THE KNIFE GENTLY LEVITATES AND FLOATS OUT OF YOUR REACH.

IT COMES BACK TO REST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM.

This apparently only happens when you’re carrying the glasses, for no clear reason at all. (The knife, incidentally, can be used to drive away the sepulavite instead of the gun, but you have to use the verb KILL instead of STAB even though both are recognized. STAB sometimes works but sometimes it randomly fails.)

ZUB ZUB ZUB ZUB

The glasses also can’t, again for no apparent reason, be carried up the escalator to the second floor. The game just says “No” if you try with no indication that the glasses are the problem. It also just says “No” if you don’t have the knife, or you haven’t visited some of the rooms (?) or if the phase of the moon is wrong and Mercury is out of alignment.

You have to THROW / GLASSES to get them up the escalator.

The glasses let you see the items at the FEED ME and DRINK ME spots upstairs.

The EAT ME spot had a hamburger. The glasses also let you spot a magic cape which (when carried) causes the aliens to be scared away, so you don’t need the gun or the knife anymore after that.

Last time I was stuck at getting overcome with thirst upon trying to get to a rescue ship. The beer was the right beverage (not the root beer, even though the game describes you drinking the root beer). However, DRINK / BEER just gets I can’t. Matt W. sleuthed out that you needed to open the beer first, but OPEN / BEER got an entirely different error message. I finally hit upon (after dying the first time and going through the whole sequence again) that you can only OPEN / CAN instead of BEER.

SOMETIMES I WORRY IF MY WRITING IS INTERESTING ENOUGH

After quenching the thirst you are overcoming by hunger, but fortunately, EAT / HAMBURGER went over correctly without any parser struggles. Then I knew (from previous source diving) that TURN ON / SHIP was the correct command, but I was told

How can I? I’m a computer, not a magician !

I KNOW EVERYTHING HURTS RIGHT NOW BUT IT’S GOING TO BE OK

A bit more poking in the source code revealed I needed to be holding the gold key; I guess it counts as a door key *and* as a key to opening the ship. It is unclear how this fits into the magician reference.

Key in hand, I gave it another try:

I can’t.

I FOUND THIS QUOTE ATTRIBUTED TO HELEN KELLER ABOUT SUFFERING BUT FOUND NO EVIDENCE SHE ACTUALLY SAID IT, WHY DON’T QUOTE BOOKS GIVE THEIR SOURCES?

I needed to also be carrying a generator. The generator is out on the open on the second floor, but sometimes when you try to pick it up it floats away like the knife earlier. I have no idea the conditions when it floats or doesn’t, but I was finally able to get the generator and come back and find that … the ship was broken.

Fortunately, there are three ships, so I tried each one until coming across the right one.

It’s hard to convey how completely bizarre and frustrating this was to play when the game kept throwing sensical and nonsensical obstacles without any notion of what was going on.

WE SHOULD REMEMBER THIS WAS JUST A TEENAGER AND IN THE DEEP EARLY YEARS OF ADVENTURE GAMES BUT I STILL GOT THE IMPRESSION THE GAME WAS INTENTIONALLY MAKING THINGS HARDER THAN THEY NEEDED TO BE JUST TO ANNOY THE PLAYER

LOOK I FOUND A DIFFERENT ACTUAL SOURCED HELEN KELLER QUOTE FROM A LETTER SHE WROTE TO CLAIRE HEINEMAN IN 1943, LET’S FINISH OFF WITH THAT

I am younger today than I was at twenty-five. Of course the furrows of suffering have been dug deeper, but so have those of understanding, sympathy, and inner happiness. Whatever age may do to my earthly shell, I shall never grow cynical or indifferent — and one cannot measure the reserve power locked up in that assurance.

Posted July 8, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with