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Devil’s Island (1982)   Leave a comment

One of the reactions I’ve had from others to the All the Adventures project is that “the Brits would kill me”. I don’t know if the pessimists were meaning volume or meaning in terms of all of the games starting to blur together like mud, but at least with the latter that hasn’t happened yet. Every game has had something notable. In the case of the Devil’s Island, the opening puzzle alone qualifies, not even counting the bit later where a guard murdered me while standing in front of a BBC film crew.

Apex Trading, the publisher, is still enigmatic and I haven’t figured out their complete catalog. I think this adventure is one of five. It was run by Vince Apps (as the inside of this book indicates), who may have wrote all their products himself. It first came out for Dragon 32 (with similar hardware to the TRS-80 Color Computer; Madness and the Minotaur ran on both) and later for the TI-99/4A.

Computer and Videogames Magazine #15, January 1983; the printing delay means all of these can be considered 1982 games. Brighton is just a little east of Worthing where JRS Software was.

It would nice to say DG1 through DG3 are also adventures, but no, DG2 is “Caterpillar + Space Attack”; Devil’s Island is hiding at DG10. The system (and listing of games at random) is fuzzy enough I’m not sure if there’s any chronological sense to the order; I picked this game to start with at random.

From World of Dragon.

It is ambiguous why you are trapped on Devil’s Island (“YOU ARE TRAPPED ON THE NOTORIOUS DEVIL’S ISLAND AND MUST FIND A WAY TO ESCAPE.”) You start in a cell with no explanation.

And this is where the incredible puzzle comes in. You have no items. You have no leeway to do much of anything. If you type HELP the game just says “ONLY TIME WILL TELL!”

So … you have to wait. And I don’t mean type the WAIT command. I mean wait nearly 2 real-time minutes, at which point a guard will appear that you can knock out to escape.

Now, there is such a thing as real-time text adventures (Infocom’s Border Zone was one). I’ve never seen, in a game that appears to be turn based, a real time element added as a puzzle (that is, the puzzle is working out that real time is happening!) Mystery Mansion does have a moment where you have to use a secret passage swiftly enough, but that’s the closest anyone else has gotten to the idea.

Moving on:

This is the south portion of the map area, which is extremely open. Past the opening cell there are only a few rooms that are sealed off in a puzzly way; the obstacles, generally, are the random death rooms (marked in red). They kept up a good enough sense of humor they didn’t come of as annoying, although I feel for the person who didn’t save their game and had to restart and wait two more real-time minutes for the action to get going.

The other primary deadly obstacle is guards, which spawn randomly pretty much anywhere on the island; they don’t seem to have a determined location, it is just if a random number generator hits the right (wrong) way. You then get a chance to FIGHT or RUN. For a while, the initial success with the first guard, the only thing I found that worked is to run. Even when I was at a village with a BBC film crew:

I was busily trying to signal “hey I’m a prisoner here!” Maybe this is meant to be like that Derren Brown special Apocalypse (“Derren Brown makes him realize how important life is by tricking him into believing that a meteor has hit the earth which is now populated by zombies.”)

I eventually found some bread that I was able to trade to a prisoner for a gun, and in combination with 6 bullets it was possible 100% of the time to fight guards (but of course you only have 6 shots).

This puts a sort of “implicit time limit” to the game and is very similar to the setup from Dog Star Adventure, but the running adds a random-chance ability to extend the time limit (you will eventually die trying to run, but this gives an indeterminate amount of life extension).

Once mapped, the game is simple enough the time limit is mostly irrelevant, though. You can find a bucket in a well with a key; the key lets you unlock a hut.

The hut has a rope which lets you climb down a cliff; there you can find a seagull nest with an egg and a coin.

The egg is not safe, you’ll get murdered by gulls.

With gold coin in hand, elsewhere on the map you can find a woodcutter in a forest with an axe who will trade the coin for the axe.

Oddly, the woodcutter may or not may appear the first time you enter; it’s just a random chance. On one of my playthroughs I had to re-enter the room about 14 times to see the woodcutter, so I could see someone getting stumped by just bad luck.

Axe in hand, you can make your way north through a set of caves…

…making sure not to take some treasure along the way…

This is in a “pirate lair” with emeralds. Since this is another Escape game, we intentionally avoid the Treasure, just like in Lost Island.

…eventually arriving at a boat. USE AXE while in the boat cuts the boat away from the jetty and you can row away.

The basic elements here we’ve seen before, but the combination is odd and different enough this really did feel like a different game rather than part of the indistinguishable mass of ’82-era Britventures. There’s something about each element — the deaths particularly, but also the wide-open map (odd for an escape game! you can walk right to the boat from the cell without being stopped) and the cardinal-directions-only structure that gave it its own flavor. It’d be the sort of feeling I’d have trouble capturing had I dipped into 1982 at random, but becomes very clear when compared against all the games that came before it.

Posted November 6, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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