Archive for the ‘dog-star’ Tag

Dog Star Adventure (1979)   6 comments

We last saw Lance Micklus in Treasure Hunt (1978) which was only sort-of what we’d recognize as an adventure game. This one is a clear Adventure-based game including a parser with the distinction that it is the first of its kind printed in a magazine: the May 1979 issue of SoftSide.

dogstar

To be clear, this was a “type-in”, meaning it was intended that to play the game you’d have to first type in the source code. I used to do this all the time. When I was young (7 or 8 or so) I spent weeks typing in an adventure game from a book (this one, maybe) but somehow the source code was too large and the entire disk crashed as I was putting in the last lines. I was disconsolate and crying. My mother, being sympathetic, bought me a copy of Zork 1. This was my first Infocom game.

When typing an adventure it tends to be obvious in the process of typing what all the puzzle solutions are. Fortunately, Dog Star Adventure later got published under the Adventures International “Other Ventures” line, and there are plenty of copies besides (8 versions, at least). I do predict at some point in the future I will have type in a type-in, but not today.

Let’s quote the plot directly from the ad copy:

The evil General Doom and his Roche Soldiers are preparing to launch an attack against the forces of freedom led by the beautiful Princess Leya. The Princess has been captured by Doom — and it’s up to you to pull of a daring rescue and save her and the royal treasury!

It’s not even trying to disguise its Star Wars origins, although science fiction adventures are still rare for this time period. Also note, even with a plot that really doesn’t demand it, there’s still a treasure hunt tossed in (at least if it’s the royal treasury you’re not trying to steal it for yourself, right?)

I ended up playing the commercial port; if you really want the classic type-in experience (complete with having to fix a typo in the source code) check out Jimmy Maher’s playthrough. Early on, there is a very significant gameplay difference:

The original supply room just states it has “all kinds of things” and you are literally supposed to just guess what the room contains, and then try to take it. I would call this “breathtakingly unfair”, even compared with games that actively strive to be unfair.

You can’t get that far without the supply room either. There’s no dark rooms, so no time limit as far as a limited light source goes; however, every once in a while a security guard will pop up (in some versions you can call them “stormtroopers”) …

… which you can take down with the blaster from the supply room. The blaster has a limited number of shots (and can only be refilled once, with the ammo that’s also in the supply room).

The game is otherwise fairly straightforward as far as puzzles go; you grab stuff mostly in the open and cart it back to the ship. At two points you need to use “key words” found elsewhere in the game (SECURITY to get into a vault and SESAME to open the space station doors). There’s also an infamous puzzle involving a hamburger:

Much to my own surprise, I figured out what to do with it. There’s an attack robot you find later, who is … hungry? Clearly instead of activating the clones in Star Wars Episode 2 to stop the droid army, the Republic needed to cook up some fast food.

Also of note: if you wait too long the hamburger will get cold, and the attack robot won’t take your offering; it’s game over. This happened to me the first time I played.

In any case, the game ends by the player collecting as many treasures as possible (including Princess Leya, who you pick up like any other item), and then launching the ship to escape. Due to the primary tasks of rescue and escape you don’t need all the treasures to get a “win”, which I found to be a nice design finesse. For games that are pure treasure hunts, this often doesn’t come across as an option.

I still can’t recommend this one for modern players. The puzzles are either too hard (hamburger, original supply room) or too easy (most everything else) and the experience of making it to the end felt more grinding than insightful. Still, it is surely important in being the first readily available source code to people who wanted to write their own adventures. I am curious: does anyone know of any works in particular that specifically mention they were based off the Dog Star source?

ADDENDUM:

Just for historical reference, Dog Star’s first started being sold a month earlier than the May issue mentioned above. Here is a page from the April 1979 issue of Softside:

aprilad

It also is listed on page 41 as a “new arrival”.

Posted March 15, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mighty Mormar (1980)   4 comments

One side effect of the All the Adventures project has been to get me to prowl through old computer publications, like one of Australia’s first devoted to computers, Micro-80 (Issue 1: December 1979).

One of the common elements in these publications — other than including source code to be typed up on your handy machine of choice — is that early issues especially rely on public domain material, or variations thereof. The December 1979 issue of Micro-80 included Snake and Super Mastermind; January 1980 has Hangman and Game of Life; February 1980 has Hangman (again, but designed for a different computer model) and Biorhythm. Most games could be found in some form in the David Ahl 101 Computer Games collection or be famous from some other avenue, like the Game of Life. This wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of creativity as much as needing to crank a new issue out each month, and especially with a small publication the public domain well was an easy place to scrabble.

Or… in the case of today’s selection, maybe scrabble from something not public domain at all, but just hope the original author wouldn’t make a hassle. Mighty Mormar by Charlie Bartlett is a barely-disguised version of Dog Star Adventure (1979) by Lance Micklus, also known as the first full-parser adventure to make it into magazine print.

What makes Mighty Mormar notable is that, as I already mentioned, Micro-80 is Australian, and we don’t have any confirmed Australian text adventures from earlier, so for the moment, this holds the record for First Australian Adventure Game.

My post on Dog Star is here, although out of all my early writeups it is the one I’m most sheepish about; it is extremely short and yet on an important game. In some sense I didn’t have some of the later context to go into depth, but I also hadn’t settled on a “style” for my blog posts yet. I’ll try to rectify my sins with this post, as this is really almost exactly the same game as Dog Star. If it weren’t for the skeletal post I made first time through, I’d probably just make an addendum and be done with it. This game gives me a second chance. I’m making a new map and not checking any notes. I do remember one major puzzle but I’ll point it out when I get there.

Now, there is one important difference from what I played the Early Blog Days and what I’m doing now. Mighty Mormar is based on the original type-in; I played a later port. This original has a moment (in a supply depot) where you have to guess what items are there and try to look for them. This was a feature of Escape from Colditz but nothing else I’ve played. I don’t actually quite remember what was in the depot, so I got to experience the moment for real, more or less.

Micro-80, November 1980.

It’s worth spending time on the game’s text intro from the magazine, the only real original part.

Oh! my Mighty Mormar, you were on your way to our home planet of Hartley with Princess Aleaya on board when the evil General Vagg’s Battle Cruiser caught us with a tractor beam and brought us aboard. He then disarmed you, put out your eyes, took the princess and left you for dead in your starship, which he has drained of fuel and left sitting on the flight deck of his battle cruiser. But, my Mighty Mormar he did not see me, your little Robot, stowed away in the corner as he did not count on the courage of you my master, who even though unarmed and blinded will use me as your eyes to rescue the Princess. Being a small robot I only understand a few words so you may need to ask your questions in a different way if I do not understand. We will be rewarded with points for anything we steal along the way and together we will prevent the evil General Vaag from destroying our home planet of Hartley and once again prove that evil does not PAAY.

Yes, you read that correctly: even though this is nearly the same game as Dog Star Adventure, in this iteration our protagonist is blind. Additionally, we are giving commands to a robot, as an in-universe explanation of the lack of understanding of the parser. There’s shades of Galactic Hitchhiker and a few other games from this era that try hard to explain the moments of parser-fumbling; this is the only one I know of that blinds the protagonist so “I am your eyes and hands” from Adventure and the Scott Adams games becomes quite literal.

Time to save Princess Leia Leya Aleaya!

This is indeed a dull title screen, although it is interesting how many authors felt obliged to make one like this. The idea there needed to be a title with a cinematic pause was embedded early.

You start in your spaceship and you have a pretty open map to work with. There is very little that is “gated” other than a vault (with some crystals which count as treasure), a tractor beam you need to de-activate, and the Princess, who is locked in a jail. This is reflective of the gameplay itself, which is really quite open. You definitely need to

a.) get some fuel

b.) get some “turbo” to go with the fuel

c.) get a communicator which you can use to open the starship doors

d.) get the Princess

but any treasures besides essentially count as point bonuses.

However, you first point of order is to get a blaster. Guards randomly appear and will kill you if you don’t have anything to defend yourself; additionally there is a scientist you need to shoot and an extra guard that is always found near the tractor beam. It is not obvious you need a blaster; you can find a “laser gun” out in a “lab” maze…

…and if you try to then use that to shoot anyone, the game says, “BUT I’M NOT CARRYING A BLASTER.” This is a clue regarding the supply depot.

The blaster incidentally only has 4 shots, and two of them need to be use on the fixed places (the scientist and extra guard) so it really only helps to fend off two random guards. If you run out of ammo, the next guard is the end of the game:

One of the other things you can get in the supply depot is “ammunition”, but it gets loaded in your gun right away (at least in this version) so if you have a full blaster, you don’t get any benefit at all. I found after some experimentation the best bet is to head back to the depot when you have only one shot remaining (instead of waiting for zero) because it is too risk to go without protection.

The whole wrangling-with-deadly-guards setup is one of those curious elements from old-school games which I think adds a necessary bit of spice — other than one nasty-to-find supply room item I haven’t got to yet, and one truly bizarre puzzle with a robot, everything is straightforward — and without the wandering guards the supposedly dangerous ship feels truly abandoned. Thinking in terms of a modern game, I can’t think of a good replacement that doesn’t overhaul the game as a whole.

With blaster in hand, you want to hit a scientist’s lab…

…and a “strategy planning room”.

The strategy room is useful for both the keys (which go to the room of the Princess) and the helpfully marked button that turns off the tractor beam.

To get to the Princess with the aforementioned keys, you travel through a minor maze and need to scoop up a hamburger on the way.

Lance Micklus talks about the hamburger in an interview — he characterizes it as a timer, because if you wait too long the burger gets cold and it doesn’t work with the puzzle that immediately follows the maze.

I would have thought he’d talk about what possessed him to create such an odd puzzle in the first place; I’m pretty sure Star Wars did not have any robot-eating-food gags. (At least it is notable: this was the puzzle I remembered from my last playthrough.) These Very Early Era games were, despite the occasional strong theming, not hell-bent on verisimilitude (this was also the time with Journey to the Center of the Earth’s Coke machine).

The robot is guarding the Princess, incidentally, who can be scooped up and taken to the ship. Grabbing all the various items seen is essentially good enough for escaping; the communicator at the strategy room has a voice that says “SESAME” when you pick it up, and what that is meant to indicate is that you say SESAME to it while at the landing deck to cause the doors to open for an escape.

There are two other optional bits. Both were easy to get on my original playthrough and hard to get on this version, for different reasons.

One is a clued at in a “computer room” with a TRS-80 and a screen that says CSAVE TAPE. While I’ve read my five-year-old-post before typing this, I was playing fresh so entirely forgot that I had found the tape in the supply depot. In the version I played (a later commercial port) all items in the supply depot are visible so the location of the tape isn’t much of a puzzle. Here, you’re supposed to just take the leap and GET TAPE while you’re in the room! This lets you make a copy of battle plans:

Technically speaking, this puzzle is “fair” if you’ve understood the mechanics in the first place already (which you need to do early with the blaster anyway). The general mechanics behind the room where you GET uncertain objects is still not a good puzzle for the verb-hunting (if you’re GETting something in a room where the object is not described, multiple actions are being implied — since you have to FIND the object first, except that verb is not understood) but I will say it changes the too-easy balance of the game slightly. At my last writing I put “The puzzles are either too hard (hamburger, original supply room) or too easy (most everything else)” which is still quite true, but I was only able to assess that by eyeballing; the balance feels slightly better with the original puzzle.

The other optional bit is the vault, which is supposed to be easy, but Mighty Mormar throws in a twist:

The twist being: the author broke the source code. In addition to changing names the author Charlie Bartlett also did line renumbering. The original BASIC source code goes into the 5000s, but here everything is changed to be a maximum of 3 digits (to save memory, I guess, cutting out the typical “number jumps” between lines that happens in original BASIC).

206 IFVB13ORNO30THEN104
207 PRINTNI$
208 GOSUB211
209 X=31:GOSUB224:IFY-1THEN104
210 IFVB17ORNO31THEN5575:ELSE182
211 INPUT”WHAT SHOULD I DO”;CM$
212 VB$(0)=””:NO$(0)=””:VB=0:NO=0:IFLEN(CM$)=0RETURN

Line 210 has the “THEN5575” in there — that’s the old version of the line number. Bartlett forgot to renumber it (or the auto-renumber-program he was using did). Hence the crash. 5575 is the “death” portion of the game where you get captured, although it wasn’t clear to me until I spent a fair amount of time studying source code and comparing. There’s also supposed to be a prompt with an identification terminal

On the screen it says: >> SHOW I.D. <<

and there’s something in broken in the source code that removes that as well. So for the Mighty Mormar version (and this version only) you are supposed to realize, unprompted, to SHOW I.D, letting you into the vault with the crystals.

With everything in place (optional or otherwise) you can escape to glory, and one last bug, as a treat.

I did double check — the typing of the source code accurately represents what is in the print of the magazine.

So, despite it (Dog Star original) still not being a fantastic game, I’m glad I got to revisit this milestone. I do appreciate, despite the quite close distance to Crowther/Woods adventure, a fair number of attempts to be different: changing the genre, making treasures optional, adding some main objectives (where all the objectives are subsumed under “escape” so it isn’t clear immediately, for instance, that getting the doors open is a goal), and having a general hub structure which is quite open.

Computer and Video Games Magazine, June 1982; a reprint of the original Dog Star, with the original author credited correctly.

Mighty Mormar on the other hand … while it was common for the time to remove names of authors and claim some sort of public domain status, and studying printed games as a base for new ones was a quite typical practice, it could have at least used a “based on Dog Star Adventure” or some other language. I’m happy to put an asterisk here and hand back the title of First Australian Adventure to the current champions, Secret of Flagstone Manor (with a parser) and Adventure in Murkle (without a parser).

Posted November 15, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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