Game 34: The Atlantian Odyssey (1979)

From CRPG Adventures


I want to know more about Ultra-Mon, the Intelligent Monitor!

Today’s game is The Atlantian Odyssey (spelled as the more aesthetically-pleasing Atlantean Odyssey in some places, but I’m going with what’s on the title screen). It’s not one I’ve ever heard of before, and I can’t find anything about its origins except that it was created by someone called Teri-Li, with later help from a Mark Robinson. It’s relative obscurity belies its possible historical significance, however, because it has a decent claim on being the first text adventure to feature graphics throughout the game (Zork and Stuga had some ASCII art, but it was very occasional). That accolade is usually given to Sierra’s Mystery House, which was released in 1980, but if The Atlantian Odyssey was written in 1979 (as Renga in Blue believes likely) then it definitely came first. Even if it’s a 1980 game (as the copyright screen shows), it still stands a good chance of being first. And even if it’s not first, being the second ever graphical adventure game is still a pretty big deal.

Not every area of a game can be an innovation, however, as the plot of Atlantian Odyssey sees the player having sailed to an island in the Pacific Ocean in search of a number of treasures (six, in fact). The goal of the game is to find all of these treasures, sail back to Hawaii, go into the pawnshop and type SCORE. It doesn’t have a points total like Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork, but the player does get ranked based on how many moves they took to finish the game.

So uhhhh I can see sand *and* a beach?

You begin the game on a beach, with your sailboat nearby. It’s interesting to see just how much stuff the game says you can see: jetsam, sand, a roadway, the ocean, the beach, and your sailboat. Most of these are pointless, or can’t be interacted with, which is a pretty rare case of wasted resources in a game of this vintage. All of those red herrings are using up precious memory! Similarly, the boat contains a number of mostly useless items: a speargun, a scuba diving suit, and a knapsack containing a flashlight. The flashlight has been rusted by seawater, and doesn’t work. The speargun can be used to shoot a shark in the ocean nearby, but that only serves to provoke the beast into killing you. And while the scuba suit can be used to dive underwater, its air-tank runs out pretty quickly and is superseded by another item in short order.

From the beach you can swim into the ocean (which is thankfully restricted to a single area), or you can head east. The island itself consists of only three locations: the beach, a jungle clearing, and an ancient temple. Inside the temple is a crystal pyramid – the first of the treasures – and a mural, which depicts a man underwater, wearing a medallion with a glowing ruby.

At this point, I have to admit that I got stuck for a decent amount of time. Wearing the scuba gear I was able to swim down to another temple beneath the ocean, but I wasn’t able to do anything there, and as mentioned before the air in the scuba tanks doesn’t last long. The solution, which I eventually figured out through a lot of trial and error, was to DIG in the jungle clearing. This uncovers the medallion from the mural. It’s described as a “flat hexagon with a ruby-sapphire-blue diamond around a green opal”. Not only is it another of the treasures, but pressing the ruby grants the ability to breathe underwater.

Hanging out in an underwater temple. You can just make out part of the
hexagon on the floor.

With that ability, I was properly able to explore the underwater temple. This place had another mural, this one showing a man wearing a medallion with the opal glowing. I pressed the opal this time, and found myself transported to an area called the Gates of Hercules, with a sea cave and a path leading up a cliff.

A quick dip in the ocean showed me that I was now in the Mediterranean. I tried to swim down again, but this time it didn’t work. The path up the cliff led to a rift, which was dark beyond. Instead I went into the cave, where I found a lamp hidden beneath some rocks. There was also a door disguised as a bas-relief sculpture, but I decided to explore the dark rift first. Inside were two rooms, and a cylinder inside a decayed box: the third treasure!

Back in the cave, I went through the disguised door, into another small room. There didn’t appear to be anything of interest inside, but the graphics showed something on the floor, and when I typed LOOK FLOOR I was told that there was a hexagon painted on it. Taking the hint, I started pressing the stones on my medallion. The opal took me to another room, but it was underwater and I promptly drowned.

(More accurately, I was transported to Davy Jones’ Locker, a maritime euphemism for being dead. I could still take actions, although only one had any effect: by pressing the sapphire on my medallion, I was transported back to the beach where I started the game, with my inventory fully intact.

I made my way back to the room with the hexagon, and this time I pushed the ruby before pushing the opal. The small underwater room I found myself had only one exit, which was locked, but an examination of the wall showed a pyramid-shaped depression. The crystal pyramid was the obvious key, but getting it in there was a struggle with the game’s simple two-word parser. INSERT seemed the obvious command, but that wasn’t recognised. I tried some others, like SLOT, but the eventual solution was PUT PYRAMID (testing it now, I discovered that PLACE also works). The game then gives a prompt that says IN WHAT?, to which the answer is WALL, but it’s all a bit clumsy. Two word parsers can have their advantages, as they let you know there’s a limit to how complex a puzzle can get, but on the other hand they can make even something as simple as putting a pyramid in a slot a trial.

A quality parser at work.

With the door opened, I was able to enter a large hall. To the east there was an “arcade”, which in this case would be a covered passage with arches, not a building full of video game cabinets. The ante-chamber this led to had no seeming purpose, and I never did figure out what this room’s deal was. It has a hexagon on the floor (although not pictured in the graphics) but pushing the gems in the medallion had no effect.

North of the hall was an alcove with a large wall sculpture, showing the same medallion-wearing man, this time with his medallion glowing. There was also some “cloth material”, which on closer inspection is velvet. Underneath it is a gold dolphin, which is treasure number 4. Annoyingly, the game doesn’t recognise CLOTH, only MATERIAL, which is a bit rough when it’s written in the description as CLOTH MATERIAL. You’re going to try the words in that order, you know?

Anyway, pushing the medallion’s diamond opens a door, which leads to a long corridor and another door. It’s locked, but has a metal plate to the side, and opens when you insert the cylinder. Beyond is a “gigantic underwater city” which sounds daunting but in actuality is like four locations. One of those involves getting lost, but you can always swim up (revealing that you’re in the Atlantic Ocean) then swim down to return to the first area. The other two are an empty building, and a plaza full of debris. Hidden in the debris is an atlantean coin, the fifth treasure. That’s the entire extent of the lost city of Atlantis folks!

Behold! The majesty of fabled Atlantis!

Unfortunately, I’d explored everywhere and only found five of the six treasures. Finding the elusive sixth took about half an hour of roaming around and searching every little thing I could think of. Eventually I discovered that the room beyond the rift where I had found the cylinder also had a hexagon painted on the floor (even though there was no sign of it in the graphics, like in the other hexagon rooms). A press of the opal took me to a palatial bedroom. Searching the drapes revealed a string of black pearls, the final treasure. There’s a pointless balcony (which you can jump from if you feel like committing suicide), and a library full of books that crumble at the touch. The library has a hexagon on the floor, which is the only way to leave this area (by pushing the opal).

With the six treasures in hand, I set sail to Hawaii to get my final score. Not only did I score poorly, being ranked as a Novice, I was told that I was not being properly ranked because I had killed my “android” (by drowining, presumably). (I guess the term avatar hadn’t yet been coined for the player’s in-game proxy, and probably wouldn’t be until Ultima IV.)  The Novice rank, I figured, had to do with how many moves it took me to beat the game.  So I played through again as efficiently as I could, and this time I got a slightly more satisfying victory screen.

A check of the source code showed that Professional is the highest rank, achieved by winning in under 95 moves. So, with The Atlantian Odyssey officially done and dusted, it’s time for a Final Rating.

Story & Setting: Oh look, it’s a treasure hunt! Look, I get it, it’s an easy justification for an adventure, and it’s a natural story type for gaming. It’s never going to score highly in the category though. The underwater setting of Atlantis is slightly novel, although Greg Hassett’s Voyage to Atlantis came out the same year with a similar premise; I don’t know which was first. Either way, it’s not fleshed out enough to elevate this game beyond the lowest score. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: The only living things that can be encountered in this game are a shark and some fish. The fish are simply there to remind you that you’re underwater, and the shark is a hazard only if you provoke it with the spear. Otherwise, the game is conspicuously empty: even the pawn shop in Hawaii is devoid of life. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: The addition of graphics had the potential to elevate this game above it’s contemporaries, but let’s be real here: they’re pretty ugly. The TSR-80, by and large, was not known for its visuals, and this game doesn’t change that. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser for this game is a clunky two word affair that only recognises the first few letters of any word, and has to go to some awkward places just to facilitate something as simple as placing an item in a wall slot. Still, it’s functional, and I only had a couple of instances where I had to struggle for the correct verb. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: The puzzles for this game are rudimentary, and for the most part make sense. The main sticking point for me was right at the beginning, where it wasn’t clear exactly what I had to do; digging up the medallion was pure luck and persistence on my part. After that things progressed more smoothly, and I had cracked the game in about 2 hours. I’d say the game errs on the side of being too easy, with the only difficult parts being frustrating rather than clever or challenging. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: It’s difficult to rate this one. It deserves a high score for being one of the first – if not the very first – graphical adventures. On the other hand, it doesn’t appear to have had much of an influence or legacy. It doesn’t even have a page on mobygames as far as I can tell. Still, I’ll be generous, and rate it high for what it achieves. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Fun: I didn’t get a lot of enjoyment out of this, but it’s hard for me to give a game this short the lowest score. There’s a lot to be said for entertainment that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Rating: 2 out of 7.

No bonus point, as I won’t be playing the game again. The above scores total 15, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 30. That puts it equal 23rd overall, and equal 12th out of 21 adventure games played. It’s on a par with Mission Impossible, Colossal Cave Adventure II, and Voyage to Atlantis; all of those are slightly better games, but the graphical innovation edged The Atlantian Odyssey a bit higher than it strictly deserves.

NEXT: It’s back to the world of CRPGs as I tackle Wilderness Campaign, Robert Clardy’s follow-up to Dungeon Campaign.



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