From The Adventure Gamer
by Will Moczarski
Last time we left off after about an hour of gameplay, with a reasonably small gameworld and some items we haven’t found a use for. We deciphered an alien language and attempted to explore a dark cave but didn’t really get anywhere plot-wise. So far, this was an enjoyable game – was it meant to remain this way?Digging in the Dirt
Sometimes the only thing to do is take a break and return with a clear head to try again. The crucial hint I had overlooked in my last session turned out to be the dirt floor in the ancient room. When I attempt to DIG there, the game asks me WITH WHAT?, telling me I was on the right track. As I only have a couple of items, I try all of them and oddly it’s the frond that helps me unearth an ancient altar. What a relief! Looking at the altar reveals a stone cup and some silver stains. The stone cup has some markings on it but they are illegible. It’s possible to fill it with the steaming water from the silver stream but at first I don’t know what to do with it. Wait, silver stains – silver stream? That could mean something!
When I return to the cave I notice that I really lucked out during my last session. The cave may consist of only two rooms but there is a randomization in progress that makes me run in circles for quite a while before I happen upon the stairs again. Additionally, the error messages are clearly designed to make the hesitant turn away: “Its too dark” (sic!), the game tells me, or “If I could see anything I would tell you.” It would take a donkey to be stubborn enough to try again – or as much luck as I had on my first (mapping) attempt. This is really unfair.
My hunch appears to be incorrect, however. As soon as I try to pour the liquid on the altar, I stumble and spill it. This happens twice before I give up. I exit the cave and go back to my ship, and I decide to look at and listen to everything several times after my discovery that it was necessary to do so inside the cave. That turns out to be a very good idea as moving the ship has not only turned up an immediately visible hand laser but looking again also reveals a silver key! I return to the cabin inside the cave, unlock the trunk and find a dictionary as well as an alphabet chart. This was clearly supposed to help me decipher the alien warrior’s language. It wasn’t necessary to solve this puzzle at all!
After another round through the cave suddenly there’s a cave-in. I can’t return to my ship this way. Maybe something happened with the hill above, too? No. Once more, I’m left with nothing to do.
It’s a small area, though, so I should probably just try everything again. These silver stains on the altar still seem suspicious. I refill my cup once more and head back there. There is still no avoiding my own clumsiness, so I move on to the cave-in where I discover a big block of lead. Pouring the strange liquid here turns the lead into gold. Finally it’s time to move on!
Dropping the gold ball at the feet of the alien warrior prompts him to not want to talk to me anymore. (“Leave me alone!”) However, the ball apparently was a seed of sorts, as now there is a golden tree for me to climb. Up there I find a monkey-like creature which is chained to a wall. I can talk to him several times to find out some of the backstory but he doesn’t have anything new to offer. As I didn’t write everything down, I try talking to him again which triggers a different sequence of responses, among them “find Kastaman.” After that he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore, no matter how hard I try. The backstory he offered went that my ship is waiting for me in orbit and I can’t remember anything because I crashed. Nothing new, really, apart from the fact that I would have thought my ship was the ruins I climbed out of at the beginning of the game? Apparently not. But whose ship was it then?
To the south, there is a meadow of strange blue grass. There is also an odd-looking statue. Examining the statue reveals it to be of a creature named VRUP BRLCB, which translates to Dick Nixon. First the talking monkey, now the statue of an American president – this sounds like Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake but that one came out in 2001. Oh well, only Nixon could go to Traam, I suppose.
Moving on, I stumble into a Traam war party which disposes of me right away. I try to use my hand laser but they murder me and devour my corpse. Seems final. I try again and explore the area south of the monkey more diligently. When I push the statue, it creaks. I may be on to something! As Jyym Pearson seems to love making me do everything several times, I push it again and it is tilting. Finally it tumbles over. I find an insect underneath which I can pick up. The game tells me it’s a bug in the program. Very funny.
Listening reveals nothing intelligible but to the south I can overhear the voices of the nearby war party: “KW OWZH HXW ASRB VCCF IBOCUPWV QIGH DIGX HXW DRB.” A few minutes of deciphering, and I get “we left the main door unlocked just push the pin.” Good to know. But where’s the main door? I try every exit except the one to the east which would lead me back to certain death. “climb” doesn’t work but maybe “climb trees”? Yes! I am high up in a large blue tree. To the east there is a yellow tree. This is basically a circumvention, as after climbing down from the yellow tree I am now on the other side of the war party. At the foot of the tree, there is a dirt mound. Digging there turns up a grave for a tall traams, and I also discover a pendant. The pendant is marked with strange designs – maybe it will make them recognize me as one of their own? I can’t wear the pendant, though, so I’d rather not push my luck at this point. Having no save feature makes you cautious.
To the south there is a hillside. Traams are riding across the clearing further to the south on strange beasts so I’d best not go there now. Listening reveals a tinkling sound from underneath a large bush but I can’t figure out how to interact with the bush – I can’t look at it or move it in any way. After quite a while, I try out prepositions although I reckon that the parser should not be able to understand them. But who am I to know? “Look under bush” works, strangely enough: A drainpipe leads into the ground. I can’t “go drainpipe” but “climb drainpipe” lets me enter the northern end of “a dark and very dirty pipe.” It’s all very smelly, too: first, a foul smell reaches me, then a smelly liquid covers my feet. Finally, a strange gas is seeping out of a crack, and I am dead soon enough. I can go back north but all of the exits except the drainpipe are guarded by Traams. I cannot exit any other way and if I try to climb the gas kills me. I die so many times – by the hands of the Traams, by the gas in the drain pipe – that it’s really no fun anymore. After a while, I try the hintsheet, and there it is, answer number 5: “Gas a problem?” Oh yes, it is. Decoding the hint tells me: “A tool can be found near the start.” Did I overlook something in the remains of my ship? Surely I’ve looked at everything sufficiently. Should I be digging some more? I dig and dig and look and look and listen and listen and look under everything but I don’t find any clues.
I decide to dive into the source code and find out that the only item I haven’t got (up to the penchant) is the helmet. That must be the tool the hintsheet was on about. Looking for the helmet in the source code reveals that indeed I have to dig it up (“You dug up a strange helmet.”) It seems like I should dig it up after having revealed the altar but the game doesn’t let me dig again. Instead it doesn’t recognize the word “frond” anymore after I have used it once – at least not inside the cave. This appears to be a game-breaking bug. Fixing it is beyond my abilities so I try out a different version of the game but still no dice. Now, I hate to do this but I will have to switch to a later port of the game. The Atari version probably comes closest again, so I shall deal with that one. From here on out, the experience is more colourful. If somebody knows of a working version or can confirm that this is a bug (or can tell me the actual solution if there is one?!), by all means: please let me know in the comments!
Jack Traamiel meets Captain Blood
I’m a bit grumpy right from the start as the descriptions are slightly altered. I would have preferred to play the original but oh well, consider this an early port comparison. This time around, I have survived the crash “by some miracle.” I’d rather have a helmet.
And this time it works: digging twice at the altar reveals a strange helmet. Another nice detail: the dictionary in the cabin is in “Krillig” here, giving a name to the foreign language I so tediously have to translate. Also, this time I get Stammd the Monkey’s story right: I am doomed here because there is a foreign ship in orbit scanning for me. That makes more sense! I was on patrol when my ship was struck by a ground laser which caused me to lose my memory. Curious, I didn’t even know I had lost it!
Back on the hillside, only “look bush” is necessary here to discover the drainpipe. This is a different game and I am still at odds with the fact. In the drainpipe, the helmet now protects me from the gas. I wouldn’t have been able to progress without it.
|Helmet protect me.|
Climbing up from there I get to a large empty cavern with three huge doors. They are red, blue and black. Wait, which one is the main door? I find that the red one has a handle, the black one has a knob – the blue one has a pin and hence must be the right one. Pushing the pin lets me enter a gray room. There is a human in a white uniform. When I talk to him, he becomes hysterical: “What are you doing?? What is your rank??”, he cries, “The Traamfla will kill you!” Dutch custard made by aliens will kill me? Oh wait, it’s spelled with an f. Never mind.
If I advance beyond this point I get identified as a stranger by one of the traams and can’t progress. Because the human won’t part with his uniform, I try to kill him with the laser gun just to see what happens. Surprisingly it works and appears to be the correct solution! He seemed like a nice guy – I’m not quite sure what went wrong here, game?! Looking at his corpse, his uniform is highlighted. I am able to pick it up (that is, undress the man I just ruthlessly slaughtered) and wear it, it even fits nicely. (I also tried not to wear it but I am brutally slain by the traams if I don’t.) Moving on, I pass two seemingly empty rooms before finding a large chamber with lots of Traams. One of them calls me out on the penchant I am carrying and identifies me as a graverobber but it doesn’t have any consequences. Moving south through a room painted black and another chamber full of Traams I am captured and thrown into a damp stone cell. I see another restart coming up but maybe I am supposed to get caught?
I dabble a bit but don’t find a way out, so back to the beginning it is. The game courteously leaves me with my inventory intact which is a nice touch. It’s still quite a journey back to the Traams. This time I go up the stairs from the first large chamber as it’s the only exit I haven’t explored yet. Once more, a Traam takes offense at my carrying a penchant, so I drop it and climb the stairs unheeded. I emerge on a street in the sun. There is a “huge black man” in a slave’s uniform which seems very inappropriate. I can talk to the man and he will ask me his name. Going through my notes I only come up with two possibilities: the alchemist (scribbled on the walls next to the altar) and Kastaman (the monkey told me to “find Kastaman”). The latter seems more likely as the scribbles were in that alien language Krillig – is that a reference to kyrillic or to the Krell of Forbidden Planet? – so I try my luck. “Kastaman” is correct but the likeliness to “Rastaman” makes the whole situation even a bit more inappropriate. Either way, Kastaman unlocks a door for me and I can enter a silver room with a cabinet. The cabinet is locked, too, but I can push it to reveal a sculptured door. Behind the door there is complete darkness. Not again! Listening to the noise in the background, I can make out the echoed sound of water rushing. I head north and…fall to my death. I go all the way back and head west and…get to a library. I may have to check out further exits later but for now I don’t trust the watery darkness.
The library hasn’t been used in ages. Everything is covered in dust. Looking at the shelves singles out a large manual which says “T-454”. I jot it down in case it’s necessary. Breaking its lock, I can also read the manual itself. It contains instructions for what seems like some aircraft: unhook auto pressure – lift decoupling ring – push the thrust bar. I write it all down and assume that this will be necessary for my great escape. Without any more leads, I go back into the darkness and bite the bullet: Fortunately, heading east…no, I fall to my death again. One long walk later I am back in the larger chamber. I can only go south from there, and once again I am captured by the Traams in the same room as before. Maybe being thrown in jail is actually part of the solution? I will spare you the attempts in and out of jail to come up with more exits or solutions to my problem. One attempt even involved backtracking to the rope and actually managing to untie it from the bush. I thought that was it; I must be able to get out of jail by fixing the rope somewhere. But where?
|You’ve got me going round in circles.|
It took me quite a bit of quitting, restoring and sticking it out until I happened upon the unlikely solution: it was right there in my inventory the whole time. Dropping the insect causes it to begin crawling in circles, move over to the eastern wall and disappear through a crack in the stone. Now that same crack is visible and I can interact with it. Looking at the crack I discover that one of the stone blocks is loose. I pull it out and it falls down with a crash, revealing a small passage out of my cell. After a bit of crawling I can finally stand up again but this place is riddled with traps! Going north I fall down a pit and break my neck yet again. Time for another long walk. This time, however, I manage to dead-end myself. How? Easy. I tie the rope to the bush to cross the ravine, then untie it to pick it up, forget to pick it up and climb the golden tree. Unable to climb back down for some reason I quit the game which leaves me back at the beginning with my inventory intact but the rope on the other side of the ravine. A full restart! Lovely.
I’m particularly grumpy when I figure out how close to the end I have been. Beyond the passage, I can climb to avoid falling to my death right away. In fact, I land on a sharp object which seems uncomfortable, too. However, I survive. I can then tie my rope to the sharp object (it’s a spike!) and use it to climb down into the pit. At the bottom of the pit, there’s a hole in the wall but I can’t go in its direction. It takes me longer than it should but finally “climb hole” gets me to the final room of the game: “You are on a launch ramp[.] A small fighter sits on the ramp with the cockpit open.” Might that be a T-454 perchance? It might! I climb into the cockpit and follow the instructions from the manual and…I’m airborne! There’s a familiar ship straight ahead and otherwise nothing happens. I wait for a while and look here and there but again it takes a bit of uncued trial and error: I have to look at the instruments that aren’t even part of the room description! This tells me that a button marked “BEACON” is blinking. If I push it, the familiar ship spots me and turns on the tractor beam. I escape from Traam and make my way to safety.
|Final message and shameless plug.|
|Here’s my map.|
Again it is time to compare the ports. Although the game has a 1980 copyright stamp in the TRS-80 version, the original as well as the Atari port which I ended up beating were both released in 1981. The TRS-80 CoCo version shows the same year but the Apple ][ port features graphics by Norman Sailer and must be a later release…you’d think. Something’s off, though. The Apple ][ version also shows a 1981 copyright (mirrored in the Mobygames article) and claims it to be a Norman Sailer & Jyym Pearson game. However, the graphics were done by Mark Pelczarski. What was Norman Sailer’s role in all this?
Pelczarski’s graphics sure look a little better than Sailer’s graphics for Curse of Crowley Manor:
The creatures are a bit silly but this time it kind of fits the overall atmosphere. Crowley Manor was a more ‘serious’ game, I think. Also, the graphics make it easier to spot some of the interactible objects, especially the tree with the frond on the wooded hill. The dark cave is already a pain in the text-only version but now you have to wait for every screen to load and slowly turn black.
Moving on, the Richard Nixon statue does not look like Richard Nixon. Pelczarski didn’t even try his hand at similarity, possibly due to the technical limitations of the Apple ][ Hi-Res mode. Rather we see a white, nondescript sculpture. The drainpipe looks more like a cave. Just like in Crowley Manor I have the feeling that the graphics hinder my enjoyment of the game rather than adding to it. These games were designed as text adventures and they work best that way.
|Still a ruthless killer.|
|Still not crazy about this.|
|Early Dreamcast commercial?|
|So this was a Star Trek adventure all along?|
|WON!, Scotty. Kirk will be so PISSED.|
Compared to Curse of Crowley Manor, this was not much fun at all. It’s tempting to follow my initial (if unproven) hunch that this was actually Jyym Pearson’s first adventure game as it makes so many mistakes its predecessor tends to avoid.
Puzzles & Solvability: All the unfairness of an early 1980’s adventure game! A lot of guesswork and trial and error, lots of restarts and some possible dead-ends. The puzzles didn’t make a great amount of sense, and due to a bug the TRS-80 version was unsolvable (I think). 2.
Interface & Inventory: It’s the same parser so it should get the same score. Right? Not quite. “Look under bush” in the TRS-80 version was just as uncalled for as several situations in which “Climb” had a different outcome than “Climb Stairs” (in the large chamber) with just as many examples handling it the other way round. The same parser, yes, but programmed in a less consistent manner. Also, the dark rooms are really a major nuisance as they reset every time and you have to slog through them several times to trigger the cave-in: 2.
Story & Setting: Not very involving. You have crashlanded on an alien planet and have to escape. The foreign language is a nice touch but the fact that you simply have to replace the letters after finding a dictionary makes it a little bland (I actually solved it on my own as I thought it would be a puzzle). Some things are never explained: Why does the first alien warrior not attack me? What’s up with the penchant? How does the monkey know about Kastaman? I was underwhelmed, to say the least: 2.
Sound & Graphics: No sound, no graphics. The Apple ][ version is a bit better than the one made for Crowley Manor but it’s still far from brilliant. The cute picture of the manor is replaced by a confusing picture that is supposed to invoke science-fiction somehow. Not a fan: 0.
Environment & Atmosphere: You sure climb a lot of trees during this game but the planet never feels truly alien. Also, the tension inside the Traams city is not really palpable. I had to kill a harmless human slave and seek help from a “black slave” (literally!) called Kastaman. I’ll chalk it up to immaturity but it’s still sort of revolting: 1.
Dialogue & Acting: This is by far not as well-written as Crowley Manor. The initial cutscene is a nice touch and thankfully you don’t have to sit through it after every restore (only after reboots). Apart from that, dialogue is sparse and often silly; the same goes for the general room descriptions. More than 1 point would be too lenient, really.
2 + 2 + 2 + 0 + 1 + 1 = 8 / 0.6 = 13 points.
Session time: 6 hrs
Total time. 7 hrs
Jyym & Robyn Pearson Mini-Marathon Overview:
(a) Curse of Crowley Manor