Scott Adams has previously been featured here with Adventureland and Pirate Adventure. Both games feature the virtue of feeling compact (by necessity for packing into a TRS-80) and hence the next in the series makes a good counterpoint to the gigantic sprawl of Warp.
allegedly tried to get a license from shamelessly rips off the TV series Mission: Impossible for this game, with an opening reference to “Mr. Phelps” (the main character for most seasons of the series) and a introductory recording which self-destructs. [ADD: Jimmy Maher makes an interesting comment about this.]
Picture via Ebay. The “IMF” on the cover stands for “Impossible Missions Force”, another reference to the TV show.
Unlike some “what is the objective, even?” games I’ve played lately, this one starts with energy:
Someone came in the room, he saw me and ran out!
WHAT SHALL I DO? play recorder
Good morning Mr. Phelps. Your Mission (should you decide to accept it) is to prevent this automated nuclear reactor from being destroyed by a saboteur’s TIME BOMB! The saboteur (who also rewired the security system) is a heart patient. He plans to SUICIDE with the reactor! He is still loosein the building. You’ll find Security keys & a map in the manila envelope lying next to the tape player.
WHAT SHALL I DO? inventory
I’m carrying: Surgically implanted bomb detector glows green (bomb’s -safe-)
In what might be the first “narrative twist” of interactive fiction, there is no envelope. I like how this uses the world and player participation to convey the twist rather than highlighting the fact in text as a traditional narrative would need to.
Unfortunately, I’m stuck pretty early. There’s someone who keeps running in the room, seeing me, and running out. There’s also three doors with cameras where
Metallic voice says: ‘Show authorization please’
and all I’ve got is an empty pail. I tried covering the camera with the pail but no dice. Perhaps I’m supposed to set up a trap for the running person but I can’t even think of how I’d do that with a pail in real life, let alone a two word parser.
I went old-school this time with the map.
Well, the z-code version of this game is broken (I neglected to mention I started with that version so I could play on my phone), because while playing the TRS-80 version I got a message I hadn’t seen before.
In the distance you hear a dull thud; as if someone fell or dropped something heavy.
A bit of searching led to a dead saboteur, with quite an inventory.
(Also, I guess the tape recorder didn’t self destruct, he or she took it while I was away from the starting room of the game.)
Note: still no keys, and the map is shredded beyond use. The twist is intact!
In any case, even with my newfound loot, I wasn’t able to get anywhere until I started messing with the buttons in the room above (via hint nudge from Andrew Plotkin, belated thanks). There’s “-red white blue yellow-” buttons in order. My initial notes had these as the button effects:
Red: makes the bomb detector angrily buzz; pushing the button again causes the bomb to detonate.
White: gives a “click”
Blue: is locked
Yellow: is locked
Unfortunately and rather nonsensically, the useful thing to do is push red and then white immediately after.
There’s a Bright flash & I hear something fall to the floor.
I can’t see what it is from here though.
My bomb detector
Getting off the chair, you find a photo pass marked “visitor”. I’ve been racking my brain on this one and I _think_ the intended button operation is “red: open camera” “white: take picture” but the saboteur rigged the red button to do Bad Stuff, although I have no clue at all why the white button would then cause the bomb to defuse again. If this was a moment of nonsense on a fast-paced TV show, I might let it pass, but being forced to tangle with the setup as a puzzle made me overly grumpy.
The puzzle is made doubly bad by the fact I’m guessing 95% of people who solved it lucked into it by simply pushing all the buttons in order. (I’m a rebel, I like to start in the middle.)
Grump grump. Ok, with the visitor pass it’s possible to get into one extra room (past the white camera on the map from my last post). Unfortunately I’m stuck again.
I am in a large white visitors room. Visible items:
Plate glass window with embeded red wires.
Panel of buttons -white green-. Tv camera mounted over window.
TV camera is powered down.
Somehow I think I need to activate the camera so I can wave the saboteur’s pass at it, but I’ve been so restricted in possibilities I don’t know what to do.
Solving puzzles in Secret Mission is an interesting contrast with Warp. In Warp when I can’t find an approach to a puzzle I can just work on mapping more: checking for exits I missed, swimming in the ocean, and otherwise doing things which while they don’t feel like puzzle solving do feel like productive movement.
The feeling of stalling is a large part of why people turn to hints so often in adventures in the first place. If there’s some productivity going on (if nothing else seeing interesting new failure methods) forward momentum is maintained. With a game as tight and apparently linear as Secret Mission there is so little exploratory leeway that 10 minutes of “nothing happened” messages gives the same mental impression as staring at the screen blankly for the same 10 minutes.
While I finished, this just wasn’t nearly as fun as the last two Scott Adams games, I believe because of the a.) extreme linearity and b.) difficulty caused more by an obstinate interface rather than deep thinking.
Here’s the outline of what happened (complete spoilers follow):
1.) I got by the room from my last post by breaking the window. I had tried breaking the window before (at which point the game prompts you to ask what you are using and you type something like WITH PAIL) but the several items I tried gave me a message that read like an error (are you sure you are carrying it?) which made me think the parser wasn’t programmed to handle the interaction so I stopped thinking about it.
I ended up having to find out from a walkthrough that the recorder from the very beginning of the game is sufficient to smash the window. In retrospect this is logically the most heavy item (excepting the body of the saboteur, which I also previously tried with no success) and this might have been a decent puzzle and the response for non-working objects been more along the lines of “that’s too light to cause a dent” to hint that there was something there.
2.) In any case, after breaking the window, the camera turned on and I needed to show off my ID filched from the saboteur … to keep the bomb from going off? Still not sure what’s going on with the plot here. It’s sort of like everything is booby trapped, but there’s still the timed bomb element (if you wait too many turns everything will explode on its own), so why did the saboteur just not set the timer low and be done with it? Why bother with the traps?
3.) From below the window I got a blue key, which I was able to take back to the four-button room and use to “unlock” a new button. Random button mashing eventually led to a maintenance ID, letting me reach a new room.
4.) The new room had a mop with a yarn head. Picking up the mop led to the sound of something inside, where SHAKE MOP was required to shake it loose (another key). I’ll have to chalk this one up to semi-clever because if you look at the saboteur’s inventory from my last post, you’ll notice that they had a piece of yarn, indicating they were previously there.
5.) Toting the new key back to the four buttons and an even more extended button mashing sequence led to a security pass.
6.) The security pass led to a control room. The bomb was below in a room filled with radiation, although a radiation suit was nearby. I could cut the wire to the bomb (seemingly with no effect on the bomb other than letting me pick it up) but I couldn’t otherwise defuse it. However, using that same plastic pail I could find no use of before, I scooped up some heavy water, took the bomb to a safe-for-water-pouring location, then achieved victory by pouring the water on the bomb.
I’m not sure if the science here is “Indiana Jones hides in a fridge to avoid a nuclear blast” level dodgy, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how bomb defusing works. I’d be happy to hear corrections in the comments, though.
Image via Ira Goldklang. This cover uses the original title of the game.
There is one I’ll have to credit Secret Mission for (compared to everything up to this year), and that’s the presence of a plot. This includes both explicit plot (with the opening recording and the scripted death of the saboteur) and implicit plot (with the missing envelope and the piece of yarn). I’ve seen it most often in mysteries (where you have to piece together the details of a crime via the objects left behind) and it’s one of the things unique to interactivity, with the world environment leveraged to allow the player to make discoveries.