If we want to compare this era in electronic games to very early film, most of the adventure game authors are still in the “point a camera and hope something interesting happens” phase, while Scott Adams is experimenting with the actual vocabulary of design.
Strange Odyssey is his first science fiction game, with the popular tack of “you’ve crashed on an alien planet, now try to escape.” There are in fact treasures to collect, but they seem to be optional, so they’re more of a nod to past works than an attempt to backpedal on his plot innovations.
The major experiment here is a “disconnected map” where you teleport between distant places.
I’m in a strange hexagonal room
Obvious exits: NONE
Visible items: Strange flickering curtain of light, Small piece of plastic flush in the wall, Rod jutting straight out of the wall, Strange looking goggles
The hexagonal room above is the central hub. The rod and plastic act as controls the destination of the curtain. Entering the curtain might lead to a methane snow storm, or jungle, or an alien art museum, or a Jovian mining colony with high gravity.
(Spoiler warning: puzzle spoiled below.)
This section really gives the strong feel of gameplay merged with plot with trying to work out the controls to an “alien machine.” The rod can be PULLed and PUSHed at which point the plastic glows:
WHAT SHALL I DO? pull rod
Odd it only required very little force to slide out
WHAT SHALL I DO? push rod
Odd it only required very little force to slide in
The plastic GLOWED briefly 8 times.
WHAT SHALL I DO? touch plastic
OK I feel strangely disoriented for a moment!
The number of times the plastic glows corresponds to the destination of the curtain, although you have to touch the “small piece of plastic” to finalize it. Each time you pull/push the rod the plastic glow count goes up by 1. If you need to go back to a destination with an earlier number you need to “reset” the mechanism by touching the plastic when the rod is pulled.
It took me a good hour to get a hang of what was going on, but after I worked out the mechanism it made perfect logical sense. This is in opposition to mechanisms in some other adventure games (*cough* Myst clones *cough*) which often seem to be obtuse for no reason at all.
There’s no “light source” in this game but the space suit has a set amount of oxygen. It’s a tight enough window that I started writing a walkthrough. I’m not sure 100% how necessary this is (I’ve already found a machine that can refill the space suit, and it might be usable multiple times) but the suit timer is combined with a very tight inventory limit which makes me lose a lot of time just juggling items.
Other than the mechanism I mentioned most of the puzzles have been very straightforward, so I may wrap this one up quickly. I need to be careful about any promises, though, because sometimes the last lingering puzzles in a Scott Adams game are the hardest.
My main obstacle for escape is a damaged Power Crystal, which the game reports was originally in the form of a “thin rod”. I suppose I need to brainstorm ways to create one. I’m suspecting perhaps bringing the pieces the heavy gravity planet can mash them together? I also have an ice pick I’ve haven’t got to use, but other than that it seems like I’ve seen everything. The map below is likely close to complete.
Click for a larger version.
The title screen of the Electron version, via Mobygames.
I’m carrying: * ANCIENT FLASK SAURIAN BRANDY *, * RIGILIAN ICE DIAMOND *, * STRANGE ALIEN BELT *, * RARE ALIEN PAINTING *, * ALIEN SCULPTURE *
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop brandy
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop diamond
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop belt
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop painting
WHAT SHALL I DO? drop sculpture
WHAT SHALL I DO? score
I’ve stored 5 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 100. Well done.
This adventure is over. Do you want to try this adventure again?
I need to backtrack slightly on what I said in my last post; the treasures are not optional. In fact, my major sticking point which required a glance at hints involved one of the treasures.
But first, let me pick up where I left off last time. I had gotten to the point where I had gotten to the damaged Power Crystal of my ship but hadn’t worked out how to fix it.
This turned out to be a very nice puzzle with some lateral thinking involved. The crystal is described as a “thin rod” but I originally assumed this meant that I had to reshape the crystal in that format.
Then it occurred to me, well, what if I just replaced it? Is there already something that works like a Power Crystal? Indeed there was.
The Hexagonal Room, from the FM-7 version of the game, in Japanese. Via Mobygames.
I realized the “rod” from the Hexagonal Room I had been using to teleport around, is, in fact, a thin rod, and maybe I could use it. After all, once I left the planet, I didn’t need to teleport around any more. After BREAK ROD:
Odd it only required very little force for it to break off in my hand with a CRYSTALLINE snap!
Oho. It fit into the right spot of the ship perfectly. I gathered the treasures I had found so far (ANCIENT FLASK SAURIAN BRANDY, STRANGE ALIEN BELT, RARE ALIEN PAINTING, and ALIEN SCULPTURE) and left. I landed at a “mother ship” which told me to drop treasures and type “score”, just like Adventureland. I dutifully did so, but got the dreaded message:
I’ve stored 4 treasures. On a scale from 0 to 100 that rates a 80.
In other words, I was missing one treasure!
At this point I was extremely stumped. There was a “methane snow storm” location I hadn’t been able to get anything out of, but I assumed it was a red herring (there is also a “black emptiness” location which really is a red herring, so that wasn’t too outrageous an assumption). However, I threw every item and verb I could at it with no success.
I finally succumbed to the peek of a walkthrough, and realized I had fallen to most dreaded of text adventure blocks: missing a room exit entirely.
The “plain with jungle” location, which I previous assumed was there just so you could DIG, let you type “GO JUNGLE” to a new location.
To be fair, this is violation of the implicit rules previously set up; all other exits in the game that describe locations are mentioned in the “object list” (see the curtain in the image below) and anything in the main description of the room was (up to this point) non-interactive.
So in some sense my need to resort to hints was caused purely by a UI issue, but still, I’ve haven’t had a perfect run at Scott Adams game since Pirate Adventure. Sigh. Maybe next time?
Fortunately, the puzzle solving sequence after went smoothly:
– I came across a “Rigalian Dia-Ice Hound” which needed to be stunned by my phaser. (The phaser previously had only been used to vaporize a boulder, so I’m glad it got some more use. The phaser can be set TO STUN or TO DESTROY.)
– I took the Hound over to the “methane snow storm” area. Ice Hound and all that.
– The hound eventually woke up and ran off into the storm. I searched about and a room that previously led to nowhere now had a “mound.”
– Using an ice pick, I was able to dig into the mound. Inside awaited the hound, and a RIGILIAN ICE DIAMOND. I had to stun the hound again, nab the diamond, set the phaser to DESTROY, and the vaporize the entire mound.
– The hound runs off after this sequence and I was able to escape with the treasure.
Really this was an excellent set piece, and I’m glad I went through it for the last treasure. Still, I’m somewhat disappointed that the winning state of the plot did regress to collecting all the treasure, but in a way I suppose it may have been a conservative compromise; perhaps players were getting uncomfortable with the treasure-less uncertainty of Secret Mission, Voodoo Castle and The Count.
I know I tend to be somewhat allergic to ranking things on this blog, but I figured it would be fun to pause for a moment to rank the Scott Adams games I’ve played so far, from worst to best. I’m including the Alexis Adams game as well.
6. Secret Mission by Scott Adams: I loved the use of implicit plot, but the puzzles felt like I was just lurching between improbable sequences rather than figuring anything out.
5. Adventureland by Scott Adams: His first effort, and it shows; some kind of wonky puzzle design, but still a fun setting and certainly an amazing technical achievement for the time.
4. Pirate Adventure by Scott Adams: I liked the parrot, and the pirate who seemed to care more about alcohol than treasure.
3. Strange Odyssey by Scott Adams: This game had some genuinely excellent puzzles and setting, although the plot was strictly mundane.
2. The Count by Scott Adams: Strong connection between gameplay and plot still eludes most authors; The Count nails it about as squarely as possible. There’s too much learn-by-dying for it to rank #1 but it’s otherwise this game is the benchmark to beat. (If I was teaching a class on text adventures, this is probably one of the games I’d use.)
1. Voodoo Castle by Alexis Adams: The ritual that makes up the plot is a little bit arbitrary but there aren’t any puzzles I can complain about, there was a genuine feel of unraveling a mystery, and I still found this as fun as a modern game.
Note that even Secret Mission would rank higher than at least half the games I’ve played so far from this era. I can understand why in this brief sliver of time Adventure International was the company to beat.