Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Adventure of the Week: The Wizard's Sword (1983)

It's recently come to my attention via the CASA Solution Archive that the SoftSide magazine series of monthly adventures is more extensive than I had realized.  I've played adventures #1 through #20 on the Atari 400/800 computers in past years, but it looks like the magazine ran through at least issue #47.  There seems to be a gap between adventures #20 and #38, but this might be an artifact of a change in the issue numbering sequence, which would mean there are about 29 games in the series rather than the 47 there appear to be.

At any rate, I'm picking up this generally playable series with the next game I've been able to find, The Wizard's Sword, from issue #38 for the TRS-80 Model I/III computers (SoftSide published for multiple platforms.)  The source code credits this one to P. Kirsch, most likely Peter Kirsch who wrote a number of the SoftSide adventures. I also note that this credit line refers to this game as #20, so maybe this was simply published as #21 after Danger Is My Business took that slot.  If that's the case, then there's no real gap here and I'm picking up right where I want to.  There will be more to come as we get this history figured out, I'm sure.

I'm playing using the TRS32 emulator, mostly for the sake of save states as the game has no built-in SAVE function.  The SoftSide BASIC language engine is flexible but simple -- it doesn't have a windowed display, and makes minimal use of platform-specific effects to keep porting straightforward.  The Wizard's Sword is a fantasy tale in which the player is cast as an apprentice to The Wizard of Zzarg.  As the curtain rises, our master's dying words charge us with slaying the evil Medusa of the Green Kingdom, in order to earn our full Wizard status.  Why he didn't bother mentioning this earlier remains a mystery; we suspect he was trying to avoid dealing with it himself, or simply misplaced the necessary equipment and was too embarrassed to admit it.  So it's up to us to find his sword and five magical jewels required to power it; we are told, for example, that the yellow jewel provides wisdom when rubbed.  (Hopefully this wisdom is not along the lines of "I look like an idiot rubbing this jewel to no apparent effect.")

Interested readers are encouraged to reclaim The Wizard's Sword before reading my playthrough notes below;  this is a straightforward but well-built adventure, well worth experiencing firsthand.  Beyond this point, I will be documenting the game in detail for history's sake, so there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin at the aptly-named Valley of Crossroads, with exits in all four directions and nothing in inventory.  There's a sleeping unicorn here, but we can't WAKE UNICORN or PET UNICORN or YELL or even EXAMINE UNICORN.  However, if we try to walk to the North, the unicorn wakes up and becomes an ANGRY UNICORN (IT HATES PEOPLE.)
The unicorn will now chase us, attempting to gore us with its horn as we walk around, finding the Yellow Kingdom's Valley of Moon to the west, the (apparently ungoverned) Valley of Ice to the south, the Red Kingdom's Valley of Sun to the east, and the Blue Kingdom's Valley of Stars to the north.

There's an iceberg in the Valley of Ice -- can we somehow get the unicorn to lodge its horn in the ice?  We can't GO ICEBERG, but if we hang around here long enough, the unicorn will smash the iceberg with its attack, revealing... THE WIZARD'S SWORD!

There's another iceberg to the east... and here, the angry unicorn gets stuck in the ice after ramming the berg with its horn.  We can see a yellow key buried deep in the ice if we LOOK ICEBERG, so we probably want to break it down if we can.  We can't SMASH ICEBERG or MELT ICEBERG, but I was surprised to find that we can simply FREE UNICORN -- the appreciative animal calms down, drops the RED JEWEL OF LIGHT at our feet and vanishes.

When we GET RED, it automatically attaches itself to the sword, but RUB RED doesn't produce any interesting effect at the moment and LOOK RED doesn't tell us anything further; presumably it will be a light source when needed.  Mapping is a little tricky here, as we don't get a lot of inventory items to work with and many rooms have apparent (if looping) exits in all directions.  Here, in the Valley of Ice, it seems there are three "real" locations; one directly to the south of the Valley of Crossroads, one to the west where the wizard's sword turns up, and one to the east with the yellow key buried in the ice.  Heading north from the Valley of Ice's entry point returns us to the crossroads.

Now that the unicorn isn't chasing us, we can explore the Valley of Stars to the north.  The most interesting location here is to the north, the Valley of All-Ways.  Going north again brings us to the Valley of Horace Greely, and if we take the hint and go W, we find the Valley of Silver and the SILVER JEWEL OF STRENGTH.

East of the Valley of All-Ways, we find the Valley of the Dwarves, where a dwarf child plays with WHAT APPEARS TO BE A PIECE OF BLUE PLASTIC.  We can't just GET BLUE, and it seems barbaric to KILL CHILD (and yes, I have done my duty to you, dear reader, by confirming that the parser will inform us that I WON'T LET YOU KILL THE DWARF CHILD if we try.)

We can continue east into the dwarf village, where we see some huts, and as we wander around we notice that the dwarf child disappears and reappears on occasion, though the piece of blue plastic also vanishes with him so that doesn't give me any ideas.  RUB SILVER makes us feel stronger, but RUB RED doesn't do anything here.  We'll come back here later, maybe we'll find something that a child might like to take in trade.

The Blue Kingdom also contains the Valley of 4 Corners, adjoining the Valley of Poof, which contains the GREEN JEWEL OF COURAGE but also "POOFS" us to the Valley of the Shifting Sands before we can grab it.

I'll make my way back to the crossroads and check out the Yellow Kingdom for a while.  West of the entry point is the Valley of Riddles, where a statue says, "WHAT IS IT THAT NO MAN WANTS, YET NO MAN WANTS TO LOSE?"  I try to ANSWER LIFE first -- thinking that no living creature wants for it -- but this produces no response from the statue.  Neither does MIND or HIS S--T, nor TIME, which I throw in just because it seems appropriate to these kind of mythical stories.  West of the statue is the Valley of Oops, where we can't proceed further west due to a magical force field blocking the way.

Okay.  I'm stuck here, so I'll go back east of the crossroads to the Valley of Sun.  We can travel east again to find ourselves in the Valley of Darkness, where RUB RED turns on the light as expected.  We find a short rod here, and LOOK ROD reveals that THE WORD 'POOF' IS ETCHED IN IT.  Sounds useful!  East again is the Valley of Dreams, where we fall asleep -- and the rod gets stolen overnight!

We might as well keep exploring, anyway -- we enter the Valley of the Dragon next, where some mean dwarves are abusing the poor chained beast, forcing it to breathe fire so they can roast hot dogs.  The chain is red, and we can't UNLOCK CHAIN, although the parser recognizes it, so we might need a red key here.  Trying to go east again causes the dwarves to run off, but we are also seized by an irrational fear and forced to run back to the Valley of Dreams.

Funny how this world has so many valleys, and nary a hill is mentioned, but we'll keep exploring.  The Blue Kingdom also contains a Giant Condor, inspiring fear and fleeing similar to what we just experienced near the dragon (maybe we need that green jewel to build up our courage for these encounters.)  For some reason, a red key has now materialized in the Valley of the Shifting Sands, but we can't overcome our fear long enough to unlock the dragon's chain.

I'll backtrack now, since the short rod doesn't seem to be turning up anywhere after being stolen, so I'll try to get the green jewel before entering the Valley of Dreams.  At least I think this is how this is supposed to work -- nothing changes if I just walk into the Valley of Poof, though.  I have to WAVE ROD first, and now we can GET JEWEL.  Three down, two to go!

Returning to the dragon, it seems that scaring the dwarves triggers the appearance of the red key in the desert.  RUB GREEN overcomes our fear of the dragon, though we still can't travel east as the poor creature is lying there moaning, blocking the path.  We can also RUB GREEN to visit the condor long enough to notice a blue key hanging around its neck, but if we try to KILL CONDOR it just flies off somewhere else (and may not come back for all we know, so I'll restore to an earlier save again.)

Okay -- now we can UNLOCK CHAIN, freeing the dragon, who drops a PIECE OF RED PLASTIC before vanishing.  Aha!  Maybe we can trade this to the dwarf child... and yes, GIVE RED allows us to obtain a PIECE OF BLUE PLASTIC.  It's a filter -- we can see through it to make everything look blue -- but not a power jewel, as far as I can see.  Hmmm.

Past the dragon we find the Valley of Hills -- with a TALL HILL at last!  We can't CLIMB HILL or GO HILL, but LOOK HILL reveals a cave.  GO CAVE finds us in darkness, and we can RUB RED to illuminate the area and see a large boulder, FAR TOO HEAVY TO MOVE when we try.  But we can RUB SILVER to boost our strength, and then MOVE BOULDER to find the YELLOW JEWEL OF WISDOM.

Maybe... yes, RUB YELLOW at the riddle statue in the Yellow Kingdom comes up with an answer I hadn't tried: LAWSUIT.  Clever!  This produces a yellow piece of plastic, and some noise at the bottom of the statue... ?  Ah, there's a yellow keyhole visible in its base now.

Going back to the iceberg where we saw the yellow key earlier, we find this puzzle solved for us -- the dragon we rescued is waiting here, conveniently helping us out by melting the iceberg when we arrive.  Now we can UNLOCK BASE (INSERT KEY and UNLOCK STATUE don't work) and disable the force field, reaching the Valley of Dead Ends to acquire the BLUE JEWEL OF SLEEP.

So we have all five jewels now, and should be ready to find the Green Kingdom and face Medusa.  We can't COMBINE PLASTIC to make a green filter out of the blue and yellow plastic, but when I LOOK YELLOW, EVERYTHING SPINS and YOU FIND YOU ARE ELSEWHERE, echoing the influential early adventures created by Scott Adams.

This magical transportation, however, has only brought us to the Yellow Kingdom we've already visited on foot.  And LOOK BLUE just brings us to the Blue Kingdom's Valley of Stars.  LOOK BLUE AND YELLOW is evaluated as LOOK YELLOW, so that doesn't work.  LOOK GREEN acts as though it could work, but YOU SEE NOTHING SPECIAL, probably because we don't have an actual green piece of plastic.  We must need to mix these two filters somehow... we can't seem to MIX or ATTACH or CONNECT them, though.  Aha!  We can PUT BLUE -- ON WHAT? -- ON YELLOW, and now we have two pieces of plastic clinging to each other.  Now we can LOOK through either piece and reach the Green Kingdom!

Heading south from the Valley of Many Paths, we find the Valley of Medusa.  It's tricky to map, as we only have a few portable items we can afford to drop, but if we head S, E, and N from our entry point, we find a location where a STRANGE GREEN DOOR BLOCKS YOUR WAY.  It's locked, naturally, and we can't UNLOCK DOOR at this point.  Odds are we need a green key, which we have not seen anywhere yet.

What about the condor?  We can RUB BLUE now, causing the bird to fall asleep, and GET KEY.  So now we have a blue key... but no blue lock has turned up so far.  The green door can't be unlocked with the blue key, which isn't surprising, and we can't PUT one key on another, so there must be a blue keyhole somewhere we haven't been yet.

We can't put the dwarf child to sleep by rubbing the blue jewel.  There don't seem to be any exits on the map that we haven't tried yet.  Can we combine the yellow and red plastic to reach an Orange Kingdom?  Everything looks orange when we look through the plastic, but we don't get sent anywhere new.  There's no Purple Kingdom either, apparently, though I give credit to Mr. Kirsch for anticipating both attempts.

What about the dwarven huts?  I was trying to GO HUTS earlier, to no avail, but further experimentation establishes that if we attempt to GO to a specific HUT instead, we can choose to enter Hut #1, #2, or #3.  Hut #1 features crude etchings of four kingdoms -- red, blue, yellow and green -- all of which we have visited.  Hut #2 contains a hope chest -- we can UNLOCK CHEST, probably with the blue key, and... OUT SPRINGS BOB HOPE!  The popular 1940s comedian thanks us for rescuing him and gives us a GREEN KEY!  Hooray!  Hut #3 contains the stolen short rod, so this would have been useful to discover earlier but isn't essential at this point in my playthrough.

Okay, now we should be able to breach Medusa's lair.  We can indeed UNLOCK DOOR with the green key, OPEN DOOR and GO DOOR to reach the aptly-named Valley of Almost There, where a wooden door stands in our way and SEEMS TO BE STUCK until we RUB SILVER to temporarily augment our strength.  Beyond the wooden door we find a giant spider, and must RUB GREEN to gain the courage to face it before we can RUB BLUE to put it to sleep.

Now we sense a TERRIFYING SHADOW CREEPING UP BEHIND YOU.  WHAT DO YOU FEED SNAKES?   I try to RUB BLUE and KILL MEDUSA, neither of which does anything useful.  Remembering our mythology and thinking to CLOSE EYES helps, though -- we cover our eyes with one hand and can hear her hair hissing behind us as Medusa draws closer.  Now we can try to KILL MEDUSA again... and this time, victory is ours!  We strike a Harry Hamlin-esque pose before we're unceremoniously dumped out to the BASIC prompt:

The Wizard's Sword is a high-quality adventure by magazine standards -- the puzzles are varied and logical, and information we acquire early on has value in the endgame.  There's not much risk or tension in the plotting -- even the endgame lets us fumble around quite a bit without penalty -- but I quite enjoyed the journey and I'm glad to have a few more SoftSide adventures to play.

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