Thursday, September 23, 2021

Matter of Import 68: Artic Adventure A through D [Artic Computing 1982]


 

The Adventure series from Artic - not Arc-tic - Art-ic Computing are 8 games released between 1981 and 1985 for the ZX81, ZX Specrum, C64, and Amstrad computers. The first four for the ZX - Adventures A through D - where released or ported in 1982.

I don’t cover a lot of old text adventure games in this series because there’s not much to show in terms of visuals other than walls of text, but the Artic games were too much a milestone in the UK for me to gloss over - as important to the UK text games as Collossal Cave was in the US. 

The first four games - A: Planet of Death, B: Inca Curse, C: Ship of Doom, and D: Espionage Island - are similar enough that discussing them individually would involve a lot of repetition, so we’re just going to callously lump them together.

Let’s start with the visuals. Black all-caps text on a gray background. You couldn’t get any less inspiring if you tried, though occasionally you’ll get some colored text in the intro, as in Inca Curse, or some lower case, like in Ship of Doom’s intro.

The writing is just as sparse, with single-line location descriptions and simple listings of the items found in each one. Even worse is the near-total lack of feedback you’ll get when attempting an action - for the most part a simple ‘Ok.’ And occasionally automatic movement to a different location. Actions that add or subtract from your Inventory won’t mention the fact.

The parser isn’t the worse, but it’s far from intuitive, taking simple NOUN VERB structure. Attempt to CUT ROPE and you’ll get the further prompt WITH WHAT - and the followup USE KNIFE could have been used from the get go with no further disambiguation. USE carries a lot of weight in the games, generally substituting for most more specific verbiage.

In other cases the game is usually looking for one specific verb implementation - you must GET instead of TAKE, TURN HANDLE instead of PUSH HANDLE, LOOK instead of EXAMINE - though many objects don’t have a more specific description providing clues as to their use.

Clues are sparse in general, and solving puzzles is more a matter of trial-and-error than logical application - dangerous in a game where death is instant and we can only save the game if we QUIT.

If it sounds like I’m being harsh let me remind you that by this point Infocom had released the Zork trilogy, Deadline, and Starcross, and Melbourne House was releasing the Hobbit for the ZX this same year.

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