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A Perfect, Petite Potrayal of Piratey Plundering, August 26, 2020
I've recently started playing the classic Scott Adams games, titles that are referenced often but rarely played anymore. Starting with Adventureland, the first commercial text adventure and building quickly from there, Mr. Adams became a legend in early home computing scene, and his games, originally compressed into grammatical crayon drawings due to space limitations, and then remaining as such for the sake of tradition, became a large influence on those that would follow. His skill at squeezing personality and challenge into just a few kilobytes of data is on full display here, in what is only the second game of the series. It's a marked improvement on the first game in every way.
I'd messed about with these games before, but had never sat down, cracked my knuckles and genuinely tried solving one. So I booted up the proprietary Scott Adamís Adventure Interpreter 3.4 and got down to business. I planned on playing sequentially, and never using a walkthrough. Adventureland stopped me at the gate though, as I found myself making zero progress. Its throw-everything-at-the-wall locations were also a bit annoying. (The big BOOOMING voice is still super funny though.) I decided that skipping it and coming back later was nobler than caving to the hint book right away, and so off I went on a Pirate Adventure instead. Three hours and no hints later, I was grinning with satisfaction at a 100% score and feeling quite satisfied. I was also left with some musings on puzzle design.
Scott Adams is in an interesting position as a designer here. He can't put clues in room descriptions as he doesnít have the space. He canít hide clues in examinations either, at least not often, as thereís not room to add a description to every single item or bit of scenery. (Still be sure to examine though. A few objects do respond, and with crucial hints when they do.) There really is that little space with which to work. Imagine trying to make a series of consistently challenging, fun, and unique puzzles when you have this little flexibility. Every piece has to be out in the open, and you only have a few locations were you can put stuff. It really is a testament to Adams' coding and design skills that he pulls this off consistently the whole game.
The majority of the puzzles are pure logic; as in, you have to deduce from your real-world experience and general knowledge how they might be tackled. As demonstrated in the famous (and infamous) +=3, a pure logic puzzle isnít necessarily easy; in fact, it can be nefarious and impossible while still remaining within the parameters of logic. There's a sweet spot you have to find. The beauty to this sort of puzzle is that when you solve it, itís a great feeling. A Eureka moment. Adams picks just the right items and just the right scenarios so that the logical answer can always be deduced. At least, in this particular game and for me personally. As my playtime shows, I was able to move through the game very quickly, never really getting stuck.
The writing also manages to do a lot economically. Itís kind of hard to quantify exactly why the prose in these games is as charming as it is. Itís definitely there though. All of the throwback Scott Adams-style games that have cropped up over the years, often in competitions, that have failed to provide that same feeling, illustrate why Scott himself does it best. Some great moments from this game, paraphrased slightly: (Spoiler - click to show)The pirateís reaction when you try to sail while holding the book, ďArr, I'll not have that ACCURSED thing on my ship!Ē; the game telling you to type Weigh Anchor to sail, then just telling you the anchor's weight before giving you the actual command; the eternally squawking, cracker-chasing parrot; and of course the classic misidentification of the mongoose.
Is this worth playing still? Yeah! Itís a fun, light-hearted little treasure hunt, and an interesting look into text adventuringís early form. Older games often get a bad rap, regularly written off as relics of an era best learned from then forgotten. I play a lot of older games and I've found this reputation to be unearned and unfair. Is this just nostalgia talking? The grumbling of a curmudgeon? Nope. Iím in my early twenties, and my first text adventure was The Things That Go Bump in the Night on Quest. This really does hold up as fun, even today. I'm looking forward to the next game, and my eventual return to the first.