It's time for another game by Greg Hassett, the twelve-year-old wonder prodigy of 1978. But before I kick on with Journey to the Centre of the Earth Adventure, I should clear up some errors. The main thing I've gotten wrong (at least recently) is that Voyage to Atlantis is a 1979 game, rather than 1978. That's what I get for believing Mobygames, I guess. This was revealed to me when I stumbled across the excellent blog Renga in Blue. The owner of that blog is going through adventure games in chronological order, and it seems to me that he knows his business. If he says it's a 1979 game, I believe him.
Another thing I discovered in reading his blog is that I missed a whole load of games in my list. I had thought I'd be done with 1978 after finishing Journey to the Centre of the Earth, but it turns out there are another eight adventure games from that year that I still need to play. There are two earlier games that I should play as well: the recently uncovered Wander, which beats out Colossal Cave Adventure as the earliest text adventure game; and the original mainframe version of Zork, from 1977. I'm not at all upset that Zork has been fast-tracked on my list, I can assure you.
But now it's time to look at Journey to the Centre of the Earth Adventure. With Voyage to Atlantis relegated to 1979, that makes Journey Greg Hassett's first game. I'm playing the Commodore 64 version, as I wasn't able to locate a ROM for the TRS-80, so it's possible that it's been tweaked or upgraded from the original release. It can't have been tweaked too much, though, because this game is a mess.
I wasn't able to find the manual, but the premise isn't too hard to figure out. You begin the game in a ship that has crashed underground (presumably your own), and the goal is to collect treasures and return them to the ship. Unlike Colossal Cave Adventure and the works of Scott Adams, there's no obvious guidance as to what you have to do. Perhaps it's in the manual, but the only way the game lets you in on the goal is if you type HELP while you're in the ship. The ship also has a broken "fribulating gonkulator", which needs to be replaced so that you can return to the surface.
(I noted in my review of Voyage to Atlantis that Hassett had ripped off Scott Adams quite obviously. This game feels less inspired by Adams' work; it seems that he didn't start cribbing from Adams until a bit later.)
At the outset of the game, there's a limited area that the player can explore. You're blocked off to the north by a chasm, and to the south by a nine-headed hydra. Most of the locations in the initial area are dusty caves, and dark places, and you can be ambushed at any time by giant bugs. The bugs are hostile, and you won't have the means to kill them until you figure out how to cross the chasm. Most of my initial exploration phase was spent being murdered by bugs and reloading. It was frustrating, but also kind of refreshing after the sterile safety of Voyage to Atlantis.
As in other games of its type, there are treasures just lying around for the taking. In the initial area I found a parrot in a cage, a diamond, a ruby, and a gold nugget. Returning these items to the ship gained me 40 points out of a possible 175.
There's also a maze, which seems obligatory for adventure games of the time. I've yet to play one that doesn't feature a maze of some sort, and this game has the classic maze of twisty passages, all alike. What was it about the mazes in Colossal Cave Adventure that other designers felt the need to rip them off? Yes they can be tricky, but I personally consider them a pain in the arse. Thankfully the one in this game is small, and can be easily mapped by dropping items.
The only thing to be found in the maze is a magic wand, but this wand is needed to cross the chasm. All you have to do is WAVE WAND while you're on one side of the chasm, and it will teleport you to the opposite side. This is a puzzle straight out of Colossal Cave Adventure, so it seems very likely that Hassett did play that game after all.
On the other side of the chasm is a sword, which is used to kill the bugs; once you have the sword the bugs become a minor annoyance rather than a lethal threat, as you can kill them easily when they appear.
Also on the other side of the chasm is a wooden bridge. Crossing the bridge takes you to an area guarded by a troll, who killed me by throwing his axe no matter what I tried. I was never able to defeat him, but as it turns out you don't have to do so to get the full score. I checked a walkthrough, and apparently if you have the parrot with you it blurts out the name SIR ALEXANDER, which you can use to scare the troll away.
Killing the troll is unnecessary, though, because you can sneak into his palace through a secret entrance. This involves another small, easily navigable maze. The palace contains some gold bars and a diamond necklace, two more treasures that need to be returned to the ship. For whatever reason the troll himself never enters this area, so you can loot it at will.
Heading south from the ship leads through an Ice Cavern, and eventually to the aforementioned Hydra. I wasn't able to kill the Hydra with my sword. I had a few other items of note, besides treasures: some keys, a quarter, and a lighter. The answer, of course, was drawn from mythology: BURN HYDRA. I had my doubts that a lighter could destroy such a powerful creature, but as it turned out the Hydra was highly flammable.
|Killing the Hydra. With a cigarette lighter.|
With the Hydra dead, the rest of the map was free for me to explore. To the west, in a room with clam-shell walls, I found an emerald. South was a Velvet Room containing a ming vase, and a garden where I found some silver bars. There was also a Treasure Room, guarded by dwarves, but I'm pretty sure this was intended as a joke; you can't do anything here, and the treasure is described as "nothing to flip over".
|One of several baffling and pointless rooms.|
One incongruous area (though not the most incongruous in the game) was the Arabian Room, in which i could hear sitar music. There was an oil slick on the floor, because racial stereotyping was all the rage in 1978. It turned out not to be just stereotyping though, as south of that room I found Mac's Earthdigger Body Shop, and a functional fribulating gonkulator. All I needed to do was return the gonkulator to the ship, repair it with some tools I found, and the game would be over.
|Luckily for me, this Gonkulator was fribulating correctly.|
At this point I had nine treasures in total, as well as the gonkulator, which is worth 50 points alone. This was enough to get me the full 175 points, and win the game. Not bad for the work of an hour or two. Normally at this point I'd kick on and give it a Final Rating, but there are a few other things I want to mention first.
|I don't feel like this game made me earn the title of Grandmaster.|
I wrote above that the game is a mess, and it does have a lot of loose ends. They keys don't unlock anything. You can find Al's Diner (which is the most incongruous area of the game), wherein you can get some food and buy a coke by inserting a quarter into a machine. Neither the food nor the coke are used for anything. It's rare to find these kinds of extraneous things in early games; memory is often at a premium, and can't be wasted. More than anything this smacks of being Hassett's first game. Many artists take on an overambitious project in their early years, and those projects are rarely finished. I feel like this game was intended to be larger, but got cut off by memory constraints.
This game was a momentary diversion, more than anything. I almost spent more time playing Space Invaders than I did on this. It really is beginner-level stuff, with only one or two puzzles of note. All you really need to do is cross the chasm and beat the hydra, and the game is over. An underwhelming experience, I'm afraid.
Story & Setting: The story is the same one we've seen over and over in this genre, and the setting is a series of thinly-described caves and other areas that don't make much sense. Rating: 1 out of 7.
Characters & Monsters: The bugs give the early game some menace, but the hydra and the troll are merely obstacles to get through rather than actual characters. Rating: 1 out of 7.
Aesthetics: It's a text adventure, and the descriptions are sparse. Rating: 1 out of 7.
Mechanics: The parser is a simple two word affair, that only recognises the first three letters of each word, but it works well enough. Rating: 3 out of 7.
Challenge: The game has no challenge, really., outside of the opening when the bugs keep killing you. Most of my time playing the game was spent on exploration; once I'd finished that I beat it almost straight away. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Innovation & Influence: This game doesn't do anything that Colossal Cave Adventure and Adventureland didn't do before it. Even some of the puzzles are lifted. Rating: 3 out of 7.
Fun: The game's too short and lacking in substance to prove much amusement. It might be a good one to start young kids with, but I didn't get much out of it. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Definitely no bonus point for this game; I won't be revisiting it. The scores above total 13, and doubling that gives a Final Rating of 26. That makes it the lowest ranked game so far. I feel a little bad for ranking a twelve-year-old's game at the bottom, but I can only rate the game in front of me. For all I know Scott Adams might have been eight years old.
Final Rating: 26 out of 100.
Next: I'm going to take a trip back to 1974, to have a look at Wander. Assuming I can find a workable version.