Saturday, January 4, 2014

Game 129: Apventure to Atlantis (1982)

Apventure to Atlantis
Synergistic Software (developer and publisher)
Robert C. Clardy (designer and programmer)
Released 1982 for the Apple II
Date Started: 3 January 2014
Date Ended: 3 January 2014
Total Hours: 6
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 25
Ranking at Time of Posting: 45/128 (35%)

Apventure to Atlantis is the fourth game in a series that began with Dungeon Campaign, one of the earliest CRPGs, in 1978. Wilderness Campaign (1979) offered a similar approach to gameplay but in an overland map rather than a dungeon. Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure (1980) fused the two approaches by offering both a wilderness map and a dungeon map (along with a new sea map) in the same game. (Links are to my posts on the three games.) The games were created and programmed by Robert Clardy and published by Synergistic Software.

Apventure is a direct sequel to Odyssey, beginning on the island, and in the castle, conquered by the player at the end of that game. The back story does a good job elaborating on the story of Odyssey without contradicting it. In Odyssey, we learned that the game world, the Sargalo Sea and its islands, was separated from the rest of the world by a wizard called the High One. He figured if he could wall off the Sargalo Sea from its enemies, he could use the years to better develop the martial capacities of his citizens and be ready to contend with exterior threats when the wall came down. Unfortunately, he ended up walling some evil types inside as well, and they eventually overthrew him. The quest in Odyssey was about usurping the usurper.

I think I need underlings with more backbone.

In this game, we're given a name for the external threat that caused the High One to seal himself and his people from the outside world: Atlantis. The Altanteans developed science as an alternative to magic, grew powerful with their inventions, and began to enslave the rest of the world, hoping to eventually exterminate magic to preserve their dominance. As the new High One, the character from Odyssey must now contend with this threat. The game makes no secret from the outset that the successful player will be the one to cause Atlantis to sink into the ocean. His mission is to cause a volcano to erupt by casting his magic orb in . . . keep it together, kids . . . the Crack of Doom.

Would "chasm" or "canyon" have spoiled the meter or something?

Like Odyssey before it, Apventure proceeds in several major sections, each of which features significantly different gameplay than the others. Clardy's games have always been hard to pigeonhole in specific genres, and this one is no exception, offering aspects of strategy games, RPGs, puzzle games, adventure games, and even first-person shooters. I found it challenging and fun, though not much of an RPG.

The game begins with a brief character creation process in which you set a name and roll stats for wisdom, intelligence, strength, and charisma. These stats have some effects on what wizards join you at the outset of the game, as well as combat on the first island, but otherwise they don't seem to play a big role. You also choose an alignment on a scale of -5 (chaotic) to 5 (lawful).

You begin on the island of Lapour, and the primary goals of the first section are to recruit enemy wizards and soldiers and to escape the island. In the castle, you find a spell book, a note from your desperate populace, and the magic orb that you must use at the endgame. (I wonder if any player ever made it all the way to the end having forgotten to pick up the orb at the beginning.) An oracle in the castle shows the player a vision of Atlantean airships (called "ornithopters") landing in the northwest part of the island and discharging monsters.

The soldiers are no problem. You just hit (S)ummon while in the castle, and five of them appear. If you lose them in combat on Lapour, you can return to the castle and summon five more. After Lapour, you have to keep them alive, though, since they never appear elsewhere in the game.

There are scattered combats on the first island that use a similar dynamic to Wilderness Campaign and Odyssey. Your stats and your opponents' stats appear side-by-side and you hit SPACE to roll random numbers to determine how many of each side died in each round. I guess this is partly based on the character's strength, but it's mostly luck, and anyway it's of no consequence since if you're defeated, you just run back to the castle where you can recruit five more soldiers.

Fighting a combat with random rolls on the first island.

The main character is apparently only capable of leadership, not casting spells himself, so he has to recruit a party of up to six wizards from the island. This involves wandering around until they appear and then (O)ffering them one of the spells from the spellbook in exchange for their service. Starting spells are "Detect Aura" (determines a wizard's stats and alignment), "Magic Detect" (reveals the magical nature of objects), "Divination" (reveals hidden objects), "Enchant" (used to restore levitation plates--fuel, basically--on an airship), and "Panic Horn" (drives monsters crazy with rage and fear). Since you start with only these five spells, you can only recruit five wizards at the outset.

Recruiting a new companion. You get to name them.

The best strategy here is to give "Detect Aura" to the first wizard and then have him cast it whenever other wizards approach. That way, you can be sure you're recruiting wizards of a compatible alignment. If you mix alignments in the party, it hurts the morale statistic, and wizards may end up deserting. This is not something you want to happen while trying to build your spell capacity. I found out the hard way that you definitely don't want to lose whatever wizards have the "Enchant" and "Magic Detect" spells because you need them during the mid-game and they only appear at the beginning.

I should note that the manual doesn't tell you that the way to recruit wizards is to offer them spells; the player is left to figure that on his own. Similarly, the player must figure out the way off the island, which is to lurk near the landing area of the Atlantean airships, wait until one lands, and then cast "Panic Horn," which causes the monsters to go crazy and slaughter the Atlantean crew, leaving the airship for the party.

Solving the first major puzzle in the game.

Once on the airship, you cannot return to Lapour. The ship sails over a series of islands, including Atlantis itself. There's no consistent map here: the islands just appear randomly, so it doesn't matter which direction you go. As you sail in real-time, constantly fiddling with altitude, velocity, and direction, a variety of monsters and machines can approach--dragons, "dark demons," flocks of gargoyles or harpies, helicopters. You have to deal with them by blasting them with crossbows, ship's cannons, or spells (and you don't start with any offensive spells) using a little action minigame in which you rotate an aiming cursor towards the enemy and hit SPACE to fire.

If they hit you, they can cause a "fuel leak" (depleting fuel) or kill soldiers or wizards. Since wizards are time-consuming to replace and soldiers can't be replaced once off Lapour, in general you want to spend as little time as possible in the air.

Attacked by an enemy wizard on a flying carpet.

Nothing stops you from finding Atlantis at this point and landing, but you won't get very far. Atlantis is covered with special encounters and puzzles that require spells to conquer, and the starting spells aren't enough. Thus, this section of game is primarily occupied with landing on various islands and exploring their castles to find the additional spells.

Every island has a castle, and every castle has the same features, so it doesn't really matter which you choose. In fact, you can just keep landing on the same one repeatedly, since the castle resets when you save and return.

It doesn't really matter which island you land on.

Castles consist of about 20 rooms, each labeled and decorated with furniture--ballrooms, studies, master bedrooms, billiard rooms, and so forth. Once you enter the castle, you can't leave until you find a special room with a power source that you can use to refuel your ship. The power source is always behind three secret doors, each of which is revealed with a password clued by scraps of paper with riddles.

The final room of each castle.

The first scrap of paper is always in plain English, but the second two always use a letter substitution cipher in which the letters are all offset by 1 to 7 letters. It's not very hard to solve the cryptograms, but the puzzles require knowledge of basic Greek, Arabian, and Judeo-Christian mythologies. Here were some of the clues I received:

  • She opened a box of evils
  • Monster with one eye
  • He carries the world
  • Sea god weapon or gum
  • You use one, Eve bit one
  • Had a magic lamp
  • Land of fine rugs
  • Abode of the Greek gods
  • Mighty before his haircut

Encrypted and non-encrypted versions of riddles.

Each scrap of paper also tells you in what room you give the password, so you might have to wander to the study and SAY PANDORA, then go to the master bedroom and SAY APPLE, and finally head to the throne room to SAY PERSIA.

Many of the rooms have objects in them. Every castle has a rope, a shovel, and a candle. The other objects are mostly spell-related. They might appear in corners or against walls when you enter the room, in which case you just have to type LOOK CORNER or LOOK WALL to find them. Other times, they appear in or under furniture, so you might have to type LOOK DESK, LOOK UNDER, and MOVE DESK to exhaust the possibilities that something may be at a desk. When you MOVE things, the graphics even adjust a few feet.

A typical room. There's an object--could be anything--against the wall ahead of me, so I'll have to hit LOOK WALL to see it. I can also LOOK THRONE, LOOK UNDER, and MOVE THRONE to search the throne. When I'm ready to leave, I can GO EAST or GO SOUTH.

When you find a book, scroll, lamp, sword, shield, potion, and so forth, you have to pick it up and then cast "Magic Detection" on it to see if it's a spell-related item. If so, you can give the resulting spell to one of the wizards. Objects are consistently tied to the same spells, so a staff always grants "Ball of Fire," a lamp always grants "Part Water," and a potion always grants "Levitation."

Divining the nature of a sword.

Each wizard starts off at Level 1 or 2 out of 6 levels, and they can only learn a number of spells equivalent to their levels. They gain levels, fairly quickly, by casting spells. Thus, the wizard who had "Detect Aura" back on the first island is usually Level 5 or 6 by the time you leave it, and the wizard who has "Magic Detection" rises fairly quickly because you're always using it on objects. These wizards, consequently, get the bulk of the new spells. Pity the wizard who got "Panic Horn" on the first island, as it only works there and in a couple of rare puzzle locations on Atlantis itself.

As you explore, two traps will appear randomly in each castle: a pit trap and a cave-in. Each traps one of the soldiers, and you need the rope and shovel, respectively, to free them. If you haven't found them yet, you have to leave the soldiers temporarily trapped until you can find the objects and return.

Getting one of my guys out of a pile of rubble.

Also as you explore, random "Trogs" (bug-looking creatures) will pop up and attack you after a short delay that you set during character creation. You have this brief window to shoot the creature with a crossbow (if a soldier is leading the party) or offensive spell (if a wizard is leading). This is where the first-person shooter aspect comes into play, as you have to quickly use the arrow keys to aim the weapon and then hit SPACE to fire. The enemy always dies in one shot.

A trog appears. I'll have to rotate my crossbow a little to the right and fire. (As a side note: I'm almost afraid to look in the pit.)

What's more fun is when the occasional wizard appears in the castles. First, if you're low on wizards yourself, you can try to recruit them into the party using the same strategies as on Lapour. If you don't need them, you can get into a "Wizard's Duel" in which you both simultaneously cast spells and note the results. It's like a game of rock-paper-scissors but with fireballs and sleep spells. The manual provides a chart of what happens with different combinations. So if the enemy wizard casts "Fireball" and you cast "Freeze," the spells cancel each other out. If the enemy casts "Freeze" and you cast "Reflector," the enemy gets frozen. If they cast the same spell, the wizard with the better stats prevails. It's a good idea that doesn't work in practice because the limited number of spells used by enemy wizards means it's almost always best to cast "Fireball" if you have it.

Squaring-off in a wizards' duel.

There are a total of nine "utility" spells (rope trick, levitation, teleport, part waters, penetration, spider climb, shrink, and flame sword) and six "combat" spells (invisibility, extinguish, reflector, sleep, freeze blast, and ball of fire) to find in the castles, and you may need any or all of them on Atlantis. Each castle only has four or five spell objects, and there's no guarantee that they won't be spells you already have. Therefore, the longest part of the game is exploring castle after castle to find every last spell. It particularly sucks when a wizard dies and you have to re-find his spells again (as well as recruit a new wizard), and I confess I used reloading fairly liberally.

Once you have the spells you need, you head back to the airship and begin hunting for Atlantis. It usually doesn't take very long. You land on the southwest corner of the island no matter where you are when you first hit (D)escend.

The island is a maze that doesn't look like a maze. There are no obvious barriers between squares, but you get messages that the jungle is too thick or the mountains to steep or whatever when you try to go most directions, so you have to carefully thread your way through the map to find the Crack of Doom.

Snaking my way through the island maze.

The maze isn't randomized but the encounters along its path are, and this is where the spells are necessary. You might come across a group of guards that respond to "Ball of Fire" or "Sleep," a corridor with flames shooting out of an opening that can be passed with "Jump" or "Extinguish," or a pit that you can exit with "Rope Trick" or "Levitation."

A couple examples of the puzzles in this area.

The Crack is on the northeast part of the mountain. When you finally reach it and cast the Orb into its depths, you have a limited amount of time to make it back to the airship before the volcano erupts and destroys the island (you get a neat animation that includes the city being destroyed in the southeast corner).

Lava floods the island and destroys the city.

You have to use previously-discovered underground tunnels to have any real chance. Whether you make it off or not, the game gives your score, which is mostly made up of combat victories.

As I said, it's not much of an RPG. The combat is almost entirely action-based rather than attribute-based, the inventory is all for puzzles, and the character development is extremely limited, consisting only of wizards "leveling up" from casting spells. The party has an experience point total, but for the life of me, I can't imagine what it influences.

In a quick GIMLET, I give it:

  • 4 points for the game world. The original story is one of the game's strong points, and the enemies and encounters that you face are consistent with the story. It actually makes sense for helicopters and sea dragons to appear on the same map.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. You have extremely limited choices during creation, and there's not much development at all. The game never refers to your character name again after you create it.
  • 2 points for NPC interaction. I'll give it this for the wizards you have to recruit and the associated alignment system.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. It deserves this relatively high total for a few areas. One is the variety of different encounters at sea, with your own actions dependent on their associated strengths and weaknesses. The second is that the manual describes all of the enemies you face in a lot of detail, with hints on how to best defeat them. The third is the nature of the spell puzzles, and the fourth is the innovative (if a little faulty) wizards' duels.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. The game doesn't do well as an RPG in this area, with too much of the combat based on luck or action and no tactics outside the wizards' duels. I think Clardy peaked in Wilderness Campaign when it came to RPG-style combat.
  • 1 point for equipment. Just about everything is puzzle-based, so I can't go high here. Incidentally, some castles featured non-magic rings, rods, and bird cages, and I was never able to find a use for them. I'd appreciate anyone who can tell me what they're for.
  • 0 points for a non-existent economy.
  • 3 points for a fun main quest with technically two outcomes based on whether the player makes it off the island alive.
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are pretty primitive and the sound has that early-1980s piercing quality that's better left off. The keyboard shortcuts were easy to learn, so I didn't mind the interface except for the unnecessary step of having to type GO in front of a cardinal direction. To move east, you have to type G - E. Navigation across the islands would have been a lot easier with a key cluster.
  • 4 points for gameplay. Though linear, I thought it was challenging without being overly so, and it moved at a brisk pace. It's a game to play in a day, and it doesn't overstay its welcome. You can always play again for a higher score if it really grips you.

The final score of 25 makes this the highest-ranked of the Clardy "Campaign" series. It was fitting end to a group of early games that featured some interesting elements but didn't have a lot of impact on the development of the CRPG genre. I wanted to cover it in such detail because no other site has; there are no walkthroughs or full descriptions anywhere (that I can find) online. I can't even find a review from its own era.

At this point, Synergistic Software bends more towards action games. Robert Clardy seems to have stopped programming for a while and instead took a more executive role at his company. He starts appearing as a programmer and designer again in the late 1980s. I saw his work on the DOS version of The Third Courier (1990) and will set it again later this year on Spirit of Excalibur (1990) and Vengeance of Excalibur (1991).


In list news:

1. I rejected The Black Crystal as an RPG. It was listed by GameFAQs as such, but not by MobyGames nor Wikipedia. I played it for a few minutes and found none of my core criteria; it's more of an action-adventure game. The screen shots make it look like an RPG, though.

2. Next we come to Xenomorph, a first-person RPG from the same company that made Galdregon's Domain. The DOS version is mouse-only and soundless. I've played about 30 minutes of it and I really don't like anything about it. But I searched my comments and of course people have said good things about the game on my blog. I'm not trying to tell anyone what to say or what not to say, but it would be nice if, just once, I thought a game sucked and everyone else agreed that it sucked.

In any event, I'm toying with rejecting it as an RPG under my criteria. It feels like more of an action-adventure game. Although it does satisfy my "inventory" requirement, there are no character attributes--no character creation at all, as it happens--and it doesn't appear to me that there's any character development. That makes it about as much of an RPG as Doom. I'll give its defenders a few days to argue their case.


  1. Its weird that when you are flying the ocean seems to be purple, even though the computer does have a blue colour.
    It seems quite an interesting game,
    I read a theory that Atlas was a world leader in the past, that's why he had the 'world on his shoulders'.

    1. Yep, the use of colour was painful throughout; What on earth is with those magenta text artifacts?

    2. But Atlas holds up the sky not the earth?

  2. I tried Xenomorph after seeing it on your list, and I have to agree, it's not an RPG.

  3. If you aren't aware, the Crack of Doom isn't just a doofy sounding name, it's also your old favourite: a name stolen from Lord of the Rings for no reason. It's where Frodo had to toss the ring.

    1. I curious where the inspiration for ornithopters came from in this game.

      On the one hand they are real-world flying vehicles, though limited in application (even more so 30+ years ago) which generally means not a lot of people know about them; on the other hand they do feature prominently in Frank Herbert's Dune, which means a lot of Sci-Fi fans would know about them. I wonder where else they make appearances.

    2. They're famous thanks to Da Vinci. You'll find them in a lot of Steampunk/Historical fantasy worlds.

    3. Thanks, didn't know that. I don't read either of those genres. At least not yet, hehe.

    4. It does kind of make sense; you do throw the orb into a volcano.

      Also: Early Magic players will know the Onithropter as a card from....Antiquities I think? It was a device invented by Urza in that universe.

  4. Oh, how I wish this kind of magic would make it into later RPGs!.. I'm so damn tired of the ever-present damage/heal/buff/debuff paradigm.

    1. There's definitely a lack of puzzle-solving spells in most modern RPGs. It would be fun to see more games offer them. I'd enjoy playing a mage if I could use "Freeze" to safely cross a river, "Fireball" to destroy a door for which I didn't have a key, and "rope trick" to reach a high ledge. The best example I can think of is the Quest for Glory series, which offered puzzle-solving spells but also non-spell alternatives.

    2. More like the only example, really, and even it was somewhat spoiled by the fact that all the spells were fairly low-key. Of course, later Ultimas had some good spells too, but there just weren't enough uses for them.
      By the way, a QfG-inspired game Heroine's Quest got released a couple of weeks ago and is simply great (I daresay in some aspects it's actually better than QfGs).

    3. The Ultima Underworlds had some nice uses for spells, IIRC...

      Oh, and regarding Xenomorph - I'd put it in the "action-adventure" genre. Sure, you have weapons, food and drink to find and put in your inventory, but there's no char progression as such. In my opinion, it's not enough of an RPG.

      While I thought about it, I came to a painful realization:
      System Shock 1 (one of my favorite games!) is not much more of an RPG than this game...(At least you have something like "stats" in cyberspace - maybe that's the loophole! ;) )

    4. 'It would be fun to see more games offer them. I'd enjoy playing a mage if I could use "Freeze" to safely cross a river, "Fireball" to destroy a door for which I didn't have a key, and "rope trick" to reach a high ledge.'

      Bit of a late response, but this is my first ever comment on your blog. Magicka is a lot like what you've described. I don't know if you've ever seen it but you might enjoy it. Its not really an rpg, its like an action game with an interactive magic system.

    5. I just read a couple descriptions of that game. It does sound fun, though I think I'd rather see this system as an optional mechanic in a CRPG rather than a primary game mechanic.

    6. I really liked the spells in Icewind Dale. Some fights you really NEEDED to pull of tricks with them; I recall one fight with a bunch of trolls in a temple that would just overwhelm and eat me, so I admit, I cheezed it. I cast every buff I had, even scrolls, then cast every trap and AOE spell I had down the corridor. MAN that lagged out my computer. By the time my framerate returned most of the trolls were dead and the (still hard) battle was joined.

      When I play modern games like Dragon Age magic just doesn't have the same OOOMPH, and in stuff like Torchlite it is just another attack, the same as other classes get.

    7. You can use 'freeze' spells to freeze a river in Ancient Domains of Mystery. ADOM covers *everything*. It is all about the little details like that.

      I can safely say that you will not win at ADOM in the limited time you have to play all these titles. But it's going to hit you with a lot of things that you don't usually see in traditional CRPG's.

    8. Getting a normal victory in ADoM is easier that ascending in Nethack. Getting an ultimate ending will probably require savescumming

    9. I don't think any of the advanced endings are even possible without spoilers at this point, as most of the information on how to do it was figured out either through incremental expansions of the game (where the tasks used to be simpler) or through code diving. I could be wrong, as there's a lot of hints in the game, but even several of those are easy to misinterpret as mere flavor text.

  5. It's nice to see you play a game I somewhat fondly remember from my early Apple II game playing days.

    I can't remember why I got stuck in the game but I would guess it was because I couldn't find the crack in the mountain on Atlantis. This was one of the first computer games I played. In those days I tended to give up on games too soon if I got stuck.

  6. I find nothing redeeming in Xenomorph, even as some sort of action-adventure.

    1. It's provisionally gone, unless someone offers a reason why it needs to come back.

    2. Is that the game from SSI with the cover art of a guy sporting swanky mantis arm locked in an eternal dumb-stricken facial expression as he stared at his insectoid sickle of death?

      I thought it was a really cool game that I never got to play in my youth because it wasn't available in my region due to some stupid regulations?

      Unless I was dreaming about it? In which case, I call dibs on it. Now I just need to find out how the hell that guy goes to pee without shearing off his gonads.

    3. Perhaps having to sit or squat is the punishment for having awesome bladed arms?

    4. That's sick. Also, now I remember! Entomorph was the game I recalled wrongly. Xenomorph is... no idea WTF is that. Good riddance.

    "CRACK of Doom"?

    Must... resist... snarky... comment... on... double... entendre...

    1. Now I wonder what happens if you use that spell there.

  8. I LOVED this game as a kid. I finally finished it, after a lot of guessing about what needed to be done. I never did figure out how to use the cages, though. I always thought they could be used to trap the trogs, given that they were about the right size. But the commands "trap trog" and "cage trog" never seemed to work. (I wonder if I ever tried "catch trog"--since I last played this game about 30 years ago, I guess I'll never know.) If anyone ever found a use for the cages, I would love to hear it.

    Thanks for the fond memories!

  9. I finally won this damned game after 30+ years, with the help of generous loading of "saved states" on my Apple ][ emulator. I never made it to Atlantis as a kid, and just landing on Atlantis and seeing the volcano was an odd sort of personal victory for me, and was truly exciting after having waited so long for it.

    I disagree that Atlantis is the strongest of the Clardy apventures. I always felt that Odyssey was really the logical growth of Wilderness/Dungeon Campaign (gluing those two concepts together and making them even part of a bigger world) whereas Apventure sort of goes in a whole new direction, as this quasi Sierra color adventure mixed with not-quite-wilderness campaign.

    In any case, thanks for the details post on this.

  10. That crack of doom reminds me of what I love about text adventures. I don't remember which, but there was one where you walk into a room with a crack in the wall. I was rather lost at that point and tried everything, i.e. unsuspectingly typed "take crack", and there was a hilarious reply to that. The things you could discover in these games... :-)


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