Thursday, June 5, 2014

Expedition Amazon: Won!

It turns out that not only is there such a place as "Ka," but the Incans wrote with a Latin alphabet.

When creator Willard Phillips showed up to comment on my first post for Expedition Amazon, then traded a couple of e-mails with me, I was doubly determined to win the game despite having run out of clues. (Mr. Phillips, regrettably, didn't remember enough to assist.) I fired it up again and invested several more hours exploring and re-exploring areas before I finally found what I'd been missing: a single staircase that went to a room I had not yet discovered. I had been under the impression that all of the maps on the same level ultimately connected to each other. This isn't the case. Different staircases sometimes lead to different, cordoned sections of the same level.

This still didn't take me directly to Ka. I had to go down to another one of the bottom-level maps where you move around erratically while the available passageways constantly shift. From there, I had to find my way up to another unmapped section of an upper level and mess around before, at last, after a series of traps, discovering the right staircase.

Or, as it turns out, a slide.
The slide took me to a level where the game warned me about "extreme temperature!!" and my characters lost a few hit points every round. On this level, I bumbled into an area that said "gas!" and everyone was knocked out. Then:


At this point, the interface completely changed to something that looked more like an adventure game, with a single explorer bopping down a series of parallel hallways with doors on each side. The commands also changed, with various keys allowing me to (R)everse travel direction, (E)nter a door, or (V)iew the opposite wall. I also had the option to (Q)uit and leave the area to rejoin my party.


Each door was marked with two sets of tick marks above it, and after some experimentation, I discovered a pattern. The top mark denoted sections of the hallway and increased or decreased as I walked across screens. The bottom mark denoted the number of the hallway itself and increased or decreased as I went through doors.

In all the crypts I had pried open on the upper levels, I never got the encounter I was supposed to get where I'd learn how to read Incan runes, at which point I'd start getting actual hints from all of the natives I was killing. I still don't know what I was missing there. But I'd already cracked the file in Notepad and read the hints, so I knew what they said. One of them was "FIVE OVER FOUR EVERY VERSE WILL WIN." I guessed this meant that I wanted to find the area with five ticks over four ticks. I didn't know what "EVERY VERSE" meant, but phonetically it sounded like "reverse," which turned out to be the trick.


At this point, I got the winning screen at the top of this post, followed by a note that "This is not the end. It is the beginning of Expedition: Ka."


The final area didn't really add anything in role-playing terms, and it doesn't change my final rating (except to add three hours to the total), but I'm glad I won it and kept my streak unbroken. 

In his comments and e-mails, Willard Phillips indicated that he's a Korean War veteran with a mechanical engineering background, and he was already 50 years old when he started writing Expedition Amazon in 1981. He was a self-taught programmer ("using short compiled BASIC routines tied together with machine language"; some readers, unlike me, will understand), and he wrote the game primarily as a programming exercise. Later, he met the owner of Penguin Software, Mark Pelczarski, at a software show and convinced him to publish the game. (Jimmy Maher has an excellent article on Mr. Pelczarski and the company if you're interested, though he doesn't mention this game.)

Mr. Phillips had played no previous computer RPG except Wizardry, which I find fascinating, since you really can't detect any influence of Wizardry on Expedition Amazon. Phillips made up most of the elements himself. He said he made the back story "silly" simply because he didn't expect anyone to publish it. After Pelczarski picked it up, David ("Dr. Cat") Shapiro helped de-bug the source code and Greg ("Moebius") Malone designed the cover. The old man in Iquitos telling jokes was added by Pelczarski and Shapiro, which makes sense. As an anonymous commenter pointed out, the graphic seems very foreign to the game--clearly not the same style as Phillips's other illustrations.


Phillips intended to write the sequel (Expedition: Ka) but never got around to it. He made about $50,000 in royalties from the game and was in the midst of a game called Vampire when, as he puts it, "Electronic Arts [came] into existence and everything changed. An individual couldn't compete." He kept working in the computer industry and retired from Dell in 1999. He remembers fondly that "1982 and '83 were great years for selling games and Apple was the machine to write for."

In total, a fantastic story and a good end to an interesting RPG from the Bronze Age. Now to get back to the Dragonflight posting I promised.

23 comments:

  1. Impressive that he was able to write this as a largely self-taught programming exercise.

    Chet, you are continuing to unearth some obscure pieces of gaming history. Well done!

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  2. I love when you find these sorts of historical anecdotes. :)

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    1. As do I. I wish I'd paid more attention to developers and companies when I first started blogging. It makes all my entries during the first 18 months seem woefully incomplete.

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    2. I was just going to post the same thing. Stuff like this is what elevates this blog from 'awesome' to genuinely 'great'.

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    3. Wait. "Great" is better than "awesome"?

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    4. Awesomely great, perhaps? Greatly awesome?

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    5. Of course "Great" is better than "Awesome".

      What do you call the stunts a teenage boy could perform as he parkours his way over several buildings? Awesome.

      What do you call the miracles that God could perform as He guides His people in the Exodus (not Ultima 3, incidentally)? Great.

      See, you can call a mortal Awesome but God is Great.

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    6. All this discussion of "awesome" vs. "great" vs. "awesomely great" etc. made me think of the term "RAMLAR!!" (Capitalization and double exclamation points are mandatory. A definition can be found here.)

      This blog is both awesome and great, but not RAMLAR!! (Thank goodness for that.)

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    7. The discussion reminds me of a bit of dialogue at the beginning of Elmore Leonard's Be Cool. A friend of Chili Palmer's says, "I know you did okay with Get Leo, a terrific picture, terrific. And you know what else? It was good."

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  3. I know where the Amazon is but... where the heck is Ka?!

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    1. after the dot, misspelled with a "C"

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    2. So... Canadians are the true Incans? Wow. A lot of Peruvians are gonna be pissed.

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    3. I finally found Ka!
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A0

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  4. I wonder if in this internet age, indiviuals could compete better than in the early 1980s? Thank you Chet for finding this and sharing it with us. In that time, most of us did not have an apple, but Atari computers and would wait for Apple programs to be translated for Atari.

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    1. JJ: The answer is sort of. There are plenty of indie games coming out, such as Dust: An Elysium Tale. Most have a few people working on them, Dust being a rare example of one person. They can't compete directly with a giant studio, but they have been very successful at filling genres that no one else has. For example, puzzle games, adventure games, platformers, retrogames, and so on.

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    2. Dust is a very beautiful, albeit childish anime-inspired, game.

      The characters appeal to kids a lot but the plot and puzzles seem to be directed towards teens and above. Weird combination.

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    3. There are a lot of great indie games on the Internet: Aquaria, Eternal Daughter, Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac, Half-Minute Hero, The Real Texas, Citizens of Earth, 1,001 Spikes, Fenix Rage, Dropsy, Randal's Monday and Ben There, Dan That.

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    4. Also Two Brothers if you can handle a level of crippling bugs that would make Bethesda and Obsidian proud.

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    5. We're officially back in the Golden Age of Gaming.

      Kids don't have to print their manuals and package it with their games in ziploc bags to distribute them in mom-n-pop stores anymore. There's GOG and Steam for them.

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  5. Thanks for this! I was close to winning this game several times, and it's good to see that it could actually be won.

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  6. I seem to be a little late to the party, reading the blog from the beginning, but I just can't help to notice that the shopkeeper's screen seems to be heavily inspired by Polish highlanders from Tatra mountains (https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podhalanie#/media/File:Przewodnicy_tatrzanscy_1877.jpg). This is strengthened by the Mark Pelczarski's last name, which is strongly Polish-sounding, and there was a large number of Polish highlanders who migrated to USA in the early 20th century (it was rather poor region of a rather poor country, and USA was a land of opportunity). It is possible that the graphics is at least partially effect of that.

    Also, keep up good work, Chet! :)

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    1. Wow, that might be the most obscure connection anyone has made on my blog so far. I want to believe you, and while I do see the similarities, the shopkeeper also looks like a stereotypical depiction of a South American from any number of other sources. I supposed we'd have to hear from Mr. Pelczarski to be sure.

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