This week, we're returning to the fertile adventuring grounds of the Sinclair Spectrum ZX, with Laurence Creighton's Behold Atlantis, published by Zenobi Software in 1991. The UK-based Speccy was a great platform for text adventures -- even though it was a cassette-based system, its standard 48K of memory allowed for large maps and solid, descriptive writing, and it hosted many exclusive text adventures, with new titles released well into the 1990s. Like many Spectrum adventures, this one was written using The Quill (a.k.a. AdventureWriter.)
The player is visiting the Greek island of Thira, and in something of a break from tradition, there isn't a crisis immediately at hand.
I encourage interested readers to Behold Atlantis before proceeding with my comments below -- the legendary Balrog has made the Zenobi catalog freely available online at http://www.zenobigames.blogspot.co.uk/, so all you need is a Spectrum ZX emulator (I have been using ZXSpin for years, but there are many options.) This game isn't overly difficult, but there are some definite parser roadblocks and obscure puzzle solutions, so a good walkthrough may come in handy -- I know I needed one at a few key points. Alternatively, you could just reference my progress report here -- it documents my entire playthrough, so there are certain to be solutions and...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
The game's intro text is a bit of a giveaway, as it talks about discovering a gateway to Atlantis, but the game proper starts with the player on the streets of Thira, as an elderly Greek offers us a mule. We're wearing faded jeans and a T-shirt, with nothing else in inventory, and we can see a volcano far to the west.
If we fail to take the mule within a few turns, the owner wanders off with his animal. North of the starting location is our hotel room, with a bed, wash-basin, towel rack and wardrobe. We can't TAKE TOWEL, so Douglas Adams' famous advice will have to go unheeded here, but we can OPEN WARDROBE to find our suitcase, which can't be taken but can be opened in turn to reveal a bather (bathing suit for us Yanks) and a box of matches. Further examination yields a pair of goggles, so we're suited for swimming, if not deep-sea diving.
South of the main street is a general store, with a sign reading, "CHEEPIST PRICES U CAN GOT" (ethnic dialect gags you also got), where we can pick up an underwater torch (the flashlight variety) and a knife. Well, "pick up" oversimplifies the case -- we can't GET TORCH, as Stealing is something that is not done on a Greek Island, and we have no money to BUY it at the moment. We'll have to come back.
While visiting the fountain in the main square to the east, A barefooted youth stops to greet you. In his hand he is carrying a pair of sandals. TALK YOUTH indicates that The youth can't speak English, but he keeps pointing to his legs. Does he need pants? We can REMOVE JEANS, but we are promptly arrested for indecent exposure in a public place, ending the adventure. So that's not a good idea... not that it seemed to be one at the outset, really.
Starting over, our attempt to TAKE MULE is rebuffed as The Greek goes on a bit about Speccy adventurers who try to "get" everything they see. We can't BUY MULE either, so perhaps this is just a set-piece gag. Let's try changing from the jeans into the bather inside the hotel room -- the boy will now accept the jeans in exchange for the sandals. Incidentally, our T-Shirt reads, "I LOVE LAURENCE CREIGHTONS [sic] GAMES" -- though we can only find this out by EXAMINEing SHIRT, not READing it.
We've explored the local area now, consisting of just the four locations, so where else can we go? There's a sharply zig-zagging path going down the mountain, with a pole next to it -- the pole has a sign reading, "MULE STOP. PLEASE KEW FROM RITE. A MULE BE A LONG KWIKLEY. U WAIT." We can't GO PATH, so let's see if we can find the right words to make use of the public transportation. RIDE MULE almost works, but we don't have any money... oops. With a start, followed by a re-start, I discover that we did have some drachmas in our jeans -- which I gave away without having checked on the previous try.
The drachma supply appears to be practically infinite -- we can BUY TORCH, BUY KNIFE and RIDE MULE and still have Some drachmas in inventory. The mule takes us safely down the path, as the Greek mutters something like "ZEUS", with color emphasis on the ZEUS.
We now find ourselves on a volcanic beach -- there's another mule stop here, should we need to return to town -- and the hot black sand makes the sandals well worth wearing. There's a spade here, but we can't dig on the beach and there are no obvious exits. There's also an 8-item inventory limit, so we may have to do some juggling from here on in.
The torch bears a warning that its switch is faulty -- once on, you cannot put it off, so we'd best conserve its power. We can SWIM out into the Aegean sea, where the salty water burns your eyes until we WEAR GOGGLES. The water is clear, revealing the sea bed deep below. I probably should have left the matches behind -- they're now a soggy box of matches, but nothing else appears to be damaged, so I'll restore and leave them on the beach before going in, along with the drachmas which seem unlikely to be of use outside of town.
SWIM DOWN just takes us back to shore (where we discover that even though we didn't take them in, the matches have gone soggy? Ah, they toggle back and forth every time we go for a swim -- it's just a state handling bug, and we don't actually need them for anything, as it turns out.) To approach the sea floor, we need to DIVE. It's very dark and murky down here, so we need to SWITCH ON TORCH. It took me several turns to find the right phrase, and now we're out of air; fortunately it didn't take as long to figure out that we can SURFACE to breathe. So we won't be spending any great amount of time down there.
The torch only lasts about 30 turns, so we're going to need to map out the sea-bed and find a spot to dig. W, E and DIG seems to work -- when we surface, we always dive back to the starting point of the maze, so this isn't too messy. We find a stone in the only diggable spot, which can be TAKEn, and going S from here discovers the entrance to an underwater cave.
Some kelp prevents us from entering the cave, and the knife is not quite sharp enough to CUT KELP. Actually, Mr. Creighton's emphasis suggests that it is JUST not quite sharp enough. The stone is a whetstone, so can we SHARPEN KNIFE -- How? -- WITH STONE? No, that doesn't work. Can we RUB KNIFE WITH STONE or SHARPEN KNIFE ON STONE? Nope. I finally had to consult a walkthrough (thanks yet again, CASA!) to determine that we have to STROKE KNIFE to sharpen it.
As we enter the cave, a portcullis falls down and, startled, we drop everything we brought along except the bather. So this is in essence Part 2 of the adventure -- the segmentation is not due to memory constraints, it seems, but perhaps for design simplification. The second part of the game is quite a bit larger than the first part, so everything up to this point has been a sort of prologue.
We're now in a breathable area, the remains of ATLANTIS, where we find a large piece of sponge and a pool of sea water. Heading W, we find the remains of a magnificent marble chamber, and a passage leading down to an ancient shrine once managed by LESKOS the Priest... whose body still lies prostrate here. He's not dead, we discover, but in suspended animation -- apparently if we can restore his Holy Ring to his finger, which has been chopped off, he will be returned to life. So we should probably do that, then.
East of the shrine is the priests' robing chamber, and passages to the south and east lead to other areas. The Guards' Quarters contains a wineskin, and the Guard Room contains a living brute of a guard who won't let us access the dungeon downstairs. The Priests' Chamber to the east of the robing area contains a small altar and a page of a hymn, reading, oddly enough, "If it's worn, will keep you warm." The nearby vestry contains a cupboard with a golden cloak inside, most likely what the hymn was referring to, but we can't just GET CLOAK as it is retained by two strong iron bars.
West of the shrine is an intersection leading to a tool shed, containing an axe that's so old it disintegrates when we try to pick it up; an oxygen plant, leading to a slimy maze we'll try to navigate later; and a garden, ritual site and torture-chamber area, where a jar of acid is of the most immediate interest. West of the torture chamber is a freezing ice chamber at minus 80 degrees Celsius, so that's probably why we need the golden cloak.
We can't POUR ACID or USE ACID or DISSOLVE BARS or EMPTY JAR or THROW ACID to dissolve the bars, though. We can map the slimy passage maze (S, S, N, N) to find a dismembered finger, and if we pick it up we can see that it bears the ring we're looking for. We can try to PULL RING -- You pull and tug, but the ring refuses to come off. I can't seem to find my way back out of the maze, so it seems that obtaining the ring might be important. We can PUT FINGER, and the parser assumes we want to put it into the jar of acid. The finger dissolves, but now the ring is in the jar of acid, so we can DROP JAR to smash it and retrieve the ring... except, no, it seems to disappear completely when we do this. And we can't GET RING without losing a few fingers ourselves.
I had to resort to the walkthrough again to find out that the slimy maze uses the oldest trick in the adventure design book -- we can go SW from the end of the maze to end up back near the well, in defiance of all observation and geographical consistency. But this isn't completely unfair, as other rooms we've visited earlier have employed diagonal directions; it's just that all the other navigation in this maze is limited to N/S/E/W.
What else? We can DANCE at the ritual site to open up a gaping hole in the ground, leading to an underground cavern sporting a single candle and a passage to the southwest, as well as steps leading back up. We can't GET CANDLE, and we have nothing to light it with, but we also can't go southwest without a light source, so we'll have to come back later.
Referencing the walkthrough -- again -- I learn that we can't take one of the hooks described on the walls of the priests' robing chamber until we EXAMINE CHAMBER and "discover" a small hook. Even with this tool in hand, GET RING doesn't work -- we have to USE HOOK to retrieve the priest's Holy Ring from the acid.
Now we can PUT RING and wake Leskos from his slumber -- he wants a password, and ZEUS is the only thing remotely like one we've encountered so far; fortunately it works, as long as we just type ZEUS and don't attempt to do something stupid like SAY ZEUS. The revived priest jumps straight into tour guide mode, giving us a brief history of Atlantis (earthquake, sinking, advanced technology) before tipping us off to the real mission here -- the nation's King is held prisoner. He's probably in that dungeon we attempted to visit earlier, if I had to guess; the priest gives us a piece of flint, always a useful adventuring item, and we're left to our own devices again.
So now what can we do? Is there anything to light with the flint? There's that candle down below the ritual site, but we can't reach it, let alone light it. And the parser still won't let us travel southwest at that location -- being able to strike the flint doesn't count as a light source.
After trying to GO WELL and CLIMB WELL earlier, I found we can JUMP to go down the well -- fortunately we land on some soft sponges, and there's a worn but useable ladder going back up. There's another spade here, as well as a low crawlway here, through which we can CRAWL to enter a forgotten passage with a rope in it.
Returning to the upper level, we learn that we can't DIG in the hard garden ground with our spade, but if we fill the wineskin with some sea water from the cave entrance, we can EMPTY WINESKIN to soften the soil into diggable mud and find the King's Crown. It doesn't impress the guard, though.
What about the area below the ritual site? We can't JUMP to reach the candle, but HELP suggests, "If only you had a trampoline..." We can DROP the large SPONGE I've been carrying around since we got to Atlantis, and then JUMP -- the sponge crumbles to dust from the landing impact, but we managed to knock the candle down while we're in the air. Now we can STRIKE FLINT -- it gives off one huge spark, and is gone forever, but it does light the candle in the process. This allows us to access a dark gloomy cave, where we discover a diamond necklace and a westward passage.
This passage leads to an echo chamber -- we can't have any ZORK-ian fun by SAYing ECHO, unfortunately, but we can go further west to find a beautiful golden chamber. There's a wooden key here, and a short golden peg protruding from the wall, as well as an interesting area across a chasm too wide to jump. A sign reads, "DON'T ENCUMBER YOURSELF. NO ONE WILL STEAL ANYTHING LEFT HERE" -- which might mean this is a safe spot, or that taking anything from it will be dangerous. We can GET KEY without any apparent consequences, though. That peg looks like we ought to hang the golden robe on it, but we don't have it yet. The necklace, we note in passing, is "fit for a queen," which sounds potentially significant.
What now? I'm stuck again. The walkthrough suggests that we EXAMINE WALL at the bottom of the well, which reveals a tiny red lever. Nothing apocalyptic happens when we pull it, but returning to the vestry establishes that the iron retaining bars are now loose. Now we can TAKE CLOAK and WEAR CLOAK and EXAMINE CHAMBER to discover a mound of ice in the Ice Chamber; there's SOMETHING in it on closer examination, though we can't seem to move it from this room or MELT it with the candle (I also backtracked to an earlier save and tried using the flint here, to no effect.)
Can we hang the cloak on the hook in the golden chamber? HANG CLOAK and PUT CLOAK don't work, nor does DROP CLOAK. We can, however, TIE ROPE to the peg, and then SWING ROPE -- though the aging rope crumbles away, so it's a one-way trip, at least via this mode of transportation.
We land in a small chamber, where we see a rusty dagger and a gold coin. The coin bears the head of a king on the one side, and a bridge on the obverse. We can't FLIP COIN, or BITE COIN to see if it's made of magical flight-enabling chocolate, or READ COIN for more details, but if we RUB COIN it expands into a bridge. So I guess we came here for the dagger, then. We can't GO BRIDGE but we can CROSS BRIDGE; it crumbles away after we do so.
The candle is blown out as I exit the chamber again, so I might have wasted too much time here. Hmmmm. Well, we might as well see what else we can do -- can we STAB or KILL GUARD? Nope. What about other rooms? EXAMINE SLIME in the slimy passageway near the garden turns up a wooden pick on the first go, and an icepick on the second. We can't USE PICK or PICK MOUND or PICK ICE, but we can CHOP MOUND to discover a document of authority: "Made of papyrus; will allow you past any guard." (Fool your friends! Lots of laffs!)
Okay! Now we can go rescue the King -- we SHOW DOCUMENT and the brutish guard is fine with us going down into the dungeon (we'll have to do this every time -- the guard is either dedicated to duty or has a bad memory.) In the cell, we find a pair of sandals, a round lump of clay, and THE KING, as well as a wooden door -- with no keyhole or doorknob, so the wooden key doesn't appear to be useful at the moment. The king is reportedlyin a state of Suspended Animation. Only his crown will awaken him. I don't have it with me, and my candle has gone out, so I can't go back where I left it; I've got to restore and retrace my steps once again.
Back on track, we PUT CROWN on the king, who fulfills his plot function with impressive royal brevity: "You have awoken me - now I will give you some of my treasure as your reward." But then he realizes the Queen is not here, and he becomes petulant and irritable - "I'm not giving you anything if the Queen is not here." So we have to track her down also.
The clay lump on the floor is too large to pick up, and we can't PRESS KEY into it or MOLD CLAY into a likeness of a keyhole, or the Queen, or even Freddie Mercury if we're really reaching. Hmmmm. Can we use the wooden stick to pry it up? No, but we do note that it's large, heavy and round, and some experimentation reveals that we can use the Spade to LEVER CLAY -- it rolls and smashes down the wooden door, turning it into a mutilated door with no key required.
The queen is tied to her bed, by the wrists and legs, which is a disturbing sight even without paparazzi hiding in the bushes. Examination indicates she will only awaken with her royal necklace. I retrieve it from where I left it during my inventory juggling up to this point, and a simple PUT NECKLACE wakes her up. She's still tied down while I try to figure out how to rescue her -- CUT ROPES prompts, "I say, could you rephrase that?" and UNTIE QUEEN doesn't work. We have to FREE QUEEN to slash the ropes with the rusty dagger, which is what we were originally trying to do. She thanks us briefly and goes off to see her husband.
He's in suspended animation again, having thrown his crown off during his earlier tantrum, and after we PUT CROWN again he opens a secret wooden panel. We get to visit the Atlantian treasure room, with no obvious exits and lots of treasure lying about which we're not allowed a chance to examine or steal. Instead, the king gives a brief speech about the absence of illness, politics and war down here, and declares Atlantis will have nothing to do with the world above, which seems rather short-sighted for a leader with a constituency of, as far as we can tell, three people:
Following the King's speech, we are given a bag of gold coins and magically ported back to the volcanic beach -- where, with no sandals on, our feet are burnt, meaning that "you have to give up" with 99 of the 100 possible points! A little foresight allows us to don the sandals before crowning the king, so that we can survive the beach. The mule ride can't be paid for with gold coins -- apparently even the Greek economy doesn't trust the gold bugs -- so it's fortunate that inventory constraints convinced me to leave the drachmas here earlier. At last, we can return to town -- though it's less than a triumphant victory display, colored by a degree of uncertainty:
Whew! Behold Atlantis is not a painfully difficult adventure, but it's a substantial game that took some time to play through -- it has plenty of locations, many puzzles, and a good deal of annoying backtracking and parser wrestling in the old-school tradition. I enjoyed the trip -- while there isn't much of a plot here, the atmosphere is well-handled, and there's a lot of incidental humor. I'll have to track down more of Laurence Creighton's work in the future; he wrote quite a few adventures for Zenobi, and I like his style.