Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Game 32: Pirate Adventure

Get Pirate Adventure for TRS-80 in “cmd” format here:

See my notes on TRS-80 emulation here:

The next whale is the second Scott Adams adventure, Pirate Adventure. Initially written in BASIC toward the end of 1978, it was very soon remade in assembly along with Adventureland. An early advertisement for both games (evidently a disk version containing both on a floppy) was published in the February 1979 issue of Softside magazine, and is characteristically inscrutable.

I could not find any copies of the BASIC version, except for a source code version published in Byte magazine. I wasn’t going to spend that kind of effort typing up BASIC source code into an emulated TRS-80, so I stuck with the later assembly version downloaded from with Adams’ permission.

Interestingly, the first screen co-credits “Alexis,” making this the earliest video game credit for a female developer that I know of, predating Roberta Williams.

We begin in a London flat with no way out except for an open window. Jump out and you die. Rugs always conceal important things, but the rug here is nailed down (and nailed down rugs even more always conceal important things). On a bookcase is a blood-soaked copy of Treasure Island, which I take and then a secret passage opens up.

Hold on there, Lexie. There’s some stuff you’re glossing over. How did we get into this flat in the first place? Why isn’t there a door? Is this where I live? How did I not find this secret passage before? Maybe I just moved in? How did we get in here?

Anyway, when I open the book, two papers fall out. The first is a note with a clue, the second a plug.

Reading the book gives more clues. Inside, “YOHO” is written in blood, and there is a message:
“Long John Silver left 2 treasures on Treasure Island.”

Through the secret passage is an attic where something fun must have happened.

With nothing else to do, I “SAY YOHO,” and am whisked away to the ledge outside my window. Again, I “SAY YOHO” and I arrive on Pirate’s Island.

And so I go exploring! I head for the lagoon…

Bummer. But it turns out you can YOHO your way back to the flat as long as you’re carrying the book, even in death. If you aren’t carrying sneakers, then there’s a chance you’ll slip from the ledge and die again. Not a big deal, you can just YOHO yourself back to life again and again until you don’t slip, and then YOHO back to the island. But this means I’ll definitely want to carry the book at all times while exploring, and the inventory limit is still six items. If I carry the sneakers too, then this leaves four slots free.

As I explore, the island, I find lots of ship parts are scattered around, including an anchor stuck in the sand at the lagoon. There’s a grass shack near the beach belonging to a pirate. I give him rum (duh) and he scuttles off, leaving his treasure chest and parrot unguarded. I take the parrot (who squawks “pieces of eight!”) but the chest is locked.

At the bottom of a hill is a cave system with a token maze. So token in fact that you needn’t explore it at all; the maze’s exit is literally in the starting room of it. Going down from the starting room leads to a crocodile pit and a door leading farther into the cavern.

At the top of the hill is a cracked wall. I can squeeze through the crack to enter a cavern with a lot of useful looking stuff, but the crack is too tight to bring the bulky hardcover book through, and two items – a pile of lumber and a shovel – are too big to carry out. Since the book won’t come through, I can’t YOHO out with them either. There’s a locked door in the cavern, which is clearly meant to be my eventual way out that lets me leave with the goods by carrying them through the crocodile pit and maze. Two things I can squeeze through the crack are a hammer and a pair of water wings.

Hammer and book in hand, I YOHO back home and pry out those nails from the rug. Sure enough, there’s a keyring under it. Back to the island, it unlocks the treasure chest, and inside is some plans and a map. The plans are for building a ship, and require these items:
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Lumber
  • Anchor
  • Sails
  • Keel

I’ve already got everything except the anchor and the lumber, and I know where those are.

Reading the map, it says:
“30 paces then dig!”

I go back into the caves through the crack, and try to unlock the door, but it’s locked from the side of the crocodile pit.

Here I was stuck for a little while. Water wings let me survive high tide in the lagoon and even swim out to the ocean, but nothing of value was out there except a fish that I had no means to carry. I eventually returned to my flat, and found that the drunken pirate from earlier somehow wound up in my attic.

I took my bottle back, and used it to hold the fish like I did in Adventureland. I fed it to the crocs, then unlocked the door to the cavern, and carried the items out. I dug out the anchor, and with all the ship items accounted for, “BUILD SHIP” (just like that):

Next I needed some crew. The drunken pirate might do, so I woke him up, and he was perfectly willing to join.

Onboard, with map, shovel, book, sneakers, and crackers in hand, and with a pirate and his parrot on the deck, the pirate raised an additional objection:
“First Yee be getting that ACCURSED thing off me ship!”

I thought he meant he didn’t like the parrot, but when I tried to take the parrot away, he wouldn’t let me. Then I realized he meant the blood-stained book. So, I dropped it off on the shore. Treasure Island will offer no respite from death now, nor any easy way back home.

With an inventory limit of six items, I’d have to choose carefully. The map is required, of course. The shovel seemed pretty obvious to bring too. Outside the pirate’s shack is a mongoose, which had no use yet, so I brought that. The parrot and sack of crackers seemed like they might be important too. With room for only one more item, I couldn’t bring both the torch and matches, so I brought the hammer, seeing as that’s a pretty useful tool in most adventures. I saved before sailing off.

Treasure Island! The pirate went ashore. I walked 30 paces and dug, uncovering several bottles of rum which the pirate promptly drank and then ran off.

From there, Treasure Island was just a linear path to a “monastary” containing “DUBLEONS” guarded by some mambas.

Using the mongoose was just too obvious.

The parrot drove them off instead. Geez, what is it with birds and snakes in these games?

The had book said there would be two treasures here, and the endless supply of buried rum doesn’t count as one, so I tried digging in the field too. I dug up a box, and inside were rare stamps!

On the way back to the ship, I found the rum-drunk pirate sleeping. I woke him up again, set sail back, retrieved the book, and YOHO’d back home.

This was easier than Adventureland, which in turn was easier than Adventure. The manual laughably suggests an average completion time of one month. I did it in maybe two hours of play over two days, and did not need to look up help even once. In a replay, I beat it in ten minutes and a few seconds. Aside from falling off the window ledge, there weren’t any cheap deaths, or any horrible puzzles like Adventureland’s task of bringing bees to the dragon and hoping they don’t suffocate on the way. But it also honestly wasn’t very satisfying. Par for the genre’s course in this era, there’s still only a few elements that could charitably be called puzzles, most of them not terribly creative such as giving the pirate rum.

The best puzzle in the game was getting stuff out of the cavern; of the two entrances, one is such a tight squeeze that you can’t fit all of the items through it, and the other entrance is guarded by a pointless maze, crocodiles and a door locked on the croc’s side. You’ll explore the crack-side of the cavern before you are able to unlock the door from the croc-side, and you’ll know that you need to open the door from the other side so you can get the big items out well before it’s possible to, and you’ll know this is your goal well before it’s possible to do so.

The mongoose red herring was a moderately clever bit of trolling. The actual solution of using the parrot is absurd. I’m assuming that this is supposed to be a reference to Colossal Cave Adventure, where an early puzzle involves dropping a bird to scare away a snake, but would most gamers at the time have played it? For what it’s worth, this connection didn’t occur to me until after winning the game; I just tried using the parrot because it was there, and hadn’t done anything else useful yet.

The torch and matches are an obvious surrogate for the lamp found in Adventure and Adventureland. Unlike those games, the dark area is tiny. I never came close to running out of torchlight, and I don’t even know if it’s possible.

The only possible way I can see of getting a dead end situation, other than burning out the torch before you’re done with it, would be to set sail for Treasure Island without the shovel. You need the shovel not just for the treasure, but also to find more rum before you can return. But who would be daft enough to go to Treasure Island without bringing their shovel? I can forgive this.

My final map:


  1. Forgetting your shovel when going to Treasure Island is like doing a "Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy" adventure and forgetting your towel!

  2. I remember playing this in elementary school in the early 1980s, on a VIC-20. They also had the vampire one. I actually finished Pirate's Adventure myself, so if a 6 year old kid could beat it, it's not that hard, although it did take a long time.


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