Garry Francis always writes in-depth reviews.
This time he excels himself with a full review and playing
strategies for Robico's first Atari adventure
Rick Hanson is a new Adventure published by Robico
Software. It consists of a single-sided disk and the cutest little
12-page instruction booklet that you ever did see. This is packed
in a plain black box – strictly low budget, but practical.
Also thrown in is a leaflet offering a Robico sweater (at a price
of course) and an Adventurer's Note Book. This last item is a bit
of a mystery, for it is simply a little book of 32 blank pages!
It's obviously meant for taking notes, but really, who's going
to use it? I appreciate the gesture, but why not just let the player
provide his or her own note paper and cut the price of the game?
The instruction booklet provides a wealth of information.
For starters, we learn that Rick Hanson is an all-text game which
supposedly forms the first part of a Rick Hanson trilogy. To the
best of my knowledge, parts 2 and 3 have not been released for
the Atari at the time of writing. If they have, you should be able
to find them under the titles of Project Thesius and Myorem respectively.
Rick Hanson was originally a cassette-based BBC/Electron
game written by Robert and Mike O'Leary. The Atari translation
was done by Nick Gregory, author of The Slave. Oh, oh! Is this
a bad omen? Anybody who's read my review of The Slave in Page 6
issue 24 will know that I was not exactly impressed by that particular
effort. Would Rick Hanson prove to be the same? Read on fellow
Adventurers and find out...
Like James Bond
Rick Hanson is a Special Agent somewhat like James
Bond. He presumably has the same license to kill, for in this game,
he is given the mission of assassinating General Garantz. We are
not told anything about General Garantz or why he should be killed
except that he is evil and needs to be eliminated "to save
the world from the final holocaust". Sounds a bit melodramatic
Once the game is booted and you've been through the
titles, you are presented with a rich and atmospheric room description.
All room descriptions are excellent, although I would often argue
about the sentence structure. This is a personal point, but a sentence
is easier to read when a descriptive phrase is placed near the
noun it is describing. Rick Hanson tends to put them at the opposite
ends of the sentence. The only descriptive error I noticed was
where the tarmac road came to an end. The description said it joined
a dirt trail to the west, but it should have been to the east.
The spelling is excellent throughout and the punctuation
is also reasonably good. There is an excess use of commas because
of the warped sentence structure, but again, this is a minor point.
The only real spelling and/or punctuation errors that stuck out
were an excess pair of quotes (at the bookshop) and a couple of
places where spaces had been omitted after commas or added between
Beneath the room description is the prompt. This
is a whole phrase like "What now, Hanson?" which has
the annoying feature of changing from turn to turn.
The parser is supposed to understand full sentences
and multiple statements, but I had a lot of trouble getting it
to understand anything too complicated. You're better off sticking
to simple commands wherever possible. The parser analyses your
command and acts on certain key words. These key words are printed
after typing your command, so that you can always see exactly what
is being acted upon. For example, if you typed GET THE OLD BOOK,
the parser may echo GET BOOK. This tells you that the parser did
not understand THE or OLD and hence these have been ignored. This
is a novel feature which I haven't seen used before, but it does
have a couple of disadvantages. Firstly, it highlights the parser's
shortcomings and secondly, it wastes space on the screen by echoing
what you already know. In the extreme case, you could have a command
essentially echoed three times – once when you type it, once
when the parser echoes it and once when the program's response
repeats it in a more descriptive sort of way.
Stick to simple commands
If you stick to simple commands as suggested above,
the parser is good, but it does have trouble with some input. Here's
a few humorous examples. When I said EXAMINE PLATFORM ONE, it described
my handkerchief. When I tried to PULL HANDLE on the one-armed bandit,
it said "I don't see a trolley jack". When I tried to
TIE ROPE TO ME, it responded "You don't have a mirror".
One major problem is when the first word of a command
is not understood. It will ignore this word and try to treat the
second word as the verb. If this isn't a verb (and it shouldn't
be), then you're in trouble. For example, if you try to KISS SINGER
(in the tavern), it responds "I don't know how to SINGER".
What it really means is that it doesn't know how to kiss.
The response to the inventory command is atrocious.
For example, typing INV at the beginning of the game tells you
that "You're carrying your handkerchief,, and.". Oh my
goodness. And after all my praise for the program's good punctuation.
The inventory command often gives you a whole string of commas
with nothing between them and there's never anything after 'and'.
Despite my comments on the parser, my only real gripe
with Rick Hanson is that the disk is accessed after every single
command! This must lead to lots of wear and tear on both the disk
and the disk drive. Fortunately, the disk does not seem to be copy-protected,
so you can at least use a backup. But PLEASE don't give copies
to your friends or Robico will surely stop supporting the Atari.
The game's puzzles are generally fairly simple and
straightforward, hence I suspect it would be a good Adventure for
a beginner. If you have any problems, then there is a comprehensive
set of hints at the back of the instruction booklet. This is a
nice touch, but they should be coded in some way so that you can't
see hints or answers that you're not ready to see.
The geography of the game is huge. With 230 rooms,
this puts it in the same category as Level 9. In fact, the overall
feel of the game is very similar to early Level 9 games (except
that the parser is much better) and this leads me to the same complaint
that I have with Level 9. The game is far too big in comparison
to the number of objects and puzzles. I don't mind the mapping,
but it's very frustrating to do so much aimless travelling between
critical locations without anything interesting happening. I'd
rather play a smaller game of 50 to 100 locations with a larger
vocabulary and more puzzles.
In summary, my congratulations must go to Robico
and all concerned in the development of this game. Despite my nit-picking,
I found Rick Hanson to be a thoroughly enjoyable game – and
that's what counts in the long run. It is excellent value for money,
particularly if you're a beginner. I'm now eagerly looking forward
to parts 2 and 3. And how about Enthar Seven? Let's hope they all
come along soon.
Game playing strategies
The following section contains hints and overall
game playing strategies to make life easier for those who've already
bought Rick Hanson and may be having troubles. Do not read any
further unless you're willing to make the game easier than the
makers intended. If you are looking for hints, read the following
VERY CAREFULLY. There are some very subtle (and some not so subtle)
clues imbedded within the text.
The Adventure begins in the entrance hall of a small,
deserted railway station. Make sure you take an inventory before
you begin, then explore the area around the railway station, the
bridge and the platforms. You should discover a few objects including
the inevitable self-destructing tape recorder. (Remember the opening
sequence in each episode of Mission: Impossible?) Play the tape
to get your instructions and, more importantly, to find out what
to do in the next portion of the game. Don't forget to get rid
of the tape recorder once the tape is finished or you'll self-destruct
along with it! Everything else you discover should be taken with
you. Virtually everything has a use (although some are just red
herrings) and you'll need every object you can get your hands on
near the end of the game.
During this initial exploration, you'll probably
discover that the railway station is not as deserted as the description
implies. If you go in one particular direction, you'll get shot
completely unexpectedly and without warning. This is unfair! I
call this the 'sudden death syndrome'. It occurs several times
throughout the game, so make sure you save the game frequently.
You have been warned!
You will also meet a mysterious character wearing
a mackintosh, hat and glasses. Once encountered, he'll follow you
everywhere. After 30 moves, he too will draw a pistol and shoot
you. You can't kill him, but you can lose him. Remember that you're
at a railway station. Maybe it's possible to get on a train. Ah,
but how? It's all a matter of being in the right place at the right
time. Once you've worked it out, you'll also find that this is
the bridge to the next part of the game.
There is an interesting anomaly here. If you're playing
the game after a cold start (i.e. after you've just booted the
game), then the first train arrives after the 14th move. However,
if you're playing after a warm start (i.e. a restart after typing
QUIT or getting killed), then the first train arrives after the
10th move! Interesting. In any case, there's no way you can get
everything you want in that short time. Fortunately, another train
comes along every 22 moves, so the secret to solving this puzzle
is to start a new game and go straight to the location where you
will board the train. Wait until the first train arrives (after
the 10th or 14th move), then go off and collect all the items you
need. If you time things carefully, you'll be back in time to catch
the next train. Coincidentally (or by design?), if you collect
only the essential items (and you won't know which are essential
until you've finished the game), this takes exactly 22 moves and
you'll return right on time for the arrival of the second train.
The only problem now is working out how to get on, but given a
little thought and experimentation, I'm sure you'll jump to the
right conclusion – especially if you're on your guard.
This marks the end of the first part of the game.
Once you've left the railway station, there is no return, so you
may wish to save the game before actually boarding the train. The
saved game may also come in handy over the next few moves, for
these are a linear series of puzzles where you must guess what
to do within one move or die. I hate puzzles like this. Fortunately,
these ones aren't too hard.
You should soon find yourself in a picturesque little
village. Don't worry about the random appearances of the villager
and the dog. They're just there for atmosphere. Explore the whole
of the village from the entrance of the long dark alley in the
south to the outskirts of the village in the north, but don't worry
too much about the church just yet. After you've got everything
you want in the village, you can head for the tavern at the western
end of the long dark alley. Now's the time to follow the instructions
given by the tape recording, but be careful wandering about the
tavern. Some of the guests get a little hostile if you invade their
You could take this opportunity to clean yourself
up a bit (have you looked at yourself in the mirror?), then settle
down for the night. You'll wake refreshed to find a coded letter
from one of your contacts. All you've got to do is decipher it.
On the surface, it looks like a simple cipher whereby each letter
of the alphabet is merely replaced by another letter. Spaces between
words aren't affected. (I think this is called a transposition
cipher.) The hard part is to find which letter is represented by
each of the coded letters. There are probably a number of ways
of cracking the cipher (including computer), but I simply made
the assumption that the word 'THE' would appear somewhere in the
message and worked from there. Sure enough, 'THE' appeared three
times and this enabled me to decode the whole message in about
five minutes flat.
In retrospect, I realise that you could probably
also crack the code based on the frequency of the letters used.
Knowing that 'E' is the most commonly used letter in the English
language, you should be able to break the code within a few attempts.
Four letters share equal dominance in this particular message and,
sure enough, one of them is 'E'.
Finally, you could use the method described in the
hints at the back of the instruction booklet. The key to this method
is your room number, but even knowing that, the solution is a bit
Now that you've got your new instructions, it's time
to head for the church and the bookshop. Aha! Another coded message.
This one can be deciphered the same way, but in this case, if using
the method in the hints, the numeric key is found in the title
of the book. Once deciphered, you should know your next objective.
Head north until you've left the village behind,
then continue along the tarmac road until you find an exit to the
west. Follow this and explore the area around the river, but don't
try crossing it just yet or you'll find yourself in a watery grave.
You can use the bridge, of course. This leads to the pretty little
woodland setting which should be explored until you've found everything
of interest. You can safely ignore the fallen tree and the woodland
creatures. Once again, they are just for atmosphere.
Return to the tarmac road, then head back to the
garage. You should now have everything you need to solve the puzzles
here. If you follow the seemingly contradictory concept of pulling
your weight yet lying down on the job, you will ultimately end
up with one very important item. You'll get quite a bang out of
this at a later stage. Best of luck with the trolley jack!
Here's an interesting aside. When you've finished
the game, you'll probably want to check out the hints in the back
of the instruction booklet. (You wouldn't dream of looking at them
before you've finished, would you?) You will notice that the first
40 questions seem to be fairly complete and in roughly chronological
order – except for the omission of any hints relating to
the garage area. These are tacked on at the bottom, almost as though
they were an afterthought. You will also notice that there are
a disproportionate amount of questions relating to the garage compared
to the rest of the game. The same observations can be made about
the hints and answers. In retrospect, I see that the puzzles around
the garage had a different style and were generally much harder
to solve than anywhere else in the game. In fact, I think this
was the only point where I had to use the hints and I thought the
answer to my particular problem was unfair. Can we imply from all
this that the geography and the puzzles around the garage area
were added for the Atari version? It certainly looks that way.
Does anyone know for sure? Has anyone played the BBC/Electron version?
If so, please let me know.
Anyway, once you've finished in the garage, head
back to the tarmac road and follow it as far as it goes. Then keep
going until you reach the dreary wastelands where you'll find a
couple more important items. Head back to the river and if you're
not too tired, you can now dive into the next part of the game.
Save the game before you do, as there's no way you can return to
You should now find yourself in a lush meadow with
nowhere else to go. Maybe the bull knows a way out. Unfortunately,
bulls don't talk and this one is quite content to just munch away
at the grass. If only you could get its attention. Hey, toro, toro.
You can now explore the farm. Everything here seems
pretty useless, but don't be fooled (as I was). The trowel CAN
be used to dig up something interesting – providing the soil
is soft enough. If you've got the trowel, then you've also got
that pesky mouse running around your feet. You'll have to get rid
of it before continuing or it will lead to your downfall. (Maybe
Once you're finished at the farm, head north to the
log cabin and then to the cliff. If you were thorough in your pilfering
of the village, you should have the means to climb the cliff. (This
game really ropes you in doesn't it? You should be well and truly
hooked by now.) Once again, save the game before scaling the cliff,
as there is no return to this section.
You should now be on a ledge confronted by the inevitable
cave. Make sure you examine the cave thoroughly, then follow the
ledge to the peak of the mountain. You've now reached your objective.
Oh no! The frozen body of your contact! The poor fellow must have
suffered a gruesome death. What will you do now without further
instructions? It's time to go it alone! The only way is down, but
jeez that snow looks deep. I hope you learnt more than how to make
gluwein and chase snow bunnies during your holiday in St. Moritz.
When you get to the bottom of the mountain, you may
want to save the game again, for you are now entering General Garantz's
territory and all exits (other than the way you came) lead to instant
death. It's time for a little patience. If you wait around awhile,
one of General Garantz's jeeps will drive along the road. In fact,
they pass by at fairly frequent intervals and could prove to be
your salvation. Maybe you could use some of the objects that you've
been carrying around for so long. Why not have a drink while you
think about it. How about a cocktail like your friend Molotov used
to make? Shaken, not stirred. Incidentally, there is a nasty bug
at this point in the game. Do not try going IN unless you've actually
got a jeep to get in to!
It's now time for a leisurely drive in the countryside,
but make sure you've got a disguise before going on. Admire the
scenery by all means, but don't get out of the vehicle. The wildlife
has fangs of polished steel! What's this? A checkpoint? I hope
you know the password, because that guard looks terribly trigger
A little bit further and you're safely inside Garantz's
base, but don't drive too far or you'll find yourself as a road
crash statistic. Once you're out of the vehicle, it's only a couple
of moves to ... the maze of large black rooms!
Oh boy, this one's a doozy. I spent two nights mapping
the maze compared to three nights solving the rest of the game!
By the time the whole maze was mapped, then painstakingly redrawn
in its simplest possible form, I had made the following discoveries.
There are 16 rooms in the maze. Each room has 12 exits (i.e. N,
S, E, W, U, D, I, O, NE, SE, NW and SW) for a total of 156 exits.
The maze can best be represented as a matrix of four rooms by four
rooms. The exits from each room will lead only to the same room
or one of the immediately adjoining rooms, including diagonals.
Thus a corner room's exits will lead to only four possible rooms
(including itself), a side room's exits will lead to only six possible
rooms (including itself) and a centre room's exits will lead to
only nine possible rooms (including itself). There was only one
exit which broke this rule. Even knowing all this, mapping is not
easy because going (say) east from one room does not necessarily
mean that you can return by going west. Also, many exits are one
You first enter the maze in the room at the upper
right hand corner of the matrix. The hard part is finding the room
which leads out. It's extremely unlikely that you'll find this
room just by stumbling around. The maze is very cleverly constructed
so that the closer you get to the exit, the more unlikely you are
to actually reach it. You can map the maze using the traditional
Hansel and Gretel method of dropping items to make each room unique,
but you'll be hard pressed to find 16 items. Here's where your
deductive logic and the above notes may help. (In fact, it IS possible
to collect 16 items, but not until you've found your way through
the maze! It's like the classic problem of which comes first, the
chicken or the egg?)
After I'd finished the game, I discovered that there's
actually a sign which TELLS YOU THE CORRECT PATH THROUGH THE MAZE!
However, it was a bit cryptic and so completely unexpected that
I'm not surprised that I didn't see its relevance at the time.
The recommended path takes seven moves, but if you map the maze
properly, you'll find a slightly shorter route which takes only
When you finally surface from the maze, you'll find
yourself deep in the bowels of General Garantz's military base.
There are lots of corridors, bunkers, catwalks, service rooms,
platforms and missile hangars to explore, but very little to do.
Don't worry about the employees wandering about the base. They
will not bother you as long as you're still wearing your disguise.
You will eventually encounter a pair of locked doors.
The first requires a code number which you should know if you've
done everything that your contact told you to do. (Note that when
you type in the code number, you shouldn't use spaces, commas,
dashes or any other separators between the numbers. If you do,
you'll get killed.) The second door requires only a bit of brute
force – and the right object.
Well, at long last you're face to face with General
Garantz. Remember your mission and act quick – you've only
got one move to get the job done. And make sure you do it properly.
Of the two means of assassination available to you, only one leads
to a successful conclusion. The other is the biggest red herring
of the whole game!
Time to go
That's it for this issue. I hope that you found the
playing strategies helpful. I can't remember the last time I received
a letter from a PAGE 6 reader, nevertheless my usual invitation
still applies. If you have any questions or comments about the
column, suggestions for future columns or you just need a hint
for a specific Adventure, please feel free to write. If writing
from anywhere outside Australia and you expect a reply, please
include two international reply coupons to cover the return postage.