10. Mask of the Sun

by Garry Francis of Sydney, Australia


Issue 18

Nov/Dec 85

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The Mask of the Sun is an illustrated Adventure that was originally written by Ultrasoft for the Apple II. It has now been translated for the Atari and is distributed by Broderbund. The Atari version occupies two double-sided disks. That's a lot of Adventure, but is it worth the money?

The Mask of the Sun has the potential to be a great Adventure. It has a strong plot cast in the same vein as 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom', however, it is let down by the worst mazes and the unfairest puzzles in all of Adventuredom! Only the toughest, most hardened Adventurer will finish this one without any help.

In The Mask of the Sun, you play the part of Mac Steele archaeologist, adventurer and not particularly honest treasure hunter. Your arch rival Francisco Roboff, has stolen the scrolls of Lhasa which you acquired in a previous expedition. In the subsequent fracas with Roboff, you return his gesture by stealing an Aztec amulet. During your later research on the amulet, you discover that it may be linked to a more fascinating artifact known as the Mask of the Sun.

Then disaster strikes. While probing the inner recesses of the amulet, a tiny compartment releases a pale green gas which knocks you out for two days. You awaken in hospital to find that your body is undergoing a rapid degeneration. Fortunately, the doctors have concocted an antidote which temporarily halts the degeneration, but they cannot cure you. With your life-giving antidote in hand, you set off to Mexico in search of the Mask of the Sun in the hope that it holds the cure for your condition.

Your Adventure begins as the plane arrives in Mexico. Unlike most Adventures, you begin with a rather large inventory including a bottle of 100 pills. Needless to say, the pills are the antidote for your strange illness and one is automatically swallowed every four moves. This is signalled by a beep from the computer. If you aren't carrying the pills on the fourth move, you'll die. Therefore, never drop the pills. Similarly, if you ever run out of pills, you'll die. This effectively means that you have 400 moves to find the Mask of the Sun.

When you leave the plane, you'll meet Professor de Perez and his assistant Raoul. The Professor will give you a jeep full of supplies and a map. Before going any further, make sure you examine and thoroughly understand all the items in your inventory and in the jeep. When the time comes to use something, you probably won't have much time to experiment with them. You won't need all the items, but as there seems to be no limit on your inventory, you might as well take everything with you.

Examination of the map gives you a rough idea of the location of three ruins a temple and two pyramids. It doesn't matter what order you explore them in, although most people unconsciously do the top one, then the bottom, then the middle. As a matter of fact, by the time you finish the game, you'll realise that apart from a subtle hint, two of the ruins were an absolute waste of time in terms of your final goal. Nevertheless, these two are the most fun to explore. (And I won't tell you which ones they are. You'll have to find out for yourself.)

Once you've decided which direction to go, jump in the jeep and head off into the jungle. Raoul will accompany you and you'll grow quite fond of his companionship and dopey observations. It's unfortunate that he won't make it through to the end of the Adventure with you.

By this time, you will have noticed the 'travelling sequences' whenever you move to a new location. This is a unique feature of the game whereby several intermediate scenes are shown in rapid sequence to give the effect of movement. This is quite a novelty at first, but there are really only two different sequences (i.e. driving in the jeep and walking through the tunnels in the ruins) and it grows to be horribly boring before very long. I suppose the nice graphics are some consolation.

You will also discover that there are two directional schemes used in The Mask of the Sun. The first is the traditional compass directions (including diagonals) and is used when travelling in the jeep and in some of the ruins. The other scheme is FORWARD, BACK, LEFT and RIGHT and depends entirely on which direction you've just come from or which direction you're facing. This is generally used when on foot in the ruins. There is no consistency as to which system is used where, so make sure you try every direction whenever there's any doubt.

There are a number of situations where your typing speed is critical for your survival. You may need to type responses quickly to avoid death, but you can sometimes give yourself time to think by pressing any key to stop the timer. The snake is a notable exception. Here you must type the whole command as quickly as possible.

Sooner or later, you will find yourself facing the hellish nightmare scene. And very aptly named it is too! For here is the worst, meanest, rottenest, unfairest obstacle in any Adventure that I've ever played! For those that haven't reached this far, let me explain. You have just escaped death by the skin of your teeth. Unfortunately, Raoul didn't make it. Your path is now blocked by a river of lava. A single island of stone bobs up and down in the lava in a seemingly random pattern. The program tells you that a fearless Adventurer might be able to step across to safety. If you wish to try, you must press the RETURN key. Pressing any other key will send you back to the previous location where you will share Raoul's fate. In other words, you've got no choice. You must press the RETURN key to jump across the lava. And that's exactly what I did. And I died.

Now I considered myself a fearless Adventurer and I wasn't going to let some lava beat me, so I restored a previously saved game (which takes an eternity) and tried again. And again. And again. And again. After two hours and forty attempts to jump across the lava, I eventually gave up. A couple of months later, I lent the game to a friend with strict instructions to save the game as soon as he managed to get across the lava. He never made it. I tried it with a group of people at an Adventure day. They never made it. I tried it again by myself, but never made it. For me, this single arcade-type element had ruined an otherwise good Adventure.

In the end, I patiently examined the program with a sector editor and made some interesting discoveries. Each location in the game has its own logic routine which is stored on disk as a DOS 2.0 file. If you've got DOS 2.0, you can easily examine any of these files using the following procedure:

1. Insert your BASIC cartridge (if appropriate) and boot your computer with a DOS 2.0 disk. Note that it must be DOS 2.0. Nothing else will do.

2. When BASIC's READY prompt appears, type POKE 3822,255 [RETURN]. This will allow you to use inverse characters in step 6.

3. Type DOS [RETURN].

4. When DUP.SYS has loaded and the menu appears, remove your DOS 2.0 disk and insert one of The Mask of the Sun disks.

5. Type A [RETURN] [RETURN] to get a disk directory. Notice that all the filenames are in inverse.

6. You can now use the copy function to view a file on the screen by typing C [RETURN] FILENAME.EXT,E: [RETURN]. Make sure you type the filename and extender in inverse (including inverse blank spaces where necessary) and everything else as normal.

If you follow this procedure, you'll notice that the data files for rooms aren't binary data or machine language as you'd expect, but are in a sort of high level language and are therefore very easy to interpret. For example, if I use a double slash to separate the instructions, then the sequence .ID:0//.T S B=B+6 means "if the variable D equals zero, then set variable B to B+6". Similarly, the sequence .I Q#141//.T P "Chicken!//.E J+17 means "if the variable Q is not equal to 141, then print the string 'Chicken!', else jump forward 17 instructions".

I soon realised that this was a really sloppily written Adventure. I was amazed that it ran as well as it did. Had it been written in a more elegant manner, it could probably have been fitted on one double-sided disk instead of two and hence been cheaper to buy. Nevertheless, the sloppiness proved to be an advantage when it came to fixing the rock bobbing logic.

When I drew up a flowchart of this logic, I realised that it wasn't random, but ran in a 13 step cycle. The rock was up only long enough to see it. Once you'd seen it, it was too late to press the RETURN key because the time it took you to react and depress the key was longer than the time the rock was visible on the screen. You'd have to be extremely lucky to predict the rock's position in advance.

I wanted to alter the logic so that pressing the RETURN key would always cause you to jump successfully across the lava regardless of the position of the rock. Everything else should remain unchanged. As it happened, working out the logic was quite easy, but working out where to put the patch without a major rewrite was quite tricky. In the end, I was saved by the sloppy coding. The programmers had set R=0 twice in the program, but it was never used for anything. The second R=0 was in an ideal spot for my patch, so I changed this to D=1 and everything worked fine.

If you want to make the same changes as I did, you can accomplish this in one of two ways. If you've got a sector editor, take a look at sector $23A on side C. Change byte $6F from $D2 to $C4 and byte $71 from $B0 to $B1 (assuming bytes are numbered from zero and all values are in hexadecimal). Alternatively, you can run the short BASIC program at the end of this article. Just be careful not to make any typos and be very careful with lines 210 and 220. The 'R=0' and 'D=1' on these lines must be in inverse video.

AtariLister - requires Java

Once you've passed the hellish nightmare scene, the Adventure gets even harder. I won't give any more away, but if you need any help with this part, then try the hints below. These are in the normal format. Just scan the list of questions until you find the area where you're stuck, then match the numbers below the question with the words in the attached list to form a hint. Good luck and beware of the inescapable mazes!

Mask of the Sun hints

1. Can't get past the snake?
38 16

2. Still can't get past the snake?
14 27 71

3. Can't get past the debris in the blocked tunnel?
49 6

4. Can't find your way around the bottom of the pit?
76 39

5. Missing a carved jade bowl?
76 42 10

6. Missing a gold bowl?
76 42 17

7. Can't move the teetering boulder?
49 6

8. Missing a blue glazed bowl?
31 1 8

9. Can't get the silver bowl?
38 16

10. Still can't get the silver bowl?
58 42 41

11. Can't open the door between the pedestals?
14 24 75

12. Jeep won't go?
72 42 52

13. Can't get the flute?
40 42 22 36

14. Can't get the potion from the peddler?
9 15

15. Can't get past the spider web?
63 39

16. Can't unlock any of the doors in the pyramid of Tikal?
14 42 46 67

17. Can't find the black key?
76 42 56

18. Still can't unlock any of the doors?
14 42 23 67

19. Can't find the copper key?
31 1 8

20. Still can't unlock any of the doors?
14 42 44 67

21. Can't find the silver key?
76 42 4

22. Still can't unlock any of the doors?
14 42 47 67

23. Can't find the gold key?
76 42 43

24. Don't understand the reflections?
65 40 73 70

25. Still don't understand the reflections?
31 28 27 61 48 46 5 59 27 61 48 68 5

26. Can't survive the pale green gas?
38 16

27. Still can't survive the pale green gas?
14 69 53

28. Can't save Raoul?
49 6

29. Can't jump across the lava?
20 42 11

30. Can't find the exit from the area of total darkness?
14 60

31. Can't map the first maze?
65 8 50

32. Don't know the password?
30 42 52 2

33. Can't leave the temple of the sun?
9 42 51

34. Still can't leave the temple of the sun?
30 42 25 2

35. Still can't leave the temple of the sun?
29 42 61 48 42 68 5

36. Can't answer the first riddle?
42 3 28 27 19 33 42 55 37 39 73 42 13 33 42 13 28 45

37. Still can't answer the first riddle?
65 27 21 7 73 26 42 45

38. Can't answer the second riddle?
74 42 32 54 39

39. Still can't answer the second riddle?
65 35 59 64

40. Can't answer the third riddle?
18 28 77 12 66

41. Still can't answer the third riddle?
34 28 22 62

42. Can't get to freedom?
65 27 57

43. Can't map the third maze?
29 42 61

44. Can't get past the jaguar?
30 42 22 36 2

2 ?
14 TRY
15 HIM
22 OLD

27 A
28 IS
33 ,
35 HOT
39 IT
42 THE
49 YOU

58 ASK
59 AND
62 AGE
63 CUT
65 IT'S
67 KEY
72 FIX
73 FOR