Generally speaking, Adventuring is a serious business.
Hacking through steamy jungles, piloting spaceships and whomping
monsters are not tasks to be taken lightly. When you step into
an Adventure's alternative world, you are putting your alter ego's
life on the line. This can be a considerable responsibility, but
when combined with the normal challenge and frustration of Adventuring,
you realise that the Adventure player is subject to considerable
stress. The more Adventuring you do, the more stress you're subjected
Because of this, it's nice to occasionally take a
break from 'serious' Adventuring by playing an Adventure comedy.
By that, I mean one of the light-hearted Adventures that doesn't
take itself too seriously and provides a few laughs along the way.
Unfortunately, there are very few Adventures that fall into this
category. Most Adventures have at least one or two funny responses,
but very few are funny throughout. Infocom no doubt comes closest,
with games like Planetfall, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
and Leather Goddesses of Phobos. The only non-Infocom comedies
that come to mind are the classic Soft Porn (from Sierra On-Line)
and possibly Dragon Quest (from Antic), although these are more
spoofs than comedies.
That brings us to the subject of this month's column...
Wombats I is a text Adventure written by Alex
Leavens and Shirley A. Russell for Dynamic Software Design, P.O.
Box 8169, Fremont, CA 94537, U.S.A. It was first advertised in
March 1985, hence it must have been around for about two years,
but it's extremely hard to find. I tried a couple of mail order
houses in the States and eventually got a copy from Computer Games
+, P.O. Box 6144, Orange, CA 92667, U.S.A. for the discounted price
of $US24.95 plus postage. However, you can probably buy it direct
from Dynamic Software Design for the normal price of $US27.95 plus
postage. In either case, write first to check on price and availability.
Wombats I is advertised as a parody Adventure. The
ad goes something like this:
"How to track a wombat:
Buy appropriate wombat tracking gear (snowshoes,
Fly to exotic countrysides (Borneo, Lower Hebrides,
Get Wombat Tracker's License.
OR: You can simply play Wombats I from the safety
and security of your own keyboard. Wombats I is a new kind of Adventure
game where the action takes place mostly in your mind. Wombats
I is sophisticated software, sporting 48k of program and 55k of
absurd, irreverent text. Wombats I spoofs Adventure games and life
What a load of rubbish!
Firstly, a parody is a humorous imitation of another
author's composition, which this isn't. So what is it? Travesty?
Spoof? Satire? Lampoon? Comedy? Farce? I'd call it a travesty (which
makes a thing look ridiculous by grotesque representation) or better
still, a farce (a dramatic work meant merely to cause laughter,
often by presenting ludicrously improbable events).
Secondly, a wombat is a small, bear-like, herbivorous
marsupial which is native to Australia. There's no way you'd track
one down using the suggestions in the ad, but I'll excuse this
as ignorance or 'artist's license'.
Thirdly, the title is misleading as there is absolutely
no reference to wombats within the game itself!
Fourthly, the technical claims are downright lies!
It is NOT a new kind of Adventure or sophisticated software, but
a primitive, compiled BASIC program with a limited vocabulary and
a poor parser. And how does 103k fit on an 88k disk? Simple. It
doesn't! The disk has 38k of program and less than 29k of text
files – a total of 67k.
To add to the false impression created by the advertising,
the game is subtitled 'Episode I: Gazumba the Great and the Wombats
of Borozoa'. This implies that there is an Episode II, which there
isn't. (It was advertised once, but it doesn't appear to have become
a reality.) There is also no such character as Gazumba the Great
encountered in the game and no such place as Borozoa? And what's
this obsession with wombats anyway?
I don't know what the authors are trying to achieve
here, but I felt terribly disappointed once I'd played the game
and discovered that it bore absolutely no resemblance to the advertisement
which had prompted me to buy it in the first place!
Having gotten that off my chest, let's forget about
the authors' motives and look at the game itself.
Wombats I supposedly takes place on the remains of
a college campus – although the majority of locations have
nothing whatsoever to do with an educational institution. A mental
institution, maybe, but definitely not an educational institution.
You will encounter rooms like a behavioural science
lab, a restaurant with a dead maitre d', a waterfall of light,
an auditorium, a discotheque, an electronics lab, cloud cuckoo
land and much more. Each room has a long and colourful description
like in an Infocom game. For example, the starting room (known
as the compass room) is described as follows:
"You are standing in a large room with exits
in all four directions. There is an ornate compass laid in multicoloured
tiles on the floor and a large, lightly lit globe hangs overhead.
The room is warm and the soft purr of an air filter can be heard
in the distance."
The aim of the game is to find the nine treasures
scattered throughout the complex and return them to the compass
room. In doing so, you must also visit every room in the complex
and carry out certain obscure actions to earn points. When your
score reaches 342 points, the endgame room is activated. You must
then find this room to be awarded the last five points, thus completing
the game with a perfect score of 347 points.
Now this may not sound too hard, but consider this.
There are only ten objects in the whole game and nine of these
are the treasures! Most of the treasures are of little or no use
except in gaining points. The remaining object has one use and
one use only! Combine all this with a somewhat specialised vocabulary,
a barely adequate parser and some really obscure actions and you
have a hard game!
Unfortunately, Wombats I also has some bad spelling
and quite a few bugs. Here's a few examples:
The blurb about the electronics lab describes
two objects which can be taken. However, when they ARE taken,
they still appear in the description even though they're not
If you try to type anything on the computer
after it's blown up, you're told how pointless that is, seeing
as the computer is a smouldering pile of rubble. Fair enough.
However, you get the same message even BEFORE the computer
Starting the car is random and can take anything
up to 20 (and possibly more) tries without indicating that
you should try again. If you didn't know to keep trying, you'd
give up after the first go!
You can solve the equation in the classroom
without even knowing what it is!
If you visit the area around cloud cuckoo land
more than once, you can get extra points and even finish the
game without ever finding the endgame room!
The parser gives lots of funny errors, but one
that tickled my fancy was when I said EXAMINE THEATER. The
program replied "I don't know the word TER". It thought
that both 'THE' and 'A' were definite articles despite the
stupid syntax and lack of spaces.
If you accidentally RESTORE a game with a bad
disk, it asks "Is disk okay?". Subsequent RESTOREs
cause "Game error occurred. Error is 133. Line is 0 Do
you wish to retry?". Type 'Y' and it doesn't work. Type
anything else and the program locks up.
Game playing strategy
The overall strategy required for Wombats I is not
all that different to that required for other Adventures, but you
must be much more thorough.
Every time you enter a new room you are given a lengthy
room description. Start out by identifying all the nouns in the
room description. For example, in the description of the compass
room quoted above, the nouns are 'room', 'exits', 'directions',
'compass', 'tiles', 'floor', 'globe', 'filter' and 'distance'.
To this list of nouns, always add 'wall' and 'ceiling'. Now systematically
try to EXAMINE and READ every noun on the list regardless of how
irrelevant it seems. You will often get a humorous response and
may be awarded some points into the bargain! Note that LOOK AT
is usually synonymous with EXAMINE, but there is at least one notable
exception. EXAMINE and READ are also synonyms in some situations,
but not others. Make sure you try both! For example, EXAMINE DIPLOMA
and READ DIPLOMA give the same response, but EXAMINE BOARD and
READ BOARD give two entirely different responses. One earns points
and one doesn't.
As you work through the list, you will more often
than not be told that the noun is not understood. Be persistent.
Don't skip verb noun combinations as you'll sometimes find that
a noun is understood when you EXAMINE it, but not when you READ
it and vice versa.
Once you've exhausted the list of nouns, try to GET
any object that seems moveable. You'll often get an error message,
but sometimes you'll get a funny response and you may even discover
a treasure! If the noun turns out to be a moveable object, EXAMINE
it and READ it again after you've picked it up. You nearly always
get different responses when you EXAMINE and READ moveable objects.
Finally, try every other verb you can think of that
has any relevance to each of the nouns. For example, if you find
a lamp (and you won't), you can try to light it (LIGHT, BURN, START,
TURN ON), extinguish it (EXTINGUISH, UNLIGHT, TURN OFF), empty
it (EMPTY, POUR, SPILL), fill it (FILL, REPLENISH, REFILL, REFUEL),
further examine it (SHAKE, LISTEN TO, TOUCH, FEEL) or do the Aladdin
thing (RUB, WIPE, WASH, CLEAN, SHINE). Get the idea? Only when
you've exhausted every possibility should you move on to the next
As you explore the complex, make sure you draw a
map. Don't assume that if you go north from one room, you can return
by going south. More often than not, you can't! There are lots
of twists and turns and one-way passages. In fact, it's a real
*@!?# to map in a clear and consistent manner.
Finally, here's a few miscellaneous tips to help
you on the way.
If you find any living creatures in the complex (and
I use the term loosely), try talking to them and giving them things.
You'll get some really funny responses if you do. The alien is
particularly helpful! Quote him word for word!
Don't worry too much about trying to catch the droid
until you're in the right room. There's a hint in the instructions
which explains where that is (but ignore the hint about the movie).
There is no time limit and no limit on the number
of items you can carry, so carry everything you can until you've
found all the treasures.
While all this is going on, you must keep a very
careful eye on your score. Type SCORE every time you enter a new
room and every time you get a meaningful response from the program.
Points are sometimes awarded for the most obscure actions and only
by constantly checking your score will you be able to determine
what actions are essential to finish the game. Remember that you
cannot get to the endgame room to complete the game unless you
have a perfect score!
Points are awarded as follows (the list is deliberately
vague to avoid giving too much away):
5 points for visiting each of the 36 rooms for
a total of 180 points
10 points for returning each of the 9 treasures for a total of
10 points for starting the car
10 points for playing the record
10 points for saying the magic phrase
7 points for reading the book
5 points for feeling the alien
5 points for reading the bulletin board
5 points for examining the papers
4 points for pulling the handle
4 points for examining the diploma
4 points for examining the frescoes
3 points for looking in the mirror
3 points for pressing the switch
2 points for examining the compass
2 points for reading the magazine
2 points for examining the plaque
1 point for solving the equation
347 points total
You also lose 20 points if you get killed.
If you've followed my advice so far and you still
can't finish the game, then it's time to cheat! When I play an
Adventure, I always try to finish it by myself without any outside
help. If I get really stuck, I'll resort to a sector editor (or
something similar) to scan the disk and hopefully come up with
some ideas to help overcome the current stumbling block. In cases
where the text is compacted or encoded in such a way that it is
not easily recognisable, I'll turn to my large collection of magazine
articles, hint sheets, hint books or whatever else is available.
When there's no published material to help, then it's all out war!
It's me versus the programmer – anything goes and no holds
barred! All's fair in love and war ... and solving Adventures.
In the case of Wombats I, I was about half way through
the game and had come to a dead end. I was finding it reasonably
frustrating up until that point and was ready to resort to a sector
editor. At about the same time, the disk developed an intermittent
bad sector and would sometimes fail to load. I hadn't made a backup
because of the copy protection and was worried that if I returned
the disk for a replacement, I might never see it again.
At that point, I decided to crack the copy protection,
make a backup copy and examine the disk at my leisure without having
to bother about bad sectors, funny formats and so on. This turned
out to be more fun than playing the Adventure itself and revealed
some very interesting things.
The disk is not an autoboot disk as I would have
expected, but a plain old ordinary DOS disk with a custom format
on the first three tracks and a few stray bad sectors. It contains
a version of DOS XL licensed from Optimised Systems Software, an
AUTORUN.SYS file containing the compiled BASIC program, a whole
heap of coded text files and a short data file called DMA.DAT.
The latter contains decimal numbers for a machine language routine
read in by the main program.
If you'd like to examine any of these files, you'll
have to start out by making a non-executable, working copy of the
original disk. This is easily achieved by copying sectors 1–9,
11–19, 21–39, 41–59 and 61–629 from the
Wombats I disk to your own freshly formatted blank disk. (All these
numbers are in decimal. All you hex freaks should use sectors $01–$09,
$0B–$13, $15–$27, $29–$3B and $3D–$275.)
You can actually use the working disk to load the program, but
it will NOT run because it has not duplicated the bad sectors and
funny format of the original. Hence the working disk is useless
except for examining files.
Wombats I uses a hidden directory. This is located
in sectors 370–377 and can be 'unhidden' by copying it back
to its proper place at sectors 361–368. (Again this is in
decimal. Hex freaks should copy sectors from $172–$179 back
to $169–$170.) You can now load DOS, get a directory and
use the DOS copy function to copy files to the screen. When copying
the text files, you'll see that they are full of gobbledegook.
That's because they've been coded to keep out prying eyes. Fortunately,
it's only a simple transposition cipher. If you increment the ASCII
value of each character, you'll get the proper ASCII value, thus
@ becomes A, A becomes B, B becomes C and so on. This would be
a pretty tedious job to do manually, so you can use the accompanying
program to make life easier.
With all the game playing strategy and tidbits in
Cheat's Corner, you should have no trouble completing the game.
When you've reached the endgame room, you get to fill out a card
included in the package and send it off to Dynamic Software Design
for your Official Wombat Tracker's Certificate and a special surprise.
I'm not sure what the special surprise is (as I haven't sent my
card off yet), but I'm certainly curious to find out.
I feel that the advertising of Wombats I is a bit
misleading, as it isn't really a parody or a comedy, but more of
a farce. Nevertheless, if you've got a really warped sense of humour,
I'm sure you'll get a lot of laughs out of Wombats I. Try playing
it with a group of friends to get the most fun from it. (And try
swearing at it!) Once the initial novelty wears off and your friends
have gone home, you'll find that the game is extremely tedious.
It's got a lot of bugs and needs a lot of patience to play, hence
I can only recommend it to dedicated Adventurers with a broad mind
and a lot of previous experience.
As usual, if you have any questions or comments or
you need a hint on a specific Adventure, please feel free to write,
but don't forget to include two international reply coupons if
you expect a reply.