19. Gunslinger

by Garry Francis


Issue 30

Nov/Dec 87

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Garry Francis ventures as far as he could possibly go from his native Australia – to the Wild West where he discovers fact and fiction in an adventure ideally suited to beginners

North American history is a fascinating subject which is liberally sprinkled with potential scenarios for the budding Adventure writer. An imaginative author could draw from the diverse cultures of the various Indian tribes, their battles with the land and their battles with each other. These tribes included the Nez Perce, Shoshoni and Ute of the Rocky Mountains; the Assiniboin, Hidatsa and Mandan from near the Great Lakes; the nomadic Crow, Sioux, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche and Apache of the Great Plains; the Osage, Shawnee, Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw and Chickasaw of the south and dozens of others.

Following the Spanish invasion and the later expansion of the white man, there were numerous territorial conflicts such as those between the Spaniards and the Comanches in the south-west, the British, French and Provincials around the Great Lakes, the War of Independence, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Perhaps a more inspiring era for Adventures is that of the first great explorers such as Lewis and Clark, the mountain men such as Smith and Bridger, the early settlers (or sodbusters as they were known) and the horrors of the slave trade.

As the nation grew, it saw the emergence of the steamboat, the gold rush of 1849, the Stagecoach Age, the short-lived Pony Express, the Civil War, the construction of the great transcontinental railroads and the growth of the cattle industry which gave rise to the cowboy as a national figure. Then there's the Wild West!

The Wild West is usually taken to mean the trans-Mississippi West from 1865 to 1900. Strictly speaking, it wasn't as 'wild' as some of the earlier periods, but it had its fair share of violence and lawlessness. This is the period that is famous for outlaws, lawmen and vigilantes, gambling, gunfights and necktie parties which adorn the movies of Hollywood.

Despite the rich source of ideas, there are very few Adventures which take advantage of North America's colourful history. The only two that come to mind are Scott Adams' 'Ghost Town' (Adventure International) and Peter Kirsch's 'The Dalton Gang' (SoftSide Adventure of the Month). Now, at long last, Datasoft has come up with a new Adventure lifted straight out of Hollywood's Wild West.

The review

Gunslinger is an illustrated Adventure developed by Imagination Development Systems (whoever they are) and distributed in Australia by Intellicreations under the Datasoft label. U.S. Gold will be releasing a disk version in the U.K. in October so it should be widely available by the time you read this.

It would appear that Gunslinger was originally written for the Apple II. This is probably a good sign as Apple Adventures tend to be top notch. The game has since been translated for the Atari XL/XE and the Coldsore 64. The Atari version comes on three double-sided disks! That's a lot of Adventure!

In Gunslinger, you play the role of Kip Starr, a former Texas Ranger who has to rescue his old pal James Badland from the hangman's noose. The Texas Rangers were raised when the Texas Revolution broke out in 1835 and were active until around 1890. They were famous for their courage, determination, endurance and leadership.

Hollywood cliches

In your search for James, you will encounter all the Hollywood cliches that you can possibly imagine. There's everything from deserts, prairies and rivers to an underground mine, an Indian camp and a U.S. Cavalry fort. There's also three towns, each with a mixture of buildings lifted straight out of a John Wayne movie. There's a barber shop, a general store, a trading post, a stagecoach office, a blacksmith, a stable, banks, hotels, saloons, gaols and much more. Your transportation from place to place includes a mule, a horse, a canoe, a runaway mine car, a stagecoach and a train. Whew! But wait! There's also a crooked poker game, a fight on the roof of a train, three potential hangings (one is James' and two are yours!) and the inevitable gunfights. And while all this is going on, the six Dalton brothers are out to get you! There are six Dalton brothers in the game, but only three are introduced by name – Jessie, Horace and Luke. The names are fictitious, although they may be inspired by famous gunmen of the period such as Jessie James and Luke Short. Horace is a mystery unless it is a corruption of Hoss. (What were the names of the three Cartwright brothers in Bonanza?) The selection of Dalton as a surname is unfortunate as it causes confusion with the real Daltons – Bob, Emmett and Gratton. The real Dalton brothers formed a gang in 1890 and were gunned down by the local townspeople when making the first attempt to rob two banks simultaneously at Coffeyville, Kansas in 1892. Only Emmett survived and he served 15 years in prison.

Seven screen windows

After you've booted the game and been through the obligatory titles, you get your first glimpse of the unusual screen layout. The screen is divided into seven windows. The three in the top left corner give you a brightly coloured picture of the current location, cute little pictures of any visible items and a one line description of the current location. The graphics are quite good.

The window at the bottom of the screen is where you type your commands and get the program's responses. The unusual part of the screen layout is the windows in the top right corner. The main one shows you a list of 13 verbs. You can use a joystick to move through the verbs until the one you want is highlighted, then press the joystick button and it appears in the bottom window just as though you had typed it from the keyboard. If the verb you want isn't shown, you can use the joystick to page up and down through the rest of the verbs. Once a verb is selected, the nouns appear automatically. This is followed by pronouns, then back to nouns. You can also view verbs, nouns and pronouns in a different order if you wish. You can terminate your command at any time by highlighting the 'CR' and pressing the joystick button.

One notable omission from the vocabulary is the compass directions which are normally used to move about in a game. Movement is achieved by placing the cursor in the bottom right hand corner of the picture of the current room. When you do, a compass appears. Highlight the direction you want to go and press the joystick button. Hey presto!

This whole concept is not new. I've seen it on ST games, but it's a novelty on 8-bit machines. Unfortunately, it is horribly slow and cumbersome to use. I don't think a normal person could use it for very long without going mad, but it may be of some use to disabled people who can use a joystick, but use a keyboard. The bottom line is that you can use keyboard only, joystick only or a combination of both. The choice is up to you.

Easy puzzles

After experimenting with all the controls, you can get into some serious Adventuring. You'll find that the game is quite pleasant to play. It has a small, yet adequate vocabulary and it always tells you when a word is not understood or if you're using it in the wrong sense. The puzzles are all relatively easy, but some require a hell of a lot of trial and error. These are usually situations where you die if you make a wrong move, so frequent game saving is the order of the day.

The game has a few minor bugs (don't they all!), but nothing really drastic. There were at least three situations where a word began with a lower case letter rather than upper case (or vice versa), but otherwise the spelling was excellent ... providing you speak American! A few of the American spellings that cropped up were fiber instead of fibre, ax instead of axe, center instead of centre and jail instead of gaol. Also Goldy Locks should have been spelt Goldilocks and ok should really be O.K. or okay, but this is nit-picking. More important perhaps were the two occasions when the mule was called a donkey. Oh dear! The poor creature! A mule is actually a cross-breed between a horse and an ass (or donkey, depending what country you live in) used as a beast of burden and is usually sterile.

My only real complaint is a lack of coherence. When playing the game, I had an uncomfortable feeling about it, but I couldn't place my finger on it at the time. It was only while doing research for this article that I suddenly realised what was wrong. The authors have deliberately incorporated all the Hollywood Wild West cliches that they could possibly think of without giving any consideration to authenticity. As a result, we have a blend of fictitious characters using the names of real people, real events that have been distorted to fit a fictitious story, a dubious time scale and geography ranging from Canada to Mexico. This is a personal grudge and most people wouldn't even notice it, but it makes for interesting discussion. Some of the more interesting points are printed in italics throughout this article.

Overall, I thought Gunslinger was a thoroughly enjoyable game. It's fairly easy to play and would probably suit a beginner providing he or she exercised a little patience and saved the game frequently.

Game playing strategy

The first location in Gunslinger has you stranded in the blazing hot desert beside your dead horse. Even before you've got time to read the caption, a lone horseman appears over the horizon and gives you a ride to Dawson City. It is here that your Adventure begins. The only Dawson City that I know of is the one at the fork of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers in Canada's Yukon Territory. Dawson was the local boom town during the last great gold rush in the freezing winter of 1898 – not exactly a desert! If this assumption is true, then it sets the period at no earlier than 1898. This places it right at the end of the Wild West era, which fits in well with the rest of the game.

Dawson is an interesting little town. It is full of colourful characters and all of them are willing to talk to you. You can get a trim and a shave at the barber shop, buy something to eat at the general store or take a shot of whiskey at the saloon.

Unfortunately, none of these actions are very helpful in getting you to Mexico to rescue James from the hangman's noose. It's a l-o-n-g walk from Canada to Mexico, so maybe you should find some transportation. If only you had enough money! What about trying your luck at the poker table? The popularity of poker is a Hollywood myth. The most popular card games amongst frontier gamblers were actually Faro and Monte.

Aha! Your first encounter with one of the Dalton brothers. Can you beat him at poker and live to tell the tale? The solution to this problem is typical of all the major puzzles in the game. You must do exactly the right thing at exactly the right time or you'll get killed. A lot of trial and error and careful timing is in order. You'll only find the correct sequence of moves by dying a few times, so make sure you save the game first. If you need a hint, check the instructions that came with the game and the excellent artwork on the packaging.

If you play your cards right at the poker table, you should find yourself with enough money to buy a stagecoach ticket. The stagecoach seems a little out of place in the Yukon. Not only is the terrain unsuitable for stagecoaches, but the Stagecoach Age had come and gone by 1898.

Unfortunately for you, your trip is not without incident. True to Hollywood style, the stagecoach is attacked by bandits and you are shot before you reach your destination in Carson City, Nevada. When you awake, you find yourself in a dried out riverbed on side B of the disk. Your wounds have miraculously healed, but all your belongings are gone. You are probably somewhere in California, for there is an old Spanish well and an abandoned mining town nearby. The town's only inhabitant is a weather-beaten old prospector who owns a sluice box and a mule. The sluice box could come in handy, but it's the mule that attracts your attention. After all, it's still a long way to Mexico!

Unfortunately, the grizzled old prospector is not about to relinquish his precious belongings, at least not unless you've got something valuable to offer. Perhaps a search of the town is in order.

The town contains a range of deserted buildings and a few seemingly useless objects, but nothing to offer the old prospector. If you follow the road north out of the town, you'll discover a sealed mine entrance, but try as you may, you can't get in. If all seems lost, go to the other end of the town and give some thought to this... When is a dry river bed not a dry river bed? The answer is crystal clear. I'm damn sure of it.

Entering the mine takes you to disk C. I'd suggest you ignore the mine car for the moment and explore everything else first. You should find a few useful objects including something that may interest the old prospector. When you're satisfied that you've been everywhere, hop in the mine car for the ride of your life. Actually 'life' may not be quite the right word to use! This is another situation where you will probably get killed off a lot while trying to find the right combination of moves.

If you survive the mine car incident, you'll soon find yourself on a ledge overlooking the ghost town at one end and an Indian camp at the other. The Indian camp is inaccessible at the moment, but at least you know where to head next. In the meantime, it's back to the ghost town to barter with the old prospector.

Darn it! He still won't part with his mule. You'll have to find something more valuable. But what? Diamonds? Silver? Gold? Gold! Of course! A little prospecting and a little more trading and you should find yourself mounted on the prospector's trusty mule, ready to venture into Indian territory on disk D. Three disks down and three to go, but the hardest is yet to come!

The mule cannot take you beyond the Indian camp, so it's time to look for another means of transport. The Indians are a peaceful lot, so you can explore the camp unhindered. Aha! The river looks promising, but there's only one canoe and it's not yours to take. You might be able to trade with one of the Indians, but which one owns the canoe? Try talking to them all and you'll soon be directed to the canoe's owners. But what can you offer them? I hope you were thorough in your exploration of the ghost town because there's no going back! The instructions and artwork may be useful here.

Before you know it, you'll be peacefully drifting down the river in the canoe. Oh, oh! There's Horace Dalton! And he's pointing a gun in your direction. You'd better think fast and act fast. I don't think he's here for the DUCK shooting!

Even if you avoid getting shot, the next move finds you on the brink of a waterfall. Sheesh! Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire! The box artwork provides a solution for the third and final time.

If you survive the waterfall, you'll find yourself in the middle of a prairie somewhere on disk E. There's a U.S. Cavalry fort nearby, but none of the soldiers are particularly friendly. As a matter of fact, if you hang around for too long they throw you in the stockade for conspiring with the Indians. After 4 moves, the guard peeks in and gives you your last meal. Things don't look real promising! After 12 moves, the guard gives you a cigarette and after 20 moves, you get dragged off to the gallows. (I knew smoking was a health hazard, but this is ridiculous.)

When you're first thrown in the stockade, all your belongings are taken except for what you're wearing. It's possible to escape from the stockade, but you must do so with only the items you find after your imprisonment. Timing is also important. If the guard bursts in at the wrong time, you'll be killed straight away. If you break out too early, you could miss out on an important item.

If you manage to escape, you'll find yourself on top of the fort's wall. However, the alarm has been raised and soldiers are closing in from all directions. The only escape route is down, but it's too far to jump and survive the fall. Did you explore the fort before you were captured? If not, restore a saved game and go back to the warehouse. Here you'll find an item which may help your escape attempt. All you've got to do is to somehow smuggle it into the stockade without it being taken from you!

After you escape from the fort, the soldiers continue to close in on you. The only way to escape them is to burn your bridges behind you (so to speak) and run like blazes. If you don't waste any moves and you don't run straight into the soldiers' arms, you'll get a chance to jump aboard a moving train before the soldiers can catch up.

Even if you make it to the train, there's no time to rest. Seconds later, the train comes to a screeching halt and the bouncer searches the boxcars to make sure there's no freeloaders. If you hang around, the bouncer will surely find you and beat your brains out with his billy club. The only alternative is to try and hide, but this brings you face to face with Luke Dalton. Not much of an alternative is it? Timing is crucial once again, but if you can survive the encounter with Luke, you finally get a chance to rest.

Hours later, the train pulls in to the station at Tijuana. Tijuana is on the west coast of Mexico, immediately south of the border with the U.S.A. It is here that James Badland is to hang.

Leaving the train takes you to disk F. From the train station it is a short walk through the desert to the streets of Tijuana. A quick exploration of Tijuana reveals its Spanish influence including an archway, a cantina, a cathedral, the El Banco Nacional and the local lockup where James is imprisoned. If your attempt to rescue James is to succeed, you're going to need a lot of careful planning and, of course, the usual experimentation and game saving helps. I'd suggest you pay James a visit and have a talk to him before you try anything. This at least gives you access to his horse and rifle.

When the bell starts ringing, you know that the end is near. James is taken to the gallows and a crowd gathers near the central plaza. When the bell stops ringing, James will be hung. Timing is crucial. You have to save James before the bell stops ringing. Maybe you could position yourself somewhere that gives you a good view of the gallows and use your Texas Ranger marksmanship to cheat the hangman of his quarry. (Just be careful not to shoot James.) The bloodthirsty mob will not take kindly to this move and you'll have to act fast to ensure your own escape. The secret is to have everything planned in advance.

The very last move of the game turns out to be a real disappointment as the program takes over and everything happens automatically. In one move you save your own skin, snatch James from the gallows and together you ride out of town.

The game should end at that point, but it pushes the friendship by extending the automatic scenario so that after a two day ride, you and James find yourselves at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. The game finally ends as you gun down the three remaining Dalton brothers (despite the fact that you have only one rifle between you!). The shootout at the O.K. Corral is the most notorious in the history of the Wild West. It occurred in October 1881 when Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp and a gambler friend known as Doc Holliday (from his profession as a dentist) exchanged gunfire with four local cowboys, Ike and Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury. Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were wounded during the foray. Billy Clanton and both the McLaury brothers were killed. Only Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton escaped unscathed.

Next issue

Well, so much for Gunslinger. Next issue promises to be another interesting one. If all goes well, I'll be taking a look at The Neverending Story – the book, the movie, the Adventure. I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. See you then.