My Atari Adventure

A dead dragon lies at my character's feet, having been impaled on my character's mighty sword (that arrow thing) in the classic low-res Atari game "Adventure." Yes, dragons actually are related to chickens.

Last week, Wil Wheaton tweeted about a great post at “Roll 3d6 Six Times for Stats” from a father introducing his ten-year-old daughter to Atari Adventure. “What a great idea,” I thought. “My favorite Atari game! And I have two five year old daughters – five plus five equals ten.”

Not exactly.

Atari Adventure was the very first action-adventure video game. Your character is a square icon. You wander around a low-res dungeon landscape of castles and mazes seeking a glowing chalice. You may carry only one item at a time – a key to unlock one of the castles, a magnet that attracts other objects, a bridge to travel through walls, or a sword. Find the chalice and return it to your home castle to win. But beware the dragons. If you have a sword, you can kill them. Otherwise they will attack and eat you. And there’s an annoying bat who randomly steals whatever you are carrying and rearranges the objects in the dungeon. I never had an Atari system growing up, but whenever I got a chance to visit a friend who did, Adventure was the game I wanted to play.

There are a number of Flash Adventure emulators if you’d like to try it out:

  • Dwedit’s Atari Adventure. Seemed to be the best and most comprehensive emulation.
  • Scott Pehnke’s Atari Adventure. I like the graphics, but couldn’t figure out the other levels/games.
  • The official Atari version of Adventure. A little clunkier I thought, but it has a nice set of best times, if you’re feeling competitive.

I started off with Scott Pehnke’s version (from which I captured the screenshots). Here’s what happened.

My girls want me to play while they watch so they can see how to play. Fine. I start off on the easiest level in the simplest game: next to the gold castle. I sneak past the slow gold dragon, steal the corresponding gold key, and open the gold castle where I find the sword. I take the sword and slay the first (gold) dragon, who has conveniently followed me back to my castle. I slay the second (green) dragon, retrieve the key to the black castle, travel through the maze, and unlock the black castle.  In picking up the black key, I left the sword on the other side of the map. Rather than go all the way back, I decide to try to steal the chalice from under the watchful eyes of the red dragon. He’s too fast and eats me. Shrieks of terror ensue.

In a moment of sheer terror (from a five year old's perspective) Daddy gets eaten by a red dragon in the classic Atari game, "Adventure."

I reassure the girls that it’s just a game.

“But he ATE you!” they insist.

“That’s because I wasn’t carrying the sword,” I explain calmly. “If I have the sword, I can kill the dragon.”

They look at me incredulously. Daddy’s behavior is completely incomprehensible. “WHY didn’t you bring the sword?”

“I can only carry one item, and I had to take the black key to unlock the black castle.”

“But WHY didn’t you go back and get the sword?”

“It was a long way back to pick it up, so I thought I’d try to sneak past the dragon.”

“He’s TOO FAST, Daddy. Take the sword or the dragon will EAT you!”

It was as if I told them I was going to jump out of an airplane and decided to leave my parachute behind for fun. I should have realized that the best I could hope for at that point was to show them some conservative play where I took no chances and was never killed by the dragons. And there was no way I could allow them to play – their dexterity wasn’t up to dodging the dragons.  So I let them watch me play for a while – but it was too boring and I couldn’t resist the temptation to try to slip past the dragon again unarmed. He ate me again. Once more, the girls were seriously distraught – to the point of tears. And that was the end of my gaming with girls. For now.

Maybe I should wait a couple more years before introducing the girls to Doom?

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