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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.