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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

FRGR #07: Kultakuume (Triosoft, 1986)

Written by Marko Aho and Kari Aaltonen for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in 1985, and published by Triosoft in 1986.

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DESCRIPTION & STATUS


The series of Finnish Retro Game Reviews continues from where my series of a History of Finnish Games began. This will probably be the shortest entry in the history of FRGCB, because it's a review of a text adventure game. Well, at least it has some graphics, so it's not going to be a completely barren entry in that way. Too bad the cover art and the loading screen have been lost in time, and the only downloadable version currently available is a .z80 file (inside a .zip archive) at Marko's old website, which was last updated in June 2007. In any case, Kultakuume (Finnish for "Gold Rush") was the only commercially released Finnish text adventure game for the ZX Spectrum, and it was made with Gilsoft's The Quill Adventure System from 1983 and The Illustrator from 1984. It was also one of only three commercially released Finnish ZX Spectrum games, the third of which is a golf game which hasn't been found yet.

Even compared to the said golf game, Kultakuume is still a proper rarity: it only had one manufacturing run, and they only printed 50 tapes of it. Triosoft reportedly paid the designer duo for the game with a few free games and some discount for new hardware. It is said, that the game only sold a few copies full priced (which was 50 MK) and the rest of it was sold by Triosoft for a couple of MK's. Abominable treatment of something so valuable, if you ask me, but I suppose that's how the industry worked back then. If by some lucky chance, anyone out there owns an original tape of this game, please do contact me. As the game hasn't been documented at either World of Spectrum or MobyGames, we can safely assume there are no current reviews or ratings for Kultakuume, but the only proper review of it published in the September 1986 issue of MikroBitti, a Finnish computing and gaming magazine, gave it three stars out of five. I have also included a translation of the said review in the Appendix part of a History of Finnish Games series, if you want to remind yourself. Now, let's get to the point.

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THE REVIEW IN ALL ITS GLORY


If you're a connoisseur of interactive fiction, there isn't really much to explain about the whole system. For everyone else, all you really need to know is that text adventures are played by typing in commands, which are mostly built of two words formed as "verb noun", such as "open door" or "take object". More complex text adventures will make you construct more complex commands, but Kultakuume takes it the easy way. Unfortunately for a lot of you outside of Finland, this game is almost entirely presented in Finnish, so you might want to consider this a cheap way of learning new Finnish words, if nothing else.

Screenshots from the beginning of the game.
The game plot in a few words goes something like this: the year is 1848, and the gold rush is at its hottest in North America. Your family is struggling to keep itself fed, so your wife orders you to go out there and get rich, and bring some onions when you get back. You find out about a new gold finding in California, so you and your constant companion John decide to head out there and try your luck.

Movement through the game map happens mostly by typing in abbreviated directions, where available:



When there is no other way of moving to a new "room" you want to get to, you might need to open a door and walk through it.

I have to be honest with you: before I started writing about Kultakuume, I hadn't managed to complete the game myself yet, nor had I gotten very far in it. As of writing this exact line here, I have managed to uncover 50 rooms, during which I have traveled through the streets of New York, gotten myself on a boat to San Francisco, walked all the way to Fresno from there, and it looks like there's still more to uncover. Of course, to be able to get to as many places as I have already, a few puzzles need to be solved, such as shooting a desperado with a gun you bought from New York, and getting yourself accepted into a San Francisco saloon by wearing proper clothing, which can be acquired from Fresno.

More screenshots from the game.
There are some restrictions and bugs in the game, that anyone who ever wanted to play Kultakuume should probably know about. For one, you can carry only six items at a time, plus anything you might wear, but if your inventory is full before picking up some clothing before wearing it, you need to drop something before you can pick the item up and then wear it. Once you're wearing the clothing article, you can pick up the item you dropped before to make room for the clothing article. Also, I have noticed in some places, that you need to be very specific on how to adress certain objects so that you can actually get them into your inventory - and even then, the game might throw an error message at you ("Et voi tehdä tuota." = "You cannot do that."), but you can check your inventory to see if you actually took the item or not by typing "MITA" or "MITÄ" (="What"), as if asking the game, what are you carrying, or alternatively, typing "LISTA" (=list of inventory). Although not exactly necessary, you can use the extra Scandinavian letters Ä and Ö if you want to, whenever proper - they replace the numerics 9 and 0.

Just to get you started, here's a small list of words you will be needing in the game:

VERBS:
AVAA (open)
SULJE (close)
MENE (go)
OTA (take)
LUE (read)
PUDOTA (drop)
OSTA (buy/purchase)
VASTAA (answer)
ISTUTA (plant)
LATAA (load)
AMMU (shoot)
PUE (wear)
MITÄ (what; used for viewing inventory)
LISTA (list; see above, can be shortened with LI)
KATSO (look; can be shortened with K)
TUTKI (examine)

NOUNS:
LEHTI (paper/magazine)
OVI (door)
PORTTI (gate)
ASE (weapon/gun)
VESISANKO (water bucket)
KAULIN (dough roller)
KATTILA (cooking pot or stock pot)
SIPULIN SIEMENIÄ (onion seeds) -> the game also understands the alternative plural "siemenet"
TULITIKKULAATIKKO (box of matches) -> "tulitikut" is also acceptable
MIES (man)
KYLLÄ (yes)
EI (no)
HAKKU (pickaxe)
LAPIO (shovel)
PUUKKO (knife)
KIRVES (axe)
KÖYSI (rope)

I do believe, if you're not a Finnish person, but are determined to have a go at this game, Google Translate will probably be your best bet at having any sort of success at making progress in the game. What makes it easier to actually play the game is, that the majority of Finnish grammar has been set aside, and you only need to focus on one or two modes of verbs. Nouns I have found to be accepted in a few different forms, but even the most basic form is usually accepted. If you're a Finnish gamer, you're in for a rare treat, but apart from being a lost novelty from 30 years ago, it's not a particularly high quality adventure. However, I quite enjoy the dry humour of it.

And not only that, here's yet some more screenshots from the game.
The graphics aren't much to look at for the most part, but there are a few surprisingly picturesque scenes. The pictures are drawn approximately every third room or so. According to Marko Aho, one of the game's two writers, the loading screen was probably the best picture they did for the game, so it's certainly a pity we can't see it in the .z80 file version. Of course, it's nice to have some graphics even in a text adventure game, but the pictures take such a long time to be drawn onto the screen, and most of them are understatingly underwhelming, to say the least, so most of the time, we would be better off without some of the graphics. On a rare occasion, even the main text screens feature some variation, like when you read a newspaper, the paper background is white instead of yellow.

As the game features no sounds at all, there isn't much to talk about on that front, so it's time for me to wrap this up neat and tidy. Kultakuume is a fairly basic and simple text adventure, and its only real point of interest nowadays really is being a collector's item for two reasons: it's in Finnish, and it was a commercial release of a very small print. It's practically impossible to find as an original, and like most extreme rarities, they're not necessarily worth all that much to professional collectors in terms of nostalgia. But it's not a bad game - just slightly flawed, and difficult to play by anyone not natively
Finnish.

GAMEPLAY      1 or 8, depending on your locality
GRAPHICS      6
PARSER        5
ADDICTIVENESS 7
REPLAY VALUE  6
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OVERALL       6.5

Although the score isn't all that much to look at, the game has such a status as a practically lost artifact in Finnish gaming history, that the score is irrelevant. Besides, to those select few who know of it and remember it from the time it was released, Kultakuume is a nostalgia trip of the highest order. So, if there's anyone crazy enough, who would like to offer their expert help at somehow extracting the code from the available .z80 file of Kultakuume and eventually rebuild and bugfix the game, I would definitely be willing to help with translating the game into English. Although, a permission for such a job from the original writers would probably need to be acquired then. Well, one can always dream.

There's not a whole lot more to say about a text adventure, so I shall end this with a request: if anyone still has an original copy of Kultakuume, please take a picture or a proper scan of the coverart at least, if you're not also equipped to preserve the tape as a proper .tzx image file, and send them to me. The same goes to anyone who might own a copy of the lost Golf game by Kimmo Mäkinen.

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A FEW WORDS ABOUT OTHER FINNISH TEXT-ADVENTURES


The other well-known Finnish text adventure game is, of course, Aikaetsivä (translated as Time Detective) by Jukka Tapanimäki, the publishing rights of which were sold to Triosoft in 1986. In the light of having failed to achieve much of commercial success with Kultakuume, they decided to pull Aikaetsivä off from their list of releases. Fortunately, piles of previously manufactured Aikaetsivä disks were later sold as empty disks by Triosoft, first to be released by a cracking group called Topaz Beerline in 1993. I have mentioned Aikaetsivä earlier in my series of a History of Finnish Games, as well as in the comparison article of Quedex, and I have no intention of further dwelling on the subject, as it serves no real purpose.

Aside from Triosoft, there was another company that released any Finnish text adventures, this one focusing almost entirely on publishing text games for the C64. T&T-Soft was established in 1987, and they started selling their products in 1988 in various computer/gaming store chains like Komentokeskus, Toptronics and Triosoft, reaching their commercial "peak" of sorts in 1989. However, mostly due to their limited success at gaining the interest of the gaming press and the limiting methods of manufacturing (hand-made at home), their games have not had much time in the spotlight. If you're interested, you can find two of T&T's games from the depths of the interwebs - I refuse to give you any links, though, because they have already managed to remove Byterapers' crack of "Miljoonakeikka" from CSDb, as if having their games freely available now would be harmful for their legacy. 

Even though the golden age of text adventures was clearly over once graphics started taking properly control of game design, writing your own text adventure from scratch, preferably without any construction kit to help you, was for a long time considered an easy way of getting started in game design and programming. So, from the mid-80's to early 2000's, even the Finnish home-based game developers had great bursts in creating and releasing what we now call freeware games. You can find a (two pages) list of Finnish text games for the Commodore machines at NT Rautanen's website, which contains most of the known games. The biggest surge of Finnish text adventure releases appeared in the late 1990's for the MS-DOS based PC's, with subjects varying from MacGyver to James Bond, from schools to mental institutions, and so on and forth. A good scraping of the barrel can be found at the text adventure section of Jonneweb, although I can't say even half of the more enjoyable games of the time can be found there, and it seems most of the Finnish game archives of the olden days have gone astray.

Well, that's it for today, and consequently, for this month. Hope that wasn't a complete waste of time for you all - I know most of you readers have no intention of ever playing Finnish text adventures, but if this article reaches even one or two readers who appreciate the effort, it's a job well worth having been done. I certainly got my portion of text adventuring for a while. Anyway, see you next time with something more fitting for the blog's format. Pip pip!

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