This week, we're looking at another text adventure from Bob "Captain 80" Liddil's company, The Programmer's Guild -- Tower of Fear, written by Charles Forsythe and published circa 1981 when the TRS-80 Color Computer was the new machine on the block. Forsythe started out on the black-and-white TRS-80 Model I, and here he indulges in a little color graphics display as the game boots up:
The Tower of Fear parser has a limited vocabulary, but it implements a couple of Infocom-style assumption mechanisms and performs well -- Forsythe always worked in machine language, and there are no visible delays slowing play. And his engine uses a green-on-black text display rather than the CoCo's default black-on-green mode, which feels a little more "professional" somehow.
I began playing Tower of Fear using the Vcc140 emulator, but had trouble getting the tape-based SAVE GAME command to work, so I switched to David Keil's DOS-based Color Computer emulator (under DOSBox, running an emulator inside an emulator!) to take advantage of its save-state support. The only disadvantage to the switch was that the Vcc140 text mode uses a deeper black that wears better on modern eyes; the Keil emulator is more accurate, preserving the muddy, dark-green "black" of the original CoCo, which is also harder to look at.
This is a standard solve-the-puzzles-and-collect-the-treasures game -- there's no plot to speak of, no other characters beyond a monster to engage, and the titular Tower does not really inspire any degree of Fear. But it's a pleasant diversion aside from a few annoying random events that make saving and restoring a necessity. I have made my walkthrough available below, and at the CASA Solution Archive, but as always, I encourage interested readers to enter the Tower of Fear and explore a bit, or solve the whole game, before venturing into the...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
Right off the bat, standing at the base of the Tower, we find a memo promoting Forsythe's action game Pac-Droids, a Pac-Man clone with enough modifications to keep the publisher out of legal trouble. The customary sign indicates that we should drop treasures here and say SCORE, per long-standing adventure tradition, and warns us that oil is scarce, which is no understatement.
The map is fairly small and tight, with few red herrings -- if something looks interesting, it probably yields a treasure under the right circumstances. One of the first things any experienced adventurer itches to do is readily achievable -- from our starting location, we can go north and GET LAMP. I found it necessary to maneuver in the dark a bit while solving the game to conserve lamp oil, though the adventure can be completed with the available supply.
A pit to the south of our starting point leads to the Lair of the Cyclops, who is armed with a sword instead of a club in a departure from Harryhausen cinema tradition. There's no way to negotiate with the one-eyed brute -- he attacks as soon as he we enter his lair, and if we haven't picked up the Dagger in a nearby field, we don't have much of a chance. Even with the dagger, success is not assured -- we must KILL CYCLOPS repeatedly, dealing and taking blows at random, hoping to take him down before he does the same to us. It's best to tackle this battle early or SAVE GAME before entering the pit, as my success rate was about 60%. If we succeed, THE CYCLOPS RUNS OFF DEFEATED (but not dead), leaving behind his JEWELED SCABBARD (a treasure) and a SWORD.
From the base of the Tower, we can CLIMB IVY to find an open window leading to a secret room. It's totally dark inside, even though we just came through a window looking out on the brightly-lit outdoors, and this room is a dead end if we don't have a way to open the door here. OPEN DOOR assumes (WITH HANDS), and NOTHING HAPPENS as a result.
The parser handles DROP ALL and GET ALL, a surprise given this game's vintage, but there's a minor bug at large - DROP without an object (or missing a space, e.g. DROPDAGGER) does a DROP ALL, which can be really annoying if we didn't notice what happened and have subsequently run out of lamp oil. We can also YELL, yielding ARRRRRRGG! to no productive effect.
GO ARCHWAY to the north of the Tower leads to a fatal PIT OF SPIKES! This is not really a dead end, but a puzzle; we will need to come back here later.
With the Cyclops' sword, we can CUT IVY at the base of the tower, creating a hole in the ivy that leads to an east-west corridor with a SILVER BAR treasure and a chain hanging from the ceiling. If we PULL CHAIN, SOMETHING GOES "CLICK" AND THE CHAIN PULLS UP OUT OF REACH; this enables us to get through the door in the secret room higher up the tower. A nearby laboratory contains a note reading "EMASES+MIRROR" -- a useful clue, though it's not immediately clear how we should use this magic word. We have to wander around and SAY SESAME everywhere to discover its purpose.
A storage room north of the laboratory contains boxes of various colors - purple, brown, orange, black, white, green, yellow, blue, red, and pink. I thought there might be some kind of color-based puzzle to solve here, but there's no ROYGBIV alignment or other obvious pattern. I tried opening the boxes one at a time, hoping to find such a sequence, and was repeatedly struck by poison arrows, dying each time after a couple such hits. At first I thought I was on the wrong track, as not one box turned out to be safe to open. But eventually I figured out that the non-trapped box is randomized -- I was dying and restarting, so the target was constantly shifting on me. By saving my game before opening any of the boxes, I was able to try each box in turn, dying and restoring until I discovered the right one containing the CLOCKWORK MOUSE treasure.
There's a maze of tunnels to the east of the storage room -- but we can't dawdle here, as if we spend more than a handful of turns exploring the maze, YOU ARE ATTACKED BY A VENGEFUL CYCLOPS! Even if we have his sword in hand, we are defenseless against his new attack. So we again have to save and restore the game, repeatedly, mapping the maze by trial and error to find our way to the Fountain Room. This isn't too hard to do, as any wrong turn takes us back to the beginning of the maze. In the Fountain Room, we can collect the EMERALD treasure, and DRINK FOUNTAIN to heal any non-fatal wounds we've sustained to date.
A book in the cellar has an odd cover, reading "INSERT ME INTO...", a title unlikely to rocket to the top of the bestseller lists except in, shall we say, certain niche markets. INSERT BOOK without an obvious target yields (INTO EAR) OUCH!!! We fill find a more appropriate resting place for it later on.
Doing the math after collecting a few treasures, SCORE seems to indicate that there are eight equally-weighted items to acquire, which proves to be correct.
Returning to the Secret Room after pulling the chain below, we can access a Library with a RUBY treasure, a ladder and a bookcase. CLIMB LADDER seems pointless, as there's nothing to see up there, but after ignoring this apparent dead-end for a while I realized we can GET LADDER and use it elsewhere. The ladder is also useful in a pinch due to another bug -- if the lamp runs out of oil and goes out, CLIMB LADDER provides temporary night vision; that is, we can see the contents of the room for one turn after we come back DOWN the ladder.
We can INSERT BOOK into the bookcase to reveal a secret passage to a secret laboratory containing a GOLD KEY treasure/item and a vat of acid; GO VAT is fatal, no surprise there. A one-way passage leads us back down to the ground-floor laboratory. DRINK ACID (yes, I had to try it) yields only YECCCCCHHHHH! and is not as fatal as going for a swim in it.
SAY SESAME turns out to be useful in front of the Archway --YOU HEAR A GRINDING SOUND, and now we can reach the courtyard of the castle, instead of dying on the spikes. A high wall blocks further progress, unless we have the ladder. At the top of the wall is a JEWELED STATUE treasure, and above this location is a control room with a locked lever. A little trial-and-error comes into play here as well -- we need the gold key to UNLOCK LEVER, and then we want to PUSH LEVER to empty the vat of acid back in the secret laboratory. The more obvious PULL LEVER causes the vat to overflow, killing us instantly upon entering the lab as we find ourselves WAIST DEEP IN ACID! Once we enter the vastly more hospitable EMPTY VAT, we find the eighth and final treasure -- a DIAMOND.
We have collected all the treasures at the foot of the Tower of Fear, so all we have to do is say SCORE to claim riches and victory!
Tower of Fear is a fun little adventure with a pleasant sense of humor, marred only by a few random, unpredictable events and puzzles that can't be solved except by trial and error. My walkthrough is below the fold.
**** WALKTHROUGH ****
SAVE GAME (optional but recommended before the battle)
KILL CYCLOPS (repeat until he's defeated or you're dead and have to start over)
DROP SCABBARD (first treasure)
N, D, N
SAVE GAME (may have to save and restore repeatedly here before finding the right box containing the CLOCKWORK MOUSE)
OPEN [color of whichever box turns out to be safe, e.g. OPEN YELLOW]
E, E, E, N, W
E, N, W
S, W, W
GO HOLE (do this in the dark to conserve oil)
E, E, N
GET MOUSE (from box opened earlier)
S, W, W
UNLOCK LEVER (with gold key)
D, W, S
U, D, W, W
SCORE (and victory!)