Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Pyramid 2000 (1979)

I don't imagine my experience in this regard was unique -- I encountered a certain seminal adventure game disguised as Pyramid 2000 for the TRS-80 Model I computers during the early years of the hobby.  It was published in 1979 by Radio Shack, with no author credited, and it was only the second adventure game I'd ever played, prior to my youthful discovery that there was such a thing as third-party software.  So this one will be a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.  There's no title screen, just a brief welcoming message:

The game's manual was a product of the late 1970s, positing that our adventuring avatar is a product of Astral Projection, a New Age concept since consigned to the pop culture dustbin.  The pyramid motif was more enduring, and many later adventure games explored similar settings.  I finally solved Pyramid 2000 with the help of Tandy's support line, but only discovered a few years later (on a friend's Apple II), as a "new" adventure became increasingly familiar, that Pyramid 2000 was actually an excerpt of the Crowther and Woods Colossal Cave Adventure, redressed with an Egyptian theme.  Basically, Pyramid 2000 substitutes a pyramid for the building in Colossal Cave, replaces the high fantasy gingerbreading with Egyptian mythology, and manages to cram a substantial portion of the classic treasure-hunting experience into 16K of cassette-loaded RAM.  The interface is very basic -- text and response, with none of that fancy windowed interface stuff Scott Adams would pioneer on the same platform at around the same time.

I always encourage interested readers to sample these games firsthand, though in Pyramid 2000's case I'll accept Colossal Cave experience for full credit.  The game provides its share of frustrations, no doubt, and the best resource I can point you to is Sean Murphy's excellent figmentfly page for more information and a full walkthrough.  Beyond this point I will be recording my playthrough in detail, which means I can only cover my Astral Projection with the warning that there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****
We begin standing before the entrance of a pyramid, with nothing in inventory (and we have to type INVENTORY, the I shorthand command was not yet traditional.)  We can wander around the desert, to no real purpose -- we're surrounded by four endless, instinguishable desert "rooms" -- so our best option is to get inside... we can't ENTER PYRAMID or GO PYRAMID or OPEN PYRAMID or GO ENTRANCE, we just have to travel North.  (One of the challenges of this RAM-limited version is that we get few entrances or exits described in the early and late going -- navigation depends largely on trial and error, which makes maze mapping very difficult later on.)

Inside the pyramid are a number of iconic adventuring items -- a SHINY BRASS LAMP, some FOOD, and a BOTTLE with WATER IN THE BOTTLE.  There's nothing to do here, except to GET LAMP and everything else; below the entrance, we find a small chamber with the classic low crawl leading west, and a dire warning that never quite pans out in-game: "CURSE ALL WHO ENTER THIS SACRED CRYPT."

Heading west, we find ourselves in the pitch dark, so it's time to LIGHT LAMP and LOOK to get a view of the surroundings.  There's a SMALL STATUE BOX in this low passage; we can't EXAMINE or READ it, as the parser does not support these verbs, but we'll take it along anyway.

Proceeding west, we enter a ROOM FILLED WITH BROKEN POTTERY SHARDS OF EGYPTIAN CRAFTS, with a THREE FOOT SCEPTER WITH AN ANKH lying nearby.  We continue through an AWKWARD SLOPING EAST/WEST CORRIDOR to enter a SPLENDID CHAMBER THIRTY FEET HIGH, with the walls memorably described as FROZEN RIVERS OF ORANGE STONE.  There's a STATUE OF THE BIRD GOD sitting here.  If we try to GET STATUE without the statue box, it can be lifted but not carried; if we have the scepter in hand, it comes to life and flies out of reach.

Traveling west again (this first section is very linear) leads to a SMALL PIT BREATHING TRACES OF WHITE MIST.  A small crack continues westward, and ROUGH STONE STEPS LEAD DOWN THE PIT.  We can't get through the crack, even if we drop all our inventory, so it makes more sense to go D into the pit.

We now find ourselves in a vast hall leading west, with openings to either side, meaning to the north and south.  If we go N, however, we're partially trapped in the PHARAOH'S CHAMBER, where a HUGE GREEN FIERCE SERPENT BARS THE WAY!  It won't let us go back south, but we can escape by going east to return to the hall.  A low room to the south contains a SPARKLING NUGGET OF GOLD, and hieroglyphics translating to "YOU WON'T GET IT UP THE STEPS."  This proves correct, as we cannot climb back up out of the pit with the nugget in hand, so we'll have to find an alternate route.

The middle of the hall is blocked by a BOTTOMLESS PIT that is reportedly TOO WIDE TO JUMP.  I remember it taking me quite a bit of experimentation, back in those early days, but with limited objects available and some experience in these matters it isn't hard to figure out that if we WAVE SCEPTER, A STONE BRIDGE NOW SPANS THE BOTTOMLESS PIT.

There's PRECIOUS JEWELRY on the other side of the pit, and while we can't proceed directly west, we can go N from this point to navigate through a parallel passage to the WEST END OF THE HALL OF GODS.  A low passage continues west, leading to the eastern end of another long hall APPARENTLY WITHOUT SIDE CHAMBERS and exits leading north and east.

West of this location is what seems to be the end of the long east-west traversal, as we join up with a narrow passage heading north.  Heading that way, we intersect a LOW E/W PASSAGE and run into a DEAD END to the north.  Heading west from the intersection takes us back to the east end of the long, narrow hall; going east enters the WEST THRONE CHAMBER where we espy MANY COINS HERE.  (The map definitely feels cave-like with these twisty, roundabout passages -- knowing nothing of the game's origins during my original foray, I remember being quite confused by the geographical inconsistencies!)

Going east from the throne chamber takes us back to the PHARAOH'S CHAMBER, with the serpent guardian still at large.  I also run into the MUMMY at this point, who replaces Colossal Cave's pirate: "I'M THE KEEPER OF THE TOMB," HE WAILS, "I TAKE THESE TREASURES AND PUT THEM IN THE CHEST DEEP IN THE MAZE!"  Since he's taken the coins, we may have trouble if we run out of battery power and need to visit the vending machine alluded to later, but we'll soldier on for now.

We might as well get the serpent out of the way -- this also took me a long time to figure out once upon a time, but we can THROW STATUE (THROW BIRD does not work, though the noun is recognized for other purposes) -- it COMES TO LIFE AND ATTACKS THE SERPENT AND IN AN ASTOUNDING FLURRY, DRIVES THE SERPENT AWAY.  Then it resumes its statue form.  (I distinctly remember solving this puzzle on a long-ago rainy Sunday afternoon, and being extremely thrilled I was finally getting somewhere!)

There are some BARS OF SILVER in a low north-south passage north of the Pharaoh's Chamber.  A hole in the floor here leads down to an east-west passage, but we'll go north first to visit a large room with a panel on the north wall.  We can PUSH PANEL to find ourselves back at the entrance to the pyramid, so this will be useful for getting our ill-gotten tomb-looting gains out of the lower levels.  We can push it again to return to the passage belowground, so this will be handy indeed.

The lower passage is DIRTY and BROKEN, leading east to a SMALL CLEAN CLIMBABLE PIT.  We can go down to the bottom of the pit, where a small stream ENTERS AND EXITS THROUGH TINY SLITS.  If we DRINK WATER, the parser first empties our bottle, then after it's empty will let us drink from the stream, which TASTES STRONGLY OF MINERALS; we can GET WATER to refill the bottle after it's been emptied, which will come in handy later.

At the west end of the broken passage is the ROOM OF BES, with a hole in the floor.  Climbing down leads into a COMPLEX JUNCTION.  North of this location is a LARGE ROOM WITH ANCIENT DRAWINGS ON ALL WALLS, depicting ATUM, A PHARAOH WEARING THE DOUBLE CROWN.  There's a sarcophagus here -- we need something else, though, as we are reportedly not strong enough to open it.

We can go downward to explore a LONG SLOPING CORRIDOR WITH RAGGED WALLS, leading down into a featureless CUL-DE-SAC ABOUT EIGHT FEET ACROSS (I remember having to look up CUL-DE-SAC as a youngster, not having encountered the word before!)  Going up from the sarcophagus room leads us to a chamber depicting KHONS, THE MOON GOD, though like a number of rooms it seems to be here strictly for atmosphere.

Returning to the complex junction, we can go east to the UNDERWORLD ANTEROOM OF SEKER, where hieroglyphics suggest, "THOSE WHO PROCEED EAST MAY NEVER RETURN,"  and we can pick up some issues of "EGYPTIAN WEEKLY" magazine (though I never found a purpose for these.)  Going E leads to THE LAND OF DEAD, a maze with passages in ">ALL< DIRECTIONS."  Trying to return west sends us through some passages and dumps us back here -- and so does going in any other direction! If we say PLUGH -- a classic adventuring magic word -- in desperation, it's no help, as "OH, NO!  I LOST MY COMPASS.  I NO LONGER SEEM TO KNOW WHICH WAY IS NORTH!"  So it's a good thing I saved before coming in here, and we'll heed the warning and avoid this single-room dead end going forward.

So let's restore, go back and map out the area around the Chamber of Horus.  We can head directly west to reach the EAST END OF THE TWOPIT ROOM, with pits at either end, and the most interesting hole in the wall DIRECTLY OVER THE WEST PIT WHERE YOU CAN'T GET TO IT.  There's a tiny plant in the pit, MURMURING "WATER, WATER, ..."  We can WATER PLANT -- well, POUR WATER, actually -- a few times, going back to the stream we found earlier to refill the bottle.  The initial watering produces a TWELVE FOOT BEAN STALK bellowing louder demands for hydration, and the second and final yields a GIGANTIC BEAN STALK STRETCHING ALL THE WAY UP TO THE HOLE

We can now CLIMB BEANSTALK to visit a narrow corridor, leading west to the CHAMBER OF OSIRIS with a nest FULL OF GOLDEN EGGS!  We can also get to the CHAMBER OF NEKHEBET to the north to find a JEWEL-ENCRUSTED KEY -- but we're running out of inventory space, so we'll have to drop the statue box before we can pick it up.  There's another passage here, BLOCKED BY A FALLEN BLOCK that cannot be cleared as far as I could discover.

If memory serves, we need to explore randomly around the Chamber of Horus to find something... it loops back most of the time, but not always, and I eventually find myself in THE PRIEST'S BEDROOM, with a SMALL VELVET PILLOW on the floor.  We can also reach a LARGE LOW CIRCULAR CHAMBER with passages leading north and south; south takes us back to the Twopit Room, and north goes back to the chamber of Horus.

More random exploration leads back to the Anteroom of Seker, which we don't need to reach via this method.  But persistence eventually gets us to the CHAMBER OF THE HIGH PRIEST, where we can acquire a DELICATE, PRECIOUS, VASE.  A SE exit returns to the chamber of Horus, but we should first explore a tight passage west -- the opening won't allow us to take any inventory with us, but the room is fortunately lit by AN EERIE LIGHT, apparently coming from AN EMERALD HERE THE SIZE OF A PLOVER'S EGG!

There is a SCORE command which reports our current points out of 220 and our current turn count.  But it seems our lamp is starting to run out now -- I'm 297 turns in, mostly underground, and the batteries are getting dim -- twenty turns later, our light source is gone.  The game mentions the vending machine we can use to buy batteries, but because the mummy stole our coins earlier, it's back to a much earlier save. 

We've learned quite a bit in our exploration so far, though.  One thing to keep in mind is that we should conserve the lamp's battery power -- UNLIGHT doesn't work, but we can TURN LANTERN OFF, a rare extension of the two-word parser approach generally used here.  And the classic puzzle from Colossal Cave is retained -- we need to use the vase and pillow together, as if we DROP VASE without first dropping the pillow, it shatters instead of RESTING, DELICATELY, ON A VELVET PILLOW.

Restarting, I try to maneuver in the dark to conserve battery power, only to be reminded that even if we have a map, it's still easy to fall and break every bone in our virtual body, being ENGULFED IN A CLOUD OF ORANGE SMOKE as we are reincarnated at the pyramid entrance -- without most of the equipment we left behind where we fell, the lamp being the only exception.  Reincarnation also costs us ten points, and after a few rounds, I SEEM TO BE OUT OF ORANGE SMOKE and the game is definitely over.  So we should try to avoid dying during our serious, game-finishing attempts.

This time, I lose the nugget and silver bars to the mummy, but not the coins, and it seems the mummy only confiscates our treasure one time.  A vague memory reminds me to use the jeweled key to OPEN SARCOPHAGUS, and a GLISTENING PEARL falls out and rolls down into the cul-de-sac, where it can be retrieved.  I drop the key, nest and pearl in the entrance, remembering to turn the lamp off while I'm doing so to save battery life, and have now scored 60 points in 86 turns.

My randomized exploration from the Chamber of Horus takes about 30 turns this time to obtain the pillow, the emerald and the vase.  I've now got 100 points in 136 turns.  I stumble across a SOUTH SIDE CHAMBER adjoining the Pharaoh's Chamber, one of those unexpected map connections I had missed earlier, and pick up some DIAMONDS.

Now it's time to explore what I have been putting off as long as possible - A MAZE OF TWISTY PASSAGES, ALL ALIKE, adjoining the Hall of Gods, which I had a tough time mapping in my youth.  Surely I'm better at this by now?  Well, at least I can see why it's so hard to map this time -- the maze has quite a few rooms in it, and it takes more objects than can readily be carried to map it out.  There is a secondary escape from the maze, THE BRINK OF A LARGE PIT which we can use to climb down to the chamber with frozen orange stone walls, but not back up.

In actuality, the maze is somewhat linear -- at least, most rooms only have one "progressive" direction available, though the interconnections, loops, and dead ends make it hard to see that without fighting our way through.  East of the brink of the pit is the very epitome of the classic non-obvious adventure puzzle -- while every room up to this point has informed us that THERE IS NO WAY FOR YOU TO GO THAT DIRECTION when we try to go NE, NW, SE, or SW, this room actually has an exit to the northwest -- and this is where the PHARAOH'S TREASURE CHEST lies, as well as any other treasures the mummy made off with earlier!  A successful sequence (certainly not the only one) for navigating the maze from the West End of the Hall of Gods all the way to the Treasure Chest -- the issue I had to call the Radio Shack help line for more than three decades ago -- is:

    S, E, S, S, S, N, E, E, NW
Then we can return to the upper level by going SE, W, S, and D, and return to the entrance to drop off more treasures. We're up to 200 points now, out of 220, so we're apparently still missing a treasure.  Ah -- I did not retrieve the precious jewelry on this pass, so it's a good thing I didn't leave the scepter anywhere it would be hard to retrieve.  Going back to the bottomless pit, waving the scepter, grabbing the jewelry, and returning to the entrance gives us satisfaction at last... although severe memory constraints are likely responsible for a somewhat anticlimactic finale.  There's not even a congratulatory message to reward us for our hard-fought victory, just the cold comfort of the best possible SCORE we can achieve:

I enjoyed revisiting Pyramid 2000 -- I remembered a good deal of it, though I have to give some credit to more recent ventures into the Colossal Cave that are fresher in my mind. It must have been quite a challenge for Radio Shack's unnamed engineer to fit even this excerpt of that seminal adventure game into a diskless microcomputer, and Pyramid 2000 remains one of the experiences that got me hooked on the genre.  Thanks for indulging my nostalgia, and I'll get back to something fresher next time around, I promise.


  1. In _Colossal Cave_, the magazine DID have a use. (It was called "Spelunker Today" there, not "Egyptian Weekly".) You got one (1) point for dropping the magazine in the room with the passages leading in >ALL< directions. (One, and ONLY one, of the exits takes you out of that room. All other exits loop back around into the same room.)

    Many a would-be Adventurer Grand Master got stuck at 349 out of 350 possible points in _Colossal Cave_, because the original gave no clues that the magazine was in fact supposed to be deposited there. READ MAGAZINE resulted only in "I'm afraid the magazine is written in Dwarvish." Some later editions, including the commercial release for the early IBM PC, instead say "It's addressed to Witt's End!", which is the name of the room with the passages in >ALL< directions.

  2. I've played an augmented Inform port of Colossal Cave, but haven't really sat down with the original for any length of time. I need to do that! I was always frustrated by the magazines in Pyramid 2000 because there was no READ verb recognized at all -- though not as much as the slowly dawning discovery that there really is no way out of this version's Witt's End! We are so spoiled in this era, with instant state saves that don't require waiting on a 300 baud cassette tape drive.

  3. ... or 250 baud cassette tape drive, if your TRS-80 had Level I BASIC.

    I had the good fortune to play Colossal Cave on a green-screen CRT terminal attached to one of the PDP series of mainframe/minis back in the late 1970s. Or maybe it was an Owl. Or maybe Owl was the name of the terminal. In any event, I also remember the Star Trek game they had on that computer -- real-time, no manual for the commands (I had to figure them out by trial and error), and every time the Klingons took a shot at you the terminal would beep. (It was an annoying, goose-honk-like beep, too.)

    Still, despite this, there was no way to save the game in that particular iteration of Colossal Cave, so ever game I had to start from scratch. I always brought my maps, drawn on various pieces of college-ruled yellow paper from a tear-off notepad. I think I was up to 5 pages by the time I reached 349 points.

  4. Ah, that's right -- it was 250 baud for Level I and 500 baud for Level II! I was confusing the tape baud rate with that of my first modem, on the TRS-80 Color Computer a few years later (I actually used that modem for a while with an Atari ST during college, too!)

    That mainframe Star Trek game was a big influence on early home computer gaming too, lots of variations produced, generally involving a 2-D star map, Klingons, Romulans, and bases. Even Star Raiders was pretty much a direct descendant of the PDP classic.

  5. I'm absolutely sure the Star Trek game I was playing on those green-screen terminals was NOT the original. I played an earlier version on a TELETYPE (!). The teletype version wasn't real-time, of course.

    The various Star Trek games had a big influence on me, too. I played one from Simutek called "Graphictrek 2000", which was entirely in BASIC (it toggled the cassette on/off RELAY to make its sound effects, a tactic which a more savvy friend of mine told me was a *very bad thing* because that relay could get damaged from overuse). I pored through the code and used it as a springboard to write my own Star Trek game for the TRS-80, called, originally enough, "Another Star-Trek Game", which is up on my website on the same page as my old TRS-80 adventures.