Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Great Scott Project - Adventure #8

The Great Scott Project ventures into enduring text-ploration territory with Adventure #8: Pyramid of Doom, by Scott Adams and Alvin Files.

Many companies have published adventure games with an Egyptian theme -- Radio Shack's 1979 Pyramid 2000 (a modified subset of Colossal Cave), Infocom's Infidel, Datasoft's Sands of Egypt, and Sierra's The Dagger of Amon Ra are among the better-known. Like most of these games, Pyramid of Doom is not exactly a sanctioned archaeological expedition -- per the catalog:

An Egyptian Treasure Hunt leads you into the dark recesses of a recently uncovered Pyramid. Will you recover all the treasures or more likely will you join its denizens for that long eternal sleep?…
The game features numerous traps and a few random deaths, and the map is quite extensive for a cassette-based title, with no mazes to pad it out. I had never played this one before, but I didn't find it to be too difficult to solve -- at least, the hint book did not come into play. Most of the puzzles make some sort of sense, although there's one solution I happened on by sheer dumb luck (more on that later). There are 13 treasures to find, and while the player's flashlight never seems to go out, plenty of terrors explicit and subtle keep the danger level high.

I intended to play this one online, using one of the many Z-machine ports of the game hosted on "free gaming" websites hither and yon. But I soon discovered that the "save game" functionality didn't seem to work -- at least in my particular Windows/Java context, it failed consistently. And this game does have some random hazards and hidden traps -- it's very difficult to get through the game without ever dying. So I played here until I died, then switched to ScottFree when it was time to get serious -- for the record, here's a screenshot of the online version's opening:

I can't recommend this format for anything more than a quick sample -- if that suits you, check it out before continuing here. Otherwise, give it a serious go elsewhere if you wish, before letting me spoil anything.

******* SPOILERS AHEAD! ************

Armchair Egyptology:

I like the opening approach -- there's no trackless waste of desert, no map/compass puzzles, no obstinate camels to delay the Adventure proper. We're already near the pyramid and can focus on getting in. The opening left me a little flat at first, until I figured out how to turn off the giant stone trap.

Another vintage example of getting evocative mileage out of minimal text -- a pole stuck in the sand turns out be a shovel once it's in inventory. I didn't notice that immediately, and it was a pleasant discovery even after the fact.

A theme-appropriate touch -- the treasure room is easily found, but one has to read the hieroglyphics to learn that it IS in fact the treasure room.

I never quite understood the function of the Small Nomad. Shooting him made him disappear in a puff of yellow smoke, but I never felt like that was a good thing, so I restored my game and allowed him to hang around through the whole adventure. He did warn me away from the Purple Worm, so I thought perhaps he was on my side, but he was also ready to jump me and steal my treasures on rare occasions. I think I was supposed to dispatch him, but he didn't make a nuisance of himself.

The game has lots of creepy props and monsters -- a chopping block, a mummy, starving rats, a decapitated skeleton -- and lots of useful tools -- rope, pistol, saw, iron glove. There are lots of options for solving puzzles, and several objects have multiple purposes, which I like -- it always seems more "realistic" to me and motivates careful inventory management.

There's one puzzle I probably would have had to go to the hint book for, had I not solved it by sheer dumb luck. I happened to be carrying the skull and dropped it in the room with the decapitated skeleton, while considering possibilities for some sort of beheading trap. Magically, the skull attached itself to the skeleton and pulled down a ladder. Who knew?

I never did figure out whether there was a way to kill the Purple Worm, but after trying out several ideas, leaving its portal closed in the first place proved the best option. I didn't have to conquer it to finish the game, at least.

Most traps are hidden with no forewarning -- frequent use of SAVE GAME is advisable. For example, you need to look in the rubbish once to find a treasure, but looking through it twice contracts an instantly fatal case of dengue fever.

The jerky can be used to feed the Giant Oyster or the Starving Rats. It's better to use it to feed the Oyster and obtain the *BLACK PEARL*. After that point it's possible to use the nearby Archway, and avoid the ignominious and grammatically awkward "Rats attacks! I'm dead!" scenario.

A large table can be taken, making a strange sound when it is. I tried a number of things before applying the saw to it, yielding a treasure.

That iron glove is pretty handy -- it can be used to break brick doorways and protect oneself from needle traps.

Another very subtle clue that I at first thought was a bug -- the *RUBY* found inside a lump of coal doesn't get counted as a treasure when it's dropped for SCORE. I found its real purpose later on while dealing with the Iron Statue; I guess the asterisks just make it look shiny!

The mirror room puzzle is neat -- it forces turning off the flashlight. Taking a few risks and moving in the dark yields an additional treasure.  Again, SAVE GAME comes in handy.

Favorite interpreter response I hadn't seen before: "You be weird. Cut that out."

The map is fairly open, and aside from some traversal challenges the treasures need not be found in any particular order. Thirteen treasures seems like an awful lot to find at the start of the game, when everything seems barren and dead. But they are hidden here and there, emerging as the map unfolds.
Here's the victory screen from ScottFree:

This one wasn't too difficult to get through -- three hours, I think, though I can see Savage Island looming in the distance now and am pretty sure I won't be keeping this pace up after I get there.
Before we arrive on its challenging shores, we'll saddle up and tackle the last of the drawn-cover-art era: Adventure #9: Ghost Town.


  1. I actually jumped from adventure 6 to 9. Seven I worked with Alexis on what she wanted in the game and eight has an extremely interesting history.

    We received in the mail number 8 (about 90% done) from a lawyer named Alvin Files.

    He had taken my games and dissembled them.

    Then he figured out how many interpretor worked, then he wrote this game in it. I was suitablly impressed! That was allot of work!

    I worked with him on editing the game and polishing some rough spots but like I said its was about 90% his work! I contacted him a few years back and he was still alive and well!

    A smilar thing was done by the author of Golden voyage. Note neither auther ever saw my notes or source code!

  2. Thanks for sharing another fascinating back story. I saw that #5 was dedicated to Alvin Files -- but didn't know who he was, or how he earned that distinction.

  3. Notwithstanding the nomad, this was my favorite of the 12. I can play it over and over and not get tired of it.

  4. Fun fact: If you look closely at the *RUBY*, you'll notice that there's actually a space in front of its name. It's " *RUBY*", not "*RUBY*". (Or at least, it was on the TRS-80 version I played.)

    That space at the front is why it didn't count as a treasure. Scott's treasure-counter looked at the first character of the item's name, and counted it as a treasure if it was an asterisk. He put that space in front deliberately so that it WOULDN'T count as a treasure. That way, you wouldn't feel as bad about using it up on the statue later.