Game 21: King Tut’s Tomb (1978): Victory.

From CRPG Adventures

Apologies for the lengthy delay, but Ultima VII is real good, you guys.  So good that when I finished it I launched immediately into Ultima Underworld II, and Serpent Isle following that.  What can I say, I got that Ultima bug, and it caused me to neglect whichever of the virtues covers “diligent blogging”.  Sacrifice maybe?  Honor?  Whichever it is, I hath verily lost an eighth, and I’m back to make amends.  (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, stick with the blog, and all will be revealed in the years to come.  Or better yet, just go play Ultima IV right now.)

This title screen depicts a brilliantly accurate scene of our hero exploring the tomb without his torch.

Today’s game is the next effort from boy genius Greg Hassett, King Tut’s Tomb.  Having created a game based on Jules Verne, and another tackling the haunted house genre, Hassett’s next effort draws from stories based on Egyptology and the legend of the mummy’s curse.  All of these genres are perhaps overdone by today’s standards, but all three are firsts in the text adventure field in 1978, which has to count for something.

This game was developed for the TRS-80, and that’s the platform I’m emulating it on, but there’s a caveat to that which I ought to mention.  Every copy of this game that I could find for the TRS-80 has problems with the code: in particular, there’s a certain point that, once you’ve progressed past it, doesn’t allow you to return to the entrance of the tomb. At first I had thought this to be a clever puzzle, but it seems not. Every walkthrough and all the ports of the game that I tried – not to mention the source code that’s available in this book – suggest that returning to the entrance should be no trouble at all.  I’m not sure where the problem originated.  Was it in the game’s initial release?  Did someone writing the code to put up on the internet type it in wrong?  I have no idea, but I feel safe in declaring that it was definitely an error.  With that in mind, I fixed the code to match the published version, which changes some of the map connections.  I also took it upon myself to fix a minor bug when encountering the mummy, and to fix some spelling errors, because I’m like that.  So I’m playing a slightly tweaked version of the game than what’s available on the web, but one that can actually be beaten. As usual, if anyone wants this code they should shoot me an e-mail.

The opening area of the game.

As with Hassett’s other games, this is a simple text adventure. It has a two word VERB NOUN parser, which only recognises the first three letters of each word.  I have mixed feelings about this level of simplicity.  It can be limiting, but it’s also nice to know that I won’t have to deal with any particularly complex puzzles. Your character has an inventory limit of eight items.  Much to my surprise it recognises the command DROP EVERYTHING (more commonly seen in games as DROP ALL), allowing you to dump all of your inventory at once. It’s a nice aid for inventory management (and move conservation) that I would never have expected to see in such a simple, early game.  It doesn’t recognise GET EVERYTHING, however.

Speaking of simple and early, this game is another treasure hunt. You play as an unnamed explorer/adventurer/who-knows-what, raiding a pyramid to find various treasures, I guess for their monetary value. There’s no explanation, and I really don’t require any.  Collecting shiny things is just what text adventure protagonists do, and what they use them for once the game is done is best left to the realm of imagination.

There are thirteen treasures to collect, and finding them isn’t difficult in any way. It’s simply a matter of exploring every room in the pyramid and carting them back to the entrance.  There are a couple of small mazes to navigate (like, three or four areas each), and a gate to unlock, none of which is challenging.  The main puzzles/logistical problems to overcome, what few there are, are detailed below. 

Light: A late 70s adventure game where you need to carry a light source? How unusual!  I kid, of course.  Every adventure game I’ve played, except for the two developed for Wander, has had a light source of some kind.  In King Tut’s Tomb you carry a torch and some matches.  The torch will go out periodically, and if you move around in the dark you’ll eventually fall and break your neck.  You need to relight the torch with a match.  I never ran out of matches in the game, but a look at the source code tells me that there’s a limit of 25.  They’re also used to get around another obstacle, as detailed below, and the number you have left at the end influences your overall score.

The Mummy: Occasionally a mummy shows up to menace you as you explore, because it’s an Egyptian-themed game and a mummy is obligatory.  He’ll try to kill you, and there’s a 50/50 chance that he succeeds.  On the times that he fails, there’s a message about him slipping on a conveniently placed banana peel that is equal parts amusing and baffling.  (It can happen anywhere, so does that mean every location has a banana peel?  Who left them all there anyway?  Or does it spontaneously generate when the mummy appears?)  The mummy is easy to defeat, though, as the most obvious means of killing him is given to you at the beginning of the game.  All you need to do is BURN MUMMY while carrying the matches.  (The original code didn’t display the message saying that the mummy was destroyed, although the mummy still vanished.  I tweaked this so that it works.)

Maybe the goobers eat bananas?  Or maybe I’m giving this game far too much thought?

The Goober: There’s another monster that randomly shows up to try to kill you: a “goober”.  These things are immortal and indestructible, and will follow you around and throw knives at you until they eventually hit and kill you.  One way to get rid of them is to head back to the pyramid’s entrance: for whatever reason, they won’t follow you outside, and when you re-enter they will be gone.  The other way to scare them away is to show them a snake.
There’s a snake in a pit quite deep into the pyramid.  At first the snake won’t let you get near it, but if you feed it (with food that you find right at the start of the game) the snake calms down and you can carry it in your inventory.  The problem with that is that it eventually gets annoyed again, and will bite you.  The poison kills you eventually, but there’s some wine you can drink that acts as an antidote.  As soon as you drink it, though, the snake slithers away and is gone.
The goobers will flee at the sight of the snake, but to be honest the rigmarole involved with carrying the snake around is more annoying than the goobers themselves.  Eventually I stopped bothering to carry the snake, because it was barely worth it.  Instead I just retraced my steps back to the entrance, or lured the goober to the snake pit if I was too deep within the pyramid.  They flee from the snake regardless of whether it’s in your possession.
The goobers are really the only deterrent to finishing the game, and their random appearance can make or break any attempt.  They keep appearing even after you scare one away with the snake, so there’s no way to get rid of them permanently.  In some games I would encounter three or four, and in others I wouldn’t see any at all.  It’s luck of the draw, and generally I just hoped to get a game where none would appear rather than bothering with the snake.  Starting over is probably less hassle than going through the process of carrying the snake for thirty or forty moves.

I got Goobered.

As you can see in the image above, the game offers reincarnation in much the same manner as Adventure and Zork.  If you take the offer, you’ll find yourself back at the entrance with your torch and matches, and the rest of your inventory scattered throughout the pyramid.  It doesn’t give you any benefits above just restarting that I can see.

It’s not clear who it is that reincarnates you, other than “the game”, but it does tie into the one clever thing that King Tut does.  When you’re reincarnated, said mysterious benefactor does so with  the aid of some orange smoke that’s stored inside a sarcophagus.  One of the treasure in the game is a sarcophagus, and if you open it, you get a face-full of orange smoke and a forcible reincarnation, complete with transportation to the entrance and the scattering of your inventory.  It’s annoying, but I’m already on record as saying that I have an appreciation for a good adventure game trolling.  So to this I say, well-played Mr. Hassett.  Ya got me.

There are some other items in the game besides the treasures.  Some are red herrings, like a worthless glass medallion, or the Steve Martin poster that references his novelty hit King Tut.  (As a side note, I’m certain that I remember a time when Steve Martin was funny, but it sure wasn’t that song.)  There’s the cup of wine for curing snakebite, as mentioned above.  The only other useful non-treasure item is the Book of the Dead, which contains instructions for defeating the mummy and the goober.

Once you’ve retrieved all of the treasures and brought them back to the entrance, your score will be 175 out of 175.  The game gives you a possible 32 bonus points, though, for a grand total of 207.  I’m not certain what factors influence these bonus points exactly, but the highest score I could manage was 203.  Looking at the source code, I can see that you lose points if you take more than 310 turns.  The number of matches you have left is also a factor.  Other than that I can’t figure it out, but I’m happy enough to leave it with a score of 203, which is still enough to gain the top rank of Grand Master.

Goddamn those 4 points!!!

Now, on to the Final Rating.

Story & Setting: There’s no story to speak of, and although the pyramid setting is novel for the time, the descriptions are (necessitated by hardware limitations) too bare to evoke much of anything.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters:  There are the goobers, the mummy, and a snake.  Two of those are obstacles, and one is an inventory item.  It would be tempting to give this a score of 0, but I’m trying to avoid having to do that.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics:  It’s a text adventure in grey and black, with the most minimal descriptions possible.  This is as bare-bones as games get, and it can’t escape a minimum score.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser is adequate, but very simplistic.  I was tempted to bump it up due to the recognition of DROP EVERYTHING, but in the end I decided it wasn’t enough.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge:  What challenge?  The game barely has any puzzles at all.  The mummy is a trivial nuisance.  The goobers are irritating, but eventually you’ll get a game where they don’t appear.  Other than that there’s a locked gate.  That’s it.  Sometimes an easy game is welcome, but there ought to be some challenge, and King Tut’s Tomb doesn’t present one at all.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation: It’s yet another treasure hunt, with only the Egyptian theme to differentiate it from what has gone before.  I’m not sure it merits an extra point, but I’m going to give it one just because it’s such an early game in the genre.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: King Tut’s Tomb is such a slight experience that I struggle to see what enjoyment anyone could get out of it, outside of someone in 1978 playing an adventure game for the very first time.  I won’t give it the minimum score, because I’m reserving that for games that elicit genuine hatred from me.  This game didn’t elicit anything except a resigned shrug of the shoulders.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Point: No bonus point.  I won’t play this game again.  What would be the point?

The scores above total 12, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 24.  This makes it the lowest rated game of the blog so far, although it’s only 2 points below Hassett’s other games, House of Seven Gables and Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  Gables is probably the best of his games that I’ve played so far, and given that I’m not 100% sure of the chronology I probably played it out of order.  It’s a more complete game than King Tut, that’s for certain.

NEXT: It’s back to the Wander system, for the evocatively named Library.  It’s all the excitement of my day job, in game form!

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