Sunday, December 3, 2017

Game 21: King Tut's Tomb (1978)

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 & Influence: 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.


Somewhat later in this blog I made the decision to overhaul my Final Rating system, so I'm going back through and fixing all of the games I've already played as of March 2020.  I've ditched the Innovation and Influence category, and replaced it for adventure games with a category for Puzzles.  I've also changed the purpose of the bonus points, saving them for games that are important, innovative, influential, or have features that are otherwise not covered by my other categories.

Also, the Final Rating is a boring name.  The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET.  The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating.  Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons.  So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.

Puzzles: This game barely has any puzzles at all, and the ones that are there are incredibly simple. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

King Tut's Tomb's RADNESS Index is 22.  That puts it equal last along with one of Hassett's other efforts, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  Should I feel bad for picking on a little boy?

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!


  1. The bonus points are fairly simple. There are 3 rooms that give you 5 Points each for visiting them (the Jewelry Chamber, the Royal Throne and the Mirror Room), and you can get up to another 17 points for the number of remaining matches you have divided by 2 at the point you quit the game. You also get 25 minus points for running out of matches and accepting the offer for more, 20 minus points for every time you get reincarnated, 10 minus points for taking over 310 turns, and 15 minus points for taking over 357 turns.
    In other Words, the only way to get the max score is to get all the treasures without dying and without using more than a single match. The torch will use a random number of matches, between 1 and 4, to get lit, so you'll need to restart the game if it used anything other than 1 (you can check remaining matches by writing "turn"). The torch will go out on every turn that's a multiple of 32, but the trick is that it will only go out if you're holding it during that turn. If you drop it on the ground on the 31st turn, stall in some way on the 32nd, then pick it back up, it won't go out again for another 32 turns. It's completely impossible to get all the treasure in just 32 turns, so I doubt it was meant to be possible to get the max score, but it's doable if you know how.

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  3. Also, since I was using the Captain 80 book to explore the code, might as well mention that there's a nasty error in there. Line 110 and 120 need to be combined to a single line (with a : after the content of line 110) - the way the book has it results in you starting the game with the 25 minus point penalty from getting more matches already in effect. The copy on the game available online doesn't have this error.

    (while we're on the topic of errors, there's another in line 1090, where the number 13 is meant to be 12. This error IS in the version available online. Try writing "hit food".)

  4. And another couple fun bugs and errors:
    *Nearly every verb will produce a "you don't have it" response when used on the lit torch since the game thinks you mean the unlit one, which it treats as a different object.
    *If you run out of matches, you get the 25 minus point penalty for accepting the refill even if you refuse it.
    *Curiously, there's a line of code for burning the empty matchbox, even though there's no way to have both matches and the matchbox at the same time. Also,while it's not possible to actually do so, burning the matchbox would have removed it from Your inventory without reducing the number of items the game thinks you have (though the game will recalculate this number whenever you look at your inventory)
    *The mummy is bugged in different ways in the book version and the online version - in the book version, trying to burn it will cause it to automatically slip on the banana peel. This happens even if you don't have matches on you. In the online version, typing just "burn" will burn the mummy as intended, but "burn" followed by an object (like "burn mummy") will produce an error message. This will get rid of the mummy without displaying the message that it burned AND without reducing your number of matches.
    *I'm not entirely sure why, but in the online version, the verbs I, L and INI (for initialize?) just produce error messages. I and L are shortcuts for INVentory and LOOk, while INI is a combined "get torch, get matches, light torch" command that only works on the very first thing you do in the game (kind of neat, actually). These all work fine in the book version.

    (Sorry about all these posts, but I found it fascinating to poke around in the code for this game. You end up finding all these oddities that show how Hassett could've probably spent another day or so reviewing the code)

  5. It's cool, all of that extra info is great. Your knowledge of Basic far outstrips mine - I know enough to figure some things out, and to tinker a little, but that's all.

    "This will get rid of the mummy without displaying the message that it burned AND without reducing your number of matches."

    I fixed the above error by adding an IF statement querying whether the matches are in your possession. I'm not sure if it fixed the match reduction error, but it did get the message to display.

    1. I don't actually know that much about BASIC, that's why I find it interesting to look through this game: It may not be all that well thought out, and it's full of blatant errors and oversights, but it's written in an extremely straight forward and easy-to-understand manner, much more so than any other similar games I've looked at. Had I had the Captain 80 book as a kid, this is the kind of comprehensible game design that would've gotten me interested in programming my own similar games.

      As for how you fixed the mummy error, that's odd - the problem I'm getting is that typing the verb "burn" followed by a noun will produce the generic "wazzat?" error message (writing just "burn" and no noun will make it work as intended). The reason this removes the mummy is that the mummy isn't an object, just a scripted event that's set to perform the mummy attack sequence if you type any verb other than "burn". Since you DID type "burn" when you got that error message, the game won't load the mummy attack, but the error will cause it to ignore the rest of the mummy script (which DOES actually check if you have the matches, so I'm not sure what you added...?).
      The mummy script is mostly the same in both versions (the error in the book is that line 1590 is supposed to be an ELSE statement for line 1580's IF statement, which can be fixed by adding ELSE and the content of 1590 to the end of 1580, then deleting 1590), so I don't get what's causing the error.
      As for the match reduction, that's set to happen once the message that the mummy burned has displayed, so you did "fix" that by making the message appear.

      Also, here's another oddity in the game: the SAVE function will save nearly everything relevant (the current location of every item, current amount of matches, the player's current position, whether or not the gate is open, the number of items in your inventory, whether or not the Goober is present, how long it will take for the Goober to throw his next knife, turns taken, how hungry the snake is and how poisoned the player is), but it will NOT save your bonus points for having visited the three special rooms, any minus point penalties, or the number of times you've died. This means you can't reload a saved game to get rid of any penalties (but you can refuse reincarnation to avoid the penalty for dying, and you CAN wipe any penalties by turning the game off, then turning it back on and THEN reloading your save), but it also means you can't make a save at the end of the game where you just need to "QUIT" to get the max score, since you won't get the bonus points for the three special rooms unless you visit them during that particular session. This seems to be intentional, but I can't really understand WHY.

    2. Actually I just found the error. In the online version, just change line 194 from NoVAL0:RETURN to NO=0:RETURN
      This will fix a whole bunch of instances where the game spits out error messages when you reference nonexistent nouns, and will, among other things, make the mummy script work as intended.

  6. And a couple more weird bits (tired yet?):
    I mentioned that the torch only burns out if you're holding it on a turn divisble by 32. This is true... but it also only burns out if you actively loaded a room on that turn, either by moving to a New one or by using the LOOK verb. This goes for the snake and the poison as well: The snake will only bite you if you load a room on the 50th turn you hold it, and the poison will only kill you if you load a room on the 45th turn after you got bit. If you do something else on these turns, that event won't ever happen period.
    ...I don't know if this is intentional or just bad coding. This game is weird, and it COULD be an attempt at randomizing these events somehow.

  7. Keep it up man, this is much more fascinating to me than the game itself.