Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Priority Adventure 6: Pyramid of Doom (1979)

Pyramid of Doom is the third game in a row on the blog from Scott Adams' Adventure series, which I realise could be getting a little tedious.  I'm trying to catch up on the games I played last year when I thought the blog was dead for good.  There'll be a little more variety going forward, I promise.

Despite this being part of his eponymous series, Adams only co-wrote this one. It's mostly the work of Alvin Files, who I can't find much about. According to Wikipedia he reverse-engineered Adams' games to write Pyramid of Doom and submitted it to Adams himself.  Adams made some tweaks (so he gets a co-creator credit) and released it as part of his series.

We're back in familiar territory here, with the goal being to loot a pyramid of 13 treasures.  I was convinced that Adams had made a game like this already, but I was getting mixed up with King Tut's Tomb by wonder-child Greg Hassett. Given the frequency of the treasure-hunting theme in these early adventure games, it's surprising that there have only been a couple of Egyptian-based games.  It seems like a natural fit.

I originally played this game in September and October of last year, but I remember almost nothing about it.  I've probably said this before, but blogging through a game really helps to cement it in my memory, especially for short games that can be played through in a couple of hours.  Those games go through my head so quickly that I might as well not have played them at all, but having to actually think and write about them makes the stick.  It's one of the things I find most valuable about the blogging experience.

The earliest versions of Pyramid of Doom were released on the TRS-80 and Apple II.  The first time I played it was the TRS-80 version, but I'm switching to the Apple II for this revisit.  Alas, my non-existent memory means that I won't be able to write about any differences between the two versions: the Ports of Call section is one of the things that's probably going to disappear from the blog due to lack of time.

Beginning my quest.

I start the game standing in the desert next to a pool of water, with a wooden pole embedded in the ground nearby.  As usual, I began by typing the same three commands: SCORE, HELP and INVENTORY.  SCORE told me that I'd found no treasures, giving me 0 points of a possible 100.  HELP responded with the advice to "search and ye shall find".  Thanks a bunch Scott and/or Alvin, I'd never have figured it out.  INVENTORY revealed that I was carrying an empty canteen and a flashlight.  This worried me a bit, as I thought I might have to deal with a finite light source as well as thirst.  Thankfully neither became a problem.

The initial desert region was small, only four areas: the opening one with the pole and liquid, two apparently empty areas, and an area next to the titular pyramid.  In the initial area I was able to fill my canteen with water, and also take the pole (which was actually a shovel embedded in the sand).  I was also able to enter the pool of liquid, where I found a large key at the bottom.

The area directly north of the starting area was just empty desert, and the same was true of the area to the north-east.  Digging in both of them revealed a tiny key in the north-east area.

East of the pool was the area next to the pyramid.  There was no obvious way inside, but there was a sign and a stone nearby.  The sign warned me that "he who defiles the tombs of Egypt shall surely perish", which is definitely accurate as I died many times during this quest.  The stone was covered in strange markings, but I couldn't read the message because it was incomplete.  I was able to take the stone with me, revealing a large locked door.  (It's not clear how, as the stone is hardly big enough to conceal a door if I can take it with me.  Let's assume it was holding down a pressure plate or something.)  The large key fit the door, but when I tried to go through I was crushed by a large stone.  I needed to find a way to disarm this trap before I could start exploring the pyramid.

Crushed by a falling stone.

I hadn't tried digging next to the pyramid yet, and when I did it created a hole.  At the bottom of the hole was a tiny locked door, which I was able to open with the tiny key.  I was too big to get inside, but when I opened the door there was a sound like machinery.  Sure enough I was now able to safely enter the pyramid, so I guess opening the tiny door disarmed the trap.

It was dark inside the pyramid, but my flashlight was a simple solution to that problem.  (A lot of adventure games of this era take inspiration from Colossal Cave and Zork by giving the player's light source a finite lifespan, but Pyramid of Doom mercifully refrained.)  I was in a rocky entrance-way, where I found a pistol and some mouldy bandages.  (I never did find a use for the bandages. Perhaps they're just there as a clue to the presence of a mummy, although this game being set in a pyramid was already a bit of a giveaway.) There was also a closed sarcophagus, and exits to the north and south.  The sarcophagus opened onto a staircase leading down, but I decided to ignore that for now and explore to the north.

It was at this point that a small nomad appeared and started following me around wherever I went.  He wasn't an obstacle or impediment as such, but he was annoying enough for me to try killing him with my bare hands.  Alas, I was informed that it wouldn't work, so it looked like I was stuck with this guy for a while.  I figured he might come in handy later, but to be honest I was hoping to be able to get rid of the nuisance as quickly as possible.  That was when I remembered my pistol, and gleefully shot him.  He disappeared in a puff of smoke (like the dwarves from Colossal Cave Adventure), which was very satisfying.  If I needed this guy, I was going to have to find out the hard way.  (A look at my inventory revealed that my gun had 3 bullets remaining.  The nomads keep popping up as you play, and it's possible to run out of bullets and get stuck with one following you.  I never did find a purpose to these guys though.)

Heading north from the entrance, I passed through a dining room with a table, then east into a room that was dominated by a giant oyster.  The oyster was blocking an archway beyond, and none of my attempts to move, kill or open the oyster were successful.  There was a flute on the ground, but playing it had no effect.  I took it with me and explored south of the entrance.

I entered a sitting room, with a fireplace, ashes and a basket.  Looking in the fireplace I found a lump of coal.  My immediate instinct was to wash the coal, as I'd encountered similar puzzles in games before; doing so revealed that the coal was a *ruby*, denoted as a treasure by the surrounding asterisks.  Looking in the ashes revealed a *gold necklace*, yet another treasure.  I was on a roll!  Looking in the basket wasn't quite so fruitful, as I was confronted by a hissing cobra.  Playing the flute I'd found earlier caused the snake to open a secret passage behind the fireplace and slither away.

The cobra opens a secret passage.

Through the passage was a sloping crawlway, where I was confronted by starving rats. With no food to give them, I tried shooting, and the noise scared them away.  Unfortunately they weren't gone completely, they'd just fled north, into a room with a blood-stained altar.  This time the rats attacked and killed me, and I was forced to restore a saved game.  Heading back through the crawlway I ignored the rats, heading north without disturbing them.

There was nothing obvious I could do with the altar (the game didn't recognise PRAY or SACRIFICE as verbs), so I took a passage east into a hieroglyphics room.  On the floor was some dried camel jerky, which I took, thinking it might possibly be food for the rats.  The hieroglyphics said "LEAVE *TREASURES* HERE!", so I'd found the all-important location to store my ill-gotten gains.  (I later discovered that the hieroglyphics are incomplete, and you need the stone from outside the pyramid to read them. I'd been lucky enough to have it with me the first time I went in there.)

Dropping the gold necklace increased my score to 7, but curiously dropping the ruby didn't increase my score at all.  I kept a note of this oddity, because small details like that can prove to be very important in these kinds of games.  I was pretty sure the ruby was needed for another puzzle deeper in the game, but for now I left it in the treasure room for later.

Heading south from the altar, I fed the rats with the jerky.  This satisfied them, and I was able to take the rats with me.  Heading back north from the altar led to the room with the oyster, presumably through the arch.  The urge to feed the rats to the oyster came over me, but that didn't work.  Later, when I was trying different things to open the oyster, I tried feeding the jerky to it instead of the rats.  The oyster ate the jerky and opened up, revealing a *black pearl*.  It also allowed me to pass through the arch freely, back to the altar room.  This path safely bypassed the rats, so I was happy enough to ignore them for now.  By the time I tried this I was close to the end of the game, so I wasn't all that concerned as to whether feeding the rats was necessary.

I'd fully explored the ground floor, so it was time to enter the sarcophagus and go downstairs. The stairs led to a burial room, where I found an *antique tapestry* and some burning tanna leaves. More importantly, there was a fearsome mummy who was stopping me from taking the tapestry. I tried to shoot the mummy, but it didn't work, and the mummy strangled me to death.  One restored game later, I returned and tried burning the mummy with the leaves, but they were too hot to take.  There were exits leading north and south, so I decided to high-tail it and deal with the mummy later.

The north passage led to a bricked-up doorway, with a rope on the floor.  I couldn't get through the door, so I took the rope and ran back south past the mummy.  This led to a tall room with a metal bar protruding from the ceiling.  On the floor were a saw and a decapitated skeleton.  I couldn't reach the bar, and nothing I tried worked on the skeleton.  There was little I could do except go back north, and try to deal with the mummy.

With no other bright ideas, I resorted to the standard adventure game technique of looking at my inventory and seeing what might work.  It took me entirely too long to try pouring water on the leaves, but this worked, and put the mummy to sleep.  Now I could take the tapestry, which revealed a hidden alcove.

Putting the mummy to sleep.

Inside the alcove I found a chopping block, a skull, and a box.  Looking at the skull revealed some *gold teeth*, and inside the box I found some bones and an iron glove.  The obvious thing to do was reattach the skull to the decapitated skeleton, and when I did so the skeleton leapt up, pulled on the metal bar I couldn't reach, and lowered a ladder.  The skeleton, now glowing, stayed behind, but I couldn't get it to respond to anything.

The ladder led to a "revolving cavern", with exits to the north and south.  North was a prison cell, with a dead explorer chained to the wall and a pile of rubbish.  Looking around I found a *gold pin* on the explorer, and a *jade carving* in the pile of rubbish.  There was also a closed portal; opening it caused a purple worm to enter the room.  On the next move the purple worm devoured me; I suspect some Dungeons & Dragons influence here, as the purple worm is a D&D monster with the ability to swallow creatures whole.  Reloading my game, I decided to leave that portal closed for now and explore elsewhere.

Feeding myself to the purple worm.

South of the revolving cavern was a narrow ledge, where I found a *sapphire*.  Far below was a pool of liquid (acid, as I fatally discovered when I tried jumping in), and above was a hole in the ceiling.  I couldn't reach it, but throwing the rope worked.

Climbing the rope, I emerged into a throne room with a lot going on.  Seated on the throne was the iron statue of a pharaoh.  There was also a chain hanging from the ceiling, a wall mural, and a chest.  The mural revealed a clue when I looked at it: "SEEK YE WELL THE HEART OF IRON".  Next I tried pulling the chain, which resulted in the statue standing up with a hollow laugh.  Pulling the chain again revealed a spiral staircase, but it was too late, as the advancing statue tore me apart.  I returned and tried to open the chest, but the statue wouldn't let me do that, either.  I figured I'd need to locate this "heart of iron" before I could do anything in this area.

Before that, I had other things to mess around with.  Among my various fruitless endeavours I tried cutting the table with the saw, only for a *diamond necklace* to fall out.  I hadn't expected this to work, I just thought I'd try the saw on the only wooden object in the game.  The only other obvious place to go was the bricked-up doorway.  I figured this one out through process of elimination: what items hadn't I used yet?  The answer was the iron glove, which I used to punch through the bricks (badass).

Beyond the door was a hall of mirrors, which reflected my flashlight to the point where it was so blinding that I had to shut it off.  I was still able to move around, and heading north, west or south took me back to the bricked-up hallway.  Heading east led to a dressing room, where I found a *gold scarab*.  I suspected there might be more to this puzzle than I'd discovered, but my initial impulse to break the mirrors resulted in 1,000 years bad luck in the form of a cave-in.  I decided to leave this, and focus on the heart of iron.

I was stumped at this point, and had gotten to the point where being done with the game was more enticing to me than figuring it out on my own.  I looked up a walkthrough, and learned that the heart of iron was the ruby I'd uncovered earlier.  I should have been able to figure this out; after all, I'd already spotted that it wasn't a proper treasure.  But like I said, I'd reached the point of the game where I just wanted it done.  To get rid of the iron statue I needed to throw the ruby into the pool of acid below the ledge.  Once this was done, the statue melted into a pool of slag, and I could get to the treasures it was guarding.

Getting vengeance on the iron statue.

The chest opened without any trouble, and contained a *platinum crown*.  The spiral staircase from the throne room led to a treasure room, with a barred window and a locked coffer.  The coffer could be unlocked by the small key found way back at the beginning, but when I did a poison needle killed me.  Wearing the iron glove allowed me to survive this trap, and take an *emerald bracelet*.  The window bars could be cut open with the saw, and a *platinum bar* was found outside, on top of the pyramid.

At this point I'd found 12 treasures, which was one short of the full amount.  As I was nearing the end of the game, and I'd already cheated once, I succumbed to the urge to use a walkthrough and be done with it.  The last treasure was a gold coin, which was found in the hall of mirrors.  With no light source usable in that area, the only way to find the coin was to FEEL.  It's a puzzle I've encountered a couple of times in adventure games already, so I should have thought of it.  Alas, I'm much more likely to try to think my way through things at the start of a game than near the end.

Winning Pyramid of Doom

Pyramid of Doom doesn't do anything outside of the box, but it does provide a solid experience and I expect it to do reasonably well on the RADNESS Index.  It should score comparably with Scott Adams' games, which would make it a cut above the standard fare of the day.


Story & Setting: The Egyptian-themed setting is strong at the beginning, but weakens a little towards the end as things get somewhat unfocused.  The latter stages feel more like standard D&D than Egypt, what with the purple worm and the iron statue with its ruby heart.  To the game's credit, the levels of the pyramid get smaller the further up you go, just as they would in real life. As for the story, it's yet another treasure hunt.  I get why they're so prevalent, but boy they are prevalentRating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: This one has a number of enemies that must be defeated: the mummy, the purple worm and the iron statue being the most prominent and memorable.  There's also the string of desert nomads which follow you around, serving no apparent purpose except to provide a persistent nuisance for you to waste bullets on.  There's a decent variety here, but none of these creatures can be interacted with to any great extent.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Text adventure, terse writing, no graphics or sound. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The game runs adequately, and I had no glitches or major problems wrangling with the parser.  I object somewhat to the game not recognizing EXAMINE as a command, but LOOK still works so it's a minor quibble.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Puzzles: This game plays fair for the most part, with the majority of its puzzles making sense, or being doable with a little trial and error.  I wouldn't have minded some more clues for the ruby heart puzzle, but I don't think it's absurdly difficult (especially if you've noticed that it's not really a treasure).  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: With fair puzzles and not a lot of random elements that can kill the player, Pyramid of Doom presents a reasonable challenge for the kind of game that it is.  Of course, it's an old text adventure, and even the best of those have their frustrating and annoying elements.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Fun: It's a decently enjoyable text adventure, but there's a limit to the amount of enjoyment I can eke out of one of these things.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 16, which doubled gives it a RADNESS Index of 32.  Nothing special, but it does stand alongside Adams' games, which is a good debut effort for Alvin Files.  I don't think Files made any games other than this, which is a bit of a shame.  Reverse-engineering the Scott Adams engine is somewhat impressive, and I'd like to see what else Files could have done with it.

NEXT: My next game is Zork: The Great Underground Empire, which I might be able to polish off reasonably quickly.  I've already covered the mainframe version, and this cut down adaptation for home computers is a game that I have practically memorised.  Always good to go back to though.

I should also mention that I've updated the sidebar with a page titled "Priority List and Chronological List".  This replaces my schedule for 1979, since I've abandoned the Chronological List for the moment.  If you want to know what games are coming up, that page has the answers. (Spoilers, it's a lot of Scott Adams adventures and Dunjonquest RPGs...)

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