Tower of Fear (1981)   4 comments

We’ve seen Charles Forsythe in the games Lost Ship Adventure and Dragon Quest Adventure. Tower of Fear is his third and last adventure game.

The cover art and the plot as given on the back of the packaging (from the Museum of Computer Adventure Games) are both kind of metal, and they suggest — nay, demand — the plot be read out loud. So I have done so. Enjoy my dramatic rendition of the introduction to a TRS-80 adventure game written by a high school student.

(There should be an embedded recording with a “play” button above. If you’re not seeing it, try clicking here to listen.)

Deep in the Graylock outback, in the mists of pre-time, dwelt THE WIZARDS, a race not native to this simple place, a race of powerful necromancers, whose awesome prowess at magic caused rampant terror in every heart that dared contemplate them.

As the years marched by, they each individually succumbed to the ravages of death. Some, who were the most powerful among their peers, forstalled the shadow-journey by barring themselves from the sunlight and the eyes of time, in huge towers, islands of life in the barren desert. By surrounding themselves with magic, they, for a time, held off death. But the reaper claims all, so he claimed each of The Wizards in his turn.

The last of these would-be immortals, BLACKHEART FIRETHROWER, so named through proficiency with flameballs, built a fortress so awesome as to earn a reputation of Widowmaker to the Kings Many tried to conquer it, to dispell the dred CYCLOPS, to penetrate its inky interior and remove its secrets and treasure. None returned. Kings and paupers all perished in its traps and corridors.

So the Wizard’s Tower, last of the surviving fortresses, and catacomb to the omnipresent undead spirit of BLACKHEART FLAMETHROWER, became known as THE TOWER OF FEAR.

ENTER IF YOU DARE, BUT DON’T EXPECT TO EMERGE ALIVE.

TRS-80 MODEL I AND III
-MACHINE LANGUAGE-
TEXT ADVENTURE

(Typos are reproduced correctly, including the name of the Wizard being both FIRETHROWER and FLAMETHROWER.)

Like Dragon Quest Adventure, there’s also an elaborate animated title screen.

I ended up doing most of my playing on the TRS-80 Color Computer version, which, other than a different title screen (I bopped it into the end of this post) appears functionally identical.

Despite the opening promising a showdown with BLACKHEART (FIRE/FLAME)THROWER no such character appears in the game. This is another pure treasure hunt.

This is if you READ MEMO. The same memo in the TRS-80 original advertises other Programmer’s Guild text adventures.

At the start, you have access to just a dagger and a lamp. There’s also an ARCHWAY where if you go in it you’ll fall in spikes…

…and if you climb the ivy you’ll get trapped in a tower room.

Just south of the opening room is a pit with a cyclops. I tried tangling with it using the dagger a few times.

>KILL CYCLOPS
(WITH DAGGER)
YOU HIT!
THE CYCLOPS SWINGS HIS MIGHTY SWORD AND HITS YOU!
>KILL CYCLOPS
(WITH DAGGER)
YOU MISS!
THE CYCLOPS SWINGS HIS MIGHTY SWORD AND HITS YOU!

I assumed — incorrectly, as it turned out — I needed to save the cyclops for later. After being stuck for long enough, I tried, out of odd frustration:

>GET CYCLOPS

You can cart the cyclops around and drop him off wherever you like. You can then resume typing KILL CYCLOPS, except now he doesn’t fight back! This is how I beat the first puzzle of the game.

This netted me a JEWELED SCABBARD and a SWORD. I was able to use the SWORD to cut a hole in the ivy and go into the tower a different way.

I appreciated the alternate use of the ivy; you can still climb the ivy even with the hole. Notice the (WITH SWORD) message, which is a great feature; sometimes my puzzlement at adventure games involves my not understanding what was being used for a particular action, like KILL GUARD and PUNCH GUARD being considered different commands in Asylum. In this case, if you are holding only the dagger and try to cut the ivy, the game responds “(WITH DAGGER) YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” An admittedly more helpful message would be “it isn’t quite large enough” but the presence of the “with dagger” message was still enough for me to try the sword immediately after I got it.

The inside started with a corridor containing a SILVER BAR and a chain to pull.

SOMETHING GOES “CLICK” AND THE CHAIN PULLS UP OUT OF REACH.

My intuition told me this opened the door above (the one where you otherwise get trapped) and I discovered later I was right.

There’s also a BOOK (which the cover says “INSERT ME INTO…”) a NOTE with the hint EMASES+MIRROR and a room full of colored boxes (where only the RED one held something useful, a CLOCKWORK MOUSE, the rest had poisoned arrows).

This is the moment where I suspected the author was trying to match Dungeons & Dragons; something about the “mass of doors or chests to try opening” feels very late-70s-early-80s campaign to me. Having the chain affect a trap in an entirely different part of the tower (and a lever you’ll hear about in a few moments) also strikes me as a D&D standard. I theorize that both of these elements give the “feel” of puzzles without requiring the campaign to grind to a halt; multiple doors/boxes can be tackled with the party splitting up, and a puzzle that requires realizing something changed in another location can be resolved in a way natural to the tabletop (“let’s go back to location X” with the potential for random monster encounters being much less annoying than stopping to solve a sliding puzzle the Dungeon Master hands out).

I also found a maze but my attempts at mapping it led me to a re-match with the cyclops.

YOU ARE ATTACKED BY A VENGEFUL CYCLOPS!

So I ignored the maze for the moment and went upstairs (where I found the door was, indeed, open). I then found a bookcase (where INSERT BOOK opened a secret passage), a LADDER, a RUBY, and a GOLD KEY.

There was also a laboratory with a vat of acid which I could do nothing with at the moment.

I’m not sure how the inspiration struck here, but I went back to the boxes with the CLOCKWORK MOUSE and tried WIND MOUSE. The mouse ran to the east and I was able to follow it through the maze, leading to a magic fountain and an EMERALD. The fountain healed all my wounds (which were obtainable either via cyclops or poisoned dart, but oddly, the fountain is useless, since nothing after this point can cause injury, just immediate death).

I still had the EMASES+MIRROR hint I hadn’t used yet, but also the archway at the start of the game that led to spikes. With no link other than running out of things to do, I went back to the archway:

>SAY SESAME
YOU HEAR A GRINDING NOISE.

This disabled the spike trap and led me to a “HIGH WALL” where I needed the LADDER from the tower. This took me to a JEWELED STATUE and a LEVER. I needed the key to move the lever, and pulling it led to another grinding noise. Having run out of everything to do other than figure out the acid vat, I went back up there to find the acid had spilled all over the room.

Putting my D&D “marginally unfair trap” thinking cap on, I restored my game and tried PUSH LEVER instead of PULL. Success! The vat was drained of acid entirely and I found a DIAMOND inside.

This game maybe didn’t sound impressive written out, but: while the traps would be considered tacky by modern game design standards, I felt enough on my toes that the atmosphere of the game held out; this was true even given the disappointing lack of a Wizard, who I assume fell into one of his own traps before I got there. Additionally: short and mostly solid coding where I didn’t have to fight with the parser. While clearly a light attempt, Tower of Fear was still a satisfying send-off to the works of Charles Forsythe.

The TRS-80 Color Computer title screen. I like the original one better.

Posted August 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Tower of Fear (1981)

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  1. “You can then resume typing KILL DAGGER”

    I assume that’s a typo for KILL CYCLOPS?

    (I wonder how you’re meant to defeat him? GET surely can’t be the intended solution.)

  2. Love the dramatic reading, heh.

    So according to the TRS-80 Color screen, it’s not a tower at all but a castle with some lowish turrets, in Arizona for some reason to judge by the saguaros, with a totally metal skull painted on the driveway?

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