The Tarturian (1981)   3 comments

One of the more original games from 1980 we ran across was Oldorf’s Revenge, where the player character represents an entire party (akin to CRPGs) where you could switch between characters that had different abilities. The Tarturian (again for Apple II, again by Butch Greathouse and Garry Rheinhardt) is the follow-up.

From the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities. Count Snoottweeker clearly needs to make a cameo in Star Wars.

Re-reading my posts on Oldorf’s, I realize they don’t radiate enthusiasm — there’s a lot of flaws to pick on — but the overall idea was genuinely interesting and I was curious where else it could go. It goes some strange places indeed.

To recap briefly, in that game you had 7 characters you could switch between, each with different abilities. For The Tarturian, the characters return:

CLERIC: READ, WRITE, SPEAK, LISTEN, TRANSLATE, DECIPHER

THIEF: PICK, REST, OPEN, UNLOCK

GLADIATOR: KILL, FIGHT, SEARCH, ATTACK

STRONGMAN: LIFT, PUSH, MOVE, BREAK, SMASH

MAGICIAN: MAGIC, GAZE

WIZARD: CAST

ELF: USE, EAT, FEED, JUMP

Since their last quest the thief has picked up “rest”, the gladiator can now “search”, the magician can now “gaze”, and the elf … well, now can actually do stuff. Before even getting started I’m wondering about the elf being the only one with the “eat” command.

Here’s the thing: instead of you controlling the 7 characters shown above, you’re now controlling 70 of them.

Previously, we had could bring up each character 10 times, and there wasn’t much of an explanation why; it was just gameplay dissonance that wasn’t resolved with the narrative. With The Tarturian the authors instead made all the people listed above separate characters; that is, you’re traveling with 10 clerics, 10 thieves, 10 gladiators, 10 strongmen, 10 wizards, 10 elves, and … a whole lot of morticians, or possibly just one that doesn’t follow the same mechanics as the other characters.

Every time a character dies, you automatically switch to the mortician who buries them. Then you switch back to one of the main characters (the game says the mortician can’t lead the party if you try to do anything other than switching). Part of the reason for this mechanic — other than the amusing/horrifying thought of the adventuring party being followed by a gaggle of morticians — is the random encounters with a menagerie of critters.

Each of the critters listed above, starting with “Zellies”, are a nemesis to a particular character. In order, Zellies kill the elf, Quadis kill the strongman, Tays kill the magician, Locies kill the thief, Voks kill the cleric, and Dars kill the gladiator. Each one of those “icons” appears if a particular enemy is active.

For example, in the picture above, if you happen to be controlling a strongman, they die.

Another example, with a magician-killing Tay this time. The creatures appear with no pattern; the only real strategizing here is to avoid switching to a character while their nemesis is about, and to be honest, since I’m still mapping things out, I’m just tanking the hits if a character dies; it’s too much a pain to look things up every time. Also, as the screenshot above implies, there’s no way to interact with the Zelly/Tay/Vok/whatever, any combat or other actions refer to whatever else happens to be in the room. For the most part, actions don’t even allow nouns (except for USE; the game has an inventory this time that the elf can use).

Our job is to destroy The Tarturian who has stolen the eternal flame of WAU.

Often the moans and cries for help are heard filtering up through air passages, crevices and volcano vents from the caves, coming from parties that have grown too weak or lack enough survivors to continue. They are doomed to wandering aimlessly or meeting their fate at the hands of creatures, slave trades or the Tarturian.

The “ten treasures of Merlin” are required to take on the Tarturian, and all the party members must be “fully equipped”. Based on TABLE A later in the manual, the cleric needs a spear, the thief needs a dagger, the gladiator needs a sword, the strongman needs a mace, the magician needs potions, and the elf needs poison darts.

The structure of Oldorf’s had an opening area gated off by requiring 50 gold. This was a nice choice structurally in forcing the initial action to be in a small area; The Tarturian starts off wide open. Here’s the opening map, “Worlocks Realm”…

…but there’s a “Special Junction” (with a mark on the corner) that lets you go to multiple areas.

The opening area does not have much of interest (unless I’m messing something) other than a Tuliesweep who gets scared and run away unless you happen to be switched to the Elf…

I’ll talk about the money in a moment. Just like in the first game your party picks up objects and gold automatically.

…and a mysterious message.

The cleric’s TRANSLATE skill turns this into WUCI, but saying WUCI has no effect.

I’ve otherwise mostly been slowly building up my map, but I did find out what use money is, because there’s no set obstacle the gold is required for:

Conveniently enough, Jimmy Maher recently posted about slavery as depicted in games with some interesting follow-ups in the comments, so I’m just going to out-source my discussion to that.

I still haven’t grokked if this will be easy or hard to beat, but the go-anywhere opening certainly makes this feel big.

Posted December 14, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “The Tarturian (1981)

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  1. Count Snoottweeker.

    Count Snoottweeker.

    Okey den.

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