Katakombs (1982)   13 comments

From Acorn Electron World.

Due to a favorable contract between the company Acorn and the British government, the BBC Micro became the de facto choice for schools in the UK, kind of like the Apple II was in the United States; as one ad proclaimed, it made up 80% of purchases “under the current D.O.I. Primary School Scheme”. This is despite the BBC Micro being a more expensive choice out of various options — £300 for the lower-end initial models, as opposed to (for example) the ZX Spectrum being priced at £125. (The Electron was released after the BBC Micro as a home alternative, but was still priced higher than the ZX Spectrum at £199.)

The important thing is that the Micro had a built in “educational” audience, so some companies dived in on that end of the pool, like the obscure Golem Ltd, which hailed from Bracknell, just a bit west of London.

From “Games of Logic”, where the idea here is to change the order of the letters to be alphabetical by reversing the order of groups of letters (the groups can be any size but they always start from the leftmost letter). Link to play online, if you’re keen.

Nearly all their titles were educational, essentially cranked out in the same 82-84 period as Richard Shepherd Software (who we just saw with Super Spy).

Acorn User, October 1982.

In a Westminster Exhibition Catalog from December 1983 they describe themselves as “a small company of computer experts” where their educational software is “now used in hundreds of schools throughout the country”. They tossed out one adventure game in the mix, no doubt trying to cash in the same craze everyone else was.

I’ll admit at least the cover art is striking on this one. From the Complete BBC Micro Game Archive.

The game must have done relatively well because there are two versions, a “plain scrolling” black and white version from 1982 and one from a year later that adds a little bit of color. I don’t know if they tried to angle this one at the educational market too; this late 1983 ad lists it neutrally as a selection along with “Educational 1”, “Educational 2” (see tape image at the start of this post), and “Fun With Words”.

Newer on the left, older on the right.

As you can probably guess from the “high spirits and low cunning” nicked from Crowther/Woods, this is another treasure hunt, this time with 9 treasures.

It’s curious how many of the treasure hunt adventures I’ve played have the player character not actually make off with the loot, despite this being the norm from Dungeons and Dragons. The only adventure I can remember that did explicit currency conversion was Spelunker from 1979. Crowther/Woods has you store things in a building, but are you taking it away further, or is it meant to be a Cave Museum of sorts? O’Hare’s game The Great Pyramid has you take all the treasures of the pyramid to a room inside the pyramid. Hamil had the treasure collection as a proof-of-worth, and test of your royal blood. In some of the games that don’t make it explicit like Inca Curse I think it’s still clearly implied you’re taking the loot, but it weirdly is only the norm maybe half the time.

I bring this up because — at least according to the instructions on the tape for Katakombs — the treasures here get deposited in a crypt. That does not sound like you’re stealing them. Maybe it’s a bizarre prank?

This game has the very regular start of the Adventure clone with a forest and items strewn about; in this case you can snag “one green bottle”, “some matches”, an “old parafin lamp”, “a sharp sword”, “some tasty food”, “red berries”, and a “white candle”. That’s seven items, but you have an inventory limit of six, so you have to choose one to leave behind to go underground.

And I do mean leave behind, because the way to go underground is to fall in a trap door. I haven’t been able to make it back outdoors yet. I’m not even certain if there is a way.

The wicked Trdlo gets you if you try to wander without a light source.

Underground, lots of items and puzzles present themselves, but few answers. Grabbing the surface level items again (including ones from solving mazes, which I’m skimming over because they’re really plain this time):

lumps of sugar
vial of revolting potion
venetian mirror
dagger inlaid with precious stones
a piece of string
heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom

(The potion is interesting — if you drink it you faint, and when you wake up the game says “you find you can SEE”. I don’t know what this means. I haven’t spotted any extra secrets after doing so but I haven’t searched the entire map yet.)

If you’re wondering why I’m just dumping a big list, well, I haven’t gotten use out of nearly any of them (18 items + a 6 item inventory limit + needing to keep a lit candle for a light source eating one slot does not help matters at all). I did manage to get use of the “venetian mirror” (which I think doubles as a treasure) by attacking a medusa while holding it. I was stumped for quite a while with verbs like WAVE and SHOW and HOLD and so forth but none of them work; the mirror gets used automatically when you attack. I get the impression this is one of those games with a fair amount of implicit item use where puzzles don’t get solved with verbs but by making sure you’re carrying the right things, and the large object list and tight inventory limit are there to help enforce that. (If you could carry everything you see, for instance, the medusa would be almost outright a non-puzzle since you’d have the mirror held by default, rather than just a weak one.)

You incidentally know enough to open that ancient door in the screenshot, if you want to take a shot in the comments. Doing so doesn’t unlock much progress, sadly.

I’m not sure if the puzzles are intended to be highly cryptic or I’m just getting overwhelmed by the number of combinations. I will say the number of verbs is quite low; off of my standard verb list I only found


For puzzles, there’s that dragon from an earlier screenshot; a lever that pulls a wall on top of the poor player’s head; a dark tunnel blocked by a glass wall; an elephant digging in a room for something; a “granite wall” with “20 and 40 foot holes”.

My underground map so far, excluding mazes.

Oh, and then there’s the pleasure garden and chamber of horror, both very odd rooms. The pleasure garden you can just enter; if you do so, you pass out and find yourself in the chamber of horror, and then are forced to flee to a random location.

Room exits aren’t mentioned so have to be tested. I’m starting to detest this “feature” in old adventure games far more than mazes.

So, kind of a “standard” game, but there’s odd bits of humor poking out from beneath the debris that at least carry some interest. If nothing else, the emulator BeebEm is astonishingly good; every single feature I could possibly want it has, without weird fussy crashes and the like, so playing doesn’t feel as much a chore as it could. Some of these old-era games are truly saved by the existence of save states.

I’m going to guess this is a three-post game based on difficulty and size, but we’ll see. In the meantime you’re welcome to make suggestions in the comments about what all the items might be for.

Posted September 8, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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13 responses to “Katakombs (1982)

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  1. Maybe “you can see” means you don’t need a source of light to see in the dark…

    • Interesting guess! I just tested and sadly, it does not work as a light source.

      • Oh… sorry. Probably some kind of magic, then…

      • I assume there’s some specific room, and only one room, where you get to see something you don’t normally see. Having it let you ignore your light source would be better, because it’s pretty tight in this game (I think this is one of those where you need to make your own walkthrough an optimize to get through).

    • “You incidentally know enough to open that ancient door in the screenshot, if you want to take a shot in the comments.”

      ‘Shall Evil Strike And Make End’… It’s curious that this is all capitalized. So is the solution “Open SESAME”?

  2. The well above-ground seems suspicious, especially as there’s no item there and you have to try an intercardinal direction to find it. (Did the “Path Leading North” room description mention a southeast exit, or did you have to stumble on that by blindly trying every direction?)

    Is there a hunger timer? If not, does eating the tasty food or the berries do anything?

    What’s at the Rocky Beach? The map says, I think, “green Hastman”(?)?

    • re: Path Leading North, yes, you have to blindly try every direction. (Especially fun with blind testing are two rooms next to an abyss, where one of the directions will kill you but the game doesn’t say which one!)

      I haven’t found a hunger timer yet, but the light timer kills me first.

      The green “hastrman” is a creature that randomly shows up in the river. If you try to swim while it is in there it kills you. You can make it go away by leaving and coming back. Killing it might be necessary to get an item, though.

  3. Is it possible to use the salt to dissolve the ice behind the dragon? The beans could perhaps be planted and at some stage become a beanstalk.

    • Working on my next post. I did manage the beans already (PLANT doesn’t give a message but it still works and then you can POUR WATER but how you get water is bizarre, you’ll see). The ice is an interesting theory, I’ll try the other ones too.

      (also, I managed to kill the dragon, but I don’t think I was supposed to)

  4. Is it feasible to tie the string to the stick and fish in the underground river? I am not sure what you could use as bait however.

  5. Another thought; maybe you are inhaling something intoxicating when you enter Pleasure Garden. Would the stopper and / or the sugar lumps plug your nose? Or perhaps ‘hold breath’ might achieve the same effect. Can you enter the barrel and float downstream?

  6. Pingback: Katakombs: The Not-So-Ultimate Rope | Renga in Blue

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