Archive for the ‘tarturian’ Tag

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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The Tarturian: Kileng the Traveler’s Powerful Ring   5 comments

The entire operation was run out of our basements and all the manuals were produced by us and a local printing firm. We started on a shoe string and it was just a passion for writing programs that would drive us. There were all night sessions, lost weekends and it was strictly learn as you go. As I recall, the two Utilities (MCAT, CRAE) probably took close to 6 months of development because we were picking apart the Apple OS and learning how things worked. We would ask questions at the A.P.P.L.E. meetings and one person or another had the answer then we would be up 2 days straight making some new feature work. Creature Venture made it up number 8 or 9 on the best seller list then quickly faded.

The games went faster once we developed the utilities we need to make screens and parse input but it still took 3-4 months to generate a game. Sometimes, the phone would ring and I would answer it then ask what they needed. If they needed a hint, I would pretend they had reached the right person and give them a clue or answer their questions any time day or night.

— From an interview with Butch Greathouse, one of the duo that formed Highland Computer Services

Some fussy history to get out of the way first — I’ve been using “1981” as the date because that’s what the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities (host of the interview above) uses and what the title screen of the game has, but Mobygames uses 1980, presumably because of the copyright listed on the manual. Highland Computer Services started early 1980, so based on their own estimate of “6 months” for their first utilities, then “3-4 months” for each game, and the fact the Tarturian came after Oldorf’s Revenge, means the game was developed late 1980 and not published until 1981.

This update will be relatively short; in addition to a busy push at work, The Tarturian has been an uphill trudge. There’s a lot to map and at each step I need to

a.) check every direction, since the game doesn’t describe exits

b.) SEARCH every room with the gladiator, sometimes there’s a secret exit

The majority of rooms don’t use NE/SE/SW/NW but there have been a few tiny exceptions, enough so I need to test those exits out too.

The philosophy behind room descriptions is a little odd, too. They often aren’t describing the room as directing messages directly at the player:

I’m unclear how I’m supposed to be parsing that last one. Despite some extensive mapping, I’ve only found two of the supposed ten treasures which will help defeat the Tarturian. In one of them, after encountering the Count from last time…

I am contractually obliged to show the screenshot again.

…I simply had to return to the room after leaving and there’s a potion of strength left behind. The other was at the end of a maze, and it turned out slightly more interesting than I expected because there was a new trick.

The “hint” is just the word “WRITE”. That’s one of the Cleric’s powers. Normally all the rooms of the maze are indistinguishable (and there’s no DROP command in this game so you can’t use a trail of items) but writing puts letters on the floor.

The maze then becomes a relatively straightforward exercise. It lead to a dead and but the Strongman’s SMASH ability led to the treasure.

More to report next time, I hope? Here’s another silly creature.

No idea what to do here. Fun looking, though!

Posted December 19, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Tarturian: Ten Treasures   3 comments

I found The Tarturian. It didn’t go well. Could I just end the game here?

There’s just something stressful about this game, moreso than Oldorf’s. There’s a decreasing “strength” meter in addition to all the weirdness, and sometimes my party just dies without me understanding why.

To diagnose the problem generally, this seems to be another case of an author (or authors) having an easy game with a parser’s capacity for solving an easy game, followed by a harder game where the parser can’t catch up. Here, there isn’t even really a parser; the game’s method of parsing character commands where objects aren’t needed (except for USE) is not a “feature” as much as a “kludge to cover up the fact every command is bespoke”. Here’s a clip from the source code:

3560 IF LEFT$(A$,4) = “READ” THEN PRINT “I CAN’T IT’S IN GNOMESE”: GOTO 3540
3570 IF LEFT$(A$,9) = “TRANSLATE” THEN PRINT “STRONGBOX HIDES JEWELS”: GOTO 3540

There’s one section that involves three doors; there’s a chance opening open will reveal some gold, but there’s a higher chance opening one will reveal a monster attack.

There’s a switch out in a hall with no indication of what it does. What it does is cause a minotaur to escape its cage on an entirely different part of the map, and if you do this early (you’re going to do this early) you’ve softlocked the game.

Mind you, at least I had a good guess this switch could lead to a softlock. That didn’t make hitting it any more pleasant.

Sometimes slavers come along and just kidnap a bunch of your party. This happens at two fixed points I have found (hopefully no more) and it looks like one spot is avoidable, but the other isn’t.

I did eventually find all ten treasures.

Pendant of Bodil, Ancient Gold, Powerful Ring, Wand of Palx, Rexxon’s Arc, Scholl’s Crown, Marin’s Jewels, Kimmor’s Staff, Platinum Hand, Herc’s Elixir

Your party incidentally also needs weapons (I think?) to take on The Tarturian. They’re listed in the manual

dagger, potion, sword, spear, dart, mace

although I hadn’t found any until this session.

Let’s run through the treasures roughly in the order I found them. I already discussed the Ring last time and Herc’s Elixir.

Treasure #3: I finally found a use for the word WUCI which was randomly written on a wall.

WUCI here will free the spirit and yields the Pendant of Bodil.

Treasure #4: One box in the complex contains nothing except snakes.

If you have the Strongman MOVE the box instead of opening it, you’ll find Marin’s Jewels.

Treasure #5: Another box is also a trap if you try to open it. There’s some message about it being the box the spirit warned you about, which is supposed to be referring to the section earlier with WUCI, except there was no such warning (I checked the source code to be sure). This is supposed to be a hint that the Elf can USE PENDANT here and get another treasure (the Wand of Palx).

Treasure #6: Near those doors which randomly yield either gold or death there is a “magnetic vortex”. Sometimes one of the directions will have Kimmor’s Staff.

Treasure #7: This is where I started trudging over the source code in earnest. There’s a fissure where you can take the traveler’s ring and USE RING to magically jump over.

This was bad enough — the ring doesn’t generally work in most locations, and I didn’t really have an indication until this moment it might do something useful. To top things off, though, while there’s some rooms past the fissure (including that incident with the slavers I posted earlier) there’s no treasure past the fissure. You’re supposed to use MAGIC to jump back to an middle spot between the two sides of the fissure, which lets you walk over to a grave where you can find Rexxon’s Battle Arc.

There is a hint for this elsewhere. How fair it is I’ll let you decide.

Treasure #8: The battle arc is sufficient to defeat the Minotaur (the one you can get softlocked by if you release it too early) which lets you into a lair and a mighty caterpillar. Then you can USE WAND (that’s Treasure #5) to defeat the caterpillar and get a crown, and there is no hint for this part.

Treasure #9: You can then take the crown to an entirely different part of the map to find Scholl’s Bust. USE CROWN yields a Hand.

Treasure #10: Finally, there’s a “Pentagon Room” where using the Wizard’s cast ABILITY shows

A MULTI SIDED PASSAGE DOWN!!!!!!!

and some Ancient Gold, in some ways the most important treasure of all, with an ability I had to check the source code for. While you’re in the same place you find the gold (and only in that place) if you USE GOLD the party’s strength will increase:

This is absolutely necessary for winning the game — there’s no way to optimally get everything without running out of overall strength and dying.

I haven’t even talked about getting weapons yet (dagger, potion, sword, etc.) but I’ll save that for my final (?) post. Two of them are laying out in the open at random, but the other four require you to be holding specific treasures to find them and there’s no particular reason why. Again: stressful!

Posted January 5, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Tarturian: The Final Battle   7 comments

Into the breach we go. This post will only make sense if you’ve read my previous ones first.

From the cover of the game’s manual, via the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

Before approaching the final battle, I needed to get all the weapons in addition to all the treasures.

daggers, potions, swords, spears, darts, maces

Some of these are dependent on if you are holding certain treasures; for example, if you are holding Rexxon’s Arc (that was the one that required doing the USE RING/MAGIC puzzle) you can find the daggers in a random dead end.

This is after the vast majority of people will have everything mapped out. Just to be clear how annoying this is, here is a merged version of all the maps together.

I’m not sure what the expectations of the authors was — that the entire map get combed over again?

The maces are the same way — they are in a random dead end, and you can find them while holding the pendant (it’s more feasible a player would be holding the pendant by the time they first reach this location, but I hadn’t).

There are swords are at yet another random dead end, this time while holding the crown (which is likely one of the last treasures the player would find!)

Oddly enough, another place has swords. It’s in a location with a whole stash: darts, potions, spears, and swords all together.

This is the only “interesting” weapon spot, insofar as reaching it requires going past a slaver raid (there’s no way past it) …

After this I was out of strongmen and elves.

… and down a shaft, where there’s no way to get back up. I hence had one somewhat random puzzle left to solve, although my solution came from taking the magician I happened to have out and trying MAGIC in every room. In one of the rooms you find a bicyclops. (A cyclops with two eyes. Yes.)

From the source code

2917 IF A$ = “” THEN PRINT “YES THAT IS THE CARRIAGE RETURN KEY NOW LETS SEE YOU FIND SOME OTHERS”: GOTO 2910

2920 IF A$ = “SEX” THEN FOR I = 1 TO 5: XDRAW 38 AT 120,60: XDRAW 38 AT 135,60: DRAW 38 AT 120,90: DRAW 38 AT 135,90: XDRAW 38 AT 120,90: XDRAW 38 AT 135,90: DRAW 38 AT 120,60: DRAW 38 AT 135,60: NEXT I: PRINT “OOOGA OOOGA”: GOTO 2910

2925 IF LEFT$(A$,4) = “HELP” THEN PRINT “TELL ME ONLY WHAT YOU NEED HELP WITH”: GOTO 2910

2930 IF LEFT$(A$,4) = “FIND” THEN PRINT “TELL ME ONLY WHAT YOU NEED TO FIND”: GOTO 2910

2940 IF A$ = “EXIT” OR A$ = “ENTRANCE” OR A$ = “LEAVE” THEN GOTO 8140

2950 IF A$ = “GOLD” OR A$ = “TREASURE” OR A$ = “WEAPONS” THEN PRINT “I DON’T SEE ANY”: GOTO 2910

(If you pick SEX the eyes move rapidly up and down, followed by OOOGA OOOGA. I will spare you a screenshot.)

After enough turns have passed the bicyclops helpfully states IF YOU SAY ‘EXIT’ I WILL GET YOU OUT so at least this isn’t a complete guessing game.

With all that taken care of, I first needed to restock my supply of elves and strongmen.

Urgh. This is the only thing money in the game is used for.

Then it was just the Tarturian to worry about. I mentioned I already found it last time. What happened is I had found some food for the yummy yakky (two posts ago, so let me reproduce the picture)…

…who, after USE FOOD, gives you a hint.

BURP THANKS.I TRIED TO EAT A SPIDER HANGING FROM THE CEILING ONCE BUT SOMEBODY MEAN PUSHED IT TOO HIGH FOR ME

Way back in one of the early rooms of the game I remembered a spider.

I tried doing the Strongman’s various maneuvers: MOVE unveiled the passage to the Tarturian.

THIS IS THE ENTRANCE TO THE TARTURIANS LAIR. IF YOU ENTER IT THERE WILL BE NO RETURNING.

DO YOU WISH TO FACE THE TERRIBLE TARTURIAN Y(YES) N(NO)?

This leads to the final showdown, which has no interactivity at all (as long as you’ve brought all the weapons and treasures).

The game then kicks to the Apple II prompt and ends by informing you that GOTO 10 will let you watch the whole sequence again, if you want.

Utterly, utterly, exhausting. Easily 80% of my gameplay was either a.) mapping, where I had to test every room exit since none are listed b.) trawling through the map a second time once I realized what was going on with the how the weapons showed up and c.) the logistics of a decreasing strength meter and losing party members. It was hard to find satisfaction even in the puzzles that had hints to them. But at least I’m done with it.

Posted January 14, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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