Archive for the ‘the-6-keys-of-tangrin’ Tag

The 6 Keys of Tangrin (1981)   2 comments

You are on holiday in Cornwall and are staying in your aunt’s old house near the sea.

The house lies in an area known as ‘Smuggler’s Den’ and the townfolk will tell stories of clever smugglers hiding their wares in the maze of caves around the coastline.

It is said that one madman who lived in the house in the last century had stored his treasure somewhere and locked it using keys which were themselves locked in boxes!

However, many attempts have been made to recover the treasure and so there may be keys left by previous frustrated explorers– or so it is said: it is probably mostly gossip!

From Tansoft Gazette Issue #3. The picture shows the “full” version of the Microtan 65 with a regular keyboard.

The 6 Keys of Tangrin is the “Adventure 2” mentioned in the Microtanic ad I wrote about last time. It is this blog’s first appearance by Geoff M. Phillips, who we will get to revisit once we start reaching ORIC-1 games in 1983.

Tansoft Gazette Issue #2.

The EACH GAME HAS A DIFFERENT LAYOUT gives the tip-off that this is another entry in the rare roguelike-adventure genre which I’ve defined as “puzzles form the primary gameplay, yet the environment is still highly generative”. Reviewing the previous encounters:

Mines — randomly generated traditional text adventure map, randomly placed puzzles which block parts of the map, puzzle solutions are fixed, objects are placed to be guaranteed to be accessible to solve obstacles, only goal is escape

Lugi — randomly generated map with loose topography, puzzle solutions are fixed although an object for a particular puzzle is not guaranteed to be accessible, multiple routes to ending, multiple goals besides escape kept track of via a scoring system

Kaves of Karkhan — randomly generated 3D map, puzzle solutions are fixed and based on which characters are in the party such that there may be multiple solutions or no solution at all to a puzzle, no objects (except chests with magic vials that allow skipping puzzles), only goal is bier at the end

I’ll also give half-credit to Atom Adventure, which had some randomly-placed items in such a way that the overarching optimization puzzle varied (and was in some random number seeds, impossible to solve); however, it did not have a random environment. (In some of these games, arguably, the item space is the environment, more than the room descriptions, but that doesn’t apply to Atom Adventure.)

You decide to do some exploring on your own. You go down to the sea front and walk to the cliff under the house.

The tide is out. but it will return within a few hours. You are able to hold 3 things in your hands and pockets should the need arise that is.

The 6 Keys of Tangrin is much more chaotic than even Mines. I played using Jim Gerrie’s TRS-80 MC-10 port rather than trying to wrangle the text into a Microtan 65 emulator, partly to avoid the pain in the neck doing that involves, and partly because Mr. Gerrie already did some bug-fixing.

It qualifies as full roguelike since the map and all item placements are totally random. There are 6 types of keys, that go with various boxes. Which key goes with which box is also random. Sometimes the boxes will contain keys. Sometimes these keys will be new and helpful; sometimes they will be duplicated elsewhere. You have an inventory limit of 3 (even though you’re just toting around keys) so you need to use SWAP on occasion to pick up new keys.

YOU ARE UNDER A CLIFF. NEAR AN OLD HOUSE. A CAVE FACES YOU.
NEXT TO A ROCK IS A PILE OF OLD 78’S.
YOU CAN NOW GO: NORTH.

?N

YOU HAVE 186 MINUTES BEFORE THE TIDE RETURNS
YOU ARE IN A SMALL CAVE WITH FLOURESCENT GREEN WALLS.
AGAINST A WALL IS A SILVER KEY.
YOU CAN NOW GO: NORTH, EAST, SOUTH, DOWN.

?PICKUP KEY

OK, I’VE PICKED UP THE SILVER KEY

?EAST

YOU HAVE 172 MINUTES BEFORE THE TIDE RETURNS.
AHEAD LIES A SMALL OFFICE WITH PAPERS STREWN EVERYWHERE.
AGAINST A WALL IS A TIN OPENER.
YOU CAN NOW GO: NORTH, UP, WEST, DOWN.

?DOWN

YOU HAVE 164 MINUTES BEFORE THE TIDE RETURNS.
YOU ENTER A BROAD LEVEL CHAMBER, WITH A GLOSSY, METALLIC FLOOR.
ON THE GROUND IS A TOURIST’S GUIDE TO THE AMERICAN WEST.
YOU CAN NOW GO: UP, SOUTH, WEST.

Regarding the tide that goes in and out — it’s ok for the tide to return, as it eventually resets, but it means there is a chunk of time where you won’t be able to leave. The main “timer” to the proceedings is health. You start at 100% and slowly degrade. It helps to grab the “tin opener” as seen above because then you can open any tins that show up on the map, which restore your health.

YOU ARE EXTREMELY EXHAUSTED.
YOU HAVE BECOME A VICTIM OF THE CAVES OF TANGRIN.

I was initially somewhat impressed; the rooms cohere together a little better than Lugi or Mines, and the random debris of other treasure hunters felt sufficiently like an adventure to convince me I was in an environment rather than a random number generator.

Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t quite follow through; everything is just *too* random. You can have a golden key that you unlock a cabinet to find another golden key. There are lots of objects, like a WWI helmet and the a “PILE OF OLD 78’S” that do nothing. One exception is a French dictionary, which apparently helps you communicate with the ghost of Tangrin who can randomly appear. This lets you warp to the “end” of the game, but this still doesn’t help you get the “winning” treasure (more on that in a second), so it isn’t terribly useful.

While the inventory limit of 3 is intended to force interesting choices, since key-box links are random there’s not much opportunity for rational decisions. You have a pointed key, a silver key, and a nickel key; you see a golden key; do you swap? If you haven’t used any of the keys you’re holding, there’s no real reason (unless you happen to know of a duplicate of one of the keys you’re holding more centrally located on the map).

There’s no “chain” of boxes either. The ultimate goal is a treasure in a treasure chest, but it’s not as if there’s a chain where box 1 lets you unlock box 2 which lets you unlock box 3 and so forth until the culmination at the treasure chest. You might just get randomly lucky. I personally never did, but I did see the treasure chest; the circumstances were kind of hilarious.

Yes, that’s the complete accessible map from one of my playthroughs. There was the treasure chest, no links to anywhere, and no other items. At least this playthrough was honest; I put in a lot more work on other tries (having to make a map from scratch each time) only to find the game impossible to win.

The map above is more typical. You are guaranteed to have no exit mismatches; going north from one place will always connect to south from the place it arrives it, unless it’s a one-way passage (and those are fairly rare). The map is complete; I was able to stave off hunger fairly well, especially because items would sometimes randomly transform into food tins. A former WWI helmet, for example, just went poof.) However, there was no treasure chest or way to reach one, so the game was a dud.

I get conceptually what the author was aiming at, and it’s interesting; the roguelike-adventure idea is tough to pull off, and keys are mechanical enough they theoretically shouldn’t be hard to code. However, there was almost no way to make rational decisions about anything, It was like playing a slot machine, but with much more work involved.

Another playthrough, although not a complete map this time. The diagonals are “up” and “down”, and no, they don’t have any rational geographic sense to them. Having “levels” might help add some geographic suspense; it could even be set so the treasure chest is always on, say, floor 3, giving at least a vague impression if the player is getting closer to the goal. As a comparison, imagine if Rogue allowed the game-winning Amulet of Yendor to show up literally at any moment in the game, even just past the opening stairs.

We’ve got more roguelike-adventures coming up in the future (most famously, Madness and the Minotaur) so we’ll revisit these concepts; Lugi still is the game that’s come the closest to pulling it off.

(Oh, and in the version I played, there are 7 keys, not 6. I think this was to fix a data table bug. Just be warned for the TRS-80 MC-10 version that the game and title do not match.)

Posted September 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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