Several recent games have really gotten me to thinking about how ethics and moral choices have been played out in games over the years, so I decided to write a whole series about it! Part I is up now, covering the games from days of yore.
In the far-off mists of time, in a distant land known as the early 80's, a mighty beast strode the realm of home videogaming, crushing others beneath its feet. That beast, as you know, was the Atari 2600 (and its related kin). Often overlooked, however, was a stranger creature, one not as flashy or well-known, but that could still hold its own with the best of them. That mysterious beast was called the Intellevision, and in my childhood home, it was our one and only console.
Meet the thumbwrecker.
The Intellivision may not have had some of the big-name games that the Atari had, and it may have had one of the strangest controllers to ever grace a console system, but it was ours, and I adored it. Countless hours were spent nested in my basement bean-bag chair, munching on Cheerios and playing pixilated baseball, dropping digital hamburger buns on equally digital angry hot dogs, or simply leaping from virtual lily-pad to virtual lily-pad, snapping up flies until night fell. And that is not even touching on the pure bliss that was Shark! Shark!, of which I have written much before and will likely write much again.
So, yes, the games were there, and I most certainly played them between bouts of watching GI Joe cartoons and playing with GI Joe figures, but there was one game that was different from the rest, and made me think about video games in a whole different way.
Dungeons and Dragons: The Treasure of Tarmin, was actually the second D&D game for the Intellivision. Now, as a mere child, I was not really familiar with the concept of D&D, nor that fact that even looking at the box cover would endanger my immortal soul, so I went into it with no preconceived notions. The actual connections to Dungeons & Dragons itself were pretty flimsy, and I suspect it was simply a licensing deal that worked out well for both parties involved. Tarmin was a dungeon crawl in the same vein as early Wizardry games for the PC, minus any sort of character customization or, you know, story. The player finds themselves on a lonely island, in a massive labyrinth stretching beneath an ancient castle. At the bottom of the labyrinth lay the glorious Treasure of Tarmin, guarded by the fiercesome Minotaur. Slay him and claim it as your own, and victory would be yours (as well as, assumedly, massive riches and scantily-clad elven ladies. That really wasn't covered in the manual).
The ironic thing is that it turns out the best treasure was actually up in the towers.
The game took place from a first-person perspective, looking down the dungeon hallways while the player's inventory was arrayed along the bottom of the screen. The entire adventure took place in the dungeon, making your way down hallways and through doors, looking for the ladder down to the next level. Depending on the difficulty you chose, the labyrinth could be as simple as a 4 level deep jaunt, or as in depth as a 20 level deep behemoth that stretched across the entire island. You start off armed with a simple wooden bow, ready to face whatever dangers the labyrinth may hold. And oh, what dangers it would hold. Monsters would appear at a distance of around 3 steps away, making terrifying, blippy noises. Some would never move, whereas others would come hunting after you. Giant ants, Giant scorpians, giant Giants; it was a veritable menagerie of big, mono-colored creatures. Combat was... let's call it "turn-based." You would select your weapon or item, use it, and if you were lucky, the creature would flash and make a noise, indicating a hit. The monster would then take its turn, roaring at you and attacking, which would usually kill you. At least, in my experiences, that's how it usually went. An important thing to note here is that everything in the labyrinth wanted to kill you. The monsters stalked you, chests would be trapped, and even doors would occasionally just up and fire a lightning bolt at you. This was not a maze for the unwary. When death came, which it almost always did, the game over scene was simple; a full view of the map of the labyrinth, with a simple flashing white gravestone indicating how far you made it. A lonely adventurer forever lost to the dangers of Tarmin.
This door hates you more than your puny human mind can comprehend.
During the pleasant periods of not being slaughtered, exploring the dungeon would bring riches of discovery. Every weapon and item in the game had a different quality based on its color, with wood (brown) at the bottom, and platinum (white) at the top. And while it did seem odd that there were spellbooks out there made of platinum, you stopped caring about the details as soon as you found one. Treasure containers came in various sizes, from simple sacks of coins to large containers holding mighty weapons and armor. Games, especially on the higher difficulty levels, could go on for hours, which was quite unheard of to me at the time. My sister and dad and I would often play as a team, shouting out instructions to whomever had the controller about which direction to go, or whether to try and open that door that looked suspiciously like it was about to rain lightningy death upon us.
What Treasure of Tarmin really showed me, though, was that games could be worlds unto themselves. Lock 'N Chase was fun, but my sense of involvement with the little cop was limited. Tarmin managed to put me into a world different from my own, and let me and my imagination build the story around me every time I played. It was not a small bundle of pixels in that dungeon; it was me. I was finding silver bows, I was slaying angry spiders, I was the one nervously opening treasure chests deep in the bowels of the dark island. For a game that had no story, it still let me build stories in my own mind like no other game before it had done. Tarmin opened my eyes to the idea that games could be epic in their own way, that they could be more than just a fleeting distraction of glowing bits.
In the darkness of the hallway, Zargon spotted the giant scorpian waiting for him. Or maybe it was an octopus. It was really hard to tell, even for an adventurer as seasoned as he. Regardless, he grasped his platinum spellbook in his hand and made ready to face the foe, desparately hoping that the door next to him would not suddenly launch a fireball into his ass. Fucking evil doors.
My world of games expanded in the following years, with an Apple IIe introducing me to the world of Maniac Mansion and its kin, and then eventually a PC and a Nintendo, and the many new worlds that each of them brought as well, each in their own way. Treasure of Tarmin, however, was still the first to open my eyes to what could be, and they've been wide open ever since.
Just wanted to quickly apologize to my no-doubt numerous fans wondering what happened to the Playback Machine, eager to find out what happens next. I've been busy the past many weeks getting myself married and traipsing off on my honeymoon. That somehow managed to take precedence over my video gaming (bizzare, I know). Anyway, with that bit of business out of the way, I shall endevour to pick up the adventure once again, and regale you with the party's continued quest! Stay tuned!
When last we left off, the party was leaving New City for the first time and heading into the wilderness in search of Orkogre Castle, home of the Gorn. With a message of utmost importance to the king, speed is off the essence!
Heading down the road from New City, we encounter a few simple enemies (bugs and such), but nothing too particularly challenging. Coming to a fork in the road, we recall that Boerigard told us to head North, so we use Tragic's map and determine which way to go. Tromping down the road a little further leads us to our first indications that we've entered Gorn lands...
A civil war erupting, eh? Sounds like our mission really is quite important! You'll notice that in that exchance with Lord Galiere, we also used the "Lore" function. What that does is gives us updates on what all of the NPCs we have encountered so far are up to. While this sounds harmless enough, it also represents us giving information to the NPC, which may help speed them along in finding the Maps that we are looking for, so it is a bit of a double-edged sword.
Following Boerigard's instructions, we move into the forest past the road and begin our search for the entrance to the castle. After slogging our way through several large battles with some lesser Gorn rebels, we finally find a ladder descending into the ground in a hidden grove. With that, the castle is breached...
The Castle is, fortunately, laid out in a relatively logical way, and is not so maze-like as other dungeons. Our encounters with Gorn soldiers continue, growing more difficult the deeper in we delve. On the up side, we do manage to slay a Gorn Captain and lift a Spear +2 off of him, which we give to Tragic. It's now the strongest weapon we have in the party!
After descending a few levels, we come to the throne room, but are unable to find a way past the gates. Nearby, however, we find Murkatos's Outer Sanctum, which we are able to enter following a spot of puzzle-solving. Inside, we find the wizard's hastily scrawled last words...
Using the conveniently placed ring of keys nearby, we follow his advice and check out the prison. After a few tough fights (including more bugs! What is with this planet and their storage of bugs in prisons? What kind of penal code is this?) we locate a hidden series of switches which takes us to a deeper level. There, we find Murkatos's Inner Sanctum.
Such are the wages of treachery, it seems. Murkatos's own ambitions betray him, to the ruin of himself and his empire. Perhaps we can find a way to help mend his wrongs (as well as check out that treasure he mentioned...). With the wizard's spirit at rest, we take a secret path out of his sanctum, and using some things we found along the way, are finally able to enter the throne room itself. No doubt the Gorn King has some thoughts on all these events...
I guess we managed to cheer him up slightly? If slaughtering his own people makes him happy, who are we to judge? At the very least, he has given us the keys to his secret stash, and that can only be good!
Heading back down to his bedchambers, we open up the secret chamber...
Another map in our pockets! And, again, totally cryptic! When the time is right, I'm sure it will all make sense.
With that, our adventure in Orkogre Castle is more or less complete, so we pack up and trudge back to New City to sell some junk and restock on a few vitals. From there, I guess the next natural step would be to take that other fork in the road and see what lay to the South!
Ok, if you recall, I ended last time by saying there was a lot of Old City left to explore. This, it turns out, was a total lie. There was actually very little of Old City left to explore; simply a few more hallways, with nothing of note down any of them. Clearly, the Map was our big prize here, and with it safely in hand, we make our way back to the surface.
Looking around the city a little more, it seems we've done pretty much all we can here for the moment, except for one little detail. Remember that fellow down the ally pleading for us to help him out of prison? Well, we're a little tougher now, and busting into the local jail to face off with some Savant Guards seems like a perfect idea.
Here it is, in all its glory:
For those who don't feel like watching, a bullet point summary:
-Hitogoroshi, unfortunately, takes one too many spears to the face and passes into the great beyond.
-Fortunately, we have an Amulet of Life (our prize from Ra-Sep-Ra-Tep), so Hito comes back to us better than ever (but -1 Vitality)
-We get a nice load of EXP.
-The door code came from the barracks we raided earlier, for those who were paying attention.
-I demonstrate the reason we save immediately after battle by being ignobly killed by the bugs the Savant guys were keeping in the prison. Of course they were keeping bugs in prison. WHERE ELSE WOULD YOU KEEP THEM?
After that little boo-boo, we reload moments earlier, and this time try a different door. Door #2 gives us the result we were looking for...
Alliances broken, war about the break out, and secret letters of passage; now we're getting juicy!
With that last task complete, we follow Boerigard's directions and head East out of the city and into the wilderness beyond... stay tuned!