Monday, 30 July 2012

But I Was Young and Foolish Then

The third (and, for now, final) lengthy non-FF series I'm covering in this blog is Proteus, an 'Adventure Game Magazine' from the 1980s. I played through the series extensively for the purpose of reviewing it back in 2004, but I don't think I've replayed any of them in the intervening time. The reviews are online, if anyone wants to check them out, though I imagine a good number of the points I raised in them will come up in the course of the playthroughs anyway.

I acquired my copy of Proteus 1, The Tower of Terror, from the Book Exchange across the road from the Post Office in Tunbridge Wells. It was a frequent haunt of mine in the 1980s, until it closed down, and provided me with a variety of reading material. Doctor Who novelisations, old issues of Mad magazine, one or two of John Christopher's Tripods trilogy, several Ian Flemings, and a few gamebooks, including this one. The original owner had written on the Quest Sheet in pencil, and some young idiot with my handwriting wrote over the top of it in pen. Given vague memories of reading the mag in Tesco while my mum was buying groceries, it's possible that the pen was the only writing implement to hand, but that's really no excuse.

My character in TToT starts out as a student at the Academy of the Grand Wizard Eleutheria, but drops out part of the way through the introduction because he's bored and wants to go adventuring. Not far away is a town ruled over by an evil Wizard, and I'm sufficiently full of myself to believe that I can overthrow the tyrant. And am I the sort of person who has a chance of that?
Dexterity: 11 (Not as impressive as you might think, as at this stage its 1d6+8)
Strength: 27 (As high as it gets, so I'll take a bit longer to kill)
Courage: 7 (Not good)
Before setting off, I pilfer half a dozen Potions of Magic, which function a lot like the spells from The Citadel of Chaos. I'll go with Searching, Intuition, Flying, Madness, Calm and Revitalization.

Proceeding to the town of Darkblood (which ranks somewhere below Grimsby in the 'cheery place names' listings), I encounter Golfreth, a man who's been partially transformed into a toad-like creature by the Wizard Belenghast, and am arbitarily attacked by the subject of the cover illustration (though, still being in the intro, I automatically overcome him). While the writing here is nothing special, I do appreciate author David Brunskill's having made the effort to provide evidence of Belenghast's villainy before I invade the Wizard's home.

Famous for fifteen seconds

I can't help but wonder if the bulk of the adventure had yet to be written when the cover art was commissioned. Of all the things to put on the front of the magazine, an unidentified mook you deck before you properly get started seems a strange choice. The relationship between Proteus' text and its art is a peculiar one, and I may well have more to say on the topic in future entries.

The last time I played this, I did it with the miniaturised replica of the issue given away free with issue 9. I mention this because today I'm using the proper issue 1, and tucked into it is a piece of squared paper on which my teenaged self started to map the tower interior. Not very informative, but an unexpected blast from the past.

Anyway, on with the adventure. My character finds the eponymous tower reminiscent of a volcano, which suggests that I've never actually seen what a volcano looks like.

Vesuvius? Etna? Mount Doom?

Undeterred, I enter and before long I encounter a hostile Giant. This is going to be a tough fight, but not impossible. Despite having a lower Dexterity, I hit him exactly as many times as he hits me, and my roof-level Strength means that I'm not even half dead by the time the Giant keels over. Relieving him of a silver key, I risk heading off the map at the next junction, which proves a wiser choice than the one I made as a teen.

Before long I reach the door that that key fits, and beyond it is the home of a small Troll. Objecting to my intrusion, he lunges at me with a silver lance, but I dodge it. In this fight I have the higher Dexterity (just), and the dice aren't as kind to Trollboy as they were to me against the Giant. Taking the lance, I continue on my way.

At the next junction I have the option of taking a Potion of Searching, but I risk trusting my memory, and I'm right, proceeding to the room with the Zombie in. Whereas FF Zombies are among the lowest of the low among the undead (though Ian Livingstone's new book is liable to provide a different approach), the one here is a nasty piece of work, only vulnerable to silver weapons, and quite capable of Instant Deathing an ill-equipped hero. I'm not ill-equipped, but the subsequent fight is still harsh, and I take quite a beating before the Zombie disintegrates to reveal a bronze key.

The next junction offers a rare opportunity to go south. I think it may lead to one of the arbitrary Instant Deaths that mar several issues of the magazine, and go the other way. The passage twists and turns a lot, and leads to a door that can only be opened with a bronze key. This is a bottleneck section, so a player who missed any of the fights I've had would now have failed. It's also the section numerically after the one for that south turning that made me wary, and a sneaky glance up the page confirms my suspicions. Functionally identical to this unhappy ending.

But I didn't go that way, and I did follow the chain of combats necessary for progress beyond the section I'm actually on, so I can proceed to the second phase of the adventure. Which isn't that different from the first one, as it starts with more wandering around passages. A wrong turning causes me to blunder into a pit of quicksand, and extricating myself costs a lot of Strength. Time to take that Potion of Revitalization, which restores me to full health.

Further meanderings bring me to a room with a floor that tilts and rocks like something from a funhouse, or Balthus Dire's room just after you peek inside his head. Hoping that I've missed the spiked pit encounter that's somewhere in here, I knock back the Potion of Flying. And it's back to trudging around passages.

An alcove offers a wooden chest and a wall plaque. More memories of past attempts urge me towards the chest, which contains a parchment bearing a message in a strange language. I can forgive the teenager I was for speculating that it might be a code. But writing in the actual magazine to try and figure it out? In felt tip? At least I only wrote two letters before realising that it wasn't going to work.

Anyway, the Potion of Intuition will solve it, and the linguistic skills I have developed in the intervening years cause me to pick up on the fact that the words 'Netherig' and 'Öen' become 'North' and 'West' in the translation. Don't know whether Mr. Brunskill found an actual ancient language to use or just made this up, but even if it is a fabrication, it looks authentic. Nice work. And I know which way to go, for a bit, at least.

The directions lead me to a room filled with books about magic. An old man greets me, explaining that he's not Belenghast, but if I want to find the Wizard I seek, I must solve a puzzle. Proteus was very big on puzzles, and I'm pretty sure there's at least one in every issue. This one involves probability, and I had no problems solving it even back when I was twit enough to write in magazines in pen.

This tower features a lot more horizontal travel than vertical. Presented with a second opportunity to use my Potion of Searching, I decide that this is probably the moment for which I've been saving it, and am saved from going the wrong way. Another locked door, and I'm all out of keys, but this door can be broken down, unlike the ones for which I found the keys. It costs me a few Strength, but I'd probably have lost at least as much in the fight that provides the key, had I found it.

Beyond the door is a cell, and the prisoner within has been suspended by a rope from a hook in the wall. Upside-down. Which isn't very nice. And around his neck is the McGuffin Golfreth mentioned I'd need way back in the intro. I don't know why Belenghast keeps the key to his inner sanctum here, but that ancient parchment told me I'd need to release the prisoner, so maybe fate or prophecy compelled him to. Or maybe it's just standard gamebook (il)logic. Oh, no, I retract my snark. The prisoner explains that he was an adventurer, and found the item in question, but was then captured by Belenghast's Faceless Guards, who didn't notice it or failed to recognise its importance, and decided to hang him here to die slowly for their own amusement without first consulting their boss. He's in no fit state to face Belenghast, so he gives me the item and tells me which way to go.

Following his directions, I wind up having to go through a cloud of flies for no readily apparent reason. Unless they're there to justify refusing to allow players to head this way from the other direction. A flimsy pretext, but better than the Deverite-baiting, 'You see a passage on your left, but ignore it,' that I get here. Okay, so the directions I was given said nothing about turning that way, but I'd have come to this section even if I hadn't gone into the cell, so the restriction can't be solely down to following the prisoner's advice.

Up some stairs (he finally remembered that this is a tower) I reach the door that can only be unlocked with my newest toy. Through I go. Further on is another door, with three levers beside it. The old Wizard appears again and tells me I need to pull two of them to open the door. Does he say which two? Of course not. This isn't a puzzle: it's a guessing game. My first guess is wrong, and I take some damage. After using my last healing, I try another combination. Bingo!

Suddenly, nonsensically, the old Wizard turns out to be Belenghast after all. He sheds his disguise, revealing himself to be a formidable warrior, and I hurriedly knock back the potion I've been hanging onto for just this encounter. While Belenghast is performing an involuntary BRIAN BLESSED impersonation and savaging the scenery, I get in a few good blows, bringing down his Dexterity as well as his Strength. When the potion's effect wears off and battle commences, I have a slight edge, but this could still go either way.

Remember that healing I took before my second go at the levers? It restored 5 Strength. By the time Belenghast died, I was down to 5 Strength. Whew!

Returning to the town, I am approached by a strange man, and prepare to defend myself before realising that it's Golfreth, returned to his true form by the Wizard's death. A neat touch. And after a bit of padding to bulk the adventure out to 200 sections, victory is mine.

For the most part this is a pretty run-of-the-mill adventure, and all that plodding around corridors gets tiresome after a while. Nevertheless, it did pleasantly surprise me in places, and it's significantly better than some of its successors. And a fair few of its rivals, too. A more promising start than I remembered.

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