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Treasure of Middle Earth, The - Review

Review by Garry

Ratings

Parser/Vocabulary
4
Atmosphere
4
Cruelty
Nasty
Puzzles
6
Overall
6
Written:
29-04-2016
Last edited:
29-04-2016
Platform:
Amstrad CPC

Treasure_of_Middle_Earth_The_Steve_W_Lucas_screen_01.png
'The Treasure of Middle Earth' is a type-in listing for the Amstrad CPC464. It is written in Locomotive Basic and was originally published in Personal Computer News, issue 76, 1 September 1984, pp. 40-42.

According to the introductory blurb in the article, an evil troll stole four treasures from your village - a diamond necklace, a large ruby, a silver stake and an antique dagger. The villagers sent their local hero, Fred, to search for the treasures, but Fred never returned. Your mission is to find Fred and the treasures and return them to the village.

Neither the instructions nor the adventure tell you exactly where to return the treasures, so I'll tell you. It's the room where you start the game - the pawn shop. It's obvious when you think about it. Be a nice guy, find the villagers' long lost treasures, then pawn them off!

The title would lead you to believe that this adventure is set in JRR Tolkien's Middle-earth. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in fact, a mish mash of fantasy and horror that borrows from all sorts of myths, legends and fairy tales. It features a myriad of non-player characters (NPCs) including a damsel, a giant frog that turns into a handsome prince, an orc, a dwarf, a goblin with bad breath, an old man that turns into a slime monster, two vampires, the angry owner of a cottage, a group of workmen, a bunch of sick hospital patients, a crowd of people in a country inn, an angry dog, a small pony, a sleeping monster, Bill and Ben (the flowerpot men) and Fred. Remember him?

This sounds like it has the potential for an interesting game, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the majority of the NPCs are either decoration or red herrings. The others exist only to block your access to further locations in the game. Thus, the game becomes one of trying to find a way to eliminate or get past an NPC in order to get access to other areas. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it leads to gradual discovery and expansion of the game world. However, there is virtually no interaction with any of the NPCs. You cannot talk to them, give them things or interact with them in any way. In most cases, all you can do is drop something and hope that the NPC will disappear from the scene or find the object useful and let you pass.

You begin the game at the pawn shop. As mentioned earlier, this is the location to which you must return Fred and the four treasures. Fred is, in effect, just another treasure, so there are really five treasures. Each of the five treasures are worth 20%. Drop them in the pawn shop and say SCORE to see your progress. When you drop the last item, the game automatically ends with a simple "Congratulations" message.

I always start an adventure by taking an inventory to see whether I'm carrying anything. In this case, I found that I was wearing a CRUCIFIX around my neck. Here is the first of many illogical scenarios:

>DROP CRUCIFIX
I've not got it

Huh? It turns out that the crucifix around your neck is a permanent fixture. You cannot remove it and it does nothing to ward off vampires, yet there's a cheap plastic crucifix to be found later in the game that does just that. Go figure! Who needs a genuine, solid gold crucifix when a cheap plastic one does the same job? Bram Stoker must be turning in his grave.

Your inventory is limited to three items, so inventory management becomes a major issue. As it happens, many items are red herrings, but you won't know which ones they are until you've found all five treasures.

Each object is described using a noun phrase. If the noun phrase includes an adjective, then the method of referring to that object in a command is inconsistent. Sometimes you must use the adjective (e.g. BRASS for the brass ornament), sometimes you must use the noun (e.g. FROG for the giant frog) and sometimes you can use either the adjective or the noun (e.g. ANTIQUE or DAGGER for the antique dagger). In some cases, there are synonyms that you would be unlikely to guess (e.g. LADY for the damsel). There are many other inconsistencies, as well. For example, you can use DIRTY or POT for the dirty plant pot, but not PLANT; you can use PLANT or FLOWERS for the fuschia [sic] plant in full bloom, but not FUSCHIA (or FUCHSIA); you can use WALLET for the leather wallet full of money, but not LEATHER or MONEY. There's even one case where the noun is completely different to the description. You must use BAUBLE for the worthless trinket. Pathetic!

When entering commands, only the first three letters are significant, so you can abbreviate EXAMINE FERTILISER to EXA FER. The adventure recognises two swear words but, in this case, only the first two letters are significant! This proved to be a real pain. When I tried to PICK PLANT in the greenhouse, I got told that I was a dirty filthy beast. Whaaa? (I'll leave you to guess what the program thought I was trying to say.) When this happens, you'll be asked "What do you have to say for yourself?". This puts you in an endless loop that you can't get out of until you say SORRY. Sorry? I'll say. Sorry about the poor programming!

There are no one-letter abbreviations apart from N, S, E and W.

LOOK always says, "I can't see anything special", so don't bother with it. Use EXAMINE instead, although EXAMINE rarely provides anything useful.

HELP is another useless command. This gives a canned response implying that you could try praying, but PRAY just gives another canned response.

All in all, the vocabulary is pretty atrocious. You can use THROW or CHUCK in only one situation; HIT, KILL or SHOOT in only one situation, RUB in only one situation (albeit useless) and USE in only one situation. Other than this, everything is done using GET or DROP. And this is the real downfall of this adventure. You can't EAT or DRINK the various consumable items. You can't BUY or TRADE items, even when you have valuables and a wallet full of money. You can't OPEN or CLOSE doors and windows. You can't WASH or CLEAN dirty items. You can't CLIMB climbable things such as the many trees, wall, vine, pit etc. You can't JUMP or SWIM. You can't SPEAK, TALK, ASK or TELL the other characters anything. You can't GIVE or SHOW them anything either.

Treasure_of_Middle_Earth_The_Steve_W_Lucas_screen_02.png
The game is full of logical inconsistencies. And I'm not just talking about the unusual juxtaposition of rooms. For example, the fuchsia is described as "a fuschia plant in full bloom", but when you try to get it, you are told "The Plant's not in bloom". So is it in bloom or isn't it? Sheesh.

Once you've planted the vine, you can pick it up and carry it around with you and the description stays unchanged. It still says, "The vine grows so much that I think I could use it to climb over the wall." What wall? I'm not carrying any wall! And the exits that could only be accessed via the vine are still there. These are kindergarten mistakes.

If you drop a container of liquid, such as the bucket of water or the glass of ale, it doesn't spill. Yeah, right. Very realistic.

The display is unusual. Every time you enter a command, it clears the screen, places the response (if any) at the top of the screen and redisplays the room description underneath this. This format is used in a lot of Steve Lucas' games. It takes a little getting used to and I often skipped over the response as I was used to looking for it at the bottom. It also means that you can only ever see the most recent response, so you have to have a good memory or take lots of notes.

There are many interesting extras in the scenery that you can't examine or interact with in any way. For example, at one point you are "Outside the workmans [sic] hut. The men are huddled around a small stove." You can't examine the hut, the workmen or the stove, you can't enter the hut (until later) and you can't talk to the men or do anything else with them. Pity. This has so much potential.

The above example reminds me that there is some bad spelling (e.g. "workmans" for "workmen's", "stalagtite" for "stalactite", "cheacky" for "cheeky", "fuschia" for "fuchsia", "can'g" for "can't") and the punctuation is abysmal.

There is one room (lost in the forest) that has no exits whatsoever. Once you enter, you have to reboot and start again.

Bugs

And finally, we come to the bugs! Apart from the ones already hinted at, it is impossible to finish this game using the listing printed in Personal Computer News. Corrections were printed in issue 80, 29 September 1984, p. 64, but the corrections themselves were confusing or wrong and some bugs were omitted. Rather than a lengthy explanation, just copy and paste the following replacement lines into your emulator and you will, at least, be able to finish the game:

820 IF p%=28 AND r=17 THEN PRINT x$(16)
870 IF p%=27 AND b%(12)=27 THEN PRINT x$(40):PRINT x$(41):s%(27,2)=39:s%(27,3)=28:b%(12)=0:g$(22)=x$(58)
880 IF p%=27 AND b%(12)<>0 THEN PRINT x$(42)
890 IF p%=21 AND r=53 THEN PRINT x$(47):s%(21,2)=29:b%(32)=0:b%(37)=0
900 IF p%=13 AND (r=19 OR r=18) AND b%(13)=13 THEN PRINT x$(18)
910 IF p%=34 AND r=8 THEN PRINT x$(25):s%(34,3)=35:b%(5)=-1:b%(27)=-1

As I had to type this in, check it and debug it, I became quite familiar with the source code. It was pretty obvious that there were many puzzles that were planned or unfinished. Most of the messages are stored in the g$() string array. Of these, messages 10, 11, 15, 26, 33, 43, 44, 50, 51, 52 and 60 are not used anywhere in the code.




Parser/Vocabulary (Rating: 4/10)

See review

Atmosphere (Rating: 4/10)

See review

Cruelty (Rating: Nasty)

I should be rating this as cruel, as there is one dead-end room that you can't escape from, but once you know it's there, you can avoid it during replays. Overall, it is more like polite or tough, so I'll rate it somewhere between these extremes.

Puzzles (Rating: 6/10)

Nice puzzles, but nothing particularly original.

Overall (Rating: 6/10)

'The Treasure of Middle Earth' seemed like it was an amateurish effort that was unfinished and untested. It had the potential to be a fun little game but was spoiled by bugs, logical inconsistencies, bad spelling, unnecessary capitalisation, poor punctuation and a totally inadequate vocabulary. Pity.

It's hard to believe that its author was a prolific writer of type-in adventures and went on to write Adventure Programming on the Amstrad CPC 464 & 664, published by Argus Books, the following year.

Despite all my criticisms, I still enjoyed it in a perverse sort of way and it should only take two or three nights to complete.