Tower Of The Elephant

Tower Of The Elephant by Tor Andersson (Inform)

I was always a fan of Conan, Robert E. Howard’s barbarian hero so this was one of the first games I tackled during the IFComp. It’s a pretty good one, too.

You, as Conan, have taken it upon yourself to break into the Tower of the Elephant of the game’s title. Therein, you’re planning to steal a jewel known as the Elephant’s Heart, the source of power for a priest known as Yara.

Making progress to begin with is fairly easy, with my rugged barbarian hero massacring everyone he came across (whether they needed massacring or not is another question…) but I ran into a few problems with dealing with the giant spider and came completely unstuck when it came to Yara himself. A conversation with an idol also threw me and had me peeking at the accompanying walkthrough for a hint as to what I needed to do next. The necessary conversation topic wasn’t really an obvious one (at least not in my humble opinion) so it’s not really surprising I didn’t figure it out myself.

The ending was kind of unusual in that a message flashed on screen telling me I’d won, yet I hadn’t achieved the one thing I had set out to do: get the Elephant’s Heart. I had had it at one point, yet been forced to get rid of it in order to kill Yara. Several times I went back to a previous saved game and tried things differently, yet every time the end result was the same: if I kept hold of the jewel, I died if I sacrificed it, I could defeat Yara and win the game. So maybe I misunderstood the intro and the aim of the game was actually a spot of priest-butchering instead. (As it happens, Yara is a black-hearted scoundrel so butchering him is all for the good.)

All in all, a pretty decent game. Nicely paced, nicely written.

6 out of 10

Sadly I disagree. Sadly because REH was one of my favorite authors growing up, I think I’ve read most of his stories and nearly all of the Conan stories. So when I saw this game I got excited.

I think the pacing in Towers is flawed, perhaps irredeemably so. Conversation topics not in scope are still accessible, often illogically; for example, you can talk with the thief about the dead guard, when you’re both on top of the tower, as if the dead guard is right beside you. On second thought maybe that’s not a pacing problem, but it did ruin the conversation. In the combat with the spider the pacing of what the spider is doing and what you’re doing become so out of step that when you do deliver the coup de grace it doesn’t feel so much like a heart-pounding combat, but as if you found the electrical bill underneath a pile of papers on your desk while a fly is buzzing round your head.

I’m interested to know if this (pacing action) is a structural problem in IF. The nearest analogues I can think of, muds, handle action by spamming your screen, and you reply with triggers and macros that catch the text spewing out at you. Not an acceptable solution for IF. I’ve heard that the Final Fantasy PC games are (or were?) turn-based in combat, I wonder how that’s handled?

As I recall from the original story, Conan does not leave the tower with the heart, so the ending makes sense as far as that goes. Perhaps given more time to put into it Tor would have developed an alternate victory conclusion, put more of the I into the F; I liked how he gives you a choice with how to interact with the thief, for example.

Interact with the thief? I didn’t do that. Being this hulking great barbarian fighter type, I just lopped his head off the moment I saw him :wink: so I missed out on the conversation flaws about the guard.

I read the Robert E. Howard short story a while back (I think I’ve read all the Conan stories at some point), but I couldn’t remember enough about it to say how accurately the game mirrored it. I just felt that, as the aim of the game was stated clearly at the beginning - to steal the Heart - it seemed a little unusual that I had to give it up in order to finish the game. I even went back a time or two and replayed it different ways to see if I could get out of the tower with the Heart, but if there’s a way then I never found it.

As for the combat angle… well, I don’t think IF is really suited to combat. I’ve always fancied the idea of an IF game with combat in it, but whenever I play one I find myself going off the idea a little more each time. Maybe there just isn’t a good way to do it; at least, no one has found a way yet that works effectively.