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Tombs & Mummies

Tombs & Mummies is a text adventure made in Quest in which you are trapped in an Egyptian tomb and must escape. There’s a quite dramatic reason why you’re trapped in the tomb, but the game doesn’t explore that at all. Instead, the emphasis in Tombs & Mummies is on solving some puzzles and escaping.

The setting in an ancient Egyptian tomb is classic IF – going back at least to Infocom’s narratively groundbreaking Infidel and perhaps even earlier. Avoiding traps that are spread throughout an enclosed region while collecting treasure is a great setup for constructing puzzles, so it’s no wonder that IF authors have continued to use it. While the game is short (about an hour to play, I’d say, rather than the two hours indicated in the IFComp blurb), Tombs & Mummies does several interesting things that I wasn’t expecting.

(spoilers follow)

First, the game tracks not only your health but also how much torch wick is still available. Thus Tombs & Mummies is immediately telling you that it contains two features that were common to early IF but that have since mostly fallen out of favor: (1) You can die, ending the game, and (2) You have a fixed amount of light and so are effectively on a timer. I was O.K. with the former, but the latter made me a bit nervous. However, in practice it turned out not to be an issue: Without even trying to conserve light I was able to win the game using no more than half of the torch wick I had available.

Most of the other aspects of Tombs & Mummies that I found noteworthy had to do with the narrative creativity of its puzzles. My favorite was that you can get cursed and swap bodies with the mummified corpse of the Egyptian king, and then you have to figure out how to reverse the swap. Doing so isn’t hard, but it is quite amusing to wander the tomb as a mummy and encounter the Real You standing around “with a vacant look in his eyes, moaning.” Another puzzle that I thought was strong from a story standpoint requires that a room be lit with only indirect light.

There are also some very nice graphics embedded in the game; events that can happen in real time (such as the Real You moving around the tomb), rather than being turn-based; a map that keeps track of where you are and how much of the tomb you’ve explored; and a hint system embedded in the game world.

My biggest critique of Tombs & Mummies is that its puzzle solutions are too often telegraphed. For instance, if you are carrying the torch and enter the room that needs indirect lighting, the game actually says, “You feel an invisible presence. Perhaps if you examined the room in indirect lighting.” Making the solution this obvious spoils much of the joy of figuring out the puzzle. Replacing that text (as well as in similar places elsewhere in the game) with a not-quite-so-leading hint would go a long way here.

I also think the game could flesh out its backstory more, as well as give us more information about what happens next. Escaping the tomb doesn’t resolve the problem that caused you to be trapped in the tomb in the first place, so even though the game ends the player is left hanging, narratively-speaking. Perhaps we’re looking at the setup for a sequel to Tombs & Mummies, though.

I also found an unusual bug. At one point I got a response that said, “Error running script: Variable does not refer to an object: ‘xit’.” I don’t know what that means, nor what I did to produce it.

In sum, Tombs & Mummies is a puzzle game in a classic setting that nevertheless manages to do some interesting things both technically and story-wise. It has some room for improvement, though, with fleshing out its backstory and not telegraphing the solutions to many of its puzzles quite so obviously.

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