Monday, 2 January 2017

Eye of the Dragon (2005)

So, the New Year is here. Time I use that old Christmas present. You know, the one that you receive years ago with gratitude but then become so busy it winds up in a pile somewhere. It vanishes. You forget you have it. Then, one day, it falls out of a magic hole somewhere onto your head – usually leaving a lump - and you go “oh yeah! So and so got me this!” then precede to feel guilty for the next hour or day or week or whatever at what a complete and ungrateful git you were? Well, that reckoning day is here. Settle down and let me tell you a tale.

The gift in question is Eye of the Dragon given to me by my sister about (checks date) ten years ago. It is an adventure gamebook. I love adventure gamebooks and this one is also by a favourite - Ian Livingstone. In the career deparment, Livingstone is a human dynamo among the likes of Bruce Dickinson and Schwarzenegger.. He brought Dungeons and Dragons to Europe, started Games Workshop, began Warhammer, began the British magazine White Dwarf, became chairman of Eidos, revamped Tomb Raider and on the seventh day presumably he rested whilst being given an honorary degree (and rightly so).

Somewhere in between all of this, he invented RPG adventure gamebooks. Eye of the Dragon is one of these books - his first in thirteen years – and said to reflect his years of experience in the gaming industry. “I'll have that,” I said to my sister. “Ok,” she said. And on it went to my shelf until this very day.

I open it and begin to read.

I play the role of the token tough brute adventurer who is down on his luck. One day. while trying to get some shut eye, a weary looking chap named Henry Delacor informs me that for five long years he has searched for the fabled dragon statue - worth the very specific amount of 335, 000 gold coins. It is hidden in a deadly labyrinth under the city and will kill anybody who touches it unless they insert two precious emeralds into its eyes. He’s just arrived back from that labyrinth now, apparently, after only discovering one of those emeralds.

“I’ll go!” says my character.

“Here, drink this slow acting poison,” says Henry “that way I can be sure you will return here with half of my reward for the antidote.”

“Ha, don’t make me laugh old man” I say as I push him ove…

No, I’m kidding. I down the poison in a single shot.

What sort of jackass am I playing?

So, I make my very poisoned way through some scary forest of evil to discover a house. Inside is a trapdoor. Visions of Zork spring to mind and I wonder if I will be eaten by a Grue or something. I should mention at this point that in determining my characters strength I came out as reasonable. So, imagine more a Jason Statham over that Conan image. I can’t punch through walls but I’m ripe enough to oil wrestle a few orcs when that awkwardly inevitable moment arrives.

I quickly come to a branching path offering a left or right choice. I pick right and arrive at a door. Inside is a man who wants to sell me a picture of an Owl. Feeling confused, I buy the picture and ram it into my bag pack before walking out. Awhile later, I arrive at a door. This one contains a merchant operating a trinket stall selling chalk, whistles and pickled pigs tails. How these men get to work every morning through some guy’s basement or indeed what the market for owl paintings and tin whistles is in an underground, secretive labyrinth - I don’t quite know. Feeling a little annoyed at this point, I only buy one pickled pig’s tail on my way out along with an obvious silver dagger. 

Suddenly, I step on a pressure trap which releases arrows and it's almost a complete relief to be under attack. Seeing as this is the first luck roll of the game, the arrows skirt harmlessly around me. I walk on. There's another arbitrary left and right fork. I continue right and find a pit which I have the option of swinging over on rope or jumping over. Figuring the rope will be cut, I choose to swing across it anyway as I want to be "in character" playing this poison drinking dumpling. Sadly, it is completely safe so I’m guessing those merchants simply put it here to aid shoppers reaching their store. 

On the other side I find…more doors.

 Door 1: No enemies or traps. Offers the choice of a free bronze plate of armour or an iron plate of armour. I take the iron which boosts my skill.

Door 2: Contains a woman in cage who flirts with me. I approach her, discover she’s a vampire and instant kill her with my obvious silver dagger. No challenge. I now gain a jewel on a gold chain.

Door 3: Contains 1 gremlin which dies in two hits. The rewarded is a silver key and magic green goo in a jar which may or may not be gremlin poo.

By this point, my bag is so loaded with trinkets and sparkleys and wonders that I am almost in danger of being crippled under its immense weight. There is no item limit so I can carry as much swag as I like. I eventually reach a corridor where two skeletons try to swipe at me with swords but I walk right past them. To make this encounter more entertaining, I imagine both of them standing there in utter disbelief and one probably shouting after me “Yeah, and don’t come back!”

As the half dozenth encounter comes and goes with little impact I come to the realisation that the dungeon is entierly idiot proof. A helpful arrow points to an area where a giant sandworm atempts to jump me and is promptly slapped aside. My prize is an un-trapped chest with 27 gold pieces, a book of poetry and a staff. I becomes so jaded at this point that I choose to whack the staff on the floor sustaining my first minor injury in the act because this isn’t just any old staff it’s the super, amazing, awesome thunder staff that can kill evil sorcerers in a single hit…yaay.

The old criticism of "Monty Hall Dungeon" or the more British term "Supermarket Sweep Dungeon" really sums this adventure up. I wonder through constant rooms, down left or right branching corridors and get tanked up with items that are either way over powered, may or may not be key requirments later in the game or result in instant death. 

Eventually, I discover a dwarf in one of the rooms and on freeing him he follows me about for the rest of the game like a miniature David Dickinson cracking terrible jokes and saying things like “Oh I wonder what’s in that treasure chest,” “this room looks interesting.” 

And, if you fall over, we have Injury Lawyers For You!

Trying to ignore him and keep my sanity, I run into the intelligent and slightly deranged sorcerer in question simply called "Evil Sorcerer". Luckily for me, his accuracy is so awful that every spell he casts misses (I only discovered he was there by turning around to note that a wall was singed) and unless you are standing directly in front of him you are absolutly and entirely safe. The catch? He has a sword that kills you in a hit. So, Jar Jar Binks wielding a Golden Gun. I pull out the staff. He explodes, I carry on.

Finally, we manage to find the jewel of I’m An Adventurer Get Me Out Of Here and then Mr "super insanely ridiculous unskippable over the top boss" arrives - who is to my surprise not made out of special item. His attacks do double damage, but thankfully me and the dwarf manage to take care of him. Then, it’s back to the shopping trip from hell - a brass bell, a bronze statue of a monkey to go with your owl painting, a silver armband etc 

With two pages of items filled in and our budget at an end, we walk into a room to fight the titular dragon. It’s asleep. We walk past it. End of encounter.

Then, just in case you were thinking this book was made with beginners in mind, the second final boss appears. He is a doppelganger of the consumerist dwarf sidekick and is offensively unkillable. You can only beat him by luck as in every attack round you suffers an accumulating minus two to your dice rolls. No item in the game prevents this bro down from happening. You just have to oil that chest up and jump right in there.

After having my 24th legendary final battle for the supermarket, I decided the gasmillion groats the dungeon would ram up my arse for winning really wasn't worth it.

And thus my dodgey 'venture came to an end. I left the 24 dead version of me on the dungeon room floor, put the fictional world back on my shelf, picked up a New Year’s drink and wondered what in the whole of hell inspired Ian to write such a bannana. When no answer came, I went to wash the oil out from behind my ears.

Update: I don't speak the evil tongues of marketeers but it turns out "game wrote following years of gaming experience" actually translates nativly to "prototype adventure he cobbled together back in 1982, before he'd written his first book, and promptly left in the attic." Perhaps if this was published as the great unreleased Fighting Fantasy juvenile, more people may have accepted it for what it was and enjoyed it. Then again...

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