Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Towers: Summary and Rating

Attacking a goblin with an axe.
United States
JV Enterprises (developer); published as shareware
Released 1993 for Atari ST, 1994 for DOS, 1999 for Game Boy Color
Date Started: 12 January 2022
Date Ended: 26 January 2022
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5) except for the part that has me blocked
Final Rating: 21
Ranking at Time of Posting: 128/444 (29%)
In my first entry on Towers, I explored the first two levels. For this one, I explored the next three. Enemies got harder as I went up, and I found myself having to rest and heal more frequently, although fortunately food has still been plentiful. Hit points and mana points regenerate slowly, but exploration is also slow, so unless I face more than two enemies in a row, there usually isn't much danger.
Non-combat puzzles remain easy. You just have to find the right sequence of buttons and keys to make your way through the level. If you get stuck and can't find any way to progress, it usually means that you've missed a secret door, and it's time to go walking headlong into walls. On the first two levels, secret doors only led to optional areas, but that changed starting on Level 3.
Level 3 was a typical maze of corridors, and like Level 2, it left a 48-square "hole" in the southern portion. This repeated on Level 4.
A message scroll offered:
To ask, is to question
    what is known
Some may be hidden,
    and some may be shown
That's probably just a hint to search for secret areas. Another scroll gave me the "Poison" spell (XAS KI KE), and a third reiterated "Heal" (MEM SIR PAB) while also offering "Protection" (XAS ME). Casting spells is really annoying in this game. There's too much clicking involved in getting the syllables into the spell slot--clicking on tiny words where it's easy to mis-click a different word--and then the spell fails half the time. It would be nice if there were a way to simply re-cast the spell you cast (or tried to cast) previously. That way, healing 10 hit points wouldn't take five minutes of clicking and swearing.
I found a longsword, and I spent some time trying to figure out whether the longsword, axe,  or the Gauntlets of Strength killed enemies faster. I couldn't discern a difference. New enemies on the level included a new kind of goblinesque creature with a club. 
Level 4 introduced trap doors that dump you back to the previous level minus a few hit points. I can't determine any way to detect them before you've triggered them. I found two new spells: "Iceball" (KELE HA RA) and "Identify Item" (LAL KUB), the latter of which has not worked once. A new enemy defies an easy name. It looks like it has a snake's tail and a cobra's hood, but it also has a monstrous face in the middle of the hood and two little arms off to the sides. I annotated them as "hooded demons."
They come in a couple of colors, but I'm not sure why.
Level 5 offered a couple of slightly new surprises. It was the first level with a stairway back down (after the initial ascension). This led to a small area of Level 5 in which I fought a zombie and got the "Spark" spell (SIR RA KI). Elsewhere, I got "Levitate" (EN RA ME) and "Feather Fall" (RA KE). Zombies became relatively common enemies on Level 5. A message scroll said, "Our master just won an intellectual battle and now shapes our home accordingly." Okay.
This appears to be some kind of zombie.
In the south, above where all the blank spaces had been on the previous three levels, there was a secret area with a bridge across a chasm. Some kind of polyhedron was spinning in the air in the middle of the bridge. The best I can figure, it was just a trap, as walking through it did 10 damage to me and caused it to disappear. On the other side was a key that I needed for later in the level.
If this is anything other than a trap, I don't know what.
If I dropped off the sides of the bridge into the chasm, I could explore an isolated 8 x 4 area of Level 4. This rectangle had three hooded demons and a pile of treasure that included a Club of Throwing, a jeweled necklace, and a blue potion. The problem was that I couldn't figure a way out of this area--there were no secret doors and no way back up. "Levitate" only stops you from falling; it doesn't raise you. Maybe there's a spell that I'll find later that would help. For now, I had to reload and leave the treasure. [Ed. I later watched a Game Boy Color LP of the game, and it turns out the necklace is a Healing Necklace and the blue potion is a "Levitate Up" potion, which of course is the key to getting out.] The bigger mystery is that there was no way down from this area. I rather expected to find a stairway or pit that would take me down and fill in the unmapped parts of Levels 2 and 3. There's only a slight amount of room, in the bottom row, for a stairway from an upper level to still head back down to Level 3.
"Levitate" did allow me to make a pointless excursion back to Level 2, where I'd left half a room unmapped because it was bisected by a trench, plus three locked doors for which I never found the keys. I used "Levitate" to get over the trench and found a jeweled wooden key, which opened one of the locked doors. Inside that room was a stone key, which opened the second locked door. Inside that room was a jeweled stone key, which opened the door to a room that had nothing at all. I ran around and hit every wall to be sure. I guess the whole point was to make me waste food or something.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • I found a Bag of Holding at some point. I didn't realize it was different from a regular bag when I found it. Items placed in it have no weight.
  • I have one gold ring, one red ring, and four silver rings, none of which seem to do anything as far as I can tell. No amount of casting of LAL KUB ("Identify") seems to tell me anything about them. I have no idea what they're for. None of them have any effect on my statistics.
  • Some of the windows in the walls let you look outside. That's cute. 
Looking out.
  • When you have plenty of food and rest, you are "Alert" and "Full," which makes sense. When you're low on both, you're "Hungry" and "Tired," which also makes sense, but in between are "Meager" and "Jaded." I wasted time trying to see if I could get to whatever the German words for "Peckish" and "Weary" are to "Meager" and "Jaded" only to remember that the developers were American. So I don't know how to explain it.
  • I've gotten to Level 5, which has conferred 4 extra maximum hit points, 3 extra maximum mana points, and 2 extra weight units per level. I don't know whether leveling up improves attacks.
  • Armor upgrades have gone from leather to light mail to mail.
  • The chess move notices continued. The full list through Level 5 is E2-E4, E7-E5, F1-C4, D7-D6, G1-F3. I'm really curious where the game is going with this.
As I was wrapping up this entry, I decided to take a peek at Level 6. The moment I emerged from the stairwell, I was attacked by some kind of rock creature that seemed impervious to any of my weapons. I tried some spells against him but ran out of mana before they killed him, if even they were doing any damage at all. [Ed. I was later going through my first entry on the game, and I realized the rock "monster" is in fact just a pile of rocks, the same that blocked the entryway in the first square. Something must be on the other side of it shooting something at me. Either way, I can't progress past it.]
The point at which I'm stuck.
In my square was a scroll, so I grabbed it to see if it would offer a new spell. Instead, it said, "It looks like a password. GMJI? Hmmm, I wish I had that manual!"
I don't know if that has anything to do with the rock creature, but the scroll suggests that the manual is necessary somehow to interpret a password. This corresponds with the "Readme" file in the version I have, which says, "You can play several levels of the game without the manual." ("GMJI" doesn't correspond to the spell syllables, so it's not a spell.) I looked at the manual for the Game Boy Color version but didn't see anything that could help. I watched an LP of the Game Boy Color version, but the player didn't encounter anything in this location. Thus, it looks like we're stuck here unless anyone else has an idea or JV Games responds to my e-mails. In case we don't solve it, I'll give the game a preliminary GIMLET of:
  • 3 points for the game world. It's just a framing story, so far not referenced in actual gameplay, but it's still slightly more interesting than the typical framing story.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. There is no character creation process, and leveling is slow and predictable.
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are nothing special and the puzzles don't have Dungeon Master's complexity, but I'll assume that chess puzzle was shaping up to something interesting and include some extra consideration.
  • 2 points for magic and combat. The derivative systems for both magic and combat don't work as well here as in the source games. The interface involves too much clicking on tiny things; spells fail too often and take too long to line up; and the "cooldown" system is boring with a single character.
A scroll offers some more spells.
  • 3 points for equipment. You get regular upgrades, though with the weakness common to this lineage of seeing no statistics except changes to armor class.
  • 0 points for no economy.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics and sound effects are serviceable but nothing special; the interface is troublesome to me when the mouse is required. It doesn't move smoothly and the buttons are too small.
  • 3 points for gameplay. It has a little replayability (with different characters) and the levels last about as long as you'd want levels to last, but it it's otherwise very linear, a little too easy,  and at 15 levels (something I read on another site), too long.
That gives us a total of 21, which is where I would leave it as a single-player game. If you could get multiplayer to work, it might be worth about 4 more points spread across characters, combat, and equipment. Mostly, though--at least for the first five levels--there's nothing special that would lead you to play this game instead of any number of better dungeon crawlers.
I'll give Towers II a try when I get to 1995. Screenshots suggest that they managed to replicate Ultima Underworld gameplay, not just parts of its screen. After that, JV Enterprises moves away from RPGs and we won't encounter them again.
Now some personal news: I have COVID! Yes, despite being vaccinated (but not boosted). It hasn't required hospitalization so far, but it's sure kicked my butt. In addition to fatigue, headaches, coughing, fever, and chills, it's made me incredibly nauseous, which I didn't even know was a symptom. Having this illness is really screwing up my class schedule and my ability to prepare for classes, and I was hardly ahead of the curve before I got it. This is all to say that I apologize if updates are slow for the next few weeks. Health first, then job, then RPGs.


  1. The current chess position. Next move should be C8-E6 I reckon.

    A pity the game won't go any further. Also a pity it's such a chore to get multiplayer to work these days. It would really be something else to get a couple of players who know how to play and get some video footage of the game that way. It would be really unique and cool.

    1. I predict C8-G4 followed by H2-H3, since there's a famous chess game that follows that sequence of moves.

  2. Wishing you a speedy recovery, Chet.

  3. Feel better soon! I hope your employer ensures that you can stay home and get plenty of rest. No matter how behind the 8-ball you might feel with your classes, your students will inevitably understand and be grateful for a breather.

  4. Get well soon. Hopefully Irene gets boosted, that booster makes a big difference for Omicron.

  5. I hope you feel better, Chet! I've been vaxxed and boosted and fortunately haven't got Omicron but if the side effects of the vaccine are close to the actual infection I totally sympathize. I was so fatigued after the booster I couldn't get up to feed my cats. And had a horrible headache that took multiple meds including prescription ones to banish.

    1. Seems the vaccine side effects are different for everyone. 1st shot all I noticed was a sore shoulder for a couple days (I regularly donate blood and that needle never makes me sore). 2nd shot made me feel like I was tripping, having lyrics going through my head to non-existent songs for 24 hours. The booster had no noticible effects.

    2. Yes, it does seem to vary. The first dose made me ill with headaches and fatigue for a couple of days. The second dose was similar but limited to a few hours. The booster had no side-effects whatsoever.

  6. I note that Ultima's language of magic is well thought out, so you can see patterns in what the spells do; whereas in most games that imitate that (including this one) it's just gibberish. That makes selecting spells harder, not easier.

  7. GMJI looks like some sort of copy protection to me, which would also explain why it's not in the Game Boy version. It was much easier to get bootlegged disks than cartridges back then.

    Get better soon, Addict!

  8. Take care of yourself and get well soon!

  9. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  10. "a new kind of goblinesque creature"

    I see you've learned your lesson from the 'afro debacle' of the previous entry ;)

  11. By the way. I looked a bit for the information about those games. I'm not entirely sure, but apparently, the choice of the characters isn't just for show. They may have different ability to equip armor and cast spells. That may attribute to the spells failing to work for your chosen character, as he is not a magically-inclined one.

  12. Get well soon (my family got it too, but luckily without any symptoms)!

  13. All the best for you and your family! God bless!

  14. We're in the same situation in my house right now - take care, Chet!

  15. Get well soon Chet!

    This seems to be a problem with many shareware games, either the full version or something else needed to complete the game is not available any more. On the one hand it's regrettable from a software archeological point of view, on the other hand it's like a natural filter for your gigantic list that not every obscure shareware RPG can be played (through) these days.

  16. Towers II mimics the engine from Wolfenstein 3D, not from Ultima Underworld. The difference is that in Wolf3D and Towers II all floors are level, and all walls are straight-angled on a square grid with worm tunnels; whereas UU has slanted walls and floors (as does Wolf3D's 1993 spiritual sequel, Doom).

    360' rotation on square maps is still rare for 1994-95 RPGs: Elder Scrolls Arena, Menzoberranzan, and Ravenloft also take the square Wolf3D approach (and look better at it than Towers II). This underlines how much of a technological marvel UU was, as the only 1994-95 RPG I can find with UU's slanted maps are UU2 and Origin's System Shock.

    1. Good message! One small correction, though: Doom doesn't have slanted floors, but, unlike Wolf 3D, they can be raised and lowered to different elevations to make e.g. stairs. I don't know which FPS had slanted floors first, probably the Terminator games by Bethesda, but I personally first saw them in Duke 3D.

  17. Looks like the pile of rocks heard those comments talking smack about its inability to prevent egress and has taken its revenge. You hate to see it.

    Hope you recover soon. We'll understand completely if you're in no mood to deal with WarWizard or Angband while under the weather.

    1. I gotta confess, I appreciate Mento's sense of humor, y'all!

  18. Hope you get better. My sister just got it, my best friend got it in December after getting both shots but no booster. And a childhood friend died from in November since he was anti vax. How many friggin years will we have to deal with this?

  19. Get well soon!
    I've got in the very first wave and thankfully got only a sore throat.

  20. I wish you the best, Chet! When I was a kid, being sick meant staying home and playing computer games, mostly RPGs, when I was "supposed" to be resting...

  21. Take care and get well soon. Is Irene thus far unaffected?

  22. Oof.

    I got my booster today. No side effects from any of my shots.

    Omicron put my aunt in hospital, despite her being boosted - thankfully she was!

  23. Outside of slightly sore arm for a few days I got little issues with my 2 shots and booster.

    But stay safe and get well soon!

  24. #IF# GMJI is a randomised password then the only thing I can think of which you can use are spells. So using your screenshot, #IF# A=Ra, B=Lal, etc then GMJI = Ha Ke Me Ki. If not then there's only another 57,119 combinations to try (assuming I'm correct and you can use 4 signs in a spell).

    1. Unfortunately, you can only string three syllables together, so I'm not sure how to make something out of four letters. I agree that it's probably a spell, though, because there really isn't any other mechanic in the game that makes sense unless it's just typing something on the keyboard (since the letter keys otherwise aren't used).

  25. NB The following is not a direct spoiler so no ROT13. If you do give up on this game then you can look at the TOWERS.EXE file in notepad and see the messages which appear in the bottom left of the screen (if you search for "manual" you will find the message which gives you the password and tells you to get the manual). However this message does not actually have "GMJI" in it (hence my previous thought that it was randomly generated). You can also find the end game texts and the spell commands you find on notes throughout the game.

  26. Welcome to the club. Get well soon !

    I had COVID backwards. For a week I had a light cold and cough, but all tests were negative. When I felt better, I became positive. That's holidays at home !

    I wish everybody the same luck I had :)

  27. I appreciate the wishes for my health. So far, so good. This is not the place to push COVID misinformation and conspiracy theories, though, and I will be removing any such comments. I'd rather everyone just talked about the game.

  28. Space Hulk (1993) fails criteria 1 & 2 and can probably be rejected if you're looking to trim some fat. That said it is the first game in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and a brief would be fun to read.

    1. Well, there is Space Crusade from 1992, but there are arguments about whether it's "properly" in the 40K universe. Either way, it's also not an rpg.

  29. Get well soon Chester.

  30. Adding to the chorus of well wishes, hope you're feeling better soon!

  31. Get well better soon, Chet! May your version of covid be not taxing on your health, and your recovery quick and painless!

    1. Thanks. After the first couple of days, the symptoms dropped off, and I seem to be fine now.

  32. I wish you a nice recovery as fast as a nice rest RPG sleep!

  33. Using my COVID quarantine to catch up on the blog and find out you've just caught it as well. What an unpleasant and truly global phenomenon... Here's to a good recovery!

  34. You can recover mana (unsure about hit points) quicker by sleeping. Right click on your "paper doll"/avatar.


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