Ancient Chinese tales from the past – Golden Path

It was time to take a trip into a mythic past inspired by Chinese folklore. There will be dragons. There will be brigands (okay, maybe just one), and puzzles to solve.

It was time to take a trip into a mythic past inspired by Chinese folklore. There will be dragons. There will be brigands (okay, maybe just one), and puzzles to solve.

Ancient China has always been a rich trove of stories and settings to set them in and in 1986, Firebird released Golden Path steeped in oriental mythos.

Golden Path was one of many adventure games released during the 80s as computers continued to take off in the UK and as the competition attempted to scrabble together increasingly novel ways with which to tell interactive tales of adventure, mystery, and daring. Firebird, which was part of Telecomsoft (which, in turn, was part of British Telecom as part of their effort to push into the growing field of video games on computers), published the game as a part of their identity as a budget title line. It was created by a small development team called Magic Logic and, unfortunately, was apparently the only game created by them.

The manual was filled with plenty of fiction to set up the background for our hero and the struggle they would face later.

The manual was filled with plenty of fiction to set up the background for our hero and the struggle they would face later.

The game was released for the Amiga and the Atari ST platforms and boasted great graphics for the time with detailed backdrops, a music track, and some neat sound effects. Included with the game was something else to get players further immersed within its world — a manual that was prefaced with a 20 page story written by Kim Whitmore.

The story stokes ancient mysteries nested in a legendary book kept safe at a Tibetan monastery “beyond the eyes of ordinary men”. A lone excerpt from its mysterious pages tells the story of Y’in Hsi, the Golden Emperor, who lived in China before the rise of the Great Wall and “before the last dragons had been killed”. But before he became emperor, he was merely a man who studied the sacred ways of the world with other monks before discovering his true destiny. Vowing to reclaim his lost birthright, he inadvertently slips the ring of his deceased father on his finger, turning him into an old man. The only way to reverse the spell, and to prove himself worthy of reclaiming his throne, lay along the Golden Path.

The Golden Path title screen was animated and scored with music. Get ready!

The Golden Path title screen was animated and scored with music. Get ready! (all screens are from the Amiga version)

The Path itself is literally a breadcrumb trail shown on the lower right corner mini-map showing the scene that the player is in displaying the possible pathways through the area. The game’s space split into several scenes and the player is tasked to solve puzzles and try to not get killed. A withering “vine” above a sparse, four slot inventory area shows how much health they have and performing actions such as kicking and punching (because there are going to be those that don’t quite care for your quest) will wither it as will getting smacked around by whatever hazards are nearby.

There’s no parser to enter commands like “take flowers” or “kill dragon”. Instead, the player guides Y’in Hsi using the mouse. Clicking at his feet bends him down to pick up or place on the ground items. Clicking ahead of him tells him to move towards your cursor. Clicking above his head prompts him to throw whatever he might have in hand. Right clicking on him while holding an object will get him to use it and hopefully solve a puzzle (success is indicated by a ! above his head…continued puzzlement by a ?). Right clicking on him when he doesn’t have anything in hand will cause him to try and kick or punch at whatever is in front of him.

In the walkthrough linked at the bottom of the article, a Mark Perry commented that he was one of the artists that worked on the graphics for the game. He used DPaint, created by Dan Silva, to build these fantastic backdrops.

In the walkthrough linked at the bottom, a Mark Perry commented that he was one of the artists that worked on the graphics for the game. He used DPaint, created by Dan Silva, to build these fantastic backdrops. In this screen, you can see how things are set up — the top area dedicated to the scene you were in (the old guy holding the giant ring is you), the four slot inventory, the ‘vine’ of life that withered at both ends, a mini-map view showing the ‘golden paths’ available, and a book in the lower left hand corner.

—————————————————————–

Clicking on that big 'book' icon was the equivalent of a 'look' command in a regular, parser driven adventure. The above is the result -- a text page describing the scene and highlighting things or people of interest.

Clicking on that big ‘book’ icon was the equivalent of a ‘look’ command in a regular, parser driven adventure. The above is the result — a text page describing the scene and highlighting things or people of interest.

But be careful at who you hit. Hitting innocents can cause his life vine to brutally wither even further. The good news is that he can replenish some of it with food found lying around (and which respawns by leaving and then entering the screen). The bad news? Food effects diminish every time its used.

The controls can take a bit of getting used do since getting him to follow the mouse cursor can sometimes test your patience. Simply clicking on a spot on the screen isn’t enough to get him there as with some other adventure games. The limitations of your inventory can also be a puzzle in and of itself. You’re only able to hold four items in his pockets meaning that you’ll probably need to leave stuff you don’t need right away on the ground, hopefully where you can get back to it easily.

Death by goat. Apparently I didn't have the item I could have used to get past it, so this was the result. Time to start ALL OVER.

Death by goat. Apparently I didn’t have the item I could have used to get past it, so this was the result. Back to the beginning, but interestingly, the game gives you a choice in death. One other thing about the game and hazards — if you stay idle for too long in a scene, a goblin will run into the scene and hit you for a little damage…and keep doing it until you actually leave the scene. Curiously, the Atari ST manual notes that not all versions of the game may even have goblins (the Amiga version did, though). 

—————————————————————

The game's choice of dark blue text against a black background...not the best idea. Still, this is what you are told when you die. You can opt to make things harder with a right click, or just click and start again. There's even a "Book of Law" that appears near where you return to life that drops a hint for a puzzle in the game.

The game’s choice of dark blue text against a black background…not the best idea. Still, this is what you are told when you die. You can opt to make things harder with a right click, or just click and start again. There’s even a “Book of Law” that appears near where you return to life that drops a hint for a puzzle in the game.

———————————————————–

You'll meet and see all sorts of strange things in China's fantastic past, like that blue blob that's actually a dragon with a thorn stuck in its paw. Now...where are those tweezers...

You’ll meet and see all sorts of strange things in China’s fantastic past, like that blue blob that’s actually a dragon with a thorn stuck in its paw. You also don’t ‘talk’ to NPCs in this game, just get them to react to objects you find. Now…where are those tweezers…

A criticism of the game is that the puzzles can range from the relatively easy to the oddly bizarre and there’s no save feature, either. This is an adventure game built in the era when getting killed was all a part of the experience, and Golden Path can easily prove that again and again making it part traditional adventure game, part arcade.

It can also make the game extremely frustrating given its puzzle-like nature and how many steps you’ll need to repeat to get to where you may have died. The Golden Path you can follow can also “branch” into different areas from one side of the screen, though it’s not always clear looking at the mini-map making it possible to wonder just where to go next when the path you need is only a few pixels above the path you were on.

Still, Golden Path’s design casts it as one of those ancient ancestors of the action adventure genre where picking up items and running about an area to find out where they should go was typical stuff, much like what Atari’s Raiders of the Lost Ark in ’82 on the Atari 2600 had touched on.

The game was later included in a collection of other games in 1988 but dropped into obscurity after that (unlike Tetris which was a part of the collection). The ending of the game ever so slightly suggests another adventure could be possible, but sadly, this one title turned out to be the start…and end…to this Golden Path.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s