I find it odd that video game adaptations of game shows are ever commissioned: most of these formats rely on interaction between host and constestants to get the greatest entertainment value out of their core mechanics (who can forget the antics, clumsy though they may have been, of Catchphrase‘s Nick Weir), and that’s something that a non-human avatar in a video game is never going to get quite right, if they even bother at all. My memories of the PlayStation Who Wants to be a Millionaire? video game are definitely all the worse for the lack of a lifelike Chris Tarrent to abuse with all of his characteristic smarm intact, that is for certain.
Such a convincing human avatar would be all the more unlikely in a 1988 DOS game, and $100,000 Pyramid‘s host is certainly light on repartee, aside from a far-too-enthusiastic greeting upon initially loading the game. This dearth of interaction is something that somewhat typifies the game: $100,000 Pyramid is a gameshow predicated on the interaction between two people, one describing clues to a given object within a theme, the other seeking to guess that object. There’s something about the necessary deductive and inductive reasoning required of that pseudo-dialectic, recursive process that the 1988 state-of-the-art in AI would not be able to realise, let alone a fairly rudimentary video game predicated on the use of wordlists.
I like to think that I’m capable of the sort of reasoning I’ve described above, but I really struggled with the clues as posited by the game: the wordlists of what was deemed acceptable as a response to the computer’s questions seemed incredibly narrow in scope, even though they did include common misspellings (‘thieg’ for ‘thief’, for example). Computers are, for the most part, incredibly stupid and will only do what they are told: though I may be labouring the point by now, there’s no way to tell a computer the fineries of the grammar of natural language in their entirety and that makes a game like this always likely to frustrate. Natural language evolves at a rapid pace, and thick client software will never be able to keep up.
I have a massive soft spot for games like this: there’s something about knowing how someone (or something) thinks (or ‘thinks’, I guess) that is incredibly satisfying, not to mention the slight thrill of being able to circumvent the codedassumptions of programmers as to what their users will do to be able to do a little better within the game. The nature of this game, however, makes even this somewhat unfulfilling: this game has to have meaningful dialogue to be worthwhile and that is something that 1988 games are unlikely to provide. Somewhat of a missed opportunity.
Download link (80kB)
To play the game in DOSBox, you will need to lower the cycles to around 300-500. This should be done before starting the game. It doesn’t work otherwise.