Ancient Ruins

So we are back on the mission with hopefully a new appreciation for the gold and treasure we have and still will accumulate.

I had originally had planned to skip the entire Egyptian mission as it was not part of the original PC version but I have to admit that this level was the one that changed my mind. It isn’t because it takes us to new level of game play or expands the plot in new and different ways, it’s just that it’s the best looking level and while I was expecting the level to look one way, it turned out different and much better.

Our Mission

As we are ‘done’ with village, we get a whole new load of text to give us some back ground. The four screens are shown below.

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The first gives us the level’s objectives and as you can see we only have one simple one – get from one end of the map to the other. The second screen completely revises history and the Egyptian culture. We first learn that while this place is obscure to western history, it isn’t unknown. We then learn that this place was for trial, execution and mummification of criminals. From Egyptology, such places existed in one form in that temples of Maat were built in New Kingdom times. Temples are believed to have been built in Karnak, Memphis and Deir el-Medina for this purpose. Where it drifts off script is the mummification part. Mummification is the well-known process of embalming, drying and wrapping in linen. This was a labor intensive process and generally reserved for the higher class of citizen – it wasn’t something that would be done to criminals. Criminals were more likely to be beheaded, sacrificed or drowned. Perhaps this was a place for ‘celebrity criminals’ to be executed! We also obliquely learn of a curse on the place. The curse seems to say that the dead will come to life if their tombs are disturbed.

Let’s ignore that and move on. Page three now tries to paint a picture of why this place has not been picked clean by grave robbers (ancient and modern). It seems that even the modern Egyptians fear this curse and stay away. It doesn’t explain how early European Egyptian explorers such as Howard Carter stayed away from the place. If this place was unknown to Europeans, that might explain it but otherwise, a curse like that wouldn’t stop them from turning the place over and extracting everything even slightly shiny. Finally, this page tells us that we don’t yet know what the Nazi are up to but if we remember the Major’s book, we know that some tablets are involved – so we do sort of know what they are up to.

The final pages gives us an overview of what we are trying to achieve, which is capture Helga and disrupt whatever the Nazi are up to. Yes, I guess we do need a reminder at this point.

Agent One Hides Again

Some things don’t change and again, as before, Agent One finds some excuses to stay out of the fire fight. This is shown in the brief cutscene. Stop the video at 2:55.

Agent One:     I’m going to the airfield on the far side of the ridge to see if we can get the jump on Helga. I need you to investigate the ruins. There’s an entrance to the lower tombs from the airfield. If all goes well, we should be able to meet up there.

Blazkowicz doesn’t say anything in this cutscene and I think he is just stunned in silence. Agent One is clearly taking the easy path again but why doesn’t Blazkowicz remind him that it was he that was supposed to be checking out the dig site while we (Blazkowicz) was risking life and limb to get to the command post in the village. If you look , Agent One only carries a hand gun so we can see how much resistance he is expecting. Ok, Agent One is clearly in charge here but why not just tell him what you think!

There is one other thing that doesn’t seem right. The Major’s book says that a portable lift is to be installed to get into the deeper tombs where the tablets should be but doesn’t Agent One just say that the lower tombs can be reached from the airfield? If it is so easy to get to the lower tombs from the airfield, why approach from the upper tombs, install a lift and then go to the lower tombs using it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just get to where the tablets are from the airfield entrance? It isn’t like the Nazi archaeologists shouldn’t know about the second entrance, Agent One knows all about it, so it must be common knowledge!

Yeah, yeah, just a game. Let’s get this level going.

This Place Reminds Me Of …

So we start the level alone again on the other side of that big wooden door that we ended the previous level. There’s no indication of whether we climbed it, dug under it or just opened it. All we know is that we did it without alerting anyone in the ravine ahead. It could be that there are two doors and a long passageway between them. That might explain how Agent One exploding a truck in the previous level hasn’t attracted anyone’s attention over here. Either way, the picture below left shows our immediate view. There are two portable buildings and a number of parked trucks – a place of either loading or unloading. While looking at the canyon walls, there seems to be something built into the left wall. The picture below right shows a close up of it.

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Hmm, fancy temple-like structure carved out of the sheer rock? Kind of reminds me of, well let’s wait a little longer before I say what I think. Actually, if we just wandered over here from the start, we would probably get shot in the back. So, let’s back up and start again.

Starting the level, if we go over to the cabin/hut building on the right, we overhear a conversation inside.

Soldier #1:       Why have we been stationed in the god forsaken place?

Soldier #2:       Yes, there are no Allies here and the heat is unbearable!

Soldier #1:       Why would Himmler send us out into the desert to dig in the sand?

Soldier #2:       There’s plenty of sand back in Chur.

I not certain about the last word in the conversation – it sounds like ‘Chur’ which is a city in eastern Switzerland not so far from the German border. Actually there is a locality in Chur called ‘Sand’ so if he is saying ‘Chur’, ‘Sand’ fits as a play on words. Ultimately, it really isn’t that important though. The whole point of this overheard conversation is to show that the rank-and-file soldier is unmotivated and unclear why they are stationed outside this ruin. This backs up the views of the now deceased Major who also didn’t understand why he was here. As the conversation implies, there are two soldiers inside and if you sneak under the window, they will both be in there when you pay a visit. The picture below shows that this building is being used as barracks. With only four bunks, this might imply that there is no more than eight soldiers stationed here (two shifts of four) – I guess we’ll have to see.

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The table on the left has a letter. Let’s check it out.

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I guess this is just telling us what we already know about this place. It isn’t safe and several people have already died. What this does show is that these people grouped here are part of the Dig Crew. So these people have actually been down into the tombs and they have mostly returned to tell the tale. It doesn’t seem that the stories of mummies returning from the dead are true. This seems to be the first message by Lieutenant Karsten Mehler. I would have thought that such a warning would have come from the Major. Perhaps this shows how far he was detached from the mission.

The killing was likely to have brought out some more soldiers but once we have dealt with them, it’s worth checking out the other hut. It’s likely that one soldier will still be inside and can be quickly taken out. As the picture below shows, this is the command post for the dig team. Again, there is a note on the table.

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I guess I first read the message but somehow missed the word ‘broken’. I guess I’m not keen on the working but it seems that equipment has been found broken and there seems to be some rumor that the breakage was caused by some sort of sporting activity. When he talks about ‘excavation equipment’, the only thing that comes to mind is the lowly shovel. So, what could a shovel be used for? German’s were not into bat and ball sports such as cricket of baseball though we can’t discount them (we have to remember they are sports of the Allies). Perhaps the shovels are thrown being used like a javelin or hammer. Possibly they were being used as golf clubs or a made up game. The point is that the soldiers are bored and are finding something to do to pass the time. Since they have this spare time, it implies that the heavy work of the excavation is already done. One other thing: this note has come from Sergeant Schluter, is this a reference to Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes? I don’t know if he says ‘I see nothing – NOTHING!’

Having taken out everything living, it’s time to move up the path to whatever is up there. At this point, I remember looking, with caution, up the path and saw something that looked like the picture below left. Then I made the connection with what was seen earlier and recognized this seen as looking something like the entrance to the city of Petra. The classic entry to the city of Petra in Jordan is via the Siq. The Arabic word Siq is a literal translation of the word ‘shaft’ in English. It is a water-weathered crack in the rock which after running for ¾ miles, opens out at probably the most famous Petra building, the Treasury. A view at the end of the Siq is shown in the picture below right. OK, it is a stretch to compare them but as I cautiously approached the ruin ahead, it was the Siq approach to the Treasury in Petra that I thought of.

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Thinking about Petra and the Treasury, the structure in the canyon shows signs of looking like the lower portion of the Treasury. Compare the picture below with the view earlier above. Both appear to have a definite Roman influence. This shouldn’t be too surprising for Petra as its main buildings were built when Rome was the ascending power. Perhaps the main difference is that the Petra building has clearly been extracted from the face rock while the ruin we just saw stands out from rock face. Now we don’t whether the game designers wanted to do this same effect and couldn’t or didn’t look too hard at Petra pictures to see it or were simply not trying to show any Petra influence in the building.

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If we want to link this place into all the details we have so far (the level notes clearly say Egyptian and the classical Roman design), this ruin would seem to have be built later than the era called Ancient Egypt and more likely be late Ptolemaic to early Roman province. This would put it later than Cleopatra but not too much later. That would basically align with the founding of Petra which certainly wouldn’t be called an Egyptian city.

Into the Ruins

We don’t enter the main square of the ruin as an archaeologist but as a soldier and it soon develops into a fire fight. It sort of spoils the effect but it is important for the game as this is essentially a combat game! Below left is what the main square looks like. Clearly, any thought of this looking like Petra is destroyed now. In the middle stands an obelisk which is maybe fifty feet high (or more!). When I think of obelisks, I think of Karnak which has several large ones. They were covered in hieroglyphics but this one seems to be clear (unless extensively weathered). My only concern here is how this one was erected. We would have to assume that it was cut elsewhere and taken in but there seems to be little space to actually stand it on its end. As to the rest of the buildings, I’ll leave for the moment as there seems to be something curious on the ground by the obelisk. The picture below right shows some of the kills. While we see the expected Germans, the third body appears to be an Egyptian. Not so surprising, you say, we are in Egypt, but the notes say that the locals stay far away from the ruin, yet here one lies dead. Did he suddenly loose his fear of the place that has run through his ancestors for hundreds of years? If I hadn’t killed him, I would have wanted to ask him.

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If we turn around, there is a wall built not out of the rock but individual blocks (below left). At first this looks artificial in comparison to the rest of the ruin complex but this too is modeled on Egyptian buildings. This time, we have to go back much further to early Dynasties. If we compare with the picture on the right, there is a clear similarity. This building is the Djoser Funerary Complex which originally surrounded the famous Stepped Pyramid of Djoser. At the time, this was a revolutionary building technique designed but the mortal but future god Imhotep. This design was a rock translation of earlier mud-brick, wood and reeds. The Djoser complex is in the Saqqara area in the Nile Delta – that is long way from our fictional ruin. The Djoser Funerary Complex building was built with one real door and many false ones; our game building has a real entrance too. If we go inside and follow the ‘L’ shaped passage, we met a soldier facing the wall. He is in the classic position for a dagger silent kill but you may not want to do it that way. Instead, from a distance, shoot the fuel container by his side. The explosion will both take him out and blow a hole in the wall that reveals a golden chalice (our second of the mission). Without any obvious sign of concealment, the chalice seemed to be somehow buried in the rock. I can only assume that it was concealed with a stone block so tightly that we cannot detect that this is a hidden niche in the rock. We can only assume that with the limited time the Germans have been here, this wasn’t hidden by the Germans and is a genuine discovery.

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As this passage ends in a dead end, we have to go back to the main square. The obvious next direction in into one of the tombs as shown below left. The fact that there seems to be light inside should provide further evidence that it is currently occupied. This façade seems to show elements from era discussed but I also think of the façade of the Temple of Seti I, which is even older than anything mentioned so far. There is also some scaffolding but with the ladder fallen, it will do us no good. Just inside, if we can ignore the Germans for a moment, we can see some Hieroglyphics on the wall (below right). We have been making the assumption that this Ancient Egyptian rather than just old and in Egypt. These writings on the walls are the first evidence that this building is at least two thousand years old (give or take).

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Is seems that the Germans are finally stepping up their game and are providing a bit more of a challenge with ambushes and the like. One of the more interesting set pieces is the following. We soon reach a junction with two options (below left). The left hand option leads up a slope while the other continues on the level. We know that our destination is down so the upward slope seems the wrong one. The level path has a box with a flak jacket which is good. There also is a non-descript tunnel which heads down – this look promising. When the tunnel levels off again, we are met by a single Nazi and a collapsed passage (below right). There doesn’t seem to be anything else down there so we head back up. The set piece is that as we climb the staircase, Germans at the top through a grenade down at us and we have to work hard to avoid. When we get back to the top, it’s time for revenge…

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Going back to the junction, we have no option but to go up. At the top is a sneaky hidden treasure. Below left is a picture of the left hand wall at the top of the ramp. Now if you know it’s there, it’s obvious but as you will typically turn to your left at this point, you will turn away from this wall surface. When you break the wall – as below right – you will gain a single bar of gold. Since this is processed gold, we have to assume that a Nazi soldier must have hid and rebuilt the wall. Whoever did it did a good job though. Let’s not even think about where the gold came from at this time. Our treasure weight is now at 27.5 lb again.

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Emerging from the ramp, we are out in the open again on a platform above the rough rock wall. This allows us to get a good look around the ruin site. Below left shows the view looking back from when we emerged from the ramp. We can see the top of the scaffolding and the eagle-eyed will see there is something on the top platform of the scaffolding. When we jump down to it, we find a health pack which is probably useful at this point. The view looking back from the scaffolding is shown below right. What we get from these views is that this, not often visited ruin, is actually an impressive place. It would seem unlikely that a place is this good state of repair would not have been well known to the European archaeologists.

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Actually looking around, I am reminded of the set of the 1963 film Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (see below). It’s clearly different but both provide a mix of old and new Egyptian (old and new being relative terms) and enclose the entire view as is required of both a film and a first person video game.

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So where to next? Well the view from the scaffolding shows an arch in the distance. When we head through it (below), our one and only level objective is completed and we can move on.

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Further Reading

There is a whole wealth of Egyptian books, documentaries and websites that there seems little point in listing any. There are a few websites that show some really cool pictures. For Petra, I would suggest this site as it has aerial shots different from the standard views. This site provides some info about the Djoser Funerary Complex. This site provides some pictures of the Cleopatra film set.

Coming Next

This last level was fairly simple so let’s continue on and find the entrance to the lower levels.

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