Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Backtracking: Cavequest (1985)

This is one of several mini-reviews of CRPGs I missed in my first pass, which I explain here.
What do you suppose will happen if I send $35 to that P.O. box in Florida?


Cavequest is a shareware CRPG developed in 1985 by a company called Lightwave Consultants. As far as I can tell, it's no longer around, and this was its only game. That's too bad, because there's some promising stuff here. I'm not saying it will compete with Dragon Age: Origins for your attention, but it's definitely a break from the norm.

The text files that come with the game set up the outline of a plot: once the people of the land lived in peace and harmony until they plumbed too deep in a set of caverns and broke through to a "Land of Evil" from which monsters spilled forth. In response, the gods flooded the land to destroy the scourge, but now, generations later, a town has been built above the cave, excavations have re-started, and the foolish townsfolk have broken through again. To stop the plague of monsters, Zeus has sent your character from the Land of Gods to fight them. The introductory screens show you launched through a field of stars before you find yourself in an equipment shop on the edge of a cave of five levels.

The game starts you with a certain number of points which you first use to "buy" your attributes: intelligence, strength, dexterity, stamina, charisma, and magic ability. You have to be careful not to spend it all because the game converts any remainder to silver, which you then use to outfit your character, choosing from several armor types, weapons, shields, and missile weapons. After you make your initial purchases, you visit the magic shop where you can enhance your armor or blade with magic and buy several other magic items.

In the cave, you wander through the hallways, collecting treasure and slaying enemies with your sword, lances, or arrows. There are secret doors to find and open. As you move and swing, you deplete your "restedness" statistic , and of course enemies' attacks deplete your "health" statistic. Waiting restores them. The speed of the restoration depends entirely on the processor speed, it seems, so if I crank DOSBox up to a few thousand CPU cycles, I'm practically invulnerable. The downside is that monsters become so fast they're near invisible.

The depletion of your "restedness" score is dependent on the weight you're carrying plus your strength. This little shareware CRPG is thus the first that I know to have a "fatigue" rating based on weight and movement. While I admire this innovation, it's relatively annoying, as you have to keep stopping and waiting for a recharge in the middle of exploration.

As you kill monsters and collect treasures, you accumulate "life points" which can be spent on upgrades to both your character's statistics and equipment. Both this game and Wizard's Crown came out the same year, and I'm not sure which allowed the direct expenditure of experience points this way first, but either way it's impressive.

And yet, while this is another game whose innovations I admire, it still isn't "fun"--not like Ultima IV or Might & Magic. The graphics are very bad and the combat is extremely simplistic. I'm glad I was exposed to it, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence of a main quest--you just kill, find treasure, and improve--so I'm not sorry to be moving on.

This is my last "backtracking" post. Although the next game, Moebius, was released earlier than Might & Magic, it's a full CRPG and I want to play it with my usual dedication and rules. Thanks for bearing with me while I covered a few of the more notable missed games. From now on, I'm going to be supplementing Wikipedia's list with MobyGames and other sources.


Further reading: Six years later, I spent a little more time with the game to give it a proper number and rating. I also realized that it's part of the Quest lineage, starting with Quest 1 and Super Quest. Read the updated posting.


  1. This is another one that I remember playing and enjoying- though the restedness attribute was an absolute killer. They set it to deplete too fast and recover too slow, which made management of restedness the biggest aspect of gameplay. Which was foolish- I never felt heroic when I had to lay on the floor gasping after every ten feet.

  2. Kind of hurts the role-playing immersion, doesn't it? I don't know about you, but in real life I can make it across the room without stopping and panting for 10 minutes, even if I'm carrying a sword.

  3. I notice that Larn is still on your to-do list- are you planning to explore future roguelike games? If you are, may I suggest trying them on similar terms as you did the back-tracking games- give them enough of a shot to see what they're about, then move on. Few are so cruelly punishing as Rogue was, but they're all pretty punishing. (There are people who've won all sorts of roguelike games and never won Rogue like you did)

    At the same time, I think the genre has a lot to offer- unique ideas, and in some cases, complexity of character creation and nuanced gameplay that would make any commercial CRPG jealous. Roguelikes do tend to favor tactics and inventory management over character development, but since Rogue they have given players more and more interesting choices.

    By leaving cutting edge graphics out of the equation, every line of code introduces a new complexity of play.

    Anyhow, if you plan to investigate these as well, I can give you a list of the major influential games, to save you time mucking about with the many slight variations and versions. If not, I remain most interested to follow your experiences with the other CRPGs.

  4. I actually find the roguelikes to be a nice palate cleanser between more intensive games. How about this: when I start one that's particularly seminal, leave me a comment that I should stick with that one. Otherwise, I'll just give it a few hours.

  5. Sounds good, I'll be happy to let you know when you hit a majorly influential one.

  6. I don't consider Larn to be one of the majorly influential ones, by the way, despite its many innovations over Rogue. Still worth trying, of course, and I'm interested to hear what you thik of it, but later games had far more impact.

  7. Back in the day I sent my $35 and got -- as promised -- the next version of the game as well as maps for version one on parchment. (Also, a promise that a suggestion I made for improving the game would be used in the next release). I then sent another $35 in hopes of receiving the version three of the game, and got my $35 returned with an apology that it hadn't been made yet. (I probably also got maps for version two, but I don't remember for sure.)

    For years I expected version three would turn up in the mail someday. It never did.

    Version two did have a main quest of sorts, although not a very good one. It was to find this extra valuable kind of treasure (I forget what, a diadem or something), only one of which was hidden on each level. The main problem with that is that it was transparently an afterthought, as it doesn't connect to the backstory involving the mission from Zeus.

    The really fatal flaw in Cavequest (versions 1 and 2) is that you can quite easily achieve invincibility. Here's how.

    When you enter a room, there's a slight pause when the monsters can't do anything but your keypress is buffered, which means you always get the first move. That same pause occurs just after you cast a spell, allowing you to cast another spell with no chance of retaliation. Although some spells can only be cast a given number of times, the most useful is the one that transforms a monster into a weaker species of monster, and that (due to an oversight by the game's designer) can be cast as many times as you like.

    The key to invincibility, then, is to cast this transformation spell (I forget what it was called) again and again until the monster becomes a skeleton or other species too weak to penetrate your armour. Then just let it live. The other monsters won't attack so long as their "leader" is alive, however ineffectual.

  8. I do find it somewhat amusing that the wall in that fourth screenshot is made up of peseta symbols (I think that's what that "Pt" means).

    I guess it was easier to appropriate some existing typographic symbols rather than create new graphics for everything, but that seems an odd symbol to have chosen.

  9. It's amazing how many times I've seen variations of the "they dug too deep" line repeated. It seems like a weak, hand-wavy excuse in Tolkien, and yet I know I've seen it other places. Salvatore's Drizzt series, I think, plus here, and others. I always wonder, how deep is "too" deep? If digging too deep is dangerous, why don't they stop digging at some point? Why not dig sideways instead? How is there anything down there in the first place, locked into the stone underground, waiting to be discovered so it can destroy the people who have freed it? It's up there with "they were destroyed for their pride" as an answer that sounds like it makes sense for a moment or two, but then just leaves you unsatisfied and with more questions if you actually think about it.

    1. It ties in with the idea of science destroying everything. Science is not inherently good or evil: It is based on refutation, and it has made the world a far better place with wonderful technologies and medicines. That kind of regressive storytelling really annoys me.

      Also, I notice that in fantasy stories, everyone digs deep enough to find precious metals but never deep enough to find Helium. Would a society even be able to get past the Stone Age without Helium?

    2. I don't understand the helium joke.

      'Dug too deep' is greed isn't it, rather than pride/hubris of 'built too high'

    3. A chemist told me that Helium was one of the most important elements, being used in a variety of industries such as blacksmithing. I wonder if, without Helium a society could produce the technologies required to develop. Helium is produced by the decay of radioactive substances underground.

    4. Given it was discovered in the 1800s, and that you don't get naturally occurring pure helium (it has to be distilled from composite gases), I don't think it was being used in blacksmithing.

    5. I was saying the same thing on a Reddit comment the other day:


      I never understood the "too greedily" part. You have to mine for metals, right? Mines involve digging into the Earth, right? If there are more metals further down, why does everyone try to turn it into a vice that the dwarves kept mining further down?

      "We're going to build a mine of 4 levels."
      "Good on you!"
      "Now we're going to make it 8 levels."
      "Whoa, whoa. Hold on there, Gordon Gekko."


      The best answer that I got was that the dwarves already had plenty of stuff, and they just kept going to get more treasure for the treasure's sake. I'm not sure how well this is supported by the book.

    6. If the Dwarves were aware of the dangers that lurked beneath (maybe they knew the balrogs fled underground or that nasty beasties existed in the depths) or they'd felt the presence of Durin's Bane but persisted in digging anyway, then 'greed' seems a reasonable comment.

  10. "This little shareware CRPG is thus the first that I know to have a "fatigue" rating based on weight and movement."

    Temple of Apshai had that, didn't it? In fact a lot of this game seems like Apshai. Your dungeon picture looks just like it. Also the back story was something similar.

    1. It did. I didn't know what I was talking about in these early days. I'll be coming back to this when I get to 1985 again.


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