Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Game 83: Dungeon Campaign (1978)


When studying the earliest CRPGs, it's fun to see the little quirks and imaginative variations that developers devised without any kind of standard template. It makes every CRPG from this era, if primitive, unique. With Space (1978), we had an unusual approach to character creation and text-based role playing. Beneath Apple Manor (1978) gave us randomly-generated, customized levels, a wide range of difficulty options, and a set of magic items that appeared only once (though randomly distributed) in the dungeon. Temple of Apshai had those wonderfully useful room descriptions that gave some of the feeling of a real RPG, Akalabeth combined top-down and first-person views, and Rogue presented all of the characteristics that we would come to love and hate about roguelikes. Some of these characteristics continued to other games, but most of them died quietly away in mainstream CRPGs.

The main screen for Dungeon Campaign.

The unique approaches taken in Dungeon Campaign (which, like Beneath Apple Manor, is another pre-Rogue roguelike-ish game for the Apple II) include the following:

  • The game draws each of the four levels in front of you before you play. Astute players can try to sketch or memorize as much of the maze as possible before the game starts (I don't think screen captures were a possibility back then).


  • Each level has one "boss-creature" that, if it acquires you, follows you around until it reaches the party and kills one or more characters.
  • Instead of controlling a single character, you control a small army of characters, including one elf and one dwarf, who slowly deplete in number as you fight and fall victim to traps. You start with 15 soldiers, equivalent to having 15 "hit points" in another game. If the elf dies in combat, you no longer get warnings about various dangers in the dungeon; if the dwarf dies, the automap no longer updates. 

The beginning party status.

  • When you engage in combat with the enemy (accomplished by moving your colored block over the enemy's, which creates a crosshatch pattern of both block colors), you press the SPACE bar to start generating a random series of numbers between 1 and 10, then SPACE again to stop the roll. The result, multiplied against your "strength" (the number of soldiers) determines the result. The numbers go too fast to control the result.

The snake thing on the left side of the screen is this level's "boss creature," a giant snake.
 
  • There are traps at various points in the dungeon that give you a fixed number of seconds to escape their radius.

I've got two seconds to get two squares left and one square up.

As you can see from the screen shots, the game uses low-res graphics with different colors to represent the party, enemies, the boss creature, stairways, and other features. There are a few bloops for sounds, plus a cute ascending tune when you go up a staircase and a descending scale when you go down. The commands are hard to get used to: instead of directional arrows, you use (L)eft, (R)ight, (U)p, and (D)own. Movement is generally turn-based, but both the unique "boss" creatures plus the traps occur in real-time, so if you just stand around, they'll damage the party.

Every level has a copious number of pit traps that dump you to the next level. I learned the hard way to (J)ump over these traps whenever I see a warning that "danger is near!" There are other encounters that end up teleporting you to other levels or other parts of the existing level before you're quite ready.

Well, that wasn't nice.

Other than movement and jumping, the only commands are (S)earch (which never does anything for me), see the party status (X), and (E)xit the dungeon, which only works in one place.


As you fight and win combats, your characters slowly deplete in number, but your "strength" increases in multiples by every combat you win. The starting party has 15 characters and a strength of 15; if after the first battle, there are 13 characters left, the party has a strength of 26. The ultimate goal of the game seems to be to amass as much treasure as possible and find the exit on Level 4 before everyone dies. There's no way to save the game in progress, so each "campaign" is not meant to take very long.

The inevitable death screen.

For whatever reason, I can't seem to find any treasure after battles, or anywhere else, so my parties aren't doing a great job at their core missions. I have managed to make it to the exit several times, so I'm going to consider that a "won."


The game is intriguing but, to be honest, it's not much of a CRPG. It technically meets the criteria of character development and statistics-based combat, but only barely in both cases. 

Dungeon Campaign was developed by Robert Clardy and his company, the Seattle-based Synergistic (also known as Northwest Synergistic Software). This was the company's first game; it would go on to release another couple dozen before it was acquired by Sierra in 1997. Its RPG (or RPG-ish) offerings include War in Middle Earth (1988; here's my review), Vengeance of Excalibur (1991), Warriors of Legend (1993), Birthright: the Gorgon's Alliance (1996), and the Hellfire add-on to Diablo (1997).

MobyGames lists it as a 1978 game, but every other source, including the title screen and Clardy's own bio on MobyGames, puts it in 1979 [Later edit: Clardy himself cleared it up in the comments below; it's 1978]. I'm unsure about the release order when it comes to Dungeon Campaign and Wilderness Campaign. On the one playable version that I've found of either game (Virtual Apple), the games are bundled together with no umbrella heading, but Wilderness Campaign's release date is listed as 1980.

A shot from the more advanced Wilderness Campaign, a year later.

Wilderness Campaign features a similar style as its predecessor, but with a few more commands, more complex graphics, attributes (speed, strength, dexterity, and charisma), and an inventory of gold, food, and items. You explore a map full of castles, ruins, temples, tombs, and towns, with occasional earthquakes (you have to make a saving throw against dexterity) and crevices (you need a plank to cross) to keep things interesting. In every way, it's a more sophisticated game than Dungeon Campaign, which makes it a bit mysterious that it's hardly mentioned anywhere online (no Wikipedia or MobyGames entries), and I wouldn't have heard of it if I hadn't seen it as an option on the main screen of Dungeon Campaign. I was originally going to play it as part of this entry, but it's complex enough to deserve its own.

The same year that Wilderness Campaign came out, Synergistic repackaged and expanded both games as Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure (and no, neither of those latter two words are typos), a game for which MobyGames curiously has no entry, but Wikipedia has a long write-up. I look forward to giving this a try as well.

This is the third time I've interrupted my regular chronology with a one-shot review of an early non-DOS game, so I should explain what I'm doing. I've decided that my initial decision to stay fixed to the DOS/PC platform was wrong, and I'm correcting that mistake by going back and playing some of the most important games released for other platforms. If you think this means that I'll eventually hit your favorite non-DOS entry from the 1980s, don't get too excited: I don't think I'll be playing every one (in particular, I suspect I'll continue to eschew consoles). This will give me, and us, a more rounded sense of the history of CRPGs and prepare me better for my first book.

77 comments:

  1. "Instead of controlling a single character, you control a small army of characters, including one elf and one dwarf, who slowly deplete in number as you fight and fall victim to traps. You start with 15 soldiers, equivalent to having 15 "hit points" in another game. If the elf dies in combat, you no longer get warnings about various dangers in the dungeon; if the dwarf dies, the automap no longer updates. "

    That actually sounds like a cool feature, which I'd like to see in other CRPGs.


    "my first book."

    Intriguing...I though you already were published? Or do you mean your first book about CRPGs?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. About CRPGs.

      The only game I could think of that was similar in concept was the horrible Braminar from 1987.

      Delete
    2. King's Bounty plays like this, although you have a large army. I have not played the original from 1990 (it's own The Addict's list), only the 2008 spiritual sequel, but from what I glean it has the same core gameplay. The sequel seem to expand on the CRPG aspects.

      Delete
    3. King's Bounty's presence on my list isn't entirely defensible. No one seriously calls it a CRPG. I just wanted to play it as a spiritual ancestor to Heroes of Might & Magic.

      Delete
    4. The original King's Bounty has some interesting ideas not found in later HoMM or King's Bounty games. I rather enjoy it.

      Delete
    5. A very few RPGs used soldiers instead of HP. Destiny of an Emperor (NES) starts you off with a few generals (party members) with 100-300 soldiers each (like in Dungeon Campaign, attack power is roughly a function of your number of soldiers times your attack power) and by the end of the game, you're travelling with seven generals with 15,000-35,000 soldiers each. Considering that this means your travelling "party" is an army of roughly 100,000 soldiers (not to mention that you can have a few dozen generals outside your active party with their own armies), it may have the largest "parties" (thematically, not mechanically) in RPG history.

      Delete
    6. Too bad there's no official port of this to the PC. It was one of my favorite "Romance Of The 3 Kingdoms" themed RPGs ever (not that there are many of them in the first place).

      There are now horrible free-to-play (pay-to-win) online versions of this game, however.

      Delete
  2. Interesting. I remember playing "Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure" on the Apple ][ when I was a kid. I enjoyed it. Playthroughs were short, but the randomization gave it replayability.

    Then I discovered Wizardry and Ultima and everything changed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you! I remembered playing Odyssey as a kid, and it was a revelation, the first game that really got me interested in what computers could do. I would later get addicted to Wizardry, but it was that game that set me down the path and led me into my software development career. And I was starting to think that I had only dreamed it, since nobody ever mentioned it. Now, not only do I know it existed but just learned that it was written by the dad of one of my friends at work. It's a small world out there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Make sure he sees this entry, eh?

      Delete
    2. I've already sent along the URL.

      Delete
    3. Just to clarify: your friend's dad is Robert Clardy? If so, invite him to come and comment.

      Delete
    4. Yup, his son Derek sits two desks away from me. Maybe I can get Robert to drop by.

      Delete
    5. Got the message and thanks! Kind of freaky to be reminded of those very early games. While they were the "state of my art" at the time, quaintly cute is the best I could say just now. Glad to hear they shared some of the fun of playing with those too-cool early computers. Of course, I always preferred to design and program rather than actually play the games. Thanks for the memories...

      Delete
    6. Totally unrelated to the subject, but I just have to ask in case you read this: what was your involvement in the original Thexder game? I'm asking because Thexder is a bit of a legend to some people in the DOS retro-gaming scene and you were listed in the game credits (under "special thanks to").

      Delete
    7. The "original" Thexder game was from Japan and few if any copies made it to the states. Game Arts did a version for NES and MSX. Sold in Europe and Brazil. Sierra Online got the US rights and did a PC-DOS version. Still later, Ken Williams (Sierra On-Line) sub-contracted with me (Synergistic Software) to do an updated rewrite of the game. We added more forms to the transformer, more weapons, and all new levels and puzzles.

      The Sierra/Synergistic Thexder was sometimes referred to as Thexder 95 as it was prorammed for PC-Windows 95. We also did versions for Atari ST, Amiga, Apple II, Apple GS, and a few of the console systems. I was project director and the various programmers, artists, and testers worked for Synergistic. My fun contribution (and the reason for the "Thanks" credit) was writing the level editor that was used to make the levels for all the versions. Fun tool. While Thexder was a blast to play, building the levels was way better.

      I did most of them. My son Derek did the rest. He was 14 then and did a lot of the testing, too. Game developers don't tend to do that much anymore.... ;-)

      Delete
    8. Robert, thanks a million for taking the time to comment on the blog. If you check back in, would you mind answering a few questions?

      1. Can you confirm the 1979 release date for Dungeon Campaign? There are online sources that say 1978.

      2. Was Dungeon Campaign originally bundled with Wilderness Campaign? That's the only way it appears in any version I can find, but they have two different release dates.

      3. Do you remember if you had an particular influences in the creation of the games and the establishment of the rules? Wilderness Campaign, in particular, seems very original for the time.

      Amazing coincidence with Derek and Joshua.

      Delete
    9. I'll do my best. Ancient history was never my strongest subject, though... ;-)

      I purchased my Apple II in June of 1978. I had been a computer science major at Rice University, at a time when there was no such major. Instead, we had Electrical Engineering (hardware) and Math Science (for the bare bones beginnings of programming). I learned to be a programmer when the only computers were main-frames and ended up getting a job with Boeing as an Electrical Engineer instead. Interesting, but not at all what I had wanted. That was in 1974. I spent 5 years being an engineer, waiting for some way to do programming. I almost forgot what I had been looking for.

      Then, in 1976, the Apple 1 came out. Very few. None were selling near me. I missed it.

      Then, in 1977, the Apple II released with 4k of RAM - more on that later. I was intrigued, but not impressed. I was wrong, but I was looking from the outside and 4k of RAM just sounded useless.

      In 1978, Apple released a model with 4 times the memory!!! 16k of RAM, now you're talking! I bought one with 16k RAM, an RF modulator to enable it to use a TV set as the display device, and a cassette tape drive for storage. And, it only cost $2000. What a deal!

      The original Apple came with "The Red Book". I have one somewhere and it probably has some other name, but that was what we called it. General "how to" manual, plus some program examples. One of those was "Dragon Maze" by Bob Bishop, one of my earliest muses. Dragon Maze ran in 4k of RAM as it was written for the earlier versions of the Apple. It drafted a maze and you moved and the dragon moved. If you got to the exit, you won. If the dragon got to you, you lost. Much of what became Dungeon Campaign came from this demo program by Bob Bishop.

      But, I had 16k to work with, so I expanded it. Integer Basic was pretty primitive, but you typed code and you ran it and saw the results on the screen instantly. It was a good tool to learn the computer with. Low-res graphics was pretty pathetic, but a good game is a good game even when the graphics suck. I had come from the paper Dungeons and Dragons world and anything that would roll the device, keep track of the rules, do the math, tally the results, and describe the results was totally awesome. The dungeon master could now play, rather than just moderate. This was pretty cool, even if the graphics resolution was 40 x 40 pixels, with 4 lines of text below. Ugh. Hard to believe after playing Halo...
      Anyway, Dungeon Campaign got written in 1978 and released that December, on cassette tape only. In 1979, I wrote Wilderness Campaign, in high-res graphics (180 x 192, 4 color). High-res. Woohoo.... That came out in June of 1979, around the same time that Apple got disk drives ($500 each).

      When Dungeon got offered on disk, we combined it with Wilderness and offered it as a duo package. Later still, there was another simplistic game called "Sorcerer’s Challenge" that got combined and it became the "Campaign Trilogy".

      Did it influence other games? Maybe. Hard to say. Ken Williams came out with Mystery House shortly after that, another early Apple high-res adventure type game. Very different look, though. The major game content of both Dungeon and Wilderness were the PRG elements, and those were pioneered by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson with the paper Dungeons and Dragons game. I just adapted them to the computer and tried to come up with a computer graphic representation of what was going on. CGI was pretty primitive in those days and whether those early attempts inspired others - sorry, no idea.....

      They did inspire me. By the time I finished any game, I realized why it was so limited that I could hardly stand to look at it again. Dungeon was 16k and low-res. So frustrating. So, I wrote Wilderness - 48k and high-res. But, those cassette tapes really sucked. So, I wrote Odyssey - multiple programs on disk. And, each led to the next. So, my early work inspired me, if nobody else. Fun times....

      Delete
    10. This was fantastic. Thanks for coming back and commenting in such detail. Not only have you cleared up the date confusion (fixed above), but you offer some great insights into the difficulties of programming in that era.

      It sounds like both Dungeon Campaign and Beneath Apple Manor were not only released the same year but had the same ancestor in Dragon Maze.

      I look forward to giving both Wilderness Campaign and Odyssey a try. I hope you check in occasionally!

      Delete
  4. Have you already announced that this will be a book?

    If not, HELL YEAH!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably a whole series of 'em!

      Delete
    2. i can guarantee you at least one sale..im in! since i found your blog ive been an addicted reader, checking in multiple times a day, just in case you started a new game. i know for me this has brought back a lot of happy memories of my early years playing games on my c-64 and amiga. ive since gone back and replayed some old favorites and started some new gems that i didnt know about.
      it sounds like youre going to have to clone yourself in order to get your projects completed. between playing the games, writing the blog, writing the book and the inevitable and dreaded REAL LIFE COMMITMENTS theres not enough YOU to go around. i think we should all bow down and give thanks that you have an understanding wife. thank you for all that you do for us. (tell the boss that we thank her too)

      Delete
  5. I recall playing Wilderness (the "campaign" seems to have been dropped from the copy that I ended up with) a fair bit in the 80's. I don't really remember it, but I remember enjoying it, so I'm looking forward to reading about your encounter with it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was a graphical text adventure called Wilderness as well.

      Delete
  6. I think I'm the only person on Earth who enjoys the Birthright computer game. I even sought out a boxed copy with the Prima strategy guide, just because.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm afraid you're not alone. I even have Birthright currently installed on my PC, though I haven't played it in many months.

      Delete
    2. I'm looking forward to trying Birthright at some point.

      Delete
  7. "Its RPG (or RPG-ish) offerings include War in Middle Earth (1988; here's my review), Vengeance of Excalibur (1991), Warriors of Legend (1993), __Birthrihght:__ the Gorgon's Alliance (1996), and the Hellfire add-on to Diablo (1997)."

    Thought I'd point that out. It doesn't seem to accept html underline tags for some reason.

    Etrian Odyssey (a DS dungeon crawler) had a mechanic like the "boss creature". They usually made regular passes on a maze level along a scripted path until they notice the foolhardy adventurers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, that's how it's really spelled. This company has a fetish for weird spellings (cf. Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure).

      Delete
    2. Are you sure about that? :D

      Delete
    3. Odd, a Non-Gold Box game based on a D&D world.

      Delete
  8. I'm not surprised this game doesn't use arrow keys, because, as far as I know, early Apple 2's didn't have up/down arrow keys; only left/right. The keyboards on those things only had 52 keys. I think it was the Apple 2e, from 1983, that introduced all four arrow keys. However they weren't in 1/3 arrangement we now know; they were in a line: left/right/down/up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. WASD would have worked fine, then.

      Wilderness Campaign uses NESW, which is almost just as bad.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, that would've worked had they though of it. Which actually makes me even more curious about this: have you encountered any game so far to use WASD for movement? As far as I recall, game control(s) have scarcely been covered in your blog posts. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me.

      I'm asking because I've played far too few 80s games to know much about this and I've always thought that WASD movement was something that came around in the mid 90s (so about 15 years before either of these Apple 2 games) and it was mostly used as a WASD + mouse look combo in first person games.

      Delete
    3. WASD only came about because of mouse-look; most older games would do one input or the other, but not both. The only exceptions I can think of are simulators(flight, battlemech) that use the a joystick and practically the whole keyboard for extra commands.

      Here is one old post, pointing towards Descent and Quake as the main starting point:
      http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=5867

      Delete
    4. Ah, the days before WASD... Two of the most common control schemes on the Apple 2 were IJKM (and its occasional variant, IJKL - obviously pretty much the same as WASD), and AZ+arrow keys. If I recall correctly, the Ultima series on Apple used left and right arrows paired with Enter (for north) and / (for south). And Wolfenstein used the eight keys clustered around S for movement with the eight keys around L to aim your weapon, like a primitive twin-stick shooter.

      And Odyssey definitely stands out as one of the major gaming highlights of my young life. I have never played either of the games you mention in your posting, but (judging by the screenshots) they appear to have been considerably refined for Odyssey. Apart from the two segments represented above (overworld and cave exploration), there was also an episode of ship exploration, as well as a (brief) endgame sequence. I'll be very curious to see what you make of it!

      As an aside, it must have taken me at least twenty years to realize that "Apventure" was a portmanteau of "Apple" and "Adventure". "Compleat" I assume is just aould-timey spellyng.

      Delete
    5. I was thinking more about what the first game to use WASD as default movement controls was. That's why I was thinking that maybe, by some accident, Chet has already stumbled upon across an early game to use them. I doubt it, because - as you've said - WASD was strongly kinked to the mouse look ability that the first truly 3D action games introduced.

      What I know about WASD:

      As far as first person action games go, Wolfenstein 3D (1992), Doom 1 (1993) & Doom 2 (1994) used the arrow keys, and they actually used pseudo-3D engines which meant mouse look in the way we think of it today was not possible. Same story with Duke Nukem 3D from 1996. Quake 1 (1996) and even Quake 2 (1997), despite being truly 3D games and having more or less a fully implemented mouse look feature, still had the arrows keys as defaults. Descent (1995) used the numpad as default.

      However, at some point gamers/the gaming world decided that WASD + mouse look was the way to go. I know that Star Wars Dark Forces 2 from 1997 uses WASD + mouse as a default and Half-Life (1998) pretty much set the control standard for everything that followed.

      All this being said, the earliest game that I know of that even comes close to WASD movement controls is Ultima Underworld, but there are still many differences and there is, obviously, no mouse look, which increases the number of keys needed when navigating a 3D environment.

      Delete
    6. I think Bethesda published or developed the first game to utilize WASD as a default control scheme, but I forget which one it was. I don't think it was any of the DOS Elder Scrolls games.

      This is going to bother me for the rest of the day now...

      Delete
    7. I'm fairly sure the original System Shock has a WASD control scheme with no mouselook, but I'd have to dig it out to be certain. Of course, this is a later release from the same studio that gave us Ultima Underworld so it wouldn't be too surprising.

      Delete
    8. System Shock is just like Ultima Underworld: almost WASD, but not quite.

      In both games the basic controls are A/D for turning left/right and S/X for walking forwards/backwards. Also, in UU you use W for running.

      So it's more like ASDX than WASD. I've looked quite a bit into this :)

      Delete
    9. @Raifield

      You know, you may be onto something. One of their Terminator games, 1995's The Terminator: Future Shock does use WASD and mouse look as default controls. I don't know if it's the first, but it's definitely the earliest example so far. Impressive.

      The early Elder Scrolls games definitely use arrow keys, though.

      Delete
    10. Actually, forget that... the default keys in The Terminator: Future Shock are actually A/Z for forwards/backwards and left Shift/X for strafe left/right. It does have mouse look, though. But it's not WASD... damn :)

      Delete
    11. Dungeon Compaign was written for the Apple II, a computer that came with 16k of RAM, no lower case on the keyboard, no mouse, no monitor support (TV adaptor), and Wozniak's Integer Basic language to write in. Period. Games were stored on casette tape. Ugh!

      The Apple II was later replaced with the II+ (which added the more powerful Applesoft language and floating point math), the IIe (lower case letters on the keyboard and 48k of RAM), the IIc (portable), and the IIgs (higher res graphics and lots more).

      Cramming a game into 16k of RAM with an input device that included no arrow keys, no lower case, no mouse, and no joystick - well, it did require a few compromises.

      Wish I had thought of the WASD convention then. But, I was coming from the world of paper RPGs and we talked about turning left or going west. That carried over to the earliest computer games. Later, as computer games became the model that we all copied, conventions that were more computer-centric became the norm.

      Delete
    12. Y'all took me awfully literally with WASD. I just meant any arrangement of keys that allowed a more natural movement of the characters.

      This type of game was very new at the time, and I can see where it wouldn't have been obvious that a WASD arrangement would feel more "natural" than a LRUD or NESW arrangement.

      It's easy to forget how different the experience is playing these older games on a modern PC via emulator. Not having to load up a cassette tape (or worry about associated drive failures and corruptions) is a huge bonus.

      Delete
    13. According to Wikipedia WASD was first popularized by Quake, though it doesn't list what game first used it. They also seem to have a very comprehensive list of developments. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow_keys

      Delete
    14. I know for a fact Wizardry used the WASD cluster on the Apple IIe. WASD and K to kick doors. So that's much earlier than the mouse and first person shooters.

      This from someone who was playing it in 1983.

      Delete
  9. It's a great new you are going to play other system´s rpg. I think you should play any non JRPG, wich would you allow to skip virtually every console game,

    ReplyDelete
  10. This seems more like a war or strategy game than a CRPG. Still it looks interesting. I like your archaelogical dig at older non-DOS CRPGs. These detours make the experience richer by far.

    Your book idea sounds interesting. Will it be like Dungeons and Desktops and other such fare?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope not. I'm trying to put together something original. I'm still sketching ideas, but I'll probably put out a posting about it in February.

      Delete
  11. For rounding out a sampling of 80's era non-DOS CRPGs, Centauri Alliance would be interesting to look at, as its known as "Bard's Tale in Space" -- not surprising, as it was designed by Michael Cranford. It does share many similarities with Bard's Tale, but one innovation to the BT formula it has is placing the PC party and enemies on a small hex-grid in each combat, allowing some maneuvering tactics (http://www.mobygames.com/game/c64/centauri-alliance/screenshots/gameShotId,109210/). I haven't done more than fiddle with the Apple II version, though, so I can't vouch for fun/unfun factor, but it may be worth a spin.

    Another is Galactic Adventures, which was a sequel to Galactic Gladiators. Galactic Gladiators had tactical turn-based grid combat (which was always a one-battle affair each game) - Galactic Adventures places that combat engine in a larger world of linked adventures/combats and character advancement. As an RPG/strategy hybrid it probably leans more to the strategy side, but I think you'd find it interesting because the combat engine seems to be the start of SSI's evolutionary chain of grid-based combat engines: GA engine --> Wizard's Crown-type engine --> Gold Box game engine. I remember finding the combat fun, as long as I turned up emulated Apple II cpu speed so the computer wouldn't take so long to decide on its moves.

    Both The Return of Heracles and Ali Baba & the Forty Thirves are by Stuart Smith of Adventure Construction Set fame, feature pretty much the same combat engine / menu system as ACS (I always loved ACS's combat system for the fact non-PCs would sometimes fight each other - good NPC deciding to clobber an evil creature, neutral creatures fleeing from an evil NPC, setc). They both are distinctive for letting you play multiple characters at once (up to 19 mythological heroes in Return, 17 in Ali Baba), and Heracles in particular has a very strong sandbox-y feel, you can wander anywhere and stumble upon various (and variously deadly) renderings of greek myths. Both games hugely benefit from turning up the emulations speed - way too sluggish otherwise.

    And, not necessarily fun but interesting is Realms of Darkness, which combines RPG combat/advancement with a text-adventure parser. Another I have only just barely sampled, but the combination of the two modes of play is rare.

    The book announcement is exciting!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I second reviewing "The Return of Heracles" and "Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves". I recently purchased the two on Ebay for the C64 in the "Age of Adventure" pack. Even with the extremely low graphical quality, the game is deceptively good. They both feature up to 20 different characters, with differing abilities, that can be played simultaneously across over 60 different game areas. You can buy items from shops, by getting loot from slaying, get this, over 200 different monsters. How many games from this era had that kind of variety?

    The second game I totally recommend reviewing is Electronic Arts, "Deathlord". This game holds a special place in my heart, and also a game I own on the C64. I'd love to see you try to beat this game, it's arguably one of the most difficult old school CRPGs ever made, and possibly the biggest. The game world spans 16 different continents, 20 (very unique/large) dungeons, 8 races, and 16 classes. The game auto-saves after a character dies so you can't save scum. One of the most underrated games of the era.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves as an Atari 800XL game, but it seems that the entire 8-bit software library of the early eighties was liberally passed around to just about everyone. Every game, for every system.

      Reminds me of that QBert poster showing a kid looking at 12 iterations of QBert on 12 different consoles.

      Delete
    2. Raifield: And people complain at the lack of exclusives today...

      Delete
  13. Neat, never heard of this game or it's followup before, though I've played most of their other games.

    ReplyDelete
  14. So you're going to review non-PC non-DOS games? Great!

    Please add "Tunnels of Doom" (1982) on the TI-99/4a to your list. The Classic99 emulator is probably the easiest way to obtain it, it has the ROM's for the cartridge already present.

    http://www.harmlesslion.com/cgi-bin/showprog.cgi?search=classic99

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll second that. It is a really fantastic dungeon crawl, and was better than any crpg that I ever played on C64. (I never had an Apple)

      I still play it emulated now and then.

      This would be really interesting to compare to other crpg's from 1982. I think it would hold its own very well.

      Delete
  15. Their money comes in "Quadroons"?!?! (Quadroon: a person of one fourth African descent.) Using people as cash makes for a bad economy.

    First, it implies that the dungeon runs on a slave economy (which is appropriate). However, that the main characters would march their quadroons back to the overworld means they have value outside too.

    Quadroons would be neither fungible (except possibly as meat) nor small and easy to carry. Your money would also be capable of running away. I certainly hope that the jewels are a more primary form of money in the game universe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One wonders why we even need a word describing someone of one-fourth African descent. How strange.

      Delete
    2. Ha, brilliant! I didn't know quadroon was an actual word. Apparently there's also octoroon, for someone who's one-eighth African and quintroon for one-sixteenth. Strange indeed.

      Delete
    3. The term quadroon was just word play, not a racial epithet. Pirates stole Spanish doubloons. Quadroons were twice as valuable. Nothing more intended....

      Delete
  16. I like these occasional posts that jump between the current latest CRPG on the market and those that started the market. They give a nice mix to the blog (especially in the technological perspective) - great reminder of where we were and where we're going!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Both Dungeon Campaign as well as Wilderness Campaign was been released seperatly, but they are much more rare as the bundled version.

    I am a early CRPG collector and i actualy own the seperate version.

    Take a look at that pictures from my collection:
    http://www.gametreasure.de/bilder/DungeonCampaign.jpg
    http://www.gametreasure.de/bilder/WildernessCampaign.jpg
    I belive the tape version of dungeon campain is a very early release, maybe from 1978.

    This is the bundle version:
    http://www.gametreasure.de/bilder/campaigndisk.jpg

    Thank you for your articles on early CRPG's. I didnt even knew about 1977 dungeon. Need to hunt it down now. ^^

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's awesome. Thank you for sharing those.

      Delete
    2. Thorium, I don't know if you'll see this, but if you do, could you write back with any background info the Wilderness Campaign manual provides on the story and quest? I just won the game, but I'm curious what it gave as the setup, and I can't otherwise find it online.

      Delete
    3. Late reply but here: http://mocagh.org/synergistic/wildernesscampaign.pdf

      This website is a great source for infos about early RPG's.

      Delete
  18. Just to note that the second screenshot here seems to me a thing of great splendour.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that really is a fine example of early 8 bit art.

      Delete
  19. Hello, Chester! A let comment but still.
    "For whatever reason, I can't seem to find any treasure after battles, or anywhere else, so my parties aren't doing a great job at their core missions. I have managed to make it to the exit several times, so I'm going to consider that a "won.""
    I've just played Dungeon Campaign for my own blog and encountered the same problem. I don't know if this is your case or not but for me leaving the level and returning made the treasure chests appear on map. Fighting monsters, though, erased them again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The habit I learned when playing this game in 1979 was to hit S (search for treasure) for every square you pass over. No need to search though if you have already searched a square. Often times treasures can be found on spots where you encounter a monster. Most commonly, treasure is found in rooms on the map. Rooms are best identified where 4 or more squares are connected with only outside walls (it will look like an open space on the map). Search all those squares and you will often find treasure.

      Delete
    2. I may be mistaken but I think I checked a place where the treasure was and "searching" gave nothing. But again, I was tired and probably just wanted to do it and my mind made up the rest.

      Delete
    3. Late reply, but I'll jump on the bandwagon.

      I thought it was funny when the guy who wrote this article said "I couldn't find any quadroons" and then "The "S" key never did anything for me". It's just like nowanii says-- you have to (S)earch every. Single. Square that you pass over.

      Treasure is randomly placed throughout the mazes. And yes, it often is found in squares after battles (or in the corners of the 4-square "rooms") but it always gave me a thrill when you'd search-- and it would pause, dramatically-- and then the victory chime that treasure had been found! Your little character block would turn gold, if I recall.

      Great game! I still remember it fondly.

      Delete
  20. My daughter (14 years old) has been playing Dungeon Campaign the last several weekends. I introduced this to her just to show what “leading edge” video games were like in my times compared to now. She freaks out every time the spectre comes out. Lol. She really enjoys it though and plays totally on her own.

    Tell Robert he was responsible for me failing High School Photography as a Freshman. I would tell the teacher I was out shooting photos and in reality I was in the computer lab playing Dungeon campaign (in 1978). LOL. It worked out well. Playing this game inspired me to know and understand the inner working of the Apple II+ computer. My Dad purchased one in 1981 and I learned to program it. I still program as a hobby but ultimately I ended up in IT as a PC/Mac consultant to executives. I help them sort out all their IT issues and teach them the best way to use technology in their everyday busy lives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually I was playing in 1979 not 1978. not that it matters. lol

      Delete
    2. It's a little heartwarming to know that 36-year-old games can still delight modern teenagers. If she has that reaction to the spectre in Dungeon Campaign, she should really enjoy Dungeons of Daggorath (1982).

      Delete
  21. That dragon in the intro image is clearly en route to burninating some thatched-roof cottages.

    ReplyDelete
  22. That dragon in the intro image is clearly en route to burninating some thatched-roof cottages.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) THIS ALSO INCLUDES USER NAMES THAT LINK TO ADVERTISING.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

NOTE: Spam has gotten so bad lately that I've had to turn on comment moderation for posts older than 10 days. I apologize if it takes a little while for your comment to appear.