Sunday, June 1, 2014

Game 146: Gateway to Apshai (1983)

As commenters pointed out, the game manages to misspell its own name on the title screen!

Gateway to Apshai
Connelly Group (developer), Epyx (publisher)
Released 1983 for Commodore 64, Atari 8-Bit, 1984 for ColecoVision
Date Started: 23 May 2014
Date Ended: 24 May 2014
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 10
Ranking at Time of Posting: 4/143 (3%)

What a disappointment. I had been looking forward to Gateway to Apshai--the last of the long and noble Dunjonquest lineage--for a while. I thought it would improve upon the experiences we saw in Temple of Apshai (1979) and Hellfire Warrior (1980), but instead it's a dumbed-down bastardization, an arcade game with RPG aspirations rather than a true RPG. It only uses the Apshai name.

Temple of Apshai, as you may recall from my review, is the first commercial role-playing game that we can definitively call an RPG. It had a full set of statistics, equipment, and evocative and detailed descriptions for its dungeon's many rooms. It was also the first RPG series, and the first RPG ported to a variety of platforms. There are 13 games in the Dunjonquest series, divided into several sub-series; my post on Hellfire Warrior catalogs them in detail.

A typical Gateway screen. I've explored several rooms in the area, and some arrows, an amulet, and a chest wait for me to pick them up. I have the joystick button set to "fight," and I'm currently trying to deal with a rabid rat. I've amassed a score of 6,560 in treasure, I'm on Level 5, and I have about 6 minutes left on the level.

The framing story has Gateway serve as a prequel to the Temple of Apshai by recounting a warrior's discovery of the path, through a series of dangerous caves, to the titular Temple. Reading the manual, I was struck by how weak the production values were compared to Epyx's previous games; there were only a couple of amateur illustrations and a page-and-a-half backstory in a five-page manual--this from a company famous for detailed illustrations, exhaustive documentation, well-written narratives, and treatises on role-playing. In any event, the framing story is just that. Nothing during the game suggests anything about the story, nor even any sense that you're in a world called "Apshai."

This might be forgivable if the gameplay was any good, but it's not. The C64 had a full keyboard, of course, as did the Atari 8-bit series, but many developers of the era seemed to feel that it was a console, good primarily for its joystick. The game uses only the joystick and three function keys, one to cycle through the available inventory, one to cycle through available commands (instead of doing something sensible like mapping each command to a key), and one to enter combat mode and cycle through modes of combat. Any of the cycling related to equipment, commands, or combat is executed with the "fire" key on the joystick. I'm using an emulated joystick (the number pad on my keyboard), but I'm having trouble envisioning how this worked. The player would have had to use the joystick one-handed while the other hand hit the F-keys (which were, admittedly, conveniently grouped on the right-hand side of the keyboard). If you're going to make the player use the keyboard at all, why not give him a fully-mapped set of keys?

Stuck between a goblin and a ghoul.
 
Every player starts with the same nameless character with 3 points in agility, luck, and strength; 9 points in health; and 5 lives. You begin on Level 1 of the dungeon, with all but the starting area concealed in the fog of war. Room by room, you reveal the corridors and chambers, fighting monsters, picking up treasure and new equipment, and avoiding traps. The moment a level begins, you have a counter that starts at 99 and works its way down to 0. When it hits 0, you're automatically transported to the next level. The counter goes at a rate of about 1 for every 4 seconds, so practically speaking you have about 6-7 minutes on each level. There is no save mechanism.

The nominal goal of the game is to reach Level 8, but this isn't really any kind of achievement, given that you can manually transition levels any time you want, without waiting for the counter to hit 0. When you reach Level 8, there's no kind of congratulatory message. The game doesn't end; rather, if you successfully time out the level, you just return to Level 8 again, repeatedly, until your 5 lives finally run out. The real goal, therefore, is to amass as many points as possible and impress your friends. 1980s game players, judging by many game manuals of the era, had easily-impressible friends.

No true RPG ever says "game over" at the end of the game.

At the beginning of the game, and when you transition between levels, the game asks you to pick what dungeon you want from a selection of 1-16. The game manual boasts that each dungeon level has about 60 rooms, for a total of "over 7,500 different rooms for you to explore." "Explore" in this case means walk in to a featureless rectangle, pick up any treasure, kill any monsters. There are no room descriptions, textures, names or anything to differentiate them--nothing, in short, that made the previous Dunjonquest titles so memorable.

The combat is entirely action-based. Until you find a bow and arrows or magic arrows, you just have a melee weapon, and fighting consists of hitting the trigger repeatedly to wave it in the vague direction of your foe. Different enemies move at different speeds, so it's possible to do a kind of fighting retreat with some of them, hitting them but turning and running before they can touch you. Beyond that, the only "tactic" is to exploit the poor pathfinding to get an enemy hung up on a wall or corner, allowing you free hits while he struggles to get loose.

What passes for "combat tactics" in Gateway to Apshai.

I toyed with dismissing the game as an RPG entirely, but it technically meets my three categories. Although the combat is solely action-based, damage does draw from the underlying strength, agility, and luck statistics. These statistics are improvable throughout the game; if you time out a level (rather than manually moving to the next one), the game will give you an attribute bump if you amassed enough points while you were there. You can also find special equipment like "strength stones" and "agility amulets" to give an attribute boost.

A reward between levels.

My third core RPG category is equipment, and Gateway does a reasonable job here for a game of such limited aspirations. You start with a dagger and leather armor, but you can find weapon and armor upgrades, shields, helms, amulets, gauntlets, spells, potions, salves, magic maps, and other items throughout your explorations, using them whenever you think it's best. Many of the items are trapped, doing damage, freezing you, or teleporting you to another part of the level when you pick them up.

My weapons and armor late in the game. This character never did find an upgrade to his starting leather armor.

There are a few game mechanics that draw inspiration from RPGs but are rendered in their most primitive form here. The commands that you cycle through with the F5 key include unlocking a door, searching for a trap, searching for secret doors, checking supplies, checking status, and going to the next level. But unlocking doors, searching for traps, and finding secret doors works 100% of the time, so it simply slows down gameplay to bother with the options in the first place. Why not just have doors open the moment you walk up to them, instead of forcing the player to hit F5 until "Keys" pops up, then hit the joystick button?

Woo-hoo! I've made it to Level 8! I wonder if there's a secret door around here somewhere.

At best, the game is an action RPG, but one that isn't very fun. It seems primitive even for 1983, and the Apshai label seems like a cynical attempt to cash in on a famous name. Aside from the brief framing story in the manual--which could have been written to fit the game into any franchise--there is no thematic connection to the rest of the series.

In a GIMLET, I give it:

  • 1 point for the framing story, which has no impact on the game itself
  • 1 point for the limited character development process; there is otherwise no customization. You can't even pick a name.
A mid-game character, after finding some attribute boosts.
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 1 point for encounters with a typical variety of monsters (ghouls, theives, wizards, giants, etc.). They do have different speeds and power levels, but otherwise no variance in how you fight them.
  • 1 point for the all action-based magic and combat.
Headshot!
  • 2 points for equipment, perhaps the best part of the game. Some of the items you pick up have very subtle effects; for instance, a cross causes your sword to do double damage to undead creatures.
  • 1 point for economy. The only thing you can do with gold is amass it, but it's there.
  • 0 points for quests. Despite the manual's insistence, in gameplay terms, there is no main quest.
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and inputs. Graphics and sound are not horrible for the era, but they make no real aspirations. The joystick movement works all right, but the whole approach using the function keys was silly. Either you allow the player to sit back from the keyboard, relax, and just use the controller, or you give him a full array of keys to use. If the player must use the keyboard, it's silly to limit the controls to three keys.
  • 2 points for gameplay. You could argue that the difficultly is about right, the pace is brisk enough, and it's technically "replayable."

This gives a final score of 10, one of the lowest I've ever given.

The cover art has nothing to do with the game. I didn't even encounter any insect-based enemy.

I've only found one contemporary review, from A.N.A.L.O.G. in 1984. The reviewer is unabashedly positive about the game, concluding that "if you're interested in D&D games or enjoyed the original Temple, then I heartily recommend Gateway to Apshai," both clauses of which should have gotten the reviewer banned from ever reviewing another game. In more modern times, Vesuvius ("The RPG & Strategy Gamer") played it briefly before concluding that it wasn't an RPG and recommending "don't bother." Perhaps most telling, unlike just about every other barely-adequate RPG experience from the early 1980s, no one is currently trying to remake this one.


Gateway to Apshai  was developed by The Connelly Group, owned by Epyx co-founder Jim Connelly, who left the company about the time this game would have been in development. From what I've read, Epyx's other co-founder, Jon Freeman (who had also left by this point), was the mind behind the Dunjonquest series. His lack of involvement in this one definitely shows. This appears to be The Connelly Group's only attempt at an RPG, and it's one of the last RPGs that Epyx ever published, the only exceptions being the compiled Temple of Apshai Trilogy in 1985 and The Legend of Blacksilver in 1988.

Well, at least it didn't take very long. On to Dragonflight!

86 comments:

  1. It's funny, isn't it? From the very dawn of computer games on the Apple ][ itself and the original IBM PC, it took but a few short years for game makers to start cranking out worthless crap.

    I was also frustrated back then by "joystick uber alles". I'm sure it was due to the Atari 2600. If it didn't use a joystick, then it must not be a video game. There were so many keys on the keyboard...also by using that, the game makers could enable more players to play, even those without joysticks. But no, game = joystick, therefore every game needed to use one. Don't forget back then, peripherals weren't exactly available for $3 from Best Buy. They cost a chunk of change. Don't even get me started on the horrid IBM/PC joystick. The thing was positively user-hostile.

    I wouldn't bash them for the high score thing though. High scores really meant something, back then. It was an objective measure of how good you were at a game.

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    1. I remember me and my colleagues were playing Tetris for higher and higher and higher scores.

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    2. "I was also frustrated back then by "joystick uber alles". I'm sure it was due to the Atari 2600."

      Maybe. But I wonder, have you ever used a Commodore 64 keyboard for playing games? It works fine with slower-paced games like turn-based RPGs. I think it's kind of a clunky nightmare for action games (and that's what Gateway is).

      Chet mentioned needing to use the joysticks one-handed and swapping functions with a key on the keyboard. I think it is worth mentioning that many joysticks of that era came with suction cups on the bottom, which would have made such a maneuver more possible.

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    3. Meh, I always figured the joystick preference was due to the lack of separate keyboards in a majority of home computers. CRT monitors were not good for sitting up close, and it's tough to balance a home micro on your lap due to all the leads (you also tend to damage the connectors and they heat up quicker than a dodgy viao laptop).

      More importantly - lots of customers could not type. The keyboard was far slower than the joystick for untrained users ('quick' keys have the reverse effect as someone hunts down the right button), so developers opted for the method that allowed for the widest appeal (see Wii).

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    5. "I wouldn't bash them for the high score thing though. High scores really meant something, back then. It was an objective measure of how good you were at a game." Sure, most games. That was never really a dynamic in RPGs, which is what Apshai should have been.

      Vic, I'd happy to go with your theory except that Apshai requires both the keyboard and the joystick, so the player would still have to be hunched up next to the keyboard. My thesis remains that if you're going to force the player to use the keyboard at all, at least give him a decent key layout.

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    6. The use of the joystick was probably due to most early keyboards (even proper ones like the C-64's as opposed to the inexplicably popular (among manufacturers) chiclet or membrane types) were not particularly comfortable to use (thanks to having the entire computer shoved in them in most cases, they were very high off the desk and oddly angled), and for most machines there wasn't really an intuitive "direction key" setup in the way that the now-familiar arrow keys or numpad provide. The joystick was simply a much more obvious way of moving around, even if the lone button (oddly, the C-64, at least, was not limited to one-button sticks, even though there were no official multiple-independent-button devices released. If you plugged a Sega Genesis controller (which used the same generic plug) the three buttons would act independently. I had some cartridge games that used this back in the day.) meant that the keyboard remained required for even a streamlined interface, let alone the absurdly overcomplicated one common in RPGs at the time.

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    7. "the C-64, at least, was not limited to one-button sticks, even though there were no official multiple-independent-button devices released. If you plugged a Sega Genesis controller (which used the same generic plug) the three buttons would act independently."

      Yikes, be very careful about that -- because of voltage issues, you can blow out a chip on the C64 motherboard by plugging in an unmodified Genesis controller. The same applies to several other computers as well. I think Master System controllers are OK, though.

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    8. I used one occasionally for years without ill effects (some of my game cartridges wouldn't work with any other controller), although my 64 was the later "C" model (with the sleeker, more modern design style used in the ill-fated Commodore 128.) This may well have made a difference. In a similar fashion, all of my one-button controllers were Atari models. I've never actually seen a Commodore joystick in the flesh.

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    9. I wonder if the developer preference for joystick controls came at least in part from hardware or OS limitations. For most applications, the important data that a keyboard sends to the OS is whether/when a key changes state. A program can happily ignore a keyboard until a key is pressed (or let go), at which point the program can respond accordingly.

      Action games aren't coded this way though (I think even in 1983). The game loops repeatedly as fast as the computer can run the loop and once each loop, the program looks at the state of the keyboard and checks which keys are down. A single keypress can last longer than several iteration of the game loop however, so one press of a key is typically registered several times. There are easy and effective ways of dealing with this in modern languages, but I imagine it would have been much harder before the advent of object oriented programming and hardware abstraction.

      Joysticks, on the other hand, are designed for game input. They operate on a distance-from-center principle (I think) and the data they send is analog. I imagine this would have been much easier to deal with in a continuously looping/polling program.

      As others have mentioned, a lot of early joysticks came with suction cups on the bottom and I recall a number of action games that required using the joystick for things like moving/selecting/firing (right hand) and the keyboard for things like pausing and menu commands (left hand).

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    10. Nearly all of the joysticks of the era were purely digital in nature. Cheaper ones used metal contacts, while the more expensive ones used microswitches for more precise response and greater durability. Essentially, the only difference between an NES controller and a computer joystick is that the latter had a long handle instead of a crosspad, while the former had 3 more buttons.

      There's a pretty good overview here.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbQajuuX6mM

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    11. Noman. I didn't realize that. I wonder what the point of a joystick is then, if it can't provide more accurate input than the keyboard. Just looks, I suppose.

      Although, I wonder what the Interrupt Request Levels for joysticks and keyboards were like on the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit. Perhaps the joystick had a higher priority so input from that device would be processed with less lag? This wouldn't be noticeable using a modern emulator, but on one of the original machines running software that taxed the system resources, the lag from the keyboard could have been significant.

      I specifically remember Gauntlet and Times of Lore on the Apple IIe being very laggy - and both of those games supported or required a joystick.

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    12. As a note, apparently the original Atari joystick also worked with the C64.

      Also: The reason mechanical keyboards are not common is they are much, much more expensive to manufacture.

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  2. I wouldn't necessarily criticize the game for its simplicity. It was designed for cartridges, which is why it got a port to the ColecoVision. It was obviously not a bad plan, but the capacities of the time didn't allow for what would be so successfully implemented just a few years later on consoles like the NES and SMS in terms of complexity.

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    1. I criticize it for its simplicity because it evokes the Apshai title. If Epyx wanted to release a cartridge game with the barest of RPG elements and no thematic connection to earlier games, they shouldn't have pimped out the Apshai name.

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  3. I don't know anything about Dragonflight, but I noticed it's made by the company who did the Amber (Star/Moon) games and (some of them anyway) Albion.

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    1. I'm really curious on Dragonflight, since I played all its successors - Amberstar very often.

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    2. I never got far in Albion, I think only to the second village, where if my memory serves, had a bunch of humans. After that I lost interest, but I should give it another try.

      I was still quite young when it came out and I remember being embarrassed to find there is a cut-scene with a topless female alien. Forget where that occurs though. I sure hope that isn't a false memory or I'll be really disturbed with myself.

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    3. It's not a false memory:
      https://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/albion/screenshots/gameShotId,314875/

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    4. Yeah, but it's like looking at two dogs fu... I mean, mating.

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    5. I had a go at Dragonflight a few months ago by randomly browsing through my (emulated) Amiga collection. I found it rather promising, but then got terribly annoyed at the fights. Soo slow and boring!

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    6. That was exactly my experience when I tried my hand at Ambermoon a couple of years back.
      This as especially surprising to me, as its predecessor Amberstar is/was one of my alltime favourite RPGs!
      The patience I had as a kid...

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    7. Yes, the battles in Dragonflight start slow.
      But the characters will gain multiple actions with experience, and the combat becomes a lot more interesting when you're trying to move your characters so that they don't get in each others way (or end up attacking each other). While simultaneously trying to predict where the enemies will move and how many attacks it'll take to down them..

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    8. The slow fights were a problem of the game engine - until Albion, which allowed to speed up fights a lot.
      I engined my party around that by using the quickest fighters I could get. Helped a lot to kill enemies before they could execute their slow attack animation.

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  4. Dragonflight? I'd recommend WINUAE for that one.

    Here's a summary:
    DOS version: Poor graphics and music, only released in Germany.
    Amiga: Better graphics, excellent music (by the legendary Jochen Hippel), and it's in English, though it's not especially good translation. And the constant disc swapping might get annoying after a while.

    Overall, I'd say that the Amiga version is superior.

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    1. Aesthetics aside, there seems to be a showstopper bug in the DOS version: You can't teleport in situations you're supposed to. (Source: http://home.wtal.de/gmb/Tests/dflight.htm, browser search for "it was never fixed"). So should there be an English DOS version after all, better avoid it.

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    2. I'm playing the Atari ST version.

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  5. "No true RPG ever says "game over" at the end of the game."

    Every JRPG player knows that true RPGs say "Fin" in swirly calligraphy at the end of the game, which is, of course, totally different. :)

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  6. Yes, I was suspicious at the time about a game that claimed to have more adventure than the original Apshai series but which came on a 16K cartridge. Fortunately, the local computer store where I lived at the time rented games and so I was able to be horribly disappointed without shelling out several months worth of allowance money on this thing.

    Scoring it 10 is generous.

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  7. I bought this game on cartridge for my Atari 400. I remember being impressed that it featured 7,500 rooms.

    Needless to say, I was soon very disappointed with the game - $50 down the drain..

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    1. That was quite a bit of money for 1983. When you consider improvements in content, computer games really have gotten extraordinarily cheap.

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    2. The thing about this pricing is due to the infantile state of the industry.

      Programming: Hardware and development software were horribly expensive back then. It was not that cheap to produce a game during those times and there were no courses or "For Dummy" books during then to teach you how to code. It was not an easy task to price your own man-hour cost, especially when your forte is more on engineering and not economics.
      Manufacturing: As before, hardware is expensive. Printing manuals ain't cheap and usually costs more than the floppy discs which the game comes in. The boxes? Even more horrible! Ziploc bags were more widely used during those early times to reduce packing costs.
      Logistics: Distribution channels in the pre-smartphone era... what a goddamn nightmare. How do you get stores to stock your game? You scour through your Yellow Pages, check in Bulletin Boards, scroll every computer magazine available and cold-call those mofos. If you get lost during delivery (which will be quite often since there's no GPS and them stores you're visiting are in places you have probably never even heard of), you will have to find the nearest phone booth and call them to confirm the route. If they're nasty, you can jolly well drive back to where you came from and start crying into your comfort blankie.

      Technology does reduce the cost of many things: labor, space, materials and (most of all) time.

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    3. All you say may be true, but I still strongly suspect the ratio between production costs and retail price has significantly increased, rather than decreased, despite all of these potential savings. I suspect developers make it up in volume.

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    4. Yeah. Which is what I forgot to write in earlier about logistics. Thousands of (laughable) units versus the millions of digital copies nowadays?

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    5. This is a question I'd be interested to know the answer to. My gut feeling is the production costs (at least) for top tier games have increased significantly. If I recall correctly, Richard Garriott wrote Ultima 4 in about a year, more or less by himself, in his apartment, on a computer he already owned. He didn't pay himself anything, since he was writing for royalties. By Ultima 6 and 7, he was working with a small team of producers, programmers, and artists who all had to be paid. Modern games have scores, voice acting, a writing team, a production team, an art team, a programming team, a QA team, etc... All of these people need computers to work on, space to work in, and wages over the course of several years. This is true even for games like Wasteland 2, which will eventually sell for just $30.

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60 1983 dollars are worth 143 2014 dollars. This means selling Wasteland 2 for $30 would have been like selling a 1983 game for $12!

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    6. That means that I'd be broke if I bought one game per day in 1983 (which is true)!

      And yet, today, I have hundreds of UNPLAYED games just sitting in my Steam account and still living comfortably. Technology rocks. XD

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    7. I've heard multiple industry people comment that with each technology generation production costs have gone up by an order of magnitude, roughly tied to console generations; I don't know how far back this goes, but games currently cost in the 100s of millions to make, involve dozens of artists, hiring voice actors, a symphony, etc.
      Heck, getting Liam Neeson, Mark Hamill or Patrick Stewart to do 10 minutes of dialog probably costs more then most early games.

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  8. Curiously, this game refuses to work on my Atari 800XL, I just get a bunch of graphical garbage. The game works on my Atari emulator when set to 'Atari 800' mode. It may be one of the games programmed for the 400/800 that doesn't work on the newer 600/800XL computers.

    Back in 1983 you would get a floppy disk with your Atari 1050 drive that would boot your 600/800XL into a 'legacy' mode to deal with this problem, butiIf there's a disk image of that floppy, then I haven't found it yet. Not really a big deal.

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  9. I guess you can see the lower quality of this game by it not even being able to spell its own name right on the title screen.

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    1. Wow, that really is a terrible mistake.

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    2. I'm sad that I failed to catch that. I too can become an Epyx programmer.

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    3. Unless that REALLY is the name of the game and has nothing to do with the Apshai franchise at all, thus answering the question of the huge disparity of quality between this and the others.

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    4. Wow. I can't believe I didn't notice that. I might support Kenny's theory, but the box art and manual have everything spelled right. Unbelievable.

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  10. Ralph The AvatarJune 1, 2014 at 9:52 PM

    Actually, Epyx would have another RPG after GTA...Rogue which they would release in 1985 for a variety of platforms. Now granted, Rogue isn't an Epyx intellectual property, but it is an RPG :)

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    1. They didn't do any better on that, unfortunately. I was studying the Epyx version of Rogue to try to figure out why it was so impossible. All my battle simulations predicted vastly higher survivability for my characters. Turns out they forgot to initialize the "paralyzed" status flag to False at the start of the game.

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    2. Mastertronic released 'Rogue' for the Spectrum too. Of course they didn't bother to randomise the levels.... On the plus side, it was only £3..

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    3. Fair enough. I was mixing up development dates with the Epyx release date on that one.

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    4. Legend of Blacksilver would be the last RPG published by Epyx in 1988

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  11. Sad that this game wasn't better, but since LOTR was better than we all expected, let's call it even. :)

    Not sure about FallThru-- a CRPG text adventure? haven't had one of those since Beyond Zork, I think-- but King's Bounty is supposedly "Heroes of Might and Magic 0". Not sure it is a CRPG, but I look forward to finding out through you!

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    1. I've been waiting so long for FallThru to come up. It's one of my childhood favorites. I was never able to beat it, and I'm very curious to see how Chester does with it or if anybody likes it as much as I did.

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    2. Seeing that "King's Bounty" also has its own franchise now (http://www.kingsbountygame.com/), I think "Heroes of Might and Magic" is more of a spiritual successor than being "Heroes of Might and Magic 0".

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    3. Yeah, King's Bounty is King's Bounty. I don't like that kind of hindsight that titles games wrongly just because the modern mind finds it amusing. KB was a boardgame as well, I have it sitting over in the corner. It doesn't play at all like KB the computer game.

      http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1785/kings-bounty

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    4. King's bounty was packaged with some HoMM compendiums. It's about as much HoMM 0 as Wasteland is Fallout 0.

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    5. I don't think KB is justifiable as a CRPG. I still want to play it for its MM heritage.

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    6. I'm glad you agree, but I'm also glad you'll be playing through and hopefully commenting on it. I'm cutting out the console version from my main list.

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    7. @Tristan - That's why we have "Wasteland 2" coming up instead of "Fallout: New Vegas 2: Desert Rangers".

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    8. I've played King's Bounty because I found it on one of my HOMM disks. The modern King's Bounty games came out decades after the originals, in the rash of modern reboots of series. For example, the modern Bard's Tale doesn't have much (anything) to do with the original.

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    9. The modern KB feels like a modern KB should, despite being developed by a completely new team.

      The 2004 BT feels nothing like 1985 BT, despite Fargo's involvement in both games (because he owned zero of the copyrightable material beyond the name).

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  12. I remember that there is only 1 button on joysticks back then.

    If this game requires 3 buttons, of course they would have to use the keyboard for the remaining ones.

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    1. Yeah, it's not unusual for action games on the C64 to use the joystick and keyboard, because of that. Even with suction cups though, it didn't work to well.

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    2. I still don't think anyone understood my keyboard comments. I have no problem with the game using the joystick AND the keyboard. My problem is that if the game was going to use the keyboard at all, it was silly to use it for only three keys, each of which awkwardly cycles through a list of commands, rather than fully mapping it for all the commands. If the developers only needed a couple extra keys for two more "fire" buttons, that would have been fine. But they really needed like 12 additional keys and for some reason chose to cram them into just 3.

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  13. "[...] On to Dragonflight!"

    Great :-). Hopefully you'll enjoy it. I'll follow your progress constantly.

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  14. A Note for Mr. Addict:

    Trickster's blog, which I know has a lot of overlap in readership with this one, will be doing Quest for Glory 2 in a few weeks as he works through 1990-- two games away.

    Would you consider slotting in QfG after Balrogs? Or perhaps even earlier? I think it would be great fun to see both of you playing it around the same time and comparing observations. Since Trickster's path involves far fewer games than yours, this would be the last time that we could have an eclipse of both of you playing a game at roughly the same time.

    It would be lots of fun!

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    1. Yes, I have no problem going out of order for that reason. I'll try to keep an eye on when he starts. I have no idea how quickly (or not) I'll make progress through the next few games, so I'm not going to try to fit it into the list just yet, but I'll try to start when he does.

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    2. That is fantastic! Thank you!

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    3. Woot! I wonder who those guys are...

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    4. Quest for Glory II is my absolutely favorite game of all time, period. I can't wait to see it on both blogs, though I'm still reading through the archives of The Adventurer Gamer.

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    5. Wow, that's a heck of a superlative. I look forward to playing it again. To the best of my recollection, I only played it once, in the late 1990s.

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  15. I remember having this game on my C-64. I wasted many, many, many hours playing it...it's definitely not a true CRPG, so I can understand the low rating here. But to a young kid who loved button-mashing and FRPGs at once it was pretty darned cool.

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  16. I'm a little sad that this game wasn't better received. I suppose compared to other CRPGs of the era, it doesn't hold a candle. In retrospect, I can understand that.

    But, in the era it was released, games were hard to come by. The computer industry wasn't as large as it is now, and very few households had a computer. This game was easy to find, unlike some of the other games you're comparing it to.

    For some of us, this was the first CRPG we ever played. Sure, it's simple, like the ATARI 2600 game "Adventure" was simple, but it's still a classic.

    I don't find your score harsh, it's just realistic. But, unless you played the hell out of it when it came out, you probably won't understand why some people love it. I still dust it off once in a while and play it. It's got a lot of charm.

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    1. Fortunately, that's what comments like this are good for. There's no way I can reproduce the feeling of playing a game like this for the first time in 1983, but I'm always glad to hear from people who did.

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    2. According to the Wiki page, there were several other magazines that thought it was the bee's knees.

      I also wonder if this isn't the first example of a computer version getting hobbled for the sake of the console version. The ColecoVision joystick had two buttons and a keypad which would make it a bit easier to reach. If the people doing the ports to the computers didn't feel like changing that they'd just select three extra keys and leave it at that.

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    3. I just played this game for the first time on a Flashback Colecovision, and it's probably my favorite game on it. It sounds like some of the joystick issues were handled a bit better on this system since it has the number keypad, which is nice to see it took full advantage of unlike many Colecovision games. I think I like it mostly because it reminds me a lot of ROGUE which I've played many mindless hours of on DOS. It also doesn't end on level 8 (at least I don't think so) which gives this version a little more replay value. In someways I find simple RPGs like this more replayable than ones with lots of story to absorb, I love a good story but usually when I'm done with it I'm done with it unless it was really really good.

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  17. I just realized: "Gateway" will not be the only disappointing cRPG sequel in 1983. You should be playing "Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash" very soon! I wonder if it will do better than this one...

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    1. If it was just "Escape from Mt. Drash" I don't think it would be seen as too awful, but tacking the Ultima name to it means a certain level of expectation that the game is simply not going to meet.

      The YouTube footage makes it look like a game a VIC-20 owner would have fun playing given the system's extreme limitations.

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    2. Sounds frickn' controversial.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima:_Escape_from_Mt._Drash#History
      It's funny that the game is about ESCAPING from a mountain, only to have the game itself being DUMPED into a mountain.

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    3. I'm not sure Escape from Mt. Drash will meet the requirements for an RPG. I don't think there're any quests, dialog, or role playing opportunities. There's no character creation, inventory, or economy either. It's just a maze game, really.

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    4. And yet still able to get the name of Ultima slapped on it? That's aMAZEing!

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    5. If I recall, it was made by one of Garriott's friends who somehow convinced Garriott to let him cash in on the Ultima brand.

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  18. I loved this game as a kid but was quickly disappointed at the looping non-ending. Plus there was a very odd dungeon on level 4 or 5 where you started in a room with a door too tiny to squeeze through! And AFAIK, it was too early in the game to have a teleport spell. Using a map scroll revealed that it was not even connected to the rest of the level. It seemed like a cruel joke on the player.

    FYI there exists some sort of PC application that reverse engineered Apshai. An interesting exploration for sure, shows how all the monster stats and HP are calculated.

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  19. I had this on the Commodore 64. It's not on my all time top 10, but it wasn't as bad as all that. At the time I considered it to be at least an average game in my collection. I've played far worse.

    It was good for light entertainment - a game you could finish in half an hour - and I don't think it was ever pitched as being more than that.

    The fact that it was a cartridge game and played with a joystick should have been a giveaway that you weren't in for an Ultima IV type of experience.

    Like I said on the Intellivision AD&D review, which also didn't review well. It's apples and oranges. It would be easier to compare this game to Pitfall than to Wizardry, and it compares fine with the console games and other action games which were coming out at the time.

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    1. Paul, from your comments, I get the sense that you don't fully understand the purpose of my blog. It's not to play, review, and rate games as GAMES; it's to play, review, and rate games as RPGs. If I think a game is bad as an RPG, knowing it's superior to Pitfall doesn't really do anything for me.

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  20. Ha, i've been looking for this game for the longest time, but couldn't remember the name until i finally lucked out with a Google trail. Yeah it wasn't that great. It was my only (alleged) RPG experience as i didn't have many cartridges for my Atari 600XL. The control layout and gameplay where frustrating. I remember i never got past a PRIEST (all caps on the display) on one level. It would run straight at me as fast as possible while i'm still trying to figure out which button to press. The fog of war aspect made it creepy as the PRIEST would just jump out of nowhere. Kind of funny now.

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  21. I won't argue with all the criticisms given here, but as an 8-year-old in 1985, I thought Gateway to Apshai was the coolest thing ever. When we later picked up Temple, I was sorely disappointed in the turn-based combat system and general slowness. Now, in 2015, I just picked up $100 worth of new games on a Steam sale, and I haven't played any of them yet because I got an emulator and downloaded GtA. The heart-racing fear of opening a room and finding a mamba snake has never left me. Nostalgia, I suppose.

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