Thursday, August 14, 2014

Super Quest: Won!* (with Final Rating)

Not enough games make me a prince, but here's the second one in a row.

Super Quest
Jeff Hurlburt (developer), SoftSide magazine (publisher)
Released 1983 for Apple II, updated as late as 2000 with bug fixes
Date Started: 11 August 2014
Date Ended: 13 August 2014
Total Hours: 8 (but cheated)
Difficulty: Hard (4/5) (applies to non-cheating only)
Final Rating: 21
Ranking at Time of Posting: 41/158 (26%)

Super Quest exceeds the difficulty and length of a roguelike with far less interesting content. The game takes place in a huge dungeon in which you never find more than 13 monster types or hit more than four keys on the keyboard. The entire game is one long grind-fest as you make enough money to buy strength potions to carry more equipment to spend more time in the dungeon to make more money. Given all of this, it really says something that for the last couple of days, I've preferred it to Captive.

I won by cheating, first with emulator save states, second by looking at Kipley Fiebig's maps and walkthrough, and third by abusing both in conjunction with the magic lamp, until it teleported me close to the endgame. Even with this, it took me eight hours to develop my character to the heroic level necessary to survive the final rooms. I could imagine this being a year-long game in its original version with the intended level of difficulty.

Permadeath has a lot to do with the difficulty, but it still would be a very survivable game except for the real-time aspect. In my first post, I compared it to Penn & Teller's Desert Bus, an infamous prank game in which you have to drive from Tuscon to Las Vegas in real time (about 8 hours) with no ability to pause. Moreover, since the bus constantly pulls to the right, the player has to constantly keep his hands on the keyboard. Super Quest has slightly more interesting content, but the need for constant attention is the same. Between visits to the bazaar or hospices, you can't look away for more than a second because a random monster will show up and kill you.

Gideon is finally strong enough to take on some dragons.

What makes this particularly insidious is that mapping is such an important part of the game, especially in the early game, when you're struggling to stay alive, collect treasure, and minimize your expenditure of arrows. A successful player would have to make maps, and yet taking time to draw or write exposes you to danger. I suspect players of the era burned a lot of dummy characters just establishing the area around the bazaar, at least. In a 2011 article, Shawn Delahunty says that he thinks the game was "meant to be 'pair-played'" for this reason. I wouldn't quite say that it was meant to be played that way, but it sure would help, especially with restroom breaks.

I used Mr. Fiebig's maps, of course, but as I did so, I began to see something that distinguishes Super Quest from most other CRPGs: the map itself as a strategy and tactic. Since the type and number of monsters, and the quantity of treasure, remains the same from session to session, a player can use a map to identify optimal routes through the dungeon, maximizing the accumulation of treasure, avoiding rooms with enemies that just waste a lot of quarrels, and planning return trips through passages that have already been cleared or that take advantage of whatever resources the player has remaining (e.g., avoiding "afreets" if out of tana powder). But remember, the real-time aspect and the appearance of random monsters make it dangerous to remove your attention for even a few seconds. Even consulting the map can take long enough that it results in character death. A beleaguered character has to plan his escape route while under constant attack.

The extremely long path through Section 3 is not something I would have enjoyed mapping for myself.

The shapes of the rooms also offer some opportunities for tactics. Entering a room from the east or west offers more distance between you and the monsters than entering from the north or south, giving you more time to fire quarrels before the monsters close the gap. You also have to carefully navigate some rooms with obstacles. Since monsters can move diagonally through gaps and you can't, an obstacle in an unfortunate position can allow a monster to get into melee range before you have a chance to fire a quarrel.
Collecting treasure in a barrier room. Any creature that appears now will be able to get very close before I can shoot him.
As I played, I found that melee combat is a losing proposition for any character. Even when you're at a high level, armored with dragon plate, and facing the weakest enemies, enemies in melee range routinely sap 10% of your health per second. It was not uncommon for some low-level mook like a vampire to kill me while I ineffectually mashed the "F" key. Success in the game almost always means killing enemies at a range, with iron quarrels, magic quarrels, or tana powder. Firing quarrels use the < and > keys, two keys on which I'm not used to having my hands. I suffered more than one death because I was offset by one key, furiously hitting "M"  or "/."

Surviving at the beginning is very difficult. Your strength determines the number of quarrels you can carry, so you might only be able to hit four or five rooms before you have to head back to the bazaar to heal, save, and restock. Getting enough money for that first strength potion took several hours. After that, with the ability to carry more quarrels, expeditions started to last a bit longer, and soon I was accumulating thousands of gold pieces in less than an hour. As you kill enemies, your "experience" increases, which very subtly and slowly affects accuracy and damage in combat. Once I hit about 10,000 experience, enemies that took four or five shots at the beginning were taking three or four shots. Meanwhile, increased strength not only boosts combat prowess and carrying ability but also slows down the rate that you lose health.
Higher strength leads to longer, more lucrative expeditions.
A major milestone came when I had killed 30 dragons and got the "dragon fire" armor. Each dragon slain gives you two dragon ears, and 60 dragon ears awards you with the armor automatically the next time you enter the bazaar. I didn't notice that the armor did much against regular enemies, but it sure helped against the dragons' fireball attacks (the only ranged attacks from monsters in the game). Since the endgame area has multiple dragons and "rogue dragons" (much tougher dragons), the armor was vital.
Gideon has just gotten his "dragon fire armor," which replaces the "dragon ears" statistic.
The "puzzle rooms" turned out to be nothing special--just rooms with multiple enemies that wouldn't let me leave until I'd opened their treasure chests. There were only a couple of "trap rooms," too--rooms where one exit was closed off once the treasure was taken. More interesting were the occasional random rooms, where the entrances and exits changed every time I entered, sometimes opening new passages to corridors I'd already explored.

Once I had about 15,000 experience, 142 strength, the dragon fire armor, and plenty of quarrels, healing elixirs, and tana powder, I decided I was ready for the endgame. It turns out that the third "section" of the game is an extremely long, winding series of hallways and rooms that takes a long time to navigate. Scattered hospices offer respite and equipment (though at double the price of the bazaar), but even with them, it was tough to keep stocked for the entire journey.

Finally, while exploring random rooms to accumulate treasure, I found the magic lamp, an artifact that teleports you to a random room in a random section. I had found it once before, but I didn't realize that when you save the game, the lamp disappears, so I never got a chance to use it. Finding it the second time, I decided to win the cheesy way. I made a save state and rubbed the lamp. Finding myself in a random part of Section 3, I reloaded and rubbed it again, repeating until I was teleported to a room fairly close to the endgame.

The game is odd in that sections don't have monsters of increasing difficulty. There are plenty of rooms in Section 4 that have 1 goblin or 2 mummies, just like Section 1. But the room containing the crown itself has 3 rogue dragons, preceded by a room with 1 rogue dragon, so it's not like an early-game character could get lucky with the lamp and find himself teleported directly to the endgame. You still have to grind. But at my level, I didn't find them very difficult.

Entering the final room. The + in the center is the Mega-Crown.

When the three rogue dragons were dead, I walked up to the Mega-Crown and got the end-game message:

Gideon, your quest to recover the Mega-Crown is completed!! The balance of technology and magic is restored for yet another cycle. The power of the crown whisks you from the dread maze to the palace of the Emperor. Here the legendary Wumpus of Kim invests you into the Fraternity of Technology and Magic, presenting you with a wand encrusted with orange diamonds!!

Your strength surges to 242.

The emperor tells you that henceforth you shall be a prince of the realm and gives you a continent with all its wealth as your demesne!! Rule well and long Prince Gideon!!

There's no Emperor, Wumpus, palace, or Fraternity in the back story, and I'm not sure what good the 242 strength did since you can't keep playing after you win, but it's still not a bad endgame, considering that the general standard of the time was a "You won!" screen followed by the prompt.

I'll bet that not a lot of 1983 players got this screen.

In a GIMLET, the game earns:

  • 2 points for the threadbare back story that makes up the game world.
  • 3 points for a somewhat-satisfying character development process. There isn't much to character creation, but the choice of the race does have more implications for gameplay than in the average game of the era.

My late-game character.

  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 2 points for the various foes, with their strengths and weaknesses.
  • 3 points for combat. In basic mechanics, it would only be a 1 or 2, but I'm giving it some extra consideration for the tactical nature of mapping and using the map.
  • 2 points for equipment. Accumulating enough ears for the dragon armor was an interesting mechanic, but generally speaking there isn't much here--just stocks of arrows and potions.
  • 3 points for the economy. It's a vital part of the game and since you can keep buying strength potions forever, it never gets obsolete. Just not much complexity to it.
  • 2 points for having a main quest.
  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics and sound are at a primitive level normal for the era; the interface uses an odd key combination but has some interesting features like a "Information/Inventory" screen that automatically closes when random enemies appear.
  • 2 points for gameplay. Alinear, but without enough content to make that really meaningful; replayable to the extent that you can vie for a better position on the scoreboard. A little too difficult and a little too long, even with cheating.

The final score of 21 is actually a bit higher than I thought it would be when I started. The game grew on me after the first post, as I started to realize the strategic challenge associated with mapping and route-planning, but it would have been torture to play "honestly," especially where I don't have any friends playing SuperQuest with whom I could vie for high score.

My scoreboard. Owing to save states, the same character was able to "die" multiple times.

Given that this was a magazine-published game, contemporary reviewers (of whom there were only a few in 1983) seem to have overlooked it. I've written to developer Jeff Hurlburt to see if he'd like to stop by and offer his comments. Jeff seems to have been active in the Apple II preservation community, but I haven't found him credited on any games after this.

I'll do my best to choke down another Captive session this week; otherwise, we're looking at Keys to Maramon next.


Posts on Super Quest: One | Two 

Further Reading: After finishing this game, I took a look at its source, Quest 1. For a later (and inferior) game in the same family, check out Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils (1984).


  1. Awesome that you beat this one! Now, do you want to play the original? :)

    I have found a copy of "Quest 1" for Atari here:

    Quest 1 is on the disk labeled SoftSide 35. I've started it up on an Atari 800XL emulator for the Mac and it works just fine.

    I've now played through a couple of characters. Unlike Super Quest, it doesn't have an overall plot that I can see except to get treasure and get out, but that makes it pretty fun. And at a mind-bogglingly small 400 lines of code, it probably has a very high fun to code ratio. :)

    1. In 3.5 hours, I downloaded it, played it, wrote a posting, and scheduled it for tomorrow night. Please take the gentle ribbing I give you in the spirit of humor with which it is intended.

    2. I'll give 'Quest I' a try on my real Atari 800XL, if it'll load. A lot of the older games only work on the original Atari 400/800 systems.

    3. I am just glad that I satisfied my afternoon-long quest of playing a game written by a 13-year old. My wandering is now finished and I can... oooh shiny.

    4. Chalk up another game I cannot get to work on a genuine piece of hardware. I load the ATR file, boot the Atari, it reads it...then nothing. Though the majority auto-boot, some games require the 'DOS' command to load off the disk, but that didn't work in this case.

      Very frustrating!

    5. I had to boot the Atari in BASIC mode, then type:


      after attaching the disk.

    6. ...

      I feel so stupid for having not thought of that. And I even had a C64 as a kid. You may just have solved all of the weird issues I've been having with the Atari.

    7. Raifield, you may have found this out in the intervening two years or so but if you have trouble with games (machine language games, not so much BASIC ones) on the XL you may need the Translator disk that loads an earlier version of the OS onto the XL/XE machines.

  2. If you were stuck on a desert island with a single game, you could do worse than this one, due to its design. It sounds like it succeeds as a challenge, rather than a traditional RPG, similar to roguelikes.

    "We spotted these strange designs in the sand from our plane, is it some sort of message?"

    "Uhhh, yeah, a message"

  3. It's not strictly related, but have you ever considered streaming or recording parts of the CRPGs you've played?

    1. To clarify, I don't mean streaming like Let's Players do, using their microphone (though that could be interesting) but short clips of the general gameplay and possibly the end couple probably help supplement your writing (they say that a single picture is worth a thousand words and at 30 frames per second, which is the norm for videos, a one minute video would consist of 1800 pictures).

    2. There used to be some YouTube clips of battles and such, but I think they're offline now. When I copied this blog into a Word document there were large blank spaces where the embedded videos likely were.

      The videos are still on YouTube, but the most recent one is for DarkSpyre, ten months ago.

    3. I used to do them. I agree they probably add some value to the blog, but they're a pain in the neck. I do a lot of my playing on the road, and you can't really narrate a video while you're on an airplane or in a hotel bar. Yes, I could capture some video without narration, but most games already have plenty of that on YouTube and it just feels like a half-done job.

    4. Aww...I really liked the videos. I still don't get a sense of this game, how you can die just from standing around. A video would have helped (and not some random person's video).

  4. Wow, the mechanic of "kill x of monster, get y of ingredient, automatically receive item z in the shop" reminds me of the Etrian Odyssey games. Coinkidink?

    1. It reminds me of all the Mass Monster Slaughter Sidequest ( of contemporary CRPGs, actually. Thanks to Chet, now I know who to blame for pioneering this shit.


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