Monday, December 15, 2014

Game 170: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin Cartridge (1983)

Despite the copyright date, all evidence points to the game having been released in 1983. This is one of the few times I'm going to go against the opening screen for the game's official title. The manual has the title as listed as in this post title, and word from some sites is that TSR's contract mandated "ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS" in capitals, the word "cartridge" as part of the title, and the copyright dates, leaving no room for the subtitle.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin Cartridge
APh Consulting (developer), Mattel Electronics (publisher)
Tom Loughry (programmer)
Released 1983 for Intellivision and Mattel Aquarius
Date Started: 13 December 2014
Date Ended: 14 December 2014
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Variable (player choice)
Final Rating: 19
Ranking at Time of Posting: 33/166 (20%)

Treasure of Tarmin seems to be the first RPG ported from a console to a PC. It is, admittedly, a fairly lame example of the conversion process, having been ported from Mattel's Intellivision console, a platform that might charitably be called "second rate," to Mattel's own Aquarius personal computer, a 1983 platform whose own developers called "the system for the 70s." For gaming, the Aquarius had the same clumsy dial-below-keypad controller as the Intellivision, so it's not like the port was a lot of legwork. Nonetheless, it is technically a "first."

Tarmin is also the first Dungeons & Dragons-licensed game of any platform that can reasonably be considered an RPG. Its predecessor, later called Cloudy Mountain (link to my review) to avoid confusion with this one, is best described as an action game with some RPG elements. After this, Mattel lost its license to produce Dungeons & Dragons products, and we didn't see another D&D computer title until 1988, when Pool of Radiance finally did it right. That said, just like Cloudy Mountain, Tarmin has absolutely no conmection with D&D other than the title. It uses no D&D rules, no D&D-specific monsters, and no D&D mechanics. Other RPGs of the time, like Wizardry and Ultima, had more in common with D&D than either of Mattel's officially-licensed titles.

The setup for Tarmin is basic: a single unnamed player descends into a system of mazes beneath the Island of Tarmin, defeats the minotaur, and recovers the Great Treasure. (The original title for the game was Minotaur.) On the way, you fight monsters and find items that improve your hit points, defense statistics, and weapon ratings. Eventually, you come up against the minotaur, defeat him, and collect his treasure to end the game. There are no frills like NPCs, stores, or even character creation, but the game is fast-paced and continually rewarding, and I was surprised to find myself having fun with it despite its primitive nature.

A typical Treasure of Tarmin screen. My backpack, to the left, contains a knife, a key, two bows (of two different levels), a spell scroll, and a locked pack. I'm carrying that around hoping to find the next level key to open it. The bottom of the screen shows that I'm on Level 6 and I have a shield in my left hand and a "Fireball" spell in my right. The numbers on the right indicate that my physical strength (hit points) is 27, my spiritual strength is 9, my physical defense is 19, and my spiritual defense is 17. Because I have a "spiritual weapon" equipped, my physical attack rating is currently 0, but my spiritual attack rating is 17.

As the player begins the game, he selects from four difficulty levels, which affects the starting health, starting food, starting arrows, "vulnerability," and the number of levels before you first encounter the minotaur (from 2 to 12) and therefore the length of the game, which can be as short as a few minutes on easy difficulty to many hours on the hardest difficulty. With no way to save the game, harder levels must have been difficult on the bladders and time-management abilities of 1983 players. I can just envision 10-year-old me arguing with my mother that if she makes me shut off the game now and go to bed, go outside, come have dinner, etc., I'll lose three hours of playing time. (The argument would have gone nowhere because mothers just don't get it.)

The castle map on "Easy" mode. Two tiers of Level 1/2 funnel to one tier each of Levels 3 and 4. The minotaur and treasure is guaranteed on Level 4. I can keep descending after Level 4, but I won't appear on the map.


The castle map on "Hard" level.

Each maze level is 12 x 12, and on harder level there might be multiple tiers (up to six) of them funneling down to Level 12. You can move down via ladders (there are no up ladders) and between tiers via teleportation gates that scramble your war and spiritual strength scores. No matter what setting, it is possible to descend lower than the lowest level on the map--the game supports up to 255 levels, after which you return to a new Level 1--and even face multiple minotaurs. Regardless, you win when you first pick up the treasure after a successful minotaur kill, whether it's on the level designated by the map or a lower one. Players who are really enjoying themselves may want to delay picking up the treasure indefinitely.

Facing the minotaur.

Neither sound nor graphics are fantastic in the game, but both play a significant role, just like with Cloudy Mountain. Sound is important because it's the only way to tell how many arrows and how much food you have remaining. Pressing a button returns a series of clicks that you have to count.

As you traverse the exterior corridors of levels, "eyeball murals" of various colors mark the entrances to the interior mazes, with the eyeballs color-coded to indicate whether the player is likely to find a physical challenge (dark green), a spiritual challenge (blue), or a mixed challenge (tan). Equipment and treasure are color-coded to indicate their quality, and monsters are color-coded to indicate their difficulty. Potions and some spellbooks are color-coded to indicate their effects. To someone with multiple types of color blindness, of course, the system is a disaster. I do okay with the silver/gold/platinum system used by treasures, but some of the monster color ramps (yellow/tan/orange) I can't distinguish at all, and the blue/pink/purple system used by spellbooks and portions also cause me no end of trouble. I basically figured it out through trial and error.

The "eyeball mural" indicates more magic-oriented encounters and items down that corridor.
 
Of each level's 144 squares, probably 12-15 hold some bit of equipment and 12-15 hold some monster. Nothing respawns, so once you clear a level the only way to proceed is down (though as before, you can do that essentially indefinitely). Equipment consists of:

  • War weapons, of which curiously all are missile weapons. Bows and crossbows fire arrows, of which you have a limited supply, and bows can break randomly. Other weapons--axes, spears, darts, and knives--are one-use only. Every weapon exists at one of six levels of power, indicated by color, from tan ("regular") to white ("super").
  • Spiritual weapons, consisting of one-shot fireball and lightning bolt spells, or multi-shot scrolls (I think they're unlimited but they can break), and unlimited-use spellbooks at six levels of power.
  • Armor, including hauberks, helmets, gauntlets, and shields, which exist at six levels of power. You hold shields in your left hand, but other armor items you simply "use," and if the item you used is better than the last one you used of the same time, your physical defense rating increases.

Encountering my first hauberk on the ninth level.

  • Rings, which increase spiritual defense power. You "use" them the same way as armor items.
  • Keys, which allow you to unlock...
  • Containers, including money belts, boxes, and bags, some of which must be unlocked by keys. They can contain bombs (which damage you) but usually contain...

Putting a key in the active slot so I can unlock a box.
  • Treasures, including coins, ingots, chalices, and crowns. These simply contribute to your final score.
  • War books and spiritual books, which are one-use items that increase your maximum war strength (physical hit points) and spiritual strength (spiritual hit points) accordingly.
  • Potions that restore your max strength value or raise your maximum strength values.
  • Special permanent spell books that aid in navigation by allowing you to see or move through walls. These never go away.
  • Re-stocks of arrows.
  • Bags of food. When you have at least one bag, you can rest, which recovers 5 "strength" points, including increasing your maximum strength if you've defeated some enemies since the last time you rested.

With so many different options, you receive some kind of upgrade every few minutes at the most. It's addictive to keep pressing forward and seeing your strength and defense values increase.

An equipment drop in this corridor. A pair of gauntlets followed by a money belt. The manual shows what icons represent what items of equipment.

Every square in the 12 x 12 grid is visitable. Every level has an outer ring of squares in which there are no enemies or items. The various sub-mazes branch off this circumference corridor. There are a lot of secret doors--found by simply pressing "Open" while standing in front of them. Since doors close behind you (and secret doors vanish behind you), it's often tough to figure out where you've already been without mapping. Things get very easy, however, once you find a spell book with the "Teleport" spell, which moves you forward one square, wall or no wall, and never runs out. Once you have this, you can basically just lawn-mow each level as if the entire thing was open. "Vision" books are also handy navigation aids that let you see through nearby walls, allowing you to easily scope for enemies and treasure.

With the "Vision" spell active, I can see a wraith hiding behind a nearby wall. That's a pair of gauntlets on the floor in front of me.

Tarmin features a small selection of monsters, each at three different color-coded levels: giant ants, dwarfs, giant scorpions, giant snakes, alligators, dragons, skeletons, cloaked skeletons, giants, ghouls, wraiths, and minotaurs. Some of these are distinguished between shield-bearing and non-shield-bearing varieties. Each monster does either war damage or spiritual damage, so it's important to keep both types of strength up. As you defeat them with war weapons or spiritual weapons, your maximum strength values in the respective areas increase.

A giant scorpion attacks while a dwarf-with-shield waits nearby. I must have just thrown my active weapon, so I have to select one of the scrolls or bows from my inventory (to the left) to continue. When combat is over, I'll pick up that bag of food.

The one huge advantage to the player is that monsters don't roam--they stand in fixed squares--so you can often see them in the distance and either attack or avoid depending on whether you feel you have enough equipment. Even if you walk right up to one, there's a chance of using "retreat" successfully to get one square away, if he turns out to be too hard.

Trading axe attacks with a cloaked skeleton with a shield.

Combat proceeds in turn-based fashion. You act, the enemy acts, and so forth. Only actual attacks count as "actions," so you can bumble your way through cycling inventory, picking up and dropping things, and swapping things without penalty, which is good for someone trying to get used to the controls. When you first face the enemy, the number at the bottom of the screen which normally shows the dungeon level changes to show the enemy's strength. You assess this number against your own strength and weapon skill before deciding whether to stand your ground or retreat. I've rarely had to retreat. If you die in combat, there's a chance of being reincarnated with no equipment on the same level.

Tarmin has one thing I've never seen: "evil doors." These are like mimics, but for doors instead of chests. You turn to face what looks like a regular door, but it suddenly changes color and starts shooting magic damage at you. They're very difficult to kill, but there's always some major treasure behind them.

Trading fireballs with an "evil door." It currently has 23 hit points.

I spent a long time bumbling around getting used to the game and the way the Intellivision controller maps to the PC keyboard in the Nostalgia emulator. The original controller had a movement disk for navigation (mapped to the arrows on the keyboard), 12 buttons in the upper keypad (mapped to the PC keypad), and two buttons on each side (mapped to HOME, DELETE, PAGE DOWN, and ENTER). I guess every game came with some kind of overlay that you slid over the controller so that the game could put specific words on top of the corresponding buttons. I'm curious if these overlays made gameplay clumsier, or if players actually used them.

The Treasure of Tarmin "overlay" for the Intellivision controller.

The Intellivision controller, for all its clumsiness, does address one of my common complaints about early console RPGs: there aren't enough controls to offer the same depth of gameplay as the keyboard. With 16 buttons plus the dial, it has almost as many options as modern controllers, and Tarmin uses most of them. A lot of them have to do with inventory management; there are separate buttons for picking up items, swapping the left and right hand, swapping the right-hand item with the right-most item in the pack, and rotating the items in the pack. I was constantly getting confused and accidentally dropping things I wanted to store or accidentally moving my shield to my right hand, where it can do nothing. Fortunately, the game is forgiving about such mistakes by not counting such actions against your turn.

One slight innovation involves separate buttons for "look left" and "look right" which allow you a quick glance in adjacent squares without making a full turn in either direction.

After I had the controls down, I started a game at "Easy" level to see if I could win it quickly. On "easy" level, the minotaur appears at dungeon Level 4, but when I got to that level and faced him, my character hadn't developed enough in strength or equipment to defeat him. With no other recourse, I continued moving downwards, slowly improving as I went. Various sites I consulted indicated that the minotaur can appear on any level after the "official" one, but I suspect he doesn't appear again until after the maximum official one, or Level 12. In any event, I didn't find him until Level 16.

The down ladder from Level 5 to Level 6. A spell scroll waits beyond.

For all the build-up, he's not much more difficult than most other monsters at that level. I had plenty of hit points by then, and he died in a few hits. Once he dies, the Treasure of Tarmin appears behind him. You take it and are rewarded with a shot of the castle map, this time with the sun shining brightly in the background instead of the dark of night.

The winning screen.

In a quick GIMLET, I give it:

  • 1 point for a bare-bones game world.
  • 2 points for character creation and development. There's no "creation" but development is quick and satisfying, and the game has an intriguing idea with the dual war/spirit path. I suppose some players could focus entirely on one or the other (my winning game was almost all "war"-based) or try to achieve a balance.
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 3 points for its small list of foes, split between physical types and spirit types. I give some credit for lots of grinding opportunities plus the original "evil doors." Several sites also said that there's a way to distract enemies by "throwing treasure." This doesn't make sense to me because a) treasure never appears in your inventory; it just gets added to your score when you pick it up; and b) there's no command to throw things. Nonetheless, if it's true it adds some more credit to this score.

Encountering a giant on the other side of a stairway. During this attempt, I found an awful lot of bows.

  • 2 points for magic and combat, again with the war/spirit dichotomy. There isn't that much strategy, though.
  • 3 points for equipment, probably the game's best feature, including some effects we rarely see in RPGs--in particular seeing through walls and a spell that improves the quality of equipment.
  • 1 point for the economy, which unfortunately just increases the score.
  • 1 point for an adequate main quest.

The fabled Treasure of Tarmin appears after slaying the minotaur. Picking it up ends the game.

  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. I didn't like any of them, but at least the game made graphics and sound an integral part of the mechanics.
  • 4 points for gameplay, a high score that recognizes its replayability (on different difficulty levels), its challenging-but-fair difficulty at the medium level, and its quick pacing. This is one game (ahem) that understands it's not a 40-hour epic.

The final score of 19 isn't a great one--it is still a console RPG, after all--but it reflects how far things had come in the one year since Cloudy Mountain, which I gave a 9.

The box cover is notable for not featuring a minotaur.

Both Advanced Dungeons & Dragons titles were the work of the same programmer, Tom Loughry, famous among Intellivision aficionados for Sub Hunt (1981), Worm Whomper (1983), The Dreadnaught Factor (1983), and these two cartridges. After the heyday of the Intellivision, he moved to Accolade and developed a number of vehicle simulation games for the Commodore 64 and DOS, including Steel Thunder (1988), Gunboat (1990), and Grand Prix Unlimited (1992). The last credit I can find for him is in 1998, on Electronic Arts' Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit.

I haven't been able to track him down, but the hosts of the "Intellivisionaries Podcast" (every platform is someone's favorite) interviewed him in conjunction with Treasure of Tarmin just this past June. (The podcast is very long, but highly recommended if you're really into the game.) In the interview, Loughry says he was inspired in part by a game called something like Krozair that he played on "a university computer somewhere" (no one can seem to be able to identify it) and felt he could improve. He programmed the game in just a few months. The original subtitle was Minotaur, but there was some concern about a conflict with a Parker Brothers game called Minotaur Maze, so "Tarmin" was an alliterative compromise using two of the three syllables from the original. Like many developers of the period, Loughry highly prized the ability to randomize the mazes and placement of monsters and treasure, to ensure that every new game would be unique for the player, and even the developer could enjoy playing it. (This is something I also heard from Randall Masteller in conjunction with his Warrior of Ras titles.)

While he seems satisfied with his creation, calling it "extraordinarily complex" for an early 1980s Intellivision game, he was still disappointed with features that he couldn't offer, including saving, more complex combat, and an overland exploration ability. He planned to offer such features in a third Advanced Dungeons & Dragons title, but the project died during development. (He says it would have been "kind of like Zelda.") Later, other Mattel developers began working on a third AD&D game, but they lost the license in the meantime, so the game was ultimately published as Tower of Doom (1987) without the AD&D connection.

Me, I think I'm done with the Intellivision. I know of two other RPGs developed for it, Tower of Doom and Swords & Serpents (1982), but neither had a PC port, and I've got to draw the line somewhere. This was an interesting diversion, though, and I'm glad someone insisted it belonged on my list because of the Aquarius conversion. Onward we go to MegaTraveller!

57 comments:

  1. You realise you're going to get lynched by the Intellivision fans ....

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    1. "Intellivision fans" are people whose parents happened to buy them an Intellivision in the 1980s instead of an Atari or ColecoVision. If I hear from anyone who had all three platforms and honestly thinks the Intellivision is better, I'll be happy to listen, but most people who spit out their Cocoa Puffs when they read "second-rate platform" have no basis for their counter-argument except nostalgia. The Atari was clearly the superior in sales, and the ColecoVision was clearly the superior in quality.

      Of course, all consoles in the early 1980s pale in comparison to what PCs could offer, so the Intellivision is "second-rate" twice over. Bring it on.

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    2. "Of course, all consoles in the early 1980s pale in comparison to what PCs could offer, so the Intellivision is "second-rate" twice over. Bring it on."

      This isn't quite true, particularly when cost is considered. Consoles cost in the $200-300 range, with gaming performance a bit better than most of the low-to-mid computers at the time such as the TRS-80 or VIC-20 (indeed, the hardware specs of the Atari 2600 are comparable or superior to both platforms except for RAM)., both of which cost two to three times as much. The only computer platform at launch that was truly superior was the Apple II line. which retailed at a staggering $1400. By analogy, this is akin to comparing a PS4 to a $6000 price-is-no-object rig today. The memories of today are colored quite a bit by the rather long lifespan of the consoles causing them to be compared to cheap computers three, four, or even five years (due to the pace of technology change at the time, these are huge amounts of time)

      Even the Apple line wasn't really any better for the arcade conversions of the era, with the only thing that made PCs better were RAM-intensive works such as text-adventures or early RPGs. As this game demonstrates, even in the latter category the dominance wasn't nearly as extreme as you're suggesting, as the 19 you gave this game (with a rather derogatory comment) puts it squarely in the middle of the 1983 or older games you've played so far. Considering that it isn't until the NES that consoles are really capable (hardware-wise) of handling a true RPG, that isn't so bad.

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    3. Frankly PC before -90's was crap, crap, crap and some more crap unless you spent a 1000 times more dollars on it then the cost of your average 'home computer'.

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    4. "Intellivision fans" are people whose parents happened to buy them an Intellivision in the 1980s instead of an Atari or ColecoVision. If I hear from anyone who had all three platforms and honestly thinks the Intellivision is better, I'll be happy to listen, but most people who spit out their Cocoa Puffs when they read "second-rate platform" have no basis for their counter-argument except nostalgia. The Atari was clearly the superior in sales, and the ColecoVision was clearly the superior in quality.

      From 1979-1988 my family's only console was an Atari 2600 (plus a short-lived Atari 5200 and a Tandy CoCo), though I played a bit of Intellivision and ColecoVision at friends' houses. I now own all three, and...I prefer the Intellivision.

      I mean, don't get me wrong, I'll always love the Atari 2600 and, despite its major technical limitations, I think it's superior for most action games. Neither the Intellivision controllers nor its EXEC (the BIOS, basically) is geared towards fast action, since the default routines have the screen updating at 20Hz and the side-mounted fire buttons are an ergonomic disaster.

      But the Intellivision soundly beats the VCS when it comes to depth of gameplay. Titles like the three AD&D games, some of Imagic's better offerings, Utopia...all of these offer a kind of gameplay that was basically unavailable on the VCS. Even after I'd gotten an NES, I played Tower of Doom at a friend's house and was blown away. Basically, the Intellivision excels at slow-moving, cerebral games.

      As for the ColecoVision, it's actually not as clear-cut as you might think. The hardware has some flaws, especially the sound hardware which is bizarrely incapable of bass frequencies without trickery (a problem that reappeared on the Master System). And I think the controllers are even worse than the Intellivision's. But sure, it's more capable in most ways than the Intellivision.

      That said, the CV feels awfully generic these days when placed next to other systems that use the same Texas Instruments chips, and somehow I don't find its library nearly as compelling -- I'd rather play Parsec on the TI-99/4A, or any of the MSX and SG-1000 games that were often much more ambitious than their CV counterparts.

      The Intellivision folks had some smart people working for them, and more time to mature; the CV has always felt like more of a cynical cash-in to me -- a console that was made cheaply and where some games were knowingly released with huge, game-breaking bugs (like Sector Alpha and Victory) just to save a buck.

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    5. Oh, and:

      Both of them!

      Very funny, but actually the Intellivision has a lively homebrew scene and a collecting scene. Keep in mind it was the second-biggest selling console in the US until the NES came along (yes, it outsold the CV), and stuck around until 1990! The rarest games go for big bucks, and the market seems to only be trending up, so it's hardly a forgotten console.

      Now, the RCA Studio II, on the other hand...

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    6. We had an Intellivision before an Atari and yes, I liked the Intellivision better. No argument about sales or whatnot here.

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    7. I had a Colecovision (didn't they eat Intellivision eventually?) and their controller also had an overlay to put on the button pad. As best as I can recall, I did use them, especially when a game was new, but eventually stopped putting them in because I already knew what the buttons did and didn't want to take the extra time to slide it in and make sure the buttons lined up right. I don't think many of my games had them anyway. I know Mouse Trap did but that's about all I can remember. I was not very old.

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    8. I had a Colecovision (didn't they eat Intellivision eventually?)

      Absolutely not -- Intellivision outlasted CV by a wide margin. I don't know when Telegames stopped selling games, and they did have a cheaply made CV clone available via mail-order for a bit. But AFAIK first-party support for the CV was done by 1985, whereas INTV Corp. (which bought the rights from Mattel) supported the Intellivision through 1990.

      Of course, the Atari 2600 outlasted them both! Testament to the virtues of an unexpectedly flexible architecture...

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    9. I had an Atari 5200 and a NES, even played Pong a few times even though that was well before my time. Some of those old Atari-era game aged surprisingly well, lie Tapper, Bubbles, Vulgus, River Raid and Donkey kong. There are dozens of NES games that still hold up, like Mega Man, Mario, Zelda, the Capcom Disney games, Metal Storm, Crystalis, Bionic Commando and Conquest of the Crystal Palace

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    10. The only toy computers -- er, I mean -- consoles that I ever had were the Odyssey (ugh), the NES (with the original gray Zapper!), and the Sega Genesis. I haven't bought a console since 1993.

      But if there were some action/adventure game that matched the tactical depth of the best beat-'em-up games (my vote goes to Streets of Rage 2), but added RPG elements (such as inventory and leveling up a skill tree), that would rock. I'd buy that for a dollar.

      Of course, for all I know, something like that already exists (and may have for ten or fifteen years by now), but I wouldn't know about it.

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    11. But if there were some action/adventure game that matched the tactical depth of the best beat-'em-up games (my vote goes to Streets of Rage 2), but added RPG elements (such as inventory and leveling up a skill tree), that would rock.

      They tried something like that with Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero for PlayStation and N64. It...didn't go so well.

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    12. River City Ransom rocks. I also joined the Kickstarter for the sequel. Not sure when it would be available though.

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    13. Come to think of it, River City Ransom (1989) comes darn close to satisfying Chet's basic requirements as a CRPG. The only weak spot is inventory.

      It's a historically significant console game, but I'm sure that Chet won't take a detour to play it, because he would loathe the "super-deformed" character art.

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    15. "But if there were some action/adventure game that matched the tactical depth of the best beat-'em-up games (my vote goes to Streets of Rage 2), but added RPG elements (such as inventory and leveling up a skill tree), that would rock. I'd buy that for a dollar."

      Capcom had the D&D Mystara games (Tower of Doom, funnily enough, and Shadow over Mystara), which were definitely in this category. They were basically fantasy beat'em'ups with light RPG elements. In 2013, Dragon's Crown came out, which is basically a spiritual sequel from some of the same people. It's almost like a beat'em'up Diablo-like or something.

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    16. @killias2:

      That sounds like these games might be hilariously awful/awesome, depending. But do they have weapons? Are there all kinds of moves that you can do with them?

      Although I do like brawler games, the main reason that I mentioned beat-'em-ups is that the best of them offered more than a dozen ways to attack people, not even counting specials. And yet, when you wielded a weapon, there always was only one way to hit people with it. I kept thinking, "Why can't I swing this lead pipe in a circle and smack everyone near me, instead of braining just this one mook who's right in front of me?"

      I've got a soft spot for the infamous Knights of Legend and its numerous options for melee attack and defense. The game failed in lots of other ways, but at least that element was cool. I'd therefore like to see a game that really makes you think about what type of hack/slash/thrust/bash/feint/parry/throw/whatever you should perform using whatever weapon you happen to be wielding. That's what I meant when I referred to tactical depth. Did Capcom live up to its reputation with those games?

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    17. $1400 for a computer? The Commodore 64 says hi. That thing was one of the best machines ever... the price of a console with better graphics, but also usable as a full-fledged computer.

      With consoles, the Intellivision was light-years better than the Atari, in fact they did a whole range of snarky commercials showing them side by side to emphasize this. And the Colecovision came several years after the Intellivison.

      The Intellivision was a very good machine for its time. I think people were turned off by the controllers, but people who are saying it was crap couldn't have been gaming around 1980-1983.

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  2. When I read that thing about false doors that are actually mimics, I thought, "Hmmm, I've seen that someplace else, in some TRPG." But I can't remember which one it was, nor whether the relevant game came out before or after 1983. All I can remember is that it was some goofy-ass D&D knockoff, but there were, what, fifty of those? This is going to bug me for days until I figure it out ... sigh.

    Anyway, all I can say at this point is that mimic doors are an archetype that's out there, for what that's worth.

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    1. Trap Doors show up in Final Fantasy 4, but I'm sure I've seen them in other games, too. None as early as Treasures of Tarmin, of course.

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    2. Super Metroid had monster-doors also. Still not as early as Tarmin.

      I can also remember some 3D game where the Trap Door falls forward off of the wall and flattens you if you try to open it. No idea where this was though.

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  3. D&D mimics are entirely capable of being a door or wall. A treasure chest is one of the most popular choices, but technically anything made of wood or stone is rules legal. There's also a few other disguised monsters, resulting in the notorious "room of death", where the floor's a monster, the ceiling's a monster, the walls are monsters, and the air is a monster.

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    1. Very well, but that doesn't change that I've never seen mimics portrayed as such in a CRPG. I'm pretty sure Tom Loughry wasn't adapting the rules of D&D mimics to suit this game. It was probably just a coincidence. I say this because I listened to that podcast interview with him for several hours, and I never heard him mention D&D once. It was entirely clear that the game was conceived and developed independently and simply marketed under the D&D license.

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    2. That was meant as a reply to Gaguum, who was trying to recal what TRPG had them.

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    3. @Noman: Thanks, but I was thinking of something that definitely wasn't D&D, because their mimics don't shoot.

      The monster that I've been trying to recall was some sort of psychotic construct that stood in front of a bare wall and mimicked a door and its jambs. When roused from dormancy, the "door" part turned into a crazily glowing portal, and the whole apparatus became mobile and lurched toward the party. Like the green gate from Tomb of Horrors, the portal disintegrated whatever went through it; so the evil door would try to "eat" people by falling onto them and engulfing them. Also, the portal could fire Magic Missiles (or something similar) at will every round. What a rotten bastard.

      I'm *sure* that I read about this abomination in print someplace, rather than seeing it in anything that I played; but darned if I can remember where I read it. Whatever it was, it probably postdated 1983, so I'm willing to give Treasure of Tarmin the credit for this particular variety of nightmare fuel.

      Speaking of the "room of death", that must be where Garriott got the idea to make the party fight the floor tiles toward the end of Ultima III.

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    4. I recall some game where if you tried to open a trapped door it would fall towards the party, doing damage. Possibly a Mario game or something like it? Not sure. Anyway, can't spend more time thinking of it, my centrifuge is done.

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    5. Heh, Taylor asked (and Cush1978 answered) exactly that question above. It's Luigi's Mansion on GameCube.

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    6. I saw that, but I thought it was Mario. I might be mixing that up and the giant block guys from Mario 64 up though. That or Paper Mario might have it as well?

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  4. I LOVED this game as a kid. My cousin and I played this for hours and hours. Once you had the spell books for moving through walls and some platinum gear you basically turned into the Terminator.

    The overlays were super handy, though eventually we memorized the whole thing. They were a colossal pain in the ass to insert, as I remember.

    Fun fact: after going so far down beyond the map, the game would literally put minotaurs on pretty much every square or room of the dungeon to try and force you to end the game. They didn't even hide it, you could see them all over the place with the book that saw through walls.

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    1. I played for hours too. If you go lower than level 255, you end up back on level 1.

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    2. "They were a colossal pain in the ass to insert"? Must... resist... making... any... stupid... jokes...

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    3. Definitely sounds like the overlay was going in the wrong place.

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    4. Here's another vote for loving this game as a kid. My dad and I used to play the heck out of this. I recall multiple times getting down far enough to have platinum everything (though I don't recall just how far that really is). I do remember one instance where my pops was far enough along to be encountering multiple minotaurs. I was so excited that I was attempting to stand on my head or something stupid like that, derped it up and ended up resetting the Intelly. My dad played it off like it was no big deal, cuz he's chill like dat, but I'm sure internally he was thinking "Damn kid."

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  5. To answer your question - yes, the overlays were very handy. I would imagine they are much easier to use than trying to remember which of the 16 buttons are mapped to which keyboard button.

    Alas, my biggest issue with the Intellivision has always been it's crappy non spring loaded side buttons - a problem that is fixed if you pick up a "Sears Arcade" version of the console. It's interesting that Sears had their own branded consoles and games for both Atari and Intellivision. Imagine that happening today.

    I don't consider the Intellivision 2nd rate, I just consider it different. Since the controllers had 16 buttons as opposed to just one button that the Atari controllers had, the games could be much more in depth. They aren't any better or any worse; just different. Intellivision games almost always required reading the manual, Atari games not so much.

    Dang - I was hoping to hear you say you were looking forward to Tower of Doom! :)

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  6. This looks like a pretty decent game for its time. Had I been alive and in possession of an Aquarius or Intellivision in 1983 I think I would have been very happy playing this game.

    A good try for a poor system. I don't think the Atari computers have a first-person RPG available for them. They have the early Ultimas, but no Wizardry-like games. I'd love to be wrong though, I've got a 800XL itching for some RPGs.

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    1. There are the Alternate Reality games, which came late in the (US) Atari 8-bit lifespan.

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  7. Me, I think I'm done with the Intellivision. I know of two other RPGs developed for it, Tower of Doom and Swords & Serpents (1982), but neither had a PC port, and I've got to draw the line somewhere. This was an interesting diversion, though, and I'm glad someone insisted it belonged on my list because of the Aquarius conversion.

    *raises hand* That someone was me, and I'm glad you're glad!

    It's a pity you're not planning to play Tower of Doom, as I think it's arguably the best of the three D&D games on Intellivision -- a well-designed Rogue-like with terrific atmosphere, real depth, and huge replayability. But the gameplay is heavily color-based, which could pose a real problem for you.

    Still, you have four more virtual years before you have to decide. And since Swords & Serpents is eminently skippable (it doesn't even come close to satisfying your criteria), there is the appeal of completing the trifecta and the Intellivision...just sayin'.

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    1. That was indeed you. Sorry I didn't call it out in the comments. I usually take the time to look up things like that.

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    2. Hm. I checked Wikipedia, and apparently the Intellivision Swords & Serpents game has absolutely no connection to the Interplay Entertainment Swords & Serpents RPG on the NES.

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  8. It like a fun diversion, but my thumbs hurt just looking at that disc again. Reminds me why my Intellivision clone (Tandyvision One) sits in its box. I believe I am sufficiently satisfied after reading your article.

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  9. Intellivision rocks.

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  10. I was an Intellivision kid, and having grown up constantly comparing it and my cousin's Atari 2600, I'm quite confident in saying the Intellivision was the superior console!

    That superiority aside, I sunk an awful lot of hour into this game when I was too young to really understand it. But once I started to decipher its peculiar conceits, I felt like a champion making my way through the deeper mazes.

    I also had a lot of nightmares about evil doors...

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  11. You could pause Intellivision games and save them overnight if you pressed 1 and 9 together. It was actually a feature that set Intellivision apart from all the other consoles of the era: the ability to pause the game. In a scary undocumented command, you could also pause the game using 7 and 3 as well! Talk about the eerie effect that had on 10 year old me. "But it's not in the manual!"

    Tower of Doom is probably the best single player game on Intellivision. If you have two players, then the best game is Utopia. I always liked the less action-oriented games. I thought Sub Hunt was a masterpiece, and still do today. Even action games like Night Stalker were thinky and required planning.

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  12. Is it just me or does the Minotaur look like Greedo?

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  13. This was my favorite '1st gen' console RPG by a long shot. It was quite deep and complex for any console game of the time. For what they were working with, this game did a lot.

    The Intellivison was an interesting system. A bit more powerful than the Atari, and with a pretty unique controller, that most people had a love/hate relationship with. The extra buttons meant you could do a lot more with it.

    Utopia, Tron deadly discs, B17-bomber, Treasure of Tarmin and Sub Hunt were my faves on the system.

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  14. " I'm curious if these overlays made gameplay clumsier, or if players actually used them."

    I never played this game, but for the games I did play, I definitely always used the overlay, save for the one game I had that didn't come with overlays, Donkey Kong.

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  15. The "second rate" comment is a little strange, Intellivision came out in 1979, Aquarius in 1983. Also add me to the dozen of the all of two Intellivision fans, though I'm definitely a retroactive fan of any console before NES..

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  16. I was an Intellivision kid as well, and my parents got games for me without much thought as to what sort of games were appropriate for a four year-old. That's when they bought me Treasure of Tarmin. There was no chance I could figure out a game this complicated at such a young age. I played it for probably three years before I even realized that the ladders took me to all new levels!

    I still thought it was really fun, for some reason, and in my adulthood, I still think it's really fun. I have been playing it off and on for over a quarter-century. I still find the harder difficulty levels challenging, and it's great that I never get the same exact level twice (even though it was obvious even early on that these "random" levels were really comprised of distinct segments that a veteran will easily recognize).

    I've played thousands of games, but there aren't that many that I've played so much over so long a period of time. Certainly, on a console, there was never a game anything like it before, and there have been few since.

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  17. There is an Xbox 360 Indie Game called Ghosts of Tarr-Minos. I tried it and found it to be an extremely primitive RPG/roguelike.

    Now I realize that Ghosts of Tarr-Minos is a deliberate homage to Treasure of Tarmin. The graphic style, the user interface, the difficulty levels, the minotaur are all similar to what is described and pictured in this blog post.

    If there are only two Intellivision fans out there, then one of them loves Intellivision enough to make a retro-RPG emulating the style. Presumably the other one enjoys playing that RPG.

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  18. lol - i love your comment about intellivision fans and their cocoa puffs!! i think you are onto something about people's favorite nostalgic consoles and it probably carries over to today with people favoring sony, nintendo, or microsoft's consoles!!

    also, minor correction to anonymous up there. intellivision was not a 1st gen console. its in the 2nd gen of consoles along with atari 2600, colecovision, and a few others.

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  19. There seem to be enough folks vouching for the Intellivision's popularity -- I would simply add that it has to do with a specific moment in time. For the early 1980s, it was the Cadillac -- enough better than the 2600 that I worked a whole summer to buy one. (And in adjusted dollars, they were pretty darn pricey!) Ours was an Intellivision neighborhood for a good couple of years there.

    But I recognize the "you-had-to-be-there" thing forgives quite a lot that requires a second thought today, from disco to pet rocks. I'd additionally confess that my friends and I were delighted by Ultima II when it came out -- there had been nothing for the Apple like it before, and it was goofy fun. That said, I can now see all the warts it has as a game. "The Golden Age is 12," as they say. (Or a little older in that case!)

    A couple of notes specific to things you'd wondered about: As to the overlays, players used them for a while until they memorized the locations -- with the exception of games with a large number of different controls, like Tarmin, Sea Battle, or B-17 Bomber. (If you ever branch out into wargames, I can tell you that B-17 -- one of the few voice cartridges -- is, for its era, one of the best and most realistic. Relatively speaking, again.)

    You'd wondered about long games and whether people bailed on them. What the players I knew did at the time is we left our consoles running and switched the TV/Game switch that consoles at the time all made you install at the back of your TV. That way others in the house could watch the TV, while the game sat there in "intermission mode" (which was an Intellivision first -- you paused the games by pushing 1 and 9 or 3 and 7 simultaneously). The Intellivision didn't run hot, so it was safe to do -- and the first generation ones didn't have a light, so you couldn't even tell it was on.

    Agreed that the minotaur fight is less than gripping; the magical doors really are the true big-bads in the game. At least in our gaming circle, truly beating the game meant going all the way down 256 levels until the counter rolled over, and having one of all three super-books at the end. We kept score by how long that took, rather than worrying about gold.

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  20. >cough.< (Clean the cocoapuffs off the computer screen.)

    I was 17 in 1980. In 1972 I played pong on a arcade machine installed in the local drug store. In 1973 we got a little console that could play 4 games preinstalled: pong player vs player, pong with two paddles for each player, squash (both players on the same side of the screen,) and a solo version which just made one wall solid. Christmas was cool that year.

    Then Atari came out with cartridges, everything else was obsolete. When we decided to get into the console scene atari had been out for a little, intellivision was new and colecovision was copying. My parents did a lot of research. the number of games available for atari was already above 20 maybe 50. They examined everything except the ergonomics of the game pad. It was obvious to anyone looking at the banks of TVs on the electronics wall at Sears, if you took the time to look at the graphics, game complexity, etc. that Intellivision was far more sophisticated internally than atari. It just didn't have the game selection that atari had. But the future is wide open. After much consideration we decided on the intellivision. It was a well researched decision. and while I did not own all three, it was obvious at the time which system was better. I realize that sounds like an emotional rather than an objective argument

    I have seen too many authoritative comparisons between programmers, technologists and game reviewers that put the quality on intellivsion. and no arguments except nostalgia to support either of the others. and coupled with our decision to buy intellivision I am sure it was the better choice. Atari's tanks was just a reprogram of the pong game. I had friends with ataris. and they always claimed the number of games was the deciding factor.

    You can't seriously argue that popularity is the last measure of value. It's not the first time better technology was beaten by better marketing. (Tucker, Betamax, Windows)

    I played treasure of tarmin it was the best game on my system. I nailed it.many times. hate those controllers.

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    1. Oh, I suppose I was needlessly uncharitable to the Intellivision. Calling it "second rate," whether true or not, did nothing to support any argument, since the bigger point was that it was an in-house conversion and thus not much of a conversion.

      I still think the controller looks pretty stupid, but I suppose I should give it credit for allowing more options than the Atari joystick.

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    2. Oh, I get it. You pressed my buttons. yeesh!

      I did enjoy your take on Treasure of Tarmin. good job.
      DAM

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  21. New Intellivision releases are still happening. Everything from Boulderdash to Christmas Carol to an RPG-in-the-works called The Minstrel's Legend. Keep your disc-thumb warmed up!

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