Thursday, April 2, 2015

Game 182: Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils (1984)

It must be a pain in the neck to get supplies to this castle.

Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils
James Hurd (developer); XLent Software (publisher)
Released 1984 for Atari 8-bit
Date Started: 31 March 2015
Date Ended: 31 March 2015
Total Hours: 4
Reload Count: 0 (except to try different characters)
Difficulty: Very Easy (1/5)
Final Rating: 10
Ranking at Time of Posting: 5/179 (3%)

Well, here's a first. When Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils booted up on my Atari 800 emulator, a tune came blaring forth (you can hear it here; the video is worth watching for a sense of gameplay) that I recognized but couldn't place. So I used the "SoundHound" app to analyze it and give me the answer: Bach's Fugue in G Minor. What a time we live in.

That is literally the most interesting thing I have to tell you about the game. Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils is a remake of Brian Reynolds's Quest 1 (1981), the diskmag game that also inspired Jeff Hurlburt's Super Quest (1983). DDOP, written by James Hurd of XLEnt Software and sold for $19.95, offers no attribution to its source, but the similarities are obvious, from the division of arrows into "normal" and "magic," the use of thrown holy water as a weapon, the types of treasures you can find, and the basic appearance of the interface. In 1981, its style of gameplay was hardly state-of-the-art (it was printed as 400 lines of code as a programming exercise, after all); by 1984, it's amazing that someone had the gall to charge for it.

A shot from Quest 1.

A comparable shot from Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils. Note the number of monsters in the upper-right. The original game offers more text on-screen.

In some ways, DDOP is even more primitive than its predecessor. Where Quest 1 offered a full store to buy items, DDOP offers only a Monty Hall-esque "Nine Doors of Death" that you choose at random, and take or leave whatever they're selling before getting cast into the dungeon. You can return to the "Nine Doors" by hitting the ESC key and using up a "Teleportation Crystal"--but only if you're out of keys. The entire game is a little weird that way. DDOP has some better icons than Quest 1, but less information on the main screen.

This doesn't make a lot of sense, particularly since the doors offer merchants, not "death."

You start the game by specifying a name and then getting random rolls for strength (1-20), hit points (1-6), experience (0-100), teleportation crystals (0-20), and gold (0-100). You then choose a class from among eight possibilities: wizard, dwarf, elf, paladin, assassin, cleric, fighter, and mentor. After making this selection, you get a random number of torches, magic arrows, normal arrows, healing potions, holy water, and keys.

Character creation. It doesn't make a lot of sense that "experience" would be a randomly-assigned attribute.

After this process concludes, whatever score you had for "strength" gets assigned to "dexterity" instead, and "experience" gets renamed as "wisdom." You then get random scores assigned for actual strength, intelligence, constitution, and charisma. The manual doesn't really help explain this process, except to say: "Charisma will do you practically no good at all in this game. We just stuck it in there for fun. Intelligence also doesn't affect much." This means that the only useful statistics are strength and dexterity, just like Quest 1. Whatever whimsical explanation he gave, I suspect the developer added the others to make it seem more like Dungeons & Dragons.

A later character sheet with more information.

After your first visit to the Nine Doors of Death, where you might be able to spend your extra gold on additional arrows, magic arrows, and healing potions. But you can only choose one, after which you get kicked into the dungeon, consisting of multiple rooms and corridors full of monsters, treasure chests, and traps. Just like Quest 1, if a room has multiple monsters, they spawn one-by-one in the middle of the room and rush to attack you. You can take them out with arrows (normal or magic), healing potions, or knives before they reach you; otherwise, you (F)ight them to death. Some creatures, like wraiths, only respond to certain weapons (e.g., holy water and magic arrows).

My assassin character encounters a wraith (which looks more like a spider) guarding a chest. Four more wait in the wings.

If the game is innovative in anything, it's in the use of character classes. Certain commands are only available to certain classes. For instance, only clerics or paladins can (T)hrow holy water and only wizards can cast a (S)pell (a single, all-purpose "blast" spell). The odd "Mentor" class has the ability to flexibly switch between any of the others except clerics and wizards.

Finding some treasure in a chest.

The game is odd in other ways. "Torches" appears as an item on the opening character creation screen but is never mentioned again. "Wisdom" increases as you kill monsters, but no other attributes do, and there's not much sense that the character is getting stronger. You can stand right next to a monster and have him gnaw at you for minutes without taking any damage. If you die, nothing actually seems to happen: the screen redraws, but you can continue playing, albeit with 0 hit points and the screen constantly flashing at you to warn you of low health.

There's no sense in the manual of a game world or main quest. I guess you just keep wandering the dungeon getting stronger. [Later edit: Eventually, you kill all the monsters and the game ends. See update below.]

The manual, courtesy of the awesome folks at the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History.

With such limited inventory mechanics and character development, the game barely qualifies as an RPG, and thus there really isn't more to say about it--except for the manual, credited to a Jennifer Brabson. Though low-budget in its text and illustrations, it can be rather funny. It starts:

In the beginning of the game, there is a nice little picture of a castle. This is called a title screen. A title screen helps you remember which program you have inadvertently stuck in your disk drive. If you get a title screen with a space ship emitting little rays of destructive material, then you obviously put the wrong disk into your drive.

This little gem of advice should accompany every software purchase today:

When the game says "PRESS ANY KEY TO CONTINUE," that's what it means! All you have to do is press a key on your keyboard. If you don't understand that, you should shut your computer off and give up.

Here's another bit of advice that legions of online gamers (and my own commenters) could follow: "By the way, if you're civilized, you'll use the shift key and capitalize your name." It doesn't also specify that names shouldn't have numbers in them, but I'm sure that to Ms. Brabson, that went without saying.

Here's an early sign of strife between PC gamers and console gamers: "Press the first letter of the character type you desire. We've found that this is a good shortcut for those who forget how to type after they started using a joystick for everything."


Alas, DDOP is hardly a shining example of a good PC game. In my GIMLET, it gets only a 9 [10 after the edit], 3 points lower than the original Quest 1 and 12 points lower than 1983's Super Quest, which did a lot more interesting things with the mechanics.

XLent software, based in Springfield, Virginia, published a handful of educational programs and some arcade games like Miniature Golf Plus and Cross-Town Crazy Eight, but as far as I can tell, no other RPGs. I don't see James Hurd credited on anything else, so I suspect he was an independent developer and got XLent to publish "his" creation. I can't find a shred of evidence that Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils was liked or even played in its time. A handful of advertisements in Analog Computing show that it was being laughably advertised as "the most accurate D&D adventure for your Atari." Granted, there weren't a lot of games for the Atari 8-bit in the early 1980s, but such an award would go to any of the Dunjonquest titles, Ali Baba, or even Telengard before it would go to this game.

So that was a quick one. Still working on Tunnels & Trolls. With this game off the list, the last game of 1990--Angband--just appeared. But next we'll have Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire, which I still can't tell if I'm looking forward to.

*****

Update from 04/03/2015:

As Tristrom Cooke reported below, there is indeed an ending to this one. It comes when you've cleared out all the monsters. Given the number of healing potions you start with, the relative ease of combat, and the fact that you can't actually die, this isn't as hard as it sounds.

In taking the time to do this, I discovered a couple of additional things:

1. I'm convinced that "holy water" doesn't actually work. No enemy ever seemed to suffer damage when I hit the appropriate key.

2. There are "glow crystals" that you can buy that supposedly reveal traps, but I didn't see any effect of this. I never actually saw traps in the game, though I suspect that's what was randomly teleporting me around.

Then again, it doesn't say that it will "reveal" them; it says it will "reviel" them.

3. The only monsters that require a special attack are wraiths, for whom you need magic arrows.

4. The most annoying mechanism is constantly having to go back to the "9 Doors of Death" screen because you've run out of keys to open chests. (If you're lucky, you'll find a merchant behind one of the doors that sells keys; if not, the game give you two, which means you'll be back on the screen after two more chests.) This isn't a big deal except that when you get back into the dungeon, you're in a random part,  and you lose whatever navigation progress you were trying to make.

#$*(*#.

Getting the winning screen took another hour, roughly. I guess I'll add one point to "quests," for having one.

Yeah. It took me an entire hour.

*****

Further reading:  My reviews of Quest 1 (this game's source) and Super Quest (which did a much better job adapting the engine).

40 comments:

  1. So it's safe to say that Jennifer Brabson put a lot more effort into writing the manual than James Hurd did when he... err... 'wrote' the game?

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    1. I don't know about effort. Hurd definitely contributed a lot of code; I just don't know that it makes the game any better. In terms of result, I do like the manual better.

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    2. It's amazing that two programmers with the same initials producing the same kind of game can have such a difference in quality.

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  2. "What a time we live in."
    The correct way to say something like this on the internet is "What a time to be alive"
    Source: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/what-a-time-to-be-alive

    A bit shameless this game here is...

    Now, should I play Savage Empire parallel to you? I mean it's on GOG for free (or was?). But it comes a week too soon for me...

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    1. I've been thinking I'd like to play along with the Addict on something, and this one did catch my eye since I've already got it through GOG. But I'm probably only halfway done with Uukrul and need a few more weeks, and I'm not sure I'll get to this in time. Also, for parallel play I'd like to pick something I'm really tempted by, and the comments about this one.

      I've got my eye on a few 1991 games (especially Eye of the Beholder and Pools of Darkness, two classics I've never played but I'm pretty sure I'll like) but I'm not sure how the '91 games will play out yet. I'm also worried that if Angband is like other roguelikes, it could take 100+ hours by itself, depending on the learning curve.

      I was also considering Might and Magic 3, but when I loaded it, it seemed to give me a pre-generated party rather than letting me build my own, which was a definite turn-off. Is that really how that game works? (I will admit to not having looked at the manual, just loading the game once to see, so maybe I need to RTFM PDQ?)

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    2. * Er, the comments about this one are mixed.
      Preview. Always preview. Grr.

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    3. In MM3 turn around and enter the inn, sign in if you want to create your own party

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  3. Ah Savage Empire. I actually really, really like that game despite its flaws. Probably because I can't think of any other RPGs that have "lost land" sort of setting. Actually the only games that come to mind with that setting at all are the original Turok, and the Robinson's Requiem series.

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  4. I was pleasantly surprised by "Savage Empire". It's not high-art and some of the stereotypes border on offensive, but it has a lot going for it. It is not Ultima 6, but will probably fall in the Top 10 for the year-- but it depends on how well you take to the modified mechanics. (In specific, it de-emphasizes the economy, virtues, and leveling from previous games, while adding in more "adventure"-based puzzles.)

    I am really looking forward to your opinion, actually. I found it to be a pretty fun diversion and I have a *ton* that I want to discuss about it once you get there.

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    1. The most important thing is that you come to it not thinking it is Ultima 6 Part 2. It is a very different game even than other Ultimas. I wonder even if the Ultima label won't be a drawback for you, implying the game to have elements that it does not.

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    2. Savage Empire is a wonderful game and a great example of how you can create a very different experience with a barely modified engine and lots of recycled assets just by changing up how the content is used. I love how the economy isn't really currency-based and instead "crafting" is the main means by which you get the best gear (something which basically never happened again in the core Ultima line).

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    3. Not many games do we get to fraternize with tribal natives, beat up dinosaurs, hook up with sexy Amazons and cast Shamanistic spells... No, wait. There is none. This is the only one and I hope there will be another.

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    4. I can do that in Savage Empire? Now, I am definitely going to get it, whenever GOG's downloader starts working--I just bought Outlaws and Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, stop being Polish and make a downloader intelligently. I love fighting dinosaurs, I wish more games had them and Jurassic World was a reality.

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    5. You should try Secret Of Evermore on an SNES emulator too, then. The 1st chapter of the Action RPG is just that, lending a helping hand to history by bashing these creatures to their inevitable extinction.

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  5. A shame that this lovely manual got forgotten together with that, er, "RPG" - until today when Mr. Addict unearthed this treasure.

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  6. The best parts about that game appear to be the manual and font choice.

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    1. It's interesting that you mention the font. I associate it with some other game, but I can't quite place it.

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    2. It looks like the font in the Alternate Reality games to me.

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    3. Honestly, I think that font shows up in every fantasy-esque game on the Atari 8-bit. Like AR, the starting pages of Temple of Apshai, etc. I mean, there's not much you can do with an 8x8 grid.

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  7. even 8-bit Bach sounds wonderful

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  8. Did this get docked (compared to Quest 1) primarily because of lack of improvement (and the gall of selling it) or was there something you found worse about it?

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    1. No, I don't punish games for failing to improve, generally. I found it worse. The economy/inventory system is less useful, and the inability to die makes the gameplay too easy.

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  9. _Dungeons, Dragons and Other Perils_ does actually have an ending. The map is constant throughout the game (but you get teleported back to random locations each time you return to the nine doors) and monsters do not respawn, so it's possible to defeat all of the monsters in the dungeon and get a "You win" type screen (maybe with some other text... I don't recall being overwhelmed by it, whatever it was).

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    1. Oh, for f... REALLY? You had to tell me that?

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    2. Well, that didn't take long. I must have been close when I was playing the game earlier for the main post.

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    3. In case it wasn't clear, my original response was meant to be a joke. Thank you for helping me fully document this game.

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  10. And of course, it's ripping off of D&D itself, with its title and that line in its ad. Thoroughly meh.

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    1. Yeah. And why the heck didn't he... y'know, call it Dungeons, Dragons & Other Dangers instead?

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  11. The map screens of this game remind me so much of Castle Adventure.

    http://www.thealmightyguru.com/Reviews/CastleAdventure/CA-Screens.html

    I love that old game but I'd hesitate to call it an RPG, it has more similarities with adventure games, typing "LOOK WALL"...though there are weapons and armor, health, monsters to fight.

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  12. I just discovered your blog last week -- been really enjoying catching up with the archives -- but I'm especially excited Angband is on the horizon, as it's my favorite roguelike. I was curious whether you've decided which version or versions you're going to play, though? Like Nethack, it's gone through a lot of updates over the years, though unlike Nethack, it's actually still in active development (the latest version, 3.5.1, was released in January, and there's a beta version of 4.0 that just came out a couple of weeks ago).

    In case you haven't made up your mind and a little more info would be helpful, Angband is similar to Moria in that it's a pretty long game -- there are 100 dungeon levels, rather than the 50 in Moria, though I believe even the early versions are generally held to be easier than Moria. But at any rate, replaying lots of different versions would be pretty time-consuming.

    At the same time, my sense is that Angband's changes have been a bit less drastic than NH's -- many of them making the game's interface much, much easier to use, tweaking the identification subgame so that ID-by-use is more viable, and lots of messing around with monsters, spells, and artifacts. One neat Angband feature that saw a lot of expansion over time is special rooms that can be found on some levels called vaults, which have extra-good loot, but extra-hard monsters. The list of races and classes has been the same since the beginning except for the addition of the kobold race.

    There's a good, comprehensive list of Angband versions at http://rephial.org/release/. The earliest version, for some reason called "2.4.frog-knows", is going to be closest to what they were playing at the University of Warwick in 1990, when it was created, though it came out in 1993 (if you go for this version, you'd probably want to play the bugfixed "PC version 1.1"). After that, it went through a fair number of different maintainers and different versions -- if I were to attempt to come up with "eras", you'd probably next go to 1994's 2.6.1, which was the last stable version released by the first post-creator maintainer. Following that, there was a big code rewrite that made it a much more easily modifiable game -- one of the reason there are so many *band variants -- latest version here is 2.8.3, and I believe the general sense is that it's not that different from the modern game, game-play-wise.

    There are several release phases after this, but they mostly track the significant version numbers (3.1.x, 3.2.x, etc.)

    Anyway, I'm sure somebody with deeper knowledge of Angband could critique the above, but hope it's helpful as some quick background -- and like I said, curious which version you end up with!

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    1. Yeah, obviously it's hard for roguelikes. Although I played Rogue as a 1980 game and Moria as a 1983 game, the specific versions that I played game from some years later.

      When I finished Moria, some people wanted me to try a later version, so I sort-of adopted a policy, for roguelikes, of playing the earliest release I could find in the original release year and then the last release in its appropriate year. Obviously, if Angband keeps getting updated, that might be never.

      So I guess for 1990, I'll play version 1.2, which technically was released in 1993.

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    2. Oh, sorry--missed some of your text above. I guess there's an earlier one. I didn't know what "frog-knows" meant. But the "PC version 1.1" on the site actually links to 1.2, and since they're in the same year, I'll probably just go with that one.

      If I REALLY like the game, I might try multiple intermediate versions like I'm doing with NetHack. We'll see.

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    3. Having played several versions of Angband, the biggest change I've noticed is that the game became increasingly less sadistic, with far fewer "HA HA, you drank THAT!" potions or bad scrolls that would screw your character over, making use-id much safer.

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    4. As a note for future refrence: it turns out that Nethack WAS under development, and the new version (4) came out shortly after this, from the original dev team plus a few new members they recruited to get things moving.

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  13. Make sure you see the update in the post. Thanks to Tristrom, I had to invest some more time in the game and "win" it.

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    1. Okay, this game can clearly display colors. Why is everything else other than the intro and endgame screen in monochrome?

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    2. It is quite likely that it is using a monochrome graphics mode at that point so that it can run at a higher resolution.

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    3. I'm guessing that, since it's written in BASIC, it's using graphics mode 0, which is the default text mode, and a re-defined character set for the "graphics." GR.0 gives you 1 color to work with unless you take TV and artifact colors into account.

      Using the hi-res mode (graphics 8) would have been too slow in BASIC and also takes effort to print text to it.

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  14. Regarding the 9 Doors Of Death, I suspect JH was reading about Hinduism when New Age stuff was all the rage in the late 80s and early 90s. http://www.krishna.com/city-nine-gates

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