Sunday, August 9, 2015

Game 197: Icon: The Quest for the Ring (1984)

"Ride of the Valkyries" plays as the game begins, signaling the game's thematic origins. The game's second title screen subtitles it "The Quest for the Ring," but the manual leaves off the "The."

Icon: The Quest for the Ring
United States
Macrocom (developer and publisher)
Released 1984 for DOS
Date Started: 8 August 2015
Date Ended:
8 August 2015
Total Hours: 5
Reload Count: 47
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 22
Ranking at Time of Posting: 76/223 (34%)

Icon: The Quest for the Ring at least dares to be ambitious. The developers, Rand Bohrer and Neal White III, weren't out to create a standard, high-fantasy, cookie-cutter, kill-the-evil-wizard RPG. With a foundation in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen operas, they put together the most original-sounding RPG so far in my chronology, at least until Ultima IV the following year. If the RPG elements were good, I'd consider this a lost classic. Even so, it comes quite close.

Unfortunately, the game runs afoul of a theme that I've seen several times since starting this project: a manual that promises more than the technological capabilities of the era can deliver. Other examples are Expedition: Amazon and Moebius: The Orb of Celestial Harmony.

A typical Icon screen. I explore a passage near a river. A bat menaces me. Under the bat's wing is a helmet, and towards the bottom of the screen, beneath the rat, is a healing cross.

The core theme of Icon is best quoted word-for-word from the manual:

Icon is a universe made up of a succession of microworlds through which you can journey, discovering the nature of each world, the character of its inhabitants, its dangers, and its rewards. But be warned, there is more to Icon than killing monsters and picking up gold. In Icon, the goal of your quest has a spiritual dimension--to transcend the succession of dungeon worlds, to escape from the cycle of potentially endless births and deaths.

Of the details of gameplay in each dungeon world, the authors only offer:

The gods (i.e., the programmers) have arranged for you to see an injustice committed, and it is up to you to recognize the crime and then to truly solve it--that is, to achieve justice. Of course, you will be faced with challenges that will block your way and temptations that, if you succumb to them, will take you far from the final goal.

Sounds pretty fantastic, right? But in reality, Icon is a game in which you guide a little character around a series of similar dungeon levels, waving a sword at bats and rats, collecting gold and other items, and advancing to the next level. There's a better story to the whole experience than we typically get in early 1980s games, and some unique level quests--but when a game's only commands are move, pick up object, drop object, select weapon, attack, and check status, its mechanics aren't quite up to the creators' narrative ambitions.

The commands are at least well-documented in-game.

Icon makes up its own Nibelungenlied as it progresses through its seven levels. (I seem destined to remain steeped in German things this summer, even when playing an American RPG.) A one-screen introduction before each level advances the plot and gives the player hints as to the tasks that need to be accomplished before he can find the level's "icon" and warp to the next level. Along the way, you encounter various enemies and items.

The icons in question, from the game manual.
Approaching the "perseverance" icon, which will allow me off Level 4. A ghost guards it, and the mushroom left by a slain enemy sits at the top of the screen.

Each level is, oh, maybe 6 screens wide and tall, but arranged as a maze so you have to do a lot of backtracking and weaving about. Enemies include bats, rats, snakes, kobolds (I didn't know until today that these are from German mythology), dwarves, and ghosts, and you can fight them with swords or blast them with wands.

The layout of each level is fixed, although the placement of monsters and items are not. You start each level naked and over the course of your explorations find a sword (always near the starting point, since without it, you're screwed), two magic wands, a helm, a shield, a suit of chainmail, and maybe a plot item or two. Gold bars are scattered randomly; they don't do anything but increase your score as you move from level to level. Little glowing "plus" symbols heal you or, if you're already at maximum hit points, increase your maximum health by 5 points. This is the only "character development" in the game, and thus the only thing that (barely) qualifies it as an RPG.

The status screen shows my equipment and current vitality on Level 4.

It's not clear until the narrative progresses, but you start out playing Sigmund. After Level 3, you switch to playing his son, Siegfried. The rest of this post has more detailed spoilers than usual, so if you're considering playing the game, you might want to skip to the end. Figuring out the few puzzles is the most satisfying part of playing.

Each level begins with a title card that progresses the narrative.
Each level ends at a different icon, labeled in the book. True to the book's word that "dying is not the end," if you die after solving the level's puzzle, you automatically move to the next level--although with fewer points than if you make it, alive, to the icon. If you die before completing the goal, you return to the beginning, minus 100 points, and all the equipment is scattered again. If you try to enter the icon before completing the level's quest, you die.

The game commences with a sword to my south, a kobold to my east, and a bunch of gold bars around the area.

Level 1 ("The Legend of the Ring") starts with a title card describing the Rhinemaidens, their magical golden ring, and rumors that Alberich, one of the dwarves (Nibelungen), is planning to steal it. The player has nothing special to do on this level except collect treasure and find the icon that allows him exit from the level.

The icon is across a narrow channel of water, and it took me a while to realize that I kept drowning because I was overloaded with gold. If you want to swim across water in the game, you can only be holding 3 or 4 gold bars at a time. You can use the "pick up" and "drop" commands to incrementally shuffle them over if you really care about gold and a high score.

Moving gold across the river.

When Sigmund enters the icon, he's treated to a scene of Alberich showing up, stealing the ring from the Rhinemaidens, and running off.

Alberich runs off with the ring as I leave the level.

Level 2 ("Love and the Sword") starts by describing how, shortly after he stole the ring, Alberich was murdered by his friend, Fafner, who used the ring's power to turn into a dragon. Alarmed by the threat the dragon poses, Odin has created a magic sword, impervious to dragon blood, and given it to a beautiful maiden named Siglund (the game's version of "Sieglinde"). Siglund is being guarded by Hunding, the Black Knight, and the hero must brave a wall of fire to rescue her.

Preparing to brave the flames.

The wall of fire does considerable damage, so on this level it's particularly important for Sigmund to collect as many pluses (while at max health) as possible and to find the various pieces of armor. Once he charges through the wall of fire, Hunding dies in a single blow and Sigmund retrieves the sword.

Level 3 ("Bravery and Retribution") starts by informing the player that--oops!--Hunding was actually Siglund's husband. Fricka, Odin's wife and the goddess of marriage, isn't happy at the events and convinces Odin to withdraw favor from Sigmund. Meanwhile, Hunding's brother, Hagen the Invincible, is seeking revenge.

This is the only level that you cannot escape via the icon. Winning the level requires Sigmund to find the magic sword and then attack Hagen with it. The moment he does, the sword shatters, Sigmund dies, and the next level begins.

My original idea, to lay the sword down in front of Hagen as an offering, didn't work.

Level 4 ("Rebirth"). Sigmund is dead, but Siglund has given birth to his child, Siegfried. Siglund dies while Siegfried is a child, and the boy is raised by one of the Nibelungen.

At this point, you start playing as Siegfried, signaled by a change in the character's hair color. To get off the level, you simply have to find the broken magic sword. 

Level 5 ("Perseverance") tells the player that Siegfried must now reforge the magic sword at the enchanted forge of the dwarves. The level is more maze-like than the others, but I found the forge easy enough. It took me a while to figure out how to re-forge the sword. You have to pick up the hammer, then drop the sword in just the right place so it ends up on top of the anvil.

Completing the quest for Level 4. Now I can find the icon or just die to go to Level 5.

Level 6 ("The Great Challenge") is about killing the dragon, Fafner, and a challenge it is. This one took me long enough that I confess I looked online for a walkthrough. Finding nothing, I had to figure it out for myself.

Fafner sits in a chamber in the eastern part of the level, constantly breathing fire. The setup reminded me of Caverns of Freitag, and I wonder if the developers were familiar with the earlier game. Anyway, it was clear after one attempt that I couldn't just charge the dragon: I was crispened the moment I entered his flames.

Not much warning there.

Defeating Fafner starts by sitting outside the chamber and firing one of the wands at him. There are two wands on each level, one that shoots fire and one that shoots lightning. You have to hit him in the face with the one that shoots lightning. This stops him from breathing and allows you to enter the chamber.

Fafner discourages me from approaching.

As you circle the dragon, you see that the only other part animated is his tail. Furthermore, if the tail kills you, your death message specifically mentions the tail (whereas approaching any other part of the dragon simply indicates that "the dragon" killed you). Because of this, I spent a lot of time trying to attack the tail. But wands did nothing and if I approached, I could maybe get in 3 or 4 swings with the sword before dying. Eventually, I tried attacking other parts of the body with the sword, and I finally had success attacking his wings. Fafner died, leaving behind a pile of treasure and the magic ring.

With the ring in hand, you can fly over all the walls and obstacles in the game, which is really handy.

As Level 7 ("Charity and Justice") begins, all the equipment, including the ring, is again scattered. The title card asks whether the hero "possesses sufficient virtues and insight to overcome the malign effects of the ring" and whether he "has the wisdom to discover what must be done to fulfill Odin's plan."

The monsters on the level are notably hard, and I found it was better to just run past them than to try to fight. I found the ring in the upper-left corner, but I soon discovered that if you're attacked by a dwarf on this level, he steals the ring and disappears, and you have to find it somewhere else. After finding it a second time, I pondered what to do about it.

I was actually quite proud of myself for figuring out the answer. At one place on the level is a section of river that looks the same as the location on Level 1 where Alberich stole the ring from the Rhinemaidens in the first place. I intuited that the thing to do was (D)rop the ring on the island in the middle of the river where it had first appeared (I'm glad I took a screenshot on Level 1). Sure enough, the Rhinemaidens appeared and retrieved the artifact.

The game ended with a screen showing Siegfried victorious over Fafner...

...and then a final card bringing the tale to a conclusion, along with your final score:

I should mention that my reload count during this process was huge--an average of 7 reloads per level. That's because combat in this game is functionally impossible. There are no battle tactics but to wave your sword in the vague direction of the enemy and hope it hits. The enemy, in contrast, only has to be touching you to rapidly sap your hit points.

Enemies float around erratically while you're trying to fight them, crossing your square back and forth, and in general making a huge nuisance of themselves. There's no feedback from your own attacks until enemies die, so you really don't know whether you're being effective.

Trying to kill a bat as it buzzes back and forth across my body.

Also, enemies get tougher as the levels increase. There is no point in the game at which bats and rats aren't a huge threat. Since the screen doesn't move until you're right at the edge of it, you don't have any warning when you're about to wander into a nest of them.

Another death at the hands of vermin.

Wands are a godsend when you can find them. When you attack with them, the game pauses while you specify a direction, and generally one wand blast kills most enemies. Until I had one in hand, though, I was in danger of death at every corner.

Aiming a wand at a kobold.

Mitigating the difficulty is the fact that death doesn't have a lot of consequences, but it was frustrating to lose even the small amount of progress I'd made on each level, and since the game allows you to save anywhere (although in order to save, you have to quit), I generally reloaded rather than accepting resurrection.

A few other gameplay notes:

  • When enemies die, they transform into mushrooms. If you leave the mushrooms there, over the course of the level, they become rotten and toxic, and walking over them poisons you. It's best to pick them up as soon as they appear--particularly if they're in the middle of corridors or other places where you can't go around them.

A ghost floats about some poisonous mushrooms.
  • The manual (link courtesy of the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History) has excellent production values, with an evocative image on almost every page. There's also a scoresheet in the back for players to record their high scores. The artwork is credited to Tyler Strouth. I guess this is him today.
One of the nice illustrations in the Icon manual.
  • The lightning wand bounces off walls if it misses the enemy. The bolt will keep bouncing back and forth forever until it hits something (including you).
  • In the absence of the crosses, wounds heal slowly if standing still.
  • In addition to stealing the ring on Level 7, dwarves will steal your other equipment--helms, shields, armor--and disappear on other levels.
  • Ghosts are the most annoying foes in the game, since they can pass through objects and are immune to the regular sword. You have to run from them until you have a wand.
  • Maximum health increases as you advance levels, in addition to the increases conferred by crosses.
  • When you start a new game, you can choose an "advanced mode" in which combats are even more difficult and health actually decreases as you progress through the levels!

Icon isn't really an RPG by my definitions. It has a small inventory and the extremely limited character development, but combat is all action-based. Thus, it doesn't do terribly well on my GIMLET, particularly since it lacks NPCs and any kind of real economy. I gave it 5 points for its highly original setting and 3 points in "encounters" for its moderately-challenging puzzles. It does okay (3) in "quests" and fairly well (4) in "gameplay" for its quick pace and somewhat satisfying difficulty. The final score is 22.

The manual cover features Albrecht Durer's (1471-1528) copper engraving of "Knight, Death, and the Devil."

Icon was the first game developed and published by Macrocom, and the first for developers Bohrer and White. Randall Bohrer was 38 when the game was created, had a doctorate in mythology, and was working at Georgia Tech. White was a student at the same university. In 2001, MobyGames offered an interview with the duo, and in it they say that White was the programmer and Bohrer was the "visionary." It certainly does feel like the game was created by someone with a deep background in mythology.

The article spends a lot of time highlighting how the developers offered "16-color graphics on a video card that was only technically capable of 4-colors in graphics mode." While I don't have enough background in the technology to understand enough to really be impressed, it sounds impressive. They estimate that the game sold only about 1,600 copies (the DOS game market was almost non-existent). It was apparently very popular in Japan, but in the form of pirated copies.
"Unfortunately for today's fans," White says in the interview, "I worked very hard at detecting hacked copies of the game and saved-game files." This is true. I nearly didn't play the game because all the versions I could find for download wouldn't let me off Level 1. It wanted to see a disk in the drive for Level 2. I was rescued by the same anonymous Belgian reader who helped me with all those maps for Dragon Sword in December. He had hacked the game for his own purposes and sent me a copy that worked all the way through the end.
The only other game produced by Bohrer and White--also original in its mythology--was The Seven Spirits of Ra (1987). I gave it a quick pass in 2011, before I was taking the time to appreciate the backgrounds of the games I was playing. (I missed Icon on my first pass through the 1980s simply because it wasn't cataloged on MobyGames yet.) You can see a lot of similarities between the two titles.
Icon might not be a great RPG specifically, but Bohrer and White deserve to be remembered along with developers like Stuart Smith for breaking the Tolkien/D&D mold and drawing from classical sources. I'm proud that this is the first account of the full game on the Internet.


  1. (This may be a double post, my comments keep not showing up)

    This seems like quite an interesting little game, and I'm glad that you decided to ignore the weak RPG credentials once the technical problems were solved, although I find it quite amusing (but not incorrect) that a game you praise for "breaking the Tolkien mold" was built on the same mythology that Tolkien drew so much of his inspiration from.

    1. It's especially funny that a game called Quest for the Ring is one of the few early RPGs to not rip off Lord of the Rings, haha.

    2. I was thinking the same thing. Between references to "icon" that sound like someone used a thesaurus to look up alternatives for "avatar" and then ring being in the title, it seemed destined to fall into cliche. Surprising and refreshing that it didn't. Still seems like they ought to have named it something slightly more Norse sounding.

      Fun to see something that makes exclusive use of Norse myth, though. It's hard to find cases where it's the primary focus.

      Also interesting that you have to die to advance from one of the stages. That's not something you see much, either.

    3. Lord of the Rings was not cliche in 1984. People loved it, and loved more seeing it in games.

    4. Perhaps if I said "broke the D&D mold," that would have gotten my point across better, which was that in 9/10 games through 1984 and beyond, the same selection of character races and classes are fighting orcs and trolls. It's always nice when a game tries something different, even if it doesn't completely succeed.

  2. I've put a known-good copy of ICON [*] and my crack online here:
    You need to put Dosbox in CGA mode to play this, otherwise the graphics will glitch.

    (According to the Mobygames article, the authors have given permission to distribute ICON, so this should be okay.)

    I agree that combat is problematic in the game. If the sword had a slightly larger range and a successful attack pushed the enemy back, or stunned them for a bit, the game would be much more playable.

    The gold you collect has a use: Vs lbh unir tbyq va lbhe vairagbel, gur qjneirf jvyy fgrny gung naq yrnir lbhe rdhvczrag nybar.

    I approached the fight with Fafner differently. Va gur bcren Snsare'f ihyarenoyr fcbg jnf uvf oryyl. V sbhaq gung lbh pbhyq fbeg bs jnyx vagb gur qentba sebz orybj naq vs lbh fynfu uvz gung jnl n srj gvzrf, ur qvrf dhvpxyl. (And yes, the tail misled me as well for a while).

    The decreasing hit point mechanic in "advanced" mode is interesting. The only other game I know that does that is Sword & Sworcery (a modern mobile game). It would make a lot of sense in many stories and it also naturally increases the difficulty as the player progresses, so it's a bit surprising that it is so uncommon.

    [*] The commonly available version of ICON on abandonware sites seems to suffer from disk corruption. One symptom is that the "Press the SPACE BAR to continue" prompt is wrapped across two lines: the routine to print centered text is broken.)

    1. Gauntlet has health decreasing constantly. Adventures of Cookie and Cream has a timer that decrease slowly, or quickly when hit by enemies. I'm sure there are other games that have similar mechanics.

    2. Thanks Peter, I was trying to get past the copy protection myself because I got the game as an Xmas present in 1989, but the game didn't treat the disk as an original. It will be interesting to study your code and try and figure out how you did it. I actually emailed Neil White back in 2006 and he told me that if I was lucky I could find a protectionless copy of the game and that they were floating around the internet.

  3. I wonder where they found the forms of the Hebrew letters that make up the titular icons. A few of them vaguely resemble the Rashi script, but not the aleph ("curiosity"). Near as I can tell, they're supposed to represent the first eight characters of the aleph beth, less vav---presumably because of its similarity to zayin. The cheth ("justice") looks very similar to a quph, though.

    1. I don't know the answer to your question, but I didn't know where the icons came from in the first place. So thanks for the comment!

    2. That is curious. I don't know why they didn't go with viking runes. Seems like that would have been an obvious choice.

  4. As much as I enjoy the nostalgia of reading about games I'm already familiar with, it's these sorts of posts, I think, that really make this blog valuable--examinations of obscure works that, even if they aren't gems, have something interesting to offer that would otherwise be lost. Thanks, Chet!

    1. Agreed, I enjoy the LPs but I'm here for the archival work - the interviews, the comparisons, the genealogy.

      This site will be the most valuable source of someone's thesis one day.

  5. Many early DOS games took advantage of the way composite video monitors work to display more than 4 colors using a 2-4-color CGA video card. ICON is unique for doing it via a different method that also worked for RGB monitors. Here is the blurb from MobyGames:

    "ICON: Quest for the Ring was one of the very few PC games to use a tweaked 40-column text mode to paint "graphics" with a surprising amount of detail, no doubt inspired by the Commodore 64's "character graphics". It was achieved by changing the character cell height from the normal 8 lines down to only two; the result was an effective resolution of "320x200x16" with the obvious color limitations per character cell.

    Check out the screenshots for examples of the advantages (and slight drawbacks) of this unique video mode."

  6. My brother and I are happy that somebody managed to get it working! Our parents got this for us back when it came out. If that was 1984... I must have been 6, which would make Zach 8 or 9. We made it all the way to the dragon, figured out the first part, but didn't have any idea how to kill the thing. I don't remember why the belly or wings didn't occur to us (or if we tried and missed). I just remember dying over and over and standing next to the dragon being frustrated for hours, unable to kill it and unable to think of another idea.

    We tried to search the net much later on to figure out how to win and found nothing. Now, it is finally done! I wonder if that's the last obscure game-demon from my childhood that really needed to be exorcised (the blog helped me with Wizard Wars years ago).

    1. I died about a dozen times before I figured out the dragon, but I live in a world of near-instant reloading. If I had to do things at 1984 computer speeds, I probably would have given up on the dragon, too.

      I'm glad I was able to fill in that missing piece for you.

    2. Cool to know that the creator of Dwarf Fortress is a fellow CRPG Addict reader :)

    3. Not really - the DF update isn't going to code itself, and we don't want him distracted.

      All kidding aside, he's commented here before.

  7. I remember getting to the final level myself, but couldn't figure out the final piece of the puzzle. I guess it was even more devilish than I'd thought -- IIRC, I did try dropping the ring *in* the river (and even drowning in the river on purpose with the ring on me), so I guess I was sort of on the right track... trying the island just didn't occur to me somehow, so thanks for that. :)

    1. That would suck to have made it so far and not complete the game. I'm glad I could show you the winning screen.

  8. I kept thinking of Stuart Smith while reading this. It also reminds me of the old Atari 800 game "Journey to the Planets". I think this is the only game derived from Germanic mythology, or am I wrong?

    1. I'm not aware of any others, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

      Even though I praise the game for drawing on classical sources, the problem with ancient mythology is that it's messy. A lot of the tales contradict each other or don't make any sense even when they don't. They sometimes have interesting foundations, but they lack the art of a compelling narrative with an identifiable protagonist. Even Arthuriana suffers from this problem a bit.

    2. Perhaps that is why Dungeons and Dragons uses multiple mythologies and stirs them together like a gumbo. It creates a richer environment, though at the cost of a true "center", as you once spoke of.

    3. > this is the only game derived from Germanic mythology, or am I wrong?
      Depends on whether you mean Germanic in general or only continental Germanic. IIRC Dusk of the Gods is a very accurate representation of the Norse one, and there are a few less accurate games too.

  9. Interestingly, kobolds and goblins are pretty much the same thing in mythology. One was the German version, and the other was from the British Isles. Both were essentially the mining caste of the fairy world.

    Also interestingly, a very similar creature shows up in some American Indian legends.

  10. Yeah, kobolds are from the German mines. I learned that from Darklands!

    This seems more like a deluxe Atari 2600 Adventure than any other game. If the programmer didn't have to deal with the Atari's severe limitations.

  11. That's the saddest looking hero I've ever seen. :(

    I think I've read this story before somewhere but the name of the Chief God was somewhat different (Wotan versus Odin). I guess it's a Nordic/Germanic thingy.

    And seeing that deaths and rebirths are rather large in the order of things here, I'm surprised it wasn't dealt with the Valkyries carrying the hero's soul to Valhalla (also, where's Brunhilda?) and resurrected as an Einherjar instead.

    Nibelung Valesti!

    1. Yeah, I was going to comment on the face. I think maybe that's supposed to be a drooping mustache?

    2. But even the lady in Level 2 looks sad.

    3. I got the same impression at first, and thought it odd. But when I looked closely, I found that that droopy expression is . . , how to say, a kind of optical illusion, so to say. The grey pixels at the end of mouth are actually background color next to our hero's neck.

      And, you're correct about Wotan. The chief god is called Wotan in Wagner's opera. I remember, when I first watched it, I wondered about that. 'Who's that Wotan? Shouldn't he be Odin???'

    4. Wotan is just a linguistic variant, just as the apocalyptic final battle is "Gotterdamerung" instead of "Ragnarok". Another variant is Woden, which is the origin of the word "Wednesday" (Woden's Day, to go along with "Tyr's Day" (Tuesday) "Thor's Day" (Thursday) and "Freya's Day" (Friday)).

  12. As a note, you missed filling in the final score and such at the top. (Only 11 months behind now)

  13. In the opera the game is based on, Brünnhilde returns the ring to the rheinmaidens. Siegfried is killed before this.(Brünnhilde is "the fat lady" who led to the saying "It ain't over till the fat lady sings").

  14. Also, regarding the battle with the dragon. I'm not sure, but I think the game makers have created a strategy for people to discover. The dragon's tail moves up and down. If you move past the tail while it's down you avoid damage. Then you can get to the dragon's wings and use a hit and retreat strategy on them, which will eventually kill it (I did the same to kill the Black Knight, Hunding on Level 2).

    I think it's quite a neat idea to have you change characters part way through the game and for your first character to die in order to advance to the next part of the game.

  15. Thanks for the write-up! I really enjoyed the walk-through.

    It reminded me of details I'd forgotten (and I actually wrote the game). Yes, this is Neal White and I stumbled upon your article, while researching links for my nephew.

    The character looks sad, but that was simply the best we could do with the graphics limitations (2 colors per char cell and a limited set of pixel patterns). The "mustache" is supposed to be lips and is intended to be a neutral expression. The player's health is indicated by the blinking color of the triangle on his chest (like Ultraman - and health will heal over time, so the best strategy is to attack, then hide and heal. One of our main concerns was that we wanted it to be difficult enough to be a challenge.

    It's not been mentioned, but one of the hardest things to do was getting reasonable sound out of the PC's single speaker. It could only play a single tone (constant Hz). I wrote a interrupt-driven subsystem that implemented the Play command in PC-Basic; Rand Bohrer and I experimented with simple Basic statements, to compose all the sound-effects and music. Here's Basic doc, if you're interested in the details:

    Rand really pushed me to create a large foreboding dragon and I think we did pretty well, considering the limitations of PCs at the time. Another one of those challenges was memory. One of the computers I had to target was the IBM PCjr, which only had 128 kilobytes of system RAM, including the video memory, so it wasn't all available for use by a program.

    1. Hey, Neal! Sorry that you posted this during my long hiatus, and I didn't notice it much sooner. Thank you for stopping by to comment, and for writing such a memorable and original game.

      I don't mean to minimize your technical achievements in graphics and sound, but after a few years, those types of things lose their "wow" factor as better technologies come along. In contrast, what you did with the highly-original plots and settings will make your games live considerably longer in memory.

    2. Oh, and yes, the dragon is pretty intimidating. It would have freaked me out when I stumbled on it in 1984.

  16. I am glad you reviewed this video game. I played this game close to when it was released (hacked) on a IBM PC XT. I was thinking about it tonight and found this post. One of the more frustrating games I have ever played, but at the time the graphics were awesome!

    Thanks again for posting this.

  17. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 1, 2021 at 11:52 AM

    I haven't been around here long enough to be sure of how everything works, but: given the title screen shown above, why is the game cataloged here as "ICON" and not "icon?"

    1. That's a good question. I think I was influenced by the manual text, which stylizes the game with all caps every time it's mentioned. But that's clearly just a stylization (instead of using italics, for instance) and not a signal that the game's main title is an acronym. I've reverted the title to lower case throughout this entry.

  18. I played this game a long, long time ago, maybe around 1988, and I really loved it. I spent countless hours to make it through. I may be mistaken, but I believe that there was a way to recover health faster than just waiting: reapatingly bumping into a wall (keep pressing down an arrow key toward the wall while standing next to it). It made a terrible noise, but it was my go-to technique to survive. Great memories, thank you for writing a summary, and many thanks to the author for so much fun!

  19. Player from St-Georges-de-BeauceApril 13, 2022 at 10:26 PM

    I played this game a long, long time ago, maybe around 1988, and I really loved it. I spent countless hours to make it through. I may be mistaken, but I believe that there was a way to recover health faster than just waiting: reapatingly bumping into a wall (keep pressing down an arrow key toward the wall while standing next to it). It made a terrible noise, but it was my go-to technique to survive. Great memories, thank you for writing a summary, and many thanks to the author for so much fun!


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

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

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

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.