Friday, August 28, 2015

Game 200: Questron (1984)

United States
Quest Software (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1984 for Apple II, Atari 8-bit, and Commodore 64
Date Started: 28 August 2015

There's an entire generation out there--maybe even two generations, depending on how you define it--who have always had computer games and have always had RPGs. People who were born the same year Fallout was released are eligible to vote; those born the same year The Elder Scrolls came into existence can now drink. You could have no original memories of Gold Box games and yet have children of your own, on purpose. It's hard for me to imagine what it must be like to always remember a computer in the house, a live Internet connection, and as many games as you had time to play.
I'm not old enough to remember a time before Pong existed, but I am old enough to remember a time before arcade parlors and widespread ownership of consoles. I remember playing Galaga and Pac-Man at mall arcades and fantasizing about the day that I would be wealthy enough to bring an actual bucketful of quarters to the place and play as long as I wanted--and it turned out those weren't even the kind of games I liked!

Try to imagine being that kid, in an era where all video games were new, whose video game experience was primarily arcade shoot-'em-ups where getting the "high score" was the goal, encountering a role-playing game for the first time. Think of discovering, all in one afternoon, that a game doesn't have to be about "lives," points, increasing difficulty, and inevitable death. It can have a story. It can have a persistent hero who gets stronger as the game goes along. You can get richer, better equipped. Success is less about reflexes than strategy. If you screw up, you can reload, and if you don't screw up, you can actually win!

This is what I learned one day, probably in 1985, on my friend's Commodore 64. The game was Questron. I didn't know the term "role-playing game" at the time. I hadn't played my first tabletop D&D session yet, so I wasn't even familiar with the basic conventions of fantasy gaming. Among other things, I thought my character was acquiring a chemical spray when he bought a "mace." I didn't know Questron's enemies were made up for this game. When I played other games, I kept wondering where the "dirt weirds" were. But despite my deficiencies, I was addicted immediately.

A typical Questron screen. My character stands between a cathedral to the northeast and a city to the southwest. I'm being attacked by a bandit.
I think I can remember the specific day--although it's possible, 30 years later, that I might be conflating more than one occasion. I was grooving on my friend's sister's friend at the time (he was a bit older than me; she was my age), and during a planned sleepover at his house, I had it on my agenda to make some kind of move. But he showed me the game, and those plans went out the window. I spent all day and night playing the game--I remember he got pissed at me at one point--and it would be six more years before I kissed a girl.

It was probably on the strength of this game alone that I pressured my mother to buy me a C64 and disk drive, and I guess I must have copied Questron from my friend. Things that happened when we were younger tend to loom larger and longer in our minds. In reality, I might have only played Questron for a week or two before winning, but in my memory, the game seems to have been around for years. I remember the same thing with Ultima IV, which I would have acquired around the same time. There was no pressure to "win" the game--heck, I'm not sure I even knew, in those early days, that the goal was to win. I was just happy to wander the lands, fight, buy better equipment, and level up. It seems to have taken forever before I discovered the Land of Evil, and even longer before I experienced the awesome winning sequences, which still stand out in my mind as better than 99% of the games I've played since.

I have no excuse for waiting this long to re-visit it as part of this blog except for my own pathology. When I first started the blog, I was afraid of non-DOS emulators and refused to make an exception, not even for the first RPG I ever played, not even for superior versions of other RPGs. Later, when I changed my rules, I insisted on reaching the game naturally instead of prioritizing it. However, I did engineer things so that it would be my 200th game.

Starting the game a few days ago, for the first time in 30 years, was a surreal experience. I hardly remembered anything substantive about it, just random things like the basic placement of the castle, the way my friend and I used to laugh at a monster called a "flesh feeler," the use of "rawhide" as the most basic armor, and the "rope and hooks" that serve as both a weapon and a tool.

Questron was written by Charles W. Dougherty of Michigan and published by SSI. At the bottom of the first menu screen, we have a note that "game structure and style used under license of Richard Garriott." In Dungeons & Desktops, Matt Barton says "to their credit, SSI took the precaution of securing a license from Garriott," which is how I always understood it. A couple of sites, however, including Wikipedia, suggest that the licensing was a result of a lawsuit from Garriott's end. None of these latter claims are particularly well-cited, on the other hand, so I'm afraid I still don't know what the real story is. Given how blatantly other games copy elements from each other without such licensing agreements, it's certainly an unusual credit to find in a game.

The main menu with the odd legal notice.

In any event, whether SSI should have been legally and financially obligated to Garriott, Questron is clearly inspired by Ultima. From it, the game takes its basic look and feel: iconographic exploration transitioning to 3D dungeons, little enterable towns and temples, various NPCs to speak with (some in jail), guards to contend with, a constantly-dwindling food supply, and purchases made at little countertops. It takes the same approach to single-letter commands (though it also supports a joystick). And like Ultima, its combat system is a pretty rote affair in which you stand right next to enemies and slug it out with the "fight" command.

But I think it would still be unfair to call Questron an "Ultima clone," because it makes a number of modifications and additions to the Ultima template. Some of them work and some don't, but all are relatively creative. Some examples:

  • Monsters are mostly original creations rather than deriving from Tolkien or D&D.
  • Monsters are resistant to some weapons and particularly vulnerable to others.
  • There's an extensive gambling system with three different kinds of games.
  • Not all weapons and armor are available at the outset of the game; higher-order items become slowly available over time.
  • Character development is largely based on plot developments rather than traditional experience and leveling. 

For the most part, these features carry to all four of the games in this little sub-series: Questron, Legacy of the Ancients (1987), Questron II (1988), and The Legend of Blacksilver (1988). I'll have more thoughts on the series in a later post.

The backstory is well-told via a series of letters and testimonies found in the nicely-produced game manual. The game takes place in the Realm of Questron, in the aftermath of a bloody coup d'etat known as the Baron Rebellion. It began when Baron John of Blind Pass killed King Gerald during a spring pageant. [He is likely named after Gerald Wieczorek, credited with "game theory" and artwork.] Years of fighting followed, in which Gerald's queen, Kristene, was also assassinated. But the traitors and their armies were suppressed through the magic of Mesron and Mantor, two court wizards (and half-brothers), and eventually Prince Aaron ascended peacefully to the throne.

Rumors swirled in the subsequent years that Mantor had actually supported the rebels. Over two decades later, Mantor suddenly disappeared. Shortly thereafter, dangerous monsters started appearing in the countryside, attacking travelers, towns, and castles. It soon became clear that Mantor was directing them. Somehow, he had traveled to another world (perhaps another time) and returned with an evil book of magic, which he used to take over another continent called the Land of Evil (one assumes it had another name before Mantor) and then start harrying Questron. One night, he stormed the castle throne room and challenged the king himself, killing the queen and one of the princesses before Mesron drove him off.

A bit of the backstory as the game begins.

King Aaron has sent knight after knight to the Land of Evil on quests to kill Mantor, but all have failed, and monsters still roam the land. You play a serf from Geraldtown who, sick of all the carnage, sold his ox, bought a suit of rawhide armor, and embarked on a quest to bring Mantor down.

Character creation consists solely of providing a name. Each character starts at 15 in 5 attributes: strength, stamina, dexterity, intelligence, and charisma.

All there is to character creation.

The opening act of the game takes place throughout the continent of Questron, a twisting, irregular landscape of peninsulas, mountains, lakes, and isthmuses. Maybe a dozen cities, one castle, and a handful of cathedrals dot the landscape. As you explore, you get attacked at regular intervals (every 10 steps, roughly) by one of the game's many monsters, all described in some detail in the manual. Almost all of them have two-word names, usually a regular word preceded by an adjective: Wrention Warrior, Bloodhound Ghoul, Leopard Yeti, Phazor Spider, Faun Nymph, Strangler Fiend, Woods Ogre. (My favorite is "Irish Stalker," which sounds like a drink.) Unlike in Ultima, you don't see them until they appear in the square next to you. If you try to flee, they sometimes move to block you, but you can usually get away after a few attempts.

Fighting a Woods Ogre. Different monsters appear depending on what terrain you're standing on.

In a tradition that carries through the rest of the games in the Dougherty series, the monsters don't really have a lot of special attacks. Grassland creatures tend to be easier than jungle creatures which are easier than mountain creatures, but overall not a lot differentiates them except their names. Some of them do have defenses against most weapons, and NPC dialogue helps determine what weapon works best against what creatures. All of them, even the animals, carry gold pieces. Because you don't get experience from killing monsters, accumulation of gold seems to be the only real reason to fight them.

In an innovation new to this game, you occasionally meet someone in the wilderness who doesn't want to fight you, such as a high elf, monk, or merchant. (S)peaking to these NPCs might give you the ability to buy a weapon or piece of armor, some information, or some hit points.

The cities have names like Wimp Cave, Blind Pass, Lake Centre, and Gamblers Grotto, and each features a different layout, a different number and positioning of guards, and a different selection of shops and services. These include weapons, armor, transportation, food, banking, and gambling. As the game begins, only "rawhide" armor is available, and the only weapons are slings and whips. After you've played for a while, "rope and hooks" become available--which also allow you to cross mountain ranges in the wilderness--and then flails. That's as far as I've gotten so far. I don't know if the availability of weapons is purely based on the passage of time, or if there are other factors at work such as enemies slain or areas visited.

Transportation is important because food depletes very quickly on foot. Horses are the first to appear, then "Wam Lamas." I assume I'll eventually get watercraft options.

I thought I once heard that a one-l lama is a priest.

A few of the cities have prisoners in little barred cells. If you talk to the nearest guard, you can bribe him for one or two chats with the prisoners, who might provide some one-line intelligence. If you try to talk to the prisoners without bribing the guards first, an alarm goes off and all the guards converge on you and attack. This isn't really survivable in the game's opening stages. You also generally don't want to talk to other guards because there's a decent chance they'll hit you and/or steal some of your money. Guards in this game are real bastards.

Bribing a guard to talk to his prisoners.

Gambling is a big part of the game, and I spent a while trying to find exploits in the system, since fighting enemies is both boring and risky. Also, I remembered that Questron II had a game with ridiculously favorable odds. The first game here, blackjack, uses standard Vegas rules (dealer has to hit on 16, must stand on 17), which means your odds are about 50/50 if you know what you're doing.

Actually, with no "split" or "double down" options, the odds might be worse than 50/50.

The second game, "Double or Nothing," has literal 50-50 odds. You bet a certain amount of money and watch a cursor jump quickly (too quickly to time) between "win" and "lose." You hit a button to make it stop and have a 50% chance of either.

The third game, roulette, offers the best odds. Basically, you pick one number that pays 25-to-1 if the ball lands on it. But you also make an even/odd bet and get paid 2-to-1 if you win that. Like any good roulette wheel, this one has a 0 that is a "lose" no matter what you bet. But, weirdly, there are 16 odds and 15 evens among the other numbers (1-31). With 32 numbers, including the 0, your chances of winning if you bet "odd" is literally 16/32 or 50-50. But if you place your 25-1 bet on an even number at the same time, your average payout ends up being 1.78-to-1.

Roulette offers the best odds.

I tried this out by betting 5 gold pieces per round and recording the results of 100 spins. I ended up winning 58 times and losing 42, a bit higher than the 53/47 the odds would have predicted, but the ball landed on my chosen number only twice instead of three times. Thus, from 500 gold pieces bet, I walked out with 815 in winnings. Not bad. It took me about 15 minutes, and I could arguably have made the same amount fighting creatures during the same time, but I would have lost hit points and food during that process.

But let's go back to "Double or Nothing," because something was tickling my memory. I remember a time, after I got my C64, that I figured out a pattern to the game. I thought it went like this: the "win/lose" selection always starts on "win," so although you can't time the selection, if you hit the button immediately after the game starts, it will never leave "win" and you'll double your money. I have a fairly vivid memory of running out of my room after figuring this out, encountering my mother, and saying something like, "Mom! I'm playing this game where you hardly ever have more than 500 gold pieces, but I figured out how to cheat the gambling game, and now I have like 5,000!" My mother, as you might imagine, was unimpressed.

Double-or-nothing is the easiest way to build your finances, but it comes at a price.

Anyway, my strategy didn't work the way I remembered. The cursor moves off "win" too quickly to hit the button before it leaves. BUT you can still time it so that if you wait just a split second before hitting the button, it will return to "win" in just the right time. After a few practices, I found I could get it right about 7/10 of the time. That is, of course, more than enough to return big winnings.

I soon found out the downside to winning too much money: the casino closes and all the guards swarm you and kill you. Actually, the guards might swarm you and attack even if you don't break the casino. You just have to win a certain amount. That's bogus. Different towns have different numbers and configurations of guards, and in some of them it might be possible to reach the exit before they can kill you. I haven't studied them all yet.

It would not be a good idea to annoy the guards in this town.

I'm spending all this time talking about money because money is power in Questron. With no experience points or leveling, the only way you develop is purchasing more gear and purchasing hit points (in the form of holy water potions) in the various cathedrals that dot the landscape. You get one potion for every 75 gold pieces that you donate, but you have to drink one right away in order to leave the temple.

Visiting a cathedral. Donating money at the altar gets me holy water in the room to the northwest.

There is one other way to develop, but it also costs money. In a cathedral near the starting point, Swamp Cathedral, you can play a skeet-shooting game for 50 gold pieces. You get a certain number of pulls, and then you aim a gun and hit the button to shoot a volley at the 1-3 clay pigeons that appear. If you do well enough, your dexterity goes up a few points. On subsequent visits, you have to beat your previous score to see any increase. I haven't encountered them yet, but I assume there are similar minigames for the other attributes.

Playing the skeet-shooting minigame.

And reaping the rewards!

After I figured out the basic gameplay mechanics, I started exploring the island in a counter-clockwise pattern and ultimately came across the land's castle--a large, maze-like fortress full of guards, trapped chests, and locked doors.

This was right where I remembered it.

I couldn't find anything useful on the first visit, and I assume, just like in Questron II and Legacy of the Ancients, I'll eventually have to pillage all those chests and kill all those guards looking for keys. (Opening any chest causes the guards to attack.) A careless disregard for the lives of castle guards is something that this series regrettably inherited from the first Ultima.

I guess I shouldn't have opened that chest.

Anyway, I'm still a bit too weak to take on castle guards, so my current plan is to finish circling the island, create a crude map, re-visit all the cities, increase my funds, talk to more prisoners for intelligence, buy new weapons and armor as they become available, and build up my stock of holy water potions.

My character at the end of this session.

A few other notes:

  • When you enter the altar room of a cathedral, it warns you that "sinners" aren't welcome. I'm not sure how the game determines that you're a "sinner." I hope killing guards isn't considered a sin, because that seems almost inevitable.
  • "Rob" is another command that you have while in cities. Maybe that's how you sin. I haven't explored it yet because it seems easy enough to make money other ways.
  • If you die, Mesron resurrects you in a random place with 15 gold, 200 hit points, and a small amount of food. Your weapons are gone but your armor remains. Better to just reload.
  • The game is a lot more colorful than I remembered. Were there versions that were more monochrome? Probably not. I tend to remember Ultima V with drab colors, too, and it's quite the opposite.
  • In Ocean Cathedral, I found an enchanted flute that said "play me but thrice!" I saved and played it to see what would happen: it causes a pilgrim to appear who offers food, medicine or gold. I reloaded so I wouldn't waste one of three chances. Anyway, the flute seems to be a way to get out of a bad situation in an emergency, at least three times.
  • I haven't seen a hint of a magic system yet, and there isn't a keyboard option that has anything to do with magic. It's possible that spells show up as inventory items later that you (H)old and (O)perate.
  • "Vacate" is a useful menu option while in towns. It allows you to immediately leave when you've concluded your business. (It doesn't work if the guards are aroused, alas.) "Kill self," on the other hand, has questionable utility.

To answer the obvious question, no, the game isn't quite as good as I remember. But that's to be expected, since I had no basis for comparison back then. Many of the conventions it introduces are silly and contrary to what I generally like about RPGs. However, I do admire the things it built on the Ultima template, and even though I'm not having as much fun as I do playing, say, Ultima IV, I can certainly see how this game addicted me to the genre.

Time so far: 2 hours
Reload count: 7 (elevated because I did a lot of messing around and experimenting) 


  1. Congratulations on 200 games! That's quite an achievement.

    1. Also, as someone who falls into the "You could have no original memories of Gold Box games and yet have children of your own" category, I would just like to say thank you for introducing this mid-30s whipper-snapper to these old classics!

  2. Garriot did take SSI to court, it is documented by Garriot himself in an AOL chat. I helped mat with this info way back. AOL had a basically reddits AMA stuff back in the day, this is from 1984

    June 14th 1984

    1. It's kind of ridiculous to see when games developers were and weren't able to sue for copyright infringement back in the day. Given the almost constant cloning and wholesale lifting of mechanics (styled as "being influenced") that was common in the period, it's always bizarre to see an exception.

    2. Wow, Stu. This is an awesome bit of history. Thank you for commenting.

      Clearly, Garriott didn't know about Ring of Darkness, or we'd see the same copyright line there.

      I wonder what changed in our understanding of IP in the subsequent years that a game like Shadow of Mordor can so blatantly rip off Assassin's Creed and yet not suffer any ill effects.

    3. Probably because so many games started ripping off each other that they don't want to sue over someone copying one of their games for fear someone else could use that as precedent to turn around and sue them for another game.

    4. (I am not a lawyer.)
      I assume that if the lawsuit went through, the chances for it to fail would have been higher than for it to succeed. You can't copyright a game concept, only its specific implementation. Where that line of specific implementation falls isn't quite clear to me, but going by some cases regarding Tetris for example, you'd need to copy some specific details such as play pieces, visual design, width of the playfield, etc. in order to violate a copyright. I guess that once this became clear to game developers, lawsuits regarding general game concepts became pointless.

      Recently there have been cases where game clones that copied the game mechanics very closely but changed the art etc. have been ruled as infringing. This surely wouldn't have applied to Questron, which is sufficiently different from Ultima both in game mechanics and in visual design.

      More information can be found on various articles on Gamasutra by doing a search for "copyright tetris".

    5. It's important to remember that in 1984 the entire concept of "mass-market commercial software" was extremely new - prior to the personal microcomputer era most software would either have been developed in-house, distributed free of charge, or been extremely expensive programs sold in dozens or hundreds of units for mainframe or minicomputer systems. Moreover, software was extremely crude in this era, and interfaces were often limited to "barely functional."

      The entire concept of what could and could not be protected by IP laws had to be worked out essentially from scratch, as there was virtually no precedent - the closest analog would have been specific filming techniques for TV and movies, and that's quite a stretch.

    6. It would turn into huge clusterf*ck, though.

      Ultima Clone 5: "No, I didn't copy from Ultima. I was inspired by Ultima Clone 4."
      Ultima Clone 4: "No, I didn't copy from Ultima either. I was inspired by Ultima Clone 3."
      Ultima Clone 3: "No, I didn't copy from Ultima as well. I was inspired by Ultima Clone 2."
      Ultima Clone 2: "No, I didn't copy from Ultima too. I was inspired by Ultima Clone 1."
      Ultima Clone 1: "No, I didn't copy from Ultima. I was inspired by D&D."

    7. So we can add Richard Garriott aka Lord British to the list of greedy evil companies and people who abused their power to block their smaller competition and squeezing out money by threatening to sue them.

      He left Sierra On-Line before publishing Ultima 3, Questron was submitted to On-Line while was there, so Questron is probably older than Ultima 3 in spite of the later publishing date.

    8. That's a good point. Questron could have been completed as early as 1982, then.

    9. (very late to the party): I think it's worthwhile to mention this predates clear case-law around what is and isn't considered protected IP in games. Since then, case law has pretty clearly said game rules aren't protected under copyright at all, while in 1984, this wasn't nearly as settled. Where did the boundary lay? You'd have to to go court to really find out.

      This kind of uncertainty is where you get inconsistent results, largely based on who is willing to spend money on cases, and who can afford to.

      I think in the modern era, this complaint would have been ignored, unless brought by a deep-pocketed litigious party.

  3. Congratulations on your milestone!
    I hope the experience won't be too disillusioning, but I guess the nostalgia factor will prevent that a bit. I had the same experience with other games though, e.g. Elite II, or maybe Civilization.

  4. Congrats on #200 - and on a great post. Really enjoyed reading this one; amazing how much deep (but often wrong!) memory we can have for games that made an impact at the right age.

  5. Huh, the "log in with Livejournal" function has been giving me real trouble. Refusing to post anything I submit. Anyway...

    Congratulations on game 200!

  6. those plans went out the window


    The game is a lot more colorful than I remember. Were there versions that were more monochrome?

    If memory serves correct a C64 could happily use a TV set as a monitor, even a black and white or washed-out one. (And of course, game sprites in emulation are always crisp and sharp, while the way they would have appeared on screen back in the day is always blurrier with interlacing patterns... which is why emulated Apple 2 screens always look so odd, showing eg. two stripes of blue and yellow when what was intended to be communicated was a larger stripe of green that the display would have smudged.)

    Congratulations on the 200th game, and I hope you enjoy the bonus nostalgia kick! The reports from L'il Chas' memories really enhance the report.

    1. I was 12--an awkward age where you're starting to get into girls, but you're still easily distracted by toys.

    2. Another commenter e-mailed me about the television thing. I don't know why that didn't occur to me. That's probably exactly what happened.

  7. I just love the introduction to this piece. I do not remember my first RPG (it was something on the Coco), but I do remember the transition from arcade games to games with rather more depth.

    1. I do not remember my first RPG (it was something on the Coco)

      Odds are high that it would've been Dungeons of Daggorath, but then again you'd probably remember that. Maybe Gates of Delirium or a BASIC type-in game?

      Not sure what my first RPG was, now that I think about it; I'd normally assume it was Daggorath, but maybe I played Dungeon of Doom on the Mac first, for a few fleeting seconds that is. I read about RPGs a lot before I actually got to play one.

  8. I seem to remember a bug in Legacy of the Ancients where you could rob shops or casinos, and vacate the immediate next turn, before the guards were alerted and vacate no longer worked. I also seem to remember this failing a lot, so maybe it depended if the shopkeeper saw you immediately or was temporarily blocked. Maybe something similar exists in this predecessor?

    1. I tried, but it doesn't seem to work here. It says "You must walk out" when you try to (v)acate after a gambling win, even if it's the first thing you press upon being booted from the game.

      It turns out the guards really aren't that hard, though.

    2. Fun fact. you usually do NOT actually have to kill the guards to escape. they are happy to stand and attack on diagonals in towns, so you can waltz right by them. you will get hit, but you don't have to kill them. I've won without killing a single town guard.

      In fact you can escape Geraldtown without getting hit at all with smart routing. You can also win at gambling overall without beating a cheatyface. as noted, betting odd with an even bonus number is positive expectation, and blackjack is also actually positive expectation, because although blackjack doesn't pay 1.5 to one, the dealer doesn't draw if you make blackjack. This coupled with good basic strategy will see you grind a profit.

      The castle guards are real jerkfaces, though. They outright hit you if you try to talk to them. This is probably to make up for the fact that you really do have to murder lots of them.

  9. Fantastic introduction to this piece. I am forty-one and my own experiences with computers started much the same as yours. I recall going over to a cousin's house for the weekend to ride bikes and mess around in the big woods camping and such. He showed me a new C64 his family had got and a game called The Bard's Tale. I was hooked. Had no idea what I was doing in the game, I just wandered all around the city fighting and getting killed. Never read the manual, had no idea there were spell codes I could use, and didn't learn the bard could play music until several hours into the playing. Died hundreds of times, re-rolled new characters often... by the time I got home after that weekend I knew I needed a C64, and persuaded my parents into getting one. Ended up with a C128 with all the trimmings!

    Once I got that computer setup I played Bard's Tale like mad, and later Legacy of the Ancients - which I fell in love with hard and still think about to this day with fond memories. I played many games on that C128, but the RPGs are the ones I always went back to. Legacy, DeathLord, Blacksilver, Bard's Tale II, Wasteland....

    Your Questron post has just melted over me. I was going to go home tonight after work and load up Elite Dangerous (yeah, played the original Elite on my C128 too), but now I am going to fire up my emulator and jump into Questron. I never played the first one, but played the 2nd.

    A big thanks to you and to Charles and John Doughterty.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Biff. This type of reaction is exactly what I'm going for in my posts, and it's nice to know when I'm successful!

    2. I almost started my c64 RPG's with tangled tales but alas the game copy was broken and didn't work at all and i had to return it back to store, think I bought barbarian 2 instead of a refund. :(

    3. You lucky sonofagun. Tangled Tales SUUUCCCKKKSSS!!! For a game by Origin, that is.

  10. I had no idea that Questron was related to Legacy of the Ancients. I'll have to go back and take a look at it. I have fond memories of Legacy though. The fortune teller told me I would make a fortune playing Flip Flop but neglected to mention how upsetting this would be to the town guards!

    Happy 200th!

  11. There is a way to win at roulette, my dad figured this out. The spinner follows a pattern from where bit starts to where it stops. The magic number, IIRC, is 16. The spinner will always stop a set number of spaces away. You bet on that number and win obscene amount of money. My dad would patiently play, betting and losing 1 coin at a time until the spinner stopped (?) on 16 and he'd bet all his money on the next number in the sequence. He'd end up with literally (literally) millions in gold and a town full of very angry guards.
    I wish I could remember more details but I'm sure you will be able to figure it out from my hazy memories.

  12. It was absurdly easy to game the casinos in Questron. I actually made so much money that the amount was poking out into the graphics. Given the limits on variable size back then, I was likely close to crashing the game. I probably DID crash it, but just don't remember.

    One thing, though. I tried playing Questron in a C64 emulator some years ago, but couldn't get it to get past the disk swap after character selection. When I finally found a copy that worked, it kept breaking when I would try to enter a dungeon after crossing the ocean. I hope you don't have that trouble. This was my first RPG, too. Although to be fair, I was exposed to it concurrently with The Bard's Tale and Ultima 4. 1985 was a great year!


  13. I'm one of those that grew up with computers and games from my earliest memories. My dad would actually play with baby me on his lap or rocking chair next to him. Makes it hard to know exactly which game I started on, but I had character disks for Might and Magic, Pool of Radiance, and Bard's Tale. I remember playing the first Ultima, Shadowkeep, and Wizardry. Strangely never played or heard about Questron, but I wasn't the one purchasing or learning about new releases.

    1. Some of my earliest memories are Dad playing Elite on his C64

  14. I got my Apple II in 1981 and quickly bought my first two games: Beer Run from Sirius, and Ultima from California Pacific. I had played a lot of arcade games and thought I'd choose something that seemed familiar (an action game) and something new and different (Ultima). I went through the same sense of amazement that you describe. I played beer Run a few times. I played Ultima incessantly, and in amazement. You could transact with merchants. You could steal! There were quests and puzzles and mysteries. Princesses and treasure. Dungeons! I could never have imagined anything so sophisticated as 1st person 3D wireframe dungeons. I was in the right time, the right place, and the right age to be completely enraptured.

  15. Wow, I admire your patience and dedication to playing all these games. At least some of them must be boring :-)

    I am currently in the middle of playing Wizardry 6, I am drawing my own maps and enjoying it a lot (more then Witcher 3 that I played just before that). I intend to go through the whole trilogy and I am looking forward to your review of Wizardry 7 (which I consider to be the best DOS RPG along with Albion and Ultima VII and UW2 and the Infinity engine games). Some of these old dungeons are better then modern games because they force you to use your own imagination instead of relying on realistic graphics.

    It's a pity that you are restricted to PC only and are not going to review games like Ambermoon or Fate Gates of Dawn or the amazing SNES RPG's like Chrono Trigger or Earthbound etc.

    1. "It's a pity that you are restricted to PC only and are not going to review games like Ambermoon or Fate Gates of Dawn"

      No, the Addict changed his rules to include home computer games on Apple II, C64, Amiga, etc., including those you mention, though not console games. Otherwise he wouldn't cover Questron, which wasn't published on IBM PCs.

    2. Indeed. I haven't been "PC-only" for years.

  16. There is a way to win at roulette, my dad figured this out. The spinner follows a pattern from where bit starts to where it stops. The magic number, IIRC, is 16. The spinner will always stop a set number of spaces away. You bet on that number and win obscene amount of money. My dad would patiently play, betting and losing 1 coin at a time until the spinner stopped (?) on 16 and he'd bet all his money on the next number in the sequence. He'd end up with literally (literally) millions in gold and a town full of very angry guards.
    I wish I could remember more details but I'm sure you will be able to figure it out from my hazy memories.

  17. Great piece, especially the introduction. I was a D&D fan from a very early age, as my brothers (both quite a few years older than me) were stuck babysitting me all the time and so were saddled with dragging me to their weekly game. When they moved on to the advanced game, they gave me their Moldvay/Cook booklets and I introduced many in my first grade class to the game...we made the same assumption about what a "mace" was as you. :-)

    My oldest brother was a big electronics geek, so we had personal computers fairly early as compared to our neighbors. We had fun with the VIC-20 and all, but it was when we upgraded to a C-64 that the floodgates really opened. One of the first games we got for the latter machine was Telengard. This blew my young mind away.

    The whole family was hooked on Telengard. We'd load up the cassette; it took so long we'd eat dinner, then my parents would have coffee and cigarettes, and when we all came down to the basement the game would just be booting up. Everyone would alternate playing, with the rest of the family calling out suggestions: "go north!"; "what's that object to the east?"; "try pushing the buttons in this sequence!"; etc. We had an informal competition for the longest-lived characters.

    What a time. I miss that, when having a computer in the house was a novelty, a family activity rather than something solitary and insular.

    Thanks so much for this blog. Almost every entry has brought back memories even if you're covering games I never played. This one made me particularly happy.

    1. btw, it occurs to me that I might have made this same comment in a past entry already, and if so, I apologize. As I get older, I tend to repeat the same stories over and over... :-)

    2. A few commenters have talked about originally playing games with their dads, but yours is the first recollection I've seen as RPGs as a whole family experience. I'm willing to bet there are few families in which such games cross all generation and gender boundaries. My mother certainly didn't understand them! You have some lucky memories.

    3. Wow I wish this was the case in my home, my brother got me hooked on games, rpgs especially starting with Hillsfar, but my father always saw them as a waste of time. He still says he diesn't understand me playing video ganes now that I'm grown up and married, he thinks I should have outgrown them.

    4. In the early 1980s everyone in my (large) family was interested in video games. Most have kept that interest, in varying degrees, except my father who disdained anything after the early arcade games like Space Invaders (he thinks the idea of "continuing" is absurd, for example).

      We didn't have any RPGs to play, but my mother was very intrigued by the (primitive) adventure games for the VCS, especially Raiders of the Lost Ark and Swordquest. I think she and I figured out Raiders together.

    5. Continuing IS absurd... Allowing someone to just keep playing by putting more money in is against the skill-based ethic upon which the original arcade games were based. No surprise that the 80s made it more about $$$ though!

    6. I think it's absurd for the early series, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s--probably in response to the growth of home RPGs--we started to see arcade games that had a plot and even an ending. I seem to recall putting a lot of quarters into something called Knights of the Round (no "table") and priding myself on getting to the ending (which may have taken an hour or so?) with as few quarters as possible.

    7. I remember Knights of the Round. I never saw it in arcades (I'm 25), but my friends and I used to emulate it. We never beat it- I think that not cutting our teeth on harder, earlier fare may have crippled our ability to handle the pixel-perfect artistry older games required.

    8. I used to play the shit out of that game with my elder brother. Not many arcade games have a leveling mechanism like an RPG during the late 80s and early 90s.

      My bro always called dibs on Arthur while I offer support with either Lancelot or Percival (my personal favorite as he actually visibly ages as he goes on to higher levels). What I'm peeved about is that my bro hates playing on horseback but Arthur excels while mounted.

  18. My mother was an ace at Space Invaders on our Atari 2600, too... :-)

    Both of my parents are still computer game addicts, though these days its more gambling games and Yahoo puzzle games.

    Way back when, we didn't all have televisions and such in our own bedrooms. The family TV was it, so everyone taking part was kind of by default.

    1. Damn mobile device...that should have been a reply to the thread above!

  19. I guess the key question is: Is Questron a candidate for Game of the Year 1984? We're getting pretty close to Chet possibly making a decision about that (or deciding to keep that the Year Without A Good Game.)

    1. It certainly is good enough for that title. I still have a few games to go, though, and I can't deny a large part of me that longs to give that kind of title to a Stuart Smith game...

    2. Smith's games definitely had a lot more originality than Questron: The Land of Evil? Really?

    3. When it comes to impact, they're really about the same--which is hardly any, outside their own little sub-series. I'll have to think hard on that one. But we still have a few more games in 1984 that might also be contenders.

  20. In the first town, the weapon shop is called "Chuckles Mutilation Shop." Is that a shout-out to Ultima?

  21. We had a computer as long as I can remember. Early memories of Dad playing Elite on his C64. He tells me I played something on it myself and I recall playing it when we set up the c64 again- it was a side scroller where you stabbed spiders and things.

    Then we got a 386 that he built himself. I think this is when we got text-only dialup. I used it to order books from the library. I was annoyed when it went GUI and got loading times. I recall him playing games on it- Wolfenstein3D and DOOM. He told me since about getting a faster modem and needing to use the page up Kerri since he could not read the posts as they downloaded anymore.

    I think the first RPG I played was Moraffs World. Might have been Castle of the Winds, or Dragon Warrior I on gameboy. Anyone else played any of those?

    Oh and before I played any of these I spent hours reading RPG manuals my Dad had for Quest for the Magic Candle, some Ultima game (had an entire book about the spells) and a number of others.

    1. It’s a lot of years later, but yeah, Castle of the Winds was one of my first RPGs. It’s somewhere between that, Magic Candle 3 (never got far; didn’t really understand what I was doing), and Moria (the Angband precursor, not the, uh, whatever other Moria games there are).

      I keep meaning to go back and replay Castle of the Winds, honestly.

      Didn’t play DQ1 until pretty recently, so far I’ve got through DQ3. Did spend a lot of my childhood on Dragon Warrior Monsters, though, which is actually incredibly tedious to “finish” but a lot of fun to play and not over-hard to beat

  22. Also: if I'd skipped ahead a year, I would have missed this! Your first RPG!

  23. Do you mind if I ask you what emulator you used to play this.

    I was using WinVice for Might & Magic I, and had some trouble with the floppies. I could not get disk 3 to work and had to start over on DosBox instead.

    I do not know if this was related to WinVice itself or the floppies but I am glad I did not get too far anyway.

    1. I definitely used VICE, but it was 6 years ago, so I can't remember anything about the configuration.

    2. I have CCS64 as well but I am uncertain if the WinVice emulator was the problem or if the floppies themselves were, or maybe a gremlin was in my house and sabotaged my disks, more unlikely but who knows.

      My List of games for the C64 to play in the future would be:

      Questron I
      Legacy of the Ancients
      The legend of Blacksilver
      Questron II

      These all are supported on the C64, also the apple II but I prefer the sound and graphics of the C64 over the Apple II. The pink tint in Apple 2 games really irritate me. I'm not too sure what the technical problem was with that but I assume it was like Amiga HAM mode, where you had 4096 colors onscreen but you were limited to what color can be next to what pixel.

      Anyway thank you kindly for your reply and game on.

      On a side note: have you considered Wizardry 8, perhaps you could make an exception to your rule and play a game from 2000. This is my all-time favorite RPG I have ever played and I would hate to see you miss it. Also Morrowind was an amazing game as well but was out in 2002. I am not terrible certain your rules but these games need to be looked into if you can. the Gothic series pops to mind too, at least 1 & 2 anyway.

  24. "Unlike in Ultima, you don't see them until they appear in the square next to you."

    That was the case in the original 1981 release of Ultima as well.
    (Jump to 4:45 or so)

    Origin completely reprogrammed the game in 1986 and aside from speeding it up (the original was written mostly in BASIC I believe), they made the overworld function more like Ultima II. That's the version every port other than the Atari 8-Bit port is based on.

    1. Thanks for correcting me on that. Man did I screw up that first year. Nowadays I never would allow myself to play a 1986 remake of a 1981 game and fail to note the differences.

    2. Hey Chet, super belated congrats on getting to 200!

      I've been reading your blog (on and off, sadly) for about 5 years, maybe more. And have been mostly resisting the urge to comment, due to the age of the posts. 😂 But this milestone deserves something.

      This post has me trying to figure out what my first RPG was. And I really have no idea. I know that I played LoRD a bunch in the old BBS days. I played the crap out of Below The Root, but I don't think it qualifies (no character progression). But it definitely scratched at that itch.

      You have more sent me on a quest to find the very first RPG I experienced. I remember every single computer I ever owned. It's now just a matter of scrolling lists until I find it.

      Thank you for what you do, and I love reading your experiences! I'm looking forward to Shadows of Yserbius and the SSI Dark Sun games.


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