Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Game 209: Sword of Kadash (1984)

Sword of Kadash
Dynamix (developer); Penguin Software (publisher)
Released 1984 for Apple II; 1985 for Commodore 64; 1986 for Atari ST and Macintosh
Date Started: 29 December 2015
Date Ended:
30 December 2015
Total Hours: 7
Reload Count: >100
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 18
Ranking at Time of Posting: 40/206 (19%). Obligatory disclaimer that it performs better as an action game than an RPG.

The earliest arcade games, like Pac-Man and Space Invaders, featured limited gameplay, but they weren't deterministic. Random variability in enemy movement and unpredictability in player movement meant that no two games were exactly the same, and players had to respond to an ever-changing game board to succeed.

At some point, a new kind of game became popular: the platformer. In the earliest incarnations, platformers differed from other games by being completely deterministic. Instead of quickly reacting to the presence of enemies who had some artificial intelligence, however rudimentary, platformers prized the ability to navigate a series of obstacles that fundamentally never changed. Every screen of Pitfall or Super Mario Brothers looks exactly the same for every player every time he plays it. (Perhaps I should say "almost every screen," since it's been years since I played either and I may be forgetting a small number that had some randomness associated with them.) Enemies always emerge from the same places at the same times; the same blocks always hold the same treasures, and the moving platforms that give the genre its name always start in the same positions and move at the same speeds.

It's going to be a while before I start talking about the game, so here's a typical Sword of Kadash screen. This room has multiple entrances and exits, a shield, a demon guarding it, and a couple of other enemies in an inaccessible room. (There is undoubtedly a secret door.) I am "shooting" my +1 axe at the demon.
Because these games are so deterministic, victory almost always comes through experience rather than skill alone. I suppose it's not impossible that a skilled player might be able to fire up Super Mario Brothers, learn the controls, and cruise all the way to the end on his first try, using his perception to suss out the best path through each screen and anticipate obstacles and surprises. It just seems very unlikely. Too many enemies appear suddenly, and the results of too many actions are essentially arbitrary. Instead, most successful players win after a long series of failures in which, through trial and error, they memorize each screen and know exactly what to do when they get there.

In spirit, Sword of Kadash is this kind of game. It doesn't have the same jumping puzzles as platformers, but it has the same approach to trial and error. No player could make it through on the first try by skill alone because too much of what happens is completely arbitrary. Only through extensive experimentation do you know which items are cursed, what traps go off when you pick up certain items, what enemies appear when you touch a certain wall, and so forth. Reflexes won't save you every time. Players are manifestly meant to make maps, take notes, and through a long process of dying and learning, eventually plot a path through the game to the end. 

There are no jumping puzzles in Kadash, but you do have to time your way past a lot of rolling things.
Sword of Kadash is an action RPG, although as with most action RPGs of the era, we're being a bit generous on the "RPG" part. In its basic interface, it's not a million miles different from Caverns of Freitag (1982),  Sword of Fargoal (1982), or Gateway to Apshai (1983): you run around a multi-room map, killing enemies in real-time, earning experience for each kill, and picking up useful items. (I wanted to record some video, but I'm having problems with my recording software; I recommend checking out this YouTube video if you want to see the game in action.) It hangs on to RPG credentials by a hair: experience causes you to increase levels and perform better in combat. Your maximum hit points increase by 100 per level. The only flexible inventory it offers is a supply of magic scrolls that the player can use as he deems necessary.
The framing story uses a Persian theme. The character is a nameless wanderer, lost in the desert, captured by a band of brigands. In return for sparing his life, the brigand king orders the character to enter the Fortress of the Dragon, overcome its demon and lich guardians, and return with the Sword of Kadash, former property of "an almost invincible Templar Knight." The king apparently doesn't want the sword for its power: "Faithful followers of Allah, they seek not to use the sword [but to] restore it to its holy resting place in the Vizier's Palace as a symbol to all true believers of the vanquished Crusaders."

There's no character creation process (an awful lot of action RPGs don't even let you name your character), just a selection of among three difficulty levels. The character starts at the entrance to the Fortress, armed with a dagger, a shield, and 2000 hit points. Gameplay takes place in a maze of 256 discrete rooms.
The game begins. There are a few hidden objects in that tree.
Combat is a bit weird and reminiscent of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Intellivision cartridge. While you can fight enemies in melee range, it's a major failure on your part if an enemy ever touches you, as you take swift and constant damage. Instead, you fire three-round bursts of "darts" at enemies from a distance, with the ability to bank the darts off many of the game's walls. Despite this, the weapons you pick up are daggers, morning stars, and swords, as if such items can just be infinitely thrown. (One wonders if the developers of Ghosts and Goblins ever played Kadash.)

The dungeon is littered with weapons, pieces of armor, magic scrolls, keys, treasure chests, first-aid boxes, and holy symbols. Each item allots you some experience when you pick it up, and if the weapon or armor is better that what you already had, it replaces your existing item. (There is otherwise no way to "drop" anything in the game.) Other than the experience points, I don't think there's any point to keys or treasure chests--the game has no doors and no economy. Scrolls add to your spell total.

This room has one of each of the game's treasures except for a first aid box.
Where Kadash differs from other action games is in the insidious number of traps and other bad things that can happen to the character as he explores. Clearing out the initial group of monsters that might occupy a room is the easiest part of the game. The hard part is trying to anticipate and react to what happens when you pick up certain items or even just walk in certain places. Some of the possibilities include:

  • Arrows shoot out of the nearby walls and pierce you for major hit point damage unless you quickly step out of the way.

All I did was pick up a holy symbol.
  • More enemies spawn around you.
  • A rolling wall or ball appears and rolls back and forth, crushing everything in its path. 
Picking up a first aid kit caused this rolling ball to spawn and crush me. Even if the wall to my right was a secret door (it's not), there's not enough time to avoid the damage.
Truth be told, one of these things almost always happens when you pick something up. Perhaps you're a better player than I am, but I did not find that I could react fast enough to the appearance of these objects to save myself unless I already knew what was going to happen. This is what I mean by "success by experience" rather than success by skill.

Even if nothing awful happens when you pick something up, there's a decent chance--about 1 in 4, I think--that the item is cursed. When you pick up a cursed item, you remain in "cursed" status until you find a holy symbol. While in cursed status, you don't gain any experience and your weapons and armor are far less effective. There aren't very many holy symbols in the dungeon (and many of them are, themselves, cursed), so a first-time player would spend an awful lot of his time cursed. Again, only experience tells you which items are safe to pick up and which must be left alone.

Late in the game, there's an entire hallway of cursed items that you can't avoid. Only if you left a single holy symbol untouched in an earlier room can you approach the endgame uncursed. Trial and error.

Every item in this hallway is cursed.
Oh, how else does the game screw with you? Some walls are secret doors, and you have to find some of them to get to key places. When you touch them, they disappear, brick by brick, but some of them you have to shoot first, and all of them will refuse to open if you're off by one pixel. There are also invisible walls in many rooms that you have to navigate around; again, you have to shoot some of these first to pass. A few of the smaller monsters refuse to occupy the same plane as the darts you fire at them. Finally, you take damage if your own weapon rebounds against you (at least, if your weapon rating is higher than your defense), which happens more often than you might think.

This empty-looking room is actually a maze of invisible walls.

Against all of this, you only have a couple of advantages. Enemy pathfinding is poor, so you can sometimes get them trapped behind walls or lure them around corners one-by-one. Some of the rooms feature a weblike latticework that traps enemies but lets you shoot through it, allowing you to shoot them as they futilely try to reach you. Banking your shots works in a few key locations. Enemies don't follow between screens, so if a room has multiple entrances, you can stand by one exit and shoot at them as they approach, then pop out the door and come at the screen from another entrance, repeating until they're dead.

If I'm very patient, they'll come around the corner one-by-one.
I can kill every spider in this room without them coming anywhere near me by shooting holes in the latticework.
The only "spell" in the game, cast from your accumulated magic scrolls, is a kind of "Fear" spell that sends enemies scurrying to the farthest corner. There are a few locations where none of the above tricks work, so you essentially have to use a spell to avoid being overwhelmed.

Each character theoretically has a number of "lives" for each game, but success--particularly in the later screens--largely depends on accumulating as much experience, and the best items, as possible. When you die, you start over at Level 1 with a sword and shield again. This is not a survivable condition in the late game.

The game sounds exasperating, and it is--but in a way that you don't quite mind. It's small enough that starting over isn't that bad. The player makes maps, notes his mistakes (if only mentally), and charges once more unto the breach. After all, if it wasn't so hard, it would only be a 5-hour game, and players would feel like they'd wasted their money. I could see buying Sword of Kadash in 1984 and having lots of fun with it as I slowly learned its pitfalls and perils, finally winning after a few months of effort. When you think of it, doesn't Dark Souls take essentially the same approach?

The very act of walking into this room sends rows of daggers flying at you. There's a secret pit to avoid them, but good luck finding it when you have only a second to react. This room must have been the end for a lot of players.
Not willing to simulate the length of this process in 2015, I used save states rather liberally, but I tried not to play like a complete jackass. On my first play-through, I took save states every 5-10 minutes and reloaded if I died, but otherwise tried to adapt to the game's difficulty. By the time I reached the end after about 4 hours, I was too weak to get through the final screens, and I was hopelessly cursed because I didn't know about that final corridor of unavoidable cursed items.

Towards the end of the game, you face a few tough foes. First, there are a couple of liches capable of summoning other monsters around them; I couldn't defeat them without spells. More important, you come across a dragon that you need the Sword of Kadash to kill. The first time you cross his path, you don't have it, so you have to cross his dragon fire (which is unavoidable, unless I missed something) and open a secret door to progress to the sword. Later, you have to stand in his dragon fire and throw the sword at him until he dies. In both cases, you have to have a boatload of hit points to survive the fire. This business about having to dash across a dragon's breath has appeared in two other action RPGs--Caverns of Freitag and ICON: The Quest for the Ring. Author Chris Cole told me that he had played the former.
One of the liches, guarding a couple of holy symbols, surrounded by traps. I forgot to talk about the traps.
When I first reached the dragon I was down to a couple hundred hit points and had no way to get any more. I had to retire the character.

My first ill-fated character. He doesn't have enough hit points to cross the dragon's breath and open the secret door to the north.
The second time, instead of being conservative with my save states, I pretended like I was a player who had already been through the game a million times. I saved before every room, tested what happened with each object and pathway, and then re-loaded and completed the room like a pro. I reached the endgame with over 7,000 hit points and defeated the final enemies with ease.

The Sword of Kadash! I forgot to screen-shot the room while the lich was still alive.

To win the game, you have to stand right in the dragon's breath and shoot at him with the Sword of Kadash.
The end game screen, I'm pleased to report, has the character contemplating using his accumulated experience to take the Sword of Kadash and kill the bandits rather than deliver it to them.

I don't quite get the "more must be claimed" part,  but I like the last bit.
For GIMLET purposes, it's never a good sign when the totality of the game's controls are the directional pad and a fire button, but this is going to be a case where the GIMLET--designed for classic RPGs--doesn't quite tell the whole story.
  • 1 for the game world, a basic framing story that has little to do with gameplay.
  • 1 for character creation and development, offering the bare minimum necessary to be an RPG.
  • 0 for no NPCs
  • 3 for encounters and foes. I thought the liches were creative, and the rooms can be seen as a type of puzzle "encounter."
  • 1 for magic and combat, again offering only what was necessary to be considered in the category in the first place.
  • 1 for equipment which you can only accumulate, not drop.
  • 0 for no economy.
  • 3 for having a main quest and a couple of "side quests" involving the collection of better equipment from rooms you don't otherwise have to explore.
  • 4 for graphics, sound, and interface. All are good enough for the scope of the game.
  • 4 for gameplay. It's quite hard, but I suppose its difficulty is sensible for its length and scope.
That gives us a final score of 18. That's pretty low by RPG standards, but the kind of player who enjoys Sword of Kadash is probably not the same type of player who enjoys Wizardry. Kadash is a fun game, just not a great RPG specifically.
Sword of Kadash was the second offering from the Oregon-based Dynamix, a company that would soon become famous for solid action and games like Skyfox, Arcticfox, The Crimson Crown, F-14 Tomcat, and Red Baron. They became a division of Sierra in 1990 and shut down in 2001 (although the founders have started new game companies since then), and in all their years, the only return to RPG territory seems to have been 1993's Betrayal at Krondor.
The production values of the game were nice. This fold-out included a rundown of the game's enemies.
Author Chris Cole was nice enough to respond to my e-mails and talk a bit about the development of the game. He was only 15 when he started working on the game and 17 when he finished. (When I was 15, by contrast, I wrote an 80-page science-fiction novel that featured the line, "We have to stop those Martians before they kill my dad!") Chris and two friends, Paul Bowman and Clark Fagot, frequented an Oregon computer store called the Computer Tutor, run by Dynamix founder Jeff Tunnell. Lacking the funds to buy much, they would simply visit and "salivate over the cool games." Tunnell, who thought they were shoplifting until he got to know them, called them "the three hoodlums."

"We didn't have any money and $30 was a big deal for us," Cole wrote. "We felt burned when we got a bad one...and we seemed to get burned a lot. So I started mouthing off that I could write a better game in two weeks. Well, the gauntlet was thrown down, and Jeff...said that if I thought I could do better, he'd publish it." Tunnell and Damon Skye had already started Dynamix and were about to publish Stellar 7; Kadash would be the company's second game.

In writing the game, Cole says he was influenced by Stern Electronics' Berzerk (1982) and Williams Electronics' Robotron: 2084 (1982), but he was exposed to basic computer RPG development via Caverns of Freitag and overall RPG mechanics via a number of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons sessions with his friends. While Cole wrote the game interface, several friends--Paul Bowman, Damon Slye, and Bryce Morsello--helped with the designs of most of the rooms. "We had a lot of fun playing each other's rooms," Cole said. "It was really like how we played AD&D at the time."

Cole agrees that he deliberately set out to create a game that required an accumulation of experience to finish. "I meant to make a tough game. Those were the types of games I liked and felt like there was a real investment in your character." As for the name: "It was a girl! I had a teenage crush on a girl in my school whose name was 'kinda' like 'Kadash.'"

A shot from the Apple II edition of the game.
Cole was hoping that Tunnell would be able to work out a publishing deal with Electronic Arts, but "Jeff's relationship with EA at the time of negotiations for Kadash were not so great," so he approached Penguin Software instead. The Persian motif was a late addition. Cole had intended it to have a high fantasy theme, but someone at Penguin made an association between "Kadash" and the ancient city of Kadesh and insisted on a Persian framing story. Cole thought it was a bad marketing decision: "This was 1983 and the Iran hostage crisis had just ended. Americans had little love for the area at the time. I tried, unsuccessfully as a 16-year-old, to have them change the setting back to high fantasy. I've always wondered if that would have made a difference in sales." He was also a bit underwhelmed by Penguin's marketing and distribution.

But it could have done worse. Magazines at the time praised it and referred to it as an original action-adventure. Apparently, an expansion with more rooms was released--something I've not otherwise been able to find anything about. The game made Cole enough in royalties to pay his living expenses through five years of undergraduate school and two years of graduate school (he had a full scholarship for tuition and books); he thinks maybe $25,000-30,000 total.
After getting his master's degree at the University of Washington in 1991, Cole returned to Dynamix to work on titles like Sid & Al's Incredible Toons (1993) and Hunter Hunted (1996). He co-founded Monster Studios (1999-2003), Mad Otter Games (2008-Present), and DaedalusForge (2012-Present) and has credits on a couple dozen games during the 1990s and 2000s. His only return to the RPG world was in his last credited title, a 2011 MMORPG called Villagers & Heroes of a Mystical Land.
He remembers Kadash very fondly: "I've always felt Kadash was a genre-buster. It had legitimate elements of RPG, arcade, adventure, and maybe even a little open world, as the player could do anything in the dungeon with several sub-quests that were completely optional. Of all my games, I've always really liked how Kadash was my game."

This last bit, I'll quote without paraphrasing:

The only thing I'd like to add is that working on games in the 80s was pretty challenging as the Apple II+ had 48K of memory with a lot of that taken up by OS and screen memory. We all had to be pretty frugal with anything we did and we had to come up with some pretty interesting solution to technical problems.

I've recently worked on the Android and iOS systems and the tools available today for kids in the 15-18 year range are so much more complete. In 1983 I had to enter machine code (not assembly) into the memory directly. Today kids don't even know what machine code is. I think more kids should be encouraged (by teachers, parents, and society) to make games as opposed to simply playing them. You might be in a great position with your blog to push some of these teenagers into actually making software. I encourage you to do so.
I don't know how many readers I have in that age range (seriously, if I have any, please comment), but if any 16-year-olds out there think they can make an RPG of the same quality as Kadash, I promise I'll play it and write about it.


  1. What's amazing about you and this blog is that you manage to complete (or at least give a good college try) to all these games I suspect alot of us just collect and say "maybe one day".

  2. I actually did read your blog at age 17 (which was three years ago) and it did inspire me to work on a really bad crpg project in my spare time. I remember it was a game where you played as kids with mutant powers going through a haunted house to rescue your baby brother. Gameplay-wise, It was based a lot on demons winter which I found through this blog and became one of my favorite games in high school. Later I collaborated with a friend on a roguelike that never really went anywhere.
    Unfortunately I never finished either of them, it would have been really awesome getting to see you play through them.

    1. If anything, even if you might suck as a game developer but I can see that you show much promise to excel as a writer for Marvel.

  3. Space Invaders and Pac-Man were actually entirely deterministic - it's before my time, but I gather memorizing the right path through each Pac-Man level so that the ghosts would never come close was actually something people did, even non-King Of Kong type players.

    1. While there was zero randomness in Space Invaders other than possibly when the aliens shoot, Pac-Man had each ghost programmed with a different AI routine, and one of them just moved randomly instead of reacting to the player. THat said, almost no early arcade game was "deterministic" in the sense that the Addict is using, as everything moved in patters that you had to learn - as the only goal was to survive as long as possible, they just made each wave more difficult and increased the point value until you died.

      It wasn't until the home console - where you could play the game as much as you wanted after paying for it once instead of being limited by your supply of quarters and how many kids bigger than you were at the arcade - that "beating" the game started to be a practical goal, so programmers made it possible. There wasn't much "trial and error" in most of the early platformers - then and now that was considered the mark of a bad game, and reserved almost entirely for secrets that you would look for after already completing it once. While it would be rare for someone to complete a Super Mario game (or, for that matter, Dark Souls), for example, in a single attempt without losing a life, this was always a case of pulling off the tricky jumps and dodging the enemies rather than "what am I supposed to do NOW!" like would be the case in a turd like "Milon's secret castle" or "Super Pitfall".

      For that matter, other than random encounters and the exact loadout of the player, I can't think of too many non-RL RPGs that would qualify for the Addict's definition - every player explores the exact same world, fights the exact same fixed battles, and finds the same treasure (barring random drops from enemies).

    2. I'm 17. I've made games before, and I know what machine code is, but I definitely would have ended my game-developing career a lot earlier if I had actually had to use it...

      You'll get to play my text RPG when you get to CRPGs made in 2014 XD. Lucky for you, you will spared the rest of my catalog as they don't meet your exacting standards for "RPGs"

      But yeah, I would tend to agree that yours is not a "great position" to inspire today's youth. If you did your reviews as videos, used more creative expletives, and yelled more you might be closer. The Angry CRPG Nerd? Actually, I think I might be a little out of touch with today’s young gamers myself… I think they like Pewdiepie or something? I don’t even know. Obviously I’m not a great example of the average teenager.

      As for the similarities between Kadash and Ghosts ‘N Goblins, the deadly item phenomenon sounds familiar too. In Ghosts ‘N Goblins, the weapons that aren’t that dagger are “cursed”, in that they suck and cause you to lose the much better dagger. And sometimes it’s really hard not to pick them up on accident. There’s one part near the end where you basically have to get the stupid shield because it’s in your way…

    3. Oops, I didn’t mean for that to be a response. Can I edit it? I was gonna say something about random platformers, but I posted the wrong message. Whatever

      Anyway, I was gonna say that, yeah, I agree. There are some games like Silver Surfer for NES that can only be beaten with memorization, but Super Mario is not one of them. Super Mario gives you plenty of time to react, and there are no beginner’s traps like some games. I’ve played enough Mario that I can get pretty close to beating newer games on the first try, and the only reason I don’t is because of human mistakes. I’d also like to say that randomization isn’t really a remedy for the issue you’re referring to. Some platformers DO employ randomization to disastrous effect—take Terminator for NES by *gasp LJN. There’s one level where you have to jump on a series of platforms that have spikes that come up from them at complete random with no pattern at all. You can’t beat that on the first try, or for that matter, the 700th try, in most cases.

      And then there’s games that are just so freaking hard that you need a combination of incredible skill, lots of practice, and memorization to even come close, like Ninja Gaiden. That's just because it's freaking hard—not because of the level design or anything. I mean, if the freaking Falcons did less damage you could breeze right through the first one...

    4. Perhaps in using words like "deterministic," I was couching it too much from the game's perspective instead of the player's. Think of it this way instead: even if the ghosts in Pac-Man or the aliens in Space Invaders reacted the exact same way to every player action, the same player would rarely play the same level or screen of those games the exact same way every time.

      Whereas once a player learns how to complete a certain sequence in Pitfall or Lode Runner, he's likely to do it the exact same way every time from then on (unless he forgets).

      WOW. In writing the words "Lode Runner" above, my mind was suddenly taken to another platform game that I invested ridiculous amounts of time in on my C64. I don't remember much about it except I think your character was a wizard. There was a level editor with the game, and one of the levels was called "key lime pie." I remember this because I didn't know what key lime pie was at the time, and my friend had to explain why it was funny. Anyone have any idea?

    5. Never mind. I found it. It was Wizard. God, I haven't even thought of that game in 25 years. I think I even made some my own levels.

    6. @Gnoman.

      Even though the vast majority of content in Baldur's Gate is fixed, two players playing it will not have the same experience. They will head in different directions, choose different NPCs, prioritise different tactics and complete different quests. On top of that, due all of the above plus the inherent randomness of attack rolls and saving throws, different combats will trouble different playthroughs.

    7. I understand what you are saying. I do think Pac-Man is probably a bad example though. Watch any high level player and it is all about running the same pattern over and over again. There is more than one viable pattern, but each player tends to stick to one for an entire game. There is certainly a great amount of skill involved, but it's almost more about endurance and concentration to keep repeating the same pattern over and over again. This is one reason why perfect games of Pac-Man are possible. My understanding is that Ms. Pac-Man is much more random.

    8. I understand what you are saying. I do think Pac-Man is probably a bad example though. Watch any high level player and it is all about running the same pattern over and over again. There is more than one viable pattern, but each player tends to stick to one for an entire game. There is certainly a great amount of skill involved, but it's almost more about endurance and concentration to keep repeating the same pattern over and over again. This is one reason why perfect games of Pac-Man are possible. My understanding is that Ms. Pac-Man is much more random.

    9. Pac-Man is definitely a poor example because it uses very simple, deterministic formulas to program its ghosts' behaviors; these formulas are explained in layman's terms in this fascinating website

      Also, if anyone reading this is curious enough to try a non-deterministic, "procedurally generated" platformer, check out the 2013 game "Cloudberry Kingdom".

    10. Everyone's getting wrapped up in my use of "deterministic," which in retrospect was a bad idea.

      My general point is there's a key difference between early arcade games in which the player is constantly reacting to what "enemies" are doing on-screen and games in which you arrive on a new screen and say, "Aha. I know this place. This is where I have to run up to the edge of the pit, punch the turtle that suddenly appears, jump on the platform, wait for the orc to pass, climb up the ladder, and exit to the right."

      Kadash at first seems like the former kind of game but it's really the latter even though it doesn't actually have platforms.

    11. Funny you should mention Lode Runner - I was thinking of it through your entire discussion of games with distinct, learnable 'screens.' Maybe it was the heavy use of 'brick' textures in Kadash - very similar.

      Wizard, in the "Ultimate Wizard" package, was a great favorite of mine. Very memorable sounds and sprites, even if I never got anywhere except by using the level-skip cheat/menu.

    12. First off, just wanted to say this was a fantastic entry, one of your best: a little "theory" or background talk, a game review/playthrough, and a nice bit about the author complete with a call for more young kids getting into programming.

      Second: I EFFING LOVED WIZARD (even if, like you, I haven't even thought about it for many, many, many years). Spent too many hours with the level builder and making friends try to beat my custom creations. The copy I had was pirated; the cracker's handle was "Vaik the Wizard," which supplied a name for a big bad in a very early D&D campaign I ran.

    13. Oh...I'm 40, haven't programmed since creating some simplistic BASIC games and utilities on the C-64 and 128, but have been contemplating learning to code to make the roguelike of my dreams...

    14. Let me second KenHR's kind words - I enjoy this blog in general, but I quite enjoyed this post.

    15. Thanks, guys. I did think this one flowed pretty well. I'm glad you agree.

    16. I'm trying to imagine knowing computers but not yet knowing key lime pie, and failing. Key lime pie should come first in any sensible scenario. Even in most insensible ones. I mean, computers are wonderful, but key lime pie is the essence of truth and beauty itself.

    17. Great posting, I agree, one of your best!

    18. Eh, I never cared much for Key Lime Pie nor Dutch Apple Pie as a teenager, and I doubt I could have correctly described either. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I know the difference between apple pie and Dutch apple pie to this day. :-)

    19. Any chance you and Chris Cole are distant cousins?

    20. I've been playing computers in some form or another since I was about 5. I didn't know what key lime pie was until I was somewhere in my 20's. I'm still not entirely sure why they can't just call it lime pie, but I do know if it's real it's not green (thanks, Dexter).

  4. I just finished my first Dynamix game as well ("The Adventure of Willy Beamish", a 1991 adventure game, for TAG). Dynamix's Jeff Tunnell infrequently maintains a blog (, although I have not managed to get in touch with him via email. The whole Dynamix experience is an interesting one and I would like to better understand their history. Their games were all over the map for a while, although they ended up being known for their simulation games. The several adventure games they did were a bit middling, especially as they were overshadowed by Sierra's prowess in that genre. I've heard good things about Krondor though so I hope to pick that up in a few years.

    This looks like a fun little romp and I can easily see myself enjoying this in 1984. It's even more impressive that it was done by a teenager.

    1. Krondor's great, but be prepared for it to become a huge time sink if you really get into it.

    2. Heart Of China is their Magnum Opus. No other adventure games have such a strange relationship mechanic as it.

  5. It's interesting that Sword of Kadash seems like a particularly tough action RPG and you prefaced it with a conversation about older Arcade games, because I couldn't stop thinking about whether or not it has a connection to Taito's Cadash. That's also an action RPG with a steep difficulty curve, though in its case specifically that was probably to better facilitate the gobbling of quarters. I like that the revelation behind the name choice was something so minor yet nonetheless so important to a teenager.

    I am surprised that the same team went on to create Betrayal at Krondor given how methodical and leisurely-paced that game is. I look forward to your coverage of that; it's one of my favorites.

    1. I'd never heard of Cadash, which seemed to come out in 1989, but it's hard to believe that it's a coincidence.

    2. And There is a rather recent mobile game called Kim Kadashian as well i recall. Coincidence?

    3. Dammit! *I* was gonna make this stupid joke, Carl!

  6. Dynamix also made an adventure game "heart of china" unless I remember it wrong.

    1. Heart of China ("HOC!") and Rise of the Dragon. Both very odd entries to the adventure genre. Beamish too. As a kid playing those games, I was not a fan of the timed sequences, and the arcade bits seemed underdeveloped and unnecessary.

      On the other hand, they added a nice sort of "movie feel" to adventure games.

    2. Yeah those arcade bits ... someone should burn the guy who invented action sequences in ROD at the stake.

  7. Hm... Not so long ago I've finished development of the first 'release', so to speak, version of my OS for x86-based PCs. As a part of my retrogaming project I've decided to make a game as a test program; a text roguelike with a fantay-horror theme (think Dark Souls). Needless to say that writing a program of this scope for an OS without any API or libraries or anything is a pain. Pure assembly language, manual memory management... I'm pretty sure my experience is very close to that of the game developers from early 80s. Anyways, the project is more than halfway done and I hope to finish it in a couple of months!

  8. I'm an old cuss too... 42. I did some programming on the C64 back in the mid to late 80s before getting an Amiga 500. Have not done much since then. However, recently I did start messing around with CONSTRUCT 2 and trying to make my own games using that software. My plan is to knock out some simple games for the step-grandkids for the Christmas season next year.

    Love readying your blog. Really brings me back...

  9. I tried my own hand at Assembly on an old 8086 computer a few years ago, but that was before I became a father. No time for that stuff now!

    I may not have been inspired to write my own games due to the Addict's blog, but my own blog is a direct result from this one, so there's that.

  10. Well, I may not be 15, but my oldest kid is. She doesn't show any interest in creating games. She doesn't even play games any more. She might be good at game artwork though.

  11. I'm doing exactly that, though aiming more to a "Disciples of Steel" rather than this.

    Does it count if I'm almost 40? ;)

    But with zero coding experience and completely self-taught!

    1. I'm also close to 40 and trying game-making myself using RPGMaker, Konstruct and Python but, man, I'm easily distracted.

      It's like I have an attention span of a kid 1/3rd my age.

    2. I'll second Chris Cole that creating games can be great fun. I ran a web-based MMORPG (which never quite became massive, so more like an indie online RPG) for five years. It is arguably one of my greatest accomplishments. Lots of fun. A good blend of technical and creative skills, very educational, very rewarding. I'm in the older crowd, and kind of needed an example game to get me started (Kingdom of Loathing), but in a lot of ways it felt like a culmination of multiple paths I'd been pursuing for years.

      I have to say that even though I know what machine code *is*, unlike Cole I don't see much point in needing to touch it these days. Programming's been abstracted far past that. Or I'm a lousy, self-taught programmer who just hasn't picked up on the finer points. Either is possible.

      Still, if you're even remotely interested in programming, art, strategy, tactics, techniques, or winning of any sort, making you own game has the potential to be a very rewarding and enlightening process.

    3. I wouldn't go that far as to make people program in machine codes this days, but knowledge of assembler is mandatory for being a good programmer. Of course if your only intention is to write office applications, you can live without ASM but otherwise there will always be some bottleneck part in your code that can be optimized greatly through the use of direct processor instructions.

      Besides, it gives you understanding of how the very thing you are writing you programs for is working, and disciplines the mind if nothing else.

    4. It was my understanding that most modern compilers have gotten so efficient that the advantages in speed of hand-written assembly code are greatly outweighed by ease of development in higher level languages. Is that not the case?

      Just curious, as it's been a long time since I had to do any application development.

    5. True enough, but no compiler understands your goals better than yourself, so a good programming skill is always better.

      Every library routine is designed to be universal, so if you know you don't need some of it's capabilities, chances are you can write your own, more efficient.

      But again, I'm not saying everyone should use assembly language exclusively. There's reason to use it in critical places or, as in my case, when no API or libraries exist. I, personally, love the control ASM gives me over my code, but yeah, today it's a matter of preference mostly.

    6. There's also the issue of portability. If you intend for your software to be on more than one platform, it's best not to go poking around directly at the hardware, unless you want to spend a lot of time doing that for each and every bit of hardware out there.

  12. Nice graphics for that time. The story reminds me a bit of the old D+D module "Tomb of Horrors". The graphics remind me of several Atari computer games, "Pharoah's Curse", "Realm of Impossibility", and of course "Montezuma's Revenge".

  13. Hmm... So the plot of this game goes like this?
    1) The player (a Random Persian Guy aka RPG) was actually lucky enough to get captured by *religious* Muslim brigands?
    2) The leader of said holy brigands then wants this RPG to do all the hard, deadly but sacred work of retrieving a fallen Christian champion's weapon instead of doing it themselves?
    3) These brigands, somehow, will be able to have access to the Vizier's Palace to place the titular sword there, thus displaying the fact that they have a connection with Persian royalty?
    4) The sword is from a Christian and they wish to display it for Christians to see in one of the most guarded places in the Muslim World; especially against Christians? It's like opening a pork chop restaurant that serves only Muslim customers.

    1. It's almost as if marketing stooges who slap together framing stories aren't really invested in the game.

  14. I've made an RPG, although I'm ten years past the range you requested. It's Cookie Clicker + Morrowind.

    1. I actually had quite fun with your game
      I´m normally unemployed but at the moment I´m doing some work on the side extremly boring database work it was nice to have your game running in the background as a distraction when I started to fall asleep

      Am now lvl 13 and starting to be able to visit some other islands at least for a while


  15. I did actually write a few games when I was in the 12-16 age range. Unfortunately, none of them quite qualify as RPGs by your definitions. There is one that's close for which I patterned the engine off of Castle Adventure, But it's purely keyboard-driven hack-and-slash where you fight monsters that differ only in name and number of hitpoints to to collect gold that you can haul back to town to buy more lamp oil and, if I remember rightly, weapon boosts. The goal is to find the magic portal in the dungeon that goes elsewhere. It's not horrible for what it is, and it amused my younger brothers for many hours... Mostly with finding the glitches they could use to cheat... Although they never did manage to beat it... They kept getting greedy and distracted by the dragon's horde, and then mercilessly slaughtered by the dragon and his servants (which you don't even have to go anywhere near in order to win.)

    I'd intended to write a sequel with an actual inventory, but with no Internet available at the time, devising an inventory system capable of storing arbitrary, character-attribute-affecting objects, along with their weight and bulk and nested containers all on my own kind of burned me out on the idea, and when I got on to writing a plot I had no energy left for it. Looking back, I'm quite pleased with how close the data structures I built come to what a modern programmer would use (especially given that I was writing in BASIC) but at the time it was a huge source of frustration.

    1. I do appreciate all these stories. I literally wouldn't have any idea how to get started if I wanted to write a game. I think maybe I'd be good at the content but not the programming.

  16. I've finally had time to track down a game creation tool from the early to mid 90s (at least, the final and only-still-available version is) that I've been meaning to suggest you add to your list. It's actually a pretty well done Ultima-esque game engine that comes with a reasonably good (if short) sample adventure (intended to be studied and added to by beginning game creators) and there was one widely-recognized completed game built with it. It's called DC Games, and I still use its tilesets with my modern virtual tabletop to play RPGs with my friends due to their variety. appears to be the only place to still have it these days, but they did manage to save both the engine and the one additional game that was actually finished (there were lots of others that were started, but never quite completed).

    1. DO you think I should regard this as a 1989 game or a 1995 game?

    2. So far as I remember from the old changelog, the bulk of the changes between 1989 and 1995 were primarily bug fixes and art updates for higher screen resolutions, but there were a fair number of updates to the scripting engine and the default scripts to make life eaiser for game authors. Where graphics quality is part of your rating, you should probably put it in the 94/95 era, but the engine itself is definitely still '89 technology.

      The DBQuest module for it is from 1993, so maybe that's a good compromise if you want something a little more in-depth than the rather short sample adventure. The author of that module is, apparently, still around and writing a webcomic at According to the lore on he was one of the first people using the system and might be able to provide better information since I haven't managed to find the engine author yet. (Having the same name as someone involved with American Idol is a sure way to get buried in the search engine rankings it seems.) has some of the other, popular modules for it, although I'm pretty sure the others were never quite completed. (Not that you'd need to bother with them anyway unless your liking for Ultima-esque games overwhelms you.)

  17. "After all, if it wasn't so hard, it would only be a 5-hour game, and players would feel like they'd wasted their money. I could see buying Sword of Kadash in 1984 and having lots of fun with it as I slowly learned its pitfalls and perils, finally winning after a few months of effort."

    You are also describing quite accurately the Fighting Fantasy book range (and similar publications). For some reason, this kind of difficulty has received a lot of bashing in modern times...

    1. This is because the "Unavoidable Death" scenarios that allow a game's longevity to be artificially lengthened is a crap mechanic in the first place.

      Nobody likes that. If you have no other types of entertainment available, sure. But when you have so many other offerings that offers you much better options, why would you suffer needlessly?

    2. Can anyone get the apple II, Atari st, and Macintosh versions to work? I don't even have screenshots of the mac version.

      I'm about done mapping the entire c64 version with actual screenshot sized maps (ones upon just entering the room not activating traps). I have to write up the room descriptions and activated trap as well as finish xp per item, shots to kill mobs, and AC and Power of armor and weapons at lvl 1.

      I wanted to compare with other version and make maps of those versions as well.

      Seems my apple roms of kadash say (No Boot) so that sucks. I probably need a better emulator.

      Suggestion for these other versions. I want to submit my final results to gamefaqs.

      Another thing I'm doing is trying to find the names of the various monsters, city, and even the dragon. I believe they are all Turkish, india, Persian, and Iraq references. Arabian I suppose which obviously makes sense. But man, its not as easy as it sounds.

    3. Wow, that's a lot of work. But if any game needs a walkthrough for modern players, I supposed it's this one.

      I don't know if the monsters have official names. To hear Chris Cole tell it, the Persian/Arabian skin was a late addition, so the monsters weren't designed with names from those cultures. This is evident in the fact that the only two creatures that ARE definitively named--liches and the dragon--are not from that culture.

    4. Huh. And all along, I thought it was based on Armenian Lore.

  18. The map insert has the names. It's a nice poster with position reference to the color art and what the in game mobs look like (apple version I believe - thus why I want to get the apple emulator up).

    It's just one of those things I'd been wanting to do for years.... Then convert to table top D&D adventure ( the reason I play crpgs

    1. I can't be sure but the artist for the box art and the poster and xyphus poster art is S. Wedimeyer or something. It's hard to tell.

      I really wish there was a website dedicated to game and book art giving credit to the artist of the cover, manuals, and in-game artwork.

      I enjoyed the interview of the room designers.

    2. Spambots attacking posts?

      Anyways, as to monster and looking at the poster artwork here's what I've come up with:
      Arabian - High Fantasy:

      1. Skeletons - skeletons

      2. Scorpion - giant scorpion

      3. Bat - giant bat

      4. Snake - giant snake

      5. Gazik - demon

      6. Liwam - gremlin

      7. Wraith - wraith (you'd think they'd made it a genie since it looks like on on screen)

      8. Iznik - lizard man

      9. Ghost - ghost

      10. Naksh - bullywug (frogman)

      11. Kajar - batman (no not the dark night; clearly it is a bat-type humanoid based on the paleness, ears, nose, and wings in the pic)

      12. Spider - giant spider

      13. Yarputz - ogre, troll, half-Orc.... The horn makes me wonder

      14. Liche - lich

      15. Stirge - stirge (though I'm used to the mosquito/hummingbird hybrid rather than this pterosaur version with a stinging tail)

      16. Orc - Orc

      17. Mukra - ogre or giant

      18. Dragon - red dragon

    3. "11. Kajar - batman (no not the dark night; clearly it is a bat-type humanoid based on the paleness, ears, nose, and wings in the pic)"

      Ah... I think you meant it as the Zanzibar Batman, Popobabwa, right?

    4. WOW! Some of those are truly creepy batmen. The one-eyed one especially so.

      Made me wish I was an artist as I'd try my hand at drawing various poses for each of the beasts.

  19. Well, I finished mapping, keying the rooms, and obviously finished the game and tested some interesting theories. One is I ended the game with over 20k hit point and another is I walked past the dragons head. Dying with the sword destroys the sword so game over even if you have more lives. You can walk back to the beginning with the sword. The sword heals 200 hp upon grabbing. Cursed is vile and if you pick up the sword while cursed you don't really pick it up so game over. Also, you can't kill dragon while cursed even if you have the sword and the sword doesn't remove curses.

    I need to write up the PDF with various screenshots. Write notes and maybe some day write a novel based on the game (ok that's overkill). I'm working on finishing warrior and warlord. I almost got Atari st to work but it asked for "key disk" wtf is that? Haven't tried apple again. Eventually I'll submit it somewhere. A game that reminds me of lad ash is deadly towers.

    1. With the Atari ST version now working I'm surprised there are NEW areas. I've barely started and found 3 new rooms. I'll have to make another map now. It will be interesting to compare this to th c64 and eventually AppleII. I'm still shrugging as to whether to get the mac version running.

  20. Lad ash??? Dumb autocorrect. Anyways, on Atari forums a guy has one of the "skeleton keys" to bypass the protect for Atari st. Why it has a copy protect for this game is beyond me. Tuesday I have access to library so ill download it.

    Right now I either finish warrior/warlord and/or get apple2 version running. I really don't care about the Mac version but maybe I should try to get that emulator up.

    When I finish everything ill be glad I finished an age old idea that came to me back in 1986. Then I can go to xyphus


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