Lightwave Consultants (developer); published as shareware
Released 1985 for DOS
Date Started: 27 July 2010
Date Ended: 14 March 2016
Date Ended: 14 March 2016
Total Hours: 3
Reload Count: 2
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 12
Ranking at Time of Posting: 16/212 (8%)
Over the past couple of years, I've had several occasions to revisit titles that I covered too quickly during my first year of blogging. Several of them were the subject of a series of "backtracking" postings that I did in July 2010 after I realized that Wikipedia's list was missing a ton of games, and someone told me about MobyGames. Since I was eager to get re-caught up quickly, "half-assed" is a charitable term for my coverage of these games. I didn't assign them official numbers, didn't rate them on the GIMLET scale, didn't play them very long, and in the case of DND and Caverns of Zoarre, missed the fact that they had winning conditions. I've since made amends for The Wizard's Castle, DND, and Caverns of Zoarre, and in the coming years will do the same for Amulet of Yendor and Leygref's Castle.
Cavequest is an exception. I got it right the first time. It's a fairly primitive shareware RPG that feels out-of-date by 1985. My July 2010 post covers it adequately, I think, leaving me only one reason to revisit it here: to give it an official number and rating. That meant playing it long enough to remember how it works. I don't otherwise think that this entry is going to provide much insight into the game beyond my original one, which is why I'm offering it as a kind of "bonus posting" in between more substantive ones. No one should have to wait three days for this.
The game is a shareware offering from Tampa, Florida-based Lightwave Consultants. The company also seems to have published a word processor, an address book, and some kind of "artificial intelligence expert system shell." The developer of these programs--I suspect there was only one--refers to himself as "I" throughout the game documentation, but I can't find a name to attach to him. I also can't find any evidence that he produced further games, even though the title screen promises exciting further Cavequest adventures.
The character in the game is an avatar sent by Zeus to help some beleaguered townsfolk deal with an infestation of monsters boiling out of their caves. (This is all just framing story; the actual game features no town, let alone townsfolk.) Creation consists of naming the character and spending 9000 "life points" on intelligence, charisma, strength, dexterity, stamina, and "wizard skills."
You have to leave yourself some excess points because it gets converted to silver, which you use to buy your first set of weapons and armor.
|There are more weapons than just swords, Lightwave.|
A "witches' lair" outside the cave sells both magic items and the ability to add magical enhancements to weapons and armor, an unusual addition to RPGs for the era that ensures money never stops being useful.
|This is the best screen in the game. Things are about to get worse.|
After that, it's right to the caves. You can choose from Levels 1 to 5, with the monsters of course adjusted in difficulty accordingly. Creatures appear one at a time as you enter their rooms; you can fire arrows, magic arrows, spears, magic spears, or spells at them, or you can wait for them to get in range and attack with melee weapons.
The graphics, as you can see, are godawful, with random symbols representing walls (they change every time you switch screens) and horrible contrast between background and foreground colors. Usually, when things look this bad, it's because I've messed up something in the settings. But that doesn't seem to be the case here, as every screenshot online looks the same way and fiddling with different video modes in DOSBox doesn't produce any better results.
Treasures lie scattered about the dungeon. When you leave, they are automatically converted to silver. In between visits, you have the option to spend accumulated "life points" (basically experience points) on upgraded statistics and accumulated treasure on better weapons, armor, magic items, and enhancements.
|About to pick up a treasure.|
And that really is the totality of the game. There's no indication from the manual that you can "win"; in fact, it explicitly states that the goal of the game is to simply have fun, transport yourself to another world, blah blah blah.
I suppose the one good thing that comes from playing Cavequest six years later is that I can identify its pedigree. 2010 me might have seen some similarities to DND or perhaps the Dunjonquest series, but 2016 me knows that what we have here is simply another variant of the Quest series, started with Brian Reynold's 1981 Quest 1 and continued in Super Quest (1983), and Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils (1984). The developer here has introduced a different framing story, added more options outside the dungeon (the witch's shop is innovative, I admit), and improved the monster graphics, but it is still demonstrably the same game, seen particularly in the numbering of rooms, the basic commands, the division of arrows into regular and magic arrows, the representation of health as a percentage, and the way multiple monsters in a single room appear and attack one at a time.
|Lining up to fire an arrow. The first level is mostly skeletons.|
The developer of Cavequest added one final thing that makes it play worse (or, at least, age worse) than its predecessors: in addition to health, the character has a "stamina" bar that depletes with each action, including moving, shooting, attacking, and casting. It depletes fast--walking across a room can bring it from 100% to 0% in no time. After that, you have to wait for it to replenish. Health also replenishes with time, though much more slowly.
DOSBox's default CPU speed of 3000 cycles makes both attributes replenish so fast that it's effectively instantaneous, but monsters move so fast that they kill you the moment you enter their rooms. Cutting down the speed to about 300 cycles seems to make the monsters move at reasonable speeds, but you're waiting about 30 seconds for your stamina to get back to normal after a successful combat, or even crossing a room. I don't know what's era-accurate, but players in 1985 either spent a lot of time sitting around waiting or had to deal with incredibly quick monsters.
|You know what, Zeus? I think I'm okay.|
A GIMLET pretty well eviscerates this one:
- 1 point for the game world. The framing story involving Zeus is original, but it's just a framing story and plays no part in the game.
- 3 points for character creation and development. I like the ability to spend experience directly on attributes.
- 0 points for no NPCs.
- 1 point for encounters and foes, a fairly derivative list of D&D-style monsters.
- 1 point for magic and combat. There isn't enough time for any tactics. You basically shoot and slash.
- 3 points for a decent selection of equipment, including a variety of magic items; and
- 3 points for an economy that never gets old, what with the ability to enchant weapons and armor and purchase some of the high-end equipment.
- 0 points for no quest.
- 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are horrible, the sound bloopish and piercing.The keyboard interface works okay.
- 0 points for gameplay. I hardly ever give a 0 in this category, but there is literally no joy at all in navigating the corridors of these caves.
That gives us a final rating of 12, about the same as the original Quest 1 four years earlier. Quest 1 was a decent game for a bunch of code in a magazine, but enough already. Charging the equivalent of $75 in today's money for it is just crazy. I swear if I encounter yet another title in this goofy family tree, I'm going to track down the developer and send him a bill for my time.
What happened to Bronze Dragon: Conquest of Infinity? It's temporarily off the list while I try to deal with some errors. I can create a party okay, but the moment I enter a scenario, the screen just becomes total gibberish. I'm trying a different version.