Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Game 258: Gates of Delirium (1987)

Gates of Delirium
Diecom (developer and publisher)
Released in 1987 for the TRS-80 Color Computer
Date Started:  13 August 2017
Date Ended: 16 August 2017
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 25
Ranking at Time of Posting:110/260 (42%)
There are "Ultima clones" in the sense that they were clearly inspired by Ultima's mechanics and use an iconographic interface, and there are "Ultima clones" in the sense that they copy practically everything about one of the Ultima games, including the keyboard commands, the combat system, the magic system, what NPCs have to say, and the existence of a continent on the other side of the world with shrines that boost your attributes. Gates of Delirium is one of the latter. TRS-80 Color Computer owners, I realize that the vast majority of RPGs weren't available for your overpriced machine with its silly nickname, but this wasn't the way to go about it. This is just sad.
Compare the geography above to the opening of Ultima III. We're not off to a good start.
If Gates of Delirium has anything to do with its namesake on Yes's 1974 album Relayer, I don't see it in the documents or gameplay. Instead, the game is a copy of Ultima III, right down to the geography displayed on the title screen, where you can watch a little vignette of characters and monsters dancing around some very familiar tiles. Commands, too, are drawn directly from the Ultimas, including (K)limb and (Z)stats.

The same, alas, cannot be said of the production values. Aside from the cover, it's simply typewritten in a monospaced font. It does a decent job outlining the races, classes, menu commands, spells, and monsters, but offers no backstory. If you think, "Cool! The story and quest will slowly emerge through gameplay!," let me disabuse you now: no, it won't.
The "topside" game world from the documentation. Apparently, the land is called "The Land of Gates."
The player begins by choosing a name, sex, and race from human, elf, dwarf, gnome, and orc options. Classes are fighter, thief, magic-user, cleric, paladin, druid, and illusionist--the last character seeming in name only, as there are no illusion-specific spells.
Character creation.
You can ultimately get other characters to join your party, but much like Ultima IV, the character starts alone, weaponless, with 150 food and 750 gold.

I naturally began by exploring the town near the starting area. A welcome "sign" near the entrance named it "Casa." Little animated NPCs roamed the streets. Yes, we're back to the days of generic one-line NPCs. Guards say, "Be off!" Fighters say, "Ugh!" (but, I must admit, do not add "Me tough!"). Thieves say, "Your money or your life!" Clerics say, "Evil is everywhere!" Jesters say, "Tee hee hee!" Occasionally, someone will offer something valuable. These NPCs are usually fixed in one place. An NPC mage recommended that I "use OTHER commands," referring to an input (H) that allows you to type your own command keyword. An NPC cleric clued me that one of those commands is JOIN.
One in a hundred NPCs offers actual information.

Most offer nonsense like this.
I bought some ring mail and an axe. Weapons and armor are referred to by letters from A to H. A is hands and skin; B is a dagger and cloth; H is a two-handed sword and plate mail. The Eternal Dagger just let me wear things like Storm Plate +5 with an added "Invisibility" spell, but I don't think that will be possible here.
This is Ultima III's list of weapons exactly.
Experienced with Delirium's sources, I knew the most important NPCs would be hiding in darkened squares behind buildings and such. Sure enough, in a corner, I found an elf cleric named Gazer who happily joined my party. He brought no food or gold with him. I had to purchase him a hammer and cloth armor. And that was about all the excitement in Casa.

It was time, I reasoned, to head outside and see how the game had implemented combat. Plus, I could tell I was going to need money for food soon. My first battle was with trolls, and it followed the Ultima III model right down to the amusing use of "Conflict!" as the inciting world. You fight on a basic tactical map with no terrain considerations, and you can only attack in columns and rows. My priestly characters don't have anything in the way of offensive spells yet, so all I could do was advance and use melee weapons. As in Ultima III, enemies can attack and move on the diagonal but you can't.
We must give the developers credit for originality where it's due: they use only one exclamation point after "Conflict," not Ultima III's two.
The half-dozen trolls had knocked away about half my hit points before we killed the last of them, earning 3 experience points per troll. (Experience goes to the character who strikes the killing blow.) They left a chest that poisoned us when I opened it. I figured I'd just cast "Cure Poison," but it turns out that's not one of the listed spells in the cleric's book. I didn't find healers in towns until much later, so it was fatal for me this early in the game. I reloaded. I soon discovered that hit points regenerate at a rate of 1 per 10 moves. I tried to accelerate that with "Cure Light Wounds," but I could only cast one before I was out of magic points, and it took me 20 steps to regenerate them.
Another screenshot of fighting trolls.
The spell system is based on Ultima III. Characters get a certain number of spell points based on a combination of intelligence and wisdom (depending on their class). These spell points therefore do not increase as you level up; to improve them (and to cast any of the higher spells at all), you have to visit the antipodal continent and make offerings to shrines. Not calling said continent "Ambrosia" is another originality point in the game's favor.

Each spell depletes a set number of points. There aren't many spells. Magic users get "Burning Hands," "Light," "Magic Missile," "Continual Light," "Invisibility," and "Lightning Bolt." Clerics get "Turn Undead," "Find Traps," "Cure Light Wounds," "Protection from Evil," "Continual Light," and "Create Food." That's all the manual lists, anyway, covering letters A through G. Letters H, I, and J produce a message that I don't have enough spellpoints, so there are clearly more spells to "find," probably from talking with NPCs. One of them is "Cure Poison," but it requires so many spell points that the average player probably would never get it.
Using "Turn Undead" on some skeletons. I am obliged to note that this is also cleric spell "A" in Ultima III.
There was a castle mere steps away from Casa. A king and queen--or maybe two kings--reigned side-by-side, but their only advice was to "seek more experience!" Clearly, they perform a level-up service just like Lord British in Ultima III. There was a rations shop and a chapel full of clerics who encouraged me to "use the gates of luna!" Not "moongates," mind you, but "gates of luna."
You know how the only way you can kill Lord British in Ultima III is by stealing a ship while inside the castle and shooting him with the cannons? Yep, they even copied that.
Continuing around the continent, the city of "Ghost Town" was (appropriately) mostly deserted except for a "healing fountain" that actually poisoned, a couple unmanned shops, and a cleric deep in some woods who told me to "use gems to see all!" I can't remember if there were gems in Ultima III, so maybe the developers lifted this one from Ultima IV. At a pub, in a system going back to Ultima II, the bartender rewarded overpayment with tips, including not drinking the water because "some water is poison."
I feel like this would be hard to read from the actual road.

Further south, I ran into my first "gate of luna," which took me to the southern continent on the main map, but I didn't last long there because of the sheer number of monsters.

By now, I had resolved not to continue with the game, but I couldn't stop before checking out at least one dungeon. This was currently impossible as neither of my cleric spellcasters had enough magic points for the cleric's "Continual Light," meaning I'd have to find a place selling torches or find a mage NPC. Either way, it meant more town explorations. Unfortunately, I didn't find any other towns on the accessible part of the large northern continent. It turns out there are some accessible by water only and one that requires you to walk across a huge swamp (which doesn't poison your characters but causes damage every step instead). Clearly, I either needed a ship (the manual promised roaming pirates) or to go through the moongate to the monster-infested southern continent.

Before I could do either, I settled in for a period of grinding near the castle. Orcs, trolls, skeletons, and thieves showed up every five minutes or so. That seems like a long time when grinding, but any more often and I wouldn't have been able to replenish hit points between battles.

Treasure chests are a huge pain in the neck. At least 50% of the time, they're trapped with acid or poison. Acid does a couple dozen hit points damage, so because of it, you'd better have more than 50 hit points before you even consider opening a chest. Poison has to be cured by a healer until very late in the game. It costs 100 gold pieces, against an average haul of around 30 per chest. This is less of a consideration than the fact that you'll probably die of the poison before even reaching the healer. Fortunately, there's a "Find Traps" cleric spell that automatically removes the trap and gives you the gold in the chest; unfortunately, it often fails and you have to stand there and wait to replenish spell points.
This party didn't last long after this.
Still, it's a better option than saving and reloading. You can save anywhere in the game, but reloading means killing the game and rebooting, which is almost as much a pain on the MAME emulator (more below) as it must have been on the original machine. 

Speaking of saving, Delirium does offer one major difference from its source: the world state is saved permanently to disk. When you start a new game, you create a play disk that has all the town and dungeon information on it. If you kill an NPC or open a chest in a town, the act is written to the disk when you save. Thus, you can't kill the same NPC multiple times for experience and gold, or loot the same group of treasure chests simply by leaving town and re-entering. In this, it shares characteristics with Deathlord from the same year.
As in Ultima III, you can loot groups of chests in shops. But unlike Ultima III, those chests don't respawn when you leave and return.
I did do plenty of reloading during this session. The game has no compunction about sending large groups of giants or other high-level creatures at you even at Level 1. Because your only "heal" spell only cures about 5 hit points at a time, and it takes 10 steps to regenerate 1 hit point, you're almost chronically under health.
Owning a ship greatly improves the combat terrain in the player's favor.
But even at my maximum, I couldn't survive the swarm of enemies waiting for me on the other side of the moongate, so I was thrilled when I saw a pirate ship on the horizon. As with the early Ultimas, acquisition of a ship is a major deal in this game, allowing you to fully explore the land and, if you don't feel like fighting enemies, blast them with the ship's cannons. (You get no experience or gold from that, but it's an easy way to clear out tougher enemies.) Perhaps most important, it gives you a way to fight regular battles in which enemies can only approach you one at a time.
I think I'll weed out the fighters, giants, and thieves and just fight the skeletons and orcs.
With the ship, I was able to pick my battles better and amass the 200 or 250 experience points that I finally needed to level up.
Despite his proclamation, he increased my hit points, not my wisdom.
More important, the ship took me to a previously-inaccessible part of the starting continent, a town called Tirary, where a shop sold torches, keys, gems, and magic horns that stop time briefly. I bought mostly torches. A magic user in the northwest corner offered to join my party. He was Level 1 and named Merlin.
You wouldn't think torches would be such rare commodities.
Without preparing much, I entered my first dungeon, near the starting area. Dungeons in this game are not 3D like Ultima III but rather large and top-down mazes. There are enough chests to suggest that dungeon-delving is probably the key to wealth.
Arriving in a dungeon.
Encounters are sparse in dungeons but lean towards the difficult side, and my party was soon killed. If I was going to continue with the game, I'd do some topside grinding first, get to Level 3 or 4, buy some better gear, and make sure I was fully healed before going to the dungeons again. But I'm not going to do that because the game is boring and derivative, and if I'm going to spend dozens of hours across multiple posts on a 1987 game, it's going to be one that has some original ideas, like Deathlord.
This dungeon shows a ladder, a couple of chests, and some lava next to pathways to my south.
Plus, you don't need me to document this one. That was already accomplished by frequent commenter Stu, blogging as "yakumo9275" on Armchair Arcade back in 2007 (coverage starts here, but skip to here for things that I didn't already cover). To summarize his findings, each of the game's 10 dungeons is enormous, with dozens of large levels, at least one spilling the player on the other side of the world. Those that don't require fairly tedious backtracking once you've finished exploring down to the bottom level.

The antipodal continent has a few towns and four shrines where you can pay 100 gold pieces for 1-point statistic upgrades. This is the only way to get more magic points.
Stu finds one of the seven gate keys.
More important, a southern island in the other world holds the titular Gates of Delirium. Entry is barred by seven doors for which you need to find keys--six of them in dungeons and one of them in a hidden town (you find clues that tell you how to get there).
Stu approaches the Gates of Delirium.
Unlocking all the doors and walking up to the gates brings you to the endgame screen, which simply says that you solved the game and gives you four "secret messages." Back when the game was new, you wrote those messages on a card and sent it to Diecom to be entered into a contest, one prize of which was a brand new Color Computer so you could play more games like this. Anyway, Stu doesn't offer a summary of his experience, but the tone of his posts is largely negative and he had to resort to cheating to force himself to finish.
The end of the game, from yakumo9275's LP.
I give Gates of Delirium a 25 in the GIMLET. It does best (4s) in the area of NPCs--who can both join the party and impart key information--and economy, which never stops being relevant. It does worst (1) for the game world, which offers not a hint of history, lore, or purpose for the quest. It suffers for its length; the size of the dungeons is simply inexcusable. I did not subtract points for essentially plagiarizing Ultima II-IV, but its appropriations make me think worse of it than the score suggests.
They didn't even change the amounts you have to tip a bartender for clues.
I try not to be too insulting in these reviews--the developers are real people, and were probably young at the time--but it's hard to argue with the label that Matt Barton and Bill Loguidice affixed to Delirium in their book Vintage Games: a "shameless and insipid clone." You know who I feel bad for? Charles Dougherty. He goes and creates an original game (Questron) that owes little to Ultima except the use of top-down tiles, and he can't publish it without eating crow and giving a cut to Richard Garriott. Meanwhile, Rings of Darkness, Deathlord, Wrath of Denethenor, and Gates of Delirium do this with impunity.
I forgot to show you what a dungeon entrance looks like. These can be hard to spot.
Back in the mid-2000s, a group of nostalgiacs named Andrew Ayers, Michael Crawford, and Tim Lindner, whose parents hadn't loved them enough to buy computers capable of playing Ultima III, got together and created the "Gates of Delirium archive," a web site with links to the game files, documents, maps, notes, and technical information. My snarky comment aside, it really was well done. It would be a model fan page except that it disappeared some time after 2008.

Fortunately, CRPG Commenter Adamantyr (who has his own summary of the game) preserved the entire site offline and sent it to me several years ago, when I was mixed up and thought the game was a 1984 title. I held on to the files.
The manual cover is at least original. [Edit: as commenters pointed out, no it's not. It's a copy of the image of a ghoul in the first edition D&D monster manual.]
Actually getting the game to play took most of a day. For technical reasons I don't understand, it doesn't work with the Color Computer emulators I already had. (By now, the number of emulators I've downloaded for the Color Computer easily exceeds the number of RPGs availalbe for it.) Notes from the archive identified a couple of emulators that it did work with, but neither of them work with Windows 10. Finally, I downloaded the latest copy of MAME (which incorporates the multi-system emulator formerly known as MESS). MAME is a tremendously impressive and valuable project, capable of emulating dozens of systems and arcade games, but damn was it hard to set up. It's interface is far more cumbersome than single-game emulators, and it took me forever to figure out how to bring up the configuration menu (allowing me to switch disks, among other things) during the game itself. I suppose it was a good exercise, though, as MAME is bound to come in handy in the future.

(In case anyone finds their way here via Googling keywords and has the same problem, the issue is that the default key for the configuration menu, TAB, isn't enabled unless you first activate "UI Mode." The key to do that is mapped to the "Scroll Lock" key by default, which many laptops don't have. You have to use the configuration menu in the master emulator re-map that function.)
An advertisement for the game makes it a minor title among Diecom's catalogue.
Gates of Delirium was designed by Canadian developers Roland Knight, Dave Dies, and Dave Shewchun and published by Diecom, an Ontario-based developer whose best-known title seems to be an adventure game called Caladuril: Flame of Light (1987). All three developers have several other titles from Diecom during the same period, including an adventure game called Lansford Mansion (there's a good review of the game on the "Gaming After 40" blog), an action knockoff of Gauntlet called Gantelet, and an action knockoff of Boulder Dash called Bouncing Boulders, and an original action game called Bugs. Dies and Knight have later programming credits involving translations of arcade games for the Camputers Lynx.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, and certainly we'd be nowhere in the RPG genre if developers didn't copy and adapt each other's best ideas. But it's just creepy when your game seems to have no original ideas, owes too much to a single predecessor, and doesn't even offer an homage in your materials. This one, which doesn't even have the excuse of being shareware, borders on shameful.

Speaking of which, the next game on my 1987 list, Hera for the Apple II, is yet another Ultima clone. What was the deal with 1987? It seems to be an independent game, so I may exercise my new Rule #4 with this one.


For further reading: My review of Ultima III starts here. If you like hearing about Ultima clones, The Ring of Darkness is another particularly shameless one.


  1. I think you're more than fair with this one... When poor Stu was playing it we all had sympathy for him. Plus that four-color artifact screen, yikes... just the screenshots give me a headache!

    I honestly wonder if ANYONE ever won that contest... without a hex editor program I doubt anyone in 1987 could have done so legitimately.

    Also, I hate to tell you this, but the cover art is also not original... the monster at least. It's the ghoul from the AD&D 1st Edition monster manual. (Link here: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/56/a3/41/56a341dcc74b979388d2ae7cbc8dcd42--fantasy-rpg-dungeons-and-dragons.jpg)

    1. You know, even when I was typing that, I was thinking I'd seen the image somewhere before. The early Gold Box games probably used the image from the monster manual, too.

      Oh, well. At least they redrew it.

  2. "Overpriced"? I don't think I've ever seen that term thrown at the Color Computer before; AFAIK it was one of the cheapest functional home computers on the market. Which of its competitors are you comparing it to?

    No doubt Gates of Delirium deserves every bit of opprobrium you throw at it, but I'm surprised by the amount of contempt you seem to have for a machine that hosts one of your must-play games (Daggorath).

    1. Oh, jeez, when I wrote the above I hadn't seen the line about "whose parents hadn't loved them enough to buy computers capable of playing Ultima III". Joke or not, I think that crosses a line I'm not too thrilled about, Addict; if you were lucky enough to grow up in a financially stable environment, maybe you should think twice about taking potshots at those of us who didn't, but whose parents did the best they could with very little.

    2. He did say "Snarky comment aside" on that, but I agree it's a bit harsh. Probably the several hours spent getting MAME going to play a game not worth the effort...

      I think his main issue is that why would anyone spend the time to put this package together for a game that doesn't deserve that kind of attention? A real pleasure with this blog is when a relatively unknown treasure of a CRPG is unearthed and made known to everyone... but the opposite also happens, sometimes you just find a lump of coal.

      I think the main advantage of the TRS-80 Color Computer back in those days was you didn't have to go far to get software and hardware... Radio Shacks were everywhere. I got incredibly lucky that I had a computer dealer who sold (and was a fan of) TI-99/4a stuff. Price-wise, they were a bit marked up for what was available on them.

    3. Well, there was another advantage, depending on what you mean by "back in those days": at least during the early 1980s, the CoCo was cheap. Maybe not the cheapest option when the price wars between Commodore and Texas Instruments when they were at their height -- I'd have to see month-by-month comparisons, and track the prices of peripherals too -- but a lot cheaper than Apple and even Atari during the first part of the 1980s, and a hell of a lot cheaper than any IBM PC around back then. So far as I can tell the CoCo was largely a computer for hobbyists (it has a highly capable 6809 CPU, and a lot of options for talking to devices of all sorts) and lower-income folks. And there's no chance my parents would've bought anything but the cheapest option they could find.

      I drooled over gaming magazines as a kid and would've loved to have had "a computer capable of playing Ultima III", but I never did get to play any of those games at the time, and the reason was poverty. My family qualified for, but chose not to receive, welfare for almost my entire childhood, and things like dental care or even necessary medical care sometimes just didn't happen. But my parents managed somehow to save enough to buy something for a bright kid who was fascinated by all things computer, even if it was a distant also-ran in the American market.

      So it surprises me that the Addict -- normally a thoughtful person who would never dream of making a racist, sexist, or homophobic joke -- seems unaware of (or indifferent to) the classist implications of his sneering at all-things-not-PC. It's like seeing a rich kid who simply can't grok that the poor kid's unfashionable clothing wasn't chosen because the latter is dumb or has bad taste, but because his parents can't afford anything but hand-me-downs and thrift store specials.

    4. Or maybe we can remember that this is a blog about video games and not take it too seriously. Life is too short to seek out things to take offense at.

    5. True -- but it's also a blog whose owner once devoted an entire post to the election, and instructed supporters of one candidate to leave and never return. I happen to think there was a certain bravery to that gesture, but it also invites critique when the person in question then does something that seems at odds with their stated principles.

      In any event, I'm not offended as much as disappointed. I was looking forward to a fun post about a shamelessly copycat game, and instead was reminded yet again of how little so many people understand what it's like to grow up poor.

    6. I took comment about parents not loving their kids and so on as a joke, even though in 1987 we were barely able to buy anything. But it was basically 3 years before downfall of communism in Poland, so everyone was poor, except for people in communist party who were actively preparing for oncoming change by taking over industry, banks and smaller businesses. And we weren't among them. So maybe seeing that everyone else was poor made it nearly bearable.

    7. There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.

    8. PK's response was fine.

      We all know Chet was just being pithy, but I think this sort of feedback is useful.

    9. It was obviously a jab at the system not poor people. Hell, the joke only works when you assume the parents had the option to buy a more expensive system, but chose not to. What I find far more concerning is that the Queen is apparently semi naked for no particular reason.

    10. It's easy, Anonymous Commenter, to take nothing personally when you're wealthy and privileged.

    11. Oh boo-hoo-hoo. You kooks are crying about shit from forty years ago. STFU, the whole lot of you.

    12. It was hilarious. And Commentman was correct the joke had nothing to do with the wealth of the parents. Even if you chose to infer that there were other computers better for games that were much cheaper. For example the Commodore 64, except for the year that it came out, was cheaper than the Color Computer. I guess if you want to go way back to when the Color Computer was originally introduced it was the second cheapest computer behind the VIC-20.

      Of course I suppose there are those that love taking offense, and would find something to gripe about. That comment was really insulting to those of us that had parents that didn't love us! Etc.

    13. Taken out of context, the joke is funny enough, sure. The problem is that it's part and parcel of the Addict's general tendency to sneer at people who used "lesser" computers and consoles, without any corresponding recognition on his part that the reason was often money/poverty -- not stupidity, laziness, or bad taste. It's just happened one too many times for me to allow it to pass without comment.

      As for taking offense, it's possible to be thoroughly sick of modern outrage culture and thoroughly sick of seeing poverty treated as the one thing it's OK to be snide about. Like I said, the Addict's post disappointed me, but hey, that's in pretty much the same way that 3+ decades of the American Left's total inattention to class issues has disappointed me.

    14. BTW Exodus it's true the C64 was cheaper in some markets, but be careful about the exact chronology you're talkng about -- you have to be able to track it month-to-month to get an accurate picture -- and also remember that there were lower-end models of the CoCo, like the 16K one I had. Plus C64's cheap prices were part of an insane price war that drove TI out of the business, so they're a little bit of an anomaly; I'm guessing my parents opted to buy before that price war hit, though I don't remember the exact chronology. I didn't even have a disk drive until much later in the 1980s, by which time the NES's happy arrival did let me play some of the games I'd missed out on, like Ultima III & IV.

    15. Yeah, other than a bit of Ultima II in the middle school computer lab on an Apple IIe (died immediately, no manual to read so no idea what the controls were), Ultima Exodus on the NES was my first Ultima too.

      My parents got me a Compute! magazine subscription around 1986-87, not realizing that it was kind of torture to look at computers I couldn't buy and games I couldn't play. I do distinctly remember that after the crash in '83, computers shot back up in price; you generally had to pay at least $1k to get anything decent. That's around $3k today after inflation, so consider that. A computer costs as much as a used car, so you wouldn't dump money on it without a good reason. Plus outside of tech jobs and technical hubs like Silicon Valley, NOBODY thought computers were going to be relevant again. "Expensive toy" was a common thought.

    16. I have to say I think some of the replies to PK's comment(s) verged on the insulting (particularly Exodus' imo)

      PK makes a valid point I think. Unfortunately, there seems to be a rather common trend amongst some people on the internet to do down someone who they don't agree with instead of debating with them in a constructive manner!

    17. Well PK Thunder I think that you using the word "poverty" to describe someone who could afford a CoCo is pretty offensive seeing as how it probably put them in the top 10% of all the people on the planet.

    18. Yes dear Chet, every old computer model has its fans ... something to keep in mind.

      I'm guessing your comment directed at the TRS-80 was due to your frustrations with the emulators.

    19. PK Thunder I am pretty sure the Addict sneers at no one, particularly the poor. Also, it was pretty common back in the day for PC users to sneer, for example, about the terrible disk access speed of the Commodore 64, much in the same way Mac users sneered at command line users, etc. My only point was that you were the one who made the association of these computers with the poor, not the Addict. You are welcome to be offended when no offense was intended, but there was nothing wrong with his joke.

    20. Okay, lots to unpack here. First, my comment that the machine was "overpriced" is apparently erroneous, based on my misreading of some data I looked up. PK is right that the price actually compares favorably to other machines of the era.

      Nonetheless, no one can argue that either because of hardware or marketing or some combination of the two, the Color Computer (I refuse to use that idiotic nickname) was not a gaming computer. The fact that ONE good RPG was developed for it doesn't really change that fact. 30 years down the road, I didn't think it was risking much to poke fun at kids who were saddled with this machine instead of something capable of playing better games.

      Obviously, since I thought the Color Computer was OVERpriced, I didn't mean to make fun of poor people. Frankly, I would have thought the dividing line between rich and poor is whether they could afford a home computer at all in 1987, not which model they purchased. My understanding was the that Color Computer was more known for its business (and perhaps graphics?) software, and thus likely purchased by parents looking for a "serious" machine to help their kids with school and preparing for a future and whatnot, instead of games, which is what kids all really wanted.

      For the record, I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother worked 2 jobs. Any computer I owned, I purchased out of car-washing money, and while I may have owned more desirable machines, they were always 3-4 years behind the curve. I bought a VIC-20 in 1984, for gods' sake.

      Still, when you write, you are responsible for the reactions that your writing provokes even if that's now what you intended. If my words, though not intended that way, recalled painful circumstances in PK's childhood, then I regret the joke, or at least not writing it in a different way.

    21. Thanks Chet. Not exactly the way you wanted to get more comments. :)

      My brother mainly asked for (and received) a Color Computer as a birthday gift because his best friend at the time had one and a ton of software he freely shared with us. So we had plenty of games for it but not much else.

      As far as business/utility usagre... Around 1993 when me and my brother went to a TI faire, he ended up purchasing an entire TI system and pretty much packed up the CoCo forever. Why? Because the utility software (spreadsheet, word processor) was so much better.

      There's just a couple other CRPG's worth a look for the TRS-80 Color Computer: Paladin's Legacy and the Seventh Link. The former is as far as I can tell more original although still a derivation of Ultima. The latter is a Coco3 game, so the graphics are much improved, but gameplay is definitely Ultima III-IV'ish. It also has never been documented online, but I'd say if it's not grabbing you after six hours you don't need to feel the need to finish it.

    22. @Gman: Oh, are we doing the "no one in America is really poor" song? Or maybe it's the "if you have one nice thing, you're not really poor" song. I get them mixed up sometimes, though the second one's more popular these days.

      Yes, my parents had one good year, basically, in which they paid down debts and had enough left over to buy me a computer that, I'm guessing, cost $149 US at the most. But then they lost those jobs (economy) and the rest of my childhood was much as it had been: not desperately poor, but still in the bottom 10% of everyone I knew, with no extra money for anything. In other words, we were living below what the US gov't defines as the poverty line. In my case, that was 33-cent boxed macaroni & cheese for dinner, ill-fitting clothes, and a near-total lack of dental care.

      But rest assured, I'll freely my older siblings had it much worse: unlike them, I never had to live in a house with no running water or electricity, nor did I have to defecate in a bucket. And I grew up in a loving, literate home -- something many people don't have, rich or poor -- with extraordinarily but appropriately frugal parents who taught me how to live responsibly.

      In any event, if I need a reminder of what poverty I did experience as a child (whether Gman thinks it's adequate or not), I don't need video games to do it. I only have to look at the checks I still write each month for my student loans, since my parents were unable to contribute anything to my college costs. I look forward to paying off this undischargeable debt someday, perhaps shortly before they ship me off to the nursing home.

      @Addict: I appreciate for your gracious post. It was never about the joke itself, or about the Color Computer (which was not a business machine -- you're confusing it with the TRS-80 Model I/III series), but about looking for some acknowledgement that the platform you deem best simply wasn't available to lots of people. Make fun of any computer all you want, but when you start making the people who used them (or who remember them fondly) sound like losers -- even in jest -- it crosses a line whose implications I felt the need to spell out.

    23. Also, the Color Computer isn't much of an RPG platform, but did have some nice interaction fiction/adventure games (Caladuril: Flame of Light is pretty sweet) and some fun, creative action games, like Downland. The problem was that it had no hardware sprite support or dedicated sound chip, so it required serious programming skills to get onscreen action at anything like a decent framerate, let alone with sound. Tandy chose to give it a beast of a CPU (the 6809), a terrific flavor of BASIC, and little else -- so programming wizards could work wonders for it, but you didn't get anything for free like with the C64, with its hardware sprite support and excellent sound chip.

      That, in turn, probably turned me off for life from becoming the programmer I wanted to be: despite some ambitious attempts, I could never figure out how to write a proper game. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I'd had a C64 instead, which makes it so easy to move sprites around and play polyphonic music. But, things turned out for the best.

    24. Yeah, Diecom, Oblique Triad, and Tom Mix software made some of the best games for the TRS-80 Color Computer, largely because they found some pretty brilliant engineers who knew how to get the most out of the 6809. The speed-up POKE also helped, although that could eventually overheat your processor. :) The computer equivalent of the Kaio-ken...

      The TI-99/4a had much the same problem, the hardware is so eclectic and weird that the number of games that maximize the hardware are very rare. (Not that that stops us from trying...)

    25. From Wikipedia: "Tandy viewed businesses as its primary market for computers. Although the company's Ed Juge said in 1981 that the Color Computer was 'our entry into the home-computer market', he described it as 'for serious professionals', stating that a word processor and spreadsheet would soon be available." -- the source of my impression.

      I never deemed the IBM PC "best"--not in the 1980s, anyway. I only deemed it "easiest to emulate." Every platform had advantages and disadvantages. Beyond that, I find irrational prejudices about things that don't matter part of the fun of life. I have honestly considered opening an ice cream stand just so I can mess with people who order "soft serve."

    26. Tandy may have had that plan for the Color Computer, but AFAIK it didn't pan out that way -- certainly not remotely like it did for the Model I/III series, which was briefly a juggernaut in the office. The Color Computer did show up with some regularity in production environments, though -- there's been one on Ebay for a while that was used as a "process controller" at the NY Times -- because it was cheap, flexible, and open.

      Irrational prejudices are fine; just be careful about punching down. (Maybe that's been my point from the start.)

    27. My impression of the Color Computer user market was many of them were transitioning from the TRS-Model I/III system, so you got a lot of hobbyists.

      In fact, from what I've seen, I think the Model III has a bigger crowd of fans and emulation enthusiasts today than the color computer. Which may explain why finding an emulator is so difficult...

    28. PK i was trying to imply that you having a go at Chet over a joke about a brand of PC and then giving a "woe is me" story was really both petty and hypocritical. For the record my wife's parents still don't have running water and electricity 30 years later, but they do still have bullet holes in the walls of their house from the civil war. I'm sure they would love to hear how hard you had it eating packet noodles while playing RPGs on your PC.

    29. Gman, I'm sure they'll also be thrilled to hear how you invoke their hardship to win arguments over the Internet. After all, you never have to treat anyone with compassion, since you can always think of someone else who has it harder, right?

      And since I had a single RPG (Dungeons of Daggorath) as a kid, it obviously must've been easy street for me, ha! I know I thought so when I was writhing in pain from a cavity that went untreated for months, so deep that the dentist said he would've had to pull the tooth had it gone any further. That's the kind of stuff eight-year-olds should have to deal with -- it toughens them up so they'll be ready for randos on the Internet and their challenging, safely anonymous opinions.

    30. Let me just say, I am a fan of the term "rando" in this type of context. Thanks.

    31. I grow up poor too but I got over it. Let it go.

    32. The discussion had quieted down until you decided it was crucial to put your two cents in. But I have a lovely life now, thanks for asking!

    33. Now I'm reminded of when my cousins got an Apple ][, and the school computers were all Apple ]['s, and I asked for a computer, and I got a TRS-80 Color Computer. Except "color" is a misnomer because I only had a black and white TV to connect it to. One of the only things I knew how to do was run the command to change the font or background color, but on a grayscale screen it's really easy to pick a red and blue, say, that have the same intensity in grayscale. I became very good at typing blind so that I could change it back.

      That, and I had Zaxxon. Except playing on tape, with the rewind between games, it was barely worth the wait to play the game. Still, it beat drawing pictures in the dirt with a stick. (Barely.)

    34. Hahaha @ PK Thunder, you are in fine slaying form.

      Also, really interesting discussion regarding the state of the personal computer market of the early 80s!

    35. I had never heard of the TRS-80 before reading this blog. It was either before my time or not very popular here in Germany. My parents bought a used Apple IIe in the late 80s (Pirates was the only real game we ever had on that), some friends had a C64. Later on I bought an IBM PC myself and I've never had anything else. One or two friends had Amigas and I remember the sound being fantastic, but they were already on the way out.

      Tandy was always an obscure setting in the sound card installation of games... (or was it graphics)?

    36. It was a line of PC clones starting with the Tandy 1000, with built-in sound. But yeah, never heard of them anywhere before the internet era, except for those Tandy settings in games. Did Tandy have a presence in Europe at all?

    37. The Dragon32 and 64 were Coco clones sold in the UK.

    38. Ah I hadn't really heard of the color computer system, but I do remember hearing about the dragon32/64. I can't remember why but they were mocked and thought of as being really bad at the time (think I had a c-64 then).

    39. > True -- but it's also a blog whose owner once devoted an entire post to the election, and instructed supporters of one candidate to leave and never return.

      Wow -- if that's true, I'm very disappointed in him.

      Games are for everyone, not just the people whose politics you agree with. It's worth considering that there are people who read this blog who have widely varying opinions, who might have made what they felt as the best choice out of a terrible lot last year, but what unifies you and them is love of RPGs. Find what brings people together, don't look for excuses to push them away.

    40. I for one didn't know about the Hillary post till it came up in this thread.

      Didn't like either candidate, but loved the honesty of the post.

    41. Yes, brave sir anonymous, games are for everyone, but this is a blog. Your enjoyment of games is not being infringed on by the fact that one of over 800 posts on this particular website mentioned politics. No one is oppressing you.

    42. Just a quibble about this quibble. Why say you're thoroughly sick with outrage culture, but then proceed to justify your outrage with multiple paragraphs? It's okay when you do it, but it's too much when other people do it? Personally I think you have every right to say something without being ostracized. If you don't feel the need to "tone it down," why should anyone else?

    43. Joet88, that's a perfectly fair question that deserves an answer. The simplest answer would be to say that, if my Facebook feed is any evidence (and I have friends from pretty much the entire political spectrum), class and economics are the one thing that people aren't angry enough about.

      With every other hot-button issue, there's a level of rage and righteousness that sometimes crosses the line into catastrophizing even the most trivial offenses or imagined slights (which becomes counterproductive, as it fatigues and alienates even the most sympathetic reader). But I literally can't think of a single person I know -- certainly not an American: maybe there are a couple Scandinavians -- who talks about class with anything like the fiery anger it deserves, and I can't think of a single time that my feed has lit up with an issue whose main and most distinctive aspect was class-based injustice (as opposed to race, gender, sexuality, etc.).

      So, if I'm to be totally candid, I'd say first, that addressing economic inequality would damn near solve most other problems related to what some people call "social justice". And second, that it's basically an untouchable third rail in American politics, because if there were ever a full accounting for all the sins, injustices, thefts and other misdeeds that have been perpetrated by the haves against the have-nots (and the economic elites against everyone else), it would lead to what that apocryphal Chinese curse describes as "interesting times". It's much less threatening to the status quo to debate how many racist/sexist angels can fit on the head of a pin than it is to ask the question of how some people came to have so much while others have so little, and what should be done about it.

    44. ... Well said! I disagree, because I believe that race, gender, and class are all intertwined, and need to be unraveled together. But I'm glad you understood the debatey/non-confrontational nature of the question.

    45. I was taken aback by "overpriced" too, since we had one, so it couldn't have been expensive. After reading the conversation and looking it up, I've realised it must have been the original 16k model (and possibly secondhand). My Dad wrote some little educational programs for it for my Mum to use in her job teaching remedial English at primary schools. Like Quirkz above, we only had a black and white TV to plug it into at home, defeating the point somewhat.

    46. I'm a Trump supporter and I read the blog. LOL! Screw you, haters!

    47. The LOL gave you away, you joker. The only person who likes Trump nowadays is Trump himself.

  3. I assume you're kidding about the manual cover being original, Addict? It looks like someone had access to tracing paper and a copy of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual...

    1. Specifically, the picture of the ghoul from said book...

    2. No,I wasn't kidding. I just didn't remember. At least they had the originality to include a dagger?

  4. This game was definitely a one-poster, possible even a half-poster.

    What did it do that was substantially worse than U3? You gave U3 a whopping 51.

    1. I probably over-rated U3, to be honest. I did it retroactively after developing the GIMLET, but before settling on the conventions I use today.

      Even still, U3 clearly does much better on the game world (backstory), non-combat encounters and puzzles, monster descriptions, dungeon exploration, magic, sound, difficulty, and length. So while a re-rating of it might put it at, say, 45 instead of 51, it's still notably better than GoD.

  5. Hey, about the map, guys... turn it 90 degrees clockwise and place it beside the map of U4. XD

    1. Also, the 'Land of Gates'. Perhaps moon...gates?

    2. No no "gates of luna" not moongates

    3. Land of gates is actually kind of a cool name, makes me think of Sigil

  6. Another reminder that there's always been a big market for clones on rival systems, where unscrupulous chancers have identified a niche demand they could exploit with relatively little effort. You've reviewed enough of these by now to know the score, but I always hold out hope that these people find some new twist or idea with which to set their copycat apart.

    Now that you're almost done with 1987, I suppose we'll also be seeing our fair share of Dungeon Master clones as well. Hoo boy.

  7. I don't think they are THAT similar, but I if we had actual pixel map (as in all screens pasted together) that we could compare with same Ultima IV map, it could be much worse.

    1. The Gates Archive (which is actually MORE impressive than the game, honestly. Looking at it MAKES you want to play the game) has the full world map in tile form viewable in a browser. You can even click on the towns and dungeons to get to the town maps!

      From a technical perspective, the maps are very large... bigger than U3. This can be achieved by "chunking" the maps into sections and loading only the relevant section. Most of the Coco games that used 64k used the extra memory as video buffer, since the artifact mode burned a lot of memory and CPU time to use, but I halfway wonder if they're loading the entire 16k (128x128) map in. If so, very impressive!

      At a glance, it's clearly inspired by Britannia, but it's not a copy. The lower continent is completely unique as well.

      Also, in the Gates Archive you can find a long e-mail exchange about the retrieval of the game itself from "dead" floppies. These guys put a LOT of work into this. I wish the game had been better...

    2. I agree with Adamantyr. The archive was a clear labor of love and worked brilliantly. It's too bad not every game has fans that dedicated to preserving it.

    3. Slightly off topic, I was very impressed with the similar level of effort that fans at mightandmagicworld.de put into Fate, Gates of Dawn. In contrast, my pitiful chicken scratchings aren't really worth having posted. It's great to see all of these labors of love for games long past their sell-by date :)

  8. Questron certainly borrowed from Ultima I with overland tile graphics, single screen towns and 3D dungeons. Somehow it always felt very different to me. Perhaps it’s because Questron was my first CRPG and I didn’t play Ultima I until after Ultima IV was released. Whatever the case I have always loved Questron even with its flaws and the fact it actually does very few things that I look for in a CRPG.

    1. I had that thought myself... I loved "Legends" on my TI-99/4a at the time, but I was disappointed to find out much later it was just a scaled down clone of Phantasie. But, at the time, I only had MY computer, so how could I have known? Maybe the Gates Archive was put together by guys much in the same way; they only had Gates of Delirium to play and loved it and didn't realize that 1) It's not just an Ultima-like game, it's a nearly literal rip-off, and 2) It's a poor CRPG to boot.

  9. You've got to remember that most of the games for the CoCo were clones (either one for one copies or heavily borrowed ides). The CoCo excelled at clones of popular games for more popular systems because most large companies didn't want to support it. So it was the smaller individual companies that swooped in to fill the void.

    It's easy to dismiss Gates of Delirium as just another unabashed clone, but CoCo players wouldn't have it any other way. :)

    1. That's true, Tempest! I had a lot of fun playing the clone games, like Donkey King, Sailorman, Gold Runner, Brew Master, Time Bandit... The latter is actually original.

      I'm hoping the Seventh Link will prove interesting enough to keep playing after six hours...

  10. I was completely unaware of the Ultima series when this game was released; I did not read the multi-platform computer magazines as they usually did not cover the Coco. I have no idea if I was typical; I cared little for reading about games on platforms that I did not have access to.

    Consequently, this game would have been new and original to me, and especially given the dearth of RPGs on the Coco, I would have been very excited to play it. Alas, I never saw it advertised (much less for sale) anywhere.

    As for hardware prices, I paid approximately Cdn$600 for a 16K Coco in June 1983 (on sale). This was about US$487 at the prevailing exchange rates.

    1. $487, wow! There's absolutely no way my folks paid that much -- it would've been an unthinkably large expense for us -- though they didn't buy it in June, either (might've been December 1983 or 1984, not sure which). Did it come with any peripherals?

    2. The local price and overseas price is slightly different due to shipping charges.

    3. Yeah, I assume it'd cost more in Canada. The Radio Shack 1984 catalog has the 16K CoCo 2 with standard BASIC at $239.95, still pretty high for my family, but there might have been a Christmas sale or maybe my dad got a discount on a refurb/return. For some reason $150 sticks in my mind, not sure why...

    4. (And it turns out the same model was $119.95 in the 1985 catalog, FWIW.)

    5. Mind you, other countries do not a nationwide electronics distributor like Radio Shack. CoCo was easily sold for about US$550-600 retail on the other side of the world, pre-IBM Compatible PC era.

  11. Guess we have a lot of D&D players as I immediately recognized the ghoul. Pretty sure the same art was featured as a monster portrait in Pools of Radiance.

    Ultima 3 was the first real computer RPG I played as a kid. Back in the early 80s I was cursing my dad for buying me an IBM PC when I wanted an Apple II because that was what the local school had in computer lab. Turned out to be a good choice.

  12. Well I MUST be feeling like tormenting myself because I decided to start playing Gates of Delirium!

    I did cheat a bit at the start. I hex-edited the player disk after starting to add a nice influx of food (ESPECIALLY food) and gold to my bank. They must be using some check value to make sure you don't screw with it, because it invalidates the player disk when you change the values, but if you attempt to load, then load a fresh player disk and create a new character, it retains the original data and keeps your hacked values! Very weird.

    I tried loading the cheat module but whatever means you use to do that I can't figure out...

    Why I'm doing it and how long I'll go I don't know, but I wanted to see if it's possible to play and avoid getting poisoned. I think they put the cleric in the first town for a reason; if you get him and his find traps right away you have a fighting chance to grind and accumulate wealth and experience.

    1. Been playing several hours and it's not TOO bad grind-wise. (Not forgetting I gave myself a nice boost at the start, mainly so food wasn't an issue. If I hadn't done that, I'd be pretty consistently broke as most of my money would be going towards food supplies.)

      You level and get hit points every 150 XP, although it's rare you'll have full HP... it costs 200 gold to heal to full health, best only done before going into a dungeon.

      Right now I got a ship and three characters (fighter, cleric, wizard) and I'm working on leveling up the wizard a bit. Tough work; he can cast burning hands to kill orcs and trolls but it fails half the time, or light which hurts undead, but uses all his magic points. Neither he or the cleric can use ranged weapons, which means they're tough to level up without picking fights carefully.

      I've found the clerical "find traps" to be actually pretty consistently successful. If you fail, just move about a bit to recover MP (or press space) and try again. The only time I had to reload due to poison was when some man o'wars got me.

    2. After a day of play, I'm pretty certain the game was designed to be MORE difficult than Ultima II-IV deliberately.

      Some examples:

      - Treasure chests only yield between 10-40 gold, instead of the 0-99 of Ultima.
      - Leveling and hit points are 50% higher. (150 verses 100)
      - Spell costs are marked up, and there are less spells per class

      My guess here is that because there was a contest involved, they didn't want the game easy to win. (I'd say something about not enough play testing, but honestly in this era? Nobody play-tested things for balance reasons, only for code issues and bugs, and typically the same devs who wrote the code would do the play-testing.)

      And while they copied a lot of things well, they also missed a bunch of details.

      - The ship graphic is static, it doesn't change direction. This does let you fire all four directions instead of just broadside though.
      - Other than the pirate ship, monsters don't have ranged attacks on the travel map
      - Dragons don't fly over water
      - The classes are not balanced well. U3 had useless classes but GoD is worse. For example, druids in U3 recovered MP twice as fast to compensate in other areas, GoD doesn't.
      - As I played, I noticed the main world map started getting very sluggish... and I realized why. The southern continent is a wide horizontal swath of "spawn friendly" territory, and monsters kept getting added to it until there was an army of them consuming CPU time. Once I got a ship I was able to blast them away and make the game performant again, but clearly no one thought to put a cap on monster spawning...

    3. Thanks for posting your experiences. I think you're probably wrong about the contest: SOMEONE was destined to win, after all, and they only gave prizes to the first X players who filled in those cards. But I do agree that it's slightly harder than Ultima for the reasons you say. I didn't decline to finish because it was hard so much as because it was boring. After peaking at Stu's account of the dungeons, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Not where he'd already documented everything so thoroughly.

    4. Yeah, Stu did a good job on it, no need to waste time on an Ultima clone. I was kind of doing it as CRPG design research for myself... Still working on that big one for the TI. :)

      I would say, though, that if you were a TRS-80 Color Computer owner back in the day, this game would rock in that you DO have an Ultima game to play. It does feel and play just like one in terms of game mechanics. It just doesn't compare favorably today because it's a clone and it lacks any kind of decent background.

      Hey, speaking of Deathlord... when are you going to finish that one?

    5. It'll come back before the end of 1987. I just need to be in the right mood to re-engage it.

  13. Gates of Delirium is a great Yes song. Looks like this game sucks. I'm a Commodore man, so I never messed around with the Trash-80.

    1. Oh yes, that's the other nickname for the machine! I think it started with the TRS-80 Model I/III era, but carried over to the Color Computer.


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