Sunday, January 27, 2019

Revisiting: The Game of Dungeons (1975)

Hey, look who's at the top of the list!
          
The Game of Dungeons
United States
Independently developed in 1975 on the PLATO mainframe at the University of Illinois
PLATO lesson name dnd is sometimes given as the name of the game
Date Started: 24 February 2012
Date Ended: 25 January 2019
Total Hours: 44
Difficulty: Medium (3/5), with a lot of variance depending on playing style
Final Rating: 18
Ranking at Time of Posting: 53/316 (17%)

In preparation for taking another look at the Daniel Lawrence DND series, including Telengard, I wanted to revisit another very early PLATO RPG: The Game of Dungeons, more commonly known by its file name, dnd. It was among the first two or three computer RPGs ever created, after The Dungeon (which we just reviewed) and perhaps Orthanc and the mysterious m199h.

The primary authors of The Game of Dungeons were Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood. The history file available on PLATO says they were inspired by The Dungeon, but other sources--including the recollections of The Dungeon's author, Reginald Rutherford--say that Rutherford created The Dungeon after programming on The Game of Dungeons had already started. Rutherford's simpler game helped fill the students' RPG cravings until The Game of Dungeons was finished later that year. The two games share a number of features, but it's not clear whether that's because The Game of Dungeons developers shared their plans with the faster Rutherford, or if Rutherford came up with the elements and inspired the later game.

Shortly after the first version of The Game of Dungeons was released, Dirk Pellett transferred from Caltech to Iowa State University, which was connected to PLATO. He became instantly addicted to The Game of Dungeons and sent so many suggestions for improvements to its authors that they gave him editing privileges. Later, Dirk's brother, Flint Pellett also contributed to the game. The earliest extant version on PLATO, 5.4, bears the names of Whisenhunt, Wood, and both Pellett brothers, and is dated 1977. A later version, 8.0, dates to 1978. Most of what I will discuss below relates to version 5.4, although I'll look at the other versions towards the end.
           
An overview, written much later, by one of the original authors.
        
I covered the game only briefly back in February 2012, ultimately doubting that it was functionally possible to win it. On that point, I was later proven wrong, first by Nathan at "CRPG Adventures," who won in 2014 (coverage starts here), then later by Ahab at "Data-Driven Gamer," who won in 2018 (coverage starts here). In winning, both of them unearthed important facts about the game that I overlooked, and I particularly want to commend Ahab, who--in the true spirit of his blog's name--recorded hundreds of trials to determine the best spell to use against each monster and also created a full set of maps for the dungeon's 20 levels.

In fact, between the two of them, Nathan and Ahab described the game so exhaustively that this entire entry is mostly for internal comprehensiveness; I can only control and guarantee the continued availability of my own material. There's also a vanity element to it. I wanted to be able to say that I won The Game of Dungeons despite that winning taking many hours I could have spent on other games.

In basic concept, The Game of Dungeons isn't much different from The Dungeon. The character--a multi-classed fighter/magic-user/cleric, with a set of D&D-derived attributes--enters a dungeon and starts encountering randomly-placed monsters and treasures. Against the monsters, his primary weapons are spells, and when he exhausts his spell slots, he must return to the entrance to recharge them. Returning to the entrance also converts gold to experience (in a way). Combat is generally resolved instantly, with no consideration of "rounds," and with no feedback on hits or damage. The dungeon layout is fixed, but treasure positions are randomized every time you enter (or, in the case of The Game, change levels). There are doors and secret doors. Dungeon layout affects the chances of evading enemies in combat. Both games feature permadeath.
           
I'm doing well here. I just arrived in the square to find $197,291 and a Level 374 demon (a "pushover" at my level). I'm above Level 1,000 and have over 12,000 hit points and a full set of magical gear. Unfortunately, this character got careless and died.
          
Beyond that, there are a few differences. The Game of Dungeons is larger, offering 20 levels of 9 x 9 to The Dungeon's single level of 30 x 30. It has more magical objects to find (The Dungeon just had a magic sword), but oddly fewer monsters. In the whole game, you only encounter seven of them (aside from the one dragon): deaths, demons, ghouls, men, specters, wizards, and "glass," which looks like a guy with glasses. There must have been some in-joke there. The Dungeon capped character development very quickly, and even monsters never got higher than Level 6, while The Game has essentially endless leveling for both monsters and the character.

The Game offers four attributes for the character--strength, dexterity, intelligence, and wisdom--and (unlike The Dungeon) lets you re-roll if you don't like the starting values. This is worth taking some time to do because during gameplay, only strength can reliably be improved. Where The Dungeon was often cruel in its randomization of numbers, The Game will generally offer four values above 12 within half a dozen rolls, and within a couple of dozen, you can get all variables above 15.
            
Attribute rolls are generous during character creation.
          
Perhaps most important, The Game is far easier than The Dungeon, although it lasts far longer. When you play The Dungeon, you're playing a game of luck, hoping that you can amass 20,000 experience points (probably from treasure) before something like a Level 6 ghoul shrugs off your spell and kills you in melee combat. In The Game, by contrast, the level of monsters you encounter and their response to your attacks is almost 100% deterministic and, thus, controllable. Among your advantages:
            
  • On Level 1 of the dungeon, you never encounter monsters higher than Level 1 themselves.
  • Unless you're carrying gold, monsters will have a maximum level of roughly that dungeon level x 2.
  • If you are carrying gold, monsters will have a maximum level of roughly the dungeon level x 2 plus your gold / 5000. Once you start collecting large amounts of gold, the dungeon level becomes essentially irrelevant to the difficulty of combat.
  • You can drop, cache, and stop picking up gold at any time.
  • Each monster has an empirically-determinable weakness to at least one cleric spell and one mage spell.
  • If the monster is of equal or lower level than you, your spell will kill it almost 100% of the time.
             
"Fight all below" is a useful command that has you automatically attack trivially-easy monsters.
           
Other variables at play in the game are less sure, such as the damage you're likely to take if you fight instead of casting a spell, or the consequences of opening a treasure chest. But just with the six points above, you can carefully control your progress through the game, making it long and boring--excruciatingly so at times--but fundamentally easy. Until I figured out these rules and settled in to my final character, the number one thing to kill me was greed and impatience, usually manifested by opening treasure chests when I wasn't sure they were safe, or refusing to drop gold once acquired.
            
Killing monsters results in a victory message like "Zzapp!," or "Swiss cheese!," or "Eat 'em alive!"
            
As with The Dungeon, gold is the primary mechanism of character development here. For every 4,000 gold pieces that you take out of the dungeon, you get one more maximum hit point. Naturally, this grows slowly at first, but by the tenth hour, a single trip might add a couple thousand hit points at a time. You get another magic user spell slot for every 10,000 gold and another cleric spell slot for every 16,000, although these both cap at 25 slots, which you hit relatively early--within an hour, once you know what you're doing.

You can't ignore experience from monsters, however. It's treated separately from gold. Your experience level--which is the most important variable in combat--is defined as your current experience total divided by 10,000.

Here's where treasure chests make things insidious. When opened, they can offer both gold and direct experience, and the values they offer are high multiples of the current dungeon level. On Level 1, for instance, loose piles of gold rarely top 50 each. Running through all 81 squares might give you 1,000 gold pieces on average. But opening a chest on Level 1 could easily give you 20,000 gold pieces, plus an equal number of experience points. Opening chests saves hours--days, potentially. Except that 1 in 4 will blow up and kill you, forcing you to lose all your progress.
          
When you die, the game tells you what killed you. "The Dungeon" means that a trap killed you.
        
At some point, chests stop being deadly on their levels. For instance, by about character Level 10, no chest on dungeon Level 1, even if booby-trapped, was capable of killing me outright. But because the consequences are so severe, I didn't test how this formula developed for chests below Level 1. (My best guess is that maximum damage from treasure chests is roughly the level squared x 25.) When you encounter a chest, you have an option to examine it for traps, and at least 95% of the time, your attempt is unsuccessful (the game says that it's too dark). To have any chance of reaching the end, you have to simply adopt a policy not to open such chests, as infuriating as it is to leave so much treasure and experience behind.

That's true for anything beyond the first hour, anyway. When your character is new, you might as well just open every chest you encounter and hope for the best, because a few chests can save you from going mad trying to build the character 50 gold pieces at a time. After you hit a certain level, you can still open chests on Level 1 without worry--and Level 1 chests continue to be relevant until late in the game. Even when you have 10,000 hit points and are at Level 2,000, you're not going to turn down an easy boost to either of those variables.

In fact, there's a good argument to be made for staying on Level 1 for a long time. The other magic items that you hope to find have an equal chance of appearing on any square in any level (they can also be trapped, but there's a more-reliable cleric spell to determine that), so you might as well find them in a low-risk place. Level 1 has multiple exits, the shortest only five steps from the entrance. Spending about two hours simply entering, walking down this corridor, exiting, and repeating will probably gift you with most of the game's magic items and enough treasure chests to max your spell slots and put you over Level 100. That's enough to defeat any enemy in the game as long as you're not carrying treasure.
         
Finding a magic helm in a Level 1 corridor. Unfortunately, it's trapped.
        
But you can't stay there forever. The ultimate goal of the game is to find a dragon on Level 17-20, kill it, and get its Orb. (This dragon is the first "boss" monster in any computer RPG.) That means building your character to the point that he's capable of defeating the dragon and then getting out with the Orb. When you carry the Orb, you encounter enemies in the 7-8000s; you can drop it if you're overwhelmed. We don't have enough data to know the minimum level at which success is possible or the minimum level in which it is assured, but Nathan did it at Level 6,174, Ahab did it at Level 12,440 (curiously, Ahab's maximum hit points were a lot less than Nathan's), and I did it somewhere in between at Level 8,645.
           
This is the highest-level creature I faced in the game.
         
You're not going to get to those levels by opening chests on Level 1, at least not in a reasonable lifetime, so at some point you have to start exploring downwards. This is facilitated by an "Excelsior" transport on the first level that will drop you off anywhere between Levels 2 and 20 (for a small cost in hit points). There's no similar transport on the lower levels, so you have to find your way back up. There are no stairs in the game; instead there are "transporters" that move you to a random location on a higher or lower level. These transporters, confusingly, exist between squares, not within them, and some of them are uni-directional, meaning you might move from Square 2 to Square 1 and have nothing happen, but then get transported to the next level when moving back again.

Accurate maps at this point are crucial. You always want to know the fastest way to the next "up" transporter, including places where it might be better to use a "Passwall" spell, which costs one mage slot, rather than burn six mage slots on the monsters in between. But this whole experience is only risky as long as you're carrying gold (or if you started exploring down too fast). If you just drop your gold, enemies fall to a trivial level of difficulty for a Level 100+ player.
            
Retrieving gold from a stash.
           
You thus spend most of the game heading down to a low level, gathering millions of gold pieces, and then walking back to the entrance, occasionally dumping the gold if you collect too much too fast. When you get back to Level 2, if you still have magic slots to expend, you pass time right next to the exit so that you can attract enemies and end the expedition with as much experience as possible. (Late in the game, I discovered that a good way to grind levels was to stockpile gold on Level 2 so I could attract high-level monsters there, without having to go all the way down to the bottom of the dungeon.) You do this until you feel comfortable taking on the dragon. For me, that was over a dozen hours for the final character. Two characters that preceded him, I had above Level 3,000, but I got stupid and careless in my explorations and got them killed.

(On one character, I got careless with the command that lets you automatically fight creatures below a certain level, speeding up exploration time. This command is very dangerous. For 9/10 of the game, if you set it to about 1/10 of your current level, you'll be fine. Level 1 creatures are incapable of damaging you at all once you're Level 10. The same goes for Level 10 creatures once you're Level 100. The same is not true of Level 100 creatures when you're Level 1000. I didn't realize that all of those so-called "low-level" combats were actually sapping my hit points because the ratio had always held up before.)
        
Here I am, one step from the transporter to Level 1, burning the rest of my mage and cleric spell slots on random encounters.
      
Let's quickly cover the other items that you find in the dungeon, because they're important to understand how this game influenced the Daniel Lawrence DND line and perhaps even Rogue. As you explore, you can randomly encounter or find:
              
  • Potions, which are sometimes poison, but this can be determined with the expenditure of a cleric spell slot. Otherwise, they're almost always beneficial, sometimes healing, sometimes restoring spell slots, sometimes granting experience, levitation, or invisibility, sometimes increasing strength by a point. One special potion, Astral Form, lets you move up and down and through walls without costing any spell points, but you can't carry gold or the Orb, so it's rarely useful except for mapping.
  • Books. Reading them can increase or decrease an attribute or increase or decrease experience. They can also blow up in your face. The odds of a bad outcome seem about equal to those of a good outcome, maybe even more, and I found it was rarely worth the risk. The developers must have thought so, too, because they offered a command (SHIFT-B) to turn off book encounters; the same command doesn't exist for other types of encounters.
  • Magic Swords, Helmets, Armor, and Shields, and Rings of Protection, all of which let you come out of melee combats in better shape than without them. You find the first at +1, and from there subsequent findings increase the value up to +3.
          
Clerically examining a magic item and finding it "harmless" is one of the best things that can happen in this game.
          
  • Rings of Regeneration, which restore a hit point for every movement. This is useful early on, but less so later in the game when you have thousands of hit points.
  • Rings of Luck, which increase your chances of finding magic items.
  • Rings of Power, which add to spell power.
  • Elven Boots, which reduce random encounters.
  • Rings of Invisibility and Rings of Swiftness, both of which make it easier to flee random encounters.
  • Rings of Levitation, which lets you walk over pits. Not a huge deal if you've been mapping carefully. 
  • Magic Amulets, which give you a textual assessment of the likelihood of defeating any monster you encounter, including the dragon. The assessment is based only on physical combat, however, and thus considers only your hit points and level relative to the enemy's. It does not seem to consider use of spells. Amulets also alert you when you're adjacent to a transporter.
           
The amulet tells me "Farewell!" even though I'm almost certain to destroy him with a spell.
         
  • Magic Lanterns, which reveal secret doors. This treasure must be rare because only my last character found it (untrapped), and it was when he was within an hour of winning the game.
  • Bags of Holding, which increase the amount of gold you can carry. Without one, you can only carry 100,000 gold pieces per point of strength; with the bag, you can carry 100 times that many. This is naturally only an issue late in the game, by which point you've almost certainly found the bag.
                      
Once found, magic items remain with you permanently except for one case: Sometimes when a monster is about to kill you, he'll offer to spare your life in exchange for all your magic items and all your gold. Obviously, careful planning avoids such situations. But it's still better than starting over.

It's also worth looking at the spells. Unlike The Dungeon, you have access to all of them at the outset, and all of them require a single spell slot. (The one exception is the non-combat "Teleport" spell, which moves you up a level for 2 mage slots and 1 cleric slot. It fails 10% of the time, so it's best not to rely on it.) Most of them are derived from Dungeons & Dragons and were featured in The Dungeon. (It's also worth noting, if only for later reference, that the command used in both games is "Throw Spell.") They include the mage spells "Fireball," "Lightning," "Flaming Arrow," "Sleep," and "Charm," and the cleric spells "Holy Water," "Exorcise," "Pray," and "Dispell."

Casting a spell against a wizard. "Lightning Bolt" almost always kills them, but it can ricochet and hit you, too.

A couple of them are oddly named, including mage spells called "Kitchen Sink" and "Eye of Newt" and a humorous clerical counterpart to "Dispell" called "Datspell." None of these spells are described, so you simply have to imagine how they're affecting the enemies.

As I mentioned earlier, the weaknesses and resistances of the seven enemies to these spells are so stark that they're almost deterministic. Ahab did an excellent job analyzing it on his site, including a few variables I'm glossing over. Each enemy has at least one mage spell and one cleric spell that works 100% of the time. This doesn't mean that it will necessarily kill the enemy, and if it doesn't, you have to follow up with a melee round. But it will kill an enemy of equal level (not counting modifiers based on equipment) about 100% of the time, and the enemy level, as above, is essentially a variable that you can control.
          
"Flaming Arrow" inevitably works on spectres, but they're immune to "Lightning Bolt."
         
On top of the 6 hours I spent on the game in 2012, it took me another 6 to internalize all the above. I burned 20 hours on two characters who ultimately died (and nearly gave up this whole enterprise), and another 12 on my final character. Once I crossed experience Level 8,000, I decided I was strong enough for the dragon plus all the enemies who attack you when you have the Orb. (The dragon moves around Levels 17-20 during the course of the game. If you encounter him before you're ready, you can evade with 100% success.) There's a spell that destroys the dragon, but it costs almost all of your spell slots and is thus not worth it. Like Nathan and Ahab before me, I depleted him with "Lightning Bolt" and finished him off in melee combat.
              
Just after I killed the dragon.
                      
After that, I just had to make my way back to Level 1 and then the exit. My name finally appeared on the list of "Finders of the Orb," another element that we'll want to preserve in memory for later.

As I've mentioned before, it's silly to emphasize the GIMLET on these early games. I gave it a 15 when I first played it in 2012. Reviewing the categories now, I think I was too stingy on combat, equipment, and the economy, and I bumped each of those up a point for a new final score of 18.
            
Getting this screen was quite a relief.
          
I played version 5.4, which dates from 1977, after the Pelletts' influence. I haven't been able to find much information on version 1, but it apparently only had two magic items--a shield and sword. It also had so few character slots that the developers had to create an algorithm for prioritizing what active characters to purge to make room for new ones.

Version 6.0, dating from the same year, had mostly minor updates. Attributes govern more than they did in 5.4; for instance, intelligence and wisdom affect both starting and maximum magic-user and cleric spell slots, respectively. Additional monsters appear--including rust monsters, mind flayers, vampires, and balrogs--and many of them have special attacks and effects. There are also new magic items, including gauntlets, wands, and horns. There's a new option in combat to use some of these items. The most important difference is that gold adds directly to experience, which governs spell acquisition, leveling, and hit points; you no longer earn experience separately from gold.

There's no documentation on Version 7, but Version 8 (1978) has some significant changes. (Nathan has excellent coverage of Version 8, starting here. It took him a year of on-and-off playing to win.) First, there are three dungeons to choose from: the original Whisenwood, The Caverns, and the Tomb of Doom. The same character can bounce among them. At the top, there's a couple of shops. Whisenwood no longer has a main quest; it exists just for character development, plus a healing fountain at the bottom level that can raise attributes. The Caverns have the Orb and the dragon. The Tomb of Doom has the Grail, guarded by a vampire. Players have to find both the Orb and the Grail to enter the Hall of Fame--or simply achieve character level 1000. There are now four races--human, elf, dwarf, and gnome--to choose, as well as 20 Orders to join. Endurance appears as an attribute. Experience rewards and leveling are significantly scaled back. New monsters include Eyes of Thieving, which steal your stuff, and various types of slimes, which have all kinds of interesting effects. You can charm monsters to follow and fight for you. Robes, crosses, books, and lamps join the equipment list, and potion effects are expanded to include improvements to all attributes, Treasure Finding, Hallucination, and Fire Resistance. Each character begins with a random "inheritance," which is usually a magic item. We're only half a step from roguelikes at this point.

As we've seen in previous postings, The Game of Dungeons directly influenced Daniel Lawrence and his DND/Telengard line (no matter what Lawrence himself may have said), and from there a number of other descendants like Bill Knight's DND (1984) and Caverns of Zoarre (1984). There are also a couple of games that sprout directly from The Game without going through Lawrence, including Dungeon of Death (1979) and The Standing Stones (1983). I'd also suspect that version 8 influenced Rogue except that I can't find any evidence that Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman had any exposure to PLATO way out in California.

Tracing the elements of each game can help us determine the appropriate family tree, and to that end, we're indebted to a table that Ahab began in an attempt to track these elements. For instance, it's pretty absurd for Lawrence to say that he wasn't influenced by The Game when his original DND has an "Excelsior" transport and a list of winners titled "Finders of the Orb" (as well as the same basic gameplay, of course). Similarly, separate options to "open" and "carefully open" treasure chests help trace a line directly between The Game and Gordon Walton's Dungeon of Death.

Based on evidence so far, I'm pretty sure this is the correct family tree. But I'll edit as necessary. The one major problem is that the 1976/1977 "DND" is actually several versions on several platforms across several years.
       
Thanks to Nathan and Ahab prompting me to spend more time with The Game of Dungeons, I feel that I understand this early, seminal RPG a lot better. Later, we'll take a closer look at Daniel Lawrence's original DND and the debt it owes to The Game.

18 comments:

  1. Wow, thanks to you all for educating me on what appears to be an integral piece of programming in the overall history of gaming, especially CRPG's!

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  2. After your change in plans I was a bit afraid that such historical posts would be much fewer in between the ongoing timeline. Some posts after your announcement I'm under the impression that this is gladly not the case. Also your continued backtracking has produced more interesting entries since you left 89 and its sludge of bad to mediocre Ultima clones. I'm very thankful for your continued effort in recording the history of crpg.

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  3. Wow! Quite a bit of nice work... between you and Ahab and Nathan, it is very nicely delineated. I'm tempted to go back and play these some. I still have the original DOS version of Telengard from Avalon Hill... it was a fun but brutal game to play.

    Trekkies everywhere need to start up a debate as to whether the Excelsior transporter uses trans-warp conduits! Maybe the Feds got it right this time.

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  4. Thank you for this very interesting read. It's amazing how many cRPG staples can already be found in its very first incarnations.

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  5. Great to see that you've revisited this, and that I could help encourage it!

    Two observations relevant to your notes. Not all treasures will appear on level 1. The magic lantern is one of these high level items, I think I found it on or around level 16. Levels 19-20 are really annoying without it!

    Also, your estimate of exploding treasure damage is too low. One of my characters pressed his luck once too often on level 1 and got killed, and IIRC he had more than 100 HP. Definitely more than 25. It's worth noting that there are two kinds of chests, and one is more dangerous and more valuable than the other.

    I just avoided chests entirely, after an incident where a "safe" chest blinded me with a gem of brightness inside, and then I nearly got killed by a spectre in the dark.

    I'm sure the reason I had so little HP for my level is because I too farmed XP on level 2 during the endgame. 50 spells wasn't enough to gather much gold and also escape the dungeon, so I'd farm gold, head for the exit, stash it somewhere in between levels 5-10 once my spells ran out, and then leave, having killed 50 high level enemies but gathered no gold. Then I'd return, get my stash, and farm enemies on level 2 until my spells ran out again and escape with 10-12 million gold. That's 100 high level enemies killed for every run, and a lot of XP gained.

    There must be a more efficient way to farm gold than this, but I have no clue how you can without getting your hands blown off.

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    1. The gold stashing/experience farming is exactly what I did, but it didn't occur to me until late in the game. Otherwise, I would have ended up with a similar ratio to yours.

      It's too bad it's not easier to collect more data on the chest thing. I never suffered more than about 25 hp damage on Level 1, and once I threw caution to the wind and started collecting them on lower levels, the worst I was ever damaged was a little over 9,000 on Level 20. That was the basis of my rough assumption for the formula. If it makes you feel better, the rewards from treasure chests don't grow exponentially by level the way you might think. On Level 20, you might find one that has a few million gold--about what you'd get in a few visits running around the same level.

      I didn't find that the gems were too much of an issue. If I got blasted with one, I just dropped all my gold and hit "S" (fighting all the low level creatures who chewed on me in the meantime) until it wore off.

      I think the magic lantern might be the only magic item that doesn't show up on Level 1, then. I agree that it helps on the indistinguishable corridors of Level 20, but it otherwise really threw me for a loop when I found it. Areas of previous levels suddenly looked unfamiliar, and it paradoxically made navigation MORE difficult.

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    2. I didn't do any farming on level 2, and I never stashed gold, so I guess that explains why I had so many hit points at the end.

      Also, I did map every level of the dungeon (as well as all three levels of v8.0), I just didn't post them all. I dob't see how you'd ever finish the game without accurate maps.

      Finally, congrats on beating the game, and kudos on your good judgement for not attempting to beat v8.0. I don't think any game I've ever played has given me as much grief as that one.

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  6. Congratulations on surpassing, let's see... Jehova.

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    1. A lot of weirdly religious handles in the finders list. Less than 24 hours after I posted this, I was knocked off the top spot by "Elohim."

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    2. And Jehova and Elohim were beneath me when I joined the list. I suspect the game is just programmed to periodically push these names to the top of the list, just to keep it from stagnating.

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    3. The game's so difficult you've got to be a GOD to beat it. Get it? Your name is right up there with all the greats.

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  8. It's very remarkable that Dungeons and Dragons came into being in 1974, and the very next year there is a well-developed computer game doing a decent job of copying it. That must have been quite the annus mirabilis. Especially in that era where distribution was limited and slow, and there was no Amazon or RPG Review websites to inform you of what was going on in the greater world. You just had to be lucky enough to know someone who knew something.

    It's also remarkable how richly featured this game is. It would be ten years before games started to surpass it. For being the first, it's not some primitive half-attempt at a CRPG. And it shows a lot of hallmarks of games yet to come - stupid inside jokes, mechanics that players would never figure out, useless items, etc.

    I also like that it has no plot. "Find the amulet" OK cool. Let's go. Playing the game was its own reward. Who cares who the dragon was or why it had the amulet, or why you wanted the amulet in the first place? It's a *game*, you play it to enjoy the experience of playing it and achieving its goals.

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    1. Plato offered such a community, though, combined with powerful hardware and a programming language with several built-in features. From a technical standpoint, the early microcomputer ports MIGHT be even more impressive (but I am in no position to make that judgement), even if they are much worse as games.

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  9. A note on your chart. I gave Heathkit's Dungeons & Dragons a try, and it is ostensibly a descendant of Telengard. It has the same look and feel of the PET version, down to things like the ASCII characters used for walls and doors, the screen layout, string abbreviations, etc. The dungeon is procedurally generated rather than designed. The game is semi-realtime. There isn't really a class system, the spells are the same as Telengard's, it lacks DND's exclusive dungeon features, it does have Telengard's new items, the transporters are called Misty Grey Cubes, the dungeon is exited via stairs with *LIGHT* above, etc.

    The most obvious differences from Telengard are the victory condition and the pseudo-class system. These are handled so differently from DND that it seems they were added to Telengard rather than adapted from DND.

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    1. I struggled with that. While the dates work for it to be an adaptation of early Telengard, the documentation for the Heathkit DND says that it's an adaptation of the "popular game Dungeons & Dragons." Since it's clear that Lawrence titled his game "Dungeons & Dragons" and not "DND" (that's just the file name), I figured it more likely that the Heathkit version was an adaptation of a late Lawrence version just before he spun it off to Telengard.

      But you're right that all those features match, so unless we find that hypothetical missing link, I guess a tie to Telengard is more warranted. I just don't understand why the developer didn't cite that game as the source instead of the earlier Dungeons & Draagons.

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    2. IMO, the single biggest thing separating DND from Telengard is the procedurally generated dungeon, and from firsthand account this was a concession to the PET's limited RAM. The hypothetical missing link would still have to be a PET game with all of the defining features and omissions of Telengard, and at that point we might as well call it an early Telengard rather than a late DND.

      Maybe HUG didn't know it was called Telengard yet. Maybe it wasn't called Telengard yet. There weren't any boxed copies yet, and the title screen could have been a late addition for the Avalon Hill-published release.

      Or maybe, like so many early developers, they just didn't care about crediting the source. The documentation says its an adaptation of "the popular game Dungeons and Dragons," but were the readers meant to think of Lawrence's Dungeons & Dragons, or were they meant to think of the pen & paper game? Do they credit Lawrence at all in game or in any documentation?

      Delete
    3. They don't credit Lawrence, but his name doesn't appear anywhere within the game. Given how far it spread in those years, it's entirely possible that the HUG developers didn't know who had written the original. Yes, it's possible that they meant tabletop D&D, but the game is a virtual copy of a game that once went by the name "Dungeons & Dragons," so I figure Occam's Razor . . .

      Delete

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