Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Game 356: Knight's Quest (1978)

The chalice and the anchor refer to the two artifacts you find in the game.
Knight's Quest
United States
Instant Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1978 for the TRS-80
Date Started: 7 February 2020
Date Ended: 7 February 2020
Total Hours: 1
Difficulty: Very Easy (1/5)
Final Rating: 8
Ranking at Time of Posting: 5/360 (2%)
Knight's Quest just appeared on MobyGames a couple of weeks ago. At first, it seemed exciting: a CRPG that we didn't already know about from 1978! But naturally, any game that truly deserved to challenge established titles for "earliest CRPG" would already be well known. It was unlikely that one would slip quietly into an online database without a bigger fuss. Thus, Knight's Quest, as it was essentially destined to be, is at best a "proto-RPG" that meets my own definitions technically
The story and rules are told in-game as well as in the manual.
The setup of the game is that you're a squire who wants to become a knight. The king gives you a quest, randomized at the beginning of the game, to recover either a gold chalice from a mountain demon or a gold anchor from a sea demon. You leave from the king's castle, at the center of a map of concentric squares creating 41 total "positions." The contents of each position are also randomized. The borders of the outermost square are designated as either sea or mountains, but you don't know which is which until you get there. The quest object is always found in one of these outermost squares.
Meeting the object of my quest.
Most squares hold some kind of combat encounter, such as robbers, an evil knight, a mountain sorcerer, sea smugglers, a dragon, or a giant. As you meet each of these foes, the game asks whether you want to "challenge" them. If you say no, they can still challenge you, and you go to combat. If you say yes, they can decline to challenge you, and no combat occurs. Thus, whether you fight or not is entirely in their hands, so I'm not sure why the game even asks. Nothing is more annoying than finding the demon that has your quest object and having to move in and out of his square repeatedly trying to get him to fight you.

If you win a battle, you get "reputation" and silver pieces. Reputation serves as a kind of "level"; the more you have, the better you do in combat. I found that if I could get it up to 50, I was usually invincible. Successful combat also rewards you with silver pieces.
Combat consists of watching a bunch of words across the top of the screen.
Squares may also have peaceful villages, health springs, and monasteries. If you have silver, you can pass time at these locations to recover strength. One monastery will give you a magic dagger--only one exists per game--that will save you if you're about to lose a combat. If you lose a combat without the magic dagger, you suffer a serious wound or death, and you lose all your accumulated items, silver, and reputation.
And if you return without the object of your quest, you are "disgraced."
And that's it. Finding the creature with the quest object should take no more than 12 moves--5 from the castle to the edge, and up to 7 around the edge. Combat is so randomized that even without reputation, you have a decent chance of defeating the demon when you encounter him. Returning to the castle takes no more than 5 moves. A winning game could take as little as 2 minutes.

In fact, I was so dissatisfied by the rapidity of the game that I decided I wouldn't have "won" until I returned to the king with a reputation over 100, both quest items, and the magic dagger. That took me about 10 minutes.
The uber-win.
Knight's Quest was developed and published by Peterborough, New Hampshire-based Instant Software, which specialized in a large catalog of low-cost, low-quality titles. It came on a disk with two other games, Robot Chase and Horse Race. Oddly, the program causes both emulators I tried it with to default to a Model III, which wasn't released until 1980. But plenty of magazine ads attest to the game being available in early 1979 at the latest, which gives me no reason to mistrust the 1978 copyright date on the manual.

I doubt the game left much of a legacy, but I have to note that gameplay in the 1981 Apple II title The Dragon's Eye is somewhat similar in that you move around on a computerized "board" seeking an artifact, and gameplay is randomized for each new game. When I spoke to the author of The Dragon's Eye, he didn't offer Knight's Quest as an influence, though.
Manual covers have sure come a long way.
So the reputation technically counts as character development, and its use in combat technically means that it uses attribute-based combat, and the single dagger is technically an inventory item, which means the game technically vies with The Devi's Dungeon, Dungeon Campaign, and Beneath Apple Manor for the title of "earliest commercial RPG." It still gets an 8 on the GIMLET, and the earliest commercial RPG worth the name is still Dunjonquest: The Temple of Apshai (1979).


Note: My commenters' contributions are always worth reading, but in this case, do make sure to read P-Tux7's take on how this game anticipates developments in later RPGs while not being much of an RPG itself. This is commentary I should have thought to include in the entry.


  1. When I encountered this a few years ago (I was searching a TRS-80 archive for "quest" since lots of adventures use that) I sorted it as a strategy game. (I probably should have forwarded it to you for consideration, sorry about that!)

  2. You can only vary the gameplay so much when you have so few "moving parts" to work with, which is why I imagine a lot of these very early games are either trivially easy or impossible (if they work at all.)

    Although it isn't an RPG by any stretch of the imagination, "Adventure" for the Atari 2600 is the lowest-tech game I know of that offers a compelling single-player progression from beginning to end. Surprisingly deep game for all the 2600's limitations.

    1. Adventure consumed quite a bit of my time when I was 7-9 years old... agree with you that it really does standout as a game on the 2600. There is a neat interview with Warren Robinett about programming the game and why he put the Easter egg in.

  3. If nothing else, it's kinda neat to see that low budget shovelware has been a thing pretty much since games started being sold

    1. I sure hope there was more than an hour's value in either horse race or robot chase!

    2. You should see some of the other software Instant Software sold in 1978/1979. This is pure gold compared to Bowling and Klingon Chase.


  4. "Manual covers have sure come a long way."

    I kind of prefer that style to the extreme minimalism of today (no manual -> no cover).

  5. Your definition of rpg is flawed. This game doesn´t have enough complexity to qualify

    1. Adding a definition you can't answer with yes/no would complicate the whole process by a lot. In that case it was easier to just play the game.

    2. I want to agree with "unknown," but I can't find a good way to measure "complexity." It's probably easier to accept a couple of groan-worthy early games as RPGs than to try to craft a tortured definition around them.

    3. I think revising the definition of CRPG used here would be a good idea, because as far as I can tell looking at it and comparing them to things that have passed, the CRPG Addict would be obligated to play Demon Stalkers and Black Magic--two games I played on the Commodore 64 which, while both fun action games, are much closer to Gauntlet than to anything that anyone would seriously mistake for a CRPG.

    4. Let's just call them proto-RPGs that were constrained by the tech and inexperience of their time and therefore haven't reached full RPG-ness yet.

    5. Not only do I agree with Chet, but also I find these articles interesting as a look at what games were the forefathers to CRPGs. There's quite a few themes that will show up later in games that are unambiguously CRPGs
      1. A Tolkein-esque medieval theme (knights, kings, demons and other fictional monsters, a Britain-esque kingdom)
      2. Increasing combat prowess via successful combat
      3. Having a "quest" based around obtaining an item from a monster, and two quests at that
      4. A world map with random encounters that are both combat-based and "NPC"-based
      5. A primitive, albeit useless, dialogue choice system with enemies, and the "choice" or "multiple endings" to give up on the quest.
      6. A money system where money obtained from combat can be used to heal the player character
      7. A mild inventory system (the quest item and the magic dagger)
      8. The idea of an inherently-magical inventory item that can produce a magical effect
      9. Mild strategy and game order options, such as trying to look for the magic dagger monastery instead of beelining to the quest monster. Dare I call it a sidequest?
      10. Peaceful areas - even if they're more of "pay money to heal" encounters that also spare you from combat for a bit, that's ultimately what a lot of towns in CRPGs are for, no?

      I'll certainly admit the game is simple, but the ideas contained within it will be fleshed out more in the future's games. Even if it doesn't quite come out as a "CRPG", it's still interesting to learn the history of how people tried to adapt these ideas from fantasy novels and Dungeons and Dragons to the computer.

      Besides, Chet admitted that Zelda 1 wasn't really a CRPG but he felt compelled to document it and compare it to "real CRPGs". If he thinks that such non-CRPG endeavors will enhance his and our understanding of CRPGs, I'm all for it. And personally, I think they have.

    6. Wow. This is stuff I should absolutely have included in my entry. I was too busy being annoyed at having to play the game at all. Well done, P-Tux7--a perfect example of why I always say my commenters are really co-bloggers.

  6. I disagree with @ultimates, I feel like this game and the last one show that the definitions are "barebones" and flexible enough to encompass "any" crpg which moves us neatly from "is this a crpg?" (less interesting) to "what makes this crpg compelling/good or not?" (way more interesting).

    Funnily I just had a similar discussion about the definition of music, where we found that the most basic definition would be "music is organized sound".

    I'm a big fan of basic/low level definitions.

    1. So a traffic jam where everyone is honking their horns is somehow music? Grow up.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Way to troll, Anonymous. Did you just come here to try to ruin someone's day?

    4. How is traffic jam horn honking "organized"?

    5. Anyone offering anyone else unsolicited, smart-ass advice or commentary under an "Anonymous" tag automatically sparks my own internal dialogue about what, at minimum, constitutes "intelligent life".

      P.S. They typically miss the cut.

    6. Robert Greenberg defines "music" as "sound that is organized in time." He might even say that a traffic jam could be called "music." A lot of "free jazz" to me just sounds like a bunch of unorganized honking.

    7. There was a concert of ships horns I went to once which was pretty much "traffic jam horn honking" that was organized honking and pretty good music too.

    8. Interesting definition. Would John Cage's 4'33'' be an exception or not music at all?

    9. It's no music at all.

      Cage is a great composer, but the meta-commentary intended by 4'33" has always fallen flat with me. You find its analog in just about every art: the painter who hangs a blank frame on the wall and the only "art" is the wall behind it; the sculptor who lays down a base with nothing on top. I'm not aware of one, but I'm sure somewhere, someone has staged a "play" by putting a few chairs in front of a random building or street scene or something. Wikipedia says the point of 4'33" is to "challenge assumed definitions about musicianship and musical experience." Does anyone really need that challenged? Music is some dudes playing instruments, maybe singing. No amount of listening to 4'33"--and I listen to it many times a day; at least 3 times in the shower alone--has overturned that definition.

      If I ever attend a concert of Cage music, I'm going to bring a couple of bamboo strips and a kazoo and play "Our Spring Will Come" during the four and a half minutes wasted on 4'33". The audience will get more out of it than the pretentious silence the piece calls for.

    10. Hahaha, I am so glad you don't like free jazz. It reminds me of everyone tuning their instruments in my old concert band days.

    11. I like free jazz, I like car honking, I like Beethoven being played in helicopters, I like silence. I consider all of the above music, but I respect everyone who doesn‘t.

    12. Now I'm wondering about Chet's opinion of Mike Oldfield.

  7. Thanks for playing another game I added to Mobygames. I was actually thinking of the GIMLET when I was deciding if this game qualified as an RPG.

    The only other TRS-80 RPG I think you should still play is Demon Venture: Reign of the Red Dragon by Adventure International from 1982. It's another short game, but is definitely an RPG.

    1. YOU'RE "hoeksmas"? I'll accept this one, but I think I hate you a little bit for Dungeon of Danger.

    2. Feel free to hate me. I'm also going to pester you to play

      Destiny for the Apple II: https://www.mobygames.com/game/apple2/destiny___

      Empire III: Armageddon - https://www.mobygames.com/game/apple2/empire-iii-armageddon

  8. Is it time for a 1978 Game of the Year? Or is it just too abysmal. :P

    1. Leaving out the mainframe RPGs, Beneath Apple Manor is the obvious stand-out.

  9. Not only is it one of the first commercial CRPGs, but that title screen might have the earliest depiction of someone wearing a VR headset. Definitely ahead of its time.

    1. I was wondering why a knight would put a price tag over half his visor until I realized we're looking at the side of the helmet.

      I still can't un-see the price tag anyway.

  10. By the way, did we do Legend of the Red Dragon (1989) and I forgot about it? (Search doesn't immediately show any posts on it.) Or did we skip it because it's a BBS door game and it was hard to emulate or something?

    1. I think it may have been skipped due to being a BBS door game. If those count, then browser games of the 00s should count too, and maybe MUDs and MMOs, and that's a can nobody wants to open.

    2. Fair enough. I mention it mostly because it's a game I spent a lot of time in, and is an interesting case study in both minimalist RPG design, multi-user RPG design, menu-based RPG design, and mechanics of limiting play/progress per day that eventually take centre stage decades later in the casual/free-to-play gold rush.

      I'll throw it out there for if Chet wants to sample that space for an example without committing to do all of them. My personal bubble suggests it's a well-known and well-remembered example but others may differ.

    3. There was something of what JarlFrank says, and also I think I investigated it but couldn't figure out how to set up an emulation for it.

    4. The core software for LORD runs on x86 machines, so DOSBOX will handle it. I don't know how that interfaces with the BBS door element, and I'm not in a place where I can play around right now, but I might do so later.

      I confess I had hoped to find an in-browser emulation that allowed interaction by multiple users, but I can't immediately find one. (Several sites purport to offer in-browser emulation, but as a local instance, not a hosted server.)

      The multiplayer elements were fairly light in any case - from memory (which may not be fully accurate) you could see some of the accomplishments of other players, duel their characters while offline, and a few other things, none of which were central to the experience or necessary for progress. There was (from memory) no synchronised multiplayer (i.e. nothing where two players interacted in real-time with each other).

      Wikipedia has a fairly well-cited article on the game making a good case for its notability.

  11. Uhm...there are comments visible under recent comments for a new entry but it seems to be deleted..? What happen?

    1. It wasn’t ready for posting, but somehow I had pre-scheduled. I took it down once I realized it had posted prematurely.

  12. WTF is Bender doing in a 1978 game?

  13. By that light, isn't "The Pit" also in scope?

    1. Woops, how did that get there? That was for the LORD discussion. Also TW2002?

  14. I have discovered the author of this game and its original title and date of creation searching through an archive of old TRS-80 disks in the web.

    It's the same game but it has this credits:

    *16 BRIAR CLIFF DR., MILFORD, NH 03055*

    TRS-80 Software Exchange would become the software branch of Softside magazine (or vice versa), and it was there at least from early 1978.

    Instant Software was created later this year, and Knight's Quest was not advertised until early 1979.

    I think the author "published" his game through TRS-80 Software Exchange (maybe when it was still a software exchange), and later he published it properly through Instant Software with another name to avoid problems with TSR.

    In this same archive of old TRS-80 disks I have found another 1978 crpg. It is called Dragons (D&D based again), and it has this credits:


    I have found only one mention in old magazines, in a Robert Elliott Purser's software catalog extract (it is referenced as "Dragon" or "Dragon 2", and the game file is "DRAGONS2.BAS"):


    This archive has a lot of hidden treasures like TRS-80 versions of Curse of Ra, Danger in Drindisti, The Sword of Zedek, another crpg called Phase VII from 1980, and more.

    I will post about some of them soon.


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