Thursday, February 13, 2020

Game 357: The Dungeon of Danger (1980)

The game efficiently blends its title screen with character creation.
The Dungeon of Danger
United States
Written and published as code in the Mostly BASIC series by Howard Berenbon
Versions released in 1980 for the Atari 800, 1981 for the Apple II and TRS-80, 1983 for the Commodore PET, 1984 for the Commodore 64
Date Started: 7 February 2020
Date Ended: 7 February 2020
Total Hours: 1
Difficulty: Very Easy-Easy (1.5/5)
Final Rating: 5
Ranking at Time of Posting: 1/360 (0%)
And here's a final (for now) quick entry to clear up another "game" that made its way onto MobyGames recently. We already had a discussion, relative to The Devil's Dungeon (1978) as to whether a book of type-it-yourself code constitutes a "game." Having not reached a satisfactory conclusion, even in my own mind, I decided I might as well play this one.
Yep, another one of these.
Dungeon of Danger is a lot simpler than even The Devil's Dungeon, and to be honest I think I could argue that this lacks enough elements to be considered an RPG. The problem is that to investigate a game this simple is the same thing as playing it, so I figured I might as well toss up an entry. Putting a "rejection" in the status column isn't satisfying to anyone.
A random encounter with a good wizard offers the only graphic in the game.
You start the game. You enter a difficulty level. You enter your name. You get dumped into a two-level dungeon with 64 rooms per level arranged in an 8 x 8 grid. Your goal is to collect as much gold as possible and get out. You do that by finding your way to one of the stairway squares on Level 1. The rooms are randomized between north-south passages, east-west passages, caverns, and chambers. Any one of them might contain one of a couple dozen monster types and a couple hundred pieces of gold. You can fight or flee them.
Killing a dragon and getting its gold.
When combat comes, you and your enemy exchange blows until one of you is dead. The rolls are all randomized (roughly 1d8). You start with more hit points than any enemy in the dungeon and you can replenish them with healing potions and encounters with a friendly wizard, so you have the edge. You need to find enchanted keys to climb levels and a map on each level to actually see the 8 x 8 grid, which reminds me a bit of The Wizard's Castle from the same year.
A map of the level. The fuzzy bit in the seventh column is my current position.
There are some special encounters in the dungeon:
  • Rooms with pools of water that might freeze you, do nothing, or burn you
  • Thieves who may steal your gold or drop theirs
That could have been worse.
  • Vapors that might knock you out, causing you to awaken in a random part of the dungeon
  • Trap doors that might dump you to the next level (or into a pit if already on Level 2)
All of these events are delivered with maddening pauses between short bursts of text, as if the entire game were narrated by William Shatner. 
Every one of those sets of ellipses is accompanied by a pause as the text loads.
If you make it to the exit, the game gives you a score based on your gold, how many enemies you killed, and how long it took you. It took me less than an hour to get the highest level (Dungeon Master) on "expert" difficulty. 
I won. I hope someone, somewhere, is happy.
The Dungeon of Danger appeared as 12 pages of code in a book series called Mostly BASIC by Michigan hobbyist Howard Berenbon. It specifically appeared in the "Book 2" volume for each platform. The earliest seems to be for the Atari 800 in 1980; editions for the Apple II, TRS-80, Commodore PET, and Commodore 64 followed over the next four years. 
The initial lines of code for The Dungeon of Danger.
There's no character development, combat is based on random rolls and not any intrinsic attributes, and there's no inventory, meaning that the game fails all my criteria for an RPG. (Frankly, it fails MobyGames's definitions, too, but it's easier to write an entry than to get them to change incorrect information.) It thus earns only a 5 on my GIMLET.
That catches us up to where we were before someone with too much time on his hands decided that The Devil's Dungeon, Knight's Quest, and The Dungeon of Danger needed to be preserved in our memory. Back to Ragnarok and the final entry on Blade of Destiny.


Note: An earlier version of this entry, accidentally published before I was ready, was a lot angrier. I was trying to make a joke by which my entries got progressively more ranting and incoherent over the last three games, culminating in my basically frothing at the mouth on this one. I had scheduled all three games a few days in advance. I later decided that people wouldn't get the meta-joke, which was only a little funny in the first place, and removed the setups from the first two entries but neglected to edit the third before it automatically published yesterday. I quickly took it offline to edit out the more irate language. Sorry if you got the premature edition; it would have been confusing.


  1. Does the intent behind a program's creation really preclude it from being a game? Is there a complexity or quality threshold that something has to pass before it qualifies?

    I dunno, I figure if you can play it and there's a result at the end determined by how well you did, it's a game. I fully get why you wouldn't want to play it, and don't want to get more of this stuff thrown your way. But I still think there's a value in these games being catalogued, by databases and critics alike.

    1. This seems like the difference between a Modern and Post-Modern interpretation. I learned this from my friend who went to film school.

      A Modern critique must take into account the contemporary context of the piece. What was the intent of the creator, and what were the circumstances of the creation? From this perspective, we would need to find evidence that the author intended it to be a game, or a learning experience, or a lazy attempt to cash in on the hot BASIC program listing bubble.

      The Post-Modern perspective would say that there is no context. The only thing that matters is aesthetic. In programming, we call this "duck-typing." If it looks like an RPG, and it quacks like an RPG, it's an RPG. Then you judge it on its art of RPGness.

      I don't know that there is an objective answer.

  2. My first "finished" "game" was a little Python program called "Cave of the Mighty Targ." It theoretically had character development but in practice it was so short and so deadly that you'd likely never see it. Also no items, gold or magic, because I was too stupid to do it at that age and skill level. It was based on Star Trek, so you could use a tricorder to get some flavor text on each enemy and pick between a bat'leth or phaser for each attack. It even had a trick endless hallway in one section.

    I'm pretty sure I still have it on my Google Drive, maybe I could get it on MobyGames...

  3. I don't know if its not a game. I've gotten the impressive from hearing/reading people talk about games from this era is that this wasn't all that bad at the time. Sure, everything that wasn't a simple arcade game or text adventure is now nigh unenjoyable today, but back then your only option might have been this or sitting in your room doing nothing.
    Another impression I've gotten is that the BASIC books like this, at least the good ones, were really good at teaching coding in a way I think doesn't really exist anymore. I could be wrong on that front.
    I agree with Nathan on these being added to databases. However, they should probably get some special category, since I know there's quite a few of these books around. But please, don't feel the need to play these. If not a special rule for type-in titles, why not rule 4?

    1. "your only option might have been this or sitting in your room doing nothing."

      Um... books, anyone?

    2. Rule 4 was a bit cathartic. I felt better once I established it. But I've never invoked it, and having never done so, I'm reluctant to do it the first time.

    3. Or... going outside? :p

      Granted, Outside is a multiplayer game and not everyone is into those.

    4. Outside is all about finding those low-pop servers and wandering around enjoying the scenery.

    5. My biggest complaint with Outside is all the tedious quests for too little gold, the economy is not fully in your favour.

    6. It's an incredibly detailed economy, but unless you roll extremely well during character creation you can't ever afford high-tier items.

      Some people claim you don't actually need the high-tier stuff to win though.

    7. Did anyone figure out how to level up playing Outside? I've been at it for many many hours but still feel under-powered.

    8. I think my install is bugged, I keep doing quests without getting any of the promised rewards and I spend all my time in queues and lobbies instead of actually playing

    9. Did anyone get the achievement "Grown-up" unlocked while playing Outside? A friend of mine said it happens after finishing the school level, but it didn’t happen there for me. Here’s what I did so far: after completing the tutorial where two grown-ups did train me to do stuff, I played the school level and even did the map "university" (dunno, it was really weird and I didn’t care for the puzzle-type encounters there), but the achievement did not unlock. Can someone help and point out what I missed? I have some of the high-tier items mentioned above but my gear in general is not very high and it doesn’t seem to do much for me when interacting in PvE or PvP. Does anyone have a manual?

    10. The graphics are impressive, though.

  4. I also suffer from premature e-publication at times. It actually causes me momentary acute embarrassment, while panic-filled, I search for a delete or unpublish button.


    As rudimentary as these games are, they certainly beat the budget LCD handhelds I had when I was 6 or 7, and they seem to offer a variability of play that fighting fantasy or lone wolf gamebooks can't replicate.

    I wouldn't be too surprised if people sunk quite a few hours into these games - particularly if they were into the coding side of things as well.

  5. "That catches us up to where we were before someone with too much time on his hands decided that The Devil's Dungeon, Knight's Quest, and The Dungeon of Danger needed to be preserved in our memory."

    That kind of stung a little.

    1. You can enjoy the inherent irony of Chet complaining that someone else has too much time on their hands, though.

      Also these games made me feel validated about the time I spent entering type-it-yourself games into my Apple IIe or my primary school's BBC Acorn.

    2. I suppose that was a bit harsh, Dungy. I apologize. I'm actually quite a bit more annoyed at your colleague at MobyGames, "vedder," who seems to be occupying himself entering games it cannot be proven to have actually existed, like Pits of Baradur for PLATO. The only evidence we have for the game is basically a line from a book where someone said, "Oh, yeah, my friend made this PLATO game called Pits of Baradur." We have no assurance that it was ever available to the students or that anyone really played it. In my opinion, those kinds of submissions should not be allowed.

    3. Too often have I found a cool-sounding Mobygames entry and then the game turned out to not exist anywhere (usually because it's an obscure foreign title not sold on ebay, not uploaded on abandonware or pirate sites, and with a long defunct official website).

      It would be a lot nicer if people who enter games into the database also entered information on where to get it.

      Once you reach the late 90s and early 00s, hunting down the games on your list is going to be a lot harder, Chet.

    4. No worries. I make a rule of only adding games where I can actually play them, or find a picture of the original package. Also, every entry must have a clear publisher and date. You'll see only about 10 of my entries don't have screenshots.

      As for where to play them, well usually a quick Google search suffices. Most of the Apple II, Atari, C64, and TRS-80 stuff I add is easy to find if you know how to use Google.

      I think I've found a number of gems over the last 2 years. Also, as a doctor who works 60 - 70 hours/week, has 3 kids under 6 years old, and manages to exercise 4-5 hours/week, adding stuff to Mobygames is my hobby to keep me sane. :P

    5. "Once you reach the late 90s and early 00s, hunting down the games on your list is going to be a lot harder, Chet." Really? I would have thought ease would increase in a roughly linear manner as the year gets later.

    6. The stuff from the 80s and early 90s mostly got archived and rereleased, largely because a "classics collection" was an excellent revenue stream when one of the few big publishers gobbled up another studio. The stuff that's hard to find nowadays is generally really obscure titles - games that had very small distribution and less reception.

      In the mid-to-late 90s, however, things are a little different. A lot of games were issued once and never reprinted because the developer went under, or the rights got split up, or the game just didn't hit the right notes in the rapidly changing environment of the time. On consoles, licensing rules ensured that every game left at least some record (and made retro rereleases easier), but PC software doesn't need a license, so there's no central database.

      To make matters worse, this was an era when file sizes ballooned much faster than internet speeds did, greatly limiting the ability for "unofficial" distribution until torrents were invented and popularized. This means that, if a game didn't have an official GOG or Steam release there is an excellent chance that the only version available (unless somebody owns it and graciously provides you with a copy) is one that was chopped down to make downloading easier.

    7. Yeah, I remember cutting the cutscences was much common with pirated games.

    8. Plot twist: "vedder" is actually one of your readers that was really,
      really pissed off by your Zelda review :D

    9. Yes Chet, I'd say the early 00s are going to be the most difficult. Slowly, 90s and 00s titles are being added to abandonware sites, so it's getting somewhat easier than it used to, but not too long ago one of the biggest piracy sites for obscure games got shut down (isohunt) which made it a little harder.

      Also, this is the era when digital distribution began. Sure, Steam didn't exist yet and the main form of distribution was still physical, but from the late 90s onward you will get small indie developers selling their games exclusively through their own website. If that website is down now, and the game didn't sell a lot of copies, you have to pray that someone out there still has a copy on their hard drive or the dev responds to an inquiry (and still has the game). Physical copies don't exist so ebay is not an option.

      While obscure foreign titles can be hard to find, if they had a physical release chances are they're uploaded on a pirate site somewhere, or you can find them on ebay.

      But with obscure digital only releases, I had several instances of having to dig through the internet archive's wayback machine, discarding dead links, contacting people who hosted the game once only to find out they no longer have the files, etc etc.

      There's a game called Homeland, once published (but not developed) by Spiderweb Software and later turned freeware. It has a reputation for being terrible but the primitive 3d graphics looked appealing to me so I wanted to try it out. Should be easy enough to find, right? Nope. Official website is long gone, a Spiderweb fan site that used to host it switched servers some years ago and lost Homeland in the process (I contacted the host and he said he lost the files). Luckily someone in the RPG Codex's Really Obscure RPGs thread managed to track down a working download link through the internet archive.

      Once you reach that era, it's highly likely that you'll have to engage the community in treasure hunts for lost games more often.

    10. Well, that will be fun. Worst case, I get to add games to my "Missing and Mysteries" list faster than Lance M. gets me to cross them off.

    11. Ref a line in a book mentioning "Pits of Baradur" on PLATO... There were many abandoned games and other lessons on PLATO. I created a tic-tac-toe game, blackjack, and a version of Guetzgow's Inter Nation Simulation there. It's likely none of them stayed accessible after I left the system, and frankly, none of them bear reviewing 40+ years later.

      I mention them only because I'm sure many other authors created lessons that might have been more learning experiences than professional or even semi-pro games.

    12. Regarding lost games from the oughts: I've heard there are hundreds of flash games from sites like kongregate that may be lost forever.

      I recall a number of games that were sort of Zelda-ish, but with Castle of the Winds style icon graphics.

    13. Speaking of lost flash games, there's one first person dungeon crawler I remember playing in the mid 00s on Newgrounds. You played a female character and there were some sex scenes (yeah...) but the atmosphere was excellent and it had a Japanese inspired setting, with the dungeon having those Japanese paper walls. I sadly forgot its name and wasn't able to find it again. The atmosphere was excellent and it was pretty challenging, too.

      Speaking of completely lost games (that aren't flash games), there is one that is pretty much confirmed lost for now. I don't remember its name exactly... The Omega Project or The Omega Conspiracy or something? We discussed it in the Really Obscure RPGs thread on the Codex, it's a mid 00s indie RPG set in an X-Files like setting where you fight against aliens or something. The creator himself appeared in the thread and said he doesn't have the game anymore, so unless someone who bought it back in the day comes forth, it's gone.

      I've also been unsuccessful at hunting down a full version unlock code for the Macintosh only RPG The New Centurions. But at least the game exists and someone might be able to crack it one day.

    14. Personally, I'd think just running the games from that era could be just as hard as finding some of them. While some old Windows games will run perfectly fine in modern operating systems, some rely on long depreciated features, and some are just weird and will work fine for one person and never do anything for another, and from my recollection, virtual machines start to become an inperfect solution once you hit the era of 3D accelerators, because I remember those not being emulated particularly well in most virtual machines

    15. PCem handles Pentium I with 3D acceleration fine, as long as you have a good host computer. This will probably suffice for almost anything from the Win9X era. Meanwhile, very little software from the XP era or later is impossible to run on Win10 with enough tweaking.

    16. It might also get hard to do games from the Steam era someday; think about how many games are *only* on Steam these days, and are obscure enough that no one has pirated them. If they get pulled off Steam someday what are the odds you'd be able to find them: Case in point, Warhammer 40K games.

      A few years back Games Workshop decided to try a new thing, where they would split up their settings into tiny chunks and give it out to basically anyone who asked (as opposed to the traditional idea of giving it to one big publisher who is supposed to make sure no bad games come out). This had led to a flood of warhammer 40K shovelware. Bad games in almost any genre you want to name (except, oddly, CRPGs). However, most of these are only on Steam or the Android/iOS app stores. And if your game is bad enough, after a set period of time GW pulls you licence and the game vanishes, that way the licence isn't hurt TOO badly by bad games. (I found this out reading an article where they went to play the worst Warhammer 40K games, and found that most of them were no longer available for purchase).

  6. Hmmm, from a precise moment I found myself reading much of the entry with William Shatners voice (an internal monologue, pauses and all)

  7. Oh hell, we played this game in my high school computer class during our free time. My friends and I changed all the text to reflect our favorite comics, movies, cartoons or whatever. Two of my friends were obsessed with RoboTech so they turned the dungeon into a Zentradi Cruiser and set the player loose in a Veritech fighter. I was into Aliens, so I swapped all references to weapons to Pulse Rifles and made all the monsters into Aliens. They just all had different amounts of hit points. We had to spend days tweaking the descriptive text because you'd be skulking through the Weyland-Yutani atmosphere processor then stumble into a room full of treasure chests. Not having tools to quickly find and replace text made total conversions time consuming.
    I never knew what the game was called until now. Thanks!

    1. I imagine that was one of the main aims of those kind of BASIC games.

      The expectation was not that the game would be played "as it is", but that the user would come to understand the code well enough to "mod" it to their tastes.

  8. My memory of coding for BASIC in these systems is that the pauses on the ellipses aren't text "loading", they're a deliberate stylistic choice.

    Code in these systems also sometimes included unnecessary periods as a cheap way to get text to align in certain desired ways on the screen, although from the screenshots that doesn't appear to have been a concern here. Or because you needed a range of variable strings to all occupy the same amount of screen real-estate, so you added trailing periods to short strings - but again, doesn't appear to be the case here.

    1. Given that these books were primarily "Here's a simple program, poke at it to see how it works and then you can make your own!" guides, maybe they were trying to instill the idea of that, and an "advanced" book would include the "now, here's why we include all those periods" lesson.

    2. I think it more likely that whoever originally wrote this program wasn't really a writer or designer and just wrote those periods because *something* has to go there, and why not periods?

    3. It may not be really "loading"--the code is too simple for it to be slow. But there are actual pauses programmed in with those ellipses. You have to wait a second or two for each new bit of text.

  9. I feel privileged to have read the original entry. What can I say, I like it when the Addict gets a little salty.

    1. The comment section is more interesting when he's salty about console games, though :p

    2. Blogtrottr immediately e-mailed me the now deleted version... Perhaps Mr. Addict will revise those Ultima rankings to make them all the highest on the GIMLET if he doesn't want it distributed out there on the net?


    3. I read the three posts one right after another and got the original third one. To me it was funny and very human reaction to the games - or more like programming excerises. Typed in some of those back in the day myself and no, usually they were not worth the time it took.

  10. Sort of disappointed the title screen didn't say

  11. It´s a text adventure. Very simple to classify. Or if we swing left, we can just say every game in existence is an rpg in some notion that you do a role just by playing the damn thing.

  12. Happy birthday to 10 years CRPG addict blog!

    Have a happy party! ;)

  13. The worst thing for me as a kid about those code listing games back then was, when they were written in BASIC (often enough) you still had to look in what specific computer's BASIC they were written. I remember I somewhere found games that sounded exciting but were in CP/M BASIC but totally lacked the skills to convert them to my C64's BASIC. I know of course the history of different BASIC Interpreters/Chips being implemented by different companies, but imagine having to look up if the useful java, python etc. snippet (not containing system specific calls etc.) you found fits your machine's dialect.

    1. Wasn't that how programming in C was for a long time, due to variations in the various standard libraries? I tried compiling an old version of Nethack back when Chet first played it, and reading through it's documentation it was a massive mess of hacks to get around various systems idiosyncrasies.

  14. "Versions released in 1980 for the Atari 800, 1981 for the Apple II and TRS-80, 1983 for the Commodore PET, 1984 for the Commodore 64"

    The game has a copyright 1980 in the source code from the book, but the first Mostly BASIC book 2 published were for the Apple II and TRS-80 in 1981. The Atari book is from 1983, and there was an IBM PC book from that same year.

    "There's no character development, combat is based on random rolls and not any intrinsic attributes, and there's no inventory, meaning that the game fails all my criteria for an RPG."

    The game has no inventory, but it has some type of character development: the character does more damage in combat the more monsters he has killed. Verified through the book and the source code.

    And about the only graphic in the game, it's not in the Commodore 64 book, someone added it when he typed it in.

  15. Chet: Have you always been able to find a binary of these games, or have you ever resorted to typing one in before you can play it?

    1. I would not type a game in. I wouldn't regard it as a released "game" if I had to type it in.


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