Sunday, January 3, 2021

Game 392: Oldorf's Revenge (1980)

Despite the copyright date, magazines attest to the availability of the game in 1980.
Oldorf's Revenge
United States
Highlands Computer Services (developer and publisher)
Released in 1980 for Apple II, 1981 for Atari 800 as Warlock's Revenge
Date Started: 1 January 2021
Date Ended: 1 January 2021
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 9
Ranking at Time of Posting: 9/392 (2%)
My definition of an RPG requires character development. The character must increase his abilities, levels, or skills as a reward for overcoming obstacles in the game. Such development, along with the statistics associated with combat and inventory, are the primary mechanisms, drawn from tabletop role-playing games, that put the "RPG" in "CRPG."
This definition has been occasionally challenged by gameplay elements that seem "close enough." Chief among them are these two:
  • The player chooses from multiple character classes and plays in a manner that makes sense for the chosen class, but the character himself does not improve.
  • There is a character creation process that involves either chosen or random allocation of points to attributes or skills, but those attributes and skills never improve after creation.
These elements can be present in a single-character game or a multi-character game. They can exist alone or in combination.  Bad Blood (1990) is a single-character game featuring the first element. Shadoworlds is a multi-character game with both elements. I rejected both, but there are times that I've allowed titles to pass, including basically the entire Paragon Software library (MegaTraveller, Twilight: 2000, Space: 1889) because there was rare, nebulous character development, or because the tabletop RPGs on which they were based allowed for character development. I recognize that there's a fine line sometimes. Not here, but sometimes.
How is this underground?
Oldorf's Revenge is an early example of a game that could fool some players into thinking of it as an RPG. It's not; it's an adventure game, and not much of one, but it offers an RPG-like choice of character classes, not only at the beginning but throughout the game. It otherwise fails all three of my RPG criteria, but MobyGames still insists on listing it as an RPG and I still get occasional inquiries about it. As often happens, I started writing this as a BRIEF and then found that the game was so short, I might as well win it.
The game features a group--I hesitate to use the term "party"--of seven adventurers who seek to loot 300 points of wealth from an underground empire. One of the areas from which they loot the wealth is Oldorf's Castle, which vaguely explains the title, although Oldorf himself appears nowhere in the game, nor does he in any way take revenge. Oldorf's Castle is the second area that you reach after an introductory area; later, you loot Snotgurgle's Palace and the Land of Lynxor before finally escaping, ideally with your 300 points of treasure.
If I were rich enough to have a palace, I'd probably find some time to change my name.
The seven characters are cleric, thief, gladiator, strongman, magician, wizard, and elf. You choose one during the extremely limited "character creation" process, but throughout the game you can switch to any of the other classes by hitting the "C" key. This process costs 2 points of strength, from an initial pool of 100, and can only be done 5 times per class.
The point of switching is that each character has unique skills that only he can activate. Only the gladiator can fight in melee combat, for instance. The cleric has the ability to READ, SPEAK, and TRANSLATE languages. The thief can UNLOCK and PICK doors. You use the strongman for anything that involves MOVE, LIFT, PUSH, or SMASH. The wizard's sole command--CAST--does a variety of things given the situation; the magician's MAGIC command works more nebulously. The elf has no special commands, but he can fit into small places. This isn't a Tolkien elf.
Only the cleric can read.
What's unclear during the game is whether all seven characters are exploring together and when you C)hange classes, you're just selecting the active one, or whether there's one character, but he's somehow able to morph into different races and professions. The latter option makes less sense logically, but it makes more sense in the context of the game. There are places that only the elf can squeeze through, for instance, but he still has all his other class options once he gets to the other side.
Switching to another character mid-game.
Navigating the game is largely about solving puzzles with these various special commands. If you're thinking that each character can solve puzzles according to his strengths, think again. There are places that only one character can solve even when it looks like others should be able to try. One is on the first screen. To get into the dungeon, you have to open a door. If you didn't choose the thief (UNLOCK) or the wizard (CAST), you have to spend 2 strength points on a class change already, even though it feels like the strongman ought to be able to SMASH it.
A rare combat.
The two-page manual doesn't offer much help with universal keywords, but it turns out there aren't many beyond directions (N, E, S, W, U, D) and each class's special commands. Found items are picked up and used automatically in the appropriate places. There's one room where I had to specify that my strongman MOVE TABLE before MOVE CHAIR, but it's otherwise possible that no command required more than a single word. The solution is pretty obvious in most cases, and when it isn't, having the wizard CAST almost always gets you through. There are a couple of combats you can fight with the gladiator (ATTACK or KILL) or the wizard (CAST).
One of the most complex puzzles in the game.
The harder part of the game is managing your swiftly-dwindling class changes and strength pool. Every spell costs 10 strength points, so you want to limit those castings. You want to accomplish as much as possible with one character before switching to another. In practice, this means making several trips through the dungeon, noting puzzle locations in which a particular class is necessary, before you can outline an optimal plan. When I finally won, I had no cleric, strongman, or wizard changes left. I confess that I didn't win it 100% honestly: I allowed myself to use the maps created by CRPG Addict fellow Jason Dyer in his 2019 review of the game. My excuse is that the game is a particular pain to map because you get no indication in each room which directions will work. You have to try all of them.
I run out of strength.
The introductory area funnels you to a bridge where you have to pay a 50 gold piece toll. There are exactly 50 gold pieces in the area, so you have to find all of them. Some (like all the treasures in the game) are found by just walking onto the right screen; some require you to solve a puzzle. A common puzzle, found throughout the game, has a word written in a runic language or foreign language that the cleric has to TRANSLATE and the magician has to then invoke. There are also several small spaces that only the elf can reach.
It's not really clear who's enforcing this toll.
Across the bridge is Oldorf's Castle. That's where you start finding treasures that earn you permanent points. You can also start saving the game at this point; before the bridge, you can only quit without saving. In the castle, you have to find a key to unlock a coffin, which has a ring, which allows you to translate some books in the library, which gives you a keyword that when invoked causes a bookcase to slide aside revealing a passage. This is one of several places in the game where you get a graphical cue as to the effects of your commands rather than a textual one. 
A signpost offers directions to the major sections of the game.
The castle gives way to Snotgurgle's Palace. Puzzles include a room where you have to move a table and then move a chair onto the table to get a gold cross. There's a bizarre psychedelic area ("strange!" and "wierd!" [sic] are two of the rooms' titles) that culminates in finding some magic mushrooms. One puzzle requires you to interpret some roman numerals and say the number they represent. Another requires the cleric to LISTEN to a pillar, which says "Move Me," requiring the strongman to do as the pillar says. 
The caverns of Lynxnor are the third area, and here I was stumped briefly by one of the less sensible puzzles in the game. Faced with two serpents' heads, or maybe cats', I found that the gladiator's ATTACK did nothing. The wizard's CAST killed one but not the other; for the other, I needed the magician's MAGIC. Why? No reason--just the game's own logic.
One had to be killed, one contained. Ours is not to reason why.
There's a final battle in the caverns with a couple of serpents before you find the exit. If you've collected all the treasure when you exit, you win.
Hell is going to be thousands of game developers trying to be funny.
Changing between character classes is an interesting idea that would have been better served in a more challenging game. It earns a 9 on the GIMLET, with 0s and 1s in most categories. I gave it 2s for having a quest and for at least being short (part of the "gameplay" category).
Oldorf was the first game issued by Highlands Computer Services of Renton, Washington, a town to which I have been numerous times and would readily designate "the Renton of Washington." The company specialized in adventure games with simple text parsers and "high-res" graphics. A sequel to Oldorf called The Tarturian came out the same year but no one seems to think that one is an RPG. Early advertisements indicate that Oldorf's Revenge was originally going to be called Wizard 1, with sequels continuing the numbering. In some listings, Wizard 1 survives as a subtitle. At some point, Robert Clardy of Synergistic Software acquired the rights to the game and made an Atari 800 port that he re-named Warlock's Revenge, which continues to make no sense.
We might have another BRIEF (or BRIEF that turns into a full entry) this week as I build up enough interesting things to say with Bharas.


  1. This game sound worth playing if only to get a a chance to loot a place called Snotgurgle's Palace.

    The character changing reminds me of Shadowcaster. Too bad about the lack of logic and need for trial and error; that's one of the reasons I never play Adventure games anymore.

  2. Unfortunate that the mechanics of strength and class switching amount to little more than a timer restricting the number of moves you have to win the game. Of course Quest for Glory gets it right by making you stick with a class from the beginning.

  3. Snotgurgle? Really? His parents must have hated him.

    Might be worth noting that "Oldorf" is "Frodo" backwards with an L added. Probably not, but this blog has trained me to automatically read any awkward-looking fantasy name in reverse.

    1. Nice catch!

      I love these little stubs from the dawn of CRPGs in 1975 to 1986 or so... cool little bits of CRPG history. Heck, I played some of them on my trusty old Tandy!

  4. The puzzle of Lynxnor's caverns in which one creature is killed and the other lives seems to be a wink to the Schrodinger's cat thought experiment, in which an hypothetical cat can be considered simultaneously both alive and death (the creatures look more like cats than serpents to me, and the name of the place - Lynxnor - seems to be referencing a feline).

    1. When I saw the heads and the boxes in the screenshot I also immediately associated it to Schrödinger's cat. They also look somewhat surprised. ;)

      While the graphics obviously weren't photorealistic this early Apple II screen art exudes a certain charm and I enjoy watching it. However, back at the time games often needed accompanying textual descriptions to make the graphics really work. Some "context"...

      But what to expect from a game that is titled Oldorf's Revenge when there is neither an Oldorf in the game, nor a revenge taking place?
      And the most interesting place is called Snotgurgle's Palace?

      This is basically amateur hour here and I'm endlessly thankful that the Addict is covering these titles, too!

  5. Renton is also home to Wizards of the Coast (D&D, M:tG, and Axis & Allies).

    1. Really? They're playing it fast and loose with "coast," aren't they? More like "Wizards of 17-40 Minutes to the Sound, Depending on Traffic."

      The rents are probably low in Renton, though. They'd have to be.

    2. Heh! Not their original HQ, I'd assume, but yeah that's where they are now. I'm sure they could afford to be located anywhere they wanted, but 'low rents' is only a relative term anywhere in greater Seattle these days.

    3. As far as I can tell, WotC has always been located in the Seattle suburbs. Don't know exactly when they moved to their current Renton HQ, though.

      It's probably different back east, where the population density is higher, but as an Oregonian I can say it's typical for people in WA/OR/CA to identify as living "on the West Coast" even if they're a few hours away from the actual coast.

    4. @stepped pyramids, I think you hit it right on the head. Perhaps folks who live deep in the interior (over the Cascades) feel differently.

      Now I am curious about where exactly in the Seattle burbs WotC started. Looks like it started out in the basement of one of the founders.

  6. You'd think the psychadelic bit would come after getting magic mushrooms, not before

  7. In the book Gnomes by Wil Huygen, a "snotgurgle" is a particularly nasty relative of the troll that does awful things to the gnomes.

    Chet, I think you're around my age--you know that Gnomes book? The one with the extremely elaborate ecology of gnomes that ends with an environmental homily about "Why Gnomes Shake Their Heads"?

    1. I have never heard of that, but it does seem like a likely source for the name.

    2. The book they based the 'David the Gnome' tv show on. Such a fantastic tome!

  8. This is probably my bad. This was one of the first 4 or 5 games I added to Mobygames, and I wasn't so careful with my genres back then. You didn't have to play it, and it's definitely not an RPG.

  9. I thought the humour wasn't bad by the standard of must such games! As for the design, it sounds quite interesting, maybe as a roguelike where character switches require certain resources you have to find, and you must look in particular for the ones you are running out of, and try to avoid areas / combats that will drain them.

  10. Congrats on the win, even if it wasn't for a CRPG. You're fortunate you didn't run into the Oldorf Slaad at any point - that fight can get pretty nuts.


    2. Whenever I see the Green Slaad in the Monster Manual I do a double-take.

    3. Is that a Waldorf sallad attacking you in the game?

    4. ♪ 23 blue and gray slaad at the door
      23 blue and gray slaad
      Strike one down, they gate in two more
      24 blue and gray slaad at the door ♬

    5. Hahaha, these comments are solid!

    6. I'm embarrassed to say I don't get it. And I thought at least my understanding English was somewhat solid. Well you can never learn enough.

    7. Oldorf sounds like ‘Waldorf’, which is a kind of salad with apple in it. Salad is an anagram for ‘Slaad’, a monster from D&D.

    8. Over here in Germany, Waldorf is a type of school, not a salad. This is the first time I heard of this salad!

    9. I've lived in the US all my life, and this is also the first I've heard of it, although I'm also not much of a salad eater

    10. I haven't seen a "Waldorfsalat" in the last 20 years. But during the eighties the salad was very common in Germany. As far as I remember it consists mainly of celery and apples?

    11. I know it mostly as industrial food meant to be put on bread, for example, and not as a fresh meal in itself.

      It was perhaps better known 20 years ago but it still is readily available in Germany, at least in the supermarkets in Northern Germany where I live.

      The stuff I know consists of lots of mayonnaise, celery, small apple parts and other bits added for fun (but hardly noticeable). I wouldn't exactly call it "health food"...

      An example would be this one here:

    12. "As far as I remember it consists mainly of celery and apples?"

      And fresh waldorfs. At least the way they serve it at Fawlty Towers.

    13. I'm sorry it took me a few days to read all of these. Mento, that was a great pun.

  11. I remember playing this when I was a kid. I couldn't figure too much out, since we had no manual. And someone had changed the starting strength as well. BASIC games were easy to do that with.

    Thanks for bringing back some memories :)

  12. I'm finishing off the Tarturian soon, and I can definitely say it isn't an RPG either although it is even more bizarre (your characters are now in multiples so you technically have an army of 70 following you around, and they can easily die off and your "mortician" then comes up to bury them).

    It's a more challenging game, but not for good reasons, unfortunately.

  13. I (finally) finished The Tarturian. The Addict can be thankful for skipping this one.

    1. That was a great write-up. Traveling with a party of 71 would be difficult enough, but knowing that one of the party members was there specifically to bury you when you die would be particularly nerve-wracking.

      It gets worse, I think. The numbers deplete even when you just switch from one party member to another, right? Doesn't that suggest that you're not just switching but actually KILLING the old party member? So every time you ask your magician to step up and use MAGIC to solve a puzzle, you're really asking him to sacrifice himself for the team.

    2. I get the strong impression they didn't think strongly through the actual-narrative ramifications of their game mechanics.

      I just chose to believe that if a character survived their "shift" they got to retire from the group into safety.

  14. Mystery House claimed the crown for "first text adventure with graphics", but Oldorf's Revenge was also published in 1980. Does anyone know whether Mystery House is simply the one people actually remember?

    1. According to Mystery House premiered on 05.05.1980 and the company made another adventure game (that was more advanced) the same year: Wizard and the Princess. So it is possible for a small team to make such a game in relatively short period of time. We can never be certain that dates for such old titles are accurate but designer of Oldorf's Revenge could easily play MH before making his own game.


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