Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Game 448: Monsters & Magic (1983)

 
It's so efficient to make the title screen the same as the character creation screen.
       
Monsters & Magic
United States
Prickly Pear Software (developer and publisher)
Released 1983 for Commodore 64, TRS-80 Color Computer, and Dragon 32/64
Date Started: 5 March 2022
Date Ended: 5 March 2022
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later) 
     
I'm no programmer, but in the 1980s, I could at least hold my own in BASIC. I could have written Monsters & Magic. In fact, I may have. It's so simple that if I had, I probably wouldn't remember nearly 40 years later. It's all-text, mostly random, and pretty boring. Thankfully, it's also short.
   
The setup from the box is that you have to enter a dungeon to destroy the evil Dungeon Lord. To face him, you have to destroy the other monsters in the dungeon first. You get to specify how many monsters there are, from 1 to 50. This happens after a character creation process in which the game rolls between 6 and 18 for the standard D&D attribute set: strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity, and charisma. They didn't even change the order.
      
That's not a bad deal for a spear.
       
The game rolls for a random number of starting hit points and gold, which you can then immediately spend on weapons and armor, which the game presents to you one at a time. Might as well scroll through them once without buying anything just to check prices, as you can revisit the shop at any time from any room within the dungeon.
    
Once you enter the dungeon, everything is randomized to the point that you can visualize the data lines in the program. All the rooms go:

CHESTER HAS FOUND A (CAVE, GRAVE, LARGE YARD, FAR CORNER, COMMON CHAMBER, HIGH GATE, MONSTER LAIR, NARROW PASSAGE, NARROW PATH, etc.)

Then there's a random descriptor:
(TRIPS ON A HALF-EATEN ELF, SEES A LARGE JAR, TRAP DOOR IN FRONT OF HIM, HEARS NOISES, FALLS ON A HALF-EATEN DWARF, SEES LARGE CHEST, ANTS GOING INTO A HOLE IN THE FLOOR, THERE IS HOT FOOD ON THE TABLE, SILVER VASE ON THE SHELF, etc.)
        
Mmm...hot food on a table. In a grave.
           
The room may have a monster depending on how many you seeded into the dungeon. If so:

(BASILISK, OGRE, DISPLACER BEAST, BLACK PUDDING, HILL GIANT, HOBGOBLIN, RED DRAGON, etc.) ATTACKING!
      
There's no reason to be scared of the basilisk, as no monster in this game has special attacks.
      
You have the same 8 options in every room, including "Search." If the room's descriptor indicates something that can be opened, you get a second chance at a search with "Open It." The two actions otherwise draw from the same pool or similar pools of possibilities, an equal percentage good and bad. On the good side, you can find gold or magic items like a dagger, sword, or spear. A hidden pixie may kiss you to raise your hit points, or you may find a Staff of Healing that does the same. Several possibilities raise attributes.
      
An unfortunate roll on "Open It."
      
Negative possibilities including finding an evil cleric who turns your weapons to clay or your armor to paper and a "Rust" trap that destroys all of your equipment but the magical stuff.
    
When you choose to fight combat, you and the enemy first roll a 1d6 to see who goes first. Then you roll a 1d20 to see if you hit. If so, you then roll based on your weapon for how much damage you do. The enemy then does the same. Some powerful enemies get multiple attacks. Combat takes quite a while, especially when you and the enemy both require something like 17 to hit and have a few dozen hit points each.
     
I kill a displacer beast.
   
Winning combat gets you experience, extra hit points, and sometimes gold. Experience leads to leveling up, which allows you to add a damage multiplier in combat. Thus, a sword that normally does 1d8 does 3d8 at Level 3.
     
You see this, WarWizard? This is how you do character development!
    
Once you defeat all the enemies you specified during setup, you automatically enter into a final battle with what the box calls the Dungeon Lord and the actual game calls Expensor. (I'm guessing his villainy involves inflating his corporate travel reimbursements.) His difficulty is scaled to your level, so there's no particular point delaying the encounter. Once he's dead, the game ends with a victory screen.
        
A shot from the final battle.
Good game or bad game, it never sucks to win.
      
There's ironically no "magic" in the game (except magic items) and no real strategy except to flee from high-level foes until you have the best armor available and some magic weapons.
    
Applying the GIMLET to such games is a depressing, pointless exercise. A series of 0s, 1s, and 2s puts it at 11. The range from around 9-15 says "it meets my barest definitions of an RPG but offers nothing more."
 
There are some mysteries associated with the release of this game. It was published (and likely developed) by Prickly Pear Software of Tucson, Arizona, a mid-1980s company that marketed a little over a dozen simple games, many all-text, crossing several genres. Two others claim to be RPGs: Scepter of Ursea (1984) and Darkmoor Hold (1985). In the United States, the game saw releases for the Commodore 64 and TRS-80 Color Computer, which is fine. A game written in BASIC with no graphics can easily be ported to multiple systems. But somehow they also found a European distributor (Eurohard) who translated it to Spanish. I want to know what Prickly Pear executive looked at this and thought, "This--this shall be the new world's gift to the old."
        
This may be the first game whose cover artist deserved to be paid more than its programmer.
      
I can't speak for the C64 version, but the TRS-80 version retailed for $26.95, or a little over $70 today. Remember that next time your favorite streaming service raises the monthly price by $1.50.
     

37 comments:

  1. This looks like someone took a text adventure engine of the kind that was all over magazines and stuff in the mid 80s and tacked on some basic RPG-esque elements. I would ordinarily then add "and uploaded to a BBS as simple shareware", but it seems they tried to actually commercially sell this? Wow.

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  2. I remember creating almost exactly this game on my graphing calculator in the 90's.

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  3. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 9, 2022 at 1:12 PM

    A nice, quick run through - very entertaining to read about (especially to see WarWizard given its comeuppance), even if perhaps not so entertaining to play it.

    > a sword that normally does 1d8 does 3d24 at Level 3

    Do you mean that the damage done scales quadratically with character level? That's rapid character development, indeed!

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    1. Was wondering about the same. That seems like a big jump each time. Is it 3d24 or maybe 3d8 or 1d24?

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    2. Ha. Dumb mistake. It's 3d8. You don't multiple BOTH variables, Chester. You learned that in third grade.

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  4. Even in the 1980s, writing a game like this is about two hours work. At least Akalabeth had the decency to include graphics and coherent maps.

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    1. USD 26.95 in 1983 for this? And still with basic typos ("dammage"), not to mention really rudimentary gameplay. Wonder how much were actually sold.

      Not surprising awarding any points on a GIMLET for this is indeed a "pointless" exercise.

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  5. Has anyone heard of this game (on any platform) BITD? I played some adventure games from Prickly Pear Software on the Coco, but I do not recall ever seeing this game advertised or reviewed anywhere. Given my interest in CRPGs (and the relatively limited choices available on the Coco), I would have played this game had I been aware of its existence.

    That said, it is _really_ too close to something published in the various "How to Write Games in BASIC"-type books to qualify as a commercial product.

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    1. I couldn't find an advertisement for it, but that box definitely comes from the Dragon release in Europe.

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    2. There is also a(n) - albeit very short - manual for the game at the MOCAGH: https://mocagh.org/miscgame/monstersmagic-alt-manual.pdf

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  6. Damn it. This was supposed to publish tomorrow.

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    1. Back to back posts! Push the next post to which ever day you originally wanted. Even if that means an extra day between what you originally planned. I don't think you need to short yourself a day to make up for it.

      This made me chuckle: his villainy involves inflating his corporate travel reimbursements

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    2. Yeah, was going to say, none of us are going to begrudge you an extra day in the gap between this and the next post.

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  7. Twin valley morgMarch 9, 2022 at 2:13 PM

    Just out of interest, do the stats actually do anything (IE charisma,dexterity)?

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    1. Strength and dexterity come to play in combat, and charisma is a factor in the price of weapons. Constitution determines hit points. I don't see what intelligence or wisdom do, though.

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    2. In pre-1989 Dungeons and Dragons, intelligence and wisdom largely don't do anything unless you're a wizard or cleric, respectively.

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  8. 'This may be the first game whose cover artist deserved to be paid more than its programmer.'

    I'm chuckling while agreeing a 100% - never judge a book by its cover, eh?

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    1. Very true, and yet people consistently do judge the book by its cover. We illustrators are paid to make the cover intriguing to pick up and maybe buy it, regardless of whether there's gold, crap, or mediocrity under the cover. That's the job, and often enough it works.

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  9. No more games on the upcoming list, we're about to enter ...the great wide open!

    Seriously, care to explain what you're planning or is it going to be the topic of a special post in the near future anyway?

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    1. I agree, I was using that list to try playing ahead you

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  10. There must be a story behind the fact that this game got published at all.

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    1. Without more details, I suspect that it was a mix of "the folks with lower end computers are desperate for anything" and "this is so easy to port that we might as well sell it for the better one".

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    2. Agreed. As someone who was interested in CRPGs, the Coco was decidedly not the best choice of platform. The selection was so very limited that _anything_ could get some traction. Adventure games (Interactive Fiction) were much more popular on that system.

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  11. Sometimes, not dragging on for too long is the best thing about a game...

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  12. I was expecting this to be another BASIC type in game, not something you were actually expected to purchase as a full game. Wonder if this is one of those games that was never actually compiled and you can just poke around the code, it certainly feels like that level of quality.

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    1. You can view the C64 program file in a text editor if you want and it does look very BASICy

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  13. Looks like an exercise in Basic programming. I didn't realize this could be moneytized back then.

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    1. Anything can be monetized at any time, and some people will fall for it. Just look at modern asset flips on Steam...

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  14. I think it's an early example of shovelware. Once you have a publishing/sales flow set up, you can crank out more games at a minimal cost and still make a bit of profit on that.

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    1. Shovelware referred to free/shareware games downloaded from BBSs and burned onto a CD.

      Fun fact: there's a dude out there slowly going through and playing every single game on a shovelware CD from the 1990s. He's been doing it for a couple of years now and he's almost halfway done. Crazy project.

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    2. I've been following Shovelware Diggers from day one. Fascinating project, but I often end up fast forwarding through the more boring games... there's a lot of those.

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    3. I like that he takes his time and actually puts effort into each and every single one, no matter how dumb it is. A lesser reviewer wouldn't bother.

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  15. In the future someone will do this with itch.io bundles

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  16. The mistery behind the Spanish version distributed by Eurohard has to do with said company which took over production of Dragon computers, moved it to Spain and also (I assume translated and) distributed some software for the Dragon to go along with it.

    From a quick glance at some Spanish- and German-language sources, there might be an interesting story behind that - setting up something like this in the mid-80s "in the middle of nowhere" (as beautiful as Caceres is) in Spain which wasn't really a hotbed of IT business at that time (mild spoiler: apparently it didn't work out so well). But that's probably material for another blog with a different focus. Anyway, a quick overview of the company history in English can be found e.g. here, incuding a list of games:
    https://archive.worldofdragon.org/index.php?title=Eurohard_SA

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  17. If you don't mind a more general question:

    I recently played a very short and light adventure game (Planet of the Robots, basically, Softdisk's first game) and it was a decent experience. Adventure games seem to be able to get away with "short story" format and still come up with something relatively satisfying. But I can't think of a good CRPG equivalent out of the games you've played -- has there been a type-in or otherwise 1-hour-of-play CRPG that was actually "good"? Does the very nature of character development make it not possible?

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    1. Seems like it would have to be a hybrid, and it still really wouldn't scratch the character development 'itch' that motivates CRPGs.

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  18. Maybe it's just me, but I remember learning the D&D attribute order as:

    Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, DEXTERITY, Constitution, Charisma

    (Fighters, Mages, Clerics, Thieves)

    So it's not keeping the default attribute order.

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