Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Game 487: Black Dawn (1993)

For a limited game, it has a relatively impressive title screen.
Black Dawn
United Kingdom
Independently developed; released as freeware
Released 1993 or 1994 for Amiga
Date Started: 20 February 2023
Date Ended: 20 February 2023
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Hard (4.0/5)
Final Rating: 14
Ranking at Time of Posting: 75/508 (15%)
I played Black Dawn over a long winter evening. The timetable of the experience went like this:
  • 20:30: "Huh. Black Dawn. Never heard of it." 
  • 20:40: "Doesn't seem like an RPG. No character development, no attributes. Not much to the game. I'll make it part of a "brief BRIEF."
  • 20:50: "Hmmm. It does seem to have spawned some sequels, including a very recent one. I guess I'll give it a full BRIEF."
  • 21:00: "This site says it only has three levels. I can do three levels. Might as well win it."
  • 21:30: "WHAT THE #$%& is going on with this $#$&@ GAME!"
  • 22:30: "That's it! I already decided it's not an RPG! I'm not playing anymore!"
  • 23:45: "Okay. I have the stupid BRIEF written. Now I can . . . Argh. I can't let a three-level game beat me."
  • 00:30: "That's it! I already decided it's not an RPG! I'm not playing anymore!"
  • 02:00: Finally won the game. More obscenities at the "winning" screen and cursing myself, the developer, and all of you. I have to teach tomorrow!
Black Dawn is what it looks like: a freeware Dungeon Master clone with perhaps some Doom aesthetics. The setup is that you're on a space station of some kind and you have to make it down three levels, battling hostile aliens along the way. As the player transitions levels, a "mission" screen shows an elevator moving downward and the player is told a bit about the level. These screens seem to have been adapted from Alien Breed (1991), which otherwise has very different gameplay.   
Transitioning between levels.
To me, the two greatest sins of RPG development are: 1) Level caps that a normal player will hit before the end of the game; and 2) all-mouse interfaces. Black Dawn avoids #1 by having no attributes, experience, or leveling at all (which is why this started as a BRIEF), but it's the quintessential example of #2. Not only does the game eschew the keyboard, but its tiny GTFO cluster has buttons so close together that it's nearly impossible to click on them with any accuracy. To make matters even more fun, walking into a wall (which you do all the time when you accidentally click "strafe" instead of "turn") damages you.
The game's only "stats." Energy level is health.
Other than the lack of character attributes and development, the game feels very similar to Dungeon Master. You can hold a weapon in each hand--you start with a knife and a pistol--and click on either to attack enemies, after which you wait through a very brief cool-down period. Movement is tiled, but enemies attack in real-time. There are only three enemy types in the game.
The game's first enemy.
There are stores at regular intervals where you can buy weapon upgrades, armor, and medical packs. Enemies drop money, and you occasionally just find it on the floor. 
The levels have some balls that you can, sometimes must, roll out of the way. If you're not careful, you can block a corridor with them and find yourself unable to progress, so it's important to study the map carefully. There are no other puzzles in the game. Sound effects are well-done though sparse, so when you hear something, it's almost startling.
A room with a lot of moveable balls.
The game has only three small levels of 20 x 20 in worm-tunnel design. The difficulty comes from the fact that it's a completely closed system. There are a fixed number of enemies and a fixed amount of gold (with a little bit of random variance). You have to have exactly the right equipment at exactly the right time to survive, and you have to make no unnecessary purchases and lose no unnecessary health (including bumping into walls). Winning involves mapping each level carefully (there's an automap, but it doesn't note monsters or treasure) and then exquisitely choreographing the right set of moves to buy only what you need and to fight only the enemies that you need to fight (some can be avoided). The game doesn't allow for saving and reloading, though you could get a code at the beginning of each level to enter on a restart. It imperfectly restores the character, usually screwing the player on money. I only won with copious use of save states, and I can't imagine how infuriating it would have been to have to start over from the beginning of the level every time I died.
The automap of the level. You have to be careful where you push those balls.
If you want to try this one for yourself, this is my advice:
  • Don't bother with the knife or the knife upgrade. Melee attacks do nothing. You'll lose more in health than they're worth. Buy the best guns you can and attack from a distance when possible.
  • Use the backpedaling-while-firing strategy if you can, but enemy pathfinding is weird in the game. They sometimes won't follow you around corners. You may end up in a spot where you have to fight in melee range.
It's tempting, but you're better off buying more firepower.
  • Prioritize weapons first, then medpacks, then armor. The secret to success is not getting hit at all, not trying to minimize damage.
  • When there are multiple enemies in a row, try to dart forward quickly after you kill one and grab its money. If another enemy enters the square, the money is lost.
  • The money you get from killing the tentacled beasts and the floating heads is worth the loss of bullets and health. The T-Rex looking things, on the other hand, should be avoided when possible.
Don't fight this guy unless you must.
  • You have to return to the elevator on Level 3, so don't leave any enemies in your backpath that are blocking corridors. If you want to run around one of them, make sure you leave him in an open room.
The goal of the game is to find the "silica documents" on Level 3 and then make it back to the elevator shaft. Three times, I managed to get to the documents only to have some enemy block me on the way back, and each time I was just shy of the ammunition needed to kill them, the health needed to survive their attacks, and the money needed to fix both of those problems. Only with the strategies listed above did I finally prevail.
Finding the "silica documents."
When I did, I got this message:
So this version was just a "demo." I'm not sure if there was another version. There are confusing messages on message boards. One says that there were two versions, one "public domain" and one "shareware"; I guess I played the public domain version, but I can't find any other. Another message says that the other version was the same as the first "but with different levels taken from the novella disc," whatever that means. I downloaded ADFs from several sites, but they all seemed to be this version.
In any event, author Andrew Campbell must have gotten positive feedback because the demo launched a franchise. From what I've been able to assemble online, it includes:
  • Black Dawn (1993 or 1994)
  • Black Dawn II (1994)
  • Hell and Gone: The Black Dawn Story (1995), AKA Black Dawn: Hell and Gone
  • Legions of Dawn (1995), AKA Black Dawn III
  • Thunderdawn (1996), AKA Black Dawn IV
  • Dawn: A New Beginning (1996), AKA Black Dawn V
  • Dawn VI: Hellbound (1996), AKA Black Dawn VI
  • Champions of Dawn (1996), AKA Black Dawn VII
  • Black Dawn Remix (unknown; I can barely confirm that it even existed)
  • Black Dawn: Rebirth (2019), including Rogue expansion
  • Black Dawn: Technomage (2022)
All of the entries, even the last two, are for the Amiga. I should note that some of the dates might be wrong. Web sites are all over the place, with Thunderdawn through Champions of Dawn listed as 1995 games in many places. There's even some confusion about this game: Most sites give it as 1994, some 1993. Given that the earliest reviews came out very early in 1994, I suspect 1993 is the more accurate date, but I'm not sure.
This is the third enemy type.
I'm not sure how Campbell managed to release four sequels in the same year, but I understand some of them vary quite a bit in gameplay. II and Legions both retain their Dungeon Master roots and seem like natural progressions from the demo. Hell and Gone is an electronic novella with no graphics or gameplay. Thunderdawn changes the interface to "behind the back" and offers a full-screen exploration window with minimal interface elements, but that seems to have been abandoned for later games. Thunderdawn and Hellbound both seem to have fantasy settings. 
With each title, the graphics have gotten better, but after watching the videos of gameplay, I think we might be all the way up to Technomage before any of them meet my definitions for RPGs. Until then, I don't see any specific evidence of attributes and leveling, just continuing improvements to inventory and action-based combat tactics. The character screen for Technomage shows that the character has strength, dexterity, and experience, however.
Andrew Campbell started as the sole developer of the series, but by Legions, he had a much larger staff helping with graphics, sound, and playtesting. By Hellbound, though, Campbell had amicably passed the series to Shaun Watters, who remains the primary developer through the two most recent titles. Campbell's lack of involvement may have been due to getting positions with some AAA developers, but I'm not sure that all of the Andrew or Andy Campbells that MobyGames conflates into one ludography are in fact the same person.
Thus, we'll see what happens with future games. I give this one a 14 on the GIMLET, but let's not focus on that. It did everything it could to discourage me from including it and I forced it onto my blog anyway. 


  1. 02:00: Finally won the game. More obscenities at the "winning" screen and cursing myself, the developer, and all of you. I have to teach tomorrow!

    Heh. What an Addict.

    all-mouse interfaces

    But you don't understand...keyboards are what your Dad uses on his boring IBM PC spreadsheets. That thing can't even display graphics, except for a Hercules card so Dad can see Lotus 1-2-3's pie graphs. Mouse interfaces are for Amigans, who are creative people on the cutting edge of artistry. Why else include this exciting new peripheral if it's not meant to be used! It's energizing and exciting to program a game that isn't limited by being forced to use Dad's lame noisy keyboard.

    1. Thinking back, this presumed attitude of the Amiga crowd back then has a kernel of truth. However by '93 even the most die hard Amigan must've seen if not perhaps openly admitted the PC was to be the gaming machine of the future.

    2. I speak for myself, but I believe that for most people that owned it at the time (kids/teens) the Amiga was just a machine where we could play cool games.

      The fact that it costed a fraction of a PC, and that it was not a single-purpose machine like consoles, made it an easier sell with parents.

    3. It was DOOM that set it in stone for Amiga gameplayers. And a little while later, Windows 95 for those who did other things. For a long time after, the Amiga was still better at platform games, but that wasn't enough.

    4. Yeah, I really do love the Amiga platformers. The PC couldn't really compete with, I think the thirst good PC platformer was Jazz Jackrabbit. Of course there was Commander Keen, and while I admit it has its charm I'm not so sure when it comes to comparison to platform games of other, well, platforms.

    5. I'm sure there are some very nice platformers on the Amiga that came out after Keen, but that kind of feels like a cope. I can't really say that by the time I discovered Amiga titles that I felt like the platform was better for platformers. Maybe in the '80s, when the comparison was Captain Comic, but by the time Jazz Jackrabbit came out you were just comparing different sets of very good games.

    6. I really didn't mean for this to be an Amiga/DOS thing. I've had some trouble emulating the Amiga but I recognize that it had some excellent games. But it also had a keyboard. And we've seen plenty of DOS games that were unfortunately mouse-only. I'm not sure I see anything specific to the Amiga in my mouse-only criticisms.

    7. And everybody knew that the Atari ST was king... Now bow

    8. Nah dude, as if! It's the Genesis because SEGA does what Nintendon't. Totally rad.

  2. Looks a lot like Red Dwarf in that title screen picture!

    An interesting little game, and a hard thing to find a lot of info on. I do wonder if that it's a "demo" in the sense of a proof-of-concept, and Black Dawn II will be a more "full" game, given they were released pretty close to one another?

  3. Thank you for this post, despite your frustation -- you know, you could have saved the game and returned another day ;-) -- it's an interesting view into the weird scene of the Amiga faithful.

    There's a nice interview with the creator of the newer games here:

    The two newer games are available on

  4. "I'm not sure how Campbell managed to release four sequels in the same year" - it's called being a student :P

  5. I like how all the games contain the word "dawn", and then it's passed on to someone named Shaun.

    1. I'm surprised they didn't have a game called 'Black Dawn: Hawk' (yet), especially since the series started about 1993.

      And playing on the name of the current creator, Shaun, another option could be 'Dawn in the Deep'.

    2. I'm surprised there wasn't one involving zombies, but I guess they didn't want to get sued by Ubi Soft.

    3. they could have called it black shaun of the dead if it was a sequel to black dawn, had zombies and was designed by shaun

  6. Re the chronology of the (earlier) games:

    Shaun Watters commented on that himself on a French website (comments in English,

    "the offical list in release order -
    black dawn
    black Dawn 2
    Legions Of Dawn
    Dawn - A new beginning
    Black Dawn - Hellbound
    Champions Of Dawn

    With spins offs >
    Thunderdawn (released by Andy after Hellbound)
    Black Dawn - Workbench Invasion
    parasite 2"

    "Dawn a new begining Remix is a slightly edited version of Dawn - A New Begining that came out after legions of dawn and before Hellbound."

    ['Parasite' are Two player spin-offs.]

    And Mike Richmond (music & sound) wrote in a forum I assume you refer to, Chet (

    "Black Dawn 1 (1993 A Campbell)
    Black Dawn 2 (1994 A Campbell)
    Black Dawn 3 Legions of Dawn (1995 A Campbell)

    Black Dawn 4 A New Beginning (also rereleased as Black Dawn Remix) (1996 Shaun Watters, Tim Gilbert/Zsoft)
    Black Dawn 5 Hellbound (1996 Shaun Watters, Tim Gilbert / Zsoft)
    Black Dawn 6 Champions of Dawn (1996 Shaun Watters, Tim Gilbert / Zsoft)

    There are two versions of Black Dawn 1 - a PD one and the Shareware version. There are also two versions of Black Dawn 2 as the YouTube videos I have seen don't have my title track - Graeme Virtue did the original and a second release had mine - according to my MOD archives, anyway!

    A New Beginning was the first entry written by Z-Soft and it was rereleased with some bug fixes and adjusted levels as "A New Beginning Remix". There's two versions out there.

    ThunderDawn (1996 A Campbell) was a post-Black Dawn spin-off but it had bows and arrows and magic so isn't canon. The same engine was used in Fever (also by Andy Campbell in 1996 I think)."

    Since these are two people involved with the series and their chronologies and descriptions seem to match, I'd assume that's a strong indication for those.

    1. My first thought would be that BD2 was the finished version of BD. If it was a long time after BD was released, there wouldn't have been much point trying to sell upgrades to the pre-release version.

  7. That was pretty interesting to read, but the take-away here is that you write your article in 1H15. If it takes me less than 4 hours I consider I went fast ^^

    1. I can get a BRIEF done that fast. A regular article can take quite a bit longer.

  8. This owes a lot more to Alien Breed, I think, than Doom. Remember, Doom came out in December that year, and it wouldn't be unreasonable for an Amiga owner to have not really paid any attention to it, beyond being the new game from that company who made the crappy Sleeping Gods Lie-clone. The theme, atmosphere and shop system are all inspired from it, to my knowledge, but less lawsuit material.

    I suspect the reason why there were so many is they either fit the episode kind of schedule, ala the Spider-Man/Dylan Dog games released around this time, or having the engine completed allowed him to make the successive games more easily. While there is a factor of having to spend less time figuring out how the game is even going to work, once you've gotten a lot of the general ideas working successive attempts are much easier.

    That all said, I'm glad you played them. I feel like even if late Amiga games didn't always win, developers on the platform always had extremely interesting ideas and attempts, even if sometimes they are "just" pale imitations of DOS games.

    1. Yeah, good point. I was thinking Doom was a 1992 game. I've also never played Alien Breed, so I didn't recognize its influence right away.

    2. I have not played it, but it also seems to share some similarity with Xenomorph (1990).

    3. The look and feel and the theme are very much Alien Breed. Also that you have to be careful with your resources. In Alien Breed you need to save keys and not open doors unnecessarily, e.g., because you can get into the room by some other way where you don't need a key, and you need the keys later in the lower level. It's been a long time so I don't remember whether there were melee weapons. Shopping was done at terminals at certain points and you also get some kind of money for killing aliens.

    4. Heck, that was me.

  9. Black Dawn Rebirth should win the prize for most obscure trailer ever:

    It's 2 minutes before the first in-game graphics are shown, and even then it's only cutscene graphics. Takes a while longer to reach the first gameplay footage. You don't even know this is about an Amiga game until you're halfway through the trailer!

    But hey, at least the song really slaps.

  10. I was puzzled, as I have a very clear memory of "the game's first enemy" but I'm sure I didn't have the game. It turns out it was reviewed in Amiga Power #34, which I did have, and which gave it 4 out of 5. That's a pretty good score for AP, which tended to be the most, um , "realistic" of Amiga game reviewers.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. (Sorry, repeat comment because the last one went wild with the formatting.)

    For those who are interested, the AMOS Professional on the title screen is a BASIC variant. It was fast for BASIC, but it didn't take advantage of the Amiga's unique hardware. I remember the magazines in the dying days of the Amiga giving a heavy push to both AMOS and Blitz BASIC in an attempt to get people programming and keeping the platform alive in some form.

  13. Hi Im Shaun Watters, the custodian of the seemingly never ending Black Dawn series - thanks for the mention!

    1. Hi, Shaun. Thanks for stopping by! If you happen to see this, could you clarify a couple of things:

      1. What was Black Dawn Remix?

      2. Is there a point before Technomage that the series adopts experience points, attributes, and leveling?

    2. Certainly! Black Dawn Remix was basically a regiggle of Dawn - A New Beginning with less bugs,new graphics and music and some level change ups. Hellbound was the 1st attempt at a proper rpg but it was fairly simplified. The last game, Technomage was the 1st proper RPG with Classes and a proper rpg system with a ruleset based upon the Microlite20 rpg system

  14. Honestly, a huge trick was missed with #5.

    Dawn V: A New Dawn


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.