Sunday, March 26, 2023

Game 489: Quest (1981)

Also copyrighted was the game that Quest took most of its ideas from.
United States
Independently developed; Aardvark Software Technical Services (publisher)
Released 1981 for TRS-80 and TRS-80 Color Computer; 1982 for Commodore VIC-20; 1983 for Commodore 64 and TI-99.
Date Started: 25 March 2023
Date Ended: 25 March 2023
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
Quest is a "campaign" game, clearly inspired by Robert Clardy's Wilderness Campaign (1979), though simplified to the point that it's not much fun. It was created by a Robert Retelle and published by Aardvark Software, a mail-order company that released games with such awful production values that I almost suspect it was a front for a money launderer. Among other things, its manuals were in ALL CAPS and had cover art drawn by preschool children. The title screen of this game is another example, although I should note that the TRS-80 Color Computer version, at least, had a more artistic title. This was the only version I could find.
A new game begins.
A new game starts as soon as the game loads, with no character creation. The unnamed hero's army starts in the northern half of a world divided by a straight river. The entire game world is represented on the one screen. The goal is to reach the citadel of Moorlock in the southeastern corner and defeat him, bringing freedom to the land. The army begins with 10 men, 8 leather jerkins, 7 suits of chain mail, 29 rations, and 108 gold coins. The only commands are the four directions, (I)nventory, (U)se, and redraw the (M)ap. The game is excruciatingly slow at 100% speed, and I kicked the emulator into turbo mode for most of the game.
A hairy-legged man in a skirt kneels in front of a computer screen and draws lines in the dirt with a sword.
Two cities appear on the map. Other locations--caves, ruins, towers, and special encounters--are hidden until you move the army one square away. I've seen some descriptions of the game that say these are randomized. It's possible that they are for other versions of the game, but the C64 version I played always offered these locations in the same coordinates no matter how many times I restarted. Weirder, hitting the (M) ap command reconfigures the positions of mountains and swamp but not anything else.
The cave is too dark. Time to use a lamp.
Quest follows the basic "campaign" template. As you move around the map and explore the various areas, your fortunes wax and wane. Friendly armies may merge with yours; enemies lead you into combat. Ruins and towers deliver chests of gold but also occasional combats. You buy rations and supplies in cities, as well as special items necessary to enter the ruins (shovel), caves (lamp), and tower (grapple). "Puzzles," far more interesting in the Clardy game, boil down here to hitting the "U" key and picking the obvious item.
Buying items in the store. The offerings change every so often.
In combat, success comes down to your number of men, number of arms, experience (gained by winning previous combats), and a "luck" roll made each round. Except for the final battle at the citadel, the game almost always offers enemy parties that are weaker than your own, removing any suspense in combat.
Fighting some monsters in a cave.
By far, the most significant logistical challenge in Quest is keeping everyone fed. Every 10 moves, the army consumes a number of rations equal to half the number of men. (More in the mountains, but there's no reason to enter the mountains.) When you get to 0 food, a random number of men die when it's time to eat. This has the ripple effect of reducing the amount that you can carry, so you're constantly having to stop to dump equipment after each new batch of soldiers dies.
But overall, it's not hard to keep the army on a consistently upward trajectory, particularly since when other armies join yours, they bring gold and equipment with them. In fact, you get so much gold from these encounters that I'm not sure it's even worth searching ruins, caves, and towers. You could just dance back and forth in front of a town and build your army from random encounters.
Another group joins me.
Eventually, you have to buy a boat to cross the river. Once your army is strong enough, you can make your way to the citadel. The force guarding the citadel has an extremely varied number of soldiers. I initially approached it with about 150 soldiers, and they had 500. When I had 500, I tried again, and they had 800. So I kept playing until I had 800, attacked a third time, and they were down to 500. Their number of "arms" seems to increase in a linear manner throughout the game, however.
The cities sell a "siege tower" for 9,999 gold. Maybe you're meant to purchase it before trying to attack the citadel, but I never had anywhere near that much money. I just attacked with a regular army, and it took nearly an hour of mashing the "F" key (for "Fight") before I whittled the enemy down to zero soldiers. Maybe the siege tower would have made this go faster. There were times that neither side lost any men for four or five rounds in a row.   
Eventually, I killed the last soldier, and the message "HAIL TO THE VICTOR" scrolled down the screen. Yay.
You could have at least thrown in an exclamation point.
The only mode of character development is in that nebulous "experience" statistic, but even with that, I don't really see "campaign" games as RPGs. Many titles have done much better with the theme, including Avalon Hill's Fortress of the Witch King (1983). I think I even enjoyed Braminar (1987) more.
Fellow blogger El Explorador de RPG covered the game and mentioned that Aardvark published a Quest II in 1984 for the TRS-80 Color Computer, Commodore 64, and DOS.  I haven't been able to find any of these. (The generic name doesn't help.) But the gameplay seems to be similar enough that El Explorador covered it in the same entry, so I'll let it go.


  1. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 26, 2023 at 12:38 PM

    If the "hairy-legged man" is the cover art, then I fear you may need to spend an hour drawing with pre-schoolers... either that, or you teach at an art academy for truly precocious youth!

    Otherwise, this one sounds like a rather dreadful game.

    1. Me too thinks, despite its admittedly nonsensical subject matter, the cover art is rather well executed.

    2. Especially if you consider that the calligraphy of the title itself was almost certainly hand drawn. It's no master work, but it's comparable to other professional black and white illustrations used in guidebooks and D&D interiors of that era. Granted, that period was a rough one for the illustration industry.

    3. Perhaps better, on average, than early D&D interiors! It reminds me of Prince Valiant comics and the like.

    4. Yeah, if this is the standard of art for pre-schoolers then there are a lot of fetuses doing art these days.

  2. 11 games until 500 this is really cool.

    1. I would personally like to see a significant CRPG like Betrayal at Krondor in the 500 slot if it hasn't shown up by then.

    2. The backlist items get numbers, too, and Ultima & Ambermoon might still take a while. Unless something gets moved around, no. 500 is probably already on the upcoming list.

    3. I don´t really care what game number 500 is, it´s more about how massive this projekt is and how far Chet have come.

    4. Game 500 should be an Amiga game.

    5. Or not...

    6. LOL @king Atari ST! How about if 520 is an Atari ST game? (I had a 520ST [and 1040STE] and Amiga 500 BITD)

  3. I used to have the TI-99 version of this, but it got lost at some point before I transferred all my old software to emulation. (Long job, had to use a PC 5 1/4" drive to read old TI disks, copy to floppy, THEN move to a modern system.)

    I've got listings for this and some of the other Aardvark games, and I agree, they were not impressive. At least Wizard's Tower boasted multiple screens.

  4. "Maybe you're meant to purchase it before trying to attack the citadel, but I never had anywhere near that much money."

    Given its weight, it probably also poses a logistical challenge (if weight works the same for all items).

    Especially if you buy ten of them...

  5. The game is excruciatingly slow at 100% speed

    Speaking of which, this game reminds me tremendously of the "excruciating pseudo-RPG" Quest for the Key of Night Shade, a TRS-80 Model I type-in game from 1983 that I nominated ages ago and which was rejected for lack of character development (unlike Quest it didn't have any experience stats at all, unless there's a mechanic that's hidden from the player -- it was all about the size of your army and their equipment). I suppose they're both descendants of Wilderness Campaign.

    1. (Night Shade did at least have a multi-screen map -- though maybe that was a resolution limitation -- and a couple extra gimmicks not present here. Unfortunately it was also a bit buggy and crashed on me more than once. Still, painful though it could be to play, it looks to be more fun than Quest.)

  6. "I think I even enjoyed Braminar (1987) more."

    Due to my accidental role in its appearing here (and conversely, its part in my discovering this blog!) I'm contractually obligated to duck in here to stand up for Braminar every time it comes up.

    Is Braminar fun? Is it an RPG? Is it worth playing? I can't engage any of these questions, but I can testify that it has unique character in great abundance. Absolutely it has earned its place in the annals of crappy but charming games.

    I measure cultural productions across two axes: whether they are boring or interesting, and whether they are failures or successes. Ideally you win the lottery and what you experience is an interesting success, and hopefully you pay attention to the reviews and manage to avoid boring failures. However most works fall somewhere in the grey area of boring successes and interesting failures. Those latter are my preferred category: eg. my favorite movie is John Boorman's 1974 Zardoz. Boring successes typically retread safe ground, ie. attempt to ape the successes of more interesting earlier successes by making diluted clones of them. Interesting failures fill your imagination with all the ways the interesting product at the heart of the boredom you just experienced might have found some way to break out and become fully realized.

    Anyway, I contend that Braminar is an interesting failure. Quest? Not so interesting.

    1. I measure cultural productions across two axes: whether they are boring or interesting, and whether they are failures or successes.

      I don't think I've ever seen this articulated so well before. I've been applying much the same metric, but hadn't come up with a formulation as elegant as yours. Kudos and thanks for putting this into words!

    2. I tip my hat to Rowan for actually caring and sharing about the genre in a manner that's both well informed and inherently interesting.

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousMarch 26, 2023 at 10:25 PM

      When I first watched "Zardoz" (in the mid-aughts) I was so excited that I got it on DVD and tried to make a group of my friends watch it. That went so poorly that I've never watched it since. But I would agree that it falls far, far inside the category of "interesting failure."

    4. I adored Zardoz when I was in college. Then Sean Connery in hooker boots became meme'd in Cards Against Humanity and I have to spout out "the penis is evil, the gun is good" to get my weird movie cred back.

  7. oof, Aardvark.

    I've gotten pretty familiar with their adventure games now. They are most noteworthy for a parser that only understands the first TWO letters of each word (so TAKE and TAP come out the same) and some absolutely atrocious feedback for commands.

    Doesn't surprise me at all their rpg is pretty painful. Their main virtue in their adventure games has been really interesting and tight environments, like a nuclear sub which gets flooded with water halfway through the game (so all the rooms change), or having distant locations discoverable via teleport where you eventually need to figure out how to get between them by walking, so previously split parts of the map get linked up.

    I've got some more Aardvark coming up for '82, fingers crossed they've done a few tweaks.

  8. As the guy who spent days carefully documenting Aardvark games on Mobygames, I've got to say all of their RPGs are pretty weak. I think the only one you haven't played at this time is The Wizard's Tower, which is also pretty terrible, but better than Quest.

  9. I took your description of the title image and ran it through Midjourney. What it came up with looks at least as good as, if not better than the actual image ;-)

  10. Has that look of being the trailblazing days of role play and adventure gaming.

  11. "Fellow blogger El Explorador de RPG covered the game and mentioned that Aardvark published a Quest II in 1984 for the TRS-80 Color Computer, Commodore 64, and DOS. I haven't been able to find any of these. (The generic name doesn't help.) But the gameplay seems to be similar enough that El Explorador covered it in the same entry, so I'll let it go."

    The only version of Quest II that I found is for the Color Computer. It's the same game with some minor mechanical changes, and two additions: you must enter Moorlock's citadel at the end and find him in its random map to defeat his bodyguards with just a small group of your men, and you can find an invisibility potion as treasure in the castles that avoids encounters in Moorlock's citadel at the price of a tougher final battle (the number of bodyguards goes down if you kill some soldiers in the citadel).

  12. Idle curiosity: In "Fight, Run or Terms," is "Terms" offering to surrender to them, asking them to surrender, or can be it either based on who appears to be winning when you choose it?

    1. The result is partly based on the difference in power between the two sides at the time, but you are actually offering them to join your party.


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.