Sunday, December 9, 2012

Game 79: Beneath Apple Manor (1978)

It was a while before we got good introductory screens.
Beneath Apple Manor
United States
The Software Factory (developer and publisher)
Rleased 1978 for Apple II, 1983 for Atari 800 and DOS
Date Started: 7 December 2012
Date Ended: 7 December 2012
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 17
Ranking at Time of Posting: 6/79 (8%)
Raking at Game #455: 109/455 (24%)
About a year ago, I started taking a tour through the earliest CRPGs, programmed in PLATO at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and still around thanks to the preservation efforts of Cyber1. I reviewed the earliest still-extant game, The Dungeon (better known by its file name, "pedit5"), and The Game of Dungeons (also better known as it's file name, "dnd"). I had intended to move from there to Orthanc, Moria, Avatar, and Oubliette, as well as a later version of dnd, but other things intervened and I never got back to it.

These early games are important because they directly influenced games we still play, thanks to two UIUC students: Daniel Lawrence and Robert Woodhead. Inspired by dnd, Lawrence created versions on other platforms, all with some variation of DND in their names, and a commercial version called Telengard. Woodhead, inspired by Oubliette, created Wizardry, which led directly to Might & Magic and other variants of first-person, multi-PC dungeon crawls. The extent to which Lawrence and Woodhead simply plagiarized the PLATO games has been hotly debated and I'm not interested in getting into it here, but whether you call it plagiarism, adaptation, or homage, the PLATO games were progenitors, through Woodhead and Lawrence, to much of what we play today.

However, in my search for the "earliest" games, I overlooked one notable entry: Beneath Apple Manor, programmed by Don Worth for the Apple II in 1978. The distinction of this game is not only that it's the first commercial CRPG (with the possible exception of Space, a quasi-RPG released the same year), but also that it's the first "roguelike" game, although it predates Rogue by two years. Had it become more popular, we might be talking about the "BAMlike" genre today.

I have no excuse for not playing it. Even if I stuck to my "DOS/PC only rule" (which I now recognize as idiotic), there was a DOS version in 1983, which Don Worth makes freely available on his web site. But those who have been trying for years to convince me to do it will be happy to know that I downloaded an Apple II emulator and figured it out enough to play some of the game in its original format.

In defense of my choice, I was a beginner.

The game allows you to set the number of "rooms per level," and then the difficulty (ranging from "a pushover" to "you're nuts!!!") before starting you off in a randomly-generated dungeon full of monsters and treasure, in which your goal is to retrieve a golden apple from the bottom level. Your unnamed character has strength, intelligence, dexterity, and "body" attributes, along with gold and experience. The game is unique in its use of attributes, which are less "characteristics" as in classic D&D games and more like pools of energy. Bashing doors and attacking monsters deplete strength, spells deplete intelligence, traps and monster attacks deplete body, and moving depletes dexterity. Resting restores all of these attributes except for body, and there's a "heal" spell to turn intelligence into body.

Exploring a lo-res level.

The lo-res version simply color-codes the square based on whether it's occupied by your character, a monster, a door, or a chest. Commands include N, S, E, W for the four cardinal directions (yes, it's tough to get used to; the DOS remake uses the arrow keys), (B)ash doors, (O)pen chests, (A)ttack, and separate keys for the (Z)ap, (H)eal, and (X)-ray spells. Unfortunately, my colorblindness gave me issues and the emulator was very slow (I'm new to Apple II emulators, so I'm not sure if it was the emulator or the game), so I switched to the DOS remake (which features better graphics, but the same gameplay) after a half hour or so.

The results of an awesome potion.

As in modern roguelikes, you start out not being able to see beyond your immediate area, and you slowly reveal the level as you explore. Most levels have at least one secret door, as well as closed doors that you can bash open or cast "X-ray vision" to see what's on the other side. Doors lock behind you, but one advantage of this is that monsters can't follow you through them. There are chests on each level with gold, wands, or potions (which you drink immediately), and they might be trapped. More dangerous are the monsters--I've encountered slimes, ghosts, trolls, worms, vampires, stalkers (they're invisible), and dragons--some of which respond differently to physical attacks and magic attacks. Ghosts, for instance, cannot be damaged by non-magic attacks. The main magical attack is the "zap" spell which, oddly, costs a variable number of intelligence points. Sometimes it takes one, sometimes half of them.

Trying to find the invisible stalker.

It appears that each level has a fixed amount of experience available from either gold or enemies. The game informs you how much experience you have left to find when the level is created. However, I think that's just the amount of experience upon generation, because I've exceeded it with random wandering monsters.

I guess this is to help you decide when to stop searching for secret doors.

The entrance square isn't marked on each level, so you'd best remember where it is: you need to return to it to spend your experience and gold, and to move on to the next level. Unlike later roguelikes, you don't need to "find" the stairs down--they're right where you came in--and there's no backtracking.

The ability to "spend" experience is unusual; you can use it to buy increases in your maximum attributes. Gold can be spent on weapons (hand axe or sword), armor (leather, chain, plate), or a "brain scan" which saves your game. Without it, "death" reduces your attributes (but still lets you continue to play). I love the idea of having to pay to save. It would solve a lot of the difficulty issues in other games.

I'm trying to think of any other game that allows you to "buy" character development directly with experience points, but the only one I come up with is Wizard's Crown.

Aside from what you can buy, you find a lot of gear in the chests in the levels. In my playing, I found boots of silence, a wand of unlocking doors, potions of clairvoyance (shows you all levels without the "fog of war" from then on), a potion that doubled my strength, magic armor, and a magic sword (which works against ghosts). From what I can tell, there is only one of each item in each game, and it never "runs out"--that is, the potion of clairvoyance makes you permanently clairvoyant, and the wands never run out of charges. Not all equipment is good: there are potions that make you "forget" the current level, potions of poison that kill you immediately, and a wand that halves your intelligence.

These boots prevent enemies from being drawn to you.

I soon found that I had far more gold than I needed to buy anything, but gold also converts to experience, and creating save "scans" gets progressively more expensive, so it remains useful. My biggest problem was getting cornered by ghosts when low on intelligence; since physical attacks don't harm them, if your intelligence depletes, you're screwed. The "teleport" spell is a Hail Mary that can get you out of that situation, but then you need to rest up and restore your intelligence before starting off again. Another common problem is to run out of strength in the middle of combat, so you have to "wait" to restore it, all while an enemy is pummeling you.

I've tried playing on various difficulty settings; the hard ones are so hard I'm not sure how you could possibly win, since there aren't many "tactics" in combat other than bashing and zapping. I'm guessing the key is to avoid combat as much as possible (since you get most of your experience via treasure anyway) and to use the boots of silence to dash for the treasure chests and, if nothing's there, bolt down to the next level. (I suppose it's theoretically possible to zoom right down to Level 40+ and luckily find the apple in a chest near the entrance.) I also learned to stop drinking potions after about Level 15, because they were 100% likely to be poison. I think this is because there's only one of each magic item in the game, so once you've drunk all the "good" potions, poison is all that's left.

This was fools gold! (Note the dragon and vampire nearby.)

After a number of false starts, I managed to find a golden apple on Level 36, but it exploded when I picked it up, killing me. Rather than restart, I resurrected and kept playing. Within a few levels, I found another golden apple--but it also exploded! I sucked up the decreased statistics, resurrected, went down a few more levels, and was blown up again. I finally found the real golden apple on about Level 43 and won the game. The winning screens played an amusing joke related to the platform on which I was playing: it told me that after a closer look at the golden apple, I realized it was, in fact "A GOLDEN IBM PC!!" Presumably, that wasn't in the original.

Before you get all congratulatory, I should mention that I won the game on a fairly easy setting with a limited number of rooms.

In an e-mail exchange a few days ago, Don Worth told me he was inspired to create Beneath Apple Manor by Dragon Maze, a simple maze game (not a CRPG) that came with the Apple II, and a desire to make a computer simulation of Dungeons and Dragons. He had limited experience with other games and wasn't familiar with any of the PLATO games (he wouldn't have had access to them). The original 1978 game, with lo-res graphics, was released by Worth's company, The Software Factory, and sold in zip-lock bags in computer stores. In 1980, Quality Software began marketing the game, and a "special edition," using hi-res graphics, came out in 1983 for both Apple II and DOS.

The DOS remake not only features the titular manor on the title screen but a beep-and-boop version of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" in the background.

It's tough to assess Beneath Apple Manor's importance in the development of CRPGs without knowing if the developers of Rogue played it. Don charitably opines that they probably came up with it independently. I'm not so sure. Both feature randomly-generated mazes, fog-of-war, similar attributes and commands, and a quest to find a MacGuffin at the bottom of the dungeon. Then again, none of these elements are so groundbreaking (Dragon Maze, it appears, also had randomly-generated mazes) that it's impossible to imagine separate developers thinking of them on their own. Rogue is notably more difficult, especially in that Manor doesn't have permadeath. And Glenn Wichman's narrative of how he and Michael Toy developed Rogue mentions other games but not this one.

Don had plans for an "outdoor" version of Beneath Apple Manor but got distracted with other projects (including a book called Beneath Apple DOS) and never worked on another CRPG. He says he still plays Dungeons & Dragons regularly and is "quite addicted" to Lord of the Rings Online and its community.

I'm going to stop short of saying that Beneath Apple Manor is "fun" to play today, with no character creation, back story, combat tactics, or NPCs, limited equipment, and a primitive economy. A quick GIMLET on it returns a score of 17. Nonetheless, I give it credit for the customizable settings and difficulty (making it somewhat replayable), the ability to spend experience points on attributes, and the "buying save slots" feature, which I've never seen in a CRPG before. I appreciate the opportunity to play the game and fill in this hole in my chronology, and I thank Don for offering some background information.

Let's check out Drakkhen!


  1. As soon as I saw the name "Don Worth", I immediately thought "the same person that wrote 'Beneath Apple DOS'"?

    Well, yes.

    This book was an absolutely eye opener for me back in the days, and it was also the reference manual for all pirates on Apple ][ because it was the only book in existence that explained how low-level disk access works, and most of the Apple ][ game protections used these a lot to protected against illegal copies.

    Thanks for the nostalgia :-)

  2. "The DOS remake not only features the titular manor on the title screen but an 8-bit version of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" in the background."

    Joke's on you, DOS was a sixteen bit environment, so that rendition of Griegs couldn't have been eight bit

    1. What are you talking about? DOS being a 16-bit environment is only noteworthy as being a limitation of the amount of memory addressable by the OS without extenders. It has nothing to do with sound.

    2. I don't have any way to evaluate which of your statements is correct. My technical knowledge on sound is limited to assuming that anything that goes "bloop, bloop" is "8-bit sound." I guess that's something I ought to correct if I'm going to be blogging about it.

    3. I'm no expert, but if it was released for the original IBM PC, then it couldn't be "16-bit" sound. The only sound capability the IBM PC had was the PC speaker which, technically, is a 1-bit device. However there are techniques which allow 8-bit style sound to be played through the PC speaker (example: I hope Chet doesn't mind this example and that it makes it through the spam filter.

      The original IBM PC was itself an 8-bit machine, just like most versions of the Apple II.

    4. In trying to find the correct terminology, I found the relevant passage from the Wikipedia entry on PC sound:

      "Sound cards for computers compatible with the IBM PC were very uncommon until 1988, which left the single internal PC speaker as the only way early PC software could produce sound and music. The speaker hardware was typically limited to square waves, which fit the common nickname of 'beeper'. The resulting sound was generally described as 'beeps and boops'."

      Caption corrected above.

    5. I did a bit of digging on Google and I've found a couple of interesting articles which suggest that this sort of music is best described as "1-bit music".

      A few selected paragraphs (with assorted grammar and spelling mistakes):

      "1-bit refers to a simplest possible computer sound device: a speaker connected to one pin of output port. This kind of device usually called 'speaker', 'beeper', 'buzzer', etc. Unlike a music for a sound chips, such as famous Commodore 64's SID, all the job of producing any sounds from the 1-bit device is in CPU duty, and involves some very well designed and carefully timed assembly code, which usually takes up all the available CPU resources while playing the sound. The CPU or computer itself could be 8-bit, or any other, so you can also consider the 1-bit music as part of 8-bit music, but remember that the name refers to the sound device, not the CPU."

      "History of the 1-bit music begins with very early days of the computer music. For example, very early computer experiments were done in middle of 1960s using PDP-1 computer with four 1-bit channels (not 4-bit DAC)."

      "1-bit became somewhat of mainstream for a few years in 1980s. There were a lot of 8-bit home computers at the time. The best ones had sound chips and many other features, however the cheapest ones had nothing but 1-bit 'beeper', because dedicated sound chip, being a complex device, increases the cost. One of the most famous computers of this kind was British Sinclair ZX Spectrum (16/48K model)."

      "The idea of generation complex sounds on 1-bit sound device is to change the single bit in a complex way. There are few common algorithms and many ways to implement them. This allows to get (with many limitations) few channels of the tone, different timbres, few levels of the volume, drums, etc. On Z80 at 3.5 MHz it is possible to produce 1-8 channels of the sound. More channels generally means lower quality of the sound."

      And from a related article:

      "The PC speaker is one of the most popular 1bit devices, as it can be found in nearly every older PC. Yet its musical capabilities are generally overlooked, and reliable information on the subject is scarce. The following article tries to give a short overview of the history, current state, and methods of PC speaker music."

      "The PC speaker works in fact very much like our beloved Speccy (ZX Spectrum) beeper. Generating sound on the PC speaker is a simple matter of setting bit 0 and 1 of port 61h, which causes the beeper to be switched on or off. The timing is usually controlled by the channel 2 of the Programmable Interval Timer (PIT) chip, which runs at a frequency of 1,193,182 Hz. Some more complex synthesis methods use the main system timer (PIT channel 0) instead."

      I hope this helps; personally I never gave the subject much thought, but now that I did I have to say it's a rather interesting and sadly neglected bit of computer gaming history.

      If you're interested, I can link you to the full articles. Or just google "What is the 1-bit music?" and "PC Speaker Music: An Introduction".

    6. If you want to find out what the Spectrum could do music wise check out this:

    7. Well, I learned something today.
      Not what I expected, but interesting :)

    8. I think there are a few mistakes there. How would you change the volume if it was just on or off? It SOUNDS like you could change some things by altering the amount of electricity send to the speaker, though I could be wrong on that.

    9. I don't know any specifics on how they could achieve different volume levels, but here are a few more bits (haha) of information from another article which shed some light:

      "In the middle to late 1980's, software developers discovered that you could play digitized sound through the PC speaker without additional hardware by utilizing Pulse-Width-Modulation, which toggles the PC's internal speaker faster than it can physically move to simulate positions between fully on and fully off. (How's that for a clever hack?) Since you could get reasonable output of 6-bit digitized sound this way, some game developers decided to make use of it, either for sound effects (which was common) or for title music (which was rare)."

      "They were also cool from a technical standpoint: The programmer had successfully figured out how to output digitized sound through a device that was not designed to support such an action. How they discovered the technique of toggling the PC's internal speaker faster than it can physically move is beyond me. (Who was the first person to think of trying that?) Plus, the musicians themselves pulled some clever tricks, such as dynamic compression (in the sense of making quiet sounds louder, not the "pkzip" variety) and repeating sections, to not only make the title music better audible through the speaker, but also to make it longer."

      Anyway, it's amazing what they could achieve out of this simple device. HERE's a short rendition of Toto's Africa played through the PC speaker on a Windows 3.11 machine. Sure, it sounds very-very rough and I'm sure that computer has a very small PC speaker (most did), but it's impressive that this is possible at all.

    10. I remember the game Echelon featured digitized speech on the PC speaker. It was pretty neat at the time.

    11. I know I'm responding to a decade-old thread, but just in case someone else wanders over here and wants a little more explanation on this topic, 1-bit sound isn't quite as limiting as you might think. It's a bit confusing to read about at a glance though because the term "1-bit" in this context doesn't mean quite the same thing as "8-bit" or "24-bit" or something in the context of sound hardware.

      I have the sound card in my computer right now set to do 32-bit sound at a 48 kHz sample rate. That means 48,000 times a second, the sound card fetches a 32-bit quantity that says how far in or out the speaker cone should go. In this context, the number of bits tells you how many different positions you can put the speaker cone in, so 32-bit imples 2^32 or approximately four and a quarter billion different positions available for the speaker cone (a bit overkill in terms of human perception actually :P ). A smaller number of bits implies more noise in the signal, because the different positions you can put the speaker in get further apart, resulting in more "jerky" speaker movement.

      In the case of the Spectrum's "1-bit sound," you can actually specify two parameters: pitch and on/off. When you turn on the sound, the computer plays a square wave through the speakers at the pitch you have currently set. This is a higher-level interface than a modern sound card provides, because you're not saying directly where the speaker cone should go at any given moment. Instead, the speaker cone switches between all-the-way-out and all-the-way-in at a frequency you specify. You might call this "one-and-a-half-bit" sound in a sense, because you actually have three available positions for the speaker (in, out, and center).

      It's true that this doesn't give you much control over dynamics—naïvely, you can either play a loud square wave or silence. However, if you change the frequency very fast, you can actually make a wide variety of different sounds. Since the signal is a square wave, you can kind of approximate any sound you would play on a modern computer by saying that >50% out = all the way out, <50% out or in = off, and >50% in = all the way in, and change the frequency and on/off of the beeper in the right patterns to achieve that. It can take some clever sound programming and a lot of the available CPU time, and you'll get a quite loud and noisy approximation, but that's still much better than you might expect from something people call "1-bit."

      What's more, as Giuseppe points out above, you can actually go even further in some cases. Obviously the speaker cone can't actually move instantaneously between center and all the way out or in; it has to travel through space to those positions, even if it does this very fast. If the hardware is performant enough, you can tell the speaker to start moving out and then stop it before it gets all the way there and let it start to fall back, and that lets you specify positions between just in, out, and center, effectively increasing the bit depth. At that point, you have a setup approaching the capabilities of a modern sound card, although the computer may not have many cycles left open for other things.

      I looked around a bit and I think this video nicely demonstrates the expressive range "1-bit" sound can have. You can hear the music is still pretty crunchy compared to a modern sound card, and I bet a computer like the Spectrum would struggle to also run a realtime game while playing tunes like that, but it shows how far you can take a beeper.

  3. I believe Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is another crpg that lets you buy increased stats directly for experience. I don't know if VampMasq: Redemption does as well. The pen and paper game certainly works like that.

    I think that's the only one I know.

    Interesting bit of gaming history :)

    1. Had Fallout actually used GURPS, it would have done the same.

    2. Damn, someone beat me to mentioning GURPS.

  4. Whoua! This game created procedural content and a totally new gameplay system :Characteristic depletion; Roguelike Hunger anyone + mana?

    It seems this game also inspired another original crpg : Knight of Legend. KoL include some features I always liked :
    -Pay to save
    -The need to rest in combat to be able to fight back
    -directly buy power (spell and weapon skill) with XP

    Don Worth influence on crpg is astonishing. I mean. It was the Pen &Paper DnD era and the guy created something totally new from it. And it seems some of his idea were superb but got dumbed down in later game (characteristic depletion seems a very fun and solid gameplay)

    Thanks for the discovery

    1. Assuming you mean KNIGHTS of Legend, awesome: it's coming up a little later this year.

    2. I think characteristic depletion mainly just got relabelled so players wouldn't find it confusing. It's common to have mana and sometimes stamina that deplete instead of intelligence and strength.

      Admittedly most games don;t have for such characteristics, and it's most usual to have just one depleting resource. However I would say this is often for simplicity rather than dumbing down - i.e. you can get a lot of the same gameplay from watching one resource rather than four.

      That said, there is scope for an interesting game involving the balancing of multiple resources - maybe somebody will be inspired by Apple Manor to make one.

    3. Yes. As games got more complicated, we needed a way to separate potential from current reserves.

    4. Addict: Yeah it"s KNIGHTS. And I know it's coming soon and looking forward to it. But I also know you wont like it. To be honest it's a bad game and a not finished one (and you feel it :the leveling process wasn't fully completed). But it had so much good idea (and an invented language in the manual... Those guys were the Tolkien of crpg. hu hu hu)

      Gerry: Yeah I meant exactly that: balancing multiple resource seems a decent idea for character system in crpg. I mean, waiting for one bar (mana or stamina) to refill never was fun. But if you can deplete another bar (body, dexterity) while the others one refill, it may be more interesting and tactical.

    5. Knights of Legends: part of me hated it, while another part found it stangely addictive.
      Read about my experience with the game at RPG Codex:

      Advice for Chet while I remember it:
      1. Get horses for all characters to avoid mind numblingly tedious random encounters.
      2. Avoid Dwarves, since they can't ride horse.
      3. If possible, use a DosBox version with Save States ability. I never could work out how to reliably save the game, and the save states function saved me a lot of grief.

    6. Octavianus: Nice read. At least you managed to finish the game. I never had the patience; Knowing how tedious it was walking one step at the time in quest.
      It's only with this game you can tell how the fight was, and it always sound truly epic: "With only my Dwarf left standing, thanks to his plate mail, the other two fighters down (one to exhaustion) and all three archers out of arrows". You cant help but picture Gimli covered with blood among his puny fellowshippers. Someone has to remake this game!

    7. The game did one thing very good: simulating how armour works in combat, and its effect on your stamina.
      Also the Foresight stat to predict enemy moves was quite original, and lends some tactics to the combat.
      But otherwise it's just too basic: no area effect spells, and possibly the worst encounter design in the history of CRPGs (you never ever face mixed groups of enemies).
      But despite it all, it was enjoyable enough that I managed to complete it.
      I'm really looking forward to Chet's reaction to it. :-)

    8. The other problem with using stat depletion is that you tend to get death spirals. You take a bit of damage, then you are weaker, so you take more damage, then you are weaker...etc.

  5. "Even if I stuck to my "DOS/PC only rule" (which I now recognize as idiotic)..."

    Does this mean you're finally considering adding other systems to your scope, and in particular the Amiga?

    1. I hope so. Some excellent games came out for Amiga. I still miss mine!

      Chet, you're not going to do Nethack first? I've been looking forward to Drakkhen I admit, but I do enjoy your Nethack adventures, too!--Nyx

    2. Well, it's easy for me to say such a thing when I'm already leaving the era in which Amiga was the best platform for a lot of games.

      I think what I'll do is occasionally go back and pick up a game that I might have missed because it had no DOS/PC release, and to that extent, I'm open to learning an Amiga emulator.

      Anon, I actually am going to put at least one NH posting out before going on to Drakkhen. I've got a character on dungeon level 16 right now, and I'm terrified with every step I take.

    3. Well... You'll probably have to use Amiga emulator if you're going to play Dragonflight (1990). Since the DOS port was only released in German, unlike the Amiga version.

    4. I don't think there were many Amiga RPGs that weren't released on PC. Black Crypt and Knightmare are the only ones that I remember. Lords of Chaos too, but that's a questionable CRPG.

      So it wouldn't be too many games added to your master list if you decide to play those too.

      I'd recommend playing Legend of Faerghail and Captive on Amiga. LoF has better graphics and sound, and the PC port of Captive has some severe balance bugs.

    5. I remember loving Black Crypt, but then I was a sucker for games like Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master.

      As for Knightmare, I must have played the game for hours on end and never got past the first section. Not sure what I was doing wrong! It looked really interesting too, but I sucked at it!

    6. Knightmare is one of the very few Dungeon Master clones that I haven't completed. It was too difficult, both the enemies and the puzzles. Kind of odd, considering that it was based on a children's TV show...

      I forgot one Amiga exclusive CRPG: Ambermoon. Thalion went bankrupt before they could publish the English version, but it was later released online and can now be found on Thalion Webshrine. It's a direct sequel to Amberstar and set in the same universe as Dragonflight and Albion. Which are all on the master list.

    7. Well the show itself was notoriously difficult, hardly anybody won it.No wonder the kids on it were always terrified.

  6. Nice detour to an early CRPG!

    If you happen to check out any Apple II games again, I know at least two popular emulators - AppleWin for Windows and Virtual II for OS X - have variable speed settings. The default is "authentic machine speed", which can be quite slow, depending on the program, but you can give that a moderate boost or go up to "as fast as possible", which usually solves all speed problems.

    1. I downloaded AppleWin, but I haven't figured out all the settings yet.

    2. For future reference: Click the bottom button on the right menu, the one with the joystick & speaker icon. That takes you to the Settings screen. The slider for emulation speed is at the bottom.

      You can also uncheck "scan lines" there, for a more pleasing visual experience.

    3. Thanks! I'll probably be using it again. I want to try this Space game, too.

  7. Thank you for this. I always saw this game in my dad's collection, but since our tape player never was in working order I didn't get a chance to play it. I just kept reading the manual over and over.

    1. Man, that might be one of the saddest things I've ever read.

    2. We had a bunch of games on tape that I never had the chance to play, but I remember this one because it was one of the few we still had the manual for.

      It's not like there was a lack of games to play, just a few like this that I'd like to have tried when I was younger.

    3. Well, that's good to hear. I was picturing you settling into the dog-eared manual for the umpteenth time, saying "how nice it would be to play such a game" as a tear slowly slid down your cheek.

    4. Damn. Now I'm going to cry! Thanks, Addict.

  8. As a sidenote, I am starting to believe that your blog has become a rich source of inspiration and analytical thought for anyone who wants to design an rpg. And many lessons these early games provide seem to be essentially timeless. Of course, the lessons I am speaking of are a result of your work since you're the one slogging through and analyzing the games.

    1. Well, thanks. I hope it does help some developers that way, though everyone has to keep in mind that the "lessons" from my writing are really just "personal preferences." Different players are looking for different things. Right now, I'm furious with NetHack and I know that I'll never love it, while plenty of other players think it's the greatest game ever made.

    2. Sure; but your opinions are well-explained and you are writing pretty detailed accounts. Even if I don't necessarily share your preferences, I can always count on getting the gist of a game's structure, both mechanical and regarding its content. Including things which may trip up other players as well. By the way, I read your newest NetHack exploit - my condolences ;-)

  9. Aside Don Worth's other accomplishments in his life, I have to appreciate his taste of music and cars. \,,/

    1. I didn't read the rest of his page.

      I have no idea what to say about the "dragonbone" except that its name and shape suggest something other than an automated dice roller.

    2. I remember those, I saw ads for them in my Dad's old Dragon magazines. There were two of them, the Dragonbone and Dragontooth.

    3. I guess I will never grow up, eh?

      W/re the Dragonbone, I remember I had to fix one of the LEDs on it once - required a trip to Radio Shack and some soldering. It's basically a piece of PVC pipe with a circuit board stuffed inside it with foam to hold it in place. I think it's a 555 timer chip. There was a later model that was a bit more polished looking, but I like my old-school dragonbone. There's one for sale on EBAY right now.

    4. Hey, Don. You're talking to some guys in their 30s and 40s who are spending untold hours per week playing computer games, so you're in good company.

      If you happen to check back in, can you confirm something for me? I was thinking about how difficult it must be to play BAM on the hardest difficulty, but I realized that a player could probably just choose to rocket down to the 40-50th level without any development or fighting, and he might get extremely lucky and find the golden apple in a chest right next to the entrance. Is that possible, or is there something built into the game that would prevent that?

    5. Wow, I know that I was born in the wrong decade to fully appreciate it, but that Dragonbone can easily double as some kind of real-life Wand of Nerditude +5. Or as whatever Chet was thinking of, I'm sure. Impressive.

  10. Nothing to prevent it. Altho you have to get your character up in experience to match dragons since the golden apple is always in a dragon's treasure chest. In fact I had written up a list of strategies in the manual and one of them was "If you get the magic item on a level, go to the next level down immediately since there is only one magic item per level". Same with if you lose permanent strength or intelligence - go "down" right away since levels are constructed to be balanced to your current stats. When I play BAM I usually use DF=5 since that's the one I play-tested the game on. I actually added the other DFs after the fact and never really play-tested them (much). And when I play I like to see how much I can avoid combat and "game" my game. Sneak in under a chest and leave the monster parked above it by resting (they are too dumb to move further away from you and around to get at you) or aggro them and lead them over to the other side of a large room, then run back - the monster gives up and goes to sleep after 5 moves. Stuff like that. See pp 19-21 here:

    1. A quick and, I admit, silly question: can you by any chance recommend a metal song or two that you think would work nicely with the kind of dungeon crawling Chet/CRPG Addict has been doing lately in BAM (and Nethack)?

      I don't think metal is exactly Chet's cup of tea, but me, on other hand...

    2. Well I don't think it's silly!

      When I'm mining ore nodes in LOTRO I generally listen to recent Iron Maiden albums - Dance of Death, Brave New World, Final Frontier, etc. But I suppose a more appropriate album might be Horror Show by Iced Earth - maybe the Dracula track. Or there is always Rhapsody's "Symphony of Enchanted Lands" if you like symphonic power metal. Nice red dragon on the cover. :-)

    3. I prefer Rhapsody's later stuff myself. Demons & Wizards is also quite good. However, I'd have to say Therion's more orchestral stuff goes with CRPGs better.

    4. I'll have to check Iced Earth and Rhapsody out it seems. It's not the first time someone's recommended me these bands.

      I was thinking the other night there's a song that fits perfectly with Chet's experience of losing his best Nethack character yet - Children of Bodom's Every Time I Die. Final line of the song: "it gets more painful every time I die".

    5. Guess I'll finish the arc and recommend Blind Guardian. You might want to check Nightfall in Middle-Earth, but all of the albums have lots of LOTR themed songs (among other recognizable fantasy series and myths).

      Quite fitting to CRPGs, having made the theme for Sacred 2 and appearing in bonus quest.

    6. Thanks, Don. I didn't realize there was always a dragon in that room.

      As you all probably don't have to be told, heavy metal isn't my thing anyway, but wouldn't you find it a little too frenetic for dungeon-crawling? I would think something more like an andante march would work better.

    7. You might be right - unless it's in the morning before I've had my coffee.

    8. Well that depends entirely on what kind of metal you're listening to. Some of it is very guttural, fast, aggressive, some of it is uplifting, symphonic, some of it has a relaxing, folksy type of beat to it, and yet some is basically just ambient drone. You'll never run out of different styles of metal. =)

  11. Chet: Depends entirely on the style. For example, Therion would work quite well as dungeon crawling music, for example:

    Also, most of their music works quite well thematically with RPGs. Another band my Dad introduced me to is Rainbow: Ronnie James Dio's first band.

  12. Hello!

    I want to tell you that your blog inspired me to start my own cRPG journey through the years, though mine will be considerably shorter (260 games from 1975 to 2016, even less if you don't count in expansions).

    I wanted to ask you how did you manage to play the original version of Beneath Apple Manor, because I'm having a hard time finding the original game online and the proper way to run it.

    Thank you for your time!

    1. You want to download the AppleWin emulator first. As to where I got the file, it was probably on the Asimov server. If you e-mail me offline I'll send you the file.

    2. First of all, congratulations for your blog, M. CRPG Addict. Thanks to you, I've found an intelligent list of "what's we can call a RPG" for the early video games. Your passion is contagious! I'm wondering if M. Lucas Delfino has succeeded to emulate "Beneath Apple Manor" on AppleWin... When I try to run the three or four versions of the game I've found in the net, the only thing I got is a "language not available" message. I didn't find any help on the net. Can you help me? Thanks!

    3. Get a copy of system master disk here :, then load a dos330 disk in drive 1 and the game in drive 2. At the prompt type "CATALOG,D2", then RUN BENEATH APPLE MANOR, you should enter teh game.

  13. There is a 2014 interview with Don Worth about BAM here:

    They also have a couple lines from Kevet Duncombe on Moria
    ( used for an extensive article on the game in late 2016 (in Norvegian).

  14. This is the first Computer RPG ever so it deserves a 10 just for that. The developers of Rogue must have played it the simularities are too close. I actually enjoyed this better than any Rogue game knockoff. Thanks Don you are a true Pioneer.


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