Monday, June 23, 2014

Game 150: Maze Master (1983)

Maze Master
United States
Human Engineered Software (developer and publisher)
Released 1983 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 21 June 2014
Date Ended: 21 June 2014
Total Hours: 5
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 12
Ranking at Time of Posting: 10/148 (7%)
Ranking at Game #456: 39/456 (9%)
In Maze Master, we have a “missing link” in the evolution of first-person, multi-character RPGs—a genre that started on the PLATO system with Moria in 1975. Moria led to Oubliette (1978), which was adapted (or plagiarized, depending on your bent) for commercial release on personal computers as Wizardry (1981).

That Wizardry in turn inspired The Bard’s Tale (1985) seems obvious to anyone who’s played both games (I commented on it in my March 2010 post), but I didn’t know until now that there was a stop along the way. Maze Master (1983) was the first original game by Michael Cranford, the primary developer and programmer of The Bard’s Tale. The Wizardry influence couldn’t be clearer, from the game menu to the wireframe dungeon to the combat and spell mechanics.

The party has just entered the dungeon.

But the C64 cartridge on which it was issued couldn’t quite accommodate the complexity of Wizardry, so we actually get a lot less game: three characters instead of six; two classes instead of eight; four attributes instead of six; 18 spells instead of 50; four weapon, armor, and shield types instead of dozens. There are no races or alignments, no class restrictions on equipment, no way to pool or trade gold between characters, no treasure chests in the dungeons, and no items to find and identify after combat. Maze Master distills dungeon crawling into its most basic elements: create a party, equip them, send them into a leveled tile-based dungeon, amass gold and experience, level up.

Character creation is a simple process of giving a name to your character, after which the game rolls random figures between 3 and 18 for strength, intelligence, dexterity, and constitution. Constitution serves as the hit point maximum. Once you see the scores, you decide whether to assign the character to the warrior or wizard classes. If you don’t like the attribute rolls, your only option is to finish the creation process, then delete the character and try again.

Creating a new character. I think I'll keep this one.

Gold is also assigned randomly, but each starting character generally has enough for the cheapest weapon (a sword) and the cheapest suit of armor (leather). You might also have enough for the cheapest shield. When you've collected more funds, there are three other types of items in each category. For instance, better weapons are, in order, magic swords, rune-maces, and wrathblades. Armor progresses from leather to chain to magic armor to a mithril coat. There are also four types of expensive magic items: the staff of light, the ring of accuracy, the amulet of healing, and the “hawk blazon.”

Buying items. You need the manual to tell you what the associated numbers mean, and how much each item costs.

With some basic equipment in place, the party enters the wireframe dungeon. Each level is 20 x 20, and you start at coordinates 0, 0 on Level 1. The manual doesn’t specify how many levels there are in the dungeon, but I suspect (as below) that there are five. Every space is used, at least on Level 1. Mapping is a necessity due to secret doors and one-way doors that befoul your attempts to navigate. Here, the game copies Wizardry down to the use of the (K)ick key to get through doors and the existence of a "Light" spell that reveals secret doors (though if you suspect one is present, you can just kick right through it whether you see it or not). You can maneuver with a joystick, but you still need the keyboard for combat and spellcasting.

Combat arrives at fixed squares and random encounters. One difference from Wizardry is that time passes while standing still, and enemies can come upon you if you don’t have (P)ause active, a dynamic that we later see in The Bard’s Tale. The fixed squares always contain the same type of enemy, but the game randomly determines how many you face; on Level 1, it’s always 1–4. Sometimes they surprise the party and get a free attack round. When it’s the party’s turn, the only options are to attack with a (W)eapon or cast a (S)pell—no defense, sneaking, using an item, or fleeing. After each character has designated his choice, they all execute at once. 

Pondering my combat options.

Maze Master features a selection of 18 spells, some combat (e.g., "Fireball," "Flame Blast," "Mind Fist," "Shield") and some non-combat (e.g., "Light," "Phase Wall," "Teleport," the mechanics of which work exactly like MALOR in Wizardry). Each spell requires between 1 and 6 spell points, and starting characters only have 3 or 4 spell points, so you’re limited a bit at the outset. Much like Wizardry, spell points only recharge upon returning to the surface. You don't have to memorize any arcane names, but you do need the manual to tell you what number corresponds to what spell.

Using the "Locate" spell to figure out where I am.

At level 1, the combats are crazy deadly. I had four parties in a row wiped out within a couple of encounters. Enemies were easily capable of killing characters in one blow. A slain character immediately disappears from the party forever. There’s no “resurrect” spell or other mechanism; you either have to replace characters or "reload." With tiny experience rewards of 8–30 per battle on Level 1, it would take ridiculously good luck to amass 1,024 to reach Level 2 without a lot of “reloading.” In about 2 hours of play in which I abused save states to keep from dying (see below for a good reason), I only got up to 696 experience points.

I put “reload” in quotes because there’s no “save” mechanism in the game. Instead, upon returning to the surface, you can “examine” the character to get a 21-character code, copy it down, and enter the code the next time you start the game to “restore” the character in the same condition.  The characters don’t seem to conform to any obvious pattern for the attributes and such—they’re not hex code—so I’m not sure if there’s a way to cheat the game by creating mighty characters from the start. The code system is based on the character, not the game, so it creates a weird dynamic where if a character dies, you could restore an earlier incarnation of him but maintain the improved experience levels and gold of the characters who survived. Or you could create a new party that includes the best versions of characters from multiple previous parties.

Viewing the character screen while on the surface gives you a code to record for "reloading" the character.

The main quest of the game is to defeat a BALROG, “a villainous creature bent on the destruction of the liege and his realm.” (There is no other information about either the liege or the realm.) The BALROG is supposedly protected by a magical chamber, and the party needs to solve some kind of riddle to get through. There are clues on each level giving some aspect of the riddle. On Level 1, I found a clue that read, “I have laid 3 clues to bring you to me.” Assuming that isn’t one of them and they each occur on a unique level, there are probably 5 dungeon levels in the game.

The first puzzle clue.

Unfortunately, I ran into a game-breaking bug that prevents me from making any substantial progress. (It might be a consequence of emulation rather than the original game, but the result is the same either way.) To periodically rest and heal, buy new equipment, level up, and get the save codes, the party must return to the surface. But the game keeps putting an endless string of random encounters right on the stairway going up. When I finish the combat, there’s no way to activate the square to return to the surface, and if I leave and return, I just get another combat. I used save states to allow myself to win multiple combats in a row, but even after dozens of them, they never stopped and I never got the option to use the stairway. This happened to several consecutive parties and several consecutive sorties with the same party.

(If anyone wants to try to replicate it, it doesn't happen immediately upon entering the dungeon. I can return to the surface if I just explore a few squares. It only happens after I've been in the dungeon for a little while and fought a few combats. I didn't investigate long enough to identify a specific "trigger point.")

No matter how many enemies I fought on the stairway, I couldn't get up the stairs.

Abusing VICE emulator save states to keep my party alive, I mapped the entire Level 1, just to make sure there wasn’t some plot-related reason for the problem above--perhaps an alternate staircase or something. I found the stairs down, lots of random encounters, and nothing else in the level, but when I returned to the stairs back to the surface, I always just got another string of endless encounters and no stairs.

The map of Level 1. At some point, I stopped recording the locations of fixed combats. There were a lot more than the symbols (!) indicate.

It would have been fun to be the only person online with a winning Maze Master screen to his credit, but I don’t see how it’s possible with this bug, so I have to move on. In a GIMLET, I can only award the game 12 points, with 1s and 2s in every category except “NPCs,” where it gets a 0. This is understanding that I didn’t get to experience the BALROG, the puzzle, or the endgame.

The game was published by HES, or Human Engineered Software, a company known more for educational and business software than games. As Stephen Strange points out in his "Archeogaming" blog, the company’s lack of experience with RPGs shows in its packaging and “clinical,” image-free instruction manual.

Perhaps the ugliest manual cover in CRPG history.

In a 2011 interview, Cranford was fairly candid about Wizardry as the inspiration for Maze Master. He criticized the programming language used by Wizardry and said he felt that he could “blow Wizardry away” but suggested that limitations imposed by HES kept him from realizing this goal. He blamed HES’s marketing for the game’s poor performance and noted that “they could have had the first Bard’s Tale if they had a clue.” HES’s ineptitude probably explains why I can’t find a smidgen of evidence for any contemporary coverage or reviews of the game. Even in the modern era, in which every obscure title has some champion, there are no YouTube videos of Maze Master or discussions of it on RPGCodex. Vesuvius at “The RPG & Strategy Gamer” did cover the game about a year ago, but he didn’t get any further than I did. (He doesn’t mention the encounter/stairway problem, but frankly it doesn’t sound like he cared enough for the game to invest enough time to even discover it.)

In 1983, the C64 wasn’t yet the RPG powerhouse that it would become. (It had only been around for a little over a year.) Wizardry wouldn’t get a port to it until 1987, which makes the existence of Maze Master marginally understandable. But the funny thing is that HES also published the first commercial version of Oubliette for the C64 in 1983. It must have been obvious to everyone that Oubliette was a far better game. Perhaps this partly explains the company's failure to promote Maze Master.

I can’t find any evidence that HES published another RPG after 1983, but of course Michael Cranford did. This wasn’t his first credited game, but the others—Donkey Kong (1981), Super Zaxxon (1982), and Story Machine (1982)—were just ports of existing games. This is the first on which he’s credited as the “author.” Two years later, working with a larger team, he developed The Bard’s Tale for Interplay, and the rest is history. He has credits on The Bard’s Tale II (1986), Centauri Alliance (1990), and Dark Seed (1992) before he departed the gaming industry.

In other news, I’m not getting much of anywhere with Dragonflight, but I’m continuing to try. I’m not sure if I’ll amass enough material on that game before moving on to FallThru. I have Moria slated as the next "old" game, but I haven't won it yet, and I might change my mind and decide to give it a few more tries before writing the entry. We'll see.


Later addendum:

An anonymous comment led me to the work of a lunatic named Paul Nelsen, who not only took the time to map each of the five levels (I was right!) but also figured out how to crack the character codes so that you can create the character you want. It involves converting the actual values to binary, then flipping bits in particular positions, then converting the binary to hex, then arranging the various hex codes in the right order. I don't know if he cracked it by examining the source code or by trial and error, but either way it was a lot of effort for a game that's a lot of difficult slogging through the dungeon and little reward.

With his cheat sheet and maps, I created three super characters and headed directly for the balrog encounter. If you have the maps in hand, it's only a couple of dozen steps. There are a few fixed encounters along the way, but they can be easily avoided by running away.

Hey, I'm saving my strength for the balrog.

The other clues ended up being as follows:

  • "I am destiny personified."
  • "Toward the NE beware the stop else magic tries to make you drop."
  • "My name is in the lower 4 maps."

When you finally get to the balrog's door on the last level, the voice says "Answer this riddle to pass--I lie ahead for every man that is within the master plan. I am________."

If you couldn't figure it out from the riddle, parts of the walls on Levels 2, 3, 4, and 5 do indeed spell out the answer: FATE.

On the other side of the door is the balrog, who's a tough customer. He deals almost 150 points of damage per round and never misses, even with my maxed-out armor class. Every new level in the game gives you a bonus of 0-2 points to a random attribute. Levels take 1,024 experience points. If a regular character got lucky and had 18 constitution at character creation, always got 2 points on leveling up, and it always went into constitution, it would take 67,584 experience points to get a constitution high enough to survive one blow from the balrog, and this isn't possible because the max experience in the game is 65,535.

So you mostly have to get lucky with your own attack rolls. After a few reloads (of the save state; in the real game, you'd have to re-create the characters from the menu, re-enter the dungeon, and find the balrog again), I managed to kill him with only one character slain. Once you do so, you get a brief congratulatory message (below) and a directive to seek the balrog's allies in Adventure 2: Shadow Snare.

Did the game forget its own name at the end? Was it originally supposed to be called Adventure? Or is "adventure" just generic here, as in the second Maze Master adventure? Either way, Mr. Nelsen's documents note that Shadow Snare was the original title of The Bard's Tale, which is confirmed on a number of sites. Note that a powerful magic artifact you get at the end of The Bard's Tale is called a "spectre snare," and the puzzle rooms in The Bard's Tale II are called "snares of death." Clearly, Michael Cranford liked the word "snare."

So I couldn't win the game, but at least I could show you the winning screen. Back to the regular program.


  1. As far as emulation goes vice runs every single clock cycle of the c64 as the real processor would (yes, modern emulators also run 680xx series in the same way) as current CPU's are that powerful compared to old ones.
    So any errors are likely in the program it self not with the quality of emulation, barring messing up with configurations that never existed in the first place such as KS 1.2 chip lay out with 68020 processors and unlimited fast/chip ram which is the nr 1. reason people can't get game X to work with WinUAE.

    Might also add that when I was a kid, the rich kids had a floppy drive, poor kids had a cassette and super rich kids had a cartridge. :P

    Consequently cartridges were also very expensive to buy compared to copying games from a friend (which wasn't even illegal until late 90's or something).

    1. That's funny to hear. I've always thought of cartridges as fundamentally inferior to disks and tape, purchased by people who couldn't invest in tape and disk drives. I would have thought the poor kids bought cartridges.

      Perhaps this bug was in the original. By the developer's own admission, hardly anyone bought the game, and I can find no evidence that anyone has ever won it. It would have been nice to be the first, but with no way to level up, that'll never happen unless I can decipher the saved game codes and hack up an invincible character.

    2. As you have already closed the case on this game, more than the usual slight spoilers should be alright. There you go:

    3. Wow. How did you dig this up? If I Google phrases that actually appear in this document, it still doesn't come up. And it's on a bag page of a web site that claims to be a "software sompany."

    4. I noticed that the map does indeed say "Bug: Infinite monsters can occur on L0 blocking the exit." Nice to have some confirmation.

    5. I used this intel to "win" the game. See the addendum above.

    6. Regarding the format discussion.

      Cartridges were instant loading, true random-access, and immune to most methods of duplication available to the average customer (and any method of duplicating them would negate most advantages) giving them perfect copy protection in an industry that was just beginning to fear piracy, and used hardware built into the machine. The only disadvantages of cartridges is that you generally couldn't write to them until NES games started including battery-backed memory on some games, they cost quite a bit to make, and manufacturing your game required a fair deal of infrastructure compared to simple copying as was used for other methods. As this cost was passed on to any customer, they tended to be more expensive at the user end as well.

      Floppy disks were slow (especially on Commodore machines), required a -very- expensive add on device in most cases, and were not the most hardy of things even if treated with great care. Their main upsides were that they granted random access (meaning that you could handle a program larger than your machine's RAM by swapping data off the disk in place of data in RAM you weren't using), the disks themselves were fairly cheap, production of your game could be accomplished with nothing more than a multi-drive computer, and you could write to them. This last point, along with the fact that a larger game simply meant adding another floppy side or at worst another disc, is pretty much all that kept cartridges from dominating the PC software market until the rise of the CD-ROM and hard drive obsolete all older storage media.

      Cassettes were extremely slow, loaded linearly (meaning the max program size was the size of your RAM, greatly restricting your possibilities), could easily corrupt data while loading, and were simply the worst storage format ever devised. Their only virtue was cheapness and the fact that they were marginally better than punch cards or typing in your game from a paper copy every time you wanted to play it.

      To summarize, Cartridges were better than floppies for everything except RPGs (and, once console makers devised a way to save to them, that exception mostly went away) and possibly text adventures, save fairly short ones.

      Floppies were better than Cartridges for long text adventures that required saving, and RPGs (for the same reason, although the large amounts of data needed for most RPGs made floppies attractive for cost reasons anyway), and were better than cassettes in every way. Cassettes were better than a sheet of paper, but that's it.

    7. Sheets of paper were great for tabletop P&P RPGs! So you shut your mouth, heathen!

      All other things considered, good insight, mate.

    8. By "sheets of paper", I was referring to code printouts that you would key in manually each time you wanted to run a program.

    9. It's times like this that I wonder if humor is dead...

    10. Interestingly I hear that cassets are still used today for backups of very large datasets, since they are easy to store, and more reliable then magnetic hard drives, and chaeper/TB in certain size ranges.

      Another thing I've heard: The reason C64 floppies was so slow was a programming error, and some modern hackers have rewritten the C64 software to be far, far faster on the same hardware.

    11. IIRC, it wasn't a programming "error", but a deliberate design choice. The guy in charge was paranoid about data getting misread, so the drive was forced to operate in the most absurdly accurate (and slowest) mode, while other floppy systems operated in a theoretically more error-prone (and I do mean theoretical, I used floppies almost daily for years and never ran into problems until the twilight of the 3.5" drive when extremely cheap low-quality disks flooded the market) modes that were quite a bit faster.

      As for tape, it is still the backup media of choice because you almost never need to pull out your backup anyway, and you can usually schedule the backup operation for when 4 hours or so of downtime won't hurt.

    12. I'll just add one thing to the discussion of the pros and cons of various media. Cartridges were considerably more expensive than diskette. The mask ROMs used in them were an economy of scale but they couldn't compete with the price per KB of diskette. For example the C64 1541 could store about 165K per disk and as a consumer I could buy a box of ten for about $40 back then. So a cost of ~ $0.02/KB. One source I read said that Atari spent about $4-$6 on a 4KB cartridge. So about $1/KB.

  2. There is a german Let's Play of Dragonflight, but it's incomplete because the Atari emulator version apparently has a game-breaking bug. There have been 21 videos and the last video is three years old, so that's it. I thought I might learn something that could help, but now that I've watched half of it, I guess that's not the case. The guy has fun leveling up, fighting, and equipping charcters. It almost appears as if making the characters stronger is the main quest, i.e. character development as a goal in itself. There's no real narrative there, just finding scrolls, finding gold, finding equipment, leveling up. The guy seems to know the game inside out though - even though he apparently hasn't played it in years.

    1. Well, so far I haven't encountered a lot of plot progression, either, so at least it's consistent. I home the Atari version has a bug that occurs SOMETIMES and not inevitably, or I've been wasting a lot of time.

  3. Shame about Maze Master's bugs, but it looks like a fun game for the extremely minimalist capacity that they had figured out how to use at the time. As a haven for digital archeology, this blog is becoming a master's class.

    As far as Moria is concerned, it is your rule that 1980s games only get one post. ;) So I doubt any of us would mind if you did a non-GIMLET post of the game and a "won" post at some point in the future when you finally do win. I am especially looking forward to seeing the progression from Moria to Angband and whether there are any great leaps forward there. I have played both, but deep enough in my memory that I do not recall the differences. These rougelikes tend to be quick difficult to win (non-linear play progression with permadeath) and I hope you do not end up trying to win ALL of them once we get into the great schisms where everyone and their brother made a low quality fork of a popular roguelike, while just changing one or two aspects. But there are a few good ones and I suspect we'll get to that discussion when the time comes.

    I've just started QfG2 so that I can play along with you when you get there since my time to play is so much more limited these days. I forgot just how much I loved this game as a kid, yet how different it is from QfG1. I am looking forward to reading your and Trickster's thoughts!

    1. If you stare at those white lines on that manual cover long enough, you can see a couple of ghostly faces staring back at you. Innovative!

    2. The "one post" for the games on my backtracking list isn't so much a rule as a preference. I had to do more with Expedition Amazon, and I'm sure by the time we hit 1984, they'll start becoming long and complicated enough to deserve multiple posts. The annoying thing about Moria is that I can cover everything to do with the game and its mechanics in one post EXCEPT show a winning screen.

  4. As a Bard's Tale fan, I am amazed because I never heard of this game before, and sorry to learn about the game-breaking bug.

    Or is it a bug? My first instinct is to think it's a form of copy protection... there are multiple games out there designed to become insidiously unplayable if the game is emulated.

    1. I don't know. I'm skeptical that HES would have that kind of foresight.

  5. That brutal early-game play is reminiscent of what Michael Cranford will later put in The Bard's Tale. It's hard to imagine anyone reaching Level 2 in the Apple version of Bard's Tale, where you could encounter 2 groups of creatures or barbarians in the daylight in Skara Brae.

  6. I not only reached level 2 in the Apple version of The Bard's Tale, I won the game. I also won the sequel, which remains to this day the hardest dungeon-crawler I've ever played. BT2 crossed the line from 'incredibly difficult' to 'actively malicious'.

  7. 150 games! Yaaay! Congrats and we all hope, there will be another 1500 ;)

    1. I guess I should have marked the occasion somehow. Ideally with a better game than Maze Master. We'll have a big party in February when I hit 200 games and my blog turns 5 years old.

  8. Just read your addendum. Wow. So even more evidence that this was perhaps even _intended_ as Bard's Tale 0, or to put it another way: that Bard's Tale was "Maze Master 2". Nonetheless, it looks like someone was bad at math because I'm not convinced based on what you are describing that the game was winnable even if the ladder bug was not present. Maybe the code equivalent of save scumming was intended/expected?

    One of the things I find fascinating (for me) and maddening (for you) is just how many of these games are buggy, almost to the point of non-completion. Was QA really so bad-- or not a thing-- that games could go out unwinnable? Some of the names escape me now, but there have been more than a fair share over the years. Even the best Gold Box games seem plagued by them, though they are still winnable.

    Not suggesting that "bugginess" be a category in GIMLET! But it you can't complete a game, that seems like a big deal to me.

    1. I'm willing to bet QA simply was not a thing that occurred back then any further than the programmer grabbing a few friends and a couple of six-packs.

      Hell, Watch_Dogs feels like it didn't have any QA and it's a multi-million dollar release in 2014. Then again, it's also an Ubisoft game and those guys are reliably awful.

    2. They didn't have QA back then but there were Playtesters. Back then, in my youth, I thought it was a dream job- playing CRPGs for a goddamn living until I read an interview of one of them from Broderbund on a gaming magazine over a decade ago. Basically, they gave you god-like characters to run around in the same dungeon over and over again until you found all the bugs, wait for the new version from the developer than play that same area over and over again to confirm the bugs were all squashed. Or rinse & repeat.

      Watch_Dogs had so much hype and the IDEA of being able to hack EVERYTHING was too good to be true. And it really was too good to be true. Goddamn waste.

    3. has a lot of anonymous stories from QA people in the games industry, mostly bad but a few good ones. It is anyone's guess how true they are, but I'm betting most are. I haven't read the comic in ages, but I thought I'd point out the articles.

  9. I think the Standing Stones, which I believe may be the first RPG that Electronic Arts published (in 1983 for the Apple 2) is also worth a look.

    It is a Wizardry style of game:

  10. Just on a whim I looked up Paul H. Deal (author of Fallthru), and he has self-published a bunch of novels, including what appears to be a 678-page novelization of the game.

    I will try to get a post up soon. It looks like the game is *massive*.

    1. I've been backing up my own blog's posts into a Google Doc and I'm up to 247 pages already with images. I imagine this blog is easily over one thousand pages. If I ever have the time I'll try copying and pasting each post here into a separate document, but that's quite an undertaking!

    2. We can print out hard copies, in case of a digital apocalypse.

  11. Interesting addendum. You never warmed up to the Bard's Tale games, so it makes sense that you didn't like this one either ("not liking" here means not interested in finishing it). The difficulty appears somewhat absurd to me here, and the game certainly isn't worth trying, not to mention the bugs. I take a perverse pleasure out of the fact, that even for this game, there was at least one passionate fan, Mr. Nelsen.
    That Let's Play of Dragonflight I mentioned yesterday, says that the in-game save feature actually is there to avoid the chest traps. Sometimes, you really just have to conclude that the game wanted you to cheat.

    1. Classic FPS are like that. I never got how you were supposed to beat them, then I watched Game Informers Super Replay of Half-Life 2. LOTS of quicksave and quickloading, every time they screwed up and lost too much health. I realized: that is how you are SUPPOSED to do it. Otherwise why would those buttons be on the keyboard by default.

  12. WOW, this one brings back memories!

    Some friends had a copy of this for their "hand me down" C64 in the mid/late 80s. I have some fond memories of aimlessly grinding out levels in this game as a young lad.

    My friends definitely beat the game, but I'm almost positive their dad pulled maps off of an BBS (or something similar) and taught them how to hack the save states.

    Not sure if he looked it up or figured it out himself, but he was a pretty savvy chap so I wouldn't be shocked it it was the latter.

    Regardless I definitely remember killing the Balrog a few times; as you mention, when you actually know the maps it's like 10 - 20 steps from start to finish or something trivial.

  13. A heartfelt thank you to you, Addict, and to Paul Nelson, and to the mysterious anonymous commentator, for your combined work in revealing the Bard's Tale 0 ending. I was quite curious, but I'll never play this game due to its bugs and punishing difficulty.

    Seriously, am I reading this right? The only way to beat the final boss to deal enough damage in 3-4 rounds before he one-shots all your characters?

    Cranford's love for obscure riddles continued in the original Bard's Tale, but it would be "turned up to eleven" in Bard's Tale II. One of the more extreme examples would be Dargoth's Tower, which demanded that the player answer ten riddles to challenge its Snare of Death. The clues were scattered among the ten floors of the tower... and if any of the riddles were answered incorrectly, the player had to leave and re-climb all ten floors.

    1. Yes, that's my interpretation of the final battle, unless there's some other way to raise hit points that I didn't see.

      I'm almost sorry I didn't make it that far in The Bard's Tale II. That would have been an entertaining post.

    2. Well, you can always revisit when you make it back to 1985!

  14. I have started in on FallThru.

    I'm going to need a bigger notebook.

  15. I love how all the monsters have the same jaunty pose :)

    1. Ha. I totally overlooked that. It's like they're dancing a jig.

  16. I beat this game back in the 80s on my C64. I too mapped the lower 4 levels on graph paper and beat the Balrog. This blog post brings back a lot of memories. Thanks for putting it together.

    1. I take it then the save bug didn't occur on a real C64?

    2. Nope, never had a problem saving the game. I assume there was a battery in the cartridge. I had a warrior I named Thorin that had no equal in the game. I got all the way to the end and had never mapped a single square and that's when I started over with pencil and graph paper. Many hours later I came up with the word FATE and ended it.

  17. Daaaang. My friend had this in 1984, we spent many many hours hacking away at the save codes. It was pretty easy if you got enough of them together and knew it had to be hex.

  18. Nice write-up with screenshots. The fight with the Balrog is easier if you beef up your characters more. Set constitution in the 250 range, for example. As for the bug, it should be possible to define the conditions for hitting it. As part of the mapping exercise in 2012, I frequently would encounter the bug and be forced to backup to a prior VICE snapshot, sometimes 5 or 6 snapshots to find one that wasn't "infected"

  19. I wonder if it would be possible to use the monitor in VICE to fix the infinite monsters sitting on the stairs?

  20. It has been bugging me for 30+ years this. I thought I dreamt that I played a C64 3D dungeon crawler that came on a CARTRIDGE. I found it using lemon64 and youtube and my jaw dropped, it was not a dream it was this.

  21. down load the crt image not the disk image. The disk image is just a copy of the cartridge. The monster encounter bug would happen even with the original games. If you encountered a wandering monster when you enter a stair case. If you were not on the 1st level (going up) you could teleport to the first level and then exit, write down your character codes, and then reboot. It would only happen 1 in 100 time or so. The disk image is a copy of the cartridge , that seems to change the random generator so you always encounter a monster on the stairs and then hit the bug.

  22. There is a version with fixed "stairs-bug" available as hidden-part here.

  23. I have memories of playing this game and remember drawing maps and writing codes. Bandersnatch brought me here!!!

  24. This was my first rpg on the c64.I was ten years old and my brother was six. We played this for weeks.
    We found out how to manipulate the stats of the chars and maxed out the HPs.
    Stair bug was no problem for us. we just restarted the game and imported our chars via the long number.
    On our version at least there is a bug with the password "Fate" at the final encounter. Years laster my brother played it again and he figured it out. There is automaticly a blank space when the passwort is asked. So its needed to klick backspace (delete) 1 time and then type fate.
    Luckily it was not needed to finish the game. Load game, get chars, teleport right into balrog, kill him. finished. (or was it teleport 1 space behind him and use phase door?) oh, its been over 30 years ago

  25. For a peek at the gameplay, you can play this in your browser here:

    There is also a short video (now):

    Someone even disassembled the whole thing and started an (unfinished) series of posts about it:

    According to contemporary ads, the list price was USD 35 and it was offered (later) for 24-30 USD.


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