Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Game 214: Cavequest (1985)

United States
Lightwave Consultants (developer); published as shareware
Released 1985 for DOS
Date Started: 27 July 2010
Date Ended: 14 March 2016
Total Hours: 3
Reload Count: 2
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 12
Ranking at Time of Posting: 16/212 (8%)

Over the past couple of years, I've had several occasions to revisit titles that I covered too quickly during my first year of blogging. Several of them were the subject of a series of "backtracking" postings that I did in July 2010 after I realized that Wikipedia's list was missing a ton of games, and someone told me about MobyGames. Since I was eager to get re-caught up quickly, "half-assed" is a charitable term for my coverage of these games. I didn't assign them official numbers, didn't rate them on the GIMLET scale, didn't play them very long, and in the case of DND and Caverns of Zoarre, missed the fact that they had winning conditions. I've since made amends for The Wizard's Castle, DND, and Caverns of Zoarre, and in the coming years will do the same for Amulet of Yendor and Leygref's Castle

Cavequest is an exception. I got it right the first time. It's a fairly primitive shareware RPG that feels out-of-date by 1985. My July 2010 post covers it adequately, I think, leaving me only one reason to revisit it here: to give it an official number and rating. That meant playing it long enough to remember how it works. I don't otherwise think that this entry is going to provide much insight into the game beyond my original one, which is why I'm offering it as a kind of "bonus posting" in between more substantive ones. No one should have to wait three days for this.

The game is a shareware offering from Tampa, Florida-based Lightwave Consultants. The company also seems to have published a word processor, an address book, and some kind of "artificial intelligence expert system shell." The developer of these programs--I suspect there was only one--refers to himself as "I" throughout the game documentation, but I can't find a name to attach to him. I also can't find any evidence that he produced further games, even though the title screen promises exciting further Cavequest adventures.

The character in the game is an avatar sent by Zeus to help some beleaguered townsfolk deal with an infestation of monsters boiling out of their caves. (This is all just framing story; the actual game features no town, let alone townsfolk.) Creation consists of naming the character and spending 9000 "life points" on intelligence, charisma, strength, dexterity, stamina, and "wizard skills."
Character creation.
You have to leave yourself some excess points because it gets converted to silver, which you use to buy your first set of weapons and armor.
There are more weapons than just swords, Lightwave.
A "witches' lair" outside the cave sells both magic items and the ability to add magical enhancements to weapons and armor, an unusual addition to RPGs for the era that ensures money never stops being useful.
This is the best screen in the game. Things are about to get worse.
After that, it's right to the caves. You can choose from Levels 1 to 5, with the monsters of course adjusted in difficulty accordingly. Creatures appear one at a time as you enter their rooms; you can fire arrows, magic arrows, spears, magic spears, or spells at them, or you can wait for them to get in range and attack with melee weapons.
The graphics, as you can see, are godawful, with random symbols representing walls (they change every time you switch screens) and horrible contrast between background and foreground colors. Usually, when things look this bad, it's because I've messed up something in the settings. But that doesn't seem to be the case here, as every screenshot online looks the same way and fiddling with different video modes in DOSBox doesn't produce any better results.
[Ed. Commenter LanHawk managed to get a shot of what the walls are supposed to look like from a different emulator. See this comment.]
Treasures lie scattered about the dungeon. When you leave, they are automatically converted to silver. In between visits, you have the option to spend accumulated "life points" (basically experience points) on upgraded statistics and accumulated treasure on better weapons, armor, magic items, and enhancements.
About to pick up a treasure.
And that really is the totality of the game. There's no indication from the manual that you can "win"; in fact, it explicitly states that the goal of the game is to simply have fun, transport yourself to another world, blah blah blah.

I suppose the one good thing that comes from playing Cavequest six years later is that I can identify its pedigree. 2010 me might have seen some similarities to DND or perhaps the Dunjonquest series, but 2016 me knows that what we have here is simply another variant of the Quest series, started with Brian Reynold's 1981 Quest 1 and continued in Super Quest (1983), and Dungeons, Dragons, and Other Perils (1984). The developer here has introduced a different framing story, added more options outside the dungeon (the witch's shop is innovative, I admit), and improved the monster graphics, but it is still demonstrably the same game, seen particularly in the numbering of rooms, the basic commands, the division of arrows into regular and magic arrows, the representation of health as a percentage, and the way multiple monsters in a single room appear and attack one at a time.
Lining up to fire an arrow. The first level is mostly skeletons.
The developer of Cavequest added one final thing that makes it play worse (or, at least, age worse) than its predecessors: in addition to health, the character has a "stamina" bar that depletes with each action, including moving, shooting, attacking, and casting. It depletes fast--walking across a room can bring it from 100% to 0% in no time. After that, you have to wait for it to replenish. Health also replenishes with time, though much more slowly.

DOSBox's default CPU speed of 3000 cycles makes both attributes replenish so fast that it's effectively instantaneous, but monsters move so fast that they kill you the moment you enter their rooms. Cutting down the speed to about 300 cycles seems to make the monsters move at reasonable speeds, but you're waiting about 30 seconds for your stamina to get back to normal after a successful combat, or even crossing a room. I don't know what's era-accurate, but players in 1985 either spent a lot of time sitting around waiting or had to deal with incredibly quick monsters.
You know what, Zeus? I think I'm okay.
A GIMLET pretty well eviscerates this one:

  • 1 point for the game world. The framing story involving Zeus is original, but it's just a framing story and plays no part in the game.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. I like the ability to spend experience directly on attributes.
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 1 point for encounters and foes, a fairly derivative list of D&D-style monsters.
  • 1 point for magic and combat. There isn't enough time for any tactics. You basically shoot and slash.
  • 3 points for a decent selection of equipment, including a variety of magic items; and
  • 3 points for an economy that never gets old, what with the ability to enchant weapons and armor and purchase some of the high-end equipment.
  • 0 points for no quest.
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are horrible, the sound bloopish and piercing.The keyboard interface works okay.
  • 0 points for gameplay. I hardly ever give a 0 in this category, but there is literally no joy at all in navigating the corridors of these caves.

That gives us a final rating of 12, about the same as the original Quest 1 four years earlier. Quest 1 was a decent game for a bunch of code in a magazine, but enough already. Charging the equivalent of $75 in today's money for it is just crazy. I swear if I encounter yet another title in this goofy family tree, I'm going to track down the developer and send him a bill for my time.


What happened to Bronze Dragon: Conquest of Infinity? It's temporarily off the list while I try to deal with some errors. I can create a party okay, but the moment I enter a scenario, the screen just becomes total gibberish. I'm trying a different version.


  1. I remember playing this game! I agree that the years have not been kind to it; even by CGA standards it's a homely beast.

    In my memory the walls looked more like walls and less like an extended ASCII table threw up, but that was probably 30 years ago(!) so I might be giving it too much credit.

    Thanks once again for playing these games so that we don't have to :) I hope for your sake you're back to some classics or hidden gems soon.

    1. See the discussion below. Your memory may be correct.

    2. I played this a lot as a kid.

      I recently acquired an original IBM PC, model 5150, with an original IBM CGA graphics card and IBM color monitor. Tonight I put CAVEQUEST v1.1 on it. The walls do not look like ASCII, but rather a jumbled repeating pattern that resembles 'brown rock', something perfectly appropriate for a game titled CaveQuest.

      Its possible/probable that the programmer was somehow using/abusing the BIOS text display routines to render those rock walls, and DOSBox isn't properly emulating it. The only time I saw 'real' ASCII characters is when a secret door is discovered. The door panels appear as the '#' character after they are discovered.

      Speed wise, the game was clearly designed for a 4.77MHz PC/XT class system. It is quite playable, and believe it or not, rather enjoyable on this ancient floppy disk based system.

    3. To satisfy my own curiosity on the display issue, I emulated a IBM XT (5160) using PCem. I can confirm that it is indeed most likely a codepage issue. The walls do look like some textured pattern. (not ASCII characters) I can send Chet a screenshot if he wants to add it here for historical comparison.

      I believe there were certain glyph changes done in the 437 codepage over time. This would also account for why it would run on later machines but not look right. DOSBox doesn't emulate a true IBM XT so it can't produce era accurate displays for programs like this using glyphs/textures.

    4. I put LanHawk's screenshot in the article above. Thanks for tracking down the source of the issue.

    5. I stand corrected... I posted below that I was CERTAIN that dosbox was rendering the wall graphics correctly as they were originally done.. And I was wrong. Thanks to LanHawk for providing the proof!

      I played this game extensively in my youth (sad, I know) and I remembered it always being that way, but my brain must have overwritten those experiences when I played it again much later under DosBox.

      Anyway, I got the old IBM PC out of storage and booted it up to play it as is. Investigating further, LawnHawk is 100% that it's a codepage issue. It appears that Cavequest is using the Code Page 437 character set ASCII code 178 to draw the walls. You can google it to see what it looks like. This makes sense as it was a very common wall "graphic" back in the day. There was a dos game called Castle that used it as well to draw wall pics. Coloring it red made it look more a "tunnel".

      I keep checking this page periodically to see if someone ever got a later version of Cavequest that the author promised for a donation. In all of my searching it doesn't seem to exist. Maybe the author being "Lightwave Consultants" could weigh in as well. I've been trying to track this person down for 30 years with no success.

  2. I suspect the problem isn't the video mode but the code page. (Getting accented characters such as รง instead of box-drawing characters is the most common symptom of this.) For English games the best code pages to try would be 437 and 850. Unfortunately, I have no idea how you'd go about setting them in DOSBox. It could be as easy as typing "chcp 850" at the command prompt, or it might involve adjusting some configuration files, or maybe something entirely different. (The DOSBox manual seems to talk about code pages only in the context of changing the keyboard layout, not the video character set.)

    1. I don't think it's a code page problem. The lines on the early screens were drawn properly. I think the author just tried to use random characters to evoke rough cave walls.

    2. Every once in a while, while exploring Cavequest, the graphics snap to something that looks like actual bricks, but then it glitches to random characters as soon as the screen transitions. I think Tristan might be right, or at least close. It's possible that the issue has to do with the way DOSBox is interpreting the code and the game looked better in the original.

      I hasten to add that replacing the random characters with bricks still wouldn't make for a great set of graphics, but they'd be marginally better.

    3. I played this game extensively when it came out. I even exchanged mail with the author (I was a kid with no money and was trying to try a free copy of the next version of th game that was promised on the registration screen). These screens look EXACTLY like they did when the game came out. There is no DOSBox setting to blame. It was a painful game at times due to stamina refresh delay, but I must admit that I really enjoyed it as a quick diversion from other games I was still playing at the time (wizardry 1, ultima 3, perhaps bards tale 1). One thing to note is that the magic system is a little more in depth than you covered and some of the objects do fun things, but it is all optional I'm the end and often boils down to hack and slash. I really wish the game had an ending. It did have a goal to find the arena on level 5 which was kinda fun since you fought unlimited tough monsters there, but with no real quest and an author who wouldn't send me the next version for free I got tired after a while and moved on. Nice walk down memory lane, thouh.

    4. I appreciate your era-accurate recollections.

  3. I can clearly see Dunjonquest roots in this one. Same core elements: stamina, health in percentage, monsters appearing one at a time, distinction between arrows and magic arrows (spears added here). Ugh... I still had Upper Reaches of Apshai ahead, can't postpone it forever.

    1. *have, I mean.
      And the reason for "Ugh" is that previous games' sluggish pace made them a pure torture for me.

    2. You're right. Taking another look at the early Dunjonquest games, it seems likely that the author of the original Quest 1 was trying to mimic that experience in a simpler game. I didn't highlight the Dunjonquest-Quest similarities enough in those posts.

  4. The title "Cavequest" sounds like a made-up name they'd use on a TV show to avoid any copyright issues. Like "Bonestorm" from that one Simpsons episode. It's just the right combination of generic and goofy.

    Also, for whatever reason the actual sprites for the player and the spooky skeletons mixed in with the ASCII art is really funny to me. Like, what, you couldn't afford to implement a -WALL- graphic? "We gotta make sure that we have that stickman and skeleton in there, but woah, hold on, a GRAY BLOCK? What do you think this is, Wizardry? That game from like four years ago? Why, Jim had to spent a whole 15 minutes writing that backstory - the budget is stretched thin enough as it is!"

  5. I may be pointing out the obvious, and the graphics aren't going to win any rewards either way, but the contrast between foreground (bright red) and background (black) is fine for most of us...

    1. The foreground looks like a terrible dark red to me.

      I believe the developer was merely trying to make the game look dark since it's supposed to take place in a cave but... wow. Less morbid, more horrid.

  6. That 400 lines got around. I find another one on the Atari 8-bit called Quest for Gold, if that helps.

    1. Oh boy, Mr. Addict is going to love you. (And me. But he's already annoyed with my helpfulness. ;) )

      Disk image is here:

      Some scanned stuff:

      The game looks like another Quest clone. Zooming in on the disk sleeve on MOCAGH, it's copyright 1985.

    2. He'd probably be way more annoyed if he knew he could go to Atarimania, go to the Advanced Search and change the genre to Adventure - RPG (2D) and Adventure - RPG (3D) and find tons and tons of stuff.

      I'm not entirely sure how worth it most of them are, but if there's trouble finding a particular game on another platform it might be found there. I need another site for PC and Commodores like that.

      I'll sure keep looking for more Quest1 clones, though.

    3. But what about the slim chance that an imporant piece of RPG history resides somewhere amongst those dozens of clones :-"

    4. Having just searched through all of the RPGs listed on Atarimania and playing a whole bunch of them, I think there are only eight games that might be RPGs that are not on Addict's list.

      I've dropped him a mail in case he wants to consider any of them in the future.

    5. Ah, Keypunch Software, King of Shovelware. We'll see them a lot in 1986.

      I'll consider the additional games, but I might save them for yet another re-run of the early 1980s, lest I lose momentum. If no one thought to put them on MobyGames or Wikipedia, I doubt they're lost gems.

  7. I second the comments about the graphics; they looked like normal walls when I played it as a kid. Also perhaps of note is that the combat was also way too fast even at the time. You pretty much had to have memorized exactly where an antman (or 4) was going to come rushing at you from so you could face that way and hold down the attack while the room loaded. It was only an issue on the most difficult parts of the game tho; the early monsters were easy enough.


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