Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Game 279: Castle of Tharoggad (1988)

An unimpressive title screen sets the tone.
      
Castle of Tharoggad
United States
Computerware (developer); Tandy (publisher)
Released in 1988 for Tandy Color Computer 3
Date Started: 29 January 2018
Date Ended: 31 January 2018
Total hours: 8
Difficulty: 3/5 (Moderate)
Final Rating: (To come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (To come later)

Castle of Tharoggad, if you can't figure it out by looking at the title for 10 seconds, is a color remake of Dungeons of Daggorath (1982; link to my coverage), and if it does one thing well, it's making its predecessor look even more impressive by comparison. It's a perfect example of an attempt to "update" the mechanics and appearance of a game while failing to understand subtle issues of atmosphere and balance that give the original its soul.

Usually I leave the critical reviews for the end, but in this case the most interesting thing about Tharoggad starts with review it received in the November 1988 Rainbow magazine, a periodical dedicated to the TRS-80/Tandy Color Computer line. (Models 1 and 2 were marked as "TRS-80," the "TRS" standing for "Tandy/Radio Shack," but Model 3 was just "Tandy.") Despite writing for a magazine dedicated to this specific platform, the reviewer is utterly unaware that Castle of Tharoggad is a sequel to one of the most popular game for that platform. He thus reviews it completely straight, complaining about sluggish performance during combat and, most importantly, the graphics: "It's hard to feel heroic when you're slaying a blue spider that wears a silly grin on its face."
       
The reviewer has a point.
     
The lukewarm review prompted a response from author Scott Cabit in the January 1989 issue. He complains that the reviewer didn't play far enough to enjoy some of the more advanced graphics later in the game, that he was clearly unfamiliar with Daggorath, and that he gave ho-hum treatment to the upgraded interface:
      
The icon and menu system used in Castle of Tharoggad provides convenient access to every command normally found in adventures and is probably one of the most striking things about the game. Yet this feature is dismissed as ordinary in the review. How often have you seen fully icon- and menu-driven games in a I6K program pack?

Although the review of my program was fair. I do not think that it provided an informed discussion. I suggest that the reviewer play Dungeons of Daggorath for a few hours and compare the two games. I think that he will better appreciate Castle of Tharoggad's features.
          
I can think of no greater testament to the delirium of all involved with this title than to think in side-by-side play, Tharoggad would come out favorably to Daggorath. Certainly, the universal opinion seems to be the opposite--so much that Cabit himself eventually ceded the issue. Several years ago, he commented on a YouTube video of gameplay and seems to have reversed himself on the desirability of the new interface. He blames Tandy:
        
Yes, it was the game I was told to write by Tandy. They wanted a point & click interface, because they said everyone hated the keyboard input method used by Daggorath, and they wanted "cheerful colorful" graphics. Bah! I originally wrote it dark and foreboding and they kept making me make the game more cheerful, lighter and easier to play. Wish I still had a copy of the original version I wrote. 
           
Tharoggad is hardly the only game to fall prey to this belief. Something was in the water in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it gave developers the impression that players vastly preferred mice and joysticks to good old-fashioned keyboard play. I can't believe that this was ever true, and it certainly isn't true now. I played this game a week ago, and my right hand still hurts from all the mouse work. Playing a game--including movement--by clicking on icons, with no keyboard backup, is about as infuriating as an all-mouse version of Microsoft Word or Excel.

But yes, the color graphics were the second mistake. Tandy's reasoning seems to have been, "We're marketing this game for the Color Computer! It must have lots of colors!" The result is that the entire game is garishly ridiculous, particularly when coupled with the graphical quality of the monsters, which is so bad that making fun of it seems almost cruel, like verbally abusing a four-year-old for an unrealistic drawing of a dog.
          
Something you'd expect hanging on the fridge of a toddler's parents.
        
Daggorath wasn't a perfect game, but it worked within its limitations to provide an experience that was challenging, and above all, atmospheric. Its limited graphics were part of that atmosphere, and the game achieved some notable effects when torchlight grew dim or the character passed out. Equally important was its effective use of sound. Every monster had its own noise, which got louder as it approached the character, whose own heartbeat was used as both a health meter and fatigue meter. There was a remarkably sense of foreboding and tension as you explored the game and tried to prevent tachycardia.

Tharoggad ruins almost all of this. The heartbeat is still there, but the monsters make no noise. Torches don't dim; they just suddenly die. Unconsciousness is accompanied by flashing of bright colors, not the slow fading of the limited graphics around you. There are a dozen other ways that small issues of mechanics upset the exquisite balance that the first game managed to achieve.
        
I ran a little too fast down this hallway.
          
The plot of Tharoggad is that an Evil Wizard has invaded a Good Wizard's castle, imprisoned him, and populated the castle with monsters. The nameless adventurer's goal is to defeat the Evil Wizard and free the Good Wizard. To do so, he has to ascend through 8 levels of the castle, slaying monsters and collecting treasures along the way.

All game actions are accomplished via the icons on the screen, which can be manipulated by mouse or joystick. Most commands require you to specify a hand first, then an action, such as pick up, drop, "incant" (basically just "use'), and store in backpack or remove from backpack. You click on a compass to move and turn, and you double-click on the hands to attack with whatever is in that hand.

The interface is probably complicated by emulator issues, but I found the process of clicking around the icons maddening. The cursor seems to be constantly agitating in the emulator. Even worse, the entire interface frequently locks up in combat, while the enemy is taking his turn, and when it unlocks, the cursor usually jumps to some random place rather than where you last had it positioned. This makes it functionally impossible to do complicated things during combat, such as drop a shield to pull a potion out of the backpack and drink it.
         
A snake gets the best of me.
          
Each level has a fixed configuration from game to game, and each has the same selection of items and monsters. Even the item locations are fixed, I think. But the monster locations are random, and monsters pick up items they encounter, so shortly after you start the level, item locations are effectively randomized.

The game's full monster list is spiders, bats, ghosts, snakes, blobs, skeletons, huge ogres, zombies, and demons. Unlike Daggorath, individual enemies pose little danger in combat. From the first level to the last, no matter what weapon you have equipped, rapid double-clicking on the hand will kill just about anyone in between two and six hits. The problem comes when multiple enemies line up in a hallway to attack you. I found that I could kill two without much trouble. By then, your heartbeat is racing from the effort (and the damage you've taken), so you often die on the third. Four is definitely too many. But movement also increases your heartbeat, so you can't take too long to decide to flee, or you might simply die of a heart attack while running down a corridor.
      
The game's hardest foe.
      
Enemies often swarm you when you enter a new level, or a new area of an existing level. Fortunately, their pathfinding is abysmal, so if you can find a corridor with a bend or two, you can get into a position where you can force them to come to you one at a time.

Weapon progression goes: stone dagger, wooden sword, spear, mace, steel dagger, iron sword, and steel sword. There are three types of shields: leather, metal, and magic. Perhaps the most important items are torches, the limited availability of which place an effective time limit on the game. Torch types are taken from the first game: wooden, lunar, solar, and magic. Unlike Daggorath, however, I don't think different types of torches illuminate different things. The higher ones simply last longer. It took me a while to remember that you can stow torches after lighting them (somehow, they don't set your backpack on fire), allowing you to carry other objects (e.g., sword and shield) in your hands.
        
A pile of goods dropped after several combats.
      
Item progression is the only way to advance in the game. There's technically a "strength" meter, but it simply increases as you go up the levels and never makes battle harder or easier. Unlike Daggorath, you don't get experience or strength from killing monsters. But you still have to kill them to make sure they haven't picked up items that you need.
          
My backpack after a couple of levels.
          
The level design is interesting and at times maddening. Levels 1 through 4 are 12 x 8. Levels 5 through 7 mash two 12 x 8 sections together, connected by a secret door. Level 8 goes back to the smaller configuration. Among the levels, there are only four basic configurations, used repeatedly, although the positions of secret doors change between uses.

If there's a way to detect secret doors without simply bashing into every wall, I never found it. The interface is already clumsy enough without having to turn and hit dozens of walls per level, but that's basically what you have to do to find your way forward. Even worse, many secret doors are one-way, and many of those lead to dead ends. You definitely want to take saves at the beginning of each level, before you enter an area you can't get out of.
         
The penultimate dungeon level. Note all the ways to get trapped.
        
Ah, speaking of saves: there is no real "save" feature in the game (it came on cartridge). Instead, when you hit the "save" code, it provides four nine-digit alphanumeric strings, enough to record your position, status, inventory, and dead/alive status of the monsters on your level. It is not enough to record the health or position of the monsters on your level, so these are all re-seeded when you enter the codes to "reload." I didn't spend a lot of time trying to interpret or edit the codes, but I did study them long enough to figure out which spaces held the character's position, for reasons I will describe anon.
         
Part of the game "saving" feature.
          
The one-way secret doors start to get pretty crazy on Levels 6 and 7, and there are many places where you can trap yourself and have to reload. Level 7 also holds the only "magic shield" and "steel sword," both of which are in areas that you can't get out of, unless you modify the codes to keep your inventory but change your coordinates.

Nothing plotworthy happens until most of the way through Level 7, when you encounter a wall of fire. Once you walk into it, you can't back out, go forward, or do anything without incinerating yourself, with the sole exception of casting "Aquaflash" from a spellbook that you find on Level 4. I didn't find the spellbook the first time I tried, so I was stumped at this location.
            
Dispelling the wall of fire.
        
Eager not to count this one as a loss despite my hatred for the interface, I started completely over and made meticulous maps on the way up--complete enough that I offer them to anyone who might inexplicably want to play the game. This time, I found the spellbook. When "invoked," it offers 10 spells, each of which can be cast only once. There are two instances of "Aquaflash," for walls of fire on Levels 7 and 8. "Pyromite" and "Disolve" [sic] kill monsters in one hit. "Invisibility" allows you to walk past them. You need "Teleport" to get out of the area where you find the spellbook in the first place, since it's a dead-end. "Vivify" heals you.

"Disrupt" is an odd one that seems to pull monsters out of their current positions and move them a square to the west. It's the only way I was able to get the magic shield or steel sword on Level 7 legitimately, by waiting for an enemy to pick it up and then "disrupting" him to an accessible area. I never figured out what "Dispersion" does, and there's two instances of that.
         
What passes for a "zombie."
         
Level 8 starts you in a long corridor with about a million zombies. "Invisibility" is a good option here, until you can get to a safer place and lead them to you in smaller groups. You find a magic torch on this level, which can only be lit with a "magic match" found on Level 2. I'm not sure what it does that other torches don't. Maybe you can only see the wizard with it. I haven't tried approaching the wizard without it.

After defeating all the zombies, I soon encountered a wizard on Level 8. He was labeled "wicked wizard" and attacked hard, but not anything like the wizard in Daggorath. The first time, I killed him immediately with "Pyromite," but later I was able to defeat him with the regular iron sword.
      
Successful use of "Pyromite."
      
Beyond him is a second wall of fire and then another wizard, also labeled "wicked wizard." He dies with about the same difficulty as the first. And that, unfortunately, is where my adventure ends. It's infuriating to carry this as a loss, but all I can do is defeat both wizards, which provides no endgame screen or other indication that you've won.

I suspect that one of these two wizards is actually the "good" wizard, and you have to save him somehow, but I can't figure it out. I've tried casting every possible spell. I've tried running past the first wizard and killing the second. I've tried dropping my weapons and armor. I've tested every wall for secret doors. Nothing works. Also a mystery is the key that I found on Level 4 but doesn't seem to open anything or do anything when "invoked."
         
The wizard clobbers me while I try to make friends with him.
      
If anyone wants to try it yourself, these codes will get you to the end of Level 4 with all of the major items:

OGG0440GI
C0SGCG0VV
VVUT80000
00007BFTN

And these codes will get you to Level 8, with both wizards still alive. The fire wall is one step to your east, and the spellbook has all of the spells that it wasn't mandatory to cast before getting to this point:

0MC0440T7
D0936G8VV
VVVVVV019
G00055K1J

Naturally, I'll take any hints that will allow me to add an epilogue to this entry and convert the game to a win. I've tried to communicate with Scott Cabit, but no luck so far.
            
         
Despite my praise of Daggorath, I didn't rate it very high in a classic RPG sense, and I didn't end the game liking it so much as admiring it. This one, offering the same limited game world, NPCs, and economy, and offering (unlike Daggorath) no character development, and presenting a horrid interface, does even worse, coming to a final score of 13. The highest score (3) is in "gameplay," with some credit to its moderate difficulty and pacing. I think it was a sincere effort to replicate Daggorath, created by people who honestly felt that an icon-driven interface and color graphics were better, but entirely missing the point of the original.

Scott Cabit wrote a number of other games for the Color Computer line in the 1980s, including Syzygy (1984), Martian Crypt (1985), and Adventure in Mythology (1986), none of them RPGs. He now works for a company that makes aviation software. Computerware was a minor developer that specialized in the platform and also never offered another RPG. I wish I could say that my experience with the entire platform ends here, but unfortunately, we'll have The Seventh Link and Paladin's Legacy in 1989, both miserable looking Ultima clones.

Next up on the 1988 list: the sample game that accompanied an obscure RPG construction kit.

56 comments:

  1. I had no idea Tharoggad's level design was this sadistic. I agree, the graphics are just hideous...

    But yes, the color graphics were the second mistake. Tandy's reasoning seems to have been, "We're marketing this game for the Color Computer! It must have lots of colors!"

    ...and I think you're probably right about Tandy's boneheaded reasoning, but with the important addition that it was the new graphics modes exclusive to the Color Computer 3 that they hoped to showcase.

    Before that, the Color Computer (both the original model and the essentially-identical CoCo 2) could only do a lo-res 4-color mode or a hi-res mode with red/blue artifact colors, sort of like the Apple II but not as good. The CoCo 3 is a fairly capable little machine in the right hands -- it can pull off an arcade-perfect port of Donkey Kong -- but Tharoggad was a terrible ambassador for it.

    I hope someone pipes up with information about how to beat this one. I was able to find one post in a newsgroup from someone who'd beaten it and had a comment about the ending, but offered no details toward a solution. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the DELPHI BBS archives had something, but they don't seem to be available online at the moment. The name is often-misspelled, so what little I've found has been significantly augmented via searches on "tharrogad" and "tharogad".

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    1. I noted a lot of mis-spellings too, but I figured that any page seriously dedicated to the game would spell it right at least ONCE. After reading your comment, I decided to try Googling some mis-spellings. I ended up finding this set of maps and notes:

      http://www.colorcomputerarchive.com/coco/Documents/Magazines/Adventure%20Survivors/Adventure%20Survivors%20-%20Castle%20of%20Tharogad%20(Scott%20A%20Cabit).pdf

      It's from something called "Adventure Survivors." Unfortunately, it offers nothing new. It shows no areas on the eighth floor that I didn't find, nor does it have any wisdom on winning the game. There's a note about the magic torch not working that I don't think is true--it worked for me, anyway. No further notes on the uses of the key. I think it mixes up "Disrupt" and "Dispersion," the latter of which never seems to do anything.

      Perhaps the one possible item of value is that the eighth floor shows 3 wizards instead of just 2. Maybe one is hiding in one of the inaccessible areas, and I have to use "Disrupt" to pull him out? I'll give that a try when I get a chance.

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    2. Interesting note on that document, the eighth floor is identical in layout to the first.

      I was scratching my head at the fact it had 11 unique levels, but it in fact only has 10. They probably re-used the layout for memory optimization.

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    3. Reviewing those maps, it appears there's a secret door out of the spellbook room the fourth floor that you did not find. That would allow you to obtain the spellbook (and the key) without having to use up Teleport. Don't know if that's helpful at all? Does Teleport bring you somewhere else on level 7 or 8 (with/without the Magic Torch lit)?

      I presume you also tried the mysterious Disperse spell on both wizards, to no effect?

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    4. "Teleport" just brings you back to the first square of the level. I suppose it might be the answer, but I don't know if I'm willing to replay from the beginning again.

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    5. Well, that was interesting. "Disrupt" actually yanks TWO new wizards out of the walls on the eighth level, plus some other enemies.

      If there are more than two wizards, the "one good/one bad" theory doesn't work. That leaves me with two new theories:

      a) There is no endgame. The adventurer is doomed to a cold and lonely end as his last torch dies on a level from which there is no escape. The rest of the game is primitive enough that this is a likely possibility.

      b) The "wicked wizards" on this level are not THE wizard. There's either a ninth level or there was SUPPOSED to be a ninth level, but something's wrong and I can't reach it.

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    6. a) There is no endgame. The adventurer is doomed to a cold and lonely end as his last torch dies on a level from which there is no escape. The rest of the game is primitive enough that this is a likely possibility.

      I don't think so; the person who posted that they beat the game said that <rot13>gur raqvat jnf qvfnccbvagvat</rot13>, so unless they were just lying (and that seems unlikely in a newsgroup dedicated to the Color Computer since a lie would probably be called out), I tend to think there actually is one.

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    7. I think the key is figuring out what that Disperse spell does... having two of them suggests they are used for something.

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    8. I agree. It's driving me crazy. They don't work when facing an enemy or facing a wall.

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    9. What happens when you cast it with an item in front of you? Maybe that key...

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  2. Entries like this really make you appreciate this Blog. The game is certainly not a gem, was made on a dead-end platform, being a re-hash of a game from 6 years earlier and somehow ended up worse.

    With all that said, this was still a compelling blog entry.

    Keep up the great work!

    -Chris

    P.S. I fired up Grimoire over the weekend, to see if it was in better shape that last summer. Wondering if Chet has jumped on that grenade at all?

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  3. I remember when the Color Computer 3 was being marketed at Radio Shack, and this game along with Super Pitfall, Rad Warrior, Thexder were used on demo machines. (Super Pitfall was actually pretty impressive on it, better than the Nintendo version.)

    My brother and I were pretty disgusted with this game, and we never played it longer than a few minutes. You have my respect for playing with that interface to the end!

    I've posted on AtariAge to see if I can find someone who's won the game or knows how to. I posted awhile back to get a manual for The Seventh Link and surprisingly someone just sent it to me in PDF format.

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  4. Also, I downloaded a disk copy of the game and the codes there didn't work... Can you share where you got your binary from?

    A cursory glance at the raw hex data doesn't show anything missed.. If I was to hazard a guess, I wonder if the key can be incanted/used somewhere on level 8 to open up another 12x8 section, maybe the two wizards you found are just meant to be the same wicked wizard back for a 2nd round.

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    1. I just verified the codes. Make sure that you're entering all 0s except the very first letter of the first set of codes, which is a letter O. It's also possible that you have to use the same name when you start, so use CHESTER.

      If you're using a .dsk file, try a .ccc (cartridge) instead. I have three versions, and the codes work with all three.

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    2. All other things that can successfully be incanted give you SOME message, even when you use them in the wrong location. The key just says "nothing happens" no matter where you use it.

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    3. Ah, that worked using your name, thanks! Of course then the Wicked Wizard kicked my butt when I was trying to configure the mouse in emulation...

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    4. Adamantr:

      a) would your "cursory glance at the raw data" show if the game's text had some kind of "congratulations!" or "you won!" text in there somewhere?

      b) How do you look at the raw data, exactly? I should learn this.

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    5. Yes, it does. All the game text is in a block, and there is this there:

      YOU=HAVE=SAVED=THE=WIZARD=AND=WON

      All you need is a hex editor program. My personal favorite is Hex Workshop, which you can use older versions for free. This lets you view files as raw hex data. More popular games like Ultima, guys have figured out the offset for various things in saved game files so you can change things.

      In Tharoggad, I was looking to see if there was any additional objects or monsters you hadn't encountered. I tried to see if I could find the maps, but given I don't know HOW they're encoded that was far-fetched to do at best. I found one section of numbers that kind of LOOKED like map data but I couldn't get it to align with the maps I saw.

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    6. Okay, thanks for confirming that.

      I have XVI32 as my hex editor, and I use it a lot. But opening the cartridge file in it, I can't quite get that text. There is a block starting at 2759 that seems to have most of the text in the game, but what I don't understand is why sometimes it's crystal clear (WELCOME-TO-CASTLE-OF-THAROGGAD) and why sometimes there are clearly letters missing (PLESECT-A-HAND). I guess I need to take a crash course on how hex coding works.

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    7. It could just be an unused string, though.

      Analysing game files with hex editors is tedious work. You need to find out where the relevant data is in the file, and how it was encoded. I've only had very limited success with it.

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    8. Yeah, analyzing hex code for patterns is a pain... You hope it's in some kind of obvious form and not compressed or obfuscated deliberately.

      The DSK version of the game appears to have all the text uncompressed; the cartridge one may be using special characters or bits to indicate multiple characters to save space.

      It looks like for string end indicators they set the top bit on the last character. That's pretty clever; you don't waste a byte for an end delimiter that way.

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    9. Well, part of the mystery solved. I looked through the text of the dsk file and saw two messages I never got (other than the endgame one): "THE MAGIC SHIELD HUMS WITH POWER" and "THE DEMON IS BANISHED." It turns out that "Dispersion" banishes demons. But that didn't help me get anywhere new.

      Meanwhile, I don't know about the shield. That message could just mea that the defense rating has increased, or maybe I'm supposed to do it somewhere in particular. I tried it on two wizards and nothing changed.

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  5. Can you backtrack to previous levels after getting the magic torch on level 8? Maybe that torch will reveal something important on an earlier level (e.g., a way into the southeast corner of level 7)?

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    1. You can backtrack to Level 7 but no further than that, since the way back to Level 6 is on the wrong side of a one-way door. I verified that even with the magic torch, there's nothing new to see on Level 7. Good attempt, though.

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    2. Hmmm...

      What do you have labeled as "OUT" on your map of level 7? The other maps you found online suggest that's a stairway to level 1.

      Maybe you need to save Teleport (see my note in the thread about the maps you found online, about maybe not needing to use in on level 4), go kill the wizards on level 8, backtrack to level 7, cast Teleport to return to the starting square on level 7, and then use the "OUT" square to return to level 1 (and from there, leave the Castle)?

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    3. Good lord. If that's the solution, the game can keep it.

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    4. I think there must be the good wizard somewhere... Escaping the castle doesn't seem like the solution.

      Ironically, I had to change my own game, Wizard's Doom, so that the end game was very clear. (Aside from fixing some bugs that made it impossible to win. Yeesh.)

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    5. Just so we're clear: is the "OUT" square in fact a way to return to level 1? If so, I have to think it exists for a reason.

      Speaking of things that apparently have no reason to exist... if the "OUT" is indeed a return to level 1, does it only work if you are carrying the key?

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    6. Yes, "OUT" goes back to Level 1. I'll try to motivate myself to load a much earlier save state and see if I the portal works without the key.

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    7. Everything you do to see this through -- and get a definitive ending (which seems very likely to exist, yet isn't documented anywhere on the active web) -- is greatly appreciated.

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  6. It's hard to believe anyone looked at that Demon graphic and said "Yes, this is what we want released under our name."

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  7. I like how the "wizard" apparently doesn't cast any spells at you, but just bashes you with a big mallet until you die.

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  8. It's easy to see why the Tandy "Color!" moniker didn't guarantee success, considering that Dungeon Master had come out a year before. DM truly stood head and shoulders above the field and made 10-year-old me desperately want an Atari ST or an Amiga.

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  9. So, if this is a Good Wizard's castle, it means the adventurer is stealing treasure from a good guy.

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    1. Not stealing, repossessing for the greater good.

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  10. gave developers the impression that players vastly preferred mice and joysticks to good old-fashioned keyboard play.

    It's novelty. It doesn't matter that the keyboard interface is better. What matters is that people get to use their fancy new mice and joysticks. And the only thing better than a game that uses mice and joysticks? A game that only uses mice and joysticks. Because you'll have no choice but to use the thing the whole time! Awesome!

    It's not about playing the game, it's about the novelty of using your fancy new toy. The Amiga was particularly prone to this with its mouse-only interfaces. If you look carefully, you'll see this in other walks of life as well.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I don´t think that it was so stupid, I started playing games about this time and most of my friends didn´t like using the keyboard, remember that the NES was pretty big at the time so from a sales perspective it is clear that games need to have a simplified interface

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    3. This will be a good thread to reference the next time someone claims that console games haven't had a "dumbing down" influence on PC games.

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    4. I would think that all of the games played on this blog with joystick-only interfaces (many of which were from that period where consoles were considered a dead fad) would have proved beyond all doubt that no "dumbing down" influence ever existed.

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    5. I guess the question is whether stmp is correct. PC games STARTED with complex keyboard interfaces, so did they (or some of them) abandon this because they were trying to cater to a new breed of gamer who couldn't be bothered to move more than his thumbs? Or did they move to joystick or mouse-only interfaces for other reasons?

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    6. Except they DIDN'T start with complex keyboard interfaces, outside of text adventures and some RPGs. The Apple ][ shipped with paddle controllers, and the ability to easily use controllers instead of the keyboard was a key reason it became a gaming juggernaut instead of cheaper machines - and also why nearly every home PC of the 1980s had joystick ports built in.

      Keyboard interfaces were, from the beginning, a last resort "only if it is the only way to make it work" option. RPGs were complicated enough that most needed to use the keyboard, but even with those you've seen dozens of games that went to extreme lengths to avoid using the keys - because that was considered something that nobody wanted to deal with.

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    7. I'm sorry, Gnoman, but I was alive in the era and had plenty of friends that played RPGs, and I just 100% don't agree with you. There isn't one of us that would have preferred to control Wizardry, Might and Magic, or The Bard's Tale with a joystick, mouse, or other controller instead of the keyboard. There isn't one of us who would have preferred to check our stats in Ultima IV by pressing a button to open a menu, then scrolling with the joystick, then pressing another button rather than just hitting the "Z" keys. There isn't one of us who would have preferred to move through the dungeon by clicking arrows on the screen rather than using arrow keys.

      There ARE games for which a joystick or other controller is a more elegant solution, but they're not in the RPG genre. I mean, we live in an era now with more complex controllers than ever, but no commercial developer would THINK about shipping a game without a mapped keyset, which I think rather proves my point.

      I guess there's no way to tell who's right except via a poll of era players or direct testimonies from era developers.

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    8. On that note, the TRS-80 Color Computer was probably the worst platform to try and do a joystick interface on.

      The joystick actually tracks Y and X axis, not direction, much like modern console controllers. So if you let it loose it would simply return to the center position. This made playing certain games absolute hell.

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    9. For the record, the Apple II+ was the computer I grew up with, and I never once used paddle controllers with it. I don't even remember seeing any paddle controllers; if they did come with the computer, they must have been promptly stuffed into a cupboard somewhere and never used. And I can't say I think I missed out on not having used them. All the games I played on the Apple II+ got along just fine with the keyboard. So unless my experience was drastically atypical, I seriously doubt that paddle controllers had anything to do with the reason the Apple II+ became a gaming juggernaut. (More likely it mostly had to do with its expandability and its graphics capabilities.)

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    10. For the record, according to a post on the Digital Antiquarian, the reason that every Apple II shipped with paddle controllers was because of Steve Wozniak's insistence that every Apple II must be able to play a good game of Breakout. So... maybe if I was a big Breakout fan, I would have wanted to use paddle controllers. But I wasn't, and I didn't. I certainly can't think of any game I did play that would have benefited from using paddle controllers instead of the keyboard.

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    11. Egad... I just started two comments in a row with "For the record". I'll... I'll have to try to keep in mind that I apparently overuse that phrase.

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    12. "I mean, we live in an era now with more complex controllers than ever, but no commercial developer would THINK about shipping a game without a mapped keyset, which I think rather proves my point."

      That, I'm afraid, is nonsense. Development notions of today have very little to do with those of the 1980s, because the games and environments are different. It is akin to saying "virtually every commercial automobile today ships with an automatic transmission, so obviously manual transmissions were a kludge that nobody used unless they absolutely had to."

      Nobody ships games without working keyboard+mouse controls anymore because their entire market uses those input devices, while relatively few own any sort of controller.

      In the past, most people had controllers. They were often sold with the system (my family's C64 had one in the box, although it was quickly replaced with a superior Atari controller), and it was assumed that everybody would have one.

      The point of contention here is that you're fixated on RPGs, which were one of only two genres (the other being adventure games, which not coincidentally is what the Digital Antiquarian focuses on) that usually used the keyboard extensively. To continue the automotive analogy, this is like driving Indy cars around a track and extrapolating it to all forms of driving.

      Even if only HALF of 1980s games used joystick primarily, that is still far too many for it to be "Consoles made them do it".

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    13. My parent's Apple IIe didn't have one either. They might have bought a used machine, though. We bought a joystick for it later and I remember you needed it to play Pirates. The damn thing had no true center and it turned the copy protection into an arcade game.

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    14. Gnoman, did you ever have an Apple II? Have you played any Apple II games? Because your claim that only RPGs and adventure games used keyboards in those days is, well, completely wrong. As is your insistence that most people had controllers.

      Keyboards really were a standard control scheme for most if not all games even back in the Apple II days; games that used paddles or other controllers were very much the exception. I shudder to think of trying to play, say, Lode Runner with paddle controllers.

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    15. We had Apple II and IIe computers from elementary to high school and all the games were playable with the keyboard only. Not just educational games either, some kids brought in games from home, like Mario Bros. and Might & Magic, and they all worked just fine with keyboard control.

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  11. I honestly cannot believe that these graphics are real. And I'm old enough to have played this when it came out.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, quite the contrast to EotB2.

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    2. Why is that demon smiling at me, they're so bad they're creepy.

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    3. You almost have to assume that they're deliberately bad, like they're purposely trying to evoke a goofy amateur aesthetic.

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  12. The Color Computer had very few commercial CRPGs, but as a former Coco enthusiast, I want to thank the Addict for giving coverage to these obscure titles.

    While I played Daggorath, I never had a Coco 3, and so I never played this game. I am happy to finally discover that I did not miss anything!

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