Monday, April 26, 2021

BRIEF: The Missing Ring (1982)

The Missing Ring
United States
Datamost (developer and publisher)
Released in 1982 for Apple II
Re-released in 1988 for Apple II by SoftDisk
The 1980-1983 period was a crazy time for RPGs on the Apple II. The predominance of the models set by Wizardry and Ultima had not yet taken hold, and developers were still trying all kinds of wacky things like Crown of Arthain's hex-based movement, The Dragon's Eye's side-view action combat, and the way that monsters could gain experience and level up in Stuart Smith's Fracas. There was the weirdness of the entire Empire series and the modular text adventure approach of Eamon. Most of the features of these games were evolutionary dead ends--mutations that offered no reproductive advantage, if you will. The Missing Ring fits neatly into this time period.
The SoftDisk version has introductory text lacking in the original.
The game concerns the attempt of the hero to find a missing ring of power in an Enchanted Palace. I don't know what the original backstory said, as I haven't found any documentation that accompanied it. The 1988 SoftDisk rerelease calls the hero the "Ambassador of Llahmot" and the creators of the ring the "Council of Reliew." These names are clearly taken from SoftDisk employees Tom Hall and James Weiler and thus almost certainly were not mentioned in the original, written by a Terry Romine (who has no other credits).
The diskmag really hyped things up for the re-release.
With up to four other characters, the hero enters a maze of numbered rooms full of monsters and treasure, including the titular ring. You don't create a party so much as just choose from a list of archetypes, including "fighter with sword" or "elf with bow." The characters otherwise have no equipment, no attributes, and no names. The maze, including placement of monsters and treasures, is randomized for each new game. 
The various character options.
The control scheme is the first oddity. There are two sets of controls, ostensibly one for left-handed players and one for right-handed players. Some sites report that the scheme allows for two players to play at once. I guess that would work, but you'd have to have agreement over which player controlled which characters.
Entering the dungeon.
Movement keys are RDEF on the left and OLKP on the right, with those keys respectively corresponding with forward, back, left, and right. The clusters make sense if you angle your hand slightly towards the center of the keyboard. Similarly, both "T" and "U" get treasure, and both "B" and "M" use magic. A couple of commands are shared.
You control each character individually. Each gets 5 or 6 moves per turn, with the game passing for you if you haven't done anything in about a second. You can keep the characters together or fan out throughout the dungeon, which is a pretty cool feature for the year, although it's better in theory than in practice. Guiding every character across the room and through the door gets old fast, and if the game was working for me, I suspect I'd try to get through it with a single character.
Enemies include goblins, orcs, and hell hounds. When you fight them (with the SPACE bar), you get a crosshair that you can put over the enemy you want to attack. At least, that's the theory. One of the reasons this is a BRIEF is that the game crashes for me every time I encounter an enemy.
The game crashes before the hell hound appears.
My sense is that the purpose of the game is simply to explore, fight, and grab treasure until you finally find the ring. You can exit to the lobby at any time and visit a merchant for healing potions (the only inventory item you have) or to convert gold to experience. I'm not sure what experience does. There are no designated levels. I assume that your prowess is somehow enhanced as your experience grows. 
Finding treasures, which I can convert to healing potions or gold.
I've tried six versions of this game and I can't get any of them to work right. I've tried both the original version and the SoftDisk re-release, which has an introductory menu with the instructions and backstory. The ones on Virtual Apple and Asimov have unreadable text. A commenter sent me two copies back in 2016; one of them hangs after party creation, the other one crashes every time I encounter a monster. I know that playing is possible because there are screen shots on MobyGames and a video on YouTube, but I'll be damned if I can get it. I've tried every possible configuration in AppleWin.
I could fight in this version; I just couldn't read it.
If someone gets it working for their own purposes or already has it working without these problems, then feel free to send me your configuration and version, and maybe I'll try again. (I do not want anyone to try to get the game working specifically for me, and I'll go so far as to refuse to play it or even acknowledge your message if it's clear that's what you've done.) Lacking inventory, and possibly lacking attribute-based combat, it's not really an RPG by my definitions anyway, and I'm happy to leave this as a BRIEF.
[Ed. The parenthetical in the above paragraph was a bad idea. Certain readers and I have a long, I hope friendly history in which they take any obstacle I face as a personal challenge and "help" me even when I've suggested based on the quality of the game that I don't really want any help. In the end, they always come through anyway, as they did here, and I always play the game, as I did below. And in the end, I always appreciate their efforts in holding me true to the mission I have laid out, even if I act grouchy about it. I was making a commentary on this dynamic, but it comes across as harsh and ungrateful if you don't know the rest of the context. Perhaps it comes across as harsh as ungrateful even if you do. I apologize either way. I realize this is a dangerous thing to be joking around with if I honestly want readers to come forward and help, so I won't be doing it anymore.]
All right, a reader helped me with yet another version of the 1982 original. This one sometimes froze when opening chests, but otherwise it worked.
Now that I've experienced more, it's clear to me that the author was influenced heavily by Dunjonquest, albeit with a party instead of a single character. The similarities are less in the specific mechanics of gameplay and more in the basic structure. Both games have numbered rooms, for instance. In both, the character converts his accumulated treasure to gold when he exits the dungeon, and can then visit a merchant for upgrades. Both have one-time-use potions that can be purchased before your next expedition to offer an advantage.
You can purchase a variety of potions to aid you in the next foray.
The Missing Ring has more randomization than Dunjonquest. The general layout--an 8 x 10 grid of rooms--remains the same between games, but a lot is randomized, including which doors become secret doors, which doors are locked, which doors are one-way, which room in the top row serves as the entry room, and the placement of monsters and treasures, including the titular ring. The dungeon wraps horizontally and I assume vertically; I only once found a southern wall with a door in it, and it was locked. The wrapping is a bit odd, though, as the game finds a way to nudge you one row south as you wrap to the east. Thus, Room 7 takes you to Room 8, and Room 47 takes you to Room 48. If there were no walls, you could explore all the rooms by just heading east.
The dungeon layout. Some elements may vary.
There are a few treasures in addition to gold and gems. You find goblets that may poison or heal you, a magic mirror that tells you what the goblets do, keys to open locked doors, and a statue that for me always crumbled into living enemies. Rings are also there; more on that below.
Sure, if I can take it out of the dungeon and run it through the washer first.
There are several types of combat. Melee characters have to get close to enemies and wave their weapons by hitting the SPACE bar. Missile characters can shoot from anywhere in the room, targeting enemies with a crosshair. Spellcasters can fire spells like "Magic Missile" using the same sort of targeting cursor. Although I "won" with a fighter with a bow, I eventually found the extra step associated with missile combat annoying. I ended up cranking the emulator, moving my character so that the monster was in the default location where the targeting cursor appeared, and just leaned on the SPACE bar.
Aiming a bow at a huge spider.
Enemies include dogs of war, hellhounds, orcs, goblins, zombies, gargoyles, skeletons, huge spiders, giant rats, and something called a "wraight," which I assume is a cross between a wight and a wraith. Some of them have missile or magic attacks and can thus target you from a distance. I found that they were universally awful with their aim, however, and I thus rarely had to worry about death with any character. Take that with a grain of salt because I think that futzing with the emulator speed might have had something to do with their ineptitude. I also bought Potions of Speed before most of my sessions, so perhaps those are just way overpowered. I was just trying to document the game, so I didn't question it much.
You only get one or two points per defeated monster, no matter how tough they are. I was wrong about the game not having attributes or explicit levels. It's a bit complicated. Once you leave the dungeon the first time, you can save your characters. Only then can you give them names. After saving them, you can see their statistics, and they do have strength, wisdom, constitution, intellect, dexterity, an armor class, and levels. Attributes seem to increase in levels. Leaving the dungeon and saving the character ends the current session, and you thus re-enter a newly randomized dungeon.
Stats are only visible once you've saved the character after at least one exploration session.
There's some semi-sophisticated stuff going on with spells. I didn't play a wizard very long, but the program suggests that as he gains levels, he can acquire some fairly sophisticated spells, including "Charm Person," "Sleep," "Dancing Lights," and a spell called "Locate Ring." 
Casting a "Magic Missile" at a large spider.
I still don't understand what's going on with the rings. I managed to map the entire dungeon and find at least one ring, in the hands of an evil mage. Once I killed the mage, I opened the treasure chest in the room, and I was told I'd found a "Golden Ring." I assumed this was the ring and started to write this addendum as if I'd won the game. I got no acknowledgement when I left the dungeon, but I assumed that the game was like the Dunjonquest sequels where the only acknowledgement you get is the screen in which you find the treasure.
For a while, I thought I had won.
But I searched the programming code and I found a place where someone says, "Ah, I see you have a golden ring! I can summon a wizard to cast a spell on it if you desire." This seems to come from the merchant, although I never got such an option when I spoke to him. Presumably this spell either identifies or enchants the ring, because later in the code are different types of rings: Ring of the Djinn, Ring of Regeneration, Ring of Storing, Ring of Weakness, and Ring of Teleport. (There's also an Amulet of Secrecy, apparently.) Finally, there's a bit of code that says, "[Hero's Name] has collected all of the rings. He will be added to the winner's circle!" 
The evil mage guards the golden ring.
I don't know for sure, but this suggests that a winning character will have to make multiple trips into the dungeon, each time finding a new ring within the one room that has a special treasure, until he has all of them. Even if I was willing to spend the time to do this, it's not going to work if the game won't acknowledge that I have a ring in the first place.


  1. I wonder if it's using something from a specific Apple ROM version, which is then crashing on anything else, or if it's incompatible with a card which the emulator is emulating. For instance, a 80 column card (which is built into the Apple //e) screws about with Wizardry unless you do an extra poke first.

  2. The status of Apple II dumping is pretty odd. Essentially the tech is better than ever before, but using this hardware/software called Applesauce which images the actual magnetic surface of the disk (which catches, for example, very obtuse copy protection).

    However, Applesauce is a Mac-only software. The flux files are in "a2r" format which is Applesauce-only. The software can convert to "woz" format which you can play straight up with AppleWin and other emulators, but there's big mounds of files built up right now in a2r rather than woz.

    The upshot is that if the problem is bad dumps, this archive of a2r probably has a good one

    but I suspect it to be some obscure hardware clash like Deano mentions.

    I'm thinking of making a VirtualBox setup that has MacOS just to run Applesauce and convert some of these files, though. Palace in Thunderland (which I played recently) I only found in a weird five-in-one compilation which I just prayed was stable and glitch-free (it was) but the "real disk" is in a2r format.

    I suspect there are a few games on my list where the only "good dump" is in a2r right now.

  3. Start of this post. It's so nice they indicate the end of the text so explicitly! End of this post.

  4. I just tested my copy and it seems to work fine in Applewin with the model set to Apple II+... I was able to find and kill some fire beetles. I didn't do anything special to get it going, although I have a second image that does have the garbled text. My working copy is a .DO file and ran in Applewin. Try your copy with model set to Apple II+ .. if it still fails, I can send you my copy.

    This game is one of the first RPGs I ever played, and I still have an original boxed copy. It's pretty fun, and I think better than some of the other early Apple games. You can split the characters up and explore the dungeon more quickly, but also more dangerously.

    1. Is it the SoftDisk copy, or the one before that?

    2. It's not the Softdisk version, as that opening screen never shows up. My other copy says deprotected by hook; that one has the corrupt text.

      CRC32 of the working image is 67ABA59E

  5. > and I'll go so far as to refuse to play it or even acknowledge your message if it's clear that's what you've done

    Excuse me? That sounds like just what a little ass would say. People do things for you,and you would refuse their freely offered help? Maybe you shouldn’t keep up this blog if you’re gonna act like that.

    1. Hmm, nope: It's his blog and he can do and say whatever he wants here - maybe you shouldn't keep up reading if you're gonna think like that.


    2. r/AITA is full of posts by people who give gifts that confer obligation, and then are confused why the recipient is so ungrateful. They're always TA, and so are you.

      On the brighter side, the fact that you went with the non-idiomatic "little ass," instead of the common gendered slur it's obviously replacing, shows that you might be capable of growth. Do your best, and good luck!

    3. Simmer down buddy, we're in Chets' house here you know...

    4. "you would refuse their freely offered help?"

      He's probably doing them a favor. You're not going to waste your time helping him if he is going to ignore you.

    5. "waste your time helping him"

      That is, waste your time by hacking this game. Not to imply that helping him in general is a waste of time. Semantics can be a pain.

    6. "Little ass" is so bizarre that I'm more creeped out by it than offended.

      I admit it was a strange thing for me to say, but I want you to imagine that one morning when you really don't want to go to work, your car won't start. So now you have a perfect excuse not to go to work. You did fully intend to go, and if the car suddenly started, you WOULD go, but since it won't--oh, well. Looks like you're going to need to take the day off.

      Now imagine that you posted this to social media, and all of a sudden well-meaning friends showed up offering to come pick you up and take you to work, offering to fix your car, offering to pay for an Uber, etc. Now, you either have to go to work or make excuses why you're not accepting your friends' help. And. They. Will. Not. Freaking. Take. A. Hint. "No, I don't want to put you out," you say. "It's no bother!" they reply. "You're on my way anyway!"

      "I appreciate it," you say through gritted teeth. "But really, I'm fine."

      "But I don't understand!" they say. "You need a ride and I'm offering to give you one. Why won't you take it? Don't you want to go to work?" until you're posting in all-caps "PLEASE LEARN TO APPRECIATE SUBTLETY" and they're all calling you an ass.

      I'm just saying, if that kept happening, you'd maybe try to find a way to head it off at the gate. And yet still someone would call you an ass.

    7. "I'm just saying, if that kept happening, you'd maybe try to find a way to head it off at the gate."

      You might as well. You don't even have to play it to begin with since it is not a RPG according to your definitions. If it were, all you owe it is 6 hours anyway. Unless that rule has changed.

    8. I want you to imagine that one morning when you really don't want to go to work, your car won't start. So now you have a perfect excuse not to go to work.

      While otherwise your analogy holds, I think this situation is a little bit more like when you don't want to go to a party or social event, but already RSVP'ed "yes" for some reason even though a "no" would have been acceptable, and are now acting preemptively annoyed at the idea that people might offer to help you get there when your car breaks down.

      We all know the feeling of not wanting to do something, and then being relieved when circumstances give us an easy out. But if we feel guilty about taking that easy out, and yet we want to save face by not being seen as taking the easy out -- by expecting other people to infer the fiction of how we want to see ourselves, and act to preserve it -- that's kind of wanting to have our cake and eat it too, no?

    9. And to extend my metaphor about the broken car further, imagine if your social media friends not only insisted on providing you a ride even though you explicitly asked them not to, while you're cheerlessly being driven to work despite your best efforts, one of your friends has to drive the dagger in even further by providing a meta-commentary on your personality and your use of metaphors. Your day is just going from bad to worse.

    10. Not trying to ruin your day or anyone else's, but nor will I deny that your post troubled me. I guess I don't understand the resentment: you could easily say "I'm not bothering further, it's not a CRPG under my rules" and hardly anyone would bat an eye. You run the show here, so what's to resent? Yourself?

      I get feeling obligated to make a good-faith effort; I get the relief when circumstances make that good-faith effort impossible. I just don't get why a preemptive strike was needed in this specific case, where no obligation seems to attach -- unless the issue is that an effort ceases to be good-faith when you know better.

    11. ...Wow.

      Why would you post this? Why on Earth would his post "trouble" you? Why, when he's already made it clear that he was bothered by your previous post, would you continue to press the point like this? What exactly is your point? This is... really bizarre.

    12. I'm not all that bothered. I really thought people would take my original comment as tongue-in-cheek. I do find it amusing that not only can I not weasel out of something, I can't even deflect by calling attention to the fact that I AM weaseling out of it. I can't even deflect by calling attention to that deflection. My readers are always apparently going to be willing to go another layer deeper.

    13. I really thought people would take my original comment as tongue-in-cheek.

      I hoped it was, tried to read it that way, couldn't make it work. Clearly, if the bit about "refuse to play it or even acknowledge your message" was meant 100% as a joke, the fault is mine.

      Still, after all these years reading your blog, I'm never sure whether you mean it when you say things like that. (I suppose my general impression is that you usually do mean it, but don't want to, if that makes sense.)

    14. Once again a simple thing is made infinitely more complicated by the lack of tone over text

    15. For what little it's worth, I did take it as tongue-in-cheek (and was more than a lttle surprised to see all the confusion and argument that one remark created).

    16. I did take it as a joke. Chet is too responsible in his job as a gake archeologist to actually refuse a working copy.

      ... right, Chet?

    17. Well, when someone sent me a (mostly) working copy, I posted more material, so I guess you have your answer.

      Now, if someone HADN'T sent me a working copy, would I have spent a lot of time worrying whether that was because one didn't exist or because that person had simply "read the room" and decided to let me move on? I guess we'll never know.

    18. All right. I was reading all this over and I realized I'm messing around with a dangerous area if I don't want to turn away a lot of readers who honestly want to help. I shouldn't have said what I said even as a friendly half-joke. It doesn't come across as friendly. I appended an apology above.

    19. I thought it was hilarious, at least.

    20. A gracious addendum, Addict. Thank you for that.

  6. Combat also works in MAME 0.230 with the Apple //e driver. I used a dump from the TOSEC set and didn't do anything special.

    Melee attacks tell you whether or not you hit a monster but not how much damage it deals. I think casting times might be taken into account as well, since you can't fire off a magic missile immediately after selecting "Magic". I would expect "Cure light wounds" to work like the other spells that let you target individuals, but since your health isn't displayed in numbers I'm not sure how effective it is.

    For an early Apple game, I agree that you could do a lot worse. I really wish the game allowed you to join and split the party like Wasteland does, though - Dungeon crawling is just a bit too tedious when you have to move each character separately.

    Given the multiple sets of controls and the fact that the characters are numbered, I also agree that the game would work well with multiple players.

  7. That skeleton looks really peeved. "What, you lost your ring AGAIN?"

    1. I also like the fact that the "Fey Den of Maleficence" has a large sign pointing to it with those words on it. From the text above, you'd think "this fey den of maleficence" was just a description of the place, but no, apparently it's the official title. Did... did the fey living there call it that? If so, did they mean it as a threat to keep people away, or did they just have a really negative self-image?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Or I guess maybe that's just the way things are named in this world.

      "Oh, you want the Fey Den Of Maleficence? Yeah, just head toward the Mount of Fiery Damnation and hang a right at the Bog of Creeping Terror. Can't miss it! You hit the Undead Fortress of Doom, you've gone too far."

    4. Muhahahaa! You have entered the Fey Den of Maleficence and your soul is mine!

      Please leave us a good review on Yelp.


    6. What we're not seeing in the graphics is the huge number of billboards scattered across the land. "You are 55 leagues from The Fey Den of Maleficence!" "You are 25 leagues from The Fey Den of Maleficence!" "You just missed The Fey Den of Maleficence, turn around at the next exit!"

    7. It was supposed to be the Fey Den of Magnificence, but the sign-painter got it wrong.

  8. Don't know if you've seen this, Chet, but you might find it interesting:

    Quite a long, detailed piece.

    1. It's a great article, very timely considering the first Chinese-language games came out in 1993, and yet I have to take issue with Felipe in the opening: "For all its love of epic adventures, the English-speaking video game world has a critical lack of interest in anything outside its comfort zone." I don't really think the "English-speaking video game world" can be lumped together like that, and even if I did think so, it's hardly their fault that none of these east Asian developers are marketing their games in the West or providing translations.

    2. Sorry. Dumb error. The first Chinese-language games did NOT come out in 1993. I meant to say "early 1990s."

    3. That must be your lack of interest showing.

  9. I wish indie game developer would emulate Apple II graphics for their next ultra-low-res retro-inspired whatever. NES and SNES graphics have been done to death. Give me a game worthy of modern computing power, but with little black-and-white stick figures as seen in this game.

    1. It's not Apple II graphics if you don't have the purple and green (or blue and orange) fringes.

    2. Whoops, that was me; didn't realize I wasn't signed into my account (or rather that apparently I was signed into my work gmail account, but that shows up as an "Unknown" Blogger profile... hm...)

    3. @Alex, Nox Archaist is a recent RPG released for Apple II emulator with all the graphical quirks it entails (including the purple and green font). There are also RPGs made for other retro PCs and emulators: Realms of Antiquity for TI-99/4a, Realms of the Quest series (5 games currently) for VIC-20. The Grimrock lead designer is currently working on a game for VIC-20 too.
      On the non-emulator side, there's Lurking series which aims for Ultima 3-5/Magic Candle look.

    4. There is also Realms of Antiquity!

      The author reads this blog and some times comments. Hi Adamntyr!

    5. For a good ultra-low res indie game, consider VVVVVV on Steam.

    6. It's not really Apple II era graphics, but West of Loathing is an RPG made with black and white stick figures. I haven't played it yet, but it's by the creators of the online game Kingdom of Loathing, so the humor is similar.

    7. West of Loathing is an absolutely terrific RPG behind all the silliness. It felt very much like Quest for Glory to me, only in a bigger gameworld - very non-linear, with lots of puzzles and encounter that have different solutions depending on your skills, and the setting, while slapstick, is very well fleshed out. It doesn't have a retro feeling though - while simple and mostly black-and-white, the graphics are way too high resolution for retro.

  10. Tom Hall went on to be one of the co-founders of iD software, and worked on Wolfenstein and Doom. Interesting that he was making games as far back as 1982 - he must have been at Softdisk for quite some time.

    1. Wait, just read the intro properly. He presumably wasn’t mentioned in the original release of the game.

  11. Softdisk has nothing to do with this game other than re-releasing it in 1988 (and adding that extra title screen and story). None of the Softdisk bits should be considered part of the game. It's a Datamost game by Terry Romine in 1982.

    I pulled out the instructions, and the first paragraph is mainly devoted to describing the game in a multiplayer setting. You can drop and share items between players, and it does look like the game was intended to be played by multiple people competing or cooperating to find the ring. Other than providing the commands, the instructions are otherwise vague on gameplay.

    It has leveling, spells and potions, but looks like no NPCs or equipment. If you get it working, I'd say it's at least worth the 6 hour minimum.

    1. I'm sorry to hear there was no more on the backstory in the original, particularly considering that the reality of gameplay--it seems that you have to find MULTIPLE rings--conflicts with the story that SoftDisk provided.

    2. It conflicts with the back of the box as well, which talks about just one ring. Perhaps there's a final ring to find once all the other ones have been discovered? I never got very far in it back in the day.

      The box and manual can be viewed at this site, if anyone wants to take a crack at beating the game:

  12. Comments earlier this one are before I added the material after the break (*******).

  13. The character class screen with its "fighter with bow" archetypes definintely remind me of the Lost Worlds fantasy combat book game. All of the characters had names like that: Dwarf in Chainmail With Two-handed Axe, Hill Troll With Club, and so on. But, Board Game Geek says the books came out in 1983, and this game is 1982. So maybe it's not there.

    It was a really innovative way to fight a fantasy combat, I was a monster with Skeleton with Scimitar and Shield. He had this one overhand blow technique that I could reliably get into position to execute. I miss games like that, that required physical components and real innovation.

  14. Co-bloggers come through again!

    An item that be enchanted with different effects? In 1982? That's pretty cool.

  15. Man, you never fail to increase my respect for you, addict. You're a real mensch.

  16. Man, you never fail to increase my respect for you, addict. You're a real mensch.


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