Monday, March 28, 2022

Game 453: Drac is Back (1981)


When did he ever leave?
      
Drac is Back
United States
Syncro, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1981 for Atari 800
Date Started: 20 March 2022
Date Ended: 20 March 2022
Total Hours: 3
Difficulty: Very Easy (1.0/5) in the sense that you can win whenever you want; Hard (4.0/5) in the sense that it's hard to make progress. I suppose we'll split the difference at 2.5.
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
    
Drac Is Back is barely a game. As you "explore" (and, wow, did the titles of the early 1980s use that term liberally) the textual rooms of Dracula's castle, you really don't make any decisions except which direction to go. Combat happens automatically, and the game automatically chooses the right weapon for each enemy. Food is eaten automatically. You pick up gold automatically. And you suffer the various vagaries of fate without any way to dodge or mitigate them.
        
The store is the only place you really have any choices.
    
The only real decisions you make are when you visit the store, particularly at the beginning, and figure out how to allocate your limited selection of funds. You want as many things as possible. Only bullets kill werewolves and only stakes kill vampires. You need armor and a sword to fight regular monsters. Crosses protect against vampire attacks; magic rings teleport you to the nearest store, and food rations are literal hit points.
      
A lot going on in this attack round.
     
Each new game, you face a random configuration of rooms in Dracula's castle. There are 200 of them in a 20 x 10 grid. An automap keeps track of which ones you've explored and the last direction you traveled from them, but not which directions are available from each room.
        
This must be one of the earliest appearances of an automap.
     
Every room can have some combination of vampire, werewolf, monster, demon, and gold. Attacking targets all monsters at once. If you have no bullets, you can't defeat werewolves, and if you have no stakes, you can't defeat vampires, so the only thing to do then is to try to evade, which gives them a free attack. 
      
The game screws me out of over 1,000 gold.
    
The game offers three levels of difficulty, but on all of them, it's hard to amass any money after the initial purchase. Anything you find goes directly into better equipment and replenishing food, stakes, and bullets. You can never pick up a room's entire treasure hoard; instead, you get a random percentage when you leave the room. And all kinds of random events conspire to swindle you of your hard-won gold. Demons rob you; Igor does the same. Dracula occasionally shows up and not only takes everything you're carrying but knocks your hit points in half, too.
     
Dracula shows up and wrecks me.
      
You can end the game in any shop, at which point you get your gold piece total and a text assessment of your effort. Mine were always: "You need more practice." I think the best rating you can get is: "You robbed Drac blind!"      
 
I can live with that.
        
The author, Ted Clawges, is credited on about half a dozen titles for Syncro in the early 1980s. Syncro was a Los Angeles-area building contractor that had a "Software Division." The owner was a Louis Clawges, so I think we can fill in the blanks. Rather than start a brand new company, Ted Clawges simply got a relative (father, brother, uncle, whatever) to agree to let him use Syncro's name, address, tax ID, and so forth. 
      
As is common for the early 1980s, the box is more interesting than the game.
     
You may be thinking that the game feels slightly like the Devil's Dungeon (1978) line that I just covered a couple of days ago. You are correct. The specifics are quite different, including using letters instead of numbers to input commands, and the automap is an original addition (making it feel vaguely related to The Wizard’s Castle), but otherwise there's a similar "feel" to the games. It wouldn't be enough for me to draw the connection in pen except that we have an earlier game by Clawges that serves as a kind of "missing link." In 1979, he wrote Devils [sic] Caverns for the Atari 800. It copies Dungeon directly, but it does so honestly, crediting the game to William Engel "with modifications" by Clawges. I also haven't seen any evidence that he marketed it commercially. Anyway, knowing for sure of his previous exposure to Dungeon, the connection to Drac becomes clearer.
    
Ted Clawges takes on The Devil's Dungeon with Devils Caverns.
        
Drac doesn't quite meet my definitions of an RPG, but I admit that if I were posting it to MobyGames (where I found it), I don't know what else I would have called it. It has a certain RPG lineage and is at least RPG "adjacent." I could have BRIEFed this one rather than numbering, but to investigate this game is to play it. I gave it mostly 1s across the board for a final rating of 8. While I was doing that, I listened to the song "Drac is Back" from funk/disco band Slave, so something positive came out of the whole experience.

41 comments:

  1. "Drac Is Back is not an RPG. It's barely even a game. As you "explore" (and, wow, did the titles of the early 1980s use that term liberally) the textual rooms of Dracula's castle, you really don't make any decisions except which direction to go. "

    This game has a serious claim to being the first "walking simulator" in history, then. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or is it a shopping game?

      Delete
    2. Almost an "idle-game" if you haven't to give directions.

      Delete
  2. There´s no accepted definition of role-playing game. From organisations to people, we can find multiple explanations of what is and is not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I softened the opening a bit to be less declarative. I hope it's obvious when I say things like that, I'm applying my (this blog's) definitions of an RPG.

      Delete
    2. I don't know why people get so bent out of shape over what this blog considers an RPG. Then again, it's the internet I guess, where would we be without anger over minutiae.

      Delete
    3. It attracts that sort of attention, unfortunately. Better the blog's central mission than whatever qualifies as an open-world game.

      Delete
  3. I´ve read your blog´s new plan, but I would like a clarification. There are some posts here for games that you yourself Chet attest are not crpg´s. So why do they get posted here with entries/briefs?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Partly because non-RPGs often provide additional context for the development of RPGs.

      Delete
    2. Because other sources, which I generally regard as authoritative, call them RPGs. If I don't at least comment on them, then it looks like I'm skipping games and thus not living up to my blog's goal to try to play ALL RPGs.

      As Tristan says, sometimes in making those comments on non-RPGs, something interesting comes to light that's worth commenting on, which is why I do the BRIEFs instead of just logging the rejection on my list.

      Delete
    3. Just out of curiosity where did you read his new plan? Is it patreon only?

      Delete
    4. Nothing is "Patreon-only." I've been talking about it in various comments. A post that comes out at noon today has some clarifications. It's not a huge change from the past.

      Delete
  4. There's a recent new genre called auto-battler where your character or party fights on its own. You merely decide where to go, but have no control over tbe combat itself.

    This sounds like the ancient ancestor of that genre!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Final Fantasy 12 (2006) includes this functionality. The party can engage in battles without any direct player intervention. The lack of interactivity makes one question if it still qualifies as a game.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Fantasy_XII#Battle_system

      Delete
    2. This raises an interesting question. If a battle system is set up so there’s really only one rational choice to pick, then what’s the difference between that and automated battlers? The illusion of choice?

      Delete
    3. Championship Manager from '92 is the forerunner of the greatest auto-battler game series of all time =D

      FFXII's gambit system is very much a game.

      Delete
    4. Even if you took combat out of FFXII entirely, it would still qualify perfectly well as a *game*.

      The combat itself can be played fully manually (ignoring Gambits entirely), and even if you have a very sophisticated Gambit setup (as I have tended to in my playthroughs of it), they're just not nuanced enough to get you through the whole thing without manual input. The combat of FFXII is very much designed to require genuine human decision-making. (Well, I guess you probably *could* get through most of the game relying entirely on Gambits, but you'd have to spend a truly absurd amount of time grinding to become significantly more powerful than you would otherwise need to be.)

      Plus, as Tristan says, understanding what Gambits to set up in which ways is very much a game in itself.

      Delete
    5. @Tristan: Hehe, seen like that, Football Manager (1982) was almost as early an "auto-battler" as this game here. Except you even saw graphic renditions of (the highlights of) the "battle" / match.

      Delete
    6. This makes me think of 2002 game Progress Quest, an RPG with literally zero player interaction (after character creation). It technically meets Chet's definition of RPG though, even after the recent update :) I recommend checking it out, it won't take long.

      Delete
    7. Championship Manager is such a fantastic game. Auto battler indeed, but there's so much decision making prior to each game (or "battle"). And the presentation of them is enormously entertaining to watch, even being strictly text-based and predetermined.

      Delete
    8. Deano, it IS a great question, and probably deserves to be discussed in the context of a better game.

      Delete
    9. There IS some gameplay in auto-battlers. Usually it's about making decisions about your character's skill and equipment, or making a battle plan that will be followed to the letter once the fight begins. It's just that the battle itself gets resolved without player input.

      Personally I'm not a big fan of it, but I guess it has its justification as a genre.

      Delete
    10. How much interactivity is required to qualify as a game? There was an early 80s game from Muse Software called Robot Wars. You used a simple programming language to write a control program for a robot. The program could move the robot, scan the environment, aim, fire, and detect when it took damage.

      After writing your control program your robot went into an arena where it fought another robot. The control program made all the decisions at that point, with no further human input.

      It certainly felt like a game to me at the time.

      Delete
    11. I absolutely agree that FF XII has a battle system, and a great one at that. I had tons of fun optimizing my gambits as well as manually fighting in that game.

      Delete
    12. Kyle, that reminds me to Wyzardry, where you specify your characters actions in advance then their results are shown to you

      Delete
    13. Also, plenty of CRPGS with unquestioned credentials have auto-battle features.

      Delete
    14. Kyle, you can argue that the game play in programming games like Robot Wars is the programming itself.

      Delete
    15. The FF XII battle system was a lot of fun. Optimizing how you programmed your party to fight battle for you was the battle system really. It also made grinding much more tolerable as it was more about hitting regular enemies to see if your tweak or new equipment/spells needed more tuning.

      Delete
    16. I definitely see auto-battle systems as a landmark indicating we are near the borders of the kingdom of strategy-game, rather than well within the crpg nation. It's not enough on its own to disqualify a game from my own RPG consideration, but it's definitely a bright beacon. (Excluding, of course, things like the PnP RPG tradition of "The enemies are so many levels below you that we will not waste time with this battle and just presume you won it barring catastrophic failure")

      Delete
  5. I think even a game with the same basic structure as Drac could be interesting if the exploration and shopping choices required enough strategy. I.e. buying the optimum loadout of weapons for the anticipated monsters, and adopting an effective exploration strategy to meet fewer or less dangerous ones. Of course there would have to be more information and structure to such a game than Drac evidently has.

    It's like Solitaire - some versions are almost random and some require significant skills, but they are all Solitaires.

    ReplyDelete
  6. FYI, this is the last of the March one-shots. From here, it's back to the regular list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You really... Marched through the backlock there. Ha.

      Delete
    2. Oh, Lands of Lore is on the upcoming list, I really liked the first one as kid
      As far as I remember it's more on the easier side of the Blobber Genre, I'm really courious what you thing about it

      Delete
    3. I somehow had the idea that Lands of Lore was an Ultima clone. I wonder what game I'm thinking of.

      Delete
    4. You're possibly thinking of Times Of Lore.

      Delete
  7. I suspect that I'm in the minority, but all I can say is thank goodness.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What is that Drac is Back/when did he ever leave reference? I swear it's a song reference.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Interesting game setting, I wonder if we can make simillar game but with more fun

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.