Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Game 508: Legend of the Red Dragon (1989)

 
       
Legend of the Red Dragon
United States
Robinson Technologies (developer and host)
Released 1989 for Amiga, 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 30 March 2024
           
Legend of the Red Dragon, or LoRD as most fans abbreviate it, is probably the most famous game from the "BBS door" era. It is a subgenre from which I have tried only one other offering, Dustin Nuff's Operation: Overkill (1990). MobyGames catalogs nine total BBS door RPGs (and 31 total BBS door games), although there were almost certainly more, between 1980 and 1997. Dragon is second on this list, after Land of Spur (1987).
   
Although I lived through the era and was the right age, I missed out on BBSes (bulletin board systems) in their heyday. As a kind of proto-Internet, they allowed users to dial in with modems and leave messages or download software. The BBS host was typically a computer in the owner's home, often connected to only one telephone line, and thus allowing only one user to access it at a time. Even BBSes that offered multiple phone lines had such limited capacity that users had daily limits on access time. The way I understand it, BBS door games installed a host application on the user's computer and kept the amount of data exchanged during connections to a minimum [Ed. As per the comments, I was apparently incorrect about this last part]. 
      
Creating a new character.
      
Because of the online aspect, it's tempting to think of BBS door games as precursors to MMOs, but as HunterZ commented almost a decade ago, BBS door games were more like Facebook games: "You play in your own bubble, and interactions with other players are extremely limited." These interactions consisted primarily of chats and messages, with the occasional multi-character interaction such as player-versus-player combat. For the most part, you did not form adventuring parties, you didn't have dozens of people online at the same time, and you did not engage in any sort of prolonged collaboration.
   
Dragon was created by Seth Able Robinson, a Los Angeles teenager (he was only 14 when he offered the first version of the game) dissatisfied with BBS offerings for his Amiga. He allowed free access to the game (another factor that made BBS door games attractive) up to Level 7, then charged for further levels. He followed with a 1992 release for DOS and a sequel, Legend of the Red Dragon II: New World, the same year. By then, he had offered the game to other BBS hosts who customized the game for their own users. In 1998, he sold the franchise to Metropolis Gameport, a Kansas-based BBS provider, which continued to run in various forms until at least 2009. 
        
The town square menu.
      
I'm thus not sure of the legal provenance of the version that I've been playing, a browser-based rewrite that is supposed to be "as close to the original 4.00a experience as possible." (Thanks to Harland for pointing me to this site over 4 years ago. I do eventually get to things.) Version 4.00a was Robinson's last version before selling it, and thus a 1997 game. It's likely not possible to recreate the 1989 or 1992 versions of the game. The site hosts five instances of the game, referred to as "realms": Eternal, River, Forest, Fire, and Mist. Supposedly, the Eternal Realm and the River Realm replicate the original game best; the others have other rules that increase or decrease the challenge. I've been playing in the River Realm.
          
For all of Dragon's renown, it's a relatively simple game. You create a character who focuses on "Death Knight skills," "Mystical skills," or "Thieving skills" (i.e., fighter, mage, thief). Your inventory is limited to one weapon and one item of armor. From a central town, you head out into the forest and start looking for enemies to kill. The battles you face are scaled to your level and relatively easy. You gain experience and gold for each kill. If your health gets too low, you visit a healer and pay to get it restored. You periodically return to town to level up (by fighting a combat against an arena master) and pay for better equipment. When you reach Level 12, you have the chance to fight the titular red dragon.
    
A lot of the game is spent hanging around the forest.
    
The entire enterprise would take only a couple of hours if the game didn't limit your time and number of actions per day. The modern incarnation limits you to 45 minutes per day of game time, but more importantly limits the number of forest battles that you can fight to around 25. It thus likely takes a couple of weeks of daily play to get a chance to fight the dragon.
       
Weapons escalate in damage and cost.
    
The combats are with a variety of oddly-named denizens specific to your level. At Level 1, I faced small thieves, wild boars, large mosquitos, old men, evil wretches, large green rats, and Bran the Warrior. It took me about 34 battles to rise to Level 2, so I had to do it in two sessions. In combat, your only options are to attack, run, and use an ability specific to your class--in my case, a "Death Knight attack." This special ability has limited charges.
     
Trading blows with an old man.
        
If this was all there was to the game, it wouldn't be so fondly remembered. There are two other factors that enhance the gameplay experience: random encounters and social interaction. Random encounters come along as you transition between areas or roam the forest looking for fights. My understanding is that they can be swapped in and out by the host so that users always have fresh encounters when they play. A few that I got in my sessions included:
    
  • A "strange wailing noise" brought me to a cave, where I literally stumbled over the disembodied head of a beautiful young woman named Olivia. I started to learn her story over multiple repeated encounters, all of which (annoyingly) ended with my character declaring he was bored with her story and leaving. At first, I thought her story would continue from one encounter to the next, but instead it seems that each encounter just has her starting the story again, accusing a different person each time.
         
I wasn't bored at all.
     
  • I met a confused old man who asked if I would help him go back to the inn. I agreed. He gave me 500 gold and my "Charm" ability went up by 1 point. 
  • An old man ran up and whacked me with a "pretty stick," somehow giving me 5 "Charm." Later, the same old man would appear, hit me, and cause me to lose charm.
       
I mean, I'll take it. But why?
        
  • My journey was interrupted by the sound of fairies squealing in delight. I followed their voices and found them bathing. I had options to ask for a blessing or try to catch one. I chose the former, and they gave me a horse. With the horse, I was able to ride to a second tavern, deep in the woods. Later, an evil hobbit threw a "death crystal" at me during a combat, and the horse jumped in the way, taking the hit and vaporizing. A few encounters later, I got a white stallion from another group of fairies, but it was also killed by a death crystal. I've never had an enemy throw a death crystal at me when I didn't have a horse to save me, so I assume that's just a way of periodically depriving you of your horse.
  • My horse stumbled over a dead bird. The bird had a scroll case tied to its leg, with a  note from a princess locked up in a castle. She didn't say what castle, so I had to choose from a list of five possibilities: Castle Coldrake, Fortress Liddux, Gannon Keep, Penyon Manor, and Dema's Lair. (This is the same list that populates Olivia's stories about her background.) I chose one at random, stormed it, fought my way through the guards (this is all relayed by text), and found a half-troll locked in a chest. The half troll proceeded to sexually violate me. Later, in the exact same type of encounter, the process was repeated, only this time the final room of the castle had two sisters who were not at all being held against their will, and I had just slain their father in my efforts to reach them.
     
Oops.
     
  • I found the castle of the Black Knights. They said they'd teach me a lesson, but only if I passed a test. They presented me with a man kneeling with a head on a chopping block and asked if he was innocent or guilty. With nothing else to go on, I choose "innocent." They said I was wise and increased my attack ability. Later, though, I got the same encounter and was apparently wrong ("That man raped 6 women. And you defend him?"), so it must just be random.
  • I followed the voices of angels singing and found two gems. Sometimes encounters ask you to pay in gems. For instance, there's a hag that occasionally shows up in the forest asking for gems for healing.
  • Wandering through the forest, I found a "Hammer Stone." My attack strength increased.

The other memorable aspect is supposedly the social interaction, which has been limited for me because there haven't been many people around while I was playing. Multiplayer options occur in a variety of ways:
    
  • The inn's bar serves as a kind of chat room where you can exchange one-line messages with other players.
       
A chat log from the bar.
     
  • There's a built-in email system by which you can send longer messages to players.
  • You can check the "Daily Happenings," which recounts all of the PvP battles and their outcomes. There are a lot of these per day despite no one ever being around when I was playing, so I suspect some group of users has a particular time that they meet. You can also make announcements that appear in this log.
        
In this game, "got laid by" could mean a couple of things.
     
  • There are supposedly ways that you can have your characters flirt with, have sex with, and marry other player's characters, for various bonuses or negatives (including a possibility of STDs), but I'm not sure where that takes place or how.
      
The inn also has a couple of single-player features. The first is the ability to listen to a song by the bard, Seth Able. You can do this once per day and get some benefits, such as extra maximum hit points or extra forest fights for the day. The second is to flirt with the waitress, Violet. Success gives you experience points. The third is to rent a room, which costs a lot of money but (supposedly) protects you from PvP battles while you're offline. I learned to my detriment that the room costs money every time you access it, not every day you play the game, so you really want to get everything done in one session. If you log in a second time, you have to pay for the room again with no ability to make more money.

Listening to the song. I wonder if it's autobiographical.
       
The most important player interaction is probably the ability to fight each other in the game. If I understand things right, you can fight "real-time" duels with players online at the same time or you can "slaughter" characters whose players are offline but have neglected to store the characters safely in the inn (which admittedly costs money) before signing off. During my first two days with the game, I was too nervous to do such a thing, but on the third day, I decided to give it a try. When I chose the option, the only two characters "in the field" were myself and a fellow Level 3 character with the classy name of "futtbucker." He was armed only with a stick to my short sword, so I figured I had a good chance.
   
I killed him in a couple of combat rounds. When you slay another character, you get to make a pithy statement. I wanted to go with "That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, Bingo," but that exceeded the character limit. As I noted in my real message, that was the first time I've ever killed a stranger's character in any online game. 
       
I have a taste for it now.
      
I experienced the other type of combat on Day 4, when a user named "Killer Bunz" challenged me to a duel while I was looking for enemies in the forest. She had the same level and weapon that I did, so I hesitated, but ultimately accepted, thinking it would be funny if I bookended my first online kill with my first online death. Alas, the first two rounds went poorly for her, and she ran away, leaving the server before I could even initiate a chat.
      
My first round with Killer Bunz, before she fled.
     
Other notes:
    
  • You can deposit money in the bank for 10% per day interest. That's a pretty good deal.
  • Graphics are minimal, but as you can see, the game makes good use of fonts, color, and emphasis.
       
A rare graphic.
      
As I prepared this entry for publication, I had played four sessions. On my first, I just learned the interface and made enough gold to trade my starting stick for a dagger. On my second, I reached Level 2, bought a heavy coat to replace my regular coat and a short sword to replace my dagger.
       
Leveling up by defeating the arena master.
       
Day 3 was momentous. I got most of the special encounters above on this day, killed "futtbucker," leveled up twice, and bought Level 3 weapons and armor. On Day 4, after fighting the forest battles, I was able to upgrade to Level 4 weapons and armor (long sword and bronze armor), got to third base with Violet, and fought off the cowardly Killer Bunz.
   
I ended Day 4 with 2.711 experience points at Level 4, making me one of the lowest-ranked players on the server. The top player, "HannibalLecher," has 220,376,608 experience points, although he's dead. The top living player, "Snort," has 189,790,778. The lowest Level 12 player has over 2 million. So I had a long way to go. Alas, just as I was about to schedule this entry for publication, I checked in one last time and found that someone named "MischiefTMaker" had broken into my room at the inn and killed me. I don't even know how that's possible.
           
Player rankings. I have a long way to go.
     
When I logged in in Day 5, however, I learned that death is not permanent. I guess it just takes you out of the game for that day. Logging in again resurrected the character, and I was able to get up to character Level 5 and buy Level 5 weapons and armor.
      
I'll keep working at it, hoping to kill the dragon. In the meantime, I'd appreciate your advice in getting the most out of the game. I admit I don't hate the idea of enforced time limits; they actually keep a relatively basic game from getting too boring. Maybe I should self-enforce 45 minute limits for some of the other games that I play.
     
Time so far: 4 hours

85 comments:

  1. AlphabeticalAnonymousApril 3, 2024 at 12:59 PM

    On the one hand, it sounds like a fairly simple game overall. On the other hand, several of those random encounters made me burst out laughing. On the other other hand, it felt from the description that this game features notably higher levels of sexual violence than most RPGs.

    Does the game or website provide any insight as to how the various attributes (charm, strength, etc.) are used?

    Thanks for another interesting find.

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    1. I had an encounter today in which my character demanded sex after saving the princess, so yeah, it gets a little icky--like something a 14-year-old boy would write. On the other hand, I find it hard to get too worked up about something conveyed only in text.

      I assume charm is used in some of the "seductive" encounters (e.g., Viola the barmaid) and strength plays a role in combat. But the documentation overall is pretty scant.

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    2. Wait, AA, where did that third hand come from?

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    3. What, you don't have six of them? Weird.

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    4. The language is lively at least. Even visceral (literally so in the case of Old Man.)

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  2. Re: self-enforced play time limits

    I feel the opposite way, when I don't have at least two hours of leisure time ahead of me, I won't even start up most of the current or older rpg's. I like to play in self-declared chapters, if that makes sense, I need a dungeon cleared, a quest finished, or a plot resolved before turning it off again. And I want to immerse myself in the game world, take my time, smell the flowers, instead of looking at my watch.

    All of this applies specifically to the rpg genre, while a puzzle game is probably best enjoyed in short bursts over a longer timeframe. Any opinions?

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    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousApril 3, 2024 at 3:32 PM

      My two-hour stretches of uninterrupted leisure time are few and far between these days! As they say, "Beggars can't be choosers" -- so I have to take what time I can get. But in the limit of infinite available time, I agree that I'd rather have a 1-2 hour spell than several 20 minute chunks.

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    2. Yeah, even though I wrote what I wrote, I agree with BESTIE. I usually want long, uninterrupted blocks of time in which I can immerse myself if the game is capable of supporting that. The time limit works on a game like this, though. Kind of like one Wordle per day seems too little but unlimited Wordle would ruin it.

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    3. Also, it evens things out so that the top players aren't just the unemployed ones.

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    4. I can't speak for all BBS games, but my memory (if it's correct) is that most of the ones I played only allowed one player at a time. So a time limit was important just so that everyone could their turn in for the day. It was common to log in, see someone else was playing, and wait for them to be done.

      This also limited player interaction because you would always be the only active player. That said, it was a shared world, so you could maybe find the other player's base and attack it, or leave traps for other players, or put equipment up for sale that other players might purchase from you. But it was mostly a race to see who could get the farthest in the daily turns that were given.

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    5. Wordle is the perfect example for how puzzle games are different.

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    6. I wonder how the "challenging to a duel" thing worked on the original BBS. Maybe it wasn't even a feature.

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    7. As an ex BBS user, I'll confirm that the time limited aspects of these games (including Trade Wars, Usurper and many others) were very much due to line availability. You could set amounts under the hood off of your own bat (e.g. you could set higher encounter limits in LORD), it just depended on how busy your BBS was generally speaking.

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    8. It would get pretty nasty when the time reset (e.g., midnight) and all of the players would be dialing into the BBS at the same time with the hopes of getting first stab (pun intended). Many late nights re-dialing, over and over. (This was especially true for any game with player-versus-player like Trade Wars 2002).

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    9. Not so different from a modern free to play game that gives you limited time bursts. I played Triple Town to death in 150-turn sessions, though admittedly that is a puzzle game. I think I could cope with a suitable RPG in that mode too.

      While I've never played a FTP roguelike deckbuilder, I often have one going (currently Fights in Tight Spaces) and jump in periodically for a 5-10 minute battle.

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    10. Frankly, I've usually found that if I feel like a game needs an hour or more out of me in a session, it's going to be a drag to play. This is in contrast to other games in which it may be preferable, but you have to option to leave at any time. At that point, it's less like a fun thing I'm doing and more like an obligation to deal with.

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  3. It's interesting how some of this feels VERY familiar (the old man with the pretty/ugly stick, the PvP combat, Seth Able the Bard) and some feels totally unfamiliar. I played LORD in 1994 and 1995, and not after that I don't think, so I'm sure a lot of this content postdates my time with the game.

    I seem to remember that one of the biggest quests was going to bed with...who was it? I don't remember her name, but at the time it seemed like the end goal of the game, so the quasi-erotic content was always prominent. Memories of this and Leather Goddesses of Phobos are getting mixed up in my head, though, I'm sure.

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  4. I had only heard of LoRD in relation to Seth Robinson's next game, Zelda-clone (and enough of an RPG for this blog) Dink Smallwood from 1998. It's actually not too bad and still has a mod community to this day although it's definitely not as active as it was in the late 90s.

    It's kinda shocking to find out that he was only 14 when starting LoRD, but I do wonder how much simpler those early versions were.

    Archive.org has 4.02a which does seem to be playable totally offline in DOSBox; just run start.bat. I don't know if that was a special version, but it seem to adhere to the same limitations like the fight limit. There's also 3.02 but that seems to actually need to be run as BBS software.

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    1. I forgot to mention that 4.02a is even playable in the Javascript-based DOSBox Archive.org uses with your state being saved across uses as long as you don't clear the browser cache. Obviously there's none of the even minimal multiplayer elements, but it could be a good way to compare against a relatively similar official version.

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    2. I've been playing the DOS version in parallel, just so I can claim a win against the dragon eventually in case my online character never makes it, and aside from the lack of other players, I can't see any difference.

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    3. Seth Robinson's sense of humour didn't really evolve over that decade, did it?

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    4. Huh! I got into Dink Smallwood for a bit around 2000, and was a LoRD player around '95 or so, but I completely overlooked the connection between the two.

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    5. @P-Tux7, Dink Smallwood is a goofy game and weirdly gory at times, but aside from the title, it's much more restrained than what depicted of LoRD here and what I've seen of it myself.

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    6. I played Dink Smallwood in 2007 or so, since it was a free game I could play on my laptop while in university. It was...fine(tm). I don't think I got very far.

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  5. >Later, the same old man would appear, hit me, and cause me to lose charm.

    Anyone else remembering Shadow Warrior? "Someone beat you with ugly stick!"

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  7. So am I just an idiot, or does the description of the high-score table not match the screenshot of that table at all?

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    1. No, you're right. I took the screenshot a couple of days earlier than what I described in the paragraph. The screenshot is just meant to give you an idea of what the high score table looks like. It obviously changes from day to day.

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  8. Interesting, the whole subject of "remote gaming with others before the internet" seems to have a history of its own. I remember "play-by-e-mail" games that sounded much like they would technically fit in most RPG criterias. Except they were not very interactive, you had to send your commands to a host via e-mail which you also had to pay for and would receive your turn result via e-mail. Wikipedia days that this is only a variant of play-by-(physical-)mail which was apparantly a big thing before the internet and some of these are still played today.

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    1. Yeah a lotta old turn based strategy games had the play by email feature back in the day don't think those went away until the very late 90's I think...maybe later.

      Though honestly like the chess by mail games.....I bet that a lot of strategy games kept theirs for longer due to players liking time to consider their moves.

      Note: When I say "strategy game" I do not mean real -time strategy games.

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    2. Play-by-email is still a thing, IIRC, the latest Civilization and Dominions titles still have it, dunno about anything else. If you're making a turn-based strategy game, there's not really any reason not to have it.

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    3. It’s also used for things like playing Diplomacy online

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    4. Play-By-Mail was great. Lots of different types, from sports management, Interactive Fiction, to Stratgy Games. Hand or computer moderated, or a mix.

      I can dig people playing PLATO games before Internet, and MUDs later, but playing a simple game like this one through a BBS seems pointless. I mean, all the other alternatives are so much better.

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  9. Some pretty neat splashes of colour in the game (like the dead pigeon with the scroll case). I just wish some of your encounters gave you a few clues on which to make a deduction rather than simply guess. The time limit is certainly a great idea to keep the game engaging!

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  10. I was fortunate enough to be around at the tag-end (1989-1992ish) of the BBS era. I remember playing a few Door games (only a very few sites in my area hosted them), but not Red Dragon.

    Some local programmers released a Door RPG in about 1990. I do not remember the title, only that it was terribly bug-ridden and the licensing terms for potential purchasers were very one-sided. I only ever saw it on the test BBS.

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  11. Has there been a single other game on this blog that lets you play as a "death knight"? That's awesome.

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    1. ...perhaps Death Knights of Krynn? :P

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    2. Ah...no. Very no. The titular Death Knights there were the antagonists (in particular Lord Soth).

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  12. That is ANSI art, which is just extended ASCII with some colour thrown in

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  13. Further to your comment: "The way I understand it, BBS door games installed a host application on the user's computer and kept the amount of data exchanged during connections to a minimum. "

    This is was not typically the case, and were mostly optional. Games like LoRD would simply present the text on screen, so there wasn't much data to transmit (though could be ridiculously slow at something like 2400 baud). However, there were far more complex games that could use "front ends", including some that had VGA/SVGA graphics that would be stored on the user's computer (e.g., Land of Devastation which can be found at http://www.landofdev.com/classic/). A good multipart series on front ends can be found here: https://breakintochat.com/blog/2020/09/09/a-different-way-to-play-front-ends/

    And while I'm at it, I highly recommend The BBS Documentary by Jason Scott. It's older now (2005), but it did a great job encapsulating the BBS communities at the time. I believe it's free on Archive.org but the official website is here: http://www.bbsdocumentary.com/

    I was never the biggest LoRD fan due to its simplicity and crude humour, but I'm very happy to read your review of it :-)

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  14. I have a soft spot for proto/early internet stuff, probably influenced by being too young to have actually suffered the reality of the era. I can't say I have too much specific knowledge on BBSes though, although I've been meaning to poke around some of the ones that have stuck around

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  15. By the way, I heard you liked the TI-99/4a CRPGs, so someone made a new one for you! And no, this is not an April Fools' Day joke.

    https://www.gog.com/en/game/realms_of_antiquity_the_shattered_crown

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  16. My parents weren't happy about the long distance phone charges, but I simply had to play it. Every minute a very guilty pleasure, but I loved it back then. Looking at the review now, I do wonder why, to be honest. But I think the basic gameplay loop is really well done and engaging, especially due to the time limit.

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  17. Wow, I had totally forgotten about this game -- in high school a friend of mine had set up a BBS to host games like this. My memory is pretty hazy but I know that there was some other LoRD-like game that we played instead; he had LoRD on the system but everyone thought it was inferior to whatever we were playing. The social aspect was definitely the best part since we would talk at school about our characters.

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    1. Usurper was the game we played in preference to LoRD.

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  18. I played *so* much LORD as a youngin’ and even set it up (with a bootlegged license) and ran it on my own BBS. Seth at first released the structures of the data files to allow customizations, then added the ability to write IGMs (in game modules) so that people could easily add new encounters and customizations. A popular one (locally at least) punished players who stayed at level 12 without killing the dragon (which resets your character to level 1 while increasing the number of dragon kills for you on the scoreboard.)

    The time limit is two-fold, a BBS had to have one physical phone line per simultaneous user so you had to limit how long users were online so nobody would hog the system. The turn limit goes along with the simplicity - to force you to return to the BBS everyday to keep playing.

    You’d normally dial up the bbs, check your messages and write your outgoing ones, browse for new files, then play your daily set of games before logging out and returning to do it the next day. The comparison to Facebook games is extremely apt, except for not being able to buy more turns with real money (thank goodness.)

    It’s possible to setup and run the older versions, but for your experience it’s not too important. The version you’re playing captures the essence of the game pretty well, sans the number of active players. (Some IGMs would add NPC players to keep things interesting.)

    There’s also some secrets in the game, which typically involve pressing keys at different points. There was a version of the game that supported graphical clients, so it’s a relic of that where clicking on certain elements would send a given, otherwise unlabeled, keystroke to the game.

    Juvyr va gur sberfg, gel glcvat ‘wraavr’ (nf va Wraavr Tnegu, n jbzna nal 14 lrne byq obl va gur 90’f jbhyq or snzvyvne jvgu.)

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    1. I played a bunch of Land of Devastation. I'm not sure how much this blog wants to get sidetracked with BBS Door games, but I think it's as much of an RPG as Operation Overkill? I guess you didn't finish that one, so maybe forget I brought it up.

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  19. Interesting -- I posted a two-paragraph comment yesterday but it's vanished into the ether. Addict, any sign of it in the moderation queue?

    (It wasn't anything of great significance -- mainly just noting that I played the game in 1994/1995 and I definitely remember some of these things and not others.)

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    1. The notes above the comment forum note that sometimes Blogger just eats comments. Copy anything you wouldn't want to retype to the clipboard before you post!

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    2. Yeah, I've encountered that before. Ultimately it reappeared, and I'm wondering whether using a word that shares roughly the same pronunciation as "a raw tick" was the issue and got it stuck in moderation. (I'd call "a word that shares...the same pronunciation" by its formal name, but that contains another string that might get me stuck in moderation!)

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    3. Blogger's spam filter is mysterious. It lets obvious spam through but sometimes decides to flag comments that I've already approved. I go and clean things out every few days.

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  20. I played far too much of this game back in the BBS days, but mostly because the only two real choices I had were between this and Solar Realms Elite. It was amusing enough to spend a few minutes on each day, though the juvenileness of the writing grated pretty quickly. It's nice to see it's been preserved, though, as so many things from that era just simply vanished into the abyss.

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  21. Re someone breaking into your room at the inn and killing you: in a comment quite long ago, 'CCG_Cncfreak' mentioned that (I'm ROT13ing just in case this is considered spoilery)"rira gubhtu lbh obhtug n ebbz sebz gur vaa naq frggyrq va sbe gur avtug, fbzrbar pbhyq fgvyy cnl bss gur vaaxrrcre naq ohfg vagb lbhe ebbz naq punyyratr lbh." This is confirmed e.g. by a FAQ on gamefaqs (for v3.26a, but seems to still hold true).

    Regarding the consequences of dying, again based on the aforementioned FAQ for an earlier version, besides being out of the game for the day, lbh ybfr gra cre prag bs lbhe rkcrevrapr, gur tbyq lbh ner pneelvat, naq vs nabgure hfre xvyyf lbh, (ohg abg lbh orvat xvyyrq va frys-qrsrapr ol gur hfre lbh jrer nggnpxvat) lbhe trzf.

    There seem to be a couple more (hidden) features or easter eggs, but I assume without spoilers (mouth to mouth information spreading back in the day I suppose), some of those would be difficult to guess unless you experiment extensively (as many kids with lots of time on their hands and few other options what to play back then surely did).

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  22. "probably the most famous game from the "BBS door" era"

    I warrant Trade Wars edges it out slightly, but it was definitely top 3.

    "MobyGames catalogs nine total BBS door RPGs (and 31 total BBS door games), although there were almost certainly more"

    A lot of this was my handiwork, but if my life hadn't picked up I could still be documenting them today. There were thousands of these out there, most of which were duds and never saw gameplay outside their local area code (or even their SysOp's home BBS). Mobygames represents just the tip of the iceberg, but the undocumented majority of the corpus of BBS door games is massive. An enterprising would-be blogger looking for an unlit niche could keep themselves busy for a lifetime there. There are a few telnet BBSes in operation out there running game servers featuring literally thousands of games, to the point where simply displaying them all on a menu is a logistical challenge.

    A handful of door games (LoD, The Pit, VGA Planets) had dedicated multimedia client applications, but they were by far in the minority. For most of us the games looked and played as roguelikes, multiple-choice text adventures or exercises in text-box menu selection. (In this case, the game offered bonus graphics to players using a RIPscrip terminal for vector graphics.)

    Your observations about the limited nature of the gameplay are right on -- these games were just a way of baking in a quick dopamine hit while you were connected to a system on other business, attracting you back with its simple grindy loop to make a nominal connection on a daily basis. Stripped of their context, they almost don't make sense on a gameplay basis. People actually _played_ these? Yes, it had a little more going for it than the BBS Blackjack door did.

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  23. I played a clone of this in the mid to late 00s in my browser. Browser games were all the rage back then, and a lot of old BBS games were ported to more modern browser versions during that time, including this one. It was a decent way to waste some time, albeit nothing special.

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  24. > The way I understand it, BBS door games installed a host application on the user's computer and kept the amount of data exchanged during connections to a minimum.

    With *very* few exceptions, the player never installed any game specific software on their own computer. Instead everything happens on the BBS host computer and all the text the user sees is sent from the host over the modem.

    I wrote a BBS door game when I was a teen. The BBS program (WWIV, Wildcat, PCBoard, etc) answered the modem and provided most of the BBS functions. Door programs were extensions installed into the BBS. When the user launched a 'door', the BBS program would load the game from disk and execute it, handing the modem connection over to the door program. The BBS would also provide the door program with the users identity, minutes of connection time remaining, and a few other bits of data. When the door program exited (user selected the exit option, the modem hung up, or the user ran out of time), control was returned to the BBS program.

    My recollection is that the majority of all the popular door titles had RPG elements (if Starflight and Star Control II are RPG's, then so is Tradewars, The Pit, Land of Devastation). Since only one user could play at a time, and only few a few minutes a day, there was no real-time user interaction. In effect each user became a NPC while off-line.

    I had a habit of downloading door games, reverse engineering them, finding game exploits, and using the exploits to get an advantage.
    - Land of Devastation: Build a fortress with a teleporter and set the 'price' to a large negative number. Have a friend 'use' the teleported for free cash.
    - Several: Figure out the random number generator algorithm, and make a ton of money using built-in gambling games
    - The house cheats in the Tradewars gambling game found in the bar.

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    1. Heh, I remember playing this obscure and pretty simple door game where each player controlled a gang and you needed to buy and sell drugs to raise money to hire more members and buy better weapons so you could claim turf.

      In practice you had like 100 turns per day and most of the game was spending a turn to move to a new square and spending a turn to sell drugs. Then you'd need to repeat because you couldn't sell twice on the same space.

      I figured out that if you were on the edge of the map you could try to move off the edge and get a message that you couldn't, but it would reset the square so you could sell again. So in effect, instead of selling 50 times per day I could sell 100 times per day and double my income.

      I had a fun week or so dominating the game while no one else could figure out how I was outpacing everyone.

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    2. So, when I download the "DOS version" of this game, it comes with about 1 MB of files. Are you saying this was all server-side in the original? If so, why did the OS even make a difference?

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    3. Yes, it was all server-side. As far as I know, you just needed a terminal program and a computer that could render the ANSI character set.

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    4. It wouldn't matter what OS the player had, but if you had a BBS running on an Amiga, you couldn't install DOS door games on it.

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    5. Many of the door games allowed the system operator to play the game 'locally' without having to dial into their own computer. There is a good chance that is what you are seeing (the door game running standalone locally without a BBS or modem connection).

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    6. Yes, the version you probably got is the DOS server version which is configured for a local logon. You can even emulate multiple players (not in parallel afaik) by logging on with different user names.
      It's also the registered version, which is necessary if you want to kill the red dragon.

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    7. I guess what I"m asking is, if nothing was installed on the client, did it matter what computer he was using? In other words, was the "Amiga version" versus the "DOS version" just for the person running the BBS?

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    8. Yes it was, in the same sense that whether a webserver runs on Linux or Windows has no impact on the people viewing the website.

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    9. @CRPGAddict: no, across a modem connection, OS does not matter

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  25. I wonder if it's normal for someone to break into your room EVERY NIGHT and kill you, or whether that's the community's way of telling me I'm not welcome.

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    1. Almost everyone in every realm is dead so I'm going with 100% normal. The Mist Realm doesn't have that status listed so maybe that one doesn't all for it.

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    2. It’s nothing personal. It’s just one of the last things you do when you’re finishing up your turn for the day because you get some XP for it and you do it last because it has a high risk of getting you killed instead.

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    3. I wonder if it's normal for someone to break into your room EVERY NIGHT and kill you, or whether that's the community's way of telling me I'm not welcome.

      How unfortunate that the one person whose commentary would (presumably) be most expert, Kenny McCormick, isn't in this comment thread!

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    4. I've started doing it myself, since if you're inevitably going to die at night anyway, you might as well do it on your own terms.

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  26. In case anyone wanted a slightly more technical explanation of how BBS's worked, assuming you know nothing about it:

    "Dumb" teletype terminals (TTY) were used in academic and corporate settings to use a central mainframe. The communication was just bits in and bits out, and often were dialed into with a modem, just the same way people later connected to BBSs. The terminals were "dumb" because all the computation happened on the other side, they just sent and received text bytes.

    ASCII data was sent to the terminal, and it physically printed it out onto paper. ASCII included some terminal control characters like Carriage Return (CR, 13, 0x0D), which returned the print head to the beginning of the line, and Line Feed (LF, 10, 0x0A), which advanced the paper by one line. This would be sufficient to play, say, a text adventure.

    Then, when we had dumb CRT terminals, we could do more things, like clear the screen, position the cursor on the screen, and add color. It was the wild west, and different terminal makes and models had different code sequences for these, and the remote hosts had to know what kind of terminal it was talking to to send the right codes. This would be enough to play a game like nethack.

    VT100 is a Virtual Terminal set of codes that was widely compatible. ANSI X3.64 is a different set of codes to do the same thing... not just color but terminal movements as well.

    And then when people got smart computers, we had terminal EMULATORS that would interpret those codes and emulate the (dumb) terminal's behavior. So, there was client software that had to run to talk to a BBS, but it was just the terminal emulation software.

    As mentioned by others there were more specialized clients for door games and just BBSs in general (e.g. RIPTerm), but they were in the later years of BBSs, not too long before they were obviated by real Internet connectivity...

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    1. Yeah, the only case I can think of where the user's OS could be a problem is RIPscript, which is a kind of graphical markup language for BBSes, and was tightly coupled to Borland's DOS graphics libraries, but hardly any BBSes and fewer door games supported RIP.

      A fun fact about those dumb terminals is that the early ones were so dumb that they didn't have any memory at all, which meant that the only way they could "hold" the data being used to display an image on the CRT was by leveraging the fact that it took a certain amount of time for a signal to travel down a wire. As each bit came out the end of the wire, it would send it to the screen, then write it back to the other end of the wire. The 80x24 character resolution that ended up being the standard for terminal screens is derived from the number of characters you can transmit down 50 feet of nickel wire in the same length of time it takes the electron gun in the CRT to trace over the entire screen.

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    2. Well, if you want to get truly pedantic — and I do — there could be some theoretical OS or hardware differences that could get in the way.

      For example, early IBM mainframes used EBCDIC issued of ASCII. If you got one when expecting the other, you would end up with garbage...

      If you used extended ASCII, like all the lines and shapes that NetHack used, then your client might only see the bottom 7 bits of each character, and you'd end up with garbage...

      Another problem with Extended ASCII could be if the terminal client was in a different code page, then the extended ASCII characters would end up as... garbage.

      In practice, EBCDIC died an early and deserved death, so it didn't really come up in the BBS era that I'm aware. And the default on at least all the DOS machines in the US was the same extended ASCII character set.

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    3. Correction: EBCDIC instead of ASCII

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    4. EBCDIC lived on for a long time on mainframe systems, well into the 2000s. But mainframes were very expensive machines run at big corporations, which were unlikely to host a BBS system. Thus BBS and mainframes/EBCDIC probably never came into contact, though I only experienced the tail end of the mainframe world and little of BBSes, so I can't say for sure.

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    5. I did a lot of BBSing starting in, oh, 1989 or so? But my mainframe knowledge is admittedly academic. I was precocious but not that precocious. I guess BCD (Binary-Coded Decimal) was still a thing in 2000 or else we wouldn't have had the Y2K problem... I expected the communication would still all be ASCII, for some reason, even if dates were BCD.

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    6. Y2K had little to do with the character encoding, but rather the fact that programmers only used two characters to store the year information in order so save memory. If anything, it had more to do with COBOL-like languages and the storage of dates as fixed-length strings, but it's not really tied to COBOL.

      Many coorporations still bought new mainframes in the 90s as they needed the high availability features that were not that easy to replicate on Unix servers with standard hardware. Many of those were still running well into the 2000s and 2010s, though Linux, better networking and the cloud eventually killed most of them. They never went away completely, though.

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    7. I guess storing a date as two ASCII characters has the same problem as storing them as two BCD digits, I just always assumed it was the latter.

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    8. A bank recently got into trouble for still using EBCDIC encoding, as they can't properly encode many users names, and a right to have your name written properly is enshrined in law in the EU.

      No one is crying for the bank, which specked out a database using this coding in 1995, long after it was considered reasonable to use, and has been using ever since.

      https://shkspr.mobi/blog/2021/10/ebcdic-is-incompatible-with-gdpr/

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    9. If you were using EBCDIC in 1995, I'd be worried about safety; there's going to be a huge surface area for "Anything we interface with is expecting ASCII, so our input is out-of-spec or meaningless" errors.

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    10. BCD was mostly used for money, not dates. It has some advantages over using floating-point math when working with values in dollars and cents.
      The one thing it's still occasionally used for today is driving hardware numeric displays. I actually built a clock a few years ago using BCD chips to drive 7-segment LEDs.

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  27. Yes, Legend of the Red Dragon was big, and available on many BBSes in Australia in the 1990s. Another big BBS RPG was The Pit (1990), which was a single screen roguelike game consisting of battles in an arena. It allowed you to build up your character and battle other people's characters (perhaps only controlled by AI when they weren't logged in). It is a quick game — much simpler than other roguelikes.

    But the one that I captures my imagination is Arrowbridge (1991). It was a deeper roguelike where you could wander the overland map or delve into dungeons. You could capture castles, raise armies, even design your castle's flag. I only got to play it a few times so am full of dreams of what it might have held. Apparently it has a sequel (Arrowbridge 2) where you control a party of 4 with Ultima-style combat -- though from a YouTube playthrough it seems that predictably bogged down the gameplay.

    You could think of this strange early-1990s BBS RPG set of games as a unique time and place of experimentation, along the lines of the PLATO games. Technical limitations (requiring just text-interfaces) meant that we were thrown back to the 1970s in some ways, but with sensibilities we'd learnt since then, and with the excitement of playing against other real people.

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  28. Thanks for covering this one Chet; I've been curious about it for a while, as when I was searching for free games to play in high school and early university, I kept coming across one or more open-source remakes of this game in free game lists. I didn't pay much attention to it, since it was multiplayer, but it did have a cool name that has stuck in my mind ever since.

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