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Book Extract: Dungeons and Desktops: 'The Silver Age'
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Book Extract: Dungeons and Desktops: 'The Silver Age'

May 26, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 9 of 14 Next

Other Highlights of the Silver Age

Although Ultima and Wizardry are by far the most popular and well- known CRPGs of the era, there are at least five other games that are either influential or innovative enough to deserve mention. These are Telengard, The Sword of Fargoal, Tunnels of Doom, Dungeons of Daggorath, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Universe.

Telengard and DND

Perhaps the most historically interesting of these games is Daniel Lawrence's Telengard, published by Avalon Hill in 1982 for the Commodore PET (ports for other systems, including the Commodore 64, quickly followed). If nothing else, it's an enlightening study of how commercial imperatives were undermining the older mainframe policies of openness and free distribution. In the case of Telengard, this shift would result in a legal morass.

Telengard was based on a 1976 game entitled DND that Lawrence had programmed in BASIC on a PDP-10 mainframe. DND was quite a success at Purdue University, where Lawrence was a student. Later, Lawrence was invited by the engineers at DEC's factory in Maynard, Massachusetts, to port the game to the new DECSystem-20. The engineers were big fans of the game and distributed it widely.

At some point in 1978, Lawrence ported the game to the Commodore PET, implementing a clever procedure to generate dungeons on the fly. This was necessary because of the PET's extreme memory limitations (8K of RAM!). He shopped the game around at conventions, finally impressing the famous tabletop wargaming publisher, Avalon Hill, enough to secure a contract. By this time, the game had become known as Telengard, no doubt to avoid possible litigation with TSR over its trademarks and copyrights.

The publication of Telengard meant that Lawrence no longer had the desire to see the engineers at DEC freely distributing DND. After a brief period of legal wrangling, DEC had the game purged from its servers.

It's not entirely clear if the pressure to do so was coming from Lawrence, Avalon Hill, or TSR, but likely it was simply a common sense decision to avoid litigation from any of them. Unfortunately for Lawrence, DEC didn't move fast enough to keep his code from ending up in the hands of "Bill," a programmer who formed R.O. Software to distribute a $25 shareware version of DND that he released in 1984.

The game was successful enough to attract Lawrence's attention; he saw it as unfair competition and did what he could to prevent its distribution. For his part, Bill claimed that he had done enough work cleaning up the "spaghetti code" of the original game that he had in fact created a new product. In any case, Bill updated the game and rereleased it as Dungeon of the Necromancer's Domain in 1988, which he claimed was a "ground-up rewrite" in an effort to avoid future conflict with Lawrence.

As for Telengard itself, the game introduced several innovations that were much ahead of their time. For instance, it offered procedurally generated dungeons, which essentially meant that no two games would play alike (for this reason, the game is often compared to the mainframe classic Rogue).

It also meant that these dungeons occupied very little of the computer's memory. This trick allowed Telengard to offer gamers "50 levels with 2 million rooms" at a time when other developers were bragging about ten. We'll see this technique in Blizzard's Diablo (1997). Telengard is also set in real-time, so that gamers taking a bathroom break might very well find their character dead upon their return.

Telengard features 20 different monster types and 36 spells, as well as fountains, thrones, altars, and teleportation cubes that produce random effects on the character. However, the game lacks a storyline; it's a pure dungeon crawler with "hack 'n slash" style gameplay. Anyone wanting to experience the game today may want to check out Travis Baldree's Telengard remake for Windows. Daniel Lawrence has also made the IBM PC version freely available from his own website.

Article Start Previous Page 9 of 14 Next

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