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The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part 1: The Early Years (1980-1983)
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The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part 1: The Early Years (1980-1983)

February 23, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5


There are at least four other games that make up the Silver Age of CRPGs. These include Telengard, The Sword of Fargoal, Tunnels of Doom, and Dungeons of Daggorath. While these games are perhaps not as well known as the above mentioned series, they are nevertheless significant and deserve our attention.

The first of these, Daniel Lawrence's Telengard, was released by Avalon Hill in 1982 for the Commodore PET (though quickly ported to many other platforms, most popularly the C-64). Telengard was directly inspired by the PLATO dnd game mentioned above, with minimal graphics and randomized dungeons. The game contains many features that were repeated in many later games, such as fountains, thrones, altars, and teleportation cubes, all of which characters could interact with (with random and occasionally quite nasty results). The game is also set in real-time (players who take a bathroom break during their game will likely find their character dead when they return!). One of the game's key selling points was its huge dungeon (50 levels with 2 million rooms!), 20 different monster types, and 36 spells. The author claims that his game "predates" most of the early computer "adventure games, including Temple of Apshai and the Wizardry series." Again, it's very difficult to ascertain precise dates here, but it's hard to see how a game published in 1982 could have influenced games published years earlier--assuming these dates are anywhere close to accurate. It's more likely that Daniel's mainframe conversions of the aforementioned dnd, which he called DND, may have been played by contemporary developers. Regardless, Telengard is a fine game that still enjoys considerable appreciation today.

Perhaps SSI and Lord British and all the others already know how to create such a fantasy. But if they ever did publish a game in which we weren't always concentrating on the details of housekeeping, maybe we'd notice the fact that nobody in this whole genre has thought of a new idea since 1951 -- Orson Scott Card, from COMPUTE! ISSUE 115 / DECEMBER 1989 / PAGE 92

Telengard is about as close to a pure "dungeon crawler" as you can get. There are no ultimate quests or missions; the focus is entirely on survival and gaining enough experience to improve your character. Jeff McCord's The Sword of Fargoal, released in 1982 for the Commodore VIC-20 (the more familiar C-64 version followed in 1983), shares many of Telengard's features, but restores the quest--this time, to descend into a dungeon, retrieve the eponymous blade, and escape. To my mind, it's one of the more accessible and playable of the early CRPGs. Since I reviewed the game in some detail in an earlier article, I'll focus here on what makes the game significant amidst all this competition. One nice feature is the "fog of war" effect, which essentially amounts to an auto-mapping feature. Although the game is set in third-person, top-down perspective, the inability to see parts of the map that haven't been explored add tension, particularly since the game is in real-time. For some reason, The Sword of Fargoal doesn't seem to get as much attention as its contemporaries, even though its interface is more intuitive. Indeed, I could easily see a version of this game for mobile phones.

If you habitually toss aside the instruction book in a game package, resist the urge this time. In fact, set aside an afternoon in which to play the game. -- Sherrie Van Tyle and Joe Devlin on Tunnels of Doom in CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 9 / SEPTEMBER 1983 / PAGE 135

Tunnels of Doom, like Dungeons of Daggorath, are relatively obscure titles because they were released only for a single platform. Nevertheless, they became highly successful and are considered some of the best games for the TI-99/4A and Tandy CoCo, respectively. Tunnels of Doom might be best described as a mix of themes from Telengard and Wizardry. Like Telengard, there are fountains, altars, and thrones that have random effects on players willing to experiment with them. However, Tunnels of Doom followed Wizardry's example by allowing the player to control a party rather than a single adventurer. Tunnels of Doom also predated Ultima III in the use of a separate screens for combat and dungeon exploration sequences. When the player is merely wandering the dungeon, the view is first-person, 3-D perspective. In combat, the view shifts to a top-down, third-person perspective. This mode would show up in plenty of later games. Besides Ultima III, it was also a defining characteristic of SSI's Pool of Radiance and later "Gold Box Games," released after 1988. (For more information about this game, see my earlier review in Armchair Arcade.)

Tunnels of Doom (TI-99/4A): Separate game/exploration gameplay screens would become standard in many later CRPGs.
Tunnels of Doom (TI-99/4A): Separate
game/exploration gameplay screens
would become standard in many later CRPGs.

Dungeons of Daggorath, developed by DynaMicro, is more like Akalabeth in the use of wire-frame, first-person, 3-D perspective. However, this game is in real-time, and features a fatigue system similar to the one found in the Apshai series. A pulsing heart at the bottom of the screen beats faster or slower depending on the stress of the character. Taking too much damage or moving too quickly will cause the player to faint, thus becoming monster meat. Dungeons of Daggorath also departs a bit from the D&D convention by eschewing so much emphasis on math. Instead of showing how many "hit points" the character has left, players must listen to the heart to determine how much damage their character can take before submitting. It's a fine system that adds a great deal of realism and intensity to the game! (Again, I'll point eager readers to my earlier review of this game).

Finally, I might mention that by 1983 a number of commercial ports of the mainframe classic Rogue had appeared on personal computers. One set was published by a company named Artificial Intelligence Design, who released it for platforms as diverse as the Tandy CoCo and Commodore Amiga platforms. Later, Epyx bought the rights to distribute these ASCII-based games. Of course, there were likely dozens (if not hundreds) of "Roguelikes" available in shareware or public domain form, though exact information on these is much harder to acquire. Suffice it to say, anyone who really wanted to play Rogue could do so on a personal computer after 1983.

Final Thoughts

Whew! Now, you have to admit, it takes a writer of some diligence (or should we say, dalliance?) to bite off so much in one chew. In some ways, the first three years of CRPG development on home computers represented more progress than we'll see in the latter 26. Although no single game really contained all of the qualities that we associate with a good CPRG today, you could already pick and choose the elements from individual games. What is Pool of Radiance, we might ask, but a combination of Tunnels of Doom and Wizardry? What is Diablo but an updated Telengard? How far have we really come from the days of Pedit5, dnd, and Dungeon?

Indeed, it's in this spirit that we should prepare for the next installment in this series--the Golden Age of CRPGs. Things really began heating up for the genre as the Ultima and Wizardry series continued to refine their formulas in subsequent installments, but the really exciting stuff was taking place at different companies--most notably, Electronic Arts, SSI, and New World Computing. Next time, we'll talk about classic titles like Phantasie, Pool of Radiance, The Bard's Tale, Might and Magic, Dungeon Master, and Wasteland. Do I need to beg and plead with you to keep your eyes on this site for the SECOND massive installment in our series on the history of the CRPG? I didn't think so! So, stay on your guard, friend--the best is yet to come!

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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