Saturday 29 September 2012

Sword of Fargoal II: Kickstarter Campaign.

I was just going to write a post about Sword of Fargoal when I found (Thanks to Matt Barton) the new Jeff McCord Kickstarter Campaign for the new Sword of Fargoal 2 which will be developed for Mac/PC/Linux/iOS.

Even if I'm not a big fan of remakes, the fact that the Jeff McCord is behind this project makes a big difference for me. He is the original programmer of the great CRPG classic for VIC20/C64 and I'm confident he will develop something with the same spirit of the original one. 

The project looks really promising and we can all give our support from the main Kickstarter page here

Wednesday 26 September 2012

The Dragon's Eye (Commodore 64, 1981), I (†)

Dragon's Eye is a fantasy RPG in which you are cast as a valiant warrior tasked with saving the lands by completing an epic quest. The lands in question are the "Seven Provinces" and the quest itself involves finding and retrieving the "Dragon's Eye" amulet before its evil power corrupts the entire countryside. 
The game is played from a strategic map view from which you select which area to adventure into, rest and make your necessary equipment purchases. After that it's off to explore the realm and battle all enemies you might encounter from a side view perspective. Battles are turn-based and you can issue several different orders to be carried out in queue when your turn ends. You can explore the land as you see fit, but beware the time limit imposed by the Dragon's Eye.
Source: Moby Games 

This is my new crux desperationis and its name is The Dragon's Eye, CRPG originally produced by Southern Software and distributed by Automated Simulations (later renamed Epyx) for Atari 400/800, Apple II and Commodore PET during the 1981. Looking more in details at all the versions released, I have noticed that there is no actual trace around of a dumped copy of the PET version, but - surprisingly -  version for Commodore 64 is quite easy to find.

So what's the problem?
The discrepancy I found is that there is no mention of the version C64 on all the official publications even if it is existent and easy to download. And that sounded really odd to me.

Although I couldn't find anything helpful on all the major magazines, after a quick scan the the first clear reference seems to come from the official Epyx catalogues:

According to what Epyx claimed, there was no Commodore 64 version planned but only for PET. Unfortunately I couldn't find a dumped copy and I'm not surprised me since usually PET software is quite hard to retrieve.

Assuming that the scarcity of PET copies is a given by only by low circulation or other factors, still can't have a clue from where the C64 comes from.

However I had the chance to test Apple II version, just to make a comparison with the Commodore 64 and they look quite similar except for the fact that the c64 version contains probably a clue on its main titles.

Dragon's Eye, Apple II Main Titles
Dragon's Eye, Commodore 64, Main Titles
Surprisingly all the copyright and release indications have been taken out from the C64 version and this drives me to assume that it might be just a conversion made unofficially from PET. Since the game itself has been programmed in Basic, making the a conversion from PET to C64 would be a quite easy task and it could have been done by anyone who probably decided to remove any reference of the original publisher. Quite weird I know, by it's a possibility.

I tried the check either if I could find any artwork, manual or even a cover for the C64 version but every attempt done has failed miserably, reinforcing the idea that it has been never officially released by Epyx.

Trying to recap, my conclusion has been dictated by these factors:

  • C64 version not presented in all the Epyx official catalogues;
  • C64 version apparently never reviewed by any magazine;
  • On the available conversion, there's no mention of any copyright note;
  • There's no trace at all of any boxed or budget version of the game.
Next Steps:
  • Try to find who converted the version from from PET to C64;
  • Retrieve a PET version of the game and compare the two Basic listings;
  • Try to date the C64 conversion, since I believe the one reported on Gamebase64 could be incorrect. 

This is obviously only the first step of the research, because I need at least of one actual proof to support this theory. Having a PET version of the game will be relevant to check if two versions are consistent or something has been modified intentionally.

Last but not least.  if anyone has more information about it, just leave a comment or email me. I will be happy to complete this case and remove the infamous crux desperationis from the title of the next post.

Monday 24 September 2012

Crimson Twilight Preview (Commodore 64, 2012)

I know this now really archeo, but while I'm finishing my researches on Dragon's Eye I just want to to suggest you to have a  look at an interesting release which might see the light by the end of year. It looks like is going to be a top view CRPG Ultima style for C64 and as far as I could see from the preview it looks very promising. 

Here you can download the playable preview.

Edit: Screenshots have been updated from the previous post. Now you can actually see how the project is progressing even from a design point view.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The Quest for Doriath, II. (†)

Tape image from the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History

Note: first two posts about The Quest for Doriath here and here.

I waited few days before giving you all an update, but sadly I have to say that all my efforts to contact Ian Gray and Lee Braine have been unsuccessful. However I finally found someone who owns an actual copy of Doriath, confirming me that it's a quite hard title to get.

Museum of Computer Adventure Game History, which is the most amazing CRPGs/Adventures Online Museum around, is the place you have to visit if you want to see a real copy of this game. In fact here you can find the scans of the inlay and tape.

Here's anyway, the state of the my research so far. 

Authors: Ian Gray, Lee Braine
Official Publication: 1985, Cassette Budget Version (Transparent Case) 
Official Publisher: Virgin/Rabbit.

Other Versions 
Disk Version: appeared in Italy under the name of Merlino on the Loving Disk Compilation 10. Merlino, anyway, is probably an unofficial/not licensed release of Doriath. (TBC)

Advertising: Probably never advertised (TBC).

Fanpage: Doriath Dungeon
Software: Gamebase64

However my research for is not over, I will continue my attempt to acquire and preserve another copy of this game and understand - possibly - why the circulation of the game is so low. Of course, any update will be posted here.

And as Fedora said somewhere else: You lost today, kid. But that doesn't mean you have to like it. 

Saturday 15 September 2012

The Temple of Apshai Trilogy, Advertisement (1985)

The Temple of Apshai Trilogy, Advertisment, ZZAP! Issue 09, December 1985 
Here's another impressive advertisement from Epyx for the Dunjonquest series. Epyx throughout all its history has shown an incredible attention to details and taste for all the advertisement, artwork and the aesthetics related to all their CRPG productions. This is another bright example which has been used to promote the release of the Temple of Apshai Trilogy for Commodore 64 on ZZAP! back in the 1985. Also I found quite interesting the full review of the game published on the same issue which awarded the game with a rating of 90%. 

Thursday 13 September 2012

The Quest for Doriath, I. (†)

After few days of researches, I have probably collected few more informations even if I'm still not clear about the two main questions I have raised before.

  • Why this game is so hard to find?
  • Was a disk version ever produced for Commodore 64?

Let's see some progress I have made and the research path followed.

Official Magazines (Literature)
I found just one review on ZZAP! UK Version which refers only to a cassette version published in the 1985. No advertising or other references found elsewhere.

Videogaming Guides (Literature)
I have managed to find only one reference on Vintropedia 2009 which mentions only the existence of the budget tape version of it.

Webarchives (Archives)
All the main online video game archives do not mention at about a disk version of the game but only a budget cassette version published by Rabbit/Virgin in 1985. Only one collector on Lemon64 actually claims to have Disk version of the game. I tried to contact him with no luck. 

Retro Shops (Traders)
None of the retrogaming shops I know have a copy of the game and it seems to be missing from eBay from at least two years.

Collectors (Human & Historical)
I have contacted some people that could possibily have an original copy of the game. On four people (all collectors and game fans) claimed not to have an original copy but just dumped versions found on internet.

Clues acquired
Scanning the interesting Doriath Dungeon website I realized that actually one disk version of the game existed. An edition of Doriath was published under the name "Merlino" on the disk compilation Loving Disk issue 10. I have to say that in Italy, there was a terrible habit to illegally publish official game just changing their names with something different (e.g. Doriath to Merlin). These games were mainly sold as compilation in the newsagents market channel. This one could be the case, as far as I haven't found any other official reference to an Italian conversion of the game.

Compilation Cover, Italian edition
Article contained in the Compilation manual

Here's a translation of the article above:
The Army Of The Dragon.
Immediately after loading you hear background music.  You press the fire button to begin (joystick in port 2).  In the cloths of an ancient magician you must kill a dragon that lives in the ice.  Guilty of having bloodied the region of Doriath and of causing the death of hundreds of poor peasants, it has taken refuge in a deep cave.
But the magician Merlin is not far away, and goes to the cave with his magic, finding many treasure chests along the way.  His power against the army of the dragon is strong, with the spell by the name of Plebata that allows him to defeat any enemy.  The wisdom of the magician is tested to its limit, as different magic is required in different occasions.
Pressing space selects the spell, and when the spell name turns white, then you can use the spell.  By keeping the fire button pressed you can direct the spell onto the enemy; release the fire button to use the spell.  In the following line you can see the number of stamina potions and keys you've found.  To use items, press F1 to move the selection arrow, and F7 to use.  The magician Merlin should have no problem defeating the evil Dragon made from ice.
Source: Doriath Dungeon.

Next Steps
The only missing thing at this stage, it would be to go straight to the original source. Since Rabbit Software and Virgin wouldn't be a good choice, I will attempt to contact Ian Gray & Lee Braine, the two original game coders instead.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Doriath (Commodore 64, 1985) and the Crux Desperationis (†)

Front Cover, Cassette version
The cross you see in brackets on the title of this post represents the symbol which Greek and Latin translators used to mark inconsistent or unclear part of the text (†). That particular sign was called crux desperationis and similarly I will use that sign when a particular game meets one of the following cases:

  • Not easy or impossible to find;
  • Release date uncertain;
  • Announced and never released;
  • Released and never announced.

The first crux I'm presenting it's an example of the first case scenario: "almost" impossible to find. Doriath is a minor Commodore 64 game which I personally never seen in its original form. The best I could do was just to retrieve scans of inlay, a dumped version and a detailed fan webpage. At this stage I can guess that since collectors and users didn't consider this game peculiar and interesting, it never satisfied the basic supply and demand criteria. But still something is not clear: why if even collectors don't really care about it, the original version is not on the market at all?

  • It has been printed just in few copies?
  • The game didn't sell well and all unsold stocks disappeared?

Last night so, I wondered if I could find any real trace of this piece but nothing again and even if a dumped copy is easy to find, it can't cool down that compulsion to find, possess and know more about it.

Anyway, one thing came up last night: Doriath was released either on disk (only C64), according to what one user claims on his Lemon64 personal game list.

From this tiny clue, I'm going start my research again. Updates - hopefully - soon.

Edit: I just want to mention the only Doriath fan page existent at the moment: site here

Tuesday 4 September 2012

That belongs in a museum, I.

Museums dedicated to the videogame world are becoming - fortunately - more common. This morning, during a quick research I just stumbled on an interesting one based in Canada. Apparently you won't find only old machines but even an interesting amount of artifacts which should tickle the interest of every videogame historian or archaeologist. 

Here's a quick description of the The Personal Computer Museum taken from the official website: 

The Personal Computer Museum is open on select dates. Come and visit Brantford’s first computer museum, unique in all of South Western Ontario, Canada. We not only have computers but a large software library (with many video games), magazine and book collections and other interesting artifacts. Even the restoration of our building has a story, so come and see us soon! Fun for the whole family, first floor is wheelchair accessible.
We now have the largest known collection of computers in Canada, the largest known collection of video games in Canada, and the largest known collection of CED video discs (perhaps in the world!).

Saturday 1 September 2012

Everyone can be omnipotent with Warriors of Ras.

This is an ad published to promote the Warriors of Ras Series and I can just guess it might have been published between the 1982 and 1985. However what we have it's a quite unusual advertisement from a CRPG iconography point of view. The main focus seems to be oriented to a wider and more mainstream target, considering that back in the day videogames (strategy and CRPG on top) were considered too complicated and sectorial. Even with this endemic limit, Screenplay attempted to appeal to a wider range of social classes, trying to project the new and possible target into another dimension in the shoes of a Warrior of Ras.

From what I can remember, this is the first time a software house tried to open a virtual dimensional door on the CRPG world to the general public, no one excluded. They realistically believed that everyone could have an opportunity to step into that door and visit the dimension to familiarize with their new simulacrum.

Even if from a videogamer point of view, I find this ad very weak, but in the same time I'm really impressed by the courage shown by Screenplay with not adding any iconic videogaming topos as a way to attract a different audience. In fact, the headline itself tickles that desire of being omnipotent which everyone has, no matter from what social class are you from. Effectively the message is simple but ambiguous in the same way. And that ambiguity raise the question of how a non-videogame literate person can interpret the fact that all you actions are effective only on another represented plane which is supported by only by the possibilities of a machine. 

And then, is that dimensional door still open or CRPGs are still a business only for aficionados?