Monday 22 July 2013

Catacombs (Commodore 64, 1987)

Being the ardent treasure hunter that you are, you had a hard time resisting the stories about the Catacombs of Darkness and the fantastic caches of gold hidden there by the mysterious builders of the underground fortress.

Armed with only a torch, you descended the steps leading down to the catacombs without hesitating, ignoring the weird cries emanating from the dimly lit crypt, images of bulging chests of ill-gotten lucre swimming in your mind.
Today I stumbled into this simple dungeon crawler for Commodore 64 I've never noticed before. Published on Ahoy! (1987/01, Issue #37) and Compute!'s Gazette (November 1994), Catacombs is a Basic language game distributed either on disc and as listing. 

The game itself is a dungeon crawler with some really distant similarities with Sword of Fargoal (really few to be honest). The structure is based on a minimal architecture of 10 dungeons to explore, with treasure, traps and monster. To finish every catacomb level, you have to collect the key and find the exit door. For its simplicity, it might be defined as an archetypical casual game, especially for the low level of commitment requested.

More interesting details are explained on its dedicated article, where the coder explains the main stylistic peculiarity of the game. 
Catacombs is a game I created with the intention of experimenting with one of the 64’s least appreciated graphic modes-extended background color mode (EBC). Most people refer to it as a useless novelty of the VIC chip, but I have always thought that the ability to change the background color of a whole screen with a single POKE had to have a good game hiding in it somewhere. So far I have created a machine language game and this BASIC program using the VIC’s EBC mode, and have yet to run short on ideas for future projects.

Basically EBC mode works like this: your character set is cut down to one quarter of its usual 255 shapes, giving you only 64 to work with, the first 64 in the set. These first 64 characters consist mostly of alphanumeric codes, so if you are planning on writing a game, you will probably have to redefine your character set to substitute one of your shapes for one of the Commodore’s 64 default characters.
In EBC the first 64 characters of this set are displayed normally, getting their foreground color from color memory and their background color from the register at 53281. But the codes from 63 to 127, 128 to 191, and 192 to 255 get their background colors from registers 53282, 53283, and 53284 respectively. Although the colors are different, the characters still come from the shape tables of the first 64 codes!
Pretty simple game indeed, but definitely worth entering the dungeon crawler category, even though it cannot be considered an actual CRPG, since the game is limited to the simple exploration of 10 catacombs level, not providing any character creation or inventory feature.

In case you want to explore the simplicity of this archetypical game, I've uploaded the C64 disk with official documentation, and the extract from Ahoy! with the article and the actual Basic listing.

Download Catacombs for Commodore 64
Download Catacombs article and listing (Ahoy! 1987/01, Issue #37 extract)

Friday 19 July 2013

The Valley: the first CRPG for Commodore 64?

I have spent the last months trying to list and date all the CRPGs ever produced for the Commodore 64 and I have honestly encountered a massive amount of difficulties mainly because most of the online databases report, for every single entry, copyright dates rather than the actual release year. The whole rechecking process took me months only for a partial completion of the listing; despite my efforts, anyway, I still can't see the end of the tunnel.

However, while during the listing process, I wondered which was the first CRPG ever published for the Commodore 64,  considering that Tramiel's machine was released only during the summer of the 1982. A first conclusion pointed me towards an ancient Argus Press Software title named The Valley

A pretty basic game, but still interesting for its age. The gameplay involves exploring the Valley where there are two safe points (castles) at either end of the path. Apart from the starting and ending point, there some other places to explore: the Black Tower of Zaexon, Swamps, Forests, Vounim's Lair, and the Temple of Y'Naigoth. To complete the game, you have to find the legendary Helm of Evanna. That's it.

The Valley has been released around the early eighties (1) for Commodore PET, Tandy TRS80, BBC Model B, Oric 1 and Sharp MZ80K and then ported to the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. The original version of this game was published as a Basic language listing in a British magazine called Computing Today, around 1981; for the same reason there are around so many unofficial versions. 

Let's go back to official C64 version anyway. 

Here's how this game has been dated on the most relevant online databases:

MobyGames: 1982
Gamebase64: 1982

So when I started listing all the games, I had no doubt: The Valley was the first CRPG ever released for the C64. I was wrong

When I realized that all the games requested a double check, I ended moving The Valley from 1982 to 1983, positioning it from being the first in the list to one of the many published during the more prolific 1983. 

So why MobyGames and Gamebase64 superficially dated The Valley in 1982? 

The Valley, Title Screen, Commodore 64
Both sites probably came to a quick conclusion looking only at the main game screen, which reports as copyright date 1982 . 

When I decided to investigate a little bit more, I found the answer to my question only looking at the tape and inlay of the official ASP release. 

The Valley, Tape, Commodore 64
The Valley, Documentation, Commodore 64
Looking at the original tape and the bottom part of the documentation, the release date is clearly 1983 and not 1982,  leaving no other CPRG in my 1982 slot. 

This conclusion, unfortunately, doesn't answer to the main question: is there any CRPG produced during 1982 for the C64? 

Apparently not.  

(1) Probably 1981.

Images courtesy of Mocagh, World of Spectrum and Gamebase64.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (C64), 1982 or 1987?

I know I've been quiet during the last month but I had to reorganize my entire archive and all the process is taking ages. Along with that, I've been working on a big project for this blog, which, I hope, will be published soon.  

Regarding this opera magna I'm working on, I've stumbled into a really worrying case of CRPG incorrect year dating.

As you have noticed from the post title, the game we are talking about is Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord for C64 and its release date. As you will see from below, most of the main videogame databases online, report inconsistent release date for this game, dating it from 1982 to 1987, which is a quite big gap.

Lemon64: 1982.
Gamebase64: 1982.
Ready64: 1982.
MobyGames: 1987.

We have a problem here, a very big one. 

Since a started to check all the CRPGs datations on the online databases, I have noticed that many of them are wrong or better, are referring to the copyright date rather than the actual release period. Looking at this specific case I might immediately say that Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord has been effectively released for Apple II on the 1981/1982 (original copyright) and then ported to C64 only into the 1987 (release date). 

Why cannot be 1982? 
Now, let's start thinking that the Commodore 64 machine has been released only in the middle of 1982 and the standard of the released games was more or less basic language oriented. Since Wizardry is a quite structured and complex game, it doesn't fit with the rest of the 1982 Commodore production; but let's take it as a personal assumption for the moment. 

Anyway, let's get a bit more into actual proofs. 

Exploring the box shots of Wizardry I for C64, here's what I've discovered.

Front Box: Copyright 1981-1987

Back Box: Copyright 1981-1987

Disk: Copyright 1987

Reference Card: Copyright 10/1987

According to the reference Card and Game Disk, the copyright of the Commodore 64 is version clearly set to 1987. All the references to 1981 are probably just about the original copyright of Wizardry so 1982 cannot be the release date for this porting.

Wizardry is just one the many cases of misdating I've found in the last months. Almost all the main C64 databases contain many incorrect release dates for major and minor CRPGs released between the early eighties and part of the nineties; and you can notice that especially when you find yourself in front of many C64 games dated at 1979, which, of course, is more than paradoxical. 

Monday 15 April 2013

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Lone Wolf and The Ice Halls of Terror (Commodore 64, 1985)

The first Lone Wolf Gamebook I have ever read was The Caverns of Kalte and I always wanted to see a videogame porting of one the best chapters of LF Saga. Unfortunately, even if a game was planned (HCP for C64 & ZX Spectrum), it never actually happened and the only official visual is represented by the advertisement below.

Computer Gamer, Advertisement, 1985

The advertising above, even if visually interesting, it wasn't revealing anything about the game itself. Luckily I managed to find a more accurate ad appeared on the Lone Wolf Club Newsletters (Summer Special 1985). 

Lone Wolf Club Newsletter, Summer Special 1985

The promise was quite inviting: 3D animation and graphics, unique combat system and multidimensional plot lines (?); the possibility to order the game was a quite unusual choice especially when probably neither a playable preview nor a demo was available. Anyway a small note at the bottom of the page was remarking that almost 30 days were needed for the delivery. What happened to this title so? 

Time for more digging. 

And yes, here's my copy of Caverns of Kalte. 

One thing I've discovered reading the English version of the Gamebook, was that for unknown reasons, in the Italian version, Vonotar (the main villain of Kalte) was renamed as Vonatar. A (repeated) typo or just a phonetic choice? Who knows why.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Dungeons of Death (Vic-20, 1983), Preserved.

In a previous post about Dungeons of Death, I've mentioned that the only available dumped version was completely unplayable: a major bug was affecting the progress of the game.

The original major bug which stopped the game at the first dungeon door.

Thanks to one of  Hokuto Force's coders Flavioweb, I'm glad to announce that Dungeons of Death has been now fully restored and finally playable.

The dungeon is now fully explorable.

An example of combat from the working version.

The restoring process has started from the bugged dumped tape where Flavioweb spent a good amount of hours trying to fix all the glitches in the Basic code. However, despite the struggle, after a few days we were able to test the first working copy I have ever seen of this obscure dungeon crawler from Aardvark Games. 

You can download the package with the working .tap file and documentation from the link below. Just remember to use an expanded Vic-20 with 8k or 16k memory on either real hardware or emulator. Also, since the documentation is essential to play the game properly, I've spent some time to ocr the scans and correct various minor typos and inconsistencies. 

Original Supply: Dr. Strange
Documentation: Dr. Strange
Code Restoration: Flavioweb

Tuesday 19 February 2013

The Dragon's Eye (Commodore 64, 1984), II (†)

Thanks to one of the readers, I'm able to publish a new relevant document about the Dragon's Eye C64 conversion. As you can read from the previous article here, this game has an existent C64 conversion which doesn't have any correspondence in any official Epyx catalogue.

Thanks to Trypticon, I can publish the scans of a German book which has a relevant Dragon's Eye mentionRombachs C64-Spieleführer (1984) contains some infos about the C64 version and as far as Trypticon told me, the book confirms that the C64 seems to be merely a rough PET conversion. 

Book references: Rombachs C64-Spieleführer, 1984, ISBN: 3-7930-0486-4

Here's a translation of the Dragon's Eye review from German. 

Game idea: Dragon's Eye belongs to the Fantasy and Roleplay games. You choose a name and a sword and get a number of spells assigned by the program. Then one goes on it's way to find the Eye of the Dragon. During this, a number of monsters are encountered, which need to be killed with a lot of skill. This task needs to be completed during 20 days. At the end of the game, the program judges the skill of the player.
Design: The location and vitality status of the player is represented with an overview and a map. Only the colours blue and white and the block graphics of the C64 are used. The same is true for the display in battle mode. Sound effects are not used in the game.
Rating: This Basic program written for older Commodore hardware does not reach the standard of the fantasy games written for the C64. Insofar it is only suitable for outright fans of fantasy games or collectors.
Rating: 4/5*

On the third page there is a mention of the fact that the game was programmed originally on the PET.

So this document proves something really important from an historical point of view: the conversion of Dragon's Eye has been done before the 1984. 

The next step dictates me to find an original version in its own original support or at least a proof of its existence as official release.  

Thanks again to Trypticon for his submission and translation from German. 

* 1 = Best.

Friday 8 February 2013

ZorkQuest: First Interactive Comic ever?

I really never noticed the existence of the ZorkQuest series. My fault.

This morning while I was browsing the internet during my breakfast, a version of ZorkQuest: Assault on Egreth Castle for C64 just popped up in front of me. I have been probably too much caught into the main series to miss this minor spin off of the main Zork Saga. 

Apparently, during the 1988, Infocom managed to produce two chapters of this series, which were completely different from the main and more popular Zork text adventures:

Zork Quest: Assault on Egreth Castle (1988, Infocom, interactive computer comic book)

ZorkQuest: Assault on Egreth Castle Cover, 1988

Zork Quest: The Crystal of Doom (1989, Infocom, interactive computer comic book)

ZorkQuest: The Crystal of Doom Cover, 1989

What is really particular about them is that they are not even games; they pretended to be a sort of interactive books where your role is less then minimal. From a CRPG point of view, they would be better described as an anti-role playing games, where you are neither actor nor narrator but a Über spectator, with a really limited range of choices. 
ZorkQuest: Assault on Egreth Castle can be called an interactive comic book. The game consists of text accompanied by pictures, somewhat similar in visual style to comic books; the interaction is restricted to the player's choices that affect the storyline. The player is able to experience the story from the points of view of the several main heroes, witnessing their personal stories intertwining. Several playthroughs are necessary to experience the story in its entirety.
Source: Moby Games 

Despite the enthusiasm of the guys on the advertising, ZorkQuest is more a  first attempt to create a bland fantasy game illustrated comic on a computer. I was initially expecting a Fantasy Fighting Game Book structure, but both experiments don't comprehended a magic/health or combat system at all. The unique aspect is they probably are the two official interactive comic ever made on the c64. 

However all this awkwardness, both titles will go straight in my wishlist. 

Images sourced from Moby Games

Thursday 24 January 2013

Lone Wolf: Flight from the Dark (Advertising, 1984)

While I'm busy with some other surprises I will probably publish in the next days, here's an advertising for the first Lone Wolf Game published in the 1984 to promote Flight from the Dark (ZX Spectrum). The total amount of games dedicated to Lone Wolf Gamebooks is restricted to three and only one of these was published on the C64 (Lone Wolf - The Mirror of Death). This advertising, anyway, contains the original flavour of the popular Gamebook series and since I have always been a great fan of its illustrative style, I publish this lost double page ad with particular pleasure. 

Thursday 3 January 2013

Telengard (Commodore PET, 1981), Preserved.

During my Christmas break I had been looking around for copy of Telengard for PET but after few days of researches I realized that nothing was available on the web. When I was losing hope, for curiosity I reopened my Telengard boxed set and well, the PET version of Telengard was sitting on the same tape of the C64 one. It was just there, beside me. 

After few days of attempts yesterday night I've managed to dump a fully working copy of Telengard for PET usable on all the more common emulators like Vice; and, if you able it, you can transfer it on a support to make it working on your PET (good luck with that anyway). 

The game itself has the same structure and look & feel of the original one, apart from the fact that all the sprites are represented by basic symbols and lines. All colours, obviously, have been translated for the typical monochromatic and fascinating PET palette.

Main Screen

Name selection screen

Entering the Dungeon

Help Screen

The dumped copy is available for download here. If you experience any problem or glitch just let me know, I will try to sort it out.

Thanks to Ian Gledhill and his Ubercassette for the help.