Lords of Karma (1978)   2 comments

While Scott Adams had the good fortune of writing in a “meta-language” that made it easy to port to other system, his work originally was designed for the TRS-80. Of course, anything in BASIC was relatively portable, so people like Greg Hassett also embraced multiple platforms.

However, there’s another author working around the same time who was possibly the first to be ambitious from the start about portability on home computers: Gary Bedrosian.

So having what for the time was a fairly good system, I wanted to try to write an adventure game. The only trouble with that idea was that most people didn’t have what I had, so I knew if I wanted to reach a wide audience, I had to make it run on Apple, Atari, and TRS-80. The answer to my problem was a shareware program called Tiny Pascal. It was a very compact compiler (it had to be for a computer limited to less than 64 kilobytes of memory) designed for the 8080 or Z80 microprocessor. Best of all, we had the source code for Tiny Pascal in Tiny Pascal itself. So a friend and I modified Tiny Pascal so that we could cross-compile into 6502 microprocessor code for the Apple and Atari. The TRS-80 was a Z80 system so that wasn’t a problem.

Using Tiny Pascal, I wrote a very small adventure core that could handle text messages, parsing user input, and manipulating objects (matches, doors, swords, etc.) based on object tables. Remember, everything had to fit into memory, so we wrote another program that compressed text in a way that was fast to decompress on the fly, so we could store approximately 3 characters in every 2 bytes. In the final adventure game, everything including program, the text messages, and data describing the objects had to fit into less than 64 kilobytes of memory. [Source]

Using his system, he wrote Lords of Karma (1978), Empire of the Over-Mind (1979) and G.F.S Sorceress (1980). All were eventually published by Avalon Hill in 1980. Lords of Karma originally came on a single tape that worked for TRS-80, Commodore Pet, and Apple II (a tape published in 1981 also included Atari 400/800).

Some people think highly even now of Empire of the Over-Mind, so I am looking forward to seeing another early auteur in development.

But first, Lords of Karma. The game’s back cover is intentionally evasive about plot / worldbuilding / lack thereof:

However, this line in the manual is interesting:

The object of the game is to get to heaven with as many “karma points” as possible. You get these points performing deeds of kindness and bravery.

This gave me the impression the goal is not getting points by gathering all the possible treasures and hoarding them in a single room for no apparent reason, but rather to do as many good deeds as possible. After so many greedy sojourns I … think I could use a plot like that.

Before starting I also learned the map “partially randomises” [source] so we’ve got some generative roguelike-ness going on.

I actively tried to get Apple II and Commodore Pet versions to work since I’ve been doing a lot of TRS-80 lately, but unfortunately both of them had early crashes, so I had to stick with the old reliable.


You can see we’re not in for epic room descriptions. (I’m somewhat reminded of playing a old-style MUD, with a large landscape of curtly described rooms.) It turns out you are supposed to LOOK upon entering a new place.


Is the topaz a “treasure”? Do we need it? Will we get something for it? I also enjoy how the game feels compelled to mention “up” is “the sky” and “down” is “the ground”.


I guess just wandering into the throne room makes me qualified.


The MUD-like feel holds up: here we have some combat.


Picking up “treasure” did nothing for my karma, so it is possible the treasures are just means to an end (bribery, buying stuff) and not part of the overall goal at all.

At the very least this game feels very different from others I’ve played. Let’s see where it goes!

Posted August 10, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “Lords of Karma (1978)

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  1. I had a pirated copy of G.F.S. Sorceress for my Atari 800! It was surprisingly enjoyable despite seeming kind of primitive compared to Infocom games. I never finished it, though, partly because I had no manual and I never figured out how to save a game.

  2. Pingback: Game #27 : Conflict 2500 (1981) – The Wargaming Scribe

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