Deadly Dungeon (1980)   1 comment

If you’re wanting a really long digression start things off, here’s a concert from the indie rock group Blake Babies. Freda Boner (aka Freda Love) was on drums.

She’s a co-author today with her father Don Boner; previously we’ve looked at their Smokey-and-the-Bandit-fanfic game called Thunder Road.

I’m not sure how to place things date-wise here, but Deadly Dungeon has an internal copyright date of 1980, was published in the Captain 80 Book of Basic Games in 1981, and showed up in the Programmer’s Guild catalog by 1982. I’m shelving it with 1980 rather than the 1980/1981 split I did with Thunder Road in that it feels very early; a bit sloppier parser-wise than Thunder Road.

From The Captain 80 Book of Basic Adventures. Like almost all the illustrations in that book, there is no relation to the game itself.

What this game does share with Thunder Road is a very gamebook feel, up to the point it starts by generating you a combat skill and giving you a random set of arrows, like you were rolling dice to fill your character sheet and if you follow the rules you have to stick with that 2 out of 12 for combat skill if you’re really that unlucky.

This combat rating is out of a possible 6.

DISCOVER THE SECRET OF THE DEADLY DUNGEON AND EMERGE VICTORIOUS AND WEALTHY.

That’s from the ad copy. Yep, it’s a treasure hunt again; this time there’s seven treasures. You start in a temple which announces it will be where you store the treasures, standard enough opening…

…but then you EXIT TEMPLE to leave and find yourself in one of at least four different starting areas, which with a different monster to fight.

With the combat above I fought against a tiger, but the enemies are mostly interchangable. Here’s a different possible start:

There’s no strategy other than you choose to fight with a sword, or arrows. Sword means you have a chance of dying immediately if you lose an exchange of blows, whereas arrows you can keep going but you’ll die if you run out of arrows.

Sometimes you just die to the opening combat by bad luck, and there’s not really much use in strategizing here. I checked a walkthrough later (for the C64 version) and the author just says to restart if you lose.

Past the opening room is weirdly disconnected complex of rooms that made my brain hurt to map it.

I have trouble describing what’s so bad, or at least unconventional; my best analogy is like getting motion sick at a 3D game. Most games with maze-like sections there’s at least a pretense of explanation why connections would be so arbitrary, but here it was never clear why a graveyard was next to a Victorian room was next to a rock mine, and then, oops, you looped back to the Victorian room again. (Also, the Victorian room contains a box that kills you, but at least it is helpfully marked DO NOT OPEN.)

I might say it was again trying to recreate the game book experience a little bit (lots of one-way choices, especially in the early ones) except you can loop around and revisit rooms, it’s just a little circuitous.

For a while I was stumped until I broke out my verb list and found MOVE amongst the candidates. There aren’t many; the game also recognizes YELL, SAY, PLAY, GO, ENTER, FIGHT, EXAMINE, THROW, HIT, OPEN, READ, and CLIMB. I was able to MOVE a TOMBSTONE randomly in the middle of the map and find a SORCERORS MAGIC ROOM.

The coal pick is important later. There’s also a diamond ring hidden if you EXAMINE TABLE.

I was able to dive into a nearby pit and find a “Council Room” at the bottom, containing two more treasures (a valuable painting and a deed to the castle we’ve been tromping through).

Look, don’t try to make geographic sense of it, unless you want motion sickness.

The sign as shown in the room description above indicates we can ENTER TEMPLE from here, and when we EXIT TEMPLE again we will be on Level 2.

Kind of like an arcade game, I suppose? The general effect was to punch verisimilitude in the head, but I at least see what the authors were getting at. Each “level” starts has a new random start with a new enemy to FIGHT. For level 2, you can get a wolf, a dwarf, or a grasshopper.

You may be wondering why I didn’t drop the deed. You’ll see why in a moment.

The geography of the second level is even more egregious, as you travel from a cave to a mountain to a forest to a tunnel to some senate chambers.

South of the senate chambers are a field of poppies with a rope, but if you try to leave the field without the deed, the game dutifully informs you I DON’T HAVE THE DEED, and soon after you die of poison gas.

If you are holding the deed you can land at a room marked “inside castle” with a copper lamp (another treasure, but you need to hang on to it until you’re done with level 3) and another message informing you that you can ENTER TEMPLE to reset to the next section.

Entering level 3! There’s two possibilities, a vampire bat (dangerous, I died a couple times) and this very helpful troll, where you can just READ SIGN, be told to go east, and you can do it without even bothering to get in a fight. I assume this was a programming oversight.

The third level has a candlestick and a message on a stone cavern that informs you to H I T M E. As long as you have the pick you can do so and as long as you still have the rope from the poppy field you can then climb down a pit to a treasure room.

As long as you haven’t forgotten anything on the way (my first run where I reached this point and I had forgotten the diamond ring, even though I had got it on a previous try) this lets you accumulate enough treasures to win.

Summarizing the “innovations” going on:

1.) Arcade-style level resets (Kidnapped had mini-levels, but was logically proceeding down levels of a building, this made “EXIT TEMPLE” change its destination)

2.) Random room starts with different enemies (even though there wasn’t much actual difference other than their name)

3.) Combat where you could choose from sword or bow and arrow

Without a lot of system density, RPG combat in an adventure game is a tough sell. Without making actual puzzles, there just isn’t enough going on to make fights interesting; Zork managed with the thief by having him be a long-running enemy, integrating him with the treasure hunt itself (he’s even required to get at one of the tougher treasures) and still keeping an “experience point” system of sorts going by using the overall score. I’d love to be proven wrong sometime, but in one of these TRS-80 miniatures I’m not sure a satisfying adventure/RPG hybrid is even possible.

Posted December 11, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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One response to “Deadly Dungeon (1980)

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  1. Let’s see when you arrive to the games of level 9. I’m quite fond of Red Moon.

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