Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Retrospective: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Intellivision)

I've noted several times on this blog that roleplaying became a huge fad in a largely pre-digital world. Sure, there were video games, even in 1974 when OD&D made its debut, but they were, by and large, "toys," which is to say, nifty gadgets to distract one from real games. That's not to say I wasn't utterly enthralled by the idea of video games; it's just that the reality of video games in the late '70s and early '80s, had yet to live up to our wildest dreams of what this type of entertainment should provide.

A good case in point is the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons cartridge released in 1982 for Mattel's Intellivision game system. Now, I didn't own an Intellivision, since it was extremely expensive (around $300, as I recall), but my best friend in 7th and 8th grade did. This friend was also, not coincidentally, someone with whom I regularly played D&D. So, when we heard that there was an AD&D game cartridge for the Intellivision, we knew we had to play it.

And, sure enough, we did. My friend got a copy and, on one of my many sleepovers at his place, we spent a lot of time playing through it. Unfortunately, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was a single-player game, so we had to take turns playing it. I was never very good at using the Intellivision's rather bizarre controllers, so I tended to die a lot, which led me to spending most of my time watching my friend play. It was probably just as well, because Advanced Dungeons & Dragons wasn't a very good game, even by the standards of 1982. In fact, if it hadn't been for the AD&D logo on box, I'm not sure either one of us would have been very interested in it.

The premise of the game is that your character -- a little stick figure archer -- is described as follows in the game manual:
Your object is to acquire the two halves of the ancient Crown of Kings, hidden deep within the caverns of the legendary Cloudy Mountain. To reach the treasure you must cross a hostile land. The obstacles are numerous. Your resources are courage, cunning and three arrows. The rest you must find and fight to obtain. If you survive the wasteland and the creatures of the caves, you will have traveled out of danger into even greater peril. For each half of the Crown of Kings is guarded by terror - the Winged Dragons keep their endless watch.
The game thus involved both wilderness and dungeon exploration, as your character wandered across the game world to find items that'd allow you to circumvent wilderness obstacles and thereby bring yourself closer to the caverns on Cloudy Mountain where the pieces of the Crown of Kings could be found. Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking: "That doesn't sound so bad." And, looked at from a certain angle, that even sounds vaguely like a D&D adventure, right down having to trek across dangerous wilderness to reach the dungeon full of treasure.

The game had two big problems in my opinion that offset any charm it might otherwise have possessed. The first was that your character could only use a bow and arrow. No other weapons were available; the axe you find is intended to chop down trees. This made for very frustrating combat, especially since it was very easy to run out of arrows. The second problem was that the monsters were painfully generic: rats, bats, snakes, spiders. There were some demons and dragons in the game, too, but they had no real connection to anything in AD&D. Like everything else in this game, their only "connection" to the RPG was a logo someone slapped on it.

In 1982, given the state of video game technology, it probably wouldn't have been possible to produce a game that bore much more than a crude resemblance to any form of D&D. I suppose Sir-Tech Wizardry, which was released a year before this one, probably came the closest to replicating the D&D experience into a primitive digital form and even it wasn't quite right. Mind you, even in 2012, no video game can compete with sitting around a table, rolling some dice with your friends, so maybe it's no knock against a game made in 1982 to say it also falls short of that sublime experience.

35 comments:

  1. I loved this game (and the second AD&D Intellivison game The Treasure of Tarmin) when I was a kid.  However, I didn't play D&D until many years later.  In fact, despite watching the cartoon and being familiar with some of the other licensed materials, I only have  vague notion want D&D was all about. 

    I think you're juding the game only on how it compares to the product it is licensed from.  And in that respect, it's a fair judgement.  But as you say, no video game can compete to the real deal.  And it's not supposed to.

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  2. I owned the Intellivision as a kid and recently, my brother acquired one off ebay and we replayed AD&D on it. And let me tell you, after years of video game advancements, old games like this become hard to beat! Another thing that is true about this game as it is today, it is nerve wracking. You can't see whats on the map until you walk in a direction, all the while you hear snakes hissing, rat squeaking and worst, dragons breathing. This gets your paranoia rising and you start shooting arrows blindly down halls and then they bounce back at you! Then when the monsters do jump out at you, it's panic time and you're too busy running to shoot. Cheesy graphics yes, but solidly fun to play.

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  3. My brother and I played "Tunnels of Doom" on the TI-99/4a when we got in 1984. While it was simple in comparison to the great RPG's of the era (Wizardry, Ultima, Might & Magic, etc.), it was still a very fun game. My brother gave up two other games at the store to get it, because he was into D&D and he knew an RPG when he saw one.

    It had a plot of sorts, you were a band of adventurers going into a dungeon to rescue a king and his orb of power from the forces of evil. After locating both, you had to retrace your steps to the surface avoiding random monsters seeking to stop you.

    It had 2D tactical combat, as well as 3D maze dungeons, which were randomly generated up to 10 levels. You also had an auto-map, which was very cool. There are fountains, living statues, chests, vaults, and a variety of weapons, armor, scrolls, potions, wands and touchstones. You can make a party of up to four characters and play four different classes (one only available in single-player mode). There are over 60 monsters, many with special abilities. (Metalloids are the worst; they eat your weapons!)

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  4. hahahahaha... hilarious....  this was actually an eventual bone that my parents threw me cuz they wouldnt buy me the actual game..........  the baseball on intellivision was the jam though......

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  5. I had the fortune to to began my first forays in to video games in the 90's when the technology was more sophisticated. I'm pretty much salivating in anticipation for Legend of Grimrock which looks to be what to video game roleplaying  what OSR stuff has been to pen and paper.

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  6.  I had the fortune to to began my first forays in to video games in the
    90's when the technology was more sophisticated. I'm pretty much
    salivating in anticipation for Legend of Grimrock which looks like it could be to video game roleplaying  what OSR stuff has been to pen and paper roleplaying.

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  7. Mind you, even in 2012, no video game can compete with sitting around a table, rolling some dice with your friends, so maybe it's no knock against a game made in 1982 to say it also falls short of that sublime experience.

    Truth.  I'm a younger bloke, so I played video games before pen-and-paper RPGs.  I didn't stop altogether, but I will preferentially play tabletop games if given the choice between the two.

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  8. Zork was actually my first exposure to what I would consider an RPG.  My parents were very much against D&D, so  I played it surreptitiously in Boy Scouts and later at school.  Being able to tell my Mom that D&D was part of the gifted program opened the door to being able to actually have the books at home.  I still play some of the Roguelike RPGs (e.g. Nethack) when I'm bored.  It beats solitaire...

    Use approved for nostalgia purposes only:
     http://www.dosgames.com/g_rpg.php

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  9. Christopher KosciukApril 11, 2012 at 7:14 AM

    A little off topic, but my how times have changed. A $300 video game was once beyond the reach of most people, now your average 13 year old is walking around with a $300 i-phone in his pocket.

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  10.  I really liked Tunnels of Doom, I even had the editor so I could craft my own dungeons. If folks showed early for a D&D game we used to spend and hour or so playing the game waiting for the other guys to show, each of us taking turns controlling play and each dictating the actions of our character,

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  11. The D&D connection was very weak but I always liked that cartridge, it was "Hunt The Wumpus Deluxe" far more than it was D&D. For the era it was an enjoyable simple game.

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  12.  ADVENTURE! The first "Interactive Fiction" was also based on D&D. That's why the dwarves are always out to get you!

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  13. Have any of you seen the Retro Phaze RPG on Lulu.com?  It might be interesting to role-players "slash" old video game players.

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  14. I loved this game!  Even then I knew it was limited, but still it offered gameplay that was out of the ordinary for the era.  And yes, the AD&D name didn't hurt my love of it.  I remember playing with the volume way up and jumping out of our seats when the dragon came roaring after us.  

    I also loved the Atari 2600 game Adventure.  Yes, the dragons look like ducks, and that was fun too.  But that game offered something very rare back then, you never knew where the items were going to be placed so you actually had to search the world each time.  Plus, it is credited as having the first hidden Easter egg in any video game.

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  15. Have you seen the new Old School CRGP game, Legend of Grimlock? It's being released today: http://www.grimrock.net/

    It looks pretty fun, and the price is low.

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  16. In 1982, given the state of video game technology, it probably wouldn't
    have been possible to produce a game that bore much more than a crude
    resemblance to any form of D&D.


    I would suggest that the Zork games from Infocom (and the later Enchanter trilogy to some extent, with their Vancian magic) are the strongest contenders for that title. Zork I and Zork II epitomize the semi-aimless treasure hunt through a surreal environment that is simultaneously medievaloid and anachronistically sci-fi. Zork III even featured a "Dungeon Master".

    Certainly, the shared social experience is missing, but I feel these games really captured the essential spirit of early D&D.

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  17. The Wizardry series led directly to me playing D&D for the first time.

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  18. The Wizardry series was my first step on the path to D&D.

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  19. This is a good point. I don't think I actually played any version of Zork until long after the series began, but you're right that it definitely has a lot in common with early D&D, particularly its surreality.

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  20. I don't pretend to understand what a 13 year-old needs with such an expensive piece of hardware, but then I'm a guy who's never owned a cell phone and has never had a driver's license.

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  21. This game held lots of charm, and I still recall it with great fondness. I think that only having the bow & arrow was a feature, as the limited resource of arrows kept you conservative in your approach to the game, and being able to fire blindly into unexplored areas with a chance of hitting yourself added to the tension of the game.

    Generic monsters? Nothing wrong with that. I've played plenty of table-top gaming sessions with only the monsters you've listed above, and it's been fine.

    Logo slapped on it? Puh-lease! D&D sold its soul so hard back then it's only to be expected that video games showed up along the way (in between the D&D woodburning kit and colouring books). So what? We probably wouldn't have bought the game (or its successor) if it didn't have the D&D logo on it, and I wouldn't have the fond memories of playing both games. That in itself is a complete win for me.

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  22. I think Ultima was probably closer to a D&D campaign than Wizardry, unless you were playing a very intense dungeon-crawl.

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  23. I was fortunate enough to have an Intellivision, back in the early 80s.  My older brother got this game and we played it to death. True, it was probably as faithful to it's source material as the movie was, but it was a lot more enjoyable. People are mentioning the weird controllers--a little known symptom of compulsive playing was actual blisters on your thumbs. The controller had these hard-ass buttons on the side which repeatedly would pinch your skin.

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  24. I forgot to add, as far as old-school games go, The Temple of Apshai for the Commodore 64!

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  25. I devoured the Ultima series!

    Well, at least the first seven. After that it lost its way. I liked the first Bard's Tale too, but after that the novelty wore off and I found the game style too limited.

    Temple of Apshi was a blast, albeit a short one.

    For modern games, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion has me quite obsessed. It's full of dungeon crawl goodness and can be purchased pretty cheaply now that Skyrim is out. If I have one complaint, it's that the dungeons are mostly pretty linear, but it makes up for that with atmosphere and the sheer number of dungeons scattered all over the world. Definitely worth a look.

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  26. Don't forget about "ASCII" games like Rogue and Moria.  Sure they were not mainstream and you had to be a true computer geek to play them, but they were very closely modeled on D and D.   Rogue's programer made changes to avoid running into trouble with TSR's lawyers.

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  29. I had that crappy woodburning kit as a kid... back in the 8Os.  So cheezy.  But when I was cleaning my Dad's office, I found the pencil holder I made for him.


    I got a lot of warm fuzzies that day and kept it unto this very day.

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  30. The first fantasy-themed video games I played was on the NES, and those early fantasy-themed games (King's Knight, Hydlide, Legacy of the Wizard) sucked!

    I have recently played this Intellivision game as a handheld "plug-and-play" port, but under a generic title (much like the TRON game called "Disk Game" or something like that). It might be that all the awkward challenge curves form the NES that beefed-up my gaming skill, or this game was just made may too easy, but I found that this game offered little in the way of challenge! Its a neat game, but its just a generic fantasy game with or without the prestigious AD&D title.

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  31. For a great "Hunt the Wumpus"-inspired game, I've always loved "Hunter, in Darkness" by Andrew Plotkin. It came out a few years ago, it's free and it was well worth my time.

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  32. I had an "Intellivision II", the gray one, with the mostly-useless computer accessory. It let you pull sprites out of games, theoretically to use in your own programs. I remember pulling out the running archer guy from this game, but never did anything worthwhile with it.

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  33. I still own my Intellivision along with 50+ cartridges. AD&D is one of them and I remember my friend and I would stay up late and play it. As a previous poster mentioned, delving into a maze and hearing a dragon snoring, seeing demon tracks on the ground and only being able to view a few feet in front of your player made for tense gameplay when played on the hardest setting.

    I'll agree that it wasn't as much fun as a group of us exploring beneath the ruins near Portown. But laughing at my friend's death from a bounce-back arrow as well as turning the volume all the way up on the TV when we united the two halves of the crown are memories that are still with me today.

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  34. I was a fanatic for this game when it came out.  Frankly, though I loved that game also, it beat the Atari "Adventure" hands down, of course being on a system with at least 4x the speed/memory/options of the 2600.


    Yeah, it ain't neverwinter nights or Skyrim or Minecraft but...


    But, btw, they re-released it for the Nintendo DS.  An Intellivision package, retitled as "Crown of Kings" with the "Treasure of Tarmin" sequel "Minotaur"...  Also Tower of Doom, Deadly towers, their other OK fantasy games...


    In abstract I'd have just bought an intellivision, lost my old one but I had a DS already and it was worth the $20 for the cartridge in a heartbeat.  Much better translation than a plug and play version released a few years back.  That older one had lost something in the re-programming, but this one is faithful to the intellevision though there is still a glitch where you can stick the character in the wall.  Very fun though.

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