Matt Chat 48: Dungeons of Daggorath

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Matt Barton's picture

Here's the latest Matt Chat episode, this time on the Tandy CoCo classic Dungeons of Daggorath. Enjoy, and let me know if you played this game back in the day. Love to hear more about its critical reception among Tandy CoCo owners.

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DerekM (not verified)
Loved this game!!!

I had a friend who had a CoCo (I had a C64). We would stay up all night playing Dungeons of Daggorath all the time. We used to play it on a B/W TV for the longest time. Then, we finally were able to get access to a color TV and see this game in all its glory!! What a great game! Thanks for mentioning the command lag "feature"! We would often stack our commands, typing furiously, during a multi-opponent battle. It was always agonizing watching our stacked commands play out to see how our typing was! hehehe

Great Chat as always!!

Mark Vergeer
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Excellent episode Matt!

Yet another excellent episode. Yet this game does leave a lot to the imagination. I can imagine for people like DerekM who've played it in the past this brings back a lot of fond memories.
Especially the 'stacked commands' action Derek describes when doing multi opponent battles seems very interesting to see play out. I have not had the pleasure of experiencing the game first time around. Today it's just a tad too basic for me I'm afraid.

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Hammer
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First Matt Chat where I wasn't aware the game was a classic

I never owned a CoCo back in the day (although I did have a TRS-80 Model 1, and later, models 3 and 4), and I never played Dungeons of Daggorath. I first heard about it maybe 10 years ago when searching Ebay for other classic games. I never heard anyone mention it, let alone describe it as a classic.

After watching this week's Matt Chat, I'm still not sure. Although I enjoyed the show as always, I didn't get any feeling that I was somehow missing out and I need to go play this game. Let's see:
Story - you said there wasn't much of one
Interface - pretty much sucks
Graphics - eh
Gameplay - This is the part that it's hard to see from the video, as you said, but I couldn't detect anything noteworthy. How does this game compare to the likes of Wizardry and Ultima?

Your point about manuals is well taken. I remember getting a pirated copy of Ultima 2 for my C64, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to light a torch so I could explore the dungeons...

BTW, I notice you have a Choose Your Own Adventure game on the shelves now. :)

Matt Barton
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Classic Status of Dungeons of Daggorath

I might not have done the game justice, fixating too much on its limitations rather than what makes it fun to play. As I said in the video, it's hard to get across the fun just by watching the gameplay footage--this is really one you have to play first-hand to "get it." The key to this game is the real-time gameplay; it *looks* deceptively like a turn-based game, but it's definitely not. The lag "feature" also makes a dramatic impact. So, basically you're trying to type as quickly and accurately as possible to get through some very intense battles! I also enjoy the game's eccentricities, such as the business with the left and right hands and having to specify what hand for each action. What I like about this is that it feels very realistic. In most games, combat is handled quite smoothly and expertly by the character. With this game, it's up to you and your fumbling fingers at the keyboard (plus trying to keep straight the left and right, order of commands, and of course that beating heart!). I say it feels more realistic because I'm sure this is closer to what actual combat would be like--intense, lots of fumbling, soaring heart rate, and then it's over (one way or the other) in a few seconds. No other CRPG has gotten my adrenaline pumping like this particular game.

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Calibrator
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Common Grounds
Matt Barton wrote:

I might not have done the game justice, fixating too much on its limitations rather than what makes it fun to play. As I said in the video, it's hard to get across the fun just by watching the gameplay footage--this is really one you have to play first-hand to "get it."

One indeed needs to as your video is like so often a bit short on actual game footage...

Quote:

The key to this game is the real-time gameplay; it *looks* deceptively like a turn-based game, but it's definitely not. The lag "feature" also makes a dramatic impact. So, basically you're trying to type as quickly and accurately as possible to get through some very intense battles! I also enjoy the game's eccentricities, such as the business with the left and right hands and having to specify what hand for each action. What I like about this is that it feels very realistic. In most games, combat is handled quite smoothly and expertly by the character. With this game, it's up to you and your fumbling fingers at the keyboard (plus trying to keep straight the left and right, order of commands, and of course that beating heart!). I say it feels more realistic because I'm sure this is closer to what actual combat would be like--intense, lots of fumbling, soaring heart rate, and then it's over (one way or the other) in a few seconds. No other CRPG has gotten my adrenaline pumping like this particular game.

Then perhaps you haven't played Dungeon Master that much? ;-)

But indeed the real-time aspect is the game's most important aspect - in conjunction with the first-person graphics!
This is also what striked me when I first heard about the game about four years ago: It is neither a Wizardry clone or a more advanced version of the early Ultima dungeons (what could be suspected when viewing screen shots) - but in principle an early Dungeon Master and Ultima Underworld 1 predecessor!

Some important similarities:
- We have a game-world that consists of a single, multi-level dungeon.
- We have the complete game happening in first-person perspective - no inconsistencies as far as I can see. (Dungeon Master: Party of four, UU1: single character)
- We have the whole game happening in real-time - including the combat. Enemies act on their own.
- While the game features a mix of animals and humanoid enemies the central baddie has to be killed to finish the game (quite common for the time but the point is that neither DM and UU1 aren't really better in this regard, even if UU1 takes more trouble in convincing the player that it is necessary to do so).

What is different?
- DoD offers nearly no plot and is essentially a dungeon combat simulator. A (pseudo)3D-version of Rogue if you will.
The graphics are, true to their time, purely vector-based but the game isn't really three-dimensional: It's a pure 2D game with a 3D-interpretation of two-dimensional maps. Travel between levels is done via "ladders" and "holes" that strictly seperate the different 2D-maps.
Speed not considered it pretty much maxes out the platform - which is indeed pretty limited (no sprites, no raster interrupts, very limited color palette...) - especially considering that the amount of memory the game needs (code & data) and works with (necessary system RAM: 16 KB).
On a side note: The sound is mono (again a system limitation common at the time) but the enemies are getting louder the nearer they get. This could be done in a 2D-only game, too, but works much better in a first-person game.

- DM offers also nearly no plot but a richer game world with scrolls, signs and more objects like food - not only on the monsters but also lying around. Magic is being used mostly with a real system consisting of syllables that have to be connected under pressure.
The game however is still a gauntlet with the levels simply being mazes that have to be traversed to find the main baddie waiting for the player at the lowest level.
It's also still a 2D-game but simulates 3D more thoroughly with a limited height system (for throwing objects) and several "distance levels" to place objects on the floor within a movement block. Travel between levels is mostly done with "stairs" - also special fields to switch level maps with no possibility to see what it below or above yourself.
The game uses a 16 color mode, is fully texturized (walls, ceilings and ground), enemy animation and animated objects like levers and portcullis (also usable as a weapon which I liked very much as it rewarded gamers utilizing their surroundings to their advantage).
The sound is of higher quality (digitally sampled) and the Amiga version even features stereo sound which helps in finding out from which direction the enemy attacks -> more immersion.
The memory usage is much higher, requiring half a megabyte for the ST version and even more on the Amiga. The game comes on a single double-density disk with just under a megabyte of data.

- UU1 unsurprisingly offers the richest game world with more graphical diversion but also more optional things to discover and solve. It's more a game of exploration and getting immersed in the surroundings than to simply find and fight the next enemy. The player not only has a wider array of weapons and magic (including a rune system) but also much more objects to help him. There are puzzles, hidden objects and some architectural marvels - realized by perhaps the best 3D engine for commercial RPGs until then.
Not only does the player move fluidly within the dungeon and not by stepping from field to field - it features angular walls, "real" stairs, ramps, bridges and cracks in walls. When shooters like Wolfenstein 3D used their raycasting engine to give you texturized walls, UU1 was fully texturized from ceiling to ground and allowed players to even look down and up. There are also some bridges crossing over streams and passages at various heights supporting swimming and flying(!) - but the game ultimately cheated the player in thinking that it was a fully three-dimensional game, too. It was just better at it than the earlier games! ;-)
All this comes with a cost: The memory consumption is much higher and the game needs more than 10 megabytes of harddisk storage and 2 MB system RAM.

So, by comparing the differences, we found another common thing: The games pretty much maxed out their platforms. They used what was available on the given platform and offered pretty much the maximum of what was possible without making gameplay annoying by swapping disks. The game worlds became more detailed, like with other game genre evolutions, but the combat remained surprisingly similar.

take care,
Calibrator

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adamantyr
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DoD

My brother owned Color Computers, both a 2 and 3 model. So we played this one quite a bit, although we only ever got as far as the start of the second level. The game is ALWAYS monochromatic, black and white, which was the technical limit of the TRS-80's display in the highest resolution. (256x192). The color you see is just NTSC artifacts, which most old computers suffered from.

The TRS-80 Color Computer had no interrupts for sound processing, which is one of the reasons the game can be slow to react at times when doing sounds. This has an unexpected benefit in making the game a little more tense and stressful, around the time you are getting attacked by multiple opponents.

The game is VERY hard, but there were a lot of players who figured out good survival strategies. Monsters always waste time picking up things on the ground before attacking, so one tactic is to find a nice dead-end corridor, drop stuff (and let stuff drop) in one square and just wait for monsters to come to you. Eventually you can clear the entire level this way, and if you're over matched, you can back up and rest a bit while the monster continues to collect your swag. This particular strategy has only one interruption; after defeating the "wizard's image" on the third level, you are teleported to the fourth level with only the items in your hands, which means you lose all your hoarded items and have to start over.

The PC remake pages have a lot of interesting information on the design of the game from a code and gameplay perspective:
- All damage is rated as either normal or magic in percentages, so some monsters are completely immune to normal attacks. Weirdly enough, the shields had their values reversed so the leather shield was useless for protection against normal damage. Players noted that shields were mostly useless in magazine walk-throughs from the old days.
- The heart rate is determined by the ratio of damage against power; the smaller the difference the faster the heart beat. Power never goes down; defeating monsters increases your power by a ratio of their power, which is why your heart rate drops after a victory. Resting will slowly reduce damage, but it never goes below a certain ratio of the current value. One of the potions will reduce your damage back to 0, though.
- All items in the game have to be revealed before they can be used. They are otherwise treated as the lowest value of their class. Rings and potions give clues based on their names, the player has to actually look up words and try different ones to determine them. You also have power requirements to reveal items, this means you have to fight monsters and clear the levels to have the power necessary to complete the game.
- The game was originally designed in 32k, and had randomly created dungeons as well as a much larger item list. To fit it into the 16k ROM cartridge, they pruned down the item list and used a fixed random seed to generate the same dungeon levels each time. This let them pre-place ladders in data structures so they could remove the code that placed them dynamically.
- Strangely, the game uses the floating point real number arithmetic system for action determination, instead of straight integers. Probably another reason it's a little slow...
- Defeating the wizard does not win the game. You have to figure out what word to incant his ring with to take his place...

Calibrator
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Joined: 10/25/2006
Thanks for the details
adamantyr wrote:

My brother owned Color Computers, both a 2 and 3 model. So we played this one quite a bit, although we only ever got as far as the start of the second level.

Ahhh the advantage of having grown-up with the real deal!

Quote:

The game is ALWAYS monochromatic, black and white, which was the technical limit of the TRS-80's display in the highest resolution. (256x192). The color you see is just NTSC artifacts, which most old computers suffered from.

Although as I understand it was introduced intentionally by Steve Wozniak with the Apple II. When he fully understood NTSC timing *and* revised the circuitry after the first few production runs he was able to coax out not only orange and blue (like the CoCo) but also green and violet - in addition to white (two dots placed next to each other) and black (two 'blank' dots next to each other) generating six individual colors in a high resolution screen (280x192) and 15 in low-resolutions (40x48).
This works astonishingly well but of course TVs are less precise than color monitors which I guess where more common with the Apple II than the CoCo.

Later computers had dedicated graphics chips that could generate true colors -especially in lower resolutions- which not only was more precise and gave more flexibility (more colors, often thanks to color palettes) but was also of use on a monochrome monitor. Artifacting only generated pixel patterns on those and not solid colors (or shades).

Quote:

The TRS-80 Color Computer had no interrupts for sound processing, which is one of the reasons the game can be slow to react at times when doing sounds.

Interesting - pretty much a "real-time machine" like the Apple II (which had no interrupts at all in basic configuration - that is without a dedicated sound card).

Quote:

This has an unexpected benefit in making the game a little more tense and stressful, around the time you are getting attacked by multiple opponents.

The game is VERY hard, but there were a lot of players who figured out good survival strategies. Monsters always waste time picking up things on the ground before attacking, so one tactic is to find a nice dead-end corridor, drop stuff (and let stuff drop) in one square and just wait for monsters to come to you. Eventually you can clear the entire level this way, and if you're over matched, you can back up and rest a bit while the monster continues to collect your swag. This particular strategy has only one interruption; after defeating the "wizard's image" on the third level, you are teleported to the fourth level with only the items in your hands, which means you lose all your hoarded items and have to start over.

Interesting...

Quote:

The PC remake pages have a lot of interesting information on the design of the game from a code and gameplay perspective:
- All damage is rated as either normal or magic in percentages, so some monsters are completely immune to normal attacks. Weirdly enough, the shields had their values reversed so the leather shield was useless for protection against normal damage. Players noted that shields were mostly useless in magazine walk-throughs from the old days.
- The heart rate is determined by the ratio of damage against power; the smaller the difference the faster the heart beat. Power never goes down; defeating monsters increases your power by a ratio of their power, which is why your heart rate drops after a victory. Resting will slowly reduce damage, but it never goes below a certain ratio of the current value. One of the potions will reduce your damage back to 0, though.
- All items in the game have to be revealed before they can be used. They are otherwise treated as the lowest value of their class. Rings and potions give clues based on their names, the player has to actually look up words and try different ones to determine them. You also have power requirements to reveal items, this means you have to fight monsters and clear the levels to have the power necessary to complete the game.

The balancing was probably the part they should have spend more time on.

Quote:

- The game was originally designed in 32k, and had randomly created dungeons as well as a much larger item list. To fit it into the 16k ROM cartridge, they pruned down the item list and used a fixed random seed to generate the same dungeon levels each time. This let them pre-place ladders in data structures so they could remove the code that placed them dynamically.

I suspected that it was a 16K cart but I have seen only pirated disk images.

Quote:

- Strangely, the game uses the floating point real number arithmetic system for action determination, instead of straight integers. Probably another reason it's a little slow...

Uggh.

Quote:

- Defeating the wizard does not win the game. You have to figure out what word to incant his ring with to take his place...

So you become the ultimate baddie yourself?

take care,
Calibrator

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adamantyr
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You're Welcome
Calibrator wrote:

Although as I understand it was introduced intentionally by Steve Wozniak with the Apple II. When he fully understood NTSC timing *and* revised the circuitry after the first few production runs he was able to coax out not only orange and blue (like the CoCo) but also green and violet - in addition to white (two dots placed next to each other) and black (two 'blank' dots next to each other) generating six individual colors in a high resolution screen (280x192) and 15 in low-resolutions (40x48).
This works astonishingly well but of course TVs are less precise than color monitors which I guess where more common with the Apple II than the CoCo.

Color TV's were mostly used everywhere in those days... dedicated monitors were $300-600, which is about 3 times as much with today's inflation. Considering most of us only got the old 8-bits because mom and dad saw a great deal at Sears, we were lucky to have anything.

The TI came with an RF modulator, rather like the ones that came with the Nintendo Entertainment system but much bigger and bulkier. Apparently that had a dispute with the FCC over RF signals and in order to ship their product they had to supply one.

Calibrator wrote:

So you become the ultimate baddie yourself?

You become a Wizard yourself, but your robes are emblazoned with the symbol of the rising sun, rather than the moon... good use of symbolism in the game.

Also note that most of those who won Dungeons of Daggorath will NOT tell you the word to use. They expect every wizard to discover it for his or her self. I'm sure some unscrupulous fellow has posted the answer online somewhere, but when I took a cursory look around, I didn't find it at all.

Adamantyr

Calibrator
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RF, CRT, TFT...
adamantyr wrote:

Color TV's were mostly used everywhere in those days... dedicated monitors were $300-600, which is about 3 times as much with today's inflation. Considering most of us only got the old 8-bits because mom and dad saw a great deal at Sears, we were lucky to have anything.

Yeah, I had an old, small (about 13") black&white TV at the time (1983) until I got an old but good big-ass (28") color TV about two years later (ca. 1985). My Atari finally got the display it needed! Needless to say that all my friends had good, small color TVs from the start and today nobody has to endure such things... ;-)

Another four years later I got an Amiga 500 (1989) and bought the classic Amiga color monitor which still serves me from time to time (for an Apple IIgs). It really was a great monitor at the time, not only getting along with 50 Hz video, but also 60 Hz (can't display NTSC but it accepts RGB analog which works well with several pieces of US or Japanese hardware). It probably is the most frequently used retro monitor today.
Since 1991 I used VGA monitors and got my first TFT late: February 2007. This is still my most important PC display.
For TV and consoles I got a very good 28" CRT TV in 1994 (I think) and it served me well until last February when I bought an excellent Full HD LCD TV (Sony 46" X4500) which I love and have hooked up to my home theatre PC and PS3. It also delivers a good picture when I connect older consoles (PS1, N64, Dreamcast (via VGA!) or my Gamecube). Didn't try the NES yet, but a colleague promised me some carts for free and if the picture is good enough then my old 28" CRT will find it's "grave" in the cellar...

Quote:

The TI came with an RF modulator, rather like the ones that came with the Nintendo Entertainment system but much bigger and bulkier. Apparently that had a dispute with the FCC over RF signals and in order to ship their product they had to supply one.

Several manufacturers had problems with the FCC: Apple had to remove the RF modulator of the original Apple II to sell it as computer equipment. The owners had to buy a separate RF modulator made by a different company and install it themselves to connect it to the TV...
Atari designed their 400 and 800 models in fear of the FCC, eliminated a direct processor port for external devices (thus slowing down disk access) and literally built them like tanks with heavy shielding inside (2 mm thick!). I think they should be able to stop small caliber projectiles...

take care,
Calibrator

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Bill Loguidice
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Commodore 1084 series
Calibrator wrote:

Another four years later I got an Amiga 500 (1989) and bought the classic Amiga color monitor which still serves me from time to time (for an Apple IIgs). It really was a great monitor at the time, not only getting along with 50 Hz video, but also 60 Hz (can't display NTSC but it accepts RGB analog which works well with several pieces of US or Japanese hardware). It probably is the most frequently used retro monitor today.

The Amiga 1084S is the one vintage monitor I have out at all times. It does NTSC and PAL, and has composite, RGB and one other input that slips my mind at the moment. Beyond straight up composite, I also have a cable specific to my C-128, which came with, and one for my Amigas, which also came with it.

I'm curious how you use with a IIgs? I use my IIgs with a genuine IIgs monitor. Do you have a special cable to get it work on the 1084S? It would certainly save me some hassle to use one of my 1084's than the IIgs monitor all the time.

***************************
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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