Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Crypts of Chaos

Like a lot of kids back in the late 70s, I owned an Atari "video computer system," which is what this early game console was called before being re-branded the Atari 2600 sometime in the early 80s. I have a lot of fond memories of the VCS, despite its limitations, but one game I don't remember particularly positively is this one, advertised in issue #72 (April 1983):
Crypts of Chaos was an early example of a "3-D" dungeon crawl game, clearly designed to capitalize on the D&D fad of the day. Produced by 20th Century Fox, it wasn't an "official" Atari game, which, with the exception of the games made by Activision, pretty much ensured it would be awful -- and Crypts of Chaos was. Even by the graphical standards of the day, it was ugly, confusing, and difficult to play. The eponymous Crypts were (literally) a maze of corridors and rooms and, as I recall, players were advised to make a map of the place as they explored it to avoid getting lost. Seriously. Along the way, you'd encounter badly-pixelated monsters who might have treasure that would be of use in trying to survive through the unending slog of this game.

In general, I'm a pretty forgiving guy when it comes to looking back on the games of the past, but not in this case. Video game technology was limited in 1983, it's true, but there were plenty of people making excellent games for the Atari, like Activision's Pitfall (released in 1982) and Imagic's Atlantis (also released in '82), among others. Crypts of Chaos is simply awful and I have little doubt that seeing this ad in Dragon was a big part of why I dared to purchase it at all. Stupid weakness of will!

21 comments:

  1. I remember the ad and thinking that game must be awesome. I had no cash and no stores (that I knew of at least) carried it, so that was that...

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  2. I never saw this ad in Dragon, but I did have the misfortune of playing and owning Crypts of Chaos. Yeah, it was pretty bad. The graphics were such that it seemed like the corridors shot forward, advancing past your stationary player, rather than having the perspective of the player walking through the corridors. What was worse it made this godawful Zhoom sound each step you took, the same sound for every step OVER and OVER for the entire game. I'm fairly certain this accounted for my dog's bouts of wanton destruction throughout the house when we played this game. And that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as the graphics and sound are concerned.

    What's strange is I saw this game in a box in my attic a few weeks ago. I know I've thrown it away at least three times since 1983, and yet, there it resides, glowing evilly, daring me to play it...while dogs howl in the distance.

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  3. I don't remember ever seeing this game. Must have been horrible.

    Anyway, 'Adventure' was still plenty of fun to get one's dungeon-exploration fix. 'Pitfall' and 'Pitfall II' go without saying...

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  4. Of likely interest: a campaign journal from 1975. I find it an interesting glimpse into actual play from then. http://www.risusmonkey.com/2011/06/ryth-chronicle-1975-1977.html

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  5. "Swords & Serpents" for the Intellivision was an excellent D&D-style game.

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  6. Great ad. Don't blame you for succumbing to the temptation to buy it on the basis of it.
    Shame the game itself was so terrible though.

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  7. "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" and "ADnD Treasure of Tarmin" for Intellivision where 2 excellent D&D-style games :-)

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  8. Strangely, I don't recall this ad at all, perhaps because I was a Commodore 64 guy at the time. There were tons of decent adventure game out for C64 in 1983.

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  9. ...players were advised to make a map of the place as they explored it to avoid getting lost. Seriously.

    I'm sorry; I'm not getting this section (presuming the "seriously" is intended as condemnation on the need to map). Many -- perhaps nearly all -- old-school "RPG"-like games required the player to make maps. In 1983, this game would have been out at the same time as the third Wizardry game, and two years before the Bard's Tale series began (all of which required extensive mapping skills as part of the game).

    I'm not saying Crypts of Chaos isn't junk, but the need to make a map wasn't at all unusual for the era (unless, again, I'm totally misreading something).

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  10. I'm not saying Crypts of Chaos isn't junk, but the need to make a map wasn't at all unusual for the era (unless, again, I'm totally misreading something).

    That's true, but Crypts of Chaos lacked the depth, either in terms of mechanics or world, that games like Wizardry had. Having to map out what was likely a randomly generated maze to play meant I was probably giving more thought to the game than its designer ever did.

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  11. That's true, but Crypts of Chaos lacked the depth, either in terms of mechanics or world, that games like Wizardry had. Having to map out what was likely a randomly generated maze to play meant I was probably giving more thought to the game than its designer ever did.

    As an Atari 2600 collector who contributes to several sites and publications, as well as a fan (?!?) of this game, I need to correct you a bit.

    First up, comparing a 4K game for the 2600 with a game like Wizardry running on a C64 or IBM is like comparing Pong with Doom. Just not a fair cross-platform comparison.

    The maps in Crypts of Chaos were not randomly generated and could be mapped out. Taken for what it is -- a first-person dungeon crawl for the 2600 -- it was a valiant attempt at something a bit more immersive than, say, Adventure or Combat. There were "lairs" with "bosses" to tackle. Magic items to use. Gold to plunder. Various monsters to fight (rather than the three dragon-ducks of Adventure). The game designers really tried to create something special. Keep in mind, this was still in the early days of the system before add-ons like the Starpath/Arcadia Supercharger came about with games like Dragonstomper and Escape From the Mindmaster. Now THOSE games were mindblowing for RPGs and first-person maze crawls, respectively.

    Anyway, it was woefully primitive and the THUD-THUD-THUD of the footsteps could become deafening. But rather than looking down upon the dungeon as a square moved about the playfield, they actually designed a static dungeon that you were "in." Pretty impressive goals for a 4K system originally designed for nothing but Pong clones. ;)

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  12. Sniderman,

    Thanks for the insights and corrections. In my defense, I can only say it's been nearly 30 years since I played this game and my memories of doing so are not fond ones.

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  13. Agree with Sniderman--CoC is on a much more primitive platform. It was ahead of the curve when it came out though.

    I've been trying to track down who the cart artist is for a while. I still have my cart--but not the manual. I just purchased the instructions on ebay though so here's hoping the mystery is solved.

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  14. Oh, and I can be counted as a "fan" of the game as well. Especially since I owned the BX set at the time but there wasn't anyone else in my age range who played the game--this WAS my D&D.

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  15. That airbrushed dragon IS pretty sweet.

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  16. @Soren

    Funny.

    I do know what you mean about the sound and movement in the game. While far from being a game that I'd give passing marks to, I did play Crypts longer than what was warranted. I was determined to get my money's worth.

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  17. Dragon #72 is the first issue that I bought at store with my own money, versus being given as a gift. So, I pretty much memorized its entire contents and I remember this ad quite well.

    Not owning a video game system back then, I knew that I would never get to play this game. And, I also seemed to figure out that somehow I was missing out on "the next big thing" in fantasy gaming. I was brand new to D&D to that was the "big thing" for me, but even at the time I could tell that "this video game thing" was more than just a fad and that it would come to dominate fantasy gaming in the future.

    It made me kind of... sad. Still does.

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  18. LOL,

    Nice to see people still talking about it, even if negatively. It could have been better, but it was the best I could do in 6502 assembler at the time. In hindsight the 3D was a tad over-ambitious.

    Forget "designers." Back then it was one person who did the entire game. Design, art, sound, programming, and manual writing. The only thing I didn't do is the wonderful artwork you guys like so much. I like it too. I wish I had the original.

    The idea came from me, and the company let me do it. I was rather pig-headed at the time, and didn't listen to some good advice. Or any advice. :)

    I told them to advertise in the Dragon. They had never heard of it.

    The Atari 2600 only had 128 BYTES of RAM. The 4 K in the cartridge was ROM. The CPU was pretty slow. You had 76 machine cycles to do one scan line. If we went over that, the screen rolled.

    I don't miss those days. For those who enjoyed the game, great! I get the odd fan mail from around the world every so often.

    For those who hated it... Umm, er... :)

    Another game I did was Lunar Outpost, for the C 64 (Epyx). By that time we had a team (2!). We each did our own sound, graphics, game design, and programming (6502 assembler still). I did the 3D (again!, but this time it worked), and Randy did the top down moon map. On the C64, you had 64K of RAM! Party!

    Did you see the credits from Dragon Age? I think half of Canada worked on that game.

    I think I'll go back to playing with C# now.

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  19. Mr. Marvin, do you happen to know the name of the artist who created the cart art? I've been curious to know for quite a while. :)

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  20. No. :( Wish I did. He did a big painting (~2' x 1.5') and they photographed it and shrunk it. I wonder what became of the painting.

    Fox didn't last long in the gaming business. They closed shop about 3 months after I left for Epyx. I just hope the painting still exists, and whoever has it appreciates it.

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  21. You start talking about a video game made decades ago, and then the designer pops into the room to answer your questions.


    I love the internet.

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