Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Retrospective: Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game

Though video games existed in the late '70s and early '80s, they were still limited enough in their capabilities that they didn't exercise the same kind of pervasive influence they seem to nowadays. Consequently, I still consider the era of my late childhood and early teens, which, not coincidentally, corresponds with my introduction into the hobby, to be "pre-digital." At the same time, it was clear even then that the times they were a-changin', as evidenced by the large number of odd hybrid "electronic" games that I can remember. Many of these games were basically boardgames that used primitive computers for a variety of purposes, from randomization to bookkeeping to providing an unseen opponent against which to play. A terrific example of this can be seen in Milton Bradley's Dark Tower, about which I've written before.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, TSR lent the Dungeons & Dragons name to an electronic game produced in 1980 by Mattel. Mattel, you'll remember, would later produce video game cartridges for its Intellivision system that were also tied to D&D (or, rather, AD&D). Called a "computer labyrinth game," it consisted of a large electronic "board," metallic pieces to represent two warriors, a dragon, and a treasure, and plastic pieces used to represent the walls of a dungeon. The walls of the dungeon (or "labyrinth," as the game calls it) were generated randomly by the game and could only be discovered by exploration. Each square of the board had a touch-sensitive pad on it. As you moved your warrior, the board would beep in various tones to indicate what you discover, including the walls of the labyrinth. Thus, as you moved across the board, you were also mapping out the dungeon with plastic pieces.

The goal of the game was to discover the treasure hidden within it and take it back to your "secret room," which was a player-selected starting point. Guarding the treasure was the dragon. The dragon began the game asleep in his lair, but he would "awaken" if the game detected any warrior within a few squares of his location. Once awoken, the dragon would then begin to seek out the nearest warrior and attempt to wound him. The dragon could fly and thus go over walls and other obstacles that a warrior could not. Every time he successfully finds and attacks a warrior, that warrior's movement rate per turn is lessened and he must return to his secret room immediately. Take four wounds, though, and your warrior dies and you are out of the game (or lose, if you are playing it solo).

Limited though it was by today's standards, the game nevertheless had a lot of versatility and options. There was, for example, a "basic" and "advanced" version of the game, with the advanced version adding secrets doors, for example. There was also player vs player combat, something that inevitably occurred, since there was only one treasure. Stealing it from the other player was thus an acceptable way to win. As noted above, the game could also be played solo -- you against the computerized dragon. That feature alone made it extremely enticing to me, though I never owned a copy myself. The game retailed for close to $50 in 1980, which was a princely sum. My friend -- the same one who owned the Intellivision -- had a copy, though, and so I played it as often as I could.

The Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game would likely not hold my attention for long these days, except as a curiosity. Still, I retain a great fondness for it, mostly because it's an artifact from a bygone age, back before video games were ubiquitous and when "electronic" was an adjective that described The Future.

23 comments:

  1. I scored not one, but two, of these from a thrift store a few years ago for a dollar each.  One works great, but 5 seconds of tinkering could not get the second to work.  Some day I'll have to rectify that.
     
    I never actually had or even played this game in the old days, though I remember seeing the commercial often enough.  I think if I did have it, I'd have played it a lot less than Dark Tower.

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  2. Yeah, this game has nothing on Dark Tower.

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  3. I wish I was more appreciative of my parents who  bought this for me back in the day.

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  4. I had this game once.  Never could get into it.

    I also had the poster which was awesome, till my idiot college roommate ripped it.

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  5. THis game got me through many a boring night stuck at the grandparents.

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  6. I have fond memories of playing Quest for the Rings on my Odyssey 2.

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  7. I got once of these from a neighbor a year or so ago. It works, but all the pieces are missing. No minis, no dungeon walls. Thought about trying to fashion some sort of dungeon walls, but it didn't seem like it was worth the effort.

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  8. Peter V. Dell'OrtoApril 18, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    I have one of these. It used to work, but I never finished even a single game of it. I'm not sure if it still does . . . it's in my "to eBay" pile.

    I just never saw the attraction of this one - maybe because by the time I got to play it, I'd already played hundreds of hours of Wizardry I and Ultima III. This seemed kind of lame in comparison.

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  9. I was probably 6-7 - but a precocious gamer - when this 'hybrid' trend was biggest (before Atari's 2600 blew up). Not fantasy, but I do remember playing Stop, Thief! a lot with my family: 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3wpPRdDy4E  

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  10. I still have it (haven't plugged in the O2 in years, though, so I have no idea if it still works). I keep thinking that I should use the ideas in a roleplaying campaign, which is a thought that I've been having ever since we got the game. I still haven't done it. I don't know why.

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  11.  I loved that game!

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  12. Wow, I had this game. I don't recall how often I really played it. Probably a few times with my friends but it never became a go-to leisure time activity. I don't know what happened to it. My dad probably unloaded it at a yard sale for a couple of bucks...

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  13. The dragon on the cover is charmingly non-D&D-ish.

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  14. I had both this game and Dark Tower and I LOVED them.  I just wish they hadn't both broken when I was in my teens.  Oh well.

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  15. Speaking of Dark Tower, when a Roomba vacuum cleaner is started it makes a sound almost exactly like the "combat begins" sound in Dark Tower.  I mean pretty close to EXACTLY like it.  But it has to be just a coincidence.  Right?

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  16. If it makes you feel better, my parents (in their infinite wisdom) decided to purge the house of most of the games while I was off doing Navy stuff -- Dark Tower was only one of dozens lost during the Garage Sale of Doom.  They're lucky my collection of Dragon Mags and old TSR modules survived, or I'd probably never have spoken to them again!

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  17. My first exposure to D&D-by-name as a kid was the cartoon, which I loved, entirely unaware of its origins.  Eventually though I picked up somehow that it was based on something else and that something was a game of some kind. Then the commercials for this electronic version started playing, so I assumed that this beeping toy was the "real D&D" that the cartoon (and toys) were based on. The funny thing is I didn't find out the real situation until more than a couple years later.

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  18.  I haven't played that game in a thousand years, but I still remember (and imitate!) the sound effects and "music" from the game. Fun memories.

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  19. I vaguely remember this one.  Never bought or played it, however.  Dark Tower was the bomb-diggety at the time though.

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  20. I've played this with my boys, and they enjoyed it a lot, and even found the dragon's flying to be a bit too menacing, sometimes.  They still liked Dungeon! better, I think, but the "discovering the board" side of the game definitely helped Ethan learn how to map dungeons on graph paper better.

    Allan.

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  21. It's no Dark Tower, but I still have my copy of the game, and the original box...no rules, alas, since the rules didn't actually fit in the parts tray. Great, no, but not too bad for its day.

    When will you cover the little handheld game that ran on a watch battery? I played that for many an hour as a kid, even used graph paper to map out the pit-filled dungeon from time to time.

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  22.  The handheld game is what I was going to cover next week, actually :)

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  23. Had this - it was a hand me down, circa 84 or 85.  All the plastic wall bits were gone so it was mostly worthless, but the dragon fig was the first thing I ever slapped a coat of paint on.  The sounds still haunt my nightmares.

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