Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Retrospective: Dungeons & Dragons Computer Fantasy Game

After spending the last two weeks talking about two D&D-branded products I didn't own, I thought it only right I talk about one that once was in my possession. Produced in 1981 by Mattel (who also produced the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Intellivision cartridge and Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game), the Dungeons & Dragons Computer Fantasy Game was a small handheld electronic game that featured a LCD screen and three buttons. In the game, you play a warrior who is searching a dungeon for an evil dragon to slay before time runs out and he is sealed forever inside the labyrinth. The dragon could only be slain by a magic arrow that is randomly hidden somewhere in the dungeon. Also hidden randomly are the dungeon itself, along with pit traps, bats, and (on one difficulty level) a magic rope that enables escape from pit traps.

The game itself is pretty primitive by today's standards, but, back in 1981, it was fairly impressive -- or at least I thought so. As you can see from the box top pictured above, the LCD screen showed a dungeon intersection in a quasi-three-dimensions, along with indications of directions in which you could explore further. Each intersection also had a number and letter designation, so you could make a map as you searched. The dungeon itself consisted of 100 squares arranged in ten rows of ten. However, the dungeon wrapped onto itself, so if you went beyond the edge in any direction, you'd reappear at its corresponding opposite edge.

Gameplay was fairly limited and somewhat frustrating -- but in a good way. That is, the frustration I experienced tended to egg me on to try again rather than drive me away from playing further. The frustrations, though, were many. Falling into a pit marked the end of your quest if you didn't have the magic rope. If you did have it, you lost it afterwards and had to locate it again in some random room. Bats could carry you off to another location on the map. And of course there was the countdown clock that marked the passage of time. To win, you had to be fast, attentive, and lucky. You could do everything "right" and still lose, because of random factors beyond your control.

Nevertheless, I loved this game. I can't say it felt much like D&D, though. In fact, I find it fascinating that all three of Mattel's licensed D&D games involved dragons as the main (or only!) opponents, something that, despite the RPG's name, has never been the case. Likewise, two of the three games involve warriors who can use only arrows to defeat their foes. Consequently, these games always felt slightly "off" to me as a player of the roleplaying game, but then I suspect none of them were created by people with any real knowledge of the source material. Instead, they were just riding an existing fad to sell electronic games (which were themselves a fad in their own right).

10 comments:

  1. Sounds like "Hunt the Wumpus". 

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  2. I played the heck out of this game. I really enjoyed it. (In fact, I might still have it tucked away somewhere.) As you were describing it, I thought, "Oh yeah, maybe I could've mapped it." But I don't think I was that ambitious at the time. And those darn bats! Just when you were getting to where you thought you wanted to go...

    You're right, it's not exactly the most representative of D&D: one guy with a bow and no arrows (and no other useful weapons) goes into a dungeon by himself to kill a dragon in a set period of time. But it was still fun.

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  3. It's pretty much exactly Hunt the Wumpus, Ty.

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  4. I forgot that this game existed!  I remember playing this several times, though I didn't own it and can't remember which of my friends did.

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  5. As mentioned by at least a dozen other people by the time I post this, this game was pretty much Hunt The Wumpus, which has a long and proud history of being ripped off because it is so utterly adaptable. My personal favorite version of it is in the DuckTales PC game.

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  6. Although the game I'm about to mention wasn't AD&D branded, I was IN LOVE  with Adventure for the Atari 2600. In retrospect, the play was pretty limited--your warrior was a little dot who could at times pick up a magic sword or a handful of other, crudely rendered items. But the three dragons and the mazes and the three castles really sucked me in at the time--I lost hours playing that game. And it had bats that would steal whatever item you were carrying and place it randomly somewhere with the game.

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  7. I also adored Adventure on the 2600.  For its time it was impressive, especially with the variable placement of the objects.  

    And the dragons looked like angry, hopping ducks.  

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  8. I had it and mapped the early games and never until now realized that the map was repeating when I went off the edge. The longest one I ever drew out ended up taking up more than a sheet of graph paper.

    Stupid kid.

    I think after that first Christmas day of playing it, I stopped mapping it out, though, chalking it up to my impressive intuition (and not the fact that it was only ten passageways in either direction.)

    It was a really fun game, but I'm pretty sure that was the Christmas that I got three new Eamon games for the Apple, too. You can probably guess which ones consumed me more.

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  9. I've actually go this D&D handheld game and it's still in great condition (the box not as much). I played it on and off as a kid, but felt like it was so fragile I shouldn't. It's sitting on my shelf as I write this, waiting to get packed and moved to our new house where I hope it can have a little more visible perch on the "Shelf of Nerddom".

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  10. still have this. havent played it in about 30 years (yikes). always wanted to pull it back out during high school and more recently but didnt want to go find watch batteries for it.

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