The Dungeons of Daggorath!

Once again I’m reaching into my childhood to bring you something fun.  When I was a wee lad (circa 1984 or so), I was given an awesome Christmas gift, a Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer 2.  This bad boy had 16K of memory!  16 freaking K!  It wasn’t as cool as a Commodore, of course, but for a poor kid in a backwater town, the TRS-80 was a dream.

Pictured: the knockoff iPad of 1984!

Not only did I get the computer, I got a tape recorder and some tapes (which acted as the hard drive), a printer (which printed on a thermal role about twice the width of a cash register tape), and two games!  One was Spelunker, which I’ll talk about another time.  The other was Dungeons of Daggorath, and it would come to occupy an unhealthy amount of my time.

This game was the second 3-D home video game ever created.  It was, in fact, 3-D…and it was first person.  It was basically the Skyrim of 1984.  I’ve got a couple of screenshots below to show you what I mean:

For the early 1980s, this was cutting edge, and I played this game until my legs started to burn from the CoCo2 sitting on my lap.  The game’s premise was simple: the tiny hamlet of Rivenshire is threatened by an ancient evil wizard, and it’s up to you and your trusty wooden sword to take him out.  Pretty standard fantasy fare, but it was more than a lot of games at the time had in way of a backstory.  Here’s the actual intro:

“There is a tale,” he said, “passed down for centuries and almost forgotten, of a time in the Olden Days when a curse such as this descended on the land. Deep beneath these towering crags, in the Dungeons of Daggorath, an evil Wizard made his home and grew in power. But before his destruction of the land was complete, a brave adventurer ventured into the fearsome Dungeons and drove the Wizard away, saving Rivenshire from a devilish fate.”

The game is played by typing in letters, which are abbreviations for commands.  For example, “A R” meant “Attack Right”, or attack with the item in your right hand.  Movement worked the same way – “M R” would move right, and “T R” would turn right, meaning you could “strafe” by moving back and forth without turning.

The game had an inventory management system, you backpack, and it also used torches that limited your vision.  The worst torch, a “pine torch” would last about 15 minutes before going out.  There were also lunar and solar torches which lasted for a very long time, showed pretty much everything, and even showed hidden doors and magical beasts who were otherwise invisible.  As I mentioned above, you also had “hands” and could put thing in your left or right hand, and it didn’t matter which you used.  While you could “dual wield”, there was no advantage to it, and you were better off with a shield in one hand.

The game had multiple levels, and you could climb between levels via a ladder or fall through traps.  I spent a huge amount of time mapping the levels, each of which filled most of a graph paper page.  Each level had different enemies, which grew progressively stronger.  On the first level, you faced snakes, spiders, stone giants, and a pair of blobs.  The second level added knights and stronger giants.  On the third level, you faced a fake version of the evil wizard.  If you moved up and down too much between levels, a nasty creature, a Balrog, would come after you, and it was practically invincible.

One of the best aspects of the game was the sound – you heard creatures long before you saw them.  Giants had a particularly menacing deep breath sound.  Your health was your heartbeat, and if it got too high, you died.  One of the flasks in the game was poison that would do that to you, sending your heart fluttering until you died.

I never actually beat the game.  I memorized the whole first level, and all the commands and how long to wait to use them, but I never beat the game.  But now…if I wanted…I could, and that’s the point of this article.

There has been an extensive effort to port this game to modern pcs.  You can download and play it now if you’d like.  You can also go to youtube and see videos of people defeating the game, which isn’t very spectacular.

Just another piece of my childhood I’m sharing with all of you.


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