2018-07-16: More retro RPG rambling

The other night I was musing on wanting to find a series of RPGs I hadn't discovered yet, like Deep Dungeons. I may have, kind of?

While futzing around with some old Big Blue Disk dumps, I came across Dark Designs: Grelminar's Staff. This is apparently a sort of hybrid early Ultima/Wizardry style game authored by John Carmack before he went to form Id Software.

The game is a shareware sized chunk of gameplay, as would be expected on a diskmag. The interesting thing though is there's six of them, spread out across the life of the diskmag publication. As far as I can tell three were authored directly by Carmack, and three were written by a different developer using Carmack's engine. All six together would probably combine into one fairly long gameplay experience. An Etrian Odyssey in game length maybe? (Are we measuring game length in EOs now?)

The down side is getting all six of these things running. Platform availability across the series is a little strange. Chapters 1 and 2 are available on DOS and Apple II with both e and GS versions, Chapter 3 drops the DOS support, and Chapters 4 through 6 regress to only offering the e version for Apple II support. That latter most point is a real shame too because the version tailored for the GS offered a pretty significant increase in graphical fidelity that just ceased to exist for the latter half of the series; probably due to the fact that Carmack was not part of the development of those chapters.

Having toyed with the games a bit, they're definitely a bare bones affair: an Akalabeth to the eventual Ultima that followed. Still, there's some neat little features here. You can, I believe anyway, export your party from each chapter into the next, playing the entire series with one group of adventurers. Of course, to make that work you have to make sure you have platform consistency, and for that you are essentially locked onto running an Apple IIe or Apple IIGS.

The bump in graphical fidelity for the first three games is too good to pass up; unfortunately emulating the Apple IIGS is a very sketchy affair. KEGS is your best option on a Windows system, and it's not a very friendly tool at all. At least I now know how to handle ProDOS 6? I guess that's a plus?

I may stream these some time, though I suspect their austerity would turn off viewers. There's no music, no sound, no animations. It makes Wizardry 1 for the IIe look like a modern AAA title. Still it's charming.

tags: dark_designs, rpg, preservation