Posted by: Ben | January 25, 2010

Man Vs Genre: Dragonstomper

The Facts

Dragonstomper has the coolest name out of all the RPGs, and I know because I’ve seen all of them written down. Released by Starpath for the fetchingly wood-panelled Atari 2600 (my grandad had one of those) in 1982, it may or may not be the first console RPG (a licensed Dungeons & Dragons game was released for the Colecovision in the same year). According to Wikipedia, Forbes magazine called it “The best title ever made in the history of US videogaming” in 2005 and they wouldn’t say something that wasn’t true. Downloaded from www.atarimania.com and running on Stella.

The Cover

The should-be-iconic image of a bloke wearing a sort of dragon-headed helmet.

The Lore

Once this was a happy place to live. There was plenty to eat and drink, and the children could play safely in the forests. The King was wise and ruled with a gentle hand.

It’s a matter of fact rather than opinion when I say that stylistically that is a million times better than anything with thees or thous in it.

Then a Druid magician completed the enchantment of a powerful amulet. The amulet, thought the Druid, would subdue the dragon. The Druid, controlling the fierce beast, would become invincible. So, amulet in hand, the Druid magician entered the dragon’s cave. And fell into a trap.

So the kingdom is being terrorised by a dragon. So far, so humdrum. But here’s the twist. The dragon is not intrinsically evil, and if you can relieve him of the magical amulet that’s the source of his power it might even be possible to rehabilitate him. Fascinating.

Character Building

I am Keema Korma VII, Stomper of Dragons.

The Game

Although I wouldn’t rate this particular character’s chances against a dragon, since their entire life consisted of alternately fighting and running away from monsters until the icy hand of death closed around their throat. It went something like this:

Oh no, a slime!!! Oh no, a spider!!! You kill the spider. You gain a key!! Oh no, a monkey!!! You kill the monkey. You gain a potion!! Oh no, scorpions!!! Oh no, a snake!!! Oh no, a monkey!!!
Oh no, a ghoul!!! Trap!!! You are dead.

Total play time: 5 minutes

Verdict: Not as good as that other 2600 classic, Adventure, this game’s definitely a victim of that imperfect adaptation syndrome I was talking about before. See, if it wasn’t for the combat, you’d walk to the end and finish the game in seconds, but there’s literally no skill involved in the combat, apart from waiting to see if your hit points increase. Next!

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Responses

  1. Just finished reading through these and have really enjoyed the series so far. A lot of these earlier games are attempts to bring table top gaming onto computers which makes me wonder if you’ve had much experience with the pen and paper side of RPGs? A lot of the tropes which the games play on are lifted directly rom these sources with D&D being the major contributor to both these early games and the state of the genre as it is now.

  2. Yes, although the pen and paper RPG is pretty much a closed book to me you can certainly see its influence on these games. What interests me is how CRPGs have evolved from simple dungeon crawls to the complex stories of current games. I suspect that the pen and paper games have evolved in parallel over a similar period of time, but how that’s happened and whether or not computer RPGs have gone on to return the favour by influencing later “proper” RPGs is a question for somebody else to answer.

  3. The outlook on Druids is very interesting, I Myself have just recently published a book series on the very topic of Druids. I look foward to your comments. http://colossusofevil.wordpress.com/


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