An early Dungeon Siege

When you ask an avid gamer what the best RPG is on the Commodore 64, chances are the answer would be Ultima.  It is indeed a classic, no doubt about that, but for me, the best RPG games are the SSI Gold Box editions of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons series.
What I liked about these games was the gameplay of course, but also the way the atmosphere was invoked: partly via the texts, partly via the graphical battle scenes and top of the bill, the animation when you searched your way through a town or castle.  The little window had just the right detail of the surroundings to really make you feel you were watching the events and the rooms you entered through the eyes of one of your characters.

This style of visualization wasn’t new to the RPG genre as it turned out.  A small, little known game by Stewart Sargaison called “Halls of Death” (a Dungeon Siege type game) was released in 1983 at the start of the Commodore 64 era and it used or rather introduced the setup, i.e. a small window detailing the surroundings (in this game, the dungeons) and a window to show the action scenes, i.e. the fights with the many monsters you encountered.

The game is nowhere near the graphical splendor the SSI games boast (it uses the PETSCII characters to create the dungeons for instance) but it did invoke the atmosphere (that is, if you like exploring dungeons and killing monsters).
You start of at the top level of a dungeon and can move around the maze.  Along the way, you’ll find treasures that will increase your $$$ or magical items that will increase your strength or psionics.   Hitting the C-key will allow you to increase your strength by paying with psionics and vice versa.

The monsters on the first level are quite easy and a few blows will usually send them to the permanent halls of death, but you can descend to the lower levels if you find the stairs hidden in the maze.  The deeper you descend in the halls, the tougher the enemies become and you’ll be looking to cast some spells (you have sleep, teleport, lightning, fireball) to clear the path.  The rewards are bigger as well, and I remember playing this game and going down immediately to level 2 and 3 to get some magical items, so my strength increased and then went up to level 1 again and started killing some monsters.
It wasn’t until I hit the Run/Stop button and typed “LIST” (yes, you could go into the code of the game!) that I noticed, at line 2760 a “Dragon”.  I was only able to fight against the dragon on a few occasions as you had to go down really deep in the dungeon, and as the enemies got tougher, so the chances of finding the dragon got smaller.

I’d encourage any RPG fan to load up this little game and enjoy the roots of graphical RPG/Dungeon Siege gaming on computers… and it all started when the C64 was released!

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