Aside from this ad from 1984, you might not have heard about Aardvark Action Software. I only knew about them from their port of Bag It Man for the C64 which I remember playing in the arcade as Bagman under the Stern label.
Aardvark’s titles were about as obscure as the publisher aside from the one exception in Bag It Man. Pyramid and Paranoids Anonymous were both pieces of interactive fiction, though if you may not have heard about those, either, I wouldn’t be surprised considering Infocom was also swaggering onto shelves at the same time with the likes of Planetfall and the Zork series. Almost as if to leverage itself against that kind of popularity, the ad also boasted that Pyramid would take 50 – 70 hours to solve. Whether that was true or not was anyone’s guess!
But of interest to CRPGers were two other titles on this page – Dungeons of Death and Wizards (sic) Tower. Both hinted at being “D&D type” titles which more than a few CRPGs did back in the day even though they didn’t license the system outright. As was often the case, they borrowed conventions that they liked and then added their own tweaks to the mix, making them “D&D-ish” enough to attract gamers that may have also been involved with the PnP phenomenon, something that Japan would also take to heart in the early years in establishing its own RPG roots in video gaming.
Dungeons of Death was broken up into three programs – a character creator, the actual dungeon, and the town where upgrades were made. Its characters were typical staples of classic D&D: the fighter, cleric, wizard, etc.. along with statistics that we take for granted today such as strength, dexterity, wisdom, intelligence, and charisma. Four brave souls could make up the party according to the materials preserved over at the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History which considers it similar to Epyx’s Temple of Apshai. And looking at the ad, the game was available for both the TRS-80 and the C64.
It didn’t go so far as to explicitly use THAC0 and also made use of “player history sheets” to track changes to their stats. From what I can understand, and given the limitations at the time, characters can earn experience in the game and gain levels, but the actual changes had to be tracked by the player. Changes needed to be recorded on physical sheets along with a character code that would be required for the game to recognize them.
Wizards Tower was the lighter version where a player simply picked a role and then took off on an adventure with them to recover three artifacts to save the realm. Sadly, there’s not much than that to go on from the documentation over at the Museum.
But Bag It Man was clearly the most popular of its titles, even with the name change from Stern’s Bagman in the arcade. The goal was simple and fun at the same time – as a burglar, this side-viewed action game had you climb down into a mine to find bags of gold and make off with them to the wheelbarrow on the surface.
You can only carry one bag at a time and cops were on your case along with whatever dangers were underground such as moving mine carts. It even had synthesized voice samples and players could walk off the edge of the screen to find even more mine shafts to plunder. It was a clever arcade game with neat sounds, a colorful attract mode, and an addicting challenge.
Unfortunately, after putting these games out, Aardvark quietly fell off of the gaming map. Little else was heard from them, or most of their own titles in later years.