IMPORTANT: Knight of Diamonds requires characters developed in Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (Scenario #1), or other Wizardry Scenarios. You cannot play Knight of Diamonds unless you have played another Wizardry game. Characters who have not attained the 13th level of experience will have little chance of success.
– from the back of the C64 box for Wizardry: Knight of Diamonds – The Second Scenario (1988)
Fresh off of the whirlwind success of the first Wizardry, Wizardry: Knight of Diamonds – The Second Scenario would be released in 1982, again for the venerable Apple II. By the end of 1982, Computer Gaming World had estimated in their Nov – Dec issue that Apple held over 26% of the software market, further establishing it as the “go-to” platform for many game designers, something which Richard Garriott had also taken advantage of with his early entries to the Ultima series.
Like the first game, the story for Knight of Diamonds was about as complete as what you’d typically find in a FPS nowadays. Calamity has struck the peaceful city of Llylgamyn. An evil usurper, Davalpus, has slain the royal family and had taken control. In a terrific battle, however, Davalpus was thrown down. But the enchanted armor of the Knight of Diamonds was also lost. The Staff of Gnilda was also lost, leaving Llylgamyn without its mystic protection. Only a hero who delves into ruins of the Temple of Gnilda and recovers the armor has any hope of receiving the grace of the patron god, and ultimately, the Staff.
And so it begins. The blurb on the back of the box was all that was really needed leaving the manual free to break down all of the mechanics. Storytelling in CRPGs still had plenty of room to grow at this point in their history. But the meat of the game – the challenging dungeon, party of adventurers, and the gold — was still there.
Only this time, players had to have an experienced party with them to see any of it. It was an unusual requirement that mirrored that of tabletop scenarios like those found in Dungeons & Dragons — and which games such as Wizardry were inspired by — that would give it a bit of the hardcore cred that many regarded it with. It was a hard requirement, but given the runaway success of the first game the year before, not something that necessarily doomed it on store shelves.
Unlike a number of other games, such as Ultima, Wizardry didn’t use a simple numbering system opting instead to clearly label itself as “The Second Scenario”, something that would also provide a subtle warning to players in general. While designers like Richard Garriott wanted a wider audience for their titles by polishing mechanics and making the challenge for his games open enough to ease into by any skill level, Sir-Tech’s Wizardry series didn’t often go out of its way to do the same thing.
It’s also the same basic approach used by tabletop scenarios from companies from TSR to Paizo. As their audiences advanced in experience, authors had to come up with more challenging adventures to expand their horizons with, labeling them accordingly with blurbs declaring “An Adventure Module for Character Levels 3-5” often specifying how many such characters were needed to survive it. It’s also something we’re still seeing today in MMORPGs as level caps are raised, new raids are loaded up, and new dungeons are built to bring smiles to high-end characters already bucking against their level limits. Wizardry embraced those early staples, translating them over into its gameplay and scenario-based structure. Subsequent games were akin to “expansion packs”, each one building atop the next in line up to the fourth scenario.
The improvements in Knight of Diamonds were often technical in nature — better graphics, improved interface features, finally being able to save in the dungeon as opposed to having to go back to the surface every time. It still looked a lot like the first, only now with a new, six level dungeon and quest.
Knights automatically assumed that you had gone through the first “scenario” and early versions of the game required players to have had gone through the first game in order to have the characters needed for this one. This was no stand-alone adventure in those early years. This was a club for Wizardry fans only and a risky commercial bet if not a bold, design decision.
Apple users would get an early taste of this from the blurb on the back of their box, something that was a bit less verbose than the one above that eventually made it onto the packaging for later PC ports:
IMPORTANT: Knight of Diamonds is a scenario for experienced players, and requires characters developed in the first Wizardry scenario, Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.
Like Ultima, players could actually transfer their favorite characters from the first game into this one — much like players of tabletop scenarios like those in Dungeons & Dragons enjoyed. Players could even transfer characters back to previous scenarios if they wanted, something of a unique and rare feature at the time. The difference, at least with these early versions, was that it was a requirement. In Ultima, players who didn’t play the previous chapter could still jump right into the new one.
In Japan, ASCII had also handled the release of the Second Scenario for the Famicom much like what they had done with Proving Grounds. One unusual thing about this, however, is that it actually followed their release of The Legacy of Llylgamyn, the third Wizardry, for the console.
But one thing that the Famicom could do that the NES port in North America didn’t was the character transfer thanks to a Japan-only peripheral called the Turbo File. Also manufactured by ASCII, it allowed players to save to it, thus, allowing them to transfer characters from one game to another. When the NES received the Knight of Diamonds port from ASCII in 1991 (with a number of cosmetic changes such as colored dungeon walls and better looking beasties), it was apparently rebalanced allowing play without the requirement in having a previously seasoned party.
Knight of Diamonds was mechanically identical to, and just as brutal as, the first game giving credence to the idea that this was much more like an early expansion. Players could once again take control of a six member party imported from Proving Grounds, complete with the spells and gear that they had discovered. All of the classes were available along with the usual stopovers such as Boltac’s Trading Post, Temple of Cant for resurrections and heals, and the Adventurer’s Inn where they can organize their groups from imported adventurers. One piece of mercy that the programmers instituted was in being able to save while in a dungeon — players had to retreat to the surface in Proving Grounds to save their game, adding in the additional challenge of surviving long enough to see daylight again.
The Apple II would enjoy its exclusive for a few years before the game was ultimately ported to a wide number of platforms, such as the Commodore 64 in 1988 or the NES when it arrived via ASCII in North America in 1991. But like its predecessor, the PC versions only exist either as abandonware on the ‘net or in someone’s NES/Famicom collection.
The Famicom/NES version, in particular, boasted considerable cosmetic improvements from a series of stills telling the story, textured walls instead of wireframes, and the always-on soundtrack. Knight of Diamonds would also be the “final” adventure in a Japan-only compilation of the first three Wizardry games for the SNES in 1992 titled Wizardry I-II-II: The Story of Llylgamyn.
Interplay had also released it along with all of the Wizardry titles up to Wizardry Gold (and updated version of Wizardry VII which was also in the collection) in 1998 for IBM-PCs, but by that time, Wizardry’s best days were already far behind it.
Sir-Tech bound Wizardry inside the basic idea of blob-combat captured inside a pseudo 3D dungeon maze for several ‘scenarios’. As appealing as that was, other CRPGs would eventually begin looking beyond the “dungeon in the wilderness” look in exchange for a world of adventure such as what Ultima’s Richard Garriott had been promoting since Akalabeth hit shelves in 1980. In later years, others (such as SSI’s Questron and Jon Van Caneghem’s Might & Magic) would add to that pressure in trying to blend the kind of mechanical depth that Wizardry began with in with a more deeply textured setting. Tabletops were already doing it. Why couldn’t other CRPGs do the same thing?
At the same time, there’s also something to be said about a focused adventure taking place in the bowels beneath forgotten ruins, of endless passages riddled with monsters, traps, and puzzles testing any that might dare to challenge themselves — and fill the complimentary sheets of Sir-Tech labeled graph paper that came with the game. For more than a few foolhardy adventurers that found solace in Wizardry’s brutal atmosphere, having a wide open world was just another extension of the dungeon crawl — only with fewer walls.