Dungeons on the Intellivision – AD&D: Treasure of Tarmin

The numbers weren’t merely an idle boast. The game had an surprisingly deep level of detail from its dungeons to the randomly placed monsters and loot you could find. Depending on your difficulty level, the dungeon could be deeper still. It was as close to what PC players like those on the Apple ][ were exposed to without having to worry about floppy disks.

As sophisticated as Raiders of the Lost Ark in ’82 was with its inventory and puzzle-driven gameplay on the Atari 2600, the Mattel’s Intellivision system boasted of being capable of more sophisticated experiences thanks to its beefier hardware and keypad controller.

An example of this was AD&D: Treasure of Tarmin, programmed by Tom Loughry and which was in development since 1981 by APh Technology Consultants, released in 1983 which combined an inventory, first-person combat, loot, and a multi-level dungeon on a console. While it wasn’t the first AD&D game for the console (AD&D Cloudy Mountain came out in 1982 and offered a more tabletop experience with a top-down view of the game), it was considerably advanced for its time compared to many of its peers.

The keypad overlay gave the player a lot of latitude when it came to interacting with the game upholding Intellivision's promise for bigger experiences.

The keypad overlay gave the player a lot of options when it came to interacting with the game upholding Intellivision’s promise for bigger experiences that weren’t possible on the Atari 2600. (image credit: INTV Funhouse)

The premise was simple — you’re an adventurer heading into a maze buried beneath castle ruins to find the legendary Treasure of Tarmin held by a powerful Minotaur at its lowest level. Armed with only a bow, everything you need to survive will be found within its passages from weapons to food and ammo.

The game was set in first person and used the famous “grid based” movement PC RPGs would help popularize complete with 90° turns. But it also had some unique touches that were advanced even when compared to its PC counterparts. It had simple sounds, no music, but the enticing game play was made up for all of that in spades much like many other console titles on the Atari 2600 to the ColecoVision and the Intellivision did back in the day.

This is what the castle map looks like at its easiest setting, showing a rough look at how many levels there were...

This is what the castle map looks like at its easiest setting, showing a rough look at how many levels there were…

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And here it is on the hardest setting, though like in the Easiest setting, you can go deeper than what is shown here (maximum depth was 256 floors). Each floor was comprised of hallways and rooms not see in this sideways slice, adding to the complexity.

And here it is on the hardest setting, though like in the Easiest setting, you can go deeper than what is shown here (maximum depth was 256 floors, or “dungeons”). Each floor was comprised of hallways and rooms not seen in this sideways slice, adding to the complexity.

Your health and fighting ability was divided into two categories — War and Spiritual. War was mostly your physical fighting ability with swords, bows, and all that fun stuff as well as whatever damage you might receive affecting that part of you. Spiritual was concerned more with the “spellcasting” side of the game and started off a lot lower than your War health score. Some attacks only damage that part of you and if either score goes to zero, you basically die and lose everything you have except for whatever weapon you were using at the time and you may get “reincarnated” to get another chance. In harder levels of the game, terrifying monsters may affect both scores at the same time.

The screen was filled with everything you needed to know at a glance.

The screen was filled with everything you needed to know at a glance. In the lower right hand corner, three rows from top to bottom were 1) War / Spiritual HP; 2) Armor /Ring armor score; 3) War / Spiritual weapon strength. That number “2” in the middle near the bottom indicated what dungeon level you were on. In combat, it would be replaced with the monster’s health score. On the left hand corner, that served as your compass as I’m facing North.

The controls were a bit awkward to get used to, but the keypad of the Intellivision’s controller (thanks to the overlay supplied with the game and slipped over the buttons) made everything easier to understand. Weapons and other items were found on the floor of the dungeons — not in piles, just one item at a time randomly placed with every new game — and you can only pick them up one at a time.

Combat was simple to grasp and it was sort of real-time and turn-based. Monsters were static, they never moved, making it easy to spot them a few squares away and either turn back or rest up before fighting. When you engaged a monster, they’d usually get a first strike throwing a weapon at you and then waited for you to attack.

Once you did, they’d get another shot, but it also felt action-oriented as you tried to mash your attack button to get a shot off or swap in another weapon once you tossed the first one out. Bows and crossbows were super useful since you could use them more than once thanks to arrows. Swords and other weapons like scrolls tended to “vanish” after using them since you apparently threw them at the enemy or spent their spellpower, respectively. Bows also had a chance to vanish, too, but they were guaranteed to stick around a lot more often than that orange axe you might have picked up…and thrown at the enemy.

An orange Mario hat like thing! Picking up armor with your right hand and then "using" it wore it.

An orange Mario hat like thing! Picking up armor with your right hand and then “using” it wore it.

You had a pack that could hold up to six items and you could hold things in your left and right hand (such as wield a shield in your left and a weapon in your right). The “Swap Pack” button allows you to swap an item in your right hand to put into your pack, or swap it with another item in that pack. You can rotate the ring of items in the pack to swap the one you want and this way, manage a small arsenal to keep yourself alive and fighting.

You could also drop items on the floor, though only one item at a time could occupy a spot (you’d just pick up whatever was there and swap it with what you dropped). Ladders led deeper into the dungeon, with no way back up, but while you were on a level whatever you dropped stayed where it was which was a neat technical trick at the time.

Some might point to World of Warcraft’s popularization of color codes for gear rarity in games — a concept that has gone on to spread into many other non-MMO games as well — though it’s not a new idea, at least where game loot was concerned. Tarmin also used a color coding system to indicate gear power. Depending on what was being described, a color could mean different things from “Fair” where “War Weapon Types” such as knives and bows were concerned to “Regular Power” where “Spiritual Weapons” like scrolls and spells fell under.

Gear in the game was extremely expendable so you literally had to keep an arsenal on hand since you'd burn through it all. And on the other page, you can see the color codes used to designate the quality of what you discovered.

Gear in the game was extremely expendable so you literally had to keep an arsenal on hand since you’d burn through it all. And on the other page, you can see the color codes used to designate the quality of what you discovered. That chunky looking guy was the dreaded Minotaur who held the Treasure of Tarmin you were after and awaited adventurers on the lowest level.

You also had to worry about food but only as a matter of healing. Food determined just how many times you could rest up and heal your hit points. Clever uses of the controller told you just how many arrows and food packs you had with a series of beeps since a ton of information was already crammed on the screen.

Enemies also come in different colors, much like your loot, indicating how powerful they are like this yellow giant.

Enemies also come in different colors, much like your loot, indicating how powerful they are like this yellow giant.

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Defeating an enemy made them disappear in a puff of smoke. In this case, the beast got off one more thrown weapon before poofing away.

Defeating an enemy made them disappear in a puff of smoke. In this case, the beast got off one more thrown weapon before poofing away. Raising your health and spiritual score was often due to finding special books that would add onto them when used, or killing so many monsters.

There were also doors you had to open in your journey (and which always closed behind you every time), traps like bombs to avoid, keys that unlocked corresponding colored containers, and of course, treasure like coins and necklaces to hoard on your way to find the Minotaur lurking on the lowest level. It was a great dungeon crawl for the Intellivision, and in general, at the time.

The game could also get a bit repetitive — especially if you went too far and skipped the level the Minotaur was lurking on and headed deeper into the maze…suddenly realizing that you missed the level and were now frantically trying to find another Minotaur to fight by heading deeper and scouring every room in your way. It was great if you wanted to keep killing monsters, raising your scores, and collect more loot, but there was no save function and endlessly exploring its green hallways and mashing pixels could get pretty stale after so long.

Tarmin saw a release for Mattel’s Aquarius PC and an Atari 2600 was actually in the works. But this was also 1983, the era of the “Video Game Crash”, and Mattel Electronic would shutter its doors that same year with losses that nearly forced its parent company to declare bankruptcy. Having had success in the handheld market, Mattel didn’t quite find the same success with consoles and games like AD&D: Treasure of Tarmin were relegated to bargain bins and, eventually, relative obscurity.

For a console game at the time, Tarmin was an impressive dungeon crawler featuring a clever control scheme and features that would be at home on the PC. It even had something of a fan “sequel” created for the Xbox Live market called Ghosts of Tarr-Minos which takes place after the events of this game. A forgotten dungeon from yesteryear, this is one treasure that showed off some of the ingenuity at the time for how far technology could be pushed to deliver a unique experience for loot hungry adventurers.

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