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Written by  :  Cary Brown (21)
Written on  :  Jul 13, 2021
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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The First RPG I Ever Played... (and I still play emulation... to this day.)

The Good

This was Texas Instruments' foray into adventure RPG games... a basic "Rogue" style RPG with several significant innovations.

"Rogue" had been available on various workstations, and is still available to this day. It's a top-down dungeon-exploration game.

This game altered the formula however... in a "first" as far as I'm aware... by transforming the "exploration" phase of the game into the First Person mode. This made it far, far more immersive... albeit the First-Person 3D is not impressive by modern standards by any means, it was the first time a Rogue-like had been done this way.

It keeps the "top-down" feature of Rogue, too, but treats this like an "automap" (again, I think the first time an "automap" had ever been included in any game). When in rooms, the game shifts to a close-up top-down "Rogue-style" perspective, however, though made up of actual graphics, rather than simple text characters like "Rogue" uses.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game... again, as far as I know, a "first"... is the fact that while the main game engine is provided (in cartridge format), the individual game configurations are provided separately (in this case, two "dungeon designs" can be installed from provided cassette tape or 5.25' floppy disk media). While the core features of the program don't change, the details do... provided with the game are "Pennies and Prizes" (a kid-friendly dungeon exploration without violence, weapons, etc) and "Quest for the King" (a traditional "Dungeons and Dragons" style quest, with timer for the two quest objects you seek.)

The key aspect here is that OTHER games could also be purchased, or personally created, and run using the same console. And many, many were. A third-party "Tunnels of Doom Editor" permitted creation of pretty much entirely new game configurations... creatures, objects, equipment, rules, you name it. Yes, the game always LOOKS largely the same (except for the graphics for the various creatures and items, which you can create and/or customize), and the overall gameplay remains "walk through corridors, explore, enter rooms, (optionally) fight enemies, etc"... the specifics can vary wildly. (I have a Star Trek - The Next Generation one, for example.)

Also of interest... something I didn't see in any other game I played for a very long time... was the fact that the dungeon was auto-generated with each new game, so you were never playing the same layout twice. Yes, "Rogue" did this before, and "Diablo" did this afterwards, but most RPG style games use fixed map layouts, while this one varies the layout every game, allowing a LOT more replayability.

The Bad

There's not much, given the vintage of the game and the system it was written for (a 1981-1983 home computer), to complain about. Certainly, it's not going to shine compared to more modern games... though the "fun factor" remains, no doubt. The main drawbacks are due to it using the somewhat limited hardware of the TI-99/4 (and later TI-99/4A) computers... which were, at the time, fairly good hardware, don't forget.

The main quibble I have with the game is that the rooms are all the same, square, size. Every room is the same, except for the doors (and hidden doors), the presence or absence of a fountain or statue, the presence or absence of a vault, and the presence or absence of monsters. All a perfectly square grid.

The Bottom Line

This is a terrific (for the time, and still enjoyable today) dungeon-crawl RPG with near-infinite replayability.

Oh, it's not like playing a modern RPG or a modern First-Person Shooter game... if you expect a Deus-Ex series game, you're in for a major disappointment... but it's a glance into the very genesis of the genre Deus Ex later came to exemplify.


Today, your best bet to play this is in emulation... there are several great TI-99 emulators out there, though I would recommend anyone new to the TI-99 and interested to start by looking at "Harmless Lion's" website.

His emulator, while not the most powerful one out there, is painless to run and works quite nicely.