The Fair Shake

Sword of Fargoal: VIC 20

Some time ago, I asked “What the EFF should I play?” with regards to my Commodore 64. Sadly, I still have not ‘played’ anything on the machine. On a related note however, last week my long awaited “Mega-Cart” arrived for the VIC 20. Let me back up a bit. Sometime in 1980-1981, the VIC 20 was released by Commodore Business Machines as a replacement for their PET computer.  A computer with a real keyboard, 5K of RAM, a cartridge port, an Atari joystick compatible port, and a low sale price in 1980 of $299 (compared to the Atari 800 which was close to $1000 in 1979!) the VIC was, as Commodore founder Jack Tramiel put it “for the masses, not the classes”. It sold several million machines, preceding the Commodore 64 by two years. It was quickly overshadowed by the C64, but it does still have a dedicated fanbase.

I love 'keyboard-computers'

I love ‘keyboard-computers’

I had to exercise my Google muscles to figure out how to play. The plot is rather thin for SoF: Find the aforementioned “Sword of Fargoal” in the depths of a dungeon between levels 15 and 20, and escape. Monsters of the typical Dungeons & Dragons variety roam the halls, attacking you when they are within arms reach. Unlike say, AD&D on the Aquarius, these monsters move on their own. Luckily, around the dungeon there are weapons to be wielded, spells to be picked up, and temples to heal at. Experience comes into play, as well as leveling (if you make a donation of gold).

Can't see much..(VIC-20)

Can’t see much..(VIC-20)

I really liked this game because of the 2D top down view, which only reveals the dungeon to you as you explore it. Monsters are exploring too, and it can be aggravating to run from them. Combat is automatic: a battle ensues, with no player input required. If you attack first, you can run away, but if you are attacked first, you better hope you win, as your life depends on it! The actual graphics are simple sprites and tiles, which should be very familiar to CRPG players. Admittedly the C64 version appears to have much better graphics, but that’s expected. I also thought the control scheme was pretty cool. Joystick moves your character, while some keys on the keyboard are used to activate spells and climb stairs.

Oh look, colored sprites (C64)

Oh look, colored sprites (C64)

One nice feature is the levels are randomly generated each game. One bad feature is that the levels are randomly generated EACH TIME you enter them. That means on the escape out of the dungeon with the sword, the levels are created AGAIN. No point in drawing a map, right? Ugh. Game play can go on for hours. My first attempt lasted 45 minutes, and that’s not a testament to my skills.

There’s no music in the VIC-20 version, unfortunately, and the game can move a little ‘slow’ while you’re playing, but I think it adds to the suspense combined with the limited view in the dungeon, and the fact that monsters stalk you as you run around frantically trying to regain HP before you’re attacked… again.  I didn’t beat this game during my initial attempts, but it has me hooked. It is a dungeon crawler with randomized levels and monsters. It’s “hard”.  I have a feeling I’ll enjoy the C64 version even more. People talk about “Nintendo Hard” but I’d like to coin a phrase “VIC-20 HARD”, and save it for the Sword of Fargoal.