Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

TRS-80 Text Adventure Classics: The Boners’ “Deadly Dungeon”

That bizarre world modeling rpg-puzzle hybrid that is the Text Adventure may have gotten its start with the mainframe Colossal Caves Adventure, but it was Scott Adams and the TRS-80 that not only brought the concept home to the masses– and they went an order of magnitude further by opening the way for hobbyists to write their own adventure games. 

My own first exposure to Text Adventures was on a school TRS-80.  (We called ’em Trash 80’s.)  It was a pyramid themed game… and I remember vividly the rooms and secret passages of it.  It was a somewhat realistically toned game… and I’ve never successfully identified the game as an adult, even with all the resources of the Internet.

As a child, I was fascinated by the concept of computerized adventures.  All of the books I had on constructing them were written for the TRS-80; I didn’t actually own one, though, so I could never type them in!  That tantalizing glimpse as a child is probably what’s held my interest in the things all of these years: the idea of adventure is so much more alluring than the real thing.  Playing the things too often has more in common with debugging incomprehensible computer code than any of the actual genres the medium attempts to emulate.  Even though mazes are decried by today’s “I.F.” insiders, even the most tastefully done one-room conversation oriented art games are at heart a collection of twisty passages, all alike.  The object is still to find an acceptable end game… through grueling trial and error more often than not.

At any rate, here is a particularly obscure cassette title that people probably even paid real money for back in the day:


I vividly remember attempting to translate the type-in code onto my Atari.  I got stuck with the animation code on the above title screen and quickly gave up. 

Yeah.  This is not a hoax.  There really were adventure game authors with the name “Boner.”  I wonder what it was like for them in middle school?  It couldn’t have been that bad, though: I mean, they lived at a time when there not even modules for D&D… and there was only one Dragon in the entire campaign world.  It wasn’t until after TSR released their first expansions to the game that they changed its title from “Dungeon and Dragon” to “Dungeons and Dragons.” (!???)  That’s my theory anyway, and I’m sticking to it! 


Above we can see the all-but-forgotten technique of utilizing a two word parser and a third person “puppet.”  Scott Adams pioneered this style and it has been little seen since….  It was handy to use this approach back when parsers were so crude that you needed a device to explain why the computer so often failed to understand your instructions: just blame it on the moronic “puppet” entity!

Most modern connoisseurs of high falutin’ “interactive fiction” would not touch a game such as this with a ten foot first edition Chainmail pole.  There’s a pretty fair amount of combat in the game… and getting killed means starting all over.  There are ways to put the game into an un-winnable state… and there are bugs in the inventory tracking system that allow you to pick up the same object more than once in some odd cases– and then you can’t get rid of these non-existent objects!

One unusual thing that the authors did was to break the game up into 3 distinct levels.  The maps, however, have the usual illogical compass directions of the day… and the action ranges from inside to outside, so I’m not even sure why the game is called a “dungeon.”  The combat system is pretty deadly, however: all of my attempts to work on the third level of the game have ended in combat fatality for my poor puppet.

We’ll take a close look at that combat system in our next post.


One response to “TRS-80 Text Adventure Classics: The Boners’ “Deadly Dungeon”

  1. Pingback: The Boners’ 1981 Revenge of the Balrog « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

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