The Ark of the Covenant. The search for the Holy Grail. The Lost Dutchman’s Mine. All are legendary treasures that have inspired exhaustive quests. Epic literature, poems and folklore have been created about the subjects. Over the centuries, heroes and rogues have gone searching for these treasures only to wind up empty handed.
I’ve been on a quest of my own recently: to find information about the Commodore VIC-20 game Key Quest. I first heard of the game while reading an article about the top 10 games ever created for the VIC-20, a criminally underappreciated computer. Like any good quest, it started with the promise of a rare treasure. The article stated, “There’s only one real downside to this game: there’s only one known copy.”
Only one copy? How could that even be possible? A quick on-line search revealed a couple things: emulators of Key Quest have been created. People have even used it as the inspiration for their own homebrewed games (for instance, Treasures of Ali Gar in which you play a wizard running through a maze in search of treasures). There is also startlingly little information out there about the game’s development.
It was released in 1983 by Micro-Ware for the VIC-20 and written and programmed by Randy Ubillos and David Dixon. A two page review of the game was written up in the December 1983 edition of Compute!’s Gazette. However, nothing in the review discusses its development. It does however provide a detailed look at gameplay.
The premise of the game is simple. A wizard stored up treasures in the dungeon beneath his fortress. He also created creatures called Gorbs to defend his treasure. You control a character running through the dungeon to collect treasures. The Gorbs chase you through the maze-like dungeon. It actually has a bit of a PacMan feel to it. You have to collect treasures spread throughout the dungeon rooms, and once you colelct 12 a key will appear. You pick up the key and then have to make it to the door, which leads you to the next portion of the dungeon.
You are able to defend yourself against the Gorbs, but in a limited way. You can fire either to the right or to the left. The Gorbs also will not go near the treasures, so you are in a safe space when you get to them. You gain points for collecting treasure, shooting Gorbs, and by how quickly you complete each stage. There were four unique screes to work through and when you finished them, they repeated, only with more Gorbs moving at a higher rate of speed.
(for the full review in Compute!’s Gazette visit: https://www.commodore.ca/gallery/magazines/gazette/Compute-Gazette-Issue-06-01.pdf)
Digging further, I found a thread on-line where someone claimed to have found a second Key Quest cartridge on Ebay, but no additional information was provided. After searching tirelessly on-line, it seemed that my quest to learn the game’s development history was doomed to failure. My quixotic belief that perhaps I could find an actual copy was also dashed.
Beaten and bedraggled from the journey, I sat down in front of my computer and thought, “What the heck? I’ll play it on an emulator.” Someday, perhaps gamers will sing ballads about my long, fruitless quest.