It began with Dungeons & Dragons.
In the late 1970s, Jim Connelly acquired a Commodore PET to assist in his work as a Dungeon Master. He led a regular game in California. One of his players was a man named Jon Freeman, the author of books like The Complete Book of War Games, and A Player’s Guide to Table Games. With the newly acquired PET, the two decided to venture into the world of videogames, forming the company Automated Simulations (later renamed Epyx). The story goes that the idea to write the first game came about so that the computer purchase could be turned into a business expense that Connelly could write off on his taxes.
After two space themed games (Starfleet Orion and Invasion Orion) Connelly and Freeman decided to create a game deeply rooted in their love of D&D. Jeffrey Johnson, another regular at
Connelly’s D&D sessions helped them create the game. It was to become the first in a series of games called Dunjonquest and the first game of the series was a dungeon delve called Temple of Apshai.
Players took on the role of an adventurer searching the ruins known as The Temple of Apshai, which had four dungeons and over two hundred rooms to explore. Character creation took place with the Innkeeper. Like Dungeons & Dragons, attributes were set up using a 3D6 probability curve (achieved in D&D by using three six sided die). Once your Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Intuition and Ego were set, you could choose things like weapons, shield, and armor. The gear you could equip depended on your attributes.
After your character was created, you moved to the Dunjonmaster portion of the game, in which your adventurer explored the dungeons. Players were presented with a split screen with one portion providing a top down view of gameplay while the other provided your status. You moved your character by selecting the number of spaces you wanted to move (up to nine) As you moved through the dungeons, you encountered monsters (there were 30 types) and battled them in a mix of real time and turn based battle.
As you moved, you had to keep track of things like Fatigue. When your energy level reached zero, you had to rest. If a monster defeated you, an NPC could revive your character, but they would occasionally take a portion of your inventory.
The game’s manual provided detailed descriptions of the rooms and treasures, helping paint the pictures that the game’s sparse graphics could not provide. In addition, the manual provided a short story called The Adventures of Brian Hammerhand which helped give players a feel for the world their character inhabited.
As for plot, players simply moved through the dungeons, found treasure and gained experience. There wasn’t an ending per se, no ultimate goal that you were working toward.
Automated Simulations released the game in 1979 for the TRS-80 and Commodore PET. It went on to win Best Computer Game of 1980 at the Origin Awards and by 1981 had sold over 20,000 copies.
It was a victorious end to a quest that began around a game of D&D.
For a good idea of gameplay, check out this walk through of the TRS-80 version of the game: