Season 2, Round 7 of the Astrocade High Score Club will last about two weeks. This round ends on Sunday, July 9'th at 10pm MST. The main game is an unreleased Astrocade, Inc. prototype called Conan the Barbarian. The BASIC bonus game is a 1982 Arcadian type-in dungeon-crawler called The Crown of Zeus by Todd Johnson.
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Barbarian is a prototype 8K game that never had an official release on cartridge. There is quite a bit of information known about this cartridge, which was known by three different names during its development: King Arthur's Adventure, Conan the Barbarian and Quest for the Orb.
Since Conan had no official release, the only cartridge label that is available is one that I scanned in black and white:
I used to have a version of this cartridge that was made for me in about 2001 by Michael White. I seem to remember that the label was printed in color on a dot-matrix printed. I think that the background was yellow.
This game has a very long and convoluted background. The Bally/Astrocade Game Cartridge and Hardware FAQ has some interesting information on this game under its various titles:
King Arthur's Adventure
Astrovision Inc., #5005
Suffered the same fate as Roman Checkers. This time the number went to Artillery Duel. It was supposed to be a Dungeons & Dragons type game. (Cursor pg.73). It may be an early version of Conan the Barbarian, before the movie license was attached. (Brett Bilbrey, Astrocade Discussion Group, Message #7175)
Conan the Barbarian
Astrocade Inc., Strategy Series, #5005, 8K cart
AKA Quest For The Orb. This cartridge is not finished, but did see a limited release through Dave Carson Software in 1985 (about forty were made). (Michigan Astrobugs Newsletter JUL.82 pg.1, Arcadian vol.4 pg.33,75, vol.5 pg.16,36,46,66, vol.6 pg. 99, vol.7 pg.2,13,46,67,94) Hyped up to be one of the greatest games Astrocade players would ever see, and the first video game to spin off from a movie. (Astrocade press release) They failed to secure the rights, however, and the game continued development as Quest for the Orb.
Quest for the Orb
Astrocade Inc., #5004
AKA Conan the Barbarian. When Astrocade failed to secure the Conan license, the game continued development as Quest for the Orb.
According to a news item in Astro Bits that was published on page 11 of the August 1982 Electronic Games magazine, Quest for the Orb, like Conan, would also have also been a licensed property:
"Two major licensing agreements soon bring star characters from other media into the world of videogaming. Astrocade has concluded agreements for games based on Conan and G.I. Joe. The two titles, both reworkings of programs already in development, should be available quite soon. (Conan is based on the Quest for the Orb game which the game-maker had previewed at 1982 industry shows)."
I looked into this, and came across a few links about Orb Quest, a pen and paper role playing game based on The Fantasy Trip game system. Here is a picture of the book's cover:
Here are some interesting links if you'd like to follow-up on this never-to-be released book tie-in.
This is an overview of the Orb Quest game, including some interesting pictures:
Here is a scan of the Orb Quest booklet:
Conan the Barbarian seems to have first been mentioned in a 1981 Astrocade, Inc. catalog. I have extracted the Conan ad from page 30 of the catalog:
Here is a link to the complete catalog:
Here is the brief description of the game from the ad:
"Fearsome monsters give chase through a series of mazes as Conan, armed with his sword, battles them. Various levels allow you to play this adventure game with skills ranging from novice to professional. See how many monsters you can get."
The game, when it was known as Conan, was mentioned in a June 6, 1982 press release, which you can read here:
Here is an ad for Quest for the Orb:
I have OCRed the text for game's ad:
Quest for the Orb
"Ancient scientists of the lost civilization Morte managed to extract the essence of the universe and fuse it into a single precise object-- the Orb. You must find the Orb, hidden in the castle's labyrinth, and return it to its owner, the White Magician.
"Demons, monsters and traps are threats along the way. Beware the powers of black magic, cursed items and other evil influence. In your aid are spells given to you by the White Magician, along with other magic items and weapons strewn along the way. Ancient treasures are hidden here also! Fare ye well, adventurer, in your quest for the Orb!"
After reading this game description, there is no doubt that this Astrocade game was meant to be based on the game Orb Quest.
You can view the full More Games. More Fun. More to Come... from the leader in video game technology catalog, which features nine cartridges. Four of these games were never released: Coloring Book with Light Pen, Munchie, Music Maker I, and Quest for the Orb.
Since Conan is a prototype cartridge, there are no official instructions, but Mike White did write these very brief instructions and send them to people who bought the game cartridge from him:
CONAN THE BARBARIAN Cartridge
1. Insert cartridge and press [RESET]
2. Pull trigger #1 twice to start the play
This game is for one player only, and all control is on hand controller #1
The joystick moves Conan around inside the arena
The knob raises and lowers Conan's sword
The trigger exchanges the sword between Conan's left and right hand
To slay evil creatures, use the sword by turning the knob
If strength, stamina, or defenses fail, "FAREWELL WARRIOR!"
The Conan the Barbarian cartridge ROM image (called "conan.bin") is part of this archive:
I think that Conan is included on every multicart that has been released for the Astrocade over the years. This game is best played on real hardware.
Since there is so much that is unknown about this game, there are some fun ways to earn bonus points this round-- so make sure to give some of them a try.
Quest for the Orb - Game Review
Oddly, although Quest for the Orb was never released, it was reviewed in the 1982 book The Complete Guide to Conquering Video Games: How to Win Every Game in the Galaxy by Jeff Rovin. Here is the full review:
"This is a well-developed, multifaceted action game which crams a great deal of activity into a single cartridge. It is similar to Quest for the Rings [for the Magnavox Odyssey 2 system], though played without the aid of a game board.
"Long dead scientists of the lost civilization of Morte once unlocked the essence of life itself and encased it within the orb. This was sealed deep into the catacombs of a castle, which was subsequently invaded by an evil enchanter. He tried and failed to crack the orb. He perished years ago, but his demonic familiars live on. Making your way through the labyrinths and dungeons of the castle, you will be protected by magical spells and enchanted weapons belonging to your sponsor, the White Magician, who seeks to use the orb for good. You will also uncover ancient treasures along the way, as well as monsters, traps, and curses, any of which can slay you. Be prepared to dip into your bag of tricks for the power to induce sleep, hurl magic missiles, become invisible, confuse your enemies, launch fireballs, teleport and so on!"
There's a lot to learn in order to master this game, but it is almost without peer as engrossing, escapist, and entertaining videogames go."
Bilbrey's Suggestions for Conan the Barbarian
In the early 1980s, Brett Bilbrey, saw Astrovision's Conan cartridge at a "show." He didn't like what he saw and made suggestions at the time for what he thought would have made for a better game. You can read his handwrittten suggestions here:
The much-preferred method to read Brett's suggestions are in the above pdf document, but I have also re-typed Brett's handwritten notes. Note, that these lack his drawings, which add quite a bit to his suggestions:
"This would be better than what was at the show!"
Set Patterns for:
Define Rooms better
10 or 12 color sets
(How about 256 colors in the game! Four at a time, but still 256!)
Things in Rooms
Doors (Special Case) [This entire line is circled]
Objects to get (Special) - Keep with you (swords) or objects of game)
Easy, Dumb ---> Hard, Smart
A situation would (or could) be defined by:
(Room type)(Color Set)(Number of things in Room) 0 -> #
1-? 0 -> ? (1) (3) (6)
" " "
Chair Door Chest
0 -> #
(Number of Monsters)( )( )( )
0 -> ?
would define a stone room with brown floor, gray walls, black outlines, and light brown objects, a chair, a table and a chest and one monster.
Matrix for room connection:
Room 6 gets to 7,8,9 and 11, but room 11 only goes to 6!
[Example drawing of hallway to illustrate the matrix idea]"
For a prototype game, there really is a lot of information available for Conan, isn't there?
Conan the Barbarian (Options):
There are no options for Conan. You get one life, which you lose as your stamina wears down. Everyone playing this game starts on equal footing.
Conan the Barbarian (Scoring):
Up to ten points are awarded for playing Conan the Barbarian. Since there is no score in Conan, we will be playing for the highest level reached. On my test-run of the game today, I was able to reach level 20 on my first (and only) try. For available bonus points, see "Bonus Points" section below.
The Crown of Zeus
The BASIC bonus game is The Crown of Zeus by Todd Johnson. This game appeared in the November 1982 Arcadian newsletter. This game "takes you to a dark decaying castle in the evil land of Sorom. You've been asked, as the best warrior in the land of Beekum, to retrieve the Crown of Zeus which the Scromites have stolen."
According to ads in Arcadian 5, no. 1 (Nov. 5, 1982): 9. and Arcadian 4, no. 10 (Aug. 06, 1982): 103., The Crown of Zeus is the first in a series of four programs that take place on the planet Gibeleous. The other three games in the series are available only on tape and are called:
- The Rescue of Catherine
- Escape from Rantanam IV
- The Tower of Machor
Regular and Expert versions of this game are included in the archive. I'm not sure what the difference is between the two programs.
Six issues after The Crown of Zeus was published, the Arcadian newsletter printed this small note about user maps: "Crown of Zeus castle floor plan - Have you determined what the castle looks like? We have one idea here and would like to get other opinions, so send in your version." (Arcadian 5, no. 7 (May 6, 1983): 106.)
As it turns out, two people sent The Crown of Zeus maps to Bob Fabris, but they were never published in the Arcadian. Luckily, there are part of the Bob Fabris Collection, and I was able to scan and archive them. You can view them here:
1) The Crown of Zeus Maps, Set 1 - Castle Map by Edward Mahoney (April 20, 1983)
2) The Crown of Zeus Maps, Set 2 - Floor Plans by Kent Brenden (July 9, 1983)
The original program submission letter from Todd Johnson to the Arcadian is available here:
The Crown of Zeus instructions, minus the parts on how to type in the game, from the Arcadian are here:
This program, for AstroBASIC only, takes you to a dark decaying castle in the evil land of Scrom. You've been asked, as the best warrior in the land of Beekum, to retrieve the Crown of Zeus which the Scromites have stolen. The crown, when worn, gives the wearer the awesome ability to cause anything he or she wishes to vanish. Apparently the Scromites have not yet discovered the crown's powers. But as you hid in the forest outside the castle, you saw a troop of orcs from the warring land of Machor slip in through the front gate. They surely know the power of the crown and will have to be dealt with...
[Detailed directions for typing in the game have been excluded here.]
Now rewind your tape and input the main program with :INPUT. Say RUN and you're on your way. The computer will print:
Keeping strength above zero is the key to this game. You can survive a negative strength value as long as it's not too much negative and there is not an enemy in the room, but generally a negative strength value means you're dead. Strength can be increased to its maximum by resting. Finding a magic sword in the castle will also increase your strength and increase your maximum strength too.
The number after ENEMY: is a code number which tells you which enemy from the enemy list is in the room.
EXITS LEAD: Tells you which directions, (north, south, east, west, up, down), you can go. ACTION? prompts you to enter the number code for the action you wish to take from the action list.
When you reach a room that has no exit, you are at the entrance to level 3. If you wish to enter this level, press HALT then type:
R=R-24;:INPUT @(0),192 <GO>
Now press the play button on your recorder to load the array for the next levels. Then RUN the program and you're on level 3. If instead you want to stay on level 2 a little longer, type HALT then type:
R=R-24;RUN GO <GO>
You'll be back up the stairs.
This program must be reloaded after you are killed or find the crown since the data in the array gets altered. If you want to quit for a while during a game you can save it by halting it and loading it onto a blank tape. Also, you don't have to get any treasure at the time you are asked by the computer. If you wish to get it later Just press 1 when asked for an action and the computer will let you get the treasure.
2 Killer Bees
9 Black Knight
10 Giant Viper
11 Giant Spiders
15 Evil Warlock
17 Evil Wizard
19 Dragon (Small)
20 Dragon (Medium)
21 Dragon (Large)
22 Dragon (Immense)
25 Giant Slime Monster
26 Orange Blob
27 Fire Fiend
28 5-headed Hydra
30 Demon King
2 Leave Room
1 Magic Wand (detects traps)
2 Magic Sword (increases strength)
3 Magic Helm (increases experience)
90 The Crown!
All other numbers refer to gold pieces.
1 Needles shoot at you
2 Small rocks fall on you
3 A pit opens beneath you
4 Poisonous gas fills the room
5 Crossbow bolt hits you
6 You receive electrical shock from treasure
THE CROWN OF ZEUS is the first in a series of programs that take place on the planet Gibeleous. Others now available are:
THE RESCUE OF CATHERINE:
After you went to save the crown, the Scromites became angry with you and have kidnapped Catherine, the princess of Beekum, hoping that you will be sent to save her. They've set some traps so Watch Out!
ESCAPE FROM RANTANAM IV:
You've been captured by mechanical aliens who have come to Gibeleous for unknown reasons. You must escape and warn the leaders of Beekum.
THE TOWER OF MACHOR:
The orcs are after you again in this one with 8 levels. You must destroy the alien computer which has been leading the orcs in their quest for domination of Gibeleous.
You can get all three great programs on one cassette tape with complete descriptions and instructions for the low, low price of only $10.00! To add these programs to your Gibeleous series collection, send check or M.O. to:
Todd Johnson [Address removed]
You can download the "AstroBASIC" version of The Crown of Zues here:
There are many bonus points available this round for both games.
- Conan the Barbarian (1 Point) - Write directions on how to play this game.
- Conan the Barbarian (1 Point) - Listing the different monsters that you encounter.
- Conan the Barbarian (1 Point) - List the differences between this game and the prototype (called cononp.bin).
- Conan the Barbarian (1 Point) - Video Review - Anyone who makes a video review of Conan the Barbarian will get a bonus point.
- The Crown of Zeus (1 Point) - Playing The Crown of Zeus.
- The Crown of Zeus (1 Point) - Getting the Crown of Zeus in the game.
- The Crown of Zeus (1 Point) - Video Review - Anyone who makes a video review of The Crown of Zeus will get a bonus point.
Obviously, much more was to be done for Conan the Barbarian before it would have been considered complete. What is finished are the fighting and level progression, which work okay. The game lacks any depth-of-play, which would have made the game much better. This game reminds me, in some ways, of one of my favorite games: The Temple of Apshai. Much more about this game can be read in the AtariAge "Temple of Apshai Map" thread that I started in 2011:
I wonder how Conan might have worked had it been completed, or was somehow actually based on an Apshai-type game?
I have no experience with The Crown of Zeus, but I love the deep concept of the game. It is amazing to me that there were three sequels to this game, none of which have been archived in any way.
Post your scores (i.e. level) as you play Conan the Barbarian over the next couple of weeks. If anyone finds any tips while playing these games, then please share them.
As we make our way through the Astrocade's tape and cartridge library, we're bound to encounter some usual games. These two games probably aren't for everybody, but do your best to enjoy both games for what they are: a glimpse into the creative potential of two similar games in the fantasy genre that were represented in two completely different ways on a platform that didn't really have a chance to experience other games of this type.