Evercade Game Spotlight: Sword of Fargoal (TheC64 Collection 2)
Home computer games, such as those found on the two volumes of TheC64 Collection that we’ve published for Evercade to date, are a rather different beast to home console games. Since many of them were developed in the earliest days of the video game medium — and often by individuals rather than teams — a lot of them have quite an “experimental” feel to them, like they’re feeling out the best way to implement game mechanics and structural elements that we take for granted today.
Sword of Fargoal on TheC64 Collection 2 is a great example of this; in modern terms, we’d probably describe a game like this as an “action RPG” or a “roguelike”, but at the time of its original release, there wasn’t a lot like it around. That means that a lot of people who were there “back in the day” have plenty of fondness and nostalgia for it — and if you’re coming from a more modern perspective, it’s worth remembering that this was a time where new genres of game and the best means of implementing them were still being experimented with by a variety of developers. As such, don’t expect some of the modern conveniences that we’ve come to expect from today’s games!
That said, once you get the basics sorted, Sword of Fargoal is pretty straightforward to play, and while the list of button commands in the manual might initially look daunting, there’s only a couple that you will need to use for the majority of your time with the game. So today we’re going to take a closer look at the game and its history, and get you all up to speed with this classic C64 dungeoneering adventure!
Sword of Fargoal was developed by Jeff McCord and initially released for the C64’s predecessor, the VIC-20, in 1982. Its C64 incarnation followed in 1983, and this is arguably the more well-known version of the game. It also had an excellent complete remake for mobile phones in 2009, though this is now only available via a subscription service rather than a separate download.
Sword of Fargoal originated as a previous project by McCord named Gammaquest II, which he had programmed in BASIC for an early computer called the PET. BASIC, for the unfamiliar, stands for Beginners’ All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, and is a programming language that was typically built in to early home computers (including the PET, VIC-20 and C64) as a user’s primary means of interacting with the system.
As its full name suggests, it was designed to be easy to learn and enormously flexible — though its main drawback was its relatively slow speed of execution compared to other means of programming. That and the fact it had very little in the way of security; it was very easy for anyone to “break” into a BASIC program and fiddle around with it for themselves, which is actually the way many people learned to code in the first place throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s.
McCord was still at high school when he wrote the game between 1979 and 1981, but many of the features that would form an integral part of Sword of Fargoal were already present and correct: most notably the randomly generated dungeons, and the way in which the map gradually reveals itself as you explore rather than it all being on screen from the outset.
The prolific, popular developer-publisher Epyx offered McCord the opportunity to publish a VIC-20 version of Gammaquest II in 1982. Taking the opportunity to revamp and polish the game, McCord initially renamed it Sword of Fargaol, with “gaol” being a reference to the Old English spelling of “jail”. His producer at Epyx, presumably believing this to be too difficult to pronounce for most people, successfully convinced him to change it to Sword of Fargoal.
A year later, the C64 launched, bringing with it a whole new market to tap into, so Epyx asked McCord to port Sword of Fargoal to the new machine. McCord was open to this, but since the original game in both its PET and VIC-20 incarnations was written in BASIC, he enlisted some help from his friends Scott Corsaire and Steve Lepisto to incorporate machine language routines for sprite-based graphics, enabling the game to run at a more comfortable speed on the new hardware.
Reviews of Sword of Fargoal were positive on its original release, with Computer Gaming World describing it as an “exciting and intriguing adventure game” with “graphics beautifully crafted from the detailed stones of the dungeon, rune-like titles and clever monsters”, while Ahoy! called it an “engrossing adventure-type maze game that lets you explore underground dungeons”.
Interestingly, despite popular tabletop role-playing game systems being well-established by this point, the descriptor “RPG” or “role-playing game” in the video game sector had yet to take hold, with titles such as Sword of Fargoal and its stablemate Gateway to Apshai (from TheC64 Collection 1) typically being referred to as “adventure games”, placing them in the same category as more puzzle-centric text-based games such as the classic Colossal Cave and Zork despite them actually being quite different.
Let’s change gears now and take a look at how the Evercade version of Sword of Fargoal plays, shall we?
When you first start Sword of Fargoal, you’ll have to wait for a moment. As you admire your character’s starting statistics, which are randomly determined with each new run, the game is generating the dungeon and setting things up in the background.
Early home computer games — particularly those written in BASIC — often had an initial “wait time” like this; they’re a little different from today’s load times in that the game isn’t actually “loading” anything from disk, tape or cartridge; rather, it is organising the data already in the computer’s memory into the right places, and perhaps making a few tweaks here and there for various reasons.
Once your quest is underway, you’ll be plonked into the middle of the first level of the dungeon, and your quest is on! From here, you can move around in eight different directions using the D-pad, gradually revealing the map as you go.
As you move, you may find yourself having to pause periodically for a “growl” sound. This indicates that there are monsters moving somewhere on that level of the dungeon; once the growl passes, you’ll be able to move again. If you hear more growls or one much longer growl, there are a lot more monsters!
Don’t wait around, because unlike a lot of modern roguelikes, Sword of Fargoal unfolds in real time, meaning that if you just stand in place, the monsters will continue to move, and may even attack you if they get close enough. This is bad, because if a monster is the one to initiate combat, you’re unable to escape even if things are going badly for you.
Instead, take the initiative and always be the one to start battles by moving onto monsters. This will begin an automatic process where you and your opponent take turns bopping one another on the head with a variety of entertaining onomatopoeia, and eventually one of you will fall over. If it’s the monster, you get experience points and can proceed on your way.
Gain enough experience points and you gain a level, becoming stronger in the process. You need 200 experience points to reach level 2, and thereafter the amount required doubles each time, meaning you need 400 to reach level 3, 800 to reach level 4 and so on. Each level increases your Battle Skill statistic, which makes you more likely to be able to defeat monsters quickly and with minimal harm to yourself.
You can stay standing at zero hit points, but if you drop below zero during combat, you will die. If it looks like that might happen, move the D-pad in any direction to disengage from the monster and escape. Remember: you can only do this if you were the one to start the fight; if a monster ambushed you, it’s a fight to the death! (Unless you have a Teleport spell in your inventory, in which case you can cast it to escape by pressing B.)
Your hit points will gradually replenish over time, or you can speed the process along with a healing potion (R2) or a Regeneration spell (A). Note that while you heal automatically, monsters do not, so a good strategy against stronger foes is to “hit and run”, dealing a little damage then darting away to heal up.
Healing potions will be used automatically if your hit points drop below zero, but be sure you actually have one in your inventory before relying on this! You start the game with one healing potion and one teleport spell in your possession; you’ll have to procure all other potions and spells in the dungeon as you explore.
You have several goals in each dungeon level in Sword of Fargoal. Firstly, you should aim to defeat as many monsters as possible in order to increase your experience and Battle Skill, since both increase with every successful combat. And the deeper you go in the dungeon, the more powerful your foes become.
Your enemies come in both “human” and “monster” types. Human types are capable of picking up and using items in the dungeon and using them against you, while monsters have more primitive, aggressive behaviour. Humans can easily be distinguished by the way their sprite appears to be wielding a weapon.
Secondly, you should attempt to accumulate as much treasure as possible, primarily in the form of gold pieces. Initially, you can only carry 100 at a time, but with each Magic Sack you discover, you will be able to carry an extra 100. Gold pieces should be cashed in at the cross-shaped “temples” on each level, where they convert to experience points at a 1:1 rate.
If, for any reason, you need to temporarily drop your gold, perhaps to pick up another cache, you can press R1 to bury all the money you’re currently holding for later retrieval. The point where you dropped your gold will be marked on the map so you can easily get back to it — though note if you move off the dungeon level you’re on, any buried gold will be lost!
You’ll also want to watch out for checkerboard tiles in the dungeon. These have a roughly 50/50 chance of being either a trap or a hidden treasure; you won’t know until you take a chance and move onto the square itself.
If you’re unfortunate enough to trigger a trap, you can press B in an attempt to cast a spell to save yourself — Drift spells protect against pit traps, while Teleport spells allow you to safely get out of the way of ceiling traps. Note that you will need to have picked up these spells for this to be effective! Also be aware that traps have a habit of obscuring the map for the level you’re on, meaning you’ll have to explore and uncover everything again.
You may also uncover magic maps through the hidden treasure spaces. These are not usually for the level you are currently on, but instead a level later in your run. When you pick up the magic map, you’ll be told which level it is for, and when you reach that level — if you survive that long — the entire map will be immediately revealed for you.
Other spells you might find through the hidden treasure spaces include the Shield spell, which protects you from explosion traps and damage from monsters, and can be cast with a press of the X button; the Light spell, which increases the area you reveal with each step after casting with the L1 button (once cast, you can toggle the Light off and on again with L2 if you wish); the Invisibility spell, which conceals you from monsters until you attack them and can be cast with the Y button; and the Regeneration spell, which causes you to heal at double the normal rate, and which can be cast with the A button.
Finally, you may also discover beacons, which can be dropped with the Start button. While standing on a beacon, you are invisible to monsters, just like when you stand on a temple. More importantly, pressing B while standing on a beacon teleports you directly to the level’s temple — and casting a Teleport spell will teleport you to the beacon you placed rather than a random location.
Your third objective is simply to make it to the next level of the dungeon. There are often multiple staircases on each level; simply move over one and press B to use them. If you’re in a pit, you can also press B to use them like stairs and reach other floors in some situations!
Note that you need to go down to the 15th floor of the dungeon to discover the Sword of Fargoal, the object of your quest, then go back up through the levels in order to escape! And watch out, because the dungeon has a habit of rearranging its layout any time you change level — meaning that the journey up isn’t just a case of repeating the journey down in reverse!
And that’s pretty much everything you need to know to play Sword of Fargoal. There’s a challenging quest ahead of you, for sure — but it’s a compelling and highly addictive one that will keep you busy for quite some time. And, even better, thanks to the Evercade save game facility, you no longer have to complete the game in one sitting — if you need a break, simply save your game and pick things up again later!
Sword of Fargoal is available to enjoy on Evercade right now as part of TheC64 Collection 2. Stop by on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit or Discord to discuss this game or any of your other Evercade favourites!
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