Before Gauntlet, There Was…Dandy Dungeon

January 4th, 2006 by Benj Edwards

A few weeks ago, while playing through my Atari 800 game collection, I discovered a rare gem that I'd never played before. It quickly made my way into a top ten list of most underrated games of all time (well, for the Atari 800 at least). It's called Dandy Dungeon, a 1983 release through the Atari Program Exchange (APX) written by then-MIT-student John Palevich. At first glance, it appears to be a Gauntlet clone with primitive graphics (the Gauntlet of which I speak is the 1985 Atari Games arcade release), but it turns out that Gauntlet, not Dandy, is the clone (apparently, Mr. Palevich wasn't too happy about Ed Logg stealing his design and sued Atari Games over it). I had played another game just like Dandy before for the Atari 7800 called Dark Chambers with exactly the same gameplay, but different graphics. Well, it turns out it's no co-incidence — Dark Chambers was written by John Palevich as well, commissioned by Atari Corporation later on. As an interesting bit of trivia, Atari Corporation and Atari Games were two separate companies by the time of Gauntlet's release in 1985.

So then, why is Dandy so cool? I'll give you my first three reasons: it plays like a dream, it supports four simultaneous players, and it includes a built-in dungeon editor! The included dungeon designs aren't very good, I'll admit, but the ability to design your own dungeons overcomes this weakness (plus, I found six Atari 800 disk images with dungeons designed by different people — see below). Gameplay is smooth, robust, and the controls are great. Also, like in Gauntlet, slugging it out with three other friends is priceless. Finding good four-player games for the Atari 800 is tough, so I'm very happy about this feature.

What makes Dandy like Gauntlet and, yet…unlike Gauntlet? First of all, similarities include running around a dungeon shooting monsters with up to four friends, collecting food, using potions (bombs) to kill masses of monsters (who just so happen to come from generators at times). Also, you depart each dungeon level at an exit and descend to a lower dungeon level. The most obvious difference between the two, to me, is the fact that your health doesn't tick down over time in Dandy like it does in Gauntlet (an ingenious feature to swallow up more of your quarters in the arcade — Mr. Logg knew what he was doing). Also, the monsters in Dandy Dungeon have a strange hierarchy that is slightly hard to explain. There are different "levels" of monsters. Each level, or strength, per se, looks different, but they all behave the same (they don't shoot, just run at you). The higher the level of monster, the more shots it takes to kill it. But with each shot along the way, the graphic for the monster changes down to a lower level of monster, until it dies. For example, there is a "little man" monster who takes only one shot to kill. Then there is a "smiley face" monster that takes two shots. However, when you shoot the smiley face monster, it turns into the little man monster, who in turn only takes one shot to kill. It's weird, I know…Dark Chambers is just like this too. Luckily, Ed Logg had the sense to change this confusing design feature when designing Gauntlet (which has discrete types of monsters that each have different characteristics). Also, in Dandy, you can save the food you collect for later use, which is nice — in Gauntlet, you eat it immediately, whether you need it or not.

If you'd like to play the game, get a good Atari 800 emulator (I recommend Atari800WinPLus) or an SIO2PC cable to play it on a real Atari, then download the disk image. If you want different dungeon map packs, here they are: Pack 1, Pack 2, Pack 3, Pack 4, Pack 5, Pack 6. Finally, here's a note on gameplay that's not immediately evident: to use collected food, press 1 through 4 on the keyboard, where the number you push is the number of the player who wants to use stored food. The same goes for bombs, although you hold down the SHIFT key while pressing the number. You can also shoot bombs, of course, for immediate effect.

Have fun! Please feel free to share your comments on the game below in the comments section.



9 Responses to “Before Gauntlet, There Was…Dandy Dungeon

  1. Jack Palevich Says:

    Thanks for the write-up!

    Just a point of correction — I did not write Dark Chambers. I don't know anything about Dark Chambers — I'll have to go look at it.

  2. RedWolf Says:

    I'm confused by the nature of your comment, Jack. I'm assuming that if what you say is true, then there's more than one "John Palevich" in the world. But why tell us that you are not the one who wrote "Dark Chambers?"

  3. Steve Says:

    Hi,

    I played the Atari 800 quite a bit when I was a kid. Dandy, MULE, Seven Cities of Gold, and Return of Heracles were all fantastic examples of how much can with so little in video games.

    Regarding Dandy, I thought you might be interested in a theory about the game that we developed around the neighborhood: The four main characters (#1-4) in the game were actually inmates in an insane asylum. This interpretation made the game more interesting and understandable (at least for us). Some of the monsters were just group hallucinations, and others (the white burly figures as I recall, but it's been a long time) were orderlies who were trying to get control. The monster generating machines make some sense in this light.

    Wow - it's been 22 years since I've really even thought about this game, but I happened to seach for it today and found your article. Great memories - thanks for the write up.

    Steve

  4. RedWolf Says:

    Steve, thanks for sharing your memories and you great comments. I love all the games you listed fondly — except for some reason I've never played "Return of Heracles." I should try it out sometime. I'm always looking for cool Atari 800 games that I haven't discovered yet.

    I really enjoyed reading your childhood interpretation of Dandy Dungeon. It seems to fit the graphics quite nicely to me, and of course makes the game seem like it makes more sense in general. Heck, it might even make me enjoy the game better now!

    Thanks again.

  5. Timon Marmex Says:

    If you liked "Return of Heracles", you should check out Stuart Smith's other works: "Ali Baba and the Fourty Thieves" and "Adventure Construction Set" (which lets you make your own game in that style!)

    Another similar series of games in the genre I like to call "Huge Scrolling Map Real Time Adventure Game" came from Marc Russell Benioff and Epyx / Automated Simulations. "Crypt of the Undead" and "Escape from Vulcan Isle" are the two that I had.

    Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Exidy arcade game "Venture" and Warren Robinette's classic 2600 game "Adventure". While these weren't "Scrolling Map" games, they were "Large World Action Adventure" games and really blazed the way for the others.

  6. Gauntlet JackFan Says:

    Jack, you rock.

    I know you don't remember me but I have the following photo of you back at Netscape around December of 1996. I was so happy go finally meet the true creator of Gauntlet.

    http://tinypic.com/r/nb6rep/3

    gauntlet-fan-of-jack@dummyaddress.com

  7. David Says:

    When my dad bought us an Atari 130XE for Christmas 1985, it came with Dandy (as well as Personal Fitness Program and Learn Touch Typing). I liked D&D and he figured I would enjoy the dungeon adventure. My brother and I played it to death.

    I still remember getting my dad out of bed early on Boxing Day morning so he could boot it up for us to play!

    I played Gauntlet a few years later (it was a "killer app"), and never connected the two. I never got as much satisfaction from it as Dandy.

    Here's a great tip. John may've removed the ability to directly kill your partner, but that doesn't mean you can't screw around with them. If they die, try and find a bunch of hearts. Shoot out one to resurrect your chum, and them shoot out the others which will turn into monsters to promptly kill them again.

  8. Kurt Says:

    Wow. I played the crap out of this game. My friend and I would spend hours developing levels and tweaking then beating them. Of course, we couldn't resist the level that was 90% filled with monsters AMD try to fight our way out. Such fun.

  9. Sam Says:

    I loved this game as a kid! I started playing it when i was 4 was my first game :)

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