July 26, 2013

The History of the RPG: Telengard (1982)

Last Installment: Ultima

If Wizardry and Ultima were the two progenitors of the computer RPG, it was Telengard that solidified it as an enduring genre on the PC. For even though it didn't have first-person views, or a world map, or even an end, it was so much fun that you'd play it for hours.

Telengard was simplicity itself. A D&D style game, you randomly generate stats for your character, but that's it. No race, no class*. There are inns where you can store your booty, rest and game save, but are accessible only on level one. Each piece of gold you find and store translates into experience points when you rest. You venture in to the dungeon to slay monsters and collect rewards using your sword and your spells. Sounds simple, right?

Not so fast. First, there is the size of Telengard The dungeon is 2,000,000 rooms in size and fifty levels deep, a number that would be impressive even today. Daniel Lawrence (the creator) achieved this by having Telengard generate the rooms through an algorithm that maximized the 8KB of memory he had available. So the dungeon was, for all intent and purposes, endless. Second, the game was real-time. There was no pause feature**. The only way you could stop it was to reach an inn and save your game. Third, the randomness of Telengard was legendary. You could enter into lower levels before your character was ready by falling in a pit. You could drink from a fountain and lose a level of experience. You never knew what was coming around the corner.

And then there was the big one: there was no "winning" the game. At all. And that was done on purpose. Telengard wasn't about the end but the means. It was a pure gaming platform. It was about gaining experience and killing monsters. The only "winning" to be done was through goals you and your friends set for yourselves. Who could live the longest or go the deepest. Who could gain the most experience or have the highest "+" magic item. Telengard was addictive in a way that Wizardry and Ultima were not. Because in Telengard, there was no limit and no end.

House of Munch Bonus Fact

I have a version of Telengard on my computer today. Plays just like the original. It's still addictive fun at its finest.


Refined the "dungeon crawl" of Wizardry into it's purest form. Massive dungeons. The unfortunate concept of "real-time" gaming combined with no pausing.

Descendants: Diablo, obviously. It's a straight line. All the way to using teleport spells to return to the top.***

Next on the list: The Bard's Tale


* Well, you were a combo of wizard and warrior. But you didn't get to choose it. That is simply how it was.

** This is something that Diablo III ran with because of an internet connection being required for even a single-player game. Oh, you can hit "escape" in a single-player game and it "pauses"...until it boots you for being away too long.****

*** They may claim it was Moria that influenced them. But you can't look at that and not see Telengard in its genetics.

**** Which is fucking stupid. I mean, c'mon. What idiot at Blizzard thought that was a good idea? Yeah yeah yeah...they don't want people gaming and cheating PvP. I get that. So allow people to create single-player only characters. Problem solved.


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