Labyrinth (C64)

With the all too early death of David Bowie recently, I thought I should play something appropriate. I’ve been a Bowie fan since the late 80’s and still have most of his records on vinyl. Despite that, I only saw him live the once on the Outside tour where he was being supported by Morrissey. I can’t think of any bigger tribute than to say it would have been more than worth sitting through another hour of Morrissey if I’d needed to. It’s hard to imagine that there won’t be any more albums now as they have been such a constant throughout my life.

To get back to games, the obvious (and better) choice would have been Omikron since Bowie wrote the music and even appeared in it but instead I thought I’d try Lucasfilm Games’ 1986 adaptation of Labyrinth on the Commodore 64. This is definitely a noteworthy game as it was effectively Lucasfilm’s first adventure game coming out prior to Maniac Mansion and all the other classic games that used the SCUMM engine. As such, the demand for boxed copies does tend to drive the price through the roof.

The disk release got a nice cardboard box version and is clearly the one to own. Here in the UK, you had to be relatively well off just to own the C64 in the first place. The disk drive was pretty much out of the question. For once this didn’t stop us being able to play the game as it was also released on multiload cassette which is the version I’m going to be playing here.

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The packaging is a typical double cassette with a folded up leaflet inside with the loading/playing instructions. The length of that cassette bears noting as I’ll be playing through both sides of it before I finish the game.

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Labyrinth gets off to an unlikely start for a graphic adventure as the first section is a mini text adventure section in which the player has to go to a cinema and watch the Labyrinth movie. It’s a two word parser but instead of being free to type, the possible words are in scrollable menus on either side of the screen.

There are only a handful of locations and one puzzle to speak of which involves stopping a geek from talking to you at the cinema so that you can settle down and watch the film. It’s not the most promising of starts despite being one of the best parts of the game in hindsight.


A minute of loading later, there is a Wizard of Oz moment as the graphics and audio kick into life and Bowie as the goblin king sucks me into his world to be his thrall. I only have 13 hours to get to the centre of his labyrinth and free myself.


Another minute of loading and I find myself at the entrance to the labyrinth. I can walk to either side and the corridor scrolls endlessly so I merely have to walk straight in. Cue another minute of loading.


The next section is mercifully larger and consists once again of a large corridor with no obvious doors in sight. Hoggle is hanging around but isn’t particularly helpful. I just have to pick up any items in the long corridor and then exit through an invisible door(anywhere the wall has graffiti). This is going to be the pattern for the game, walk around really long corridors picking up anything that isn’t nailed down and then try to find the one door which takes you to the next area in a sea of identical looking exits.


There are puzzles of sorts. The room on the top left has two doors one of which leads to certain death. The guards won’t tell me which is which unless I open all the doors in the brick corridor. The brick corridor is actually three corridors, all full of doors, one corridor of which has a guard in that I have to avoid. The solution to avoiding that guard is to attract him to one end of the corridor before escaping then when you return he hasn’t moved so you can run the other direction instead. Once solved, I’m still left with trying all of about 15 doors one at a time until I find the only one that takes me to the next screen.


Getting through all of this leads to a series of stone corridors looking much like someone has just redecorated the brick corridor. A particular door is guarded and I discover I can put the guard to sleep by giving him a peach I found earlier. I still can’t go through the door but can steal his helmet which I end up wearing for the rest of the game much to my detriment later on.

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This leads on to a section with a wise man in a maze in which he gives a cyptic-ish clue such as telling me to walk the path of the clock from 12-9 which basically means go through every door of the above screen clockwise starting at the top to escape the room. The given clue and solution seems to be random as I got variations on the theme on other games.

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After negotiating several more corridors of the more leafy variety, I get to Sir Didymus who is guarding the bridge over the bog of eternal stench. There is nothing to do on this screen except talk to him and then walk off for now as he wants me to rescue Ludo before I can cross.


Luckily for me, Ludo happens to be the next screen tied to a tree in the middle of a maze. This is a mini-arcade game in which the big squares on the ground change colour Q-Bert style when walked on and turn into trap doors after the final colour. I have to get a couple of guards to fall down the holes which requires priming a pad and getting them to chase after me. Ludo can then be chopped down with the shears I’m carrying.

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Some more walking round corridors and a lot of loading later, I get to cross the bridge over the bog of eternal stench and find myself in more corridors except this time the walls resemble the keys of a piano. There is a black key conspicuously missing which I replace with a plank I’m carrying. I’m expecting to get to the end of the game at this point but Jared won’t let me in as I look too silly in the helmet (yes really). I can’t take it off either as that would be littering. If there was any option here other than restarting I couldn’t find it. This being the cassette version, there are no save games…


The best part of an hour later, I’ve played through the whole thing again and am back where I was minus helmet and facing the goblin king in his Escher room. What I have to do here is follow him around and throw crystal balls at him until one hits. I’ve a limited supply of crystal balls but they boomerang back to me so it makes no difference as long as you picked at least one up earlier.

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Once thwacked by a crystal ball, the goblin king claims to still be my master but as soon as I speak to him turns into a frog and the game ends with no further ado.

I’ve not gone through every screen here and for good reason but I’ve left precious little out either. It appears that in the conversion to cassette some of the puzzles have gone missing. There was at least one screen missing entirely judging from videos I’ve seen on YouTube.

It has to be said that I expected something a bit better than this from Labyrinth. The loading times weren’t as annoying as might be expected given that the cassette would start up again after every single section. Each load was reasonably brief so it was never all that long to wait. Even so the hour to beat the game must have included 30 minutes of loading. My real problem with Labyrinth was that the game itself is almost non-existent. On the second playthrough I accidentally missed half the puzzles, then fell in the bog of eternal stench when crossing the bridge and it made no difference to anything whatsoever.

There are some similarities to Maniac Mansion with traces of the same humour and a similar visual style. The game looks quite nice and there are occasional bits of music from the movie to add some atmosphere. Maniac Mansion was a huge leap ahead of Labyrinth though. I associate Lucasarts adventures with strong storylines which certainly wasn’t the case here. There are elements of the original movie but no plot to speak of within the game once it turns graphical. If you haven’t seen the movie you will have no idea at all what is going on. Even if you have, it doesn’t make much sense. Similarly the puzzles were sparse and it’s almost possible to blunder through the game without having to solve anything.

If you hadn’t guessed by now, Labyrinth really doesn’t have much to recommend it. It is simple enough to give the player a good chance of beating it on the first attempt and doesn’t offer anything in particular on that brief journey. I can only assume the price it commands on Ebay these days is because of the games that came after it rather than people actually liking Labyrinth itself all that much. No doubt the disk version plays a little better than this one. Labyrinth is relatively innocuous at least and does hint at what would follow with Maniac Mansion but I’d much rather have been playing Space Quest which was released the same year.

DND#1 on a Commodore PET

Just over a year back there was a contest announced on the Shroud of the Avatar site to port Richard Garriott’s first DND game to web browsers. The story is provided in the link but in brief this was the first in a series of unreleased DND games written by Garriott, the final one of which would become Akalabeth and start the Ultima series.

While the code doesn’t exactly mask the fact that this is the high school project of a teenager, the historical significance can’t be denied. I’ve been meaning to have a look at the game for a while and somehow never got around to it. That was until my latest addition to the man cave arrived:-

Commodore Pet

Looking every inch the stereotype of a 70’s computer, the Commodore PET was the first computer I ever used more years ago than I care to admit to. My Dad brought one home from work when I was 5 or 6 and it’s fair to say I was hooked from the start. This was long enough ago that just being able to control things on a screen at all impressed the hell out of most people. It occurs to me that his employer must have been a whole lot more trusting back then to let him borrow it as one of these would have cost near half his years salary as a university lecturer at the time. The PET was still half the price of the Apple II though which does beg the question quite how Richard Garriott was able to afford his half of the price tag as a school kid. At any rate, in the case of my 2001 series model, that 6 months salary would have bought 32K of RAM, a 1 Mhz 6502 processor and a 9 inch 40×25 character based green screen display.

The PET first came out in 1977, the same year as DND#1 and it struck me that in the absence of a PDP-11 it was the perfect platform to port the game on to for an authentic 70’s gaming experience. Also since Commodore BASIC is extremely similar to the one used on the PDP-11 there should be minimal work involved. I took a lazier option still and started from an Applesoft BASIC port by Aaron Lanterman. Both Apple and Commodore BASIC were based on Microsoft BASIC making them almost entirely compatible and limiting the amount of work I had to do.

The changes I made were:-

  • Convert everything to lower case. Despite the PET only having uppercase it needs all the BASIC commands to be lowercase when pasting the code into the WinVICE emulator.
  • Remove most of the spaces from the code. Other than the one after the line number and those in strings, Commodore BASIC ignores spaces and since memory is in extremely short supply they needed to go.
  • Shrunk all the arrays. These all appeared to be unnecessarily large and caused out of memory errors in their original sizes.
  • Hardcoded a dungeon into the code. The original game allowed the user to pick 1 of 6 dungeons which were then loaded from a file. This wasn’t an option for me so I pinched the first dungeon from the winning javascript port at and load the data into the dungeon array. You get this dungeon no matter what number you pick.

With all that done, I shoved it on an emulator, saved to a virtual cassette file, converted this to a wav and played it into my PET via one of those headphone -> cassette adaptors that people used to use in car stereos.

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6 and a half minutes of loading later, DND#1 was ready to go. Surprisingly all of this works and the game is indeed playable on the PET, or at least just about playable. The code that is run between player moves, controlling monsters and the like is more than the PET wants to cope with and the game runs at about 1 move a minute. I expect this may not be all that dissimilar to the experience on the PDP-11 and the experience is still less drawn out that playing that Ultima 1 board game. I’m sure this could be optimised but I haven’t looked at that part of the code yet. I kind of prefer to leave it as it is.

Aside from the speed of the game, I could do with putting back a few spaces into the code here and there and there is no saving but I decided it was good enough for my purposes and tried my hand at a few games.The actual game involves moving around a 26×26 dungeon finding gold, falling into pits, searching for secret doors, fighting monsters – most of the usual tropes of dungeon crawling RPG’s back before they became tropes. The map is only partially shown when the player chooses to look and the graphics are simply numbers in a grid with 4 representing a door, 5 a monster, 1 a wall etc.. I kept it simple with a fighter character and combat just involved swinging my sword and hoping to hit. In hindsight a bow and arrow might not have been a bad idea.

My games proved to be quite short (or would have if the thing ran quicker) with my usual end coming when I’d fallen down more pits than my supply of rope and spikes would allow me to climb out of. There isn’t any winning target in the game as such. Gold could be seen as a score of sorts but the player is left to find their own goals.

DND1 is very basic and not all that playable but has to be worth a glance at least for anyone interested in the pre-Ultima dark ages of early video games. It’s not hard to see how this evolved into Akalabeth – convert it to 3D and they really wouldn’t be all that much different. As for playing it on the PET, it’s certainly an oldschool experience if nothing else. A bit of optimisation to get the speed up really wouldn’t hurt – I might take another look at it some time. Any of the modern ports would probably be preferable but for anyone wanting to try this out the code is here, the tape file is here, and the wav file for loading on real hardware is here. These should also work on later 8 bit Commodore machines (VIC-20,C64,C128) since they were all built on the same framework.

The game isn’t all that user friendly. If you do play it, don’t ask for instructions or it kicks you out, make sure your player name is shavs and enter 16 (or any higher number) once you have bought enough equipment at the start to go into the game proper.