Bits From my Personal Collection – Demon Venture #1, Reign of the Red Dragon

While Adventure International is best known for co-founder Scott Adams’s original text adventure games, his company would in the early ’80s publish a myriad of different games all supplied from programmers across the US. At the time many publishers started distributing their games to bigger retail and computer chains and consequently see sales in the thousands if not tens of thousands, however Adventure International would still primarily sell its titles from its small retail location in Florida alongside mail-order. In 1983 Adventure International had over 150 software titles in their catalog, with the best selling title only selling around 3000 copies. This left most titles with relatively few sales. One of those titles was David Daring’s 1982 fantasy roleplaying game Reign of the Red Dragon, a title that was intended to kickoff Adventure International’s Demon Venture Series of games.

Reign of the Red Dragon was a dungeon crawler, very much inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and other CRPG’s of the time. The game was in black and white only (since it was released for the TRS-80 Model I and Model III). While the market were saturated with RPG’s, Reign of the Red Dragon did bring some quite nice features along with it.

The included “rule book” gave a bit of backstory to Reign of the Red Dragon, along with a few hints and tips

The evil Red Dragon, unleashed unintentionally by humans has put the otherwise peaceful kingdom into fear of evil and death. While many have tried none have succeded, now it’s you and your party’s turn to descend into the dungeons of the Red Dragon’s castle, defended by its dark forces, find the eight fragments of the ancient golden scepter and slay evil itself.

Reign of the Red Dragon allowed for up to 5 human players to join the same party, each choosing their own character from a quite impressive list of different types (human, dwarf, cleric, magician, thief, elf, or warrior). Player statistics were randomly generated and each player was gifted a random amount of financing. Prior to entering the dungeon, each player had to purchase their own starting supplies, weapons, and magic… but only through experience would you find out which items were vital and which were unnecessary on your dangerous journey.

The TRS-80 version was the only release of the game. It was released in the typical Adventure International styrofoam package and was one of the first Adventure International titles to actually appear with what looked like professional artwork on the cover

The dungeons (mazes) were randomly generated and explored from an overhead view. An asterisk represented the party’s leader which was moved around with the arrow keys, the rest of the party followed suit at a discrete distance. The players would shift turns as leader of the party as they traveled along dark hallways, encountering and entering chambers to discover treasures (gold, healing potions, weapons…) and vicious monsters, all while slowly descending to the lower level. Only the party leader would be able to enter chambers, the rest of the party would wait outside for the outcome. When in combat the party leader had a multitude of commands available, like shoot arrow, stab with sword, etc… The combat was real-time and you had to quickly choose your actions or otherwise sustain injuries. The game would end if all members of the party were killed.
Different commands were available for the party leader when traveling the dungeons, like Drink Elixer, Give Supplies to another member of the party, Change Leader, Save Game, Inventory, and Attributes.
Characters when created would automatically be saved to the disk and could be reused at later times. While the TRS-80 model I only could save five characters the Model III could manage up to 70 (both depending on the available disk space).

Reign of the Red Dragon was only released for the TRS-80 and was like many of the early games widely pirated. It ended up selling less than a thousand copies, making it quite rare today.
Daring wrote Mystery of the Four Doors, which was to become the second title in the series but the technological advancement left Daring’s game obsolete and it was never released. Reign of the Red Dragon would become the only title released in the Demon Venture Series.

4 thoughts on “Bits From my Personal Collection – Demon Venture #1, Reign of the Red Dragon

  1. I found this article very well done, and as the author of the game it is interesting to see some interest in this old program. I wish I had the ability to figure out how to place this game in modern computers, but alas, it will have to be another. If anyone is interested in attempting this feat, I would allow free access to one and all. The mystery of the four doors was an upgraded version with faster graphics and more involved (and dangerous) outcomes. I know this game was pirated into oblivion because I met hundreds of people who played, but never met anyone who purchased the game. I find this funny.

    1. David, thank you for commenting and for your contribution to early gaming. Fascinating to get a bit of info from the horse’s mouth. I actually played it using a TRS-80 emulator on my Windows machine, so it’s possible to still enjoy these old gems without too much effort. Yeah, unfortunately, most early games were widely pirated something many developers and publishers spent a lot of money, time, and energy to combat for decades to come. If you have any recollection of programming the game, what inspired you, how you got in contact with Adventure International, etc. I would love to hear.
      Thanks again and a happy New Year.

      1. Thanks.

        I played a Scott Adams adventure game, but was dissatisfied with a word only program. I taught myself to program my 16k TRS-80 in 1980 and soon after began to write a graphic oriented program, learning techniques by trial and error as I went.

        I was a traveling photographer at the time, tracked down and and met up with Wayne Westmoreland and Terry Gilman who were just finishing their second (or third) arcade game ELIMINATOR. I carried my computer with me and worked on the Dungeon program in my motel room at night after shooting my photographic assignments. Wayne and Terry took a look at my game and were excited by the concept as well as very encouraging, I continued to work on it. Scott Adams was at a convention and Wayne and Terry introduced me to him and he also gave me advice. He wanted sound, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that with my limited memory.

        Adams also wanted me to draw cave-like rooms and put in more than two characters, that is how I ended with 5 players in the Demon Venture Series. A.I. field tested the program for over a year and sent me a list of computer bugs, which I fixed. I began play testing the game at SF/Fantasy conventions. The game was so complex with multiple weapons, character stats, various monsters, treasures, staff pieces, and interactions that took everything into the matrix there was a lot that could go wrong. I had to develop special data creation algorithms to compute all of the outcomes, combat, and other concepts.

        After my initial decision to write the game, it took 2 years the finish it. By the time the game came out in 1982 the color systems were blossoming and B&W was on the way out. I did write a second program: Mystery of the Four Doors that had improved graphics, playability, some sound, and more mystery, but by the time it was completed the pirating of the original program and other color platforms killed most TRS-80 games.

        After A.I. went under another company somehow got the game and wanted to convert it to Atari and Apple. I told them they had my blessing, but four months later they contacted me to say they dropped the effort when their programmers reported they couldn’t figure out how my game worked even though I sent them the program printout, highlighted the algorithms, and sent notes. As an untrained programmer my lack of professional source-work readability was (according to them) inscrutable.

        One interesting note about my program was that I purchased a “compression program” for $99 dollars to shrink the size of my Basic Program which was around 15,000 bytes at the time. After compression the program was 27,980 bytes long. That always amazed me.

        The funny thing is that I have a fantasy book series called ‘Bones of the Pillar Lord’, and the second book: Curse of the Gray Fortress, almost exactly follows the computer dungeon written so long ago. I made very little off the original program, but again fate struck and a computer museum purchase my unopened copy of Reign of the Red Dragon for more than I made during all the time A.I. marketed the program.

        Thanks for writing me, and if you want any more details, just ask.

        My pleasure and happy voyage into nostalgia,

        David Daring

      2. Thank you so much for sharing, David. I really do appreciate the unprecedented insight.
        I’ll revise the article at some point in the future, adding your invaluable contribution.
        Thanks again.
        Best wishes
        Ernst

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