Game 356: Knight’s Quest (1978)

From The CRPG Addict

The chalice and the anchor refer to the two artifacts you find in the game.
Knight’s Quest
United States
Instant Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1978 for the TRS-80
Date Started: 7 February 2020
Date Ended: 7 February 2020
Total Hours: 1
Difficulty: Very Easy (1/5)
Final Rating: (To come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (To come later)
Knight’s Quest just appeared on MobyGames a couple of weeks ago. At first, it seemed exciting: a CRPG that we didn’t already know about from 1978! But naturally, any game that truly deserved to challenge established titles for “earliest CRPG” would already be well known. It was unlikely that one would slip quietly into an online database without a bigger fuss. Thus, Knight’s Quest, as it was essentially destined to be, is at best a “proto-RPG” that meets my own definitions technically
The story and rules are told in-game as well as in the manual.
The setup of the game is that you’re a squire who wants to become a knight. The king gives you a quest, randomized at the beginning of the game, to recover either a gold chalice from a mountain demon or a gold anchor from a sea demon. You leave from the king’s castle, at the center of a map of concentric squares creating 41 total “positions.” The contents of each position are also randomized. The borders of the outermost square are designated as either sea or mountains, but you don’t know which is which until you get there. The quest object is always found in one of these outermost squares.
Meeting the object of my quest.
Most squares hold some kind of combat encounter, such as robbers, an evil knight, a mountain sorcerer, sea smugglers, a dragon, or a giant. As you meet each of these foes, the game asks whether you want to “challenge” them. If you say no, they can still challenge you, and you go to combat. If you say yes, they can decline to challenge you, and no combat occurs. Thus, whether you fight or not is entirely in their hands, so I’m not sure why the game even asks. Nothing is more annoying than finding the demon that has your quest object and having to move in and out of his square repeatedly trying to get him to fight you.
If you win a battle, you get “reputation” and silver pieces. Reputation serves as a kind of “level”; the more you have, the better you do in combat. I found that if I could get it up to 50, I was usually invincible. Successful combat also rewards you with silver pieces.
Combat consists of watching a bunch of words across the top of the screen.
Squares may also have peaceful villages, health springs, and monasteries. If you have sliver, you can pass time at these locations to recover strength. One monastery will give you a magic dagger–only one exists per game–that will save you if you’re about to lose a combat. If you lose a combat without the magic dagger, you suffer a serious wound or death, and you lose all your accumulated items, silver, and reputation.
And if you return without the object of your quest, you are “disgraced.”
And that’s it. Finding the creature with the quest object should take no more than 12 moves–5 from the castle to the edge, and up to 7 around the edge. Combat is so randomized that even without reputation, you have a decent chance of defeating the demon when you encounter him. Returning to the castle takes no more than 5 moves. A winning game could take as little as 2 minutes.
In fact, I was so dissatisfied by the rapidity of the game that I decided I wouldn’t have “won” until I returned to the king with a reputation over 100, both quest items, and the magic dagger. That took me about 10 minutes.
The uber-win.
Knight’s Quest was developed and published by Peterborough, New Hampshire-based Instant Software, which specialized in a large catalog of low-cost, low-quality titles. It came on a disk with two other games, Robot Chase and Horse Race. Oddly, the program causes both emulators I tried it with to default to a Model III, which wasn’t released until 1980. But plenty of magazine ads attest to the game being available in early 1979 at the latest, which gives me no reason to mistrust the 1978 copyright date on the manual.

I doubt the game left much of a legacy, but I have to note that gameplay in the 1981 Apple II title The Dragon’s Eye is somewhat similar in that you move around on a computerized “board” seeking an artifact, and gameplay is randomized for each new game. When I spoke to the author of The Dragon’s Eye, he didn’t offer Knight’s Quest as an influence, though.

Manual covers have sure come a long way.
So the reputation technically counts as character development, and its use in combat technically means that it uses attribute-based combat, and the single dagger is technically an inventory item, which means the game technically vies with The Devi’s Dungeon, Dungeon Campaign, and Beneath Apple Manor for the title of “earliest commercial RPG.” It still gets an 8 on the GIMLET, and the earliest commercial RPG worth the name is still Dunjonquest: The Temple of Apshai (1979).

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