Back in the 1980s there were innumerable indie publishers of the kind so rightly lauded in today’s mobile and online gaming market. Just as today all you need to become a developer is a single app on a marketplace, in the 1980s you just needed a game and an address to set up a mail order service. As you can imagine in the pre-internet days these kinds of publishers and developers sprung up only to vanish without a trace and so they often pop up today as some of our hardest to recover ‘games that weren’t’.
Aardvark Ltd is one such publisher. It was created as an outlet for Rodger Olsen, who had taken to writing games for his children and decided to make some of the money back that he’d spent on computers by selling them across the TRS-80, C64 and Vic-20 platforms in the USA.
Numerous titles were published including a couple of dungeon romps based on 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons rules called Dungeons of Magdarr and Search for Magdarr. The latter was a revised and re-released version of the former, but it turns out there was also a version that existed prior to either of those games.
The game is advertised as allowing you to go on a “dungeon exploring quest” with up to six players with a choice of race and characters and had a fifteen page manual included. Presuming it is going to be similar to Dungeons of Magdarr if not identical then it plays pretty much as a typical RPG ala Dungeon Master, albeit more primitive due to the era it was released in.
Dungeons of Death, with different artwork to Dungeons of Magdarr, was advertised along with numerous other games for the Commodore 64 like Zeus, Seawolfe and Quest but today there is little evidence it ever existed except as an appearance on a ‘for trade’ list on a TRS-80 website.
So we know a TRS-80 version exists, but what about the C64 and Vic-20?
Well as luck would have it a Vic-20 version of Dungeons of Death turned up recently in the US and has been checked out to see what differences, if any, it has with Dungeons of/Search for Magdarr. The differences between the three games seem slight but it looks like the Vic-20 version lacked the 3D graphics that the later games had on the C64. Of course there is no way of knowing if the C64 version of ‘Dungeons of Death’ had 3D graphics like ‘Dungeons of Magdarr’ and ‘Search for Magdarr’ but it does seem likely.
Today Rodger Olsen publishes science-fiction novels on Great Authors Online, which he also runs and edits and we have tried to make contact with him through that website. We have also tried to track down the mystery person who received the TRS-80 bundle off the for-trade list in an attempt to discern what differences, if any that Dungeons of Death had with Dungeons of Magdarr.
Hopefully one or both of these avenues will yield some information and we can update this entry.
In August 2020, a poster on AtariAge by the name of Ron Cooke came forward with an original copy of the game that they had brought back in the day. They had originally ordered DOD from a computer magazine called BITD, and it arrived with no packaging – just a manual. Recently he wanted to see if it could get DOD running on his newly purchased C64Mini, and this was when the efforts to preserve began.
Ron kindly provided scans and right afterwards managed to get the game backed up to make available to all! It took 3 tape desks overall to get the game preserved, and thanks to Ron the game can now be fully downloaded.
Interestingly, just hours later – Hedning/Genesis Project got in touch to inform us that they had the disk version and had been going to spend time fixing up various bugs that were present. The game had been found and recovered by Black Beard. However, they have kindly provided the disk version for us to add to the site as a result of the tape version being recovered. The disk version had protection, though the tape version did not. So today we have both the tape and disk versions preserved, when it had been many years that we had neither!
Then in June 2022, contributor Tom in the comments had a letter from Aardvark in a recent Commodore pick up that stated “Due to the seemingly uncorrectable errors in Dungeons of Death, we are substituting a new and better Dungeons and Dragons type adventure. It is called Dungeons of Magdarr. We are sure you won’t be disappointed.” So this confirms why Dungeons of Death had such a limited release.
Check out the downloads and see the game for yourself at long last! Case closed!
Definitely released on the TRS-80:
- http://www.trs-80.com/wordpress/for-sale-or-trade/may-1-2011-color-computer-for-free-shipping/ (Waybackmachine link)
- http://www.greatauthorsonline.com/rodger_olsen (Waybackmachine link)
- C64 walkabout article
Contributions: Robinson Mason, OLD CS1, OX, Ron Cooke, Hedning/GP, Black Beard, Tom
- 19/06/22 – Quick note from the company thanks to comments contributor, Tom.
- 22/08/20 – Game added! (Tape and Disk) Case closed!
- 21/08/20 – Game found and looking to be preserved. Adding scans for now.