Tunnels of Doom

By: Texas Instruments
System: TI-99/4A
Programmer: Kevin Kenney
Year: 1982
Model Number: PHM 3042

About a year before Texas Instruments decided to abandon their TI-99/4A home computer, this work of art was released. It used a combination of a cartridge and a cassette/disk with data, similar to the Scott Adams' Adventure cartridge, where the data for the individual game was loaded in.

Tunnels of Doom was a rather simplistic "RPG" game, though it was more of a simple dungeon-based explore and kill game. Upon starting the game, you had to load in a game database, then you could create your party to go explore the dungeon. Each dungeon was randomly generated, with the number of floors user specified, between 1 and 10. With the slower speed of the TI-99/4A, it could take 5-10 minutes to create the maximum size dungeon, a 10-floor one.

You could create a party of 1 to 4 characters. With 2 to 4 characters, you had three choices of character classes - typically a fighter, thief, and wizard. If you decided to go solo, you had a fourth choice, a "hero" that was more or less a combination of the three. Thus, a 2 character party was usually the toughest, since you wouldn't be able to use all the abilities of the character classes.

After creating your party and the dungeon, you would start off at Level "0", in a shop right above the first floor. Basic weapons and armor were available, and you had just about enough starting gold to decently equip your party. Then, you'd leave the shop, and begin your adventure.

Each floor had approximately 20 regular rooms, plus two sets of stairs up (except for level one, which only had one), and two sets of stairs down (except for the bottom level of the dungeon). The rooms were connected by hallways which ran at 90 degrees to each other. Inside a room, you had a top-down view, of the square room, with dotted lines indicating doors. The room was a 6x6 grid, with movement restricted to that grid - there was also a 1x4 space outside of the room in each direction - you could move the party out into the hall, and once all characters were out there, you were considered to have "ran away".

The rooms were randomly generated. They could have 1 to 5 monsters (or occasionally, none), with the monsters selected from a few types applicable to that level. There might also be a single treasure, or a chest with multiple treasures. The center of the room also could have either a living statue or a fountain - you could pay the statue gold to have an item identified, and a fountain you could drink from. On the fourth and eighth floors, should the dungeon have them, will also have a shop in them, which will sell better weapons and armor, but at higher costs.

When travelling between rooms, the game used a 3-D view, which was very unusual at the time. It was rather simple, just colored walls according to the level's color scheme, and doors shown as white blocks with stripes and a circle for a doorknob. Movement was not smooth - each movement would have the view visibly redrawn, though fast enough not to feel too slow.

Your characters had simple statistics. Your hit points were how much damage you could take, and wounds was how much you had. Hit points would go up as you increased experience and level, to a maximum of 120. Your armor class was determined by your armor and shield, and you had two weapons you could switch between, each with a damage value. Not much, but it served the purpose.

The game came with two adventures, "Pennies and Prizes", meant as a simple adventure for young kids, with a maximum dungeon of 4 levels and very simple, basic play, and "Quest for the King", which was more involved and complex, and the one usually played. There were also a number of third party adventures, usually ones made by fans of the game, which were just passed from friend to friend. There was also an editor that made it easy to creature your own ToD adventure, allowing you to edit the names of the items/classes, and draw new graphics, and give monsters varying abilities.

Tunnels of Doom is probably one of the most fondly remembered games by TI-99/4A owners, as while in comparison to today's games it is very simple, it somehow offered enough replayability to keep people coming back over and over again. Perhaps it was that at the bottom of the dungeon, the creatures were strong enough you'd never be able to easily defeat them - it was always a challenge. Perhaps it was the 20 damage sword (known as the Sword King in Quest for the King) that could not be purchased, and would only rarely spawn in the dungeon.

Regardless, any long-time gamer should be quite familiar with the game, and even the mention of it may bring back floods of memories.

It can be played today on a TI-99/4A emulator, of which there are several. The images are also fairly easy to find, as TI's abandonment of the machine seems to have been complete to the point of being unconcerned about copyright on their TI software.

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