Gauntlet Series Retrospective Part 10: Dandy and Dark Chambers

Gauntlet Series Retrospective Part 10: Dandy and Dark Chambers
Gauntlet Series Retrospective Part 10: Dandy and Dark Chambers

Insert Disk collects Dandy and Dark Chambers for the C64, Spectrum and Atari 2600.

Today’s retro game review is Dandy and Dark Chambers for the C64, Spectrum and Atari 2600. This retro gaming classic is the focus of part 10 of the 10 part Insert-Disk Gauntlet Mini Series Where we will take a look back at Gauntlet, Gauntlet The Deeper Dungeons, Gauntlet 2, Gauntlet: The Third Encounter, Gauntlet 3, Gauntlet 4, Gauntlet Legends, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, Gauntlet: Slayer Edition as well as a bonus look at the Gauntlet origin story in Dandy and Dark Chambers.

Welcome to the Gauntlet retrospective part 10 of 10.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. It’s part 10 of this Gauntlet Mini series. Welcome to the Gauntlet! This series has explored the classic era, the Legends era and the modern era. You join us at the very end of our quest together which ironically looks to understand the very origins of Gauntlet.

Now, strictly speaking what I told you in part one of the series was correct. Gauntlet did first originate in arcades back in 1985 from Atari but there was a piece of the story that I intentionally left out. It is now time to go deeper than ever in to the Gauntlet origins story. It’s a story that spans all the way back to 1982 and a university thesis of all things.
In 1982 John Palevich was studying at MIT, preparing his “Thesis Of Terror”. His thesis regarded an experimental idea for a five-player game computer game. Four players would use Atari 800 computers acting as graphical terminals, and the fifth player acting as dungeon master on a second linked machine.The fifth player was never fully realised so the concept was dialled back to 4 players on one machine.

It’s said that the concept of the game was heavily influenced by Palevich’s experience of watching his fellow dorm mates play Dungeons and Dragons. Indeed you can see the influence flow through to most of the early Gauntlet games. After graduating from MIT, Palevich went on to work for Atari’s Research division, mostly on graphics and sound chips. However, he continues to work on the “Thesis of Terror” concept to develop it further. By May 1983, the original code was reworked for release. During this time the game also finally became to be known as Dandy. A near phononyme of D&D. D&D, D&D, Dandy. Atari Program Exchange advertised Dandy as “the great new team game … Bring up to three friends! Work as a team to battle monsters!”

Dandy was a decent game and clear to anyone watching this video that many of the major elements of a Gauntlet game can be seen in here. It’s worth remembering that Dandy followed the formula of collecting keys to open locked doors, treasure, bombs, health and dungeons. In the original release print you also play as, believe it or not “Thor”, the Norwegian mother that you don’t mess with. However, just two year later in 1985 Atari themselves went on to release the smash hit Gauntlet. A project led by Ed Loggand said to have been “directly inspired” by Dandy. A project that Palevich was not directly involved in. With Ed Loggand credited for the creation of Gauntlet there was controversy brewing at Atari even in these early years. After Gauntlets release, Palevich threatened a lawsuit, insisting that the original concept for Gauntlet was based on Dandy, written by himself in 1983. The dispute was eventually settled without a suit being filed, with Atari Games doing business as Tengen allegedly awarding Palevich a Gauntlet game machine. However, Palevich’s original concept for the game could have made him millions had history been a little different.

Here I have the original Spectrum and Commodore 64 releases of Dandy.
The C64 version credits software by the RamJam Corporation and based on an original design by John H. Palevich. The spectrum edition only credits Palevich. It’s clear from playing the games that Dandy was not just the pre-cursor to Gauntlet, by any other name it is Gauntlet. It may not be so fluid but there is a clear injustice that Palevich’s name is often left out of conversations when Gauntlet is discussed. However you may feel about this turn of events it’s worth knowing that Palevich did see some redemption as he continued to refine Dandy. By 1987 a reworked concept was released as Dark Chambers which was available on the Atari 2600 and 7800. This time with Palevich appropriately credited with all rights reserved.

And here is an original pressing of Dark Chambers for the 2600. I have to say that the artwork is really special. The treasure, the heroes the ghosts and death. It’s just a really well-crafted piece. The back of the box explains the main idea of the game and promises about as much as a 2600 game could at the time. The game comes with the all-important cartridge and a rather excellent manual. It explains the potions, keys, bombs as well as several other pickups not found in the Gauntlet series. Looking at the character list though you see. Skeletons, wizards, spawners, poisons and grim reapers. For all the world this could be the prototype documents for the Gauntlet formula. The 2600 edition of the game is rather decent. It’s basic but for an Atari 2600 game still remarkably playable. The 7800 version is perhaps even better due to the levels of detail and definitely fulfills all of the prerequisites to the classic era of Gauntlet game.

So, what can we take away from all of this? On one hand it’s a shame that Palevich doesn’t always receive the credit he deserves when the subject of Gauntlet arises. Let’s face it, Atari may have put out the Gauntlet series but the original implementation of the idea was clearly his. With Dandy and Dark Chambers being published it’s clear that Palevich had the right concepts and skills for most to credit him with the underlying mechanics of the franchise. Financially he must have felt hard done by and there’s probably not a lot that anyone can do at this point in time. However, we can admire his creativity and vision which hopefully goes some way to giving him the credit he deserves.

As for the Gauntlet series itself, it has a fascinating line up of entries, has spanned several decades and managed to engage with several generations of gamer. The classic games now appear regularly in compilations and modern studious still see reap the benefits from its legacy.

Gauntlet helps tell the historical battles of game licencing between Atari and Nintendo, the creation of Tengen and helps plot the fortunes of Atari itself over time. Its licence may have been passed around over the years but Gauntlet is such a string concept that it has managed to weather the bad times and continues to delight us.

No matter whether you collect Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Commodore, PC or other, at some point the dark dungeons of the Gauntlet are sure to have been part of your gaming journey at some point in time.

On a personal level Gauntlet 2 will always be my favourite in the series as it was so ground-breaking but other entries such as Gauntlet 4 really did go all out to thrill fans of the hack and slash genre.

I’d like to thank you all for sticking with this special ten part series of Gauntlet and hopefully you’ve enjoyed the journey in to the dungeons with me. Let me know in the comments your favourite Gauntlet game and why, there’s a lot to choose from.

Until next time, happy gaming.

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