Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Akalabeth: World of Doom, released in 1980 for the Apple II, is recognized as one of the first computer role-playing games and as a precursor of the Ultima series of games that started Richard Garriott's career.
The game was made in the summer of 1980 by then-teenaged Garriott in the BASIC programming language for the Apple II while working at a Computerland retail store in Austin, Texas (though many sources say 1979, see "Release date" below). Garriott briefly distributed the game himself in ziplock bags until California Pacific Computer Company bought the rights to it and published it. Akalabeth, based on Garriott's 28th game he produced in his high school years, became his first significant commercial game.
In creating Akalabeth, Garriott was primarily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. The game attempts to bring the gameplay of pen-and-paper role-playing games to the computer platform. Essentially, the player receives quests from Lord British to kill a succession of ten increasingly more difficult monsters. The name derives from Tolkien's Akallabęth, part of The Silmarillion (though Garriott originally called it "D&D28b", the 28th Dungeons & Dragons-inspired game he made).
The majority of gameplay takes place in a dungeon rendered in simple wire-frame first-person perspective graphics, with a simple above-ground map and text to fill out the rest of the adventure. Garriott's earlier games, including D&D28, were text-based. For Akalabeth, he added graphics for the Apple II computer and called the new version D&D28b.
Naturally, Akalabeth's dungeon crawl gameplay and graphics are very crude by modern standards, but this did not stop the game from attracting a large amount of attention. Its graphics were notable at the time though considering Garriott wrote it for the Apple II to take advantage of that computer's graphics capabilities. The game sold tens of thousands of copies, earning Garriott $5 USD each while he attended college.
Though not explicitly stated, Akalabeth is seen as the first game of the Ultima series, a very popular and influential series of computer role-playing games. It is, therefore, included as part of the 1998 Ultima Collection where it officially picked up the nickname Ultima 0. The version in the Collection added CGA colors and MIDI and was the first official port of the game to any system other than the Apple II, though an unofficial, fan-made PC version circulated on the Internet since late 1995.
Since Akalabeth was written in BASIC, it was a simple matter for users to modify the source code to suit their needs or desires. For example, the game's magic amulet, which occasionally did unpredictable things like turn a player into a high-powered Lizard Man, could be set to do so with every use, thereby making the player virtually indestructible. One could also set the player's statistics (normally randomly generated and fairly weak to start) to any level desired. As such, Akalabeth offered the precursor to what is now known as cheat codes and mods.
Most sources, including Garriott himself and Origin Systems, say that Akalabeth was created in the summer of 1979 and sold that year in ziplock bags. However, labels of the first release are clearly marked "© Richard Garriott 1980". The dates of 1980 and 1981 for the California Pacific releases are not disputed.
- Moby Game's entry on Akalabeth
- GameSpot: "The Ultima Legacy - D&D28b and the Apple II"
- "The Tracks of His Games" (Garriott quotes on his Ultima games)
- Ultima Collection: Akalabeth - pictures of the original Akalabeth releases
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