Sword of Fargoal

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Screenshot of a modern PC remake of Sword of Fargoal, using a graphics set similar to the original C64 tiles.

Sword of Fargoal is a 1982 video game by Jeff McCord, published by Epyx. The November 1996 anniversary issue of Computer Gaming World listed Sword of Fargoal as #147 on the "Top 150 Best Video Games of All Time."[1]


Screenshot from Sword of Fargoal ported to the PC. Here the Sword has been found by the player.

Sword of Fargoal was created by author and programmer Jeff McCord and based on his original dungeon adventure, Gammaquest II, which was programmed in BASIC for the Commodore PET computer and written in 1979-1981 while he was still in high school in Lexington, Kentucky. Gammaquest II created randomly generated dungeons that were revealed piece-by-piece as the character explored the map, and stayed "lit" behind the character as it moved, emulating the "mapping" of a dungeon level. The game graphics, however, were limited to the character set of the computer.[2]

McCord accepted an offer to publish the game from the video game developer and publisher Epyx in 1982 on the Commodore VIC-20. His original name for the new version was Sword of Fargaol, deriving the name from the Old English spelling of jail (gaol), but his producer at Epyx, Susan Lee-Merrow, convinced him to change it to its present form.[2]

The following year, with the release of the Commodore 64 (C64), McCord was asked to release a version of Sword of Fargoal for that machine as well. McCord was unable to implement the conversion as it was written in BASIC, and the sprite-based graphics required machine language programming. McCord's friend, Scott Corsaire (then Carter) and Steve Lepisto wrote all the machine language code that was needed so that game would perform fast enough for the C64 version of the game (including the main redrawing of the dungeon levels, clearing of the screen in a spiral pattern effect, monster AI, collision detection, and joystick control).

Sword of Fargoal is a roguelike game, with the player controlling an adventurous warrior attempting to reclaim the "Sword of Fargoal" from the depths of a monster-infested, treasure-stocked, randomly generated dungeon. The Sword is placed randomly somewhere between the fifteenth and twentieth dungeon level. This so-called "Sword Level" also has the unique characteristic of being a randomly generated, twisty maze of single tile-width passages, rather than a conventional dungeon level like the others. This helped make reaching the "Sword Level" an exciting event in the game-play; once the player sees the maze design, they know the Sword is nearby.

Sword of Fargoal is noteworthy for being one of the first microcomputer games to introduce elements later used by so-called roguelike games, such as dungeons that are randomly generated for each session of play, and gave a nod to earlier games such as Colossal Cave Adventure, which was played without graphics on mainframe computers of the day using Unix terminals.

Sword of Fargoal has remained somewhat notorious within C64 fandom as being extremely difficult to win. Due to the random design of the "Sword Level," it is possible that the player may enter it with no way of actually reaching the Sword room, and he or she must exit and return to that level for another chance. Further, once the Sword was claimed by the player, they have exactly 2,000 seconds (33 minutes and 20 seconds) to escape the dungeon by going back through each level, or the Sword would be destroyed by a curse. Of course, since all levels are newly generated when the player returns to them, they must be fully explored to find the correct staircases leading upward, of which there is usually only one per level on this return trip. Complicating matters further was the fact that if the Sword was lost for any reason (such as being stolen by a wandering foe), the player must return to the level he or she originally found the Sword to reclaim it, and the clock did not stop or reset when this occurred.

The game was originally released on computer cassette tape and 5¼" floppy disk formats. An open source remake exists in both PC and Macintosh versions. An iPhone version was also released in December 2009.


In the game, the player controls a warrior who explores numerous dungeon levels in search of the legendary "Sword of Fargoal" artifact. The levels become progressively harder to survive as the player descends deeper and deeper into the dungeon. Each dungeon is covered in complete darkness that illuminates as the dungeon rooms and corridors are explored. When the Sword of Fargoal is successfully found, a clock countdown begins where the player must successfully escape the dungeon without it being stolen before the time expires, or the Sword is lost.

The warrior gains character levels (similar to the classic Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game) by gaining experience points, which increase the character's fighting ability and hit points, (called Hits), as they progress through the dungeon. There are several items in the dungeon that help the character, which can be found in treasure chests or on slain adversaries.

Combat in the game is controlled by the computer, and the player has no control over how well or how bad their warrior fights. A warrior can flee an attack at anytime, unless they fall victim to a sneak attack (which is when a monster engages in combat before the warrior has a chance to move). The only escape from a sneak attack is by using a Teleport spell.

The warrior can move freely about the dungeon, whereas monsters take intermittently timed steps. Their movement increases in speed the deeper the dungeon goes until they move just as fast as the warrior.

Each dungeon has a number of staircases that go up or down. In the iPhone version of the game, there are even slippery staircases that will move a character down two levels. Because each map is randomly generated, a level the player returns to will not be the same as when they left it. Stairs also provide an entry for wandering monsters that, over time, replace slain ones on a level. In the iPhone version of the game, floors stay the same on a single game, but change when the player dies or starts a new game.

Characters can find bags of gold scattered around the dungeon. The bags can be taken by enemies if they step over them. Gold can also be stolen from the character by humanoid enemies. If those thieves are killed, the gold is returned to the warrior. A warrior can only carry 100 pieces of gold, and Magic sacks must be located that allow the warrior to carry more. If there is too much gold for the warrior to carry, they hide it (indicated on the map by an "X"), so that enemies cannot steal it. Also, in the iPhone version, if the sack is full, any other gold the player steps over is just left where it was.

Each dungeon level contains a temple. Every time the warrior steps on a temple, their gold is sacrificed to their deity, which earns additional experience. When about 2000 gold is sacrificed, the warrior receives a "blessing" and regains full hit points, which is useful in a pinch. In the iPhone version, shields the player is carrying will be renewed when they are blessed. If a warrior remains standing on a temple, it acts as a sanctuary where they become invisible to enemies around them and heal hit points at twice their normal rate.

Chests in the game are both a bane and a boon to the player. Some contain something useful, or contain a deadly trap. Some chests explode, causing damage, and others release crumbling ceiling or pit traps. In the iPhone version, some chests also release acid, which can damage metal shields, or a toxic gas, which will blind the player until the toxin wears off. A player doesn't know, however, if a chest contains a trap or a useful item, and must take a chance of encountering either. Chests can be picked up by enemies if they step over them. Some items found in chests or lying around are:

  • Amulet of Health – This rare item acts like a permanently active regeneration spell, allowing fast recovery of hit points.
  • Amulet of Light – This rare item acts like a continuously active Light spell, allowing more of the dungeon around the character to be seen.
  • Beacons are magical crystals that can benefit the warrior greatly. When placed on the ground, they create a permanent invisibility effect that hides the warrior from monsters should he step into and stand over the beacon. Secondly, they can teleport the warrior to the dungeon's temple.
  • Black Orb - A rare item in the iPhone version that absorbs flashes from flashbugs and flash traps. Turns silver when it absorbs enough light. Often, this can be found on a pedestal in a secret wall.
  • Bugtooth - A rare item in the iPhone version that nullifies smelly breath and poison. If a player is poisoned, this item will drain it until it wears off, the item is removed, or the player dies. Often found on a pedestal in a secret area.
  • Ceiling Trap - A trapped chest can cause a ceiling to collapse. A Teleport spell can be used to avoid the damage.
  • Dragon's Eye - A rare item in the iPhone version that allows you to see in darkness. Often found on a pedestal in a secret area.
  • Enchanted Weapons increase the damage of the warrior's weapon.
  • Explosions - Some chests are trapped and explode to cause damage. The player can avoid this damage with an active Shield spell.
  • Healing Potions increase the character's hit points. If the player's hit points are reduced to zero while possessing a potion, it is automatically used to save the player's life.
  • Lion's Claw - A rare item in the iPhone version that increases your strength when worn. Often found on a pedestal in a secret area.
  • Lion's Eye - A rare item in the iPhone version that increases your accuracy. Often found on a pedestal in a secret area.
  • Magic Sacks - A magic sack increases the amount of gold the warrior can carry by 100 gold pieces. Multiple sacks stack and allow the character to carry a lot of gold.
  • Maps - Some chests have a map of a particular level. When the warrior reaches that level, the entire dungeon is exposed.
  • Painbringer - A rare item in the iPhone version that causes damage to adjacent enemies.
  • Pits - If a chest opens a pit, the character falls and takes damage. They can avoid this damage with an active Drift spell. Open pits can be climbed, which allows the character to bypass levels of the dungeon. The depths of a pit varies. If properly "baited", a warrior can lure an enemy monster into a pit where they fall. Humanoid adversaries are smarter, however, and actively avoid pits.
  • Shields - These items appear in the iPhone version of the game. They range from wooden (weakest shield usually picked off from barrels) to War (strongest). Shields include wooden (can be burnt), studded leather (can be burnt), metal (damaged by acid), macabre (found on ghostly floors; frightens humanoid characters when they strike it), spiked (may damage an attacking monster), reflective (returns mage missiles), temple (regenerates hit points faster), dragon scale (protects a player against flame traps), and war (can be damaged by acid).
  • Silver Orb - A rare item in the iPhone version that absorbs darkness from Dark Dragons. Turns black when it absorbs enough darkness. Often found on a pedestal in a secret area.
  • Spells - Some chest contains spells useful to the character.
  • Spiritbane - This rare item is found in the iPhone version and wards off ghosts. It also nullifies damage from their shrieks. Often appears on a pedestal in a secret area.
  • Teleports - Randomly sends the character somewhere in the dungeon. Often, the character loses his dungeon "map" and has to retrace their steps in the dungeon.
  • Wands - These items appear in the iPhone version of the game, and give the player certain spells that affect the creature or place the player aims at. Types of wands include sleep, fireball, and teleporting. Some also open doors or do damage from afar.

There are six spells that can be found in the dungeon:

  • Drift - This spell allows the warrior to ignore damage taken during the fall from a pit trap. It expires after the fall and must be recast to protect against another pit trap.
  • Invisibility - This spell makes the character invisible to enemy creatures. They will not approach the character when this spell is active. This spell remains in effect throughout the time spent on a single dungeon level. It expires when the character proceeds to the next level.
  • Light - This spell expands the amount of darkness that is cleared as the character explores the dungeon. It is useful in avoiding sneak attacks by monsters. This spell remains in effect throughout the time spent on a single dungeon level. It expires when the character proceeds to the next level. In the iPhone version of the game, the light spell lasts for a certain duration, then expires. It also shows the player when a secret wall is nearby.
  • Regeneration - This spell speeds up the amount of hit points the character has as they heal on their own. It remains active throughout the time spent on a dungeon level and expires when the character enters another level of the dungeon.
  • Shield - This spells allows the warrior to ignore the damage during a monster attack, or damage caused by an exploding chest. The spell expires after the foe is slain, or the chest explodes and must be recast to use it again against another attack or explosion. In the iPhone version, the Shield spell remains in effect until the first step taken after completing a shielded fight. In other words, a given cast will last through several fights as long as the player remains stationary.
  • Teleport - This spell sends the character to a random part of the dungeon level. It's particularly useful during combat with a powerful monster that may kill the character or when the warrior is in the midst of a ceiling trap.

There are several enemies in the dungeon. In general, "human" type enemies are more dangerous than creatures. Some new monsters appear in the iPhone version of the game, and "human" type enemies also carry (and use) treasure, such as potions:

  • Assassin - Assassins are particularly dangerous as they are invisible until the warrior happens upon one and they can make sneak attacks. Sometimes they appear and disappear on the map depending on their location from the warrior. They are very accurate, and can dodge attacks well.
  • Barbarian
  • Bat - a new monster that appears only in the iPhone version: respawns indefinitely from ceiling holes.
  • Centipede - a new monster that appears only in the iPhone version: moves two squares per turn, bite can poison, will respawn indefinitely from ceiling holes.
  • Dark Warrior - Usually very difficult to kill. (In the iPhone version: can steal from your pack and then teleport away)
  • Demon - These are the strongest monsters in the game, and they can mimic another monster's guise, making them difficult to spot. In the iPhone version, they steal experience, then teleport. They also can cast shield spells, which will make them invincible.
  • Dimension Spider - These spiders can teleport around the dungeon and pass through walls to attack the warrior. They were most likely inspired by the "phase spider" from Dungeons and Dragons.
  • Dire Wolf - In the iPhone version, they move two squares per turn.
  • Dwarven Guard - in the iPhone version, some of them carry shields up to metal.
  • Elven Ranger - in the iPhone version, they fire a missile attack (damage)
  • Fyre Drake - These, other than Demons, are the strongest monsters you will encounter. They have extremely high health, good accuracy, and do a ton of damage. In level 20 of the iPhone version, they possess their own floor on which they guard an infinitely large pile of gold that fills the player's sack instantly. If high enough level, this could be a good way to farm experience, but it is very difficult, as there are many Drakes. In the iPhone version, they have a breath weapon (damage)
  • Hobgoblin
  • Lizardmen - appears in the iPhone version. These have a "stench" that can weaken a player's attack.
  • Mage - a different kind of opponent than the original Mage that appears in the iPhone version only; has a missile attack (damage) and can summon skeletons.
  • Mercenary
  • Monk - In the iPhone version, they can steal from your pack and then teleport away. Monks generally carry healing potions and are somewhat agile, allowing them to avoid a few of your attacks.
  • Ogre - In the iPhone version, they have a single charge missile attack.
  • Rogue - can steal from your gold
  • Shadow Dragon - In the iPhone version, it has a breath weapon (darkness and damage).
  • Skeleton - new monster that only appears in the iPhone version of the game. These can come of ostuaries, which are found on ghost levels.
  • Swordsman - These monsters are a tad more difficult because they are a bit more accurate and can dodge easier than normal enemies.
  • Troll
  • Warlord - Also very difficult to kill. May cast the Shield spell. Sometimes Warlords carry War shields.
  • Werebear
  • Wyvern In the iPhone version, they have a breath weapon (poison).

Mages and Demons - special characters that appear looking like any of the other adversaries. These monsters usually lurk in the lower dungeon levels, generally after the 9th-10th level. Mages can steal the warrior's spells, while Demons can steal experience levels. When this occurs, the monster will then flee the warrior, often teleporting around the dungeon level. If the warrior can catch up to the particular monster that did the stealing, he can fight it and if successful, will get his spells or experience points restored. However, the mage or demon may disappear down a stairway, which makes it almost impossible to recover what was stolen. Sometimes a clue that helps spot a demon or mage is when you see a monster that isn't usually seen in the level you're in, in which case it's best that you not confront it.

Monster Descriptors - Often the game will describe whether the monster one encounters is strong or weak. Adjectives such as "weak" and "experienced" are used to denote the monster's strength.

The latest version of the game ported to modern computers allows the player to adjust the settings and difficulty of the game. The player can choose such things as graphics themes and monster behavior. The player can also trade increased skill in combat over hit points, or vice versa.


Computer Gaming World noted some bugs and inconsistencies with the documentation, but called Sword of Fargoal "an exciting and intriguing adventure game. The graphics are beautifully crafted".[3] Ahoy! called the VIC-20 version "an engrossing adventure-type maze game".[4] The magazine stated that the Commodore 64 version was "nearly addictive", but criticized the lack of a savegame feature. More seriously, it stated that the randomized dungeons removed mapping and solving mysteries, important aspects of adventure gaming, and concluded "This game is so close to its goal, and yet so far".[5]

The iOS port has a Metacritic score of 85% based on 6 critic reviews.[6]


  1. ^ Computer Gaming World: 150 Best Games of All Time from CDAccess.com
  2. ^ a b Official Sword of Fargoal website
  3. ^ Wilson, Dr. Johnny L. (July–August 1983). "The Commodore Key". Computer Gaming World. p. 42. 
  4. ^ Salm, Walter (1984-03). "VIC Game Buyer's Guide". Ahoy!. p. 49. Retrieved 27 June 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Herring, Richard (1984-11). "Sword of Fargoal". Ahoy!. p. 40. Retrieved 27 June 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ http://www.metacritic.com/game/ios/sword-of-fargoal

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