Archon: The Light and the Dark
|Archon: The Light and the Dark|
|Developer(s)||Free Fall Associates|
Paul Reiche III
|Platform(s)||Atari 8-bit (original)
Apple II, C64, Amiga, MS-DOS, Macintosh, NES, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, PC-88
|Mode(s)||Single player or Two player|
Archon: The Light and the Dark is a 1983 video game developed by Free Fall Associates and one of the first five games published by Electronic Arts. It is similar in concept to chess, in that it takes place on a board with squares, but, instead of fixed rules when landing on another player's piece, an arcade-style fight takes place to determine the victor. Also unlike chess, each side has different pieces with ranging abilities. These abilities are enhanced when landing on a square of one's own color.
Archon was originally developed for Atari 8-bit family, then ported to the Apple II, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, IBM PC, Macintosh, PC-88, and NES. It was designed by Paul Reiche III (who also created the graphics for the game) and Jon Freeman, and programmed by Anne Westfall.
A sequel was released in 1984: Archon II: Adept.
The goal of the game is either to take control of five power points located on the board, to eliminate all the opposing pieces, or to eliminate all but one remaining imprisoned piece of the opponent's.
While the board is similar to a chessboard, and the various pieces are similarly designed to have various offsetting abilities, when one piece attempts to take another, the removal of the targeted piece is not automatic. Instead, the two pieces are placed into a full-screen 'combat arena' and must battle (action-style, with the players running the pieces) to determine who takes the square.
Generally (but not always) in combat, a stronger piece will defeat a weaker piece in either defending or capturing a square. It is also possible for the fight to result in a double-kill, in which both pieces are eliminated. This uncertainty adds a level of complexity into the game, since it is not always possible to predict if taking a square will be successful. Different pieces have different abilities in the combat phase. These include movement, lifespan, and weapon damage and attributes. The weapons vary by range, speed, rate-of-fire, and power. For example, the pawn (represented by knights on the 'light' side and goblins on the 'dark' side) attacks quickly, but has very little strength; its weapon, a sword or club, has limited reach and power. A dragon is considerably stronger and can attack from a distance, while a golem moves slowly and fires a slow but powerful boulder.
In addition, the damage-taking ability of any given piece is affected by the square on which the battle takes place, with each player having an advantage on squares of their own color. Many squares on the board oscillate between light and dark, making them dangerous to hold over long periods of time. Some of the power points are on oscillating squares.
Some pieces have special abilities. The phoenix can turn into a ball of fire, both damaging the enemy and shielding itself from enemy attacks. The shapeshifter assumes the shape and abilities of whatever piece it is up against. MikroBitti magazine once wrote that the phoenix and the shapeshifter facing each other usually end up as the most boring battle in the entire game; both combatants' capabilities are simultaneously offensive and defensive, they tend to use it whenever they meet each other, and thus both rarely get damaged.
Each side also has a spellcaster piece, who are the leaders: the sorceress for the dark side, the wizard for the light side. The sorceress and the wizard can cast seven different spells. Each spell may be used only once per game by each spellcaster.
The computer opponent slowly adapts over time to help players defeat it. The game is usually won when either one side destroys all the opposing pieces or one of the sides is able to occupy all of the five power points. More rarely, a side may also win by imprisoning its opponent's last remaining piece. If each side has but a single piece, and the two pieces destroy each other in a double-kill, then the game ends in a tie.
Archon was very well received. Softline praised the game's originality, stating, "If there is any computer game that even slightly resembles Archon, we haven't seen it". The magazine concluded that "it's an announcement that Free Fall does games. And it does them well". Video magazine reviewed the game in its "Arcade Alley" column where reviewers described it as "truly a landmark in the development of computerized strategy games" and suggested that "no review could possibly do more than hint at [Archon's] manifold excellence".:32 Computer Gaming World called Archon "a very good game, with lots of care put into its development. I recommend it highly." The magazine said of the Amiga versions, "if you are interested in a challenging strategy game, I recommend both Archon and Adept." Orson Scott Card reviewed the game for Compute! in 1983. He gave Archon and two other EA games, M.U.L.E. and Worms?, complimentary reviews, writing that "they are original; they do what they set out to do very, very well; they allow the player to take part in the creativity; they do things that only computers can do".
Leo LaPorte of Hi-Res—a tournament chess player—unfavorably compared the complexity of its rules to that of chess and Go, but concluded that Archon was "a very good game" that "struck a fine balance between a strategy game and an arcade shoot-'em-up". BYTE's reviewer called Archon one of the best computer games he has ever played, stating it was "rewarding and varied enough to be played again and again." The Addison-Wesley Book of Atari Software 1984 gave the game an overall A+ rating, describing it as "one of the most creative and original games that has come along in several years ... It has great graphics, and will give a lifetime of pleasure."
In 1984 Softline readers named Archon the most popular Atari program of 1983. It was awarded "1984 Most Innovative Video Game/Computer Game" at the 5th annual Arkie Awards, where judges noted that "few games make better use of a computer's special abilities than Archon".:29 In 1996, Computer Gaming World ranked Archon as the 20th best game of all time. It was also ranked as the 50th top game by IGN in 2003, who called it a "perfect marriage of strategy and action". The reviewer commented, "Whether on the computer or NES, Archon is an intense, engaging match of wits and reflexes, and boasts some of the coolest battles in gaming history."
The original game was rewritten for Palm OS in 2000 and was close to the original. The creator, Carsten Magerkurth, of EmperoR Studios, contacted the members of former Free Fall Associates and, with their input, developed a new version in 2003 (v1.21) with colors and sounds even closer to the original.
Another rewrite of the game, Archon: Evolution, was developed by Curve Software. The game reached public beta status before disappearing from the Internet, but resurfaced in January 2008. The game used code from the original 8-bit version with the blessing of Jon Freeman.
In 2008, React Games acquired the license from Free Fall to develop the Archon title across multiple platforms. It released an iPhone version in June 2009 (no longer available on the iTunes Store as of 2016). React Games was founded by Chad Lee, who had worked on the non-commercial version of the game, Archon Evolution. A follow-up title Archon: Conquest from React Games was released in September 2009 for the iPhone (no longer available on the iTunes Store as of 2016). It is a single-player game set in the Archon universe that features four campaigns, each with 15 quests.
Archon: Classic for Windows was released in May 2010 by React Games. It features new gameplay elements not in the original game, such as four player support, four AI settings, various new boards to choose from, pieces that level up, power-ups in combat and more. Campaign mode with unique stories and set layouts for both light and dark sides is another addition. Consistent with Archon Ultra, pieces are also endowed with secondary abilities- for example, knights can now use their shields to deflect attacks in addition to sword strikes. As of 2017 Archon: Classic remains available in the Steam store.
- Mortal Kombat: Deception, has a Chess Kombat mini game that is very similar, with almost the same rules.
- The Unholy War, a 1998 PlayStation game with a similar structure.
- Wrath Unleashed, a 2004 PlayStation 2 and Xbox game with a similar structure.
- Secrets of Archon at vintagecomputing.com - detailing mechanics of the Atari 800 version.
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- "Archived archonevolution.com website, mentioning Freeman's involvement". Web.archive.org. 2004-01-01. Archived from the original on January 1, 2004. Retrieved 2013-11-07.
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