In 1979, a high schooler by the name of Jeff McCord started creating a game on his Commodore PET based on a Dungeons & Dragons campaign he ran previously. It was one of the first computer games to feature randomized dungeons and a “fog of war” that hid parts of the world you hadn’t visited yet, and was eventually published for the Commodore VIC-20 in 1982 as Sword of Fargoal. As with other “Rogue-likes” of its time, there were no extra lives: once you died, you were dead, and you had to start over. The entire thing was only 14K.
The game was a hit with many fans despite being nearly impossible to win. You had to get to the 20th level of the dungeon, collect the Sword of Fargoal, and then get out of the dungeon before it collapsed on you. McCord himself admits that he has only made it out alive twice in 30 years.
Twenty years later, in 2003, Paul Pridham and Elias Pschernig, who had been fans of the game when they were kids, decided to create a tribute for the PC. They showed it to McCord, who loved it and “authorized” it to become an official Sword of Fargoal remake. The three teamed up to form Fargoal LLC, and released the game as shareware for the PC and Mac with a $10 suggested donation. (Remember shareware? Kids, ask your parents.) The new version added a little bit of perspective in the wall graphics but was otherwise faithful to the look and feel of the original. You could even get a “skin” to play with graphics almost identical to the original’s.
And then, of course, a few years later this little gadget showed up that everyone had to have. Since all three of the Fargoal guys had full-time jobs, it took them a couple years to create the iPhone version, but they got some great encouragement from a few Apple evangelists like John Geleynse and Eric Hope, and Sword of Fargoal arrived for the iPhone just before Christmas in 2009. (Sword of Fargoal Legends was released for the iPad in 2010.)
The graphics still use a retro graphics style, but everything was re-illustrated. It’s still a 2-D game, but the walls were given a perspective that shifts as you walk. The new version still has permadeath, but they did add a few other difficulty levels: Squire mode lets you respawn at the last temple you visited, though all your stuff will be wherever you got killed. Legend mode was even more difficult: monsters are stronger and you can only see them if you have line of sight — when they go around a corner, they fade away into the shadows.
Sword of Fargoal is now taking its next evolutionary step: McCord and Pridham have been rebuilding the game from the ground up for over a year now, and the sequel Sword of Fargoal 2 is nearly complete. Enemies are harder (and smarter), ganging up on you or running away when they know they’re outmatched, and even setting traps. There are new character classes so you can choose to be a Fighter, Ranger, Magic User, or Thief; each class also has male and female versions. Hundreds of new items have been added, and the game can also randomly generate custom items. Instead of 20 levels, there are around 100, so you can go far beneath the Sword of Fargoal and fight other monsters, pursue side quests, and solve puzzles. You’ll gain the ability to tinker with things, setting traps or creating combos.
The new version is on Kickstarter now, with just a day to go (and a lot of money to raise). There are some basic reward levels for the game on iOS, Mac, PC et cetera, but there are also some really fun high-dollar levels. For instance, the $1000 “Retro” Level (limited to 10 people) gets you an actual Commodore 64 with a copy of the original game on floppy disk! (Again, kids, ask your parents.) Or the single “Epic Hero” Level (a whopping 10 grand) will get you an actual real-life Sword of Fargoal, delivered to you by McCord himself (plus the C64 and a pile of other goodies). There are a lot of levels in between as well.
Finally, we see that sometimes evolution takes us full circle. One of the big stretch goals is for the “Project ‘X'” that’s briefly seen in the Kickstarter video and was “leaked” on Gamezebo: the Sword of Fargoal board game. It looks unlikely that they’ll hit the goal this time around, but if not I expect we might get another chance next year. The game will have nine reversible dungeon tiles that form a large modular board, with a maze-like Sword Level in the center.
I’ve already mentioned before that I sort of missed out on RPGs, both pencil-and-paper and digital versions, so a lot of this history wasn’t so familiar to me. I did, however, try out the iOS Sword of Fargoal Legends on my iPad, and got sucked into it for an hour or two before I died (permanently). But if you remember fondly the original version (or even the 2003 shareware version), then stop by and check out the Kickstarter page to see if it’s something you want to back.
One last thing: for the final 24-hour countdown, McCord is trying something new — a Kick-a-thon. It’s like one of those old telethon fundraisers, except that McCord won’t be talking about Sword of Fargoal specifically: He’s going to be talking about Kickstarter projects in general. He’ll interview Jamey Stegmaier about his Viticulture board game, for instance. Tune anytime after 3pm today until tomorrow at 3pm when the campaign closes, and check out what McCord and his guests have to say about cool projects and the adventure of running a Kickstarter project.