Akalabeth: World of Doom

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Akalabeth: World of Doom
Akalabeth box.JPG
Cover art by Denis Loubet
Developer(s) Richard Garriott
Publisher(s) California Pacific Computer Co.
Platform(s) Apple II, DOS
Releasecirca 1979 (limited release),
1980-1981 (California Pacific release)
1998 (DOS)
Genre(s) Role-playing video game
Mode(s) Single player

Akalabeth: World of Doom ( /əˈkæləbɛθ/ ) is a role-playing video game that had a limited release in 1979 and was then published by California Pacific Computer Company for the Apple II in 1980. Richard Garriott designed the game as a hobbyist project, which is now recognized as one of the earliest known examples of a role-playing video game [1] and as a predecessor of the Ultima series of games that started Garriott's career. [2]

A role-playing video game is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character immersed in some well-defined world. Many role-playing video games have origins in tabletop role-playing games and use much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. Other major similarities with pen-and-paper games include developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion. The electronic medium removes the necessity for a gamemaster and increases combat resolution speed. RPGs have evolved from simple text-based console-window games into visually rich 3D experiences.

1979 has seen many sequels and prequels in video games and several new titles such as Galaxian, Warrior and Asteroids.

California Pacific Computer Company is a defunct software company that published games and related software for the Apple II family of computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. California Pacific is best known as the publisher of the first installment of Richard Garriott's popular Ultima game series, and for Super Invader, a Space Invaders clone voted the most popular software of 1978-80.



The game was made by teenager Richard Garriott in Applesoft BASIC for the Apple II while attending high school in the Houston, Texas suburbs. [2] [3] Begun first as a school project during his junior year using the school's mainframe system and Apple II computer, as well as another Apple II bought for him by his father, the game continually evolved over several years under the working title D&D with the help of his friends and regular Dungeons & Dragons partners who acted as play-testers. [2] Development of the game began soon after his initial encounter with Apple computers in the summer of 1979, [4] but Garriott did not expect that the public would see his work. [5]

Richard Garriott video game developer, astronaut and entrepreneur

Richard Allen Garriott de Cayeux is an English-American video game developer and entrepreneur. He is also known as his alter egos Lord British in Ultima and General British in Tabula Rasa. A well-known figure in the video game industry, Garriott was originally a game designer and programmer and now engages in various aspects of computer game development and business.

Applesoft BASIC is a dialect of Microsoft BASIC, developed by Marc McDonald and Ric Weiland, supplied with the Apple II series of computers. It supersedes Integer BASIC and is the BASIC in ROM in all Apple II series computers after the original Apple II model. It is also referred to as FP BASIC because of the Apple DOS command used to invoke it, instead of INT for Integer BASIC.

When the game reached version D&D28b later that year (where "28b" refers to the revision), he demoed the game now renamed to Akalabeth for his boss at a Clear Lake City, Texas-area ComputerLand, who suggested he sell the game in the store. Garriott consented and spent $200 to package and sell the game for $20 inside Ziploc bags, with photocopied instructions and a cover drawn by his mother. It warned "BEWARE FOOLISH MORTAL, YOU TRESPASS IN AKALABETH, WORLD OF DOOM!!", and claimed to offer "10 different Hi-Res Monsters combined with perfect perspective and infinite dungeon levels". California Pacific Computer Company received a copy, and contacted Garriott to publish the game. Garriott flew to California with his parents and agreed to receive $5 for each copy sold. The retail price of the California Pacific version, with cover artwork by Denis Loubet, was $35; Garriot claims that the game sold 30,000 copies, with him receiving $150,000, and that Akalabeth had the best return on investment, with later games "all downhill from there". The company suggested that for marketing purposes "Lord British" be credited as the author, and organized a contest for Softalk readers to figure out his true identity. [3] [6] [5] [7] [8]


ComputerLand was a widespread chain of retail computer stores during the early years of the microcomputer revolution, and was one of the outlets chosen to introduce the IBM PC in 1981. The first ComputerLand opened in 1976, and the chain eventually included about 800 stores by 1985. After this time the rapid commoditization of the PC led to the company's downfall, with most of the retail locations closing by 1990. The company officially ended in February 1999.

Ziploc brand of reusable, re-sealable zipper storage bags and containers

Ziploc is a brand of reusable, re-sealable zipper storage bags and containers originally developed and test marketed by The Dow Chemical Company in 1968 and now produced by S. C. Johnson & Son. The plastic bags and containers come in different sizes for use with different products. The brand offers sandwich bags, snack bags and other bags for various purposes.

Denis Loubet is an artist who has worked on several pen & paper role-playing games and video games, including the MMORPG Ashen Empires.

In creating Akalabeth, Garriott was primarily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons , for which he held weekly sessions in his parents' house while in high school, [2] and the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, which he received from an in-law of his brother. The name derives from Tolkien's Akallabêth , part of The Silmarillion , though the game is not based on Tolkien's story. In the original game, the last monster on the need-to-kill list is called "Balrog", like the demonic monsters from The Lord of the Rings , and unlike the later name for the monster in the Ultima games, Balron.

<i>Dungeons & Dragons</i> fantasy role-playing board game

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG) originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It was first published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. (TSR). The game has been published by Wizards of the Coast since 1997. It was derived from miniature wargames, with a variation of the 1971 game Chainmail serving as the initial rule system. D&D's publication is commonly recognized as the beginning of modern role-playing games and the role-playing game industry.

J. R. R. Tolkien British philologist and author, creator of classic fantasy works

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic, who is best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

Akallabêth is the fourth part of The Silmarillion, as edited by Christopher Tolkien (1977).

While not explicitly stated, Akalabeth is seen as the first game of the Ultima series, a very popular and influential series of role-playing video games. It was, 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. It ran on DOS, making it the first official port of the game to any system other than the Apple II, though an unofficial, fan-made PC version had circulated on the Internet since late 1995.

<i>Ultima</i> (series) Role-playing video games series

Ultima is a series of open world fantasy role-playing video games from Origin Systems, Inc. Ultima was created by Richard Garriott. The series is one of the most significant in computer game history and is considered, alongside Wizardry and Might and Magic, to be one of the establishers of the CRPG genre. Several games of the series are considered seminal entries in their genre, and each installment introduced new innovations which then were widely copied by other games. Electronic Arts own the brand.

Color Graphics Adapter computer display standard

The Color Graphics Adapter (CGA), originally also called the Color/Graphics Adapter or IBM Color/Graphics Monitor Adapter, introduced in 1981, was IBM's first graphics card and first color display card for the IBM PC. For this reason, it also became that computer's first color computer display standard.

DOS group of closely-related PC-compatible operating systems

DOS is a family of disk operating systems, hence the name. DOS primarily consists of MS-DOS and a rebranded version under the name IBM PC DOS, both of which were introduced in 1981. Other later compatible systems from other manufacturers include DR-DOS (1988), ROM-DOS (1989), PTS-DOS (1993), and FreeDOS (1998). MS-DOS dominated the x86-based IBM PC compatible market between 1981 and 1995.

Copies of the original Akalabeth are much more rare than those of other games that sold fewer than 30,000 copies. Jimmy Maher from the Digital Antiquarian homepage believes that Garriott is mistaken on the figure, as the game only appeared near the bottom of the Softalk 's monthly list of the top 30 best-selling Apple II programs twice before being discontinued in 1982; by contrast Sierra On-Line 's The Wizard and the Princess , which often appeared near the top of the list, sold 25,000 copies by mid-1982. Given California Pacific's high royalty rates he suggests that 10,000 copies might have been enough for Garriott to earn $150,000. [9] [8]


Softalk was an American magazine of the early 1980s that focused on the Apple II computer. Published from September 1980 through August 1984, it featured articles about hardware and software associated with the Apple II platform and the people and companies who made them. The name was originally used on a newsletter of Apple Software pioneer company, Softape, who in 1980 changed its name to Artsci Inc.

Gameplay and technology

The main overhead view of Akalabeth. The player is represented by a cross. There is a town to the northwest and impassable mountains to the southeast. Akalabeth - World of Doom (screenshot).jpg
The main overhead view of Akalabeth. The player is represented by a cross. There is a town to the northwest and impassable mountains to the southeast.

Garriott is the sole author of the game, with the exception of title artwork by Keith Zabalaoui. [10] The game attempts to bring the gameplay of pen-and-paper role-playing games to the computer platform. [2] The player receives quests from Lord British (Garriott's alter-ego and nickname since high school) to kill a succession of ten increasingly difficult monsters.

The majority of gameplay takes place in an underground dungeon, but there were also a simple above-ground world map and text descriptions to fill out the rest of the adventure. The player could visit the Adventure Shop to purchase food, weapons, a shield and a magic amulet; the player's statistics can also be viewed here.

The game used concepts that would later become standard in the Ultima series, including: [10]

Garriott's earlier versions before D&D28b used an overhead view with ASCII characters representing items and monsters. However, after playing Escape, an early maze game for the Apple II, he instead decided to switch to a wire-frame, first-person view for the underground dungeon portions of the game, [2] the first computer role-playing game with such graphics. [11] The game asks the player to provide a "lucky number", which it uses as a random seed to procedurally generate the rest of the game, including dungeons and player stats; by using the same number the player can always return to a given world. The Ultima Collection version added savegame support while still using a similar random seed. [10]

The first-person dungeon perspective of Akalabeth. Here the player is fighting a skeleton near a ladder. The dark blue color indicates this is the second level of the dungeon. Akalabeth.jpg
The first-person dungeon perspective of Akalabeth. Here the player is fighting a skeleton near a ladder. The dark blue color indicates this is the second level of the dungeon.

While crude by modern standards, in 1980 Akalabeth's graphics and dungeon crawl gameplay mechanics were considered quite advanced, and the game attracted a large amount of attention. And, since Akalabeth was written in Applesoft BASIC, an interpreted language, 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, or a weak Toad, could be set for "Lizard Man" with every use, progressively increasing the player's strength to the point of virtual indestructibility. One could also set the player's statistics (normally randomly generated and fairly weak to start) to any level desired. Also later Origin Systems offered the source code on their FTP servers. [12] [13]

Release date

Most sources, including Garriott and Origin Systems, say that Akalabeth was created in the summer of 1979 after he graduated from high school, and sold that year in Ziploc bags. Maher believes that Garriott did not begin selling Akalabeth until the summer of 1980, after his first year of college. California Pacific widely released the game in 1980 with a 1980 copyright date, and Akalabeth first appeared on the Softalk top 30 list for the month of October 1980. [9] [7]

Akalabeth was ported to DOS as part of Ultima Collection in 1998.


According to Richard Garriott, Akalabeth sold roughly 30,000 units. As he earned $5 per copy, these sales totaled $150,000 in revenue, which Garriott called "not a bad return for a hundred hours of work by a high school kid." [14]

Steve Jackson reviewed Akalabeth in The Space Gamer No. 36. [15] Jackson commented that "On the whole, I recommend Akalabeth highly. The graphics are better than I've seen on any similar game; the program is varied and fairly logical. And it's fun." [15]

The game was reviewed in 1982 in The Dragon #65 by Bruce Humphrey. Humphrey concluded that "Akalabeth is a poor cousin in relation to Wizardry and some of the other recent role-playing computer games." [16] Scorpia of Computer Gaming World , a fan of Ultima, agreed in 1991 and 1993: "Bluntly, it wasn't all that terrific". She did, however, note that the game was the first to offer 3-D perspective dungeon graphics. [11] [17]

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  1. Barton, Matt: Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing Games (A K Peters Ltd, Wellesley MA, 2008), pg. 1
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 King, Brad; Borland, John M. (2003). Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture from Geek to Chic. McGraw-Hill/Osborne. ISBN   0-07-222888-1 . Retrieved 2010-09-25.
  3. 1 2 "Ultima and Lord British - Origins". The Dot Eaters. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  4. The Official Book of Ultima, by Shay Addams, Second Edition, page 7
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  6. The Official Book of Ultima, by Shay Addams, Second Edition, page 8
  7. 1 2 Maher, Jimmy (2011-12-12). "Lord British". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  8. 1 2 Maher, Jimmy (2011-12-20). "California Pacific". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  9. 1 2 Maher, Jimmy (2011-12-02). "A Word on Akalabeth and Chronology". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 9 July 2014. See Garriott's post and Maher's response in the comments.
  10. 1 2 3 Maher, Jimmy (2011-12-18). "Akalabeth". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  11. 1 2 Scorpia (October 1991). "C*R*P*G*S / Computer Role-Playing Game Survey". Computer Gaming World. p. 16. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  12. Akalabeth: World of Doom - Apple II (1979/80) on hardcoregaming101.net "Origin Systems for a time had the original Apple II source code of Akalabeth for download on their website's FTP server"
  13. aklabeth.zip on uo.com (archived)
  14. Asher, Mark (February 2000). "CGW Profile; Richard Garriott". Computer Gaming World (187): 39.
  15. 1 2 Jackson, Steve (February 1981). "Featured Review: Akalabeth". The Space Gamer . Steve Jackson Games (36): 10–11.
  16. Humphrey, Bruce (September 1982). "Campaigns for the Keyboard". The Dragon (65): 73–74.
  17. Scorpia (October 1993). "Scorpia's Magic Scroll Of Games". Computer Gaming World. pp. 34–50. Retrieved 25 March 2016.