Monday, October 26, 2009

Closer Look at Dungeon: An In-Depth Guide!

A Closer Look at Dungeon for the Atari 2600

Dungeon for the Atari 2600 is a new homebrew released this year by David Weavil. the game is an impressively large adventure role playing game with a lot of depth and tons of replayability. Much like its ancestor, Adventure, the game pits you , the humble adventurer, against a sea of troubles in pursuit of a noble goal. In Adventure, the goal is to find the fabled Chalice, for Dungeon you must slay the evil Demon; you should probably also save the princess, although that is optional. Considering the limitations of the VCS, this game is remarkably complex and offers a gamer experience unique to the system.

Dungeon represents some of the greatest things about the modern Atari homebrewing scene. Making new games for old systems isn't a new concept, but significant advancements have been made in the past decade opening all kinds of new doors for ambitious programmers with a love for otherwise "obsolete" gaming platforms. Programming for an older system like the VCS is a true labor or love that requires dedication and determination. Dungeon was programmed using a relatively new programming tool called batari Basic. From the batari Basic web site: "batari Basic (bB) is a BASIC-like language for creating Atari 2600 games. It is a compiled language and the compiler runs on a computer, but it creates a binary file that can be run on an Atari 2600 emulator or used to make a cartridge that will operate on a real Atari 2600." (see In layman's terms, batari Basic provides a simpler interface for designing 2600 games, which are traditionally programmed using the somewhat thicker 6502 assembly language. Originally designed as a learning tool to propel promising programmers (alliteration unintentional, I promise) on to the more comprehensive 6502, batari Basic is also being used as a platform for creating full-fledged games like Dungeon as well.

This edition of Closer Look will delve deep into the heart of Dungeon and shed light on the darkest corners of the exceptional game. What follows is intended to be a Complete Strategy. This means that SPOILERS aplenty await readers who continue beyond the final, closing paragraph of this introduction. If you wish to explore Dungeon entirely unspoiled, READ NO FURTHER and go play the game. However, if you are looking for specific information, or just want to peek behind the curtain, by all means, proceed. The guide follows after the jump!

Dungeon for the Atari 2600 is an incredible game that really shows off what boundaries VCS homebrewing is breaking through. The game is easily accessible to gamers of all kinds, but it is deep enough to keep players coming back time and again. Every trip into the Dungeon is a new one and there are always new twists to your adventure. Dungeon is a classic in the making and would make an excellent introduction for anyone looking to dip into the Atari homebrew scene. And now, without further ado, the...

Complete Strategy Guide to Dungeon for the Atari 2600


The purpose of the game is to explore the dank Dungeon, seek out the Demon lord who commands the forces of darkness and put and end to his evil rule. To make matters worse, the Demon has kidnapped the beautiful princess and imprisoned her somewhere in his lair. To be a true hero, and get the game's "good ending", you'll want to find her before slaying the Demon. Apparently, word of your quest has reached the Demon, and he has beefed up his defenses. His throne room is located in the deepest level of the Dungeon and surrounded by a lake of fire. The only way to safely trespass the lake is to possess the mystical Dragon's Tooth. And the only way to get the Dragon's Tooth? Seek out the Dragon in its lair and slay it, of course!

To summarize:

Primary Objective: Slay Demon

Secondary Objective: Find Keys, Slay Dragon

Tertiary Objectives: Rescue Princess, recover rare treasures, increase experience levels


You are the Hero of the game and it is your job to vanquish the evil Demon and his minions. To do this you are armed with a sword, shield, magic spells, and your indomitable courage. You start out with decent attack power (ATK), spell points (SP), and a "random" number of hit points (HP). The range of possible hit points varies from 8 to 14, initially. You can increase your HP, SP, and ATK PWR by defeating enemies in the Dungeon, opening treasure chests, and picking up spell scrolls. The maximum number of HP and SP you can acquire is 20 (HP can go over 20 if the Holy Grail is found, see ITEMS). Gaining experience points increases your ATK power as well; the maximum amount of damage you are capable of inflicting is 9pts. There is no found limit to the amount of experience you can gain, however once your ATK, HP, and SP have been maxed out there is no appreciable benefit to increasing your experience level.


The Spells in Dungeon are pretty straightforward so a short word about them is all that is really necessary. The instruction manual tells you all you really need to know. Most enemies are vulnerable to all offensive spells, but the Black Knight and Demon are impervious to their effects and they will laugh at you if you try to use them. I'm not kidding, try it!

Both Cure spells are good, the Heavy Cure being better. Light Cure restores 1-3 HP per use, Heavy Cure can restore as many as 6.

Stop Time is only really usefull if you are in desperate need to flee a battle. Stopping time can give you a chance to run without being beaten upon. Once you get strong enough, the spell is seldom used.

Lightning Bolt is great! A powerful spell that can do upwards of 6 damage, it is a great way to finish off a tough foe and the only way to eliminate that stupid slime!


In addition to your starting armament, you can also find various items scattered throughout the Dungeon. These itemes will primarily be found in treasure chests left behind when an enemy has been defeated. Items not found in chests are generally dropped by enemies instead, with the exception of the Grail and Excalibur.

Treasure Chests:

All treasure chests you will find are set with traps. In order to open the chest, you must first enter the combination to the trap. the combination is made up of a 3-digit number comprised of the numbers 1, 2, and 3, each number used only once. Basically this means that via trial and error, you can open any chest successfully with a maximum three mistakes. This is important since each mistake will cost you 1 HP via electric shock. While the combinations might seem random, there is a consistent logic that they tend to follow. The most common combination to the traps is 2-1-3. 2 is the most common starting number; 1 is the most common second number. Thus, your best strategy is to start with 2 and follow with 1. If you start with a 2 and get zapped, try 3, then proceed to 1. You may also choose to exit the treasure chest menu, however doing so will destroy the contents of the chest forever (a bad idea unless you have already collected all of the rare items, see below).

Things in Treasure Chests:

Keys--Dropped by enemies. Keys are predominately found early in the game as the first few levels require a key in order to access other parts of the Dungeon. Keys are color-coded by level and match the color of the door they unlock. Picking up a key automatically opens the door the key is linked to. Therefore, if you encounter a locked door, you have not yet found the accompanying key. Keys are never located on levels past the door they unlock and no keys appear twice.

Spell Scrolls--Dropped by enemies. Spell Scrolls increase your SP by 2. Each scroll found adds 2 SP to your current total, with a maximum possible 20. Spell scrolls found when you have 20 SP have no effect.

Spellbook--Found in chests. Spell Books add 10 SP to your current total, up to a maximum 20 SP. Spell books found that would increase your SP beyond 20 have no effect.

Faerie--Found in chests (on R DIFF A). The Faerie is a capricious sprite that hides in the chests hoping to waylay you from your quest. If you open a chest and she pops out, she will magically transport you to a higher level of the Dungeon. There is no way to avoid this consequence, but the highest she can transport you is 3 levels higher than your current depth. Like all other chest contents, she can be destroyed if the chest she is hiding in is destroyed. (This is a helpful note, see Schrodinger's Faerie below). There is no limit to the number of times the Faerie can plague you if she is not destroyed.

Rare Items:

In addition to to the items above, the following Rare Items appear only once in the Dungeon.


Crown--Found in chests. The crown signifies your divine right to possess the fabled sword Excalibur. Once obtained, you can pull the sword from the stone when you find it.

Elven Boots--Found in chests. The ELven Boots increase your chances of first strike in battle (L DIFF A) and prevent the Lizard Man from getting a second attack.

Magic Shield--Found in chests. The Magic Shield adds +1 to your Defense statistic. This means you will take less damage from enemy attacks once you find it. Enemy attacks generally decrease by 1 or 2 pts.

Eleven Boots
Dragon's Tooth--Found after defeating the Dragon. Possessing the Dragon's Tooth is required to pass over the Lake of Fire in the Deomon's domain. Obtaining it will automatically allow you to pass the barrier.

Excalibur--Found lodged in a stone on any level in the Dungeon (although it most frequently appears in levels 1-4). To remove Excalibur you must have already found the Crown. Once extracted, Excalibur appears in your action list as a sword icon. You may select this icon instead of FIGHT, up to three times. Excalibur does a minimum of 8 damage. After the third use, the sword icon disappears forever. Misses with Excalibur do not count against your total usage.

Holy Grail--Found in Cave of the Dead. The Holy Grail, when found, will restore your full HP and increase your maximum HP by 3. This extension is the only way to exceed the 20 HP limit that is otherwise imposed. You may only drink from the Grail once and then it disappears forever.
Holy Grail

Schrodinger's Faerie

Once all rare items have been collected from chests, the only two possible results from opening a chest are Spell Books and the Faerie. This means that every chest will have a 50% chance of being rewarding and 50% chance of being punitive. There is no way to cheat the system, though, and create a 100% chance of getting a Spell Book every time you open a chest. Spell Books are numerous, but there is only one Faerie. If she is destroyed in a chest. She is gone forever. Since there is a 50% chance she will be in the next chest you find, it is worth the risk to destroy it and her as well. If you are successful, the next chest you open, and all subsequent chests, will only contain Spell Books. If you guessed wrong, you may still find the Faerie, but you can always gamble again and the opportunity to get rid of her once and for all is too great to pass up.


While completely optional, rescuing the Princess is the only way to reach the "good ending" of the game. The Princess can be found on any level, although she most frequently appears on the higher levels (1-4). Just finding the Princess is not enough. When you find her, she is bound by heavy chains. Press the fire button to break her chains and release her. Once this is done, she will flee the Dungeon to safety. If you do not break her chains, she will remain where you found her at least until the end of the game...(ominous, I know...)


The Cave of the Dead is the resting place of the most Holy Grail. This cavern is inhabited only by Ghosts and the entrance appears randomly on any level lower than level 6. The entrance is static for each game and will not move regardless of the number of times you enter or exit. The Grail may only be found once per game, but the Cave is always available for visiting.


The Black Knight

In Level 6 you will encounter the black Knight. He is the most powerful foe you will have encountered to this point (unless you uncovered a Dragon Lair on level 5). His attack is strong and he is invulnerable to magic. Your best bet is to heal up to your max before you enter his room. Excalibur is a good choice, but don't use it exclusively, you'll want to save it for the final fight or in case you need it in a pinch against the Dragon. If you level up a bit before you go into this fight, it can be much easier. Take some time and whack some Lizardmen around. If you are killing Lizardmen with ease, the Black Knight will not be so fearsome! Be sure before you enter this battle as you cannot run away!

The Dragon

To battle the Demon, you must first cross the Lake of Fire, and to cross the Lake of Fire, you must have the Dragon's Tooth. The only place to get a Dragon's Tooth is a dragon's mouth, and there is only one dragon who has taken up residence in the Dungeon, so your course is clear. Somewhere in levels 5, 7, 9, and 10 is the Dragon's Lair. It is not located on any maps because the location changes from game to game, however it is always located in a hidden passage (which are indicated on my maps!!) and at the very end of the passage (usually). To find a hidden passage, simply push against an apparently solid wall. If you go through, whammo!, you are in a hidden passage and the Dragon could be around the corner. Not every hidden passage is a Dragon's Lair, however. Some are just dead ends. Again, the location of the Dragon's Lair changes with each flick of the reset button!

Once you track down the Dragon, the battle will ensue. The Dragon is tough and will hit hard. He can be affected by magic and you may need to whip out the Lightning Bolt spell a couple of times if you are not leveled up enough when you fight him. You can also run if the heat gets too intense, but if running fails you may find yourself reduced to ashes. Excalibur is a good option if things look bleak, but you should really save as many uses as you can for the final battle with the Demon. Healing up before the battle is a good idea, but since you never really know where the Dragon may appear, it is very easy to stumble in to the fight unprepared. All in all, the Dragon will go down with a few good solid hits and when he does you will be rewarded with the Dragon's Tooth (looks like a speck, maybe a dot).

Lake of Fire

When you get to the Lake of Fire, you will be unable to pass unless you have the Dragon's Tooth. If you do not have the Dragon's Tooth, the Lake will block your progress and you will be forced to turn around and hunt down the Dragon, to steal his tooth of course! Once that task is completed, you may return to the Lake and pass right through it unharmed!

Final Showdown with the Demon!

This is it! (hope you rescued the Princess..) The final battle with the Demon. If you took out the Dragon and the Black Knight, you should be strong enough to win this fight, but nothing is guaranteed. The Demon is impervious to magic so you can put away your spell book. Only physical fitness will win the day. As with the black Knight battle, you will want to heal as much as you possibly can before this fight (really before crossing the Lake of Fire). Once the battle begins, wasting a turn healing will downward spiral you to doom. The Demon hits hard and often. He can miss, and sometimes will get on a tear and miss quite a bit, but when he hits you, you will know it. If you are leveled up enough, you should be doing 6+ damage per hit. That means you will need four solid hits to win, if you are hitting at maximum power. If you were able to save Excalibur for this fight, it can be over fast, but Excalibur has to hit at least 3 times to win, so it doesn't promise anything. Again, be sure before you enter this battle, as you will not be able to run away. Defeat the Demon and victory is yours!


The Dungeon is filled with hordes of deadly monsters and villains, and if you are to survive, you'll want to get better acquainted with what you'll be up against. The following bestiary details all of the Dungeon denizens by listing their three vital statistics: Hit Points (HP), Attack Power (ATK), and the first level (LVL) at which they appear. Each monster also has a special characteristic (SPC) that is unique to it and that information is listed at the end of each entry. All monsters except for the Demon and Dragon have the potential to drop a treasure chest or spell scroll when defeated. At this time it is not readily evident that any particular monster grants more or less experience when defeated than any other, therefore it is assumed that experience points are equally granted for defeating any given foe.


SPC=Invulnerable to physical attacks

SPC=Successful attacks grant poison status


SPC=Strikes twice per turn

SPC= Attacks will drain Spell Points first,
then drain HP, first ATK number is
amount of SP reduced, second ATK
number is amount of HP reduced

Black Knight:
SPC=Invulnerable to magic, cannot Run

SPC=Can only be found in secret passages,
location changes per game

SPC=Invulnerable to magic, cannot Run

In the above listings HP refers to the number of hit points a creature possesses. Current data indicates that creatures have static HP and therefore hitting for this number will reliably kill the creature. ATK refers to the maximum amount of damage a creature can inflict with a single attack. Creatures may hit for less, but they will not hit for more. LVL refers to the first level in which the creature appears. Creatures can appear on any level after the level indicated.
**Poison status granted by the Zombie may be removed by casting any HEAL spell.
**The Lizardman HP is listed as 5 but has been reliably recorded at 6. The reason for this erratum is due to the game as played in emulation vs. on actual cartridge. Emulation data consistently records 5 as the minimum HP, the cartridge version consistently records 6.


The Dungeon is a large, formidable place and finding your way to the Demon's den will take careful exploration. Fortunately, and rather unlikely, previous adventurers have somehow managed to leave you a tattered, partial map of the Dungeon. However, the map is incomplete and only describes the first six levels. Below are the maps for the remaining levels, including the location of the various secret passages. There is a secret passage on level five and while it is not directly indicated on the existing map, it is alluded to. Pay careful attention to the borders of the map for level 5 and look for an inconsistency along the bottom area of the map. There you will find the false wall.

Final Look

I hope you have found this guide to be helpful and informative. I fell in love with this game from the first time I played it and I have probably taken over a hundred trips into the Dungeon since. Much like Adventure, there is no real limit to how much you can play this game as every time through is unique. This guide has been a thrill to compile and it has been created with a deep reverence and enjoyment of the game. As with any Strategy Guide or FAQ, I consider the information contained herein to be my property and while I have no problem with anyone and everyone using it to the fullest, I would humbly request that if it is reproduced in any part, that proper credit be given.

And with that, I have imparted to you all the wisdom I possess. The Dungeon awaits.

No comments:

Post a Comment