Sundry Sunday: Breaking Bad as a 16-Bit RPG

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

Did I post this one before? An archives search doesn’t turn it up. It’s been in my topic list for a long time, but it seems I never actually post it it. Here it is! It was created by Doctor Octoroc, who still has a website, for CollegeHumor, which doesn’t!

The video is 11 years old, and doesn’t present all of the events of the series, I think because it hadn’t concluded at that point. Still, it may be entertaining.

Breaking Bad 16-Bit RPG (Youtube, 4 1/2 minutes)


Wizardry used to be the most popular computer game in the world.

It has fallen on hard times recently. Creators SirTech released the terrific Wizardry 8 but then almost immediately closed up. The name is currently owned by a Japanese developer, who make games in the classic style but they’re still quite different, chasing old ghosts instead of trying to adapt the idea for new generations.

A full examination of Wizardry will have to wait for another time, but until then there’s a repackaging of the original Apple II versions available from the Total Replay folks. It’s made to run off of a ProDOS-formatted hard drive, words that themselves form a fearsome incantation, but you can still play it emulated. And should!

It includes an update of the original Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, plus the successor scenarios Night of Diamonds and Legacy of Llylgamin, plus five fan-made scenarios. It also includes WizPlus, a character editor, but diehards won’t use that. It’s cheating!

To explain Wizardry in summary, it took the ideas of early Dungeons & Dragons and adapted them to a dungeon exploration simulation with the same kind of theoretical basis. In D&D, if a character dies and there’s no way to revive it, it’s gone: no backsies. And sometimes revivals fail, and the character is gone anyway. And the dungeon in a genuinely treacherous place. If your party wipes, to even try to revive them, you have to create a new party of adventures, take them in, find the deceased party’s corpses in the dungeon, and either use magic to revive them there or drag them back to town to have the Temple of Cant do it.

If this sounds forbidding to current sensibilities, it certainly is! But that’s the point. Because of it, it’s about as close as you can get to traditional RP-gaming as you can get on a computer, even more so that official D&D products. Roguelikes come close, but since you only play as a single character in most of them they still don’t quite fit that electronic bill.

Wizard Replay (Apple II, Internet Archive) Folder Dungeon

Folder Dungeon, on, is a short and not-too-difficult game where an adventuring cursor has to dig through the folder structure of a hard drive to find an important file. Each window is a room of the dungeon; entering a Door folder takes you to another room down. You can go back the way you came using the back arrow icon at the bottom of the window.

In addition to doors, rooms can contain items, which can be picked up by clicking on them. Gold is among the items, the value of the coin indicated by a number. Some items cost money; if they do, they’ll have a coin and a number on the item. Some items, notably Health Potions and Ice Cream, take affect immediately; they never enter your inventory, but work immediately on your stats whether you needed it or not.

And, some of the things in rooms are monsters. If you do something other than attack a monster by clicking on it, then every monster in the room has a percentage chance to attack you; if you attack a monster, then it always counter-attacks if it survived the attack, but other monsters in the room don’t get the chance to attack.

Somewhere in each folder structure is an Exit icon. When you find it, you can only enter it once all the monsters in its room have been defeated. You don’t have to defeat all the monsters in a room to leave it, but it does give the monsters in the room a chance to attack you.

The most interesting play mechanic is, every action you take generates “heat.” You can only take so much heat. If heat reaches your maximum capacity, you take one damage per action until you leave the level (which resets heat to 0) or you lower your heat by collecting an Ice Cream.

Note, as you can see in the above screenshot, there’s a display bug in the current version that cuts off the left and right sides of the screen. Or is it a bug? It didn’t actually prevent me from playing? Maybe it’s an aesthetic choice? Anyway, I managed to finish the game on my first attempt, but it was close.

Folder Dungeon (by Ravernt,, $0)

JRPG Junkie Describes Lost Sega Arcade RPGs

Another JRPG post! That’s two in a row, and it’s about some quite interesting games, including a lost Shining Force game. The website JRPG Junkie tells us about some Sega arcade games that fit the mold that sound like they would have been interesting to have tried.

Quest of D (image from JRPG Junkie)

Quest of D was a dungeon crawler where the player’s inventory was collected as physical trading cards, that were scanned into the game in order to use them. Shining Force Cross was similar in concept but without the cards; it lasted until 2016. And finally there was Soul Reverse, introduced in 2018.

The world of Japanese arcade games from around this time is largely a big dark area to me, and right around the time when the US arcade industry started its death spiral. It was also a time when server connectivity and online updates came into vogue, meaning when the servers went down, many of them ceased to be playable. It’s really sad that this has become essentially a lost age of gaming, at least to people outside of Japan. We probably couldn’t play them then, and we certainly can’t now.

Dungeons & Deckbuilding: Sega’s Lost Arcade RPGs (JRPG Junkie)

Basement Brothers Xanatalks About Xanadu

Falcom is possibly the greatest Japanese game publisher that’s barely known in the US. Recently Ys sequels have changed this a bit, but their earlier titles are still a hole in the knowledge of even some Western RPG fanatics. At least, I never had much of a chance to learn about them, other than through Hardcore Gaming 101’s as-usual excellent descriptions of the Dragon Slayer series.

Xanadu is a Dragon Slayer game. It’s actually Dragon Slayer II, but it plays nothing like the original. Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family, is one of the very few Dragon Slayer titles to get a release over the geographic and cultural divide, as Legacy of the Wizard on NES. It doesn’t play like the other games either. It was a tradition to make every Dragon Slayer game play very unlike the others. The way I see it, the series was as much about coming up with a new system to explore and master as it was about having new scenarios and locations.

Xanadu is also a ridiculously obtuse game, which is in keeping with the original. Lots of the Dragon Slayer line expected you to do obtuse things, things not explained to you, to proceed. I’ve played through Legacy of the Wizard, and can verify that it was hard, but compared to Xanadu it seems like a model of straightforward play. In Xanadu, right near the start, there is a place where you fall down a hole, walk left five steps, then double-back right to scroll a secret shop onto the screen, the only place in the entire game where you can buy and sell magic items. Its inventory system doesn’t use words, it’s just a sequence of numbers, indicating quantities, and you’re just supposed to know the order of the items they represent.

Xanadu, like some other prominent RPGs, is secretly about resource management. Each monster you find on the world map screens (which are side-view!) can only be defeated and looted a limited number of times. If you run them out, and are left without the items needed to finish the game, you’re just stuck. You can also get stuck in some areas if you just move the wrong direction. You can save and load the game, but doing so carries costs in gold pieces! The only way to escape this temporal-economic trap is to make a backup of your game disk, and restore your copy from it. I like this idea, I’ve always found the grind-until-you-win nature of many present-day RPGs a bit unappealing. I kind of wish more games now would take inspiration from some of these early efforts, where each game could have a radically different play style, and require the player apply some real strategy to win, but maybe without being quite so user-hostile.

Youtube channel Basement Brothers made a nice retrospective of Xanadu, and managed to complete the whole game, although by following a video walkthrough. It’s an essential window into a whole universe of RPGs we were denied at the time.

Xanadu (PC-88 Paradise) Falcom’s original classic, and Japan’s must-have 8-bit action RPG of 1985 (Youtube, 39 minutes)

Time Extension: Why Do So Many Japanese RPGs Use European-Style Fantasy Worlds?

Time Extension has come up here a lot lately, hasn’t it? It’s because they so often do interesting articles! This one’s about the propensity of Japanese games to use medieval European game worlds, the kinds with a generally agrarian society, royalty, knights, and their folklore counterparts elves, dwarves, fairies, gnomes and associated concepts.

They often fudge the exact age they’re trying to depict, with genuine medieval institutions sitting beside Renaissance improvements like taverns and shops. Nearly of them also put in magic in a general D&D kind of way, sometimes institutionalizing it into a Harry Potter-style educational system.

Notably, they usually choose the positive aspects of that setting. The king is usually a benevolent ruler. It’s rare that serfdom and plagues come up. The general populace is usually okay with being bound to the land. The Church, when it exists, is sometimes allowed to be evil, in order to give the player a plot road to fighting God at the end.

Hyrule of the Zelda games is likely the most universally-known of these realms, which I once called Generic Fantasylands. The various kingdoms of the Dragon Quest games also nicely fit the bill. Final Fantasy games were among the first to question those tropes, presenting evil empire kingdoms as early at the second game.

Dragon Quest
(All images here from Mobygames)

John Szczepaniak’s article at Time Extension dives into the question by interviewing a number of relevant Japanese and US figures and developers, including former Squaresoft translator Ted Woolsey. I think the most insightful comments are from Hiromasa Iwasaki, programmer of Ys I and II, who notes that this Japanese conception of a fantasy world mostly comes from movies and the early computer RPGs Wizardry and Ultima, that the literature that inspired Gary Gygax to create Dungeons & Dragons (which in turned inspired Wizardry and Ultima), especially Lord of the Rings and Weird Tales, were generally unknown to Japanese popular culture. Developer Rica Matsumura notices, also, that there is a cool factor in Japan to European folklore that doesn’t apply, over there, to Japanese folklore.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

It’s a great read, that says a number of things well that have been bubbling up in the back of my head for a long time, especially that JRPGs recreated both RPG mechanics and fantasy tropes at a remove, that they got their ideas second hand and, in a way similar to how a bunch of gaming tables recreated Dungeons & Dragons in their own image to fill in gaps left in Gary Gygax’s early rulebooks, so too did they make their versions of RPGs to elaborate upon the ideas of Wizardry and Ultima without having seen their bases.

Why Do So Many Japanese RPGs Take Place In European Fantasy Settings? (

Josh’s Favorite Games of 2022 — Best RPGs

We now turn to the RPG genre, that also helped while I was writing my book on RPG design. We have some very different takes that go from being old school, to not-so-old school design.

#3 Betrayal at Club Low

You may have played a lot of RPGs, but tell me, have you ever played one where you are a pizza spy trying to break into a club and may inadvertently become the greatest DJ ever known? Betrayal at Club Low is a trip through a strange world where you must use the power of your dice, and pizza, to get past different encounters. Upgrading your dice will give you a better chance at winning encounters, and the story will go differently based on what choices you choose and which encounters you win. There really is nothing else quite like this game, and it’s such a weird delight to go through, especially if you love pizza as well.

#2 Chained Echoes

The most “traditional” RPG on the list this year, Chained Echoes does a great job of mirroring and honoring classic JRPGs but does it in a way that is different the more you look under the surface. With a huge world to explore, challenging combat, and amazing pixel art, this is the game for JRPG fans who are looking for something new to play. While it’s a bit too traditional when it comes to encounters for my taste, it’s still a solid game.

#1: Fear and Hunger 2

I’ve already talked about my love/hate of the brutally difficult Fear and Hunger, and Fear and Hunger 2 continues that trend with more disturbing sights, challenging gameplay, and a whole new world to get lost in…and killed in. This is not for the faint of heart, or those looking for an easy time. This is a game where failing the tutorial will get your legs chopped off.

This is less of an RPG and more of a brutal puzzle for you to try and solve. One day, I need to sit down and try to learn both games. If you like your RPGs hard, and aren’t easily disgusted, there is no other series like it.

Romhack Thursday: Ultima Exodus Remastered

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

They have fallen into obscurity in the intervening decades, but it used to be that the Ultima games were some of the biggest RPGs around, and many still have fond memories of them. The story of the rise and fall of Origin Systems, once one of the biggest game publishers, and how now they’re just another of the hundred ignored lines on EA’s balance sheet, is not our business here today, but instead that of one fan’s effort to improve one of the less faithful adaptations: the NES version of Ultima Exodus.

Ultima and Ultima II (and their predecessor Akalabeth) were popular, but Ultima III was the first megahit version of the game, that could be considered to stand up today. Ultima I was pretty small, and Ultima II had a lot of crazy elements like space travel. Ultima III has a much more cohesive game world, a more detailed quest, and generally feels a lot more like what we would consider an RPG game now. Later games would build off of it and become even more popular, especially Ultima IV with its detailed morality system, and Ultima VII with its vast game world, depth of NPC interaction, and many system and UI improvements.

This thief looks a lot cooler here than they did in the NES original!

Back to Ultima III. One of its best-selling versions was the Famicom version in Japan, which had a bit of a media blitz around its release. Both the Ultima and Wizardry games had something of a second life on Japanese computer systems and consoles, where they would go on to sell millions of copies more. While EA’s ownership and neglect have meant that Ultima is mostly gone and forgotten*, in Japan new Wizardry games continue to be made, hewing to that series’ original dungeon crawl aesthetic.

* This is, honestly, partly to series creator Richard Garriott’s ownership of several important characters, meaning both parties have to agree to the other’s vision for any further official Ultima game to be made. And Garriott seems to be chasing fads lately; his most recent idea for a game utilizes that bane of all game design concepts, NFTs.

The font especially is much improved, over the very bland type used before.

So now you have a little idea of what Ultima is. The Famicom/NES version was a hit in Japan, but it differs from the computer version in many ways. This was pretty much the norm for the many Japanese-made Famicom adaptations of Western games. An article could be usefully written on all the ways Famicom ports of RPGs differ from their originals. Maybe later.

The character portraits are especially nice!

The point of this romhack is to change the NES version of Ultima III: Exodus so it more matches up with the computer versions. It uses its own patching system, so’s web-based patching system won’t be of use.

So many little things have changed in this version that it’s hard to talk about! At the very least, the graphics have received a complete overhaul. The cartoony figures of the original, which were pretty silly even back then, look a lot more appropriate for a series with the stature and legacy of classic Ultima games.

Hey Chuckles!

NES Ultima Exodus is also notorious for a number of significant bugs, including the absence of an important clue, it being impossible to cancel a character’s turn without wasting it, poorly differentiated character classes, and the lack of some of the monsters of the computer version. These have been fixed in this version. Some other niceties have been added, including character portraits for the people you talk to, which is really going above and beyond for a game like this!

Seriously now: why haven’t the Ultima games been remade yet? Everything else has been remade, why not Ultima? Money is being left on the table!

It’s pretty much become the definitive console release of this landmark of computer RPG gaming! You should check it out if you have an interest in these things.

Roguelike Celebration: Santiago “Slashie” Zapata on Moria

Next on the Roguelike Celebration 2022 train, Slashie’s wonderful explanation of what Moria is and why we should care about it. It’s true, Angband is basically expanded Moria, but the original game is incredibly important. Not just because its close descendant UMoria was the inspiration for Diablo. I could (and do!) argue that Moria is the secret foundation of the modern RPG paradigm. Disclaimer: I am quoted by Slashie at one point in this video.

As I mentioned earlier, the creator of Moria, Robert Koeneke, died recently, but thankfully before he went he did interviews about his experiences, notably in David Craddock’s Dungeon Hacks.

Roguelike Celebration 2022: Celebrating Moria (Youtube, 25 minutes)

Games With Blobber Mazes

Apple II Wizardry. All images in this post are from MobyGames.

In @Play yesterday I mentioned a number of games that use Wizardry’s weird world metaphor. They’re sort of like roguelikes in that the world is divided into a grid of discrete spaces, but instead of viewing them from overhead, you are given a first-person view from the center of that space.

You don’t move with the same kind of smoothly-adjusting motion as Wolfenstein 3D would bring a while later, but movement instead jerks along one space at a time, and you turn in 90 degree increments. These games all disorient the player just enough that mapping them becomes important, but can be easily mapped on graph paper. Your more fiendish RPG dungeons of the type have tricks they play on you as you explore specifically to disorient you, like teleporting you to an identical-looking corridor without telling you, or spinning you around randomly. Wizardry and Bard’s Tale in particular delight in doing this.

It’s such a distinctive and immediately recognizable way to represent dungeon exploration that I’m surprised there isn’t a fan name for it, like “shmup” or “belt scroller.” I’ve calling them blobbers, but those actually get their name from the fact that, if you are commanding a party of characters, they’re all considered to inhabit that one space. The term doesn’t really apply to the mode of movement, only the atomicity of your group.

I gave a list of a good number of games that offer this kind of movement, but shortly after I thought of a bunch more, and they’re such a weird and varied bunch that I figured I’d take it as an excuse to catalogue as many examples as come to mind, and say some words about them in passing.

In the beginning there’s the Wizardry games, of course. I don’t actually know if it’s the first of the type, but it’s the earliest I can think of. Wizardry games using this format include, I believe, the first seven in the series; the 8th (and last in the core series) finally switched to a full 3D engine. There’s also some Japanese Wizardry games, and some of them use the style as well, but I can only personally vouch for one. That’s eight in total.

There’s some games that use Wizardry-style mazes as only a part of the experience. Some of the Ultima games do this. The Ultima predecessor Akalabeth uses them, and I know Ultima III does too for its dungeons. That’s two more.

Might & Magic II for Genesis, image from MobyGames.

There’s two major series of Wizardly-inspired games. The original Bard’s Tale series were blobbers in the truest sense of the term. That’s four: I, II, III and Construction Set. The hugely underrated Might & Magic series also used them for both dungeons and their game worlds up to V. That’s nine more, for a running total of 19.

On the NES there are some surprising examples of the form. I already mentioned Interplay’s Swords & Serpents, a unique and probably doomed attempt to make a Bard’s Tale RPG on a ROM-based system. There’s multiple oodles (boodles! froodles! zoodles! poodles!) of interesting things about that game, like its character-specific password system and its four-player support, but we don’t have the time here to get into that. In fact, I could say that about nearly this entire list.

Two of the most ridiculous kinds of characters to explore 1st-person dungeons are a super spy (as in Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode) and lightbulb-tonguing uncle to a weird and macabre family (as in Fester’s Quest), both also on NES. Adding them to the pile brings us up to 22.

I mentioned Phantasy Star on Sega Master System and Arcana on SNES. There’s also Shining in the Darkness on Genesis and Double Dungeons on the TG16. There’s at least one Madou Monogatari game that uses the system, but I’m only adding games that I can remember without Googling or looking anything up, so I’m only counting it once. We’re now at 27.


There’s 3D Bomberman on the MSX, an early experiment in the Bomberman series where the mazes you’re in are 3D. In the arcade there’s Ed Logg’s Xybots, which was intended to be a Gauntlet sequel but the play ended up being different enough that he changed it to a sci-fi game. Xybots breaks the rules slightly because your character is visible, but it’s still that kind of grid-based, first-person maze. More recently there’s, hm… at least five Etrian Odyssey games? That brings the count up to 34.

Some more miscellaneous RPGs I mentioned last time: Dragon Wars, Eye of the Beholder, and Dungeon Hack. I particularly like Dragon Wars and Dungeon Hack, although for completely different reasons.

Dungeon Hack

Oh! Let’s not forget about the D&D Gold Box series, which use 1st person grid mazes for dungeon exploration. That includes Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, Pools of Darkness, Champions of Krynn, Death Knights of Krynn, Unlimited Adventures, and the Buck Rodgers game made in that style. There are other computer D&D games from the time, but they didn’t use that engine. These games also had other modes of exploration, and overhead-view combat, so they aren’t as tied to the format.

Finally there are some other miscellaneous games. Blobber-style mazes were a low-resource way of immersing the player in a labyrinth, even if there was nothing else in there of interest. My first exposure to the field was a C64 BASIC game called, natch, Labyrinth. I remember seeing a shareware DOS game called 3-Demon. The game that Strong Bad poked around in the Friendlyware video I linked last time is Killer Maze, and definitely fits the discretely granular bill.

It’s a good excuse to embed the video. (14 minutes)

So, all in all that’s 48 games completely from memory! But I’m sure there’s more; can you think of any others?

Wolfenstein 3D

When Wolfenstein 3D came out this entire style of world presentation immediately fell out of favor. Wolf 3D has very much that same kind of grid-based world, but no longer is your position locked to the center of each space. You can turn in angles of less than 90 degrees, and there’s more of a real-time immediacy to the game that’s a lot more engaging.

Wolf 3D pretty easily destroyed this genre. Almost no blobber mazes show up from that point on except for some edge cases that are explicitly calling back to the old style, like the later Japanese Wizardry games and Etrian Odyssey. It is interesting that, once computers became powerful enough to render worlds in a more fluid and immediate kind of way, it made these kinds of distinctive presentation shortcuts irrelevant. It’s kind of saddening.

EDIT: One I had intended to include but somehow left out is Dungeon Master, which xot reminded me of in comments!

Videogame Fables Developer Interview

For this perceptive podcast, I spoke with Matt Sharp who is the designer of Video Game Fables to talk about creating a subversive RPG while still adhering to the design and structure of the genre.

RPG In A Box

Lots of players are also armchair designers, so we like to present interesting tools as they appear. One that recently went up on Steam is the voxel-oriented RPG In A Box ($29.99). It has that interesting 3D-yet-8-bit vibe that make the Dragon Quest Builder games so appealing.

There are a lot of interesting tools out there for a variety of skillsets, and greatly differing levels of flexibility. Some considering are RPG Maker MZ and MV (who knows what the letters are meant to stand for), Zelda Classic for action games, and for more flexible tools it might be worth checking out Godot, or maybe creating something with Python and Pygame.