Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Dandy wars…

I’ve read three different independent reviews lately that all said Dandy was a Gauntlet clone. Not true, my inner ATARI-Geek shouted. In fact the exact opposite is (more or less) possibly true; because, if anything; the mighty Gauntlet is in fact a Dandy clone.

Originally adorned with the snappy title of ‘Thesis of Terror’ and written in 1982 by Jack Palevich's for his bachelor's thesis at MIT. The game was based on the cellular automaton principles displayed in John Conway's Game of Life, and wasn’t especially produced with a commercial goal in mind.
The system designed for running the game was a two-part affair. With a file-server program running on a Hewlett Packard Workstation, which supplied the maps data, and a series of four Atari 8bit machines connected up as graphics-terminals through their serial ports, to display the graphical front-end.
The design of the game was very much based on, and influenced by, the Dungeons and Dragons role-play table-top systems of the time (although reportedly Palevich had never played D&D in his life!). Imaginative, yes… but not the type of setup most people could whip up in their bedrooms.

By the time ‘Thesis of Terror’ had evolved into ‘Dandy’ both the front-end and the maps server was incorporated into the Atari 8bit machine. Gone was the multi-screen multi-machine access and instead each player shared a single screen, where they could all move their individual characters within the limits of the screens scrolling game-play area.

When Palevich finished Dandy he was working for Atari and the game was running as a stand-alone program on their 8bit range of home-computers. It was polished-up enough for a release through the ‘Atari program Exchange’ scheme, and that was that… except, a few years later a programmer in Atari’s arcade division named Ed Logg put forward a surprisingly familiar concept for an Arcade Cabinet based game called ‘Gauntlet’. Palevich had left Atari by this point, and although Mr Logg never publicly admitted any wrongdoing the whole thing did get in a bit of a legal mess, which was eventually settled, out-of-court. 

However, that wasn’t the end of the fracas...
Dandy wasn’t dead yet! The battle against the mighty Gauntlet had pushed the relatively forgotten Dandy program back into the public eye, and Palevich had retained the wrights to the “Dandy” name, which he promptly sold to Electric Dreams, a British company who produced versions for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC – the three leading systems in the UK market at the time.
This once more sparked up the old controversy. This time the complaints came from the Gauntlet camp, who had also released home-computer versions of their program for the same three (as well as many other) systems. They complained that these home versions of Dandy were too similar to the gauntlet franchise in game-play and design.
The fact that most magazines of the time marked the Dandy games higher than their Gauntlet counterpart probably didn'y help matters. Of course not every reviewer liked the Dandy games... Computer Gamer, I'm looking at you!
Even at the time of release most magazines gave an inaccurate or ill-informed account of the games history. Others didn’t mention the history at all, simply referring to it as a ‘Gauntlet Clone.’ So it’s little wonder that much of today’s Internet-site reviewers also get it wrong.

 Although Dandy was always to be inexorably linked with it’s much more famous illegitimate offspring, the original program did continued to evolve quite separately from Gauntlet. Although there was sometimes a bit of conversion clash between the two, admittedly very similar, games.
All this new-found interest in the Dandy Copyright purportedly spurred Atari into producing their own enhance version of the original game as a full commercial product.
This project became ‘Dark Chambers’ and was released for both the Atari 8bit computer and VCS console range of system. But this time it bore the notice "Copyright 1983 John Howard Palevich. All rights reserved."
This game had a fair degree of success on both these systems but was never converted to any other manufacturers’ hardware.  

Palevich has since released the Dandy source-code into the public-domain. Windows and Xbox 360 versions are now freely available. There’s even a Script version that will play in most internet browsers that support the canvas tag (not IE 8 and older).

So there you have it. Whatever else you say about Dandy, you can’t say it is just another Gauntlet knock-off. It isn’t. The story is much more complicated and involved than that, and I haven’t gone into the half of it here!

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