Photo by Spyderella

I’ve got a real soft spot for Gauntlet. The 4-player coin-op seemed monstrously big to me as a child, and I loved the resounding bass of the music and the “Wizard is about to die” speech. I was so desperate to own US Gold’s ZX Spectrum home conversion, I swapped my precious copy of Pete Cooke’s Academy, which I’d won in a C&VG competition.

So I was fascinated by Ed Logg’s talk at GDC a few days ago about the making of the game. I’ve embedded it below. And in the hope that his insights don’t disappear into obscurity, I’ve transcribed the early game concept document he showed – with its original name ‘DUNGEONS’, and the original idea for the player to descend into a ‘Hall of Death’ and grab treasures there – and included a few screenshots of his slides showing early artwork. G4TV and IGN wrote up some of the talk details. [Update: the actual slides are up on the GDC site now]

The design document

The original concept document for Gauntlet. Click for big.

Text from above:

COMPANY PRIVATE

‘DUNGEONS’
January 4, 1984

Game Initiation: October 18, 1983
Last Revision:
File: [ziegler, dandy]init.mac
Prepared by: Robin E Ziegler, Ed Logg, Chris Downend

Suggested Project Team:
Team Leader = Chris Downend
Project Leader = Ed Logg
Game Design = Ed Logg / Robin Ziegler
Programmers  = Robin Ziegler / Ed Logg
Engineer = Gary Stempler
Technician = Rich McCoy
Illustrator = ? Debbie Hayes ?

Brief Storyline:

The noble knights and magicians of the realm must rid the Castle Morda-nima of the evil demons and monsters and restore it to its original glory.

1-4 players act and react in a multi-level maze/dungeon/castle. Part action, part real-time adventure game with players cooperating with each other to stay alive. Players must navigate the maze, kill the nasties, eat food, collect treasures, open doors and find their way deeper into the dungeon. Until they reach the Hall of Death. This is the final resting place of lost goodies. They will then grab as much treasure as they want and try to escape back to daylight, thus ending the game. (Or possibly the player could start another trip at this point..)

Brief Character Description:

Player characters will be player selectable. Eight different starting characters will be available for the player to choose from. The characters will all be somewhat different but yet be relatively equal. Some would have good short-range abilities but lack some long-range power or speed of another. They would be dressed and/or color coded to distinguish them as to player ownership. The player-pawns would move around the maze controlled by the player. They will need to find keys, food, treasure and assorted other items while trying to kill opponents.

They would have three offensive capabilities:

1. Long-range: Some missile weapon (arrow, fireballs, rocks… whatever) does damage to opponents (similar to Centipede)
2. Short-range: Sword or other close in weapon does damange to opponents (similar to Joust, UltimaII, Ali Baba…)
3. Smart: Smart-bomb would kill all (with exceptions) opponents within screen area (similar to Defender and Dandy)

Brief Playfield Description

Playfield will consist of walls (brick, rock, steel and other wall materials), doors (single and double) and other castle/dungeon items. These will be laid out to form a large (up to 3×3 screens) maze/level. Levels will be connected via transporter devices. There can/will be many levels (64, 99, 128?). The view will be from 3rd person NQTD. NQTD = Not Quite Top Down.

Getting started:

Players will start by inserting coins for credit and then selecting his/her player-pawn. The selection is done in the player status window. This action can take place during game play and not affect other players. Once the selection has been made, the player-pawn will be transported to a clear area near the center of the screen. This transportation will use the “Star Trek” sparkle effect.

Slide screenshots

Early character artwork. Ed only has black-and-white photocopies of the original colour versions.
Early versions of the Gauntlet characters, with different names. Ed Logg wasn’t sure why the character names changed.
Report from an Asteroids focus group. Ed Logg does not like focus groups.

Text from above:

The focus group findings indicate mixed overall reaction to the ASTEROID game. General confusion was observed in game play, although this will most likely diminish with repeat play. The primary confusion area was relating to the use of the thrust feature.

It is clear that this game was considerably more favorable to the younger age group. This may or may not be indicative of its market potential.

We would highly recommend field testing this game at a Game Center location to observe player reaction and competitive collections prior to final product development and production decision.

Fascinating slide: the data from the ‘field tests’ of various Atari games, showing how much money they made in a test location (in this case, Milpitas Golfland in California) prior to release. Each pair of columns is for a different week (starting at the right: 25 September 1985, 2 October 1985, and so on).

Patents

Ed mentioned that there were 5 patents issued for Gauntlet – his first ever patents. Here’s one of them from Google Patent Search, Patent #4738451.

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