Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 53 / OCTOBER 1984 / PAGE 100


Dragonriders Of Pern For Commodore 64 And Atari

Shay Addams

Dragonriders mixes the plot line of Anne McAffrey's science fiction novels into a menu-driven, all-text adventure that incorporates a hi-res action sequence. The scenario unfolds on Pern, a faraway planet threatened by silvery alien life forms (Thread) drifting across space from a nearby red star to destroy everything they touch.

Only the flying dragons bred for centuries in the Weyrs of Pern's volcanic heights can incinerate the Thread before it hits the ground. In addition to a half-dozen Weyrs, the planet's fate is influenced by various Holds, which are guided by Lord Holders and Crafts Masters. Ultimate success hinges on forming alliances with these individuals and groups—so politicking, learning to figure out and manipulate people and events, is more important than hand-eye coordination. The computer moves for the other Weyrs in the solitaire game, and always controls the other Weyrs when more than one person is playing.

Negotiations And Intrigue

Gameplay consists of two phases, negotiation/intrigue and Thread fighting. Most of the time you'll be involved with the former. During this phase, an all-text "event screen" reveals exactly what's happening around Pern at the moment, with details on which Weyrs, Holds, or Craftsmen are currently engaged in negotiation or attempts to form alliances. The day on which these events will be settled is noted, and the current date is posted at the bottom right of the screen. When an event reaches its settlement date, the results are displayed at the bottom of the screen. Weddings (preceded with a flourish of trumpets), baby lizard hatchings, plagues, and other random events that can affect the outcome of the game also appear here.

To jump into the fray, press the fire button (or function key). You will see an "action menu." The menu offers a list of eight options that include description, negotiate, attempt alliance, invite to wedding or hatching, dragonrider or Lord Holder conclave, or duel. Below the menu, information on the status of your Weyr names your three strongest supporters among the Holds and Craftsmen, and other useful information. After choosing an option, you're presented with a list of the various Holds and Craftsmen and prompted to pick one.

Forming Alliances

The description option returns you to the event screen, where a terse paragraph on the individual tells his attitude toward you and drops other hints that will help determine the best way to convince him to form an alliance with your Weyr. If you've decided to negotiate or try to form an alliance, you get to choose up to three Holds or Craftsmen to assist you. (You cannot select to deal with anyone already engaged in a meeting.) Then you must pick from a menu of negotiating attitudes: pleading, conciliatory, amiable, forceful, or threatening.

Now you're returned to the event screen. No other actions are possible while awaiting the results of the meeting, so you're limited to reading the events of the day and plotting new strategies based on these happenings. If Sea Cliff Hold rejects an alliance with Telgar Weyr, for instance, you'll know that, depending on other variables, you should negotiate with Sea Cliff next. To enliven the gameplay, a vividly colored ma of Pern occasionally takes over the screen and pinpoints the area where Thread is falling. A prompt asks who will send dragons, and the first player to respond can dispatch as few or as many dragons as he has on hand. It's important to defend the areas allied or bound to you because other Holds will be more likely to form alliances with you.

A Turn (Pern year) takes two to seven minutes, depending on which of three speed settings is chosen, and you can choose to play games from 1 to 99 Turns long. Following each Turn, a victory status screen awards two points for each Hold and one for each Craft Hall you've allied with. You need 20 points to win.

Hi-Res Panorama

The Thread-fighting sequence is played on a colorful, hi-res panorama of Pern's countryside that's complete with a castle. As wisps of Thread drift slowly toward the surface, you maneuver a flying dragon that burns them up with its fiery breath while avoiding their deadly touch. It's vital to do well in this phase, in order to convince the Holds of your capability to defend them.

In flight, the dragon wraps around to the other side of the screen. Sprites are employed for a 3-D effect—you can point the dragon at the horizon and hit the stick to watch him shrink in size as he flies into the distance and vaporizes Thread that's falling further away. Before starting, you can set the level (0-3) at which Thread falls, and this sense of depth adds an effective new dimension to action games.

The screen flashes red when your dragon dies, and it's replaced by another until your supply of dragons is depleted. After all players have completed this phase, a results screen shows how many dragons were killed and which Holds are Thread-infested. At this point, you can save the game in progress to disk or continue with the next Turn of 240 days. One positive feature of the pro­gram is that it is entirely RAM-resident, so you never have to wait for it to access the disk for more data the way most adventures do.

The Agreeable Pern

Pern is unusual in its gameplay and structure, and even more so in its victory requirements—winning depends on getting characters to agree with you, not on the number killed by you. And if too many Holds get infested, no one wins. Much of the fun emerges from recognizing the traits of various characters, predicting and exploiting how they react to certain actions and persuasions, and ultimately being drawn into the day-to-day life and culture of Pern. If you're tired of shooting up the same retreaded space ships, weary of typing "look under rock," this one-of-a-kind game may offer the offbeat kind of entertainment you're seeking. Dragonriders of Pern is also an intriguing forerunner of the next generation of computer games, more than a few of which will also be based on established novels.

Dragonriders of Pern

1043 Kiel Court
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Disk: C-64, Atari
Cassette: C-64