It's time to start a new Cover to Cover series, a regular Gaming After 40 feature in which we examine an old game company's catalog, page by page, for nostalgia and history's sake. Aardvark Ltd. (a.k.a Aardvark-80 and Aardvark International, among others) was a small computer game publisher in the early 1980s; I did a video podcast about the company a while back, and while its games are not well-remembered today, its catalog provides some insight into the fragmented, free-wheeling nature of the computer game business at the time.
The cover is in photocopied black-and-white, featuring pen-and-ink artwork promoting Aardvark's early RPG, Dungeons of Death, clearly influenced by the TSR Dungeons & Dragons illustrations of the early 1980s. There don't seem to be quite enough legs to go around, and the sword-wielding skeleton appears to have a strategic advantage over the wizard who is desperately trying to launch a spell before having his armpit pierced. I also note that the fighter's muscles seem to be not so much rippling as melting, and the word "of" in the game's title gets lost against the snake's scales. But I still rather like this illustration -- its amateurishness is part of the charm of the early game industry:
Opening the catalog gives us a peek at Aardvark's RPG lineup -- none of these games were a touch on Ultima, but it's an interesting snapshot of one company's attempts to satisfy a hungry market:
Quest and Wizards Tower appear to be similar, written by Bob Reteille and Aardvark founder Rodger Olsen. We aren't told much about Wizards Tower -- my guess is both games ran on the same engine, or in more realistic terms for the technology at the time, one was derived from the other's BASIC source code. Quest is an odd creature, apparently a map-based military simulation with RPG aspects, and it was available in different versions for the TRS-80's two flavors of the BASIC programming language. Stranger still, the 32K "FULL VERSION" was only available on cassette, while the regular disk version also required 32K; perhaps memory overhead devoted to managing the disk controller in BASIC prevented running the complete implementation on disk-based systems.
Dungeons of Death was one of many products trying to mimic TSR's D&D role-playing game system on a home computer, and while I'm sure it was a noble attempt, the thought of "up to 6 players at a time" crowded around a TRS-80 Color Computer keyboard is not an attractive prospect. But it did have a substantial manual (15 whole pages!) and an ongoing character development model, so while the dungeon maps were randomly generated and likely all pretty much the same, each player could develop an emotional stake in their characters as they leveled up over time.
I don't know how successful Aardvark was -- I bought a few of their games for the TRS-80 Color Computer myself back in the day, which is probably why I have this catalog in my collection. The company's games were either not widely sold, or not heavily pirated, as they don't seem to turn up in the online archives very often. In fact, little seems to be known about most of the games featured on page 2 of this catalog; the most I could find with a little quick Internet research was a screenshot of Quest and a few gameplay details, at L. Curtis Boyle's excellent CoCo Games List website.
For the moment, then, it seems these catalog pages may be all we have left of some of these titles. One of the reasons I started this blog is that, like it or not, time passes, and some of these things just disappear. I try to preserve what I can.