The Making Of: Gauntlet The Third Encounter
With so many amazing coin-op conversions on Atari’s Lynx it’s easy to forget about some of the system’s best exclusives. This sequel to one of the greatest ever arcade games is one such example
Jon Leupp remembers creating this dungeon-crawling sequel for the Atari Lynx
I just wasn’t thrilled with throwing a Gauntlet name on a game that clearly wasn’t Jon Leupp
One of the most interesting factoids about Gauntlet: The Third Encounter is that it didn’t actually start off life as a Gauntlet game at all. As part of the original lineup of games for the-then Epyx Handy, its provisional title was Time Quests And Treasure Chests. Once the hardware was acquired by Atari, and renamed the Lynx, the company started reviewing all of Epyx’s games. It was decided that two games would be held back from launch, reworked slightly and given new names to make them more appealing, the other title being Monster Demolition, which would become an official conversion of Rampage. Designer and programmer Jon Leupp remembers how the development of the game started. “As I recall, at the very outset RJ Mical and Dave Needle had spelled out about six very different game types to launch with the game system so there would be a lot of diversity,” he says. “I remember selecting a topdown scroller because I liked the design possibilities and because I had never made a game like that before. I played lots of D&D and was the Dungeon Master at Epyx, so it’s fair to say I liked the fantasy theme, too. The funny thing is that I had designed the game to absolutely not be like Gauntlet, so there would be no issues of copyright infringement, and had spent months developing a game that was distinctly different. It was only a few weeks before we were wrapping things up that someone in marketing at Atari said, ‘You know we could get the Gauntlet licence pretty inexpensively. How much work would it be to make it into a Gauntlet game?’ My answer was that it would have saved me a whole lot of work if we had done that from the beginning because so many of the design elements would have already been established! I would have been very happy designing an actual Gauntlet game as I was a huge fan of the arcade game. I just wasn’t thrilled with throwing a Gauntlet name on a game that clearly wasn’t!”
The funny thing about this name change was that those who played it quickly picked up on the many differences between the original Gauntlet games and this new sequel. Although the press of the time liked it, garnering review scores of 82% in The Games Machine and 90% in C&VG for example, there were some people who were expecting the all-out action of the first two games and so felt disappointed by its more Rpg-like approach. “Beyond changing the title, I added the Valkyrie character so there would be two Gauntlet-like characters in the game,” Jon says, remembering the changes he had to make to the game. “The wizard was there from the start but didn’t really look like the one in the original Gauntlet.” The character selection in Gauntlet 3 turned out to be vast, with double the amount of heroes to choose from compared to the first two outings. With such wacky avatars as a pirate, cowboy and a punk rocker it’s certainly unique, too. “Basically, we just wanted to make a broad range of characters so that hopefully everyone could find one they actually liked!” Jon explains. “I do remember that we created a big list of character types and then whittled it down to the ones that seemed the most fun. The wizard was there from the beginning and made sense in this world that takes place in a castle. As I recall, the punk rocker chick was recommended by one of our female artists and appealed to our San Francisco sensibilities there in the late Eighties. The nerd just seemed funny to our group of nerds as a hero for a game. The Android was included partly because the game ends with space levels, you are seeking the star gem after all, and it tied in with the science fiction element.” One of the most interesting things about the last character Jon mentions is their resemblance to Google’s own Android mascot. “Clearly they recognised the artistic brilliance of Paul Vernon and ripped us off!” he jokes. “Actually, I hadn’t even noticed until you mentioned it. Maybe someone in marketing at Google was a big fan!”
Another very notable thing about Jon’s Gauntlet when compared to the early lineup of Lynx games was that it was the very first game to be played with the console held vertically. Unlike other titles that use this mode, such as Klax and Raiden, there doesn’t initially seem to be any advantage to this. “As I mentioned, we were trying to make a diverse set of games to launch with the device, and we wanted early to show off its various capabilities,” Jon says, explaining its inclusion. “Playing a game vertically was something you just couldn’t do on a home computer or console of the time, so we wanted to demonstrate that in one of our
games. I also think the top scroller design had the least negative impact in the change from a vertical display layout.” Other changes from the tried-and-tested Gauntlet formula in this title include an inventory system, meaning you can only hold a limited amount of items; new gear, such as scrolls that grant you special powers; computers that you can log into to purchase extra items using any treasure you collected; and an enhanced status panel that not only details the abilities and health of your current character, but also show any enemies that are approaching. In the older Gauntlet games the only items that you could save for later use were keys and magic potions, but in The Third Encounter anything you pick up is automatically added to your inventory. Pressing the B button on your Lynx brings up your inventory in the status window at the bottom of the screen and from here you can both browse and activate your pick-ups. Of course this inventory is limited, so you have to carefully consider what items are worth keeping and what aren’t. One of the most important features retained by this third game was the multiplayer mode, allowing up to four of you to play at once over Comlynx. But adding this feature didn’t go as smoothly as you might think, as Jon explains, “The final hardware was very advanced, [and] the prototype system we spent most of our time developing these first launch titles on was very primitive. The multiplayer functionality was particularly a headache. We were trying to send minimum packets of information between the devices but they invariably got out of sync so we ended up having to send the complete game state instead, so many thanks to Steve Landrum for working that out. Obviously, we couldn’t have even included multiplayer functionality with a less advanced system than the Lynx.”
We couldn’t have even included multiplayer functionality with a less-advanced system than the Lynx Jon Leupp
Considering the quality of Gauntlet: The Third Encounter it’s a great shame that this was both the first and last game that Jon had released for the Lynx. But he does reveal that he was working on another similarly themed title that was never finished. “I began work on an official D&D game for SSI but then Atari decided that it no longer wanted to develop any licensed products for the Lynx and cancelled it. Shortly after this I moved onto on to 3DO with many of my old Epyx compatriots.” Jon is quick to follow this up with a tale of woe.
“At the time of the first big CES show during development we wanted to demonstrate what the device was capable of, but our games were only rendering at one frame every few seconds so we had to generate scripts to play the games overnight while video capturing each frame,” he says. “More than once I’d find in the morning that my script had sent the wizard into a corner
where he got stuck and threw fireballs at a wall for three straight hours. When we got our first pass at burning to real chips the vertical axis had gotten reversed, so until we got that all sorted out we had to enter all of our art upside down!”
Jon starts laughing as he follows this up with another anecdote. “We had a name war going on during the early development of Lynx games at Epyx. Each of us was trying to outdo the others in how large we could print our name over our desk, but everyone else quit after I printed my name about three feet high! It did help that my name is only three letters though.”
US Gold also released an alternative third entry in the Gauntlet series subtitled The Final Quest. “I wasn’t [aware of this] actually, so I’ll have to look that up and see how it compares,” Jon says when we ask him if he knew about it. “The thing is I really never considered our game to be Gauntlet 3, as I already mentioned. I called it the Third Encounter to try to distinguish it from being the next in the series and to tie into the Close Encounter element with space aliens, so they are welcome to that credit!”
As a final thought, we ask Jon if he is pleased that his game is still so well remembered and highly-regarded by Atari Lynx owners. “Absolutely!” he says. “Although, quite frankly,
I’m amazed anyone still remembers the Lynx at all or any of these games we wrote back then. Earlier you said that most people know the original name was Time Quests And Treasure Chests and I’d totally forgotten that, and I’m the one that named it! It was such an effort to get all of these first wave games done, often with only four hours of sleep per night, and I think we all wished we could have made them much better, so it’s great to know that a lot of people enjoyed the results of our efforts.” Jon left the videogames industry in 1997 after the demise of 3DO and moved across to developing slot machines instead, which he’s continued to do right up to the present day, but he still regards those halcyon days at Epyx as his most favourite.
» [Lynx] There’s a nice intro sequence that shows the magical star gem crashing into earth. » Jon Leupp was the designer and programmer of Gauntlet: The Third Encounter. » [Lynx] Like the previous two games, enemies attack in hordes. » [Lynx] So near, yet so far – that exit has clearly been put there to tease you.
» [Lynx] The treasure might look tempting but remember you only have a limited inventory. are a very important » [Lynx] Potions to so be careful not part of the game, shoot them by mistake.
» [Lynx] By activating the repel spell the enemies will run away from you for a short time. » [Lynx] Slimy bog monsters pirates fighting is all pretty onelegged normal here. » [Lynx] These horrible bugs are speedy in their attacks. » [Lynx] When you die there’s a nice little sequence where the Lynx zooms in on your skeleton.