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

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS - Words by Kieren Hawken

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.

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