The Wrath of Denethenor

A print magazine advertisement for the Wrath of Denethenor from around 1986.

This is a fantasy adventure game I designed and wrote for the Apple II in 1984-85.

I began writing the game in my last year of high school and finished it up during my first year of college. A friend from high school, Kevin Christiansen, helped out by building the graphics routines for the Apple II version.  At Sierra On-Line’s request, I ported the game to the Commodore 64 — which was only possible since it shared the same processor family — but which required redoing all of the graphics routines.

Back of the box

The whole thing was written in 6502 assembly instructions, compiled with Merlin and hand-linked!  (Yeah, crazy!)  It was large enough that I couldn’t fit all the code plus the current map and data in memory at once (even with a 64K requirement) so I had to fashion a system of loadable segments with known jump points — no dynamic linker available.

When I designed Wrath of Denethenor, I wasn’t much interested in creating a stats-heavy RPG or rolling characters with predefined roles.  It was my intention that your character started out generic and you played it as you wished: heavy on magic or fighting or thievery, etc.  I suppose you might say it was more of a hack-and-slash adventure game.  What I wanted to focus on and what I enjoyed the most out of games at the time like Ultima was the exploration aspect.  I also spent a lot of time to try to create effects and events and traps that were very specific and visual and not just “you’ve encountered a trap and lost 10 hit points”.

It’s easy to see the influence of Ultima II and III, games which led me to want to make a game using a similar graphic tile style.  Of course I wanted to improve on Ultima though, adding various complexities (and sheer size) to make what I thought would be a fun adventure.  In hindsight, I probably should’ve avoided many of the tropes that Richard Garriott used in Ultima so that Denethenor wouldn’t seem so similar.

After finishing the game and giving it to friends to playtest, I submitted it fully completed to only three of the better known gaming companies at the time and heard back from Sierra On-line before ever trying to submit to anyone else.  I guess it was unusual for gaming companies to receive such a large and fully complete and tested game, but I didn’t know any better.   I had written some other things for friends to try in high school (like a simple text adventure) and I sold a customer database system (written in BASIC) to a local newspaper for $100(!).  Sierra On-line put it through their QA process and I was happy to hear that their team was surprised to be unable to find few if any issues.

It was a fun experience and it was cool to be able to see it on the shelves and receive occasional letters from fans of the game.  It was obviously never a big hit though.

 

Box contents: two double-sided 5.25″ floppy disks, user guide, reference card, registration card, my signed note about pricing/piracy, and Sierra’s current product catalog.

  

 

More materials related to Wrath of Denethenor:

Here’s a number of reviews and references that I’ve found:

And some marketing materials:

 

Here’s some questions I’ve answered about Wrath of Denethenor:

What was most challenging in putting together the game (design, coding, graphics, etc)?

It’s hard for me to say now, so many years later, what was the most challenging aspect in putting the game together.  I would think that it would probably be the difficulty in debugging the code, particularly since it was written entirely in assembly instructions to get decent performance.  If you’re not familiar with what that means, it’s that everything was written in terms of basic machine language instructions like LDY, JSR, CMP, BNE, ASL, etc. instead of “high level” languages at the time like Pascal or C.  So even something simple like testing a variable to decide whether to do one thing or another was at the level of loading a value into a particular register from a specific memory location and shifting or rotating the value to do math and then testing for equality and then branching to another memory location if the condition was met, etc.

Adding to the headaches was that there wasn’t enough room for all the code I wanted in order to have all the different traps and effects for different parts of the world.  That meant having to build a system to load in sections of code for a given area and maintain jump tables to get to the correct subroutine when needed.  If I added even a single instruction to one of these subroutines, I’d need to correct the offsets to all the others.  Pretty ridiculously low level stuff to have to worry about and very fragile!  But hey, back then you actually moved bits and bytes into your frame buffer to get things to appear on screen.  Heh, and make and draw your own fonts/characters and a system for drawing little boxes (overlapping “windows”!) to display messages, etc.  All pretty crazy to think about now.  But it was also definitely fun to build a whole little gaming world and know that others were going to get to experience it.

Would you recall approximately how many copies were sold (Apple/Commodore)?

It never did all that well.  I don’t have a solid number, but total sales over the year or two that Sierra offered it was probably on the order of a few thousand units for both the Apple and Commodore versions.  Maybe as much as 5,000 but certainly not much more than that.  I did get a bunch of cool letters from people early on and over the years who liked it enough to write to me about their experiences though.

Kevin and I decided to ask upfront that they charge half the usual price (like $25 instead of $50-60) and skip the copy protection because we felt as teenagers that most games were pirated because they were so expensive.  Sierra went along with that and even issued a press release about it as being an experiment to get better sales by charging less and forgoing copy protection.  I remember being thrilled to see it on a store shelf but a little annoyed that I never saw much marketing for it.  Perhaps that wouldn’t have mattered anyway but I do wonder if there was something else going on at the time that explains why they didn’t seem to take much effort with it.

Did you have any say on the packaging, both in terms of the design and the contents?

With the packaging, I was taken aback with what they did with it.  They claimed some Nordic mythology background (which was nonsense) and made the box with one of those nice front covers that opened up to reveal a large spread – only it showed a sort of D&D tabletop display with miniatures placed on a little set.  Overlaid this are inset pictures of more miniatures representing creatures (orcs, dragons, etc) with attached descriptions.  Kevin and I were both disappointed that it didn’t actually show any of the real game content here.  On top of that, they used the common names of things which they had previously asked me to go through the entire game and strip out to avoid infringing on anybody.  I had to make up new names for many of the creatures: worgrecs instead of orcs, crachens instead of dragons, klinkens instead of skeletons, etc.  We did like the back cover though as it at least did actually show and describe the game.

Were you surprised that you received a response from Sierra? Would you have considered self-publishing (like a number of other people did these days – put everything in a baggie and an ad in a magazine!) if none of the publishers had responded?

I sent my little package with the full, completed(!) game and my written overview of everything to three of the better known publishers.  I was disappointed to be turned down by the other two but of course excited that Sierra expressed interest and invited to fly me out to their headquarters for a tour and discuss publishing it.  I never got to thinking about self-publishing since I did get the positive reply from Sierra – and I’m not sure I would’ve been up for trying to do that.  It was difficult enough just trying to pay for school.  I remember scrounging around to find someone to look over the contract for me because I didn’t think I could afford to pay someone.  In hindsight though, I think it would’ve been a cool experience to self-publish and have total control over packaging and trying to advertise.

Did you ever think of writing a follow-on game (whether a sequel or a stand-alone)?

People have asked now and again about making a sequel or bringing it to the Mac but I was always way too busy with work at FileMaker and other activities.  I did start a project with a friend and coworker to do a more ambitious adventure game back in the early 90’s but our effort petered out fairly quickly with work distractions.

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Tulicanre

The Evil Twin

Hello Chris,

Thank you for Wrath. It was my first role-playing game. I fondly remember rushing home from school eager to boot up the game, enter Firetrench and finally — finally — make it to Pescara. Seeing the town but never being unable to reach it had a way of make it all the more mysterious and tantalizing.

Although I finally made to Pescara, I never made it to the game’s end. I’m wondering, then, if you can solve a mystery for me.

The reason I never finished was because my character had an Evil (or maybe he was Good) twin. I spent a lot of time in Nisondel, saving up to buy a rapier, and oftentimes murdering the folks at Dry Gulch. Then, one day, I noted a character in the countryside who looked just like me. He had awesome powers. Including the power of invulnerability. Every one of my attempted strikes missed.

Mr. Invincible followed me around. I could only try to outpace him. I could never truly fight him. He frequently doomed my character. But there’s more.

When I rebooted, started the game from fresh, and created a new character — HE WAS STILL THERE!

Initially I thought Mr. Invincible was an avenging angel, meant to punish me for my wicked ways in Dry Gulch. Then I thought the character was intended to push me off Nisondel — get me out of the minor leagues and into The Show. But when he followed me to the other continents and then followed me in a reboot, I suspected the disc was somehow faulty.

Does Mr. Invincible have a backstory? Am I the only person to experience this? Your insights and that of others would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for Wrath and the fond memories.

Kevin

Hi Chris,

I stumbled onto your blog post and it’s awesome to read about your experience designing and programming WoD! I’ve been playing computer games since the mid 1980s and WoD was one of the early adventure/RPGs I played. I’m also a general fan of Sierra games. :)

Nowadays one of my hobbies is collecting (and still playing) games and related ephemera. I’m happy to have recently tracked down a complete copy of the game finally.

Just wanted to say thank you for WoD!

Also, I’m curious to know, what are your thoughts in regards to efforts to preserve games and related materials (code / marketing / design materials) that are going on today? Have you ever considered reaching out to the VGHF? (https://gamehistory.org/blog/) or the efforts at the University of Washington (partnered with the Living Computer Museum)  https://gamer.ischool.uw.edu/ ?

Kind Regards,
-Kevin

Stacey

Hi Chris! I’m just sending you a line to express my awe over the awesome game you created. My sisters and I spent countless hours playing wrath. We were hooked. Unfortunately, we never finished. All these years later I’m still bothered by this. Just wanted you to know I was a huge fan!

Sincerely,
Stacey

Nathan

Chris,

I am sure you have received this type of email before. But, I was talking with a co-worker this week about how we all got hooked on computers. I told the story of my commodore 64 and my first computer “crack” called Wrath of Denethenor. After all of these years and many adventures, it is still the first magic that I have been trying to relive since. 

I decided to look and see if it was still surviving in some fashion and ran across your website. So, I wanted to send you an email and thank you for creating a game that made such a lasting impact on it’s players. Enjoy your adventure!

Regards,
Nathan

jeff

Thank you for making Wrath of Denethenor waaaaaaaaaay back in the mid 80s. It
was my first fore into RPG games in general.

found your website via google and just wanted to drop you a line and
say thanks! WoD had a huge impact on me as a kid and it’s still one of
my all-time favourite games. Maybe one day you can update it for a
modern PC if time ever allows. I’d love to play it again.

Anyhow, take care Chris. Just wanted to express how much I enjoyed the game.

Franco Bacco

Hi. My name is Franco Bacco and im a 33 year old video game junkie. Today I was trying to remember the first computer game I ever played and all I could think about was this really cool RPG game back when I had an Apple IIc but couldnt remember the name of it. So i started googling Apple II RPG games and went thru a whole list of them until I saw a title that stood out and looked familiar.I clicked on the link and it brought me to your page and right when I saw the screen shots you posted I knew I had found the game.I have often thought of this game through the years, it emersed me into a whole other dimension and was my very first rpg game i have ever played. I want to thank you for giving me an awesome gaming experience that has stayed with me after all these years.Is there some way to play this game on an emulator? i know its a very dated game but I know it will bring back many memories of staying up late at night when my parents thought I was in bed and playing hours and hours of this game.

Andrew

Hey there. I was recently poking around at Lemon64.com, a Commodore 64 site and came across Wrath of Denethenor….

I googled it a bit and came across your actual website!

…. Do you happen to have source for the C64 still that would be viewable? I’m a fledgling C64 programmer and always wanted to look at Ultima style games’ source codes!

Thanks for reading!

Mike

Denethenor was great!
I have great memories of playing your game on the C-64 and I still rank it up there with Bard’s Tale, Ultimas, Might and Magic, Magic Candle, etc. I was thinking about game-playing 20 years ago and happen to google upon you and your site. Just wanted to say thanks for a great game and can’t believe you were so young when you did it! Still waiting for “Return to Denethenor” and hope you made a little money for your effort. I’m guessing you never wanted to make any other games?? Wish you had more info on your web site re. the making of the game… I’m a 52 year old guy who played alot of RPG’s back in the day on C-64’s and Amigas and just wanted to say thanks! Find some free time and post some more info about your game… it had just the right balance of rewards and frustration. Thanks, (and enjoyed the many pics of your life and travels).

ModemMisuser

Wow, I never thought I’d find reference to Wrath of Denethenor anywhere ever again.  Was one of my favorite RPGs back in the good ol’ Commie-64 days!  Wish there was a PC version for old times sake.

Nathan

My name is Nathan and I am a student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.  I once owned an Apple II C and a copy of all literally “floppy” discs of Wrath of Denethenor.  However my father was in the Army in Fort Ord in 1986 and we moved in 1988.  During the move, one of the discs got damaged and I was not able to complete the game.  This has bothered me for 18 years.  I have looked for your game repeatedly and it is almost impossible to find.  I knew a MOD would not cut it so I decided to find you instead.  I was wondering if there is any place you know where I could find a copy of this game.  I still have my original apple II C.  Any advice would be much appreciated.  I need this closure in my life.

Thank You,
Nathan

Marc

My name is Marc. My Grandmother bought me The Wrath of Denethenor game when I was 13 years old(1987). I instantly got hooked. When our computer went down in 1990, I haven’t been able to play since. I have, however, been looking to see if the game was made adaptable to other computers. Was the game ever made for compact disc? I have a Mac Computer, and wonder if a disc version was made available so that I could once again play what I consider the best role-playing game ever made. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you.

Melissa

Hi, Chris.

I LOVED The Wrath of Denethenor when I was a teenager.  Do you know any games for Windows XP that are like that?  I wish I could play it now….

Thank you for putting the solutions guide on the net (I never managed to finish the game).

Best wishes,
Melissa

Matt

So I finally found the creator of The Wrath of Denethenor :)

Hello!  As a young boy I remember your game for the Apple II.  My best friend and I grew up on roleplaying games like Ultima and were QUITE intimidated by your game.  Anyhow, I just wanted to write you tell you what a wonderful game it was.  In addition, I see that you are missing from MobyGames.com credit list.   You should take some time and fill out the credit for the game (they are quite helpful if their website is confusing).

Just thought I would pass on a note and express my gratitude!  Now that I have been in the game industry for a couple of years, I at least owe a note of thanks to those who helped influence my path.

Thanks again!

Brad

Greetings,

I happen to stumble across your website while searching for information on Wrath of Denethenor.  I never played it, but have been aware of it’s existance for some time.  I now run a website, which in time, I hope to catalog all collectable classic software over a long period of time.  I was working on sierra games today.  Thanks for the page, as it supplied some vital information about the game like release year (1986).  Not to mention, the game sounds like a really great concept.  Would you say it’s more like an RPG, strategy or action?  Any information would be helpful.

Thanks,
Brad

p.s.  You don’t happen to still have any shrinkwrapped copies you would want to part with of the game do you? :)  I’m an avid collector of still new classic computer games.  One signed by you would probably superseed anything in my collection! :P

Raven

Hey Chris,

I gotta let you know that I was searchin’ through the Internet looking for some info on your game Wrath of Denethenor, and Viola! I came across this web-site. My brother and I loved that particular game…jees, that was about 15 years ago? Anyways, thought I’d drop you a line and say “good work”. I’m an artist working on a game..and boy, have things changed since then?!?!

Anyways, hope you had a good 4th of July…
Raven

Kevin

I cant believe you wrote, Wrath of Denethenor, I was 8 years old when i played that game for the first time in jan, 1987, one of the best games ive ever played, better than Ultima 4. I remember i had an apple 2e, one of the first games I played on that platform. I played it again recently on a site i found that had emulators and images. Good work on a fantastic game.

Kevin, 26 yo

sibn

Hey, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for that game.  I never knew I’d find the guy who wrote it, but yesterday I stumbled in by accident.  That’s one of those REAL games, that will forever rest in my memory along with Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, and The Legend of Zelda.

I’d love to see a sequel some day, but I can understand that if there isn’t one by now, that it simply isn’t feasible.  Oh, well.

Thanks again.

Brad

Hey Chris,

I am probably one of many Sierra collectors out there that have contacted you, but I was wondering if you had any complete Sierra packaged, spare copies of Wrath of Denethenor laying around.

I grew up on Sierra, and have recently (past few years) been on a rampage to collect all and everything Sierra. I have run into a few of the designers, programmers, and gotten their contributions, and was wondering if I could buy some goodies off of you. If you have anything else Sierra besides this game that you would be willing to sell, I’ve got a great home waiting for it.

In addition I am working on a massive Sierra database, that I plan to release soon, that will hopefully preserve every aspect of Sierra, for generations to come. Anyway enough of “the vision” speech. Just wanted to drop you a line and see what you had going on.

Thanks for your time, bud.