Everything was bigger in the 80s. Cars were built like tanks, not airplanes. Houses were built like mansions, not shacks. And prime time soap operas were built like “Dallas”. If you drew breath in the United States during the show’s thirteen-year run, you knew J.R. Ewing. Never watched the show? Didn’t matter, the question “Who shot J.R.?” was on everyone’s lips in the summer of 1980. Thanks to CBS’s shrewd marketing tactics, more people tuned in to find out the killer’s identity than turned out to vote in the 1980 presidential election. People were just as politically ignorant back then as they are today it would seem. But what about the people who looked at the TV show and said, “We need to make a game outta that!”? I’m already starting with a headache.
Production of The Dallas Quest was entrusted to Datasoft, a group known at that time mainly for their 1982 graphical adventure Sands of Egypt. This title is mainly famous for casting the player as Lord Charles Buckingham III, lost in the desert and dying of thirst, but too British to drink straight from a pool of water without a canteen. It also hid essential objects in the middle of a featureless waste of sand with no clue they existed, relied on the player deducing that ‘go <object>’ was a legitimate direction in addition to the four cardinal ones plus up and down, and could be completed in roughly ten minutes if you knew what you were doing (or roughly ‘when hell freezes over’ if you didn’t). Frankly I’m shocked it took until the early 90s for Datasoft to go bankrupt. They programmed this game for multiple home computer systems, but the one I’m looking at today is for the TRS-80, because that’s the one I played when I was younger.
The Dallas Quest casts you as a nameless private investigator hired by Sue Ellen Ewing, wife of J.R., who’s looking for a way out of her husband’s scheming ways both in the boardroom and the bedroom. Specifically, she’s looking for the location of an oil field discovered by J.R.’s father during an excursion in South America. There’s only one person left in the world who knows the location of that field, and he’ll only give the map to a person who can provide the right credentials: in this case, a specific ring. Your job is to travel to South America, locate this man, get the map, and return to Sue Ellen to collect your two million dollar salary. Straightforward enough.
Well, maybe not. J.R. eavesdropped on the whole conversation, and he’s of the mind the field should belong to him alone. And he’s not about to sit back and let some rent-a-dick swindle him out of his God-given right to that oil. Also because this is Datasoft, expect everything from leaky boats, angry cattle, raging hippos (I’d be pissed off too if somebody up and transported me thousands of miles away from my home continent), and bloodthirsty rats to harass you. I may give them flack, but Datasoft sure knows a thousand different, sometimes illogical, often hysterical ways to kill hapless protagonists. This game is a living testament to the reason walkthroughs are a thing.
The Dallas Quest does have a few things going for it. It was adapted from a story by Louella Caraway, one of the show’s own writers, and Phyllis Wapner, another television screenwriter, which means what little characterization exists in the game is done right. It includes the visible exits on each screen which helps with mapping, along with a list of things you can potentially interact with. And while they look laughable today, the graphics are fine for a mid-80s release.
It’s also obscenely hard, with puzzles clearly created by sadists who think ‘logic’ is something Mr. Spock puts in his morning oatmeal. One of the game’s first puzzles involves giving a pair of sunglasses to an owl so you can then take that owl into the barn and have it eat a rat which is guarding a shovel. What, that wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when you think ‘sunglasses’? You’re never going to figure out how to get past the anaconda.
Perhaps best of all is the game’s limited use of music: the TV theme plays on the title screen, and a so-bad-its-good rendition of “Lullabye and Goodnight” plays as you serenade a field of spooked cattle with your trusty bugle–I did mention this game treats logic like frat parties treat empty kegs, did I not?
The Dallas Quest is one of those games you literally have to see in action to believe. Anyone who thinks modern-day adventures are difficult and longs for “the good old days” will find themselves quick to acknowledge we’ve come a long way after a few minutes behind the keyboard with this absurdity. For the hardcore Dallas fan (or masochistic adventure nut) only. Enjoy this nice double-page ad as seen in Antic magazine: