Level Up: Dangerous Dave
I’m of the privileged few who was alive to see an era of PC gaming where starting a game looked more like high-level hacking than clicking an icon. While other kids were blowing in cartridges I was “cd-back-slash-ing” my way to shareware gaming goodness. In truth, I coveted my neighbors’ consoles with their TV ads and fancy D-pad controllers. However, through the all-important lens of nostalgia, I’ve come to cherish the memories of 3.5″ floppy discs, Soundblaster cards and DOS prompts.
So what was it that I was playing while my buds were jamming Mario 3? None other than the original gaming badass: Dangerous Dave on the MS-DOS PC. The red-hat-blue-jean wearing mascot bears odd like-ness to Fred Durst, yet pre-dates the nu-metal frontman by years. Dave runs, jumps, shoots oversized bullets and warp zones his way to diamonds, rubies and golden chalices in his romp through a world of bricks, electric seaweed and backdrops that can only be described as a Lovecraftian abyss (OK they’re plain black).
Dave doesn’t hold up as a classic, but it was my first real exposure to gaming and as such I had nothing to compare it to. Each new level seemed full of wonder; finding jet packs and warp zones was pretty mind-blowing. I wasn’t critiquing the jumping mechanics, I was just thrilled to be exploring a computer world.
While reminiscing about the DOS days I decided to google Dangerous Dave. Even in its early days the internet was a huge resource for all things gaming, but I didn’t expect to find much on Dave as I didn’t know a soul who had played it. Turns out the guy has his own little place in gaming history.
Dangerous Dave was created by none other than the world’s first game-developer-rock-star-badass John Romero. That’s right, the dude who is more famous for claiming he was going to “make you his bitch” than for helping create one of the biggest games of all time, Doom. While I didn’t know anyone who had played Dangerous Dave, everyone played Doom. Inspired by Super Mario Brothers, Romero busted Dave out in a few weeks for UpTime, a monthly Apple II disc magazine and soon after ported it to PC.
Romero later teamed up with tech warlock John Carmack to form id Software where they became lords of the master race of PC gamers with releases like Doom, Wolfenstein and Quake. Not content with his “lord” status, Romero decided he needed to go god-mode and create his own studio, Ion Storm. Like Icarus’ fateful flight or Faust’s deal with the devil, Romero had overreached. He hired too many great minds, bought too big of a studio and simply didn’t make the games to back up the investment. Daikatana, Ion Storm’s flagship title, suffered countless delays and was a commercial and critical failure.
Today Romero is candid about both his glory days and mistakes and remains involved in the gaming community by making smaller games and collaborating with publications like Retro Gamer. Romero’s story has been reiterated plenty of times, but looking at Dangerous Dave shifts the tale’s perspective. Romero didn’t start at the top with Doom. His humble beginnings included generic characters and alliterative titles, but he rose to the top with a flair like no game dev before him. Sure he left his mark on the world with Doom and maybe a skid-mark with Daikatana, but for me it’s all about Dangerous Dave: my first experience in what has been a lifetime of gaming.