The top five Spectrum adventures, the best of the rest, and a brief history of adventure games.
1. THE HOBBIT
(Melbourne House - 1982)
An early and enduring title, The Hobbit became a benchmark for Spectrum adventures. It offered atmospheric, well-rendered locations, thorny problems and multiple interactive characters. Unlike a lot of lesser games, it also accepted complex sentences that meant exploring Middle Earth didn't become a vocab-battling chore. Despite accusations of being bug-ridden, The Hobbit established itself as a classic of the genre and was probably responsible for introducing more people to adventuring than any other game. The inevitable sequel, Lord of the Rings, showed up four years later.
2. LORDS OF MIDNIGHT
(Beyond - 1984)
When publisher EMAP wanted a game for its new software house Beyond, it turned to Mike Singleton, who'd written Games Pack 1 for the ZX81 and ran a play-by-mail game for its magazine Computers & Video Games. The result was Lords of Midnight and it changed everything. Forget about poking around some text-only dungeon; here you can view the beautifully-drawn Land of Midnight in eight compass directions, across nearly 4000 locations. The game is far from being about visuals alone. It's a compelling adventure that puts you in control of multiple characters on a quest to defeat the evil witchking Doomdark. Probably the Spectrum's first 'epic' game.
3. VALKYRIE 17
(Ram Jam Corporation - 1984)
Unlike most adventures, Valkyrie 17 came with no instructions or plot description. Instead you received some sinister-looking Nazi documents and a series of increasingly frantic answerphone messages on side-2 of the tape, ending with a gunshot and a pained voice gasping, "The Red Kipper flies at midnight". The game picks up from this intriguing set-up and takes you on a mission involving German agents and a plot to develop a secret weapon. Despite the menacing premise, it's a lighthearted game that offers particularly funny comebacks to stupid commands. Cryptic and fun, but not overly difficult, Valkyrie 17 is text adventuring at its most accessible.
4. DOOMDARK'S REVENGE
(Beyond - 1985)
Lords of Midnight was a hard act to follow, but its sequel did it in style. The look is much the same as before, but gameplay, storyline and atmosphere are even better. It's bigger, too, and tougher, with a more complex series of tasks to undertake. The game starts where LoM left off, with the Ice Crown destroyed and Doomdark killed. But disaster has struck: Doomdark's daughter Shareth has kidnapped Morkin in revenge and locked him in her fortress. As Morkin's father Luxor, you must rescue your son and destroy Shareth. No mean feat. The game as a whole is more sophisticated than LoM and a worthy challenge for the most hardened adventurer.
(Automata - 1982)
What other game offered a £6000 sundial to the first person to complete it? Reaching the end revealed a place, a time and person to meet to claim your prize. It took over two years for someone to come forward, and having handed over the aforementioned timepiece, Automata bought it back from the winner. This bonkers incentive aside, Pimania is a thoroughly entertaining and original adventure. Prepare to have your powers of lateral thinking tested to their limit. The game that launched the Piman character and propelled creator Mel Croucher to fame.
never leave" (Hotel California anyone?). There are countless rooms and gardens to explore as you struggle to make your escape. The locations are wonderfully described and the game positively drips with unease.
Black Crystal (Carnell - 1983)
A veritable monster of a game. There's a vast map to explore, blighted by evil beasts for you to battle with. Apparently the original cassette came with a hefty set of instructions which provided vital background information - worth tracking down prior to playing it on an emulator. Frustrating, but thoroughly addictive.
The Boggit (CRL - 1986)
In a hole in the Shire, in a particularly retarded area of Muddle Earth, there lived a Boggit called Bimbo Faggins. If there was one thing he was sure of, it was that he would never get caught up in one of those silly adventure games. Then Grandalf the meddling old conjurer came walking down his garden path. So begins this whimsical parody of The Hobbit. It's not just laughs, though - beneath the silly exterior is a well-constructed adventure.
Buffer Micro Adventure (Buffer - 1983)
Buffer Micro was a well-known computer shop in South London at a time when they were a rarity. Such was their stature, they even released a few games of their own (I don't recall Boots ever doing that). In an act of flagrant self-promotion, this is an adventure set inside the shop itself. You've decided to see how it operates, then discover you've lost your credit card, and the staff won't let you leave until you buy something. It doesn't sound up to much, but this is actually highly playable and full of good humour.
Castle Blackstar (SCR - 1984)
A classic 'collect the treasure' text-only adventure. You have been summoned by the Goddess Artemis to collect goodies and locate her power orb (oo-er). There's a plethora of rooms to muddle through, solving tricky problems as you go. The locations are generally well described and there's a light sprinkling of whimsy. A complex and satisfying adventure.
Circus (Digital Fantasia - 1984)
At one point it seemed like Brian Howarth was responsible for half the adventure games on the market - so it's fortunate that he was a master of his craft. Circus finds your car conking out on a remote road. You begin to walk and come across a circus tent blaring with the noise of elephants, lions and clowns - which falls dark and silent once you step inside. Spooky stuff.
Colditz (Phipps Associates - 1984)
Dastardly Nazis have locked you up in their inescapable castle prison. Using your wits and cunning, you must evade eagle-eyed guards and find your way to freedom. There's plenty of tip-toeing around rooms and crawling through tunnels to be done, but you can't just slip out on your own - there's an distinguished scientist to bring along for the ride. The graphics are rudimentary, but this doesn't detract from the atmosphere. A perplexing and nerve-jangling adventure.
Classic Adventure (Melbourne Hse - 1984)
Also released as Adventure 1 by Abersoft and Colossal Caves by CP Software. This is a version of Crowther and Wood's original Adventure, following the same pattern of caverns and monsters. Not overly difficult, but breezy and fun.
Colossal Adventure (Level 9 - 1983)
A cave-set treasure-collecting adventure from the masters of the form, which owes a great deal to Crowther and Wood's Adventure. Roaming creatures are particularly abundant and there'll be a mountain of corpses in your wake by the time you reach the end. A text-only game with a huge playing area, this was the first part of Level 9's Middle Earth trilogy, which also included Adventure Quest and Dungeon Adventure.
Denis Through the Drinking Glass (Applications - 1984)
Poor old Denis Thatcher just wants to escape Downing Street and head down the pub, but the formidable Maggie stands in his way. To make matters worse, if Denis doesn't have a drink within ten moves it's game over. The locations are all written in rhyme and it is dotted with humorous comments on the world of politics. A true original.
Emerald Isle (Level 9 - 1985)
Bailing out of your light aircraft in the Bermuda Triangle, you land on a lush island and soon discover that strange things are afoot. Odd letters hang in mid-air, curious characters abound, and only the ruler of the island is allowed to leave - so it's a good job his job is up for grabs. As ever with Level 9, the game's vocabulary is extensive and the locations are vividly rendered, with the additional bonus of graphics in this case. An attractive and captivating adventure, but one that some Level 9 purists considered a little mundane.
Espionage Island (Artic - 1982)
No games collection would be complete without at least one example of Artic's early range of adventures, lettered A to F. While on a reconnaissance flight over an enemy island, your plane is hit and begins to plummet. So begins your mission to reach the ground safely, infiltrate the enemy complex, snatch vital information and escape to your aircraft carrier. Like most Artic adventures, this is well-written, atmospheric and dashed with humour.
Eureka (Domark - 1985)
This game caused a hullaballoo on its launch because of the £25,000 prize it offered to the first person to complete it. A talisman found on the Moon has shattered, the parts have been scattered through time, and you must recover them. This involves meeting your prehistoric ancestors, getting friendly with the boys at Camelot and exploring ancient Rome. At the start of each time zone there's an arcade sequence to complete, which appalled many an adventure critic, but they do at least affect the attributes of your character. A tired concept, but the promise of that cash prize kept people playing for months.
Eye of Bain (Artic - 1983)
The last of the original series of 'lettered' adventures from Artic. The game begins with you tied to a post in a hut, looking for a way to escape angry natives. It's a no-frills affair, with functional graphics and terse descriptions, but this quest through a land of deadly savages, killer bees and bloodthirsty pirates is a test for the hardiest adventurer.
Adventure games can be traced back to that hotbed of computing talent, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The year was 1972 and programmer Bill Crowther had just written a game called Adventures, inspired by his passion for caving, to entertain his young daughters. Using the actual layout of Kentucky’s Bedquilt Caves, the playing area was rendered by means of text descriptions, with movement and actions carried out by entering simple two-word instructions. The adventure game had been born.
During the mid-1970s, Adventures was distributed over the AARPAnet (the forerunner of the Internet) and players began manipulating the code to create their own versions of the game. The most famous product of this experimentation was that of Stanford University’s Don Woods, created in co-operation with Bill Crowther himself. Known as Adventure (dropping the ‘S’), or Advent after its six-letter file name, it became the game’s definitive early version.
In 1978, an avid Adventure player called Scott Adams released the first ever commercial adventure: Adventureland. It was the start of a long association with the genre for Adams that would see him become a major industry figure. Back at MIT, a group of students developed yet another version of Adventure called Zork. Such was its popularity that they set up their own company, Infocom.
Most early adventures offered the player a text description of a location, without any graphical representation. Actions were undertaken by entering verb/noun combinations such as GO EAST or KILL GOBLIN. As time passed, graphics began to appear, more complex sentences could be understood, and interaction could be had with non-playing characters. Not that adventures with graphics were necessarily superior to the text-only variety. Programmers sometimes used images as an alternative to vivid descriptions and sacrificed atmosphere as a result.
Compared with modern first-person adventures, or even point-and-click games like the Monkey Island series, the practice of typing in text commands seems archaic. Back in the early 80s, though, when home computers weren't yet producing graphics of any note, adventures offered players a fully-rounded gaming experience. Their two-way nature was intimate and involving in a way that most graphics-reliant games could not match.
Typing instructions into the computer had its problems, though. The player would have to input the precise command specified by the programmer. So you might type STAND ON CHAIR or GET ON CHAIR, when the game is only programmed to accept CLIMB ON CHAIR. Worse still, it might require you to GET CHAIR before you can climb onto it. It's no wonder that this fussy interface died off with the demise of the 8-bit computers.
Due to their simplicity, adventures were a natural choice for the first home computers, and were among the earliest games to appear in any number for the Spectrum. Companies like Melbourne House, Artic, Quicksilva and Incentive released a series of high quality titles between 1982 and 1984, but the first major revolution in the genre came with Lords of Midnight, which was arguably the Spectrum's first 'epic' game. It offered dazzling graphics for each location, strategy-style gameplay, multiple characters, a vast playing area and a control system based on single key presses rather than text input.
By the middle of the decade, the genre was becoming a minority interest. Magazines were dedicating less space to reviews and software companies that had made their names in adventures were moving into more popular genres. The adventure seemed to be standing still in a medium where the next big thing is all that matters.
Ironically, however, adventures have stood the test of time better than many of their arcade contemporaries, because they never relied on computing power for their appeal.
The best of the rest
Africa Gardens (Gilsoft - 1984)
In 1984, a little-known company called Gilsoft released The Quill, an application that enabled budding programmers to create fast machine code adventures. To showcase the system, Gilsoft launched a range of titles, of which Africa Gardens was probably the best. You arrive at the imposing Africa Gardens Hotel on a dismal night. Venturing inside, you are chillingly informed that "Mr Robinson hopes that you may be among his many guests who feel they can
Fantasia Diamond (Hewson - 1984)
A top notch adventure from Hewson, a company not normally associated with the form. The eponymous diamond has been nabbed and locked away in an impenetrable fortress. Boris, the master spy, has already tried to steal it back and is now rotting in the castle's dungeons. You must find a way in, snatch the diamond, release Boris and make your escape. The game's strength lies with its interactive characters, who carry on with their own business regardless of what you do. The graphics are neat and effective, the vocabulary is user-friendly and there are some nice touches, such as the way your carrying capacity is determined by your strength.
The Final Mission (Incentive - 1984)
The final part of the Ket Trilogy. Having finished the previous installment with a nasty whack on the head, you awake in a prison cell, disorientated and dispirited. Perhaps that chair against the wall will help you make your escape? Once out, you explore the eerie expanses of the temple, while unseen monsters shuffle and scrape about you. If you can escape the maze of passages and tunnels, you might succeed in killing Vran the sorcerer himself. A worthy finale to a wonderful series.
Fire and Ice (Electric Software - 1984)
This game distinguishes itself for having what must be the worst magazine advert of all time, but fortunately the chimp that scrawled its ghastly artwork was not responsible for the game, which is not at all bad. Unlike other adventures, you don't risk your own hide but guide a loyal servant on a treacherous mission to rid the world of those pesky titular elements. A surprisingly well-written adventure, featuring some nice humour from your reluctant servant.
Fourth Protocol (Hutchinson - 1985)
Based on the spy novel by Frederick Forsyth, The Fourth Protocol puts you in the shoes of a British agent tasked with preventing the Ruskies from setting off a nuclear bomb in Britain. There are reports to gather, codes to decipher and plots to foil, and it's all run from a natty icon-driven interface. Some might say this is more of a strategy than an adventure, but there are enough riddles to class it as the latter. A crisply-presented and extremely playable spy romp.
Golden Apple (Artic - 1983)
Possibly the largest of Artic's range of adventures. You must collect 13 objects scattered across a vast number of locations that include a ship, a volcanic island and a mansion. It's text-only but the locations are well-rendered and atmospheric. As ever with Artic's games, the problems range from head-smackingly obvious to brain-achingly abstruse.
Golden Baton (Digital Fantasia - 1984)
Another epic from the keyboard of Brian Howarth: a text-with-graphics adventure that plunges you into a world of hideous nasties blocking your path to the golden baton. A polished and playable game that was followed by three sequels: Arrow of Death (Parts 1 & 2) and The Wizard of Akryz.
Greedy Gulch (Phipps Associates - 1983)
One of the earliest adventures I played and one I still hold dear. Set in the Old West (the USA, not Somerset), your job is to track down a fortune in an abandoned mine. There are ghostly goings-on and puzzles a-plenty, although none especially taxing.
Gremlins (Adventure International - 1985)
I was never a big fan of the later Adventure International titles, possibly because they were so American and un-Spectrum-like in look and feel. Nevertheless, they were highly proficient games from a company that championed adventures in the early 80s. This movie tie-in is blessed with terrific graphics, some of which are animated and update to show the results of your actions. It's quite faithful to the film, with you struggling to save a small town from the vicious little critters of the title. Not especially difficult, but with Howarth at the helm, there are plenty of thrills and spills to be had.
Hampstead (Melbourne House - 1984)
While adventure fans awaited the release of Sherlock - Melbourne House's first major title since The Hobbit - they produced this often overlooked gem. Hampstead finds you in a grotty London flat, watching TV and cursing your wretched standing in life. Your aim is to put your self-destructive ways behind you and progress up the social ladder, picking up a big car, a posh house and a nice wife along the way. A game that offered a refreshing change to killing dragons and distinctly Eighties values.
The Helm (Firebird - 1985)
The evil Lich is looking to get his hands on the pieces of The Helm, a magical item of headwear that bestows immortality on anyone who places it on their noggin. As a brave and noble adventurer, you must track down the parts of The Helm, including one that Lich has squirrelled away in his castle, and save the world from certain doom. Quite a silly game, but it has enough posers to keep you hooked.
The Hollow (Gilsoft - 1985)
An accomplished adventure from Gilsoft, written on its Quill utility. You find yourself spirited away from your West Country holiday and plunged into a fantastical land of wizards and warriors. The plot is straight out of the adventure writer's textbook (collect items to thwart an evil magician), but it's elevated above the usual fare by its well-described locations and fast Quill underpinnings. The original tape included a second version of the game on side-2, featuring a tweaked plot and location graphics, but the descriptions suffer and the images are slow to appear, so the text-only version is the better bet.
ID (CRL - 1986)
Mel Croucher, the man behind the Piman, believed that computer games should challenge players and strive for fresh ideas, even if they were perplexing. To this end, his company Automata released Deus Ex Machina, a high-concept game that led players on a journey from conception to grave, accompanied by a synchronised audio track of music and voice-overs. It won plenty of praise and a hatful of awards, but no one bought it. Sticking to his principles, Croucher created ID, a year after leaving Automata. The game turns your computer into a frightened personality, and asks you to converse with it, learn its secrets and gain its trust. In order to progress you must discover certain key words that grant access to the next level. It can get quite repetitive if you fail to strike the right tone with the computer entity, but it's a hugely imaginative and original piece of work.
Inca Curse (Artic - 1982)
It's those Artic boys again, this time with a game set in a lost Inca temple. It's a standard treasure-collecting affair, but with enough twists and turns to keep most adventurers happy.
Invincible Island (R.Shepherd - 1983)
I was not overly enamoured by Richard Shepherd adventures (or any of their games for that matter), but this is an appealing effort that has you hunting for the 'seven parchments of Xaro' on a treacherous island. The game features colourful graphics and some fiddly obstacles, and was a famous standard of the early adventure scene. Diverting and surprisingly tough.
Kentilla (Micromega - 1986)
The sequel to Velnor's Lair from Crash's Derek Brewster. Predictably, the magazine praised it through the roof, while equally predictably other magazines gave it a hard time. In truth, it's a challenging adventure written by a man who knew a thing or two about the genre. The only real let-down is that it's sometimes too clever for its own good. Although ball-bustingly difficult, its interface is easy to use and the presentation is pleasing. The addition of graphics (Velnor's Lair had none) is welcome, although this comes at the expense of vivid descriptions. If you're a hardcore adventurer looking for a rigorous mental workout, give this a whirl.
Legend of Apache Gold (Incentive - 1986)
This won an award for the best game produced using Incentive's Graphic Adventure Creator (GAC). Its theme is hackneyed enough - search for booty in the Wild West - but it's a lively and engaging adventure built around a huge map and a treasure chest full of puzzles.
Lords of Time (Level 9 - 1984)
Simply one of the best adventure games ever written. Text only, but that doesn't matter a jot. An old grandfather clock in your living room grants you access to a number of time zones, where you must find nine special objects for mixing in a cauldron, which itself has to be located. Zooming through time, you'll find yourself exploring the prehistory of man one minute and searching the stars the next. If you like Dr Who, you'll love this. Outstanding.
The Long Way Home (Magnetic - 1983/4)
16/48 was a tape-based magazine that ran between 1983 and 1984, which featured editorials, programming routines for budding coders, and a variety of games. One of its best-loved offerings was this serialised adventure set in the year 4816 - a time when people skip from place to place using matter transporters. As you step into a trans-mat unit one evening, expecting to appear in your home, things go awry and you materialise on a strange spaceship. So begins the long, arduous quest to find your way home. Considering they were part of a cheap compilation tape, these games were surprisingly good and are fondly remembered.
Mad Martha (Mikrogen - 1982)
A game liked and loathed in equal measure. You play hen-pecked hubby Henry, on a quest to steal money from his axe-wielding wife Martha, escape the house, and enjoy a night on the town. The game is interspersed with simple arcade sequences that irritated many adventure purists, but were too basic to woo arcade fans. Put your prejudices aside, however, and you'll find it a cheery, cheesy game from the Spectrum's formative years, which spawned an equally entertaining sequel.
Mindbender (Gilsoft - 1984)
Part of Gilsoft's 'Gold Range' of games, released alongside their Quill adventure writing system. This is an engrossing and perplexing game that starts by dropping you into an ordinary office with no explanation of what you are supposed to do. After stumbling about for a few moves, you learn you are under the control of the Mindbender Machine, a device seized by revolutionaries intent on world domination. By some fluke of fate, you appear to be immune to the Mindbender's power, making you a thorn in the side of the insurgents. Having been flung into their underground prison, you must make your escape and smash the titular contraption into so many components.
Mindshadow (Activision - 1986)
You awake on a desert island with no memory. So begins your mission to make your escape, discover your identity and learn how you came to be left for dead. Your quest takes you across the ocean to Britain and eventually to Luxembourg (of all places). This is a well-written and intriguing adventure that sucks you in with its snazzy graphics and captivating plot. Highly recommended. Oh, and a little tip: you can't finish the game without using the THINK command.
The Mountains of Ket (Incentive - 1983)
You do what? Type in words and solve problems? I was sceptical but intrigued when a friend lent me Mountains of Ket, but it turned out to be the game that would hook me on adventures. You are framed for murder and given a simple choice: accept a mission to find the entrance to the Mountains of Ket or die. The locations are described to you by Edgar, an assassin bug perched on your shoulder to ensure you don't do a runner. Starting with just a few coins and your trusty sword, you must collect enough kit and information to locate and enter the mountains. Once inside, there are all manner of monsters and puzzles to contend with. The game includes a nifty combat system - the first to appear in computer adventures. It's humorous, atmospheric, clever and not overly difficult. Two equally gratifying sequels followed.
The Oracles Cave (Doric - 1984)
An unaccountably popular game that I only saw available through mail order. It's a graphical adventure in which you move your character around a series of randomly-generated caves. Other actions are controlled via a selection of commands chosen from a menu. There are treasures to collect and monsters to slay, but I found it somewhat monotonous. It's listed here though, because it enjoyed quite a following back in the day.
Out of the Shadows (Mizar - 1984)
There were many attempts to bring role-playing games to the home computer, which mostly amounted to conventional adventures with bolted-on gimmicks. Mizar got it right, though, with Out of the Shadows. It created an enormous fantasy world to explore, presented to the player though a combination of graphics and text. All the classic features of fantasy gaming are present, such as character attributes, equipment-gathering, treasure-collecting and monster slaying. There's so much to this game that one paragraph can't do it justice. Suffice to say it's the nearest thing to Dungeons & Dragons the Spectrum had offered to date.
The Pawn (Rainbird - 1986)
This legendary title finally reached the Spectrum after impressing QL and Atari ST owners. There are no fancy graphics on show, just sumptuous text descriptions, a huge cast of characters to interact with and some devilish problems. You find yourself stranded in the mystical land of Kerovnia, with nothing but a curious armband on your person, and must somehow find your way back to your world. A rich atmosphere and an ingenious parser helped make this one of the adventure greats.
Planet of Death (Artic - 1982)
The game that got the well-liked series of Artic adventures rolling. You are marooned on a strange alien world, searching desperately for your spaceship. An oddly eerie game with the customary Artic mixture of simple and bewildering quandaries to contend with.
Quann Tulla (8th Day - 1985)
This was part of a range of budget Quill-ed games from 8th Day Software to appear in the mid-80s. Its setting - a crippled spaceship - is a well-trodden path, but it's a jaunty affair with a mountain of locations, described with care. Secret plans must be retrieved, a traitor put to death and a spaceship destroyed. More than enough to be getting on with.
Red Hawk (Melbourne House - 1986)
A real curiosity this one, as the game is presented in comic strip fashion - a technique that works surprisingly well. You are an every day Joe with a secret alter ego: Redhawk. Just cry "Kwah!" and you transform into a caped crusader ready to do battle with some villainous scum. The game was popular enough to warrant an sequel.
Red Moon (Level 9 - 1985)
Rescue the moon crystal of Baskalos and save your kingdom from barbarism. Another delicious tale of magic and mayhem from the adventure kings. The game is slick and fast-moving, with strikingly depicted locations, spells to be cast and an innovative combat system. As ever with Level 9 games, playing it is never a battle against the game's vocabulary, as was often the case with inferior adventures. Part of a miniseries of games, that included The Price of Magik.
Return to Eden (Level 9 - 1985)
Mind-meltingly tough, this second installment of the astonishing Silicon Dreams trilogy is still a country mile better than the majority of adventures. Unlike its prequel, Snowball, this game includes location graphics to accompany the lucid descriptions. Having saved the spaceship Snowball, Kim Kimberly is charged with sabotage and sentenced to death (gratitude eh?). Forced to flee to the planet of Eden, Kim lies low in the jungle. Unfortunately the flora and fauna of this planet prove as deadly as any firing squad. Your job is to guide Kim to the robot city to the east of the jungle in one piece - a nigh on impossible task.
Runestone (Games Workshop - 1985)
Runestone's graphics must have had Mike Singleton looking up his lawyer's phone number. Unlike Lords of Midnight, however, it relies on traditional text input for control. You take charge of three characters on a mission to destroy Kordomir the Dark One and capture the Runestone of Zaphir. The expansive playing area is home to countless orcs who need hacking down to size. In fact, you might want to forget about your mission altogether and just wander about the playing area wreaking havoc. Its non-linear game world is every bit as satisfying as the Land of Midnight's, even if the game itself is not quite up to LoM standards. It was re-released a year later with new-look graphics under the Firebird label.
Sherlock (Melbourne House - 1984)
After a two-year wait from the team who brought us The Hobbit, Melbourne House finally released Sherlock, based on the exploits of the fiddle-playing Victorian detective. As you'd expect, there's a crime to be solved, taking you around London and into the wilds of Leatherhead. The geography is a bit rum, but it was written by an Aussie, so exceptions should be made. The game allows you to construct complex sentences and interact with independent characters, asking quite detailed questions of them. The graphics are similar to those in The Hobbit, albeit smaller and sparser. A bold adventure that attempts and achieves a great deal.
Ship of Doom (Artic - 1982)
Our friends at Artic again. An amusing, compelling and frustrating adventure that begins with your ship being sucked into an alien vessel while you're out cruising the spaceways one day. You learn that your dastardly alien captors intend to enslave mankind and replace our brains with microchips. The devils! You must find your way to the main computer, deactivate it and scupper their plan. Great fun.
Smuggler's Cove (Quicksilva - 1983)
One of the most famous early adventures and, for a couple of years, what seemed to be a permanent resident in every computer store in the land. As it happens it's not the best of its type - far from it in fact. There's a paucity of locations, unfathomable obstacles to overcome and an exasperating, can't-be-arsed, sixty-five objects to collect. I can only assume that you have an enormous sack at your disposal. Neat graphics and fast, though.
Snowball (Level 9 - 1984)
Part one of the Silicon Dreams trilogy. This game boasts over 7,000 locations, but in truth only around 200 of them are original, with the rest made up of similar-looking locations in different colour-coded 'passenger discs'. You awake aboard the starship 'Snowball' and something is badly amiss. You must reach the control room and deactivate the engines, avoiding lethal hazards littered along the way. There's so much to this game that I can't hope to do it justice. It's never a case of encountering a problem, having the right item and moving on. The key objects are always gathered following a series of sub-plots that start as problems of their own. Outstanding.
Subsunk (Firebird - 1985)
You play a journalist whose routine report from a nuclear submarine turns horribly pear-shaped when an enemy power seizes control, kidnaps the crew and scuttles the vessel. You are trapped on board and your only way to safety is to send a distress message to base - which you just know won't be as easy as reaching for your mobile phone. An excellent, witty adventure with interesting graphics and some chin-stroking problems.
Swords and Sorcery (PSS - 1986)
After more than a year of rumoured launch dates and press releases about its revolutionary features, Swords and Sorcery finally made it into the shops in 1986. It was a role-playing game, viewed in first-person 3D. For those fascinated by statistics, I can report that it contains 86 monsters, 635 locations, an 800 word dictionary, almost 2,000 objects and in excess of four million ways to be insulted. This is all old hat nowadays, of course, but in 1986, it was an astounding achievement and makes Swords & Sorcery an important part of Spectrum history.
System 15000 (Graig - 1984)
Ever fancy yourself as a sweaty hacker, ferreting away inside the computer systems of governments and corporations? Well, with this game you can enjoy that experience without Special Branch kicking down your door. A friend of yours has sent you details of a computer fraud that has taken place between two companies to the tune of £1.5m. Your job is to break into the system of the guilty firm and put the money back where it belongs. An original and authentic gaming experience.
Temple of Vran (Incentive - 1984)
Part two of the Ket Trilogy sees you emerging from the gloom of the mountains and beginning the next stage of your quest: to enter the sorcerer Vran's secret temple. Like the rest of the series, this is a hugely enjoyable traditional adventure that benefits from a cheery atmosphere and brisk, uncomplicated action. The combat system of the prequel remains, but has been tweaked to allow weapon selection. A personal favourite.
Ten Little Indians (Digital Fantasia - 1984)
My my, 1984 was a busy year for Brian Howarth. This is a text and graphics adventure that involves recovering ten indian figurines, one of which is cast in solid gold and worth a fortune. As you come across the nine fakes, they lead you closer to the gold. The game is set primarily in a mansion and there are countless ways for you to meet your maker. Sort of a text-based Jet Set Willy then.
Terrormolinos (Melbourne House - 1985)
The boys who brought you Hampstead struck again with this crackerjack of a game that celebrates the horrors of the Spanish package holiday. After racing against the clock to catch your flight, the action switches to sunny España, where your aim is to take ten photos of suitable sights and events during your stay. Your snaps are then displayed to you in seaside postcard style. An amusing jaunt that never lets you forget that it's also an accomplished adventure.
Twin Kingdom Valley (Bug Byte - 1984)
This early adventure made its name on the BBC Micro and Commodore 64. It was suspected that the Speccy would struggle to cope with its graphical demands, but in the end 150 out of 180 locations were illustrated. Your task is to explore the forests, caverns and paths of the valley, collecting treasure. Along the way you encounter a variety of other characters for you to interact with, some of whom are far from helpful. A strong fantasy adventure in the traditional mold, which made use of the Currah Microspeech unit. Perhaps only the random behaviour of some of the other characters spoils it.
Urban Upstart (Richard Shepherd - 1984)
Before hitting the big time with futuristic shooter Tau Ceti, Pete Cooke produced adventures for doggedly mediocre software house Richard Shepherd. This was his second release, following Invincible Island, and it's a lighthearted take on inner-city life, complete with marauding football hooligans, fascist coppers and run-down hospitals. There are graphics at every location and the game is inventive enough, even if it lacks sophistication. One of the adventuring mainstays of the time.
Valhalla (Legend - 1984)
Released amid a barrage of advertising, and bearing a whopping fifteen pounds price tag, Valhalla boldly claimed to be the first interactive computer movie. Set in the Norse underworld, it blended animated graphics with traditional text input and featured a huge cast of independent characters that went about their business with or without your involvement. First impressions were good, but closer examination revealed Valhalla to be a brave experiment in programming, rather than a particularly strong game. The behaviour of the other characters was suspiciously random, the play agonisingly slow, and the whole experience rather uninvolving. It remained a noble failure, though, and provided inspiration for future role-playing games.
Velnor's Lair (Quicksilva - 1983)
A popular early adventure by Derek Brewster of Crash fame. You start by choosing whether to be a wizard, a warrior or a priest, then delve into a savage world of monsters and mayhem. A highly competent, well-written adventure that plagued magazine tips columns for years to come.
Very Big Cave Adventure (CRL - 1986)
This is the best of the releases from the curiously named St. Bride's School software team (based out of an Irish school of the same name), which specialised in spoof adventures. It's not just a good parody of the original Adventure, but of the genre as a whole. There's an amusing poke at the suspensions of belief many inferior games expect you to make, and some wry wordplay on Adventure's location names. Despite its silliness, Very Big Cave Adventure is polished and entertaining, and responds with the usual Quill speed.
The Witch's Cauldron (Mikrogen - 1985)
This is a terrific game that many adventurers may never have heard of. Mikrogen were not known for dabbling in this type of game, but in The Witch's Cauldron they combined their famous arcade graphics with a top notch adventure. The cauldron of the title is where you must mix a magical concoction to return you to your normal human state, having been transformed into a frog by the evil Witch Hazel. Commands are issued via traditional text input, then carried out in arcade fashion on the top half of the screen. It's not all gloss though - beneath the flashy visuals is a challenging game that any adventurer will relish.
The Worm in Paradise (Level 9 - 1986)
The adventure is dead they say. Long live Level 9's peerless monument to the genre, an achievement of breathtaking scope and vision. This final installment of the astonishing Silicon Dreams trilogy is set in the distant future. Man has expanded throughout the galaxy, populating over a hundred worlds, but why have so many nearby planets proved habitable? Is it mankind's divine destiny to spread among the stars, or have we been sown by a cosmic farmer who will soon return to harvest his crop? This is Level 9 at the teetering summit of its abilities. The storyline is in the tradition of the grandest science fiction, and technical expertise is lavishly demonstrated at every turn. Level 9's understanding of what elevates a game from the excellent to the truly masterful places The Worm in Paradise among the all-time greats.