Derek Bewster’s Adventure Trail


1986 will not be remembered as the year of the adventure, even if many people, bored with the transient thrills of arcade did suddenly discover the more lasting satisfactions to be found in adventuring. The biggest game of the year, Lord of the Rings, based on the famous Tolkien work (and representing the next logical step for Melbourne House who turned The Hobbit into a classic adventure), was to many a huge disappointment as it failed to live up to the expectations raised by its pedigree. It was again Philip Mitchell, and again Melbourne House who were wrapping it all up and selling it, but the end product just wasn’t in the same league as Tolkien’s masterpiece. In a sense, Lord of the Ring’s failure as a major piece of software was symptomatic of a broader malaise in the adventure world, as if adventuring had lost its way and was not quite sure of the path ahead.

Level 9, of course, continued to champion the cause of imaginative adventuring with their much respected releases, Worm in Paradise (the final part of the Silicon Dream trilogy) and The Price of Magik. Their success is justified, as a lot of time and effort has gone into honing their own adventure system to give adventure just as much pride in the technical innovation stakes as arcade. Hand-in-hand with the technical competence is a desire to provide coherent storylines and gamesplay so the player becomes as involved with the game as with a good novel. Because adventuring is a more difficult market, Level 9 have quite sensibly diversified as much as possible within their chosen field: versions for each game span almost every known computer, and they have not been averse to dipping their fingers into many different pies, as in their link up with Mosaic’S Adrian Mole books. The other big name of 1986 was undoubtedly Fergus McNeill of Delta 4 who mined quite a different seam. Humour was always an area which the medium of adventuring could develop to its full, and Delta 4 were not slow in spotting this simple fact. The Quill, for once, provided a useful vehicle to express a budding comic talent. Delta 4 had always secured a loyal following among adventure freaks, but this year saw the outfit’s rise to fame and chart respectability epitomised by the tremendous amount of interest in The Boggit, a game which successfully lampoons the Melbourne House classic.

However, in summing up this year it is worrying that a great number of individuals have thought it feasible to set up software houses, and then devote a great amount of time and money to launching Quilled games that are neither innovative nor remarkable in any way. There are two conflicting thoughts which cross my mind as I wade through these games every month. The first thought is one of sadness that anyone can think that a profitable, or even a break-even situation, can be gleaned from such lack-lustre product. But my second thought is one of hope and optimism; if adventuring can stimulate such ground-level enthusiasm in the form of experimental software releases, adventure clubs, and small circulation magazines, perhaps this could be the avenue to encourage the development of really challenging adventures.

From the enthusiast’s domain, one or two mail-order products did make it to the larger software concerns and the mass market. In this area there can be no doubt that the advent of budget software has kept adventuring alive when no full-priced games were in the offing. Mastertronic, Atlantis (not least with their famous Mafia games), and more recently Players (a derivative of Interceptor who have recently rejoined the full-priced adventure scene) have all released very reasonable adventures. Mastertronic’s efforts are all the more remarkable when their no-Quilled policy is considered. With programs such as ZZZZ, experimentation with icons was not beyond this budget software producer. However, let us not forget a company which saw the same market, and was large enough to rival Mastertronic in sales of budget adventure. Firebird’s Seabase Delta was an enormous hit, following on the heels of the highly successful Subsunk.

The mighty Ocean games empire developed their own adventure system, seen in the competent releases Never Ending Story and Hunchback the Adventure. This system used the novel idea of forming a colourful collage of backdrop, with events and objects superimposed over it. Activision turned out the highly impressive, if more traditional, Mindstone, while PSS and Mikro-Gen went a little astray in their efforts to try something new with Swords & Sorcery and Shadow of the Unicorn respectively.

Despite the fact that adventuring has a dated image, with interest in pre-1986 games matching that shown for games of this year, I still think that it has a future. In fact it’s encouraging to note that if authors have the presence of mind to mould together innovative programming with inventive stories, they can be assured of producing a game which will be remembered long after arcade games released around the same time are forgotten.

Certainly, as with pop music, tremendous sales are there for those who cynically milk the teen market, but, as with pop music, there are also significant prizes for those who cater for a broader appeal. I hope the success of Trivial Pursuit, the computer adaptation of the cult board quiz, is significant, and marks a greater inclination on the part of software houses to look afresh at the whole world of games play.