CRASH has brought you adventure games on the Powertape, and your reaction has been positive. So we decided to tell you more! Paul Rigby begins the first of an occasional series on the world of Speccy adventuring...
Adventuring on the Speccy has gone through a tremendous change since the days of the 16K blockbusters of the early 80s. Then we saw the domination of the software houses producing such works as The Hobbit, Valkyrie 17 and Terrormolinos (remember that?) Excitement grew when Gilsoft released the first of their best-selling adventure utilities, The Quill. Incentive’s Graphic Adventure Creator, and Gilsoft’s Quill successor, The Professional Adventure Writer, followed along with a batch of less successful programs. The enthusiasts’ wish to create their own masterpiece was satisfied, and the market was flooded with homegrown adventures of a quality which has improved with time.
At the same time however, most software houses concluded that adventures don’t sell anymore: RPGs are the “fashion” nowadays, and 16-bit at that. Which is why you’re not likely to see any new Spectrum adventures at your local computer shop, even on budget labels. The home, or heart, of Spectrum adventuring, therefore, lies in the vivid imaginations of the adventure enthusiast.
Are we to throw the towel in? Is this the end — when all we have left are ‘ordinary’ Spectrum enthusiasts who produce adventures, from their own homes, in their spare time?
Actually, the opposite is the case. Only a handful of exceptional adventures on the Spectrum were from big software houses. Major features associated with adventures produced by the big boys are bugs and poor design. Melbourne House had a hat full of bugs in The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and Sherlock, Level 9 had a batch in Gnome Ranger and Claws of Despair from Players was a joke.
The fact is, if you’re after an enjoyable adventure that gives logical problems, atmosphere, a high degree of innovation and, very importantly, value for money you need to look no further than the independently produced, homegrown adventure.
This feature will tell you a little more about these privately produced games, who produces them, where to get them from, how to find more information on them and, if you’re inclined, a few pointers on producing your own work of art.
Hang on a tic. If you can’t buy new Speccy adventures in the shops anymore where do you find them? Time to turn to magazines! There are three privately produced, A5 size, magazines that cater for all possible adventuring tastes.
Adventure Probe has achieved near legendary status. Edited by elegant and enchanting Mandy Rodrigues, Probe sports a weighty 47 pages and includes regular reviews, features, hints & tips, the odd solution, letters and, most importantly, adverts for all of those adventures I was talking about. Probe is informative and the readers are a friendly and helpful lot. It costs £1.50 per issue (in UK).
Spellbreaker!, edited by Mike Brailsford (ably assisted by dad John), complements Adventure Probe perfectly, with most of its 39 pages full of hints, tips and solutions with a few letters and lots of adverts. No reviews are included by mutual agreement with Probe. Unreservedly recommended for a meagre £1.50 per issue.
Adventure Coder, edited by charismatic Chris “Where’s my Walkman?” Hester, is an excellent dedicated mag for adventure authors. My most recent issue is 43 pages and includes sections on PAW, GAC, ADLAN, a beginner’s guide to adventure writing and lots of other stuff. The whole mag is very readable and humorous, nee rhythmic.
All of the above publications accept 12 month subscriptions (just multiply the single issue price by 12). However please do not send hard cash with your order: only cheques, postal orders or the value in stamps will be accepted.
COMPUTER ADVENTURES — THE SECRET ART
Gil Williamson £7.95
Available in book stores
I’ve been looking for a book like this for some time. In fact author Gil Williamson said he has too — that’s why he sat down and wrote it!
After an introduction, Gil asks how you want to present your game. Text or graphics? Then the book delves into how to obtain your ideas, after which a number of plot elements are discussed such as puzzles, weapons, apparel, mazes and so on. Then he discusses characters, their actions, etc, followed by a chapter on developing and testing your game. He emphasises your adventure must: move forward to remain interesting, do this by giving rewards, but keep the excitement of the game world by introducing anticipation — knowing something exciting is going to happen before it does adds greatly to the player’s enjoyment. A game full of surprises will make the player expect such happenings which, therefore, defeats the object.
Style of images, text and sound are debated and various game systems compared. A chapter on how to publish your game talks about copy-protection (without the expense), publishing your own work, going to an outside publisher and utilising cheat protection. After a more detailed look at the components that form an adventure, Gil gives a sample transcript of one of his own, produced with an American shareware adventure creation utility called AGT (Adventure Game Toolkit).
Appendices include lots of useful reference material such as a list of utilities and a bibliography. There’s a handy index at the back, too. All in all, a well presented and very readable book (128 pages, 11 chapters) packed with good advice that can be thoroughly recommended to any adventure author or anyone else who is thinking about creating their own adventure game or who has a general interest in adventure games.
Larry Horsfield is the man behind FSF Adventures. So far, releases have been Magnetic Moon and Starship Quest, both three-part adventures for the 48K and 128K, with the latter versions expanded and enhanced to take advantage of the extra memory.
You could say Larry’s a typical independent adventure author. He produces his adventures from home, during his spare time, not to make millions from the sales of his games (no adventure authors hold such delusions) but for the sheer pleasure of creation. The first adventure he ever played was Sphinx, which came free with the Electron.
“...a good adventure, but it didn’t have a save routine! I spent months on it!”
But why become an adventure author?
“I bought a copy of The Quill, which became available for the Electron. I read an awful lot of science fiction and fantasy and thought some of the stories would make a good adventure. Magnetic Moon is based on a story called Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton. Another of her stories, Galactic Derelict, formed the basis of Starship Quest. I did Magnetic Moon purely for fun, I’d no intention of selling it. Then Harry Bastion formed his Electron “Elk Adventure Club” and wanted to give a free game away with a subscription. So said that I’d redo Magnetic Moon For him. Then I had ideas of a follow-up and wrote Starship Quest. Both adventures were then converted and re-written, using the PAW, to the Spectrum.”
An awful lot of budding adventure authors have great apprehension towards any sort of programming. However, adventure utilities lend themselves to beginners, as they are quite “user-friendly”, to coin a phrase. However, Larry advises to go for the best, right at the outset. Which as far as the Speccy is concerned, is Gilsoft’s PAW. One reason for this is, “...if someone gave me GAC, I wouldn’t know where to start. You find if you’re used to one utility it’s very difficult to get to grips with another.”
I asked Larry if he could give any general rules and advice to anyone considering writing an adventure.
“Start simple. Begin with the basics then later, try something a bit more difficult and build on that. What froze a lot of people from using PAW is the tutorial manual. It tries to cover too much. Also, stay away from graphics. On a 48K Spectrum, they’re just a waste of memory. When you’ve written the game get other people to playtest it, at least two others. Because different people will try to solve the same adventure in different ways.”
On the subject of planning, Larry doesn’t think anyone can plan an adventure from start to finish. Generally, yes, but not exactly. For the simple reason that you’re really not sure how much memory you will use.
“I always find that I run out of memory because the ideas I’ve got are too big for the database. Which is why Magnetic Moon is three parts and the forthcoming Axe of Kolt four! Then you’ll find that you’re changing puzzles, messages, etc.”
He also recommends you carry a notebook around with you in case inspiration strikes! Books and films are a good source for puzzles. One area in Axe of Kolt is inspired by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, for example.
I’ve played Magnetic Moon and Starship Quest and can recommend both, £2.50 each or £4.50 for the twinpack (state 48K or 128K). Ask about the new Axe of Kolt, which carries a £50.00 prize with it.