1985. The middle of the golden era for 8-bit machines. Leading the charge in home computing were the Commodore 64, Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC ranges, based on the back of promises that "the computer revolution is here". Truth be told, we were still some distance away from it - word processors, spreadsheets and so on did exist, but in this age of load-from-tape, the average home machine was used primarily for one thing - games. And a great time for games it was! Because tapes were easy to duplicate, the only barriers a would-be developer faced were the limits of his machine, how well he could program, and his own imagination.

Despite the limits of the 8-bit machines, there was a great variety of games, some of which is now - sadly - the preserve of die hard fans in the current era of full immersive 3D graphics, realistic physics engines and development teams of tens to hundreds of people. One of these genres is the text adventure - with limited graphics capability, processing power and memory of the 8-bit machines, it was often easier to describe the player's situation in words and let their imagination fill in the gaps. The limitation was that it was very difficult to incorporate any real-time elements into such games - they could only react to the commands typed in by the player: "go north", "get lamp", "inventory" etc.

Although limited in technical scope, these text-based adventure games made an ideal entry point for the budding developer.

Ben: I started coding in October 1985. I was 9 years old and I wrote a firework safety code game for my schools's BBC-B - it was a kind of "fill in the missing words" thing. I had to demo it in front of the whole school! Adventure games started about three years later - I kinda badgered Dad into buying an Amstrad CPC464 and then found a book in the school library. By that time Paul and I had met - there was a lot of planning in those days: "Genesis", "Robot Rave-up", "Quest for Excalibur", "Detective Agency" and a bunch of others. I think Genesis was the only one we actually finished! Of course, having the Amstrad blow up and spend 6 months in repair didn't help, neither did our parents continually telling us to "get out in the sun!"

Paul: I've been writing games since, oooh, about 1987. I started by designing text adventure games, inspired very much by Peter Killworth's book "How to write Adventure Games (on the BBC Model B and Acorn Electron)", from which I learnt how to program in BASIC. Shortly after that, I met Ben via a youth club. Ben owned an Amstrad CPC464, and a copy of GAC (the Graphical Adventure Creator), which would create basically text adventures with the occasional picture for a location. One of the best summers I remember was filled with Ben and I sitting either in my garden or in his loft, working on the biggest and best text adventure of all time: "Detective Agency". Which didn't get past drawing the game's map - a staggering 200-location adventure which we decided was probably a bit too ambitious!

 

Snapshot: 1985-1988

Platforms:

  • Amstrad CPC
  • BBC-B

Technologies:

  • Locomotive Basic
  • BBC Basic
  • The Graphic Adventure Creator

Games:

  • Genesis
  • Quest for Excalibur
  • Robot Rave-up
  • Detective Agency