Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold
March 10, 2018 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Originally developed for the TRS-80, The Hobbit (first location in real time) was released on the ZX Spectrum (1982), then the Commodore 64, BBC Micro, Oric, Amstrad CPC, Apple II and other home computers. CARRY ELROND. You try and get the treasure back home, and keep Thorin alive; avoiding the Goblin's Dungeon shortens the game. SAY TO THORIN "CARRY ME". Every object had a calculated mass. EXAMINE MAP. The text adventure, some locations including slow-drawing pictures, was written by Veronika Megler and Philip Mitchell in Z80. ATTACK THORIN. Veronika describes the development, and details further in an academic paper. A life-changing experience for some, published by Melbourne House, early editions included a copy of the book. PUT TREASURE IN CHEST. (title)

Exhibiting The Hobbit: A tale of memories and microcomputers: “Milgrom recounts that they received a lot of correspondence regarding The Hobbit mostly requesting help with the game. (Milgrom, Alfred. Personal interview. 20 March, 2013) Barnett recalls taking a call from an irate mother complaining that her son could not get any “a” words to work in the game. He politely asked where they had purchased the game and heard the son in the background begging his mother to get off the phone. Barnett had set up the tape version of the Commodore 64 game so that tape buffer held executable code, if you had a pirated copy of the game the “a” database would be missing. (Barnett, Gregg. Personal interview. 27 December, 2012)”

The Digital Antiquarian: “Of course, with 48 K and no disk drive to work with for virtual memory (Australia, like Britain, was still firmly cassette-bound), they still had one hell of a task in front of them. Megler remained the linchpin of the project, developing a whole adventuring system that should be at least theoretically reusable in future games. She also went through the book to develop a plan for the game, mapped the major events and characters to locations in the world, and added them to the engine’s database. Mitchell worked on a full-sentence parser that would allow the player to talk to the other characters in the world and even order them about. He called his system “Inglish.” Together, the code for the engine and the parser was eventually squeezed down to about 17 K, leaving the rest of the memory for Megler’s database.”

* The original version.
* Another of the original version.
* The 128K Spectrum version.
* Gamefaqs written walkthrough.
* A forum discussion containing some tips.
* Some location and character oriented tips.

Retrogamer: “We ended up doing a bunch of things. For starters, we wrote the whole thing in assembler, which drove me nuts during debugging, but it meant we had more power available than BASIC games. Also, Phil encoded the message database, so you couldn’t dump memory to read the game’s messages. More importantly, this gave us the ability to have a richer vocabulary, because we just had a dictionary of words, and sentences were built up out of pointers to those words. We could substitute in whatever the subject or object was that we needed, just as a little placeholder that allowed us to identify where the subject, the object and the verb went.”

Downloadable materials
(legalities and safety at your own risk)
* Extensive, including game links, play maps and reviews.
* Various home computer version emulators, screenshots.
* Various files on the rzarchive.
* WILDERLAND "runs the original game code in a rudimentary Spectrum emulator, while displaying the state of objects and animals, the current positions of the latter, and a log what all the other creatures (NPC) do while Bilbo is in one place."
* A Russian archive of the game.

Wikipedia: “The volatility of the characters, coupled with the rich physics and impossible-to-predict fighting system, enabled the game to be played in many different ways, though this would also lead to problems (such as an important character being killed early on). There are numerous possible solutions and with hindsight the game might be regarded as one of the first examples of emergent gameplay. This also resulted, however, in many bugs; for example, during development Megler found that the animal NPCs killed each other before the player arrived. The game's documentation warned that "Due to the immense size and complexity of this game it is impossible to guarantee that it will ever be completely error-free". Melbourne House issued a version 1.1 with some fixes, but with another bug that resulted in the game being unwinnable, forcing it to release version 1.2, and the company never fixed all bugs.”

* People argue over redeveloping the game...
* ...and a completed redevelopment.
* Not to be confused with The Hobbit 8060, a Russian Spectrum compatible home computer.
* An article which airbrushes Veronika out of the development of The Hobbit.

Lord of the Rings wikia: “Objects, including the characters in the game, had a calculated size, weight and solidity. Objects could be placed inside other objects, attached together with rope and damaged or broken. If the main character was sitting in a barrel which was then picked up and thrown through a trapdoor, the player went too. Unusually for a text adventure, the game was also in real time - if you left the keyboard for too long events continued without you.”

(previously, more)
posted by Wordshore (15 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
> The character of Gandalf, for example, roamed freely around the game world (some fifty locations), picking up objects, getting into fights and being captured.

They should have made this into a game of its own: Gandalf's Magical Bender.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:52 AM on March 10 [10 favorites]

It took me about a million tries to escape from the damn wood elves, and then I think I drowned or something. At that point, I gave up.
posted by kyrademon at 8:04 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]

My family had this game for the C-64 when I was young. I don't believe that we ever won, or ever advanced past Rivendell (although I vaguely recall issues with the barrel escape from the elves - that could be a different game, I'm not certain). Regardless, what did stick was the book that came with the game, which I read and reread ceaselessly for months. Once, my parents had to confiscate the book just to make sure that we'd get to church on time for Sunday School...
posted by suckerpunch at 8:28 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]

We were too young and innocent at the time, but a few years later and our year at school would undoubtedly have been smirking and making immature jokes about a few of the commands.
posted by Wordshore at 8:34 AM on March 10

I seem to remember playing this game over and over when I was about 6, and either ending up trapped by the goblins or trapped by the elves. I suspect I was just loading saves that someone older than me had made and completely fucking them up. I loved it, though, because it felt much more like a world than most other text adventures did. I think Twin Kingdom Valley was the other one that felt somewhat sandbox-y. I think that, fundamentally, I've always been more drawn to fictional worlds than fictional narratives, and this was one of the games (along with Tolkien's actual books, of course) that helped to inculcate that taste.
posted by howfar at 9:04 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]

I seem to recall that one of the better strategies was to put Thorin in the chest at the beginning, and then get on with it?
posted by bouvin at 9:56 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]

Oh, I remember this. After about two hours of trying to do anything at all, using every pertinent word and combination of words that I could think of I began to doubt language itself. If I ever did get anywhere I was unexpectedly eaten by a giant spider. A much duller and more depressing experience than the book. So, for me, The Hobbit was a game about frustration and being eaten by a giant spider in the same way that Tomb Raider 2 was about a woman who jumps into a disused swimming pool and drowns.

It was a good training for trying and failing to get Siri to do anything useful at all, though in the case of The Hobbit this uselessness was due to limited processing power, whereas Siri, of course, is deliberately designed to frustrate and antagonise users. So we've made terrific progress in thirty-five years.
posted by Grangousier at 10:09 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]

Darn, forgot to include a link - the instruction booklet which came with several home computer versions.
posted by Wordshore at 10:12 AM on March 10

I completed it, but won't pretend that it was easy. The randomness and time shift didn't help; I'd think "Okay, I'll try asking Gandalf if he'll ... oh. He's just wandered off somewhere else." The Hobbit was damned hard and the dungeon took me a long time to figure out. Way too long, but I had a "I've got this far, I can't give up now" attitude by that stage.

Completing the game was also more difficult because we had one TV in our house, so time with the Spectrum on it had to be bartered/rationed. If there was horse racing or figure skating scheduled to be on, I had to give way to the adults.

Skip forward a few decades and I'm playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and, like so many others, getting stuck at the infamous Water Temple. And having to retry, over and over, while not wanting to give up having got this far. And that brought back the same emotional frustrations as that dungeon in The Hobbit.
posted by Wordshore at 10:34 AM on March 10

God that linedraw. on the gif...
posted by symbioid at 10:55 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]

He sure was good in The Princess Bride.
posted by letourneau at 11:07 AM on March 10 [6 favorites]

Chatting to Richard Bartle of MUD creation fame earlier about The Hobbit, and he said (with permission to repeat):

"I remember that game when it came out - we were initially worried it would make MUD look bad, but fortunately it played to audiences for different reasons so we were safe."
posted by Wordshore at 12:57 PM on March 10

I prefer MUME for my imagination based play in Tolkien's world. It's merciless but deep and engrossing and challenging like few other games I've ever played. If anyone needs help or wants to dive in I'm more than happy to mentor.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:20 PM on March 10

This was not my favorite game at the OMSI computer lab in Portland, OR. I would get stuck and pissed off. Someone had printed a guide for The Hitchiker's Guide to The Galaxy, so I played that for hours and hours...
posted by Brocktoon at 8:05 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

This booklet came with one of the early Spectrum versions.
posted by haemanu at 9:50 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]

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