Who likes a good adventure game? Well, me for one. So it’s no surprise that when I got my all-singing, all-dancing Spectrum setup after writing The Spectrum Add-On Guide one of the first things I did was to program an adventure game of my own…
I actually used that game in one chapter of the later Complete Spectrum, with an explanation of how and why I’d structured it in a particular way. It had been fun – but obviously, given that this was the 1980s, the game I’d created was entirely text-based.
But the experience came in handy…
By now I, Mike Rohan and Phil Gardner had formed a publishing services partnership which we called Asgard Publishing Services. (You can tell that Mike and I had the loudest voices, can’t you…?) And – somewhat to our surprise – we got a request from an organisation called the North of England Institute for Christian Education (NEICE) asking if we might be able to create an adventure game for a teenage audience. They wanted something which would present that audience with moral and ethical choices – something to make them think about the choices they might make in their own lives.
And they (understandably) wanted it built on the BBC Micro, which was then being rolled out to schools in massive quantities.
I didn’t have a BBC, but Phil did – and I was fascinated by the challenge. So I set to work designing a game.
My concept involved a game that could run in one of two timelines. The first was set in Germany in the 1930s. I’d been reading the autobiography of Christabel Bielenberg, The Past is Myself, in which she described her marriage to a German lawyer who would later take a part in one of the plots against Hitler. It gave fascinating insights into what everyday life for a German family was like at that time – insights I built into the plotline of the game.
The game consisted of, essentially, nothing but choices. Gamers were presented with an option such as ‘Your school friends are urging you to join the Hitler Youth. Do you say yes, no, or that you’ll think about it?’ It was carefully structured so that – at certain key points – one of those choices would move you across to a new or different sequence. Which might mean that later on you’d be expected, for example, to shoot a friend who’d made a different choice. Or, more likely, they’d shoot you…
The second timeline, which you could choose to follow instead, was set in a modern school which had been infiltrated by a drugs gang. There was peer pressure from friends to get involved – with similar results to the first timeline.
But I built in a twist. Whichever timeline you chose, you could then replay your choices in the other one – and see what happened there.
I also built in a scoring system which showed how you were being rated by your parents, by your friends, and by ‘authority’.
Feedback was extremely positive. Players were fascinated by the results, didn’t mind finishing up dead, and often asked to play it again to see if they could do better.
For ‘decoration’ we added some simple graphics, and an intro sequence featuring the tune of ‘Lili Marlene’ – a song popular with both sides during the war.
It was the first and last professional game I wrote, but it was an experience I truly treasure. I’m delighted it went down so well with its audience – and I probably learned a few lessons about that audience that came in handy when Mike and I were writing Spell of Empire, many years later…