There and back again

TheHobbit_thumbWith The Hobbit now showing on screens across Europe (in 2D, 3D and even the HFR 3D – 48fps!) most of us are probably looking forward to seeing Peter Jackson’s next Tolkien trilogy after the massively successful and Academy Award winning Lord of the Rings movies this weekend at a local theater.

Chances are, if you’re a Tolkien fan, you’ve reread the book in preparation for the film, but if you’re a retro computer enthusiast like me, you’ve probably loaded up the classic 1982 game “The Hobbit” on your Commodore (or Apple, TRS-80, MSX, BBC Micro, …). Oh Myyy, as George Takei would say, was there a platform this game wasn’t released on?

The game developed by Veronika Megler and Philip Mitchell and published by Melbourne House, for sure was one of the more popular text adventures of its time, with players asking for tips and advice on how to best proceed in the game or solve a puzzle. The oldest walkthrough that I could find (in print) was the one published the German 64’er magazine, back in 1985 in one of their special editions dedicated to adventure games on the C64.


Now what made the game so special? In an interview Veronika Megler had with The Register she recalls it was due to 3 main points. First one being the fact that the texts were “enriched” by actually showing the scene by means of large graphics that rendered on screen. This gave the player a direct sense of what was going on, instead of having to read through those classic adventure lines like “You’re in a room. You see a candle and some matches”.


Secondly, she recalls the parsing system which was dubbed “Inglish”. Back then, most adventure games were quite restrictive in what you could type. Most didn’t go beyond the “Go north”, “Take lamp”, “Throw rock” type of commands, but Inglish allowed you to type advanced sentences such as “ask Gandalf about the curious map then take sword and kill troll with it”. The parser was complex and intuitive, introducing pronouns, adverbs, etc. allowing the player to interact with the game world in ways not previously possible.

And this brings us to the 3rd point, the interaction with the adventure world that was opened up by the game engine itself. Objects for instance, 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. Or as Veronika recalls it “Everything was an object. If you killed a dwarf you could use it as a weapon – it was no different to other large heavy objects. That was something you could not do with other games of the time, they had fixed possibilities.”

If you browse the web now for walkthroughs of the game, you’ll find some that will finish the game plain and simple, but there are those that will try to get the game score as close as possible to 100% completion. The walkthrough that was published in the 64’er magazine gets you at least to 85% and if you visit every possible location you can even get a 101,5% completion score.

So, why not have a go at this classic game before you buy your popcorn, put on your 3D glasses and revisit Tolkien’s world on the big screen. Enjoy!

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