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My adventure with "Adventures"

Well, apart from my name, there's a curious anecdote about my involvement with the world of adventure games. Everything started, probably, with my decision to purchase a Sinclair Spectrum 16K as my first computer ever.

It was 1984, and in Italy - as anywhere else, I think - the main two "platforms" of the time were the Commodore CBM 64 (or C64) and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (or Speccy). The newsagents sold dozens of different tapes, mainly collection of games (many) and programs (few) for both these "home computers".

I was attracted by the bizarre instinct of buying one of those "tapes" despite I didn't have any computer yet. The choice fell on a "tape-magazine" called Load'n'Run, containing games for the Speccy in both 16K and 48K version. Maybe that decision was a hint about the forthcoming purchase of that particular computer, maybe it was just a "meaningful coincidence" as the ones that followed, who knows?

Anyway, not much later I had enough money to buy a 16K Speccy, and I did, attracted by its stylish black case, its small footprint and... the fact I already owned a tape with software that could be run on it.

After a while, the 48K games on the tape were too much of a temptation, and my 16K of RAM looked like a tight universe for programs and data: I then decided it was time to "upgrade" to 48K.

The clerk at the computer shop was the keeper of the key that opened for me a magic door and made me enter the unforgettable world of adventures. But, as usual, he wasn't aware of, neither had an ounce of intention to be, the "main cause" of what was going to happen.

The main company behind the Spectrum chainstore in Italy, "Bit Primavera" I think, offered a "gift" to all the customers who decided to upgrade from 16K to 48K of RAM. The gift, of course, was an original 48K game tape.

The clerk looked at me, and probably decided I wasn't smart enough to care about the "gift". He then decided: A) to give me a 16K game instead of a 48K, and B) to give me a game that probably no one would ever buy, and I can bet someone did and brought it back to the shop because he didn't like it.

The game was "Adventure A: Planet of Death" by a company called Artic Computing.

I took the "refurbished" Speccy back home, and along the way carefully examined the game box (my adventurer instinct was already developing, I think), trying to picture the sort of game... on the label I could read "You are stranded on an alien planet. Your goal is to find and repair your spaceship to go away..." I thought it would be a good shoot'em up full of aliens to be blasted, so I decided there was no need to read the following instructions.. it was going to be a matter of blasting and running, so...

Back home, I loaded the game... and suddenly realised the loading time had been too short for a 48K game... maybe they used a very fast new "turbo loader", I thought... Everything was clear when the blank screen was covered by some text rows in capital letters describing a situation, a question, and a blinking cursor awaiting my... text input!?!?

I did the only thing left to do: reading the tape inlay card more carefully than before. That way I first discovered it was a 16K game, and NOT a 48K as it should have been. Then I learnt I could play that "game" typing instructions when asked, and using verbs and nouns to instruct my "virtual character" along the interactive plot toward the goal of the game/story... well, at that time there were no concepts like "virtual character" or "interactive plot", but today we commonly use them to describe such elements.

No need to say I spent my summer holiday in search of my lost spaceship and finally managed to repair it and leave the "planet of death" alive... a great experience, indeed! So great I started thinking how I could create something similar to let other people play and have fun, in Italian, of course.

I can't recall how I discovered the existence of a program called "The Quill", by a Welsh software house called "Gilsoft International Ltd". I have two hints about that: my habit to buy English computer magazines and to purchase my software by mail from a very good "source", someone who was an expert of anything related to Speccy programs and games.

It was from him that I bought my first copy of "The Quill", which I would later buy as an original, of course, when it became a "tool" for a professional job.

My first game ever was written "just for fun", but soon became a full-fledged adventure game, to which I could add graphics using Quill's companion program, "The Illustrator". Graphics was sort of primitive, being restricted to vector lines and just a few texture and colour fills, but managed to add something "visual" to the game itself. The adventure was called "Dimensione Sconosciuta" ("Unknown Dimension").

I wanted to "spread the world", in other world my desire was to make the game circulate among Italian Speccy users so that they could play it, and put my address in the opening screen to help them contact me by mail (there was no "e-mail" then!) if they needed help to solve it, or just wanted to send some complaints or encouragement to the author. Of course I didn't want to earn money from the game. I sent the game to the person who sold me the software, and told him to put it on one of his "compilation" tapes. So he did, and the game started circulating.

Later on, a prize contest on the tape-magazine "Load''n'Run" attracted my attention: sending an original game everyone could hope to win a beautiful Sinclair QL computer. My wildest dream, then, so I quickly sent my adventure game to the magazine address.

After a while, I received a letter from them, saying my game wouldn't enter the contest but would be published and I would receive a sum of money for that (around two thousands Liras, which was almost half the price I paid to buy my 16K Spectrum!).

The game was published, but in the meanwhile something even more exciting was going on in the background: the person from whom I bought my programs and to whom I first sent my game had been contacted by a publisher. The publisher was looking for someone who was able to program adventure games on the Sinclair Spectrum. Guess what happened then?

The next step was easy: my software "source" gave my phone number to the publisher, the publisher called me asking if I was able and available for the job of creating at least three Spectrum adventures per month to be put on a tape magazine called "Epic 3000"... well, as they say, the rest is history.

Bonaventura Di Bello

(bdibello_chiocciola_tiscali.it)