Platform: Atari VCS 2600
Release Date: 1978
Developer: Atari Inc.
Publisher: Atari Inc.
Grandson: Grandpa, what were fantasy-adventure games like back when you were young? Way back in 1979?
Grandpa: Well, sonny, there was this one particular game on the Atari VCS called Adventure that was kind of like your own grandpappy but in video game form. Today we may show our age and may not look too impressive anymore but when we were young we were quite the catch. We also managed to sire a bunch of young ‘uns for better or worse (no offense to you sonny).
Grandson: Wow, that’s cool. I’ve heard about that game, is it epic like The Legend of Zelda?
Grandpa: No, sonny. It isn’t. However, what is epic is that it offered an open world experience in 1979 when no one was really doing that. If you weren’t shooting aliens in space or bouncing electronic balls back and forth across a screen, you weren’t doing it right.
Grandson: Sounds amazing…..kind of. Wait, was the game actually fun, Grandpa?
Grandpa: Depends on if you have a tolerance for annoying things like bats that steal your weapons and keys. Those goddamn bats…..oh, and really, really primitive graphics. As in, all the screens & items are monocolored and the dragons look like ducks. Despite these graphical limitations, the game is effective in how it offers mazes and castles to traverse in order to find a magical chalice which you then have to take back to the original castle you started in. There are different colored keys spread around the game that will unlock the corresponding same colored castles. Inside these castles are weapons, dragons and the chalice of course. Finding an arrow can help kill the dragons and finding the magnet will retrieve stolen items back from those bastard bats. F*&! those bats!!! Sorry for the language sonny.
Grandson: It’s ok, when I play online games I hear worse. But I don’t know Grandpa…..it sounds very…..basic.
Grandpa: Oh sonny, it is. But it had an innovative continue feature! When you inevitably would be eaten by a dragon and your little square body would struggle in vain to escape it’s hollow stomach, all you had to do was hit reset and the game could be continued. You’d start back on the opening screen but all the items would be where you left them! This was really cool in 1979! Trust me.
Grandson: Sure thing gramps. Did you say your character was a block? Really?
Grandpa: Yes, sonny. You controlled a block and you were a hero.
Grandson: Well, how is the music? You haven’t mentioned anything about it so far.
Grandpa: There was no music son, just sound effects mostly coming from the dragons. Adventure required every bit of code space for the ambitious game itself.
Grandson: It sounds easy.
Grandpa: Easy? Definitely not on 2nd and 3rd quests. The 1st quest is a warm up for newbies but the bats show up in later quests and the mazes sometimes are darkened so you can only see directly in front of you. With all of the screens looking pretty much the same, it made it very difficult to find your way around and you could easily get lost. Especially if you didn’t draw a map.
Grandson: Hmmm, drawing your own map huh? Sounds like a true adventure! It would be kind of like Lewis and Clark setting off on their quest to reach the Pacific Ocean! Around every corner could mean certain death! Only those with smarts, strength and a good sense of direction would survive. I haven’t had to use my imagination in years.
Grandson: Grandpa, I sure hope it still works.
Grandpa: Don’t worry sonny. It will all come back to you. It’s not something you ever lose. Just think, players like myself had to use our imagination every time we played an Atari game. Do you see why this game is important, sonny?
Grandson: I do, gramps. I appreciate that this game existed to set the stage for all my favorite adventure games of the past 30 years. I guess I owe this game a certain amount of gratitude for paving the way and showing players that video games could make you think as well as work your hand-eye coordination. I guess this truly was the greatest video gaming generation!
Grandpa: Well, don’t go overboard there sonny…..
Without a doubt, it’s the dragons. Not only were they your primary nemesis and the only enemy that could eat you (i.e. kill you), there were 3 different dragons to contend with. Yorgle (yellow dragon), Grundle (green dragon), and Rhindle (red dragon) were all difficult to contend with but Rhindle was the worst offender, chasing after you quickly and relentlessly once you entered its lair. Who could forget the first time you were eaten by one of the dragons and you discovered you could move your character around in it’s hollow stomach? This gave you hope that maybe there was a way to escape and only after frantically moving the joystick in every direction while mashing the button for awhile did you come to the realization how futile that effort was? Classic!
Best Kept Secret
Almost as much as it was known for it’s innovative and non-linear gameplay, Adventure is almost as equally well known for containing the first Easter egg. Warren Robinett, the creator and programmer for Adventure, felt like his efforts were being unrecognized by Atari Inc. and ultimately unrecognized by the players of his games. Atari didn’t allow their programmers to take any credit for the games they made so Robinett took matters into his own hands and created a hidden, hard to get location within the game that when found could be read. It said very clearly, “Created by Warren Robinett.”
If discovered by Atari, this was a potentially fireable offence, so Robinett ensured that finding this Easter egg would be difficult. At this point, how to find this hidden room in the game has been well documented, but I can only imagine how the very first person to accomplish this must have felt. Also, with no internet to spread this discovery across the globe in a matter of hours, word of mouth was likely the primary means to share this knowledge. The practice of hiding Easter eggs in games would become quite commonplace, not just on Atari’s console, but others as well, until developers/programmers from Atari and Mattel would break away and create their own third party publishers such as Activision and Imagic and usher in the era of recognition for the talent behind the games.
All items and weapons in Adventure are critical to achieving success in the game, but the most unique would have to be the magnet. The magnet would attract keys to your player which was super helpful if they got stuck in a wall thanks to a case of the dropsies by those thieving bats. Also, the magnet could be used to pull a bat holding a key towards you so you could carry the bat with the key around with you for a period of time. Talk about awkward!
Adventure is the granddaddy of action/adventure games, and we can all point to the primitive graphics and gameplay and scoff, but the reality is, we wouldn’t have The Legend of Zelda without Adventure to pave the way. It can be frustrating to play at times when you’re running around trying to find the next castle or trying to escape a quick moving dragon only to realize you’re going in circles, but Adventure still deserves accolades as one of the must owns for the Atari 2600.