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Young Arthur’s Quest (1982)   8 comments

Starting from early 1983, one of the items printed in Commander Magazine (The Monthly Journal for Commodore Computer Users) was a catalog of all known suppliers of both hardware and software, “solely to promote the VIC-20 industry”. For example: the list from Issue 8, July 1983.

Some of these companies are still remembered (Broderbund) and some are more or less forgotten (Briley Software sold a menu planner called Dinner’s On) but today’s company in particular, ABI Software Inc., is not even listed. It is so obscure even a contemporary index in tiny print doesn’t recognize it!

It does have a Mobygames entry, with one game listed for 1983, Konkey Kong, a terrible port of Donkey Kong. I’ll drop a video if you don’t believe me:

They had at least one other game, Young Arthur’s Quest by Charles Sharp Jr.

From Retrocollector. It is faintly possible the letter is actually an “R” as you’ll see by a title screen later, but given the “A” is given by someone who has a real copy (with no photo of the back portion which usually gives a company name in plainer text) I suspect ABI is still correct.

Unfortunately I have zero information on them otherwise. I can say Charles Sharp Jr. is credited with two more games (one which we’ll be looking at next) but they were published by a different company (maybe out in Wisconsin, but it’s complicated). There were quite a few Commodore magazines at the time so I can’t claim a comprehensive search, so there might still be an ad lingering somewhere that can enlighten us. For now we can only turn to the game.

Here’s the screen where the first letter kind of looks like an “R”.

While the picture on the top of this post is for a VIC-20 version of the game, the one currently available is for C64.

From the screenshot above you can see that it must be essentially identical; the disk comes with a program that changes the number of columns of the C64 to be that of the VIC-20!

One common thing we’ve had with VIC-20 games is a sort of ultra-minimalism due to technical requirements of having low memory to work with. (The Bruce Robinson games, for instance, worked within the 3583 bytes available in an unexpanded VIC.) That’s not the technical case here; a 16K memory expansion is required and the game uses 12032 bytes (that is, Mr. Sharp had more than 3 times the amount of space to work with). Yet, this game still feels strangely very spare. I suspect maybe the author used a minimalist VIC-20 game as a codebase in order to make something with just a little more text?

The only verbs that work are


While the game itself is not clear from the text, your goal Young Arthur is to become King of Britian (no, not Britain). Our first task is to hop in the cave we were just warned about, with some flashing lights, and EXAMINE LIGHTS.

Then, repeat:

But not a third time:

Exploring outside, there’s a river (with a tree you can climb to see a castle on the opposite side), a ferry (which requires money to board), and a town with three shops: a baker, a florist, and a tailor.

The scene in the town presents two difficulties:

1.) It appears like the shops are “outdoor shops” as each one has an item you can try to take, but get caught, as above. In each case it turns out you can ENTER SHOP, which I only found out later.

2.) You can also READ SIGN even though there is no sign in the description. Each shop has a message about GET JOB…INSIDE.

So the plot is pre-set here where you pick on of the shopkeepers and GET JOB while inside. They will each give you a delivery assignment, and you can only pick one of the assignments at a time.

Once you have the delivery assignment you can go over to the ferry and ride it using the money you get from the shopkeeper. Then, to get anywhere at the castle, you have to realize (without prompting) the game wants you to SAY DELIVERY.

This lands you in one of three different destinations depending on which item you picked to deliver. If you start with the bread or flowers, you’ve softlocked the game.

The door here is locked and in the walkway you get stopped by guards.

The proper thing to pick (no reasoning, you just have to experiment and find out) is the tailor, where you deliver some cloth. This gives you access to The Kings Bedroom where there is a BOX and you can open it and GET KEY (following the vision from the cave).

With the key in hand, you can drop the cloth off as well for your delivery and leave back to the town.

Now, key in hand, you need to deliver some bread. This is the same procedure as before; just GET JOB while in the bakery, take the bread along, use the ferry, and say you’re delivering bread. Now, that door that was locked before you can open.

This is essentially the end of the game. You just have to do the right thing here. Going back to the message in the cave (“Preach UNITY is power.”) the correct action is just to SAY UNITY.

The interesting thing structurally here is that there was nearly no puzzles at all. The “hard part” was picking the right delivery sequence. The “puzzles” were mostly parser issues, which I’ve skipped over to make the game seem smooth. There’s a contemporary review for Commander magazine which claims it is “recommended for younger players” but would they really have fun with a game where 70% of the difficulty is in communicating in the first place? (This is the same magazine that fails to mention the existence of ABI or RBI or whatever the name of the company is.)

I get the impression the author had some sort of script in his head that was more grandiose than what happened in the game. Otherwise, making two deliveries and sneaking up to get a sword would make for the most underwhelming of the Arthur stories in the canon.

Posted May 14, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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