The Golden Baton

1983, Channel 8 Software

Lemon64 - GB64

I have vague recollections of the Channel 8 adventures back in the 80s although it seems that the adventure games by Brian Howarth seemed to have been fairly popular back then and found their way to many different platforms. The Golden Baton was the first adventure by Brian Howarth which he made on his TRS-80 back in 1981 after a period of playing Dungeons and Dragons and watching a TV program called the Adventure Game (source). It would take some years until he started his own business called Digital Fantasia and started porting it to different platforms. Fortunately the C64 was one of these which would receive 11 out of the 14 games in the series. He would eventually use the engine by Scott Adams and all the games in the C64 series are clearly a testament to this for those familiar with those.

The first game in the series is about The Golden Baton which is an artifact which has kept the balance between good and evil in the world. Naturally it hasnt worked completely as it should as some evil being has stolen the Baton from King Ferrenuil and your mission is to recover it. Although the story is plain and simple the game does not really give any clues or explanation to its odd location of the Baton.

One thing I really enjoy about these Channel 8 games is the cover art. They are colorful and cartoonish using the same style throughout the series. I am quite sure these alone made many people interested in these games back in the early 80s.

The game plays and feels almost like a graphical Scott Adams adventure and indeed Brian would also continue to develop games for Adventure International. One thing that can be a bit annoying in this engine is the fact that the room description and objects you see is "hidden" behind the graphics and you have to press enter to switch between graphics and text description. The graphics are also slowly drawn mainly because of the slow flood fill routine. Another rather confusing (or challenging) part of the game is that you might have to examine the room to find other objects even though the engine already lists objects you see. Normally this is simply a matter of writing EXAMINE [WORD] where WORD is something from the room description. When you learn this, its a simple matter of just trying it out on all room descriptions if you get stuck.

The puzzles are sometimes quite easy to solve, and sometimes very hard simply because you have to try to figure out what verb to use. Text adventures have never been very good at having synonyms in its dictionary or alternative sentence structures to achieve the same thing. The Channel 8 adventures are no exception in this regard, although it does offer some alternatives to getting out of trouble at times.

One thing I noticed early on was that you are only allowed to carry a small amount of things which eventually becomes a challenge in itself, trying to figure out what to bring where. In many cases you only use an item once and you can safely drop it, but in some cases an object is used more than once, which can be hard to know. Some objects also have "hidden" features which are not hinted or explained anywhere. Some clues are found along the way written on parchments or hinted through things happening (or indeed the way you die).

The parser is very simple and accepts either one verb or a verb and a noun. For some strange reason they only look at the first 4 letters while most adventure games I played back then at least allowed you to shorten the verb to 3 letters. But I guess after some time you get used to writing EXAM instead of the usual EXA when looking at objects. At least this is consistent so all your nouns can also be shortened to 4 letters.

Still its a nice introduction to the series of adventures and I would recommend the whole series of adventure games by Brian Howarth.


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