1983, Melbourne House
Lemon64 - GB64 - Video on YouTube
This game was indeed my first encounter with the works of Tolkien. I can fondly remember playing the game at a friends house and borrowing the book that came with it. It also started a general interest in text adventures to the point of making our own.
Naturally the game is based on the book and you have to take Bilbo Baggins on a travel from The Shire to the Lonely Mountain to slay the evil dragon Smaug and bring his treasure back to your own chest (thats actually the action that will win the game).
Or as Tolkien explained it: "There and back again". :)
The game itself was released on tape and disk, with the disk version having more and detailed graphics, more detailed room descriptions as well as a tune that was absent from the tape version.
Compare the first two screenshots from the disk and tape versions below to see the difference (although all other pictures are from the disk version). The tape version also had a bug that could make the game impossible to win.
To be an adventure game this early in the C64 history it had a fairly good text parser as it accepted more complex input than your typical grammar that was used in most
other adventures. Here you could type things like OPEN CHEST AND TAKE THE KEY or SAY TO THORIN "GO NORTH AND PICK UP THE SWORD".
The graphics are drawn as you watch them and work very well to give some feeling to where you are. They are only drawn the first time you visit a place and after that only when you LOOK.
This is a good indicator of where you have been before. The short tunes on the disk version are nice and simple and adds some atmosphere to the game.
The game itself is a bit difficult though since the game contains a fair decent amount of random events. The NPCs Gandalf and Thorin will wander around themselves, pick up things
and chat now and then. This adds atmosphere and is generally a looked over feature of most other adventure games. But it also adds unpredictability that can be annoying and
tedious since you can end up stuck in many ways. For example if Thorin dies you cannot complete the game, or if you try to go somewhere and Thorin gets captured you will
have to try to go back and get him. Its wise to save the game as often as possible. Using VICE emulator to play it simplifies things since you have snaphots, but remember
that reloading a snapshot also gives you the same "position in the random seed" meaning that exactly the same things will happen if you dont vary your actions by enough.
The random parts adds another level of challenge though so its often difficult to write a walkthrough since each game can be a bit different.
The Melbourne House disk version has two copies of the game on side A (in case one is broken) as well as a copying program for duplicating
side B on the disk which contains all the graphics. You can play the game with no graphics if you want in which case you dont need to
switch to side B. Its naturally wise to duplicate side B so you dont damage the original. Additionally it contains room for 8 save games,
but unfortunately you cannot save over an existing savegame. You can always use a new disk for another set of 8 savegames
Another annoying feature of the game is the "you dont know exactly how you got here" room connections. This means that going west and then going east again doesnt
always bring you back to the room you left, but a completely different one. At times the connections between rooms feel random, especially in the dungeons under
the Misty Mountains where you need to find the ring... yes the One Ring. :) - So its wise to draw a fairly "unconnected" map of rooms and try to connect the
directions somewhat as you play if you want to make a map. The game also has parts where you can do different kinds of actions to achieve the same effect,
for instance there is a part where you can use a rope to pull a boat to get over a river to get to the Halls of the Elven Kings, but you could also linger
around in the forest and wait to be captured by the Elves and being thrown in the dungeon. In both cases you need to get out of the place the same way
but naturally the lengthy way will score you more points. One thing that differs this game quite a lot from other adventure games is the amount of interaction
with NPCs that is needed to complete the game. You have to tell the NPCs to do a lot of things, ordering them to move around, pick you up, kill dragon, etc.
So I still enjoy this adventure game the same way I did the first time I played it and would recommend it to anybody. And besides you get to play a Hobbit! :)