I want to tell you about my dad, Hugh Walker. My dad was a brilliant, loving, man, complete with a few of the flaws you’d expect in a human, and driven by his heart. He was also a dentist by trade, and an avid games player by vocation. I’ve written about him before, especially after he suddenly died in 2016, but I bring him up again today because the very wonky text adventure Krypt reminds me of him in two really specific ways. I’m repeating myself from that linked obituary post, but that’s OK, it’s relevant again here.
So first of all, my dad’s keen interest in computer games began pretty much as did the possibility of their existence. With a ZX81 he taught himself BASIC, and then by the time we had a Spectrum 48K in 1982 (that he somehow got for free, pre-release), he was coding simple games. In 1984, he wrote a game called WARLOCK, which I maintain was the first ever roguelite. It was an RNG RPG, in which you had to explore a multi-level castle to steal the Warlock’s treasure, while fighting monsters and gathering gold. It got published as a type-in, in ZX Computing magazine, for which he was paid something like £130. You can play it right now!
Second, one of my defining memories of dad is bedtime stories. I hope you were fortunate enough to have parents who read to you at bedtime, and both my parents instilled a love of stories in me through doing so. But dad went a step further: he would improvise stories. They would feature a humble roadsweeper, who would be cast into a world of danger and adventure when he happened upon a magical item. Perhaps a ring, or a sword, and this would lead to his setting off on a hero’s journey. Except, impossibly wonderfully, these were stories that were dictated by the choices my sister and I would make.
Should he go left or right when he sets off? Think about that. Left, or right. Two opposite directions, meaning two completely distinct sets of possibilities. Of course, it never crossed our young minds that it could make absolutely no difference whatsoever. My dad wasn’t following a rulebook, nor had he pre-planned maps. He was just making this up off the top of his head, and it was that sense of interaction that mattered to us.
As I’ve grown up and read some of the fantasy fiction my dad adored, I’ve realised just how much of his stories were colossally ripped off from whichever Eddings or Feist book he was reading at the time! But of course that mattered not a jot, and these stories were a magical, wonderful part of my childhood, and I find it hard to over-credit their role in the rest of my life.
So Krypt. This is as simple a text adventure as you could hope to find. It doesn’t even use one of the many free tools that present them in a more friendly or aesthetically pleasing manner, but instead it just runs in what looks like a DOS prompt. The “modern” equivalent of a Spectrum game running as text in the system’s default font.
There’s a very brief introduction, explaining that you’re a regular Joe/Jo (well, the name you choose), leaving the safety of the Kingdom to head off to search for King Krypt’s treasure. The very first choice it gives you (after selecting a class from Knight, Archer or Wizard):
> Do you take the left or right path?
You can see where I’m going with this.
It became even more uncanny in the very next second. The next thing Krypt displayed was:
“You encounter a Spider
Health = 12
Damage = 3
Type “attack” to attack the Spider or “run away” to escape.”
I then ran WARLOCK via a Speccy emulator, and after a single choice the screen read:
You meet the Troll
What do you do?
(1) Hit it! (2) Run away!”
I count myself as a very fortunate person to likely be completely alone in experiencing this coincidence.
Now, Krypt isn’t a game I’m recommending for its incredible writing, or innovative approach to the text adventure RPG. Honestly, it’s completely shambolic, lacking even a word-wrap for text on the screen. The writing is frenetic, stumbling over itself to tell you the next thing, and completely lacking in any sort of descriptive prose. It is, from one angle, not a great example of a piece of IF – a genre chronically under-represented on gaming sites. And yet, perhaps largely because of everything above, I’m finding it so nostalgically charming.
So many games in the 1980s were like this. Adventure games were so often written by programmers, not writers, and they existed to execute intentions, rather than weave a spellbinding tale. Sure, everyone in the scene was neck-deep in fantasy fiction, but readers aren’t necessarily writers, and that often showed. Krypt reminds me of this, with its clumsy presentation and “and then and then and then” approach to storytelling.
The few Steam reviews it’s received are entirely fair in their fury. It’s buggy, locking me into an error loop once because I used the “HELP” command to check inputs during a battle. It’s so ridiculously badly presented, without even double-spacing between new text appearing below old. It’s a real push to recommend spending the £1.26 it costs. But then, it reminded me of my dad, and I rather love it for doing that.
- Sean Murley, Billy Coe / SW Games