The Hobbit (1982 video game)
The Hobbit is an illustrated text adventure computer game released in 1982 and based on the book The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien. It was developed at Beam Software by Philip Mitchell and Veronika Megler and published by Melbourne House for most home computers available at the time, from more popular models such as the ZX Spectrum, the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC 464, BBC Micro, MSX, Dragon 32 and Oric. By arrangement with the book publishers, a copy of the book was included with each game sold.
The parser was very advanced for the time and used a subset of English called Inglish. When it was released most adventure games used simple verb-noun parsers (allowing for simple phrases like 'get lamp'), but Inglish allowed one to type advanced sentences such as "ask Gandalf about the curious map then take sword and kill troll with it". The parser was complex and intuitive, introducing pronouns, adverbs ("viciously attack the goblin"), punctuation and prepositions and allowing the player to interact with the game world in ways not previously possible.
Many locations were illustrated by an image, based on originals designed by Kent Rees. On the tape version, to save space, each image was stored in a compressed format by storing outline information and then flood filling the enclosed areas on the screen. The slow CPU speed meant that it would take up to several seconds for each scene to draw. The disk-based versions of the game used pre-rendered, higher-quality images.
The game had an innovative text-based physics system, developed by Veronika Megler. Objects, including the characters in the game, had a calculated size, weight and solidity. Objects could be placed inside other objects, attached together with rope and damaged or broken. If the main character was sitting in a barrel which was then picked up and thrown through a trapdoor, the player went too.
Unlike other works of interactive fiction, the game was also in real time - if you left the keyboard for too long, events continued without you by automatically entering the "WAIT" command with the response "You wait - time passes". If you had to leave the keyboard for a short time, there was a "PAUSE" command which would stop all events until a key was pressed.
The game had a cast of non-player characters (NPCs) that were entirely independent of the player and bound to precisely the same game rules. They had loyalties, strengths and personalities that affected their behaviour and could not always be predicted. The character of Gandalf, for example, roamed freely around the game world (some fifty locations), picking up objects, getting into fights and being captured.
The volatility of the characters, coupled with the rich physics and impossible-to-predict fighting system, meant that the game could be played in many different ways, though it could also lead to problems (such as an important character being killed early on). There were numerous possible solutions and with hindsight the game might be regarded as one of the first examples of 'emergent gaming'. This also resulted, however, in many bugs; for example, during development Megler found that the animal NPCs killed each other before the player arrived. The game's documentation warned that "Due to the immense size and complexity of this game it is impossible to guarantee that it will ever be completely error-free". Melbourne House issued a version 1.1 with some fixes, but with another bug that resulted in the game being unwinnable, forcing it to release version 1.2, and the company never fixed all bugs.
The Hobbit was a bestseller in the UK on both the C64 and BBC. The game won the 1983 Golden Joystick Award for best strategy game. The game was also a huge commercial success, selling over 100,000 copies in its first two years at a retail price of £14.95. One 2002 history of the videogame industry states that by the late 1980s The Hobbit had sold over a million copies but another historian estimated in 2012 that more than 500,000 copies is unlikely, still making it the best-selling text-adventure of all time other than possibly Zork I. There was general agreement that the major causes of its success were the popularity of Tolkien's work and the innovative Inglish parser created by Stuart Richie.
To help players a book called "A guide to playing The Hobbit" by David Elkan was published in 1984.
Developer Beam Software followed up The Hobbit with 1985's Lord of the Rings: Game One, 1987's Shadows of Mordor: Game Two of Lord of the Rings, and 1989's The Crack of Doom. They would also reuse Inglish in "Sherlock".
Also, the game is mentioned in Nick Montfort's, Twisty Little Passages, a book exploring the history and form of the interactive fiction genre.
Discworld Noir referenced The Hobbit: when the protagonist, Lewton, discovers that someone concealed themselves in a wine barrel, he wonders why that brings to mind the phrases "You wait – time passes" and "Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold."
- Simon Sharwood (2012-11-18). "Author of 80's classic The Hobbit didn't know game was a hit". The Register. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- Original game packaging
- DeMaria, Rusel and Wilson, Johnny L. (2002) High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games McGraw-Hill/Osborne, Berkeley, Calif., p. 52, ISBN 0-07-222428-2
- Garratt, Phil (1983) "The Hobbit: Phil Garratt, after a brief sojourn in Middle Earth, takes time off to tell us what he found there" ZX Computing issue 8304, page 76
- Maher, Jimmy (2012-11-16). "The Hobbit". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
- "The Golden Joystick Award", C&VG, Issue 29
- Mike Gerrard: Adventuring into an Unknown World. In: The Guardian, 1984-08-30, section Micro Guardian/Futures, page 13.
- DeMaria, Rusel and Wilson, Johnny L. (2002) High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games McGraw-Hill/Osborne, Berkeley, Calif., p. 347, ISBN 0-07-222428-2
- David Elkan: A Guide to Playing the Hobbit. Melbourne House, 1984, ISBN 0-86161-161-6
- Campbell, Stuart (December 1991). "Top 100 Speccy Games". Your Sinclair (72): 28.
- The Hobbit at World of Spectrum
- The Hobbit at MobyGames
- Tolkien computer games
- The Hobbit at DMOZ
- Interview of Veronika Megler about 'The Hobbit' development
- Emulator which shows what's going on 'behind the scene' in the ZX Spectrum version