Blackbeard's Island

by Greg Miller


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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Survive the early game, if you dare..., January 20, 2011
by smartgenes (Newcastle, UK)

Most people will find this early (1984) Dragon game highly exasperating. It is the only adventure game the author wrote (he did write other programs), and he is going to make you work. You are marooned on a desert island, and though there is the mention of pirates and volcanoes, really it is more of a survival game. You have a limited number of turns before you die of thirst, and the solution to this is agonising trial and error, on a game map which is designed to confuse you quite a bit. Into the mid-game the game gets quite interesting, as you need to progress through undergrowth repeatedly, but the way you achieved this the first time is no longer feasible. Like the chap who wrote the walkthrough - (Spoiler - click to show)
- I struggled terribly to work out the puzzle. The answer was arguably not as creative as the ideas I thought up, (Spoiler - click to show) such as, commandeering the lifeboat, sharpening the axe, swinging through the trees with the grappling hook , but it was a reasonable solution, I guess. Like me, the guy who completed it also missed the answer, possibly because of parser limitations: (Spoiler - click to show)he had tried GET, MOVE but not PUSH SIGN (I tried PULL aswell). But then again if we had tried this, we might have missed the fact that you can TIE BELT TO SIGN . The deviousness of the puzzle was that a seemingly innocuous object held the key to progress in two different directions. I didn't feel so bad about reading this part of the walkthrough when I found out that the chap who had written it actually hacked the code and read the program in ASCII so that he could solve this part. The final annoyance in the game is towards the end, where there is an entry point which only accepts one command, when there are at least 11 or 12 inputs which are perfectly reasonable to achieve the action. But at least part of this puzzle was solved by the in-game HELP command. As for parser limitations (Spoiler - click to show) if you EXAMINE LOG it informs you that VOCAB gives a list of known verbs. You won't need any other verbs than the ones in the list to solve the game, plus you only ever need type in two-word commands. Call me masochistic, but I did actually enjoy all of the fiendishness... This early game has the seeds of future games in the genre which would test your braincells with the paradoxical puzzle: you know, the crowbar is in the box, you need the crowbar to force the door, but the key to the box is behind the door... That type. Also I always appreciate location graphics, however simplistic we might consider them today.

The guy who wrote the walkthrough had a very similar experience to mine, so rather than repeat the same review, it is worth a read. Incidentally, the author of the game also posted a comment in response to his solution, and it seems the game didn't receive much play-testing. It is clear if the author had followed-up with another game, he could have made something very nice, as this game has real promise. Taken from this point of view, it is not so bad as all that, especially if you like a challenge.

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Greg.Miller, July 12, 2015 - Reply
I recall granting permission for the disk image to be shared several years ago, so I knew it was available on the net somewhere.

My partner-in-lots-of-things in the late 1980s, Erik Gavriluk, convinced me to both find a very old floppy box in my garage and to use some up-to-date tools to read the floppies.

I had very little of my 1980s creations. There was no Blackbeard's Island source code, alas, much less a binary disk.

Two days ago, I mentioned to a coworker that I suspect I could find references on the net to things I'd done dating back quite a ways, and the snapshots on BlackBeard's Island was the first match I spotted.

I admit I came to this site looking for a .dsk image, so that I could see things that I hadn't seen in 30 years.

I was shocked and flattered to find an actual review of the first commercial venture I was involved in. Reviewing it so many years after it's publication is a very kind act, and I thank you.

In regards to your critiques, I couldn't begin to argue with them. :)

When this was written, I had to have been 15 years old, and 16 when published. I'd played 'Sands Of Egypt' and was tickled at how well Steve used such limited graphics capabilities to produce a game. Referencing another Tandy creation, Sands of Egypt wasn't the Adventure that Bedlam had been - it was more simplistic, but it showed the difference visuals made, both positive and negative.

Writing this gave me a deeper understanding of graphics, pseudo-color, dithering, and the terrible bridge that traditional artistry faced when moving from pencils and paints to simplistic digital tools.

Another outcome from the experience was that I had my very first (in a continuing) lesson about entrepreneurism, and the propensity (or lack) for most people to involve themselves in anything without a guaranteed payout. Lessons learned then have served me well in the subsequent 30 years, and all still apply. It also heavily weighed toward working with Erik Gavriluk a year or so later, when I realized that Erik was, like me, willing to pursue things that required an investment in time without a guarantee of return. Without the experience around Blackbeard's Island, Erik and I might never had generated so many things together over the following years.

The game was sold through Tom Mix software, who (if I recall correctly) was based in Grand Rapids, Michigan - perhaps 90 minutes from where I lived at the time. My entire profits from the enterprise were roughly $200-$300. I'd have to pull old copies of Tom Mix Rainbow ads to find out what they retailed it for. Given my profit levels at the time, I cannot imagine Tom Mix sold more than 50 copies, so any guilt over early efforts is assuaged by the recognition that few people paid anything for it. :)

Thank you again for the review, and the very kind comment about how a follow-up effort could have been better. My time after Blackbeard's island was writing programs like Teleterm, Greg-E-Term (yes, I was intentionally mocking Mike Ward's MikeyTerm name), and a slew of projects with Erik, frequently revolving around a recognition that graphics wasn't easy: McPaint, Color Max, Color Max Deluxe.
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