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Video Game: The Hobbit (1982)

"Congratulations! You are about to play the most sophisticated game program yet devised for any microcomputer."
— instruction manual from The Hobbit for Commodore 64

The 1982 adaption of The Hobbit into the Interactive Fiction format, written by Philip Mitchell and Veronika Megler of Beam Software, and published by Melbourne House for the ZX Spectrum, and later ported to the Commodore 64 (1983), IBM Personal Computer (1983), and several other home computers.

Their ambition was to cram all the events and places of Tolkien's Middle Earth into a machine with 48K of memorynote .

They failed. But they failed in such bold and interesting ways that game still feels futuristic today.

Every character and object in the world is simulated simultaneously, with non-player characters pursuing their own goals under their own AI (in modern terms: The Sims in the world of Skyrim.) The computer does not know which character is the player, and applies its rules impartially to all.

This, predictably, leads to chaos. Plot-critical characters are devoured by wolves before you meet them. Thorin stops to sing about gold while surrounded by murderous goblins. Gandalf storms about the map like a slightly-senile force of nature, siezing vital things from your inventory, examining them for one turn, casting them on the ground and rushing off in pursuit of a new shiny object. The design was simply far too ambitious for the computers of 1982 (it is arguably too ambitious for the computers of 2012.)

Still, for sheer inspirational ambition, it makes games five orders of magnitude larger seem small.

The Hobbit is long out of print, but can be easily found on emulation sites. See also the Wilderland Project, which helps elucidate the great whirling chaos going on in the game by displaying the state of objects and animals, the current positions of the latter, and a log of what all the other creatures do while Bilbo is in one place.


The game provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adapted Out: You travel with two NPCs, Gandalf and Thorin. The game doesn't mention the other dwarves.
  • Death by Adaptation: 'Kill Gollum with sword'. Okay, Gollum's dead! You just derailed the plot of The Lord of the Rings. Gollum survived the source novel of The Hobbit, and took an important role in the sequel.
  • Drop-In Nemesis: Both orcs and elves (as well as Gollum and a mysterious tree-dwelling monster) made appearances. Whether you could escape before they attacked seemed to be random (except the monster, which could be eluded only by a specific set of commands). The wood elf, although he only captured Bilbo rather than killing him, also tended to capture orcs and vicious wargs, or even the Balrog, and send them to the same prison cell.
  • Escort Mission: As Bilbo, you must ensure Thorin's survival (and for maximum points, Gandalf's). Unlike most other Escort Missions, this one is not much of a hassle. Both characters are stronger and more capable than Bilbo, though weaker than the more dangerous monsters. Fortunately, Thorin (who's critical to opening the side door to Smaug's lair) is programmed not to wander off the way Gandalf does unless Bilbo is wearing the Ring, and thus invisible. Both characters are also prone to tell Bilbo "No" when asked to do important things like protect him from Orcs or help him out of a window he's too short to reach. Fortunately they don't attack powerful enemies much, but are often captured by both Orcs and elves and thus out of reach when needed.
  • Harmless Villain: The vicious warg is supposed to be a fearsome foe, but most of the time, by the time Bilbo reached him he had already been killed by another NPC. This became a Running Gag in many magazines.
  • I Can't Reach It: Bilbo must frequently ask for help from Gandalf or Thorin the dwarfnote , because he's a hobbit and therefore too short to climb out windows and the like.
  • Interfashe Shcrew: If you drank the wine in the barrel in the elven dungeons, for the next thirty turns or so every "s" in the text would be replaced with "sh", as in "You can shee shome shand".
  • Nintendo Hard: The Interactive Fiction game is infamously difficult to complete.
  • Plot Coupon: The "valuable treasure" is the coupon that wins the game. Bring it back to Bilbo's hobbit-hole, where you started the game, and put it in the "wooden chest". So, the whole game was a Fetch Quest.

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Helter SkelterBBC MicroFrogger
TapperIBM Personal ComputerThe Witness
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyLicensed GameThe Hobbit (2003)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyInteractive FictionHollywood Hijinx
Helter SkelterCommodore 64 Ikari Warriors

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