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Video Game / The Early Years

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In the five years after I wrote my first computer program in 1985, I filled dozens of floppy disks with program after program, mostly games, and many of them adventure games. These efforts culminated in Fantasy Quest in 1991, which has since been ported to Adventure Games Live. The games I wrote prior to that were primitive in comparison — sometimes hilariously, awfully so — but they abound with nostalgia and the charm of innocence. The Early Years is a collection of 22 of these early games of mine, ported to Adventure Games Live with every misspelling and most of the bugs intact.
—From the introduction to The Early Years

The Early Years (2005) and its sequel More Early Years (2007) are Interactive Fiction games hosted on Adventure Games Live. Unlike the site's other games, however, they are collections of shorter games written by the site's creator, Sam Stoddard, as a child; the culmination of all these games was Fantasy Quest, the first game released on Adventure Games Live.

All of the games have been reproduced as they originally were as best they can on the Adventure Games Live system, and feature suitably self-deprecating commentary by Stoddard throughout. The Early Years comprises the most usable of the games, whilst More Early Years completes the collection with the less usable or incomplete ones and other archive material from Stoddard's childhood.


The Early Years and More Early Years contain examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: The last game in More Early Years is a newly-written game based on a design for an unmade game Stoddard wrote as a child, which makes fun of virtually every other Early Years game and interactive fiction tropes in general.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • Although you wouldn't be able to undo the fatal moves in the original versions, you can in Adventure Games Live, which is especially welcome here due to how many of the puzzles have completely arbitrary solutions that require you to pick a choice from a list and hope it's the right one.
    • The Giant Flea is a large, near-featureless maze with impossible geography; it got left out of The Early Years for this reason, and Stoddard didn't have the heart to not give the player a map for its inclusion in More Early Years.
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    • Whenever a game would become Unwinnable by Design or Mistake, the game will kill you immediately so you can undo your last move (for example, if you eat one of your items in Space-Man), or ignore the unwinnable state while mentioning that the game would have been unwinnable (if you lose Excalibur in Camelot's Curse before killing the giant warrior).
  • Broken Bridge: Several of the games feature "invisible forces" which prevent you from going somewhere until another puzzle has been solved, and in The Quest of Kael solving one puzzle inexplicably causes an option to take you to another location than it previously did.
  • Canon Welding: Stoddard gave the player character of Shibble a name, Haplay, and later retroactively made him the hero of several previous adventures, which were all meant to take place in the land of Crewshade, and planned further adventures (some of which were never started). A set of development notes included as Unlockable Content shows how they were meant to link together.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Spider Attack features several encounters with multiple options that all mean the same thing.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: Tower of Terror from The Early Years is a slightly revised version of a game designed to teach children how coding works (misremembered by Stoddard as appearing in a computing magazine, but actually originating in Usborne's Weird Computer Games Book).
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Screenshots and development notes appear in The Early Years for several incomplete games or ones deemed unplayable, which were later patched up as best as they could be for inclusion in More Early Years.
  • Fake Difficulty: Both games are awarded very low difficulty scores — The Mystery of Brackly Hall is the only Adventure Games Live game considered easiernote  — but people can find them challenging because of the childish, illogical natures of the puzzles, or because they are so broken and unplayable in their original form.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: Many of the games had them in their original form, requiring fixes for the Adventure Games Live version — perhaps most notably the very first puzzle of Trapped in Castle Bombadier 2, where you can only escape the cell if you haven't found the item you use to escape.
  • Growing the Beard: Stoddard considers, in-universe, The Quest of Kael (the final game from the first collection) to be the turning point for his adventure game writing, and clearly the best game of the lot.
  • Have a Nice Death: Par for the course for Adventure Games Live, and sometimes even pointed out by the present-day commentary.
    As you dive into the lake, you notice it isn't very deep. You soon drown.
    I love this line! What an embarrassing way to die!
  • Humans by Any Other Name: Haplay, the hero of many of these games, is a Gwuil, and not a human, according to the intro of Shibble, but Gwuils are similar to humans. It's not explained what the difference is.
  • Hundred Per Cent Completion: Both games have two types of game - ones required to complete in order to win the game as a whole, and optional ones (More Early Years houses all its optional games in "Museums", which also feature other bonus content). Additionally, there are four games which track your high score (Tower of Terror, Forest and Murder in the first game, and Sword of Voltar in the second).
  • Last Lousy Point: One of the games in More Early Years has two different endings, dependent on earlier choices made, and the last Museum won't unlock until you've played both of them.
  • Magical Mystery Doors: Compu-Maze is nothing but a 15x10 grid of these.
  • Metal Detector Puzzle: Subverted by The Haunted Inn, which has a metal detector, but nothing you can find with it (the present-day commentary informs you of this to avoid you trying to use it in every single room). This is either a Red Herring or a symptom of how broken and unplayable the game is in its original form.
  • Moon Logic Puzzle:
    • Occasionally reaching Insane Troll Logic levels, notably in the inexplicable solution to Space-Man, where putting random items in a hole (based on a cryptic note you get on Pluto) and shooting them will make a pile of gold appear for no reason. Stoddard admits in the present-day commentary that he has no idea what he was thinking when he wrote it.
    • The geography in several of the earliest-written games makes no sense and does not follow logically, described by Stoddard as "impossible geography", and perhaps best demonstrated by a location in The Spinning Stone which only has one exit despite the fact you can get to it from about a dozen other locations. Most of them are optional games for this reason.
  • Nonindicative Name: Granny's Garden features neither a granny nor a garden.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Played with; as noted in his introduction, Stoddard finds the childlike innocence of many of the games charming, but that doesn't stop him from openly mocking them at times.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Stoddard feels the need to confirm that the (nonsensical) solution to Space-Man is actually how the original game ended.
  • Player Nudge: The games have hints pages, like all other Adventure Games Live games, but a couple of the games have puzzles so illogical that the commentary will give the player an extra hint.
  • Plot Hole: Stoddard mocks the fact that it is possible to kill the Big Bad of The Spinning Stone as many times as you like (due to an error in the game's coding which has been recreated for this version).
  • Random Events Plot: Several of the more... basic games, which lack a set-up or any explanation for the plot (such as Space-Man and Spider Attack).
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: All typos have been preserved as they were, and are often mocked by the commentary.
    The guards stab at you with their sword.
    Owing to budgetary cutbacks, the castle guards have to team up and share a sword.
  • Self-Deprecation: Stoddard's commentary.
    You are at the sun. You see nothing of interest.
    You know, I'm pretty sure that if I were standing on the surface of the Sun, whatever I'd be seeing would be of particular interest. Then again, maybe I had already figured anyone standing on the surface of the Sun would be blinded a skillion times over. But I'm guessing not.
  • Side Quest: All of the optional games (which are mostly optional because of their very low difficulty level, poor quality of writing, or because they were never completely written).
  • Spiritual Successor: Fantasy Quest is considered to be this to the collection of games as a whole, and ideas that were reused there, as well as in other Adventure Games Live games by Stoddard, are frequently pointed out.
  • Stunned Silence: In Trapped in Castle Bombadier 2, the correct way to defeat one of the lions is to spit on it, which causes it to drown. Stoddard's reaction in the present-day commentary is this.
    Absolutely no comment whatsoever.
  • Text Parser: The games were originally written to use a mixture of this and a menu-based format, but Adventure Games Live only uses the latter. Hence, all the command-line driven parts of the original games have had to be adapted to fit, with the commentary giving a feel for what the game was originally like.
  • Timed Mission: Gold Rush in the first game and The Haunted Inn in the second both require you to solve the game within 300 and 200 turns, respectively.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: Spider Attack. The goal is to escape the forest. The forest is like a maze, but its layout makes no sense, so all you can do is wander around randomly until you find the exit. If you know the correct path, it's possible to win in five moves.
  • Unlockable Content: Completing the games unlocks screenshots of the original programs and development notes. More Early Years also features the six unlockable Museums, which contain unfinished games and other archive material from Stoddard's childhood.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: As noted under Self-Deprecation, Stoddard notes in the present-day commentary the improbability of the player character of Space-Man seemingly finding nothing remarkable about his surroundings whilst standing on the surface of the Sun.
  • Unwinnable by Design: The porting of the games to Adventure Games Live allows you to undo fatal moves, but several of the games were this in their original form, sometimes requiring the Adventure Games Live version to rewrite it slightly; Space-Man allows you to arbitrarily destroy inventory items needed to win, and Vampire Hall only allowed you to get gold once, which had to be changed for The Early Years as it may be required to take the gold several times.
    • One of the spiders in Spider Attack will always kill you, irrespective of what option you choose, so the Adventure Games Live version takes you back to the start once you've tried every possible option.
    • Several of the games in More Early Years are incomplete, and are only there to include the tiny scraps of code that got written.
  • Unwinnable Joke Game: The objective of Shibble is to find the titular artefact. When you find it, any attempts to take it just inform you that "a strange force" stops you from taking it. The game was completely unwinnable in its original format and an ending had to be written for the Adventure Games Live version.
  • What Could Have Been: In-Universe; the "Museum of the Unrealised" in More Early Years includes several games intended for Adventure Games Live that were never completed.
  • What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: In-Universe, this is Stoddard's reaction in the present-day commentary to a particularly baffling sequence in Save Crewshade!

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