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Video Game / The Hobbit (1982)

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"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 the 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, seizing 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. On at least one occasion, the player arrived in Rivendell to find Gandalf holding a green door and Dead Elrond! The design was simply far too ambitious for the computers of 1982 (it is arguably too ambitious for modern computers.) 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. In 2015, fan site World of Spectrum produced a version for the 128K Spectrum with enhanced graphics. Discussion (and download link) here.

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.
  • Anyone Can Die: Thanks to the eclectic programming, even major players, like Gandalf, can suddenly get killed by some random orc.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Infamously prevalent; listing all the examples would break this page. One of the more memorable instances is Bard refusing to kill Smaug, even as the dragon is bearing down on him at full speed.
  • City Guards: Sort of. In Mirkwood there's a wood-elf guard who will arrest Bilbo when he sees him, like in the book. However, thanks to the game's unusual AI, he'll also go around arresting all sorts of other NPC's - including wolves and orcs.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Accidentally. Gandalf and Thorin frequently respond to Bilbo's pleas for aid with a casual "no" and wander off to do other things, even while Bilbo is in the process of being ripped apart by monsters.
  • Debug Room: There are two exits (one in the Misty Mountains, one near the Lonely Mountain) which you can't take because "This room is too full for you to enter". The too-full room is a shortcut between the two, allowing the original developers to bypass Mirkwood, and was blocked off by putting a rock in it so large that the game engine couldn't handle anything else being in the same location.
  • Developer's Foresight: The amount of detail put into the world is really pretty impressive, even by today's standards. All the characters legitimately go about their own lives totally independent of the player until you meet them and nearly everything can be interacted with. The price for this, unfortunately, is total chaos.
  • 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, 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.
  • Interface Screw: 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".
    • The timer for entering data is based on the clock speed of the computer. This made the game unplayable in the 90s, as faster computers reduced the automatic wait time from 30 seconds to roughly 3, and triggering the auto-wait cleared the command line. This required lightning-fast reflexes for even the most basic of commands.
  • Off the Rails: Ostensibly the game is supposed to accurately adapt the plot of The Hobbit. In practice, the extreme Artificial Stupidity leads to stuff like Gandalf and Thorin letting Bilbo die, Bard wandering into the wilderness while Smaug burns Laketown to ash, a wood-elf arresting all the villains before you even meet them, and numerous characters inexplicably dying decades before they're supposed to.
  • 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.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The Commodore 64 version featured Giuseppe Verdi's "Triumphal March" from Aida.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: You need Thorin, Gandalf, and Bard alive to beat the game. Thorin to open the door to Smaug's lair, Gandalf to help Bilbo against traps and monsters (though Thorin can fill in for this, if he must), and Bard to kill Smaug in the climactic battle at Laketown. Unfortunately, all three of these characters are prone to wandering off, refusing to follow your orders, or getting themselves killed by blundering into enemies.
  • Vulnerable Civilians: This game allows you to indulge in this freely. There's really nothing stopping you from getting major canon characters killed. In fact there's a good chance they'll kill themselves before you get the chance. Characters, no matter how important, never get any kind of special protection and frequently get slaughtered by monsters or accidents before you can even meet them.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: One of the ways that you can defeat the Trolls is to simply walk away from their campsite, and then wait for the day to come. When you come back, the Trolls will have turned to stone.