The Bard’s Tale | The Game That Defines Mr. Backlog

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The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

The adventure begins! Welcome to the very first day of The Games That Define Us!

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Leading off, we have the wonderfully talented Iiago from Mr. Backlog, who, according to his favorite shirt, has too many video games. Of all the bloggers on this list, Iiago has an unrivaled affinity for very old games — like, titles that came out before the nineties. His pick today comes from sometime in 1985 (the only game on this journey with an unknown release date), when games were developed by a very small number of people and were marketed mostly by word-of-mouth. Obviously, my personal favorite post of his has to be his quirky and interesting answers to my Super Specific Questions of the past, but his true bread and butter is crafting commentary on classic computer games. After enjoying today’s post, might I recommend venturing over to Mr. Backlog’s blog for his thoughts on the direct sequel to today’s selection.

So, without further delay, let’s get on with it! We hope you enjoy the very first entry of The Games The Define Us!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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starring

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Iiago @ Mr. Backlog
Twitter: @MrBacklog

For the unproven warriors of Skara Brae

Game: The Bard’s Tale
System: Apple II
Release Date: Sometime in 1985

1P Start

In 1985, something different happened. Dad went on a work-trip to the U.S., and when he returned he had something special — a copy of “Tales of the Unknown Volume 1,” better known by its subtitle: “The Bard’s Tale.

For an independent, adventurous kid who loved the outdoors, I had a great childhood. But as a bookish kid who desperately wanted company, it was pretty lonely.

I can’t really complain of course. We lived next to an abandoned coal mine in the old mine manager’s house. Back in the day it had been quite impressive, with a tennis court, a truly massive yard and probably about a hundred kilometres of vacant bushland out the back. I was also the youngest in my extended family by quite a bit, so I had a huge range of toys and hand-me-down board games.

Regardless, I had no-one to play with. Abandoned mines are not exactly day care centers. And so the tennis court was useless, though I became something of an expert at at one-person-boardgames. To this day, “solo Monopoly” is still my personal definition of “feeling pathetic”. I loved books, particularly ones set in fantastic worlds. But of course they’re not interactive, I wanted to do things, not just read about others doing them.

Then one day, Dad brought home this odd machine. It looked like this:

It was my first introduction to the world of computers – an Apple IIe. I still don’t know why he bought it; my Dad has never really been interested in tech. But it changed my life.

The first games I played on it were great, but they weren’t exactly immersive. They were mostly arcade-style games that lasted 5 to 20 minutes a session; Choplifter, Mouse Attack (a Pac-Man ripoff) and the like.

Choplifter – the sort of game I was used to playing. Note the clearly defined setting.

Then in 1985 something different happened. Dad went on a work-trip to the USA, and when he returned he had something special: a copy of “Tales of the Unknown Volume 1”, better known by its subtitle “The Bard’s Tale”.

My wonder began when I opened the box. It was a thin box that opened like a book, and the inside cover had this:

This was unheard of. The town of Skara Brae was laid out before my eyes, complete with street names. What was this game? With excitement, I booted it up.

I had never seen anything like it.

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The Bard’s Tale was a living, breathing world complete with houses, buildings, shops and, more amazingly, peopled by people I created! The moving pictures of Bard’s Tale, primitive though they are now, were first-person perspective. And while I’d seen that trick before, I had never seen it down with colour, life and movement.

Even the title page sold you on the idea that Skara Brae was a living breathing place. All of my other games began with a pretty splash page then a demo of the game. Bard’s Tale began like this:

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I was transfixed. I’ll never forget my first party – it was 5 dwarves and 1 hobbit named “Bilbo” (spot the inspiration). I didn’t really understand all the numbers, but I did understand that I had created these people, and I was going to guide them through an exciting world of monsters, dungeons, traps and glittering treasure chests. And it didn’t hurt that the dungeons of Skara Brae were pretty much how I imagined the dungeons in my backyard – full of monsters, traps and (for some unknown reason) treasure.

Considering where I lived, my love of dungeon-crawlers was not really surprising.

There was just one problem – I had no idea how to play the thing! Bard’s Tale was based on the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset; the manual was about 50 pages long. Today, the wall of information would stop most adults from playing this game.

However, I was 5 years old. I put together useless parties with awful stats and got myself killed again and again and again. I was heartbroken, but determined to reach out and touch this world I could glimpse on the other side of the screen.

Then Dad stepped in. My Dad, whose prime interests were politics and poetry, despised even music (let alone video games!) as a “mindless triviality for idiots”. But he picked up the manual and read it. He helped me create a party of six. He explained how we needed a range of classes, and how we needed to pick a race that matched the class. He showed me that we needed to begin with buying and equipping weapons, then explained what the different spells did and let me figure out when to use them.

Then he showed me how to map.

You see this was the 80’s. The graphics in Bard’s Tale may have been huge leaps forward for the time, but the dungeons themselves were still the same wall textures repeated over and over. You did not explore the dungeons to see what was around the next corner; you explored because it was hard to do. The dungeons were mazes – and there’s only one way to find your way through a maze; and that’s with a map.

I recently made this playing Bard’s Tale II: The Destiny Knight. Not a joke.

We never finished the game. Dad probably only played Bard’s Tale with me a handful of times, but they left a lasting impression. For years I have said that The Bard’s Tale introduced me to the world of RPGs, and soon to the joys of making your own worlds, characters and stories in the pen-and-paper versions for my friends.

Also, a new installment was recently released. I may be a high-level backer on the Kickstarter.

But now, as a grown man with a son of my own, there’s one thing about that little interaction that I’ve really come to appreciate – Dad would have hated playing Bard’s Tale. He was a busy professional with three kids, and playing, let alone mapping, a video game is precisely the sort of thing he would not only have hated, but also not understood why I liked it. I cannot think of anything more tedious than watching a 5-year-old grind for XP.

But he did it anyway. Because he obviously didn’t care why I was fascinated, he just cared that I was.

My son loves Fireman Sam. He watches it constantly and sings the song and gets excited every time a fire engine comes on screen. It’s a horrible show and I can’t stand it. But I’m often sitting right alongside him watching it too, because it doesn’t matter why he likes the show, it just matters that I’m there.

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Life is an adventure. Help your kids enjoy it; you never know how much it will mean to them.

adventure map


WordPress Reader viewers, please consider enjoying this post again on the site. While we designed with you in mind, you miss some of the nuances of the piece by not enjoying it in its original form. 

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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative bloggers. Help us with the resources to make even greater collaborations in the future. We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about finding optimism in everyday life. Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place.become_a_patron_button

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Matthew // Normal Happenings

Matthew Estes. STL-based Blogger. Graphic Designer. Happily Married. One day I'll actually complete a book I'm happy with. I love pizza, video games, and using way too many ellipses...

15 thoughts on “The Bard’s Tale | The Game That Defines Mr. Backlog

  1. I never got into Bard’s Tale myself as it was before I had any real understanding of what RPGs really were. I didn’t really get a handle on the genre in general until Final Fantasy VII… and it took even longer for me to get into dungeon crawlers, which can be a notoriously obtuse genre at times! (That said, modern Japanese dungeon crawlers are one of my favourite genres now, with arguably my favourite game of all time, Dungeon Travelers 2, being a great example.)

    I became pretty familiar with Bard’s Tale during my time at university, however, since my flatmate Sam remembered enjoying it a great deal back when he was young, and was delighted when I showed him how to get older games running on more modern systems (and, uh…. where to “find” them before sites like GOG and suchlike were a thing). He then proceeded to spend a significant proportion of his first year replaying the game, so much so that the monks who ask you “who will pay?” when you go to get healed became something of a running joke between all of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I too never was able to get into dungeon crawlers, but I admire those like Iiago who can. My only experience with the genre was Shining in the Darkness on the Genesis/MD, and even that relatively basic one was rough going for me. Thanks for your always-insightful comment, Pete, and for telling us about the unique way Bard’s Tale is part of your life.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is absolutely beautiful, and your dad sounds like – well to be honest not a perfect person but a great dad and that is at the end of the day all we can ask of our parents really isn’t it? I had to laugh at your comments about Fireman Sam, but the sentiment you offer is endearing and heart warming and one I hope that I can aspire to when I become a parent. I don’t know if your dad is still with you and whether he gets to read this, or whether you ever got to tell him how much that one game meant to you. I hope you did 🙂 Thank you for sharing this with us Mr Backlog ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a heart warming story. I love how your dad’s actions truly influenced your actions as a father. I’m so glad you shared your story, it made me a bit weepy as I realized as parents we do put up with the aspects of our kids’ lives that we may not be enchanted with just because we love them so very much.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What a wonderful start to the project. I had a similar experience with my dad playing Twinson (Little Big Adventure 2) with me when I was about 5 years old. It really does make you realise that our parents will do just about anything for us, and it’s so great to hear about how your experience has impacted your relationship with your own son.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks everyone! Glad you all liked it. I’m still quite close to Dad, who remains quietly unimpressed with this “video game thing” but at least he’s softened his view on music (well, classical music only).

    Looking forward to seeing GG’s piece on Faxanadu tomorrow!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. What a fantastic start to the project! I loved reading this, it really highlights how relatively small gestures (in the grand scheme of things) can have such a huge impact on our lives.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love this! It’s interesting to me how you bonded over this with your dad- with my Dad it was the opposite (he enjoyed video games so I would watch him play until I was old enough to play myself) but it’s so lovely to imagine how your dad acted on your interest despite his own distaste for such things. I wonder if he considered a game like Bards Tale at least a bit worthwhile for you (some reading, strategy, and math involved I assume)? Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This was honestly really touching. I need to sit with my face in front of a fan to dry out my eyes a little…

    It’s so sweet that you were inspired and touched by your dad’s company and guidance. It’s even better that you can pass that along in your own adult life. As someone who never knew anyone else with a passion for video games until the past few years, I can only dream of how some support in my formative years of gaming would’ve changed me today.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. As a fellow father, this was a very heartwarming piece to read. When playing with my son with toys that don’t really interest me, I’m going to remember this post and remember that it’s important to him that his father is there for him.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Such a lovely post! I remember playing Bard’s Tale on an emulator with my stepdad as a kid. It was wholly incomprehensible to me at the time, and that turned me off to it – it’s interesting that you had an opposite reaction!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Loved reading this. Gotta say having your parents cement themselves in gaming memories is something I can relate to. Mortal Kombat as strange as it sounds was something my parents enjoyed with me. Despite its violent nature, they still enjoyed many aspects of it with me from the games to the movies. And like you said, they probably didn’t agree with all the game offered, like the violence, but did it because I enjoyed the game.

    Watching a 5 year old friend for xp… This line cracked me up! Enjoyed this read.

    Like

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