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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.
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
Iiago @ Mr. Backlog
For the unproven warriors of Skara Brae
Game: The Bard’s Tale
System: Apple II
Release Date: Sometime in 1985
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 0 | Adventure Map
- 1 | Mr. Backlog · Mr. Backlog | The Bard’s Tale
*YOU ARE HERE*
- 2 | GG · Hungrygoriya | Faxanadu
- 3 | Kim · Later Levels | The Secret of Monkey Island
- 4 | Matt · Normal Happenings | Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- 5 | The3rdPlayer · 3PStart | Zombies Ate My Neighbors
- 6 | Amanda · Imaginating Life | Myst
- 7 | Justin · TWOTALL4UFOOL | Donkey Kong Country
- 8 | The Well-Red Mage · The Well-Red Mage | Breath of Fire II
- 9 | Shauna · HideNGoShauna | NIGHTS Into Dreams
- 10 | Murr · geeksleeprinserepeat | Pokemon Red/Blue
- 11 | The Gaming Diaries · The Gaming Diaries | Crash Bandicoot
- 12 | Ryan · Games With Coffee | Final Fantasy VII
- 13 | Luke · Hundstrasse | Resident Evil 2
- 14 | Ellen · LividLightning | Banjo Kazooie
- 15 | Megan · A Geeky Gal | Spyro the Dragon
- 16 | Victor · The Modern Gafa | Digimon World
- 17 | Alex · The Purple Prose Mage | Warcraft III
- 18 | Jan · The Life of Jan | World of Warcraft
- 19 | Heather · Just Geeking By | World of Warcraft
- 20 | Nikki · Normal Happenings | Animal Crossing
- 21 | Chris · OverthinkerY | Kingdom Hearts
- 22 | Ian · Adventure Rules | Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
- 23 | Pix1001 · Shoot the Rookie | Guitar Hero
- 24 | Michael · Git Gud at Life | BioShock
- 25 | KT · Wintendo 64 | Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
- 26 | Kathy · Krysanthe | Wizard 101
- 27 | Khinjarsi · Upon Completion | Fallout 3
- 28 | Ruubin · FTWRuubin | Borderlands
- 29 | Will · geeksleeprinserepeat | DayZ
- 30 | Alyssa · Nerd Side of Life | The Sims 4
- 1 | Zerathulu · The Zerathulu View | Starcraft
- 2 | Imtiaz · Power Bomb Attack | Super Metroid
- 3 | Teri Mae · Sheikah Plate | Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- 4 | Skylar-Mei · gamergal.exe | Guild Wars 2
- 5 | Matt · Normal Happenings | Final Boss ► Stardew Valley
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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.