I’m not sure what the context for this one was. I assume Hyper magazine was comissioning some nostalgia pieces. Which was a good excuse to revisit a long and weird summer playing Bards Tale 3 for the Commodore 64.
The actual article
The first time I played an RPG I had no idea what I was doing. I’m guessing it was 1989, and for reasons I still can’t properly understand or explain, I decided to purchase Bards Tale 3 for my Commodore 64.
Maybe I had seen it a magazine somewhere, or I liked the box cover, or I don’t know? But when it arrived in the mail I quickly discarded the box and instruction manual, placed the 5 ¼” floppy disc in the drive, and nodded in approval as a full screen animation of a bro playing the lute kicked in.
The character creation bit came next. Apparently you could import your characters from the previous two games, but that meant nothing to me, so I just got down to brass tacts and made up some party that I felt could handle the job at hand… They couldn’t. And some 25 years later I can finally admit that I never even cleared the first dungeon.
Instead, I spent a very long, very hot summer confined to my room, grinding my way through the games over world and the ruined town of Skara Brae. At some point I must have lost my mind, because I distinctly remember playing for several hours straight without saving, suddenly getting up from my chair, and unplugging the entire computer via the wall socket. That memory is etched in my brain, and so is Skara Brae, the site of my descent into bad craziness and confusion.
Before we get into all that, it’s perhaps worth noting that the Bards Tale trilogy was an early-ish computer RPG series, viewed from a first person perspective, in which you explored dungeons, cast spells, and generally did RPG type stuff. By the third game the producers had gotten kinda ambitious and you were supposed to teleport to different dimensions to do stuff.
I only learned this years later, because as noted above, I had no idea how to play the damn game. Every time I ventured into the catacombs it would end in sadness and shambles, my party shrugging their shoulders and looking around helplessly as their Hit Points and Magic Points were whittled down to nothing in some far-flung corner of the dungeon.
So instead I improvised, spending countless hours wondering the countryside, schlepping around the ruins of Skara Brae, hanging out behind the church, and getting a really good feel for the open world hub — even if wasn’t part of the ‘proper’ dungeon crawl game bit.
Perhaps that’s why Skara Brae stays with me. Its unfulfilled promise of adventure represents all the digital galaxies that remain unexplored. The possibilities that stretch out beyond the horizon, like neon bright lattices in a William Gibson novel. Or maybe it’s because that game *literally* broke my brain…
After I rage quit, I grabbed my bike, stepped into the sun, and enjoyed the rest of the summer outside. I never did go back to Skara Brae.