Molimerx's Mysterious Adventures

The early history of the Brian Howarth games

The story of Molimerx, is a bit of a mysterious adventure itself. They certainly aren't as well documented a company as they should be. Set up by Antony John Harding and his wife Marion Harding in the 1970s, Molimerx initially specialised in software for the popular TRS-80 machine; selling its wares and building up relationships internationally (see also Molymerx).

John was a lawyer in England and trained in electronics in the Air Force. He had previously been involved in setting up J. & J. Electronics, one of Canada's pioneering electronic companies. You can read about Marion's life and work on one of her websites.

Molimerx was a large and successful venture. At its peak it was selling hundreds of programs from scores of programmers. Check out the Journey in Alien Lands blog, which tells the story of how Molimerx missed out on the chance to beat Bill Gates and Microsoft, with their LDOS software.

A Molimerx advert from Computing Today in August 1979. (Similar advert in the June 1979 issue)

On one of Marion Harding's websites she includes this description of Molimerx:

"In 1976 John and Marion were back in England at the outset of the computer industry. They set up England's first and largest computer software company; Molimerx Ltd. The company went onto publish over 600 programs and books and at their zenith had 150 programmers under contract including Brian Howarth. As well as dealing personally with noted luminaries in the industry including Bill Gates, Lord Alan Sugar and Sir Clive Sinclair, Molimerx also undertook large scale custom programs for multi-nationals including Esso."

The name Molimerx comes from Latin... as John Harding explains in this 80-US interview...

"Moli is soft and merx is ware."

In that February 1983 interview John mentions that their US distributor, at the time, was Logical Systems Incorporated; creators of LDOS.

John is pictured on the right -->

John's training as a lawyer no doubt came in handy when Molimerx were involved in an early landmark software copyright ruling in the UK.

John Harding also penned a guide for Virgin Books on working in the industry...

Of relevance to adventure fans, Molimerx could be seen selling Microsoft version of the classic Adventure in 1980...

Source: Personal Computer World (May 1980)
Similar adverts in other issues, including February 1980.

 

The Mysterous Adventure Series...

One of the Molimerx's successes was with the Mysterious Adventure series of games by Brian Howarth.

Written for the TRS-80 (and Colour Genie) computers, the first game in the series, The Golden Baton, was released in about May 1981 making it one of the earliest British-authored adventure games; certainly a very early, "original" game.

The advertisement goes into some detail about the game and the planned forthcoming series...

Source: Personal Computer World - May 1981

 

Brian Howarth has talked about this early gestation period in the past. It is well documented in interviews such as the one on CASA and that in Retro Gamer issue 182. so I won't duplicated that content here.

Here is a selection of advertisements from the early days...

The C&VG advert in November 1981 mentioned that games 2 and 3 were out, announcing them properly in the December 1981 isssue...

Source: Computer & Video Games - December 1981

After the first three games were released Brian's method of producing the adventures changed. He'd been engaged, by Mike Woodroffe of Adventuresoft, to port the Scott Adams adventures to British micros, and had been inspired by the database structure to produce a similar system of his own.

Armed with his new driver/interpreter for his adventure database, Brian's series expanded further in 1982...

Source: Computer & Video Games - June 1982

 



Molimerx's monthly adverts usually highlighted a specific game
but a full catalogue was available on request; with the cost redeemable against the next order.

Image shows the cover of a 186-page catalogue from 1982 in the collection of the
Centre for Computing History

An example of a Molimerx tape & the Mysterious Adventures catalogue displayed in the Mocagh archives...

 

At a similar sort of time, the Mysterious Adventures seemed to get a release in the US by a different publisher...

There is an interesting US disk-based release of Arrow of Death Part 2 by Acorn Software Products Inc, listed in the Mocagh archives.

For the Acorn release, Arrow of Death has been placed as Mysterious Adventure #1.

Adverts listing Arrow of Death, with Time Machine and Golden Baton coming soon, appeared as early as May 1982...

Source: 80-US Volume 5 Number 7
July version shown above, also in the June issue.
Similar adverts in 80 Microcomputing (May 1982) and August 1982 etc

The Program Store were selling the Acorn release in their May, September and November 1982; and January 1983 adverts.

At this point in time, it's unclear if later adventures (such as Time Machine and Golden Baton) were actually released. The Arrow of Death in the Mocagh archives is part 2, so it looks like both installments of that game were made available.

 

In Canada, Molimerx software was manufactured and distributed by JSoft Ltd...

Source: Computing Now (October 1984)

 

Back to the UK...

At the time Molimerx were reluctant to support the (seemingly ever increasing range) of British home computers that Brian wanted to target, preferring to concentrate on the more stable TRS-80 and IBM PC market. So in 1982 Brian set up Digital Fantasia operating it both as a mail order software company and a physical games store in his native Blackpool.

He was also approached by a company called Leisuresoft (Leisuronics/Blackpool Computer Stores) to port the games to Vic 20.

These versions were heavily advertising in late 1982 & early 1983.

The first three Mysterious Adventures were cut down to fit into the memory of the Vic expanded with an 8K RAM pack; a result that Brian was not satisfied with and he didn't return to the Vic until his Channel 8 days.

See the interview in C&VG Issue 36 (October 1984)

Source: Computer & Video Games - January 1983

Similar advertising in...
C&VG - October 1982 / C&VG - November 1982 / C&VG - December 1982 / C&VG - February 1983 / Vic Computing - October 1982 / Vic Computing - December 1982 / Vic Computing - February 1983 / Allt om Hemdatorer (1983)

Note: The Leisure Soft/Leisuronics advertisment mentions that they are also selling the BBC and Atari, and soon the Commodore 64, versions of the Mysterious Adventures; as well as the Vic 20 ones.

The Leisure Soft Vic 20 version of Arrow of Death Part 1 is in the Mocagh archives. The inlay for the Vic 20 version is the same as for early Digital Fantasia releases.

 

Despite Brian going solo on new platforms, it also appears that he was also happy for Molimerx to publish (or at least distribute) some of these additional conversions, such as the BBC ones.

The BBC Micro games are listed in several larger Molimerx adverts from 1983...



Part of a larger, full-page Molimerx advert

Source: Practical Computing - April 1983
also in Practical Computing - March 1983

Source: Computing Today - September 1983 - magazine scan by Flaxcottage

Other Molimerx BBC references - STATACOM (link) / Microcomputer (link)

 

So, despite the generally accepted narrative, Molimerx were selling BBC versions of the Mysterious Adventures for at least six months in 1983.

 

The Mysterious Adventures also seem to have been ported to IBM PC...

This is a Molimerx advertisement from Computing Today in January 1984

Source: Computing Today - January 1984 - magazine scan by Flaxcottage

Brian has mentioned in interviews that Molimerx were keen for him to port the games to PC.

None of these IBM PC versions seem to be archived anywhere.

 

By June 1984, Molimerx were selling software for "fifteen different machines"... annoucing the Sanyo as the latest platform to be added...

Source: Computing Today - June 1984 - magazine scan by Flaxcottage

 

They were listing the Mysterious Adventures being available for Sanyo 550/555 in their November 1984 advertising...

Source: Computing Today - November 1984 - magazine scan by Flaxcottage
Also in the December 1984 / January 1985 / February 1985 issues.
Similar advert - March 1985 / April 1985 / May 1985

 

Back to Brian Howarth's own publishing efforts...

Digital Fantasia initially successfully distributed BBC & Spectrum versions of Brian's games.

Preston-based Channel 8 Software distributed on other formats, such as C64, Atari, and Dragon.


Home Computer Weekly
June 1983



Personal Computer Weekly
October 1983

 

Various advertising from the Digital Fantasia & Channel 8 days...

(Click for larger images)

This period of the life of the Mysterious Adventures is well documented elsewhere; so I'm not including an extensive archive of advertising here.

Unfortunately, Digital Fantasia was a relatively short venture. Issues with the business, involving packaging costs, bankruptted the company and all the formats of the games were licensed to Channel 8.

Budget re-releases eventually followed, from companies such as Tynesoft and Paxman Promotions.

The Channel 8 C64 versions of the game were also licensed in the US to Comm*data Computer House, Inc.

Source: Your Computer (November 1984)

Source: RUN Issue 6 (June 1984)
Also in July 1984

 

The Channel 8 games eventually went on to be manufactured and distributed by Adventure International UK Ltd... but not without a bit of controversy beforehand...

Source: Micro Adventurer Issue 16 (February 1985)

Source: Micro Adventurer Issue 17 (March 1985)

Source: Commodore User Magazine (August 1985)

 

The Mysterious Adventures series ended up being one of the most republished games series out there... with only perhaps the Artic and Scott Adams games as rivals.

You can see a large selection of the different releases of the Mysterious Adventures on this page of the excellent (and invaluable) Museum of Computer Adventure Game History site.

 

Molimerx itself ceased trading in 1987,
as reported in this tribute/news piece in the adventure section of C&VG...

Source: Computer and Video Games - August 1987

 

And here's another nice snippet about Molimerx...

Source: Computer and Video Games - May 1987

 

Molymerx??

The very similarly named Molymerx was a New Zealand (and Australian) company founded by Michael Molloy that distributed TRS-80 software by mail order.

In this interview on Terry Stewart's classic computer site, Michael Molloy recalls:

"The impetus (for the company) was an article I wrote in a UK computer magazine (about the Lisa funnily enough). This lead to contact with John Molyneux (I think that was his surname) and eventually got NZ/Aus rights to all his software."

Indeed, the Mysterious Adventures for TRS-80 are listed in this Molymerx catalogue on archive.org.

 

 

 

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