Gary Power was the man behind the 'homegrown' software label Pelagon Software, which produced several text adventures for the ZX Spectrum range of home computers back in the 1980s. I contacted him towards the end of 2019 and he very kindly agreed to answer my questions about the games he'd written over thirty years ago.
In 1985 and 1986, Gary's titles could often be seen advertised in the small ads section of magazines such as Sinclair User and Popular Computing Weekly.
Programmed in BASIC, his adventures featured lots of extra embellishments which Gary was keen to highlight despite the limited word count of the small ads. His 'space adventure program' Terraform, for example, was described as containing 'startling sound effects and riveting storyline'.
"Terraform did indeed have machine code sound effects and a functioning computer you could interact with. The screen was black and neon green as I remember. I put a tremendous amount of thought into the structure of the game and used to be completely immersed in it. Gameplay and puzzles were paramount."
Dollars in the Dust was billed as 'the cult western adventure' and was 'not just an adventure, more a way of life'. Or more a way of death, if you didn't possess some fast reflexes…
"Dollars in the Dust was a fun take on spaghetti westerns. The 'feature' of it was meeting five gunslingers who were increasingly quick on the draw. You would be told there was to be a shoot-out if you bumped into them and [were] presented with a blank screen. [Whilst you were] hovering your finger over the space bar, the gunman would appear, and you'd tap space as quickly as possible. If you lost the screen was riddled with bullet holes and a RIP sign would appear. The gunmen got increasingly quicker, but it could be done. There was always a save game feature."
Looking back on the games now, it seems a strange choice to include such difficult action sequences. However, Terraform and Dollars were released in the relatively early days of Spectrum adventuring when the genre was less well defined. Gary was exploring and incorporating some interesting elements, such as wandering characters and aspects of role-playing, requiring the player to manage both their health and their finances!
The third game in the Pelagon stable tasked the player with the quest to 'save the goodfolk of Senavie and find the Crystal of Chantie'. On the surface it sounded a lot more run-of-the-mill than the other two titles. But despite the seemingly more common fantasy setting, it proved to be popular with Pelagon's customers.
"Crystal of Chantie actually sold well and so I did a spruced-up version in 1987 with graphics. I had quite a few copies professionally copied and a friend who was an illustrator designed the cassette inlay. I spent many late nights working through the structure of the game and test playing it. I wanted perfection! The 1987 version had static graphics. The intro scene went from very colourful to cold blue and white upon loading. The curse of Chantie had begun. I still have the Your Sinclair magazine where Mike Gerrard gave a positive review."
In one of his indie game round-ups Mike Gerrard described the game as "well worth the price of admission for its many imaginative touches," stating that the graphics were "beautifully done". He also praised the unusual and effective programming, highlighting how the game went beyond the fare usually produced with the Graphic Adventure Creator utility.
"I did use GAC [and the Essential Myth support program GACPAC] but somehow [I also] integrated machine code routines."
Gary's hard work, reworking the game using GAC, was rewarded by Mike Gerrard's positive review which resulted in plenty of sales.
"Cheques and postal orders rolled in and also people wrote wanting help with the game or even just to discuss it. They also wrote to Sinclair User."
Hints and tips for Crystal of Chantie appeared several times in the adventure columns of the various Spectrum magazines; a reflection of how much it was being played and how well it was going down with readers. So, the pressure must've been on to produce a similarly impressive follow-up?
"I started on a 128k adventure with enhanced graphics called Strange World. The complex story had an adult horror theme. It never got completed which was a shame, but life got in the way. I do have a working version of what I had completed though."
Gary had switched to use Gilsoft's Professional Adventure Writer for this new game, which allowed him to take advantage of the greater memory of the 128K version of the ZX Spectrum. Mike Gerrard, the adventure columnist of Your Sinclair, who got an early look at a demo of the game said that Strange World was "a horror story in the noble tradition of Hammer films". He described the graphics as being "impressive" and the very creepy loading screen as "wonderfully eerie". So, after that great early feedback, why was the game never completed?
"Life/work became rather hectic and I couldn't spend the time I needed to on the game, so I continued writing it as a novel. That was completed and a follow-up novel written but they now sit on a shelf. I fully intend to try and get the novels published but for now I am working on building a writing CV and am also writing a screenplay. As you [can see] from my website I write short stories and have had a fair few published."
What are your memories of your adventure writing days?
"I had very good feedback with these games and communicated with many players. I also made a reasonable income from them although that was never my intention. The creation and storytelling of the games was my passion. I loved writing them as I do my short stories now. These games, at the time, required much imagination but in honesty I enjoyed playing them as much as modern day games."
You can download Gary's games at Spectrum Computing.
You can find out about Gary Power's more recent work through his website at https://www.garygpower.com/
My thanks go to him for taking the time to respond to my questions.
|Compiled by 8bitAG.com / Contact: via Twitter|