Xanadu Adventure (1982) — shop till you drop

Xanadu Adventure is a text adventure game that was written for the BBC Micro by Paul Shave in 1982. Typically for the time, Shave was strongly influenced by Crowther and Woods’s Colossal Cave, and Xanadu therefore featured the requisite stream, grating, and forest-maze… But there was little chance that any jaded adventurers would be bored by these all-too-familiar surroundings because before they could start exploring the game they were forced to go shopping.

The game opens with a list of miscellaneous items including weapons, torches, food, and, um, postcards. And each item is given a price. You’re then told that you have “125 shillings to spend”, and it’s up to you to decide exactly how to spend it — although initially you have no idea which of the items are going to be of any use.

The adventure shop and the player’s limited spending power were just a couple of ways in which Xanadu Adventure distinguished itself from the average ADVENT clone. Another was that it had a two-player mode. This didn’t involve the use of RS-423 cables or multiple BBC Micros as in Graham Nelson’s Escape From Solaris, which I wrote about previously. Xanadu‘s two-player mode required players to make a fixed number of moves, alternately, on the same computer. Players could ally and combine their weapon-count to fight monsters, or they could turn around and beat the hell out of each other instead. (The latter was the more popular choice with the playtesters of the game, who happened to be the author’s sons.)

But Paul Shave had more tricks up his sleeve. He decided to introduce randomness into Xanadu and, in the process, created what might well be the first CRPG on the BBC Micro. This, I now realise, is a wonderful thing. But it caused me no end of stress when I first started playing the game. Perhaps a list of some of the key features of Xanadu Adventure will help to explain why:

  • Random object-placement! Many of the objects in the game, including some of the treasures you have to collect, are placed in random locations when you start a new game. One of the most important objects is the spare cash, which in some new games doesn’t seem to be anywhere at all (though it actually is)! The problem of having to slog around the map because of random treasure-placement is compounded by…
  • Random dwarves and dragons! They pop up when you least expect it, and you have to kill them (the dragons, at least) to move forward. And sometimes when you kill a dragon, you experience…
  • Random sword-breakage! After fighting a dragon, your sword may (or may not) get broken, so you have to trek all the way back to the blacksmith to get it re-forged. And all this trekking about, finding treasures and/or repairing swords, is particularly bothersome because of…
  • Limited light! The batteries in your torch eventually run out, so you need to go back to the shop, which is right at the beginning of the game, in order to buy some more — and no, you can’t buy them at the start of a new game because there’s a…
  • Limited inventory! There’s only a certain number of objects you can carry at one time. You can buy a bag to increase the inventory limit, but then you run into the problem of there being…
  • Limited cash! You get 125 shillings at the start of the game, most of which you have to spend straight away on weaponry and light. There is some extra cash you might come across later, but you can never be sure where or when that will be because of…
  • Random object-placement! (REPEAT UNTIL FALSE…)

If for some reason you want a deeper understanding of how Xanadu Adventure can not only amaze and impress but also drive a player to the brink of despair, then see my walkthrough video, above.

I have to admit that it might be slightly unfair of me to harp on about the relentless, exhausting unpredictability of Xanadu — because the randomness did actually lead to some interesting emergent behaviour, which I was able to exploit to make my adventuring a little easier: see the “To Catch A Dragon” section of the video, for example, which surprised even the original author.

See also the entry for Xanadu at CASA (solutionarchive.com), which links to my written walkthrough (which I now know to be flawed — because Xanadu).

There are further details about the game at Stardot.

And you can play Xanadu Adventure online at bbcmicro.co.uk.

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