Thursday, October 24, 2019

Game 342: The Forgotten Island (1981)

I didn't figure out how to fix color issues with the emulator until after I originally posted this entry. Some of the images below retain the original but incorrect pure black-and-white look.
The Forgotten Island
United States
Liberty Software (developer); Crystalware (original publisher); Automated Simulations (later publisher)
Released in 1981 for Atari 800. Rereleased in 1982 as Escape from Vulcan's Isle
Date Started: 23 October 2019
Date Finished: 23 October 2019
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Very Easy (1/5)
Final Rating: 10
Ranking at time of posting: 11/343 (3%)

I figured I might as well bang out one more from Crystalware while I had the company on my mind. (The next game on my list was 1992's Arcana, which is an SNES-only game, so I'm not sure how it ever ended up on my "upcoming" roster.) The Forgotten Island was written by Marc Benioff, not John or Patty Bell, but it plays pretty much like Crystalware's other titles. Benioff, who was only 15 or 16 when he wrote this game, went on to found Salesforce and to purchase Time magazine. You can read his Wikipedia entry. I think it's safe to say that this is the first game that I've played whose author is now a billionaire.
The brave vessel is dashed to pieces. And all the helpless souls within her drowned. All save one.
There is no character creation process. Island starts with the unnamed character shipwrecked on a mysterious island from which he must escape. He begins with 5 gold pieces and 102 power. For every treasure chest he finds, he gains both gold and power. He gains additional 2 power for every day that he survives on the island. Days pass at a rate of about 1 per 4 seconds, so you can just stand still for a little while and amass a lot of power. This is just one of the many ways in which the game is "very easy."
No headhunters here--just helpful villagers.
Island plays a lot like a less sophisticated version of Fantasyland 2041, which itself wasn't very sophisticated. From the original island, you pass through a series of areas small enough that you don't need to map anything. There are no puzzles. Commands are limited to movement, a couple of attack options, and checking your inventory. There's a "Forgotten Village" in the opening area where you can spend your gold for a few items: a metal axe (which I guess improves combat), stringy rope, an old lamp, a small straw raft, and a first aid kit. I'm not sure what the first aid kit does, but the other items are all necessary in various places; for instance, you need the lamp to see in a cave, and you need the raft to cross a river.
The few items for sale in the village. What do you suppose is up with those prices?
As you explore, the game warns you about nearby enemies. When they finally acquire you, they rush up and attack. Where Fantasyland 2041 had both visible enemies that would run up to the character and invisible ones that attacked at random, Island only has the former. They spawn from central points on each screen, making them relatively easy to avoid. Even if they weren't easy to avoid, they're easy enough to fight. When you engage in combat, you can attack or flee. (Fleeing puts you all the way back at the shipwreck.) Attacking prompts you to hit the joystick button, at which point random numbers flash at the bottom of the screen for the number of hit points that you lose versus the number that he loses. They flash too fast to time your next button press, which freezes the current values and deducts them accordingly. Begin next round. I assume your power weighs the numbers. Although the values were all between 0 and 20, the enemy almost always suffered more damage.

Attacked by a "Harris" in some woods.

Victories give you additional hit points, and your health fully regenerates after each battle. Soon you have 200 hit points and you're facing enemies with 20, and with the rolls weighted in your favor. Beyond the first couple of combats, you aren't in the slightest danger of death.
Fighting an enemy in a cave.
The first major task is to enter some caves and find the diary of Alcemnon, a previous shipwreck victim who was eventually killed by "Harrises," the enemies who roam the starting area. That must be some in-joke. Other than some generic mumbo-jumbo, Alcemnon has a clue to "try the other side!" He also mentions seeking Sarfon's Cloak.
Most of Alcemnon's diary.
Once you have the diary, you can enter the volcano and the Cavern of the Satyrs. Enemies change to satyrs but otherwise behave the same as the "Harrises" outside.

Like a lot of Crystalware games, Island suggests side-view graphics even in its top-down interface.
You have to find the Tomb of Pan to recover Pan's Flute and thus enter the next area: The Forgotten Gardens of the Shirrah Shirrith, a phrase for which this page will soon be the only Google result. Enemies here are "giant med flies," but again not remotely dangerous.
Anyone want to take a stab at the origin for this term?
Another cave dumps you into the Forgotten Tombs of Safron. The game can't decide whether it's "Sarfon" or "Safron," but it hardly matters either way. You can spend time exploring the tombs--enemies are generic "guards"--and find the magic cloak, but you don't need it.
An unnecessary part of the tomb.
The tombs exit back to the island, and it's at the exit that Alcemnon's clue becomes important. If you choose the obvious "front" side of the exit, the area of the island on which you appear is a dead end. But if you wander around to the back, you head for the endgame.

The last area of the game is a small maze called "Alcemnon's Home." To enter, you have to pass some inert demons who kill you instantly unless you're wearing Sarfon's Cloak--or unless, as I found out the first time, you simply walk between them diagonally.
These guardians mean instant death--unless you thread through them diagonally.
Deep in Alcemnon's Home, you find a flare gun. The moment you touch it, you get a message that you fired it. "Welcome back to San Francisco," a screen congratulates before telling you your final score.
But I left my heart on the Forgotten Island.
The entire thing took less than an hour. I was astonished at how fast it was over, and I can't imagine why any player would need take advantage of its save capability. House of Usher and Beneath the Pyramids were both at least somewhat replayable. The best I can give it on a GIMLET is 10, with 1s across the board except for NPCs (0) and quests (2).

Benioff wrote Quest for Power for Crystalware during the same year, plus The Crypt, The Nightmare, and The Bermuda Experience in 1982. He also ported several of John Bell's games. At some point, the Bells must have sold their entire catalog to Automated Simulations (soon to be renamed Epyx), because new versions of the Crystalware titles were issued by Automated Simulations as early as 1982. Almost all of them were renamed. The Crypt became Crypt of the Undead; The Nightmare became The Haunted Palace; Quest for Power became King Arthur's Heir; and The Forgotten Island became Escape from Vulcan's Isle. The republished version has Epyx's traditional production values; honestly, the manual, full of sound and fury and quotes from Dante and The Island of Doctor Moreau, is all a bit much for such a trite game. The game itself is completely identical except a different title screen and font.
Escape from Vulcan's Isle is the same game as The Forgotten Isle, just with a different publisher.
If Marc ever makes it here, I guess I shouldn't expect a life-changing Patreon subscription or "Man of the Year." But his creation seems so much like Crystalware's other titles--which are beginning to feel highly formulaic--that I wonder how he knew the Bells and ended up programming a game with such a similar look and feel. At least he didn't suggest some greater mystery beneath the surface.


  1. One thing that always makes me laugh about these 80s adventure/RPG hybrids is how they add a random number of exclamation points to every message. I mean uhhh


    Maybe you just picked bad screenshots, but it also seems like this game has a lot of typos.

    1. I try not to point out typos too often because it virtually ensures that I, myself, will make lots of typos in the entry. But yeah. "By accideny or other wise" is a particularly good one.

    2. Speaking as someone coding (very bad) games in the relevant era, fixed font sizes meant that if you had some text, and you needed to emphasise it as important, the only way to make it take up more screen real estate was to make it longer. Such as by adding exclamation marks. (Or brackets, or equal signs, etc.)

      Or, if you were lucky, your system let you put it in colour. Maybe even *flashing*...

      The other thing was often that you needed to contain multiple lines of text in a single string variable. To get everything to line up right on line 2, you needed to be very careful about how many characters you had on line 1, so it would start in the right place. Exclamation marks etc were easier to see and count than spaces.

      Not necessarily either of these going on here, but...

  2. Shirrah Shirrith sounds the origin was someone who didn't know Sumerian or Hebrew trying to sound like Sumerian or Hebrew. Each individual sound sounds like something legitimate, but together means nothing. That or they could've just made something that sounds kinda like some monster in DnD. I know there's something like Berith in DnD, but longer and more confusing. Presumably there's also something that has a -erah ending that I can't think of either.

    1. It sounds to me like a riff on שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים, Shîr hash-Shîrîm (the biblical Song of Songs), if you were to run the words together.

    2. Or it was someone creating a meaningless but neat-sounding neologism. Not everything has to be a grammatically correct word in a foreign language.

    3. It reminded the name Shiraz to me. Shirrith sounds a little like Tirith.

    4. I just assumed it was another in-joke about the Harris, since shirrah spelled backwards is harrihs.

    5. It also rhymes with Minas Tirith.

    6. It appears Benioff came from a Jewish family, so even as an American he must have known some Hebrew as a teen. "Shirrah Shirrith" is nonsensical, something akin to "poetic poetry", but it only had to sound foreign and cool.

  3. There was no way to turn on artifacting in the emulator to get color graphics? (The Automated Simulations release states color as one of the features on the back of the box.)

    1. I don't know. I'm using Altirra. I've fiddled with settings and nothing changes, but I don't even know what I'm looking for

      It's interesting that one of the side-effects of my colorblindness is that, in addition to not really seeing a lot of colors, I'm not particularly interested in them. If someone tells me that clearly X setting is wrong, I'll fix it, but the idea of fiddling with settings for hours just to see any color in a game like this would strike me as a huge waste of time. It's over in 45 minutes with no challenge regardless of whether your little character icon is white or light blue.

    2. Oh, hah. Two minutes later I found it. Okay, I'd better replace some of these images. Whether I think it changes gameplay at all or not, it leaves the wrong impression to keep them as they are.

  4. If you've ever played Microsoft Adventure, the author of the port (Gordon Letwin) was one of the early members of Microsoft and is a billionaire. (It was a bestseller at the time but Crowther and Woods didn't make anything from it.)

    That's the only person I can think of, though.

    1. I tried to reverse engineer the PC bootdisk time ago, to see how it was coded, etc.
      I soon got lost in what I thought was a VM, I think is normal for IF. The game was coded in 1979, released as first commercial game for IBM PC, from reading Mobygames.
      I am not an expert in any way, but it surprised me the tight code and inner workings, as this is so early in PC history. I meant, already very good code was being produced.

    2. I'd take say even better code was produced back then. Resources were so tight, that every single speck of memory mattered.

    3. Better with regard to memory optimization. Probably not better, on average, regarding structure, readability, portability, etc.

  5. "I think it's safe to say that this is the first game that I've played whose author is now a billionaire."

    Bill Gates himself is credited on DONKEY.BAS, a simple game that shipped with PC-DOS v1. And not that he's in that class of big spender, but I understand there is a game by a young Elon Musk out there... none in the CRPG idiom however 8)

  6. What if someone drops by here pretending to be Marc Benioff? How would we know he is the real one?

    1. How indeed?

    2. Wait, that's not him! I'm the real Marc Benioff!

    3. This is going nowhere. We need to establish who the real one is by having a Benioff-off.

    4. Alright, now what?

  7. There's a Goodies episode where a family of Rolf Harrises escapes the zoo and multiplies, overrunning the English countryside. That's the first thing I thought of when seeing "A HARRIS IS VERY CLOSE!!" It's wishful thinking to hope that was the inspiration, though.

    "Shirrah shirrith" looks like he started with Harris backwards and modified it till it sounded good, maybe unconsciously echoing "b'nai b'rith".

  8. I do love these weird and wonderful old quasi-RPGs, and it's great seeing games that don't require a dozen entries to finish. For 1981, these games are pretty amazing. I wonder if they were inspired by Ultima or another game, or if they were developed entirely independently.

  9. It reminds me of the first Ultima, just a little. Nice find, Chet. Thank you for your renewed dedication to posting. It sails me away from the dreariness of work.

  10. "The next game on my list was 1992's Arcana, which is an SNES-only game, so I'm not sure how I ever ended up on my "upcoming" roster."

    I noticed it earlier and believed it to be part of your plan of playing a small sample of console RPGs and comparing them to computer RPGs (like the Bokosuka Wars).

    About the Forgotten Island, the game is flawed by commercial game standards, but is an interesting project coming from a high schooler. The fact that it's similar to other games of the same publisher is interesting (maybe they requested some kind of specific format, or the Bell taught Benioff how to make RPGs).

    1. "I noticed it earlier and believed it to be part of your plan of playing a small sample of console RPGs and comparing them to computer RPGs." I still have that plan, at least vaguely, but I wouldn't jump right from Bokosuka Wars to a 1992 game.

    2. The console version of Pool of Radiance might be a good next game, considering what a landmark the DOS version was. There's also an NES version of Wizardry that, judging by YouTube comments, is at least as good as the DOS version.

    3. Personally, I feel like if he were to play console ports, it should be because it has massive differences, as opposed to just to compare them

  11. "The next game on my list was 1992's Arcana, which is an SNES-only game, so I'm not sure how I ever ended up on my "upcoming" roster."

    Arcana is 100% better than 70% of the games you have played on this blog. These shareware and indie 80's titles are the stuff that gives normal, healthy people brain bleeds to read about.

    1. So Chet should only play what you consider to be "good" games this defeating the purpose of his blog?

    2. While i do appreciate console RPGs and think that Arcana would get quite high on the list if compared to other games, your comment is still very innapropiate.

      I'm thankful to Chet (and other similar bloggers) for giving us some documentation on games that wouldn't have it otherwise.

    3. I do enjoy reading about obscure old shovelware games (heck, digging up the most obscure RPGs I can find and posting them in RPG Codex's "Really Obscure RPGs" thread is something of a hobby of mine), so I guess I'm neither healthy nor normal.

    4. I'm pretty sure you just torpedoed any chance of Arcana getting played with that post, Anon.

  12. Just saw a video on YouTube with the game's creator, Marc Benioff, on CNBC. He's a cool guy.

  13. I love these kind of posts because they take me back to my childhood of playing whatever shareware games we could get on our 386.

    They sadden me a little because games like this, even as short as it is, seem better than the dreck we played!

  14. I just tweeted Marc to see if he will comment on the blog. Fingers crossed!

  15. Ha! When you check your favorite blog and find out your boss wrote a game.

  16. Yes, I would love to hear Marc's reaction to this post. He probably thought nobody would ever mention this game again.

  17. "I wonder how he knew the Bells and ended up programming a game with such a similar look and feel".

    In 1981/1982 Benioff was contributing to the newsletter of ACE (Atari Computer Enthusiasts) of Eugene, Oregon (, starting with a review of Crystalware's 'The Sands of Mars' in Vol. II, issue 6 (June 1981), followed by another one of 'Fantasyland 2041' in the next one (July-August 1981). The latter starts with an editor's note informing us that "because of his excellent review" of the first mentioned game, he received an advance copy from Crystalware / Crystal Computer.

    The September 1981 issue then contains a 'review' of Benioff's own game 'Quest for Power' by "a close friend" (!) of Benioff as per the introductory editor's note which continues saying: "As mentioned before, Marc now is developing programs for Crystal".
    In the same issue, Benioff started his own column called "Benioff at Large" (with news, rumours, reviews) in which he wrote: "Because of my last review on Crystalware, I was contacted by John Bell, President, and since then I have released a program through them called Quest For Power".
    (As of May 1982 Benioff additionally called himself "Mr. Atari" and invited questions by readers to answer.)


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