Game: ‘Simon The Sorcerer' (1993) Dev. Adventure Soft
It was time for a British computer game development group to have a crack at the graphic adventure, and introduced us to a fantasy world fronted by a very cheeky twelve year old...
Influenced by the point-and-click graphic adventures from Lucasfilm Games, such as ‘Full Throttle’ and ‘The Secret Of Monkey Island’, and the fantasy novels of ‘Discworld’ by the late Terry Pratchett, computer game developer Mike Woodroffe of Adventure Soft took about making his own fantastical adventure in the same vein, but with a big difference in look and theme from that of Lucasfilm Games.
Inspired by the fun and adventure of the games that went before, Woodroffe and his team including designer and writer (and brother) Simon Woodroffe, producer Alan Brigman and lead artist Paul Drummond took the fantasy genre of myth, magic and fairy-tale in a contemporary, fun and tongue-in-cheek way. To do this, it fell to Woodroffe to have a lead character that gamers could easily relate to and have fun with, and that led to young Simon. A 12-year-old with the attitude and maturity of a young man living in the now who is transported to another dimension.
Comedy and story was the main crux of what set ‘Simon The Sorcerer’ apart from other graphic adventures, as the point-and-click elements were present in most (if not all) of the games of the time.
The focus of the game was the humour, which in turn was very British, as the game itself is born from a British developer. Strong influences from British comedy such as ‘Monty Python’, ‘Blackadder’ and even ‘Red Dwarf’ helped add a real level of wit and dry comedy to characters and events, with nothing taken too seriously and no myth or fairy-tale given an easy ride.
Simon encounters fantastical creatures and beings on his quest, including dragons, goblins, cantankerous salesmen, grizzly bears and the odd prostitute. This was very much a family friendly game, but not afraid to take the content and comedy as far as it could, like most British comedy on TV.
‘Simon The Sorcerer’ was released in September 1993 and helped inject some fresh content and originality in the graphic adventure genre, and also for British computer game development.
Simon is a 12-year old boy, interested in all things magic. When he finds a magic book, brought to his door by a stray dog called Chippy, his family adopt the dog and store the old book in the loft out of the way for many years. On his birthday, Simon and Chippy look into the book for new magic and tricks to perform, and end up pulled through into another world full of goblins, trolls, wizards and a whole host of colourful, crazy characters.
In this strange fantasy land, Simon leans of an evil sorcerer called Sordid who has kidnapped a wizard called Calypso and threatens the entire world harnessing his evil magic and enslaving all who resist. Simon has been brought here to seek out Sordid and stop him, becoming a true sorcerer himself in the process if he accomplishes various goals and quests along the way.
A scripting language was created and developed for the game, similar to that of the Lucasfilm Games SCUMM. This presents a simple point-and-click interface. With a series of verb commands such as ‘Talk’, ‘Use’, ‘Open’ and ‘Look’, you just point and click with your mouse where you want Simon to walk to, or what you want him to interact with, and it will happen. Simplicity is what makes this game so user-friendly, and it is such a simple game to play for new and old gamers. The dialogue is in both text-form which you read (in numerous colours for each character), or full on “talkie” with voice acting; a joy to experience.
When you converse with characters, you’re presented with numerous lines of dialogue to choose from. At least one or two of these advance the conversation, progresses you and gets what you need. A few others are simply there to add some cheek and humour, letting you decide just how to be around these characters and what sort of mood you want to create. Simon can be understanding and polite, or he can be a little shit and push people the wrong way... whatever options are there, explore them all and see where they get you and what others respond with. It is hard not to have Simon go for the snarkier remarks when you get away with so much playing a computer game like this!
Safe to say, Simon makes this game memorable for all the right reasons. Not just settling for a little more in-your-face style of humour, Simon himself says everything we dare only dream about when faced with strange, perplexing situations and people. Thanks to him being a child, he gets away with it, but he’s a very headstrong, capable and outspoken individual! Effortlessly entertaining, you can’t help but take Simon as far as you can in seeing what happens when he talks to everyone, visits various locations and gets stuck into puzzles.
Puzzle wise, this stands with the best at offering simple and some challenging ones. There is no way to die, which is good for all gamers of all ages not to hit a dead-end, and you can always find a way out of any situation by using what is in your magical inventory and using the world around you.
Using a blend of pixel animation and hand-drawn art for characters and locations, lead artist Paul Drummond and his team used more digital animation to bring the pixelated sprites (characters) to life, giving them a classic retro feel but also letting them express and move more in fluid ways.
The graphics are brought to life with colours that reflect everything; spooky swamps, village hamlets, bustling markets, snow-capped mountains and lava bubbling rivers surrounding castles of doom! Everything you need for a good old-fashioned fairy-tale with a twist.
Thankfully there is so much detail in each location and lots of animations that each sequence Simon finds himself in his never dull or atmospheric.
Sound and music
While the music doesn’t leap from the game as anything memorable, and is itself serving as just a quaint MIDI backdrop to each location, created by Media Sorcery, it’s the voice-acting and sounds that really bring this to life. Diegetic sounds of voices, rivers, forests and other day-to-day noise makes each location feel alive and part of something bigger.
Chris Barrie, popular British TV and film actor (known for his role as Rimmer in ‘Red Dwarf’) lends his voice to Simon. While much older than 12, Barrie has the right amount of dry wit and sarcasm to present a youth very much older than his years and not afraid to be a smart-arse when he wants to be in the face of authority. It’s this infectious acting that really makes Simon a little different from your everyday adventure game hero.
The roster of characters all have various quirks and traits, always amusing and funny and thick with various accents and dialects to make this adventure nothing but boring.
Simple in design and template, it’s not attempting to be anything other than a good solid adventure game. The sound and story design all help give this memorable individuality and is a beloved 90s game for those brought up with the graphic-adventure. Challenging, often obscure, puzzles tax all sorts of gamers, which a very British strand of humour runs through it all.
So much so, the game launched a franchise of sequels and puzzle games all based around Simon and his magical universe.