|The forest awaits…|
At the Forest Gate, we are presented with a fork in the road: we can go east along the Elf-path or south to the Old Forest Road. I honestly don’t remember what path Bilbo took in the book, but the road seems like a good place to start. It doesn’t take long to regret that decision as “pale and bulbous” eyes start to follow us. Two screens later, Bilbo is ambushed in front of a waterfall and we die. Time to restore and try the other direction!
|It was a dark and stormy night...|
And then--and I am completely serious about this--I leave to make lunch. I needed a breather and a chance to think about what to do next. But I forgot that this isn’t a game that you can leave alone. Unless you explicitly type “pause”, the game will perform act every few seconds as if you typed the “wait” command. When that happens, all of the NPCs in the world go and do another round of whatever it is that they do. An hour or so later, I came back to this:
|In the excitement, I forgot to take a picture immediately.|
The strange thing about this dungeon is how easy it is to escape from it: every now and then someone unlocks the door. Seems suspicious, doesn’t it? Outside the cell is two rooms: one that looks to be the main hall of the Elvenking and the other is his wine cellar. The main hall has a “magic door” that I cannot open, so let’s concentrate on the wine cellar first.
|When I think of elves in Middle Earth, I think “drunkards..|
The trapdoor leads to water, but hobbits can swim, right? I try swimming but the rushing water immediately smashes Bilbo to a pulp against a metal portcullis. I restore and look for a lever or a button to open it, but no dice. I suspect that I can climb into a barrel as the dwarves did in the book, but if so I can’t find the right words.
And then I remembered that my lunch was getting cold.
Escaping Two Dungeons
|Go home, Bilbo. You’re drunk.|
I restored back to the goblins’ dungeon and very quickly worked out what command I needed Thorin to execute: “carry me”. I had been focused on “lift” and “push”, trying to just get a little boost. But this works, too! He picks me up, I am momentarily disappointed that I do not have a graphic for being carried by Thorin, and then I ask him to go through the window. Just like that, we are out of the dungeon and I have Thrain’s key. It’s all very obvious in retrospect, but difficult in the moment.
That still left me with the problem that I didn’t really “solve” the forest puzzle and I had no idea how to get back to the Elvenking’s palace. I hiked back to the entrance to Mirkwood expecting to work on this next, but--miracle of miracles--the wood elf is waiting there and captures me. I’m pretty sure somehow that’s not supposed to be that easy! Back in the wine cellar, I solve that puzzle by using the ring to wait until there is an empty barrel (and a drunk elf), typing “climb into barrel” with the difficult part being that I wasn’t using “into” earlier, and then closing the lid. The butler tosses the suspiciously heavy barrel down the trapdoor and we’ve escaped!
Defeating a Dragon
|Dale never fully recovered from the Great Acorn Famine.|
To my surprise (and relief) Smaug doesn't seem to be home and he left his treasure unguarded. That seems too good to be true, but I pick it up anyway and get out of there. I don’t stay lucky for very long because once outside, Smaug shows up and isn’t entirely happy about the situation. I try to escape using the ring, but he is not so easily fooled, telling Bilbo that “I may not be able to see you… prepare to die!” Dragon fire can cover a large area, affecting visible as well as invisible hobbits. Bilbo is dead and time to reload again.
|Because a wooden town makes perfect sense near a fire-breathing dragon.|
Since I know from the books that Bard strikes the killing blow against Smaug, I coax him to head toward the dragon using the “say to” command and giving him directions. One room at a time, we make our way north, but this time we don’t even make it to the dragon’s den; we find Smaug is on patrol outside. As soon as we see him, I instruct Bard to “shoot the dragon” and he let’s loose a single arrow. It works! The dragon is dead!
|The “red golden” dragon. Which is it?|
|Seems a bit anticlimactic now, doesn’t it?|
|There isn’t even an ending graphic.|
There and Back Again -- Alternate Versions (1983-1987)
|Now this is a dragon to be afraid of.|
|Laketown is beautiful this time of year.|
|The opening scene redone.|
|An original sketch by J. R. R. Tolkien.|
|Original version opening text.|
|Remake opening text. Do you see the spelling error?|
|Not a big fan of spiders. It’s harder to avoid this area in the remake.|
You can still choose the Forest Road in this edition, but it is more difficult than I experienced. The falling spiders are deadlier now and I needed to consult with the hint book to find a pattern to get past them. (You have to wait twice in each room before moving. I’m not clear how anyone would discover this.) Once past, you can still get captured by the wood elf and taken to the Elvenking’s castle where the two paths join again.
|Enough gold to swim in?|
The Hint Book
|A book for people still playing The Hobbit two years later.|
The Hobbit’s guide is perhaps the first, or at least one of the first, to be sold as a real book in real bookstores. Most of the hint books we’ve covered from this era were sold mail-order from the publishers or with limited distribution to video game stores. (There were exceptions. Space Quest had several unofficial guides for the series sold as real books, for example, but they’re going to have to wait on my shelf until we get to Space Quest V.) At 74 pages, this is certainly the longest guide we’ve seen so far. Unfortunately, we do not get anything like background material, just multiple sections of hints:
- The first section, entitled “Through The Round Green Door,” provides general tips and tricks, information about how the engine sees things (for example, the way it thinks of health and weight), and other advice for beginners.
- The second section, “The Hobbit Help Section,” most closely resembles the hint books that we see elsewhere. We get multiple levels of increasingly obvious hints, with the final answers being given in rot13. (Since this was the 80s, you had to do rot13 by hand.)
- A final section, “A Tourist’s Guide to Wilderland,” is a location-by-location reference with what happens and the exits from each room, listed in alphabetical order.
|Bad advice in table format.|
This guide book was only sold in the UK as far as I can discern. The 1987 manual that I have been working from for the remake includes an abridged hint section at the back, so it could be that the US publishers did not yet see the advantage to making you pay extra when you get stuck.
Puzzles and Solvability
That leads in nicely to my second major admiration for this game: multiple solutions. Finding the goblin maze too difficult? It’s possible to beat the game even without getting the ring. Can’t solve the sleeping river puzzle? You have an alternate path. There are also two ways to enter the dragon’s lair and more than one way to beat the dragon.
|The stone trolls: my least favorite puzzle in the game.|
I’m going to dock the remake a bit for strengthening the later puzzles a bit too much, moving the needle farther away in the “solvability” department.
Original Rating: 6
1987 Edition Rating: 5
Interface and Inventory
|You can pick up a torch here, but since you needed a light source to get this far, I don’t see why.|
The remake adds a working backspace key and multiple save slots, so I suppose that is something. I have to go low on this score, I really do.
Original Rating: 1
1987 Edition Rating: 2
Story and Setting
|Original cover to the Hobbit novel.|
But truth be told, you need the novel because the story doesn’t all fit together from the limited text we have in the game. You never learn, for example, who Gandalf is or are shown his powers in any way. We enjoy it when Elrond gets captured by goblins because we know his character from the books, not because he shows any characterization in the game. The setting is still fun, and the hints of a deeper world are tantalizing, but it’s not quite the same without the book.
The remake attacks this problem by providing more flavor text as well as many more illustrations. It’s still not perfect, but someone unfamiliar with the books would have a better time with the remake.
Original Rating: 3
1987 Edition Rating: 4
Sound and Graphics
|One of my favorite images for some reason.|
Given that improved graphics were some of the first adjustments to the game post-launch, it’s not surprising that by 1987 they were looking relatively nice. The latter version has well-designed illustrations for every screen and surprisingly decent background music.
Original Rating: 1
1987 Edition Rating: 4
Environment and Atmosphere
The remake improves on this slightly because of the improved visuals and mood-setting music.
Original Rating: 4
1987 Edition Rating: 5
Dialog and Acting
|Riddling in the dark.|
And yet, I need to give some additional score here because the “acting” is so unexpected for a game of this age. The NPCs are frequently interesting, or at least they do unexpected things. Thorin is the best-written of these, with his impatience coming through whenever you are in the room with him, even as he really just wants to sit around and sing about gold. Gandalf wanders around picking things up, looking quizzically, and then putting them back down again. Elrond keeps feeding you for no reason, like an elvish grandmother. These little details add up and I don’t have a better place to give credit where it is due.
The remake gets one more point by vastly improving on much of the text.
Original Rating: 3
1987 Edition Rating: 4
The 1987 edition received somewhat better scores overall, (5+2+4+4+5+4)/.6 = 40. That feels ever so slightly high to me, but I don’t see any scores I can disagree with.
Our winners this time are Lartes and TBD! Congratulations! Lartes correctly guessed the original game’s score of 30, while TBD came oh-so-close with the remake’s score. Overall, the guesses were pretty close, averaging 32.5 for the original and just about 37 for the remake.