Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Game 129: Simon the Sorcerer (1993) – Introduction

 Written by Will Moczarski



Things were simpler in 1993. LucasArts was still churning out amazing adventure games and no-one saw the death of the genre coming. Granted, FMV games and Myst were slowly chipping away at the genre's reputation but the core of the point & click experience was largely intact. Now some games used a simplified interface while others still followed the model that had been established with the SCUMM engine in 1987 – an interface that could be understood as a graphical representation of the parser that had fueled so many text adventures. Simon the Sorcerer was one of the many games that copied the LucasArts formula using a very similar verb list but games like this would soon feel like roadblocks on the way to the casual adventure game of the mid-1990’s. However, in 1993 this was all fair game. 

Another common wisdom that remained true from the mid-1990’s until 2002 was that there were two Simon the Sorcerer games (and two only) and people would tell you “eh...they’re good”. Some people loved them, some people didn’t quite feel they were the bee’s knees but on the whole they were regarded as quality point & click adventure games. Then the series shared the fate of so many others and got some rather unfortunate late sequels. The less said about them the better.

One of the most interesting tidbits about Simon the Sorcerer – albeit with relatively little effect on the actual gameplay experience, I reckon – is that it unites two of the most important early adventure game brands: Adventure Soft and Infocom. Infocom? That’s right, Activision used the brand of the now-defunct company they’d bought and (at least helped to) run into the ground to market this British game in the United States. And Adventure Soft? Well, that’s a hell of a story.



This is actually the same company that was founded by Mike Woodroffe in Sutton Coldfield (very close to Birmingham) in 1983 in order to resell software from US companies – most notably the Scott Adams adventures – to the British market. Later they began to release their own games as well and when the original Adventure International US went bankrupt in 1986 Woodroffe’s company branched out into new directions, notably some Fighting Fantasy video games. When they began to set their sights on the new 16-bit platforms the company was reinvented under the more adult moniker of Horror Soft, giving us Personal Nightmare, Elvira I & II as well as Waxworks. They finally recovered from this by working on Simon the Sorcerer and rebranded themselves yet again as Adventure Soft in order to release their new ‘British LucasArts’ games, releasing Simon the Sorcerer I & II as well as The Feeble Files which is quite dear to my heart – hopefully I will have the opportunity to cover it for this blog as well some day. (That said, someone should really play Personal Nightmare for this blog but knowing the game it definitely won’t be me, sorry.)

Simon the Sorcerer itself was released either on January 2, 1993 or September 27, 1993 (sources vary) although the latter date seems more probable. It is sometimes remembered as one of the earliest “full talkie” adventure games but actually the CD version including the “full talkie” version was not released until 1995 (at least not for IBM PC compatibles). I will play the floppy disk version accordingly and give the CD version a quick playthrough afterwards in order to be able to compare the two. Apart from its MS-DOS release in 1993, the game was released for the Amiga as well as (a bit later as I see it) for the ill-fated Amiga CD32. It was also ported to a mostly forgotten OS called RISC OS (maybe you’ve seen the recognisable “cogwheel” logo at some point) that was only available for Acorn computers and thus remained a very exclusively British phenomenon. In 2009 and 2013 respectively it was ported to iOS and Android. Finally, 2018 saw the release of the “25th Anniversary Edition” of the game which you can still buy over at GOG.com. Most of the reviews were quite negative but the download includes the “Legacy Edition” which is nothing more than a fancy name for the “full talkie” CD version. I purchased the GOG download because the floppy disk version doesn’t seem to be for sale anywhere unless I’d want to buy the actual floppy disks which would cause a number of other problems. That seems good enough for me (and my karma). If you want to play along you’ll have to do the same thing. And if anyone was masochistic enough to play the 25th Anniversary Edition I’d fork out some extra CAPs in addition to the usual reward for playing along. 

But back to Simon the Sorcerer itself. The game was another family affair which wasn’t exactly unheard of in Mike Woodroffe’s company. Founder Mike Woodroffe himself took his son Simon onboard for this game, effectively making him the lead designer while his wife – and Simon’s mother – Patricia joined the team as assistant producer. Both Simon and Patricia had already worked with Mike on the Elvira games as well as Waxworks. Mike and Simon had first worked together on U.S. Gold’s AD&D: Heroes of the Lance in 1988. Simon was responsible for parts of the level design and did some testing there. It was the first game he ever worked on. Simon the Sorcerer on the other hand was the first game for which he assumed a leading role. 

Moving on, it was quite difficult to find the original DOS manual for the game. As long as I’m playing the 1993 version it is obligatory, though, as this version (and this version only as far as I know) has copy protection. The manual is fascinating in its own right, too. Take these short bios of Alan Bridgman, Mike & Simon Woodroffe, for example: 



Also, the system requirements will prompt the younger readers among you to shake their heads in disbelief while the others will feel a tickling sensation in their nostalgic bone: 

  •  a 12 MHz or faster IBM-AT or compatible system
  • 640K RAM
  • VGA graphics capability
  • A hard drive with approximately 10 Megabytes of free space
  • A mouse

640K RAM!! Can you believe this decadence? 10 MB of hard disk space!! I might have to delete Word 6.0 for this! 12 MHz or faster… faster?? THIS IS MADNESS!! All joking aside, the manual is setting the tone of the game quite nicely, mostly sticking to outright silliness throughout. 

The introduction, or “foreplay” as it is called here, seemed familiar to me. I might have read it way back when. Here it comes: 


“It often helps to start with some sort of introduction so here we go…

Once upon a time It all started on the day of Simon’s 12th birthday. He was having a party, not a modern rave party that 12 year-olds have these days, but a quiet English affair with jelly and ice-cream, pin-the-tail on grandma and a magician called Marvelo. He specialised in pulling rabbits out of hats and making seemingly endless quantities of brightly coloured handkerchiefs appear from his mouth. 

Simon took great pleasure in pointing out how these tricks were done to his awestruck friends and eventually had to be physically restrained by his father to prevent Marvelo the Magician becoming Marvelo the Murderer. 

When blowing-out-the-candles’ time came, Simon wished for a Gameboy from his grandparents and for his older brother to fall down something deep and preferably spiky. He was surprised when later the doorbell rang and, upon opening the door, he discovered a small, scruffy looking dog wrapped up in shiny paper. After unsuccessfully trying to install his friend’s Tetris cart, he was persuaded that it was [] not a new Gameboy after all. 

The dog (he called it Chippy) had a strange book in its mouth that no-one could read. His parents hadn’t the heart to tell the young boy the dog wasn’t for him and that they had no idea from where or whom it came. It was, after all, a new target for the boyish sadism found in all youngsters. The family adopted the dog and the book was dumped in the loft and forgotten…

Until now…”


Ominous, innit? The remainder of the manual is a bit hit-or-miss to be honest but you have to admit that it made absolutely sure you knew what kind of game you just bought in case there was even the tiniest shadow of a doubt. Let’s look at the description of the installation process: 



What did that cab driver say when Elvis Costello asked him to take him to Chelsea? Right: “Ha bloody ha.” More informatively, this is the list of available verbs: walk to, talk to, give, move, look at, use, wear, remove, consume, pick up, open, close. Quite basic which might be a good thing. Also, there’s a map feature that I don’t really remember: “By selecting USE Map it is possible to jump straight to [locations once they have been discovered].” I feel like I may have played the game without this feature in the Nineties because there are exactly two things I remember about it: the main theme of the soundtrack gets still stuck in my head whenever I read the name of the game and there was a LOT of walking/backtracking involved. Boy, was there ever. Or maybe I was just unaware of the map feature. We’ll soon find out.

The manual ends with an appendix of fake letters effectively doubling the troubleshooting section just opposite. “Dear Aunt Agatha”, one of them says, “My copy of STS won’t start. Yours haltingly, D. Ed Stopp.” I think you get the picture. Expect the first gameplay post soon if I don’t get lost at one of those modern rave parties. And don’t forget to guess the score!


36 comments:

  1. yes ! This is a wonderful game, flawed of course, but to me is the third company doing graphic adventure games apart from LucasArts and Sierra, and to be sincere, I've never liked most of the latter ones.

    Enjoy the forest music, one of my favorites from the great OST. I predict a 74 score for this

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    1. Generally speaking I'm not too fond of Sierra's games, either. There are some notable exceptions (the Quest for Glory games, the Conquest games, Gabriel Knight I) but most of them feel a bit shoddy compared to many of their contemporaries (although the early games, I have to admit, were so early that they feel a bit shoddy of their own).

      I don't remember the forest music at all (just the main theme which is...let's say relentless) and will keep my ears open.

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  2. 65

    I've played this once, over a decade ago. I remember it being only nice enough, and don't think it will quite reach Quest for Glories or Space Quest V.

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    1. The last time I played it must have been about 25 years ago and I don't remember much (which isn't saying much either way, though). I only completed it once, though, around the time of its release. I'll try to be very open minded which is easy because it seems to be regarded as a veritable classic by some, kind of boring and overrated by others.

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  3. I have always wanted to play this but never got around to do so. I will either follow closely all the posts to indirectly play with you or skip them if I decide to try it myself. Probably the first...
    My guess is 63

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    1. It would be lovely if you decided to play along, Antonakis, but I can understand it perfectly well if you didn't get around to actually doing it. I wanted to play along with so many fine games on this blog but rarely ever made it.

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  4. The music in this feels so cozy! Softish instruments and what feels to me like a slightly slower than usual tempo. James Woodcock's refresh of the soundtrack is a part of my usual playlist.

    The puzzles are mostly quite nice too, except for a few pixel hunting ones...

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    1. I'm surprised because I remember the music as being a bit obtrusive maybe? But it's quite possible that I got it all wrong or that I'm confusing it with the second game or something. I'll be sure to turn it up.

      I am not surprised, however, that there will be pixel hunting in a game that was released in 1993.

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    2. Simon the Sorcerer doesn't support General MIDI for music, only MT-32 and Adlib/SoundBlaster. If you try to play with the MT-32 option using a typical MIDI device, the instruments will be all wrong - might explain the "obtrusive" music. The Windows CD version I own doesn't even let you choose and automatically goes for MT-32.

      I recall there being some criticism of Woodcock's "enhanced" versions in that he didn't properly remap the instruments.

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    3. Thank you, Laukku! I meant that I remember it as obtrusive from way back when but your comment will let me be aware when I set up the sound this time around.

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  5. 10 MB of hard disk space!! I might have to delete Word 6.0 for this!

    In 1993 I was still using WordStar on my hand-me-down XT, soooo... (Granted we did have 286, 386, and 486 computers in the house, just not the one in my bedroom.)

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    1. Ha, WordStar! Lovely!!
      I think I was actually using Lotus Word Pro (?) at the time but felt that Word clearly was the less obscure reference.

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  6. Kind of amusing that there's a link between Infocom and Scott Adams, if only through this game.
    Incidentally, I keep meaning to play Personal Nightmare (or the more obtuse title ...A Personal Nightmare) one Halloween but time never seems to work well for me. Elvira's a personal favorite even if I still haven't finished it.
    And funny you should bring up RISC OS, or basically the Acorn 32-bit. Its library is not large, but most of the titles on it look interesting, and it has quite a few ports from other systems. I know the port of Elite is supposed to be the best one, though I couldn't get it running the last time I tried.
    (on the other hand, I could have found the manual pretty easily, protip for the future, if its not on Apple II, I can pretty easily find it for ya, if it actually exists on the internet)
    Something that had me curious was the remake, so I checked. The reason why people hate that is because the company responsible for it, MojoTouch, didn't actually remake anything, they basically just took the SCUMMVM version and did a little rewriting so it isn't super obvious. Flight of the Amazon Queen and 7th Guest are also the same kind of remakes. Basically not because its bad, its the same game, its just because the company is scummy.
    (and also incidentally, there are two Russian/German/somesuch sequels released in the later '00s, you're going to have fun twenty years from now)

    Anyway, let's go for 64.

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    1. Absolutely, I love the fact that Scott Adams and Infocom sort of work together in their professional afterlives! If Elvira's a personal favourite of yours I'm not surprised anymore that you were able to stick it out with The Legacy!

      I also heard about the Acorn Elite being the best but never actually tried to get it running. Good call, though. Be sure to tell me if you find a way!

      Thanks for the information about the remake. I didn't dig too deep to avoid spoilers but that must be the reason people hate it so much.

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    2. I'll go for 70.

      The remakes appear to have just had some kind of filter applied, it looks like they just upscaled the originals and applied a filter to smooth everything out. Heresy to a game known for great artwork, so I understand why many people feel a bit robbed.

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    3. I guess it's a fine line between reverence and a quick cash-in. The remake of "Day of the Tentacle" is generally held in high regard if I'm not mistaken.

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    4. The "Simon the Sorcerer" remastered edition seems to have an option to play with the original graphics ("Optional retro settings: play with original graphics, original music and even the original controls"), so you aren't forced to play with the filter on, and I appreciate the addition of making it hotspot based to avoid the dreaded pixel hunting.

      I have the remake of "Day of the Tentacle" and it has an HD graphic update which avoid being intrusive in the way of applying a graphic filter. Also, its cartoon-like graphic style makes it easier to improve graphically than a 16-bit pixel art style.

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    5. >>(and also incidentally, there are two Russian/German/somesuch sequels released in the later '00s, you're going to have fun twenty years from now)

      The sequels you mention (parts 4 and 5, respectively) were German ... And quite horrendous, really (5 even worse than 4). Point and click adventures are very popular in Germany, and the first two STS games (especially part 2) had some excellent translation work and voice acting going for the German localization, so the series was immensely popular around here... And when a German studio (Kalypso games I think) managed to get their hands on the rights to make another Simon game, the local gaming press was incredibly excited... At First, at least. So part 4 actually got halfway decent reviews in Germany - everyone wanted the game to become a hit so hard. But the graphics, the puzzles, the plot... Nothing really worked, it all just felt so wrong. (I shudder when I just think about that "running" animation of Simon's in the fourth game.... Ugh...)

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  7. Damn, I'm sure nostalgia is clouding my judgement on this one, and the second game is much superior, but... I'll say 68!

    Hey, last week my Amiga 500 Mini arrived... And it has Simon the Sorcerer preinstalled as part of it's 25 included games! That would be a perfect opportunity to try out the Mini and to play (the Amiga version of) STS along with you!

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    1. From what I've read most people think that the first game is far superior but we're here to find out, right? :-)

      That sounds great (first time I've heard of the Amiga 500 Mini, too!!), El despertando! Looking forward to reading your opinions on the game.

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    2. It will be interesting revisiting the game, must be about twenty years since I last played it. I remember playing (and finishing) all the Simon games up until STS 4 though, so let's see how much I remember. 😉

      Never played the Amiga version before though. So here is already a minor difference to the PC version: the Amiga floppy Version (which is the one included with the A500 Mini) does not have the intro with the dog and the chest, it starts with Simon doing his credits magic thing and then leads directly into the opening scene in Calypso's hut. So if they didn't know the backstory from the manual, players would probably be a bit confused about Simon's reaction to the world he finds himself in.

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  8. Well, well, well... I've put this in my top 5 for 1993, so it better be as good as I remember...

    Which is not that good actually, because of the frustrating pixel-hunting and cliché plot. But it is undoubtedly a very charming adventure game.

    Let's go with 72. (This has to be at least as good as KGB, don't you agree?)

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  9. Music's still stuck in my head~

    The "idle animation" of Simon with his headphones was cool then (and now).

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  10. I remember this being quite funny, but maybe not quite as funny as it thinks it is.

    I'll suggest a 59 for the score. Mainly cos the humour can be a little hit or miss, and I don't think it did too much interesting with the story or puzzles in the first game.

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  11. Adventure Gamers now tracking daily deals of adventure games across various stores: https://adventuregamers.com/games/daily-deals

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  12. A quite enjoyable, but also hit-and-miss game.

    52.

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  13. 66. And I'll try to find the large box set I got about 20 years ago, along with an original T-shirt, to commemorate this gameplay...

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  14. I’m going 60. I really didn’t enjoy this series at all - it just felt too “British” in the worst ways, which as a Brit, just grates on me.
    I think a lot of the press came from the UK finally having a higher budget adventure game which looked similar to the Lucasart games. However it just doesn’t do anything as well as Lucasarts did. But I may be in the minority there as I also think the same about Revolution games but a lot of people love those

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  15. Huh, I guess someone deleted my earlier comment. Weird. Anyway, I'm guessing for 55.

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  16. Although a very decent point & click, I don`t think that this game is anything special. My guess: 61

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  17. A couple of rose tinted reflections…
    I’m pretty sure both the dos and at least the AGA Amiga version featured the post card map. Without that, this game would certainly have been a very slow, backtracking affair. Indeed, even with the map, the overall slow pace and detailed animations makes it rather different from its more snappy contemporaries.
    Pacing aside, the game sure has its flaws. ROT13[ Gur aba rkvfgnag raqvat orvat gur bayl ernyyl wneevat bar VZB, ] in addition to aforementioned pixel hunting. I do agree about the humor being hit & miss, although IMO no worse than some of Sierra’s contemporary (of course, everyone to their own and I guess Star Trek fans may disagree).

    I read (forgot where) that the setting partially was the product of a failure to obtain the rights for Pratchett’s Discworld. Does anyone know anything about this?

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    1. Simon is clearly a reference to Discworld's Rincewind; I don't think there are other wizards in fiction who dress like that and are completely unable to cast magic.

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  18. Bigfluffylemon2 May 2022 at 18:42

    I never played this one, but I did play the sequel. It seemed to be a fairly typical for the era sub Lucasarts game, nothing that special.

    I recall back in the day it was notable for a couple of things. Firstly the humour, which as a couple of posters have noted is probably not as funny as it thinks it is. I get the impression they were going for 'dry British wit', something akin to Blackadder, but didn't quite nail it and just ended up overly sarcastic. And I'm British and usually like that dry humour.

    The other is that the talkie version had Chris 'Rimmer' Barrie as the voice of Simon, at the height of his Red Dwarf fame, which gave it some comedy cache in the UK at least.

    I'm going to guess 62 - competent but nothing special.

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  19. bought and played the cd version in 1994.

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  20. I guess 58. Parts of the game are neat, but notice that it's not really a 3d-space and the ending is rushed.

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