When I was growing up, I had a slightly younger friend whose parents had bought him an Amstrad. My, how we laughed at him! And if that wasn’t bad enough, he only had the green monitor version which made all his games look like they’d been covered in grass. Needless to say we spent most of the time round at my house playing on the mighty Commodore 64.
Just occasionally, though, I’d take pity on him and we’d go round to his house to play on the Green Machine. Happily, there was one such occasion when this proved to be A Very Good Decision.
Knowing that I was a massive fan of adventure games, he loaded up his latest acquisition – Seabase Delta – a budget game from Firebird’s £1.99 range. We started playing it together and becamse completely hooked. Several hours passed, much progress was made and eventually, it was time for me to go home. I found I’d enjoyed the game so much that the very next day, I went out and bought my own copy.
Seabase Delta put you in the role of reporter Ed Lions (ho! ho!), trapped on board a submarine that had been captured by enemy agents and towed to an enemy base. Your task is to escape by using the usual assortment of odd objects that tend to get left carelessly lying around in adventure games.
Seabase Delta was written using The Quill software. This often (unfairly) became a byword for a poor game, but without ever being anything astonishing, Seabase Delta shows what could be done with the tool when used properly.
Sure, the parser was a little basic and the graphics weren’t anything to write home about (though they were perfectly adequate and added something to the atmosphere). As with many text-based adventures there were times when the game’s limited vocabulary was slightly frustrating. Unless you hit on the exact word or phrase, you’d get the ubiquitous “I didn’t understand” message, so even if you knew what you had to do, actually find the right words to do it was a whole new issue. On the whole, though, the game’s relatively basic parser worked in its favour since you only had to remember a limited number of verbs for most of the puzzles.
The text also had a rather pleasing sense of humour. It wasn’t as zany as some (like Monkey Island) or a skit (like Delta 4’s offerings), but it could still make you smile. The text descriptions and computer responses were written with tongue very firmly in cheek and the deliberately bad puns appealed to me at the time (and, if I’m honest, still do!)
Where Seabase Delta really shone was in the game design. Even though the game was limited to a single location (the enemy base), there were lots of locations to discover, plenty of puzzles to solve and dozens of items to pick up and use. Crucially – at a time when walkthroughs were hard to find – puzzles were generally pretty logical and, with a little bit of lateral thinking, could be solved by most people. This helped to give the game a real sense of progression and motivated you to carry on. Every time you “outwitted” the game and solved a puzzle, it felt rewarding and opened up a new area of the game to explore.
I can only remember one puzzle I got totally stuck on. It was one of those frustrating puzzles common to old adventure games, where I knew what I needed to do, but not how to achieve it. One task required you to get hold of an egg which could be supplied by an unlikely, but handily available, chicken. However, the chicken was asleep and wouldn’t lay until it woke up. Could I wake up that damn chicken? I tried absolutely everything I could think of (up to, and including hitting it with every object in my inventory), but progress came to a grinding halt. For months, I checked the computer magazines on the shelves of John Menzies (remember them?) in the hopes that someone would have sent the solution in to one of their tips pages, but with no luck. Then, just when I had given up hope of ever waking that chicken, one magazine finally printed the answer. (For the record, you had to chew the bubble gum you had previously picked up, blow a bubble and then burst it to wake the chicken. Obviously.)
That one frustration aside, Seabase Delta proved to be a lot of fun. The constant progress made it rewarding whilst the relatively easy-to-solve puzzles (chickens aside) kept frustration levels to a minimum. I’ve always been a fan of adventure games (and the purist in me has a particularly soft spot for non-point and click games) and from the 8 bit days, this along with Delta 4’s The Boggit, is the one that I remember most fondly.
(Actually, I tell a lie: I was also rather fond of Melbourne House’s The Hobbit because a) I first read and fell in love with the book around this age and b) my 11 year old self never tired being able to tell Thorin to do unspeakably rude things to Gandalf!)
Anyway, back to the game in hand. If you were being critical, you could argue that the game was too easy – seasoned adventurers could easily complete it in a couple of hours – but given that it only cost £1.99, it offered tremendous value for money. Like most adventures, once you’d finished it, it was extremely unlikely you’d ever replay it, but again; given what you’d paid, this wasn’t really an issue.
The only other negative was the really poor ending which was the adventure game equivalent of “Then they went home and had their tea.” After all the work you’d put into solving the puzzles, the ending was a massive anti-climax– surely the least you could have expected was a pretty picture of you escaping the base? Still, it shows how good the game was that even this could not spoil my sense of fondness for the title.