A chat with Dorothy Millard, Australian adventure authorIf youíve ever played a homegrown adventure game on the C64, chances are that youíve come across the games of Dorothy Millard. Sheís the author of a number of excellent text adventures for the C64 (which, by the way, can be downloaded right here). On a sunny day in August í99, I decided to ask her a few questions. Read on and enjoy!
The first text adventure game I came across on the Commodore 64 was The Secret of Bastow Manor and it was years before I eventually managed to work out how to open the safe [youíre not alone!]. Other early adventures included the Mountain Valley/Softgold series, including King Solomonís Mines and Mystery Island, followed by Scott Adams and many of the public domain games, including Tunnelmaze by Steven Darnold and Haunted Mansion by John O'Hare, both of which left me with fond memories. I found a lot of the public domain games (and some commercial games too) contained "bugs." This was often, in the case of the public domain games, because they had been typed from magazines but not checked. I spent a lot of time fixing these and also typing in games from magazines, and then debugging them, in the early days.Your latest game made available for emulation is from 1994. What happened after that - did you give up on writing or did you switch to some greener pasture (ie. a newer machine)? Quite simply I re-entered the workforce and simply didnít get around to learning a new program when I switched to the Amiga. I did plan to continue the Aussie Adventure series using the Amiga, but never got around to it and now that machine isnít working anyway. I still hope to come to grips with something like Tads or Inform on the PC. How did you manage to get your games distributed (this has always been a major problem for adventure writers!) I can see that one your games was released by something called Base 7 - was that your own company? Only one game was released by Base 7 Software. The rest were released through the "Home Grown" market in England and the US, and by myself in Australia. They are now available to anyone who wants them in emulated format from the Internet. Let's talk a bit about the technical side (ugh!) Your first games appear to be written in BASIC. I've tried writing BASIC adventures myself. It's absolutely horrible! Actually my first games were written with The Quill and I only wrote using BASIC to prove I could. Let me explain, I had already written eight or so games with The Quill and I was looking for a challenge. There are things I could do in BASIC that I couldnít do with The Quill, for example including sound (I know you can use sound in The Quill but I never mastered writing it). Shadows in the Night was written entirely around using sound effects. I had to include an aviary because I had this wonderful sound effect of birds singing. Convention Blues was the first game I wrote in BASIC as a programming exercise. However, it still turned out to be a very playable game. Misty Island was the third game I wrote in BASIC and I was able to put a lot more timed events in because of this. It also changes colour according to the time of day, which is very important throughout the game. I found when designing the layout it was more flexible using BASIC, for example in Shadows in the Night the location descriptions change according to actions taken. This isnít possible when programming with The Quill. The main problem with BASIC was speed, but I solved this by compiling the games.- On the other hand, your later titles were written in The Quill. How did that system's limitations influence your work? The main limitation with my writing wasnít so much with The Quill, but with the limited memory available in the Commodore 64. My games always took up all the available memory. I stopped writing puzzles when I ran out of memory. It was always a compromise between long descriptive passages and puzzles. I nearly always took the puzzles option, as they are what I like most about text adventure games. The limitations taught me to write very tight code and to get as much as possible into the available memory. A good example of this is Yellow Peril which contains heaps of puzzles. Back to The Quill, the main limitation would have to be the two-word parser, but with a little thought this can be got around. What bothered me the most about the Quill was that for some odd reason, most of the system messages always seemed the same. Things like "You can't do that", "I don't understand" and the "Quit" messages didn't have a great deal of variation. Was that due to the system itself, or were the writers just too lazy to change them? :o) Yes, I know what you mean. What bugged me most was the blue on blue colour scheme. I always found that if the author hadnít bothered to change these then the game wasnít going to be brilliant. In a nutshell the above problems are caused by inexperienced or lazy authors. It is quite simple to go into the System Messages and change them. In later games, when I had gained some experience, I always gave at least three or four alternative "You canít do that" type messages which would appear randomly. Also as far as memory restrictions would allow I would ensure that as many different messages as possible were given in response to input. Did you ever try other possibilities, like GAC? I always found it to be more advanced than The Quill, but the games it produced were so awfully slow that you couldn't be bothered playing them! GAC had its advantages, like an improved parser, but I always felt that its lack of speed outweighed the advantages and with clever programming The Quill was the best available for the C64. What's your favourite (adventure) game? Lurking Horror by Infocom. And what's your favourite puzzle, game reply or similar in an adventure game? I don't have one. What do you think about the newer adventure games? A lot of the PC games available via the Internet, especially the competition games, lack puzzles which is what I like most. They can also be too verbose. I just want to get in and play them. I enjoy mapping and many of these have only a few locations, or even only one, and in many regards are just too "clever." Give me the good old-fashioned treasure hunt any day. However, some of the commercial games are fun, including Lighthouse by Sierra, Zork: Grand Inquisitor and Zork Nemesis, but I do tend to get "lost," especially in Zork Nemesis, where after getting in quite successfully I later just couldn't find my way in again, and had to ask a friend for help. [you have my full sympathy regarding ZN, which in places is awfully difficult! For the rest of you, Zork: Grand Inquisitor actually captures a lot of the atmosphere of the Infocom classics and therefor comes warmly recommended.ĖJG]