I recently moved from my house to an apartment. During this move, we had to throw away a lot of clutter, some of it dating back to my childhood. One particular box held many of my old PC game boxes. I ended up throwing away most of my collection as I just don’t have the space for them. Some of that process makes me feel ill. I still feel ill just thinking about it. I did keep a handful of the boxes that I couldn’t bear to part with, one of which was The Bard’s Tale.
After the jump, I remember Skara Brae
I grew up in the south, Birmingham, AL in fact, and times were tough. My dad left when I was one year old. He had been an alcoholic and when he sobered up he realized we weren’t very glamorous, and started a new life with another family. We lived on food stamps and scrounged to pay the bills and afford meals. We no longer lived in a house, we moved into a trailer on what was my grandparents property out in the country.
The funny thing about living in that trailer was that it was all alone, surrounded by woods. If it had been a trailer park, the experience may have been different and I might have had more friends. I had a couple of good friends from school that would come over and play on occasion, but I was mostly alone and very lonely.
The one thing my parents’ divorce afforded me was a PC. My dad was a programmer and made a decent living at it, so he bought me an 8086. It was wonderful. My original monitor could display any color as long as that color was orange or black. I had an 8 MB hard drive and two 5.25 floppies.
My mom remarried a few years later and the guy she married had several sons. Most of his sons were grown, but he had one boy around my age – Robby. My step dad still had visitation rights, so every weekend he’d go pick Robby up from his mother’s trailer and we’d play together. I was beside myself with excitement at having a brother near my age. My excitement was short lived.
Robby is a few years older than me and therefore I was a nuisance. He really liked my toys, so that kept the peace mostly, but Robby had quite a bit of distaste for me and it was apparent. No matter how I tried to get Robby to be my friend, he always kept me at arms length. Then came Bard’s Tale.
A friend of his had been playing Bard’s Tale and made Robby a copy of the disks. He brought them over and we installed it on my PC. We were enthralled. We played every weekend, taking turns controlling the action and making party decisions. Though we both wanted to play, it wasn’t so bad watching the action.
Then one weekend, everything changed. Robby came over as usual, but this time he came prepared. When we sat down to play, he opened up his backpack and produced a pad of graph paper and a pencil. I asked what it was for and he replied that he’d “show me.” He loaded up our party and headed for the closest dungeon.
When we entered the dungeon, he picked a square in the center of the paper and marked an exit. He then turned in every direction and if that direction had a wall, the corresponding side of the square would get filled in. He repeated this a few times and then showed me the resulting map. I took over and we began making maps for every dungeon we came across.
We played so much that our copied disks screwed up so we put our money together and bought a real copy of the game. I remember staring at the game box with its symbols and map markers surrounding a group of adventurers in an inn. I would make up stories for the different adventurers and try to imagine the dungeons they’d explore and the loot they’d discover.
A few weekends later, Robby showed up with an extra set of disks. He had worked out that if you copied your character save disk and used both copies, yanking one out and putting the other in, you could double your items. We had so many dragon figurines and frost horns that the game became pointless.
We played on and off for a few more weekends, but the magic was gone. I tried, time and time again, to befriend my brother as I once had, but nothing ever stuck. Robby turned 18, graduated from high school and I never saw him again. That was almost twenty years ago now. I don’t think about Robby often, but whenever I see a pad of graph paper my thoughts return to the time I shared with my reluctant brother and the maps we made of Skara Brae.