Oh boy, a licensed property, so early on?! At least it's not a video game based on a movie at this point, but it is based on the book, or rather sits alongside the events of the book - so much so that it was sold alongside a copy of the Hobbit, which makes The Hobbit some kind of collectors edition waaay before such a concept would dominate the gaming market. And there wasn't a standard edition, it was straight up cross-media promotion, and it was everywhere. Name the home console of the 80s and The Hobbit seems to have been on it, so it must have been good...
Luckily for me, it's available on the Internet Archive. Doesn't come with the book though, but I'll let that slide.
It's a text adventure. Why did I expect any different, of course it's a text adventure. The problem is that now we've got to learn the quirks of the text parser, and while I read that it's quite a detailed parser for its time, it isn't one that I'm having luck with.
Stumbling around with the text input is part of the learning experience, but The Hobbit seems a bit hell bent on you learning quickly, or not at all. In the first scene, set in a Smial, as so helpfully introduced with a detailed image (yeah that's right, I Googled what a Hobbit-hole is called), I'm dumped into the middle of the action with Gandalf and Thorin. If I take too long, Gandalf just gets up and leaves. Doesn't even bother talking to me, the guy just wants to get on with his day, whatever that involves. Does it involve me? No idea.
Time passes in this text adventure. It passes a lot, and it passes quickly, kind of like time itself. The game just progresses, unless you type 'Pause' (learned that one pretty quick...), meaning you've got to keep your head in the game, read quickly and act quicker.
That's not what I was expecting at all, and I wasn't prepared for it in the slightest.
So I learned the 'Attack' command and tested that one out before finishing.
But I wasn't going to end it completely. I did want to see the other 98% of adventure that I missed out on, but instead of flicking between an emulator window and a game guide (one was even released in 1984), I headed straight to YouTube.
And what do we find? A living world. Not even joking. Characters and enemies just do their thing, often to the point of breaking the game by killing each other, or your allies getting captured while roaming somewhere.
That sounds like it'd suck, especially if you were caught up in problems again and again, but then you find out about the kind of things the game kept track of - if you found yourself inside a barrel, and that barrel found itself getting hurled through a door, then you're going through that door too. Of course you are, that's what'd happen in life, and so that's what happens in the game. All the way back in 1982. Fantastic.
If only I could get into it. I want to, it's the next step of the text adventure, it's the evolution of text input and output into something more open-worldy, something where it's not so static. Unfortunately, it introduces more problems to your problem solving, so the learning curve isn't so friendly from the first screen. At least it breaks things up with artwork splashed about the place from time to time. Time passes, and Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold...
It's definitely a marker in video game history. Ambitious, innovative, difficult. It can be watched a lot quicker than it can be finished through trial and error, and if it's not for you, then you could always read the book instead. Result.
A version 1.1 bug fix was released in an attempt to clear up some of the more irksome problems in the game. It introduced a new bug that rendered the game unwinnable...
The Hobbit, developed by Beam Software, first released in 1982.
Version played: MS-DOS, 1982, via emulation.
Version watched: MSX, 1982.