Thursday, March 16, 2023

Text-Based Fun: Remembering 'The Count' on the VIC-20

Picture of the original game box
Do you remember playing games as a child, when everything felt larger than life and your imagination had no bounds? For me, one such game was "The Count" for the VIC-20, a text-based adventure game written by none other than Douglas Adams himself.

As an 11-year-old, I was immediately captivated by the game's premise of exploring a haunted castle, collecting treasures, and avoiding the notorious vampire Count Dracula. Even though the game had no graphics or sound, the story, and puzzles were engaging enough to keep me hooked for hours on end.

Now, years later, I still look back on "The Count" with fond memories of my childhood and the joy that video games brought me. 

As a child playing "The Count" on the VIC-20, I remember being immediately drawn in by the game's text-based adventure format. The game took place in a haunted castle.

To this day I still have a mental map of the different rooms and the different artifacts you could collect.  I would sit with pen and paper making my own map and walk around the castle with commands "GO NORTH", "GO WEST" etc.  You could only enter two-word commands.  I remember in the kitchen there was Dumb-Waiter.  At the time I had no idea what a Dumb-waiter was.  There was no internet to google this at the time.  I assumed it was a waiter that could not speak.  By chance, after exhausting all options I said  "ENTER DUMB-WAITER" and all of a sudden the game had a whole new set of options.  You could "GO DOWN" and "GO UP".  down would take you to a workroom and down again would take you to the dungeon.

Sketch showing the rooms of the castle

I have refreshed my memory on this as I found a VIC-20 emulator that runs on my Mac. After a hunt and a Google, I found and downloaded the software for "The Count". It took a while to figure out how to run the game.  But when I figured it out 1981 came flooding back.   I have been reliving my childhood again with this game.  I had forgotten that you have to complete the game within a number of commands.  If you use too many commands the sun goes down, you get tired and Dracula gets you and you wind up back in bed.

I've not got far enough but you find garlic to keep Dracula away, pills to stay awake, and matches to light a torch.  Oh and the Solar oven you can get into when the sun goes down.  Again I had no idea what a solar oven was.

It reminds me of the adventure game that Josh Baskin plays in the movie Big, as both games take the player on a journey of exploration and discovery. Josh defeats the wizard in the adventure game in Big with an ice crystal. During the final confrontation, Josh finds the ice crystal in a cave and uses it to freeze the wizard's fireballs, rendering him vulnerable to attack. Josh then throws a scepter at the wizard, which shatters and causes him to disappear, thus winning the game

Despite never completing the game, "The Count" has remained a nostalgic favorite of mine for years. As a child, it sparked my imagination and provided hours of entertainment, and as an adult, it's a reminder of simpler times when games were about exploration and discovery.

screenshot of some game play

I will keep playing the game and try to complete it. I did see the solution come up in my Google searches when I was looking for the game to download.  I'll avoid these for now and hopefully, with a bit more knowledge I may be able to complete it.  Who knows an 11-year-old
may have got further.