The Jewels of Darkness was published in 1986/87 for a wide variety of different computer formats – Amstrad CPC (cassette and disc), Amstrad PCW, Apple II, Apple Mac, Atari ST, Atari XE/XL, Commodore Amiga, Commdore 64/128, IBM PC, MSX 64k, Sinclair QL, Spectrum 48k/128k. Before they produced Jewels of Darkness, Silicon Dreams and Knight Orc (their first original 16-bit adventure), Level 9 Computing made their name writing 8-bit text adventure games.
Having seen a version of Colossal Cave running on a mainframe where he worked, Pete Austin thought that they could fit it onto a 16k machine. This resulted in Level 9’s own version which they called Colossal Adventure. It was to be their first commercial release and was written in what they called a-code.
From the outset, they didn’t just write the game, but they devised and created a writing system that they could use over and over again to create further games. They also had the awareness to write the system so that it could be used on other machines. In the early days they were only able to produce versions for the BBC and Nascom. In 1983 they converted over to the Spectrum 48k, Commodore 64, Oric, Atari 400/800, Lynx 48k and RML 380Z. A few years further down the road they converted the entire range to date onto the MSX and the Enterprise.
Colossal Adventure wasn’t quite a direct conversion from the mainframe original. One very subtle difference was that the food was moved into the otherwise superfluous forest outside. The major difference was the addition of the ‘end game’. In the original adventure, the game finished when you picked up the final treasure and the cave announced that it was closing down. You then had to get out in time before the game ended. Level 9 decided to add an end game so they could boast that the game had ‘over 200 locations’. The original only had 130.
Colossal Adventure was followed by Adventure Quest, which was their first attempt at designing a game themselves from scratch. They then rounded the trilogy off with Dungeon Adventure.
The deal with Rainbird allowed Level 9 to do something that no other developer had ever really been given the chance to do up to that point; re-write and improve previously published games. Level 9 had been incorporating location graphics for a few years anyway, but the original games were text only affairs.
The graphics were constructed before the player’s eyes, with each element (boulders, trees, etc.) being a pre-defined item that was re-used time and time again throughout the adventure. This kept the amount of valuable memory used on the graphics to a minimum, allowing each game to have one picture for ever location. The style was definitely unique, but some adventure purists thought they were unnecessary. Fortunately, the player didn’t have to wait for the picture to finish before they could start typing.
The chosen graphic style was definitely more like a cartoon than the (sometimes) beautiful works of art that appeared in the Magnetic Scrolls games. If nothing else, I thought they added a needed splash of colour to the display of what would otherwise have been a very dull looking text only screen. Having said that, the purists could turn the pictures off anyway.
Level 9 also made subtle changes to the games. For example, the starting location in the original Dungeon Adventure differs from the starting location in the Jewels of Darkness version. In the original, you have to go up to reach the location that the modernised version started at. It’s not immediately clear why this was done, but I’m sure they had their reasons! There were also minor textual differences between the conversions, suggesting that memory was more at a premium on some of the 8-bit versions than on others.
Level 9 followed this reworked compilation release with another, called Silicon Dreams.
The implementation of Lenslok in some versions of Level 9's games used Level 9's own graphic 'identi-kit' system, i.e. the blocks that made up the Lenslok display were built from the graphic object library already used to create the location graphics. This limited the amount of memory used by the Lenslok code, giving as much space as possible to the game.
Some of the memories here were originally included in the article Level 9: Past Masters of the Adventure Game? which I originally wrote for a long-since extinct adventure fanzine called Red Herring.
The article has since popped up on various web sites over the years. I updated it again for a two-part article published by Retro Gamer Magazine in issues 6 and 7.