Lo-Fi Let’s Play: Gruds in Space

By Leigh Alexander on July 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

I’ve been doing a series of Let’s Play videos exploring old adventures, text games and lost design forms from the 1980s Apple IIe and Commodore 64 era. In a time when young men shout over new action games, I will talk softly over strange old ones. Come along on a visitation of a different era that’s one part meditations on my childhood, one part adventure game criticism, and one part preservation effort. Bonus: Everyone says the quiet talk, lo-fi handmade feel and keyboard tapping triggers ASMR responses. Please enjoy!

Ancient, Saturnine landscapes, finicky teleporters and oppressed alien mining populations: Sirius Software’s Gruds in Space was a beloved title in my childhood, one of the many that simultaneously compelled and thwarted me.

Imagine how excited I was when, after I did this video, John Romero reached out and offered to introduce me to Chuck Sommerville, who designed the game along with artist Joseph Dudar. Chuck also made Snake Byte, one of the classic permutations of the “snake” game concept, as well as Chip’s Challenge — which I also played on a loaner Atari Lynx as a kid.

“As far as I know, there really aren’t many Gruds in Space fans. It’s a forgotten title,” Sommerville wrote to me. “Count yourself a rare breed. I always considered it an ‘Also Ran’ title, because I was inspired to write it after looking at Blade of Blackpoole, and deciding I could make an adventure gamed at least as good as that.”

Sommerville made the game while in work study at Georgia Tech, along with his roommate Dudar, who had recently dropped out. “Although Joe was the computer science major, and I was electrical engineering, it turned out I was the better assembly language programmer, and Joe was the better artist, and storyteller.”

Sommerville points out three easter eggs: There’s a Heart of Darkness reference you’ll see in the Let’s Play. Also, try entering Saturn’s teleport coordinates on a calculator and turning it upside down.

As to the mysterious “reds and greens” on sale in the Saturn shop, they were based on logic puzzles inspired by the books of Raymond Smullyan.

“In these puzzles, the Gruds would make logical statements. then take drugs called reds or greens, which would change their nature, and then make additional statements,” Somerville explains. “Your job was to tell if what they said was true or false. The puzzles were so hard, we decided to abandon the idea, but we left the reference for our own chuckles.”

Sommerville recently released Chuck’s Challenge on Steam, a 3D animated puzzler with a level editor I’m looking forward to checking out!

Some of the games in this series I’m discovering for the first time thanks to the magic of emulation (and the incredible resources of virtualapple.org, with lots of references help from Textfiles). But this one is an old friend — it’s so rare that you get that opportunity, as a longtime player of games, to revisit one that burned itself into your memory during your formative years, and finally finish it.

These videos give relatively-brief 20 minute tours of these wonderful old places, but around the time I recorded this one, I finally beat Gruds in Space more than 20 years after I owned it as a kid. Getting to correspond with someone who made it felt like finally meeting a distant relative. I can’t describe it.

Try Gruds in Space yourself here.

The entire Lo-Fi Let’s Play series is available and regularly updated at my YouTube channel if you’d like to subscribe, but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on, with some additional written analysis and commentary.

, , , , , .

20 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    This is so awesome, I’ve been meaning to watch leigh’s let’s plays but not had a chance yet, make it a regular thing!

    • Ex Lion Tamer says:

      There’s a secret message containing great news on that front at the end of the post!

      (Not intended as snark. I am very excited about this development – I’m overdue to watch these as well. Regular Leigh on RPS is an excellent development, particularly with bonus words.)

  2. bosseye says:

    I’m on board purely for the ASMR stuff, I only recently discovered its an actual thing (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response for those who don’t know). I thought it was just me who got all relaxed and tingly watching Bob Ross or people sweeping up with brushes. Turns out I’m not special.

    Anyway, old text input games, reminds me of being 9 years old and playing some dragon game on the Schools only BBC. You had to enter foods for the baby dragon to eat and it either liked or didn’t like. EAT POO, YUM YUM YUM goes the baby dragon, hilarity ensues and continues to ensue for the rest of the day. Simple times.

  3. frightlever says:

    I sometimes think I’d like to re-play that Hobbit adventure from the Spectrum days. Never got very far with that. I re-played some of the Level 9 games a few years ago. I loved them at the time – we used to play them “co-operatively” at school, ie pooling hints and progress from the previous nights adventuring.

    • Premium User Badge

      JamesTheNumberless says:

      Yes this is how all adventure games and RPGs were played when I was at school, the occasional guide was published in magazines but before we all had the internet, there was a lot more collaboration and most conversations about games revolved around where you were “stuck.” these days, conversations about adventure games and RPGs usually begin with the assumption that you’ve completed it. I don’t think I’d heard the word “walkthrough” until I was about 19

  4. Premium User Badge

    Thirith says:

    Any tips on where we’re at nowadays with respect to emulators and the C-64? What’s the best emulator, what are the best ways of getting the programs? I last dabbled with 8-bit emulators years ago… but I can still SYS 64738 in my sleep.

    • Premium User Badge

      JamesTheNumberless says:

      Don’t know about C64 but there’s a fantastic speccy emulator out there that runs in a browser.

      http://jsspeccy.zxdemo.org/

      You can load any .tap, .tzx, .sna, or .z80 file so it isn’t limited to the games they have in their dropdown there.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      I think CCS64 is still the one to go for if you’re on Windows, or VICE if you’re running anything else.

      I’ve seen a couple on online ones too (like the Speccy one James mentions above), but I’ve never had great luck with them.

    • deekay says:

      I think emulation for the C64 is as good as it can be. Don’t know about CCS64, but WinVICE runs like a charm.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    I’ve been following these videos and they’re brillo.

    Leigh seems to do a non-trivial amount of research/preparation prior to recording, and so knows which bits of the game are best to demonstrate in the twenty minutes (or so) she spends with each one. They feel more like guided tours than Let’s Plays and this is a Good Thing.

    So yeah, more please!

  6. FauxBen says:

    I’m so glad to see these here! I’ve been watching these videos since the beginning, and I think RPS is an excellent fit for them.

  7. Kerrim says:

    This is so so so so wonderful! Perfect voice, perfect let’s play, perfect!

  8. Laurentius says:

    That voice is fantastic, definietly ASMR, Still these games are a bit too old to me to digest.

  9. rexx.sabotage says:

    More like this. All of these lovely written words on RPS would be complemented by a well curated collection of moving picture contributors.

  10. Noviere says:

    I’ve been enjoying these videos for a while, and am glad more people will get to experience them! Leigh’s voice + the keyboard definitely puts me in a trance. Thanks Leigh :)

  11. ansionnach says:

    Thanks, really enjoyed this. Other than Granny’s Garden I’ve only ever read about text-based games (got my first computer as a teenager). Have really enjoyed the Ultimas that required text input and am currently enjoying Quest for Glory (with the text parser). There’s certainly something fun and simple about these games when you’re not pulling out the thesaurus. If some elements are used judiciously, I think that modern gaming could benefit from ideas that my have been forgotten too soon.

  12. deekay says:

    Thanks for the video, great fun to watch!
    Gruds was the very first adventure game I ever played. And I still occasionally dream of purple orbs. :-)