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.