Have You Played… Repton?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

There are games of which I can see screenshots years later and remember them fondly, or otherwise. And then there are the ones where a screenshot tears me asunder. Time and space lose their usual meaning, as my present and past selves collide, and my mind struggles to accept the decades of separation between them. Repton is one of those.

I played it as a child. It seemed like the height of technology. I cannot entirely believe, even to this day, that is not. I see images of it and I am transported thirty years into my own past. A specific room, a specific table, a specific screen, a specific sense of wonder and frustration.

Repton was a BBC Micro game – at least as I first experienced it – that concerned a sort of egg-headed lizardy alien lad digging his way through a space I always presumed was underground, in search of treasure and escape.

A collection of abstract ideas that made perfect sense to an eight-year-old mind, and which speaks to the benefits of not trying to explain your game’s story in the slightest, it was partly maze puzzles, partly sadism sim (whole lotta boulder-squishing) and partly the first time I remember a game having a mood as well as light and sound.

Repton seemed so lonely. Lost down there in the dark, collecting gems he surely had no way to spend. Just passing the endless hours.

Videogames, eh?

33 Comments

  1. thekelvingreen says:

    My friend Martin loved the BBC. His favourite game was Repton 3, which I think was more or less the same as the first two. He also enjoyed Banjax.

    • ThePuzzler says:

      Repton 2 had a single giant level that you were supposed to complete all in one go. It was insanely hard.

      Repton 3 was a lot like the first Repton, but had a level editor.

  2. Silverchain says:

    Yes! That was a great game. I even managed to finish it, but Repton 2… ouch, that was another story.

  3. rustybroomhandle says:

    Indeed. Rather amusingly, Repton was made by a teenager who saw Boulderdash in a magazine and wanted to make his own clone of it, despite not actually having played Boulderdash. There’s probably some deeper narrative here about interpretation of art or whatever, but I know nothing about art except that it represents 75% of the letters in the word “fart”.

    • Dirk says:

      Nyaaargh, my present and past selves just collided. Boulderdash was the first game I played on my friend’s Atari 800, which opened my eyes to the world of computer games. Surely that happened about three weeks ago.

  4. mrentropy5 says:

    Oh. I thought it was this Repton:
    link to en.wikipedia.org

  5. Stone_Crow says:

    “So Mike, we’ve got 8 colours for mode 7, and all our games and graphical stuff will run in that, yeah?”

    “Uh-huh”

    “Reckon we need Brown?

    “What? The colour of wood, earth, rocks, sand, most animals, half the world’s population in various shades, most food, and given we’re in the UK in 1982 pretty much all cars… what do you think Alan!??”

    “Yeah, your right, silly idea, we’ll go with the much more useful Cyan instead, red with black bits in will look fine for brown”

    • Railway Rifle says:

      Though he shugged them off, Mike’s words planted a seed of resentment in Alan, and he vowed that one day all videogames would be brown, just to show them all. And evenually it was so, for a while.

  6. chuckieegg says:

    In the great 8 bit wars of the 80s, there were us rough but proud Spectrum owners, slightly more uppity C64 owners, then a handful of posh kids with BBCs. When it came to proving why their machine was best, the same cry went round : “Elite! Repton! Er, Elite! Did I say Repton?’. Inevitably, they would be the first to get an Amiga.

    • Stone_Crow says:

      Holy crap, did you live next door to me in the 80s? That’s frighting. I then had arguments with you about how my amiga was better than you Atari ST and you’d start going on about MIDI ports and shit. Good times.

    • hoho0482 says:

      My BBC owning friend went on to get an archimedes, so I got to play zarch. That really did seem like the future.

    • Gothnak says:

      I had a BBC then an Amiga…

      My parents got me a BBC as there weren’t many games and i’d make my own… This was a rare case when it works, i’ve been developing games for the last 22 years now.

    • Mudface says:

      Then there were us Atari 800/ XL owners. We knew we were the elite and liked to watch the futility of you lesser beings’ arguments.

      Both of us.

  7. VicJameson says:

    I painstakingly mapped all of Repton2 on to graph paper so I could finally complete it. It had some crazy conditions for 100%, like collecting all the soil blocks I seem to remember. Despite having a thorough map at the end of it, which I still have in a drawer somewhere, I still never completed the game.

    • Silverchain says:

      I gather it wasn’t actually possible without a patched version of the game. Like Jet Set Willy. Kudos though!

  8. Cropduster says:

    Yeah I remember this, my school had 4 dusty old bbc computers, and on rainy breaks you could play this shite or some educational text adventure called Granny’s Garden.

    This was the 90s though so my memories weren’t fond, there were acorn PCs in the locked IT room, and my next door neighbor had a Sega Megadrive that I could watch him play and not be allowed a go on. Playing Repton age 6 was a clear reminder of my place in the world.

  9. ThePuzzler says:

    I remember realising that all the passwords to skip to the later levels were types of snake (like Elite spaceships… what was it with the BBC Micro and snakes?) I was then able to guess some of the later level passwords by entering random snake names.

    I think the last level was KRAKEN which was not an easy word to guess.

    • phlebas says:

      THE KRAKEN, if I recall correctly. You’d also have missed OCTOPUS, the first level where you have to move out from under a rock and immediately shove it sideways as it falls past you. Funny the things that stick in one’s mind all these years later.

      • gunrodent says:

        Pavlovian conditioning was a prime agent in 80s games. A lot of arcade games were built around you should sort of memorize a certain. If you could pull it off by heart you would progress.

        • phlebas says:

          Oh, it wasn’t hard to do once you thought to try it. It just took a while to occur to most players – until then, the level seemed impossible. Repton was very much a puzzle game, in contrast to Boulder Dash’s tight time limits and dextrous manoeuvring.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    Played it to death on my friend’s Beeb I had a C64), great fun. Very Boulderdash, etc.

  11. OldPalsTogether says:

    It’s actually (at least was) available on the iPad and iPhone appstore. Much nostalgia was had.

  12. iucounu says:

    I had a Repton game on the Acorn Electron and I’m almost positive it came with some kind of Repton Construction Kit or something? You could make your own levels, the first time I remember that being a thing? Or am I making this up? *beetles off to Google*

    • Werthead says:

      Yup. The Repton 3 Construction Kit (later expanded in Repton Infinity) was used by the developers themselves to create Around the World in 40 Screens, The Life of Repton and Repton Thru Time (each with their own version of the construction kit).

      They certainly got a lot of mileage of out a limited-but-fun concept. Arguably it was the most defining franchise on the BBC Micro, although neither the best nor most popular game, which I think a lot of people would argue was Elite.

      My main memory of Repton was almost dying of self-induced laughter after killing myself with a boulder for the first time.

  13. JJRPIII says:

    Repton 2, Repton 3. Repton Infinity.

    I played them all. I used the “reptol” language to create a Repton game with gravity.

    • Premium User Badge

      tigerfort says:

      Whereas I used Reptol to create a Repton game without gravity. Boulders which “fell” in whatever direction you pushed them and could be bounced around using trampolines turned out to occupy most of the available memory space, unfortunately, but I had fun.

      But yes, Repton: many hours of pleasure over the years, thanks.

      • Premium User Badge

        tigerfort says:

        Too late to edit, but: I think the original Repton game was almost certainly the first game I ever finished. Partly because my previous experience was mostly with games that either just got harder until you died (like Defender), or simply didn’t have an end condition (like Elite), but still.

  14. CartonofMilk says:

    “And then there are the ones where a screenshot tears me asunder. Time and space lose their usual meaning, as my present and past selves collide, and my mind struggles to accept the decades of separation between them. ”

    Goddam….this.

    i wept last time i played Space quest I and II a couple of years back (hadnt since probably 1991). Getting to some of these screens and suddenly remembering something that was so familiar then but had been lost from my memory in time since…oh how it hurt. Time…fucking time.

  15. KingFunk says:

    Oh. Oh oh oh… Yes yes yes! I think I played them all. Repton Through Time. I’m only 34 so was even younger than Alec. Never completed any games on the BBC Micro, which was my introduction to video games. Arguably Repton is one of the chief causes of my lifelong addiction to games. Not that I play bastard-hard ones any more, mind…

    I suddenly just recalled Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes. It had an actual board and relied on you honestly inputting your team’s star scores. Norman Whiteside was a 5 star substitute. When you played the game for too long, the computer started to overheat and you got scores like 112-93. Oh nostalgia!

  16. CidL says:

    Oh my word, I loved Repton on my old Acorn Electron. I turn 40 this summer. Where did it all go?

  17. firepunchd says:

    One of the first arcade games I can remember was The Pit from ’82. Definitely has some Boulder Dash vibes 2 years before that was released.

    There is also a quite new take on the Boulder Dash genre with a huge connected world on mobile if you’re into it It’s visually quite nice