The Faery Tale Life of MicroIllusions

04 Dec


With the notable exception of Electronic Arts, the established American software industry was uncertain what to make of the Amiga in the wake of its initial release. Impressive as the machine was, it was also an expensive proposition from a parent company best known for much cheaper computers — and a parent company that was in a financial freefall to boot. Thus most publishers confined their support to inexpensive ports of existing titles that wouldn’t break the bank if, as so many expected, neither Commodore nor their Amiga were still around in a year or so.

Disappointing as this situation was to many early Amiga adopters, it spelled Opportunity for many an ambitious would-be Amiga entrepreneur. Just as early issues of Amazing Computing, the Amiga’s most respected technical magazine, carry with them some of the spirit of the original Byte magazine, of smart people joining together to figure out what this new thing is and what they can do with it, the early Amiga software scene represents the last great flowering of the Spirit of ’76 that had birthed the modern software industry. Like their peers of a decade before, the early Amiga developers were motivated more by love and passion than by money, and often operated more as a collective of friends and colleagues working toward a shared purpose than as competitors — i.e., as what Doug Carlston had once dubbed a “brotherhood” of software. Cinemaware became the breakout star of this group who committed themselves to the Amiga quickly and completely; that company was soon known to plenty of people who had never actually touched an Amiga for themselves. But there were plenty of others whose distinctly non-focus-group-tested names speak to their scruffy origins: companies like Aegis, Byte by Byte, and the one destined to be the great survivor of this pioneering era, NewTek. That NewTek would be just about the only one of these companies still in business in six or seven years does say something about the trajectory of the Amiga in North America, but perhaps says just as much about the nature of the companies themselves. Once again like their peers in the early 8-bit software industry, these early Amiga publishers carried along with their commitment to relentless innovation an often shocking ineptitude at executing fundamentals of running a business like writing marketing copy, keeping books, drawing up contracts, and paying taxes.

The story of our company of choice for today, MicroIllusions, is typical enough to almost stand in for that of the early Amiga software industry as a whole. At the same time, though, “typical” in this time of rampant innovation meant some extraordinarily original software. That’s particularly true of the works of MicroIllusions’s highest-profile programmer, David Joiner (or, as he was better known by his friends then and still today, “Talin,” his online handle). Joiner, who describes his view of the universe as of “some giant art project,” has dedicated his life to being “compulsively creative,” in both the digital and analog worlds. His vacuum-forming costumes, which transform him into alien space-bugs or knights in armor, have been the hit of many a science-fiction convention. He’s also an enthusiastic painter — “for a long time I thought my career was going to be in art” — as well as a musician and composer.

Joiner was first exposed to computers during the four years he spent at the end of the 1970s in the Air Force, programming the big mainframes of the Strategic Air Command in Omaha. He spent the several years following his discharge kicking around the margins of the burgeoning PC industry, writing amateur and semi-professional games for the Radio Shack Color Computer among other models and working briefly for DataSoft before they went bankrupt in the industry’s great mid-decade shakeout. That left him in the state in which a Los Angeles-area computer-store owner named Jim Steinert first met him: 27 years old, sleeping on friends’ couches, picking up contract programming work when he could get it, and spending much of the rest of his time hanging out at Steinert’s store — KJ Computer, located in the suburb of Granada Hills — drooling over their new Amigas.

The seeds of MicroIllusions were planted during one day’s idle conversation when Steinert complained to Joiner that, while the Amiga supposedly had speech synthesis built into its operating system, he had never actually heard his machines talk; in the first releases of AmigaOS, the ability was hidden within the operating system’s libraries, accessible only to programmers who knew how to make the right system calls. Seeing an interesting challenge, not to mention a chance to get more time in front of one of Steinert’s precious Amigas, Joiner said that he could easily write a program to make the Amiga talk for anyone. He proved as good as his word within a few hours. Impressed, Steinert asked if he could sell the new program in his store for a straight 50/50 split. Given his circumstances, Joiner was hardly in a position to quibble. When the program sold well, Steinert decided to get into Amiga software development in earnest with the help of his wunderkind.

He leased an office for his new venture MicroIllusions a few blocks from his store, and also picked up the lease on a small house to form a little software-development commune consisting of Joiner and three of his friends, talented artists and/or programmers all. Joiner describes the first year or two he spent creating inside that little house as “probably the best time of my life. We really felt like we were building the future.”

In these heady days when the Amiga was fondly imagined by its zealots as likely to become the new face of mainstream family-friendly computing, Steinert pushed Joiner to make as his first project an edutainment title similar to a Commodore 64 hit called Cave of the Word Wizard, in which the player must explore a cave whilst answering occasional spelling questions to proceed. Joiner’s response was Discovery, which replaced the cave with a spaceship and allowed for the creation of many additional data disks covering subjects from math to history to science to simple trivia for adult players. Setting a pattern that would hold for the remainder of his time with MicroIllusions, Joiner brought all his creative skills to bear on the one-man project, drawing all of the art himself in Deluxe Paint and also writing a music soundtrack in addition to the game’s code — and all in just four months. Because the Amiga would never quite conquer North America as Steinert had anticipated, the market for the Discovery line would always be a limited one, but it would prove a consistent if modest seller for MicroIllusions for years to come.

Having proved himself with Discovery, Joiner was allowed to embark on his dream project: a hybrid game — part action, part adventure, part CRPG — that would harness the Amiga’s capabilities in the service of something different from anything that had come before. He wanted to incorporate two key ideas, one involving the game’s fiction, the other its presentation. In the case of the former, he wanted to push past the oh-so-earnest high-fantasy pastiches typical of CRPG fictions in favor of something more whimsical, more Brothers Grimm than J.R.R. Tolkien. This territory was hardly completely unexplored in gaming — Roberta Williams in particular had built a career around her love of fairy tales — but it was unusual to see in a game that owed as much to action games and CRPGs as it did to the adventure games for which she was known. Joiner’s other big idea, meanwhile, really was something entirely new under the sun: he wanted to create a world that the player would traverse not in discrete steps or even screens but as a single scrolling, contiguous landscape of open-ended, real-time possibility.

The Faery Tale Adventure

The Faery Tale Adventure is the story of three brothers who set out to save their village of Tambry from an evil necromancer. Their quest will require one or more of them — if you get one of them killed, you automatically take the reins of another — to traverse the vast world of Holm from end to end, a process that by itself could take you the player hours of real time if journeying entirely on foot. Whilst traveling, you must also fight monsters and assemble the clues necessary to complete your quest.

It’s difficult to convey using words just how lovely and lyrical your journeys around Holm can be. Even screenshots don’t do The Faery Tale Adventure justice; this is a game that really must be seen and heard in action. Here, then, is just a little taste, in which I take a magical ride on the back of a giant turtle to visit a sorceress in her crystalline lair.

If it’s difficult to fully describe the experience of playing The Faery Tale Adventure using words, it’s doubly difficult to explain just how stunning it was in its day. Note the depth-giving isometric perspective, still a rarity in games of the mid-1980s. Note the way that characters and things cast subtle shadows. And note how the entirety of the world is presented at the same scale. Gone is the wilderness/town dichotomy of the Ultima games, in which the latter blow up from tiny spots on the map to self-contained worlds of their own when you step into them. In The Faery Tale Adventure, if it’s small (or big) on the outside, it’s small (or big) on the inside. I’d also tell you to note the wonderful music, except that I’m quite sure you already have (assuming you have the sound turned on, of course). Seldom has music made a game what it is to quite the extent it does this one.

Leaving aside the goal of actually solving the game, which is kind of hopeless — we’ll get to that in a moment — The Faery Tale Adventure is all about the rhythm of wandering, following roadways and peeking into hidden corners as the music plays and day turns to night and back again. Like another early Amiga landmark, Defender of the Crown, and unlike far too many other games on this platform and others, it has a textured aesthetic all its own that’s much more memorable than the bloody action-movie pyrotechnics so typical of games then and now. Play it just a little, and you’ll never, ever forget it.

That every bit of this vast world and all that makes it up — code, art, and music alike — was created virtually unaided by David Joiner in about seven months never ceases to amaze me. This Leonardo had found his niche at last:

It’s ironic because when I was growing up I was never able to focus on one single creative outlet and ignore the others — and this was considered a disadvantage. People would tell me that I had to learn to focus on one thing. Otherwise I would never be successful, just be a dilettante. I struggled to find a profession which would use all of my skills, not just some of them.

Still, stunning technical and aesthetic achievement that it is, there’s no denying that The Faery Tale Adventure is kind of a mess as a piece of game design. Its problems are all too typical of a game designed and implemented by a single idiosyncratic individual with, at best, limited external input. Some of the mechanical wonkiness I can live with. For instance, I’m not too bothered by the fact that, if you don’t get killed in one of the first few extremely difficult fights, you level up enough inside of an hour or so to the point that fighting becomes little more than a trivial annoyance for the rest of the game. The broken character-building aspect is forgivable in light of the fact that that doesn’t feel like what the game really wants to be about anyway. (That said, CRPG addicts should certainly approach this one with caution.)

But we can’t so easily wave aside the broken main spine of the game, the fact that it’s all but insoluble on its own terms. The Faery Tale Adventure presents itself as a breadcrumb-following game like the Ultimas, but its breadcrumbs are so scattered at some stages, so literally nonexistent at others, that it’s all but impossible to piece together where to go or what to do. After exploring Holm for a while, the charm of the music and the colorful graphics begins to fade and you begin to realize what a dismayingly empty place it really is. Almost every building is vacant, virtually every hotly anticipated new voyage of discovery proves ultimately underwhelming. Moments of wonder, like the first time you hitch a ride on that turtle you see above — or, even better, on a majestic swan — do crop up from time to time, but far too infrequently. The final impression is of nothing so much as a beautiful world running inside a marvelous engine that’s now just waiting for a designer to come along and, you know, write an actual game for it all. You can see contemporaneous reviewers struggling with this impression whilst giving the game the benefit of every possible doubt; The Faery Tale Adventure is nothing if not a game that makes you want to love it. Computer Gaming World‘s Roy Wagner, for instance, felt compelled to attach a rough walkthrough to try to make it actually playable to his very positive critical take on the game. Later, when the game was ported to the Sega Genesis, Sega found its design so intractable that they demanded that a similar walkthrough be included in the very manual. (One could wish that they had demanded that the design be properly fixed instead.) Joiner notes that his approach was to “start with a basic engine and then add detail like crazy,” which does rather sound like code for “write a game engine and then try to shoehorn an actual semblance of game in there at the last minute, when you realize your deadline is looming.”

David Joiner all dressed up in his armor for the Faery Tale Adventure package.

David Joiner all dressed up in his armor for the Faery Tale Adventure package.

Yet the fact remains that technical game-changers and audiovisual charmers like The Fairy Tale Adventure can usually get away with a multitude of design sins in the face of the gaming public’s insatiable appetite for the new. Knowing he had a potential hit on his hands, Steinert determined to make a veritable Electronic Arts-style rock star out of its creator. Joiner strapped himself into his knightly armor for an inadvertently hilarious photo shoot; the end results look tacky and painfully nerdy in exactly the way that the game itself doesn’t. But no matter: The Faery Tale Adventure became a hit on the Amiga after its release in early 1987 — just in time for a new influx of unabashed Amiga gamers in the form of new Amiga 500 owners — whereupon Steinert took advantage of his favored platform’s halo effect by selling less compelling ports for the Commodore 64 and MS-DOS and, years later, that rather more impressive Sega Genesis translation. The game’s success led to Activision signing MicroIllusions on as an “affiliated publisher,” a real shot at the big time.

For better or for worse, though, Steinert just couldn’t bring himself to leave behind his scruffy roots in the Amiga hacking community. Games remained only one aspect of MicroIllusions, who also developed and published such only-Amiga-makes-it-possible software as Photon Paint, the first program to let one draw and edit pictures directly in the Amiga’s 4096-color HAM mode, and Cel Animator, a classical animation package crafted with the aid of Heidi Turnipseed, a veteran of Disney and Don Bluth Productions. The high-water point for MicroIllusions unsurprisingly corresponded with that of the Amiga itself in North America: 1988, when sales were trending upward and the big breakthrough seemed just around the corner. MicroIllusions was known during this period for their lavish trade-show displays — in truth, probably more lavish than they could realistically afford even then — that made them among the most prominent of the Amiga-centric software houses not named Cinemaware. That summer MicroIllusions products took up almost half of a Computer Chronicles television feature on the Amiga scene.

The MicroIllusions booth at the January 1988 AmiExpo show in Los Angeles, which filled half on one wall inside the Westin Bonaventure's convention space.

The MicroIllusions booth at the January 1988 AmiExpo show in Los Angeles, which filled half of one wall inside the Westin Bonaventure’s convention space.

David Joiner demonstrated his latest project-in-progress on-air on that program: Music-X, a MIDI music sequencer that he’d created largely out of concern that the hated Atari ST was getting ahead of the Amiga when it came to music software (never underestimate the motivation provided by good old platform jingoism). By the time that Music-X appeared at last to rave reviews at the tail end of 1989, MicroIllusions was already in dire straits, their phones perpetually coming on- and off-line and rumors swirling about their alleged demise. That situation would remain largely unchanged for another two desperate years. Their plight must to some extent be linked to that of the Amiga itself, which had failed to ever take off as Steinert had confidently expected when purchasing all that lavish trade-show floor space. It also didn’t help that, while they released a number of other modestly well-reviewed games, they never managed another transformative hit to come close to The Faery Tale Adventure. Thanks to that failure, Activision humiliatingly dropped them as an affiliated publisher barely a year after signing them up, citing the low sales of their latest games as just not making it worth anyone’s while anymore. Even an unexpected high-profile deal with Hanna-Barbera to produce games based on cartoon franchises like Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, and The Jetsons — truly a lifeline if ever there was one — collapsed amid allegations of breached contracts and botched schedules.

One suspects that the real cause behind these failures and so many others was a nemesis of MicroIllusions’s own making that also plagued many others in the Amiga’s home-grown software industry: a simple lack of business acumen, and with it an associated tendency to place dreams before ethics. Rather than belabor the point too much more personally, I’ll deliver David Joiner’s take on Jim Steinert’s idea of running a business:

My financial relationship with MicroIllusions was long and complicated. Jim wasn’t a good businessman. That was not unusual for the software industry at the time, but there was so much wide-open opportunity that any half-competent person could start a software business and be moderately successful.

Jim and I also differed in our approach to business ethics. He imagined himself to be a sharp dealer, and once boasted to me how he “saved money” in dealing with disk-duplication companies. You see, at the time there were companies which would do all the duplication work — that is, make copies of the floppy disks, print the packaging, and assemble the boxes. And many of these companies offered ninety-day terms — that is, you didn’t have to pay for ninety days, so you could use the money you made selling the product to pay back the duplicators. This made it possible to be an entrepreneur with very little startup capital, other than the sweat equity of writing software.

Well, Jim’s idea was that when the ninety days come up you simply refuse to pay — and then, eight months later when the duplicators eventually get around to suing you, you settle out of court for like one-third of the money. This same kind of playing fast and loose with the rules is what caused him to lose the Hasbro [sic. — I believe he means Hanna-Barbera] contract, which up to that point had been an incredibly valuable asset to the company.

Many years later, I went over all the royalty statements I had gotten from MicroIllusions, and discovered that there were lots of basic arithmetic errors in them — and not always in Jim’s favor.

The story of MicroIllusions is hardly unique among the companies we’ve encountered in this history, having much in common with that of many of the immediately preceding generation of software pioneers: companies like California Pacific, Muse, and Adventure International. Enthusiasm and programming talent can only make up for a lack of basic business acumen for so long. Despite it all, MicroIllusions somehow survived, at least nominally, through 1991, when their remaining assets, including The Faery Tale Adventure, were acquired by a new company called HollyWare who used the contracts they had purchased to launch a fruitless $10 million lawsuit against a now sorely ailing Activision for allegedly mishandling that old distribution deal. As an Amazing columnist wrote as the suit went into discovery, “The really interesting thing to discover is how MicroIllusions expects to get ten megabucks out of a company with a negative net worth.” HollyWare, needless to say, didn’t last very long.

By then Joiner had long since moved on to greener pastures in games and other forms of software development, although he would never again helm quite so impactful a project as The Faery Tale Adventure. The writing had been on the wall for software Leonardos even as he was creating his masterwork. Working with a new development team who called themselves The Dreamer’s Guild, he did belatedly create Halls of the Dead: The Faery Tale Adventure II in 1997. In the tradition of its predecessor, it looked and initially seemed to play great, but showed itself over time to be half-finished and well-nigh uncompleteable.

In the end, then, the business legacy of MicroIllusions is a bit of a tawdry one, one more example of a phenomenon that would always plague the Amiga: the platform seemed to attract idealists and shysters in equal numbers — and, somehow, often in the same individual. Yet it’s because its story is both so groundbreaking and so typical that the company makes such a worthwhile case study for anyone wishing to understand the oft-dirty life and times of the Amiga in its heyday. During MicroIllusion’s brief existence they produced some visionary software that, like so much else that came out of the Amiga scene, gave the world an imperfect glimpse of its multimedia future. That’s as true of Photon Paint, the progenitor of photographic-quality visual editors like PhotoShop, as it is of Music-X, a forerunner of easy-to-use music packages like GarageBand. And, most importantly for our purposes, it’s true of The Faery Tale Adventure, a rough draft of what games might come to be in the future. It’s a game that’s perhaps best appreciated in the context of its time, as I’m so able to do thanks to all of the research — okay, playing of old games — I do for this blog. It stands out so dramatically from its contemporaries that it gave me a catch in my throat when I first saw it again that wasn’t that different from the one I felt when I saw it for the first time back in 1987. That’s a feeling that may be hard for you to entirely duplicate if you’re not a really — I mean, really — dedicated reader who’s playing all these games right along with me. But no matter. If you have an hour or two to kill, give it a download, [1]The music at the beginning of the game is a distorted mess in this version, the only otherwise working one I could find. This is down to one of the few differences between the Amiga 1000, for which the game was originally designed, and later Amiga models — a sound pointer doesn’t get automatically set in the latter. If you just give it a moment, the music will resolve from dissonance to consonance and will play as it should henceforward. I think it’s kind of a cool effect, actually — but then I occasionally blast Sonic Youth, much to my wife’s chagrin, so take that with a grain of salt.

Note that you will need to answer a few copy-protection questions at the beginning by using the map included in the zip.

For those of you who are hopeless completionists, I’ve also included with this zip the Computer Gaming World review that gives much valuable guidance on how to pursue your (otherwise almost certainly futile) quest.

By far the easiest way to get started in Amiga emulation and to play this game and the other Amiga games I’ll be featuring in this blog for quite some time to come is by purchasing Cloanto’s Amiga Forever package. It makes the whole process pretty painless.
fire up an Amiga emulator, and just have a little wander through Holm. Never did a bad game feel — and sound — so good.

(Sources: Computer Gaming World of February 1988 and October 1991; Commodore Magazine of September 1989; Amazing Computing of August 1987, April 1988, June 1988, August 1989, October 1989, March 1990, April 1990, October 1991, December 1991, and April 1992; Info of April 1992. The home page of David Joiner (Talin) hasn’t been updated since 2000, but was nevertheless very useful. Still more useful was an interview with Joiner done by Amiga Lore.)


1 The music at the beginning of the game is a distorted mess in this version, the only otherwise working one I could find. This is down to one of the few differences between the Amiga 1000, for which the game was originally designed, and later Amiga models — a sound pointer doesn’t get automatically set in the latter. If you just give it a moment, the music will resolve from dissonance to consonance and will play as it should henceforward. I think it’s kind of a cool effect, actually — but then I occasionally blast Sonic Youth, much to my wife’s chagrin, so take that with a grain of salt.

Note that you will need to answer a few copy-protection questions at the beginning by using the map included in the zip.

For those of you who are hopeless completionists, I’ve also included with this zip the Computer Gaming World review that gives much valuable guidance on how to pursue your (otherwise almost certainly futile) quest.

By far the easiest way to get started in Amiga emulation and to play this game and the other Amiga games I’ll be featuring in this blog for quite some time to come is by purchasing Cloanto’s Amiga Forever package. It makes the whole process pretty painless.


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34 Responses to The Faery Tale Life of MicroIllusions

  1. tekket

    December 4, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    Great post as always and greetings from Czech republic.

    I actually like that music bug, it reminds me of times, when I used to load ordinary ms-dos system files to Fast Tracker and used them as samples in my tracks.

    Anyway, if anyone is interested: music bug is fixed in WHDLoad version of the game.

  2. Keith Palmer

    December 5, 2015 at 1:48 am

    This comment may be “pathetic home team pride” and a narrow excuse for one, but it did get my attention seeing that David Joiner had programmed the Radio Shack Color Computer before getting into the Amiga. I still might not have dared bring it up save for a brief note in your “The Future Was Here” that NewTek’s Tim Jemison had also programmed the Color Computer; it at least lets me muse whether there was some particular attraction or advantage in moving from the Motorola 6809 to the 68000 (and I’ve seen ads in “Atari Explorer” magazine by a company called MichTron, who had also run ads in the Color Computer magazine “The Rainbow.”) “Brand loyalty” could have been a tricky thing with personal computers in the latter 1980s.

    In any case, I bought Amiga Forever a while ago and used to to get an emulator running, although I could definitely do more with it in the future.

    • Jimmy Maher

      December 5, 2015 at 10:52 am

      There were a few Color Computer developers who migrated to the Amiga, but I don’t think it was down to any similarities between the 6809 and 68000. It’s my understanding that the 6809’s assembly language was effectively a superset of the 6502’s, such that if you knew 6502 assembly you could program the 6809 quite effectively. I’ve never programmed the 6809, but I have the 6502 and the 68000, and they really are completely different architectures.

      Otherwise I have no great explanation. Maybe a strange fondness for good computers that just don’t get no respect? No… probably just coincidence. :)

  3. Lisa H.

    December 5, 2015 at 5:17 am

    Leaving aside the goal of actually solving the game, which is kind of hopeless […] it has a textured aesthetic all its own that’s much more memorable than the bloody action-movie pyrotechnics so typical of games then and now. Play it just a little, and you’ll never, ever forget it.

    Eh, well, I played it a little, and I pretty much forgot it until now, despite the fact that I think I still have the square-folder-type C64 package out in the garage somewhere with the disk in it. I always found games like this too difficult, too easy to get killed when you’re barely a few steps out of the starting town, or in some cases when your first adventures are still within it. (See also Drakken, Bard’s Tale, Knights of Legend, etc.) I wonder now if this was a way to squeeze out more gameplay hours, though in my case it meant more things ending up on the shelf afterwards untouched after about 30 minutes’ play. (I guess I’m too much of a softie.)

    • Jimmy Maher

      December 5, 2015 at 10:47 am

      Fair enough… but I would suggest that this is a game that really needs to be experienced on the Amiga. ;)

  4. Seth A. Robinson

    December 5, 2015 at 5:36 am

    Nice writeup. I bought the C64 version of this game from Toys R Us back in the day.

    I remember being amazed by the graphics and scope – but the loading times, oh man.

    Minutes to enter a house, minutes to exit it. Completely unplayable for an impatient kid!

  5. Michael Davis

    December 6, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    “Note the way that characters and things cast subtle shadows that lengthen and change position as the sun works its way around the sky.”

    Where in the video does that take place?

    • Jimmy Maher

      December 7, 2015 at 6:27 am

      I would say that not enough time passes in the video to make this clear, but, rather embarrassingly, I’m now not at all sure that the effect is present at all. (The shadows are, that is, but I’m not sure they really change position.) Excised that bit in the name of erring on the side of caution. Thanks!

  6. Magnus Strömgren

    December 8, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    “Moments of wonder, like the first time you hitch a ride on that turtle you see above — or, even better, on a majestic swan — do crop up from time to time, but far too infrequently. The final impression is of nothing so much as a beautiful world running inside a marvelous engine that’s now just waiting for a designer to come along and, you know, write an actual game for it all.”

    Hmm, isn’t that in a way part of the charm, in that once you encounter those moments it feels immensly more rewarding? :)

    • Jimmy Maher

      December 9, 2015 at 8:50 am

      You’re right that there’s a certain tension here, one that’s shared with a lot of other sprawling old-school games like the Ultimas. I feel like the best compromise might be to go ahead and include some crazy, secret Easter eggs to reward the hardcore, but to make them non-essential to victory. This way you create a game that’s solvable by everyone without destroying the joy of stumbling across the magical and unexpected for those people who want to plumb every depth and explore every nook and cranny. I’m no expert on console games, but I believe that Nintendo tended to be quite good at doing this.

  7. Matthew Plateau

    January 2, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    I still have the copy protection answers for this game memorized.

    • Timo Hildén

      January 11, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      Same here! Interestingly, the first question on the Amiga was always “Make haste, but take…?” I believe there were about 10 questions, and the answers tended to rhyme somewhat.

  8. philfromgermany

    January 11, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Fight, might, right, night, knight,light, fright…. :)

  9. Teun

    January 12, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Great write-up!
    Back then the graphics and music blew me away on the Amiga 500 and they still do (sadly on a emulator these days)…. I even play this game now and then to bring back memories.

    When I read the story about Joiner and his struggles around his creativity I felt somehow connected, which even enforced my admiration to the game and creator. I’m also a creative guy and still searching for a project/way of living which demands on all my creativity (music, writing, drawing, love for pixel art, almost the same as Joiner except for the programming :)).

    Coincidentally I’ve just started to do some research to transcribe some of the game tunes for acoustic guitar (complete with bass and melody, aka fingerpicking) and make them playable/soundable while I’m not playing the game. I probably will put it online when it is finished.

    I’m quite a dreamer so a few days ago I thought even about launching a website/memorial for FTA, where every single video, musical piece, game rom and art could be finded. Or…. Initiate a new version which stays close to the original, but with better balance and story line. But, you know, time is the evil man here. Anyway, I would love to stay in contact with people and if anyone would initiate this kind of project I will be the first to offer help where possible.


  10. Ola

    January 12, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    A very fair and thoughtful appraisal of what probably was my favorite Amiga game – it was for sure the one I spent most time on.

    At the time I found the Ultima series too geeky and Zelda too gamey. And I certainly wasn’t interested in Dungeon Master or Wizardy – those I found as unappealing as paper and pen RPGs. Faery Tale, however, was a breath of fresh air to me. The directness of a single-scale, seamless world: 17 000 smoothly scrolling screens which invited you to stroll around in the landscape of your childhood’s fairy tales! The music, of course, helped to make the experience intoxicatingly immersive.

    Graphically, too, it was way ahead. It made Ultima IV look boring and it made The Legend of Zelda look crude. I find it mostly resembles Ultima VII, which didn’t arrive until 1992, but it is also similar to Chris Roberts’s C64 RPG Times of Lore from 1988 (that game engine might be even more impressive than Joiner’s).

    It is true that the breadcrumbs from time to time are very sparsely dispersed. I did manage to solve the game but I also remember that I had some help from a hint page in either Commodore User or Computer & Videogames. Some solutions struck me as far-fetched but I reasoned that they probably only seemed so because I had a pirated copy and hadn’t read the manual. I guess I was wrong about that.

    As I didn’t own the original I also didn’t know that there was a map included. In a way I guess this was for the better as I probably enjoyed exploring and mapping the game more than I enjoyed playing it. I used the bird totems and meticulously transcribed each region to several A4 graph papers which I joined together to form one giant map. I also, of course, marked the positions of keys and other stuff I found. It was a real labor of love – I must have spent several weeks, perhaps months, to finish the map during summer break. I recently found it and made a scan (available here: ). I remember that I completed the game before the map was complete, so I had to continue playing for quite a while to complete the map. But once you had the Swan, mapping was much faster.

    By the way, I just finished The Future Was Here and enjoyed it immensely. I enjoyed the platform studies of Atari VCS and NES too, but found the writing styles of those two books just a little cumbersome (still very impressive works). I’d love to read a C64 platform studies by you!

  11. David

    December 1, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    sadly, the Amiga platform never really stood a chance, Commodore was a great technology company and horrible at marketing. The C64 is listed in the Guinness World Records as the highest-selling single computer model of all time.

    ….your description of the downfall of MicroIllusions is not correct.

    It was Activision/Mediagenic that was failing, they lost a multi-year patent infringement suit, they were not paying the affiliated labels, and to make matters worse, before they filed bankruptcy, Activision/Mediagenic “stuffed” the distribution channels with software from every affiliate, collected the money from the distributors, and didn’t pay the affiliated labels. Most affiliated labels went out of business when Activision/Mediagenic went under. Those affiliated labels that tried to continue after Activision/Mediagenic bankruptcy were met with an insurmountable mountain of inventory “returns” from the distributors.

    The Hanna-Barbara license; Games, Paint and Animation titles that were being developed for PC/Amiga/Atari/SEGA/Gameboy all died with Activision/Mediagenic bankruptcy as did many other titles in development by the Activision/Mediagenic affiliated labels.

    • Jimmy Maher

      December 2, 2016 at 9:27 am

      While I’m very aware of the collapse of Activision/Mediagenic and the cataclysmic or near-cataclysmic effect it had on many smaller companies, there are mentions in Amazing Computing of MicroIllusions being dropped before that happened. But as it happens, I’m going to be writing an article about the Mediagenic bankruptcy very soon, so will keep an eye out for necessary revisions here. In the meantime, if you’d like to share a little more about your sources for this information, either here or via email, I’d certainly love to hear more.

  12. Philip Brooks

    June 9, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    Oh, man! I had no idea so many of the software I remember from my childhood was the work of these guys. I never played FTA, but remember Discover, Photon Paint, and Music-X — the latter two because my father paid for his Amiga 2000 by making slideshows of available real estate for a local realtor, complete with synthesised sound track. IIRC, he ended up using Aegis Sonix for its simpler interface, but I remember well Fruit Salad Surgery and other demo songs included with Music-X.

    Thanks for this trip down memory lane!

    • Philip Brooks

      June 9, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      Err, so *much* of the software. Although I’m sure I’ll see other typos as soon as I click Post.

  13. Lisa H.

    January 5, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    A few days ago my husband was reading some other article about The Faery Tale Adventure and asked if I remembered it. I said yeah, I never got very far, too easy to get killed early on and I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing; what about it? And he said “It was basically all Talin’s work.” Cool, I thought, and figured you’d written about it a while back and I would look it up. Well, I can see I commented here about two years ago and apparently I totally breezed by the fact that this Talin is the Talin I know. Like, I have gone to parties and gaming afternoons at his house, know. Not to name-drop, it’s just surreal for me to have figured this out! Probably I missed the fact before because the photo in the armor doesn’t look terribly much like he does now – a lot less hair, for one thing – although now that I know who it is, I can see it facially.

    • faery

      November 27, 2019 at 12:19 pm

      Dude the combat is hard in the beginning but quickly gets manageable
      Games used to have an entry bar set up high enough so they would feel rewarding when enough player skill was developed
      Contrarily to the article writer i find it brilliant that combat quickly becomes easy so the player can focus on the real gem of the game: flying the swan around while the landscape colors shift along with the dusk, night and dawn hours and the best game music of all time plays

  14. Mark C

    February 9, 2018 at 4:46 am

    Since this thread’s still alive I may as well jump in.

    This game gave me, my wife and – much later – my kids a huge amount of enjoyment. It does take a while to figure out what you have to do but it builds up and there are a few ways of going about things (I got the midnight meeting at the graveyard but missed the hidden desert city). I’ve never been an ace game player but did finish this and enjoyed the finale, when it seemed like the developer was having a bit of fun (it’s not obvious at first you have to turn around and go in backwards).

    Fair criticism about some of the long walks. When you find the teleportation rings and later the swan, things move along a little faster. Also fair comment about invincibility versus early extreme vulnerability. The suspense music loses its effect when you have too much strength further on in the game, as most of the attackers don’t pose much of a problem (archers are still a pain though).

    But the atmospherics are great. Changing music and light with time of day, needing food and sleep, being able to swim depending on your strength, finding a raft on the river – and of course the turtle.

    Overall a ground-breaking game with its contextual music and unconstrained geography. But most of all the game, as you say, has some sort of magic – once you get into it – that stays with you.

  15. Gordon Cameron

    September 25, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Great post. You pretty much nailed the appeal of Faery Tale Adventure, which can’t rightly be called a ‘good game’ but which lives on in our memories more vividly than many far-more-complete pieces of software.

    I’m a member of one family (and probably not the only one) that bought an Amiga 500 on the strength of seeing that game in stores. Talk about a dream demo.

    And much as I love the CRPG Addict’s blog, his DOS-centric approach, and his emphasis on game mechanics above aesthetics (and a near-total disregard for in-game music), rendered him incapable of appreciating this title’s charms. Thanks for the corrective!

    Faery Tale Adventure’s nighttime theme remains one of my favorite pieces of game music ever, by the way. Joiner is on top of everything else a very talented composer.

  16. Wolfeye M.

    September 22, 2019 at 7:55 am

    That music in the vid was good. Any chance at all there’s a soundtrack of the game available to download somewhere?

  17. Peter Olausson

    December 1, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    One incorrect “Hanna-Barbara”, one correct.

    (Alas, if you’d make a habit of trimming away those minor corrections comments, I certainly wouldn’t mind. And it would make some posts easier to read.)

    • Jimmy Maher

      December 2, 2019 at 4:17 pm


      I hear you, but I feel a little uncertain about deleting people’s comments in that manner.

      • Mike Taylor

        December 3, 2019 at 11:57 am

        It’s a tricky one. On one hand, reading all the typo-alert comments is not particularly entertaining for pepole coming to the blog and catching up on old posts; on the other hand, those comments do signal loud and clear that you welcome such corrections, and that seems like a valuable social signal. (I wish people would do the same for my blog posts, but they never do except when a typo is inadvertently amusing.)

  18. Hoagie

    February 26, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    About the Hanna-Barbera games: the C64 version of Scooby-Doo was found and preserved by its developer, who explained why they were scratched and how it killed the company:

    And the DOS versions must have been very near completion, because the three of them were reviewed in the magazine The Games Machine in December 1989 (pages 82 & 83):

  19. Gordon Cameron

    January 6, 2021 at 4:08 am


    Apologies if you already knew this, but I stumbled upon this Medium post written by Joiner in 2017. I’m reading it now; it offers some insights into the game’s development.

  20. Steve Pitts

    June 30, 2022 at 3:11 pm

    Nearly seven years down the line I guess means that I’m the only one bugged by the double appearance of pioneers in this sentence:
    “having much in common with that of many pioneers of the immediately preceding generation of software pioneers: companies like”

    • Jimmy Maher

      July 1, 2022 at 3:55 pm

      It bugs me. ;) Thanks!

  21. Ben

    March 21, 2023 at 9:33 pm

    highest profile -> highest-profile

    Its problem are -> Its problems are

    a inadvertently -> an inadvertently

    • Jimmy Maher

      March 22, 2023 at 4:04 pm



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