Black Crystal, ZX Spectrum

Black Crystal is infamous for being an overpriced and under-produced RPG from the early days of home computing.

The first version of Black Crystal was the ZX81 version, which was designed and programmed by Roy Carnell and Stuart Galloway and released in 1982. A ZX Spectrum version followed in 1983, then a Commodore 64 version later in 1985.

All of them have one thing in common: they are all probably the worst example of a computer RPG ever made… The core concept, of having real-time combat in an essentially text-based adventure, is flawed and frustrating beyond belief.

The ZX Spectrum version is mostly written in BASIC, which plays havoc with the key input. Considering that you’re running across a map full of deadly monsters and everything is happening in realtime, hitting keys repeatedly is what you do. Which fills up the keyboard buffer and leaves you guessing as to whether what you’re doing is actually having any effect. Then you die and try hitting the keys repeatedly again. This kind of game just doesn’t work in BASIC… It’s not fast enough to give the input response required, so it was never really going to work properly.

The blurb on the packaging of the ZX81 version says: “Both Mr. Carnell and Mr. Galloway come from a strong film background, having worked in feature optical special effects for many years. This gives them a good visual sense and an awareness of the importance of continuity and plot.” Which beggars belief when you consider that – when playing Black Crystal – you’re constantly restarting and not getting involved in much of a plot, and also that there are no real visuals in the game to speak of, never mind cinematic ones.

Even back in 1983 Black Crystal was a difficult game to like, which is why it never did very well either critically or in terms of sales. It was all hype over content, in truth, and Carnell Software‘s “big box and manual” expensive approach quickly led to its demise.

Carnell and Galloway went on to make two follow-ups to this (Volcanic Dungeon in 1983 and The Wrath of Magra in 1985), and Sinbad and the Golden Ship in 1986 (all published by Mastertronic), before leaving the games industry for good.

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