Bits from my personal collection – Fantasyland 2041 A.D. – Bigger is better

Does size matter? Well, in most cases the answer would probably be a no, nonetheless, in 1981 a game would take the analogy and run with it, the game would not just be a tad bigger, it would be substantially bigger than any other game released prior.
Only a few years earlier, in 1979, Microsoft had, as the first, managed to fit the whole of Colossal Cave Adventure onto a single 5.25″ floppy disk, a feat in itself but Colossal Cave was text only, adding imagery to the adventure genre would prove a serious challenge for the limited memory and storage capabilities of the early personal computers.
Ken Williams of On-Line Systems managed, in 1980, to fit Mystery House, the first graphical adventure, onto a single floppy by using a clever technique where the graphics were stored as instructions instead of bitmapped graphics. While Mystery House was a game-changer it only featured a somewhat confined setting and wasn’t expansive in any way.
The whole idea of adventure games was to be adventurous, featuring numerous settings and locations, all to be explored and traveled by the player. Limiting this would typically limit the experience. And while games per se didn’t have to fit a single floppy, they had to be programmed in a way that made them fit in memory and still be playable without bugging the player too much for inserting the next floppy and thereby introducing the tedious load times that would follow. Also, multiple floppies would add to the manufacturing cost – a lot of factors had to be calculated before adventuring out in multiple disk games.

One person who apparently wasn’t afraid of creating wast expansive adventure games was early Apple II game developer John Bell.
Husband and wife, John and Patty Bell, had their own small computer store, Crystal Computers, in Sunnyvale, California. Besides running the store John Bell was developing his own adventure games and publishing them under the Crystalware label.
John didn’t really care for being limited, he wanted to utilize the full potential of the Apple II, and later on the Atari 800. John understood that many people had used every dime in their savings to max out their systems, and he wanted to cater to that market – they had the best computers, they deserved the best games.

While Fantasyland 2041 A.D. wasn’t John’s first game it was the largest he had written and developed, and the largest game for any personal computer at that time, the year was 1981 and while adventure games were getting more and more popular, pretty much thanks to On-Line Systems Hi-Res Adventure series of games, almost every other adventure game were still text-only. Fantasyland would end up featuring over 400 screens of graphics and taking up over 400kb of storage, in comparison most games in 1980-81 would only take up a tenth of that.
While being an Apple II aficionados, he wasn’t too fine to not see the potential in other systems. In the spring of 1981 Michael Potter, an early adopter of the Atari 8-bit systems (he had actually sold his Apple II to get his own Atari 800 machine) walked into the store and showed off the Atari 800 games he had developed the year before, all sold by Potter himself, under his label Micro Mike’s Computers (gotta love that name). John, impressed by Potter’s work, which showcased screen scrolling and animations, offered Potter $4.000 upfront plus 30% royalties for a new game he had in mind. Potter delivered as promised, and Crystalware’s first Atari 8-bit game, Protector, was a reality.
In June of 1981, Potter had converted Fantasyland to the Atari 800 and added some enhancement to the graphics engine. Both the Apple II and Atari 800 version were released at the same time, at a retail price of $59.95 (that’s around $150 in today’s money). The game featured 6 expansive worlds, each world having its own side on the three double-sided 5.25″ the game came with.

The Apple II version, released in 1981, simultaneous with the Atari 800 version. Each floppy contains two worlds, one on each side

Fantasyland while being mainly an adventure had multiple RPG and action elements as well. The game starts out at the Hall of Heroes, here you’re given 5.000 pieces of gold, money you’ll have to spend wisely on men, food and other supplies.
The goal, to explore and survive the six different worlds; Congoland, Arabia, King Arthur (medieval England), Olympus (a sea voyage across the Mediterranean, Captain Nemo (an underwater voyage in the submarine Tari) and finally the underworld of Dante’s Inferno, where a final battle would play out against the Prince of Darkness.
Upon conquering the sixth and final world, you would qualify to win a real cash prize of $1.000, at least that was what Crystalware was advertising. The player who completed the game with the most treasure and courage would win the prize (actually there was a prize for the Apple II version and a prize for the Atari 800 version). To enter the competition you had to send in your disk before December the 1st, 1981. – If anyone claimed the prize is unknown to me – One thing is certain Crystalware didn’t hold back when doing marketing for their titles or for the company for that matter.
Fantasyland received quite a lot of praise, especially from the Atari community.

-The graphic routines developed by Mike Potter and John Bell are incredible and the Crystalsonics sound is amazing!! The price is $59.95 and is worth every penny. The documentation is almost as fun to read as the program is to play!! It is an incredible experience!!

-After playing this game for over 87 hours I
have rated this program the absolute BEST I have
ever played, including all games for all computers,
all adventures and even Star Raiders. Yes, I
repeat this game is better than Star Raiders.
Hard to believe? Well it is FANTASTIC!! I have
rated this program on a scale from 1 to 10, an
incredible 2041!! I recommend it for every owner
of an ATARI 800 or 400 with a disk drive to
purchase this program over all else!! It is worth
it!!

Fantasyland 2041 A.D. reviewed in Atari Computer Enthusiasts Newsletters Volume 1.

As with many of Crystalware’s games, Fantasyland didn’t come bug-free and as the game progressed it seemed to be getting a bit more rough around the edges, almost like the development, in its last stages, ran out of steam.

Fantasyland came in a zip-lock bag with a thick 40-page booklet, which not only would describe the mechanics of the game, but give a complete introduction to the setting, with history and explanation to almost everything you’ll experience in the game. The booklet was in high quality, with professional artwork inside and out.

Fantasyland’s manual, a piece of work on its own. 40 pages of well written information, introducing the world, its history and the game’s mechanics

Michael Potter would end up porting and developing 11 titles all in all for Crystalware in the 11 months he worked for John and Patty. A dispute of royalties made the parties separate in early 1982 – the same year Crystalware published their last title.
1982 was also the year that On-Line Systems’ very ambitious title Time Zone was published, the biggest game yet, spanning across both sides of the six 5.25″ disk, over 1000 graphic screens and 2Mb of data. Time Zone was huge but only in size, it ended up as a commercial failure. In my opinion, Fantasyland was a much better and interesting game but since it didn’t bare the On-Line (Sierra On-Line) brand it’s almost completely unknown today. I have only seen a handful of copies surface over the last two decades.

The Atari 800 version, ported (or transported like Crystalware would state) by Michael Potter. Both the Apple II and Atari 800 seems to be extremely rare today, I’ve only seen a few copies surface in the last two decades

If you’re planning on trying out Fantasyland I can only recommend reading the manual before, it gives a really good insight to the story and setting, and while the graphics by today’s standard are very crude, that combined with the information in the manual will surely ignite your imagination.

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