As I continue my journey through some of the early computer roleplaying titles in my collection I thought I’d write a few words on Stuart Smiths’ Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. This is a title I haven’t played yet so I won’t be going into much of the gameplay. CRPG Addict has a great article on his blog which you definitely should check out.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the computer roleplaying game was still trying to find its footing. Most games drew inspiration and elements from Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons and would to an extent use not only its conventions but also settings and characters.
While most computerized roleplaying games released at the time essentially played the same, in 1980 programmer Stuart Smith would stir up the pot with his first game, Fracas, a simple fantasy RPG dungeon crawler initially published by Smith’s own company, Computersmiths. While Smith’s new Apple II game only featured low-res graphics and no real end goal it did have a few quite interesting elements, like turn-based cooperative multiplayer gameplay, and a storyline and environment inspired by various mythological elements, all of which would set it apart. Much of this would be carried over in his later titles.
To market Fracas to a wider audience, Smith agreed on a publishing deal with already established publisher Quality Software which later in 1980 re-released the title.
In 1981 Quality Software would go on to publish Smith’s second game, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The game was built upon the engine developed for Fracas but with several improvements. Smith’s wife had suggested an Arabian theme for his new game – And while the title, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, could suggest a game that in its entirety was derived from the folk tale of the same name that in the 18th century was added to the collection One Thousand and One Nights, it’s actually more a mix match of themes with numerous characters not only from other One Thousand and One Nights’ tales, Arabian, Greek, and Roman mythology but also from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe.
The game allowed for up to 17 human players (hot-seat) to join the same game, either to join as a united party, or multiple parties, to help the main protagonist Ali Baba travel through the thieves mountain lair in order to rescue and free the Sultan’s daughter, Princess Buddir, or for each to wander off and do theirs on things.
Besides Ali Baba players could choose between humans, elves, halflings, and dwarfs, and unlike the majority of dungeon crawlers of the time, players would not only meet evil on their endeavor but also friendly creatures and allies. Weapons or armor could be purchased at trading outposts.
If you managed to rescue the princess all by yourself and without engaging in any combat (like in the tale) you would receive the author’s personal congratulations on screen.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was initially released in 1981 for the Atari 8-bit and supported all of the computers four joystick ports – Which meant if you were four players, and had four joysticks, you didn’t have to swap palm-sweat with your friends.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was initially released in 1981 for the Atari 8-bit home computer, The game required an external peripheral disk drive and 32kb of memory
The game was ported to the Apple II and released in 1982. The Apple II version was unlike its Atari counterpart released in a box
The game came with an elaborate manual, giving insight into the story, the different characters and creatures you might encounter on your journey
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves would like the majority of early computer roleplaying games quickly become overshadowed and outgunned by the likes of Richard Garriott’s Ultima and Sir-Tech’s Wizardry series.
In 1983 Quality Software published Smith’s The Return of Heracles, his third game using essentially the same engine. As the title implies this was set in the age of Greek mythology.
Electronic Arts published, in 1984, Smith’s last original title Stuart Smith’s Adventure Construction Set, a software designed to make tile-based roleplaying adventure games similar to those of his earlier titles. The construction set was initially released for the Commodore 64 but was later ported to an array of different platforms. It became Electronic Arts’ biggest hit in 1985.
In 1986, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Return of Heracles were combined in a compilation and published by Electronic Arts as Stuart Smith’s Age of Adventure. This was the last time Smith would appear, before departing from the scene.
The Apple II release of Stuart Smith’s Age of Adventure compilation, published by Electronic Arts in 1986