As computers got increasingly more powerful up through the ’80s, game development was rapidly shifting from being products of sole developers, with no made distinction between programmer and designer, to products requiring comprehensive teams of specialists. In the summer of 1985 Commodore introduced its new powerful 16-bit Amiga, allowing developers the hardware and tools to create truly high fidelity multimedia productions. State-of-the-art high-resolution graphics and four independent hardware-mixed PCM sound channels required experts in each field and with games getting bigger and more ambitious than ever, multiple programmers had to join efforts. In the midst of all this one man single-handed created the biggest game of its kind, with outstanding visuals, a clever music system, and an impressive game world to freely explore.
David Joiner had been introduced to programming in the early ’70s while at the US Air Force Training Academy. Following he joined the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska as a COBOL programmer doing logistic database support on the department’s Honeywell Mainframe computer. The system came equipped with a BASIC interpreter Joiner used between work to experiment with game creation and completed a small space war game playable on the mainframe’s connected terminals. While all of Joiner’s professional work was done on the mainframe he was slowly being introduced to the world of personal computers when other computer enthusiasts from the department started acquiring Apple II and Commodore PET computers.
After leaving the military, Joiner was hired by Dave Gordon‘s Datasoft as a programmer in 1984. While Datasoft had seen much success in the early part of the ’80s with its many popular Apple II and Commodore 64 titles alongside its successful publication of written computer-related materials, the company faced serious financial issues. In 1985 Joiner was let go from a dying Datasoft, alongside most of its engineering staff. The company was eventually acquired by IntelliCreations and later Mindscape.
In the time that followed Joiner was introduced to Commodore’s new 16-bit wonder machine, the Amiga 1000, one of the most advanced graphics and sound capable systems in its class and what could be considered the first true multimedia computer.
One of Joiner’s friends had signed up as an Amiga developer and had gotten access to a pre-release Amiga 1000 system when made available in early 1985, months prior to its public release. While Joiner couldn’t afford his own computer he familiarised himself with the computer and started hanging out at KJ Computers, a computer store in the San Fernando Valley, where the new Amiga 1000 had just arrived.
Being a seasoned programmer and having acquired some knowledge of the Commodore Amiga, Joiner was asked by store owner Jim Steiner if he could make the machine talk. Steiner had heard commodore’s new computer had speech synthesis built into its operating system and while having computers on display in his store he had never heard any of them actually speak.
Joiner borrowed one of Steinert’s machines for a short period of time and in AmigaBASIC crafted a small program able to read out typed-in sentences. Steiner impressed asked if Joiner was interested in polishing it up and letting him sell it at his store at a 50/50 split. The software became Talk to Me and while it only sold around 30 copies it was enough to convince Steiner that Amiga software development could be an interesting business venture. As a counterpart to his computer store, Steinert established MicroIllusions as his software publishing label, initially operated with his girlfriend from the back of the store. Later Steinert moved the MicroIllusions operation to an office a few blocks away and picked up the lease on a small house next to it, to form a small software-development community consisting of Joiner and other artists and programmers, all of which were contracted and paid in royalties.
Initially, Joiner was hired to do a few edutainment titles and would over the coming months show his multifaceted ability to not only design and program complex software but also as a creative force crafting visuals, sound, and music. Steinert grew increasingly more confident in Joiner and asked for him to create whatever game he wanted with some payment made upfront.
After a few brainstorming sessions, Joiner’s vision of an action-adventure inspired not by the extremely popular but overly used Dungeons and Dragons or Sword and Sorcery but by fairy tales, started to take shape. Joiner wanted to create an open, seamless, and atmospheric world, much larger than what had been seen earlier. In early 1987, after seven months of development, his The Faery Tale Adventure was complete and ready for release for the Commodore Amiga 1000. Joiner had single-handed completed what would be the largest free-roaming game world of its time. Not only had he solely programmed the entire game, the needed tools, and the editor for creating the tile-based world but also crafted all of the artwork, animations, sound, and even composed the music, and all of it in record time.
David Joiner’s The Faery Tale Adventure was published by Jim Steiner’s MicroIllusions, for the relatively newly released Commodore Amiga 1000, in early 1987. The game featured the biggest free-roaming role-playing game world with over 17.000 different screens.
The beautiful cover art was done by Joiner’s friend and science-fiction prop maker Ed Kline, whose works have appeared on numerous movies and television shows
David Joiner was a jack of all trades. A comprehensive game like The Faery Tale Adventure was a perfect outlet for combining his many years of programming with his excellent creative skills. The physical product followed in Electronic Arts’ footsteps and portrayed the developer and the game in the classic album-style sleeve featuring staged tacky pictures of Joiner in his self-made Dream Knight costume.
In the first year after its release, Joiner made $50.000 in royalties
The Faery Tale Adventure became a hit on the Amiga and a showcase of the computer’s strength in graphics and sound. The success let MicroIllusion to be signed up as an affiliated publisher with one of the biggest names in game publishing at the time, Activision.
Following the release of the Amiga version in 1987, The Faery Tale Adventure was ported to the Commodore 64 and released in 1988. Due to hardware limitations of the aging Commodore 64 the graphics quality was substantially lower than the Amiga version and the loading times were long and tedious.
The Commodore version of The Faery Tale Adventure was completed without David Joiner’s help and released, in the album-style sleeve like the Amiga version, for the platform in 1988.
All versions of the Faery Tale Adventure came with a small paper map depicting the land of Holm
The PC version, released in 1988, was titled The Faery Tale Adventure: Book I as it was meant to be the first part of a series
Joiner continued contracting with MicroIllusions for a few years. The deal with Activision, now corporately known as Mediagenics, was canceled within a year of signing, citing the low sales numbers of MicroIllusions’ latest products.
The Commodore Amiga 1000 with its high price tag never managed to realize its own worth, it was a product so ahead of its time that neither the market nor Commodore really understood how the machine could establish itself in the market and reach its full potential.
In 1987, Commodore introduced the lower end Amiga 500, costing only half of that of its bigger brother. With the more accessible price tag and by being sold at retail outlets, unlike the A1000 which only was sold in computer stores, it was much better equipped for conquering a place in the home computer market. Unfortunately, the magnificent Amiga never got the really big breakthrough Commodore and every Amiga developer was waiting for, even though it for many years seemed to be just around the corner.
Compared to other systems the Amiga, commercially, was trailing behind and developers primarily betting on the system, like MicroIllusions, soon started facing financial issues. Steinert’s software publishing label went bankrupt sometime around 1990 and ultimately New World Computing acquired its assets and in 1991 ported The Faery Tale Adventure to the Sega Genesis with Electronic Arts as the publisher.
While the venture had been short, Joiner and MicroIllusions managed to produce some impressive and visionary titles for the Commodore Amiga, showcasing its many superb multimedia graphics and sound capabilities, years before multimedia was a word associated with personal computers.
Steinert’s somewhat lack of business skills and his many tricks for evading everything from taxes to paying the bills on time put a strain on many of his relations. Nonetheless, the games industry was rapidly expanding at the time, and skills or no skills, for a short period of time everybody could have a piece of the cake, including Steinert.
A sequel to The Faery Tale Adventure was developed by Joiner and The Dreamers Guild and released as Halls of the Dead: Faery Tale Adventure II, in 1997. But constant financial cutbacks throughout development left the released game feeling rushed and only half-finished.
Joiner joined EA and worked on Sim City 4 and The Sims 2 and later went on to work for Google on the user interface for Google+.
Sources: Wikipedia, Amiga Lore, David Joiner’s blog…