Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/27/back_into_the_valley/

(Back) into The Valley

Remembering a BASIC coding classic from 1982

By Tony Smith

Posted in Games, 27th November 2009 14:19 GMT

Forgotten Tech I first explored The Valley late in 1982. My method of entry: a Research Machines 380Z. I loved it and didn't want to leave.

But the school lunch period ended at 1.30 and the computer room was locked then, so I had to wait a day or two until I could get time on the RM again.

The Valley - CT Cover

The Valley had been hacked onto the 380Z by a guy called Roy Walker. In a rare moment of schoolboy honesty, he admitted he'd keyed it in from a listing in a magazine. The publication was Computing Today, which had run an article - bylined only 'HB' and 'RM' - in April that year centred on a modular sword-and-sorcery "real-time adventure with graphics" designed to not only be entertaining to play but also to be used as a programming teaching aid.

"The published listing was developed and tested on a 32K Commodore Pet but will, if all non-essential spaces and REMs are removed, run in 16K," the authors promised.

"The best way to implement the program on your system is to key it in one module at a time following the notes," we were advised. "As each block is completed, SAVE it on tape before adding the next; 16K is a lot of program to lose if you make a mistake!"

Hard drive users - they don't know they're born...

CT published follow-up articles during the following months, mostly centred on adapting the code for other machines. The May 1982 issue, for example, featured writer Peter Green detailing a TRS-80 version. In the August 1982 number, Andrew Bain offered notes on coding The Valley for the Sharp MZ-80K. A year after the initial listing, readers' additions - extra spells and conversion hints - were being published en masse.

The Valley - Hob Goblin

The original Valley was written for the Commodore Pet, but Roy had tweaked it into RM's dialect of Basic. I asked if I could borrow the listing to recode it for Microsoft Colour Basic - what my Dragon 32 used - but Roy told me to piss off.

A friend, Iain, was more lucky. He too had a Dragon and, after he'd borrowed the listing from Roy for an evening or two, I had a photocopy of the Pet code. Iain was no coder, but he knew I was and wanted to play the game on his own machine, so it made sense for him to get me the listing.

I can't recall how long the conversion took. Not long, I think. The hard bit was working out what the addresses that codes were Poke'd into the Pet's memory map represented. I made some guesses and seemed to get it right.

Sample Code

The Valley - code
The Valley - listing sample

Old style programming: not a hint of procedures, GOTO commands taking you hither and yon, no variable declarations - and line numbers to boot. Ah, those were the days...

We all had a lot of fun, tweaking the code to cheat and just playing the game the proper way.

The Valley - logo

What are you... Barbarian or Wizard?

Time went by and other kids moved on to different, more visually exciting games, but I always kept the Boots C15 cassette I kept The Valley on near to hand. Dragon games were more expensive and less exciting than their Spectrum equivalents, so I didn't have a lot else to play. Only Ken Kalish's Doom-before-its time Phantom Slayer got as much screen time.

But The Valley got me really programming. A Frogger clone came first, with 6809 machine code routines Poke'd into place to handle the side-scrolling logs and lorries.

The Valley - screens

Screen magic: text-as-graphics in glorious monochrome

And I carried on playing it. Until A levels took up almost all of my free time. Then University.

Computing Today was long gone, but I never stopped thinking about The Valley. It never ocurred to me not to hack into the Amstrad PCW 8256 I bought up to type up my third-year Physics project.

I came back to The Valley many years later only to find that old Boots C15 tape was long lost - though I still have the Dragon 32, Phantom Slayer, a fiendish Donkey Kong clone and a few other titles, all of which still load and run. I occasionally get it out for my son, who's young enough still not to dismiss the ancient four-colour blocky graphics out of hand.

The Valley - player

IT professionals, take up your swords...

I pondered coding it up for Mac OS X, but without the listing I'd not only be re-inventing the wheel but producing a hybrid of recollection and guesswork. It would be a Valley, but not the Valley.

Since I couldn't remember the name of the publication The Valley first appeared in, Google proved unhelpful.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I came across Fraser Charlton's Valley memorial page, complete with a version written in BBC Basic, a Windows runtime of BBC port, and some scans of the original pages - it's where I got the pictures from for this article.

Fraser's now a Consultant Pathologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle Upon Tyne, but he still remembers The Valley fondly. I do too, and I suspect we're not alone.

Right, last one to Vounim's Lair is a wuss... ®

I'd like to thank Fraser for not only posting the sample scans and BBC Basic code, but also agreeing to my cheeky request to scan in the entire listing.