Silicon Dreams is a trilogy of interactive fiction games developed by Level 9 Computing during the 1980s. The first game was Snowball, released during 1983, followed a year later by Return to Eden, and then by The Worm in Paradise during 1985. The next year they were vended together as the first, second and last of the Silicon Dreams. Early advertisements gave it the title of Silicon Dream, but it was pluralised later.
|Developer(s)||Level 9 Computing|
Nick Austin, Mike Austin and Pete Austin with additional help from Ian Buxton. Art by Tim Noyce
Return to Eden
Nick Austin and Chris Queen with art by Tim Noyce
The Worm in Paradise
Nick Austin, Mike Austin and Pete Austin with art by James Horsler
|Platform(s)||Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Apple II, Atari 8-bit family, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, DOS, Macintosh, MSX, ZX Spectrum|
As with most Level 9 games, the trilogy used an interpreted language termed A-code and was usable in all major types of home computer of the time, on either diskette or cassette. Level 9 self-published each game separately, but the compilation was published by Telecomsoft, which sold it in the United States with the tradename Firebird and in Europe with the tradename Rainbird.
The trilogy is set in a not too-distant future when humans have started colonising space. For the first two instalments the player has the role of Kim Kimberley, an undercover agent, whose goal in Snowball is to save the colonist's spacecraft from crashing into a star, and in Return to Eden to stop the defence system at the destination planet of Eden from destroying the craft. In The Worm in Paradise, the player, with the role of an unnamed citizen of Eden, must travel around the city of Enoch, learn its secrets, earn money and save the planet.
The games use a text parser for entering commands at the "What now?" prompt. The parser can interpret more than a thousand words to control movement or actions. It looks at the command, picking out two or three words it knows, ignoring the order, and tries to guess what is meant. For movement, the usual commands for moving 'NORTH', 'SOUTH', 'EAST' and 'WEST' are available (and their abbreviated forms of 'N', 'S', 'E' and 'W') as well as 'UP' and 'DOWN' ('U' and 'D' respectively) and a number of other directions and 'modes' of movement (like 'JUMP'). For actions, it understands how to pick up objects, opening doors, lighting lamps, as well as dropping objects and wielding them. Additionally, there are commands to invoke 'SAVE' and 'RESTORE' of game positions to cassette tape or floppy disk (for some systems also to RAM), ask for 'HELP', turn off pictures and turn them on again with 'WORDS' and 'PICTURES' respectively, an 'OOPS' command to undo previous commands.
Silicon Dreams can be played as three separate games, but to obtain a maximum score the games must be completed in order, carrying the score from one adventure to the next. Points are not scored for collecting treasures, but rather for doing specific tasks helping to satisfy the goal of the individual game. For Snowball the goal is to get to the main control room and prevent the starship Snowball 9 from crashing into a star. For Return to Eden the goal is to get into the city of Enoch and stop the robots from destroying Snowball 9. And for Worm in Paradise the goal is to find as much information about the city as possible, obtain money, and then become a member of the governing party of Eden, saving the planet in the process.
The trilogy is set in the future, when the human race is colonizing the stars. A transport network has been developed for the entire Solar System using accelerator chains, and the "Big 5" nations of Earth have initiated a plan to colonise the galaxy. This is known as the Terran Expansionary Phase. It lasted ninety years from 2120 to 2210.
The first major activity was to launch probes into outer space. The probes reported any Earth-sized planet they encountered during their centuries-long voyage. Each probe was followed by a survey ship ten years later. The ship's mission was to map the planet and, if it was habitable, it would signal Earth and then, while waiting for the colonists to arrive, terraform the planet.
This is the second part of the phase. The survey ship mined materials from asteroids and used them to build a robot factory in space — a process that could take decades. The resulting robots built more space factories that in turn produced better robots. They also built large satellite dishes to collect data sent from Earth containing the latest technological advances. Then terraforming was performed. The robots landed on the planet and built cities while also launching more probes and survey ships further into space.
Once Earth received news of a habitable planet, the third and final part was done. Ten giant passenger discs, each carrying two hundred thousand colonists in stasis, were towed into space. Next came the engine unit, which was linked to the front of the discs, and then the colony ship was completed and ready to go.
During the 2190s fifty colony ships were launched from the EEC's Ceres base, among them the Snowball 9, which carried the first colonists for planet Eden on the Eridani A system. For the next three years, the accelerator chains beyond Pluto fired ten-ton blocks of ammonia ice at the travelling ship. The Snowball 9 caught the ice blocks with hooks and piled it around the passenger discs, forming a hollow shell that would cover most of the ship and would serve as a shield until it was needed to fuel the fusion engines on the later part of the trip. This ice shell gave the Snowball series its name.
After receiving the last ice block, the crew put the ship in autopilot and went to hibernate with the passengers, leaving the ship's maintenance to robots. Except for a brief period of activity to start deceleration, the crew slept for most of the trip, awaking one year before reaching Eden. The plan was to continue deceleration while consuming the last of the ice shell, and then put the ship in orbit around the planet, delivering the passengers down by gliders that would be retrieved by hooks to be reused.
The protagonist of the two first instalments, Kim Kimberley, is a tall, athletic, intelligent woman with brown eyes and fair hair. She was born and raised at Hampstead Crèche, which was closed when she was thirteen years old due to violations of the Android Protection Acts. She finished her education at the Milton Keynes School of Life in Malta, then returned to England for National Service. She started doing standard security work with the occasional surveillance of subversive members of society, but ended working as a counter-espionage agent. Whilst in her mid-twenties, Kim accepted to travel undercover on the Snowball 9 to be there as the last resort for the worst-case scenario.
As the Snowball 9 approaches Eden, something goes wrong. A crew member murders her shipmates, destroys the communication system and sets the ship on a collision course with the sun. The robots, being little more than automata, continue their everyday operations oblivious to the danger but the ship's computer, capable of thinking, awakens Kim Kimberley before the deranged crew member destroys it. She exits her modified stasis chamber with the goal of finding a way to reach the control room and avert disaster.
Snowball was originally released during 1983 as the company's fourth adventure game using the A-Code system. Nick, Mike, and Pete Austin headed development. Though Level 9's previous games featured a fantasy theme, the Austin brothers chose a science fiction theme. The original release used version 1 of this system and was initially released only for the BBC Micro, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Nascom, but was later followed by versions for the Commodore 64, Camputers Lynx, Oric-1, Atari 8-bit as well as for the Memotech MTX, Amstrad CPC, Enterprise and MSX. It is noteworthy for including over seven thousand locations. To achieve this sixty-eight hundred locations on the passenger disks form a colour-coded maze with minimal descriptions.
Another peculiar aspect of the game was the confusion behind the main character's gender. In an interview for Sinclair User, Chris Bourne asked, "Is the androgynous Kim a man or woman?" Pete Austin pointed out that "there's a credit at the end for the design of 'Ms Kimberley's costume,' " but also admitted that Kim Kimberley was "a deliberately unisex name." The debate came to an end with the release of Return to Eden, where it was made more explicit that Kim was not a man, because the surviving crew members confuse her with the woman who tried to destroy the ship.
Return to EdenEdit
With the Snowball 9 orbiting Eden, the surviving crew members put Kim on trial. The only evidence against her is the "mempak" from the control room, which shows her as the hijacker rather than the saviour. Despite the fact that the recording is damaged and thus is unreliable, they sentence her to death. About to be thrown into space, Kim manages to escape aboard a "stratoglider" and an hour later, lands on Eden. At this point the game starts.
The first thing the player must do is find a shelter for Kim, because a few moves into the game the Snowball 9 crew use the ship's engine to try to burn her down. The native robots take this as proof that the Snowball 9 is not the ship they were expecting but a hostile alien craft they must destroy. The objective is to contact the robots before time ends for the Snowball 9 and everyone aboard it.
Unlike its predecessor, Return to Eden only had about two hundred and fifty locations, but it was Level 9's first game to feature graphics. Other adventure games had included graphics before, but version 2 of the A-Code system allowed Level 9 to encode location graphics into as little as forty bytes. This size made it possible to add graphics to every location of the game for all formats with more than 32 K RAM. The user could choose not to display them and play the game in text-only mode. It was released for the same platforms as its predecessor.
The game's first cover depicted a robot fighting a monster plant in Enoch. The robot resembled a comic book character, so to avoid legal troubles, Level 9 commissioned Godfrey Dowson to do a new cover. Dowson's illustration depicted another robot in the jungle looking towards Enoch. They liked the second cover so much, they hired Dowson to do artwork for the re-release of their old games as well as for their future titles.
Pete Austin commented on the game: "It's an alien theme park gone wild. The Eden universe is more like Larry Niven's future space." and "...is intended as a comment on superpower intervention in the Third World."
The Worm in ParadiseEdit
A hundred years after the arrival of colonists aboard the Snowball 9, planet Eden has become home to half a billion people. In this paradise managed by robots there is not any crime, taxes, unemployment, or freedom. The population lives in a domed "megapolis," and perhaps due to the war that occurred during Return to Eden, there is not any contact between the cities and the surrounding natural world. The occasional sighting of flying saucers keeps the population afraid from going outside.
The main character, a nameless citizen of Enoch, starts the game in a beautiful garden where everything seems fine. He picks an apple from a tree, a worm pops out, and the player follows it outside the garden, through the desert, and then he awakens. It was only a simulation, one of the many forms of entertainment available during the reign of the third Kim. This "Garden of Eden as a prison" allegory sets the mood for the entire game. The objective is to explore the city, and while doing so the player must gather clues to unmask the government conspiracy behind the flying saucers.
The Worm in Paradise is the third and final instalment of the Silicon Dreams trilogy and is a departure from the previous games. It "evolved alongside a 12 month enhancement on Level 9's own adventure system. Standard features include a 1,000 word vocabulary, a very highly-advanced English input, memory-enhancing text compression, the now familiar and very much appreciated type-ahead, and multi-tasking so a player need never wait while a picture is drawn." This was the first game using version 3 of the A-Code system. It was released for four fewer platforms, excluding the Lynx, Memotech MTX, Nascom and Oric-1 compared to the two previous releases.
Another difference is that the player has only seven days, within the game's clock, to complete the game. Quests are also time-based and require that the player arrive at certain locations at specific hours to achieve the desired goal. And while game play remains the same, the backdrop is no longer an action adventure, but a political thriller that resembles the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Similar to what happened when Snowball was released, there was certain confusion about the main character's identity and the time when the story is set. The Level 9 Fact Sheet says: "...a couple of years later, Kim Kimberley has become a legend on Eden." Another article stated: "Worm in Paradise is set 100 years later. You are now Kim Kimberley III..." Furthermore, Pete Austin said, "Worm is set on Eden, about 50 years in the future" and "The player is not Kim - she becomes mayor and runs the place." Notice that these sources termed the game by its original name, Worm in Paradise.
Silicon Dreams was the second title published by Telecomsoft, the first being Jewels of Darkness, in a four-game publishing deal signed by Level 9 during April 1986. This deal gave Level 9 (which was often referred to as "British Infocom") an opportunity to revise their previous titles and add support for the 16-bit market as well as a possible entry into the potential lucrative US market. Subsequently, the trilogy was released for a total of twelve platforms, leaving out the BBC Micro and Enterprise compared to The Worm in Paradise, but adding support for the Apple II, Amiga, Amstrad PCW, Atari ST, IBM PC DOS and Macintosh. All the games were updated to version 3 of the A-Code system with updated text and new graphics for inclusion in the release of the Silicon Dreams trilogy in 1986 with expanded, text-only versions for some releases.
The "Rainbird" release came in a 215 x 153 x 27 mm cardboard box while the "Firebird" release came in a 227 x 163 x 30 mm black, plastic box. Both featured a 150 x 210 mm, 68-page booklet with loading instructions, a guide to playing the game and Peter McBride's novella Eden Song which served as an introduction to The Worm in Paradise. The novella was also used as a copy protection device, from which, upon restore of a saved game, the player had to enter a word from a page and line reference.
Although there was an adventure game released for the Sinclair QL called Return to Eden, this was written by Oliver Neef and Rich Mellor and was written before the Level 9 game of the same name. Level 9 never released a version of the trilogy for the Sinclair QL.
The games were released individually and generally received good initial reviews. Snowball won the Best Text-only Adventure prize at Crash 1984 Readers Awards, Return to Eden received a 90% score in Sinclair Programs, and The Worm in Paradise was rated a Your Sinclair Megagame and a Sinclair User Classic.
When the trilogy was released it received unanimously good reviews from the ZX Spectrum press. Sinclair User gave it a Sinclair User Classic, terming it an "...unqualified success for Level 9 and Rainbird." Your Sinclair awarded a Your Sinclair Mega Game, and ZX Computing a Monster Hit. The Commodore 64 magazine Zzap!64 gave it a 90% score which awarded it with a Zzap!64 Sizzler. However, some reviews found the graphics "...truly abysmal. Blotchy, often unrecognisable...simple in design..." while others called it "...smidgens better than those added to Jewel of Darkness, possibly even two smidgens, and are far from being the disappointment."
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- Snowball on Google Play
- Silicon Dreams at MobyGames
- Silicon Dreams at SpectrumComputing.co.uk
- Silicon Dreams Nintendo DS port at Papafuji's DS Adventure Page
- Silicon Dreams at The Level 9 Memorial
- Silicon Dreams at Baf's Guide to the IF Archive at the Wayback Machine (archived March 17, 2012)
- Snowball review at Crash - The Online Edition
- Worm in Paradise review at Crash - The Online Edition
- Silicon Dreams trilogy at The Bird Sanctuary
- Eden Song available at Retro Reading: The Game Novellas Homepage