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Silicon Dreams

Entry updated 28 September 2012. Tagged: Game.

Videogame series (from 1983). Level 9 Computing (L9).

The Silicon Dreams trilogy is a series of text-based science fiction Adventures. The first game, Snowball (1983 L9, Atari8, C64, Spectrum; 1984 Amstrad, MSX) designed by Mike Austin, Nick Austin, Pete Austin, is set aboard a slower than light colony starship (the "Snowball 9") approaching its destination in the solar system of 40 Eridani A. The ship design strongly resembles the "Enzmann Starship" proposed by Dr Robert Enzmann in 1969, with Enzmann's single giant "snowball" of frozen deuterium fuel replaced by individual shells of ice surrounding a series of giant disks, which carry colonists in Suspended Animation. As the game begins, an insane crew member has set the ship on a collision course with the system's sun. The player takes the part of Kim Kimberley, an undercover operative who is awakened from frozen sleep when the ship's Computer detects a problem; they must evade the ship's automated defences and reach the control room in time to save the colonists. Snowball is remarkable for the number of separate locations it contains, though many of them are essentially identical. Another interesting aspect is the protagonist's name, which was chosen to be gender ambiguous in order to enhance player identification with the character, though the sequels suggest that Kimberley is actually a woman.

In the first sequel, Return to Eden (1984 L9, Amstrad, Atari8, C64, MSX, Spectrum) designed by Nick Austin, Chris Queen the awakened colonists accuse Kimberley of being the insane hijacker from the first game. After escaping, the player lands on the colony planet, Eden, where self replicating Robots dispatched ahead of the Snowball 9 have built the city of Enoch in preparation for the humans' arrival. Shortly after the start of the game, the Snowball 9 fires on Kimberley's landing craft, causing the robots to classify the colony ship as a hostile Alien vessel. The player must reach the city, evading dangerous native plant life, and convince the machines not to destroy the ship, thus incidentally clearing Kimberley's name. The third game, The Worm In Paradise (1986 L9, Amstrad, Atari8, C64, Spectrum) designed by Mike Austin, Nick Austin, Pete Austin is set in Enoch a hundred years after the events of Return to Eden. The game begins inside a symbolic Virtual Reality simulation of a beautiful garden; the player must follow a worm which escapes from an apple until they reach an exit to the real world. That world is somewhat darker than the settings of the first two games. Enoch has become an alienated metropolis dominated by Robots, resembling a less violent version of 2000 AD's Mega City One. Interestingly, victory in the game is achieved not by overthrowing the system, which keeps citizens in line with the threat of nonexistent aliens, but by joining it, and getting a piece of the action.

The original versions of both Return to Eden and The Worm In Paradise include graphics as well as text, in the manner of an illustrated novel rather than that of graphical adventures such as the Space Quest series. The entire trilogy was rereleased as Silicon Dreams (1986 L9, Amiga, Amstrad, Atari8, AtariST, C64, Spectrum; 1987 DOS), which added illustrations to Snowball and additional text to all three games. The first two entries in the series are essentially collections of puzzles made more interesting by their detailed Hard SF settings, but The Worm In Paradise aims significantly higher artistically. Its satire on 1980s UK politics is somewhat confused, however, and it is unusually hard to complete; the fact that the design of the city's transport system changes every time the game is loaded adds significantly to the difficulty. In the end, the simpler Snowball is the better game.

Related works: The Worm In Paradise was sold with an included novella by Peter McBride, Eden Song (1987 chap). The satirical text Adventure Knight Orc (1987), also developed by Level 9, is set entirely in a Virtual Reality game which exists in the world of The Worm in Paradise, and serves as a parody of early Multi User Dungeons. [NT]

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