The Causes of Chaos - History

12th December 2002

Nemesis, as I initially called it, was the most successful thing I did from a commercial perspective. I believe it was the first (only?) multi-player adventure for the Commodore 64, though this had to be achieved by the players taking turns. In all honesty, I doubt anyone really played it like that, but it was a good single-player adventure anyway.

I used a public-domain BASIC compiler to double the speed of the program (roughly) - this basically worked by compiling uses of the BASIC keywords into JSR instructions, but for an adventure game the speedup factor of 50% was sufficient. (And when I call the compiler ``public domain'', I'm not sure that it was squeaky clean: all I know for sure is that I didn't pay anything for it :-)

The plot was a re-working of SARG - the evil count Vladimir has stolen the crown jewels, and in an attempt to further the causes of Chaos, has scattered them to the four points of the compass. (I didn't even change the Count's name from SARG - how lazy is that?) The players' job (Oh alright then, the player's job) is to retrieve them and thereby restore peace to the kingdom. Pretty original, huh? The way I remember it, the game re-used some SARG puzzles, notably the routine in the corridor leading to the sceptre, whereby five objects must be obtained in the right order to gain access to the battering ram that breaks down the door at the end of the corridor.

It turns out, though, that I'm completely confused here: when I re-played CoC recently, that section wasn't in it at all. Even though it's in the maps I drew when I was designing the game. Weird.

Among the limitations of the relatively primitive architecture I was using then, I had the problem that all objects which the player could refer to had to be unique in their three-letter names. This meant, for example, that I couldn't have two ``door''s - I tried calling one of them a ``portal'', but that clashed with the ``portcullis'', and in the end I was reduced to calling it the ``outline of a door''!

I did try to make steps in the direction of a richer world model with this game, though: I remember that the objects had several more numeric fields describing them than in earlier games: for example, a ``physical strength'' field, which I believe was used in the end only to implement the crystal key shattering when it was dropped, although I'd originally intended more applications. I had some of the right ideas, but I was too strongly tied to my known-to-work architecture, and too influenced by the non-re-entrant BASIC mind-set, to see where they were leading me.

I initially tried to sell Nemesis to CDS, the people who had produced Castle Blackstar, on the strength of the good review that game got in Keith Campbell's Computer & Video Games adventure column. Despite some initial interest, that didn't really happen, so I made half a dozen copies of the disk, and started hawking them around a computer show, trying to whip up some interest. About the second stall I showed it to was CRL's, and they decided to bite. Because they were also marketing an Adventure Authoring package called Genesis at the time, they wanted to change the too-similar name Nemesis. They plucked the phrase Causes of Chaos out of the documentation, and it stands to this day.

Going beyond pure adventure programming, I designed a set of C64 sprites, representing the word ``Chaos'' in the Old English font, which came sliding into place under the words ``The Causes of'' on the title screen. I also wrote my own vaguely baroque-sounding title music. (At one point, I was using a version of She's a Diamond from Evita, but there might have been copyright problems, and it was completely wrong for the game anyway). The other thing on the title screen was the ``scrolling message'', which I did with a little bit of machine-code, eventually giving up on the much harder job of doing it with smooth scrolling.

The 8x8 Old English-like font which I designed for the Causes of Chaos was subsequently lifted by CRL and used, without my permission, for another game of theirs, Pilgrim. I never got any credit for that, let alone any money.

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