Magic Mirror

13th May 2024

Magic Mirror, cover of VIC-20 tape Magic Mirror, inlay of VIC-20 tape

Magic Mirror, written I think in 1982 and published in 1983, was my first commercial computer program. It was a text-only adventure game for the Commodore VIC-20 with 8 Kb expansion. (Not 16 Kb, as incorrectly printed on the tape. I only just noticed this mistake, 27 years after it was published.)

Magic Mirror, VIC-20 cassette

This was back in the heady days of cottage-industry software sold by mail-order adverts in the back pages of magazines. Things were so informal that when I wrote to Terminal Software to order a copy of their Skramble [local backup], I mentioned in passing that I had an adventure game for the VIC-20, and would they like to see it? They did.

It had 38 locations and 45 objects, and very much the flavour of a Scott Adams game -- borrowing the Magic Mirror itself and other elements such as the chasm that has to be jumped from Adventureland. It began in a house, proceeded outside to a garden, containing a pond which you could swim down through into a cave. Looking back on this and other games, it's interesting to see how many conventions I unconsciously adopted from Scott Adams - things that I didn't even recognise as being stylised until years later when I played very different games such as the original Crowther/Woods Adventure.

Unlike most of the games that followed, this had a ``save game'' facility, implemented by writing lots of randomly-named flag variables to a serial file. Amazingly, Nosferatu and The Causes of Chaos both lacked this.

Magic Mirror sold reasonably well - about a thousand copies, I think -- despite the appalling artwork they provided for the tape inlay! In the wake of this, I was asked to do a Spectrum port, which I should have knuckled down and done -- the sales would have been much greater than for the VIC version -- but I couldn't get motivated about it. In fact, I never got very beyond writing the screen designer which I intended to use to build the loading-screen. So Mirror was only ever released for the VIC.

Here's what I have available:

Michael Lambert's comment in 2009:

What I love about the game is the isolation it conjures up. It reminds me of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, where Arnie Saccnuson journeyed alone into the vast underground caverns. There was something eerie about floating in a small hide canoe on the vast subterranean lake inside a huge rock cavern with nothing but a torch to light the way.

And here is what you see when you win:

Very excitingly, on 12 May 2024, Jason Dyer reviewed Magic Mirror as part of his All The Adventures project, in which he aims to play literally every adventure game ever written, in mostly chronological order. I am pleased to quote:

I found this enjoyable out of normal proportion for a minimalist game with no real “daemons” or other complexity which are usually needed to make difficult puzzles. The item-juggling took over sufficiently as a mechanic that I was engaged with the world beyond a simple apply-key-to-lock hunt, and out of the VIC-20 library this honestly was much more playable than [other games].

I'll take that!

Feedback to <> is welcome!