As luck would have it, this week's Tuesday falls on Christmas Day, so it seems entirely appropriate to tackle a very brief illustrated adventure called Merry Christmas. This was a promotional giveaway game put out by the Australian publisher Melbourne House for the Commodore 64 during the 1984 holiday season; it doesn't take long at all to play, as long as we can avoid getting lost in the snowy wastes surrounding Santa's workshop. The player must assist Father Christmas in preparing for his physically improbable delivery rush; Grahame Willis did the programming, with graphics by 'Rusty' Rankin and animation by David Johnston.
As is often the case with these early games, we ironically have rampant C-64 piracy to thank for preserving this title in the online archives, though as this was not really a "for sale" title perhaps its illicit circulators can be forgiven:
Normally I suggest that readers play these games for themselves before reading my comments, but this one is extremely straightforward, with just a few locations and puzzles that scarcely deserve the name. It may not be worth your while to get it up and running -- I had to try a couple of Commodore 64 emulators before I got it working, though I should have just remembered past lessons and stuck with VICE from the get-go. There's not much to spoil here, but for the sake of formatting consistency I will pretend there are surprise-ruining...
****** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******
We begin outside Santa's workshop at the north pole, as a charming (though endless and eventually tiresome) C64 rendition of "Jingle Bells" plays as an animated Santa walks out of his workshop. A snowman stands near a sign that suggests digging in the snow is fun and rewarding; this doesn't look like it's going to be a particularly difficult adventure. DIG SNOW yields a small key, which can be used to UNLOCK DOOR and enter the workshop. The snowman is missing a nose, so we'll probably need to fix that before we're through here.
The snowy fields surrounding Santa's workshop are a maze; the game helpfully tells us if we've been to a location before, but it's hard to map until we've picked up a few more inventory items from inside the workshop. We can DIG SNOW in one location to find the snowman's nose, though I forgot to do anything with it after I found it, and for some reason we can't simply walk back out of the workshop the way we came in, so we'll have to see if we can find our way back there later.
The workshop features a pile of elf-made toys. Santa's sleigh is parked to the east, half-full of toys; a red jacket hangs nearby, and if we GET JACKET (TAKE is not recognized) and EXAMINE POCKET we find a silver whistle. Like many early graphic adventures with text parsers, some objects are depicted by the artist but not recognized -- there are clearly some boots standing near the wall, but I don't know the word: BOOTS. EXCLUSIVE JOKE FOR U.K. READERS: I wonder if W.H. Smith's paid Melbourne House some sort of anti-product placement fee?
South of the workshop is another pile of toys and some letters to Santa, plus a book with a flashing star on the front that fulfills this game's primary purpose by promoting other Melbourne House titles, including holiday favorites like Castle of Terror and Grand Larceny:
We can READ LETTERS to find a boy's request for a cricket bat and ball. Another letter requests a cricket bat and a dollhouse. We don't actually have two cricket bats on hand -- Santa's inventory control systems seem to be rather haphazard -- so we'll assume the letters we are reading are from the same family and they can share one. We can pick up a sack here and put the toys in it -- GET BAT, PUT BAT IN SACK, then GET DOLLHOUSE, PUT DOLLHOUSE IN SACK, then GET BALL and... ahem. I didn't find a letter requesting the stuffed cat toy, but it disappeared after I filled the rest of the "orders" so there may be some randomness here.
We can return to the sleigh garage to PUT SACK IN SLEIGH, and everything is now ready for toy delivery
North of the workshop, we can look out the window (over a lazy elf's shoulder) to see Santa's reindeer flying around with his sleigh in tow, apparently in a holding pattern. We can OPEN WINDOW and GO WINDOW, to find ourselves back in the snowy maze, through which we must navigate to find our way back to the entrance of the workshop.
While we're there, we can PUT NOSE ON SNOWMAN -- he puts it on and smiles, and then his nose falls off again, to be lost in the snow forever; DIG SNOW produces only cold hands at this point. Rather a depressing Christmas tale, that!
BLOW WHISTLE out front calls the reindeer in for a landing -- we can't GO SLEIGH, but we can GET IN SLEIGH. And we don't have to worry about actually delivering these toys -- FLY SLEIGH takes us to a quick victory! (Apparently the reindeer are towing the sleigh with the toys in it, even if we saw them flying around outside before we put the sack in the parked sleigh indoors.)
There's just time for one final promotional message from Melbourne House, looking forward to the company's 1985 lineup:
The parser stays awake afterwards, though we can't navigate anywhere. I'm not sure where I picked it up, but my inventory contained an oordo felves at this point that could not be referenced in the dictionary; it looks like a bug with door and elves worked into the wrong places somehow, and didn't cause any real problems.
Merry Christmas was clearly a quick little promo effort, but its ephemeral nature is what makes it kind of special and it was just the right length for a quick holiday post.
And I wish Happy Holidays to all of you, dear readers!