Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weekend Intermission: Kid-Venture

Some things do indeed get lost to the sands of time, even a mere 30 years on. As a kid, I owned a copy of a unique Adventure International title -- Kid-Venture #1: Little Red Riding Hood, by James Talley, aimed at 4-10 year olds. The game does not appear to be available in any of the online archives, likely because of its proto-multimedia nature, so I'm going to have to go strictly on memory here.

The game came on cassette for the TRS-80 Model I, and there were (if memory serves) two sides to the tape. On one side was the game program, loaded in the conventional fashion; on the other, a book-and-record-style narration of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The game also came with two cardboard keyboard overlays, mapping keys to crude sketches of Grandma, the Wolf, an axe, a basket -- the standard elements of the story. The idea was that young children without touch typing skills could play by simply responding with single button presses -- selecting the right prop or character when prompted would allow the story to continue.

The audio narration was, I believe, recorded by the author himself, and used the standard TRS-80 tape drive, with the computer audio jack unplugged so the sound would come through the cassette player's own speaker. I recall that Mr. Talley spoke in a soft southern drawl, beginning: "Hello. My name is James. I will be your storyteller."

As the story progressed, the player would press the appropriate button and the story would continue. The cassette drive was under computer control, so the narration would pause until the player found the correct answer on the keyboard. There was no way to die or fail, and of course the story was completely linear -- tape was not a random access medium. The game operated in the TRS-80's 32-column mode, so the graphics were very blocky, using big fat 64x48 pixels that were roughly squarish, at least. I don't know whether the style was meant to appeal to children, or save memory, or both.

The Adventure International catalog circa 1981 promised a second Kid-Venture to come, but as far as I can determine it was never released, or no evidence of its existence has survived. It was listed as Kid-Venture #2: Match Maker/'Twas the Night Before Christmas, combining what I am guessing was a Concentration-style memory game with a bonus recounting of the famous holiday poem.

Little Red Riding Hood had disappeared from the AI catalog altogether by 1983, so I gather it was not a big seller. No surprise there -- it had absolutely no replay value, really, and the storytelling wasn't particularly compelling. And getting the thing up and running was probably beyond the skill level and attention span of its target audience, at that time -- adjust the volume, load the tape, flip the tape, rewind it, unplug the audio jack, start the game, insert the keyboard overlays, start the tape...

So chalk this one up as another unsuccessful experiment from the early days of home computer adventuring. But I do remember it well.


  1. Wow until I read your blog I had totally forgotten about the kid ventures! Other than what you described here I don't remember any other details myself!

  2. I get the impression not too many people ever played the Kid-Ventures. Did the second one ever come out? I haven't been able to find so much as the cover art for it online. I'd be curious to know what kinds of sales levels constituted a "hit" or a "flop" back in the AI days.