Unknown Realm is touted as “an 8-bit RPG for PC and Commodore 64” on its Kickstarter page and it hearkens back to a time decades before discussions of graphics hardware, 4k resolutions, and party romances became part of today’s gaming lexicon. It’s really amazing to see a project like this and incredibly awesome to see the approach they are taking.
Because let’s face it. Back during the 80s when the Apple ][ and the Commodore 64 were the go-to machines for a large number of RPGs thanks to the likes of SSI, New World Computing, Origin, and even Electronic Arts, players relied on something to fill in those graphics gaps — an imagination. Looking at these screens, sure, they can’t compete with the likes of a Skyrim. But back in those days, the perspective created by these iconic visuals was that of a passport unlocking the imagination of the player. The graphics were shorthand for the vast worlds of adventure, mystery, and the unknown just past the edge of the screen.
The “feelies” included with the games — colorful maps on cloth or textured paper, detailed manuals with storied fiction filling their pages illustrated with drawings of monsters and wonders alike — added to the immersion. There’s something satisfyingly tangible about holding a map covered in mysterious font in your hands or flipping through a thick booklet filled with notations from a mysterious traveler beckoning you onwards into the unknown.
According to the Kickstarter, the story starts in the 80s when you are pulled into the mysterious world of the Unknown Realms and must find a way to survive the challenges ahead by plumbing its medieval mysteries. Apparently your uncle also knew about this world, but just what he knew and what lies ahead are all part of the question facing the player. From there, the success of your quest will depend on how you treat others (even monsters if you can speak their language!) and the adventures you may partake in to discover the truth.
There’s more at the Kickstarter and its also drawn a bit of recognition from a few CRPG greats such as Obsidian (Tyranny, Pillars of Eternity, KOTOR II), Richard Garriott (Lord British, Ultima series, Shroud of the Avatar), and Brian Fargo (The Bard’s Tale series, Wasteland, Wasteland 2). As of this writing, 29 days are left for the project to hit its $65,536 USD goal. It’s also well on its way to doing that with roughly $53k already pledged. It also has an official web page if that’s your thing.
The game also boasts some neat technical features. Outside of being able to run on a Commodore 64, a Windows and Mac version will also be made available featuring a ‘palette’ switching mode allowing you to pick retro modes such as an NES palette, ZX Spectrum, or ye olde Apple ][among others. Even the music can be switched between 8-bit and a more ‘modern’ sounding version. It’s almost like switching between your internal speaker and a Roland soundboard. Ah, memories.
But don’t let the super old-school graphics fool you — some of the best designed and challenging CRPGs ever made were born in that time and reasonably hold up today thanks to both their simplicity and the solid work pushing each floppy disk to its limits.
Check it out if you can, support it, or simply spread the word. This is one adventure that looks like it could be the quest that more than a few grizzled veterans might be looking for.