Tapes from the Crypt

Tapes from the Crypt

Isn’t it our responsibility to preserve the heritage of the golden era of home computing? Too much is already gone forever in the perpetual tides of time, washed away and never to return again. Imagine how many treasures and secrets still reside on forgotten tapes and floppies, waiting to finally being recovered from their crypt? Retro computer archaeology is what I had in mind when I started this blog and I encourage each and every one of you to check if a certain game or program version you might still have, hiding away in one of those dusty boxes in the attic, has already been preserved. Working closely with Tim Gilberts, I was able to reflect the history of Gilsoft, a software company that comes into mind like no other when talking about text adventures, at least when you’re based in Europe. In the early 80s, the now defunct company released their groundbreaking adventure writer software “The Quill” for a broad range of 8-bit systems, with the ZX Spectrum version probably being the most successful, spawning a flood of high quality text adventures for Sir Clive’s brainchild and Jack Tramiel’s answer to it.

Boxed version of “The Quill” for Commodore 64, which is quite hard to find these days.
The manual that accompanied “The Quill” is one of the best tutorials ever written.

It was easy to use, the bundled manual was one of the best that has ever been written (probably still is) and the learning curve was rapid. These key success factors were supplemented by the fact that “The Quill” was notably the first tool of its kind, creating a buzz and appealing equally to individuals and commercial game developers at that time. The quick reference for instance fits on one single page. Once you’re done with the manual, there was nothing but your imagination between you and your very own adventure.

Boxed ZX Spectrum version of “The Quill”. This one is the most successful.
Most successful doesn’t mean it’s easy to get your hands on of those boxes these days.

Working with a Tim Gilberts, who found Gilsoft in the early 80s, was quite an experience. He undoubtedly is one of the colourful figures of the UK home computer scene and his company and their releases had a major impact on how people developed text adventures back in the days. I’m a big Gilsoft fan and I’m using their tools to write my own adventure Hibernated: Part I – This Place is Death, which is due to be released by The Future was 8-bit later this year. Now to say I was stoked about working with Tim is probably an understatement.

Boxed version of “The Illustrator”. This rare piece from my collection is notably in mint condition.

The year 1984 saw the release of “The Illustrator”, a tool that was made for adding graphics to your quill’ed adventures. It notably did not handle real images at all. Instead it stored information of how an image needs to be drawn, a wonderful and innovative way to deal with the undeniable memory limitations of home computers.

With these tools at hand you were capable to easily create text- & graphic adventures on a par with commercial games. In addition many publishers licensed Quill and Illustrator for their own creations and some even asked Gilsoft to make a custom version, suitable for their distinct needs.

I never imagined that working with Tim Gilberts would ultimately result in recovering one of those custom versions and releasing it after more than 30 years. Sounds unbelievable? Yes, it does. Even though this is exactly what happened and it still blows my mind when I think about it. It all began during the interview phase for The Gilsoft Legacy. Tim found out that the most recent C64 version of “The Quill” available on the internet is A05, pointing out to me that the last version he has stored in his archives is A06. So A06 was definitely released but nobody shared it so far, forcing all the enthusiasts working with the program these days to run an older, probably outdated version. And then Tim said something like “Wait… I have a second A06 version in our archives. This one has a four word parser”. Initially, Tim didn’t remember what this special version was all about and he didn’t even know if it was a just test or a working version. Needless to say: this was something we had to investigate.

“The Quill” A06 variant with 4 word parser, never released and nearly lost forever in the tides of time.
It turns out the famous adventure game “Bugsy” by CRL was made with Quill A06.4wd.

Fortunately Tim was able to recover all data and more importantly all the information related to A06.4wd. It uses flag 25 to contain the vocabulary values of the third word so that an adjective can be used to modify the actions on objects like “YELLOW SHEET” and “BROWN SHEET” in the event table by checking flag 25. I was surprised to learn that Quill A06.4wd was used to create the well-known and critically acclaimed game “Bugsy”, which Tim even found stored in the database of this custom version. That was the moment we knew our collaboration would not only lead to recovering the long lost version A06 but also to uncovering the previously unreleased and improved 4 word parser variant for the Commodore 64.

The Gilsoft Adventure systems now on 8-bit.info

I feel honoured to announce that “The Quill” for Commodore 64, version A06 as well as A06.4wd are now available for download here on 8-bit.info. Please note that A06.4wd also needs the Illustrator A03.4wd variant in case you want to add graphics to your adventures. Don’t worry, Illustrator A03.4wd is provided, too. We just want to make sure you don’t run into problems by operating incompatible program versions. Just use the navigation bar and head over to > Development > The Gilsoft Adventure Systems or simply click here. Of course we also added the last versions of Quill, Illustrator for Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, CP/M, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron and Oric to the section. Even PAWs, which is Quill’s successor restricted to ZX Spectrum and CP/M only, has been made available for download. One could say that 8-bit.info is officially endorsed by Gilsoft now. Note the section is work in progress and we may add new content from time to time.

Currently, Tim is working hard to recover the Sinclair QL version of “The Quill”. We also just dipped our toe in covering the other platforms. There are no downloads yet available for Atari nor the Apple-II, but I’m confident we are able to share new platforms and maybe even more previously unreleased versions with you soon. Feel free to enjoy and please share your creations with us! Last but not least we have something special for you, something that will literally swipe you off your feet. Tim and I agreed to initiate a competition! New versions of Quill and Illustrator after 31 years? Bloody hell, this has to be celebrated. So it’s your turn now to win something rare and unique. Let’s have a look!

1st prize: Quill & Illustrator bundle (Commodore 64)
2nd prize: The Quill Adventure Writer (Commodore 64)
3rd prize: The Quill (C64 image on modern media)

So the first prize is a Quill & Illustrator bundle for Commodore 64, legit releases back from the days (1984-1985). The Quill we have here is from my personal collection, the Illustrator is new old stock from the Gilsoft archives of Tim Gilberts. Tim signed the Illustrator for you. The first prize also comes with a selection of new old stock Gilsoft brochures. The second prize is a new old stock version of Quill for the Commodore 64 (1984). It has been selected by Tim Gilberts from his archives and he signed it for you. The second prize also comes with a selection of new old stock brochures. The third prize is partly a modern reproduction, containing a CD-ROM with Images of Quill A06 and Illustrator A03, as well as the 4wd variants. The CD-ROM is signed by Tim Gilberts. In addition, the third prize comes with a selection of new old stock brochures, a rare Gilsoft flyer from 1982 and two rare new old stock tape inlays, both from 1982. This your unique chance to win these treasures.

How to enter the Gilsoft competition
  • follow @8bit_era on Twitter (in case you’re not following me already)
  • create a tweet and directly link to this article
  • express your feelings about this article (you don’t have to be nice, but try at least)
  • add a #GilsoftComp hashtag to your tweet
  • pray to be one of the lucky winners
  • mentioning @8bit_era or @timbucus in your tweet is totally optional

The competition will end in two weeks from now, winners will be announced on the 29th of April 2017. The prices are assigned randomly to the participants. You’re not able to win two prices. There are no fees or transportation costs, your treasures will travel to you free of charge. In case you’re one of the winners: I will DM you directly after the announcement and ask for your private address. In case you don’t want to share your private address with me, please don’t participate. I can’t ship to you without your private address. I hope this makes sense. Your prizes will travel all over the world, no regional limitations. Fingers crossed and happy adventuring!


I have dedicated myself to preserving the heritage of the golden age of home computers. How much history is there on so far undiscovered tapes? I am strongly influenced by 80s pop culture.

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