We announced a while ago that Bitnamic Software has recently (re)released a ZX-81 game called Treasure Quest (with the original title “Em busca dos tesouros” em Portuguese which would translate to “In the search of the treasures”). The game was developed by Tadeu Curinga da Silva when he was 16 years old. The new version is an update from the original game released in Brazil in 1986 and includes in its physical “deluxe” edition a colourful manual and a cassette. The game can be played on original ZX-81 but if you have the ZXPand expansion you have sound and music added to it.
Treasure Quest is, in a nutshell, a Pitfall clone made for the ZX-81. However, it is so well-made and adds many different elements that the term “clone” doesn’t do justice. The game features 313 screens where the hero has to go through, like Pitfall, jumping over rolling boulders, firepits and snakes, swinging on vines over cliffs and rivers, jumping on crocodile’s heads, etc. Also, like its inspiration, it is a hard and unforgiving game where any misstep will bring you nothing other than a painful death.
You can have a glimpse of the game skimming through the full gameplay below:
However, this post is not a review of the game (if you are interested in a video review in English, check this out) but an (amateur) analysis of the game graphics.
The ZX-81 gives the programmer 64×48 pixels in graphics mode which probably corresponds to one square centimetre (or less!) of the screen you are using to read this. That information alone would discourage anyone born in the past 30 years to even try playing the game – “This is ridiculous, how can a game with such poor graphics be fun!?”
Low-resolution graphics not necessarily mean poor graphics. Even modern(ish) consoles and PCs can have a game with poor graphics despite having millions of colours and high resolution at the developer’s disposal.
Three Frames are enough
The first thing that caught my attention on Treasure Quest was the hero graphics and animation. Made of 8×6 pixels, he doesn’t look very impressive when standing still but you still now that is our hero facing east, ready to start his quest
When the hero moves, you can see two different animations: one when he walks tip-toeing and when he walks at full stride.
The tip-toeing is composed of only two frames, the still one and another one where one leg is slightly forward and the other back. Although rudimentary, the two frames represent perfectly the action of “walk with caution” that the developer wanted to convey.
The same simplicity can be witnessed when he walks at full stride. This time, it was used three frames: the same two frames used during the tip-toeing plus another one where the two legs are fully extended, one to each side, giving the perfect view of someone walking at full speed.
Of course, the walking animation is very basic and no secret but it is still well applied on Treasure Quest.
When a + and a * makes all the difference
Treasure Quest is a hard game and you will die, and a lot! I can imagine people playing on a real machine “rage-quitting” when losing your last life on screen 612. However, to give a bit of comedy to such an awful event, the death animation will make you smile a bit before throwing the computer out of the window.
When the hero dies, the current sprite will be used for the first few frames where it will blink at the same time that the eye will turn into a + and then and *. After that, the full stride sprite will be used while the hero flips over a couple of times before ending up upside down.
Other than the two characters replacing the eyes, no new sprites were created or used, saving important computer resources – the game originally should run on a computer with 16Kb of RAM. Despite that, the result is more than perfect making the hero’s death and event by itself.
Can you roll a square?
The game is full of rolling boulders that are ready to squash the hero to death, but let’s not full ourselves. With only 64×48 pixels, how can a rock be a perfect sphere (or circle since this is 2D!)?
The sprite created to represent the rolling boulder would be a perfect square if not shy of four pixels on each one of the edges. However, no one can deny they are rolling like perfect circles, all thanks to the three white pixels inside. The secret to convey a perfect rolling action is to position the three pixels facing each of the edges, one frame at a time. Very clever use of memory and processing power (or lack of!).
The animals and environmental pieces
The jungle is full of ferocious animals craving human flesh and Treasure Quest managed to represent them well, some better than others, I have to admit. But to clarify any doubt about the characters, we had the printed manuals which Bitnamic also nailed in its “deluxe” release.
For the enemies, the best are the snake and the scorpion. The crocodiles give space for interpretation. I, for example, keep seeing a pterodactyl head, but to be honest, that is also part of the fun!
The environment is very well made considering the programmer had only 3 colours to work with: black, white and one tone of gray (a character made of black and white small dots) – The trees and clouds are made of these, as well as the water and other non-static elements.
You don’t need fancy graphics
You really don’t need fancy graphics to enjoy a good game, and Treasure Quest proves this. Even among the vintage computers from the late 70s to early 80s, the ZX-81 is at the bottom of the food chain, presenting probably the lowest resolution possible and one of the slowest processing speed (for a Z80 machine) but all these weaknesses don’t prevent the system to display good examples of fun games that kept and still keep us entertained for hours and hours in front of that B&W 10″ TV.
If you want to try Treasure Quest by yourself, you can contact Bitnamic Software to buy the boxed edition. You can also try the game on its original form downloading following the link below.