Inspired by Paradroid (1985)


The midway point of the now legendary 1980s is known for its infectious pop culture and the rise of Video Games. This rise was powered by the third generation of Video Games plus the prominence of personal computers which was led by the Commodore 64.

The Commodore 64 was the most popular personal computer because it was affordable, had advanced graphics and sound, which allowed it to play outstanding games. The irony is that people justified buying personal computers for productivity or educational purposes but mostly played games on them. The C64 was uniquely popular across both North America and Europe whereas the Apple II and Radio Shack computers were confined to North American while Sinclair computers stayed in Europe.

The C64 was released in 1982 and was produced up to 1994, selling approximately 17,000,000 units worldwide and is considered to be the most successful personal computer ever. [source] . Having such a huge install base meant that there was a vibrant software development community. Over 10,000 commercial titles were released for the C64 with games being the vast majority of those commercial titles. Paradroid was just one of those 10,000 titles.

Paradroid was released in 1985 and despite being released in the deep red sea of competitors it was quickly acknowledged to be a Video Game masterpiece. On the surface Paradroid looks like a standard top-down shooter where you shoot or get shot as you control a robot/droid and need to clear a series of levels. Yet developer Andrew Braybrook added some subversive elements that had not been done before.

Andrew Braybrook in the 1980s

Braybrook’s narrative design and coding implementation is what sets Paradroid apart from its contemporaries. Andrew tapped in to the 1980s zeitgeist using it as a backdrop that informed and then reinforced the gameplay. The robots in Paradroid communicate with each other, just as we expect them to do now, which would naturally lead to them then controlling one another. Narratively designing virus takeover and robots taking over humans coupled with intense challenge, made Paradroid a critical and consumer darling with a style of fun that stood out. In recognition for Paradroid, Braybrook was voted Best Programmer of the Year 1986 at the Golden Joystick Awards.[source]

Following his game development career, Braybook worked from 1998 to 2016 as a senior software developer for Eurobase International. Since then he has worked as a freelance writer, programmer, and game designer.[source]

Game Title (written, designed, contributed)Year
Empire Soccer 941994
Uridium 21993
Fire & Ice1992
Paradroid 901990
Rainbow Islands1990
Gribbly’s Day Out1985
3D Lunattack1984
3D Seiddab Attack1984
3D Space Wars1984
Andrew Braybrook’s game development history

Subversive Fun

Paradroid tells the story of how a space fleet of Robo-Freighters turn against its human crew to the distress of an unnamed fleet command. You are assigned a mission from fleet command to take control of Droid 001, the Influence Device, and use it to infiltrate and destroy the other droids on that rogue space fleet.

Each droid you encounter gets represented as a circle around a three-digit number. The numbers roughly correspond to the droid’s power level with the player starting with “001”, essentially the weakest droid. But Droid 001 has a critical power that makes the player unique as the player can assimilate the other droids encountered by taking them over. When done, the previous controlled droid is destroyed effectively passing player control from droid to droid.

Taking over a droid is done via a mini-game involving basic circuit diagrams and logic gates. Both opposing droid has one side of the screen, with a series of logic gates and circuits connected together. The droid which is supplying the most power to the circuit when the short time runs out wins. Using the logic gates and timing when to apply power made this mini-game a test of skill due to its challenge and elegance. When the player loses the mini-game, they then lose the droid they were piloting and if you are doing so as the default Influence Device, then its game over.

The spaceship you are trying to liberate has twenty decks, each with many rooms connected by doors and elevators. Braybook incorporated a line of sight effect as you can only see enemy droids that are not obstructed by walls or doors. The computer terminals found in various rooms provided access to maps of the current deck, the ship, and droid information.

With 24 different kinds of droids the diversity was not in the droids graphical representation but in their traits. The droid classes ranged from Influencer (your default droid) to Disposal to Servant to Crew to Security and all of the way to 999 Command Cyborg. The game possessed lots of variety in the maps as it came with eight freighters for you to liberate, each with their own maps of multiple floors and rooms.

Andrew Braybrook kept a public dev diary of the game development in magazine Zzap! 64 which provided remarkable insight into his thinking and challenges. Zzap! 64 published the first entry in July of 1985 and contained a short intro by Braybrook, followed by his earliest diary entries for the game.

Braybrook said in a couple of Retro Gamer interviews that the droid-swapping idea came from an arcade game, Front Line, where the player could enter a tank and had to leave it when it got hit.[source] Also that the cover of the Black Sabbath album Technical Ecstasy influenced him, where two droids “interfacing” can be observed. The movie Aliens and its spaceship’s corridors provided the visual inspiration for Paradroid’s ships. Braybrook was as eclectic in his influences (video game, movie, music) as he was brilliant.

Video Games, Articles, and More

Paradroid (1985) is emulated to be web playable

Paradroid play thru so you can watch Paradroid in action

Quazatron (1986)

Ranarama (1987) is a fantasy themed Paradroid

Paradoid 90 (1990)

Project Paradroid (2004)

FreedroidClassic (2003)

Paradroid (Remake) (2006)

Freedroid (2018) for Android phones

FreeDroidRPG (2019) is Paradroid made into a RPG

PSG Paradroid (2019) is a dev diary of an upcoming game

Picodroid (2021)

Zzap! 64 Reprint of Andrew Braybrook’s 1985 diary

RetroGamer Dev Profile of Andrew Braybook

Paradroid – Cane and Rinse No.372 Podcast

Andrew Braybrook blog

Paradroid Droid 001 t-shirt
Paradroid Droid 001 decals
Paradroid Droid 001 decal on car

How Paradroid relates to Heropath

Compared to Adventure, Paradroid came out allot later (1985 vs 1979) and the game development industry had radically changed during that time with more raw power being available to developers that was cutting edge at the time, yet tiny compared to present day’s power.

But it was not computing power that helped make Paradroid a masterpiece of design and challenge that I couldn’t recognize at the time. I barely played it in the 1980s because I had a pirated copy *cough* and did not understand how to take over the enemies. It was very hard and discouraging so I moved onto other games that were more forgiving.

So how can I be inspired by a game I barely played? It is Paradroid’s core mechanic of the player taking over the game’s other agents that is *the* core mechanic and plot point of Heropath. The biggest difference is that you won’t take over enemies (at least initially) but go between characters when one of them gets killed, which portrays the player’s spirit of switching heroes.

I heard enough about Paradroid, read about it, played the updated games, watched videos and I understand its brilliance. In Heropath, the Instill mechanic is going to be the critical aspect of the game. I just need to design and program a mini-game that rewards the player’s skill and conveys the narrative design of Instilling (possession) just like Paradroid did. I have some intriguing ideas that I’ll talk about in the future.

Paradroid also had a free-roaming quality to it though could not be called open world because there was so much danger lurking about. Yet you could go to whatever level or room you wanted but if you went to a place that had more powerful enemy droids then you had a lesser chance of surviving. Paradroid and Adventure were very different games that came out at different times, yet shared a core Playground Motif which will influence my design. I intend Heropath to a mashup of these two brilliant games.

You can see the development baby-steps of what I intend to do with Heropath through its demos. They are not much t0 look at but I’m brand new to coding and I am being fully transparent about my baby-step progress.

If you’d like to remain informed about Heropath’s development, please consider signing up for my newsletter. I promise I’ll send you very few emails, and they will be only about new posts to this blog (one or two a month at most) which will include updates about the game or my thoughts on game development.

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Inspired by Adventure (1979)


A video game that was created against management’s approval yet sold over a million cartridges for Atari in the early 1980s. A game that made Atari tens of millions of dollars but whose creator was paid only $20,000 a year.

Atari Adventure first screen

It was a game that defined a genre and influenced all long-play video games. When Adventure was released in 1979 for Atari VCS, it achieved commercial and critical success and impacted the video game industry and our broader culture. This is all thanks to the genius of Warren Robinett.

Creator of Adventure
Warren Robinett sometime in 1970s

Warren Robinett was hired by Atari in 1978 as its Video Computer System was rising in popularity. He was hired to develop a video game and as was common at that time, had to do all of the design, coding, graphics, and sound. He started working on Adventure in the spring of 1978 and finished it in the summer of 1979 for a release in Christmas of the same year.

Warren was inspired to create Adventure when he played the original ‘Colossal Cave Adventure game created by Don Woods and Willie Crowther in 1978 at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. (source)

He then spent months figuring out how to create a living world within the meagre resources (128 bytes of RAM and 4096 bytes of ROM) of the VCS. He was told by his manager that it was impossible to do and was a waste of time. But Warren believed that it was possible and his brilliant engineering proved his doubters wrong. (source)

Such a masterful effort unfortunately took a toll on Warren and he soon left Atari after completing Adventure. He admits he was burnt out after working long hours and became disillusioned with the corporate culture there. He left in 1979 and went on to form The Learning Company. (source)

Warren had a very short video game development career (as seen below) but the impact he had with his masterpiece Adventure broke down so many game development barriers that still benefits us to this day.

Slot Racers (1978)Atari VCS/2600Atari
Adventure (1979)Atari VCS/2600Atari
BASIC Programming (1979)Atari VCS/2600Atari
Rocky’s Boots (1982)Apple IIThe Learning Company
Warren Robinett’s game development history

Innovation in Design and Engineering

Adventure for the Atari VCS was the first-ever adaption of one genre to another. Warren took the essence of Colossal Cave Adventure which was a text-based, keyboard-input adventure game and converted it to an action-adventure game using a joystick. Though adapting video games between genres is common practice now, in 1978-79 nobody else had attempted to do something like this. It is a marvel of vision and execution.

Colossal Cave Adventure (link to playable version) was keyboard-driven and had mainframe computers powering it. Warren’s decision to do graphical video game adaption meant it needed to be a much simpler program, and with only a joystick for input, the set of “commands” was necessarily brief. Yet Warren not only managed to adapt it but did so using the VCS’s meagre computing power.

Adventure possesses multiple rooms that the player travels between which was a huge innovation at that time. All previous games that Atari released were held on one screen like Combat and Pong. Having the game allow room-to-room movement gave the player a much bigger space to have action in, the prototype of what modern-day gamers call “open world”!

Warren said: “…Then instead of describing each room in text, I would show it on the screen, one room at a time. Driving off the edge of the screen was the analog of “Go North” or east or whatever. This allowed the game to have a much larger playing space than a single screen, which was a big change in the feel of a video game.” (source)

That feeling of freedom is reinforced by the absence of scoring or a time/life limit. Either you play and win or you do not. If you die, you reincarnate and carry on. This is not a game to beat, but a game to explore. With Adventure, we see the first cultural shift in video games towards more contemplative play. The game is like a sandbox where you can explore and find the different in-game items and then discover how they interact with each other.

To ensure players did not get bored with the limited world size, Warren programmed Level 3 to have randomized pattern placement of items, almost like a proto-Roguelike. From an interview with Warren Robinett on the Good Deal Games site:

“I used the random object placement in level 3 for variety. I didn’t want it to be like a puzzle, where once you’ve solved it, it’s not very interesting to do it again. I wanted to avoid that. The bat was also added as a confusion factor, to move objects around a bit, so that the game wasn’t too predictable. (I did make a mistake in my random object placement code, and there is a 1 in 18 chance that the yellow key will start out in the yellow castle, making the game unwinnable.” (source)

Warren continues:

“The bat, which flew by and stole what you were carrying, was a good idea. It added a bit of unpredictability to the game. However, I used no random generation of monsters, because I wanted the feel of a real place, where all the creatures and objects had specific positions and behaviors all the time and were not just spit at you out of nothingness according to some random number algorithm.”

Warren created in Adventure a virtual playground with randomized items and monsters who operated with their own agenda. For example Yorgle, the Yellow Dragon, is afraid of the Gold Key and will run from it while Grundle, the Green Dragon, will find and guard the Magnet, the Bridge, and the Black Key. Rhindle, the Red Dragon, will seek out and guard the White Key. When not guarding the Enchanted Chalice, Yorgle, roams freely about the Kingdom. Sometimes he will assist Grundle or Rhindle in guarding whatever they are guarding. You can also add difficulty to the game by having the Dragons run away from the sword, making them difficult to slay.

Adventure was a masterpiece of engineering and design. It broke technical and conceptual barriers by creating a thriving little fantasy kingdom that has its own rules and simulated culture. This was heady stuff in 1979-80.

Commercial & Pop Culture Impact

Adventure was a hit upon its Christmas 1979 release, and it eventually sold a million copies. It influenced millions of young Gen-X gamers who have fond memories of playing. The game was not only popular but also created a culturally iconic moment for a generation. It was all because Warren wanted to make a statement and did so it in a subversive way that still resonates today!

Atari designers at the time were not given credit for their games, because the company feared having to bargain with well-known designers. In response to this, Warren placed a hidden object in the game that allows the player to reach a hidden screen which displayed the words “Created by Warren Robinett,” hence creating one of the earliest known Easter eggs in a video game, and the first to which the name “Easter egg” was applied.

Atari Adventure Easter-egg room

Warren said: 

“So I created a secret room that was really hard to find, and hid my signature in it.  I didn’t tell anybody (this was a hard secret to keep to myself) and let Atari manufacture a few hundred thousand cartridges and ship them around the world.”

He continues:

“I handed over my finished code (with the Easter egg in it) in June 1979, and quit.  The game was released for the Christmas season in 1979.  I went back to my hometown in Missouri for a while, then traveled around in Europe for a while.  When I returned to California in the spring of 1980, I think it was known by then.  At least by summer 1980, it (the Easter egg) was known.” (source)

Warren recounts later that one of 2600 game designers (Steve Wright) said ‘Hey, it’s kind of cool to have little hidden surprises in video games.  It’s kinda like waking up on Easter morning and hunting for Easter Eggs.’ So the term Easter eggs in video games was born.

This became enough of a distinct cultural practice that Warren’s Adventure Easter egg is a big plot element in the 2011 novel and 2018 film Ready Player One.

Video games, Videos, and more about Adventure

The money that Adventure made for Atari was spent decades ago, but the critical and cultural impact on the USA and Canada continues to manifest to the present day. Below are a listing of fan-made tributes to Adventure, which include video games, videos, and some images/comics.

Adventure for Atari VCS (1979) is emulated to be web playable.

Time ranked Adventure #7 Best of All-Time video games. homage page has interviews with Warren Robinett. homage page points to Adventure’s legacy.

Atari Adventure playset

Atari Adventure painting

Atari Adventure comic

Comical expansion of Atari Adventure

Atari Adventure Characters in Lego

Adventure Redux sprite update by Spendidland

Vintage Computer Festival East on Atari Adventure & Colossal Cave video presentation in 2021.

Classic postmortem on Adventure by Warren Robinett

Adventure Atari 2600 EM 3D concept movie

Elf Adventure *prototype* (1983)

Galahad and the Holy Grail (1982)

Indenture (1995)

Adventure Plus (2002)

Adventure 2600 Reboot (2005)

Adventure II (2007)

Another Adventure (2011)

Epic Adventure (2011)

Pixa on iOS (2014)

The Adventure Game HD Remake (2016)

Adventure Kingdoms (2017)

Misadventure (2018)

Head-to-Head Atari Adventure (2018)

Head-to-Head Adventure
(no longer supported, great video though)

Adventure by Isaac Games (2019)

Adventure II XE (2020)

Quast! A Duck’s Terrifying Adventure (2021)

Adv3ntur3 (2021)

Adventure Remake (2022)

Heropath as a Homage

Heropath intends to be a homage to Adventure. It will follow the same general mechanics (move around, pick up items, avoid dragons, bring quest item to the end map) but Heropath is intended to be an adventure across place and mechanics. I plan for Adventure’s influence to be the first episode of the game that will expand into other stages just like Spore did.

So while there will be dragons, swords, and castles I intend to try and do them in a dreamy, painted graphic style to fit into the plot of Heropath. The plan is to have a homage to Adventure but also other video games that have inspired me. Heropath will eventually be a thread between these games to do something that has not been done before. It’ll be strange and I hope it will be fun.

Planetary – “It’s a strange world.”

You can see the baby-steps of what I hope to do as I develop Heropath through the released demos. They are not much but I’m brand new to coding and I am being fully transparent about my progress.

Finally, if you’re interested in staying informed about Heropath’s development, please consider signing up for my newsletter. I promise I’ll send you very few emails, and they will be only about new posts to this blog (one or two a month at most) which will include updates about the game or my thoughts on game development.

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Adventure was submitted by Warren Robinett to Atari in June 1979 – 43 years ago from this month’s blog post!

Added new links Oct 5 2022, Apr 8 2022, and Dec 21 2023