The Saga of Erik the Viking (popularly known as Erik the Viking) is a text-based adventure game by the Austin brothers of Level 9 Computing, published by Mosaic Publishing in 1984. The game runs on Amstrad CPC, BBC model B, Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The game is a typical text-based adventure of the mid-1980s and versions are still available on Spectrum Emulators today.
The game is loosely based on the 1983 award-winning children's novel of the same name by Terry Jones. A number of characters and items in the computer game are drawn from the novel, although the plot is completely different. Jones also directed a 1989 movie Erik the Viking, which was also completely different from the novel, featuring a third plot that was different from that of the videogame.
The player controls Erik the Viking, and it's Erik's task to find his family, who have been kidnapped by the evil Dogfighters. In the first part of the game, Erik is on the mainland. He makes preparations for sailing, finds his weapons and gathers together a crew, who include Blind Thorkhild, Sven the Strong and Ragnar Forkbeard.
Most of the game is set on the sea, with Erik steering his ship, the Golden Dragon, through the northern seas. He visits a number of different islands to collect the necessary items and meet the necessary characters to rescue his family and win the game. These include an enchantress in a cave hidden in a forest, the wizard Al Kwasarmi on a stone quay, and the enchanter's daughter Freya. The enchanter's study contains a list of the items that Erik needs to complete the game, and Al Kwasarmi makes them into the ribbon that Erik needs to rescue his family. A dragon may also interrupt Erik's quest!
The computer game is a text-based adventure, in which the player inputs simple commands which Erik follows. As in similar adventure games, the world is divided into a number of screens or "rooms", all of which have pictures. While obviously very primitive by today's standards, in the mid-1980s these large and colourful graphics added greatly to the gaming experience, creating an ambiance and backdrop that resembled Viking Scandinavia. The game's graphics were reminiscent of Beam Software's The Hobbit (1982) in that they are seen to be drawn on the screen as Erik enters a new room. The parser, though, was not as advanced at that used in The Hobbit and was unable to handle sentences beyond set phrases. Additionally, the non-player characters did not exhibit the same independence as they did in The Hobbit, nor is it possible to command them to act. However, the dictionary on the parser was respectable for its time and the playability of the game was fairly good.
Erik the Viking is difficult to complete with a linear plot typical of adventure games of this era. Omitting to get an object early in the game often meant that a later puzzle cannot be solved. As in other games of the time, it is all too easy to die. For example, at one point in the game the Golden Dragon's sail will start to rip, and you haven't found the needle in the byre by that stage, you will drown.
There are a number of particularly challenging and occasionally frustrating puzzles for the gamer. One of the more clever examples includes finding the Enchanter's study. This requires following a particular pattern of moves through seemingly endless corridors of yellow, red and blue rooms. The amusing solution to this is that the colours are political: so a red room requires Erik to move left, a blue room right and a yellow room ahead. At one point, the instruction "Knock like Thor" requires Erik to use a hammer. The aforementioned needle that Erik uses to mend his sail in found in the unlikeliest of places: a haystack! The misty screens at the sea were very annoying.
If the parser cannot recognise a command, the game will respond to the player with one of a number of phrases with which the gamer will be very familiar on completing the game. These include "Eh?", the response to a nonsense phrase, "Try again" for a command that is almost recognisable, and "Do WHAT to [an object]..." if the parser recognises the object in question but not the verb. Entering "TALK" or "SPEAK" will cause the response "Actions speak louder than words". One amusing feature of this is that is always uses the full name of an item, so the command "TOUCH STEWPOT" would cause the response "Do WHAT to a large iron stewpot". There are also a number of tempting rooms or locations that look as though they can be visited at sea, but on attempting to visit them the computer responds with "The natives won't help" or "Erik finds nothing but sheep".
The game had a scoring system out of 1000, and when Erik died a message appeared stating how many points you had scored and giving you a Viking title accordingly, the lowest being Thrall.
As with its other adventure games, Level 9 Computing issued a "Clue Sheet" that could be ordered. This provided gamers with much-needed help to solve some more difficult puzzles.