Game 342: The Forgotten Island (1981)

From The CRPG Addict

This is not the one they’ll remember him for.

The Forgotten Island

United States
Liberty Software (developer); Crystalware (original publisher); Automated Simulations (later publisher)
Released in 1981 for Atari 800. Rereleased in 1982 as Escape from Vulcan’s Isle
Date Started: 23 October 2019
Date Finished: 23 October 2019
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Very Easy (1/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)
I figured I might as well bang out one more from Crystalware while I had the company on my mind. (The next game on my list was 1992’s Arcana, which is an SNES-only game, so I’m not sure how I ever ended up on my “upcoming” roster.) The Forgotten Island was written by Marc Benioff, not John or Patty Bell, but it plays pretty much like Crystalware’s other titles. Benioff, who was only 15 or 16 when he wrote this game, went on to found Salesforce and to purchase Time magazine. You can read his Wikipedia entry. I think it’s safe to say that this is the first game that I’ve played whose author is now a billionaire.

The brave vessel is dashed to pieces. And all the helpless souls within her drowned. All save one.


There is no character creation process. Island starts with the unnamed character shipwrecked on a mysterious island from which he must escape. He begins with 5 gold pieces and 102 power. For every treasure chest he finds, he gains both gold and power. He gains additional 2 power for every day that he survives on the island. Days pass at a rate of about 1 per 4 seconds, so you can just stand still for a little while and amass a lot of power. This is just one of the many ways in which the game is “very easy.”

No hostile headhunters here–just welcoming villagers.


Island plays a lot like a less sophisticated version of Fantasyland 2041, which itself wasn’t very sophisticated. From the original island, you pass through a series of areas small enough that you don’t need to map anything. There are no puzzles. Commands are limited to movement, a couple of attack options, and checking your inventory. There’s a “Forgotten Village” in the opening area where you can spend your gold for a few items: a metal axe (which I guess improves combat), stringy rope, an old lamp, a small straw raft, and a first aid kit. I’m not sure what the first aid kit does, but the other items are all necessary in various places; for instance, you need the lamp to see in a cave, and you need the raft to cross a river.

The few items for sale in the village. What do you suppose is up with those prices?


As you explore, the game warns you about nearby enemies. When they finally acquire you, they rush up and attack. Where Fantasyland 2041 had both visible enemies that would run up to the character and invisible ones that attacked at random, Island only has the former. They spawn from central points on each screen, making them relatively easy to avoid. Even if they weren’t easy to avoid, they’re easy enough to fight. When you engage in combat, you can attack or flee. (Fleeing puts you all the way back at the shipwreck.) Attacking prompts you to hit the joystick button, at which point random numbers flash at the bottom of the screen for the number of hit points that you lose versus the number that he loses. They flash too fast to time your next button press, which freezes the current values and deducts them accordingly. Begin next round. I assume your power weighs the numbers. Although the values were all between 0 and 20, the enemy almost always suffered more damage.
Attacked by a “Harris” in some woods.

Victories give you additional hit points, and your health fully regenerates after each battle. Soon you have 200 hit points and you’re facing enemies with 20, and with the rolls weighted in your favor. Beyond the first couple of combats, you aren’t in the slightest danger of death.

Fighting an enemy in a cave.


The first major task is to enter some caves and find the diary of Alcemnon, a previous shipwreck victim who was eventually killed by “Harrises,” the enemies who roam the starting area. That must be some in-joke. Other than some generic mumbo-jumbo, Alcemnon has a clue to “try the other side!” He also mentions seeking Sarfon’s Cloak.

Most of Alcemnon’s diary.


Once you have the diary, you can enter the volcano and the Cavern of the Satyrs. Enemies change to satyrs but otherwise behave the same as the “Harrises” outside.

Like a lot of Crystalware games, Island suggests side-view graphics even in its top-down interface.


You have to find the Tomb of Pan to recover Pan’s Flute and thus enter the next area: The Forgotten Gardens of the Shirrah Shirrith, a phrase for which this page will soon be the only Google result. Enemies here are “giant med flies,” but again not remotely dangerous.

Anyone want to take a stab at the origin for this term?


Another cave dumps you into the Forgotten Tombs of Safron. The game can’t decide whether it’s “Sarfon” or “Safron,” but it hardly matters either way. You can spend time exploring the tombs–enemies are generic “guards”–and find the magic cloak, but you don’t need it.

An unnecessary part of the tomb.


The tombs exit back to the island, and it’s at the exit that Alcemnon’s clue becomes important. If you choose the obvious “front” side of the exit, the area of the island on which you appear is a dead end. But if you wander around to the back, you head for the endgame.
The last area of the game is a small maze called “Alcemnon’s Home.” To enter, you have to pass some inert demons who kill you instantly unless you’re wearing Sarfon’s Cloak–or unless, as I found out the first time, you simply walk between them diagonally.

These guardians mean instant death–unless you thread through them diagonally.


Deep in Alcemnon’s Home, you find a flare gun. The moment you touch it, you get a message that you fired it. “Welcome back to San Francisco,” a screen congratulates before telling you your final score.

But I left my heart on the Forgotten Island.


The entire thing took less than an hour. I was astonished at how fast it was over, and I can’t imagine why any player would need take advantage of its save capability. House of Usher and Beneath the Pyramids were both at least somewhat replayable. The best I can give it on a GIMLET is 10, with 1s across the board except for NPCs (0) and quests (2).
Benioff wrote Quest for Power for Crystalware during the same year, plus The Crypt, The Nightmare, and The Bermuda Experience in 1982. He also ported several of John Bell’s games. At some point, the Bells must have sold their entire catalog to Automated Simulations (soon to be renamed Epyx), because new versions of the Crystalware titles were issued by Automated Simulations as early as 1982. Almost all of them were renamed. The Crypt became Crypt of the Undead; The Nightmare became The Haunted Palace; Quest for Power became King Arthur’s Heir; and The Forgotten Island became Escape from Vulcan’s Isle. The republished version has Epyx’s traditional production values; honestly, the manual, full of sound and fury and quotes from Dante and The Island of Doctor Moreau, is all a bit much for such a trite game. The game itself is completely identical except a different title screen and font.

Escape from Vulcan’s Isle is the same game as The Forgotten Isle, just with a different publisher.

If Marc ever makes it here, I guess I shouldn’t expect a life-changing Patreon subscription or “Man of the Year.” But his creation seems so much like Crystalware’s other titles–which are beginning to feel highly formulaic–that I wonder how he knew the Bells and ended up programming a game with such a similar look and feel. At least he didn’t suggest some greater mystery beneath the surface.

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