[Help Wanted] Ballpoint Adventure System info!

Recently, I have been researching the Sinclair Spectrum and looking into text adventures of that era. While doing so, I came across (among other things) something called the “Ballpoint Adventure System”.

Unfortunately, there is no information about the program itself. For the past couple of days, I have been searching as best I can for any sort of available documentation and come up empty. If anyone knows something about this program, I’d like to hear from you!


That’s an interesting little mystery. I assume you mean this one: https://worldofspectrum.net/infoseekid.cgi?id=0007945

Listing the content of the TAP file at least seems to yield a version number of “ver 16.06.87”, which at least suggests a date for when it was made:

$ listbasic BALLP.TAP 
   10 REM ver 16.06.87
 1000 INK 7: PAPER 0: BORDER 0: CLEAR 24449
 2000 LOAD "INIT"
   10 REM ver 16.06.87
 1000 INK 7: PAPER 0: BORDER 0: CLEAR 24449

…and for whatever reason the following two groups of words are encoded in the TAP file:

the, of, and, to, in, that, it, is, for, be, was, as, you, with, he, on

have, by, not, this, are, we, his, but, they, all, which, will, from, had, has, one, our, been, their, there, were, my, if, me, what, would, who, when, him, them, war, your, any, more, now, its, time, up, out, can, than, only, made, other, into, men, must, people, said, may, man, about, over, some, these, two, very, before, great, could, such, first, upon, every, how, come, us, shall, should, then, like, well, little, say, because, being, under, after, here, good, make, many, much, those, way, see, know, day, never, did, new, down, even, long, years, right, get, life, just, take, where, work, things, part, through, while, last, might, am, back, old, own, three, against, go, think, came, matter, days, without, also, today, yet, don’t, same, thought, each, far, home, put, again, always, nothing, present, between, going, per, once, year, another, away, couldn’t, fact, half, still, gave, power, too, north, south, east, west, passage, large, your, exit, The, lead, found, looked, possible, until, nothing

Hi Gio,

The 8-bit text adventure community have done quite an extensive bit of research into this file.

To sum up, we believe that the file is potentially an early version of Smart Egg’s “adventure system” that they used for games like Rigel’s Revenge and the remade version of Quest for the Golden Eggcup.

However… if that’s the case, and it is connected to Smart Egg, then the research has shown that, rather than being their own system, as was much trumpeted in the press, it’s a heavily hacked version of the Quill.

See our notes on the findings here in the Spectrum Computing forums…

We’d love to talk to someone from Smart Egg to put the record straight about the development of their games; especially if our assumptions aren’t correct.


If there’s anything else you would like to know about text adventures and writing systems on the Spectrum, particularly homebrew games, then please feel free to ask. That’s my main topic/area of interest.


Speaking of Spectrums (hopefully this isn’t too far off topic, but I didn’t want to make a new thread for it), I noticed a hardware remake KS the other day. Too rich for my nostalgia level (and besides, the Spectrum I have in a box somewhere probably still works), but some of you may be interested.

Fantastic! I’ll go have a look!

I’ve just been reminded of the existence of this thread, so I thought it might be worth adding some updates about the research into The Ballpoint system.

A couple of months ago, I managed to get in touch with Harvey Lodder, who produced The Quest for the Golden Eggcup using the Quill, which was later adapted into a Smart Egg release.

Harvey was the person who contributed the existing “The Ballpoint” files to the Spectrum archives. He had retained a copy of the system as he was employed to convert 8th Day’s Quann Tulla from the Quill to the Ballpoint for its re-release as Federation by Smart Egg/CRL.

So, The Ballpoint is confirmed as the name of the Smart Egg “system”. The files in the archives, though, as our earlier investigations showed, are little more than a “hacked-about” version of The Quill.

It’s likely that the database files exported/produced using this initial system would’ve had further work done on them to add the Smart Egg code and custom Quill interpreter, implementing their specific graphics system and engine improvements. That portion of The Ballpoint system, in whatever form it took, is missing from the archives. Any tools for taking the Spectrum database and exporting it for use on other systems, such as the Amstrad CPC and C64, are also missing.

To sum up… The Ballpoint was the name of Smart Egg’s “own” adventure system. However, it used large portions of The Quill program, particularly in the initial phase of game development, without crediting Gilsoft. Any unique Smart Egg elements of the system are missing from the archives.

(There was technically no legal requirement to credit Gilsoft for the use of the Quill, although a credit was politely requested in the manual… However, using the Quill as the backbone of your “own” system, after heavily slagging off the Quill in interviews, seems like pretty bad form imo.)


I’ve followed this with interest. Great bit of detective work to track it down!