What does it mean to finish a computer game?
Why are people sometimes compelled to get to the end state of a game decades after they first played it?What if that game is so obscure, almost no one alive even remembers it even exists.
What if the developers never made any other games, there are no interviews of them, and hardly any digital ephemera.But what if it still exists in the back of your mind, in a place that calls to you every so often, wanting you to return to it and see if you can play through it?
The Lost Dutchman Mine is such a game for me. Released for the Atari ST and Amiga in 1989 by Magnetic Images and programmed by Steve Marshall with graphics by David Lindsley. According to all online resources I can find, it is the only game programmed by Steve Marshall and one of two designed by David Lindsley. It appears that the pair formed “Innerprise” software and were based in Hunt Valley, MD, but it’s hard to be really sure about that.
I bought this game originally at a table dedicated to it, in the summer of 1989 at The World Of Atari at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, CA. The World Of Atari was a kind of “last gasp” for Atari computer fans in the USA. The conference promised to gather together vendors alongside Atari itself in a show of defiance against the growing menace of IBM PC onslaught threatening our beloved Atari ST, the computer that gave lower income kids, like my brother and I. “Power Without The Price”
I recall the table was manned to two guys in their late 20’s or 30’s. It’s quite possible I purchased it directly from the developers. Knowing the Atari ST market at the time, this would not be out of the question. The list piece was $49.99 but I recall I bought it for a “show special” price of something like $34.95. It still ate up almost all my cash on hand, but I loved the idea of it so much I did not care. A game about gold prospecting in the old west felt like the exact game I had been looking to play for years.
The package for Lost Dutchman Mine promised a very deep and engrossing strategy and action game with mild RPG elements:
- Play poker, down a drink or purchase a burro
- Visit a livery stable, saloon, assay office, newspaper and jail
- Explore caves, mountains rivers of the desert to find lost treasure
- Fight heat hunger thirst, indians, rattlesnakes and claim jumpers
- Pan for gold in the river, pick for gold in the mines, capture a wanted bandit, or cast your line and try to catch your dinner
- Real-time animated game play
- Different game every time you start
- Over 100 mines and caves to explore
This was one of the first examples of an action adventure RPG set against real-world events instead of fantasy or sci-fi. The closest cousin to it would be Sid Meiers’s Pirates, but that’s giving Lost Dutchman Mine a lot of credit.
I recall reading the back of the package over and over as we left World Of Atari and drove home. The game felt so engrossing and so deep. I could not wait to boot it up and try it on our new 1040 STF purchased after selling our 520 ST to our friend Brandon and financing the rest with help of our sister Mari (the only person in our family who had established credit) at Atari’s newest retail exploration, The Federated Group.
But when I got home and played the game, something did not seem right. The graphics were wonderfully animated and the little start-up town was cute, but I just could not get the hang of it. I wanted to get out and explore the mines for gold so badly that I jump-started the game every time I played it.
Lost Dutchman Mine seemingly had everything I wanted from a game, yet, it left me cold. Instead of taking my time to carefully build up my abilities in the game, I would go out searching for treasure as soon as possible, and die nearly every time. It did not help that a 1.0 version crash bug hit me sometimes when sounds started to play. I must have started the game 20 times, but never got far enough to understand how to really play it.
Over the years Lost Dutchman Mine has stood out as one of the few games that confounded me, but still drew me back, both on the actual ST and through game emulation, taunting me to try to figure out just how it should be played.
I’ve managed to avoid the call, until today that is.
You see the rest of the story by watching the movie linked at the top of this article.