Around 1988-1989, John Buckley and Martin Holland were working on what can be described as a first-person adventure game with a detailed character selection front end, and a pseudo-3D map section.
The main game itself was apparently very much in the style of Space Harrier and Outrun with its object scaling, but with more detail in the graphics. This may have been for particular parts of the game, but overall it was more of a RPG/Adventure game.
The game was advanced, and featured some authentic animations and sequences. There were male and female characters created from a series of character strips, which gelled together. Only Martin Holland could pull off such a feat, and he did.
The characters were very Elvish and pretty similar in style to Martin’s character profiles in Gauntlet 3. John Buckley had managed to get trees and rocks, and little towers moving around the screen in 3D – roughly, but looking good for back then! Graphically, according to John, this was the best work that Martin ever did on a C64.
Vale Of Shadows wasn’t completed or released because the company couldn’t pay its workers. The company went into liquidation and immediately reformed. Though sadly after this, all the artists had left and Vale of Shadows was shelved.
John does not have anything of the game any longer sadly, and Martin was the only person who did. Sadly, Martin passed away recently and it seems that his work will remain unseen. Originally a video was sent of the work he did to GTW, but the video got lost, and Martin passed away briefly before resending another copy of the work. It is not known if anyone else has the work which was done.
The footage I remember had a castle like image with an animating hawk which flew above. This might have been part of the game’s introduction sequence. There was also some character shots and the loading screen to Chocablock Charlie which was unused. I have been kicking myself ever since for losing the video.
In 2010, Paul Drury produced a Desert Island Disks feature with Neil Thompson who mentioned his involvement in the C64/PC versions of the game…
“Vale of Shadows , for the C64 and PC, was a kind of Elven fantasy, where you created a character and went on quests. I spent months designing the Elves and the system whereby you could change their appearance but it just never went anywhere.”
You can find a photo in the gallery which was printed in Retro Gamer, which shows Martin in the background laughing (And maybe even working on Vale of Shadows in the background?), along with John Buckley sitting alongside Neil (Sat back in the chair with long hair).
Sadly no-one who worked on the game has kept anything from back then. Martin would have been the main source and hope to have found anything.
In December 2021, Paul Marshall uploaded a video with a quick tour of the M.C. Lothlorien offices around 1988 time. It is a fantastic timewarp, but amazingly there is some footage of Martin and a showcase of his work desk, where he is currently working on Vale of Shadows. On the screen you will see a very rare look at his Weapons shop that was produced for the game. Even from the blurry image, it looks amazing!
Here is a clip at the moment the game graphics are shown: https://youtu.be/t5FBxrkvy8Q?t=150
I have extracted the images as best as I can to add to the gallery, but it means we finally have a screenshot of sorts for the game.
Another major title which sadly never quite made it…
Contributions: Martin Holland, John Buckley, Paul Drury, Neil Thompson, Paul Marshall
John Buckley speaks about work on Vale Of Shadows…
“Vale of shadows was a working title, it was also know as Dragon Vale but I never saw any dragons!. It was an adventure type game with animating scene’s and a pseudo 3d-map section.
Martin’s graphics were very nice, especially the faces. I had him drawing 16 faces, each face was split horizontally into 4 sections. Hair, eyes, nose and mouth, and chin and neck. I remember the tavern screen especially. I told him I wanted each section to fit graphically to any of the other sections and I wanted both male and females splitting into four horizontal sections, and ten different strips for each section and I wanted them all to match up so I could mix and match them. He told me in not so many words it couldn’t be done, and then went away and did it.
And it worked. It worked so well that as I generated the faces I would give them a name suggested by their graphical appearance.
His animated scene graphics were also excellent probably the best graphics I have seen him do. However the project would never see the light of day. Icon design was down on its knees people weren’t getting paid. Finally they went into liquidation, they reformed immediately employing Doug Anderson (former director of A&F), Pete Andrew and myself.
We were the programmers for the Amiga,ST and C64 versions of Vale of shadows. For some reason they didn’t keep on any artists so after we had got most of what we was owed Pete and I left and that was that. Unfortunately I have no disks, code or graphics for Vale of shadows, I’m not sure if Martin had any or not.”
Then later in 2012:
“It was as Neil said. But the C64 was most advanced…..I remember a scene inside an Inn where fixed annimation were going on and others when you clicked on them. You could also click on the persons in the Inn and there profile would come up and you could interact with them.
Sadly I have nothing other than memories. And with Martins untimely death I think this is lost forever. :(
I’m not sure If Doug had anthing on the PC version and the ST/Amiga version was being programmed by Pete Andrew (He’s in my friends list) the PC graphics would of been used for both these as well……”
Neil Thompson recollects about the game:
“I’m sorry, as far as I’m aware nothing survives from that game. I remember the work that I did surprisingly well as it was predominantly an appearance system for a series of elven races, but as far as the story goes, I’d be surprised if it had been thought out to any great length.
Remember, this was over 25 years ago and the way in which games were being written back then was very different to today. As I recall there was very little, if any, playable code other than the character select.
I’ll put the word out to the ex Icon / Lothlorien guys I’m still in touch with and see what comes up; but I wouldn’t hold out much hope, I’m afraid.”
23/12/21 – Tidy up of the write up, addition of rare screenshots and details of a new video that has surfaced.