Monday, 3 August 2015

Missed Classic 11: It Came From The Desert - Introduction

Written by TBD

Time for a different Missed Classic. This one wasn't missed because it came out too early or didn't quite fit as a PC graphic adventure game. It had the option to be played as part of the blog but failed as nobody was willing to spend their CAPs to take this from Disregarded to Accepted.

And for that, I'm glad. It Came From The Desert is very clearly not an adventure game. It also isn't a game specific to any genre. It contains many action sequences and some strategy sequences all wrapped up in a somewhat adventure game-style exploration and investigation.

Disclaimer: No ants cried uncle during the making of this game

It Came From the Desert originally came out in 1989 on the Amiga. It was well received and, while 1986s Defender of the Crown is Cinemaware's most famous and popular game, It Came From the Desert is their most ambitious. It plays, like the company name suggests, like an interactive movie, specifically a 1950s monster movie (likely mostly influenced by THEM!)

A year or two after release a clearly inferior port made it to PC, and that's the version I'll be mainly reviewing here, though I'll be playing both the Amiga original and the PC version and comparing the two. As an example of the differences, here's the opening from both versions.

That Amiga version voice acting really set the mood for me when I originally played the game. "The Desert... unchanged for millions of years" - a great way to bring people into the game. The PC version should have at least had the opening narration as text over the intro, as without it they're losing a big part of the cinematic atmosphere they were going for.

It Came From the Desert was also one of the first games with an expansion pack (not the first, that honour goes to a 1981 expansion to Temple of Apshai.)

There have been other ports of It Came From The Desert, notably a totally different game with the same basic premise and Full Motion Video for the Tubografx CD

There is also, currently, a low-budget movie being made and a planned release of a Sega Megadrive/Genesis version that was shelved 24 years ago.

Coming to a cinema subscription TV channel near you soon

Enough with the intro, let's get on with the game...

Doctor Greg Bradley Journal entry #1: Talk about timing. While doing geological studies on rocks near the sleepy desert town of Lizard's Breath, a meteorite hit the ground, creating some much more interesting rocks to study. I've hired a local prospector and a high school student to assist me in my research, and possibly found love with the local DJ. Things are going swimmingly – I'm now visiting a local farm and... oh my god, what IS that thing........................

As I start the game, the local prospector, Geez, knocks on my door with some rock samples I've paid him to find.

I'm glad I rented the only place in Lizard Breath with a drive through window, but I'm sick of drunk kids waking me up at 2am asking for a burger and fries

His donkey seems strangely spooked by something, which is the first sign something is not normal. Animals can always sense danger in these situations.

I take the rocks and as Geez leaves, my high school assistant Biff, who both looks and is named nothing like a science student and more like the kind of guy who beats up science students in 1950s fiction, arrives and looks at the rocks, pointing out the red glowing one.

When the options come up one of them is "Hand me the red one" which is clearly the stupidest option.

Action sequence 1: Fire fighting for goodness

Choosing the stupid option gives you your first action minigame, which I am extremely bad at. I don't know how to do it, but you move the extinguisher around and project water at the fire. I've tried aiming at the bottom and top of the flames but can't seem to get it right.

Oh no. I've accidentally set fire to my couch-slug. My last thoughts before I black out are "I'll make sure to blame all this on Biff."

On failure, I wake up in hospital but I'm going to backtrack because I would NEVER choose the obvious stupid option (and if you say otherwise, Biff, I'm giving you an F!)

I instead ask Biff to sample the glowing one for radiation, then have it sent to the lab (the results will arrive in 2 days) for more testing. I make a mental note to ask Geez where the samples came from and remind myself that he's likely to be at O'Riordan's Bar. I then call Dusty at KBUG radio. She tells me that she'll be at O'Riordan's at 6pm after she gets off work and has some really crazy story to tell me.

We get to the map screen, which shows us the time with the minutes constantly ticking forward, making the urgency of the situation clear. One thing that surprises me: this game was originally made for the Amiga and the Amiga has a mouse as its primary input yet the map only uses joystick (or keyboard arrow key) input to move the cursor. The map seems perfectly designed for mouse control but amazingly doesn't use it.

A missed opportunity to use a mouse if ever I saw one

I go to O'Riordan's to meet Geez, but it doesn't open 'till 10am. It's almost 10, so I just go across the road to talk to Elmer at his gas station. He mentions that the local teenage gang have been terrorizing the roads around town and I should be careful. He also tells me about a strange happening in J.D.'s farm where a cow was found with its head cut off. I'm getting clues all over the place but it's now 10:02 so I visit O'Riordan's to see if Geez is there. He is. After buying Geez a drink to refresh his memory, he tells me that he found the glowing red rock just to the southeast of the old Quarry. Another clue.

I visit JD's farm next and a farmhand tells me part of the story about the headless cow before freezing and staring over my shoulder. He hightails it out of there just before I turn around and...

Action sequence 2: Ant versus pistol.

It's probably better if you kill it before it gets too close

After killing the ant (I shot both of its antennae, which I knew would work because I've played the game before) you get treated to a new action sequence

Action sequence 3: Top-down ant versus pistol.

If you kill enough ants the others run away and you get a piece of vital evidence

I was given a new action sequence, a top-down ant fight scene. This time my bullets seem more like grenades in that they have a specific distance before they explode (the distance being about 2 giant ant-lengths. I killed a few ants, but ran out of bullets and got cornered. An ant got me.

I woke up in hospital and was told that I would have to spend 2 days recuperating. Bugger that, I thought. I'm escaping this joint.

Action sequence 4: Hospital escape.

This was always one of my favourite action sequences. You can hide under bed covers and nab a wheelchair for extra speed while doctors, orderlies and nurses try to stop you and sedate you so you can't escape proper treatment (does this really ever happen? I thought if I didn't want to be treated I could just leave hospital at any time - but not in Lizard Breath – healthcare here isn't a privilege or a right, it's a requirement!)

Isn't running around the hospital with a tranquilizer hypo bad for OH&S?

In the Amiga version when the medical staff notice you they scream things like "That's him", "That's the guy" or "Get him." Even rudimentary voice acting at the time was rare, so this really added to the urgency of the minigame.

Unfortunately, I didn't escape and was strapped to a hospital bed for 2 days. A good time to end the first post I think.

Note that this game plays differently to most. I have the option to not answer the door when Geez knocks, and can just leave, sleep or make a call. I can go wherever I want and people will go on living their lives without my interference. This really adds to the immersion of the game. It makes me feel like it's a real town with real people instead of a game where everyone stands in one spot waiting for me to show up and ask them a question.

So, get your PISSED rating score guesses in and join me for a while in the lazy town of Lizard Breath.

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. You can read it here but it doesn't really apply very well for this game. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. Probably no point in betting I'll fail a puzzle too, but they're your CAPs - do with them what you will. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Timequest - Dates and Messages (Baghdad and Peking)

Written by Reiko

Temporal Corps Private Journal #9: Chapter Nine: In which I become a mule whisperer, save the life of a Young Girl, nearly become arrested in Two countries, discover many creepy Sayings, and acquire quite a Number of Loose Ends. I should Try to Write my Autobiography when this is all Finished.

In the Baghdad marketplace in 1519, a vendor is selling dates for one drachma. How convenient, since I have one. Five points for buying the dates. However, they're in a heavy urn, and for some reason I can't just grab a few dates. If I try, I apparently dump the whole urn out onto the ground and the dates are eaten up by animals. That seems like a really dumb thing to do. You'd think I could put a few dates in my empty jar or something. On the other hand, now there's this nice empty urn which is described as reminding me of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The thieves hid themselves in oil barrels or something, so now I'm wondering if I need to hide myself or someone in the urn. It seems to be too big for me, though.

No time to learn how to tell stories.

I look around a little more and discover an alleyway that wasn't available in previous time periods. There's a mule waiting outside a poor house, inside which a distraught woman is comforting an even more distraught girl, her daughter. The woman tells me that soldiers are coming around at noon to take women for the sultan, including her daughter. The sultan will use them for a night, then kill them, just like in the Arabian Nights, but apparently her daughter isn't clever enough to tell stories for that long, so she's doomed. Unless I intervene. Here’s another scenario like the Aztec sacrifice I was able to stop where I can save someone's life if I act quickly.

So the urn must be useful for hiding the girl. I need to load the urn onto the mule, but the mule won't move from the alley and the urn is too heavy to move from the marketplace. I ask the woman about the mule, and she says I have to "whisper sweet nothings in his ear". Heh. I get five points for whispering to the mule. Does that make me a mule whisperer? Now when I buy the dates, the vendor kindly loads the urn onto the mule for me, and I take them to the family. They're grateful for the food, but that's not the point of it. Amusingly, if I empty the urn with the mule in the house, he eats all the dates up by himself.

Gluttonous mule!

I can't get the urn back onto the mule, though, with or without the girl in it. But I can get the girl to hide in the urn and then cover her up with some of the dates. I bring in the mule to eat the ones left over, just to be sure that won't give the game away, and then I wait until noon to make sure she's safe, which is over an hour, so I'm kind of surprised this is part of the solution. The soldiers come in, do a brief search, and ignore the urn of dates, fortunately, so I get ten points for saving the girl. No items or creepy messages though, so this must be setup for a later time period. The woman makes a comment about how they'll never forget me, and when her young son grows up to be Vizier, he'll still remember me too.

I have been warned...but I’m going to go in anyway.

I'm going to jump forward from an older save to see if that changes something in later Baghdad time periods. So in 1588 without completing the 1519 sequence, there's a sign on the gate that says Baghdad is a closed city, and anyone not wearing a badge will be arrested as a spy. I go in anyway and see that there's a vendor in the marketplace selling badges, but after one turn, I get hauled away by soldiers and sent out of town again. I try to buy the badge, but the vendor asks for proof of citizenship, and then immediately the soldiers haul me away again. The third time, the vizier kills me, so there's not much opportunity to get the vendor's badge.

In 1798, the city is open again, and I walk in with no trouble. This time, a vendor in the marketplace is showing off an intricately woven carpet. The patterns on it resolve into another message in English: "Keep three things in mind: you're confused, I'm not, and you're never going to catch me." That's probably it for this time period.

How would a poor boy grow up to be Vizier?

Having redone the 1519 sequence after I picked up the point in 1798, I return to 1588. The city is still closed, but this time when the soldiers grab me, the Vizier recognizes me. The little boy did grow up to become Vizier after all, of course, and I get five points and a badge for his welcome. Now I can look around without being arrested. I walk into the alley and find another graffiti message on the wall: "Eat my dust. It's the sixteenth century and you don't have a clue."

Looks the same as 61 years earlier, except without the mule.

That's it for Baghdad, aside from the mission in 800 AD. Five time periods contain messages from Vettenmyer, and two contain critical interactions. Now let's survey the remaining three time periods for Peking.

In 1588, all is peaceful. There's been a new surge of mysticism, so unlike the drunk priest of an earlier time, the priest in the temple now is very devout, so much so that he keeps chanting the same words over and over. At first it seems like there's nothing of interest in this time, then I paid closer attention to the priest. He's chanting in modern English: "Eventually you will acknowledge me as the master of the fourth dimension - time." Another point.

Those are some scarily long nails...

In 1798, the emperor Chien Lung, who sounds rather senile, has retreated to the Forbidden City, which is just north of the Peking marketplace, apparently. The gate at "Tienanmen Square" (it's actually TiAnanmen Square - Tian for "heaven" and "an" for peace: the Gate of Heavenly Peace) is guarded by a high-ranking eunuch. I have to find a way for the emperor to think he owes me a favor. Nothing's coming to mind at the moment.

The Chinese are rather ineffective here.

Skipping on to 1940, I immediately find in the shrine at the entrance a poster with a scrawled note: "Revenge...midday." Of course, 1940 was when the Chinese massacre of Japanese occupying soldiers occurred at Tiananmen Square. I arrived at 11:30 am this time, so I have half an hour to look around before the massacre will start. However, I quickly find that Japanese soldiers and checkpoints are everywhere, so I can't actually enter the city or go anywhere, really, since I don't have any identification papers. But if I wait outside the gates until noon, a Chinese rebel attacks a Japanese tank and is quickly gunned down, but not before dropping a Molotov cocktail where I can pick it up, for five points. If I wait too much longer there, Japanese reinforcements arrive and throw me into prison, so instead I hop back in the interkron and hope I got everything useful from that time period.

Let's check out the last two time periods for Cairo, which can't be reached in 1940. Egypt in 1588 is a "cultural backwater". There's nobody here, just tombs and ruins, but I find more graffiti at the base of the great pyramid: ".12 calibre bullets won't even slow me down."

Egypt in 1798 is possibly even sadder, as the Egyptians actually want France to invade in order to invigorate Egyptian culture. On the Avenue of the Dead, there's a headline posted that says "Napoleon invades England!" I haven't done the Napoleon mission in 1798 Rome yet, so I'll have to return here after I do that, since Napoleon is supposed to invade Egypt, not England. Let's check that out next time!

Mission status and score so far.

Session Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 13 hours 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Game 58: Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patty Does A Little Undercover Work (1991) - Introduction

Written by Alex

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: This is really the fourth Larry game. I won’t do the hacky Internet writer thing and make some joke about the missing floppies or whatever; it’s been done to death and series creator and head designer Al Lowe tells the story much better than I ever could here. But since it turns out that I actually am a hacky Internet writer, here’s the condensed version: The ending of Larry 3 left our heroes, Larry and Patty, happily together and writing computer games for some fantastic company located in the California Rockies. In order to get out of this continuity-bind, Mr. Lowe, in a flash of genius, wondered why he had to make the games go in strict numerical order. Why not make the next Larry game the fifth one, begin in medias res, and refer to the events of the fourth game, hinting as to why Larry and Patty are not together developing really sweet adventure games? So it’s all just a part of the joke. That Al Lowe, making comedy games that are actually funny. Who does he think he is?

The above story is a lie, of course. We all know what really happened to Leisure Suit Larry 4: It corrupted the super-computer on the planet Xenon and allowed for the takeover of the entire planet by the dastardly Sludge Vohaul. Read Adventure Gamer contributor Joe Pranevich’s chronicles of the true story behind Larry 4 here.

Back to Larry 5. Released September 7, 1991, this was the first new point-and-click Larry, created from the ground-up with Sierra’s then-new interface in mind. A point-and-click remake of the first game came out in July of that same year; I covered it on this very site not too long ago.

This game has a thoroughly stupid plot, but what else would you expect? We begin with a pretty cool animated intro showing Larry plastering the missing number 5 onto a poster for the game. Patty then walks seductively by, causing Larry to stick his leg in a bucket of paste and end up getting his hand stuck to the poster. There’s got to be a sexual innuendo here, but I can’t for the life of me figure it out.

Check out the bald spot.

The graphics are in the cartoony style of the VGA Larry 1, and although I complained about how ugly the aesthetic was in that game, I already think it works better here. Probably because I’m not comparing to an EGA version. The animation isn’t the best that I’ve seen for games of this time, but it gets the job done.

We then turn to an East Coast board meeting where some shady-looking businessmen are talking to a menacing figure we only see from the back: Only his eyebrows and his cigar are visible. They explain their business’s operations in pretty hilarious fashion:

Come on, that’s pretty funny.

This shadowy corporation has been involved with encouraging children to do drugs, which has caused drug sales to increase, leading one to believe that this company is involved in that particularly vile trade. These people are also involved in pornography, a business that has been showing “explosive growth” for 25 years, but has recently gone “flaccid,” resulting in “painfully declining penetration.” I will not post screenshots of these graphs, but let’s just say that they are rather phallic and juvenile, and therefore perfect.

In order to combat the declining pornography sales, which they blame on cable, they have been trying to insert pornographic lyrics into their rap music to encourage people to buy some X-rated films and get busy with the self-abuse. But to no avail. In an eerily prescient moment, one of these men describes a world in which people don’t need to actively seek out and purchase pornography, because they can get it for free in their own homes. Sounds familiar, right?

TL; DR version: Cable porn is cutting into an evil company’s porn profits, and this company also sells drugs and uses music to sneak subliminal messages to America’s children. What scoundrels!

And here’s the biggest scoundrel of them all.

The action then shifts to a West Coast board meeting six months later, where the higher-ups at PornProd Corp. are discussing their plans to find a new host for their upcoming television show “America’s Sexiest Home Videos” (I told you this was a stupid plot). They need to find the “Sexiest Woman In America,” and they will call her “Vanna Black.”


This woman needs to be so ready, if you catch my drift, that she’d drop whatever she’s doing and bump uglies with anyone, no matter how dorky or how big of a loser. Does this sound like anybody we know?


See, Larry works for PornProd Corp. as some kind of low-level assistant. This scene acts as a little tutorial, with on-screen prompts telling the player how to click through the icons, recommending that they click on the coffee pot in the upper-left and read the game’s documentation if they haven’t done so already, a pretty cool way to get players used to the old parser-interface familiar with the new point-and-click system. Also, a rather high-quality digitized voice keeps screaming “COFFEE!” as Larry fumbles around.

And fumble around I do. Getting a drink of water from the cooler in the bottom of the screen inexplicably gives Larry 1 point, as does checking out the breast-shaped award in the lower right. Clicking the “hand” icon on the coffee (1 point) makes Larry pick up the pot and walk into the office to serve his boss, Silas Scruemall. Hilarity ensues.

It’s as if Larry was aiming for the guy’s crotch. A digitized “YEOW!” rings out at this moment.

Well, it looks like the good folks at PornProd Corp. have found their loser to audition America’s sexiest woman!

The iconic line!

They have received thousands of submission tapes, which Larry was already aware of, being the company’s Chief Tape Rewinder and Sterilizer (eew!) for the Vanna Black project. Larry needs to go and covertly “audition” the three finalists to see which one really fits the bill. These auditions must be blind, of course, because if the girls know they are going to get down on camera, it would invalidate the results—this is all very scientific, as you can see. So Silas gives Larry a secret camera to do his dirty deeds (1 point).

Because, let’s not forget, in 1989 a 22-year-old Rob Lowe made a sex tape with two girls,
one of whom turned out to be 16.

So Larry has his mission: He needs to get the girls’ resumes from the office and head out to conduct these auditions. The game lets the player decide which woman to visit first, which at the end of the day makes no difference but gives a little feeling of autonomy. I have played through this game relatively recently (three years ago, or so), and can tell you that it’ll go pretty quick, mainly because you cannot die or get dead-ended. That’s right! This game has anti-Sierra logic. Does this make it too easy to be fun, or will the jokes outweigh the hand-holding? We’ll figure this out when it comes to the PISSED rating. For now, Larry needs to poke around the PornProd Corp. office, get the resumes, and figure out where the charger to this stupid camera is, as the battery is currently dead.

Let’s do this thing!

It’s also worth noting that, during this introductory sequence—one of the most enjoyable in a Sierra game, I have to add—the game gives the player a choice of password protecting the game. This is obviously a parental control that the designers figured may be harder to crack than the quizzes in Larrys 1 and 3 or the copy protection in Larry 2 (don’t worry: This game has copy protection as well). I obviously didn’t activate the password feature, but check out the folder for a cool little inside joke.

Total Points: 4 out of 1,000
Inventory: Hidden camera

Session Time: 30 minutes.
Total Time: 30 minutes.

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Space Quest 1 (VGA) - Final Rating

By Andy Panthro

I don't know about anyone else, but I really enjoyed playing Space Quest 1 again. I've played and replayed through many of the Sierra games over the years (previous to this blog, and also replaying them again alongside this blog), and I never tire of the good ones.


My very first experience with Space Quest 1 just involved the Arcada, as I couldn't make it off the ship. I was too young really, and wasn't sure what I should be doing. It was a similar case for the other early Sierra games, but they made enough of an impact for me to continue playing similar games until I was able to finish them on my own.

I've had changing opinions on remakes, and I'd say I'm usually positive about them these days. Problems only arise if the game is altered in such a way that it's not really the same any more, or if the remake is just badly made or buggy. I'm sure we will see all sorts as we progress forward on this blog!

So how does this compare with the original? Lets look at those scores:

Puzzles and Solvability

The puzzles are largely unchanged from the original game, which means they also left in a really bad one. Generally, I'm okay with puzzles that might give you a walking dead scenario, since the game is quite short and it allows you to save almost anywhere, so I won't mark it down too harshly for that. The problem arises as you enter Ulence Flats, where a strange gentleman tries to buy your skimmer. You have to turn down his first offer, or you cannot finish the game. Other wrong turns can lead to amusing endings/deaths, which is a much preferable way to go about this (such as buying the wrong droid).

This room is the most Star Trek-like, especially the console

A little bonus over the original game is the addition of the magnetic widget, which you pick up in the Star Generator room on the Arcada, and can be used to help you win big at the slot machine. Without this gizmo, the slot machine section requires a bit of save-scumming in order to get enough cash. If you run out of cash though, you can find some coins in the trash behind the bar, so you can retry the slot machine (until it overheats and blows up!). It's also a nice touch for the guy who buys your skimmer to give you coupons for both the droids-b-us and the bar, pointing you in the direction for the things you need to get to the final section of the game.

Score: 5

Interface and Inventory

The original was using the old Sierra text-parser interface, and required you to type commands. While this helped me a lot in my typing abilities as a kid, the graphical interface from this remake is unquestionably better. Each icon represents a different possible action, of which a couple (the nose and mouth) are used to give a bit of comedic flavour to the game. The inventory gives you nice graphical representations of the items you have, alongside a good description (in most cases).

A familiar-looking robot

Most of the items you need to interact with or pick up are colourful and obvious, and it is generally clear where you are supposed to go and what you are supposed to do. Even the death screens will sometimes give you a hint about what you did wrong, to help you out for next time and make the experience less frustrating.

Score: 7

Story and Setting

The story is a relatively simple one, and for the first game in a series this works very well. You are the lone survivor of a disaster, and although you have little or no experience, you manage to stumble through and save the day in the end. The Sariens are convincing bad guys, they will happily shoot on sight, and you have no doubt that they will use the Star Generator for evil ends. Roger is a good choice for the player character, clueless at the start but a hero through his/your actions (that mostly revolve around self-preservation!).

I'm sure Terry Nation wouldn't have minded this reference

The story and locations are packed full of references to science fiction: The star generator is a reference to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the Genesis device for example, with the Sariens taking the role of Klingons (more of a Search for Spock reference there). I'm pretty sure Kerona is supposed to be a stand-in for Tatooine too, but I guess desert planets are common enough in Sci-Fi! (It does have worm-like creatures in the sand, so there's your Dune reference I'd say).

I liked Kerona the most, the red desert and the bones were particularly well drawn and certainly created the right atmosphere. The limited use of music there helped accentuate the harsh and uninviting location, and of course this being a Sierra game it does contain numerous ways to die, so there is a real peril!

Score: 7

Sound and Graphics

For the most part, the game is lovingly re-created in wonderful VGA graphics. As I said for the previous category, Kerona in particular looks great. Other locations can be a bit more varied though, and I thought the Sarien ship interior looked rather messy and incoherent. The character designs varied massively too, best seen in Ulence Flats which has an array of unique looking aliens (not all of which are drawn to quite the same standard). The character animations are good, if sometimes a little cartoonish. The contrast between styles for this and Space Quest IV was most apparent with the little cameo of the time pod, which looked far more detailed than its surroundings.

The Sequel Police look a little out of place

The music and sound are similarly upgraded, but the music is less memorable than some other games of this era, which is a shame because there are several Sierra games that have great music.

Score: 6

Environment and Atmosphere

The game opens with an alarm sounding, with Sariens patrolling the ship and leaves you with no doubt that you need to leave as soon as possible. It's actually quite graphic in it's descriptions of the dead crew members, and does make for a great opening. Kerona likewise is a very alien planet with death around every corner, at least until you get to Ulence Flats, which feels like it should have been more of a major section rather than a brief rest-stop before the final scenes.

I think we may have accidentaly strayed into the Neutral Zone

There are often plenty of light-hearted moments throughout, but you can see that the series has yet to hit its stride. Whereas some of the later games in the series are of a more consistent tone, this one is more of a straight sci-fi adventure with comedy as a background element, rather than a send-up of sci-fi tropes and conventions.

Score: 5

Dialog and Acting

The early game is mainly narration (in the form of large chunks of text), and so dialog takes a back seat. The only conversation you have is a one-sided exposition dump from a scientist just before he croaks. It's not until you reach Ulence Flats that the game allows you to converse with various different characters (although they often have little to say).

You spin me right round...

The only memorable characters are the two sarcastic robots, one working for Droids-b-Us and the other working in the Sarien armoury. They get a lot of the game's best lines, outside of narration, death text and item descriptions. The death messages are perhaps the highlight in general, and something that most players will see at least a few times.

Score: 5

That makes 5+7+7+6+5+5 = 35/60*100 = 58!

That's 3 points higher than the original, which seems fair since they are basically the same besides the upgraded graphics and sound. Looks like the closest score prize goes to Reiko and Ilmari!

Sci-Fi Reference Contest

There was a low turnout for this contest, which is a shame since the two games included (Space Quest IV and this one) both have quite a few great references!
TBD recognised Luke Skywalker's landspeeder in Space Quest IV, Robbie the Robot in Space Quest 1 VGA
Fry recognised the "DALIK" in Space Quest 1 VGA (not very subtle that one)
Ilmari recognised the link between the Latex Babes of Estros and the Leather Godessess of Phobos in Space Quest IV, and the Romulan Warbird in Space Quest 1 VGA.

Since there's only three people on the list, I'm going to offer a prize to each one. So if TBD, Fry and Ilmari wold like to choose a science-fiction adventure game from Steam or ($10 or less). Congratulations for taking part!

For those wondering what possible other references there were:
Star Generator = Genesis Device (Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan)
Aluminum Mallard = Millenium Falcon (Star Wars)
Sequel Police = I've always thought they were a reference to Doctor Who: Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150AD
The zombies = The pointing and screaming is surely a reference to Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Vohaul's takeover of Xenon = surely a reference to Skynet/The Terminator (also includes time travel!)
Star Trek shuttlecraft = outside the Rocket Bar in SQ1VGA
Green alien woman = A reference to Captain Kirk's love of green-skinned ladies, and also a reference to Total Recall (when looking at her it says, "You must be getting dizzy - you're seeing triple")

I'm sure there are many others that I've missed!

CAP Distribution

100 points to Andy Panthro
  • Blogger award - 100 CAPs - For blogging through this game for our enjoyment
55 points to Joe P.
  • Classic Blogger award - 50 CAPs - For blogging through Questprobe: Spiderman for our enjoyment
  • Companion award - 5 CAPs - For partially playing along
35 points to Ilmari
  • Psychic prediction award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the score
  • Orat Exterminator award - 10 CAPs - For giving an alternative solution to the Orat problem
  • Redshirt award - 5 CAPs - For giving an alternative death scene involving a Romulan warbird
  • Everything in Moderation award - 5 CAPs - For giving an alternative death scene involving beer
  • Captain America award - 5 CAPs - For getting a reference
30 points to Laertes
  • Grammar Sarien award - 10 CAPs - For correcting my spelling of the Arcada!
  • Universal Translator award - 10 CAPs - For letting us know that "arcada" means "retching" in Spanish
  • Code Cracker award - 10 CAPs - For spotting two scifi references in Joe's SQ4 titles
25 points to Torch
  • Code Cracker award - 25 CAPs - For spotting a scifi reference in Joe's SQ4 titles and four references in captions
25 points to TangoBunny
  • What's Your Story -award - 20 CAPs - For sending in her WYS answers
  • Mighty Morphin award - 5 CAPs - For indulging Joe P. in his wish to talk about Power Rangers  
25 points to TBD
  • Companion award - 5 CAPs - For partially playing along
  • Captain America award - 5 CAPs - For getting a reference
  • Code Cracker award - 15 CAPs - For spotting a scifi reference in Joe's SQ4 titles and two references in captions
20 points to Joseph Curwen
  • Childhood memories award - 20 CAPs - For telling us about his first adventure game experiences
15 points to Laukku
  • Sharp Dressed Man award - 10 CAPs - For giving information about patches including a musical improvement and how to restore ZZ Top to their former glory
  • Genre Lover award - 5 CAPs - For announcing a new adventure game Kickstarter
10 points to Reiko
  • Psychic prediction award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the score
10 points for Aperama
  • Psychic Prediction award - 5 CAPs - For guessing the score of Questprobe: Spiderman
10 points to Fry
  • Captain America award - 5 CAPs - For getting a reference
  • Spider Sense award - 5 CAPs - For blindly solving an adventure game puzzle

Friday, 24 July 2015

Timequest - Popes and Pleasures (1215/1519 AD)

Written by Reiko

Temporal Corps Private Journal #8: “I earn and spend 1000 yuan, both on pleasure-related commodities, and later earn and spend a Catholic indulgence, although the two transactions are entirely unrelated. The first transaction leads to the invasion of a city, but fortunately one that was supposed to happen anyway. I also encounter two Popes, a warlord, and an emperor. This job certainly has some perks.”

I'm going to continue with surveying non-mission locations now to look for useful items or additional messages from Vettenmyer. There are three more locations in 1215 AD, so I'll start with Rome. Everything looks very similar to earlier times. The circus is still closed, by order of Pope Innocent III. I head toward the Vatican and find the Pope himself repeating an announcement about a new crusade in several different languages. One of them is apparently another message from Vettenmyer in modern English: "If this fifth crusade succeeds, I'll eat my hat." So first Vettenmyer trained a deaf guy to write in English, and now he trained the Pope to speak in English? That's some talent. Also implausible.

I can also go into the Basilica again, which looks quite a bit different compared to Charlemagne's time. The chapel isn't available here, though, and there's nothing I see to do, so I move on.

History of Egypt in 1215 AD

In Cairo, Egypt is defending against the crusades, so they've stripped the great pyramid of its white casing stones for fortifications. An opening in the pyramid is revealed by this. Somehow I can climb up the crumbling wall of the pyramid and enter this opening, except that it's dark inside, and I can't go anywhere. I think I really must find a light somewhere. You'd think that would be part of standard time travel equipment...

Baghdad has the same ruins and caravan as the earlier times, plus the gate to the city is the same as in the sultan's time. I enter the bazaar and find a Chinese merchant there for some reason. He says he's looking for rare things, so I offer him the Egyptian aphrodisiac from Cleopatra. He is quite pleased, but he doesn't have enogh local currency to give me what it's worth, so he offers me twice what it's worth but in Chinese yuan, plus one drachma. In today's money, 1000 Chinese yuan is worth about $160 or 105 pounds, which certainly isn't enough to "live like a king" for more than a day, but considering inflation, it probably is quite a huge amount in that time period. So I agree.

Making a deal with a Chinese merchant, who seems to be taking a loss, unless he has a huge markup.

More importantly than the money, though, is the clue he gives me. Peking in 1215 holds the mission of opening the gates to Genghis Khan, which means I'm going to have to get into the city anyway. The merchant here gives me the password of "tower gate" to be identified to the guard as a merchant. That's going to be critical, I'm sure, and I get ten points for it.

I can't enter the sultan's palace in this time period, so I think that's it for this time period. Since we've got a password now, let's tackle the Peking mission, which I missed as being in 1215 when I was talking about missions last time.

Somehow having money makes me appear as a merchant.

As soon as I show up at the gates of Peking, a Mongol warrior appears and "invites" me to meet with Genghis Khan, who wishes to meet all travellers. I can't think why he'd want to get involved with every traveller personally; surely he has staff for that, but plot! Just like with Attila the Hun, I'm shoved directly into Genghis Khan's personal tent. But unlike Attila, he's oddly open and reasonable about what he wants, because in this case, what he wants is the same thing I want: for history to play out as it should, where Genghis Khan conquers the city instead of giving up on the siege. I have to wonder if he asks every Western traveller to try to open the city to him, though. (Of course, there probably aren’t very many.)

Sounds odd that Khan would mention Europe by name. Also, he doesn’t seem to actually want news from me despite what he says.

I hang around first in order to get the failure screen for this mission, because they're so amusing. I first wander up to the Great Wall and back, which takes two hours, and then I go back to Genghis Khan's tent, but it takes over six hours total before he comes storming back in and announces he's decided to give up on the siege and raid Europe instead. That should be plenty of time to solve the mission properly.

Mongols looting and destroying Europe.

Back at the gate, I give the password and am admitted to the city. Under the Sung dynasty, the culture is corrupt and decadent, with pleasure houses and such. The temple from earlier is still there by the marketplace, but now on the other side is one of the pleasure houses. The temple looks the same, but the priest is drunk and refuses me entry to the sanctuary. Clearly the solution to this mission is going to involve the pleasure house.

I enter, reluctantly, and the owner immediately asks me to show my money, to prove I have a legitimate interest in being there. Well, I don't have a personal interest, but I noticed that the soldiers at the gate looked very bored, and perhaps I could interest them in a little distraction... I show the 1000 yuan note, which is apparently taken as an invitation to spend it all at once. That means all twenty women of the house are mine to do with as I wish for the night. Coincidentally, there were twenty soldiers at the gates. Yep, my plan is proceeding perfectly.

Another jab at my...competence.

I tell the girls to follow me, which I imagine forms a rather strange-looking procession through the marketplace. The madame comes along too, and asks me when we get to the gate whether I intended the girls to be for the pleasure of the soldiers. I say yes, and the girls neatly occupy all the soldiers in various corners. I can simply open the gate at that point, and the Mongols come pouring in. Genghis Khan thanks me afterward. His "reward" is the time transponder bracelet, which of course doesn't do me any good, as it disappears a minute afterward just like the others. But I get another thirty points for finishing this mission.

History of China in 1519 AD

That was a quick resolution since I had what I needed from Baghdad to solve the mission. I'll continue with surveying non-mission locations now by continuing forward in Peking to 1519 AD. In this time, the Ming dynasty has been in power for 150 years, but the current emperor is a pleasure-seeker, perhaps a throwback to the time of the Sung emperors where I just was. He likes to arrange parades through the city, apparently. I wait for a few minutes and one comes through the marketplace, with the emperor himself throwing out fortune cookies. I take the one that comes to me and the fortune inside is a message in English: "Things would be better if you were the seventh son of a seventh son."

One point for me, and quite the puzzle this one is. How could Vettenmyer possibly have any idea which fortune cookie would end up by me? Maybe he just replaced the messages in a whole set of fortune cookies, and everyone else on the receiving end of this set would be rather puzzled to get a message in modern English. I think this is the first message that has resulted in inventory items for me, as I'm holding a fortune cookie and the written fortune now.

For the record, fortune cookies aren't originally from China, and certainly didn't exist this far back. I don't know which story is correct, but I've heard they came either from Japan or from California, and probably not earlier than the 19th century. Also, folklore says that the seventh son of a seventh son has mystical healing powers or some such. I don't know if that's supposed to be some hint that someone needs healing, or if it's just Vettenmyer spouting off.

Continuing with other non-mission locations, in Rome, the circus is closed by order of Pope Leo X. You'd think someone would tear it down or repurpose the space or something, after all this time, but apparently not. In front of the Vatican, a vendor is selling "authenticated" relics and Bibles and such to raise money for the church. There's a plaque that says, "This room has been blessed by the Most Holy Roman Catholic Pope. May his benediction fall upon all who sleep here." That's an oddly modern thing to consider putting in a room. The vendor is willing to sell it to me for twenty florins or a church indulgence.

I hardly think Michelangelo would be doing his carving in the Basilica itself. Surely he had a workshop. Plus his name’s spelled wrong.

Inside the Basilica, Michelangelo is working on a Madonna statue, with Pope Leo X observing. The pope accidentally drops a book, which I pick up for five points. It's "The Glorious Life of Pope Leo." I hand it back to him, and in return, he gives me an indulgence, plus I get another five points. I return to the vendor and trade him the indulgence for the plaque. No idea what I need it for, but clearly I needed to do that, because I get five points again.

Dover in this time holds only the shed and the tavern, but now the building has a second floor, with two bedrooms. One bedroom has a loose floorboard. I can't seem to do anything with the floorboard no matter what I do, though. I’ll come back to this later.

Back in Cairo, the Ottomans rule Egypt from Istanbul and use the country for its grain. I don't have to go far to find Vettenmyer's message in this time, written in blood on the wall: "Numbers are important when you have no sixth sense and everything seems out of order." One more point for me. I look around the other screens just to see if there's anything else, but I don't find anything. Oddly enough, the opening in the pyramid is visible, but not accessible, apparently due to rubble. The palace is still in ruins as well.

Next time I'll finish out 1519 with Baghdad. I have 312 points, plus 15 from the earlier Baghdad mission I didn't finish, and three missions are complete. Making progress!

Mission status and score so far.

Session Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 11 hours 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!