Thursday, 27 November 2014

Missed Classic 1: Mystery House - Introduction (1980)

Written by Joe Pranevich

When Trickster began this blog in 2011, he called it “The Adventure Gamer”. This worked pretty well for everyone: he wanted to play adventure games, and we wanted to read about him playing adventure games. His second post was on the 1983 classic “King’s Quest”, arguably Sierra On-Line’s first masterpiece and the game from which so much of the genre evolved. But adventure gaming did not begin in 1983, nor was “King’s Quest” Sierra’s first shot at producing truly innovative adventure games. For this first “Missed Classic” post, I want to go back to where graphical adventure games started: Sierra’s very first game, “Mystery House”.

Let me set the stage first. By 1980, the “adventure” game genre had only existed for around four years. The very first game which we consider an adventure game is also the game from which we name the genre, “Colossal Cave Adventure”-- often just called “Adventure” and it was completed in 1976. (Rumor has it that we may have a “missed classic” post on that game soon!) Infocom had been founded but not yet released “Zork”. Scott Adams-- no, not that Scott Adams-- had published “Adventureland” for the TRS-80. It is almost shocking to realize how few models Ken and Roberta Williams had to work from when they produced “Mystery House”.

Original (?) title screen for the 1980 release.

Ken Williams had founded “On-Line Systems” in 1979, originally to build a Fortran compiler for the Apple ][ and sell business software. I have no idea what they thought “on-line” meant in 1979, but it must have sounded good. According to the story, it was Roberta’s interests that turned the company towards games and together they wrote and produced “Mystery House”, not only the first graphical adventure game but one of the first adventure mystery games. (A game called “Mystery Manor” was written for mainframe in 1977, but it is unlikely that Ken and Roberta were aware of it.) Most previous adventure games were restricted to treasure hunts, but “Mystery House” put the player into a murder mystery where you might be the next victim. These days we might compare the plot to “Hunger Games”, but at the time it was probably inspired by Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”. The game also featured a treasure, of course, but as the catalyst that would drive the other housemates to murder. Needless to say, the game sold well (over 10,000 copies) copies and On-Line Systems began churning out a series of “Hi-Res Adventure” games through to the launch of “King’s Quest” in 1984. By that time, “On-Line Systems” had become “Sierra On-Line” and gaming history as we know it was set in motion. In honor of its place in that history, “Mystery House” was re-released in 1987 into the public domain. The kernel of a story exposed in “Mystery House” would be reimagined and expanded in Roberta Williams’s 1989 game, “The Colonel’s Bequest”-- and may also have inspired aspects of Infocom’s 1982 game, “Deadline”.

This is the title screen for the 1987 re-release.

Picking up this game, my first question was why this series was called the “Hi-Res Adventure” series. There were no “low-res” graphical adventures up to that point, not counting text-only games. Instead, “Hi-Res” referred to the six-color 280x192 graphics mode supported by the Apple ][. Laughable by today’s standards, yes, but very advanced for its day! To store as many screens as were necessary to play the game, Ken and Roberta also implemented the graphics exclusively as vectors. This meant that they could code where to start and end lines rather than having to plot out each dot by themselves. Even so, they kept “Mystery House” at a simple black (greenish) and white pallet.

The premise of the game is simple: you and seven other people arrive at and are locked (more or less) into an abandoned house. One by one, all of your housemates end up dead. To quote the introduction, “You must find the killer before he (she?) ends up killing you.” So who is killing everyone? There is only one way to find out...

Cora Bow’s Girl Scout Cookie Log #1: My quest to sell the most girl scout cookies ever has hit a snag. After arriving at an old Victorian house full of people, I ended up getting locked in! I and the other people in the house have learned that there is a treasure hidden here and that “finders keepers”-- I just know how useful that treasure would be for my college savings! As the sun was setting however, the scene turned violent. The other searchers are turning up dead and I could be next! What would my grandmother, Laura the famous detective, do? I have found a candle to allow me to resume my search, but will I be able to find the treasure and the murderer in time? Will there be anyone left to buy my cookies?

I agree with Trickster: The Williamses had many talents, but drawing trees was not one of them. 

As the game begins, I am outside of a large “abandoned” Victorian house. But who am I? The manual says that I am a “venturer” and a “seeker of fortune”, but that is hardly a backstory. As “Mystery House” inspired the later Laura Bow games, I have decided that I am a 12-year old Cora Bow, granddaughter of the infamous Laura Bow. Why would Cora be there? Why, to sell girl scout cookies of course! This is my headcanon, if you want to run through this game as James Bond-- for all it matters-- be my guest!

The way the interface works is fairly straight-forward. The game screen consists of a large picture with a few lines of text at the bottom. Moving and interaction is done in the same was as in “Colossal Cave Adventure”, by using two-word commands, usually “verb noun”. So I can “go north” or “get lamp”, but more complex expressions are impossible. I type “go stairs” to head to the porch. Once there, the screen changes and I see a “Welcome” mat and a closed door. I fiddle with the mat for a minute to see if there is a key or a secret underneath, but no dice. I do not bother to knock, I just open the door and march right in. The owners will probably appreciate an assertive girl scout.

Would you like to buy some girl scout cookies?

The door opens into a foyer with seven other guests. The door behind me closes and locks-- I am trapped! I try to interact with my fellow housemates, all presumably just as trapped as I am, but cannot find any way to do so. What little I know about them, I learned from the manual:

The seven houseguests are:

  • Tom, the blond plumber
  • Sam, the brunette mechanic 
  • Sally, the red-headed seamstress
  • Dr. Green, the brunette surgeon
  • Joe, the brunette gravedigger
  • Bill, the blond butcher
  • Daisy, the blond cook

Doesn’t that list just sound like a logic puzzle to you? I think I know what’s coming up… But on another note: have you ever heard of a male brunette? Isn’t a male brunette just someone with brown hair?

There is a note on the floor and I can only assume that everyone else has read it already. It goes like this:

Losers weepers?

I head off to the west first and explore the kitchen. It contains all the usual things: a refrigerator (in the 1910s! my head-canon is taking a beating!), a stove, and a cabinet. There is an empty pitcher in the refrigerator and a butter knife in the sink, both of which I pocket for later use. As I play around, I get a better feel for the parser and graphics that Ken and Roberta used. Unlike text adventures, the room descriptions are extremely sparse and you have to look carefully at the screen to see everything that you can interact with. For example, the sink was not mentioned in the description, but I could get a better look at it anyway. One of the more difficult parts is figuring out what Ken and Roberta’s scribbles are, but so far it is not too bad. Certain items like the refrigerator and sink are expanded to take up the whole screen when you “look” at them.

I especially love the transparent cabinet.

While I am exploring around and trying out lots of commands, I start to get warned that it is getting dark I keep going but suddenly the screen goes black. I can still move around, but without being able to see where I am going there is no way to explore properly. Clearly, the first puzzle is to get some light!

I restart the game (having neglected to save) and head back to the kitchen again. To the west is another door, so I try that one… and promptly get into a forest maze. I wander around for a while to find my way back to the house, but it again gets dark and I have to reload.

My next several playthroughs iterate over that theme: search the house quickly for anything that might help survive the darkness. I do not bother to take good notes or draw a map, just whip through the rooms and see what I see. Very quickly, I find what I’ve been looking for: a set of matches in the kitchen cabinet (west of the foyer) and a candle in the dining room (south of the foyer). Impressed by my brilliance, I light the candle and immediately trip over the rug in the dining room. I am such a clutz! The lit candle sets the rug on fire and I struggle in vain to find a way to put it out, but it quickly envelopes the room and the result is clear: I die again.

This is what I get for playing with matches.

I restore once again, this time taking the candle out of the dining room before lighting it. To my relief, I do not trip again and I can finally explore the house properly, knowing to avoid the dining room to the south of the foyer.

As Cora Bow starts her exploration of the house for real, I will close this play session. Next post will complete Mystery House and will include the final rating. (Don’t forget to guess the rating for CAPs!)

Time played: 1 hr
Total time: 1 hr

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 the player 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 Joe Pranevich 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.

Joe Pranevich blogs about random geekiness at and about religion at Coat of Many Colors.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Game 46: Countdown – Wile E. Coyote, Eat Your Heart Out!

Written by Aperama

Mason Powers Journal Entry #5: “And to think, they didn't rate me as a field agent on my last performance review! I've had one heck of a last twenty four hours. The first thing I did was to run off to my old sweetheart, Lisa Loomis. She's given me another name of one of the CIA operatives I ought to be avoiding – Earhardt Fleischer. Apparently, he's following Jack Quinn around like a puppy dog. Still, she didn't have much to offer me – she believed I didn't kill McBain, but wasn't going to put her neck out to help me. It didn't knock off much time, though – I was immediately off to Rachel Akure. She greeted me with an uzi in her lap, and didn't even want to say hello until I'd given her some info I found in McBain's office. She also seemed happy enough to blow me off – but at least she gave me a tranquiliser to knock out Fontaine. Turkey to Lebanon to Egypt, knocked out the baddie, got him to give me the location of the Black December HQ in Athens, took out two terrorists and saved a hostage.. not bad for a day's work! But there's more to do yet – I'm off to Spain, next, to try and follow the trail of the illusive 'Jackal'!”

The pyromaniac in me told me that I had to at least trial the plastic explosives...

Countdown is a terrible, awful game that I want to die a horrible, horrible death Countdown is not the fairest game in the world. As though the pain of constantly dying throughout Sanctuary weren't enough, I encountered a potentially gamebreaking bug while getting this update up – but more on that later. Last I left, I was really positive about what Countdown had left me. A clear sleuthing pathway, some solid puzzle solving that didn't take too much to get through – I was quite happy with where things were. I was left with three obvious places to go – Lebanon, and Rachel Akure, a Mossad agent. Egypt, and Fontaine, the hitman that took out McBain. And local Turkey, and Mason's old sweetheart, Lisa Loomis. Given that time is still looming on my head, the obvious next step is to the local Turkish branch of the CIA – they're not looking out for me, because Sanctuary can't get any information out, has no transport and is in the middle of nowhere.. and that's where they all think Mason is. So? To Ms. Loomis!

Aww. You really care that I'm being hunted for my life! True love!

Lisa Loomis seems to more or less largely be a dead end. She offers everything freely with no need for coercion, and quickly explains lots of stuff that has already been explained. Stormbringer is the CIA mole, they think I killed McBain (and am therefore Stormbringer myself). She's more or less telling us as gamers that our character is so lacklustre that she can't actually see us as having done half of the stuff that the CIA has accused us of – now if that's not true love, I don't know what else is! Still, the only thing that I seem to be able to get out of her is a name – 'Earhardt Fleischer', who is apparently Jack Quinn's 'personal advisor and friend, who follows him around like a puppy'. I'm assuming that the only help in getting this information is knowing a name to avoid if it comes down to it – but there again, it's fully possible that he's the mole himself – or that I need to know his name when Quinn ends up being the villain. I'm always like this in mystery flicks, too, but aren't we all? Still, that point (literally, I earned a point for it) taken, we leave Turkey – losing Lisa as a choice to go to.

Beginning to see why we broke up, dear.

Pre- 9/11 checks really WERE lax. I've got a fake passport,
four doses of plastic explosive and a knife that I'm taking with me on the plane to Lebanon..

The next stop is the next most obvious one – we take our Indiana Jones line (which does actually occur, just it wasn't noticeable in the tiny motion taken through Turkey) next down to Beirut, where Mossad agent Rachel Akure greets us with more than a touch of scepticism. Essentially, she tells us that she could care less what we have to say – McBain was helpful to her in the past, and she's fairly confident that we're not here to tie her up as a loose end – but the CIA can deal with us as they see fit..

The fact that she has an uzi in her lap is probably not hurting her confidence, either.

After cycling through her talking for a short while, I give her the dossier found in McBain's office, and she's suddenly willing to give me a whole heap of information. Unfortunately? Again, much of it is stuff already known. She lets us know that McBain counted us as the only one we could trust (go us!), that Black December has an operation coming up shortly (codenamed 'Thunderbolt', which gives us another conversation topic.) She mentions to us that she heavily dislikes Jack Quinn, denoting him as a pencil pusher, and when we mention Fontaine, she suggests that she might be able to help us out with him.. for a price. Yup, the Mossad pay her so well that she needs a bribe.

Naturally, I retried everything.
The 'bribery' angle goes up in tens – from $500 onwards she'll hand over something.

That something, to my surprise, wasn't actually just plain old information – it was something a little more tangible, I'm happy to say! It's something to 'get information from Fontaine' – a hypodermic dart. Apparently, it needs to be shot 'within three feet to get maximum penetration. The hypo is filled with Sodium Thiopental, a highly effective truth serum'. It does make no small amount of sense that instead of just trying to kill Fontaine for his attempted murder of us that we're actually to get information from him – sorry if I hyped you all up by the thought of taking him out with explosives!

Hi, Joe! My game wants to be your game.. I mean. To Egypt!

Fontaine is in Cairo, Egypt, as the goodly Doctor Hashish told us way back in Sanctuary – he didn't give any more information than that, but I like to think that Mason simply walked around and asked as to 'where the murderous hitman was'. Mason seems like he's that sort. Anyhow, we end up in an alleyway and a description that we're in a hot place, and that this could 'turn out to be unpleasant if I'm not careful'.. Yeah, he was right.

Back to stealth mode.. 'yay'

He's not a nice hit man...

But here's his truly devastating technique

I'm not certain whether it's just my copy of this game, or whether it's an innate problem of the game that the few people who have played it have kept to themselves – but... the bug that I alluded to. Oh, it's horrid. Basically, it seems as though the game struggles to find the 'gunshot' sound effect fired out when you die from anybody who chooses to fire a gun at you, Fontaine included. The first time he shoots, it immediately breaks the game, giving me the above error message. A reload and another attempt later gives the 'death' message, half of the gunshot sound effect, and then crashes DOSBox. Were it not my first game, I think that this would likely be the straw breaking the camel's back. The camel's back on account of I'm in Egypt, see? Right? Yeah, I'll get back to it..

Thankfully, you don't need to let him fire his gun

Fontaine is very much a throwaway character, I feel. Given the truth serum, I suppose, he's quite robotic in his responses, simply telling things as they are. For instance, he's mad at the doctor for letting on who he is and where to find him, and unlike the majority of the other characters in the game, he simply responds with statements of what out and out happened. All of the information he gives is seemingly truthful, and he gives us only a little bit of stuff that we didn't know again. For instance, he attests to the fact that he wasn't the one who shot McBain – that was actually somebody else!

You can literally say anything – apologising for how much the hypo hurt
 – and this is all he comes out with!

Athens, Greece.. a lead!

I was tempted to end it here (and just for the record, Fontaine doesn't actually go anywhere – after you dart him, he just stays in the same spot – as you can tell, Mason really is a hardcore secret agent), but after the aggravation that came of the bullet shots, I decided to charge on to another, slightly more interactive scenario. Athens, Greece leads us into 'an ancient fortress'. Or, to put it another way, an ancient torture chamber..

I'd kinda like to know how he got INTO the torture chamber..

Peeking around, there are only a couple of interactive objects – the majority of them simply blow you off with no explanation of what they're actually supposed to do. There's several old torture devices – an iron maiden, a pillory, a rack – a dungeon gate, and.. a catapult. The catapult is in pieces, with a large stone in one section, an arm in the other – it's not too hard to work out what you're going to be using a catapult arm for! Arm and rock? Grabbed. Installed into catapult. My mind stated that we'd be breaking down the door with the catapult? But no.. no, that wasn't to be, as the door opened to reveal a white-dressed member of the Ku Klux Klan – er, Black December, that is to say.. well, let's just have the screenshots tell the tale.

The 'squish' sound effect is quite possibly the most cathartic noise I've heard made in this game

Walking out of the door, I was expecting to take a peek and then know I was ready to wrap things up – but instead, I was greeted with.. you guessed it, another stealth action section. Another guard (by the way, both of these guards were armed with guns, and had the previously explained Fontaine bug every time I took a misstep) was patrolling the corridors, making some extremely fast motions – this one wasn't one that was going to be easily avoided! The layout has us in the bottom left, a small cell with a prisoner inside in the bottom right, and a pair of rooms in the top right. On the wall outside one of those rooms is a monitor, which the guard seems to look at rather religiously.. and immediately, my first plan flashed into mind. After working out his patterns, I quickly darted (meandered as swiftly as the game would allow me, anyhow) to the top right room, used my ESP fingers to set up an explosive on the monitor.. which it allowed me to do! Wait ten seconds..

… no more guard!

In the top right room is a safe, which is impervious to my beloved explosives. So, disappointing though I do find this on a deeply personal level, I instead go to the bottom right room, and talk to the hostage..

He's another person who is all too willing to help you – but I best liked the 'hassle' option..

It turns out that the man in the chair is Michael Kirkland.. and he doesn't have much to say once more – or at least, nothing that we don't already know. Basically, he's just been sitting in that chair being fed bad food and being largely harassed. He hasn't actually received much information in his time on the ground, but he does at least have a couple of things for us. One, he has the name of the local agent that he believes is due to be in charge of Operation Thunderbolt – the 'Jackal'. More importantly, though, he has a picture of one of the Black December operatives unmasked!

Unlike so many people in this game, he just bolts as soon as you let him go

We're left in a room with an unopenable safe, an empty chair and a broken monitor, so this seems like a good time to pull up the CAD and see if it has any more information on the Jackal. It lets us know that his name is Rick Hogarty – he's an ex CIA agent! A master of disguise, he has no photo listed against his name. He retired on the 20th of September, 1991, and his former control agent was Carlos Ramirez – a man who is presently on rehabilitative leave in Barcelona, Spain. Looks like we have our next lead, and a nice place to close off! Of course, while I still had the CAD open, I decided to inspect the photo, and felt like I'd seen the face held therein..

… Uh oh.

As always, I'll leave off with my inventory, though it hasn't really changed an awful lot since my last post.. 

- Coat hanger
- Mason's wallet
- Scalpal
- Keys
- Grappling hook
- Flashlight
- Boots
- Bag
- Old wine
- Box (two separate ones)
- Fake passport.
- Cash ($4903 – spent $500 on plane travel twice. And weirdly, lost nothing in bribing Rachel – is this a bug?)
- Three doses of plastic explosives
- The CAD
- A battery
- Pliers
- Wire cutters
- Note with hidden message to Rachel
- Screwdriver (this popped into my inventory since last post, and was clearly in the toolkit, but I have no idea where it came from)
- A photo of who I am rather worried might be Scorpio...

Session Time: 1hr 30min
Total Time: 7hr 30min

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!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Game 48: Operation Stealth - Magic, Mazes, and Minigames

Written by Joe Pranevich

James Bond's Mission Log #4: I have made some new allies with the local resistance movement and together we stormed the palace of General Manigua. All I can say is that I hope the General had his architect shot after building this place-- it is like a maze! Eventually, I found the General’s office and a hidden safe containing the documents I have been chasing, but I was nearly captured again and had to chase after the documents on jet skis. Naturally, I succeeded and am delivering them to the US government for analysis. Will they reveal the location of the STEALTH plane? Where will I be going next?

Good thing I dropped that pick-axe. I’d hate for the boat to spring a leak.

Where we left off last week, Julia Manigua and I had just survived being thrown overboard a yacht with rocks strapped to our feet. When we finally broke the surface, there was a boat waiting for us. A rescue? Or another fine mess?

Fortunately for both of us, the boat is a rescue! Our rescuer, a man named Tonia, takes us to a rebel base deep within the jungle and explains the situation. Julia is not the General’s wife, but rather his niece. It also appears as if the General himself is a victim as he is trapped in the palace while Otto pulls the strings. Julia and Tonia are leaders in a resistance movement against Otto and hope to restore democracy.

This is crying out for a caption contest. Any takers?

Rather than just hanging out in the jungle and dying of malaria, my hosts have a plan: we will sneak into the palace and take on Otto. Or maybe they are trying to free General Manigua? Honestly, I do not know what they are doing except that I am going to tag along and use them to get into the palace myself. If Otto has the documents, then that is where I need to be. The President (but really Otto?) will be having a performance at the palace and the three of us will disguise ourselves as performers. That should at least get us by security and through the door-- but what then? I guess we’ll play it by ear.

Purple carpets really say “third world dictator” to me.

I suppose Hamlet was beyond the abilities of our resistance movement, because the performance of choice is a magic act. Yes, Toinio-- I mean “Rudolfo”-- is the magician and Julia and I are the lovely assistants. Well, I am lovely and all, but don’t you think the General would recognize his own niece at the performance? And how convenient is it that Tonio also happens to be a professional magician with props and everything? I suppose that could have been his occupation before he became a guerrilla fighter, but it stretches credulity a bit.

We start the performance and Tonio will be doing a disappearing act. Julia and I are each brought on stage to fantastic applause then each of us goes into a large box and disappears. Finally, Tonio makes the whole box disappear. This allows Julia and I to slip into the palace properly undetected-- except Julia is immediately kidnapped and calls out for me to rescue her. Our cover is blown and now not only do I have documents to find, but also a damsel in distress.

Less fun than it looks.

As soon as Julia is hauled away, I find myself in a maze minigame. Each level consists of a sequence of interconnected hallways patrolled by guards. If a guard catches you, you die. Somewhere on the level is a blinking key-- grab it and a stairway to the next level opens up. Adding to the strategy is that a number of walls may be rotated, giving you a momentary respite or trapping guards in a walled-off location. The game is not that difficult, but there are four screens and each get progressively harder. While the winning strategy on the first two levels seems to be to trap as many guards as possible in small areas off the path to the key, the latter two require a lot more timing and luck as not all guards can be so isolated. In addition, moving some walls also can cause other walls to move elsewhere in the maze, opening up or closing other avenues for the guards. I probably died at least twenty times clearing the four levels, but eventually I make it through.

This is the only “adventure” game room of this entire play segment. Try to make it last.

I emerge from the maze into an empty hallway with a large door. There does not appear to be anything else to do than walk through the door, so I do and emerge into a nicely furnished office overlooking the sea. There is a bookshelf, a large desk, some chairs. I search the room and discover that pulling on the statue’s arm opens up a hidden safe in the pedestal. I have been waiting to use my safe cracker since the bank vault!

1-2-3-4… no, that’s not right.

The safe cracking interface is another example of this game being very easy when you know what to do, but very difficult when you have to puzzle through cryptic error messages and poor interface design. The safe has a four-digit combination with arrow buttons to select the next digit and a round button to confirm it and go to the next one or submit the combination. If you get any digits wrong, the safe explodes and game over. When you place the safecracker on the safe, it flashes a set of LEDs as you change the digits in the combination. The combination seems to change every time you reload, so it is difficult at first to figure out what the LEDs mean. My first inclination was to choose digits that had the most LEDs lit, but since the same LEDs flash regardless of what position of digit you are in, that is not helpful. It was not hard to deduce that the LEDs would show the position of the number-- so if the number “1” had the third and fourth LED light up, then the code would be “??11”-- and that turned out to be correct, but after a few explosions I was convinced that solution was “too easy” and looked for another. In fact, I was correct but my problem was the order that you have to do things: after verifying the combination you have to turn off the safecracker, remove it, and then push the round button again. Remove the cracker without turning it off? Boom. Obvious in retrospect, stupidly difficult in the moment. With that little mystery resolved, the safe opens! The envelope that I have been searching for is there, just waiting to be picked up.

You’re not my real father!

I am starting to think that envelope is cursed: I am surrounded by Spyder agents yet again. The next scripted scene is difficult to follow, but someone else comes into the room (the Russians?) and the envelope goes flying out the window and into someone’s (Otto’s?) waiting hands. If someone can explain what just happened, I would appreciate it! I give chase and we both climb down a rope from the balcony down to the beach where a convenient pair of jet skis await. We both jump on board and resume the chase over the water.

See? I just knew there would be a dock with a motor boat. Well, jet skis in this case.

Chasing the spy is done using yet another minigame. My target is just in front of me and I have to maneuver the jet ski to avoid some obstacles-- not sure if they are sharks or rocks. If I last long enough without damaging the jet ski too much, I catch up to the bad guy and take back the envelope.

Is anyone following the plot at this point? Who is this guy?

Once I get the envelope, the second round starts. This time, rather than trying to catch an enemy agent, I am fleeing from enemy agents on their own jet skis. This segment was much more difficult than the first and I only survived because I found that if you park your jet ski in the lower-left corner, only one of the enemies is able to reach you. I keep taking damage, but fortunately not enough to end the game. After some period of time, the chase ends and I arrive at a giant submarine climbing out of the water. It is the Americans! I turn over the envelope to the CIA for analysis and await my next orders.

Ninjas on jet skis? Turtle power!

This week was far more a collection of action minigames than an “adventure” game. We have now had four arcade sequences in a row with only a single adventure-game room to play in and no inventory-based puzzles. I am also confused over which spies were doing what. The safe was clearly Otto’s and I recovered the documents from him, but was that the Russians interjecting? Tonio’s liberation army? And what happened with Julia? I was expecting to rescue her, but it seems that she will remain a captive of Spyder for now. (Unless I missed something, but with only one room to explore, I doubt it.)

Session time: 1 hr 30 mins
Total time: 6 hr 30 mins

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!

New Contest - James Bond References & Trivia

As I indicated in my review post, I am not a James Bond expert - but you might be. As I play through the game each week, please post comments with all of the James Bond trivia and references that I am missing for the portion of the game that I have played. At the end of the postings on "Operation Stealth", I will tally up the unique comments and the contributor that finds the most references will receive a "Dr. No" DVD provided by me (or an Amazon gift card equivalent if shipping or region locking is prohibitive.)
Joe Pranevich blogs about random geekiness at and about religion at Coat of Many Colors.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Join the TAG reviewers!

written by “The Adventure Gamer” -reviewers

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Game 46: Countdown – The Plot Thickens!

Written by Aperama

Mason Powers Journal Entry #4: “God, it feels good to be out in proper fresh air again! I'm not counting scaling the side of that cliff, anyhow! The old piece of junk I was in didn't take me very far, but thankfully it got me to a train station, and that's all I really needed. I took the eight hour train from that godforsaken place in Konya, Turkey – and I've ended up back in my old haunts of Istanbul, where the CIA has its Middle Eastern HQ. I'm probably a fugitive in their eyes – but thankfully, nobody knows I'm gone yet! So I've had plenty of time to examine McBain's apartment, and have had plenty of memories shoot back to me. It's all so clear, now – I was waiting for a third agent, Scorpio, to debrief, when that bastard Fontaine shot my Chief down – and then went for me! I was able to jump out, then got hit by the car... ugh. I managed to find McBain's hidden computer... now I have a better idea of what's going on – a terrorist organisation named Black December is hoping to take out a major US landmark, and McBain was close to finding the truth. To cut to the chase, I'm back in my apartment, trying to find all of the evidence I can to first chase down McBain's killer, and then uncover what's behind this whole Black December plot!”

Travel in this game isn't too painful at all. Though I was so hoping to travel by Indiana Jones' red line!

Having found my way out of Sanctuary, I'm glad to say that even though I'm only technically blogging about two or three screens in this instalment, the game has picked up massively. You might notice the timer in the top right of each screenshot – that's been wearing down on my psyche a touch, so I've been trying my best to shave all of the extraneous time spent double clicking on everything that moves through massive save scumming. It's not actually unreasonable to do – and I now have a savegame coming out of Sanctuary that leaves me with only an hour of the ninety-six I've got to complete used up. I'm also quite enthused as my score has gone up quite quickly concurrently – there might be a fair bit more to the game, but I'd say I'll be able to manage my way through without this worry. There are two forms of transport (one which you don't have straight out of Sanctuary, being plane travel) – trains are slower, but cost less. I do like this slight tension created by the game, but don't mind saying that I'm not going to be paying much heed to it for all of the savescumming I plan to continue doing. I'm not letting this one sneak up on me, dammit! (The timer is actually indicative of real playtime, with the exception of travel taking hunks out of your time limit pre-established in the manual.)

“I suddenly remember McBain came from a wealthy family and had a lot of style, but this place is incredible...”

I decided that I should start with McBain's apartment (yes, this is supposedly an apartment!) as I figured I'd probably get more info out of here. Long story short, there are quite a few interactable objects in this place. You can fiddle around with the light switch, you can look at things.. well. Everything in this place seems to be a one-room puzzle, more or less – there's not an amazing amount to it, but I don't like to think of that as necessarily a bad thing. First and foremost, if you're like me, you'll look at the blood or the glass.. which is bad, as you get the same old non-skippable cutscene from the last playthrough from seeing blood. This is, to put it very mildly, annoying. However, if you look at the glass, and you'll get the following text: 'Fragments... the window... shattered glass! It's all so familiar. Now I remember.”

“The assassin who shot McBain turned the gun on me! Someone must have known about the meeting and they were after anybody who was there. McBain was expecting someone else. Was it Scorpio? Or was he the one who fired the shots..”

There's plenty more to do in here, though, but two of them irritated me as I feel like I stumbled upon them almost entirely through the benefit of luck. Well, one being luck, and one being the experience of playing this game telling me to interact with every single object using the first four functions available (USE is only to use an item in your inventory, GOTO just either moves you through or to somewhere, and TALK, TASTE and TRAVEL are all pretty self-explanatory.. I'd be surprised if I even find a use for TASTE.) So, the more obvious is the huge statue standing in the bottom left corner of the screen.

Secret passage? Check!

Actually, I'm not quite right on this account. It's not a secret passage, per se. You move the shield, and the centre of the statue opens to reveal a keyhole! Of course, I'm up to the pixel hunting task here, and I'm thinking it's in the desk, on the bookshelf.. who knows. So I'm clicking around (finding an encoded note on the desk that the game alludes to can be decoded by something in my apartment, a 'travel kit' on the bookshelf that has a false passport and five thousand dollars in various denominations – score, I can take planes now! Even though it's a bit creepy that McBain had a passport that obviously had my picture in it.. well, I won't dwell.) But no, it's none of these. When I moved the bookshelf, I was astonished to not find a key or something similar hidden behind.. but another safe! Yeah, I wasn't so sure of what was really going on.. let's just save the five minutes of screen sweeping for you all and explain this: see those shards of glass over the chair on the right? The top two are glass. The bottom one is a key. If I hadn't clicked on every last thing I could find, and hadn't accidentally swept my mouse over this? Again, likely request for assistance. This game is not awfully fair. But what it lacks in fairness..

It makes up for in explosives. The next line of this also says 'Use Only Under Adult Supervision'. Thanks, Access!

So, after using the largely invisible key in the statue, the fireplace opens to reveal a secret computer! And, more importantly, explosives. Lots of explosives. Five lots of explosives. Before I let my pyromania speak up, though, I'll explain what the computer has to say verbatim - “Possible strike points for Black December's latest terrorist operation 'Thunderbolt': A) Washington D.C./Lincoln Memorial, B)New York/Statue of Liberty, C)South Dakota/Mt. Rushmore”. I've had 'Black December' in my ask about listings for a little while now from the newspaper on the floor in the doctor's office, but it wasn't clear enough for me to fully understand that Black December is the generic terrorist organisation within this game. I presume they get their name from their assassination of Santa. Oh, who am I kidding? There's only so much more of this I can take..

The game literally takes ten in-game seconds for the payoff

Hidden inside the safe is a box filled with a dossier of Iraqi agents working in Israel – it seems a rather bizarre thing to hold onto, but being a secret agent (who has just blown the living poop out of his boss's palatial apartment), I naturally get Mason to snatch up the evidence and run along to his apartment.. 

“My place is plain and practical. Basically, it's a particle board and Elmers glue design.” (And has a photo of my ex-fiancee on the ground. Not creepy at all!)

The first thing anybody in their right mind would notice coming into this room would have to be the annoying as sin squawk that reverberates through one's brain. Yep, that's a bird cage in the corner. And yep, it's a parrot inside. Being a game with no music apart from the opening guitars, it's impossible not to notice when a sound effect suddenly attempts to deafen you. Again, it's time to go rummaging through the room, though. He's got a pile of work sitting on his desk - “Case files on a terrorist group known as Black December. … A handwritten note on the side of the page says, 'Who is Stormbringer'?” Continuing, there's a bird cracker on the table, a battery on top of the TV, a toolbox hidden in the cupboard above the sink (with pliers and wire cutters inside), a key to the bird cage hidden underneath your pillow (why hide a key to a bird cage at all? Ask Mason Powers, international spy of not bothering to wash his clothes for days on end.) But clearly the thing we came in here for was the item to help decode the message left on McBain's desk. It's explained in the manual – you've got a 'Standard Agent Issue Computer Access Device' known as the CAD. (In this instance, it's hidden behind the pot plant on top of the fridge. Mason Powers, ladies and gentlemen. Security is #1 with this guy.)

Aww! (There have already been four Bond references to this point by the game itself, just for clarity)

So, we need to find Mason's password. I actually tried several obvious ones after pulling up the manual section which lists the CAD – it's an in-game puzzle, though. 'Mason', 'Powers', 'Password', 'Company', 'CIA', 'Secret', 'Agent', 'Secretagent'.. no dice. No, Mason has a much more sophisticated design towards hiding his passwords..

Open parrot cage. Give cracker to parrot. Key to desk drawer falls out of parrot's mouth. Why? Not sure.

This may indeed be one of the least coherent puzzles that I've ever seen in an adventure game. Give me Nikstlitslepmur any day over one like this, I say! Still. At least so long as you thought to move the pillow and can as such unlock his foul-mouthed parrot (whom he has taught the phrases 'Drop dead, wimp!' 'Loser!' 'Feed me!' and 'Mason's a butt!' - he clearly has high self confidence), you're pretty likely to put two and two together and realise the cracker is for the parrot. Now, with 'dolphin' to unlock my way into the CIA's files.. I receive an email. Pretty spiffy for 1992! “Mason: McBain was right. There is someone inside the agency working for Black December. I have my suspicions about who it is, but I need time to verify them. I will contact you later. - Hakeem Ababash, 10/1” 

The CAD already has the makings of one of the most interesting parts of this game

The CAD has three functions. It'll tell you if you've received an email when you're at the travel screen or on the first time logging into it, you can ANALYZE objects in your inventory (only a select couple – you can't, for instance, ANALYZE the SCALPAL) – in the above screenshot, there's a picture of analysing the note found in McBain's office, which reveals a new name of 'RACHAL AKURE' to add to our list. It also allows us to RESEARCH the dossiers of the characters who you've unlocked the names of through dialogue. Through this you learn a couple of things – one, that Stephen Lucas, A.K.A. Scorpio, is.. well. That can't be right.

McBain told us to 'GET SCORPIO'. Problem? The game's set in October of 1992.. and he died in January of 1991!

You also learn a little bit about a few of the other characters. Amongst this little repository of knowledge is the meaning behind 'Stormbringer' – it's the notion, largely held by Frank McBain, that there is a mole inside the CIA working for the terrorist organisation Black December. The CAD looks like it only has one set of information to work off of, which is a little bit disappointing, but it's nice to get a few little pictures etc as it comes to these people. Anyhow, I'll end this update here, even though I'm a little bit further ahead – this just seems to be a nice, neutral spot to stop.. so! My new inventory is now ludicrously large..

- Coat hanger
- Mason's wallet
- Scalpal
- Keys (this seems to be call 'regular' keys, given that the game suggests that Mason enters both apartments without forcible entry)
- Grappling hook
- Flashlight
- Boots
- Bag
- Old wine
- Box (I believe I picked this up along with the passport and cash on the bookshelf – it just sorta appeared)
- Box (of the Iraqi agents working in Israel variety)
- Fake passport. Still creeped out.
- Cash ($5903 – gained 5000 in McBain's apartment, but lost 100 on the train to get there.. sweet deal?)
- Four doses of plastic explosives – supposedly lethal within 15 metres. Short of the SCALPAL, this seems like the only way I have to deal with the deadly 'Fontaine'?
- The CAD
- One Ni-Cad rechargeable battery, found on top of Mason's television. Doubtlessly stolen from a remote control.
- Pliers. Handy for.. plying.
- Wire cutters. I'm worried that I'm going to have a bomb diffusing scene a la Police Quest 2..
- Note with hidden message to Rachel

This screen actually makes me feel excited to play this game, finally! I didn't die once during this update!!!

Session Time: 0hr 45min
Total Time: 6hr 0min

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!