Saturday, 29 August 2015

Leisure Suit Larry 5 – Hot Plate Heaven at the Green Hotel

Written by Alex

As Patti leaves Baltimore behind and settles in for her long limo ride up to Philadelphia, the scene returns to Larry, dreaming about riding a gondola with Patti through the streets of Venice. Of course, we know that his reverie doesn’t end well. This time, the gondola springs a leak, and Larry makes a rather uncomfortable discovery upon awakening . . .

C’mon Larry!

Ah well. Apparently polyester is quick-drying, because Larry steps out into the terminal none the worse for the wear.

Having done a fair amount of traveling myself, I have to say that this recurring gag of all airports looking the same works. It really captures the tedium of air travel. Luckily, I haven’t yet been to an airport where I’ve been required to enter a strange five-digit code from a separate document I may or may not have a copy of in order to get my boarding pass.

So just like the other airports in the game, I click around on the signs until I find the one advertising a limo service (1 point).

Great! Now I need a quarter to use the payphones in the east end of the terminal. Luckily, this being Atlantic City, there are slot machines in the terminal’s west end. Obviously.


The only one Larry can do anything with is the machine second from the left. Someone left a quarter in there, and pulling the arm, Larry spins one cherry, rewarding him with a single quarter (5 points). How convenient!

Been there, done that.

Calling the Limo service nets Larry another 3 points. Larry mistakenly thinks he’s speaking to the actual Mr. Tramp himself. I guess he really wanted to ask him his thoughts about illegal immigration and female journalists. Luckily, all Larry gets here is a limo. Showing his driver—this time Bobbi Bahng—the matchbook from the Tramp Hotel, he is soon on his way towards a date with destiny. Or tackiness.

It’s amazing what can be done with a little neon.

Impressed by what he sees, Larry is eager to explore his surroundings. He can go into the hotel and casino, or walk along the boardwalk. But first, let’s talk to these two characters standing by the door.

The one on the left is Cheri, who welcomes Larry to the hotel and asks him to indulge her in a little guessing game. The rules are simple: Enter any number below 10,000. I put in “1,” and it turns out I was right!

She rewards Larry with 10 silver dollar tokens (2 points), which she is sure to warn Larry are not real money and only work at the casino. Further guessing never results in any more money, unless Larry loses all of his cash in the casino.

The guy on the right, Brewster, is more of a concierge. He offers to call a limo for Larry. There’s no need for that now, but clicking the zipper on him gives Larry a little more personal information about the friendly doorman.

Hey! I resemble that remark!

Before checking out the casino, I decide to walk along the boardwalk. I remember this from a playthrough years ago: It goes on endlessly, populated by rollerskating passersby. The only place of note is Ivana Skates!, a skateshop run by the Donald’s first ex-wife. All of the other shops are closed because it’s the Donald’s birthday.

Larry is interested in renting skates, as according to Lana’s file, she can be often found on the boardwalk. Unfortunately, Lana wants a deposit of $250.00. Larry informs her that he has no money, but Ivana responds that she is willing to accept tokens from the hotel. Since I only have $10.00 worth, it’s time to partake in that classic Sierra adventure game pastime, gambling!

Entering the casino, Larry is impressed with its stylish and tasteful décor.

More importantly, there are rows and rows of video poker machines. There is a blackjack table in the upper-right portion of the screen, but Larry seems to have bad memories of that particular game.

Even though Larry dominated blackjack in that game . . .

Poker it is! Larry sticks his coins into the machine (4 points) and starts gambling. It’s pretty standard video poker, with no fancy rules or wild cards or the like. I spend an inordinate amount of time playing, building up a stash of $2,000.00 or so in casino coins, because you never know when fake cash will come in handy.

In fact, heading to the ballroom in the back, I find an immediate use for my hard-won dough.

Larry notices that the ballroom is full of only men. Talking to the bouncer, he learns this is because a wet t-shirt contest is about to start, and he can take a seat for only $25.00 in order to see someone named Jennifer Jiggle strut her stuff. Since there is no pass in an ashtray to help me get by the bouncer in this game, I fork over the coins and take a seat.

Jennifer does indeed come out and strut her stuff. Larry can click the “Eye” icon on her for 8 points and a close-up that’s supposed to be sexy, I guess?


Okay. That was kind of pointless. The show over, an announcement then states that the next event at the classy Tramp casino is some good old-fashioned mud-wrestling. What a cultural mecca! Not much to do then but head back to the skateshop and rent some rollerblades.

Back with Ivana, I have a flashback: I remember during the first time I played this game being able to trade an inventory item for a skate rental. I first save and pay Ivana in coins (4 points), but then restore and decide to go through my inventory and see what works. Turns out the first item was the key: Larry can leave his camera as a deposit (8 points) and pick it up when he returns the skates. This is an alternate solution that works a bit better than the one at the Hard Disk Café in New York, where Larry can just keep clicking talk on the maître ‘d if he doesn’t feel like paying him.

So now Larry has rollerskates. He can sit on one of the benches that’s on every screen to put them on (3 points). Now it’s time to search for Lana.

The first time I did this, I spotted her gliding down the boardwalk and off-screen; it doesn’t look it from the screenshot, but trust me: she quickly turned tail and fled.

Get back here!

I tried to catch up with her and click “Talk,” but to no avail: This is one of those Sierra point-and-click games where clicking the icon isn’t enough; your character has to sidle up next to their intended target in order for the interaction to occur. So since Lana is faster than Larry, even with the game speed turned all the way up, he was never able to catch her. She soon left him in the dust, and like a dope I skated along dozens of boardwalk screens before I stopped and restored to before wearing the skates.

This time, when I spotted Lana, she kept coming towards Larry. Talking to her worked (6 points): Larry got her attention, and they sat down on a bench to have a chat.

Anybody got a good celebrity look-alike here? I’m drawing a blank.

All Larry can do is click “Talk” and learn that she’s getting ready for the mudwrestling competition. She asks Larry to come by and see if he can take her in the ring. Larry says okay (2 points) because like he has a choice, returns his skates and gets his camera back (3 points) and goes to the ballroom.

This time, the bouncer tells Larry he can take a seat for $25.00 or agree to participate for $500.00. Not being a cheapskate, I pay to participate (12 points), but quickly turn my camera on before heading down the stairs. Lana comes out, strips into a bathing suit, and begins taunting Larry.

Uh, both?

Larry, excited about the prospect of grappling with a beautiful half-naked woman despite the likely beating he’ll receive, jumps into the ring and prepares for the worst.

What we get is a mini-game from a bird’s-eye view of the ring. Various body parts of Lana’s flash on screen—leg, arm, face, breasts, you get the idea—and Larry has to click “Hand” on them as they appear. Each time he does, the audience applauds and Lana lets out a pleasurable moan, which is kind of funny, because the game, and the series as a whole, constantly reminds us that Larry is such a loser and has no luck with women, but they sure seem to enjoy him well enough.

In any event, this being Larry 5, you eventually move on to the next sequence (40 points): Larry and Lana get so worked up, they start stripping down in front of the packed house and proceed to get down to business.

Except not really, because Larry seems to be having a little bit of performance anxiety.

He whines that he’s never done it before 900 or so people, and then laments that the boys back in Hollywood won’t appreciate his weak performance when they review the tape (20 points, because I had the camera on). What I want to know is: how will they see anything, since the camera is disguised as a pocket protector which is affixed to the pocket on Larry’s shirt he flung to a far corner of the stage?

Ah well. Back at the casino, Larry has Brewster call a limo (2 points) and heads back to the airport. A cut scene shows us one of Julius’s goons, Luigi, giving the president of C.A.N.E. (Conservatives Against Nearly Anything) a suitcase full of money in order to fight against cable porn . . . as long as the donation stays anonymous.

Back to Larry: He gets his boarding pass for Miami (4 points) and settles in for the flight, daydreaming about Patti rocking out with a keytar in front of the Taj Mahal.

I, too, dream about rocking out with a keytar in front of the Taj Mahal, but my dress is hot pink.

Lost in the dream, the game shifts to Patti in Philadelphia, standing outside of the K-RAP radio station, ready to continue her vital mission in service of God and country.

All told, this session felt much more game-like and didn’t have nearly the hand-holding that the New York City and Baltimore sections did. Still not very challenging, but more enjoyable. Next time, let’s see if Philly provides the same experience.

Total Points: 547 out of 1,000

Larry: Hidden camera, charger, one blank tape, Michelle’s tape, Lana’s tape three resumes, napkin from Hard Disk Café in New York City, AeroDork Gold Card, AeroDork’s in-flight magazine, matches from Tramp Casino in Atlantic City, business card for Doc Pulliam in Miami
Patti: DataMan, Reverse Biaz cartridge, P.C. Hammer cartridge, brasserie cannon, gold record, Reverse Biaz tape

Session Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Total Time: 4 hours and 5 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, 27 August 2015

Spellcasting 201 - A Tourguide's Work Is Never Done

By Aperama

A Tourguide to Spellcasting U!
Welcome! You've made it, finally. All of those years of neglect from your parents are behind you now! You're at the premiere college of Sorcery, Wizardry and Other Magical Type Things: Sorcerer's University. To give you a full and proper idea of the sort of fun, education and quite possibly, hijinks you might be in for, we're going to follow one of our most famous students. Only in his sophomore year, Ernie Eaglebeak has had far more excitement than the average student, having both left University grounds to search up **REDACTED** and **REDACTED** Ernie even won a trophy for it! So, given this is an average lazy Sunday for Ernie, he starts in the Simulation Lab – a solid three hour treatment carefully studying his use of magic. Naturally, for the experienced Ernie, the simulation is just a matter of carefully crafted sorcery. He succeeds, leaving some animated bananas to do all of his work for him – after all, why wouldn't a future Sorcery Superstar? This is Pledge Week for Ernie, and he has fallen into the venerable halls of the Hu Delta Phart fraternity. He starts his day with a delicious plate of casserole from the Cafeteria, spending a short amount of time at the on-campus Pub. Naturally, he's a tee-totaller, but it still gives him a chance to look around the Student Union, taking his time to walk through Meltingwolf Hall, his old freshman haunts in Frogkisser House – and then heads through Yakbladder Quad to his own room back at the hallowed halls of HDP, just one of the many fraternities here at SU. Lucky Ernie has an envelope waiting for him on his bed from his former Professor and the new Dean of SU, Otto Tickingclock himself! He rushes down to meet up with the Professor at his requests, and **REDACTED** That's just one day in the life of an SU student! Join up today!

The University has grown big-time!
(I skipped several rooms that I guessed had nothing of note in them,
 e.g. all of the upstairs of the fraternities)

Spellcasting definitely has a mood and feeling all of its own. It manages to be both irreverently silly and have just enough of a serious plot in the background to keep you interested. The music in the opening intro screen (which is just a recap of the events in Spellcasting 201) is, while not fantastic, definitely both good enough to keep you from clawing at your ears and fits the silliness of the game. I'm aware that the games from this era were still big into making loud and obnoxious sounds (the 'Realsound' gimmick involved making decent-sounding things out of ye olde PC Speaker, and this game has a Realsound credit). Things like the 'clocktower ringing' are enough to keep me from praising the sounds too much (both deafening and annoying!) Still, it's the first thing that grabs your attention apart from the re-used images that set the aforementioned recap of Spellcasting 101. It manages to stay silly throughout, consistently tooting its own horn '… It was Ocarina, Goddess of Beauty, who uttered the most seductive line in adventure gaming history – “Ever make it with a Goddess?”' and giving things like 'Mr. Meretzky's Hair done by Lisbeth of Bedfordport' during the credits.

Don't remind me, game!

The game proper starts you in a bizarre and unexpected fashion, immediately leaving you in the middle of a puzzle that almost feels reminiscent of King's Quest 3 – you're a sorcerer's apprentice and have to fill a bathtub. The game only leaves you with a spellbook, a banana, a fruit slicer and a bucket. No – you can't fill it with the bucket. Naturally, your spellbook is where the fix lies. You have the ever-present BIP spell (cast romantic music), FRIMP (levitation) and PRENT (animate yellow fruit). No mandrake root, cat hair and fish oil here, though. Instead, the obvious solution is to animate the banana. One banana with a tiny bucket to fill a bathtub, however? Not going to work! Instead, slicing the banana whilst it's animated (then squishing it for good measure) has it grow back regardless, and another, then another – until a small army of bananas are doing the work, moving the water between the well two screens out and the bathtub. The trouble is, there's no way of stopping the errant bananas when they begin their work, leaving them refilling the tub ad nauseum. It turns out that the PRENT spell has gone a little haywire. Thankfully, a package arrives for your sorcerous master – an apology for the out of hand nature of PRENT, along with a complimentary spellbox of FOY – 'create daiquiri'. I'll let the screenshots explain from here..

They're not in pyjamas, but they are coming down the stairs

Sadly, I'm guessing that it's a virgin daiquiri

Aw, I'm not really playing King's Quest 3 and ½? And I don't even get any points?

As you might have guessed, we were really in the Simulation Room from 101. From here on out, it's possible to wander around the entirety of SU at will, with the exception of a few places (the library above Meltingwolf Hall is closed off 'until Spellcasting 301' due to some idiot using an 'inflating bust' spell in there, for instance) though the in-game timer of 5 minutes per turn does make it pretty hard to fully explore given you fall asleep at midnight no matter what you do). A few reloads, however, and it didn't take long to fully make my way around the place. Of the original areas accessible in 101, there are a few new areas within them (including the somewhat bizarre move of adding a lobby for Meltingwolf Hall with an additional office nearby of a Professor Moldybreadcrust - he teaches 301 also, so his office doesn't seem too interesting), Sorcerer's Stadium now also has a locker room (complete with a bag and stinky gym clothes), pool room and the ability to run out onto the pitch and live out your sporting dreams. I can only imagine that this means that Ernie will be enlisting in sports, given he's also signed up to Physical Skills 201 with Competitive Jousting in his schedule. Thankfully, I've always loved the idea of jousting! The cafeteria also has an upstairs 'Trustee Anteroom' complete with an 'inner circle' – there's a noted lack of information as to what exactly this is, but I imagine it has something to do with the board of people who either run the fraternities or pay for the university itself? Feel free to point out the obvious for me!

At least I understand what the green button in the cafeteria is for!
Now I just need to work out what needs dumbwaiting..

The rest of the newly renovated University is all new screens of goodness. Instead of just petering out in the north with a placeholder lobby that leads to nowhere as it did in the previous game, you can continue further to the north or the northeast. Continuing past the cafeteria is the notional exit of SU – I can't continue further on, but that's quite enough for my liking (as you can see from the map I put together, this new section of the game has a lot of new screens). Near the exit is both the 'nerd' fraternity, Gramma Eta Pi, and the one Ernie is pledged to, Hu Delta Phart. The fraternity house surprisingly affords Ernie his own room (I figured pledges would get some sort of communal rooming given they haven't actually joined the fraternity as yet in normal circumstances, right?) and the ominous threat as we walk through by the Pledgemaster, Chris Cowpatty, that we're to be initiated. (Hazed.) The 'trophy display case' of HDP has a spellbox in it (PISEKS - 'maturation'). And a bunch of bad jokes. In Ernie's room is a trophy that pretty much says 'congratulations, you won Spellcasting 101', a bedsheet (always useful, I hope!) and an envelope from our former Professor-now-Dean, Otto Tickingclock. He wants us at President's House at 9 PM for a special meeting – and really, who is Ernie Eaglebeak to say no?

sexton [sek-stuhn] – noun. An official of a church charged with taking care of the
edifice and its contents, ringing the bell etc.

Southeast of the main entrance is what seems to be the new hub of S-U, Yakbladder Quad, which has a blueprint fly into it as soon as we enter it – I'm guessing it's the copy protection, given it mentions that if you pirated the game you're going to be stuck without it. North of there is one of the new buildings, Ivorytower.. well, tower, I'm guessing, given that everything in it is pretty well up and down – inside, there's an alchemy lab (which has a huge amount of items inside it), a clocktower, then a statue sitting above it – and underneath, a hidden lab that has been closed off. There's also an auditorium within the tower building, which means that a great deal of time is no doubt going to be spent running between places.. a problem in a game where five minutes passes between each successful command. East of Yakbladder is the Student Union – a place for students to hang around and relax.. er, study. Inside is a janitor's closet with more in it than the Student Union itself – only two things, to be fair. A how-to book that appears to be on plumbing with a plumbers tool coupon inside it ('you feel confident that you could fix a washer, build a municipal reservoir or anything in between') along with a WOOSH spellbox (remove tough oils) hidden behind an extremely strong case.

I mentioned earlier that I disliked many of the sounds ingame
– the patented 'BOI-OI-OI-OING' noise was not one of these

Upstairs from the Student Union is a music room which contains a 'moodhorn' along with a manual how to play it (which is available on the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History.. and I'm sure will help with Music 114 and Beginner Moodhorn) – downstairs is a pub with a broken jukebox that still flashes proudly with colours along with a pellet of Dehydrated Rum, which is simply too tempting to avoid snatching up even were I not an adventure game protagonist. I'm barely even giving fair credence to the sheer amount of stuff that you can do – you can still sit around in places, walk in on parties where you're not invited, sit by and watch an entire game of Malls n' Muggers – this really is a game which likes to give you countless options. Still, on with the plot from here! Walking all the way down to the President's House (gathering the blueprint to the sewers, a pellet of dehydrated rum, a serving of bad casserole, a gym bag and a coupon for a free plumbing tool from the how-to book in the janitor's closet along the way) leaves us there early due to me looking through just about everything I could find with a DEPLUMIT spell box ('descending') ripe for the picking. It's a level 4 spell, so we can't cast it, but it goes handily into our spellbook.

And now for the story!

So, as the back of the box and the manual alluded to, the new Dean Tickingclock has decided that given we have already senselessly risked our lives for Sorcerer's University before that we are clearly ready to do it again. Go team! He gives us an ancient key to the hidden laboratory underneath Ivory Tower (I'm just calling it that – supposedly it's named after a Professor Ivorytower but it's the logical name for the building), gives us an extremely tiny amount more information on the Appliance – that along with the Great Attachments that Joey Rottenwood had filched in the previous game, there are some 'Even Greater' Attachments - the Sextant of Spittul, the Sheet Metal Bender of Balmoral, the Donkey Harness of Danderville, the Cookie Cutter of Curdle, the Garter Belt of Gekko and the Bubblewand of Blackwand – apparently, all lost from within the university itself. Tickingclock also gives us a 'premonition' – on each of the next five days, the Appliance will fulfill a 'vital role' in Ernie's life, and come Friday, it will serve a vital role in his life too (possibly the very survival of the university)! Heavy stuff! Now, to go to sleep so that we can be 'initiated' in the morning..

As a side note, apparently, this is Steve Meretzky's favorite picture from Spellcasting 101.
I still don't get what's going on with that pincer hanging out of the skull's nose

Session Time: 1 hour (plus 40 for the map)
Total Time: 1 hour

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!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Timequest - Final Rating

Written by Reiko

Before I get to the rating, I should point out that there are a lot of optional activities in the game. Ilmari mentioned some of them early on, most of which I forgot to try. I found a few of them as I went along, like trying to get the sludge in Rome, or giving the loose board to the innkeeper, or triggering the failed futures. If you want to know more of these, you can always read the hintbook online (

To be quite honest, I found Timequest to be a mixed bag overall. I had a lot of nostalgia for the game since I'd played it a long time ago, but I hadn't gotten very far then and certainly hadn't gotten to the ending. I did have a lot of fun playing it, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to go through it carefully with you all and finish it (as I am usually terrible about actually finishing games I start). At the same time, the graphics were sometimes beautiful and sometimes cringe-worthy, and the parser responsiveness was quite uneven. The story went from a tense chase through time to a leisurely stroll through time, culminating in an implausibly convoluted reason for it happening in the first place. Let's unpack these concerns in their individual categories.

Puzzles and Solvability

The puzzles in Timequest were generally well-balanced between challenging and sensible. There were several points where I had to pause and think about what made sense, but most puzzles were reasonably logical. A few problematic puzzles bring the score down a bit, such as the guess-the-verb problems with the loose floorboard, and the overly-obscure connection between the vizier and the guilty wife, which I bypassed through luck. If anything, some puzzles were almost too easy once I had the right item from another time period, but this is balanced by the open-ended nature of the game, with 49 time-space combinations available right from the beginning. Systematically going through every location was the best way to make sure I didn't miss anything. The worst issue was the puzzle with the key at the end, as there's no indication that a key is needed before entering Vettenmyer's lair, and nothing but an easily-missed subtle hint about where the key is before hearing Vettenmyer's rant, which is a dead end. Not having the right item before jumping into some of the missions also leads to dead ends, but those are much more avoidable.

Pacing! Although the score didn't keep pace with the missions, of course, given an endgame.

Having ten missions was a great way to pace the game and provide a sense of accomplishment. I also very much enjoyed the puzzle with the code hidden in the messages. I was actually disappointed that the time jumping at the end wasn't more involved, however. I didn't ever have to calculate when to jump in order to arrive at the right time, and the bit about the machine requiring five minutes to recharge never made a difference; I only had to follow the cues.

If you like this kind of time travel puzzle, though, you should really check out All Things Devours (2004) or Fifteen Minutes (2014). Both are intricate set-piece interactive fiction puzzles that require a lot of thinking to maneuver the PC through the time travel scenario correctly in order to avoid paradoxes and achieve the goal. Timequest has quite a bit more setup beforehand, but the endgame is less intricate, so the whole thing feels much more diffused (and also contrived, but that's a different issue).

Score: 6

Interface and Inventory

The Legend interface is one that's very familiar to me, so I didn't have any trouble using it. Since the game is fully playable with either keyboard or mouse, the interface is very flexible. I like to play in half screen mode to increase the amount of text visible without losing the illustrations. The only trouble with that is occasionally there are items in the area that are neither visible in the illustration nor mentioned in the description, so I had to check the list occasionally. I did have the occasional parser issue, and there was that one puzzle in the burial cave where I could sit and do nothing, unintentionally triggering the solution. Since there was apparently a MEDITATE command as well, there wasn't any need for a real-time response there.

I almost never used this layout. If I did, I might have liked to see inventory listed separately from other items in scope.

Inventory is only a textual list, interactive-fiction style. Some items are temporarily visible in the illustrations, so those items do have graphical representations. The game might have benefited from a full graphical list, but since the full interface does include inventory items in the list of items in scope, it's still possible to use the mouse to manipulate inventory if desired, although I never bothered.

Score: 6

Story and Setting

As a game, Timequest was a lot of fun to play, but as a story, it didn't hold together, especially once the full plot was revealed. I made some comments about this on the "Won!" posting last time. Vettenmyer is a completely incompetent villain, for one thing. But more than that, the main character has clearly been set up by someone else to take part in this ridiculously convoluted chase through time, as even Vettenmyer doesn't really know what's going on. Why did it have to be so complicated in the first place? The story leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Vettenmyer's incompetent and crazy. How cliche is a Doomsday device, anyway?

Never mind that we've made our own mark on history in the process. Vettenmyer did a lot of damage, and we certainly had to prevent his changes from taking effect, but we didn't seamlessly reverse what Vettenmyer had done; we made a lot of changes along the way ourselves, from becoming the founder of a Buddhist temple, to saving the life of a Toltec sacrifice and a Middle Eastern girl, to sending a crown through thousands of years of history. Some of these things may well have had ripple effects though history as well. The game not only takes great liberties with historical details, but implies that only large historical changes are going to have any real effect. This is a disappointing and hypocritical outcome for a game that's supposedly about bringing to justice someone who meddled indiscriminately with time travel.

The game was set in six different places over nine different time periods, plus the future headquarters. The variety was interesting, but the result was ultimately rather shallow. A recurring theme of my commentary was how inaccurate the historical situations seemed to be. While many of these places incorporated real historical figures, they often did so in historically inaccurate ways. Clearly places and timelines were stretched in order to fit everything into the specific locations included in the game. As the very first scenario of the game, Rome in 44 BC felt the most vibrant, depicting throngs of people both in the main street and in the Colosseum. Everywhere else felt more deserted and empty, even in places that supposedly were full of people, like the Baghdad and Peking markets.

Score: 4

Sound and Graphics

I admit that I often play games without sound, especially older games that don't have voice-acting or sounds that are critical to gameplay. So while Timequest does have some background music, I can't comment too much on it as I completely forgot it was there for much of my playthrough. Later on, I had sound turned on for awhile and noticed the music, which based on what I heard was reasonably evocative. For instance, when I went to the Great Wall with the barbarian army, the music turned suitably ominous. It's probably not varied enough to avoid being repetitive, though, and it certainly wasn't necessary to play the game.

Graphics, unfortunately, are very uneven. This isn't a fully graphical adventure, so my expectations weren't too high. And while there are several beautifully drawn scenes, such as the glowing firecracker mask, many others were downright ugly. I don't know for sure, but I would guess that there were multiple artists that drew different sections of the game, because while much of Rome and Mexico and Dover were colorfully detailed, many Peking, Baghdad, and Cairo locations look much more crudely drawn, and flatter.

The flames surrounding the patriarchal face and the shock on Attila's face: masterful.

Compare that to the ugliest time period in the game, with bland colors and crude lines.

Peking especially, which looks nearly identical in every time, is depressingly dirt-colored.The game also took shortcuts by describing many encounters in a single turn so that they didn't have to make any graphics to show what happened. There were minimal animations, the best of which was that firecracker mask. A few others include the donkey eating the dates and the Olmec's spear, but hardly more than a few jerky frames of animation at a time. Most graphical changes are shifts between still images.

Score: 3

Environment and Atmosphere

Timequest had a lot of material to cover in a wide range of environments, but the way this was executed left most locations feeling very hollow. Rome was the best, with the most missions based there and therefore it had the most focus and polish. Over time, the city felt like it was becoming more modern. In the most ancient time, the city wasn't even there yet; only the Academy location had any relevance. In later times, the Colosseum was closed, with the emphasis on the cathedral. In modern times, the Palace was the focus, first with Napoleon, and then with Hitler. Even Dover had some visible changes, with the ancient inn looking more like a simple cottage, and the later inn looking more like a sturdy building with a chimney.

In contrast, Cairo and Baghdad both had four time periods with nothing but a message from Vettenmyer, so most of their locations looked nearly identical between time periods. Cairo showed some progress in the treatment of the pyramid, and Baghdad's focus shifted from Babylon to the city of Baghdad, which later built the Ishtar Gate. Even so, their locations were very repetitive. Peking wasn't any better, despite the fact that more things happened there. That's only partly because the graphics for those locations were so ugly, as mentioned above, but also because they were so repetitive. The Tientan Park graphic, for instance (shown above), is identical for every time period, from 1361 BC to 1940 AD; the only change is in 1215 AD, when the gates are closed to keep out the Mongols. Oddly enough, the gates are still shown as closed after the mission to open them is complete.

To balance this, the writers put some extra effort into its textual descriptions by trying to add historical context every time you go to a new time period. The main problem with that is just that its history isn't very accurate. This really killed the immersion because I was constantly wondering if the context made sense, or outright being annoyed that historical details were clearly wrong.

While there were dozens of locations to explore, many of them were identical to others, making them trivial to visit. I wondered early on if I had missed anything important in locations with messages from Vettenmyer, but I needn't have worried. Plus a lot of locations were very generically described, such as the city markets in Baghdad and Peking. Would it have been so hard to have different goods being sold in each time period, or something? The game probably could have offered half as many locations and still been coherent.

When someone throws a spear at you, you grab your stuff and run!

The game was constantly emphasizing the temporal aspect, which is a two-edged sword, really. On one hand, you have a limited amount of time before something irreversibly bad happens, but on the other, you're going back in time and have as much time as you need to fix things. Not to mention save games. There was really no sense of urgency. Yes, if I fiddled around too long in the critical time periods, I'd lose. There were a few points where I had to make the right move at the right time. Most of these were well-telegraphed, though.

The sense of making changes in the past to affect the future was great. A number of puzzles involved interactions between time periods, including saving the Vizier's sister, appearing in costume to the Olmec and Toltec, founding the Buddhist temple, planting the Catholic plaque in the bedroom, etc. Even the graphics were affected sometimes when I made changes. The best example of this was the way the drawings on the wall of the Mexican temple changed, even when I’d given the Toltec the wrong item.

Score: 4

Dialog and Acting

From a game standpoint, the text did everything it needed to in order to convey the necessary information to navigate and solve puzzles. The parser handled all the needed commands and then some. I didn't try very many extraneous commands, but I know there were quite a few extra responses programmed in solely for humor value. NPCs were very limited, though, having scripted responses mostly just to the required story actions.

The philosopher generally had something to say about other major characters from that timeframe, but little else elicited a response.

I managed to get a few extra responses out of Churchill and the philosopher, but mostly I didn't need to talk to people to get things done. (The interaction with Queen Elizabeth was done particularly well, though, requiring appropriate courtesy before she would respond at all.) It's really hard to make good NPCs in interactive fiction, though, so it's not surprising, with a game of this breadth, that the NPCs would be shallow. My role was generally reactive when it came to characters, although, like with Napoleon, I sometimes had to prod them into acting. This was generally done by showing items rather than talking, however.

Score: 5

That adds up to a final score of 6+6+4+3+4+5 = 28/60*100 = 47. Nine people made guesses ranging from 39 to 56 (Ilmari, you're an optimist!), but Laukku hit it exactly.

PISSED Rating: 47

CAP Distribution

100 points to Reiko
  • Blogger award - 100 CAPs - for blogging through this game for our enjoyment
60 points to TBD
  • Genre Lover Award - 10 CAPs - For mentioning two adventure game sales on GOG
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - for playing It Came From The Desert for our enjoyment
50 points to Kenny McCormick
  • Sinologist Award - 20 CAPs - For knowing the history of Peking and its historical names, details of Chinese dynasties, the history of Chinese money, and the traditional treatment of Chinese eunuchs
  • Historian Award - 10 CAPs - For describing the decline of the Aztecs due to smallpox
  • Headgear Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing why helmets would be strange to headdress-wearing Aztecs
  • Nitpicker Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out that Cairo and Baghdad had more interesting history than was shown
  • Genre Lover award - 5 CAPs - For mentioning the new King's Quest game
  • Wholehearted agreement award – 5 CAPs - for publicly and regularly sharing TBD's opinion that Cinemaware and the Amiga were better than most at the time
20 points to Ilmari
  • Having Fun Award - 5 CAPs - For listing a lot of fun commands recognized by the game
  • Caesar Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the history of the Roman Empire
  • Arabian Nights Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the history of Vizier Yahya
  • Plutarch Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing about Shakespeare's inspiration
15 points to Joe Pranevich
  • Caesar Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the history of the Roman Empire
  • Anthropologist Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the difference between an Aztec and a Toltec
  • Genre Lover award - 5 CAPs - For mentioning the petition about Odd Gentlemen taking on Space Quest
15 points to Torch
  • Classic Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating of It Came From The Desert
  • Shawshank Redemption Rating Award - 5 CAPs - For checking old Amiga magazine reviews to suggest maybe It Came From the Desert's graphics and sound rating aren't in fact overinflated but well deserved
15 points to Laukku
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating
  • Genre Lover Award - 5 CAPs - For mentioning new GOG releases
10 points to Rowan Lipkovits
  • Superhero League of Hoboken Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out which other Legend game was designed by Meretzky
  • Kinder Bush Award - 5 CAPs - For recognising a reference to an American president
8 points to Aperama
  • Papal Humor Award - 3 CAPs - For coining up with "Kung Fu Pope" to describe Pope Sixtus
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey rating award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out that TBD may have overinflated the sound/graphics rating of the Amiga version of It Came From the Desert
5 points to Andy Panthro
  • Nitpicker Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing details of Napoleonic history
5 points to Dehumanizer
  • Sham psychic award - 5 CAPs - For suggesting that TBD go back and talk to the fortune teller more often to get a short scene where she is 'possessed' by the ants, a scene which TBD totally didn't see no matter how much he talked to Ida.
3 points to Fry
  • Puzzle Prediction Award - 3 CAPs - For guessing the puzzle mechanic of putting Vettenmyer's messages in order

That’s all for Timequest. I will be back in a few months to bring you Castle of Dr. Brain! (That one won’t take so many posts, I promise!)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Leisure Suit Larry 5 – What’s New in Baltimore?

Written by Alex

Avoiding the groping from her limo driver, Patti alights in Baltimore, outside of the majestic Shaft building, home of des Rever Records and the FBI’s next target, record producer Reverse Biaz.

Inside the funky lobby, there’s a sleeping guard, an elevator Patti can’t open, and a directory. Before I continue, I’d like to give an example of a problem I have with the puzzle design of this game. Here are three ways to get into the elevator:
  1. Look at the directory to find out that des Rever Records is in room 900 (3 points), and then talk to the guard to wake him up so he can call the elevator;
  2. Talk to the guard to wake him up and then show him the DataMan with the Reverse Biaz cartridge inserted (6 points), so he will call the elevator; or
  3. Just keep talking to the guard until he calls the elevator for room 900; no mucking around with the directory or the DataMan necessary.
Sure, option 3 results in no points, but you get to where you need to go regardless. Conversely, you can look at the directory AND show the DataMan to the guard for the maximum amount of points, but the point remains the same: Alternate solutions to puzzles are pretty pointless when they are all redundant and there are no stakes attached to any of the solutions. Just click, click, and click, and get to where you need to go.

The elevator brings Patti to this mess of a reception room. Glass partitions guide Patti past des Rever memorabilia, including a gold record displayed atop a turntable and stereo speakers. Reverse Biaz is behind the glass in the back-right; clicking “Talk” on him reveals that he cannot hear Patti but, seeing her lips move, he announces over the loudspeaker that he’s waiting for her to begin her recording session (remember: Patti’s cover is that she’s a studio musician hired to play keyboards on some of Reverse’s tracks).

The gold record couldn’t have been a stronger beacon had it been festooned with neon lights and hundred dollar bills. Patti naturally makes a beeline to it and removes it from its plaque (12 points).

Well, the game has given me a gold record right near a record player. Should I play it? Does this really qualify as a puzzle?

Clicking “Eye” on the record player provides us with a close-up of the soundsystem. Further clicking reveals five buttons: Three for direction—forward, reverse, stop—and two for speed settings, 33 RPM and 78 RPM. Patti remarks that the 78 RPM setting is unusual for a turntable to “still” have. Now, I don’t know much about record players off-hand, being born in 1981 and firmly ensconced in the tape, CD, and digital eras, so I had to check on-line as to why this is so unusual. It turns out that the earliest records—we’re talking late nineteenth-century ones—used this setting, but then 33 RPM became the speed of choice as the materials used to make the records changed and became thinner. Interesting.

Playing the record forward at 33 RPM (3 points) plays a track by a 1950s-sounding rock n’ roll group.

But we’re here to bust Reverse for including subliminal messages in his recordings, right? Let’s play this baby backwards! I do so at 33 RPM, and after a while a sultry female voice says “Just say yes!” (3 points).

You know, it’s almost expected to rag on Nancy Reagan, but drugs ARE bad.

Evidence, huh? Here’s another teachable moment in game design: Despite the message in the above screenshot, Patti can waltz right into the studio and suffer no ill consequence—the good guys will still win! I suppose this is better than creating a walking-dead scenario like what would probably happen in a King’s Quest or Space Quest game, but by taking the extreme reverse position, the designers here sucked all of the tension out of the experience.

Anyway, if you want to get all of the evidence, Patti has to play the record backwards at 78 RPM to get the same voice saying “Porn is best at a quarter a whack” (3 points) and forward at 78 RPM to hear the secret message “Digital audio tape causes impotence” (3 points). Again, I appreciate the gags, especially as someone who is a fan of Pink Floyd and The Beatles—two bands accused of putting “dirty” hidden messages into their recordings—but from a game-design standpoint, these aren’t really puzzles as much as jokes you can find.

Yay! But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

Back to the game. With sufficient evidence in tow, Patti strolls into the studio to lay down some sweet synth for Reverse Biaz’s latest masterpiece!

An award-winning soundtrack, I’m sure. Lost forever . . .

Reverse Biaz explains that he’s not sure what happened to his regular synth player, but that the instrument is locked and loaded and the charts are all set up. All Patti has to do is get in the groove and let her fingers do the rocking!

Pop Quiz! This is:

A. A puzzle sequence
B. An arcade sequence
C. A sequence that is impossible to lose
D. The prelude to another snarky comment
E. C and D

The correct answer is, of course, F: Completely pointless, except for the 8 points you get for . . . doing what, exactly?

This is what happens: Reverse counts Patti in, the track begins, and you can use the mouse on the keys or your computer keyboard to try and play along. The track ends, and Reverse tells Patti he wasn’t quite feeling it. Take 2 is the same thing. Still not satisfied, Reverse cues the track up one more time, and then the game takes over and automatically plays the “correct” synthesizer solo. No puzzle, nothing to solve, nothing for the player to really DO but dig the hot licks coming from their PC speakers, take the free points, and move on to the next part of the game. I hate to sound like I’m not having fun with this game. I am! It’s just that I feel its flaws still need to be addressed.

After finishing the recording, Reverse invites Patti back into the booth to listen to the playback. Here’s where the game, I feel, handles its more prurient moments right. In my last gameplay post I wrote about my misgivings with Larry filming Michelle Milken performing a sex act on him without her apparently knowing she was on camera:

“I don’t know about anyone else, but this is REALLY CREEPY. Although, thinking back to the introduction, Michelle, along with the other potential hosts of ‘America’s Sexiest Videos’ have already sent in ‘audition’ tapes to PornProd Corp., which one has to assume are sex tapes. So maybe this isn’t creepy, since all three of the girls Larry is checking out are clearly comfortable with baring all on camera. But here, they don’t know that they’re being filmed . . . I think? It’s such a stupid plot, I’m not going to worry about it.”

Yes, the plot to this game is EXCEEDINGLY STUPID, and I know it’s going for that sort of Revenge of the Nerds/Porky’s/Mel Brooks-ian type of humor, but the filming thing does bug me. I believe that it’s because I’m looking at a 1991 game through 2015 eyes, where technology has vastly challenged preconceived notions of privacy and what is right, which in turn can change what we find funny (and boy, does the second Patti section have a DOOZY of a joke to analyze through this lens . . .). I think, though, that everything ultimately works because, despite the adult themes and innuendos, it’s still all relatively innocent in that it’s REALLY DUMB and not mean-spirited.

Anyway, the reason I feel that this situation is less creepy than Larry’s tryst with Michelle is that, here, Patti has more of a choice about how to get evidence from Reverse. Patti can take the “easy” way (i.e. that gives less points) by clicking talk on reverse several times until they start to get it on. While doing so, Patti is able to obtain a cassette with a bunch of Reverse’s subliminal messages on it (40 points). She also inadvertently turns on the recording equipment, recording the two of them doing their thing. Reverse later adds drums and bass to it and releases it as a single, which hits the top of the charts (16 points). This is ALSO kind of creepy, come to think of it, since Reverse never asked Patti for her approval. Are Al Low and company just a bunch of creeps after all?

Patti can also give Reverse the bottle of champagne she found in the limousine, getting him drunk and causing him to spill the beans, giving Patti the tape (40 points) and explaining all about the subliminal messages (18 points). Again, another alternate solution to a puzzle that provides different gags—here, a reversal of the “man getting woman drunk to take advantage of her”—but which is ultimately of no consequence, as the player will get through the game anyway.

Patti, triumphant, finishes the champagne herself next to the passed-out Reverse, gets into her limo, shows the driver the P.C. Hammer DataMan cartridge, and sits back for her ride to Philadelphia, where she will have to contend with the world of rap music. But first, Larry’s got some creepy business to attend to in Atlantic City.

Total Points: 424 out of 1,000

  • Larry: Hidden camera, charger, three blank tapes, three resumes, napkin from Hard Disk Café in New York City, AeroDork Gold Card, AeroDork’s in-flight magazine, matches from Tramp Casino in Atlantic City, business card for Doc Pulliam in Miami
  • Patti: DataMan, Reverse Biaz cartridge, P.C. Hammer cartridge, brasserie cannon, gold record, Reverse Biaz tape

Session Time: 45 minutes.
Total Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes.

But I kind of wish I was sometimes . . .

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 .. Oh screw it! This game is so easy that no one can spoil it.