Saturday, 3 October 2015

Spellcasting 201: WON!

Written by Aperama

Ernie Eaglebeak's Journal #5
“Saved the world. Again. Well, probably.”

Ernie Eaglebeak's Journal #5 – Addendum
“So maybe I should give a little more info. Eve left me to go to Housewife U. I mean, dynamite girl and all, but really would have cramped my style. Hu Delta Phart accepted me in after I mooned the Queen of Balmoral. She didn't mind or anything – I even got her infamous Bubblewand for showing her a good time after she got me out of jail. I figured I'd take the last piece of the Appliance down before having an easy night – I was fairly sure we HDP pledges had all won our way in as I saw Sid freshly welding together the door to Gramma Eta Pi and had already heard of Gary parachuting into the middle of the funeral of Otto – were I writing this yesterday, I'd be saying I wish I coulda been there. So I attach the Bubblewand.. and there's Chris Cowpatty and Professor Hiddenmolar standing in front of me. Only it's not Hiddenmolar – it's Joey Rottenwood! Bastard was trying his best to make his way back into taking charge of Sorcerer U again, shut the entire campus down. Thankfully, I still had a few tricks up my sleeve. Rottenwood removed the Bubblewand, but he also set the Appliance so I could assume the identity of Professor Moldybreadcrust, not resetting it. Arrogant bastard! UGUGOOWAH served me well as I slipped through the sewers underneath the lab in Ivorytower and quickly made my way up to the Trustees Room while the Appliance was still taking effect. When I was confronted with Otto Tickingclock's perfectly preserved body, I thought of what the Bubblewand left as an imprint when I attached it the first time – 'necromancy'. I loaded Otto onto the pastry cart, pinched the Bubblewand back from Rottenwood on the way, DEPLUMITed my way back down to the Appliance.. bam. Instant Dean. Now this time, we've got to keep Rottenwood GONE! Oh, and Chris Cowpatty got dumped by HDP. Bonus!”

Step 1: Find my way off campus!

I'm pretty well glad to have reached another WON! post at this point – there was more than a little bit of maze-running tedium involved until I realised the value of one or two of my spells. I guessed wrong in a couple of areas which really slowed me up – but I have to say that when reading things as they're meant to play out, the gameplay is extremely solid. The lack of a visual medium has really bitten this game in the butt once or twice, particularly with the non-scrollable parser. By just adding in a scroll bar the game would be so much better! I mean, having to re-read scripts of text files to realise that you've hit 'enter' once too many times and lost entire lines of exposition is really kinda annoying (I missed a key item by hitting 'enter' one too many times in my first encounter with the Queen of Balmoral). I'd painted myself up against a wall a bit elsewhere – somehow, my Simpleberry Bush from a few play posts ago had ended up at the ends of the sewers, and the game won't let you fabricate a second one. (I actually thought it was necessary to have the Space Quest 2-reminiscent 'hell hound whistle' work). The problem is that without it, I can't get past the guard at Tappa Kegga Bru.. which is the easiest way back to the processing plant to get the bush. Also, the 'locator goggles' disappear and land back in the TKB square as soon as you enter the room.. argh. Thankfully, the game actually depends upon later access to the sewers between the DEPLUMIT spell (descending) and UGUGOOWAH (constipation – it stops the 'active nodes' from swirling you around), so I was able to retrieve it for its actual use later on. Anyway. On with the plot!

Sid really gets all of the fun assignments

First, the news. Funeral dressing tips? Not so interesting. Brokenlinks leaves the race? Okay, that's a little moreso. Turns out that a group of hellhounds attacked his wife late Thursday evening. A filler story about the opening game of the Pokkaball season comes on in 'sports', but the 'editorial' seems awfully biased, stating that Moldybreadcrust seems a poor choice for Dean 'as he's so good at his present job' leaving Hiddenmolar as the only contender. I also made a note that I found a mortar chisel in Hiddenmolar's desk last play post? Today, a 'hellhound whistle' – I kicked myself as soon as I realised that it was clear that he was knocking out the other candidates for the race to become Dean. My assignment for the day led to leaving S-U for the day, with Eve having left a note stating that she's going to Housewife U to be a better match for me. Hooray! In the other consistently changing section for the day, the power du jour is 'identity assumption'. I would love it if this one came with a manual, because the only way I managed to work it out was by blind messing around. Thankfully, G-7 (on dials that go from A-L and 1-12), conveniently hit when you turn each dial by one notch, creates a fuzzy imprint of the cafeteria worker from S-U – who is allowed to go and come as he pleases. (Is there some trick to this, or did I hit on the right method of 'random is best'?) A quick jaunt down and lo and behold.. we're in Balmoral City!

The writing in this game really can always make you laugh

Balmoral City is really quite small – at least, the areas that the game will allow us to visit. There's the outskirts, the marketplace (where the townsfolk talk about pushing in to be able to get a chance to get tickets to the royal parade we've got to attend), the jail, the palace grounds (inaccessible without a ticket) and a small shrine to Saint (or is it a god?) Balmoral, the namesake of the town. And finally.. the tavern, where Ernie's old fling Lola Tigerbelly resides as the local barmaid. She barely remembers Ernie, but hasn't changed at all since the previous game (save the fact that her hair is now a touch more voluminous), only really caring about money and shopping. And she has a ticket to the parade! I worked out pretty quickly that we might be able to steal a few coins from the shrine area, but couldn't work out how to do it until just 'casting all of my spells' – DEPLUMITing underneath the fountain and finding the royal treasury of Balmoral along with a KWELP spell box - summoning someone using their likeness (e.g. a statue or what have you). So naturally, we use our Leisure Suit Larry-esque adventure gamer pockets, pick up the majority of the treasury and take it back to Lola who immediately decides it's time for a shopping spree, leaving us with one muddy coin from our haul and the tickets to the royal parade.

I had only just complained the other day about them not explaining what happened to Lola...

This game has had virtually nothing to say every time I ask people about other people or things. I'm sure they realised that by this point

The worst thing about Ernie having adventure game pockets is that he's only wearing a cloak and glasses – how many pockets can you fit in a cloak? Yeah, I know. Magic.

With our tickets available, I thought about how we'd be escaping town almost immediately – and I have to say that it wasn't at all what I'd expected. Instead of a chase scene, upon mooning Queen Libido of Balmoral, we're immediately arrested with a gallows being built up for our immediate execution in an hour and a half. Yikes! The prison cell has a minimum of amenities, with a sink and a nasty bed – strangely, the sink has both a cold and a hot water tap, but the hot water tap is busted. (A prison with running hot water for individual cells!) The moment I saw this, I just knew that they really wanted to make a plumbing simulator instead of the game they ended up with – I'm surprised that there were no puzzles that involved turning pipes until they all linked together to the end. As it seemed so outlandish, I realised I'd need to use the hot water somehow. It turns out that the KWELP spell only works with clear images, as I had to clean up the coin with Queen Libido's image on it to summon her into my jail cell.. turns out that she actually quite enjoyed the view of Ernie's behind, and immediately saw him free of our cell to give the first well-reasoned finding of a Sorcerer's Appliance piece in the Bubblewand of Balmoral. Pinching it from her royal quarters, she even gives a clue that the day actually ends Friday (I tried going to sleep without attaching the last piece and got an end-game where Chris Cowpatty came at me with a katana in my first attempt at ending this post!)

I'm not sure what I'm more offended by – that this is the highest point scoring action in the game, or that we're not even given a chance to run

Don't listen to her, Ernie! She's only interested in you because she thinks you're a plumber! (Wait, when did she change out of her red from the parade?)

Yes, I really ignored the 'endgame to complete' bit in favor of some sleep

Which is a happy thing, because I love the 'series of hi-res EGA pictures' line

The sixth and final Attachment to the Sorcerer's Appliance gives it a new power – 'necromancy'. See, Hiddenmolar (Rottenwood)'s plan is to work with Chris Cowpatty in getting rid of Ernie. In truth, he wants to do far worse (disbanding Spellcasting U once receiving the Dean's Presidential Orb of Power) – but Cowpatty is just seeing the chance to get rid of who he sees as an enormous twerp. Makes sense, I suppose, even though the hatred remains completely unexplained. Rottenwood does the typical Bond villain thing and leaves Ernie locked in a room with several means of escaping and all of his powers intact save taking away the Bubblewand of Balmoral from the Appliance (why he wants to stop Ernie from reviving the dead is somewhat beyond me – assuredly removing all of them would make more sense). He knows how to use the 'identity assumption' attachment far better than I, emerging as Professor Moldybreadcrust with the plan of removing 'himself' (Moldybreadcrust) from the Dean race and winning by default... thankfully, he leaves the Appliance set to the same so that I can jump in straight after him and emerge as Moldybreadcrust also. The lab room has a manhole, but traipsing through the sewers would simply take too long – thankfully, as I mentioned earlier, the UGUGOOWAH spell allows one to exit down in the Student Union pub in two turns instead of spending literal hours in the dark (unless you had the firefly freshly hatched and handy) and gives plenty of time to work out how to defeat Rottenwood. It has to be done fairly quickly – no more key to the Appliance room means that whatever is to be done with the power, it has to be done before the effect from the Appliance moulding Ernie's flesh into Moldybreadcrust's wears off.

No, Mr. Eaglebeak, I expect you to die!

'Ugugoowah' – say that five times fast

I'd been staring at the new addition of the 'trustees room' and the dumbwaiter setup for quite a while, with the pastry cart/dumbwaiter setup always seeming a touch strange to me as Ernie wouldn't fit on it (I was expecting to have to hide in it to sneak in). Besides, pastry? All I could ever get out of the cafeteria was terrible casserole! Whilst still pretending to be Professor Moldybreadcrust, though, the cart can be wheeled up past the trustees mid-deliberation in order to allow Ernie a chance to be by the still-lifeless corpse of Dean Tickingclock. There are two issues – one, the trustees room (and the room holding the Presidential Orb of Power which Hiddenmolar is after so fervently) is guarded against magic.. and two, regular students aren't meant to be inside it anyhow. Thankfully, the Simpleberry Shrub along with the bedsheet from our room solves this issue when Ernie's power runs out just on entering the room. I was still puzzling as to how exactly we were going to get the Bubblewand of Balmoral back from Rottenwood who was still in the Trustee's room, clasping his hands together (the body is clearly the answer – you can't interact with the Trustees even transformed and the Dean's Orb just shocks you).. until I tried taking it from him. 'You pickpocket the Bubblewand of Balmoral from Joey Rottenwood'. O-kay then! DEPLUMITing both the cart and myself out of the dumbwaiter room, then down into the Appliance room (DEPLUMIT allows you to go straight through solid floors, which I really wish I'd realised earlier than the fountain in Balmoral), it's just a quick reattachment of the Bubblewand and a lever pulled.. and Spellcasting 201 is ka-put!

Session Time: 1 hour 30 mins
Total Time: 9 hours

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: You can spoil the game all you want, now. I mean, if you think you can, go for it! I'd be very impressed. Thanks!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Interview with Scott Adams and Kem McNair

Introduction by Joe Pranevich with questions by “The Adventure Gamer” readers


Before we close up our summer series on Questprobe, Scott Adams and Kem McNair have been kind enough to agree to be interviewed by our community. As you know, Scott Adams was the CEO, lead programmer, and game designer for Adventure International. Scott pretty much invented the personal computer adventure game with his release of Adventureland in 1978. He has been tremendously helpful to me during my several months with Questprobe, answering many questions, and even providing me with the incomplete copy of Questprobe #4 which you have already read about. Kem McNair was the Art Director for Adventure International and drew the graphics for many of the games personally, including the Questprobe series that we have just played.

Interview with Scott Adams

Adventure International games

Your first game, Adventureland, is often said to be inspired by the original Crowther and Woods Adventure. How did you first come to play that game and what inspired you to create and publish your own for home computers?

I was working as a programmer at Stromberg Carlson in Lake Mary Florida. We had a DEC mainframe and the IT dept got a copy of Adventure. I heard about it and asked if I could try it out. I came in for a week early before work and stayed late after work. I had a blast playing it and it gave me the inspiration to try and create something like it on my TRS-80 Model I computer.

Can you describe the development processes that you used when creating your Scott Adams games? When playing the Hulk, we noticed that there is a scene where the Chief Examiner is programming Questprobe #2… without a computer. How much of the creation process was really “pen and paper”?

History’s first personal computer adventure game, Adventureland (1978).

The games were written in my own language I developed. If you look on the web you will find fan created versions of it called ScottFree. I would do my original work on paper and then enter it into my editor. After the first go around I would print out the game and then update it on the print out and then enter it in.

By 1982, you started to re-release your earlier games with graphics under the “S.A.G.A.” banner. Was this a response to Sierra (then “On-Line Systems”) use of the “Adventure” brand in their “Hi-Res Adventure” series? Was there any hard feelings there?

I figured I would need to keep up or get left behind. Graphic adventurers were being requested by fans when we went to trade fairs so it was the next logical step. All my games though started as text only and then had graphics added as they made sense.

What was it like transitioning from pure text adventures to graphical text adventures? How much of the art was your own and did you have the opportunity to work with many talented artists?

I had zero graphical ability and hired in house an artist Kem McNair. I also used some outside artist from Adventure Graphics. This was a company that basically started at the same time I did with Adventure International and handled all our printing needs.

One of our readers read once that you often sold more hint books than games; Al Lowe had the same experience with his Leisure Suit Larry hint books. Did piracy make your games unprofitable, and/or did you accept that the pirates were never really part of your market?

Piracy was indeed an issue. The games that really sold the most were the ones released on cartridges for the TI-99/4 and the Vic-20. No other medium sold as well. But for whatever reason people would still buy the hint sheets and books.


Although Marvel wasn't as big as what it is today, it was still a very established entertainment brand name. How did you feel when you became the creative lead of games for such a recognized franchise? Did you pitch the series to Marvel or did they come to you?

Joe Calamari who was vice president of Marvel approached me. He was determined to extend the Marvel brand to home computers and his research told him to come to Adventure International. It was an incredible privilege to be able work with the team at Marvel. Jim Shooter was editor and I got to meet the entire in house team at their Manhattan offices. I visited there a number of times over the life of the project.

How did you (or Marvel) decide what characters to use for each game, heroes and villains? Were you a comic book fan yourself?

Marvel Universe #1, published January 1983.

Marvel was about to introduce the Marvel Universe comic books that is an encyclopedia of all their characters. I asked them for a pre-release version and used it for my research. I also asked for and got a full subscription to every single comic Marvel produced to be mailed to me every month. I read every single one that came in and it was great.

What were your expectations for the Questprobe games and were you satisfied with the results?

I picked Hulk as my starting hero and Joe and Jim both asked me why I didn’t pick Spidey. My response was I didn’t think my first game would be as good as my later efforts and I want to experiment with the Hulk. I am glad I did as each game I felt was better than the previous ones.

The games were seriously tough for preteens and/or people who were not exposed to the comic book characters. (Case in point: Turning into Hulk by smashing my head on the ground? Having to request Spidey specifically to use his Spider Strength to open an elevator door?) Who was your target audience?

Target audience was Marvel fans. If you view the comics of that time you will find the editorials by Jim in the books talking about the games as well as ads for them as they came out.

If the series had continued, did you have plans for what heroes would subsequently appear in the series? Can you shed any light on what the “master plan” was for the series and how it would have come together?

My 4th project was X-Men and I did not have a preset series of characters for later books. I also had not totally firmed up the final storyline. Each game would give a password when you finished it and to play the final adventure you would have needed all the passwords from the previous games.

Post-Adventure International

We know that Adventure International ended in 1985. Can you shed any light on what led to the shut-down?

Basically the collapse in the home computer industry. Ti 99/4a that were $1,100 at release were selling for $50. Lots of companies went under. We were totally self financed and did not have the deep investor pockets to weather the recession in the industry.

In the late 1980s, you did some work for Starsoft, with credits on Pirates of the Barbary Coast (1986), Black Monday (1987), Stock Market: the Game (1987), and of course Psycho (1988). What brought you back to the games industry? What was your involvement in those games? And what have you been up to since then?

Psycho (1988). A “fan favorite”.

These were originally written by previous employees of mine that started their own company after AI. They asked me to do the conversions to other platforms and I helped them out. Both have since passed away.

I did a remake of Return to Pirate Island around 2000 and then updated my engine to do The Inheritance a few years ago. Lot of fun doing it and I am now considering redoing The Inheritance to be more new player friendly and perhaps continuing the series. I also work full time as a staff engineer for Esterline in Platteville Wisconsin.

Psycho (1988) is a game that this blog and its readers “love to hate”. Do you have any stories you can share from its development?

Sorry I had even forget I had done that conversion until you mentioned it. My role was just to get it to work on other platforms and I really don’t remember much of it. Other that I have never watched the movie myself.

General Questions

Which game that you made was your own favorite and why? What about your favorite games made by someone else?

Boo from Baldur’s Gate (1998).

My favorite is always my latest and in this case it was The Inheritance. I have a free demo on my site. As far as others games there are so many. Here are just a few, Half Life, Descent, Wizardry, Baldur’s Gate (who can forget Boo the giant space hamster?), Everquest, Everquest 2, Lord Of the Rings Online, Guild Wars 2, Dragon Age. The list can go on and on,

Good text adventures have a large amount of choices and story paths; equivalent to writing several stories instead of one; where do you get your inspirations from to handle such a huge task?

I like to set up locations and a goals and then start filling in puzzles, then I beta test a lot and see what routes people start trying and then that will further inspire me to other additions.

Have you played the 1990s Sierra and LucasArts adventure games (including Hero's Quest / Quest for Glory)? Do you have any general or specific critiques of any of them? How would you have improved them?

Sorry, no I haven’t.

You emerged from “retirement” to produce “Return to Pirate’s Island 2” in 2000 and “The Inheritance” in 2013. What was your experience producing these games in a different era from your previous works? Do you have any new games planned?

Retail cover for The Inheritance (2013).

I recently cleaned up my engine so I can begin a port to other systems, I also want to continue the Inheritance series. I will be entering real retirement in about 3 years and then I am hoping to have more time to write new games. The Inheritance did not sell many copies and that sort of slowed me down. If folks want to encourage me to do so in emails I would appreciate it. Any comments on The Inheritance good or bad will be welcome as I mentioned I want to start redoing it to make it easier for new players.

As always folks can reach me at I always answer all fan mail and if you don’t get an answer then please resend it!

Oh I almost forgot, I will be donating my early collection of games and mementos to the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester NY. What a fantastic museum!

Interview with Kem McNair

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to do the art for the Questprobe series back in the 80s?

I was a “hand drawn on film” T-shirt artist in New Smyrna Beach Florida at the time and had a Atari 800 computer. I had gotten interested in programming and wrote a Guitar teaching program called “Guitari”. Well I was having some problem with the code and called Adventure International in Longwood (Orlando) Fl and asked if anyone could help me and they said yes, bring it on over. Well I did. When the guy loaded it up and played the beginning splash screen with music, he flipped out and said stay right here, I’ll be right back. Well he came back in a few minutes with about 6 or 8 people and said play that intro again. I did and they all freaked out and said that is amazing and offered me a job. It was just an Atari keyboard/computer with a guitar neck sticking out of it and rainbow cycling colors on the monitor with Guitari on the screen. But they really liked it and asked If I could do the graphics for the games? I said yes and they put me to the test with some other guy, but I smoked him and the job was mine. It was a wonderful place to work and they paid me quite well compared to T-shirt art so I was a happy camper.

Can you describe a bit of the collaboration process on the art for the games? How did digital art “happen” in 1984-1986?

Perhaps with one like this.

Well, it was very primitive that’s for sure. I was using a Apple II with a graphics tablet and all the graphics software was written in house by the programmers. If I needed a tool to draw circles, I would take my graphics 5.25” floppy disk over to the programming dept. and ask for a circle tool. The guys would figure out how to do it, add it to the graphics program, add it to my menu and give it back to me. I would load the floppy, pull up a new screen and low and behold I had a perfect circle tool. WOW! How cool. LOL. The pixels were about the size of a fat ball point pen tip and you could only have 4 colors on the screen at once. They were black, white, blue and orange or the other palette was black, white, green and purple. That was it, no mixing, just those 4 colors. The art was discussed in meetings and I would take notes and try and pick Scott Adams’s brain which was quite vast! He was one of these guys that knows what you're going to say before you say it and already has the answer before you ask it. But in art, it's all in the details, so I always felt weird asking him all these questions about subtle things in the scenes. I would do sketches and show them to him and he would say that's great or suggest changes, but it always worked. Once I nailed the sketch, I would slip it under the clear plastic sheet on the graphics tablet and sketch in the line art and add the colors. As the games started with Marvel, the line art came from the pencil artists at Marvel in the format size we needed and I would do the same process. When a scene was finished, I would take it to the programmers and they would add it to the game.

Did you have an opportunity to work with Marvel or other Adventure International artists on the games?

I was the only artist on any of the games from the time I started to work there. I don’t know who did the art before me if there was any. I think they were text based with no art. I did go the Marvel comics in NYC with Scott once. I came into work on a Friday morning and Scott said you want to go to Marvel Comics with me this morning. DUH!, YES! It was very cool I got to talk with a few of the pencil artist and see how they did the comics. It was a very enlightening day!

You are credited for art on #1 (The Hulk) and #3 (Human Torch & Thing), but no artist is credited on the second game. Were you involved in that game as well? Did you have any involvement on any other Adventure International games?

As far as I can remember I did all the graphics on all the games until they closed. I was one of the last guys to get laid off.

Can you share any stories or “tidbits” about your time working with Adventure International?

When I first started working there, maybe the first week, I didn’t have my own office yet so I was in kind of a common area where all the offices opened up to. So when I was working on a piece of art, everyone would come up behind me and look over my shoulder and suggest things-- like 50 times a day by 50 different people! Jeez! I was going nuts with all the interruptions. So I got everyone into the common area all at once and said, “I don’t need any comments from anyone until the piece is finished and I tell you it’s finished. Then I welcome all your input.” It stopped all the comments from the peanut gallery and then I got my own office the next week and things settled down. It was a great place to work!

What have you been up to for the past 30 years?

The world’s most awesome “jump the shark” moment.

I started my own Graphics Business “McNair Computer Arts” soon after I left there. So I have been working in Photoshop for almost 25 years. I’m a professional Musician, Songwriter, Engineer in Protools. I built thousands of surfboards for many years and had a surf shop in New Smyrna Beach. I got nominated to the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame this year which is quite an honor. I’ve been surfing over 50 years and won the “East Coast Surfing Championships” a long time ago when I was a kid (1969). I’m a Professional Photographer and got a world famous photo in 2008 of the “famous jumping shark in New Smyrna” which is also the “Shark Bite Capitol of the World”. the photo went totally internet viral and was in over 4000 newspapers and mags and over 45 national TV shows, and that photo is in the 2015 Guinness Book of World Records. You can see it on my website along with some of my art @

So with my Art, Music, Surfing, and Photography I rarely get bored. Which is a good thing and I don’t miss the old computer graphics of the 80’s one bit!

Thank You!

Thank you to Scott and Kem for answering our questions and for making such fantastic games!

Scott Adams’s most recent game is The Inheritance and you can download a free demo from his website. I (or another writer) will almost certainly be looking at other Scott Adams games as “Missed Classics” in the future; his next game which might make the master playlist is 2000’s Return to Pirate’s Island 2, but as a text adventure it will require the spending of CAPs to get it there. You can follow what Scott is up to on his website.

Kem McNair has left gaming behind, but you can browse and buy his art at his website.

Up next, we will finally conclude our coverage of Questprobe with a look at how Marvel closed out the comic series after the shutdown of Adventure International.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Game 59: Police Quest III: The Kindred (1991) – Introduction

Written by Alex

Released for the IBM PC and the Amiga in September of 1991 (according to Giant Bomb) or October (according to MobyGames), Police Quest 3 (according to the box) or III (according to the game itself), subtitled The Kindred, takes the series into the VGA, 256-color point-and-click, a place Sierra had been transitioning many of its long-running adventure series during the early 1990s. King’s Quest first got the king’s treatment in 1990 with King’s Quest V, followed in 1991 by Space Quest IV and a remake of Space Quest I, Leisure Suit Larry 5 and a remake of Leisure Suit Larry 1, and finally this title. More series would follow suit, as well as a bevy of new titles, some of which would spawn franchises of their own, created with ever-improving presentaiton.

I don’t need to go into the technical specifics or the history of Sierra’s Creative Interpreter (SCI) interface, so here’s the quick version: The player clicks instead of types to interact with the game world, and the graphics are better than the company’s older, parser-driven games. Remember, these were the days before the Internet, so this was a BIG DEAL to old farts like me.

This was a heady time in general for computer gaming, as the technology was allowing many companies, such as LucasArts, Origin, MicroProse, and Electronic Arts were pushing the envelope in graphics, music, and sound, but in overall game design as well. RPGs became more elaborate and plot-intensive, strategy games were being thrust into exciting new realms, and adventure games received their fair share of upgrades in terms of bells, whistles, and stories. Now (so goes the conventional wisdom) . . . now designers could tell the tales they always wished they could, unfettered by technological limitations and a public unwilling to accept video games as a viable storytelling medium!

The particular storyteller here is Jim Walls, retired California highway patrolman and designer of the first three games in the Police Quest series. As with his previous efforts, parts of Police Quest III are based on his own experiences on the force. And of course, his knowledge of police procedures and practices give both games a sense of realism heretofore missing from video games. Again, that is, according to the conventional wisdom.

Jim Walls, as seen in game.

Trickster liked both the first and the second installments in the series, finding that Police Quest I’s overreliance on following proper police procedure, and hence referring to the game’s manual, didn’t do much to enhance his enjoyment of the game, or it’s puzzles, while Police Quest II struck a better, more enjoyable balance.

Speaking of the manual, Police Quest III comes with a relatively straight-forward version of the Lytton Police Academy’s Procedure and Operations Manual, Lytton being the fictional California town that is the game’s setting. It serves as a primer on some basic police procedures, lingo, and radio and penalty codes, as well as a scrapbook of the main character Sonny Bond’s career up to this point. It also has a map.

Gee, this looks useful . . .

I’m sure that, as in the first two Police Quest games, this manual will come in handy for puzzle-solving.

One important note before I begin playing Police Quest III: I last played this game over 15 years ago, didn’t enjoy it much, and never finished it. That said, I am going into this game completely unbiased and ready to enjoy and assess it, free of nostalgia and its concomitant distortion of perception. In other words, I’m gonna be fair.
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with X 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.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Spellcasting 201: Beautiful Barmaids Near Barfton

Ernie Eaglebeak's Journal #4
“I'm not sure how to feel about today. It's such a bummer that Tickingclock isn't around – I could really use his help! I have this horrible feeling in the back of my mind that someone has bad ideas in mind for me.. and I don't mean Chris Cowpatty. He actually did something pretty cool for me, not that he realised it at the time. An all day pass out of Sorcerer's University was really what I needed to stretch my legs and get things moving again. I made sure to stop by Tickingclock's corpse.. but I did it on my way back from his wife, who I decided could spare some clothes for the girl I just made. I just made! How weird is that?!?!? Eve is really cool. I mean, she doesn't know much of anything just yet, and she's sorta a little.. creepily devoted? But except for that, she's really amazing and entirely the sort of girl I could spend heaps of time with. It's really lucky I had her come along with me to my assignment – spiking some punch at Barmaid U. I've been holding onto this dehydrated pellet of spirits from the University Pub for a while now, and I was really planning on having a great time once me, Gary and Sid were in the frat officially. Instead, I masqueraded as a guy from Plumber U, found a handy wrench with this coupon I've been holding onto, fixed some pipes, watched some crazy barmaids dance around with Eve and even got a new cloak out of the deal.. Impossible, huh, Chris? Bring it on! Another Attachment fell out when I was leaving the crazy party, too.. I'm beginning to think I'll have this thing ready and unlocked before the end of the week!

But I wanted the Malls n' Muggers assignment!

I'm quite glad that I felt somewhat critical on my last play post – the game really felt like it was folding in on itself, returning to the foibles of its precursor. I was really, really afraid that I'd encounter another puzzle along the lines of the Isle of Lost Soles – instead, the game managed to throw out numerous of those 'oh, so that's what that is for!' moments that I've always loved in adventure games. Basically, any time in which I'm given the opportunity to have a reasonable puzzle go from point A to point B where I feel like I'm using my brain instead of brute force to make my way through a puzzle, I tend to be pretty happy. Spellcasting 201 has had a few of these moments already – reading the newspaper to discover that glass is now shatterproof, for example – but it has also fallen down the well of 'I've tried everything else, after all' (the moodhorn) which really sinks the mood of things for me. Today (Thursday) was a great example of clever middle game design. I had to go back and re-solve a puzzle from earlier which would have been easily done had I not been overthinking things, but I immediately knew where the solution was and how to solve it. Hunches paid off and everyone generally had a good time. Go Gekkos!

36, 24, 36? Maybe, if she's 5'3”

I just left all of the settings as is, but the game does indeed change hair colour in pictures

So, for my usual roundup of the day's start: I get to leave SU today! Cowpatty believes that I'm going to be stumped by some security guards at the Barmaid U bash, stopping me from spiking their punch. News today? The Editorial section of the newspaper suggests that the University should go with 'younger talent' in the upcoming electoral race which realistically means they're discounting both Hoppingturtle and Brokenlinks – and 'conveniently' the News section informs that Hoppingturtle had a loose brick from the top of a wall fall on his head, leaving him out of the running for Dean. Ouch! 'Arts' is a review of the Market Tavern in Balmoral City (which can be visited today, but I figure will be a part of a later day so I won't go into further) saying that.. well, it's bad. The Sports section states that the first round of the Megajousting contest won't be held today due to Tickingclock's death (which is a shame – I'd love to know exactly what 'megajousting' is!) Finally for my daily roundup, our new section of the Sorcerer's Appliance, 'Genesis'. We can make a woman. Yay gender stereotyping! To think that LSL 5 saw such outrage.. I'll just hope that nobody's reading here. You can choose short, average (medium) or tall, redhead, brunette, blonde or raven-haired, and then her bust-waist-hips measurements. I didn't bother toying with anything save to make an obscenely short and stout person to see if the pictures were any different – the text description changes, but the only pictorial change is hair colour. So, after our redheaded immediately-named Eve emerges, her first issue? She doesn't have any clothes on!

Thankfully, the only woman we know properly on campus is willing to loan some clothes

Literally, my first instinct was correct. I figured I probably had to go and see if Hillary had anything to give her? Sure enough, she has a dresser in her room with (a single frock) in it that she's willing to part with both because 'she's probably put on a few pounds since wearing it' and 'it's not revealing enough for her tastes any more'. Larry 5, eat your heart out! Sure enough, it fits Eve perfectly, who essentially grovels at Ernie's feet for the privilege of wearing it. Positive gender stereotypes! Before immediately running off to explore the great outdoors, I stop off to look in on Tickingclock's open funeral. It's not particularly sad, fitting in with the tone of the rest of the game – but the room does have a certain sombre image to it with all of the seats removed. I also decide to check the suspect Hiddenmolar's desk once more, finding a.. mortar chisel. I don't understand why it appears here but I take it anyway. I'd also love to say that I was so excited to leave campus that I immediately rushed off to check it out.. but instead I kinda waited through first the Stadium to see how Gary made it through his assignment (he used hundreds of balloons, hung the banner then jumped down while popping a bottle of champagne only to fall off the edge of the stadium into some ivy) then the Malls n' Muggers game to see how Sid was going to manage to get the game to break up. This bit of writing would be so much more fun were the Malls N' Muggers game to have just a little more to it! Sitting through the same nine or ten actions to see what happened was sorta boring – but watching him pretend to be a policeman breaking up an illegal game (they were licensed), attempt to lure them out with money, women, even trying to scare them off with a dragon (they didn't believe it was fire-breathing) and even more.. only to idly mention that the new game edition was at the book store to have them bolt? Hilarious.

Tickingclock sits behind a magic-proof barrier which has also been spelled to stop anyone from defacing him, probably

I had to sit through a bit for this punchline – but it was entirely worth it!

Now, to the great outdoors! Barmaid U is '4' east. Were this Quest for Glory 2, I'd accuse it of going with 'skareen' lengths – but sure enough, within a twenty minute walk (4 turns east) of Sorcerer's U sits? Barmaid U, and the aim of the prank du jour. Before I even make it in, though, I go around and check that we can't continue on to Barfton, then drop in on the 'store' directly outside the University... and then immediately reload to my room, pick up the plumbing coupon from the 'how-to' book that we picked up way back when and get a free gibbous wrench (which is a 'shifter' to my mind).

Gekko is closed off by a broken bridge and Barfton is also out of reach – but Balmoral can be walked to. More on this next play post, methinks!

There's a store just outside Barmaid U. Three guesses as to what it'll be, given we have a coupon for a plumbing store

… yup

Barmaid U has only a handful of areas to it, but it's just about right – essentially, we're walled off from the majority of places of learning due to being a visitor. Makes sense. We can visit the dormitory/sorority areas, however. One sorority, Lamda Pigga Kau (of stereotypically 'ugly' girls) has a tablecloth inside. The other available sorority, Melta Loin, is full of stereotypically 'unlikeable' girls and has a roll of dental floss inside. This only makes me think more of 70s/80s college films I watched when I was younger, but I snatch both of the items because I can. North is the function hall where I'll be spiking some punch later on. A quick peek lets me know that Eve can't enter without an invitation if we wait for the reunion, giving us our next puzzle. East of the main area leads to 'Heftysum Hall', an expansive dress making studio-cum-classroom area. Eve practically spells out this puzzle by mentioning that Ernie's cloak looks pretty ratty, and that she could make us a new one with some materials. Like a tablecloth and dental floss. *sighs* Sure enough, this gets her out of our hair for about an hour or so. This is enough to visit the final area – the communal dormitory. There's a locked door, but a sapling out front that leads up to what is clearly a shower room. Sure enough, a little bit of magic and we're in.

Even the authors were a little ashamed, methinks

As soon as I read that it was 'young', 'maturation' immediately comes to mind

Eve 'possessively' clutches at my arm? Ah. So that's why I need her making me a cloak...

As I alluded to in the introduction, this immediately made me think back to the FOGWACKA spell as I couldn't do anything in the shower room due to the blinding mist. Dehumidification was the obvious solution (which also would likely get me punched, I felt) – but I couldn't work out exactly what had changed to allow me to get at the spell box hidden inside the clock tower's mechanism. I messed around with it for a bit, knowing that I had to wait until the hour turned to get access, repeatedly trying to FRIMP it out.. then I tried simply opening it where it sat on the hour. And it worked. I couldn't 'get' it, but I could 'open'. Drat, drat and double drat. Reload again, drop Eve off to make some new duds for Ernie, go back upstairs. The girls are shocked when I FOGWACKA the room, but are more then overjoyed when I fix the shower so that it functions without smothering the room in mist. Hooray! One of them even gives me her room key before giving the chance to make a 'heroic' escape, enter her room (I fix her sink while I'm at it) and steal her invitation. That's right – I broke into a dorm, stared at some naked ladies and stole from them. A-1 HERO MATERIAL!

Spellcasting 201: Plumbers Get All The Girls

Sure, I stole from them, but at least I did a little handy work while I was there

I think she's proud of what she made?

The puzzle is now one entirely based around the parser, and not a difficult one in the slightest given I've set myself up for success. I imagine that were you not to play around with the Appliance or hadn't noticed the FOGWACKA box earlier on in the game that this could have been far more difficult (the pellet I figure would have come into notice just by following Hiddenmolar and Cowpatty, however). The guards who cordoned me and Eve alike away didn't mind letting Eve through with the invitation in hand – nor her punch-spiking pellet. Despite her being a 'completely innocent and unassuming soul', she was clearly guileful enough to slip the pellet into the punch. Or, indeed, the Barmaid U girls simply didn't mind the idea of turning the party up a notch. Leaving the newly-spirited party, a drunken lady drops her garter belt – which just so happens to be the Garter Belt of Gekko. Coincidence, much? Even if really lazy, the HDP frat boys grab Ernie back to SU before he's capable of being expelled due to violating the day pass. Another day down! The Garter, attached to the Appliance, makes a new dial – 'Identity Assumption'. That sounds both interesting and ominous!

can't decide which Captain Planet villain the guards look more like

The change is literally instant. They're quick drinkers at B-U!

Session Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 7 hours 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!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Lost Classic: Questprobe #4: X-Men

Written by Joe Pranevich

The Chief Examiner shows off his gem collection. (From the ending to Questprobe #1.)

Last time, we completed Questprobe Featuring the Human Torch and the Thing, the third and final Questprobe game to be released out of a planned twelve games. Shortly after that game came out, Adventure International faced bankruptcy and all of the games in progress were cancelled. That would have been the end of the story except for two things: Scott Adams had already started work on the fourth Questprobe game and had it in a partially working state, and Marvel would revive the character of the Chief Examiner a few years later to wrap up the Questprobe plot line. The most amazing part of this is that Scott kept the partially completed game stored away and has been generous enough to allow me the chance to play it. This is a “Lost Classic”, a game that could have been. Next week we will post interviews with Scott Adams and Kem McNair, then we will wrap it up with a final epilogue as we look at Marvel’s continuation of the characters as well as a few surprises.

Before we begin, let me make clear what I have: I will be playing a pre-release version of Questprobe #4 written for DOS. The title in the in-game text is Questprobe Number 4: X-Men, but my suspicion is that this would have been changed to “Questprobe Featuring the X-Men” or similar before release. No tie-in comic was released for this game (although there is some evidence that one was started; we’ll discuss that in two weeks), nor do we have a manual. I played the game straight without hints for most of the review, but not all of the puzzles are hooked up yet and I will augment my review with information from unpublished design notes that Mr. Adams has graciously provided. The graphics for this game were not yet completed and I will be illustrating it as best I can using scenes from the other Questprobe games and anything else readily available.

The most important thing that I need to underscore is that this is an incomplete game. My opinions are based on what I have in front of me, but it is certain that Scott Adams would have refined the game and its puzzles many times before release. Quite a lot is playable, but that is not the same as having quite a lot in its final form. Got all that? Let’s begin!

Why the X-Men?

The X-Men are missing from this chart.

For the previous three games, I made the discovery that the characters involved exactly corresponded with television presence: first the Hulk, then Spider-Man, then the Thing. This may have been a coincidence or something subconscious, but it matched perfectly. But when it came to game number four, the model breaks down completely.

By my guess, the next character should have been Spider-Woman. She had a short-lived TV series around that time which I discussed back during the Spider-Man introduction. But perhaps her powers would have been too similar her male counterpart? In that case, perhaps the rest of the Fantastic Four or Captain America should have been next. Any of those three would have made for a great game! But as it turns out, the real choice for the fourth game was the X-Men, a group that had almost no television exposure at all in this era. Were they were known enough among non-comic book fans to sell the game? I have no idea. Of course today we have a very different view: the X-Men are some of the most well-known and commercially successful comic book characters in the world.

Questprobe Featuring… Magneto? An X-Men Primer.

Title screen under construction. The copyright is 1985 here, but the game would have been released no earlier than April 1986.

I boot up the game to my first big surprise: I’m not playing as a member of the “X-Men” at all! The game features Magneto as the first (and perhaps only) playable character. For non-comics fans, I think I need to explain the X-Men a bit.

The X-Men, like the Fantastic Four, are one of Marvel’s premier superhero teams but with a twist: the X-Men are not generally liked by the public. They are “mutants”, characters born with the potential for superpowers (generally manifesting around puberty) because of genetics. There are no gamma bombs, radioactive spiders, or mysterious cosmic rays: just teenagers getting their first pimples and unexpected super abilities. But for various reasons, “mutants” in the Marvel universe are looked down upon with fear and with disdain. They are discriminated against. The publication of the X-Men was, in some fashion, a way for Marvel to discuss social problems like racism while still having people in tights punch each other.

The X-Men #1, September 1963. Magneto was the villain; this is also his first appearance.

The X-Men were created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The initial team was led by Professor X with Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman. That series was cancelled in 1970, but revived five years later with new, more “international” characters. Many readers, myself included, are more familiar with this second set of X-Men including Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and others. As the name of their leader suggests, the teenage X-Men were based around a school for students with special talents. Between the main team and their many spin-offs over the years, the X-Men have had hundreds of members, most of whom I have never heard of. The Marvel Wiki lists more than a hundred of them, not counting the many mutant background characters that study at the X-Men’s school.

The shock for me is that this game is headlined by Magneto, generally the X-Men’s arch-nemesis. He is/was the leader of the “Brotherhood of Mutants”, a group that sees mutants as the future of humanity. But in December 1985, just before this game would have come out, Magneto had a change of heart and was given the leadership of the X-Men after Professor X was injured. He remained a “good guy” for a number of years and has alternated between being a friend and an antagonist to the group ever since. Magneto’s power is the control of magnetism. He can use this to control any metal that might be nearby, including the metal in his own body. The most practical application of this is that he can fly. Don’t think too hard about it; it’s just a comic book.

And with that introduction, let’s play!

Questprobe #4: X-Men

The Chief Examiner hard at work, from Questprobe #1.

Before I go further, I want to reiterate: I am not playing a completed game. To create this review, I played through the game once as far as I could without hints, just as I would any other game. After that, I reviewed Scott’s design notes to flesh out puzzles and features that weren’t in the version that I played. I will combine both to try to make my play by play as much like the real game as I can approach. Even with the design notes, this game is very much a rough draft and we can only guess at what would have changed between this stage and actual release.

Just like the previous game, this one starts off in a familiar location: the Chief Examiner’s office. The Chief informs you that you must use the powers of ultimate magnetism to traverse the maze in front of you. Unlike those previous games, you are not teleported anywhere but instead can walk through the door that is behind the Chief’s desk, into a room that is faintly glowing. There are no obvious exits. Welcome to the maze!

Since there are no obvious exits, I start to feel the walls in each direction. When I touch the east wall, my hand goes through! I walk that way and emerge into the darkness. I have to feel around again, but can find no exits except the way that I came. I head back and discover that the west wall is also an illusion, so I head that way instead. This continues on for some time as I slowly make my way through six dark rooms before I find one that doesn’t have any other exits. What am I missing?

The ductwork maze from Questprobe #2.

I search around and find a bit of a parser gap, understandable because of the pre-release nature of the game. When I have been typing “feel up” and “feel down”, I was getting not very helpful messages. But if I try “feel ceiling”, I find that it is illusionary in the last room that I discovered. But how do I get up there? Oh yes, I forgot! Magneto can fly! I type “fly” and then head up. No problem.

Darkness from Questprobe #1.

The next section of the maze appears to be a bit more complicated. There is a room that has a wall covered in “ionized and sparkling water”, whatever that means, but also rooms that appear to loop back on themselves. The previous part of the maze was easy with exits leading west that you could come back east, but no more. With no way to drop items to support mapping, I find the process of working out where I am gets more tedious but there do not appear (yet) to be repeats in the number and placement of exits. That is, if I find a room with a water wall to the west and a pathway to the east, and I find that same combination again, I assume that it is the same room.

A short time later, I succeed in mapping all of the rooms that I can get to. What next? The water walls. I find that I can pass through the water easily enough, but drown immediately. What am I forgetting? That old Scott Adams staple command: “hold breath”. I do so and I can last in the water for a few turns. But just as before, it’s pitch black and I have to feel the exits to see what ones are there. Obviously the “ionized” water is a clue that it is magnetic, but I can’t find any commands that let me do anything with it. I am either missing something or it has not been implemented yet. I pass through the water room and continue mapping the maze, finding and mapping more water along. Eventually, Mr. Adams must have thought that this was too easy because then I find cases with two water rooms in a row. That’s just evil because there isn’t enough time to get to the second room, feel an exit, and get back without drowning. I can still map it, but with a lot of restoring the game when I die.

This may have been adjusted before the final release, but this whole section feels very tedious. Room after room of darkness does not make an attractive “graphical” adventure game and I am not sure new gamer would appreciate the lack of scenery. It’s a bold move to have the game open in a maze, but I suspect that before release they would have found a way to spruce it up.

Finding Some Help

Spider-Man explores the ceiling. (From Questprobe #2.)

Since I keep restarting the game to map the water sections, I screw around a bit. That’s when I discover that I can “fly up” in the Chief Examiner’s room and get close to the ceiling! And who do I spy up there? None other than Beast, one of the original X-Men! I am very excited because he is the first character in this game other than the Chief Examiner. The Beast was one of the original X-Men: a genius-level intellect in a body that is slowly becoming more animal than man. By the 1980s, he was covered from head to toe in blue fur.

The introduction of Beast reveals the big new game mechanic for this adventure: leadership. According to the design document, Magneto will be able to give commands to lead his team members as he finds them. They can follow him, perform actions for him, or just go off and do things on their own. This is different from the previous game where you could switch between two playable characters at will: here only one character is playable, but he can indirectly control the others. It’s a great mechanic and I regret does not appear to be fully-implemented in the version that I am playing. Each of the characters would have their own powers and come together to help solve the game’s puzzles. Beast, for example, is strong enough to throw other characters up through the holes in the ceiling to allow them to proceed if they cannot fly. (Presumably, Beast can climb up himself.)

While fiddling around in the Chief’s room, I also notice that he really doesn’t want me to get behind his desk. I do not manage to solve this mini-puzzle, but according to the design docs there is a way to get to the stash of *gems that the Chief has hidden under there. This is a nice callback to Questprobe #1! With those, mapping the maze becomes much easier, although I managed to do fairly well without them.

The End of the Maze

So, let me fast-forward: the maze is a pain in the neck and I spend considerable time just mapping it one exit at a time, in the dark. In total, I find 37 rooms before I reach a dead-end and have no more rooms to explore. In the final room, I keep hearing a “BAMF” sound. Well, any fan of the X-Men knows what that means: Nightcrawler! He was one of the second batch of X-Men, a mutant that looks like a demon (but is a conservative Catholic) and has the power to teleport himself. He teleports away whenever I try to do anything with him. The best that I can find is that when I “call” him, he taps me on the shoulder. I have no idea why.

Nightcrawler: Cool teleporting non-demon.

This is also the point that I discover that Magneto can “make light”. How? Apparently when I wasn’t reading the comics, Magneto’s power over magnetism was revealed to be power over the entire electromagnetic spectrum. I’m sure this would have been spelled out in the manual that had not been written yet. With this magic light power, I re-explore the rooms and find a few new things:

  • Most of the rooms are just labeled “small room” and require you to feel around to find the exits, so that much wasn’t a waste. Perhaps these would be described or themed before the game was completed.
  • A handful of rooms are “fading in and out”. That is the clue that these are the ones with non-linear exits. Good to know, but I mapped them successfully without the clue.
  • I find Professor X just after the water section and he tells me to “keep shields up”, whatever that means. This was two years before Star Trek: The Next Generation and 15 years before Patrick Stewart would play Professor X in the first X-Men film, so this is not an obscure Star Trek/X-Men joke. But the fact that it could have been is pretty funny. Professor X is a powerful psychic and is usually depicted in a wheelchair.
  • I find Psycho-Man in another room. He was originally a Fantastic Four villain, first appearing in Fantastic Four Annual #5 in November, 1967. He’s an evil scientist that tries to control other people’s emotions. He also happens to be microscopic and uses a human-sized mechanical suit to interact with the world, not unlike a certain Doctor Who race.

Using Professor X’s advice, I can “create shields” and then the room goes dark. Checking my inventory, I find that I am both electromagnetically shielded and physically shielded, although it is not clear how to do one or the other. I discover that I can explore the water sections with the shields up, but they also block light so doing do makes me blind again.

Looking at the design notes, it appears that Psycho-Man was intended as a minor puzzle. Once you get past him, Nightcrawler is supposed to give you a headband that will block his attacks further, but at this point I am in the incomplete sections of the game so it’s not clear what his attacks would have been. In the version of the game I have, he doesn’t present as an obstacle. Given that, I think it’s time to stop playing and review the rest using the design notes.

The Rest of the Game

According to the design notes, the maze has a “secret” which you can only see by mapping it: each floor spells one letter and when you put all the letters together it spells “QUESTPROBE”. This is pretty neat, but I carefully mapped everything but was unable to see the connection. The trick is to ignore the “fading in and out” rooms, but I wouldn’t have known to do that:

My map of the game. Can’t really discern any letters here.

Looking at the overall plan, there would have been four more maze-letters to explore and about 60 more rooms. I had made it only a bit less than half-way.

Some of the features that were not implemented yet:

  • Subsequent areas would allow you to find and recruit Cyclops, Toad, and Aquarian to join your little team. Cyclops can blast things with his laser eyes, Toad has an object that allows you to better understand the maze, and Aquarian is a key to the Bio gem puzzle.
  • The Bio gem puzzle would have been solvable again. It would be in a room with a fake floor and Magneto could somehow (with the help of Aquarian) prevent the Natter energy egg from exploding.
  • Toad will randomly pick up gems that you drop, so he will be an inconvenience to mapping. But he will stop if you ask him to.
  • At some point, there will be a room with a brick wall that only Cyclops can blast through. The master of magnetism can create light, but not move masonry?
  • Mesmero will appear as a villain. His power will make your mapping go haywire as exits will be randomized for a number of turns.

And that is it. The design documents do not provide any detail as to the end game puzzles, what would have happened when you finally make it to the end of the letter maze. Perhaps the Bio gem would trigger the end, but I’m not sure.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, it would not be fair to give this game one of our PISSED ratings, but I’d like to comment on what I have seen so far. A lot of editing would have been done before the final product was shipped and that game may have been quite different from this one.

This game is, simply put, the most abstract of the various Questprobe games so far. If the final version would have implemented the maze as it is here, it would have been a remarkably graphics-less game with only a handful of differently illustrated rooms. The maze is very well-designed with each level increasing in difficulty, starting with a simple “feel the walls” premise, then adding water, then adding villains, and perhaps then more complex puzzles. I made it as far as I did with brute force, but it is clear that a skilled player could have found better solutions to the puzzles than I did. To offset the simpler graphics of the maze, the design document describes a bit how the characters would be rendered on the screen with villains on the left and heroes on the right. That would have been a great improvement from the similar challenge in Questprobe #3, but I am not positive that it would have offset the very abstract and linear nature of the game as it was designed up to this point.

Teamwork! (From a “What If” comic, February 2005.)

The best thing about this game is the one feature I didn’t get to play with: the teamwork system. It’s a natural progression from the previous games and is an awesome way to set up the second trilogy of the series. You can easily imagine it being applied to future games, perhaps featuring the Avengers or another Marvel team. The way the characters may have had behaviors when you weren’t ordering them around might have been similar to Melbourne House’s The Hobbit (1982) or Infocom’s Planetfall (1983), but it is difficult to tell from the notes that we have how it would have ended up. Even without giving the characters agency, it would have been a nice switch-up from the two-character mold of Questprobe #3 and seems like it would have led to very interesting puzzles.

Unfortunately, we will likely never see a finished product, but I feel very fortunate to have been able to explore as much of this game as I have. What I played was a very fun start. Who knows? Perhaps some overzealous fans will someday decide to complete the game? I wouldn’t hold my breath. Until then, Questprobe #4 will and must remain just a fragment of what could have been a really fun game. And flaws aside, I had a lot of fun with this and I hope you enjoyed reading about it.

Next week will be our interviews with Scott Adams and Kem McNair!