Friday, 12 February 2016

Les Manley in: Lost in L.A. - Total Eclipse of Descartes

written by Aperama

… It was a dark, stormy night. Wasn't it always? People in my profession never got to do things in the sun. 'Laffer', he said his name was. 'Larry Laffer'. Turns out the little pipsqueak had a 'video game contract'. It was a really confusing mess – muddled like yesterday's peat moss. He'd spent his last game trying to work out what had happened in his life to get him to where he was – he had a happy life, the job he'd dreamed of, the body of while not a Grecian God, certainly 'a fairly fit person'. 'I was looking for my game, y'know, The Lost Floppies? I was searching, and then I ended up in a little place called Los Angeles. And that's when I saw him. He was like me, only without the cool duds?' His 'duds' were cool back when my Grandma was still dating. Before the War. The First one. 'Manley. Lester Manley. Y'see, he had a game that was all about fitness babes, and that's when I got to thinking – what had I been doing for the past year?' Fitness babes sure sound like my thing, y'know? He worked at a TV station, and in my last critically acclaimed game, I did...' I really didn't want to stare at his combover any more, but he just kept going...

Sorry if I clicked through things a bit fast to read – but without the clicking the video took over five minutes.. and the music was getting to me. For some reason, DosBOX lost it. You're not missing anything. At all.

I'm shocked we're actually playing this too, Les

So, I already summarised the plot in my intro if you don't want to bother watching the video – Les is out to find his friend Helmut Bean™, the World's Smallest Man/Actor/Stuntman, who has been (probably) kidnapped along with his paramour LaFonda Turner – so important is she that I had to actually look back through screenshots to assure that I had her first name and not her last. Helmut bought Les a pair of weekend tickets to L.A. (in spite of the fact that the game also acknowledges that he runs the TV station he worked for in the first Les Manley and as such could probably afford the tickets himself), and Helmut isn't where they'd arranged to meet! Oh no! I then tried to select 'just go back to the TV station you run and not risk 'Biting the Green Weenie' again. Unfortunately, that option was blanked out, and as such.. the beautiful Pit via Venice Beach. Apparently, Helmut, a man the size of a thumb, decided that he really wanted to show off his weight lifting regimen to Les. I'm not sure if he was maybe just trying to show off? Certainly he wasn't inviting him over because he thought Les would somehow solve the kidnappings. There was no circus in town! No reincarnation cards!

… 'The male bodybuilders are pretty scary, too.' (They photographed people for this – were they just convinced that the girls pictured would probably never play the game?)
… 'So far.' Oh, Les! You're so classy! (I guess that these are the world class actors the 'making of' was talking about.)

The only thing we can actually actively work with in this opening screen (outside of the game making fun of fat people, bodybuilders and young mothers) are the 'lovely' Cristy and Misty, Helmut's bestest buds (as they would say, 'like, rilly.') It turns out that Helmut spends an awful lot of time down at the beach trying to get buff and tanned – I'm certain that this has nothing at all to do with any fetishes that the game designers might or might not have in their own right. Nothing at all. They have a bit of a problem, though, as they don't fully trust Les, being on Venice Beach and yet still clad in a bow-tie that makes him look almost identical to Pee-wee Herman sans the charisma. Why they don't just give him their social security numbers right then and there is beyond my cognitive abilities! I actually managed to almost get stuck on this screen as the only way to escape it is by 'talking' to them again – the game has no 'exit' function from the dialogue screens. I'm fairly sure that this is actually a statement about the mindset of the sort of person who would willingly run up Les Manley 2: Lost in LA on their computer screens, as though the game designers were trying to insist that the only way out was to burn their copies of the game with fire.. and possibly their computers with them.

I've read this publication literally nones of times. Totally a real magazine. Sold in a newspaper machine. Totally.
This game may have several things wrong – but I can confirm that Hulk Hogan was always billed as being from Venice Beach, California. I'd far rather play as Hulk than Les, though. Hulk Hogan: Lost in LA? Now that's a game I'd like to play

There's one screen that is almost entirely filler, with a lone exception – it serves to cause a complete solar eclipse. Now, I know that you guys might think that this is a little strange, but it turns out that the only way to cause the conversation which causes the sun to block the Earth itself is to read something on the screen next to the Pit with the near-naked ugly man playing hacky-sack. I'm fairly sure that the key to all universal power is also found nearby, but I haven't been able to level up my Eagle Eye spell high enough. Maybe next play post. Beach-side, we find Lance T. Lifeguard (I'm pretending that 'the' is his middle name because it's more fun to me) who happens to be great friends with Helmut. All I have to do is talk to him a bit, convince him that he should get into 'technical training' so he can get some 'cathode rays' and perform some 'recursive functions'. Totally tubular, man! This enables me to go back to Cristy and Misty and get a little more information about Helmut. I must confess that I remember this puzzle from my first playthrough for its sheer inanity, so I knew that the eclipse was required for later – but could be performed now. (I thought that I needed something of Lance's in order to convince Cristy and Misty, but I tried without it and found that it was just another item. That said, what would Les use the opportunity of creating an eclipse just by reading a non-existent magazine and talking to a lifeguard for?

Those eyes will haunt me to my grave, Les. Thanks.

In a game like this, you know that the level of silliness to a puzzle is directly correlated with its importance, so this bandana has at the very least an autograph of Tom Selleck on it. Cristy and Misty are convinced as I explain that Lance has renamed me to Bud (Major Bud in longhand) – so the girls inform me that Helmut used to date Maladonna (gasp!) and that the police force have been told not to look into the celebrity disappearance scandals – they know this because they have a friend, Rock, who is in the police force. A traffic cop on Hollywood Boulevard. They also let me know that LaFonda has a creepy fan who works at the Pawn Emporium, and that Maladonna is shooting a video over at Paramounds Studio (if she's not attempting to kill Abe Goldstein her agent). I'll assure you all that my summary of this all is very much in the interest of the broad public, as the word 'rilly' is used approximately fifteen times a sentence throughout all of this exposition. So, that leaves a few leads to trace down – I decide that finding Rock has to be near the top of that list..

I'm fairly certain that that's how Hollywood is laid out, too. I'm amazed that the 'Giant Bus' north of Sunset and Vine isn't a bigger tourist attraction
Wilhelm scream count: 2 (DosBOX doesn't like the fact that I'm using MT32 for music, methinks)

With what essentially comes down to the choice of Paramounds Studio or Hollywood Boulevard, I feel it right to head out to seek Rock the traffic cop. Naturally, I think he must be the one standing next to the abandoned wax museum, but this thought is evidently one generated solely in my mind. In fact, I find literally nothing to interact with in the first screen sans throwaway jokes. (Why would you go to a place to seek one person, find one that looks identical and assume that they have something to do with what surrounds? That's just crazy talk!) The next screen doesn't seem much better, though I do manage to find an interesting little tidbit which suggests that maybe Sierra tried to have a go at Accolade for Les Manley? (I do recall the image of Leisure Suit Larry literally being in the 'dream' sequence of part 1, which might well be where this 'letter' came from. Corey Cole, information please?) Across from there diagonally is Blade, a man who is standing around 'waiting for a call' – he's attempting to do so without a phone being nearby. We know he's serious, though, because he got into 'trouble for breaching computer security systems'. Edgy. (Eh? Get it? Edgy? Blade?) Across the street again (without a single car running over Lester in his attempts as he is after all omnipotent and has already died at least once with his heaven camera getting him his present job) is Murry's Hotel, where a creepy looking old man asks for cash for a room that has a phone jack (sans phone). I've located another puzzle, methinks!

A cop! He's not this one though. (The game was off by a few years on 'T3'.)
The plot thickens! Actually.. no, wait. No, it doesn't!
Murry proudly tells us about his carpeted walls, which did at least get a chuckle..
And the fourth wall breaking is actually worth a small laugh

Unfortunately, Murry is only willing to part with his phone jack in return for cash (though he does momentarily consider an offer of a kidney or two, in spite of Les being slightly less than happy with the idea) as he doesn't take credit cards. Get cash: puzzle #3! This game is clearly going to take some significant detective skills. (He also lets us know that Blade's real name is 'Peacechild', which opens up a little more dialogue with him too.) With nothing left to do from here, I head down to the next screen where I'm greeted by 'Club Mud'. There's no entry at this point, according to the bouncer, Bob the Barker (siiigh). He lets me know that there's a big party going on at Dr. Nikopoulas' house in Mulholland Drive (the plastic surgeon to the Stars!) and that only he or Abe Goldstein (Maladonna's director and general Hollywood bigshot) will be able to get Les on the guest list. I hadn't realised that there was another exit to the left of the screen which brings me to Rock the traffic cop. He lets us know that there's some hidden information somewhere in the LAPD, but that he has no access to it – we need a computer hacker (puzzle #4 – Blade!) There's also a couple that tease me with all of the other games I could be playing (some of them actually good) who give me a spare map for sitting through the agony of realising exactly what I'm doing in playing what I am. Urgh. I'd also explore the photo booth place at the top of the final screen here.. but I'm just too depressed now.

Exposition! (He also lets us know that the girls who work at Club Mud are college students. I'm not sure if that's a good thing..)
Sadly, I don't get to use it. (I have a cracked version.)
This would be incredibly fun.. were I playing any one of those other games. Except maybe the Mike Ditka thing.

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!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Free D.C.! - Many Happy Returns

By Ilmari

My fine fellow adventurers! I have today with me two guest stars, you have all learned to love in the previous weeks. Please say welcome to Avery Zedd and his trusted companion, Wattson, from the instant unhit and none-seller, Free AC!

I know, I always confuse the two currents

Avery and Wattson are here to help me decide the score for the game they starred in. Many of you have guessed that Free D.C.! will be one of the worst games of the year. I have a hunch you were right, since playing this game felt like… hmmm, how should I describe it?

Avery, you got the best analogies

But enough small talk, let’s begin with the game!

It sure is

Puzzles and Solvability

Puzzles.... were there actually any puzzles?

What would you like?

No, we don’t have one of those. I might ask Trickster give you few Smacks

It’s CAPs, Avery, C-A-P-S, CAPs. But did you see any puzzles?

Those would have been great puzzles, but there wasn’t any of that.
I am afraid you’ll get zero CAPs, Avery

Avery wasn’t any help, so I’ll have to do this myself. Let’s see, there was one quest: find the five Detectron parts. Three of them required nothing else but speaking to right persons at the right time, while finding the one hidden in jungle happened just by pure luck. That leaves only one piece with something more complex to do - you had to find the correct weapon to fend off the Cones in the Natural Museum. After that single quest, everything happened almost automatically. Even if the game was sold as not being very puzzle oriented, I must say I am not very impressed!

Oh no! Should I duck and cover?

Oh yeah, I forgot, they can’t hit even the far side of the barn

This is perhaps the best point to mention the game’s inane use of firearms. I am usually very much against all action minigames in adventure games, but Free D.C! manages to be extra annoying in that shooting the robots is either impossible (if you don’t have the right weapon) or insanely easy (if you have the right weapon). If you are making a minigame, why would you want to make it a complete waste of time? (Yeah, I know, it adds for playing hours).

Bragging about your imaginary exploits? But let’s move on

No Wattson, you can do that AFTER the show!

Score: 1

Interface and Inventory

Interface wasn’t much to talk about. There were three different activities, and even most of them were usually of no use - and when they were, it was far from obvious that you could use them. Inventory consisted of a variety of guns, with pretty pictures and a name, but nothing else. I especially missed the ability to LOOK anything - either the scenery or the inventory items. It just felt silly that Avery, a private eye, failed to have any powers of observation.

Avery, you didn’t enjoy me controlling you?

It wasn't my fault, I blame the bugs

Yes, bugs. Overall, the game flowed smoothly, but sometimes weird things happened. Interface might lose some crucial button, Avery would lose Wattson somewhere and stuff like that, which usually required a reload. Such things occurred often enough that I am going to reduce some points for it.

Score: 3

Story and Setting

So Avery, what did you like about the story?

You mean it was bloated by empty and unnecessary calories?

To start with positives, the premise had some potential - we could have learned more about why robots imprisoned and froze humans and about the fates and destinies of the last humans alive. But for a game that was advertised as being full of stories, the result was disappointing. All we got was one-liners and repetitive encounters with few cardboard characters.

Yes, repetitive

Suffice to say, story really wen’t nowhere. The only plot development was the romance between Avery and Johnnie, which wasn’t quite believable.

I said it wasn’t believable

Alternative endings are always a positive, but here they were rather lackluster. One ending was straightforward: Avery kills bad robots and everyone is happy. Another was a bit more varied: Avery tries to deal with the Interface, who reverts his brain all the way to childhood and it is up to Johnnie to kill the interface. It is best not to even mention the third ending. All in all, the alternative endings were so diverse in their tones and plot resolutions that they just manage to highlight the non-essentiality of the whole plot - you could attach any old ending to the game without a difference.

Score: 2

Sounds and Graphics

I don’t really know whether claymation added anything, but the game sure does look nice. I really appreciated the pictures of all the great sights of D.C., which looked quite realistic. The character animation was decent enough and the faces showed some intricate facial expressions, especially with Avery - different emotions, like irritation and amusement, were clearly readable on his face. All in all, I felt mostly positive about the way game looked.

You both have good taste in graphics

Sounds were more of a mixed variety. There were few tunes that were played at appropriate places - there was one that started whenever a hostile robot approached that I heard very often. All in all, not very memorable, which will lower the overall score.

Score: 4

Environment and Atmosphere

This is a very difficult to category to score. Avery, how did you find your experience in the Zoo?

Yes, but none of this really happened, you just talked about it.
(And for the record, you got my gender wrong)

Avery’s comment sums up the dilemma perfectly. You get all kinds of interesting tidbits about the past and present life in D.C. particularly and in USA generally. You get to learn even whether Jeopardy lasted to 30th century.

Thanks for telling this, Wattson

Problem is, you never feel these revelations ever matter within the game. In fact, the game world is just so empty and without any content to interact with, and except for the beautiful pictures of the buildings, you never would guess that you are riding through a deserted capital of USA. With different pictures and different trivia in the dialogues, the game could have been just as well called Free Berlin!

Score: 3

Dialogue and Acting

With no puzzles to go around and with almost no plot progression to speak of, Free D.C. had to rely on dialogues - and boy there were lot of them.

You two at least have fruitful dialogues

This is definitely the high point of the game. Avery Zedd and his fellow zoomates might not win a Pulitzer prize for their jokes and ramblings, but their discussions are rich, detailed and work well with their facial expressions. There are some branching dialogues, and even if they don’t usually matter that much for the plot, at least they add to the complexity of the game. The only negative is that voice acting had been done only for few lines for each character - then again, having heard Wattson speak I think this might even have been a blessing.

Score: 5

So, the final score is 1 + 3 + 2 + 4 + 3 + 5 = 18, which divided by 0,6 makes 30, which sounds just about right, since the game now joins such classics like Les Manley and B.A.T. Joe Pranevich was right on target with his guess!

All right, the only thing that’s left is CAP distribution, but before that, let’s give final farewells to our guests, Avery Zedd and Wattson!

I still have this show to end…

Lovebirds? What are you implying?

What are you doing guys?

This is a family oriented blog!

That does it! Get out of here both!

And good riddance!

Just go already!

Phew, I hope that’s the last we’ll see of them. Well, here are the CAPs!

Cap Distribution

210 CAPs to Joe Pranevich
  • Archeologist Award - 50 CAPs - For digging up a long lost Questprobe game and blogging about it for our enjoyment
  • Journalist Award - 50 CAPs - For interviewing Scott Adams and Ken McNair
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For correctly guessing the score of Free D.C.!
  • Comic Aficionado Award - 50 CAPs - For reading through all the Questprobe comics and surviving the ordeal to tell us
  • I'm Not In The Book Award - 50 CAPs - For playing and blogging about Winnie the Pooh
150 CAPs to Ilmari
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For risking his mental health while blogging this game for your enjoyment
  • Sleuth Award - 50 CAPs - For blogging about Poe's detective stories and Deadline just to remain sane while playing Free D.C.!
35 CAPs to Charles
  • Summer Games Award - 35 CAPs - For knowing his sports
20 CAPs to Reiko
  • Leaderboard Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing how to play golf
  • I Am Not A Number Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing what show I was about to reference
  • Gracie Allen Murder Case - 5 CAPs - For knowing her detectives
  • Honesty IS the Best Policy - 5 CAPs - For correcting my faulty calculations
12 CAPs to Alex
  • All In The Wolfe Family Award - 7 CAPs - For finding an obvious fault in my post
  • Real D.C. Award - 5 CAPs - For providing us insight on the current Big Freeze in East Coast
15 CAPs to TBD
  • Adventure Appreciation Award - 5 CAPs - For promoting an adventure game sale on X-Men post
  • Last Minute Save Award - 5 CAPs - For putting the score graphic where it belongs
  • Grumpy Gamer Award - 5 CAPs - For linking Ron Gilbert's blog post on Monkey Island
10 CAPs to Andy Panthro
  • Quality Taste Award - 5 CAPs - For showing proper appreciation for Jeremy Brett
  • Presidential Award - 5 CAPs - For giving a new nickname to George W.
10 CAPs for Rowan Lipkovits
  • Historian Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out an obvious thing with the floppy disk space
  • Al Lowe Scholar Award - 5 CAPs - For reminding Joe of a game he had missed
5 CAPs to Joseph Curwen
  • Quality Taste Award - 5 CAPs - For showing proper appreciation for Jeremy Brett
5 CAPs to Lupus Yonderboy
  • Foreign Language Award - 5 CAPs - For an insightful story of using games to brush up on English
5 CAPs to Alfred n the Fettuc
  • Adventure Appreciation Award - 5 CAPs - For promoting a game sale on Scott Adams interview
1 CAPs to Kenny McCormick
  • Chicken Award - - 1 CAPs - For refusing to participate in caption contest for fear of losing CAPs
  • We Miss You Award - 2 CAPs - For getting bloggers worried for the non-presence of the Dark Lord of TAG
Rankings of 1991 games

1. Space Quest 4 - 65 points
2. Willy Beamish - 61 points
3. Larry 1 Remake - 60 points
4. Space Quest 1 Remake - 58 points
5. Spellcasting 201 - 51 points
6. Martian Memorandum - 50 points
7.-9. Timequest, Larry 5 and Police Quest 3 - 47 points
10. Castle of Dr. Brain - 46 points
11. Free D.C.! - 30 points
12. Hugo II - 18 points

Monday, 8 February 2016

Game 66: Les Manley in: Lost in L.A. (1991) - Introduction

Written by Aperama

I truly can't believe that they roped Boris Vallejo in!

Les Manley 2: Lost in LA. I can feel the shuddering from behind your screen as you read that we're about to play this. Why? Because the first one most likely drove The Trickster into an adventure game coma. Thankfully, I am something of an old hand at terrible games, so I feel more than confident that I'll be able to muddle my way through it (I played it once several years ago and don't think I needed a walkthrough, unlike Les Manley 1 where I was incapable of escaping the initial few screens due to my unwillingness to shovel dung.) There's one noted difference between the two games – in spite of the fact that it's a very similar bunch of developers who came back to wrack the brains and emotions of prospective players one more time: they're now on a point and click interface! Essentially, this means that in the absolute worst case it becomes a pixel hunting exercise, right? So you guys don't need to worry..

Even if the manual's first page devotes approx. ¼ of its paper to the 'hint line ad'

For those who, like many, have managed to completely wipe Les Manley: Search for the King out of their minds, it's important to realise that this is a direct sequel even if it takes place in a different town to the (three or four) that Les Manley was thrown by a strongman, hitchhiked and got lost in the desert through. Am I trying to tell you all to go back and read Trickster's pain? Well, I'm not going to go that far, but it's definitely worth noting that you might need a passing knowledge of the obvious Larry Laffer ripoff. Indeed, reading through Trickster's work makes me feel as though I should get into telling you all about the people who created this fine example of computer game – nay, art. If you read his, though, you've just about read what mine would be – the only noteworthy difference is that they used less 'true' artists for this game in lieu of the motion capture approach that was popularised by Access Software around about this time (and took off everywhere else including Sierra – even though the Larry games never got this treatment, there's some obvious analogies back to Sierra in terms of the photographed bits being used to get the effect of it being a game about 'real people' a la Police Quest or even Jones in the Fast Lane.)

… And even if the game box came with an additional ad for the hint line

Probably the most interesting thing I found (aside from the ability to send in your warranty card along with $6.95USD for a 26”x38” poster of the box art) in looking up the game was that it was possible to get a short 'making of' booklet of the game. There's some really interesting information in here from the technical side.. oh, who am I kidding, it's an ad. They're talking up Les Manley 1 and how 'popular' it was, then explaining how they've gone out of their way to get 'real people' and how the 'professional actors and models were painstakingly auditioned and cast for their parts'. One paragraph later they talk about how they found some of their actors in 'Playboy, or have held such titles as Miss Legs Hawaii, Miss Body Beautiful and Miss Maui Sun'. Clearly, they were worried about the technical acting ability of their actors. Oh, and it then says that 'Johnny Orason', the unfortunate face of Mr. Manley, was actually a UPS delivery person that one of the developers met in a bar. Apparently, this took three to four months. So what they're essentially saying is, they hired a bunch of models, found a random guy off the street who looked like their title actor and decided that'd do it.

And then they.. then they said.. ahah.. AHAHAHAHAH

The game itself can't be as bad as it has set itself up to be, almost assuredly – even if the work they put into the manual just feels like a bit of a subpar effort. It begins with what I know from my vague recollections of the game as a plot synopsis – people are getting kidnapped in Tinseltown. Oh no! In Hollywood, no less! Several 'big stars' are disappearing without a trace of struggle or any indication as to where they may have gone. The police aren't interested, of course, because they think it's just a big PR stunt. Sure! The usual 'how to run this game in DOS' bits are strewn throughout from there along with ads that look awfully like they were made with clipart or the like – they're just not 'good'. The cursor is, of course, more fiddly than a Sierra affair, using the context sensitive '?' to let you know if something can be interacted with, where you right click to get a drag-down bar of what can be used. Serviceable, even if not particularly 'easy on the eyes' per se. Interestingly, it points out that in some scenes the game will use a 'first person' point of view, taking away certain cursor commands – I'm guessing this is just their fancy way of saying 'dialogue screens'.

This just feels cheap to me. (They also have some ads for real Accolade games.)

On the plus side? Code wheel! I've always loved these things.

Really, this isn't a game I can drone on too much about here – I'm fairly sure I've said all there is to be said. I'm hoping that the vague recollections I have of the game are at least a touch tinged with fiction – but I fear greatly that they're largely correct. At least there's one thing – I'm finally getting my official comeuppance..

The most distressing thing about this cover, in the dead bottom left:
 they trademarked all of the names. Just in case they needed them for a sequel..

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 Aperama 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 Aperama 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 110 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.