Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Year That Was...1988


1988 was dominated by Sierra! In fact, five of the eight games I played were from the adventure gaming giant, all of which I played back to back. It was a year that included an engine update for the company, with AGI being replaced by SCI, but it was also a year that saw little evolution in the non-technological aspects of the genre. The three SCI driven games were sequels that carried the torch of their predecessors while sporting a new chassis, while the two AGI driven games (Gold Rush and Manhunter) were far more creative and original, yet sadly suffered in other areas. 1989 will see the company continue to crank out the sequels (Larry and Space Quest III), but it will also be the year that sees Sierra spreading their wings, with the Quest For Glory and Laura Bow series seeing the light of day. I’m super excited about it too!


Sierra ruled the genre in the late 80s, but their reign wouldn't last forever

Leaving Sierra aside, the rest of the competition in 1988 was inconsistent to say the least. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders took the amazing work that LucasArts put into Maniac Mansion and built a bigger, more ambitious game around it. I’d heard about the game previously of course, but after playing it, I’m a little surprised at how little praise it gets these days. The same can’t be said for Psycho and to a lesser extent Captain Blood, with the former being undoubtedly the worst adventure game I’ve ever played. How it got a commercial release is anyone’s guess! Captain Blood at least had an intriguing concept and kept me interested for a few hours, but the end result was akin to learning the language of multiple alien races with no significant reward in return. Anyway, without further ado, I bring to you the inaugural TAG Awards!


Who will win this year? What will the awards even be? Oh the excitement!


The Charles Darwin TAG: For the Most Evolutionary Game of 1988

Winner: King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella

King’s Quest IV takes out this award, not only for being the first game to showcase Sierra’s impressive new SCI engine, but also for being the first game to have a lone female protagonist. The game also has the best quality music found in an adventure game to date, putting it just ahead of the also very impressive Zak McKracken.


King's Quest IV was the first game on the list to look AND sound good

Also worth a mention:

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders - for superior graphics, varied environment, and high use of multiple puzzle solutions

Police Quest 2 - for rewarding diligence without punishing those just looking for entertainment, as well as taking the genre to a new cinematic high through numerous pulse raising scenes.


The Lament Configuration TAG: For the Most Ridiculous Puzzle of 1988


Winner: Manhunter: New York

Manhunter just scrapes through against stiff competition, with the dinosaur in the museum puzzle just too ridiculous to ignore. After spending the last hour desperately trying to find a way to open a barred wooden door, I eventually found a crowbar in the mine-infested Strawberry Fields. Using the crowbar on the door didn’t actually open it. It just disturbed a dinosaur that apparently lived in the museum, which then helped me out by removing the large bar, but only after I showed it a medallion that proved that I was part of a rebellion against invading aliens. Right!!!!


Also worth a mention:

Leisure Suit Larry 2 - I realise Al Lowe was taking the piss when he made the player choke and die on a bobby pin in a plate of food, just so they could restore and retrieve it, but still...

Captain Blood – “Female Good Disarm Small Scientist Dead Female Female Radioactivity No Insult Laugh Urgent”. Need I say more?

The Needle's Eye TAG: For the Most Unsolvable Puzzle of 1988


Winner: King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella

King’s Quest IV gets its second TAG award, but this time it’s for negative reasons. I think it’s the only case where I actually deducted one whole category point for a single puzzle. Finding the whale is hard, since it’s not always visible in the same place. Once you do find the whale though, there’s no real reason to try to do anything with it. Moving towards it makes it swim away. The solution is to stay absolutely still for a while (why would anyone think to do that?), after which the whale dives beneath the water and then comes up and swallows you. Don’t even get me started on the tonsil maze within the whale, but that’s another matter altogether.


Horrors? It took me hours to be swallowed by this whale!

Also worth a mention:

Police Quest 2 – the whole first section of Police Quest 2 was confusing and complicated. The vague assignment details, the hidden storage bin and the business card locker code are all quite challenging to overcome, but it’s the unseen timer (you only have a certain amount of time to leave the station) that really pissed me off. The game doesn’t even inform the player that they’ve spent too long in the station, and instead sends them back inside for a non-descript working over by the boss.

Manhunter: New York – figuring out the “suspect” names in Manhunter is tough going, but figuring out the name of antagonist Phil Cook is pure guesswork. It might seem somewhat obvious in hindsight to try Phil Cook when a dying man has written Phil Cool on a rock (he didn’t quite make it you see), but considering you don’t even know for sure that you actually need to find anyone at that stage of the game, it’s close to impossible.

Special Mention must go to Leisure Suit Larry 2 and Psycho for having game breaking bugs that almost literally make the games unsolvable.


The Megan Fox TAG: For the Most Memorable Moment of 1988


Winner: Police Quest 2

I’d been struggling to enjoy Police Quest 2 after the first hour or two, but that all turned around when Bains jumped out from behind some bushes in the park and starting shooting at me. If that wasn’t enough to display the potential of the game, his escape and subsequent drive-by sure did, especially when I found myself investigating a crime scene with my field kit and then scuba diving in the river looking for a body mere minutes later. All of a sudden I was hooked!


The excitement level increased dramatically from this point onwards.

Also worth a mention:

Leisure Suit Larry 2 – I really love the humour in Larry 2, and there are almost too many highlight moments to mention on that front. I’m going to raise two that come to mind though, being the hairdressing scene where Larry falls asleep and dreams of running on the beach with a naked woman, while the hairdresser watches the thought bubble coming out of his head, and the cliff face where the player is able to earn unlimited points by taking advantage of an apparent game bug only to find out that Al Lowe understands gamer tendencies better than they might realise.

Zak McKracken – Zak is filled with memorable moments, but none surpass exploring Mars for the first time. Not only did I get to control two totally new characters, but I also got to explore an alien environment, dealing with the harsh conditions while solving the mysteries of an ancient race. That highlight was probably only surpassed by the exciting moment when I finally put everything together and was able to plan my way through each destination in the game, with the climax beckoning.


The Severed Head TAG: For the Worst Game of 1988


Winner: Psycho

Worst adventure game of the year? More like worst adventure game ever! As if the daft puzzles and shocking movement wasn’t bad enough, the game breaking bugs made it more than a short-lived chore. Psycho lived up to my extremely low expectations and some!!!


I think everyone should play this game. It will make you enjoy every other game you ever play from that point onwards!

Also worth a mention:

Captain Blood – I was actually quite interested in this game after the first session, but it simply failed to reward my efforts, forcing me to restart several times and becoming nothing more than a silly alien symbol deciphering simulation. It’s the only game on the list that I couldn’t bear to play all the way through, and let’s hope it stays that way.

Manhunter: New York – I take no pleasure in putting Manhunter on this list because I really did enjoy it for the most part. Its dodgy visuals and controls can’t be ignored though, so it sadly fell to a sub-50 score and forced its way onto this list.


The Atlantean Medallion TAG (aka The Cleavage of Sophia Hapgood TAG): For the Best Game of 1988


Winner: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

Zak certainly wasn’t flawless, but when you combine the SCUMM interface, the best graphics yet seen in an adventure game, hugely varied environments that cover the globe and beyond, and genius use of multiple puzzle solutions, it’s difficult to understand why it isn’t considered a classic alongside Maniac Mansion and the plethora of other LucasArts games that would follow. Not even the annoying mazes could dampen my enthusiasm to save Earth from certain stupidity!


A very underrated game in my opinion, and a clear winner for 1988

Also worth a mention:

Police Quest II: The Vengeance – The Police Quest sequel took everything that was good about the first game and improved upon it. It still included the manual following puzzle solutions, but did so in a clever way that rewarded players determined to be thorough investigators without alienating the less inclined. If it wasn’t for the rather uninspired first quarter and the dodgy inventory system, it may very well have challenged the top of the leader board.

King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella – The fourth King’s Quest outing looked and sounded better than all previous Sierra games, and was a thoroughly enjoyable game to boot. The plot took place in the familiar fantasy setting that series lovers would be used to, but mixed in stronger mythological and gothic themes to make it slightly less sugary. Unfortunately there were a couple of very bad puzzle design decisions that marred the experience, leaving it slightly below where it could have been.

And there it is...the inaugural TAG Awards. It was much harder than I thought to come up with interesting awards, so I'm sure it will evolve as the genre does. Comments and recommendations welcome as usual!

39 comments:

  1. Evolutionary seems like a really tough call for this year. All of the games felt so minorly incremental (and yes I understand that is how evolution works) that I think I would have had a tough time choosing between them.

    Did you need assistance with the whale puzzle? If you didn't I'm not sure it deserves to get the hardest puzzle award. Sure it may have been the puzzle that annoyed you the most but that doesn't mean it was the hardest. This seems like a category that would be very difficult to judge objectively as everyone will have such varying degrees of challenge with each puzzle (particularly if the challenge is figuring out how to phrase your parser input to get the answer like in LSL2).

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    1. Checking back on past posts, yes, Trickster did require assistance with the whale puzzle. http://advgamer.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/game-18-kings-quest-iv-grand-theft.html

      As for most unsolvable puzzle - I'd say any puzzle is worthy where, even after you read or stumble on the solution your first thought is "How the hell was I supposed to work that out?" I'd say the whale puzzle has most people asking that question.

      As for LSL2, I'd say the parser phrasing issue was accidentally hard because of bad QA, where the whale puzzle was hard by design, making it more worthy IMO.

      Personally I'd still have given that award to the 'Phil Cook' puzzle in Manhunter though, seeing as the game's clues makes "Phil Coolidge' or 'Phil Coohartiphy' just as likely answers.

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    2. I don't know if this is the case really, but let's open the discussion anyway. Many other old Sierra games have timer problems with modern machines (remember Gold Rush..). Maybe the need to wait still for a while might be caused because of this, as I don't remember having any issues back in the old days regarding this..

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    3. Like TBD I would have probably chosen Phil Cook's puzzle for the award, but the whale puzzle has the extra grievous ingredient of being counter intuitive in the context of the story. Being swallowed by a whale is an event anyone would recognize as being pretty bad, and yet you're supposed to allow it to happen just because. Any puzzle where you have to willingly die, run straight into danger or simply staying still in any given place to advance the story should be punished accordingly IMO.

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    4. Adding to Fenrus, I suspect that the beginning of PQ2 also suffered from similar issues with too fast computers - that is, that the timer wasn't meant to be that quick.

      And putting my vote on the whale puzzle, I'd point out that Manhunter at least gave you a clue of the name (albeit one that broke fourth wall), while in KQ4 you have no indication that swimming in the ocean and looking for whales is what you are supposed to do to continue.

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    5. Obviously calling any puzzle "unsolvable" is a bit stupid, as they are all solvable one way or another, but I'm sure you all know what I mean. :)

      After finishing KQIV, I read of numerous other players that got caught out by the whale puzzle. All I can say is congrats to those that did manage to solve it unassisted, but I'd like to think even they can see that there's a bit of luck involved.

      As for PQII timer puzzle on modern computers, well even if I am being ripped off due to the way I'm playing the game, it doesn't change the facts that the timer is unseen, that there is no warning about it at all, and that even if you fail to beat the timer, the game punishes you with no explanation as to why. I was very, very confused while playing through this section of the game.

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    6. I also agree that this award is justified (btw, I even made my first bet about this). Especially if you consider the whole whale sequence - it exists only to give Rosella the possibility to find the bridle, and there are three unfair puzzles in the sequence (finding and getting in the whale, climbing the tongue and finding the bridle..)

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    7. Regarding timer issues, there are many unofficial patches that fix timer related issues in many Sierra games. A good resource for these is the Sierra Help web page. It would be worth checking for patches and known issues always before starting a new Sierra game..

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  2. Great post! Nitpicking, Indiana Jones -series was obviously done by Lucasfilm, not Sierra..

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    1. Oh my....that has to be one of the silliest things I've written for this blog. I've actually removed it because newcomers might doubt my knowledge of the genre entirely and just leave!

      10 CAPs for the assist Fenrus.

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    2. Thanks, I was expecting this ;) - That is why my comment was so short, I had to write it quickly to ensure no one reported it first

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  3. Great job with the awards, Trickster. It must be surely a lot of work to come up with the categories and the winners. Thanks!

    I guess we could nominate Gold Rush! as the most average game of 1988, seeing as it didn't even get a mention.

    Was Zak the first game to offer different zoom levels on the action? I'm thinking those wide open spaces where your characters are reduced to stick figures.

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    1. Didn't Gold Rush do this also? Quoting Trickster: "On entering the house, I was in for a surprise. All of a sudden Jerrod had increased in size!"

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    2. Oooh you're right Ilmari! It did have that vista of the fort from the outside, too. Credit where credit is due -- GR wasn't that average after all!

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    3. Yeah, Gold Rush was definitely the first game to do this with any regularity. It increased the size of things when inside, had top down perspectives AND distant side shots for some of the outdoor areas.

      When choosing the Charles Darwin award, I tried to choose aspects that would go on to be seen in future adventure games, rather than just things that hadn't been done before. After all, Captain Blood could be considered entirely unique, but I can't see that much of its originality reached future games in the genre.

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  4. A great way to end the year! Did you think about adding the most ingenious puzzle along with the most ridiculous and the most unsolvable ones? Then again, that category might have been difficult to fill, as bad puzzles are far more common than good ones.

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    1. I totally intended to have an ingenious puzzle award, but after going through all of my posts, simply couldn't find anything really that ingenious. I whinged about a lot of puzzles, but I didn't find myself writing about how awesome any were.

      Now that I've kicked off this annual awards post, I'll pay more attention while playing, and write down some puzzles / solutions that I thought were great at the time.

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    2. I might give the most ingenious puzzle to Maniac Mansion - getting the key from candelabra was a well designed puzzle.

      Also I liked the "letter on tombstone" puzzle in Gold Rush, with Jake's parents being actually buried in Brooklyn while Jake is claiming in his letter that he had buried their father in California.. unfortunately the puzzles that followed weren't that great..

      I think you have mentioned a couple of times about getting an "eureka" moment. I think that is a good characteristic for an ingenious puzzle, resulting often to a logical but challenging solution.

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  5. For some reason I can't click on reply, so I'll put all my thoughts into this one message instead.

    @The Whale comments: I never had a huge problem with this puzzle (even when I played this the first time around), possibly because the King's Quest series uses a lot of myths and fables in it's puzzles. I guess I made the Jonah and the whale connection as soon as I saw the whale in the distance. It's maybe not as well known a story as the princess and the frog, but it's certainly similar.

    @Charles: Space Quest 2 also has Roger differently sized doesn't it? When you have to get past the launchpad guard to get off Labion.

    It was generally a good year, but I think next year will easily beat it! So many good games to look forward too (Space Quest 3, Hero's Quest and Colonel's Bequest are high on my all-time list, so I'm hoping they'll score well).

    My top three for 1988 would be:
    1. Police Quest II
    2. King's Quest IV
    3. Zak McKracken

    Basing that mainly on how much I enjoyed each game (Although it's a pretty close call, which is why I've picked a top three instead of just picking one)

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  6. It's time for 1989! I need to clarify exactly who is trading CAPs to add Emmanuelle to the list. The game has been added to the Wikipedia list, so it moves from Disregarded to Borderline, meaning it costs only 100 CAPs rather than 200. Please be aware that in future, I will be taking the Wikipedia List on the day I write The Year Ahead post for any particular year, meaning any games added after that don't count.

    So, am I right that Canageek, Lars-Erik, Ilmari and Chumazik are willing to trade 25 CAPs each to add Emmanuelle to the TAG game list? Ilmari seemed to suggest he would assist if the game remains Disregarded, but that's not the case now. Let me know.

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    1. I'll assist with my 25 points, if Canageek doesn't wish to use 50 CAPs for getting the game by himself without pooling points (I assume that possibility is still available).

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    2. Same here, I'm in for 25 points if they are needed.

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    3. I'm curious as well, so if you want, I can enter too, lowering the CAPs needed to 20 each.

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    4. By the way, I'm sorry Trick. I know you probably don't want to play this one (and I understand ;) but posts on bad games are really funny to read :)

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    5. I'll pay up to 50 as needed (At 50 I'm paying for it solo anyway, right? Or is that 100? If needed I'll go up that high).

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  7. Ok, when I was 12 (in 1988), I finished Police Quest 2, King's Quest IV and Manhunter: New York without the need for a hint book, and didn't have trouble on those problems.

    If you grew up playing adventure games you knew how to solve problems like that - it seems the reason for not solving them is impatience - which is an indictment on what modern life has turned everyone into.

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    1. I won't disagree with you Java Monkey. I finished plenty of adventure games unassisted in the early 90s, and it took me weeks (months even) of straight playing in some instances.

      The temptation of walkthroughs is always there these days, and I think it's probably more that than merely modern player impatience that makes players turn to them. If I'd had a walkthrough available in 1990, I probably would have used it in many cases.

      Regardless, just because someone was able to solve something through trial and error, unnatural perseverance, or just blind luck, I don't think that automatically makes it a fair puzzle. If you managed to solve these puzzles using logic, then that's great! The TAG Awards, and pretty much everything on this blog, are entirely subjective. :)

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    2. As a kid, time was never a constraint. So many of the issues that we now address, e.g. random events, new events that are triggered (for no logical reason) only after other game events have happened, were never an obstacle back then. Which is simply because we spent enough time wandering around the game world, and eventually the random events just happened.. But, (as said many times earlier), it still is bad puzzle design.

      In fact I had no idea earlier that KQ4 had so many events that were triggered by some other unrelated in-game events.

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    3. I have to agree with Fenrus. From age 11 through 18 or so, I spent a lot of my free time playing graphical & text adventures, but I find it much harder as an adult to find solutions or notice tiny hints than I did as a kid. I think it's mostly because kids are wired to learn as much as possible about their world by paying full attention with all of their senses and examining things from all mental angles... It's not very different from discovering that creative endeavors aren't the effortless carefree joy they were when we were younger.

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    4. I dunno, I still enjoy a bit of coloring when I can fit it in. ;)

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    5. Trickster - I think you are right, I remember I spent about 9 months playing Police Quest 2 and maybe more than that playing Manhunter, whereas you are trying to play through in a few days.

      On top of the time angle, I think when we were kids, we spent so much time just wandering around the game worlds trying everything - and you became a lot more immersed in the world/story - which helped with certain difficult puzzles. Additionally, leaving a game for a few days or weeks and coming back to it with a fresh perspective helped a lot too - which you obviously can't do for this blog.

      Sometimes it was just luck too I guess - the first time I saw the whale in KQ4 I got to go inside it, so didn't even realize that other people were having a hard time of it. Although the tongue puzzle was nearly impossible on a CGA monitor!

      I also remember that Manhunter was probably one of the hardest adventure games I ever played - it kind of felt like a tap dripping out water, with the pace I was getting through it - but I loved the arcade bits, and it felt really satisfying to complete it without needing even one hint.

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  8. Next time, can we have some nice-looking guys to go with the two women? T&A seems far less awesome when it's just another sometimes-bothersome part of one's own anatomy. :D

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    1. There I was thinking I knew my audience! I acknowledge your request and promise to be more open with my selection of eye candy in future. :)

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  9. For some reason I can't hit reply either...

    I wonder if Emannuelle getting added to the Wiki list has anything to do with people on this blog? Nothing wrong with that, if it deserves to be on wiki then it does, regardless of people wanting to save CAPs. lol

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  10. You do realise that if Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis isn't rated the best game of 1992 you're going to have to change the name of the award - either that or there will be anarchy!

    And... to nitpick... medallion has 2 l's.

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    1. Well, having had a little look at the list for 1992, it looks like it might be a showdown between Indiana Jones and King's Quest VI. Considering KQ6 is generally regarded as the best in the series, it should be an interesting contest! (QfG3 is also there, but it's the second weakest in that series, so I think it will have to settle for the bronze!)

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    2. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. ;)

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  11. I know how to spell medallion TBD. I'm not an idiot! I don't see anywhere that I got it wrong in my post either, so what are you talking...oh... ;)

    5 CAPs, but only because it was actually the name of the award. We can't have that being wrong forever can we!

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  12. I was thinking you could rename the award categories each year - it would be interesting to see what funny titles you could think of each year.

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