Sunday, 14 April 2013

Game 31: Mean Streets - Introduction


I can't believe this will be my first Tex Murphy game!

Let’s start from the beginning shall we? In 1982, Bruce Carver formed a video game development company called Access Software with his brother Roger and friend Chris Jones. They immediately set about creating titles for 8-bit computers, including Neutral Zone, Beach-Head I & II, Raid Over Moscow and the golf title Leader Board. The first DOS game out of Access was a tenpin bowling game called 10th Frame, which was quickly followed by another golf game called World Class Leader Board. By this stage, the majority of Access games had been fairly simplistic affairs, designed and programmed almost entirely by Roger and Bruce, but 1987’s space combat simulator Echelon attempted something more complicated.


Bruce Carver: The main man behind Access Software

Designed by Bruce, Roger and Brent Erickson, with a story by David Brown and Chris Jones, Echelon combined wire-framed graphics based space combat simulation with a puzzle based mystery to solve. It also showed off Access' groundbreaking PC audio technology called RealSound, a technique that used the PC speaker to “generate high-quality digitized sounds such as speech, music and sound effects without the use of additional hardware.” Unfortunately, Echelon sucked, but it inspired the team to have another shot at a similar game in the future. The team therefore set out to develop another flight game, only this time they would incorporate a film noir detective story that had been formulated while filming a homemade movie in their spare time.


Echelon: Space combat simulation with puzzles to boot

During the development of the game, more and more adventure game elements were added to the mix, and the eventual result was an odd hybrid called Mean Streets. Set in San Francisco in the year 2033, Mean Streets follows a private investigator named Tex Murphy as he tries to solve a case, being the death of Dr. Carl Linsky, the father of a beautiful woman named Sylvia. The game was directed by Bruce Carver and the story was written by Chris Jones (who would go on to star as Tex Murphy himself in future games) and Brian Ferguson (who has no other credits as far as I can tell). I’ve read an interview with Chris Jones where he stated that his biggest influences for the Tex Murphy series were Sam Spade novels, the movie Casablanca, Blade Runner and The Twilight Zone TV series, which explains the mix of film noir and sci-fi.


There are worse places to take inspiration from.

Programming and design were handled by Roger Carver, Access regulars Kevin Homer and Brent Erickson (who would go on to design and write adventure game Noctropolis), and first timer David Curtin. Doug Vandegrift, John Berven, Zeke McCabe and Jon Clark combined the give the game its distinct visuals while Steve Witzel handled the sound. Mean Streets was the first popular PC game to fully support 256 colour VGA graphics, and it was also the first to support EGA, CGA and Hercules graphics modes with real-time quantization and dithering. I don’t know much about this sort of technology, but I believe this means they converted the graphics on the fly for each different mode rather than pre-converting all possible outcomes (which would have taken up twice the disk space). This was considered a big achievement at the time and along with the RealSound technology, shows that Access were really trying to push the technology boundaries.


Chris Jones: Wrote the story. Oh...and he's also Tex Murphy!

That’s enough background information though; it’s time for me to play my first Tex Murphy game. That’s right! I’ve never played any of the games in the series, and I don’t really have any decent explanation as to why. I guess the early ones came out when I was playing whatever games were given to me by my friends for my Amiga (yes, pretty much all pirated, which I’m not proud of) and by the time the later games came out, I was switching between LucasArts adventures and every first person shooter game I could find. Anyway, I’ve got my GOG purchased Tex Murphy collection, so will be playing the game in DOSBox I guess. I’ve played the last few games in SCUMMVM because it makes it so much easier to take quality screenshots on the fly, but my brief attempts to start Mean Streets in SCUMMVM failed. I haven’t even Googled it yet, but if anyone knows if that’s possible, please let me know (Laukku recently informed me that it is possible to take decent shortcut screenshots with DOSBox, so I'll look into that too). The GOG collection comes with a Detective Information Chart, a map, and a manual, so I should be all set!


Oh my!!! Could theyhave been any more blatant in their Blade Runner plagiarism?!

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've recently written 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. 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 unassisted (see below for an example). If you get it right I will reward you with 100 CAPs in return (it's going to keep going up until someone beats me)! 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.

Example Bet:
N obbx fur tnir orsber gur qnl
Fur qvfnccrnerq va gur fgenatrfg jnl
N qrzba jnagf gb fgrny ure cbjre
Guvf fghqvb V zhfg fheryl fpbhe

Anzr zl tveysevraq sbe 20 PNCf

Extra Note: Once again, Lars-Erik will gift the next readily available game on the list to the reader that correctly predicts what score I will give this game. So, if you predict the right score (or are closest), you will get 10 CAPs and a copy of Space Quest 1, 2 & 3 from GOG! How awesome is that!? Good luck!

49 comments:

  1. Wheeee, Tex Murphy! I'm giddy as a school girl that we're finally here, this series has a really special place in my heart.

    Unfortunately Mean Streets isn't as good as the later ones due to its origins as a flight game. I'd guess somewhere in the 40s on the PISSED scale; even though it has a lot of technical firsts, it has weaknesses as an adventure game. I'll say 46. I will however join you in playing it, can't say no to that.

    And it isn't supported in ScummVM, DosBox is the way to go.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So, is your girlfriend Ryiven?

    Anyway, seeing as somehow I got Tex Murphy I&II from gog (free at some point?) and never played them, I'll play along with you. And I'll guess a 55.

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    Replies
    1. No, my girlfriend is not Ryiven. I don't know who that is mind you!

      I'm increasing the reward for my riddle to 30 CAPs.

      A book she gave before the day
      She disappeared in the strangest way
      A demon wants to steal her power
      This studio I must surely scour
      There are no spiders despite the name
      Yet plenty of monsters just the same
      Lucky I have some spells to cast
      To help me find my witch at last

      Name my girlfriend for 30 CAPs

      Delete
    2. Longshot, but... Rqra?

      Delete
    3. Actually, scratch that. I'm pretty sure Deimar is correct.

      Try Rot13ing Ryiven

      Delete
    4. Haha...man, I do need some sleep! I didn't even consider ROT13ing it. Yes, the answer is Elvira! I expanded the riddle for nothing.

      I'll give Deimar 30 CAPs anyway due to my stupidity! Well done!

      Delete
    5. Thank you!!

      Speaking of which... I think it's unlikely people will help with the CAPs for needed for you to play it, but for the sake of completeness you are missing Elvira: Mistress of the Dark from the list of 1990 games.

      Delete
  3. Hi, first time writing here, been following your blog for a couple of months now. Cool stuff! So, I'm guessing 43 for this game!

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  4. I've never played this game, but given what I know of the "interactive movie" genre, I'm going to guess 41.

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    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Mean Streets isn't an interactive movie. It's a flight game/adventure game hybrid.

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    3. That's not what the front of the box says :)

      I did look up a gameplay description before posting and I stand by my score.

      Delete
    4. "Interactive Movie" is not a genre, and I'm assuming you are mistaking it for FMV games which are completely different. Wing Commander was advertised as being an interactive movie also, and thats from the Space Simulator genre.

      Delete
    5. Actually there is (according to Wikipedia), but I wouldn't classify Mean Streets as one of them, regardless of what the box says. :p

      Comparing the adventure game list to the list of interactive movies on wikipedia, it seems the first we'll encounter is Lost in Time, a 1993 borderline game.

      What I think we'll need to consider is the genre definition. You have the "Choose Your Own Adventure" type of games, where different selections just pop you further in the movie and the only thing you do is make pathing choices. These are what I consider the true interactive movies, only influencing what chapters play depending on your selection.

      But then we have the true adventure games which just use FMV as cutscenes and story progression instead of animation. These can work really really well as adventure games (or other games for that matter, such as Wing Commander which uses FMV as cutscenes between the actual game play. Another example is the Command and Conquer series of RTS games, which relies heavily on FMV cutscenes.). None of these are considered interactive movies today because the main gameplay is the focus.

      Unfortunately the two different types are often mistaken for eachother, spilling the bad reputation for one over to the other. It might be because the adventure game genre really lends itself to this kind of approach? It allows developers to straddle the genres wherever they like, putting the game where they want on the scale from adventure game to interactive movie. In any case I don't think we're really threre yet where the lines truly blur together, but we'll get there soon enough.

      And Sarah, I'm not saying your score is wrong at all. In fact, my first thought was closer to your guess than what I put up as well. :)

      Delete
    6. 'Interactive movies' in their purest form do exist. Braindead 13, or Dragon's Lair, for instance, are very muchly so. The 'gameplay' is sheer trial and error, involving a single button push per room - there's no more game to it. Wing Commander is a flight sim with interactive movie elements, perhaps.. but I'd say that given we can point to something and clearly call it such, it's easier to just say that Wing Commander is a flight/space sim which tells its story largely through non-gameplay ruled movies (although there are gameplay elements that can be influenced through it.)

      Delete
  5. I'll go with 53.

    I played it about 10 years ago but don't remember much about it, apart from thinking it was nowhere near as good as the later Tex Murphy games.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, it isn't. I'm just glad they decided to keep the adventure game bits for the rest of the series.

      Delete
  6. I'll go with 54. I never actually played Mean Streets, but I seem to recall that it was ground-breaking in its day. It got pretty good reviews.

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  7. I've never played a Tex Murphy game either, so I'll be interested to see what they're all about. Are they all pretty similar in gameplay, or are there significant changes over the course of the series?

    I'm going to have to guess at a final score, but people seem to be going quite low.

    I'll go for: 51

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  8. I've never really played Tex Murphy -series either: I tried Mean Streets couple of years ago, but found it a bit tedious. I started to play it today and it still feels a bit tedious: most of the time I was just waiting to get to a new place. Hopefully, it will get better (and it's nice to know faxes are still used in the future).

    Technically the game seems innovative: it uses VGA (and especially the images of people look realistic) and the sound effects are pretty good for the era (the music is just one simple tune, as far as I've heard). The controls, on the other hand, feel a bit primitive (mouse is sorely missed).

    All in all, I shall guess 46.

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  9. Wow, it seems like almost no one here has played Mean Steets. Add me to that list. I'll definitely be playing along though, since I got Mean Streets on GOG for guessing Indiana Jones' score. Plus I've always been interested in the Tex Murphy series and I'm interested in seeing where it originated, even if this one isn't as good as the later ones. I'm gunna take a stab in the dark for the PISSED score and guess 52.

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  10. I've actually played and finished the game for the first time less than two years ago when I found it on GOG. I guess Trickster will enjoy the game as long as he likes typing clues and connecting the dots -which I do, but I found some other things to be pretty unforgivable. I'm also going to bet (with no AP) that

    LBH'ER ABG TBAAN ARRQ NAL NFFVFGNAPR JVGU GUVF TNZR

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    Replies
    1. Now that is bravery. *Puts on creepy music*

      Delete
  11. Methinks I'll try to run this up again and play it with you.. 51, hesitant though that figure is for a game I've never really played properly!

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  12. Awesome! I'm a huge Tex Murphy fan, so this should be a treat. I never could get very far in Mean Streets, mainly due to lack of patience at the driving sections, but this should be a very entertaining playthrough.

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  13. I'm another who has never played Tex Murphy. So I'm just going to go with the general consensus and say 48. Obviously another one of what have so far been inaccurate wild stabs in the dark

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  14. I'll be playing the game for the first time as well. And since I'm hoping it will be, you know, good, while I play along I'll go with a hopeful 56!

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  15. Actually, on reflection I think our predictions may all be a bit too low.

    With the way the PISSED rating works, the main problems people seem to have with the game are the fight and flight sequences, and they'd both appear in the "Interface and Inventory" section even thought they take up a lot of the game time.

    The other parts of the game seem to be done quite well so the PSSED sections should score fairly highly and counteract a low I score.

    I'm not personally going to change my score for purely superstitious reasons, but I highly recommend other less superstitious people take numbers higher than 56 though.

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    Replies
    1. OK then, I'll take you up on that as I'm not superstitious, and as I have no idea about the game nor have bothered finding out anything other than what has been posted here, I'll add a nice round 10 to my wild stab in the dark (I couldn't possibly call it a prediction) and go with 58.

      Delete
  16. I haven't played this game since it first came out. I remember the RealSound stuff being really cool but very tinny and as if it was going to blow up my speaker. Of course this was before I had the Adlib so I took it and liked it. I remember flying around and having difficulty landing/finding the locations even when I knew where I was supposed to go. I'll give it a 49 for the story and graphics/audio.

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  17. Awesome.... i'm a big fan. Will play it soon.
    adventure games

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  18. So, first impressions - the combat is still terribly horribly wrong as I recall it, and the flight stuff feels completely out of place (even using the nav coordinate/autopilot system.)

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  19. Already have Space Quest 1-3 so I'm just guessing to try and be right.

    I'll put in a guess at 56.

    I suspect that it will score very well for dialogue and Acting. I didn't play the early Tex Murphy games, but the later ones were great with the snarky comments Tex was always making to everything.

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  20. Played this back in the day! I have no idea how Access was able to get the PC speaker, with its bleeps and bloops, to simulate speech, but they did! Granted, it's nothing compared to sound card quality, but I was amazed at the time.

    I remember it being an adventure/flight simulator/action game. I hated the action sequences (make sure to get your DOSBox set to a manageable speed), but I found the rest a lot of fun.

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  21. Already got SQ 1-3 too, so I'm just playing for the CAPs here.

    My guess is 53 as well... I have fond memories of this game but I'm not sure how playable it was or if I finished it unhelped...

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  22. I loved this game when I played it as a 13 year old. Which means it probably wasn't too good. Part of the reason (I liked it) was for the TrueVoice touches which, after upgrading to a Tandy after my 8088 sounded like Mozart. "Gurl'er va zl urnq, gurl'er va zl urnq!" sebz gur ibvprznvy (be nhqvb ybt V pna'g erzrzore) jnf na njrfbzr gbhpu sbe gur gvzr.

    Out of nostalgia, I'm going to bet 59. I don't think it will score that high, but I didn't want to bet someone else's bet as a noob. Methinks that might be bad form. I don't want to be equivalent to the 1 dollar guy from price is right.

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  23. I really wish people looking to play this series for the first time wouldn't start with this one. It doesn't make the right first impression. It's an interesting game to play if you're a fan of the series, but it's not that GOOD per se, and it's certainly not a good starting point.

    Under a Killing Moon was basically a reboot for the series. That's where the series we all love actually starts. The odd precursors are pretty misleading.

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    Replies
    1. Totally correct. It's not representative of the series, hopefully we'll fly through games between now and Under a Killing Moon. ;)

      So for everybody that hasn't played Tex Murphy before, don't take Mean Streets as an example of why the fans love them so much.

      Delete
    2. Or even Martian Memorandum. MM was a more traditional adventure game, and it's better than MS, but it's pretty average as far as adventure games go.

      Delete
  24. Whew, just in time. Now this? THIS looks more my speed. *Rubs hands excitedly together*

    I'll go with 60. Someone has to take the highest number!

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  25. Cerfvqrag Zvpunry W. Sbk?????? And here I thought Arnold as a governor couldn't be topped...

    A general question to anyone who has played this game. The puzzles so far have been quite easy, of the "find a correct key for a keyhole" -variety. On the other hand, I keep finding these valuable items with no obvious purpose, say, something like a golden Australian cricket championship trophy (I just made that up). Can I assume that these will never be used in some obscure puzzle and sell them (bribing is costly)? Answer in ROT13, if needs be.

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    Replies
    1. Golden Australian cricket championship trophies have a great purpose!!!!

      Seriously though, I haven't played too far yet, but I have noticed that you can buy items back that you pawned. Not sure whether you get the same value or less though.

      Hmmm...that Maltese Fruitcake sure looks valuable! If I can just...(loud alarm goes off)...oh crap!

      Delete
    2. Yes, I noticed that too, I am just afraid I'll be penniless at the time, when I should buy some 5000 credit item back for a puzzle.

      Heh, I've stumbled into couple of such alarms also (I guess they are a necessity when every other neighbourhood has people with machine guns shooting around). It's even more fun when the time starts ticking the moment you enter the room... the police will be here any minute, where's the off switch?

      Delete
    3. I've kinda taken the impression that the collectible sales items are just to add a little depth by way of the bribe/buying ammunition systems.... or I sure hope so given how much I've gotten rid of!

      Delete
  26. I've never played Mean Streets, or any Tex game. I've got a few Sierra Wallpaper games in the hopper to release over the next few months... so why not, I think I'll give it a try!

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  27. Hi everyone! After following this blog for over a year, I thought it's time to write my first comment :)

    I'll go for 45...

    Never played it, but started "Under a killing moon" a couple of weeks ago and didn't like it so much.

    Good luck with the game!

    Greets from Austria :)

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  28. If you want to play along, Mean Streets can be streamed from Archive.org at: https://archive.org/details/msdos_Mean_Streets_1989

    Note that you can't save in the streaming version of DOSBOX they use, but if you want to give it a go with zero set up, give it a try.

    ReplyDelete