Monday, 20 May 2013

Game 32: Neuromancer - Introduction


Neuromancer: Well this should be interesting!

I like science fiction. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I love science fiction! Many of my favourite movies sit in the genre on some level, and I’m generally attracted to games that do too. It’s therefore quite strange that I really haven’t read very many science fiction books. The truth is that I’ve not been a massive reader over the course of my life, reading on average only about five or six books a year. That’s definitely increased with my recent discovery of audiobooks, but I’m still only getting through about a book a month. I guess I’m just a sucker for epic fantasy series like George Martin’s Game of Thrones and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, and given how many books tend to make up those series and how long each part usually is, it’s no surprise that I haven’t had much time for anything else. You might be wondering why I’m crapping on about books instead of games. The answer is that the 32nd game on the playlist is based on a book by the same name, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and it’s a book I’ve never read. I’d heard the name numerous times, but didn’t realise how well regarded it is until I started researching today.


With its whites, pinks and blues, Neuromancer was just screaming for a CGA release!

Neuromancer (the book) was released in 1984, and is generally considered a seminal work in the cyberpunk genre. It was the first book to win the science fiction “triple crown”, meaning it cleaned up the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. It was actually Gibson’s first published novel, and follows a computer hacker named Henry Dorsett Case. After being caught stealing from his employer, Case’s central nervous system was damaged (I assume purposely), leaving him unable to access the global computer network (which strangely enough was called the Matrix). Needless to say he regains his ability to access the network through an underground organisation in exchange for his hacking services. That’s about as far as I was willing to read about the novel, just in case the game closely follows the plot, but from what I can tell it’s only “loosely” based on it. Interestingly, it was American psychologist and writer Timothy Leary, known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs and for being labelled “the most dangerous man in America” by President Richard Nixon, that held the gaming rights to the novel (there’s also a simulation game named Timothy Leary’s Mind Mirror if you want to check it out). He took the game idea to Interplay around 1987, where producers Brian Fargo and Troy P. Worrell agreed to make it.


Timothy Leary: A very happy guy, and no wonder too!

You may recognise the name Brian Fargo, particularly if you’re also following the RPG exploits of Chet over at the CRPG Addict. Brian helped design all three games in The Bard’s Tale series (taking over as director for the third one), as well as playing a major role in the design of the classic Wasteland. He also designed three early adventure games (interactive fiction with graphics), with the first two being The Demon’s Forge (1981) and Borrowed Time (1985), and the third one Tass Times in Tonetown (1986). Long time readers will know that I played TTiT back in January last year (it was game 8 on the playlist). It was a very quirky game that I quite enjoyed, but had to rate it harshly due to some technical deficiencies and numerous dead ends. Troy Worrell also worked on that game as a programmer and directed Wasteland alongside Fargo, meaning the two of them had quite a history by the time Neuromancer landed on their desks.


Wasteland: Well if they made that game, then Neuromancer should be good...right?

Given the success of Wasteland, it’s not surprising that Fargo and Worrell invited members of the same team back to make Neuromancer. Michael A. Stackpole (a science fiction and fantasy writer) and Bruce J. Balfour came onboard to design the game along with Fargo, while Troy A. Miles took on all programming duties. Also from Wasteland was Charles Weidmann III, who was tasked with creating the graphics and artwork in an attempt to bring Gibson’s world to life. Finally, all sound and music was to be looked after by industry veteran David Warhol (Tass Times in Tonetown, Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken). Speaking of music, the soundtrack for the game is based on a song by Devo named Some Things Never Change. This track appeared on the 1988 album Total Devo, but instrumental only versions appeared on all versions of Neuromancer (apart form the C-64 version which apparently sampled the real song in the intro). Ilmari has already mentioned that the theme music is annoying and repetitive, so it appears we can blame Devo for that, at least in part.


At least Devo's distinctive style didn't rub off on the general population

I really don’t know what to expect when it comes to gameplay, although I do know that Neuromancer is described repeatedly in the manual as a role playing game that involves gaining skills by “implanting chips directly into your brain jack”. Just how much adventure game elements there are is yet to be seen. The manual covers a lot of ground (it’s quite daunting really), so I’ll read it whilst playing rather than prior. I’m under the impression that gameplay is split between traditional adventure sequences and cyberspace, although I have no idea how that plays out. I guess it’s time to find out, and I’ve found a DOS copy and got it working in DOSBox. It looks like I’m going to face the same screenshot issues that made Mean Streets take so long to get through, so this time I’m going to try out Lars-Erik’s suggestion that should allow me to use the ALT-F5 function without it acting as an ENTER. Well, I’m off to jack in (as opposed to jack off), and will report my initial findings soon enough. Who’s joining me?!


Neuromancer: "A cyberpunk role playing adventure"...apparently

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 unassisted (see below for an example). If you get it right I will reward you with 110 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:
V xabj V’z nfyrrc, ohg pnaabg jnxr
V zhfg erznva sbe guvf ynaq’f fnxr
Vg’f nyy tbar jebat, V qba’g xabj jul
Ohg V zhfg svk vg, ng yrnfg V’yy gel!

Anzr gur tnzr 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!

47 comments:

  1. Enjoy :) I've never beaten it as my various playthrough attempts have been dead-ended for various reasons. Looking forward to you giving it a go :)

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  2. I'm the same when it comes to Science Fiction. My favourite genre for movies/TV is definitely Sci-fi, however I've read very little. Other than Dune and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I read fantasy. Reading Wheel of Time again so I can finish it, now that it is finished, at the moment. Wasn't the movie Johnny Mnemonic based (probably quite loosely) on Neuromancer?
    As to final score, as I know absolutely nothing about this game at all, I'm going to go with 58 as it is the first number that popped into my head.

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  3. My Dad is a big fan of Neromancer. I consider it the same way I do Nivana: Great for reviving a dying genre, and breathing new life into a flied, so I can enjoy what follows, but messy and painful to actually experience. He likes Nivana (and Neromancer), while I only respect them. I found Snow Crash was a lot more pleasant to read, and its ending only *mildly* sucked, unlike Neromancer. Heck, if you stop reading about the time YT is kidnapped, but before she winds up with the fish ladies, then you can pretend it is a pretty solid book.

    I'll take 53, and a mild beating from all the other Cyberpunk fans in the audience please.

    Oh: What to know what makes things really sucky about discovering Cyberpunk while in high school in ~2005? You go through that stage where trenchcoats and mirror shades and really cool, and crytography and the internet and frack, everyone else has already been there before you and it was cliche while you were still reading Michael A. Stackpole Star Wars novels back in Elementry school. Hell, it was heading towards cliche in 1988 when I was BORN.

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    1. Oh, and if you want to see a really verbose rant or three, wait until someone makes a Steampunk adventure game. Or Google Steampunk Canageek; I'm sure you'll find a rant or three of mine.

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  4. Replies
    1. It's probably not interactive fiction, but I'll still guess Infocom's Fhfcraqrq.

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    2. Incorrect and Incorrect

      I'm raising the prize to 30 CAPs.

      I know I’m asleep, but cannot wake
      I must remain for this land’s sake
      It’s all gone wrong, I don’t know why
      But I must fix it, at least I’ll try!

      This place is filled with items many
      A knife, a bucket, a bowl!
      If only I knew who to give them to
      The poems could be made whole.

      Name the game for 30 CAPs.

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    3. Correct!!!

      30 CAPs to Cush1978. Well done.

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    4. I had to double-check. I forgot that the game was a dream, but the rest of the riddle made sense. It's been quite a few years since I played this one! The interface reminds me a lot of the Black Cauldron. Less typing and more "hot" keys.

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  5. I did not play Neuromancer, so I rolled a die (45 + D20) and came out with 52. So that's my guess.

    I occasionally chatted with Bruce Balfour at Sierra. Nice guy. Bruce's wife Leslie helped negotiate Lori's Quest for Glory V contract. I knew Bruce had worked at NASA, but I didn't realize he had helped design Interplay games before coming to Sierra.

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  6. About the repetetive music: I don’t know about the original, but it sure sounds awful coming out of PC speaker.

    So they’ve made Wasteland before this! It definitely shows that the producers had previous experience with CRPGs, although Neuromancer doesn’t completely fit that genre either.

    I’ll be playing along with you, since I tried this once and failed miserably somewhere in the middle and I’d really like to see how it ends. I just have a bad feeling I won’t be able to finish the game without any assistance – most likely I can’t handle the more RPGish elements of Neuromancer on my own.

    This is also a game where it is quite difficult to pinpoint where the rating will go. Graphics/sounds will probably rate very low and puzzlewise there appears to be very little to do, although there was at least one I thought clever (lbh'yy unir gb penpx gur cbyvpr qngnonfr naq nqq n crefba'f anzr ba gur zbfg jnagrq yvfg gb trg evq bs uvz). I’ll wager that you’ll like it as much as Mean Streets, if not even a bit more, but the bad graphics and non-adventure gamishness will drop it a few points lower: 49.

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  7. Haven't read about this one so this is a blatant stab in the dark... 47!

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  8. I guess 51, I've never played this game...
    After your first post I'll decide if i play it parallel to you :)

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  9. After a bit of trial and error I'll guess 49. And I have a sneaking suspicion this'll be a team effort to complete. I've restarted a couple of times already due to getting myself stuck.

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  10. Just to fill in the numbers... 48. No idea on the game. I'd try playing through it - but I'm not sure where to get it outside of those sketchy abandonware sites!

    Wild guess. I mean it could fit in the broadest sense. It's wrong, but, Qnex Fttq?

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  11. I'm guessing 47 based on absolutely nothing!

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  12. Let's see if I can pull a second victory! I'm going for 46.

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  13. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ... Neuromancer. How I love this game. I still have my old copy in the original box. My dad encountered the novel through computer scientist word-of-mouth, picked it up and devoured it. The novel is almost poetry, it's very rich and has a lot of interesting things to say. Naturally, then, when we saw the square box for the game on the shelf at the gaming store (Egghead Software in Wheaton, MD I believe - long, long gone) there was no resistance.

    The game itself is quite tough unless you have some gaming experience. My dad was quickly stymied and was dead ended a few times. I had played King's Quest III and IV and beaten both (after many weeks), and Neuromancer even gave me pause. It wasn't easy.

    In fact, I'm not sure I ever made it past the final few sequences in cyberspace. Doesn't stop me from regarding the game through the pure nostalgia bliss-fog that it continually lives in here in my mind. I look forward to this playthrough!

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  14. I haven't been a big reader since at least college either, and I've also recently discovered audiobooks. My commute increased from 15-20 minutes to 30-45 minutes a year ago, and audiobooks are a great way to keep me from road raging at all the slow/crappy drivers out there. I've been listening to the Dragonriders of Pern series, which is reportedly one of the first and most popular fantasy/sci-fi hybrid series.

    I've also been trying to actually read books on an e-reader, but it's slow going because the only time it's convenient is when I'm reading myself to sleep. I just started the 8th book in the Incarnations of Immortality series (a contemporary fantasy series), but I've been working on the series for a few years (so probably 5 months per book overall and 2-3 months per book in the past year).

    Neuromancer/cyberpunk trivia:
    - The Neuromancer novel was a pioneer in the cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction. Snow Crash (by Neal Stephenson) is considered one of the other major cyberpunk novels. I've read both and they're great. Other than the fact that nanotechnology will probably preempt implementation of the literal 1980s vision of mechanical cybernetics, I think many of the cyberpunk concepts are scarily spot-on (especially the development of obscene amounts of corporate social/economic/political power).
    - William Gibson invented the term "cyberspace" and I think "the matrix", so Shadowrun, The Matrix, and many other games, movies, etc. have been inspired by his works.

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  15. I'm in the same boat, never read the book. I'm going to join in on a playthrough though, and we'll see where that gets me. 55 for a final score seems like a good guess.

    I avoided cyberpunk, dystopian, and post-apocalyptic games as a kid. Along with timers, the idea of limited resources turned me off to lounging around in a game, which is usually what I did after exploring every corner.

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    1. Considering it's almost 30 years old and about technology its actually not bad. Combine that with its relatively short length I'd recommend you try it.

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  16. Quite keen to play this one, or at least read the book.

    I'm going to guess 45 though, because it seems to be well known as an adaptation (or spin off) of the book, rather than being a good game in it's own right.

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  17. I guess... 54.. for now particular reason than it's not taken and I have no clue!

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  18. No idea about this one... so... I'm going with 50

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  19. Please, everybody here, do yourselves a big, gigantic favor and grab the book if you have the chance. I have read it twice, first time like 20 years ago and again a couple of years back and I was shocked how well it has aged.

    And if you like it... then be sure to continue reading the rest of the trilogy: "Count Zero" and "Monalisa Overdrive".

    Caron.

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    1. Well, for historical interest, sure. As an actual book? He substituted sex and drugs for a coherent plot, and did a bit too much acid when writing the final scenes.

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    2. The plot seemed quite coherent to me; as for sex and drugs, I don't think the first one has so much relevance in the novel as you are implying, and the second, well, it is common place in the genre. But of course, how much is "too much" is always relative.

      Anyway, if you thought there was too much sex and drugs in "Neuromancer", then be sure you do not read the Marid Audran series by George Alec Effinger (to my taste, only the first one of the three in this series deserves the time).

      Caron.

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    3. As an actual book, it's a masterpiece of the genre. I think the awards speak for themselves. As a writer, and specifically a creative one, my eyes and ears immediately perk up when they encounter top notch phrasing and imagery. The justly famous opening image of the novel:

      "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

      is quite a hook and the remainder of the book only intensifies and multiplies the beautiful, poetic language.

      Your distinguishing of "sex and drugs" from "coherent plot" betrays a strain of moralist criticism that I find surprising. Of course, sex and drugs are merely activities which comprise aspects of plot. In this case, a particularly interesting plot which is, in fact, hardly dominated by sex or drugs. I also am puzzled that you so positively ascribed the inability to follow the conclusion to a (drug-induced!) flaw of the author rather than any possible flaw in the reader. Many books simply don't match up with a reader, without it being anyone's fault.

      I won't suggest a reread in the face of such a curious bias, but instead urge others here to encounter it on their own terms.

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    4. I should probably reread it one day, because I was way too adolescent to really appreciate it, when I first encountered it (I did like the ending, though). Although my memories are hazy, I am quite sure my youthful self would have been quite thrilled, if there would have been a significant amount of S & D in the plot.

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    5. I didn't know it was part of a trilogy. I may have to go bad and re-read it along with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.

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    6. "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

      Would youth today understand this as the static noise of the 80's or the blue screen common today? In 50 years how many people will remember a television?

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    7. Unknown: I found the ending really hard to follow, and unsatisfying to boot. It did make sense, mostlyI don't mind sex, and drugs can be an OK plot device, I just felt that he used them excessively to be edgy.

      JosephCurwen: I think I read it too late to really appreciate it. I don't have any thing against sex (Hell, I wish I could have a lot more of it), or drugs in books, however they seemed to be put in as a cheap way of saying "Look how grim and gritty this world is! SHOCKING! DEPRESSING!" Which, I'm sure it was at the time. Much like Nirvana was revolutionary: However, reading it 20 years after the fact, it just feels overdone and nothing special. I missed the boat where mindless sex and drugs in a novel are super shocking, and now I've seen it done better other places. I don't object to sex and drugs in my books (I'd never have loved Spider Robinson back in high school if I did), I just didn't find it very well done. It didn't seem to add anything to the experience.

      Also: Every character in it is an unlikable asshole, which makes it really hard to care about what happens to them.

      Zenic: I recall wondering what that meant when I read it about 10 years ago, though I eventually figured it out I think. But my first thought was a test pattern, you know, with the coloured bars.

      I will say that he is quite good at imagery and metaphor, though in sheer use of the English language I have put to Lovecraft ahead of him.

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    8. Strange, I never had a reaction to either the drugs or sex in this book. I might just be desensitized though. But I didn't find them misplaced either, it just felt like a natural part of the world he painted.

      As far as I'm concerned though, the A.I. is the main character, which leaves the humans just extra fluff to bring its story to conclusion. In that regard, writing them as "unlikable assholes" could be a stepping stone to the continued story. And speaking of that, somehow I missed that it was part of a trilogy. Kindle, here I come.

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    9. Canageek: That was an after thought for me, not the initial image. If colored bars was the intention then it could mean Chiba City is filled with advertisements and flashing billboards that all blend together. I'll see about picking up a copy of the book and giving it a read.

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    10. Canageek: I think you'll like the Homestuck version (The Vienna Game) better. The Case and Molly equivalents are moirails, not lovers, and the ending is both happier and more coherent.

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  20. This is a second callout to three readers that correctly predicted ratings I would give to games. None of these readers ever claimed their prize. I will make three callouts and if they have not been claimed after that, I will run competitions so they can go to good homes.

    Mooki won Quest For Glory 1-5 (predicted Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess)

    archivis won Tex Murphy 1+2 (predicted Larry III)

    Fenrus won Tex Murphy 1+2 (predicted Manhunter 2)

    If any of these readers send me an email to theadventuregamer@gmail.com, I'll reply with the code to collect their prize.

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  21. The Gobliiins pack (included Gobliiins 1, 2 & 3) is on sale on GOG for $2.39!

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  22. All I can say is that Space Quest III and Bequest are coming!!

    This game looks awful to me (colors, sets..) 42???
    Honestly Mate, I think you are very courageous sometimes.

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    1. It looks and sounds awful (or at least dated), but if you are willing to look beyond looks and sounds, it is an intriguing game, to say the least.

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  23. I just acquired a copy of Neuromancer from a friend recently. This looks like the perfect reason to actually read it. I don't think I'll play along if it's as difficult as some are saying it is, though. I'm waiting for Quest for Glory II.

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    1. Sorry boukensha: You have to guess before Trickster puts up his first post about playing the game, to make things fair for everyone. You can hang around until the next game though.

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  25. If you want to play along, Neuromancer can be streamed from Archive.org at: https://archive.org/details/msdos_Neuromancer_1988

    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.

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