Monday, 18 May 2015

Missed Classic 9: Softporn (1981)


Since Alex is about get his hands on the remake of Larry, I thought we might take a look at the game which it is based on. But didn’t Trickster already review original Larry way back then? Indeed, but before there was Larry, there was Softporn. Yes, we are getting back to the very source of smut, that has now, in form of Larry I, been remade three times - that’s gotta be some sort of record!

Softporn is a bit of weird one among the early Sierra adventure games, as it is the only real non-graphical text-adventure Sierra ever published. The game itself was made by Chuck Benton, a field engineer from Boston. It had begun as a programming exercise, but Benton had then got the idea of making some money with the game. This proved to be rather difficult, until Ken Williams, who happened to have purchased a copy from Benton in Applefest 1981, called and asked if On-Line Systems (the predecessor of Sierra) could publish the game. (For a more detailed story, look at the Digital Antiquarian).

Sierra didn’t really change Benton’s game in any way, although there was a talk of a graphical upgrade even back at the day. What they did was design a new game box, with a famous picture showing Roberta Williams with two other lovely ladies in a jacuzzi.


Kenny, I know what you are thinking, stop that immediately!


The game flamed the public interest, and quite predictably, the hatred of moralists, which made it even more successful. Years later, when Infocom re-introduced sex into IF with Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Sierra decided to redo Softporn wih graphics - and rest is history!

I’ve decided to play a version of Softporn ported by Gary Thompson to PC in 1991, because it should be an authentic reproduction of the original. Well, Thompson apparently got one detail wrong, since the original designer of the game is named Chuck Barret in the game. This version is also nostalgic for me, because it was included in a Leisure Suit Larry -collection I happened to purchase back in the days. So what are we waiting for, let’s start the game!

Puppet’s diary: All I wanted was a moment’s peace from the hectic life in 21rst century, but the holiday has taken a bizarre turn. I am being controlled by a mysterious entity, who forces me to indulge myself on all sorts of depraved perversions. I’ve been intoxicated with alcohol and forced to eat strange mushrooms, I’ve had to spend all my money in gambling and now I am about to be made to satisfy my carnal desires with a lady who is clearly infested with some bug. I need help!

Opening the manual reveals a curious piece of information - Softporn is scifi! The game is set in year 2020 AD, and although the sky is apparently green with plutonium, nothing much seems to have changed from 1970s - disco is still very much in vogue and inflation is rampant, interest rates doubling annually. The game even knows the word “inflate”, responding to it with “But the prime rate is already 257!!”. No wonder a glass of bad whiskey pays hundred dollars.


Adorable that even the ability to save a game is higher on the selling point list than sex and booze

The main character of the game is a nameless fellow, who has decided to spend his vacation in a gambling town “Lost Vagueness”. His aim is to fulfill his erotic dreams and seduce three different women (every time the character “scores”, your score rises by one, so there’s just three points to get). Both in the manual and in the game the character is described as a puppet, just doing what the player commands.

I am not going to make a detailed description of the plot, since the basic scenario resembles Larry 1 so much and Alex is about to play the first remake anyway. Instead, I’ll just concentrate on the similarities and especially the differences of the two games, going through the three different areas of the game.


Bar


Even the first few rooms show how similar Softporn and Larry 1 are. You begin in a sleazy bar, in which you can order beer and whiskey - no wine in Softporn, though. Also, compared to Larry, the bar is really empty and there appears to be no other customers to speak with. Then again, we are told that cockroaches run around, which I definitely did not see in Larry 1.


Note how all the interactible objects show up at the at the top of the screen.

Moving to a hallway we find drunk businessman, who is just dying for a glass of whisky and willing to give his controller unit to anyone satisfying his thirst. There’s also a desk with a rose and a magazine that explains how to play blackjack and slots.

The hallway leads to a bathroom, which even the cockroaches avoid because the horrid smell. Sink hangs from the wall by its rusty plumbing, but at least the washbasin contains a ring. And yes, there’s some graffiti on the wall.


Nice ASCII-art, but Bellybutton is a lame password

Getting back to the bar, there is no door you could knock, but there is a curtain and a button, and pressing it makes a voice ask a password. Once we get in the backroom, there’s a big dude with a pin asking us to support our local pimp. There’s also a TV set, with some interesting shows to watch.


TV shows are the only place where the scifi theme is perpetuated
(Remember that 1996 was still in the future)


They are also full of sexually loaded scenes


And this is just weird…

It’s easy to find a channel that the pimp finds interesting, but he’ll still charge 2000 dollars for going upstairs. It turns out the TV set is important only when visiting the premises a second time. The pimp wouldn’t let us see his girl a second time, so he needs to be distracted with the TV set.

Getting upstairs we find a box of candy and a funky prostitute, and unlike in Larry, Softporn insists that we take a closer look at her, because the game won’t allow us to continue to balcony without scoring with her. The prostitute has an atomic clap, which is one of the ways to get the main character killed. Sofporn is a bit lenient with death, by the way. You are given a chance to take one of three doors. One of them takes you to the same choice, one of them to hell (DOS) and one of them lets you escape death and continue from the same position, as if you’d solved the puzzle that led to your demise. So, it’s perfectly possible to use the services of the prostitute without any protection and still complete the game.

After taking care of the prostitute, the game lets us go forward to balcony, from which we can move to a window ledge, if we just have some rope to secure us. People are screaming “don’t jump”, but if we just use a hammer, we can break a window and move into another room. The room contains lot of stuff, like a centerfold and a pink bathrobe, but the only thing we can interact with is a box of pills, which we can take with us.


There's also another piece of ASCII art, this time an image of a billboard

Getting back to the balcony, we can finally go down to a dumpster. If we expect a hammer, we will be disappointed, since the only thing of interest is an apple core full of apple seeds. More on those later.

Getting out of the dumpster, we get to a street in front of the bar. A sign tells us to hail a taxi and so we do. Trickster had some problems in Larry 1 trying to determine where to go with the taxi, but in Softporn the driver helpfully tells us the three main spots of the town. You don’t want to carry any alcohol in the taxi, because the driver will take it and run over you. Let’s move to disco then!


Disco

With the disco area I can be quick. We begin with a residential street, with a bum living in there. He has a bit more history here and is apparently a previous player of Softporn, who just got caught in a programming bug. He would like some wine, although he can’t stand it much, as it makes him puke, and he is willing to part from his knife to get something to quench his thirst.

On the street, there is a pharmacy, the only merchandise of which are condoms and porn magazine. In Larry 1, the magazine contained a helpful article on the use of ropes in window cleaning, but here we learn that women like to be pampered with gifts. The pharmacy does not sell wine.

The street also has an entrance to a disco, which requires a pass card to get in. Within disco there’s a waitress selling some wine. There’s also an innocent country girl waiting for some gifts. And of course you get to do some dancing. While in Larry 1 this was a fun animation, here it is fun for different reasons…


Nice to see disco will be well alive in the future

Unlike in Larry 1, the telephone booth is within disco. The use of the phone is still similar. You can order some wine to the hotel and you can also phone to another number…


I wonder why they need these answers?


Casino

Just like with disco, the casino area has only one street, so we don’t have a separate street for the church or “Quickie Marriage Center” (alas, no guy flashing to you). The preacher is also less talkative than in Larry 1 and does nothing but winks at you when marrying a woman.

The Adventurers Hotel contains no separate cabaret with a comedian, but there are rooms for slots and blackjack. According to some walkthroughs, in the original Apple version the blackjack used a pre-determined sequence and was thus easy to beat. This appears not to be case in the PC conversion, which also has thousand dollars as a betting limit. Thus, I think slots are the best option, since they involve only pressing Y key for a long time - and they also have decently good profit margin, since triples are fairly usual and give out 1500 dollars (no wonder the inflation is so rampant).

The hotel itself is much smaller than the one in Larry 1 - in addition to the bottom and the penthouse, there’s only one floor, in which you’ll find a pass card to disco, and more importantly, the honeymoon suite, with a woman wanting some wine. The suite has also a separate balcony, where you’ll find a radio, where you can hear an ad for a wine shop, and a peeping hole.


 She’s practicing a magic trick, but the Magician's Code forbids me from telling you anything more
10 CAPs for the first to tell the name of the trick

After you’ve got wine to the room, the woman ties you to bed. Surprisingly, this is all she does, and your money stays intact.

The elevator to the penthouse is guarded by a blonde with a great derriere, who loves to eat strange pills, but who also has a boyfriend. Getting rid of that problem, we get to take a ride upstairs, listening to some boring music. The penthouse is apparently full of pictures by some centuries-old artist (none of which we can interact with, of course). Moving forward, we find a living room, with a closet and something to actually inflate.


I don’t know which makes me facepalm more, the lame sex scenes or author’s incapacity to spell.

After that incident, we move to porch and phone immediately rings.


The second line ruins the joke.

But let’s get down to the main business and in jacuzzi.


Maybe she doesn’t mind!!!!! But I do!!!!! Bieng a grammar nazi!!!!

We all know what we should know - give Eve the apple. But where is it? In Larry 1, an apple was sold to us by a broke businessman, but no such luck here - closest to a fruit we’ve seen was that apple core with seeds.

This is the most original part of the game, and I am not at all surprised that Al Lowe decided to drop it. There’s a group of bushes hidden behind a plant in the hotel lobby, and entering them would apparently be kinky. The bushes lead us to a lush garden with roses and other flowers - there’s also the hammer you’ll need to break a window. The soil of the garden is just perfect for growing apple trees, so all you need is some water, which you can luckily get from a kitchen in the penthouse.

So, now we have our instant apple and the only problem is getting out of the garden, because the entrance has just vanished. Luckily among all those plants there’s a mushroom and eating that takes you to a psychedelic trip - somewhere to the bar area.


How many mushrooms had the author eaten, when he invented this puzzle?

This is indeed all there is to the game. Now it’s time to see how it fares under a close scrutiny:


Puzzles and Solvability:

Trickster noted that Larry 1 was a bit too on the easy side, and the same problem occurs in Softporn also. Even the puzzle that was not approved by Al Lowe is, in all its weirdness, quite simple - just find some soil and water to grow an apple tree. In some ways there is less hand holding in Softporn - no one is telling you to use medical stimulants with the lobby woman - but with other puzzles there is more hand holding (come on, do I have to be told in a magazine that wine and gifts work with a woman). The possibility to escape death makes the game even easier. On the bright side, the puzzles are rather logical and there is rarely any sense that you would get stuck due to a dead end or incredibly bad puzzles, mazes, guess the verbs etc. Indeed, it is easy to see how the almost same set of puzzles could have lasted for four games, as the puzzle structure is so well crafted. I am thus following Trickster here…

Rating: 5


Interface and Inventory

Softporn is a rare two-word-parser game where the limitations of the technology do not matter that much. It’s mostly about the simplicity of the puzzles again, but there’s also in some cases sincere efforts to tell the player what the correct command should be - for instance, we have a sign in a kitchen telling that WATER ON will turn water on. The separate part of the screen indicating all the interactible objects and exits in the room was also a pleasant surprise. All in all, the interface deserves a better score than all the early text adventures thus far.

Rating: 4


Story and Setting

It is in this category where the differences with Larry 1 really become apparent. Al Lowe managed to carve out of Softporn the essential and viable core: a story of an eternal loser trying to score even once in his lifetime. Problem with Softporn is that it tries to be something more, but without any clear direction. The main character is not a lovable virgin, but someone just wanting to get laid for - I don’t know - existential anxiety over living in a polluted dystopian future. Add to the underused scifi setting with its clear overtones of 70s the weird fantasy element of a garden with magic mushrooms, and the resulting mix is just confusing.

Rating: 2


Sound and Graphics

Technically I should give no points, since the game has no graphics and sounds, but I liked the occasional bits of ASCII-art that I am going to be generous.

And this might be called animation…

Rating: 1


Environment and Atmosphere

Something’s not quite clicking in the game. I already talked about the mix of different genres in the story section, but I’ve yet to say anything about the humour. Generally, it just feels like the producer wasn’t sure what level of levity and hilariousness he should pursue. There are some amusing one-liners and jokes, but the main story seems rather bleak and jokeless in its obsession with sex. I am not sure whether I am meant to laugh or get aroused with the game’s description of all the women, but I am not doing either. Al Lowe took the whole sexual innuendo thing farther than Softporn ever does and also made the sex into a major source of the jokes - heck, I think our very own Kenny knows his innuendos better than Sofporn.

Rating: 3


Dialogue and Acting


Considering that this a game based on relationships, you would suppose that you’d spend a lot of your time conversing with other characters. Not so, since this is a game with no ability to TALK. The other characters do have a line or two to say, but it is hard to get any sense of what they are like, when you don’t get their basic motivation. For instance, it is not apparent why the woman in the disco wants to marry you, and it becomes even more of a mystery, when she without any reason ties the player character to a bed, without even taking the money.


Could this be the first mention of gays in a computer game? 
If so, I have to congratulate it for its neutrality


On the other hand…
Rating: 3

5 + 4 + 2 + 1 + 3 + 3 = 18, which divided by 0,6 gives 30. I am also going to give it an additional bonus point, because of one special joke that never gets too old.


No matter what the century, this is always awkward

So, the final score for Softporn is 31. I think this is very much in line with what these old text adventures have got so far.

16 comments:

  1. This is simutaneously less salacious and more funny than I expected. Who knew?

    Good post! I really enjoyed the look back.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm not thinking. I'm serving the ladies drinks in the Jacuzzi.

    Also, this is just Larry in text, isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kenny, you might want to know that rumors say the waiter was "flamboyantly gay" (all women in the photo were marries, and husbands didn't want just anyone in the bath with them).

      And no, Larry is this in graphics :P

      Delete
    2. Hey, "gay" is supposed to be a happy word until some nutjob made it to mean something else.

      Delete
    3. Larry, in some ways, is a parody of this; this game presents what the protagonist is doing as "cool", while Larry (the game) makes fun of Larry (the character) all the time.

      Delete
  3. Sword swallowing. You managed to have a misspelling prior to 'grammar nazi' in your post, too - but I can't check the link (at work) so there's no way of me telling whether 'bieng' is intentional or not. I'm not throwing stones, though - you can definitely write better in Finnish than I!

    I think the real hidden question here in Softporn is the cover - not Roberta, but the waiter/butler guy who appears to be joining them in the hot tub WHILST WEARING HIS TUXEDO VEST! No good person in that position would risk his clothing like that, clearly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the 'bieng' was definitely intentional. I don't know if it was the original producer or the PC converter, but the game has a lot of misspellings (so much that even a non-native like me can see them).

      Delete
  4. Sword-swallowing sounds... uh... a little pornish...

    Also, that waiter is definitely not a good person.

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  5. now, in form of Larry I, been remade three times - that’s gotta be some sort of record!

    As far as non-public-domain properties go, I count six remakes of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain at http://www.mobygames.com/game-group/warlock-of-firetop-mountain-adaptations , and I'm probably missing a couple.

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  6. I can't recall if this excellent article from The Atlantic has already been linked here, but just in case:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/12/the-odd-history-of-the-first-erotic-computer-game/383114/

    It contains a couple more photos from that shoot, so do check it out-- I know you can't wait to see more of Rick the waiter.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, great article, I didn't even knew there were other photos in existence!

      Delete
  7. "Then again, we are told that cockroaches run around, which I definitely did not see in Larry 1."

    I think Al Lowe actually mentioned that the only phrase he kept from Softporn in Larry I was "the peeling paint gives the roaches something to watch". It's even kept in the newest, Kickstarted remake.

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    Replies
    1. That proves how faulty my memory is. At least Al Lowe didn't include any pictures of cockroaches anywhere.

      Delete
    2. Don't worry, I didn't remember it either from playing the game, just from a later interview with Lowe. And, like you said, you don't see any roaches, they're just in the (textual) room description.

      Delete
  8. ASCII and ye shall receive! (Note that this is not what I ASCII'd for.)

    ReplyDelete