Friday, 17 July 2015

Missed Classic: Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man - WON! and Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

A deadly combination of villains.

Peter Parker Journal #3 - I did it! I have successfully defeated Electro and Doctor Octopus, and snagged the elusive bio gem. I even solved a riddle hidden in a newspaper. Is it time to wake up now?

Where we last left Spider-Man, he had just descended through a maze of air ducts to emerge into the printing press room at the Daily Bugle. There, we met up with Doctor Octopus and Electro, but the latter quickly blasted us with lightning and it was time to reload. As we approach what I expect will be the final villains in the game, it’s notable that these are the first ones to actively be trying to attack Spider-Man. Every other villain was content to stay in his room and say that I’d never get his gem, but these were the first to actually do something about it. I even stood around while my spider-sense was tingling precisely because I expected these guys to be the same as the earlier enemies. I was wrong!

Now, how should I approach this situation? I first go to Madame Web and ask her for hints, but none are forthcoming. I really will have to fight this final battle alone. But first, I want to explore the rest of the basement. There was an exit off to the west that I could have taken, but did not get around to it before I was shot. Let’s start there.

Strange… Spider-Man weighs nothing in this scale.

Off to the west of the presses is a room with a giant scale. There’s some paper on the scale, but only enough for one newspaper. It looks like the paper feeds into the press in the other room and I cannot pick it up. I can however drop other items on the scale and find out how much they weigh: the statue is 200 pounds, the desk is 80 pounds, etc. Just to try it, I drop everything I am carrying, but nothing happens. Is there a target weight that I am aiming for? Or will I use the scale later for a puzzle where I need to balance my items? I’m not sure so I take notes on the weights of everything I am carrying just in case.

I save the game and head back in with Doctor Octopus and Electro. My spider sense isn’t tingling yet and I can explore around a bit more. While experimenting, I discover that I can “grab doc ock” and Spider-Man catches hold of one of his arms!

This is a downside to having so many arms.

Doc Ock braces himself against the printing press, but as an experiment I also grab onto Electro. That causes a shock and Doc Ock is knocked out cold! I search his sleeping body to find a gem, but Electro throws electricity me at before I can get out of the room and I die again. I died, but it looks like I am on to something! What if I did this while the press was running? Would Doc be sucked into the press, knocking Electro in with him? That seems farfetched, but if Doc Ock is “bracing himself” using the press, running it might do something interesting.

I try to “start press”, but that just gives me a cryptic error message about “computer run”. It really does look like a typo, pity I didn’t take a screen capture. Could that be a clue that the solution is in the Ringmaster’s room? I run back upstairs and try that command, but it doesn’t do anything. But on a hunch, I try “run computer” instead and that works! A keyboard appears. I think I should have been able to figure this out earlier, but I had tried words like “boot” and “turn on” instead. I had a similar problem using the computer in Mission Asteroid, so I suspect this is an example of the vocabulary changing. With the keyboard out, I type “start press” and it informs me that I need to have 950 pounds of paper to start a printing run. Now I know what the scale is for, but that still leaves me with a problem as I only have 766 pounds of stuff so far. I must be missing something.

Spider-Man goes off to think for a bit.

Rather than narrate it all out, let’s just say that I tried a bunch of things to figure out what to do next, over several hours:
  • Since I did not have a “sleeping” body yet for Sandman, I imagined that there must be a way to knock him out. One of the things I tried was to let the Hydro-Man thaw out in his room, perhaps to form a sand/water creature. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds as the villain Mud-Thing appeared in 1981 and was a merged combination of the two villains. Ultimately, I did not find a way to pick up Sandman.
  • I raised the temp to the maximum 91 degrees in the penthouse and re-explored the building to look for anything that might have changed because of the high heat. 
  • Like Sandman, I have Mysterio’s gem but not his sleeping self. I spent the most time trying to defeat him, both in the elevator lobby and in the room with the cloud. There seems to be something with the mirror, but if there is I can’t find it. I even do crazy things like dropping the couch and climbing on it to get closer to the cloud. All to no avail.
  • I try to defeat Electro by throwing water at him. Nope.
In all of this, I manage to get killed by Electro three more times. I do discover that I can “jump” when my spider-sense tingles to avoid his lightning bolts, but not any way to attack him.

At this point, I am fairly certain that I need to turn on the press to defeat Electro and that there must be a way to knock out Mysterio. If Hydro-Man can weigh 200 pounds, so can he, and that seems about what I need on the scale. But, I am playing the game on a time schedule and eventually give up and ask Ilmari for clues. I feel bad, especially considering I haven’t beaten a single “Missed Classic” without asking for a clue, but these old games are quite tricky. Given the time I had to put this post together, I also did not have a chance to post the questions on the blog itself.

One down, but one to go...

The first set of hints I received were on how to defeat Mysterio, because I felt that was what I was missing. It didn’t end up being that straight-forward:
  1. No, you don't need to beat him, you just need to find your way in the illusions.
  2. When sight fails, try other senses.
  3. Especially touch.
  4. FEEL different directions to find more rooms.
Wow. I was disappointed with this because I was very close to solving this on my own. In Mysterio’s room, I had already tried “feel floor”, “feel n”, and similar and each time got the message that I just felt floor. But after getting this hint, I tried “feel north” (spelling it out) and that worked! I should have tried that, but the seemingly correct error message threw me off. The parser has been very kind this game and this is one of the few occasions where it let me down.

With that clue, I find two more rooms on Mysterio’s floor, each with a gem. That raises my score to 83 out of 100, but doesn’t move me anywhere on the Electro/Doc Ock puzzle. After a while, I give up and use the next set of hints:
  1. This is easier than you think.
  2. What works for one villain works also for another.
  3. After hitting Octopus just hit Electro.

Nice close up views of the enemies here.

This was not “easier than you think”! Even with this hint, I couldn’t solve this puzzle. I had already found that typing “hit Electro” was a great way to die immediately, and I experiment again and find out that is still the case. So rather than go back to Ilmari, I search for a walkthrough and find out that I have to hit him while still holding onto Doc Ock. That sucks since I have to restore back a great distance to get to before I knocked him out, and I ultimately just decide to play the game over from scratch. 40 minutes later, I am back in the printing press room with both of them still awake.

But even with Ilmari’s hint and the walkthrough, I die again. I eventually find a video on Youtube that shows a working solution and I discover the issue: the attack is semi-random. Electro will sometimes charge up his attack and, if he does, he will blast you before you can complete the maneuver. I had been unlucky each time, rather than just doing the wrong thing. I reload and try it again, making sure that Electro wasn’t charging his attack, and this time I knock them both out cold! Very uncool that this was a dead-end, and doubly so that it was a dead end with a random solution. I could have been stuck here for a very long time.

Don’t worry. They’re just sleeping.

With both down, I grab their gems and drag their bodies to the scale. And that does it! All together, they weigh 951 pounds and enough to start the press. I run back upstairs and start the press in the computer room, then run back down to find that I now have a newspaper to read.

It says: “A gem is in reverse new type.”

Another puzzle! But is this what the mirror is for? I take the paper upstairs and try to look at it in the mirror, look at it upside down, and various other combinations before I realize the obvious: all this is saying for me to do is “type new”. I type that in the computer room and I get a gem. Judging by my score, only the bio gem is left.

But apparently they didn’t have the art assets to illustrate his arrival.

This final gem also has the distinction of summoning the Chief Examiner, so I know I must be getting close. Unfortunately, there’s no art of him appearing and that is a shame. This game has been pretty good about having all sorts of nice close-ups and animations and they should have been able to do something here.

With only one puzzle left to go, I don’t even need to consult any hints. I find that I can see the “bio gem” from the hallway outside its room and I am able to shoot webbing at it to pick it up. I had this idea earlier, but I tried “shoot webbing west” rather than “shoot webbing at bio gem” and I didn’t snag anything. I should have known better. I take the gem to Madame Web and the game is over! Just like the last time, the Chief Examiner also gives me a password: MICAH.

The Hulk password was “ARIA”, a musical term, and now we have “MICAH”, a name of a prophet and several other people in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. I do not see a connection yet, but perhaps we’ll get a bit more of a clue once we find the next password.

Time played: 3 hours
Total time: 8:30 hours

Deaths/Reloads: 7 (11 total)

Time for a bit of introspection.

Final Rating

As I start this rating, I am not sure exactly where it will go. This has been more enjoyable than The Hulk, and more mature both technically and puzzle-wise. How much will that translate in our rating system? Only one way to find out.

Puzzles and Solvability - 4

Every “Missed Classic” that I have played so far has stumped me on at least one occasion, and this one is no different. This rating is not whether or not I get stuck, but rather an overall look at the puzzles in general. Frankly, I liked this game’s puzzles a great deal. Keep me honest if you think nostalgia is getting in the way, but here are some nice things here.

The game provides a sliding scale of puzzle difficulty. The first few challenges are easy, and the new player is assisted further thanks to Madame Web’s hints. By the time you get to the more difficult puzzles later, you have a good idea how the “Questprobe” game works, even if you didn’t play the previous entry.

The maze in the game was a throwback, but ultimately not a very big one.

In retrospect, I have to say that I love Mysterio’s floor. The terrible reaction that I had in first encountering the room was expected and clued me in that there was a mystery to solve; it wasn’t just poor game design. The overall design of the first and third floors also served as an obvious set of clues. I am frustrated that I never found a way to defeat Mysterio, and the two gems that I found near the end were because of a tricky parser, but overall this was a pretty nice touch.

A few things keep this score from becoming a five. First, the random nature of the Electro battle threw me, plus deep-down this is still a scavenger hunt game. The nature of the search for the gems is much toned down here from the previous entry, but still part and it would have been easy to miss a few of the gems along the way while still defeating all of the enemies. Beyond that, I think there was some missed opportunities with the final scale puzzle including the impossibility that the solution required you to haul furniture through a system of air ducts that it could not possibly have fit through.

A score of “4” places this game with “Mystery House” and “Space Quest III”, so I feel pretty good about it.

Interface and Inventory - 3

I’ll go right out and say it: the S.A.G.A.+ engine is the best engine from any of the “Missed Classics” that I have played so far. This is a late game in the graphical adventure party (coming out around the same time as the original King’s Quest), but it’s good to see the genre becoming more technically sophisticated. I vaguely remember that Infocom had a parser of similar complexity a few years earlier, but perhaps I will re-discover that if and when we play the Infocom games. Unlike the previous entry, the parser accepts multiple word commands and did a great job figuring out what I was intending to do.

I also liked that you can bypass the graphics if you need to zoom around the map quickly, for example to experiment on a puzzle across the map. The “z” command toggles graphics, plus you can use multiple commands separated by commas or similar. For example, this would get you to the printing press from the start location: “e,e,u,w,w,climb ceiling,go fan,d,d,d,d,d,d”. The parser is pretty smart in other ways, too. For example “drop gems” will drop all of the gems in your inventory one by one, but nothing else. That’s smart.

While less pretty, you could switch to text mode to move around the game more quickly.

The game’s inventory is pretty good, but not special. The inventory screen I loved in the previous entry is gone, replaced by a text list that isn’t quite descriptive enough. I never did figure out whether I was carrying a chemical formula or a baby’s formula. Some of the objects had individual views, but the majority did not. The picture of Spider-Man on the couch though will stay with me for all time. What the heck was up with that? At least in the end all of the items were useful, if only for the scale puzzle.

A score of “3” puts it at the same level as Wizard and the Princess, but I have to say that this game has a significantly better interface than that game, though I liked the former’s inventory puzzles more. It was very very close to getting a 4 in this category, but I am not quite ready to put a text adventure on the same interface level as King’s Quest I.

Story and Setting - 4

Hey look! An empty office!

I gave The Hulk a four in this category, largely because of the framing story and the comic, but it was a low four. Spider-Man improves on the previous entry by making the backstory richer (I love the explanation as to what the bio gems and natter energy eggs actually are!), but more importantly makes the setting seem reasonable. Yes, it’s just an office building and there is too much reuse of identical corridors and empty rooms, but at least it’s a place Spider-Man might find himself in within the comics. And that sense of setting makes things like Mysterio’s puzzle work, while the Hulk’s alien world was just a mismatch and filled with random teleportation.

Even so, the setting isn’t all that great. Instead of empty offices, how about show a newspaper bullpen? Or have the offices named for characters we know? This could have felt more like a real space that we were playing in, instead of nondescript offices and corridors. I’m nitpicking a bit, but it could have been worse.

While Hulk may have been on the low end of what I should have given a four, that still only makes this on the high end of the same. It’s roughly on par with such later games as Codename: ICEMAN and Tass Times.

Sound and Graphics - 3

Sandman emerges from the pile of sand.

Although the engine was improved for this outing, the art does not seem to have been. There are a few bits of animation here and there, but ultimately not that many. The web shooting animation is the only one that you see multiple times, and it gets repetitive enough that I found myself turning off the graphics while I was experimenting at webbing things. One nice touch is that when you are crawling around on the ceiling the whole perspective changes 180 degrees and all of the screenshots are reversed.

One more thing I didn’t realize until I was gathering the screenshots for this wrap-up: this game is very blue. At least on the Commodore 64 (the “best” art edition, as far as I know), the color choices seemed limited and somewhat repetitive. Even The Hulk had more variety in its color use. I wonder if this was because it was only drawn by the Marvel staff artists? Or perhaps the actual artists removed their names from the game for concerns about its quality? Like almost all games of this era, sound effects are very limited. This game will beep at you when it needs you to press a key to continue, and that is pretty much it.

Given all that, I think I have to go with a “3” in this category. The animation makes up for the somewhat repetitive art, but the webbing animation did become repetitive before the end.

Environment and Atmosphere - 4

As in The Hulk, the sparse nature of the environment underscored the “simulation” and “dream-like” feeling that the designers were aiming for. And while my criticisms about setting (above) are still accurate, I also have to give special attention to the fact that several of the puzzles meshed very well into the atmosphere: the Mysterio floor could not have worked without the environment being as well-done as it was, and the air duct maze actually did have you emerge into the basement primarily by traveling down.

I’m going to go with four points again here because I liked the way this game felt, but it is difficult to nail down more than that.

Dialog and Acting - 3

And finally, the dialog category. Remember that this category is primarily used to rate the in-game text and dialog as no games of this period had actual acting. This time around, the villains at least had a bit more to say than in the previous game, but you can’t really say that any of the text in the game seemed like much of a priority compared to the art. What we have is serviceable for the story it is telling, but we’re still a long way from Monkey Island.

Final Result

4+3+4+3+4+3/.6 = 35! That’s a respectable score for a game of this era, and I believe the highest-scoring graphical text adventure to date. That places it on par with Shadowgate and that feels right to me.

The average score in our guessing contest was 31 and no one guessed higher than 33. I suspect how much I enjoyed this game must have surprised some people. Either way, that makes Aperama the winner this time! Congratulations.

Up next will be the final game in the series, Questprobe featuring the Human Torch and the Thing. After seeing the improvements in this game, I am looking forward to seeing how Scott and company better utilized their new S.A.G.A.+ engine in the next outing. I just wish they would have used a shorter title.

Scott Adams / Chief Examiner Interview!

As you might have seen in the comments of an earlier post, Scott Adams has agreed to do a community interview with us. Scott is the former head of “Adventure International”, probably the first ever adventure game company for personal computers. He has written more than a dozen games himself, including all of the Questprobe games that we have been playing. He was also a programmer on a number more, including blog-favorite “Psycho”. His most recent game is “The Inheritance” (2013), a text-adventure game based on the bible.

If you’d like to ask Scott a question, please post it here. (You can also mail the questions to the admins at the email address on the left.) Just like we did with the “Two Guys from Andromeda” interview, we will gather up the best twenty questions (or so), organize them, and send them off to Scott. We hope that his answers will be published just after we complete playing Questprobe #3 in August. This will be your last chance to post questions as they will be going off to Scott next week.


  1. Woo, I got one right! (re: webshot to get the biogem away from the energy egg)

  2. Look! I moved into the mid-90s by making animated GIFs! I should start a Tumblr!

  3. Yet another Kickstater thingy:

  4. I'm pretty impressed by how cool some of the puzzles in this game were! Certainly a cut above many of the missed classics you've played through Joe.

    1. I blog through history so you don't have to?

      This was a pretty enjoyable game for me. I think they handled the license very well. I fear however that a game every four months done not really give the developers time to breathe, especially considering how many platforms they were targeting. Thank goodness for a portable game engine!

    2. Well, I'm glad that you do. I guess I do, too?

      Agreed on the portable game engine. Despite the quick turnaround time, this game seems to have gotten a lot more right than the Hulk one did.

  5. Interview questions, eh? It would be interesting to get a bit of insight into his brief rebound from AI adventure games working for Starsoft, with eg. Pirates of the Barbary Coast (1986), Black Monday (1987), Stock Market: the Game (1987), and of course Psycho (1988) attributed to him especially in the MS-DOS versions. Sorry, that's not really a question. Just a couple of years doing some quick and dirty conversions to line up some hard cash to cover the bills before jumping ship from the games industry?