Sunday, 23 August 2015

Leisure Suit Larry 5 – What’s New in Baltimore?

Written by Alex

Avoiding the groping from her limo driver, Patti alights in Baltimore, outside of the majestic Shaft building, home of des Rever Records and the FBI’s next target, record producer Reverse Biaz.


Inside the funky lobby, there’s a sleeping guard, an elevator Patti can’t open, and a directory. Before I continue, I’d like to give an example of a problem I have with the puzzle design of this game. Here are three ways to get into the elevator:
  1. Look at the directory to find out that des Rever Records is in room 900 (3 points), and then talk to the guard to wake him up so he can call the elevator;
  2. Talk to the guard to wake him up and then show him the DataMan with the Reverse Biaz cartridge inserted (6 points), so he will call the elevator; or
  3. Just keep talking to the guard until he calls the elevator for room 900; no mucking around with the directory or the DataMan necessary.
Sure, option 3 results in no points, but you get to where you need to go regardless. Conversely, you can look at the directory AND show the DataMan to the guard for the maximum amount of points, but the point remains the same: Alternate solutions to puzzles are pretty pointless when they are all redundant and there are no stakes attached to any of the solutions. Just click, click, and click, and get to where you need to go.



The elevator brings Patti to this mess of a reception room. Glass partitions guide Patti past des Rever memorabilia, including a gold record displayed atop a turntable and stereo speakers. Reverse Biaz is behind the glass in the back-right; clicking “Talk” on him reveals that he cannot hear Patti but, seeing her lips move, he announces over the loudspeaker that he’s waiting for her to begin her recording session (remember: Patti’s cover is that she’s a studio musician hired to play keyboards on some of Reverse’s tracks).


The gold record couldn’t have been a stronger beacon had it been festooned with neon lights and hundred dollar bills. Patti naturally makes a beeline to it and removes it from its plaque (12 points).


Well, the game has given me a gold record right near a record player. Should I play it? Does this really qualify as a puzzle?

Clicking “Eye” on the record player provides us with a close-up of the soundsystem. Further clicking reveals five buttons: Three for direction—forward, reverse, stop—and two for speed settings, 33 RPM and 78 RPM. Patti remarks that the 78 RPM setting is unusual for a turntable to “still” have. Now, I don’t know much about record players off-hand, being born in 1981 and firmly ensconced in the tape, CD, and digital eras, so I had to check on-line as to why this is so unusual. It turns out that the earliest records—we’re talking late nineteenth-century ones—used this setting, but then 33 RPM became the speed of choice as the materials used to make the records changed and became thinner. Interesting.

Playing the record forward at 33 RPM (3 points) plays a track by a 1950s-sounding rock n’ roll group.


But we’re here to bust Reverse for including subliminal messages in his recordings, right? Let’s play this baby backwards! I do so at 33 RPM, and after a while a sultry female voice says “Just say yes!” (3 points).

You know, it’s almost expected to rag on Nancy Reagan, but drugs ARE bad.


Evidence, huh? Here’s another teachable moment in game design: Despite the message in the above screenshot, Patti can waltz right into the studio and suffer no ill consequence—the good guys will still win! I suppose this is better than creating a walking-dead scenario like what would probably happen in a King’s Quest or Space Quest game, but by taking the extreme reverse position, the designers here sucked all of the tension out of the experience.

Anyway, if you want to get all of the evidence, Patti has to play the record backwards at 78 RPM to get the same voice saying “Porn is best at a quarter a whack” (3 points) and forward at 78 RPM to hear the secret message “Digital audio tape causes impotence” (3 points). Again, I appreciate the gags, especially as someone who is a fan of Pink Floyd and The Beatles—two bands accused of putting “dirty” hidden messages into their recordings—but from a game-design standpoint, these aren’t really puzzles as much as jokes you can find.

Yay! But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

Back to the game. With sufficient evidence in tow, Patti strolls into the studio to lay down some sweet synth for Reverse Biaz’s latest masterpiece!

An award-winning soundtrack, I’m sure. Lost forever . . .

Reverse Biaz explains that he’s not sure what happened to his regular synth player, but that the instrument is locked and loaded and the charts are all set up. All Patti has to do is get in the groove and let her fingers do the rocking!


Pop Quiz! This is:

A. A puzzle sequence
B. An arcade sequence
C. A sequence that is impossible to lose
D. The prelude to another snarky comment
E. C and D

The correct answer is, of course, F: Completely pointless, except for the 8 points you get for . . . doing what, exactly?

This is what happens: Reverse counts Patti in, the track begins, and you can use the mouse on the keys or your computer keyboard to try and play along. The track ends, and Reverse tells Patti he wasn’t quite feeling it. Take 2 is the same thing. Still not satisfied, Reverse cues the track up one more time, and then the game takes over and automatically plays the “correct” synthesizer solo. No puzzle, nothing to solve, nothing for the player to really DO but dig the hot licks coming from their PC speakers, take the free points, and move on to the next part of the game. I hate to sound like I’m not having fun with this game. I am! It’s just that I feel its flaws still need to be addressed.

After finishing the recording, Reverse invites Patti back into the booth to listen to the playback. Here’s where the game, I feel, handles its more prurient moments right. In my last gameplay post I wrote about my misgivings with Larry filming Michelle Milken performing a sex act on him without her apparently knowing she was on camera:

“I don’t know about anyone else, but this is REALLY CREEPY. Although, thinking back to the introduction, Michelle, along with the other potential hosts of ‘America’s Sexiest Videos’ have already sent in ‘audition’ tapes to PornProd Corp., which one has to assume are sex tapes. So maybe this isn’t creepy, since all three of the girls Larry is checking out are clearly comfortable with baring all on camera. But here, they don’t know that they’re being filmed . . . I think? It’s such a stupid plot, I’m not going to worry about it.”

Yes, the plot to this game is EXCEEDINGLY STUPID, and I know it’s going for that sort of Revenge of the Nerds/Porky’s/Mel Brooks-ian type of humor, but the filming thing does bug me. I believe that it’s because I’m looking at a 1991 game through 2015 eyes, where technology has vastly challenged preconceived notions of privacy and what is right, which in turn can change what we find funny (and boy, does the second Patti section have a DOOZY of a joke to analyze through this lens . . .). I think, though, that everything ultimately works because, despite the adult themes and innuendos, it’s still all relatively innocent in that it’s REALLY DUMB and not mean-spirited.

Anyway, the reason I feel that this situation is less creepy than Larry’s tryst with Michelle is that, here, Patti has more of a choice about how to get evidence from Reverse. Patti can take the “easy” way (i.e. that gives less points) by clicking talk on reverse several times until they start to get it on. While doing so, Patti is able to obtain a cassette with a bunch of Reverse’s subliminal messages on it (40 points). She also inadvertently turns on the recording equipment, recording the two of them doing their thing. Reverse later adds drums and bass to it and releases it as a single, which hits the top of the charts (16 points). This is ALSO kind of creepy, come to think of it, since Reverse never asked Patti for her approval. Are Al Low and company just a bunch of creeps after all?

Patti can also give Reverse the bottle of champagne she found in the limousine, getting him drunk and causing him to spill the beans, giving Patti the tape (40 points) and explaining all about the subliminal messages (18 points). Again, another alternate solution to a puzzle that provides different gags—here, a reversal of the “man getting woman drunk to take advantage of her”—but which is ultimately of no consequence, as the player will get through the game anyway.


Patti, triumphant, finishes the champagne herself next to the passed-out Reverse, gets into her limo, shows the driver the P.C. Hammer DataMan cartridge, and sits back for her ride to Philadelphia, where she will have to contend with the world of rap music. But first, Larry’s got some creepy business to attend to in Atlantic City.

Total Points: 424 out of 1,000

Inventories:
  • Larry: Hidden camera, charger, three blank tapes, three resumes, napkin from Hard Disk Café in New York City, AeroDork Gold Card, AeroDork’s in-flight magazine, matches from Tramp Casino in Atlantic City, business card for Doc Pulliam in Miami
  • Patti: DataMan, Reverse Biaz cartridge, P.C. Hammer cartridge, brasserie cannon, gold record, Reverse Biaz tape

Session Time: 45 minutes.
Total Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes.

But I kind of wish I was sometimes . . .

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 points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of .. Oh screw it! This game is so easy that no one can spoil it.

23 comments:

  1. It's only fair to view these games through 2015 eyes, we can't review these things completely impartially. The risqué subject matter and the age of the games is always going to throw up some problems, and I'm sure it could have been criticised at the time.

    As for the easy or non-existent puzzles, it's all about the focus of the game. Some adventure games are more interested in the puzzles, and others are more interested in the story (or in this case the jokes). While adventure games often get criticised for their crazy logic, it's often the games with easier puzzles and better stories that get more fans than the puzzle-heavy story-light ones. The popular Telltale Walking Dead games have very few puzzles at all, but are surely the most popular adventure game series of recent years.

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    1. I see your second point, Andy. As a counterargument, though, I would say that the Lucas Arts games--particularly the first two Monkey Island games--do this a lot better. Come to think of it, I would say that the Quest for Glory series is Sierra's best when it comes to making deaths and puzzles seem fair and not cheap, and I can only think of a few walking dead scenarios in that series (most of which are in the first game) that aren't due to bugs.

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  2. Well, playing a record could be a puzzle in 2015. Have you watched those videos of children trying to use a walkman or a rotary dial telephone?

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  3. I feel that the idea to begin with in this game was most certainly to make a game both easy and accessible. Even though the consistent 'wink wink, this game isn't for kids!' theme keeps being played out in all Larry titles.. it's a game for beginners. Not necessarily 'kids as young as five' - but this game clearly tried very, very hard to be easy, focusing moreso on fun writing than anything.

    As to the subject of things not really sitting right? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ7mJFNkLAU

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    1. Nice video.

      As for the game, I'm deliberately avoiding reading the posts because I'm still very early on - I've only just become Patti!

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    2. Wow quite the video!

      I definitely think this game is easy and accessible. Enjoyable, too, but to me it's less a game than it is a bunch of jokes you get to click on.

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  4. This is the 1st step to modern gaming. You can't really lose if you just keep playing.

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    1. I think I remember Al Lowe saying that this game was like this because at the time it had a producer who wanted to turn (this game? every new Sierra game?) into more of an interactive cartoon, instead of a game.

      Fortunately, it didn't last long. Larry 6 and 7 are "real games" again, with puzzles that must actually be solved, and the possibility of dying / losing the game (although I think they got rid of walking dead situations).

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    2. @Dehumanizer

      Larry 6 may be one of the best-designed adventure games I have every played. I never played 7, if you can believe it.

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    3. I know I've said this before, but you're my hero, Kenny. :-)
      I think Al Lowe's producer got his/her wish in the end with Larry 7 though, at least in the looks department. It was the first game I thought could've passed for a straight-up cartoon (if we exclude Dragon's Lair/Space Ace).

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  5. Can you help me with some trivia? I'm trying to do some digging for an upcoming Questprobe post.

    This game (LSL5) is one of the many where you switch between multiple protagonists, but do not play them at the same time. The only games that I know of prior to 1990 that let you play as multiple characters and switch between them at will are:

    Suspended (1983) - Infocom
    Maniac Mansion (1987) - LucasArts
    Questprobe #3 (1985) - Adventure International

    Could you do so in any other Sierra or Lucas Arts games? I couldn't quickly come up with any.

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    1. Maybe not Sierra or LucasArts games, pre-1990. Of course Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle qualifies, but there's a UseNet thread engaging this question at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.arts.int-fiction/6abXLDc5UEM ... some contenders include "Tartan Software's [Sinclair Spectrum] titles (The Gordello Incident, and the aptly named
      Double Agent)" and the better-known " The Melbourne House games of _Lord_Of_The_Rings_ did something similar. You
      could play one of four hobbit characters (two in the second game), and swap
      control at any time, with the "I AM" or "BECOME" commands. If your character
      died, the game ended; but if one of the others died, it didn't."

      And the non-adventure games called out: "There have been games throughout the history
      (although perhaps mostly non-IF) that let you control several cooperating
      PCs: Head over Heels, Everyone's a Wally (I just *loved* those Wally games),
      Hired Guns etc. Lord of the Rings is the only text IF game I can think of."

      Actually, come to think of it, one of my first RGIF posts to the newsgroup was on the same subject! I got fewer responses.

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    2. The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy allows you to play different characters, although you have to solve a puzzle to change "at will".

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    3. Zac McKracken?

      http://advgamer.blogspot.com.au/search?q=zak+mckracken

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    4. If they don't have to be adventure games, I'd suggest Lords of Midnight and sequels, beginning in 1984. You begin the game with 4 characters, and can also switch to any allied lord after you've recruited him to your cause.

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    5. I can't think of any . . . sorry Joe!

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. In the early 1960's, my parents still had some 78 rpm records, mostly classical music. 45 rpm singles had a much larger hole in the center - we had to put an adapter on the spindle to play them.

    The whole "secret messages in music played backwards" thing was from conservative groups who thought all rock music led to devil worship and worse. People complained about "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen, because they didn't understand the words, so they must be obscene. http://www.vh1.com/news/52612/15-songs-satanic-backwards-messages/

    By the way, it's impossible to play a song backwards on a turntable, which is Al's real joke here. We did sometimes change speeds, laughing at the result of playing a 33 or 45 at 78, for instance. The backwards song hidden lyrics meme required tape - specifically tapes that made noise while being rewound. People mostly listened to records prior to 1980 or thereabouts, with 8-track tapes and cassettes gradually coming into vogue in the mid-70's.

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    1. "it's impossible to play a song backwards on a turntable"

      Here's someone doing it with some ingenuity:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqC4SHg-qd8

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    2. @Corey,

      Thanks for the info about the speeds. I did not know you couldn't play records backwards! Who says playing video games doesn't lead, however tenuously, to learning something!

      The best thing about "Louie Louie" is that apparently the drummer did yell the F-word after dropping a drumstick about a minute into the song.

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    3. Wait, why? Couldn't I just fiddle with the belts or add a gear system to reverse the direction of motion? (Or, depending on the moter replace it or run it backwards?

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    4. I guess Corey's point was more like "not without modifying the record player", that is, that record players didn't come with an option to play them backwards. Of course, anything is possible with some technical tinkering.

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  8. I didn't solve the record puzzle - didn't even think to look at the record because I went to Reverse first and didn't get the chance to go back to that area after getting his tape.

    I don't think it's a good idea for an adventure game with so few puzzles to begin with to make most of them optional.

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