Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Game 12: Mortville Manor - Introduction

Oh, non! J'ai oublié je ne peux pas parler français!

The twelfth game I’m playing for the blog is little known French game Mortville Manor (at least it seems to be little known outside of France). Created in 1987 by Lankhor, a fusion of two other companies called Kyil Khor Creation and Béatrice & Jean-Luc Langlois, the game was originally developed for the Atari ST before being ported to Amstrad, Amiga and PC in various languages. It’s the first of two games to put the player in the shoes of private investigator Jérôme Lange, with the sequel being 1990’s Maupiti Island, which was based on a tropical island and seems to have had a much more widespread release. Mortville Manor is based in 1951, where Jérôme is called in to solve a murder mystery in a grand manor. I know little more than that, other than the standard “all is not as it seems” style marketing that accompanies all games of this type. The game seems to be most well known for being the first to utilise speech synthesis, which is another way of saying artificial human speech (think Stephen Hawking).

Developed over thirty games, but would always be known for Mortville Manor

Mortville Manor is without doubt the most underground game I’ve played so far for this blog. There is very little information on the internet about it and I was very close to just ignoring it and scratching it off the list. There were two things that made me decide that I should hunt the game down and play it. Firstly, reader Daubeur suggested that he’d really like for me to give it a shot (yes, I take requests...within reason) and secondly, I can’t ignore the fact that the game was the first to use speech synthesis, making it significant to the evolution of the adventure game (which is what this blog is all about at the end of the day). However, making the decision to play the game was the easy part. Finding it has turned out to be something much more difficult, and has required some dexterous Adventure Gamer rules loopholing to achieve. Before I describe what I plan to do to play Mortville Manor, I wanted to quickly thank all those people that spent time trying to track it down for me. You know who you are!

The mysterious Daubeur!

While there are quite a few sites that make reference to a DOS version of Mortville Manor in English, including Moby Games, there are others that say that it was released for only French and German speaking audiences on that platform. The latter seems likely to me as I simply cannot find a PC version of the game in English, but there’s no shortage of downloads available in the other two languages. There’s no way that I could play through the game in French or German, so I decided to try something a little different to complete my mission on this occasion. I’m going to play the Amiga version of the game, and with the knowledge I gain from that experience, will make my way through as much of the DOS version in French to be able to rate it. From what I can tell from the small amount of time I’ve spent in both versions of the game, the interface, plot and even the sound, are almost identical, so it’s really only the visual experience and possibly the atmosphere that I’ll need to focus on to get a good feel for the PC version of the game.

The chapel in the PC Version of the game

Having spent the better part of my childhood permanently attached to an Amiga, I have to admit that I was pretty excited to get n emulator up and running, with the possibility of one day playing through some of my old favourites, but as with everything to do with my attempts to play Mortville Manor, that turned out to be a learning experience. It turns out that you need to configure the emulator you’re using to match the game you’re playing, as many games made use of different hardware components available for the Amiga platform. Thankfully I came across Amiga Forever, a website devoted to Amiga emulation, which offers various purchasable applications that make running Amiga games simple. The basic $9.95 Value Edition of Amiga Forever (which comes with 40 games installed and ready to go) will play any game compatible with the Workbench 1.3 ROM, of which around 70% of Amiga games are. I checked out what I needed to play Mortville Manor and it turned out 1.3 would do, but still decided to dish out $29.95 for the Plus Edition (which comes with 100 games) as that will allow me to play any Amiga game I want at a later date.

The Amiga Forever interface. Definitely worth the money!

Now that Amiga Forever is installed on my PC, all I needed to do is double click on the ADF file that I downloaded for Mortville Manor to add it to the long list of games I have available in the interface. The software does the rest! As for the PC version I will be playing, I ended up downloading the ZIP file from www.lankhor.net (I just kept clicking on the French headings until I found the one with game downloads), which is a package containing four versions of the game. Versions 2 and 3 don’t seem to run in DOSBox 0.74, version 4 starts up but crashes as soon as the intro completes, but version 1 seems to run perfectly well. I found a manual (that contains some truly horrible English) at the same site, which describes the fairly obvious interface. More importantly, it gives a few hints about the relationships of the Mortville Manor inhabitants, which I assume will come in use at some stage. Well, wish me luck...Detective Lange is on the case!

The chapel in the Amiga version of the game.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Quick Update and Final Rating for Maniac Mansion

I’m having a busy few days right now so I haven’t had any time to start the next game. I’ll definitely have an update of some sort in the next few days though.

In the meantime, I’ve had a good think about the situation involving which version of Maniac Mansion I played through, and how that might have affected my rating of the game. For anyone unaware of the discussion, I played through the enhanced edition of the game which was released a short while after the original (around a year later). The enhanced edition has much better graphics than the original, but is otherwise exactly the same. A few people have commented that playing the enhanced edition would have skewed my rating, particularly the score I attributed to the Sound and Graphics category.

The original Maniac Mansion

Before I reveal my decision, it’s worth noting that the Enhanced Edition is not a remake of Maniac Mansion. It is an enhanced version of the original game. This is different to the Sierra remakes that were developed in the early nineties, where all aspects of the game were improved upon and in some cases the actual game mechanics were changed considerably. Not the case here!

I’ve decided to adjust my final rating for Maniac Mansion. My reason for this is not so much because I didn’t play the original release (in other words, I’m not opposed to playing patched or updated versions of a game), but because I did unfairly compare the graphics of the game to other games released in and prior to 1987, when the enhanced edition was released in either 1988 or 1989 (the jury is out on that). I’ve spent a bit of time checking out the original release and I don’t believe that the puzzles, interface, or any other category apart from Sound and Graphics would have been unfairly skewed by the version I played. It’s fair to say that Environment and Atmosphere may have been skewed by the increased graphical quality, but since I happened to be fairly critical in that department when rating the game, I don’t think that’s the case for Maniac Mansion.

The Enhanced Maniac Mansion

So, I’m going to change the 7 I gave for Sound and Graphics to a 5. The graphics are merely on par with the likes of Leisure Suit Larry and Space Quest which I gave 6, but there is a distinct lack of sound in Maniac Mansion which I’d criticised previously. This changes the overall rating of Maniac Mansion from a 65 to a 62, which still rightfully leaves it at the top of the board. The good thing is that there are very few future cases of games with multiple versions, but whenever I come across them, I will make sure I play the earlier version wherever possible.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Game 11: Maniac Mansion - Final Rating

Before I discuss today’s topic, I just wanted to quickly mention the good news for anyone that is currently unaware. Chet from the CRPG Addict has decided to take up his sword and shield to fight the good fight once again! You can go visit his blog to read all about his reasons for returning, but I for one am delighted that he’s back. I don’t at all see it as a negative that there are other blogs out there doing a similar thing to what I am, particularly as each of us is taking a different approach and following different genres. There’s a growing community that enjoy this type of thing and some individuals will make their selection based on writing style or genre interests, but there’s also a lot of crossover and potential to help each other out. Exciting times if you ask me (which you didn’t)!

The Unfathomable Refrain of My Thesaurus

Speaking of excitement, I’m actually both excited and apprehensive about giving Maniac Mansion a PISSED rating. On the one hand, it’s certain to lead the board after I’m done, but on the other hand, I kind of hope it doesn’t score too high. If Maniac Mansion were to push my ratings from the 40s and 50s into the 70s, I might have a problem on my hands when I reach some of the games down the track that get close to perfection. It’s important that I reward Maniac Mansion for its pioneering features as much as its entertainment value, but the genre would improve over time in every category below, so I need to leave room for that evolution. I’m still not certain the PISSED rating system is up to it, but I have to trust that this won’t be the game to break it. Here goes…

Puzzles and Solvability
It’s important to note with this category, that my rating will be based on the puzzles and solutions I experienced with the characters I selected at the beginning of the game. If I’d selected different characters, I assume I would have experienced similar puzzles, but the solutions would likely have been very different. This is impressive in itself, but the fact that a large majority of the ones I did experience were both logical in nature and highly satisfying in their resolution makes the game a phenomenon for its time. While I was playing, I eventually had to take notes about all the outstanding things that I felt might need to be done. If I couldn’t resolve something, I’d simply look at the list and focus on another puzzle, and most of the time solving the latter would lead to an item that might help with the former. I think there were only two occasions where I got stuck entirely and they were, as expected, right near the end of the game when there was little left to be done. Maniac Mansion was never a chore a play and I never felt that the solution to a puzzle was illogical. The only complaint I have is around clarity, which I feel was occasionally lacking due to some items only being relevant to certain characters and the interface allowing resolutions despite the commands I used not actually being correct. The first flaw lead to me spending quite a bit of time trying to do stuff with the easel and the developer which I now assume I was never going to be able to do with the characters I’d selected, and the second resulted in more than one occasion where I was misled into thinking I’d resolved a puzzle one way, only for my assumption to be incorrect.
Rating: 8

I still don't know what that circle represents. Anyone?

Interface and Inventory
I probably don’t really need to tell you that the introduction of the SCUMM interface was hugely influential to the adventure genre as a whole. Not only did it begin the downward spiral for text based adventure games (they’d still be around for a few years yet mind you), it also opened up the genre to a much wider audience. Simply put, more people were willing to use their brains to solve puzzles when the interface was slick and easy to us, and it certainly helped that it was entirely driven by the mouse. Of course, despite what many websites will try to tell you, Maniac Mansion was not the first game to try this sort of interface. ICOM’s MacVenture games (such as Déjà vu and Uninvited) were 99% driven by the mouse and Tass Times in Tonetown actually gave the player the option of using action buttons or a text interface, but none of these felt quite right for various reasons. Maniac Mansion’s brilliance is the way it allows you to form sentence structures in any order (click the verb, then the item or vice versa) and then action them when you’re happy that the game understands what you’re trying to achieve. Intuitive and simple, yet ground-breaking and highly influential! The inventory is also more than adequate, which is great considering the player needs to take care of three characters throughout. You can swap items between their inventories easily, and the developers were smart enough not to limit the amount of items that can be carried in each or to fit the entire contents on the screen at once. It can be a nuisance scrolling up and down the inventory trying to find an item, but the alternatives are much worse!
Rating: 8

Push, Pull, Open, Close, Turn On, Turn Off...this interface would have really worked in Leisure Suit Larry!

Story and Setting
This is definitely an area where Maniac Mansion failed to raise the bar. Story was always going to be a challenge when there are so many different pathways through the game, and Gilbert and Winnick pretty much sacrificed having a satisfying plot when they decided to have branching storylines and multiple characters. The game doesn’t make it very clear who the family are that inhabit the house, what have happened to them to make them so hostile, or why they’ve kidnapped Sandy in the first place. It just throws the player into the Mansion and gives them the task of saving her. Even the manual is pretty lacking when it comes to backstory or motives. You might be able to tell from my posts that I really didn’t know that the meteor was totally behind things until the very end, and I don’t think it was intended as a twist. I just didn’t get it to be honest! Somehow the lack of lucid plot didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the game, as while the occurrences leading up to my arrival at the mansion were not particularly clear, my focus and direction once inside pretty much always were.
Rating: 5

Of course it is!

Sound and Graphics
The previous highest rated games from a sound and graphics point of view were all Sierra games. A quick comparison between the graphics of Maniac Mansion and those games (in particular Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest and King’s Quest III) results in a no contest. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why, but the increase in scale for both characters and items really makes a positive difference, even though everyone’s heads are way out of proportion to their bodies as a result. The artwork detail has only slightly been increased over previous efforts but the range and brightness of the colours is much easier on the eye. Compared to today’s graphics standards, Maniac Mansion is still fairly primitive, but it deserves some credit for what it managed for the time. The sound also has a slight increase in quality (and by that I mean actual sound quality, not the quality of the effects or music itself), but there is so little of it in the game that it’s hardly worth mentioning. Music is only used for the title song and sound effects are limited to ticking clocks, radio fuzz and the occasional opening door. I’m going to give the game a 7 for this category for upping the ante in the visual department, but a game of a similar standard in the future won’t be treated as generously, especially if it makes such minimal effort in the sound department.
Rating: 7

Note: I've since adjusted this to a 5 after readers rightfully commented that I was playing the enhanced edition, therefore unfairly comparing the graphics of a game released in 1989 with games released in and prior to 1987.

A car being rocket propelled into space. Your argument is invalid!

Environment and Atmosphere
The first thing to say for this category is that the atmosphere really does suffer due to the aforementioned lack of sound. The mansion is reasonably atmospheric due to the b-grade horror staples such as bloody handprints, mummified corpse in the bathtub, and radioactive slime, but the steady silence deadens the majority of the effect these might otherwise have had. I never thought I’d talk about Uninvited in a positive light, but at least that game tried to keep the player on edge through the constant threat of death and creepy sound effects (that were admittedly pretty awful). I ended up playing music throughout my Maniac Mansion sessions, only tuning in when a sound effect in the game caught my attention. As for the mansion itself, well despite the fact that Maniac Mansion is basically a haunted house game, once you realise that the house inhabitants don’t actually offer much threat (unless you really push them), it’s just a matter of getting on with your business and getting out of the way on the rare occasion that one of your actions causes Dr Fred, Nurse Edna or Weird Ed to come out of their rooms. It’s not like the developers were attempting to creep the player out though, so I won’t be too harsh on the game for the atmospheric deficiencies.
Rating: 6

Scenes like this one would have been a lot more effective with creepy sounds.

Dialogue and Acting
What Maniac Mansion does have over the likes of Uninvited is humour. It’s not as constant or hilarious as Space Quest or Leisure Suit Larry, and most of the humour comes from the various cut-scenes, particularly those involving Dr Fred’s Dr Evil style complaining about the constant interruptions and lack of budget he has to take over the world. The rest of the amusement comes from the sheer ludicrousness of what’s going on, including a depressed tentacle and intergalactic meteor police. The dialogue itself merely gets the job done, always taking the most minimal path to keep the player focussed on the tasks at hand while injecting enough humour to be enjoyable. Despite all of Maniac Mansion’s advances, there’s still no way for the characters to communicate with either each other or the NPCs, which is made totally obvious by the fact there’s no “talk to” or “ask about” verbs to choose from. For some reason this category has been getting either a 4 or a 6 every game so far and I’m going to break that pattern for this game as the dialogue is fairly limited when compared to the likes of Leisure Suit Larry and certainly not as clever, yet it’s not as simple or condescending as it was in some of the earlier games I played through. I’m going in between!
Rating: 5

I'm sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, I am completely unable to speak and so cannot comfort you in any way.

That all works out to 62, which is 5 points higher than Leisure Suit Larry and the first game to earn Elaine Marley status. You probably haven’t noticed that there are different graphics that accompany the PISSED rating for each game as they’ve all been fairly bunched to this point, so I haven’t had the chance to bring many out (status’ range from LeChuck through to Guybrush Threepwood in case you’re wondering). I feel totally happy with the result, with Maniac Mansion clearly leading the pack, without causing great concern around the system coping with the inevitable future advancements. Now...what’s next?

Not another creepy house!!!!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Game 11: Maniac Mansion - Won!

Dave Journal Entry 3: “We did it! Just when it seemed we’d never find Sandy, we made our way into the secret lab and saved her! Not without assistance mind you and it was Bernard’s genius in fixing the radio and contacting the Meteor Police that made our rescue possible. They arrived pretty quickly, but we had to make sure we’d already opened the two cell doors leading to the lab before they could go in and arrest the purple meteor that was behind this whole plot. The outer door was easy enough to get through once we had the glowing key from the emptied pool, but there were many obstacles to overcome before we finally got hold of the code to get through the inner door. First we poured radioactive water over the man-eating plant which caused it to grow, but before we could climb up it through the hatch in the ceiling, we fed it some Pepsi to give it indigestion so it wouldn’t eat us. Through the hatch was a massive telescope which required dimes stolen from Ed’s room to control, and using it to look through the window into the storage room above Edna’s bedroom revealed a code written in tiny writing on the wall. This code opened the safe where we found an envelope containing a single quarter. We knew exactly what to do with the quarter and made our way to the games room to check out the Meteor Mess arcade machine. Dr Fred’s high score on the game just happened to be the code we were looking for, opening the second door to the secret lab, allowing the Meteor Police to do their thing. Once the meteor was gone, we turned off the machine that was controlling Dr Fred and his family, freeing Sandy in the process. It's just so good to have her back, and this unusual family isn't all that bad after all! Who knows, we may actually become friends!”

Phew! Maniac Mansion was a pretty tough nut to crack (it took me seven hours all up)! Even though I had a fair idea of how events were going to play out towards the end, there were a couple of times where I was well and truly stuck. As you may have gathered from my last post (well you would have if you’ve played the game yourself), I was totally barking up the wrong tree when it came to getting hold of some radioactive material to use on the man-eating plant. I spent a long time trying to collect the radioactive goo on the floor in the reactor room with various utensils before finally resolving to look elsewhere when that failed. Not long afterwards I remembered seeing radioactive rods in the emptied pool, so I emptied it once again and climbed in to see if I could find any material in there that I’d missed the first time around. When that failed too, I was seriously about thirty seconds away from posting a request for assistance, when out of nowhere I had one of those eureka moments I spoke about recently (although this one could easily be labelled a face-palm). Of course the water in the pool would be contaminated by the rods that were cooling in it! I collected some of the water and used it on the plant which increased in size as expected. However, as soon as I thought I’d set the last phase of the game in motion, I found myself totally stuck once again.

Not how you do it!

This time it was the telescope that gave me so much trouble. As soon as I saw it I knew its purpose was to read the tiny scrawled message on the wall in Edna’s storage room, but after entering my dime into the control panel and turning it either left or right, I simply couldn’t see anything useful through it. It soon became apparent that I was going to need more dimes to turn it further, but I didn’t have the slightest clue where to find them. I thought I’d searched every single room in the mansion as well as I could, so I was a bit perplexed to find that I’d missed something somewhere along the way. I decided to spend some time focussing on the items in my inventory that had served no purpose to date (in particular the package, manuscript and stamps). The advertisement that constantly plays on the TV shows a publisher that claims they will publish any story sent to a particular address. I couldn’t see any reason why I should try to get the manuscript published, but since the only thing I’d used Wendy’s skills for since the beginning of the game was to edit the manuscript on the typewriter, I figured it must be for something. The stamps wouldn’t stick on the manuscript itself, so it seemed logical that I needed to find something to put the manuscript in to send it to the publishers. This led me to focus on the package I’d intercepted on delivery to Ed, which inadvertently led me to the dimes I needed.

There are a few novels I've read that may have passed through 222 Skyscraper Way at some point.

Any attempts to open the package received a message stating that it would be illegal to do so. Getting desperate, I got the boneheaded idea that if I could actually deliver the package to Ed now that I’d removed the stamps from it, I could then somehow recover the empty box and in turn use that to send the manuscript to the publisher. Thinking about it now, that doesn’t make sense at all, as why would you take the stamps off the box and then put them back on to send an item later, but as I said, I was getting desperate. I decided to go outside and knock on the door and try to give him the package to see what would happen. Needless to say, he didn’t accept it and told me to get lost, but when the view temporarily switched to his room, I noticed the piggy bank sitting there on the drawer, undoubtedly containing the dimes I needed to move the telescope. I’d been in his room earlier and stolen the hamster and card key, but since my attempts to pick up the piggy bank at the time failed, I’d simply moved on and forgotten about it. Now that I needed coins though, I could think of nothing else! I rang the doorbell again and while Ed was coming down to the door, I sent Bernard into the room to try to do something with the piggy bank. It turns out that selecting the verb “open” and then clicking the pig causes Bernard to break it, therefore gaining access to the dimes. Using the dimes in the telescope did exactly what I thought it would and I soon had the code I needed to get through the inner cell door and into the secret lab!

If I had a dime for every time I got stuck in Maniac Mansion, I would have got stuck at least one less time

Of course getting through the outer and inner cell doors is not the only way to get out of the dungeon. If you’ve read my previous posts for the game you’ll know that I’ve struggled, despite everyone telling me the solution is fairly obvious (and in fact that there are multiple solutions), to find a way out of the dungeon. Well, I did eventually find one of the ways out, but it happened totally unintentionally! It’s hard for me to actually talk about it yet (too soon!), but you get out of the dungeon using the rusty key, which I’ve had in my possession for many days now. That’s right, you read that correctly! All I needed to do was use the rusty key on the dungeon door to get one of my captured characters out of the dungeon instead of reloading! This is very clearly an example of a major face-palm, but…I blame the game for this one, at least partially! I haven’t been able to be particularly negative about much during my time with Maniac Mansion, but I’m going to be now, as this little problem clearly caused me to not only fail to see something right in front of me, it also made me look like a complete fool in front of my adoring fans, simultaneously lowering their perception of my brilliance by a significant amount! Jokes aside, over all my sessions of Maniac Mansion game time, I’d never once found a key that had multiple purposes. The key from under the mat only opens the front door, the silver key only opens the backdoor, etc. etc., so it made sense to me once I used the rusty key to open the rusty grate that I’d never need that key again. Except…

The old rusty key opens the old rusty grate. Pretty obvious right? Right??!!

…the rusty key didn’t actually open the rusty grate. After looking up a walkthrough (once I’d completed the game) to see where I’d gone wrong with the rusty key, it turns out that making my characters lift weights made them stronger, which allowed them to open the grate when they couldn’t previously. When I initially selected “open” and then clicked on the grate, the game told me I couldn’t budge it. When I later selected “unlock” and then clicked on the rusty grate, and then selected the rusty key in my inventory (forming the sentence “unlock rusty grate with rusty key”), the grate opened. I don’t think I can be blamed for thinking that it was the rusty key that opened it and not my newly buffed physique, and therefore, given the fact no other key is used for multiple purposes, I don’t think I can be blamed for not ever trying to use the rusty key on any other lock in the game. At least I didn’t until I decided to try every key I had on every lock I hadn’t unlocked, just to make sure one of them didn't just happen to serve multiple purposes. When I tried the rusty key on the locked door in the reactor room, it opened, and I soon found myself in the dungeon cell, with my palm firmly placed on my face. This confusion could easily have been avoided by either a) not allowing me to open the grate by using the key, as that actually had nothing to do with it or b) making it more obvious that my initial failure to open the grate was due to me not being strong enough (a “perhaps if you worked out a bit” style message wouldn’t have gone astray). The same can be said for the garage door incident described in the last post, which was also a result of a “working out” based puzzle not given enough clarity.

That's ok Dr Fred. I didn't have anything better to do today anyway. Let's be friends!

Gripe aside, Maniac Mansion was a thoroughly enjoyable and impressively pioneering adventure game that will unquestionably do pretty well when I apply a PISSED rating to it in the next day or so. Its interface, graphics, multiple characters, branching pathways and use of cut scenes were all revolutionary and yet somehow it didn’t collapse under its own weight. Obviously I’m not really in a position to be able to play through it again with different characters (I’m sure you’d all rather me move onto the next game instead of banging on about this one ad infinitum), but the fact that I want to is testament to both how enjoyable Maniac Mansion is and how replayable it is. I’m certain I haven’t used Wendy to the best of her abilities, as her skills never really came into play. I did end up sending the manuscript off and witnessed a cut scene of the publisher wanting to offer the meteor a million dollars for the rights, but I finished the game before anything further could play out on that front. I can only imagine that this might have led to another game winning solution, unless it somehow led to the one I experienced in some abstract way. I’ll have a look through some more walkthroughs before my Final Rating post, but from what I can tell, you can finish the game with only two characters, which is pretty much what I did, albeit unintentionally.

10 points to whoever can tell me how this would have played out had I not finished the game about two minutes later

Mortville Manor for PC...in English!

As I'm approaching the end of a game (in this case Maniac Mansion), I always start making sure that I have all the resources I need to play the next one on the list. As it turns out, while I thought I had a working version of Mortville Manor, it's actually in French, which isn't much use to me (I tried to learn French once but found out quickly that learning languages takes the sort of crazy commitment I usually only attribute to things like playing through an endless list of adventure games and blogging about it).

I've Googled every variation I can think of, but can't find a PC version of the game in English to download. I've also found forums with others searching without luck, so I'm starting to think this game might have to be removed from the list. That being said, Moby Games shows screenshots of the DOS version in English, so there's every chance it did exist at some point.

Anyone else know where I might find it? Before anyone mentions that I should play the Atari or Amiga versions through emulators, I've already decided I'm not going to do that.

The Trickster

Monday, 20 February 2012

Game 11: Maniac Mansion - A Door That Just Opened

Dave Journal Entry 2: “We still haven’t found Sandy, but we’re making good progress in this creepy mansion. Bernard, Wendy and I have really had to put our thinking caps on to get past a number of obstacles and with each success I feel we are one step closer. This family sure is a weird bunch, but they also seem a more than a little mentally challenged, so it’s not difficult to avoid them and continue our search. As long as we don’t go rushing into their bedrooms, for the most part we can explore all the other rooms and try to figure out how to get past various locked doors and how to fix some of the things around her that are broken. Speaking of fixing things, Bernard has been amazing and has fixed the telephone (so we could prank call Edna and steal the key out of her room while she was occupied) and the wires in the attic (which has restored the power to the games room), but he hasn’t yet been able to fix the staircase in the library. There are still many unanswered questions to focus on, but at least it’s keeping me occupied instead of focussing on what these freaks might be doing to Sandy behind closed doors. Hopefully my next entry speaks of our triumph!”

Maniac Mansion is a great game! I have to admit that I’d started to doubt myself in recent posts as I was whinging quite a bit about how difficult games (such as The Black Cauldron and Uninvited) were. I’d started to wonder whether I was just being critical due to my inability to breeze through them, and that maybe I’d awarded Leisure Suit Larry such a high rating for the simple fact that I found it so refreshingly easy. Maniac Mansion has made me realise that I wasn’t just being a wuss, and that my complaints were in fact entirely valid. This game is also really quite hard, and I’m making only gradual process through it, but instead of being frustrating it manages to be immensely enjoyable, and the puzzles are tremendously satisfying to solve. After my initial concerns about the seemingly random nature of the game and how the multiple pathways might affect problem solving, the hours I’ve put in since then have given me much more trust in the developers and the game itself. Regarding the random events, that concern turned out to be completely unfounded. I have no idea why Dr Fred captured Dave in the kitchen in my first couple of minutes. I simply can’t replicate the occurrence, so I can only assume it was an anomaly. Ever since then though, it has been my character’s actions that have caused the mansion inhabitants to move throughout the house, and there’s nothing random about it.

Dr Fred or Dr Evil? Mike Myers or Maniac Mansion?

To explain the above in more detail, the movement of the family members and the cut scenes that precede them, are not time driven. They occur only after the player has succeeded in completing certain tasks (no matter how long that takes) and not based on some unseen clock. This means the three playable characters can move around the house freely (apart from Edna’s and Fred’s bedrooms) without worrying about running into the enemy. Certain actions, such as emptying the pool or turning off the power, are required to solve certain puzzles, but they also set off alarms that cause Fred or his purple tentacle lackey to come looking for the cause of the problem. This just means that the player needs to really plan out their actions, and the solution normally involves multiple characters in just the right places. A great example of this is getting Bernard to fix the wires in the attic. To do so he needs to have tools and a working flashlight in his possession, but he can’t fix the wires while they are live as he would obviously be electrocuted. To turn the power off, someone needs to disconnect the circuit breakers in the nuclear reactor room, and for someone to get into the nuclear reactor room, someone else has to pull a gargoyle shaped lever to open the door and hold it down to keep the door opened. So, I used Wendy to pull the lever, allowing Dave to enter the reactor room and disconnect the circuit breakers, and then Bernard used his torch to be able to see while he fixed the wires with the tools. As long as you can complete the task and reconnect the circuit breakers before the purple tentacle arrives in the reactor room, you’re all good!

Flashlight...check! Batteries...check! Tools...check! Let's do this!

This might sound incredibly complicated, but a little bit of trial and error makes the solution fairly obvious. If you try the procedure without turning the power off first Bernard gets a shock. If you try it without having a working flashlight then Bernard is unable to see well enough to fix the problem. If you try it without tools, Bernard says that he can’t fix it with his bare hands. Of course it took me quite a while to get my hands on all the items needed, but once I had them, the solution was a matter of logic! Hence my earlier comment around the game earning my trust. As a player, I feel much more comfortable if I can trust that the solution to a puzzle is going to make sense. I can then put all of my focus into trying to figure it out with logic, rather than throwing random objects at it in the hope that something will work. I can’t think of a single puzzle in Maniac Mansion that I haven’t solved with sound reason, and if I don’t have an item that could obviously assist with the obstacle in my path, I simply go looking for one. It’s absolutely amazing to me that it’s possible to finish the game without Bernard, as this obviously means that there are either completely different ways to solve puzzles like this one, or it’s not actually a requirement that they’re solved at all! Either way, the replayability of Maniac Mansion is evident and impressive.

The safe code on the wall is too small to read. I'm certain the solution will be a logical one.

Over the last few days, I’ve had numerous highs and lows while playing the game, experiencing what I like to call “eureka” moments as well as “face-palms”. An example of a “eureka” moment was when I finally figured out what the cassette tape’s purpose was. I’d been trying for ages to figure out how I was supposed to get the key that was sitting in the glass chandelier (I didn’t notice it all for a couple of hours mind you) and had given up on the idea that I was going to be able to stand on something to reach it. It was then that I turned my attention to the record I’d found in the green tentacle’s room. I placed it in the record player in the piano room and turned it on, only for a piercing noise to burst out of my laptop and a vase sitting on the piano (in the game, I don’t have a piano) to explode. As soon as it happened I had a “eureka” moment, immediately understanding that I needed to reproduce that sound to explode the glass chandelier and drop the key to the ground. All I had to do then is figure out how to record the sound onto cassette and play it on the other cassette  player that was oh so appropriately sitting in the same room as the chandelier. It’s moments like this that make playing adventure games so satisfying, particular when the answer you saw so clearly in your head plays out exactly as you expected it to.

Eureka!!!!!! Smashing glass always feels good, but when it actually serves a purpose...

You probably already know what I mean by a “face-palm” moment, and I have a long list of examples I could give you. The most obvious one came after I’d spent over half an hour completely stuck. There were numerous things I knew I had to do, including locating a tap handle to turn on the water in the bathroom and get some tools for Bernard so he could fix the phone and the wires, but I simply couldn’t find the items I needed. I decided to go to every room in the house one by one, scouring them intently to try and find either of those items. The last place I went was outside the garage, but I still couldn’t see any way to open the roller door to find out what was inside. I’d moved the cursor all over the door several times, trying to find some sort of lock or handle, but couldn’t find anything, so I assumed what I really needed was a remote control of some sort. Just before I walked back into the house, feeling a bit depressed about not knowing what to do next, I just thought I’d try clicking open and then pressing the door. What do you know...it opened!!!! I must have visited the screen about five times and somehow tried everything imaginable without trying the most obvious thing of all. Face-palm indeed!!! Needless to say, the tools were in the boot of the car in the garage and the handle to the tap in the bathroom was sitting there on the shelf just patiently waiting for me to stop being an idiot.

Face-Palm!!!!!! How was I to know that opening the door would actually open the door!?

At this point I’d like to thank Ilmari and Amy for letting me know about the poster that came with the game. I’d already figured out most of the hints on it, including the key being hung from the ceiling and the door being painted over, but I certainly hadn’t considered using radioactive waste on the man-eating plant. As soon as I went back there, I noticed a hatch above it in the ceiling so the solution to that puzzle became very obvious. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to pick up the radioactive goo on the floor in the reactor room, as none of my characters appear to want to touch it in anyway. Another puzzle that I’m currently working on is the games room, where I’ve finally managed to get power to the machines and opened the coin boxes with the key from Edna’s room, but can’t see any way to play the games. I have a dime in my inventory, which I thought was the obvious solution, but I can’t see any way to use it on the arcade machines. Finally, I still, despite a few of you telling me it’s possible and that there are numerous ways of doing it, haven’t found a way to escape the cell once one or two of my character have been captured, and have therefore been forced to restore for the time being. I opened the outer door using the glowing key, but the inner door code has alluded me (I assume it’s the code on the wall above Edna’s room, but it’s too small for me to read). I’ve been just as stuck on numerous other puzzles in the game before cracking them, so I’m prepared to go back in unassisted at this point. If I get REALLY stuck, I’ll comment here in the next 24 hours. Until then, wish me luck!

Well at least I'm not the only one that couldn't escape this damn cell!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Game 11: Maniac Mansion - Microwaving Hamsters

Dave Journal Entry 1: “Aaaaagghhhh!!!!! Damn freaks have taken my girlfriend!!!! OK Dave, get a grip…there’s a still a chance to save her. Today has been seriously messed up. There I was at high school when I saw this freaky looking Doctor kidnap Sandy. I followed them and they entered that scary looking mansion up on the hill. I didn’t dare go in there by myself, so I went back to school and told my friends what happened. Wendy and Bernard have offered to help me get Sandy back, which is awesome! I knew right off that Bernard’s tech skills would be useful, but I have to say I wasn’t sure how Wendy might be able to help, being that she’s a writer. It turns out they’ve both been of use, helping me to get past all sorts of obstacles, but I haven’t managed to find Sandy yet. This mansion is truly bizarre! There’s blood and slime all over everything and the three of us are doing our best not to be discovered while we search each room. We’ve found lots of stuff and managed to gain entrance to some of the locked areas, and even fed a strange green tentacle to make him let us pass! We’ve still got some leads that may or may not lead to Sandy, so I better stop writing and get back to it.”

Quite a few of you have been expecting me to really enjoy Maniac Mansion. There have even been suggestions that the game will in all likelihood lead the board by the time I’ve finished it. So far I have to say that there’s every chance it will, as it really does push the genre forward while being highly entertaining. I do have a few concerns about the way multiple characters and solutions play out, but there’s every chance those concerns will diminish over time as I get used to the game mechanics. Before I talk about any of that though, I’m very interested to know why the voters chose Bernard and Wendy in the recent poll. I can totally understand Bernard being a favourite as he would later reappear in Day of the Tentacle, but the choice of Wendy the writer is intriguing. Is it because her path through the game is particularly interesting, or is she just the character a lot of you guys chose when you first played through? Maybe there’s something more sinister going on and in fact taking Wendy into the mansion makes the game much more challenging? I must admit, the fact that she came from nowhere to win with a few days left (it was between Syd and Razor to accompany Bernard until then) suggests there may have been some foul play, but I can’t imagine anyone feels passionate enough to rig an Adventure Gamer poll (hopefully one day)!

The moon is so close to Earth that it's gravity affects the size of the human head

Regardless, I’ve entered the mansion with Dave, Bernard and Wendy, and can’t see any reason to regret that just yet. When I say entered, that wasn’t as easy as I just made it sound. You see, the door was locked, and it did take me a little while to figure out how to get in. Knocking resulted in an ugly dude (who I believe is named Weird Ed) coming down and opening the door, believing that a package has arrived for him. As soon as he saw that there was no package, he told my character to go away and slammed the door. My first reaction was that I needed to do something with the mailbox that would make him think that the package had actually arrived, which would then allow me to hide and then enter unseen while he checked it out. A few minutes of experimentation with the mailbox, including closing it, putting the little flag up, knocking on the door and then hiding, taught me two things about the game. Firstly, that it’s worth checking the most obvious solutions first when playing Maniac Mansion (the key is hidden beneath the doormat) and secondly, that the interface is far more advanced than all adventure games prior.

Don't press the New Kid button! It seriously limits the time you have to play Maniac Mansion!

It didn’t click straight away (probably due to the ICOM games making the counter-intuitive seem intuitive after enough practice). I spent the first few minutes clicking on verbs and then items only for nothing to happen, but I soon learnt that some verbs work differently than others, and simply selecting the verb and item didn’t complete the action. For example, clicking on the word “Open” and then clicking on the mailbox does not open the mailbox. It does however form the sentence “Open Mailbox”, so one further click on the mailbox opens it. In the same way, clicking the sign and then clicking “Read” does not read the sign, but clicking the word “Read” again will make it happen. I was initially a bit flummoxed by the “What is” option, as following the above method did not result in the game giving me a description of a chosen object. Soon enough I realised that you use “What is” by selecting it and moving it around the screen. Anything you put the cursor over appears in the sentence form (i.e. What is sign). This makes it extremely easy to find objects in any given room that you might be able to interact with, prior to choosing verbs such as “Push”, “Pull”, “Open”, “Close”, “Pick up” etc. etc. It only took a couple of minutes to master and is a huge improvement over everything that came before it in the genre.

What is it with light blue wallpaper in these adventure games? Maybe it was just the eighties.

Once I got inside (as Dave), I soon realised that the game was certainly not going to be a walk in the park. I passed through one doorway into the kitchen and was immediately captured by Dr Fred and imprisoned in a cell, with no apparent way to escape. My first thought was that perhaps, like in Black Cauldron, this is scripted and supposed to happen, but then I couldn’t help wondering whether the same thing would have happened if I’d entered the house with Bernard or Wendy (who were just standing around outside) instead of Dave. I restarted with Bernard (you switch characters with the function keys) and entered the kitchen…no sign of Dr Fred...does it only happen to Dave? I then restarted as Dave again to find out and this time Dr Fred wasn’t waiting in the kitchen so I wasn’t taken prisoner! This immediately raised concerns that some of the events occurring in Maniac Mansion are entirely random, particularly as I can’t see how random events could work in a game with so many solution complexities. If Bernard were to get imprisoned, is there a way to escape or would I need to finish the game without him? Would that even be possible given that puzzles requiring his skills would not be solvable? Could those same puzzles be solved by another character in a different way? My solution to all of this uncertainty has been to make sure none of my characters get captured, and if they do, to immediately reload and try again. However, apart from that initial random encounter with Dr Fred, all other encounters with the family seem to be entirely scripted and therefore easily avoidable once you reload.

Great! Two minutes in and I'm no better off than Sandy. Perhaps if I had the keys to the seckrit lab!

The other thing that’s on my mind is whether or not some of the items I’m picking up are only useful for characters that I’m not using. How do I know that I’m not completely wasting my time trying to solve something or looking to use a particular item that are only part of another character’s solution? Are certain items only available to pick up if you have the right character? One thing that makes me think that might be the answer is the developer liquid I tried to pick up, only for it to fall on the ground and smash. I imagine if I had Michael the photographer on the team, that wouldn’t have happened? As Bernard I can remove the tube from the radio, but perhaps I wouldn’t be able to do that if he wasn’t one of the college friends I chose to accompany Dave? If this isn’t the case, then surely the game will become pretty difficult once you’ve got stacks of items in your inventories that play no role in “your” solution. Anyway, I’m not asking anyone to actually answer all the questions I’m firing off. I’m simply expressing what’s been going through my head in the early stages of the game. I’m pretty sure it will all become clear one way or another over the next couple of days.

That's a question most teenagers would ask today!

So how far have I got? Well, I’ve found the hidden cassette tape and figured out that I can record onto it off the record player, but I’m not sure what I actually need it for. I’ve had Wendy edit the manuscript on the typewriter and seen the ad on TV with an address to send anything you want published. I’ve got Weird Ed’s package too, which means I now have some stamps to try to post it with, but haven’t attempted to do so. I’ve given the green tentacle stacks of food and then water, so he’s let me pass into the upper levels of the mansion. I’ve found a gold key, a silver key and a card key, but have so far only found a use for the silver key, which has given me access to the pool area. I assume I need to empty the pool to get the radio (another radio!), but haven’t yet figured out how to do it. One thing I would like an answer to (for 10 points) is whether or not I need to start again. When I originally found the tube in the old fashioned radio, instead of taking it with me, I had Bernard fix the radio itself with it. It’s only then that I found the much more modern looking radio in another room that is missing a tube and now don’t seem to have any way to retrieve the tube from the old one. Have I already hit a dead end!? I’m going to restart regardless, as it will only take about ten minutes to get all the way back to where I am, but I would like to know whether it’s a dead end. Anyway, I’m keen to get back to it. Talking about the game has just made me want to play it more!

Oh...and you can't microwave the hamster, despite what I read. Maybe it was removed for the enhanced version?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Game 11: Maniac Mansion - Introduction

These game developers really love their alliteration don't they

Game 11 is one that I really should have played before, but for some strange reason never did. I’ve come across the name Maniac Mansion many, many times when reading about classic adventure games, and have even played through the 1993 sequel Day of the Tentacle, so I’m really looking forward to checking out what was the first LucasArts adventure game to hit the PC (1986’s text parser driven Labyrinth was never released on PC). There’s actually a heck of a lot of info out there on the internetz regarding the origin, development of, and critical response to the game, so I’ll try to keep this pre-game introduction post to a short summary of events rather than a step by step trip back in time (trust me, it’s my tendency to go way overboard with the research). If you want more detail, then Wikipedia is your friend.

Video Game Legend Ron Gilbert

Maniac Mansion is the brainchild of Lucasfilm Games employees Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick. The two of them met while working on separate games for the company (Gilbert on Koronis Rift, Winnick on Labyrinth) and immediately bonded due to their similar tastes in humour and movies. When they were asked to design an original game together, the duo began trying to come up with ideas based on their love of B grade horror films, and quickly decided a comedy-horror set in a haunted house would suit their interests and talents. Shortly after they began writing, Lucasfilm Games relocated to Stable House at Skywalker Ranch, and it was the Main House of the ranch that inspired the concept art and eventual look of the mansion. Gilbert had recently played Sierra’s King’s Quest, and thought the adventure game genre would be an ideal format for their ideas, but there were certain aspects about that game that frustrated him. In particular, he found the text parser the player is forced to use to interact with the world to be an inadequate and at times infuriating method. He figured the game should be controlled solely by mouse and set about creating an entirely point and click interface.

The Skywalker Ranch: Luke's intergalactic fame led to great popularity and financial success

Another significant change that they planned to implement was multiple playable characters. They felt that letting the player choose which characters they played with would result in multiple pathways through the game and a level of replayability that adventure games had previously not had. The player would choose two characters from a list of six to accompany the game’s protagonist Dave into the mansion. Each character would have unique skills and each were based on stereotypes and people they knew. For example, the main protagonist Dave was based on Gilbert, punk rocker Razor was based on Winnick’s girlfriend Ray, and writer Wendy was based on a fellow employee that went by the same name. Unfortunately, the pair underestimated how difficult it would be to give the player so many different ways of solving puzzles, and subsequently spent months working on the event combinations that could occur.  Avoiding dead ends was extremely difficult and the game’s development time was already well beyond any previous Lucasfilm game when the real programming got underway.

Dave, Sid, Michael, Wendy, Bernard, Razor and Jeff

Speaking of programming, Gilbert employed the assistance of fellow employee Chip Morningstar to help him build the new engine required to run his game, and David Fox to help with scripting.  He originally planned to have up to forty verbs on screen that the player could use to interact with game world items and characters, but the list was eventually dropped down to twelve that they thought were essential. These were integrated into the engine which took close to a year to complete, and was later named Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion (SCUMM). After close to two years of development, Maniac Mansion debuted at the 1987 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. While it was initially released only for Commodore 64, the SCUMM engine enabled easy porting to other platforms, so ports soon arrived for the Apple II, DOS, NES, Amiga and Atari ST. It quickly garnered rave reviews from critics and has gone on to be considered a seminal adventure title, simultaneously announcing Lucasfilm as a serious competitor to the already well-established Sierra. The SCUMM engine would become the backbone of the company for years to come, with classics such as The Secret of Monkey Island, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max and of course Day of the Tentacle all making use of Gilbert’s creation.

The box artwork was created by Winnick's mate Ken Macklin

That completes the Overview of the Origin and Development of Maniac Mansion 101 course. I hope you enjoyed it, or at least learnt something interesting. Now it’s time for me to enter the mansion and experience the game for myself! I’ve been a little confused about which version of the game to play, as there seems to be a few around. It does not appear that the game is available to buy these days, but please let me know if I'm wrong. In the end, I think I’ve got the best version of the original game, being the enhanced DOS version 2…um…version. This will be my first experience of using the SCUMMVM emulator, and after quickly starting the game up, it seems to be very easy to use. I’ve also paid a visit to Replacement Docs and found a PDF copy of the manual. The backstory of the game is not entirely clear from the manual, but it seems the protagonist’s girlfriend Sandy is being held captive in the mansion, and it’s up to Dave and two other college students to go in and rescue her. The last time I entered a haunted mansion to save someone resulted in a week of Uninvited pain and frustration. I get the feeling this experience is going to be quite a different one. Hold on Sandy…I’m coming to get you!

The SCUMMVM Emulator: Looks clean and easy to use.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Game 10: Leisure Suit Larry I - Final Rating

Another game down, another PISSED rating post. I have a feeling that Leisure Suit Larry has a very good chance of topping the leaderboard, despite wishing it were a tad more challenging. Let's see if the pure enjoyment factor can overcome this weakness.

Puzzles and Solvability
As I’ve mentioned in the previous post, Leisure Suit Larry borders on being too easy, and I think there are numerous reasons why that came about. Firstly, it’s based on an interactive fiction game, and while some of the puzzles may have been challenging in a text only environment, having a graphical interface makes the solutions a lot more obvious. Secondly, I really do think that Sierra’s first foray into play testing resulted in too much hand holding. It seems to me that any frustrations that the test players experienced were “corrected” before release, with the resultant game basically telling the player what to do all the time. A good example of this is Larry’s conversation with Faith. Rather than Faith making some ambiguous comment that if thought about the right way could lead to a solution, the “narrator” of the game tells the player “perhaps some medical stimulant would help”. The up side of this hand holding is that it’s difficult to get into a dead end situation in Leisure Suit Larry. It’s certainly possible to have an unfinishable game (if you eat the apple or give an item to the wrong person), but the player is pretty much told outright that they’ve screwed up, and can therefore reload before the trouble starts. Balancing it all out…
Rating: 5

Hmmm...this is tricky. Um (scratches head)...oh I know! I can try giving her these medical stimulants!!!

Interface and Inventory
There really is nothing to say about the interface and inventory of Leisure Suit Larry that I haven’t already said in previous Sierra games. The interface is exactly the same as it is in the likes of Space Quest, with the main difference being the amount of effort the developers put into making just about every command you can think of result in something (normally pretty funny) on most screens. This makes the text parser feel better, even though it has the same strengths and weaknesses as always. The inventory is just as you would expect, so I won’t waste any more time discussing this category. It was 5 for the last few, so it’s 5 again.
Rating: 5

I find the interface to be acceptable and adequate, with the slightest hint of sufficient

Story and Setting
The story of Leisure Suit Larry is more than a little immature and juvenile, yet it’s so laugh out loud funny and entertaining that you won’t care. Who can’t be entertained playing a 38 year old loser virgin, trying his luck with numerous women of varying quality over a night of alcohol, gambling and smut? Well...feminists I guess...and perhaps fundamental zealots...and come to think of it, I don’t think my mother would really enjoy it very much, but you get my point! The 40 Year Old Virgin movie that came out a few years ago uses pretty much exactly the same formula with similar success, targeting the same male dominated market. Al Lowe clearly played Space Quest as well, as he brought across two of the features that made that game so funny, being hilarious death sequences and a mocking narrator. Larry doesn’t just fail...he fails badly, and is normally killed in extremely unfortunate circumstances (drowned by a leaking toilet, arrested for bestiality after taking the stimulants himself, having his penis bitten off after licking the hooker etc.). Even when he doesn’t die, the narrator makes sure the player knows just how useless Larry is and indirectly, how useless they are. It’s a very short and shallow story, but it’s also the most fun I’ve had since starting the blog, so it’s a 6.
Rating: 6

Just as in Space Quest, some of the best moments occur when you die

Sound and Graphics
You can’t discuss the sound in Leisure Suit Larry without talking about the theme track. Al Lowe, a jazz saxophone player, apparently came up with it in about 20 minutes, but it’s one of those classic, immediately recognisable tunes that stick in your head. I can’t say I really recall any of the music from the rest of the game, apart from the pretty awful music that accompanies Larry and Fawn’s disco dance. Overall, the sound is minimal and suffers all the same quality issues that came with mid to late eighties PC games. The graphics are also a mixed bag. Quite a few sections, such as Lefty’s Bar and the Convenient Store are based around a really eye-twinging light blue, which is made all the more obvious when the game moves to more successful darker tones, like the disco interior and the chapel exterior. Looking at all the screenshots I’ve collected, it’s not hard to see why later games, such as The Secret of Monkey Island, would use almost entirely darker colours, as it’s just simply more attractive. Last but not least, the close-ups of the girls are actually pretty good for the time. Plenty of Sierra games had already included lines such as “you see the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen”, but they were normally accompanied by grotesquely pixelated atrocities that made you question the main character’s judgement. In Larry, the hooker is suitably skanky and Fawn, Faith and Eve range from mildly pretty to downright sexy, in a two dimensional, 16 colour kind of way.
Rating: 5

The Hooker: I just couldn't make Larry go there!

Environment and Atmosphere
The world of Lost Wages (get it?) is full of seedy details. Even if you ignore the fact that a dirty bar, a brothel and a casino rule the landscape, the minor characters that Larry comes across have a consistently sordid quality. Raging alcoholics, flashing grandpas, naked men selling apples, porn-obsessed pimps, there are very few people in this town that you’d want to introduce to your mother (I bet no-one’s ever mentioned their mother twice in a Leisure Suit Larry review before!). Overall, unsurprisingly given the plot, Leisure Suit Larry’s atmosphere is all about sex! Not the sensual, loving type, but the filthy, sweaty type. It’s this naughtiness that no doubt made the game so attractive to teenage boys, who at the time were themselves struggling to rid themselves of their increasingly burdensome virginity. Al Lowe and co. really nailed it, pushing the boundaries of what could be considered appropriate in a video game at the time while remaining joyfully light-hearted and entertaining. It has to be a 7.
Rating: 7

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything, which is why it's so awesome

Dialogue and Acting
This is yet another category where Leisure Suit Larry succeeds, and probably exceeded anything that had come before it in the graphic adventure genre. The game wastes no opportunities, with a large majority of the narration and description being hilarious and highly suggestive. Spending the time to look at every item in every room doesn’t just assist in figuring out what to do in the game, the resulting descriptions are a constant source of entertainment and hilarity.  Most of the characters that Larry meets on the way have idiosyncrasies and impediments, some of which border on racist (“This no library – no leeding”), and all the slurring and ticking gives real character to Lost Wages. While the banter between Larry and his prospective lovers could be considered the first real two way conversations in the genre, they’re limited to a few lines and the player has no real options available that affect the outcome, so I can't really add points for that.
Rating: 6

The drunken, cynical priest is another comedy highlight

Well there you have it! Leisure Suit Larry takes the lead. Comparing the individual ratings to the previous leader, Space Quest, it actually has the same numbers in every category apart from Puzzles and Solvability. I think this is fair, as both games are of a very similar quality and both emphasise humour rather than intrigue, with the main difference being that Space Quest had quite a few uncommunicated dead ends. This difference means most players would have spent twice as long completing Space Quest, but this doesn’t translate to the game having twice the gameplay. I feel comfortable with this result and do feel that Leisure Suit Larry is more than just "that funny game where you have to make a virgin have sex".