Monday 30 April 2012

Game 17: Gold Rush! - By Land or by Sea?

Jerrod Wilson Journal Entry 1: “Just days ago I was content to live my life in Brooklyn, working as a newspaperman for the Evening Star. I’d never considered leaving behind the house my father built and while I’d often repressed feelings of wanderlust that entered my mind, there were simply too many opportunities in Brooklyn to run away from. That's all changed now! Announcements started coming through of a gold rush in California. Many people that previously seemed settled in Brooklyn simply packed up their stuff (or in most cases sold it) and set off with the dream of getting their own piece of the riches on offer. I’m not the type of person to get caught up in such madness, but then a letter arrived from my brother Jake! I haven’t seen him for many years and had begun to think him dead, so the news that he was alive changed everything for me. His letter also hinted that he’d found gold too, so I made the decision to join the flow of hopefuls headed to California. I quit my job, sold my house, withdrew all of my savings from the bank, and have now purchased myself a ticket that will get my as far as Independence, Missouri. I’m currently in a stage coach aboard a ferry with everything I own on my person...which isn’t much.”

We're on a bridge Charlie!

It’s always a good sign when I’d prefer to keep playing a game rather than spend time writing a post about it. There are some games where writing posts has been a fantastic excuse to stop playing because I’m not actually loving the experience (don't worry, I always enjoy games to various degrees, even the bad ones). That’s certainly not the case with Gold Rush! I’ve spent three hours playing the game (split over three sessions) and am really keen to see what happens next, but I also know that if I don’t sit down and start typing, there’ll simply be too much information to get out all at once. As it is, I’ve already got a stack of notes and 61 screenshots to look over, so I better get into it. Before I get stuck into the detail, I’ll start by saying that I can already tell that Gold Rush deserves more credit than it receives. Not only does it push the boundaries of what Sierra’s AGI engine was ever going to be capable of achieving, it also manages to be a rather unique experience at a time where many of the games coming out of Sierra were merely following a blueprint, albeit with different coats of paint being applied.

A nice little house, which apparently belongs to me

My game started in a fairly random location of Brooklyn. Straight away it’s apparent that the creators have spent the time making the town feel like a living, breathing place, rather than an empty shell for goings on that revolve entirely around the protagonist. There are townsfolk wandering around randomly and lots of little details that have little to do with the story or solution, but that certainly help to quickly make me feel part of the game environment. I immediately set off wandering around, forming a map in excel of all available screens the way I always do in Sierra games (that is, when there are enough joining screens to make it helpful). In each screen I typed “look”, and if any particular items or landmarks were mentioned, I tried investigating them directly. I racked up a few points this way by collecting items (a coin and some flowers), and eventually mapped a total of seventeen screens to explore within Brooklyn, including a bank, post office, cemetery, warehouse, livery, travel agent, park and a couple of stores.

Failing to take this advice results in points being deducted from your score

Of particular interest to me was a house in the residential area that apparently belongs to me, so that seemed to be the best place to kick off my journey. On entering the house, I was in for a surprise. All of a sudden Jerrod had increased in size! In fact, he now took on an appearance similar to the characters found in Maniac Mansion. It's not a massive deal. but having the characters given more resolution and focus really helps raise the intimacy of the various goings on that occur behind closed doors. I’ve since discovered that this effect only occurs in the smaller buildings (such as the hardware store, the post office and the travel agent) and not in the larger ones (such as the bank and The Evening Star). I didn’t find much of use in the house, but I did come across of photo album which filled in some of the back-story around my family, particularly the fact that the bank president, named Mr. Quail, looked after Jerrod and Jake after the death of their parents. I took a photo out of the album, and left the house.

Bigger characters isn't a huge advance in technology, but it's a nice touch. Is that a bong on the table?

I knew from my research that Jerrod will at some stage receive a letter from his brother, so my next destination was the post office. As expected, there was some mail waiting for me there, which was a letter from my brother requesting I come quickly to California. The letter finished with the line “P.S. Bring something from home so I will know it’s you”, and I figured that must be the purpose of the photo I took from the album. When I looked at the envelope the letter came in, I noticed a bump under the stamp, which on further inspection turned out to be a gold flake. It appears Jake has found gold! The letter itself has some strange holes in it, which have apparently been cut into it intentionally, but I don’t really know what that might mean at this stage. Shortly after leaving the post office, announcements started to come through that gold had been discovered in California, and everything started to push me towards that path.

This is the LETTER that you RECEIVE from your BROTHER Jake (aka Adam West)

By this stage I’d only been playing for about thirty minutes, but it would be another two and half hours before I was ready to depart Brookville. I quickly found two different paths that I could take, being by coach or by a ship called the Sea Farer, but finding the money to be able to afford tickets on either (the coach costs $950 and the ship costs $2300 or $1800 for a longer route) was really challenging. Unlike the other Sierra game that aimed for realistic situations and factual information, Police Quest, Gold Rush refuses to hold the player’s hand, and lets them figure things out entirely for themself. I literally had to put myself in the shoes of someone in this era wanting to get their own piece of the gold rush to be able to solve anything. What would they do? What would they try to take with them? Who might they speak to?

This notice fails to mention that the ticket prices are ridiculously exorbitant!

The list I came up with was quit their job, sell their house, withdraw all their cash from the bank, and stock up on supplies. I went to the Evening Star, and when I couldn’t find anything else to do, I quit! I received a few points for it, but that was it. I tried to figure out where I might go to sell my house, but there didn’t seem to be an appropriate place. I eventually figured out that you simply need to type “sell house” from literally anywhere in the game for your house to go on the market. It’s an unusual solution but one that’s discovered if you even attempt to talk to anyone (such as the bank manager) about the subject. Once it was on the market, I came across a real estate agent outside the house, who informed me that I’d got myself a lofty $750 for the house my father built. Next step was to head over to the bank to withdraw whatever money was in my account. The bank teller asked me for my account number, which I didn’t know, so I asked to speak to the bank manager.

It's strange that the same horrible light blue interior design keeps popping up in Sierra games, whether they be set in the past, present or future

I’d actually spent a long time speaking to Mr Quail earlier in the game, as I figured his connection to my family must have been mentioned for some reason. It was fairly frustrating to be honest as the game recognises very few requests for information, and I’ve come across the standard Sierra style answers over and over again (“how can you do that”, “what do you mean”, “the word ‘about’ is not recognised” etc.) . Unlike games such as Leisure Suit Larry, where you can ask anything about anything and get an answer (usually a funny one), there is very limited information available at any time when playing Gold Rush. Anyway, his purpose in the game became obvious once I needed an account number, and he happily handed over the number (which is 1!) on request. This gave me access to another $200, taking my total to $965 (I started with $15). Nowhere near enough to get a ticket for the ship, but just enough to get the stage coach.

I was expecting to find a saloon in Brooklyn somewhere. Sadly, there isn't one.

Knowing that Gold Rush is renowned for giving the player multiple pathways to reach the destination, I spent a long time trying to figure out how I might be able to get more money for the ship ticket, but I’m afraid I’ve failed. If there is a way, it has avoided me, so I eventually gave up and purchased my ticket for the coach. That wasn’t the only thing that confounded me during my time in Brooklyn. The hardware store owner informed me that I have an amount of money available on my account to purchase supplies, but not how much. There are many items in the store that seem suited to a life digging for gold, such as a wheelbarrow, rope, shovel, pick, lantern, etc., but I’ve seen nothing that would hint as to which ones I should acquire. I tried various combinations, but none of them resulted in points, so I can only assume it doesn’t matter. I’m beginning to wonder whether the best thing to do is buy none, but I’ve picked up a shovel, a pick and a lantern in case my intuition is wrong, before my account ran dry.

So many things I could buy, no instructions on what I might need!

Having ticked all the boxes in my plan for leaving Brooklyn, I gave my ticket to the man at the livery and hopped on the wagon. I was taken straight to the docks where the coach moved onto a ferry, and a message came up telling me that I’ve got myself only 47 points out of a possible 60 to this point. That seemed a pretty good spot to stop and write a post (wow, that’s three words in quick succession with the same letters!), but it’s got me wondering what I might have missed. More importantly, is there something I haven’t done that’s going to dead end me later on!? It seems to me that the episodic nature of Gold Rush is going to be ideal for the blog, as it puts neat bookends at the end of each section where you guys can all tell me how I’m going. Is it possible to get enough money to take the ship? Is there a way to get aboard without needing that much money? Where are the missing 13 points? The only other thing I’ve done of note is put flowers on my parents tombs in the cemetery, but I’m not going to spend any more time in Brooklyn trying to earn points unless there’s a reason I won’t be able to proceed later. As usual, please use ROT13 for any hints or tips and remember, you could earn yourself imaginary and entirely useless companion assist points!

"Keep trying!!" - Is that another way of saying "Better luck next time?"

Session Time: 3 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 00 minutes

Saturday 28 April 2012

Game 17: Gold Rush! - Introduction

I kind of expected to see Charlie Chaplin pop up

You can just picture how the meeting might have gone between Sierra big boss Ken Williams and the MacNeill brothers.

Williams: “We’ve got science fiction covered with Space Quest. We’ve got fantasy covered with King’s Quest. We’ve entertainment covered with Leisure Suit Larry. We’ve got law and order covered with Police Quest. So what can you two fine gentlemen bring to the table?”

MacNeill brothers: “A western!”

Williams: “Done! Where do I sign?”

The MacNeill Brothers - I'm not sure what's older. Their clothes or that computer!

Sierra were clearly still looking to expand their reach and they’d so far been able to do so by applying their AGI adventure game engine to different genres, creating profitable series with next to no risk. When the MacNeill brothers brought him the idea of Gold Rush!, I can’t imagine he had to think for very long before giving the green light. Both MacNeill’s had already proved themselves on various games (mostly in the King’s Quest series), so as long as they had a decent story in mind, it must have seemed like easy money. But for some reason Gold Rush! has always remained one of the lesser known Sierra games. I can only assume that the setting of the game just didn’t connect with very many gamers, particularly those outside of America. It’s generally regarded as a pretty good game from what I can tell, but it never really took off the way the classic Sierra series did.

Did these guys really think their game was "3D Animated"?

Set in 1848, the player takes on the role of Brooklyn newspaperman Jerrod Wilson. The aim of the game seems to be to get from Brooklyn to Sacramento to find Jerrod’s long lost brother, but I’ve chosen not to read anything further in case I come across spoilers. I do know that it’s notable for having multiple paths available, and that it generally tried to push the AGI technology as far as it could go. I look forward to seeing how that plays out and what the MacNeill brothers managed to achieve with what was already a rapidly dating engine. I’ll be playing the game in DOSBox and have found a PDF version of the manual and printed it out. Thankfully, despite the game apparently being historically accurate, the manual isn’t filled with Police Quest style instructions. Finally, thanks to Chumazik and Fenrus for pointing out that playing Gold Rush! using the faster speeds stops the game’s timer from running, meaning certain events never occur. I’ll have to play at normal speed.

It's time for some adventuring fun!

Weekly Poll Discussion

Another week flies by and another poll reaches its conclusion. Last week’s question was “Which of the following (if any) do you think is the best genre series on TV right now?” and while it appears a fair percentage of you don’t watch any of the series I selected, there was a very clear winner in the end.

Game of Thrones Votes                23 Votes (32%)
I don't watch any of these shows   20 Votes (28%)
Doctor Who                                  9 Votes (12%)
The Walking Dead                         7 Votes (9%)
Fringe                                          6 Votes (8%)
Misfits                                          3 Votes (4%)
American Horror Story                   2 Votes (2%)
Supernatural                                 1 Vote (1%)
Eureka                                         0 Votes (0%)
The Vampire Diaries                      0 Votes (0%)

Damn good books and TV series!

I’m very pleased to see that a lot of you agree that Game of Thrones is awesome. I think HBO have done an amazing job of bringing George Martin’s complex world to the screen and really hope they see it all the way to its conclusion (which George hasn’t even written yet mind you). My other personal favourite from the list is The Walking Dead, but I can understand how that might not be to everyone's tastes. You're either a zombie fan or you're not! The most striking thing for me in the results is how well Doctor Who did, so I’ve made a commitment to myself to give that show a proper go, despite my reservations.

This week’s question is a simple one. How did you first come across The Adventure Gamer blog? I wonder just how many of you came across from The CRPG Addict?

Friday 27 April 2012

Game 16: Captain Blood - Final Rating

It's time rate Captain Blood, the first game that I've abandoned prior to completion. From that statement alone, it's probably apparent already that it's not going to do very well. The question is: will it go one lower than Mortville Manor?

Puzzles and Solvability
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The “puzzles” in Captain Blood are incredibly challenging yet utterly boring! Most of the challenge comes from the communication system being overcomplicated to a ridiculous level, the aliens refusing to answer direct questions unless asked umpteen times, and badly chosen planet and alien names that make differentiating them from the mire of nonsense all but impossible. Add to this that the game often asks you to recall a piece of information that didn’t seem important three hours ago to be able to proceed, and you’ve got a game that will cause hair loss and anxiety attacks rather than entertainment and relaxation. If you take all of the above out of Captain Blood, what you’re left with is “Go to Planet X and speak to Alien Y” about twenty times in a row to complete the game. In fact, if the game had a LucasArts interface I reckon I would have found the five duplicates and got my vital fluids back in less than fifteen minutes. Instead, I spent nine hours trying to decipher complete garbage and having my perfectly logical (and in many cases correct) questions ignored.
Rating: 1

Getting new coordinates is the reward for solving pretty much every puzzle in the game

Interface and Inventory
Well there’s no inventory (which is one of the reasons why Captain Blood probably shouldn’t be considered an adventure game), so it’s only interface we’re discussing here. It’s a mixed bag really. Flying the OORXX’s is surprisingly easy and actually enjoyable until you’ve done it fifty times (no fault of the interface), so that should be commended I guess. But the rest of the interface is pretty clunky, with the buttons on the main console screens badly represented and not labelled. This isn’t a problem after you get used to it, but I found myself having to check the manual quite a bit in the early stages of the game just to see what the buttons did. As for the communication console, well I think I’ve made my feelings about that pretty clear. Having 150 buttons (with a scroll bar to view them all) makes for a stupendously difficult interface, particularly when it’s rarely very clear what it is you supposed to say next. The majority of these buttons seem to be used to form the large number of silly planet and alien names rather than for actual communication. It’s also worth mentioning that the save / restore feature, while being a novel way of stopping the player from continually saving their game before experimenting or restoring every time things don’t go their way, is painful indeed!
Rating: 2

Flying is fun for about five minutes. It's a shame you have to do over and over again!

Story and Setting
The back-story of Captain Blood is certainly one of the most intriguing, not to mention bizarre, I’ve ever come across. Read the Captain Blood novella (found at to see what I mean, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so after taking acid or the like. You may not recover! Putting the player into the shoes of a game creator that’s been sucked into his own game is cool, but unfortunately, the unique starting point for the game is all but irrelevant once you actually start playing. As mentioned in the Puzzles and Solvability section, Captain Blood is just one fetch mission after another, and since finding anything out about the duplicates is in most cases close to impossible, the actual story progresses at a snail’s pace (in my case it never actually did). Maybe I’d feel a bit different about it if I’d found some of the duplicates on my own or come across the universal nudist known as Torka, but the walkthroughs I’ve since read don’t leave me with the impression that the quality of narrative improves at any stage. I’m giving it points for the back-story and setting, but that’s all.
Rating: 2

Storytelling at its best: "Like Like Good Good Laugh Laugh"

Sound and Graphics
The sound of Captain Blood is very minimal. At least it is in the DOS version of the game. I believe that the Atari ST version was fairly groundbreaking on this front, with actual audible languages created to accompany the many symbols for each alien race. But I can only rate what I played, which was limited to a dodgy intro theme and a few blips and blops here and there. Even the OORXX guiding and landing sections are completely silent (unless you hit something for which you experience a slight crunch)! The graphics are not too bad I guess and artist Didier Bouchon definitely managed to create a unique look and feel for the game. The aliens are fairly well represented too, but have only basic animations. The planets look pretty nice and both the hyperspace and OORXX guiding graphics are adequate. Still, the whole thing is extremely repetitive after a while, as you can probably tell by the repeition in my screenshots, so it's only worthy of a 4.
Rating: 4

Babe Ruth's home run continued on its merry way

Environment and Atmosphere
I won’t deny it! Captain Blood initially drew me in and made me want to play it. I can only assume that this evil allure is what has given the game its underground status over the years (there are numerous shrines out there on the interwebz). It really does promise a lot in the opening phases and I felt like if I could only come to grips with the interface and the language, I was in for a treat. It seemed like it was my own inability to play the game rather than its inadequacies that were to blame for my slow progress! As the other categories here will attest, this promise turned out to be false, but it’s interesting to try to figure out what the game did right to give that impression. I think the answer is that there’s something really grand and exciting about travelling through an alien galaxy, landing on planets and communicating with strange beings. The fact that you’re tracking down duplicates of yourself so you can terminate them certainly adds to the appeal. If anything, Captain Blood shows what the possibilities are for truly creative game development, but unfortunately the actual gameplay itself couldn’t live up to the rather fascinating environment. In short, Captain Blood feels like a great game, it just isn’t one!
Rating: 6

You mean I can visit any planet in the entire galaxy? That's actually quite cool!

Dialogue and Acting
Dialogue? Laugh Laugh Curse Insult! It’s true that communicating with various alien races would be extremely difficult. But surely no-one out there thinks the idea of an Alien Conversation Simulation game would actually be fun do they? Hmmm, now that I think about it, that might be interesting if done well, but it’s not here! “Missile Sex Croolis-Ulv Curse. Me Search Danger. Danger = Sex Spirit Laugh Laugh Curse. Me Know Danger Missile. Danger Not Fear Me Kill Danger. Female Not Danger Me Like Danger.” This is the sort of thing that Howdy Prison said to me over and over when I was asking him for information that I only knew he had because Lars-Erik (he’s a reader, not an alien, at least I don’t think he is) told me. Is it creative? Yes! Is it unique? Yes! Is it useful or fun? Hell no! It’s infuriating! One of the other big problems is the names of characters and planets. It would be really obvious that someone called “Roger” is an alien or even “Pooky the Swift”, but with messages like “Scientist Know Me Small Scientist”, “Crazy Know Great Nonsense” and “Me Say Information Migrax Missile Brave”, it’s difficult to know when you’re being told a name or if you’re supposed to form an intelligible sentence out of it.
Rating: 1

"Planet Kill You" - Sounds like a wonderful holiday destination

I actually doubted whether I was going to find a game that could match the 27 I gave Mortville Manor, but only four games later, I’ve found one! It’s interesting that both games get really similar scores in all categories, yet would appear to be totally different games on the back of the box. They both suffer from terrible dialogue, confusing storylines and dodgy interfaces, yet both were initially appealing due to gripping atmosphere and nice graphics. I’m really very thankful for Sierra right now as once again I get to move on from this tough slog of a week with one of their comfortable and more than likely enjoyable escapes. This time it’s Gold Rush!

Thursday 26 April 2012

Game 16: Captain Blood - Abandoned!

Captain Blood Journal Entry 3: “This will be my last entry. Despite designing the game myself, I have been unable to find the duplicates and therefore unable to regain my vital fluids. Over time my health has gradually degraded and I now have the shakes so bad that I can no longer use the console accurately. My frustration in getting the required information out of the various alien races has shown me that my game would probably have failed on the commercial market anyway (accept with those Atari ST users who are very easily pleased), so I may as well go down with the ship. Captain Blood…signing out.”

Just as this previously existing planet is gone, so too has my will to continue to play this game.

I’m quitting! It has become blatantly obvious that finishing Captain Blood would take weeks (if not months) of restarting time and time again and spending hours asking ridiculous questions to aliens with a flawed communication system in the hope that some piece of unobvious yet required information might come to light. I could complain about so many aspects of this game, and I’ll spend some time doing exactly that in the Final Rating post, but I’ll now focus on the major issues that have caused me to abandon the mission. I always assumed that I would be able to complete every adventure game on the list, mostly because I could always ask for assistance from the readers or use a walkthrough if I absolutely had to. It’s disappointing to fail that expectation, but then it’s questionable as to whether Captain Blood is an adventure game at all.

After all, how many adventure games have you avoiding missiles while flying at high speeds through planetary mountains and valleys.

To fill you in on the small amount of progress I made since my last post, I need to talk about what occurred once I paid a visit to Yoko the Izwal. I’d been told to visit him by Sinox, but given no information about what I should expect there. As with all previous aliens, I was disappointingly not able to get any information out of Yoko about the duplicates, but he did keep talking about the fact his pop (aka Maxon) had been taken away and imprisoned by a “bad warrior”. He didn’t seem to know where Maxon had been taken, but he did mention that his pop had helped out the Croolis-Ulv by giving them the ability to reproduce (or something like that). He gave me the coordinates of the planet Trap 4 and the name Dead Genetic. I couldn’t see how this might help recover his pop, but with no other paths available…

Dead Genetic you say!? Now where have I head that name before?

You might recognise the name Dead Genetic if you’ve read my last couple of posts. Dead Genetic was the Croolis-Ulv that wanted me to destroy numerous Croolis-Vars in my very first attempt at playing Captain Blood. I'd failed to figure out how to get past this part of the game and eventually had restarted, thinking I could avoid it altogether by taking on a different starting point. I now know that the four or five different starts to the game need to be beaten at some point to finish Captain Blood. In fact, one of the starting points is Yoko himself.  The game just drops you in at different stages of the complete path, which really shows how little story development there is. You just go from planet to planet, asking questions about duplicates and trying to do whatever it is each character asks of you before moving on. It doesn't actually matter what order you find them in.

"Me Give You Great Information" Blah Blah Blah

I spent another hour or so trying to figure out what to do with the Croolis-Ulv and Croolis-Var, but I just couldn’t figure it out. Both sides wanted me to kill the others, but doing so didn’t result in progress. I’d asked all the questions I could think of to the numerous Croolis-Ulv and Croolis-Var, but wasn’t get any useful information. Eventually I asked the readers (see the comments section of my last post) and Lars-Erik came to my rescue. He gave me two tips, one a hint and the other an outright spoiler. The hint was “Maybe destroying isn’t the right way forward? Have you tried visitng all the planets he wants you to destroy?” I had tried that, so I moved onto the spoiler: “Visit all the planets of the Croolis-Var and the Croolis-Ulv, get their names, go back to Howdy Prison to push him for the coordinates for Great Destroy.”

Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I might need to know all the planet names, but I’d already written them down in my notes, so I was all set on that front. I also noticed on my notes that one of the Croolis-Var (the ridiulously named Good Nonsense) had mentioned someone called Great Destroy (his exact words were “You Kill Dead Genetic. You Not Destroy Great Destroy. Great Destroy Friend Me Give Bounty. Great Destroy Give Information.”), but any questions I asked him about Great Destroy were simply ignored. I think I asked a couple more of the aliens on both sides of the war about Great Destroy with nothing coming of it. I don’t know how I was supposed to know to press Howdy Prison about Great Destroy?! What made matters worse though, was that even after I got Lars-Erik’s spoiler, I still couldn’t get the information out of Howdy Prison.

I'm running out of interesting screenshots to show you. This is what hyperspace looks like.

This is one of the major problems I have with Captain Blood. You can ask something very specific to an alien (for example, “You Know Great Destroy?”) and have them answer with either nothing or complete nonsense (“Me Destroy Enemy Laugh Laugh Curse”). You can then come back later and ask them the exact same question and have them give you the answer (“Me Know Great Destroy Like Bounty. Great Destroy Friend Croolis Var. You Kill Great Destroy. Great Destroy Planet Great Trap. Coordinate 63 / 35”). This is just not cool! Imagine playing King’s Quest and going up to the goat and typing “offer carrot to goat”, and having the game tell you “the goat just looks at you”. Then imagine, after walking around aimlessly for an hour or two, going back to the goat and typing “offer carrot to goat”, only for the game to respond favourably and the goat to follow you! Surely I’m not the only player to assume that if you ask a question once and get nothing, asking it again won’t change anything!

63 / 35 hey?! Well why didn't you tell me that hours ago!?

This happens numerous times in Captain Blood. When I had to convince the four antennas to let me teleport them, I was forced to ask them the same questions over and over until they somehow, for no particular reason, accepted the offer. If this was the only issue with the game, I’d clench my teeth, accept the challenge, and soldier on. But two subsequent events pushed me over the edge. As soon as Howdy Prison gave me the coordinates to get to Great Destroy, I saved my game and headed straight to him. After much coercing, he asked me to give him the identities of the Croolis-Ulv planets, which I accordingly did. Rather predictably, Great Destroy then directed me to another planet called Idea 762 with coordinates, but gave me no reason at all as to why I should go there or what I might expect.

This is what it looks like on the Atari ST by the way. Yes, I'm getting really low on screenshots now...

By this stage I was getting very sick of going from planet to planet with no real payoff, but it was all made worse when my cursor started jumping around all over the place. It would move around the screen uncontrollably for about six or seven seconds before giving me control again for another ten to fifteen, then do it again. I noticed that I’d just hit the two hour mark of game time, and during my research for the game I’d learnt that you need to recover vital fluids within a certain amount of time or else you’ll start to suffer side effects. Obviously the game figured I should have found at least one duplicate by now and was starting to punish me for my failure. My last (and only) save game was made at around the 112 minute mark, but instead of going back immediately, I decided to push on and see if I could find a duplicate before heading back to the save game and bee-lining to it.

Imagine trying to press the right buttons to type a message when the cursor keeps jumping all over the place!

The short of it that the occupant of Idea 762 is yet another Izwal, this time called Small Friend. He told me about his friend, called Good Friend, who lives on a planet called Small Home, and gave me the coordinates. Still no duplicate! Yet another trip through hyperspace to yet another planet to speak to yet another alien! I was well and truly bored of Captain Blood. The reward for figuring out bizarre and for the most part unsatisfying puzzles is simply to be faced with yet another one. I grit my teeth again, and headed to Small Home, promising myself that if neither of my next two destinations lead me to the first (the first!!!!!) duplicate, I was going to quit the game. Well, the first destination didn’t, after much questioning resulted in Good Friend telling me to go see a Sinox called Brain Radioactivity, with accompanying coordinates. (sigh) Good Friend! More like Good Friends!

So it was that I travelled to see this Brain Radioactivity, only for him to request the identities of the four Robhead planets. Remember the Robhead planets? Way back when I needed to appease the original Sinox by removing four Antennas from four planets, the way to get them to allow me to teleport them was to ask them about planet Robhead. Each of them gave me different coordinates, but after visiting the first two of them, it was obvious the aliens there were speaking nonsense. I didn’t bother going to the other two planets and therefore never got their names. I also didn’t record the coordinates of the unknown planets I left the Antennas on (I did on my first playthrough, but didn’t on my second playthrough after restarting) so I couldn’t go ask them again. There’s a chance I might have got the four planets’ coordinates from Sinox and then been able to visit all four Antennas on the planets I teleported them to to get the coordinates of all four Robhead planets, and then travelled to each of them to get their identities, and then come back and given them to Brain Radioactivity (deep breath), but...well...I just don’t care anymore!

Brain Radioactivity - His parents were clearly not fond of him

It wouldn’t have mattered if I did care anyway, as the shaking of my hand (the cursor) became unbearable at the 170 minute mark (literally unplayable). If I wanted to make any further progress, I was going to have to start again, and that’s just not going to happen. I spent the next twenty minutes looking at a walkthrough for the game and to be honest, I’m glad I’ve stopped. I actually missed a duplicate that I could have found hours ago and I can guarantee you that even if I’d restarted the game another ten times, I wouldn’t have found him. I know from my notes that I asked Brave Missile about duplicates several times, but apparently you need to be very persistent for him to tell you the location of one. I really wanted to see a duplicate, so I loaded my last save game, went straight to Brave Missile and started asking him about it. I reckon it took me about five minutes of asking the same questions over and over again for him to finally tell me. How can anyone be expected to be so persistent when doing something that’s merely a guess to begin with?! I also could have met Torka (the near naked woman on the cover of the US version) if I’d asked Great Bounty about Planet Spirit straight after I dumped him on an unknown planet (but not before that).

So the duplicates of Blood, who are trying to avoid being found by him, are wearing his symbol on their jacket.

The rest of the game seems to be just as ridiculous (if not more so), so I’m very happy with my decision. Certain things later only happen at certain times. You have to give one alien a code that Brave Missile only gives you if you ask him for the code specifically, even though he gave me no suggestion that he knew one. You only get the coordinates for the fifth duplicate if you promise not to kill Duplicate 1, but then you have to kill Duplicate 1 anyway (and he lets you!) to get your vital fluids. To even find Duplicate 1 to begin with apparently takes a stupendous amount of interrogation of Yoko, but once again he gave me no idea that he knew where any were. I literally need to leave the game until tomorrow before I consider giving it a final rating. I'm sure it won’t be pretty then, but it would be damn ugly if I did it right now!

Disintegrating duplicates might have been satisfying if I'd ever managed to do it without cheating

Session Time: 3 hour 00 minutes
Total Time: 9 hours 00 minutes

Monday 23 April 2012

Game 16: Captain Blood - Great Information My Ass

Captain Blood Journal Entry 2: “I’ve had to take a different path in my attempts to track down the five duplicates. After struggling to get information out of either the Croolis-Ilv or the Croolis-Var, I was forced to find another race of aliens to request assistance. Thankfully, my dealings with the Migrax have been much more fruitful, and I’ve now made good progress through various parts of the galaxy. That’s not to say that the Migrax have been completely agreeable, and I’ve had to use fairly persuasive tactics (such as teleporting a Migrax called Great Bounty to an unknown planet) to get the information I needed. I was finally sent to a Migrax called Missile Brave, who gave me the coordinates and the secret code to speak to a being named Sinox. Sinox offered to assist me, but only if I could rid four planets of their Antenna occupants. I’ve done so, once again through not particularly honest means, and was rewarded with the coordinates of the planet Bow-Bow, where I’m to assist an Izwal named Yoko. While I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere, I still haven’t located a single duplicate, and fear time may be my biggest hurdle.”

Destroying planets is fun. But so far is it hasn't produced results.

I’m six hours into Captain Blood and I haven’t even managed to find one duplicate. The main reasons for this could be split between challenges in coming to grips with the language and fighting the game’s technology and losing. I mentioned in my introduction above that I’d taken a different path since the last post, but the truth is that every time you start the game you are confronted by one of four or five possible aliens. Since I was struggling to figure out how to proceed with the Croolis-Ulv / Croolis Var beginning, I simply started a new game and tried my luck with the Migrax’s path. I have to say that finding the correct first step seems to be one of the biggest challenges in the game so far, no matter which alien race I choose to begin with.

I gave up on solving the Croolis war problem and starting the game again with a whole new confusing one.

The Migrax (named Great Bounty) seemed very happy for me to teleport him, but no matter what I spoke to him about, he simply refused to give me any planet coordinates. In the end, I dumped him on a random planet, which didn’t please him very much, and then continued to question him. He gave me the coordinates of a planet called Reproduction 128, where I would find a “Great Migrax” called Missile Brave. He then said bye and disappeared, which seemed a strange thing to do for someone wanting to be returned home. Anyway, I accessed the grid, selected the coordinates, and clicked the hyper drive button. Missile Brave was pretty pissed off with me for stranding Great Bounty on an unknown planet, and demanded I go get him and take him home.

The Migrax Great Bounty happily hopped onboard, but won't be too happy soon! Sob Sob

Fortunately I’d recorded the coordinates of the random planet I left him on. I went back and got him and took him back to his home planet (Reproduction 14). He then told me how awesome and great I am (despite dumping him on a random planet to begin with) and gave me “great information”. He told me that “Antenna Know Planet Robhead”. Since that meant absolutely nothing to me, I travelled back to Reproduction 128 to see whether Missile Brave would now be of any use. It turned out he also thought I was super awesome for saving Great Bounty and gave me the coordinates of Planet Sinox, where I can find a “great scientist” named Sinox. He also gave me a code that I would need to speak to Sinox, which was “Impossible Not Sinox”.

"Me Great Migrax Missile Brave" - Not a particularly humble bunch these Migrax's

Sinox also wouldn’t give me any useful information until I helped him first. He demanded I “Teleport Antenna Planet Unknown” and proceeded to give me the coordinates of four planets. Each of these planets were occupied by an Antenna (a stupid green alien) who I needed to convince to allow me to teleport them. Unfortunately the Antennas were not happy with the idea of being teleported without knowing what the destination was. This is where I recalled the “great information” given to me by Great Bounty, which was “Antenna Know Planet Robhead”. Using the command “Me Teleport You Planet Robhead”, I convinced each of the Antenna’s to allow me to teleport them. This is where things got tricky though…

Sinox - Great Neon Warrior

Each planet can only be occupied by one alien at a time. If you have one alien teleported to your ship and you arrive at a planet already occupied by an alien, you are simply not able to teleport the one on your ship to the planet. You would have to remove the planet occupant first, and I see no way of doing that. So there was no way I was going to be able to put all four Antennas on a planet called Robhead. Thankfully, when I questioned each of the Antenna’s about the coordinates of planet Robhead, they all gave me different coordinates (I told you they were stupid). However, the planets that match the coordinates they gave me were all occupied by an alien race that speaks utter nonsense. It was very quickly apparent that they were never going to make any sense, so I gave up on the idea of removing them to make room for each Antenna.

One of the Planet Robheads - Who would have thought a sparkling decapitated head would make such little sense

The only solution was to convince the Antenna’s to let me teleport them by promising to take them to planet Robhead, and then to dump them on random “unknown” planets. This does line up with the request made by Sinox who asked me to “Teleport Antenna Planet Unknown”, but hardly seems the most honourable thing to do. This reminds me of a comment Ilmari made on my last post. He suggested that I should try to negotiate peace between the Croolis-Ulv and the Croolis-Var, instead of doing what they asked me to do, which was to destroy each other. That’s the thing though! Captain Blood seems to have little in the way of a moral code. It’s anything goes and sometimes the honourable solutions are rewarded while other times only brutality and seemingly unethical decisions result in progress. King's Quest this isn't!

I genuinely felt bad for the Antennas as I betrayed them and left them to rot.

It’s here that I need to spend some time discussing some of the technical issues I’ve faced while playing Captain Blood. I’ll start by saying that I don’t have what the manual calls a reference guide. My Google searches for “Captain Blood reference guide” failed me, so I was forced to read the manual and hope I could figure out the rest. In most cases I could, but the Save / Restore feature turned out to be somewhat perplexing. Up to this point in the game, I’d been saving my progress fairly regularly by clicking the floppy disk button on the console interface. When I later started Captain Blood, I was then able to click the same button to restore my game successfully. It did seem strange to me that I was pressing the same button to save and restore my game, but it was working, so I didn’t question it. Just in case you're wondering, when you click the save / restore button, nothing appears to happen. You don't type a name or a have the ability to create a new save file.

This button here is the save button...and the restore button...don't ask!

The problem started when I arrived at what I thought was Planet Kristo 08, the fourth planet that Sinox wanted me to clear of Antennas. I was surprised to find the planet was uninhabited! My immediate thought was that I must have entered the wrong coordinates. I checked my notes and compared the 171 / 76 I had written there to my current location. I was in the right place unless I’d written down the wrong coordinates when Sinox was communicating them to me. There was nothing else to do, so I went back to Sinox to see what would happen. He thanked me for clearing the first three planets of Antennas, but demanded I clear the fourth. No matter what I asked him, he simply refused to confirm the coordinates for Kristo 08, so I was forced to restore my game. The problem was…my save game was after Sinox originally gave me the coordinates!

Hello? Anyone seen a strange looking green thing around here?

Basically I was screwed, and there was no way to know whether I took down the wrong coordinates or the game just screwed me over. I was going to have to start again! OK, I thought, it really wouldn’t take me long to get back to where I am now that I know what to do. With no “restart” option available, I closed and reran Captain Blood, and started a new game. Annoyingly, I kept getting different starting aliens, which would mean everything I'd done so far would be for nought! I had to restart the game about six times before I finally had a game that began with Great Bounty the Migrax, and I couldn't know that until I'd guided an OORXX down through defense systems onto the planet surface. Excited that I could finally get under way, I decided to save my game. Pressing save restored my old game, back to the uninhabited planet. Despite having done exactly the same thing in the past with the same result, I can tell you I was not impressed, and needed to walk around (in the real world) for a bit taking deep breaths. I'd wasted the last half an hour for nothing!

I went through the game's starting procedures and flew down to the surface of the first planet about 20 times in one hour.

It turns out that the save / restore button changes its function after a five minute period. If you’ve just started Captain Blood, the floppy disk button acts as Restore, but if your game has been running for over five minutes, it acts as Save. I found this piece of information out after Googling “Captain Blood Save and Restore”, and it meant I had to restart Captain Blood another four or five times and guide an OORXX down to the planet surface to see if Great Bounty the Migrax was there, then play for more than five minutes before finally being able to save my game and continue. In total I wasted an hour during this whole process, and if it wasn’t for this blog, I probably would have given up pretty quickly. It took me around 40 minutes of straight playing to get back to where I was prior to the issue and thankfully, the fourth Antenna was there this time around. I dropped all four Antennas onto unknown planets and went back to Sinox, eager to find out what “great information” he might have to offer. It better have been worth it!

"You Go Planet Bow-Bow" - notice my total game time is down to 41 minutes after restarting...again

Well, there was still no mention of any of the duplicates, and instead Sinox directed me to a planet called Bow-Bow, where I’m supposed to assist an Izwal called Yoko. If the game continues on in this fashion, sending me from planet to planet, trying to understand what mundane task each alien wants me to undertake so they’ll give me “great information” that simply leads to the next task, then it’s going to get real repetitive, real fast! Given the mechanics of the game, I can’t really imagine what else it can offer up, but I’m still holding out for a surprise or two. If I do finish the game, it’s looking likely that it will take up a heck of a lot of my time (six hours already with no duplicate in sight), so I’ll have to make a call at some point in the next couple of days as to whether Captain Blood is worth the dedication.

OK Mr Izwal...what do you want in return for "great information"?

Session Time: 4 hour 00 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours 00 minutes

Saturday 21 April 2012

Weekly Poll Discussion

Last week’s poll was the first one that actually went the way I expected it to. The question was “Do you actually still play old adventure games or do you just like reading about them?” It seemed most likely that fans of old adventure games would still have an interest in new adventure games, and it also seemed likely that readers of this blog would play adventure games in some form. Therefore option two was pretty much always going to win. What I couldn’t predict was which of the other options would come in second place, and the result shows that my uncertainty was well founded.

Yes, but I also like to play modern adventure games too.                                          42 Votes (56%)
Yes, the old classics are the only ones worth playing!                                              11 Votes (14%)
No, I prefer to play more modern games and read about the old ones for nostalgia.     11 Votes (14%)
I don’t play adventure games at all. I just like reading about them.                              11 Votes (14%)
I despise adventure games and your stupid blog too!                                                 0 Votes (0%)

Of course the thing I’m most happy about is that no-one chose option 5. :)

This week’s poll covers a topic I’m interested in at present. I currently love two genre TV series in a way I haven’t in years, so I thought I’d find out what you guys like to watch. Obviously I can’t possibly cover every series out there, so please comment on any other recommendations. Just to clarify, this poll only covers shows that could be considered fantasy, horror or sci-fi, and only shows that are currently still running.

The first person to guess the two shows I’m obsessive about gets 10 points. (How well do you think you know me?)

On a totally separate note, last night the amount of page views for The Adventure Gamer blog passed 50000! While this is not a monumentally impressive amount of hits, it’s a lot more than I expected when I set out to blog my way through adventure games at the end of last year. To celebrate this milestone, I thought I would share some stats from the site, some of which are fairly predictable, while others are not so and even somewhat humorous.

• Out of those 50000 views, well over 1000 of them have been referred from Chet’s CRPG Addict blog. The Adventure Gamer was formed in response to his awesome efforts and I think it’s great that so much of my own community share that origin.

• The most popular search keywords (other than variations of the site name itself) that have resulted in a visit to The Adventure Gamer are “The Black Cauldron” (30 times), “Roberta Williams Sierra” (27 times), “Below the Root” (11 times), “Gender Identity Disorder” (8 times), “how do tie fighters land?” (6 times) and “Roberta Williams Naked” (6 times). It's actually a little concerning that people are coming across my site when looking for information on gender identity disorder, just because I wrote about Bill / Rebecca Heineman in my introduction to Tass Time in Tonetown. I’m sure Ken Williams would be stoked to know that people are still trying to see his wife naked after all these years. As for the tie fighter question, well it seems only fair that we try to get to the bottom of that one for whichever poor reader(s) came to The Adventure Gamer looking for the answer to one of life’s more important questions. I believe Tie Fighters can land on planetary surfaces, but generally they are entered through a hatch in the roof of the cockpit, so they usually dock within larger ships, attached to docking racks that allow entrance from above. Perhaps another reader can explain how landing might otherwise be performed?

How many millions have pondered the landing capabilities of the imperial tie fighter.

• The top five countries to visit the site are: United States (19580), Australia (4488), United Kingdom (3390), Finland (3305) and Canada (2550). I wonder how many of those 2550 views are by our resident scientist Canageek?

• While Windows still has a hold on the general operating system (it’s used by around 70% of readers), things are not so rosy for Microsoft’s browser. Internet Explorer was used for only 12% of The Adventure Gamer views, with Firefox leading the way (40%), followed by Chrome (19%) and Safari (13%). A sign of the times!

• Finally, the most popular games so far from a number of hits point of view are Leisure Suit Larry, Maniac Mansion and Below the Root, although I assume the latter is due to it being the first game I played through rather than being of particular interest to readers.

The little underdog just keeps on winning!

Thanks for everyone’s support so far in keeping this blog alive. I think I’d still write it even if there were only a few readers, but the fact we have a little community building here is something I’m extremely happy about. I hope we can build on it and that one day I’ll be marking milestones every 500000 views rather than 50000. Now, back to Captain Blood...