Tuesday 31 July 2012

What's Your Story? - Charles

I'm afraid this week has been a very busy one for me professionally. As much as I'd love to have the time today to write about the awesomeness that is Psycho, I'll have to try to get to it tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm happy to be able to bring someone that I genuinely feel is a companion here at The Adventure Gamer into the spotlight. Please welcome to the stage...(drumroll)...Charles!

This is not Charles. It's just a representation of how I imagine him to be.

My home country is… Argentina. I've always lived here in Buenos Aires.

My age is… I hit the big 4-0 recently. A nice age actually -- I'm quite happy to have lived through the rise of the adventure genre. :-)

The first adventure game I played was… Has to be "The Hobbit" on a friend's ZX Spectrum. It blew me away. Graphics. Companions that followed you around! Later I discovered a graphical version of "Colossal Cave" on my own MSX computer and spent endless hours with it (there weren't many text adventures in Spanish back then, and my English was still quite primitive). If we consider point´n click graphical adventures, my first one was Maniac Mansion, and it duly floored me again. It was just so funny, clever and bold. Like absolutely nothing that had come before. To this day we quote parts of it with my friends. It was then that I became aware of the enormous potential of this new narrative medium that just asked for brainpower and ingenuity to unlock new parts of the story.

It's amazing that once upon a time we may have looked at this screen in pure wonder at how far graphics had come!

My favourite adventure game is… No contest -- The Secret of Monkey Island. It was simply exhilarating. As far as puzzle design, humor and lasting charm, it was Maniac Mansion x 100. Probably the closest to a perfect adventure game experience.

When I’m not playing games I like to… Read, take long walks while listening to science podcasts, and play boardgames with the family!

The one TV show I never miss is… Thanks to Netflix I became acquainted with Mad Men and The Office. Those are my current faves. Mad Men is possibly the best TV I've seen.

I have to agree on this one Charles. The best TV drama along with Six Feet Under.

I like my games in (a box, digital format)… Like The Trickster, I've come to appreciate the conveniences of the digital format. However, if I could choose (and could spare the trees sacrificed in the process) I would always go with a heavy box, detailed art and bulky manual. There was this sense of huge love and effort put into those early games that showed in the physical components - much like the care that often went into those elaborate LP covers (and CDs weren't just the same!). The Ultimas are a prime example of this. As for adventures, I just love the Freddy Pharkas box... :-)

The thing I miss about old games is… The freshness, inventiveness and -why not- innocence evident in many of those games as they broke new ground. You got this sense that making them was an adventure for the developers too, and they enjoyed it just like you.

The best thing about modern games is… Atmosphere. Most of my favorite modern games deliver it in spades. I generally favor a cinematic experience  -- the original Thief is an unsurpassed masterpiece in this sense IMO, and today I find myself particularly enjoying the Mass Effect series.

If there's one regret I have with starting this blog, it's that I haven't got to finish the Mass Effect series.

If I could see any band live it would be… I'm not much of a concert-goer, I´m afraid...

My favourite movie is… This is an impossible question to answer  :-) Rather than a favorite movie, I have an elite "segment" of movies that I consider masterpieces of their genres and no one stands out above the others. But I´ll throw in Alien (the original) and Let the Right One In just off the top of my head.

What do you mean you've only seen the remake! Go see the original!

One interesting thing about me is… A series of recent events in my personal life have led me to discover the practice of meditation, and my only regret is not having tried it sooner.

Interested in sending your answers and getting 20 CAPs for you trouble? Email theadventuregamer@gmail.com.

Monday 30 July 2012

Game 22: Psycho - Exceeding Expectations

Detective Journal Entry 1: “What a terrifying ordeal I’m going through! I came to Norman Bates’ home full of dread, after all the stories I’d heard made him out to be a monstrous serial killer. My goal is to find a missing collection of jewels, and to hopefully free the curator that also disappeared at the time of the crime. My concerns appear entirely valid too as I’ve come across various spectres living in the mansion, as well as various invisible walls that halt my progress. Thankfully I’ve come across a skeleton key buried in sand within a vase, which has given me access to parts of the house I couldn’t reach prior. If I can just avoid these spectres, I should be able to find what it is I’m looking for, or at least gain enough clues as to their whereabouts. Now it’s time to continue my quest. The clock is ticking!”

Brave men indeed!

How could anyone really do justice when transferring Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho to the realm of video games? Whoever took on the task would need to build up a consistent feeling of dread in the player, and they’d also be required to create an environment where the unexpected can occur at any time. The game would need to be so harrowing that the player can hardly continue due to fear of what might be around the corner. With all of the above in mind, StarSoft produced the ultimate Psycho game back in 1988! Their creation did indeed fill me with dread, the unexpected did occur with great regularity, and there were many times where I simply struggled to make myself continue playing. I’m sure that you too will understand how perfect this game is once you’ve read through my experiences with it. Let us begin...

This poor guy doesn't know what he's in for!

When I started a new game in Psycho for the first time, I was confronted with a screen that displayed right off the bat how pioneering the game is. I’ve already played through 21 classic adventure games, and not once have I had any opportunity to play through a game with multiple degrees of difficulty. I could choose from Novice, Advanced and Master Detective! All I could think about was what brilliant variances in puzzle solutions must surely await me? Given how foreboding the choice of colours that accompanied the difficulty selection screen was, I couldn’t get myself to select anything other than Novice. Hal McCrery obviously tried to make things as disturbing as possible by utilising bright pinks and light blues in tandem, a technique no doubt chosen as a celebration of the CGA days of yore, while doubling as a disconcerting fever-dream inducing backdrop of horror.

Below the Root was the first graphical adventure game to have multiple playable characters, but Psycho is the first to offer varying difficulty levels

After choosing the soft option, I found my character standing outside Norman Bates’ eerie house, an outstretched arm ending in a fist holding a magnifying glass aloft. The first thing that crossed my mind was how brave it was for the developers to go solely with CGA palette 1 colours for the game itself! After all, making the tough calls and doing things differently to everyone else is what creating a masterpiece is all about! The scene itself reminded me straight away of Maniac Mansion, with me standing outside a mansion next to a letterbox, and the interface filled with verbs only added to the familiarity. Considering Maniac Mansion currently leads The Adventure Gamer leader board, the fact that Psycho appears to have paid homage to it certainly can’t be considered a criticism.

That's not a knife! This, is a... Oh, hang on a second, that actually isn't a knife!

Aaaahhh stuff it! I can’t keep this up for the whole post! Three paragraphs of trying to paint a positive picture of Psycho are way too many already. Let me cut the crap and tell you how things really went down! The game is entirely driven by keyboard, so while it does borrow the verb actions of Maniac Mansion, they can’t be selected by mouse, and they certainly can’t form sentences to be applied to the character’s surroundings. I immediately had an opportunity to try out the interface, as much adventure game experience told me there was likely to be something in the mailbox. I tried moving in front of the box, but I couldn’t. There was an unseen barrier stopping me from moving that far away from the house. OK, well it was clear already that Psycho wasn’t going to have much of an open environment.

I found it's grammar is not very good to say the least.

I pressed O for Open and received a message saying “Nothing happens”. OK. I pressed S for Search and got “Nothing’s hidden here.” I tried U for Use and got “I have nothing to use”. Hmmmm...V for View? “I found a mailbox with a note on it”. Hooray! I clicked T for Take and in return received “Nothing here worth taking!” Um...R for Read then? “Dear Norman: I’ll pick up the jewels just before daybreak – Uncle Max”. Well that was that then! I now had proof that Norman stole the jewels and could go report my findings immediately! Easy money! Except I couldn’t pass the invisible barrier, so would have to enter the house regardless! Seriously, if you were involved in a plot to steal a bunch of jewels, would you really stick a note communicating your involvement to the exterior of a mailbox?

Dear Police: I did it! Come and get me when you're ready!

It was time to enter the house. I walked up to the front porch which had a rocking chair to one side. I tried to walk over to it, yet once again was blocked by an invisible wall. I pressed the V button and still got a description of the chair, so I tried Searching it from a distance. “Something’s here.” You mean apart from the chair? Did you want to tell me what the something is? I tried Viewing and got “There’s something worth taking here!” No shit! I pressed T and was rewarded with “I have a clue!” Cool, what is it, and how is it presented?! I pressed C for Clue and got “2 personalities are 1 too many”. I also noticed for the first time that there was a score down the bottom right corner. My score had increased by 1000 when I found the clue. I soon also noticed that the score increased by 10 points whenever a minute passed. Was I going to be rewarded for taking my time?

Thanks for that. Can you be a little more specific?!

There was nothing else on the porch, so I entered the house by Opening the door. I’m not going to continue to go into detail about what commands I chose and when. I just wanted to give you a good idea about how the game interface works, and how it’s rarely obvious which command you need and are therefore forced to try all of them regularly. Inside the house, I found myself in the foyer, with two doors and a staircase. I tried opening both doors, but was told “Nothing happens” for both of them. I had no idea whether this was because the doors were locked or whether they couldn’t actually be opened at all, but since no other commands did anything either, I tried the stairs. The stairs collapsed as soon as I walked near them, making any path out of the room less than obvious.

Should I investigate the oddly shaped blob on the left or the jagged statuey thing on the right?

There was a statue like object to the right of the room, but I couldn’t get to it or do anything with it, so I turned my attention to the jar-like shape on the left side. As I walked towards it, I suddenly found myself in a living room, facing another direction altogether. Psycho certainly isn’t the first game to switch the direction a player is facing when they leave one screen and enter another, but it seems much more jarring when you don’t actually realise there’s another room there in the first place. Things were even more off-putting when I noticed a ghost rapidly gliding towards me. A ghost?! I don’t remember any of those in Hitchcock’s movie! I did what anyone would do under the circumstances. I panicked! This resulted in me pressing the F key repeatedly despite being completely aware that I didn’t currently have a gun in my possession to Fire.

Here's a re-enactment of the ghost in the living room. I had no chance of screenshotting it the first time!

Needless to say, the ghost crashed into me, but instead of dying the horrible death I figured was approaching, a message popped up saying “It got me! I feel so sleepy!” This was followed by a black screen with “I’m falling asleep! Zzzzzz....”, before I eventually appeared in exactly the same place, apparently unharmed. Oh well, I guess that wasn’t so bad. No need to panic. I just had a little sleep is all! My score didn’t seem to go down and my health still said Good, so I assumed the ghosts couldn’t actually hurt me and were merely an annoyance. It was then that I noticed the time had increased by an hour. Suddenly it dawned on me that making contact with the ghosts was going to make me sleep for an hour, lessening the amount of time I had to complete my task. I didn’t yet have any idea how long I actually had to complete the task, but the more the better. Note to self...avoid the ghosts!

Oh...and this is a levitating dog.

I spent the next few minutes wandering around the living room, which was actually spread over two screens, trying to find something I could interact with. I couldn’t open the doors at either end of it, and didn’t seem to be able to Take, View, Dig, Read, Use, Eat, Fire, Open, Search, Leave, Pull/Push or Clue anything. Yes, I tried everything! Movement around the room was stupendously difficult, as there were only set paths that the game would actually allow me to move in. There were quite a few places I wanted to investigate, but I simply couldn’t reach them. Sometimes I actually thought I was stuck until I found the one path that I was allowed to take. Occasionally a ghost would enter the room, as well as a dog (it was either a real dog that can fly, or a phantom dog gliding around), which would either catch me and add an hour to the clock, or I’d avoid it by leaving the room and coming back.

Nothing happened...again!

In the end I found absolutely nothing of value in the room, so I left the way I came in back to the foyer. I decided to go outside again and see if I’d missed anything out there. As soon as I tried to go back through the front door I was taken to a screen I’d never seen before. The entrance way to the house is only accessible if you’re leaving the house, not entering it. This is utterly stupid, but I guess there’s little chance a player wouldn’t stumble across it eventually. In the entranceway there was an overcoat on a stand and a vase. Viewing the overcoat revealed that it had large pockets. Searching it revealed a doctor’s note. Reading the note revealed a message saying “Heart Medicine: Take 3 times a day without fail”. Viewing the vase resulted in “I found a heavy vase filled with sand”. Digging in the sand uncovered a key! A skeleton key!

Hey, it's a skeleton key that looks like a skeleton! Neat!

By this stage of the game I was starting to realise that the key to finding anything of use was the View action. If View didn’t result in a descriptive response of some sort, then no other action would have any success. This meant I didn’t have to try using every action in every part of every screen, which was damn good news! I would just have to repeatedly press the V key until a descriptive message appeared, then figure out whether any of the other actions were appropriate. I assumed the skeleton key would allow me to open all the doors I’d come across so far. I took the door to the right in the foyer, and found myself in a library. The only items I could View were the bookcase and an organ. I investigated the organ for a while, but nothing seemed to happen. Searching the bookcase revealed a clue. I collected the clue, but strangely pressing C revealed a blank clue alongside the one I’d originally found. Even more strangely, I was able to walk along the bookcase picking up exactly the same clue over and over again, gaining the ability to increase my score infinitely. This was the first bug I found in Psycho, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last!

You've already found the blank clue you idiot! Here, have another 1000 points!

There were two doors running off the library and a ladder going up. I was not able to use the ladder, and trying to open the right door got the “Nothing happens” message. The left door did open though, and I found myself in a dining room. View revealed nothing of use, so I walked straight through to the Kitchen. There were two places on the screen where the View action resulted in a response. Firstly, I found a clue attached to the toaster, which incitingly told me that “skeleton keys open doors, not skeletons”. Once again I was able to walk up and down the bench collecting the same clue over and over again and getting 1000 points every time. The scoring system in Psycho is completely bugged and pointless (excuse the pun). The other thing of interest that I found in the kitchen was a door. If you look at the screenshot below, you’ll see that I was actually informed of a staircase behind the door on the other side of the room. How I knew that it was there is strange enough, but the descriptive message is stranger still!

Couldn't risk what exactly? Making sense? Obeying physics?

I’ll end this post here. I’d spent close to an hour playing the game at this stage, but a lot of that was taking screenshots and trying to find something to interact with before I found the skeleton key. It may seem unbelievable, but this is actually the halfway point of my time spent with Psycho. Within one more hour I had finished the game! If you think the first half was pointless and buggy, wait until you read my next post! I’m actually relishing the idea of applying the PISSED rating to the game. There’s little doubt that it will be the lowest ranked game so far, but I have to question whether anything will ever come close to it throughout all the time I spend writing this blog. It's exceeded my expectations of how bad an adventure game can actually be, which is at least educational. Hopefully I’ll get the Won! post up tomorrow.

Now that I'm not taking the piss, why does the intro contain verbs not found in the game (Say, Get), and an Objects option. The image is clearly from another version.

Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours 00 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've already finished the game, so you can discuss spoilers as much as you want! Just remember that I still have to write another post, so try not to ruin it for anyone that wants to go along for the ride with me. In other words: "Don't give away the ending - it's the only one we have!"

Saturday 28 July 2012

Game 22: Psycho - Introduction

Oh man! Didn't we leave CGA behind in 1987?

It’s unlikely many people out there need a lengthy introduction to Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho, so I won’t spend much time talking about the inspiration behind the game I’m about to endure. All I’ll say is that the 1960 movie starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh is one of the most acclaimed of all films (it’s currently ranked number 30 of all time on IMDB). Even those that haven’t seen Psycho would probably be aware of its existence and in particular, be able to recognise the often imitated shower scene and the jarring music that accompanies it. If you haven’t seen Psycho, you really should, so I’m not going to reveal anything about the plot in these posts unless there are recognisable scenes in the game. After reading the back-story to Psycho the game, I highly doubt that’s the case though.

The Hitch knew exactly how to build up intrigue. Thankfully he also knew how to deliver!

While I have found a playable DOS version of the game (which I'll be playing in DOSBox), I’ve not been able to get my hands on a manual (if anyone can find one they'll be rewarded with CAPs). From what I can find on the net, I will play the role of a detective sent to investigate a theft. A set of jewels have gone missing, as has the curator that was looking after them at the time. The number one suspect for the crime is none other than Norman Bates (the antagonist of the movie Psycho), so he will be the subject of my investigation. I don’t want to read up too much more in case I come across spoilers, so I haven’t been able to figure out whether this is all supposed to occur after the events of the movie (or its sequels for that matter), or whether this is just an alternate story involving the Bates character. A quick look at the title screen suggests that the Bates Motel and Norman’s creepy house will likely play a role in some form.

The cover for the game is lifted directly from the poster for 1983's Psycho II.

I can’t deny that I’m both intrigued and hesitant to play Psycho. The game is considered by many to be the worst commercial adventure game of all time, as well as the worst film to videogame adaptation (and that's saying something!). What's particularly surprising about this is one of the names involved in its creation! The game was made by StarSoft, a company started by a guy named Hal McCrery. Hal isn’t particularly notable and nor is StarSoft, having also developed unknown games such as Pirates of the Barbary Coast and The California Raisins, but the credits for Psycho contain none other than Scott Adams (widely considered the founder of adventure-style games for personal computers with his game Adventureland in 1978) as the programmer of the PC version. I don’t know whether he had any involvement in the creation of the game or merely played a role in bringing it to the PC, but I can’t imagine he’d be all that thrilled to have Psycho tarnishing his reputation these days. Anyway, it’s time to see just how bad Psycho really is. I cling to hope that it’s at least finishable!

Scott Adams brought interactive fiction to home computers...then gave us Psycho.

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've recently written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 points (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle unassisted (see below for an example). If you get it right I will reward you with 20 points in return! It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Multiple readers can predict the same score, but will be rewarded a decreasing amount of points if it turns out to be correct.

Example Bet:
Bet: Jung jnf Nyserq jrnevat va Cflpub?

Thursday 26 July 2012

What's Your Story? - Cush1978

The weeks are flying by and it's time to get to know one of our fellow adventurers once again.

If everyone gets together and chips in some CAPs, maybe we can afford to get Cush1978 a face

My home country is... The United States.  I'm in Virginia on the east coast.

My age is... 34.

The first adventure game I played was... King's Quest II.  I remember two important things.

1.  A world that could be freely explored.
2.  I had no idea how to save your game (or that you even could).

The second caused me to panic every time the "There's a bad guy on the screen" music blared out of my no-volume-knob PC Speaker.  I played the game on a Leading Edge Model D.  640k memory.  4.77Mhz processor.  20MB HDD.  CGA monitor.
I'd read "the door" in the game so many times, that I memorized what it said.  In order to save trips across the chasm, I decided to skip reading the door on subsequent attempts.  It was a long time before I figured out that you have to read the door in order to make the mermaid appear.

Cush1978 played King's Quest II on hardcore settings. Respect!

My favourite adventure game is... Quest For Glory.  It was Hero Quest when I bought it.  I still have the box somewhere.  I played this game on the above-mentioned system.  I installed it to the HDD (after figuring out how to clear 3MB of space).  The game still ran slow though; I developed a unique method of combat that basically involved me inputting commands seconds in advance.  Threw me off when we finally got a 286.  This game combined unique role-playing aspects within a Sierra adventure game.  Playing the different classes was both fun and diverse.  I wish there were more games like these.  I actually never finished Quest For Glory 4.  I tripped a bug near the very end that caused the game to crash when you performed a necessary task.  Eventually a patch came out that invalidated my saved game.  I need to dig up my old character and play 4 (and 5) to completion.

When I’m not playing games I like to... play guitar.  I was in an acoustic duo a couple years ago.  Now I frequently sit in with one of the local talents.  I also love a good game of disc golf.  I suck at "real" golf.  I also make mead as a hobby.  Right now I have vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, and peach meads all in various stages of completion.  I also enjoy reading; mostly fiction.

I like my games in a... retail box all the way!  I find that it matters less these days.  The last few boxed games included a disc with a printed piece of paper telling me that the manual was on the disc in PDF format.  I still have my guides to the Famous Adventurer Correspondence School, issues of Space Piston magazine, and yes, even some peril-sensitive Joo Janta sunglasses and a bit of pocket lint.  I wish more games included those kinds of things without a $100+ "Collector's Edition."

They sure don't put this much effort into documentation anymore

The thing I miss about old games is... the immersion...clues weren't a website away.  We've covered dialing into the Sierra BBS in your blog.  Games weren't nearly as plentiful either.  You were probably playing the same game for months instead of moving on to the next in the "pile" when you got bored.  I had a friend whose parents would allow them to look up a single hint (via the invisible ink hint book) for a game after an entire month of being stuck.  Anyway, there aren't too many games that really draw you in these days.  I think the rise of the indie gaming scene is changing that; there are some great games that have gotten my attention there.

The best thing about modern games is... accessibility.  There are a lot of free browser games, indie games in indie bundles, plus reasonable prices on acquiring newer games.  No  more IRQ settings, install procedures, memory configuration, etc.  Regardless of platform and content, I usually just have to launch and enjoy.  You also have entire walkthroughs, FAQs, and even company support (usually via forums) for any kinds of issues you may encounter.  Nearly every game comes with a "community" to experience the game and share your thoughts with.

The one TV show I never miss is... Mad Men lately.  As a kid, it was In Living Color and Married With Children.  In college it was Batman Beyond.  You know a show is good if a college student is getting up at 8:30 on a Saturday to catch up.

Batman Beyond: Brought the darkness that Christopher Nolan is now making millions off

If I could see any band live it would be... Pink Floyd.  I did see them once in 1994 and hoping the opportunity presents itself again.  It's really a unique experience.  I've see The Who three times and with the announcement of a North American tour in 2012, I may make it four!

My favourite movie is... Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I still think it's among the best, if not the best action movie there is.  It's a nearly-perfect movie that never gets old on subsequent viewings.  The truck chase, in particular, is an excellent part of the movie that has no comparison in my mind.

One interesting thing about me is... that I used to work in the game industry.  Not computer games, but I worked for the "other" guys in the CCG arena back then; Decipher for three years.  I stumbled into the job via a temp agency while looking for summer work.  My choices were making doors in a warehouse or cutting film frames for Decipher.  At the time, they were working on the Hoth expansion.  The art director would look at the frames on a 70mm film projector and "tag" them with a bit of colored tape.  My job was to go back and cut those frames out, replacing each one with a blank frame.  The films were 1st generation copies from the master film.  A temp job turned into a summer internship and then turned into "permanent part-time" employment while I was in college.  I ended up involved with the art department, customer service, tournament director, play testing, and web development.  Definitely a unique experience with a lot of great stories to share.

I'm so glad I never knew about Decipher's collectable card games. They look like bank account destroyers!

Interested in sending your answers and getting 20 CAPs for you trouble? Email theadventuregamer@gmail.com.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Game 21: Police Quest 2 - Final Rating

Well, this should be interesting. I’ll skip the standard pre-PISSED pondering and jump in to see just how far up the leader board Police Quest 2 can go...

Puzzles and Solvability
It’s strange really. Whenever I read any of the short blurbs about Police Quest 2 on the net, they always seem to mention how the game placed even more importance on following exact police protocol to succeed than the original. Those comments are actually very misleading, as while there is a much stronger focus on finding evidence in crime scenes and more points are given to the player for following protocol, more often than not success can be achieved without paying any attention to that stuff at all. I missed heaps of evidence in the game, and I only needed to open the manual about twice during the whole game, a marked improvement on the first game. Rewarding extremely thorough players while giving some leeway for those players looking more for entertainment was certainly pioneering (I can’t think of any earlier games that did this to anywhere near the same extent).

Pixel hunting with the parser actually requires using your brain

Just as in Manhunter, a fair bit of time was spent going through all the little bits of evidence I’d collected to find a way forward, yet unlike that game, the puzzles in Police Quest 2 appear to be created to fit in with the story rather than the other way around. But, as usual, it’s not all good! The beginning scenes of the game are extremely difficult, and gaining the first thirty points and getting out of the police station was harder than anything that followed. In particular, finding the business card in the car is not very easy, and finding the code on the back of it even harder. Don’t get me started on the storage bin positioning either. I’m sure that puzzle ended the game for many players over the years. More annoying than all of these those was the invisible five minute timer to get out of the station, and I'm dropping a whole point off the game for that alone. I also can’t ignore the presence of intentional endgame delayers, such as the gun sight adjustment drama that pops up during the plane hijacking, so I can’t go higher than a 5, despite being thoroughly impressed.
Rating: 5

Not the right wire?

Interface and Inventory
The interface of Police Quest 2 is more than adequate when it comes to movement. There were very few climbing and obstacle issues to be dealt with, and while I did have a couple of minor incidents that required restores with Sonny getting stuck (if I stood in a spot that Keith wanted to move to when control was temporarily taken away from me, he would walk around the screen endlessly), I can’t recall any other dramas. There were however a few parser issues. Nowhere near to the extent I’d found in Larry 2, but I had significant trouble getting the code off the business card despite figuring it was there early on, and I also seemed to have problems whenever I tried to discuss mug shots with pretty much anyone. One surprising negative in the game was the inventory. After stacks of Sierra adventure games had very similar yet entirely functional inventory systems, all of a sudden Police Quest decided not to have one at all. Pressing tab brought up a “You are carrying...” message, but actually finding what I wanted in it became more and more difficult as the amount of items I had increased.
Rating: 5

Why yes, I have one of those right here! It's just...um...hang on a second...oh it's here somewhere!

Story and Setting
There are two things I should say up front here. Firstly, I don’t have a lot of interest in police or detective stories. I’m much more a Game of Thrones / Walking Dead type of guy than a CSI / 24 fan. Secondly, I wanted Bains dead! Despite my genre preferences, the guys in charge of the Police Quest 2 story did a good job of making me hate the guy, and they even managed to make me care somewhat for Marie despite my reservations over her past profession. Yes, the whole thing is entirely shallow and cliché, following a similar plot to endless movies on DVD shelves, but it actually worked very well within the limitations of the adventure game trappings, and beats the majority of other efforts of the time hands down. The fact that I actually got the opportunity to kill the guy at the end, and that the event itself (and those that followed) were handled seriously, only added to the satisfaction. I even enjoyed the hijacking scene, despite how out of place and contrived it felt in an already action packed couple of days.
Rating: 6

Well since you asked, I guess you can come up with a half convincing reason why I need to assist you scuba diving.

Sound and Graphics
For the most part I didn't really notice the sound when playing Police Quest 2. I was going to write something about how it was pretty much devoid of effects and music, apart from during the intro, the driving scenes and the short tunes that celebrate the gaining of points. But when I went back to a few scenes to make sure, I realised that wasn't entirely correct! There's probably no less sound than other Sierra games of the time, but it's really very subtle in this one, with effects only used to emphasise certain actions and a fair amount of moody background music during the darker scenes. When the theme music does kick in…well, it's of the distinctly eighties symphonic variety. It’s pretty awful, but I don’t really know whether it was intentionally awful, or whether it's just aged very badly. It could very well be a take-off of the many cop shows that were on TV during that time. Considering the quality of Mark Seibert's other work, I'm thinking it might have been.

I don't know why I needed these ear protectors. The gun sounds like a breaking stick.

The graphics are far better than in the original Police Quest and probably on par with those found in Leisure Suit Larry 2, but once again I don’t think they quite meet the standard set by King’s Quest IV (nor does the sound for that matter). On the positive side, despite the shift from the AGI engine to the SCI one, the creators still managed to keep the game visually consistent. In hindsight, I was pretty generous with Larry 2 when I gave it the same mark as King’s Quest IV, but I can’t continue to be that liberal. Then again it seems a bit harsh to give the game the same rating as Gold Rush for this category. I’m starting to realise that this category is going to become quite difficult to score down the track. In all other categories I can compare new games to old ones without being unreasonable, but not this one. If I could give it 5.5 I would, so I'll round it up.
Rating: 6

The graphics team didn't skimp on the detail, but why do they keep resorting to that horrible light blue!

Environment and Atmosphere
All up, Lytton is a fairly convincing place. Just as in the first game, Sonny ventures to many different locations in the city, giving the impression of a large, thriving community. The developers did miss an opportunity to increase this feeling by not having “extras” in very many scenes though. Sure, there are some other people standing around in the airport and seated on the plane, but pretty much none of them move or appear to be living their own life. Compare Police Quest 2 to Gold Rush (or even Manhunter to a lesser extent) and the difference is apparent. As much as I don’t think the omission of the top-down driving scenes from the first game damages the sequel, those sections also added to the overall feel of the original. But I’m nit-picking! The cinematic scenes (shootout by the river, scuba diving, plane hijack, motel booby trap) really pack a punch and raise the stakes, as does the story, with Bains always just one step ahead.
Rating: 6

It's no action game, but Police Quest 2 has it's fair share of pulse-raising drama

Dialogue and Acting
While there are a few attempts at humour in the dialogue, the majority of Police Quest 2 contains the same police jargon heavy talk that was found in the first game of the series. There are lots of codes used while driving around that you can look up if you want to, but it’s not really necessary as it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. I can’t say anything stood out as exceptional or terrible, but I can’t discuss dialogue without mentioning the dodgy accents that pop up from time to time, particularly Officer Gelepsi. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing necessarily, and I have to admit to chuckling a little bit, but I have to wonder whether anyone would use such racially stereotypical devices today. I guess the reality is they don’t have to, as voice acting just seems far less offensive, unless it’s clearly a non-local slaughtering a country’s language and accent. In the end, the dialogue found throughout the game is fairly realistic, but in an entertaining way.
Rating: 6

It'a almost made'a me bring'a up my spaghetti'a!

Shocked? So am I! Who would have thought that Leisure Suit Larry’s position as top Sierra game would be equalled by a Police Quest game? When I held the poll for which classic Sierra series was everyone’s favourite, the Police Quest series came in last with 5% of the votes. The reader-predicted scores for this particular sequel were all in the fifties, so I knew it wasn’t going to be terrible, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I don’t have any reservations about giving Police Quest 2 a higher score than the previous two SCI games. It’s a better game, with a much more satisfying story, and some great, thought provoking puzzles. Well worth your time if you can just get through the infuriating opening scenes.

Companion Assist Points for Police Quest 2: The Vengeance
It’s time to dish out (and perhaps deduct) some points for those that predicted things and assisted me along the way.

115 CAPs for MacDuff
* 10 CAPs for motivating me through session one
* 5 CAPs for passing Ilmari's Gremlin challenge
* 10 CAPs for answering my question regarding the timer
* 20 CAPs for being a true companion and playing the game with me
* 50 CAPs for being the 100000th visitor to The Adventure Gamer
* 20 CAPs for celebrating the 100000 hits milestone

55 CAPs for Canageek
* 20 CAPs for being the closest score predictor two games in a row
* 10 CAPs from a CAP trade with Zenic Reverie
* 5 CAPs for a GOG release announcement
* 20 CAPs for celebrating the 100000 hits milestone

40 CAPs for Charles
* 20 CAPs for being a true companion and playing the game with me
* 10 CAPs for highlighting missed evidence
* 10 CAPs for correctly solving the Donnie Darko riddle

30 CAPs for Andy_Panthro
* 20 CAPs for being a true companion and playing the game with me
* 10 CAPs for highlighting missed evidence

25 CAPs for Ilmari
* -5 CAPs for the Gremlin challenge
* 10 CAPs for highlighting missed evidence
* 20 CAPs for celebrating the 100000 hits milestone

23 CAPs for TBD
* 13 CAPs for correctly solving the Jason Vorhees riddle
* 5 CAPs for answering my oxygen tank question
* 5 CAPs for explaining the bomb disarming solution

20 CAPs for Alfred n the Fettuc
* 20 CAPs for celebrating the 100000 hits milestone

10 CAPs for rotgrub
* 10 CAPs for his superb Sims related joke

10 CAPs for Zenic
* -10 CAPs for a CAP trade with Canageek
* 20 CAPs for celebrating the 100000 hits milestone

-5 CAPs to Tk
* -10 CAPs for incorrectly betting against me
* 5 CAPs for highlighting missed evidence

-30 CAPs to Lars-Erik
* -50 CAPs for adding Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess to the playlist
* 20 CAPs for celebrating the 100000 hits milestone

That's a lot of CAPs! I hope you spend them wisely!

Canageek and Ilmari: I'll spend a bit of time tomorrow figuring out how many CAPs Ilmari has earned since your arrangement. I totally forgot about that!

Monday 23 July 2012

Game 21: Police Quest 2 - Won!

Sonny Bonds Journal Entry 4: “I can’t quite believe I’m writing this, but…Jessie Bains…The Death Angel…is dead! Keith and I followed a lead from the Steelton Police Station that Bains had made a phone call from the public phone at Burt Park. It was there I discovered a manhole, and following my intuition, plunged down into the sewers in hope that Bains might be hiding down there. A short while later I walked through a door to find Marie alive, but strapped to a chair! I released her, and then managed to shoot Bains as he entered the room. The bastard won’t be causing any more trouble for anyone and I couldn’t be happier. In fact, Marie has agreed to marry me, making this day the happiest of my life. It doesn’t get any better than this!”

Police stations all look the same, just like barber shops apparently.

On arrival to the Steelton Police Station, I was quickly directed to the Lieutenant’s office. He told me that Bains had already got to Colby, who was found with a bullet hole in his head. They had no solid leads, but they did know that Bains made a threatening call to Colby from the public phone in Burt Park. They’d already thoroughly checked out the park, but we were welcome to go back in and see what we could uncover. Detective Pitman would accompany us to the park, since we had no vehicle of our own to use. Before leaving, I noticed two speaker shaped devices on the table. When I looked at them, I discovered they were walkie talkies, so I took them with me.

Well, why didn't you say so!

As soon as we reached the park, Pitman was called to a burglary, leaving Keith and I to investigate on our own. We decided to split up, and the first thing I did was check out the phone box. It was only then that I realised I wasn’t able to check for evidence since I didn’t have my field kit. To make matters worse, the field kit was in my car back at Lytton airport! I hadn’t thought to take it with me as I wasn’t at all sure that I wasn’t going to be able to get back to it if needed. I had a decision to make! Should I restore back to the airport, get the field kit, then go through the whole ticket purchase and hijacking ordeal all over again? Or should I cross my fingers and hope that the field kit isn’t required for the rest of the game?

Splitting up is usually a way for someone to get killed or to force one character to confront something alone

I decided to go back and get it. I couldn’t imagine I wouldn’t need the field kit again, especially as I only had 196 points out of a possible 300. It only took me about ten minutes to get back to the park with the field kit, but I was still a bit pissed off when I tried to use it on the phone. “In the confusion, your kit was checked on another plane, and you don’t have it.” So I didn’t need the kit and all my efforts were for naught. Oh well, time to get on with it! The park was made up of five or six screens, which I carefully investigated before trying anything. There were only three things of interest that I could find there: a mugger, a dog, and a manhole.

I couldn't help expecting a fairy godmother or a frog prince to appear around here

The mugger approaches on any of three or four screens, and demands you hand over all your cash. The first couple of times he tried it, I tried taking him down in various ways. I actually drew my weapon and shot him out of interest, at which time I got a game over screen showing a newspaper with my name splashed over the front as having gone on a murder spree. If I drew my gun or my badge, the mugger would immediately turn around and bolt in the other direction. I eventually tried “use radio” as soon as he left, and that turned out to be the right thing to do. Keith got my message regarding the mugger, caught him, and brought him to me cuffed. I searched and questioned him, and then Keith took him to the station.

Nice Lethal Weapon reference. It's amazing that movie came out a year before this game!

As for the dog, I couldn’t see anything I could do with him. He runs around the screens and any attempts to catch him failed. The manhole was fairly well hidden, but easily discovered by simply typing “look”. “The park is pretty this time of year. The air is sweet and clear, except near the manhole cover.” If it wasn’t for that hint, I never would have found it. Down the manhole I found myself in the sewers. It was a nasty place to be, with missteps causing me to drown in human waste. There were some nasty little traps down there, including pipes that blew waste at me and made me fall to my death, and methane gas pockets, which killed me if I stayed too long within them. After a few screens I finally came across something I could interact with.

Hmmm...let's hope I don't have to collect twelve keycards down here

There was a ladder leading up out of the sewer. There were still places I hadn’t yet explored in the sewer, but I decided to head up the ladder to see where it led. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to open the manhole at the top, and apparently made a lot of noise in the process. When I climbed back down, Bains came flying onto screen and shot me dead, alerted to my presence by the noise. I suddenly realised that I was in all likelihood very close to finishing Police Quest 2. Was this where Bains was hiding? Was I about to have the final confrontation? The short answer is yes! Around another couple of corners I found a door, which I eagerly entered.

Go back three spaces?

Inside I found Marie, strapped to a chair, but no Bains! She was trying to tell me something, so I quickly removed her restraints and uncovered her mouth. She was so happy to see me that she squealed and hugged me in delight. This of course attracted Bains, who once again came in and killed me. As had happened on other occasions, the game over screen told me the solution to the puzzle. “Next time try to calm her before untying her.” I get the feeling that the creators gave players hints to the more confusing or challenging puzzles in the death scenes, perhaps during the play-testing period. I can’t say for sure whether I would have tried “calm Marie” if the game hadn’t told me to. Maybe!

...she slowly began to unbutton her top? No? Wrong game?

With Marie calm when I ungagged her, she whispered how happy she was to see me instead of shouted it, and then told me she could hear Bains coming back. I hid behind a tube, and when he was close enough, I shot and killed him! I couldn’t quite believe that Bains was actually dead. I mean, these games often end with the villain getting away, or at least being put in a position that they might one day be able to escape and have their revenge. Not this time. The Death Angel was dead, and I was victorious. Now the only question was whether the shooting review board would find that I’d unlawfully killed Bains or had acted in self-defense.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer fellow!

This is where perhaps evidence comes into play. I wonder what would have happened if I’d failed to find any evidence that Bains was involved during the game. Perhaps I would have been found guilty and stripped of my position? Perhaps I would have done some time of my own? Could I have arrested Bains without killing him? I didn’t even try! In my case, the board concluded that the killing was totally and unquestionably legal and justified. Not only that, I also received a Silver Commendation Award for superior effort and performance while engaged in a life-threatening situation, and given a two week “Rest and Relaxation” holiday.

Seriously, does that dude ever not have an icecream?

Police Quest 2 finishes with Sonny asking Marie to marry him. She of course says yes, and they fly off into the sunset. A very satisfying, if not devoid of cliches, ending on all accounts! Well, that’s another game that can be ticked off the list! At least it can be once I apply the PISSED rating to it. The game was staring a sub 50 score in the face after my first session, but it has recovered so well that now I’m genuinely interested to see how far up the leader board it can go. I can’t ignore the flaws, but the story, the puzzles, and the innovative way that evidence is handled throughout the game make it an enjoyable adventure game that successfully builds on its predecessor.

That's quite alright. Thanks for making it!

Before I end this shorter than usual post, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that The Adventure Gamer blog is about to go over the 100000 views mark! It seems like only yesterday that I was celebrating 50000, but in truth it was almost exactly three months ago. To celebrate, I’m looking to give out some CAPs. As usual though, I’m going to make you earn them.

...and counting!

Anyone that emails me an photo of an open beer (or some other beverage of choice) with a note next to it that says “Celebrating 100000 Hits”, and signs it with their blog name, gets 20 CAPs! If anyone manages to take a screenshot that proves they were the 100000th viewer, I’ll give them 50 CAPs. The view tally is at the bottom of the menu system, and you’ll need to tell me the exact time it happened too (I'll be watching), just to confirm you haven’t photoshopped it. Never have this many CAPs been thrown around, so make the most of it! I have a bad feeling that all this CAPs are going to come straight back at me to make me play Emmanuelle in 1989. ;)

Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 10 hours 00 minutes