I'm unlikely to have a job at this rate!
I haven’t progressed far enough into Zak McKracken to make any sort of fair judgement, but my first session was one filled with enjoyment and a fair amount of uncertainty. I don’t know what the rules of the game are yet, but I’m starting to get the feeling that this is not going to be any easy journey. I also have to say that Zak’s motivations, and therefore my own, are really very unclear at this point. I’m doing lots of stuff, but with no real purpose! I’m picking up everything I can find, buying crap-loads of things, and even stealing stuff, but with no real purpose at all. I assume as the game progresses that I’ll find puzzles to apply all this stuff to, but most games drop you into a situation where collecting stuff kinda makes sense. I’m not on an alien base, or in a fantasy land, or even in a monster infested mansion...I’m just wandering my hometown, collecting shit.
No...I can't explain it either.
The intro to the game is one the more bizarre you’re likely to come across. It begins with our hero, Zak McKracken, arguing with his boss about the stupid stories he’s being forced to write for The National Inquisitor. Clearly the newspaper is only interested in sensationalised drama, such as UFO sightings, and not the sort of serious, Pulitzer potential news articles that Zak is interested in writing. The boss gives Zak a ticket to Seattle to get a story about a two headed squirrel, and sends him on his way. As soon as that discussion is over, we’re thrown into the dream world of Zak, complete with aliens, cute girls, and giant nose glasses! I guess it’s a bit like a movie, where the audience witnesses a dramatic scene before experiencing a music-accompanied intro, complete with credits, and then finally starting the main character progression from there.
I'm not sure what it is, but I just feel like there's something between us right now.
Once I had control of Zak, I found myself in his bedroom, with no real motivation apart from the ticket to Seattle in my inventory. What did the dream mean? Who was the girl in it? Oh well, it was time to go find out I guess! Having already played through Maniac Mansion, the SCUMM interface was immediately familiar to me, so I set about item hunting as adventure games often demand. I picked up a fish (humorously named Sushi) in a fishbowl, found a “kazoo” in the desk drawer, and a phone bill in the set of drawers next to the bed. The kazoo appears to be a wind instrument that plays a little tune when used, while the phone bill had the rather scary amount of $1138 on it!
After Psycho, the SCUMM interface is orgasmic (no...not really!)
I could see a green item underneath the desk, but trying to picking it up only succeeded in pushing it further out of my reach. I then noticed a part of the wall that looked a bit odd, and putting the cursor over it revealed it was a bit of torn wallpaper. I added that to my inventory too, and then tried playing around with the phone and answering machine. I knew of no numbers to call, and there were no messages recorded, so all that was left to do was try to get that green thing under the desk. I looked at my inventory, and the only item that looked even remotely like it might work was the piece of wallpaper. Using it on the green item worked, with the end result being that I now had a cashcard in my possession! I can only assume the wallpaper was sticky and allowed me to attach it to the card and drag it out.
I finally got a chance to rip into the horrible light blue walls that appear in most eighties adventure games
Deciding there was nothing else worth investigating; I open the door and walked out. Suddenly I was watching a cut-scene of two aliens standing in front of a large machine. The machine had two settings on it, both of which were on, and the aliens made reference to a boss called The King. I knew before playing the game that the plot involved a machine designed to make the human race stupider, but I didn’t expect to see it so early in the game. It immediately brought Maniac Mansion to mind, which also had numerous cut-scenes showing exactly what the bad guys were up to while the heroes made their gradual way through various puzzles. Anyway, it was obvious from the scene that the aliens aren’t all that smart themselves, or at least are just as affected by the machine.
It helps that the machine can only be set to ON or ON.
Once the cut-scene ended, I found myself in a lounge room, which contained a large TV that would no doubt have appeared futuristic when the game was made. I was pretty keen to see what was happening in the Olympics, so I tried turning it on. Sadly, there were no controls on it, but the infrared receiver suggested a remote control must be around somewhere. Where would I find a remote control? Under the lounge cushion of course! I picked it up and tried turning on the TV again, but it still didn’t work. The second cushion was rather oddly placed next to the TV, so I picked it up and replaced it, revealing that the TV plug wasn’t attached to the wall. Being in IT, I immediately had a hunch that plugging the TV in might then allow me to turn it on using the remote. Unsurprisingly I was correct (years of experience I guess)!
There wasn't a lot of thought put into the positioning of the TV and the lounge
A news reporter spoke about a couple of co-eds that had travelled all the way to Mars, but before she crossed to one of the girls, an advertisement came on for The Society for Ancient Wisdom. The girl on screen, named Annie Larris, was the very same girl that appeared in my dream! She spoke about how important understanding the past is, and requested any artefacts be left in the drop slot on 14th Avenue. The reporter then crossed to Melissa China, one of the girls that had made the journey to Mars. Melissa spoke about dreams in which her and her friend had been given instructions on how to turn their van into a spaceship, which they then flew to Mars to await further instructions.
I wouldn't mind depositing my artifact in her drop slot! (sorry)
The TV soon went into a constant loop, but only after the reporter described the bizarre situation where the Earth’s inhabitants were getting more stupid. The cause of the epidemic appears to be a 60-cycle hum that’s coming through every telephone line on the planet. So things were really moving very quickly in Zak McKracken. I was yet to thoroughly explore the second room of my own house, and the plot was well on the way to being set up and I had no less than seven items in my inventory. I already had stacks of questions, but the only way I was going to get answers was to continue my exploration. The lounge room was connected to the kitchen, so I left the TV behind and went to see what was waiting for me there.
The only strange thing about that is that you actually did it!
The first thing I noticed in the kitchen was the butter knife hanging on the wall. I added it to my inventory, and then checked out the fridge, where I found an egg. In the cupboard beneath the sink I discovered a yellow crayon and also found I could interact with the pipe there. When I tried to open it, the game told me that I would need some tools for that. There was a button just above the sink that appeared to turn on some sort of processor, but the only thing I had in my possession that I was able to process was Sushi the fish, and that just seemed a bit...well...wrong. I restored and hoped the sink’s use would become obvious later. I didn’t appear to be able to use the stove at all, so I picked up the key hanging next to the door and left the house.
A bachelor with a tidy kitchen. Not likely!
Standing on the street, I decided to see if there was anything in my mailbox. It was locked, so I successfully used the key I’d collected inside to open it. There appeared to be no mail, so all that was left to do was to decide whether to go left or right. I chose Zak’s right, which was my left, and quickly found myself standing in front of a bakery. The door wouldn’t open, so I tried ringing the bell. An aggressive baker came to the window and told me they were closed and out of fresh bread, before disappearing back inside. I noticed that he left the window open, but I didn’t seem to be able to do anything, so I moved on. I wasn’t able to go any further in that direction, so I turned around and went the other.
Did I mention that I'm French, so cliche demands that I be rude and aggressive
On the other side of Zak’s house I found a shop called TPC. The telephone as part of the T suggested this was the telephone company, and given the aliens were using a humming signal through the phone lines to make people stupider, I imagined this place might play a significant role in the game. I entered, and found an odd looking guy behind a counter wearing a cowboy hat. The sign on the counter said “Please pay bills here”, which reminded me that I actually had a bill in my possession that needed paying. I gave it to the representative, who asked me for a cashcard, which I gave him, and payment was made. I had no idea how much cash I actually had on my card, but assumed the game wouldn’t let me pay for the bill if I needed that money elsewhere.
I hate telecommunications companies in real life, so hopefully I get to destroy one in this game
I couldn’t really do anything else, apart from collecting an application from the boxes to the left of the counter. I read the application to find it was for The King Fan Club. I wondered whether that was the same King that the aliens mentioned in the cut-scene, and skimmed through my inventory to see if I had anything to fill it in with. The crayon seemed the most likely choice, so I used it on the application and was told it was now filled in and pre-paid. I remembered the mailbox outside my house, took a mental note to put the application into it next time I went back there, before stepping outside to continue the exploration of my surroundings.
Would you trust this face?
Just to the right of the telephone company I found a bus. Hmmmm...I had a ticket to Seattle, but I didn’t feel ready to leave San Francisco yet (I didn’t actually know where I was before I saw the Golden Gate Bridge behind the bus). I was actually happy when I tried to open the bus door and was told the driver was asleep. Maybe the game wouldn’t let me go anywhere until I’d done everything I needed to? I didn’t yet have any idea whether Zak McKracken would even allow me to reach a dead end, but the fish shredding incident had suggested I probably shouldn’t trust the creators too quickly, even if they did belong to LucasArts.
I thought that was a dummy until I realised it was the driver sleeping with his head down
Walking along the path behind the bus took me to another set of shops, with the first one having a sign saying Lou’s Loans in the window. I went inside to find a wide range of unrelated items on shelves, with what I assumed was Lou behind the counter. I now had a Buy verb in the menu in place of Pick Up, so I set about seeing which objects I could buy. I wasn’t able to select all of the items, so I figured if I could, I should. I bought every single thing in the shop that I could select, and found myself with a guitar, some nose glasses, a hat, a tool kit, a golf club and a wet suit! I was already feeling a bit daunted by the amount of items in my inventory, but now I had no less than seventeen things to go through when trying to solve puzzles.
Nose glasses seem to be a common theme in this game
I was already a little bit concerned about the money I’d paid to the phone company, but now I really wanted to find out just how much money I could put on my cashcard. Surely I didn’t have infinite funds at my disposal! I thought I would try reading the card, just in case the amount on it was somehow visible. It was (which seems hugely dangerous), and despite having bought just about everything in Lou’s shop, I still had $10690 to spend. Happy days! There was something else of note in Lou’s Loans though, which was a large sign saying PLAY LOTTO! I bought a lotto ticket for $10, and was then asked to enter a four digit number. I hadn’t noticed anything in the game that might hint as to what the winning numbers might be, so I guessed 5280, and then left the store.
Zak McKracken returns the favour after Maniac Mansion had a poster in the games room
The next door up the street had a sign on it reading “Society for Ancient Wisdom. Deposit artefacts in slot.” This was the door slot Annie Larris, the girl from my dream, was talking about on TV! I looked through my inventory, but couldn’t find anything in there that might be of value to someone looking for ancient artefacts. I thought I would just try putting some things in there, hoping that the game would reject them. I guess I wanted to see whether I could answer my question about whether or not I was likely to run into dead ends while playing Zak McKracken. I was not able to put the ticket, Sushi, wet suit, cashcard, toolkit, golf club, guitar or lotto ticket into the slot, but I was able to put the kazoo, wallpaper, remote control, knife, crayon, egg, key, application, nose glasses and hat in there. Were those items now gone for good? Obviously I restored so I didn’t have to find out, but my assumed trust in the game was decreasing.
That should read "Deposit very small artiacts in slot."
The last location to visit in San Francisco was Bob E. Pinz’s Hair Salon. The salon had a sign saying “closed permanently”, but the oversized bobby pin hanging outside caught my attention. When I tried to pick it up, I was informed that it was connected with wires. I realised I hadn’t yet opened the tool kit I purchased at Lou’s, so I went about doing that. Inside was a monkey wrench, some duct tape, some rope, and some wire cutters. I used the wire cutters to detach the bobby pin, and somehow added it to my ever-increasing collection of random objects. From what I’d gathered, I’d visited all possible locations in my hometown and picked up everything I could find. It was time to have a think about how some of this stuff might be useful.
I paid a lot for this smile you know!
I think that might be a good place to stop for this post. I’ve progressed a fair bit further than this, and had some success applying some of the items, but this post has gone well over the two thousand word mark already (which is usually my limit and probably yours too). The initial parts of the game have required quite a bit of description, as there’s a lot happening, with numerous items spread around and heaps of things I could try. It took me just under one hour to get through all of the above, which should give you some indication as to how packed the game is so far with stuff to do. I should have enough time tomorrow to play more and perhaps post too.
Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
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. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!