Sunday 30 September 2012

Game 24: Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess - Arachnoid Mater

Raven Journal Entry 2: “I’ve found three of these blasted Vort Skulls, and feel like it’s only a matter of time before the last two are in my possession. There are some strange creatures in this temple, with unknown motives, including a Spider Mistress that appeared to want to copulate with me and a massive beast living submerged in acid! At least the other aspirants’ motives are clear, and I made the most of one by trading items, giving myself the opportunity to proceed. I can write no longer, as I have very little time to complete the ordeals. Sci Fi’s life depends on my success!”

What's behind door Will Be Saved?

At the end of my first gameplay post for Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess, I’d just managed to unlock the door labelled Who Will Be Saved? by giving the serpents in The Twins some drink and “food”. On entering the newly accessible room, I found myself staring at seven hands reaching out of the ground, with a sliding panel and yet another serpent head on the wall. On inspecting the serpent’s head, I was informed that it appeared to be mobile, and that there was some sort of inscription. It read “the passerby saves some, then makes his choice known to the sliding one’s head.” I tried pulling up one of the hands and found that this did pull it out of the ground by some distance, although nothing seemed to happen when I did so. I assumed there must be some order or pattern to which hands I should pull, but which ones?

The inscription says something, then laughs as its cryptic message is unfathomable to the passerby

I reread the inscription. Did I need to choose whichever ones I wanted and then “make the choice known to the sliding one’s head”? Was the sliding one’s head the sliding panel on the wall? I tried interacting with the sliding panel, but I didn’t really get anywhere. I did however find I could push the serpent’s head, and was told that I could “hear a noise coming from the fountain room”. Would I find a hint to the hands puzzle in the fountain room now? I was prepared to go and find out, but I thought I would see what Gauss had to say before I did so. I clicked the Tune In icon and Gauss told me that “the die nose witch wunz to pullup” (the die knows which ones to pullup). The die? You mean the die I just put in the serpent’s mouth to open the door to Who Will Be Saved?

Chamber of the Die Nose Witch

How could the die tell me anything? I recalled that when I rolled the die, it always came up with the number two, but pulling the second hand up didn’t do anything. I had no idea how to inform the sliding panel of my choice either, so I left the room and headed back over to The Source (where the fountain was). Nothing looked different in The Source, but pressing the serpent’s head must have shifted something. When I moved the cursor over the plaque at the front of the room, I now found that there were six cubes, marked Cube 1 through to Cube 6. I have to say that it’s pretty odd for a game like this, even one made in 1989, to not show any visual representation of items on screen. Why would I think to recheck the plaque when it looks exactly the same as it did before?

That has to be the worst hint ever!

Interestingly, when I inspected each of the cubes, I was informed of different shapes atop each one. A circle, a triangle, a star, a cross, a square and wavy lines respectively! I hadn’t really noticed anything that might hint as to which one to open, but thankfully I saved my game before making any attempts. I chose to lift the first cube, and was poisoned, ending my game before I had any chance to try any of the others. I reloaded and tried the second cube instead. “You find a skull inside.” Winner! Was it possible that the number 2 that kept coming up when I threw the dice was the hint? At first I assumed so, but on subsequent play throughs (I’ve had to play through numerous times due to running out of time), I’ve now found that the cube with the skull in it is random.

Trial and error wins again!

I have to be honest and say that I have no idea what Who Will Be Saved? is all about, and have no idea how to logically figure out which cube holds the skull, but since finding the skull makes The Twins and Who Will Be Saved? inaccessible, I can only assume that the skull was the only thing I needed in this section. Either that or I’m dead-ended already! Regardless, I had the first of five skulls, and was able to make my way back out to the starting area by clicking the arrow at the bottom of the screen. I’d kind of hoped that I would receive one of the other three items (dagger, rope, fly) while I was getting the first skull, as I’d assumed I would need one particular item to pass each ordeal, and that by doing so would reveal another. Was I supposed to get an item by solving the Who Will Be Saved? puzzle? All I could do was push onto the other rooms and see what would happen!

Apparently no-one

The Rope

A rope...a knife...I'm seeing a pattern and I'm not sure I like it!

By the time I’d figured out how to get the Vort Skull from The Twins part of the temple, I’d well and truly used up my hour. I therefore had no choice but to restart, get a new item, and go wherever it led me. The next item I got was the rope, which would apparently be useful in the room titled De Profundis. As usual, I was immediately transported to that room, where I was met by a rather horrific beast in a pool of acid. I had to click the left mouse button to continue and as soon as I did, the beast sank beneath the deadly liquid, leaving me to ponder how I was going to reach the doorway on the other side of it. Gauss’ hint was “hole don” (hold on), but I could see nothing to hold onto. I sensibly saved my game, which was just as well, as even clicking on the door made the platform I was standing on sink a little bit into the acid. A vertical column did come down from the ceiling though, which looked like a perfect thing to hold onto!

De Profungus

My first thought was that the rope would likely help in this instance, but since I’d begun to doubt whether I would be able to discover all the required items in one play through (I’m only going to be given one each time I play), I thought I’d try to get across without using it. Any incorrect move and I sank into the acid, forcing me to reload, but I quickly found the solution was to use the Sticky Fingers sci power, which allowed me to climb up to the ceiling and hang onto the column. As usual though, I was merely informed that I was hanging on, and nothing actually changed onscreen. I then used the Wait icon until the beast re-emerged, before selecting to “jump onto it”. He took me across the acid to the door on the other side, where I was informed that a skull was just waiting for me. Well that was a heck of a lot easier than the first one!

Spiderman, spiderman, does whatever a spider can

The Fly

A fly! Really? That's the best you have to offer!

On exiting De Profundis, I found myself back in The Ring, and was pleasantly surprised to discover a fellow Five Ordeals aspirant asking me whether I wanted to trade items. I happily traded in my rope for his fly, and since I’d wasted very little time collecting the second skull, didn’t have to start over this time before venturing on. I was really happy to learn of this trading option, and felt much more confident in being able to solve the five ordeals within the same play through if this feature was available multiple times. I knew from a previous beginning that the fly would be useful in the room called The Scorpion’s Presence, so that’s where I went next.!!??

The scorpion turned out to be a statue, or at least that’s how it initially appeared. Talking to it caused it to respond with “I am mastel of scolpions. How hungly I am!” Clearly this master or scorpions had a bit of trouble with the English language, but it wasn’t difficult to translate. Further conversation resulted in “I desile my dinnel. Go see hel, and folget not hel plesent!” Who was this “her” and what “present” would she want? What dinner could I offer the master of scorpions? I immediately thought of the fly, and after saving my game, put it into the mouth that was situated towards its base. Nothing at all happened, causing me to believe that wasn’t the right thing to do, so I restored.

Good rord! What's wlong with youl wolds!

The only other things of interest in the room were two engravings, the first of which was a spider that offered nothing more than “very webbish” when inspected. The other engraving on the wall increased in size when I inspected it, but even at a larger size, it didn’t really show me anything that meant anything to me just yet. It had what appeared to be a man beneath a sun, moon and star, pointing out a Saturn-like planet to an infant (well that’s my take on it anyway). With nothing else to do, I went through the door beneath the spider, assuming whoever this female character was would be found within. I was right!

A special thanks to the game designers for increasing the size of the engraving by about 12%. It's so much clearer now!

The Web seemed like a pretty nasty place to be. Cobwebs all over the floor, spiders everywhere, and the Spider Mistress beckoning me closer! But as soon as I figured out how to get past the cobwebs without getting caught (I had to crawl before moving forward), I realised she didn’t necessarily want me for food. This hideous monster wanted me for sex, firstly requesting a kiss after I gave her the fly, before demanding we make “passionate love” once I agreed. As you might expect, none of these creepy exchanges of bodily fluid led to anything positive, and I eventually figured out I could simply refuse her advances without lowering my chances of survival. The Spider Mistress offered me one of two spiders, with one being red and the other blue.

You wantt to get down to business before getting down to business? Make up your mind she-witch!

Clearly, choosing the correct spider was a test, and interestingly it was the spiders themselves that gave me a hint of its solution. The red one said “you think of evelything, as Khele would say”, to which the blue one responded with “Dear Khele! He loves what he can’t pronounce!” It didn’t take me long to figure out which spider I was supposed to choose. Khele was obviously the Scorpion Master, since he was the only character that always replaced R’s with L’s. Out of the two spider colours, the one that he wouldn’t be able to pronounce was “red”, which he would have pronounced “led”. I therefore surmised that the spider he would want to eat would be the red one. However, since I had to choose the one to feed the fly, and the other one would be mine, I needed to select the blue spider.

It's always a good idea to give hints to someone who wishes to use you as food

Blue was the correct answer, and I took the spider to Khele and placed it into the mouth towards the bottom of the statue. Rather oddly, the little door at the base opened up revealing an “upside down character”, which was Khele. I couldn’t do anything apart from entering the statue alongside him, within which I found the third skull and then suddenly found myself back in The Ring, apparently having gone through another door on the inside of the statue. That’s three skulls down, with two to go before I can become a Divo! I assume the two remaining skulls can be found in the rooms called The Noose and The Wall, but I haven’t yet explored them apart from a quick peek. I still have no idea whether retrieving the skulls is all I need to do in each section, and there are a few puzzles I failed to solve (the hands, the engraving etc.). I guess I'll ignore them unless I get stuck down the track!

I can't help wondering if his name is actually Khere

Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 00 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before 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!

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Game 24: Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess - Tyoo tor real

Raven Journal Entry 1: “Zorq has returned! The day we all hoped for has become a nightmare, as our unpleased god has gone on a rampage, imprisoning the people as his slaves within the Temple of Zorq under the watchful eye of the Protozorqs. I of course rebelled against this carnage, using my tuner powers to destroy any Protozorqs that stood in my way, but now my friend Sci Fi has been captured, so I had no choice but to let myself be captured also. I now find myself within the walls of the temple, tasked with completing the Five Ordeals and therefore collecting the five Vort Skulls. I have not yet succeeded in finding any, yet I cannot rest with only one hour to complete my task! Hold on Sci Fi...I am coming!"

Bubble on the Brain? What game am I playing?

I knew this game was going to be strange! The background documentation was truly bizarre, and the company behind it had a lot to do with that other French oddity, Captain Blood. Knowing it was going to be strange didn’t really prepare me for just how strange The Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess really is though! You just wouldn’t see a game like this today, with game companies always playing it safe and copying tried and tested formulas. To even begin to describe the game is quite daunting to be honest, and I’m really going to have to run a bit of a tutorial to begin with so you know what the hell I’m talking about. Bear with me folks...and prepare to enter the Temple of Zorq!

Aren't the Vorts the result of the people's failed experiment? Zorq's experiment ate themselves!

The Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess began with a bit of a presentation. I was given a quick run through of some of the important characters that I was likely to come across. Seven Protozorqs (at least I assume they are all Protozorqs) are displayed, along with some Vorts, with a short description of each. For those of you that didn’t read the background, here’s a summary.  Zorq (a God of sorts) came to “the people” (aka Offa) and impregnated a woman. The woman gave birth to children that ate themselves, and then Zorq flew away and left the people to choose a “Protizim” to rule until his return. The people selected a Protizim (Krill) and then another (Prass) after he died, and it was Protizim Prass that took it upon himself to create a new race to “obliterize” all other peoples. Needless to say, that didn’t go too well either, and the useless Vorts were the resulting offspring. Now Zorq has returned, and gone on a destructive rampage, turning the people into his slaves. Got it?

Wow! Ash has his arm back! Groovy!!!!

After the presentation, I found myself in The Master’s Orbit, confronted by The Master of Ordeals. I was tasked with passing the 5 Ordeals, and by doing so collect the 5 Vort skulls. I know from the manual that I have one hour to achieve this goal, and that I then have to put the skulls into something called The Changer. If I can manage it, I will become a Divo, will receive “the Egg”, and then be required to report to the “Chamber of Dreams”. The Master of Ordeals gave me a dagger, telling me that I would find the item useful “beyond the door called The Wall”. I was then left to figure out the interface, which I will briefly describe before getting on with the show.

So you're imprisoning me...and now you're helping me...hmmmm....

Let me start with the weird little pink creature in the top left corner. Looks like a foetus right? That’s because it is! His name is Gauss (or simply Foetus), and he’s a Hitachi-Gauss Amplifier, my telepathic link to the “tuner network”. He gives me hints as to what to do next, yet he does so in a rather cryptic way. It’s not unusual for him to say things like “sit you ation evolve ing norma lee” (situation evolving normally) and “sumbod een icefor wunss” (somebody nice for once). It’s a neat touch to be honest, with small hints available while still making me work for it at least a little bit. It does use up some Sci Energy to speak to Gauss though, which is vital for success in the game. What’s Sci Energy I hear you ask?! Well let me explain that next.

Gram ar andspel lingprob lemms canbee fixed withed youcasion

On the right hand side of the screen is a bar of icons, which are from top to bottom: Objects in the Room, Sci Powers, Possessions, Sci Energy Level, Wait, Load Game, Save Game and Time. The last four probably don’t need any explanation, but I’ll quickly run through the top four. It’s a sign of the game’s graphical limitations that an Objects in the Room button is required. Basically if there is any item anywhere in my current room, a red light shines on this icon. When I click on the icon, I can then see what the item is and interact with it. The object itself cannot be seen in the actual play area, which is pretty damn lazy, but probably for the best given how bad pixel hunting would be otherwise.

Well, having an Objects in the Room button sure solves the pixel hunting dilemma!

There are a total of eight Sci Powers available to be used at any time. They are: Solar Eyes (see in the dark), Sticky Fingers (climb on walls), Know Mind (read someone’s mind), Brainwarp (cause temporary stupidity in target), Zone Scan (reveal hidden items in a room), Sci Shift (move items with mind), Extreme Violence (go completely nuts on a target) and Tune In (getta hintfrom the effort less lee crypt ticgauss). At first I wondered how much use these were really going to have, but I soon found them to be critical to success. Basically I now enter any room and see what I can do in there unassisted, before seeing what information Gauss can give me, checking out the items I have that might help, before finally turning to the remaining Sci Powers as a last resort. It certainly gives me a few options to turn to when attempting to find a solution.

It's time for a bit of the old extreme violence!

The Possessions icon is basically my inventory, and I can click on any item within it and then choose an option from an alien looking menu system. Those options include things like Put In, Throw Away, Inspect etc. It’s crude, but it works. Finally there is the Sci Energy Level icon, which produces a beating heart that represents how much energy I have left. I haven’t yet got to a stage where I have no sci energy available, but then I’ve not been playing the game for very long. I don’t even know yet whether the energy recharges or once it’s gone, it’s gone, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough. Right, that should be enough explanation for you to have some idea what I’m talking about when I plunge you into the various temple rooms and start collecting skulls.

Apparently my sci powers are driven by my heart. Don't ask why!

So, I have a dagger that I need to use in a room called The Wall. Before I tried finding The Wall, I thought I should do what I’ve needed to do in every adventure game on the list so far. I’ll have a bit of a chat to the inhabitants and see what information I can get out of them. It quickly became apparent that these guys really didn’t want much to do with me. They all seemed to begrudgingly tell me that I needed to complete the five ordeals, but any further questions resulted in violence. I could kill one or two of them, particularly if I used the Extreme Violence sci power, but it always ended with me dying and having to start over again. Interestingly, every time I started again I was given a different item that would assist me in a different room!

No you die, mutant son of ape!

That piece of information is both a positive and a negative. It’s a positive because it means I can get a real sense as to how certain puzzles are solved (i.e. what item I might need) every time I restart. There seem to be four different items on offer, which are a dagger for The Wall, a goblet for The Twins, a rope for De Profundis, and a fly for The Scorpion’s Presence.  The negative is that it’s pretty much impossible for me to blog my exact experience through the game when I keep dying and starting again with a new item. I’ve decided the best way to approach Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess is to focus on each item individually and the rooms they assist with. I assume that if I can figure out the secrets to each room, I might be able to figure out the correct path through them at a later stage. Speaking of rooms, here’s a map of the Zone of Ordeals to help you know where I am.

The Goblet

You wouldn't happen to have two goblets would you?

The second time I started the game I was given a goblet, which is apparently of use through the door called The Twins. Rather oddly, I was suddenly transferred to The Twins, without even having to find it. Within the room were a couple of serpent heads sticking out of a well and three doors. The door on the right apparently led to the Master’s Orbit (the starting room), the one on the left to The Source, and the one on the back wall to something called Who Will Be Saved? I decided to see what Gauss might have to say, but all he offered up was the word Inskripshun (Inscription). I couldn’t see any other items in the room that I could interact with, nor could I see anything that might have an inscription on it, so I focussed on the serpents.

The hand puppet show was just getting good when Gauss started banging on again!

My options available for each serpent were Inspect, Take, Shake and Open. Inspecting them resulting in “a beautiful bronze serpent with moving jaws”. Neither taking nor shaking them achieved anything, so all I was left with was “open”. I opened both the serpent mouths, then immediately wondered what I might need to put in them. The goblet suddenly sprung to mind, but since I had no liquid in it, I figured I’d probably have to hunt for something elsewhere. Intrigued by the strange name of the door in front of me, I tried entering Who Will be Saved?, only to be informed that “the door won’t open”. There was no point going back to the Master’s Orbit, so I entered The Source.

The synchronised serpent dying scene was a worthy climax!

Within the source was a serpent headed fountain in a bath, a plaque on the ground in front of it, and an inscription on the wall behind it. The “eureka” part of my brain started firing madly! Here was the inscription that Gauss had mentioned in The Twins, and there was also a bath containing liquid I could fill the goblet with and then pour into the serpent heads. The inscription said “one will drink, the other eat. And the passerby passes.” So it seemed pretty obvious that I was going to need to put liquid in one serpent head and some form of food in the other. What food though, and in which goes which? Before I tried filling the goblet, I investigated the plaque. I could touch, walk on, hit, lift, inspect or jump on it, so I tried all of them. Apart from discovering that the plaque is “really most lovely”, nothing happened.

So do I need to find beans, cabbage or onion?

I tried filling the goblet, and was surprised to find that “there’s no liquid here!” My options with the fountain were Take, Polish, Inspect, Talk, Smash and Climb On. When I inspected it I was told that “the eyes look worn out”. None of the other actions seemed to do anything, although polishing it resulted in “good”. I’m not certain whether it was inspecting it or polishing it, but all of a sudden I had the option to Press the Eye! Pressing it caused some liquid to flow from the serpent mouth into the bath, and I was then able to choose the goblet from my possessions and fill it up. I still couldn’t enter the Who Will Be Saved? room which also had a doorway from The Source, and I also had no idea what the plaque was for or what Gauss’ “inorder” comment might be about, so I went back to The Twins.

Some host you are!

I quickly emptied the goblet into the left serpent head and felt pretty satisfied when it filled it to the brim. Not only that, a small die appeared floating on the surface of the water. Before I could do anything, it disappeared down the serpent along with the water. I went back to the fountain to collect more water and when I returned and filled the serpent, this time I was ready to take the die as soon as it appeared. Awesome, I had a die!!! What the hell was I supposed to do with that? I threw it and it kept coming up with the number 2, but that didn't help. I eventually (after visiting other locations mind you) tried feeding the die to the second serpent, and was stunned that this was actually the solution! Once down, the door to Who Will Be Saved? unlocked!

The Dungeons and Dragons weekend came to a premature and traumatic end!

Obviously I haven’t taken you guys very far into the game yet, but I’ve spent so much time explaining the bizarre story and just as bizarre game mechanics, that I have to stop this post here. You’ll only need to wait a day or two to find out what was waiting for me in Who Will Be Saved?! I’m going to put my game time down as one hour, although I’ve actually spent closer to two exploring the various rooms so far. Writing the posts on the game this way will probably make me focus more intensely on each room instead of jumping about the way I was when I first started playing around. I really can’t comment on how I feel about the game just yet. I will say that there’s something oddly satisfying about the puzzles, but then some of it makes little sense at all. Only time will tell what the overruling level of enjoyment is.

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!

Saturday 15 September 2012

Game 24: Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess - Introduction

The DOS version doesn't seem to have a title screen, so this is from the Amiga version.

We’ve made it through to 1989 and I’m pretty excited about the year ahead. There are some classic games to come, some of which I’ve played (Hero’s Quest, Space Quest III) and some I really should have but haven’t (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Colonel’s Bequest). Before I can get to any of those however, there are some lesser known adventures to be had, including Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess. This is a game that didn’t originally make the cut, and was the first one to be added to the list by a reader when Lars-Erik traded in 50 CAPs. I knew very little about the game prior to my intro research, apart from the fact its original (and just as corny) title in Europe was KULT: The Temple of Flying Saucers.

Who the hell has a shrink wrapped copy of this game?

Speaking of research, I’ve learnt something today that has me more than a little bit concerned. Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess was made by the same company that released Captain Blood! I didn’t initially make the connection because I distinctly remembered listing ERE Informatique as the company behind that intriguing yet ultimately baffling creation, but somewhere between Captain Blood and Chamber, Philippe Ulrich decided to make a change. Apparently buoyed by the success of Captain Blood, he came up with the idea of a god named Exxos that was apparently guiding the programmers, designers and artists in creating their games, and subsequently changed the company name to Exxos. Philippe even went as far as holding a ceremony at Studio 102 before members of the press to announce the change. This is what he had to say:

If I'm not mistaken, my research has unveiled a gem! Philippe Ulrich released an album prior to making games!

"Mesdames and Messrs, the decision was not easy, but all the same, we have agreed to reveal to you the secret of our dynamism and the creativity which makes ERE Informatique a success. If there are sensitive people in the room, I ask them to be strong. They have nothing to fear if their vibrations are positive; the telluric forces will save them. My friends, the inspiration does not fall from the sky, the genius is not the fruit of chance. The inspirer and the genius which designed Macadam Bumper, that is not the fabulous Remi Herbulot or the marvellous Michel Rho, the inspirer and the genius which generated Captain Blood, it is not the inextinguishable Didier Bouchon and even less your servant. It is Him! Him who has been in our offices for months! He who comes from outside the Universe! He that we reveal today to the world, because the hour has come! I name Exxos! I ask you to say after me some magic sentences which point out his country to him: ATA ATA hoglo hulu, ATA ATA hoglo hulu." I'll let you decide whether this is genius marketing or just plain insanity!

ATA ATA hoglu hulu, ATA ATA hoglo hulu!

Now you guys will know that I wasn’t a fan of Captain Blood, despite acknowledging how original and interesting it was, so I immediately set off to find out whether the exact same people were behind both Captain Blood and Chamber. It turns out there’s only one man involved in both projects and that’s graphics man Michel Rho. Along with Michel, Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess was designed and written by a guy called Johan Robson (aka Arbeit von Spacekraft), programmed by Patrick Dublanchet, with music by St├ęphane Picq. After the demise of Exxos, Johan would go on to make the acclaimed adventure game KGB, which quite a few readers here have listed as a highly intelligent yet challenging experience. All this gave me some hope that I wasn’t necessary about to embark on another Captain Blood like journey. Then I read the manual!

KGB: I believe we were talking about this game a couple of days ago.

To be more precise, it was the Background document that gave me cause for concern. While looking for the original documentation that came with the game, I came across two PDFs, being a typical manual that describes how the game mechanics work and a separate document that gives the game some historical background. I decided to read the background doc first, assuming that having this knowledge would help me make sense of the manual. Seriously, what are these guys smoking? Perhaps it’s merely a translation issue, but no matter how weird the Captain Blood novella was, it’s a masterpiece of literature compared to this! I couldn’t possibly convey the sheer lunacy here, so I highly recommend you all go download it from Replacement Docs and check it out. Here’s a short snippet:

So much for that Race indeed!

For those of you that sensibly ignored my suggestion to read the full background, the idea of the game seems to be that I will be controlling Raven, a Tuner (a mutant with psy-powers) that has purposely got himself caught and been transferred to the temple of the Protozorqs (physical mutants), who hold his girlfriend Sci-Fi as their prisoner, armed with “zapsticks”. It appears I will need to go through five ordeals, although I have no idea how that will help or why the Protozorqs would even give me that opportunity. I’m going to try to go in with an open mind, giving the game the benefit of the doubt despite my apprehension. I assume you’ll be playing along with me Lars-Erik? After all, this is your fault! ;)

Arbeit von Spacekraft: Probably smoked a lot of pot with Philippe and Didier

The game was released in a couple of different versions, so I should be clear about what I’m going to play. Apparently the European version (KULT) was a CGA game (4 colours) with only PC speaker beeps for sound and no music. The U.S. version (Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess) added EGA support, AdLib music and sound effects, and since both were released in 1989, that’s the one I’ll be playing. During my research I discovered that the DOS version of the game had some significant graphical glitches (white and cyan pixels scattered around the place) that didn’t appear in the Amiga and Atari ST versions, and a modder fan named Sam Jeffreys released a patch around the year 2000. I’ve loaded the patched files, as I assume no-one will have an issue with me playing the game the way it was originally intended. Here we go...

I liked the KULT cover better

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 30 points in return (it's going to keep going up until someone beats me)! 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: N jvmneq, n cvt naq gur qnhtugre bs n ynaq oneba...nyy arrq erfphvat...anzr nyy guerr punenpgref naq gur tnzrf gurl jrer va sbe 20 PNCf?

Extra Note: Once again, Lars-Erik will gift the next readily available game on the list to the reader that correctly predicts what score I will give this game. So, if you predict the right score (or are closest), you will get 10 CAPs and a copy of the Quest for Glory collection from GOG! Good luck!

Thursday 13 September 2012

The Year That Was...1988

1988 was dominated by Sierra! In fact, five of the eight games I played were from the adventure gaming giant, all of which I played back to back. It was a year that included an engine update for the company, with AGI being replaced by SCI, but it was also a year that saw little evolution in the non-technological aspects of the genre. The three SCI driven games were sequels that carried the torch of their predecessors while sporting a new chassis, while the two AGI driven games (Gold Rush and Manhunter) were far more creative and original, yet sadly suffered in other areas. 1989 will see the company continue to crank out the sequels (Larry and Space Quest III), but it will also be the year that sees Sierra spreading their wings, with the Quest For Glory and Laura Bow series seeing the light of day. I’m super excited about it too!

Sierra ruled the genre in the late 80s, but their reign wouldn't last forever

Leaving Sierra aside, the rest of the competition in 1988 was inconsistent to say the least. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders took the amazing work that LucasArts put into Maniac Mansion and built a bigger, more ambitious game around it. I’d heard about the game previously of course, but after playing it, I’m a little surprised at how little praise it gets these days. The same can’t be said for Psycho and to a lesser extent Captain Blood, with the former being undoubtedly the worst adventure game I’ve ever played. How it got a commercial release is anyone’s guess! Captain Blood at least had an intriguing concept and kept me interested for a few hours, but the end result was akin to learning the language of multiple alien races with no significant reward in return. Anyway, without further ado, I bring to you the inaugural TAG Awards!

Who will win this year? What will the awards even be? Oh the excitement!

The Charles Darwin TAG: For the Most Evolutionary Game of 1988

Winner: King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella

King’s Quest IV takes out this award, not only for being the first game to showcase Sierra’s impressive new SCI engine, but also for being the first game to have a lone female protagonist. The game also has the best quality music found in an adventure game to date, putting it just ahead of the also very impressive Zak McKracken.

King's Quest IV was the first game on the list to look AND sound good

Also worth a mention:

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders - for superior graphics, varied environment, and high use of multiple puzzle solutions

Police Quest 2 - for rewarding diligence without punishing those just looking for entertainment, as well as taking the genre to a new cinematic high through numerous pulse raising scenes.

The Lament Configuration TAG: For the Most Ridiculous Puzzle of 1988

Winner: Manhunter: New York

Manhunter just scrapes through against stiff competition, with the dinosaur in the museum puzzle just too ridiculous to ignore. After spending the last hour desperately trying to find a way to open a barred wooden door, I eventually found a crowbar in the mine-infested Strawberry Fields. Using the crowbar on the door didn’t actually open it. It just disturbed a dinosaur that apparently lived in the museum, which then helped me out by removing the large bar, but only after I showed it a medallion that proved that I was part of a rebellion against invading aliens. Right!!!!

Also worth a mention:

Leisure Suit Larry 2 - I realise Al Lowe was taking the piss when he made the player choke and die on a bobby pin in a plate of food, just so they could restore and retrieve it, but still...

Captain Blood – “Female Good Disarm Small Scientist Dead Female Female Radioactivity No Insult Laugh Urgent”. Need I say more?

The Needle's Eye TAG: For the Most Unsolvable Puzzle of 1988

Winner: King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella

King’s Quest IV gets its second TAG award, but this time it’s for negative reasons. I think it’s the only case where I actually deducted one whole category point for a single puzzle. Finding the whale is hard, since it’s not always visible in the same place. Once you do find the whale though, there’s no real reason to try to do anything with it. Moving towards it makes it swim away. The solution is to stay absolutely still for a while (why would anyone think to do that?), after which the whale dives beneath the water and then comes up and swallows you. Don’t even get me started on the tonsil maze within the whale, but that’s another matter altogether.

Horrors? It took me hours to be swallowed by this whale!

Also worth a mention:

Police Quest 2 – the whole first section of Police Quest 2 was confusing and complicated. The vague assignment details, the hidden storage bin and the business card locker code are all quite challenging to overcome, but it’s the unseen timer (you only have a certain amount of time to leave the station) that really pissed me off. The game doesn’t even inform the player that they’ve spent too long in the station, and instead sends them back inside for a non-descript working over by the boss.

Manhunter: New York – figuring out the “suspect” names in Manhunter is tough going, but figuring out the name of antagonist Phil Cook is pure guesswork. It might seem somewhat obvious in hindsight to try Phil Cook when a dying man has written Phil Cool on a rock (he didn’t quite make it you see), but considering you don’t even know for sure that you actually need to find anyone at that stage of the game, it’s close to impossible.

Special Mention must go to Leisure Suit Larry 2 and Psycho for having game breaking bugs that almost literally make the games unsolvable.

The Megan Fox TAG: For the Most Memorable Moment of 1988

Winner: Police Quest 2

I’d been struggling to enjoy Police Quest 2 after the first hour or two, but that all turned around when Bains jumped out from behind some bushes in the park and starting shooting at me. If that wasn’t enough to display the potential of the game, his escape and subsequent drive-by sure did, especially when I found myself investigating a crime scene with my field kit and then scuba diving in the river looking for a body mere minutes later. All of a sudden I was hooked!

The excitement level increased dramatically from this point onwards.

Also worth a mention:

Leisure Suit Larry 2 – I really love the humour in Larry 2, and there are almost too many highlight moments to mention on that front. I’m going to raise two that come to mind though, being the hairdressing scene where Larry falls asleep and dreams of running on the beach with a naked woman, while the hairdresser watches the thought bubble coming out of his head, and the cliff face where the player is able to earn unlimited points by taking advantage of an apparent game bug only to find out that Al Lowe understands gamer tendencies better than they might realise.

Zak McKracken – Zak is filled with memorable moments, but none surpass exploring Mars for the first time. Not only did I get to control two totally new characters, but I also got to explore an alien environment, dealing with the harsh conditions while solving the mysteries of an ancient race. That highlight was probably only surpassed by the exciting moment when I finally put everything together and was able to plan my way through each destination in the game, with the climax beckoning.

The Severed Head TAG: For the Worst Game of 1988

Winner: Psycho

Worst adventure game of the year? More like worst adventure game ever! As if the daft puzzles and shocking movement wasn’t bad enough, the game breaking bugs made it more than a short-lived chore. Psycho lived up to my extremely low expectations and some!!!

I think everyone should play this game. It will make you enjoy every other game you ever play from that point onwards!

Also worth a mention:

Captain Blood – I was actually quite interested in this game after the first session, but it simply failed to reward my efforts, forcing me to restart several times and becoming nothing more than a silly alien symbol deciphering simulation. It’s the only game on the list that I couldn’t bear to play all the way through, and let’s hope it stays that way.

Manhunter: New York – I take no pleasure in putting Manhunter on this list because I really did enjoy it for the most part. Its dodgy visuals and controls can’t be ignored though, so it sadly fell to a sub-50 score and forced its way onto this list.

The Atlantean Medallion TAG (aka The Cleavage of Sophia Hapgood TAG): For the Best Game of 1988

Winner: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

Zak certainly wasn’t flawless, but when you combine the SCUMM interface, the best graphics yet seen in an adventure game, hugely varied environments that cover the globe and beyond, and genius use of multiple puzzle solutions, it’s difficult to understand why it isn’t considered a classic alongside Maniac Mansion and the plethora of other LucasArts games that would follow. Not even the annoying mazes could dampen my enthusiasm to save Earth from certain stupidity!

A very underrated game in my opinion, and a clear winner for 1988

Also worth a mention:

Police Quest II: The Vengeance – The Police Quest sequel took everything that was good about the first game and improved upon it. It still included the manual following puzzle solutions, but did so in a clever way that rewarded players determined to be thorough investigators without alienating the less inclined. If it wasn’t for the rather uninspired first quarter and the dodgy inventory system, it may very well have challenged the top of the leader board.

King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella – The fourth King’s Quest outing looked and sounded better than all previous Sierra games, and was a thoroughly enjoyable game to boot. The plot took place in the familiar fantasy setting that series lovers would be used to, but mixed in stronger mythological and gothic themes to make it slightly less sugary. Unfortunately there were a couple of very bad puzzle design decisions that marred the experience, leaving it slightly below where it could have been.

And there it is...the inaugural TAG Awards. It was much harder than I thought to come up with interesting awards, so I'm sure it will evolve as the genre does. Comments and recommendations welcome as usual!