Friday, 19 April 2013

Game 31: Mean Streets - Tex and the Ironically Named Vehicle

Tex Murphy Journal Entry 1: “I wouldn’t normally take on a case like this one. The cops seem pretty certain that Professor Carl Linsky jumped to his death off the Golden Gate Bridge, so why am I even looking into it? Sylvia is the reason why! Not only did she give me ten grand to investigate her father’s death, she also happens to be drop dead gorgeous. You know…the type of girl that’s undoubtedly trouble, but trouble that might just be worth getting into. She gave me the NC for her dad’s apartment, which is where I am now. I’ll sweep this place clean! If Linsky was in some sort of trouble, I should be able to find something here that leads me to the troublemaker. Hmmmm…what’s that statue over there in the cabinet?”

Oh you mean and nasty street you!

I’m approaching two hours into Mean Streets and I’ve hardly done anything at all. My lack of achievement isn’t due to high difficulty or stupidity though, it’s just taken me a while to a) get used to the game mechanics and b) to figure out the best way to capture my experience for the blog. I’ll explain the mechanics as I move through the first part of the game, but thought I would mention my technical struggles in case anyone can come up with a better solution. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve started turning to SCUMMVM whenever possible, as it allows me to take very high quality screenshots by pressing ALT-S. When it comes time to write a post, I select the 1.6MB images that I want to use and resize them so I don’t end up with pages that load slower than Tex Murphy’s speeder (more on that soon).

It's very important to point out that the client is beautiful.

When I use DOSBox, I can press CTRL F5 to take screenshots, but they’re generally  320 x 200, which is crappy to say the least. Laukku very helpfully informed me that setting the machine to “vgaonly” in DOSBox for some reason doubles the screenshot resolution to 640 x 400 though, so since Mean Streets is not supported on SCUMMVM, I decided to try this little trick and kick on. I’ve run into one major issue while playing the game though, which is that pressing the CTRL key acts in the same way as pressing the ENTER key. Given that the majority of the screenshots I need to capture contain some sort of dialogue, as soon as I press the CTRL key, it disappears! Long story short, my first session has involved using CTRL F5 whenever there is no dialogue on screen and the bloody Windows 7 Snipping Tool for the rest. Anyone got a better solution? I’d love to hear it!

Be careful to spell properly? I really need to be told that?

OK, that little rant is out of the way. Let’s begin! The game started with Tex Murphy strolling out of a building and hopping into a rather cool looking flying car. It was immediately apparent that the graphics were pretty decent, and the sound of the door sliding open was also fairly convincing. After playing Manhunter for the last few weeks, Mean Streets was already looking very impressive from a technical point of view. Tex hopped into the car (called a speeder), and a bunch of writing appeared on the screen, giving me some background to the case that I’m about to try to solve. The short of it is that I’ve been hired by a woman named Sylvia to investigate the death of her father, Dr. Carl Linsky. The police believe he committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, but Sylvia believes he was murdered, and that his connection to a secret project at the University of San Francisco was to blame. I’ve been given $10000 in cash and have 5 leads, which are written in a section called “Getting Started” in the manual.

It makes perfect sense that flying cars would look like normal cars...without wheels.

Once the intro message was done, I found myself sitting in front of the controls of the speeder, with absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I then skimmed through the manual and read all I could about controlling the vehicle. The first thing I learnt was how to input a destination into the navigation console. I could bring up the console by pressing N, and I could then press N again to type in a navigation code (aka NC). I entered code 4663, as that was the first location in the manual. The San Francisco University! I could then press A to turn on an auto pilot that would take my speeder to the destination automatically, but I was keen to at least have a go at manually controlling the vehicle. As soon as I exited the navigation console, I received a fax. That’s right, a fax! In 2033! It was from my secretary Vanessa, and was a copy of a news article about Linsky’s death. It didn’t mention much that I wasn’t already aware of, but it did talk about Linsky’s fiancée Delores Lightbody, who indicated in the article that the professor had been under a great deal of stress prior to his death. The manual states that I can contact Vanessa whenever I want to by video phone, as well as an Informant named Lee Chin.

It was hard enough to learn all the controls without them putting me on the left hand side of the car.

I soon learnt that pressing the HOME key caused the speeder to hover upwards and END to go back down towards the ground. The + key would move forward while the – key would move backward. The rest was pretty straight forward, with the arrow keys turning and tilting the flying car just as you would expect them to. Once I realised that the number in the top left corner of the screen was how far from the destination I was (3.53 miles in this instance), and that the compass with two numbers on it above my right knee was the direction I was heading along with the direction I needed to go to reach the destination, it was just a matter of pointing the car in the right direction and pressing + until I reached top speed. Shortly afterwards I arrived at a flashing landing pad, where I was (after a bit of a struggle) able to land the speeder and come to a stop. Then all I needed to do was press E to exit, which I did.

It's very helpful that the ground just lights up in preparation for my arrival.

Rather than witnessing Tex enter a building or interact with anyone at the university, instead I merely received a message describing what took place. Basically I broke into Carl Linsky’s office using my “Private Detective, all purpose, door opening kit”, only to find no-one in there and nothing of interest whatsoever! Since there was “nothing else to see or do at this location”, I checked the manual for another location I could visit. The second lead I had was Sylvia Linsky herself, who lived at NC 4421. I entered the code into the navigational console, turned my speeder the exact direction, and hit top gear (after climbing to a height where I wouldn’t crash into things on the way). Sylvia’s house was over 70 miles away from the university, but that shouldn’t take long in such a high tech speeder right? Right!? Well, I watched as the miles slowly ticked down, with very little of interest popping up in the scenery around me. I’d read others comments about how long it took to get anywhere in the speeder, and was now realising exactly what they were talking about!

This is the navigational console. It was all pretty daunting at first, but turned out to be straight forward.

I’m not sure exactly how long it took, but it had to be close to five minutes before I reached Sylvia’s house, with nothing to do but watch the miles to destination slowly tick down. Once I arrived, I was shown an external of the apartment and given a brief description of Sylvia. “The bell chimed inside, and after a moment, Sylvia opened the door. She wore a pale blue blouse and white shorts that were short enough to be friendly. She was as beautiful as ever, with her soft blonde hair and clear blue eyes. I knew I was starting to fall for her. Careful, I reminded myself. She’s a client, and falling for a client is dangerous in my business. Still, if only I knew how she felt for me...” It seemed pretty odd that my character would be so forthcoming after one brief meeting with her previously, but the seductive look and posture Sylvia had in the short video I witnessed was enough explanation for me. Sylvia is clearly a nasty piece of work, with the looks to back it up!

It's a little too soon to be worrying about this sort of thing isn't it?

While the video quality isn’t amazing by today’s standards, it sure would have been impressive back in 1989. It’s definitely the first example of live actors in a game on The Adventure Gamer playlist. Anyway, once I regained control, I was given the option to ask Sylvia questions or leave, so I chose “question”. The words “Tell me about:” appeared on the screen with a cursor, so I immediately began typing in any names I was aware of followed by the words that the manual suggested I question people about. These include “MTC Corp, Gideon Enterprises, Overlord, Passcard, Password, Nexus, Law and Order, and Insurance”. I have to admit that it feels a bit strange being told what questions to ask people, particularly when the majority of them don’t mean anything to me at all. That seems like a pretty lazy way to get the information to the player that they might need.

Actually, why don't you tell me about your body!

Asking about “Carl Linsky” gave me some important information. “If you need to look through his apartment, it’s located at NC 4660”. Asking about “Delores Lightbody” revealed that she and Carl were about to get married, but that Sylvia believed Delores had seduced him with black magic. Asking about “Insurance” really put Sylvia on the defensive, as she immediately assumed that I was suggesting she killed her own father for the 1,000,000 dollars insurance. It seems that if he committed suicide, Sylvia gets nothing, but if he was murdered, the million bucks would be hers. No wonder she’s trying to prove that he was murdered! Despite this revelation, Sylvia still suggested that if I investigate the death and am convinced it was suicide, she would accept that finding. I tried all the other words and names that I had, but none of them resulted in anything very interesting.

No, I'm wondering whether you'd be willing to split the million 50/50 if I make it look like a murder, then run away with me to the south of France where we would spend the rest of our days enjoying each other in every way imaginable. How does that sound?

Interestingly, once I’d asked Sylvia a couple of questions I gained the ability to Bribe her or to Threaten her. I’d just saved my game, so I tried both! She refused to accept a bribe, but threatening her resulted in her kicking me in my nether regions, which “I expertly blocked with my body”. Apparently I lost consciousness from the pain and woke up on the street. I restored, figuring that pissing off Sylvia probably wasn’t in my best interests at this stage of the game, and hopped back into the speeder. I decided to visit Dr. Linsky’s apartment now that I knew its location, so set my navigation console to NC 4660. I then spent another 5 or so minutes watching mostly empty scenery as I travelled over 70 miles to the destination. I was already starting to feel the pain that many other players have commented about, and had to wonder why the game creators didn’t either make the speeder go faster or put the locations a bit closer together.

Tex was actually going to punch Sylvia in the face! I'm kinda glad she kicked him in the balls!

On entering the apartment, a message popped up saying: “The three story Queen Anne style home of Professor Carl Linsky has been well kept. I step inside and notice the quaint style of furniture and décor…” I was then given a third person view of Tex walking into the room. It was time to do some detective work! Moving around the room was easy enough, and I quickly figured out that I could press ENTER to take a closer look at all the pieces of furniture in my near vicinity. Once I highlighted an item, I could choose one of six actions to apply to it, being “look”, “get”, “move”, “open”, “on/off” and “taste”. Looking at an item gave me a description of it, and quite often revealed yet another item either on or inside it that I could then investigate. I had some fun trying stupid things such as opening the plant and tasting the couch, and the game humoured me with responses like “your suggestion sounds a bit demented” and “yuk – obviously you’re not a gourmet.”

I find it hard to believe that there was no remote control in the couch somewhere

So what did I find in Linsky’s apartment? I discovered a chess set on the coffee table that was interestingly missing one of the bishops. I also found a note on the table that said “I’m going to get you for failing me, Linsky.” That could be taken two ways really. Did Linsky write it or was it left for him? Either way, I had to wonder why it wasn’t found by police the day he died, just sitting on the table. I found a desk key on the chair in the back left corner of the room which I assumed I would be able to open a drawer in the desk with, but before I could even try that, I took a look at the display case nearby. “The display cabinet is protected by a magnetic field. You notice two slot screws partially hidden and surmise that you could shut down the field if you had a slot screwdriver.” I could see that there was a statue inside the cabinet, which I very stupidly decided to pick up…

This magnetic field would surely set off some sort of alarm. Oooohhhh check out that statue! I reckon I can get it if I just...

Unsurprisingly, my foolishness resulted in an alarm going off, and I had five minutes to turn it off before the police arrived. I quickly looked at all the other items in the room, but couldn’t find any way of turning off the alarm. I then realised that the front door had closed and locked, so it was clear that I was doomed. The police arrived and I was thrown jail, ending my game. I figured I’d just restore my game and investigate the rest of the room, only I hadn’t saved since visiting Sylvia! That meant I was going to have to travel the 70 plus miles again in the speeder to reach the Professor’s apartment!  Damn! Well, I’ve learnt a lot in the first session, including some valuable lessons around saving every time I arrive at a destination and not touching things that have magnetic fields on them. My second session should be much smoother for it!

Do not pass go and do not collect $200!

Session Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours 30 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 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!


  1. Perhaps you could use dosbox controls to increase game speed when flying. Never tried this game so not sure it would work.

  2. I particularly like that the game makes a big deal about reminding you to spell properly, but it can't even spell "your" at the end of your second screenshot.

    In other news, all those topics the manual told you to ask for, they look like hints/spoilers to me. I'd be inclined to ignore those topics until I'd found out about them in game.

  3. You can remap the screenshot command to another key combination by activating the DOSBox keymapper:

    Something similar that avoids the Control key, such as Alt+F5, would be a good replacement.

    1. That sounds like it would do the trick! I'll try it out when I get home.

      Thanks Laukku!

    2. Unfortunately ALT also acts as a return key, meaning it's no better than CTRL. There appears no way to map anything to Screenshot that doesn't include either CTRL or ALT, so I don't see how I'm going to avoid using Windows Snipping Tool.

      Even Cush1978's suggestion below is out because it also involves pressing ALT.

      Any other ideas? It's really frustrating me.

    3. If can map the Screenshot-key to just F5 or whatever key you like. If you press Ctrl+F1 to get to the keyboard view, click Screenshot, you can then remove the "mod" checkboxes to avoid using Ctrl or Alt altogether.

    4. You can't take screenshots of the text in this game because pressing ANY key (including F5, not only CTRL or ALT) will make the text either dissapear (when looking at objects) or move duting dialogue. I'm also trying to find a solution but no luck yet. Maybe using FRAPS or something like that...

    5. You also have to avoid the button press to be sent to the game. I changed mine now to F10 since F5 is used in the game, and it works perfectly. Recipe:

      1. In game, press Ctrl+F1 to get the mapper screen.
      2. Click on the F10 image (or whatever key you want it to be mapped to).
      3. Click Del on the bottom to remove the F10 keypress from the mapping. This way it won't be sent to the DosBox game.
      4. Click Screenshot.
      5. Click Add.
      6. Press the F10 key on your keyboard.
      7. ...
      8. Profit

      This way the F10 key is now mapped to Screenshot without being sent also as a keypress to the game.

    6. Dammit, I had the same solution as Lars-Erik in mind, but didn't have the opportunity to write a comment until now. :-/ Well, sounds like it works!

    7. By the way, did this work, or should we look for other solutions?

  4. I remember there is something of a love relationship going between the Tex Murphy games and the fax machines... There was one in Under a Killing Moon as well... I guess someone at Access Software really likes this kind of communication system...

  5. From what you're saying in your intro post, this game was supposed to be a flight sim... It seems it would have been a very boring flight sim indeed...

  6. "You know…the type of girl that’s undoubtedly trouble, but trouble that might just be worth getting into." Seriously Trick, how many really bad film noir movies have you watched?

    1. I'm sure Trick is aping the cheesy writing that's a staple of the Tex Murphy games :-)

      @TBD: I too got a good laugh at the conspicuous "You're job" followed by the admonition to spell properly!

  7. I don't mind to say that I've just been bumping up the speed an extra 10k cycles..

    And watching youtube clips in between. (No love for the little clip of music you get every time you land in the speeder? Because that CLEARLY doesn't get old after the second.. thousandth.. time!)

    1. Mean Streets is really good for intermittent gaming: set the autopilot running, go do something useful, like washing the dishes, come back and notice you've landed, do some quick adventuring and repeat. I just wish there would be less red herrings - it sure feels frustrating to wait for five minutes only to note there wasn't anything useful at that spot.

  8. This came out the same year as Back to the Future Part II, which predicted that by the year 2015 an average home would contain many fax machines.

  9. Telltale games on crazy weekend sale on GOG!

    save 85 % :D


  11. BTW, here's a really neat YouTube channel with old TV news reports and other videos of LucasArts:

  12. Wow this sounds super annoying. Glad I don't have to play it :)

  13. Slow?? 70 miles in 5 minutes is 840 miles/hour, which is 1350 Km/hour. That's a lot faster than my car. Faster than a commercial airline flight, in fact. What's this? You don't want to play your games in real time? :-)

    As for remapping the screen capture, I've always found that Ctrl+Alt+Del is a good key combination to use. ;-) (Back in the late 70's or early 80's, John Dvorak had a column in BYTE or Dr. Dobb's Journal. One time he did it in "Dear Abby" style, and supposedly a reader complained that software kept asking him to "Press Any Key". So he asked, "I don't see an Any key on my keyboard; which one is that?" Dvorak answered, "The 'Any Key' is another name for holding down the Ctrl, Alt, and Del keys at the same time."

    1. Alt+F5 might already be mapped to something important, try Alt+F4 instead? ;)

      I do hope, Corey, that Hero-U will have real time travel. I want it to take 20 minutes to walk a mile in-game. ;)

      More seriously, are saving your caps to have Trickster play the Dr. Brain games?

    2. Speaking of Hero-U, I was a Kickstarter backer and have sent two emails to the Hero-U support team asking how I can supplement my contribution to make the "boxed copy" level. No answer and it's been a couple months since the first one. I'm trying to do Kickstarter money + additional money = funding level for the physical copy.

      In short, I'd like a boxed copy and I'm trying to throw money at you guys to get one!

    3. Hi Cush1978,

      Sorry about that. I have someone else handling most of the support email, and apparently he missed both of your messages. I've replied privately to your message, but here's the info for anyone else who still wants to back Hero-U or increase a pledge:

      Visit to pledge. I plan to keep this page open until June 30, then replace it with a direct-sale page which will not include additional Kickstarter-backer rewards. If you already backed the project on Kickstarter, you can use the Donate button to increase your pledge and move up to a higher tier. (Donate the difference between your original pledge and the tier you now want. Please add a comment with your Kickstarter name so I know it's an upgrade.)

  14. The producers sure knew their geek-lore, which is a perfect excuse for the following challenge:

    Trickster, can you find in Mean Streets something related to:
    a) Back to the Future -films (not the fax thing)
    b) Dungeons and Dragons -RPG
    c) Star Trek?

    The first two are in plain sight, but require some familiarity with the topics, while the third requires some adventuring, but should be pretty obvious.

    Anyone playing the game is free to take up my challenge also, I'm handing 5 CAPs from my personal savings for the first getting the answers to all three.

  15. In Windows 7, the "Print Screen" button copies a screen shot to the copy/paste buffer. You can then paste it into Paint or whatever you prefer to use. "Alt-Print Screen" copies the contents of the active window to the copy/paste buffer. I never tried it in DOSBox, but I'd give it a shot.

  16. These graphics would have astounded me in 1989! This seems like an unusual game, I look forward to upcoming posts.

  17. I have catching up to do, haven't touched the game yet, but I'll get some play time either tomorrow evening or on Monday. Until then I can't read for fear of spoilers! :P