Saturday, 8 November 2014

Game 48: Operation Stealth - Flower Shopping in a Banana Republic

Written by Joe Pranevich

James Bond's Mission Log #2: "Santa Paragua is beautiful but deadly. I made contact with our agent in the city, but it seems that the authorities are on to us: he was gunned down and I was nearly accused of his murder. Before he died, he was able to give me a clue and it looks like my exploration of the city is not over yet."

In my last post, I realized that I was playing the European (“John Glames”) version of the game, rather than the “James Bond” version-- even though the copy of the manual I had was for the latter. Thanks to some fancy internetting by Ilmari, I have the correct manual to go with the game and while almost everything is the same, I learned a few things about our new friend, John. Mr. Glames is, like myself, a New Englander. He was born and raised in Vermont, attended a “famous university” in Boston for his undergrad, then went to Westpoint, and finally studied Chemistry at MIT. His hobbies include skiing, skin diving, and being a master at Ninjitsu. Yes, John is a ninja-- it says so right in the manual. Like James Bond, John has a weakness for attractive women, but he has to flirt while working for the boring CIA rather than the sexy MI6.

Master of Ninjitsu and loves to swim? Well, have I got a game for you...

One more difference between John and James? John is two centimeters taller than James Bond. Do you think they are compensating?

Where we left off, I had just been given a telegram about a Mr. Martinez and I was getting ready to leave the airport. The next screen was more airport, except this time there was a local guard and a customs agent blocking off another arrivals section. I hand the guard, dressed in a paramilitary outfit, my passport and search the new section. Nothing in the ashtray. Nothing in the couch. Another bathroom, identical to the one from earlier. There are two signs marked “5” and “7” off on the left, but I cannot find anything to do with them. Nothing to do, so I keep walking.

Pay attention to this screen. Hint: I missed something!

The final screen of the airport shows the outside with a family waiting (for a bus) and a taxi stand. Inside the airport, almost impossible to find except by mousing around, is a travel agent. I cannot find anything to do here either, but let me pause for a second and talk about some difficulty that I am having with the interface:

The CIA’s travel policy does not permit the use of rental cars while on assignment.

Every minute or so, a taxi will pull up, stop for a moment, then keep moving. There is no other exit from the screen and so it is clear that I need to use the taxi, but it is less intuitive than it should be. When the car pulls up, I try to “Operate” it. No luck, just an error message. I try to speak to the cab driver. I try to hand the driver money. None of those options work and none of them provide a reasonable error message. The cab pulls away so quickly that I can generally try only one idea per pass, then I have to wait for it to come again. Eventually, I realize that the trick is just that you have to walk close enough to the cab and you will enter it automatically. This seems obvious in retrospect, but it took a while for me to get it. I am getting used to the interface, but it is things like this that still trip me up.

The taxi has only one destination, “downtown”, and the cab driver drops me off next to a florist shop up against the water. A stairway makes me think that would be an excellent place to park a speedboat, but alas no speedboat is present. I chat up the florist and find that she sells tulips, daisies, and red carnations-- but not to me because she does not make change. My guess is that this is a translation error and that she simply does not exchange currency. I also find a bicycle and a suspicious window shutter, but I cannot seem to do anything with either right now. I resolve to explore the city.

There is also a useless door to one side, but at least the developers admit that it is useless.

The city consists of around a dozen screens so rather than describe them all as I get to them, let me highlight what I have found:

To the west of the florist is a bank, a telephone booth (out of order), and a sleeping man in a sombrero.

Inside the bank is a nervous-looking teller, a set of stairs down to a vault and some safe-deposit boxes, and a door marked “private” that I cannot get through yet. (The game calls it a “stained glass” door, but I think they just mean that it is “frosted” so you cannot see through it.) The manual talks about a safe-cracking system, so I have a feeling I’ll be spending time in this vault later.

To the northwest of the bank is a garden with a “no dogs allowed” sign and a park bench.

Just past the garden is the entrance to General Manigua’s palace. Bullet-holes line the walls and there is a tank parked in the driveway. This does not look inviting at all.

My other car is a tank.

Past the palace is just jungle, so that is a dead end.

Southwest of the bank is a beach with a long driveway leading to a hotel. There does not appear to be anything you can do on the beach yet.

The hotel itself has no vacancies, but it does have a porter and a receptionist you can try to talk to, an elevator, and a stairwell. You can explore all four floors, but all I have been able to find so far is a lot of identical screens and locked doors. Yes, it’s another Leisure Suit Larry flashback!

Outside the hotel is a taxi stand that you can use to return to the airport.

As I explored each screen, I tried to do a thorough job using the “Examine” command and moving the mouse to find pixels to click on. I might have missed something, but in the end the city was pretty useless: no items to pick up, no obvious puzzles, and not much of a lead on what I am supposed to do here. Since I did not want to give up already, I resolved to re-explore every area and try to find something that I missed.

This is what you get when you examine the sleeping guy by the bank. I guess making this game was pretty tiring.

Other than my “Mr. Martinez” telegram, the only other clue I have is the florist refusing to give me change and let me buy flowers. Realizing that maybe the game really meant that I needed to change money, I went to the bank and tried offering money to a teller. It worked! He was happy to take one of my bills and give me a handful of coins. So maybe it really meant “change” after all? I have no idea.

I went back to the florist and then had a choice: which type of flower to buy? I haven’t received any clues about flowers yet. Just to check, I bought the first one and it used all my change. I headed back to the bank, exchanged more money, bought a second type of flower. I headed back the bank again and realized that I was all out of money! There was no way for me to buy all three types of flowers. Rather than get the wrong one, I restored back and resolved that I would need to keep re-exploring. But think about this: the CIA sent me into a hostile territory with just enough money for cab fare and two flowers? I know that the first President Bush era was a difficult one, but I had no idea it was that difficult.

Since I found a taxi back to the airport, I guessed that I must have missed something there. The women and children were gone now, but they did not drop anything useful. I tried showing the telegram to everyone, but that did not do me any good either. I stumbled on the answer by accident: there were two exits from the second room, the one that I thought was useless earlier. The second exit led to the baggage claim!

Baggage claim technology has not improved in the last twenty-five years.

The baggage claim consisted of the never-ending selection of bags. I examined them in turn and eventually found one with the name “Mr. Martinez” on it! I pulled it off the conveyor and opened it, revealing more of my spy equipment from the manual: my watch (with the hidden cable) and an electric razor containing recording equipment. Still no safe-cracking gear, so I imagine I will get that later. I examined the razor and it had a plug that could be plugged in… and I know that the bathrooms have an electrical socket. I head there to plug in the razor and a message starts to play: I will meet my contact in the garden and I should wear a red carnation. Perfect!

Because wearing carnations in a park is not at all suspicious.

I head back to the city, exchange my money, buy the flower, put it on, and head toward the garden. The most difficult part in that sequence was figuring out that I needed to sit on the bench (with the obvious command, “operate”, doing nothing-- you just have to stand in the right spot and you will sit down). A moment or two later my contact walks across the park to join me.

*blam* *blam* A limo pulls up and fires at my contact. As he lay dying in the grass he hands me a key and tells me that the “documents” are safe. The key has a number on it, so I guess I will be heading back to the bank very soon! Before I can even move, a group of paramilitary types haul me away for murder. Game over. I swear and reload. It takes me four tries to walk out of the park fast enough that the paramilitary police do not catch me, but eventually I make it out. Shaken, but not stirred.


This seems like a great place to pause. I know where to go next, and I know to be more careful with the interface. Missing places to go seems like it could become a major problem, but thus far the puzzles are pretty straight-forward. Wish me luck!

Session time: 2 hours
Total time: 3 hours

Note regarding spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's 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!

Sidebar: Pixel Smoothing

In my last post, I took some flack for using a pixel shader for my screenshots. I am using Boxer for the Mac (essentially, a nice wrapper around DosBox) for this playthrough and it supports a few styles of shading. The default is “Fancy Smoothing”, otherwise known as HQx.

At least I got the aspect ratio right!

This post, as well as post #3 and part of post #4 will use the “Fancy Smoothing” option, but after that I have switched to “Original”. I do not plan on replaying the previous portions of the game to correct the screenshots-- this game is annoying enough as it is!

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two modes using a scene from this post:

One of these is smoother than the other, but I have forgotten which one is which.

In the interests of historical accuracy however, I agree that we should not be using any fancy smoothing options and will use “Original” as I continue through the “Stealth Affair”.

New Contest - James Bond References & Trivia

As I indicated in my review post, I am not a James Bond expert - but you might be. As I play through the game each week, please post comments with all of the James Bond trivia and references that I am missing for the portion of the game that I have played. At the end of the postings on "Operation Stealth", I will tally up the unique comments and the contributor that finds the most references will receive a "Dr. No" DVD provided by me (or an Amazon gift card equivalent if shipping or region locking is prohibitive.)

Joe Pranevich blogs about random geekiness at and about religion at Coat of Many Colors.


  1. In honour of The Adventure Gamer playing through a French game (I'm assuming), GOG has got a sale on French games now. Highlights include Dracula Trilogy and Syberia for $2.99 each.

    1. On the theme of 'specials', Gold Rush: the remake is "on special" at just under $30 on Steam. I'm not linking as that price is borderline criminal!

    2. It probably comes with a goddamn gold bullion.

  2. I think it would be useful to keep mentioning the author below the title for each post. This one showed up on my news reader as being written by TBD. If at any point we have more games being played concurrently it could get confusing.

  3. So guys, I need your help. Since we're writing ahead of our posting, I am stuck and am requesting assistance. For spoilers, I'll rot13 the questions and you can rot 13 the answers back. Try to answer in a way that pushes me in the right direction without giving it away if you can. I did really want to win my first game free and clear, but it is just a bit of a mess and I have spent four hours of re-exploring the same rooms.

    V nz va jung V guvax vf gur svany ebbz jvgu Qe. Jul. Gur Fgrnygu vf nobhg gb qrfgebl pvgvrf. V trg n zrffntr gung V "sbetbg fbzrguvat". Vg frrzf gung V pna sver zl ebpxrg Pvtnerggrf ng gur pbzchgre, ohg abj juvyr Bggb vf ybbxvat. V pna chg gur ivehf PQ va nf jryy, ohg abg jvgubhg zbivat.

    Urer vf zl vairagbel:

    Vax cnq
    Vax cnq (vg'f n oht gung gur fgnzc vf eranzrq vax cnq nsgre hfrq, V guvax)
    Pvtnerggr pnfr
    Pvtnerggr (tbyq evat barf, pna or hfrq gb trg "pvtnerggr cncre)
    Pvtnerggr (fnzr)
    Pvtnerggr (ebpxrg ynhapure)
    Ryrpgevp enmbe
    Ryrpgevdhr pnoyr (lrnu, gurl pna'g fcryy)
    Erq pneangvba
    Pnfr (juvpu hfrq gb or "yvggyr obk" ohg frrzf gb unir orra eranzrq)
    Pbzcnpg qvfp

    Gryy zr cyrnfr vs V nz zvffvat na vgrz, vs gur vgrz vf ybpngrq va gur svany frpgvba be vs V unir gb onpxgenpx cevbe gb gur Wnzrf va gur ensgref qbqtvat engf, naq nal uvagf gung zvtug pngpu vg. V nz ubcvat gung V unir nyy bs gur erdhverq vgrzf, ohg nz whfg zvffvat nccylvat gurz va gur evtug jnl. Guvf tnzr vf irel haurycshy naq gur svany onfr unf orra njshy nobhg uvqvat vgrzf lbh arrq jvgu ab ivfhny vaqvpngvba naq lbh unir gb zbhfr bire abguvat gb svaq gurer vf fbzrguvat gb cvpx hc.

    1. OK... 2 things, and the clues are in order of their spoilerishness.

      1A. Lbh arrq n qvfgenpgvba (Lbh unir gur vgrzf sbe guvf)
      1B. Gur qvfgenpgvba zhfg or frg hc orsber lbh zrrg Qe. Jul
      1C. Gur qvfgenpgvba hfrf gur enmbe naq pnoyr
      1D. Hfr gur pnoyr ba gur cyht bhgfvqr Qe. Jul'f ebbz, naq hfr gur enmbe naq cynpr vg va gur genfu ova.

      2A. Lbh ner zvffvat na vgrz gb pbzcyrgr gur tnzr.
      2B. Gurer vf n svany frpgvba gb gur tnzr juvpu erdhverf na vgrz sbhaq rneyvre.
      2C. Vg vf sbhaq orsber lbh ragre gur onfr, orsber lbh trg pncgherq.
      2D. Lbh arrq gur rynfgvp onaq sbhaq juvyr fjvzzvat va gur frn, ol fbzr frnjrrq.

    2. Should have said there are two separate things, and each one has four clues of ascending spoilerishness, so check the 1A and 2A clues first, then progress if you still have no luck.

      You are very close to the end though!

    3. Jvgu lbhe uvagf, V svaq gur frnjrrq gung unf fbzrguvat ba gur obggbz, ohg V pnaabg svther bhg ubj gb trg gung fbzrguvat. Gurer qbrf abg nccrne gb or cvkryf gung V pna pyvpx ba, "bcrengr" naq "gnxr" ba gur frnjrrq qbrf abguvat. V jvyy xrrc gelvat, ohg vg vf sehfgengvat xabjvat jurer fbzrguvat vf naq fgvyy abg orvat noyr gb qb nalguvat nobhg vg. :)

    4. Vg'f na nznmvatyl greevoyr chmmyr. Abg fher jung gurl jrer guvaxvat! Gur pbzznaq lbh arrq vf "rknzvar" V guvax (abg gung vg znxrf gbb zhpu frafr).

    5. Rknzvavat vg gryyf zr gurer vf fbzrguvat ng gur obggbz, ohg V pnaabg frrz gb svaq nalguvat ng gur obggbz gb pyvpx ba. V jvyy xrrc jbexvat ba vg.

    6. Unir lbh gevrq rknzvavat gur fnzr fcbg zhygvcyr gvzrf?

    7. V'ir unq n ybbx ng n ivqrb, naq V guvax lbh unir lbh or irel pybfr gb gur frnjrrq jura rknzvavat vg... ohg vg'f ernyyl qvssvphyg gb xabj ernyyl. Sebz gur ybbx bs guvatf lbh zvtug arrq gb rknzvar vg gjvpr, be fbzrguvat.

      Ubcr lbh tbg vg fbegrq!

  4. I generally avoid using graphics smoothing filters, mainly because they don't do a great job. You're never going to quite get the original look, and sometimes the smoothing/HQ filters can make a game look a little worse.

    It's very variable though, and different people will find it better for different games.

    1. We're presently working on a standard. It seems to be the more important thing - have a universal standard, no matter what it is. Everyone can have their damned broccoli covered in charcoal, but it's alright because it's the same damned broccoli for everyone. Right? Right.

      As far as the whole.. game thing? At least it took you several screens to find a recurring, hard to avoid death. One point to me! (Lovely use of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES screenshot. Despite it being acknowledged as one of the most unreasonably tough games for the system, I'm certain that both of us would probably rather be playing that unforgivingly horrible water level.)

    2. I wonder if graphical filters ever make pixel hunts more challenging than they would have originally been?

    3. As long as them pixels ain't hurt, I don't really care how they look. I'm a pixelitarian.

  5. It's funny how languages work. "Sombrero" is the word in spanish for "hat" and here in Spain we would call that "sombrero mexicano". It seems that in english, or at least in american english you have borrowed the word "sombrero" to mean "sombrero mexicano".

    1. Yes! I love language and this is a case where American English has borrowed a generic Spanish word to turn it into a specific English word. For the same reason that "salsa" in the US always refers to the tomato-based spicy sauce you put on nachos. (I believe it is more correctly called pico de gallo.) Sadly, I never took any Spanish in school so cannot cite more examples. (Spanish is the second-most widely spoken language in the US and would actually be useful, as opposed to German which I studied in school which is not.)

    2. My experience of burrito restaurants in the US tells me that what Americans call "salsa" is more sauce-like than "pico de gallo", which is chopped-up vegetables and herbs. Is Americans' salsa Mexicans' salsa picante? (picante meaning "spicy")

      But English does this with other languages as well. Another food example: Pesto is Italian for "paste," but in American English it only refers to a paste containing some combination of basil, cilantro, parsley, or tomato, blended with pine nuts, oil, and cheese and then eaten with pasta.

  6. Adventure game designers have it hard really. In this case, they could have made things easier for you by giving you a message when you tried to leave the airport, saying something like "Are you sure you want to leave the airport without your luggage?". Instead they let you wander around an entire city environment with no goals or inventory. Getting the balance right between railroading and player choice must be extremely tough.

    I still can't see any difference between the two screenshots. Either my eyes can't pick up the filtering or these images are just too small for me to be able to notice its impact.

    1. In the commenters' defense, the difference is more apparent in text than it is any random screen. I should have also put up a text screen for comparison, but I did not think of it in time.

      And actually, this minor backtrack did not bother me. There's even a pretty obvious bit of dialog where visiting the hotel tells you to come back later. The first half of this game is not terribly out of balance, but it gets more and more sadistic as you go on-- as will start to be clear in the next post in a few days.

  7. Goddamn it. Do you have to put that screenshot of the most horribly wicked and absurdly inhumane water level of TMNT which has scarred numerous kids back in the late 80s?! I beat it once and swore to myself to NEVER touch that crap again!

    1. You beat the game, or you beat the water level? Because the game only gets harder from there.

  8. Of course I beat that stupid game. Took down Krang in his Technodrome, saving April O'Neil and shit. I played the Japanese version so I don't know what the f*ck it was all about.

    Also, I must disagree that it gets tougher. The remaining of the game is tough, yes, but at last you don't have to:
    A) beat a goddamn timer by disarming way too many bombs
    B) navigate a stupid maze that kills you upon contact with its walls
    C) ensure that you can pass through that f*cking electric current as soon as it's turned off
    D) master the stupid swimming controls

    Seriously, every other part of that game seems easy once you get past that stage.

  9. I like how you didn't list every screen; that gets really repetitive, really quickly (sorry Trickster). However, is there anyway you could work the list of screens into prose, rather then a series of points, in future? It feels rather jarring as it is now.

    Just my $0.02CDN, which, with the rate our dollar is dropping, isn't worth much (0.017 USD, $0.021 AUD, wait, our dollar is STILL above the AUD? Wow, no wonder games cost a fortune down there).