Saturday, 1 November 2014

Game 48: Operation Stealth - Real Spies Fly Coach

Written by Joe Pranevich

James Bond's Mission Log #1: "The CIA has sent me on a mission to investigate the disappearance of one of our top secret projects: a stealth plane called STEALTH. For this mission, I am going to be going by the alias "John Glames". Arriving in Santa Paragua was easy enough, but getting past the customs agent turned into a bit of an adventure. I am now off to explore outside the airport. Wish me luck."

That is not what I thought this game was called...

Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the efforts of Trickster and others to document our shared computer heritage. Whether that is by playing every "adventure" game ever made-- in order-- as he was doing, or by doing more mundane things like scanning in manuals and supporting abandonware sites, we are ensuring that our history is preserved for future geeks and gamers. Our children may never quite understand what it was like to sneak off to play "Leisure Suit Larry" on a Tandy when we should have been doing homework, but at least this chapter of our lives will not be completely closed to them. That is what brought me to Trickster's blog and that is why I am so thrilled to pick up a post on the "user-driven" version of his site.

I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s the first thing you see when you turn on the game.

Before I get into "James Bond: A Stealth Affair", let me start with a confession: despite my geek credentials, I am not an expert in James Bond. I have not so lived under a rock that I do not know who he is: the sexy-and-suave secret agent created by Ian Fleming. Beyond that, I have only a smattering of information. I've seen the first film (1962's Dr. No starring Sean Connery), but from there I jump all the way to Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012). I watched my friends play Goldeneye as a kid, but I never played it myself because it gave me motion sickness. I know that there are multiple Bond actors and that despite appearances, he is probably not a Time Lord. I also know that Moonraker was a bad version of Star Wars and one of the films had a guy dipped in gold. I probably missed most of the jokes in the Austin Powers films. If this game requires even a smattering of James Bond trivia, I may be up a creek and in need of assistance.

Fortunately, the manual gives you a basic background on who this "James Bond, 007" fellow is (thank you!) and a primer on our mission: A fellow agent, 006, has sent an urgent message from Santa Paragua saying something about the "Stealth Affair" and requesting assistance. The manual then helpfully lists two "Suspects", although I cannot say exactly what they are suspected of: General Manigua, a freedom-fighter turned tyrant of this Banana Republic; and the KGB. It also has some appendices with technical information about a stealth jet (is that what this game is about?) and about the spy gadgets which I will have available to me. These include a passport forger, a cassette recorder disguised as a razor, a cable hidden in a watch, pens that contain acid, and cigarettes that launch rockets or find fingerprints. The spy stuff looks pretty cool, but I hope I will not have to remember how all of the stuff works!

Somehow, this doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

And the first problem is revealed! I am not playing the "James Bond" version of the game, but rather the European version which does not use the Bond characters. So I have a US manual with a European game and I hope that there is nothing specific to the version that will trip me up. For starters, the protagonist is named "John" not "James" and works for the CIA. As the game opens, John is receiving a briefing in the CIA headquarters. The “STEALTH” is a plane and, much like its name suggests, it has disappeared-- although not in the way that they had hoped. John is given a new briefcase of spy equipment and is put on a plane to Santa Paragua.

Ring, ring, ring, ring… Aduana phone!

On arriving at the airport, I can finally move my mouse! John is at an airport having just stepped off the plane. There is a newspaper vending machine and a customs agent behind a railing, as well as a door off to the left. I fumble against the newspaper machine because surely there will be some way to get a newspaper, right? The interface is clunky: you click the left mouse button to get James… er… John… to move someplace. The left mouse button brings up some actions: “Examine”, “Take”, “Use”, “Operate”, and “Speak”. Some trial and error suggests that they work mostly the way you expect. “Use” and “Operate” confuse me-- it seems that “Use” lets you select items in your inventory, while “Operate” lets you use items in the screen… But that is only if you left-click. If you right-click on “Operate” then you can use items in your inventory, too. I have no idea what the differences are and I suspect this will be a bit of trial and error.

Back to the newspaper machine: it has a coin slot, but I have no coins. I sift through my inventory. By “Operating” on my briefcase, I am able to open it and look around. It contains a pen, a calculator, a magazine, and an American passport. I pick up the pen, but the calculator will be used to open a secret compartment… when I am not in public. Good enough. Some more searching shows that the passport contains some folded up bills, but that doesn’t do me any good with the newspaper machine. None of the commands that I want to use have any effect and the error messages are quite difficult to understand. Am I going to have this problem the whole game?

It’s like I understand nothing! What the hell does this mean?

Before I head through customs, I head into the room on the left. Naturally, it’s a bathroom with three stalls, a sink, and a “napkin” instead of a hand towel. I cannot pick up any of the items, and I cannot seem to “use” any of the stall doors to open them. I search the waste bin and… nothing. I suck at this spy stuff.

At this point I noticed the next annoying control issue: to get to the “Save” screen, you have to press both mouse buttons at the same time. I am on a Mac playing with DosBox on a single-button mouse. I can control-click to right-click, but I have no way of pressing both buttons together. Fortunately, the manual helpfully says that you can also press F10 to get to the save screen. Still quite annoying.

Giving up on exploring the airport further, I head to the customs officer with my passport in hand. I know from the manual that I could use the passport forger to get a different one, but surely they won’t make you do that on the first screen. I hand the passport over and the official is glad to see me! No wait. It’s just a ruse and he takes me hostage. The game ends. Well, my first death screen in a half hour. Not too bad!

I deny any knowledge of wanting to play this game.

Okay. let’s try something else. Good thing I saved!

Time to look a little closer. The newspaper machine has a “Coin Return” slot which I did not notice before. I “Examine” it and find a quarter! Using the quarter gives me a newspaper and I discover that the UK has just re-opened the embassy with Santa Paragua. I bet that is my clue, but could the UK be behind the STEALTH disappearance? Probably not.

Accessing the secret compartment does not work in the main room or the bathroom, saying I am not in a discreet enough location. I poke around further and completely by accident manage to trigger the spot where the stall door opens and I can enter. Opening the doors doesn’t help but standing near them does? This may be a tricky game. No problem, I head for the toilet.

Yes, I try the “Leisure Suit Larry” thing here. No, it does not work.

Once in the stall, I can open the secret compartment in the briefcase. A passport forger! Just like in the manual. I can pick between French, English, and German passports and this time, I choose the UK. (Just as a lark, I also try German and get the same result as with my American passport.) I make the passport, take it, and head out of the stall. I hand it to my friend at the “customs” desk… and he takes it!

Finally! I can proceed. The woman at the “Welcome” desk seems to be the most promising and when I “speak” to her, she hands me a telegram: “Flight 714. Mr. Martinez. Stop.”

Who is Mr. Martinez? Is he my contact in this foreign country? Or someone behind the stealing of the STEALTH? I have no idea. But, this seems like a good place to “STOP” my first play session. Next time, I might even leave the airport.

Session time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour

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!

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 Kniggit.net and about religion at Coat of Many Colors.

31 comments:

  1. Awesome, we have two games going at the same tim-

    AAAAAAHH WHY IS THERE A HQ2X PIXEL FILTER MY EYES ARE BURNING

    At least you have the aspect ration right. Even though that causes uneven pixel sizes in your screenshots.

    That coin slot BTW makes a reference to Future Wars, Delphine's previous game. Also, the devs made some small improvements to the interface, them being IIRC that now you'll automatically walk closer to an object you're interacting with (no more "Go a little closer!" messages) and that you can look at items in inventory.

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    1. Don't bite the newbie! What do you have against HQ2X and what pixel filter do you prefer? I find the original mode to be just hurtful on the eyes. Sadly you will be stuck with these for a while since I'm done with the third gameplay post and am not going to go back and take new screenshots. :)

      Yeah, having not played Future Wars, I did not catch on to those improvements. Thanks for pointing them out!

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    2. Sorry for the all-caps. HQ2X and the likes distort the pixel art in a way it was not meant to be viewed. I use either "normal2x forced" or a fancy CRT pixel shader. But I don't mean to pressure you, you can play it with any filter you wish. :)

      But I'm wondering: At least on Windows, DOSBox has a screenshot function (Ctrl+F5) that saves an image file of the raw visual data, free of any filters you might have on. And you're apparently using an other method of screeshotting. Does this function not exist on a Mac version?

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    3. I am running the game using Boxer which I believe is just a shell for DosBox. I'm just using the "Save Screenshot" item from the menu. I will do some digging around to see if there is a better way.

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    4. I'll make a point here as it's something I had to do - presuming that it's similar enough, you should be able to go into the config files and reassign the key. I have mine set to the printscreen key - not only is it appropriate, it doesn't trigger dialogue as ctrl+F5 did (both from the control key and the F5 key.) I can't imagine it wouldn't have the function.

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    5. Not sure, but it's not that huge of a deal. Besides, my Mac doesn't have a "Print Screen" key. Clearly screenshots are a big deal to people... :)

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    6. Well now I feel bad, my first instinct when I saw the filter was also to scream. I won't do that, but I will strongly urge you to please stop taking screenshots with that filter enabled as soon as you can figure out how, as it makes pixel-based art incredibly ugly. Otherwise, great job! Thanks for being part of the effort to keep this blog going.

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    7. I'll fix the filter, but I apparently do not have the same eye for fine pixel art that you do because I find this nicer than the default. Had I realized this was a major issue for the community, I might have done otherwise.

      But you will be waiting a while for the fix. The next several posts were all written before I received this feedback and please forgive me if I cannot stomach the idea of replaying to get better shots. :)

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    8. Personally I think it looks nicer with the filter too. Hell, I'd even guess that if the HQ2x filter was available to Operation Stealth's developers at the time, they'd have used it too :)

      But in an effort to be more historically accurate we'll be requesting that future reviewers play games and take screenshots without modern emulator filters applied so future games will have screenshots looking just like the screenshots mother used to make.

      These are the first few games played here in the new multi-adventurer Adventure Gamer era so we'll likely make a few mistakes along the way or do things slightly differently than when Trickster was doing the blog alone. Just let us know when you particularly like or dislike the way things are being done and we'll keep trying to make the blog better.

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    9. Could this be related to monitor size? Either that or my eyesight must be failing me, for I think the screenshots look gorgeous.

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    10. I couldn't agree more with TBD: we are just starting things here, so it's bound to be a bit bumpy at first. We are delighted to hear any criticism or suggestions as to how make things better, but please, remember a civil tone. Joe's been putting lot of effort to this, so don't hang him just for one mistake.

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    11. My specific issue with the filter is that not only does it make the pixel art blotchy and blurry, but also ironically draws undue attention to its grid-based nature by trying to disguise it. When pixel art is crisp and unfiltered your brain automatically translates a series of pixels into a line or a group of pixels into a circle. The filter, in trying to make the series of pixels LOOK more like a continuous line, actually makes your brain realize that what you're looking at isn't a smooth line but a jagged mess. This looks especially bad for games that use a lot of strong, irregular lines, like LOOM or Day of the Tentacle.
      http://scummvm.org/data/screenshots/lec/loom/scummvm_0_6_1-full.png
      http://scummvm.org/data/screenshots/lec/loom/scummvm_0_6_2-full.png
      http://mutantenstadl.de/uploads/Illustrationen/dott-scummvm.png
      (Don't get me started on games with dithering. The filter just plain throws up its arms at any sort of dithering.) Games like this one, composed of mostly boring straight lines and wishy-washy gradients, fare a great deal better, but I'd argue it still makes the screenshots look water damaged.

      I like the full-screen crisp pixel look, but I get why people would dislike it. It's not even technically how the games were MEANT to be displayed, because they were designed to be viewed on CRT monitors. However, the screenshots on the site are about x2 and I'd argue that on modern monitors x2 is the ideal size for pixel art, it almost always looks good. Just small enough to be able to read the picture as a whole and just big enough to be able to see the individual pixels clearly. I say play the game with any filters you like (obviously) but for the purposes of screenshots for the site maybe somebody can find some way for you to take unfiltered screenshots. I wish I could give you technical advice on how to do this at this point, to back up my screed with actual useful advice, but I'm not an expert on dosbox or macs or the frontend you're using. Hopefully somebody else in this community will have a solution.

      I'm sorry about being so harsh before, but I have a very strong negative reaction to seeing this filter. However, I'll live. The main content of the post is of course your writing and I look forward to more of your posts. I'm mainly worried about having this discussion about filters before it becomes a trend, a couple of posts worth of filtered screenshots from what is a pretty mediocre-looking game to begin with won't hurt anybody.

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    12. Well, I like the screenshots.

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    13. I was about to say.... THEY WILL NEVER LOOK THE SAME, AND THEY DON'T LOOK LIKE THE ARTIST INTENDED. In the 1990s most people were playing with terrible CRTs that added lines to the monitor, bent the image and garbage like that. The designers were making the art on nice, clean CRTs. Also, CRT pixels are square and bleed. Modern pixels are rectangles made of 4 subpixels that do not bleed. No matter what you do, short of buying an old monitor, it won't look the same. So apply damn filters whenever you want and stop being such purist fanatics, as you are changing it anyway. Heck, even if you buy a modern CRT then each pixel will be much larger then the original if scaled up, or much smaller if you don't. Better get out a calculator and figure out what scaling factor is the closest to the actual original you used.

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  2. Nice post, Joe! I won't be able to play along (I've just tentatively started Countdown and I'm already annoyed at its shortcomings) but I look forward to your take on this superspy romp. Even if my memories are less than positive...

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  3. So what is the "Leisure Suit Larry thing" in the bathroom?

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    1. In the first LSL game, flushing the toilet floods the bathroom and you die.

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    2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIMrFpnfvyI

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  4. Great job, Joe! Clinical and straight-to-the-point. No laughs but I blame the game, which is lame and can't decide its name even if it has some fame especially with some dame who aren't tame and loves it when they cam- uh... camedy some shit that I can't explain myself out of.

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    1. Kenny, I can never be as funny as you, so it's probably better for all of us if I do not try. We'll look forward to your posts which I hope will be entirely in rhyming iambic pentameter.

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    2. Hell, no! I suck at writing anything except Aunt Aggy advice regarding STDs transmitted during human sacrificial ritual orgies; which kinda limits the kind of articles I can write. I like your writing personally as it does not beat around the bush. Adventure games during this era is ALL about making you go around in circles and I thank the Elder Gods that your article didn't do that too.

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    3. Kenny: The first time we reach an erotic Adventure Game I fully expect you to write us the review of it, and it to be banned from TAG *really* quickly.

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  5. I am not a Bond expert, but I'd say that the Bond in the books has nothing to do with the Bond in the films. At least judging from teh two books I've read: Casino Royale and Live and let die.

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    1. Book Bond is like an Old Testament God while Film Bond is like a New Testament God.

      Game Bond is also different. Probably, since it IS "Operation Stealth", he might be going all out on that Stealth theme to change his identity (that would be a first), his agency and even the game itself in a meta way.

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    2. Early bond didn't resemble film bond much. By the later books (From Russia With Love?) he'd softened the character, for example, no longer making him a cold blooded assassin. In the first book he explicitly stated he'd gotten double 0 status by killing to men, one by shooting them through a window with a rifle. In the later book he helps someone do the same, and doesn't like it, as cold-blooded killing isn't his thing.

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  6. I really feel for you Joe. All the problems you've mentioned were part and parcel of the interface in Future Wars. That game would have been so much better if it hadn't of been so damn picky, so I imagine this one will be the same. If you'd played Future Wars you would have known there was a coin return slot, as they had a very similar situation in that game.

    As for the filtering issue, well as much as I love the community here (and I do), they're a fussy bunch that notice all sorts of things that I just can't see or care about. Like others have stated, I think the screenshots look great, and don't think they're blurry at all. Don't stress that you've already completed a few more posts and please don't take it to heart. This first post has been very enjoyable. :)

    As for future, I find using DBGL allows me to set everything up the way I want, and also lets me take advantage of a DOSBox quirk that gives me screenshots at twice the resolution. There's a MAC OSX version on the DBGL site that might be worth looking into. Happy to help out in any way I can, and that goes for anyone contributing to the blog.

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    1. I will look at DBGL, but I have played so many games in Boxer that I trust it. I am sensitive to the desire to get better screen shots and hope that the new ones will suffice!

      Besides, aren't you all supposed to be reading the blog for erudite prose? Or should we set up an Adventure Game Tumblr where we just post pictures of games that we are playing? :)

      (But, but... I just read AdvGamer for the articles, really...)

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  7. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting those that dislike filtering are wrong. It's just not something that disturbs me personally. :)

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    1. Me neither. Some like them straight, I l personally like them curvy. And busty. And exotic like Kareena Kapoor.

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    2. I am, but I have a history of arrogance, as some of you may have noticed.

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  8. Wow this is a James bond game

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