Wednesday 31 December 2014

Missed Classic 4: The Scoop - Need More Coffee

Written by Kenny McCormick

Kenny’s filthy notebook (with several html addresses to newsgroups) legible page #3: TRAINS! Choo chooooo~~~!!!

Now, to go through what I’ve gathered so far.

Since the dagger has been retrieved and any description of the weapon being “destroyed”, it would seem that the killer is afraid that it would be exposed to the public. If that were true, then my earlier deductions would have its scope drastically reduced.

Meaning that this is not:
  1. Opportunistic serial killing – Because serial killers love having a theme. The dagger would have been a great theme. But since its significance has been more or less marred by the killer trying to mask the fact that it was the murder weapon, this is no longer applicable.
  2. Warning message – Since the person who should be warned can no longer know who is the person responsible, the message would be lost. The kill that was meant to warn someone will lose its original purpose. Thus, this possibility is also moot.
  3. Accidental manslaughter – The first killing of Geraldine Tracey might have been one. But not this one. This is a premeditated silencing attempt.
  4. Ritual killing – Because Bloody Johnson there is also stabbed with the same knife, albeit no signs of any esoteric stuff can be found. Ha! In your face for trying to throw me off into the occult line of thought, game!

Thus, we are now left with the possibility that this is an assassination. It must be done by someone close to both Tracey and Johnson because there were no signs of struggle at either location. Strengthening my belief that this is so, is that, unless the killer has 100 points in Pickpocketing, Johnson had willingly handed the dagger to the killer on the pretense that the killer wished to help by “inspecting” the murder weapon when they met “by chance” outside the phone booth.

Looking at the victims, one male and the other a supposedly rather attractive female, it is very possible that we are looking a crime of passion. Someone might have killed both out of jealousy. Or, it is also quite palpable that, since it’s his very close friend who got killed, Johnson’s fervor in finding the killer could have forced his/her hand to silence him before his anger-driven zeal managed to unravel his/her identity.

Okay, now that we know that this is a simple series of assassinations which would have stopped at the first killing had everybody just forgotten about Tracey and got on with their lives, finding the killer would be as simple as knowing more about the death of, and who is, Geraldine Tracey. Frickin’ game just threw me in at the time of the SECOND killing to make my life difficult.

So, I’m in a train station. Why frickin’ not, know what I mean? On top of that, it seems that the trains work 24/7 in London. I wish the ones in my city did that.

Here I am. Thinking… of non-sexual thoughts. Ha ha ha! This is the funniest caption I’ve ever written! ZING!

To the shop on B. Street! What the… it’s 3am already!? It should take less than an hour, lying pre-Internet game!

As an aspiring journalist/amateur detective/novice sleuth/greenhorn vigilante, I took the train to where the shop might be, presumably, in Brighton Street. At this time of the day, I’m sure it’s closed and I can find some way to break into the shop for some evidence gathering and exact some crediting into my crime-fighting funds.

Antique store? Aha! Found it! Fancy that. Selling my shit that I threw out for 50 quid. Who said this game is all up in your face with serious?

And what do we have here? Arnold’s Antiques? The shop on B. Street that sells stuff which might have included an ancient jade dagger named Medusa? Could it be that simple? Let’s open the door and- wait. Where’s the… Where. Is. The. Fricking. Door. There’s a window. Break the window and Climb through it! Argh! No such commands! There isn’t even a Use command! For a thinking man’s game, it sure is brutal. FINE! I’ll just find my clues elsewhere.

So, making my way to the next screen, I found the courthouse in which the inquest will begin in a few hours. Since every shop and building is closed at this unearthly hour, I’ll just wait till it begins.

Mmm… chocolate… Unlike Trickster, who hates cocoa-goodness which means that he’s not human, I love chocolates.

But something inexplicably funny happened that made me restart the game because…

I didn’t know I was a narcoleptic.

I guess I’m not a freaking Night Reporter as I had initially thought I was. I hope readers can feel the teeth-gnashing anger I'd felt when I was still a starry-eyed teen playing his first Detective Adventure game. Why, oh why, didn't the stupid manual or the goddamn boss clue me in about this? Why is the boss even in the office at 11pm, which further misled me into thinking that it’s perfectly normal for us to go all Batman-like in the middle of the night?

Good thing that adventure games are simple enough to get back to where you came from if you know what you’re doing. Unless there’s a stupid maze or revolting mini-games built in to sap your playing time.

My next article will start where I left off after speaking with Smart and going home to sleep instead of falling into a slumber-deprived coma outside like some kinda yuppie/hobo hybrid.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Missed Classic 4: The Scoop - Dead Letter Office

Written by Kenny McCormick

Kenny’s filthy notebook (with list of questionable telephone numbers copied from toilet cubicles) legible page #2: I love my job. Gallivanting around town when everyone’s asleep and breathing in the fresh night air. Ah… Love it when London is so quiet. And filled with murders. Which gets me jobs and thus money. I hope more people gets killed for my financial security. Damn, I’m like a hitman! So cool. Know what would be cooler? A barcode tattoo on the back of my neck!
Huzzah! My first clue!

So, I guess travelling (depending on location and destination) and talking takes time. Talking, regardless of length of speech, would cost me 5 minutes. I’d love to see how that works in real life; some poor dolt having to slowly drawl out his 1-word [Fuuuuuccccccc~~~~~~~hsia !] response to fill out that 5-minute void and an even more unfortunate soul having to scatman his way through a 2,000 word speech in that same amount of time.

I am not sure how much time is required to travel on the train but, hey, the night is still young. I can work from 11pm to 6am, maybe even more since I’d only need to sleep by 3 pm, right? Yeah, right, we’ll see. Anyway, here’s what the note from some guy named Johnson (Teehee! Johnson!) says:

Ooh… an exotic murder weapon…

From this note alone; my bright, intuitive, hot-air-filled head of mine can deduce the following:

1. To be called a Murder Weapon but found someplace else, it would mean that this item was found near where the body was found. Since it was found in a tree, it would mean that the murder location is somewhat wooded and secluded.

2. It’s a dagger, named Medusa, made of jade. And it was thrown away after the killing. This means that the perpetrator/mastermind is filthy and disgustingly bourgeois rich.

3. I have a lead on this shop on “B. Street”. Probably one that deals in curios and antiques.

4. Who the fuc- uh… fuchsia… is Redman? And V. S.? Could it be Victoria Station? Nah. It’s Agatha Christie we’re talking about. It’s gonna be a lot more cryptic than that. As for Redman, he should be a fairly easy person to find. Else, he’d be named “R”.

5. Using an easily identifiable weapon means one of these things:
  1. Purely accidental manslaughter: It was a heated discussion and the dagger, which could have been a gift (because who in their right mind is gonna carry this shit around?) from the victim to the killer or vice versa, was used to end it.
  2. Religious sacrifice: As an exotic weapon, it may have been used as a ritualistic sacrificial tool. Only way to confirm it would be to check on the location of the murder to see if there are any archaic symbols or paraphernalia around.
  3. Opportunistic serial killer: This is the most unlikely scenario because the killer is very rich. He/she has too much to lose and will be too easily identifiable amongst the masses if he/she keeps leaving jade daggers around. If he/she is mentally unsound and the world is not just confined to this small little game universe, it may have been totally plausible. Knowing Agatha Christie, however, this would not happen.
  4. Sending a message: This dagger may be a known symbol amongst a close-knit group. The victim may have done something to piss off that well-to-do group and was taken out. This is most probable and would prove most difficult for me to solve as it would involve an entire group of suspects with the possibility that they may even engage a professional assassin to do the job.
Anyway, I’m only just into the game, so I’m sure I could beat this game, not unlike how it did to me so mercilessly more than 2 decades ago. I’m smarter and sexier now, game! Ahem. Now, where was I? Oh, right. Into the station, shall we?

Oh, look! It’s a bobby! I’m sure he’s named anything BUT Bobby unless his parents were clairvoyant or he was way too much into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Hello there! You’re uh… Really? That’s… that’s your name? Oh, great that it’s your last name. So, it’s not your parents' fault.

The cops are already at the crime scene. Man… how am I gonna do my job when they’re trudging around and possibly ruining or contaminating precious evidence that an amateur journalist would need to write an article for? Inconsiderate buggers only concerned with ending crimes to keep the world safe for you and me and bringing a terrible homicidal maniac to justice. What about my needs?

So, anyway, better start testing out my interrogating skills on my first suspect.

Geez! Okay, okay! Frickin’ square. I’m sure you’d just luuuurrrvvee to lock my sexy ass up for your sick corn-holing pleasure.

Might as well make my way to the eastern portion of the station to check out the latest crime scene. Damn it!

Two serious contenders for the “Most Well-Dressed Londoner”. Let’s observe what they’re doing and/or talking about to steal some fashion tips on immaculate British dress sense, shall we?

You can actually eavesdrop on conversations as an option. There are literally no other adventure games that can do this as a gameplay mechanic. You can only do that in some games as part of a cut-scene but to actively select to do that? Frickin’ first and only. Now you guys know why I’ve been harping on this game for so long?

Hemingway is the editor of Morning Star? Why the hell am I trying to contend with a paper whose editor is a Pulitzer Prize winner?!

So, anyway, it seems that Denis Oliver (that pretentious prick with that stupid hat) is the first to be summoned on the scene to identify the body by the cops after he received a call from the victim named Johnson (my note belongs to him!) who happens to be his fellow reporter from the Morning Star.

Ah. Inspector Smart. Maxwell Smart, I presume?

From the interrogation Smart was having with Oliver, I gathered that the same dagger is again missing after retrieval by Johnson. His notebook tampered with (I guess the killer didn’t want anybody to find out about the weapon so he/she had torn out the page and threw it outside the station for me to pick up).

The porter did it! No? Occam’s Razor, man.

“Out of Order” sign, you say? I must have that shit! I’m sure I could deduce a lot of things from that! The ink, the board… hell, even the string used to hang it on the booth could point out the killer! I must find a way to steal it from the police.

After a good dressing down from the police for hiding evidence (oops…), Oliver left the station a happy man since he’s now the only star reporter in the Morning Star. Get it? Star Reporter? Morning Star? Oh, it’s not funny enough for you? Fuc- uh… fuchsia bread is the best. So, my turn to talk to Smart.

Brighton? As in the shop on “B”righton Street? And is there some kind of epidemic of male-pattern hair loss that I should watch out from?

There’s an inquest tomorrow that I should totally attend because that’s where you meet hot chicks. Or was that funerals? Either way, I have plenty of investigation time left before my 3pm bedtime, right? Ha!

Let’s carry on in the next article, shall we?

Monday 29 December 2014

Missed Classic 4: The Scoop - Choosing My Sex

Written by Kenny McCormick

Kenny’s filthy notebook (filled with oodles of doodles on genitalia) legible page #1: Why am I working as a journalist when I could have joined the Sex Olympics and defeated my nemesis Brad Stallion in a challenge of intergalactic carnal conquest to compensate our manhood?

Sure, sure. I’m optimistic, alright. In either sticking my thing into someone or someone sticking something in me. Like a sharp metallic object.

So, prior to getting to this screen, I was asked a DRM question to search for a word in certain paragraph which I passed easily, this being a cracked copy and all. I feel less guilty about it when I think that I’m glorifying this game in a more public manner by digging it out of some 3.5” disc burial cairn excavation site. Okay, not really. I’m fine with it 'cos I owned this thing until the disk suffered an Attack Of The Mold Creature. “He’s such a fungi to hang around with.”, the stupid disk probably said.

Also, I’m asked to choose my sex (there’s only Male or Female and no “I Like It Every Day & Night” option). Then, I get to name this suave mustachioed ladies’ man in dated suede suit. That’s what Londoners used to wear right? So, anyway, I gave him a nice Scottish name of McCormick; the last of the proud Highlander McCormick clan. What fires burn in his heart for a sword, he had transferred to his peni- er… pen. Just pen. No “I” after that. Or “S”. Or anything.

So, anyhoo, notice that the screen’s real estate is being occupied into 3 distinct areas. The top bar shows from left to right: Location, Date, Time (notice it’s close to 11pm when the game starts?). The bottom screen shows the description that cannot be conveyed with visuals alone and usually shows either a redundant movement instruction chart (LEFT & RIGHT to move and UP to enter orifi- er… egresses, I mean) or a menu of commands like Maniac Mansion, only this game is its older & smarter overachieving brother who ended up down-n-out after losing all his money to crack, whores and crack whores.

So, here’s the thing: From what I’ve read in the manual, I’m an up-&-coming (this one is so painfully obvious that I can’t be bothered to do it) reporter for the Daily Courier. Like Superman without the powers. Or even Lois Lane. But the game is nice enough to set me up with a serial killer nemesis. Also, I found out that the Daily Courier is actually a rather sad piece of work with only one reporter covering all the goddamn news in town. The hell?

Every shit job in the world starts with a “Welcome.”

And in the red corner, we have The Morning Star; an impressive 2-storied publishing house with 2 editors: one for the night and the other covers the day, and a repertoire of talented veteran journalists. And why did I take this stupid job with an unappreciative piece of shi- uh, shiny star boss who forces me to turn tricks all day like his personal gimp? Dafuq I know but turning tricks is what I do best with thousands of satisfied peasants in Skyrim attesting to that statement.

Now, the first time I played the game, I assumed I was a Night Reporter – covering the news from the graveyard shift of 10pm to 6am. I’m gonna recreate that line of thought for you guys here just for old Nostalgia’s sake because she always makes me wear some rose-tinted glasses to look at old crap best left forgotten.

Right in the beginning, I’m stationed outside the Daily Courier, just itching to start my journalistic career. Oh, why didn’t I just start out as a paparazzi cameraman, snapping upskirt photos of celebutantes? So, I might as well just enter the building.

Oh, joy. An old coot for a boss. There goes my “Office Romance” Mass Effect style wishful thinking.

So, with a press of the Space Bar, I switched over to the menu and selected the Talk option with my Bald-Spot Boss.

Sure. McCormick this. McCormick that. Waitaminit. It’s past 11. Why the hell are you still here?!

Far be it for me to dispute the guy who hands me money - I hailed a cab down to Victoria Station.

Oh, really? You know everything, don’t you? Would you wanna trade jobs?

With a satisfying screech, in a split second I’m right outside the Station proper.

Isn’t that the cutest London cabby you ever saw?! Hey! There’s only 1 door! How did I manage to squeeze in there? Is this a clown car in disguise?

Looking at the time, I found that I lost 10 minutes in that cab. Was I kidnapped by an UFO? Should I check for scars on my lower back in case the driver had popped out one of my kidneys to sell in the Chinese black market?

Stay tuned, fellow adventurers.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Missed Classic 4: The Scoop - Introduction (1989)

You need 512kb of memory?! My Gods! That’s… 1/12th of the power I need for an antivirus software! Talk about inflation!

I mean, really. Missing this game is like eating everything but the chocolate parts of a Neapolitan flavored ice cream. Seriously, Trix? You have something against chocolate? Is this an Aussie thing or can I pack a couple less bars of Toblerone if I ever visit Down-Under? Wait, what was I saying again? Oh right, The Scoop… of Chocolate Ice Cream? No, wait. Let’s do this all over again.

The Scoop was published by Spinnaker Software Corporation and developed by the same company who brought you the goddamn 1st game in this blog; which is Below The Root back in 1989. That’s like… I dunno… had this game got tipsy and had slotted its floppy disk into some skanky drive; it would have a college graduate playing computers the whole day in its basement by now. Sick, yes, I know. I ain’t Trickster. Go read something politically correct and hug some puppies (or kittens if you’re not a dog person) afterwards if my writing makes you cry, okay?

So, back to why I’m lauding it as a classic must-play for the avant-garde adventurers and I have to refrain myself from making it into a list to avoid looking like David Letterman, not that I need to do that, with me being so dashingly bodice-ripper-novel-cover-worthy handsome and even when there’s a lackluster review for it. Just ONE?! Here are the accolades.

For one, it’s based on the story written by a group (not just ONE) of six mystery writers; including the insatiable Agatha Christie. The story itself was good enough to be adapted as a radio play back when there was neither Internet nor frickin’ TV.

You know you’re the insatiable one when you’re the only one named in the group.

“Oh, that’s not gonna make me bite and try this game like I’m your beeyotch, beeyotch.”, I hear you say. Well, let me tell you something, you little disrespectful punk! Get off my lawn and get this. It has adorable graphics. Sure, it’s 1989 and you are exposed to nifty adult adventure games in full EGA glory, but come on. We all know you are a nice innocent kid who prefers to play make-believe with your lightsaber than… well… playing with your lightsaber. I mean, just look at the opening screen!

Don’t you just want to reach out to pull those sweet caricatures out from the screen and cuddle them till they stifle in your man-boobs? No? What kind of monster are you?!

So, the sad thing about this game was that, shortly after adapting this game to DOS, the developers (Telarium) went under the water, thus, not being able to market this game to its full potential that might have saved them. It was an extremely commendable effort though, earning a posthumous Top Dog on Home Of The Underdog.

The gameplay was written by Jonathan Merritt who also wrote for Below The Root but was responsible for a couple of terrible Legend Of Zelda games which I refuse to link and that we shall never speak of. Ever. Anyway, he usually teams up with Dale Disharoon, Incorporated to handle the programming of various, including The Scoop, games. Lego Batman? Yeah, him totally. A book about Jesus? Him too.

So, without further ado, uninstalling Skyrim. See ya, stupid bug-ridden piece of trash that I bought at 80% sale on Steam.

Admin's note: The first seven posts of Kenny McCormick's foray into the missed classic of 'The Scoop' will be played in a marathon (one per day) between 29th December 2014 and 4th January 2015. So get your bets and final score guesses in quickly before our Holiday 'The Scoop' Marathon begins!

Thursday 25 December 2014

Missed Classic 3: Merry Christmas from Melbourne House (1984)

What exactly does “cracked” mean in this context?

 Merry Christmas! Christmas is always a nostalgic time for me, a time when I reconnect with family and friends and revisit some of my old haunts. As a very special post for the season, I set out to find and play the earliest Christmas-themed graphical adventure game that I could find, a little vignette from 1984 called “Merry Christmas from Melbourne House”. While this was the only graphical adventure that I could find, my research did identify a few text adventures which I have listed at the end of this post. Please drop me a note in the comments below if you know of any others-- you will not only get CAPs, but also my Christmas appreciation! Not having ever heard of the game before, I did not know what to expect. Was this a missed classic? Or just a game better off forgotten? 

Before we get into the game, let me set the stage. After the company that would become Sierra On-Line published “Mystery House” in 1980, many new companies entered the market for what would now be called “illustrated text adventures”. These are games, like “Mystery House”, that took the basic structure of text adventures like “Zork” and “Colossal Cave”, but put simple graphics or animations against them. This would remain the norm in adventure games until 1984 when games with on-screen animated protagonists would appear, but new illustrated games were produced throughout the remainder of the 1980s, especially as developing them was relatively inexpensive. 
One of the many companies that stepped into this industry was Beam Software, a subsidiary of the publisher Melbourne House. Where Melbourne House was primarily aimed at importing games into the UK and Australia markets, Beam would produce software that eventually would be distributed globally in their own right. Beam had its first huge success with a version of “The Hobbit” in 1982, winning several awards and becoming (at least according to the “Digital Antiquarian”) the most sold text adventure game of all time. My only experience with the company is vague memories of playing one of their text adventures, “Sherlock” (1984), but I suspect they were much better known in their home markets of the UK and Australia.

I always look for “100% machine code” when purchasing new games.

And that is where this game enters the picture. In 1984, Melbourne House released their “Merry Christmas” game through a magazine promotion. I have been unable to find an original ad for the game, but various sources describe that it was distributed inexpensively as a marketing opportunity, both to get players interested in their games as well as to advertise a few of their products in-game. The lead programmer was Grahame Willis who had previously worked on “The Castle of Terror”. This is the final game of his that I have been able to find.

Santa’s Christmas Journal 1984: Ho Ho Oh No! Some of my elves are in revolt and I am running behind on packing my sleigh. If I don’t get my jolly butt moving, there may be no Christmas this year!

Have you noticed that in any Christmas movie where they show the North Pole, it is daytime?
Shouldn’t it be always night in the Arctic Circle in the winter?

As the game opens, I am standing outside the famous “Santa’s Workshop”-- my workshop-- at the North Pole. The workshop itself is quite small, but magic is always about suspension of disbelief. I notice a sign and a sad-looking snowman out front and the frozen Arctic tundra surrounding us in all directions. I can even see myself, Santa Claus, walking around outside in a bit of light animation-- although the on-screen Santa appears to be decorative only and cannot be controlled as in later adventure games. The sign, in addition to saying “Santa’s Workshop” also has another helpful message: “digging in the snow in lots of fun and very rewarding”. I’ll take that as a hint! I check out the snowman as well and discover why he is sad: he is missing his nose. One puzzle and one hint right off the bat, not a bad start!

I try to enter the workshop, but the door is locked. I look around for a “Welcome” mat, but of course there is only snow. With the hint from the sign, I dig around and find a small key with a red “S” on it. Is it really a puzzle when there is a hint in the same room as the solution, especially when the hint is rather direct? As a player, I am a bit disappointed, but hey-- it’s Christmas!

Rather than go into the workshop, even though I have a key now, I decide to head “north”. I immediately find myself “lost in the snow”. I try to go back the way I came and I just pass through more rooms with snow. I have discovered the game’s first (only?) maze! I do not have any items with which to map it yet, though that may not be necessary as the rooms are not exactly alike: there are signs that change position as you move around. I also try digging randomly, just to see what would happen, and I discover the snowman’s nose! I consider starting a map, but since I’ve lost track of all the wandering around I’ve done, I would not know where to start. I ask the game for a “hint” (as much to see what that does as actually needing one) and it reminds me that the North Pole is north. Well, duh! I try that and end up back at the workshop. (On my second playthrough, to prepare this review, I discover that this whole experience was a bit of a streak of luck. The maze is at least several screens, only one of which has the snowman’s nose and only one of which can be exited to the workshop by going north.)

You are in a maze of twisty little snow-drifts, all alike.

Back outside my workshop, I try to help the snowman first. I use “help snowman” and “use nose”, but neither of those commands are well understood. Fortunately, this game has a “vocab” command that gives you a list of understood verbs. In this case, “give” and “put” seem to be my best options. Just telling it to “give nose” does not do any good, but then I remember that this isn’t “Colossal Cave” or “Mystery House” so I type out “give nose to snowman”. That works! Obviously, the parser understands real sentences and I bet that anyone that had played Melbourne House games before would have known that. Either way, the snowman is happy to have his nose back-- but only happy for a moment because it falls off again and I am told that it is lost forever. What a downer. Is there a way to fix this later? Do I need to find glue? What would affix a carrot onto a snowman better? I have no idea, but I will keep my eyes peeled for a better solution.

I open up the workshop with my key and enter it. This part of the shop contains a bunch of hard-working elves making toys, so whatever “industrial dispute” the box alluded to must not be in force here.

I explore the workshop quickly and this is what I find:
  •  To the north, a window from which I can see reindeer pulling a sleigh circling the workshop, apparently waiting for me. I can open the window and when I climb out, I end up back in the snow maze.
  • To the east, another sleigh but this one without reindeer and only half-full. There’s also a Santa suit and boots.
  • The the south, I find piles of completed toys, letters from children, and a star-emblazoned book. The book is particularly special as it is a catalog of excellent games by Melbourne House! I bet some of these would make awesome gifts.
Do you think any of these are “Missed Classics”?

I also read some of the children’s letters-- they are addressed to me, after all. The first one is from a little girl that would like a dollhouse, as well as her brother who wants a cricket bat. I wonder if they would prefer a copy of “The Hobbit” instead? I read another and that kid wants both a cricket bat and ball. Obviously, this is a UK game because I cannot imagine many American kids longing to play cricket, but to each their own. The modern player in me is a bit concerned about the sexist stereotyping of the toys that the children are looking for, but this was 1984 after all. I try to pick up the “toys”, but the game tells me that I am being greedy. I get the hint: instead of asking for generic toys, I ask for the items from the letters directly: a cricket bat, cricket ball, and a dollhouse. That works and and they have joined my inventory! I read a few more letters, but they seem to be repeating those two so I move on.

I also seem to have picked up another object: an “ordo felves”. I have no idea what this is or whether it came with the letters or when I helped the snowman. It does not have a description, so I am not sure what it is. I initially thought that it might have something to do with cricket (Google suggests not), but perhaps I will figure it out. I doubt it is coincidence that it spells out “ord of elves”, but what it does I have no idea. Do elves generally come in ords? Is that like a flock of elves?

Complete this line: “My other sleigh is a …”

I head back to the sleigh to try to solve what puzzles might be there. It does not let me enter the sleigh, or do much of anything with it at all, but I can pick up my coat. (The boots? No, they seem to be nailed to the floor or something.) I search the pockets and discover a whistle! I blow it and it does not seem to do anything here, but it is obviously important.

On a hunch, I head out to the front of the workshop again-- through the window, of course-- and blow the whistle in the front yard. The reindeer which had been circling land! I get in the sleigh and tell the reindeer to go “up” and just like that, the game ends. I win!

After a brief victory screen, the game informs me that I scored 75 out of 100. Not bad, but there are obviously things that I missed. Has anyone discovered any items or puzzles that I passed up? I’m especially curious about the “ordo felves” and whether there is a puzzle related to it that I might have missed.

Time played: 30 min
Total time: 30 min
Ho! Ho! Ho! Tell your parents to buy our games!

Final Score

Now comes the hard part: to tell you how I feel about this short little Christmas vignette. Ratings are always difficult and if you have beaten the game and have found puzzles that I missed that might affect the score, please feel free to argue with me in the comments. But argue nicely, it’s Christmas!

Also because it is Christmas, I cannot be properly “PISSED” at this game. So, in honor of the season, I present to you my very own (but suspiciously similar) rating system, the “EGGNOG” scale.

Enigmas and Solvability

As I stated above, I am a bit concerned that I may have missed a puzzle or two, but what I found of the game was relatively sparse. The closest the game comes to a real puzzle is the search for the snowman’s nose, but in the end that segment appears to be completely optional. Finding the whistle took only a basic understanding of adventure game tropes, and I’m not sure at all what all of the toys I picked up were used for. I suspect that they mainly contributed to my score, but I will be glad to be corrected. Given all that, I regret that I can do no better than give this game a “1” for puzzles and even that is a bit of a holiday stretch.

Game UI and Items
I have a feeling that someone reading this will find the love of cricket as this game’s best quality

The game plays very similarly to other illustrated text adventures, and even has the graphics-with-text-at-the-bottom layout established by “Mystery House”-- but I suspect there is a technical reason for that. My suspicion is that Melbourne House repurposed their existing game engine for this effort, but in this case it is a good thing because it demonstrates a level of polish that exceeds that of the limited story. I especially liked the “vocab” command for reducing trial and error around figuring out what word to use, and the “help” command seemed to give a reasonable hint the only time I used it. That said, this game lacked a “save” feature, but given its short length it obviously did not need one.

The inventory in the game is terribly basic with essentially no inventory-based puzzles that I found, but again I may have missed some.

I really want to go “2.5” here, but half-points are not allowed. But really this demonstrates an engine that is superior to “Mystery House” which received a “2”. I am going to keep it at “2” because even though the engine was significantly nicer (as it should be for a game four years later!), there were far fewer interesting items in the game.

Gameworld and Story
This elf is not on strike.

I have to admit that I am disappointed, but it’s entirely Melbourne House’s fault. The inset documentation talks about an elvish “industrial action”, leading me to expect a game where I would solve a pay dispute or get the elves working again. There are some excellent plot ideas there, none of which the game seems to be aware of because this “industrial action” plot is entirely absent from the published game. The game also cannot decide if you are Santa or if you are helping Santa-- somewhat understandable given the fourth-wall breaking, but yet quite distracting. The combination of these two elements makes me suspect that the game is incomplete, or at least did not live up to its expectations.

The gameworld is also a bit “broken”, is the best way I can put it. For example, when you enter Santa’s Workshop there is no way to leave by the door. None. I tried every command I could think of, but the only way I could leave was through the window. The one nice touch to the gameworld was that since you are at the North Pole, you should be able to get back to the Workshop by going north-- even though it only worked in one part of the maze, it was clever and I like clever.

Given both the missing premise and the broken gameworld, I have to go with a “0” in this category. Sorry!

Noises and Pretty Pixels

This elf is thankfully not on a shelf.

 Here’s a challenge: how many times can you listen to “Jingle Bells” before you turn off the sound? That’s pretty much how I felt, and I could only listen to sounds when my wife was out of the room! There are no sound effects that I noticed for anything else in the game.

Graphically, the game is mixed. The art is not terrible, but the colors inside seem washed out and the art is very busy. The few touches of animation are nice, but by 1984 that sort of thing should have been expected.

In total, I think this is a “1”.

Overworld and Environs

So much undeveloped real estate!

When you think of the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop, so many awesome things come to mind. Maybe you are imagining a factory setting where row after row of elves are diligently making toys, perhaps while singing Christmas songs. Perhaps instead you are imagining Santa’s reindeer and their stables, with little reindeer practicing flying in the background. Maybe even you are thinking of Ms. Claus who is always worried that Santa will get cookie crumbs on his newly pressed winter suit. No matter which of those you imagined, this game is a bit disappointing.

What we get instead is a tiny environment: outside, a wintry maze, and four rooms inside. There are no places for the elves or Santa to live, no stables for the reindeer, and nothing else that helps to make this world feel real. The game feels like Christmas, that is certain, but the environment is not particularly special.

Let’s give this a “1” as well.

Gregariousness and Thespianism

The game text was well done throughout with meaningful descriptions on items and there are a few nice little touches, like the hints when you are in the maze, as well as the game chiding you to hurry up and find your way out because “Christmas is coming”. There is still a bit of ambiguity whether you are playing as Santa or not, but I covered that elsewhere. I’m going to give this category a “2”.


Let’s sum it up and see what we get!

1+2+0+1+1+2=7/60 = 12

This is a very low score, but that is perhaps to be expected. “Merry Christmas from Melbourne House” is less a full game and more a Christmas vignette, and one that feels slightly unfinished at that. It was still fun for the 30 minutes it took to beat it, but ultimately not quite a forgotten gem. Still, you have to give them credit for making what is essentially a marketing piece somewhat playable and to that end it did it’s job perfectly: I think I’d like to play another Melbourne House game, eventually. (Most likely, “The Hobbit”.)

I sincerely thought about giving this game the “Still Better than Emmanuelle” award for +2 points, but perhaps that is a bit much. On the bright side, it is better than “Psycho”! Besides, the short duration of this game gave me extra time to play a real holiday classic:

He’s like a ninja turtle, except he never orders pepperoni on his pizza.

I hope you enjoyed this little look at an obscure game. I am looking for other Christmas graphical adventures (particularly those before 1990), so please leave a comment below if you know of any. I have found a decent number of Christmas text adventures, but none of them are illustrated as far as I know.

For your playing pleasure, here they are:
  • A Spell of Christmas Ice (1984)
  • The Elf’s Christmas Adventure (1987)
  • Crisis at Christmas (1987)
  • Humbug (1990) - A text adventure game by Graham Cluley, later better known as an network security blogger
  • Santa Clause (1991)
  • Paranoia (1993) - A “choose your own adventure”-style text adventure game, based on a 1987 gamebook.
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas (1994)
  • The Ice Princess (1995)
  • Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina (1999)
Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year. We have something even more special lined up for next week. I cannot wait! Happy holidays!

Tuesday 23 December 2014

What's Your Story - Deimar

Answer by Deimar
Introduction and Captions by Ilmari

Holidays are coming, and we are having a bit of a break from normal game playing, but don't worry - lot of fun extra stuff is coming up during the next two weeks. First on our list is Deimar's What's Your Story. Deimar has been a semi-regular commenter of the blog and has promised to play Elvira for our enjoyment. But enough of my chit chat, here's Deimar!

I am sure I'd recognize Deimar, if I ever meet him in real life

My home country is…Spain

My age is…32... and counting

The first adventure game I played was…The Secret of Monkey Island. My father bought me and my sister a Commodore Amiga 500 when we were little (I must have been about 6 or 7 I think) with the hope that we got into this new thing called personal computing. Shortly after, he got us this game called The Secret of Monkey Island that didn't look nor played like anything we had seen at the time (yeah, I missed all the other graphic adventures before MI at the time). It was mesmerizing, even considering that we were stuck on the three trials for a long long time because we didn't know we could enter the kitchen in Scumm Bar...

So close, yet so far...

My favourite adventure game is…Again, The Secret of Monkey Island. I must have played it at least a dozen times. The writing is very funny, it is not frustrating in any way, the characters have a lot of charms, insult swordfighting... What's not to like? I don't think I have ever played a game that captured me as much as the original MI.

When I’m not playing games I like to…Watch TV series and films, mostly. Occasionally I also play tabletop games and RPGs with my friends. Sadly, work and the other hobbies have made me drop reading, but I still try to read novels, comics and manga from time to time (you won't believe it, but I'm still reading Neuromancer since the comment in which I said I would do so. I'm gonna finish before New Year, I swear!!).I also used to write in my own blog in spanish, talking about anything from my travels, games I've played, movies or series I've watched or even my own short stories. Oh, and I play padel.

Actually Deimar's finished it already

I like my games in (a box, digital format)…All the way digital. Although things like cloth maps and the like were fun to have (I made a lot of use of the map in Ultima VII), I prefer not having to worry about storing space at home or if the DVDs/CD-Roms/disks will still work. Digital download is the way to go. I will miss the box covers made by Aspiriz though. They were truly beautiful.

I can see the appeal

The thing I miss about old games is…I don't miss that much from old games. Probably because from time to time I play my own share. I think some of the old games were quite good because there was only one creative mind behind them, at most two or three. I think this made the games more daring, always trying to push the boundaries of what have been made before, and each game was a personal window into the mind of a designer. At some point, the big game companies formed and started trying to appease everyone playing very safe with their games, just like Hollywood with the big blockbuster movies. The good news is that I think the indie developers are giving us that personal vision that is more niche, but in my opinion also more satisfying. I think we are living another golden era of videogames.

The best thing about modern games is…Quality of Life improvements. I don't think fighting with a text parser is a wonderful thing, sorry. Or playing an RPG without automap. Also, I really like that game designers are moving away from hiding game mechanics. Old games could be really really obscure in that regard. And I like that difficulty in games is no longer an artificial mechanic to elongate the duration of the game.

The one TV show I never miss is…Game of Thrones. Although I also really like to watch Person of Interest, which is awesome and relevant in so many levels, and Arrow. Actually, this year I'm going to spent a lot of time in front of the TV as I like superhero movies and series and we got Arrow, Flash, Gotham and Constantine :D

If I could see any band live it would be…Probably Queen. Freddy Mercury is one of the best performers in history, and their concerts must have been something worth to behold. I wouldn't mind seeing Coldplay live again. They are also fantastic.

Sadly, no amount of CAPs will bring Queen back again

My favourite movie is…I wouldn't be able to say to be honest. I've watched the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies quite a few times. But I've also watched Aliens, The Goonies, Gremlins and Die Hard a lot so... I guess one of those.

One interesting thing about me is…I'm trying to get my Ph.D. on Computer Science, which is awesome until you try to explain to someone "normal" what do you do for a living and he/she is snoring after 1m of talking.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Game 47: Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls - Introduction

Spellcasting 101: Revenge of the Nerds

Hi again, gang! There were originally plans to have someone else attack the first game by Legend Entertainment – but instead, I've been pulled out to get right back to work on this one. Ilmari is a huge fan of Legend's games as has been proven throughout the blog, so I definitely know that any silliness I have to offer will clearly not be shouldered!

Spellcasting 101 (Sorcerers Get All The Girls), though? It seems an extremely silly thing. Its principal creator appears to be Steve Meretzky, best known for certain interactive fiction titles, among them Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Leather Goddesses of Phobos. His games have a definite tone of irreverentness to them, and it's something that I'm definitely going to enjoy after the relative seriousness of Countdown. I'm keeping my eyes away from spoilers – but it appears to be something like Leisure Suit Larry were it to be a game about college. As last time, all that I'm really using is my knowledge of Legend Entertainment's Wikipedia page, the front and back covers of the box and the manual in order to judge what the game's about – but I'll admit that I have a little bit of insight that I can share beforehand, which has been a touch furthered through the aforementioned Wikipedia page. (Make fun of my newfound knowledge for its potential lack of accuracy at your collective leisure!) The game has a very much full cast, but it's mostly gaming newbies. Bob Bates is the only other name that really stands out in the credits, being one of the founders of Legend and having a couple of interactive fiction (IF) titles under his own belt before this point. The only other person with any previous gaming credits is Tanya Isaacson – I have to give her a yell out as she was responsible for some of the artwork in Pool of Radiance, one of the best CRPGs of 1988. Those who love the simple style of art that glows fully in EGA are in for a treat, no doubt.
The game is clearly very, very serious.
As an aside, I'd like to thank the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History for these images –
they're very scarce, and this seems to be the easiest place to find them!

Spellcasting, as all of Legend's early games (we'll see the rest later – again, this is literally #1), is actually just an interactive fiction game with an imagery corner to make it a 'graphical' adventure game – instead of the entire screen being your tool of interaction, there's a small imagery section in the upper right. You can play them entirely through the use of your mouse, just your keyboard (tabbing through things to choose verbs and items on screen) or a mixture of both. I've played a couple of Legend games like Eric the Unready in the past, even if I haven't actually played this particular one, so I've got an idea of how the system works. The little tidbit that I didn't know about Legend Entertainment was that the entire company developed from the skeleton of Infocom, the most influential IF company to have ever really existed (outside possibly of Japan). So it does now make a lot of sense as to why they went down this path instead of using the by this point well and truly tried and true format seen in all of Sierra and Lucasarts' titles – they were out to modernize the pre-existing genre as opposed to create games that might be more palatable to people who had only ever known commands to come out of an on-screen entity.
The interface you'd all better get used to looking at!

The manual gives a quick rundown of the game and what I (or, indeed, we) are likely in for. It begins with an 'acceptance letter' for you, Mr. Eaglebeak, and goes on to spruik 'Peloria's oldest, most famous and only institution of wizardly learning', Sorcerer University with a faux-typewriter style. It's not quite laugh out loud funny per se, but it definitely gives you a good idea of the sort of humour that the game is going to be offering. ('Hrlgut' being a spell to induce vomiting, 'Wufbam' being the spell to make small dogs explode, 'Slugbgon' being the lawyer vanishment spell.. and of course, 'Nee' being the one for shrubbery creation.. it's enough to make you smile, and that's more than good enough for this sort of game for me! There are a couple of other little quirks that I'm going to be asking for opinions on before I start to play, as otherwise the game could be quite difficult to read for everyone. Firstly, there's a 'script' mode. Essentially, I can get the entire game transcripted for me into a text file, making writing about it rather simple – for the most part, the graphics are likely to offer very little stimulation, making for somewhat boring screenshots. I'm willing to make it easier to read, but to give an idea, a screencap from the manual..

If I formatted this a touch better, taking away the smaller stuff, would this work
– or would you guys prefer summaries?

On a quite different theme, I've asked this introduction post to be put together along with a poll. Spellcasting has a rather raunchy premise. Repeatedly, there's mentions to the thought that it can be played in the 'nice' mode (without things being related to excrement and what I can already tell is likely to be quite a deal of sexually noted content.) And then, the 'naughty' one. Unlike our dear Mr. Laffer, however, I believe that this game seems likely to give more detail than simply an up and down censored bar going like crazy followed by a cigarette-toting prostitute – after all, this is a largely textual game, so I'm not even sure whether or not they'd be able to play a visual gag like that one! So, should I play in 'naughty' or 'nice' mode? Ilmari mentioned privately as I was trying to get the game running for the sole screenshot I've taken that I might be advised to use 'naughty' mode as a default and then give a play-by-play of the 'nice' alternatives, but this one is really down to you guys. So check the sidebar on the left of the Adventure Gamer website for the poll and vote.

Note the bottom four save the 'notify' command
– this is the sort of game Spellcasting promises to be!

If there is any sort of worries as far as the 'explicit content' getting over the top, don't worry. I've looked deep back into my psyche, and searched for an appropriate way of warning people that may be looking at this website at work – gods know I do! So, if there's any threat of wording that might be slightly risque, or pictures of badly pixellated EGA breasts that are about to come into play.. well. I've had a PC in my life for about as long as I've been alive. The earliest inference of sexually-charged content didn't come from Leisure Suit Larry in my life, however. (And in truth, I don't think that having a little picture of a sleazy motel room with 'CENSORED' proudly displayed on it isn't the best way to be discrete anyway.) For me it came from a little 50kb executable called 'CAT.EXE' that literally ran on just about anything. It was a brilliantly put together thing, given that even playing it now the game doesn't run off of the CPU clock, meaning that were you able to run it on a modern PC it would still run happily enough.. were it to actually be runnable without help, anyhow. It's the tale of Freddy the (alley) Cat, seeking his love, Felicia. IBM even supported the thing! You play through minigames all to get to the top of a pile of hearts, dodging enemy cats and the arrows of Cupid to get to be with your one true love.. give her a present, and you're.. well. The following image will be used if I ever have any reservations..

You can tell what's going down, here. Right?

Spellcasting is likely to be quite a different experience for everyone, given that the game is probably closer to Zork with a series of pictures appended than a true graphical adventure – but as the CAPs fell its way via Ilmari, we're all going to have to delve into its depths. I'm hoping for a charming/funny game, even if the parser is likely to be a touch of pain – just everyone let me know what they'd like! I can supply maps (which even the manual suggests I'm likely to need – it has a 'ten rules of thumb' section which includes 'save, look, read, take everything and ask around for help if you need it' as a general set of rules), inventory lists, text transcripts, summaries of what's happening through the plot and an idea of the puzzles I encounter – this is kinda new ground for us here at The Adventure Gamer, and I'd love some idea of what you guys reckon would be more interesting to read. Even if it comes down to asking for a different style after the first one? I'm open! I'm running into this one without a safety net here, so my mind is completely open..

A general moral attitude that may offend some! Are we signing up?
The playing of Spellcasting 101 will commence 10th of January. Be prepared!

Poll result: Clear majority of 71 votes wanted Aperema to play the Naughty -version (51 votes). Only five people voted for the Nice -version, while seven wanted Aperama to play both versions and eight didn't really care.

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 CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of Aperama requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that Aperama won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 20 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.

Friday 19 December 2014

Game 49: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark - Introduction

Written by Deimar

Long time lurker, first time reviewer. For my first game I’ve chosen none other than the one based on the well-mannered connoisseur, Elvira. If you believed that description, you probably know as much about the character as any non-US citizen or US citizen under thirty. So before we comment on the game, let’s start with a little introduction about the character. Shall we?

You may remember me from other TV series like this one

Elvira is the alter ego of actress Cassandra Peterson. In 1981, the producers of the TV show Fright Night were searching for a new hostess to replace the late Larry Vincent, who had died six years before. They contacted the original Vampira from the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space to do it (because nothing spells terror like the prospect of having to watch Plan 9), but she refused due to creative differences. Therefore, they started a casting process and Peterson got the position and created the character by applying a sexy punk look on the original Vampira. This brought some court drama, but ultimately Peterson won and started hosting the show which changed its name to Elvira’s Movie Macabre.

I think I can see the appeal...

The show consisted on her showing B-rated movies, adding joyful snarky comments before, during and after the movie regarding the actors, the editing and the special effects. Basically, she provided the right company to watch those kind of movies that are so bad they become good, if you spend the whole movie laughing at it. The show’s popularity grew rapidly and the character got famous quickly, to the point that, by 1988, she even got a movie. However, her fame was, or at least I think it was, limited to the US and, more surprisingly, the UK.

And here is where Michael Woodroffe enters the picture. Woodroffe was the founder of Adventuresoft UK Ltd., a company that started by importing and distributing Adventure International’s games, which consisted mostly of Gauntlet and Scott Adams’ adventure games. Sadly, Adventure International went bankrupt, but by that time Adventuresoft UK Ltd. had started creating their own games. To break with their past, they changed their name to Horrorsoft Ltd., which also matched the common theme of their new games, horror. Well… more gore than horror per se, but you get the idea.

As horror fans, they were quite fond of Elvira. So much that her picture is part of the company’s logo. Or maybe they inherited the license and rolled with it (according to this interview, although I haven’t been able to get further details on that). In any case, they made 4 games under the label. Their first one was called Personal Nightmare (1989) and it’s a pure graphic adventure, while the other three, Elvira I (1990), Elvira II (1991) and Waxworks (1992), were RPG hybrids. After Waxworks, they changed the company’s name once again to Adventure Soft Publishing in 1992 and went on to create the beloved Simon the Sorcerer franchise (and ruin it under yet another new company) and The Feeble Files.

You got an impressive pair of… eyes… in your logo...

Which finally brings us to the game at hand: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The game is quite known for its gore imagery (reader discretion is advised) and even got the Computer Gaming World RPG of the Year award in 1991. It’s not on GOG or any other platform that I know of, so I have resorted to abandonware sites to download it and the accompanying documents, of which there are two: the game manual, which is written in the same mocking tone used by the titular character and explains the history and the interface, and a spell book printed in two colours as a copy protection mechanism.

I won’t say too much about the game right now (you can take a look at CRPG Addict’s opinion about the game) but I’d like to clarify a couple of points. The first one is that it runs on ScummVM. However, and for the sake of fidelity, I’ll be running it on DosBox. Other than a minor occasional bug with the sound during combat, it seems to run fine. The other one is that I did play the game quite a few years ago and I’ve watched some walkthroughs through the years, so I don’t expect to get stuck or need assistance (bye bye easy bets!!). And with that off my chest, and Elvira’s, it’s time to start our journey.

Which is gonna be full of awesome... erm… puns… Or at least I hope they are better than mine…

The playing of Elvira will commence 7th of January. Stay tuned!

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 CAPs 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 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 20 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.