Written by Joe Pranevich
It’s hard to believe now, but comic books were once not the hot property that they are now. In the 1990s and 2000s, Marvel sold the rights to some of their best-known characters, including Spider-Man and the X-Men, for what we might now consider a pittance. All of that changed in 2008 when Marvel released Iron Man, the first of a set of interconnected movies that featured other characters including the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Nick Fury, and others. Seven years, ten films, and three live-action television series later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most successful and longest-lasting experiment in building many properties into a single coherent universe. Even Guardians of the Galaxy, a team that many comics fans (myself included) had never heard of, managed to take in 774 million dollars at the box office. Holy cow.
In honor of the upcoming eleventh film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, I want to step back to a simpler time for Marvel: the company’s first foray into licensing their characters for adventure games. (An action game featuring Spider-Man had been released for the Atari 2600 in 1982.) For this attempt, Marvel partnered with one of the kings of the adventure genre, Scott Adams’s Adventure International. While we have not yet featured any of their games on TAG, Adventure International was the first seller of text-adventures for home computers, broke into illustrated text adventures a bit late, then went bankrupt in 1985. By my count, AI had released about two dozen games (in several series) before winning the Marvel license and producing the Questprobe series.
Questprobe was ambitious: A 12-part series with three parts released per year for four years. Each part would feature a different hero or heroes, each would have a tie-in comic, and the sum total would somehow tell an epic story in the grand Marvel tradition. Regretfully, with the end of Adventure International only a year away, only three games were released. (The tie-in comic for the fourth was released later under the Marvel Fanfare series.) The second game would feature Spider-Man, while the third would feature a team-up between the Human Torch and the Thing, both members of the Fantastic Four. The fourth installment would have featured X-Men characters.
Regardless of what we might think of this series now, it is clear that Marvel took it quite seriously. The art for the game was done by comic legends John Romita Sr. and Mark Gruenwald, as well as Kem McNair. Mr. Romita is a comics legend having drawn some of the most iconic early Spider-Man stories including the death of Gwen Stacy. Mark Gruenwald was primarily a writer at Marvel (he wrote the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, part of which is excerpted in the manual for this game) and later became the executive editor at Marvel. Kem McNair was apparently not a Marvel employee and was probably the artist at Adventure International responsible for adapting the others’ comic art into the game. The outline for the series was done by John Bryne and Bob Budiansky. John was best known at that time for writing many of the iconic stories of the X-Men such as the “Dark Phoenix Saga”, while Bob was writing (or would soon be writing) the Transformers comic. He coined the names of many of the Transformers characters including Megatron, the Dinobots, and others. In other words, Marvel was placing talented people on this project to ensure its success.
Of course, marketing never hurt and Marvel also advertised the game through its books. There was a Bullpen Bulletin in the August 1984 issues:
As well as a very snazzy full color advertisement:
|I’m a true believer in that afro.|
I have been unable to locate any sales figures or contemporary reviews of the game to tell whether this push was successful, but this does not appear to have been a fire-and-forget project for Marvel. They were committed to the long haul, even if in retrospect we know the series did not quite make it.
Why Choose The Hulk?
|You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.|
Looking back now, it’s not easy to see why Marvel selected The Incredible Hulk as the first property to make a game from. A lot was riding on the success of the series, so why not choose a character with more “star power” and “mass-market appeal”?
And that’s where we forget: the Hulk was undoubtedly one of Marvel’s greatest crossover successes in the 1980s. The Incredible Hulk TV series had just ended its five season run, still the longest lasting live-action series in Marvel history, and had proven that a Marvel character could survive in the mass market. Yes, there had also been several Spider-Man shows over the previous decade (both live-action and animated), but none of them had the staying power of the Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. There would be a Spider-Man game soon enough, but for this first outing the spotlight was on the Hulk.
Prologue: The Tie-In Comic
|“Limited series”, indeed.|
Our story begins in the tie-in comic, Questprobe #1. This comic was sold separately from the game, but is almost essential reading. It covers the backstory for the events that lead into the player taking the reigns. It is actually quite good, with art by Romita Sr. and Gruenwald.
In a distant part of the universe, there is an advanced race that has been peaceful for millennia. They have been so peaceful in fact that they have forgotten the arts of war and consider even defending themselves to be against their core beliefs. All of this pacifism is unfortunate because they are being attacked by an unknown “black fleet” which threatens to destroy their entire civilization. They cannot stop this fleet, they cannot reason with it. The leaders of this advanced world can do only one thing: resign themselves to their deaths.
The people call a great council to debate their next moves, but the decision is made nearly before they begin. How can they fight, if fighting causes them to lose their core beliefs. Is it better to die following your moral code? Or live by violating it?
But as is always the case in these situations, one member of the council does not agree. His name is Durgan and he is a “philosopher”.
Durgan is denounced by the council for his views and sent into exile. But Durgan does not give up: he has been observing other worlds where there are still heroes. Could he capture their power? Harness it? Could he use that power to challenge and defeat the black fleet and save his people? Well, I suppose that is what we are about to find out.
Meanwhile, back on… wait a second. Durgan looks familiar. Where have I seen that face before? Oh right, a few pages ago in the advertisement for the game!
The resemblance is uncanny. Durgan even has Scott’s space-afro! And don’t you think the blue spots around Durgan’s eyes look suspiciously like Scott’s glasses? Perhaps I am imagining it, but I don’t think so. Anyway, where was I?
Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Hulk is having a bit of a disagreement with the National Guard. I suspect that happens quite often.
Unbeknownst to the combatants, a new player is on the scene to watch the fight. He is using a computer to learn from it, even to learn the humans’ language. This figure is known as the Chief Examiner, and while he looks suspiciously like Durgan with a helmet, the reader is left in the dark who he might be and how he might relate to the warrior-philosopher. I am not sure that they would make it quite obvious, but whoever it is he is after the Hulk’s power.
The Hulk escapes the National Guard and flees to a cave where he is blown up (as I will be, many times over) by a “Natter Energy Egg”. He shrugs it off and decides to sleep in the cave, allowing the Chief Examiner to discover that the Hulk is nothing more than a normal human who happens to turn into a monster when he’s angry. When Dr. Banner wakes up, he flees the cave only to tumble off a side of a cliff; he did not quite remember where the Hulk had put him. Fortunately rather than being reduced to human-pancake on the ground, he transforms into the Hulk on impact and flees with the Chief Examiner right behind.
With the Chief Examiner trying to catch the Hulk in his moving black doorway, the pair stumble onto a group of white-water rafters and in the ensuing chaos one of them falls in the water and starts to drown. The Hulk immediately changes gears to rescue her, but the Chief Examiner takes advantage of the situation and forces the Hulk to pass through his doorway.
Instead of teleporting Hulk into the game (what I expected to happen), the portal instead worked as something like a scanner. It analyzed the Hulk and allowed him to pass through to the other side so he could save the drowning woman. Having already scored his prize, the Chief Examiner leaves the scene and the comic comes to a close.
The comic is actually quite good, both as an introduction to the character of the Hulk and as a jumping off point for more stories about Durgan and the menace of the black fleet. The Hulk is depicted as being both heroic and misunderstood, the connection between him and Bruce Banner is explained, and several of Hulk’s powers are depicted. If I was a computer game purchaser that was not interested in comic books, I think I would get a pretty good idea of what the Hulk was all about from this issue. It made me want to read more. I hope that there will be some questions answered in the short time we have with this series before the bankruptcy, but all I can do is just wait and see. I will read the others when the time comes.
Interestingly, Scott Adams and Marvel did not choose to include any of that backstory in the game manual itself. The booklet includes the normal instructions on how to load and save the game, as well as some hints on how to approach the game, but it also includes one more awesome feature: character guides.
Each denizen of the Marvel Universe that the Hulk is likely to meet in the game is depicted in the manual, with a glamor shot, a brief history, and a textual description of the person’s or creature’s powers. From that, I can surmise that Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, Ulton, and Nightmare are likely to appear, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it. All of these biographies appear to have been adapted from the 1983-1984 edition of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe by Mark Gruenwald, although I do not have a copy to double-check whether this is taken verbatim from that guide or is a new work in the same style. If someone has a copy, please let me know.
And with that, I’ve talked far too long! Let’s play the game!
Incredible Hulk Journal #1
- Hulk wake up, hulk no know where he is. Hulk smash! That no work. Hulk dig holes. That no work. Hulk smash puny ants, but that no work too. Now Hulk smash stupid journal machine.
|Damn. Did I forget the safeword again?|
As the game begins, I am Bruce Banner, tied hand and foot to a chair. How did I get here? I have no idea, but that isn’t really the problem right now. First screen and I already have the first puzzle! Obviously, Dr. Banner cannot do much about breaking free, but this isn’t a game about a brilliant scientist. This is a game about the Hulk and HE wouldn’t have any difficulty getting out of the chair.
I try the obvious first: “become hulk” doesn’t work, neither does “get angry” and the game helpfully asks me how to do those things. I also try “struggle”, “yell”, and “stand up”, but those don’t work either. I cannot look at my inventory when tied to the chair, so it’s clear that there is just something I need to do here, but what?
Eventually, I try to “rock” the chair. That works! I fall over and hit my head, but the pain brings out the big green guy and he breaks free!
|Now I’m angry (™)!|
But just when I think I might be able to smash something, a strange gas fills the room and I am forced to revert to being Dr. Banner. But on the bright side, I am free from the chair and can start to look around.
|Well, that was unexpected...|
|What shall I do, indeed...|
With that first puzzle out of the way, I can explore properly. I am in a dome of some kind with a mirror, a fan, the broken chair, and a strange iron ring embedded in the floor. A nearby sign conveniently tells me the point of the game:
This computer model has been created so that you will learn to perform as the HULK! To prove that you can supply the brains as well as control the Hulk’s brawn, you must collect all the *Gems and store them in the proper location. Good luck!
Just as I suspected: it seems that “I” am trying to learn to control a copy of the Hulk that was created when the black portal scanned the real deal in New Mexico. I assume that I am a member of Durgan’s race, but I have no idea. It’s quite meta!
Before I go on, I toyed with the interface a bit. It is a standard text parser with two word commands, not unlike the Hi-Res Adventures that I have been playing. Like those games, some of the items that you can interact with have full-screen portraits:
Even the inventory screen has a separate view, clearly laying out all of the items that you are carrying. I love the detail! I checked later and yes, you get a screen with the Hulk instead if you are transformed.
|Carrying: Purple pants (ripped)|
As any good adventure gamer would, I pick up everything nailed down. Bruce is not strong enough to get or pull on the iron ring, but any attempts to transform here result in more gas and switching back to Banner once again. Obviously, I have a puzzle on my hands, but I suspect it is one I will come back to later.
I head east to a tunnel with a button and a sign. The sign is warning me of high gravity ahead, which sounds deadly. When I push the button, I get a message that says “delay on”, but no clear idea what it is delaying. I try to leave the dome but, as expected, I die immediately in the high gravity. I guess I need to be the Hulk to get out.
Instead of having to start over, the game sends me to a much nicer place: heaven.
|There’s a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure |
‘cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
Going down the stairs here takes me back to the starting point. Just in case there is a reason that I shouldn’t die, I start the game over again, but it is nice that there is an easy way back. I just fear that there is a catch…
The next time in the tunnel, I press the button and try to turn into the Hulk. Just as before, “become angry” doesn’t do the trick but “bite me” does! Gentle readers, this has been one of my life’s dreams: I have successfully used “bite me” in an adventure game and have it do something important. Luckily for me, the gas does not come as quickly this time and I am able to leave the dome. Better yet, the Hulk can survive the high gravity. Time to see what else is out there!
The first screen has a gem, but nothing obvious to do. I march off in a random direction (north!) and find myself in a warp, ending up in a “fuzzy area”. It’s a strange, trippy place with lots of Escher-like structures and, conveniently enough, a sign.
The sign tells me that this is where I am to leave all of the gems that I find, although I expected I would be waiting a few more screens to find it. But all the better! I drop off the two gems that I collected (my score is now 11%!) and keep exploring. But rather than document my travails directly, let me summarize: this “fuzzy” room is a hub room for the game. Moving in any direction takes you to one of several locations in the game. Except for north, which always takes you to a room with an exploding egg (more on that in a bit), the rest of the directions seem to lead to one of three locations:
- Outside my starting dome
- Outside a dome next to an ant colony
- The Chief Examiner’s office
I did not know it yet, but there is actually a third dome that looks identical to the starting dome and I only noticed when I did something to change the scenery. More on that in a bit. Rather than narrating these completely straight as there was plenty of jumping back and forth to try things in each location, I will narrate the areas one by one. Trust me, it makes much more sense that way than trying to following my lunatic thought process as I flip back and forth from puzzle to puzzle.
The Underground Room
|Was Wolverine here recently?|
I head north off of Limbo the first time through and find myself in this “underground room” with no exit. Like in the dome, I am immediately gassed back to being Bruce Banner. Before I can worry much about not having a way out, the egg explodes (one turn later) and Dr. Banner is dead. But when I return here after going to heaven, the room is empty: the explosion also destroyed the Bio gem. I restore my game and try a few things, but I cannot find a way to get the gem. I can become the Hulk immediately after arrival and that allows me to survive the explosion, but there is no time to do anything else and the gem is still destroyed. I suspect I will need to come back to this one later.
I am fairly sure this is an important puzzle because not only does it appear on the game box/comic book cover, it is also a puzzle that the real Hulk failed to solve in the comic:
Regardless, I head off to try to find a puzzle I can solve.
Chief Examiner’s Office
One one of my next trips from the fuzzy room, I wind up in the Chief Examiner’s office. He even has his name stenciled on the door! I’m really glad that he has a space where he can file paperwork after a long day of capturing heroes in strange black portals.
Fortunately, the Examiner does not notice me and I can explore his room a bit. There’s a gem on his desk and I also notice that he is writing a computer program. What program might that be? Why, the next Questprobe game, of course! Now, here’s the odd thing: is he programming on paper? I was not a programmer (yet) in 1984 and I have done my fair share of jotting notes and doing basic design on paper, but it really looks like he’s coding on paper and plans to type it in later. That’s just strange.
With the gem I nabbed from his desk, I’m up to 17%!
The Ant Colony
On my next exit from the fuzzy room, I find myself outside a dome that looks exactly the same as the other one, except for one detail: the giant ant colony outside. There’s also a gem, which I pick up, but that’s when it happens: alien army ants swarm out of the nest. Before I work out what to do, they surround me and crawl into my eyes and kill me. That is a surprisingly grisly death.
|Subtle innuendos follow, must be something inside.|
On the next attempt, I grab the gem and dart for the nearby dome. Inside it is nearly identical to the first dome, except for not having an iron ring in the floor. Even without the ring, it still has the anti-Hulk gas and I am quickly back to being Banner again.
On a whim, I transform into the Hulk in the room where the iron ring would be and I see an astral projection of Dr. Strange! (One of Hulk’s powers is that he can see spiritual bodies like this. I have no idea why.) I hulk-out again and am able to see that the good doctor is pointing at a baseboard. I examine that and find a small outlet where the gas is coming from. I try to cover it with my hand, but that doesn’t do much good. I have a feeling I am on the right track as the parser knows the command “cover outlet”. Now, if I can just find something to cover it with...
At this point, I am pretty sure that I am stuck and I just start trying lots of random things in different places. Outside the first dome (with the iron ring), I type “dig” and the Hulk digs a hole! I also get a great action scene of the Hulk digging.
|Yes, I tried “get field”. That was the type of random nonsense I was trying.|
I climb into my freshly-dug hole and find a gem. I also discover that I can keep digging, but that if I keep doing it I eventually break into the hot magma underneath the planet’s crust and die. Hulk must be very good at digging! I restore and stop digging when I get a warning that it is starting to get a bit warm.
|Screens like this are one of the reasons I love the art in this game.|
As I continue to explore, I find myself back at the “first” dome again… but this time it doesn’t have a hole. What gives? Did my hole disappear? No! It is a completely different but otherwise identical dome. I am not sure if this is supposed to be a puzzle or just bad game design, but either way I have something new to explore.
Inside this new dome is a nest of killer bees as well as a stash of beeswax. Strangely, the bees do not seem to mind my being in the dome, but any time I try to get wax they sting me, I turn into the Hulk, I get gassed, and then I turn back into Dr. Banner. It’s almost funny, but I guess it is better than dying. There is some wire mesh in the wall that leads outside, which I assume is how the bees come and go.
|Well, I’m shaking up my baby killer bee...|
Even though I have a new dome, there is not that much new to explore as I do not have an immediate answers on how to get that beeswax. I take this time to dig holes in front of each of the other two domes (two more gems!), then resume my game of trying crazy commands until I find one that does something.
The first that I stumble on is “lift dome”. How this makes that much sense, I have no idea, but it seems that someone has hidden some gems underneath!
|Now how did this get here?|
The second command seems obvious in retrospect, but I can also use “look dome” on the bees’ dome to see the wire mesh outside! What makes this infuriating is that you do not see anything special looking at the other two domes, so having this be different is just another little infuriation. Still, it’s progress.
|Still looks like a space igloo.|
That gives me some terrible ideas and one excellent idea: I wave (as the Hulk) the metal fan at the hole to cause a powerful gust of wind that blows all of the bees out of the dome! I have no idea where they are going now, but the important thing is that I can get the wax. Even better: I have a pretty good idea of what I want to use that wax on: the gas outlet.
But with that good idea, I am going to end this play session. I have found 13 gems so far, 76% according to the “score” command. I sure hope that blocking the gas outlet gets me somewhere because I am running out of random commands to try everywhere...
: 3 hours
Guess what? I’ve played a bit farther now and have managed to get stuck… well, let’s just say more than a few times. If you want some easy CAPs, now would be a great time to wager where it was that I got hung up. It will be like shooting fish in a barrel. I do not need clues as (in the interest of time), Ilmari and TBD provided some clue-assistance so that I could win the game.
Don’t forget that you can also still wager on the final score!
New Spring-Summer Contest!
Would you like to win this completely un-signed and non-mint copy of Questprobe Vol #1 Issue #1? How about issues #2 and #3 as well? I bet you would! Between now and August, I will be playing the three Questprobe games, with each “Missed Classic” coming out with a summer Marvel feature: #2 prior to Ant-Man in July, then #3 with The Fantastic Four in early August. After that is over, I will wrap up with a series-wide recap and an “epilogue” of how Marvel ended the series (and the Chief Examiner) after the collapse of Adventure International, as well as announce the winner.
All you need to do is write a comment (as many as you want) describing why you love or hate a character that appeared in our Questprobe adventure. I will randomly pick from the best comments to select the winner. For #1, the included Marvel characters are the Hulk, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, Nightmare, and Ultron. Please avoid using characters from later in the series so as not to spoil me on those games. Good luck!