Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Game 54: Space Quest IV - Outlet Shopping on the Edge of Forever

By Joe Pranevich

Roger Wilco’s Janitorial Log #3 - Shopping! Seriously, guys? The Latex Babes have left me in the Galaxy Galleria mall, one of the foremost shopping establishments of the near future, without even a decent pair of pants. Well, I managed to buy myself some pants, make a few bucks, and even buy a Space Quest IV hintbook, but I have not yet found a way to escape my mercantile prison. As Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Hell is other people shopping.” Something like that, anyway.

The walls in the mall are totally, totally tall. Also round

Where we last left our janitorial hero, Roger had just managed to escape from torture at the hands of the Latex Babes of Estros, one of whom is his future ex-girlfriend, and then rescued them from a giant sea slug. Roger’s reward for this heroism was not make-up sex, but rather a one-way trip with the ladies to do a bit of shopping. Awesome! But before we can continue with our events in Space Quest X, we have a brief look at what’s been going on back in Space Quest XII:

Incoming message from the Big Giant Head!

In the future, Sludge Vohaul has managed to capture one of the resistance fighters that rescued Roger way back in the introductory cutscene. In typical evil villain style, rather than killing the fighter outright, he is taken to Vohaul’s lair and his giant holographic head. But this is no ordinary resistance fighter from the future. No, that handsome young man is none other than… wait for it… Roger’s son! And if he isn’t rescued in time for the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance then… wait. Sorry, never mind.

But the real question is, why does Vohaul think that Roger will return to Space Quest XII to rescue the guy? Roger didn’t get to see the cutscene, only we did. Or is it like the way that Roger can casually check out the status bar? Where is the fourth wall in this game, anyway? Or is the question moot because he’ll be sending Roger the future equivalent of an email explaining the whole thing? I guess we’ll find out soon enough, but until then it is time for us to do some shopping!

Is anyone else thinking about the Jetsons right now?

Back in Space Quest X, the Latex Babes drop Roger off near the mall entrance, then rush off to do shopping of their own. In the rush, one of them drops her ATM card on the ground and I happily pick it up. Roger is still mostly pantsless after his little misunderstanding with the ladies in the last section, and I suspect that I will have to fix that sooner or later.

My plan for right now is to circle clockwise around the mall and explore each of the shops in turn. From my dim childhood recollections, I think it is a circle so that should be a good a plan as any.

What kind of mall has window dancers?

The first shop on the left is a women’s clothing store with dancing women in the windows. The clothes look vaguely 80s-meets-futuristic-chic, but honestly I’m not much of a judge of these things. But before I can get into the store to see what I can see, I realize the first thing I do not like about this section: the conveyor belts suck.

Rather than letting you walk around like a normal person, the mall is equipped with moving walkways with the walkway on the inside going clockwise and the one on the outside going counter-clockwise. Maybe it is my speed settings, but the conveyors are too fast and it’s quite difficult to cross from the inside belt to the outside to actually visit the stores. Roger can (very slowly) walk against the belt to get into a store that he has passed already, but with random shoppers coming down the way it is very easy to get blocked. Just getting into the first store was a challenge and I ended up looping back to the start once just to get back on the right belt. In retrospect, maybe it would have been easier to explore the mall counter-clockwise. Two attempts later, I manage to get into the store!

Oh, my goodness. It is the future 80s!

Inside of “Sacks” (an obvious parody of “Saks Fifth Avenue”) is a robot clerk, more dancing girls, and plenty of clothes. I talk to the clerk to see if there is anything I can buy, and even try my ATM card on her, but both to no avail. I can’t seem to get any of the clothes, either. If there is something to do here, I don’t see it yet.

Where’s the hoverboard rental?

Just opposite the clothing store is the entrance to the “Skate-O-Rama”, a zero-gravity roller skating rink or hoverboard park of some variety. There are lots of kids having fun, none of whom I can interact with. Since Roger doesn’t have any skates or boards or whatever, all he can do is sort of float limply and “swim” around the rink. I can cross to the other side, but otherwise there is nothing obvious to do here, either. Perhaps I come back after I find a place to rent equipment? Or is the only purpose a funny shortcut back to the other side of the mall?

Arcade: Noun. A covered passageway with arches along one or both sides.
See? You learned something today.

The next shop in my exploration of the mall is the video arcade! You don’t see many of them around anymore, but I remember as a kid always dreaming of the time when my parents would take me to one so I could blow quarters on Nintendo games. My very first NES was purchased after my grandfather realized how many quarters I was blowing on “Super Mario Brothers” and he calculated that it was cheaper just to buy the whole system. Capitalism works!

You know what this arcade needs? Terrible pizza.

Inside the arcade is two rows of games, most of which have alien children already enjoying themselves. On the left side, there is also a stage of some kind, or perhaps a platform for a game that is not there yet. There only seems to be two games in the place unoccupied, plus a change machine. I check out the first game on the left: It’s Ms. Astro Chicken! How could I have forgotten about Astro Chicken?

I want to make an obscure reference to “An Egg Scramble” (1950), the first Looney Tunes cartoon to feature Miss Prissy, but no one would get it and I’d feel bad. Just Google it.

I give the machine some of my money and the game begins. In the previous Astro Chicken game (from Space Quest III), the goal was to land your chicken safely on a target and in return you get a message that leads you on the rest of your mission. Ms. Astro Chicken is not like that at all: you guide your chicken through an obstacle course of fences, dogs, and farmers that shoot at you. You can drop egg-bombs on them which scores some points, but you only have ten eggs to start and I am not sure how to get more. I’m not sure if I need to reach a certain high score this time, but after playing for a while and having nothing happen except my gradually forgetting the plot of the game I am actually playing, I give up. It’s a nice diversion, but that may be all it is. A shame, but I suppose the developers would not want to copy off themselves more than necessary. I stopped the game with 36 points. If I need to play again to get a higher score later, I will.

No. Apparently not.

Taking a look at the change machine (which I did not have to use to play the game), I accidentally use the “hand” icon twice and the game interpreted that as Roger trying to steal money! Honestly, I had not even thought of that and it’s another reminder that when you reduce the number of verbs in the game down to essentially “use”, things happen that the player does not expect. Of course, this game also has “smell” and “lick”, but I haven’t found much that those are useful for yet. In any event, Roger tried to rob the change machine and so the natural happened: Roger was arrested and spent the rest of the game in jail on a misdemeanor theft charge? No! Roger was KILLED. Talk about judicial excess.

That is my first death of this play-session! I suppose I shouldn’t be too happy, but I restore back and resume my exploration of the mall where I left off.

You, sir, have a bright future in basketball.

The next store in my parade of capitalism is the “Big and Tall” store which, regretfully does not have an entrance that quite satisfies the needs of its clientele: as soon as Roger enters the screen, a tall alien manages to take out the top of the door with his head. Ouch! Roger is neither big nor tall, but let’s see what the store has to offer anyway.

You have no idea.

Immediately on entering, Roger is greeted by a helpful robot who wants to sell him some clothes. Expecting a rejection, either because I do not have enough money or because Roger is not tall enough, I go through with buying a pair of pants. Surprisingly, the whole deal goes off without a hitch. However much money I have, I guess it was enough! This means that Roger has pants now, although I have not yet found any reason that Roger would need them except to be fashionable and not have cold legs. I suppose time traveling space heroes should at least dress the part.

It’s been almost an entire game since I’ve had a Monolith Meal...

The next store on my grand tour is the Monolith Burger, yet another carry-over from Space Quest III. It’s actually great to feel that Space Quest is building a consistent universe; I do not remember any carry-overs from the first two Space Quest games, but I may have forgotten something (Admin's note: Sludge Vohaul, perhaps?).

Aha! This is where I needed pants, right?

This Monolith Burger is practically closed: you cannot buy anything because they have no one to make any of the food. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be social commentary, but why exactly is the manager unable to cook anything himself? Well, no matter because he clearly sees my innate line-cooking skills and offers me a job on the spot. The whole saving-the-future thing is overrated anyway, right? I’m sure I can eke out a minimum wage existence in my own future.
Joking aside, the game does something really nice at this point: it lets me skip the minigame! I am prompted to either play the game or just take the money. Because I am in this for the full experience, I want to play the game, but I have to say that I really like the option to skip. This also suggests that Ms. Astro Chicken is only a fun aside rather than plot-related as I would otherwise have had to option to skip that as well, no? 

Hardcore arcade action!

In this mini-game, Roger has to make hamburgers as quickly as he can. There is a conveyor belt where partially-formed burgers come out one end and into a packing system at the other end. In the middle is my job: lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard. I have to apply all of the condiments to the burger before it gets packed. Miss any and the burger is rejected; have too many rejected and you are fired. Easy as that!

The game isn’t too bad, but I had a few speed challenges. When I started I still had the speed setting that I used to get past the game’s timing problems (see the note on the previous post for an explanation), but that made it all but unplayable as the burgers careened down the conveyor faster than I could consistently deal. I adjusted the speed down to around the game’s default and that gave me a much better experience. I could have made it even slower, but that felt a bit like cheating. Cheaters never prosper.

One delicious burger, ready for our customers!

The more you play, the faster the conveyor gets. But even as it was getting faster, I never felt myself having much of a challenge with the game, but my wrists were killing me. I’m using a trackpad instead of a mouse and the repetitive motion was starting to ache. After five more, I give up and deliberately lose before my hand falls off. Just like in the real world, it’s possible to injure yourself with a repetitive stress injury. The good news is that I have 35 more Buckazoids and I’m still not quite sure what I am collecting them for! If I need more, I can always either play again (if it lets you), or restore.

After I fail, my boss kicks me out of the store and back into the mall proper. He also throws a partially finished cigar at me, but it lands on one of the moving walkways and we watch as it slowly makes its way off the screen. Yeah, yeah, I get the hint. Once I move again, I follow the cigar down the walkway to the mall entrance and pick it up.

Sometimes love don’t feel like it should.

My next stop on my tour of the Galaxy Galleria mall is “Hz. So Good”, a store that I remember from my childhood as being adjusted in the CD-ROM version. The original, I believe, was called “Radio Shock” and a certain bankrupt merchandise retailer didn’t like that so much. Well, jokes on you Radio Shock because Sierra outlived… er… yeah, nevermind.

Just like the Monolith Burger, you can’t really explore this store in the classic “adventure game” sort of way. Instead, you get to navigate a text menu that is strapped to the front of a robot. How futuristic!

Do you have any CueCats?

There are a ton of items in the menu system, divided into “Specials”, “Electronic Gadgets”, “Electronic Mommy”, and “TechnoTot Toy Dept.” Unfortunately, almost every one of the items is listed as discontinued or otherwise unavailable. I can only find three items that it looks like you can buy:
  • Under “Specials”, the “Re-Shrinkwrap 2000” for 1033 Buckazoids. It is listed as “Dealers Only”, but perhaps there is a way to become a dealer?
  • Under “Electronic Gadgets”, a “PocketPal Portable Terminal” for 3406 Buckazoids. I already have one, so I doubt that I will need to buy this one.
  • Also under “Electronic Gadgets”, a “PocketPal Connector”. The item description suggests that this is what I will need: “If you are a proud owner of our ever-popular PocketPal Portable Terminal, you have no doubt noticed that, without the proper connector, it is virtually useless.” It is 1999 Buckazoids.
No, I hadn’t noticed yet! But I bet I would have noticed soon!

Maybe I can find a connector in some burned out hovercar someplace, too.
The very final store in the mall is a software store, but before I go in I notice that there is also an ATM outside. Well, now I know what I can do with my ATM card! I try to use the card in the machine and rather than prompting me for a password, it scans me in someplace and I am given a “hint” that I do not noot like a blond woman. This looks like a new puzzle and I have some good ideas how to approach it, but let’s finish our exploration of the mall first and then come back around.

Did You Know: In the 20th century, you had to go to stores like these to purchase software.

Before I go inside, I need to pause for a second and talk about the music: outside the store, the background music changes to a medley of Sierra soundtracks. I immediately recognize the Quest for Glory theme and others are familiar, but I do not have a very good ear for this sort of thing, especially as I often play with the sound off so as not to disturb anyone. For a fine selection of vintage CAPs, can anyone name the rest of the theme tunes?

Is this a commentary on Ken Williams’s original business plan?

The store itself is pretty empty, but there are a few items in the bargain bin that we can check out. Naturally, each of the titles seems to be a parody of a game popular at the time that Space Quest IV came out. Some of them are pretty obvious, while others are more obscure. Let’s take a look what’s inside:

Searching through the bin, I find the following classics of future video gaming:
  • “BOOM” - Clearly a take on Loom, which we just played in the blog not so long ago.
  • “Where in the World is Hymie Lipschitz” - An ethnicity- and gender-swapped version of the Carmen Sandiego games? I loved those games as a kid, but it seems that the last one came out in 2001. Hit it, Rockapella!
  • “Sim Sim” - A simulator simulator! Probably more interesting than “The Sims”
  • “King’s Quest XXXVIII: Quest for Disk Space” - An amazing future King’s Quest game (by Roberta Williams III) featuring King Graham dealing with his condo association. It takes 12 gigabytes of storage which must have seemed impossibly large in 1991, but not unusual for a big-budget console game today.
  • “Chuck Eggers Advanced Chicken Simulator” - An Astro Chicken version of the Chuck Yeager flight simulators that were popular back in the day. The last one of these came out in 1991. 
  • “Checkerboard Construction Set” - Wow. I have no idea about this one. “Bard’s Tale Construction Set” was released around the same time as SQ4, so that could be it. 
  • “It Came For Dessert” - I have absolutely no idea on this one at all.
It seems that if you have the Buckazoids, you can buy one of these fine games, but I didn’t actually try. Maybe I’ll go back and try it again later. Why not? Because of the only non-game item in the bargain bin: a Space Quest IV hintbook!

“Boy, how stupid could I have been? A moron could’ve figured that out.” - Oh yes, I’ve said that many times recently. (Curse you, Mission Asteroid for being so obvious yet so difficult!)

At a mere five Buckazoids, the hintbook is a steal. I vaguely remember having these for some Sierra titles as a kid, but I don’t remember how they worked. This one at least lets you read through headings for possible plot elements in the game and you can use a special pen to reveal the answers to each one. In the real world, they would sprinkle in fake scenarios into these books so you would not be spoiled too much, but of course this one consists primarily of fake hints.
Except, that isn’t exactly true! One of the questions is “I’m in the stupid Time Pod. Where else can I go?” and one of the answers is a partially obscured time code!

If only real life came with a hint book.

Something tells me that I can merge that time code with the one I found in the gum wrapper to get to Ulence Flats. And that information would be somewhat more useful if I actually could get back to a time pod. Oh well, I’ll just file that away for later! The rest of the answers in the book are funny, but none of them stand out as being relevant to the actual game. I have also recently ordered the real Space Quest IV hintbook and will do a comparison with this fake one. If I find anything interesting, I’ll include that in an upcoming post, assuming that it arrives on time.

And with that, I have made the full circuit and visited every shop! This seems like a good a time as any to close out this week’s post. I have a few leads to follow and next time I will try to get the Pocket Pal Connector, but I have no idea at this point how to get back to the time pod. Do the Latex Babes just come pick you back up? Do I find a new one? I guess we’ll find out when we get there. This has been a really fun segment and it seems that the Two Guys had a lot of fun building all of the parody here. I hope the rest of the game maintains this energy!

Deaths: 1 (40 total)
Inventory: Pocket Pal (with battery), Unstable Ordnance, Bunny (sans Battery), Jar of Goo, 67 Buckazoids, Gum Wrapper, a hint book, a cigar, and an ATM card.

Time played: 1:25
Total time: 6:00

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!

Science Fiction References Contest!

Andy_Panthro has kindly agreed to donate a game to the commenter that posts the most obscure sci-fi reference that they can find in Space Quest IV. Man, this is a game series that just takes and adapts science fiction, so it should be a lot of fun to find the little elements that I suspect I am missing. Is the sea monster from some Japanese monster movie? Are the futuristic zombies adapted from a book? Does Roger’s uniform strongly resemble one from a certain popular series? These answers or similar might win you a game, so I hope you participate.


  1. I'm not sure if you're being sarcastic about not picking up the reference to "It Came From (The) Desert"...

    When I replayed SQ4 a short while ago - the main reason I'm not playing along with you - I recall that the burger creation minigame was oodles and oodles easier played on keyboard with the arrow keys. Just pointing it out in case you're thinking about giving the game a stern mental glare for it.

    1. Wow. "It Came From The Desert" completely slipped my mind, probably because I never played it as a kid and we are not playing it on the blog (as far as I know).

      I may play around with the arrow keys if I replay that section, but I'm already past it in both the CD-ROM and floppy versions, so probably not.

  2. And frankly, I think Hz. So Good is a much better joke than Radio Shock, so the censors did some good on this occasion.

    1. They wasted the name. A shop called Hz. So Good should be selling sci-fi-themed BDSM gear.

  3. You also hear the King's Quest music at the software store sometimes

    1. Pretty sure there's a brief bit of the Leisure Suit Larry theme too.

  4. I believe you need to be wearing pants to get hired at Monolith Burger (or that's what my 20 year old memory is telling me).

    1. Ah, just noticed you mentioned that in the caption. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's right. Or maybe it was the lack of shoes (that's what the sign mentions).

  5. (Admin's note: Sludge Vohaul, perhaps?)

    Unfair -- that's a bit of a retcon: the scientist in SQ1 is Slash Vohaul, and I still have only a very vague understanding of how this dead helpful NPC turns into a living antagonist in #2.

    “Checkerboard Construction Set”

    This was actually a phenomenon, starting with Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set... EA released a number of them, culminating in the Bard's Tale one.

    (There actually was an Adventure Construction Set, but it generated what Stuart Smith considered adventures, somewhat of a dead branch of the genre.)

    you can use a special pen to reveal the answers to each one

    This is, incidentally, exactly how the Infocom InvisiClue hint books worked.

    (Bonus gaming trivia: the inventor of the InvisiClues, Michael Dornbrook, who started up as a dedicated Zork fan filling a market need, ended up being the producer of the "Guitar Hero" series.)

    1. For the record, I considered Mr. Vohaul (and even Xenon) as a bit obvious. I was referring to other elements of the universe.

    2. Yeah, it was perhaps a bit cheap to mention Vohaul. But otherwise it's very difficult to point out any recurring elements from previous games, at this point of SQ4 (you'll see something else later). SQ3 already had some elements from the previous games, like Orat, the monster of SQ1, that was sold on a stick at Pestulon.

    3. It's no retcon. Sludge Vohaul is Slash's evil clone. This is all explained with Slash's dying breath in the original SQ1.

  6. Screenshot of Hz So Good is shown twice (I think the second time is supposed to be the software store exterior).

    I don't think that's necessarily a commentary on Ken Williams' business plan - it was a real experience I remember having almost any time I visited a software store in a mall as a child in the late 80s/early 90s. Looking around for cool games, but all they had was boring financial or word processing software, lame!

    1. Yeah. It's right in the original doc, must be a cut-and-paste error.

    2. My mistake, now it should be correct.

  7. It was a bit ironic that a game, for which I bought for the first and only time a hint book, had a hint book as an in-game plot element. At least with the SQ4 hint book I had, there was no pen, but a special cardboard card with a strip of red, transparent plastic, through which the hints were read.

  8. As a youngster, I used to cheat to get as much money as possible at Monolith Burger. The speed setting was put all the way down, and you can use the arrow keys and enter to create the burgers. This would get you quite a few buckazoids before the game got too fast. Still not enough buckazoids for a PocketPal Terminal Connector though!

    In my current on-going playthrough: (spoilers, ROT13) V znantrq gb gevttre gur frdhry cbyvpr neevivat orsber V'q npghnyyl znantrq gb npuvrir nalguvat bs abgr va gur znyy, bgure guna univat ertnvarq zl gebhfref. Vg zrnag qrnyvat jvgu Fxngr-b-Enzn rneyvre guna nagvpvcngrq, ohg gunaxshyyl gur tbt irefvba unaqyrq vg jryy naq V rfpncrq ba zl frpbaq nggrzcg.

  9. Not sure if this is just the CD version, but I would take a moment to go back to the Monolith Burger arcade game and have a good look (and smell and taste), you might be pleasantly surprised!

  10. >when you reduce the number of verbs in the game down to essentially “use”,
    >things happen that the player does not expect

    This is one of my major gripes with overly simple point&click interfaces - the game easily degenerates to "mindlessly click on everything". Had this happen in Tesla Effect for example.