Friday 8 May 2015

Game 54: Space Quest IV - Roger Wilco’s Bogus Journey

By Joe Pranevich

Roger Wilco’s Janitorial Log #1 - Time: the final frontier. These are the thoughts that were running through my head as I jumped through a “rip” in time to flee some murderous-looking robots. Who was that handsome young lad that pushed me into the rip? I have no idea, but some day I will have to thank him. I landed back home, Xenon, but not the Xenon I remember. This one has been destroyed by an evil AI hidden inside a copy of Leisure Suit Larry. Judging by the subtitle, this must be the work of my arch nemesis, Sludge Vohaul. With a bit of can-do Wilco attitude, I snuck into a patrol ship and nicked my very own time pod. Time to begin my long voyage home.

Reminds me of a certain cantina I could name.

We begin our story right where Space Quest III left off, albeit with better music and a more expansive color pallet. Roger dropped the Two Guys from Andromeda off on Earth to design adventure games for Sierra On-Line and now he’s returning to Xenon. Of course, there’s no hurry right? He has plenty of time to stop off at a neighborhood space-bar and throw back a few. What Roger doesn’t realize is that we’ve now started Space Quest IV and a group of unknown villains are tracking his whereabouts. They have found him at his dive bar and are ordered by their mysterious boss to go after Wilco

Is that space-Gandalf in the corner?

Of course, Roger is oblivious. He’s relaxing and telling the tales of his exploits from previous games to anyone that will listen, just as long as he pays for the drinks. The villains enter the bar, heavily armored and possibly robotic police officers. They identify Wilco and lead him outside at gunpoint.

So this isn’t about those parking tickets?

But Roger is not alone! Looking over the situation is a group of rag-tag freedom fighter-looking people. Because villains are required by contract to monologue before killing their prey, the police officers show Roger a hologram of Sludge Vohaul who reveals that he a) survived Space Quest II and b) still wants to kill him. Before the police can execute Roger, the rag-tag freedom fighter-looking people attack, rescuing Roger… at least for now. One of the men is sent away as a distraction while the other takes Roger away with him.

Excuse me... What are you doing with that hairdryer?

But there is no time to explain what is going on as the police robots have caught back up already. The stranger creates a “time rift” for Roger and tells him to jump in. Roger does as he is told and is soon flying through a technicolor vortex.

It was red and yellow and green and brown, and scarlet and black and ochre and peach...

When Roger emerges, he is no longer in Space Quest IV. Rather, he has jumped ahead eight installments to Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge II. It’s a dismal post-apocalyptic world with orange skies and imposing architecture. Most importantly, the opening sequence is over and I can play the game!

How dismal. Wait, isn’t this game supposed to be a comedy?

Wow. This breaks back memories! Or parts of memories, anyway. The interface is immediately familiar to me from my Sierra days and only slightly different from what we just saw in Kings Quest V: walk, look use, talk, smell, and taste. There is also an icon to let me access my inventory (a buckazoid!) and another slot where I can manipulate an inventory item on the screen. It’s all very straight-forward and familiar, like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. I walk around a few screens just to get my bearings and… surprise!... Roger is approached by none other than the Energizer bunny. A few neurons fire in my brain and I vaguely remember that I need its battery for something, so there must be a way to catch it. I try to chase the thing, but the game helpfully lets me know that it “won’t go anywhere near you”. Something to figure out as I continue exploring.

Are they still making Energizer Bunny commercials?

The path to the big fortress in the background is blocked by rubble, as is any travel to the south. I really just have access to the area around one intersection. On the eastern side, there is a grate next to some dried sludge of some kind. I click just to see if something is down there, but Roger opens it up instead and I find myself in a room underground. There is no way back up, so I’ll keep exploring for now, but I am pretty sure I did not explore the whole area above. I have been playing so many older games lately that I forgot one of the key difficulties of these graphical interfaces: a lack of verbs. Click somewhere and see what it does! It makes the game much more accessible to new players and you do not have to spend time trying to guess what word the author wants you to use, but it leads to cases like this one where you do something by accident.

This grate leads you down to…

… a secret room!

The underground room seems to be an office of some kind, with a pad (transporter?), a secured door, and a table. On the table is an empty jar (which I pocket) and a blotter. I have no idea what a blotter is, but when I move it I find a button. Pressing that button reveals that the “transporter” pad is actually a hologram projector. It proceeds to give me a ton of exposition:

In the future, the people of Xenon build a supercomputer but accidentily infect it with a virus hidden in a copy of Leisure Suit Larry that they found floating in space. The virus takes over, announces that “Wilco Must Die!”, and proceeded to conquer the world, leaving only a few cyborgs and rag-tag resistance movements. Now the computer has mastered the art of time travel, but two resistance fighters were able to steal the tech and use it to go fetch you. You are Xenon’s only hope, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. This leaves me with two important querstions:

  1. First, why did Sludge need to go after Roger from the past? Was he already dead in Space Quest XII? That would make a pretty boring game.
  2. Second, why would the resistance fighters go after Roger at all? Sure, Sludge was after him and all, but he’s just a savior-janitor three-times over. Surely, there were others more qualified to defeat an evil super computer? By this point, King Graham and his family had saved their respective games five times. There was also a Hero I could name that would have appreciated the 256-color upgrade.

I suppose it’s good that those things happened as they did because otherwise we wouldn’t have a game.

The only exit from the room leads into the sewers and the door locks behind me, so I have to press forward. I am just starting to explore when I am chased by some seemingly-intelligent sewer-slime.

Well-camoflagued sewer slime.

I’m not sure whether my 36-year old self figured this out or if he was channeling the memories of his 16-year old self, but I get the brilliant idea to capture some of the slime in the bottle that I picked up. I select the bottle in my inventory, click on some slime, and presto! I have some slime in a bottle. Now, back to exploring.

The sewers are not much to explore, just a bunch of straight lines making a 2x2 grid with the entrance on the far east and a ladder in the far west. I make sure to hit each of the rooms individually, but before I can explore them all another batch of slime manages to catch up to me and dissolves my flesh. Game over!

I’ll stop the world and melt with you!

I restore back to the hologram room and retrace my steps, capturing the slime in the bottle again. But this time around, I guess my timing wasn’t as good because rather than capturing the slime, all I manage to do is get myself melted again. That’s death #2.

The third time, I am able both to get the slime and get to the ladder. I peek my head out of a manhole to see a ship landing not far away.

The Manhole (1988) is a game I’d like to do a Missed Classic for someday...

As I watch, four people exit the ship. Once they are away, I click on the “walk” icon and emerge into a part of the city that I did not explore before, a side street with a damaged tank. I poke my head out to explore my surroundings, but moments later some of those police officers from the intro arrive and shoot me. That makes death #3.

Barely get enough time to snap this picture before..

Dead again!

I restore back a few screens and replay, but I quickly die again for the same reason (#4). I see a hole in the side of the tank and try to check that out, but I get shot before I get there (#5). I quickly go north, but there’s a policeman waiting for me. Dead again (#6). South? There’s a broken down speeder… but also a policeman. That makes death #7. If I go east immediately, I can find the ship that the police arrived in. I get momentarily excited, that I figured out the trick, but that ends quickly as I am once again shot by quickly arriving policemen (#8).

It really seemed like I was getting somewhere...

I’m not going to make any more progress this way, so rather than die a few more times, I restart the game back to the beginning. This time around, I will explore more thoroughly before going through the grate and I hope I will find something to let me defeat the policemen. I probably just missed an item, right?

Well, it’s that or be shot at, so… yes.

After I get dumped back on the post-apocalyptic pavement again, I explore to the west and am relieved to see that the broken down speeder and the tank are connected to the area that I started in. I really did a poor job of exploring before I sent myself down that grate the last time, but no matter. My first stop is the crashed speeder in the southwest corner.

I hope they had insurance

Looking at the ship reveals a glove compartment containing a “pocket pal laptop”. The thing is huge! I guess in the future, laptops will become bigger and heavier as a means of treating the obesity epidemic. Makes sense, I suppose. I try to use it, but am told that it is “just a dumb terminal”, whatever that means. The side of the laptop has a slot which triggers one of my childhood memories: this is where the bunny’s battery goes! All the more reason to capture the bunny… if I could only remember (or figure out) how. Next stop is one screen to the north: the wrecked tank. When I peer into the hole in the side that I found earlier, I see some “unstable ordnance” and I pick that up too. I explore the rest of the screens as well, but the only other item immediately visible is a battered piece of rope in the southeast corner. Every good adventure game needs a piece of rope, right?

While I am exploring, I come across two new obstacles but thankfully they are less aggressive than the policemen: zombies and robots.

Need braiiiiinns… but youuu will doooo...

Nomad, is that you?

Fortunately, the only thing you need to deal with these annoyances are to walk very slowly and deliberately away from them. Not to compare Roger with a certain Hero I could name, but this game could really use a “run” option. A leisurely stroll away from man-eating zombies just doesn’t seem to be the best approach. Before I finish and head back into the sewers (with no obvious means of defeating the policemen found), I check if there is any way that I can interact with either of the monsters. I try the zombies first.

Uncle Zombie wants YOU to donate your brain.

When I approach the zombie, I get a brilliant close up. But before I can do anything, he screams and alerts the robot guards who come and shoot me. That’s #9, but at least this time I was pretty sure I knew what I was getting into. I also try to interact with the robot, including blowing it up with the unstable ordnance, but that line of thought just wins me deaths #10 and #11. Oh well. Time to go back to the sewers!

I confidently march to the sewer entrance and descend through the grate to the underground room. And then… boom. Apparently the fall into the room is deadly, if you are carrying high explosives. Who knew? There goes life #12.

Man, I wish I was made of liquid metal right about now.

Since I cannot go into the sewers with the unstable ordnance, I can conclude one of three things:
  1. I missed something to do with the ordnance while exploring before descending into the sewer
  2. I missed a way to pick up the ordnance after returning from the sewer
  3. The ordnance is a red herring.
Since I got shot an awful lot trying to get to the tank earlier, I suspect that it is either options one or three. I elect to explore everything over again to find anything that I might have missed. In the process, I suffer death #13: I walked smack into a robot of death while changing screens. Oops.

I put the game away for a bit and come back to it with a new idea: what if I use the rope on the robot instead? I walk around at random until I find the robot and click the rope on him. Except, that does not do exactly what I expect...

Wabbit season!

Instead of capturing or destroying the robot (who just flies away, oblivious), Roger creates a lasso and throws it onto the ground. Moments later, our bunny friend comes by, walks into the loop, and then walks right back out again. I’m thrilled, but I think I just solved much of this puzzle by accident. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Capturing the bunny this way is not easy. I try thirty times and my timing is incorrect no matter when I try to click on the rope. Even if I time it so I click right before the bunny does his little spin, I still miss out on catching him. So, perhaps I have the right idea but the wrong location? I check out other screens for places to hide where I can throw the rope and I find one just across the street. When I try the trick there, I catch the bunny on my first attempt!

Just think of how much simpler it would have been if Roger could run...

I examine the bunny, now safely trapped in my inventory. If I “use” it while holding it, Roger turns it around and reveals its battery. I remove the battery and place it in the Pocket Pal. I have power now! But it seems I still do not have a place to use it. I will have to keep looking. I am making progress, at least...

I keep exploring, but do not find anything else to do. If there is some puzzle with the ordnance here, I cannot find it. I put the ordnance back in the tank (thankfully, it did not make me reload) and head back into the sewer. I retrace my steps and in no time at all I am back looking out of the manhole at the police ship.

Since I did not learn my lesson last time, I try to get the ordnance twice more and die each time, making deaths #14 and #15. Instead of dying a few more times, I head east and explore the landing craft again. This time around, I must have clicked somewhere better because Roger is able to board the craft! Problem solved? No. The ship is guarded and there goes life #16. On the bright side, it is a very funny death scene...

My favorite death so far!

I could narrate all the things I tried next, but that would bore you to tears. Just let it be said that I tried some things, failed at some things, and suffered deaths #17 through #30. But, something good did come out of this: I figured out how to get the ordnance! If I go east to the ship but immediately turn around to go back to the tank, I somehow confuse the police enough that I can search the tank and get the ordnance. Awesome! I still die because I do not move quickly enough (#24), but at least I figured out what to do.

Yet another pointless death.

While saving my game after picking up the ordnance, I discover what I think is a bug: the timer doesn’t stop while you are saving. As soon as I finish saving, a police man comes and I die even though I know I should have more time. Just as bad, you also get shot immediately after restoring. Should we deduct points for a game that penalizes saving your game? Perhaps. But for now let’s just know that I suffered deaths #25 and #26 because of this little quirk and ended up having to save my game easier so as to not get stuck.

Thinking that it might help, I turn down the game speed. My thinking is that with slower speed, my own reaction times will be better and maybe I can get moving before the police arrive. But to my shock, reducing the speed makes things WORSE (and causes death #31). With the speed reduced, I cannot even walk across the room before the police arrive and I die. Does anyone know if this is a DosBox bug or an issue with the original game? Instead of turning the speed down, I crank it all the way up until Roger power-walks at Mach 1 every time you click and that works! I can now accomplish a ton more before the police come. This just has to be a bug.

With that brilliant idea in hand, I can explore a bit more with the police running around and can even pick up the ordnance. I’m not perfect, I still died three more times (#32 through #34), but that’s better than accomplishing nothing. My next brilliant idea is to blow up the ship using the ordnance, but I hit on a better solution (again!) by accident: clicking on a different part of the ship allows me to hide with the landing gear. The ship takes off and I am delivered to the building that I could see in the distance. Time for a nice cinematic!

Kids today and their fancy animated GIFs don’t have anything on me.

Now that Roger has successfully made it into Vohaul’s base, I think this is as good a place as any to end this segment. Thus far, I am disappointed that I solved two of the puzzles more or less by accident, plus the timer issue (if it is not specific to DosBox) is a real game-breaker. But on the bright side, I am loving the graphics and the attention to detail. Even the music seems right for the locale. My brain is awash with childhood memories and I’m looking forward to seeing where Roger Wilco is headed next.

Deaths: 34

Inventory: Pocket Pal (with battery), Unstable Ordnance, Bunny (sans Battery), Jar of Goo, and one Buckazoid.

Time played: 3:00
Total time: 3:00

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!


  1. The CD Rom Version of SQ4 has massive timer problems. The Skate-O-Rama scene is especially difficult. I think I needed about 200 tries. Here you can find a patch that might help. I don't think it can be considered cheating. The Game just isn't playable on modern computers without it.

    1. Unless I get stuck, I am going to try to keep playing this version. This patch also requires you to restart the game ("Don't use previous saved games.") and I do not want to do that unless I *really* need to.

  2. Same timer issues using ScummVM, but before reading this I hadn't noticed it ws a problem. I just thought it was an insane level of difficulty.

  3. I see you have properly embraced the "Learn By Dying" process of puzzling your way through a Sierra game. It's truly the only way to play.

    I spent rather a long time on this section when I was younger, even though it should really be quite a short section. It really does convey a hostile atmosphere though, but it's quickly punctured by the revelation that the disaster was caused by Leisure Suit Larry (well, sort of).

    The humour really makes this game, and we've already had Star Wars references, fourth wall breaking jokes, and a bunch of amusing death messages. I love the music too, and I seem to remember the voice-overs being better than KQ5, but I'm not sure.

    Perhaps there should be some sort of reward (a Star Wars game from Steam or for the most obscure sci-fi reference in the game as spotted by the commenters? I'm happy to donate the prize.

    I'll also be playing along, although I've been playing SQ1VGA in preparation for blogging it soon, but it won't take me long to get through SQ4 (well, unless the speed issues get me down).

    1. Thanks for donating the prize!

      Nice to know you are preparing for SQ1 remake. You might want to send some e-mail to the address on the left column, near the time when the blogging would begin, so we can discuss how you want to send the posts to admin.


    I have to say that I don't think I actually died this many times in my original playthrough back in the day. I was EXTREMELY frustrated in the later part that Gregory Brown has noted - that took the majority of my deaths in and of itself - but on the original hardware (I was playing on a 486 DX) it wasn't quite so heartless.

    1. I played the original floppy version with an old 386 and I never noticed any timer issues - I think I had to try twice to get to the enemy ship. Of course, I didn't really try exploring at that time (I had done that before going in sewers and the game really appears to nudge you going toward the ship. Of course, I was already familiar with the SQ gaming mode (don't loiter around, since there's always ship about to explode or spider droid trying to hunt you), but I still feel the difficulty was quite fair.

      When I tried to play the CD-ROM version something like ten years later with whatever was premium back then, it was torture - droids appeared after two minutes without any possibility to escape them - and I didn't even make it to the sewers. This was quite common fate for many games of early 90s - they became too speedy for more modern computers (PQ 3 was another good example: driving sections became impossible, because everything speeded up so much).

    2. Reading around the internet, it seems that there is some belief that the timer issues are related t the CD-ROM version and not the disk version, although your experiences come to the same end without reaching the same conclusion.

      I am going to search for a copy of the disk version and see if I can replicate the issue with the same DosBox settings.

    3. Well, let me put this to rest: the CD-ROM (and the version is bugged. I found the original floppy version using Google (hooray for piracy? this is for journalism, besides I own the game three times over at this point) and did a simple test right after you come out of the manhole. I made sure that DosBox and game speed settings were identical between the two versions.

      On the floppy version, you can stand around in that room for 50 seconds before Sequel Police come in from the top of the screen and kill you. You even get a few seconds after they first appear before they turn and shoot, giving you slightly more time to get the hell out of there.

      On the CD-ROM (and version, you are killed in 8 seconds from a laser fired from off the screen to the right. You never even see the sequel police.

      I can only conclude that the CD-ROM version is broken. I am considering just restarting from scratch on the floppy version (which is the 1991 version anyway). Any thoughts for or against that? The graphics and sound (plus the dialog) makes the CD-ROM the better choice, but I'm going to dock points for the game being so unplayable without adjusting the game speed.

      While doing this, I noticed that the process for getting the slime is *slightly* different in the floppy version because you have to stand and wait rather than click on the slime from afar. There may be other very small changes between the versions.

    4. I'd vote for the floppy version, since it is far more playable. The floppy version also contains an additional copy protection, but that shouldn't be a problem.

    5. It is not my intention to start a flame, but why would you consider piracy downloading a 24 year old game with the purpose of writing some historical articles wthout any monetary profit as oposed to what GOG does? Which to my mind can be called piracy in its own right:if I am right they use community driven projects such as Dosbox and ScummVM or fixes to particular games and then sell them in bundles with old games. How much of these sales goes to the game makers, to the fixes makers, to the project makers? Yes, it may be legal, but it is also ethical? Just some thoughts that may start an interesting discussion.

    6. We all have our own sense of morality and I do not intend to push my views on others. However, because you asked: I will never download a game for free that I can buy. If it's on GOG, regardless of whether or not the creators are compensated, that means that I buy it on GOG if I want to play it. It's only a few bucks anyway and the service they offer is very worth it. (I think I have 200+ games on GOG right now, most of which I haven't played... but those sales are very appealing...)

      So that meant when it came to playing SQ4, I paid for it. But games that I reviewed for this site that were not available commercially, I did not pay for. But the day "Operation Stealth" becomes for-sale in a digital form (or the Marvel games, etc.), I will buy them. I actually hope very much that the Hi-Res games get picked up by GOG someday as they expand their Sierra catalog.

      But this is the way that I am and I do not claim that it is the only right way, only that it is the right way for me.

      As for DosBox and ScummVM, both of them are available under the GNU Public License and explicitly allow for companies (like GOG) to redistribute them as long as their own changes are also distributed. It is just as okay for GOG to distribute those as it is for RedHat (or anyone else) to distribute the Linux kernel.

    7. I think that the raw legality of abandonware websites is essentially nil. However, I feel that were I one of the creators of the games, I wouldn't have any problem with it. The people earning out of them aren't the original developers and programmers - it's whoever owns the rights to the games we're buying. For sheer convenience I can see the argument for GOG (my collection is a similar size or bigger to Joe's) or even Steam (I played a pirated copy of Harvester a VERY long time ago and have since purchased it legally) I really don't feel the ethical dilemma myself.

      There again, the last game I played for the blog was published by Ubisoft of all places - I think they're the biggest encouragers of piracy out there. (UPlay is essentially the reason pirates still exist.)

  5. Not a reference in the game itself, but I caught that the caption of the time tunnel was a reference to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (one of my favorite musicals, along with Fiddler on the Roof).

  6. Adventure sales time:
    GOG (75% off)
    The Black Mirror:
    Jack Keane 2:
    The Book of Unwritten Tales:
    (not played any of them, so can't comment on quality)

    Humble Store:
    Grim Fandango Remastered (35% off):
    Broken Age (50%):
    Machinarium (54%):
    Tex Murphy complete (70%):

    and they've also recently re-released three of the Star Trek adventure games, which I always wanted to play but never did. Perhaps I will when we reach them (surely not too far off?). No special sale though, but I'm sure they'll be on sale soon enough.

  7. We are Not Quite Black and White, a small indie game company based in Glasgow, Scotland, asked me to mention, that they are announcing an upcoming new pixel art point and click adventure game, This is No Time for Games. Here's a link to their website:

    1. Wow... website looks pretty. If the game has that amount of artistic talent in it, they have my Space Credits in their hands.

  8. Wow. If the bunny wasn't captured, it'd have probably just kept going... and going... and going...

  9. “just a dumb terminal”, whatever that means.

    Imagine a keyboard and monitor, connected by very, very long cables to a computer several buildings (or towns) away. A dumb terminal just contains what it needs to take input and deliver output, but all of the actual computing is done on the other end of a connection.

    1. And that is something that audiences of the time would get right away. Today it would probably be a message about a lack of WiFi.

  10. Wow, I had no idea that you could get the ordnance and get onto the ship. Hopefully it won't cause any issues down the road.

    Ah well, you learn something new every day...

    1. Same here. I thought it was just a silly red herring. I think you even get points for putting it back, such that you *have* to pick it up and put it back to get maximum points.

    2. Perhaps so, but I had no way to know it wouldn't be needed. The Sierra motto is "pick up everything not nailed down" and that company is famous for having endgame sequences that require obscure stuff from the beginning of the game to complete.

  11. The speed setting changes your walking speed, not game speed.

  12. Wow. Those outdoor post-apoc scenes are very pretty. Too bad the rest of the game can't match it.

  13. Those screenshots are making me want a post-apoc adventure game. Imagine one where you have to go into a ruined city to retrieve some supplies, with this type of art. You could have multiple paths to the end. Do you create a trap for the deathbot in the street, or do you rig up a way of moving from building to building without going down to the ground where the deathbot is. How do you get across the room without the floor collapsing, etc. Lots of multiple use items that you can use in different ways if you are clever. Serious, but cheerful plot.

    1. Cheerful post-apocalyptic? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?

    2. From memory, Beneath a Steel Sky kind of fits the bill.

      Disclaimer: My memory may bear little relation to the actual game

    3. Beneath a Steel Sky was pretty good, but still had the trademark Adventure Game Sillyness in it. I'd like something along those lines, but with more an Andre Norton level of seriousness. (Ok, I want Daybreak 2250 A.D. the adventure game.

  14. Here is an idea that would be the best of parsers and GUI: Radial menu. You hit a key, intractable items highlight. You click one, a radial menu of verbs appears. You hit a verb, and possibly more options appear.

    1. You could even have it fill in the sentence on the bottom of the screen.