Saturday, 13 June 2015

Game 54: Space Quest IV - Epilogue: Marmota Monax Die

By Joe Pranevich

“Oh God. Another Space Quest IV post…”

When I was a young boy, I fell in love with the “Prydain Chronicles”, a series of young-audience fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander. Most people only remember this series for “The Black Cauldron” which became a Disney animated film in 1985, as well as a game that the Trickster reviewed on this very blog. But while most kids would read a series they loved from beginning to end as quickly as possible, I did just the opposite: I made the books take forever. I read and re-read each in the series, savoring each one. I delayed reading the final book in the series, “The High King” for years because I did not want the series to end. Until I got to that last page, Taran and his friends could always have new adventures. But once I read it, that would be “the end”.

Space Quest IV isn’t quite that kind of high-art, and I am a long way from being a ten-year old, but we have a few exciting things to share as we close out this game, arguably the best of the Space Quest series, and one of my personal favorites. I have enjoyed this game and I hope you do mind that I take some time this week to savor the experience and share a few things I’ve learned before we move onto the next one.

The Real Hint Book

“Space Quest IV: The Hint Book”

The “Space Quest IV Hint Book” is undoubtedly one of the most important items in the game, the key to unlocking two major puzzles, and a fantastic cross-promotional opportunity. It is even mentioned in the manual. I could not let my look at Space Quest IV end without getting my hands on this rare 90s treasure, the actual hint book for the game.

In their heyday, Sierra offered these hint books for many of their games. Just judging by the order form in the back, they had books for all of the games in their big serieses: King’s Quest, Quest for Glory, Leisure Suit Larry, and many others. Many of these books are quite rare today and I have only been able to track down a handful, all above my price-range. Amazon lists a King’s Quest IV hint book right now at $45 for example, and the Space Quest IV one wasn’t that much less than that. But for you guys, posterity, and my own personal curiosity, it was worth every penny!

I have no idea about the others, but this book gives hints using the “red scribble” technique. Each of the hints look something like this:

My Gimp/Photoshop skills are insufficient to find a way to read this.

Back in the day, the hint book would come with a a piece of rectangular red plastic that you could use to read the hints one line at a time. The black and white circles to the left of each line would tell you if the particular hint ended on that line or continued on. That way, you could avoid getting any more spoilers than you absolutely intended.

My used copy of the hint book long since lost its red clue viewer, but my wife is amazing and she found me a solution in our tupperware drawer:

I would never have thought of this on my own. Seriously, she’s awesome.

Using my trusty tupperware lid, I could more or less read some of the clues, but I did not find a way to scan them that way so you will just have to take my word for it. I had beaten the game by this point, so I did not need the hints.

Unlike the in-game hint book, the majority of the questions relate to the game itself, though there are one or two red herrings. They also do a nice job of separating out general hints at the beginning of the book and a more explicit walkthrough at the end. This presumably allowed the very stuck to get unstuck, while being a bit more subtle for those that just needed a gentle nudge in the right direction. Rounding out the main portion of the book were a series of maps of every location in the game, with annotations where each and every item can be found.

This map has an error. CAPs for the first person to spot it!

But more than just hints, the book offers two sets of extras that I have not seen anywhere else. Most important, the book contains a great collection of pre-production artwork from the game which gives you a tiny peek into the processes that went into putting it all together.

An early design for the look of the “Time Rippers”.

I particularly found this look at the “Time Rippers” to be insightful. The designers actually made “character sheets” on all of the NPCs in the game and while in retrospect that may be typical of the genre, it was a bit of a revelation for me. But how can you tell how many hit points they have?

The last bit from the hint book is a short interview with the Two Guys from Andromeda made shortly after the game was released. Of course, this book is promotional material and I wouldn’t put too much stock in honest answers here, it was a very nice inclusion.

I won’t reproduce it here, especially as we have our own interview coming up in just a couple of days, but some other intrepid Space Quest fan has transcribed it to his own blog and you can read it over there, if you like. Just come back here when you are done.

In addition to this hint book, Sierra also released two other “hint” books that included Space Quest IV: “The Official Guide to Roger Wilco Space Adventures” (1991) and “The Space Quest Companion” (1993). I have ordered both, but they have not yet arrived. From what I can tell, they both contain prose descriptions of the games from Roger’s point of view with hints and other information. Mark Crowe may have contributed to the second (at least according to the Space Quest Wiki) and if I learn anything important from either of the books, I will try to include it in the Final Rating post.

Easter Eggs

I did not discover them during my normal playthrough, but there are two fairly famous “easter eggs” in Space Quest IV involving the time pod. The first is that if you enter a particular time code, your pod can tune in to a fragment of the “I Love Lunacy” show! Very fun and very pointless.


The second and perhaps more interesting Easter egg is that you can briefly visit Space Quest III during Roger’s travels. Unlike the other games that Roger can visit, in SQ3 he is killed immediately as he lacks the required thermal underwear. Is this just a crazy in-joke? The barest hint of another area that the Two Guys planned to include in their game? I have no idea. But there is a fully-realized death sequence, which is a bit of a surprise for an area that you cannot reach in the normal course of the game. Is the code even hidden anywhere that a player could find it?

Am I forgetting something?

I’m melting, I’m melting!

This is such an 80s joke.

Scott and Mark also revealed in their commentary (below) that there was an Easter egg hidden in the room under Xenon that could be accessed if you used a buckazoid in the right place in the corner of the room. Supposedly, this would reveal a team member’s vacation photos. If this hidden gem made it into the shipped game, I wasn’t able to reproduce it.

The Commentary

One of the great things that have come out of the recent reunion of the Two Guys from Andromeda has been the opportunity to take a look back at the four Space Quest games that they made together, and the two that they made apart. During their SpaceVenture Kickstarter, Mark and Scott recorded extended commentaries for each of the Space Quest games, while taking questions from their fans and generally having a good time reminiscing about the creation of their games.

The commentary on Space Quest IV is worth a listen. It’s more than two hours long and features the Guys watching and commenting on a speed-run of the game from beginning to end, following by a look at all of the death scenes. They do have significant technical challenges that detract from the presentation, and they do forget to read us the questions from the chat that they are answering, but the recording is a must-listen for any fans of Space Quest IV.

A photo of Gary Owens from the commentary video. I am not sure if this was taken during the recording of Space Quest IV or just a stock image.

Here are just a few of the tidbits that I took from the commentary:

  1. Mark came up with the idea for the “Time Rippers” as the next iteration of the series.
  2. Early in development, they were forced to adopt the mouse-driven interface which neither developer was particularly happy with.
  3. Development on the game was all but stopped at one point as almost all of their resources were diverted to King’s Quest 5.
  4. Scott drew around 10% of the game himself as it had grown too big for one man, but his drawings set the art direction for their team of artists to work from.
  5. Gary Owen, who recorded the narration of the game, did not own a computer and never saw any of the art assets for the scenes that he was describing. Everyone had absolutely fantastic things to say about him.
  6. Contrary to rumor, Larry Laffer does not appear in the Xenon skyline. 
  7. The design of the Time Pods was done by an ex-ILM artist who produced it as a physical model first, then adapted it into the cartoon-style of the rest of the game.
  8. Unlike the legal hassles with “Radio Shock”, the placement of the Energizer bunny was intended to be above-board and Sierra’s lawyers received permission to use the character. Unfortunately, because of a slip-up, they requested permission not from Energizer (who owned the bunny), but rather by their competition, Duracell. Naturally, Duracell was all too willing to give permission to make fun of their rival’s mascot. 
  9. The swapping of “Hertz So Good” for “Radio Shock” was done without the input or interaction of either Scott or Mark and they only found out about it much later.
  10. The Arcade was inspired by Space Mountain at Disneyland.
  11. Early well-loved computer games that may have partially inspired the Space Quest series were Edu-Ware’s “The Prisoner” (1980) and Infocom’s “Infidel” (1983), particularly in the latter’s use of death. We haven’t looked at either on this blog, nor have I played either, so I invite commenters to try to figure out what they were inspired by.
  12. They picked Space Quest X as the lowest-numbered destination because they felt it was unlikely that they would ever have that many Space Quest games. If they did make it that far, they imagined they would do something to “interrupt the time-space continuum” and hand-wave it away. 
It is a fantastic listen, if you have the time in your car and I recommend checking it out. Don’t watch the video version in your car if you are driving.

The Floppy Version

The floppy version features “dumb” copy protection!

Way back in the second Space Quest IV post, I commented on the challenges that I was having with the GOG-version of the game, based on the original CD-ROM version, and I elected to play the floppy version instead. And, I did. Sort of. After completing the Galaxy Galleria section, I went back and replayed the floppy version up to that point, then beat the game in both versions. There are a number of differences, some of which are well-documented.

Let me get the issue that was bugging me out of the way first: it seems that the timing puzzles were all rebalanced between the versions, for good and bad. I had such a hard time during the opening of the CD-ROM version that I was ready to throw the game across the room, but the floppy version was a piece of cake. (If you want to go back and read my analysis at the time, I’ll wait here.) I still maintain that the level of difficulty that was introduced has to be a bug, but that was not the only timing change. Overall in fact, I found the floppy version to be more difficult than the CD-ROM version. The timing of picking up the slime in the sewers, the escape from the Sequel Police in the mall, and avoiding the droids in Vohaul’s base were all unexpectedly easier in the CD-ROM version. My conclusion is that they intended to re-balance the game, possibly for newer computers that were coming out, but they botched it a bit. I suspect we will never know for sure.

Not only is the timing different in the mall, some of the death messages are better in the floppy version.

The other differences in the floppy version are well-documented and we’ve discussed before. “Hertz So Good” replaced Radio Shock, and even the PocketPal has been renamed. In the original, the name of the PocketPal in the close-up image is the “Dandy PocketPal”.

We promise not to sell your personal information! Really!

Other less-noticeable changes include a general smoothing of the animation, a switch to colored mouse cursors, and tweaks to a few scenes. The pterodactyl scene is shorter and less complex on the original version, for example. The ATM in the mall has no interface screen, just a couple of dialog options. The “monochrome boys”, for some reason, have color-coded bikes in the original as well. There are also changes in some of the texts, including the death texts.

Monochrome, except in accessories.

The narration is by far the best part of the CD-ROM version and it is truly amazing. Gary Owens absolutely owns the text and is the voice that I hear in my head whenever I play any of the Space Quest games. He brings just the perfect blend of sincerity and sarcasm, with a bit of an old-fashioned radio host charm that works perfectly with the pulpy subject matter of this game. If I were judging the two versions separately, this would be a huge increase in points for the CD-ROM version. I’ll discuss that a bit more in my Final Rating post, next week.

It was orange, and brown, and tan, and gold, and dirty, and mahogany...

I do have one question for our readers and that is about the Time Pod animation. When I played the CD-ROM version, it was a nice rainbow, but the floppy version was just a cycle of different shades of orange. I was all set to flag that as a version difference, but then I watched I watched the video for the commentary above and while that was clearly based on the CD version, because it had the narration, it also had a yellow travel animation. Is there an event or item in the game that triggers which colors you get? Or was the commentary video playing a “patched” version of the game for some reason?

An Alternate History

I would like, if I may, to delve into a little bit of speculation and fan fiction. In Space Quest IV, we traveled to the distant future of Space Quests 10 and 12. In our universe, presumably the real one, we never made it that far as the Space Quest series was cancelled during the development of its seventh installment. But thanks to the magic of completely unnecessary arithmetic, I would like to make some guesses as to when these lost sequels would have come out and what they might have entailed. I welcome you to argue and debate these in the comments! What would your Space Quest future have looked like?

We have to start our fan fiction with an unhappy realization: Space Quest games were taking longer and longer to make as time wore on. While I do not know how long Space Quest I was in development, we can estimate the others by looking at the gaps in their release dates. These gaps cover development time, as well as Scott and Mark being pulled onto other projects, but let’s assume that the trends continue.

With that, we can estimate when each of our sequels would have come out. Other than that, these summaries (except for some details of Space Quest 7) are entirely out of my imagination.

August 31, 1997 - Space Quest VII: This Time, It’s Personal

Actual logo for cancelled Space Quest 7!

After the unexpected success of the “Space Quest Collection”, Sierra On-Line completes and launches Space Quest VII to critical acclaim. Because of a transporter accident, Roger Wilco finds himself split into dozens of other Roger Wilcos, each with a shard of his personality: the happy Roger, the lazy Roger, the sad Roger, the really lazy Roger, and dozens of others. Can Roger “pull himself together” in time to stop goateed Evil Roger Wilco from destroying his future chances with Beatrice?

This is the last game designed by only a single “Guy From Andromeda” as Scott and Mark had a reunion of sorts when they were invited together to meet President Bill Clinton at the White House. They resolved, for old time's sake, to do the next one together. 

May 23, 2000 - Space Quest VIII: Broom of Matrimony

Roger and Beatrice just wanted to enjoy their honeymoon, but each planet they visit draws them deeper into a mystery. Who are the mysterious Space Elves? And why do they want to enslave mankind? It will be up to Roger and Beatrice to solve the mystery together in their first joint effort!

The New York Times called Space Quest VIII, “one of the finest romantic comedies in any medium”, but it almost didn’t happen. Sierra online had been bought and sold several times over the development and after a massive restructuring, the Two Guys and their teams had to finish the game out of trailers in the office parking lot. But the receipts from SQ8 would give them the leverage to re-open the original game studio in Oakhurst, California and re-christen it as “Space Quest Studios”. 

May 19, 2003 - Space Quest IX: Roger Wilco and Cub

The cover art would look sort of like this, but with a mop.

The final game in the third Roger Wilco trilogy! With Beatrice out visiting her parents and Roger watching the baby, all heck breaks loose. Sludge Vohaul’s nephew is on a quest to resurrect his uncle using the power of Dark Arts. Can Roger prevent the opening of the heck-dimensions and the resurrection of Sludge Vohaul? And more importantly, can he do it while carrying a baby the entire story?

Fans were particularly shocked by the surprise ending as Roger and Beatrice, just returned from her trip, are visited by a strange white light. As they disappear in a flash of greatness, Roger utters his final immortal line of the series: “What does God need with a janitor?”

August 18, 2006 - Space Quest X: The Latex Babes of Estros

On his eighteenth birthday, young Roger Jr. receives an important message tied to the leg of a robotic owl: it’s his calling and his invitation to attend the Adventurer’s Technical School on Estros. Alternating between exploring the galaxy looking for clues to his parents disappearance and unlocking the secrets hidden beneath the seas of Estros, Roger Jr. proves himself a worthy successor to the Wilco name. He also discovers at an inopportune moment that he has a latex allergy.

Roger Jr.’s adventures were not as well received after the critical acclaim of Space Quest 9, but still the series made enough to justify continuing. Scott and Mark took some time off to work on their own projects, but before long it was time for...

February 20, 2010 - Space Quest XI: The Hitchhike Home

Thanks to a spacial anomaly, a transporter accident, and a droid that becomes sentient at a bit of a bad time, Roger Jr. finds himself flung halfway across the galaxy. But even here where no one has heard the name “Wilco”, the slimy tendrils of the Vohaul Syndicate have spread their brand of greed and corruption. Roger Jr. has to make it home to Xenon, but how?

November 28, 2013 - Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge II

“Can you give me any future lottery numbers? Asking for a friend.”

Finally, we make it to Roger Jr.’s side of the infamous story of Space Quest IV. Junior has to survive Vohaul’s invasion, train a rag-tag bunch of StarCon dropouts into a force of “Time Rippers”, and rescue his father from the clutches of the Sequel Police. Can Roger Jr. convince all of the employees at the Monolith burger to quit in time? Will he remember to pack thermal underwear? We know the answer because we’ve already played Space Quest IV!

June 13, 2015 - ??????

As of June in Alt-2015, we’re all pretty excited for what’s ahead. The trailer has just been released for “Space Quest Z”, but we have more than a year to wait before it will be out. While the fan community is split on the decision to drop the numbering scheme, rumor has it that the game will feature the long-awaited return of Roger Wilco as he and his son try to set right the problems of the afterlife. And finally we will learn the answer to the pivotal question, “why DOES God need a janitor?”

And with that, my career in writing fan-fiction is over. I hope you enjoyed this diversion and I look forward to reading your own future-histories of the Space Quest series. 

“Two Guys” Interview Monday!

On Monday, depending on your timezone and/or planet of origin, we will be posting our interview with the Two Guys From Andromeda themselves! They have been fantastic and it is a real pleasure to be able to share our interview with everyone.

Another Science Fiction References Challenge!

And don’t forget that 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.

So U want to be a Hero

And if you haven’t seen it already, the Coles are just wrapping up a second Kickstarter for their game, Hero-U as they drive it to completion.  They've recently reached their funding goal, so any further pledges will go towards stretch goals and helping make the game better. They are true friends of the blog, so please consider helping them keep adventure gaming alive.


  1. A great finish to a great playthrough of a great game! Can't wait to see the score, I'm hoping it can push into the top 10 and remain there for a while.

    Rock Paper Shotgun have just posted their "25 Best Adventure Game" list, which should be of interest to the readers of this blog, and Space Quest IV made it all the way to number 8.

    Lots of games we have yet to cover there, and exclusion of some games like Quest For Glory for various reasons.

    Also, congrats to Lori & Corey Cole on getting past their goal on the 2nd kickstarter, I was a little worried for a while but they made it comfortably in the end.

    1. Yes, congrats to Lori and Corey Cole! This is great news!

    2. Not a very good list in my opinion. SQ4 ranked over Gabriel Knight and Broken Sword? Beneath a Steel Sky, Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes 1, YU-NO, Ace Attorney (and maybe some I forgot) nowhere to be seen? I've always thought Fate of Atlantis was a bit overrated BTW. (I should probably finish The Longest Journey some day to see if it lives up to the hype. Started it several years ago and wasn't very impressed. Maybe it gets better later on.)

      Overall the article seems to value silly humour too much - but on the other hand recognises and respects good puzzle design.

    3. I would probably rate Fate of Atlantis even higher, seeing as it's one of my favourite games of all time. Anyway, they kinda lost me when they left out Monkey Island 1

  2. Yes, it was that hint bool I had. It didn't actually come with a rectangular red plastic, but with a rectangular cardboard with a strip of red plastic, so you could comfortably read just one line at the time.

    I am a bit surprised as to Infidel and Prisoner being influences, since both of them are very different in tone and theme from Space Quests. I guess the influence is mostly about both games being very much about tricking the player to lose the game - in Prisoner the game tries to constantly lure the player into typing a certain number, while winning Infidel is almost like loosing, since gur CP qvrf ng gur raq bs vg.

    1. I was just digging in my basement yesterday to find some old GameBoy games to give to my nephew and I found my QfG3 hint book WITH the clue reader. If only I had found that a few days earlier...

    2. All you need is a piece of red cellophane. Old (90s, not the clear ones you take to cinemas nowadays) 3D glasses will do. (The Sierra ones are far firmer than the Lucasarts ones - my age old copy of the MI1 hintbook can almost be read if you can squint your eyes well enough.

    3. You could also probably scan in the text and fiddle with colour levels in photoshop.

  3. Cool post Joe! I love the speculative timeline for the SQ series. VIII, in particular, sounds like an award winner for sure.

    I had a bunch of hint books for old Sierra games. By and large, they were high-quality, with the ones being released in the early nineties having a lot of cool extras. The QfG I (remake), III, and IV hintbooks were particularly cool, as were the KQ V and VI ones.

    1. It's the extras that I love. Fascinating to find great info on these games. I want to collect them all, but I do not have the available funds. Still, I thin some investment to get the most out of our SQ4 play was worth it!

  4. The error in the hint book map, is it the cigar butt being listed in two locations?

    Or the layout of the skate-o-rama? Technically, there's no exit from the upper screens....

    1. The cigar butt gets thrown at Roger at the top location (outside Monolith Burger), but I'm not sure you can pick it up there. I don't think you get to move until it's already off the screen.

      And you're definitely right about Skate-o-Rama. Perhaps this was based on earlier ideas for the game, and not changed to reflect what was actually produced?

    2. Torch gets it! It is the skate-o-rama that has mysterious exits...

  5. It's funny you say that you can't GIMP/Photoshop that image of the hintbook to make it readable...I can pretty much read the picture as-is.

    1. But if you really want to GIMP it, here are a couple quick ways I found to make it more readable:
      a) Colors > Threshold, move the slider most of the way to the right.
      b) Colors > Color Balance, and play around with those sliders.

  6. I wonder if you could fix the timing using DOSBOX settings? I've heard dinner games only run properly with Dynamic core, and some only run right with fixed cycle counts. That is something listed in every Ancient DOS Games video is which of these settings send to work the best.

  7. It's really too bad Gary Owens died before he could narrate the Two Guys SpaceVenture, but at this point, I hold out little hope anymore that that game is actually going to manifest.