Wednesday 11 November 2015

Game 62: Martian Memorandum - Introduction (1991)

Written by TBD

TBD Journal Entry #1:

November, 2015.

I was sitting in my study pondering my next move. Rain was hitting the window with significant force, like a Lytton cop hitting an uncooperative suspect. I needed to write an introduction to Martian Memorandum, but wasn't sure how to begin. Being a big fan of the later Tex Murphy games – what can I say, I like my detectives like I like my eggs, hard-boiled on the outside but soft and runny on the inside – I wanted to show people what was both good and bad about Tex's earlier games. Without a specific plan and deciding to just write what seemed interesting, I made myself a cup of coffee and got to typing...

Okay, it's time for our third game from Access Software and our second game in the not-yet famous Tex Murphy series.

If you've seen my avatar you won't be surprised to read that I'm a fan of Tex Murphy games. But, perhaps more surprisingly, I'm NOT a fan of the first 2 games. I've played Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum once, for completeness' sake, many years ago and haven't revisited them since, despite having replayed the next 3 games multiple times. I would have used a walkthrough whenever I was stuck back then so this will be the first time I go through the game without that crutch. I've read a little about Martian Memorandum and there are apparently dead ends, so I expect to encounter at least one. (I'm still having nightmares about King's Quest V's rope/branch dead end.)

I will be counting on you people to inform me if when I get stuck - the discussion about deliberately not telling Trickster he was dead-ended in Les Manley has me a tad concerned, but I trust you won't do the same to me. You wouldn't want to betray that trust, would you?

To start, I thought I'd have a look at the cover art. What do you do when you have more to say than will comfortably fit on a front and back cover? Simple, you print four pages of cover art!

This game cover has since been plagiarised by many a sore throat medicine commercial

This is the only product I've ever purchased with “BIG DICK'S” written in large, friendly letters on the back cover.

While describing a game as an interactive movie is now used as an insult, back in the early nineties it was something some developers strived for (like Cinemaware, whose It Came From the Desert was played a few months ago)

You'd better believe this is the FIRST EVER Multimedia Entertainment Product. Do you dare argue with a company so confident in their product that they don't even shove the word “exhilerating” through a spell checker before approving the cover art?

After Mean Streets and Countdown, for Access' next adventure game they put the spotlight back on the face of CFO Chris Jones' character, Tex Murphy, purely because Mean Streets sold a lot better than Countdown did.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the Tex Murphy games' atmosphere is an unusual mix of noire, sci-fi, drama and humour. As the manual says, “Even though the year is 2039, the mood, characterizations and ambiance are set in the typical style of the classic Hollywood detective movies.

Two obvious differences from Mean Streets are the removal of the flight simulator and side scrolling shooting sequences. I don't think anybody missed either of them. I know I won't be lamenting their loss (and am in fact somewhat celebrating that I won't have to deal with them.)

I'm playing the version from GOG, but with a simple settings change. While playing around with the settings, I find the music seems to sound better when I choose Roland so that's what I'm listening to.

The manual gives me a feel for the types of activities I'll be performing. It seems I'll spend much of my time searching rooms for clues, interrogating suspects and moving through a duct.

Much like in Mean Streets and Countdown, I'll be looking for clues in screens that look a lot like this...

Blown up on a large monitor, Tex's face really looks bad

From the looks of this screenshot, this game uses a slightly updated version of Countdown's engine, which Aperama reviewed way back in October last year. The main difference seems to be the removal of the “TASTE” verb, which I'm sure has some of you sighing in disappointment. New for Access, and a fairly new feature in adventure games in general, is the "HELP" button, which gives you “Hints and Tips.” which seem to act like a walkthrough of sorts. I won't be using them for this playthrough, but it seems like a great idea for an adventure game if it works as advertised. I might try a few of them after playing around in the first area just to show you what they're about.

Apart from collecting clues, I will also need to extract information from characters by interrogating them. The manual says I must extract information from characters with my wit and charm. Let's see my wit and charm in action.

It appears offering cash is offensive to Rhonda. (Anybody who wants to offend me in such a manner is quite welcome, however)

One thing that concerns me is that an entire section of the manual and the troubleshooting section is reserved for “Moving Through The Duct”

The instructions claim the controls are simple and then go out of their way to try to confuse you.

Traveling is apparently available only when the situation will allow it. The example the manual gives is that “If Tex is tied up in a basement, he will not be allowed to get out by traveling

This gives me bad memories of playing King's Quest V when I spent a ridiculously long time stuck tied up in an inn basement before being kindly murdered.

The manual also contains a list of commonly asked questions, none of which are actual questions. They generally involve choosing the right interrupt for your sound card and other technical issues, but to add to my unnatural fear of mazes, the last of the frequently asked statements is “I've tried everything and I can't get out of the duct!

Here is the answer:
Because the duct is difficult for some people to visualize, we've added a bonus feature to minimize your frustration. While holding down the insert key [INS], press the "O" key and move in any direction. This will take you out of the duct.

Why does this answer not give me confidence that it will be a well-thought out maze with a simple and rewarding solution? Don't worry, for your amusement I won't be using the 'insert and O' key combination.

There'll be a little bonus for whoever guesses the score for this one. I bought an extra copy of Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure a while back so one of you lucky people will receive Tex's newest adventure for the low, low price of correctly guessing the PISSED rating I give this game. So don't forget to get your guess in.

And, in a case of good timing, if anyone wants to play along you could get this game plus Mean Streets, Under a Killing Moon, The Pandora Directive and Overseer quite cheaply when this post was written, but probably not now.

Despite not having terribly fond memories of the game, I'm really looking forward to sinking my teeth into it, so let the gumshoeing begin!


  1. I'll go with 55. The game is better than the previous one, and that came up as 53 under Trickster.

    I'll be reading but not playing along. As you're well aware, Fallout.

    1. Well hopefully I succeed in splitting my time between Martian Memorandum and Fallout 4.

      If my next post contains a scene where Tex Murphy leaves a vault and starts shooting Mole Rats, you'll know I've failed.

  2. Being mostly a lurker I'll take a guess this time and say 57.

  3. I guess 54.

    >While playing around with the settings, I find
    >the music seems to sound better when I choose Roland
    >so that's what I'm listening to.

    For the love of all that is holy and good-sounding, MAKE SURE YOU'RE USING MUNT (or a real MT-32) INSTEAD OF MICROSOFT GS WAVETABLE SYNTH.

    1. Proper MT-32 sound, seconded!

      Also, I really like the introductory paragraph's faux-noir narration.

    2. Sounds like I need to give MUNT a try.

      Is it as simple as downloading and installing it, or do I have to do complicated things to get it working with the game? (It's in Dosbox if that helps)

    3. There's two ways to set up Munt in DOSBox:

      1. Download and install Munt as a Windows MIDI driver. (Assuming you use Windows.)
      2. Edit midiconfig= in dosbox.conf so that DOSBox outputs MIDI to the correct driver. (Checkable by typing mixer /listmidi in DOSBox.)

      Here is a tutorial video for this method.

      1. Download Ykhwong's DOSBox, which has Munt built-in. (I recommend the build from 2014 as that's less buggy.)
      2. Set mididevice=mt32 in its dosbox.conf and put the rom files in the same folder as dosbox.exe.

      Either way, you need the rom files, which are probably not legal to share. Furthermore, AFAIK Trickster never used Roland MT-32 audio, always going with SoundBlaster or default settings, and rated the games with that experience.

    4. Oh, and here is what the game is supposed to sound like once you've done everything correctly, for reference.

    5. Thanks for all the tips guys but I decided to stick with whatever is in standard dosbox seeing as I don't have the roms and don't feel inclined to get an illegal version of them.

      I THINK my game's sounding like that link. It sounds about the same to me, but I'm a terrible judge, not being that big on music.

      I'll switch to Soundblaster after the first post and see if I notice a difference or if it was all in my head. If there is some kind of Roland-light emulation in Dosbox but it isn't accurate I'm probably better off with Soundblaster emulation for historical accuracy's sake, anyway.

    6. Some of the string instruments happen to have the same patch number in General MIDI and Roland MT-32 MIDI (string section sounds like string section in both), so maybe that's fooling you. You should be noticing things like no reverb and several wrong instruments. By default, DOSBox outputs MIDI data to Microsoft GS Software Synthesizer, which is a crappy General MIDI synth, and General MIDI is not really compatible with Roland MT-32 MIDI.

      Here's what SoundBlaster/Adlib should sound like, BTW.

      All this talk of settings has made wonder if there should be guide or FAQ specifically for this site on how to configure DOSBox (and potentially other emulators) so that all reviewers have the same optimal yet accurate experience. Default settings in DOSBox aren't best, and things like aspect and oplrate need tweaking.

    7. That kind of FAQ might be helpful, not just for us, but for other chronogamers out there. Problem is, who would do it (going through all different emulators would be a slog).

    8. The problem with using MT-32 as a judge is almost no one had them back then, so most people would have been using Soundblasters, at least until MIDI became standard.

  4. I really liked the first one. How I wish I could play along this one :(

    In any case, I'll go with 56

  5. Wow, that cover text is awful. Why does Tex himself write you a note telling you about how great the game is? Why does he write "I Don't Trust Him" on his notepad - who is that note for? Ugh.

    I'll try to play along, since I won a Tex Murphy collection from a rating guess a while back.

    I'll guess 56 for the rating. Should be better than the previous game. I actually didn't find the shooting sequences to be problematic at all, though they were slightly immersion-breaking.

    1. Started playing. I thought Philadelphia was the City of Brotherly Love, not San Francisco. Maybe Philly was destroyed on Dooms Day (sic) and Frisco took up the mantle?

  6. Replies
    1. Betting that the lightning strikes on the same place the fourth time?

  7. Let's say 58.

    I'll try to join the fun also. Tex Murphy is the one big adventure game series I've missed so far, so it's time to get acquainted with. I sure hope it will be better than Countdown.

  8. >One thing that concerns me is that an entire section of the manual
    >and the troubleshooting section is reserved for “Moving Through The Duct”

    Urggh, I got reminded of the duct section of Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive... that was one of the most excruciatingly tedious sections I've encountered in a computer game.

  9. Great, now we get the alien conspiracies and I've already used up all ideas on Police Quest III and swore of that stuff... so anyone guessing satanic cult this time? PISSED I guess 59.

    1. I for one enjoyed the heavy metal/aliens/satanic cult unholy axis of evil storyline you came up with during the Police Quest III posts. It certainly made more sense than that game's actual story did!

  10. I'll go with 56. I don't know anything about the game other than what you've said here, but if it's close to as good as the previous one, minus annoying minigames, then it should score a bit higher.

    1. I didn't notice that more than one other person guessed the same score before me. Hope that won't be a problem.

    2. No, that shouldn't be a problem, since more than one person can vote for the same score.

  11. I'll guess at 53 for the score, possibly because of duct-related shenanigans.

    I find it very amusing that they needed both a long paragraph explaining how to move in a duct system, and also a way to cheat your way out of it. I guess it didn't go very well when they were testing it, but perhaps they didn't have the time or money to change it?

    There are a few tunnel/duct sequences in Space Quest, and they were simple to navigate, so I'm impressed that they could potentially foul things up so badly.

  12. I'm going to be cautious (and a little maze-shy) and say 52.

    You know, I was almost done making them atone for the Les Manley thing. I don't think we need to rub it in any further.

  13. I'm going with a nice and neutral guess of 50

  14. 49 for me, for no particular reason.

  15. I love all of the Tex Murphy games and Countdown, but I know this has some annoying fuck yous like the invisible lasers and a few dead ends. I am going for a lower score, 45. Also, you should know to avoid a dead end gung gurer ner zhygvcyr vgrzf va gur pnfvab'f uvqqra ebbz, naq vs lbh snvy gb trg nyy bs gurz, lbh jvyy abg or noyr gb pbzr onpx naq lbh ner shpxrq.

    I wish that skip function was available in the tunnel maze in Space Quest 5: That was one of my favorite Sierra games, until I had to deal with that shit and the annoying crushing elevators. Space Quest 5 might have been my favorite Sierra game, overtaking Gabriel Knight if not for that maze. Speaking of Space Quest, have you played the fangames Incinerations and Vohaul Strikes Back? Those are excellent games that give closure to the series, especially if you get the 100% ending on Incinerations--play that last, as it is the sequel to the bad ending of the other game.

    I am playing a surprisingly fun game that is sort of like an adventure game: Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker. It focuses on puzzle solving and item collection without much action, and is imaginative and enjoyable despite those piece of shit Toads. Toads are the most annoying, retarded characters in video games.

    1. I'm with you, hater! Space Quest V may be one of the best paced adventure games . . . and then you have to crawl around like a dummy in boring ducts. I understand why Roger has to do it,a nd it's kind of a call back to Space Quest I, but it is not fun.

      I'll have to check out Incinerations and Vohaul Strikes Back. I've heard nothing but good things about them.

  16. I think 51 is not taken so I'll go with that.

  17. After running some complex math (or "maths," for my Commonwealth friends), I have determined that the rating probably won't be 55, but I'm going with that anyway, because I trust my math(s).


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