Tuesday 17 November 2015

Martian Memorandum - Help me Rhonda!

Written by TBD

Tex Murphy Journal Entry #1: It seems like I might be able to catch up on my rent and electricity bills. My new client is the richest guy in the world, Marshall Alexander, who wants me to find his missing daughter. I didn't get a good look at Alexander. He's dark and mysterious, like the Brew 'N Stew's soup of the day. I found a few leads but nothing solid as yet. Looks like I'm in for a long case

A game about people who survived a nuclear war by hiding in shelters? That'll never work!

I start the game in my office. There's mail on the floor so I grab it – apparently someone mailed me cash in an envelope. Not a very safe way to send money, but I'm not complaining. Money may not buy happiness but it can buy a cheap bottle of bourbon to help me forget about my troubles for a night and that's as close as I'm likely to get in the near future.

Is there any 20th century futuristic fiction that DOESN'T think faxes will be a major form of communication in the 21st century?

The interface is easy to use. I can stand in the same place and just use my cursor to LOOK at everything, attempt to GET everything, MOVE everything, etc. I pick up all the items I can find. I end up with a camera, a nonspecific amount of cash, a gun, ammo and a lockpick kit. I also pick up my comlink which is a mistake because I'm not in the mood for work right now. My assistant, Stacy, immediately comes on the line.

Like all characters in the game, Stacy is a video clip so she talks and is animated

Access software, like lots of science fiction writers, can take credit for inventing the smartphone

What? I can't take my fedora. How can I do my sleuthing without my trademark fedora?

A switch on the wall opens the blinds so I put my camera on the tripod to see what I can see.

If only this damn camera had a Paris-Hilton-night-vision setting

I also see her accepting money or something in another room. Does she do business deals while naked? If so, I think I found my new business partner.

A few more rooms away I see Norman's mother sitting by the window as she always does. Lovely woman, but I sometimes hear her arguing with her son – I don't think she's very nice.

The only other windows with people in them has a couple kissing and a man sitting on a chair looking out his window (Jimmy Stewart, I'm guessing)

And you thought Sierra were the only ones shamelessly plugging their other games

I ask Stacey for info on Marshall Alexander and Terraform, as well as myself (in case she knows something I don't.) Terraform will be founded in 2019 with the mandate of terraforming the Martian surface - get your act together Martian colonists - you have three years!

Always rewarding to be employed by the richest man in the world I thought, until I realised “You don't get rich by paying your contractors large bonuses”
The Martian Planet? Normal people just say Mars, you know.
A second Mean Streets reference, AND another reference to Tex's financial problems. Bravo, Access Software.

I decide to visit Terraform, because apart from spying on my neighbours, that's my only option at this point. Most places you visit begin with an establishing shot, then a page of text setting the scene.

Possibly the weirdest use of a Nazi reference in the history of gaming.

The secretary, Rhonda Foxworth, lets me see Marshall and he tells me about his daughter's disappearance, and also his loss of another object, but no one can know it's gone. He doesn't clarify what that object is, so I'm left with little to go on in that regard. I somehow think that, whatever that object is, it will be vitally important to the case.

There doesn't seem to be much to do in his office but I do try my hardest to take the Golden Gate bridge

But... this guy I met on the street just sold it to me...

Checking my comlink, I now have new information. 

Here's a short summary of the information I get from Stacey...
  • Rockwell Bache, Attorney at law, works for Alexander 
  • Jocques Sparrow, Photographer who's worked with Alexis (he's also the captain of the Black Pearl) 
  • Mac Malden, the Cop who's investigating Alexis' disappearance 
  • Alexis Alexander – Marshall's kidnapped daughter 
As I leave Terraform, Tex gives his own thoughts on the case. Notably there's nothing to prove Alexis' disappearance is a kidnapping and the mysterious 'something else' seems more important to Marshall than his daughter.

I first decided to visit Captain Jocques Sparrow. He isn't in his office, so being the super sleuth I am, I break in and rifle through his stuff. Before I can find anything, the door knob turns and in comes Jocques.

I wonder if they wrote this line AFTER they hired the voice actor for the part

Unfortunately, Access ran over budget on his outfit so he's not holding a baguette while talking to me
As I play, I keep trying to click on the actual responses rather than the buttons on the bottom of the screen
If I give him cash, he gives me a roll of film. Why? I have no idea.

I try speaking to Mac Malden. Tex and Mac have the make-fun-of-each-other-but-really-like-each-other cop/detective relationship

After trying various options while talking to Malden, I can't ask him questions but he finally tells me that he needs evidence on the Andretti case. Looks like I need to find some of that evidence before he'll talk to me.

Time to speak to Alexander's lawyer, Rockwell Bache.

I'd make a brain joke, but the game's already made enough... ah, what the hell... I'm guessing he doesn't have a problem with oxygen supply to his brain.

I ask Bache about everything. I get info on most people, specifically he mentions that if Marshall dies and Alexis isn't available, the company goes to his wife, Nora Desmond Alexander. He thinks the company would be in better hands with Alexis. Is Marshall close to death or something?

He also tells me that Marshall and Alexis were arguing a bit lately

He has a serious face for everything except talking about me. That scares me for some reason.

I check out Alexis' home to see if there are any clues.

I found a lot of clues about Access' fondness for cross-dressing jokes

When I move the pillows, I find several baby teeth. You might be finding the worst part of this that a little girl has been patiently waiting until adulthood for the tooth fairy to arrive - but I'm more concerned that this bed not been cleaned in the last 20 years?

I also found a small piece of paper on the ground with the letters TMS on it. Stacey tells me that this stands for Trans-Martian Shuttle and that if I was looking to go to Mars the next one doesn't leave for four weeks.

I moved the bedspread and found a box with an apartment number on it. It doesn't seem to have an actual address, but that won't stop me.

I always keep my miscellaneous scrawlings in a closed box hidden under my bed

I go to Chantal's apartment and am surprised to find that it's just across from my own office. I wonder if we've ever seen each other.

Well, how do you know it was me if you haven't been looking into MY window?

I mentioned I've seen other things with my camera. Her response is... if you had proof, you might have something – methinks I sense a hint!

So, back to the office. I know what I need to do. I have Captain Jocques Sparrow's film so I USE it on my camera, then look again.

And today is that day!

I grab the photos then go back to her apartment. After OFFERing her the photos, she agrees to answer my questions.

She has a few things to say about most people, but most importantly we learn a new name from her – Rick Logan, who seems to be Alexis' boyfriend.

I decide to check out Marshall's wife. Her house is massive, she used to be in films when I was young but has now had so much plastic surgery she could pass for her own mother. She's also totally sloshed.

She really has the evil stepmother schtick down pat
Right down to the shifty eyes.

She has a lot to say but nothing that furthers my investigation apart from another name. Apparently Lowell Percival in interested in her and he's a powerful man who'll soon be bigger than her husband.

After screaming at me like a psycho for 15 minutes, she tries to pick me up. I politely decline by running out the door as fast as I can.

Unfortunately, I've spoken to everyone and nobody seems to know about Andretti. The brainy lawyer says that he was murdered and Stacey tells me the same thing. So I still need that info before Malden will talk to me.

I feel it's time to see Marshall again and ask him about the new things I've learned.

Damn. Mind if I use the restroom – the ladies' restroom's just over there. That'll do.
Mirror Mirror on the wall, who's the most simple minded, thick willed, dull brained creature of all

I assume there has to be something do do here so I look at and touch everything I can find. After I move the towel for no reason other than I know I'm a character in an adventure game, an item falls to the ground.

I knew one day that mail-order course in jewel valuation would come in handy

On the way out I accidentally talk to the window instead of Rhonda

I like that doing the wrong thing often involves interesting or amusing comments.

After giving her the expensive earring, she offers me dinner

Lady, if you're paying, it's nothing but the five star restaurant for me!

So, off to the Plaza Hotel. When I arrive I can go to the gift shop on the right or the restaurant on the left. Clearly I should buy a gift first so to the right it is.

Fortunately I don't have to guess what the perfect gift is. Clicking on anything but a rose gives me the same message.

I'd like to purchase one of whatever the game will let me take please.

Assuming I have an unlimited supply of cash, I buy the rose and meet Rhonda at the posh restaurant. Her dress left little to the imagination, which is good because I have a terrible imagination.

The people drawing the backgrounds and the people doing the text need to talk more about colour choices.

This is a conversation with a lot of options. The whole conversation seems to be able to end in one of four ways. 
  • I bore her, she rolls her eyes and the conversation is over 
  • I offend her, she throws a drink in my face and the conversation is over 
  • I really bore her and she falls asleep on the table 
  • She likes what I have to say and offers me dessert in her room
I can continue playing the game from the first three situations but I guessed that would be unhelpful and perhaps a dead-end. After a bunch of reloading and noting her reactions to my answers on a piece of paper, I found the correct strategy. She wants me to be a hard PI who won't let a woman tell him what to do. As the conversation continues, she gets more excited until I finally get the option to ask her questions. Rather than dampen her mood as I'd suspected, she just promises to answer my questions when she's back at work.

Here's a clip of my successful conversation. The acting's a lot better than King's Quest V, that's for sure.

After 'winning' the conversation, I end up back in the hotel foyer (Presumably after spending the night). I go back to Terraform to see if Rhonda is ready to keep her promise of information.

She's much more accomodating this time and I can ask her about all my topics

Most of her information just reiterates what I already know but in slightly more detail: Marshall has become more paranoid lately; He recently received a package and soon after became more agitated and started arguing with Alexis; He was more worried about 'it' being gone than Alexis the day after she went missing. I also found out she used to work for Lowell Percival.

One interesting piece of new info I got was that Alexis had a crush on Rick Logan for a while but he kept ignoring her until one day when he suddenly did a 180 and became really interested in her.

The most important thing I found out was when I asked about myself

And you're my favourite horse, baby! Wait, is that not the romantic thing to say? Shucks. I've never been good at this.

Even with that new info, I don't have any further leads so where I go to next is a mystery. I may have missed something. There may be some other clue to find either at my office, Alexis' home, Terraform or the Plaza hotel. I never did need to use the rose to woo Rhonda so maybe I should offer it to the evil stepmother. I'm not sure if I can talk to Chantal again now that she already has my photos and I never did get much information from Captain Jocques so there's quite a few things I can try next time.

Inventory: Gun, Cash, Comlink, Ammo, Paper, Rose, Film

Session time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 35 minutes

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 CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one.


  1. I am pretty sure I could give Rhonda the rose, but the outcome appears to have been same. I hope I haven't screwed myself by losing it.

    I haven't really had that much time to play the game yet - I don't think I have even interrogated all the people you have.

    1. You're right, I gave her the rose in most of my attempts. Seeing as it doesn't seem to help rather than have her say "Thank you, Tex" I figured I'd keep it instead.

      I don't think you'd have screwed your game by doing something that makes perfect sense, but this IS and adventure game so I don't feel completely confident on that one.

    2. I found that if you give Rhonda the rose during dinner (right before you accept the offer of dessert), there's a "better" ending to the conversation, where you actually get to see some video of her undressing, and then you get to go through your "ask about" routine with her in bed.

      No idea whether this deadends you or not. My *guess* would be that it doesn't, since you seem to have gotten the important ask-abouts from talking to her at the office. Or who knows, maybe I am now deadended because I don't have the rose any more? Yay adventure games!

      I'm only slightly ahead of where you are in this post. I imagine you'll find a way to progress, but here are my suggestions (both really obvious):
      1. ivfvg rirelbar, nfx nobhg rirelguvat
      2. hfr lbhe pbzyvax, nfx nobhg rirelguvat

  2. Access has an unappealing interface (not clicking on the responses, yellow goes with everything) around an interesting shell as always it seems - they focused so hard on having compressed video and images into their games they forgot to worry about gameplay first. Is there music throughout this one, or is it still an 'intro only' schtick?

    As to the Mars terraforming mission in 2019? They're only off by 5 years - though apparently the lander they're putting there to set everything up will be there by 2018.. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/feb/09/mars-one-mission-a-one-way-trip-to-the-red-planet-in-2024

    1. There is music throughout - from what I can tell the explorable locations have their own music (Tex's office, Terraform, Park Plaza and Alexis' house so far) but the conversations don't - they have voice instead.

      I think this was a time when game designers had to choose either voice or music but not have both at the same time.

  3. There was some resentment of Martian Memorandum at Sierra. Ken Williams and others did not consider it an actual adventure game. He felt the publisher had "bought off" the gaming press and SPA voters by sending out a very expensive press kit (I think it cost like $40 or $50 each) to all of the voters. Sierra won the "Best Fantasy Role-Playing/Adventure Game" category for the previous four years running, so Ken probably felt Sierra "owned" the category.

    That was the year Castle of Dr. Brain was nominated as best educational game, so the only time I attended the SPA award ceremony. I got really excited when they announced there was a tie for the winner, but alas, two other titles won. (Apparently "What's My Angle?" and "Interactive Nova: The Miracle of Life" - https://www.siia.net/codie/About-the-Awards/Past-Winners/1992-Winners)

    1. Out of curiosity, how did he react to MYST then? (If you recall?)

    2. Wait, what?

      Sid Meier's Civilization, Access Software Inc
      Martian Memorandum, Access Software Inc

      Were two companies named Access Software or did the makers of Martian Memorandum publish one of the bestselling and best rated strategy games of all time?

    3. Civ was Microprose. That must be an error.

    4. Rowan's right. I had the original many years back. I distinctly recall that "Microprose" was embossed at the bottom of the box's cover art. Sid Meier was working in Microprose then, not Access Software.

    5. Just looked at my old Amiga Civilization box and instructions and yep, no mention of Access but Microprose is all over it!

      What do you mean, only a weirdo still has a box for a game system he no longer owns. Stop laughing at me!

  4. The dialogue system has evolved from Mean Streets in that there's now multiple-choice answers. (I forget how Countdown worked.) Has there ever been an actually good dialogue puzzle that does NOT rely on trial and error?

    Unlike the first game, this one keeps an automatic list of names, which ironically made the story harder to follow as my own notes for Mean Streets had more detail.

    1. Good dialogue "puzzles" aren't really puzzles - they are natural-seeming dialogue that makes sense and develops the story or provides important information to the player. One technique that Lori uses is setting a "tag" when the player learns something that might be important in future conversation. Then the dialogue choices reflect that, with certain choices appearing only if their tags are set.

      In Quest for Glory, we also looked at character class. For example, sometimes a Paladin would have options not available to the other players. These could also be red herrings, perhaps allowing the Paladin to choose a dishonorable option that will affect his Paladin status, or a Thief to pick one that will likely lead to his arrest.

      We did an experiment with hypertext conversation, where keywords were highlighted, but we felt it was too distracting to make an effective dialogue interface.

    2. Hey, that's what you're doing for Hero-U too!

      Other contenders for interesting dialogue designs are:
      1) Alpha Protocol (and Witcher 3) - Time sensitive dialog options.
      2) The Walking Dead (and many other Telltale games) - Silence is an option.
      3) Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Choosing mannerisms of speech (flirt, persuade, humor, threaten, flatter, reason & etc.) instead of what to say.

    3. Perfect examples!

      I'd say The Walking Dead and Alpha Protocol are definitely examples of dialogue 'puzzles' where what you say makes a noticeable difference to the game but there isn't only one 'right' answer.

      (Haven't played Quest for Glory or Human Revolution so can't comment too much on those)

    4. What? You haven't played QFG?! Where were you living in the 90s? Kentucky?!

  5. I also found out she used to work for Lowell Percival.

    Any relation? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percival_Lowell

    1. Well picked up. Seeing as the real guy did extensive studies on Mars and the game character lives and works on Mars, I'm going to say... YES! Deliberate homage!

      Though I know him less as an astronomer and more as a character in Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams


  6. Access make good adventure games but always seem to fall down on ui.

    1. I agree. They are the equivalent of an old hooker: gets the job done well but damn, she sure is ugly.

  7. Wow... Captain Jocques Sparrow seem to have inspired Captain Jack Sparrow; that long hair, half-open eyes, stupid looking goatee and a red-colored headdress. Were the people in charge of setting the looks on Pirates of the Caribbean actually Tex Murphy fans?

  8. So far, the game seems ok. I have two complaints though:
    1. I don't really enjoy the parts where you have to try to navigate someone's dialog tree to unlock "ask about." The dinner scene is especially obnoxious since you have to reload to redo it, while other scenes you can just reenter the location to start over, but it's still annoying, especially since there is little to suggest what the right path is. I particularly noted that talking with Mac you need to switch repeatedly between "nice" and "douche" to get to the end.
    2. OMG the typos and grammar errors everywhere. Hire a copyeditor!