Thursday, 17 December 2015

Martian Memorandum - Final Rating

Written by TBD

It's time to determine the Final Rating of Martian Memorandum.

Puzzles and Solvability

In general, the inventory and environment puzzles of this game made sense, but some of them, even though they make sense on paper, were difficult due to lack of information. I'll discuss this in more detail in the “Interface and Inventory” section.

Some puzzles were rewarding when solved, like using the wrench on the magnet in the power plant.

The dialogue 'puzzles' were almost impossible to solve without trial and error. The Rhonda one is the only one that really makes sense in hindsight.

The final Alexis conversation is particularly annoying because getting her to dance seemed like the right thing to do as it stops Thomas Dangerfield from thinking about the Oracle Stone. But the only way to finish the game is to go through the same conversation path again/instead but instead of asking her to distract him we have to tell her we're doomed.

Much of solving the game requires talking to and getting information from people. They give me new locations to visit and new topics to talk about and occasionally give me new items to use. A drawback of so much information coming from dialogue is that they can easily be 'solved' by just asking everyone about everything in the list. Unfortunately, I can't think of a better way to do it. You could limit every character to just three topics so you have to think about what information you need from them, but that would just be too gamey and end up with lots of saving and reloading before and after conversations, adding to the annoyance and boredom but not adding to the fun or challenge.

There was one significant dead-end in the game. If you don't do everything you have to before going to Mars, you're screwed. I fell for this one by not noticing the mound of dirt just past the pit trap in the jungle. I can see another likely dead-end by not taking the acid before going to Alexis' room in Mars.

All in all, the game gets a pass for puzzles, but just barely.

Rating: 5

Interface and Inventory

The interface was fine, it did its job with the simple words on the bottom of the screen. Having limited buttons caused a few weird things, like MOVE LIGHT SWITCH or MOVE DOOR to turn on or open things. But it's better than having extra words that take up lots of space but have very limited use (I'm looking at you, TURN ON and TURN OFF from Maniac Mansion.) USE is purely used to USE your inventory items.

The inventory was disappointing. Not only is there no way to 'look' at an item in your inventory, but inventory items are often named differently to what they are when you pick them up. As a consequence, you often have no idea where you got an item or what it does. This subtracts from the idea of an adventure game as instead of thinking about a solution, you more quickly resort to the brute force method of trying everything in turn until something works.

An example of the confusing inventory is the Kevlar Box.

Looking at it calls in an 'Identifier' Box, which ironically gives us no idea what it is 

The Inventory calls it a 'FACIAL KIT' which gives us a clue as to what it might be used for

When we USE it we find out that it's used by placing putty on your face and staring at a picture. We really should have been given this information the first time we LOOKed at it.

The game could also have been improved with tooltips so you don't have to LOOK at every part of the screen to determine which parts are clickable items and which are just flavour decoration/background image.

I noticed that there were some inventory items I didn't even use, or if I did, I didn't realise I was using them. I'm thinking particularly of the BOOTS I picked up at Johnny Fedora's place and the FLASHLIGHT batteries I picked up in the alley next to Big Dick's Casino. It's neither bad or good that this happens, I just thought it was worth noting.

Rating: 3

Story and Setting

The story and setting are probably the game's strongest point. It's a story with twists that take you to a variety of locations, and all of the locations fit into the story. We get each character's different takes on the topics and they all add to the story to give a complete idea of what's going on.

As we play the game we gradually discover that things are not as they seem. Our client is actually a really bad guy who callously killed hundreds of people for personal gain. And when we first hear about Thomas Dangerfield we think of him as the only person in the expedition with a conscience, but eventually we find out he has also become a really bad guy who kills without remorse. We gradually get a complete story of the Oracle Stone and the Stanton Expedition and the way we find out feels fairly natural and suspenseful.

Giving information piecemeal in a game where people can do things in a different order or skip some things altogether is a dangerous proposition, but when I played I seemed to always get the information I needed. And if I didn't understand or had forgotten some of the details I was given earlier, Alexis and Dangerfield helpfully summarise the story for me at the end, and fill in any blanks I was missing or didn't deduce.

As for the setting, the juxtaposition of futuristic sci-fi and 1930s film noire seems like a silly idea but Access really get it working well. Taking away either of these two genres would make the game a lesser experience, so thumbs up for successfully creating a weird world that somehow works well.

Rating: 7

Sound and Graphics

This is a point where the game does some good and some bad.

I'll start with the sound. Having real voices for many characters is great, though the voices are only for their greetings and early conversation topics (the dialogue 'game' before actually asking about topics)

It was a bit disappointing that apart from the first group of people we find, only a small percentage of characters are voiced at all. It's particularly disappointing that the main bad guy at the endgame has no voice. How can you give the minor side-character of Jocques Sparrow a bunch of spoken lines while the final antagonist Thomas Dangerfield remains mute? As for quality, the voice acting was a lot better than King's Quest V but there was also a lot less of it. Quality still has a long way to go before it reaches a professional level, though.

Apart from dialogue, there were a few sounds. Footsteps when I walked and the occasional other special effect. Nothing particularly good there and many things like opening doors have no sound effects.

Music in the game was acceptable but not particularly memorable (with the exception of the 'Tex's Office' theme, which I only remember because the game always starts in Tex's Office before I can LOAD a saved game.) I pointed out in the WON! Post that the final cutscene music was annoying, and it was but that was the exception. Most music did its job by remaining in the background but wasn't particularly good.

All up, sound is slightly above average. I'm a sucker for spoken dialogue, and what's in the game does enhance the characterisation of the people in the game.

As for graphics, this really is an example of some good with some bad.

The graphics for the characters, being filmed actors, is pixellated but good for its time. The fact that they are real actors and actually moving (sometimes) is good.

The establishing shots are fairly well done as well, with the Earth-based locations looking like they were actual photos put in the computer and touched up. One thing though that detracts from their impact is that most establishing shots are repeated a few times throughout the game. It particularly disappointed me that Jocques Sparrow's apartment had the same establishing shot as the dingy back-alley bar in Mars where we meet Larry Hammond.

The game is let down in the searchable locations. The character models are low detail and Tex's face in particular doesn't have as much detail as I'd like. The items also don't have enough detail and the difference between background things and clickable items is often not clear. I spent a lot of time on each screen with LOOK selected while clicking on every different coloured shape in case it's an item I should do something with. While most of the time the items you need are easy to find due to being inside a box or drawer or different to the background, there are times where pixel hunts are required to find an item of use (The bolt in the final screen, the cement in Alexis' cell and the stone outside the smuggler's base are particularly noticeable examples.)

If you want a good example of how hard it is to tell what an item is from how it looks on the screen, see this screenshot.

I can just imagine the writer considering asking a guy working two desks away to have a look at a screen for him and then thinking, "Screw that. I'll just call the item a 'WHAT?'". This thought makes me smile.

I decided to ask Doug Vandegrift what the item was, but he wasn't very helpful.

The animations of Tex's character doing things range from decent (digging in the dungeon) to the much more common non-existent (opening doors, drawers, boxes), but the details on the character model itself are terrible. His eyes, nose and mouth are just grey pixels.

The graphical detail is really hampered by the realism the game was going for. Looking at the Willy Beamish screenshots and gifs show a much better attention to detail, but it's also much easier to do cartoony rather than realistic so I shouldn't punish this game too much for that. I think they went for photo-realistic before their technology was ready to do it properly and their graphics suffered as a result. It worked well with their actual filmed actors but their drawn graphics suffered, probably due to focussing too much time/money on the live actors.

The death scenes were also a little disappointing. For each death we had one of the same four still shots with different text, but rarely did a death show us a new animation. This became enough of a problem for me that I resorted to looking at hints when I hadn't realised there was a worker coming into the smuggler's base because it had just cut to a death still instead of showing me an animation of what was happening.

So, as a summary for this section:

  • Voice acting: Good
  • Music: Average
  • Sound effects: Below average
  • Characters: Good
  • Establishing shots: Average
  • Locations: Below average
This all ends up with an average score. But I'm going to drop it to below average because the bad does it worse than the good does it well.

Rating: 4

Environment and Atmosphere

This is sometimes a hard category to rate fairly as it's the most subjective of all our categories. I liked the atmosphere of the game and the environments were appropriately varied with a casino, outpost, jungle, houses of various types and others, and the obvious environmental differences between Earth and Mars.

I'd like to give a special mention to the massacred colonist location. It really pulled at my emotions, which shows that the game really succeeded in that particular location.

I'm going to give this game a slightly above average score for this one.

Rating: 6

Dialogue and Acting

Martian Memorandum's dialogue was generally good. And there was a LOT of it. A lot of effort was put into who knows about which other characters and exactly what that person would think about that character. This way we can ask everyone about Marshall Alexander and get different information from each other character, but none of it conflicting, just their own point of view. The effort put into such dialogue is really seen and appreciated.

Each location also began with a film noire style monologue from Tex, which really set the mood and was fairly well written (though not award-winning, by any stretch of the imagination)

The writing is a strong point of the game, and the only game we've played that I can think of that would have put as much effort and talent into dialogue would be the Secret of Monkey Island.

The acting I mentioned earlier in the sound and graphics section. It was quite good, but I'd like more of it.

I'll give the game a 7 in this category.


BUT take back one Kadan, to honor the Spelling God whose ark this is.

I can't let this game go without subtracting a whole point for spelling and grammar errors. There's way too many to list and it's just unprofessional. No matter how well written your story is, if I have to read a sentence more than once to be sure of what you're saying, your writing loses some of its impact. With the large amount of text in the game I could have let a few mistakes through to the keeper, but I don't think it's possible to have an entire conversation without at least three spelling errors making their way in.

Actually, I'm taking back two Kadan, because the spelling really is THAT BAD! Harsh? Perhaps. But that's what you get for being lazy, Access.

Rating: 5


5+3+7+4+6+5, which gives us 30*100/60 which equals a PISSED rating of 50.

And now I'll give my personal opinion of the Overall Fun Factor. This has no bearing to the actual score but adds in my personal subjective opinion on how much fun I had playing the game.

When I started I thought I wouldn't like the game much. I have a vague recollection from my previous playthrough of this and Mean Streets being only interesting as being historically relevant to games I really liked but not terribly good on their own.

Playing Martian Memorandum now my opinion differs. Martian Memorandum is a lot more like the later Tex Murphy games than I'd thought. The searching of areas and lots of talking to characters remained staples of the series after it went to full FMV and this game even had as much FMV as they could fit on a few floppy disks (that's right, this game was only released on 5.25” and 3.5” floppy disks.)

Martian Memorandum is now a game I can see myself playing again, and I'd give it an Overall Fun Factor score of 6 out of 10.

That gives it a PISSEDOFF rating of 5+3+7+4+6+5+6+6+6 = *100/90 which equals 53!

CAP Distribution

100 CAPs to TBD
  • Blogger award - 100 CAPS - for playing through the game for everyone's amusement
65 CAPs to Ilmari
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - for blogging through Adventure Quest (I refuse to take any CAPs for the Colossal Adventure, since that was essentially a game I had played before)
  • Listen To The Delivery Guy Award - 5 CAPs - for letting me know that I should read Fry's ROT13 clues as I WAS likely dead-ended 
  • True companion award – 10 CAPs - for playing along with Martian Memorandum and sharing his pain (and making me feel better when I got through some parts that others were stuck at)
44 CAPs to Fry
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For getting the closest guess for the graphical version of Adventure Quest
  • A Rose By Any Other Name Award - 5 CAPs - for telling me how I can question Rhonda in her lingerie.
  • The Right Ladder Award - 5 CAPs - for telling me how to correctly get the ladder after I successfully solved the puzzle with use of a helpful bug – I still prefer my gun-shooting method of creating ladders personally but it deserves CAPs nonetheless.
  • Mars, We Have A Problem Award - 10 CAPs - For letting me know TWICE that I was dead-ended
  • Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The ROT13 Award - -50 CAPs – for being so subtle about me being dead-ended that I had two posts worth of gameplay before realising it.
  • Okay, You're Forgiven (Mostly) Award - 49 CAPs - for admitting that he wasn't completely sure I was dead-ended so didn't want to be too obvious about it
  • True Companion Award - 10 CAPs - for playing along and sharing his experiences so I knew I wasn't the only one getting horribly stuck in the game
  • Angel And Devil Award - 5 CAPs - for being the conscience on my shoulder both for good and evil throughout the game
40 CAPs to Dehumanizer
  • Tech Wizard Award - 40 CAPs - For explaining the intricacies of Level 9 games and especially the differences between distinct versions
25 CAPs to Aperama
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For getting the closest guess for Adventure Quest
  • Pitfall Harry Award - 5 CAPs - for pointing out the Jungle sequence's similarities to an old Atari classic
  • Epilady Award - 10 CAPs - for winning the caption contest
16 CAPs to Laukku
  • The Radness of Roland Award - 16 CAPS - for giving a great tutorial on how I can correctly use Roland emulation, despite the fact I ended up switching to Soundblaster instead
10 CAPs to Torch
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For correctly guessing that I'd find Martian Memorandum to be perfectly Neutral
10 CAPs to Rowan Lipkovits
  • Bane or Boon Award - 5 CAPs - For noting a mistake in vocabulary
  • Mister Percival Award – 5 CAPs - for noticing Access software's homage to a famous astronomer
10 CAPs to Joe Pranevich
  • Voice of Conscience Award - 10 CAPs - For pointing out Ilmari should have used a proper emulator
5 CAPs to Kenny McCormick
  • Big Dick Award - 5 CAPs - for helping me out by coming up with an extra Big Dick joke that I didn't think of - and before you ask: NO, YOU CAN'T HAVE AN OFFICIAL CERTIFICATE THAT YOU CAN HANG ON YOUR BEDROOM WALL
5 CAPs to Corey Cole
  • Sierra Seeing Red Award - 5 CAPs - for letting us know about some of Sierra's jealousness at someone else winning an award for a change
5 CAPs to Niklas
  • Redemption of Saruman Award - 5 CAPs - For a great new plot of a game
5 CAPs to Laertes
  • 20 Seconds Award - 5 CAPs - For letting his ears be tortured


  1. 50, now that's a nice and neutral score.

    1. What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart filled with neutrality?

    2. What makes a man turn neutral? I'd say an unsatiable lust for ultimate ambivalence.

    3. Neutrality is usually measured by how much someone wants to cast Druid only spells in D&D, methinks.

    4. Your neutralness, it's a beige alert.

    5. hehe.

      And Torch, for correctly guessing that I was going to give this game the most neutral score possible, you've won a prize!

      To get your prize, just send a message to us

      and I'll send you a code for the wonderful Tesla Effect - A Tex Murphy adventure.

      Or if you for some reason don't want the prize, feel free to offer it to someone else with your own contest or random selection criteria or I'll offer it to the next closest guesser or something.

    6. I have no strong feelings one way or the other regarding this prize

      I did actually miss the Tesla Effect kickstarter, so it would be nice to play it, but as far as I can see, it doesn't seem to run on Linux, which is a dealbreaker for me at the moment.

      I'll donate the code to the first who can tell me what the link is between Tex Murphy and James Bond.

    7. Torch: James Bond would have had a cleverer way of phrasing 'your face slowly transforms into an exact replica of dick'? (I've already a copy of Tesla Effect, but I'm just running conjecture here.)

    8. Probably, but not quite what I had in mind...

    9. Star Wars, as per Moonraker (reaction to the space craze) and James Earl Jones (narrated the intro of the first FMV Tex Murphy)?

      I've always liked the premise and the setting of the Tex Murphy games, so it is a bummer that the first installments (and only classic adventure games) of the series really seem to be as mediocre as their reputation.

      Also, shoutout for the the idea of a PISSEDOFF-rating. Sounds like a good idea to me.

      And yeah, it's the same anonymous guy as from PQ3... I couldn't decide on which type of account to sign up with, so I kinda bailed. Have been reading along, though.

      If there's a way to sign up in a more general manner without having a Google account (I'm slightly sceptical about giving these guys even more information on me), please let me know!

    10. The link not that complex. It's cast-related

  2. Personally I might have given this one a bit lower score, since I found things like quicksand and laser trap so frustrating, but I can see your points.

    Surprisingly, Martian Memorandum is now (barely) in top 5 of the year:

    1. Space Quest 4 - 65 points
    2. Larry 1 Remake - 60 points
    3. Space Quest 1 Remake - 58 points
    4. Spellcasting 201 - 51 points
    5. Martian Memorandum - 50 points
    6.-8. Timequest, Larry 5 and Police Quest 3 - 47 points
    9. Hugo II - 18 points

    1. I was actually thinking it might have been higher after playing it - it was only after separating it into the details of the PISSED system that it got the score it got.

      I perhaps could have punished the quicksand a bit more and dropped a point in the puzzles and solvability section for it (I personally didn't think the laser bit was as bad as the quicksand, and liked that it at least needed puzzle solving to get there rather than just obvious trial-and-error time wasting)

      I never feel confident about scores I've given games because I keep seeing reasons why I could go higher and/or lower in each category.

      But now that the post is out there it's a matter of public record and shan't be changed apart from fixing typos. So this is officially the correct score even though I may change my mind about it hourly!

  3. CAP Distribution and Leaderboard update.

    No changes in the order of the Top 10, but Dehumanizer almost doubled their amount of CAPs in one go.

  4. I agree with the scoring on all sections.

    Seriously, those typos though. Even the otherwise-touching screenshot of the destroyed colony is typoed.

    What is the Kadan reference?

    1. Raiders of the Lost Ark - when the old guy's translating to tell our heroes the size of the staff they need to build to find the ark.

      First he tells them it's six kadan high, then he continues reading and says, "but, take back one kadan to honour the Hebrew God whose ark this is."

      I'm guessing a Kadan is an ancient Hebrew or Egyptian unit of measurement.

    2. Don't the ancient Egyptians use cubits (length of an arm)?

  5. Kenny, I am disappointed you didn't make a joke about the facial kit here.