Friday 30 September 2016

The Year That Was… 1991

By The TAG Team

1991... the year of quality entertainment and quality games!

After a more quiet year, Sierra came back with a vengeance. Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry and Conquest -series all got new sequels, Space Quest 1 and Larry 1 were remade with better graphics, and completely new games, like Castle of Dr. Brain and EcoQuest were published. If you also count the games Dynamix made (Heart of China and Willy Beamish), the total rises to ten games, which is almost half of the adventure games that made it to our official gaming list. Of course, not all of these games were flawless, but even at their worst (Larry 5 and Police Quest 3) Sierra games had their moments and at their best (Space Quest 4 and Conquests of Longbow) they were unforgettable classics. Compared to Sierra, Lucasfilm again published only one game (Lechuck’s Revenge), but as could be expected, it was almost pure gold.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Consulting Detective - Alternate Versions

Written by Voltgloss & Joe Pranevich

Although we closed up Consulting Detective with a Final Rating last week, there is still a bit more to the story. In its publication life, the Consulting Detective games have been released in four distinct forms: the 1981-1995 pen-and-paper original game by Sleuth Publications, the 1991-1993 computer versions by ICOM, the 2012 remaster of that version by Zojoi, and a 2012/2015 (French/English) update of the classic game by Ystari Publications. We’ve now spent eight weeks covering the ICOM version of the game, but it’s worth a look at the others to see how they stack up. The Zojoi games may be played on this blog at some distant future date, but it will be a very long time before we get to contemporary adventure gaming history.

Joining me in this retrospective is Voltgloss who has been kind enough to take an in-depth look at the new Ystari Publications version of the game, as well as provide some details for the pen-and-paper game in general. The Ystari version features a number of plot changes from the cases that we played and he has patiently documented those in detail. If you intend to play any of these three Ystari cases, we will be dealing in spoilers for those games, but I will put up a spoiler warning when the time comes.

Monday 26 September 2016

Missed Classic 30: Dungeon - Introduction (1979)

Written by Joe Pranevich

The marathon begins!

In the beginning, there was Colossal Cave. Lots of people played and enjoyed it but some brave adventurers were inspired. These adventurers, mostly college students, started to create their own adventure games on the systems that they had access to. Many of those have been lost to history, but one such project became a legend: Zork. This is not the story of the commercial Zork games which launched Infocom but rather their predecessor, a text adventure created by four procrastinating college kids who just wanted to see if they could do it. This game would not be as well-known as its commercial descendants, but I can think of no better place to start our marathon than at the very beginning.

Our story begins in beautiful Cambridge, Massachusetts. Around 1977, a group of four students at MIT’s computer science laboratory were fans of Colossal Cave and Dungeons & Dragons and wanted to build a game in the spirit of both. They didn’t have a name for their project but they had a made-up word that they used for their other in-progress projects: Zork. The four would-be game designers were Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling. Tim and Marc had previously collaborated on a network game, Trivia, while Dave had worked on an action game called Maze, but this their first attempts at a text adventure. They didn’t create a fully-formed Zork all at once, the game gradually developed over the next two years as more and more puzzles were added and the core software improved. The game reached its “final” form in 1979 although bug fixes would continue on the software until 1981. Several of the now former MIT students founded Infocom in 1979 and built the consumer version of Zork, but we’ll get to that story when we talk about Zork I.

We will not be playing this original PDP-10 version but rather its very close cousin. In 1978, an intrepid hacker (in both senses of the word) managed to get his hands on the source code to Zork, something the original designers had tried to keep secret. This semi-anonymous hacker (known as “Bob”) painstakingly translated the entire source code from “Muddle”, the LISP-like programming language the game was based on, to FORTRAN. This was difficult work, but it allowed the game to be run on a wider array of platforms. This version was forked during a brief period when Zork was known as Dungeon and that is the name that has stuck. The intrepid hacker kept his version up to date as the original added new puzzles and he tried to make it as close an experience as possible. Rather than play the PDP-10 original, I will be playing this fork. According to the documentation, the only difference is that the FORTRAN version has a less sophisticated parser. If anyone knows of other differences, please let me know.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Consulting Detective - Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

It’s finally time for me to be the judge.

Last time, we closed the book on the third and final case in this volume of Consulting Detective. We’ve interacted with a ton of crazy characters, explored London, and placed three murderers behind bars. This is a game unlike any that we have played before and I’m glad that I was able to experience it firsthand.

As I prepare to write, I’m not sure how it will do in our PISSED scale. I know that I had a lot of fun, but the game does not have many of the standard trappings of adventures. Will that give it an advantage or a disadvantage in the rating? Let’s see!

Thursday 22 September 2016

Introducing The Great Zork Marathon

Written by Joe Pranevich

The greatest dam in adventure game history.

Hello, Sailor! Before we get into 1992, we want to peek ahead just for a moment to 1993 and a monumental release: Return to Zork. No one can deny that the Zork games were some of the most successful and influential adventure games of all time. They spawned a franchise that included multiple series of games, books, and toys. They were parodied by some developers but imitated by many more. Next to Colossal Cave itself, I don’t think there were games more influential on our genre than Zork.

And yet, because they were text adventures, we haven’t played any of them. Trickster’s only text adventure review was Colossal Cave, but he wrote it for RetroSmack instead of our fine publication. We’ve played a few text adventures since the Great Relaunch, but we haven’t played any of the Zork games… until now.

This is my challenge: I will play and review every Zork game before the blog makes it to Return to Zork. Considering that it took me nearly six months to play four games in my “Summer of Questprobe” series, I may be biting off more than I should. But I want to give it a try!

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Consulting Detective - Won!

Written by Joe Pranevich

A mysterious murderer and his mysterious envelope.

Last week, we started the case of the “Tin Soldier”. General Armstead has been killed in a duel with an unknown assailant. While we know he was killed by an elderly Frenchman with a cane and a carpetbag, he left behind plenty of people that had a motive to kill him: the thieves of the Polar Star diamond who he was close to exposing, five other members of a death lottery (a “tontine”), plus his brother-in-law who may have stood to gain control of a number of shared assets. None of those are elderly Frenchmen so we have to dig deeper to discover the connection.

We spent most of last time working to track down the Polar Star diamond. We discovered that Armstead’s contact had been murdered, potentially by the guy who the diamond was stolen from. We also know that Armstead’s publisher was making moves for the information almost immediately after his death. My leads are exhausted and I’ll need to start this week by going down a different path. Thus far, I don’t have any theories that are panning out, but I am having a ton of fun with this case.

Friday 16 September 2016

A Conversation with David Marsh

Interview by Joe Pranevich

As we close out our coverage of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, I am thrilled to have been able to speak to one of the masterminds behind ICOM Simulations’ success, David Marsh. In the first decades of his career, David helped bring us classics like Deja Vu, Shadowgate, and Uninvited. He was the art director for the Consulting Detective series. These days, David is the driving force behind Zojoi, the current owner of much of ICOM’s adventure gaming legacy. He and his team have recently released updated versions of the first three Consulting Detective cases plus a complete reimagining of the original Shadowgate.

In a wide-ranging conversation, David and I talk about all of those titles, games that didn’t quite make it, and even Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally. It was a lot of fun and I’m thrilled to be able to bring this interview with you.

Monday 12 September 2016

Consulting Detective - A Duel to the Death

Written by Joe Pranevich

The “Moriarty” of French warfare

Last week, we “solved” the second of our three mysteries by unraveling a murder plot hatched by a crazy lazy with a superpower. Now that we’re on the third, I’m curious to see if this one references the previous cases or if all three chapters are completely stand-alone.

This story begins in Baker St. as Holmes and Watson are sought after by Inspector Smythe of Scotland Yard. As usual, the Yard has a case they cannot solve: a former soldier in the Napoleonic wars, General Farnsworth Armstead, has been murdered. He was a member of a curious lottery where the man who lived the longest would receive a significant cash sum. His death means that there are five remaining participants and five very good motives for murder. Mr. Armstead is also the author of a tell-all book about various “treasures” and may have been about to reveal the secretive owner of the Polar Star Diamond. Two lines of investigation but only one dead body. This should be fun!

Saturday 10 September 2016

EcoQuest - Final Rating

Written by Reiko

As it was targeted at a younger age group, EcoQuest was a very straightforward underwater romp, aside from a few minor issues. I generally had fun playing it (and gently poking fun at it) and was never really stuck on what to do next, although I did miss a few things and didn't get full points.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Missed Classic: Antheads: It Came From the Desert II - WON! and Final Rating

Written by TBD

Brick Nash Journal Entry: With the information I found in the hospital basement the antheads are no longer a problem. The giant ants themselves however are being destructive enough without their half-human brethren, and now I've been put in charge of the defenses of Lizard Breath. Being a man of action, I give a cursory look at our defense strategy but decide to commandeer myself a plane and deal with the ant queen in her own environment. To the nest!

Now that the town's put me in charge I can go to the police station to assign the army, police, construction workers and townspeople to whatever locations I choose to fight off the ants. I didn't bother much with this screen, I just sent all my troops to defend two locations – the airport and the M3 mine. I figured I'd need a plane and the M3 mine seemed to be where the action was in this game.

I then went straight to the airport to get a plane. I had to convince Louie I should be able to fly without a license.

I won't tell you which option I chose in order to convince him

After a few screens of non-interactive dialogue where I explained my Korean flight experience and we exchanged national stereotype insults, I got to the plane screen. The ants had beaten me to the airport, however, so I had to do a combination of fighting them off and avoiding them before I could take off. Eventually I got the plane safely off the ground.

Without a liberal use of save states I'd probably still be stuck at the airport

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Consulting Detective - Victorian Supervillain

Written by Joe Pranevich

Is this the face of a murderer?

Last week, we were trying to solve the case of the “Mystified Murderess”, a woman who awoke from amnesia to find that she had apparently killed her fiance. We’ve been asked to prove her innocence. That’s not going to be easy! I think I have it figured out that her sister arranged the murder (at least indirectly) but not how she carried it out.

Just a reminder, here are our dramatis personae:
  • Frances Nolan - Our “murderess”. She seems like a nice lady, was in love with Guy Clarendon (the victim), and is currently locked up in the Old Bailey awaiting trial. She’s an heiress to the Caverdine fortune.
  • Loretta Nolan - Frances’s sister. As a young girl, she witnessed the murder of her parents and has been wrong in the head ever since. She thinks that she is a princess and her doctor believes that she is “incapable of love”. She seems to be our best suspect, but I have no idea how should could have accomplished it. She is also an heir of the Caverdine fortune but may have squandered much of her wealth.
  • Guy Clarendon - The victim. He was a well-known athlete for a London cricket team but had gambling and drinking problems. He was dispossessed by his father recently and may have run up gambling debts. At the time of his death, he was engaged to Frances, but we found evidence that he was secretly with Loretta instead.
  • Gerald Locke - A suitor for Frances’s hand and the one that brought the case to Holmes. He has plenty of motive to kill Guy, but then why take the case to the world’s greatest detective?
  • Dr. Trevelyan - Loretta’s doctor, first at the Mesmer-Braid Institute and now in private practice. He’s known the Nolans for years and is good friends with Frances. He was also the last person to see her before she apparently went off to kill Guy. He could be working with Loretta, but he doesn’t seem like the murdering type. 
We still also have a “Society Burglar” at large but have found no connections from him to the current case. Got all that? Let’s continue!

Sunday 4 September 2016

EcoQuest - Manta and Whale - Won!

Written by Reiko

Adam Greene Journal #6: "I found a huge stash of chemicals leaking into the water! No wonder there’s so much dead stuff near this cave, and the Elurians are getting sick. Good thing I brought a transmitter with me. With that out of the way, it doesn’t take long to trace a harpoon line to Cetus. He’s in bad shape, and it’s up to me to help him, free Delphineus, and turn the tide of battle against the crazy manta!"

Last time I gathered all the items from the Oracle's prophecy, including a hazmat suit to protect me against the poison that's been leaking out and devastating the underwater city. Now I can swim through the wall and investigate it. Indeed, I find that there are barrels of chemical poison stashed in the cave, and several of the barrels are leaking (Ecological message +1).

Somehow Adam has everything he needs to mark a chemical spill for immediate cleanup.

Friday 2 September 2016

Missed Classic: Antheads: It Came From the Desert II - Three Antheads are better than one

Written by TBD

Brick Nash Journal Entry: I've come to Lizard Breath to try to save everyone from a lethal atomic bomb test, but most of the people are against me. Hell, half of them aren't even people anymore. I've found out that there's a secret area in the hospital that might help me sort out this mess, but how do I get it?

When last we met our hero, Brick Nash, he'd gotten info from Biff and Dusty then went to mine M3 looking for information before getting pummeled by an FBI agent and sent to the hospital.

The action games are the same as It Came From the Desert 1 with one addition we'll get to later.

I can attempt to escape from hospital, but if I fail...

The hospital escape - still a great little action sequence

Before putting me under sedation, the nurse reminds me to behave myself because I don't want Dr Antoine giving me “the treatment!” Sounds appropriately ominous – I'm intrigued.