Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Police Quest 1 (VGA Remake): Speeders, Drunks, Bikers, and Murder

Written by Alex

Sonny’s first in-game day on patrol wastes no time getting to the hardcore stuff! But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here; like I wrote in the last post, we need to talk about the Police Quest remake’s driving interface first.

And . . . it’s good!

Patrolling the Streets

Unlike Police Quest III’s wretched driving simulator, this one manages to retain the charm of the original game’s driving without being tedious. And while the streets don’t seem as full of life as those in the EGA Police Quest, due to the lack of other drivers, the map is bright and colorful, unlike the drab interior of Sonny's car in Police Quest III.

Have I ever mentioned that I really didn’t like Police Quest III?

“Yes. Yes you did. And it’s not like the designer of that game is standing right here in your doorway. Have some respect, Law Boy.”

You know something Jim? You’re right. It’s easy for me to take pot-shots at you from behind the screen. With you right there, it’s a bit different, you know? I’ll try to keep my snarky comments to a minimum. Deal?

“I generally have a rule against trusting punk lawyers, but what the hell. Deal.”


So one thing I like about this driving interface is that you can click the “Eye” icon on the various buildings on the map and get a description of what they are, some helpful, and some just for added descriptive richness. And as Lytton is divided into four quadrants, it seems like getting lost will be nearly impossible.

Cynical . . . but kind of funny.

I make a note of some locations that seem like places I can visit later. These include:
  • The courthouse
  • The jail
  • Caffeine Carol’s, where I’m supposed to meet Steve later in the shift
  • Wino Willy’s, a dive bar next to Carol’s
  • The Blue Room, a cop hangout
  • Bert’s Park
  • Cotton Cove
  • Lytton General Hospital
  • The Lytton Waldruff-Hilltowne hotel
  • The tack Hotel Delphoria
And I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss how to drive in Police Quest: There's self-explanatory icons for the gas and brake pedals, and three yellow arrows. The arrows tell Sonny’s car where to turn as he approaches each intersection—just click an arrow and when Sonny gets there, he’ll turn left, right, or go straight depending on which arrow is blinking.

Periodically, a “STOP” icon appears in the left rectangle, next to the helpful description of which road Sonny is on. Simply approach going 15 miles per hour or less, and Sonny will stop automatically. To turn your siren on, click the small red button next to the ignition, and Sonny can both blow through stop signs and pull over other cars who dare break the traffic laws.

Easy as pie, right? I sure think so. And as a bonus, a flashing red square on the map tells you exactly where you are. No guesswork! And I like how the game gives some brief explanatory text boxes when you first get on the streets. It’s quick, economical, and doesn’t disrupt the flow of the game.

Alright, so we’re on patrol! I check the manual and notice that—gulp—I forgot to do something before getting into the squad car.

I forgot the vehicle inspection!

“You what?! What, are you trying to get yourself killed or something? What’s the matter with you!”

Whoa, Jim: Truce. Remember?

“No, this is serious stuff! There’s a reason I put that in the game! Nothing bugs me more than a brother or sister in blue getting hurt, or worse, for something so preventable! How hard is it to walk around your car and check the tires and everything?!”

That’s . . . a really good point. And it’s not hard at all. Quoth the manual:

Vehicle Walk-Around Safety Procedures
  1. Be responsible for the vehicle and be held accountable for the equipment assigned to the vehicle.
  2. Conduct a daily inspection before each tour of duty to insure that the vehicle is safe, properly equipped and in serviceable condition. (Special attention shall be given to checking all four wheels, steering, and brake system.)
I seem to recall that failure to do so in the original Police Quest results in an instant death. Here, I’m still allowed to drive, but I sure hope it doesn’t come back to bite me later in classic Sierra fashion.


In any event, it doesn’t take too long before dispatch summons Sonny to a reported 11-80 on Fig Street between 4th and 3rd. Checking the manual, I discover that—

“An 11-80? That’s a traffic collision with a major injury!”

Yeah, I was getting to that . . .

So sirens on, I find my way to this spot and Sonny pulls over, getting out of the car to see a crowd of people rubbernecking around a car that’s gotten awfully intimate with a telephone pole.

The car’s a wreck, and so is the driver. I have Sonny call dispatch to let them know he’s on the scene before getting a closer look at what happened. And what Sonny sees isn’t pretty.

A head injury . . . a hole in the jaw . . . bullet holes on the door . . . this wasn’t just a traffic accident. This looks like murder!

It’s weird to not gather evidence, but remember that at this point in the Police Quest continuity, Sonny is not yet a detective; he’s just a lowly beat cop.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold it right there Law Boy. ‘Lowly’ beat cop? Beat cops put their ass on the line every single day, protecting our lives so punks like you can make smarmy jokes on the Internet. They do valuable work, so I highly recommend you keep your condescension to yourself until you do such a risky job day in, day out.”

You know what Jim? You’re absolutely right, and I regretted saying that as soon as I typed it, which begs the question, “Why did I type it, then?” But we’re getting way too meta here. Anyway, I’m just going by the pop-culture impression of beat cops which is, quite frankly, garbage.

“Alright, pal. Apology accepted.”

Sonny may not be in the position to gather physical evidence, but he can at least examine the witnesses. Only one young man is willing to talk to Sonny, but what he says proves quite helpful.

The witness says he was driving and saw two cars coming towards him, including the one presently smashed and holding a dead driver. He heard two shots, and then this car crashed while the other kept, in the witness’ own words, “jammin’.”

But look at that description: A silver Mercedes, not brand new but not too old, with a partial license number of L964 . . . that sure sounds similar to the stolen car Sargent Dooley described at the morning’s briefing, a black 1983 Mercedes with a license plate number of LOP123. Similar, but not exact. Still, it’s a lead, something Dooley and Lt. Morgan are appreciative of when they arrive on the scene, telling Sonny to get back to his beat.

Quite the way to start the morning! No sooner is Sonny back on patrol when he gets a call from dispatch reminding him of his appointment with Steve.

Or was that Keith? I swear, it was Steve, although Keith makes more sense, being Sonny’s partner in Police Quest II.

Going through my screenshots like a real detective, I see that the message in Sonny’s pigeonhole was, in fact, from Steve.

Ah-ha! Either the game is lying to me, there’s been a continuity error, or Steve/Keith is an imposter out to get me!

“Yeah, alright kid, you’re a regular Columbo. Just shut up and play the game, will you?”

But this is important stuff! In a game as otherwise well-written as this, such an error sticks out like a sore thumb! Surely you had nothing to do with this?

“Me? Hell no! I got everything right, including proper police procedure based on my own experiences. Did you know that the crazy guy in the water from Police Quest III was based on a true story!”


Anyway, Steve, Keith, it doesn’t matter. All that matters now is getting Sonny some coffee, so off to Carol’s we go!

The Banter

I make a detour to Willy’s, but there’s nothing to do there now, and as I’ll be heading there later in this session, I’ll save the description for then.

Suffice it to say, it’s Steve that Sonny meets with, not Keith, as if it really matters.

Sonny and Steve don’t do much but bust each other’s balls and talk about the accident scene Sonny saw, trading some morbid humor, the kind that helps cops cope with some of the difficult stuff they see. Steve also accuses Sonny of being someone called “The Gremlin,” who has been playing pranks on Sgt. Dooley lately. While both men think The Gremlin’s work is highly amusing, neither admit to being him.

I’m sure actual cop banter is decidedly more R-rated than what’s presented here, but it still provides a good amount of realism to the “day in the life” feel the game is going for. Other than that, we learn a little more about Sonny: He’s shy and pretty awkward around the ladies. This not only adds verisimilitude to his character, but gives some foreshadowing of the events to come!

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Eventually, the phone rings, and Sonny is informed by Lt. Morgan that the deceased is a low-level drug dealer named Lonny West, confirmed killed by a bullet in the head. Morgan also compliments Sonny on his excellent work, and vows to keep him informed, something Sonny is much appreciative of.

Eventually, the two officers decide that it’s time to get back to work, with Steve reminding Sonny to be at the Blue Room after work for a get-together in honor of their colleague Jack. Another plot-related breadcrumb. I have to say, so far the game doesn’t seem to leave you wandering around, wondering what to do. It’s been a little linear so far, sure, but it beats being lost. And it’s also probably the best way to simulate being a uniformed police officer in these United States.

The Speeder

Back to the streets! This time, it doesn’t take long for stuff to happen. At the first stop sign, Sonny sees a car blow through an intersection way too fast, a sporty red number driven by what he describes as an “incredible honey-blonde.”

Incredible, eh?! Well, we might just need to take a closer look to confirm!

And, uh, issue a citation as warranted. Because realism.

So “incredible” is a matter of taste.

The offender’s name is Tawnee V. Helmut. How do I know? Because Sonny checks the car’s tags and then calls dispatch to run the numbers. Nope, not stalking in the hopes of getting a date, no sir!

This is where Sonny’s awkwardness with women, alluded to in his conversation with Steve comes in. Tawnee makes eyes at him coos, and practically propositions Sonny to get out of this ticket.

Here’s where the element of player choice comes in: I click the pen on the ticket in Sonny’s inventory, which creates a new object, the ticket.

You click the ticket on Tawnee, and a menu comes up, prompting the player to choose between “Warning” and “Ticket.”

I love stuff like this.

Just for fun, I save and then issue a warning. Tawnee is very happy, and gives Sonny her number—555-7588—telling him to call sometimes. It’s not an in-game death, and I suppose I could continue on, but I don’t feel much like playing the rest of the game just to see if this has consequences when all I want to do is give this reckless driver a ticket! Besides, letting someone go with a warning just because they’re pretty feels wrong. The law is THE LAW! It applies to everyone equally, beauty be damned!

So I restore and give Tawnee a ticket. Her reaction is . . . disturbing.

There’s more. So much more. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I’m sure it’s reflective of the abuse cops take from people. And most likely milder.

So I drive on, secure in the knowledge that at least one bad driver will think twice before driving so dangerously again, and get another call over dispatch, this time from Carol’s, calling about a disturbance she needs Sonny’s help with.

The Bikers

Carol has a complaint about the bikers who always park in front of her establishment. While they go to Willy’s, they give Carol’s customers the wrong impression . . . and use up her parking spaces. While, as Sonny notes, the bikers are parked legally, he agrees to talk to them to see if they can come to an agreement.

And . . . the boss of the gang immediately tries to kill Sonny.

I restore and decide to shoot this guy. Predictably, the death screen tells me that killing an unarmed perp is wrong and that Sonny spends his remaining years drunk and miserable. Wow, that got dark fast.

“To be fair, you shot a guy.”

Quiet, you. I use the nightstick on the biker instead. Sonny kneecaps the bastard, and they agree to leave.

This is an odd scenario—bikers park legally, cop beats them up until they leave—but hey, I’m not the realism expert here! Besides, I can use that classic American legal defense: “They started it,” also known as the doctrine of self-defense. The important thing is that Sonny did not react with an inappropriate level of force, something described in the original Police Quest manual, but not in this one. Trial and error . . . I am not a fan.

Next to the jukebox is a “working girl” named “Sweet Cheeks” Marie that Sonny apparently knew from high school. It’s obvious that they have a thing for each other. Indeed, Marie appears in Police Quest II as his girlfriend and Police Quest III as his wife. Here, though, she’s a hooker.

And she’s got info! She claims that she, um, “serviced” someone claiming to be the Death Angel, someone named “Coffman” or “Hoffman” and that he had a rose tattoo over his left nipple. Marie also lets it slip that this Coffman or Hoffman mentioned someone else, a man named Jesse Baines.

A-ha! Clues! Veteran Police Quest players know what all of this means, but let’s not get carried away here. In return for this intel, Sonny tips Marie off about an upcoming police sting called “Operation Trick Trap,” telling her to lie low for a few days. The situation diffused, it’s back to patrol.

The Drunk

Wow! At the first stop sign I come to, some drunk jerk blows through the intersection, weaving and driving around 50 miles per hour in a heavily populated area.

I know what to do: sirens on, I pull the offender over . . . and check my manual!

Intoxicated Driver Procedures
  1. Detect possible intoxication by observing erratic driving
  2. After stopping the suspect, determine his condition by:
    a) Detecting the odor of alcoholic beverage.
    b) Administering a Field Sobriety Test.
Well, I’ve already done number one. Time to do the rest.

Let me add here that it’s stuff like this which made people criticize the original Police Quest as “Manual: The Game.” Here, with the point-and-click interface, things are a bit streamlined, but you do lose some of the realism that comes from typing things per the manual.

“That’s what we were going for, you know. Not trying to annoy the player, but by making them feel like a cop for a few hours.”

And I think you did a good job of that. I’m sure the other procedures listed in the manual will be a little trickier to adhere to. For now, back to the drunk!

Running his numbers reveals that his name is William J. Barnum, and that he has two previous DUIs on his record. This doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily drunk now, but--

Oh, come on. He’s drunk as a skunk. The game is being a little on-the-nose here, but whatever: let’s get this clown off the streets!

This is where Police Quest VGA loses a little of the realism of the original. In that game, you actually do “smell car” to detect the odor of alcohol. Here, clicking “Talk” makes Sonny 1) get Mr. Barnum’s license and 2) order him out of the car to do a field sobriety test, which happens automatically. Sonny also reads him his Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain silent,” and so on) of his own accord.

Heck, even in Police Quest III you got to use the breathalyzer machine on the drunk driver Sonny encounters there.

Whatever. The important thing is that Mr. Barnum is getting off the streets . . . or is he? Just for “fun,” I click the pen on my ticket book and give him a citation. Things get rather dark from there.

“What is wrong with you? You think this is funny?”

No. I just wanted to see how much choice there actually was in this game. Alternate solutions and such. Though I’d hardly call this a “solution.” With the speeding Ms. Helmut, for example, you can let her go with a warning and the game keeps going. Here, it’s, rightfully, game over if you let Mr. Barnum go.

“I swear, if they’d have let me work on this I’d have—you know what? Never mind. I’m taking off. This is about the time in the game Sonny goes off duty, so I’m doing the same.”

Gee, thanks for the spoiler alert, Jim!

“Oh, grow up Law Boy. Anyway, it’s been an unexpected pleasure. Good luck with the rest of the game. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

Alright Jim, take it easy. And now I can finally leave my apartment. But guess who doesn’t get to leave his place of confinement? That’s right: Drunk old Mr. Barnum. When you follow proper police procedure and bring him in, Sonny automatically performs the search. But Mr. Barnum asks, on account of his not feeling too good, to be handcuffed in the front.

Another choice! But here, its trial and error, as the proper procedure for handcuffing isn’t in the manual. In the original Police Quest (and I know I said I wouldn’t be doing a game-by-game comparison, but bear with me), the manual details this: men get cuffed in the back, and women may be cuffed in the front.

Here, if you cuff Mr. Barnum in the front, he punches you out. Game over. I suppose cuffing him in back is just common sense, but it seems like the kind of adventure game puzzles I despite: guessing!

Another gripe: See those little lockers near the jail entrance? Those are sidearm storage lockers. In each of the first three Police Quest games, Sonny has to leave his gun outside. This is detailed in the manual.

Here? Nope. You’ve got to either die inside when the perp shoots you with your own gun, or luck out and click on everything to discover what you’re supposed to do. It’s not a big deal, but it irks me.

Inside, the booking officer, Paul, is clearly a stand-in for some other Sierra character . . .

. . . but you, sadly, don’t get to see his portrait. At least he helps you book Mr. Barnum with another example of this game’s copy protection. Much like Police Quest III, you need to enter the appropriate five-digit violation codes from the manual.

I book Mr. Barnum for “driving under the influence of intoxicants,” “not being in full control of his faculties,” and “reckless driving.” I got points for each one, which makes me think I could maybe have booked him for more, but none of them seem to fit and I’m not a jerk cop, I’m an honest one, damn it!

So this done, Sonny gets a call to see Sgt. Dooley. And Sarge is mad. Looks like this Gremlin character’s last prank went too far—he put a live chicken in Dooley’s office.

But all Dooley does is rant and rave and tell Sonny to flake off because he’s off duty.

The officers milling about Dooley’s disperse, saying they’ll catch him later at the Blue Room for Jack’s party. Nothing left to do but shower, change, and end this shift!

After putting the keys and the radio extender back, of course.

Next time, we’ll see what cops do for fun, as well as find out what adventures Sonny has on the next day’s patrol.

Inventory: Loaded gun, handcuffs, keys to Sonny’s Camaro
Score: 62 out of 225
On a scale of Don Knots to Don Johnson, how much do I feel like a cop?: Jim Walls

Play time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, 5 minutes


  1. I've only read the first bit because that's all I'm up to now.

    First, I should gloat...

    I remembered the vehicle inspection :P

    I did once have to reload to read the messages that pop up telling you where to go - the Carol's one came up for me while I was slowing down for a stop light, and my constant pressing of the brake had me click out of the message before I even knew it was there.

  2. I faced the same thing with the messages as I clicked the pedals! I still like the driving interface on the whole, but that is a bit of a nitpick.

  3. At least in the EGA version calling the number of the speeder (named Helen Hots) connected to a wife of police commissioner, leading to an embarrassing death.

  4. A bit of Googling revealed that Jim Walls attempted to Kickstart a Police Quest-esque adventure game, Precinct, but it failed to reach its goal. Can't find anything more on it after 2013, unfortunately, I wonder what happened.

    1. @Raifield

      I, too, was bummed out that Precinct didn't meet its goals.

    2. I actually pledged to that kickstarter. Police was my favourite of the Sierra 'Quests'

      It didn't technically fail - it was cancelled because it looked like it was going to fail

      Then it was started on its own crowd-funding platform with a much lower goal, which it also didn't reach, That website doesn't exist anymore. At last count it had raised about $11,000 of a minimum $25,000 that would get a demo made.

  5. @Ilmari

    Yes it did!

    Here, I haven't even found a telephone Sonny can use yet. He can't interact with the one at Carol's.

    Also, here the text descriptions go out of their way to make Carol's seem like a gross, greasy, disgusting, undignified place. Seems unnecessary.

  6. that's it, I've blocked the fat cop picture from my browser, I won't be able to see it again. Best decision ever

    1. Hehe. Good to see you've found a solution

  7. Funnily enough, "chicken" is the equivalent slang word in french for cop, like "pig" is in english. As I was playing Police Quest as a kid I thought the scene with the chicken existed because of that.

    1. The chicken was added because Jim (the consulting cop) saw that actually occur in a police station once, apparently.

  8. I think the use of Jim Walls was better in this episode than the previous.

  9. @Fry

    This is what I was working towards. I wanted him to "say" things I found on interviews and whatnot.

    In any event, some experiments work and some don't. I will now stop singlehandedly ruining TAG.

  10. @Alfred

    That's hilarious! I didn't know that. I doubt that it was known by Sierra either, but three cheers for cross-cultural humor!

  11. I certainly prefer the 'choice' of either giving Tawnee a ticket or not or handcuffing Barnum at the back. It definitely makes it easier, giving us an obvious correct answer with Tawnee, but the original way just seems unnecessarily annoying.

    From memory, in the original game, typing something like "cuff man" defaults to cuffing him in the front for no reason other than to make the 'correct' answer harder.