Saturday 29 July 2017

Police Quest 1 (VGA Remake): That’s DETECTIVE Bonds to You!

Written by Alex

In our last post, we were left hanging as Sonny busted suspected drug dealer, murderer, and driver of that darn stolen Mercedes, Marvin Hoffman aka Leroy Pierson. But did the bust stick?

The bust stuck. Sonny just had to go to court.

But first, Officer Bonds had to get into his street clothes and turn into (duhn-duh-duh-DUUUHN!) DETECTIVE BONDS! And you know what this means!

Another shower!

Entering the combination every . . . damn . . . time . . .

While Sonny’s busy washing up again, I’m going to call a licensed therapist to see if I can get him some help for his OCD take a moment to talk about adventure games. In my experience, there are two types:
  1. Relatively open, where, while there is a set of objectives that need to be accomplished in a more-or-less set order, the player is still able to wander the game world, doing things on their own tie and piecing the disparate elements of the game together. A few games that fall into this category include: most of the King’s Quest series, the Monkey Island series, Quest for Glory I and IV.
  2. On rails, where there are inventory based puzzles that need to be solved in a set order, but the player is taken from scenario to scenario or set-piece to set-piece where, within that scenario, the world is free to explore, but certain events will only occur within that scenario, or at set times. Some may call games like this “linear” or “episodic.” A few games that fall into this category include: Quest for Glory II, III and V, most of the Space Quest series, and, yes, the Police Quest series . . . at least the first three games.
Now, neither type of game is objectively better than the other, all of the ballyhooing amongst gamers about non-linearity being next to Godliness notwithstanding. And there are of course hybrids of these two styles: King’s Quest VI, for example, maybe Space Quest III and VI, Quest for Glory II, III, and V, and the Gabriel Knight series. But Police Quest I stands out as a pure example of style number 2 described above.

I think this is due to the nature of police work that the game is trying to portray. It’s cliché to say that video games make the player “feel” like something or someone—a basketball player, a soldier, Batman, an Italian plumber—but Police Quest DOES make the player “feel” like a cop. Police work is pretty reactionary, after all; cops usually respond to crimes instead of proactively stopping them. This is not a knock on the police. It’s just a fact. They’re often on patrol, waiting for something to happen so they can go help out. In light of this, I find Police Quest to be a fair depiction of the procedure, the stress, the worry, the danger, and yes, the tedium of being a police officer, far more realistic than most other games of its era in this regard. In that, it is groundbreaking, legendary, and my affectionate ribbing of Jim Walls aside, deserves its legendary status.

Oh, and Police Quest has showering. Lots and lots of showering.

Now that Sonny is clean (again) and wearing his detective’s uniform, he’s ready to speak with Lt. Morgan about his first mission: investigate the evidence found in Hoffman/Pierson’s stolen car, namely the black book and the gun. It turns out that the bust is dangerously close to being unstuck, as Hoffman/Pierson is moments away from being released on bail!

But first . . . Sonny is to introduce himself to his new partner, Detective Laura Watts, and get the grand tour of the Narcotics office.

Narcotics . . . office? Where’s that? I explored this whole damn station and didn’t see any Narcotics office. I thought that Lt. Morgan’s office was the Narcotics office.

Nope. It turns out, when you get off of the elevator at Lytton P.D.’s second floor, you walk all the way to the right. Which I swear I did all the way back in my first gameplay post, but I obviously didn’t.

You just . . . walk over there.

Detective Watts seems like a cool person to work with, and shows Sonny his desk, the computers, and the file cabinet. Here, I finally have access to a phone. And I know what number (from a saved game) to call: Tawnee Helmut’s!

Unlike in the original game, this doesn’t result in a “Game Over.”

Back in this timeline, however, I have Sonny poke around on his computer. Other than the “Personnel” section, I’d need some numbers to access any useful information in the “FBI” and “Weapons” databases. And once again, we see shared assets from Police Quest III. As I said in my first post, I love this kind of stuff. And generally, this is a cool shift gameplay-wise: Sonny moves from being on patrol to actively investigating cases. We saw the same thing in Police Quest III. I like this. By contrast, Police Quest II was all detective work, all the time, which was also very fun. But I digress.

Sonny’s computer in Police Quest I . . .

. . . and in Police Quest III. Okay, so this one is only a passing resemblance . . .

I make a few calls, checking in with Jack and trying to prank some of Sonny’s other co-workers, before getting serious.

I realize I could probably call EVERY SINGLE ONE of Sonny’s
colleague and get some kind of silly message, but who has time for that?

In the filing cabinet, I snag Hoffman’s, mainly since it’s the only one I can take. Inside, I learn that Hoffman is one bad hombre and, among other things, has a tattoo of a flower above his left nipple. Didn’t Sweet Cheeks say that her Hoffman had a similar tattoo? Is this guy the Death Angel after all? I need to do more investigation. On the way out, I make sure to take a key to the department’s unmarked car before heading down to Russ at the evidence lockup.

I love how Sonny shuts the filing cabinet with a little kick.

In order to get any damn evidence, clicking “Talk” on Russ isn’t good enough. I have to give him the file. He then brings out the black book and the gun telling Sonny he can look at them all he wants, but he has to do it here.

First, the book. Hoffman/Pierson’s handwriting is awful, and much of it is incomprehensible, but I see two common themes: Gambling and drugs. There are also a lot of initials, which is interesting: “Terminate J.M. and L.W.” could be Jose Martinez (the missing dope pusher) and Lonnie West (the dead dope pusher Sonny found in the first game day). And “J.B.” could be the “Jessie Baines” that Sweet Cheeks said Hoffman had mentioned.

The gun offers another clue: A serial number! I plug it into Sonny’s computer and learn that it’s registered to a Jason Taselli, one of the FBI’s most wanted.

The database also gives an FBI case number. Popping the case number into the FBI’s database reveals that Hoffman/Pierson IS Jason Taselli, a notorious, murdering drug-dealer with a, wait for it, flower tattoo above his left nipple! I print the poster out and rush to Lt. Morgan who . . . has nothing new to say.

As Detective Watts is out doing other business, I grab the poster and rush to court. Our perp, Taselli, cannot be let back out on the streets! The bust must stick!

No, they are not, Sonny. In fact, many look like this:

This is Dudley District Court in Dudley, Massachusetts. As you can see,
it is less “Neoclassical” and more “Squat, Brick, Pizza Hut-looking Thing.”

Going to court gives me flashbacks to my former life as a trial attorney. Just looking at this place makes me shudder. Look at this lobby! Look at this court clerk!

Have you ever dealt with court clerks? Please tell me you haven’t. But if you have, you know that they’re the most unhelpful . . .

Oh. He helped me. Sure, it took some insistent pleading on Sonny’s part, but still: he agreed to interrupt the judge’s session to let Sonny in.

Luckily, Judge Palmer is a reasonable man. I show the evidence and he provides a no-bail warrant for Sonny to serve on Taselli’s ass (metaphorically speaking—warrants tend to be served in somebody’s hand, not on their ass).

Meanwhile, Sonny does some editorializing:

I’m going to interrupt with some editorializing of my own here: I know, I know, it’s easy to trash criminal defense attorneys. I do it too! But I still thank God I live in a country where, if the State is about to deprive me of my life, liberty, or property, I am guaranteed legal representation, whether or not I can afford it. Read the book Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis if you’re interested in the case that gave the name to the idea that every criminal defendant is afforded legal representation under the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, as applied to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment.

Long story short: Until the Civil War, the Bill of Rights (Amendments I – X) did not apply to the individual states, all of which have their own Constitution. After the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, many cases began to apply certain provisions of the Bill of Rights to the States . . . including the Due Process provisions of the Fifth Amendment. So yeah, whichever designer stuck this reference in here seriously needs to reexamine the rights he is afforded as an American, whether he likes them or not. Because someday, YOU might be on the other end—and your trial may be unfair or the case against you untrue!—and you really, really wish you had legal representation . . . where was I?

The jail is conveniently located right next to the courthouse (Is there an underground tunnel from one to the other? A slide?) so it’s nothing for Sonny to rush in and keep Taselli in the metal klink. Take that, scumbag! The bust sticks! No bail for you! You’re staying in the pokey until trial, bitch!

It’s rectangular and it’s paper and it says “No Bail” on it!

Ahem. I must remember that a police officer must maintain a certain level of decorum.

One cool thing about this little scenario is that the game smash-cuts back to the station . . . where Detective Watts informs Sonny that a drug deal is about to go down in Bert’s Park. Time for another bust!

At the park, the plan is for Sonny to hide himself and observe the park bench, while Detective Watts will circle around and watch the park’s other entrance. After that . . . I guess I have to look at the manual.

The steps seem pretty clear:
  1. Have back-up near.
  2. Maintain radio contact with back-up
  3. Observe the crime
  4. Have weapon drawn at the ready
  5. Identify yourself as police to the suspect
  6. Command suspect to keep his hands over his head
  7. Cuff suspect when safe
  8. Search suspect
  9. Read rights
  10. Take to jail
I spend too much time looking around at first and blow my cover, resulting in a game over. Reloading, I hide behind the bushes to the upper-left; the “You’ve got points!” chime lets me know I’m on the right track. I also check in with Detective Watts using the radio and then click the gun icon on Sonny, making him draw his weapon as he observes the deal.

I also love how Sonny keeps moving around and poking his head around like a dope. Way to be inconspicuous there, Sonny.

Anyway, some long-haired dude with a beard (not Jesus) saunters into view, and is soon met by a young kid sporting one of the most 90s-looking character portraits I have ever seen. Talk about righteous.

Tubular, even?

The game then cuts to a FMV scene of not-Jesus roughing up 90s-kid, berating him for being a sniveling punk and all of that. What’s important is 1) I like the way this game pushes the boundaries by incorporating new technology into the mix and 2) Sonny sees the deal go down!

I wonder if these two were Sierra employees?

Drugs and money are exchanged, with 90s-kid purchasing a packet of something from not-Jesus. They start to split the scene, so I click the “Talk” icon on not-Jesus, and . . .

. . . they get away because Sonny doesn’t say “Halt”? I clicked the “Talk” icon on the creep! What else do I have to do?!

It turns out you have to click “Talk” on 90s-kid. Not-Jesus gets away, but at least Sonny (automatically) tells the other perp to halt. Now I can search him (finding cocaine), cuff him (over his objections), read him his rights, cuff him against his protest, and bring him to Detective Watts, who apprehended not-Jesus as he tried to flee.

Now, this isn’t fair. On what planet is the player supposed to know he has to click on one perp and not the other? Planet Sierra, that’s where, a magical land of moon logic, obscure parsers, and trial-and-error. This is the kind of puzzle that, if I think about it, only the Quest for Glory series, and most of the Space Quest games mostly avoided.

But it’s a minor point, and one I’d ask Jim Walls about if he were around . . . say, standing in my front door.

90s-kid is named Victor Simms. He’s scared, and he readily answers Sonny’s questions. Turns out he hangs out and does drugs with Kathy Cobb, Jack’s daughter! They used to buy from Jose Martinez, but he stopped showing up and Colby—that’s not-Jesus’ name—approached him one day and became Simms’ new dealer.

Colby . . . let’s say Colby isn’t nearly as cooperative as Simms.

Nothing left to do but haul their asses to jail.

I book them for “Possession of a controlled substance” and “possession of cocaine.” Another righteous bust under Sonny’s belt! Not bad for his first day as a detective!

Detective Watts congratulates Sonny, and tells him that Jack had called earlier from The Blue Room sounding pretty upset. She recommends Sonny pay him a visit. Which he does.

Jack is not too happy about the fact that Kathy’s dealer is off the streets. This is for the perfectly reasonable reason that his daughter overdosed and is in a coma. How depressing! Drunk, Sonny makes sure that Jack doesn’t get behind the wheel before taking off. But before he leaves, Keith comes running in (Remember him? Does this dude ever work?) telling Sonny that Taselli has escaped!


Keith also knows (How? Telepathy? He’s off duty!) that Lt. Morgan wants to see him. So I head back and get my new assignment: look at all of the Hoffman/Pierson/Taselli evidence . . . again . . . to clarify the picture . . .


What picture? The dude escaped. Shouldn’t we . . . go look for him? Am I stuck in a loop like in Police Quest III?

Feeling like a dummy, I reexamine all of the evidence and then head back to Morgan, who summarily ignores all of this Taselli nonsense—I mean, it’s just a known murderer and drug-dealer on the FBI’s most wanted list who had just escaped jail!—to head back to the jail. It turns out that Sweet Cheeks has been pinched, but given her relationship with Sonny, the Lieutenant thinks she might be convinced to help them infiltrate the narcotics ring at the Hotel Delphoria.

Okay, hold up. THE narcotics ring? What narcotics ring? And Hotel Delphoria? Is this what “H.D.” meant in Taselli’s black book? If so, when did the dots get connected? Who put these pieces together? It sure wasn’t Sonny. What’s going on here?

Is this a case of . . . bad writing?

I don’t know. Maybe the game was rushed. I’d sure like to ask someone about this, though . . . someone like Jim Walls maybe?

Whatever. Sweet Cheeks is willing to comply in order not to go to jail with those scary women in there. You know the type . . . you’ve seen Orange is the New Black.

I hope so! And if so, you can write your own pop-culture reference here, because I’ve never seen it.

Sonny also gives Pervy Paul an epic dressing down for being a filthy jerk.

So! The pieces are in place! Except one just got removed from the board. Seems like a floater has turned up at Cotton Cove. No, not that kind of floater. I mean an 11-44! A fatality! A dead body! And looking under the sheet reveals a flower tattoo above the left nipple.

Taselli. Someone got him too. So it’s pretty obvious that he wasn’t the Death Angel . . . but who is?

I guess that’s what the Hotel Delphoria operation is supposed to suss out. Back in Lt. Morgan’s office, the gang assembles to go over the plan. Here’s how it looks:
  • Sweet Cheeks will go to the Hotel’s bar and socialize for a few hours, talking to the bartender, her friend Alexandra Parker’
  • Sonny will then go to the Hotel, get a room, and have a few drinks and chat with the two women in his disguise as Jimmy Lee “Whitey” Banksten.
  • Sonny will hopefully (And this is kind of a silly part of the sting—relying on hope as a part of your plan? Really?) get invited to a secret backroom poker game in the illegal ring Ms. Parker has been facilitating.
  • ???
  • Victory!
Actually, this is a recon mission. Sonny is to find out what he can about the Death Angel and report back to Lt. Morgan. But first, his disguise: Bleach-blonde hair and a tacky white suit, hence the name “Whitey.”

But first . . .

I know, you’ve been asking yourself, “What’s missing from this plan?” I’ll tell you what—and I know you’ve been wanting it since you started reading this post. That’s right.

Another shower.


This time, though, the shower has a purpose. Sonny comes out blonde.

And in that suit, my Gawd, look at that! He’s . . .

He’s . . .

He’s Let’s Dance-era David Bowie.

I approve of this plan.

Inventory: Wallet, keys to unmarked car
Score: 153 out of 225
On a scale of Don Knots to Don Johnson, how much do I feel like a cop?: David Bowie

Play time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Total time: 4 hours, 35 minutes


  1. When my Sonny said "FREEZE" and the game over message told me I should have said "HALT" I just folded my arms and said to the Dosbox screen, "Okay, do you know why I'm disappointed" as if I was talking to a five year old who'd drawn on the walls.

    1. Yeah, it's a frustrating part of the game.

  2. That bit about lawyers is just strange - it feels like whoever wrote it was just trying to make a cheap propaganda shot that feels completely out of place in this supposedly realistic game. I mean, not letting defendant be defended is usually a good sign of a non-democratic country.

    Together with the aggressive comment to Paul, this seems also at odds with the cool professionalism of Sonny Bonds that we usually see in these games. I guess he got too hammered in the Blue Room and is now pissed because he's having the worst hangover of his life.

    1. I guess the writers watched too many cop shows? There's certainly plenty of examples in 80s/90s cop shows where the police hate the lawyers (or at least make sarcastic remarks or whatever). Which is why you get those "maverick" cops that get things done by breaking the rules. (Rather than acknowledging why the system is how it is, and why that's a good thing).

    2. Bingo. It all absolutely smacks of that vibe, which is a) what I think they were going for, and b) is entertaining--and effective--enough to have become a cliche. But the lawyer/historian in me bristles at it.

      Oh well.

  3. Very frustrating. An interface error or just a programming oversight perhaps.

    There's a similarly unfair puzzle later near the endgame I'll write about soon.