Thursday, 10 January 2019

Game 104: Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender (1992) – Introduction

Written by TBD

Rex is regretting his third wish, which seemed like such a fun idea in theory.

Much like a previous game I've played, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, the title of this game has me forming an opinion on the type of experience I'll be having before I even start. I'm expecting, again like the previously mentioned title, a space comedy game with many jokes and situations somehow related to sex. Will I be right? I feel confident I'll be right.

The game was developed by MPS Labs, a development division of Microprose Software Inc.

Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender was MPS Labs' first adventure game – the company had previously mainly concerned itself with strategy and simulation titles, the most famous of which is undoubtedly 1991's Sid Meier's Civilization.

I recognise the names of Brian Reynolds and Jeff Briggs as long term collaborators on many games with the name 'Sid Meier' on the title.

Apart from the MPS regulars, one name of note in the credits is Steve Meretzky of the Leather Goddesses and Spellcasting series, among others. In this game he's credited with Rex's Log Text, which is a 23 page booklet included with the game. I'm not sure if this contains any useful information, but it's definitely a bit of funny flavour text.

I wonder if  Kirk's first Captain's Log contained a similar exchange...

MPS Labs did continue to dabble in the adventure genre after this with 1993's Return of the Phantom and 1994's Dragonsphere. Those games also used the engine MPS Labs created for this game, the imaginatively named Microprose Adventure Development System (MADS)

The manual points out many fine state-of-the-art technologies contained in the game. In brief:
  • Sprite scaling as Rex moves forward and back 
  • the fine 3-D objects spinning at the bottom of the screen 
  • the difficulty and naughtiness modes available 
Hmmm. State-of-the-art technologies that we've all seen before, with the possible exception of 3-D spinning objects, whatever they are.

I've chosen maximum difficulty and naughtiness mode. I'll be keeping this playthrough rather family friendly throughout, but based on my Leather Goddesses experience, I don't think even the maximum naughtiness level will be quite as naughty as it wants me to think it is.

I have no idea what I'm choosing here. If this ends up being in relation to action sequences I may be regretting my choice.

Now, let's take a look at the opening cutscene, which is a rather lengthy 8 minute sequence. 

I can barely read this text when looking at the screenshot. I had no idea what it said when it appeared briefly during the cutscene.

At the start of the cutscene, a ship appears upside down and immediately rights itself before taking off.

I always thought this should happen more often in sci-fi. Why do spaceships always approach each other as if they are travelling somewhere with an obvious up and down?

The spaceship, presumably containing our hero, lands... somewhere... and Rex walks across a platform while an observer watches on.

The true inventor of the facepalm meme.

Rex approaches a guy's office and gives him a purple vase before demanding he get paid handsomely for the job he just did. When asked if getting the item was hard, Rex responded.

Looks like most of the game is going to be flashback.

In the flashback, Rex sends a probe into a swirling sphere. As he approaches the sphere, his ship takes a hit and a cloaked red ship appears. Rex tries to talk his way out of the situation.


Fun fact: the working fireplace is only the SECOND greatest waste of oxygen on this spaceship.

The Captain of the red ship orders the smaller vessel finished off and Rex's ship, named the Slippery Pig, plummets to the planet below and sinks to the bottom of an ocean crater.


If you're worried about someone finding your planet, maybe shooting them so they crash land on the planet you're trying to hide is NOT the best way to act.

Unfortunately for Rex, he needed to have rolled a 9 or higher to survive the other ship's laser blasts.

And we'll see what happens when Rex stands up in our next exciting visit to Rex Nebular's world.

Though I've only seen the opening and checked out the manual, I've enjoyed the humour so far and feel like I'm in for a fun comedy space adventure. Don't let me down, MPS Labs. I'm counting on you.

The animations have also surprised me with their number of frames. The characters move quite a bit more than I'm used to in games of this era. Though it's possible that level of movement is just for the opening rather than the entirety of the game.

On a personal note, not only have I not played Rex Nebular before. I hadn't even heard of the game until it appeared on our list. I'll find out soon if the game is worth remembering or if it's best left forgotten.

And, as always in an introduction post, get your Final Rating guesses in and any game bets you may have.

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. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.

33 comments:

  1. I guess 55, slightly worse than Heart of China.

    MPS adventure games use quite a lot of live action footage for their animations. The sprites are likely almost all rotoscoped; this technique allows the creation of smooth, realistic animation at a high frame rate, at the cost of being strictly limited to live action reference.

    The only other adventure from them I've also played is Return of the Phantom (coming in 1993), and it has similar animation quality, interface and even three difficulty options as well.

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    1. You should definitely try Dragonsphere, I'd consider it the best MPS adventure.

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    2. I remember playing Dragonsphere with a friend ages ago. So, I went and picked it up on offer at GOG...only to find out it doesn't start properly. Disappointment.

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    3. I'm already pencilled in to play Return of the Phantom so I'll have to nominate myself for Dragonsphere when the time comes to complete the MPS trilogy.

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  2. Reminds me a little of Space Quest IV, I wonder if that's going to be a fair comparison or not.

    I'll guess 61 for the score.

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    1. I'd say, from my 20+ year old memory, it would be SQ4 + Married... with Children + a little LSL. The game was constantly compared to Leather Goddesses of Phobos at the time, but I hadn't played that, so I don't know how fair the comparison was.

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    2. I hated Married... with Children but really liked SQ4, I enjoyed both Leather Goddesses games and never really cared for LSL - I don't think that information helps anyone know where my preferences are because it seems I have a very inconsistent sense of humour.

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  3. Guessing 59.

    I fondly remember this game, although I can't remember why. I do remember getting my hands on a borrowed Disney Sound Source (I think that's the name) in order to hear the speech in this game. As I recall, THAT was kind of a good innovation for its time, even if the hardware requirement was awkward.

    I do expect modern gamers would be offended by the gender roles in this game, but I remember it being entertaining, so I couldn't care less.

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  4. 60 for me
    I was a Microprose sim and strategy fan boy back in the day and loved LSL and Space Quest too. I remember being really excited to try a game by one of my favourite publishers incorporating two adventure themes that I enjoyed. I was a bit disappointed but I have pretty fond memories of this one, even if the jokes went a bit over my head at the time.
    It's definitely not as good as SQ4 or even KQ6 though but it's better than LSL1 VGA in my opinion, just barely.

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    1. Forgot to change my name in the "Reply as"

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  5. I'll guess 62, seems like a fun game that I have no idea about.

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  6. I remember playing this one (and Return of the Phantom) back in the 90s, but i´m pretty sure i never finished it, so i just download it minutes ago and i will play along and if i happen to encounter a pretty harsh puzzle before the next post, maybe i bet against you (since i never finished it, i guess at some place i`ll eventually get stuck again, or maybe 25 years later i am brighter, we will see). I checked out that Space Quest 4 got 65 points and this game surely can`t reach that level, i was going to say 61, but since it`s taken, let`s say 58

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  7. I'll try 57. No idea of the game. What exactly determines the difficulty level in the game? More puzzles, short timed (*shudder*) sequences, something else?

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    1. I'm certainly hoping it's puzzle based. After completing the opening section I'll try it again on the easiest difficulty to see if there's a difference.

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    2. And perhaps if I'd read the manual more thoroughly the first time, I would have known for sure...

      "In the most difficult mode, the game presents the player with puzzles reminiscent of the classic textbased adventure games. In the easiest mode, we bypass or simplifY the harder puzzles, and don't allow the player to make irreversible mistakes.."

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    3. It would be a real breakthrough if they eliminated any walking dead sequences using the difficulty setting. If you have the time to just do a bit of the first part on the lower difficulty setting to see if the setting does change it the way they promised it would be really informative.

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    4. Well, not everyone viewed dead-ends as bad game design back then, they often saw it as an avenue for replay and extra game hours. So I think the idea of having the easier mode remove them as somewhat innovative for the time.

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    5. Oh oh, for what you said from the manual TBD, in difficult mode we might face some dead ends....i hope it will not happen in my playthrough, i hate dead ends. That´s why i prefer Lucasarts before Sierra (don`t get me wrong, Sierra made great games, specially the less famous, like the Conquest and Laura Bow series, Freddy Pharkas)...

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    6. I could really have done without the extended "pharmacy practice as copy protection" in FPFP, though.

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    7. Yeah, the first time is funny, by the third time is really obnoxious...

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  8. Rex Nebular is a game name I've heard or read several times over the years but never bothered checking out. That font in that first cutscene screenshot though; wow, that's pretty bad. Not quite "Ultima VII" bad, but still fairly unreadable.

    It looks like a fun game, though. I'm going to be optimistic and go with 63.

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  9. Heads up that I have donated to the Patreon of Tony Longworth in "The Adventure Gamer's" name. (https://www.patreon.com/tonylongworth/posts)

    Tony provides free/creative commons music, but I was particularly inspired by (and received permission to use) an album that he did inspired by Infocom games. (https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/tonylongworth7) I might write more about his work at some point in the future as I am planning some "Inspired by Infocom" posts when we some day wrap up the marathon. Given that is a very long time from now, at least you should know that he is now linking to TAG from his site. :)

    Oh, and 62

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  10. I am going in low at 52, it looks promising but the humour of adult games can be VERY hit and miss.

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  11. I'll be going with 53 myself.

    A few other authors than Al Lowe have tried their best at the "naughty" humour in games and considering my personal experience and what I've read on the blog about these games, it goes more often than not in the bad direction.

    I'm very interested to read about your playthrough though, it's a game I've always been intrigued about and never tried it for myself. Hopefully it will reveal itself as better than it might seem.

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    1. As I recall, this game was a passable attempt at that humor. But you're right, quite too many games tried and failed for that feel.

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  12. I'll go with 55. Might play along, been looking forward to the chance to finally play this!

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  13. Fun fact: the working fireplace is only the SECOND greatest waste of oxygen on this spaceship.

    :D

    I am actually pretty impressed by these background graphics, although that "computer-y" font really is terrible.

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  14. Just played it for 10 minutes to see what we might face and my first opinion it´s that it looks pretty good for the time, nice animations, very detailed descriptions, the humor seems funny...hope the game don´t dissapoint me, but it has a good start

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  15. Batman Returns just appeared in the upcoming list. I have PLENTY of time, but does anyone have an opinion on whether I should rewatch the movie before or after I play?

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  16. Another name that hard-core adventure game fans might recognize in those credits is Kenn Nishiuye. He started work at Sierra in 1989 on Hero's Quest and was the lead artist on Quest for Glory II. Kenn was one of the first to bring a "fine art" sensibility to Sierra games. He passed away in 2012, while Lori and I were solidifying plans for the Hero-U Kickstarter campaign.

    http://www.sierrachest.com/index.php?a=person&id=338

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