Thursday 27 June 2019

Batman Returns - World’s Greatest TV Watcher

Written by Joe Pranevich

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Batman! I hope you got your score votes in because it’s time to play Batman Returns. Given how excited Bill Kunkel was to create a Batman game, I am secretly rooting for this one to be better than its reputation, even if he was ultimately dissatisfied with the result. By the time the rating comes, I am certain that I can grade it without bias.

The game opens at twilight on a December night in Gotham City. The skyline is oddly muted; the incandescent bulbs in the towering offices are barely able to pierce the gloom. Danny Elfman’s iconic Batman score rises up through our computer speakers. Suddenly, the Bat-Signal appears in the clouds. Once again, the Gotham City Police has called upon the aid of their secret benefactor-in-the-shadows, Batman. We zoom in to the Batcave where the Caped Crusader is dressed and ready for action. The bat-cursor appears. What should we do first?

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Missed Classic 70: The Archers (1986) - Introduction

By Ilmari

As far as national anthems go, God Save the Queen is one of the most monotone, dreary and depressing. It is no wonder that a movement, started by the comedian Billy Connely, has long spoken for a jollier and more spirited song, which you could well imagine humming, while walking, in “a genteel abandon of a lifelong teetotaller who has suddenly taken to drink”, through a sunny Borshetshire countryside to the local Flower & Produce Show, pondering whether you should dag the sheep yourself or whether you should hire a professional shearer for a proper crutching. I am speaking, of course, of Barwick Green, the theme tune for The Archers.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Intermission: Med Systems Marathon – 1980 Rundown

by Will Moczarski


According to issue 017 of “Compute! Magazine” (Oct. 1981), “MED SYSTEMS has been publishing and distributing software worldwide since 1979”. If my research is correct, Med Systems Software started developing and publishing games for the TRS-80 (and subsequently the Commodore PET and the Apple ][) more or less at the same time. In 1980, they not only released Rat’s Revenge, Deathmaze 5000, Labyrinth  and Reality Ends but also ten more games and applications. Having reviewed the four available adventure games in previous “Missed Classics” playthroughs, I will dedicate this post to a short rundown of the games that don’t really fit the “Adventure Gamer” template, as Med Systems appears to have been a consistently interesting company.

Multiple attempts to contact William F. “Mike” Denman, jr., who apparently was one of the company’s two lead programmers as well as its president, sadly all but failed. I’ve tried several e-mail addresses and social media platforms, but alas, I never even received a reply. The other main protagonist of the company’s early years was Frank Corr, jr., whom I didn’t even find a trace of online. Most of the early games are still available in some form – several of the manuals can also be found in web archives. Many of the games don’t have in-game credits, so there’s basically no telling who wrote the games without surviving manuals. Sadly, three of the adventure games released in 1980 (or even before?) appear to be lost altogether, but more on that below.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Game 109: Batman Returns (1992) - Introduction

Written by Joe Pranevich

I grew up loving comic books. My parents wouldn’t let me buy them, but I still had a tiny little suitcase of issues that I had managed to snag at flea markets with my own money. Looking back on it now, it’s adorable just how much I loved the idea of comics even as I barely owned any and didn’t even understand the difference between Marvel and DC. My big break came in high school when I bought boxes and boxes of them off of one of my mother’s boyfriends, no doubt getting a huge discount as he both tried to look mature enough to date my mother while also trying to be nice to me. Contained within the boxes-- most of which still sit in my basement twenty-five years later-- were a treasure trove of 70s and 80s heroes, especially Doctor Strange and a nearly-complete run of the original Defenders. Even more important than the books were the times that he and I spent together; I grilled him for hours about the histories of major characters and he was always kind enough to humor me. He even took me to my first comic book store. I kept in touch with him long after he and my mother split up. He was an adult geek, the first I had ever known, and that was amazing.

One of the characters that he helped me to love was Batman. I remember how shocked I was to learn that the Robin I knew from TV reruns wasn’t even Robin anymore and that there had been two more since then. In large part because of his collection, I was more a Marvel kid than a DC one, but Batman and his rotating team of whiz-kids was someone I could get into. Bruce Timm and his series sealed the deal and I’ve been a Bat-fan ever sense. Twenty-five years later, I am excited to look at Subway Software & Spirit of Discovery’s Batman Returns (1992), the first ever adventure game featuring the Dark Knight. As this is also the 80th anniversary of the character, I can’t imagine a more fitting time to delve into the history of Batman and Batman-related games, before plunging into our topic at hand. It’s a huge story, but I’ll be brief.

Sunday 16 June 2019

Nippon Safes Inc. - Back with a Wrench-ance

By Torch

Doug Nuts here again. Being a genius, I usually like to get by in the world using my brains. This time, however, my legs have done most of the job

Last time I left off trying to figure out how to win the grand opening competition at the restaurant Kaizen-Sushi… the Kai..?

Doug Nuts and the lost art of consistent spelling

Friday 14 June 2019

Missed Classic: Reality Ends – WON! and Final Rating

by Will Moczarski

Prologue: Second Session

My second session of Reality Ends was remarkably uneventful. I tried some new things with all of my items but putting in an hour got me nowhere. Another obstacle was the savegame feature. My TRS-80 emulator sometimes did not recognize my file names (or rather tape names) but didn’t tell me about it until I tried to restore my saved states. I decided to rough it in order to get the original feeling but that was really time-consuming as every wrong move (and there are many of them) led me back to the beginning. In the end, I didn’t even need my notes to get the food, feed the dog, get the umbrella, get the diamonds after using the umbrella, get the horse, jump across the ravine, get the mail, get the rope, throw the rope, climb the rope, get the plants, pay for the polish with the plants, buy guns and finally pay for them with the diamonds. In the end, I only achieved a couple new things: I was able to pick up the gold and recruit the marksmen in the town of Rayor. When I tried to attack the town of Margon now, I was still crushed. The VOCAB command soon became my best friend. I spent a lot of time dabbling with the “place” command (especially “place marksmen” which seemed like a martial thing to do) before figuring out that it’s just a synonym for “drop”. Dropping the marksmen caused them to disappear into thin air, however, although I was able to recruit them indefinitely as long as I had the gold. Using items, even for payment, doesn’t make you drop them or lose them which seems a bit counterintuitive – it makes things a lot easier, though. Oh, and I rolled the log, revealing a metal box. Its top is welded shut, though, so that just turned into another puzzle.

Without a clue what to do next I checked out my trusty 1981 Med Systems catalog once again. The description of Reality Ends came with three sort-of clues and one major disappointment: Apparently, it was marketed as a game for beginners. Also, the “clues” were not clues per se but rather bits and pieces hinting at the plot. They only confirmed my suspicions that I had to attack the city of Margon to free the Amulet of Sangi and recruit the fanatic hordes “to aid my quest”.

I hate “easy” games. They are likely to make me feel stupid.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Missed Classic: Borrowed Time - Won! And Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

It seems like only two days ago that we started our look at Borrowed Time, the first game by Subway Software and a fun diversion as I prepare for Batman Returns. This is the first adventure game created by “The Game Doctor”, William Kunkel, during a brief period where he transitioned from game journalist to game designer. We left off last week after an extended chase sequence as my character, the hardboiled detective Sam Hawlow, survived an attempt on his life.

The plot thickens right away. As soon as I step out of the bar where I had fled, my assistant Iris finds me. Someone has kidnapped my ex-wife Rita; Iris recommends that I search Rita’s apartment for clues. I learned a few minutes earlier that Rita was on good terms with one of the thugs, Fred Mongo, so I do not understand why she was kidnapped. Was she double-crossed? Is this a setup intended to lure me to my death? Was she so upset about the unpaid alimony that she would seek out the mob, only to end up in over her head? I’ll have to play some more to find out. Although my character should know where her apartment is located, I will need to explore the city to find it. Let’s see what we see!

Sunday 9 June 2019

Missed Classic 69: Borrowed Time (1985) - Introduction

Written by Joe Pranevich

If you are like me, sometimes research takes you places that you don’t expect. When I started into Batman Returns, I expected to find that it was a half-assed game produced by a no-name little software outlet who won the minimum bid to make the ninth licensed game based on the 1992 movie. And, it might still be that. I haven’t even looked at the game yet as I wait for a copy of the manual to arrive by mail. (I’ll be donating it to the Internet Archive once I wrap up my review.) Instead, I discovered the story of Subway Software and one of it founders, Bill Kunkel.

Rather than jump straight into Batman, I’d like to tell Mr. Kunkel’s story through a different game: an illustrated text adventure called Borrowed Time, Subway Software’s first release. As so many of these games were, it was a multi-party affair: developed by Interplay using their adventure game engine, based on a story and design by Kunkel’s company, and published by Activision. This was still around four months before Activision bought Infocom so it is not quite a cousin to the games that we have looked at in the Zork marathon, but it is a sign that they were interested in the interactive fiction genre. Borrowed Time has kidnapping, murder, and at least one HIPAA violation. It was also pretty fun to play to whet my appetite for Batman. Let’s get to it.

Friday 7 June 2019

What's Your Story - Vetinari

Answers: Vetinari
Introduction and Captions: TBD

Time to introduce someone who's recently been commenting on our Nippon Safes, Inc. posts - Vetinari!

Si non confectus, non reficiat

Vetinari has admitted to commenting once before, anonymously, on a post on the Cyborg Missed Classic.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Nippon Safes Inc. - A Tale of Two City Names

Written by Torch

The name’s Nuts, Doug Nuts. I’m an electronics genius with a mission. And that mission is… what was it again? Oh yeah, to steal a jade Buddha from a safe in the “Saku-Rambo” Monastery. Only problem is, I have no idea where to find the monastery.

It’s time to check out the rest of the great city of Tyoko! Or Tioko! Frankly it’s getting a bit silly that the game can’t decide on a spelling for the name of the city, so going forward I plan on doing a count of all the city name references I find, to see which one is used most frequently, and will thus be the official name. Check the summary at the bottom to see if your favourite comes out on top. But now, let’s start exploring! And by exploring I mean wandering around aimlessly, clicking stuff until something useful happens.

The city center consists of a number of screens. The exits aren’t always logical or easy to spot, so I hope I’ve found them all. Due north from Honest Chan’s, however, I find this busy street.

“Busy” means featuring more than 2 people

Saturday 1 June 2019

Missed Classic 68: Reality Ends (1980) - Introduction

By Will Moczarski

A general rule seems to be that the more work you put into thorough research, the more work you create for yourself as a result. Does that make sense? Well, I had ambitiously planned to write a short connecting blog post to describe the non-adventure games Med Systems Software released between Labyrinth and Asylum but as a result I found out that there are many more, almost undocumented adventure games by the company I hadn't even heard about. Med Systems appears to have been as prolific as, say, Sirius Software, and not much less innovative, either. Today's post deals with the first of the overlooked adventure games that came out in 1980 – the same year as Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth so who knows which one came first? – and some of the non-adventure games that probably fall into the period between the second and the third "Continuum" adventure games Labyrinth and Asylum. The game in question is called Reality Ends and there is not much information about it to be found on the internet. Actually, Jason Dyer just played it on his blog “Renga in Blue” but I have kept myself from reading his posts because I want to avoid spoilers.

Reality Ends is yet another TRS-80 game but it uses a different premise, a different engine and a different approach to adventure gaming than the 3D maze/adventure crossover games I've previously been writing about. The introductory screen looks familiar because of a sort of corporate identity thing they seem to have been going on but the story is really unique. I can honestly say that I know of no other adventure game or even computer game to have a similar idea at its core. It "places you in a reality composed of over 200 parallel universes. You must move from universe to universe seeking the necessary materials to destroy Baldir." You have 400 moves to accomplish that or "reality dissolves". Sound weird? Well, the game isn't. The "universes" are actually clever metaphors for the rooms. Each room has a different description and the grid consists of 18 by 12 (216) "universes". The descriptions are just a little bit different, though, stressing the idea of hopping between parallel universes instead of just moving through adherent spaces.

“Yeah.” (Marlo Stanfield feels at home.)