Wednesday 29 July 2020

Missed Classic 87: Hollywood Hijinx (1987) - Introduction

Written by Joe Pranevich

At the dawn of 1987, Infocom wasn’t the company that it once was. A scrappy gaggle of cutting-edge game developers had grown too large, made some bad choices, and was struggling to survive. The new bosses at Activision wanted to profit off their investment and since Infocom games weren’t selling like in the good old days, they just asked Infocom to make more of them-- with the same resources-- to make up for it. Simple, right? The result was a year that was their most prolific as well as the nadir of their commercial success. Even as commercialism failed them, 1987 will see innovations such as the first romance game (Plundered Hearts), the first horror game (Lurking Horror), the first weird wordplay game (Nord and Bert), plus reinventing what a Zork game could be. None of those were commercially successful, but I haven’t played more than a few minutes of any to say how good they really were. At least Infocom was still out there doing interesting things.

That brings us to Hollywood Hijinx, the first of this mad rush of games. Developed by a new pair of Implementors, Dave Anderson and Liz Cyr-Jones, the game appears to be a throwback to the Zork games of yesteryear, with a “puzzle house” to explore and treasures to collect. For reasons that may (or may not) become apparent later, this is Anderson and Cyr-Jones’s only released game. How will it work out? I’ll have to play it to see.

“Hollywood” Anderson in the late 00s. 

Working in software QA is not easy. Having run small quality departments in the past, I can say with some authority that the work is much harder than it might seem, requires a deeper understanding of software than you might expect, and-- especially in the earlier days of software development-- required a lot of drudgery and iterative work. Nailing down a memory leak or reproducing a minimum test case for a bug can be exceedingly difficult, but absolutely required so that the software engineers on the team can work efficiently. In poorly run companies, the relationship between development and QA can be filled with animosity-- as if the discovery of your bug was somehow their fault-- but at a well-run company, QA and DEV are two peas in a pod, working together to deliver great software for our customers.

I like to think that Infocom fell in the latter category, although perhaps in the future we can learn more. By 1987, Infocom had developed a reputation already for giving QA team members opportunities to step up and design their own games. Steve Meretzky started as a tester and his games have been consistently among the best that Infocom ever produced! (Only Brian Moriarty has given him a run for that title.) Jeffrey O'Neill, another tester, created Ballyhoo. In this time of trouble for Infocom, three more will step up: David Anderson, Liz Cyr-Jones, and Amy Briggs. We’ll look at Ms. Briggs when we investigate Plundered Hearts in a few months, but for Anderson and Cyr-Jones, Hollywood Hijinx was their time to shine.

Hollywood Hijinx is primarily credited to David “Hollywood” Anderson. He studied biology at the University of California, but fell in love with computers and joined Infocom in 1983 as a tester. By 1985, he had been promoted to manage the testing group. Anderson was a larger-than-life person at Infocom and much of the zany culture that we attribute to the company in its heyday can be attributed, at least in part, to Anderson’s influence. The Digital Antiquarian goes into many of his stories, but suffice it to say that Anderson was put on trial (and exonerated) for killing the office park goldfish, raced hermit crabs, and even managed Infocom’s team in a local softball league. Anderson was-- and presumably still is-- a fun guy. His only other official credit comes as the QA manager on Wishbringer, but it is likely that most of the games in the Infocom canon owe him a great debt due either to his own testing or that of his team. But can finding the problems in others’ games translate to making a great game of his own?

Liz Cyr-Jones is credited for the “original concept” of this game, a hair that Infocom had not split since 1983’s The Witness. (In that case, Stu Galley implemented his game based on an outline by Marc Blank and David Lebling.) Cyr-Jones is credited for games beginning with 1985’s Wishbringer where she was a member of Anderson’s testing team. Although she gets a nice credit blurb in the manual, she was not considered an “official” implementor and so Amy Briggs has the regretful distinction of being the only woman to helm a game at Infocom. She remained at the company through to nearly the end and is last credited for testing Arthur.

The Manual & Feelies

The packaging for Hollywood Hijinx consists of a “special memorial issue” of Tinsel World, a fake Hollywood gossip magazine, our Aunt Hilda’s will, a photo of Uncle Buddy Burbank with a letter on the back, and a swizzle stick. The plot, as it is described in the manual seems simple enough:
As a child, you spent most of your summers with your Aunt Hildegarde and Uncle Buddy. What memories! Uncle Buddy was a Hollywood big-shot, Aunt Hildegarde his loving (and very rich) wife. They had no children of their own, but you and your cousins loved their house, their parties, the Hollywood memorabilia, and them. Sure, Buddy and Hildy were a bit eccentric-but that added to their charm.

Aunt Hildegarde kept the house when Uncle Buddy passed away. And now that she's suddenly died, you remember her unusual will. You will inherit the entire estate- probably worth millions-if you can spend just one night in the house and on the grounds, and find a treasure or two. But if you can't, then you inherit nothing.
Looking over the will, we get a bit more of the detail of the situation. It seems that our character was always their favorite and Aunt Hilda and Uncle Buddy wanted us to have the estate when they passed on. Now that Aunt Hilda has also passed away, it’s time for me to claim my prize… if I work for it. Hidden around the grounds are ten “treasures” (their quotation marks!), all souvenirs from Uncle Buddy’s career as a B-filmmaker. All I have to do is find them all in one night and the house is mine; failing to do so means that another one of the nieces and nephews will be given the chance instead. Somewhat strange, Aunt Hilda’s will also includes a photo and letter from Uncle Buddy. Why wouldn’t I have been given the letter when he died (years ago) rather than now? His letter consists of something vaguely like poetry, listing off some of his films, and motivating me to be like some of the characters in his oeuvre. If there is a clue here, I don’t see it. I did get to use “oeuvre” in a sentence, so that is a win.

The enclosed Tinsel World magazine is odd, but mostly fun. At thirteen pages, it goes on long enough that I barely want to read the whole thing… but I do because otherwise I might miss a clue. It seems strange however that the magazine would print a “memorial issue” to Buddy Burbank after his wife died. I suppose she was the last connection to him, and really all these magazines want to do is to push copies, but it comes off as a bit crass to talk nearly exclusively about her husband after her death.

If we ignore the articles about the three-headed boy, the killer gerbil, and the baldness cure, we are left with a handful that look vaguely pertinent. Aunt Hilda and Uncle Buddy met in 1948-- she was a wealthy but bored socialite and he was an actor that dreamed of owning his own studio. Buddy and Hilda worked out a plan to crack open her trust fund by getting married; this allowed her to access her family’s money early and the pair agreed to run the studio together. They produced low-budget B-movies in the 1960s, switched to “Buck Palace, the fighting letter carrier” movies in the 1970s, and presumably was still cracking out the films until Buddy’s passing a few years ago. The rest of the pertinent information appears to just be speculation as to which of the nieces and nephews would be the one to inherit the estate, plus details on several of the films in Buddy’s 600-film catalog. I do my best to skim through it all, but I really hope I won’t need to answer trivia about movies that don’t exit.

Now that I’ve made it through the manual, the only thing left is to actually play the game!

The Game

We begin just outside Aunt Hilda’s estate with instructions from the lawyer that we must find all ten treasures by 9 AM the following morning. I hope I got a nap, but I am more worried about the time limit. He leaves immediately and we are free to explore the grounds. I am reassured that the game refers to itself as a “zany treasure hunt”; I like the tone that it sets already. I’m ready to play a game I don’t need to take too seriously.

We start just south of the house, next to a statue of an actor pointing a bazooka north towards the front door. The statue is of “Buck Palace”, of the actors that was mentioned in the manual. He’s the lead in a series of movies about a militant mailman. I liked a little blurb about him in the manual enough to reproduce it here:
By now, everyone knows how Buck got to be such a big star. He was just a run-of-the-mill mailman with a penchant for law and order when he lucked into the Burbank Studio route. One day, Bud Burbank saw Buck outside the studio, wielding his bazooka to make traffic toe the line so an old lady could cross the street. Well, as they say, the rest is history. Bud signed Buck for a million-dollar contract and the guy became a star.
It’s a cute detail that he was a bazooka-wielding mailman before he became a B-movie star! I discover that I can turn to point the bazooka in any direction, but with no reason to do this right now I keep looking.

Marching up to the front door seems like the best approach, but doing so doesn’t accomplish much. The house is locked tight. I can search the mailbox to find a copy of Infocom’s Status Line newsletter (having recently been renamed from The New Zork Times), as well as a yellowed piece of paper and a business card for a computer repairman. The paper appears to be ASCII art of some kind, but I cannot read or understand it. We’ll need to explore around the house to find our way in.

I do love some of the flavor text that is thrown around. For example, here’s a nice little note while we ascend the walkway:
As you walk towards the house, a large black cat scurries across the path, heading towards Johnny Carson’s house.
It’s a little thing, but it works. The doorbell on the house was “once rung by Sonny Tufts”. It helps to sell the mood that the game is trying to set. I also like that they are using real Hollywood names and not just the made up ones from the manual. Johnny Carson needs no introduction (he was still the host of the Tonight Show in 1987), but Sonny Tufts is a much deeper cut. He was an actor famous in the 1940s, and long dead by the time this game came around.

I circle the house, but there isn’t a ton to see. The building itself is set at the south end of a large property. There’s a patio with a backdoor, but it is also locked. (We do find an orange-colored punch card on the ground there, a hint at puzzles to come.) Just behind the house is a four-room flower garden arranged in a diamond with a stand of trees in the middle. We apparently puked on a rose bush in our youth, an event with the game insists on relaying. We find a shovel in the garden, which I also pick up. Behind the garden is the entrance to a large hedge maze; I am intimidated almost immediately and resolve to map it later.

Only when we get to the back of the property do things get a little more interesting. The northeast corner has a path leading down to a beach, but the stairs are broken leaving a gap that we can almost jump across. (Doing so causes the remaining stairs to collapse, dropping us to our doom below.) If we circle north around the hedge maze, we discover a Civil War cannon emplacement-- apparently a prop from a different film-- but it seems to be functional. A stack of fake cannonballs reveals one real one and the fuse looks like we can light it. Will we have to shoot at something? Even further north is a steep downward slope followed by a mysterious hatch. There’s a ladder beside the hatch, but no way in and no way to carry the heavy ladder back up the slope.

And that’s it. There is no hint anywhere as to how to enter the house. Since the only place I didn’t check is the maze, I hold my breath and map the whole thing.

Whew! That was pointless. 

Mapping it turns out to be easy. Unlike a traditional “cave maze” where directions are inconsistent and you need to map every exit in every location, this maze has nice square rows and the text tells you exactly how many feet you move each time. With that, it’s easy-- but time consuming-- to take some graph paper and map out every turn and intersection. I managed to do it all in 50 minutes, but I wish it was time well spent since I find absolutely nothing there. I had hoped there would be a center room with some puzzle, like in the Greek myth, but all we have is more maze. Why would anyone bother? At 185 rooms, it is by far Infocom’s largest maze, but so far also its most disappointing.

I still do not know how to get into the house.

While I’m desperately searching, I play through things again and notice more of the connections. I like how we are given little stories of our childhood as we explore the grounds. The diversions are well-written and help to flesh out both our character and the history of the space. It is also a good reminder that, unlike Zork, we are exploring a space that we are supposed to already be familiar with.

For example, we get two nice stories about the rose bush as we explore in different places. Will it be significant later?
Standing here, you remember the time at one of their parties when you swiped one of Uncle Buddy’s big Hollywood cigars and smoked it, then got sick on a rose bush in the garden. You snicker a little bit thinking about that poor rose bush now and the goofy things you did as a child.
You're standing on a stone walkway in Aunt Hildegarde's much envied garden where she would spend hours tending to her flowers, bushes and trees. The garden was off limits to you as a child because of an incident one summer when you and Cousin Herman were playing in the garden. You suggested pretending to be wild African animals and climbed a tree and began to screech as if a baboon while Cousin Herman ran off toward the roses shouting something about being a rhinoceros.

After howling until your throat felt like you had puffed on one of Uncle Buddy's Hollywood cigars, you went to find Cousin Herman. When you arrived you couldn't believe your eyes -- Cousin Herman had pulled all the thorns off of all of Aunt Hildegarde's rose bushes in a quest to find the biggest thorn possible so he could be a rhino. Of course when Aunt Hildegarde saw her naked rose bushes, Cousin Herman blamed it all on you. The walkway leads south, northeast and northwest.
The double reference to Uncle Buddy’s cigars are also fun and suggest that perhaps we may stumble on a cache of them before the game is through. Even if we don’t, I am being charmed by the descriptions. While you were distracted by my stopping to smell the roses, so to speak, I worked out that the answer was in front of me the whole time.

The letter on the back of Uncle Buddy’s autograph.

As mentioned earlier, the “feelies” this time around not only included the gossip magazine, but also a copy of Aunt Hildegard’s will and a note from her long deceased husband. Apparently, he wanted me to have a shot at the house even then. Reading the note carefully, I realized that three of the films that he mentions in his poem contain directions: “Fastest Blender in the West”, “Cannibal Buffet of the East”, and “Vampire Penguins of the North”. If we turn the bazooka-man west, east, and then north, the front door unlocks and we can get inside! Although simple enough when we have the letter in front of us, I had forgotten those details by the time I sat down to play the game. At least I buy that a house like this could have such a code: it’s like a flamboyant garage password and those were all the rage in fancy houses of the 1980s.

As we enter the house for the first time, we hear footsteps in another room. We are not alone. That’s creepy.

The house is a fairly large space and there are many “puzzles” that are just right out in the open. My first task is just to get the lay of the land without spending too much time trying to solve anything. I just want to know what is out there. Rather than dictate my explorations room by room, let me summarize it for you:

First Floor
  • Foyer - This is where we came in. An odd coat closet is just to the south with three coat hooks on the wall, plus a rusty bucket hanging from one of them. There’s also a pair of skis in the closet.
  • Living Room - The living room is dominated by a giant fireplace with three wax figurines on the mantle. I at first suspect they are Oscars, but they are actually Hindu gods. In addition to their different colors, they are also holding up 3, 5, and 7 fingers respectively. 
  • Hallway - East of the foyer is a hallway dominated by paintings. If we remove one, we find a safe and a green punch card. That is the second colored card I found. What are they used for?
  • Parlor - East of that is the Parlor where Buddy would entertain guests. For some reason, all the furniture, except a piano, is bolted to the floor. The piano seems significant, but I will have to come back later. 
  • Game Room - North of the foyer is a game room containing an amazing scale model of Tokyo from the film “Atomic Chihuahuas from Hell”. There are lots of buttons to press and I look forward to pressing them all soon. 
  • Dining Room & Kitchen - West of the game room are a dining room and kitchen, both devoid of obvious puzzles. I pick up a book of matches from the kitchen and a piece of paper with ASCII art on it (nearly matching the one outside) from the dining room. 
  • Screening and Projector Rooms - The far northeast of the house consists of a mini-theater. There are mens’ and womens’ restrooms, a screening area, and a projector room. There are two projectors in the room, one film projector (with a small loop of film) and a slide projector. I also locate a yellow punch card. 

  • The main path upstairs is blocked: the stairs turn into a slippery ramp if I try to climb up. However I can climb up through the fireplace in the living room to access the roof. That lets me enter another, blocked off, fireplace where I discover a stuffed penguin. It’s one of the props from “Vampire Penguins of the North”! Since our score increased by 10, I believe I have the first treasure! Nine more to go.
  • Cellar - Under the kitchen, the cellar is dominated by an old-fashioned computer with punch card slots. I guess I know where the colored cards will go!
  • Closet” - The “closet” in the basement is actually an elevator shaft. The blue card is hidden inside, but it must mean that there is more to the upstairs coat closet than meets the eye.
And that is it! There are so many puzzles to unpack, I hardly know where to begin. It has been a while since I felt like I had so many things that I could try to tackle first. It seems nice, but could become overwhelming if I don’t manage to crack some of them soon.

The very first puzzle that I work on involves the two pieces of paper with the strange ASCII art. When I put them together, they form a single image:

Very similar to my map, but with gaps removed somehow.

Knowing that X marks the spot, I grab my shovel and march into the maze. It’s a long path, even when you have mapped it all, and it takes 20+ moves to get there. When I arrive, I dig in the dirt and quickly discover a Buck Palace stamp and am awarded with 10 more points!

With eight more "treasures" to go, and a long walk back out of the maze, this is where I will end this week. Thus far, my initial impressions are better than I expected, but there’s not a ton of plot here. We’ll see how I feel as the game progresses. 

Time played: 1 hr 50 min
Inventory: flashlight, matchbox (containing a match), shovel, copy of the Status Line, business card, Aunt Hildegarde’s letter, photo of Uncle Buddy, brick, stuffed penguin, red statuette, white statuette, blue statuette, and several punch cards (blue, yellow, orange, green, and indigo).
Score: 20

Now it is time to guess the score! As this is both Anderson and Cyr-Jones’s first games, they have no history with which to judge. Infocom’s overall average remains 40 points with soaring highs (53 points for Trinity) and disappointing lows (30 for Moonmist). Which side will this strange game fall on? I look forward to finding out.

Let’s Vote! I have a choice ahead of me and I’d like your help in making a decision. I’d like you to vote on which game I will work on next. The truth is that I enjoy writing most when I am working on things you want to read, so asking you to vote is a bit self-serving. Please forgive me! Anyone that votes will get CAPs so please do not let anything get in the way of expressing your opinion. Here are the three options:
  • Space Quest V (1993) - The next main-line game I am supposed to review. It’s the first game in the series designed solely by a single “Guy from Andromeda”, Mark Crowe. I’ll have to get to this eventually or Ilmari will shoot me.
  • Bureaucracy (1987) - The next game up in the Infocom Marathon, plus the second and final game to feature input from Douglas Adams.
  • Portal (1986) - An “interactive novel” by Rob Swigart. It’s one of a small handful of interactive fiction games that Activision published outside of Infocom during this period and likely their most experimental.
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 introductory 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.


  1. Friends! You will probably not believe me, but this is the first time I've entered a post in the system myself as TBD and Ilmari were unavailable. (Yay me?) Usually I just send along a Google Doc and they do all of the important bits. That means that I might have screwed up something; please let me know and I'll do my best to fix it.

  2. I'll guess 40.
    I vote for Bureaucracy, you're almost there baby, then Space Quest 5.

    1. I have been looking forward to Bureaucracy, both as a "sequel" to Hitchhiker's Guide and also because I am vaguely aware of what a train wreck its development process was. What came out of that must at least be interesting, right?

      After Bureaucracy would be "Lurking Horror", unless I can find some evidence that "Stationfall" came first.

    2. To me, Bureaucracy feels a bit like two games awkwardly stitched together. (I liked the first half better.) The packaging is great. All of the "grey box" had a "TAKE THEIR WORDS FOR IT!" section on the inside of the lid, praising Infocom and their games...

      ...except Bureaucracy, where it's all people complaining about slow delivery times, hardware problems, their computer dealer being a moron, not getting their copy of The Status Line, etc.

      The way I remember it, Stationfall and The Lurking Horror was released either simultaneously or very close together. I have this vague recollection of at least one computer magazine describing it as a showdown between Infocom's two top implementors. The Infocom Fact Sheet just says they were both released in June 1987.

      The serial numbers suggest that Stationfall was finished one week before The Lurking Horror. The first non-development version was "Release 107 / Serial number 870430", compared to The Lurking Horror's "Release 203 / Serial number 870506".

    3. I have now swapped "Stationfall" and "Lurking Horror" on my playlist, as you suggested.

      A few more cases have near-simultaneous releases of games. If you know, can you tell me the correct order of:

      - "Nord and Bert" vs "Plundered Hearts"

      - "Gamma Force" vs "Lane Mastodon"

      - "Journey" vs "Shogun"


    4. I'm afraid I don't have any personal recollections of those, so I'm once again forced to refer to the serial numbers in the Infocom Fact Sheet:

      Nord and Bert - Release 19 / Serial number 870722
      Plundered Hearts - Release 26 / Serial number 870730
      Shogun - Release 292 / Serial number 890314
      Journey - Release 26 / Serial number 890316

      So it seems that Nord and Bert was built eight days before Plundered Hearts, and Shogun two days before Journey, I guess...

      The first I ever heard of the graphical games (that I can remember) was when I had mailed Infocom to ask for a product catalog. One of the things I got back was the "Infocom's Graphcis Will Blow You Out Of the Water" brochure. It must have been an early version, because it has some slight differences in both pictures and text compared to other versions I've seen. For instance, there was a picture from Journey that wasn't in the final game, and it promised that one of the feelies for Shogun would be "a geisha's fan".

      This is what it looked like:

      I never paid much attention to the Infocomics, so there I have no idea.

  3. A shame you spent all that time mapping the maze before you discovered the map.

    I don't think this is really a spoiler, more an inventory management tip, but: lbh qba'g unir gb pbyyrpg gur gernfherf naljurer. Gnxvat gurz bapr vf rabhtu gb trg gur cbvagf.

    1. To be clear, I have long since hit the inventory limit and I've just been dumping stuff in the Foyer. My assumption was that you needed to be carrying all of the treasures at once at the end, but good to know that is not the case.

      As for the maze, the game practically pushes you to map it before you find the in-game map. Maybe most players wouldn't have stumbled as I did and not be able to get inside, but once you run out of things to check for hidden entrances to the house, the maze seems like the natural place to put one. On the bright side, it's not a difficult maze, only time-consuming.

  4. In case you missed it in my last post, here's a link to the beta version of TRINITY:

    Also, I vote Bureaucracy, Space Quest V, and Portal, in descending order.

    1. Thank you! I saw it, but will not have time to run through it and make a note of differences. If you are interested in doing so and writing up a post for us to read on the differences, I would be in favor of that. :)

    2. Or rather, I will not have time for a while. I plan to squeeze in a few posts about deleted stuff in roughly chronological order so I'd not get to Trinity for a bit. But if you (or someone else) wants to pick up the torch on that very important game, I am all for it.

  5. It will be a travesty if this game manages to score higher than "Cutthroats" and "Infidel", which, with all their faults, at least were original.

    So, 32.

    Also, Bureaucracy first, then Space Quest V, and Portal last.

    1. I'm not sure I agree with travesty. I agree that Berlyn's games are universally more important artistically. He knew the genre and how to push its conventions and those two games in particular put a darker real-world spin on the idea of "treasure hunt" games like this one. I see where you are coming from.

      But... even if those games are objectively better, I never really fell in love with Berlyn's work the way others have and didn't really like either of those two much in the end. If Hollywood Hijinx manages to be "fun" without being "visionary", there is a good chance it will get the higher PISSED rating for it.

      Then again, this game could be thin garbage. The big question for me is how well a career spent telling OTHERS whether their game is fun to play or not translates into making a decent game yourself. I expect those are very different skills.

    2. Sorry Joe, I did not mean to be antagonistic with my comment, and I agree with you that there is a decent chance that HH will score better than Berlyn's games... but it's just that this game is soooo bland and forgettable.

      Anyway, de gustibus non disputandum est, so I'll wait for your final rating, and I'll try not to be too disappointed if it scores higher than I would give. :D

    3. FWIW, Vetinari, I also find it pretty bland and forgettable. I never connected with the setup enough to bother working through it when I first got the LTOI disc (which might be a bit odd as I was then, and still am, a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and therefore you might think the B-movie schtick would tickle me, but apparently it didn't land), and even later as an adult when I had decided to write as many walkthroughs as I could, meh, other than fine-tuning efficiency here or there I haven't cared to revisit it very much.

    4. We're all friends here! I just didn't want you to be too disappointed if our fun-but-flawed little rating system scores the game higher than some of your favorites.

      In truth, I am not sure what the final score will be yet. I'll probably know in two weeks. :)

  6. I vote Portal, because I haven't heard of it before. But all options would make for interesting reading!

  7. I'll guess 36 points for this one.

    Also as Portal (1986) is one I've never heard of, and it's the oldest of the three, I'll vote for that first!

  8. I'd also like to see Portal, just to keep the blog's chronological centre from getting too dissipated -- finishing up all the old busines before moving ahead. But happily, even if the other two items are chosen instead, we all know they will also make for fascinating reads!

    1. I have a short list of published-by-Activision adventures that I might pick off to play now and then with Portal being the first. I encourage others that know of games to help me full in the gaps. I do not have exact release dates for these. Right now, I have:

      Borrowed Time (1985) - Already played.

      Labyrinth (1986) - First proto-SCUMM game from LucasArts; I have no idea why this wasn't played as a main-line game by Trickster. Did we play it and I am just blind?

      Portal (1986) - As above.

      Tass Times in Tonetown (1986) - Already played.

      Murder on the Mississippi (1986) - Another one by Rob Swigart; looks like an Agatha Christy-style mystery.

      And that's it. No idea why Activision went on an adventure-game spree in 1985-1986 and then stopped, but it may have had something to do with owning Infocom as well as Infocom's failures. After this, they will not publish a non-Infocom adventure that I am aware of until 1992's DOS/Windows release of "The Manhole". (Another game that I intend to play, just not because Activision went anywhere near it.)

    2. And of course the management changeover, with Bruce Davis replacing Jim Levy (who oversaw the Infocom acquisition) as head of Activision in early 1987, probably had a lot to do with it as well.

      (posted this comment as its own thread earlier, sorry!)

    3. You are right! That makes so much sense that I am disappointed that I didn't realize it. The timing does align with his interest in adventure games and his subsequent departure.

      I think of these as Infocom's "cousins" in a twisted way.

    4. I was 100% sure that I read about Labyrinth here at TAG, too, but turns out I was wrong: I read about it at The Digital Antiquarian instead.

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  10. First, since you mention it, i would LOVE to see a Labyrinth playthrough and review, even more that the three options you gave us. Being a huge Lucasfilm Games fan (note the Lucasfilm instead of Lucasarts) and an all time Maniac Mansion fan, it would be very interesting to read your approach to that game. Being 12, i remember playing it in an old black and white TV at night and when David Bowie's characther said " the front row" it scared the hell out of me. Of course, at the beggining of the game, you have to enter your name, but still...
    Also, since my bet that none of the remaining Infocom games will get more than 35 points in the Pissed system is still on, i say this one will get 31

  11. I will take 38, the environment sounds a lot more atmospheric so I think it might be in the upper bracket.

    I will also vote for Space quest, the smaller text games are definitely interesting but it's been a while since we had one of the BIG mainline adventure games.

  12. Some notes:

    - I did some checking and we did not play Labyrinth in its proper time because Trickster was still being a DOS-only stickler. That game was (amazingly) released for several platforms, none of which were DOS. I would appreciate some advice, were I to ever play it, which platform has the highest quality version.

    - I have installed an Amiga emulator and have it working, in the event that Portal is picked next. The Amiga version has the nicest graphics and supports a mouse.

    I have now beaten Hollywood Hijinx and if anyone wants to wager what puzzle I had to turn to the hint book to solve, please do. :) Still will take me some time to get it all written up properly and it may be 1-2 posts. I'm also looking at the source code to see if there is enough for a bonus there.

  13. I think the main platform Labyrinth was intended was the Commedore 64, so i'll recomend that one

  14. I'll wager 10 CAPS that it was jngrecebbsvat gur zngpurf jvgu jnk.

    (I knew I had some CAPS; surprised I had accumulated um, 143, I think it was?)

    1. That would have been my guess, too, so I'll refrain to wager.

    2. Actually, what is the payout? Do I get double my bet back, or something? I'm willing to split, if that's how it works.

    3. I think you are both allowed to bet the same thing. If you are correct, your 10 CAPs becomes 50. If you are incorrect, you lose 10 CAPs.

    4. Okay then, I'll wager on jngrecebbsvat gur zngpurf jvgu jnk, too.