Sunday 30 August 2020

Missed Classic 88: Labyrinth (1986) - Introduction

Written by Joe Pranevich

In 1984, Infocom struck gold with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The game rocketed up the sales charts and within months was their second best-selling game ever, surpassed only by the original Zork. Best of all, their deal with Douglas Adams promised five sequels. If they performed even a fraction as well as the first, this yearly infusion of British comedy might be just what was needed to keep the company afloat. But only a short time later, Adams completed the fourth book in the series and was burned out. He needed to work on something else, anything else. Infocom put the Hitchhiker’s Guide sequels on hold, but that was okay because Adams pitched a fresh idea: a game based on a poor experience he once had with a change of address form, Bureaucracy. At least, having the name “Douglas Adams” on the box would help the game fly off the shelf, right? Development was slow and difficult, blamed in large part on Adams’s procrastination and residual stress. Despite pushing for this project, his interest waned quickly. If only Infocom could pin him down for a few days to finish the game, maybe they could strike gold again.

It was in this spirit that Douglas Adams found himself sitting at a conference table in January 1986. Next to him were a cohort of developers and writers that would take his ideas and transform them into the next hit computer adventure. Unfortunately for Infocom, it wasn’t their conference table. Instead, Adams had signed on to consult for Lucasfilm’s Labyrinth game, a tie-in to the 1986 film starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and the imagination of Jim Henson. After a productive week, the Lucasfilm team left with notebooks filled with ideas and jokes. As Bureaucracy slipped further, Labyrinth wrapped up and released in time for the film. Adams’s second game had become his third.

It might have seemed to Adams and the others at that table that Labyrinth was “just” a movie tie-in, barely more than an overgrown advertisement for the film. And yet, unknown to everyone around that conference table, a torch was passed. Infocom was no longer the innovator. Lucasfilm Games, soon to become LucasArts, would soon become one of the behemoths of our genre. Without Labyrinth, there may have been no Maniac Mansion or Monkey Island. Labyrinth is the beginning of the LucasArts story.

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Freddy Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist: Stampedes and Indians (A Real One!)

By Alex

I have a confession to make: My adventure-gaming instincts have been dulled by the passage of time. Or maybe it’s the interface issue I’ll blame my woes on later in this post. Suffice it to say, it took me a long time, as well as a call for assistance from my adventure-gaming brethren, to make any progress in FPFP. As a result, it took me forever to get this post written, as my gaming time is curtailed by the demands of life. I spent over two hours making incremental progress, and while I’m still having fun with this game, I feel that I have let you, the reader down because—and this is hard to admit—I had to once again also consult a walkthrough.

To be fair, I had the right solution, just the wrong key. Because there are three keys. And I had missed the only one that I could use to open the beer bottles I needed to stop the snail stampede, and . . .

I’m getting too far ahead of myself. I’m going to tell the story in roughly chronological order and, in a fit of public petulance, blame my woes on the interface.

Yeah, the interface.

Saturday 15 August 2020

Lost Secret of the Rainforest - Branches

Written by Reiko

Adam’s Journal #2: "It’s another adventure! Some otters found me and told me that Forest Heart, whoever that is, needs my help. Now I’m deep in the rainforest with a wooden amulet trying to find this Forest Heart. Those otters that pulled me here were really cute, but the monkey wasn’t so nice. I hope I meet more nice animals while I’m here!"

When I climb the huge tree, I emerge onto a screen with several brightly-colored birds, including a pair of toucans making an awful racket. I scan the screen, of course, and find out that I've encountered these seven items: Epiphyte, Toco Toucan, 3-Toed Sloth, Orchid, Scarlet Macaw, Hyacinth Macaw, Ruby Topaz Hummingbird [7]. The hummingbird is particularly tricky because it's moving around the screen and sometimes even off the screen.

Why are you sitting right by something that's burning inside your flammable nest?

I look around and finally determine that somehow there's a lit cigarette butt in the toucans' nest, which is threatening to set the entire nest on fire and cook their egg! I have to do something about it, but what? I can't pick it up with my bare hands: if I touch the nest or the egg too much, the toucan parents might reject the egg. I can't just recycle the cigarette because the recycle bag isn't really fire-resistant. I have no water. The sticky leaf isn't going to help.

I try talking to all the animals, but none of them are any help either. I talk to the toucan pair twice [3] and try to reassure them, but they're still just as alarmed, which is fair, since I haven't actually done anything yet. There's a young toucan perched nearby who seems to be a previous child of the toucan pair. He's concerned for his potential sibling [1]. A sloth hangs nearby, but doesn't say much beyond mentioning that the "yellow hats" caused the fire [1]. The hummingbird comments about how he doesn't like orchids but does like purple flowers [1]. Six macaws of two different species also sit nearby, none of which say much more than "Fire!" or "Danger!" Yet I can still talk to each one individually [6]. I suddenly also find a snake, an Emerald Tree Boa [1] wrapped around a branch near the top of the screen, who complains that I smell disgustingly human [1], even with the sticky sap on me.

Thursday 13 August 2020

Missed Classic: Hollywood Hijinx - Won! And Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back to Hollywood Hijinx. When I started this series ages ago, I intended to play and document each game in three posts, with an allowance that I would let fun or important games breathe more. I rarely managed this, especially as I got into the groove of doing research and describing the puzzles. Hollywood Hijinx joins this exclusive club of three-posters with my victory today and I’m glad to get it behind me. I had hoped to reach Beyond Zork by Christmas, but that seems unlikely now, especially with the detours and interesting things that crop up. Still, it is the journey and not the destination and I am just glad that I haven’t bored you all to pieces with the twenty-somethingth Infocom game.

When we left off last week, I was stuck. I found eight of the ten “treasures” but two others were elusive. I have only three more items on my “unsolved puzzles” list: the underwater passage, mysterious hatch, and the computer. I was unable to find either a waterproof light source or the final punch card to solve two of those, and I have no leads on how to open the hatch. To make matters worse, it’s just now 7:00 AM and I have only two hours left to find them all and win the game. I can restore or start over to play faster, but I’d rather not. (I already saw the “losing” scene last week when I tried to wait out the candles burning.) One of the things I detested about early text adventures was the “do it again, but faster” mechanic. That is not the kind of retro charm this game needs.

After much screwing around and searching, I needed to take a hint. The answer was a doozy: I needed to waterproof a match by dripping wax on it. I had never considered that this was possible, no doubt because I never made it beyond Cub Scouts as a kid. With that solution in hand, I’m back to the grotto to try again.

Wednesday 5 August 2020

Missed Classic: Hollywood Hijinx - Atomic Chihuahuas from Hell

Written by Joe Pranevich

Like this, but atomic and from Hell. 

Hollywood Hijinx has been a fairly breezy game so far, neither too challenging nor too serious. When we left off last week, I explored the first floor of the house and recovered two of Uncle Buddy’s “treasures”, film props of dubious value that I must collect to inherit the family fortune. Not everything has been perfect-- the hour I spent mapping an oversized maze was not time well spent-- but it’s good enough. While I do not understand (yet?) the distaste that some have for this game, it’s a thinner experience than most Infocom adventures. It doesn’t aspire to be more than a cute treasure hunt and that’s okay, but it remains to be seen how that will translate into a rating once I’m through.

My plan for this post was to play the game to completion and knock out a quick rating, but I didn’t make it. With luck, we’ll wrap up next time. 

Before I begin, I should remind readers that I play these games like an insane rabbit who tried to give up coffee but keeps getting drawn back into its dark embrace. I jump around from puzzle to puzzle, trying one thing and then another, and return when I have a better idea even if it’s in the middle of doing something else. None of that makes great reading, so the following is a mildly sanitized account of my explorations where I knock down one puzzle after another in sequence. Do not be fooled, I spent a lot of time just beating my head against things. Now that you understand why I can never stream on Twitch, let’s get to the game!

Sunday 2 August 2020

Lost Secret of the Rainforest - Abducted!

Written by Reiko

Adam’s Journal #1: "We’re finally here in Peru! I’m so excited to be able to help my dad with his project of setting up sustainable industries for the native peoples here. I wonder what kinds of animals I’ll get to see while we’re here? The rainforest is full of so much variety. I can’t wait to get started!"

This guy's totally shady.

Adam and his father Noah have just landed in Peru, but of course we have to go through customs before we can start exploring. In the introduction, I forgot to mention that the shady surveyor's character has a couple of actual voiced lines, which is an interesting contrast to most of the other dialogue, which is only text. He says, "This place is a sewer" and, after bumping into our ride, "Watch the suit!" before brushing himself off and stalking away to the right.

When it's Adam's turn, I open the passport in his inventory and show it to the customs officer [10 points], who stamps it, waves Adam through, and then promptly puts his head down on his desk and appears to take a nap. Nobody else is waiting in the customs line, after all.