Saturday 26 September 2020

Freddy Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist: How Freddy Got His Groove (and Ear) Back

By Alex

This was a tough session, I’m not going to lie. It was hindered by the fact that play time is severely limited lately, and while I’m having fun with this game, I think this is a good time to discuss its puzzle design, and puzzle design in adventure games generally.

There are a few broad categories I thought about that I can put adventure games that I have played into, give their general characteristics, and cite examples of games that fall into each category. I fully expect many of you to disagree with my taxonomy, but that’s what makes the Internet interesting, right?

That, and the personal insults over any difference of opinion.

Anyway, here is Alex’s Adventure Game Puzzle Style Breakdown:
  • Player-Driven: These are games where several puzzles are presented to the player for them to solve right out of the gate, and the solutions to these puzzles are by-and-large there from the outset. While there may be some event-driven (to be discussed later on in this list), for the most part the player is given a fairly expansive world to explore, characters to interact with, inventory items to gather, and carte blanche to solve most of the puzzles in any order, at any time, barring any event-driven instances, in order to solve an over-arching goal (usually made relatively clear near the game’s beginning). In a player-driven adventure game, most of the events occur after the player solves certain other puzzles. This may open up other items to use as solutions, but not always—sometimes, the player uses things they’ve already picked up to solve these new puzzles, or combines a new item with an old one in different ways. Examples of this style include Quest for Glory I and IV, The Secret of Monkey Island, Leisure Suit Larry I, Leisure Suit Larry III, and, to a degree, most King’s Quest games, and Lure of the Temptress (though the less said about that game, the better).
  • Event-Driven: These are games where, while the player may have a fairly expansive world to explore and inventory items to collect, but a more limited set of puzzles. There may or may not be an overarching goal that is clear to the player from the moment the fire up the game, but on the whole event-driven games manage to avoid that “on-rails” feeling by giving the player a lot of time to do stuff before being moved to the next part of the game. Examples of this style include Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, Leisure Suit Larry II, Quest for Glory II, III, and V, Police Quest II and III, and pretty much all of the Space Quest series.
  • Plot-Driven: I debated calling this category “designer-driven,” but I like “plot-driven” better. In games like this, the player performs little vignettes that form a part of a broad story. In games like this, each vignette—if well-designed—avoids any of the dreaded “walking dead” scenarios. All of the inventory items the player needs will be in each vignette, and while the player may be able to acquire some early, it is typically not necessary to do so. Examples of this style include King’s Quest VII and Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist, Leisure Suit Larry V, Conquests of the Long Bow: The Legend of Robin Hood, and L.A. Law.
Wait, just kidding about that last one. L.A. Law is in a separate category called “pure garbage.”

Now, obviously there are hybrids here, and plot-driven games can work, but I find that FPFP doesn’t do the best job of this, at least not to my tastes. I don’t feel all that great a sense of accomplishment or discovery when the way to solve puzzles is just revisiting each screen of the relatively small game world upon the start of each chapter, talking to everyone and clicking every inventory item on everyone and everything, and picking up the items that I just so happen to need when they magically appear for the sake of pure expediency. There is limited creativity needed on the part of the player, and most solutions can be brute-forced.

Yes, “clicking every object on everything” is a cliché about adventure games, and a cliché for a reason, but I never felt like this, say, playing Space Quest V or The Curse of Monkey Island or any of the Quest for Glory games. I feel it all the time in Freddy Pharkas.

With that background, let’s go through Chapter Three.

Last post, Freddy had just put out a fire at the old Assay Office that threatened to engulf his pharmacy, and gotten a little action with Madame Ovaree (great name, by the way). Oh, he also discovered the Sheriff and the Banker’s evil plot to wreck Coarsegold and bump off Freddy in the process. Freddy, after his bedroom conversation discussion with Sadie (Madame Ovaree’s first name), decides to do the cowardly thing and hightail it out of Coarsegold.


No. He doesn’t. Our medicine-slingin’ hero is made of sterner stuff than that! What Freddy does decide is to tell everyone he’s skipping town, but really get back to his old gunslinging ways, save Coarsegold from . . . whoever the antagonist of this game actually is . . . and presumably marry his beloved Penelope.

Of course, how beloved is she really, considering this just happened?

Anyway, none of that matters. I’ll bet the question you’re all wondering is: what did I do with the gigantic pile of horse poop?

Read on, my friends. Read on.

So the main thrust of this chapter is for Freddy to get all of his gunslinging gear back, practice said gunslinging, and go sling some guns. In order to do that, he’ll need to disguise himself in his good guy clothes. If you recall, I’ve already got Freddy’s outfit (complete with hat!), his boots, and his safe deposit box key which, presumably, contains his guns.

Freddy tells Srini it’s time to practice shooting, and Srini rightly points out that Freddy has no guns.

What’re you talkin’ about, Srini? Freddy’s got yer guns right here:

Oh. Not those guns. These guns:

My suspicions were confirmed when I go to the bank, give P.H. the key, and open up Freddy’s safe deposit box. Inside are his two beautiful pistols, which I snag, as well as Freddy’s neckerchief, which I also snag.

Sweet! I got some shootin’-irons! Now if only I had some ammo!

I have to backtrack a bit. Leaving the pharmacy at the beginning of chapter 3 is when Freddy sees a horse and rider outside on the street. The horse lets out a particularly juicy fart because of course it does, and horse and rider drive off, leaving Freddy alone with the moist present our equine friend had just left behind.

I mean, naturally I picked it up, because this is an adventure game.

Notice the term “fly-laden” in the screenshot above. This will be important later.

So where was I? Right. The bank, Freddy’s guns, and no ammo. As the bank is all the way over on the west side of town, I stop in at every establishment as I make my way back east. Freddy tells everyone he’s leaving town and makes his goodbyes, and I get another clue regarding the horse poop at Mom’s Café when I, how do I put this delicately, try to use the horse poop on her.

Yes. Yes he is.

The flies in Mom’s Café have been a running gag throughout the whole game. Remember this later.

Mom, also has her coffee machine out, and lets patrons take a cup for free. I do so, being a coffee-addict in real life as well as in this game.

Among my stops is the barber. I give Sal the dirty postcards for his customers’, uh, enjoyment, and in return he gives me a bottle of nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas.

I can’t open the damn thing with any of my inventory items (yet the game lets Freddy use it on himself, thereby killing himself in the process . . . strange.). But at least I’ve got it.

The Sheriff tells Freddy he’ll help him leave town in any way he can. Since I had clicked the coffee on everyone (including Freddy—don’t worry; it’s one of the few things he can ingest that doesn’t kill him. And I got another cup) to no avail, I try it on the Sheriff. The jerk appreciates it, and gives Freddy some ammo when Freddy asks. Sweet!

This wasn’t very satisfying, though. I don’t recall the Sheriff saying anything about needing a caffeine fix when I spoke with him. I got what I needed, but I don’t even recall the Sheriff saying anything about having bullets. It stands to reason that he would, and I fully expected the Sheriff to be the source of Freddy’s ammunition, but still—not a fulfilling solution.

However, the Sheriff then says he could really use something sweet.

A-hah! You see, during my walkabout in Coarsegold, I saw a fresh apple pie just sitting there on Mom’s back window.

Anytime I tried to get it, though, Hop Singh would come by and threaten me with a knife. I tried using the poop on him here, thinking he’d get grossed out and leave. No good. I also tried to use the nitrous oxide to maybe gas him into submission, letting me take the pie, but that also didn’t work.

Hmm. Oh well—I had ammo. Time to get shooting!

Srini’s standing by the graveyard near an old fence. He suggests I shoot bottles for practice. Luckily, Freddy has all those beer bottles leftover from the episode with the stampeding snails. So on the fence they go! Yee-haw! Get along little doggie, and etc., etc.

This brings up a menu where you can choose your difficulty setting for this particular arcade sequence. I don’t know if it has an impact on your score, and I don’t care, but like an idiot I first choose “I’m one bad hombre! Do your worst!”

The target reticule is jittery no matter what. The harder the difficulty setting, the more jittery it is . . . as though Freddy had multiple cups of Mom’s coffee. I’m all set! But when I fire . . .

Oh, screw you, game! Screw you! One of these puzzles? Didn’t we see this in Police Quest II or something? What, was this game designed by Jim Wa—

No. Nope, I’m not going to go there. I think merely saying that man’s name summons him to your door.

So I need a gun-cleaning kit now. And while I appreciate the game’s insistence on proper firearms safety (wait, these guns haven’t been fired in decades? Just how old is Freddy, anyway?), is every player expected to know about proper firearms safety? This puzzle feels cheap.

There is literally nothing I can do, no objective, save for that damn apple pie. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took for me to think of the solution. And yes, it involved the horse poop.

Yep. You just plop it down on the floor—in one piece still!—at Mom’s Café. How disgusting is that? I’ll answer for you: really disgusting. Mom immediately dispatches Hop Singh to fumigate the place and clean up the mess, leaving the pie unguarded for Freddy to snatch and give to the Sheriff.

And what does the Sheriff give Freddy? If you said “a gun cleaning kit,” then you are the big winner.

The moral of this story is clear: any problem in life, any at all, can be solved if you throw a little poop at it.

Now I can practice gunslinging without the grisly maiming!

First, Freddy shoots bottles off the post. Second, Srini tosses bottles for Freddy to shoot. Last, Srini tosses like ten up in the air and Freddy somehow shoots them all with one bullet. I’m assuming this mini game is practice for actual showdowns, and yes, in case you’re wondering, I chose the easiest difficulty setting this time.

Nothing left to do but put on Freddy’s full cowboy outfit and dispense some justice, right? Except Srini makes a very trenchant observation:


Everyone will recognize Freddy and his goofy one-eared head (no offense to one-eared individuals reading this; I meant that Freddy was goofy). Freddy suggests he make an ear out of metal, which is AWESOME because it’ll make him kind of like a cyborg, but my problem is . . .

. . . what metal?

At this point, I’m carrying a bunch of keys, guns, a neckerchief, the good guy outfit, a shovel, some nitrous oxide, some wax, and an extra cup of coffee I snagged. I figure the wax would be used to stick the metal ear on Freddy’s head, but where would I get the metal?

Oh. Of course. When I reenter the pharmacy, there just so happens to be a silver medallion hanging on the wall under Freddy’s diploma. By the way, I love the acronym for the American Society of Salves, Holistic Ointments, Liniments and Emollients Salesmen.

So the needed inventory item magically appears right when it’s convenient for the plot. See what I mean?

Over Srini’s protests, I take the medal. Now what to do with it?

I figure I can melt it in the lab. And I can put it in the crucible, which the game informs me is made for melting metal. The problem is, when I put the medal over the fire, the game tells me it’s a good idea, but I have nothing to put the metal in after it melts, so Freddy holds off.

I have . . . wax? Can I make a mold?

See, my head is in the right place, but I can’t do anything with the wax. So naturally, I go back to asking everybody about everything and visiting everywhere, starting west to east. I go across the bridge and see Hop Singh leaving town.

While Freddy was shooting beer bottles, the Sheriff shut Mom’s down for health-code violations, forcing Hop Singh to leave. Wow, Freddy, way to go! Who needs the Sheriff to shut everyone down on a lame pretext when Freddy provides an opportunity for him to do so legitimately? For our putative hero, Freddy is kind of an American Society of Salves, Holistic Ointments, Liniments and Emollients Salesmen.

My click-a-thon continues when Whittlin’ Willy tells me something useful for a change when I click the wax on him.

Willy gives Freddy this whole spiel about lost-wax casting—excuse me, castin’, whereby one makes a wax positive, makes a mold out of clay, then pours molten metal into the mold.

Okay. But I can’t do anything with the wax, and Willy is too busy to help Freddy. And where the hell will I get clay?

I wander around and eventually go back into the general store. Willy is gone, and I can take his knife. 

Again: not a very satisfying puzzle. It’s so very plot-driven. Why couldn’t Willy just have done it? What was the point of this? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not a fan of this style of puzzle.

I confess I had to look up where to get clay. Turns out it’s back at Phil D. Graves’s grave. Yes, that wasn’t dirt Freddy covered his late friend’s final resting place with. It was clay. Maybe the description said so earlier in the game, but I don’t remember it. All I know is that this was not a very pleasant sequence.

Pleasant puzzle-solving-wise. Between this and pixel hunts on water towers and jumping from swings to roofs to see-saws, I find myself annoyed more often than not. Although conceptually, this is much more pleasant than capturing horse farts in a paper bag.

Never forget.

So I got what I need. I use Willy’s knife to carve an ear out of the wax (ear wax! Ha ha. See? I can write immature adventure games too!), shove the ear in the clay, and then pack the clay around the ear.

Freddy Pharkas: Art Class

I then melt the wax over the alcohol burner, leaving a mold of an ear in the clay. Now I’m able to melt the silver medallion in the crucible, pour it into the mold, pull away the clay, and voila! A metal ear!

As an aside, Freddy’s ear-carving skills are pretty exceptional. That ear is perfect! And also METAL!

Srini helps Freddy get dressed, offers words of encouragement, and sends Freddy on his way! And so ends chapter three. With luck, there will be some justice served in chapter four. And some better puzzles.

Session Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours, 50 minutes
Inventory: Desk key, safety deposit box key, pharmacy key, bottle of nitrous oxide, loaded guns
Score: 789 of 999
Fart Jokes: 4
Indians: 2
Missing Body Parts Remade Better and Stronger: One.


  1. Not a fan of the puzzle triggers either.

    On the upside, this is an early case of the protagonist of an adventure game having an actual arc of some sort, re-embracing his past. To Freddy, his guns were symbols of such shame that he locked them away in a bank, and had to overcome that shame when faced with a greater threat. This is more substantial character development (if still not by much) than simply gaining guns and training with them, or than the numerous zero-to-hero stories we've seen.

    What other cases of notable character arcs for protagonists precede this? One could be Guybrush having become a self-aggrandizing storyteller in Monkey Island 2 (although the actual change happened between games). I guess there's also Indy's dislike for Sophia turning into love in Fate of Atlantis, but that is a bit too basic and cliché to make any particular note of.

  2. Apologies for anyone waiting for the Labyrinth next post. I had it about half done before Real Life(tm) struck. Hoping to get it out there soon. Thanks to everyone that have stepped up the last couple of weeks to close out games and make sure we've all had plenty of adventure games to read about!

    1. Just finished the game! Expect the rest to be delivered in two posts soon. First post is drafted and just needs a lot of love. The second can come later, but I need to think about the rating...

  3. I don’t know if it has an impact on your score, and I don’t care

    It doesn't, thankfully (looking at you, arcade difficulty levels in Conquests of Camelot), so playing on hard would just be for your own satisfaction if you felt like it.

    When I reenter the pharmacy, there just so happens to be a silver medallion hanging on the wall under Freddy’s diploma. [...] So the needed inventory item magically appears right when it’s convenient for the plot.

    Does it really not appear until right then? If it appeared right after Freddy hired Srini that would be reasonable.

    Again: not a very satisfying puzzle. It’s so very plot-driven. Why couldn’t Willy just have done it? What was the point of this? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m not a fan of this style of puzzle.

    Yeah, I'm not a fan of the kind of puzzle where you're supposed to somehow guess that a room/scene will be different if you visit it again, i.e. in this case, that Willy will be gone the next time you enter the room and that you'll be able to get his knife. "Wander around and see if anything has changed anywhere" is not the same as being given some actual evidence to lead to the thought "Aha, I bet if I come back later, I can do XYZ" and doing so deliberately.

    Yes, that wasn’t dirt Freddy covered his late friend’s final resting place with. It was clay. Maybe the description said so earlier in the game, but I don’t remember it.

    Clay is component of soil (see for instance). If your soil is high in clay, it will stick to itself if you just pick up a moist handful and squeeze it. I don't know about Coarsegold, but we have that kind of soil in my part of California. (Although Coarsegold's gravedigger must be totally jacked, because we find the soil just about impossible to dig in without gas-powered equipment when it's dry. It hardens, well, kinda like clay does.) Pedantry about soil composition aside, there's also phrases like "the cold clay of the grave".

  4. I don't mind the plot-driven, as long as, as you say, they are self-contained. It should be easy enough to just discard excess weight and possibly give the player a chance to get that metal rod they snubbed at the first chapter. Not doing so would be just cruel, as I increasingly tend to think Sierra games as.

    Also, I may be nit-picky here, but the sprite of the horse poo looks more like cow poo. Horse poo looks more like large pellets and is more grassy than cakey. Nevertheless, I think flies would still flock to it.

    1. 15 year-old me would not have caught the difference, despite growing up near farms with these animals and having a fecalpheliac classmate living next door. All I know is, I loved the trademark Al Lowe humor and was one of the disappointed ones when the sequel never came, even though I likely solved the game heavily with help from QuestBusters or the like.

  5. I like the plot driven puzzles, they create constraints around finding the solution so that my ADHD doesn't kick in after 5/10 mins of frustration and I grab a walkthrough. Too many games (especially Discworld) allow you to pick up everything and next thing your know you've got 100 items in your inventory and no idea what to do where. To be fair to Discworld, the designer did say it's much easier and more fun if you don't just go around swiping everything and simply follow the logical path breadcrumbs that the game gives you.

    Back to FPFP, I had to look up the bags on the seesaw puzzle too, but the metal ear one was pretty logical to me and I got lucky finding the water tower hole pixel easily.

    1. Perhaps then, sometimes an inventory limit is a good idea. Take for example, Legend of Kyrandia, in which parts of you could pick up everything that wasn’t nailed down (such as a million gems to use in potion making) but because you were limited, maybe you didn’t pick up 14 rubies and 7 sapphires.
      It’s not the best example, because in that game, the gems (mostly) lied around as debris, but still, it COULD contribute to the gameplay in the right game.
      I’m also a fan of games that help you unload unnecessary inventory occasionally, such as in Monkey Island, landing on the beach you lose anything no longer needed.

    2. I'd suggest that maybe an inventory limit is neither good nor bad in and of itself, but inventory management puzzles are always bad.

    3. I'd argue that an inventory limit is aggravating if the game throws several dozens of items you absolutely need to use later but only lets you carry a handful. I don't even mean necessarily as a management puzzle, just piling items upon items on the player that they can't use until later.

  6. I actually had to resort to the hint book to figure out how to get the pie -- hard tell how long it would have taken me to think of putting the manure on the floor (maybe, it was a little too gross to occur to my puzzle-inept mind). Figuring out what you did in just a few hours is impressive compared to my playthrough a few months ago (I had to consult the hint book multiple times).