Sunday 24 July 2022

Missed Classic: Stationfall - When Scientific Accuracy Attacks (Deleted Scenes & Alternate Puzzles)

Written by Joe Pranevich

Last time, I started into Lurking Horror (don’t forget to post your score guess!), but we still have a bit of business left with Stationfall. Infocom is a company that we have a unique level of understanding about thanks to leaked source code, developer interviews, and a veritable “cabinet” of internal documentation. I do not like digging in too deeply while playing so that I can approach the games as spoiler-free as possible, but now that we’re done I can dig in and report back what I find. Sometimes we find a lot (like all of the half-completed Moonmist variants!) and sometimes we find less. As Steven Meretzky is the source of much of the “leaked” documentation, we have a rare view at his development process all the way down to notes from individual testers. It is not a full view of the design of the game, but it provides a unique insight into how mature he had become in game design at this point and how little effort was wasted. 

Steve Meretzky was famous for keeping notebooks of game and design ideas that he would turn back to for inspiration. Our story starts out with a question: what game should he make next?

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Missed Classic 111: The Lurking Horror - Introduction (1987)

Written by Joe Pranevich

This is going to seem like deja vu: 1987 had not been a great year for Infocom. The deal with Activision concluded, Cornerstone failed, and sales of text adventures were slowing down. Hollywood Hijinx bombed with only 12,000 copies sold. Bureaucracy failed to capitalize on its A-list author, Douglas Adams, and shipped only 28,000 copies. To offset the sales loss, Infocom was forced to produce twice as many games as before. Making games was difficult, but making twice as many games with the same team seemed impossible. Fortunately, Infocom still had a developer or two with recent hits: Steve Meretzky (with Leather Goddesses and Hitchhiker's Guide) and Brian Morarity (with Wishbringer). While these two would reach back to produce easily marketed sequels, other implementers sought fresh ideas. One of those was none other than Dave Lebling, one of Infocom’s founders and most prolific authors. 

At that point, Lebling wasn’t bringing in the numbers Meretzky and Moriarty had been. Spellbreaker actually sold negative copies in 1986 as Infocom wrote off unsold inventory from the previous Christmas. Starcross and Suspect were long enough ago that their market performance could hardly be predictive. But Lebling had a plan to enter a market that Infocom hadn’t entered before: horror. Horror was then (and now) a popular genre. In October 1986, when Lurking Horror was just getting started, Steven King’s It was the bestselling book on the New York Times list. Through 1987, King would have three more of his books on the Top 10 list, including the #1 selling hardcover of the year, The Tommyknockers. Lebling may also have been inspired by the growing popularity of The Call of Cthulhu tabletop game. Whatever the reason, Lebling and Infocom were excited to try their luck at a new category of game.

Saturday 16 July 2022

Missed Classic 110: ...A Personal Nightmare (1989) - Introduction

By Morpheus Kitami 

As an aside before I get to the main event, I would like to engage in a little self-promotion. For a while now I've had my own blog, about FPS and other shooters. Stuff like Doom, Wing Commander, Jazz Jackrabbit and the ilk. Currently, I divide games by FPS and everything else, and I'm near the end of 1989 and 1982 respectively. It is interesting, if you can stand most games from 1982 not being good.

 Box Office was apparently K-Mart's bargain software label, box art taken from Mobygames

Adventure International, as I'm sure you are aware, was Scott Adams's company, responsible for some of the first major home computer text adventures. Known for simple prose and later, simple graphics, these games were sold entirely on the merit of their puzzles, and for a time this went well. So well that eventually people in other lands started importing them, making the dreams of one very American company come true. In the UK, another company also calling itself Adventure International, imported Adams's titles and put them on such platforms as the BBC Micro and ZX Spectrum.

And for a time this too went well, even after the death of their "parent" company they went along, first with games from other American companies, then with originals. Previously, Alex played Robin of Sherwood: The Touchstones of Rhiannon, which was based on a TV series. This was done with a modified version of the SAGA engine, or Scott Adams Graphical Adventure engine. Quite a few obscure licenses, which I'm sure appear on some clickbait Youtube video about 23 obscure licensed video games (Number 16 will cause you to lose control of your legs for the next six years).

Sunday 10 July 2022

Missed Classic: Stationfall - When Best Friends Attack (Won! And Final Rating)

Written by Joe Pranevich

Last time out on Stationfall, my attempt at Fourth of July fireworks ended up a dud: the bomb that I spent so much time working on failed to go off. All roads in the game so far have led to finding or securing bomb-making parts and so while I am sure that I am on the right path, I need to figure out what I might have missed. Meanwhile, the evil Pyramid of Doom that has taken over the stations’s systems is gradually making the station less and less livable for carbon-based life forms as literally everything (even the doors!) is trying to kill me. I’m glad we don’t need to use the bathroom in this game because I can only imagine the horrors of an Evil Toilet. It’s only a matter of time before this scourge escapes the station and takes over the universe, so we’d better solve it quickly.

We’re finally reaching the end of Stationfall. I am sorry that it took me far longer than planned to get here and I am grateful that you stayed around for the ride.

Thursday 7 July 2022

Missed Classic 109: La Crypte des Maudits (1991) - Introduction

By Ilmari
The crypt of cursed
The sequel to Lankhor’s Le Secte Noire doesn’t have a very original framing story. At the end of the first game I had found a protective spell book stolen by a fiendish cult. Apparently this had not been enough, since the cult still held its meetings somewhere within an abandoned castle. The task of this game is to get rid of the cult for good.

Tuesday 5 July 2022

Missed Classic: Stationfall - When Ostriches Attack

Written by Joe Pranevich

Last time out on Stationfall, I died. After ages exploring the space station with my pals Floyd and Plato, circumstances got away from us. The computer virus that plagues the station took over Plato, the kindly librarian robot, and he killed me as Floyd looked on in horror. Although evil and murderous, Plato’s inclinations as an educator remained intact and he helpfully monologued the full plot of the game. This means that I now know what is going on and I have the start of an inkling how to fix it. Of course, I must restore back to an earlier point and replay a ton, but that’s what Infocom games are like.

In case you forgot, let me recap what I learned. Somewhere very far from here, the Zeenaks and Hunji were locked into an epic war. The Zeenaks developed a weapon to finally turn the war in their favor, a computer virus of a sort (in the form of a pyramid) that would turn not only Hunji devices against their owners, but also convert factory equipment to create more such pyramids and spread throughout the galaxy. How the Zeenaks intended to survive their own weapon is not clear. The weapon was launched but never made it to its destination. Somehow, it was picked up and diverted by a lone Hunji ship, the same ship that the station picked up a few days ago. In a matter of days, the station has been corrupted and all humans on board have been eliminated. (I’m still not convinced this is true; I found evidence of survivors on my first day on the station, but not since then.) The pyramid device is now adapting the factory levels at the bottom of the station to create copies of itself to send out across the universe. My job will be to get down there and try to find a way to stop them. I’m only missing two things: a way to get down there and a way to stop them.