Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Blue Force (1993) – Introduction

by Alex
The email was innocent enough. Subject: “Blue Force and Larry 6.” Sender: The Adventure Gamer The Adventurers Guild’s very own Ilmari Jauhiainen. The message: “Hi Alex! I hope you are doing well. I just noticed that Blue Force - the last Jim Walls made adventure game - is coming up and there’s your name written on it. Do you think you can take up the challenge? Also, Larry 6, another game with your name on it, is coming up pretty soon after Blue Force. Do you think you can do two games so close to one another? All the best, Ilmari.”

My mind raced. Here I was, two years older and wiser . . . well, older, than the last time I played a game for this illustrious blog. Of course I wanted to do another one. Another two, in fact, but little did I know/remember I had already agreed to play these two. Apparently, I am a leading expert on games made by Jim Walls and Al Lowe.

Sweat began to coat my fevered brow. My heart skipped a beat, and then another! I debated calling a doctor, but then remembered that this is just a dramatic retelling and not real life. So gamely, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and sent a terse, very ominous, and very age-appropriate (I’m 41) reply:

“What’s up man?”There was more, of course, but the details are quite inconsequential. What matters is that I took on this heavy burden of playing Blue Force for you, The Adventurers Guild reader, mainly so you don’t have to.

This will be my third game designed by the leading lothario of law-enforcement, Mr. Jim Walls, former California Highway Patrolman and game designer for Sierra On-Line. The other two Jim Walls productions I have played for this blog were the VGA remake of Police Quest 1: In Pursuit of the Death Angel and Police Quest 3: The Kindred, which I still have nightmares about.

The only other game designer whose games I have played more is Al Lowe, having completed Leisure Suit Larry, Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does A Little Undercover Work, and Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist, with Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out! coming up for me soon.

Yeah, let’s just say I’m looking forward to Larry 6 far more than I am this one. Generally, when it comes to playing Jim Walls’s games, I feel a lot like Larry . . .
Well, this got dark fast.
But how bad can it be, right?

Right?

Blue Force was created by Tsunami Media, Inc., a game company founded in 1991 by some disgruntled former employees of Sierra On-Line (all of the gruntled ones stayed). Former Sierra Chief Financial Officer Edmond Heinbockel started Tsunami in 1991 and—here comes a tangent!—boy, did Mr. Heinbockel get out of Sierra while the going was good. Have you read Sierra founder Ken Williams’s book Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line, published in 2020? It’s great, and it details the kind of financial shenanigans that did Sierra in in the late 1990s. Fraud, deceit, overreach . . . it’s really interesting stuff that would make a great movie a la Margin Call or The Wolf of Wall Street. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re into the history of Sierra and computer gaming generally. Did you know that Ken Williams turned down the opportunity to buy id Software (the makers of a little game you might have heard of called Doom) and declined the chance to go into business with a short, bald guy who runs the world and a major American newspaper named Jeff Bezos? He also basically invented multiplayer gaming as we know it via this new thing called the Internet before the technology was available. No fooling!

Anyway, Tsunami created a number of games. According to MobyGames, these include the following:
  • Free Enterprise (1996)
  • Silent Steel (1995)
  • Man Enough (1994)
  • Return to Ringworld (1994)
  • Flash Traffic: City of Angels (1994)
  • Geekwad: Games of the Galaxy, The (1993)
  • Blue Force (1993)
  • Protostar: War on the Frontier (1993)
  • Wacky Funsters! The Geekwad’s Guide to Gaming (1992)
  • Ringworld: Revenge of the Patriarch (1992)
Man Enough sounds like the title of a Larry game, doesn’t it? Come to think of it, so does Silent Steel. Heck, even Flash Traffic does. Maybe even Wacky Funsters!

Okay, I’ll stop.

In Blue Force, the player takes control of rookie cop Jake Ryan, whose father was killed in the line of duty. From the back of the box:
POLICE FILE
Ryan Double Homicide
06-14-83
Case Status: Unsolved
Recommended Source: Lyle Jamison

Attending Officer’s Comments:
Thursday, June 14, 1983. At approximately 10:00 P.M., Lieutenant John Ryan and his wife were brutally murdered in their home. Both victims were pronounced dead at the scene, having suffered multiple gunshot wounds. There are no suspects at this time. The Ryans are survived by their only son, Jake.


NOW IT’S YOUR TURN . . .
You are Jake Ryan, rookie motorcycle cop. Ten years have passed since the unsolved murder of your parents, but threads of evidence still exist. Teamed with your father’s partner, you begin to weave the all but forgotten strands together. As your past comes into focus, the line between justice and vengeance begins to blur. Will the truth force you over the line?

BLUE FORCE . . . the only way you’ll know!
Pretty intense, if standard, police genre fare. But the premise sounds intriguing.

The box also advertises the following GAME FEATURES:
  • Smooth animation through the use of fully digitized actors.
  • Quick reaction interface gives you the speed you’ll need to survive high-pressure situations.
  • Authentic police procedures help guide your investigations.
  • Digitized sound effects and dynamic original music provide pulse-pounding excitement
  • True-to-life action, intrigue, suspect arrests, and gunfights.
  • Challenging, multi-layered gameplay.
I’m not going to lie: “Authentic police procedures” has me a bit worried that this’ll be another Manual: The Game. Let’s hope I’m wrong!

The music was composed by Ken Allen, whose other credits include, among other things, Descent, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, Castle of Dr. Brain, Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter (1990 remake), Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown (1990 remake), King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder, and The Colonel’s Bequest. Hey, I’ve played all of those! They have great music! What a pedigree! Mr. Allen also did a little voice acting. Here’s an interview with him from February of this year.

Unfortunately, Blue Force was not well-received. According to my sources (Wikipedia):

Computer Gaming World‘s Charles Ardai in 1993 stated that Blue Force ”is simply not as strong as Walls’ previous games”. He criticized the game world (“prop-up facades”), “abysmal” dialogues, “appalling spelling errors and factual inconsistencies”, and slow speed. Ardai concluded that “Walls and Tsunami both have better work in them ... they have nowhere to go but up”.

In 1996, Computer Gaming World declared Blue Force the 37th-worst computer game ever released.”

Oh boy. The 37th-worst? Even by 1996, there were a lot of computer games out there . . .

The manual is interesting. It gives the multigenerational story of the Ryan family whose patriarch emigrated from Ireland many years ago, ended up in New England, and became a cop. We walk through the family history as they end up further and further west before the tale brings us to Jake Ryan’s father John in the town of Jackson Beach, presumably in California. Jake’s partner on the force, Lyle Jamison, never married. When John and Jackie were murdered in 1984, Lyle left the police to try and crack the case as a private investigator while Jake was raised by his grandmother, Frannie. I’m sure Lyle will be a character in this game, so I’m glad the story mentions him.

The rest of the manual just goes over the interface, which actually looks pretty much lifted from the standard Siarra point-and-click fare of the day, and then technical troubleshooting. The only sop to proper police procedure (the three Ps!) are the radio codes:
  • 10-1 Radio Reception - poor
  • 10-2 Radio Reception - good
  • 10-4 Received Message
  • 10-13 Weather Check
  • 10-15 Prisoner in Custody
  • 10-27 Subject Check
  • 10-35 Back-up Requested
  • 10-97 Arrived at Scene
  • 10-98 Cleared Scene; Available For Call
  • 10-99 Emergency; Officer Needs Assistance
Enough reading. Reading is for nerds! Let’s play this game! Decades-old adventure games are for cool people! Let’s fire Blue Force up.
It’s not quite the Sierra logo, but it’ll do.
Hey, it looks just like the manual!
We get a nice animated introduction using what looks to be motion-captured actors as the sprites. This looks to my eyes beyond what Sierra did in this era, which was basing the movements of the sprites on the actors, but adding enough pixelation to make them look like video game characters and not just digitized actors. Here, they look like digitized actors. See for yourself.
I’m not going to show every single picture, but the story begins on May 15, 1984 in this bar where two men look to be transacting some sort of deal.
Money is exchanged for . . . something, and then the older man in the suit walks out right as two other men come in. They show badges to the white-shirted dude, who promptly splits the scene, hops on his motorcycle, and rides away.
But not before flashing us with his sweet, sweet mullet.
The chase leads the two officers through Jackson Beach. I don’t think having the car and motorbike leave one end of the static shot and then appear from another like in an old Warner Bros. cartoon where Bugs Bunny or whomever walks into a door on the left and pops out of one on the right, defying the laws of physics, was intentional, but it made me chuckle to see it.
Anyway, the cops are stymied when motorcycle-man rides across a baseball field but they get caught in an intersection when a truck gets in their way.
Presumably Jake’s father John and his partner Lyle.
We then jump ahead three days where some guy, presumably mullet-man, goes into a house, presumably Jake’s, and straight-up murders John and Jackie Ryan.
I think he got sick of so many people with names starting with “J.”
The murderer takes something from John’s desk. The next thing we see is the funeral, where the American flag draping John’s coffin is folded and given to young Jake.
We jump ahead again, eleven years later. Jake Ryan has been accepted to the police academy, and we get action scenes that resolve into still shots, showing Jake’s journey through the police academy. Sadly, Mahoney, Hightower, Sweetchuck, and Jones aren’t in this game.

(Please tell me at least one of you gets that reference.)
Hey look! Jeff Crowe! He did a bunch of Sierra games!
Finally, and you’ll be shocked to know, Jake graduates at the top of his class and I’m sorry just look at the guy:
I can’t. I just can’t. Let’s just move on.

The game proper starts with Jake riding his sweet motorcycle to the station for his first day on the job.



I hope you’re up to it too, Jake! Because my life depends on it.

Or was it the other way around?

29 comments:

  1. Sadly, Mahoney, Hightower, Sweetchuck, and Jones aren’t in this game.

    (Please tell me at least one of you gets that reference.)

    Of course I do.
    Anyway, this game is awful. Let's say 37 to get the ball rolling.

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    1. (Please tell me at least one of you gets that reference.)

      Hightower was too busy providing the floral arrangements for the funeral.

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    2. Real question is: did they go to the Blue Oyster?

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    3. Da-DAH-da-da-da-daaaaaaaaah...

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    4. Perhaps as important is the police Commandant's name, Robert Heitman. Bob was my boss - programming manager - when I started at Sierra, and when we made Hero's Quest. Bob was one of the disgruntled ex-Sierra developers at Tsunami Media. Later he hired me to work on Passport2 Bridge, then I hired him to work on Shannara, and later on Quest for Glory V.

      Bob was talented, clever, creative, and a workaholic. Possibly one of the most important people at Sierra - co-creator of SCI, pushed developers to do their best work.

      Later he decided that the game industry was too stressful and uncertain. He became the lead software engineer at the local phone company's internet division, and retired a few years ago.

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    5. https://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,2200/

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  2. "Lieutenant John Ryan and his wife were brutally murdered in their home. Both victims were pronounced dead at the scene, having suffered multiple gunshot wounds. [...] NOW IT'S YOUR TURN!"

    Wow, that phrasing sounds... Exciting! X-D

    What I find interesting is that the Ex-Sierra members founding Tsunami went with the original Police Quest designer to create a PQ knockoff, Sierra went and created a regular Police Quest sequel but decided to go with the controversial publicity stunt decision to involve Daryl "chief of police during the Rodney King Riots" Gates in the creation process! Arguably the result was that the knockoff by Tsunami feels more like a "proper" sequel to Police Quest, while the official Police Quest feels like the knockoff (a high-profile one, though, with an uncomfortable aftertaste of racism...). Does that make Blue Force a good game though.

    No. No, it doesn't. And it also has a few inclusions that feel weird for a "realistic", "proper" Police Quest game - especially the showdown. It's good for a few confused laughs though.

    My bet is 40.

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    1. It does sound exciting, but it also sounds like it could be your turn to be brutally murdered? I might even be reiterating your point.

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    2. That's what I was getting at, yes. ^^

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  3. "Sadly, Mahoney, Hightower, Sweetchuck, and Jones. Please tell me at least one of you gets that reference."

    Well, at least we probably won't have chief Harris as well, but I wouldn't mind a cameo of Sgt. Callahan! ;)

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    1. Sorry, Captain Harris, not Chief

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    2. Police Academy III was one of my favorite movies as a child. I hope to never see it again to discover how it really is. (That and "Short Circuit".)

      I'm guessing 26.

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    3. There's definitely some stuff in Short Circuit that didn't age that well...

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    4. *cough* fisher stevens in brownface *cough*.

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  4. this is a game I beat about 15 years ago, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than all PQ games. I will guess a 57

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  5. This game was disappointing on many fronts -- but mainly to me, I was expecting PQ4 and instead got what happens when no one else cleans up Jim Walls' writing and inexperienced game design style (even after 2.5 PQ games)! The rotoscoping was inferior (as already mentioned in this introduction post) and the story not as compelling.

    I'll go with a generous 42.

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  6. On one hand, I know both Leo and Michael describe this as one of the most horrendous games they've had the misfortune of playing, and I absolutely believe them. Man Enough is also some weird-ass western dating sim kind of game and Whacky Funsters + Geekwad are awful. On the other, some people I know who sometimes get these kinds of titles right describes it as much better than its reputation. The last Tsunami game got a pretty high score too, and Protostar is an underappreciated gem from what I've heard.
    I'm gonna say 51 on the off chance it is good.

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    1. I'll be fast to say that maybe, just maybe, I think so poorly of it because of the expectations. If it had been someone other than Jim Walls, or the other Sierra defectors, maybe I would have thought higher of the game. It still isn't great, but I know that expecting Sonny Bonds set me up for a big fall.

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  7. My goodness, was this a stinker. I'm going with 26. Because oh my was it awful. Sure, the fact that the graphics weren't horrific probably dooms my vote, but 26 it is.

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  8. Ah, we're into that wonderful period when games were starting to look really good, before 3D came along and everyone tried to switch to it too early and we went through the mid-to-late 90s cubism phase. I'll give it 45, and welcome back Alex, great to see you back in your element of obscure law based games, I think you should be glad this isn't based on a TV series like LA law.

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  9. I'm currently playing Flight of the Amazon Queen (I actually prefer the other Amazon, Amazon: Guardians of Eden). As a late VGA effort (1995), it serves as a warning to how this blog will look in a few years. It's still a long way to get there (rest of 1993, and all 1994), but after that all games will either be ugly 3D or strangely looking 640x400 SVGA.

    By the way, both Blue Force and Flight of the Amazon Queen share the same stupid design flaw: to have only 4 visible items that you have to scroll through (maybe to make them bigger?), something difficult to understand in 1993 and even more in 1995.

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    1. It's just a phase they went through.
      A couple of years after, Grim Fandango and Gabriel Knight did 3D well enough (although I'm not a fan of 3D in adventures at all) and Sanitarium was beautiful as well. We just have to get through the games' awkward teenage years, acne and all.

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    2. Random access inventory >>>>>> Sequential access, ugh.

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    3. oh, the only 4 items visible at a time is so time wasting, totally forgot about that, specially in Flight where your inventory is crowded with random stuff

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    4. I kind of get where the thought process on that went. We have al this space, and people like seeing nice things, so let's show the player his inventory items like all those Sierra games, but on-screen at all times like a Lucasarts game. It something that seemed like a good idea at the time by people who didn't have to cycle through all the items constantly trying to figure out how to solve a puzzle.

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  10. I only played this one back in the 90's. Never played a Police Quest game by that time, or maybe Police Quest 4, can't remember which one I played first. But I really liked it, even the story. Just to beat my fellow compatriot Alex, I will Guess a 58 score for this one

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  11. I only have a vague memory of playing this game 10-15 years ago, but I recall enjoying it. Maybe I was just angry at how bad PQ4 was.

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  12. I'm going to go with 43. I'm already cringing reading the intro - it feels like gaming should have moved on from some of this by now, but I'll play along all the same given the good will credits Jim Walls has banked with me over the first 3 games in the Police Quest series...

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  13. Forgot to guess the score. 48

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